A Patent Medicine Testimonial by Lucy Maud
"You might as well try to move the rock of Gibraltar as attempt to
change Uncle Abimelech's mind when it is once made up," said Murray
Murray is like dear old Dad; he gets discouraged rather easily. Now,
I'm not like that; I'm more like Mother's folks. As Uncle Abimelech
has never failed to tell me when I have annoyed him, I'm "all Foster."
Uncle Abimelech doesn't like the Fosters. But I'm glad I take after
them. If I had folded my hands and sat down meekly when Uncle
Abimelech made known his good will and pleasure regarding Murray and
me after Father's death, Murray would never have got to college—nor I
either, for that matter. Only I wouldn't have minded that very much. I
just wanted to go to college because Murray did. I couldn't be
separated from him. We were twins and had always been together.
As for Uncle Abimelech's mind, I knew that he never had been known to
change it. But, as he himself was fond of saying, there has to be a
first time for everything, and I had determined that this was to be
the first time for him. I hadn't any idea how I was going to bring it
about; but it just had to be done, and I'm not "all Foster" for
I knew I would have to depend on my own thinkers. Murray is clever at
books and dissecting dead things, but he couldn't help me out in this,
even if he hadn't settled beforehand that there was no use in opposing
"I'm going up to the garret to think this out, Murray," I said
solemnly. "Don't let anybody disturb me, and if Uncle Abimelech comes
over don't tell him where I am. If I don't come down in time to get
tea, get it yourself. I shall not leave the garret until I have
thought of some way to change Uncle Abimelech's mind."
"Then you'll be a prisoner there for the term of your natural life,
dear sis," said Murray sceptically. "You're a clever girl, Prue—and
you've got enough decision for two—but you'll never get the better of
"We'll see," I said resolutely, and up to the garret I went. I shut
the door and bolted it good and fast to make sure. Then I piled some
old cushions in the window seat—for one might as well be comfortable
when one is thinking as not—and went over the whole ground from the
Outside the wind was thrashing the broad, leafy top of the maple whose
tallest twigs reached to the funny grey eaves of our old house. One
roly-poly little sparrow blew or flew to the sill and sat there for a
minute, looking at me with knowing eyes. Down below I could see Murray
in a corner of the yard, pottering over a sick duck. He had set its
broken leg and was nursing it back to health. Anyone except Uncle
Abimelech could see that Murray was simply born to be a doctor and
that it was flying in the face of Providence to think of making him
From the garret windows I could see all over the farm, for the house
is on the hill end of it. I could see all the dear old fields and the
spring meadow and the beech woods in the southwest corner. And beyond
the orchard were the two grey barns and down below at the right-hand
corner was the garden with all my sweet peas fluttering over the
fences and trellises like a horde of butterflies. It was a dear old
place and both Murray and I loved every stick and stone on it, but
there was no reason why we should go on living there when Murray
didn't like farming. And it wasn't our own, anyhow. It all belonged to
Father and Murray and I had always lived here together. Father's
health broke down during his college course. That was one reason why
Uncle Abimelech was set against Murray going to college, although
Murray is as chubby and sturdy a fellow as you could wish to see.
Anybody with Foster in him would be that.
To go back to Father. The doctors told him that his only chance of
recovering his strength was an open-air life, so Father rented one of
Uncle Abimelech's farms and there he lived for the rest of his days.
He did not get strong again until it was too late for college, and he
was a square peg in a round hole all his life, as he used to tell us.
Mother died before we could remember, so Murray and Dad and I were
everything to each other. We were very happy too, although we were
bossed by Uncle Abimelech more or less. But he meant it well and
Father didn't mind.
Then Father died—oh, that was a dreadful time! I hurried over it in
my thinking-out. Of course when Murray and I came to look our position
squarely in the face we found that we were dependent on Uncle
Abimelech for everything, even the roof over our heads. We were
literally as poor as church mice and even poorer, for at least they
get churches rent-free.
Murray's heart was set on going to college and studying medicine. He
asked Uncle Abimelech to lend him enough money to get a start with and
then he could work his own way along and pay back the loan in due
time. Uncle Abimelech is rich, and Murray and I are his nearest
relatives. But he simply wouldn't listen to Murray's plan.
"I put my foot firmly down on such nonsense," he said. "And you know
that when I put my foot down something squashes."
It was not that Uncle Abimelech was miserly or that he grudged us
assistance. Not at all. He was ready to deal generously by us, but it
must be in his own way. His way was this. Murray and I were to stay on
the farm, and when Murray was twenty-one Uncle Abimelech said he would
deed the farm to him—make him a present of it out and out.
"It's a good farm, Murray," he said. "Your father never made more than
a bare living out of it because he wasn't strong enough to work it
properly—that's what he got out of a college course, by the way.
But you are strong enough and ambitious enough to do well."
But Murray couldn't be a farmer, that was all there was to it. I told
Uncle Abimelech so, firmly, and I talked to him for days about it, but
Uncle Abimelech never wavered. He sat and listened to me with a
quizzical smile on that handsome, clean-shaven, ruddy old face of his,
with its cut-granite features. And in the end he said,
"You ought to be the one to go to college if either of you did, Prue.
You would make a capital lawyer, if I believed in the higher education
of women, but I don't. Murray can take or leave the farm as he
chooses. If he prefers the latter alternative, well and good. But he
gets no help from me. You're a foolish little girl, Prue, to back him
up in this nonsense of his."
It makes me angry to be called a little girl when I put up my hair a
year ago, and Uncle Abimelech knows it. I gave up arguing with him. I
knew it was no use anyway.
I thought it all over in the garret. But no way out of the dilemma
could I see. I had eaten up all the apples I had brought with me and I
felt flabby and disconsolate. The sight of Uncle Abimelech stalking up
the lane, as erect and lordly as usual, served to deepen my gloom.
I picked up the paper my apples had been wrapped in and looked it over
gloomily. Then I saw something, and Uncle Abimelech was delivered into
The whole plan of campaign unrolled itself before me, and I fairly
laughed in glee, looking out of the garret window right down on the
little bald spot on the top of Uncle Abimelech's head, as he stood
laying down the law to Murray about something.
When Uncle Abimelech had gone I went down to Murray.
"Buddy," I said, "I've thought of a plan. I'm not going to tell you
what it is, but you are to consent to it without knowing. I think it
will quench Uncle Abimelech, but you must have perfect confidence in
me. You must back me up no matter what I do and let me have my own way
in it all."
"All right, sis," said Murray.
"That isn't solemn enough," I protested. "I'm serious. Promise
"I promise solemnly, 'cross my heart,'" said Murray, looking like an
"Very well. Remember that your role is to lie low and say nothing,
like Brer Rabbit. Alloway's Anodyne Liniment is pretty good stuff,
isn't it, Murray? It cured your sprain after you had tried everything
else, didn't it?"
"Yes. But I don't see the connection."
"It isn't necessary that you should. Well, what with your sprain and
my rheumatics I think I can manage it."
"Look here, Prue. Are you sure that long brooding over our troubles up
in the garret hasn't turned your brain?"
"My brain is all right. Now leave me, minion. There is that which I
Murray grinned and went. I wrote a letter, took it down to the office,
and mailed it. For a week there was nothing more to do.
There is just one trait of Uncle Abimelech's disposition more marked
than his fondness for having his own way and that one thing is family
pride. The Melvilles are a very old family. The name dates back to the
Norman conquest when a certain Roger de Melville, who was an ancestor
of ours, went over to England with William the Conqueror. I don't
think the Melvilles ever did anything worth recording in history
since. To be sure, as far back as we can trace, none of them has ever
done anything bad either. They have been honest, respectable folks and
I think that is something worth being proud of.
But Uncle Abimelech pinned his family pride to Roger de Melville. He
had the Melville coat of arms and our family tree, made out by an
eminent genealogist, framed and hung up in his library, and he would
not have done anything that would not have chimed in with that coat of
arms and a conquering ancestor for the world.
At the end of a week I got an answer to my letter. It was what I
wanted. I wrote again and sent a parcel. In three weeks' time the
One day I saw Uncle Abimelech striding up the lane. He had a big
newspaper clutched in his hand. I turned to Murray, who was poring
over a book of anatomy in the corner.
"Murray, Uncle Abimelech is coming. There is going to be a battle
royal between us. Allow me to remind you of your promise."
"To lie low and say nothing? That's the cue, isn't it, sis?"
"Unless Uncle Abimelech appeals to you. In that case you are to back
Then Uncle Abimelech stalked in. He was purple with rage. Old Roger de
Melville himself never could have looked fiercer. I did feel a quake
or two, but I faced Uncle Abimelech undauntedly. No use in having your
name on the roll of Battle Abbey if you can't stand your ground.
"Prudence, what does this mean?" thundered Uncle Abimelech, as he
flung the newspaper down on the table. Murray got up and peered over.
Then he whistled. He started to say something but remembered just in
time and stopped. But he did give me a black look. Murray has a
sneaking pride of name too, although he won't own up to it and laughs
at Uncle Abimelech.
I looked at the paper and began to laugh. We did look so funny, Murray
and I, in that advertisement. It took up the whole page. At the top
were our photos, half life-size, and underneath our names and
addresses printed out in full. Below was the letter I had written to
the Alloway Anodyne Liniment folks. It was a florid testimonial to the
virtues of their liniment. I said that it had cured Murray's sprain
after all other remedies had failed and that, when I had been left a
partial wreck from a very bad attack of rheumatic fever, the only
thing that restored my joints and muscles to working order was
Alloway's Anodyne Liniment, and so on.
It was all true enough, although I dare say old Aunt
Sarah-from-the-Hollow's rubbing had as much to do with the cures as
the liniment. But that is neither here nor there.
"What does this mean, Prudence?" said Uncle Abimelech again. He was
quivering with wrath, but I was as cool as a cucumber, and Murray
stood like a graven image.
"Why, that, Uncle Abimelech," I said calmly, "well, it just means one
of my ways of making money. That liniment company pays for those
testimonials and photos, you know. They gave me fifty dollars for the
privilege of publishing them. Fifty dollars will pay for books and
tuition for Murray and me at Kentville Academy next winter, and Mrs.
Tredgold is kind enough to say she will board me for what help I can
give her around the house, and wait for Murray's until he can earn it
I rattled all this off glibly before Uncle Abimelech could get in a
"It's disgraceful!" he stormed. "Disgraceful! Think of Sir Roger de
Melville—and a patent medicine advertisement! Murray Melville, what
were you about, sir, to let your sister disgrace herself and her
family name by such an outrageous transaction?"
I quaked a bit. If Murray should fail me! But Murray was true-blue.
"I gave Prue a free hand, sir. It's an honest business transaction
enough—and the family name alone won't send us to college, you know,
Uncle Abimelech glared at us.
"This must be put an end to," he said. "This advertisement must not
appear again. I won't have it!"
"But I've signed a contract that it is to run for six months," I said
sturdily. "And I've others in view. You remember the Herb Cure you
recommended one spring and that it did me so much good! I'm
negotiating with the makers of that and—"
"The girl's mad!" said Uncle Abimelech. "Stark, staring mad!"
"Oh, no, I'm not, Uncle Abimelech. I'm merely a pretty good
businesswoman. You won't help Murray to go to college, so I must. This
is the only way I have, and I'm going to see it through."
After Uncle Abimelech had gone, still in a towering rage, Murray
remonstrated. But I reminded him of his promise and he had to succumb.
Next day Uncle Abimelech returned—a subdued and chastened Uncle
"See here, Prue," he said sternly. "This thing must be stopped. I say
it must. I am not going to have the name of Melville dragged all
over the country in a patent medicine advertisement. You've played
your game and won it—take what comfort you can out of the confession:
If you will agree to cancel this notorious contract of yours I'll
settle it with the company—and I'll put Murray through college—and
you too if you want to go! Something will have to be done with you,
that's certain. Is this satisfactory?"
"Perfectly," I said promptly. "If you will add thereto your promise
that you will forget and forgive, Uncle Abimelech. There are to be no
Uncle Abimelech shrugged his shoulders.
"In for a penny, in for a pound," he said. "Very well, Prue. We wipe
off all scores and begin afresh. But there must be no more such
doings. You've worked your little scheme through—trust a Foster for
that! But in future you've got to remember that in law you're a
Melville whatever you are in fact."
I nodded dutifully. "I'll remember, Uncle Abimelech," I promised.
After everything had been arranged and Uncle Abimelech had gone I
looked at Murray. "Well?" I said.
Murray twinkled. "You've accomplished the impossible, sis. But, as
Uncle Abimelech intimated—don't you try it again."