Captain Enoch glared at him ferociously. “Stop that parrotin’,” he commanded. “If you dare to grin, I’ll larnbast you good an’ plenty.”
As Abner appeared properly subdued, he went on explanatorily.
“I’ve be’n callin’ on M’lissy Macy reg’lar whenever I’ve be’n ashore for the last ten years. M’lissy makes the best doughnuts I ever e’t, an’ I calculated we’d be married sometime, though I ain’t never mentioned it special. But when I went to call on M’lissy this afternoon, there set Tom Peters in the big rockin’ chair holdin’ M’lissy’s yeller cat an’ lookin’ as cheerful as a rat in a shipload of cheese. It come over me all at once what a marryin’ critter he is. The old punkin’-head’s had two wives already, ain’t he?”
“Three,” corrected Abner. “He’s be’n a widower once an’ a grass widower twice. Mebbe he’s gittin’ lonesome again. You’ll have to git up your spunk and do some courtin’. Why don’t you pop the question? It hadn’t orter be so awful hard after you be’n goin’ to see M’lissy ten years.”
“You talk like a nincompoop,” snapped Captain Enoch. “I never asked a woman to marry me in my life. How be I goin’ to know what to say? S’pose you tell me how you asked Mis’ Crowell.”
Abner’s face turned as red as Captain Enoch’s. “Wall, I—er—er,” he stammered.
“That’s about what I expected,” said the captain sarcastically. “I s’pose Mis’ Crowell did the askin’ and you didn’t dare to say ‘No.’”
Abner glanced toward the door where a board had creaked faintly. “She—she didn’t really ask,” he remarked hastily, “but she was pretty good at understandin’ what I was thinkin’ about.”
“If M’lissy understands, she’s careful not to let me know it,” said Captain Enoch sadly. “Mebbe she’s afraid of being bold. Just to think of proposin’ makes me feel as if somebody was pourin’ cold water down the back of my neck.”
Abner had a sudden flash of memory. “Why don’t you learn a regular proposal that nobody can find any fault with an’ say it right off like sayin’ a piece?” he asked. “Pegleg Brierly used to have a book in his dunnage that had all kinds of proposals printed in it. ’Guide to Courtship and Matrimony’ was the name of it. Pegleg said he didn’t have any notion of fallin’ in love, but if he should happen to, he didn’t cal’late to be caught nappin’. He’s livin’ down on the back road now, and he’s still an old bach. If he’s kept the book, mebbe he’d sell it, or lend it to you.”
The change from despair to hope brought the captain to his feet. “Abner, if you’ll git me that book, I’ll give you twenty-five dollars,” he promised earnestly. “But mind you don’t tell what you want it for.”
“I won’t tell anybody that don’t know about it already,” declared Abner with perfect truthfulness. “I’ll have to be awful di-plo-mat-ic,” he went on, “or Pegleg will be sure to suspect something. And I pity you an’ M’lissy if he got hold of the real reason why you wanted it. Pegleg can scatter news faster than a pea dropper can drop peas.”