The Legend of Annabelle Mac Alister

By Ernest N.Whitenack

"Part 2"
(Read Part 1)

The night he forced his way in ended it all for Annabelle. She was with a client when Stanworth burst through the door to her room. With an anguished yell he grasped the gold Lion head of his walking stick and gave the shaft a flip revealing a thin sharp blade as the rest of the cane crashed against the wall. He started for the bed, the blade aimed at the client's back. She rolled them both off the bed just an instant before the blade went clear through the thick heavy mattress. Both, stark naked, were on their feet now as Stanworth pulled the blade from the bed and turned to them. His rage overtook his reason. With the look of a mad man he lunged at them on the run. It was Annabelle's piercing scream that diverted his eyes for the split second it took the client to sidestep the uncontrolled thrust. Stanworth could not control his forward movement. That, along with the double fisted blow delivered to his back by the client sent Stanworth through the large bay window, franticly clawing at the drapes to stop the fall. It was three floors, and below stood the spear-like iron pickets of the fence, two of which went through his body.

Annabelle's influence and position went out the window with Stanworth. The "Bosses" left her high and dry as did her influential customers, not wanting to become involved in the scandal that ensued. The authorities closed the house. Lawsuits for negligence brought by Stanworth's family took most of her money and the authorities confiscated the rest as ill-gotten gains. She was cleaned out, almost. They knew nothing of her New York investments. It took three month of bargaining and negotiations in New York to free up her money. She took some losses but still came out with a handsome profit and a letter of credit to the Mercantile Bank of Boston.

That spring in Boston was perfect. The snow melted early and the weather was milder and dryer than any spring that could be remembered. Warm spring breezes lifted and filled the curtains of the apartment like the sails of the clipper ships she had so often seen entering San Francisco Bay. Annabelle was feeling as warm and breezy as the day as she busily prepared tea for the real estate broker she expected momentarily. She was grateful to be in Boston with the tribulations of the west behind her.

The harsh ring of the rotary doorbell traveled through the hall into the kitchen. Annabelle lifted the silver tray and hurried along the hall to the front door, detouring long enough to deposit the tea service in the parlor. Mr. Harkness greeted her with, for his subdued Boston manner, considerable excitement. The property he described in Stockbridge Vermont sounded perfect for her new venture. It was at the junction of two main roads. One road cut through the center of the state from Massachusetts north to Newport. The other road ran east to west from Bethel and on to Rutland, where one could catch the Burlington - Rutland Railroad. The inn would be in the path of most business travelers in the state. Mr. Harkness assured her that it was the perfect place for the inn Annabelle had described to him; heavily traveled and in an area that was just starting to prosper from the lumber industry and the businesses it supplied. His description of the 87 acres of woods, pasture and hills along with the proximity to highly traveled roads stimulated her imagination. In her mind Annabelle could see the inn building, transported from the architectural drawing to the roadside in Vermont; its many rooms, the large barn and carriage house and the bright solarium where breakfast would be served. She exclaimed "It's perfect Mr. Harkness. I'll take it."

Over the rest of spring and into early fall land was cleared and graded, contractors and workmen were hired and construction continued. Early on Annabelle had written letters to the cook and housekeeper who had been with her in California asking them to join her in a new adventure. They responded with delight. The groom and stable keeper would be hired locally as would any others required for the smooth running of the inn. She hired Mr. Harkness to oversee and manage the contractors and legal matters that surround such an undertaking.

And so it happened, on another sun soaked October day in Vermont, as it had so long ago. The life of Annabelle Mac Alister took another major turn. The Inn had its official opening on October 17 1872. Annabelle's was an instant attraction to not only travelers but many in the area and throughout New England. Her reputation as a gracious hostess with magnificent food and drink spread rapidly from traveler to traveler and then to their friends and families. At times in the late summer and early fall, she would even have families staying for extended periods.

One afternoon, soon after the opening of the inn, a man carrying the ever present sample case establishing him as a salesman, entered the separate door to the public section of the inn that housed the bar. As he walked to the bar he passed Annabelle checking receipts at the cash drawer. Smoke from his pipe wafted close to Annabelle. The aroma took her mind back to the day Jacob had lit the first bowl of "Vermont Virginia"; the mind being what it is. Upon inquiring about the tobacco, the man told Annabelle how he bought it at the a store in West Barnet; that he was told it was only grown locally so he bought several pounds of whole leaf – enough he hoped to last until his next time through Vermont.

Mr. Harkness was immediately summoned and told to prepare for a trip in the morning. Annabelle directed the way to the old Mc Alister farm while Mr. Harkness drove the buggy. She introduced herself to the present owners and briefly related the early history of her family and farm, stressing the importance of the tobacco to the family and area residence. She learned that much of each year's crop was plowed under but seeds were always harvested. Annabelle offered to purchase the entire dried crop each year with a promise to always supply the general store at West Barnet. The offer was gratefully accepted. When the tobacco was delivered, several stalks were hung over the fireplace in the public room to stimulate curiosity and questions. Samples were rubbed out, measured and packaged then, freely distributed to pipe smokers as the came for a drink. Sales flourished while experienced smokers exclaimed the virtues of the mild and earthy yet sweet "Vermont Virginia". The U. S. Mail would occasionally bring a bank draft and an order for the tobacco from all over New England.

As she once again prospered, detectives were hired to locate the other Mac Alister children. Two had died. Others were spread around New England and, from time to time, they came together at Annabelle's for a reunion. As for Hank, he was traced to Denver, then to Texas and New Mexico. The detectives brought back stories of lawlessness and of fleeing to Mexico and on to Central America, just one step ahead of the law.

Annabelle's success continued under her capable management and the counsel of Mr. Harkness, with whom a deep and lasting friendship developed. Mr. Harkness never returned to Boston. After eight years of slow recovery since the end of the Civil War, the state was finally emerging from the devastating poverty left by the war and opportunities abounded. He gained a reputation in the area as a competent businessman and, upon the completion of Annabelle's, received several offers to manage similar projects and to act as a commissioned agent to locate property.

Annabelle was content at last; happy and felt a peace she had not known since she left Vermont so long ago. She never married; there were suitors, of course, most looking for a soft touch. Legend has it that the friendship between she and Mr. Harkness went much deeper for he spent most of his spare time at the inn. Later, as the inn grew, he moved his office there and took a room. We will never know if it was an enduring love affair or simply a close life long friendship. Her popularity and prominence fostered various rumors regarding her closely guarded life. For the next forty years Annabelle Mac Alister lived a contented life filled with loyal and loving friends and family -- and Mr. Harkness who was seldom now seen without his small Calabash – a gift from Annabelle – and volumes of smoke from the now famous but mysterious Vermont Virginia.

The New Years party heralding the coming of 1912 was a wonderful occasion at Annabelle's. She invited over one hundred dignitaries, family and friends and enjoyed the party greatly.
Particular delight was taken in the little ones, grand nieces and nephews.

Three days into the New Year Annabelle was "sick-a-bed" with influenza. The illness worsened and in a week was diagnosed as pneumonia. At age seventy-two her heart was too weak to rally and she died January 14, 1912.

It is said, that according to her wishes, Annabelle was laid to rest on a favorite hilltop somewhere on the remaining nine acres of her beloved land. The ceremony was very private including only family and an aging, very forlorn Mr. Harkness.

And, there you have it. Take it as you will. Who knows what is fact or legend? How does one separate one from the other when a story emanates from a land so abundant in rich history and magnificent characters. What is indisputable however, is man’s spirit; the spirit of courage and perseverance and the ability to conquer overwhelming odds in the search for life.

[Read Part 1]

Ernie Whitenack was born in 1928 in Springfield, Illinois and moved to Massachusetts in the mid 1930's. He is a Korean War veteran, worked as a photographic illustrator for 43 years and is now retired.

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