English Literature

The Touch of Abner by H. A. Cody

The Touch of Abner by H. A. Cody



“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’.”

“Doing what?”

“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.”

“But, Tildy.”

“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.”


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