McAllister and his Double/McAllister's Marriage
THE Bar Harbor train slowly came to a stop beside a little wooden station. From over the marshes crept a breath of salty freshness that tried vainly to steal in through the open windows of the Pullman, only intensifying the stifling heat inside.
McAllister arose and made his way to the platform in search of air. A spare, wrinkled octogenarian was in the difficult act of lifting a small girl in a calico dress to the platform of the day coach, the child clinging obstinately to the old gentleman's neck and refusing to disentangle herself.
"Mercy, Abby! Do leggo!" he remonstrated. "Thar, ef ye don't, I'll ask that man thar to hoist ye!"
The little girl reluctantly let go her hold and allowed herself to be placed on the lowest step.
"That's a good girl," continued her guardian; then addressing McAllister, he inquired conversationally:
"Be ye goin' to Bangor?"
"How's that? Ye-es, I believe I am. At least the train passes through," responded McAllister doubtfully, apprehensive of undesirable complications.
The old fellow produced from his waistcoat-pocket a ticket which he placed in the child's hand. Then he turned her around and gave her a little push up the steps.
"Wall, jest keep an eye on Abby, will ye?"
"Good-by, Uncle!" cried the little girl, climbing laboriously up to where the clubman stood and making a little bow, which he gravely returned.
"I don't know . . ." he began.
"That's all right," explained the farmer. "Her aunt'll meet her. Jest see she don't bother no one. Lemme pass ye her duds."
The octogenarian forthwith handed up to McAllister a cloth valise, a pasteboard box, and a large paper bag.
"Her lunch is in the bag," said he. "Don't let her drink none o' that ice-water. My wife says it hez germs into it."
"But I don't . . ." gasped our friend.
"Be keerful o' that box," interrupted her uncle. "There's two dozen hen's eggs in it. If she's good, you might buy her a cent's worth o' peppermints to Portland." He fumbled uncertainly in his breeches' pocket.
"Do you expect me . . ." ejaculated McAllister.
"Give my love to yer aunt," added the other as the train started. "Good-by!" And pulling a large red pocket-handkerchief from his coat-tails he fanned the air vaguely as they moved slowly away from him.
"Oh, isn't it nice!" cried the little girl, who appeared quite at ease with her new acquaintance.
"Ye-es—certainly—of course," he replied, wondering what he should do with his charge. "I suppose we had better go in and sit down, don't you think?"
He stood aside waiting for her to precede him into the parlor car.
"What a lovely place!" she exclaimed as her eyes rested upon the rosewood and the velvet chairs. "Am I really to ride in this?"
"Why, where should you ride, to be sure?" he inquired, beginning to regain his self-possession.
"The car had iron seats before," she informed him.
"This is an ever so much prettier train," she added. "I'm afraid I'll hurt the plush." She took out a diminutive handkerchief and spread it out to sit upon. The clubman with an amused expression swung round another chair and sat down opposite.
"My name's Abigail Martha Higgins," she said, taking off her little straw hat. "I live in Bangor with my aunt. That old man was Uncle Moses Higgins. Aunt doesn't love his wife."
"Dear me!" sympathized McAllister.
"My father and mother are in heaven," she continued in matter-of-fact tones. "Up there. Wouldn't you hate to live up in the sky and do nothin'?"
"I certainly should," he answered with gravity.
"We all came down from there, you know. Do you think we were born all in one piece, or put together afterward?"
"What's your name?"
"McAllister," he replied.
"That's a funny name!" she commented. "It sounds like McCafferty—that's Deacon Brewer's hired man's name."
"Do you think so?" asked the clubman apologetically, feeling that his parents had done him an irreparable injury.
"I'll call you Mister Mac," added the child, "and you may call me Abby, 'cause I'm only eight. Do you live to Boston?"
"No; New York. An awful way off."
"Have they got a Free-Will Meetin'-house there?" she inquired knowingly.
"I'm sure I don't know," he answered, feeling wofully ignorant of all matters of real importance.
"Then it must be a very small place," she decided. "All big places have a Free-Will Meetin'-house, Uncle Moses says."
At this moment Wilkins approached to inquire if his master wanted anything.
"Is there a Free-Will Meetin'-house in New York?" inquired the clubman.
"Yes, sir; I believe so, sir. That is to say, a Baptist place of worship, sir," he answered solemnly.
"Is that your brother?" inquired Abby.
"No—" hesitated McAllister, doubtful as to what the valet's equivalent would be in his little friend's world.
"What's your name?" inquired Abby.
"Wilkins, miss," answered the valet.
"What a lovely name!" cried Abby. "It's much nicer than his'n."
Wilkins stepped back a few paces aghast.
"That box is chuck full of eggs," announced Abby. "I wonder where the hens get them."
"I give it up," said the clubman.
"We have a black horse on our farm," she continued. "It used to be a girl, but now it's a boy."
"Indeed!" exclaimed McAllister.
"Yes, aunt had her tail cut off. Boys have short hair, you know—that's how you tell."
At this Wilkins disappeared rapidly into the background.
"Uncle Moses' wife don't love children," the child continued. "She has the rheumatiz in her thigh."
"But she must like you, Abby," urged her new friend.
"No, she don't. She don't love me 'cause I love Aunt Abby, an' Aunt Abby don't love her."
"I see," said McAllister.
The clubman soon became acquainted with Abby's entire family history, and rapidly realized that the mind of a child was a thing undreamed of in his philosophy. As she pattered on he conversed gravely with her, trying to answer her multitudinous questions. All her world was good save Uncle Moses' wife, and her confidence in the clubman was entire. She admired his clothes, his watch-chain, and his scarf-pin, and ended by directing him to read to her, which McAllister obediently did. None of the magazines seemed to contain suitable articles, so with some misgivings he purchased various colored weeklies, remembering vaguely his own delight in the misadventures of certain chubby ladies and stout gentlemen upon rear pages, perused furtively when waiting at the barber's to get his hair cut as a child. For half an hour her interest remained tense, but then she wearied of using her eyes, and, patting McAllister's fat chin, ordered him to tell her a story. Here was a new difficulty. He had never told a story in his life, but there was no help for it, no escape, as she climbed into his lap.
"Begin with once onup-a-time," she ordered.
"Well," he obeyed "Once 'onup' a time there was a man who lived in a club——"
"A what?" sharply interrupted Abby.
"A big white house with heaps of rooms," he corrected. "And as he had nobody dependent on him, all he had to do was to eat and sleep and look at the sky."
"Didn't he have any children?"
"Nobody in the world," answered McAllister.
"Poor man!" sighed Abby. "Didn't he keep any hens?"
"Not even a hen!"
"I know a big house just like that," said Abby. "Old Captain Barnard used to live in it. Wasn't he lonely?"
"Did anyone live with him?"
"His hired man," answered the clubman with a smile, looking down the car to where Wilkins sat in solitary grandeur. "And by and by he got so old and so fat that nobody would marry him, while the wives of other men he knew forgot to ask him to dinner."
"Poor dear man!" murmured Abby, "I should think he'd have wished he hadn't been born."
"Sometimes he did," answered the story-teller. "And he longed for some people to really care for him, and for some little children to keep him company."
"Did he have a cow?"
"No, not even a cow."
Abby laughed sleepily.
"But didn't he ever have any fun?"
"He thought he did, but he didn't, really."
"I'm awful sorry for him!" said Abby. "If I met him I would give him my white hen."
"He used to pay for dinners for people, and send them flowers and candy and go to see them——"
"Yes; Sunday afternoons."
"He was really very nice," said Abby.
"Do you think so?" asked McAllister eagerly.
"Why, of course. Don't you think so?"
"So-so," said the clubman.
"But he never hurt anyone?"
"And gave the hired man plenty of victuals?"
"Much more than was good for him," said McAllister with conviction.
"I like that man," said Abby. "He was a good man."
"But some people said he was an idle fellow," insisted McAllister.
"But that didn't do anybody any harm," said Abby.
"No, certainly not."
"And he wasn't cross?"
"No, almost never."
"Then," said Abby, "he was a good man, and I will marry him if he asks me."
And with that she dropped her head on his arm and fell fast asleep.
"Can't I hold the young—person, for you, sir?" inquired the valet in a whisper.
"Certainly not," responded McAllister.
Over the flitting pines circled the crows, black dots against the deep blue; lazy cows stood knee-deep in fields frosted with daisies and watched seemingly without interest the passing train; little puffs of white in serried ranks moved slowly out of the north, never approaching nearer, dissolving at the meridian; on the near horizon a line of indigo mountains tumbled southward; white farm-houses swept slowly by; at dusty crossings gray-whiskered farmers sat loosely holding the reins in amiable conformity with the injunction painted upon weather-worn signs to "Look out for the engine"; at times the train passed over rocky bedded streams dammed for milling, and once or twice across rivers half choked with logs upon which men ran like water-bugs; then through red brick towns, and towns with square granite stores and offices, and towns of white and green, marking the three disconnected periods of the architectural development of Maine; and everywhere the pines.
In the midst of a stretch of thick woods the engine began to whistle frantically. A brakeman, followed closely by a conductor, hurried through the car. The wheels ground harshly and the train gradually ceased to move. Ahead could be heard the loud pounding of the engine and the roar of escaping steam. Volumes of smoke, white and black, rolled over the pines and cast rapidly changing shadows upon the ground. Wilkins, who had gone forth to seek information, now returned.
"There's a freight wreck just a'ead, sir. The conductor says as how we shall be delayed 'ere at least nine hours."
McAllister glanced down at the little form in his arms. It had not moved. Gently he carried her along the aisle, out upon the platform, and down the steps to the ground. Still she did not awake. Up the track he could see groups of excited passengers gesticulating around grotesque piles of wreckage upon which a locomotive lay with its wheels in the air. Beside the track stretched a pine grove, its soft carpet of needles flecked with sunlight. At the foot of one giant tree, on a bed of gray moss, the clubman laid his little charge and threw himself at her feet. An irritable family of nervous crows flapped noisily away to the other side of the track, assembled in angry consultation in a hemlock, deputed a spy, who cautiously reconnoitred, and, on the latter's report, returned. At a safe distance Wilkins sat upon a windfall, and with one eye upon his sleeping master smoked rapidly one of McAllister's cigars.
"Yes, Miss Higgins got yer telegram," answered Deacon Brewer, as they drove slowly along the river in the dusty heat of the early July morning. "Ef she hadn't I reckon she'd 'a' gone nigh crazy."
They were in an open two-seated buck-board. McAllister, holding Abby in his lap, occupied the front seat with the Deacon, while Wilkins sat behind with the valise and the pasteboard box.
"It was a tiresome delay and really a very fortunate escape," responded McAllister. "Abby behaved beautifully."
"She's a good child," said the Deacon. "Her mother was a fine woman, and she's goin' to be just like her."
"Are we nearly home?" asked the little girl, rubbing her eyes.
"'Most," answered the Deacon. "Are ye hungry?"
"I got her some bread and milk at a farm-house," explained McAllister, "but none of us have had any breakfast yet."
"Wall, I reckon Miss Higgins'll be prepared for ye," said the Deacon. "She's a liberal woman an' a smart woman, but all the same, the farm's going to be sold for taxes next week."
Abby had fallen asleep, but the clubman started and looked anxiously at her at this piece of intelligence.
"She don't know nuthin' about it," said the farmer. "Miss Higgins can't run a hard-scrabble farm, nor no one can and make a livin' out'n it. It ain't worth five dollars an acre."
"What will she do?" asked the clubman.
"Darn ef I know," responded the other. "She kin help around some, I guess. Deacon Giddings has a powerful lot of company. 'N any woman kin sew. She kin make out, I reckon."
"But the child?" whispered McAllister.
"Her Uncle Moses'll hev to take her," answered the Deacon.
"Jiminy!" ejaculated the clubman, recalling the little girl's description of her uncle's wife. "She won't like that."
"Beggars can't be choosers," said the Deacon dryly.
A turn in the road brought them within view of a small, low farm-house, with good-sized barn, lying in a field between the woods and the river, here about a quarter of a mile in width. The pines grew close to the road upon the left, but upon the other side the land had been well cleared to the Penobscot's bank. Huge piles of stones, ten or twelve feet long, five or so broad, and four or five feet high, were monuments to the energy and industry of some former owner.
"Gosh, how Henery worked to clear this farm!" remarked the Deacon. "He hove stone for twenty years, an' then died. Look at them trees!"
He pointed dramatically to a large orchard containing row upon row of young apple-trees.
At the sound of the wheels a woman came slowly out of the side door and watched their approach. She had the pale, sickly countenance of the wife of the inland Maine farmer, and her limp dress ill concealed the angularity of her form. Her eyes showed that she had passed a sleepless night. McAllister leaped out and lifted Abby down. The woman neither spoke to nor kissed the child, but clutched her tightly in her arms. Then she nodded to the new-comers.
"I'm obliged to ye, Deacon Brewer," she said. "Is this the man who sent the telegram? Won't ye come in and set down?"
"Oh, yes," cried Abby ecstatically. "Get out, Mr. Wilkins! I want to show you the black horse, and all the hens."
"I must be gettin' back," muttered the Deacon.
"Could you let us have a bite of breakfast?" inquired McAllister. "My train doesn't go until twelve o'clock." To return to Bangor at this particular time did not suit him.
"Such as it is," replied Miss Higgins.
"Could you arrange to call out for me in an hour or so?" asked McAllister.
"I reckon I kin," said the Deacon with some reluctance. "I'll hev ter charge ye fifty cents."
"Of course," said McAllister.
Wilkins took down the parcels, and the Deacon drove slowly away.
"I'll scrape somethin' together in a few minutes," said Miss Higgins. "How much was that telegram?"
"Oh, that's all right!" said the abashed clubman.
"No, it ain't. Money's money. Was it ez much ez a quarter?"
McAllister acknowledged the amount.
"I thought so," commented Miss Higgins. "It was wuth it." She had the money all ready and handed it to McAllister.
Etiquette seemed to demand its acceptance.
"Did you say your name was McAllister? Who's this man?"
"His name is Wilkins."
"Well," said Aunt Abby, "one of ye might split up that log, if ye don't mind, while I get the breakfast."
She turned into the house.
McAllister looked doubtfully at the wood-pile.
"Let Mr. Wilkins chop the wood!" shouted Abby; "I want to show you the ba-an."
"Wilkins," said McAllister, "wood-chopping is an art sanctified in this country by tradition."
"Very good, sir," answered Wilkins.
Abby grasped McAllister's hand and tugged him joyfully over the poverty-stricken farm. They visited the orchard, the pig-sty, the hen-house, admired the horse that had been a girl, and ended at the water's edge.
"We ketch salmon here in the spring," explained Abby; "and smelts."
Across the eddying river quiet farms slept in the hot sunshine. Two men in a dory swung slowly up-stream. At their feet the clear water rippled against the stones. In his mind the clubman pictured the stifling city and the squalor of relative existence there.
"It's beautiful, Abby," he said.
"It's the loveliest place in the whole world," she answered, holding his hand tightly. "And I shall never, never go away."
Behind them came the shrill tones of Aunt Abby's voice bidding them to breakfast. Wilkins, coatless, was bearing some mangled fragments of log toward the kitchen. His beaded face spoke unutterable dejection.
"Well, set daown; it's all there is," said Miss Higgins.
McAllister sat, and Abby climbed into a high chair. Wilkins remained standing.
"Ain't ye goin' to set?" inquired Miss Higgins.
"Well, ye be the most bashful man I ever met," remarked the lady. "Set daown and eat yer victuals."
"Sit down," said McAllister, and for the second time master and man shared a meal.
The little room was bare of decoration except for some colored lithographs and wood-cuts, which for the most part represented the funeral corteges of distinguished Americans, with a few hospital scenes and the sinking of a steamship. A rug soiled to a dull drab made a sort of mud spot before the fireplace; a knitted tidy, suggestive of the antimacassar, ornamented the only rocker; at one end stood the stove, and hard by two fixed tubs. Everything except the carpet was scrupulously clean.
Miss Higgins brought to the table a dish of steaming boiled eggs, half a loaf of white bread, and a vegetable dish with a large piece of butter.
"I'll have some coffee for ye in a minute," she remarked as she placed the dishes before them.
McAllister broke some of the eggs into a tumbler and cut the bread.
"What might be your business?" inquired Miss Higgins.
"Er—well—" hesitated McAllister. "I've travelled quite a bit."
"I had a cousin in the hardware line," remarked the hostess reminiscently. "He travelled everywheres. Has it ever taken you ez fur as St. Louis?"
"No," said McAllister. "My line never took me so far."
"Andrew died there—of the water. What's your business?" continued Miss Higgins to Wilkins.
"I'm with Mr. McAllister, ma'am."
"Oh! same firm?"
Wilkins coughed violently and evaded the interrogation.
"Mr. Wilkins handles gents' clothing, underwear, haberdashery, and notions," interposed McAllister gravely.
Wilkins swayed in his seat and grew purple around the gills.
"Oh, Mr. Wilkins!" cried Abby, "what's the matter? You will burst! Take a drink of water."
The valet obediently tried to do as she bade him.
"How much is land worth around here?" asked the clubman. "And what do you raise?"
Miss Higgins looked at him suspiciously.
"We raise pertaters, some corn and oats, and get a purty fair apple crop in the autumn."
"Must have been hard work clearing the farm," added McAllister, "if one can judge by the piles of stones."
"Work? I guess 'twas work!" sniffed Miss Higgins. "You travellin' men hain't got no idee of what real work is. There ain't a stone in the nineteen acres of farm land. Henery picked 'em all up by hand."
"Are you Abby's guardian?" asked McAllister.
"Yes," said Miss Higgins. "I'm all the folks she's got, except Moses, down to Portsmouth, and a lot of good he is with that wife he's got!"
Wilkins now asked awkwardly to be excused.
"That friend of yourn seems to be a dummy!" remarked Miss Higgins after the valet had disappeared.
"He isn't much in the social line," admitted his master. "But he knows his business."
"I'm goin' out to show Mr. Wilkins the beehive," cried Abby, slipping down from her chair. "Come right along, won't you?"
"I'll be there in just a minute," said McAllister.
Abby grabbed up her sunbonnet and ran skipping out of the kitchen.
"She's a dear little girl," said McAllister. "I hope she'll have a chance to get a good education."
"Education behind a counter in Bangor is all she'll get," answered her aunt.
They sat in silence for a moment, and then McAllister, feeling the craving induced by habit, drew an Obsequio from his pocket, and asked:
"Do you object to smoking?"
Miss Abby bristled.
"I don't want none o' them se-gars in this house, so long's I'm in it!" she exclaimed. "Ain't out-doors good enough for you, without stinkin' up the kitchen?"
"I didn't mean any offence," apologized McAllister. "I'll wait till I go out, of course."
"One of the devil's tricks!" sniffed Miss Abby.
McAllister, terribly embarrassed, got up and stepped to the window. The coffee had been execrable, but a benign influence animated him. Down the slope toward the gently flowing Penobscot little Abby was leading Wilkins by the hand. The boy-horse kicked his heels in a daisy-flecked pasture beyond the barn.
"What did you say the farm was worth?" asked the clubman.
"There's a hundred and eighty-one acres o' woodland, and the cleared land just makes two hundred. It ought to be worth eighteen hundred dollars."
"I know a man who wants a farm. He says some day all this river front will be valuable for a summer resort. I'm authorized to buy for him. I'll give you sixteen hundred and fifty. Is it a bargain?"
Miss Abby turned pale.
"Oh, I don't know! It seems dreadful to sell it, after all the years Henery put into cleanin' of it up. I was hopin' somehow that maybe I could get work on the farm from them as bought it and keep Abby here for a while longer."
"That's all right," said McAllister. "My principal is buying it on a speculation. You can stay indefinitely."
"How about rent?" asked Miss Abby.
"You can take care of the farm, and he won't charge you any rent."
The terms having been finally arranged to Miss Abby's satisfaction, McAllister drew a small check-book from his pocket and filled out a voucher for the amount.
"We can sign the papers later," said he with a smile.
Miss Abby took the slip of paper doubtfully.
"How do I know I ain't gettin' cheated?" she asked. "Suppose this should turn out to be no good?"
"Then you'd have the farm," said McAllister.
He fumbled in his pocket until he found a clean letter-back and with his stylographic pen rapidly wrote the following:
"I hereby give and convey the Henry Higgins farm, heretofore purchased by me, to my friend Abigail Martha Higgins, in consideration for much of value of which no one knows but myself. In witness whereof I sign my name and affix a seal."
He found a used postage-stamp that still had a trifle of gum on its back and made use of it as a fragmentary seal.
While in some doubt as to the legal sufficiency of this instrument, McAllister felt that its intendment was unmistakable. Having replaced his pen, he carefully folded the document and thrust it into his pocket. Just at this moment Miss Higgins announced the return of Deacon Brewer, who was wheeling slowly into the gate. Toward the orchard McAllister could see, as he stepped to the door, little Abby still tugging along Wilkins, whose massive and emotionless face was glistening with the heat.
"Hit's very 'ot, sir!" he remarked tentatively to his master. "I've been to see the 'ives."
"How funny Mr. Wilkins talks!" said Abby. "He told me he knew a boy once who got stung, and said the bee bit 'im in 'is 'ead! Do all drummers talk like that?"
"Drummers!" exclaimed Wilkins.
"Aunt said you were both drummers; I s'pose you left your drums somewhere. I don't like 'em; they make too much music. They have them in the circus parade in Bangor every year."
"Be you folks ready to start?" inquired Deacon Brewer. "Purty nice view of the water from here, ain't they? There's a good well on the place, too, and a few boat-loads of manure would give you crops to beat—all. Don't know enybody thet wants to speckalate a little in farmin' land, do ye? This here is a good, likely place. Reckon you kin buy it cheap."
"Sh-h!" said McAllister, laying his finger on his lips.
"No one sha'n't ever buy this farm," said Abby; "I'm goin' to live here always."
"Wall," said the Deacon, "better be movin'. I don't like to keep the mare standin' in the sun."
"Are you goin' away?" cried Abby in agonized tones. "You'll come back soon, won't you?"
"I hope so, very soon," said McAllister. "Don't you want to show me the boy-horse before I start?"
"Oh, yes, yes!" she cried, seizing his hand.
The stout clubman and the little girl walked slowly across the grass-grown drive to the daisy field beside the barn, talking busily.
"Your friend's bought this farm," announced Miss Abby to Wilkins.
"'Oly Moses!" ejaculated the valet.
"By gum!" exclaimed the Deacon. "What did he give?"
"Sixteen hundred and fifty dollars."
"Gee!" said the Deacon.
"An' we're to stay on rent-free 's long 's we want!"
"I swan!" commented the pillar of the local Baptist Church. "Some folks doos hev luck!"
He went over to adjust a bit of harness.
"It'll keep 'em out o' the poor farm," he muttered. "But, by gosh, thet feller must be a fool!"
Over in the daisy field, McAllister, to the wonder of the boy-horse, pulled the despised cigar from his pocket, cut off the end, and began to smoke with infinite satisfaction.
"What a beautiful, beautiful, lovely ring!" exclaimed Abby joyfully, examining with delight the embossed paper of red and gold.
"Do you remember about the lonely man who lived in the big white house I told you of?" asked McAllister.
"Of course I do," sighed Abby. "Poor man! he was so good, and nobody loved him."
"Do you love him?" asked McAllister.
"Dear man! I love him, all my heart!" cried the child.
"Then the man is very, very happy," said McAllister softly.
Overhead a single black crow, wheeling out of a stumpy pine, circled to investigate this strange love-scene. Satisfied of its propriety, he cawed loudly and resettled himself upon the shaking topmost bough.
McAllister drew the golden band from his cigar and took the folded paper from his pocket.
"Here's a love-letter," said he. "Your aunt will read it for you when I've gone."
Abby took it sadly.
"Now hold up your left hand," said McAllister, smiling. As he slipped the paper circle over her fourth finger he said gravely:
"'With this ring I thee wed, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.' Give me a kiss."
She did so, in wonder.
"Now we are married," said he.