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The Stranger's Surprise.

None of them would ever forget the outcome of this unusual man's Christmas Eve visit.

"All set, Mr. Harris," said the garage attendant, closing the door of the car. "Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas to you, George," said Mike Harris, and handed him a generous tip for the occasion.

Then he set out for his home on Long Island. He felt pretty good. The office party hadn't been too boring and now there was nothing to worry about but the possibility that he might have forgotten one or two presents for his family. On the back seat was a heap of packages. Now let me see, he thought, the coat for Mildred was to have been delivered. One--two--yup, I think I got everything. And for the children Well, he knew he had bought more than he had intended to buy. But then, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas if one bought only the things that one set out to buy.

Mike Harris drove along the East Side Franklin Roosevelt Drive toward the Triborough Bridge. Lucky, he thought, just beat the traffic by half an hour. On the bridge, he stayed in the right lane. It was not only the least used but led to his exit on Long Island. He paid his toll, turned on the radio and listened to the news. The commentator warned repeatedly about speeding on the highways, recalled the enormous casualties of previous years, pleaded with drivers to slow their pace.

I certainly will, thought Mike. I'm in no hurry. Amused, he watched other drivers cutting in and out. Silly, he thought. How much time can they save? If they're racing to the airport they should have left earlier to make a plane. There was no one in front of him, the right lane being almost devoid of traffic.

Suddenly Mike stared at the road ahead, startled. There were no cars before him for a couple of hundred yards, but a man loomed up in his view, walking along the road as though he were taking a stroll in a quiet country lane. Mike sounded his horn frantically, but the man was either drunk or deaf, because he did not react. He continued his leisurely pace.

Mike slammed on his brakes, but could not prevent his left fender from striking the man slightly. The shove caused him to stumble, but he did not fall. Traffic began to pile up behind and horns blared.

Mike got out of his car.

"What the devil do you think you're doing?" he demanded. "Do you want to get run over? If you have to get plastered, why don't you pick a quiet street, like Eighth Avenue?"

The man looked almost indignant. "I am not drunk, sir," he said quietly, as though nothing had happened. "I am sober."

Mike felt like calling down all the imprecations listed in the Unabridged. Grab hold of yourself he thought. Don't forget the Christmas spirit.

"Look, my good man," he managed to say, "don't you know it's suicide to walk along a bridge like this? Aside from the fact that it's against the law. The first cop driving by would arrest you."

"That would be quite all right, sir," said the man.

The cars stacked up behind them were blowing their horns frantically.

"Never mind," Mike said; "just get in the car. We'll have that out later. But it's a hell of a way to hitch a ride."

The man got in, an almost-satisfied smile on his face.

Mike grew a bit suspicious. "What was your purpose in doing that?" he asked. "Are you trying to stage a holdup? I don't have much money on me, you know. Besides, you shouldn't do that on Christmas; it's against all ethics."

"I'm not attempting a holdup, sir," said the man.

"Well, what's the idea of walking along a busy highway?"

"I want to get some attention,'' said the man. "Are you very angry at me, sir?"

Mike had enough. He was looking for the first exit. "I'd better get you to the nearest hospital," he said. "You might be hurt, after all. Perhaps it would be best if you had a checkup."

"Oh, no;" said the man. "I am quite all right, I assure you. You did not strike me very hard, and it certainly was worth it."

"Worth it!" ejaculated Mike. "What's wrong with you? I have a lot of patience because it's Christmas, but this sounds crazy. Are you crazy?" he asked. "Escape from Bellevue, perhaps? Do you have amnesia? Or do you know who you are?"

The man smiled. "I know who I am, sir. Oh, I have not introduced myself. My name is Higgins--A. H. Higgins."

"Glad to meet you," said Mike dryly. "My name is Michael Harris. On second thought, I'm not so sure I'm glad to meet you. The setting is rather unusual. Tell me, how did you get there, anyway?"

"I took a cab," said the man, "from the other side of the bridge. I asked the driver to let me out in the middle. He thought it was a bit odd, but I told him that I was waiting for a friend to pick me up in his car. So he let me out and I started to walk."

"But why?" asked Michael. "Did you want to commit suicide?" "Oh, no, sir," said A.H. Higgins. "I told you, I just wanted to get some attention."

"You could have easily got more than you bargained for," said Mike. "I happen to be a careful driver; I was only doing about 25 or 30. If somebody came flying along at 60 you would have been a goner. Do you realize that?"

"Even that would have paid, sir, as long as I felt it. I mean, just so I would have remained alive long enough to realize that people were standing around and showing me some attention."

"That's a rotten way to die. In order to get attention!" said Mike. "Why are you so set on getting attention?" "I never have it," he said simply.

"What do you mean?" asked Michael.

"I never gave it any thought until my doctor mentioned it." "Your doctor? Then you are ill!" "No, not exactly. Oh, I had sometimes felt tired and listless. Everyone feels that way now and then. Well, the doctor told me my heart was kind of weak."

"Too much work and too little relaxation, I suppose?"

"Almost exactly his words. Only he said 'too little diversion.' I should take some vitamin pills and get a little attention ."

"Did it help?"

"Well, my heart doesn't bother me. I take the vitamin pills, but nobody's shown me any attention. So I thought this Christmas I'd give myself the present of making someone really mad at me."

"Make someone mad at you? Why?"

"Because if someone is mad at you, he's bound to give you some attention," said Mr. Higgins. "Of course, it didn't quite work out," he added a bit sadly, "because you aren't really mad at me, are you, sir?"

"No, I'm not. But that hasn't anything to do with you. I'm just content with the work I've done and the fact that I'm going home."

"That's one of the points I was making," said Mr. Higgins. "When you get home you'll receive a lot of attention, won't you?"

Mike laughed. "Yes. Mostly because of the packages behind me in the Car."

"It's worth it," said Mr. Higgins. "I wish I had some packages to pack."

"Don't you have any money to buy some?"

"Oh, yes," said Mr. Higgins. "I have enough money--I've a good bank account. I just don't have anyone for whom I could buy presents. And since no one has any particular reason for liking me, I thought I might at least get some attention by having someone mad at me."

They were by now well on their way out on Long Island.

"Look," said Mike, "I'm probably taking you out of your way. Where do you live?"

"I live in New York; in Manhattan, sir. But it does not matter. I can always take a train back."

"Why?" asked Mike. "Is it worth the ride you're taking with me?"

"Oh, yes," said Mr. Higgins. "Not just the ride, but I can't remember when anyone spoke so many words to me in such a short time. I mean, gave me so much attention. You have asked at least six questions which showed your interest in me. No one else has ever shown sufficient interest in me to ask six questions."

"That's ridiculous," said Mike. "It's beyond me."

"I can understand that," nodded Mr. Higgins. "Nevertheless, it is the truth."

"You have a fixed idea there," said Mike. "Let's analyze this question. You say nobody gives you any attention. Aren't you married?" "No," said Mr. Higgins.

Mike glanced at him. A.H. Higgins was a rather good-looking man, about 50 years old, hair beginning to turn gray at the temples. He was dressed in good taste, businesslike, and immaculately clean.

"Why aren't you married?" asked Mike. "I realize, of course, that it's none of my concern, but since you like attention, I thought I might as well ask. I can't say that you haven't made me curious."

"Your curiosity makes me very happy," said Mr. Higgins gratefully. "It is difficult to explain why I did not marry. I have thought about if often. When I was young, I was too busy. I come from a small family. I studied; worked in the evening in order to be able to go on studying. I never knew my father; he died when I was very young and I helped my mother along. Then I got a good job and felt it was the wrong time to get married; I had to concentrate on getting ahead."

"What do you do?" asked Mike.

"I am a bank manager," said Mr. Higgins modestly.

"A bank manager?" Mike was stunned. "And you don't get any attention?''

"No. I give attention, but I never receive it. People are only interested in a bank manager when they want a check cashed or something like that."

"Why don't you go out sometimes? Have a good time? You make good money, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, sir, I have a very good income. But I've never known how to spend it."

"Well, there are ways, you know," said Michael, laughing.

"Oh, yes, I know. But you see, I am shy. It was difficult for me to get acquainted with women. I did not know anybody."

"But your business associates?"

"Well," said Mr. Higgins thoughtfully. "I guess I am not a very gregarious or entertaining fellow. People like to invite bachelors when they can make themselves useful at parties; when they can tell funny stories, or entertain the ladies, or mix good drinks. I was never very good at either category. I was invited to parties once or twice, but I sat around in a corner feeling awkward, knowing I was boring company. Why would people invite a man who bores their guests?"

Mike shook his head. This was a completely new world to him. He had never been alone. One of six children, he was accustomed to company, parties, had flirted with his sisters' friends, competed with his brothers once or twice for the favors of their girl friends and had always busied himself in his parents' home giving and receiving joy and--as Mr. Higgins called it--attention. He often felt he was receiving too much of it; had too little privacy, too little quiet, too little relaxation. But he was too intelligent to complain about love. It was incomprehensible to him that a human being could exist who was so lonesome, so completely isolated that he had to walk along a busy highway in order to gain some attention.

"You see, sir, I am boring you," said Higgins.

"No," Michael said, "you're not boring me; I was just thinking. By the way, what does the A.H. stand for?" "I'd rather not say, sir."

"Why not?"

"It sounds--silly."

"You can't help the name your mother gave you."

"Well, you have been very kind to me," said Mr. Higgins, "so I guess you won't laugh. The A stands for Adelbert; the H for Hugo. Tell me, how can a man receive love or attention with a name like Adelbert Hugo Higgins?

Mike tried for a moment to put himself in Adelbert Hugo Higgins' position; he shuddered. "Tell you what," he said finally; "we're almost home. Do you have any plans for tonight?"

"No, sir," said Adelbert Hugo.

"Would you like to spend Christmas Eve with us?"

"Oh, I would like it very much, but I couldn't possibly."

"Why not?"

"I cannot disturb your family gathering." "There is no family gathering tonight. It's Christmas Eve and I expect to be very busy trimming the tree. You had any practice trimming trees?"

"No. I often look at them when I eat alone in restaurants and I think it must be a lot of fun. There is one little place where I frequently eat and it has occurred to me to ask the owner if he would allow me to help trim the tree. But I did not think it quite proper."

"No," said Michael, "and there's no fun trimming a restaurant tree. A family tree is much nicer."

"I should say so," said Adelbert Hugo.

"Well, then," said Mike, "that's settled."

"But what will Mrs. Harris say?" asked Mr. Higgins.

"Leave that to me," said Mike. "It will be all right."

In the meantime, they had reached the house. Flax, the German shepherd, came dashing over, barking. joyfully. The children ran toward the car, but stopped short upon seeing the stranger.

"Come on in," said Mike. "It's cold out here."

They all went in. Flax looked a bit mistrustful, but, as the stranger had entered with his master, he was too well-mannered to raise his voice to him.

"This is Ad Higgins," Mike introduced, "a friend of mine. I think he'll be one of yours too. He's going to spend Christmas Eve with us and help trim the tree. That is, after you rascals are in bed, of course .... Mildred, do you think you can manage an extra plate for dinner?"

"We can always manage another plate for dinner," said Mildred. "Welcome, Mr. Higgins."

"Thank you, madame," said Adelbert Hugo. "It is a great honor for me to share this evening with your family." Flax must have been the first to reize that Mr. Higgins needed attention. As soon as he had settled back in one of the easy chairs in the living room, Flax came over, sat beside him, wagged his tail and then rested his long muzzle on Mr. Higgins' knee. Rather startled, Mr. Higgins patted the dog's head. "He's a beautiful animal," he said. "I love dogs."

"Do you have dogs in your house?" asked little Evelyn.

"No," said Mr. Higgins regretfully, "I never could manage it. I don't have a house."

"Where do you live?"

Mr. Higgins mentioned an East Side residence hotel.

"Oh," said Evelyn pityingly, "you have to live in a hotel? That's tough."

"Not so tough when you live alone," said Mr. Higgins.

"Alone?" asked Jack, who was nine. "You mean you have no children?"

"No," said Mr. Higgins with a sort of sad smile, "I have no children."

"Don't you like children?" asked Lily, the oldest, with all the dignity of her thirteen years.

"Oh, yes," Mr. Higgins hastened to reply, "I adore children. I just never had any because I'm not married."

Now it was Mildred who looked rather stunned. "You are a bachelor, Mr. Higgins?"

"Yes, madame."

"But you don't look like one," she said smilingly.

"How does a bachelor look, madame?"

"We-e-ell," Mildred said, and stopped for a moment. "Kind of hard," she continued. "You know, bitter-lonely. You don't look hitter and lonely at all."

"I am glad," said Mr. Higgins. "I should not enjoy looking hitter or lonely. How could I, when I'm given so much attention?"

After dinner the children went upstairs and Mildred to the kitchen to help Mary with the dishes. The two men began to trim the Christmas tree. Mike brought out all the packages and started to unpack them. To his astonishment, Adelbert Hugo Higgins proved very adept at setting up toys for the children. In no time at all, he had assembled the entire miniature house for Evelyn and dressed the dolls.

"For a man who has never done this and hasn't any children, you show a lot of experience," said Mike, smiling.

"I have dreamed so often of doing it," said Adelbert Hugo. "You don't know how often I have looked at trains and "He stopped.

"What were you going to say?" asked Mike.

"Well, I may as well confess," said Adelbert Hugo with the embarrassed smile of a thirteen-year-old boy. "Once I bought a train set the day before Christmas, and I spent Christmas Eve setting it up in my room, pretending it was for my own son."

"That's Jack's dream," Mike laughed. "He wants a big train with all the gadgets that go with it. I could have managed a small one, but that wouldn't do. So I bought him this space helmet and space suit. I'll try to persuade him that we live in a modern world where we rarely take trains, but I know it won't be the same. The most modern child will still look under the tree on Christmas for an oldfashioned train."

Mildred, finished in the kitchen, came in and admired their work. Mr. Higgins glanced at his watch.

"Oh, it is very late. I have to go," he said hastily.

"Now?" asked Mike, astonished. "What's the hurry?"

"Why don't you stay over?" asked Mildred. "We have a very comfortable guest room. And if you haven't any plans stay here tomorrow and spend the day with us."

"No, no, I couldn't do that," said Mr. Higgins. "That day belongs to the family."

"Well," said Mildred with a warm smile, "since you haven't one of your own, we'll adopt you as one of our family. You might as well accept us as foster relatives."

Mr. Higgins seemed to have acquired a sudden cold. He stepped to one side, drew out a large handkerchief and blew his nose several times.

Then he turned back and said, "Thank you. That was the most precious Christmas present I could ever have hoped to receive."

"Then it's a date," said Mildred. "You will stay?"

"It's a date--for tomorrow," said Mr. Higgins. "But now I have to hurry back to town."

Michael tried to protest, but Mr. Higgins' mind had been made up. So Michael drove him to the station after he promised to be there the following day at two o'clock for dinner.

"He seemed an awfully lonesome sort," said Mildred. "What a nice man." "Yes," said Mike, "he's very nice." "I hope you didn't mind my inviting him over tomorrow."

Mike took her by the shoulders and kissed the tip of her nose.

"One thing you have to leave to women," he laughed. "They always have the right intuition at the right moment."

And then he told Mildred the whole story of Adelbert Hugo Higgins.

The subject of their discussion had reached Manhattan in the meantime. He hailed a cab and, for one hour, traveled frantically around New York trying to find a store that was still open or any shop where he could obtain wrapping paper. His quest was in vain. It was nearly midnight when he entered his hotel and walked over to the desk.

"I'm in great distress," he told the clerk. "I need a lot of wrapping paper, Christmas paper and ribbon. The shops were all closed. Would you know who could help me out? Money is no object."

The clerk was unable to offer any advice. "I'm sorry, sir; I have used up my own already. I've got five kids; takes a lot of wrapping paper."

"I know," said Mr. Higgins desperately.

"Let me think," said the clerk.

"Perhaps the manager could help us."

"But he must be asleep by now."

"No, I think Yes, I saw him go out to midnight Mass with the wife. They'll be back in a short while. I'll call you in your suite as soon as they get in."

"Oh," said Mr. Higgins, "it would be such a favor. Thank you so much."

Half an hour later his phone rang.

"Mr. Hull said he has an idea, Mr. Higgins. Would you care to come down?"

"I certainly will," Mr. Higgins said, and quickly descended to the lobby.

"You've got a predicament there!" said Mr. Hull, the manager, laughing. "You were a little late doing your Christmas shopping. Don't you know you should start preparing in July?"

"I know," said Mr. Higgins, "but this is-- sort of an emergency."

"Well," said Mr. Hull, "could you manage with gold-and-silver paper? And green ribbon to go with it?"

"That would be wonderful! The trouble is that I need quite a large quan - Mr. Hull laughed. "1 don't think you'll need as much as we have. We ordered our supply of New Year's Eve decorating paper for the dining room early. There are rolls and rolls of gold-and-silver paper. You are welcome to take as much as you require. I'll be able to reorder in time for New Year's Eve."

Mr. Higgins expressed his gratitude in a handshake weighted with substantial folding money. He strode over to the supply room with Mr. Hull and five minutes after emerged bearing huge rolls of gold-and-silver paper, tissue paper and gay green ribbon. He carried it up in the elevator as though it were a priceless treasure. In the living room of his suite, he drew the dropleaf table across the room to his easy chair near the window and opened it to its fullest length. Then he deposited his prize of paper and ribbon beside the easy chair. This done, he carefully hung his coat and hat away, as was his custom, rubbed his hands cheerfully and stood in the center of the living room for a while, deep in thought. Having reached a decision, he crossed to the phone and asked for the night clerk.

"I wonder if you could do a favor for me," he said. "I have to deliver a few rather large parcels to a friend's home out on Long Island. I want them to be there by eight o'clock in the morning."

"Eight o'clock, Mr. Higgins?" asked the clerk. "It will hardly be possible to arrange that. I don't know if there's any messenger service tomorrow."

"I don't think there is," said Mr. Higgins. "That's why I wanted to suggest that your bellboy might take them over to Long Island in a cab. Of course there'il be a handsome tip for the favor. But the parcels must be there by eight o'clock at the latest. That's the hour children usually steal down to the living room looking for presents under the tree, isn't it?"

"Yes, Mr. Higgins," said the clerk, laughing. "But some of them get an earlier start--during the night."

"Well," Mr. Higgins chuckled, "we won't count on that eventuality. But I consider eight o'clock a normal time for children to sneak downstairs. I definitely want the packages under the tree by then."

"It will be arranged, Mr. Higgins," said the clerk. "I'll ask Frank to take a cab over at seven o'clock."

"Fine," said Mr. Higgins, satisfied. "He can come up shortly before seven for the packages and money. I shall be up. Thank you again for arranging it."

"Don't mention it, Mr. Higgins," said the clerk. "It's a pleasure. It must be a mighty important family you're going to all this trouble for."

"Yes," said Mr. Higgins seriously, "they are my best friends. Good night--and thank you again. And Merry Christmas!"

He took a chair from his bedroom, went to his closet and, balancing himself on the chair, began to lift down huge, meticulously wrapped packages. There were a lot of packages and he was forced to make several trips. With great care, he transported them to the living room and deposited them on the floor near his chair. He removed the cord, opened the packages, found a couple of towels and, very painstakingly, began to clean each item of the contents.

There were many small pieces--a stop signal, a locomotive, a length of track, a tree, a little station--and so it went on until the table was covered with the pieces and sections of a tremendous train set, replete with tracks and all the gadgets that make a boy's heart beat faster when he sees them in the show windows before Christmas.

Mr. Higgins anxiously inspected each piece, and presently smiled in satisfaction; it was all complete and in the best order. Then, in a small memorandum book, he began to make a list of the Harris family.

"There is Mike and Mildred. And Jack, Evelyn and Lily. And, of course, Flax."

Completing the list, he placed it on the table and began the laborious task of wrapping all the gadgets of the enormous train set in gold-and-silver paper. He consolidated the small packages into large ones and, finally, had two huge packages containing the one gift for Jack.

He took up his list and thought for a long time. Then he loosened the beautiful gold watch from his wrist, wrapped it and tied a green ribbon around it. This done, he checked off the name "Mike."

Mr. Higgins stood up slowly, a little tired now, crossed to the secretary and, from a special niche, brought out an old-fashioned jewelry case. He placed it on the table and unlocked it with a tiny key. A strange, musty odor emerged. Mr. Higgins smiled. It certainly was old-fashioned. It had been his mother's jewelry box. He drew out a bundle of letters bound in a faded ribbon and lifted out a little bouquet of dried yellow flowers--his mother's wedding bouquet. It emitted a faint scent of lavender which came from a little sachet on the bottom of the case. Mr. Higgins removed three small boxes, looked at them for a moment and then, as solicitously as before, wrapped them in the gold-andsilver paper. He made a check mark after the next three names, rose again and took several envelopes and stationery from the secretary. He put a twenty-dollar bill in one envelope, wrapped it with as much care as he had given the others, and finished it off with green ribbon.

His work was finished. The table looked festive, as one would wish a table to look on Christmas Eve. Mr. Higgins took a pen from his pocket and smilingly started a letter. "To My Friends." He wrote for a long time. Finally, in the somewhat pedantic manner he was accustomed to using in the bank, he signed his name under the letter: "Yours, A.H. Higgins."

With a deep sigh of satisfaction, he slid the letter into an envelope, wrote Mike Harris' name and address on it to make sure the packages would reach their destination, and then stood the letter in full view in front of the packages. Once again he checked the presents against the names on his list. Yes, everything was right.

Mr. Higgins slowly replaced the pen in his pocket, sat back in his easy chair and, for a long while, looked at the table, imagining the faces of the children as they opened the packages. Perhaps he should take them out, personally, at two o'clock, and experience the joy of watching them? No[ That would be egotistical. They must find them under the tree in the morning. And it would be a nice surprise for Mildred and Mike as well.

Mr. Higgins glanced at his wrist, then recollected that he had packed his watch in one of the parcels. He smiled happily and leaned back, gazing through half-closed eyes at the colorful array on the table.

At seven o'clock in the morning, Frank, the bellboy, knocked on the door of Mr. Higgins' suite. Receiving no response, he returned to the desk and asked the clerk to awaken Mr. Higgins. He did not answer his phone. The clerk went up with the boy and, getting no reply to his knock, opened the door with a pass key. Mr. Higgins was still seated in his easy chair, smiling. The hurriedly summoned manager took one look at him and called the police and a resident physician.

"He wanted these packages delivered on Long Island by eight o'clock," said the clerk. "He asked me to make sure they'd be there on time. He was going to leave the money for a cab and tip. I guess he didn't have a chance to do it."

Mr. Hull picked up the letter addressed to Mike Harris.

"Get a cab and see that the packages are delivered," he said. "I'll pay for it."

The doctor arrived, ascertained that there had been no foul play or suicide. "The heart just stopped," he said. "Have you ever seen such a happy face?"

The police came, were satisfied that Mr. Higgins had simply died in his sleep. They left.

The manager felt helpless. "We should notify his relatives," he said to the clerk. "Do you know if he has any family in town?"

"I wouldn't know," said the clerk. "I've never seen anyone visit him. Wait a minute. He said the people he was sending these packages to were his best friends. It's a Mike Harris on Long Island. Perhaps they'd know."

"Good idea," Mr. Hull said, and called Mike Harris.

"I was told that you were a friend of Mr. Higgins," he said.

"Yes," said Mike, still half asleep.

"Would you know where we could reach any of his relatives?"

Mike was suddenly wide awake. "What happened?"

Mr. Hull explained. He added that a bellboy was on his way out with some Christmas presents.

"I'm driving in at once," said Mike.

Mildred wanted to go with him, but he thought it might be better if she stayed with the children.

"I'd appreciate it if you'd wait for me before opening the packages," he said quietly. "We had decided to wait for Higgins, but has years of searching left. You have given me so much. How could I think or bargain whether or not you are the ones to whom I should pass on these little memories of mine?

"Mike, I received this watch from my mother on my graduation. I always wanted to buy a new one, but it is such a good watch, faithful, always giving the right time. There was no real excuse to buy another. I hope every time you look at it will be a happy hour for you.

"Mildred, the brooch is also from my mother. I know you will cherish it as I do. Among the trinkets my mother left me was this little gold locket. It will look so pretty on Lily. I know my mother would have wished her to have it. The gold ring with the stone is for Evelyn. It will be too large for her, but she will grow into it and, one day, I hope she will wear it with joy and, perhaps, say 'This is from Uncle Ad Higgins.'

"I dislike giving money as a Christmas present. But, unfortunately, Flax, there was nothing in my closet or in my mother's jewelry box you would have enjoyed. So, the contents of your envelope are for the best steak available in town and a nice, soft collar that will feel good; and, sometimes, you might sniff it and just wag your tail a little while thinking of me.

"I want to say one thing more. I have received so much that I should feel ashamed if you were to thank me. When I see you today at two o'clock, you would make me very happy if you would not say anything. Just let me feel as though I had been with you to open these packages, as I will be in spirit, thinking of you while you open them. Until we meet again, my dear friends, yours, A.H. Higgins."

Mr. Higgins would have enjoyed all the love and attention he received, not only on Christmas Day but also on the day of his funeral--and on many, many days to follow. They often spoke of him, and when someone asked, "Who is A.H. Higgins?" they said, "Our best friend."

There was only one incident which Mike never mentioned, even to Mildred. He was driving home from the funeral when, in spite of the fact that there was no traffic ahead, he stopped his car abruptly. A few moments later, ignoring the horns of drivers behind him, he moved slowly off. A short distance away, as he rounded a curve, he was forced to stop again. His side of the highway was blocked by a wreck involving several cars. It must have just occurred, for the ambulance had not yet arrived. He walked forward to see if he could be of assistance, but the highway patrol had the situation in hand and was trying to clear the lane.

Turning back, Mike saw the driver of the car behind his waiting for him.

"I owe you an apology, Mac," the man said, laughing nervously. "I was sore as hell when you stopped back there and I had to slam on my brakes to keep from running into you. Why, we might have piled right into this! You couldn't have seen the wreck before the curve. What made you stop all of a sudden?"

"I don't know," said Mike. "My motor just conked out."

He couldn't very well have told him that he had stopped abruptly because, just in front of his car, he had suddenly seen A.H. Higgins' smiling face, had seen him waving, calling for attention.
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Stanley, Ilse
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Words:5682
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