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."