E-text prepared by Al Haines
AT HOME WITH THE JARDINES
Author of "Abroad with the Jimmies," "Hope Loring,", etc.
A. Wessels Company New York 1906
Copyright, 1902 by Harper & Brothers
Copyright, 1903 by the Ridgway-Thayer Company
Copyright, 1904 by Ainslee Magazine Co.
Copyright, 1904 by L. C. Page & Company (Incorporated)
(All rights reserved)
Dr. John Sedgwick Billings, Jr.
Dr. John Clarendon Todd
WHOSE COURAGE, SKILL, AND WISDOM
SAVED A PRECIOUS LIFE
I. MARY II. THEORIES III. ON THE SUBJECT OF JANITORS IV. THE ANGEL AND THE AGENT V. HOW WE TAMED THE COOK VI. THE BEST MAN'S STORY VII. THE PRICE OF QUIET VIII. MOVING IX. HOW BEE TRIED TO MAKE US SMART X. OUR FIRST HOUSE-PARTY XI. ON THE GENTLE ART OF WASTING OTHER PEOPLE'S TIME XII. A LETTER FROM JIMMIE XIII. THE BREAKING UP OF MARY XIV. AND THEY LIVED HAPPY EVER AFTER
At Home with the Jardines
I have never dared even inquire why our best man began calling my husband the Angel. He was with us a great deal during the first months of our marriage, and he is very observing, so I decided to let sleeping dogs lie. I, too, am observing.
It is only fair to state, in justice to the best man, that I am a woman of emotional mountain peaks and dark, deep valleys, while the Angel is one vast and sunny plateau. With him rain comes in soothing showers, while rain in my disposition means a soaking, drenching torrent which sweeps away cattle and cottages and leaves roaring rivers in its wake. But it took Mary to discover that the smiling plateau was bedded on solid rock, and had its root in infinity.
Mary is my cook!
Yet Mary is more than cook. She is my housekeeper, mother, trained nurse, corporation counsel, keeper of the privy purse, chancellor of the exchequer, fighter of exorbitant bills, seamstress, linen woman, doctor of small ills, the acme of perpetual good nature, and my best friend.
Cheiro, when he read my palm, said he never before had seen a hand which had less of a line of luck than mine. He said that I was obliged to put forth tremendous effort for whatever I achieved. But that was before Mary selected me for a mistress, for Mary was my first bit of pure luck. Our meeting came about in this way.
We were at the Waldorf for our honeymoon, which shows how inexperienced we were, when a chance acquaintance of the Angel's said to him one night in the billiard-room:
"Jardine, I hear that you are going to housekeeping!"
"Yes," said Aubrey, "we are."
"Has your wife engaged a cook yet?"
"Why, no, I don't believe she has thought about it."
"Well, I know exactly the woman for her. Elderly, honest, experienced, cooks game to perfection, doesn't drink, thoroughly competent in every way, and the quaintest character I ever knew. Lived in her last place twenty-three years, and only left when the family was broken up. Shall I send her to see you?"
"Do," said Aubrey.
He forgot to tell me about it, so the next morning while he was shaving, a knock came, and in walked Mary. I was in a kimono, writing notes and waiting for breakfast to be sent up. Hearing voices, Aubrey came to the door with one-half of his face covered with lather, and said:
"Oh, yes. I forgot to tell you. Are you the cook sent by Mr. Zanzibar?"
"Yes, sir," said Mary.
Aubrey retired to the bathroom again, communicating with me in pantomime.
I looked at Mary, and loved her. We eyed each other in silence for a moment.
"Won't you sit down?" I said, looking at her white hair.
"Thank you, but I'll stand."
That settled it. I didn't care if she stole the shoes off my feet if she knew her place as well as that. Her face beamed; her skin was fresh and rosy. Her blue eyes twinkled through her spectacles.
"Would you," I said, "would you like to take entire charge of two orphans?"
She burst into a fit of laughter.
"Is it you and your husband, you mean?"
"It is. I wish you would come and keep house for us."
"I'd like to, Missis. I would, indeed."
Again I looked at her and loved her harder.
"Have you any references?" I asked.
"None except the recommendations of the people who have been coming to the house for twenty years. The family are all scattered."
"I have none either," I said. "Shall we take each other on trust?"
"If you are willing," she laughed.
And so we selected each other, and I am just as much flattered as she could possibly be, for neither one so far has given the other notice.
This sketch can only serve to introduce her, as it would take a book to do her justice. She has snow-white hair and a face in which decision and kindness are mingled. She has a tongue which drops blessings and denunciations with equal facility. Born of Irish parents, she belongs to the gentry, yet no fighting Irishman could match her temper when roused, and the Billingsgate which passes through the dumb-waiter between our Mary and the tradespeople is enough to turn the colour of the walls. Yet though I have seen her pull a recreant grocery boy in by his hair, literally by his hair, tradesmen, one and all, adore her, and do errands for her which ought to earn their discharge, and they bring her the pick of the market to avoid having anything less choice thrown in their faces when they come for the next order. She made the ice-man grind coffee for her for a week because he once forgot to come up and put the ice into the refrigerator.
She went among all the tradespeople, and named prices to them which we were to pay if they obtained our valuable patronage. One little man who kept a sort of general store was so impressed by her manner and the awful lies she told about the grandeur of her employers that he presented her with a pitcher in the shape of the figure of Napoleon. Something so very absurd happened in connection with this pitcher some three years later that I particularly remembered the time she got it, and the little man who gave it to her.
She kept house for seven years in Paris, which explains her reverence for food, for we have discovered that the only way to dispose of things is to eat them. Otherwise, in different guises, they return to us until in desperation the Angel sprinkles cigar-ashes over what is left. She pays all the bills and contests her rights to the last penny, once keeping the baker out of his whole bill for five months because he would not recognize her claim for a receipted bill for eight cents which she had paid at the door. As to her relation to us in a social way, those of you who have lived in the South will understand her privileges, when I say that she is a white "Mammy." Her dear old heart is pure gold, and such her quick sympathy that if I want to cry I have to lock myself in my room where she won't see me, for if she sees tears in my eyes she comes and puts her arms around me and weeps, too, without even knowing why, but just with the heavenly pity of one of God's own, although before her eyes are dry she may be damning the butcher in language which curdles the blood.
She abhors profanity, and never mingles holy names in her sentences which contain fluent d's, but being an excellent Catholic enables her to accentuate her remarks with exclamations which she says are prayers; and as these are never denunciatory her theory is most conscientiously lived up to.
In our first housekeeping, our rawness in all matters practical wrung Mary's heart. She had grown up from a slip of a girl in the employ of one family, and ours was only her second experiment in "living out." As her first employers were people of wealth and with half-grown grandchildren when their magnificent home was finally broken up, you can imagine the change to Mary of living with newly married people, engaged in their first struggle with the world. But ours was just the problem which appealed to the motherly heart of our spinster Mary, for she yearned over us with an exceeding great yearning, and of her value to us you yourselves shall be the judge.
The first thing I remember which called my attention to Mary's firm manner of doing business was one day when I was writing letters in the Angel's study. We had only moved in the day before, and the ink on the lease was hardly dry, when I heard a great noise in the kitchen as of moving chairs on a bare floor and Mary's voice raised in fluent denunciation. I flew to the scene and saw a strange man standing on the table with his hands on the electric light metre over the door, while Mary had one hand on his left ankle, and the other on his coat-tails. Her very spectacles were bristling with anger.
"Come down out of that, young feller!" she was crying, jerking both coat-tails and ankle of the unhappy man.
"Leggo my leg!" he retorted.
"I'll pull your leg for you," cried Mary, "old woman that I am, more than any of your young jades, if you don't drop that metre. Come down, I say!"
"What is the trouble, Mary?" I asked.
"Missis! The impidence of that brat! He's come to shut off the electric light without a word of warning, and you going to have company this blessed night for dinner."
"Here are my orders," said the man, sullenly. "I'd show them to you if you'd leggo my coat-tails," he added, furiously.
"I'll pull them off before I let go," said Mary, grimly. "A pretty way for the New York Electric Light Company to do business I say! If you want a five-dollar deposit from the Missis why didn't you write and give notice like a Christian? Do you suppose we are thieves? Are we going to loot the house of the electric bulbs, and go and live in splendour on the guilty sales of them?"
"Let me cut it off according to orders, and I'll go to the office and explain, and come back and turn it on for you!" pleaded the man.
But Mary's grasp on leg and coat was firm.
"Not on yer life," she said, derisively. "You'll come back this day week or next month at your own good pleasure, and Mr. Jardine will be doing the explaining and the running to the office. Make up your mind that the thing is going to be settled my way, or you'll stay here till you do. I'm in no hurry."
"Make her leggo of me," he said to me.
Mary gave me a look, and I obediently turned my back. The man slammed the little door of the metre, and Mary let go of him. He climbed down.
"I can turn it off in the basement just as well," he said, with a grin.
I was about to interfere and offer a cheque, but Mary was too quick for me. She took him by the arm, with a "Come, Missis," and marched him before her, with me meekly following, to the telephone in the Angel's study.
"Now, then, young feller, call up the office!" she commanded. The man obeyed. Indeed few would have dared to resist.
"Now get away and let the Missis talk to your boss. Tell him what we think of such doings, Missis."
I, too, obeyed her. I stated the case in firm language. He apologized, he grovelled. It was all a mistake (Mary sniffed); the man had no such orders (Mary snorted). I could send a cheque at my leisure, and if I would permit him to speak to his henchman all would be well.
I handed the receiver to a very cowed and surly man, whom Mary persistently addressed as "Major." As he turned from the telephone, Mary surveyed him with twinkling eyes.
"Are you going to turn off our electric light, Major?" she said, laughing at him. To my surprise, he laughed with her. Tradespeople always did.
"Not to-day," he said as amiably as though she had been entertaining him at tea. Then she let him out, and went back to her dusting. She looked at me compassionately.
"It's the way that dummed company takes to get people to pay their deposits promptly," she said. "But trust Mary Jane Few Clothes to get ahead of a little trick like that! My, Missis, isn't it hot!"
I went back to my letter-writing feeling somewhat pensive. It was clear that we had a competent person in the kitchen, and as for myself it would not disturb me in the least if she managed me, provided she dealt as peremptorily with the housework as she handled any other difficult proposition. But with the Angel? I was not very well acquainted with my husband myself, and I was slightly exercised as to whether he would bow his neck to Mary's yoke as meekly as I intended to do or not. I seemed to feel intuitively that Mary was a great and gallant general in the domestic field, and my mother's thirty years' war with incompetent servants made me yearn to close my lips as hermetically as an army officer's and blindly obey my general's orders with an unquestioning confidence that the battle would be won by her genius. If it were lost, then it would be my turn to interfere and criticize and show how affairs should have been managed.
But men, as a rule, have no such intuition, and I wondered about the Angel. How little I knew him!
I was arranging the flowers for the table when the Angel came home. When he had gone back to dress, Mary came up to me and in a confidential way said:
"Missis, dear, don't tell your father about the electric light till after dinner,—excuse me for putting in my two cents, but I always was nosey!"
"Tell my father?" I repeated. My father was in Washington.
"Boss! Mr. Jardine!" explained Mary.
"Why did you call him my father? Surely you must know—"
"Pardon me, dear child. I always call him your father when I'm talking to myself, because nobody but your father could be as careful of you as that dear man!"
I sat down to laugh.
"You don't believe much in husbands, then?" I said.
"Saving your presence, that I don't. I believe in fathers, and so I always call that blessed man your father. Will you believe it, Missis, he wouldn't let me reach up to take the globes off to clean them, nor lift the five-gallon water-bottle when it came in full from the grocer. He treats my white hairs as if they were his mother's—God love him!"
I listened to Mary with a dubious mind, divided between admiration of the Angel and the intention of telling him not to help her too much, for fear, after the manner of her kind, she should discover a delicacy of constitution which would prevent her from lifting the water-bottle even when it was empty.
"And I'll tell you what I've been doing on the quiet for him to show him that I'm not ungrateful. You know his white waistcoats have been done up at the laundry so scandalous that I'd not have the face to be taking your money if I were that laundryman, so I've just done them myself, and would you take a look at them before I carry one back for him to put on?"
I took a look, and they were of that faultless order of work that makes you think the millennium has come.
I took one back to where the Angel stood before the mirror wrestling in a speaking silence with his tie. I had not been married long, but I had already learned that there are some moments in a man's life which are not for speech. He smiled at me in the glass to let me know that he recognized my presence, and would attend to me later.
When the tie was made, I drew a long breath.
"The country is saved once more!" I sighed.
He laughed. I mean he smiled. Not once a month does he laugh, and always then at something which I don't think in the least funny.
As he took the waistcoat from my hand his face lighted up.
"Now that is something like!" he said. "I tell you it pays to complain once in awhile. I wrote that laundry a scorcher about these waistcoats."
"It does pay," I said. Then I explained.
"Do you know what I think?" he said. "I think we've got a regular old cast-iron angel in Mary."
"Oh, rap on wood," I cried, frantically reaching out with both hands. "Do you want her to spill soup down your neck tonight?"
"I didn't think," he said, apologetically, groping for wood. "Now, do I dare speak?"
"Yes, go on. What do you think of her?"
"I think she is thoroughly competent to deal with the emergencies of a New York apartment-house. This morning just before I went out I heard her holding a heart-to-heart talk with the grocer. It seems that the eggs come in boxes done up in pink cotton and laid by patent hens that stamp their owner's name on each egg. For the privilege of eating these delicacies we pay the Paris price for eggs. Now it would also seem that these hens guarantee at that price to lay and deliver to the purchaser an unbroken, uncracked, wholly perfect egg in the first flush of its youth. But to-day the careless hens had delivered two cracked eggs out of one unhappy dozen to Mary. With a directness of address seldom met with in good society, Mary thus delivered herself down the dumb-waiter, 'Well, damn you for a groceryman—'"
"Oh, Aubrey! Did she say that word?"
"She said just that. 'When we are paying a dollar a look at eggs, what do you mean by sending me two cracked ones out of twelve? To be sure somebody has been sitting on these eggs, but I'll swear it wasn't a hen.' His reply was inaudible, but he was just going out to his wagon, and he was opening up his heart to the butcher boy as I passed. 'I'd give five dollars, poor as I am,' he said, 'for one look at that old woman's face, for she talks for all the world just like my own mother.' And with that he exchanged the two cracked eggs for two perfect ones out of another order, and took the good ones in to Mary."
"I wonder if it will last," I said to a woman who was envying the fact that I could persuade Aubrey to go out with me whenever I wanted him to.
"It won't last!" she declared, cheerfully. "And it won't last that Mr. Jardine will go calling with you evenings. The clubs will claim him within six months, and as for Mary—I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll wager you a ten-pound box of candy that within a year you will have lost both your husband and your cook."
"Lost my husband," I cried, my face stiffening.
"Oh, I only mean as we all lose our husbands," she explained, airily. "I used to have Jack, but I am married now to golf links and the club."
"I'll take your bet," I said.
"You'll lose," she laughed. "They are both too perfect to last."
"They are not!" I cried.
But when the door closed, I rapped on wood.
If there is anything more delightful than to furnish one's first home, I have yet to discover it. Aubrey says that "moving in goes it one better," but his preference is based on the solid satisfaction he takes in putting in two shelves where one grew before and in providing towel-racks and closet-hooks wherever there is an inviting wall-space for them.
But to me, even the list I made out and changed and figured on and priced before I made a single purchase was full of possibilities, and contained wild flutters of excitement on account of certain innovations I wished to try.
"Aubrey," I said one evening as the Angel sat reading Draper's "Intellectual Development of Europe," "have you any pet theories?"
"What's that? Pet theories about what?"
"I don't quite understand. I've never kept house, you know."
"I mean did your mother keep her house and buy her furniture and manage her servants to suit you, or exactly as you would do if you had been in her place?"
"Not in the least," said the Angel, laying down his book, all interest at once.
"Ah! I knew it! Then you have theories! That's what I wanted to bring out. Now I have theories, too. One is the rag-bag theory."
"The theory that every housewife must have a rag-bag. My mother had one because her mother did and her mother because hers did, and so on back to the English one who probably brought her rag-bag across with her. Ours was made of bed-ticking, and had a draw-string in it and hung in the bathroom closet. Now if you ever tried to lift a heavy bag down from a hook and knew the bother of emptying it of neat little rolls of every sort of cloth from big rolls of cotton-batting to little bundles of silk patches and having to look through every one of them to find a scrap of white taffeta to line a stock, then you know what a trial of temper the family rag-bag is."
"And you—" said the Angel, who is definite in his conclusions.
"I mean to have a large drawer in a good light absolutely sacrificed, as some people would call it, to the scraps. When you want a rag or a bone or a hank of hair in our house, all you will have to do is to pull out an easy sliding drawer without opening a door that sticks, or crawling into a dark corner, or having to light a candle, or doing anything to ruffle your temper or your hair. A flood of brilliant sunlight or moonlight will pour into my rag-drawer, and a few pawings of your unoccupied hand will bring everything to the top. Won't that be joyful?"
Aubrey, who loves to fuss about repairs and is for ever wanting material, was so enchanted with the picture I drew that he longed to have a cut finger to bind up on the spot.
"Have you any more theories?" he asked, laying Draper on his knee without even marking his place.
"A few. Some are about buying furniture."
"We want everything good," said Aubrey, firmly.
"More than that. We want some things beautiful. And some things very expensive."
I thought I saw the bank-book give a nervous flop just here. But perhaps it was only Aubrey's expression of countenance which changed.
"For instance, I want no chairs for show. Every spot intended to rest the human frame in our house shall bring a sigh of relief from the weary one who sinks into it. I have already started it by the couch I ordered last week for your study. I went to the man who takes orders and said: 'Have you ever read "Trilby"?' And he said no, but his wife had when it was the rage about five years ago. I had brought a copy on purpose, so I read him that paragraph from the first chapter describing the studio. Here it is: 'An immense divan spread itself in width and length and delightful thickness just beneath the big north window, the business window—a divan so immense that three well-fed, well-contented Englishmen could all lie lazily smoking their pipes on it at once, without being in each other's way, and very often did!' He smiled and said it made very agreeable reading, to which I replied that I wanted one made just like it."
"What did he say?"
"Well, of course he argued. He wanted to make it a normal size. He wanted to know the size of the doors it would have to go through, and I told him it was for an apartment. As soon as he knew that he wanted to make the lower part of cedar to store furs in for the winter. I said: 'No, no! This is a luxury. There is to be nothing useful about it. I want the whole inside given up to springs!' He said, 'Turkish?' and I said yes, and put in two sets of them. At that he began to catch the spirit of the thing and took an interest. We argued so over the size of it that finally I told him to send out and measure the elevator and the door and the room it was to go in and make it just as large as those spaces would allow. So you'll have a divan ten by six. I wanted it bigger, but I couldn't have got it through any front door."
"Why, won't it about fill that little room?" asked my husband, with a trace of anxiety in his tone.
"Only about half-way. There's just room for a little table of books at one end of the divan, and I'm going to have a movable electric lamp with a ground-glass globe and a green shade to be good for the eyes. Your pipe-rack will be on the wall over it. Then by squeezing a little there will be just room for my writing-chair,—you know the one with the desk on the arm and the little drawer for note-paper?"
Aubrey got up and came over to where I had my list, and Draper fell to the floor unnoticed.
"I never heard anything sound so comfortable," he said. The Angel is always appreciative, and, moreover, is never too absorbed or too tired to express it fluently. That's one of the things which make it such a pleasure to plan his comfort.
"Doesn't it sound winter evening-y and snowy outside?" I said.
"I can hear the wind howling," said the Angel. "What's the next item?"
"Well, now we come to a theory. Of course I have had no more experience than you in buying furniture, but it stands to reason that some of the things we buy now will be with us at death. Some furniture stays by you like a murder. For instance, a dining-room table. I have known some very rich people in my life, Aubrey, but I have seldom seen any who grew rich gradually who had had the moral courage to discard a dining-room table if it were even decently good. Have you ever thought about that?"
"I can't say that I have, but it is fraught with possibility. 'The Ethics of Household Furniture' would make good reading."
"Well, haven't you," I persisted, "in all seriousness, haven't you seen some very handsome modern dining-rooms marred by a dinner-table too good to throw away, which you were convinced the family had begun housekeeping with?"
"Yes, I have!" cried Aubrey. "You are right, I have. I thought you were jesting at first."
"Well, I am, sort of half-way. But the sort of dinner-table I want to buy is no joke. It is one which will grace an apartment or a palace. We can be proud of it even when we are rich. Yet it is not showy, or one which will be too screamingly prominent. It is of carved oak with the value all in the carving. It costs—" Here I whispered the price, for to us it was almost a crime to think of it.
The Angel looked sober when my whisper reached him. But he did not commit himself. I eyed him anxiously.
"But to make up for that outlay, here is the way I have planned the rest of the house. Let's have no drawing-room."
"No drawing-room? Then where will you receive guests?"
"The room will be there, and people may come into it and sit down, but it will not be familiar ground to strangers. They will find themselves in a cheerful room with soothing walls and comfortable chairs. There will be books and magazines. It will not be a library, for quantities of bookcases discourage the frivolous. It will have no gilt chairs, because big men always want to sit in them. It will have no lace curtains, because I hate them. The piano will be there and most of our wedding-presents,—all which lend themselves to the decoration of a room which will look as if people lived in it."
"If you put bric-a-brac in it people will call it a parlour in spite of you," said the Angel.
"Not at all. It will have one distinguishing feature which will effectually prevent the discriminating from making that mistake. I intend to make the clock on the mantel go. That will settle matters."
"This room will lack the stiffness of a drawing-room and so invite conversation, yet will be sufficiently dignified to prevent familiarity. I shall endeavour to invest it with an invitation which will practically say to your college friends, 'You may smoke here, but you may not throw ashes on the floor.' Do you see my point?"
The Angel looked thoughtful.
"I hope it will work," he said.
"We can but try it. I am doing this because I wish our friends to meet us together, and I don't approve of this separating men and women,—the women remaining alone to gossip while the men go away to smoke. It is too narrowing on us and too broadening on you."
"I like it,—in theory,—but some men are chimneys. They don't know how to smoke when ladies are present."
"They will soon learn!" I declared, stoutly. "I shall be so attentive to their comfort, so ready with an ash-tray, so eager to offer them the last cigar in the jar (if I think they have smoked enough) that they will notice my slightest cough."
Aubrey waxed enthusiastic.
"An evening spent in that room will be 'An Education in Polite Smoking,' won't it?"
"And," I went on, "then when we are rich and want a truly handsome drawingroom we can furnish it in pink silk and cupids with a light heart, for behold, we will simply move all this comfort I have described into a library, and the wear on the furniture will redeem it from newness and give it the proper air of age and use. There is nothing more vulgar to my mind than a perfectly new library. It looks—well, you know!"
"It does," said the Angel, with conviction. "All of that!"
We discussed these theories in detail, made many corrections, and finally went down to buy. But a handsome shop and money in my pocket always excite me so that what little common sense I was born with instantly departs, and I buy feverishly, mostly things I do not want and could not use. So the Angel adopted a good, safe rule. When he saw my eyes begin to glitter with a "I-must-have-that-or-die" expression, he used to take me by the arm and say:
"Now shut your eyes, and I'll get you past this counter."
I have heard of many curious women who do not enjoy housekeeping. I am free to confess that I do not understand why, unless they started out in life with the conceited idea that to bend their wonderful brains upon the silly problem of keeping a house clean and ordering dinners was beneath women of their possibilities on club essays. I often wonder if they attacked the proposition of housekeeping with the intention of seeing how much fun there is in it, of how much pleasure could be got out of making a home, not merely keeping house, and of feeding their conceit with the fuel of a determination to keep house better than any woman of their acquaintance. The simple but fascinating problem of how to make each room a little prettier than it was last week, would keep even an ingenious woman busy and interested in something worth while, and those of us who are sensitive to impressions would be spared the truly awful sight of certain incongruous rooms in handsome houses. Oh, if you only knew what people say about you—you women who "don't like to keep house!"
But I forgot. Most women have no sense of humour, and few husbands take the intense interest in a home that the Angel does.
America, foreigners claim, is a country almost as homeless as France is said to be. The French have no word for home in their language, but they have homes in fact, which is much more worth while. We Americans have the lovely word "Home," but we haven't as a nation the article in fact. Americans have houses, but in truth we are a homeless race. Only the unenlightened will contradict me for saying that, and for the opinion of the unenlightened I do not care.
I am not sentimental after the fashion of women who send flowers to murderers, but I am full of pale and sickly theories as to the making of a home, and I am free to confess that it would give me more pleasure to hear people say of me, "Mrs. Jardine's husband is the happiest man I know," than to have them read on a bronze tablet under a statue in the Louvre, "Faith Jardine, Sculptor." For if more ambitious women would devote themselves to making one neglected husband happy the public would be spared weak and indifferent pictures, silly and rank books, rainy-day skirts in the house, and heaps of other foolishness and bad taste, most of which at bottom is not the necessity to work for a living, but simply Feminine Conceit.
Of course Aubrey and I made some mistakes in spite of all our precautions, for, happily for me, the Angel can be led away by enthusiasm, and is not so faultlessly perfect as to be impossible to get on with. I revel in his weaknesses, they are so human and companionable, and give me such a feeling of satisfaction when summing up my own faults. We got so much fun out of shopping for the house that we dragged out the process to make the delight of it as lingering as possible. I had planned it all out.
My own room was to be pink. Big pink roses splashed all over the cretonne counterpane and valance of the bed. Plain pink wall-paper upon which to hang pictures all in black frames. Small pink roses tumbling on the ceiling and looking as if every moment they would scatter their curling petals on the pink rugs on the floor. The dark furniture against the pink walls toned down the rose colour, which returned the compliment to the furniture by bringing out the carving on bold relief.
The guest-room, on the contrary, was to be pale blue with white furniture. Nothing but gold-framed pictures on the walls and a blue rug on the floor. The chairs were to be upholstered in blue for this room, and in pink for mine. Muslin curtains with full deep ruffles, picked out respectively with pink and blue, would flutter at the sunny windows, and though simplicity itself, nothing ever struck me as any more attractive, for it was all mine—my first house—my first housekeeping! When this dream really came true, I walked around in such a dazed condition of delight that I was black and blue from knocking myself into things I didn't see. But even as I did not see the obstructions, I did not feel the pain of my bruises, for they were all got from my furniture on corners of my house, and thus were sacred.
As I gazed on the delicate beauty of my pretty little guest-chamber I fell to wondering who would be its first occupant. Would it be a man or a woman? Would it be Artie Beguelin, the Angel's best man, or my sweet friend and bridesmaid, Cary Farquhar?
At any rate, he or she would be welcome—oh, so welcome! I hoped the invisible guest would be happy, and would feel that ours was not a compulsory hospitality, with the cost counted beforehand and the benefits we expected in return discounted. No, whoever it was to be would be a guest and a friend. On the wall over the bed hung these words illuminated on vellum and framed, for I had always loved them:
"Sleep sweet, within this quiet room, Oh thou, whoe'er thou art! And let no mournful yesterday Disturb thy peaceful heart, Nor let to-morrow fret thy dreams With thoughts of coming ill, Thy Maker is thy changeless Friend, His love surrounds thee still. Sleep sweet! Good night."
Afterward, when my first guest had come and gone, this momentary reverie came back to me, and I looked up at this benediction with tears in my eyes.
Of course we spent too much money on our house furnishings. We always do, but after all—and here come my theories again. I would have fine table and bed linen. The Angel did not believe I would stick to it, but I did embroider it all myself. And as to hemming napkins and table-cloths—I challenge any nun in any convent to make prettier French hems than I put in! Would I be likely to waste all that labour on flimsy napkins or cotton sheets and pillow-cases?
Not at all! I can find infinitely more pleasure in putting invisible stitches into my own first linen than in going to pink teas, and people don't get permanently angry if you invite them to dinner, and let them eat off hemmed and embroidered damask. Believe me. You may send cards to six receptions, and get out of six afternoons of misery and indigestion by one judiciously arranged dinner—if you don't mix your people. And thus we did.
So I got my linen. The Angel laughed at another of my theories, but when I proved to him that I would really see the thing through, he was convinced. It was on the question of beds. Our friends professed themselves astonished that we contemplated the extravagance of a guest-chamber, for here in New York, where rents are so abnormal, people economize first of all upon their friends, and I am told that an extra bedroom where a chance guest may be asked to remain overnight is the exception with people of moderate means. Such monstrous selfishness struck me as appalling. To provide only for ourselves—for our own comfort! To have no room in all your own luxury to share with a friend! To be obliged to tell the woman whose hospitality you have enjoyed in your girlhood: "Now that I am married, I have prepared no place for you! Your kindness to me is all forgotten!"
Well, we simply refused. What if it were a strain on us financially? I would rather suffer that than cripple myself spiritually and suffer from no pangs of conscience as most New Yorkers do!
However, we managed it, and in this wise. I said:
"Aubrey, if you are willing, we can save a great deal in this way."
Even at this early stage the Angel always grew deeply attentive when I talked of saving anything.
"We can and must order the finest springs and mattresses for the beds, for of all the meanness in this world the meanest is to put a bad bed in the guest-chamber, and that is where most housekeepers are perfectly willing to economize. But we can and will buy white iron beds with brass trimmings for almost nothing,—they are all the same size as the fine brass ones,—so that at any time when we find ourselves vulgarly rich and able to live up to the dinner-table we shall feel perfectly justified in discarding them, and there you are!"
"But how will it look?" said the man.
"How will our bank-account look, if we don't?"
"I know. But I thought women were afraid of what other women would say," said the Angel.
"Now, Aubrey," I said, "If we have economized on ourselves, or rather included ourselves in a general scheme of economy in order the better to provide for our guests, I think even New Yorkers would hesitate to criticize the Jardines' iron beds,—especially if they ever got a chance to disport themselves on the Jardines' Turkish springs!"
"There's something in that," said the Angel.
ON THE SUBJECT OF JANITORS
I used to pride myself on being practical and on possessing no small degree of that peculiar brand of sense known as "horse." However, like most women inclined to take a rosy view of their virtues and to pass lightly over their obvious faults, I know now that I prided myself on the one thing in my make-up conspicuous by its absence. For I am luxurious to a degree, and so fond of beauty and grace that I feel with the man who said, "Give me the luxuries of life and I will do without the necessities."
This explanation is due to any man, woman, or child who has ever lived in a New York apartment, and who is moved to follow the fortunes of the Jardines further. Also this conversation took place before some of the events already narrated transpired, and while we were still at the Waldorf.
"Now, Aubrey," I said, "to begin at the beginning, marriage is supposed to perfect existence all around, isn't it?"
"It does," said Aubrey.
"No, now, I am speaking seriously. It has fed the mental and spiritual side of us, why not begin life with the determination to make it oil the wheels of daily existence? Why not bend our energies to avoiding the pitfalls of the ordinary mortal, and let us lead a perfect life."
"Very well," said the Angel.
"Now in permitting housekeeping to conquer, most people become slaves to the small ills of life, which I wish to avoid."
"Get to the point," said Aubrey, encouragingly, fearing, I suppose, that if he did not give the conversation a fillip, I might go on in that strain for ever, which would be wearing.
"Well, the point is this. I've never known what it was to have good service in a private house, except abroad. Now even when people bring excellent servants over from London and Paris, they go all to pieces in a year. It's in the air of America."
"Well?" said Aubrey.
"Well, of course we have perfect service here in this hotel, and it seems to me that the nearest approach to that would be in one of those smart apartment-houses, where everything is done for you outside of your four walls. Then with Mary, who seems to be a delightful creature, all we need do is to be careful in the selection of a janitor. Do you follow me?"
"You have not finished," said Solomon.
"Quite true, oh, wise man of the East! Another of the trials of my life has always been to get letters mailed."
"To get letters mailed?" said Aubrey.
"To get letters mailed," I repeated, firmly. "Every woman knows that it is no trouble to write them, but the problem of leaving them on the hall-table for the first person who goes out to mail, the lingering fear when one doesn't hear promptly that the letter was lost or never went; the danger of somebody covering them up with papers and sweeping them off to be burned; the impossibility of running to the box with each one; the impoliteness of refusing the friend who offers to mail them permission even to touch them,—oh, Aubrey, really, the chief worry of my whole life has been to get letters mailed!"
"The most expensive apartment we looked at had a mail-chute," said my husband, thoughtfully, after a moment of silence.
"Well," I hazarded, timidly, "the only difference between a flat and an apartment is in the rent."
"That apartment had an ice-box and a sideboard built in, and a mail chute," repeated Aubrey.
"Yes, it did, as well as the most respectful janitor I ever saw. Did you notice him?"
"Was he the one who was cross-eyed?"
"Well, yes, I think his eyes weren't quite straight. But that may have been one reason why he was so gentle and deferential. I have often noticed that persons who are afflicted in some painful way are often the very kindest and best, as if the spiritual had developed at the expense of the physical."
"Well, Faith, if your heart is set on that one we must have it."
"I know the rent is exorbitant, but I intend to get all of my amusement and recreation out of my home, so count balls and receptions and functions out—or rather count them in the rent," I said, "for instead of going to the theatre as we have been doing, I want to give little dinners—real dinners to people we love, and give them with a view to the enjoyment of our guests rather than that of ourselves. I want to make a fine art of the selection of guests in their relation to each other."
"I'd like nothing better," declared Aubrey, "but don't you know that you won't be called upon to do much of that sort of thing the first winter, for everybody we know will be entertaining us."
"There's one other point I'd like to explain," I said. "And that is that I shall never entertain anybody whom I simply 'feel called upon' to entertain, nor, if I like people, shall I count favours with them. I shall conform to conventionality simply as a matter of dignity. It is the privilege of your friends to make the first advances to me because I am a stranger to most of them. But I want to make a practice of hospitality for my own sake. I want to see if the open house we kept in the South cannot be accomplished in New York. I never, for the good of my own soul, want to grow as cold and calculating as some so-called hospitable women whom I have met in the North."
Aubrey looked at me comprehendingly.
"I know," I said, smiling, "that it sounds to a hardened New Yorker like yourself about like the interview of a young actress who declares that she intends to elevate the stage. But in my case, I am in the position of one who doesn't want the stage to lower her. I don't want to grow cold, Aubrey, and I hope never to allow a friend to leave my house at meal-time without at least an invitation to remain and make, if necessary, a convenience of us. What are friends for, I should like to know?"
"From the position you have just stated I should think your definition of a friend would be 'a man or woman who can be imposed upon with impunity.'"
"Let them impose upon me if they want to," I declared, stoutly. "As long as I have respectful service, I will let those I love make a door-mat of me!"
"A slightly volcanic door-mat, I should say," observed the Angel. "You would allow yourself to be stamped upon just about as humbly as a charge of dynamite, and the remonstrance in both cases would be similar."
I could not help remembering this conversation after we had moved in and we had been settled by the efforts of the family of the cross-eyed janitor.
I never enjoyed anything in my life as I enjoyed moving into our first home. It was on the top floor, overlooking the park from the front windows, while the back gave upon a stretch of neat little flower gardens with the Hudson shining like a narrow silver ribbon between us and the undulating Jersey shore.
Every room was light. Every room opened on the street, and the sunlight came pouring in quite as if it did not know that in most apartments the sun is an unexpected luxury. There were parquet floors throughout, and the bathroom was white marble, all except a narrow frieze of cool pale green. The woodwork was daintily carved, the dining-room was panelled in oak with two handsome china-closets built in. We had eleven closets with an extra storeroom for trunks in the basement, and enough cabinets in the kitchen and butler's pantry to stock a hotel, and as a crowning glory the front door did not open opposite the bathroom or kitchen as is the case in most apartments, but was near the front like the home of a Christian, and the dining-room gave into the front room with a largeness of vista which made us feel like millionaires.
Does this read like a fairy-tale?
As we surveyed our domain, I felt such a flood of gratitude and pride of home sweep over my soul that I said to Aubrey:
"I actually feel like praying."
The Angel smiled an inscrutable smile, the exact meaning of which I did not catch, but it was not one of derision. Rather I should say that it had in it a waiting quality, as of a knowing one who intended to give thanks after he had tested a meal, instead of a reckless wight who in faith called down a blessing on a napkin and salt-cellars. But my gratitude was largely "a lively appreciation of favours to come."
I have no tale of woe to relate of things which did not come in time. Our purchases promised for a certain day arrived as scheduled, were uncrated on the sidewalk, with Aubrey and me hanging out of the sixth floor window to watch them. The gentle-mannered janitor and his buxom daughter were cleaning the last of the windows, and such was the genius of fortune and Mary that at three that same afternoon, when the best man called to see how we were getting on, there was nothing left to do but to hang pictures, so we set him to doing that while we sat around in languid delight and bossed the job. But it was thirsty work, and the best man rested often. Such perfection of planning seemed to irritate him, although he is by nature a gentle soul, for he said, "I must say you have done well, but I'll bet there is one thing you have forgotten."
"Not at all," said Aubrey, who was at college with the best man. "There are six siphons on the ice now, and six more under the kitchen sink. The corkscrew is on the mantel."
All the pictures were hung before dinner. That is, they were hung for the first time. The pictures in our apartment have travelled. One by one they have journeyed from the smoking-room down the long hall, stopping a day or two in each room, and all finding a resting-place except one, which will not look well in any colour, any spot, on any wall, nor in any light. It was a wedding-present from some one we like, or Aubrey would have put his foot through it long ago. As it is, it is under the blue room bed, whence we drag it every once in awhile to admire the frame and say, "I wonder if it wouldn't go there."
As long as that picture remains unhung, a vacant wall space in any house is full of interest and possibility to us, and if we ever move, we shall select a spot for that picture first, and consider the rent and plumbing second.
The janitor's manners continued perfect. Even Mary found no fault with him, and as my appreciation for anything is plainly evident in my manner, both Mary and the janitor felt that in me they had found a friend, and they waxed confidential withal.
One day he came up to clean windows, and when he mentioned the "parlour," I said:
"Don't call this room a parlour. I have neither parlour nor drawing-room. This small room is a smoking-room, and this other is a library. I wanted Mr. Jardine to feel at liberty to smoke all over the house."
The janitor looked about him and noticed the lack of gilt chairs and lace curtains.
"Will you excuse an old man for speaking, Mrs. Jardine, and not think me impertinent if I make free to say that if more young ladies started housekeeping with such ideas, homes would be happier. I make bold to say that you will not have trouble in keeping Mr. Jardine at home evenings."
I blushed with pleasure at having won the approval of this gentle soul. But when I told Aubrey he said:
"Poor old fellow! I saw his wife to-day. She weighs well on to four hundred, and has the air of an anarchist queen. She was engaged in reducing the agent to his proper level, and I fled."
Evidently the agent conquered, for, alas! within a week we had a new janitor,—the opposite of my friend in every respect. Harris, the new janitor, was young, sprightly, self-confident, and an American of the type "I'm just as good as you are." This challenge lay so plainly in his eye that almost involuntarily I said, "I know you are," before I told him that the elevator squeaked.
I hated him from the moment I saw him, but I gave him an extra large fee to bribe, in the cowardly manner of all citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave, a servant to do pleasantly the duties he is otherwise paid to do. He had three little children, and when one of them had a birthday I sent them ice-cream and a birthday cake. When his wife fell ill I sent her my own doctor, for her little pale, pinched, three-cornered face appealed to me. She did all the janitor's work. It was her voice at the dumb-waiter instead of his, and once Aubrey found her emptying a garbage can nearly as large as she was, when he went down to see why Harris didn't answer our bell. Aubrey found Harris asleep.
We discovered these things by degrees, and gradually I came to feel that my mail-chute was the only real, continuous luxury we had gained with this awful rent. Still we avoided discussing the matter. By ignoring it, we could keep ourselves deceived a little longer to the fact that we were being robbed by our own foolishness.
One day I invited the dearest old lady, over ninety years old, to luncheon. Her daughter was to bring her in her carriage, and I made Aubrey promise to be in the house by eleven o'clock in case she needed assistance, and I prepared to have a beautiful day. For weeks we had planned for this festival, for it was Mrs. Scofield's ninety-first birthday and would probably be her only outing during the winter. At ten o'clock I had word that she felt well enough to come, so I told Aubrey to bring over the ninety-one roses he had ordered in honour of her birthday.
He came in looking a florist shop. We arranged them, and waited and waited and waited. At two o'clock, the most disappointed of mortals, we sat down to luncheon.
"I am afraid something has happened," I said, and the anxiety and disappointment threw me into such a headache that I spent the afternoon in a darkened room, and had tea and toast sent in for my dinner.
About eight o'clock Aubrey persuaded me to go out for a little walk, so we started. We had no sooner got outside our door than we began to feel impending calamity in the air. The elevator was not running. There was a paper saying so fastened to the bell. We walked down five flights of stairs, occasionally looking at each other ominously. My headache vanished as if by magic. I felt strong and murderous.
On the table in the hall lay a dozen letters, which had arrived during the day, a telegram from Uncle John, asking us to dine at the Waldorf and share their box to see Irving and Terry and to sup with them at Sherry's that night. It was then a quarter to nine. We were not dressed, and we were half an hour from the theatre. There was also a note from Mrs. Scofield's daughter saying that they had come at half-past twelve, but found no hall-boy, no janitor, and the elevator not running, so, after vainly trying to communicate with us, they had been obliged to go home again.
I simply wept with rage and mortification. Aubrey started for the basement with me at his heels. I felt that the Angel could not cope alone with such a situation. We found Mrs. Harris pale, trembling, and apologetic. She said her husband was not there.
Aubrey turned away breathing vengeance.
"Aubrey," I said, firmly, "Harris is in that room."
"No, no, Mrs. Jardine! Indeed he is not!" insisted the little woman.
"I am sorry for you, Mrs. Harris," I said, "but you must allow me to see for myself." And with that I made as if to pass her, but Aubrey held me back.
"I'll go," he said.
He went and found Harris calmly reading the newspaper, with his feet on the mantel.
"Why isn't the elevator running?" demanded Aubrey.
"Because the hall-boy left this morning, and there was nobody to run it," said the man, impudently keeping his seat, with his hat on, and not even putting his feet on the floor.
"Is it broken?" asked my husband.
"It is not. I turned the power off, that's all."
"Why didn't you run it yourself?" asked Aubrey.
"It isn't my business. That's why, young feller. Now you know, don't you!"
"Don't you dare speak to my husband in that manner," I broke in. Aubrey shook his head at me. It was cruel of him, for I do love a fight.
"You come out this minute and start that elevator," said Aubrey.
"I'll do nothing of the sort. You'll walk up those five nights of stairs this night," said the janitor. Oh, how I wished I had that fee back!
Mrs. Harris plucked imploringly at my skirt.
"Harris, aren't you ashamed of yourself?" I said. "Look at your poor wife just out of bed, and you have lost this good place by this day's work. You and your family will not know where to lay your heads within a week."
"And how do you know that? I'll keep this place as long as I please. I stand in with the agent. I suppose you think because you've been good to the children that you can run me, but let me tell you that you've not done half that you should! So you just shut up and go back where you belong."
Aubrey made a leap for him, but Mrs. Harris threw herself between them and I fastened myself to Aubrey's coat-tails. This was more than I had bargained for.
"No, Aubrey, come. Let us once for all declare our independence. For some time I have suspected that there was collusion between janitors and agents. Now let's get to the bottom of it."
By holding out such a prospect to him, I got the Angel up-stairs, where we poured forth our souls in a letter to the agent.
He called, listened to us with polite incredulity, and said he would hear Harris's side, as if he wished to judge impartially between two criminals.
We held on to ourselves while he consulted the gentleman below stairs. When he came back he said:
"Harris denies everything. Now who am I to believe?"
For once the Angel rose to the occasion.
"Mr. Jepson, you may believe whom you please if you have no more decency than to put the word of a gentleman against that of a drunken servant. You have violated the terms of our lease, and unless Harris is dismissed inside of a week our apartment is at your disposal."
"Very well, Mr. Jardine," said Jepson, "if you insist on our dismissing a janitor for his first offence without even giving him a second chance, then there is nothing to do but to agree to your demand."
Aubrey bowed in a truly haughty manner. The Angel!
"I so insist," he said. The agent left us.
"Aubrey," I said, thoughtfully, "we have gained a gallant victory over the janitor, but I fear the battle with the agent will be the bloodiest of our campaign."
But we looked forward hopefully. Like all man-eating monsters, having once tasted human blood, we thirsted for more.
THE ANGEL AND THE AGENT
At the risk of causing the gentle reader to despise us, I feel in duty bound to set forth the joys and sorrows of our first housekeeping about as they occurred. By that I mean that I intend to take the keen edge from our griefs for kindness' sake and to illuminate our joys a little beyond the stern realities as we found them, in order to permit the reader to understand the colour of the Paradise that the Angel and I found in each other. If, therefore, I do not burst into tears at the moment when any well-regulated woman would, lay it, O gentle reader, at the door of the Angel, whose deep-seeing understanding not only could comprehend such a grief as that of parting with my dog, but which also was capable of sympathizing with suitable violence over a gown which did not fit or the polite malice of an afternoon visitor.
If I add that when I went into a fury over nothing at all the Angel never attempted to stop me or to pooh-pooh the cause, but permitted me to mangle the whole subject until it lay a disorganized, dismembered, wholly unrecognizable mass at my triumphant feet, I feel reasonably sure that I shall have proved to every woman his right to his title.
The knowing ones will naturally scorn the method of reasoning by which we arrived at conclusions, but I have found that nothing is more diverting or delightful than to go blundering into absurd predicaments, mentally hand in hand, for the Angel never says "I told you so." That sting being removed and all three in this happy family, Mary, the Angel, and I, all being rather handsomely endowed with a sense of humour, it is a constant source of enjoyment to look back and consider the virulence and contagion of our ignorance and to count the bruises by which we became wise.
One evening at ten o'clock we came in from making a call and found the elevator-boy in his shirt-sleeves washing the hall floor. I asked him if it wasn't a little early to be doing such a thing, as people were still going and coming, and he said he was acting under Mr. Jepson's orders. Jepson was the agent.
We said we would remonstrate, and we wrote a letter to Jepson asking him to have the hall cleaned after twelve o'clock at night and before six o'clock in the morning. He wrote back that, after consulting the convenience of all the people in the house, he had decided on eight in the morning and ten at night, as everybody was at breakfast at the first hour and that ten was the freest hour for the halls at night. He added that the gentleman on the first floor went fishing at six every morning, and had complained of having the halls washed at that hour, as he was inconvenienced thereby.
A few days later we met Jepson on the street, and Aubrey stopped him and said:
"There are several matters about the house I wish you would look into, Mr. Jepson."
"Now look here, Mr. Jardine, if you expect me to run that whole apartment-house to suit you, you are going to be mistaken."
"For whose comfort and convenience is it run?" I broke in before Aubrey could stop me.
"For mine, madam! I arrange everything outside of your four walls."
"Then we have no rights as to entrance, elevator, and our upper hall?" asked Aubrey.
I pulled the Angel away.
"Now, Aubrey," I said, "I have had an apartment in Paris, and I know what the power of the concierge is. But if you think for one minute that I am going to submit to such impertinence here in America, you never were more mistaken in your life."
"What do you intend to do?" asked my husband, with the very natural and perfectly excusable interest a man takes when he sees his wife donning her war-paint.
"The trouble with me is that I am too agreeable," I went on, firmly. The Angel never flinched even at that statement. "I am too polite. We ask for our rights as if we were requesting favours."
"Is it our right to say when the halls shall be cleaned?" asked Aubrey.
"Well, I leave it to you as a business man. There is a difference of eight hundred dollars a year in the rent between the first floor and ours. If we pay the highest rent shouldn't our wishes be considered first?"
"Eight hundred dollars' worth first!" agreed Aubrey.
"Well, now I'll tell you what I think we would better do, and see if you don't agree with me. To tell the truth, I am getting a little sick of the tyranny of agents and janitors, and I propose to see if by making a firm stand we cannot establish a precedent for the rights of tenants."
"Don't go to law," said Aubrey, "for every law in New York State seems to favour agents and janitors. I've conducted too many cases not to know."
"We won't go to law. We will use common sense. It vexes me to hear everybody telling what abuses they stand in New York apartments, and not one of them has the courage to make a fight for liberty. An Englishman wouldn't stand it for one minute, but we Americans are cowards about 'scenes' and 'fusses' and such things, and year by year our rights are passing from our hands into the hands of foreigners and the lower classes, who already rule us because they don't mind a fight."
"True," said Aubrey.
Much flattered by his approval, I proceeded more calmly. It always puts me in a heavenly temper not to be opposed.
"Now we will give this Jepson person one more chance. If he abuses his authority or tramples on even the fringe of our rights, we will revolt."
"Good!" cried Aubrey, perfectly willing to become enthusiastic over an encounter not in the immediate future. But his peaceful disposition once roused, and my inflammable nature crawls into the darkest corner under the bed to escape the sight of the consequences.
It came to be the first week in October without anything more irritating happening than that all our protests had been disregarded, and we picked our way through sloppy halls and dismissed our guests with forced jests about bathing suits being furnished by the agent for them to reach the street door in safety, and all such things, keeping up a proud front, but secretly mortified almost to death, for anybody would know from our location that we were paying a high rent, and then to think—
On this early October morning we found frost on the windows, and, although we had no thermometer, we knew that we were cold. We hurried out into the dining-room and lighted the gas-logs. They were new, and inside of five minutes we had every window in the house open and handkerchiefs to our noses. We said we would stand it and burn the new off, but we have lived here two years and the new is still on. So then we said we must have heat. This was before Janitor Harris left, so Aubrey, after ringing in vain for half an hour, went down and told him to make a fire in the furnaces. Harris said we were to have no heat until the fifteenth of November. It was a rule of all apartment-houses. Aubrey said, "Nonsense!" But when he came up-stairs Mary confirmed the janitor. She said it was a rule in New York.
We said nothing, but we felt that this was the time for our declaration of independence.
First we bought thermometers for every room.
Then Aubrey looked up the law.
In all the bedrooms the mercury stayed at forty-nine until noon, then it got to fifty-one. At seven that night it dropped to forty-five, and in the morning all the windows were frosted again.
Aubrey's law partner was extremely interested in all our plans, for he also lived in an apartment and wanted heat, but knew better than to ask for it. Our lease was so worded that we were to have "heat when necessary." Our rights hung upon when the agent, who was five miles away, or the owner, who was in Florida, should agree upon how cold we were to be allowed to grow before thawing us out. Then, carefully planning the campaign, Aubrey wrote letters and had interviews with the agent, in which he committed himself in the presence of witnesses and on paper until, on the afternoon of the third day of our cold storage, Aubrey wrote to the agent saying that if we did not have heat within twenty-four hours, we should go to a hotel and stay until they chose to give it to us, and take it out of the rent. This letter evidently tickled one of the clerks in the agent's office to such an extent that he called Aubrey up by telephone and said he had done the only thing possible under the circumstances to bring the company to book. This approval pleased Aubrey, and he asked the man's name. It was Brooks.
We all felt that Brooks was a gentleman.
"They will never let us do that, Aubrey," I said.
"They will think we are bluffing!" said the Angel, with quiet conviction.
"Bluffing!" I cried. "Do they think we won't go if they don't give us heat?"
"They little know you, do they?" said Aubrey, patting the sleeve of my sealskin, for I wore it all day now. I put it on when I got up.
We waited the twenty-four hours, and then as no notice had been taken of our letter we calmly packed a handbag, bade Mary good-bye,—she had the gas range to keep warm by,—and much to her delight we went down to the Waldorf. But not to our old luxurious quarters. We took a room and a bath at five dollars a day. We were doing this from stern principle, and we wanted a reasonable case.
I have never flattered myself privately that I am a particularly agreeable woman, but I can truthfully say that we were extremely popular at the Waldorf, for in some manner it had leaked out that we were making a test case on the "heat before the 15th," and everybody we knew who lived in apartments called to see if we were really there, and some who didn't know us sent word to us or walked by to look at us, as if we were performing animals. The name of Jardine was paged through the corridors and billiard-room and cafe until we had a personal acquaintance with every menial in the hotel. It cost us a good deal to get away, I remember.
All these first-mentioned nice persons encouraged us, and slapped Aubrey on the back and called him "old chap," much to his annoyance (for the Angel hates familiarity from chance acquaintances), and said we were doing the right thing and God-blessed-us and wanted us to promise to let them know how we came out.
We said nothing, but we could see that not one among them all but expected either a lawsuit or that we would be obliged to back down and pay for this foolhardy defiance of the despot out of our own pockets.
Each day we went out to the apartment and examined the thermometers and took signed statements as to the degree they registered. We had notified the agent that we would not return until it was sixty-eight Fahrenheit in the bedrooms.
On the afternoon of the third day the weather had moderated to such an extent that it was sixty-eight, so I stayed while Aubrey went down to the Waldorf for the bill and our bag. On his return he proudly exhibited a receipted bill for $27.
As no reply had been received to our letter and no one had been sent to see us, we felt a truly justifiable pride in the little surprise we had for Jepson when on the first of November the Angel sent a cheque for November rent, less $27, together with the now famous receipted bill.
If we felt that we had been ignored by our agent hitherto, we had no cause for complaint after the receipt of that bill and cheque. In fact, as I told Aubrey, Jepson did not have time to use a paper-knife on the envelope,—he must have torn it open with feverish fingers,—for the telephone-bell jingled madly before breakfast when the office "wanted to know the meaning of this," and when the Angel rang off without any reply, poor old Jepson came up to the apartment out of breath.
We got plenty of attention after that!
Jepson was at first quite confident—even patronizing.
"Why, don't you know, Mr. Jardine, we can't allow any such absurd thing as this to go on—not for a minute."
"Ah," said Aubrey. "What do you propose to do about it?"
"I propose to leave this—this—er—bill and cheque with you and collect the full amount of the rent."
"I don't envy you the process," said my husband.
"Oh, well, I imagine there will be no trouble about it. We know our rights."
"Has it ever occurred to you that we might know ours?" said Aubrey.
"Yes, certainly. But you know, Mr. Jardine, we are agents for a large number of the best apartment-houses in New York, and we have not given heat to any one so far."
"I only live in this one," said Aubrey. "It does not interest me in the least what temperature other of your tenants prefer. I shall have this apartment warm when I think it is cold."
"Well, but—I understand how you feel, but—no one ever did such a thing as this before in the whole course of my thirty-five years' experience."
"I can quite believe it," said Aubrey, thinking of the people we knew who suffered without a protest.
"Then you can imagine my surprise this morning to receive this," said Jepson.
"I can quite imagine it," returned my husband, with an irony wasted on Jepson, but delightful to me.
"Well," said our visitor, rising, "I hope you will think better of it and send me a cheque for the full amount. It will save unpleasantness."
"I anticipate unpleasantness from my past experience with you," said the Angel, "and that is every cent you will get from me for November rent."
"Then we shall sue you, Mr. Jardine. Doubtless you would be embarrassed to be sued for twenty-seven dollars."
"It wouldn't embarrass me to be sued for twenty-seven cents," said Aubrey, cheerfully, for he always expands in good nature when the other man shows signs of temper.
"Do you expect us to sue?" asked the astonished agent.
"Here is my defence," said Aubrey, pleasantly, drawing a bundle of law papers from his pocket. "My partner and I have been at work on this case for a fortnight."
Jepson sat down again suddenly and unwound his neck-scarf. The Angel does look gentle.
"I didn't think—" he began and stopped, but Aubrey helped him out.
"You didn't think several things, Mr. Jepson. You didn't think I meant it when I said I must have heat. You didn't think I meant it when I wrote you that I would go to a hotel if you didn't give it to me. You didn't think I would resent your paying no attention to our requests about cleaning the halls. You didn't think I intended to live in this apartment to suit my own comfort and convenience and not yours. You didn't think I could force you to live up to the terms of our lease, which says 'heat when necessary.' But I intend to give you an opportunity right now to change your mind about several things."
Jepson dropped his hat on the floor and fumbled for it.
"I'll take the matter up with the president of our company," he said.
"Do," said Aubrey, cordially.
The next morning while Aubrey was down-town the president of the real estate company called.
"Now, Mrs. Jardine," he said, "I just thought I would drop in while your husband was away to discuss this little difficulty in a friendly way and see if you and I couldn't come to some arrangement by which both parties will be satisfied."
"Yes?" I said.
"You see, Mrs. Jardine, you as a lady will realize that your husband took a very high-handed way,—in fact, I may say it was the most high-handed proceeding I have ever heard of in all my business career."
"Yes? I suppose it must have astonished you as much as it amazed us to discover that we were to be heated by date instead of by temperature."
"Er—er well! Of course, you didn't know, but you must understand that that rule obtains among all agents in New York."
"So we heard," I said, indifferently.
"You know that?"
"Did you know what method Mr. Jardine was about to pursue to force us to heat your apartment before any one else asked for heat?"
"I suggested it to him," I said, gently.
"You sug—Well, of course. Hum! I see."
"And as for none of the other tenants wanting heat, every family in the house asked for it. The lady on the third floor has a five-weeks-old baby, and, as you know, there are no gas-logs in any of the bedrooms."
"Well," said the president, rising, "I must look into this. I will take the matter up with the owners."
"Good morning," I said. "I will tell Mr. Jardine that you called."
"Yes, do," he said, hurriedly putting on his hat, and then taking it off again. "Good morning. Mr. Jardine will hear from me."
"I hope so," I said to myself as Mary closed the door. "We never have before."
The owners called next, singly and in couples. We were delighted to meet them, for we were convinced that we never would have had the pleasure of their acquaintance under any other circumstances.
After more interviews and letters than any $27 ever occasioned before, we finally received a letter stating that our claim had been allowed, and they enclosed a receipt in full for November's rent.
Nobody believed us when we told them, and we nearly wore the letter out exhibiting it. It is worn at the folding places now from much handling, like an autograph letter of Lincoln's or Washington's.
During the following year a new firm of agents took possession of us, who knew us not, so that the next October, when we wanted heat, the same patronizing manner greeted the Angel when he telephoned for permission to have the janitor light the furnaces.
"Oh, no. Oh, no, Mr.—er—Really, we couldn't consider such a request," came a voice.
"Look here," said Aubrey. "I am the man who went to the Waldorf last year when the agent refused us heat and took twenty-seven dollars out of the rent. You may have heard of me."
"What name, sir? Oh, Jardine! Yes, Mr. Jardine, you shall have heat within an hour."
The next morning the janitor—also a new one by the way—told the Angel that he got a telephone message from the agent to start a fire in the furnace if he had to tear off wooden doors and burn them!
"All of which goes to show," said Aubrey to me, "that somebody ought to write a book on 'The Value of the Kicker.'"
HOW WE TAMED THE COOK
Second only to the skill required in managing a husband is the diplomacy necessary in the art of living with one's cook. Therefore let the unmarried pass this over, feeling that the time for them to read it is not yet, but let those who have a cross-grained, crotchety, obstinate, or bad-tempered cook take this to a quiet corner and hear my tale. While it may not be exactly your experience it cannot fail to touch a responsive chord, for whether you have already had a spoiled cook or not, rest assured that you will have one some day, and do not scorn to make her the subject of deep and earnest study and the object of diplomatic negotiations.
In our case Mary was old and obstinate, but her virtues were too many to dismiss her without valiant efforts made to reform her in one or two particulars. It is, alas! but too true, that perfection does not exist, especially in cooks. But as even her failings leaned to virtue's side we bore and bore with her, making light of our inconveniences, and pretending not to notice that we could never make her do anything that she had not wanted to do beforehand. It was a good deal of a strain on us sometimes, for we are self-respecting folk, with excellent opinions of ourselves.
But among her good points was an absolute reverence for food. She never wasted a mouthful, even saving the crusts she cut from the toast to grind for breading and doing all the thrifty things one would do oneself, but which no cook ever born is expected to do nowadays. She had lived some years in Paris, for one thing, and for another,—"Missis, I always believe that them that wastes—wants. I've seen it too many times to want to run the risk."
Mary is a character, but this theory of hers she carried to an extreme, as you shall hear.
Owing to our respect for Mary's white hairs, the dinner-hour was as changeable as a weathercock. We dined anywhere from seven to nine, and soothed each other's irritation by calling ostentatious attention to the delicacy and perfection of each dish as it came on the table. Why shouldn't each be perfect, forsooth, when no amount of coaxing or persuading, no amount of instructions beforehand or hints or orders could make that cook of ours lift a finger toward dinner until we both were in the house with hungry countenances and expectant demeanours? We even tried telephoning her from down-town that we were on the way and would be at home in an hour. When we came in at the end of that hour and said:
"Mary, is dinner ready?" the answer was always:
"No, dear child, but it will be in a minute."
At first we believed her and hurried to get ready, but as ten, twenty, thirty minutes passed and no signs of soup appeared, we used to take turns strolling carelessly into the kitchen as if to see what time it was, to investigate the progress of dinner. If we came in at seven we got it at eight. There was no way apparently of circumventing her. She would have her own way.
Once the Angel said:
"Mary, didn't we telephone you that we wanted dinner just as soon as we came in?"
"Well, wasn't it six o'clock when we telephoned?"
"Yes, sir, but I just thought maybe you would be delayed or the car would run off the track or you'd stop to talk to some friends, so I wouldn't begin to cook until I clapped my two eyes on you."
At first we used to laugh and say that it was her respect for food. Then it worked on our tempers and grew anything but funny. It got to be exasperating, infuriating, maddening.
"Now, Aubrey," I said, "it has come to the battle with the cook. Shall we submit to petty tyranny or shall we strike?"
"I'll tell you what," said the Angel. "I haven't quite made up my mind whether Mary is really amenable to kindness or whether she takes us for suckers."
"Oh," I gasped. I had never taken myself for a "sucker" before, and even in such good company as that of my husband it gave me a jar to hear the possibility mentioned.
"I am convinced of one thing," he went on, "Mary has been badly spoiled, and, while I have no objection to her ruling us in any way she likes, I am going to compel her to obey orders when she gets them."
"Oh, be careful!" I cried.
"I'm going to. But first I am going to investigate the labyrinths of her mind. If it is that she respects food more than she does our feelings, I'll do one thing. If it is that kindness won't work, I'll try severity. But I'm going to make that old woman obey me and have dinner on time."
The Angel delivered this alarming ultimatum without raising his voice and with no more emphasis than he would use in saying:
"May I trouble you for the salt?"
I leaned back and looked at him.
"As if you could be severe with any one, you Angel!"
From which remark the knowing can easily deduce the length of time we had been married.
It was then ten minutes to eight. We had come in at six, and at five we had telephoned her to have dinner promptly at seven.
"I hope you had a good tea," said Aubrey, looking at the clock.
"I did. It isn't that I am hungry. I'm mad," I answered, genially.
"I am not mad. I am hungry," said Aubrey.
"Being hungry for a man is the same as being mad for a woman," I observed.
"Now," he said, mysteriously. "Don't eat any dinner to-night, and follow my lead in everything."
"Don't eat any dinner!" I cried, in a whisper. "I am starv—"
"Hush," he whispered. "You said you weren't hungry."
Although we were only ten feet away from her and in plain view, Mary struck the Roman chime of bells, by which she always announces dinner.
As we took our seats the clock struck eight. The table was a dream of loveliness. Wedding-silver, wedding-glass, wedding-linen graced it at every turn, for Mary always decorates for us as for a banquet.
Never has the fragrant odour of soup assailed me as it did on that particular night. Mary hovered around, watching to see how we liked it. We tasted it, and laid our spoons down. We talked languidly, without noticing her.
"What's the matter with the soup?" she finally demanded when she could stand it no longer. We looked up as if surprised.
"Why, nothing," said Aubrey. "I don't care for it. That's all. Take it away."
"It will do nicely for to-morrow night," said Mary.
At that Aubrey dropped his entire cigarette into his and I put a spoonful of salt into mine.
"Isn't it good, Missis?" asked Mary of me.
"I don't know," I said, wearily. "I'm too tired to eat."
"Take it away," said Aubrey again.
"My poor dear child!" cried Mary. "Too tired to eat! But eating will do you good. Taste a bit! Try it, Missis dear!"
"No, I don't seem to care for it, and I was very hungry at seven o'clock. Don't you remember, Aubrey, I said coming up in the elevator how hungry I was?"
"I remember," said my husband. "But you are just like me. If you don't have your meals at a certain time your appetite goes."
At that Mary lifted her head and looked at us through her spectacles. Never were four more innocent eyes to be met with than ours. We looked at her calmly until she lowered her gaze. It was not an impudent nor a defiant look she gave us. It was a trial of wills. Our two against her one.
She removed the soup without more ado, and brought in a broiled chicken. Oh, oh! Shall I ever forget it! I was so hungry by that time that I could have bitten a piece out of my plate.
Mary stood by with a face as anxious as if she were standing by the death-bed of her child.
Aubrey lifted it with the carving-fork, looked at me, and said:
"Do you feel as if you could eat a little bit of this?"
A little bit! I felt as if I could have snatched it in my paws and run growling to a corner to devour the whole of it and to bury the bones for the next day.
"No," I said, wearily, leaning my head on my hand to hide my countenance. "But you eat some, dear."
Aubrey laid down the carving-fork.
"No, I don't care for any."
"What time did you have your luncheon, dear?" I asked, anxiously.
"At half-past twelve. I had an appointment with Squires at one."
"And what did you have?" I continued, for Mary's face was expressive of the liveliest horror.
"A club sandwich and a glass of beer."
Mary looked at the clock. It was half-past eight.
"Oh, my dear!" I said, mournfully. "It is no wonder you can't eat. Your stomach is too exhausted to feel hunger."
Mary ran around the table for no reason at all. She took the cover off the best silver dish. It was a dish of fresh peas cooked with onions and lettuce. Petits pois a la paysanne! I had taught her myself! I simply glared at it. To this day I can smell those onions!
"If I could have had those at seven o'clock," said Aubrey, sadly, "I could have eaten every one of them. They look delicious, Mary, but I really—no, don't urge me! Take the dinner off."
"Oh, boss dear, if you'd just take a lick at them!" implored Mary. "Just one lick—there's a handsome man!"
Aubrey bit his lips. I was trembling on the verge of hysterical laughter.
Mary implored in vain. With our famished eyes on the peas and chicken we saw them disappear through the swinging door. Mary in her agony was talking aloud.
"Keep it up!" whispered the Angel. "This will fetch her! She's ready to cry."
"Oh, but Aubrey," I moaned. "I'm ready to gnaw the napkin and eat my slippers. Please come and tighten my belt!"
"I know now how explorers and castaways feel," murmured the Angel. "For heaven's sake, what comes next?"
"Asparagus!" I wailed. "Fresh asparagus. I paid ninety cents for it! And she's cooked it with her white sauce—oh!"
The door opened and Mary, with pink cheeks and dancing eyes, brought in and deposited before me my favourite dish. Asparagus on toast. I looked at it longingly, feverishly! I was famishing. My throat was dry and my eyes had a savage glare. I had heard of men going mad for want of food. I know now how they felt.
At first I could not speak. I was obliged to swallow violently.
"There!" cried Mary, triumphantly. "You can't pass that up!"
"Alas!" I sighed, shaking my head. I looked at her and felt simply murderous. That white-haired old woman's obstinacy in not giving us our dinner on time was the cause of all my misery. I resolved to rub it in. Her face was a study.
"Did you ever," I said, mournfully, "see me refuse asparagus before?"
"You're never going to refuse it!" exclaimed Mary, incredulously. "Missis! I used a pint of cream, to say nothing of the butter! Why, it's a sin! It's a mortal sin in you not to try it! See, Missis, let me put a little on your plate. I'll feed it to you like as if you were a baby! I will indeed!"
"No," I said, clutching at the table-cloth to keep from falling upon that dish of asparagus and shovelling it down my throat in huge handfuls,—"no, I couldn't! Mary! I am too weak, really, I think I am starving!"
I leaned back and closed my eyes. The clock struck nine.
"You've had nothing to eat all day!" cried Mary. "You had only a bite for your lunch, and that was eight hours ago! Oh, Missis, dear! Ain't I the mean dog! Let me make you a cup of tea! Missis dear! In the name of God eat something! Do!"
"No," I said. "I have always been this way. If I go five minutes over the time when I expect my dinner, I feel just this way. I can't eat."
With which astonishing lie, I leaned back as if death were already looming up in the distance.
Mary made one more attack. Salad was the Angel's weak point as asparagus was mine, and Mary always made a dream of beauty out of it. She scorned "fatiguer la laitue" as the French do. Instead she kept it in a bowl of water until thoroughly "awake," as she called it. Then carefully examining each leaf separately, she tied them in a wet cloth and laid them "spang on the ice," which course of treatment rendered them so crisp that to cut them with a sharp salad-fork was always to get a little dressing splashed in one's eye. Furthermore she arranged them in the best cut-glass dish in symmetrical rows with the scarlet tomatoes tucked invitingly in the centre. She presented us with such a dish on this evening. Then when Aubrey (who will be remembered when he is no more, not for his moral qualities nor for his domestic virtues, but for the skill with which he used to mix a salad dressing) went to work and prepared one from tarragon, vinegar, oil, Nepaul pepper, paprika, black and cayenne pepper, to say nothing of plenty of salt,—words fail me! I simply pass away at the recollection.
I have never been able to make up my mind whether Mary suspected us or not. Of course we overdid the part, but it was a physical necessity. I can go without a thing altogether, but I cannot be moderate. I really thought I was not hungry until Aubrey told me not to eat, and that, of course, was enough to make any woman ravenous. If he had told me "to buck up and eat a good dinner," of course I could only have nibbled.
She broke out again, and pleaded hard for us to drink our coffee, but we were obdurate.
Finally we got up from the table and Mary removed the cloth, muttering to herself. I overheard some of it, but where any other cook would have been furious at us for not eating her delicious dinner, the dear old soul's rage was all directed against herself, and she was vituperating herself in language which would not have gone through the mails.
But now the question was where and how to get our dinner so that Mary would not suspect. To send her to church and forage in our own ice-box was out of the question, for she knows to a dot how much there is of everything, and I cannot take an olive that she does not miss it and come and ask me if I took it, to avert suspicion from the ice-man. Furthermore, it we both went out, she might suspect. And we had taught her too heroic a lesson to go and spoil it by carelessness now.
"What shall we do?" murmured my husband.
"There's only one thing to do," I said, in low, even tones, with my book before my face. "Go out and buy something ready cooked,—something which leaves no trace,—something small enough to go into your overcoat pocket, but oh, in the name of heaven, get enough!"
Mary came in as the outer door slammed.
"Where's boss gone?" she demanded. Perhaps it was only my guilty conscience which made her tones sound suspicious.
"Just over to Columbus Avenue to get a paper," I said.
I waited in a guilty and trembling silence for the Angel to return. What if Mary should take it into her head to come and help him off with his overcoat? She often did. I softly opened the outer door. If she didn't hear him enter, all would be well.
Presently he came up. He got out of the elevator stealthily, and I met him with my finger on my lip.
"Aren't you going to take off your hat?" I said, as he stole down the corridor.
"Can't!" he whispered. "I've got cream puffs in it."
I only waited to ward off an attack from the rear. I put my head in at the butler's pantry.
"Mary, I have such a headache that I am going to bed now, so be as quiet as you can, won't you?"
"I'll come and open the bed for you right this instantaneous minute, my poor dear child," she said, taking her hands out of the dish-water.
"No, I'll open it! I don't mind in the least," I said, eagerly.
"Not at all! Do you think I'll be letting you lift your hand when you're sick?"
Finding that I could not prevent her, I hurried down the hall to discover the Angel looking wildly for a place of escape—still with his hat on. I motioned him into the bathroom, and his coat-tails disappeared therein, just as Mary loomed into view.
It took her a full quarter of an hour to open that bed, for nothing would do but she must unhook me. And all that time my thoughts were on the cream puffs. I did hope that Aubrey would have sense enough to put them on the wash-stand.
Finally I got rid of Mary, and released the Angel. He clanked as he came in, but that was two pint bottles of beer.
I locked the door, and then he unloaded. Besides the beer and cream puffs, he had four devilled crabs and two dill pickles, four club sandwiches, some Roquefort cheese, and some Bent biscuits.
He was obliged to make one more dangerous pilgrimage to the front hall to slam the door and hang up his hat and coat, otherwise Mary would have gone out after him. We have such a competent cook.
Finally we sat down and gorged on that impossible mixture. We had only Aubrey's pocket-knife, a paper-cutter, and a button-hook to eat with, and rather than to stop and wash out his shaving-cup we drank out of the bottles.
We ate until we felt the need of dyspepsia tablets, but still there was some left. This Aubrey did up in a neat package, we raised the window, turned out the lights, and threw it far, far out into the night. We listened and heard it fall in a neighbour's back yard.
Now, if we had stopped there, all would have been well, but Fate tempted us in the person of a vile and nasty little curly white dog, with a pink skin and a blue ribbon around her neck, whose mistress used to lead her up and down in front of our apartment-house every evening. She was a very nasty little dog, badly spoiled, and we had longed to kick her for six months, but her mistress was always there and we couldn't.
But oh, joy! On this particular night, she was in the back yard all alone, yapping and whining to get indoors. Clearly this was the best place for the empty beer bottles.
"Don't hit her, Aubrey. Just aim for the cement walk. That will scare her to death."
The Angel seldom follows my wicked counsel, but this was the hand of Providence. No one, who has not owned a big dog, can know how we hated this miserable, pampered little cur.
So Aubrey took aim. The beer bottle hurtled through the air. We stepped back and listened. It crashed on the walk, and such a series of agonized yelps from the frightened little beast resulted as I never before had heard. We clutched each other in silent ecstasy. Fortunately the pup's mistress had not heard.
Emboldened by success we stole forth again, and shied the second bottle. But that time Providence was against us, for, at the identical moment that the bottle hit the corner of the house and flew into a million pieces, the door opened and the dog's mistress appeared.
The crash was something awful. Nobody was hit or hurt, but the woman shrieked and the Angel and I fell to the floor as if shot. Instantly windows flew up, and as each head appeared the infuriated woman accused it of having thrown the bottle. I reached for the Angel's hand as we grovelled on the floor, and our former spirit returned as indignant denials were followed by more indignant slamming of windows.
Finally—silence. Two hands sneaked up in the darkness and pulled our window down.
"We could prove an alibi," I giggled, "for Mary would go on the stand and swear that I was in bed prostrated with a headache!"
The next night the soup was on the table at five minutes before seven, and we heard that the white dog was laid up for a week with an "attaque des nerfs."
"Who would have thought," I sighed, in delight, "of the luck of fetching Mary and that white dog both in one evening!"
THE BEST MAN'S STORY
Trouble began to brew for the best man at my bridesmaid's dinner, but it was all his fault. He says it was mine.
I claim, and I think that all girls will support me in this theory, that at all wedding functions, such as teas, receptions, luncheons, and dinners, the best man owes the maid of honour the first and most of his attentions. It is her due, and no matter whether he likes her or hates her; no matter if he is already in love with another girl, or sees one there that he would like to be in love with, he belongs, for the wedding festivities, to the first bridesmaid. It is like the girl your hostess assigns to you at dinner,—you must be nice to her.
So Cary Farquhar thought, and so I think. Artie Beguelin said:
"Then you oughtn't to have invited Flora Forsyth to the bridesmaid's dinner."
Well, perhaps I oughtn't. But I did, because she asked to come. One can't refuse a request of that sort. Even Aubrey admits that.
Flora was a dreamy, trusting blonde. She was an innocent appearing little thing, and although she was just out of college, I believed she would faint at the idea of a cigarette in a girl's fingers or any of the mad things college girls are supposed to do when larking. She had no sense of humour, and I simply could not think of her as up to any mischief. That is why, when she said she had fallen in love with me, I believed her. She knew I was to have Cary for my only attendant, but she begged so innocently to come to the bridesmaid's dinner and to sit with the family behind the white ribbon, that I hadn't the heart to say no. That is why she was at the dinner, and what happened there you shall hear presently.
Arthur Beguelin was the Angel's best man. He, too, was Aubrey's sole attendant, for we had no ushers.
Artie was neither clever nor stupid, but that gentle, amiable cross between the two which made him fair game for a designing girl. He was better than clever. He was magnetic, as Cary and Flora found to their sorrow.