And all the time I was counting eggs and turning out three meals a day, and running the farm when Andrew got a literary fit and would go off on some vagabond jaunt to collect adventures for a new book. (I wish you could have seen the state he was in when he came back from these trips, hoboing it along the roads without any money or a clean sock to his back. One time he returned with a cough you could hear the other side of the barn, and I had to nurse him for three weeks.) When somebody wrote a little booklet about “The Sage of Redfield” and described me as a “rural Xantippe” and “the domestic balance-wheel that kept the great writer close to the homely realities of life” I made up my mind to give Andrew some of his own medicine. And that’s my story.
It was a fine, crisp morning in fall—October I dare say—and I was in the kitchen coring apples for apple sauce. We were going to have roast pork for dinner with boiled potatoes and what Andrew calls Vandyke brown gravy. Andrew had driven over to town to get some flour and feed and wouldn’t be back till noontime.
Being a Monday, Mrs. McNally, the washerwoman, had come over to take care of the washing. I remember I was just on my way out to the wood pile for a few sticks of birch when I heard wheels turn in at the gate. There was one of the fattest white horses I ever saw, and a queer wagon, shaped like a van. A funny-looking little man with a red beard leaned forward from the seat and said something. I didn’t hear what it was, I was looking at that preposterous wagon of his.
It was coloured a pale, robin’s-egg blue, and on the side, in big scarlet letters, was painted:
good books for Sale
Shakespeare, Charles lamb, R.L.S.
Hazlitt, and all others
Underneath the wagon, in slings, hung what looked like a tent, together with a lantern, a bucket, and other small things. The van had a raised skylight on the roof, something like an old-fashioned trolley car; and from one corner went up a stove pipe. At the back was a door with little windows on each side and a flight of steps leading up to it.
As I stood looking at this queer turnout, the little reddish man climbed down from in front and stood watching me. His face was a comic mixture of pleasant drollery and a sort of weather-beaten cynicism. He had a neat little russet beard and a shabby Norfolk jacket. His head was very bald.
“Is this where Andrew McGill lives?” he said.
I admitted it.
“But he’s away until noon,” I added. “He’ll be back then. There’s roast pork for dinner.”
“And apple sauce?” said the little man.
“Apple sauce and brown gravy,” I said. “That’s why I’m sure he’ll be home on time. Sometimes he’s late when there’s boiled dinner, but never on roast pork days. Andrew would never do for a rabbi.”