[Frontispiece: Kitty Canary.]
KATE LANGLEY BOSHER
"MARY CARY" ETC.
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK
Copyright, 1913, by Harper & Brothers
Printed in the United States of America
Published February, 1918
I am in love. It is the most scrumptious thing I have ever been in. Perfectly magnificent! Every time I think of it I feel as if I were going down an elevator forty floors and my heart flippity-flops so my teeth mortify me. He used to be engaged to Elizabeth Hamilton Carter, the niece of the lady at whose house I am boarding this summer, but he did something he ought not to have done, or he didn't do something he ought to have done, and they had a fuss. No one seems to know the cause of it, but it was probably from her wanting him to be blind to everything on earth but her, and a man isn't going to be blind when he wants to see, and then she got hurt. I'd rather live in a house with a cackling hen or a grunting pig than the sort of person who is always getting hurt. But she's very pretty. Pink-and-white pretty, with uplifting eyes and a little mouth that shuts itself when mad and says nothing, and oozes more disagreeableness than if it talked. He still thinks there isn't another girl in town who can touch her in looks. I don't suppose a man ever gets over a real case of pink-and-white. It's the kind that makes a tender memory if it isn't the best sort to live with, and men like to have a memory to sigh over in secret. Her rejected one may sigh in secret, but in public he does not seem to be suffering. He isn't suffering. We like each other very much.
The reason I am glad I am in love is that I am sixteen and I was getting afraid I wasn't ever going to fall in love. Three or four times I have thought I was in it, but I wasn't, and I was beginning to be sure I was the sort of person who doesn't fall. And, besides, it is good for Billy, who, because he is twenty, thinks he is old enough to have some things settled which there is no need to settle too soon. Settled things are not exciting. I love excitement and not knowing what a day may bring forth. Billy doesn't. He wants his ducks to be always in a row.
Ever since he fished me out of the water-barrel sunk in Grandmother Hatley's garden, when I was four and he eight, he has seemed to think I belonged to him; and, though he doesn't imagine I know it and never mentions it, he is always around when I am in danger or trouble, to get me out. I suppose saving my life three or four times makes him feel I can't take care of myself and therefore he must take care of me, but that's a mistake. I have never had a horse to run away with me but once. Billy did tell me not to ride her, and when she ran and would have pitched me over her head and down a gully he caught her in the nick of time and caught me, too, but that's the only time a thing of that sort ever happened. He was real nice about it and never said anything concerning having told me so and didn't make remarks of the sort which other people rub in, but the next day the horse was sent away. That's the thing which makes me fighting furious with Billy sometimes. He doesn't say things. He does them. I wasn't afraid of that horse and was going to keep on riding her, but the next day there was no Lady-Bird to ride. The reason he sent her away was I wouldn't promise not to ride her. Our summer homes are on adjoining places and Horson, their stableman, a nice, drinky old person, lets me take out anything I want, anything of Billy's, and, knowing he couldn't trust Horson any more than me, he lent Lady-Bird to a man miles and miles away and I never saw her again until she was a tame old thing I did not want to ride. Billy behaves as if I were a child!
And then the very next winter I fell through the ice and he had to jump in and get me out. He told me not to go to a certain part of the lake. He had been all over it and tried it before I got my skates on, but I forgot and went. A boy was with me, a skunky little rat, who, when he saw the ice was cracking, tried to pull me back, and then he let go my hand and flop I went in and flop came Billy behind me while the little Fur Coat stood off and bawled for help and said afterward he didn't know how to swim. Having on heavy clothes, I went down quick and was hard to get up, and I would be an angel this minute if Billy hadn't been there. But Billy is always there, which is what makes this summer so queer. He isn't here.
On account of servants and things his mother didn't want to open their country place this year, and my mother didn't want to open hers, so two houses are closed. That means a scatteration for both families and is why I am here and Billy in Europe; and if he is having as good a time as I am he isn't grunting at the change. He didn't want to go to Europe. His father made him. His mother and two sisters needed a man along and, as Mr. Sloane couldn't go, Billy had to, and he was a great big silent growl when he went off. I wasn't. I wanted to come to Twickenham Town. We had passed through it once on our way to Florida and I have been crazy to come back ever since, and when I found Mother was going with Florine and Jessica to a splashy place I didn't want to go to I begged her to let me come here and board with Miss Susanna Mason and—glory be—she let me do it!
She is a sort of relation, Miss Susanna is, a farback one, but nothing is too far back to claim here, and everybody who is anybody is kin to one another, or kin to some one else's kin, which makes for sociableness, and I am having a perfectly grand time. In all the world there isn't another place like the one I am in this summer, and I am getting so familiar with a new kind of natural history that maybe some day I will be an authority on it. Ancestry is the chief asset of Twickenham Town, and though you speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not ancestors it profiteth you nothing. That is, among the natives. Being an outsider, I have decided not to have ancestors, and I am going to see if the people won't take me in for myself. I have always believed a nice person was nice if there weren't any family shrubs and things, and a nasty one was nasty no matter how many coats of arms there were or how heirloomy their houses, so I have asked Miss Susanna please to excuse me if I don't call her cousin (we are seventh removed, I think she said), and also, unless she has to, I hope she won't tell any one my real name is Katherine Bird, but let everybody call me Kitty Canary, as everybody does at home. I think she thought it was very queer in me to say such things, but she smiled her precious, patient little smile, and, though she didn't promise, she evidently hasn't mentioned my sure-enough name, as no one here calls me by any other than the one Billy gave me when I wasn't much bigger than a baby. Just Kitty Canary will do for me.
The way I met Whythe (he's the one I'm almost perfectly certain I am in love with) was this. When I got to the station in Twickenham Town there was no one to meet me and take me to Rose Hill, which is Miss Susanna Mason's home and right far out, because the train was three hours late, and Uncle Henry, who drives the hack, and Mr. Briggs, who runs the automobile, had gone home. There wasn't even anybody to take my bag. I told Mother I had written Miss Susanna what train I would be on, and because she was so busy and Father away she trusted me to do things she had never trusted me to do before and didn't write herself, which is why I wasn't met. I did write the letter saying I was coming, but I forgot to mail it and found it in my bag when I got off the train and was looking for my trunk check. It was nearly eleven o'clock and nobody around but some train people who looked at me and said nothing. And then a young man who had got off the same train came up and took off his hat and asked if he could not do something for me, and I told him I hoped he could and I certainly would be obliged if he would do it as quick as possible, as it was getting later every minute and Mother would be terribly worried if she knew I hadn't been met.
"But where are you going?" he asked, and his eyes, which are his best-looking part, took me in from top to toe. When I told him I was a boarder for Miss Susanna Mason and would like to get to her house he said if I didn't mind a pretty good walk he would take me there with pleasure, and we started off. It was a perfectly gorgeous night. The stars were as thick as buttercups in spring, and the moon was magnificent and the air full of all sorts of old-fashioned fragrances, as if honeysuckle and mignonette and tea-roses and heliotrope were all mixed together; and as there didn't seem any real need of grieving because there was no one to meet me, I thought I might as well enjoy myself. I did. I could not help the train being late, and I didn't forget to mail my letter on purpose; and it was an accident, or coincidence, that a nice man should be on the same train I was, who lived in the place I was going to spend the summer in, and knew very well the house I wanted to get to. I didn't know he had been engaged to the niece of the house and hadn't been to the latter since the engagement was broken, and I must say as we walked along he didn't show any evidences of despair or things of that sort. He couldn't possibly have been naturaler or in better spirits, and he laughed from the time we left the station until we reached Rose Hill. Not knowing his history, I told him I had come to Twickenham Town because I thought it was the most delicious old place in America; the sweetest, slowest, self-satisfiedest, cocksuredest place on earth, and everybody in it was a character—that is, everybody over thirty. He said that let him out, as he was only twenty-five, but he wasn't sure some under twenty-five were not somewhat queer. They are, I have found out since.
He had left his bag at the station, but he had mine, which was right heavy, and seeing there was a good stretch of open road before we began to go up the hill on the top of which was Miss Susanna's home, I told him he had better sit down a minute and rest, and I got up on the worm fence and twisted my feet around the rail below, and looked at him before he knew what I was going to do. He coughed a little and looked at his watch and said it was rather late to be resting, as Miss Susanna might be going to bed, and that if I were not too tired he thought we had better go on; and I told him all right. And then, because I couldn't help it, I stood up on the top of the fence, balanced myself on it, and, opening my arms as if I were going to fly, sprang off and ran up the road ahead of him.
At the gate, which was open and through which I could see the rose-bordered path leading up to the white-pillared porch on which Miss Susanna and her niece were sitting, he shook hands with me and told me good night and said he hoped he would see me very often while I was in town, and I said I hoped he would. He put my bag down and told me to send one of the servants out for it, and went on down the road, which I thought was the queerest behavior I had ever seen in my life. I didn't know, of course, about embarrassments and broken engagements and things of that sort, and for a moment I stared at his back and then picked up my bag and went up to the porch with it. All the boarders had gone to bed and only Miss Susanna and her niece were on the porch, and as I came up the steps they got up and stared at me as if I had risen from the grave.
I hadn't thought there was anything wrong in my coming from the station at that time of night with a strange man until I saw the look on Miss Susanna's face when I told her I had done it. If I had been a brand snatched from the burning I could not have been folded to her bosom with more fervent thanksgiving or a more pained expression, and at first, still not understanding, I thought I had done right off the worst thing a person could do in Twickenham Town. I had walked a long way with a man who didn't have ancestors, perhaps. He had seemed all right to me, and I was awfully glad to have him, as otherwise I might have had to sit on my suit-case all night, for I certainly couldn't have come up with the man who swung a lantern, and he was the only other white one in sight. But I found out later it wasn't lack of ancestors that caused the sudden chill which fell over us when I mentioned Mr. Eppes's name. It was something else and—oh, my granny!—the look that pretty little pink-and-white person gave me when I said what I had done!
"Oh, my dear, my dear!" Miss Susanna put her arms around me as if I were a little ewe lamb that had been lost and was found, and in the moonlight her beautiful little wrinkles reddened as if she were responsible for a most grievous calamity, "To think of your being alone at a public station at this time of night! A young girl! And I had promised your mother to take such good care of you! I wouldn't have had such a thing occur for—"
"There hasn't anything occurred." I took off my hat and fanned hard and then followed Miss Susanna up-stairs into a big square room with a big tester bed in it, and if she hadn't been looking at me I would have climbed up in it and gone to sleep in my clothes, I was so tired; but she didn't leave me for some time. She couldn't get over my walking two miles with a strange man late at night, and presently I found out she hoped I wouldn't mention it to any one in the town, as in a little place—
"Oh, I know—" I sat down in another chair. "I know little places. I was in one once for a month. Every one in it knew everything every other person did and didn't do, and said and didn't say, and if they sneezed what for, and if they didn't sneeze why not, and it was more fun! But I won't tell if you don't want me to, and did my horse come? Father had her sent three days ago, and I hope you won't get uneasy if I am not always back on time—"
I stopped. She was putting my hat on the top shelf of the biggest old mahogany wardrobe that was ever built for human apparel, and I knew right off that was one of the things the matter with pretty Miss Pink-and-White. She was spoiled to death. I picked up the coat I had dropped on the table and hung it up myself, and saw I would have to be the thing I hate most on earth—an Example. I must be careful or that precious old soul would be waiting on me just as she waits on everybody else, and I wasn't going to stand for it. And then she asked me if I were not hungry—said she knew I must be after such a long trip; and I told her I was starving, but I would not eat of a feast of the gods if it were right in front of me, as the only thing I wanted to do was to go to sleep, and for fear she might keep on inquiring about all my relations I kissed her good night and walked with her to the door and asked if she would mind if I did not come down to breakfast, and she said of course I must not come, that Elizabeth never came if she had been up late the night before, and that decided me. I was the first one down the next morning.
It was a perfectly grand feeling—-the feeling I had the next day and have had every day since I got here—that I was in a place where there wasn't a single member of my family to tell me not to do things I wanted to do or to do what I did not want to do; and usually as I dress in the morning I dance a new kind of highland fling which I made up for times when I feel particularly happy. Everybody is well and Mother and the girls are having a lovely time in a place where I would have had a stupid one, being neither grown up nor a kid, but an in-betweener—too young for some ages and not old enough for others; and here in Twickenham Town I am as free as air, and Father is coming to see me as often as he can. I can't let myself think much about Father or I would take the train straight home.
I had begged him to let me stay with him, but neither he nor Mother would agree. Just because I got the Grome medal at school they imagined I had studied too hard and needed a quiet, restful summer in the mountains; but I will never study too hard while on this little planet called the earth. I got the medal because Billy said I'd never sit still long enough to study for it, and just to show him he very often does not know what he is talking about I made up my mind to get it.
The only thing I ever expect to work hard over is one book. I am going to write one book that the critics will call a Discovery. It is to be dull and dry and dreary, and therefore it will be thought deep and strong and big, and only a few people will know that it has been written. After that I am going to write books that sell, write what people want to read—things that make them forget for a few moments that at times this world is but a fleeting show and there is a good deal of rot in it. If I can I am going to make people laugh, though I don't think I can do much in that line. I see the funny side of things too quickly to ever be able to write them down, as that takes time; but I am certainly going to be cheerful, and I am not going to croak. I don't mean I am going to be smiling all the time. I am not. Perpetual smilers are more than human nature can stand. Nothing is ever wrong, everything is beautiful, their smiles seem to say, which isn't so. There is a lot of life that is wrong, and any day horrid, hurting things may pop up, but that doesn't mean you've got to sit down and make a bosom friend of dolefulness. Some of the things you can shake your fist at, and some turn your back on, and some you have to face; but no matter what happens you can buck up and begin again if you get knocked out or hit in the back. And that's what I hope I will have sense enough to do—get up and get a move on when things go wrong.
So far nothing has gone wrong in Twickenham. Everybody has been lovely to me, and all sorts of ages have been to see me and asked me to their homes, and if they know my name is not really and truly Kitty Canary they never say so or mention my family, which is very nice of them, for I am sure they must talk of who I am and where I came from, that being the first thing done here when a stranger arrives. The reason I think they haven't let me off among themselves is that one of Miss Susanna's boarders started to say something to me on the subject one day and I told her I was a very plain person, almost common, and she could tell any one she chose. She has never mentioned the subject since. Just Kitty Canary is all I am going to be this summer, and if anybody doesn't care for me as Kitty Canary I don't care for them to care for me as Katherine Bird. So endeth that.
I have seen him every day since I came—seen my station help in time of need—and I must say he bears bravely the dispensations of a female person. He is not dejected, and he still seems to find life worth living; and if he weeps in secret, he shows no sign in public of regrets; neither does he hide himself from the gaze of others, but is always to be seen when one goes down-town or to the homes of other people. I don't know how we happen to meet so often, but I never go out that he doesn't appear; and though he does not come in at Rose Hill, he comes to the gate, and I am afraid we stand at it a little longer than is necessary, especially if Elizabeth Hamilton Carter is sitting on the porch.
I wonder why Satan walks right into me every time I see that piece of pretty pink-and-whiteness! He has never taken possession of me in that way before; but something about her just starts him off, and before I know it I am doing what I wouldn't think of doing if she were not around. She is perfectly furious with me, and I must say her manners, if they are Southern, could be improved. At best she is not much of a talker, I have been told; but since I arrived her little mouth has been shut so tight that I wonder how she breathes; and if she has spoken a dozen words to me since the night I came, they were too between-the-teethy for me to hear. I didn't want her beau, and I wouldn't have dreamed of noticing him if I had known how she felt about him; but after she tried the freezing act on me I didn't tell Satan to get behind me, as I suppose I should have done. I just went along and took things as they came, and the first thing I knew I was in love myself, and from the words of his mouth concerning the meditations of his heart he seemingly has recovered from a former attack and is in for a new one. Maybe we were not as considerate of the rejecter as we might have been. Of course, I never knew for a long time why the engagement was broken. He didn't tell me and no one else seemed to know, and when I found out— But that was a long time after—when I found out.
His name is Whythe Rives Eppes. The only things I don't like about him are his front teeth and his relations. He could get three new teeth, but nothing in human power could rid him of his relatives. There are four of them—Mother, Sister, Sister Edwina, and Miss Lily Lou, and may God have mercy on the girl who marries the male member of the family and goes into their home to live! He is a perfectly grand sort to be in love with, and I am almost sure I am in love or I wouldn't feel so thrilly when I see him coming. But being in love is one thing and getting married is a very different other, and there isn't a man person living I want to think of marrying yet. It's awfully interesting, too, to learn the different ways in which love can be made. Twickenham Town may be slow about many things, but in others it is so quick it takes your breath away. Whythe became personal in conversation the fourth time I was with him. It was at the Braxtons' party and conditions were favorable, but, not expecting the turn that was taken, I was as excited as if I had never heard remarks of a similar character before, and the first thing I knew I had promised Whythe (he begged me to call him Whythe) to go horseback-riding with him the next day. We went—I on Skylark, who is the joy of my life, and he on a borrowed horse, and we had a perfectly wonderful time. I don't think Whythe will ever be much of a lawyer, but as a love-maker he hasn't an equal on earth—that is, any I have ever heard.
As we rode down the main street of Twickenham everybody in the town seemed on it. Princess Street is the only one called by a name, though of course the others have names, and it is the place where everybody meets everybody else and learns all the news; and if anybody went to sleep that night without knowing that Whythe and I had started on a ride at ten o'clock in the morning and didn't get back until three it was because that person was too deaf to hear and couldn't understand the movement of lips. I didn't know I was doing anything I oughtn't, and if I did it I am not sorry. I had a grand time. It was a gorgeous day and cool enough for me to wear my brown-linen riding-habit and high boots, which, with a stock collar and small sailor hat, made me look real nice, and the way the people stared at me you would have thought they had never seen a divided skirt before, and—oh, my granny!—the faces of the family (Whythe's family) as we passed their house! I smiled the politest and properest I knew and they bowed back, but in a way that made me laugh out loud when out of sight, and so did Whythe. And then we forgot them, forgot everything except it was awfully good to be alive.
The place we went to is very historic and interesting. Something happened there that was very important in American history, but I have forgotten what it was. Whythe told me, and as it doesn't matter, being over for such a long time, I haven't tried to remember. The sky was so wonderful and the river so winding and lovely and the air so delicious that yesterdays did not seem important and only to-day counted; and it was when we were sitting under a beautiful big water-oak that Whythe began to be terribly sentimental and say things that would have been more suitable for moonlight and shadows and things of that sort. But suitable or not, they were thrilly to hear, and I would have enjoyed hearing them if it hadn't been for an abominable feeling that Billy was right beside me hearing every word also, and with a look on his face as if he thought my new friend was the foolest yet. And presently when I couldn't stand it any longer (I mean stand Billy standing by) I got up suddenly and told Whythe it was time to go home.
I interrupted him in the midst of a beautiful sentence about my eyelashes, I think, or maybe it was something else, I don't remember; but anyhow when I jumped up he was very much surprised and wanted to know what was the matter. I couldn't tell him, but I was perfectly furious with Billy and the look on his face, which seemed to say what I'd heard him say often about fool-flum talk and feather-headed fellows and things of that sort. And I was so mad I rode so fast Whythe couldn't keep up with me or continue the conversation, but it has been continued since. That is the main theme, though the variations are always different. Whythe never seems to give out on variations.
Of course, all of Miss Susanna's boarders, which are only four besides myself, had something to say in general about the faithlessness of men and the flirtatiousness of girls, and how times had changed, and how you couldn't put your hand on any human being and feel you could trust him in these days, and how men were gobbled up before they had got their breath good after painful experiences, and dozens of other things on that order. And I had such a good time listening to them, though they didn't talk directly to me, that I'd forget at times and nearly screech out loud at the tones of voice in which they did me up, and then I would remember and try to look serious. But seriousness doesn't seem to fit my face—that is, seriousness over sillinesses—and it wouldn't stay on very long.
They thought it very indelicate in me to walk away with Elizabeth's sweetheart right before her eyes—that is, Mrs. General Games did, but Miss Araminta Armstrong, who is over fifty and by nature sentimental and sympathetic, said she supposed it was natural for youth to seek consolation, and Whythe, poor dear, had been so heartbroken at Elizabeth's behavior that he had been receptive to other influences of a pleasing nature, and she didn't think they ought to be so hard on him. And then, after more talk of that sort, she would sigh and look away at the mountains in the distance with a loved-and-lost look in her eyes, and Miss Bettie Simcoe would sit up and snort.
There's nothing sentimental or sympathetic about Miss Bettie. Neither is there anything in the earth below or the heavens above that she has not an opinion of her own about, but the one concerning which she has the most decided opinions is Man. She doesn't mince matters when she gets on him. Also, she is an authority on God. She can tell you exactly why He does things, and she quotes Him as if He were her most confidential friend, and the only thing which stumps her is why He made such a mess of what is considered His most important work. Mention a male person's name and up go her eyebrows and down come the corners of her lips and on the side goes her head, and nothing need be said for her opinion to be understood. She is positively triumphant over Whythe. She goes around with a "Didn't-I-tell-you-so?" expression oozing out of every feature of her face, and I think she tells Elizabeth she is fortunate to have discovered his fickleness so soon.
If Elizabeth thinks she is fortunate she has a queer way of showing it. She must cry a good deal at night, judging by her eyes in the morning, but the thing that's most the matter with her is madness. She can't take it in that Whythe is showing no signs of anxiousness to make up. She imagined, I suppose, when they had their fuss that it wouldn't last very long and that he would give in to whatever she wanted, and now that he isn't giving in she is so freezingly furious with me she barely speaks to me. She seems to think it is my fault and that my coming just when I did is the cause of the whole trouble. Though she never says anything directly to me, she makes remarks in my presence about the way men flirt in Twickenham Town and how dangerous it is, especially for young girls who have never had any experience in things of that sort and are deceived by it; and as she talks I just rock and rock if in a chair, and swing and swing if in a hammock, until she has said a good many nasty things, and then I get up and go up-stairs and bring down a box of candy Whythe has sent me and offer it to her with my most Christian forgiveness and most understanding smile, and, strange to say, she never takes a piece!
I don't mind her remarks. They're natural, and if she wasn't such a horrid little teapot I'd do anything I could to straighten out things; but until she behaves herself I won't. I am having a very interesting time being in love, and why should I stop just because a man she broke with isn't grieving, but is keeping himself in practice saying to me what he used to say to her? I am not going to stop until I think it is time and until both have learned a few things they ought to know before they get married. She is a vain, selfish, pretty piece of spoiledness, and I don't believe she knows what real loving means. She is the sort that wants what it hasn't got, and all the more if she thinks anybody else is apt to get it. If she had any sense she would get a beau pro tem. That is the best thing on earth to bring a man back to the straight and narrow, and Whythe is the kind of man who needs to be brought every now and then.
I gave her that for nothing one morning—I mean the suggestion in general, though of course not personal—and she looked at me as if trying to understand. And then something came in her face that must have been an idea in her brain (her brain is slow), for, two days afterward, she said she was going away. A week later she went to see a rich aunt on her father's side who has a summer home somewhere and corrals young men and compels them to come to it, Miss Bettie Simcoe says. When she was gone a great weight seemed lifted off everybody, and even the servants breathed better. As for Miss Susanna, she was that lightened and relieved, though naturally not saying so, that she looked ten years younger, and I know now it is true that some people in a house are like fruit-cake on a weak stomach. They make life hard. I didn't say my prayers that night. I just sang the Doxology three times as loud as I could and jumped into bed. Praise is prayer.
I have been here four weeks to-day. If there are any people in or around Twickenham Town that I do not know, it is because they are not knowable. I love people, and, being naturally sociable and not very particular, I have had a perfectly grand time making acquaintances with the high and the low and, the in-betweeners; and the sick and well, and the dear and the queer, and the ancestrals and up-comers, and the rich and the poor, and every other variety that grows; and now I am as familiar with most of the family histories as the oldest inhabitant. That's the nice part of living in a small place. Something depends on you and you depend on all the rest of the town, but at home you're lost in numbers and only a few know you're living. Here everybody knows, also they know some things that perhaps had better be unknown. As for talk, they are the best talkers on earth, and there's no subject under the sun they won't talk about. It's an inheritance, Father says, and has been handed down from ages past, and, though they don't read very much, they can do more with a little knowledge than most learned people with their information, and they make anything they mention interesting from the way they mention it. I love to hear them, and I've heard a good deal.
Dear, precious Miss Susanna in the secrecy of my bedroom gave me a little talk a few nights ago, and said she hoped I wouldn't mind, but as I was young and inexperienced she thought it her duty to tell me that I must be careful and not too informal, for certain people wouldn't understand; and that while the Holts were a very good, respectable family, still they were not— She stopped and coughed a little, and of course I understood, but I pretended I didn't, and told her they were perfectly healthy and I had had more fun with the Holt children than with any in town, but if she preferred they should not come to her house to see me I would just stop in theirs sometimes, as I would not like them to think I was afraid to go with them. I wasn't, for while I knew they were not historic, they were the most interesting children I'd ever seen, and it seemed pretty cruel that they were left out of things because they didn't have forefathers to hang on to, or money, which of course would speak for itself. And dear, angelic Miss Susanna, who is so worn out with boarders and their special kind of human-nature horridness at times that she's hardly got body enough to cover her soul, said I mustn't misunderstand her, but the Holts had never gone in the same circles as the other people I had met, and that customs, though unkind, were hard to overcome, and the oldest son—
I told her not to worry about the oldest son. He could go anywhere he wanted and with any one he wanted by the time he was through college, which his parents were working themselves to death to send him through, and it was very probable that several girls in town would be glad to add their grandfathers to his natural endowments before many years were over. But if she didn't care for me to accept his attentions, as Miss Araminta Armstrong called them, I could always have an engagement when he asked me to go anywhere. She looked so shocked and distressed that I told her I didn't approve of telling stories any more than she did, and for most sorts people ought to be branded, but I'd much rather tell one of that land than hurt a person's feelings. And it wouldn't be untrue to say I had an engagement, for I always had one to go everywhere and anywhere, even if I didn't keep it; and again she coughed and looked so pained that I took her in my arms and whirled around the room with her and told her not to worry about me, either. I wouldn't disgrace her by knowing the wrong people too well, but everybody had their peculiarities and one of mine was I was going to know anybody I wanted to. I always thought a lady could, and, besides, I liked any kind of person who was interesting, and the best born ones were often very stupid, which of course was the wrong thing to say. So I had to give her another whirl, and by the time she got her breath it was time to see about supper, and she has never referred to the subject since.
Miss Susanna is a darling little lady of the old school (whatever the old school was) and I love her, but I am of my time as she is of hers, and I don't see her way any more than she sees mine. She ought to wear hoop-skirts and brocaded silks and lace fichus and mits, and sit with her beautiful hands folded in her lap and her tiny little feet on a footstool, and instead she works from morning to night trying to help the good-for-nothingest servants that were ever hired by tired ladies, except Uncle Henson, and Aunt Mandy, the cook, who have been with her for years and years. She's worn out. That's what's the matter with Miss Susanna, and that selfish, lazy little piece of pinkness who is now away doesn't lift her hand to help her unless it is to make a cake occasionally. I don't know how to make cake and never expect to know, as very good kinds can be bought, but I can wash dishes. I do it every morning and she dries them, so limp Eliza can go up-stairs and clean up the bedrooms, and we have a beautiful time talking about what a change comes over human beings when they board. That is, I do the talking and she shakes her head at me, but it does her good, as it gives sound to things she can't say. Most of her time has to be spent in thinking what to put in people's stomachs and fixing it to be put; and, from the quantity that goes in, boarders must have much better appetites than people who keep house. They eat and yet are never full. There'll be no hope of heaven for me if I ever have to keep boarders. I'd sweep them out with a broom certainly once a week. That is, in my mind, if my hands didn't. But Miss Susanna will never sweep them out. The sanctuary in which I let out for her is the pantry, and all the things she won't say I say for her. Yesterday she laughed so she broke a cup.
Father is coming to-morrow! I am so excited and happy that to-day, after I was safely out of Twickenham Town and there was no one to see me, I stood up on Skylark's back and held the bridle with one hand and waved the other in the air; and then I tried standing on one foot with the other one out, but I came near losing my balance and just did catch myself in time. Seeing a woman coming down the road in a buggy, with a baby in her lap, I got back in place before she saw what I was doing, but I needn't have done it, for it was just Mrs. Pettigrew, and she wouldn't have cared whether it was my head or my heels which were on the horse. She has eleven children and no husband to speak of, and what people do or don't do doesn't bother her. We stopped for a little talk and she told me about the roof leaking and the pig eating the baby's bonnet which Miss Katie Spain had given it last Christmas, and which was too small for its head, but was all it had; and that a kettle of soft soap had fallen off the stove and burned two toes of Sammy, the next to the youngest boy, and she would still be telling me things, but I told her Father was coming and I had to attend to something, and so she drove on.
I did have something to attend to, but I didn't attend right away, for the day was so wonderful I couldn't go in for a long time. The sunshine looked as if it had been washed and ironed, it was so clear and clean and crisp, and the wind in the trees said all sorts of lovely things to me, and I made up my mind that, no matter what happened in life, I was always going to remember that warm and sweet and sunny things are sure to come again, if at times they seem dead and buried, and that I would try not to see the cranks and queernesses of people as much as I was by nature inclined to do; and then I went right back to Miss Susanna's, and before I knew it I had said something I oughtn't, and to Mr. Willie Prince.
Every time I see Mr. Willie I thank God he is no relation of mine. He is the only man boarder in the house, which is another thing to be thankful for; but, though he is hard to stand, he is nearly sixty and a human being, and I ought to remember what I forget and yesterday I didn't remember. He was the only son of his mother and should have been a daughter, and in trying to make him one his maternal parent succeeded better than in anything else she ever attempted, Miss Bettie Simcoe says—and she ought to know, being his first cousin. His business is telling people what they don't want to hear; and, though he doesn't do any work, a hound dog couldn't run a rabbit down quicker than he can a piece of gossip, and when he isn't sitting on somebody's front porch fanning himself with a palm-leaf fan, from which he is never separated in summer, he is down at the drug-store hearing and being heard. He thinks he is handsome, and he is as proud of his pink cheeks as a goose of her gander, and I'm sure he puts something on them on cool days. If he could wear some blue ribbon on his sandy hair and have trousers and coats to match his fancy vests he would be perfectly happy. As a man he is a poor job, but as a Miss Nancy he is perfect, and when yesterday I came in from my ride he made me so mad that I popped out something I shouldn't have popped and before I knew I was going to do it.
He was sitting on the porch when I came up, fanning as hard as he could fan, and as I went by he stopped me. "I would advise you to be more careful when you go in wading at the creek, Miss Kitty," he said, "It isn't customary for young ladies in Twickenham Town to do such things and—"
"And where I came from it isn't customary for gentlemen to follow young ladies and see what they do," I said, and the minute the words were out I knew I shouldn't have said them, for his face got as red as a beet and he jumped up and walked into the house.
I don't know that he really followed Sallie Sclater, who's a visiting girl, and myself to see if we went wading, but we certainly went and had a good time doing it, though we had to dry our feet with my petticoat. But from the way his face went he must have made it convenient to walk in that direction and must have seen us, or he wouldn't have known anything about our going, as we were careful to look around before we took off our shoes and stockings. I can't endure him, but he is nearly sixty and I am only sixteen, and I shouldn't have spoken as I did; and possibly because I was so happy over Father's coming I told him last night that if I had said anything I shouldn't I hoped he would forget it and I, too, would forget what had been said. And that, of course, I knew gentlemen in Twickenham Town never did anything gentlemen shouldn't, and that my quickness of speech was always getting ahead of me; and he looked so relieved that I am perfectly certain he followed us. But, anyhow, he was very pleasant last night and told a scream of a story about poor little Miss Lily Lou Eppes when she thought she had a beau. She had almost landed him when he got away. He's never been heard from since.
It's over—Father's visit is. He has been gone a week, and it will be a whole month before he can come again. He has to divide up between Mother and the girls and me, and he can only get away once in two weeks, because his partner is ill and business has something the matter with it and has to be watched, which is why he could stay only four days in Twickenham Town. I don't see why fathers have to work so hard, and why wives and daughters must have so many unnecessary things, and such big houses and so many new clothes and automobiles and parties and pleasures, which aren't real fun after you have them. But most women seem to want them, and keep on scrambling for what other people scramble for, and only a few have sense enough to see how foolish it all is and stop. Maybe they are wound up so tight they can't stop. I don't know. I only know I do not want to live the life a lot of women I know live, and I am not going to do it.
I wish Father could see it the way I do—about working so hard, I mean—and I think he might, for he says I am a chip off the block and he is the block, and in almost everything we feel alike; but there's Mother and the girls, who care for things I don't care for, and of course they must have them. He gives them everything they want, but he looked so awfully tired the day he came I could think of nothing else the night he left, which is why I cried so under the sheet, and then when the tears were out and I felt lighter I got up and wrote him a long letter and told him I loved him so it hurt, and that he was the best and dearest father on all this big, big earth, and if he would let me come and keep house for him I would fly back. But he wouldn't let me come. He wrote me a letter, though, that I shall keep with my treasures, and I wish what he said was so. It isn't so. He just thinks it, but it does your heart good to know somebody cares an awful lot about you and no matter what you do is going to stand by. What he wrote me was this:
Dear little Nut-brown Maid all mine, of course you would come, but you mustn't. It is too hot and you need what you are getting, and nothing could help me here so much as to know of that wonderful color of yours and that you are so well and strong again. That you are getting health and happy memories for the winter of work and study ahead is the best tonic I can take, and every morning when I go to my desk I get out that little picture of you and, nobody being by, I kiss it and send you my love, and it is a breath of life-giving air to know you are mine. Since the first time I saw you—you were exactly one hour old and laughing even then—you have been the joy and delight of my heart, and I can't afford to run any risk with summer heat and the joy of my heart. I didn't deserve you, for I wanted a son so badly, and was fearfully disappointed that you were not a boy. You seemed to understand and did not get mad about it, and I've often wanted you to know that no son could mean to me now what my little harum-scarum daughter means. There has never been a day since you first looked into my eyes that I haven't thanked God for you, and the thing I am most afraid of in life is that you may get sick or not be strong, and that is why I am so glad for you to be in such a charming old place as Twickenham Town. You were wise, little daughter of mine, to choose so quaint and queer and dear a place in which to spend your summer, for there real things still count, and there is more time for the fine courtesies of life, and the hurry and rush of it, the push and scramble for place and power, is out of key with its quiet serenity and the poise that comes from a sense of values that by many of us is to-day forgotten. I am coming back as soon as I can, for I, too, want the refreshment and novelty of being where money is not talked and apologies never made for the absence of things that money gets. Miss Susanna Mason is a liberal education in herself and no "Course in Culture" could equal the advantage of being in her society. I have written her, of course, but tell her again of my sense of privilege, and my great pleasure, in being a guest in her home, and remember always you are in your father's heart. Always he is thinking of you.
Now wasn't that a nice letter to get from a father? I'm nothing to be thankful for; but, if he thinks I am, I am thankful for that, and it makes life a different thing to know somebody is thankful for you. And another thing I think would make life nicer, make working and living not so hard, is to tell people you like them and you believe they are trying to do their best, even if their best is powerful poor. Of course, all people don't try to do their best. Some are by nature and practice mean and horrid and ought to have facts handed out to them, but most people try to do right, and maybe they would try harder if they got a little encouragement now and then. Anyhow, I've often noticed it makes a person take fresh hold again for somebody to give them a lift in the way of a friendly word or so, and it doesn't cost much—kindness doesn't. I wonder why we don't have more of it.
The reason why Father liked Twickenham Town so much was that nobody talked business to him, and if anybody knew he was the head of Bird & Roller, bankers and brokers, they never mentioned it to him or talked shop at all, and for four days he forgot stocks and bonds and the ups and downs of the money-market and let go. And yet I am almost sure Mr. Willie Prince knows all about him—the business part, I mean—and that, of course, will mean everybody in Twickenham will know pretty soon. The reason I think he knows is that I went into the bank to get a check cashed the morning after Father got here, and I saw Mr. Willie sitting at a table in a corner of the bank with a copy of Bradstreet open before him and his eyes close to it. I made it convenient to walk up to the table and look down at the book, and I saw he was running his finger down the letter "B," and when he saw me he shut the book quick. I just smiled and passed on. But not talking business is only one of the reasons Father liked Twickenham Town so much. Another was because everybody was so nice to him. He had so many invitations to dinner and supper, and even breakfast, that he was on a dead go from morning until night, and he never ate so much in his life as he ate in those four days. It did him good, and he didn't look tired a bit when he left.
The day Father got here was a beautiful day. The train was due at six-thirty in the morning, but it never hurries and has only been on time three times since it has been running, and Uncle Henson said there was no use getting to the station until seven o'clock, but I told him if he wasn't in front of the porch by six o'clock I'd send for Mr. Briggs and go down in his automobile, and there was no need to say anything more. Mention automobile to Uncle Henson and his back begins to go up just like a cat's. There are only a few automobiles in town, though a good many people have Fords, and several offered to lend me theirs, but not wanting to hurt Miss Susanna, who has been sending the same carriage to the station for over thirty years, I didn't accept their offers, but went down in the coach, as Uncle Henson calls it. Its top is still upholstered in a sun-shaped thing which was once yellow satin and now tattered and torn, and hardly anybody ever rides in it, but when a new boarder comes Miss Susanna always says, in that queenly way of hers, "You will take the carriage to the station, Henson," and Uncle Henson's old gray head bows as if at royal orders, and they do not know they are playing a part that belongs to the days that are no more. That is what Tennyson, I think, calls a time that will never be the same again.
Uncle Henson's coachman's coat, long and faded and once brass-buttoned, and a battered hat to match, are always put on to meet the train; and when he held the door open for Father to get in the old, ramshackle thing he did it in a way that could be sold for big money, if manner could be bought, and Father got inside with equal elegance. After he was in and Uncle Henson couldn't see him, he looked at me as if to ask if I thought it would stand, and I nodded back yes, and slipped my hand in his and hugged him again, I was so glorious glad to see him! He is such a splendid Father—my Father is, I am so sorry for girls who haven't one like mine, and not one of them has. He is the only one of his kind on earth.
Everybody was on the porch to meet us when we drove up, and Miss Susanna gave him such a gracious welcome, and was so sweet and stately and quaint and lovely in her white dotted Swiss muslin dress which Miss Araminta Armstrong says she has been wearing for six summers, and which has the dearest little darns in it, that Father's face got real flushed, and once I really believe there were tears in his eyes. He might have been an ambassador at some court who was being received, for at no court in Europe could a lady bow as Mrs. General Gaines bows, and she gave her best to Father when he was presented. I don't like her, but she certainly is an old swell. And then Isham (he's Uncle Henson and Aunt Mandy's grandson, and totes water all day long from the well up into the house, when he isn't playing a Jew's-harp in the sun) came out and got Father's bags and things and took them up-stairs, and a little later Uncle Henson brought up on a silver tray one of those mint juleps, about which Father told Mr. Willie Prince, who made it, that the half could never be told, and at eight o'clock we had breakfast. Usually Father doesn't take anything at home but grape-fruit and coffee, but that morning, and every morning he was here, he ate waffles, and batter-bread, and beaten biscuits, and everything else Miss Susanna would urge him to try, and he said he couldn't understand how he could eat so much. I didn't tell him, but I think it was because of the juleps. They're the best things for poor appetites ever invented yet, Major Hairston says, and he ought to know, being over seventy and never having missed taking two a day since he could fix them for himself. After breakfast we talked for a while on the porch, and then I took Father out to show him the town.
I wouldn't have taken him out if the day had been hot, but it wasn't hot. It was one of those gorgeous days that sometimes come in summer after a thunder-storm and which have the feel and taste of early October; and being in the mountains it was cooler on that account, and I could see Father breathe deep, and the tiredness began to go away as we walked and talked. That is, I talked. He tried to at first, and then gave up. Everybody in town knew he was coming—I had told them—and they came down from their porches and shook hands with him, and said they were so glad to see him and they hoped he was going to stay some time, and that they would call as soon as he was rested, and a whole lot of other nice things, so that Father almost got flurried, he was so pleased and warmed up. At home he is always hurrying in the morning to get to the office, and at night hurrying to get away, and of course we don't have neighbors, and it was so queer to find everybody so friendly and interested that by the time we got back to Rose Hill he looked like another man.
I took him down Princess Street first, of course, and showed him the bank and post-office and moving-picture places, and the court-house and churches and stores, and specially the drug-store, which is a sort of standing-up club for the men; and I told him whose were the offices; and Whythe came out of his and spoke to him in a perfectly perfect way, and said he hoped he would be permitted to show him some of the things of interest in the neighborhood. And also he said if it was convenient to us he would call in a car (Whythe hasn't even a Ford, but he has a Twin-Six manner) in the morning and we would drive to Horseshoe Falls, and from there go on to Spruce Mountain, where something historic happened during the Revolution, I think; and only once when talking did he look right in my eyes. His sent a message, and my heart flopped around so it felt like a frog in a can of milk, and, I was so afraid Father would hear, I told Whythe we would go with pleasure and were much obliged, but we couldn't stop any longer, as there was a good deal to see before dinner. He shook hands twice with Father, who, when he was out of hearing, asked me how a young man could leave his business in the morning and go riding. I told him business could always be left in Twickenham Town, and he laughed and said he wished he lived in a town of that sort. I wish he did.
We stopped just a minute to speak to Mr. Bugg, who sells vegetables and eggs and things, and whose wife has just had twins again, and this time has a milk-leg also, and Father shook hands with him and asked about the babies, I thinking just in time to tell him to do it, and then we had some soda-water at Mrs. Grump's. It is the most awful soda-water in the world, Mrs. Grump's is, but it is wet and cold, and you can sit down when drinking it, and while we sat she touched up the town and Father nearly fell out of his chair at the way she did it. If Mrs. Grump were for sale, I'd sell everything I own to get enough to buy her, for the way she can put into words what she thinks of human beings would make a graven image come to life. She never smiles herself.
After we got through with Princess Street we turned in by Colonel Rixby's and then went down by the Baconses' and into The Court, whose trees were planted by order of some lordly person, kin to the Aikens who have been sitting under the shade of their greatness ever since, and then we strolled by the Eppes house, for I wanted Father to see it. It is the stateliest old place in town and its garden of old-fashioned flowers makes one think the twentieth century is a mistake and ought never to have been, but ordinarily I pass it quickly, as I don't care for its owners. The house has perfect lines and the dearest little panes of glass in its deep, wide windows; and inside it has big fireplaces and beautifully carved woodwork and wonderful old furniture and fearful old portraits, and I certainly wanted Father to see everything in it, but I didn't expect him to do it, for the House of Eppes doesn't admire me any more than I admire it—and then the unexpected happened.
As we reached the gate we saw the whole bunch sitting in the wide, cool hall—Sister reading aloud, Sister Edwina making tatting, and Miss Lily Lou peeling a peach for Mother from a basket on the table beside her, and I was going to pass by and just bow to Mother as pleasantly and politely as I could (she was the only one who saw us), when to my surprise she got up and ordered me to stop by a wave of her hand. I stopped. She does not approve of me. She thinks it very indelicate in me to accept the attentions of one whose engagement had so recently been broken, and, while she will never recover from stupefaction that Elizabeth should disagree with her son, she attributed that action on Elizabeth's part to lack of sense and does not hesitate to say so, just as she has not hesitated to say things about me that were not as Christian as they might have been. She knew, however, what was expected of Twickenham Town and that personal feelings were to be paid no attention to where politeness was concerned, and with a sort of scepter movement she beckoned to me and commanded us to come in. We went.
It is a queer thing how nice disagreeable people can be when they want to, and that morning the entire Eppes family (even Sister Edwina, who's the limit) were so polite and pleasant that Father never would have imagined how cocky and sniffy they usually are. I behaved as well as they did, and when we came away I couldn't remember a thing I had said that I shouldn't. We didn't stay but half an hour. I wouldn't have held out a whole hour, and neither would they, and so, after we had seen all the beautiful old things downstairs and been introduced to all the painted ancestors, I got away quick, for Miss Anna was showing signs I didn't think were safe. They don't know that they worship idols of wood and glass and silver and china, and images in old gilt frames, but they do, and the steel trust hasn't money enough to buy them. It's a pity they won't sell a few and put the money in some new clothes, for those they wear are a sight to behold. As we were leaving, Mother Eppes invited us to take dinner with her on Sunday in a way that was more a command than an invitation and we accepted in a manner to match, though inside I was raging to think we'd have to go. And then I remembered it would be a regular thriller to be eating at the table with Whythe and his family and my family, and I hoped I'd remember to call him Mr. Eppes, as down here they do that up to the day of the marriage, the first name being thought too familiar until after the ceremony, and even then in public. Grace Marvin, who is engaged to Richard Clarke, calls him Dick, but that is because she isn't ancestral; just accepted, Mrs. Grump says, and she knows, being familiar with the history of everybody in town.
They were perfect days, the four Father spent in Twickenham Town, and he was made over when he went away. Every morning Mr. Willie Prince sent him up a mint julep that started the day so cheerfully he was happy through its every minute; and Major Roke, who makes the best ones in town, would come for him at twelve o'clock and take him to his house, and Mr. Letcher always managed to get hold of him about six in the afternoon, and at bedtime some one else would send one in. And poor Father, who never drinks anything at home, it not being good for him, was in an awful state of mind at first, and then he decided he would rather die than hurt the feelings of the senders and he'd take the chance on his health. He took.
I'm a fighting disbeliever in whisky, and if I had any say I'd say it couldn't be made except for sickness, but you couldn't get certain Twickenham-Towners to believe it is a dangerous thing, and to take a little something for the stomach's sake is a recommendation in the Bible they approve of and obey. It doesn't seem to kill people here or some would have been a long time dead, but there are one or two it is a pity it hasn't killed. It does much worse than kill; it ruins. I hope next time Father will say the doctor doesn't permit him to touch anything. I didn't tell him so, of course, and I am afraid he will manage not to see the doctor before he leaves; but, anyhow, the morning and night juleps can be thrown out of the window after a sip to get the smell on if he wants to throw. I wouldn't take a bet that he will want, but I'm hoping.
I didn't see much of Whythe while Father was here—that is, by himself. He was awfully nice to Father and he liked him very much (Father liked Whythe, I mean), but he couldn't understand why he didn't get more of a move on and make business for himself. I told him in Twickenham Town people waited for business to come to them, and everybody knew Whythe was a lawyer, and if they needed his services they would let him know, and if they didn't there was no use waiting around, which was why he was out of his office so much of the time. And then Father asked me when I had heard from Billy and when he was coming home; and, thankful to change the subject, I told him all I knew and got out the cards and showed them to him.
We had so many things to talk about—Mother and the girls and the home people and things, and the people he had met in Twickenham Town—that he hadn't talked about Billy, and when I showed him the cards he said Billy must have mighty little to do but write them, as there were fifty-six and he hadn't been gone but five weeks. He seemed to think that right many, so I didn't say anything much about his letters, which are long and once a week, but told him Billy would sail on September 16th, and get back before I did—that is, if I stayed until the 27th. He said I could if I wanted to, and that he would come down for the last week and take me back with him, and I was so happy I swirled him around in my arms and danced a dance I made up as I went along, and both Billy and Whythe Eppes were out of his mind when he stopped for breath. And that night he went away. Also that night I almost cried my eyes out for sorrow at his going and for gladness that he was my Father. I wonder if all girls love their fathers as I love mine!
Billy has been pretty good about writing. Much better than I have been. I told him I would tell him all about Twickenham and the people, and what they did and how they did, and I intended to do it, but that is my chief trouble. I'm a grand intender and a poor doer. Billy never promises and always does. He sends cards from every place, he goes to, and a good many from the same place so I can see what he is seeing, which I couldn't do if he wrote a book of descriptions. He doesn't tell much about the cities and towns, most of which I have been in myself and am glad he leaves out, but he writes awfully interesting things about the places he pokes into by himself and the people he meets, and I almost die laughing over his accounts of his sister and a beau his mother has caught for her. She is a dandy-looking girl, his sister is, and wears the smartest clothes I ever saw except Florine's, and if Patricia has really landed a duke or a count or a thing of that sort, his mother will have a wedding that will fit the fellow all right. He's apt to be landed.
I never have understood how Billy was born of his parents. He cares no more for flum-foolishness than I do, which is why we have so much fun over the efforts certain mothers we know make to help their daughters get married, and we've decided to be failures as social successes and enjoy ourselves. My mother isn't at all like his mother. She is a precious mother, mine is, and adores Father and her children, but she is in the parade and has to keep step, not having courage to get out, and she thinks she must give her daughters every opportunity, and for daughters in Mother's world opportunity means marriage. Until she gets us settled she won't feel as if her duty had been done. That's why she has gone with Florine and Jessica to the same place Florine went to last summer with the Logans. Florine has had a good many beaux, but none of them has been just what she had set her mind on, and last summer she met a man I believe she fell in love with. Anyhow, she has gone where it will be convenient for him to see her if he wants to, and he must want, as Mother says in every one of her letters that Mr. Jeffry has just come or just gone. He came to see Florine last winter, and a blind person could tell he was worth having. I hope they will take each other. Mother would be so pleased. Jessica and I are not apt to do much for ourselves in the marrying line, so it is left to Florine to make the catch.
She is very beautiful, Florine is. She knows it and she loves beautiful things and wouldn't think of marrying any one who could not give them to her. She wouldn't marry a man who isn't decent and straight and all that, not being that kind, but neither is she romantic, and nothing on earth could make her lose her head. She is cool and deliberate and far-seeing, and not apt to ask herself too many questions about love alone when thinking about marriage. She is a dream to look at, which Jessica isn't, but I love Jessica best.
Last night in bed I got to thinking about old Jess, and wondering how she was making out with that bunch up there, and I almost rolled out at the way her nose must be turning up inside of her at some of the things she was seeing and hearing and had to take part in; and I laughed so loud that Miss Susanna came in my room to see if anything were the matter. I told her no, and that I was just thinking of something, so she pattered back, and I put my face in the pillow to keep her from hearing me again. But it was hard not to let it come out. Mother's daughters are a mixture all right, and no more alike than if they weren't related to one another. Being a parent must be an anxious job. I hope I will have a dozen children, but they'll probably be right much to manage. If I turn out to be a childless old maid, I'll adopt a boy and girl, anyhow. I can do that if I can't do anything else.
Jessica is the clever one of our family. Florine has the beauty and Jessica the brains, and so far nothing has shown signs in me, but something may turn up yet. Jessica is an A.M., and she has Ideas and Views and Opinions which she isn't stingy with and lets anybody have who is within hearing, and she wanted to be something, have a Career and get an Identity, which she says a woman has no chance of doing as long as she sinks herself in marriage; but Father said she couldn't go to any more colleges until she had had a fling at fun, for it wasn't fair to Mother. She came out last winter and had a fearful rush because she was so different from the other girls.
I don't believe Jessica would ever have wasted a winter doing the things she did last year if she hadn't wanted to see for herself what was in it, anyhow, in society I mean, so she took a header and plunged all right. She says she has a scientific and analytical mind and she worked it all out—the number of hours and days and weeks and months she had spent flopping around from one party to another, and doing the things she was supposed to do, and saying the things she wasn't supposed to say, and then she estimated the cost in time and strength and money and wear and tear on her character, and announced that it wasn't a paying business, and at the end of the year she was going to get out. The year won't be up until October and that is why she is with Mother and Florine this summer.
What she is going in for when it is up I don't believe she knows herself, yet. She says woman to-day is in the most unsettled and uncertain state that any animal has ever been in since the first one, a mollusk, or something without a backbone started to get one. And that it will take time for woman to evolute into being the best kind of a human being she is capable of becoming, and that the next step in the evoluting is to get out of her head some of the foolishness put in it by men people who didn't know what they were talking about. Mother thinks it fearful in her to talk as she does, and can't understand how she can be so daring and so indelicate as to speak about coming from mollusks and things which don't have spinal columns and nervous systems, but Jessica says that is because Mother belongs to a day that didn't know about such things, and that the modern woman is shedding the shucks which have kept her a caterpillar much longer than was necessary. A good many old ideas she thinks are shucks—that is, she pretends to; but she is an old dear just the same, if she does say things about people which it isn't polite to say.
I love old Jess. She isn't but twenty-two, and she will be less sniffy some of these days and not so scornful and impatient with repeaters and parasiters and people like that, but just now she says they aren't worth wasting time on. She can talk you right into seeing her way, and the first thing you know you are agreeing with her, and she has landed you before you realized the net was out. Landed outsiders, I mean. She will never land Mother and Florine. I love to hear her talk, though I don't think I am going to be a Careering person. I'd like to be one, but with a dozen children I am afraid there won't be time. I wouldn't tell old Jess, but I don't think she is going to Career very long, either. I believe she is in love with the man who taught her some of the ologies she is so interested in. He is awfully nice, but not very practical. He is a psychological sociologist or a sociological psychologist, I don't know which, but it doesn't matter. If Jess marries him she will run him and the house.
I wonder what made me get on the subject of my sisters when I began with Billy and the reason I had not written him as often as he has written me, but that is the way I do everything in life. If I were a preacher I wouldn't hold my job long, for the thing I started on would have about as much connection with the thing I ended with as the moon with milk. Not that that would be unusual, for a good many ministers have the same failing and skip about just as I do, but my trouble would be in hopping from one subject to another so fast that the congregation would be in Jericho one minute and in Jerusalem the next and never know how it made the jump. As I am never going to be a preacher, I am not worrying about my unfitness to be one, but what does worry me sometimes is that my hopping habit will be my ruination when I begin to write a book. My characters will never keep together, or do the proper things or say suitable ones. They will probably get so jumbled up no one will be able to tell which is the chief hero or heroine, and there will be no logical development at all, which my English teacher insists is an elemental requirement of fiction if it isn't of life. I thought this summer I was going to begin some sort of book just for practice, but by the time I get through putting down the things I scribble about the day's doings, and write to Father and send my weekly letter to Mother and the girls, and run off something every now and then to Billy, and answer the notes I get from Whythe and some of the kiddies around here who think they're grown, I don't feel like writing on a book, which is why I haven't begun one yet. I will never be able to write one that tells of dark deeds and treacherous doings and love-sick lovers, or one which has suspended interest or rapid action and narrow escapes, for I know very little of such things, and I will never do much with plots. The people I know do not have very exciting lives and here in Twickenham they trot along and do the same thing over and over, and one day is very much like the other, so there isn't much inspiration for a thriller, and thrillers are the style in books to-day. That is one reason I thought I had better wait until the style changes and while waiting enjoy myself with the people here who know how to do that better than any people on earth. I'm enjoying myself all right.
Of course, now that I am in love, I could write volumes on how scrumptious it is and how floppy I feel whenever I see Whythe, especially when he keeps his deep, dark eyes on me as if he were trying to read my soul when we happen to meet at the foot of the hill and sit on the worm fence for a while. I don't think he is trying to really read my soul, for he isn't much on reading anything, but he certainly can say beautiful things. They aren't so, but they sound well, and I must admit I enjoy hearing them. They make me feel so grown-upy, and then, too, it will be a great help when I begin my book to remember what a man says on certain occasions and how he says it. They are natural couriers, the men in this town are, but they don't always mean to be taken in earnest, and Mr. James Burke came near getting in an awful mess by paying a girl a lot of compliments he oughtn't to have paid, he being a married man and she not knowing it. She was a very serious person and believed all that was told her and came near breaking her engagement with another man on account of the pretty speeches Mr. Burke made to her. She was from Rhode Island and visiting May Strudwick, who told her for mercy's sake not to pay any attention to speeches of that sort and to hold on to the Rhode-Islander, for Mr. Burke said the same fluff to all the girls who came to Twickenham, and as long as it was just eyebrows and things of that kind no harm was done. But she couldn't understand and went home sooner than she expected. I understand. It's lots of fun—the different ways of saying the same thing—and all enlightenment is advantageous.
A few nights ago Whythe got fearfully sentimental and said all sorts of thrilly, foolish nonsense, and the way he said it certainly added to its enjoyment. He's a corking courter, and if he could teach the way he does it he would have crowded classes all right. We were at Bessie Debree's party, and just before supper we went out on the side porch, which has bushels of roses on it and no lights, and sat down on a rustic bench in the corner where we could hear the music and see the moon and not be seen, and the minute we sat I knew what was coming.
Whythe put his elbow on the back of the seat and, chin in the palm of his hand, looked at me as if we were on a desert island and there was no one else in all the world but me, and he would ask for no one else if I alone was there; and then with his other hand he tried to take out of my fingers a rose he had just pulled and given me. I remembered in time that Jess had told me to keep my hands to myself if anybody seemed interested in them, so I put the rose on the bench and sat on my hands and asked him if he did not think Marjorie Graham a perfectly beautiful person; and he said he hadn't noticed her sufficiently to know what she looked like, as he never saw but one face now. And then he leaned a little closer and asked me if I knew how wonderful I was and what my eyes could do to a man's heart if I would only let come in them what could come, and which he hoped would some day come only for him; and I asked him what it was, not knowing, as it had never been mentioned before, and he said it was a thing a man would die for. And then he took the rose up and put it to his lips and asked me if I would marry him; asked me if I could never care for him as he cared for me, for he knew now that he had never really loved before, and if I would promise to marry him he would be in heaven, his happiness would be so great.
It was perfectly thrilling, much better than anything I have ever seen on the stage. He tried to get one of the hands I was still sitting on, but I thought I had better not let him have it, as we were not engaged, and Jess had said no affectionaries until you are engaged. And then, too, I remembered he had probably said the same things several times before, he seemed so familiar with them, and I had a feeling that Billy was standing by, perfectly disgusted, but ready to fish me out if I fell in. I came pretty near falling, and then I told Whythe I wouldn't be through college until I was twenty and I didn't believe in waiting for anything on earth for four years, and though it was awfully nice in him to ask me to marry him, my father would have fits if he thought I was listening to him do it, and that we had better go in.
I wish I had had a kodak and could have snapped the look that came over his face when I suggested going in. He was perfectly astonished. Also he was indignant and grieved and the look he bent upon me was truly burning. As for his voice—Sothern couldn't have surpassed it. After a while he said he thought I had more sympathy, more understanding of a love such as his, and if I realized its depth I would not keep him waiting four years, as four years at college was all nonsense for a woman; and then he got my hand, anyhow, and I jumped up, for somebody was coming, and, besides, if we hadn't gone in we'd have been in an argument right off, with love left out, on the subject of education and women. I did not want him to think I was not appreciative, however, and though I went in with Mr. Keane, who had come for his dance, I gave Whythe a little look that was not unfriendly as I left him. I am afraid it was not even discouraging, but he seemed so mysterious and tragic and amazed that I should leave him at such a critical time that I thought a little look wouldn't hurt. I noticed, as we reached the door, that he was lighting a cigarette, and I knew his feelings would soon be soothed. Man has no sorrow that smoking may not cure.
When we went home that night other people were in the automobile (I always see that that happens, knowing how Mother would feel about it) and Whythe, of course, had no chance to continue a former conversation, but his silence said a lot, and when he helped me out of the car he helped much more than was necessary and held my hands so tight he nearly broke my little finger; and the look he gave me was a thriller all right. Every time I've thought of it since my heart has thumped so I know I must be in love, for all books say that is a reliable symptom. Being proposed to is awfully interesting, and the reason I like it so much is that I am not apt to have many proposals of Whythe's sort, as that kind has gone out of fashion, owing to golf and tennis and country clubs and so much association. Plain statement is about all a girl gets nowadays, I am told. Jacqueline Smith told Florine Mr. Smith had wired her he had to go to South America and asked her if she would marry him and go with him, and she wired back she would, and that was all the courting they had, though they seem very happy. And a girl Jess knows said the man she married had asked her how he stood with her, that she stood all right with him, and that was the way they knew they cared for each other. But I'm not that sort. I am very romantic and I like a lot of words, which is why I am just crazy about Whythe's letters.
If Whythe doesn't make a success of law or politics he could certainly make a living writing letters of a certain sort. He's an expert at them and greatly gifted, and though I don't say much in mine, thinking it safer to telephone than write, I do tell him that his are perfectly lovely, at which he doesn't seem displeased. He still begs me to marry him, and is so fearfully polite about it that I don't like to ask him what he has to marry on, and so far as I know he has only nerve and his mother's home. I would not like to spend eternity as a maiden lady, but I'd much rather so spend it than dwell under the vine and fig-tree of the person who would be a mother-in-law to Whythe's wife. My heart goes out to Elizabeth every time I think of the fate that will eventually be hers. Also it goes out to the House of Eppes. When opposing elements meet something usually happens. I'm betting on Elizabeth, but I may be wrong.
Jehoshaphat the Golden! For two days Twickenham Town has been standing on its head and wriggling its heels in the air, and nothing has been talked about since it appeared except its appearance. Every tongue in town has had its say, and everybody in town has been on somebody else's porch and talked it over; and as for Miss Susanna, I believe she cried the whole night through, last night. The first night she was too dazed to take it in. The Twickenham Town Sentinel had it on its front page in the middle column in letters indecently large, Miss Bettie Simcoe says, and it certainly did make a sensation: "Mrs. Roger S. Payne announces the engagement of her niece Elizabeth Hamilton Carter to Mr. Algernon Grice Baker, of Perryville, Wisconsin," was what the Twickenham-Towners waked up and read on Wednesday the 1st of August, and if the dynamite-plant which has made business so good for Buzzard Brothers, the undertakers, had exploded, it couldn't have caused more of a stir. Twickenham wasn't only amazed; it was indignant, and it couldn't believe it was true. But it was true, for the next day Miss Susanna got a letter from Elizabeth, telling her all about her engagement and that she would be home very soon and bring him with her, and it was the night of the day the letter was received that Miss Susanna went early to her room and locked her door for a while (that is, my door, for she is sleeping in my room during the August rush) and cried all night long. I had to pretend I didn't know, for she didn't want me to know how hurt and distressed she was that Elizabeth should have so treated her, and as I didn't sleep any more than she did, though, owing to very different feelings about Elizabeth, I made up my mind as to some things I would say to her when she got back. And if she has never read "King Lear" I will see that she hears it read before very long with a glossary, and comments of my own on ingratitude and things of that sort. Also she may hear some other things.
I have been perfectly furious with Elizabeth for the way she has treated the aunt who has been mother and father and all things else to her, but I can't help laughing at the way Twickenham Town has taken the engagement.
As for Whythe—I have wished for Billy a dozen times of late, for only Billy could see what a scream it is, the shock to Whythe's vanity that Elizabeth's beau is proving. I can't speak of it to any one else, and keeping it to myself is a great strain. At first he seemed dazed with unbelief, and then he became scorny and sniffy and shruggy and smiley, and though he says little about his successor, whom he hasn't seen yet, his manner indicates that as a substitute for himself he considers him an insult.
Last night at the gate he talked to me about it for a while, and then he asked me when I was going to tell him I would marry him, and why was it I would not engage myself to him and take him out of his miserable state of uncertainty and make him the happiest man in the world, and why— Oh, my granny! he spieled it off so beautifully and his eyes helped so wonderfully, also the moon, which was half out and half in, that I stayed a little longer at the gate than I should, perhaps, and let him say things he shouldn't, but his fluency was so enjoyable I couldn't get away. After a while, however, when he had run down a little, I told him I didn't think it would be respectful to what might have been if I engaged myself to him, and that sixteen was too young to be engaged, and then, too, it wasn't positively certain that a certain young person was going to marry another young person just because she was at present engaged to him. At which he got perfectly furious and said he would not marry that certain person if she was the only woman left on earth; that she had treated him as no lady should treat a gentleman, and that she was vain and mercenary and ambitious, and he was mortified to think he had ever imagined he had loved so shallow and weak and changeable a girl, and—
"But you did love her, didn't you?" I got up on the gate-post, swung my feet down, and put my hands in my lap and out of reach, the post not being big enough for two. "Everybody says you were frightfully in love with her and you didn't think she was shallow and weak and mercenary until you had the break, and maybe you may change your mind back again about her some day, and then where would I be?" I put my chin in my hands and my elbows in my lap and looked down at him, and he looked so hurt and surprised that I saw he had not thought of his own real gift for changing, and I realized that his attention ought to be drawn to some things he was apt to forget. Quick as a flash, though, he said I had opened new worlds to him; that I stimulated and inspired him as no one had ever done, and that he would never love any one as he loved me, and that he would wait forever if necessary for me. Also he said he would never change back again to a certain person, as she had killed his love, and would I not promise to be just his? And I had to sit tight on my hands, his manner was so very imploring; and then, before I could say anything, I heard Mr. Willie Prince, who was sitting on the front porch, fanning, cough rather loud and come down the steps and call Ben, who was barking, and I knew Mr. Willie was doing what he thought was his duty, and I got down from the post and told Whythe good night. He went away like the young man in the Bible, very sorrowful, and I went in.
It wasn't late, but everybody had gone in except Miss Susanna and Mr. Willie, and when I sat down in a rocking-chair Miss Susanna looked at me as if she didn't know whether to say anything or not, and I saw she was worried. But before I could ask what was the matter she got up and kissed me good night and went in, so I asked Mr. Willie.
He wouldn't tell me at first, though I could see he was dying to do it, but after a while he said Miss Susanna was the sort that found life of the present day a hard thing to accept, and, fanning himself with his palm leaf, he looked at me as if I were one of the reasons she found life hard. "Miss Susanna," he said, "is a lady of the old school where love and honor were placed above riches and mere material things, and it was a blow to her to find how readily young people could change their affections and break their plighted vows and be blind to their best interests, which was to keep along the same path and not be tempted out of it by passing people and worldly ambitions." And as he talked in his fine little cambric-needle voice that sounded as if it came out of a squeaky cabinet, I knew he was meaning more than he was saying, and I sat up and listened until he stopped for breath.
"Is that all?" I asked, and got up to go in, "for if it is I don't think Miss Susanna need worry herself. People in one generation aren't very different from people in another where self-interest is concerned. Everybody knows Mrs. Loraine married her husband for his money, though loving Mr. Spence, and Miss Susanna was one of her bridesmaids; and if Elizabeth prefers to marry a rich man to a poor one, I don't see anything new about that." And also I said it wasn't likely that love and honor were ever going to die out, and a few other things would live a long time yet, and he need not bother any more than Miss Susanna concerning present-day young people; and then to my surprise he asked me to sit down and told me what he enjoyed telling very much.
"Everybody has been talking about the way Whythe Eppes has been rushing you," he began, fanning as hard as he could fan, "and several people have been to see Miss Susanna and told her they thought your parents ought to know—"
He didn't get any further. I stopped him. It was silly in me to get hot, but I got hot all right, and in all my life I never wanted anybody as I wanted Billy right then at my side. He doesn't get mad the way I do. He would see that talk he did not like was stopped in two minutes, but I was too fighting angry to stop my own tongue, and I said things to fat Miss Nancy Willie Prince I oughtn't to have said. Among them that my parents would not have permitted me to come to this town or any other if not perfectly certain I knew how to behave myself wherever I went, and that whatever was advisable for them to know concerning me they would know without the assistance of Miss Bettie Simcoe or Mrs. Caperton (she is a frisky little widow who has no use for young girls) or any other Twickenham-Towner. And then, perhaps because he was so flustered he didn't know what he was saying, he told me riches were a great temptation to any young man, and everybody, of course, knew my father was wealthy, though he must say it had not been learned from the family. And that Whythe, being poor from a money standpoint, had naturally been tempted, especially as his engagement had been so recently broken with a girl he had been in love with since childhood, and I, being young, didn't understand and was under the impression that young men meant all they said, and—