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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Depot Master - Chapter 14. Effie's Fate
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The Depot Master - Chapter 14. Effie's Fate Post by :pGwtech Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1579

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The Depot Master - Chapter 14. Effie's Fate


Surely, but very, very slowly, the little Berry house moved on its rollers up the Hill Boulevard. Right at its heels--if a house may be said to have heels--came the "pure Colonial," under the guidance of the foreman with "progressive methods." Groups of idlers, male and female, stood about and commented. Simeon Phinney smilingly replied to their questions. Captain Sol himself seemed little interested. He spent most of his daylight time at the depot, only going to the Higginses' house for his meals. At night, after the station was closed, he sought his own dwelling, climbed over the joist and rollers, entered, retired to his room, and went to bed.

Each day also he grew more taciturn. Even with Simeon, his particular friend, he talked little.

"What IS the matter with you, Sol?" asked Mr. Phinney. "You're as glum as a tongue-tied parrot. Ain't you satisfied with the way I'm doin' your movin'? The white horse can go back again if you say so."

"I'm satisfied," grunted the depot master. "Let you know when I've got any fault to find. How soon will you get abreast the--abreast the Seabury lot?"

"Let's see," mused the building mover. "Today's the eighth. Well, I'll be there by the eleventh, SURE. Can't drag it out no longer, Sol, even if the other horse is took sick. 'Twon't do. Williams has been complainin' to the selectmen and they're beginnin' to pester me. As for that Colt and Adams foreman--whew!"

He whistled. His companion smiled grimly.

"Williams himself drops in to see me occasional," he said. "Tells me what he thinks of me, with all the trimmin's added. I cal'late he gets as good as he sends. I'm always glad to see him; he keeps me cheered up, in his way."

"Ye-es, I shouldn't wonder. Was he in to-day?"

"He was. And somethin' has pleased him, I guess. At any rate he was in better spirits. Asked me if I was goin' to move right onto that Main Street lot soon as my house got there."

"What did you say?"

"I said I was cal'latin' to. Told him I hated to get out of the high-society circles I'd been livin' in lately, but that everyone had their comedowns in this world."

"Ho, ho! that was a good one. What answer did he make to that?"

"Well, he said the 'high society' would miss me. Then he finished up with a piece of advice. 'Berry,' says he, 'don't move onto that lot TOO quick. I wouldn't if I was you.' Then he went away, chucklin'."

"Chucklin', hey? What made him so joyful?"

"Don't know"--Captain Sol's face clouded once more--"and I care less," he added brusquely.

Simeon pondered. "Have you heard from Abner Payne, Sol?" he asked. "Has Ab answered that letter you wrote sayin' you'd swap your lot for the Main Street one?"

"No, he hasn't. I wrote him that day I told you to move me."

"Hum! that's kind of funny. You don't s'pose--"

He stopped, noticing the expression on his friend's face. The depot master was looking out through the open door of the waiting room. On the opposite side of the road, just emerging from Mr. Higgins's "general store," was Olive Edwards, the widow whose home was to be pulled down as soon as the "Colonial" reached its destination. She came out of the store and started up Main Street. Suddenly, and as if obeying an involuntary impulse, she turned her head. Her eyes met those of Captain Sol Berry, the depot master. For a brief instant their glance met, then Mrs. Edwards hurried on.

Sim Phinney sighed pityingly. "Looks kind of tired and worried, don't she?" he ventured. His friend did not speak.

"I say," repeated Phinney, "that Olive looks sort of worn out and--"

"Has she heard from the Omaha cousin yet?" interrupted the depot master.

"No; Mr. Hilton says not. Sol, what DO you s'pose--"

But Captain Sol had risen and gone into the ticket office. The door closed behind him. Mr. Phinney shook his head and walked out of the building. On his way back to the scene of the house moving he shook his head several times.

On the afternoon of the ninth Captain Bailey Stitt and his friend Wingate came to say good-by. Stitt was going back to Orham on the "up" train, due at 3:30. Barzilla would return to Wellmouth and the Old Home House on the evening (the "down") train.

"Hey, Sol!" shouted Wingate, as they entered the waiting room. "Sol! where be you?"

The depot master came out of the ticket office. "Hello, boys!" he said shortly.

"Hello, Sol!" hailed Stitt. "Barzilla and me have come to shed the farewell tear. As hirelin's of soulless corporations, meanin' the Old Home House at Wellmouth and the Ocean House at Orham, we've engaged all the shellfish along-shore and are goin' to clear out."

"Yes," chimed in his fellow "hireling," "and we thought the pleasantest place to put in our few remainin' hours--as the papers say when a feller's goin' to be hung--was with you."

"I thought so," said Captain Bailey, with a wink. "We've been havin' more or less of an argument, Sol. Remember how Barzilla made fun of Jonadab Wixon for believin' in dreams? Yes, well that was only make believe. He believes in 'em himself."

"I don't either," declared Wingate. "And I never said so. What I said was that sometimes it almost seemed as if there was somethin' IN fortune tellin' and such."

"There is," chuckled Bailey with another wink at the depot master. "There's money in it--for the fortune tellers."

"I said--and I say again," protested Barzilla, "that I knew a case at our hotel of a servant girl named Effie, and she--"

"Oh, Heavens to Betsy! Here he goes again, I steered him in here on purpose, Sol, so's he'd get off that subject."

"You never neither. You said--"

The depot master held up his hand. "Don't both talk at once," he commanded. "Set down and be peaceful, can't you. That's right. What about this Effie, Barzilla?"

"Now look here!" protested Stitt.

"Shut up, Bailey! Who was Effie, Barzilla?"

"She was third assistant roustabout and table girl at the Old Home House," said Wingate triumphantly. "Got another cigar, Sol? Thanks. Yes, this Effie had never worked out afore and she was greener'n a mess of spinach; but she was kind of pretty to look at and--"

"Ah, ha!" crowed Captain Bailey, "here comes the heart confessions. Want to look out for these old bachelors, Sol. Fire away, Barzilla; let us know the worst."

"I took a fancy to her, in a way. She got in the habit of tellin' me her troubles and secrets, me bein' old enough to be her dad--"

"Aw, yes!" this from Stitt, the irrepressible. "That's an old gag. We know--"

"WILL you shut up?" demanded Captain Sol. "Go on, Barzilla."

"Me bein' old enough to be her dad," with a glare at Captain Bailey, "and not bein' too proud to talk with hired help. I never did have that high-toned notion. 'Twa'n't so long since I was a fo'mast hand.

"So Effie told me a lot about herself. Seems she'd been over to the Cattle Show at Ostable one year, and she was loaded to the gunwale with some more or less facts that a fortune-tellin' specimen by the name of the 'Marvelous Oriental Seer' had handed her in exchange for a quarter.

"'Yup,' says she, bobbin' her head so emphatic that the sky-blue ribbon pennants on her black hair flapped like a loose tops'l in a gale of wind. 'Yup,' says she, 'I b'lieve it just as much as I b'lieve anything. How could I help it when he told me so much that has come true already? He said I'd seen trouble, and the dear land knows that's so! and that I might see more, and I cal'late that's pretty average likely. And he said I hadn't been brought up in luxury--'

"'Which wa'n't no exaggeration neither,' I put in, thinkin' of the shack over on the Neck Road where she and her folks used to live.

"'No,' says she; 'and he told me I'd always had longin's for better and higher things and that my intellectuals was above my station. Well, ever sence I was knee high to a kitchen chair I'd ruther work upstairs than down, and as for intellectuals, ma always said I was the smartest young one she'd raised yet. So them statements give me consider'ble confidence. But he give out that I was to make a journey and get money, and when THAT come true I held up both hands and stood ready to swaller all the rest of it.'

"'So it come true, did it?' says I.

"'Um-hm,' says she, bouncin' her head again. 'Inside of four year I traveled 'way over to South Eastboro--'most twelve mile--to my Uncle Issy's fun'ral, and there I found that he'd left me nine hundred dollars for my very own. And down I flops on the parlor sofy and says I: "There! don't talk superstition to ME no more! A person that can foretell Uncle Issy's givin' anybody a cent, let alone nine hundred dollars, is a good enough prophet for ME to tie to. Now I KNOW that I'm going to marry the dark-complected man, and I'll be ready for him when he comes along. I never spent a quarter no better than when I handed it over to that Oriental Seer critter at the Cattle Show." That's what I said then and I b'lieve it yet. Wouldn't you feel the same way?'

"I said sure thing I would. I'd found out that the best way to keep Effie's talk shop runnin' was to agree with her. And I liked to hear her talk.

"'Yup,' she went on, 'I give right in then. I'd traveled same as the fortune teller said, and I'd got more money'n I ever expected to see, let alone own. And ever sence I've been sartin as I'm alive that the feller I marry will be of a rank higher'n mine and dark complected and good-lookin' and distinguished, and that he'll be name of Butler.'

"'Butler?' says I. 'What will he be named Butler for?'

"''Cause the Seer critter said so. He said he could see the word Butler printed out over the top of my head in flamin' letters. Pa used to say 'twas a wonder it never set fire to my crimps, but he was only foolin'. I know that it's all comin' out true. You ain't acquaintanced to any Butlers, are you?'

"'No,' says I. 'I heard Ben Butler make a speech once when he was gov'nor, but he's dead now. There ain't no Butlers on the Old Home shippin' lists.'

"'Oh, I know that!' she says. 'And everybody round here is homelier'n a moultin' pullet. There now! I didn't mean exactly EVERYbody, of course. But you ain't dark complected, you know, nor--'

"'No,' says I, 'nor rank nor distinguished neither. Course the handsome part might fit me, but I'd have to pass on the rest of the hand. That's all right, Effie; my feelin's have got fire-proofed sence I've been in the summer hotel business. Now you'd better run along and report to Susannah. I hear her whoopin' for you, and she don't light like a canary bird on the party she's mad with.'

"She didn't, that was a fact. Susannah Debs, who was housekeeper for us that year, was middlin' young and middlin' good-lookin', and couldn't forget it. Also and likewise, she had a suit for damages against the railroad, which she had hopes would fetch her money some day or other, and she couldn't forget that neither. She was skipper of all the hired hands and, bein' as Effie was prettier than she was, never lost a chance to lay the poor girl out. She put the other help up to pokin' fun at Effie's green ways and high-toned notions, and 'twas her that started 'em callin' her 'Lady Evelyn' in the fo'castle--servants' quarters, I mean.

"'I'm a-comin', 'screams Effie, startin' for the door. 'Susannah's in a tearin' hurry to get through early to-day,' she adds to me. 'She's got the afternoon off, and her beau's comin' to take her buggy ridin'. He's from over Harniss way somewheres and they say he's just lovely. My sakes! I wisht somebody'd take ME to ride. Ah hum! cal'late I'll have to wait for my Butler man. Say, Mr. Wingate, you won't mention my fortune to a soul, will you? I never told anybody but you.'

"I promised to keep mum and she cleared out. After dinner, as I was smokin', along with Cap'n Jonadab, on the side piazza, a horse and buggy drove in at the back gate. A young chap with black curly hair was pilotin' the craft. He was a stranger to me, wore a checkerboard suit and a bonfire necktie, and had his hat twisted over one ear. Altogether he looked some like a sunflower goin' to seed.

"'Who's that barber's sign when it's to home?' says I to Jonadab. He snorted contemptuous.

"'That?' he says. 'Don't you know the cut of that critter's jib? He plays pool "for the house" in Web Saunders's place over to Orham. He's the housekeeper's steady comp'ny--steady by spells, if all I hear's true. Good-for-nothin' cub, I call him. Wisht I'd had him aboard a vessel of mine; I'd 'a' squared his yards for him. Look how he cants his hat to starboard so's to show them lovelocks. Bah!'

"'What's his name?' I asks.

"'Name? Name's Butler--Simeon Butler. Don't you remember . . . Hey? What in tunket . . .?'

"Both of us had jumped as if somebody'd touched off a bombshell under our main hatches. The windows of the dining room was right astern of us. We whirled round, and there was Effie. She'd been clearin' off one of the tables and there she stood, with the smashed pieces of an ice-cream platter in front of her, the melted cream sloppin' over her shoes, and her face lookin' like the picture of Lot's wife just turnin' to salt. Only Effie looked as if she enjoyed the turnin'. She never spoke nor moved, just stared after that buggy with her black eyes sparklin' like burnt holes in a blanket.

"I was too astonished to say anything, but Jonadab had his eye on that smashed platter and HE had things to say, plenty of 'em. I walked off and left Effie playin' congregation to a sermon on the text 'Crockery costs money.' You'd think that ice-cream dish was a genuine ugly, nicked 'antique' wuth any city loon's ten dollars, instead of bein' only new and pretty fifty-cent china. I felt real sorry for the poor girl.

"But I needn't have been. That evenin' I found her on the back steps, all Sunday duds and airs. Her hair had a wire friz on it, and her dress had Joseph's coat in Scriptur' lookin' like a mournin' rig. She'd have been real handsome--to a body that was color blind.

"'My, Effie!' says I, 'you sartin do look fine to-night.'

"'Yup,' she says, contented, 'I guess likely I do. Hope so, 'cause I'm wearin' all I've got. Say, Mr. Wingate,' says she, excited as a cat in a fit, 'did you see him?'

"'Him?' says I. 'Who's him?'

"'Why, HIM! The one the Seer said was comin'. The handsome, dark-complected feller I'm goin' to marry. The Butler one. That was him in the buggy this afternoon.'

"I looked at her. I'd forgot all about the fool prophecy.

"'Good land of love!' I says. 'You don't cal'late he's comin' to marry YOU, do you, just 'cause his name's Butler? There's ten thousand Butlers in the world. Besides, your particular one was slated to be high ranked and distinguished, and this specimen scrubs up the billiard-room floor and ain't no more distinguished than a poorhouse pig.'

"'Ain't?' she sings out. 'Ain't distinguished? With all them beautiful curls, and rings on his fingers, and--'

"'Bells on his toes? No!' says I, emphatic. 'Anyhow, he's signed for the v'yage already. He's Susannah Debs's steady, and they're off buggy ridin' together right now. And if she catches you makin' eyes at her best feller--Whew!'

"Didn't make no difference. He was her Butler, sure. 'Twas Fate--that's what 'twas--Fate, just the same as in storybooks. She was sorry for poor Susannah and she wouldn't do nothin' mean nor underhanded; but couldn't I understand that 'twas all planned out for her by Providence and that everlastin' Seer? Just let me watch and see, that's all.

"What can you do with an idiot like that? I walked off disgusted and left her. But I cal'lated to watch. I judged 'twould be more fun than any 'play-actin' show ever I took in.

"And 'twas, in a way. Don't ask me how they got acquainted, 'cause I can't tell you for sartin. Nigh's I can learn, Susannah and Sim had some sort of lover's row durin' their buggy ride, and when they got back to the hotel they was scurcely on speakin' terms. And Sim, who always had a watch out for'ard for pretty girls, see Effie standin' on the servants' porch all togged up regardless and gay as a tea-store chromo, and nothin' to do but he must be introduced. One of the stable hands done the introducin', I b'lieve, and if he'd have been hung afterwards 'twould have sarved him right.

"Anyhow, inside of a week Butler come round again to take a lady friend drivin', but this time 'twas Effie, not the housekeeper, that was passenger. And Susannah glared after 'em like a cat after a sparrow, and the very next day she was for havin' Effie discharged for incompetentiveness. I give Jonadab the tip, though, so that didn't go through. But I cal'late there was a parrot and monkey time among the help from then on.

"They all sided with Susannah, of course. She was their boss, for one thing, and 'Lady Evelyn's' high-minded notions wa'n't popular, for another. But Effie didn't care--bless you, no! She and that Butler sport was together more and more, and the next thing I heard was that they was engaged. I snum, if it didn't look as if the Oriental man knew his job after all.

"I spoke to the stable hand about it.

"'Look here,' says I, 'is this business betwixt that pool player and our Effie serious?'

"He laughed. 'Serious enough, I guess,' he says. 'They're goin' to be married pretty soon, I hear. It's all 'cordin' to the law and the prophets. Ain't you heard about the fortune tellin' and how 'twas foretold she'd marry a Butler?'

"I'd heard, but I didn't s'pose he had. However, it seemed that Effie hadn't been able to keep it to herself no longer. Soon as she'd hooked her man she'd blabbed the whole thing. The fo'mast hands wa'n't talkin' of nothin' else, so this feller said.

"'Humph!' says I. 'Is it the prophecy that Butler's bankin' on?'

"He laughed again. 'Not so much as on Lady Evelyn's nine hundred, I cal'late,' says he. Sim likes Susannah the best of the two, so we all reckon, but she ain't rich and Effie is. And yet, if the Debs woman should win that lawsuit of hers against the railroad she'd have pretty nigh twice as much. Butler's a fool not to wait, I think,' he says.

"This was of a Monday. On Friday evenin' Effie comes around to see me. I was alone in the office.

"'Mr. Wingate,' she says, 'I'm goin' to leave to-morrer night. I'm goin' to be married on Sunday.'

"I'd been expecting it, but I couldn't help feelin' sorry for her.

"'Don't do nothin' rash, Effie,' I told her. 'Are you sure that Butler critter cares anything about you and not your money?'

"She flared up like a tar barrel. 'The idea!' she says, turnin' red. 'I just come in to give you warnin'. Good-by.'

"'Hold on,' I sung out to her. 'Effie, I've thought consider'ble about you lately. I've been tryin' to help you a little on the sly. I realized that 'twa'n't pleasant for you workin' here under Susannah Debs, and I've been tryin' to find a nice place for you. I wrote about you to Bob Van Wedderburn; he's the rich banker chap who stopped here one summer. "Jonesy," we used to call him. I know him and his wife fust rate, and he'd do 'most anything as a favor to me. I told him what a neat, handy girl you was, and he writes that he'll give you the job of second girl at his swell New York house, if you want it. Now you just hand that Sim Butler his clearance papers and go work for Bob's wife. The wages are double what you get here, and--'

"She didn't wait to hear the rest. Just sailed out of the room with her nose in the air. In a minute, though, back she come and just put her head in the door.

"'I'm much obliged to you, Mr. Wingate,' says she. 'I know you mean well. But you ain't had your fate foretold, same's I have. It's all been arranged for me, and I couldn't stop it no more'n Jonah could help swallerin' the whale. I--I kind of wish you'd be on hand at the back door on Sunday mornin' when Simeon comes to take me away. You--you're about the only real friend I've got,' she says.

"And off she went, for good this time. I pitied her, in spite of her bein' such a dough head. I knew what sort of a husband that pool-room shark would make. However, there wa'n't nothin' to be done. And next day Cap'n Jonadab was round, madder'n a licked pup. Seems Susannah's lawyer at Orham had sent for her to come right off and see him. Somethin' about the suit, it was. And she was goin' in spite of everything. And with Effie's leavin' at the same time, what was we goin' to do over Sunday? and so forth and so on.

"Well, we had to do the best we could, that's all. But that Saturday was busy, now I tell you. Sunday mornin' broke fine and clear and, after breakfast was over, I remembered Effie and that 'twas her weddin' day. On the back steps I found her, dressed in all her grandeur, with her packed trunk ready, waitin' for the bridegroom.

"'Ain't come yet, hey, Effie?' says I.

"'No,' says she, smilin' and radiant. 'It's a little early for him yet, I guess.'

"I went off to 'tend to the boarders. At half past ten, when I made the back steps again, she was still there. T'other servants was peekin' out of the kitchen windows, grinnin' and passin' remarks.

"'Hello!' I calls out. 'Not married yet? What's the matter?'

"She'd stopped smilin', but she was as chipper as ever, to all appearances.

"'I--I guess the horse has gone lame or somethin',' says she. 'He'll be here any time now.'

"There was a cackle from the kitchen windows. I never said nothin'. She'd made her nest; now let her roost on it.

"But at twelve Butler hadn't hove in sight. Every hand, male and female, on the place, that wa'n't busy, was hangin' around the back of the hotel, waitin' and watchin' and ridiculin' and havin' a high time. Them that had errands made it a p'int to cruise past that way. Lots of the boarders had got wind of the doin's, and they was there, too.

"Effie was settin' on her trunk, tryin' hard to look brave. I went up and spoke to her.

"'Come, my girl,' says I. 'Don't set here no longer. Come into the house and wait. Hadn't you better?'

"'No!' says she, loud and defiant like. 'No, sir! It's all right. He's a little late, that's all. What do you s'pose I care for a lot of jealous folks like those up there?' wavin' her flipper scornful toward the kitchen.

"And then, all to once, she kind of broke down, and says to me, with a pitiful sort of choke in her voice:

"'Oh, Mr. Wingate! I can't stand this. Why DON'T he come?'

"I tried hard to think of somethin' comfortin' to say, but afore I could h'ist a satisfyin' word out of my hatches I heard the noise of a carriage comin'. Effie heard it, too, and so did everybody else. We all looked toward the gate. 'Twas Sim Butler, sure enough, in his buggy and drivin' the same old horse; but settin' alongside of him on the seat was Susannah Debs, the housekeeper. And maybe she didn't look contented with things in gen'ral!

"Butler pulled up his horse by the gate. Him and Susannah bowed to all hands. Nobody said anything for a minute. Then Effie bounced off the trunk and down them steps.

"'Simmie' she sung out, breathless like, 'Simeon Butler, what does this mean?'

"The Debs woman straightened up on the seat. 'Thank you, marm,' says she, chilly as the top section of an ice chest, 'I'll request you not to call my husband by his first name.'

"It was so still you could have heard yourself grow. Effie turned white as a Sunday tablecloth.

"'Your--husband?' she gasps. 'Your--your HUSBAND?'

"'Yes, marm,' purrs the housekeeper. 'My husband was what I said. Mr. Butler and me have just been married.'

"'Sorry, Effie, old girl,' puts in Butler, so sassy I'd love to have preached his fun'ral sermon. 'Too bad, but fust love's strongest, you know. Susie and me was engaged long afore you come to town.'

"THEN such a haw-haw and whoop bust from the kitchen and fo'castle as you never heard. For a jiffy poor Effie wilted right down. Then she braced up and her black eyes snapped.

"'I wish you joy of your bargain, marm,' says she to Susannah. 'You'd ought to be proud of it. And as for YOU,' she says, swingin' round toward the rest of the help, 'I--'

"'How 'bout that prophet?' hollers somebody.

"'Three cheers for the Oriental!' bellers somebody else.

"'When you marry the right Butler fetch him along and let us see him!' whoops another.

"She faced 'em all, and I gloried in her spunk.

"'When I marry him I WILL come back,' says she. 'And when I do you'll have to get down on your knees and wait on me. You--and you--Yes, and YOU, too!'

"The last two 'yous' was hove at Sim and Susannah. Then she turned and marched into the hotel. And the way them hired hands carried on was somethin' scandalous--till I stepped in and took charge of the deck.

"That very afternoon I put Effie and her trunk aboard the train. I paid her fare to New York and give her directions how to locate the Van Wedderburns.

"'So long, Effie,' says I to her. 'It's all right. You're enough sight better off. All you want to do now is to work hard and forget all that fortune-tellin' foolishness.'

"She whirled on me like a top.

"'Forget it!' she says. 'I GUESS I shan't forget it! It's comin' true, I tell you--same as all the rest come true. You said yourself there was ten thousand Butlers in the world. Some day the right one--the handsome, high-ranked, distinguished one--will come along, and I'll get him. You wait and see, Mr. Wingate--just you wait and see.'"

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