The Canned Plum Pudding
by Ellis Parker Butler
My Aunt Martha, who lives and breathes in Massachusetts, and blesses her stars that she was born a Yankee, is a little eccentric in some ways. She thinks that because her ancestors came over in the Mayflower, she inherited the art of making English plum pudding. But I cannot believe that the real English article is at all like Aunt Martha's, for the English have always made Christmas a day of joy and merriment, and if their plum pudding was like Aunt Martha's they would regard Christmas more as a season for sackcloth and ashes.
Aunt Martha's plum pudding is more like a chunk of wet brown dough with black pebbles in it than anything else I can think of at this moment, but it is heavier. Visitors of the most optimistic nature would, after partaking of Aunt Martha's plum pudding, sit around and talk sadly of the awful state of degeneration the world was falling into, and how hopeless it was to try to make things better.
When I married the dearest girl in the world Aunt Martha was invited to the wedding, but could not come. She wrote a very lovely letter and said that she wished us joy, and as a token sent us something to make glad our first Christmas dinner together.
The present was canned plum pudding. It quite touched Susie. I had explained Aunt Martha's idea that she could make plum pudding, and Susie stood it right in the midst of the cut glass and solid silver, and she showed it to all the guests with real pride. I was glad that she appreciated the gift. Aunt Martha has a goodly share of wealth and I am her favorite nephew.
The day before Christmas Susie came to me and I could see that something was troubling her.
"Peter," she said, "you may scold me if you want to, but I just couldn't help it. You know your Aunt Martha does not know how to make plum pudding, and I am not going to have you made sick by eating it. I gave that canned plum pudding to old Mrs. Casey.
I really did not think the plum pudding would have as serious effects on the Caseys as it would have had on us, and I told Susie she had done the right thing.
It was about a week later that we heard from Aunt Martha. We had sent her a gift that was carefully chosen, and she wrote a very lovely letter about it. "But," she said, "you do not mention the plum pudding I sent you as a wedding present. I cannot quite understand this, for I wrote at the time that it was for your first Christmas dinner."
When we read that we looked at each other and Susie said, "Now, what shall we do?"
"It will not do to offend Aunt Martha," I said kindly, "for all her other nephews have already offended her, and if I were to do the same the poor old lady would have no one left to love and leave her estate to. We must write her that -- well, we must write her something."
I stopped suddenly.
"Susie!" I exclaimed, "do you suppose Aunt Martha could have --"
Susie clasped her hands in an agony of horror.
"Oh, do you suppose --" she gasped.
"Yes. I do!" I declared. "She is just eccentric enough to have put a lot of money or a big check or a gold bond in that plum-pudding can, and to have expected us to open the can at Christmas, and find it a splendid surprise."
"She did, I know she did!" Susie cried, "and we have gone and given it to that awful Mrs. Casey!"
"Now, stop," I said, as kindly as I could. "I won't have you crying about it. Aunt Martha and all her money are not worth one of your weeps. All we have to do is to find out some way what was in that can and then write to Aunt Martha and thank her for it. The thing for us to do is to go to Mrs. Casey and be as nice as we can and try to get her to tell us."
We did not wait. We went at once, and as we neared the Casey home we saw that something unusual had taken place. The Caseys had moved out. We learned from the next-door family that they had moved out of the town. Mr. Casey had had a legacy from some uncle in Ireland! Susie and I exchanged glances, and then I asked where the Caseys had gone. As I expected, they had not told where they were going. Susie and I went home.
However, I was only a few days in learning that the Caseys were living in New Jersey, in a much better way than had been their custom.
I went over to New Jersey. I surprised Mrs. Casey without doubt. She fairly threw up her hands when she opened the door and saw me there.
"Good-morning, Mrs. Casey," I said kindly. "I just happened to be over this way and I thought I would drop in to see you. You seem to have a better place here than you had before you moved."
"Mike had a bit of a legacy left t' him, sor," she said. "Indeed!" I said, "that is good news. And now you can have plum pudding every day if you want it, can't you?"
I thought that was a clever way to introduce the subject, but it seemed to take Mrs. Casey all aback.
"Plum puddin'!" she exclaimed, in manifest confusion.
"No?" I said, questioningly, and gave Mrs. Casey a glance that was intended to be at once sharp, insinuating and reassuring. Perhaps that was too much to expect one glance to hold. At any rate it seemed to have an odd effect on Mrs. Casey, for she screamed and slammed the door in my face.
"Maggie," I heard her scream to some one in the house, "Maggie, run for a cop! There's a crazy man outside." Then I heard the key turn in the lock.
Some men would have gone away then, but I was not afraid of an encounter with a policeman. I went around to a side window and through it I talked to Mrs. Casey in a firm but friendly way.
"My dear woman," I called, "do not be foolish. You cannot deny that you had that canned plum pudding, so it is useless to try to deceive me. All I want to know is what was in the can. It contained a present -- a Christmas present -- of great value. I want to know, and to know at once, what was in that can."
I do not know what answer she would have given me, for at that moment I was seized firmly from behind, and my two arms thrown back, and handcuffs snapped on my wrists. At the same moment Mrs. Casey's white face peered up over the window-sill.
"Tis all roight, mum," said the big policeman who had seized me. "And tell we what was he after doin', mum?
"He's crazy as a loon," said Mrs. Casey, wiping her face on her apron, "and too bad, too bad! 'Twas such a fine man he used to be! 'Tis all about a plum puddin' and he's sayin' there be a fortune in it!"
"Officer," I said calmly, "I am no more crazy than you are. Some time ago my wife gave this woman a canned plum pudding -- "
"What's that?" he asked. "A canned plum puddin'? Did ye say a canned plum puddin'?"
"I did," I said. "My aunt asked me not to eat the plum pudding until Christmas. My wife gave the plum pudding to Mrs. Casey, and now I am convinced that there was something in the can besides plum pudding. I believe there was money in it -- perhaps a fortune -- at least a large sum."
The officer took me by the arm and attempted to lead me away.
"No doubt, no doubt! But here is no place t' find it. Come wid me and I'll show ye the man that knows all about fortunes that is canned up in plum puddin's. He is an ixpert awn thim."
"Why, my dear sir," I said angrily, "you don't think I am insane, do you?"
"Not a bit of it!" he said; "ye are sanest of us all, and 'tis no wonder ye feel bad t' have yer plum puddin' that is stuffed wid money took from ye. But come wid me."
When we got to the station-house I insisted that they telegraph for my wife. Susie, of course, laughed to scorn the idea that I was crazy, and told the whole story of the pudding just as I had told it. "I think just as he does," she said. "I dare say that old Mrs. Casey found money in that can. Look at the way she suddenly became better off. Look at the way she refuses to say anything about the plum pudding --"
"Sind fer Mrs. Casey and bring her here," said the chief, and one of his men went at once. She came weeping.
"Now, mam," said the chief to her, "what is all this ruction about a plum puddin' in a can?"
"Th' lady give me th' canned plum puddin' hersilf, yer honor," said Mrs. Casey. "I am not wan as takes things widout bein' give them, sor."
"That's all right, mam," said the chief; "nobody denies they gave ye th' canned plum puddin'. We want t' know what was inside of it."
Mrs. Casey began to cry. "'Twas poison, I do believe, sor," she said to the chief; "'twas death was in th' can, and nawthin' less. 'Twas nawthin' but a solid chunk av black dough, and not fit food fer anny day, let alone Christmas day, and I throwed it out t' th' pig. And oh -- oh," she moaned, "'twas th' death av th' pig! He had spasms and fits, and turned summersets, and laid down and doied!"
"I never knew one of Aunt Martha's plum puddings to have quite such a bad effect," I said; "and that only convinces me that there was something else in the can besides plum pudding -- probably gold pieces or jewels. If a pig, even a hearty pig, ate enough gold pieces or diamonds, it might have just the effect Mrs. Casey has described."
"Well," said the sergeant to Susie, "I can't see how we can hould Mrs. Casey, annyhow. And as fer yer husband, 'tis none of th' business av New Jersey how crazy a man from New York gits. So take him home, but beware av th' aunt wid th' diamonds and jew'ls in her cans av plum puddin'."
"Susie," I said on the way home, "the only thing for me to do is to go up and see Aunt Martha. I will find out from her what was in the can and then I will thank her for it."
Aunt Martha was surprised to see me, but she was pleased. She asked me all about Susie, and in that way the talk worked around to the plum pudding.
"Oh, by the way," I said, as if the matter had just come to mind; "we did not tell you how -- how grateful we were for the plum pudding." Aunt Martha looked at me sharply.
"Then you did open it Christmas day?" she asked.
"Indeed, it was opened Christmas day!" I exclaimed. "And eaten too. Every bit of it. But I want to thank you for the additional surprise the can contained."
The moment I had said it I saw I had made a mistake.
"The additional surprise?" she asked. 'What was that?"
"Why, don't you know?" I asked, as cheerily as I could. "Then perhaps I ought not mention it. I am sure, if you do not know," I stumbled on, "you could never guess."
"John!" she said," the reason I was so anxious to hear from it was that by mistake I sent you one I had canned twelve years ago and that I was keeping to see how long a plum pudding would keep in a can without spoiling. Of course, I cannot imagine what got into a can that I sealed up twelve years ago. What was it?"
"Now, aunt," I said, "I am not going to tell you. Since it was a mistake I shall say no more about it."
She smiled at me in a tantalizing way.
"And because I wrote, and wrote again," she said, "you thought it was likely," as the situation dawned upon her, "I had put a check or money in it?"
"I admit it, Aunt Martha," I said.
"Well, I did no such thing," she said shortly; "all there was in that can was plum pudding, and the reason I wrote was that I have just discovered that for twenty years I have been leaving out a part of the recipe for the plum pudding, and that I must have been nearly poisoning all my nephews."
I looked at her thoughtfully for a moment and she looked at me.
"John," she said, "I think Susie is the only person in our family that has good common sense. I'll warrant she ate none of your Christmas pudding?"
"No," I was able to say honestly; "to tell the truth she did not."
"That is because she knew better," said Aunt Martha; "and I am going to repay her for the ill will I have borne her.
She went out and I waited patiently. I knew Aunt Martha's heart was right when it came to final reckonings and I wondered how she meant to repay Susie for the rather shabby wedding present. Aunt Martha came in with a cheerful smile. She laid a paper-wrapped parcel in my lap.
"There!" she said happily. "Take that to Susie. It is one of my new plum puddings with all the ingredients that should be in it."