Aunt Mary Telegraphs by Lloyd E. Lonergan

A Comedy of Everyday Life

"Auntie left on the six-o'clock train last night. Meet her at the depot.—Clara."

This telegram, dated New York, greeted Frank Carey when he reached his pleasant little home on Indiana Avenue, Chicago.

"Aunt Mary will be here to-night," he said to his wife, "my rich aunt from New York, you know. I am to meet her at the depot."

"When does she arrive?" fluttered pretty little Mrs. Carey, a bride of a few months. "Cannot I go with you to the depot?"

Mr. Carey said she could, then he thought for a moment, then he put his doubts into words after a second reading of the telegram.

"I wonder what road she is coming in on?" he said.

"'Twas stupid of her," replied his wife, "but call up the railroads and find out which one has a six-o'clock train from New York. Silly!"

Mr. Carey kissed his wife and remarked that she was the brightest little girl in the world, after which he gaily telephoned, listened intently to someone on the other end of the line, made numerous notes, and turned to his wife in despair.

"Bless Clara!" he said devoutly.

His wife looked surprised, so he hastily explained.

"There is a six o'clock train from New York on the Pennsylvania, also on the Lake Shore, likewise on the Michigan Central, and the Lehigh Valley, and the Grand Trunk, and the West Shore, and the B. &. O.!"

"Which one is auntie coming on?" inquired Mrs. Carey with interest.

"All of them," replied her husband wrathfully. "She is sitting on the cow-catcher of each and every train, and if I'm not there to meet her she'll disinherit me. Haven't you any sense?"

Whereupon there were tears, apologies, and finally a council of war. It was Mrs. Carey who solved the problem.

"All we have to do," she cried, "is to meet all the trains. Won't it be cute?"

Carey didn't think so, but was afraid to express himself. He simply tried to look impressed and listened.

"There are only seven trains," she continued. "Now you," counting on her fingers, "are one, and I am two and Mr. and Mrs. Haines next door, who belong to my whist club, are four; and Ella Haines is five; and I just saw Mr. What's-his-name go in to call on Ella—and he'll be six; and that horrid man on the next block who is in your lodge will have to be seven."

The "train meeters" were gathered together inside of an hour. Mrs. Carey overruled all objections and laughed away all difficulties. She told them it would be a lark, and they believed it—at the time! As none of them had met Mrs. Smith (Aunt Mary), Carey was called upon for a description.

"Aunt Mary," he said, "is of medium height, dark complexion and usually dresses in black. She is fifty-eight years old, but tells people she is under fifty. You cannot miss her." And with this they were compelled to be satisfied.

Ella Haines was assigned to the Pennsylvania depot and arrived late. All the New York passengers had disembarked, but an old woman was standing at the entrance and looking anxiously at the passers-by.

"Mrs. Smith?" said Ella, inquiringly.

"Thank heaven, you have come," was the joyous reply.

"Here," and she stepped to one side and revealed a little girl who was gazing out at the tracks. "I've had such a time with that brat and I'll never travel with another again. I've just got time to catch my train for St. Paul. Good-bye!" Whereupon, disregarding Ella's cries and her protestations, the woman rushed madly to the other end of the depot and disappeared through a gate which closed behind her with a slam. It was the last call for the St. Paul train.

Naturally, Ella did not know what to do. She hung around the depot for half an hour, hoping someone would claim the child. Then she put the little one in a cab and gave the Careys' address in Indiana Avenue.

Walter Haines went to the Lake Shore depot. One of the first passengers to emerge from the New York train was a female, who seemed to answer the general description furnished by Carey. She was breathless as if from running faster than an old woman should run. As she reached Haines, she stopped and glared at him.

"Mrs. Smith?" he inquired, lifting his hat.

The woman grabbed him by the arm. "I knew you would be here, but hurry, that man is after me!"

"What man?" asked Haines in surprise.

"Hush, we cannot talk now," was the reply. "Get a carriage and drive fast, fast; we must escape him."

"George couldn't come, he sent me. My name is Haines," said the puzzled escort.

"I don't care if your name is Beelzebub" was the impatient retort. "You get that carriage or I'll write to Roosevelt." And Mr. Haines, very much astonished, complied.

He thought as he drove away that he heard someone shouting, but was not sure; in fact, he paid no attention, for he was too busy thinking what a queer old aunt his friend Carey had.

The "horrid man who belonged to the lodge" was named Perkins. He reached the B. & O. depot half an hour ahead of time, so he went across the street and had a drink. When he returned he discovered that No. 7 was late, and so had another. Also, several more. By the time the train did arrive he was in such a mellow state that he couldn't tell a parlor car from a lake steamer—and he didn't care! He had likewise forgotten what George's aunt looked like, but that, too, was a trivial matter. So he stood at the gate, beaming blandly at every person that appeared.

"Are you Georsh's saunt?" he inquired of a tall man with white side-whiskers and garbed in ministerial black. His answer was a look of horror, but it had no effect on Perkins, who repeated his question at intervals without result. His lack of success finally drove him to tears.

"Poor Georsh!" he sobbed. "Dear old Georsh! Must have an naunt! Break hish heart if he don't have an naunt! Can't fine his naunt! Get him one myself!"

A gang of immigrants were passing at the time. Perkins grabbed one of them by the arm.

"Be nish fellow," he said persuasively, "be Georsh's aunt."

The immigrant was obdurate, but Perkins was persistent. He drew a roll of bills from his pocket and peeled off a five. This he pressed upon his new-found friend.

"Be a good aunt," he said, "be a nish aunt, and I'll give you two more like thish!"

The Italian, overcome by the sight of so much wealth, fell captive to the eloquence of Perkins. The latter was delighted. He escorted his victim to a saloon across the street and hurled six drinks into him in rapid succession. The immigrant beamed and forgot all his troubles. He lit a fifteen-cent cigar and puffed away as if he were used to it.

"Be your-a aunt," he said, "be-a anybody's aunt. You good-a feller."

This sentiment led to another round of drinks, and then the pair tumbled into a cab, singing discordantly in two languages. Perkins fortunately remembered the address of Haines, and was able to mumble it so that the hackman could understand. Therefore there was no bar to his enjoyment.

Of course they stopped en route, for Perkins was brimming over with gratitude and the cabman was included in their rejoicing. Long before they reached Indiana Avenue, everybody was drunk except the horse.

In the meantime there was all sorts of trouble in the modest residence of George Carey. The head of the household had fumed and fretted about the Michigan Central depot, and finally started home, auntless. There he met his wife, Mrs. Haines and Ella's young man with similar stories. Five minutes later a carriage drove up and Ella and her charge alighted.

"Isn't she a dear little girl?" gurgled Miss Haines, who, being petite and worried, didn't know anything else to do under the circumstances except to gurgle.

Carey gazed at the young woman with distinct disapproval for the first time in his life.

"I know the popular impression is that old ladies shrink," he said, "but Aunt Mary could never have shrunk to that size. Where did you get her and why?"

Falteringly, Miss Haines explained. Then she cried. The child, who had regarded them gravely up to this point, took it for a signal. She screamed, then she roared. Nobody could comfort her or find out who she was.

The arrival of another cab distracted their attention. The bell rang loudly. As Carey opened the door, an old woman bounded in. Her hat was on one side of her head and her eyes gleamed madly.

"Safe at last!" she cried. Then she ran upstairs, entered Mrs. Haines's room, and locked the door. Through the panels came the sound of hysterical laughter.

Walter Haines entered the house at this moment. His attitude was distinctly apologetic.

"Remarkable old lady, isn't she?" he ventured.

"Who?" asked Mr. Carey.

"Why your aunt, of course; didn't you see her come in?"

Carey choked down his wrath out of respect to the ladies, but it was hard work.

"I never saw that woman before," he remarked; "you brought her here uninvited, now you take her away."

Naturally this provoked argument. Mrs. Haines sided with her husband, Mrs. Carey flew to the aid of her worser half, Miss Haines wept, and the little girl screamed. Upstairs, the bogus Aunt Mary was still laughing.

None of the interested parties could tell afterward how long the talk continued. A louder noise outside drew them all to the front porch. In front of the house was a hansom cab drawn by a disgusted-looking horse. He looked and acted like one who had been compelled against his will to mingle with disreputable associates.

The driver descended from his seat and fell full length upon the pavement. He didn't try to get up, but chanted in a husky tone, "Hail! hail! the gang's all here!!!"

Then the door of the cab opened and Mr. Perkins appeared. Nobody could deny that he was very much the worse for wear. But Mr. Perkins bore himself like a conqueror. He advanced hastily and embraced Carey with enthusiasm. Carey recoiled.

"Dear Georsh," said Perkins. "Got you an naunt!"

Apprehensively, Carey ran to the carriage. Huddled upon the floor was an object that moved faintly. From the atmosphere Sherlock Holmes would have deduced that a whisky refinery had exploded in that cab a few hours before. The onlooker gingerly touched the object. It rolled over, then it rolled out of the cab and lay on the sidewalk beside the driver.

Perkins kept on smiling. "Your naunt," he remarked, blandly. "Couldn't get you what you wanted. Got you thish one!"

At this moment, Carey remembered that he had a telephone. He spurned his "aunt" with his foot and passed into the house. He called up Police Headquarters. His friend, Sergeant Bob O'Rourke, was on duty, which made it easier for him.

"Bob," he said, after greetings had been exchanged, "have you an alarm out for a little girl kidnapped from the Pennsylvania station?"

"Yes."

"And does anybody want a crazy woman, last seen on a Lake Shore train?"

"Yes; her keeper was here half an hour ago," was the reply. "He was taking her to Kankakee and she made a get-away. What do you know about her?"

"They are both here," was the reply. "Send the wagon, and just for good measure I'll throw in an Italian immigrant who came in over the B. & O. and a cab-driver. They are both drunk, very drunk, and please take the cab away too."

The next half hour gave Indiana Avenue residents plenty to talk about for a month. But finally the combat was over, and Carey and his friends sat down exhausted.

"But what I would like to know," remarked the head of the house, "where, oh where is Aunt Mary?"

It was a messenger-boy who brought the answer—a telegram dated Niagara Falls, current date and reading:

"Stopped over here. Isn't the view from Goat Island wonderful? Leave for Chicago on the first train. Meet me."

There was a sudden painful silence.

"Does anybody know how many trains there are from Niagara Falls?" inquired Mrs. Carey, speaking to the company generally. She didn't dare to address her husband.

"Just about as many as there are from New York," replied Haines, with a woebegone look. "But—"

"Don't finish it," returned Carey, "I am not going to ask you to try again, and I am not going to do so myself. Aunt Mary can leave her money to anybody she pleases. If I had another night like this the executors would be compelled to mail me my cheque to an asylum."

And the next evening Aunt Mary, unattended, reached her nephew's house without any trouble at all. She didn't disinherit him; in fact, she felt so sorry because of his troubles that she bought Mrs. Carey a complete spring outfit regardless of cost.

It's a good thing to have an Aunt Mary, even if she is indefinite in her telegrams.