THAT MOTHER-IN-LAW OF MINE.
"BE TO HER VIRTUES VERY KIND, BE TO HER FAULTS A LITTLE BLIND."
PHILADELPHIA: THE KEYSTONE PUBLISHING CO. 1889.
COPYRIGHT BY JOHN E. POTTER AND COMPANY, 1879
Dedicated TO ALL THOSE HAVING MOTHERS-IN-LAW OR EXPECTING TO HAVE.
I. BESSIE AND I AND BESSIE'S MOTHER 7
II. COURTING THE MOTHER 15
III. OUR MARRIAGE 28
IV. MOUNTAINS AND MORE MOTHER-IN-LAW 37
V. THE RISE AND FALL 50
VI. WHAT IS HOME WITHOUT A MOTHER-IN-LAW? 71
VII. MISS VAN'S PARTY AND ANOTHER UNPLEASANTNESS 84
VIII. ANOTHER CHARLIE IN THE FIELD 98
IX. THE SHADOW ON OUR LIFE 108
X. MY MOTHER-IN-LAW SUBDUED 115
XI. GEORGE'S NEW DEPARTURE 123
XII. BABY TALK, OLD DIVES, AND OTHER THINGS 138
XIII. A SURPRISE 150
XIV. A HAPPY PROSPECT 158
BESSIE AND I AND BESSIE'S MOTHER.
"Why, Charlie, you sha'n't talk so about my mother! I won't allow it."
"It does sound a little rough, my dear; but I can't help it. She does exasperate me so. She doesn't show a proper deference for your husband, my dear. We are married now, and she ought to give up her objections to me. I can't be expected to place myself in her leading strings."
"But you mustn't demand too much at once, and should try to conciliate her. Now do, for my sake; won't you, dear?"
Here we were, only a month married, and spending our honeymoon at a most charming summer resort, where there was no excuse for getting out of patience. Everything was beautiful and attractive: Little hotel, strange to say, quite delightful; no fault to find with surroundings and accommodations; my darling Bessie, as sweet as an angel and determined to be happy and to make me happy; everything, in short, calculated to give us a long summer of delight.
That is, if Bessie had only been an orphan. But there was her mother, who had joined us on our summer trip, after the first two weeks of unalloyed happiness, and threatened to accompany us through life. Already it almost made the prospect dismal. The idea that Bessie and I would ever quarrel, or even have any impatient words together, had seemed to me to be simply ridiculous. I had seen what I had seen. My dashing friend, Fred, and his stylish wife,—they had been married two years, and a visible coldness had come upon them. I knew, by an occasional angry whisper and knitting of the brow before people, that he must sometimes swear and rave in the privacy of their own rooms, and her cutting replies or haughty indifference showed that there had been a deal of love lost between them in those two years.
Other people, too, got indifferent or downright hostile in their marital relations. But then, I was not a dashing fellow and Bessie was not stylish, and in other ways we were quite different from most people. Ours had been a real love-match from the first. Bessie was simple and unaffected, honest and pure in every thought, and determined to make me a faithful and loving wife till death did us part. As for me, why, of course I was generous and affectionate, ready to make any sacrifice and bear any burden for the trusting creature who had so freely given herself into my keeping. There should be no clouds to darken her life. I would never be selfish or impatient, or for one moment hurt her gentle heart by heedless act or careless word.
But plague upon it! I could not get on with her mother; and here I was, before our summer holiday was over, and before we had settled down to that home life in which trouble and annoyance must needs come, getting out of patience and saying cruel things; and there was Bessie, sitting in the summer twilight with a light shawl drawn over her shoulders, pouting her pretty lips with vexation, and digging the toes of her little boots into the balustrade in front of us, because I had expressed a pious wish that her mother was in Jericho. I declare, if there weren't tears gathering in her gentle blue eyes!
I was angry with myself, and, putting my arm around her slender waist, I laid my cheek against hers and said soothingly, "Never mind, darling! I didn't mean it. Don't think any more about it."
But as we sat for the next five minutes without saying a word, I couldn't help pondering on the possibilities of the future, for Mrs. Pinkerton was to live with us. That was one of the understood conditions of our bargain, and it was evident that she was to furnish the test of all my good resolutions.
Mrs. Pinkerton had been left a widow when Bessie was twelve years old, with a neat little cottage in the suburbs of the city and a snug competence in a secure investment. I was fairly settled in business, with an income that would enable us to live in modest comfort, and was determined not to disturb the investment or have it drawn upon in any way for household expenses. But the old lady—I already began to speak of her by that disrespectful epithet, although she was still under fifty—was to live with us. I had readily acquiesced in that arrangement, for was it not my darling's wish? And I could not decently make any objection, for it was mighty convenient to have a pretty cottage, ready furnished, in one of the finest suburbs of the city in which I was employed.
Mrs. Pinkerton was a good woman in her way: how could she be anything else and the mother of such an angel as I had secured for my wife? She meant well, of course; I admitted that, and I ought to be on the pleasantest terms with her, and determined from the first that I would be. But somehow we were not congenial, and when that is the case the best people in the world find it hard to get along agreeably together.
The course of true love between Bessie and me had run very smooth. From the moment my old school-fellow, her brother George, now in Paris studying medicine, had introduced me to her, I had been completely won by her sweet disposition and charming ways, and she in turn was captivated by my manly independence, strong good sense, and generous impulses. I am not vain, but the truth is the truth; and, as I am telling this story myself, I must set down the facts. We fell in love right away, and it was not long before we were mutually convinced that we were made expressly for each other and could never be happy apart.
So it happened that I had to do the courting with the mother. She was the one to be won over, and it was not likely to be an easy task, for I plainly saw that she did not quite approve of me. When I was first introduced to her, she looked at me with her great, steady blue eyes, as if analyzing me to the very boots, and evidently set me down as a somewhat arrogant and self-sufficient young fellow who needed a judicious course of discipline to teach him humility. I was generally self-possessed and had no little confidence in myself, but I confess that I was embarrassed in her presence. She was not at all like Bessie, I thought. She had taught school in her youth, and had learned to command and be obeyed. The late Mr. Pinkerton, I fancied, had found it useless to contend against her authority, and this had increased her disposition to carry things her own way; and her seven years' widowhood, with its independence and self-reliance, had not prepared her to be submissive to the wishes of others.
Still, she loved her daughter with tender devotion, and her chief anxiety was to have her every wish gratified. Therein was my advantage, for I knew that Bessie, gentle and trusting as she was, would never give me up or allow her life to be happy without the gratification of her first love. So I set to work confidently to make myself agreeable to the widow and win her consent to our marriage.
"You must bring mamma around to approve of it," Bessie had said, on that ever-to-be-remembered evening, when we were returning from a long drive, and after an hour of sweet confidences she had surrendered herself without reserve to my future keeping. "She is the best mother in the world, and loves me very much, but she is peculiar in some ways, and I am afraid she doesn't altogether like you. I would not for the world displease her, that is, if I could help it," she added, glancing up, as much as to say, "It is all settled now forever and forevermore, whatever may befall, but do get my mother to consent to it with a good grace."
COURTING THE MOTHER.
Mrs. Pinkerton sat in an easy-chair near the window, doing nothing, when I marched in to begin the siege. I felt diffident and uneasy, although I am not usually troubled that way. But if I should live to the advanced age of Methusaleh, I could never forget Mrs. Pinkerton's appearance on that memorable occasion. Before I had spoken a word I saw that she knew what was coming, and had hardened her heart against me. She had anticipated all that I would say, had discounted my plea, as it were, and prejudged the whole case. Her look plainly said: "Young man, I know your pitiful story. You needn't tell me. You may be very well as young men go, you fancy you can more than fill a mother's place in Bessie's inexperienced heart, but you can't get me out. I am Adamant. Your intentions are all very honorable, but you are a graceless intruder. Your credentials are rejected on sight." I saw the difficult task I had undertaken. "Mrs. Pinkerton," I said, mustering all my forces, "it is no use mincing the matter, or beating about the shrubbery. I am in love with your daughter, and Bessie is in love with me. I believe I can make Bessie happy, and am sure nothing but Bessie can make me happy. I have come to ask your consent to our marriage." Then I hung my head like a whipped school-boy.
Mrs. Pinkerton took off her eye-glasses, and then put them on again with considerable care; after which she leveled a look at me and through me that made me feel like calling out "Murder!" or making for the door. But I stood my ground, and heard her say quietly,—
"So you are engaged to my daughter?"
A simple remark, but the tone meant "You are a puppy." I had to muster all my resolution to reply politely and coolly that, with her gracious consent, such was the fact.
"Are you aware that it is customary to obtain parental consent before proceeding to such lengths?"
"Mrs. Pinkerton, excuse me. I thought in my ignorance that it would be just as well to do that afterwards; or rather, I didn't think anything about it. I was so much in love with Bessie that it was all out before I knew it. If I had thought, of course I would have—"
"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Pinkerton, "if your kind of people ever thought, they would undoubtedly do differently. Bessie certainly ought to know better. Girls rush into matrimony now-a-days with as much carelessness as they would choose partners at a game of croquet. I should have been consulted in this. It is all wrong to allow young people to have such entire freedom in affairs of this kind as they are allowed in these days."
"But certainly, my dear Mrs. Pinkerton," I said, becoming somewhat impatient, "you will not refuse your consent in this case? Bessie's happiness—that is, the happiness of all of us, or—our happiness—Bessie's and mine, I would say—"
"No doubt your happiness is very important to yourself, Mr. Travers, and as to my daughter's well-being, I have looked to that for quite a number of years past, and I flatter myself I shall be able to look out for it in the future."
"Not if you insist on parting us!" I cried, getting out of patience and letting all my carefully prepared plans of assault go by the board. "You may withhold your consent, but that cannot prevent our loving each other!"
"Of course not. Nothing on earth can prevent young people who are in love from making themselves ridiculous. But getting married and living together soon cures them of sentimentalism."
"Won't you give us that chance to be cured then, my dear Mrs. Pinkerton?" I exclaimed, regaining a little tact.
She seemed to be taking it under advisement, and my courage came up a little. Then, looking at me with her peculiarly searching gaze, she said, "It isn't necessary to argue the case; I know all you would say. You love Bessie to distraction; you could not live without her; your heart would be hopelessly broken if you had to give her up; you will be true to her forever and a day; you offer her all of the good things of this world that any sane woman could desire, besides which you throw in an eternal, undying devotion; and so on, to the end of the chapter. We will consider that all said, and so save time and trouble. You think that ought to end the matter and bring me to your way of thinking. I wonder at the effrontery of young men, who walk into our households and carelessly tell us mothers what is best for our children, and assure us, between their puffs of tobacco smoke, that a case of three weeks' moonshining outweighs the devotion of a lifetime."
I began to see what course was open for me. The old lady was jealous, and I could not blame her. Her objections were general, not specific. Strategy must take the place of a direct assault. There flashed through my mind the ridiculous old nonsense rhyme quotation,—
"I must soften the heart of this terrible cow."
I said gently, "I can readily see how a mother must regard the claims of the man who comes to her demanding her most precious treasure; and what you say makes me feel how presumptuous my demand must seem. I love your daughter—that must be my only excuse. And after all, what has happened was only what a mother must expect. Your daughter's love will not be the less yours because she also loves the man of her choice. That she should love and be loved was inevitable."
"We will not go into the discussion any further," she interrupted. "I don't wish to say anything uncomplimentary of you personally, but I simply am not prepared to give my daughter up at present. My opinion of men in general is good, so long as they do not interfere with me or mine."
(Mental note: "May there be precious little interference between us!")
"Your judgment is doubtless good," I said, smiling; "but there are exceptions which prove the rule, and I hope you will find that even I will improve upon acquaintance."
"Your conceit is abominable, young man."
"Thank you. I have found no one who could flatter me except myself, so I lose no opportunity to give myself a good character."
"Especially in addressing the mother of the woman you wish to marry, eh?"
"Precisely, as she is naturally prejudiced against me. My dear Mrs. Pinkerton, what must I do to please you?"
"Hold your tongue!"
"Anything but that. You admit that I am a good fellow enough, and that Bessie would probably marry some one in course of time. Now, I don't see why you cannot make us both happy by giving your consent. It costs you a pang to do it. I honor you for that. Give me the right to console you."
"By making myself an object of pity? No, not yet, not yet. I must, at least, have time to think."
I inwardly cursed my luck. How long was this sort of thing going to last? I was about to rise and take my leave, when an inspiration struck me.
"Mrs. Pinkerton," I said gravely, "what you have said of the ties that exist between you and your daughter has touched me deeply. I believe we young people do not half appreciate a mother's unchanging love. It lies so far beneath the surface that we are too apt to forget its constant blessing. My mother died when I was very young. Ah, if she were only here now, to plead my cause for me!"
With these words, I turned on my heel and hastily got out of the room. I went into the garden and lighted a cigar, the better to think over the situation. I could not determine what progress, if any, I had made in the good graces of Mrs. Pinkerton. While I was cogitating, Bessie came out and approached me with an inquiring look. I am afraid my returning glance did not greatly reassure her. As she came up and took my arm, she said,—
"Well! No, it's not very well. I am beaten, my dear. Your mother is simply a stony-hearted parent!"
"What did she say?"
"Oh, she wants you to grow up an old maid—as if such a thing were possible!—and says that lovers have no idea of what a mean, cruel thing it is to rob people of only daughters; and that she shall require time to think of it. What do you think of that?"
Bessie knitted her pretty brows, and dug her toes into the walk.
"Perhaps I had better go to her?" she said.
"Of course you must. But I know it won't be of any use just yet. We must, as she says, give her time. She will come around all right at the end of nine or ten years. The fact is, Bessie, she's a little bit jealous of me and regards me as an intruder."
"Poor, dear mamma!" said Bessie, her eyes becoming moist.
"Poor, dear pussy-cat! You should have seen her shoot me with her eyes and ridicule my honest sentiment. She used me roughly, my dear, and I can't help wondering at my amazing politeness to her."
Bessie was not discouraged. She had several interviews with her mother, in which protestations, tears, smiles, and coaxings played a part, but there was no apparent change of heart on the part of the old lady, after all. I don't know how long this disagreeable state of affairs would have continued under ordinary circumstances, had not an unexpected, thrilling, and, as it happened, fortunate occurrence hastened a crisis and brought an end to the siege. It was a very singular thing, and it seemed to have been pre-arranged to bring me glory, and, what was better, the desired goodwill of the "stony-hearted parent."
If there was any one thing that the worthy Mrs. Pinkerton detested more than men and tobacco, that thing was a burglar. Add fear to detestation, and you will see that when I defended the old lady from the attentions of a burglar, I had taken a long step into her good graces.
It was a week after the interview narrated above, and in the early summer, Mrs. Pinkerton had gone down to a quiet sea-side resort for a short stay, thinking to get away from me; but I was not to be put off so. I followed her, taking a room at the same hotel.
About one o'clock at night, the particular burglar to whom I owe so much, effected an entrance into the hotel through a basement window, and quietly made his way up stairs. Every one was asleep except myself, and I was planning all sorts of expedients to conquer the prejudices of my mother-in-law that was to be. Mrs. Pinkerton's room opened on a long corridor, near the end of which my modest seven-by-nine snuggery was situated. It was a warm night, and the transoms over the doors of almost all the bed-chambers had been left open to admit the air. A gleam of light from a dark-lantern, coming through my transom, was what led me to hastily don a pair of trousers and take my revolver from my valise. Then I opened my door very cautiously, without having struck a light, and could see—nothing! I waited a few moments, almost holding my breath. At the end of those few moments I could make out the form of a man swarming over the top of the door of Mrs. Pinkerton's room. His head and shoulders were already inside the room, and I could see his legs wriggle about as he noiselessly wormed his way through the narrow transom. It took me but a brief second of time to glide forward on tiptoe and mount the same chair which had been used by the intruder in climbing to the transom. This done, I seized both the wriggling legs simultaneously, and gave a tremendous pull.
My excitement must have imbued me with double my natural strength, and the result of that pull was simply indescribable. Burglar, transom-glass, chair and all, went in a heap on the floor of the corridor, producing the most appalling and unearthly racket conceivable. The whole house was in an uproar in a moment. People seemed to spring up from every square foot of floor in the corridor as if by magic. Cries of "Fire!" "Murder!" "Help!" and screams of frightened women, rose on every hand. The costumes which I beheld on that momentous occasion were not only varied but exceedingly amusing and picturesque as well. The assembled multitude found nothing to interest them, however. I alone was to be seen, seated on a broken chair, with a rapidly swelling black eye, while broken glass and an extinguished lantern lay on the floor. I told the male guests what had happened. The burglar had not waited to ask for my card, but had contented himself with planting one blow from the shoulder on my left eye, before I could get upon my legs. And my revolver. Well, I had not had the ghost of a chance to use it. It was in my pocket. Fifteen minutes after the fracas, Mrs. Pinkerton came to my room, completely dressed, and insisted upon coming in to hear all about it and to overwhelm me with thanks and admiration. I was as modest as heroes proverbially are, and then and there told her never to refer to the subject again unless she addressed me as Bessie's betrothed.
We went riding together, Bessie, Mrs. Pinkerton, and I, the day after this episode; and without any previous indication of an approaching thaw, that singular old lady began to talk freely about what should be worn at "the wedding," referring to it as though she had been the principal agent in bringing it about.
So it was that I brought my darling's mother around to consent, if not with a very good grace, still with apparent cheerfulness, and she at once took the direction of the nuptial preparations. I made a show of consulting her about many things, but she invariably gave me to understand that her experience and superior knowledge in such matters were not to be gainsaid. I was willing to leave to her all the fuss and frippery of preparing clothes for her daughter. It always seemed to me that she had clothes enough, and clothes that were good enough for married life. I couldn't understand why a young woman, on becoming a wife, should need a lot of new and elaborate dresses, such as she had never worn and never cared to wear, and an endless variety of under-garments of mysterious and incomprehensible make, with frills and fringes and laces and edgings, as if, up to that time, she had never had anything next to her precious person, except what was visible to the exterior world. And even assuming that she donned these things for the first time as parts of a manifold and complicated wedding garment, why should so much fine needle-work and delicate trimming be prepared to be stowed away out of sight of prying mortals, for whose vision women are presumed to dress themselves? Are they got up to show to friends and excite envy, and to fill the minds of other young people with a sense of the difficulties of getting married?
One day, when I happened in,—by accident, of course,—and the mother happened to be out on one of her many pilgrimages to town, Bessie took me up to her room in a half-frightened way, as if doing something that she was afraid was terribly improper, and showed me a bewildering profusion of these things, neatly tucked away in bureau drawers. I laughed outright, and asked her who was to see all that finery. She was vexed and bit her lip, and I was sorry and voted myself a brute. From that moment, I determined not to say a word about the clothes, except to express unstinted admiration.
There was not only clothing, but blankets and quilts and bed linen, though we were to live in her old home, which was already well supplied. One would suppose that a large and sudden increase of family was expected at once. These things annoyed me as senseless, and as absorbing so much of my Bessie's attention that we didn't have half the blissful times together that we had before our engagement was an acknowledged thing. But I knew that it was the mother's doings. Bessie did not really have any foolish care for dress, though always beautifully arrayed without any apparent effort; but she supposed it was the proper thing, and submitted to her mother.
But there was one thing I set my heart on. I wanted a quiet wedding, without display or pretence. It did seem to me that this was a private occasion in which the wishes of the persons chiefly concerned should be consulted. It was their business and should be conducted in their own way. Bessie sympathized with me, and wanted of all things to go to church quietly and privately, and then, after a leave-taking with a few intimate friends at home, start right off on our proposed trip to the White Mountains. But no; we were inexperienced, and the widow knew what the occasion demanded much better than we did. She was a little grand in her ideas, and felt the importance of keeping on good terms with society. I was disposed to apply profane epithets to society, and to insist that this marriage was mine and Bessie's, and nobody's else. But what was the use? There would be unpleasant feelings, and the mamma must be conciliated, and so I yielded after a warm but altogether affectionate little controversy with Bessie.
Every time I came to the house now, I was informed of some new feature which Mrs. P. had decided upon as indispensable to the gorgeousness of the occasion.
"Have you ordered your dress suit yet?" she asked one evening.
"Dress suit? Oh yes. I had almost forgotten that."
"And, by the way, those cards? I think you had better send them out: you write such a good, legible hand."
"Y-e-s, oh yes. With pleasure."
"When you go to the city to-morrow, I wish you would drop in at Draper's and get me a few little things. I have made out a list, so it won't be any trouble to you."
"No trouble at all. Glad to do it."
"That white ribbon should be medium width. And before I forget it, have you written yet to your friend De Forest about his standing up?"
"No, I forgot it. I'll drop him a line to-morrow. But what do you want that ribbon to be so long for?"
"That is to be held across the aisle by the ushers, you know, to keep off the ignobile vulgus. You and Bessie will march up here, you see, preceded by the four ushers and the bridesmaids and groomsmen, who will then range themselves off this way. The members of the families and the friends will be separated from the other people thus. It's very pretty. Belle Graham was married that way at St. Thomas's, and everybody said it was splendid."
This is the kind of talk I had to listen to for weeks, and is it any wonder that I grew thin and had sleepless nights?
I was now a mere puppet in the hands of Mrs. Pinkerton, and came and went as she pulled the wires. She had arranged that the affair was to take place in "her church"—and a very fashionable temple of worship it was. Her rector was to officiate, assisted by the vealy young man who had just graduated from the theological seminary. There were to be four bridesmaids and an equal number of groomsmen and of ushers. I should have liked to have something to say about who should "stand up" with us, as Mrs. Pinkerton expressed it; but when I timidly suggested that some of my friends would be available for the purpose, I was taken aback to learn that the entire list had been made up and decided upon without my knowledge, and that only one of the groomsmen chosen was a friend of mine,—De Forest,—the others being young men whom the worthy Mrs. Pinkerton had selected from her list of society people. One of the young men was a downright fool, if I must call things by their right names, but he dressed to perfection; the remaining two I scarcely knew by sight, but I did know that one of them had seen the time when he aspired to occupy the place I was now filling in respect to the Pinkerton household: need I say more concerning my sentiments regarding him?
The ushers,—well, of course, they were the four young gentlemen who knew everybody who was anybody, and I could not object to them, considering that they charged nothing for their onerous services.
The bridesmaids were all old school friends of Bessie's, and two of them were considered pretty, and the other two were stylish.
One of my keenest regrets was that Bessie's brother George was away off in Paris, and could not grace the occasion with his superb presence; for he was a superb fellow in all respects, and I felt a true brotherly affection for him. Had he not introduced me to Bessie? Had he not always wanted me to become his brother-in-law?
The great day came at last. The town was full of the invited people, and the weather, so anxiously looked to on such occasions, was all that could be desired. My remembrance of the solemn events of that day is now rather misty. I remember the tussle De Forest and I had with my collar and cravat in the morning, and how he stuck pins into my neck, and wrestled mightily with his own elaborate toilet. I remember, and this very distinctly, how awfully tight were my new patent-leather boots, which caused me for the time being the most excruciating anguish. Beyond these, and similar minor things which have a way of sticking in the memory, all the rest is very much like a vivid dream. The close carriage whirling through the streets; a great crush of people, with here and there a familiar, smiling face; Bessie in her wedding-dress of white silk, with her long veil and twining garlands of orange blossoms; the bridesmaids, radiant in tarletan, with pretty blue bows and sashes; the long aisle, up which we marched with slow and reverent tread; the pealing measures of the Wedding Chorus; the dignified and fatherly clergyman; the vealy young assistant; the unction of the slowly intoned words of the marriage-service; the fumbling for the ring,—and through it all there rises, as out of a mist, the face of my mother-in-law, the presiding genius of it all, the unknown quantity in the equation of my married life, now begun amid the felicitations, more or less sincere, of a host of kissing, hand-shaking, smiling, chattering, good-natured aunts, uncles, cousins, and relatives of all degrees.
MOUNTAINS AND MORE MOTHER-IN-LAW.
So the bells were rung, metaphorically speaking, and we were wed. I had a long leave of absence from the banking-house in which I held a responsible and confidential position, and we started for the mountains, leaving mamma Pinkerton to put things to rights and follow us in a fortnight, when we had decided to settle down for a month's quiet stay in a picturesque town of the mountain region. Oh, the unrestrained joy of that fortnight! Everybody at the hotels seemed to know by instinct that we were a newly-married pair, and knowing glances passed between them. But what did we care? With pride and a conscious embarrassment that made my hand tremble, I wrote on the registers in a bold hand "Charles Travers and wife." I asked for the best room with a pleasant out-look. The smiling clerk, trained to dissimulation, would appear as unconscious as the blank safe behind him, but he knew all the while, the sly rascal, that we were on a wedding trip, and he paid special attention to our comfort. We saw the glories and wonders of the mountains, and shared their inspiration as with a single heart. We rose early to drink the clear air and greet the rising sun together. We strolled out in the evening to romantic spots, and there, with arms around each other, as we walked or stood gazing on the scene and listening to the rustling breeze, we were happy. For two weeks our lives blended with each other and with nature, and it was with a sigh that we mounted the lumbering stage to take up our sojourn in the retired town on the hills. We came to the little hotel just at night, and were stared at and commented upon by those who had been there three days and assumed the air of having had possession for years. We were tired, and kept aloof that evening, and the next day mother-in-law arrived.
As she dismounted from the coach, she gave the driver a severe warning to be careful of her trunk, an iron-bound treasure that would have defied the efforts of the most determined baggage-smasher. Bessie had flown to meet her, and their greeting was affectionate; but to me the old lady presented a hand encased in a mitt, or sort of glove with amputated fingers, and gave me a stately, "I hope you are well, sir," that rather made me feel sick. She looked full at me in her steady and commanding way, as much as to say, "Well, you have committed no atrocious crime yet, I suppose; but I am rather surprised at it."
If there is anything I pride myself on, it is self-possession and a willingness to face anybody and give as good as I get, but that magnificently imperious way of looking with those large eyes always disconcerted me. I could not brace myself enough to meet them with any show of impudence, though the old lady had not ceased to regard that as the chief trait of my character. As Mrs. Pinkerton trod with stately step the rude piazza of that summer hotel, she put her eye-glasses on and surveyed its occupants with a look that made them shrink into themselves and feel ashamed to be sitting about in that idle way. I believe the old lady's eyesight was good enough, and that she used her glasses, with their gold bows and the slender chain with which they were suspended about her neck, for effect. I noticed that if they were not on she always put them on to look at anything, and if they happened to be on she took them off for the same purpose.
"Well," she said, going into the little parlor, and looking from the windows, "this really seems to be a fine situation. The view of the mountains is quite grand."
"Very kind of you to approve of the mountains, but you could give them points on grandeur," I thought; but I merely remarked, "We find it quite pleasant here."
She turned and glanced at me without reply, as much as to say, "Who addressed you, sir? You would do well to speak when you are spoken to." I was abashed, but was determined to do the agreeable so far as I could, in spite of the rebuke of those eyes.
"The house doesn't seem to me to be very attractive," she continued, glancing around with a gaze that took in everything through all the partition walls, and assuming a tone that meant, "I am speaking to you, Bessie, and no one else." "What sort of people are there here?"
"Oh, some very pleasant people, I should judge," said Bessie, "but we have been here only one day, you know, and have made no acquaintances to speak of. Charlie's friend, Fred Marston, from the city, is here with his wife; and I met a young lady to whom I took quite a fancy this morning, a Miss Van Duzen. She is quite wealthy, and an orphan, and is here with her uncle, a fine-looking gentleman, who is president of a bank, or an insurance company, or some thing of the sort. You saw him, I think, on the piazza,—the large man, with gray side-whiskers, white vest, and heavy gold chain."
"Yes, I noticed him. A pompous-looking old gentleman, isn't he?"
"Oh, he is dignified in his manner, but not at all pompous," was the reply.
"Well, I call him pompous, if looks mean anything," said the mother, with the air of one to whom looks were quite sufficient. "I think I will go to my room," she added, and turned a glance on me, as much as to say, "You needn't come, sir." I had no intention of going, and wandered out on the piazza, feeling as though Bessie had almost been taken away from me again.
When she rejoined me, leaving her mother above stairs, I asked, "What does she think of her room?"
"Well, it doesn't quite suit her. She thinks the furniture scanty and shabby, water scarce, towels rather coarse, and she can't endure the sight of a kerosene lamp; but she will make herself quite comfortable, I dare say."
"And everybody else uncomfortable," I felt like adding, but restrained myself.
She came down to tea, and being offered a seat on the other side of me from Bessie, firmly declined it, and took the one on the other side of her daughter from me. As she unfolded her napkin she took in the whole table with a searching glance, and had formed a quick estimate of everybody sitting around it. Miss Clara Van Duzen and Mr. Desmond, her uncle, sat opposite, and an introduction across the table took place. The young lady was vivacious and talkative, and tried to make herself agreeable, but my mother-in-law did not like what she afterwards called her "chatter," and set her down as a frivolous young person. "Miss Van," as everybody called her, with her own approval,—for, as she said, she detested the Duzen which her Dutch ancestors had bequeathed her with their other property,—was of New York Knickerbocker origin, now living with her uncle in Boston, and was by no means frivolous, though uncommonly lively. She had fine, brown eyes, beautiful hair, and a complexion that defied sun and wind. It had the rosy glow of health, and indicated a good digestion and high spirits. Mr. Desmond seemed to be mostly white vest, immaculate shirt-front, and gold chain, the last-named article being very heavy and meandering through the button-holes of his vest and up around his invisible neck. He said little, and was evidently not much given to light conversation. He was very gracious in his attentions to the ladies, however, and seemed to pay special deference to Mrs. Pinkerton. I afterwards learned that he was a widower of long standing, without chick or child, and the guardian of his niece, whom he regarded with great admiration.
Down at the other end of the table was Marston, evidently giving vent to his impatience about something, and his wife, with fierce eyes, telling him, in manner if not in words, not to make a fool of himself. The rest of the company was made up either of transient visitors or of persons with whom this story has nothing in particular to do.
As we emerged on the piazza after tea, Fred, who had impolitely gone out in advance, called out, "Charlie, old boy, come over here and have a smoke!"
I must confess that these long sittings on the piazzas of summer hotels had lured me back to my old habits, which I had forsworn in my efforts to conciliate Bessie's mother. Bessie had encouraged me in it, for to tell the truth she rather liked the fragrance of a good cigar, and dearly loved to see me enjoying it. It was my nature to defy the whole world and be master of my own habits, but I had felt a mean inclination, after mother-in-law joined the party, to slink away and smoke on the sly. There was nothing for it now, however, but to put on a bold face, or play the hypocrite and pretend I didn't smoke. The latter I would not do, and if I had attempted it, it wouldn't go down with Fred, and I should have been in a worse predicament than ever. I went boldly across the piazza and took the proffered cigar. Glancing out at the corner of my eye as I was lighting it, I saw my mother-in-law regarding me through her glasses with increased disfavor. She did not, however, seem to be surprised, and doubtless believed me capable of any perfidy.
"I say, Charlie, old boy, let's have a game of billiards," said Fred, after a few puffs. "I'll give you twenty points and beat you out of your boots." Now I was very fond of billiards, and usually didn't care who knew it, but Mrs. Pinkerton did not approve of the game, and had no knowledge that I indulged in it. But Fred would speak in that absurd shouting way of his, and all the ladies heard him. Again I mustered up resolution and went into the billiard room, but I played very indifferently, and was thinking all the time of my mother-in-law and her opinion of me. I really wanted to get into her good graces, but it required the sacrifice of all my own inclinations, and I despised a man who deliberately played the hypocrite to win anybody's favor.
After two or three listless games I said to Fred, "I guess I will join the ladies." I was feeling some qualms of conscience for staying away from Bessie a whole hour at once.
"Oh, hang the ladies!" was Fred's graceless response; "they can take care of themselves. My wife gets along well enough without me, I know, and yours will soon learn to be quite comfortable without your guardian presence; besides she's got her mother now. By the way, what a mighty grand old dowager Mrs. Pink is!"
"Pinkerton is her name," I said, a little haughtily, as if resenting the liberty he took with my mother-in-law's cognomen.
"Oh, yes, I know, but the name is too long; and besides, she reminds one of a full-blown pink, a little on the fade, perhaps, but still with a good deal of bloom about her. Is she going to live with you? Precious fine time you will have!" he added, having received his answer by a nod. "She'll boss the shebang, you bet!"
"Oh, I guess not," I answered, not liking his slangy way of talking about my affairs, and resolving in my own mind that I would be master in my own house.
"Well, then there'll be a fine old tussle for supremacy, and don't you forget it!"
With this remark Fred wandered off down the dusty road, humming Madame Angot, and I drew up a chair by Bessie's side. She had evidently been wishing I would come. Mr. Desmond was sitting a little apart from the rest, twisting his fingers in his watch-chain and looking intently at the mountain-top opposite, as if expecting somebody to come over with a dispatch for him. Mrs. Pinkerton sat by her daughter's side in calm grandeur, her gray puffs—that fine silver-gray that comes prematurely on aristocratic brows—seeming like appendages of a queenly diadem. Miss Van had been diverting the company with a lively account of her day's adventures. She was always having adventures, and had a faculty of relating them that was little short of genius.
"Well, my dear, are you having a good time?" I murmured in Bessie's ear.
"Oh, yes; but I was feeling a little lonesome without you."
The conversation degenerated into commonplace about the scenery and points of interest in the neighborhood, and after a while the company dispersed with polite good-evenings.
When we reached our room, I remarked to Bessie, who seemed more quiet than usual, "I hope your mother will like it here."
"Oh, yes, I guess she will like it when she has been here a little while," was the answer. "You know she has not been away from home much, of late years, except to the seaside with the Watsons and other of her old friends, and she does not adapt herself readily to strange company."
I said nothing more, but was absorbed in thought about my mother-in-law. It is evident by this time that she was no ordinary woman, no coarse or waspish mother-in-law, but a woman of good breeding and the highest character. She was intelligent and well-informed, a consistent member of the Episcopal Church, with the highest views of propriety and a reverential regard for the rules of conduct laid down by good society. This made her all the harder to deal with. If she were a common or vulgar sort of mother-in-law, I could assert my prerogatives without compunction; and I was forced to admit that she was a very worthy woman, and not given to petty meddling, but I felt that her presence was an awful restraint. Without her we could have such good times, going and coming as we pleased, and acting with entire freedom; but she must be counted in, and was a factor that materially affected the result. She could not be ignored; her opinions could not be disregarded. That would be rude, and besides, their influence would make itself felt. Strange, the irresistible effect of a presence upon one! She might not openly interfere or directly oppose, but there she was, and she didn't approve of me or like my friends, could not fall in with my ways or my wishes, and make one of any company in which I should feel at ease, and I knew that her presence would be depressing, and spoil our summer's pleasure; and after that was over and we were at home, what? Well, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. We slept the sound sleep that mountain and country quiet brings, and took the chances of the future.
THE RISE AND FALL.
During the next week of our stay at the Fairview hotel, it grew rather dull. There was little to do but drive on the long country roads, or wander over the hills and in the fields and woods. I could have found plenty of pleasure in that with Bessie and a party of congenial friends, but it didn't seem to be right always to leave my worthy mother-in-law behind, with her crochet work or the last new novel from the city, on the sunny piazza or in her dim little chamber. She was not averse to drives, in fact enjoyed them very much, but she seemed to divine that I did not really want her company, though I protested, as became a dutiful son-in-law, that I should be very glad to take her at any time. She did go with us once or twice, but the laughter and romping behavior which gave our rides their chief zest were extinguished, and we jogged along in the most proper manner, professing admiration for the outlines of the hills and the far-away stretches of scenery between the more distant mountains. We returned as quiet and demure as if we had been to a funeral. Mrs. Pinkerton saw the effect, and with her fine feeling of independence, she politely but firmly declined to go afterwards. As for walking on anything but level sidewalks or gravel-paths, she could not think of such a thing. The idea of her climbing a hill or getting herself over a fence seemed ridiculous to anybody that knew her.
So it was that we were continually forced to leave her behind, or deny ourselves the chief recreation of the country. I was sincerely disinclined to slight her in any way, and desirous of contributing to her pleasure, but what could I do? A fellow can't get an iceberg to enjoy tropical sunshine. Our dislike to leave the old lady alone, although she insisted that she didn't mind it at all, led us to pass a large portion of each day, sometimes all day, about the house. It was "deuced stupid," to use Marston's elegant phrase, but there was little to do for it. To be sure, there was Desmond, "old Dives," Fred called him. He seldom went out of sight of the house, but he had a perfect mail-bag of newspapers and letters every morning, and spent the forenoon indoors, holding sweet communion with them and answering his correspondents. In the afternoon he sat on the piazza by the hour, contemplating the mountain-top that had such a fascination for him. He had a prodigious amount of information on all manner of subjects, and a quick and accurate judgment; but he was generally very reticent, as he tipped back in his chair and twisted his fingers in and out of that fine gold chain. My mother-in-law, from her shady nook of the piazza, would glance at him occasionally from her work or her book, as much as to say, "It is strange people can't make some effort to be agreeable, instead of being so stiff and dignified all the afternoon"; but he seemed unconscious of her looks and her mental comments. His thoughts were probably in the marts of trade.
Fred was continually going off to distant towns, or down to the great hotels in the mountains, for livelier diversion. His wife often insisted on going with him, to his evident disgust, not because she cared to be in his company, but because she wanted to go to the same places and could not well go alone. Now, Fred wasn't a bad fellow at heart. I had known him for years, and used to like him exceedingly. But he was left without a father at an early age, with a considerable fortune, and his mother was indulgent and not overwise. He got rather fast as he grew up, and then he contracted a thoughtless marriage with Lizzie Carleton, a handsome and stylish young lady, fond of dress and gay society, and without a notion of domestic responsibility or duty. Like most women who are not positively bad, she had in her heart a desire to be right, but she didn't know how. She was all impulse, and gave way to whims and feelings, as if helpless in any effort to manage her own waywardness. As a natural consequence there were constant jars between the pair. Fred took to his clubs and mingled with men of the race-course and the billiard halls, and Lizzie beguiled herself as best she could with her fashionable friends.
And where was Miss Van Duzen these long and tedious days? They were never tedious to her, for she was always on the go. She would go off alone on interminable strolls, and bring back loads of flowers and strange plants, and she could tell all about them too. Her knowledge of botany was wonderful, and she could make very clever sketches; she would sit by the hour on some lonely rock, putting picturesque scenery on paper, just for the love of it; for when the pictures were done she would give them away or throw them away without the least compunction. She had a fine sense of the ludicrous and was all the time seeing funny things, which she described in a manner quite inimitable. She had grown up in New York, before her father's death, in the most select of Knickerbocker circles, but there was not a trace of aristocracy in her ways. She was sociable with the ostler and the office-boy, and agreeable to the neighboring farmers, talking with them with a spirit that quite delighted them. And yet there was nothing free and easy in her ways that encouraged undue familiarity. It was merely natural ease and good nature. She inspired respect in everybody but my mother-in-law, who was puzzled with her conduct, so different from her own ideas of propriety, and yet so free from real vulgarity. Mrs. Pinkerton could by no means approve of her, and yet she could accuse her of no offence which the most rigid could seriously censure.
Miss Van was the life of the company when she was about, telling of her adventures, getting up impromptu amusements in the parlor, and planning excursions. She was the only person in the world, probably, who was quite familiar with Mr. Desmond, and she would sit on his knee, pull his whiskers, and call him an "awful glum old fogy," whereat he would laugh and say she had gayety enough for them both. He admired and loved her for the very qualities that he lacked.
All this while I was trying to win the gracious favor of my mother-in-law, but it was up-hill work. She would answer me with severe politeness, and volunteer an occasional remark intended to be pleasant, but the moment I seemed to be gaining headway, a turn at billiards with Marston, for whom she had a great aversion, a thoughtless expression with a flavor of profanity in it, or my cigars, which I now indulged in without restraint, brought back her freezing air of disapproval.
"Oh, dear!" I yawned sometimes, "why can't I go ahead and enjoy myself without minding that very respectable and severe old woman?" But I couldn't do it. I was always feeling the influence of those eyes, and even of her thoughts. I couldn't get away from it. Sunday came, and Mrs. Pinkerton expressed the hope that we were to attend divine service together. I hadn't thought of it till that moment, and then it struck me as a terrible bore. There was no church within ten miles except a little white, meek edifice in the neighboring village, occupied alternately by Methodist and Baptist expounders of a very Calvinistic, and, to me, a very unattractive sort of religion. It was not altogether to my mother-in-law's liking, but she regarded any church as far better than none.
"I presume you will go, sir," she said, addressing me when I made no reply to the previous hint. She always used "sir," with a peculiar emphasis, when any suggestion was intended to have the force of a command.
"Well, really, I had not thought about it," I said, rather vexed, as I secretly made up my mind, reckless of my policy of conciliation, that I would not go at any price. A tedious, droning sermon of an hour and perhaps an hour and a half in a country church, full of dismal doctrines,—the sermon, not the church,—I couldn't stand, I thought.
Mrs. Pinkerton's eyes were upon me, waiting for a more definite answer. "I—well, no, I don't think I really feel like it this morning. I thought I would read to Bessie quietly in our room, and take a rest."
"Very well, sir," she said, "Bessie and I will walk down to the village."
"The deuce you will!" I thought; "walk a mile and a half on a dusty road; to be bored!" I knew it was useless to protest, and I was too wilful to take back what I had said, have the team harnessed, and go, like a good fellow, to church. "No, I'll be blowed if I do!" I muttered.
So off went the widow and her daughter without me. Bessie tripped around to me on the piazza, looking like a fairy in her white dress and bit of blue ribbon, gave me a sweet kiss, and said, "I'll be back before dinner. Have a nice quiet time, now."
"Oh, yes; have a nice quiet time, and you gone off with that old dragon!" It was a wicked thought, for she was not a bit of a dragon, but the feeling came over me that I was going to feel miserable all the forenoon, and so I did. Miss Van and her uncle had gone early to the neighboring town, the largest in the county, for church and the opportunity of observing; Fred and his wife had gone, the night before, round to the other side of the mountains, where there was to be a sort of ball or hop at the leading hotel; and the rest of the people in the house might as well have been in the moon, for all that I cared about them. A nice quiet time! Oh, yes; lounging about and trying to think of something besides Mrs. Pinkerton and my own shabby behavior. I would ten times rather have been in the dullest country church that ever echoed to the voice of the old and unimproved theology of Calvin's day. But I was in for it, and lay in the hammock and looked through the stables, tried to read, tried to sleep, started on a walk and came back, and almost cursed the quiet country Sunday, as specially calculated to make a man of sense feel wretched.
At last Bessie and her mother returned, and we had dinner. In the afternoon I was an outcast from Mrs. Pinkerton's favor, but I had Bessie and read to her, and, on the whole, got through the rest of the day comfortably.
The week following I began to feel that this was getting tiresome. Under other circumstances it might be very pleasant, but really I began to doubt whether I was enjoying it. But I made up my mind that during these days of leisure I ought to be making progress in the favor of my mother-in-law, with whom I was destined to live, nobody could say how many years. I couldn't and wouldn't make a martyr or a hypocrite of myself. I wouldn't conceal my actions or deny myself freedom. So I smoked with Fred, played billiards, rolled ten-pins with Fred's wife and Miss Van, and even beguiled Bessie into that vigorous and healthful exercise, which brought a gentle reprimand from her mother, addressed to her but directed at me. She did not think that kind of amusement becoming to ladies who had a proper respect for themselves.
"Why, mamma, Miss Van Duzen plays, and says she thinks it jolly fun," said Bessie innocently.
"That doesn't alter the case in the least," was the rejoinder. "Miss Van Duzen can judge for herself. I don't think it proper. Besides, your husband's familiar way with those ladies—one of whom is married and no better than she ought to be, if appearances mean anything—does not please me at all."
"O mamma, how absurd! I see no harm in it at all, and poor Lizzie, I am sure, never means any harm."
"Well, well, my dear, I don't wish to say anything about other people, and I only hope you will never have occasion to see any harm in your husband's evident preference for the company of people with loose notions about proper and becoming behavior."
On Saturday of that week a little incident occurred that raised me perceptibly in Mrs. Pinkerton's estimation. The great, lumbering stage-coach came up just at evening, more heavily laden than usual, and top-heavy with trunks piled up on the roof. The driver dashed along with his customary recklessness, the six horses breaking into a canter as they turned to come up the rather steep acclivity to the house. The coach was drawn about a foot from its usual rut, one of the wheels struck a projecting stone, and over went the huge vehicle, passengers, trunks, and all. The driver took a terrible leap and was stunned. The horses stopped and looked calmly around on the havoc. There was great consternation in and about the house. Here my natural self-possession came into full play. I took command of the situation at once, directed prompt and vigorous efforts to the extrication of the passengers, had the injured ones taken into the house, applied proper restoratives, and in a few minutes ascertained that only one was seriously hurt. She was a young girl, who had insisted on riding outside, higher up even than the driver. She had been thrown headlong, striking, fortunately, on the grass, but terribly bruising one side of her face and dislocating her left shoulder. In a trice I had made her as comfortable as possible; dashed down to the village for the nearest doctor, having had the forethought to order a team harnessed in anticipation of such a necessity; and, having started the doctor up in a hurry, kept on to the neighboring county town for a surgeon who had considerable local reputation. I had him on the ground in a surprisingly short time, and before bedtime the unfortunate girl was put in the way of recovery, having received no internal injury.
My behavior in this affair, as I said, gave me a lift in my mother-in-law's estimation, and of course filled Bessie with the most unbounded admiration, though I had never thought of the moral effect of my action. In the morning I determined to follow up my advantage. It was Sunday again, and I bespoke the team early, to go to the neighboring town, where there was an Episcopal church, and where, for that day, a distinguished divine from the city, who was spending his vacation in those parts, was to hold forth. When I had announced my preparation for the religious observance of the day, I actually received what was almost a smile of approval from my mother-in-law. I enjoyed the ride, and was not greatly bored by the service, for I was thinking of something else most of the time, or amusing my mind with the native congregation. We got back late to dinner, and the rest had left the dining-room. The ladies went in without removing their bonnets, and after dinner retired to their rooms.
As I came out on the piazza, Fred, who was walking about in a restless way, puffing his cigar with a sort of ferocity, as though determined to put it through as speedily as possible, shouted, "Hello! Charlie, old boy, where the eternal furies have you been? Here I have been about this dead, sleepy, stupid place all the morning, with nothing to do and nobody to speak to!"
"Why, where's Mrs. M.?"
"Lib? Oh, she's been here, but then she was reading a ghastly stupid novel, and wasn't company; and she went off to the big boarding-house down the road half a mile, to dine with a friend. I wouldn't go to the blasted place, and really think she didn't want me to. But where in thunder were you all the while?"
"At church, to be sure, with my wife and her mother."
"Oh, yes!" was the reply, peculiarly prolonged, as if the idea never occurred to him before. "How long since you became so pious, old man? Didn't suppose you knew what the inside of a church was used for. The outside is mainly useful to put a clock on, where it can be seen. Old Pink,—beg pardon! Mrs. Pinkerton,—I suppose, dragged you along by main force."
"Not at all. I went of my own motion; in fact, suggested it to the ladies."
"You don't say so! Well, I see she is bringing you around. It is she that is destined to gain the supremacy."
"Pshaw! Is my going to church such an indication of submission? It wouldn't do you any harm to go to church once in a while, Fred."
"Well, I don't know about that," he said, taking out his cigar, and stretching his feet to the top of the balustrade; "I don't know about that. I am afraid it might be the ruin of me. I might become awfully pious, and then what a stick and a moping man of rags I should become. I tell you, Charlie, my boy, there's many a good fellow spoilt by too much church and Sunday school."
"Perhaps," I replied, "but you and I are beyond danger."
"Well, yes, but you can't be too careful of yourself, you know."
There was no answering that, and we relapsed into commonplace, and finished our cigars.
"Where's old Dives to-day, and his charming niece, the lively Van?" asked Fred, after an uncommon fit of silent contemplation.
"They went over to some town thirty or forty miles away, yesterday, and haven't got back," I replied.
"I tell you, that girl knows how to circumvent these stupid Sundays, don't she, though? And she takes old Dives along wherever she wants to go. I believe she would take him where the other Dives went, if she was disposed to take a trip there herself. But, holy Jerusalem! what are we to do to get through the rest of the day. No company, no billiards, no fishing. Confound the prejudices of society. I tell you, it is just such women as that mother-in-law of yours that keep society intimidated, as it were, into artificial proprieties. Now where's the harm of a pleasant game on a Sunday, more than sitting here and grumbling and cursing because there's nothing to do?"
I made no reply, and Fred lighted another cigar. He was evidently thinking of something. "Look here, old fellow," he said at length in an undertone, something very unusual with him, "come up to my room. You haven't seen it. Lib won't be back till teatime, and perhaps we can find something to amuse ourselves."
He led the way and I followed, thinking no harm. His room was up stairs and on the back of the house, looking up the great hill that stretched back to the clouds. As we entered, I found he had brought a good many things with him, and given the room much the air of the quarters of a bachelor in the city. His sleeping-room was separate from that, and formed a sort of boudoir for his wife. He motioned me to an easy-chair, set a box of fine cigars on the table, and going to the closet brought out a decanter of sherry and some glasses.
"In these cursed places, you can get nothing to drink," he said, "unless on the sly, and I hate that; so I bring along my own beverages, you see."
I saw and tasted, and found it very good. He was still fumbling about the closet, with profane ejaculations, and finally emerged with something in his hand that I at first took for a small book. But he unblushingly put on the table that pasteboard volume sometimes called the Devil's Bible. "Come," he said, "where's the harm? Let us have a quiet game of Casino or California Jack, or something else. It is better than perishing of stupidity."
I demurred. I was not over-scrupulous, but I had sufficient of my early breeding left to have a qualm of conscience at the thought of playing cards on Sunday.
"Oh, nonsense!" said Fred, carelessly, as he proceeded to deal the cards for Casino. "There, you have an ace and little Casino right before you. Go ahead, old man!"
I made a feeble show of protesting, but took up my cards, and, finding that I could capture the ace and little Casino, took them. From that the play went on; I became quite absorbed, and dismissed my scruples, when, as the sun was getting low, a shadow passed the window.
"Great Jupiter!" I exclaimed, looking up. "Does that second-story piazza go all the way round here?"
"To be sure," answered Fred, whose back was to the window. "Why not? What did you see,—a spook?"
"No, Mrs. Pinkerton!"
"Well, what do you care? You are your own boss, I hope."
"Yes, of course; but she will be terribly offended, and I think it would be pleasanter for all concerned to keep in her good graces."
"Gammon! Assert your rights, be master of yourself, and teach the old woman her place. D—— me, if I would have a mother-in-law riding over me, or prying around to see what I was about!"
"Oh, I am sure she passed the window by accident. She would never pry around; it isn't her style; she has a fine sense of propriety, has my mother-in-law!"
"Oh, yes, old Pink is the pink of propriety, no doubt about that!" said the rascal, laughing heartily at his heartless pun.
But I couldn't laugh. I saw plainly enough that I had lost more than all the ground that I had gained in my mother-in-law's favor, and my task would be harder than ever. I had no more desire to play cards, and sauntered down stairs and out of doors as if nothing had happened. At the tea-table Mrs. Pinkerton was very impressive in her manner, but showed no direct consciousness of anything new. On the piazza, after tea, she was uncommonly affable to her daughter, and, I thought, a little disposed to keep Bessie from talking to me. The latter appeared troubled somewhat, and looked at me in an anxious way, as if longing to rush into my arms and ask me all about it and say how willingly she forgave me; but her mother kept her within the circle of her influence, and I sat apart, harboring unutterable thoughts and saying nothing. At last Mrs. Pinkerton arose, and said sweetly, "I wouldn't stay out any later, dear, it is rather damp."
"Stay with me, Bessie," I said, "I want to speak to you. Your mother is at liberty to go in whenever she pleases." It was then she gave me a disdainful look and swept in, and I muttered the wish regarding her transportation to a distant clime, which brought out the gentle rebuke with which this story opens.
I saw no prospect of enjoying a longer stay at the Fairview, unless some burglary or terrible accident should occur to give me chance for a new display of my heroic qualities, and even then, I thought, it would be of no use, for I should spoil it all next day. So we determined to go home a week earlier than we had intended. The Marstons were going to Canada and Lake George, and wouldn't reach home till October. Mr. Desmond and his niece stayed a month longer where they were, and that would bring them home about the same time. Bessie and I went home with a lack of that buoyant bliss with which we had travelled to the mountains and spent those first two weeks. There was no change in us, but it was all due to my mother-in-law.
WHAT IS HOME WITHOUT A MOTHER-IN-LAW?
Home! We were back from the mountains, and our brief wedding-journey had become a thing of the past. Mrs. Pinkerton's iron-bound trunk had been reluctantly deposited in her bed-chamber by a puffing and surly hack-driver; and here was I, installed in the little cottage as head of the household, for weal or for woe. It was Mrs. Pinkerton's cottage, to be sure, but I entered it with the determination not to live there as a boarder or as a guest subject to the proprietor's condescending hospitality. I was able and not unwilling to establish a home of my own, and inasmuch as I refrained from doing so because of Mrs. Pinkerton's desire to keep her daughter with her, I had the right to consider myself under no obligation to my mother-in-law.
The cottage was far from being a disagreeable place in itself. It was small, but extremely neat and pleasant. The rooms were furnished with a degree of quiet taste that defied criticism. The hand of an accomplished housekeeper was everywhere made manifest, and everything had an air of refinement and comfort. There was no ostentatious furniture; the chairs were made to sit in, but not to put one's boots on. The cleanliness of the house was terrible. One could see that no man had lived there since the death of the late Pinkerton.
Our room was the same that had been occupied by Bessie since she was a school-girl in short frocks. It was full of Bessie's "things," and it was lucky that my effects occupied but very little space.
"This is jolly," I said, as I sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled a cigar from my pocket. "How soon will supper be ready, I wonder?"
There was no response. Bessie was unpacking,—and such an unpacking!
I lighted my cigar and threw myself back on the bed, wondering how they had got on without me at the bank. Presently in came mother-in-law to lend a hand at the unpacking. She did not see me at first, but the fragrance of my Manila soon reached her nostrils, and she turned.
Such a look as she cast upon me! It almost took my breath away. But she did not say a word. "The subject is beyond her powers of speech," I said to myself. "Let us hope it will be so as a general thing."
However, it made me feel uncomfortable, so by and by I got off the bed and went down stairs.
At the supper-table I tried to make myself as agreeable as possible. I talked over the trip, and spoke of the people we had met at the mountains; but I had most of the conversation to myself. Bessie did not seem to be in a mood to chat; Mrs. Pinkerton devoted herself to impaling me with her eyes once in a while; in a word, the mental atmosphere was muggy.
"Desmond has travelled a great deal," I said. "I was speaking of French politics the other day, and he gave me a long harangue on the situation. He was in Paris several years, when he was a good deal younger than he is now."
"Mr. Desmond is not a very old man," said Mrs. Pinkerton, "but he has passed that age when men think they know all there is to be known."
I accepted this shot good-naturedly, and laughed.
"His niece is a remarkably bright girl," I continued. "Don't you think so?"
"I cannot say I think it either bright or proper for a young lady to go off alone on mountain excursions for half a day, and return with her dress torn and her hands all scratched."
"Well, it was rather imprudent, but you know she said she had no intention of going so far when she started, and she missed her way."
"I did not hear her excuses. She appeared to be a spoiled child, and her manners were insufferably offensive. I should have known she came from New York, even if I had not been told."
"Do you think all New-Yorkers are loud?"
"I said no such thing. There is a class of New York young people who are so 'loud' that respectable people cannot have anything to do with them without lowering themselves. Miss Van Duzen belongs to that class."
"You are rough on her, upon my word. I don't think she's half so bad, do you, Bessie?"
"I liked her very much," said Bessie. "She may not be our style exactly, but I think at heart she is a good, true girl."
"I wonder if she will call," I said. "By the way, Fred Marston is coming out to see us as soon as he gets back to the city."
"As to that young man," Mrs. Pinkerton remarked, with some show of vivacity, "he impressed me as being little less than disreputable."
"Disreputable! I would have you understand that Fred Marston is one of my friends," I exclaimed, growing angry, "and he is as respectable as the rector of St. Thomas's Church!"
Phew! Now I had done it. Mrs. Pinkerton was thoroughly scandalized and offended. She got up, and we left the table, Bessie looking troubled. I went into the library, and after lighting a cigar, sat down to read the papers. Bessie, who had followed me, brushed the journal out of my hand and seated herself on my knee.
"Charlie," she said, kissing me, and smoothing the hair away from my brow, "can't you and mamma ever get along any better than this?"
"A conundrum! I never guessed one, so I shall have to give this up. But don't you see how it is, dearest? I try to be good to her, and she won't meet me half-way. On the contrary, she tries to nag me, I think. It wasn't my fault to-night. What right has she to run down my friends? If she don't like them, she might leave them alone, and be precious sure they'd leave her alone. She don't like smoking; I tried to swear off, tried mighty hard, but it was no use. You see—"
"It wasn't quite necessary for you to make that remark about the Rev. Dr. McCanon, was it, Charlie?"
"Well, no; I'm sorry, but she provoked me to it. I'll apologize."
"And then, Charlie, you will try to be a little more patient with mamma, won't you?"
"Yes, I do try, but the trouble is that she don't like me. Must I keep my mouth shut, throw away my cigars, bounce all my friends, and sit up with my arms folded?"
"Oh, no, dear. Be good to her, and be patient; it will all come around right in time."
That was Bessie's way of lightening present troubles,—"It will all come around right in time." Blessed hope! "Man never is, but always to be blest."
My duties now kept me at the bank nearly all day, and for a few weeks affairs went on at home very smoothly. At table Mrs. Pinkerton maintained a sphinx-like silence, and I directed my conversation to Bessie. When the old lady opened her mouth, it was to snub me. The snub direct, the snub indirect, the snub implied, and the snub far-fetched,—I submitted to all with a cheerful spirit, and not a hasty retort escaped me.
At Bessie's request, I now smoked only in the library, or in our own room. I bought a highly ornamental Japanese affair, of curious workmanship, as a receptacle for cigar-ashes. Altogether, I behaved like a good boy.
One evening Marston dropped in. When his card was brought up stairs, I handed it over to Bessie, and hurried to the library.
"How are you, old man?" he said, or, rather, shouted. "How do you like it, as far as you've got?"
"Tip-top. I'm glad to see you. When did you get back?"
"Last Saturday, and mighty glad to get back to a live place, too. Smoke?"
"Thank you. Bessie will be down in a minute."
"How's old Pink?"
"S-s-h! She's all right. Don't speak so confoundedly loud."
"Ha, ha! I see how it is. By and by you won't dare say your soul's your own. I pity you, Charlie, upon my word I do. Ned Tupney was married a few days ago, did you know it? and he's got a devil of a mother-in-law on his hands, a regular roarer—"
"Here comes my wife," I broke in. "For Heaven's sake, change the subject. Talk about roses!"
Bessie entered and exchanged a friendly greeting with Fred.
"I was telling Charlie about some wonderful roses I saw at Primton's green-house," said the unabashed visitor, and he forthwith laid aside his cigar—on the tablecloth!—and launched into a glowing description of the imaginary flowers.
Before he had finished, Mrs. Pinkerton entered much to my surprise. She bowed in a stately manner, inquired formally as to the state of Fred's health, and as she took a seat I saw her glance take in that cigar.
Fred could talk exceedingly well when he was so disposed, and he entertained us excellently, I thought. He had seen a good deal of the world, was a close observer, and had the faculty of chatting in a fascinating way about subjects that would usually be called commonplace. He was pleased with the aspect of the cottage, and complimented it gracefully.
"Love in a cottage," he sighed, casting a quick glance around the room,—"well, it isn't so bad after all, with plenty of books, a pleasant garden, sunny rooms, a pretty view, and a mother-in-law to look after a fellow and keep him straight." And the wretch looked at Mrs. Pinkerton, and laughed in a sociable way.
I promptly called his attention to a beautiful edition of Thackeray's works in the bookcase, a recent purchase.
In the course of a half-hour's call, Fred managed to introduce the dangerous topic at least a half-dozen times, and each time I was compelled to choke him off by ramming some other subject down his throat willy-nilly.
Finally he rose to go. I accompanied him to the front door.
"Sociable creature, old Pink, eh?" he said. "Doesn't love me too well. Is she always as festive and amusing as to-night?"
"Hold on a minute," was my reply. I ran back and got my hat and cane, and accompanied him toward the railroad station.
"See here, Fred," I said, "your intentions are good, but I wish you would quit talking about Mrs. Pinkerton. I am doing my best to live peaceably and comfortably in the same house with her, and you don't help me a bit with your gabble. She is a very worthy woman, and not half so stupid as you imagine. I admit that we don't get along together quite as I could wish, but I'm trying to please my wife by being as good a son as I can be to her mother. What's the use of trying to rile up our little puddle?"
"Oh, all right!" he rejoined. "If you prefer your puddle should be stagnant—admirable metaphor, by the way—it shall be as you wish. Only I hate to see the way things are going with you, and I'm bound to tell you so. You are losing your spirit, tying your hands, and throwing all your manly independence to the winds. If you live two years with that irreproachable mummy, you won't be worth knowing. Do you dare go into town with me and have a game of billiards?"
I went. We had several games. I got home about midnight. The next morning, at the breakfast-table, Mrs. Pinkerton said dryly,—
"Your friend Marston pities you, doesn't he?"
"I don't know; if he does, he wastes his emotions," I replied.
"I am glad you think so. He takes a good deal of interest in your welfare, and I suppose he could be prevailed upon to give you wise advice in case of need."
"I dare say. Fred is a good fellow, and advice is as cheap as dirt."
"Pity! Why do you think Fred pities me? Why should he pity me?"
"Your question is hypocritical, because you know very well that he thinks you are a victim,—a victim of a terrible mother-in-law."
It was the first time she had ever spoken out so openly. I said,—
"We will leave it to Bessie. Bessie, do I look like a victim?"
"No," said Bessie, "but you are both the queerest puzzles! Mamma is always her dearest self when you are away, Charlie. You don't know each other at all yet. When you are together you are both horrid, and when you are apart you are both lovely. And yet I don't know why it should be so; there is no quarrel between you—and—and—"
And Bessie began to cry. I got up.
"No, there's no quarrel between us," I said; "but perhaps a straight-out row would be better than forever to be eating our own vitals with suppressed rancor."
Mrs. Pinkerton made as if she would go around to where Bessie sat, to condole with her, without noticing my remark.
"No, don't trouble yourself," I cried. "It's my place to comfort my wife." And I took Bessie in my arms tenderly, and kissed her tear-stained cheek almost fiercely.
This theatrical demonstration caused my mother-in-law to sweep out of the room promptly, with her temper as nearly ruffled as I had ever seen it.
"O Charlie!" whimpered my poor little wife despairingly, "what shall I do? It's awful to have you and mamma this way!"
And now it was my turn to say, "Cheer up, my love! It will all come around right in time."
But my arriere pensee was, "Would that that burglar had bagged the old iceberg, and carried her off to her native Nova Zembla!"
MISS VAN'S PARTY AND ANOTHER UNPLEASANTNESS.
One day in the early fall, Mrs. Pinkerton received a letter postmarked at Paris, which seemed to throw her into a state of extraordinary excitement. I knew her well enough to be certain that she would not tell me the news, but that I should hear it later through Bessie. Such was the case. When I came home towards evening and went up stairs to prepare for supper, Bessie, who was seated in our room, said in a joyful tone,—
"George is coming home next month!"
"That's good," I said; and the more I thought of it the better it seemed. A new element would be infused into our home life with his advent, and I confidently believed that the widow's society would be vastly more tolerable when he was among us. George had been so long in Paris that he had become a veritable Parisian. That he would bring along with him a large amount of Paris sunshine and vivacity to enliven the atmosphere of our little circle, I felt certain.
"Is he coming to stay?" I asked.
"He don't know. He says he never makes any plans for six months ahead. It will depend upon circumstances."
"Well, that's Parisian. I'm very glad he's coming, and I hope circumstances will keep him here. Isn't old Dr. Jones pretty nearly dead? Seems to me George could take his practice."
"It's all right, puss; doctors must die as well as their patients."
I broached the subject to mother-in-law at the supper-table, and—mirabile dictu!—she agreed with me that we must keep George with us when we got him.
In November George arrived. He didn't telegraph from New York, but came right on by a night train, and, walking into the house while we were at breakfast, took us by surprise.
Mrs. Pinkerton taken by surprise was a funny phenomenon, and I'm afraid propriety received a pretty smart blow when she threw her napkin into a plate of buckwheat cakes, dropped her eye-glasses, and rushed to meet the long-lost prodigal.
As for George, he brought such a gale into the house with him—there are plenty of them on the Atlantic in November—that everything seemed metamorphosed. He laughed and shouted, and hugged first one of us and then another, and finally sat down and ate breakfast enough for six Frenchmen, every minute ripping out some wicked little French oath and winking at his mother with the utmost complacency. Never since I had become an inmate of the cottage had we enjoyed a meal so much as that one. There was an abandon, an insouciance, an esprit, a je-ne-sais-quoi about this young frog-eater that thoroughly carried away the whole party, including even Mrs. Pinkerton.
When George had eaten everything he could find on the table, he lighted a cigarette,—right there in the dining-room, too, and under his mother's eyes,—and we had a good, long, jolly talk together, Bessie sitting between us and feasting her eyes on her brother's comeliness. He certainly was handsome.
"I have no plans," he said, "except to loaf here awhile and wait for an opening."
"A French Micawber," said I. "And I suppose you know all about medicine and surgery?"
"I have learned when not to give medicine, I believe, and so, I think, I can save lots of lives."
A few days after George's arrival we received a call from the Watsons. I had never had the pleasure of meeting the Watsons, but I had had the Watsons held up before me as examples of the right sort of style so many times, that I felt already well acquainted with them.
Mr. Watson was a very retiring, quiet little man, awed into obscurity by his wife. After a long and persistent effort to interest him in conversation, I was compelled to give it up, and to leave him smiling blankly, with his gaze directed toward the Argand burner.
Mrs. Watson was immense in every sense of the word. Her moral and mental dimensions were awe-inspiring; and she delivered what I afterwards found, on reflection, to be very commonplace utterances in a style in which unction, dogmatism, self-satisfaction, and finality were predominant. Once, when she had brought forth an unusually imposing sentence, her husband fairly smacked his lips.
The Watsons had no children. They were among the most prominent attendants of St. Thomas's, and the old gentleman was reputed to be worth about a million.
George came in while the call was in progress, and after greeting the Watsons, he turned to Mrs. W., and uttered one of the most polished, delicate, pleasing little compliments it has ever been my fortune to hear uttered. Then he quietly withdrew into the background.
Just then some more callers were announced, and what was my surprise to see Mr. Desmond and Miss Van Duzen enter. The former was as resplendent as to his watch-chain as ever, and his niece looked charming. Introductions all round followed, and the company broke up into groups.
George took a seat near Miss Van, and a brisk fire of conversation was soon under way between them, varied by frequent bursts of friendly laughter.
Mr. Desmond soon drew out Mr. Watson, and their talk was on stocks, bonds, and the like.
After Mrs. Watson had proved her theory of the laws of the universe, and had almost intoxicated my worthy mother-in-law with her glittering rhetoric, the Watsons took their departure. Before the others followed their example, Miss Van extended an informal invitation to us to attend a "social gathering" at her uncle's residence the following Wednesday evening.
We went, of course, Mrs. Pinkerton, George, Bessie, and I. It was a pleasant party, and it could not have been otherwise with Miss Van as the hostess. There was a little dancing,—not enough to entitle it to be called a dancing-party; a little card-playing,—not enough to make it a card-party; and there was a vast amount of bright and pleasant conversation, but still one could not name it a converzatione. The company was remarkably good, and Miss Van's management, although imperceptible, was so skilful that her guests found themselves at their ease, and enjoying themselves, without knowing that their pleasure was more than half due to her finesse.