He would be talking now if I had not stamped my foot and stopped his rambling. His insinuations sounded as if I were a feeble-minded creature and couldn't tell truth from untruth, or know when a man meant or didn't mean what he said, and had never heard things of the same sort before. I've heard them before, and in several different places. I am a good many things I ought not to be, but I am not feeble-minded. I told him— It does not matter what I told him, but I made him understand I could take care of myself without the help of the town, and, while I appreciated his effort to keep me from thinking the men in Twickenham did not mean what they said, and were not to be relied on, and not to be trusted, and that honor was not held very high by them where young girls were concerned, it was difficult to believe it, for I had been made to understand by others that certain old-fashioned things were still held sacred there, and the dangers and temptations of the city were absent. When I saw how red his fat, round face got and how squirmy his legs and how hard he fanned I knew I had better go in. I went, but I didn't say good night.
Mad! Was I mad? I was. For a long time I sat by the window and talked to Billy in my mind and told him what I thought of men old-maids and prissy places and gossipy spinsters and flirtatious widows, and of people who didn't have anything to talk of but one another; and then, as the moon came out clearer, I seemed to see myself clearer also, and after a while it came over me that maybe I had been a little nicer to Whythe than was necessary just to see if a man couldn't get comforted sooner than he thought. I had been doing a little scientific experimenting along a different way from Jess's way; and then my eyes got open wide and I saw what Mr. Willie had been trying to tell me, which was that Whythe was probably taking practical consolation and was not ignorant of the fact that my Father was not a poor man.
At the thought something got into my backbone and I sat up. I had been fooling myself and didn't know it. I don't mean I had believed all the thrilly love things Whythe had been saying. They came natural to him and he might have said them to some other girl if not to me, but I had not dreamed he had any thought of an advantageous alliance, as Billy calls the thing his mother is hoping his sister will make, or that any one could associate such a thought with me. It didn't seem possible, and I don't believe Whythe is that sort. Still, men are queer ducks, Jess says, and one never can tell what is in the back of their brain from the words of their mouth, and if Whythe was imagining I had any value outside of my own self I would like to find it out. How I was going to find out I did not know, and when I said my prayers I started to pray that a rattling good way would turn up, but I remembered it wasn't exactly a thing to pray about and that watching might be better.
I had had a grand time being in love. Every day there was some new evidence of how nice a beau is, and though the other boys didn't let Whythe have it all his own way, as they called it, and we had a jolly time together and I danced and rode and picnicked and pleasured with all of them, still, it was understood that Whythe was my steady and they gave him right much chance. It had been loads of fun having a steady, and I knew now how excited Mazie, one of our maids at home, must have felt the day she became engaged to hers, who was the milkman. But I had somehow thought that nobody but girls of Mazie's sort had steadies, and I had wished I could be a maid for a few weeks just to find out how it would feel to possess some one and be possessed by him. I guess it amounts to about the same thing, though, love does, no matter in what way it comes to one or by what name we call it, if it is the genuine thing. I have certainly never felt about Whythe in the way Mazie must have felt about her milkman, judging by her face, but I had been enjoying myself and I didn't intend to stop with too much suddenness. Mr. Willie had warned me and I would remember, but it is against the law to condemn a man unheard. The Bible says so. I would go slowly for once in my life and give Whythe a chance to conduct his own defense. It wouldn't be necessary to mention that a case was being tried or that I would be both judge and jury. There are times in life when it is well to keep some things to oneself.
Yesterday it poured in torrents all day. None of us could get out of the house, so while Miss Araminta darned my stockings, which hadn't been touched since I came to Twickenham Town, I read aloud to the whole bunch in the library and we had a very nice time. Miss Araminta has tried to teach me to darn since I have been here, but she has not succeeded in doing it! I will never be a darner. I have asked Mother not to get me all-over silk stockings, as the Lisle-thread feet last much longer, but she doesn't seem to remember, and one of my charities is giving my nice stockings away when they can no longer be worn with self-respect. Clarissa, Mother's maid, is supposed to keep them in order, but she doesn't do it, and she has headaches so often I don't like to say anything to her, with the result that Mother thinks I wear out an awful lot, and yet I know she wouldn't want me to wear stockings with holes in them. I found out early in life that it is foolish to try to do things you are not by nature fitted to do, and I am not fitted by nature to sit still for hours and fill up a little hole in a stocking to save a few cents or a dollar or so. I don't do it. I would rather save in some other way.
Miss Araminta loves to darn. Also she loves pretty clothes in a way that is truly pitiful, not having the means to get them, and she has about as much idea how to have her few things made as a Comanche Indian has of vers-libre. If she would wear those that suited her style she would look dear, but she wears clothes of many colors made, as she thinks, in the prevailing fashion, and of course she is a sight for all beholders. While I was reading Pendennis out loud I was wondering at the same time what Miss Araminta was going to wear to the reception Judge and Mrs. Maclean are going to give to their two married daughters and their husbands on the 17th of August, which is the big thing of the year for Twickenham Town; but of course I couldn't ask her. I knew she had nothing suitable or that had not been the subject of nudges and remarks under the breath, and smiles that could be heard. And I also knew nothing could keep her away, for she dearly loves to go to parties and is not often invited, being of an inconvenient age for entertainments, and I wished something could come to pass that would be to her interest.
As I read I poked around in my mind trying to think what might be done, and suddenly something came to me, and after a while I put the book down and began to talk of the different things that were going on in town and the many visitors who were already there, and then I asked Miss Araminta if she didn't think lavender was a lovely color. She said it was the one she loved best and all her life she had longed for a lavender satin with everything to match, but she knew now she would never have it and she rarely let herself wish for things any more. And she sighed the softest little sigh, like a mother whose baby had died a long time ago, but who always kept it in her heart, and I said to myself, "Go up-stairs, Kitty Canary, and think out a way," and up-stairs I went.
August is The Season in Twickenham Town, and there is hardly a family in it that doesn't have company or boarders, or whose sons and daughters don't come home for their holiday, and Miss Bettie Simcoe says it's perfectly scandalous, the flirting that goes on. Miss Bettie thinks anything matrimonial is close to scandalous, and she is continually raising her eyebrows and making a half moon of her mouth at what she says is the forwardness and freeness of present-day young people. Miss Susanna always has a crowded house in August. A Doctor Macafee and his wife and two daughters are here from Florida, and a Miss LeRoy from New Hampshire, and Judge Lampton and his wife from Alabama, and how she manages to put them away is known only to herself.
When I heard she was going to give up her room and take a tiny one in the garret I made up my mind I would have an awful dream that night, a regular nightmare, that would scare her to death and make her come in my room to see what was the matter. I had it and she came, and I told her I was subject to nightmares and ought not to sleep in a room by myself, though I hadn't mentioned it before, and I wished she would please sleep in mine with me and take the four-poster, which I thought gave me bad dreams, as I wasn't accustomed to such high beds. And if she would I would take the cot, as I liked cots much better. I am subject to nightmares, or anything else that is advisable to have at the proper time, and if I had known how many people were coming and that Miss Susanna was going to give up her room, I would have had one before, so she wouldn't think they had come on pretty sudden. But she is not apt to think. She is a darling little old lady, not brought up to think, and now too busy to do it, and she just works herself to death with her head up and a smile on her face, and doesn't realize she is spending all she makes in good things for the people who come here and nearly kill themselves eating. She never buys herself any clothes—that is, until Elizabeth has all she needs—and when I went up to my room yesterday to think out a way of getting that lavender satin for Miss Araminta, another thought came into my head, which was a black satin for Miss Susanna.
Feelings are things one has to be awfully careful about in Twickenham Town, and not for a billion dollars put in my pocket would I hurt anybody's here, and I couldn't let Miss Araminta or Miss Susanna think for a moment that their dresses were not all right, and how to get them new ones I couldn't imagine. I started to pray about it, and then I remembered I was in an awful hurry and it would be better to get to work, and, going over to the bureau, I opened its top drawer, and there looking up at me was my bank-book lying on a pile of handkerchiefs. Father had put a very respectable sum of money in the Twickenham bank for me and told me to use it whenever I could do it in the right way, and he would trust me to find the right way; but though I had tried to get rid of some of it, there were few opportunities (so it wouldn't be manifest, I mean), and now one popped right up in my face.
For fear it might pop out again I ran downstairs as quick as I could, and, seeing Miss Susanna and Miss Araminta were by themselves, I began to talk about the Pettigrew children and what they had told me they wanted Santa Claus to bring them Christmas. And that reminded me suddenly that Christmas would soon be here, and I told them that in August I always began to think about what to get Mother and Aunt Celeste, who were my chief Christmas worries, and I wondered if they thought I could get something in Twickenham that I could take back with me. I felt, as I talked, that I was on a tight rope forty feet in the air and mighty little to balance myself with, but I managed to put in words what I wanted to say, and like little angels they fell in and never dreamed I had thought the thing out before I spoke.
I told them that Mother and Aunt Celeste had much more than they needed in life, and it was hard to get anything new and different for them, as there were so many to give them presents, and that I liked to get something odd if I could. The things they were crazy about were old silver and old jewelry, especially old settings, and it was hard to find them in our town, and I wondered if they could help me get a piece of silver like one of Miss Susanna's pitchers for Mother, and a set of sapphires like Miss Araminta's for Aunt Celeste. Also I said I didn't want to trouble them and I hoped they wouldn't mind my asking them.
Miss Araminta said no indeed, she didn't mind, and that she had got into the state of mind Miss Virginia Hill was in, and she wasn't going to keep on keeping a lot of things that were no use just because they had belonged to long-dead grandmothers. And while she wouldn't go as far as Miss Virginia, who would sell every ancestor she had for a million dollars, she would part with some other things for much less, and if I wanted to buy the sapphire set (pin and ear-rings) she would be glad to sell them. She would have to tell me, though, they had been her great-grandmother's, and not her great-great's, as the pearls were, and that she would take forty-five dollars for them, and if that was too much she would take forty.
I almost lost my breath at her good sense, not expecting it, but I told her it would be cheating if I paid less than seventy-five for them (I had calculated that it would take about that to get the lavender satin with things to match), and if she would get them for me I would take them right away, and I was awfully obliged to her, as it would be such a relief to get Aunt Celeste off my mind. I admitted I didn't always pay as much as seventy-five for her present (I usually give her a five-dollar one which Mother pays for), but Father wanted me to bring her something quaint from Twickenham if I could find it, and he would be delighted to know of the sapphires.
I fiddled along about other things for a moment or two and then I asked Miss Susanna if she would think me a very piggy person to want to buy one of those precious old silver pitchers of hers, as Mother would love so to have one of that pattern (Mother had never mentioned it, but I knew she would long for one of that pattern if she could see it), and I waited with terrible anxiousness in my heart and a hot face for her answer. Miss Susanna's got a lovely pinky color, and for a moment she didn't say anything, and then Miss Araminta spoke for her and showed more sensibleness than I thought was in her.
"Why don't you, Susanna?" she said, and nodded at her. They are first cousins and very good friends. "Why don't you let the child have one of those old pitchers? You have too much silver, anyhow, and with servants of the present day any sort of silver is too great a burden to be borne, much less ancestral sort. Young people want to buy their own things, and reverence for the past is a thing of the past; and besides, you have no one to leave yours to except some one who won't appreciate it. Why don't you let her have it?"
"I would be glad for her to have it. Glad to help her out with her Christmas difficulties, but"—Miss Susanna bit her lip and the pink in her face became rose—"I have never done anything of this sort, and it does not seem just right. I would be pleased for her mother to have one of the pitchers. In a sense they are connected with her family as our great-great-great-grandmothers were the same, and—"
"Oh, you precious person!" I jumped up and took Miss Susanna in my arms and whirled around the room with her. I was afraid she would get on the grandparent subject, and I didn't want to hear it. To head her off I gave her a squeeze and a skip or two and then I sat her down and kissed her, and asked her if she thought seventy-five dollars was enough for the pitcher, and if so I would get the checks while Miss Araminta got the sapphires. And before they had time to change their minds their things were mine and my money (Father's) was theirs, and we were all a little more excited than we were willing to admit.
They are in my trunk, the two Christmas presents, and we have had a grand time, Miss Araminta and Miss Susanna and I, buying their party dresses and things, and it is as true as Scripture that at times there is nothing better for the soul than pretty clothes for the body. And nothing so chirps up a woman as to have on becoming ones that fit and are fresh and make her feel she can walk across the floor without wishing she had a shawl on. The way Miss Araminta has bloomed out is as amazing as a moon-plant. And Miss Susanna has such a pleased smile on her boarder-tired face that I have been up in the air just from looking at her, and the best time I've ever had in my life has been in taking charge of their money and spending it for them. The way they agreed to get the dresses was this:
I told them it would be awfully exciting to have a secret and spring a surprise on Mrs. General Gaines and Miss Bettie Simcoe and a few others in town, and if they were willing I would design a dress for each of them and Miss Fannie Cross would make the dresses, which would be of a kind to suit their particular styles, and they could have them for the party on the 17th. And if they didn't get them at once something would happen to make them spend the money and it would be gone and they no better off than before. And I mentioned that there was the loveliest piece of black charmeuse at Mr. Peter Smith's, and that he was expecting a piece of lavender satin on Thursday. I had been to see Mr. Peter and the lavender was ordered before I told them it was coming. Also a few other things had been ordered by wire, I going with him to the telegraph-office to see him do it, being afraid to trust his memory, which, like his methods, is right put-offy. Also I told them there would be no time to hesitate. They got so flustrated at being managed and so dazed by the pictures I showed them of the dresses I had drawn that they were lambs, perfect lambs. They let me do everything I told them ought to be done.
It was a real relief to them to have some one go ahead and decide things and not give them time to think whether they should do this or do that, or whether they had not better spend the money some other way. Miss Susanna said, feebly, something about the roof needing to be fixed, and that the cellar ought to have a new floor, but I told her it would be sacrilegious to put a great-grandmother's silver pitcher on the roof or in the cellar, and that it would mortify her heavenly ancestors to know such a thing was being done, and I was surprised at her mentioning it. The only suitable way in which it would be proper to use the pitcher was in something personal, and as I was afraid Mr. Peter Smith would sell the satin, it was so lovely and only a little more than enough for a dress, I had told him to put it aside and I had to let him know that afternoon if it was wanted. And another thing I told her was that all her life other people had been getting her share of nice things, and practicalities had eaten up everything pretty she had wanted for years, and there was an end to making over, and that she owed it to memories of the past to have a new dress for herself and not let all the newness always appear on a certain person's back just because that certain person happened to be young. Uncle Henson would be at the door with the carriage at four o'clock, I told her, to take us down-town, and she must be ready in time, as there was a good deal to do. I wouldn't take a mint of money for the look that came in her face as I talked. I have put it away for low-down days.
As for Miss Araminta—I wish I could write a book and put Miss Araminta Armstrong in it. If the lady who wrote Cranford had known her she would have put her in, and it is a loss to literature that no one can do again for little places and the Miss Aramintas of life what the Cranford writer did. She has told me right much about herself, and I don't smile any more, even to myself, as I couldn't help doing at first in the dark when I was so afraid I would roll on the floor and whoop that I had to hold on to my chair with both hands. It is still funny to hear her tell of her beaux who never quite came to the point, and who were always snatched away at the critical moment by a jealous-minded person who was close kin but whose name she never mentions. But it isn't as funny as it used to be. It's queer how much tragedy there is in the comic things of life. Ever since she was born Miss Araminta has been a pieced-and-patched-up person, and never once has she had everything new and to match at the same time. When I told her about some of the things that must go with the lavender satin she began to cry a little and said she oughtn't to let herself think about indulgences of that sort, as her poor brother was not in business at present and needed—
"Now look here, Miss Araminta," I said. "The first preparation you have got to make for the party is to forget you have a brother and remember your own body, which needs attention. It has come down from a long line of people who took very good care to put expensive things on theirs. And another thing you ought to remember is that if your brother didn't know he could call on you every time he lost his job—"
"My brother has never had a job." Miss Araminta sat up at once and wiped her eyes and left, unknowing, a streak of white down a pink cheek that turned purple at the word "job." "He has been unfortunate in not being able to retain certain positions he has once held, but his health—"
"Rats!" It came out without thinking, but when a man has a worn-out wife and seven children and won't do this and won't do that because it is beneath his lordly ideas of what a well-born person should do, it is better for me not to speak of him out loud. I told Miss Araminta she must excuse me, but there were some sorts of men I couldn't mention with safety and I thought "job" was a very good word, and I would rather have one that paid a dollar a day than borrow money to pay my bills, and that I'd sweep the streets before I would sit down and do nothing if I had a wife and seven children. The look on her face I tucked away, too, to take out on days when there isn't a thing in sight to laugh at. She can't help it, Miss Araminta can't. She was born that way and, not being an evoluting kind, words are wasted when it comes to trying to make her see what she doesn't want to see. There is a lot of bummy rot in this world which has nothing to do with the proper kind of pride, and it's my belief we are mighty apt to fill the place in life we are fitted to fill. If a dollar a day is all I am worth it is all I ought to get until I make myself worth more. Of course if people are feeble-minded that's a different thing. When they are, the State ought to step in and take charge of them in order to protect itself, Jess says, and also she says feeble-mindeders always have the largest families, and even a feeble-minded person knows that is not right.
I didn't mean to hurt Miss Araminta's feelings, but that brother of hers is a snuff-the-moon old snob, and I was determined he shouldn't get a penny of that sapphire money if I could help it, and I told Miss Araminta a few firm facts. After a while she blew her nose and wiped her eyes and I had no further trouble. But I was afraid to trust either her or Miss Susanna with their money, so I took the checks back and told them it was better for me to keep them, as money had such a queer way of disappearing. Any that was handy was used when needed, and when the time came to get the things the money was for there might not be any to get. They handed it back as meek as little lambs.
Miss Susanna and Miss Araminta are crazy about the designs I have sketched for their dresses, and so is Miss Fannie Cross. It is the only talent I have, designing clothes is, and if I ever have to earn my living I am going to be "Katrine" and have a shop on a fine street and charge like old glory for my things. That will make them wanted, and those who think a gown is desirable according to its price can pay enough to make up for those who can't pay much, and I'll have a great time charging the payers. I am going to get ready to earn a living, anyhow, because every girl ought to, Fathers or Billys notwithstanding. Life is a very up-and-downy thing, and it is good to know, should it get down, that you can give it a lift up yourself and not have to wait for a shover.
It was a private matinee, watching Miss Susanna and Miss Araminta buy the things that Mr. Peter Smith had ordered and which they couldn't understand his having in stock. The trimmings and linings and gloves and stockings were exactly what was needed and they couldn't get over how fortunate it was. They paid for them themselves, as I had handed their money to them when we started out, holding back only enough to pay Miss Fannie Cross; but though they took some time to do the buying, and felt and smoothed everything they bought and put the satin to their cheeks to be sure of its quality, and looked at each other every now and then as if what they were doing was wicked, perhaps, but fearfully enjoyable, still in two days everything was at Miss Fannie's, and it was then I had to be awfully firm with Miss Araminta.
There are some things some women can never take in, and one is that an old sheep should never dress lamb fashion. It was all Miss Fannie (she's a corking-good dressmaker for a small place) and I could do to hold Miss Araminta down when it came to colors, and the cut of her skirt, and some trimmings she wanted to put on the waist. She thinks she loves lavender, but Joseph's coat would have been a colorless piece of apparel beside her dress if we finally hadn't sat on her and told her certain things couldn't be done. She was crazy to pile on a bunch of ancestral lace, yellow and dowdy; but we told her not much, told her freshness and daintiness suited her style much better, and she wasn't old enough to emphasize ancestral lace, and she blushed and gave in. But nothing would have made her do it if Miss Fannie hadn't thought to throw out the age-line. She caught on and agreed, and after that we did not have a great deal of trouble.
Miss Susanna was a little crankier than I thought she was going to be, and wanted a practical dress that she could wear anywhere at any time, and we had to argue with her a good deal. I told her a train was the thing for her, and I intended to walk behind her the night of the party and keep everybody back far enough to see how grand she looked. When a woman is sixty-six and pretty worn, short skirts for evenings are not impressive, and, though we didn't mention age, we said finally she owed it to her mother's memory to dress in a style suitable to the position into which she had been born, and that settled it. She's the real thing, Miss Susanna is. She doesn't have to play a part.
I had told Miss Fannie on the quiet that the price of making the dresses would be doubled if she would have them ready for the 17th of August, and they were ready. Miss Araminta and Miss Susanna thought it was a bad example to set, as it might not be just to the other Twickenham-Towners to pay more than they could pay, and it stuck Miss Araminta pretty deep to hand out more than was necessary. But I told her it was an emergency operation and that kind always came high. And also I told them that Miss Fannie charged entirely too little for her work, and it was poor religion to go to church on Sunday and sing praises to God and underpay a poor little dressmaker. They said they supposed it was, but I don't think they thought it very reverential in me to speak of God in connection with a dress-maker and what she got for sewing. I gave each one a list of their expenditures, with the cost of everything on it, and each had a little left over after getting their slippers and some sachet powder and a bottle of violet-water apiece, and, after all, that brother of Miss Araminta's got a little of the sapphire money. But it wasn't much. I saw to that. It's been awfully exciting in Twickenham lately.
The event of the year is the MacLean party and the best of everything is saved for it, and in itself it makes every tongue in town talk until you wonder why tongues are the only things that never tire, and then, lo and behold! two days before it came off back comes Elizabeth Hamilton Carter, bringing her beau behind her, and off start the same tongues on a new lap and no breath taken in between.
I wish Billy could see it, the thing Elizabeth brought back! He wears men's clothes (very good ones) and he is twenty-seven years old, and has large hands and feet and ears and a feeble mustache, but as a man he isn't much. He looks like a hatter and is seemingly dumb, and he blinks his eyes so continually that no one can tell their color. Also he bites his finger-nails. I advised Elizabeth to get a beau pro tem., but I didn't mean anything like that. If she wants jealousy to bring Whythe back to her she should keep something on hand to be jealous of. Elizabeth has an iron will and a copper determination, but about as much judgment as a horse-fly.
Miss Bettie Simcoe's eyebrows haven't come down good since the night the engagees arrived. She has an explanation for the situation, as she calls it, there never yet being a situation she couldn't explain, and she says the engagement is a piece of management on the part of Elizabeth's aunt on her father's side, the aunt she has been visiting. This aunt is society crazy, and, knowing you can't keep step in society without money, she arranged the whole thing. Anyhow, Elizabeth has a gorgeous ring and a magnificent pin, and of course she ought to be happy if diamonds and things mean happiness, but she isn't happy, and for the first time since I met her I can't make her out. Before I know it I am going to feel sorry for her, and then good-by to in-loveness for me! I have very little sense at times, and no hold-outness at all when certain things come to pass.
Elizabeth still loves Whythe. Engaged or not to some one else, she still cares only for him. I don't want him. I wonder how it might be managed—getting them to take in how silly they have been. I believe I'll try and see if something can't be done. Watchful waiting may be all right in some cases, but I never cared for waiting. Milton says all things come to him who hustles while he waits. You get a move on, Kitty Canary, and see what you can do!
The party is over. Everybody who is anybody was at it and we had a perfectly scrumptious time. I never saw so many good things to eat on a hot summer night in all my life, but the heat didn't affect appetites, and Miss Kate Norris, who lives in the Wellington Home (memorial for a dead wife or a live conscience, I don't remember which), ate three platefuls of supper and three helpings of ice-cream. She is fearfully ancestral and an awful eater, and also a sour remarker, and I stay out of her way, but that night I couldn't help seeing the way she made food disappear. No low-born person could have done it quicker.
It was a perfectly beautiful party. The two married daughters of Judge and Mrs. MacLean, who live in the city and always come home for August, were as dear and lovely as if they had never left old Twickenham Town, and their clothes were a liberal education to the stay-at-homers. They were well taken in by the latter, but the sensation of the evening was the arrival and appearance of My Girls, and—oh, my granny!—I was so excited I couldn't stand on both feet at once, and I had to get in a corner and put my back against the wall to keep from making movement. When they came in the room there was a little hush, and then there were so many exclamations of surprise and admiration that I had to fan as hard as Mr. Willie Prince to keep down the blazing red in my face which was there from pride in the dear old darlings and not from heat. And I saw clearer than I had ever seen before that fine things behind one count a good deal, and ancestors of the right kind leave something to their descendants that comes out when needed, and at that party the desirable things came out.
They looked like pictures—Miss Susanna and Miss Araminta—for the prevailing modes, as Miss Araminta calls them, and which she loves so dearly and hits at but never touches, had not been paid very particular attention to, and the thing that suited each had been made for them. They were as becoming to the dresses as the dresses to them. Twickenham nearly lost its breath as they came into the long drawing-room of the MacLean house and walked through it after speaking to the receiving party, and I know now how a mother feels when her debutante daughters are a success. I will have more sympathy with Mother than I used to have, and I will try to behave myself and do the stunts all right for the first year. But she already knows I do not expect to keep on doing them. I have told her.
Nobody can say again that women can't keep a secret, for not even Miss Bettie Simcoe, who knows what the Lord is going to do before He does it, had any idea of the dresses; and though I don't think she or Mrs. General Gaines liked not being told, they were very nice about it and said much kinder things than I thought they were capable of saying. And I really think Elizabeth was pleased also. She actually smiled when she saw her aunt come in with Miss Araminta. Smiles of late have been faint and feeble on the face of the affianced young lady, who isn't playing her part as a person with ancestors ought to play it. She bounced her old beau and took unto herself a new one, and what I can't understand is, having done it, why she doesn't carry it off with a rip-roaring bluff that might fool even herself for a while. But Elizabeth isn't that sort. Everybody is talking about how miserable she looks. I'm afraid I put the beau idea in her head, and the idea has got her in a hole and she doesn't know how to get out of it. I wish Billy was here. He can get a person out of any sort of hole.
I went to the party with Whythe. He has been away for a week, and while away got a new dress suit, which, of course, he wore to the party and looked perfectly grand in it. I think his mother gave the suit to him, though he didn't say, but he was off attending to some business for her, and I'm sure he took it out in the new clothes. It would have been more sensible to have had his teeth fixed, or gotten three new ones, the rest being all right, but it was natural to prefer the suit, and much less painful. Whythe is never going to do anything disagreeable that he can keep from doing.
He was so nice the night of the party that I hadn't the courage to begin finding out the truth or untruth of what Mr. Willie Prince had mentioned as the reason of the rush he had been giving me, and as I don't believe Whythe has ever thought of Father's money, there was no need to be in a hurry to learn whether he had or not. I've had a jolly good time being in love with him, and being made love to, and as an experience it may come in when I begin to write my book. I always did want to know how many ways love can be made in, which, of course, I can never know, for there are as many ways, I guess, as there are men to make it, and the variations on the main theme are as infinitesimal as the tongues that tell the story. It is truly wonderful how differently the same words can be trimmed up and handed out, and I like the crescendoes and diminuendoes and shades of feeling which give emphasis and expression, as my music teacher says I must be careful of when playing. There is never going to be any crescendo or diminuendo business about Billy's love-making, and I might as well make up my mind to that in the beginning. It's going to be pure staccato with him—short and quick and soon over. But it will last forever, Billy's will. He isn't going to stand for foolishness about it when he starts, either. He has two more years at college and then he is going in his father's office.
I don't know what's the matter with Billy. I haven't had a letter from him for a week, or a single card. He must be crazy. I've been so busy I have not written for ten days, and if I don't get a letter soon he won't get one from me for another ten. He can't expect me to do what he doesn't do, and besides, a man doesn't want what he gets too easy, even letters. I don't suppose he could be sick. If he was— I am not going to let myself think sickness or automobile accidents or sliding off mountain peaks (they are in Switzerland now and Billy would get to the top of anything he started for or die trying). And though I say to myself forty times a day he is all right, I wake up at night and wonder if anything could be the matter. I am wondering all the time.
Maybe that is why I was a little nicer to Whythe at the party than I need to have been, because I wanted to forget something it was not well to remember if I was out to enjoy myself. After I had danced with half a dozen boys and spoken to everybody on the place, we went out on the lawn, Whythe and I, and sat on a rustic seat under a great maple-tree to cool off and rest awhile; and though everybody could see us and several couples were under several other trees (a number of cases being on hand and apt to culminate in August), Miss Bettie Simcoe had remarks to make, of course. She made them the next day at breakfast.
I wish I could buy a beau for Miss Bettie and make a present of him to her, but, being a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, I couldn't very well do it. I never yet have seen a man I would be that hard on. But it would be the only way she could be made to see some things, and maybe it might make her feel young again. Jess says there's nothing so kittenish as a spinster who's caught an unexpected beau. He is the most rejuvenating thing on earth to a woman who wants one. All don't want them. There are a great many more sensible women in this world than people realize, but in certain small places matrimony is still the chief pursuit in which women can engage without being thought unwomanly. Miss Bettie doesn't pursue, and men are good dodgers in this part of the world, but if one of them would say a few things to her of the sort that Whythe knows how to say so well, her sniffing and snorting and seeing might grow less.
I don't like her, but I feel sorry for her, for nobody really loves her, and it must be awful to have nobody to love you best of all on earth. I couldn't live if nobody loved me. I could not. I might live without food and live without drink, and do without clothes and do without air—the right kinds of those things, I mean—but I couldn't and I wouldn't live without loving. As long as I am on this little planet I expect to love a lot of people and I hope they will love me in return. When Miss Bettie makes me so mad I have to go out of the room to keep from saying things I shouldn't, and Miss Araminta simpers so when any one mentions Mr. Sparks's name (he's the new widower minister of the Presbyterian church, with no chance of escape), and Elizabeth Hamilton Carter makes me ashamed of my sex, and I feel like I have swallowed concentrated extract of Human Peculiarities, I remember that not one of them has a father of any sort, much less my sort, or a precious mother and two dandy sisters and a good many nice relations and some bully friends—when I remember all that, remember how many I have to love me, I spit out the peculiarities and try not to mind them, try to see how funny they are. But sometimes the taste sticks right long. I don't suppose I spit right. What I can't understand is that if people want to be loved—and everybody does—why in the name of goodness don't they do a little loving on their own account? You needn't expect to get what you don't give. I'm glad I was born with a taste for liking, though I don't like every one, by a jugful. When I come across a righteous hypocrite I get out of the way, if it isn't convenient to make the hypocrite get out of mine. There are some people I could never congeal with and I am never even going to try.
I wonder what made me waste time thinking about Miss Bettie Simcoe and human peculiarities when I started to say something about sitting under the trees with Whythe at the MacLean party, but, born a rambler, I will ramble unto death, and there's no use wasting time lamenting natural deficiencies. Whythe, of course, couldn't very conveniently make personal remarks, as people were passing pretty close, though he did say I looked like a dream, which I did not, being too brown for a dream; but I did look real nice. I fished out one of the party dresses Mother made Clarissa put in my trunk, which I haven't worn since I have been here, and I suppose it suited my brownness, as it was creamy and stuck out in the silly way skirts stick now, and it was new-fashioned enough to make everybody look at it and nudge a little. Whythe thought it was lovely, and told me so sixteen times, which was tiresome, and then I saw he was watching Elizabeth, who was on the porch with her new beau and did not know really whether my dress was blue or pink. The only thing he was thinking of was that not far from him was a superseder in possession of something which was once his. Whythe doesn't like to be superseded in anything affecting his personal estimate of himself.
The Lord certainly let loose a lot of contradictions when he started the human race. When I saw the way Whythe was watching Elizabeth, and remembered how she had looked at him when he passed her a few minutes before, I knew two specimens of a common variety were before me, and I made up a parable as I watched them watch each other. The two specimens had been in love and been engaged. They had a fuss. The engagement was broken. She was mad, and he was mad, and each thought the other would make the first advance to own up and make up; but before it could be done a young person appeared and distracted temporarily the attention of the man, and the girl went away to see what she could do. The man repaired the damage done unto him by saying pretty things to the new person, which was good for his pride and kept him in practice, and all was going well when the first maiden returned with a new possession.
The new possession was a son of great wealth, but the Faithless One was made to understand, without words, that his Cruelty was driving the Maid to Marriage with another, and his Vanity was appeased, and in his heart he rejoiced and said unto himself: "It is even as I thought, and that piece of punk she has brought back is bitter unto her, and in comparison to me he is nothingness indeed. And I would arise and punch his head if it were not for the New Person who may love me very much." And the young man was sorrowful when he thought on these things and yet glad also, for the heart of man is receptive to the love of all kinds of women, and it is pleasing unto him to believe he is pleasing unto them.
And seeing that which had come to pass, the New Young Person made up her mind that the Young Man and the Young Maid who had once loved must love again, and in her heart she said it is a vain thing to believe in the words of a man. They cometh out as cometh breath, then pass away and are remembered by him no more. And she took counsel with herself as to how she might bring to pass that which the simple souls knew not how to bring, and, lo! as she thought it came unto her. That's a true parable!
What came was the thought of a picnic. Whythe and Elizabeth must accidentally have a chance to come across each other and have it out, and the best way they could do it would be outdoors, where it is convenient to wander off and get away from nudgers and commenters; and being nothing but impulse, I turned to Whythe, who was still unconsciously watching Elizabeth, and asked him if he would help me with something I was anxious to do. He said of course, and wanted to know what it was. When I told him I would tell him the next day he asked me to drive with him in the morning, and didn't like it because I declined. That is, he didn't like my reason, which was that, as he had been out of his office for some time, his business must need attending to, and I didn't think it ought to be left any longer. He seemed to think that a very unnecessary remark, and I realized he liked Elizabeth's kind better. She would never have dreamed of telling him his business needed attention. Elizabeth is the Admired and Honored type of Womanhood which does not think it is ladylike to have knowledge of business matters.
Seeing the look on his face, I said to myself: "Kitty Canary, it is all over. A pin has been stuck in your balloon and the air is out." And I got up and went in and danced with every man dancer in the room, and hardly knew who they were, the breaks were so often. I had a good time, but also I had a right sinky feeling, for it's pretty wabbly to realize that nothing human is to be depended on very long, and that a girl may be engaged one day to a man and not speaking to him the next. Not that I had ever been engaged. I hadn't, not caring for what goes with engagements, but I might have been if I hadn't remembered about the different things I have fallen in and been fished out of when there was some one by to haul me out. Nobody being by, I had to take care of myself, and I thought it best to go only so far and no farther.
On the way home Whythe tried to say some things pretty low about how he had missed me while away, but Miss Susanna and Miss Araminta were in the back seat of the car (it was Mr. Lipscomb's Ford, and borrowed, of course), and he had to be so careful it was a strain, and as I didn't answer he stopped after a while. It takes two to do more things than make a bargain, and to battledore love without having it shuttlecocked back isn't much fun. He wanted to know what was the matter when I got out, and I told him it was sleep. He didn't seem to like that, either. It's hard to please men.
I didn't see Whythe for the next few days, as I thought it best not to, and, besides, I had bushels of letters to write and a very special one to Father, and I had no time for him. The thing I had to write Father about was money. I wanted five hundred dollars, and the only way I knew how to get it was to ask him to give it to me; so I asked. I always did believe that the person who gives the money ought to be told what is to be done with it, and that is why I wrote Father as I did; and, besides, he likes to hear little bits of news about the Twickenham-Towners, and asking for the money gave me a chance to tell him.
He had told me, when he was here, that if there was any way in which I could be of service in the right way to let him know and he would put up the money part, if I would manage the other part, and it would be a little secret between us and nobody else need know anything about it. When, last week, I heard Mrs. Richard Stafford say she would rather go to a hospital for a month than do anything on earth, I thought my chance had come. At the hospital, she said, a person had the right to be waited on and do nothing, and not think about food or servants, and not feel they were bothering other people by being sick; and while she wasn't sick exactly, a hospital would seem like heaven if she could be in one for a little while. She had laughed when she said it, and didn't dream of its being taken in earnest, but I took it in earnest, for the tiredness in her face makes me ache every time I see her, and right up in my mind popped the little secret Father and I and Miss Polk could have. What I wrote was this:
Father dear, will you please send me five hundred dollars, and if you can do it by return mail I will be very much obliged. The person I want part of it for is so tired that she might not be able to ever get rested unless she has a chance pretty quick to lie down and do nothing for a month, anyhow, and that is why I am in a hurry. Tiredness is a very wearing disease and if it runs on too long it runs a person into a state that is almost impossible to get out of, and the whole family has to pay up for letting it go on. Home gets hell-y when there's too much tiredness in it. What I want the money for is this: Mrs. Stafford is worn out. You know her. She was Miss Mary Shirley, and married a perfectly useless man when she was eighteen, and she is now the mother of seven children, and has a mother-in-law living with her, and also Miss Lou Barbee, who won't go away. And, of course, the man whom she can't turn out. He isn't bad. Just lazy, with nothing to him, but she loves him and I will skip over that part. She needs a rest and ought to have it. It's nothing but scrimp and scrape and strive to keep up appearances day in and day out, year in and year out, until she is all to pieces and the children don't realize what is the matter. And, of course, the Male Person doesn't, for he says that Woman's Place is in the Home. When he told me that yesterday (his heels were on the railing of his porch, where he generally keeps them, and his pipe in his mouth) I thought to myself that if he were mine he would have to get out of my home or prove he had a better right to share it with me than he had ever proved to his wife. But I won't get on that, either. I'll go back to Mrs. Stafford.
Half the time she doesn't have a servant, and all the time she has a mother-in-law, who is pie crust, and Miss Lou Barbee, who's a bagpipe, and with the doors locked and windows shut so no one can see, she has worked herself to death. What I want done is to have an invitation sent her from an old friend to be the guest of the hospital here for a month, and you will be the friend and she will never know it. Miss Polk, the superintendent of the hospital, will manage things. I've talked it over with her, and she understands. Miss Polk is a perfectly grand person. For Simon-pure sense there isn't her equal on earth. She and I have decided on what we would do if we had money. We'd have a Fund for Tired Mothers and Fathers. It would be used to give them a Rest before Death.
I hope you won't mind sending the money. I don't think you will, for everybody says business is so prosperous it's actually unrighteous, and it's in the Bible that you ought to put your treasures where you can find them again, or something like that. If you can't send it I know there will be a good reason for your not sending it, but I would like to have it by Monday if possible, so Mrs. Stafford can go to the Hospital the next day. Later, four other people can have their turn. It is to be used not for illness, but for Tiredness; for broken-downers and worn-outers who need being waited on and fed up and allowed to keep still. Miss Polk and I are going to decide on who needs a rest the most before I go away, and I send you for it, Father dear, an armful of squeezes and the biggest bunch of kisses the mail-man can take.
That was all I told him about the Rest money, but I said a little something about the picnic I thought I ought to give. Everybody in town has given something, and, having accepted, I have to return, and the picnic will be the best thing for Whythe and Elizabeth. I didn't mention the ex-lovers to Father, of course. Even to a father one doesn't have to tell everything in life.
I haven't seen Whythe alone but once since the night of the MacLean party, and then I stopped any tendencies that showed signs of being personal, and talked most of the time about the picnic which we can't have until late in the month. Every day is engaged up to the twenty-fourth. Whythe tried to talk of Mr. Algernon Grice Baker, but I cut that out also. Sarcasm doesn't suit him, and some day he might be sorry. The Superseder has gone, however, and every day Elizabeth passes Whythe's office, and every day Whythe happens to be at his window at the time of passing. They speak, but so far that is all. I am sorry the picnic has to wait so long. They are two silly children. Their fingers aren't in their mouths, but their heads are on the side when they see each other, and the thing's getting on my nerves. Almost any kind of sin is easier to stand than some sorts of silliness.
I wonder why I stay awake so much at night! It's very unusual, and I try my best to go to sleep, but I can't sleep. Always I am thinking of Mr. William Spencer Sloane and the things I would say to him if he were in hearing distance. Not one line have I had from him for more than two weeks. Not a card or a little present, which he usually sends from every place he goes to, or any sign to show he is living. I got so mad when I realized he hadn't noticed me for fourteen days that I couldn't keep in things which had to come out, and, seeing Miss Susanna was sleeping the sleep of worn-outness, I got up the other night and lighted a candle behind the bed, and on the floor I wrote a letter that maybe wasn't altogether as accurate as it might have been. I wouldn't have sent it the next day if it hadn't been for a letter I got from Jess, but after I read hers I sent mine flying.
I haven't cooled down yet from reading Jess's letter. I am not going to cool down until I see the cause of it face to face, and if Billy thinks it makes the least difference to me how he amuses himself or with whom he spends his time sightseeing he thinks Wrong! I was going to tear up the letter I had written him in the middle of the night for the relief of indignations and because in the middle of the night things seem so much bigger and harder and stranger than in the daylight; but after I read the letter from Jess I added a postscript to mine and almost ran down to the post-office to mail it, for fear if I didn't do it quick I mightn't do it at all. Ever since I sent it off I have been perfectly horrid, and I can hardly stand myself. I have put off trying to make Whythe and Elizabeth see how stupid they are, and as Elizabeth hasn't been very nice to me I haven't felt it to be my duty to show her what a goose she is. Neither have I told Whythe that almost any girl who adored him would do for his wife. As I don't adore I wouldn't do, and I think he is beginning to take it in. A dozen times of late he has told me he doesn't understand me. He does not. And never will.
The thing in Jess's letter which made me hot was this: "What is the matter with you and Billy? Pat says (Pat is Patricia, Billy's sister) that you've been pretty horrid about writing him, and he's been blue-black at not getting letters from you; but at present he is having a good time with a very jolly girl from the West who is at their hotel. Chirp him something cheerful, Canary Bird. If I were younger or Billy older you shouldn't have him. I'd have him myself. I'm not going to stand for bad treatment of him, and if those Southern boys who make love to every pretty girl they see, and make it better than any boys on earth, have made you forget an old friend, I'm coming down and take you back home. Behave yourself, Kitty Canary, and write Billy the sort of letter we scream over up here." And then she went on with other things.
It is ridiculous in Pat to say I haven't written Billy! I have. Three long letters and three cards, and certainly he can't expect more than that, as he hasn't been gone but two months and five days; and, besides, friends ought to have such confidence in each other that they don't need letters to prove their friendship. Not a word have I had from him in more than two weeks, and if Jess thinks I am going to write him a chirp letter (which he won't have time to read if he is going around so much with a Western girl and having so much fun) she, too, thinks Wrong. That Westerner explains why I haven't heard from him for so long. It is outrageous in Billy to behave as he has been behaving. All men are alike. Every one of them. It was ignorance in me to imagine Billy was different. He isn't. The more I thought of how mistaken I had been in him the madder I got, and I just wrote a postscript to my letter and flew to the post-office with it. It seemed providential that my letter was ready to send. I hope he will read it while on one of his joyous excursions with the Western Woman, who is doubtless twenty-five, maybe thirty, and just making use of Billy, who hasn't sense enough to see it. I nearly cried my eyes out last night, before Miss Susanna came up to bed, because it was necessary to send him such a letter. Still, Billy has to learn things in life and he might as well learn them early. What I wrote was this:
Dear Billy,—I have been having such a perfectly grand time lately that it has been impossible to squeeze out a scrap in which to write you, and yet I have wanted to do so, for I am sure you will be glad to know how fearfully happy I am and what is causing the happiness. I am in love. It is the most wonderful thing I have ever been in, and thrillingly interesting. I suppose you have been in it many times, but not my way, or you would have mentioned it, just as I am doing to you, as we are such old friends, and friends have the right to know of important happenings. I hope you will like each other when you meet, for, though you are very unlike, you are both made of male material, and I have often noticed that men have many peculiarities in common. One of them is out of sight out of love, and a great readiness to be admired and entertained. He is a lawyer and couldn't be better born, though he might be better educated; still, one mustn't expect all things in one man, and his eyes are so wonderful, and he uses such poetic prose, that the lack of money and a few other lacks shouldn't count. He lives in a beautiful old house which has proud traditions and no bathrooms, and his family is one of the oldest and most disagreeable in America; still, we would not have to live with them if we were married. Nothing on earth could make me sleep under the same roof with his sisters, who are so churchy that the minister himself is subject under them. And neither would it be safe for me to be too closely associated with his mother. However, things of that sort are in the distance, which may be far or may not, and I am not thinking of immediate marriage, but just how magnificent it is to have somebody in love with you who knows how to say so in the most delicious way, and with a voice that, when the moon is out, is truly heavenly. I am telling you about it because I thought you might be interested and would like to know of my happiness; but, of course, I don't want you to tell any one else, as it is still a secret and all so indefinite that it wouldn't do to speak of it to any one but you. I am scribbling this in the middle of the night, because I can't sleep for thinking of some one, and because there is no time in the day in which to write. I hope you are having a great time. Give my love to the family and write me of your gladness at knowing of mine.
As ever, Kitty.
Now what do you suppose made me write such slush as that? And why is a female person born with such horridness in her that she can say things that are not so with a smile in public and cry her eyes out when alone? That's what I have been doing lately, though I can't let tears have much time, for I am not by nature a crier, and they would disturb Miss Susanna at night. In my secret heart I just wrote that letter to Billy because I was indignant with him for not writing to me for more than two weeks, and I didn't intend to let him think I was sitting on a tombstone waving a willow branch in one hand and wiping tears away with the other. And, besides, I have been in love. Summer love. And it has been exciting. No one could expect me to go through life and not have but one experience in love making and hearing, and because a girl enjoys the different manners of expression it doesn't mean she is not particular about the story not being illustrated. I don't illustrate or allow illustrations, which, of course, lessens some of the thrill, but I promised Jess I would always draw the line at the right time, and I have. I have not been engaged for half a minute, and I wouldn't have added the postscript if it hadn't been for her letter and what she told me about that girl from some Western town who is no more his sort than I am her brother's. Billy is perfectly blind about some things, and has no discrimination where it is most needed. Anyhow, I added the postscript:
P.S.—By the time you get this I may be engaged. Thank you for what you would say if here.
It was after I sent the letter that I got so restless I couldn't sit still, and as there was nothing I enjoyed doing I spent a good deal of my tune at the hospital with Miss Polk, who is a very splendid person, and every day I went in to see Mrs. Stafford. She is having the grandest rest, with rubs and good eats and nothing to do but be waited on and cared for, that a tired person ever had, and I am the only one who is allowed to see her, which is beyond the understanding of Twickenham Town. I'm cheerful is the reason I'm allowed to see her, the town is told, and that's enough for it to know.
It certainly is queer how some things happen in the nick of time. Father sent me the money, but told me to try to be as practical as possible, knowing I am given to doing impractical things; and I took it to Miss Polk, and nobody but she and I know where it came from. And then she invited Mrs. Stafford to be a guest of the hospital for a month. I happened to be at the house when the note came. I thought it best to be there accidentally, in case there should be argument and talk, and the Man of the House should still think Woman's Place was in the Home, and sure enough there was. Mrs. Stafford read the note, and her face got as white as death, and after a minute she said it would be heaven to go, but of course she couldn't. And the noble creature who is her husband said it was very presumptuous in whoever had invited her to be the guest of the hospital, and that he wasn't in the habit of having his wife visit such places on the invitation of unknown interferers, and of course she couldn't go. And just as he said that Mrs. Stafford keeled over in a dead faint right at his feet, as if something had given out at the thought of rest. I knew that was my chance, and I took it.
"Stop that automobile!" I waved to a man who was coming down the street, and as he stopped I knelt and did the things Billy had made me learn how to do the first year we went to camp. And seeing the poor, tired soul had just fainted, and would come to in a minute, I spoke quick to the man looking down at her, scared to death, as were the children, who began to cry, and told him he wouldn't have a wife much longer to be interfered with if he didn't come down from that horse he thought he was riding and have some common sense.
"Don't you see she is worn out," I said, "and got nothing to go on with? Everything has given out, and the next time she drops over in this way she may never get up again." I was putting some water on her face as I spoke, and, seeing her eyes begin to open a little, I called to Mr. Everett, who had gotten out of his car and was on the porch, to help Mr. Stafford put his wife in and take her to the hospital, and the frightened husband for once did as he was told. I hopped in with her and held her up and told Mr. Everett to drive like old Scratch, and he drove. It was all over so quickly nobody knew what had happened.
It was like somebody being kidnapped and dragged off by highwaymen, taking her away so hurriedly, but if it hadn't been done that way there would have been endless talk and a thousand reasons why she couldn't go; and if she hadn't she would have soon gone for good. Sometimes somebody has to be high-handed, and even if that billy-goat of a husband pretends to resent what I did his wife isn't resenting it, and she is the one that counts. I always agree with her that it was such a strange thing I happened to be there the day the note came. And also she thinks it strange I decided so quickly to take her to the hospital, when she had just said she couldn't go. I tell her I do a good many things on the spur of the moment, and getting the men to pick her up and hurry away with her was just another case of spur, and she shuts her eyes when I say that and looks as if she is praying. The lucky part was her fainting at the right time. Anyhow, she is at the hospital, and that old rooster of hers is finding out a good many things it took her absence from home for him to learn. I never expect to get married. NEVER!
I have just found out why Elizabeth and Whythe had their break. Miss Bettie Simcoe told me. It took Miss Bettie some time to get at the bottom of it, but Elizabeth told her last night, and this morning I was given the information at the first moment Miss Bettie could get me to herself.
Elizabeth was dead right in the stand she took, but her little spurt of independence didn't last long, and she is now ready to give in when the chance comes to give. Miss Bettie added that on her own account. Whythe couldn't afford to be married, but that wasn't to interfere with his marriage. He had expected to take Elizabeth to his mother's home and plant her in it, but when he told her Elizabeth balked. She preferred to stay with her aunt Susanna after her marriage to going to Whythe's home, and when she so informed him he said things he shouldn't, and then both sent off skyrockets and the whole thing went up in the air. And then I came.
She has now changed her mind and is willing to follow her husband wherever he leads. She is truly womanly, also she is still wearing the ring of the beau with whom she sought to bring Whythe to terms, and to please her worldly aunt. But she will return the ring when it is proper to do so. She is waiting to find out.
Elizabeth had more sense than I gave her credit for in refusing to live in the House of Eppes; but it's either live there or not live with Whythe, and she evidently can't live without him. I'd hate love to make me lose the little gumption I was born with, and even my little knows no house is big enough for a son's wife and a mother-in-law and three in-law sisters. It won't be a Home, Sweet Home, place when Elizabeth enters the Eppes house, and it will be nip and tuck as to who wins out, but that's not my business. I'm sorry for both sides, and thankful I'm not related to either. Also, I will get out of the way as soon as possible, but until the picnic there doesn't seem a possible way.
There is nothing in life that is not over if life is long enough, and my little love affair with Mr. Whythe Rives Eppes belongs to the past. Elizabeth can have him any minute she wants, and unless actions do not speak louder than words she wants him right away, and he her. I do not see how she is possibly going to stand his teeth. Still, there are a great many things I do not understand in life.
The picnic is over. By giving it I brought down a good deal of comment and criticism on my brown and curly head, but it does not matter. Nothing except sin really matters if we have sense enough to see it. I invited everybody in Twickenham Town that I liked to the picnic, and some few I didn't, the latter being relations of those I did. I don't think a person ought to be punished for their relations, any more than being held responsible for them, and so I included them, too. What I was criticized for was asking to the picnic quite a number of people who don't usually go to the same places at the same time the Historicals go, and it made talk. That night Miss Araminta Armstrong, on the quiet, told me she knew I meant to do right, but one had to use judgment in life, and it wasn't well to put ideas in some people's heads. I told her I knew it, knew certain kinds of heads couldn't take in certain ideas, one of which was that people could enjoy friendliness and outdoorness and a lunch they didn't have to prepare for themselves, even if they were not high-born, and as the ones referred to did not have contagious diseases their presence wouldn't prove dangerous and the Ancestrals needn't be uneasy. Also I told her I didn't care for judgment as much as I ought, and if human beings knew one another better they might find they were not as unlike as they thought. She didn't say anything more. Neither did any one else say anything to me. To one another they said a good deal.
It was at the picnic I had a little talk with Whythe. We went down to a stream under a big willow-tree, and he started on the usual, but I told him he must not say anything more to me on that subject, and if he were the man I thought him he would not allow Elizabeth to marry the Compensator she was no more in love with than I was. Also, I said a few more things that were pleasant for him to hear, such as Elizabeth's heart was breaking (it was, as much as her kind of heart could break), and I told him it was foolishness to ruin one's life because of a misunderstanding, and that both had doubtless been in the wrong. And incidentally I let drop that if, after years of preparation, I ever got married I would have nothing to bring my husband but myself, as my father had made up his mind that young people should make their own way in life (he ought to have so made it up if he hasn't), and Whythe said that cut no figure with him, and asked me point-blank if I did not love him. It didn't sound polite to say no, and yet I couldn't truthfully say yes, so I just sighed and shook my head. When he asked me if I could give him no hope, I answered no with such uncomplimentary quickness that I had to cough to overcome it, and then I told him it was impossible for a girl of Elizabeth's taste and training and character, who had once loved such a man as he, to really care for any one else. And the blackness in his face, caused by my unnecessary emphasis, died out, and I saw he was agreeing with me concerning Elizabeth, and that I would not have to insist on what I said being so. A man's appetite for flattery is never poor, and usually it is hearty. When we got up to go back to where lunch was being served Whythe had quite a determined air about him. I told him if I could help in any way to let me know. An hour later I saw him and Elizabeth going down to the same stream and the same old willow tree.
When the time came to go home I pretended I had to see Florence Kensey about something that was important, and in the confusion of getting the people in the cars I managed to have Whythe put Elizabeth in his, and told them to get away quick and I would come on with Mason Page. They got. And the next day Elizabeth looked like some one who had been unbandaged and was letting out breath that for a long time had been held in. Also, she looked pinker and whiter than ever, and so Pure that it was not possible for me to stay close to her, so I got away. No longer Hurt and Misunderstood, she went about smiling in sweet triumphantness that was not put in words, but oozed without them, and her manner to me was one of deepest sympathy. Poor Whythe!
There are some things not required of human nature to stand. Elizabeth Hamilton Carter is one of them. I was glad to give her back her beau. I felt truly Virginian in doing it, for Virginians always say, when giving you something, that they don't want it; I certainly didn't want Whythe. I wouldn't have known what to do with him after the summer was over, and I was conscious of great relief in getting him off my hands without further loss or trouble. I couldn't tell Elizabeth this, of course, though there were times when it took a good deal of something I did not know I had to keep from doing so. Also, it took more strength to keep several other things to myself than I knew I possessed. It took praying and the end of the sheet to do it, but I did it, and I'm getting encouraged about K. C.
What encourages me is this: Two nights after the picnic Elizabeth came to my room and asked if she might have a little talk with me, as she felt she ought to. I told her she could, and she sat down and began. Miss Susanna was back in her own quarters, the people from Florida having gone, and I had just finished saying my prayers and was ready to hop into bed when Elizabeth knocked at my door. I knew what was coming from the look on her face and her manner of walking, and the way she held her head.
If ever I write that book I am always thinking about I am going to put Elizabeth in it as well as Miss Araminta Armstrong, and if I could get some men to match them I would have some corking characters to begin with. But no kind of pen-and-ink picture of Elizabeth would do her justice. Her sweetness of speech when she is particularly nasty is beyond the power of human portrayal. I got in bed quick when she said she wanted to talk, because I was afraid I might have to hit something, and the pillow was the only thing I could manage without sound. I put it where I could give it a dig when politeness required control, and told her to go ahead.
In her last sleep Elizabeth will pose. She took her seat near the window where the moonlight could shine on her (she looked very pretty in her pink-silk kimono, a hand-over from her rich aunt, and shabby but becoming in color), and for a moment she didn't say anything, just fooled with the pink ribbon on her hair. And then she said she had a secret to tell me; said it so soft, with her head on the side, that I had to ask her to speak louder please, and I got nearer the edge of the bed. Elbow on it and chin in the palm of one hand, I prayed hard to be polite in my own room, and reached out for an end of the sheet with the other. Again I told her to go ahead. After a minute she went.
"You and Whythe have been such friends that I think you should be the first to know that—"
"Have you and Whythe made up?" I stuck my bare foot over the edge of the bed and wriggled it. "If you have you had better be married quick and not take any more chances. I'm awfully glad if things are settled. Have you bounced the other fellow yet?"
It was cruel in me to take out of her mouth what she was moistening her lips to say, but I was sleepy and I didn't want details. She had no idea of being cut out of saying what it was her determination to say, however, considering I had been responsible for some unhappy days during the past two months, and before she got through she had said all she wanted me to hear. If it hadn't been for the pillow I would have rolled out of bed. The nerve of her! The belief of her! And, oh, my granny! the punishment, as she imagined, of me!
Before she left the room she told me she could no longer hold out against Whythe's pleadings. Told me he had suffered so during the summer she was uneasy about him, and, though he had tried to forget, it had been useless, and, unable to endure it any longer, he had come to her and told her he could stand no more, and if she did not promise to marry him at once he would—he would— Her voice trailed, but I said nothing, the end of the sheet being stuffed into my mouth for politeness' sake, and when her tears had been wiped away she began again.
"It is hard to forgive Whythe, because you are so young, and he knows how fascinating he is and how little experience you have had with young men, but his father was a flirt before him" (poor Father! I thought of the retribution that had come to him in Mother, and I pushed in more sheet), "and it is natural in a man to seek amusement and entertainment when he is suffering as Whythe was. I hope you will forgive him. It is because he may have made you imagine things that were not so, and because you have been so nice to him, that I thought you should be the first to know."
I rolled back to the side of the bed facing her, from which I had rolled the other way for safety, and took the end of the sheet out of my mouth. "Have you told IT?" I asked. "It doesn't make any difference about my knowing as I knew before you did, but something is due that which you brought back with you. Have you told IT, Elizabeth?"
"Told who? I don't understand." She sat up. "I don't know who you are talking about."
"Don't you?" I too sat up and swung my bare feet over the side of the bed. "I am talking about the person to whom I read in the Twickenham Town Sentinel that you were engaged. He dresses like a man, and he may be one, but even if he isn't he deserves to be treated decently by the lady who had promised to marry him. I suppose he knows." I nodded to her hand, on which was the ring he had given her and which she had been twirling as she talked. "That is, if you have had time to tell him."
"That is entirely my affair!" When not hurt or injured Elizabeth is superior, and she added scorn to the tone of her voice, but stopped fooling with the ring, which I know she hated to send back. "I see you do not appreciate the confidence I am putting in you or the compliment I am paying you by telling you first, and if that is the case I will go." She made movement as if to get up, but she had no idea of going, so I didn't notice it, but kept on swinging my feet, and then I asked her if she had told Miss Susanna, and if she hadn't she ought to at once, Miss Susanna being closely related and I nothing but a summer boarder. And I said I hoped she would be married right away, as I would love to be at the wedding, and if she would ask me to be one of the bridesmaids I would be one with pleasure. But she wouldn't answer me. Seeing she still had something to say, and wouldn't leave until she said it, I put my feet back in bed and lay flat with my hands under my head and my eyes shut, and when at last I was fixed and quiet she began for a third time.
I don't remember a thing after that except a sort of monotone voice and something about people talking about me because I had accepted Whythe's attentions when everybody knew—I didn't hear what everybody knew, and not until I did hear a sound at the door did I wake up good, and then I jumped as if shot and asked her, half-asleep, if she were going to live with Mother and Sister and Sister Edwina and Miss Lily Lou when she was married, but she answered not. And since her midnight confession she hath not opened her mouth unto me and her little lips get together when she sees me coming, and from her friends I have learned that she is deeply distressed at my treatment of her. And to her friends I have said Rats! and so endeth the efforts at friendship which she imagined she had made. I am never going to pretend to be friends with a person who is not truthful, and whom I understand as I understand Elizabeth Hamilton Carter. I don't like her, and though it is not necessary to say so unless occasion requires, neither is it necessary to appear to be what I am not. I like Whythe, and when I saw him a few days after Elizabeth gave herself the satisfaction of communicating to me the return of his tempted affections, I shook hands with him good and hard and wished him all the happiness I knew there was little chance of his getting. If I were a man and had to live in the house with a female who shut her mouth tight every time she got mad and was continually hurt and always sensitive, there would likely be in that house battle, murder, or sudden death. Any kind of outspokenness is better to be endured than silent offense.
This is the last day of August, and it is a day Twickenham Town is going to remember for a long time. I have done again that which I should not have done, and I guess I had better go home. I had expected to stay until the twenty-seventh of September and return with Father, who was to spend a week here with me, but he can't come.
I suppose it was the awful disappointment of knowing Father couldn't come, and being so miserable myself (not one line yet from that person named William Spencer Sloane, who is probably married to an elderly woman by this time), and because of my sureness that no human being could be depended on in time of temptation, especially vigorous, aggressive temptations that come out of the West, that I gave help where help seemed to be needed, and now again I am in everybody's mouth. Also my ankles are still a little sore from the weight of the window being on them as I hung out, but they are nearly well, and even if they were not it would not matter. Two young hearts are happy and a proud person is not, and the blame is on me. That also doesn't matter. I am soon going away.
The thing I did, which maybe I shouldn't have done, was to help little Amy Frances Winston get married. She is the property of her grandmother, who is a very important part of Twickenham Town. Having no parents or sisters or brothers, and only enough money of her own for her keep, and no spunk or spirit, she has gone on for years loving an awfully nice chap named Taylor French, with little chance of ever marrying him, and then in hops this Miss Frisk, who asks her why she doesn't quit fumbling and stop fearing, and the thing is done.
There is nothing the matter with Taylor French except he is not Ancestral. Mrs. Brandon, Amy's grandmother, is diseased on the subject of ancestry, and the first thing she asks about a man is who is he. Knowing she would want to know who I was, I mentioned to her one day that I had never had any grandparents on either side (living ones I meant), and that we were not historic, and no member of our family had ever been distinguished (for righteousness, though I didn't use the word), and that we had made our own way in life, which was true, for Father didn't have a thing but what he was making when he married Mother. I also told her I did not mind in the least, and if I did I would try to remember that Christ was a carpenter and St. Paul a sail-maker, though I'd never care to be intimate with St. Paul. And I told her I thought it was yourself that counted most, after all, and not dead people, though it must be nice to know somebody in your family had been something if you were not. All she said was, "Are you a suffragist?" When I said I was and I hoped I didn't look as if I were not, for I wouldn't like anybody to be mistaken about it, she gave me a long look and left the room.
She did not exactly draw her skirts aside with her hand as she passed me, but she did it inwardly; that is, I imagined she did from the expression of her face, and the next day she must have fumigated the house, for when I went by an awful smell of sulphur was coming from it. She is a low bender and bower in church at the mention of a name belonging to one she believes a Prince in disguise, who in another life will receive her into His kingdom, and whom she professes to follow in the expectation of being rewarded for so doing, but her head is held high when she doesn't care to see the lowly ones He came to give light and life to. I don't mean she doesn't give old clothes and food and sometimes a little wood to old Mrs. Snicker, who can't move, from rheumatism, but she would no more speak other than stiffly to some of the people I know here than she would go in for suffrage. She doesn't realize she is a living woman. She thinks she is an Ancestor. For years she has forbidden Taylor French to come to her house, and Amy has to see him elsewhere.
She has seen a good deal of him lately, Amy has. Taylor doesn't live in Twickenham Town now. He is living in North Carolina and has a good position, and is able to get married (I know because I asked him), and any minute day or night in the past eighteen months in which Amy would have agreed he would have married her and taken her away, but Amy wouldn't agree. Things have been dragging along this way so long that the nerves of both are frazzled out, and there's nothing to hope for but death, and, of course, it isn't respectful to think too hopefully of death and a grandmother. And then I popped in and gave things a little push and the curtain dropped.
The way it dropped was this. I mean the way they got married. Taylor was in town the last two weeks in August, and, as everybody invited him to their parties, he and Amy managed to see a good deal of each other (also the seeing wasn't altogether at places where other people were around). But she wasn't allowed to meet him on the square or to receive letters from him straight. And sometimes, if he wanted to say something in a hurry, or send her candy or a new book, or any of the usuals, he had to give a signal by throwing pebbles on her window at night, and then she would throw out a string and he would tie the thing to it and she would haul up, and the Personage, who was usually asleep, would be none the wiser. The Personage is deaf, which is a great help.
Well, one night three of the town girls and myself, with a boy apiece, had been to see Amy, and when we went up-stairs (just the girls) to see a new hat a city cousin had sent her, we heard a little tap at the west window. It had been raining, which accounted for our being indoors with the windows lowered, and when we heard the tapping we were so excited we could hardly breathe. It was fearfully thrilly, just like things one reads about in books, and I told the girls to put out the light quick, and when it was out I went to the window and saw Taylor standing in the shadow of a big tree. He signaled me to drop the line, but when I threw the piece of twine Amy gave me I threw it wrong and it got caught in a broken piece of shingle on the edge of the porch and hung there. I couldn't get it back and Taylor couldn't get it down, and, seeing it was necessary for something to be done, I pushed aside the curtains (they were made of striped calico, blue and white) and told the girls I was going to lean out of the window on the roof of the porch to get the string loose, and they must hold on to my feet, for the roof sloped and I might slip if they didn't. They tried to stop me, and Amy wrung her hands, being very nervous from living on a strain and loving in secret, but I was out head foremost in a jiffy, and all four made a grab for my feet and legs. Being flat on my stomach, and having long arms, I got the string off from the piece of shingle, and just as I did it and threw it to Taylor I heard a noise and a little cry from the girls, something about, "Oh, my goodness! here she comes!" and I knew what had happened.
"Pull the window down on my feet and let go," I called, as loud as I dared, "and draw the curtains so she won't see my shoes. If she asks where I am, tell her I am outdoors. Quick! Let it down!"
They got it down and drew the curtains just as her Royal Highness walked in, and as she went toward the window Katherine Hardy says that never before had she prayed as she prayed that minute, and then she thought of mice, which was a quick answer. She gave a little scream and jumped with her hands over her eyes and bumped into the lady, who, being a woman first, was also afraid of mice, and she moved, too. Seeing the girls flying around, she told them to stop, told them Maud Hendren's mother had telephoned that she must come home at once and, not missing me, owing to the girls moving about so she wouldn't notice, she went out of the room, skirts still held up, and the minute she was out they rushed for the window and pulled me in.