Literary Thoughts edition presents The Touch of Abner by Hiram Alfred "H.A." Cody ------ "The Touch of Abner" is a novel written in 1919 by Canadian clergyman and novelist Hiram Alfred "H. A." Cody (1872-1948) and tells the story from the dramatic moment when Abner subscribes $1.000 to the Orphanage Fund and explodes a financial bomb in the closefisted meeting of the folks of Glucom. All books of the Literary Thoughts edition have been transscribed from original prints and edited for better reading experience. Please visit our homepage www.literarythoughts.com to see our other publications.
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Liczba stron: 388
Transscribed and Published by Jacson Keating (editor)
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"Put me down fer a thousand."
These words drawled slowly forth produced an immediate effect, and caused fifty people to straighten suddenly up and look enquiringly around. The reporter of The Live Wire gave one lightning glance toward the speaker, and then began to write rapidly upon his pad lying before him. The chairman, too, was visibly affected. He leaned forward, and searched the room with his small squinting eyes.
"Did I hear aright?" he asked. "Did someone say 'a thousand?'"
At once a man in the back row started to rise, but was pulled quickly down by a woman sitting at his side.
"Let go my coat-tails, Tildy," he whispered.
"But, Abner, are you crazy?"
"Crazy, be hanged! Leave me alone, can't ye?"
"Oh, it's you, Mr. Andrews, is it?" the chairman remarked.
"Yes, it's me all right."
"And you wish to give one thousand dollars?"
"That's what I said."
"Well, then, will you please step forward and sign your name?"
"Oh, that feller waggin' the pen kin do it better'n me. Jist tell him to put Abner Andrews, of Ash Pint, down fer a thousand."
"But we would prefer to have your own signature," the chairman insisted. "It is always customary in cases such as this."
"Are ye afraid that I'll back out, an' won't pay?"
"No, not at all, Mr. Andrews. But, you see, it's more business-like to get your name in your own handwriting. We shall make an exception, though, in your case if you so earnestly desire it."
"Now ye're shoutin'."
"Shoutin'; talkin' sense. Don't ye git me?"
"H'm, I see," and the chairman leaned his elbow upon the table and gently stroked his chin with the fingers of his right hand. "I didn't understand you at first, as I am not accustomed to such expressions."
"But ye understand the meanin' of a thousand dollars, don't ye?"
"Indeed, I do, Mr. Andrews, and what is more, I wish to thank you very heartily. I am sure that all here to-night feel most grateful to you for your generosity."
"Oh, I don't want ye'r gratitude, an' as fer as I kin see, it's worth darn little."
"Abner! Abner!" the voice at his side chided. "What are you saying?"
"Didn't ye hear, Tildy? Where's ye'r ears?" and Abner turned slightly toward his protesting wife. "I was merely remarkin' that the gratitude of this gatherin' of men an' women is worth darn little. Now, d'ye hear?"
"How do you make that out, Mr. Andrews?" the chairman sharply questioned. "Such a statement demands an explanation."
"Hear! Hear!" came from several.
"How do I make that out?" Abner repeated, as he scratched the back of his head, and let his eyes roam for a few seconds around the room. "Well, I'm jist judgin' accordin' to what I have seen an' heard. Me an' Tildy came to town to-day to do a little shoppin', an' happenin' to hear that there was to be a meetin' of the influential people of this place to see about the buildin' of a Home fer orphan children, we made up our minds to come too. We're mightily interested in orphans, we surely are. I've often told Tildy that it's a downright shame that this town hasn't sich a Home, where poor little orphan kids kin be well looked after."
"You're quite right, Mr. Andrews," the chairman assented. "We have delayed this matter too long already. But now that you have given us such splendid assistance, the work should go rapidly forward. I am very glad that you and your wife came to this meeting."
"Yes, me an' Tildy came here," Abner continued, "expectin' to see somethin' real grand. We've heard a great deal of highfalutin' talk about poor little orphans an' what ought to be done fer 'em. But, skiddy-me-shins, as fer as I kin see it'll all end in wind, an' nuthin''ll be done."
"I object to such remarks," a pompous little man protested, rising suddenly to his feet, and appealing to the chairman. "We didn't come here to listen to such language and abuse from this ignorant countryman."
"You jist flop down an' hold ye'r tongue, Ikey Dimock," Abner ordered. "I've got the floor at present, an' I intend to keep it, too, until I've had my say. You made a big harangue a little while ago, an' how much was it worth? Ten dollars, that's all. An' you one of the richest men in town. An' that's the way with the rest of yez. Ye've talked, but when it came to givin' yez wer'n't there. That's the reason why I said ye'r gratitude is worth darn little. I don't want ye'r gratitude, anyway. It's them poor little orphan kids I'm worried about, an' I guess I'll worry a long time before any Home is built, judgin' by this meetin'. Come, Tildy, let's go home. I've had enough of this."
A complete silence reigned in the room as Abner and his wife walked slowly to the door. When they were at last out of the building, the chairman breathed a sigh of relief, and a slight smile flickered across his face.
"Now that the cyclone is over," he remarked, "we will gather up the fragments that remain and go on with our building."
A ripple of amusement passed through the assembly, and there were numerous whispered conversations. Instead of being very indignant at what Abner had said, all, except Isaac Dimock, were inclined to treat the countryman's cutting words as a joke. They wondered, nevertheless, at the offer he had made of one thousand dollars. The reporter kept steadily on with his writing. He was alive to the situation, and chuckled to himself as he thought of the stirring article he would have for The Live Wire in the morning.
Abner untied his horse from the post near the place of meeting, while his wife scrambled up into the carriage. Neither had spoken a word since leaving the building. It was only when well started on their homeward way that Mrs. Andrews ventured to speak.
"What was the matter with you to-night, Abner?" she enquired.
"Nuthin', as fer as I know."
"Yes, there was, or you wouldn't have spoken and acted the way you did."
"Oh, I jist wanted to give them folks a jolt, that's all."
"And made a fool of yourself, didn't you?"
"De ye think I did, Tildy? Gid-dap, Jerry."
"I know it. Only a fool or a lunatic would offer to give one thousand dollars when he hasn't a cent to his name."
"Ye'r wrong, Tildy. I'm not crazy, an' I don't think I'm altogether a fool. It was somethin' else that shook me timbers at the meetin'."
"What was it?"
"Oh, you know as well as I do. I imagined I was as rich as I used to be several hundred years ago, an'——"
"For pity sakes, Abner, stop that nonsense. Because you think you lived hundreds of years ago, and that you were very rich and a great man, doesn't make you rich and great now. You're only Abner Andrews of Ash Point, and can hardly pay your bills, let alone give one thousand dollars toward building a Home for orphan children."
"But, Tildy, I thought I was really old man Astor, an' saw millions of dollars right before me."
"Well, if that's the way you felt, I think it's about time we called in the doctor. There's surely something wrong with your head."
"But, Tildy, ye don't understand. De ye think I was goin' to set there an' let them people git off with their cussed meanness? Not by a jugful! Gid-dap, Jerry, what's the matter with ye?"
"But what about that thousand dollars? Do you expect to pay it?"
"Sure I do."
"Where's it to come from, then?"
"Oh, I'll find it somewheres."
"Not out of that old farm of ours, let me tell you that. Why, it's nothing but a heap of gravel, and you know as well as I do how hard we scratch and dig to raise anything. But you would buy the place, no matter what I said."
"It's a mighty fine situation, though, Tildy. G'long, Jerry."
"It may be that, Abner, but you can't live on a fine situation these days. Haven't you always had fine situations for over twenty years now, and what have they amounted to?"
"Yes, I've touched on a good many things in that time, Tildy. I ran the old 'Flyin' Scud' on the river fer five years; an' then I bought that thrashin' machine from Sol Britt, an' ran it fer awhile. After that I went in fer lumberin', an' kept it up fer several winters. Now I'm into farmin'. Yes, ye'r quite right about the situations. I've had several fine ones, sure enough."
"And made a mess of them all, Abner. Everything you touched failed. And I expect it will be the same with the farm."
"Oh, I don't know about that, Tildy. We manage to git along an' make a comfortable livin'. I've allus depended upon three things to pull me through."
"You have? What are they? I never heard of them."
"Brains, gall, an' luck. They've never failed me yit, an' I guess they won't now."
"H'm," and Mrs. Andrews tossed her head in disgust. "I know you've got plenty of gall, but as for brains and luck, well, I have my serious doubts."
"Yes, I guess ye'r right, Tildy. I reckon I had a lot of gall when I asked ye to marry me. But as fer brains an' luck, well I don't know. Gid-dap, Jerry."
To these words Mrs. Andrews made no reply. Silence reigned for a few minutes, save for the rattle of the carriage and the beat of the horse's feet upon the road. Abner grew restless. He shifted uneasily in his seat, and coughed. Then he began to whistle, a sure sign of the agitated state of his mind. The whistle soon gave place to the humming of the only piece he knew:
"When Bill Larkins made his money,
Piled it up in heaps galore,
Dam old fool he wasn't happy,
'Cause he always wanted more."
Even this didn't have the desired effect. He could stand anything from his wife but dead silence. That alone affected him.
"Say, Tildy," he at length ventured.
"Well, what is it? I should think you'd be ashamed to speak to me after such insulting words."
"Yes, I hear you. What is it?"
"Didn't Ikey Dimock squirm when I landed on him? Ho, ho!"
"And I squirmed, too, Abner. I never felt so ashamed of anything in all my life."
"But ye didn't squirm like Ikey, though, Tildy. My, it tickled me all to pieces to give him that jolt. Why, I knew Ikey when he used to pick pin-feathers off his mother's chickens when she was gittin' 'em ready fer market. He wasn' sich a bad critter then. But since he got hitched to that high-flyer, an' set up in the hardware bizness, ye can't touch him with a ten-foot pole. But I made him squirm. Ho, ho! G'long, Jerry."
"Maybe you'll squirm, Abner, when they come for that money. Then it won't be such fun. I wonder what Jess'll say. She's coming home to-morrow, remember."
"Jess! Skiddy-me-shins! I fergot all about her!"
"You certainly did. And you must have forgotten that it took every cent we could make and scrape together to put her through the Seminary. What will she say and think when she finds out what you have done?"
"Don't let's tell her, Tildy. She needn't know anythin' about it."
"H'm, that's easier said than done. You'll be the first one to tell her, Abner, when you meet her in the morning at the station."
"No, I won't, Tildy. Jess'll not hear it from me, blamed if she will. G'long, Jerry."
Abner was early at the station the next morning, and after he had hitched his horse to a post near the building, he strolled into the waiting-room. Seeing the station agent busily reading The Live Wire he stepped toward the ticket-window and peered through.
"'Mornin', Sam," he accosted. "How's the train?"
"Fifteen minutes late," the agent replied as he lowered his paper. "You're early, Mr. Andrews. You'll have to wait nearly an hour."
"Oh, I don't mind that, Sam," and Abner reached down into his pocket as he spoke and brought forth a pipe, tobacco, and knife. "I allus make a bizness of bein' ahead of time. I s'pose ye often see people runnin' to catch the train, eh?"
"Indeed I do, and they generally make a lot of trouble for themselves and everybody else."
"That's jist it. I've often told Tildy that if people'd use their brains more an' their legs less it'd be a darn sight better fer all consarned. What's the news, Sam?"
"Why, haven't you seen the paper this morning, Mr. Andrews?" the agent asked in surprise.
"Naw, I don't go much on dailies; they've too many 'vertisement. I take the Family Herald and git a hull library every week fer one dollar a year. Ye kin find most everythin' ye want in the Herald from raisin' hogs to teethin' babies. It's sartinly great."
"But The Live Wire should interest you this morning, Mr. Andrews. It has a long article on the meeting last night, and about your generous gift toward the Orphan Home."
"Ye don't tell! Well, I guess I know as much about last night's meetin' as the feller who was there waggin' the pen. That's the trouble with The Live Wire; it tells ye things ye already know."
Although Abner pretended to be completely indifferent about the account of the meeting, in reality he was most anxious to read what the paper had to say about it. But after what he had said about the dailies, it would not do for him to back down now. The agent would have a laugh at his expense. He could buy a copy at the drug-store up the street.
"Keep an eye on my hoss, will ye, Sam? I've got to git some corn-salve fer Tildy. She fergot it yesterday, an' her corns were mighty bad last night."
"Is your horse afraid of trains, Mr. Andrews?"
"Afraid of trains! Well, I guess ye don't know Jerry. Why, that hoss likes a noise better'n he does his oats."
"That's curious, isn't it?"
"S'pose 'tis. But ye see, Jerry was raised in a pasture near the railroad, an' then he lived in town fer a few years. After I bought him an' took him to Ash Pint, it was so quiet there he began to pine an' pine, an' wouldn't eat nor drink. Thinkin' he was goin' to die, I brought him to town to see the hoss doctor. But, skiddy-me-shins, if he didn't buck right up as soon as he heard the whistle of the train. He was like a new hoss."
"Has he got over the quietness of the country yet?" the agent enquired.
"Not altogether. He kin stand it fer a few days, an' then when I see he's longin' fer the trains, I tak' the big tin horn and blow it close to his ears fer all I'm worth. That cheers him up a bit; but there's nothin' like the yell of one of them big en-gines to give him solid comfort. Jerry is sartinly a knowin' hoss."
Abner left the waiting-room and sauntered along the street in the direction of the drug-store. He knew all the business men in Glucom, and they always spoke or nodded to him in passing. But this morning the ones he met seemed unusually friendly, and stopped to shake hands, and enquire after his health. It was Lawyer Rackshaw, however, who was the most effusive. He met Abner just in front of the drug-store, and accosted him as a long-lost friend.
"How is your wife, Mr. Andrews, and your pretty daughter?" he asked, at the same time shaking the farmer's hand most vigorously.
"Say, let up," Abner protested, as he struggled to free his hand. "De ye think I'm an old pump? If ye'r dry, come into the store, an' we'll have a sody together. That's the best I kin do fer ye this mornin'."
"Ha, ha," the lawyer laughed. "I guess you're worth pumping, all right, Mr. Andrews. A man who can flash up a thousand, such as you did at the meeting last night, must have more where that came from, eh?
"If I have, it's because I have taken darn good care to keep out of the way of lawyers," Abner retorted. "But, there, I must git along," he added, "an' buy Tildy a corn-salve before the train comes in."
"Oh, you have plenty of time," and the lawyer pulled out his watch. "Why, you've half an hour yet. But, say, Mr. Andrews, I've been reading the account of last night's meeting. My, I admire your pluck. You did certainly put it over Ikey Dimock all right. Ha, ha, that was a good one. You've seen the paper, I suppose?"
"Naw, I don't go much on papers," was the reply. "I seldom read 'em."
"But you must read this one, though. Here, you may have mine."
Abner took the paper, and thrust it into his pocket. "Thank ye, I'll read it when I git time. I must be off now, or I'll be late fer the train."
"Have a cigar, Mr. Andrews. Here's a rare Havana. I know you're fond of a good smoke."
"How many of these de ye smoke a day, Mr. Rackshaw?" Abner asked, as he carefully studied the band upon the cigar.
"Oh, generally five or six, and sometimes more. It all depends on what I am doing."
"Cost quite a bit, eh?"
"Yes, I suppose I burn between two and three hundred dollars during the year."
"Ye don't tell! Bizness must be good, eh? I kin hardly afford to keep me old pipe goin', let alone smoke cigars."
"Oh, that's the way you've been able to save, Mr. Andrews, and have a nice sum to give for the orphanage. Isn't that so?"
"How much d' you intend to fork over fer that Home, Mr. Rackshaw?" Abner enquired.
"I? Oh, I shall give my services free; that will be my contribution."
"H'm, in what way?"
"There will be considerable work to be done, such as legal advice, and other important matters to be attended to. I intend to do all that for nothing."
"Well, that is generous of ye, Mr. Rackshaw. I s'pose sich things will be needed, no doubt. From what I understand, others in town are goin' to do the same as you, an' so the poor little orphans will be housed, an' clothed, an' fed by the advice an' good wishes of all. It sartinly will be a great institution. Now, look here," and Abner suddenly reached out and laid his big right hand upon the lawyer's shoulder, "I want to give ye a word of advice."
"Excuse me, Mr. Andrews," and Rackshaw stepped back a pace. "I must hurry away. I have important business on hand, which must be attended to at once. And, besides, I must not detain you any longer, as you might be late for the train. Good-morning, Mr. Andrews."
Abner bought the corn-salve, and made his way back to the station. He chuckled to himself as he moved along the street, and his eyes twinkled with amusement. Finding that he had ten minutes to spare, he seated himself upon a box on the platform, and drew forth the copy of The Live Wire. As he did so his hand touched the cigar in his vest pocket. He pulled it out, and looked it over. Then he scratched the back of his head with the fingers of his left hand.
"Wonder what that bait's fer?" he mused. "Rackshaw didn't part with that cigar fer nuthin'. He's fishin' fer somethin', all right. But, skiddy-me-shins, he'll have to use different bait than that if he expects to catch Abner Andrews, of Ash Pint."
Replacing the cigar, he unfolded the paper, and began to read the account of the meeting, which occupied the leading place on the front page. The reporter had written a most stirring article, and had recorded every word that Abner had uttered, including his tilt with Isaac Dimock. Then followed a list of those who had contributed, with Abner's name leading for one thousand dollars. The other amounts were small, the largest being fifty dollars from the chairman, Henry Whittles.
"Great snakes!" Abner exclaimed in disgust. "Is that all Whittles gave, an' him the richest man in town! I wonder——"
But just then the train blew.
There was little wonder that Abner suddenly straightened himself up while an expression of pride beamed in his eyes, as Jess stepped from the train, and hurried toward him. Nature had been kind to this girl of eighteen, and had endowed her with more than an ordinary charm of form and features. Joy and health radiated from her every movement as naturally and unconsciously as an orchard in bloom sheds its sweetness. Her sympathetic nature and impulsive disposition caused her to be beloved by all who knew her, and Jess Andrews was a general favorite. The eyes of several youths followed her closely as she hurried along the platform to where her father was standing.
"Have you been waiting long, daddy dear?" she asked, after she had given him an affectionate hug and kiss.
"Not overly long," Abner replied, as he held her at arm's length, and viewed her with undisguised admiration. "My you've grown," he added. "Ye look jist like a peach."
"Do I?" Jess laughingly asked, as she brushed back a wayward tress of dark-brown hair. "It has been so long since I have seen a peach that I hardly know what one looks like. I wish I had one now, as I am almost starved. I wouldn't look at it long, I can tell you."
"Well, let's git home at once," Abner replied. "Ye'r ma has some fine preserved peaches, which she's been keepin' fer ye, an' she wouldn't let me touch 'em. Jerry is over there by that post. I brought the express along this mornin' so's to take ye'r trunk. I'll go an' git it right off."
Jess went over and stroked Jerry's glossy neck, and gave him the last chocolate she possessed. It merely whetted his appetite, and he eagerly begged for more, by pawing the ground and thrusting his nose into the friendly hand.
"You have a sweet tooth, haven't you, old boy?" and Jess again patted his neck. "You shall have two pieces of candy when I get more, though dear knows when that will be," she regretfully sighed. "I am hard up, Jerry, as I spent my last cent on these chocolates, and don't like to ask daddy for any more money, for I know how difficult it has been for him to pay my bills at the Seminary. But, never mind, when I get to work I shall have plenty. But here comes daddy now."
Abner approached, trundling Jess' trunk upon a truck he had procured from the station agent. He dumped his load upon the ground at the rear of the wagon, and then stooped to lift the trunk up into the express. As he did so, the copy of The Live Wire slipped from his coat pocket and fell at his feet. Jess at once stepped forward and picked it up.
"Hi, there; what are ye doin'?" Abner enquired, as he suddenly straightened himself up, and looked quickly around.
"You dropped this, that's all," and Jess held up the paper as she spoke.
"Here, give me that," was the peremptory order. "It's dangerous."
"Dangerous! What do you mean?"
"It'll cause an explosion, if ye'r not careful, 'specially if ye open it. 'Taint safe."
"Why, it's only The Live Wire, daddy! It surely can't do any harm."
"Yes, it will, jist as soon as ye open it. There'd be sich an explosion that it 'ud fairly take me head off."
Into the girl's eyes came a mingled expression of fear and surprise. What did her father mean by such words? Could there be anything wrong with his brain? He had never acted so strangely before.
"Are ye goin' to give me that paper?" Abner asked.
"Certainly," Jess replied as she acceded to his request. "But I think you might tell me what makes it so dangerous, daddy."
"High explosives, that's what 'tis. It's worse than nitro-glycerine, which goes off jist as soon as ye look at it."
"But you should not carry it, then, daddy. If it is not safe for me to touch, neither is it for you, so there."
"Oh, I know how to handle it," Abner chuckled, as he thrust the paper back into his pocket. "Climb up now, an' let's be off."
"There is something in it you don't want me to see; isn't that it?" Jess asked.
"Mebbe there is. Anyway, I don't want to be blown to bits. Whoa, there, Jerry. What's the matter with ye? Take the reins, Jess, an' hold that hoss. He's jist dyin' fer an explosion. I kin tell it by the way he twists his ears."
As soon as Abner had hoisted the trunk up into the express, he climbed over the wheel, took his seat by his daughter's side, seized the reins, and headed Jerry for home.
"You didn't take the truck back," Jess reminded him as soon as they had started.
"Well, neither I did! But, never mind, Sam'll git it. He might as well be doin' somethin', the lazy rascal. It's his bizness to wait on the public, an' we're as much the public as anybody. G'long, Jerry."
"My, I'm glad to be back," and Jess gave a deep sigh of contentment. "I never saw the fields look so pretty, nor the trees such a wonderful variety of green. I missed all that at the Seminary. That beautiful maple over there in front of Mr. Sanders' house seems to have grown since I went away."
"H'm," Abner grunted, "Joe should cut that down; it hides the view."
"Oh, daddy, don't say that. Just think what such a tree means. There is so much in it."
"Y'bet there is; more'n a cord of good firewood."
"I don't mean that, daddy. I wasn't thinking of the wood, but of the beauty of form and color on golden, summer days, and the mystic music when the wind is rushing through its branches."
"Oh, it's them things ye'r thinkin' of. Well, mebbe ye'r right. But a piece of good dry maple in our old stove on a cold day in winter gives all the poetry an' music I want. Guess ye've been studyin' sich things at the Seminary, eh?"
"For a time we did. But this last term most of us were greatly interested in Social Service studies."
"Ye don't tell! What's that, anyway? A new kind of religion or prayer-meetin', eh?"
"Oh, no," and Jess laughed merrily. "It is merely social reform, that is, efforts to lessen and remove existing evils."
"Well, that's interestin'. Pretty big problem, I should say; almost as hard as clearin' a dog's hide of fleas."
"Much harder, daddy. You see, we have to deal with human nature at its lowest, and elevate it step by step."
"Oh, now I begin to spy daylight. Ye'r to be a kind of human elevator, sich as they have in big stores, which boosts ye from cellar to garret quicker'n ye kin say 'jack-rabbit.'"
"It's something like that, only this is a long and difficult work, needing no end of patience. It means not only fighting such evils as the liquor traffic, horse-racing, gambling, graft and such things, but we must educate people as to the proper training and welfare of children, and teach them how to keep their houses clean and free from diseases. I could not begin to tell you all the subjects Social Service includes."
"It sartinly must cover a heap of ground," Abner mused, as he flicked Jerry gently with the whip. "But does it tell ye how to cook, darn socks, sew on buttons, an' do sich ordinary household work?"
"Why, no!" and Jess looked her surprise. "It's not supposed to include such things."
"H'm, is that so? Well, it seems to me that's the kind of social reform we need. Most of the gals these days tweedle-dee at the pianner, gass about art, study the fashion magazines, an' read the new novels, but as fer cookin', sewin', an' darnin', why, they know no more about sich things than a cat knows about a thrashin' machine."
"But I know, daddy," Jess reminded. "Mother taught me, you remember, before I left home."
"Sure, she did, an' she larnt ye well, too. She laid the timbers all right, keel, kilson, an' all. But, skiddy-me-shins, if ye'r goin' to carry all that Social Service sail, ye'll be a mighty different craft from what ye'r mother planned. Ye sartinly won't do fer ordinary home waters, let me tell ye that. Ye'll need a darn more sea room than kin be found at Ash Pint."
"Certainly, daddy, that's just it. I intend to go to some big city where the needs are great, and help to carry on social reform work."
"Ye do!" Abner's hands dropped limp upon his knees, and a troubled expression overspread his wrinkled face. The merry twinkle left his eyes, and the wrinkles upon his bronzed forehead seemed to deepen. "Why, I thought ye was a-goin' to stay home, Jess," he at length continued. "Ye'r ma an' me was settin' great store upon ye'r comin' back, an' castin' anchor at Ash Pint."
"I couldn't think of doing that, daddy. And besides, you have already said that I am not fitted for home waters, didn't you? I certainly do need more sea room."
"But couldn't ye take a reef or two in ye'r sail, Jess? There's considerable social work to be done right here, so why not cruise around a while in this parish? I guess ye'll find enough to keep ye busy fer a year or two at least."
"Why, what can I do, daddy?"
"Well, I can't recall all the needs. But there's Glucom, fer instance. It's right handy, an' it needs its back yards cleaned up, an' other things attended to; it sartinly does. Ye might start with Ikey Dimock, an' Lawyer Rackshaw, an' I think ye'd find enough in their cellars an' basements to occupy ye fer a long time."
"Why, daddy, I didn't know their places needed looking after. Their wives are leaders of Glucom society, and surely conditions are not as bad as you make out."
"I'm not sayin' anythin' about their wives, fer I've learned since marryin' ye'r ma to speak very keerful about women. I was merely referrin' to the men. But, remember, society ain't allus what it seems, fer many a frog kicks up a big fuss an' holler on a rotten log, an' roosters often crow the loudest on a manure heap. I guess if ye knew as much as I do about the way Ikey Dimock an' Lawyer Rackshaw, to say nuthin' of others, made their money ye'd find that I'm not fer astray. G'long, Jerry."
"But what could I do with such people, daddy? They would resent any interference on my part. They are leaders of society, you know. We work among a different class of people."
"Yes, I suppose so. But ye told me that Social Service work includes the liquor traffic, gamblin', graft, an' sich things, so that's why I mentioned Glucom. It's sartinly a fine field fer operations."
"I shall think it over, daddy," and Jess gave a deep sigh. Abner's eyes twinkled, and he glanced toward his daughter.
"S'pose ye try ye'r hand at home, Jess," he suggested.
"In what way?"
"Oh, upon me an' ye'r ma. We need a little reformin', an' the old house wants to be made a darn sight more sanitary than it is."
"Why, what do you mean?" Jess asked in surprise.
"Well, ye see, me an' ye'r ma haven't been sproutin' any extry angel-wings since ye left home, Jess. We've been havin' too much of each other's company, I guess, an' ye know that ye git tired even of the best candy an' chocolates if ye have too much of 'em. Then, we've been livin' in the kitchen, eatin' an' settin' there. We never use the dinin'-room, an' as fer the parlor, well, the blinds have been down fer so long that I have the creeps whenever I go into that room. No, it ain't sanitary. The house needs more sunshine; a cheery voice now an' then, an' some music on that old pianner once in a while. I tell ye the state of affairs at our house ain't nat'ral. A funeral is necessary occasionally, I s'pose, but ye'd think we was havin' a funeral at our house every day of the week. Yes, Jess, we need ye'r social reform work right at home as much as anywheres else. Hello! What's this?"
They had rounded the bend in the road when they saw an elderly man approaching, carrying with difficulty a rough box upon his shoulder.
"Why, it's Zeb Burns!" Abner exclaimed. "What in the world is he up to now? Hello, Zeb," he accosted, as he pulled up his horse. "Not movin', are ye?"
"What de ye think I'm doin', then?" was the retort. "Do I look as if I've been settin' under the shade of an apple tree all the mornin'?"
Zeb thumped the box down upon the ground, pulled forth a big red pocket-handkerchief, and mopped his perspiring face. As the box touched mother earth, a piercing squeal sounded forth, followed by several protesting grunts.
"Oh, it's a pig ye've got!" and Abner leaned over to obtain a better view. "One of the Chosen Tribes, I s'pose, ha, ha."
"No, it's not; it's the devil in pig's clothin'; that's what it is. It's been cussin' an' squealin' an' kickin' ever since I started from home. Guess it must be one of your ancient ancestors, Abner, shut up in this critter, by the way it acts."
"Where did ye git the thing, anyway?" Abner enquired. "Didn't raise it, did ye?"
"It's a Society pig, ye see," was the reply. "I only got it yesterday, an' sold it at once to Joe Sanders. That's where I'm takin' it now."
"Must be some class to that animal, Zeb. Society pig, eh? I s'pose it has all the marks of high life?"
"It ought to have. It was riz by the Agricultural Society, and they generally turn out good stuff. But this darn critter is certainly an exception by the way it acts."
"Why don't ye try Social Service methods on it, then?"
"Social Service methods!" Zeb exclaimed in surprise.
"Sure. Reform the thing; elevate it, of course."
"Elevate the devil!" was the disgusted retort.
"That's what Social Service is fer, though; to elevate the divil, accordin' to what Jess has been tellin' me."
"But, de ye think ye could elevate a pig?" Zeb savagely asked.
"Don't know. Never tried, except to elevate it by the hind legs after it was killed. But Social Service might work wonders with it, though. As it is a Society pig, it's had a good start, so the rest should be easy."
"Ump!" Zeb snorted. "All the Social Service methods in the world couldn't do more than elevate a pig into a hog."
"Ho, ho, I guess ye'r right, Zeb. G'long, Jerry."
Abner emitted several chuckles as they moved leisurely along the road. Once he turned and looked back just as Zeb was endeavoring to balance the box again upon his shoulder.
"Ho, ho," he laughed, "Zeb hit it that time, all right. Ye surely can't change a pig into anythin' but a hog, even though it is society bred."
"Wasn't it funny, though?" Jess commented.
"What; the pig?"
"Oh, no. But what Zeb said, and the way he looked. Is he as much interested as ever in the Lost Tribes?"
"Sure. Why, he yangs about it every time we meet. We had a regular set-to one day this week."
"But he didn't say a word about it this morning, daddy."
"Neither he did, come to think of it. He had the pig on the brain; that's why. My, that's a good one on Lost Tribes, an' I won't fergit it next time I see him. To think of Zeb bein' side-tracked by a pig! Hello! There's ye'r ma comin' to meet us, blamed if she ain't. Guess she got tired waitin'. Gid-dap, Jerry."
Reform work at home began sooner than Abner expected, and in a manner not altogether to his liking. When Jess announced that Isabel Rivers, her special friend at the Seminary, was to pay her a visit, Mrs. Andrews at once decided that the house must be thoroughly cleaned. Abner groaned inwardly as he listened to what would have to be done the next few days.
"We must have everything spotless," his wife declared. "It would not do for Belle Rivers to see a speck of dust around the house. I can hardly believe it true that she is coming, and her the daughter of Andrew Rivers, the famous, what do they call him, Jess?"
"Attorney General," was the reply.
"Strange she'd want to come here," Abner mused, as he puffed at his after-dinner pipe. "She's society bred, like Lost Tribes' pig, an' I guess she'll find it mighty dull. She won't have much chance to put on airs at Ash Pint."
"Belle's not that kind," Jess explained, "as I have told you in my letters. She is fond of quiet life and country ways. We are both greatly interested in Social Service work, and we have planned to continue our studies while she is with me. You will both like her, I am sure."
"It's a wonder her parents don't want her, Joss."
"She has only her father now, and he will be away from home for several weeks this summer. Belle is all he has, and she is the apple of his eye. Mrs. Rivers died last year, and poor Belle misses her so much. She was so grateful when I asked her to visit us."
"Well, I s'pose we kin stand her fer a while," and Abner gave a sigh of resignation. "But, remember, ye mustn't expect me to be harnessed up in Sunday duds an' white collar every day. An' I don't want Social Service flung at my head every time I turn around."
Actual work began upon the parlor the very next day, and by noon the room had the appearance of having been struck by a cyclone. Blinds, curtains, and pictures were taken down; chairs and tables were piled out upon the verandah; mats were spread upon the grass, and the carpet hung upon the clothes-line. The old-fashioned piano, on account of its size, was the only thing left, and stood forlornly in its place, thickly covered with old copies of The Family Herald and Weekly Star.
"That sartinly is a great paper," Abner mused, as he stood in the middle of the room viewing the effect. "It's useful fer most anythin', as I told Sam Dobbins only yesterday, when he was yangin' about The Live Wire."
"What was he saying about it?" Mrs. Andrews unexpectedly asked.
"Oh, nuthin', nuthin' perticular, except that once it a fine account of his great-grandmother's funeral, that's all. Anythin' else ye want me to do, Tildy?"
"Certainly. You might as well beat that carpet. It's just full of dust."
For over half an hour Abner whacked away at the carpet, pausing occasionally to sneeze and to wipe his perspiring face.
"Ugh!" he groaned, during one of these resting spells. "If this is Social Service work, then may the Lord help us!"
"You wanted to begin at home, though, didn't you, daddy?" Jess laughingly asked, as she paused in the act of shaking a rug.
"I know I did; fool that I was. But, look here, when anythin' has been dead, laid out, an' buried as long as that parlor has, it's a darn mistake to bring it to life agin."
"But think how clean, fresh and sweet the room will be when we get done," Jess reminded.
"Umph! De ye think I kin ever git this thing clean, fresh an' sweet?" and Abner gave the wobbly carpet a savage bang. "Look at that dust, now. The more I thump the thicker it gits. What's the use of carpets, anyway, I'd like to know?"
After dinner Abner lighted his pipe, and picked up his old straw hat.
"Guess I'll work at them pertaters this afternoon, Tildy," he announced. "They're mighty weedy an' need hoein'. I s'pose you an' Jess kin finish that room, eh?"
"Indeed we can't," his wife replied. "The ceiling has to be whitened, and that is a man's job. I've got to wash those curtains, and do a hundred other things. The potatoes have gone so long already that I guess another day won't do them any harm. You'll find the whitening in a bag on the woodhouse shelf, and the brush is hanging on the wall."
Abner made no reply but strolled off to the woodhouse softly humming, "When Bill Larkins made his money." Mrs. Andrews and Jess went on with their work, one washing the curtains; the other shaking mats and polishing the chairs upon the verandah. About an hour passed, and then from the parlor came a hair-raising yell, followed immediately by a thump. Jess and her mother nearly collided as they rushed into the room, where they saw Abner sitting upon the floor, his clothes covered with whitening.
"For pity sakes! what is the matter now?" his wife demanded. "Did you fall?"
"No, I didn't fall, as ye kin see," was the reply. "The darn old floor riz up an' hit me, that's all. Ugh!" he groaned.
"Where are you hurt, daddy?" Jess asked.
"Where am I hurt?" and Abner glared at his daughter. "Where de ye think I'm hurt? Where do I look as if I'm hurt; on me head?"
"I should say on your face, by the look of it," his wife retorted. "I thought you had more sense than to put that chair upon such a rickety box. You might have broken your neck. What were you doing up there, anyway?"
"Follerin' Social Service methods; that's all, Tildy."
"Social Service methods! Why, what do you mean?"
"Ask Jess; she understands. It's an elevatin' process, ye see. I was jist elevatin' myself to put some plaster on that hole in the ceilin', when me under-pinnin' gave way. Did ye learn anythin' about the under-pinnin' at the Seminary, Jess?"
"Not that I know of, daddy."
"Ye didn't! Well, that's queer. What was the use of ye'r studyin' Social Service if ye didn't learn nuthin' about under-pinnin'."
"I don't know what it is, daddy."
"Ye don't! Why, I thought everybody knew that under-pinnin' is what hold's things up."
"Oh, I see. You mean the foundation, or groundwork, so to speak."
"Well, them may be the highfalutin' names, but I'm used to under-pinnin'. It comes more natural."
"But what has that to do with Social Service?"
"A darn sight, I should say. Ye can't do nuthin' if the under-pinnin' ain't right, any more'n I could stand fer long on that chair with the rickety box underneath. Lost Tribes was right when he said ye can't elevate a pig into nuthin' more'n a hog. Ye'd better allus be sure of ye'r under-pinnin', Jess, before ye begin any elevatin' process. Now, there's Ikey Dimock, fer instance. If he hasn't a——"
"What's all this nonsense about, anyway?" Mrs. Andrews interrupted. "We'll never get through with this room if you two keep talking about 'Social Service' and 'Under-pinnin' all the time."
"Well, I'm through fer the present, Tildy," Abner declared. "Guess I'll go outside fer a while an' shake off this Social Service dose. Jist leave the ceilin'; I'll finish it later."
He shuffled stiffly out of the room, and made his way to a pile of wood a short distance from the house. He started to sit down upon a block but, suddenly changing his mind, he leaned against the clothes-line post instead. Pulling out a plug of tobacco and a knife, he had just whittled off several slices when an auto came in sight, and stopped in front of the house. A young man, neatly dressed, alighted and, walking briskly into the yard, came over to where Abner was standing.
"Is the boss in?" he enquired.
"Yes, she was a few minutes ago."
"Whew! Hen rule, eh?"
"Seems so. Like to see her?"
"Not on your life. I want to see the old man. Is he around?"
"Guess he'll be around soon. Met with an accident ye see."
"That's too bad. Serious?"
"Pretty bad. His under-pinnin' gave way. Total collapse."
"My, my! Sudden?"
"Very. Any message?"
"You work for him, I suppose?"
"I sartinly do."
"Is he a good boss?"
"Didn't ye ever meet him?"
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