This book was transcribed from the 1880 edition by Andrew Katz.
DOTS AND DASHES
ELLA CHEEVER THAYER.
"The old, old story,"—in a new, new way.
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF A DEAR FRIEND BUT FOR WHOM THIS LITTLE WORK HAD NEVER BEEN
[Transcriber's Note. The dedication was printed in American Railroad dialect of Morse. It cannot easily be represented in ASCII as it requires dashes of different lengths]
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Sounds from a Distant "C." II. At the Hotel Norman III. Visible and Invisible Friends IV. Neighborly Calls V. Quimby Bursts Forth in Eloquence VI. Collapse of the Romance VII. "Good-By" VIII. The Feast IX. Unexpected Visitors X. The Broken Circuit Reunited XI. Miss Kling Telegraphically Baffled XII. Crosses on the Line XIII. The Wrong Woman XIV. Quimby Accepts the Situation XV. One Summer Day XVI. O. K.
SOUNDS FROM A DISTANT "C."
-... — .-... -.
Just a noise, that is all.
But a very significant noise to Miss Nathalie Rogers, or Nattie, as she was usually abbreviated; a noise that caused her to lay aside her book, and jump up hastily, exclaiming, with a gesture of impatience:—
"Somebody always 'calls' me in the middle of every entertaining chapter!"
For that noise, that little clatter, like, and yet too irregular to be the ticking of a clock, expressed to Nattie these four mystic letters:—
"B m—X n;"
which same four mystic letters, interpreted, meant that the name, or, to use the technical word, "call," of the telegraph office over which she was present sole presiding genius, was "B m," and that "B m" was wanted by another office on the wire, designated as "X n."
A little, out-of-the-way, country office, some fifty miles down the line, was "X n," and, as Nattie signaled in reply to the "call" her readiness to receive any communications therefrom, she was conscious of holding in some slight contempt the possible abilities of the human portion of its machinery.
For who but an operator very green in the profession would stay there?
Consequently, she was quite unprepared for the velocity with which the telegraph alphabet of sounds in dots and dashes rattled over the instrument, appropriately termed a "sounder," upon which messages are received, and found herself wholly unable to write down the words as fast as they came.
"Dear me!" she thought, rather nervously, "the country is certainly ahead of the city this time! I wonder if this smart operator is a lady or gentleman!"
And, notwithstanding all her efforts, she was compelled to "break"—that is, open her "key," thereby breaking the circuit, and interrupting "X n" with the request,
"X n" took the interruption very good-naturedly—it was after dinner—and obeyed without expressing any impatience.
But, alas! Nattie was even now unable to keep up with this too expert individual of uncertain sex, and was obliged again to "break," with the humiliating petition,
"Please send slower!"
"Oh!" responded "X n."
For a small one, "Oh!" is a very expressive word. But whether this particular one signified impatience, or, as Nattie sensitively feared, contempt for her abilities, she could not tell. But certain it was that "X n" sent along the letters now, in such a slow, funereal procession that she was driven half frantic with nervousness in the attempt to piece them together into words. They had not proceeded far, however, before a small, thin voice fell upon the ears of the agitated Nattie.
"Are you taking a message now?" it asked.
Nattie glanced over her shoulder, and saw a sharp, inquisitive nose, a green veil, a pair of eye-glasses, and a strained smile, sticking through her little window.
Nodding a hasty answer to the question, she wrote down another word of the message, that she had been able to catch, notwithstanding the interruption. As she did so the voice again queried,
"Do you take them entirely by sound?"
With a determined endeavor not to "break," Nattie replied only with a frown. But fate was evidently against her establishing a reputation for being a good operator with "X n."
"Here, please attend to this quick!" exclaimed a new voice, and a tall gentleman pounded impatiently on the shelf outside the little window with one hand, and with the other held forth a message.
With despair in her heart, once more Nattie interrupted "X n," took the impatient gentleman's message, studied out its illegible characters, and changed a bill, the owner of the nose looking on attentively meanwhile; this done, she bade the really much-abused "X n" to proceed, or in telegraphic terms, to
"G. A." being the telegraphic abbreviation for "go ahead," and "the" the last word she had received of the message.
And this time not even the fact of its being after dinner restrained "X n's" feelings, and "X n" made the sarcastic inquiry,
"Had you not better go home and send down some one who is capable of receiving this message?"
Now it would seem as if two persons sixty or seventy miles apart might severally fly into a rage and nurse their wrath comfortably without particularly annoying each other at the moment. But riot under present conditions; and Nattie turned red and bit her nails excitedly under the displeasure of the distant person of unknown sex, at "X n." But no instrument had yet been invented by which she could see the expression on the face of this operator at "X n," as she retorted, and her fingers formed the letters very sharply;
"Do you think it will help the matter at all for you to make a display of your charming disposition? G. A.—the—."
"I am happy to be able to return the compliment implied!" was "X n's" preface to the continuation of the message.
And now indeed Nattie might have recovered some of her fallen glories, being angry enough to be fiercely determined, had not the owner of the nose again made her presence manifest by the sudden question:
"Do you have a different sound for every word, or syllable, or what?"
And, turning quickly around to scowl this persevering questioner into silence, Nattie's elbow hit and knocked over the inkstand, its contents pouring over her hands, dress, the desk and floor, and proving beyond a doubt, as it descended, the truth of its label—
"Superior Black Ink!"
And then, save for the clatter of the "sounder," there was silence.
For a moment Nattie gazed blankly at her besmeared hands and ruined dress, at the "sounder," and at the owner of the nose, who returned her look with that expression of serene amusement often noticeable in those who contemplate from afar the mishaps of their fellow beings; then with the courage of despair, she for the fourth time "broke" "X n," saying, with inky impression on the instrument,
"Excuse me, but you will have to wait! I am all ink, and I am being cross-examined!"
Having thus delivered herself, she turned a deliberately deaf ear to "X n's" response, which, judging from the way the movable portion of the "sounder" danced, was emphatic.
"A little new milk will take that out!" complacently said the owner of the nose, watching Nattie's efforts to remove the ink from her dress with blotting-paper.
"Unfortunately I do not keep a cow here!" Nattie replied, tartly.
Not quite polite in Nattie, this. But do not the circumstances plead strongly in her excuse? For, remember, she was not one of those impossible, angelic young ladies of whom we read, but one of the ordinary human beings we meet every day.
The owner of the nose, however, was not charitable, and drew herself up loftily, as she said in imperative accents,
"You did not answer my question! Do you have to learn the sound of each letter so as to distinguish them from each other?"
Nattie constrained herself to reply, very shortly,
"Can you take a message and talk to me at the same time?" pursued the investigator.
"No!" was Nattie's emphatic answer, as she looked ruefully at her dress.
"But your instrument there is going it now. Ain't they sending you a message?" went on the relentless owner of the nose.
At this Nattie turned her attention a moment to what was being done "on the wire," and breathed a sigh of relief. For "X n" had given place to another office and she replied,
"No! Some office on the wire is sending to some other office."
The nose elevated itself in surprise.
"Can you hear everything that is sent from every other office?"
"Yes," was the weary reply, as Nattie rubbed her dress.
"What!" exclaimed the owner of the nose, in accents of incredulous wonder. "All over the world?"
"Certainly not! only the offices on this wire; there are about twenty," was the impatient reply.
"Ah!" evidently relieved. "But," considering, "supposing you do not catch all the sounds, what do you do then?"
"Break! Break what? The instruments?" queried the owner of the nose, perplexedly, and looking as if that must be a very expensive habit.
"Break the circuit—the connection,—open the key and ask the sending office to repeat from the last word I have been able to catch!"
Then seeing unmistakable evidence of more questions in the nose, Nattie threw the ink-soaked blotting-paper and her last remnant of patience into the waste basket, and added,
"But you must excuse me, I am too busy to be annoy—interrupted longer, and there are books that will give you all the information that you require!"
So saying, Nattie turned her back, and the owner of the nose withdrew it, its tip glistening with indignation as she walked away. As it vanished, Nattie gave a sigh of relief, and sat down to mourn her ruined dress. Whatever may have been her previous opinion, she was positive now that this was the prettiest, the most becoming dress she had ever possessed, or might ever possess! Only the old, old story! We prize most what is gone forever!
"And all that dreadful man's—or woman's—fault at X n!" cried Nattie, savagely. Unjustly too, for if any one was responsible for the accident, it was the owner of the nose.
But not long did Nattie dare give way to her misery. That fatal message was not yet received.
Glancing over the few words she had of it, she read; "Send the hearse," and then she began anxiously "calling" "X n."
"Hearse," looked too serious for trifling. But either "X n's" attention was now occupied in some other direction, or else he—or she—was too much out of humor to reply, for it was full twenty minutes before came the answering,
At which Nattie said as fiercely as fingers could, "I have been after you nearly half an hour!"
"Have you?" came coolly back from "X n." "Well, you're not alone, many are after me—my landlord among others—not to mention a washerwoman or two!"
Then followed the figure "4," which means, "When shall I go ahead?"
"Waxing jocose, are you?" Nattie murmured to herself, as she replied:
"Hearse," repeated Nattie, in firm, clear characters.
To her surprise and displeasure "X n" laughed—the circumstance being conveyed to her understanding in the usual way, by the two letters "H a!"
"What are you laughing at?" she asked.
"At your grave mistake!" was "X n's" answer, accompanied by another "Ha! To convert a horse into a hearse is really an idea that merits a smile!"
As the consciousness of her blunder dawned upon her, Nattie would gladly have sank into oblivion. But as that was impossible, she took a fresh blank, and very meekly said,
With another laugh, "X n" complied, and Nattie now succeeded in receiving the message without further mishap.
"What did you sign?" she asked, as she thankfully wrote the last word. Every operator is obliged to sign his own private "call," as well as the office "call," and "O. K." at the close of each message.
"C." was replied to Nattie's question.
"O. K. N. B m," she then said, and added, perhaps trying to drown the memory of her ludicrous error in politeness, "I hope another time I shall not cause you so much trouble."
"C" at "X n" was evidently not to be exceeded in little speeches of this kind, for he—or she—responded immediately,
"On the contrary, it was I who gave you trouble. I know I must certainly have done so, or you never could have effected such a transformation as you did. Imagine the feelings of the sender of that message, had he found a hearse awaiting his arrival instead of a horse!"
Biting her lip with secret mortification, but determined to make the best of the matter outwardly, Nattie replied,
"I suppose I never shall hear the last of that hearse! But at all events it took the surliness out of you."
"Yes, when people come to a hearse they are not apt to have any more kinks in their disposition! I confess, though," "C" went on frankly, "I was unpardonably cross; not surly, that is out of my line, but cross. In truth, I was all out of sorts. Will you forgive me if I will never do so again?"
"Certainly," Nattie replied readily. "I am sure we are far enough apart to get on without quarreling, if, as they say, distance lends enchantment!"
"Particularly when I pride myself upon my sweet disposition!" said "C."
At which Nattie smiled to herself, to the surprise of a passing gentleman, on whom her unconscious gaze rested, and who thought, of course, that she was smiling at him.
Appearances are deceitful!
"I fear you will have to prove your sweetness before I shall believe in it," Nattie responded to "C," all unaware of what she had done, or that the strange young gentleman went on his way with the firm resolve to pass by that office again and obtain another smile!
"It shall be my sole aim hereafter," "C" replied; and then asked, "Have you a pleasant office there?"
"I regret to say no." Then looking around, and describing what she saw—"a long, dark little room, into which the sun never shines, a crazy and a wooden chair, a high stool, desk, instruments—that is all—Oh! And me!"
"Last but not least," said "C;" "but what a contrast to my office! Mine is all windows, and in cold days like this the wind whistles in until my very bones rattle! The outward view is fine. As I sit I see a stable, a carpenter's shop, the roof of the new Town Hall that has ruined the town, and—"
"Excuse me,"—some one at another office on the line here broke in—and with more politeness than is sometimes shown in interrupting conversations on the wire—"I have a message to send," and forthwith began calling.
At this Nattie resumed her interrupted occupation of bewailing her spoiled dress, but at the same time she had a feeling of pleased surprise at the affability of "C" at "X n."
"I wonder," she thought, as she took up her book again, and tried to bury the remembrance of her accident therein, "I do wonder if this 'C' is he or she!"
Soon, however, she heard "X n" "call" once more, and this time she laid her book aside very readily.
"You did not describe the principal part of your office—yourself!" "C" said, when she answered the "call."
"How can I describe myself?" replied Nattie. "How can anyone—properly? One sees that same old face in the glass day after day, and becomes so used to it that it is almost impossible to notice even the changes in it; so I am sure I do not see how one can tell how it really does look—unless one's nose is broken—or one's eyes crossed—and mine are not—or one should not see a looking-glass for a year! I can only say I am very inky just now!"
"Oh! that is too bad!" "C" said; then, with a laugh, "It has always been a source of great wonder to me how certain very plain people of my acquaintance could possibly think themselves handsome. But I see it all now! Can you not, however, leave the beauty out, and give me some sort of an idea-about yourself for my imagination to work upon?"
"Certainly!" replied Nattie, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye that "C" knew not of. "Imagine, if you please, a tall young man, with—"
"C" "broke" quickly, saying,
"Oh, no! You cannot deceive me in that way! Under protest I accept the height, but spurn the sex!"
"Why, you do not suppose I am a lady, do you?" queried Nattie.
"I am quite positive you are. There is a certain difference in the 'sending,' of a lady and gentleman, that I have learned to distinguish. Can you truly say I am wrong?"
Nattie evaded a direct reply, by saying,
"People who think they know so much are often deceived; now I make no surmises about you, but ask, fairly and squarely, shall I call you Mr., Miss, or Mrs. 'C'?"
"Call me neither. Call me plain 'C', or picture, if you like, in place of your sounder, a blonde, fairy-like girl talking to you, with pensive cheeks and sunny—"
"Don't you believe a word of it!"—some one on the wire here broke in, wishing, probably, to have a finger in the pie; "picture a hippopotamus, an elephant, but picture no fairy!"
"Judge not others by yourself, and learn to speak when spoken to!" "C" replied to the unknown; then "To N.—You know the more mystery there is about anything, the more interesting it becomes. Therefore, if I envelop myself in all the mystery possible, I will cherish hopes that you may dream of me!"
"But I am quite sure you can, with propriety be called Mr. 'C '—plain, as you say, I doubt not," replied Nattie. "Now, as it is time for me to go home, I shall have to say good-night."
"To be continued in our next?" queried "C."
"If you are not in a cross mood," replied Nattie.
"Now that is a very unkind suggestion, after my abject apology. But, although our acquaintance had a grave re-hearse-al, I trust it will have a happy ending!"
"If you will promise never to say 'grave,' 'hearse,' or anything in the undertaking line, I will agree never to say 'cross!'" she said.
"The undertaking will not be difficult; with all my heart!" "C" answered, and with this mutual understanding they bade each other "good-night."
"There certainly is something romantic in talking to a mysterious person, unseen, and miles away!" thought Nattie, as she put on her hat. "But I would really like to know whether my new friend employs a tailor or a dressmaker!".
Was Nattie conscious of a feeling that it would add to the zest of the romantic acquaintance should the distant "C" be entitled to the use of the masculine pronoun?
Perhaps so! For Nattie was human, and was only nineteen!
AT THE HOTEL NORMAN.
Miss Nattie Rogers, telegraph operator, lived, as it were, in two worlds. The one her office, dingy and curtailed as to proportions, but from whence she could wander away through the medium of that slender telegraph wire, on a sort of electric wings, to distant cities and towns; where, although alone all day, she did not lack social intercourse, and where she could amuse herself if she chose, by listening to and speculating upon the many messages of joy or of sorrow, of business and of pleasure, constantly going over the wire. But the other world in which Miss Rogers lived was very different; the world bounded by the four walls of a back room at Miss Betsey Kling's. It must be confessed that there are more pleasing views than sheds in greater or less degrees of dilapidation, a sickly grape-vine, a line of flapping sheets, an overflowing ash barrel; sweeter sounds than the dulcet notes of old rag-men, the serenades of musical cats, or the strains of a cornet played upon at intervals from nine P. M. to twelve, with the evident purpose of exhausting superfluous air in the performer's lungs. Perhaps, too, there was more agreeable company possible than Miss Betsey Kling.
Therefore, in the evening, Sunday and holiday, if not in the telegraphic world of Miss Rogers, loneliness, and the unpleasant sensation known as "blues" are not uncommon.
Miss Betsey Kling, who, although in reduced circumstances, boasted of certain "blue blood," inherited from dead and gone ancestors—who perhaps would have been surprised could they have known at this late day how very genteel they were in life,—rented a flat in Hotel Norman, on the second floor, of which she let one room; not on account of the weekly emolument received therefrom, ah, no! but "for the sake of having some one for company." In this respect she was truly a contrast to Mrs. Simonson, a hundred and seventy-five pound widow, who lived in the remaining suite of that floor, and who let every room she possibly could, in order, as she frankly confessed, to "make both ends meet." For a constant struggle with the "ways and means" whereby to live had quite annihilated any superfluous gentility Mrs. Simonson might have had, excepting only one lingering remnant, that would never allow her to hang in the window one of those cheaply conspicuous placards, announcing:
"Rooms to Let."
Miss Betsey Kling was a spinster—not because she liked it, but on account of circumstances over which she had no control,—and her principal object in life, outside of the never-expressed, but much thought-of one of finding her other self, like her, astray, was to keep watch and ward over the affairs of the occupants of neighboring flats, and see that they conducted themselves with the propriety becoming the neighbors of so very genteel and unexceptionable a person as Miss Betsey Kling. In pursuit of this occupation she was addicted to sudden and silent appearances, much after the manner of materialized spirits, at windows opening into the hall, and doors carelessly left ajar. She was, however, afflicted with a chronic cold, that somewhat interfered with her ability to become a first-class listener, on account of its producing an incessant sniffle and spasms of violent sneezing.
Miss Rogers going home to that back room of hers, found herself still pondering upon the probable sex of "C." Rather to her own chagrin, when she caught her thoughts thus straying, too; for she had a certain scorn of anything pertaining to trivial sentiment. A little scorn of herself she also had some-times. In fact, her desires reached beyond the obtaining of the every-day commonplaces with which so many are content to fill their lives, and she possessed an ambition too dominant to allow her to be content with the dead level of life. Therefore it was that any happy hours of forgetfulness of all but the present, that sometimes came in her way, were often followed by others of unrest and dissatisfaction. There were certain dreams she indulged in of the future, now hopefully, now utterly disheartened, that she was so far away from their realization. These dreams were of fame, of fame as an authoress. Whether it was the true genius stirring within her, or that most unfortunate of all things, an unconquerable desire without the talent to rise above mediocrity, time alone could tell.
Compelled by the failure and subsequent death of her father to support herself, or become a burden upon her mother, whose now scanty means barely sufficed for herself and two younger children, Nattie chose the more independent, but harder course. For she was not the kind of girl to sit down and wait for some one to come along and marry her, and relieve her of the burden of self-support. So, from a telegraph office in the country, where she learned the profession, she drifted to her present one in the city.
To her, as yet, there was a certain fascination about telegraphy. But she had a presentiment that in time the charm would give place to monotony, more especially as, beyond a certain point, there was positively no advancement in the profession. Although knowing she could not be content to always be merely a telegraph operator, she resolved to like it as well and as long as she could, since it was the best for the present.
As she lighted the gas in her room, she thought not of these things that were so often in her mind, but of "C," and then scolded herself for caring whether that distant individual was man or woman. What mattered it to a young lady who felt herself above flirtations?
So there was a little scowl on her face as she turned around, that did not lessen when she beheld Miss Kling standing in her door-way. For Miss Rogers did not, to speak candidly, find her landlady a congenial spirit, and only remained upon her premises because being there was a lesser evil than living in that most unhomelike of all places, a boarding-house.
"I thought I would make you a call," the unwelcome visitor remarked, rubbing her nose, that from constant friction had become red and shining; "I have been lonesome to-day. I usually run into Mrs. Simonson's in the afternoon, but she has been out since twelve o'clock. I can't make out—" musingly, "where she can have gone! not that she is just the company I desire. She has never been used to anything above the common, poor soul, and will say 'them rooms,' but she is better than no one, and at least can appreciate in others the culture and standing she has never attained," and Miss Kling sneezed, and glanced at Nattie with an expression that plainly said her lodger would do well to imitate, in this last respect, the lady in question.
"I am very little acquainted with Mrs. Simonson," Nattie replied, with a tinge of scorn curling her lip, for, in truth, she had little reverence for Miss Kling's blue blood. "Her lodgers like her very much, I believe; at least, Quimby speaks of her in the highest terms."
"Quimby!" repeated Miss Kling, with a sniffle of contempt. "A blundering, awkward creature, who is always doing or saying some shocking thing!"
"I know that he is neither elegant nor talented, and is often very awkward, but he is honest and kind-hearted, and one is willing to overlook other deficiencies for such rare qualities," Nattie replied, a little warmly, "and so Mrs. Simonson feels, I am confident."
Miss Kling eyed her sharply.
"Not at all! Allow me, Miss Rogers, to know! Mrs. Simonson endures his blunders, because, as she says, he can live on the interest of his money, 'on a pinch,' and she thinks such a lodger something of which to boast. On a pinch, indeed!" added Miss Kling, with a sneeze, and giving the principal feature in her face something very like the exclamation, "a very tight pinch it would be, I am thinking!" Then somewhat spitefully she continued, "But I was not aware, Miss Rogers, that you and this Quimby were so intimate! The admiration is mutual, I suppose?"
"There is no admiration," replied Nattie, with a flash of her gray eyes, inwardly indignant that any one should insinuate she admired Quimby—honest, blundering Quimby, whom no one ever allowed a handle to his name, and who was so clever, but like all clever people, such a dreadful bore. "I have only met him two or three times since that evening you introduced us in the hall, so there has hardly been an opportunity for anything of that kind."
"You spoke so warmly!" Miss Kling remarked. "However," conciliatingly, "I don't suppose by any means that you are in love with Quimby! You are much too sensible a young lady for such folly!"
Nattie shrugged her shoulders, as if tired of the subject, and after a spasm of sneezing, Miss Kling continued:
"As you intimate, he means all right, poor fellow! and that is more than I should be willing to acknowledge regarding Mrs. Simonson's other lodger, that Mr. Norton, who calls himself an artist. I am sure I never saw any one except a convict wear such short hair!" and Miss Kling shook her head insinuatingly.
From this beginning, to Nattie's dismay, Miss Kling proceeded to the dissection of their neighbors who lived in the suite above, Celeste Fishblate and her father. The former, Miss Kling declared, was setting her cap for Quimby. Mr. Fishblate being an unquestionably disagreeable specimen of the genus homo, with a somewhat startling habit of exploding in short, but expressive sentences—never using more than three consecutive words—Nattie naturally expected to hear him even more severely anathematized than any one else. But to her surprise, the lady conducting the conversation declared him a "fine sensible man!" At which Nattie first stared, and then smiled, as it occurred to her that Mr. Fishblate was a widower, and might it not be that Miss Kling contemplated the possibility of his becoming that other self not yet attained?
Fortunately Miss Kling did not observe her lodger's looks, so intent was she in admiration of Mr. Fishblate's fine points, and soon took her leave.
After her departure, Nattie changed her inky dress, and put on her hat to go out for something forgotten until now. As she stepped into the hall, a tall young man, with extremely long arms and legs, and mouth, that, although shaded by a faint outline of a mustache, invariably suggested an alligator, opened the door of Mrs. Simonson's rooms, opposite, and seeing Nattie, started back in a sort of nervous bashfulness. Recovering himself, he then darted out with such impetuosity that his foot caught in a rug, he fell, and went headlong down stairs, dragging with him a fire-bucket, at which he clutched in a vain effort to save himself, the two jointly making a noise that echoed through the silent halls, and brought out the inhabitants of the rooms in alarm.
"What is it? Is any one killed?" shrieked from above, a voice, recognizable as that of Celeste Fishblate—two names that could never by any possibility sound harmonious.
"What is the matter now?" screamed Miss Kling, appearing at her door with the query.
"Have you hurt yourself?" Nattie asked, as she went down to where the hero of the catastrophe sat on the bottom stair, ruefully rubbing his elbow, but who now picked up his hat and the fire-bucket, and rose to explain.
"It's nothing—nothing at all, you know!" he said, looking upward, and bowing to the voices; "I caught my foot in the rug, and—"
"Did you tear the rug?" here anxiously interrupted the listening Mrs. Simonson, suddenly appearing at the banisters; not that she felt for her lodger less, but for the rug more, a distinction arising from that constant struggle with the "ways and means."
"Oh, no! I assure you, there was no damage done to the rug—or fire-bucket," the victim responded, reassuringly, and in perfect good faith. "Or myself," he added modestly, as if the latter was scarce worth speaking of. "I—I am used to it, you know," reverting to his usual expression in accidents of all descriptions.
"I declare I don't know what you will do next!" muttered Mrs. Simonson, retreating to examine the rug.
"I think you must be in love, Quimby!" giggled Celeste; an assertion that caused Miss Kling to give vent to a contemptuous "Humph" and awakened in its subject the most excruciating embarrassment. The poor fellow glanced at Nattie, blushed, perspired, and frantically clutching at the fire-bucket, stammered a protest,—
"Now really—I—now!—you are mistaken, you know!"
"But people who are in love are always absent-minded," persisted Celeste, with another giggle. "So it is useless to—"
But exactly what was useless did not appear, as at this point a stentorian voice, the voice of Miss Kling's "fine, sensible man," roared,
At which, to Quimby's relief, Celeste, always in mortal fear of her father, hastily withdrew. Not so Miss Kling. She silently waited to see if Nattie and Quimby would go out together, and was rewarded by hearing the latter ask, as Nattie made a movement towards the door,—
"May I—might I be so bold as to—as to ask to be your escort?"
"I should be pleased," Nattie answered, adding with a mischievous glance, but in a low tone, aware of the listening ears above,—
"That is, if you will consent to dispense with the fire-bucket!"
Quimby started, and dropping the article in question, as if it had suddenly turned red-hot, ejaculated,—
"Bless my soul! really I—I beg pardon, I am sure!" then bashfully offering his arm, they went out, while Miss Kling balefully shook her head.
"So, Celeste will insist upon it that you are in love, because you tripped and fell down stairs!" Nattie said, by way of opening a conversation as they walked along—a remark that did not tend to lessen his evident disquietude. And having now no fire-bucket, he clutched at his necktie, twirling it all awry, not at all to the improvement of his personal appearance, as he replied,—
"Oh! really, you know! its no matter! I—I am used to it, you know!"
"Used to falling in love?" queried Nattie, with raised eyebrows.
"No—no—the other, you know, that is—" gasped Quimby, hopelessly lost for a substantive. "I mean, it's a mistake, you know" then with a desperate rush away from the embarrassing subject, "Did you know we—that is, Mrs. Simonson, was going to have a new lodger?"
"No, is she?" asked Nattie.
"Yes, a young lady coming to-morrow, a—a sort of an actress—no, a prima donna, you know. A Miss Archer. If you and she should happen to like each other, it would be pleasant for you, now wouldn't it?" asked Quimby eagerly, with a devout hope that such might be, for then should he not be a gainer by seeing more often the young lady by his side, whose gray eyes had already made havoc in his honest and susceptible heart.
"It would be pleasant," acquiesced Nattie, in utter unconsciousness of Quimby's selfish hidden thought; "for I am lonely sometimes. Miss Kling is not—not—"
"Oh, certainly! of course not!" Quimby responded sympathetically and understandingly, as Nattie hesitated for a word that would express her meaning. "They never are very adaptable—old maids, you know!"
"But it isn't because they are unmarried," said Nattie, perhaps feeling called upon to defend her future self, "but because they were born so!"
"Exactly, you know, that's why no fellow ever marries them!" said Quimby, with a glance of bashful admiration at his companion.
"And this Miss Archer. Did you say she was a prima donna?" she questioned.
"Yes—that is, a sort of a kind of a one, or going to be, or some way musical or theatrical, you know," was Quimby's lucid reply. "I'll make it a point to—to introduce you if you will allow me that pleasure?"
"Certainly," responded Nattie, and added, "I shall be quite rich, for me, in acquaintances soon, if I continue as I have begun. I made a new one on the wire to-day."
"On the—I beg pardon—on the what?" asked Quimby, with visions of tight-ropes flashing through his mind.
"On the wire," repeated Nattie, to whom the phrase was so common, that it never occurred to her as needing any explanation.
"Oh!" said the puzzled Quimby, not at all comprehending, but unwilling to confess his ignorance.
"The worst of it is, I don't know the sex of my new friend, which makes it a little awkward," continued Nattie.
"Don't—I beg pardon—don't know her—his—sex?" he repeated, with wide-open eyes.
"No, it was on the wire, you know!" again explained Nattie, privately thinking him unusually stupid; "about seventy miles away. We first quarreled and then had a pleasant talk."
"Talk—seventy miles—" faltered the perplexed Quimby; then brightening, "Oh! I see! a telephone, you know!"
"No indeed!" replied Nattie, laughing at his incomprehensibility. "We don't need telephones. We can talk without—did you not know that? And what is better, no one but those who understand our language can know what we say!"
"Exactly!" answered Quimby, relapsing again into wonder. "Exactly—on the wire!"
"Yes, we talk in a language of dots and dashes, that even Miss Kling might listen to in vain. And do you know," she went on confidentially, "somehow, I am very much interested in my new friend. I wish I knew—its so awkward, as I said—but I really think it's a gentleman!"
"Exactly—exactly so!" responded Quimby, somewhat dejectedly. And during the remainder of their walk he was very much harassed in his mind over this interest Nattie confessed in her new friend—"on the wire,"—who would appear as a tight-rope performer to his perturbed imagination. And he felt in his inmost heart that it would be a great relief to his mind if this mysterious person should prove a lady, even though, if a gentleman, he was many miles away. For Quimby, with all his obtusity, had an inkling of the power of mystery, and was already far enough on the road to love to be jealous.
Of these thoughts Nattie was of course wholly unaware, and chatted gayly, now of the distant "C" and now of the coming Miss Archer, to her somewhat abstracted, but always devoted companion.
VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE FRIENDS.
With perhaps one or two less frowns than usual at the destiny that compelled her to forego any morning naps, and be up and stirring at the early hour of six o'clock, Nattie arose next morning, aware of a more than accustomed willingness to go to the office. And immediately on her arrival there, she opened the key, and said, without calling, just to ascertain if her far-away acquaintance would notice it,—
"G. M. (good morning) C!"
Apparently "C" had his or her ears on the alert, for immediately came the response,
"G. M., my dear!"
A form of expression rather familiar for so short an acquaintance, that is, supposing "C" to be a gentleman. "But then, people talk for the sake of talking, and never say what they mean on the wire," thought Nattie. Besides, did not the distance in any case annul the familiarity? Therefore, without taking offense, even without comment, she asked:
"Are we to get along to-day without quarreling?"
"Oh! it is you, is it, 'N'?" responded "C," "I thought so, but wasn't quite sure. Yes, you, may 'break' at every word, and I will still be amiable."
"I should be afraid to put you to the test," replied Nattie, with a laugh.
"Do you then think me such a hopelessly ill-natured fellow?" inquired "C."
"Fellow!" triumphantly repeated Nattie. "Be careful, or you will betray yourself!"
"Ha, ha!" laughed "C." "Stupid enough of me, wasn't it? But it only proves the old adage about giving a man rope enough to hang himself."
"Don't mention old adages, for I detest them!" said Nattie. "Especially that one about the early bird and the worm. But I fear, as a mystery, you are not a success, Mr. 'C'."
"A very bad attempt at a pun," said "C." "I trust, however, you will not desert me, now your curiosity is satisfied, Miss 'N.'?"
"Don't be in such a hurry to miss me. I have said nothing yet to give you that right," Nattie replied.
"Nevertheless, it's utterly impossible not to miss you. I missed you last night after you had gone home, for instance. "But you, a great, hulking fellow! No, indeed! In my mind's eye—"
But what was in "C's" mind's eye did not just then appear, for at this interesting point some one at Nattie's window, saying. "I would like to send a message," obliged her reluctantly to interrupt him with,
"Excuse me a moment, a customer is waiting."
She then turned as much of her attention as she could separate from "C" to the customer, enabled, perhaps, to answer the volley of miscellaneous questions poured upon her with unusual affability, on account of the settlement—and in the right direction!—of that vexed question of "C's" sex.
But she could not help thinking, as she glanced at the message finally written, and handed to her that had the writer attended a little more to the spelling-book, and a little less to the accumulation of diamond rings, it might have been a very wise proceeding. But perhaps
"Meat me at the train," was sufficiently intelligible for all purposes.
"What was it about your mind's eye?" Nattie asked over the wire, at the first opportunity.
"C" was again on the alert, without being called, for the answer came, after a moment, just long enough for him to cross the room, perhaps.
"As I was saying, in the eye aforesaid, me thinks I see a tall slim young lady with blue eyes and light hair, and dimples that come into her cheeks when I stupidly betray my sex."
As "C" said this, Nattie glanced into the glass just over her head at the reflection of her face. A face whose expression was its charm; that never could be called pretty, but that nevertheless suggested a possibility—only a possibility, of being handsome. For there is a vast difference between pretty and handsome. Pretty people seldom know very much; but to be handsome, a person must have brains; an inner as well as an outer beauty.
"How fortunate it is you are not near enough to be disenchanted!" Nattie replied to "C." "Your mind's eye is very unreliable. Tall! why, I'm only five feet! never was guilty of a dimple, and my eyes are of some dreadfully nondescript color."
"If you are only five feet, you never can look down on me, which is a great consolation," "C" responded. "And for the rest imagination will clothe the unseen with all possible beauty and grace."
"I am sure I am perfectly willing you should imagine me as beautiful as you please," replied Nattie, "As long as we don't come face to face, which in all probability we never shall, you will not know how different from the real was the ideal."
"Please don't discourage me so soon, for I hope sometime we may clasp hands bodily as we do now spiritually, on the wire—for we do, don't we?" said "C" asserting before he questioned.
"Certainly—here is mine, spiritually!" responded Nattie, without the least hesitation, as she thought, of the miles of safe distance between. "Now may I ask—"
"Oh! come, come! this will never do! You are getting on altogether too fast for people who were quarreling so yesterday!" broke in a third party, who signed, "Em." and was a young lady wire-acquaintance of Nattie's, some twenty miles distant.
"You think the circuit of our friendship ought to be broken?" queried Nattie.
"Ah! leave that to time and change, by which all circuits are broken," remarked "C."
"Yes, but such a sudden friendship is sure to come to a violent end," Em. said. "Suppose now I should report you for talking so much—not to say flirting—on the wire, which is against the rules you know?"
"In that event I should know how to be revenged", replied "C." "I should put on my 'ground' wire and cut off communication between you and that little fellow at Z!"
Em. laughed, and perhaps feeling herself rather weak on that point, subsided, and Nattie began, "Sentiment—"
But the pretty little speech on that subject she had all ready was spoiled by an operator—who evidently had none of it in his soul—usurping the wire with the prefaced remark,
The wire being unusually busy, this was all the conversation Nattie and "C" had during the day, but Just before six o'clock came the call,
"B m—B m—B m—X n."
"B m," immediately responded Nattie.
"I merely want to ask for my character before saying g. n. (good night). Haven't I been amiable to-day?" was asked from X n.
"Very, but there is no merit in it, as Mark Tapley would say," replied Nattie. "You had no provocation."
"Now I flattered myself I had 'come out strong!' Alas! what a hard thing it is to establish one's reputation," said "C," sagely; "but I trust to Time, who, after all, is a pretty good fellow to right matters, notwithstanding a dreadful careless way he has of strewing crow's feet and wrinkles."
"Has he dropped any down your way?" asked Nattie.
"Hinting to know my age now, are you? Oh! curiosity! curiosity! Yes, I think he has implanted a perceptible crow's foot or two; but he has spared the hairs of my head, and for that I am thankful! Did you ever see an aged operator? I never did, and don't know whether it's because electricity acts as a sort of antidote, or whether they grow wise as they grow old, and leave the business. The case is respectfully submitted."
"Your organs of discernment must be very fully developed," Nattie replied. "It is fortunate I am too far away to be analyzed personally; but I don't think I will stay after hours to discuss these things to night. I am tired, for I have had a run of disagreeable people to-day. So g. n."
"G. n., my dear," said the gallant "C," in whose composition bashfulness seemed certainly to have no part. But then—as Nattie previously had thought—he was along way off.
It must be confessed "C" could hardly fail to have been flattered had he known how full Nattie's thoughts were of him, as she went home that night. A little foolish in the young lady, who rather prided herself on being strong-minded, this deep interest; but hers was a lonely life, poor girl, and "C" was certainly entertaining "over the wire," whatever he might be in a personal interview—of course, not very likely to occur. No! it was all "over the wire!"
As she reached her own door, absorbed in these meditations, she heard the sound of a merry laugh over in Mrs. Simonson's, and saw a large trunk in the hall. From this she inferred that Miss Archer had arrived, a fact Miss Kling confirmed, with uplifted eyebrows, and the remark,
"There must be something wrong about a young woman who has three immense trunks!"
Although Nattie felt a desire to make this newcomer's acquaintance, it was less strong than it might have been had she arrived a week sooner; for it was undoubtedly true that the interest she had in her new, invisible friend far exceeded that towards a possible visible one. Such is the power of mystery!
The office now possessed a new charm for her. To the surprise of an idle clerk in an office over the way, who had always noted how particular she was to arrive at exactly eight A. M., and to leave precisely at six P. M., she suddenly began to appear before hours in the morning, and to stay after hours at night. Of course this benighted person was not aware that by so doing she secured quiet chats with "C," uninterrupted, and without being told in the middle of some pretty speech to "Shut up!" or to " Keep out!" by some soured and inelegant operator on the line, to whom the romance of telegraphy had long ago given place to the monotonous, poorly-paid, everyday reality.
And it came to pass that "C" soon shared all her daily life, thoughts and troubles. Annoyances became lighter because she told him, and he sympathized. Any funny incident that occurred was doubly funny, because they laughed over it together, and so it went on.
That "good-night, dear," previously unchallenged, became a regular institution and still, on account of those long miles between them, Nattie made only a faint remonstrance when his usual morning salutation grew into "Good-morning, little five-foot girl at B m!" then was shortened to "Good-morning, little girl!"
And all this time it never occurred to them that excepting "N" was for Nattie, and "C" for Clem, they knew really nothing about each other, not even their names.
Thus the acquaintance went on, amid much banter from the before-mentioned "Em.," and interruptions from disgusted old settlers.
It was by no means to the satisfaction of Quimby, that Miss Rogers should thus allow the telegraphic world to supersede the one in which he had a part. That intimacy with Miss Archer, of which he had dreamed, as a means of improving his own acquaintance with her towards whom his susceptible heart yearned, did not make even a beginning. In fact, what with Nattie being engaged all day, and stopping after hours for a quiet talk with "C," and Miss Archer having many evening engagements, the two had never even met. And how a young man was to make himself agreeable in the eyes of a young lady he only caught a glimpse of occasionally, was a problem quite beyond solution by the brain of Quimby.
Two or three times, in his distraction of mind, he had stood in very light clothing, about Nattie's hour of returning home, full twenty-five minutes at the outer door of the hotel, with a cold wind blowing on him. But Nattie, utterly unconscious of this devotion, was enjoying the conversation of "C;" and so at last, half frozen, poor Quimby was compelled to retreat, his object unaccomplished. He would willingly have wandered about the halls for hours, and waylaid her, had it not been that the fear of those two terrific ones, Miss Kling and Mr. Fishblate, "catching him at it," prevailed over all other considerations. As for going to her office, Quimby, in his bashfulness, dared not even walk through the street containing it, lest she should penetrate his motives, and be offended at his presumption. Under these circumstances he began to despair of ever having the opportunity, to say nothing of the ability, of making an impression, when one afternoon he chanced to meet Miss Archer in the vicinity of Nattie's office, and was instantly overwhelmed by a brilliant idea; that was to ask Miss Archer—to whom he had talked much of Nattie during their short acquaintance—if she would call on her with him, omitting the fact that he dared not go alone.
Miss Archer, a little curious to see the lady with whom, she was secretly convinced, Quimbv was in love, readily consented to the proposition; and so it came to pass that Nattie was interrupted in an account she was giving "C" of a man who wanted to send a message to his wife, and seemed to think "My wife, in Providence," all the address necessary, by the unexpected apparition of Quimby, accompanied by a stylish and handsome young lady.
"I—I beg pardon, if I—if I intrude, you know," he stammered, beginning to wish he had not done it, as Nattie, with an "Excuse me, visitors," to "C," rose and came forward. "But I—I brought Miss Archer! To make you acquainted, you know."
"I am indebted to you for that pleasure," Nattie said, with a smile, as she took the hand Miss Archer extended, saying,
"I have heard Quimby speak about you so much, I already feel acquainted."
Quimby blushed, and nervously fingered his necktie.
"Such near neighbors—so lonesome—thought you ought to know each other," he said confusedly.
"Yes, I began to fear we were destined never to meet," Nattie replied, as she held the private door open for her visitors to enter, a proceeding contrary to rules, but she preferred rather to transgress in this way, than in manners, and leave her callers standing out in the cold.
"I don't know as we ever should, had it not been for Quimby," said Miss Archer, glancing curiously around the office. "I believe I never was in a telegraph office before. Don't you find the confinement rather irksome?"
"Sometimes," Nattie replied; "but then there always is some one to talk with on the wire,' and in that way a good deal of the time passes."
"Talk with—on the wire?" queried Miss Archer, with uplifted eyebrows. "What does that mean? Do tell me. I am as ignorant as a Hottentot about anything appertaining to telegraphy. Nearly all I know is, you write a message, pay for it, and it goes."
Nattie smiled and explained, and then turning to Quimby, asked,
"You remember my speaking about 'C' and wondering whether a gentleman or lady?"
"Oh, yes!" Quimby remembered, and fidgeted on his chair.
"He proved to be a gentleman."
"Oh, yes; exactly, you know!" responded Quimby, looking anything but elated.
"It must be very romantic and fascinating to talk with some one so far away, a mysterious stranger too, that one has never seen," Miss Archer said, her black eyes sparkling. "I should get up a nice little sentimental affair immediately, I know I should, there is something so nice about anything with a mystery to it."
"Yes, telegraphy has its romantic side—it would be dreadfully dull if it did not," Nattie answered.
"But—now really," said Quimby, who sat on the extreme edge of the chair, with his feet some two yards apart from each other; "really, you know, now suppose—just suppose, your mysterious invisible shouldn't be—just what you think, you know. You see, I remember one or two young men in telegraph offices, whose collars and cuffs are always soiled, you know!"
"I have great faith in my 'C,'" laughed Nattie.
"It would be dreadfully unromantic to fall in love with a soiled invisible, wouldn't it," said Miss Archer, with an expressive shrug of her shoulders.
Nattie colored a little, and answered hastily:
"Oh! it's only fun, you know;" at which Quimby brightened, and Miss Archer inquired gayly,
"Pour passer le temps?"
Nattie nodded in reply, as she took a message from a lady, who had only a few words to send, but found it necessary to ask about fifteen questions, and relate all her recent family history, concluding with the birth of twins, before being satisfied her message would go all right,—a proceeding that made Quimby stare, and afforded Miss Archer much amusement.
"Oh! that is nothing!" Nattie said, in answer to the latter's significant laugh, when the customer had retired. "Some very ludicrous incidents occur almost daily, I assure you. Truly, the ignorance of people in regard to telegraphy is surprising; aggravating too, sometimes. Just imagine a person thinking a telegraph office is managed on the same principle as those stores where they at first charge double the value of the goods, for the sake of giving people the pleasure of beating them down! It was only yesterday that a woman tried to coax me to take off ten cents, and then snarled at me because I wouldn't, and declared she would patronize some other office next time, as if it mattered to me, except to wish she might! And there was some one calling on the wire with a rush message all the time she was detaining me!"
"They think you ought to be harnessed with a punch, like a horse-car conductor," said Miss Archer, laughing, and added,
"I wish I knew how to telegraph, I would have a chat with your 'C.' I am getting very much interested in him!"
Quimby twirled his hat uneasily.
"But—I beg pardon, but he may be a soiled invisible, you know!" he hinted, seemingly determined to keep this possibility uppermost.
Before Nattie could again defend her "C" a woman, covered with cheap finery, thrust her head into the window.
"How much does it cost to telegram?" she asked.
"To what place did you wish to send?" Nattie inquired.
With a look, as if she considered this a very impertinent question, the woman replied, with a slight toss of her head,
"It's no matter about the place, I only want to know what it costs to telegram!"
"That depends entirely on where the message is going," answered Nattie, with a glance at Miss Archer.
"Oh, does it?" said the woman, looking surprised. "Well, to Chicago, then."
Nattie told her the tariff to that city.
"Is that the cheapest?" she then asked. "I only want to send a few words, about six."
"The price is the same for one or ten words," said Nattie rather impatiently.
The woman gave another surprised stare.
"That's strange!" she said incredulously. "Well"—moving away—"I'll write then; I am not going to pay for ten words when I want to send six."
"That is a specimen of the ignorance you were just speaking of, I presume," laughed Miss Archer, as soon as the would-be sender was out of hearing.
"Yes," replied Nattie, "it's hard to make them believe sometimes that everything less than ten words is a stated price, and that we only charge per word after that number. And, speaking of ignorance, do you know I once actually had a letter brought me, all sealed, to be sent that way by telegraph."
Miss Archer laughed again, and Quimby inquired,
"I—I beg pardon, but did I understand that the last came within your experience?"
"Yes," Nattie replied, "and I had a young woman come in here once, who asked me to write the message for her, and after I had done so, in a somewhat hasty scrawl, she took it, looked it all over critically, dotted some 'i's,' and crossed some 't's,' I all the time staring, amazed, and wondering if she supposed I could not read my own hand-writing, then scowled and threw it down disgustedly saying, 'John never can read that! I shall have to write it myself. He knows my writing!'"
"Can such things be!" cried Miss Archer.
"But," asked Quimby, from his uncomfortable perch on the edge of the chair, "Isn't there a—a something—a fac-simile arrangement?"
"I believe there is, but it is not yet perfected," replied Nattie.
"Ah, well! then the young woman was only in advance of the age," said Miss Archer; "and what with that and the telephone, and that dreadful phonograph that bottles up all one says and disgorges at inconvenient times, we will soon be able to do everything by electricity; who knows but some genius will invent something for the especial use of lovers? something, for instance, to carry in their pockets, so when they are far away from each other, and pine for a sound of 'that beloved voice,' they will have only to take up this electrical apparatus, put it to their ears, and be happy. Ah! blissful lovers of the future!"
"Yes!—I—yes, that would be a good idea!" cried Quimby eagerly; then instantly fearing he had betrayed himself, turned red, and clutched at the mustache that eluded his grasp. Miss Archer looked at him and smiled, and Nattie was about to expound further when she heard "C" asking on the wire,
"N, haven't your visitors gone yet? Tell them to hurry!"
"You wouldn't say so," Nattie responded to him, "if you knew what a handsome young lady one of my two visitors is. We have been talking about you, too."
"Introduce me, please do," said "C."
"What are you doing, now?" asked Miss Archer, watchful of Nattie's smiling face.
Leaving the key open, Nattie explained, to Quimby's unconcealed dissatisfaction; but Miss Archer was delighted.
"Oh! do introduce me! Can you any way?" she said.
Nattie nodded affirmatively, and taking hold of the key, wrote, "She is as anxious as you are. So allow me to make you acquainted with Miss Archer, a young lady with the prettiest black eyes I ever saw!"
"Is she an operator?" asked "C."
"Doesn't know a dot from a dash," Nattie answered him.
"Then tell her in plain language, that this is the happiest moment of my life, and also that black eyes are my especial adoration!"
"What have you been telling him about me, you dreadful girl?" queried Miss Archer, shaking her head remonstratingly when this was repeated to her. "But you may inform him I am delighted to make his acquaintance, and hope he has curly hair, because it's so nice to pull!"
"With the hope of such a happy occurrence, I will hereafter do up my hair in papers," "C" replied when Nattie had repeated this to him. "But do not slight your other visitor."
"Shall I introduce you?" asked Nattie holding the key open, and turning to Quimby, who had betrayed various symptoms of uneasiness while this conversation was going on, and who now grasped his hat firmly, as if to throw it at the little sounder that represented the offending "C," and answered,
"Oh, no! I—really I—I beg pardon, but it's really no matter about me—you know!"
"He says he is of no consequence," Nattie said to "C."
"He!" repeated "C," "a he, is it? Ought I to be jealous? Is it you, or our black-eyed friend who is the attraction?"
Nattie replied only with a ha!
"Is he talking now?" asked Miss Archer, mindful of Nattie's smile, and nodding towards the clattering sounder, at which Quimby was scowling.
"No, some other office is sending business now, so our conversation is suspended," answered Nattie, as much to Quimby's relief as to Miss Archer's regret.
"I shall improve the acquaintance, however," the latter said. "I am very curious to know how he looks, aren't you?"
"Yes, but I do not suppose I ever shall," Nattie answered.
"Then you—I beg pardon, but you never expect to see him?" queried Quimby, with great earnestness.
"In all probability we never shall meet. I think I should be dreadfully embarrassed if we should," Nattie replied, as she handed the day's cash to the boy who just then came after it. "Face to face we would really be strangers to each other."
Quimby evinced more satisfaction at this than the occasion seemed to warrant, as Nattie noticed, with some surprise, but several customers claiming her attention, all at once, and all in a hurry, she was kept too busy for some time, to think upon the cause.
As soon as she was at leisure, Miss Archer, with the remark that they had made an unpardonably long call, arose to go.
But you must certainly come again, "Nattie said, cordially, already feeling her to be an old friend.
"Indeed I shall," she answered, in the genial way peculiar to her. "You have a double attraction here, you know. Can I say good-by to 'C?'"
"I fear not, as the wire is busy," replied Nattie. "But I will say it for you as soon as possible."
"Yes, tell him, please, that I will see him—I mean, hear the clatter he makes again soon: You, I shall see at the hotel, I hope, now we have met."
"Oh, yes!" Nattie replied. "I am very much indebted to Quimby for making us acquainted."
"Oh! really now, do you mean it?" exclaimed Quimby, with sudden delight. "I am so glad I've done something right at last, you know! Always doing something wrong, you know!" then hugging his hat to his breast, and speaking in a confidential whisper, he added, to the great amusement of the two girls, "I have a presentiment—a horrible presentiment—I'm always making mistakes, you see. I'm used to it, but I couldn't get used to that, you know—that some day I shall marry the wrong woman!"
So saying, and with a last glance of implacable dislike at the sounder, Quimby bowed awkwardly, and departed with the laughing Miss Archer.
Soon after their departure, "C" asked,
"Has Black-Eyed Susan gone?"
"Yes," responded Nattie. "She left a good-by for you, and means to improve your acquaintance."
"Thrice happy I! But about this he? Who is this he? I want to know all about him. Is he a hated rival?"
"Ha! I never heard him say so, but I will ask him if you wish. He lives in the same building with me, and brought Miss Archer, a fellow-lodger, down to introduce her."
"Do you ever go to balls, concerts, theaters, or to ride with him?" asked "C," who seemed determined to make a thorough investigation of matters.
"Dear me! No! He never asked me!"
"Do you wish he would?" persisted "C."
"Of course I do!" replied Nattie, somewhat regardless of truth.
"It is my opinion I shall be obliged to come and look after you," "C" replied, at this admission.
"But you wouldn't know whether you were looking after the right person or not, when you were here!" Nattie said, with a smiling face and sparkling eyes turned in the direction of an urchin,' flattening his nose against her window-glass, who immediately fled, overwhelmed with astonishment, at being, as he supposed, so smiled upon.
"And why wouldn't I?" questioned "C."
"Because I should recognize you immediately, and should pretend it was not I, but some substitute," replied Nattie.
"You seem to be very positive about recognizing me. Is your intuitive bump so well-developed as all that?" asked "C."
"Yes," Nattie responded. "And then you know there would be a twinkle in your eye that would betray you at once."
"Indeed! We will see about that, young lady. But now, as a customer has been drumming on my shelf for the past five minutes, in a frantic endeavor to attract my attention, and has by this time worked himself into a fine irascible temper, because I will not even glance at him, I must bid you good-night, with the advice, watch for that twinkle, and be sure you discover it!"
In the opinion of Miss Betsey Kling, a lone young woman, who possessed three large trunks, a more than average share of good looks, and who went out and came in at irregular and unheard-of hours, was a person to be looked after and inquired about; accordingly, while Miss Archer was making the acquaintance of Nattie, and of the invisible "C," Miss Kling descended upon Mrs. Simonson, with the object of dragging from that lady all possible information she might be possessed of, regarding her latest lodger. As a result, Miss Kling learned that Miss Archer was studying to become an opera singer, that she occasionally now sang at concerts, meeting with encouraging success, and further, that she possessed the best of references. But Miss Kling gave a sniffle of distrust.
"Public characters are not to be trusted. Do you remember," she asked solemnly, "do you remember the young man you once had here, who ran away with your teaspoons and your toothbrush?"
Ah, yes! Mrs. Simonson remembered him perfectly. Was she likely to forget him? But he, Mrs. Simonson respectfully submitted, was not a singer, but a commercial traveler.
Miss Kling shook her head.
"That experience should be a warning! You cannot deny that no young woman of a modest and retiring disposition would seek to place herself in a public position. Can you imagine me upon the stage?" concluded Miss Kling with great dignity.
Mrs. Simonson was free to admit that her imagination could contemplate no such possibility, and then, neither desirous of criticising a good paying lodger, or of offending Miss Kling—that struggle with the ways and means having taught her to, offend no one if it could possibly be avoided—she changed the subject by expatiating at length upon a topic she always found safe—the weather. But Miss Celeste Fishblate coming in, Miss Kling left the weather to take care of itself, and returned to the more interesting discussion, to her, of Miss Archer.
Celeste, a young lady favored with a countenance that impressed the beholder as being principally nose and teeth, and possessing a large share of the commodity known as gush, was ready enough to be the recipient of her neighbor's collection of gossip. But, to Miss Kling's no small disgust, she was rather lukewarm in pre-judging the new-comer. In truth, although somewhat alarmed at the "three trunks," lest she should be out-dressed, she was already debating within herself whether Miss Archer, as a medium by which more frequent access to Mrs. Simonson's gentlemen lodgers could be obtained, was not a person whose acquaintance it was desirable to cultivate. Moreover, the words opera singer raised ecstatic visions of a possible future introduction to some "ravishing tenor," the remote idea of which caused her to be so visibly preoccupied, that Miss Kling took her leave with angry sniffles, and returned home to ponder over what she had heard.
A few days after, Nattie, who had quite paralyzed Miss Kling by refusing to listen to what she boldly termed unfounded gossip about her new friend, went to spend an evening with her.
Miss Archer occupied a suite of rooms, consisting of a parlor and a very small bed-room that had been Mrs. Simonson's own, but which on account of the "ways and means" she had given up now, confining herself exclusively to the kitchen, fitted up to look as much like a parlor as a kitchen could.
"And how is 'C'?" asked Miss Archer as she warmly welcomed her visitor.
"Still as agreeable as ever," Nattie replied. "I told him I was coming to see you this evening and he sent his regards, and wished he could be of the party."
"I wish he might. But that would spoil the mystery," rejoined Miss Archer. "Do you know what the 'C' is for?"
"'Clem,' he says. His other name I don't know. He would give me some outlandish cognomen if I should ask. But it isn't of much consequence."
"It might be if you should really fall in love with him," laughed Miss Archer.
"Fall in love! Over the wire! That is absurd, especially as I am not susceptible," Nattie answered, coloring a trifle, however, as she remembered how utterly disconsolate she had been all that morning, because a "cross" on the wire had for several hours cut off communication between her office and "X n."
"You think it would be too romantic for real life? Doubtless you are right. And the funny incidents—have you anything new in your note-book?"
"Only that a man to-day, who had perhaps just dined, wanted to know the tariff to the U—nited St—at—ates," answered Nattie, glancing at some autumn leaves tastefully arranged on the walls and curtains. "But 'C' was telling me about a mistake that was lately made—not by him, he vehemently asserts, although I am inclined to think it message as originally sent was, 'John is dead, be at home at three,' when it was delivered it read, 'John is dead beat; home at three.'"
"How was that possible?" asked Miss Archer, laughing,
"I suppose the sending operator did not leave space enough between the words; we leave a small space between letters, and a longer one between words," explained Nattie.
"The operator who received it must have been rather stupid not to have seen the mistake," Miss Archer said. "I have too good an opinion of your 'C' to believe it was he. But every profession has its comic side as well as its tricks, I suppose; mine, I am sure, does. But I am learning something every day, and I am determined," energetically, "to fight my way up!"
Stirred by Miss Archer's earnestness, there came to Nattie an uneasy consciousness that she herself was making no progress towards her only dreamed of ambition, and a shade crossed her face; but without observing it, Miss Archer continued,
"I always had a passion for the lyric stage, and now there is nothing to prevent—" did a slight shadow here darken also her sunny eyes, gone instantly?— "I shall make music my life's aim. Fortunately I have money of my own to enable me to study, and—"
Miss Archer's speech was here interrupted in a somewhat startling manner, by the door suddenly flying open, banging against the piano with a prodigious crash, and disclosing Quimby, red and abashed, outside.
Nattie jumped, Miss Archer gave a little scream, and the Duchess, Mrs. Simonson's handsome tortoise-shell cat, so named from her extreme dignity, who lay at full length upon a rug, drew herself up in haughty displeasure.
"I—I beg pardon, I am sure!" stammered the more agitated intruder. "Really, I—I am so ashamed I—I can hardly speak! I was unfortunate enough to stumble—I'm used to it, you know,—and I give you my word of honor I never saw such a—such an extremely lively door!"
"It is of no consequence," Miss Archer assured him. "Will you come in?"
"Thank you, I—I fear I intrude," answered Quimby, clutching his watch-chain, and glancing at Nattie, guiltily conscious of the strong desire to do so that had taken possession of him since the sound of her voice had penetrated to his apartment, and in perfect agony lest she should surmise it. However, upon Miss Archer's assuring him that they would be very glad of his company, he ventured to enter. But the door still weighed upon his mind, for after carefully closing it, he stood and stared at it with a very perplexed face.
"Never saw such a lively door, you know!" he repeated, finally sitting down on the piano-stool, and folding both arms across one knee, letting a hand droop dismally on either side, while he looked alternately at Miss Archer, Nattie, and the part of the room mentioned, at which the former laughed, and then, with the kind intention of drawing his mind from the subject of his forced appearance, suggested a game of cards.
"Then we shall have to have one more person, shall we not?" Nattie asked, at this proposition.
"It would be better," replied Miss Archer. "Let me see—Mrs. Simonson does not play—"
"Mr. Norton does!" interrupted Quimby, forgetting the door, in his eagerness to be of service. "I—I would willingly ask him to join us, if you will allow me!"
"That queer young artist who lodges here, you mean?" inquired Miss Archer.
"Oh! But he is a dreadful Bohemian!" commented Nattie, distrustfully, before Quimby could reply.
"Is he?" laughed Miss Archer. "Then ask him in by all means! I am something of a Bohemian myself, and shall be delighted to meet a kindred soul! I do not know as I have ever observed the gentleman particularly, but if I remember rightly, he wears his hair very closely cropped, and is not a model of beauty?"
"But he is just as nice a fellow as if he was handsome outside!" said Quimby earnestly, doubtless aware of his own shortcomings in the Adonis line. "He is a little queer to be sure, doesn't believe in love or sentiment or anything of that sort, you know, and he says he wears his hair cropped close because people have a general idea that artists are long-haired, lackadaisical fellows,—not to say untidy, you know,—and he is determined that no one shall be able to say it of him!"
Miss Archer was much amused at this description.
"He certainly is an odd genius, and decidedly worth knowing. Bring him in, I beg of you," she said.
But Quimby hesitated and glanced at Nattie.
"He is not very unconventional, I—I do not think he will shock you very much if you do not get him at it, you know!" he said to her apologetically.
"Oh! I am not at all alarmed!" said Nattie, adding, as her thoughts reverted to Miss Kling, "I think, after all, a Bohemian is better than a perfect model of conventionalism!"
Miss Archer heartily indorsed this sentiment, and Quimby went in quest of Mr. Norton, with whom he soon returned.
Unlike enough to the melancholy artist of romantic fame was Mr. Norton. Short, rather stout, inclined to be red in the face, large-nosed, scrupulously neat in dress, clean shaven, and closely-cropped hair—all this the observing Miss Archer saw at a glance as she bowed to him in response to Quimby's introduction. But the second glance showed her that the expression of his face was so jovial that its plainness vanished as if by magic on his first smile.
If Nattie, possibly a trifle prejudiced in his disfavor, expected him to outrage common propriety in some way, such as keeping on his hat, smoking a black pipe, or turning up his pantaloons leg, she was utterly—shall we say disappointed? Truth to tell, before ten minutes had elapsed from the time of his arrival, she was wishing she knew more "Bohemians," and even hoping "C" was one!
At home as soon as he entered the room, in a very short time the strangers of a moment ago were his life-long friends. Full of anecdotes and quaint remarks, he was the life of the little party. Miss Archer, however, was a very able backer—Cyn, as they all found themselves calling her soon after Jo Norton's advent, and forevermore.
"Cyn was," as its owner said, "short" for the samewhat lofty name of Cynthia.
Doubtless, the fact of these two, who were partners, beating nearly every game they played, was not without its effect in promoting their most genial feelings. A result brought about, not so much by their skill, as by Quimby's perpetually forgetting what was trumps, confounding the right and left bowers, and disregarding the power of the joker.
And in truth Quimby's mind was more on his partner than on the game, and he was becoming more and more awake to the fact that his heart was fast filling with admiration and adoration of which she was the object, and inevitably must soon overflow! For Nattie was really looking her very best this evening. It was excitement and animation that her face depended upon for its beauty. Miss Archer's companionship, too, was doing much towards promoting the cheerfulness that brought so clear a light to her eyes—the light that was now dazzling Quimby. For Cyn was one of those people who live always in the sunshine, and seem to carry its own brightness around with them, while Nattie, on the contrary, oftentimes dwelt among the shadows, and a touch of their somberness hung over her, and showed itself upon her face.
But none of these lurking shadows were there to-night, and as a consequence, Quimby was unable to keep his eyes off her, and sighed, and made misdeals, and became generally mixed. His embarrassment was not lessened when Cyn mischievously informed him he had certainly found favor in the eyes of Miss Fishblate—who had called upon her the day before. He dropped the pack of cards he happened to have in his hand at the moment, all over the floor, and then dived so hastily to pick them up that his head came in violent contact with the edge of the table, and for a moment he was almost stunned.
But in answer to Cyn's anxious inquiry if he was hurt, he replied,
"It's nothing! I—I am used to it, you know!" Notwithstanding which assertion his forehead developed such a sudden and terrific bump of benevolence, that Cyn insisted upon binding her handkerchief over it. Thus, with his head tied up, and secretly lamenting the unornamental figure he now presented to the eyes of his partner and charmer, Quimby resumed the game. But what with this cause of uneasiness, and a latent fear that Cyn's jesting remark about Celeste might be true, a fear he had privately been conscious of previously, although the least conceited of mortals, Quimby played so badly—and indeed would undoubtedly have answered "checkers," had he been asked suddenly what game he was playing, on account of his meditations on a checkered existence—that the cards were soon abandoned, and Cyn delighted them with several songs, and a recitation of "Lady Clara Vere de Vere."
While Cyn was singing, Nattie happened to glance at Mr. Norton, and suddenly remembering a sentence in a lately-read novel about some one looking with "his soul in his eyes," wondered if that was not exactly what Mr. Norton was doing now? She did not notice, however, that it was certainly what Quimby was trying not to do! She wondered too, if the young artist was paying Cyn some private compliments, for they seemed to be talking together apart, as all were bidding each other good-night. If so, she could not understand why Cyn should look so mischievous over it. It was but a momentary thought, however, forgotten as they all mutually agreed that the pleasant evening just passed should be but the beginning of many. The circumstance was recalled to her mind, however, and explained the next day, for on returning from the office she found under her door a pen and ink sketch, of which she knew at once Cyn was the designer, and Mr. Norton the executor. It represented two rooms, one on each side of a partition; in one was a table, containing the ordinary telegraphic apparatus, before which sat a young lady strangely resembling Miss Nattie Rogers, with her face beaming with smiles, and her hand grasping the key. In the other, a young man with a very battered hat knelt before the sounder on his table, while behind him an urchin with a message in his hand stared unnoticed, open-mouthed and unheard; far above was Cupid, connecting the wires that ran from the gentleman to the lady.
"What nonsense!" murmured Nattie, laughing to herself; but' she put the picture away in her writing desk as carefully as she might some cherished memento.
QUIMBY BURSTS FORTH IN ELOQUENCE.
"That young lady over there acts very strangely. She is not crazy, is she?" inquired a gentleman who stood leaning against the counter over the way, and looking across at Nattie.
"I don't know what to make of her," the previously mentioned clerk, to whom this question was addressed, answered, "I have been observing her for some weeks; she sits half the time as you see her now, laughing to herself and gesticulating. Sometimes she will lean back in her chair and absolutely shake with laughter, and she smiles at vacancy continually. She seems all right enough with the ex-ception of these vagaries. But she is a perfect conundrum to me."
"A bit luny, I think," said the gentleman, who had asked the question.
Just then, Nattie, who, of course, was talking to "C," and telling him about that sketch—with the slight reservation of the Cupid,—happened to look up, with her gaze seventy miles away; but becoming aware of the curious stares of the two gentlemen opposite, her vision shortened itself to near objects, and rightly surmising from their looks the tenor of their thoughts, she colored, and straightway turned her back, at the same time informing "C" of what she termed their impertinence. But "C" answered, with a laugh,
"It cannot but look strange, you know, to outsiders, to see a person making such an ado apparently over nothing. Put yourself, if you can, in the place of the uninitiated; you come along, see an operator quietly seated, reading the newspaper, with his feet elevated on a chair or table, the picture of repose. Suddenly up he jumps, down goes the paper, he seizes a pencil, hurriedly writes a few words, frowns violently, pounds frantically on the table, stares savagely at nothing, bursts suddenly into a broad smile, and then quietly resumes his first position. Wouldn't these seem like rather eccentric gambols to you, if you didn't know their solution?"
"Ha! Doubtless," answered Nattie. "So I suppose I must forgive my observers, and be more careful what I do in future. I have no doubt I often make myself ridiculous to chance beholders, when I am talking with you."
"I wonder if that is complimentary to me?" queried "C."
"Certainly, as it is because you make me laugh so much," Nattie replied.
"Then I am not such a disagreeable fellow as I might be?" demanded "C," evidently attempting to extort flattery.
But before Nattie could answer, some one else opened their key, and said,
"Oh, yes you are!"
"That was not I," Nattie explained, as quickly as possible. "Some of those unpleasant people that can't mind their own business. I was about to say I should not know how to get through the days now, if I hadn't you to talk with."
"Do you really mean it?" questioned "C," delightedly, it is reasonable to suppose. "Truly, I was thinking only last night how unbearable would have been the solitude of my office, had I not been blessed with your company. I was lonesome enough before I knew you, but I never am now."
It was a pity that no telegraphic instrument had yet been invented that could carry the blush on Nattie's cheeks for his eyes to see, because it was so very becoming. She commenced a reply, expressing her pleasure, but was unable to finish it, on account of that unknown and disagreeable operator somewhere on the line, who kept breaking the circuit after every letter she made. Nor was "C" allowed to write anything either. This was a trick by which they had often been annoyed of late.
For, on the wire in the telegraphic world, as well as elsewhere, are idle, mischief-making people, who cannot endure to see others enjoying themselves, if they also have no share.
Thus, unable to talk farther at present with her indefatigable conversationalist, Nattie took up a pencil and began entering the day's business in her books, when a shadow darkened the doorway, and she looked up to see Quimby.
Since the evening of the card party, when he had become so fully conscious of the condition of things inside his heart, Quimby had been in a really pitiable state of unrest. Too bashful, or too deficient in self-confidence to seek the society of her who was the cause of all his uneasiness, as his inclinations directed, and not knowing how to make himself as charming to her as she was to him, he wandered past the building containing her, two or three times a day, sometimes receiving the pleasure of a bow as he passed her window, but never before to-day being able to raise the necessary courage to go in and speak.
Nattie, who could not but begin to surmise something of the state of his feelings, but without dreaming of their intensity, now smiled on him, and asked him inside the office. No man or woman can be quite indifferent to one, whom they know has set them on a pedestal, apart from the rest of the world.
"I—really I—I beg pardon, I'm sure," the agitated Quimby, trembling at his own daring, responded to her invitation. "I—I was passing—quite accidentally, you know,—thought I would just step in, you know. Really, I—I must ask pardon for the liberty."
"We are too old acquaintances now for you to consider it a liberty," Nattie replied, and the words made his perturbed heart jump with joy. "Business being quite dull to-day, I shall be glad to be entertained. Of course," archly, "you came to entertain me?"
Poor Quimby was decidedly taken aback by this question.
"I—I—yes certainly—no—that is—I mean I am afraid I am not much of an entertainer," he stammered, his hands flying to his necktie and nervously untying it as he spoke. Certainly, the wear and tear on his neckties and watch chain while he was in his present condition of love must have been terrific.
"Aren't you?" queried Nattie without gainsaying his assertion.
"No—really you know I—I'm always making mistakes—but I'm used to it, you know—and I am not—possibly I might be a trifle better than nobody—but that's all."
And having given this honest, and certainly not conceited opinion of himself, he entered the office, sat down, and proceeded to make compasses of his legs.
"Have you seen Cyn to-day? she paid me a flying visit yesterday, and talked a little to 'C,' but I haven't seen her since."
"She went away to sing out of town, let me see—I forget where, and she will not return until to-morrow;" then, uneasily, "I—I beg pardon, but you—you mentioned the Invisible. Do you—I beg pardon—but do you converse as much as ever with him?"
"Yes indeed!" Nattie replied with an ardor that did not produce exactly an enlivening effect upon her caller; "we talk together nearly all the time."
"What—I beg pardon—but really—what do you find to talk about so much?" he inquired jealously.
"Oh, everything! of the books we read, and the good things in the magazines and papers, and the adventures we have—telegraphically; in short, of all the topics of the day. We agree very well too, except on candy, that I like and he doesn't," replied Nattie.
Quimby suppressed a groan, and hastened to assure her that he himself possessed a great passion for sweetmeats.
"But don't you—I beg pardon—but don't you find this sort of thing—'C,' I mean—ghostly, you know?"
"Ghostly!" echoed the astonished Nattie.
"Yes," he replied, with a gesture of his arm that produced an impression as if that member had leaped out of its socket. "Yes, talking with the unseen, you know; I—I beg pardon, but it strikes me as ghostly."
"What a strange fancy!" she exclaimed. "'C' is very real, and of the earth, earthy to me, I assure you!"
Quimby's face lengthened some three inches. "Is he?" he said ruefully. "I—I beg pardon, but you haven't—you don't mean to say that—you have not taken a—bless my soul! how warm it is here!" and he mopped his face with a red silk handkerchief—a color very unbecoming to his complexion.
"Warm!" repeated Nattie, her lips curving in an amused smile, for she had a shawl over her shoulders, and was nevertheless slightly chilly. "I don't perceive it, I am sure."
"I—I beg pardon—but I've been walking, you know," Quimby said nervously. "But I—I was about to ask—I—I beg pardon—but you have not—not" desperately, "really fallen in love with him, have you?"
Nattie's eyes danced with amusement, but her color deepened slightly too, as she replied,
"How could one fall in love with an invisible? why, that would be even less satisfactory than an ideal!"
Quimby's face brightened, and he recovered himself sufficiently to put away the red silk handkerchief.
"I don't think—really, I should not think there could be much satisfaction in it!" then stealing a bashful but adoring glance at her, he added,
"I—I prefer a—a visible, as being something more substantial, you know!"
"Indeed?" said Nattie, demurely; then thinking perhaps he was drifting on to grounds that had best be avoided, she changed the subject, by saying,
"Do you not think Cyn a very charming young lady?"
"Oh, yes! I—I—yes, very charming!" Quimby answered, but not so enthusiastically as perhaps Mr. Norton might have done. For Quimby's heart was of the old-fashioned kind, and his fancy was not fickle; besides, being now, in a measure, launched upon the subject, of love, so awful to approach, he was unwilling thus soon to leave a theme so sweet, yet so formidable. Therefore, crossing his legs, and bracing up against the chair-back; he determined, now or never, to give her an inkling of his feelings, an intention so very palpable, that Nattie was glad indeed to hear from the sounder,
"B m—B m—B m—."
"Excuse me," she said, hastily. "They are calling me on the wire," and immediately answered, and began taking a message.
Meanwhile, to him had come a reaction, and he was in a state of total collapse. Before she had finished receiving that message of only ten words, he had drawn himself dejectedly to his feet, and was looking for his hat.
"I—I really—I must go, you know!" he faltered, blushing, as Nattie glanced up at him. "I—I fear I have intruded now—but I—I—" he stopped short, unable to find an ending to his sentence.
"I'm always glad of company," Nattie said, but a little distantly, as she gave "O. K." on the wire.
"I—I—really, you are very kind, you know," stammered Quimby. "I—I pass here on the way to dinner, you see—from the office, you know,"—he eked out his meagre income by writing in a lawyer's office—"where, 'pon my word, I ought to have been now. But it's—it's such a pleasure to see you—you know that—where can my hat be?"
All this time he had been looking around for his hat, and now Nattie fished it out of the waste basket, into which he had unwittingly dropped it. Taking it with many apologies, he bowed himself confusedly and ungracefully out, and went away, wondering if he would ever be able to get himself up to such a pitch again, and resolving, if it proved possible, that it should not occur next time where there was one of those aggravating "sounders."
"Now, I hope," thought Nattie, as she watched his retreating form, "that he is not going to make an idiot of himself! Not only because he is as good a fellow as he is a blundering one, and I wouldn't for the world hurt his feelings, but also because it would be dreadfully uncomfortable to have a rejected lover wandering around in the same house with one!"
And Nattie, judging from his late conduct that the contingency referred to was likely to occur, resolved to be careful and not give him any opportunity to express his feelings, and furthermore, to kindly and cautiously teach him the meaning of the word Friendship, and particularly to define the broad distinction between that and Love.
But circumstances are mulish things, and not to be governed at will, as Nattie was soon to discover.
A few evenings after she called in to see Cyn, who happened to be out. But she was momentarily expected to return, as Mrs. Simonson said, so Nattie concluded to wait, and sat down at the piano. Not noticing she had left the door partly open, and never dreaming of approaching danger, she began to play, when suddenly, the hesitating voice of Quimby broke in upon the strains of the "First Kiss" waltz.
"I—may I come in?" he asked. "I—I beg your pardon, but I knocked several times, you know, and you didn't hear at all."
Nattie would gladly have refused the invitation he asked, but could think of no possible excuse for so doing, and was therefore compelled to say,
"Yes—come in, I expect Cyn every moment."
Availing himself of this permission, Quimby entered, balanced his hat on the edge of an album, and seating himself in a chair, seized a round on either side as if he was in danger of blowing away, and stared at her without a word.
"It has been a lovely day, hasn't it?" Nattie said at last, beginning to find the silence embarrassing, and reverting to Mrs. Simonson's safe topic.
"Yes—exactly so!" Quimby answered, strengthening his grasp on the chair in a vain endeavor to summon the requisite courage to avail himself of this rare opportunity of pouring out his feelings.
Nattie tried him again on another safe topic.
"Cyn and I dined together to-day."
"I—I can't eat!" burst forth Quimby in accents of despair.
"Can't you?" said Nattie, devoutly wishing Cyn would come. "I am very sorry, I hope you are not dyspeptic."
"No, no!" he answered, his eyes almost starting from his head between his determination to wind himself up to the point, and the tightness of his grasp on the chair. "It's—it's my heart, you know!"
"You don't mean to say you have heart disease?" said Nattie, seeing danger fast approaching, and taking refuge in obtusity.
"No; I—I beg pardon—not a—not a bodily heart disease, you know, but a mental one!" and he relaxed his grasp on the chair with one hand to tug at his necktie as if being hung, and disliking the sensation.
"That is something I never heard of," Nattie said dryly; then thinking, "I'll drown him in music," she asked hastily,
"Do you like the First Kiss?"
The bounce of an India rubber ball is no comparison to the agility with which Quimby jumped from his chair at this question.
"Oh! Bless my soul! Wouldn't I?" he gasped.
"I will play it to you," exclaimed Nattie instantly aware of the indiscretion of her question, and she thundered as loud as she could on the piano, while Quimby, with a very red face, subsided into the chair again. But not long did he remain subsided; whether it was the music that inspired im, or a desperate determination that nerved him, he suddenly sprang up, and with one stride was beside her, exclaiming excitedly,
"No! That is—I beg pardon—but please do not play any more just now. There is something I must say to you! Oh! I can't express myself! It all comes upon me with a rush when I am alone, but now, at this supreme moment, I cannot tell you how I a—"
"Excuse me, but I am afraid I cannot remain now," hastily interrupted Nattie, feeling that something must be done to stop him, and adopting the first expedient that suggested itself. "I just happened to recollect I left my gas burning in close proximity to the lace curtains, and I must go immediately and attend to it."
With these words, Nattie rushed away, half amused and half annoyed, leaving him to stare after her with a blank and rueful face, to ask himself how any fellow could get on amid such drawbacks, to decide that proposing was a dreadful strain on the nerves, but to resolve his next attempt should be a success, if he had to inaugurate previously a series of private rehearsals. For although abashed and discomfited by his repeated failures to make his feelings understood, he was more in love than ever.
COLLAPSE OF THE ROMANCE.
"B m—B m—B m—N—N—N—Oh! where are you, N? Where is the little girl at B m—B m—B m?"
Such were the sounds that greeted Nattie's ears, as she entered the office the morning after her adventure with the love-lorn Quimby; and immediately she ceased to speculate on the probable embarrassment that must necessarily attend their not-to-be-avoided next meeting, and interrupted "C's" solitary conversation, by saying,
"What is the matter with you this morning? Here I am, N."
"G. M., my dear. I'm off, and wanted to say good-by before I went," responded "C."
"Off?" questioned Nattie, with a sudden fall in her mental temperature.
"Yes, I am going to a station five miles below to substitute, to-day. The operator there is obliged to go away, and couldn't find any one competent to do his work, and as there was a fellow that could do mine, he comes here and I go there."
"Oh, dear! what shall I do all day?" said Nattie, sinking into a chair, very much aggrieved.
"I am very sorry, but I couldn't well avoid accommodating him. But what will you do when I leave entirely, if you can't get along without me one day? happy I, to be so necessary to your existence!"
"But there is no prospect of your leaving at present, is there?" asked Nattie, forgetting in her alarm at such a possibility to challenge the last of his remark.
"There is some probability of it now," "C" responded. "I will tell you all about it to-morrow. I may come nearer to you; near enough even for you to see that twinkle."
"You don't mean you have a prospect of an office here in the city?" questioned Nattie, not knowing whether she would be glad or sorry if such were the case.
"Not exactly," replied "C." "I haven't time to explain; train is coming, so—"
"Where did you say you were going to-day?" broke in Nattie quickly.
"B a—five miles down the line nearer you, but not on this wire. Used to be, you know, but switched on wire number twenty-seven last week," "C" responded so hurriedly, that Nattie could hardly read it, although so accustomed to his style of making his dots and dashes; for, with the key, as with the pen, all operators have their own peculiar manner of writing.
"Ah, yes! I remember," responded Nattie quickly. "That hateful operator signing 'M' had it, that used to be fighting for the circuit always, and breaking in when we were talking. I wouldn't have gone for him."
"Couldn't well avoid it. Here is train. Good-by; shall miss you terribly, but will be with you again to-morrow. Good-by."
"Good-by. I am lonesome already," Nattie answered.
As "C" made no reply, it was supposable he had gone, and probably had to run for the train, thought Nattie, as she took off her hat rather dejectedly.
A broken companionship of any kind must ever leave a certain sense of loneliness, and this was none the less true now on account of the unique circumstances. Indeed, until to-day she had not fully realized how necessary "C" had become to her telegraphic life. Naturally, she had woven a sort of romance about him who was a friend "so near and yet so far." Perhaps too, a certain yearning for tenderness in her lonely heart, a feeling that every woman knows, found something, very pleasant in being always greeted with "Good morning, my dear," and hearing the last thing at night, "Good night, little girl at B m."