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The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Whole Family, A Novel by Twelve Authors
by William Dean Howells, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Mary Heaton
Vorse, Mary Stewart Cutting, Elizabeth Jordan, John Kendrick Bangs,
Henry James, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Edith Wyatt, Mary Raymond Shipman
Andrews, Alice Brown, and Henry Van Dyke

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Title: The Whole Family

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*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK, THE WHOLE FAMILY ***




Title: The Whole Family, A Novel by Twelve Authors

Authors: William Dean Howells, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Mary Heaton
Vorse, Mary Stewart Cutting, Elizabeth Jordan, John Kendrick Bangs,
Henry James, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Edith Wyatt, Mary Raymond Shipman
Andrews, Alice Brown, Henry Van Dyke

Language: English

Etext prepared by Dianne Bean, Prescott Valley, Arizona.



THE WHOLE FAMILY

CONTENTS

I.   The Father by William Dean Howells
II.  The Old-Maid Aunt by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
III. The Grandmother by Mary Heaton Vorse
IV.  The Daughter-in-Law by Mary Stewart Cutting
V.   The School-Girl by Elizabeth Jordan
VI.  The Son-in-Law by John Kendrick Bangs
VII. The Married Son by Henry James
VIII.The Married Daughter by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
IX.  The Mother by Edith Wyatt
X.   The School-Boy by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews
XI.  Peggy by Alice Brown
XII. The Friend of the Family by Henry Van Dyke



THE WHOLE FAMILY

I. THE FATHER

by William Dean Howells

As soon as we heard the pleasant news--I suppose the news of an
engagement ought always to be called pleasant--it was decided that I
ought to speak first about it, and speak to the father. We had not been
a great while in the neighborhood, and it would look less like a bid
for the familiar acquaintance of people living on a larger scale than
ourselves, and less of an opening for our own intimacy if they turned
out to be not quite so desirable in other ways as they were in the
worldly way. For the ladies of the respective families first to offer
and receive congratulations would be very much more committing on both
sides; at the same time, to avoid the appearance of stiffness, some one
ought to speak, and speak promptly. The news had not come to us
directly from our neighbors, but authoritatively from a friend of
theirs, who was also a friend of ours, and we could not very well hold
back. So, in the cool of the early evening, when I had quite finished
rasping my lawn with the new mower, I left it at the end of the swath,
which had brought me near the fence, and said across it,

"Good-evening!"

My neighbor turned from making his man pour a pail of water on the
earth round a freshly planted tree, and said, "Oh, good-evening! How
d'ye do? Glad to see you!" and offered his hand over the low coping so
cordially that I felt warranted in holding it a moment.

"I hope it's in order for me to say how very much my wife and I are
interested in the news we've heard about one of your daughters? May I
offer our best wishes for her happiness?"

"Oh, thank you," my neighbor said. "You're very good indeed. Yes, it's
rather exciting--for us. I guess that's all for to-night, Al," he said,
in dismissal of his man, before turning to lay his arms comfortably on
the fence top. Then he laughed, before he added, to me, "And rather
surprising, too."

"Those things are always rather surprising, aren't they?" I suggested.

"Well, yes, I suppose they are. It oughtn't be so in our case, though,
as we've been through it twice before: once with my son--he oughtn't to
have counted, but he did--and once with my eldest daughter. Yes, you
might say you never do quite expect it, though everybody else does.
Then, in this case, she was the baby so long, that we always thought of
her as a little girl. Yes, she's kept on being the pet, I guess, and we
couldn't realize what was in the air."

I had thought, from the first sight of him, that there was something
very charming in my neighbor's looks. He had a large, round head, which
had once been red, but was now a russet silvered, and was not too large
for his manly frame, swaying amply outward, but not too amply, at the
girth. He had blue, kind eyes, and a face fully freckled, and the girl
he was speaking of with a tenderness in his tones rather than his
words, was a young feminine copy of him; only, her head was little,
under its load of red hair, and her figure, which we had lately noticed
flitting in and out, as with a shy consciousness of being stared at on
account of her engagement, was as light as his was heavy on its feet.

I said, "Naturally," and he seemed glad of the chance to laugh again.

"Well, of course! And her being away at school made it all the more so.
If we'd had her under our eye, here--Well, we shouldn't have had her
under our eye if she had BEEN here; or if we had, we shouldn't have
seen what was going on; at least _I_ shouldn't; maybe her mother would.
So it's just as well it happened as it did happen, I guess. We
shouldn't have been any the wiser if we'd known all about it." I joined
him in his laugh at his paradox, and he began again. "What's that about
being the unexpected that happens? I guess what happens is what ought
to have been expected. We might have known when we let her go to a
coeducational college that we were taking a risk of losing her; but we
lost our other daughter that way, and SHE never went to ANY kind of
college. I guess we counted the chances before we let her go. What's
the use? Of course we did, and I remember saying to my wife, who's more
anxious than I am about most things--women are, I guess--that if the
worst came to the worst, it might not be such a bad thing. I always
thought it wasn't such an objectionable feature, in the coeducational
system, if the young people did get acquainted under it, and maybe so
well acquainted that they didn't want to part enemies in the end. I
said to my wife that I didn't see how, if a girl was going to get
married, she could have a better basis than knowing the fellow through
three or four years' hard work together. When you think of the sort of
hit-or-miss affairs most marriages are that young people make after a
few parties and picnics, coeducation as a preliminary to domestic
happiness doesn't seem a bad notion."

"There's something in what you say," I assented.

"Of course there is," my neighbor insisted. "I couldn't help laughing,
though," and he laughed, as if to show how helpless he had been, "at
what my wife said. She said she guessed if it came to that they would
get to know more of each other's looks than they did of their minds.
She had me there, but I don't think my girl has made out so very poorly
even as far as books are concerned."

Upon this invitation to praise her, I ventured to say, "A young lady of
Miss Talbert's looks doesn't need much help from books."

I could see that what I had said pleased him to the core, though he put
on a frown of disclaimer in replying, "I don't know about her looks.
She's a GOOD girl, though, and that's the main thing, I guess."

"For her father, yes, but other people don't mind her being pretty," I
persisted. "My wife says when Miss Talbert comes out into the garden,
the other flowers have no chance."

"Good for Mrs. Temple!" my neighbor shouted, joyously giving himself
away.

I have always noticed that when you praise a girl's beauty to her
father, though he makes a point of turning it off in the direction of
her goodness, he likes so well to believe she is pretty that he cannot
hold out against any persistence in the admirer of her beauty. My
neighbor now said with the effect of tasting a peculiar sweetness in my
words, "I guess I shall have to tell my wife, that." Then he added,
with a rush of hospitality, "Won't you come in and tell her yourself?"

"Not now, thank you. It's about our tea-time."

"Glad it isn't your DINNER-time!" he said, heartily.

"Well, yes. We don't see the sense of dining late in a place like this.
The fact is, we're both village-bred, and we like the mid-day dinner.
We make rather a high tea, though."

"So do we. I always want a dish of something hot. My wife thinks cake
is light, but I think meat is."

"Well, cake is the New England superstition," I observed. "And I
suppose York State, too."

"Yes, more than pie is," he agreed. "For supper, anyway. You may have
pie at any or all of the three meals, but you have GOT to have cake at
tea, if you are anybody at all. In the place where my wife lived, a
woman's social standing was measured by the number of kinds of cake she
had."

We laughed at that, too, and then there came a little interval and I
said, "Your place is looking fine."

He turned his head and gave it a comprehensive stare. "Yes, it is," he
admitted. "They tell me it's an ugly old house, and I guess if my
girls, counting my daughter-in-law, had their way, they would have that
French roof off, and something Georgian--that's what they call it--on,
about as quick as the carpenter could do it. They want a kind of
classic front, with pillars and a pediment; or more the Mount Vernon
style, body yellow, with white trim. They call it Georgian after
Washington?" This was obviously a joke.

"No, I believe it was another George, or four others. But I don't
wonder you want to keep your house as it is. It expresses something
characteristic." I saved myself by forbearing to say it was handsome.
It was, in fact, a vast, gray-green wooden edifice, with a mansard-roof
cut up into many angles, tipped at the gables with rockets and finials,
and with a square tower in front, ending in a sort of lookout at the
top, with a fence of iron filigree round it. The taste of 1875 could
not go further; it must have cost a heap of money in the depreciated
paper of the day.

I suggested something of the kind to my neighbor, and he laughed. "I
guess it cost all we had at the time. We had been saving along up, and
in those days it used to be thought that the best investment you could
make was to put your money in a house of your own. That's what we did,
anyway. I had just got to be superintendent of the Works, and I don't
say but what we felt my position a little. Well, we felt it more than
we did when I got to be owner." He laughed in good-humored self-satire.
"My wife used to say we wanted a large house so as to have it big
enough to hold me, when I was feeling my best, and we built the largest
we could for all the money we had. She had a plan of her own, which she
took partly from the house of a girl friend of hers where she had been
visiting, and we got a builder to carry out her idea. We did have some
talk about an architect, but the builder said he didn't want any
architect bothering around HIM, and I don't know as SHE did, either.
Her idea was plenty of chambers and plenty of room in them, and two big
parlors one side of the front door, and a library and dining-room on
the other; kitchen in the L part, and girl's room over that; wide front
hall, and black-walnut finish all through the first floor. It was
considered the best house at the time in Eastridge, and I guess it was.
But now, I don't say but what it's old-fashioned. I have to own up to
that with the girls, but I tell them so are we, and that seems to make
it all right for a while. I guess we sha'n't change."

He continued to stare at the simple-hearted edifice, so simple-hearted
in its out-dated pretentiousness, and then he turned and leaned over
the top of the fence where he had left his arms lying, while
contemplating the early monument of his success. In making my
journalistic study, more or less involuntary, of Eastridge, I had put
him down as materially the first man of the place; I might have gone
farther and put him down as the first man intellectually. We folk who
have to do more constantly with reading and writing are apt to think
that the other folk who have more to do with making and marketing have
not so much mind, but I fancy we make a mistake in that now and then.
It is only another kind of mind which they have quite as much of as we
have of ours. It was intellectual force that built up the Plated-Ware
Works of Eastridge, where there was no other reason for their being,
and it was mental grip that held constantly to the management, and
finally grasped the ownership. Nobody ever said that Talbert had come
unfairly into that, or that he had misused his money in buying men
after he began to come into it in quantity. He was felt in a great many
ways, though he made something of a point of not being prominent in
politics, after being president of the village two terms. The minister
of his church was certainly such a preacher as he liked; and nothing
was done in the church society without him; he gave the town a library
building, and a soldier's monument; he was foremost in getting the
water brought in, which was natural enough since he needed it the most;
he took a great interest in school matters, and had a fight to keep
himself off the board of education; he went into his pocket for village
improvements whenever he was asked, and he was the chief contributor to
the public fountain under the big elm. If he carefully, or even
jealously guarded his own interests, and held the leading law firm in
the hollow of his hand, he was not oppressive, to the general
knowledge. He was a despot, perhaps, but he was Blackstone's ideal of
the head of a state, a good despot. In all his family relations he was
of the exemplary perfection which most other men attain only on their
tombstones, and I had found him the best of neighbors. There were some
shadows of diffidence between the ladies of our families, mainly on the
part of my wife, but none between Talbert and me. He showed me, as a
newspaper man with ideals if not abilities rather above the average, a
deference which pleased my wife, even more than me.

It was the married daughter whom she most feared might, if occasion
offered, give herself more consequence than her due. She had tried to
rule her own family while in her father's house, and now though she had
a house of her own, my wife believed that she had not wholly
relinquished her dominion there. Her husband was the junior member of
the law firm which Talbert kept in his pay, to the exclusion of most
other clients, and he was a very good fellow, so far as I knew, with
the modern conception of his profession which, in our smaller towns and
cities, has resulted in corporation lawyers and criminal lawyers, and
has left to a few aging attorneys the faded traditions and the scanty
affairs of the profession. My wife does not mind his standing somewhat
in awe of his father-in-law, but she thinks poorly of his spirit in
relation to that managing girl he has married. Talbert's son is in the
business with him, and will probably succeed him in it; but it is well
known in the place that he will never be the man his father is, not
merely on account of his college education, but also on account of the
easy temperament, which if he had indulged it to the full would have
left him no better than some kind of artist. As it is, he seems to
leave all the push to his father; he still does some sketching outside,
and putters over the aesthetic details in the business, the new designs
for the plated ware, and the illustrated catalogues which the house
publishes every year; I am in hopes that we shall get the printing,
after we have got the facilities. It would be all right with the young
man in the opinion of his censors if he had married a different kind of
woman, but young Mrs. Talbert is popularly held just such another as
her husband, and easy-going to the last degree. She was two or three
years at the Art Students' League, and it was there that her husband
met her before they both decided to give up painting and get married.

The two youngest children, or the fall chickens as they are called in
recognition of the wide interval between their ages and those of the
other children, are probably of the indeterminate character proper to
their years. We think the girl rather inclines to a hauteur based upon
the general neglect of that quality in the family, where even the
eldest sister is too much engaged in ruling to have much force left for
snubbing. The child carries herself with a vague loftiness, which has
apparently not awaited the moment of long skirts for keeping pretenders
to her favor at a distance. In the default of other impertinents to
keep in abeyance we fancy that she exercises her gift upon her younger
brother, who, so far as we have been able to note, is of a disposition
which would be entirely sweet if it were not for the exasperations he
suffers from her. I like to put myself in his place, and to hold that
he believes himself a better judge than she of the sort of companions
he chooses, she being disabled by the mental constitution of her sex,
and the defects of a girl's training, from knowing the rare quality of
boys who present themselves even to my friendly eyes as dirty, and,
when not patched, ragged. I please myself in my guesses at her
character with the conjecture that she is not satisfied with her
sister's engagement to a fellow-student in a co-educational college,
who is looking forward to a professorship.

In spite of her injustice in regard to his own companions, this
imaginable attitude of hers impresses the boy, if I understand boys. I
have no doubt he reasons that she must be right about something, and as
she is never right about boys, she must be right about brothers-in-law,
potential if not actual. This one may be, for all the boy knows, a
sissy; he inclines to believe, from what he understands of the matter,
that he is indeed a sissy, or he would never have gone to a college
where half the students are girls. He himself, as I have heard, intends
to go to a college, but whether Harvard, or Bryant's Business College,
he has not yet decided. One thing he does know, though, and that is
there are not going to be any girls in it. We have not allowed our
invention so great play in regard to the elder members of our
neighbor's family perhaps because we really know something more about
them. Mrs. Talbert duly called after We came to Eastridge, and when my
wife had self-respectfully waited a proper time, which she made a
little more than a week lest she should feel that she had been too
eager for the acquaintance, she returned the call. Then she met not
only Mrs. Talbert, but Mrs. Talbert's mother, who lives with them, in
an anxiety for their health which would impair her own if she were not
of a constitution such as you do not find in these days of unladylike
athletics. She was inclined to be rather strict with my wife about her
own health, and mine too, and told her she must be careful not to let
me work too hard, or overeat, or leave off my flannels before the
weather was settled in the spring. She said she had heard that I had
left a very good position on a Buffalo paper when I bought the
Eastridge Banner, and that the town ought to feel very much honored. My
wife suppressed her conviction that this was the correct view of the
case, in a deprecatory expression of our happiness in finding ourselves
in Eastridge, and our entire satisfaction with our prospects and
surroundings. Then Mrs. Talbert's mother inquired, as delicately as
possible, what denominations, religious and medical, we were of, how
many children we had, and whether mostly boys or girls, and where and
how long we had been married. She was glad, she said, that we had taken
the place next them, after our brief sojourn in the furnished house
where we had first lived, and said that there was only one objection to
the locality, which was the prevalence of moths; they obliged you to
put away your things in naphtha-balls almost the moment the spring
opened. She wished to know what books my wife was presently reading,
and whether she approved of women's clubs to the extent that they were
carried to in some places. She believed in book clubs, but to her mind
it was very questionable whether the time that ladies gave to writing
papers on so many different subjects was well spent. She thought it a
pity that so many things were canned, nowadays, and so well canned that
the old arts of pickling and preserving were almost entirely lost. In
the conversation, where she bore a leading part as long as she remained
in the room, her mind took a wide range, and visited more human
interests than my wife was at first able to mention, though afterward
she remembered so many that I formed the notion of something
encyclopedic in its compass. When she reached the letter Z, she rose
and took leave of my wife, saying that now she must go and lie down, as
it appeared to be her invariable custom to do (in behalf of the robust
health which she had inherited unimpaired from a New England ancestry),
at exactly half-past four every afternoon. It was this, she said, more
than any one thing that enabled her to go through so much as she did;
but through the door which she left open behind her my wife heard
Talbert's voice saying, in mixed mockery and tenderness, "Don't forget
your tonic, mother," and hers saying, "No, I won't, Cyrus. I never
forget it, and it's a great pity you don't take it, too."

It was our conclusion from all the facts of this call, when we came to
discuss them in the light of some friendly gossip which we had
previously heard, that the eldest daughter of the Talberts came
honestly by her love of ruling if she got it from her grandmother, but
that she was able to indulge it oftener, and yet not so often as might
have been supposed from the mild reticence of her mother. Older if not
shrewder observers than ourselves declared that what went in that house
was what Mrs. Talbert said, and that it went all the more effectively
because what she said Talbert said too.

That might have been because she said so little. When her mother left
the room she let a silence follow in which she seemed too embarrassed
to speak for a while on finding herself alone with my wife, and my wife
decided that the shyness of the girl whose engagement was soon
afterward reported, as well as the easy-goingness of the eldest son,
had come from their mother. As soon as Mrs. Talbert could command
herself, she began to talk, and every word she said was full of sense,
with a little gust of humor in the sense which was perfectly charming.
Absolutely unworldly as she was, she had very good manners; in her
evasive way she was certainly qualified to be the leader of society in
Eastridge, and socially Eastridge thought fairly well of itself. She
did not obviously pretend to so much literature as her mother, but she
showed an even nicer intelligence of our own situation in Eastridge.
She spoke with a quiet appreciation of the improvement in the Banner,
which, although she quoted Mr. Talbert, seemed to be the result of her
personal acquaintance with the paper in the past as well as the
present. My wife pronounced her the ideal mother of a family, and just
what the wife of such a man as Cyrus Talbert ought to be, but no doubt
because Mrs. Talbert's characteristics were not so salient as her
mother's, my wife was less definitely descriptive of her.

From time to time, it seemed that there was a sister of Mr. Talbert's
who visited in the family, but was now away on one of the many other
visits in which she passed her life. She was always going or coming
somewhere, but at the moment she was gone. My wife inferred from the
generation to which her brother belonged that she had long been a lady
of that age when ladies begin to be spoken of as maiden. Mrs. Talbert
spoke of her as if they were better friends than sisters-in-law are apt
to be, and said that she was to be with them soon, and she would bring
her with her when she returned my wife's call. From the general
impression in Eastridge we gathered that Miss Talbert was not without
the disappointment which endears maiden ladies to the imagination, but
the disappointment was of a date so remote that it was only matter of
pathetic hearsay, now. Miss Talbert, in her much going and coming, had
not failed of being several times in Europe. She especially affected
Florence, where she was believed to have studied the Tuscan School to
unusual purpose, though this was not apparent in any work of her own.
We formed the notion that she might be uncomfortably cultured, but when
she came to call with Mrs. Talbert afterward, my wife reported that you
would not have thought, except for a remark she dropped now and then,
that she had ever been out of her central New York village, and so far
from putting on airs of art, she did not speak of any gallery abroad,
or of the pensions in which she stayed in Florence, or the hotels in
other cities of Italy where she had stopped to visit the local schools
of painting.

In this somewhat protracted excursion I have not forgotten that I left
Mr. Talbert leaning against our party fence, with his arms resting on
the top, after a keen if not critical survey of his dwelling. He did
not take up our talk at just the point where we had been in it, but
after a reflective moment, he said, "I don't remember just whether Mrs.
Temple told my mother-in-law you were homoeopaths or allopaths."

"Well," I said, "that depends. I rather think we are homoeopaths of a
low-potency type." My neighbor's face confessed a certain
disappointment. "But we are not bigoted, even in the article of
appreciable doses. Our own family doctor in our old place always
advised us, in stress of absence from him, to get the best doctor
wherever we happened to be, so far as we could make him out, and not
mind what school he was of. I suppose we have been treated by as many
allopaths as homoeopaths, but we're rather a healthy family, and put it
all together we have not been treated a great deal by either."

Mr. Talbert looked relieved. "Oh, then you will have Dr. Denbigh. He
puts your rule the other way, and gets the best patient he can, no
matter whether he is a homoeopath or an allopath. We have him, in all
our branches; he is the best doctor in Eastridge, and he is the best
man. I want you to know him, and you can't know a doctor the way you
ought to, unless he's your family physician."

"You're quite right, I think, but that's a matter I should have to
leave two-thirds of to my wife: women are two-thirds of the patients in
every healthy family, and they ought to have the ruling voice about the
doctor." We had formed the habit already of laughing at any appearance
of joke in each other, and my neighbor now rolled his large head in
mirth, and said:

"That's so, I guess. But I guess there won't be any trouble about Mrs.
Temple's vote when she sees Denbigh. His specialty is the capture of
sensible women. They all swear by him. You met him, didn't you, at my
office, the other day?"

"Oh yes, and I liked him so much that I wished I was sick on the spot!"

"That's good!" my neighbor said, joyfully.

"Well, you could meet the doctor there almost any afternoon of the
week, toward closing-up hours, and almost any evening at our house
here, when he isn't off on duty. It's a generally understood thing that
if he isn't at home, or making a professional visit, he's at one place
or the other. The farmers round stop for him with their buggies, when
they're in a hurry, and half our calls over the 'phone are for Dr.
Denbigh. The fact is he likes to talk, and if there's any sort of man
that _I_ like to talk with better than another, it's a doctor. I never
knew one yet that didn't say something worth while within five minutes'
time. Then, you know that you can be free with them, be yourself, and
that's always worth while, whether you're worth while yourself or not.
You can say just what you think about anybody or anything, and you know
it won't go farther. You may not be a patient, but they've always got
their Hippocratic oath with them, and they're safe. That so?"

My neighbor wished the pleasure of my explicit assent; my tacit assent
he must have read in my smile. "Yes," I said, "and they're always so
tolerant and compassionate. I don't want to say anything against the
reverend clergy; they're oftener saints upon earth than we allow; but a
doctor is more solid comfort; he seems to understand you exponentially."

"That's it! You've hit it! He's seen lots of other cases like yours,
and next to a man's feeling that he's a peculiar sufferer, he likes to
know that there are other fellows in the same box."

We both laughed at this; it was, in fact, a joke we were the joint
authors of.

"Well, we don't often talk about my ailments; I haven't got a great
many; and generally we get on some abstract topic. Just now we're
running the question of female education, perhaps because it's
impersonal, and we can both treat of it without prejudice."

"The doctor isn't married, I believe?"

"He's a widower of long standing, and that's the best kind of doctor to
have: then he's a kind of a bachelor with practical wisdom added. You
see, I've always had the idea that women, beginning with little girls
and ending with grandmothers, ought to be brought up as nearly like
their brothers as can be--that is, if they are to be the wives of other
women's brothers. It don't so much matter how an old maid is brought
up, but you can't have her destiny in view, though I believe if an old
maid could be brought up more like an old bachelor she would be more
comfortable to herself, anyway."

"And what does Dr. Denbigh say?"

"Well, you must hear him talk. I guess he rather wants to draw me out,
for the most part."

"I don't wonder at that. I wish you'd draw yourself out. I've thought
something in the direction of your opinion myself."

"Have you? That's good! We'll tackle the doctor together sometime. The
difficulty about putting a thing like that in practice is that you have
to co-operate in it with women who have been brought up in the old way.
A man's wife is a woman--"

"Generally," I assented, as if for argument's sake.

He gave himself time to laugh. "And she has the charge of the children
as long as they're young, and she's a good deal more likely to bring up
the boys like girls than the girls like boys. But the boys take
themselves out of her hands pretty soon, while the girls have to stay
under her thumb till they come out just the kind of women we've always
had."

"We've managed to worry along with them."

"Yes, we have. And I don't say but what we fancy them as they are when
we first begin to 'take notice.' One trouble is that children are sick
so much, and their mothers scare you with that, and you haven't the
courage to put your theories into practice. I can't say that any of my
girls have inherited my constitution but this one." I knew he meant the
one whose engagement was the origin of our conversation. "If you've
heard my mother-in-law talk about her constitution you would think she
belonged to the healthiest family that ever got out of New England
alive, but the fact is there's always something the matter with her, or
she thinks there is, and she's taking medicine for it, anyway. I can't
say but what my wife has always been strong enough, and I've been
satisfied to have the children take after her; but when I saw this
one's sorrel-top as we used to call it before we admired red hair, I
knew she was a Talbert, and I made up my mind to begin my system with
her." He laughed as with a sense of agreeable discomfiture. "I can't
say it worked very well, or rather that it had a chance. You see, her
mother had to apply it; I was always too busy. And a curious thing was
that though the girl looked like me, she was a good deal more like her
mother in temperament and character."

"Perhaps," I ventured, "that's the reason why she was your favorite."

He dropped his head in rather a shamefaced way, but lifted it with
another laugh. "Well, there may be something in that. Not," he gravely
retrieved himself, "that we have ever distinguished between our
children."

"No, neither have we. But one can't help liking the ways of one child
better than another; one will rather take the fancy more than the rest."

"Well," my neighbor owned, "I don't know but it's that kind of shyness
in them both. I suppose one likes to think his girl looks like him, but
doesn't mind her being like her mother. I'm glad she's got my
constitution, though. My eldest daughter is more like her grandmother
in looks, and I guess she's got her disposition too, more. I don't
know," he said, vaguely, "what the last one is going to be like. She
seems to be more worldly. But," he resumed, strenuously, as if the
remembrance of old opposition remained in his nerves, "when it came to
this going off to school, or college, or whatever, I put my foot down,
and kept it down. I guess her mother was willing enough to do my way,
but her sister was all for some of those colleges where girls are
educated with other girls and not with young men. She said they were
more ladylike, and a lot more stuff and nonsense, and were more likely
to be fit for society. She said this one would meet a lot of jays, and
very likely fall in love with one; and when we first heard of this
affair of Peggy's I don't believe but what her sister got more
satisfaction out of it than I did. She's quick enough! And a woman
likes to feel that she's a prophetess at any time of her life. That's
about all that seems to keep some of them going when they get old." I
knew that here he had his mother-in-law rather than his daughter in
mind, and I didn't interrupt the sarcastic silence into which he fell.
"You've never met the young man, I believe?" he asked, at quite another
point, and to the negation of my look he added, "To be sure! We've
hardly met him ourselves; he's only been here once; but you'll see
him--you and Mrs. Temple. Well!" He lifted his head, as if he were
going away, but he did not lift his arms from the fence, and so I knew
that he had not emptied the bag of his unexpected confidences; I did
not know why he was making them to me, but I liked him the better for
them, and tried to feel that I was worthy of them. He began with a
laugh, "They both paid it into me so," and now I knew that he meant his
eldest daughter as well as her grandmother, "that my wife turned round
and took my part, and said it was the very best thing that could
happen; and she used all the arguments that I had used with her, when
she had her misgivings about it, and she didn't leave them a word to
say. A curious thing about it was, that though my arguments seemed to
convince them, they didn't convince me. Ever notice, how when another
person repeats what you've said, it sounds kind of weak and foolish?" I
owned that my reasons had at times some such way of turning against me
from the mouths of others, and he went on: "But they seemed to silence
her own misgivings, and she's been enthusiastic for the engagement ever
since. What's the reason," he asked, "why a man, if he's any way
impetuous, wants to back out of a situation just about the time a woman
has got set in it like the everlasting hills? Is it because she feels
the need of holding fast for both, or is it because she knows she
hasn't the strength to keep to her conclusion, if she wavers at all,
while a man can let himself play back and forth, and still stay put."

"Well, in a question like that," I said, and I won my neighbor's easy
laugh, "I always like to give my own sex the benefit of the doubt, and
I haven't any question but man's inconsistency is always attributable
to his magnanimity."

"I guess I shall have to put that up on the doctor," my neighbor said,
as he lifted his arms from the fence at last, and backed away from it.
I knew that he was really going in-doors now, and that I must come out
with what was in my mind, if I meant to say it at all, and so I said,
"By-the-way, there's something. You know I don't go in much for what's
called society journalism, especially in the country press, where it
mostly takes the form of 'Miss Sadie Myers is visiting with Miss Mamie
Peters,' but I realize that a country paper nowadays must be a kind of
open letter to the neighborhood, and I suppose you have no objection to
my mentioning the engagement?"

This made Mr. Talbert look serious; and I fancy my proposition made him
realize the affair as he had not before, perhaps. After a moment's
pause, he said, "Well! That's something I should like to talk with my
wife about."

"Do so!" I applauded. "I only suggest it--or chiefly, or
partly--because you can have it reach our public in just the form you
want, and the Rochester and Syracuse papers will copy my paragraph; but
if you leave it to their Eastridge correspondents--"

"That's true," he assented. "I'll speak to Mrs. Talbert--" He walked so
inconclusively away that I was not surprised to have him turn and come
back before I left my place. "Why, certainly! Make the announcement!
It's got to come out. It's a kind of a wrench, thinking of it as a
public affair; because a man's daughter is always a little girl to him,
and he can't realize--And this one--But of course!"

"Would you like to suggest any particular form of words?" I hesitated.

"Oh no! Leave that to you entirely. I know we can trust you not to make
any blare about it. Just say that they were fellow-students--I should
like that to be known, so that people sha'n't think I don't like to
have it known--and that he's looking forward to a professorship in the
same college--How queer it all seems!"

"Very well, then, I'll announce it in our next. There's time to send me
word if Mrs. Talbert has any suggestions."

"All right. But she won't have any. Well, good-evening."

"Good-evening," I said from my side of the fence; and when I had
watched him definitively in-doors, I turned and walked into my own
house.

The first thing my wife said was, "You haven't asked him to let you
announce it in the Banner?"

"But I have, though!"

"Well!" she gasped.

"What is the matter?" I demanded. "It's a public affair, isn't it?"

"It's a family affair--"

"Well, I consider the readers of the Banner a part of the family."



II. THE OLD-MAID AUNT

by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

I am relegated here in Eastridge to the position in which I suppose I
properly belong, and I dare say it is for my best spiritual and
temporal good. Here I am the old-maid aunt. Not a day, not an hour, not
a minute, when I am with other people, passes that I do not see myself
in their estimation playing that role as plainly as if I saw myself in
a looking-glass. It is a moral lesson which I presume I need. I have
just returned from my visit at the Pollards' country-house in
Lancaster, where I most assuredly did not have it. I do not think I
deceive myself. I know it is the popular opinion that old maids are
exceedingly prone to deceive themselves concerning the endurance of
their youth and charms, and the views of other people with regard to
them. But I am willing, even anxious, to be quite frank with myself.
Since--well, never mind since what time--I have not cared an iota
whether I was considered an old maid or not. The situation has seemed
to me rather amusing, inasmuch as it has involved a secret willingness
to be what everybody has considered me as very unwilling to be. I have
regarded it as a sort of joke upon other people.

But I think I am honest--I really mean to be, and I think I am--when I
say that outside Eastridge the role of an old-maid aunt is the very
last one which I can take to any advantage. Here I am estimated
according to what people think I am, rather than what I actually am. In
the first place, I am only fifteen years older than Peggy, who has just
become engaged, but those fifteen years seem countless aeons to the
child herself and the other members of the family. I am ten years
younger than my brother's wife, but she and my brother regard me as old
enough to be her mother. As for Grandmother Evarts, she fairly looks up
to me as her superior in age, although she DOES patronize me. She would
patronize the prophets of old. I don't believe she ever says her
prayers without infusing a little patronage into her petitions. The
other day Grandmother Evarts actually inquired of me, of ME! concerning
a knitting-stitch. I had half a mind to retort, "Would you like a
lesson in bridge, dear old soul?" She never heard of bridge, and I
suppose she would have thought I meant bridge-building. I sometimes
wonder why it is that all my brother's family are so singularly
unsophisticated, even Cyrus himself, able as he is and dear as he is.

Sometimes I speculate as to whether it can be due to the mansard-roof
of their house. I have always had a theory that inanimate things
exerted more of an influence over people than they dreamed, and a
mansard-roof, to my mind, belongs to a period which was most
unsophisticated and fatuous, not merely concerning aesthetics, but
simple comfort. Those bedrooms under the mansard-roof are miracles not
only of ugliness, but discomfort, and there is no attic. I think that a
house without a good roomy attic is like a man without brains. Possibly
living in a brainless house has affected the mental outlook of my
relatives, although their brains are well enough. Peggy is not exactly
remarkable for hers, but she is charmingly pretty, and has a wonderful
knack at putting on her clothes, which might be esteemed a purely
feminine brain, in her fingers. Charles Edward really has brains,
although he is a round peg in a square hole, and as for Alice, her
brains are above the normal, although she unfortunately knows it, and
Billy, if he ever gets away from Alice, will show what he is made of.
Maria's intellect is all right, although cast in a petty mould. She
repeats Grandmother Evarts, which is a pity, because there are types
not worth repeating. Maria if she had not her husband Tom to manage,
would simply fall on her face. It goes hard with a purely patronizing
soul when there is nobody to manage; there is apt to be an explosion.
However, Maria HAS Tom. But none of my brother's family, not even my
dear sister-in-law, Cyrus's wife, have the right point of view with
regard to the present, possibly on account of the mansard-roof which
has overshadowed them. They do not know that today an old-maid aunt is
as much of an anomaly as a spinning-wheel, that she has ceased to
exist, that she is prehistoric, that even grandmothers have almost
disappeared from off the face of the earth. In short, they do not know
that I am not an old-maid aunt except under this blessed mansard-roof,
and some other roofs of Eastridge, many of which are also mansard,
where the influence of their fixed belief prevails. For instance, they
told the people next door, who have moved here recently, that the
old-maid aunt was coming, and so, when I went to call with my
sister-in-law, Mrs. Temple saw her quite distinctly. To think of Ned
Temple being married to a woman like that, who takes things on trust
and does not use her own eyes! Her two little girls are exactly like
her. I wonder what Ned himself will think. I wonder if he will see that
my hair is as red-gold as Peggy's, that I am quite as slim, that there
is not a line on my face, that I still keep my girl color with no aid,
that I wear frills of the latest fashion, and look no older than when
he first saw me. I really do not know myself how I have managed to
remain so intact; possibly because I have always grasped all the minor
sweets of life, even if I could not have the really big worth-while
ones. I honestly do not think that I have had the latter. But I have
not taken the position of some people, that if I cannot have what I
want most I will have nothing. I have taken whatever Providence chose
to give me in the way of small sweets, and made the most of them. Then
I have had much womanly pride, and that is a powerful tonic.

For instance, years ago, when my best lamp of life went out, so to
speak, I lit all my candles and kept my path. I took just as much pains
with my hair and my dress, and if I was unhappy I kept it out of
evidence on my face. I let my heart ache and bleed, but I would have
died before I wrinkled my forehead and dimmed my eyes with tears and
let everybody else know. That was about the time when I met Ned Temple,
and he fell so madly in love with me, and threatened to shoot himself
if I would not marry him. He did not. Most men do not. I wonder if he
placed me when he heard of my anticipated coming. Probably he did not.
They have probably alluded to me as dear old Aunt Elizabeth, and when
he met me (I was staying at Harriet Munroe's before she was married)
nobody called me Elizabeth, but Lily. Miss Elizabeth Talbert, instead
of Lily Talbert, might naturally set him wrong. Everybody here calls me
Elizabeth. Outside Eastridge I am Lily. I dare say Ned Temple has not
dreamed who I am. I hear that he is quite brilliant, although the poor
fellow must be limited as to his income. However, in some respects it
must be just as well. It would be a great trial to a man with a large
income to have a wife like Mrs. Temple, who could make no good use of
it. You might load that poor soul with crown jewels and she would make
them look as if she had bought them at a department store for
ninety-eight cents. And the way she keeps her house must be maddening,
I should think, to a brilliant man. Fancy the books on the table being
all arranged with the large ones under the small ones in perfectly even
piles! I am sure that he has his meals on time, and I am equally sure
that the principal dishes are preserves and hot biscuits and cake. That
sort of diet simply shows forth in Mrs. Temple and her children. I am
sure that his socks are always mended, but I know that he always wipes
his feet before he enters the house, that it has become a matter of
conscience with him; and those exactions are to me pathetic. These
reflections are uncommonly like the popular conception as to how an
old-maid aunt should reflect, had she not ceased to exist. Sometimes I
wish she were still existing and that I carried out her character to
the full. I am not at all sure but she, as she once was, coming here,
would not have brought more happiness than I have. I must say I thought
so when I saw poor Harry Goward turn so pale when he first saw me after
my arrival. Why, in the name of common-sense, Ada, my sister-in-law,
when she wrote to me at the Pollards', announcing Peggy's engagement,
could not have mentioned who the man was, I cannot see.

Sometimes it seems to me that only the girl and the engagement figure
at all in such matters. I suppose Peggy always alluded to me as "dear
Aunt Elizabeth," when that poor young fellow knew me at the
Abercrombies', where we were staying a year ago, as Miss Lily Talbert.
The situation with regard to him and Peggy fairly puzzles me. I simply
do not know what to do. Goodness knows I never lifted my finger to
attract him. Flirtations between older women and boys always have
seemed to me contemptible. I never particularly noticed him, although
he is a charming young fellow, and there is not as much difference in
our ages as in those of Harriet Munroe and her husband, and if I am not
mistaken there is more difference between the ages of Ned Temple and
his wife. Poor soul! she looks old enough to be his mother, as I
remember him, but that may be partly due to the way she arranges her
hair. However, Ned himself may have changed; there must be considerable
wear and tear about matrimony, taken in connection with editing a
country newspaper. If I had married Ned I might have looked as old as
Mrs. Temple does. I wonder what Ned will do when he sees me. I know he
will not turn white, as poor Harry Goward did. That really worries me.
I am fond of little Peggy, and the situation is really rather awful.
She is engaged to a man who is fond of her aunt and cannot conceal it.
Still, the affection of most male things is curable. If Peggy has sense
enough to retain her love for frills and bows, and puts on her clothes
as well, and arranges her hair as prettily, after she has been married
a year--no, ten years (it will take at least ten years to make a proper
old-maid aunt of me)--she may have the innings. But Peggy has no
brains, and it really takes a woman with brains to keep her looks after
matrimony.

Of course, the poor little soul has no danger to fear from me; it is
lucky for her that her fiance fell in love with me; but it is the
principle of the thing which worries me. Harry Goward must be as fickle
as a honey-bee. There is no assurance whatever for Peggy that he will
not fall headlong in love--and headlong is just the word for it--with
any other woman after he has married her. I did not want the poor
fellow to stick to me, but when I come to think of it that is the
trouble. How short-sighted I am! It is his perverted fickleness rather
than his actual fickleness which worries me. He has proposed to Peggy
when he was in love with another woman, probably because he was in love
with another woman. Now Peggy, although she is not brilliant, in spite
of her co-education (perhaps because of it), is a darling, and she
deserves a good husband. She loves this man with her whole heart, poor
little thing! that is easy enough to be seen, and he does not care for
her, at least not when I am around or when I am in his mind. The
question is, is this marriage going to make the child happy? My first
impulse, when I saw Harry Goward and knew that he was poor Peggy's
lover, was immediately to pack up and leave. Then I really wondered if
that was the wisest thing to do. I wanted to see for myself if Harry
Goward were really in earnest about poor little Peggy and had gotten
over his mad infatuation for her aunt and would make her a good
husband. Perhaps I ought to leave, and yet I wonder if I ought. Harry
Goward may have turned pale simply from his memory of what an uncommon
fool he had been, and the consideration of the embarrassing position in
which his past folly has placed him, if I chose to make revelations. He
might have known that I would not; still, men know so little of women.
I think that possibly I am worrying myself needlessly, and that he is
really in love with Peggy. She is quite a little beauty, and she does
know how to put her clothes on so charmingly. The adjustments of her
shirt-waists are simply perfection. I may be very foolish to go away; I
may be even insufferably conceited in assuming that Harry's change of
color signified anything which could make it necessary. But, after all,
he must be fickle and ready to turn from one to another, or deceitful,
and I must admit that if Peggy were my daughter, and Harry had never
been mad about me six weeks ago, but about some other woman, I should
still feel the same way.

Sometimes I wonder if I ought to tell Ada. She is the girl's mother. I
might shift the responsibility on to her. I almost think I will. She is
alone in her room now, I know. Peggy and Harry have gone for a drive,
and the rest have scattered. It is a good chance. I really don't feel
as if I ought to bear the whole responsibility alone. I will go this
minute and tell Ada.


Well, I have told Ada, and here I am back in my room, laughing over the
result. I might as well have told the flour-barrel. Anything like Ada's
ease of character and inability to worry or even face a disturbing
situation I have never seen. I laugh, although her method of receiving
my tale was not, so to speak, flattering to me. Ada was in her loose
white kimono, and she was sitting at her shady window darning stockings
in very much the same way that a cow chews her cud; and when I told
her, under promise of the strictest secrecy, she just laughed that
placid little laugh of hers and said, taking another stitch, "Oh, well,
boys are always falling in love with older women." And when I asked if
she thought seriously that Peggy might not be running a risk, she said:
"Oh dear, no; Harry is devoted to the child. You can't be foolish
enough. Aunt Elizabeth, to think that he is in love with you NOW?"

I said, "Certainly not." It was only the principle involved; that the
young man must be very changeable, and that Peggy might run a risk in
the future if Harry were thrown in much with other women.

Ada only laughed again, and kept on with her darning, and said she
guessed there was no need to worry. Harry seemed to her very much like
Cyrus, and she was sure that Cyrus had never thought of another woman
besides herself (Ada).

I wonder if another woman would have said what I might have said,
especially after that imputation of the idiocy of my thinking that a
young man could possibly fancy ME. I said nothing, but I wondered what
Ada would say if she knew what I knew, if she would continue to chew
her cud, that Cyrus had been simply mad over another girl, and only
married her because he could not get the other one, and when the other
died, five years after he was married to Ada, he sent flowers, and I
should not to this day venture to speak that girl's name to the man.
She was a great beauty, and she had a wonderful witchery about her. I
was only a child, but I remember how she looked. Why, I fell in love
with her myself! Cyrus can never forget a woman like that for a
cud-chewing creature like Ada, even if she does keep his house in order
and make a good mother to his children. The other would not have kept
the house in order at all, but it would have been a shrine. Cyrus
worshipped that girl, and love may supplant love, but not worship. Ada
does not know, and she never will through me, but I declare I was
almost wicked enough to tell her when I saw her placidly darning away,
without the slightest conception, any more than a feather pillow would
have, of what this ridiculous affair with me might mean in future
consequences to poor, innocent little Peggy. But I can only hope the
boy has gotten over his feeling for me, that he has been really
changeable, for that would be infinitely better than the other thing.


Well, I shall not need to go away. Harry Goward has himself solved that
problem. He goes himself to-morrow. He has invented a telegram about a
sick uncle, all according to the very best melodrama. But what I feared
is true--he is still as mad as ever about me. I went down to the
post-office for the evening mail, and was coming home by moonlight,
unattended, as any undesirable maiden aunt may safely do, when the boy
overtook me. I had heard his hurried steps behind me for some time. Up
he rushed just as we reached the vacant lot before the Temple house,
and caught my arm and poured forth a volume of confessions and avowals,
and, in short, told me he did not love Peggy, but me, and he never
would love anybody but me. I actually felt faint for a second. Then I
talked. I told him what a dishonorable wretch he was, and said he might
as well have plunged a knife into an innocent, confiding girl at once
as to have treated Peggy so. I told him to go away and let me alone and
write friendly letters to Peggy, and see if he would not recover his
senses, if he had any to recover, which I thought doubtful; and then
when he said he would not budge a step, that he would remain in
Eastridge, if only for the sake of breathing the same air I did, that
he would tell Peggy the whole truth at once, and bear all the blame
which he deserved for being so dishonorable, I arose to the occasion. I
said, "Very well, remain, but you may have to breathe not only the same
air that I do, but also the same air that the man whom I am to marry
does." I declare that I had no man whatever in mind. I said it in sheer
desperation. Then the boy burst forth with another torrent, and the
secret was out.

My brother and my sister-in-law and Grandmother Evarts and the
children, for all I know, have all been match-making for me. I did not
suspect it of them. I supposed they esteemed my case as utterly
hopeless, and then I knew that Cyrus knew about--well, never mind; I
don't often mention him to myself. I certainly thought that they all
would have as soon endeavored to raise the dead as to marry me, but it
seems that they have been thinking that while there is life there is
hope, or rather, while there are widowers there is hope. And there is a
widower in Eastridge--Dr. Denbigh. He is the candle about which the
mothlike dreams of ancient maidens and widows have fluttered, to their
futile singeing, for the last twenty years. I really did not dream that
they would think I would flutter, even if I was an old-maid aunt. But
Harry cried out that if I were going to marry Dr. Denbigh he would go
away. He never would stay and be a witness to such sacrilege. "That OLD
man!" he raved. And when I said I was not a young girl myself he got
all the madder. Well, I allowed him to think I was going to marry Dr.
Denbigh (I wonder what the doctor would say), and as a consequence
Harry will flit to-morrow, and he is with poor little Peggy out in the
grape-arbor, and she is crying her eyes out. If he dares tell her what
a fool he is I could kill him. I am horribly afraid that he will let it
out, for I never saw such an alarmingly impetuous youth. Young
Lochinvar out of the west was mere cambric tea to him. I am really
thankful that he has not a gallant steed, nor even an automobile, for
the old-maid aunt might yet be captured as the Sabine women were.


Well, thank fortune, Harry has left, and he cannot have told, for poor
little Peggy has been sitting with me for a solid hour, sniffing, and
sounding his praises. Somehow the child made me think of myself at her
age. I was about a year older when my tragedy came and was never
righted. Hers, I think, will be, since Harry was not such an ass as to
confess before he went away. But all the same, I am concerned for her
happiness, for Harry is either fickle or deceitful. Sometimes I wonder
what my duty is, but I can't tell the child. It would do no more good
for me to consult my brother Cyrus than it did to consult Ada. I know
of no one whom I can consult. Charles Edward and his wife, who is just
like Ada, pretty, but always with her shirt-waist hunching in the back,
sitting wrong, and standing lopsided, and not worrying enough to give
her character salt and pepper, are there. (I should think she would
drive Charles Edward, who is really an artist, only out of his proper
sphere, mad.) Tom and Maria are down there, too, on the piazza, and Ada
at her everlasting darning, and Alice bossing Billy as usual. I can
hear her voice. I think I will put on another gown and go for a walk.

I think I will put on my pink linen, and my hat lined with pink chiffon
and trimmed with shaded roses. That particular shade of pink is just
right for my hair. I know quite well how I look in that gown and hat,
and I know, also, quite well how I shall look to the members of my
family assembled below. They all unanimously consider that I should
dress always in black silk, and a bonnet with a neat little tuft of
middle-aged violets, and black ribbons tied under my chin. I know I am
wicked to put on that pink gown and hat, but I shall do it. I wonder
why it amuses me to be made fun of. Thank fortune, I have a sense of
humor. If I did not have that it might have come to the black silk and
the bonnet with the tuft of violets, for the Lord knows I have not,
after all, so very much compared with what some women have. It troubles
me to think of that young fool rushing away and poor, dear little
Peggy; but what can I do? This pink gown is fetching, and how they will
stare when I go down!


Well, they did stare. How pretty this street is, with the elms arching
over it. I made quite a commotion, and they all saw me through their
eyeglasses of prejudice, except, possibly, Tom Price, Maria's husband.
I am certain I heard him say, as I marched away, "Well, I don't care;
she does look stunning, anyhow," but Maria hushed him up. I heard her
say, "Pink at her age, and a pink hat, and a parasol lined with pink!"
Ada really looked more disturbed than I have ever seen her. If I had
been Godiva, going for my sacrificial ride through the town, it could
not have been much worse. She made her eyes round and big, and asked,
in a voice which was really agitated, "Are you going out in that dress.
Aunt Elizabeth?" And Aunt Elizabeth replied that she certainly was, and
she went after she had exchanged greetings with the family and kissed
Peggy's tear-stained little face. Charles Edward's wife actually
straightened her spinal column, she was so amazed at the sight of me in
my rose-colored array. Charles Edward, to do him justice, stared at me
with a bewildered air, as if he were trying to reconcile his senses
with his traditions. He is an artist, but he will always be hampered by
thinking he sees what he has been brought up to think he sees. That is
the reason why he has settled down uncomplainingly in Cyrus's "Works,"
as he calls them, doing the very slight aesthetics possible in such a
connection. Now Charles Edward would think that sunburned grass over in
that field is green, when it is pink, because he has been taught that
grass is green. If poor Charles Edward only knew that grass was green
not of itself, but because of occasional conditions, and knew that his
aunt looked--well, as she does look--he would flee for his life, and
that which is better than his life, from the "Works," and be an artist,
but he never will know or know that he knows, which comes to the same
thing.

Well, what does it matter to me? I have just met a woman who stared at
me, and spoke as if she thought I were a lunatic to be afield in this
array. What does anything matter? Sometimes, when I am with people who
see straight, I do take a certain pleasure in looking well, because I
am a woman, and nothing can quite take away that pleasure from me; but
all the time I know it does not matter, that nothing has really
mattered since I was about Peggy's age and Lyman Wilde quarrelled with
me over nothing and vanished into thin air, so far as I was concerned.
I suppose he is comfortably settled with a wife and family somewhere.
It is rather odd, though, that with all my wandering on this side of
the water and the other I have never once crossed his tracks. He may be
in the Far East, with a harem. I never have been in the Far East. Well,
it does not matter to me where he is. That is ancient history. On the
whole, though, I like the harem idea better than the single wife. I
have what is left to me--the little things of life, the pretty effects
which go to make me pretty (outside Eastridge); the comforts of
civilization, travelling and seeing beautiful things, also seeing ugly
things to enhance the beautiful. I have pleasant days in beautiful
Florence. I have friends. I have everything except--well, except
everything. That I must do without. But I will do without it
gracefully, with never a whimper, or I don't know myself. But now I AM
worried over Peggy. I wish I could consult with somebody with sense.
What a woman I am! I mean, how feminine I am! I wish I could cure
myself of the habit of being feminine. It is a horrible nuisance; this
wishing to consult with somebody when I am worried is so disgustingly
feminine.


Well, I have consulted. I am back in my own room. It is after supper.
We had three kinds of cake, hot biscuits, and raspberries, and--a
concession to Cyrus--a platter of cold ham and an egg salad. He will
have something hearty, as he calls it (bless him! he is a good-fellow),
for supper. I am glad, for I should starve on Ada's New England menus.
I feel better, now that I have consulted, although, when I really
consider the matter, I can't see that I have arrived at any very
definite issue. But I have consulted, and, above all things, with Ned
Temple! I was walking down the street, and I reached his newspaper
building. It is a funny little affair; looks like a toy house. It is
all given up to the mighty affairs of the Eastridge Banner. In front
there is a piazza, and on this piazza sat Ned Temple. Changed? Well,
yes, poor fellow! He is thin. I am so glad he is thin instead of fat;
thinness is not nearly so disillusioning. His hair is iron-gray, but he
is, after all, distinguished-looking, and his manners are entirely
sophisticated. He shows at a glance, at a word, that he is a brilliant
man, although he is stranded upon such a petty little editorial island.
And--and he saw ME as I am. He did not change color. He is too
self-poised; besides, he is too honorable. But he saw ME. He rose
immediately and came to speak to me. He shook hands. He looked at my
face under my pink-lined hat. He saw it as it was; but bless him! that
stupid wife of his holds him fast with his own honor. Ned Temple is a
good man. Sometimes I wonder if it would not have been better if he,
instead of Lyman--Well, that is idiotic.

He said he had to go to the post-office, and then it was time for him
to go home to supper (to the cake and sauce, I suppose), and with my
permission he would walk with me. So he did. I don't know how it
happened that I consulted with him. I think he spoke of Peggy's
engagement, and that led up to it. But I could speak to him, because I
knew that he, seeing me as I really am, would view the matter
seriously. I told him about the miserable affair, and he said that I
had done exactly right. I can't remember that he offered any actual
solution, but it was something to be told that I had done exactly
right. And then he spoke of his wife, and in such a faithful fashion,
and so lovingly of his two commonplace little girls. Ned Temple is as
good as he is brilliant. It is really rather astonishing that such a
brilliant man can be so good. He told me that I had not changed at all,
but all the time that look of faithfulness for his wife never left his
handsome face, bless him! I believe I am nearer loving him for his love
for another woman than I ever was to loving him for himself.

And then the inconceivable happened. I did what I never thought I
should be capable of doing, and did it easily, too, without, I am sure,
a change of color or any perturbation. I think I could do it, because
faithfulness had become so a matter of course with the man that I was
not ashamed should he have any suspicion of me also. He and Lyman used
to be warm friends. I asked if he knew anything about him. He met my
question as if I had asked what o'clock it was, just the way I knew he
would meet it. He knows no more than I do. But he said something which
has comforted me, although comfort at this stage of affairs is a
dangerous indulgence. He said, very much as if he had been speaking of
the weather, "He worshipped you, Lily, and wherever he is, in this
world or the next, he worships you now." Then he added: "You know how I
felt about you. Lily. If I had not found out about him, that he had
come first, I know how it would have been with me, so I know how it is
with him. We had the same views about matters of that kind. After I did
find out, why, of course, I felt different--although always, as long as
I live, I shall be a dear friend to you. Lily. But a man is unfaithful
to himself who is faithful to a woman whom another man loves and whom
she loves."

"Yes, that is true," I agreed, and said something about the hours for
the mails in Eastridge. Lyman Wilde dropped out of Ned's life as he
dropped out of mine, it seems. I shall simply have to lean back upon
the minor joys of life for mental and physical support, as I did
before. Nothing is different, but I am glad that I have seen Ned Temple
again, and realize what a good man he is.


Well, it seems that even minor pleasures have dangers, and that I do
not always read characters rightly. The very evening after my little
stroll and renewal of friendship with Ned Temple I was sitting in my
room, reading a new book for which the author should have capital
punishment, when I heard excited voices, or rather an excited voice,
below. I did not pay much attention at first. I supposed the excited
voice must belong to either Maria or Alice, for no others of my
brother's family ever seem in the least excited, not to the extent of
raising their voices to a hysterical pitch. But after a few minutes
Cyrus came to the foot of the stairs and called. He called Aunt
Elizabeth, and Aunt Elizabeth, in her same pink frock, went down. Cyrus
met me at the foot of the stairs, and he looked fairly wild. "What on
earth, Aunt Elizabeth!" said he, and I stared at him in a daze.

"The deuce is to pay," said he. "Aunt Elizabeth, did you ever know our
next-door neighbor before his marriage?"

"Certainly," said I; "when we were both infants. I believe they had
gotten him out of petticoats and into trousers, but much as ever, and
my skirts were still abbreviated. It was at Harriet Munroe's before she
was married."

"Have you been to walk with him?" gasped poor Cyrus.

"I met him on my way to the post-office last night, and he walked along
with me, and then as far as his house on the way home, if you call that
walking out," said I. "You sound like the paragraphs in a daily paper.
Now, what on earth do you mean, if I may ask, Cyrus?"

"Nothing, except Mrs. Temple is in there raising a devil of a row,"
said Cyrus. He gazed at me in a bewildered fashion. "If it were Peggy I
could understand it," he said, helplessly, and I knew how distinctly he
saw the old-maid aunt as he gazed at me. "She's jealous of you,
Elizabeth," he went on in the same dazed fashion. "She's jealous of you
because her husband walked home with you. She's a dreadfully nervous
woman, and, I guess, none too well. She's fairly wild. It seems Temple
let on how he used to know you before he was married, and said
something in praise of your looks, and she made a regular header into
conclusions. You have held your own remarkably well, Elizabeth, but I
declare--" And again poor Cyrus gazed at me.

"Well, for goodness' sake, let me go in and see what I can do," said I,
and with that I went into the parlor.

I was taken aback. Nobody, not even another woman, can tell what a
woman really is. I thought I had estimated Ned Temple's wife correctly.
I had taken her for a monotonous, orderly, dull sort of creature, quite
incapable of extremes; but in reality she has in her rather large,
flabby body the characteristics of a kitten, with the possibilities of
a tigress. The tigress was uppermost when I entered the room. The woman
was as irresponsible as a savage. I was disgusted and sorry and furious
at the same time. I cannot imagine myself making such a spectacle over
any mortal man. She was weeping frantically into a mussy little ball of
handkerchief, and when she saw me she rushed at me and gripped me by
the arm like a mad thing.

"If you can't get a husband for yourself," said she, "you might at
least let other women's husbands alone!"

She was vulgar, but she was so wild with jealousy that I suppose
vulgarity ought to be forgiven her. I hardly know myself how I managed
it, but, somehow, I got the poor thing out of the room and the house
and into the cool night air, and then I talked to her, and fairly made
her be quiet and listen. I told her that Ned Temple had made love to me
when he was just out of petticoats and I was in short dresses. I
stretched or shortened the truth a little, but it was a case of
necessity. Then I intimated that I never would have married Ned Temple,
anyway, and THAT worked beautifully. She turned upon me in such a
delightfully inconsequent fashion and demanded to know what I expected,
and declared her husband was good enough for any woman. Then I said I
did not doubt that, and hinted that other women might have had their
romances, even if they did not marry. That immediately interested her.
She stared at me, and said, with the most innocent impertinence, that
my brother's wife had intimated that I had had an unhappy love-affair
when I was a girl. I did not think that Cyrus had told Ada, but I
suppose a man HAS to tell his wife everything.

I hedged about the unhappy love-affair, but the first thing I knew the
poor, distracted woman was sobbing on my shoulder as we stood in front
of her gate, and saying that she was so sorry, but her whole life was
bound up in her husband, and I was so beautiful and had so much style,
and she knew what a dowdy she was, and she could not blame poor Ned
if--But I hushed her.

"Your husband has no more idea of caring for another woman besides you
than that moon has of travelling around another world," said I; "and
you are a fool if you think so; and if you are dowdy it is your own
fault. If you have such a good husband you owe it to him not to be
dowdy. I know you keep his house beautifully, but any man would rather
have his wife look well than his house, if he is worth anything at all."

Then she gasped out that she wished she knew how to do up her hair like
mine. It was all highly ridiculous, but it actually ended in my going
into the Temple house and showing Ned's wife how to do up her hair like
mine. She looked like another woman when it was puffed softly over her
forehead--she has quite pretty brown hair. Then I taught her how to put
on her corset and pin her shirt-waist taut in front and her skirt
behind. Ned was not to be home until late, and there was plenty of
time. It ended in her fairly purring around me, and saying how sorry
she was, and ashamed, that she had been so foolish, and all the time
casting little covert, conceited glances at herself in the
looking-glass. Finally I kissed her and she kissed me, and I went home.
I don't really see what more a woman could have done for a rival who
had supplanted her. But this revelation makes me more sorry than ever
for poor Ned. I don't know, though; she may be more interesting than I
thought. Anything is better than the dead level of small books on large
ones, and meals on time. It cannot be exactly monotonous never to know
whether you will find a sleek, purry cat, or an absurd kitten, or a
tigress, when you come home. Luckily, she did not tell Ned of her
jealousy, and I have cautioned all in my family to hold their tongues,
and I think they will. I infer that they suspect that I must have been
guilty of some unbecoming elderly prank to bring about such a state of
affairs, unless, possibly, Maria's husband and Billy are exceptions. I
find that Billy, when Alice lets him alone, is a boy who sees with his
own eyes. He told me yesterday that I was handsomer in my pink dress
than any girl in his school.

"Why, Billy Talbert!" I said, "talking that way to your old aunt!"

"I suppose you ARE awful old," said Billy, bless him! "but you are
enough-sight prettier than a girl. I hate girls. I hope I can get away
from girls when I am a man."

I wanted to tell the dear boy that was exactly the time when he would
not get away from girls, but I thought I would not frighten him, but
let him find it out for himself.


Well, now the deluge! It is a week since Harry Goward went away, and
Peggy has not had a letter, although she has haunted the post-office,
poor child! and this morning she brought home a letter for me from that
crazy boy. She was white as chalk when she handed it to me.

"It's Harry's writing," said she, and she could barely whisper. "I have
not had a word from him since he went away, and now he has written to
you instead of me. What has he written to you for, Aunt Elizabeth?"

She looked at me so piteously, poor, dear little girl! that if I could
have gotten hold of Harry Goward that moment I would have shaken him. I
tried to speak, soothingly. I said:

"My dear Peggy, I know no more than you do why he has written to me.
Perhaps his uncle is dead and he thought I would break it to you."

That was rank idiocy. Generally I can rise to the occasion with more
success.

"What do I care about his old uncle?" cried poor Peggy. "I never even
saw his uncle. I don't care if he is dead. Something has happened to
Harry. Oh, Aunt Elizabeth, what is it?"

I was never in such a strait in my life. There was that poor child
staring at the letter as if she could eat it, and then at me. I dared
not open the letter before her. We were out on the porch. I said:

"Now, Peggy Talbert, you keep quiet, and don't make a little fool of
yourself until you know you have some reason for it. I am going up to
my own room, and you sit in that chair, and when I have read this
letter I will come down and tell you about it."

"I know he is dead!" gasped Peggy, but she sat down.

"Dead!" said I. "You just said yourself it was his handwriting. Do have
a little sense, Peggy." With that I was off with my letter, and I
locked my door before I read it.

Of all the insane ravings! I put it on my hearth and struck a match,
and the thing went up in flame and smoke. Then I went down to poor
little Peggy and patched up a story. I have always been averse to
lying, and I did not lie then, although I must admit that what I said
was open to criticism when it comes to exact verity. I told Peggy that
Harry thought that he had done something to make her angry (that was
undeniably true) and did not dare write her. I refused utterly to tell
her just what was in the letter, but I did succeed in quieting her and
making her think that Harry had not broken faith with her, but was
blaming himself for some unknown and imaginary wrong he had done her.
Peggy rushed immediately up to her room to write reassuring pages to
Harry, and her old-maid aunt had the horse put in the runabout and was
driven over to Whitman, where nobody knows her--at least the telegraph
operator does not. Then I sent a telegram to Mr. Harry Goward to the
effect that if he did not keep his promise with regard to writing F. L.
to P. her A. would never speak to him again; that A. was about to send
L., but he must keep his promise with regard to P. by next M.

It looked like the most melodramatic Sunday personal ever invented. It
might have meant burglary or murder or a snare for innocence, but I
sent it. Now I have written. My letter went in the same mail as poor
Peggy's, but what will be the outcome of it all I cannot say. Sometimes
I catch Peggy looking at me with a curious awakened expression, and
then I wonder if she has begun to suspect. I cannot tell how it will
end.



III. THE GRANDMOTHER

by Mary Heaton Vorse

The position of an older woman in her daughter's house is often
difficult. It makes no difference to me that Ada is a mother herself;
she might be even a great-grandmother, and yet in my eyes she would
still be Ada, my little girl. I feel the need of guiding her and
protecting her just as much this minute as when she was a baby in the
nursery; only now the task is much more difficult. That is why I say
that the position of women placed as I am is often hard, harder than if
I lived somewhere else, because although I am with Ada I can no longer
protect her from anything--not even from myself, my illnesses and
weaknesses. It sometimes seems to me, so eagerly do I follow the lights
and shadows of my daughter's life, as if I were living a second
existence together with my own. Only as I grow older I am less fitted
physically to bear things, even though I take them philosophically.

When Ada and the rest of my children were little, I could guard against
the menaces to their happiness; I could keep them out of danger; if
their little friends didn't behave, I sent them home. When it was
needed, I didn't hesitate to administer a good wholesome spanking to my
children. There isn't one of these various things but needs doing now
in Ada's house. I can't, however, very well spank Cyrus, nor can I send
Elizabeth home. All I CAN do is to sit still and hold my tongue, though
I don't know, I'm sure, what the end of it all is to be.

Life brings new lessons at every turn in the road, and one of the
hardest of all is the one we older people have to learn--to sit still
while our children hurt themselves, or, what is worse, to sit still
while other people hurt our children. It is especially hard for me to
bear, when life is made difficult for my Ada, for if ever any one
deserved happiness my daughter does. I try to do justice to every one,
and I hope I am not unfair when I say that the best of men, and Cyrus
is one of them, are sometimes blind and obstinate. Of all my children,
Ada gave me the least trouble, and was always the most loving and
tender and considerate. Indeed, if Ada has a fault, it is being too
considerate. I could, if she only would let me, help her a great deal
more around the house; although Ada is a very good housekeeper, I am
constantly seeing little things that need doing. I do my best to
prevent the awful waste of soap that goes on, and there are a great
many little ways Ada could let me save for her if she would. When I
suggest this to her she laughs and says, "Wait till we need to save as
badly as that, mother," which doesn't seem to me good reasoning at all.
"Waste not, want not," say I, and when it comes to throwing out
perfectly good glass jars, as the girls would do if I didn't see to it
they saved them, why, I put my foot down. If Ada doesn't want them
herself to put things up in, why, some poor woman will. I don't believe
in throwing things away that may come in handy sometime. When I kept
house nobody ever went lacking strings or a box of whatever size, to
send things away in, or paper in which to do it up, and I can remember
in mother's day there was never a time she hadn't pieces put by for a
handsome quilt. Machinery has put a stop to many of our old
occupations, and the result is a generation of nervous women who
haven't a single thing in life to occupy themselves with but their own
feelings, while girls like Peggy, who are active and useful, have
nothing to do but to go to school and keep on going to school. If one
wanted to dig into the remote cause of things, one might find the root
of our present trouble in these changed conditions, for Cyrus's sister,
Elizabeth, is one of these unoccupied women. Formerly in a family like
ours there would have been so much to do that, whether she liked it or
not, and whether she had married or not, Elizabeth would have had to be
a useful woman--and now the less said the better.

It is hard, I say, to see the causes for unhappiness set in action and
yet do nothing, or, if one speaks, to speak to deaf ears. Oh, it is
very hard to do this, and this has been the portion of older women
always. Our children sometimes won't even let us dry their tears for
them, but cry by themselves, as I know Ada has been doing
lately--though in the end she came to me, or rather I went to her, for,
after all, I am living in the same world with the rest of them. I have
not passed over to the other side yet, and while I stay I am not going
to be treated as if I were a disembodied spirit. I have eyes of my own,
and ears too, and I can see as well as the next man when things go
wrong.

I have always known that no good would come of sending Peggy to a
coeducational college. I urged Ada to set her foot down, for Ada didn't
wish to send Peggy there, naturally enough, but she wouldn't.

"Well," said I, "I'M not afraid to speak my mind to your husband." Now
I very seldom open my mouth to Cyrus, or to any one else in this house,
for it is more than ever the fashion for people to disregard the advice
of others, and the older I get the more I find it wise to save my
breath to cool my porridge--there come times, however, when I feel it
my duty to speak.

"Mark my words, Cyrus," I said. "You'll be sorry you sent Peggy off to
a boys' school. Girls at her age are impressionable, and if they aren't
under their mothers' roofs, where they can be protected and sheltered,
why, then send them to a seminary where they will see as few young men
as possible."

Cyrus only laughed and said:

"Well, mother, you can say 'I told you so' if anything bad comes of it."

"It's all very well to laugh, Cyrus," I answered, "but _I_ don't
believe in putting difficulties into life that aren't there already,
and that's what sending young men and young women off to the same
college seems to ME!"

When Peggy came home engaged, after her last year, everybody was
surprised.

"I'm sure I don't know what Cyrus expected," I said to Ada. "You can't
go out in the rain without getting wet. Let us pray that this young man
will turn out to be all right, though we know so little about him." For
all we knew was what Peggy told us, and you know the kind of things
young girls have to tell one about their sweethearts. Peggy didn't even
know what church his people went to! I couldn't bear the thought of
that dear child setting out on the long journey of marriage in such a
fashion. I looked forward with fear to what Ada might have to go
through if it didn't turn out all right. For one's daughter's sorrows
are one's own; what she suffers one must suffer, too. It is hard for a
mother to see a care-free, happy young girl turn into a woman before
her eyes. Even if a woman is very happy, marriage brings many
responsibilities, and a woman who has known the terror of watching
beside a sick child can never be quite the same, I think. We ourselves
grew and deepened under such trials, and we wouldn't wish our daughters
to be less than ourselves; but, oh, how glad I should be to have Peggy
spared some things! How happy I should be to know that she was to have
for her lot only the trials we all must have! I do not want to see my
Ada having to bear the unhappiness of seeing Peggy unhappy. Even if
Peggy puts up a brave face, Ada will know--she will know just as I have
known things in my own children's lives; and I shall know, too. This
young man has it in his hands to trouble my old age.

No mother and daughter can live together as Ada and I have without what
affects one of us affecting the other. When her babies were born I was
with her; I helped her bring them up; as I have grown older, though she
comes to me less and less, wishing to spare me, I seem to need less
telling; for I know myself when anything ails her.

It amazed me to see how Ada took Peggy's engagement, and when young
Henry Goward came to visit, I made up my mind that he should not go
away again without our finding out a little, at any rate, of what his
surroundings had been, and what his own principles were. As we grow
older we see more and more that character is the main thing in life,
and I would rather have a child of mine marry a young man of sound
principles whom she respected than one of undisciplined character and
lax ideas whom she loved. When I said things like this to Ada, she
replied:

"I'm afraid you're prejudiced against that poor boy because he and
Peggy happened to meet at college."

I answered: "I am not prejudiced at all, Ada, but I feel that all of
us, you especially, should keep our eyes and ears open. Wait! is all I
say."

I know my own faults, for I have always believed that one is never too
old for character-building, and I know that being prejudiced is not one
of them. I realize too keenly that as women advance in years they are
very apt to get set in their ways unless they take care, and I am
naturally too fair-minded to judge a man before I have seen him. Maria
and Alice were prejudiced, if you like. Maria, indeed, had so much to
say to Ada that I interfered, though it is contrary to my custom.

"I should think, Maria," I said, "that however old you are, you would
realize that your father and mother are EVEN better able to judge than
you as to their children's affairs." I cannot imagine where Maria gets
her dominant disposition. It is very unlike the women of our family.

When he came, however, Mr. Goward's manners and appearance impressed me
favorably. Neither Ada nor Cyrus, as far as I could see, tried in the
least to draw him out. I sat quiet for a while, but at last for Peggy's
sake I felt I would do what I could to find out his views on important
things. I was considerably relieved to hear that his mother was a Van
Horn, a very good Troy family and distant connection of mother's.

When I asked him what he was, "My PEOPLE are Episcopalians," he replied.

"I suppose that means YOU are something else?" I asked him.

"I'm afraid it means I'm nothing else," he answered; and while I was
glad he was so honest, I couldn't help feeling anxious at having Peggy
engaged to a man so unformed in his beliefs. I do not care so much WHAT
people believe, for I am not bigoted, as that they should believe
SOMETHING, and that with their whole hearts. There are a great many
young men like Henry Goward, to-day, who have no fixed beliefs and no
established principles beyond a vague desire to be what they call
"decent fellows." One needs more than that in this world.

However, I found the boy likable, and everything went smoothly for a
time, when all at once I felt something had gone wrong--what, I didn't
know. Mr. Goward received a telegram and left suddenly. Ada, I could
see, was anxious; Peggy, tearful; and, as if this wasn't enough, Mrs.
Temple, our new neighbor, who had seemed a sensible body to me, had
some sort of a falling-out with Aunt Elizabeth, who pretended that Mrs.
Temple was jealous of her! After Mrs. Temple had gone home, Elizabeth
Talbert went around pleased as Punch and swore us all to solemn secrecy
never to tell any one about "Mrs. Temple's absurd jealousy."

"You needn't worry about me, Aunt Elizabeth," I said. "I'm not likely
to go around proclaiming that ANOTHER woman has made a fool of herself."

Elizabeth Talbert is one of those women who live on a false basis. She
is a case of arrested development. She enjoys the same amusements that
she did fifteen years ago. She is like a young fruit that has been put
up in a preserving fluid and gives the illusion of youth; the
preserving fluid in her case is the disappointment she suffered as a
girl. I like useful women--women who, whether married or unmarried,
bring things to pass in this world, and Elizabeth does not. Still, I
can't help feeling sorry for her, poor thing; in the end our own
shortcomings and vanities hurt us more than they hurt any one else. I
heartily wish she would get married--I have known women older than
Elizabeth, and worse-looking, to find husbands--both for her own sake
and for Ada's, for her comings and goings complicate life for my
daughter. She diffuses around her an atmosphere of criticism--I do not
think she ever returns from a visit to the city without wishing that we
should have dinner at night, and Alice is beginning to prick up her
ears and listen to her. She spends a great deal of time over her dress,
and, if she has grown no older, neither have her clothes--not a
particle. She dresses in gowns suitable for Peggy, but which Maria, who
is years younger than her aunt, would not think of wearing. Elizabeth
is the kind of woman who is a changed being at the approach of a man;
she is even different when Cyrus or Billy is around; she brightens up
and exerts herself to please them; but when she is alone with Ada and
me she is frankly bored and looks out of the window in a sad, far-away
manner. The presence of men has a most rejuvenating effect on Aunt
Elizabeth, although she pretends she has never been interested in any
man since her disappointment years ago. When she got back and found
Harry Goward here, instead of relapsing into her lack-lustre ways, as
she generally does, she kept on her interested air.

I have always thought that houses have their atmosphere, like people,
and this house lately has seemed bewitched. After Mr. Goward left,
although every one tried to pretend things were as they should be, the
situation grew more and more uncomfortable. I felt it, though no one
told me a thing. I fancy that most older people have the same
experience often that I have had lately. All at once you are aware
something is wrong. You can't tell why you feel this; you only know
that you are living in the cold shadow of some invisible unhappiness.
You see no tears in the eyes of the people you love, but tears have
been shed just the same. Why? You don't know, and no one thinks of
telling you. It is like seeing life from so far off that you cannot
make out what has happened. I have sometimes leaned out of a window and
have seen down the street a crowd of gesticulating people, but I was
too far off to know whether some one was hurt or whether it was only
people gathered around a man selling something. When I see such things
my heart beats, for I am always afraid it is an accident, and so with
the things I don't know in my own household. I always fancy them worse
than they are. There are so many things one can imagine when one
doesn't KNOW, and now I fancied everything. Such things, I think, tell
on older people more than on younger ones, and at last I went to my
room and kept there most of the time, reading William James's Varieties
of Religious Experience. It is an excellent work in many ways. I am
told it is given in sanitariums for nervous people to read, for the
purpose of getting their minds off themselves. I found it useful to get
my mind off others, for of late I have gotten to an almost morbid
alertness, and I know by the very way Peggy ran up the stairs that
something ailed her even before I caught a glimpse of her face, which
showed me that she was going straight to her room to cry.

This sort of thing had happened too often, and I made up my mind I
would not live in this moral fog another moment. So I went to Ada.

"Ada," I said, "I am your mother, and I think I have a right to ask you
a question. I want to know this: what has that young man been doing?"

"I suppose you mean Harry," Ada answered. "He hasn't been doing
anything. Peggy's a little upset because he isn't a good correspondent.
You know how girls feel--"

"Don't tell ME, Ada," said I. "I know better. There's more in it than
that. Peggy's a sensible girl. There's something wrong, and I want you
to tell me what it is." Younger people don't realize how bad it can be
to be left to worry alone in the dark.

Ada sat down with a discouraged air such as I have seldom seen her
with. I went over to her and took her hand in mine.

"Tell mother what's worrying you, dear," I said, gently.

"Why, it's all so absurd," Ada answered. "I can't make head or tail of
it. Aunt Elizabeth came to me full of mystery soon after she came back,
and told me that Harry Goward had become infatuated with her when she
was off on one of her visits--"

I couldn't help exclaiming, "Well, of all things!"

"That's not the queerest part," Ada went on. "She told me as
confidently as could be that he is still in love with her."

"Ada," said I, "Elizabeth Talbert must be daft! Does she think that all
the men in the world are in love with her--at her age? First Mrs.
Temple making such a rumpus, and now this--"

"At first I thought just as you do," Ada said, helplessly. "Of course
there can't be anything in it--and yet--I'm sure I don't understand the
situation at all. You know Harry left quite unexpectedly--soon after
Elizabeth came; he didn't write for a week--and then to her, and
Peggy's only had one short note from him--"

I can see through a hole in a millstone as well as any one, and a light
dawned on me.

"You can depend upon it, Ada," I said, "Aunt Elizabeth has been making
trouble! I don't know what she's been up to, but she's been up to
something! I wondered why she had been having such a contented look
lately--and now I know."

"Oh, mother, I can't believe that!" Ada protested. "I thought Elizabeth
was a little vain and silly, and, though everything is so
incomprehensible, I don't believe for a moment that Aunt Elizabeth
would do anything to hurt Peggy."

My Ada is a truly good woman--so good that it is almost impossible for
her to believe ill of any one, and she was profoundly shocked at what I
suggested.

"I don't think in the beginning Elizabeth intended to hurt Peggy," I
answered her, gently, "but when you've lived as long in the world as I
have you'll realize to what lengths a woman will go to show the world
she's still young. Just look at it for yourself. Everything was going
smoothly until Elizabeth came. Now it's not. Elizabeth has told you
she's had goings-on with Harry Goward. I don't see, Ada, how you can be
so blind as not to be willing to look the truth in the face. If it's
not Elizabeth's fault, whose is it? I don't suppose you believe Henry
Goward's dying for love of Aunt Elizabeth when he can look at Peggy!
Oh, I'd like to hear his side of the story! For you may be sure that
there is one!"

"Mother," said Ada, "if I believed Elizabeth had done anything to mar
that child's happiness--"

She stopped for fear, I suppose, of what she might be led to say. "We
mustn't judge before we know," she finished. But I knew by the look on
her face that, if Aunt Elizabeth has made trouble, Ada will never
forgive her.

"What does Cyrus say to all this?" I asked, by way of diversion.

"Oh, I haven't told Cyrus anything about it. I didn't intend to tell
any one--about Aunt Elizabeth's part in it. I think Cyrus is a little
uneasy himself, but he's been so busy lately--"

"Well," I said, "_I_ think Cyrus ought to be told! And you're the one
to do it. Don't let's judge, to be sure, before we know everything, but
I think Cyrus ought to know the mischief his sister is making!
Elizabeth simply makes a convenience of this house. It's her basis of
departure to pack her trunk from, that's all your home means to her.
She's never lifted a finger to be useful beyond rearranging the
furniture in a different way from what you'd arranged it. She acts
exactly as if she were a young lady boarder. She's nothing whatever to
do in this world except make trouble for others. I think Cyrus should
know, and then if he prefers his sister's convenience to his wife's
happiness, well and good!" It's not often I speak out, but now and then
things happen which I can't very well keep silent about. It did me good
to ease my mind about Elizabeth Talbert for once.

Ada only said, "Elizabeth and I have always been such good friends, and
she's so fond of Peggy."

Ada doesn't realize that with some women vanity is stronger than
loyalty. She kissed me. "It's done me good to talk to you, mother," she
said, "because now it doesn't seem, when I put it outside myself, that
there's very much of anything to worry about."

Ada has always been like that--she seems to get rid of her troubles
just by telling them. Now she had passed her riddle on to me, and I
could not keep Peggy and her affairs from my mind. I tried to tell
myself that it would be better for every one to find out now than later
if Henry Goward was not worthy to be Peggy's husband. But, oh, for all
their sakes, how I hoped this cloud, whatever it was, would blow over!
I have a very good constitution and I know how to take care of it, but
when several more days passed without Peggy's hearing from Henry again
I gave way, but I tried to keep up on Ada's account. I began to see how
much this young man's honor and faithfulness meant to Peggy, and I took
long excursions back into the past to remember how I felt at her age.
Mail-time was the difficult time for all three of us. Before the
postman came Peggy would brighten up; not that she was drooping at any
time, only I knew how tensely she waited, because Ada and I waited with
her. When the man came, and again no letters, Peggy held up her head
bravely as could be, but I could see, all the same, how the light had
gone out. The worst of it was, everybody knew about it. It would have
been twice as easy for the child if she could have borne it alone, but
Elizabeth Talbert watched the mail like a cat, and even manoeuvred to
try and get the letters before Peggy, while Alice went around with her
nose in the air, and I heard Maria saying to Ada:

"What's all this about Harry Goward's not writing?"

To escape it all I took to my room, coming down only for meals. I
couldn't eat a thing, and Cyrus noticed it--it is queer how observant
men are about some things and how unobservant about others. He didn't
tell me what he was going to do, but in the afternoon Dr. Denbigh came
to see me. That's the way they do--I'm liable to have the doctor sent
in to look me over any time, whether I want him or not. Dr. Denbigh is
an excellent friend and a good doctor, but at my time of life I should
be lacking in intelligence if I didn't understand my constitution
better than any doctor can. They seem to think that there's more virtue
in a pill or a powder because a doctor gives it to one than because
one's common-sense tells one to take it. That afternoon I didn't need
him any more than a squirrel needs a pocket, and I told him so. He
laughed, and then grew serious.

"You're not looking as well as you did, Mrs. Evarts," he said, "and
Talbert told me that you had all the preliminary symptoms of one of
your attacks and wanted me to 'nip it in the bud,' he said."

"Dr. Denbigh," said I, "if the matter with me could be cured by the
things you know, there are other people in this house who need your
attention more than I." I wanted to add that if Cyrus would always be
as far-sighted as he has been about me there wouldn't be anything the
matter to-day, but I held my tongue.

"I see you're worried about something," the doctor said, very kindly.
"Mental anxiety pulls you down quicker than anything."

Then as he sat chatting with me so kind and good--there's something
about Dr. Denbigh that makes me think of my own father, although he is
young enough to be my son--I told him the whole thing, all except Aunt
Elizabeth's share in it. I merely told him that Henry Goward had
written to her and not to Peggy.

I felt very much better. He took what I told him seriously, and yet not
in the tragic way we did. He has a way of listening that is very
comforting.

"It seems absurd, I know, for an old woman like me to get upset just
because her grandchild does not get letters from her sweetheart," I
told him. "But you see, doctor, no one suffers alone in a family like
ours. An event like this is like a wave that disturbs the whole surface
of the water. Every one of us feels anything that happens, each in his
separate way. Why, I can't be sick without its causing inconvenience to
Billy." And it is true; people in this world are bound up together in
an extraordinary fashion; and I wondered if Henry Goward's mother was
unhappy too, and was wondering what it was Peggy had done to her boy,
for she, of course, will think whatever happens is Peggy's fault. The
engagement of these two young people has been like a stone thrown into
a pond, and it takes only a very little pebble to ruffle the water
farther than one would believe it possible.

After the doctor left, Ada came to sit with me. We were sewing quietly
when I heard voices in the hall. I heard Peggy say, "I want you to tell
mother." Then Billy growled:

"I don't see what you're making such a kick for. I wouldn't have told
you if I'd known you'd be so silly."

And I heard Peggy say again:

"I want you to tell mother." Her tone was perfectly even, but it
sounded like Cyrus when he is angry. They both came in. Peggy was
flushed, and her lips were pressed firmly together. She looked older
than I have ever seen her.

"What's the matter?" Ada asked them.

"Tell her," Peggy commanded. Billy didn't know what it all was about.

"Why, I just said I wondered what Aunt Elizabeth was telegraphing Harry
Goward about, and now she drags me in here and makes a fuss," he said,
in an aggrieved tone.

"He was over at Whitman playing around the telegraph-office--he had
driven over on the express-wagon--and when Aunt Elizabeth drove up he
hid because he didn't want her to see him. Then he heard the operator
read the address aloud," Peggy explained, evenly.

"Is this so?" Ada asked.

"Sure," Billy answered, disgustedly, and made off as fast as he could.

"Now," said Peggy, "I want to know why Harry wrote to Aunt Elizabeth,
and why she telegraphed him--over there where no one could see her!"
She stood up very straight. "I think I ought to know," she said, gently.

"Yes, dear," Ada answered, "I think you ought."

I shall be sorry for Elizabeth Talbert if she has been making mischief.



IV. THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW

by Mary Stewart Cutting

I have never identified myself with my husband's family, and Charles
Edward, who is the best sort ever, doesn't expect me to. Of course, I
want to be decent to them, though I know they talk about me, but you
can't make oil and water mix, and I don't see the use of pretending
that you can. I know they never can understand how Charles Edward
married me, and they never can get used to my being such a different
type from theirs. The Talberts are all blue-eyed, fair-haired, and
rosy, and I'm dark, thin, and pale, and Grandmother Evarts always
thinks I can't be well, and wants me to take the medicine she takes.

But, really, I see very little of the family, except Alice and Billy,
who don't count. Billy comes in at any time he feels like it to get a
book and something to eat, though the others don't know it, and Alice
has fits of stopping in every afternoon on her way from school, and
then perhaps doesn't come near me for weeks. Alice is terribly
discontented at home, and I think it's a very good thing that she is;
anything is better than sinking to that dreadful dead level. She
doesn't quite know whether to take up the artistic life or be a society
queen, and she feels that nobody understands her at home. It makes her
nearly wild when Aunt Elizabeth comes back from one of her grand visits
and acts as if SHE wasn't anything. She came over right after the row,
of course, and told me all about it--she had on her new white China
silk and her hat with the feathers. She said she was so excited about
everything that she couldn't stop to think about what she put on; she
looked terribly dressed up, but she had come all through the village
with her waist unfastened in the middle of the back--she said she
couldn't reach the hooks. Aunt Elizabeth had gone away that morning for
overnight, so nobody could get at her to find out about her actions
with Mr. Goward, and the telegram she had sent to him, until the next
day, and every one was nearly crazy. They talked about it for two hours
before Maria went home. Then Peggy had locked herself in her room, and
her mother had gone out, and her grandmother was sitting now on the
piazza, rocking and sighing, with her eyes shut. Alice said each person
had got dreadfully worked up, not only about Aunt Elizabeth, but about
all the ways every other member of the family had hurt that person at
some time. Maria said that Peggy never would take HER advice, and Peggy
returned that Maria had hurt her more than any one by her attitude
toward Harry Goward, that she was so suspicious of him that it had made
him act unnaturally from the first--that nothing had hurt her so much
since the time Maria took away Peggy's doll on purpose when she was a
little girl--the doll she used to sleep with--and burned it; it was
something she had NEVER got over.

Then her mother, who hadn't been talking very much, said that Peggy
didn't realize the depth of Maria's affection for her, and what a good
sister she had been, and how she had taken care of Peggy the winter
that Peggy was ill--and then she couldn't help saying that, bad as was
this affair about Harry Goward, it wasn't like the anxiety one felt
about a sick child; there were times when she felt that she could bear
anything if Charles Edward's health were only properly looked after. Of
course Lorraine was young and inexperienced, but if she would only use
her influence with him--

Alice broke off suddenly, and said she had to go--it was just as Dr.
Denbigh's little auto was coming down the street. She dashed out of the
door and bowed to him from the crossing, quite like a young lady, for
all her short skirts--she really did look fetching! Dr. Denbigh smiled
at her, but not the way he used to smile at Peggy. I really thought he
cared for Peggy once, though he's so much older that nobody else seemed
to dream of such a thing.

Of course, after Alice went, I just sat there in the chair all humped
up, thinking of her last words.

The family are always harping on "Lorraine's influence." If they wanted
their dear Charles Edward made different from the way he is, why on
earth didn't they do it themselves, when they had the chance? That's
what I want to know! I know they mean to be nice to me, but they take
it for granted that every habit Charles Edward has or hasn't, and
everything he does or doesn't, is because I didn't do something that I
ought to have done, or condoned something that I ought not. They seem
to think that a man is made of soft, kindergarten clay, and all a wife
has to do is to sit down and mould him as she pleases. Well, some men
may be like that, but Peter isn't. The family never really have
forgiven me for calling their darling "Charles Edward" Peter. I
perfectly loathe that long-winded Walter-Scotty name, and I don't care
how many grandfathers it's descended from. I'm sorry, of course, if it
hurts their feelings, but as long as _I_ don't object to their calling
him what THEY like, I don't see why they mind. And as for my managing
Peter, they know perfectly well that, though he's a darling, he's just
mulishly obstinate. He's had his own way ever since he was born; the
whole family simply adore him. His mother has always waited on him hand
and foot, though she's sensible enough with the other children. If he
looks sulky she is perfectly miserable. I am really very fond of my
mother-in-law--that is, I am fond of her IN SPOTS. There are times when
she understands how I feel about Peter better than any one else--like
that dreadful spring when he had pneumonia and I was nearly wild. I
know she is dreadfully unselfish and kind, but she WILL think--they all
do--that they know what Peter needs better than I do, and whenever they
see me alone it's to hint that I ought to keep him from smoking too
much and being extravagant, and that I should make him wear his
overcoat and go to bed early and take medicine when he has a cold. And
through everything else they hark back to that everlasting, "If you'd
only exert your influence, Lorraine dear, to make Charles Edward take
more interest in the business--his father thinks so much of that."

If I were to tell them that Charles Edward perfectly detests the
business, and will NEVER be interested in it and never make anything
out of it, they'd all go straight off the handle; yet they all know it
just as well as I do. That's the trouble--you simply can't tell them
the truth about anything; they don't want to hear it. I never talk at
all any more when I go over to the big house, for I can't seem to
without horrifying somebody.

I thought I should die when I first came here; it was so different from
the way it is at home, where you can say or do anything you please
without caring what anybody thinks. Dad has always believed in not
restricting individuality, and that girls have just as much right to
live their own lives as boys--which is a fortunate thing, for, counting
Momsey, there are four of us.

We never had any system about anything at home, thank goodness! We just
had atmosphere. Dad was an artist, you know, and he does paint such
lovely pictures; but he gave it up as a profession when we were little,
and went into business, because, he said, he couldn't let his family
starve--and we all think it was so perfectly noble of him! I couldn't
give up being an artist for anybody, no matter WHO starved, and Peter
feels that way, too. Of course we both realize that we're not LIVING
here in this hole, we're simply existing, and nothing matters very much
until we get out of it. In six months, when Charles Edward is
twenty-five, there's a little money coming to him--three thousand
dollars--and then we're going to Paris to live our own lives; but
nobody knows anything about that. One day I said something, without
thinking, to my mother-in-law about that money; I've forgotten what it
was, but she looked so horrified and actually gasped:

"You wouldn't think of Charles Edward's using his PRINCIPAL, Lorraine?"

And I said: "Why not? It's his own principal."

Well, I just made up my mind afterward that I'd never open my mouth
again, while I live here, about ANYTHING I was interested in, even
about Peter!

His father might have let him go to Paris that year before we met, when
he was in New York at the Art League, just as well as not, but the
family all consulted about it, Peter says, and concluded it wasn't
"necessary." That is the blight that is always put on everything we
want to do--it isn't necessary. Oh, how Alice hates that word! She says
she supposes it's never "necessary" to be happy.

Well, Peter heard that when the Paris scheme came up--he'd written home
that he couldn't work without the art atmosphere--Grandmother Evarts
said:

"Why, I'm sure he has the Metropolitan Museum to go to; and there's
Wanamaker's picture-gallery, too. Has he been to Wanamaker's?"

I thought I should throw a fit when Peter told me that!

I know, of course, that the family pity Peter for living in a house
that's all at sixes and sevens, and for not having everything the way
he has been used to having it; and I know they think I keep him from
going to see them all at home, when the truth is--although, as usual, I
can't say it--sometimes I absolutely have to HOUND him to go there;
though, of course, he's awfully fond of them all, and his mother
especially; but he gets dreadfully lazy, and says they're his own
people, anyway, and he can do as he pleases about it. It's their own
fault, because they've always spoiled him. And if they only knew how he
hates just that way of living he's been always used to, with its
little, petty cast-iron rules and regulations, and the stupid family
meals, where everybody is expected to be on time to the minute! My
father-in-law pulls out his chair at the dinner-table exactly as the
clock is striking one, and if any member of the family is a fraction
late all the rest are solemn and strained and nervous until the culprit
appears. Peter says the way he used to suffer--he was NEVER on time.

The menu for each day of the week is as fixed as fate, no matter what
the season of the year: hot roast beef, Sunday; cold roast beef,
Monday; beef-steak, Tuesday; roast mutton, Wednesday; mutton pot-pie,
Thursday; corned beef, Friday; and beef-steak again on Saturday. My
father-in-law never eats fish or poultry, so they only have either if
there is state company. There's one sacred apple pudding that's been
made every Wednesday for nineteen years, and if you can imagine
anything more positively dreadful than that, _I_ can't.

Every time, as soon as we sit down to the table, Grandmother Evarts
always begins, officially:

"Well, Charles Edward, my dear boy, we don't have you here very often
nowadays. I said to your mother yesterday that it was two whole weeks
since you had been to see her. What have you been doing with yourself
lately?"

And when he says, as he always does, "Nothing, grandmother," I know
she's disappointed, and then she starts in and tells what she has been
doing, and Maria--Maria always manages to be there when we are--Maria
tells what SHE has been doing, with little side digs at me because I
haven't been pickling or preserving or cleaning. Once, when I first
went there, Maria asked me at dinner what days I had for cleaning. And
I said, as innocently as possible, that I hadn't any; that I perfectly
loathed cleaning, and that we never cleaned at home! Of course it
wasn't true, but we never talk about it, anyway. Peter said he nearly
shrieked with joy to hear me come out like that.

It was almost as bad as the time I wore that sweet little yellow Empire
gown. It's a dear, and Lyman Wilde simply raved over it when he painted
me in it (not that he can really paint, but he has a TOUCH with
everything he does). I noticed that everybody seemed solemn and queer,
but I never dreamed that I was the cause until my mother-in-law came to
me afterward, blushing, and told me that Mr. Talbert never allowed any
of the family to wear Mother Hubbards around the house. MOTHER
HUBBARDS! I could have moaned. Well, when I go around there now I never
care what I have on, and I never pretend to talk at meals; I just sit
and try and make my mind a blank until it's over. You HAVE to make your
mind a blank if you don't want to be driven raving crazy by that
dining-room. It has a hideous black-walnut sideboard, an "oil-painting"
of pale, bloated fruit on one side, and pale, bloated fish on the
other, and a strip of black-and-white marbled oil-cloth below.

I feel sometimes as if I could hardly live until my father-in-law rises
from his chair and kisses his wife good-bye before going off to the
factory. She always blushes so prettily when he kisses her--as if it
were for the first time. Then everybody looks pained when Peter and I
just nod at each other as he goes out--I cannot be affectionate to him
before them--and then, thank Heaven! the rest of us escape from the
dining-room.

How Peggy, who has been away from home and seen and done things, can
stand it there now as it is, is a continual wonder to me.

Peggy is a dear little thing. Peter has always been awfully fond of
her, but she doesn't seem to have an idea in her head beyond her
clothes and Harry Goward, though she'll HAVE to have something more to
her if she's going to keep HIM. The moment I saw that boy, of course I
knew that he had the artistic temperament; I've seen so much of it.
He's the kind that's always awfully gloomy until eleven o'clock in the
morning, and has to make love intensely to somebody every evening. What
it must have been to that boy, after indulging in a romantic dream with
poor little earnest, downright Peggy, to wake up and find the
engagement taken seriously not only by her, but by all her
relatives--find himself being welcomed into the family, introduced to
them all as a future member--what it must have been to him I can't
imagine! Peggy has no more temperament than a cow--the combination of
Maria and Tom, and Grandmother Evarts, and Billy with his face washed
clean, and Alice with three enormous bows on her hair, all waiting to
welcome him, standing by the pictorial lamp on the brown worsted mat on
the centre-table, made me fairly howl when I sat at home and thought of
it--and that was before I'd SEEN Harry.

The family were, of course, quite "hurt" that Peter and I wouldn't
assist at the celebration. I cannot see why people WILL want you to do
things when they KNOW you don't care to!

The next evening, however, we had to go, when Peggy herself came around
and asked us. Of course Mr. Goward was with Peggy most of the time.
They certainly looked charming together, but rather conscious and
stiff. Every member of the family was watching his every motion. Oh,
I've been there! I know what it is!

Some of the neighbors were there, too. Peter hardly ever plays on the
big, old-fashioned grand-piano, but that night he was so bored he had
to. The family always THINK they're very musical--you can know the
style when I tell you that after Peter has been rambling through bits
from Schumann and Richard Strauss they always ask him if he won't "play
something." Well, after Peggy had gone into the other room with her
mother to do the polite to Mrs. Temple, Mr. Goward gravitated over to
where I sat in the big bay-window behind the piano; he had that
"be-good-to-me,-won't-you?" air that I know so well! Then we got to
talking and listening in between whiles--he knows lots of girls in the
Art League--till Peter began playing that heart-breaking "Im Herbst"
from the Franz Songs, and then he said:

"You're going to be my sister, aren't you? Won't you let me hold your
hand while your husband's playing that? It makes me feel so lonely!"

I answered, promptly, "Certainly; hold both hands if you like!"

And we laughed, and Peter turned around for a moment and smiled, too.
Oh, it WAS nice to meet somebody of one's own kind! You get so sick of
having everything taken seriously.

That night, after we'd left the house, Harry caught up with us at the
corner on his way to the hotel, and went home with us, and we all
talked until three o'clock in the morning. We simply ate all over the
house--goodness! how hungry we were! At Peter's home it's an unheard-of
thing to eat anything after half-past six--almost a crime, unless it's
a wedding or state reception. We began now with coffee in the
dining-room, and jam and cheese, and ended by gradual stages at hot
lobster in the chafing-dish in the studio--the darky was out all night,
as usual.

Then Harry and Peter concluded that it was too late to go to bed at
all--it was really daylight--so they took bath-towels and went down to
the river and had a swim, and Harry slipped back to the house at six
o'clock. He said we'd repeat it all the next night, but of course we
didn't. He's the kind that, as soon as he's promised to do a thing,
feels at once that he doesn't really want to do it.

The next day Peter's Aunt Elizabeth came on the scene, and of course we
stayed away as much as we could. She loves Peter--they all do--but she
hasn't any use for me, and shows it. She thinks I'm perfectly dumb and
stupid. I simply don't exist, and I've never tried to undeceive
her--it's too much trouble. She always wants to tell people how to do
their hair and put on their clothes.

Miss Elizabeth Talbert is a howling swell; she only just endures it
here. I've heard lots of things about her from Bell Pickering, who
knows the Munroes--Lily Talbert, they call her there. She thinks she's
fond of Art, but she really doesn't know the first thing about it--she
doesn't like anything that isn't expensive and elegant and a la mode.

The only time she ever came to see me she actually PICKED her way
around the house when I was showing it to her--there's no other word to
use--just because there was a glass of jelly on the sofa, and the
painting things were all over the studio with Peter's clothes. I
perfectly hated her that day, yet I do love to look at her, and I can
see how she might be terribly nice if you were any one she thought
worth caring for. There have been times when I've seen a look on her
face, like the clear ethereal light beyond the sunset, that just PULLED
at me. She is very fond of Peggy; I know she would never do anything to
injure Peggy.

Poor little Peggy! When I think of this affair about Harry Goward I
don't believe she ever felt sure of him; that is why she is so worked
up over this matter now. I know there was something that I felt from
the first through all her excitement, something that wasn't quite happy
in her happiness. I feel atmospheres at once; I just can't help it. And
when I get feeling other people's atmospheres too much I lose my own,
and then I can't paint. I began so well the other day with the picture
of that Armenian peddler, and now since Alice left I can't do a thing
with it; his bare yellow knees look just like ugly grape-fruit. I wish
Sally was in. She can't cook, but she can do a song-and-dance that's
worth its weight in gold when you're down in the mouth.

--Just then I looked out of the window and saw my mother-in-law coming
in. For a minute I was frightened. I'd never seen her look like that
before--so white and almost OLD; she seemed hardly able to walk, and I
ran to the door and helped her in, and put her in a chair and her feet
on a footstool, and got her my dear little Venetian bottle of
smelling-salts with the long silver chain; it's so beautiful it makes
you feel better just to look at it. I whisked Peter's shoes out into
the hall, and when I sat down by her she put her hand out to me and
said, "Dear child," and I got all throaty, the way I do when any one
speaks like that to me, for, oh, I HAVE been lonesome for Dad and
Momsey and my own dear home! though no one ever seems to imagine it,
and I said:

"Oh, can't I do something for you, Madonna?" I usually just call her
"you," but once in a great while, when there's nobody else around, I
call her Madonna, and I know she likes it, even if she does think it a
little Romish or sacrilegious or something queer.

But she said she didn't want anything, only to rest a few minutes, and
that there was something she wanted me to tell Peter. She couldn't come
in the evening to see him without every one wanting to know why she
came. There was some terrible trouble about Peggy's engagement. She
flushed up and hesitated, and when I broke in to say, "You needn't
bother to explain, I know all about the whole thing," she didn't seem
at all surprised or ask how I knew--she only seemed relieved to find
that she could go right on. I never can be demonstrative to her before
people, but I just put my arms around her now when she said:

"It's a great comfort to be able to come to you, Lorraine, and speak
out. At home your dear grandmother considers me so much--she only
thinks of everything as it affects me, but it makes it so that I can't
always show what I feel, for if I do she gets ill. All _I_ can think of
is Peggy. If you knew what it was to me just now when my little Peggy
went away from me and locked herself in her room--Peggy, who all her
life has always come to me for comfort--"

She stopped for a minute, and I patted her. It was so unlike my
mother-in-law to speak in this way; she's usually so self-contained
that it made me sort of awestruck. After a moment she went on in a
different voice:

"They all want me to tell Cyrus--your father--that Aunt Elizabeth has
been trying to take Mr. Goward's affections away from Peggy. I'm afraid
it's just what she has been doing, though it seems incredible that she
should have any attraction for a young man. I was glad Elizabeth had
gone away overnight, for Maria is in such a state I don't know what
might have happened."

"And don't you want to tell--father?" I gulped, but I knew I must say
it. "Why not, Madonna?"

She shook her head, with that look that makes you feel sometimes that
she isn't just the gentle and placid person that she appears to be. I
seemed to catch a glimpse of something very clear and strong. If I
could paint her with an expression like that I'd make my fortune.

"No, Lorraine. If it was about anybody but your aunt Elizabeth I would,
but I can't speak against her. It's her home as well as mine; I've
always realized that. I made up my mind, when I married, that I never
would come between brother and sister, and I never have. Aunt Elizabeth
doesn't know how many times I have smoothed matters over for her, how
many times Cyrus has been provoked because he thought she didn't show
enough consideration for me. I have always loved Aunt Elizabeth, and I
believed she loved us--but when I saw my Peggy to-day, Lorraine, I
couldn't go and tell your father about Aunt Elizabeth while I feel as I
do now! I couldn't be just. If I made him angry with her--"

She stopped, and I didn't need to have her go on. My father-in-law is
one of those big, kind, sensible, good-natured men who, when they do
get angry, go clear off the handle, and are so absolutely furious and
unreasonable you can't do anything with them. He got that way at Peter
once--but it makes me so furious myself when I think of it that I never
do.

"And, Lorraine," Madonna went on, quite simply, "bringing all this home
to Aunt Elizabeth and making her pay up for it really has nothing to do
with Peggy's happiness. It is my child's happiness that I want,
Lorraine. There may be a misunderstanding of some
kind--misunderstandings are very cruel things sometimes, Lorraine. I
cannot believe that boy doesn't care for her--why, he loved her dearly!
It seems to me far the best and most dignified thing to just write to
Mr. Goward himself and find out the truth."

"I think so, too!" said I. "Oh, Madonna, you're a Jim Dandy!"

"And so," she went on, "I want you to ask Charles Edward to write
to-night. I'll leave the address with you. As Peggy's brother, it will
be more suitable for him to attend to the matter."

Charles Edward! I simply gasped. The idea of Peter's writing to Harry
Goward to ask him the state of his affections! If Peter's mother
couldn't realize how perfectly impossible it was for even ME to make
Peter do a thing that--Well--I was knocked silly.

Dear Madonna is the survival of a period when a woman always expected
some man to face any crisis for her. All I could do was to say,
resignedly:

"I'll give him the address." And when she got up I went to the gate
with her. She was as dear as she could be; I just loved her until she
happened to say:

"When I came in I thought you might be lying down, for I looked up and
saw the shades were pulled down in your room, as they are now."

"Oh," I said, "I don't suppose anybody has been back in the room since
we got up." And I was downright scared, she looked at me so strangely
and began to tremble all over. "What IS the matter?" I cried. "Do come
into the house again!" But she only grasped my arm and said, tragically:

"Lorraine, it isn't POSSIBLE that you haven't made your bed at four
o'clock in the afternoon!" And I answered:

"Oh, I always make it up before I sleep in it." And then I knew that
I'd said just the wrong thing. What difference it can make to ANYBODY
what time you make your OWN bed I can't see! She tried to make me
promise I'd always make it up before ten o'clock in the morning. Why, I
wouldn't even promise to always feel fond of Peter at ten o'clock in
the morning! I NEVER have anything to do with the family without always
feeling on edge afterward. Why, when she was so sweet and strong about
Peggy and Aunt Elizabeth and all the rest of it, WHY should she get
upset about such a trifle?

I stood there by the gate just glowering as she went off. I knew she
thought I was going to perdition. I was sick of "the engagement." What
business was it of Peter's and mine, anyhow? It had nothing to do with
us, really. Then I thought of the time Peter and I quarrelled, and how
DEAR Lyman Wilde was about it, and how he brought Peter back to
me--just to say the name of Lyman Wilde always makes me feel better. I
adore him, and always shall, and Peter knows it. If I could only go
back to the Settlement and hear him say, "Little girl," in that coaxing
voice of his! He is one of those men who are always working so hard for
other people that you forget he hasn't anything for himself.

Thinking of him made me quite chipper again, and I went in and got his
picture and stuck it up in the mantel-piece and put flowers in front of
it. When Peter came in I told him about everything, and of course he
refused to write to Harry Goward, as I knew he would. He said it was
all rot, anyway, and that Harry was a nice boy, but not worth making
such a fuss over. He didn't know that he was particularly stuck on
Peggy's marrying Harry Goward, anyway--but there was no use in any
one's interfering. Peggy was the person to write. Finally he said he'd
telephone to Harry the next day to come out and stay at our house over
Sunday, and then he and Peggy could have a chance to settle it.

But Peter didn't telephone. He was late at the Works the next
day--though not nearly so late as he often is; but Mr. Talbert has a
perfect fad about every one's getting there on time; it's one of the
things there's always been a tug about between him and Peter. I should
think he'd have realized long ago that Peter NEVER will be on time, and
just make up his mind to it, but he won't. Well, Peter came back again
to the house a little after nine, perfectly white; he said he'd never
enter the factory again. . . .

His father was in a towering rage when Peter went in; he spoke to Peter
so that every one could hear him, and then--Oh, it was a dreadful
time!...

Alice told me afterward that Maria had found her father in the garden
before breakfast. She insinuated, in HER way, all kinds of dreadful
things about Harry Goward and Aunt Elizabeth, and there was a scene at
the breakfast-table--and Peggy was taken so ill that they had to send
for Dr. Denbigh. I don't know what will happen when Aunt Elizabeth
comes home.



V. THE SCHOOL-GIRL

by Elizabeth Jordan

Except for Billy, who is a boy and does not count, I am the youngest
person in our family; and when I tell you that there are eleven of
us--well, you can dimly imagine the kind of a time I have. Two or three
days ago I heard Grandma Evarts say something to the minister about
"the down-trodden and oppressed of foreign lands," and after he had
gone I asked her what they were. For a wonder, she told me; usually
when Billy and I ask questions you would think the whole family had
been struck dumb. But this time she answered and I remember every
word--for if ever anything sounded like a description of Billy and me
it was what Grandma Evarts said that day. I told her so, too; but, of
course, she only looked at me over her spectacles and didn't understand
what I meant. Nobody ever does except Billy and Aunt Elizabeth, and
they're not much comfort. Billy is always so busy getting into trouble
and having me get him out of it, and feeling sorry for himself, that he
hasn't time to sympathize with me. Besides, as I've said before, he's
only a boy, and you know what boys are and how they lack the delicate
feelings girls have, and how their minds never work when you want them
to. As for Aunt Elizabeth, she is lovely sometimes, and the way she
remembers things that happened when she was young is simply wonderful.
She knows how girls feel, too, and how they suffer when they are like
Dr. Denbigh says I am--very nervous and sensitive and high-strung. But
she admitted to me to-day that she had never before really made up her
mind whether I am the "sweet, unsophisticated child" she calls me, or
what Tom Price says I am, The Eastridge Animated and Undaunted Daily
Bugle and Clarion Call. He calls me that because I know so much about
what is going on; and he says if Mr. Temple could get me on his paper
as a regular contributor there wouldn't be a domestic hearth-stone left
in Eastridge. He says the things I drop will break every last one of
them, anyhow, beginning with the one at home. That's the way he talks,
and though I don't always know exactly what he means I can tell by his
expression that it is not very complimentary.

Aunt Elizabeth is different from the others, and she and I have
inspiring conversations sometimes--serious ones, you know, about life
and responsibility and careers; and then, at other times, just when I'm
revealing my young heart to her the way girls do in books, she gets
absent-minded or laughs at me, or stares and says, "You extraordinary
infant," and changes the subject. At first it used to hurt me
dreadfully, but now I'm beginning to think she does it when she can't
answer my questions. I've asked her lots and lots of things that have
made her sit up and gasp, I can tell you, and I have more all ready as
soon as I get the chance.

There is another thing I will mention while I think of it. Grandma
Evarts is always talking about "rules of life," but the only rule of
life I'm perfectly sure I have is to always mention things when I think
of them. Even that doesn't please the family, though, because sometimes
I mention things they thought I didn't know, and then they are annoyed
and cross instead of learning a lesson by it and realizing how silly it
is to try to keep secrets from me. If they'd TELL me, and put me on my
honor, I could keep their old secrets as well as anybody. I've kept
Billy's for years and years. But when they all stop talking the minute
I come into a room, and when mamma and Peggy go around with red eyes
and won't say why, you'd better believe I don't like it. It fills me
with the "intelligent discontent" Tom is always talking about. Then I
don't rest until I know what there is to know, and usually when I get
through I know more than anybody else does, because I've got all the
different sides--Maria's and Tom's and Lorraine's and Charles Edward's
and mamma's and papa's and grandma's and Peggy's and Aunt Elizabeth's.
It isn't that they intend to tell me things, either; they all try not
to. Every one of them keeps her own secrets beautifully, but she drops
things about the others. Then all I have to do is to put them together
like a patch-work quilt.

You needn't think it's easy, though, for the very minute I get near any
of the family they waste most of the time we're together by trying to
improve me. You see, they are all so dreadfully old that they have had
time to find out their faults and youthful errors, and every single one
of them thinks she sees ALL her faults in me, and that she must help me
to conquer them ere it is too late. Aunt Elizabeth says they mean it
kindly, and perhaps they do. But if you have ever had ten men and women
trying to improve you, you will know what my life is. Tom Price, who
married my sister Maria, told Dr. Denbigh once that "every time a
Talbert is unoccupied he or she puts Alice or Billy, or both, on the
family moulding-board and kneads awhile." I heard him say it and it's
true. All _I_ can say is that if they keep on kneading and moulding me
much longer there won't be anything left but a kind of a pulpy mass. I
can see what they have done to Billy already; he's getting pulpier
every day, and I don't believe his brain would ever work if I didn't
keep stirring it up.

However, the thing I want to say while I think of it is this. It is a
question, and I will ask it here because there is no use of asking it
at home: Why is it that grown-up men and women never have anything
really interesting to say to a girl fifteen years old? Then, if you can
answer that, I wish you would answer another: Why don't they ever
listen or understand what a girl means when she talks to them? Billy
and I have one rule now when we want to say something serious. We get
right in front of them and fix them with a glittering eye, the way the
Ancient Mariner did, you know, and speak as slowly as we can, in little
bits of words, to show them it's very important. Then, sometimes, they
pay attention and answer us, but usually they act as if we were babies
gurgling in cunning little cribs. And the rude way they interrupt us
often and go on talking about their own affairs--well, I will not say
more, for dear mamma has taught me not to criticise my elders, and I
never do. But I watch them pretty closely, just the same, and when I
see them doing something that is not right my brain works so hard it
keeps me awake nights. If it's anything very dreadful, like Peggy's
going and getting engaged, I point out the error, the way they're
always pointing errors out to me. Of course it doesn't do any good, but
that isn't my fault. It's because they haven't got what my teacher
calls "receptive minds."

I'm telling you all this before I tell you what has happened, so you
will be sorry for Billy and me. If you are sorry already, as well
indeed you may be, you will be a great deal more sorry before I get
through. For if ever any two persons were "downtrodden and oppressed"
and "struggling in darkness" and "feeling the chill waters of
affliction," it's Billy and me to-night--all because we tried to help
Peggy and Lorraine and Aunt Elizabeth after they had got everything
mixed up! I told them I was just trying to help, and Tom Price said
right off that there was only one thing for Billy and me to do in
future whenever the "philanthropic spirit began to stir" in us, and
that was to get on board the suburban trolley-car and go as far away
from home as our nickels would take us, and not hurry back. So you see
he is not a bit grateful for the interesting things I told Maria.

I will now tell what happened. It began the day Billy heard the station
agent at Whitman read Aunt Elizabeth's telegram to Harry Goward. The
telegram had a lot of silly letters and words in it, so Billy didn't
know what it meant, and, of course, he didn't care. The careless child
would have forgotten all about it if I hadn't happened to meet him at
Lorraine's after he got back from Whitman. He is always going to
Lorraine's for some of Sallie's cookies--she makes perfectly delicious
ones, round and fat and crumbly, with currants on the top. Billy had
taken so many that his pockets bulged out on the sides, and his mouth
was so full he only nodded when he saw me. So, of course, I stopped to
tell him how vulgar that was, and piggish, and to see if he had left
any for me, and he was so anxious to divert my mind that as soon as he
could speak he began to talk about seeing Aunt Elizabeth over in
Whitman. That interested me, so I got the whole thing out of him, and
the very minute he had finished telling it I made him go straight and
tell Peggy. I told him to do it delicately, and not yell it out. I
thought it would cheer and comfort Peggy to know that some one was
doing something, instead of standing around and looking solemn, but,
alas! it did not, and Billy told me with his own lips that it was
simply awful to see Peggy's face. Even he noticed it, so it must have
been pretty bad. He said her eyes got so big it made him think of the
times she used to imitate the wolf in Red Riding-Hood and scare us
'most to death when we were young.

When Billy told me that, I saw that perhaps we shouldn't have told
Peggy, so the next day I went over to Lorraine's again to ask her what
she thought about it. I stopped at noon on my way home from school, and
I didn't ring the bell, because I never do. I walked right in as usual,
falling over the books and teacups and magazines on the floor, and I
found Lorraine sitting at the tea-table with her head down among the
little cakes and bits of toast left over from the afternoon before. She
didn't look up, so I knew she hadn't heard me, and I saw her shoulders
shake, and then I knew that she was crying. I had never seen Lorraine
cry before, and I felt dreadfully, but I didn't know just what to do or
what to say, and while I stood staring at her I noticed that there was
a photograph on the table with a lot of faded flowers. The face of the
photograph was up and I saw that it was a picture of Mr. Wilde--the one
that usually stands on the mantel-piece. Lorraine is always talking
about him, and she has told me ever and ever so much about how nice and
kind he was to her when she was studying art in New York. But, of
course, I didn't know she cared enough for him to cry over his picture,
and it gave me the queerest feelings to see her do it--kind of wabbly
ones in my legs, and strange, sinking ones in my stomach. You see, I
had just finished reading Lady Hermione's Terrible Secret. A girl at
school lent it to me. So when I saw Lorraine crying over a photograph
and faded flowers I knew it must mean that she had learned to love Mr.
Wilde with a love that was her doom, or would be if she didn't hurry
and get over it. Finally I crept out of the house without saying a word
to her or letting her know I was there, and I leaned on the gate to
think it over and try to imagine what a girl in a book would do. In
Lady Hermione her sister discovered the truth and tried to save the
rash woman from the sad consequences of her love, so I knew that was
what I must do, but I didn't know how to begin. While I was standing
there with my brain going round like one of Billy's paper pinwheels
some one stopped in front of me and said, "Hello, Alice," in a sick
kind of a way, like a boy beginning to recite a piece at school. I
looked up. It was Harry Goward!

You'd better believe I was surprised, for, of course, when he went away
nobody expected he would come back so soon; and after all the fuss and
the red eyes and the mystery _I_ hoped he wouldn't come back at all.
But here he was in three days, so I said, very coldly, "How do you do,
Mr. Goward," and bowed in a distant way; and he took his hat off
quickly and held it in his hand, and I waited for him to say something
else. All he did for a minute was to look over my head. Then he said,
in the same queer voice: "Is Mrs. Peter in? I wanted to have a little
talk with her," and he put his hand on the gate to open it. I suppose
it was dreadfully rude, but I stayed just where I was and said, very
slowly, in icy tones, that he must kindly excuse my sister-in-law, as I
was sure she wouldn't be able to receive him. Of course I knew she
wouldn't want him or any one else to come in and see her cry, and
besides I never liked Harry Goward and I never expect to. He looked
very much surprised at first, and then his face got as red as a baby's
does when there's a pin in it somewhere, and he asked if she was ill. I
said, "No, she is not ill," and then I sighed and looked off down the
street as if I would I were alone. He began to speak very quickly, but
stopped and bit his lip. Then he turned away and hesitated, and finally
he came back and took a thick letter from his pocket and held it out to
me. He was smiling now, and for a minute he really looked nice and
sweet and friendly.

"Say, Alice," he said, in the most coaxing way, "don't YOU get down on
me, too. Do me a good turn--that's a dear. Take this letter home and
deliver it. Will you? And say I'm at the hotel waiting for an answer."

Now, you can see yourself that this was thrilling. The whole family was
watching every mail for a letter from Harry Goward and here he was
offering me one! I didn't show how excited I was; I just took the
letter and turned it over so I couldn't see the address and slipped it
into my pocket, and said, coldly, that I would deliver it with
pleasure. Harry Goward was looking quite cheerful again, but he said,
in a worried tone, that he hoped I wouldn't forget, because it was
very, very important. Then I dismissed him with a haughty bow, the way
they do on the stage, and this time he put his hat on and really went.

Of course after that I wanted to go straight home with the letter, but
I knew it wouldn't do to leave Lorraine bearing her terrible burden
without some one to comfort her. While I was trying to decide what to
do I saw Billy a block away with Sidney Tracy, and I whistled to him to
come, and beckoned with both hands at the same time to show it was
important. I had a beautiful idea. In that very instant I "planned my
course of action," as they say in books. I made up my mind that I would
send the letter home by Billy, and that would give me time to run over
to Maria's and get something to eat and ask Maria to go and comfort
Lorraine. Maria and Lorraine don't like each other very much, but I
knew trouble might bring them closer, for Grandma Evarts says it always
does. Besides, Maria is dreadfully old and knows everything and is the
one the family always sends for when things happen. If they don't send
she comes anyhow and tells everybody what to do. So I pinned the letter
in Billy's pocket, so he couldn't lose it, and I ordered him to go
straight home with it. He said he would. He looked queer and I thought
I saw him drop something near a fence before he came to me, but I was
so excited I didn't pay close attention. As soon as Billy started off I
went to Maria's.

She was all alone, for Tom was lunching with some one at the hotel.
When we were at the table I told her about Lorraine, and if ever any
one was excited and really listened this time it was sister Maria. She
pushed back her chair, and spoke right out before she thought, I guess.
"Charles Edward's wife crying over another man's picture!" she said.
"Well, I like that! But I'm not surprised. I always said no good would
come of THAT match!"

Then she stopped and made herself quiet down, but I could see how hard
it was, and she added: "So THAT was the matter with Charles Edward when
I met him this morning rushing along the street like a cyclone."

I got dreadfully worried then and begged her to go to Lorraine at once,
for I saw things were even more terrible than I had thought. But Maria
said: "Certainly not! I must consult with father and mother first. This
is something that affects us all. After I have seen them I will go to
Lorraine's." Then she told me not to worry about it, and not to speak
of it to any one else. I didn't, either, except to Billy and Aunt
Elizabeth; and when I told Aunt Elizabeth the man's name I thought she
would go up into the air like one of Billy's skyrockets. But that part
does not belong here, and I'm afraid if I stop to talk about it I'll
forget about Billy and the letter.

After luncheon Maria put her hat on and went straight to our house to
see mother, and I went back to school. When I got home I asked, the
first thing, if Billy had delivered the letter from Harry Goward, and
for the next fifteen minutes you would have thought every one in our
house had gone crazy. That wretched boy had not delivered it at all!
They had not even seen him, and they didn't know anything about the
letter. After they had let me get enough breath to tell just how I had
met Harry and exactly what he had said and done, mother rushed off to
telephone to father, and Aunt Elizabeth came down-stairs with a wild,
eager face, and Grandma Evarts actually shook me when she found I
didn't even know whom the letter was for. I hadn't looked, because I
had been so excited. Finally, after everybody had talked at once for a
while. Grandma Evans told me mamma had said Billy could go fishing that
afternoon, because the weather was so hot and she thought he looked
pale and overworked. The idea of Billy Talbert being overworked! I
could have told mamma something about THAT.

Well, I saw through the whole thing then. Billy hadn't told me, for
fear I would want to go along; so he had sneaked off with Sidney Tracy,
and if he hadn't forgotten all about the letter he had made up his mind
it would do as well to deliver it when he came home. That's the way
Billy's mind works--like Tom Price's stop-watch. It goes up to a
certain instant and then it stops short. You'd better believe I was
angry. And it didn't make it any easier for me to remember that while I
was having this dreadful time at home, and being reproached by
everybody. Billy and Sidney Tracy were sitting comfortably under the
willows on the edge of the river pulling little minnows out of the
water. I knew exactly where they would be--I'd been there with Billy
often enough. Just as I thought of that I looked at poor Peggy, sitting
in her wrapper in papa's big easy-chair, leaning against a pillow
Grandma Evarts had put behind her back, and trying to be calm. She
looked so pale and worn and worried and sick that I made up my mind I'd
follow those boys to the river and get that letter and bring it home to
Peggy--for, of course, I was sure it was for her. I wish you could have
seen her face when I said I'd do it, and the way she jumped up from the
chair and then blushed and sank back and tried to look as if it didn't
matter--with her eyes shining all the time with excitement and hope.

I got on my bicycle and rode off, and I made good time until I crossed
the bridge. Then I had to walk along the river, pushing the bicycle,
and I came to those two boys so quietly that they never saw me until I
was right behind them. They were fishing still, but they had both been
swimming--I could tell that by their wet hair and by the damp, mussy
look of their clothes. When Billy saw me he turned red and began to
make a great fuss over his line. He didn't say a word; he never does
when he's surprised or ashamed, so he doesn't speak very often, anyhow;
but I broke the painful silence by saying a few words myself. I told
Billy how dreadful he had made everybody feel and how they were all
blaming me, and I said I'd thank him for that letter to take home to
his poor suffering sister. Billy put down his rod, and all the time I
talked he was going through his pockets one after the other and getting
redder and redder. I was so busy talking that I didn't understand at
first just what this meant, but when I stopped and held out my hand and
looked at him hard I saw in his guilty face the terrible, terrible fear
that he had lost that letter; and I was so frightened that my legs gave
way under me, and I sat down on the grass in my fresh blue linen dress,
just where they had dripped and made it wet.

All this time Sidney Tracy was going through HIS pockets, too, and just
as I was getting up again in a hurry he took off his cap and emptied
his pockets into it. I wish you could have seen what that cap held
then--worms, and sticky chewing-gum, and tops, and strings, and hooks,
and marbles, and two pieces of molasses candy all soft and messy, and a
little bit of a turtle, and a green toad, and a slice of
bread-and-butter, and a dirty, soaking, handkerchief that he and Billy
had used for a towel. There was something else there, too--a dark, wet,
pulpy, soggy-looking thing with pieces of gum and molasses candy and
other things sticking to it. Sidney took it out and held it toward me
in a proud, light-hearted way:

"There's your letter, all right," he said, and Billy gave a whoop of
joy and called out, "Good-bye, Alice," as a hint for me to hurry home.
I was so anxious to get the letter that I almost took it, but I stopped
in time. I hadn't any gloves on, and it was just too dreadful. If you
could have seen it you would never have touched it in the world. I got
near enough to look at it, though, and then I saw that the address was
so dirty and so covered with gum and bait and candy that all I could
read was a capital "M" and a small "s" at the beginning and an "ert" at
the end; the name between was hidden. I covered my eyes with my hand
and gasped out to the boys that I wanted the things taken off it that
didn't belong there, and when I looked again Sidney had scraped off the
worst of it and was scrubbing the envelope with his wet handkerchief to
make it look cleaner. After that you couldn't tell what ANY letter was,
so I just groaned and snatched it from his hands and left those two
boys in their disgusting dirt and degradation and went home.

When I got back mamma and Grandma Evarts and Tom Price and Peggy and
Aunt Elizabeth were in the parlor, looking more excited than ever,
because Maria had been there telling the family about Lorraine. Then
she had gone on to Lorraine's and Tom had dropped in to call for her
and was waiting to hear about the letter. They were all watching the
door when I came in, and Peggy and Aunt Elizabeth started to get up,
but sat down again. I stood there hesitating because, of course, I
didn't know who to give it to, and Grandma Evarts shot out, "Well,
Alice! Well, Well!" as if she was blowing the words at me from a little
peashooter. Then I began to explain about the address, but before I
could say more than two or three words mamma motioned to me and I gave
the letter to her.

You could have heard an autumn leaf fall in that room. Mamma put on her
glasses and puzzled over the smear on the envelope, and Peggy drew a
long breath and jumped up and walked over to mamma and held out her
hand. Mamma didn't hesitate a minute. "Certainly it must be for you, my
dear," she said, and then she added, in a very cold, positive way, "For
whom else could it possibly be intended?" No one spoke; but just as
Peggy had put her finger under the flap to tear it open, Aunt Elizabeth
got up and crossed the room to where mamma and Peggy stood. She spoke
very softly and quietly, but she looked queer and excited.

"Wait one moment, my dear," she said to Peggy. "Very probably the
letter IS for you, but it is just possible that it may be for some one
else. Wouldn't it be safer--wiser--for ME to open it?"

Then Peggy cried out, "Oh, Aunt Elizabeth, how dreadful! How can you
say such a thing!" Mother had hesitated an instant when Aunt Elizabeth
spoke, but now she drew Peggy's head down to her dear, comfy shoulder,
and Peggy stayed right there and cried as hard as she could--with
little gasps and moans as if she felt dreadfully nervous. Then, for
once in my life, I saw my mother angry. She looked over Peggy's head at
Aunt Elizabeth, and her face was so dreadful it made me shiver.

"Elizabeth," she said, and she brought her teeth right down hard on the
word, "this is the climax of your idiocy. Have you the audacity to
claim here, before me, that this letter from my child's affianced
husband is addressed to you?"

Aunt Elizabeth looked very pale now, but when she answered she spoke as
quietly as before.

"If it is, Ada," she said, "it is against my wish and my command.
But--it may be." Then her voice changed as if she were really begging
for something.

"Let me open it," she said. "If it is for Peggy I can tell by the first
line or two, even if he does not use the name. Surely it will do no
harm if I glance at it."

Mother looked even angrier than before.

"Well," she said, "it could do no harm, you think, if you read a letter
intended for Peggy, but you don't dare to risk letting Peggy read a
letter addressed by Harry Goward to you. This is intolerable, Elizabeth
Talbert. You have passed the limit of my endurance--and of my
husband's."

She brought out the last words very slowly, looking Aunt Elizabeth
straight in the eyes, and Aunt Elizabeth looked back with her head very
high. She has a lovely way of using such expressions as "For the rest"
and "As to that," and she did it now.

"As to that," she said, "my brother must speak for himself. No one
regrets more bitterly than I do this whole most unpleasant affair. I
can only say that with all my heart I am trying to straighten it out."

Grandma Evarts sniffed just then so loudly that we all looked at her,
and then, of course, mamma suddenly remembered that I was still there,
regarding the scene with wide, intelligent young eyes, and she nodded
toward the door, meaning for me to go out. My, but I hated to! I picked
up grandma's ball of wool and drew the footstool close to her feet, and
looked around to see if I couldn't show her some other delicate girlish
attention such as old ladies love, but there wasn't anything,
especially as grandma kept motioning for me to leave. So I walked
toward the door very slowly, and before I got there I heard Tom Price
say:

"Oh, come now; we're making a lot of fuss about nothing. There's a very
simple way out of all this. Alice says Goward's still at the hotel.
I'll just run down there and explain, and ask him to whom that letter
belongs."

Then I was at the door, and I HAD to open it and go out. The voices
went on inside for a few minutes, but soon I saw Tom come out and I
went to him and slipped my arm inside of his and walked with him across
the lawn and out to the sidewalk. I don't very often like the things
Tom says, but I thought it was clever of him to think of going to ask
Harry Goward about the letter, and I told him so to encourage him. He
thanked me very politely, and then he stopped and braced his back
against the lamp-post on the corner and "fixed me with a stern gaze,"
as writers say.

"Look here, Clarry," he said ("Clarry" is short, he says, for Daily
Bugle and Clarion Call, which is "too lengthy for frequent use"),
"you're doing a lot of mischief to-day with your rural delivery system
for Goward and your news extras about Lorraine. What's this
cock-and-bull story you've got up about her, anyway?"

I told him just what I had seen. When I got through he said there was
"nothing in it."

"That bit about her head being among the toast and cake," he went on,
"would be convincing circumstantial evidence of a tragedy if it had
been any other woman's head, but it doesn't count with Lorraine--I mean
it doesn't represent the complete abandonment to grief which would be
implied if it happened in the case of any one else. You must remember
that when Lorraine wants to have a comfortable cry she's got to choose
between putting her head in the jam on the sofa, or among the wet paint
and brushes in the easy-chair, or among the crumbs on the tea-table. As
for that photograph, it probably fell off the mantel-piece to the
tea-table, instead of falling, as usual, into the coal-hod. To sum up,
my dear Clarry, if you had remembered the extreme emotionalism of your
sister Lorraine's temperament and the--er--eccentricity of her
housekeeping, you would not have permitted yourself to be so sadly
misled. Not remembering it, you've done a lot of mischief. All these
things being so, no one will believe them. And to-night, when you are
safely tucked into your little bed, if you hear the tramping of many
feet on the asphalt walks you may know what it will mean. It will mean
that your mother and father, and Elizabeth, and Grandma Evarts and
Maria and Peggy will be dropping in on Lorraine, each alone and quite
casually, of course, to find out what there really is in this terrible
rumor. And some of them will believe to their dying day that there was
something in it."

Well, that made me feel very unhappy. For I could see that under Tom's
gay exterior and funny way of saying things he really meant every word.
Of course I told him that I had wanted to help Lorraine and Peggy
because they were so wretched, and he made me promise on the spot that
if ever I wanted to help him I'd tell him about it first. Then he went
off to the hotel looking more cheerful, and I was left alone with my
sad thoughts.

When I got into the house the first thing I saw was Billy sneaking out
of the back door. I had meant to have a long and earnest talk with
Billy the minute he got home, and point out some of his serious faults,
but when I looked at him I saw that mamma or grandma had just done it.
He looked red eyed and miserable, and the minute he saw me he began to
whistle. Billy never whistles except just before or just after a
whipping, so my heart sank, and I was dreadfully sorry for him. I
started after him to tell him so, but he made a face at me and ran; and
just then Aunt Elizabeth came along the hall and dragged me up to her
room and began to ask me all over again about Mr. Goward and all that
he said--whether I was perfectly SURE he didn't mention any name. She
looked worried and unhappy. Then she asked about Lorraine, but in an
indifferent voice, as if she was really thinking about something else.
I told her all I knew, but she didn't say a word or pay much attention
until I mentioned that the man in the photograph was Mr. Lyman Wilde.
Then--well, I wish you had seen Aunt Elizabeth! She made me promise
afterwards that I'd never tell a single soul what happened, and I
won't. But I do wish sometimes that Billy and I lived on a desert
island, where there wasn't anybody else. I just can't bear being home
when everybody is so unhappy, and when not a single thing I do helps
the least little bit!



VI. THE SON-IN-LAW

by John Kendrick Bangs

On the whole I am glad our family is no larger than it is. It is a very
excellent family as families go, but the infinite capacity of each
individual in it for making trouble, and adding to complications
already sufficiently complex, surpasses anything that has ever before
come into my personal or professional experience. If I handle my end of
this miserable affair without making a break of some kind or other, I
shall apply to the Secretary of State for a high place in the
diplomatic service, for mere international complications are
child's-play compared to this embroglio in which Goward and Aunt
Elizabeth have landed us all. I think I shall take up politics and try
to get myself elected to the legislature, anyhow, and see if I can't
get a bill through providing that when a man marries it is distinctly
understood that he marries his wife and not the whole of his wife's
family, from her grandmother down through her maiden aunts, sisters,
cousins, little brothers, et al., including the latest arrivals in
kittens. In my judgment it ought to be made a penal offence for any
member of a man's wife's family to live on the same continent with him,
and if I had to get married all over again to Maria--and I'd do it with
as much delighted happiness as ever--I should insist upon the
interpolation of a line in the marriage ceremony, "Do you promise to
love, honor, and obey your wife's relatives," and when I came to it I'd
turn and face the congregation and answer "No," through a megaphone, so
loud that there could be no possibility of a misunderstanding as to
precisely where I stood.

If anybody thinks I speak with an unusual degree of feeling, I beg to
inform him or her, as the case may be, that in the matter of wife's
relations I have an unusually full set, and, as my small brother-in-law
says when he orates about his postage-stamp collection, they're all
uncancelled. Into all lives a certain amount of mother-in-law must
fall, but I not only have that, but a grandmother-in-law as well, and
maiden-aunt-in-law, and the Lord knows what else-in-law besides. I must
say that as far as my mother-in-law is concerned I've had more luck
than most men, because Mrs. Talbert comes pretty close to the ideal in
mother-in-legal matters. She is gentle and unoffending. She prefers
minding her own business to assuming a trust control of other people's
affairs, but HER mother--well, I don't wish any ill to Mrs. Evarts, but
if anybody is ambitious to adopt an orphan lady, with advice on tap at
all hours in all matters from winter flannels to the conversion of the
Hottentots, I will cheerfully lead him to the goal of his desires, and
with alacrity surrender to him all my right, title, and interest in
her. At the same time I will give him a quit-claim deed to my
maiden-aunt-in-law--not that Aunt Elizabeth isn't good fun, for she is,
and I enjoy talking to her, and wondering what she will do next fills
my days with a living interest, but I'd like her better if she belonged
in some other fellow's family.

I don't suppose I can blame Maria under all the circumstances for
standing up for the various members of her family when they are
attacked, which she does with much vigorous and at times aggressive
loyalty. We cannot always help ourselves in the matter of our
relations. Some are born relatives, some achieve relatives, and others
have relatives thrust upon them. Maria was born to hers, and according
to all the rules of the game she's got to like them, nay, even cherish
and protect them against the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism.
But, on the other hand, I think she ought to remember that while I
achieved some of them with my eyes open, the rest were thrust upon me
when I was defenceless, and when I find some difficulty in adapting
myself to circumstances, as is frequently the case, she should be more
lenient to my incapacity. The fact that I am a lawyer makes it
necessary for me to toe the mark of respect for the authority of the
courts all day, whether I am filled with contempt for the court or not,
and it is pretty hard to find, when I return home at night, that
another set of the judiciary in the form of Maria's family, a sort of
domestic supreme court, controls all my private life, so that except
when I am rambling through the fields alone, or am taking my bath in
the morning, I cannot give my feelings full and free expression without
disturbing the family entente; and there isn't much satisfaction in
skinning people to a lonesome cow, or whispering your indignant
sentiments into the ear of a sponge already soaked to the full with
cold water. I have tried all my married life to agree with every member
of the family in everything he, she, or it has said, but, now that this
Goward business has come up, I can't do that, because every time
anybody says "Booh" to anybody else in the family circle, regarding
this duplex love-affair, a family council is immediately called and
"Booh" is discussed, not only from every possible stand-point, but from
several impossible ones as well.

When that letter of Goward's was rescued from the chewing-gum
contingent, with its address left behind upon the pulpy surface of
Sidney Tracy's daily portion of peptonized-paste, it was thought best
that I should call upon the writer at his hotel and find out to whom
the letter was really written.

My own first thought was to seek out Sidney Tracy and see if the
superscription still remained on the chewing-gum, and I had the
good-fortune to meet the boy on my way to the hotel, but on questioning
him I learned that in the excitement of catching a catfish, shortly
after Alice had left the lads, Sidney had incontinently swallowed the
rubber-like substance, and nothing short of an operation for
appendicitis was likely to put me in possession of the missing exhibit.
So I went on to the hotel, and ten minutes later found myself in the
presence of an interesting case of nervous prostration. Poor Goward!
When I observed the wrought-up condition of his nerves, I was
immediately so filled with pity for him that if it hadn't been for
Maria I think I should at once have assumed charge of his case, and, as
his personal counsel, sued the family for damages on his behalf. He did
not strike me as being either old enough, or sufficiently gifted in the
arts of philandery, to be taken seriously as a professional
heart-breaker, and to tell the truth I had to restrain myself several
times from telling him that I thought the whole affair a tempest in a
teapot, because, in wanting consciously to marry two members of the
family, he had only attempted to do what I had done unconsciously when
I and the whole tribe of Talberts, remotely and immediately connected,
became one. Nevertheless, I addressed him coldly.

"Mr. Goward," I said, when the first greetings were over, "this is a
most unfortunate affair."

"It is terrible," he groaned, pacing the thin-carpeted floor like a
poor caged beast in the narrow confines of the Zoo. "You don't need to
tell me how unfortunate it all is."

"As a matter of fact," I went on, "I don't exactly recall a similar
case in my experience. You will doubtless admit yourself that it is a
bit unusual for a man even of your age to flirt with the maiden aunt of
his fiancee, and possibly you realize that we would all be very much
relieved if you could give us some reasonable explanation of your
conduct."

"I'll be only too glad to explain," said Goward, "if you will only
listen."

"In my own judgment the best solution of the tangle would be for you to
elope with a third party at your earliest convenience," I continued,
"but inasmuch as you have come here it is evident that you mean to
pursue some course of action in respect to one of the two ladies--my
sister or my aunt. Now what IS that course? and which of the two ladies
may we regard as the real object of your vagrom affections? I tell you
frankly, before you begin, that I shall permit no trifling with Peggy.
As to Aunt Elizabeth, she is quite able to take care of herself."

"It's--it's Peggy, of course," said Goward. "I admire Miss Elizabeth
Talbert very much indeed, but I never really thought of--being
seriously engaged to her."

"Ah!" said I, icily. "And did you think of being frivolously engaged to
her?"

"I not only thought of it," said Goward, "but I was. It was at the
Abercrombies', Mr. Price. Lily--that is to say, Aunt Elizabeth--"

"Excuse me, Mr. Goward," I interrupted. "As yet the lady is not your
Aunt Elizabeth, and the way things look now I have my doubts if she
ever is your Aunt Elizabeth."

"Miss Talbert, then," said Goward, with a heart-rending sigh. "Miss
Talbert and I were guests at the Abercrombies' last October--maybe
she's told you--and on Hallowe'en we had a party--apple-bobbing and the
mirror trick and all that, and somehow or other Miss Talbert and I were
thrown together a great deal, and before I really knew how, or why,
we--well, we became engaged for--for the week, anyhow."

"I see," said I, dryly. "You played the farce for a limited engagement."

"We joked about it a great deal, and I--well, I got into the spirit of
it--one must at house-parties, you know," said Goward, deprecatingly.

"I suppose so," said I.

"I got into the spirit of it, and Miss Talbert christened me Young
Lochinvar, Junior," Goward went on, "and I did my best to live up to
the title. Then at the end of the week I was suddenly called home, and
I didn't have any chance to see Miss Talbert alone before leaving,
and--well, the engagement wasn't broken off. That's all. I never saw
her again until I came here to meet the family. I didn't know she was
Peggy's aunt."

"So that in reality you WERE engaged to both Peggy and Miss Talbert at
the same time," I suggested. "That much seems to be admitted."

"I suppose so," groaned Goward. "But not seriously engaged, Mr. Price.
I didn't suppose she would think it was serious--just a lark--but when
she appeared that night and fixed me with her eye I suddenly realized
what had happened."

"It was another case of 'the woman tempted me and I did eat,' was it,
Goward?" I asked.

Goward's pale face Hushed, and he turned angrily.

"I haven't said anything of the sort," he retorted. "Of all the
unmanly, sneaking excuses that ever were offered for wrong-doing, that
first of Adam's has never been beaten."

"You evidently don't think that Adam was a gentleman," I put in, with a
feeling of relief at the boy's attitude toward my suggestion.

"Not according to my standards," he said, with warmth.

"Well," I ventured, "he hadn't had many opportunities, Adam hadn't. His
outlook was rather provincial, and his associations not broadening. You
wouldn't have been much better yourself brought up in a zoo.
Nevertheless, I don't think myself that he toed the mark as straight as
he might have."

"He was a coward," said Goward, with a positiveness born of conviction.
And with that remark Goward took his place in my affections. Whatever
the degree of his seeming offence, he was at least a gentleman himself,
and his unwillingness to place any part of the blame for his conduct
upon Aunt Elizabeth showed me that he was not a cad, and I began to
feel pretty confident that some reasonable way out of our troubles was
looming into sight.

"How old are you, Goward?" I asked.

"Twenty-one," he answered, "counting the years. If you count the last
week by the awful hours it has contained I am older than Methuselah."

At last I thought I had it, and a feeling of wrath against Aunt
Elizabeth began to surge up within me. It was another case of that
intolerable "only a boy" habit that so many women of uncertain age and
character, married and single, seem nowadays to find so much pleasure
in. We find it too often in our complex modern society, and I am not
sure that it is not responsible for more deviations from the path of
rectitude than even the offenders themselves imagine. Callow youth just
from college is susceptible to many kinds of flattery, and at the age
of adolescence the appeal which lovely woman makes to inexperience is
irresistible.

I know whereof I speak, for I have been there myself. I always tell
Maria everything that I conveniently can--it is not well for a man to
have secrets from his wife--and when I occasionally refer to my past
flames I find myself often growing more than pridefully loquacious over
my early affairs of the heart, but when I thought of the serious study
that I once made in my twentieth year of the dozen easiest, most
painless methods of committing suicide because Miss Mehitabel Flanders,
aetat thirty-eight, whom I had chosen for my life's companion, had
announced her intention of marrying old Colonel Barrington--one of the
wisest matches ever as I see it now--I drew the line at letting Maria
into that particular secret of my career. Miss Mehitabel was indeed a
beautiful woman, and she took a very deep and possibly maternal
interest in callow youth. She invited confidence and managed in many
ways to make a strong appeal to youthful affections, but I don't think
she was always careful to draw the line nicely between maternal love
and that other which is neither maternal, fraternal, paternal, nor even
filial. To my eye she was no older than I, and to my way of thinking
nothing could have been more eminently fitting than that we should walk
the Primrose Way hand in hand forever.

While I will not say that the fair Mehitabel trifled with my young
affections, I will say that she let me believe--nay, induced me to
believe by her manner--that even as I regarded her she regarded me, and
when at the end she disclaimed any intention to smash my heart into the
myriad atoms into which it flew--which have since most happily reunited
upon Maria--and asserted that she had let me play in the rose-garden of
my exuberant fancy because I was "only a boy," my bump upon the hard
world of fact was an atrociously hard one. Some women pour passer le
temps find pleasure in playing thus with young hopes and hearts as
carelessly as though they were mere tennis-balls, to be whacked about
and rallied, and volleyed hither and yon, without regard to their
constituent ingredients, and then when trouble comes, and a catastrophe
is imminent, the refuge of "only a boy" is sought as though it really
afforded a sufficient protection against "responsibility." The most of
us would regard the hopeless infatuation of a young girl committed to
our care, either as parents or as guardians, for a middle-aged man of
the world with such horror that drastic steps would be taken to stop
it, but we are not so careful of the love-affairs of our sons, and view
with complaisance their devotion to some blessed damozel of uncertain
age, comforting ourselves with the reflection that he is "only a boy"
and will outgrow it all in good time. (There's another mem. for my
legislative career--a Bill for the Protection of Boys, and the
Suppression of Old Maids Who Don't Mean Anything By It.)

I don't mean, in saying all this, to reflect in any way upon the many
helpful friendships that exist between youngsters developing into
manhood and their elders among women who are not related to them. There
have been thousands of such friendships, no doubt, that have worked for
the upbuilding of character; for the inspiring in the unfolding
consciousness of what life means in the young boy's being of a deeper,
more lasting, respect for womanhood than would have been attained to
under any other circumstances, but that has been the result only when
the woman has taken care to maintain her own dignity always, and to
regard her course as one wherein she has accepted a degree of
responsibility second only to a mother's, and not a by-path leading
merely to pleasure and for the idling away of an unoccupied hour.
Potential manhood is a difficult force to handle, and none should
embark upon the parlous enterprise of arousing it without due regard
for the consequences. We may not let loose a young lion from its leash,
and, when dire consequences follow, excuse ourselves on the score that
we thought the devastating feature was "only a cub."

These things flashed across my mind as I sat in Goward's room watching
the poor youth in his nerve-distracting struggles, and, when I thought
of the tangible evidence in hand against Aunt Elizabeth, I must confess
if I had been juryman sitting in judgment of the case I should have
convicted her of kidnapping without leaving the box. To begin with,
there was the case of Ned Temple. I haven't quite been able to get away
from the notion that however short-sighted and gauche poor Mrs.
Temple's performance was in going over to the Talberts' to make a scene
because of Aunt Elizabeth's attentions to Temple, she thought she was
justified in doing so, and Elizabeth's entire innocence in the
premises, in view of her record as a man-snatcher, has not been proven
to my satisfaction. Then there was that Lyman Wilde business, which I
never understood and haven't wanted to until they tried to mix poor
Lorraine up in it. Certain it is that Elizabeth and Wilde were victims
of an affair of the heart, but what Lorraine has had to do with it I
don't know, and I hope the whole matter will be dropped at least until
we have settled poor Peggy's affair. Then came Goward and this
complication, and through it all Elizabeth has had a weather-eye open
for Dr. Denbigh. A rather suggestive chain of evidence that, proving
that Elizabeth seems to regard all men as her own individual property.
As Mrs. Evarts says, she perks up even when Billie comes into the
room--or Mr. Talbert, either; and as for me--well, in the strictest
confidence, if Aunt Elizabeth hasn't tried to flirt even with me, then
I don't know what flirtation is, and there was a time--long before I
was married, of course--when I possessed certain well-developed gifts
in that line. I know this, that when I was first paying my addresses to
Maria, Aunt Elizabeth was staying at the Talberts' as usual, and Maria
and I had all we could do to get rid of her. She seemed to be possessed
with the idea that I came there every night to see her, and not a hint
in the whole category of polite intimations seemed capable of conveying
any other idea to her mind, although she showed at times that even a
chance remark fell upon heeding ears, for once when I observed that
pink was my favorite color, she blossomed out in it the next day and
met me looking like a peach-tree in full bloom, on Main Street as I
walked from my office up home. And while we are discussing other
people's weaknesses I may as well confess my own, and say that I was so
pleased at this unexpected revelation of interest in my tastes that
when I called that evening I felt vaguely disappointed to learn that
Aunt Elizabeth was dining out--and I was twenty-seven at the time, too,
and loved Maria into the bargain! And after the wedding, when we came
to say good-bye, and I kissed Aunt Elizabeth--I kissed everybody that
day in the hurry to get away, even the hired man at the door--and said,
"Good-bye, Aunty," she pouted and said she didn't like the title "a
little bit."

Now, of course, I wouldn't have anybody think that I think Aunt
Elizabeth was ever in love with me, but I mention these things to show
her general attitude toward members of the so-called stronger sex. The
chances are that she does not realize what she is doing, and assumes
this coy method with the whole masculine contingent as a matter of
thoughtless habit. What she wants to be to man I couldn't for the life
of me even guess--mother, sister, daughter, or general manager. But
that she does wish to grab every male being in sight, and attach them
to her train, is pretty evident to me, and I have no doubt that this is
what happened in poor Harry Goward's case. She has a bright way of
saying things, is unmistakably pretty, and has an unhappy knack of
making herself appear ten or fifteen years younger than she is if she
needs to. She is chameleonic as to age, and takes on always something
of the years of the particular man she is talking to. I saw her talking
to the dominie the other night, and a more spiritual-looking bit of
demure middle-aged piety you never saw in a nunnery, and the very next
day when she was conversing with young George Harris, a Freshman at
Yale, at the Barbers' reception, you'd have thought she was herself a
Vassar undergraduate. So there you are. With Goward she had assumed
that same youthful manner, and backed by all the power other
thirty-seven years of experience he was mere putty in her hands, and
she played with him and he lost, just as any other man, from St.
Anthony down to the boniest ossified man of to-day would have lost, and
it wasn't until he saw Peggy again and realized the difference between
the real thing and the spurious that he waked up.

With all these facts marshalled and flashing through my brain much more
rapidly than I can tell them, like the quick succession of pictures in
the cinematograph, I made up my mind to become Goward's friend in so
far as circumstances would permit. With Aunt Elizabeth out of the way
it seemed to me that we would find all plain sailing again, but how to
get rid other was the awful question. Poor Peggy could hardly be happy
with such a Richmond in the field, and nothing short of Elizabeth's
engagement to some other man would help matters any. She had been too
long unmarried, anyhow. Maiden aunthood is an unhappy estate, and grows
worse with habit. If I could only find Lyman Wilde and bring him back
to her, or, perhaps, Dr. Denbigh--that was the more immediate resource,
and surely no sacrifice should be too great for a family physician to
make for the welfare of his patients. Maria and I would invite Dr.
Denbigh to dinner and have Aunt Elizabeth as the only other guest. We
could leave them alone on some pretext or other after dinner, and leave
the rest to fate--aided and abetted by Elizabeth herself.

Meanwhile there was Goward still on my hands.

"Well, my boy," I said, patting him kindly on the shoulder, "I hardly
know what to say to you about this thing. You've got yourself in the
dickens of a box, but I don't mind telling you I think your heart is in
the right place, and, whatever has happened, I don't believe you have
intentionally done wrong. Maybe at your age you do not realize that it
is not safe to be engaged to two people at the same time, especially
when they belong to the same family. Scientific heart-breakers, as a
rule, take care that their fiancees are not only not related, but live
in different sections of the country, and as I have no liking for
preaching I shall not dwell further upon the subject."

"I think I realize my position keenly enough without putting you to the
trouble," said Goward, gazing gloomily out of the window.

"What I will say, however," said I, "is that I'll do all I can to help
you out of your trouble. As one son-in-law to another, eh?"

"You are very kind," said he, gripping me by the hand.

"I will go to Mrs. Talbert--she is the best one to talk to--first, and
tell her just what you have told me, and it is just possible that she
can explain it to Peggy," I went on.

"I--I think I could do that myself if I only had the chance," he said,
ruefully.

"Well, then--I'll try to make the chance. I won't promise that I will
make it, because I can't answer for anybody but myself. Some day you
will find out that women are peculiar. But what I can do I will," said
I. "And, furthermore, as the general attorney for the family I will
cross-examine Aunt Elizabeth--put her through the third degree, as it
were, and try to show her how foolish it is for her to make so serious
a matter of a trifling flirtation."

"I wouldn't, if I were you," said Goward, with a frown. "She needn't be
involved in the affair any more than she already is. She is not in the
least to blame."

"Nevertheless," said I, "she may be able to help us to an easy way
out--"

"She can't," said Goward, positively.

"Excuse me, Mr. Goward," said I, chilling a trifle in my newly acquired
friendliness, "but is there any real reason why I should not question
Miss Talbert--"

"Oh no, none at all," he hastened to reply. "Only I--I see no
particular object in vexing her further in a matter that must have
already annoyed her sufficiently. It is very good of you to take all
this trouble on my account, and I don't wish you to add further to your
difficulties, either," he added.

I appreciated his consideration, with certain reservations. However,
the latter were not of such character as to make me doubt the
advisability of standing his friend, and when we parted a few minutes
later I left him with the intention of becoming his advocate with Peggy
and her mother, and at the same time of having it out with Aunt
Elizabeth.

I was detained at my office by other matters, which our family troubles
had caused me to neglect, until supper-time, and then I returned to my
own home, expecting to have a little chat over the affair with Maria
before acquainting the rest of the family with my impressions of Goward
and his responsibility for our woe. Maria is always so full of good
ideas, but at half-past six she had not come in, and at six-forty-five
she 'phoned me that she was at her father's and would I not better go
there for tea. In the Talbert family a suggestion of that sort is the
equivalent of a royal command in Great Britain, and I at once proceeded
to accept it. As I was leaving the house, however, the thought flashed
across my mind that in my sympathy for Harry Goward I had neglected to
ask him the question I had sought him out to ask, "To whom was the
letter addressed?" So I returned to the 'phone, and ringing up the
Eagle Hotel, inquired for Mr. Goward.

"Mr. Goward!" came the answer.

"Yes," said I. "Mr. Henry Goward."

"Mr. Goward left for New York on the 5.40 train this afternoon," was
the reply.

The answer, so unexpected and unsettling to all my plans, stunned me
first and then angered me.

"Bah!" I cried, impatiently. "The little fool! An attack of cold feet,
I guess--he ought to spell his name with a C."

I hung up the receiver with a cold chill, for frankly I hated to go to
the Talberts' with the news. Moreover, it would be a humiliating
confession to make that I had forgotten to ask Goward about the letter,
when everybody knew that that was what I had called upon him for, and
when I thought of all the various expressions in the very expressive
Talbert eyes that would fix themselves upon me as I mumbled out my
confession, I would have given much to be well out of it. Nevertheless,
since there was no avoiding the ordeal, I resolved to face the music,
and five minutes later entered the dining-room at my father-in-law's
house with as stiff an upper lip as I could summon to my aid in the
brief time at my disposal. They were all seated at the table
already--supper is not a movable feast in that well-regulated
establishment--save Aunt Elizabeth. Her place was vacant.

"Sorry to be late," said I, after respectfully saluting my
mother-in-law, "but I couldn't help it. Things turned up at the last
minute and they had to be attended to. Where's Aunt Elizabeth?"

"She went to New York," said my mother-in-law, "on the 5.40 train."



VII. THE MARRIED SON

by Henry James

It's evidently a great thing in life to have got hold of a convenient
expression, and a sign of our inordinate habit of living by words. I
have sometimes flattered myself that I live less exclusively by them
than the people about me; paying with them, paying with them only, as
the phrase is (there I am at it, exactly, again!) rather less than my
companions, who, with the exception, perhaps, a little--sometimes!--of
poor Mother, succeed by their aid in keeping away from every truth, in
ignoring every reality, as comfortably as possible. Poor Mother, who is
worth all the rest of us put together, and is really worth two or three
of poor Father, deadly decent as I admit poor Father mainly to be,
sometimes meets me with a look, in some connection, suggesting that,
deep within, she dimly understands, and would really understand a
little better if she weren't afraid to: for, like all of us, she lives
surrounded by the black forest of the "facts of life" very much as the
people in the heart of Africa live in their dense wilderness of
nocturnal terrors, the mysteries and monstrosities that make them seal
themselves up in the huts as soon as it gets dark. She, quite exquisite
little Mother, would often understand, I believe, if she dared, if she
knew how to dare; and the vague, dumb interchange then taking place
between us, and from the silence of which we have never for an instant
deviated, represents perhaps her wonder as to whether I mayn't on some
great occasion show her how.

The difficulty is that, alas, mere intelligent useless wretch as I am,
I've never hitherto been sure of knowing how myself; for am I too not
as steeped in fears as any of them? My fears, mostly, are different,
and of different dangers--also I hate having them, whereas they love
them and hug them to their hearts; but the fact remains that, save in
this private precinct of my overflow, which contains, under a strong
little brass lock, several bad words and many good resolutions, I have
never either said or done a bold thing in my life. What I seem always
to feel, doubtless cravenly enough, under her almost pathetic appeal,
has been that it isn't yet the occasion, the really good and right one,
for breaking out; than which nothing could more resemble of course the
inveterate argument of the helpless. ANY occasion is good enough for
the helpful; since there's never any that hasn't weak sides for their
own strength to make up. However, if there COULD be conceivably a good
one, I'll be hanged if I don't seem to see it gather now, and if I
sha'n't write myself here "poor" Charles Edward in all truth by failing
to take advantage of it, (They have in fact, I should note, one
superiority of courage to my own: this habit of their so constantly
casting up my poverty at me--poverty of character, of course I mean,
for they don't, to do them justice, taunt me with having "made" so
little. They don't, I admit, take their lives in their hands when they
perform that act; the proposition itself being that I haven't the
spirit of a fished-out fly.)

My point is, at any rate, that I designate THEM as Poor only in the
abysmal confidence of these occult pages: into which I really believe
even my poor wife--for it's universal!--has never succeeded in peeping.
It will be a shock to me if I some day find she has so far
adventured--and this not on account of the curiosity felt or the
liberty taken, but on account of her having successfully disguised it.
She knows I keep an intermittent diary--I've confessed to her it's the
way in which I work things in general, my feelings and impatiences and
difficulties, off. It's the way I work off my nerves--that luxury in
which poor Charles Edward's natural narrow means--narrow so far as ever
acknowledged--don't permit him to indulge. No one for a moment suspects
I have any nerves, and least of all what they themselves do to them; no
one, that is, but poor little Mother again--who, however, again, in her
way, all timorously and tenderly, has never mentioned it: any more than
she has ever mentioned her own, which she would think quite indecent.
This is precisely one of the things that, while it passes between us as
a mute assurance, makes me feel myself more than the others verily HER
child: more even than poor little Peg at the present strained juncture.

But what I was going to say above all is that I don't care that poor
Lorraine--since that's my wife's inimitable name, which I feel every
time I write it I must apologize even to myself for!--should quite
discover the moments at which, first and last, I've worked HER off. Yet
I've made no secret of my cultivating it as a resource that helps me to
hold out; this idea of our "holding out," separately and together,
having become for us--and quite comically, as I see--the very basis of
life. What does it mean, and how and why and to what end are we
holding? I ask myself that even while I feel how much we achieve even
by just hugging each other over the general intensity of it. This is
what I have in mind as to our living to that extent by the vain phrase;
as to our really from time to time winding ourselves up by the use of
it, and winding each other. What should we do if we didn't hold out,
and of what romantic, dramatic, or simply perhaps quite prosaic,
collapse would giving in, in contradistinction, consist for us? We
haven't in the least formulated that--though it perhaps may but be one
of the thousand things we are afraid of.

At any rate we don't, I think, ever so much as ask ourselves, and much
less each other: we're so quite sufficiently sustained and inflamed by
the sense that we're just doing it, and that in the sublime effort our
union is our strength. There must be something in it, for the more
intense we make the consciousness--and haven't we brought it to as fine
a point as our frequently triumphant partnership at bridge?--the more
it positively does support us. Poor Lorraine doesn't really at all need
to understand in order to believe; she believes that, failing our
exquisite and intimate combined effort of resistance, we should be
capable together of something--well, "desperate." It's in fact in this
beautiful desperation that we spend our days, that we face the pretty
grim prospect of new ones, that we go and come and talk and pretend,
that we consort, so far as in our deep-dyed hypocrisy we do consort,
with the rest of the Family, that we have Sunday supper with the
Parents and emerge, modestly yet virtuously shining, from the ordeal;
that we put in our daily appearance at the Works--for a utility
nowadays so vague that I'm fully aware (Lorraine isn't so much) of the
deep amusement I excite there, though I also recognize how wonderfully,
how quite charitably, they manage not to break out with it: bless, for
the most part, their dear simple hearts! It is in this privately
exalted way that we bear in short the burden of our obloquy, our
failure, our resignation, our sacrifice of what we should have liked,
even if it be a matter we scarce dare to so much as name to each other;
and above all of our insufferable reputation for an abject meekness.
We're really not meek a bit--we're secretly quite ferocious; but we're
held to be ashamed of ourselves not only for our proved business
incompetence, but for our lack of first-rate artistic power as well: it
being now definitely on record that we've never yet designed a single
type of ice-pitcher--since that's the damnable form Father's production
more and more runs to; his uncanny ideal is to turn out more
ice-pitchers than any firm in the world--that has "taken" with their
awful public. We've tried again and again to strike off something
hideous enough, but it has always in these cases appeared to us quite
beautiful compared to the object finally turned out, on their improved
lines, for the unspeakable market; so that we've only been able to be
publicly rueful and depressed about it, and to plead practically, in
extenuation of all the extra trouble we saddle them with, that such
things are, alas, the worst we can do.

We so far succeed in our plea that we're held at least to sit, as I
say, in contrition, and to understand how little, when it comes to a
reckoning, we really pay our way. This actually passes, I think for the
main basis of our humility, as it's certainly the basis of what I feel
to be poor Mother's unuttered yearning. It almost broke her heart that
we SHOULD have to live in such shame--she has only got so far as that
yet. But it's a beginning; and I seem to make out that if I don't spoil
it by any wrong word, if I don't in fact break the spell by any wrong
breath, she'll probably come on further. It will glimmer upon her--some
day when she looks at me in her uncomfortable bewildered tenderness,
and I almost hypnotize her by just smiling inscrutably back--that she
isn't getting all the moral benefit she somehow ought out of my being
so pathetically wrong; and then she'll begin to wonder and wonder, all
to herself, if there mayn't be something to be said for me. She has
limped along, in her more or less dissimulated pain, on this apparently
firm ground that I'm so wrong that nothing will do for either of us but
a sweet, solemn, tactful agreement between us never to mention it. It
falls in so richly with all the other things, all the "real" things, we
never mention.

Well, it's doubtless an odd fact to be setting down even here; but I
SHALL be sorry for her on the day when her glimmer, as I have called
it, broadens--when it breaks on her that if I'm as wrong as this comes
to, why the others must be actively and absolutely right. She has never
had to take it quite THAT way--so women, even mothers, wondrously get
on; and heaven help her, as I say, when she shall. She'll be
immense--"tactfully" immense, with Father about it--she'll manage that,
for herself and for him, all right; but where the iron will enter into
her will be at the thought of her having for so long given raison, as
they say in Paris--or as poor Lorraine at least says they say--to a
couple like Maria and Tom Price. It comes over her that she has taken
it largely from THEM (and she HAS) that we're living in immorality,
Lorraine and I: ah THEN, poor dear little Mother--! Upon my word I
believe I'd go on lying low to this positive pitch of grovelling--and
Lorraine, charming, absurd creature, would back me up in it too--in
order precisely to save Mother such a revulsion. It will be really more
trouble than it will be worth to her; since it isn't as if our relation
weren't, of its kind, just as we are, about as "dear" as it can be.

I'd literally much rather help her not to see than to see; I'd much
rather help her to get on with the others (yes, even including poor
Father, the fine damp plaster of whose composition, renewed from week
to week, can't be touched anywhere without letting your finger in,
without peril of its coming to pieces) in the way easiest for her--if
not easiest TO her. She couldn't live with the others an hour--no, not
with one of them, unless with poor little Peg--save by accepting all
their premises, save by making in other words all the concessions and
having all the imagination. I ask from her nothing of this--I do the
whole thing with her, as she has to do it with them; and of this, au
fond, as Lorraine again says, she is ever so subtly aware--just as, FOR
it, she's ever so dumbly grateful. Let these notes stand at any rate
for my fond fancy of that, and write it here to my credit in letters as
big and black as the tearful alphabet of my childhood; let them do this
even if everything else registers meaner things. I'm perfectly willing
to recognize, as grovellingly as any one likes, that, as grown-up and
as married and as preoccupied and as disillusioned, or at least as
battered and seasoned (by adversity) as possible, I'm in respect to HER
as achingly filial and as feelingly dependent, all the time, as when I
used, in the far-off years, to wake up, a small blubbering idiot, from
frightening dreams, and refuse to go to sleep again, in the dark, till
I clutched her hands or her dress and felt her bend over me.

She used to protect me then from domestic derision--for she somehow
kept such passages quiet; but she can't (it's where HER ache comes in!)
protect me now from a more insidious kind. Well, now I don't care! I
feel it in Maria and Tom, constantly, who offer themselves as the
pattern of success in comparison with which poor Lorraine and I are
nowhere. I don't say they do it with malice prepense, or that they plot
against us to our ruin; the thing operates rather as an extraordinary
effect of their mere successful blatancy. They're blatant, truly, in
the superlative degree, and I call them successfully so for just this
reason, that poor Mother is to all appearance perfectly unaware of it.
Maria is the one member of all her circle that has got her really, not
only just ostensibly, into training; and it's a part of the general
irony of fate that neither she nor my terrible sister herself
recognizes the truth of this. The others, even to poor Father, think
they manage and manipulate her, and she can afford to let them think
it, ridiculously, since they don't come anywhere near it. She knows
they don't and is easy with them; playing over Father in especial with
finger-tips so lightly resting and yet so effectively tickling, that he
has never known at a given moment either where they were or, in the
least, what they were doing to him. That's enough for Mother, who keeps
by it the freedom other soul; yet whose fundamental humility comes out
in its being so hidden from her that her eldest daughter, to whom she
allows the benefit of every doubt, does damnably boss her.

This is the one case in which she's not lucid; and, to make it perfect,
Maria, whose humility is neither fundamental nor superficial, but whose
avidity is both, comfortably cherishes, as a ground of
complaint--nurses in fact, beatifically, as a wrong--the belief that
she's the one person without influence. Influence?--why she has so much
on ME that she absolutely coerces me into making here these dark and
dreadful remarks about her! Let my record establish, in this fashion,
that if I'm a clinging son I'm, in that quarter, to make up for it, a
detached brother. Deadly virtuous and deadly hard and deadly
charmless--also, more than anything, deadly sure I--how does Maria fit
on, by consanguinity, to such amiable characters, such REAL social
values, as Mother and me at all? If that question ceases to matter,
sometimes, during the week, it flares up, on the other hand, at Sunday
supper, down the street, where Tom and his wife, overwhelmingly
cheerful and facetious, contrast so favorably with poor gentle sickly
(as we doubtless appear) Lorraine and me. We can't meet them--that is I
can't meet Tom--on that ground, the furious football-field to which he
reduces conversation, making it echo as with the roar of the arena--one
little bit.

Of course, with such deep diversity of feeling, we simply loathe each
other, he and I; but the sad thing is that we get no good of it, none
of the TRUE joy of life, the joy of our passions and perceptions and
desires, by reason of our awful predetermined geniality and the strange
abysmal necessity of our having so eternally to put up with each other.
If we could intermit that vain superstition somehow, for about three
minutes, I often think the air might clear (as by the scramble of the
game of General Post, or whatever they call it) and we should all get
out of our wrong corners and find ourselves in our right, glaring from
these positions a happy and natural defiance. Then I shouldn't be thus
nominally and pretendedly (it's too ignoble!) on the same side or in
the same air as my brother-in-law; whose value is that he has thirty
"business ideas" a day, while I shall never have had the thirtieth
fraction of one in my whole life. He just hums, Tom Price, with
business ideas, whereas I just gape with the impossibility of them; he
moves in the densest we carry our heads here on August evenings, each
with its own thick nimbus of mosquitoes. I'm but too conscious of how,
on the other hand, I'm desolately outlined to all eyes, in an air as
pure and empty as that of a fine Polar sunset.

It was Lorraine, dear quaint thing, who some time ago made the remark
(on our leaving one of those weekly banquets at which we figure
positively as a pair of social skeletons) that Tom's facetae multiply,
evidently, in direct proportion to his wealth of business ideas; so
that whenever he's enormously funny we may take it that he's "on"
something tremendous. He's sprightly in proportion as he's in earnest,
and innocent in proportion as he's going to be dangerous; dangerous, I
mean, to the competitor and the victim. Indeed when I reflect that his
jokes are probably each going to cost certain people, wretched helpless
people like myself, hundreds and thousands of dollars, their abundant
flow affects me as one of the most lurid of exhibitions. I've sometimes
rather wondered that Father can stand so much of him. Father who has
after all a sharp nerve or two in him, like a razor gone astray in a
valise of thick Jager underclothing; though of course Maria, pulling
with Tom shoulder to shoulder, would like to see any one NOT stand her
husband.

The explanation has struck me as, mostly, that business genial and
cheerful and even obstreperous, without detriment to its BEING
business, has been poor Father's ideal for his own terrible kind. This
ideal is, further, that his home-life shall attest that prosperity. I
think it has even been his conception that our family tone shall by its
sweet innocence fairly register the pace at which the Works keep ahead:
so that he has the pleasure of feeling us as funny and slangy here as
people can only be who have had the best of the bargains other people
are having occasion to rue. We of course don't know--that is Mother and
Grandmamma don't, in any definite way (any more than I do, thanks to my
careful stupidity) how exceeding small some of the material is
consciously ground in the great grim, thrifty mill of industrial
success; and indeed we grow about as many cheap illusions and easy
comforts in the faintly fenced garden of our little life as could very
well be crammed into the space.

Poor Grandmamma--since I've mentioned her--appears to me always the
aged wan Flora of our paradise; the presiding divinity, seated in the
centre, under whose pious traditions, REALLY quite dim and outlived,
our fond sacrifices are offered. Queer enough the superstition that
Granny is a very solid and strenuous and rather grim person, with a
capacity for facing the world, that we, a relaxed generation, have
weakly lost. She knows as much about the world as a tin jelly-mould
knows about the dinner, and is the oddest mixture of brooding anxieties
over things that don't in the least matter and of bland failure to
suspect things that intensely do. She lives in short in a weird little
waste of words--over the moral earnestness we none of us cultivate; yet
hasn't a notion of any effective earnestness herself except on the
subject of empty bottles, which have, it would appear, noble neglected
uses. At this time of day it doesn't matter, but if there could have
been dropped into her empty bottles, at an earlier stage, something to
strengthen a little any wine of life they were likely to contain, she
wouldn't have figured so as the head and front of all our
sentimentality.

I judge it, for that matter, a proof of our flat "modernity" in this
order that the scant starch holding her together is felt to give her
among us this antique and austere consistency. I don't talk things over
with Lorraine for nothing, and she does keep for me the flashes of
perception we neither of us waste on the others. It's the "antiquity of
the age of crinoline," she said the other day a propos of a little
carte-de-visite photograph of my ancestress as a young woman of the
time of the War; looking as if she had been violently inflated from
below, but had succeeded in resisting at any cost, and with a strange
intensity of expression, from her waist up. Mother, however, I must
say, is as wonderful about her as about everything else, and arranges
herself, exactly, to appear a mere contemporary illustration (being all
the while three times the true picture) in order that her parent shall
have the importance of the Family Portrait. I don't mean of course that
she has told me so; but she cannot see that if she hasn't that
importance Granny has none other; and it's therefore as if she
pretended she had a ruff, a stomacher, a farthingale and all the
rest--grand old angles and eccentricities and fine absurdities: the
hard white face, if necessary, of one who has seen witches burned.

She hasn't any more than any one else among us a gleam of fine
absurdity: that's a product that seems unable, for the life of it, and
though so indispensable (say) for literary material, to grow here; but,
exquisitely determined she shall have Character lest she perish--while
it's assumed we still need her--Mother makes it up for her, with a turn
of the hand, out of bits left over from her own, far from economically
as her own was originally planned; scraps of spiritual silk and velvet
that no one takes notice of missing. And Granny, as in the dignity of
her legend, imposes, ridiculous old woman, on every one--Granny passes
for one of the finest old figures in the place, while Mother is never
discovered. So is history always written, and so is truth mostly
worshipped. There's indeed one thing, I'll do her the justice to say,
as to which she has a glimmer of vision--as to which she had it a
couple of years ago; I was thoroughly with her in her deprecation of
the idea that Peggy should be sent, to crown her culture, to that
horrid co-educative college from which the poor child returned the
other day so preposterously engaged to be married; and, if she had only
been a little more actively with me we might perhaps between us have
done something about it. But she has a way of deprecating with her
long, knobby, mittened hand over her mouth, and of looking at the same
time, in a mysterious manner, down into one of the angles of the
room--it reduces her protest to a feebleness: she's incapable of seeing
in it herself more than a fraction of what it has for her, and really
thinks it would be wicked and abandoned, would savor of Criticism,
which is the cardinal sin with her, to see all, or to follow any
premise to it in the right direction.

Still, there was the happy chance, at the time the question came up,
that she had retained, on the subject of promiscuous colleges, the
mistrust of the age of crinoline: as to which in fact that little old
photograph, with its balloon petticoat and its astonishingly flat,
stiff "torso," might have imaged some failure of the attempt to blow
the heresy into her. The true inwardness of the history, at the crisis,
was that our fell Maria had made up her mind that Peg should go--and
that, as I have noted, the thing our fell Maria makes up her mind to
among us is in nine cases out of ten the thing that is done. Maria
still takes, in spite of her partial removal to a wider sphere, the
most insidious interest in us, and the beauty of her affectionate
concern for the welfare of her younger sisters is the theme of every
tongue. She observed to Lorraine, in a moment of rare expansion, more
than a year ago, that she had got their two futures perfectly fixed,
and that as Peggy appeared to have "some mind," though how much she
wasn't yet sure, it should be developed, what there was of it, on the
highest modern lines: Peggy would never be thought generally, that is
physically, attractive anyway. She would see about Alice, the brat,
later on, though meantime she had her idea--the idea that Alice was
really going to have the looks and would at a given moment break out
into beauty: in which event she should be run for that, and for all it
might be worth, and she, Maria, would be ready to take the contract.

This is the kind of patronage of us that passes, I believe, among her
more particular intimates, for "so sweet" of her; it being of course
Maria all over to think herself subtle for just reversing, with a
"There--see how original I am?" any benighted conviction usually
entertained. I don't know that any one has ever thought Alice, the
brat, intellectual; but certainly no one has ever judged her even
potentially handsome, in the light of no matter which of those
staggering girl-processes that suddenly produce features, in flat
faces, and "figure," in the void of space, as a conjurer pulls rabbits
out of a sheet of paper and yards of ribbon out of nothing. Moreover,
if any one SHOULD know, Lorraine and I, with our trained sense for form
and for "values," certainly would. However, it doesn't matter; the
whole thing being but a bit of Maria's system of bluffing in order to
boss. Peggy hasn't more than the brain, in proportion to the rest of
her, of a small swelling dove on a window-sill; but she's extremely
pretty and absolutely nice, a little rounded pink-billed presence that
pecks up gratefully any grain of appreciation.

I said to Mother, I remember, at the time--I took that plunge: "I hope
to goodness you're not going to pitch that defenceless child into any
such bear garden!" and she replied that to make a bear-garden you first
had to have bears, and she didn't suppose the co-educative young men
could be so described. "Well then," said I, "would you rather I should
call them donkeys, or even monkeys? What I mean is that the poor
girl--a perfect little DECORATIVE person, who ought to have
iridescent-gray plumage and pink-shod feet to match the rest of her
--shouldn't be thrust into any general menagerie-cage, but be kept for
the dovecote and the garden, kept where we may still hear her coo.
That's what, at college, they'll make her unlearn; she'll learn to roar
and snarl with the other animals. Think of the vocal sounds with which
she may come back to us!" Mother appeared to think, but asked me, after
a moment, as a result of it, in which of the cages of the New York Art
League menagerie, and among what sort of sounds, I had found
Lorraine--who was a product of co-education if there ever had been one,
just as our marriage itself had been such a product.

I replied to this--well, what I could easily reply; but I asked, I
recollect, in the very forefront, if she were sending Peg to college to
get married. She declared it was the last thing she was in a hurry
about, and that she believed there was no danger, but her great
argument let the cat out of the bag. "Maria feels the want of it--of a
college education; she feels it would have given her more confidence";
and I shall in fact never forget the little look of strange
supplication that she gave me with these words. What it meant was: "Now
don't ask me to go into the question, for the moment, any further: it's
in the acute stage--and you know how soon Maria can BRING a question to
a head. She has settled it with your Father--in other words has settled
it FOR him: settled it in the sense that we didn't give HER, at the
right time, the advantage she ought to have had. It would have given
her confidence--from the want of which, acquired at that age, she feels
she so suffers; and your Father thinks it fine of her to urge that her
little sister shall profit by her warning. Nothing works on him, you
know, so much as to hear it hinted that we've failed of our duty to any
of you; and you can see how it must work when he can be persuaded that
Maria--!"

"Hasn't colossal cheek?"--I took the words out of her mouth. "With such
colossal cheek what NEED have you of confidence, which is such an
inferior form--?"

The long and short was of course that Peggy went; believing on her
side, poor dear, that it might for future relations give her the pull
of Maria. This represents, really, I think, the one spark of guile in
Peggy's breast: the smart of a small grievance suffered at her sister's
hands in the dim long-ago. Maria slapped her face, or ate up her
chocolates, or smeared her copy-book, or something of that sort; and
the sound of the slap still reverberates in Peg's consciousness, the
missed sweetness still haunts her palate, the smutch of the fair page
(Peg writes an immaculate little hand and Maria a wretched one--the
only thing she can't swagger about) still affronts her sight. Maria
also, to do her justice, has a vague hankering, under which she has
always been restive, to make up for the outrage; and the form the
compunction now takes is to get her away. It's one of the facts of our
situation all round, I may thus add, that every one wants to get some
one else away, and that there are indeed one or two of us upon whom, to
that end, could the conspiracy only be occult enough--which it can
never!--all the rest would effectively concentrate.

Father would like to shunt Granny--it IS monstrous his having his
mother-in-law a fixture under his roof; though, after all, I'm not sure
this patience doesn't rank for him as one of those domestic genialities
that allow his conscience a bolder and tighter business hand; a curious
service, this sort of thing, I note, rendered to the business
conscience throughout our community. Mother, at any rate, and small
blame to her, would like to "shoo" off Eliza, as Lorraine and I, in our
deepest privacy, call Aunt Elizabeth; the Tom Prices would like to
extirpate US, of course; we would give our most immediate jewel to
clear the sky of the Tom Prices; und so weiter. And I think we should
really all band together, for once in our lives, in an unnatural
alliance to get rid of Eliza. The beauty as to THIS is, moreover, that
I make out the rich if dim, dawn of that last-named possibility (which
I've been secretly invoking, all this year, for poor Mother's sake);
and as the act of mine own right hand, moreover, without other human
help. But of that anon; the IMMEDIATELY striking thing being meanwhile
again the strange stultification of the passions in us, which prevents
anything ever from coming to an admitted and avowed head.

Maria can be trusted, as I have said, to bring on the small crisis,
every time; but she's as afraid as any one else of the great one, and
she's moreover, I write it with rapture, afraid of Eliza. Eliza is the
one person in our whole community she does fear--and for reasons I
perfectly grasp; to which moreover, this extraordinary oddity attaches,
that I positively feel I don't fear Eliza in the least (and in fact
promise myself before long to show it) and yet don't at all avail by
that show of my indifference to danger to inspire my sister with the
least terror in respect to myself. It's very funny, the DEGREE of her
dread of Eliza, who affects her, evidently, as a person of lurid
"worldly" possibilities--the one innocent light in which poor Maria
wears for me what Lorraine calls a weird pathos; and perhaps, after
all, on the day I shall have justified my futile passage across this
agitated scene, and my questionable utility here below every way, by
converting our aunt's lively presence into a lively absence, it may
come over her that I AM to be recognized. I in fact dream at times,
with high intensity, that I see the Prices some day quite turn pale as
they look at each other and find themselves taking me in.

I've made up my mind at any rate that poor Mother shall within the year
be relieved in one way or another of her constant liability to her
sister-in-law's visitations. It isn't to be endured that her house
should be so little her own house as I've known Granny and Eliza,
between them, though after a different fashion, succeed in making it
appear; and yet the action to take will, I perfectly see, never by any
possibility come from poor Father. He accepts his sister's perpetual
re-arrivals, under the law of her own convenience, with a broad-backed
serenity which I find distinctly irritating (if I may use the impious
expression) and which makes me ask myself how he sees poor Mother's
"position" at all. The truth is poor Father never does "see" anything
of that sort, in the sense of conceiving it in its relations; he
doesn't know, I guess, but what the prowling Eliza HAS a position
(since this is a superstition that I observe even my acute little
Lorraine can't quite shake off). He takes refuge about it, as about
everything, truly, in the cheerful vagueness of that general
consciousness on which I have already touched: he likes to come home
from the Works every day to see how good he really is, after all--and
it's what poor Mother thus has to demonstrate for him by translating
his benevolence, translating it to himself and to others, into
"housekeeping." If he were only good to HER he mightn't be good enough;
but the more we pig together round about him the more blandly
patriarchal we make him feel.

Eliza meanwhile, at any rate, is spoiling for a dose--if ever a woman
required one; and I seem already to feel in the air the gathering
elements of the occasion that awaits me for administering it. All of
which it is a comfort somehow to maunder away on here. As I read over
what I have written the aspects of our situation multiply so in fact
that I note again how one has only to look at any human thing very
straight (that is with the minimum of intelligence) to see it shine out
in as many aspects as the hues of the prism; or place itself, in other
words, in relations that positively stop nowhere. I've often thought I
should like some day to write a novel; but what would become of me in
that case--delivered over, I mean, before my subject, to my extravagant
sense that everything is a part of something else? When you paint a
picture with a brush and pigments, that is on a single plane, it can
stop at your gilt frame; but when you paint one with a pen and words,
that is in ALL the dimensions, how are you to stop? Of course, as
Lorraine says, "Stopping, that's art; and what are we artists like, my
dear, but those drivers of trolley-cars, in New York, who, by some
divine instinct, recognize in the forest of pillars and posts the
white-striped columns at which they may pull up? Yes, we're drivers of
trolley-cars charged with electric force and prepared to go any
distance from which the consideration of a probable smash ahead doesn't
deter us."

That consideration deters me doubtless even a little here--in spite of
my seeing the track, to the next bend, so temptingly clear. I should
like to note for instance, for my own satisfaction (though no fellow,
thank God, was ever less a prey to the ignoble fear of inconsistency)
that poor Mother's impugnment of my acquisition of Lorraine didn't in
the least disconcert me. I did pick Lorraine--then a little bleating
stray lamb collared with a blue ribbon and a tinkling silver bell--out
of our New York bear-garden; but it interests me awfully to recognize
that, whereas the kind of association is one I hate for my small
Philistine sister, who probably has the makings of a nice, dull,
dressed, amiable, insignificant woman, I recognize it perfectly as
Lorraine's native element and my own; or at least don't at all mind her
having been dipped in it. It has tempered and plated us for the rest of
life, and to an effect different enough from the awful metallic wash of
our Company's admired ice-pitchers. We artists are at the best children
of despair--a certain divine despair, as Lorraine naturally says; and
what jollier place for laying it in abundantly than the Art League? As
for Peg, however, I won't hear of her having anything to do with this;
she shall despair of nothing worse than the "hang" of her skirt or the
moderation other hat--and not often, if I can help her, even of those.

That small vow I'm glad to register here: it helps somehow, at the
juncture I seem to feel rapidly approaching, to do the indispensable
thing Lorraine is always talking about--to define my position. She's
always insisting that we've never sufficiently defined it--as if I've
ever for a moment pretended we have! We've REfined it, to the last
intensity--and of course, now, shall have to do so still more; which
will leave them all even more bewildered than the boldest definition
would have done. But that's quite a different thing. The furthest we
have gone in the way of definition--unless indeed this too belongs but
to our invincible tendency to refine--is by the happy rule we've made
that Lorraine shall walk with me every morning to the Works, and I
shall find her there when I come out to walk home with me. I see, on
reading over, that this is what I meant by "our" in speaking above of
our little daily heroism in that direction. The heroism is easier, and
becomes quite sweet, I find, when she comes so far on the way with me
and when we linger outside for a little more last talk before I go in.

It's the drollest thing in the world, and really the most precious note
of the mystic influence known in the place as "the force of public
opinion"--which is in other words but the incubus of small domestic
conformity; I really believe there's nothing we do, or don't do, that
excites in the bosom of our circle a subtler sense that we're "au fond"
uncanny. And it's amusing to think that this is our sole tiny touch of
independence! That she should come forth with me at those hours, that
she should hang about with me, and that we should have last (and, when
she meets me again, first) small sweet things to say to each other, as
if we were figures in a chromo or a tableau vwant keeping our tryst at
a stile--no, this, quite inexplicably, transcends their scheme and
baffles their imagination. They can't conceive how or why Lorraine gets
out, or should wish to, at such hours; there's a feeling that she must
violate every domestic duty to do it; yes, at bottom, really, the act
wears for them, I discern, an insidious immorality, and it wouldn't
take much to bring "public opinion" down on us in some scandalized way.

The funniest thing of all, moreover, is that that effect resides
largely in our being husband and wife--it would be absent, wholly, if
we were engaged or lovers; a publicly parading gentleman friend and
lady friend. What is it we CAN have to say to each other, in that
exclusive manner, so particularly, so frequently, so flagrantly, and as
if we hadn't chances enough at home? I see it's a thing Mother might
accidentally do with Father, or Maria with Tom Price; but I can imagine
the shouts of hilarity, the resounding public comedy, with which Tom
and Maria would separate; and also how scantly poor little Mother would
permit herself with poor big Father any appearance of a grave
leave-taking. I've quite expected her--yes, literally poor little
Mother herself--to ask me, a bit anxiously, any time these six months,
what it is that at such extraordinary moments passes between us. So
much, at any rate, for the truth of this cluster of documentary
impressions, to which there may some day attach the value as of a
direct contemporary record of strange and remote things, so much I here
super-add; and verily with regret, as well, on behalf of my picture,
for two or three other touches from which I must forbear.

There has lately turned up, on our scene, one person with whom, doors
and windows closed, curtains drawn, secrecy sworn, the whole town
asleep and something amber-colored a-brewing--there has recently joined
us one person, I say, with whom we might really pass the time of day,
to whom we might, after due deliberation, tip the wink. I allude to the
Parents' new neighbor, the odd fellow Temple, who, for reasons
mysterious and which his ostensible undertaking of the native newspaper
don't at all make plausible, has elected, as they say, fondly to
sojourn among us. A journalist, a rolling stone, a man who has seen
other life, how can one not suspect him of some deeper game than he
avows--some such studious, surreptitious, "sociological" intent as
alone, it would seem, could sustain him through the practice of leaning
on his fence at eventide to converse for long periods with poor Father?
Poor Father indeed, if a real remorseless sociologist were once to get
well hold of him! Lorraine freely maintains that there's more in the
Temples than meets the eye; that they're up to something, at least that
HE is, that he kind of feels us in the air, just as we feel him, and
that he would sort of reach out to us, by the same token, if we would
in any way give the first sign. This, however, Lorraine contends, his
wife won't let him do; his wife, according to mine, is quite a
different proposition (much more REALLY hatted and gloved, she notes,
than any one here, even than the belted and trinketed Eliza) and with a
conviction of her own as to what their stay is going to amount to. On
the basis of Lorraine's similar conviction about ours it would seem
then that we ought to meet for an esoteric revel; yet somehow it
doesn't come off. Sometimes I think I'm quite wrong and that he can't
really be a child of light: we should in this case either have seen him
collapse or have discovered what inwardly sustains him. We ARE
ourselves inwardly collapsing--there's no doubt of that: in spite of
the central fires, as Lorraine says somebody in Boston used to say
somebody said, from which we're fed. From what central fires is Temple
nourished? I give it up; for, on the point, again and again, of
desperately stopping him in the street to ask him, I recoil as often in
terror. He may be only plotting to MAKE me do it--so that he may give
me away in his paper!

"Remember, he's a mere little frisking prize ass; stick to that, cling
to it, make it your answer to everything: it's all you now know and all
you need to know, and you'll be as firm on it as on a rock!" This is
what I said to poor Peg, on the subject of Harry Goward, before I
started, in the glorious impulse of the moment, five nights ago, for
New York; and, with no moment now to spare, yet wishing not to lose my
small silver clue, I just put it here for one of the white pebbles, or
whatever they were, that Hop o' my Thumb, carried off to the forest,
dropped, as he went, to know his way back. I was carried off the other
evening in a whirlwind, which has not even yet quite gone down, though
I am now at home and recovering my breath; and it will interest me
vividly, when I have more freedom of mind, to live over again these
strange, these wild successions. But a few rude notes, and only of the
first few hours of my adventure, must for the present suffice. The mot,
of the whole thing, as Lorraine calls it, was that at last, in a flash,
we recognized what we had so long been wondering about--what supreme
advantage we've been, all this latter time in particular, "holding out"
for.

Lorraine had put it once again in her happy way only a few weeks
previous; we were "saving up," she said--and not meaning at all our
poor scant dollars and cents, though we've also kept hold of some of
THEM--for an exercise of strength and a show of character that would
make us of a sudden some unmistakable sign. We should just meet it
rounding a corner as with the rush of an automobile--a chariot of fire
that would stop but long enough to take us in, when we should know it
immediately for the vehicle of our fate. That conviction had somehow
been with us, and I had really heard our hour begin to strike on Peg's
coming back to us from her co-educative adventure so preposterously
"engaged." I didn't believe in it, in such a manner of becoming so, one
little bit, and I took on myself to hate the same; though that indeed
seemed the last thing to trouble any one else. Her turning up in such a
fashion with the whole thing settled before Father or Mother or Maria
or any of us had so much as heard of the young man, much less seen the
tip of his nose, had too much in common, for my taste, with the rude
betrothals of the people, with some maid-servant's announcement to her
employer that she has exchanged vows with the butcher-boy.

I was indignant, quite artlessly indignant I fear, with the college
authorities, barbarously irresponsible, as it struck me; for when I
broke out about them to poor Mother she surprised me (though I confess
she had sometimes surprised me before), by her deep fatalism. "Oh, I
suppose they don't pretend not to take their students at the young
people's own risk: they can scarcely pretend to control their
affections!" she wonderfully said; she seemed almost shocked, moreover,
that I could impute either to Father or to herself any disposition to
control Peggy's. It was one of the few occasions of my life on which
I've suffered irritation from poor Mother; and yet I'm now not sure,
after all, that she wasn't again but at her old game (even then, for
she has certainly been so since) of protecting poor Father, by feigning
a like flaccidity, from the full appearance, not to say the full
dishonor, of his failure ever to meet a domestic responsibility. It
came over me that there would be absolutely nobody to meet this one,
and my own peculiar chance glimmered upon me therefore on the spot. I
can't retrace steps and stages; suffice it that my opportunity
developed and broadened, to my watching eyes, with each precipitated
consequence of the wretched youth's arrival.

He proved, without delay, an infant in arms; an infant, either,
according to circumstances, crowing and kicking and clamoring for
sustenance, or wailing and choking and refusing even the bottle, to the
point even, as I've just seen in New York, of imminent convulsions. The
"arms" most appropriate to his case suddenly announced themselves, in
fine, to our general consternation, as Eliza's: but it was at this
unnatural vision that my heart indeed leaped up. I was beforehand even
with Lorraine; she was still gaping while, in three bold strokes, I
sketched to her our campaign. "I take command--the others are flat on
their backs." I save little pathetic Peg, even in spite of herself;
though her just resentment is really much greater than she dares, poor
mite, recognize (amazing scruple!). By which I mean I guard her against
a possible relapse. I save poor Mother--that is I rid her of the deadly
Eliza--forever and a day! Despised, rejected, misunderstood, I
nevertheless intervene, in its hour of dire need, as the good genius of
the family; and you, dear little quaint thing, I take advantage of the
precious psychological moment to whisk YOU off to Europe. We'll take
Peg with us for a year's true culture; she wants a year's true culture
pretty badly, but she doesn't, as it turns out, want Mr. Goward a
'speck.' And I'll do it all in my own way, before they can recover
breath; they'll recover it--if we but give them time--to bless our
name; but by that moment we shall have struck for freedom!"

Well, then, my own way--it was "given me," as Lorraine says--was,
taking the night express, without a word to any one but Peg, whom it
was charming, at the supreme hour, to feel glimmeringly,
all-wonderingly, with us: my own way, I say, was to go, the next
morning, as soon as I had breakfasted, to the address Lorraine had been
able, by an immense piece of luck, to suggest to me as a possible clue
to Eliza's whereabouts. "She'll either be with her friends the
Chataways, in East Seventy-third Street--she's always swaggering about
the Chataways, who by her account are tremendous 'smarts,' as she has
told Lorraine the right term is in London, leading a life that is a
burden to them without her; or else they'll know where she is. That's
at least what I HOPE!" said my wife with infinite feminine subtlety.
The Chataways as a subject of swagger presented themselves, even to my
rustic vision, oddly; I may be mistaken about New York "values," but
the grandeur of this connection was brought home to me neither by the
high lopsided stoop of its very, very East Side setting, nor by the
appearance of a terrible massive lady who came to the door while I was
in quite unproductive parley with an unmistakably, a hopelessly
mystified menial, an outlandish young woman with a face of dark despair
and an intelligence closed to any mere indigenous appeal. I was to
learn later in the day that she's a Macedonian Christian whom the
Chataways harbor against the cruel Turk in return for domestic service;
a romantic item that Eliza named to me in rueful correction of the
absence of several indeed that are apparently prosaic enough.

The powder on the massive lady's face indeed transcended, I rather
thought, the bounds of prose, did much to refer her to the realm of
fantasy, some fairy-land forlorn; an effect the more marked as the
wrapper she appeared hastily to have caught up, and which was somehow
both voluminous and tense (flowing like a cataract in some places, yet
in others exposing, or at least denning, the ample bed of the stream)
reminded me of the big cloth spread in a room when any mess is to be
made. She apologized when I said I had come to inquire for Miss
Talbert--mentioned (with play of a wonderfully fine fat hand) that she
herself was "just being manicured in the parlor"; but was evidently
surprised at my asking about Eliza, which plunged her into the
question--it suffused her extravagant blondness with a troubled light,
struggling there like a sunrise over snow--of whether she had better,
confessing to ignorance, relieve her curiosity or, pretending to
knowledge, baffle mine. But mine of course carried the day, for mine
showed it could wait, while hers couldn't; the final superiority of
women to men being in fact, I think, that we are more PATIENTLY curious.

"Why, is she in the city?"

"If she isn't, dear madam," I replied, "she ought to be. She left
Eastridge last evening for parts unknown, and should have got here by
midnight." Oh, how glad I was to let them both in as far as I possibly
could! And clearly now I had let Mrs. Chataway, if such she was, in
very far indeed.

She stared, but then airily considered. "Oh, well--I guess she's
somewheres."

"I guess she is!" I replied.

"She hasn't got here yet--she has so many friends in the city. But she
always wants US, and when she does come--!" With which my friend, now
so far relieved and agreeably smiling, rubbed together conspicuously
the pair of plump subjects of her "cure."

"You feel then," I inquired, "that she will come?"

"Oh, I guess she'll be round this afternoon. We wouldn't forgive her--!"

"Ah, I'm afraid we MUST forgive her!" I was careful to declare. "But
I'll come back on the chance."

"Any message then?"

"Yes, please say her nephew from Eastridge--!"

"Oh, her nephew--!"

"Her nephew. She'll understand. I'll come back," I repeated. "But I've
got to find her!"

And, as in the fever of my need, I turned and sped away.

I roamed, I quite careered about, in those uptown streets, but
instinctively and confidently westward. I felt, I don't know why,
miraculously sure of some favoring chance and as if I were floating in
the current of success. I was on the way to our reward, I was
positively on the way to Paris, and New York itself, vast and
glittering and roaring, much noisier even than the Works at their
noisiest, but with its old rich thrill of the Art League days again in
the air, was already almost Paris for me--so that when I at last
fidgeted into the Park, where you get so beautifully away from the
town, it was surely the next thing to Europe, and in fact HAD to be,
since it's the very antithesis of Eastridge. I regularly revelled in
that sense that Eliza couldn't have done a better thing for us than
just not be, that morning, where it was supremely advisable she should
have been. If she had had two grains of sense she would have put in an
appearance at the Chataways' with the lark, or at least with the
manicure, who seems there almost as early stirring. Or rather, really,
she would have reported herself as soon as their train, that of the
"guilty couple," got in; no matter how late in the evening. It was at
any rate actually uplifting to realize that I had got thus, in three
minutes, the pull of her in regard to her great New York friends. My
eye, as Lorraine says, how she HAS, on all this ground of those people,
been piling it on! If Maria, who has so bowed her head, gets any such
glimpse of what her aunt has been making her bow it to--well, I think I
shall then entertain something of the human pity for Eliza, that I
found myself, while I walked about, fairly entertaining for my sister.

What were they, what ARE they, the Chataways, anyhow? I don't even yet
know, I confess; but now I don't want to--I don't care a hang, having
no further use for them whatever. But on one of the Park benches, in
the golden morning, the wonderment added, I remember, to my joy, for we
hadn't, Lorraine and I, been the least bit overwhelmed about them:
Lorraine only pretending a little, with her charming elfish art, that
she occasionally was, in order to see how far Eliza would go. Well,
that brilliant woman HAD gone pretty far for us, truly, if, after all,
they were only in the manicure line. She was a-doing of it, as Lorraine
says, my massive lady was, in the "parlor" where I don't suppose it's
usually done; and aren't there such places, precisely, AS Manicure
Parlors, where they do nothing else, or at least are supposed to? Oh, I
do hope, for the perfection of it, that this may be what Eliza has kept
from us! Otherwise, by all the gods, it's just a boarding-house: there
was exactly the smell in the hall, THE boarding-house smell, that
pervaded my old greasy haunt of the League days: that boiled atmosphere
that seems to belong at once, confusedly, to a domestic "wash" and to
inferior food--as if the former were perhaps being prepared in the
saucepan and the latter in the tubs.

There also came back to me, I recollect, that note of Mrs. Chataway's
queer look at me on my saying I was Eliza's nephew--the droll effect of
her making on her side a discovery about ME. Yes, she made it, and as
against me, of course, against all of us, at sight of me; so that if
Eliza has bragged at Eastridge about New York, she has at least bragged
in New York about Eastridge. I didn't clearly, for Mrs. Chataway, come
up to the brag--or perhaps rather didn't come down to it: since I dare
say the poor lady's consternation meant simply that my aunt has
confessed to me but as an unconsidered trifle, a gifted child at the
most; or as young and handsome and dashing at the most, and not
as--well, as what I am. Whatever I am, in any case, and however awkward
a document as nephew to a girlish aunt, I believe I really tasted of
the joy of life in its highest intensity when, at the end of twenty
minutes of the Park, I suddenly saw my absurd presentiment of a miracle
justified.

I could of course scarce believe my eyes when, at the turn of a quiet
alley, pulling up to gape, I recognized in a young man brooding on a
bench ten yards off the precious personality of Harry Goward! There he
languished alone, our feebler fugitive, handed over to me by a
mysterious fate and a well-nigh incredible hazard. There is certainly
but one place in all New York where the stricken deer may weep--or
even, for that matter, the hart ungalled play; the wonder of my
coincidence shrank a little, that is, before the fact that when young
ardor or young despair wishes to commune with immensity it can ONLY do
so either in a hall bedroom or in just this corner, practically, where
I pounced on my prey. To sit down, in short, you've GOT to sit there;
there isn't another square inch of the whole place over which you
haven't got, as everything shrieks at you, to step lively. Poor Goward,
I could see at a glance, wanted very much to sit down--looked indeed
very much as if he wanted never, NEVER again to get up.

I hovered there--I couldn't help it, a bit gloatingly--before I
pounced; and yet even when he became aware of me, as he did in a
minute, he didn't shift his position by an inch, but only took me and
my dreadful meaning, with his wan stare, as a part of the strange
burden of his fate. He didn't seem even surprised to speak of; he had
waked up--premising his brief, bewildered delirium--to the sense that
something NATURAL must happen, and even to the fond hope that something
natural WOULD; and I was simply the form in which it was happening. I
came nearer, I stood before him; and he kept up at me the oddest
stare--which was plainly but the dumb yearning that I would explain,
explain! He wanted everything told him--but every single thing; as if,
after a tremendous fall, or some wild parabola through the air, the
effect of a violent explosion under his feet, he had landed at a vast
distance from his starting-point and required to know where he was.
Well, the charming thing was that this affected me as giving the very
sharpest point to the idea that, in asking myself how I should deal
with him, I had already so vividly entertained.



VIII. THE MARRIED DAUGHTER

By Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

We start in life with the most preposterous of all human claims--that
one should be understood. We get bravely over that after awhile; but
not until the idea has been knocked out of us by the hardest. I used to
worry a good deal, myself, because nobody--distinctly not one
person--in our family understood me; that is, me in my relation to
themselves; nothing else, of course, mattered so much. But that was
before I was married. I think it was because Tom understood me from the
very first eye-beam, that I loved him enough to marry him and learn to
understand HIM. I always knew in my heart that he had the advantage of
me in that beautiful art: I suppose one might call it the soul-art. At
all events, it has been of the least possible consequence to me since I
had Tom, whether any one else in the world understood me or not.

I suppose--in fact, I know--that it is this unfortunate affair of
Peggy's which has brought up all that old soreness to the surface of me.

Nobody knows better than I that I have not been a popular member of
this family. But nobody knows as well as I how hard I have tried to do
my conscientious best by the whole of them, collectively and
individually considered. An older sister, if she have any consciousness
of responsibility at all, is, to my mind, not in an easy position. Her
extra years give her an extra sense. One might call it a sixth sense of
family anxiety which the younger children cannot share. She has, in a
way, the intelligence and forethought of a mother without a mother's
authority or privilege.

When father had that typhoid and could not sleep--dear father! in his
normal condition he sleeps like a bag of corn-meal--who was there in
all the house to keep those boys quiet? Nobody but me. When they
organized a military company in our back yard directly under father's
windows--two drums, a fish-horn, a jews-harp, a fife, and three tin
pans--was there anybody but me to put a stop to it? It was on this
occasion that the pet name Moolymaria, afterward corrupted into
Messymaria, and finally evolved into Meddlymaria, became attached to
me. To this day I do not like to think how many cries I had over it.
Then when Charles Edward got into debt and nobody dared to tell father;
and when Billy had the measles and there wasn't a throat in the house
to read to him four hours a day except my unpopular throat; and when
Charles Edward had that quarrel over a girl with a squash-colored dress
and cerise hair-ribbons; or when Alice fell in love with an automobile,
the chauffeur being incidentally thrown in, and took to riding around
the country with him--who put a stop to it? Who was the only person in
the family that COULD put a stop to it?

Then again--but what's the use? My very temperament I can see now (I
didn't see it when I lived at home) is in itself an unpopular one in a
family like ours. I forecast, I foresee, I provide, I plan--it is my
"natur' to." I can't go sprawling through life. I must know where I am
to set my foot. Dear mother has no more sense of anxiety than a rice
pudding, and father is as cool as one of his own ice-pitchers. We all
know what Charles Edward is, and I didn't count grandmother and Aunt
Elizabeth.

There has been my blunder. I ought to have counted Aunt Elizabeth. I
ought to have fathomed her. It never occurred to me that she was deep
enough to drop a plummet in. I, the burden-bearer, the caretaker, the
worrier; I, who am opprobriously called "the manager" in this family--I
have failed them at this critical point in their household history. I
did not foresee, I did not forecast, I did not worry, I did not manage.
It did not occur to me to manage after we had got Peggy safely
graduated and engaged, and now this dreadful thing has gaped beneath us
like the fissures at San Francisco or Kingston, and poor little Peggy
has tumbled into it. A teacupful of "management" might have prevented
it; an ounce of worry would have saved it all. I lacked that teacupful;
I missed that ounce. The veriest popular optimist could have done no
worse. I am smothered with my own stupidity. I have borne this
humiliating condition of things as long as I can. I propose to go over
to that house and take the helm in this emergency. I don't care whether
I am popular or unpopular for it. But something has got to be done for
Peggy, and I am going to do it.


I have been over and I have done it. I have taken the "management" of
the whole thing--not even discouraged by this unfortunate word. I own I
am rather raw to it. But the time has come when, though I bled beneath
it, I must act as if I didn't. At all events I must ACT. ... I have
acted. I am going to New York by the early morning express--the 7.20. I
would go to-night-in fact, I really ought to go to-night. But Tom has a
supper "on" with some visitors to the Works. He won't be home till
late, and I can't go without seeing Tom. It would hurt his feelings,
and that is a thing no wife ought to do, and my kind of wife can't do.

I found the house in its usual gelatinous condition. There wasn't a
back-bone in it, scarcely an ankle-joint to stand upon: plenty of
crying, but no thinking; a mush of talk, but no decision. To cap the
situation, Charles Edward has gone on to New York with a preposterous
conviction that HE can clear it up. . . . CHARLES EDWARD! If there is a
living member of the household--But never mind that. This circumstance
was enough for me, that's all. It brought out all the determination in
me, all the manager, if you choose to put it so.

I shall go to New York myself and take the whole thing in hand. If I
needed anything to padlock my purpose those dozen words with Peggy
would have turned the key upon it. When I found that she wasn't crying;
when I got face to face with that soft, fine excitement in the eyes
which a girl wears when she has a love-affair, not stagnant, but in
action--I concluded at once that Peggy had her reservations and was
keeping something from me. On pretence of wanting a doughnut I got her
into the pantry and shut both doors.

"Peggy," I said, "what has Charles Edward gone to New York for? Do you
know?"

Peggy wound a big doughnut spinning around her engagement finger and
made no reply.

"If it has anything to do with you and Harry Goward, you must tell me,
Peggy. You must tell me instantly."

Peggy put a doughnut on her wedding finger and observed, with pained
perplexity, that it would not spin, but stuck.

"What is Charles Edward up to?" I persisted.

The opening rose-bud of Peggy's face took on a furtive expression, like
that of certain pansies, or some orchids I have seen. "He is going to
take me to Europe," she admitted, removing both her doughnut rings.

"YOU! To EUROPE!"

"He and Lorraine. When this is blown by. They want to get me away."

"Away from what? Away from Harry Goward?"

"Oh, I suppose so," blubbered Peggy.

She now began, in a perfectly normal manner, to mop her eyes with her
handkerchief.

"Do you want to be got away from Harry Goward?" I demanded.

"I never said I did," sobbed Peggy. "I never said so, not one little
bit. But oh, Maria! Moolymaria! You can't think how dreadful it is to
be a girl, an engaged girl, and not know what to do!"

Then and there an active idea--one with bones in it--raced and overtook
me, and I shot out: "Where is that letter?"

"Mother has it," replied Peggy.

"Have you opened it?"

"No."

"Has Aunt Elizabeth opened it?"

"Oh no!"

"Did Charlies Edward take it with him?"

"I don't think he did. I will go ask mother."

"Go ask mother for that letter," I commanded, "and bring it to me."

Peggy gave me one mutinous look, but the instinct of a younger sister
was in her and she obeyed me. She brought the letter. I have this
precious document in my pocket. I asked her if she would trust me to
find out to whom that letter was addressed. After some hesitation she
replied that she would. I reminded her that she was the only person in
the world who could give me this authority--which pleased her. I told
her that I should accept it as a solemn trust, and do my highest and
best with it for her sake.

"Peggy," I said, "this is not altogether a pleasant job for me, but you
are my little sister and I will take care of you. Kiss your old
Meddlymaria, Peggy." She took down her sopping handkerchief and lifted
her warm, wet face. So I kissed Peggy. And I am going on the 7.20
morning train.


It is now ten o'clock. My suit-case is packed, my ticket is bought, but
Tom has not come back, and the worst of it is he can't get back
to-night. He telephoned between courses at his dinner that he had
accepted an invitation to go home for the night with one of the men
they are dining. It seems he is a "person of importance"--there is a
big order behind the junket, and Tom has gone home with him to talk it
over. The ridiculous thing about it is that I forget where he was
going. Of course I could telephone to the hotel and find out, but men
don't like telephoning wives--at least, my man doesn't. It makes it
rather hard, going on this trip without kissing Tom good-bye. I had
half made up my mind to throw the whole thing over, but Peggy is pretty
young; she has a long life before her; there is a good deal at stake.
So Tom and I kissed by electricity, and he said that it was all right,
and to go ahead, and the other absurd thing about that is that Tom
didn't ask me for my New York address, and I forgot to tell him. We are
like two asteroids spinning through space, neither knowing the other's
route or destination. In point of fact, I shall register at "The
Sphinx," that nice ladies' hotel where mere man is never admitted.

I have always supposed that the Mrs. Chataway Aunt Elizabeth talks
about kept a boarding-house. I think Aunt Elizabeth rolls in upon her
like a spent wave between visits. I have no doubt that I shall be able
to trace Aunt Elizabeth by her weeds upon this beach. After that the
rest is easy. I must leave my address for Tom pinned up somewhere.
Matilda's mind wouldn't hold it if I stuck it through her brain with a
hat-pin. I think I will glue it to his library table, and I'll do it
this minute to make sure. ... I have directed Matilda to give him
chicken croquettes for his luncheon, and I have written out the menu
for every meal till I get home. Poor Tom! He isn't used to eating
alone. I wish I thought he would mind it as much as I do.


Eleven o'clock.--I am obsessed with an idea, and I have yielded to it;
whether for good or ill, for wisdom or folly, remains to be proved. I
have telephoned Dr. Denbigh and suggested to him that he should go to
New York, too. Considered in any light but that of Peggy's welfare--But
I am not considering anything in any light but that of Peggy's welfare.
Dr. Denbigh used to have a little tendresse for Peggy--it was never
anything more, I am convinced. She is too young for him. A doctor sees
so many women; he grows critical, if not captious. Character goes for
more with him than with most men; looks go for less; and poor little
Peggy--who can deny?--up to this point in her development is chiefly
looks.

I intimated to the doctor that my errand to New York was of an
important nature: that it concerned my younger sister; that my husband
was, unfortunately, out of town, and that I needed masculine advice. I
am not in the habit of flattering the doctor, and he swallowed this
delicate bait, as I thought he would. When I asked him if he didn't
think he needed a little vacation, if he didn't think he could get the
old doctor from Southwest Eastridge to take his practice for two days,
he said he didn't know but he could. The grippe epidemic had gone down,
nothing more strenuous than a few cases of measles stood in the way; in
fact, Eastridge at the present time, he averred, was lamentably
healthy. When he had committed himself so far as this, he hesitated,
and very seriously said:

"Mrs. Price, you have never asked me to do a foolish thing, and I have
known you for a good many years. It is too late to come over and talk
it out with you. If you assure me that you consider your object in
making this request important I will go. We won't waste words about it.
What train do you take?"


I am not a person of divination or intuition. I think I have rather a
commonplace, careful, painstaking mind. But if ever I had an
inspiration in my life I think I have one now. Perhaps it is the
novelty of it that makes me confide in it with so little reflection. My
inspiration, in a word, is this:

Aunt Elizabeth has reached the point where she is ready for a new man.
I know I don't understand her kind of woman by experience. I don't
suppose I do by sympathy. I have to reason her out.

I have reasoned Aunt Elizabeth out to this conclusion: She always has
had, she always must have, she always will have, the admiration of some
man or men to engross her attention. She is an attractive woman; she
knows it; women admit it; and men feel it. I don't think Aunt Elizabeth
is a heartless person; not an irresponsible one, only an idle and
unhappy one. She lives on this intoxicant as other women might live on
tea or gossip, as a man would take his dram or his tobacco. She drinks
this wine because she is thirsty, and the plain, cool, spring-water of
life has grown stale to her. It is corked up in bottles like the water
sold in towns where the drinking-supply is low. It has ceased to be
palatable to her.

My interpretation is, that there is no man on her horizon just now
except Harry Goward, and I won't do her the injustice to believe that
she wouldn't be thankful to be rid of him just for her own sake; to say
nothing of Peggy's.

Aunt Elizabeth, I repeat, needs a new man. If Dr. Denbigh is willing to
fill this role for a few days (of course I must be perfectly frank with
him about it) the effect upon Harry Goward will be instantaneous. His
disillusion will be complete; his return to Peggy in a state of abject
humiliation will be assured. I mean, assuming that the fellow is
capable of manly feeling, and that Peggy has aroused it. That, of
course, remains for me to find out.

How I am to fish Harry Goward out of the ocean of New York city doesn't
trouble me in the least. Given Aunt Elizabeth, he will complete the
equation. If Mrs. Chataway should fail me--But I won't suppose that
Mrs. Chataway will fail. I must be sure and explain to Tom about Dr.
Denbigh.


"The Sphinx," New York, 10 P.M.--I arrived--that is to say, we arrived
in this town at ten minutes past one o'clock, almost ten hours ago. Dr.
Denbigh has gone somewhere--and that reminds me that I forgot to ask
him where. I never thought of it until this minute, but it has just
occurred to me that it may be quite as well from an ignorant point of
view that "The Sphinx" excludes mere man from its portals.

He was good to me on the train, very good indeed. I can't deny that he
flushed a little when I told him frankly what I wanted of him. At first
I thought that he was going to be angry. Then I saw the corners of his
mustache twitch. Then our sense of humor got the better of us, and then
I laughed, and then he laughed, and I felt that the crisis was passed.
I explained to him while we were in the Pullman car, as well as I could
without being overheard by a fat lady with three chins, and a girl with
a permit for a pet poodle, what it was that I wanted of him. I related
the story of Peggy's misfortune--in confidence, of course; and
explained the part he was expected to play--confidentially, of course;
in fact, I laid my plot before him from beginning to end.

"If the boy doesn't love her, you see," I suggested, "the sooner we
know it the better. She must break it off, if her heart is broken in
the process. If he does love her--my private opinion is he thinks he
does--I won't have Peggy's whole future wrecked by one of Aunt
Elizabeth's flirtations. The reef is too small for the catastrophe. I
shall find Aunt Elizabeth. Oh yes, I shall find Aunt Elizabeth! I have
no more doubt of that than I have that Matilda is putting too much
onion in the croquettes for Tom this blessed minute. If I find her I
shall find the boy; but what good is that going to do me, if I find
either of them or both of them, if we can't disillusionize the boy?"

"In a word," interrupted the doctor, rather tartly, "all you want of me
is to walk across the troubled stage--"

"For Peggy's sake," I observed.

"Of course, yes, for Peggy's sake. I am to walk across this fantastic
stage in the inglorious capacity of a philanderer."

"That is precisely it," I admitted. "I want you to philander with Aunt
Elizabeth for two days, one day; two hours, one hour; just long enough,
only long enough to bring that fool boy to his senses."

"If I had suspected the nature of the purpose I am to serve in this
complication"--began the doctor, without a smile. "I trusted your
judgment, Mrs. Price, and good sense--I have never known either to fail
before. However," he added, manfully, "I am in for it now, and I would
do more disagreeable things than this for Peggy's sake. But perhaps,"
he suggested, grimly, "we sha'n't find either of them."

He retired from the subject obviously, if gracefully, and began to play
with the poodle that had the Pullman permit. I happen to know that if
there is any species of dog the doctor does not love it is a poodle,
with or without a permit. The lady with three chins asked me if my
husband were fond of dogs--I think she said, so fond as THAT. She
glanced at the girl whom the poodle owned.

I don't know why it should be a surprise to me, but it was; that the
chin lady and the poodle girl have both registered at "The Sphinx."

Directly after luncheon, for I could not afford to lose a minute, I
went to Mrs. Chataway's; the agreement being that the doctor should
follow me in an absent-minded way a little later. But there was a
blockade on the way, and I wasn't on time. What I took to be Mrs.
Chataway herself admitted me with undisguised hesitation.

Miss Talbert, she said, was not at home; that is--no, she was not home.
She explained that a great many people had been asking for Miss
Talbert; there were two in the parlor now.

When I demanded, "Two what?" she replied, in a breathless tone, "Two
gentlemen," and ushered me into that old-fashioned architectural effort
known to early New York as a front and back parlor.

One of the gentlemen, as I expected, proved to be Dr. Denbigh. The
other was flatly and unmistakably Charles Edward. The doctor offered to
excuse himself, but I took Charles Edward into the back parlor, and I
made so bold as to draw the folding-doors. I felt that the occasion
justified worse than this.

The colloquy between myself and Charles Edward was brief and pointed.
He began by saying, "YOU here! What a mess!--"

My conviction is that he saved himself just in time from Messymaria.

"Have you found him?" I propounded.

"No."

"Haven't seen him?"

"I didn't say I hadn't seen him."

"What did he say?" I insisted.

"Not very much. It was in the Park."

"In the PARK? Not very MUCH? How could you let him go?"

"I didn't let him go," drawled Charles Edward. "He invited me to
dinner. A man can't ask a fellow what his intentions are to a man's
sister in a park. I hadn't said very much up to that point; he did most
of the talking. I thought I would put it off till we got round to the
cigars."

"Then?" I cried, impatiently, "and then?"

"You see," reluctantly admitted Charles Edward, "there wasn't any then.
I didn't dine with him, after all. I couldn't find it--"

"Couldn't find what?"

"Couldn't find the hotel," said Charles Edward, defiantly. "I lost the
address. Couldn't even say that it was a hotel. I believe it was a
club. He seems to be a sort of a swell--for a coeducational
professor--anyhow, I lost the address; and that is the long and short
of it."

"If it had been a studio or a Bohemian cafe--" I began.

"I should undoubtedly have remembered it," admitted Charles Edward, in
his languid way.

"You have lost him," I replied, frostily. "You have lost Harry Goward,
and you come here--"

"On the same errand, I presume, my distressed and distressing sister,
that has brought you. Have you seen her?" he demanded, with sudden,
uncharacteristic shrewdness.

At this moment a portiere opened at the side of my back parlor, and
Mrs. Chataway, voluminously appearing, mysteriously beckoned me. I
followed her into the dreariest hall I think I ever saw even in a New
York boarding-house. There the landlady frankly told me that Miss
Talbert wasn't out. She was in her room packing to make one of her
visits. Miss Talbert had given orders that she was to be denied to
gentlemen friends.

No, she never said anything about ladies. (This I thought highly
probable.) But if I were anything to her and chose to take the
responsibility--I chose and I did. In five minutes I was in Aunt
Elizabeth's room, and had turned the key upon an interview which was
briefer but more startling than I could possibly have anticipated.

Elizabeth Talbert is one of those women whose attraction increases with
the negligee or the deshabille. She was so pretty in her pink kimono
that she half disarmed me. She had been crying, and had a gentle look.

When I said, "Where is he?" and when she said, "If you mean Harry
Goward--I don't know," I was prepared to believe her without evidence.
She looked too pretty to doubt. Besides, I cannot say that I have ever
caught Aunt Elizabeth in a real fib. She may be a "charmian," but I
don't think she is a liar. Yet I pushed my case severely.

"If you and he hadn't taken that 5.40 train to New York--"

"We didn't take the 5.40 train," retorted Elizabeth Talbert, hotly. "It
took us. You don't suppose--but I suppose you do, and I suppose I know
what the whole family supposes--As if I would do such a dastardly!--As
if I didn't clear out on purpose to get away from him--to get out of
the whole mix--As if I knew that young one would be aboard that train!"

"But he was aboard. You admit that."

"Oh yes, he got aboard."

"Made a pleasant travelling companion, Auntie?"

"I don't know," said Aunt Elizabeth, shortly. "I didn't have ten words
with him. I told him he had put me in a position I should never
forgive. Then he told me I had put him in a worse. We quarrelled, and
he went into the smoker. At the Grand Central he checked my suitcase
and lifted his hat. He did ask if I were going to Mrs. Chataway's. I
have never seen him since."

"Aunt Elizabeth," I said, sadly, "I am younger than you--"

"Not so very much!" retorted Aunt Elizabeth.

"--and I must speak to you with the respect due my father's sister when
I say that the nobility of your conduct on this occasion--a nobility
which you will pardon me for suggesting that I didn't altogether count
on--is likely to prove the catastrophe of the situation."

Aunt Elizabeth stared at me with her wet, coquettish eyes. "You're
pretty hard on me, Maria," she said; "you always were."

"Hurry and dress," I suggested, soothingly; "there are two gentlemen to
see you downstairs."

Aunt Elizabeth shook her head. She asserted with evident sincerity that
she didn't wish to see any gentlemen; she didn't care to see any
gentlemen under any circumstances; she never meant to have anything to
do with gentlemen again. She said something about becoming a deaconess
in the Episcopal Church; she spoke of the attractions in the life of a
trained nurse; mentioned settlement work; and asked me what I thought
of Elizabeth Frye, Dorothea Dix, and Clara Barton.

"This is one advantage that Catholics have over us," she observed,
dreamily: "one could go into a nunnery; then one would be quite sure
there would be no men to let loose the consequences of their natures
and conduct upon a woman's whole existence."

"These two downstairs have waited a good while," I returned,
carelessly. "One of them is a married man and is used to it. But the
other is not."

"Very well," said Aunt Elizabeth, with what (it occurred to me) was a
smile of forced dejection. "To please you, Maria, I will go down."


If Aunt Elizabeth's dejection were assumed, mine was not. I have been
in the lowest possible spirits since my unlucky discovery. Anything and
everything had occurred to me except that she and that boy could
quarrel. I had fancied him shadowing Mrs. Chataway for the slightest
sign of his charmer. I don't know that I should have been surprised to
see him curled up, like a dog, asleep on the door-steps. At the present
moment I have no more means of finding the wetched lad than I had in
Eastridge; not so much, for doubtless Peggy has his prehistoric
addresses. I am very unhappy. I have not had the heart left in me to
admire Dr. Denbigh, who has filled his role brilliantly all the
afternoon. In half an hour he and Aunt Elizabeth had philandered as
deep as a six months' flirtation; and I must say that they have kept at
it with an art amounting almost to sincerity. Aunt Elizabeth did not
once mention settlement work, and put no inquiries to Dr. Denbigh about
Elizabeth Frye, Dorothea Dix, or Clara Barton.

I think he took her to the Metropolitan Museum; I know he invited her
to the theatre; and there is some sort of an appointment for to-morrow
morning, I forget what. But my marked success at this end of the stage
only adds poignancy to my sense of defeat at the other.

I am very homesick. I wish I could see Tom. I do hope Tom found my
message about Dr. Denbigh.


Twenty-four hours later.--The breeze of yesterday has spun into a
whirlwind to-day. I am half stunned by the possibilities of human
existence. One lives the simple life at Eastridge; and New York strikes
me on the head like some heavy thing blown down. If these are the
results of the very little love-affair of one very little girl--what
must the great emotion, the real experience, the vigorous crisis, bring?

At "The Sphinx," as is well known, no male being is admitted on any
pretence. I believe the porter (for heavy trunks) is the only
exception. The bell-boys are bell-girls. The clerk is a matron, and the
proprietress a widow in half-mourning.

At nine o'clock this morning I was peremptorily summoned out of the
breakfast-room and ordered to the desk. Two frowning faces received me.
With cold politeness I was reminded of the leading clause in the
constitution of that house.

"Positively," observed the clerk, "no gentlemen callers are permitted
at this hotel, and, madam, there are two on the door-steps who insist
upon an interview with you; they have been there half an hour. One of
them refuses to recognize the rule of the house. He insists upon an
immediate suspension of it. I regret to tell you that he went so far as
to mention that he would have a conversation with you if it took a
search-warrant to get it."

"He says," interrupted the proprietress in half-mourning, "that he is
your husband."

She spoke quite distinctly, and as these dreadful words re-echoed
through the lobby, I saw that two ladies had come out from the
reception-room and were drinking the scene down. One of these was the
fat lady with the three chins; the other was the poodle girl. She held
him, at that unpleasant moment, by a lavender ribbon leash. It seems
she gets a permit for him everywhere.

And he is the wrong sex, I am sure, to obtain any privileges at "The
Sphinx."

The mosaic of that beautiful lobby did not open and swallow me down as
I tottered across it to the vestibule. A strapping door-girl guarded
the entrance. Grouped upon the long flight of marble steps two men
impatiently awaited me. The one with the twitching mustache was Dr.
Denbigh. But he, oh, he with the lightning in his eyes, he was my
husband, Thomas Price.

"Maria," he began, with ominous composure, "if you have any
explanations to offer of these extraordinary circumstances--" Then the
torrent burst forth. Every expletive familiar to the wives of good
North-American husbands broke from Tom's unleashed lips. "I didn't hear
of it till afternoon. I took the midnight express. Billy told Matilda
he saw you get aboard the 7.20 train It's all over Eastridge. We have
been married thirteen years, Maria, and I have always had occasion to
trust your judgment and good sense till now."

"That is precisely what I told her," ventured Dr. Denbigh.

"As for you, sir!" Tom Price turned, towering. "It is fortunate for YOU
that I find my wife in this darned shebang.--Any female policeman
behind that door-girl? Doctor? Why, Doctor! Say, DOCTOR! Dr. Denbigh!
What in thunder are you laughing at?"

The doctor's sense of humor (a quality for which I must admit my dear
husband is not so distinguished as he is for some more important
traits) had got the better of him. He put his hands in his pockets,
threw back his handsome head, and then and there, in that sacred
feminine vestibule, he laughed as no woman could laugh if she tried.

In the teeth of the door-girl, the clerk, and the proprietress, in the
face of the chin lady and the poodle girl, I ran straight to Tom and
put my arms around his neck. At first I was afraid he was going to push
me off, but he thought better of it. Then I cried out upon him as a
woman will when she has had a good scare. "Oh, Tom! Tom! Tom! You dear
old precious Tom! I told you all about it. I wrote you a note about Dr.
Denbigh and--and everything. You don't mean to say you never found it?"

"Where the deuce did you leave it?" demanded Thomas Price.

"Why, I stuck it on your pin-cushion! I pinned it there. I pinned it
down with two safety-pins. I was very particular to."

"PIN-CUSHION!" exploded Tom. "A message--an important message--to a
MAN--on a PIN-cushion!"

Then, with that admirable self-possession which has been the secret of
Tom Price's success in life, he immediately recovered himself. "Next
time, Maria," he observed, with pitying gentleness, "pin it on the
hen-coop. Or, paste it on the haymow with the mucilage-brush. Or,
fasten it to the watering-trough in the square--anywhere I might run
across it.--Doctor! I beg your pardon, old fellow.--Now madam, if you
are allowed by law to get out of this blasted house I can't get into, I
will pay your bill, Maria, and take you to a respectable hotel. What's
that one we used to go to when we ran down to see Irving? I can't
think---Oh yes--'The Holy Family.'"

"Don't be blasphemous, Price, whatever else you are!" admonished the
doctor. He was choking with laughter.

"Perhaps it was 'The Whole Family,' Tom?" I suggested, meekly.

"Come to think of it," admitted Tom, "it must have been 'The Happy
Family.' Get your things on, Mysie, and we'll get out of this inhuman
place."

I held my head as high as I could when I came back through the lobby,
with a stout chambermaid carrying my suit-case. The clerk sniffed
audibly; the proprietress met me with a granite eye; the lady with the
three chins muttered something which I am convinced it would not have
added to my personal happiness to hear; but I thought the girl with the
lavender poodle watched me a little wistfully as I whirled away upon my
husband's big forgiving arm.

The doctor, who had really laughed until he cried, followed, wiping his
merry eyes. These glistened when on the sidewalk directly opposite the
hotel entrance we met Elizabeth Talbert, who had arranged, but in the
agitation of the morning I had entirely forgotten it, to come to see me
at that very hour.

So we fell into line, the doctor and Aunt Elizabeth, my husband and I,
on our way to take the cars for "The Happy Family," when suddenly Tom
clapped his hands to his pockets and announced that he had
forgotten--he must send a telegram. Coming away in such a hurry, he
must telegraph to the Works. Tom is an incurable telegrapher (I have
long cherished the conviction that he is the main support of the
Western Union Telegraph Company), and we all followed him to the
nearest office where he could get a wire.

Some one was before him at the window, a person holding a hesitant
pencil above a yellow blank. I believe I am not without self-possession
myself, partly natural, and partly acquired by living so long with Tom;
but it took all I ever had not to utter a womanish cry when the young
man turned his face and I saw that it was Harry Goward.

The boy's glance swept us all in. When it reached Aunt Elizabeth and
Dr. Denbigh he paled, whether with relief or regret I had my doubts at
that moment, and I have them still. An emotion of some species
possessed him so that he could not for the moment speak. Aunt Elizabeth
was the first to recover herself.

"Ah?" she cooed. "What a happy accident! Mr. Goward, allow me to
present you to my friend Dr. Denbigh."

The doctor bowed with a portentous gravity. It was almost the equal of
Harry's own.

After this satisfactory incident everybody fell back instinctively and
gave the command of the expedition to me. The boy anxiously yielded his
place at the telegraph window to Tom; in fact, I took the pains to
notice that Harry's telegram was not sent, or was deferred to a more
convenient season. I invited him to run over to "The Happy Family" with
us, and we all fell into rank again on the sidewalk, the boy not
without embarrassment. Of this I made it my first duty to relieve him.
We chatted of the weather and the theatre and hotels. When we had
walked a short distance, we met Charles Edward dawdling along over to
"The Sphinx" (however reluctantly) to call upon his precious elder
sister. So we paired off naturally: Aunt Elizabeth and the doctor in
front, Goward and I behind them, and Tom and Charles Edward bringing up
the rear.

My heart dropped when I saw what a family party air we had. I felt it
to my finger-tips, and I could see that the lad writhed under it. His
expression changed from misery to mutiny. I should not have been
surprised if he had made one plunge into the roaring current of
Broadway and sunk from sight forever. The thing that troubled me most
was the poor taste of it: as if the whole family had congregated in the
metropolis to capture that unhappy boy. For the first time I began to
feel some sympathy for him.

"Mr. Goward," I said, abruptly, in a voice too low even for Aunt
Elizabeth to hear, "nobody wishes to make you uncomfortable. We are not
here for any such purpose. I have something in my pocket to show you;
that is all. It will interest you, I am sure. As soon as we get to the
hotel, if you don't mind, I will tell you about it--or, in fact, will
give it to you. Count the rest out. They are not in the secret."

"I feel like a convict arrested by plainclothes men," complained Harry,
glancing before and behind.

"You won't," I said, "when you have talked to me five minutes."

"Sha'n't I?" he asked, dully. He said nothing more, and we pursued our
way to the hotel in silence. Elizabeth Talbert and Dr. Denbigh talked
enough to make up for us.

Aunt Elizabeth made herself so charming, so acutely charming, that I
heard the boy draw one quick, sharp breath. But his eyes followed her
more sullenly than tenderly, and when she clung to the doctor's arm
upon a muddy crossing the young man turned to me with a sad, whimsical
smile.

"It doesn't seem to make much difference--does it, Mrs. Price? She
treats us all alike."

There is the prettiest little writing-room in "The Happy Family," all
blue and mahogany and quiet. This place was deserted, and thither I
betook myself with Harry Goward, and there he began as soon as we were
alone:

"Well, what is it, Mrs. Price?"

"Nothing but this," I said, gently enough. "I have taken it upon myself
to solve a mystery that has caused a good deal of confusion in our
family."

Without warning I took the muddy letter from my pocket, and slid it
under his eyes upon the big blue blotter.

"I don't wish to be intrusive or strenuous," I pleaded, "none of us
wishes to be that. Nobody is here to call you to account, Mr. Goward,
but you see this letter. It was received at our house in the condition
in which you find it. Would you be so kind as to supply the missing
address? That is all I want of you."

The boy's complexion ran through the palette, and subsided from a dull
Indian-red to a sickly Nile-green. "Hasn't she ever read it?" he
demanded.

"Nobody has ever read it," I said. "Naturally--since it is not
addressed. This letter went fishing with Billy."

The young man took the letter and examined it in trembling silence.

Perhaps if Fate ever broke him on her wheel it was at that moment. His
destiny was still in his own hands, and so was the letter. Unaddressed,
it was his personal property. He could retain it if he chose, and the
family mystery would darken into deeper gloom than ever. I felt my
comfortable, commonplace heart beat rapidly.

Our silence had passed the point of discomfort, and was fast reaching
that of anguish, when the boy lifted his head manfully, dipped one of
"The Happy Family's" new pens into a stately ink-bottle, and rapidly
filled in the missing address upon the unfortunate letter. He handed it
to me without a word. My eyes blurred when I read:

"Personal. Miss Peggy Talbert, Eastridge. (Kindness of Miss Alice
Talbert.)"

"What shall I do with it?" I asked, controlling my agitation.

"Deliver it to her, if you please, as quickly as possible. I thought of
everything else. I never thought of this."

"Never thought of--"

"That she might not have got it."

"Now then, Mr. Goward," I ventured, still speaking very gently, "do you
mind telling me what you took that 5.40 train for?"

"Why, because I didn't get an answer from the letter!" exclaimed Harry,
raising his voice for the first time. "A man doesn't write a letter
such as that more than once in a lifetime. It was a very important
letter. I told her everything. I explained everything. I felt I ought
to have a hearing. If she wanted to throw me over (I don't deny she had
the right to) I would rather she had taken some other way than--than to
ignore such a letter. I waited for an answer to that letter until
quarter-past five. I just caught the 5.40 train and went to my aunt's
house, the one--you know my uncle died the other day--I have been there
ever since. By-the-way, Mrs. Price, if anything else comes up, and if
you have any messages for me, I shall be greatly obliged if you will
take my address."

He handed me his card with an up-town street and number, and I snapped
it into the inner pocket of my wallet.

"Do you think," demanded Harry Goward, outright, "that she will ever
forgive me, REALLY forgive me?"

"That is for you to find out," I answered, smiling comfortably; for I
could not possibly have Harry think that any of us--even an unpopular
elder sister--could be there to fling Peggy at the young man's head.
"That is between you and Peggy."

"When shall you get home with that letter?" demanded Harry.

"Ask my husband. At a guess, I should say tomorrow."

"Perhaps I had better wait until she has read the letter," mused the
boy. "Don't you think so, Mrs. Price?"

"I don't think anything about it. I will not take any responsibility
about it. I have got the letter officially addressed, and there my
errand ends."

"You see, I want to do the best thing," urged Harry Goward. "And so
much has happened since I wrote that letter--and when you come to think
that she has never read it--"

"I will mail it to her," I said, suddenly. "I will enclose it with a
line and get it off by special delivery this noon."

"It might not reach her," suggested Harry, pessimistically. "Everything
seems to go wrong in this affair."

"Would you prefer to send it yourself?" I asked.

Harry Goward shook his head.

"I would rather wait till she has read it. I feel, under the
circumstances, that I owe that to her."

Now, at that critical moment, a wide figure darkened the entrance of
the writing-room, and, plumping down solidly at another table, spread
out a fat, ring-laden hand and began to write a laborious letter. It
was the lady with the three chins. But the girl with the poodle did not
put in an appearance. I learned afterward that the dog rule of "The
Happy Family" admitted of no permits.

Harry Goward and I parted abruptly but pleasantly, and he earnestly
requested the privilege of being permitted to call upon me to-morrow
morning.

I mailed the letter to Peggy by special delivery, and just now I asked
Tom if he didn't think it was wise.

"I can tell you better, my dear, day after tomorrow," he replied. And
that was all I could get out of him.


"The Happy Family."--It is day after tomorrow, and Tom and I are going
to take the noon train home. Our purpose, or at least my purpose, to
this effect has been confirmed, if not created, by the following
circumstances:

Yesterday, a few hours after I had parted from Harry Goward in the blue
writing-room of "The Happy Family," Tom received from father a telegram
which ran like this:

"Off for Washington--that Gooch business. Shall take Peggy. Child needs
change. Will stop over from Colonial Express and lunch Happy Family.
Explicitly request no outsider present. Can't have appearance of false
position. Shall take her directly out of New York, after luncheon.
Cyrus Talbert."

Torn between filial duty and sisterly affection, I sat twirling this
telegram between my troubled fingers. Tom had dashed it there and blown
off somewhere, leaving me, as he usually does, to make my own
decisions. Should I tell Harry? Should I not tell Harry? Was it my
right? Was it not his due? I vibrated between these inexorable
questions, but, like the pendulum I was, I struck no answer anywhere. I
had half made up my mind to let matters take their own course. If
Goward should happen to call on me when Peggy, flying through New York
beneath her father's stalwart wing, alighted for the instant at "The
Happy Family"--was I to blame? Could _I_ be held responsible? It struck
me that I could not. On the other hand, father could not be more
determined than I that Peggy should not be put into the apparent
position of pursuing an irresolute, however repentant, lover. ... I was
still debating the question as conscientiously and philosophically as I
knew how, when the bell-boy brought me a note despatched by a district
messenger, and therefore constitutionally delayed upon the way.

The letter was from my little sister's fiance, and briefly said:

"My dear Mrs. Price,--I cannot tell you how I thank you for your
sisterly sympathy and womanly good sense. You have cleared away a lot
of fog out of my mind. I don't feel that I can wait an unnecessary hour
before I see Peggy. I should like to be with her as soon as the letter
is. If you will allow me to postpone my appointment with yourself, I
shall start for Eastridge by the first train I can catch to-day.

    "Gratefully yours,

      "Henry T. Goward."



IX. THE MOTHER

by Edith Wyatt

I am sure that I shall surprise no mother of a large family when I say
that this hour is the first one I have spent alone for thirty years. I
count it, alone. For while I am driving back in the runabout along the
six miles of leafy road between the hospital and Eastridge with mother
beside me, she is sound asleep under the protection of her little
hinged black sunshade, still held upright. She will sleep until we are
at home; and, after our anxious morning at the hospital, I am most
grateful to the fortune sending me this lucid interval, not only for
thinking over what has occurred in the last three days, but also for
trying to focus clearly for myself what has happened in the last week,
since Elizabeth went on the 5.40 to New York; since Charles followed
Elizabeth; since Maria, under Dr. Denbigh's mysteriously required
escort, followed Charles; since Tom followed Maria; and since Cyrus,
with my dear girl, followed Tom.

On the warm afternoon before Elizabeth left, as I walked past her open
door, with Lena, and carrying an egg-nog to Peggy, I could not avoid
hearing down the whole length of the hall a conversation carried on in
clear, absorbed tones, between my sister and Alice.

"Did I understand you to say," said Elizabeth, in an assumption of
indifference too elaborate, I think, to deceive even her niece, "that
this Mr. Wilde you mention is now living in New York?"

"Oh yes. He conducts all the art-classes at the Crafts Settlement. He
encouraged Lorraine's sisters in their wonderful work. I would love to
go into it myself."

Lorraine's sisters and her circle once entertained me at tea in their
establishment when I visited Charles before his marriage, in New York.
They are extremely kind young women, ladies in every respect, who have
a workshop called "At the Sign of the Three-legged Stool." They seem to
be carpenters, as nearly as I can tell. They wear fillets and bright,
loose clothes; and they make very rough-hewn burnt-wood footstools and
odd settees with pieces of glass set about in them. It is all very
puzzling. When Charles showed me a candlestick one of the young ladies
had made, and talked to me about the decoration and the line, I could
see that it was very gracefully designed and nicely put together. But
when he noticed that in the wish to be perfectly open-minded to his
point of view I was looking very attentively at a queer, uneven
wrought-iron brooch with two little pendant polished granite rocks, he
only laughed and put his hand on my shawl a minute and brought me more
tea.

So that I could understand something of what Alice was mentioning as
she went on: "You know Lorraine says that, though not the most
PROMINENT, Lyman Wilde is the most RADICAL and TEMPERAMENTAL leader in
the great handicraft development in this country. Even most of the
persons in favor of it consider that he goes too far. She says, for
instance, he is so opposed to machines of all sorts that he thinks it
would be better to abolish printing and return to script. He has
started what they call a little movement of the kind now, and is
training two young scriveners."

Elizabeth was shaking her head reflectively as I passed the door, and
saying: "Ah--no compromise. And always, ALWAYS the love of beauty." And
I heard her advising Alice never, never to be one of the foolish women
and men who hurt themselves by dreaming of beauty or happiness in their
narrow little lives; repeating sagely that this dream was even worse
for the women than for the men; and asked whether Alice supposed the
Crafts Settlement address wouldn't probably be in the New York
telephone-book. Alice seemed to be spending a very gratifying afternoon.

My sister Elizabeth's strongest instinct from her early youth has been
the passion inspiring the famous Captain Parklebury Todd, so often
quoted by Alice and Billy: "I do not think I ever knew a character so
given to creating a sensation. Or p'r'aps I should in justice say, to
what, in an Adelphi play, is known as situation." Never has she
gratified her taste in this respect more fully than she did--as I
believe quite accidentally and on the inspiration of these words with
Alice--in taking the evening train to New York with Mr. Goward.

Twenty or thirty people at the station saw them starting away together,
each attempting to avoid recognition, each in the pretence of avoiding
the other, each with excited manners. So that, as both Peggy and
Elizabeth have been born and brought up here; as, during Mr. Goward's
conspicuous absence and silence, during Peggy's illness, and all our
trying uncertainties and hers, in the last weeks, my sister had widely
flung to town talk many tacit insinuations concerning the character of
Mr. Goward's interest in herself; as none of the twenty or thirty
people were mute beyond their kind; and as Elizabeth's nature has never
inspired high neighborly confidence--before night a rumor had spread
like the wind that Margaret Talbert's lover had eloped with her aunt.

Billy heard the other children talking of this news and hushing
themselves when he came up. Tom learned of the occurrence by a
telephone, and, after supper, told Cyrus and myself; Maria was informed
of it by telephone through an old friend who thought Maria should know
of what every one was saying. Lorraine, walking to the office to meet
Charles, was overtaken on the street by Mrs. Temple, greatly concerned
for us and for Peggy, and learned the strange story from our
sympathetic neighbor, to repeat it to Charles. At ten o'clock there was
only one person in the house, perhaps in Eastridge, who was ignorant of
our daughter's singular fortune. That person was our dear girl herself.

Since my own intelligence of the report I had not left her alone with
anybody else for a moment; and now I was standing in the hall watching
her start safely up-stairs, when to our surprise the front-door latch
clicked suddenly; she turned on the stairs; the door opened, and we
both faced Charles. From the first still glances he and I gave each
other he knew she hadn't heard. Then he said quietly that he had wished
to see Peggy for a moment before she went to sleep. He bade me a very
confiding and responsible good-night, and went out with her to the
garden where they used to play constantly together when they were
children.

Up-stairs, unable to lie down till she came back, I put on a little
cambric sack and sat by the window waiting till I should hear her foot
on the stairs again. "Charles is telling her," I said to Cyrus. He was
walking up and down the room, dumb with impatience and disgust, too
pained for Peggy, too tried by his own helplessness to rest or even to
sit still. In a way it has all been harder for him than for any one
else. His impulses are stronger and deeper than my dear girl's, and far
less cool. She is very especially precious to him; and, whether because
she looks so like him, or because he thinks her ways like my own, her
youth and her fortune have always been at once a more anxious and a
more lovely concern with him than any one else's on earth. She is,
somehow, our future to him.

While we waited here in this anxiety up-stairs, down in the garden I
could hear not the words, but the tones of our children as they spoke
together. Charles's voice sounded first for a long time, with an air of
calmness and directness; and Peggy answered him at intervals of
listening, answered apparently less with surprise at what he told her
than in a quiet acceptance, with a little throb of control, and then in
accord with him. Then it was as though they were planning together.

In the still village night their voices sounded very tranquil; after a
little while, even buoyant. Peggy laughed once or twice. Little by
little a breath of relief blew over both her father's solicitude and
mine. It was partly from the coolness and freshness of the out-door
air, and the half-unconscious sense it often brings, that beyond
whatever care is close beside you at the instant there is--and
especially for the young--so much else in all creation. Then, for me,
there was a deep comfort in the knowledge that in this time of need my
children had each other; that they could speak so together, in an
intimate sympathy, and were, not only superficially in name, but really
and beautifully, a brother and sister.

At last, as they parted at the gate, Charles said, in a spirited,
downright tone: "Stick to that, cling to it, make it your answer to
everything. It's all you now know and all you need to know, and you'll
be as firm on it as on a rock."

The lamplight from the street filtering through the elm leaves
glimmered on Peggy's bright hair as she looked up at him. Her eyelashes
were wet, but she was laughing as she said: "But, of course, I HAVE to
cling to it. It's the truth. Good-night! Good-night!" And her step on
the stairs was light and even skipping.

On the next morning, when I knocked at her door to find whether she
would rather breakfast up-stairs, I saw at once she had slept. She
stood before the mirror fastening her belt ribbon, and looking so
lovely it seemed impossible misfortune should ever touch her.

"Why, mother dear, you aren't dressed for the library-board meeting!
Isn't that this morning?"

"Yes."

She looked at me with her little, sweet, quick smile, and we sat down
for a moment on her couch together, each with a sense that neither
would say one word too sharply pressing.

"Dear mother, why NOT go to the board meeting? You don't need to
protect me so. You CAN'T protect me every minute. You see, of course,
last night Charles--told me of what everybody thinks." Her voice
throbbed again. She stopped for a minute. "But for weeks and weeks I
had felt something like this coming toward me. And now that it's come,"
she went on, bravely, "we can only just do as we always have done--and
not make any difference--can we?"

"Except that I feel I must be here, because we can't know from minute
to minute what may come up."

"You feel you can't leave me, mother. But you can. I want to see
whoever comes, just as usual. I'd have to at some time, you know, at
any rate. And I mean to do it now--until I go away out of Eastridge.
Charles is going to arrange that so very wonderfully. He has gone to
New York now to see about it."

"He has, my dear?" I said, in some surprise.

"Yes. And, mother, about--about what's over," she whispered.

"Yes."

"Oh, just--just it couldn't all have happened in this way if"--she
spoke in quite a clear, soft voice, looking straight into my eyes, with
one of her quick turns--"he were a real MAN--anybody I could think of
as being my husband. It was just that I didn't truly know him. That was
all."

We held each other's hands fast for one moment of perfect understanding
before we rose.

"Then I'll go, dear, this morning, just as you like," I said. She came
into my room and fastened my cuff-pins for me. "Why, mother, I don't
believe you and your little duchesse cuffs and your little, fine, gold
watch-chain have ever been away from the chair of the library committee
at a board meeting for twenty years! Just think what a sensation you
were going to make if I hadn't interfered! There, how nice you look!"

The weather was so inclement during my absence that I felt quite secure
concerning all intrusion for her. At noon the storm rose high, with a
close-timed thunder and lightning; the Episcopal church spire was
struck; two trees were blown over in the square; and, instead of
ordering Dan and the horses out in this tumult, I dined with a board
member living next the library, and drove home at three o'clock when
the violence of the gale had abated.

The house was perfectly still when I reached it. The children were at
school; Cyrus, at the factory; mother, napping, with her door closed.
In her own room up-stairs, in the middle of the house, Peggy sat alone,
in a loose wrapper, with her hair flying over her shoulders. An open
book lay unnoticed in her lap. Her face was white and tear-stained, and
her eyes looked wild and ill.

As her glance fell on me I saw her need of me, and hurried in to close
the door. "Oh, mother; mother!" she moaned. "Such a morning! It's all
come back--all I fought against--all I was conquering. What does it
mean? What does it mean?"

"What has happened? Who has been here?"

"Maria--sneering at Charles's ideas, asking me questions, petting me
and pitying me and making a baby of me, until I broke down at last and
wanted all the things she wanted to have done, and let her kiss me
good-bye for her kindness in doing them--"

In a passion of tears she walked up and down, up and down the room, as
her father does, except with that quick, nervous grace she always has,
and in a painful, sobbing excitement.

Every sense I had was for an instant's passage fused in one clear,
concentrated anger against a sister who could play so ruthlessly upon
my poor child's woman pulses and emotions, so disarm her of her
self-control and right free spirit.

"Why did she come?" I said, at last, with the best calmness I could
muster. Peggy stood still for a moment, startled by a coldness in my
voice I couldn't alter.

"She came to find out about things for herself. Then when she did find
out about Charles's way of helping us she simply hated it--and she sent
me after--after the letter you had. I got it from your desk, and Maria
took it to find out its real address."

At that she sank again in a chair, and buried her face in her hands,
hardly knowing what she was saying. "Oh, what shall I do? What shall I
do?" she repeated, softly and wildly. "Yesterday I could behave so well
by what I knew was true about him. Then, when Maria came and spoke as
though I was three years old, and hadn't any understanding nor any
dignity of my own, and the best thing for any girl, at any rate, were
to cling to the man she loved as though she were his mother and he were
her dear, erring child" (she began to laugh a little), "the feebler he
were the more credit to her for her devotion--then I couldn't go on by
what I knew was true about him--only back, back again to all my--old
mistake." She was laughing and crying now with little, quick gasps, in
a sheer hysteria which no doubt would have given her sister entire
satisfaction as a manifesto of her normal womanliness.

I brought her a glass of water, and, trying to conceal my own distress
for her as well as I could, sat down, silently, near her. Gradually she
grew quieter, until the room was so still that we could hear the
raindrops from the eaves plash down outside. Peggy pushed back her
cloud of bright hair and fastened it in the nape of her neck. At last
she said, with conviction: "Mother, Maria didn't say these things, but
I know she thinks them for me, thinks that a woman's love is just all
forgiveness and indulgence. By that she could--she did work on my
nerves. But"--and her gray eyes glanced so beautifully and so darkly
with a girl's fine, straight, native, healthy spirit as she said it--"I
COULDN'T marry any man but one that I admired."

"I'm sure you couldn't," I said, firmly. "And, my dear child, I must
confess I fail to understand why your sister should wish so
patronizingly for you a fortune she would never have accepted for
herself. How can she possibly like for you such a mawkish and a morbid
thing as the prospect of a marriage with a man in whom neither you nor
any other person feels the presence of one single absolute and manly
quality?"

"Why, mother, I have never heard you speak so strongly before--"

At that moment Lena came searching through the hall, and knocking at
the door of my room, next Peggy's, to announce Lorraine. The
kind-hearted girl was with us constantly, and of the greatest
unobtrusive solace to Peggy in those three days after our travellers
had all gone, one after the other, like the fairy-tale family, at the
chance word of Clever Alice.

It was on the fifth morning afterward, as I was sitting on the piazza
hemming an organdie ruffle for my big little girl--she does shoot up so
fast--that I heard on the gravel Charles's footstep.

For some time after his arrival, as he sat, with his hat thrown off,
talking lightly of his New York sojourn, I was so completely glad to
see him, and to see him looking so well and in such buoyant spirits,
that I could think of nothing else until he mentioned taking tea "At
the Sign of the Three-legged Stool" with Lorraine's sisters, with Lyman
Wilde--and with Aunt Elizabeth.

My work dropped out of my hands.

He laughed. "Yes. Dear mother, since you never have seen him, I don't
know that I can hope to convey any right conception of Wilde's truly
remarkable character. He is, to begin with, the best of men. Picture,
if you can, a nature with a soul completely beautiful and selfless, and
a nervous surface quite as pachydermatous and indiscriminating as that
of an ox. Wilde accepts everybody's estimate of himself. Not only the
quality of his mercy, but also of his admiration, is quite unstrained.
So that he sees the friend of his youth not at all as I or any
humanized perception at the Crafts Settlement would see her, but quite
as she sees herself, as a fascinating, gifted, capricious woman of the
world, beating the wings of her thwarted love of beauty against cruel
circumstance. I noticed his attitude as soon as I mentioned to him that
Lorraine had by chance discovered that he and my aunt were old
acquaintances. He said that he would be very much interested in seeing
her again. As he happened at the moment to be looking over a packet of
postals announcing his series of talks on 'Script,' he asked me her
address, called his stenographer, and had it added to his mailing-list.
But before the postal reached her she had called him up to tell him she
had lately heard of his work and of him for the first time after all
these years, through Lorraine, and to ask him to come to see her. His
call, I am sure, they spent in a rich mutual misunderstanding as
thoroughly satisfactory to both as any one could wish. For, as I say,
on my last visit in the Crafts neighborhood she was taking tea with all
of them and Dr. Denbigh."

"Dr. Denbigh!" I repeated, in surprise. "Oh, Charles, are any of them
not well?"

"No, no. I think he's been in New York"--he gave a groan--"on account
of some delicate finesse on Maria's part, some incomprehensible plan of
hers for bringing Goward back here. The worst of it is that, like all
her plans, I believe it's going to be perfectly successful."

"What do you mean?" I asked, in consternation.

"From every natural portent, I think that horrid infant in arms was,
when I left New York, about to cast his handkerchief or rattle toward
Peggy again. I'm morally certain that he and all his odious emotional
disturbances will be presenting themselves for her consideration in
Eastridge before long; and, since they strike me as quite too odious
for the nicest girl in the world, I hope, before they reach here,
she'll be far away--absolutely out of reach."

"I hope so, too." But as I said it, for the first time there came
around me, like a blank, rising mist, the prospect of a journey farther
and a longer separation than any I had before imagined between us.

"I knew you'd think so. That was, partly, why I acted as I did, for
her, dear mother"--he leaned forward a little toward me and took up one
end of the ruffle I was stitching again to cover my excitement--"and
for Lorraine and for me, in engaging our passage abroad."

He seemed not to expect me to speak at once, but after a little quiet
pause, while we both sat thinking, went on, with great gentleness: "You
know it's about our only way of really protecting her from any
annoyance here, even that of thoughts of her own she doesn't like.
There will be so very wonderfully much for her to see, and I believe
she'll enjoy it. One of Lorraine's younger sisters is coming to be with
us, perhaps, for a while in Switzerland--and the Elliots--animal
sculptors. You remember them, don't you, and Arlington--studying
decorative design that winter when you were in New York? They'll be
abroad this summer. I believe we'll all have a very charming, care-free
time walking and sketching and working--a time really so much more
charming for a lovely and sensible young woman than sitting in a
talking town subject to the incursions of a lover she doesn't truly
like." He stopped a moment before he added, sincerely: "Then--it isn't
simply for her that this way would be better, mother, but for me, for
every one."

"For you and for every one?" I managed to make myself ask with
tranquillity.

"Yes. Why wouldn't this relieve immensely all the sufferers from my
commercial career at the factory? Don't you think that's somewhat
unjust, not simply to Maria's and Tom's requirements for the family
standing and fortunes"--he laughed a moment--"but to father's need
there of a right-hand business man?" That was his way of putting it.
"For a long time," he pursued, more earnestly than I've ever heard him
speak before in his life, "I've been planning, mother, to go away to
study and to sketch. I'm doing nothing here. Maybe what I would do away
from here might not seem to you so wonderful. But it would have one
dignity--whatever else it were or were not, it would be my own."

Perhaps it may seem strange, but in those few words and instants, when
my son spoke so simply and sincerely of his own work, I felt, more than
in his actual wedding with his wife, the cleaving pang of a marriage
for him. At the same time I was stricken beyond all possible speech by
my rising consciousness of the injustice of his sense of failure here
in his own father's house, in my house. How weakly I had been lost in
the thousand little anxieties and preoccupations of my every-day, to
let myself be unwittingly engulfed in his older sister's strange, blank
prejudice, to lose my own true understanding of the rights and the
happiness of one of the children--I can think it, all unspoken and in
silence--somehow most my own.

It seemed as though my heartstrings tightened. Everything blurred
before me. I never in my life have tried so hard before to hold my soul
absolutely still to see quite clearly, as though none of this were
happening to myself, what would be best for my boy's future, for
Peggy's, for their whole lives. It was in the midst of these
close-pressing thoughts that I heard him saying: "So that perhaps this
would truly be the right way for every one." Only too inevitably I knew
his words were true; and now I could force myself at last to say,
quietly: "Why--yes--if that would make you happier, Charles." He rose
and came up to my chair then so beautifully, and moved it to a shadier
place, as Peggy, catching sight of him from the garden, ran up with a
cry of surprise to meet him, to talk about it all.

I scarcely know whether her father's consciousness of the coming
separation for me, or my consciousness of the coming separation for
him, made things harder or easier for both of us. Cyrus was obliged to
make a business trip to Washington on the next day, and it was decided
that as Peggy especially wished to be with him now before her long
absence, she should accompany him in the morning.

On the midnight before we were all startled from sleep by the clang of
the door-bell. Good little Billy, always hoping for excitement, and
besides extremely sweet in doing errands, answered it. The rest of us
absurdly assembled in kimonos and bathrobes at the head of the stairs,
dreading we scarcely knew what, for the members of the family not in
the house. Within a few minutes Billy dashed up-stairs again,
considerately holding high, so that we all could see it, a
special-delivery letter, the very same illegible, bleared envelope
which had before annoyed us so extremely. It was addressed in
washed-out characters to Miss -- Talbert. The word Peggy, very clear
and black, had been lately inserted in the same handwriting; and below,
the street and number had been recently refreshed, apparently by the
hand of Maria.

As this familiar, wearisome object reappeared before us all, Peggy,
with a little quiver of mirth, looking out between her long braids,
cried: "Call back the boy!" By the time the messenger had returned she
had readdressed the envelope, unopened, to Mr. Goward. Billy took it
back down-stairs again; and every one trooped off to bed, Alice and
mother with positive snorts and flounces of impatience.

Needless to say, Tom and Maria returned in perfect safety on Saturday.
Before then, at twelve o'clock on the same morning, when Cyrus and
Peggy had gone, I was sitting on the piazza making a little money-bag
for her, with mother sitting rocking beside me, and complaining of
every one in peace, when Dr. Denbigh drove up to the horse-block, flung
his weight out of the buggy, and hurried up the steps. He shook hands
with us hastily and abstractedly, and asked if he might speak to me
inside the house.

"Mrs. Talbert," he said, closing the door of the library as soon as we
were inside it, "I am sure you will try not to feel alarmed at
something I must tell you of at once. The early morning train I came on
from New York, the one that ought to get in at Eastridge at eleven, was
derailed two hours ago on a misplaced switch between here and Whitman.
No one was killed, but many of the passengers were injured. Among the
injured I took care of was Mr. Goward. His arm has been broken. He's
been badly shaken up--and he's now in a state of shock at the Whitman
Hospital. The boy has been asking for Peggy, and then for you. I
promised him that after my work was done--all the injured were taken
there by a special as soon as possible after the wreck--I'd ask you to
drive back to see him. Will you come?"

Of course I went, then. And at Harry Goward's request I have gone twice
since. He is very ill, too ill to talk, and though Dr. Denbigh says he
will outlive a thousand stronger men, he has been rather worse this
morning. When I first saw him he asked for Peggy in one gasping word,
and when he learned she had gone to Washington turned even whiter than
he had been before. He is nervously quite wrecked and wretched; has no
confidence in Dr. Denbigh; and either Maria or I will go to the
hospital every day till the boy's mother comes from California. It is a
very trying situation. For his misfortune has, of course, not changed
my knowledge of his nature. I dread telling Cyrus and Peggy, when I
meet their returning noon train, after I have left mother at home, of
everything that has happened here.

As though these difficulties were not enough, this morning, just before
we started to Whitman, we were involved in another perplexity through
the unwilling agency of Mr. Temple. He called me up to read me a
bewildering telegram he had received an hour before from Elizabeth. It
said:

"Please end Eastridge scandal by announcing my engagement in
Banner.--Lily."

"Engagement to whom?" Mr. Temple had asked by telephone of Charles, who
said none of us could be responsible for any definite information in
the matter unless, perhaps, Maria. On consultation, Maria had said to
Mr. Temple that in New York Mr. Goward had imparted to her that
Elizabeth had told him many weeks ago that she was irrevocably
betrothed to Dr. Denbigh. Mr. Temple had finally referred
unsuccessfully to me for Elizabeth's address in order to ask her to
send a complete announcement in the full form she wished printed.

("Whoa, Douglas. Well--mother, you had a nice little nap, didn't you.
No, no; I won't be late. It's not more than five minutes to the
station. Thanks, Lena. Yes, Billy dear, you can get in. Why, I don't
know why you shouldn't drive.")

The train is just pulling in. Charles is there and Maria, each standing
on one side of the car-steps. Now I see them. That looks like Peggy's
suit-case the porter's carrying down. Yes, it is. There--there they
are, coming down the steps behind him, Cyrus and my dear girl--how well
they look! Oh, how I hope everything will come right for them!



X. THE SCHOOL-BOY

By Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews

Rabbits.

Automobile. (Painted red, with yellow lines.)

Automatic reel. (The 3-dollar kind.)

New stamp-book. (The puppy chewed my other.)

Golly, I forgot. I suppose I mustn't use this, but it's my birthday
next month, and I want 'steen things, and I thought I'd better make a
list to pin on the dining-room door, where the family could take their
pick what to give me. Lorraine gave me this blank-book, and told me
that if I'd write down everything that I knew about Peggy and Harry
Goward and all that stuff, she'd have Sally make me three pounds of
crumbly cookies with currants on top, in a box, to keep in my room just
to eat myself, and she wouldn't tell Alice, so I won't be selfish not
to offer her any as she won't know about it and so won't suffer. I'm
going to keep them in the extra bureau drawer where Peg puts her best
party dress, so I guess they'll be et up before anybody goes there.

Peggy's feeling pretty sick now to dress up for parties, but I know a
thing or two that the rest don't know. Wouldn't Alice be hopping! She
always thinks she's wise to everything, and to have a thick-headed
boy-person know a whacking secret that they'd all be excited about
would make her mad enough to burst. She thinks she can read my ingrown
soul too--but I rather think I have my own interior thoughts that Miss
Alice doesn't tumble to. For instance, Dr. Denbigh.

Golly, I forgot. Lorraine said she'd cut down the cookies if things
weren't told orderly the way they happened. So I've got to begin back.
First then, I've had the best time since Peggy got engaged that I've
ever had in my own home. Not quite as unbossed as when they sent me on
the Harris farm last summer, and I slept in the stable if I wanted to,
and nobody asked if I'd taken a bath. That was a sensible way to live,
but yet it's been unpecked at and pleasant even at home lately. You
see, with such a lot of fussing about Peggy and Harry Goward, nobody
has noticed what I did, and that, to a person with a taste for animals,
is one of the best states of living. I've gone to the table without
brushing my hair, and the puppy has slept in my bed, and I've kept a
toad behind the wash-basin for two weeks, and though Lena, the maid,
knew about it, she shut up and was decent because she didn't want to
worry mother. A toad is such an unusual creature to live with. I've got
a string to his hind leg, but yet he gets into places where you don't
expect him, and it's very interesting. Lena seemed to think it wasn't
nice to have him in the towels in the wash-stand drawer, but I didn't
care. It doesn't hurt the towels and it's cosey for the toad.

I had a little snake--a stunner--but Lena squealed when she found him
in my collars, so I had to take him away. He looked awfully cunning
inside the collars, but Lena wouldn't stand for him, so I let well
enough alone and tried to be contented with the toad and the puppy and
some June-bugs I've got in boxes in the closet, and my lizard--next to
mother, he's my best friend--I've had him six months. I'm not sure I
wouldn't rather lose mother than him, because you can get a
step-mother, but it's awfully difficult to replace a lizard like
Diogenes. I wonder if Lorraine will think I've written too much about
my animals? They're more fun than Peggy anyway, and as for Harry
Goward--golly! The toad or lizard that couldn't be livelier than he is
would be a pretty sad animal.

A year ago I was fishing one day away up the river, squatting under a
bush on a bank, when Peggy and Dr. Denbigh came and plumped right over
my head. They didn't see me--but it wasn't up to me. They were looking
the other way, so they didn't notice my fish-line either. They weren't
noticing much of life as it appeared to me except their personal
selves. I thought if they wouldn't disturb me I wouldn't disturb them.
At first I didn't pay attention to what they were saying, because there
was a chub and a trout together after my bait, and I naturally was
excited to see if the trout would take it. But when I'd lost both of
them I had time to listen.

I wouldn't have believed it of Dr. Denbigh, to bother about a girl like
Peg, who can't do anything. And he's a whale, just a whale. He's six
feet-two, and strong as an ox. He went through West Point before he
degraded himself into a doctor, and he held the record there for
shot-putting, and was on the foot-ball team, and even now, when he's
very old and of course can't last long, he plays the best tennis in
Eastridge. He went to the Spanish War--quite awhile ago that was, but
yet in modern times--and he was at San Juan. You can see he's a Jim
dandy--and him to be wasting time on Peggy--it's sickening! Even for a
girl she's poor stuff. I don't mean, of course, that she's not all
right in a moral direction, and I wouldn't let anybody else abuse her.
Everybody says she's pretty, and I suppose she is, in a red-headed way,
and she's awfully kind, you know, but athletically--that's what I'm
talking about--she doesn't amount to a row of pins. She can't fish or
play tennis or ride or anything.

Yet all the same it's true, I distinctly heard him say he loved her
better than anything on earth. I don't think he could have meant better
than Rapscallion; he's awfully fond of that horse. Probably he forgot
Rapscallion for the moment. Anyhow, Peg was sniffling and saying how
she was going back to college--it was the Easter vacation--and how she
was only a stupid girl and he would forget her. And he said he'd never
forget her one minute all his life--which was silly, for I've often
forgotten really important things. Once I forgot to stop at Lorraine's
for a tin of hot gingerbread she'd had Sally make for me to entirely
eat by myself, and Alice got it and devoured it all up, the pig!
Anyway, Dr. Denbigh said that, and then Peggy sniffled some more, and I
heard him ask her:

"What is it, dear?"

"Dear," your grandmother. She said, then, why wouldn't he let her be
engaged to him like anybody else, and it was hard on a girl to have to
beg a man to be engaged, and then he laughed a little and they didn't
either of them say anything for a while, but there were soft, rustling
sounds--a trout was after my bait, so I didn't listen carefully. When I
noticed again, Dr. Denbigh was saying how he was years and years older,
and it was his duty to take care of her and not allow her to make a
mistake that might ruin her life, and he wouldn't let her hurry into a
thing she couldn't get out of, and a lot more. Peg said that forty
wasn't old, and he was young enough for her, and she was certain,
CERTAIN--I don't know what she was certain of, but she was horribly
obstinate about it.

And then Dr. Denbigh said: "If I only dared let you, dear--if I only
dared."

And something about if she felt the same in two years, or a year, or
something--I can't remember all that truck--and they said the same
thing over a lot. I heard him murmur:

"Call me Jack, just once."

And she murmured back, as if it was a stunt, "Jack"--and then
rustlings. I'd call him Jack all the afternoon if he liked.

Then, after another of those still games, Peggy said, "Ow!" as if
somebody'd pinched her, and that seemed such a queer remark that I
stood up to see what they were up to. Getting to my feet I swung the
line around and the bait flopped up the bank and hit Peg square in the
mouth--I give you my word I didn't mean to, but it was awfully funny!
My! didn't she squeal bloody murder? That's what makes a person despise
Peggy. She's no sort of sport. Another time I remember I had some worms
in an envelope, and I happened to feel them in my pocket, so I pulled
out one and slid it down the back of her neck, and you'd have thought
I'd done something awful. She yelped and wriggled and cried--she
did--she actually cried. And you wouldn't believe what she finished up
by doing--she went and took a bath! A whole bath--when she didn't have
to! She can't see a joke at all. Now Alice is a horrid meddler--she and
Maria. Yet Alice is a sport, and takes her medicine. I've seen that
girl with a beetle in her hair, which I put there, keep her teeth shut
and not make a sound--only a low gurgle--until she'd got him and slung
him out of the window. Then she lammed me, I tell you--I respected her
for it too--but she couldn't now, I'm stronger.

Oh, golly! Lorraine will cut down the cookies if I don't tell what
happened. I don't exactly know what was next, but Dr. Denbigh somehow
had me by the collar and gave me a yank, like a big dog does a little
one.

"See here, you young limb," he said, "I'm--I'm going to--" and then he
suddenly stopped and looked at Peggy and began to chuckle, and Peggy
laughed and turned lobster color, and put her face in her hands and
just howled.

Of course I grinned too, and then I glanced up at him lovingly and
murmured "Jack," just like Peggy did.

That seemed to sober him, and he considered a minute. "Listen, Billy,"
he began, slowly; "we're in your power, but I'm going to trust you."

I just hooted, because there wasn't much else he could do. But he
didn't smile, only his eyes sort of twinkled.

"Be calm, my son," he said. "You're a gentleman, I believe, and all I
need do is to point out that what you've seen and heard is not your
secret. I'm sure you realize that it's unnecessary to ask you not to
tell. Of course, you'll never tell one word--NOT ONE WORD--" and he
glared. "That's understood, isn't it?"

I said, "Yep," sort of scared. He's splendidly big and arrogant, and
has that man-eating look, but he's a peach all the same.

"Are we friends--and brothers?" he asked, and slid a look at Peg.

"Yep," I said again, and I meant it.

"Shake," said Dr. Denbigh, and we shook like two men.

That was about all that happened that day except about my fishing.
There was a very interesting--but I suppose Lorraine wouldn't care for
that. It was a good deal of a strain on my feelings not to tell Alice,
but of course I didn't. But once in awhile I would glance up at Dr.
Denbigh trustingly and murmur "Jack," and he would be in a fit because
I'd always do it when the family just barely couldn't hear. As soon as
Peg came home from college we skipped to the mountains, and she went
back from there to college again, and I didn't have a fair show to get
rises out of them together, and in the urgency of 'steen things like
pigeons and the new puppy, I pretty nearly forgot their love's young
dream. I didn't have a surmise that I was going to be interwoven among
it like I was. I saw Aunt Elizabeth going out with Dr. Denbigh in his
machine two or three times, but she's a regular fusser with men, and
he's got a kind heart, so I wasn't wise to anything in that. The day
Peg came home for Christmas she was singing like the blue canaries down
in the parlor, and I happened to pass Aunt Elizabeth's door and she was
lacing up her shoes.

"Oh, Billy, ask Peggy if she doesn't want to go for a walk, will you?
There's a lamb," she called to me.

So I happened to have intelligence from pristine sources that they went
walking. And after that Peg had a grouch on and was off her feed the
rest of the vacation--nobody knew why--I didn't myself, even, and it
didn't occur to me that Aunt Elizabeth had probably been rubbing it in
how well she knew Dr. Denbigh. The last day Peggy was home, at the
table, they were chaffing Aunt Elizabeth about him, the way grown-ups
do, instead of talking about the facts of life and different kinds of
horse-feed, which is important in the winter. And I heard mother say in
a "sort-of-vochy" tone to Peggy:

"They really seem to be fond of each other. Perhaps there may be an
engagement to write you about, Peggy."

I thought to myself that mother didn't know that Dr. Denbigh was
prejudiced to being engaged, but I didn't say anything--it's wise not
to say anything to your family beyond the necessary jargon of living.
Peggy seemed to think the same, for she didn't answer a syllabus, but
after dropping her glass of water into the fried potatoes which Lena
was kindly handing to her, she jumped and scooted. A few minutes later
I wanted her to sew a sail on a boat, so I tried her door and it was
locked, and then I knocked and she took an awfully long time simply to
open that door, and when she did her eyes were red and she was
shivering as if she was cold.

"Oh, Billy, Billy!" she said, and then, of all things, she grabbed me
and kissed me.

I wriggled loose, and I said: "Sew up this sail for me, will you?
Hustle!"

But she didn't pay attention. "Oh, Billy, be a little good to me!" she
said. "I'm so wretched, and nobody knows but you. Oh, Billy--he likes
somebody better than me!"

"Who does?" I asked. "Father?"

She half laughed, a sort of sickly laugh. "No, Billy. Not
father--he--Jack--Dr. Denbigh. Oh, you know. Billy! You heard what
mother said."

"O--o--oh!" I answered her, in a contemplating slowness. "Oh--that's
so! Do you mind if he gets engaged to Aunt Elizabeth?"

"Do--I--MIND?" said Peggy, as if she was astonished. "Mind? Billy, I'll
love him till I die. It would break my heart."

"Oh no, it wouldn't," I told her, because I thought I'd sort of comfort
her. "That's truck. You can't break muscles just by loving. But I know
how you feel, because that's the way I felt when father gave that Irish
setter to the Tracys."

She went on chattering her teeth as if she was cold, so I put the
table-cover around her. "You dear Billy," she said. But that was stuff.

"I wouldn't bother," I said. "Likely he's forgotten about you. I often
forget things myself." That didn't seem to comfort her, for she began
to sob out loud. "Oh, now. Peg, don't cry," I observed to her. "He
probably likes Aunt Elizabeth better than you, don't you see? I think
she's prettier, myself. And, of course, she's a lot cleverer. She tells
funny stories and makes people laugh; you never do that--You're a good
sort, but quiet and not much fun, don't you see? Maybe he got plain
tired of you."

But instead of being cheered up by my explaining things, she put her
head on the table and just yowled. Girls are a queer species.

"You're cruel, cruel!" she sobbed out, and you bet that surprised
me--me that was comforting her for all I was worth! I patted her on the
back of the neck, and thought hard what other soothings I could squeeze
out. Then I had an idea. "Tell you what, Peg," I said, "it's too darned
bad of Dr. Denbigh, if he just did it for meanness, when you haven't
done anything to him. But maybe he got riled because you begged him so
to let you be engaged to him. Of course a man doesn't want to be
bothered--if he wants to get engaged he wants to, and if he doesn't
want to he doesn't, and that's all. I think probably Dr. Denbigh was
afraid you'd be at him again when you came home, so he hurried up and
snatched Aunt Elizabeth."

Peggy lifted her face and stared at me. She was a sight, with her eyes
all bunged up and her cheeks sloppy. "You think he IS engaged to her,
do you, Billy?" she asked me.

Her voice sort of shook, and I thought I'd better settle it for her one
way or the other, so I nodded and said, "Wouldn't be surprised," and
then, if you'll believe it, that girl got angry--at ME. "Billy, you're
brutal--you're like any other man-thing--cold-blooded and
faithless--and--" And she began choking--choking again, and I was
disgusted and cleared out.

I was glad when she went off to college, because, though she's a
kind-hearted girl, she was so peevish and untalkative it made me tired.
I think people ought to be cheerful around their own homes. But the
family didn't seem to see it; there are such a lot of us that you have
to blow a trumpet before you get any special notice--except me, when I
don't wash my hands. Yet, what's the use of washing your hands when
you're certain to get them dirty again in five minutes?

Well, then, awhile ago Peggy wrote she was engaged to Harry Goward, and
there was great excitement in the happy home. My people are mobile in
their temperatures, anyway--a little thing stirs them up. I thought it
was queerish, but I didn't know but Peggy had changed her mind about
loving Dr. Denbigh till she died. I should think that was too long
myself. I was busy getting my saddle mended and a new bridle, so I
didn't have time for gossip.

Harry came to visit the family, and the minute I inspected him over I
knew he was a sissy. If you'll believe me, that grown-up man can't chin
himself. He sings and paints apple blossoms, but he fell three-cornered
over a fence that I vaulted. He may be fascinating, as Lorraine says,
but he isn't worth saving, in my judgments. I said so to Dr. Denbigh
one day when he picked me up in his machine and brought me home from
school, and he was sympathetic and asked intelligent questions--at
least, some of them were; some of them were just slow remarks about if
Peggy seemed to be very happy, and that sort of stuff that doesn't have
any foundations. I told him particularly that I like automobiles, and
he thought a minute, and then said:

"If you were going to be playing near the Whitman station to-morrow I'd
pick you up and take you on a twenty-mile spin. I'm lunching with some
people near Whitman, and going on to Elmville."

"Oh, pickles!" said I. "Will you, really? Of course, I'll be there.
I'll drive over with the expressman--he's a friend of mine--right after
lunch," I said, "and I'll wait around the station for you."

So I did that, and while I was waiting I saw Aunt Elizabeth coming--I
saw her first, so I hid--I was afraid if she saw me she'd find out I
was going with Dr. Denbigh and snatch him herself. I heard her sending
a crazy telegram to Harry Goward, and then I forgot all about it until
I wanted to distract Alice's mind off some cookies that I'd accumulated
at Lorraine's house. Alice is a pig. She never lets me stuff in peace.
So I told her about the telegram--I knew Alice would be perturbed with
that. She just loves to tell things, but she made me tell Peggy, and
there was a hullabaloo promptly. Nobody confided a word to me, and I
didn't care much, but I saw them all whispering in low tones and being
very busy about it, and Peg looking madder than a goat, and I guessed
that Alice had made me raise Cain.

Now, I've got to back up and start over. Golly! it's harder than you'd
think just to write down things the way they happened, like I promised
Lorraine. Let's see--Oh yes, of course--about Dr. Denbigh and the
bubble. I was in a fit for fear dear Aunt Elizabeth would linger around
till the doctor came, and then somehow I'd be minus one drive in a
machine. She didn't; she cleared out with solidity and despatch, and my
Aurora, as the school-teacher would say, came in his whirling car, and
in I popped, and we had a corking time. He let me drive a little. You
see, the machine is a--Oh, well, Lorraine said, specially, I was not to
describe automobiles. That seems such a stupid restrictiveness, but
it's a case of cookies, so I'll cut that out.

There really wasn't much else to tell, only that Dr. Denbigh started
right in and raked out the inmost linings of my soul about Peggy and
Harry Goward. It wasn't exactly cross-examination, because he wasn't
cross, yet he fired the questions at me like a cannon, and I answered
quick, you bet. Dr. Denbigh knows what he wants, and he means to get
it. Just by accident toward the last I let out about that day in the
winter when they were chaffing Aunt Elizabeth at the table about him,
and how he'd taken her out in the machine, and how mother had said
there might be an engagement to write Peggy about.

"Oh!" said Dr. Denbigh. "Oh!--oh!"

Funny, the way he went on saying, "Oh! Oh!"

I thought if that interested him he might like to hear about Peg
throwing a fit in her room after, so I told him that, and how I tried
to comfort her, and how unreasonable she was. And what do you suppose
he said? He looked at me a minute with his eyebrows away down, and his
mouth jammed together, and then he brought out:

"You little devil!"

That's not the worst he said, either. I guess mother wouldn't let me go
out with him if she knew he used profanity--Maria wouldn't, anyway. I
have decided I won't tell them. It's the only time I ever caught him.
The other thing is this. He said to himself--but out loud--I think he
had forgotten me: "So they made her believe I liked her aunt better."
And then, in a minute: "She said it would break her heart--bless her!"
And two or three other interlocutory remarks like that, meaning nothing
in particular. And then all of a sudden he brought his fist down on his
knee with a bang and said, "Damn Aunt Elizabeth!"--not loud, but
compressed and explodingly, you know. I looked at him, and he said:
"Beg pardon. Billy. Your aunt's a very charming woman, but I mean it. I
only asked her to go out with me because she talked more about Peggy
than anybody else would," he went on.

I thought a minute, and put two and two together pretty quick. "You
mind about Peggy's being engaged to Harry Goward, don't you?" I asked
him; for I saw right through him then.

He looked queer. "Yes, I mind," he said.

"But you wouldn't be engaged to her yourself," I propounded to him; and
he grinned, and said something about more things in heaven and earth,
and called me Horatio. I reckon he got struck crazy a minute. And then
he made me tell him further what Peggy said and what I said, and he
laughed that time about my comforting her, though I don't see why. It
doesn't pay to give up important things, to be kind and thoughtful in
this world--nobody appreciates it, and you are sure to be sorry you
took the time. When I got up-stairs, after comforting Peggy, my toad
had jumped in the water-pitcher and got about drowned--he never was the
same toad after--and if I hadn't stopped in Peg's room to do good it
wouldn't have happened. And Dr. Denbigh laughed at me besides. However,
for an old chap of forty, he's a peach. I'm not kicking at Dr. Denbigh.

Then let's see--(It makes me tired to go on writing this stuff--I wish
I was through. But the cookies! I see a vision of a mountain range of
cookies with currants on them--crumbly cookies. Up and at it again for
me!)

The next stunt I had a shy at was a letter that Harry Goward asked
Alice to give Peggy, and Alice gave it to me because she was up to
something else just that minute. She didn't look at the address, but
you bet your sweet life I did, when I heard it was from Harry Goward. I
saw it was addressed to Peg. Then I stuffed it in my pocket and plain
forgot, because I was in a hurry to go fishing with Sid Tracy. I put a
chub on top of it that I wanted to keep for bait, and when I pulled it
out--the letter--the chub hadn't helped much. The envelope was a little
slimy. I said: "Gee!"

Sid said: "What's that?"

"A letter to my sister from that chump. Harry Goward," said I. "I've
got to take it to her. Looks pretty sad now."

Sid didn't like Harry Goward any more than I did, because he'd borrowed
Sid's best racket and left it out in the rain, and then just laughed.
So he said: "Not sad enough. Give it to me. I'll fix it."

He had some molasses candy that he'd bit, and he rubbed that over it a
little, and then suddenly we heard Alice calling, and he crammed the
letter in his pocket, candy and all, and there were some other things
in there that stuck to it. We were so rattled when Alice appeared and
demanded that very letter in her lordly way that I forgot if I had it
or Sid, and I went all through my clothes looking for it, and then Sid
found it in his, and, oh, my! Miss Alice turned up her nose when she
saw it. It did look smudgy.

Sid hurriedly scrubbed it with his handkerchief, but even that didn't
really make it clean, and by that time you couldn't read the address.
Alice didn't ask me if I'd read it, or I'd have told her.

There was a fuss afterward in the family, but I kept clear of it. I
wouldn't have time to get through what I have to do if I attended to
their fusses, so all I knew was that it had something to do with that
letter. All the family were taking trains, like a procession, for two
or three days. I don't know why, so Lorraine can't expect me to write
that down.

There's only one other event of great signification that I know about,
and nobody knows that except me and Dr. Denbigh and Peggy. It was this
way. The doctor saw me on the street one afternoon--I can't remember
what day it was--and stopped his machine and motioned to me to get in.
You bet I got. He shook hands with me just the way he would with
father, and not as if I were a contemptible puppy.

"Billy, my son, I want you to do something for me," he said.

"All right," said I.

"I've got to see Peggy," he went on. "I've got to!" And he looked as
fierce as a circus tiger. "I can't sit still and not lift a finger and
let this wretched business go on. I won't lose her for any silly
scruples."

I didn't know what he was driving at, but I said, "I wouldn't, either,"
in a sympathetic manner.

"I've got to see her!" he fired at me again.

"Yep," I said. "She's up at the house now. Come on." But that didn't
suit him. He explained that she wouldn't look at him when the others
were around, and that she slid off and wormed out of his way, so he
couldn't get at her, anyhow. Just like a girl, wasn't it--not to face
the music? Well, anyway, he'd cooked up a plan that he wanted me to do,
and I promised I would. He wanted me to get Peggy to go up the river to
their former spooning-resort (only he put it differently), and he would
be there waiting and make Peggy talk to him, which he seemed to desire
more than honey in the honeycomb.

Lovers are a strange animal. I may be foolish, but I prefer toads. With
them you can tie a string around the hind leg, and you have got them.
But with lovers it's all this way one day and upside down the next, and
wondering what's hurt the feelings of her, and if he's got tired of
you, and polyandering around to get interviews up rivers when you could
easier sit on the piazza and talk--and all such. It seems to me that
things would go a lot simpler if everybody would cut out most of the
feelings department, and just eat their meals and look after their
animals and play all they get time for, and then go to sleep quietly.
Fussing is such a depravity. But they wouldn't do what I said, not if I
told them, so I lie low and think.

Next morning I harnessed the pony in the cart and said, "Peg--take a
drive with me--come on," and Peg looked grattyfied, and mother said I
was a dear, thoughtful child, and grandma said it would do the girl
good, and I was a noble lad. So I got encombiums all round for once.
Only Aunt Elizabeth--she looked thoughtful.

I rattled Hotspur--that's the pony--out to the happy hunting-ground by
the river, till I saw Dr. Denbigh's gray cap behind a bush, and I
rightly argued that his manly form was hitched onto it, for he arose up
in his might as I stopped the cart. Peggy gasped and said, "Oh--oh! We
must go home. Oh, Billy, drive on!" Which Billy didn't do, not so you'd
notice it. Then the doctor said, in his I-am-the-Ten-Commandments
manner, "Get out, Peggy," and held his hand.

And Peggy said, "I won't--I can't," and immediately did, the goose.

Then he looked at me in a funny, fierce way he has, with his eyebrows
away down, only you know he's pleasant because his eyes jiggle.

"Billy, my son," he said, "will you kindly deprive us of the light of
your presence for one hour by the clock? Here's my timepiece--one hour.
Go!" And he gave Hotspur a slap so he leaped.

Dr. Denbigh is the most different person from Harry Goward I know.

Well, I drove round by the Red Bridge, and was gone an hour and twelve
minutes, and I thought they'd be missing me and in a fit to get home,
so I just raced Hotspur the last mile.

"I'm awfully sorry I'm so late," said I. "I got looking at some pigs,
so I forgot. I'm sorry," said I.

Peg looked up at me as if she couldn't remember who I was, and
inquired, wonderingly: "Is it an hour yet?"

And Dr. Denbigh said, "Great Scott! boy, you needn't have hurried!"

That's lovers all over.

And they hadn't finished yet, if you'll believe me. Dr. Denbigh went on
talking as they stood up, just as if I wasn't living. "You won't
promise me?" he asked her.

And she said: "Oh, Jack, how can I? I don't know what to do--but I'm
engaged to him--that's a solemn thing."

"Solemn nonsense," said the doctor. "You don't love him--you never
did--you never could. Be a woman, dearest, and end this wretched mess."

"I never would have thought I loved him if I hadn't believed I'd lost
you," Peggy ruminated to herself. "But I must think--" As if she hadn't
thunk for an hour!

"How long must you think?" the doctor fired at her.

"Don't be cross at me," said she, like a baby, and that big capable man
picked up her hand and kissed it--shame on him!

"No, no, dear," he said, as meek as pie. "I'll wait--only you MUST
decide the right way, and remember that I'm waiting, and that it's
hard."

Then he put her into the cart clingingly--I'd have chucked her--and I
leaned over toward him the last thing and threw my head lovingly on one
side and rolled my eyes up and murmured at him, "Good-bye, Jack," and
started Hotspur before he could hit me.

Now, thank the stars, there's just one or two little items more that
I've got to write. One is what I heard mother tell father when they
were on the front piazza alone, and I was teaching the puppy to beg,
right in sight of them on the grass. They think I'm an earless freak,
maybe. She told him that dear Peggy was growing into such a strong,
splendid woman; that she'd been talking to her, and she thought the
child would be able to give up her weak, vacillating lover with hardly
a pang, because she realized that he was unworthy of her; that Peg had
said she couldn't marry a man she didn't admire--and wasn't that noble
of her? Noble, your grandmother--to give up a perfect lady like Harry
Goward, when she's got a real man up her sleeve! I'd have made them sit
up and take notice if I hadn't promised not to tell. Which reminds me
that I ought to explain how I got Dr. Denbigh to let me write this for
Lorraine. I put it to him strongly, you see, about the cookies, and at
first he said.

"Not on your life! Not in a thousand years!" And then--

But what's the use of writing that? Lorraine is on to all that. But, my
pickles! won't there be a circus when Alice finds out that I've known
things she didn't! Won't Alice be hopping--gee



XI. PEGGY

by Alice Brown

"Remember," said Charles Edward--he had run in for a minute on his way
home from the office where he has been clearing out his desk, "for good
and all," he tells us--"remember, next week will see us out of this
land of the free and home of the talkative." He meant our sailing. I
shall be glad to be with him and Lorraine. "And whatever you do. Peg,
don't talk, except to mother. Talk to her all you want to. Mother has
the making of a woman in her. If mother'd been a celibate, she'd have
been, also, a peach."

"But I don't want to talk," said I. "I don't want to talk to anybody."

"Good for you," said Charles Edward. "Now I'll run along."

I sat there on the piazza watching him, thinking he'd been awfully good
to me, and feeling less bruised, somehow, than I do when the rest of
the family advise me--except mother! And I saw him stop, turn round as
if he were coming back, and then settle himself and plant his feet wide
apart, as he does when the family question him about business. Then I
saw somebody in light blue through the trees, and I knew it was Aunt
Elizabeth. Alice was down in the hammock reading and eating cookies,
and she saw her, too. Alice threw the book away and got her long legs
out of the hammock and ran. I thought she was coming into the house to
hide from Aunt Elizabeth. That's what we all do the first minute, and
then we recover ourselves and go down and meet her. But Alice dropped
on her knees by my chair and threw her arms round me.

"Forgive, Peggy," she moaned. "Oh, forgive!"

I saw she had on my fraternity pin, and I thought she meant that. So I
said, "You can wear it today"; but she only hugged me the tighter and
ran on in a rigmarole I didn't understand.

"She's coming, and she'll get it out of Lorraine, and they'll all be
down on us."

Charles Edward and Aunt Elizabeth stood talking together, and just then
I saw her put her hand on his shoulder.

"She's trying to come round him," said Alice.

I began to see she was really in earnest now. "He's squirming. Oh,
Peggy, maybe she's found it out some way, and she's telling him, and
they'll tell you, and you'll think I am false as hell!"

I knew she didn't mean anything by that word, because whenever she says
such things they're always quotations. She began to cry real tears.

"It was Billy put it into my head," said she, "and Lorraine put it into
his. Lorraine wanted him to write out exactly what he knew, and he
didn't know anything except about the telegram and how the letter got
wuzzled, and I told him I'd help him write it as it ought to be 'if
life were a banquet and beauty were wine'; but I told him we must make
him say in it how he'd got to conceal it from me, or they'd think we
got it up together. So I wrote it," said Alice, "and Billy copied it."

Perhaps I wasn't nice to the child, for I couldn't listen to her. I was
watching Charles Edward and Aunt Elizabeth, and saying to myself that
mother'd want me to sit still and meet Aunt Elizabeth when she
came--"like a good girl," as she used to say to me when I was little
and begged to get out of hard things. Alice went on talking and gasping.

"Peg," she said, "he's perfectly splendid--Dr. Denbigh is."

"Yes, dear," said I, "he's very nice."

"I've adored him for years," said Alice. "I could trust him with my
whole future. I could trust him with yours."

Then I laughed. I couldn't help it. And Alice was hurt, for some
reason, and got up and held her head high and went into the house. And
Aunt Elizabeth came up the drive, and that is how she found me
laughing. She had on a lovely light-blue linen. Nobody wears such
delicate shades as Aunt Elizabeth. I remember, one day, when she came
in an embroidered pongee over Nile-green, father groaned, and
grandmother said: "What is it, Cyrus? Have you got a pain?" "Yes," said
father, "the pain I always have when I see sheep dressed lamb fashion."
Grandmother laughed, but mother said: "Sh!" Mother's dear.

This time Aunt Elizabeth had on a great picture-hat with light-blue
ostrich plumes; it was almost the shape of her lavender one that
Charles Edward said made her look like a coster's bride. When she bent
over me and put both arms around me the plumes tickled my ear. I think
that was why I was so cross. I wriggled away from her and said: "Don't!"

Aunt Elizabeth spoke quite solemnly. "Dear child!" she said, "you are
broken, indeed."

And I began to feel again just as I had been feeling, as if I were in a
show for everybody to look at, and I found I was shaking all over, and
was angry with myself because of it. She had drawn up a chair, and she
held both my hands.

"Peggy," said she, "haven't you been to the hospital to see that poor
dear boy?"

I didn't have to answer, for there was a whirl on the gravel, and
Billy, on his bicycle, came riding up with the mail. He threw himself
off his wheel and plunged up the steps as he always does, pretended to
tickle his nose with Aunt Elizabeth's feathers as he passed behind her,
and whispered to me: "Shoot the hat!" But he had heard Aunt Elizabeth
asking if I were not going to see that poor dear boy, and he said, as
if he couldn't help it:

"Huh! I guess if she did she wouldn't get in. His mother's walking up
and down front of the hospital when she ain't with him, and she's got a
hook nose and white hair done up over a roll and an eye-glass on a
stick, and I guess there won't be no nimps and shepherdesses get by
HER."

Aunt Elizabeth stood and thought for a minute, and her eyes looked as
they do when she stares through you and doesn't see you at all. Alice
asked Charles Edward once if he thought she was sorrowing o'er the past
when she had that look, and he said: "Bless you, chile, no more than a
gentle industrious spider. She's spinning a web." But in a minute
mother had stepped out on the piazza, and I felt as if she had come to
my rescue. It was the way she used to come when I broke my doll or tore
my skirt. But we didn't look at each other, mother and I. We didn't
mean Aunt Elizabeth should see there was anything to rescue me from.
Aunt Elizabeth turned to mother, and seemed to pounce upon her.

"Ada," said she, "has my engagement been announced?"

"Not to my knowledge," said mother. She spoke with a great deal of
dignity. "I understood that the name of the gentleman had been
withheld."

"Withheld!" repeated Aunt Elizabeth. "What do you mean by 'withheld'?
Billy, whom are those letters for?"

In spite of ourselves mother and I started. Letters have begun to seem
rather tragic to us.

"One's the gas-bill," said Billy, "and one's for you." Aunt Elizabeth
took the large, square envelope and tore it open. Then she looked at
mother and smiled a little and tossed her head.

"This is from Lyman Wilde," said she.

I thought I had never seen Aunt Elizabeth look so young. It must have
meant something more to mother than it did to me, for she stared at her
a minute very seriously.

"I am truly glad for you, Elizabeth," she said. Then she turned to me.
"Daughter," said she, "I shall need you about the salad."

She smiled at me and went in. I knew what that meant. She was giving me
a chance to follow her, if I needed to escape. But there was hardly
time. I was at the door when Aunt Elizabeth rustled after so quickly
that it sounded like a flight. There on the piazza she put her arms
about me.

"Child!" she whispered. "Child! Verlassen! Verlassen!"

I drew away a little and looked at her. Then I thought: "Why, she is
old!" But I hadn't understood. I knew the word was German, and I hadn't
taken that in the elective course.

"What is it. Aunt Elizabeth?" I asked. I had a feeling I mustn't leave
her. She smiled a little--a queer, sad smile.

"Peggy," said she, "I want you to read this letter." She gave it to me.
It was written on very thick gray paper with rough edges, and there was
a margin of two inches at the left. The handwriting was beautiful, only
not very clear, and when I had puzzled over it for a minute she
snatched it back again.

"I'll read it to you," said she.

Well, I thought it was a most beautiful letter. The gentleman said she
had always been the ideal of his life. He owed everything--and by
everything he meant chiefly his worship of beauty--to her. He asked her
to accept his undying devotion, and to believe that, however far
distance and time should part them, he was hers and hers only. He said
he looked back with ineffable contempt upon the days when he had hoped
to build a nest and see her beside him there. Now he had reached the
true empyrean, and he could only ask to know that she, too, was winging
her bright way into regions where he, in another life, might follow and
sing beside her in liquid, throbbing notes to pierce the stars. He
ended by saying that he was not very fit--the opera season had been a
monumental experience this year--and he was taking refuge with an
English brotherhood to lead, for a time, a cloistered life instinct
with beauty and its worship, but that there as everywhere he was hers
eternally. How glad I was of the verbal memory I have been so often
praised for! I knew almost every word of that lovely letter by heart
after the one reading. I shall never forget it.

"Well?" said Aunt Elizabeth. She was looking at me, and again I saw how
long it must have been since she was young. "Well, what do you think of
it?"

I told the truth. "Oh," said I, "I think it's a beautiful letter!"

"You do!" said Aunt Elizabeth. "Does it strike you as being a
love-letter!"

I couldn't answer fast enough. "Why, Aunt Elizabeth," I said, "he tells
you so. He says he loves you eternally. It's beautiful!"

"You fool!" said Aunt Elizabeth. "You pink-cheeked little fool! You
haven't opened the door yet--not any door, not one of them--oh, you
happy, happy fool!" She called through the window (mother was arranging
flowers there for tea): "Ada, you must telephone the Banner. My
engagement is not to be announced." Then she turned to me. "Peggy'"
said she, in a low voice, as if mother was not to hear, "to-morrow you
must drive with me to Whitman."

Something choked me in my throat: either fear of her or dread of what
she meant to make me do. But I looked into her face and answered with
all the strength I had: "Aunt Elizabeth, I sha'n't go near the
hospital."

"Don't you think it's decent for you to call on Mrs. Goward?" she asked.

She gave me a little shake. It made me angry. "It may be decent," I
said, "but I sha'n't do it."

"Very well," said Aunt Elizabeth. Her voice was sweet again. "Then I
must do it for you. Nobody asks you to see Harry himself. I'll run in
and have a word with him--but, Peggy, you simply must pay your respects
to Mrs. Goward."

"No! no! no!" I heard myself answering, as if I were in some strange
dream. Then I said: "Why, it would be dreadful! Mother wouldn't let me!"

Aunt Elizabeth came closer and put her hands on my shoulders. She has a
little fragrance about her, not like flowers, but old laces, perhaps,
that have been a long time in a drawer with orris and face-powder and
things. "Peggy," said she, "never tell your mother I asked you."

I felt myself stiffen. She was whispering, and I saw she meant it.

"Oh, Peggy! don't tell your mother. She is not--not simpatica. I might
lose my home here, my only home. Peggy, promise me."

"Daughter!" mother was calling from the dining-room.

I slipped away from Aunt Elizabeth's hands. "I promise," said I. "You
sha'n't lose your home."

"Daughter!" mother called again, and I went in.

That night at supper nobody talked except father and mother, and they
did every minute, as if they wanted to keep the rest of us from
speaking a word. It was all about the Works. Father was describing some
new designs he had accepted, and telling how Charles Edward said they
would do very well for the trimmings of a hearse, and mother coughed
and said Charles Edward's ideas were always good, and father said not
where the market was concerned. Aunt Elizabeth had put on a white
dress, and I thought she looked sweet, because she was sad and had made
her face quite pale; but I was chiefly busy in thinking how to escape
before anybody could talk to me. It doesn't seem safe nowadays to speak
a word, because we don't know where it will lead us. Alice, too, looked
pale, poor child! and kept glancing at me in a way that made me so
sorry. I wanted to tell her I didn't care about her pranks and Billy's,
whatever they were. And whatever she had written, it was sure to be
clever. The teacher says Alice has a positive genius for writing, and
before many years she'll be in all the magazines. When supper was over
I ran up-stairs to my room. I sat down by the window in the dark and
wondered when the moon would rise. I felt excited--as if something were
going to happen. And in spite of all the dreadful things that had
happened to us, and might keep on happening, I felt as if I could die
with joy. There were steps on the porch below my window. I heard
father's voice.

"That's ridiculous, Elizabeth," he said--"ridiculous! If it's a good
thing for other girls to go to college, it's been a good thing for her."

"Ah," said Aunt Elizabeth, "but is it a good thing?"

Then I knew they were talking about me, and I put my fingers in my ears
and said the Latin prepositions. I have been talked about enough. They
may talk, but I won't hear. By-and-by I took my fingers out and
listened. They had gone in, and everything was still. Then I began to
think it over. Was it a bad thing for me to go to college? I'm
different from what I was three years ago, but I should have been
different if I'd stayed at home. For one thing, I'm not so shy. I
remember the first day I came out of a class-room and Stillman Dane
walked up to me and said; "So you're Charlie Ned's sister!" I couldn't
look at him. I stood staring down at my note-book, and now I should
say, quite calmly: "Oh, you must be Mr. Dane? I believe you teach
psychology." But I stood and stared. I believe I looked at my hands for
a while and wished I hadn't got ink on my forefinger--and he had to
say: "I'm the psychology man. Charlie Ned and I were college friends.
He wrote me about you." But though I didn't look at him that first
time, I thought he had the kindest voice that ever was--except
mother's--and perhaps that was why I selected psychology for my
specialty. I was afraid I might be stupid, and I knew he was kind. And
then came that happy time when I was getting acquainted with everybody,
and Mr. Dane was always doing things for me. "I'm awfully fond of
Charlie Ned, you know," he told me. "You must let me take his place."
Then Mr. Goward told me all those things at the dance, how he had found
life a bitter waste, how he had been betrayed over and over by the vain
and worldly, and how his heart was dead and nobody could bring it to
life but me. He said I was his fate and his guiding-star, and since
love was a mutual flame that meant he was my fate, too. But it seemed
as if that were the beginning of all my bad luck, for about that time
Stillman Dane was different, and one day he stopped me in the yard when
I was going to chapel.

"Miss Peggy," said he, "don't let's quarrel."

He held out his hand, and I gave him mine quickly.

"No," said I, "I'm not quarrelling."

"I want to ask you something," said he. "You must answer, truly. If I
have a friend and she's doing something foolish, should I tell her?
Should I write to her brother and tell him?"

"Why," said I, "do you mean me?" Then I understood. "You think I'm not
doing very well in my psychology," I said. "You think I've made a wrong
choice." I looked at him then. I never saw him look just so. He had my
hand, and now I took it away. But he wouldn't talk about the psychology.

"Peggy," said he, "do your people know Goward?"

"They will in vacation," I said. "He's going home with me. We're
engaged, you know."

"Oh!" said he. "Oh! Then it is true. Let him meet Charles Edward at
once, will you? Tell Charles Edward I particularly want him to know
Goward." His voice sounded sharp and quick, and he turned away and left
me. But I didn't give his message to Charles Edward, and somehow, I
don't know why, I didn't talk about him after I came home. "Dane never
wrote me whether he looked you up," said Charles Edward one day. "Not
very civil of him." But even then I couldn't tell him. Mr. Dane is one
of the people I never can talk about as if they were like everybody
else. Perhaps that is because he is so kind in a sort of intimate,
beautiful way. And when I went back after vacation he had resigned, and
they said he had inherited some money and gone away, and after he went
I never understood the psychology at all. Mr. Goward used to laugh at
me for taking it, only he said I could get honors in anything, my
verbal memory is so good. But I told him, and it is true, that the last
part of the book is very dull. While I was going over all this, still
with that strange excited feeling of happiness, I heard Aunt
Elizabeth's voice from below. She was calling, softly: "Peggy! Peggy!
Are you up there?"

I got on my feet just as quietly as I could, and slipped through
mother's room and down the back stairs. Mother was in the vegetable
garden watering the transplanted lettuce. I ran out to her. "Mother," I
said, "may I go over to Lorraine's and spend the night?"

"Yes, lamb," said mother. That's a good deal for mother to say.

"I'll run over now," I told her. "I won't stop to take anything.
Lorraine will give me a nightie."

I went through the vegetable garden to the back gate and out into the
street. There I drew a long breath. I don't know what I thought Aunt
Elizabeth could do to me, but I felt safe. Then--I could laugh at it
all, because it seems as if I must have been sort of crazy that
night--I began to run as if I couldn't get there fast enough. But when
I got to the steps I heard Lorraine laughing, and I stopped to listen
to see whether any one was there.

"I tell Peter," said she, "that it's his opportunity. Don't you
remember the Great Magician's story of the man who was always afraid he
should miss his opportunity? And the opportunity came, and, sure
enough, the man didn't know it, and it slipped by. Well, that mustn't
be Peter."

"It musn't be any of us," said a voice. "Things are mighty critical,
though. It's as if everybody, the world and the flesh and the Whole
Family, had been blundering round and setting their feet down as near
as they could to a flower. But the flower isn't trampled yet. We'll
build a fence round it." My heart beat so fast that I had to put my
hand over it. I wondered if I were going to have heart-failure, and I
knew grandmother would say, "Digitalis!" When I thought of that I
laughed, and Lorraine called out, "Who's there?" She came to the long
window. "Why, Peggy, child," said she, "come in." She had me by the
hand and led me forward. They got up as I stepped in, Charles Edward
and Stillman Dane. Then I knew why I was glad. If Stillman Dane had
been here all these dreadful things would not have happened, because he
is a psychologist, and he would have understood everybody at once and
influenced them before they had time to do wrong.

"Jove!" said Charles Edward. "Don't you look handsome, Peg!"

"Goose!" said Lorraine, as if she wanted him to be still. "A good neat
girl is always handsome. There's an epigram for you. And Peggy's hair
is loose in three places. Let me fix it for you, child."

So we all laughed, and Lorraine pinned me up in a queer, tender way, as
if she were mother dress-me for something important, and we sat down,
and began to talk about college. I am afraid Stillman Dane and I did
most of the talking, for Lorraine and Charles Edward looked at each
other and smiled a little, in a fashion they have, as if they
understood each other, and Lorraine got up to show him the bag she had
bought that day for the steamer; and while she was holding it out to
him and asking him if it cost too much, she stopped short and called
out, sharply, "Who's there?" I laughed. "Lorraine has the sharpest
ears," I said. "Ears!" said Lorraine. "It isn't ears. I smell orris.
She's coming. Mr. Dane, will you take Peggy out of that window into the
garden? Don't yip, either of you, while you're within gunshot, and
don't appear till I tell you."

"Lorraine!" came a voice, softly, from the front walk. It was Aunt
Elizabeth. She has a way of calling to announce herself in a sweet,
cooing tone. I said to Charles Edward once it was like a dove, and he
said: "No, my child, not doves, but woodcock." Alice giggled and called
out, quite loudly, '"Springes to catch woodcock!'" And he shook his
head at her and said, "You all-knowing imp! isn't even Shakespeare
hidden from you?" But now the voice didn't sound sweet to me at all,
because I wanted to get away. We rose at the same minute, Mr. Dane and
I, and Lorraine seemed to waft us from the house on a kind little wind.
At the foot of the steps we stopped for fear the gravel should crunch,
and while we waited for Aunt Elizabeth to go in the other way I looked
at Mr. Dane to see if he wanted to laugh as much as I. He did. His eyes
were full of fun and pleasure, and he gave me a little nod, as if we
were two children going to play a game we knew all about. Then I heard
Aunt Elizabeth's voice inside. It was low and broken--what Charles
Edward called once her "come-and-comfort-me" voice.

"Dears," said she, "you are going abroad?"

"Yes," Charles Edward answered. "Yes, it looks that way now."

"Yes," said Lorraine, rather sharply, I thought, as if she meant to
show him he ought to be more decisive, "we are."

"Dears," Aunt Elizabeth went on, "will you take me with you?"

Mr. Dane started as if he meant to go back into the house. I must have
started, too, and my heart beat hard. There was a silence of a minute,
two minutes, three perhaps. Then I heard Charles Edward speak, in a
voice I didn't know he had.

"No, Aunt Elizabeth, no. Not so you'd notice it."

Mr. Dane gave a nod as if he were relieved, and we both began tiptoeing
down the path in the dark. But it wasn't dark any more. The moon was
coming through the locust-trees, and I smelled the lindens by the wall.
"Oh," I said, "it's summer, isn't it? I don't believe I've thought of
summer once this year."

"Yes," said he, "and there never was a summer such as this is going to
be."

I knew he was very athletic, but I don't believe I'd thought how much
he cared for out-of-doors. "Come down here," I said. "This is
Lorraine's jungle. There's a seat in it, and we can smell the ferns."

Charles Edward had been watering the garden, and everything was sweet.
Thousands of odors came out such as I never smelled before. And all the
time the moon was rising. After we had sat there awhile, talking a
little about college, about my trip abroad, I suddenly found I could
not go on. There were tears in my eyes. I felt as if so good a friend
ought to know how I had behaved--for I must have been very weak and
silly to make such a mistake. He ought to hear the worst about me.
"Oh," I said, "do you know what happened to me?"

He made a little movement toward me with both hands. Then he took them
back and sat quite still and said, in that kind voice: "I know you are
going abroad, and when you come back you will laugh at the dolls you
played with when you were a child." But I cried, softly, though,
because it was just as if I were alone, thinking things out and being
sorry, sorry for myself--and ashamed. Until now I'd never known how
ashamed I was. "Don't cry, child," he was saying. "For God's sake,
don't cry!" I think it came over me then, as it hadn't before, that all
that part of my life was spoiled. I'd been engaged and thought I liked
somebody, and now it was all over and done. "I don't know what I'm
crying for," I said, at last, when I could stop. "I suppose it's
because I'm different now, different from the other girls, different
from myself. I can't ever be happy any more."

He spoke, very quickly. "Is it because you liked Goward so much?"

"Like him!" I said. "Like Harry Goward? Why, I--" There I stopped,
because I couldn't think of any word small enough, and I think he
understood, for he laughed out quickly.

"Now," said he, "I'm a psychologist. You remember that, don't you? It
used to impress you a good deal."

"Oh," said I, "it does impress me. Nobody has ever seemed so wise as
you. Nobody!"

"Then it's understood that I'm a sage from the Orient. I know the
workings of the human mind. And I tell you a profound truth: that the
only way to stop thinking of a thing is to stop thinking of it. Now,
you're not to think of Goward and all this puppet-show again. Not a
minute. Not an instant. Do you hear?" He sounded quite stern, and I
answered as if I had been in class.

"Yes, sir."

"You are to think of Italy, and how blue the sea is--and Germany, and
how good the beer is--and Charlie Ned and Lorraine, and what trumps
they are. Do you hear?"

"Yes, sir," said I, and because I knew we were going to part and there
would be nobody else to advise me in the same way, I went on in a great
hurry for fear there should not be time. "I can't live at home even
after we come back. I could never be pointed at, like Aunt Elizabeth,
and have people whisper and say I've had a disappointment. I must make
my own life. I must have a profession. Do you think I could teach? Do
you think I could learn to teach--psychology?"

He didn't answer for a long time, and I didn't dare look at him, though
the moon was so bright now that I could see how white his hand was,
lying on his knee, and the chasing of the ring on his little finger. It
had been his mother's engagement ring, he told me once. But he spoke,
and very gently and seriously. "I am sure you could teach some things.
Whether psychology--but we can talk of that later. There'll be lots of
time. It proves I am going over on the same steamer with Charlie Ned
and Lorraine and you."

"You are!" I cried. "Why, I never heard of anything so--" I couldn't
find the word for it, but everything stopped being puzzling and unhappy
and looked clear and plain.

"Yes," said he. "It's very convenient, isn't it? We can talk over your
future, and you could even take a lesson or two in psychology. But I
fancy we shall have a good deal to do looking for porpoises and asking
what the run is. People are terribly busy at sea."

Then it occurred to me that he had never been here before, and why was
he here now? "How did you happen to come?" I asked. I suppose I really
felt as if God sent him.

"Why," said he, "why--" Then he laughed. "Well," said he, "to tell the
truth, I was going abroad if--if certain things happened, and I needed
to make sure. I didn't want to write, so I ran down to see Charlie Ned."

"But could he tell you?" said I. "And had they happened?"

He laughed, as if at something I needn't share. "No," he said, "the
things weren't going to happen. But I decided to go abroad."

I was "curiouser and curiouser," as Lorraine says.

"But," I insisted, "what had Charles Edward to do with it?"

There were a great many pauses that night as if, I think, he didn't
know what was wise to say. I should imagine it would always be so with
psychologists. They understand so well what effect every word will have.

"Well, to tell the truth," he answered, at last, in a kind, darling
way, "I wanted to make sure all was well with my favorite pupil before
I left the country. I couldn't quite go without it."

"Mr. Dane," I said, "you don't mean me?"

"Yes," he answered, "I mean you."

I could have danced and sung with happiness. "Oh," said I, "then I must
have been a better scholar than I thought. I feel as if I could teach
psychology--this minute."

"You could," said he, "this minute." And we both laughed and didn't
know, after all, what we were laughing at--at least I didn't. But
suddenly I was cold with fear.

"Why," I said, "if you've only really decided to go to-night, how do
you know you can get a passage on our ship?"

"Because, sweet Lady Reason," said he, "I used Charlie Ned's telephone
and found out." (That was a pretty name--sweet Lady Reason.)

We didn't talk any more then for a long time, because suddenly the moon
seemed so bright and the garden so sweet. But all at once I heard a
step on the gravel walk, and I knew who it was. "That's Charles
Edward," I said. "He's been home with Aunt Elizabeth. We must go in."

"No!" said he. "No, Peggy. There won't be such another night." Then he
laughed quickly and got up. "Yes," he said, "there will be such
nights--over and over again. Come, Peggy, little psychologist, we'll go
in."

We found Lorraine and Charles Edward standing in the middle of the
room, holding hands and looking at each other. "You're a hero,"
Lorraine was saying, "and a gentleman and a scholar and my own
particular Peter."

"Don't admire me," said Charles Edward, "or you'll get me so bellicose
I shall have to challenge Lyman Wilde. Poor old chap! I believe to my
soul he's had the spirit to make off."

"Speak gently of Lyman Wilde," said Lorraine. "I never forget what we
owe him. Sometimes I burn a candle to his photograph. I've even dropped
a tear before it. Well, children?" She turned her bright eyes on us as
if she liked us very much, and we two stood facing them two, and it all
seemed quite solemn. Suddenly Charles Edward put out his hand and shook
Mr. Dane's, and they both looked very much moved, as grandmother would
say. I hadn't known they liked each other so well.

"Do you know what time it is?" said Lorraine. "Half-past eleven by
Shrewsbury clock. I'll bake the cakes and draw the ale."

"Gee whiz!" said Mr. Dane. I'd never heard things like that. It sounded
like Billy, and I liked it. "I've got to catch that midnight train."

For a minute it seemed as if we all stood shouting at one another,
Lorraine asking him to stay all night, Charles Edward giving him a
cigar to smoke on the way, I explaining to Lorraine that I'd sleep on
the parlor sofa and leave the guest-room free, and Mr. Dane declaring
he'd got a million things to do before sailing. Then he and Charles
Edward dashed out into the night, as Alice would say, and I should have
thought it was a dream that he'd been there at all except that I felt
his touch on my hand. And Lorraine put her arms round me and kissed me
and said, "Now, you sweet child, run up-stairs and look at the
moonlight and dream--and dream--and dream."

I don't know whether I slept that night; but, if I did, I did not dream.

The next forenoon I waited until eleven o'clock before I went home. I
wanted to be sure Aunt Elizabeth was safely away at Whitman. Yet, after
all, I did not dread her now. I had been told what to do. Some one was
telling me of a song the other day, "Command me, dear." I had been
commanded to stop thinking of all those things I hated. I had done it.
Mother met me at the steps. She seemed a little anxious, but when she
had put her hand on my shoulder and really looked at me she smiled the
way I love to see her smile. "That's a good girl!" said she. Then she
added, quickly, as if she thought I might not like it and ought to know
at once, "Aunt Elizabeth saw Dr. Denbigh going by to Whitman, and she
asked him to take her over."

"Did she?" said I. "Oh, mother, the old white rose is out!"

"There they are, back again," said mother. "He's leaving her at the
gate."

Well, we both waited for Aunt Elizabeth to come up the path. I picked
the first white rose and made mother smell it, and when I had smelled
it myself I began to sing under my breath, "Come into the garden,
Maud," because I remembered last night.

"Hush, child," said mother, quickly. "Elizabeth, you are tired. Come
right in."

Aunt Elizabeth's lip trembled a little. I thought she was going to cry.
I had never known her to cry, though I had seen tears in her eyes, and
I remember once, when she was talking to Dr. Denbigh, Charles Edward
noticed them and laughed. "Those are not idle tears, Peg," he said to
me "They're getting in their work."

Now I was so sorry for her that I stopped thinking of last night and
put it all away. It seemed cruel to be so happy. Aunt Elizabeth sat
down on the step and mother brought her an eggnog. It had been all
ready for grandmother, and I could see mother thought Aunt Elizabeth
needed it, if she was willing to make grandmother wait.

"Ada," said Aunt Elizabeth, suddenly, as she sipped it, "what was Dr.
Denbigh's wife like?"

"Why," said mother, "I'd almost forgotten he had a wife, it was so long
ago. She died in the first year of their marriage."

Aunt Elizabeth laughed a little, almost as if no one were there. "He
began to talk about her quite suddenly this morning," she said. "It
seems Peg reminds him of her. He is devoted to her memory. That's what
he said--devoted to her memory."

"That's good," said mother, cheerfully, as if she didn't know quite
what to say. "More letters, Lily? Any for us?" I could see mother was
very tender of her for some reason, or she never would have called her
Lily.

"For me," said Aunt Elizabeth, as if she were tired. "From Mrs.
Chataway. A package, too. It looks like visiting-cards. That seems to
be from her, too." She broke open the package. "Why!" said she, "of all
things! Why!"

"That's pretty engraving," said mother, looking over her shoulder. She
must have thought they were Aunt Elizabeth's cards. "Why! of all
things!"

Aunt Elizabeth began to flush pink and then scarlet. She looked as
pretty as a rose, but a little angry, I thought. She put up her head
rather haughtily. "Mrs. Chataway is very eccentric," she said. "A
genius, quite a genius in her own line. Ada, I won't come down to
luncheon. This has been sufficient. Let me have some tea in my own room
at four, please." She got up, and her letter and one of the cards fell
to the floor. I picked them up for her, and I saw on the card:

        Mrs. Ronald Chataway
   Magnetic Healer and Mediumistic Divulger
       Lost Articles a Specialty

I don't know why, but I thought, like mother and Aunt Elizabeth, "Well,
of all things!"

But the rest of that day mother and I were too busy to exchange a word
about Mrs. Chataway or even Aunt Elizabeth. We plunged into my
preparations to sail, and talked dresses and hats, and ran ribbons in
things, and I burned letters and one photograph (I burned that without
looking at it), and suddenly mother got up quickly and dropped her
lapful of work. "My stars!" said she, "I've forgotten Aunt Elizabeth's
tea."

"It's of no consequence, dear," said Aunt Elizabeth's voice at the
door. "I asked Katie to bring it up."

"Why," said mother, "you're not going?"

I held my breath. Aunt Elizabeth looked so pretty. She was dressed, as
I never saw her before, a close-fitting black gown and a plain white
collar and a little close black hat. She looked almost like some sister
of charity.

"Ada," said she, "and Peggy, I am going to tell you something, and it
is my particular desire that you keep it from the whole family. They
would not understand. I am going to ally myself with Mrs. Chataway in a
connection which will lead to the widest possible influence for her and
for me. In Mrs. Chataway's letter to-day she urges me to join her. She
says I have enormous magnetism and--and other qualifications."

"Don't you want me to tell Cyrus?" said mother. She spoke quite faintly.

"You can simply tell Cyrus that I have gone to Mrs. Chataway's," said
Aunt Elizabeth. "You can also tell him I shall be too occupied to
return. Good-bye, Ada. Good-bye, Peggy. Remember, it is the bruised
herb that gives out the sweetest odor."

Before I could stop myself I had laughed, out of happiness, I think.
For I remembered how the spearmint had smelled in the garden when
Stillman Dane and I stepped on it in the dark and how bright the moon
was, and I knew nobody could be unhappy very long.

"I telephoned for a carriage," said Aunt Elizabeth. "There it is." She
and mother were going down the stairs, and suddenly I felt I couldn't
have her go like that.

"Oh, Aunt--Aunt Lily!" I called. "Stop! I want to speak to you." I ran
after her. "I'm going to have a profession, too," I said. "I'm going to
devote my life to it, and I am just as glad as I can be." I put my arms
round her and kissed her on her soft, pink cheeks, and we both cried a
little. Then she went away.



XII. THE FRIEND OF THE FAMILY

by Henry Van Dyke

"Eastridge, June 3, 1907.
"To Gerrit Wendell, The Universe Club, New York:

"Do you remember promise? Come now, if possible. Much needed.
   Cyrus Talbert."

This was the telegram that Peter handed me as I came out of the
coat-room at the Universe and stood under the lofty gilded ceiling of
the great hall, trying to find myself at home again in the democratic
simplicity of the United States. For two years I had been travelling in
the effete, luxurious Orient as a peace correspondent for a famous
newspaper; sleeping under canvas in Syria, in mud houses in Persia, in
paper cottages in Japan; riding on camel-hump through Arabia, on
horseback through Afghanistan, in palankeen through China, and faring
on such food as it pleased Providence to send. The necessity of putting
my next book through the press (The Setting Splendors of the East) had
recalled me to the land of the free and the home of the brave. Two
hours after I had landed from the steamship, thirty seconds after I had
entered the club, there was Peter, in his green coat and brass buttons,
standing in the vast, cool hall among the immense columns of
verd-antique, with my telegram on a silver tray, which he presented to
me with a discreet expression of welcome in his well-trained face, as
if he hesitated to inquire where I had been, but ventured to hope that
I had enjoyed my holiday and that there was no bad news in my despatch.
The perfection of the whole thing brought me back with a mild surprise
to my inheritance as an American, and made me dimly conscious of the
point to which New York has carried republicanism and the simple life.

But the telegram--read hastily in the hall, and considered at leisure
while I took a late breakfast at my favorite table in the long,
stately, oak-panelled dining-room, high above the diminished roar of
Fifth Avenue--the telegram carried me out to Eastridge, that
self-complacent overgrown village among the New York hills, where
people still lived in villas with rubber-plants in the front windows,
and had dinner in the middle of the day, and attended church sociables,
and listened to Fourth-of-July orations. It was there that I had gone,
green from college, to take the assistant-editorship of that flapping
sheet The Eastridge Banner; and there I had found Cyrus Talbert
beginning his work in the plated-ware factory--the cleanest, warmest,
biggest heart of a man that I have known yet, with a good-nature that
covered the bed-rock of his conscience like an apple orchard on a
limestone ridge. In the give-and-take of every day he was easy-going,
kindly, a lover of laughter; but when you struck down to a question of
right and wrong, or, rather, when he conceived that he heard the divine
voice of duty, he became absolutely immovable--firm, you would call it
if you agreed with him, obstinate if you differed.

After all, a conscience like that is a good thing to have at the bottom
of a friendship. I could be friends with a man of almost any religion,
but hardly with a man of none. Certainly the intimacy that sprang up
between Talbert and me was fruitful in all the good things that cheer
life's journey from day to day, and deep enough to stand the strain of
life's earthquakes and tornadoes. There was a love-affair that might
have split us apart; but it only put the rivets into our friendship.
For both of us in that affair--yes, all three of us, thank God--played
a straight game. There was a time of loss and sorrow for me when he
proved himself more true and helpful than any brother that I ever knew.
I was best man at his wedding; and because he married a girl that
understood, his house became more like a home to me than any other
place that my wandering life has found.

I saw its amazing architectural proportions erupt into the pride of
Eastridge. I saw Cyrus himself, with all his scroll-saw tastes and
mansard-roof opinions, by virtue of sheer honesty and thorough-going
human decency, develop into the unassuming "first citizen" of the town,
trusted even by those who laughed at him, and honored most by his
opponents. I saw his aggravating family of charming children grow
around him--masterful Maria, aesthetic Charles Edward, pretty Peggy,
fairy-tale Alice, and boisterous Billy--each at heart lovable and
fairly good; but, taken in combination, bewildering and perplexing to
the last degree.

Cyrus had a late-Victorian theory in regard to the education of
children, that individuality should not be crushed--give them what they
want--follow the line of juvenile insistence--all the opportunities and
no fetters. This late-Victorian theory had resulted in the production
of a collection of early-Rooseveltian personalities around him, whose
simultaneous interaction sometimes made his good old head swim. As a
matter of fact, the whole family, including Talbert's preposterous
old-maid sister Elizabeth (the biggest child of the lot), absolutely
depended on the good sense of Cyrus and his wife, and would have been
helpless without them. But, as a matter of education, each child had a
secret illusion of superiority to the parental standard, and not only
made wild dashes at originality and independent action, but at the same
time cherished a perfect mania for regulating and running all the
others. Independence was a sacred tradition in the Talbert family; but
interference was a fixed nervous habit, and complication was a chronic
social state. The blessed mother understood them all, because she loved
them all. Cyrus loved them all, but the only one he thought he
understood was Peggy, and her he usually misunderstood, because she was
so much like him. But he was fair to them all--dangerously fair--except
when his subcutaneous conscience reproached him with not doing his
duty; then he would cut the knot of family interference with some
tremendous stroke of paternal decision unalterable as a law of the
Medes and Persians.

All this was rolling through my memory as I breakfasted at the Universe
and considered the telegram from Eastridge.

"Do you remember promise?" Of course I remembered. Was it likely that
either of us would forget a thing like that? We were in the dingy
little room that he called his "den"; it was just after the birth of
his third child. I had told my plan of letting the staff of The Banner
fall into other hands and going out into the world to study the nations
when they were not excited by war, and write about people who were not
disguised in soldier-clothes. "That's a big plan," he said, "and you'll
go far, and be long away at times." I admitted that it was likely.
"Well," he continued, laying down his pipe, "if you ever are in trouble
and can't get back here, send word, and I'll come." I told him that
there was little I could do for him or his (except to give superfluous
advice), but if they ever needed me a word would bring me to them. Then
I laid down my pipe, and we stood up in front of the fire and shook
hands. That was all the promise there was; but it brought him down to
Panama to get me, five years later, when I was knocked out with the
fever; and it would take me back to Eastridge now by the first train.

But what wasteful brevity in that phrase, "much needed"! What did that
mean? (Why will a man try to put a forty-word meaning into a ten-word
telegram?) Sickness? Business troubles? One of those independent,
interfering children in a scrape? One thing I was blessedly sure of: it
did not mean any difficulty between Cyrus and his wife; they were of
the tribe who marry for love and love for life. But the need must be
something serious and urgent, else he never would have sent for me.
With a family like his almost anything might happen. Perhaps Aunt
Elizabeth--I never could feel any confidence in a red-haired female who
habitually dressed in pink. Or perhaps Charles Edward--if that young
man's artistic ability had been equal to his sense of it there would
have been less danger in taking him into the factory. Or probably
Maria, with her great head for business--oh, Maria, I grant you, is
like what the French critic said of the prophet Habakkuk, "capable de
tout."

But why puzzle any longer over that preposterous telegram? If my friend
Talbert was in any kind of trouble under the sun, there was just one
thing that I wanted--to get to him as quickly as possible. Find when
the first train started and arrived--send a lucid despatch--no
expensive parsimony in telegraphing:

'"To Cyrus Talbert, Eastridge, Massachusetts:

"I arrived this morning on the Dilatoria and found your telegram here.
Expect me on the noon train due at Eastridge five forty-three this
afternoon. I hope all will go well. Count on me always. Gerrit Wendell."

It was a relief to find him on the railway platform when the train
rolled in, his broad shoulders as square as ever, his big head showing
only a shade more of gray, a shade less of red, in its strawberry roan,
his face shining with the welcome which he expressed, as usual, in
humorous disguise.

"Here you are," he cried, "browner and thinner than ever! Give me that
bag. How did you leave my friend the Shah of Persia?"

"Better," I said, stepping into the open carriage, "since he got on the
water-wagon--uses nothing but Eastridge silver-plated ice-pitchers now."

"And my dear friend the Empress of China?" he asked, as he got in
beside me.

"She has recovered her digestion," I answered, "due entirely to the
abandonment of chop-sticks and the adoption of Eastridge knives and
forks. But now it's my turn to ask a question. How are YOU?"

"Well," said he. "And the whole family is well, and we've all grown
tremendously, but we haven't changed a bit, and the best thing that has
happened to us for three years is seeing you again."

"And the factory?" I asked. "How does the business of metallic humbug
thrive?"

"All right," he answered. "There's a little slackening in
chafing-dishes just now, but ice-cream knives are going off like hot
cakes. The factory is on a solid basis; hard times won't hurt us."

"Well, then," said I, a little perplexed, "what in Heaven's name did
you mean by sending that--"

"Hold on," said Talbert, gripping my knee and looking grave for a
moment, "just you wait. I need you badly enough or else the telegram
never would have gone to you. I'll tell you about it after supper. Till
then, never mind--or, rather, no matter; for it's nothing material,
after all, but there's a lot in it for the mind."

I knew then that he was in one of his fundamental moods, imperviously
jolly on the surface, inflexibly Puritan underneath, and that the only
thing to do was to let the subject rest until he chose to take it up in
earnest. So we drove along, chaffing and laughing, until we came to the
dear, old, ugly house. The whole family were waiting on the veranda to
bid me welcome home. Mrs. Talbert took my hands with a look that said
it all. Her face had not grown a shade older, to me, since I first knew
her; and her eyes--the moment you look into them you feel that she
understands. Alice seemed to think that she had become too grown-up to
be kissed, even by the friend of the family; and I thought so, too. But
pretty Peggy was of a different mind. There is something about the way
that girl kisses an old gentleman that almost makes him wish himself
young again.

At supper we had the usual tokens of festivity: broiled chickens and
pop-overs and cool, sliced tomatoes and ice-cream with real
strawberries in it (how good and clean it tasted after Ispahan and
Bagdad!) and the usual family arguing and joking (how natural and
wholesome it sounded after Vienna and Paris!). I thought Maria looked
rather strenuous and severe, as if something important were on her
mind, and Billy and Alice, at moments, had a conscious air. But Charles
Edward and Lorraine were distinctly radiant, and Peggy was demurely
jolly. She sounded like her father played on a mandolin.

After supper Talbert took me to the summer-house at the foot of the
garden to smoke. Our first cigars were about half burned out when he
began to unbosom himself.

"I've been a fool," he said, "an idiot, and, what is more, an unnatural
and neglectful father, cruel to my children when I meant to be kind, a
shirker of my duty, and a bringer of trouble on those that I love best."

"As for example?" I asked.

"Well, it is Peggy!" he broke out. "You know, I like her best of them
all, next to Ada; can't help it. She is nearer to me, somehow. The
finest, most unselfish little girl! But I've been just selfish enough
to let her get into trouble, and be talked about, and have her heart
broken, and now they've put her into a position where she's absolutely
helpless, a pawn in their fool game, and the Lord only knows what's to
come of it all unless he makes me man enough to do my duty."

From this, of course, I had to have the whole story, and I must say it
seemed to me most extraordinary--a flagrant case of idiotic
interference. Peggy had been sent away to one of those curious
institutions that they call a "coeducational college," chiefly because
Maria had said that she ought to understand the duties of modern
womanhood; she had gone, without the slightest craving for "the higher
education," but naturally with the idea of having a "good time"; and
apparently she had it, for she came home engaged to a handsome, amatory
boy, one of her fellow "students," named Goward. At this point Aunt
Elizabeth, with her red hair and pink frock, had interfered and lured
off the Goward, who behaved in a manner which appeared to me to reduce
him to a negligible quantity. But the family evidently did not think
so, for they all promptly began to interfere, Maria and Charles Edward
and Alice and even Billy, each one with an independent plan, either to
lure the Goward back or to eliminate him. Alice had the most original
idea, which was to marry Peggy to Dr. Denbigh; but this clashed with
Maria's idea, which was to entangle the doctor with Aunt Elizabeth in
order that the Goward might be recaptured. It was all extremely
complicated and unnecessary (from my point of view), and of course it
transpired and circulated through the gossip of the town, and poor
Peggy was much afflicted and ashamed. Now the engagement was off; Aunt
Elizabeth had gone into business with a clairvoyant woman in New York;
Goward was in the hospital with a broken arm, and Peggy was booked to
go to Europe on Saturday with Charles Edward and Lorraine.

"Quite right," I exclaimed at this point in the story. "Everything has
turned out just as it should, like a romance in an old-fashioned
ladies' magazine."

"Not at all," broke out Talbert; "you don't know the whole of it, Maria
has told me" (oh, my prophetic soul, Maria!) "that Charley and his wife
have asked a friend of theirs, a man named Dane, ten years older than
Peggy, a professor in that blank coeducational college, to go with
them, and that she is sure they mean to make her marry him."

"What Dane is that?" I interrupted. "Is his first name Stillman--nephew
of my old friend Harvey Dane, the publisher? Because, if that's so, I
know him; about twenty-eight years old; good family, good head, good
manners, good principles; just the right age and the right kind for
Peggy--a very fine fellow indeed."

"That makes no difference," continued Cyrus, fiercely. "I don't care
whose nephew he is, nor how old he is, nor what his manners are. My
point is that Peggy positively shall not be pushed, or inveigled, or
dragooned, or personally conducted into marrying anybody at all! Billy
and Alice were wandering around Charley's garden last Friday night, and
they report that Professor Dane was there with Peggy. Alice says that
she looked pale and drooping, 'like the Bride of Lammermoor.' There has
been enough of this meddling with my little Peggy, I say, and I'm to
blame for it. I don't know whether her heart is broken or not. I don't
know whether she still cares for that fellow Goward or not. I don't
know what she wants to do--but whatever it is she shall do it, I swear.
She sha'n't be cajoled off to Europe with Charles Edward and Lorraine
to be flung at the head of the first professor who turns up. I'll do my
duty by my little girl. She shall stay at home and be free. There has
been too much interference in this family, and I'm damned if I stand
any more; I'll interfere myself now."

It was not the unusual violence of the language in the last sentence
that convinced me. I had often seen religious men affected in that way
after an over-indulgence in patience and mild behavior. It was that
ominous word, "my duty," which made me sure that Talbert had settled
down on the bed-rock of his conscience and was not to be moved. Why,
then, had he sent for me, I asked, since he had made up his mind?

"Well," said he, "in the first place, I hadn't quite made it up when I
sent the telegram. And in the second place, now that you have helped me
to see absolutely what is right to do, I want you to speak to my wife
about it. She doesn't agree with me, wants Peggy to go to Europe,
thinks there cannot be any risk in it. You know how she has always
adored Charles Edward. Will you talk to her?"

"I will," said I, after a moment of reflection, "on one condition. You
may forbid Peggy's journey, to-morrow morning if you like. Break it off
peremptorily, if you think it's your duty. But don't give up her
state-room on the ship. And if you can be convinced between now and
Saturday that the danger of interference with her young affections is
removed, and that she really needs and wants to go, you let her go!
Will you?"

"I will," said he. And with that we threw away the remainder of our
second cigars, and I went up to the side porch to talk with Mrs.
Talbert. What we said I leave you to imagine. I have always thought her
the truest and tenderest woman in the world, but I never knew till that
night just how clear-headed and brave she was. She agreed with me that
Peggy's affair, up to now more or less foolish, though distressing, had
now reached a dangerous stage, a breaking-point. The child was
overwrought. A wrong touch now might wreck her altogether. But the
right touch? Or, rather, no touch at all, but just an open door before
her? Ah, that was another matter. My plan was a daring one; it made her
tremble a little, but perhaps it was the best one; at all events, she
could see no other. Then she stood up and gave me both hands again. "I
will trust you, my friend," said she. "I know that you love us and our
children. You shall do what you think best and I will be satisfied.
Good-night."

The difficulty with the situation, as I looked it over carefully while
indulging in a third cigar in my bedroom, was that the time was
desperately short. It was now one o'clock on Tuesday morning. About
nine Cyrus would perform his sacred duty of crushing his darling Peggy
by telling her that she must stay in Eastridge. At ten o'clock on
Saturday the Chromatic would sail with Charles Edward and Lorraine and
Stillman Dane. Yet there were two things that I was sure of: one was
that Peggy ought to go with them, and the other was that it would be
good for her to--but on second thought I prefer to keep the other thing
for the end of my story. My mind was fixed, positively and finally,
that the habit of interference in the Talbert family must be broken up.
I never could understand what it is that makes people so crazy to
interfere, especially in match-making. It is a lunacy. It is presuming,
irreverent, immoral, intolerable. So I worked out my little plan and
went to sleep.

Peggy took her father's decree (which was administered to her privately
after breakfast on Tuesday) most loyally. Of course, he could not give
her his real reasons, and so she could not answer them. But when she
appeared at dinner it was clear, in spite of a slight rosy hue about
her eyes, that she had decided to accept the sudden change in the
situation like a well-bred angel--which, in fact, she is.

I had run down to Whitman in the morning train to make a call on young
Goward, and found him rather an amiable boy, under the guard of an
adoring mother, who thought him a genius and was convinced that he had
been entrapped by designing young women. I agreed with her so heartily
that she left me alone with him for a half-hour. His broken arm was
doing well; his amatoriness was evidently much reduced by hospital
diet; he was in a repentant frame of mind and assured me that he knew
he had been an ass as well as a brute (synonymes, dear boy), and that
he was now going West to do some honest work in the world before he
thought any more about girls. I commended his manly decision. He was
rather rueful over the notion that he might have hurt Miss Talbert by
his bad conduct. I begged him not to distress himself, his first duty
now was to get well. I asked him if he would do me the favor, with the
doctor's permission, of taking the fresh air with his mother on the
terrace of the hospital about half-past five that afternoon. He looked
puzzled, but promised that he would do it; and so we parted.

After dinner I requested Peggy to make me happy by going for a little
drive in the runabout with me. She came down looking as fresh as a wild
rose, in a soft, white dress with some kind of light greenery about it,
and a pale green sash around her waist, and her pretty, sunset hair
uncovered. If there is any pleasanter avocation for an old fellow than
driving in an open buggy with a girl like that, I don't know it. She
talked charmingly: about my travels; about her college friends; about
Eastridge; and at last about her disappointment in not going to Europe.
By this time we were nearing the Whitman hospital.

"I suppose you have heard," said she, looking down at her bare hands
and blushing; "perhaps they have told you why I wanted especially to go
away."

"Yes, my dear child," I answered, "they have told me a lot of nonsense,
and I am heartily glad that it is all over. Are you?"

"More glad than I can tell you," she answered, frankly, looking into my
face.

"See," said I, "there is the hospital. I believe there is a boy in
there that knows you--name of Goward."

"Yes," she said, rather faintly, looking down again, but not changing
color.

"Peggy," I asked, "do you still--think now, and answer truly--do you
still HATE him?"

She waited a moment, and then lifted her clear blue eyes to mine. "No,
Uncle Gerrit, I don't hate him half as much as I hate myself. Really, I
don't hate him at all. I'm sorry for him."

"So am I, my dear," said I, stretching my interest in the negligible
youth a little. "But he is getting well, and he is going West as soon
as possible. Look, is that the boy yonder, sitting on the terrace with
a fat lady, probably his mother? Do you feel that you could bow to him,
just to oblige me?"

She flashed a look at me. "I'll do it for that reason, and for another,
too," she said. And then she nodded her red head, in the prettiest way,
and threw in an honest smile and a wave of her hand for good measure. I
was proud of her. The boy stood up and took off his hat. I could see
him blush a hundred feet away. Then his mother evidently asked him a
question, and he turned to answer her, and so EXIT Mr. Goward.

The end of our drive was even pleasanter than the beginning. Peggy was
much interested in a casual remark expressing my pleasure in hearing
that she had recently met the nephew of one of my very old friends,
Stillman Dane.

"Oh," she cried, "do you know HIM? Isn't that lovely?"

I admitted that he was a very good person to know, though I had only
seen a little of him, about six years ago. But his uncle, the one who
lately died and left a snug fortune to his favorite nephew, was one of
my old bachelor cronies, in fact, a member of the firm that published
my books. If the young man resembled his uncle he was all right. Did
Peggy like him?

"Why, yes," she answered. "He was a professor at our college, and all
the girls thought him a perfect dandy!"

"Dandy!" I exclaimed. "There was no sign of an excessive devotion to
dress when I knew him. It's a great pity!"

"Oh!" she cried, laughing, "I don't mean THAT. It is only a word we
girls use; it means the same as when you say, 'A VERY FINE FELLOW
INDEED."'

From that point we played the Stillman Dane tune, with variations,
until we reached home, very late indeed for supper. The domestic
convulsion caused by the formal announcement of Talbert's sudden
decision had passed, leaving visible traces. Maria was flushed, but
triumphant; Alice and Billy had an air of conscience-stricken
importance; Charles Edward and Lorraine were sarcastically submissive;
Cyrus was resolutely jovial; the only really tranquil one was Mrs.
Talbert. Everything had been arranged. The whole family were to go down
to New York on Thursday to stop at a hotel, and see the travellers off
on Saturday morning--all except Peggy, who was to remain at home and
keep house.

"That suits me exactly," said I, "for business calls me to town
to-morrow, but I would like to come back here on Thursday and keep
house with Peggy, if she will let me."

She thanked me with a little smile, and so it was settled. Cyrus wanted
to know, when we were sitting in the arbor that night, if I did not
think he had done right. "Wonderfully," I said. He also wanted to know
if he might not give up that extra state-room and save a couple of
hundred dollars. I told him that he must stick to his bargain--I was
still in the game--and then I narrated the afternoon incident at the
hospital. "Good little Peggy!" he cried. "That clears up one of my
troubles. But the great objection to this European business still
holds. She shall not be driven." I agreed with him--not a single step!

The business that called me to New York was Stillman Dane. A most
intelligent and quick-minded young gentleman--not at all a beauty
man--not even noticeably academic. He was about the middle height, but
very well set up, and evidently in good health of body and mind; a
clean-cut and energetic fellow, who had been matured by doing his work
and had himself well in hand. There was a look in his warm, brown eyes
that spoke of a heart unsullied and capable of the strongest and purest
affection; and at the same time certain lines about his chin and his
mouth, mobile but not loose lipped, promised that he would be able to
take care of himself and of the girl that he loved. His appearance and
his manner were all that I had hoped--even more, for they were not only
pleasant but thoroughly satisfactory.

He was courteous enough to conceal his slight surprise at my visit, but
not skilful enough to disguise his interest in hearing that I had just
come from the Talberts. I told him of the agreement with Cyrus Talbert,
the subsequent conversation with Mrs. Talbert, Peggy's drive with me to
Whitman, and her views upon dandies and other cognate subjects.

Then I explained to him quite clearly what I should conceive my duty to
be if I were in his place. He assented warmly to my view. I added that
if there were any difficulties in his mind I should advise him to lay
the case before my dear friend the Reverend George Alexanderson, of the
Irving Place Church, who was an extraordinarily sensible and human
clergyman, and to whom I would give him a personal letter stating the
facts. Upon this we shook hands heartily, and I went back to Peggy on
Thursday morning.

The house was delightfully quiet, and she was perfection as a hostess.
I never passed a pleasanter afternoon. But the evening was interrupted
by the arrival of Stillman Dane, who said that he had run up to say
good-bye. That seemed quite polite and proper, so I begged them to
excuse me, while I went into the den to write some letters. They were
long letters.

The next morning Peggy was evidently flustered, but divinely radiant.
She said that Mr. Dane had asked her to go driving with him--would that
be all right? I told her that I was sure it was perfectly right, but if
they went far they would find me gone when they returned, for I had
changed my mind and was going down to New York to see the voyagers off.
At this Peggy looked at me with tears sparkling in the edge of her
smile. Then she put her arms around my neck. "Good-bye," she whispered,
"good-bye! YOU'RE A DANDY TOO! Give mother my love--and THAT--and
THAT--and THAT!"

"Well, my dear," I answered, "I rather prefer to keep THOSE for myself.
But I'll give her your message. And mind this--don't you do anything
unless you really want to do it with all your heart. God bless you!
Promise?"

"I promise, WITH ALL MY HEART," said she, and then her soft arms were
unloosed from my neck and she ran up-stairs. That was the last word I
heard from Peggy Talbert.


On Saturday morning all the rest of us were on the deck of the
Chromatic by half-past nine. The usual farewell performance was in
progress. Charles Edward was expressing some irritation and anxiety
over the lateness of Stillman Dane, when that young man quietly emerged
from the music-room, with Peggy beside him in the demurest little
travelling suit with an immense breast-plate of white violets. Tom
Price was the first to recover his voice.

"Peggy!" he cried; "Peggy, by all that's holy!"

"Excuse me," I said, "Mr. and Mrs. Stillman Dane! And I must firmly
request every one except Mr. and Mrs. Talbert, senior, to come with me
at once to see the second steward about the seats in the dining-saloon."

We got a good place at the end of the pier to watch the big boat swing
out into the river. She went very slowly at first, then with
astonishing quickness. Charles Edward and Lorraine were standing on the
hurricane-deck, Peggy close beside them. Dane had given her his
walking-stick, and she had tied her handkerchief to the handle. She was
standing up on a chair, with one of his hands to steady her. Her hat
had slipped back on her head. The last thing that we could distinguish
on the ship was that brave little girl, her red hair like an aureole,
waving her flag of victory and peace. "And now," said Maria, as we
turned away, "I have a lovely plan. We are all going together to our
hotel to have lunch, and after that to the matinee at--"

I knew it was rude to interrupt, but I could not help it.

"Pardon me, dear Maria," I said, "but you have not got it quite right.
You and Tom are going to escort Alice and Billy to Eastridge, with such
diversions by the way as seem to you appropriate. Your father and
mother are going to lunch with me at Delmonico's--but we don't want the
whole family."





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