Concerning a Black Alpaca Coat
By J.C. Plummer
(Copyright, 1905, by Daily Story Pub. Co.
“Sandy,” said Captain Pole, as he shifted his tiller so as to pass a barge towing down the bay, “you’d better ask Kate Haggerty to have you when we get to port.”
“There’s na hurry,” replied Sandy ‘McDougal, mate of the schooner Ajax, enjoying his pipe.
“Go ahead,” retorted the skipper, pettishly, “you’ll wake up some morning and see another chap living off Kate’s money.”
“She’s na got it yet,” expostulated Mr. McDougal.
“But she’ll have it when her uncle dies and he’s old as the hills.”
“Hoots, only seventy and men are living longer than they did,” said McDougal, “it’s little saprised I’d be if he lives to be ninety.”
“Well,” remarked the skipper, “if you don’t want a wife with ten thousand dollars, all right.”
“There’s na hurry,” insisted McDougal, “if I’d marry her now I’d have to sapport her, mebbe, for ten years before her uncle dies.”
Dennis Haggerty, stevedore, was worth at least ten thousand dollars and his only relative was Kate Haggerty. There was no scarcity of women in the world forty years back, but Dennis and his brother Michael must, perforce, fall in love with the same girl and she chose Michael. Dennis never forgave them and carried his resentment to the second generation, never noticing their daughter, Kate, not even when, her parents dying very poor, she started out to make her living. Kate, thirty years old, plain as to face and expert in sordid economy, only knew she had an uncle because people told her so. She gave no heed to the news when she did hear it and went on earning a very scant living with very hard work.
Now, Captain Pole knew something. He and Fergus McNeal were witnesses to Dennis Haggerty’s will which left all he possessed to Kate Haggerty. McNeal had immediately sailed on a voyage to Australia and the skipper, practically, was the sole possessor of the secret. He knew Kate and liked her so he did some thinking. “Kate’s getting old,” he mused, “and in looks she’s more like a barge than a racing yacht, but there’ll be plenty of good for nothing fellows to marry her when they know she’ll have ten thousand dollars. They’ll spend every cent of it for her.”
Then he apprised Sandy McDougal, his mate, of the secret and introduced him to Kate.
“He’s too stingy to ever spend her money,” soliloquized the skipper, “and he’ll make her a good husband.”
Sandy courted cautiously. Kate, with a dowry of ten thousand dollars, was very attractive, but his characteristic stinginess made him hesitate about incurring the expense of a wife until the dowry was possessed. As to Kate, who had never had a beau, she dreamed dreams and watched for Sandy’s coming eagerly.
The inexpensive courtship, for Sandy never spent a copper on Kate, dragged on like a voyage through the calm belt and Captain Pole chafed.
McDougal was overlooking the tarring down of the schooner’s rigging when the skipper came aboard much excited.
“Old Haggerty’s sick,” he whispered to Sandy, “he’s pneumony and he’s too old a man to get well. Now’s your time, Sandy.”
For a moment Sandy wavered then he said, “He may get wull, there’s na hurry.”
Captain Pole coupled Mr. McDougal’s name with an adjective and went gloomily below.
Captain Pole’s watch was a massive machine to which he lay great store and when it became out of order there was only one watchmaker in the city who was permitted to repair it. After his abortive effort to excite Mr, McDougal to action he glanced at his watch and found it stopped.
“I’ll take it to Smoot,” he said, and he left the schooner, scowling at the immovable McDougal, who was still working on the rigging. The skipper had left his watch with Mr. Smoot and was about to depart when he remembered that Dennis Haggerty lived directly opposite the watchmaker. He glanced across at the house and then he rubbed his eyes and stared.
It was not the evidence that Mr. Haggerty was having some repairs done to his front steps that caused him to stare, but attached to the bell pull was a streamer of crape.
He hastened back to the schooner.
“He’s dead,” he gasped.
“Ye na mean it?” exclaimed McDougal.
“There’s crape on the door, that’s a landsman’s flag at half mast. Get your best rigging on and come, there’s not a minute to be lost.”
Mr. McDougal was soon attired in his best black suit of clothes and the two set out for Miss Haggerty’s boarding house.
“Now,” said the skipper, “if she says yes, you ask for an early wedding day. When this here news gets out there’ll be a lot after her,” and, he added, with unnecessary candor, “most anybody can beat you in looks.”
Miss Haggerty was at home and would see Mr. McDougal in the parlor. Captain Pole chose to await on the street the result of his mate’s suit and walked up and down in front of the house. Presently McDougal came to the door and beckoned to the skipper.
“Well,” said that gentleman, as he reached McDougal, “is it all right?”
“I have na asked her yet,” replied McDougal nervously. “Are ye sure ye did na make a mistake in the house.”
“No,” roared the skipper, “it was Dennis Haggerty’s house. Hurry up, man, or you’ll lose the chance.”
In a half hour’s time McDougal came out.
“We’ll be married in a week,” he said. “The landlady is a witness of the engagement. I nope ye’re na wrong in the house.”
Captain Polo was aroused early in the morning by Mr. McDougal, whose countenance showed great menial perturbation.
“Ye’ve ruined me,” said he, shaking his fist at the skipper.
“What’s the matter?” exclaimed the captain.
“It was na crape on the door,” howled McDougal, “the man who was fixing the steps hung his black alpacy coat on the bell-pull.”
The skipper whistled.
“I’ll na marry her,” shrieked McDougal, “I’m sweendled.”
“Then,” retorted the skipper, with difficulty repressing a roar of laughter, “she’ll sue you for breach o’ promise. The landlady is a witness you know.”
The next week Mr. McDougal and Miss Haggerty were married in the most inexpensive style and five years later Captain Pole, witnessing a parade of the United Irishmen, marked with surprise how sturdily old Dennis Haggerty bore the banner.
The Western News [Stockton KS] 9 March 1905: p. 6
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In this modern era, we have no conception of the alarm and despondency caused when crape was seen fluttering ominously from the door knob or knocker to announce a death. That chronicler of crape over at Haunted Ohio has written of the “crape threat“: a campaign of textile intimidation, and tells in The Victorian Book of the Dead about a young man said to have been shocked to death by learning of the death of his father via the crape on the door.
As for Miss Haggerty, Mrs Daffodil regrets that Captain Pole interfered. Barge-like Kate may never have had a beau, but Sandy hardly seems the stuff of dreams. We may hope that she got her money’s worth out of her unwilling husband. And when she at long last inherited her uncle’s money, Mrs Daffodil hopes that she showed Sandy the (crape-hung) door.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.