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There was a well-to-do farmer, Carlton Butler, who lived in the Kennebec River Valley. Carlton had extensive land holdings, lots of livestock and at the height of planting and harvest seasons he'd have several hundred employees working at his huge farm.
When he visited his doctor one October morning for a routine checkup the doctor ordered him to take a vacation, go to Florida or rent a cabin somewhere on a quiet lake. His doctor made it clear that if Carlton didn't get away, the pressures of his farm would put him in his grave before spring planting.
Well, Carlton took the hint and had someone on his staff arrange for a one-month vacation. By the end of that month, he was thoroughly rested, relaxed and refreshed.
This was back in the days when we had passenger trains in Maine and on the day of his return a hired hand was sent to the train station to pick up the boss. This particular hired hand, Alfred, was a hard worker, but he was a tad slow, if you know what I mean. Let’s just say he had a room upstairs that wasn't finished and all the carpenters had walked off the job.
After Alfred got the boss' bags loaded into the station wagon they got in and headed for the farm.
Thinking to make small talk Carlton asked Alfred if there was any news to report.
"Nuthin,’ sir" Alfred said.
A little startled, Carton said, "But Alfred, I've been away over a month – 38 days!"
Alfred took one hand off the wheel, scratched his head and said, "Now that you mention it, sir, there is something. One of your dogs died."
"That's too bad," said Carlton. "How'd the dog die?"
"We figure she died from eating burnt horse flesh," said Alfred.
"BURNT HORSE FLESH?" said Carlton. "Where would she have gotten a hold of some burnt horse flesh?"
"Oh, well, you remember that huge barn of yours, sir," said Carlton."Well that big ol’ barn burned right to the ground. Nothin’ left of it but the fieldstone foundation. Sad to say, but all the horses died and when the fire cooled off that dog went over and ate some of the horse flesh and that's what killed the dog."
"My BARN burned down?" Carlton cried in horror, "how did my barn catch on fire?"
"We figure it must have been a spark that flew over from the house that caused the barn to go up," said Alfred.
"A spark from the HOUSE?" Carlton asked, now getting a little queasy.
"Yes, sir," said Alfred, casually, "your house burned right to the granite foundation."
"How did my house catch on fire," said Carlton, now almost in tears.
"Well, sir, it was the candles we had in the parlor that done it. One of the candles tipped over, lit onto the curtains and soon the whole house was in flames. A spark flew over to the barn, the barn caught fire, burned to the ground, all the horses died before we could rescue them and when the fire cooled off the dog ate some of that horse flesh and that's what killed that dog," Alfred concluded.
"What were the candles doing in the parlor? Everyone knows they're not allowed in that front room!" said Carlton.
"The candles was around the coffin," said Alfred.
"COFFIN?" shrieked Carlton, "Who died?"
"Your mother-in-law died sir. We was having the wake in the parlor with the candles around the coffin. A candle tipped over, the whole house caught fire, a spark flew from the house to the barn, the barn burned to the ground, all the horses died, when the fire cooled off the dog ate some of the horse flesh - and that's what killed your dog," said Alfred, proud to have remembered all the details.
Bewildered, Carlton asked, "Did they ever figure out how my mother-in-law died?"
"We’re not exactly sure, sir, but she dropped dead right after learning that your wife ran off with one of the new stable boys.
"Other than that, it's like I said, sir, there's no news," Alfred concluded.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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