Project Gutenberg's Susan Clegg and Her Love Affairs, by Anne Warner

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Title: Susan Clegg and Her Love Affairs

Author: Anne Warner

Illustrator: H. M. Brett

Release Date: September 1, 2011 [EBook #37289]

Language: English

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SUSAN CLEGG

AND HER LOVE AFFAIRS

BY ANNE WARNER

Author of "The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary," "Sunshine Jane," etc.

WITH FRONTISPIECE BY
H. M. BRETT

BOSTON
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
1916

Copyright, 1916,
By Little, Brown, and Company.

All rights reserved

Published, May, 1916
Reprinted, May, 1916


"Nothing but the floor stopped me from falling through to China." Frontispiece. See Page 144.


CONTENTS

I. Susan Clegg's Courting 1
II. Susan Clegg and the Chinese Lady 32
III. Susan Clegg Solves the Mystery 58
IV. Susan Clegg and the Olive Branch 80
V. Susan Clegg's "Improvements" 104
VI. Susan Clegg Uprooted 129
VII. Susan Clegg Unsettled 153
VIII. Susan Clegg and the Cyclone 176
IX. Susan Clegg's Practical Friend 216
X. Susan Clegg Develops Imagination 236
XI. Susan Clegg and the Playwright 256
XII. Susan Clegg's Disappearance 277

[Pg 1]

SUSAN CLEGG AND HER LOVE AFFAIRS


I

SUSAN CLEGG'S COURTING

Mrs. Lathrop sat on her front piazza, and Susan Clegg sat with her. Mrs. Lathrop was rocking, and Susan was just back from the Sewing Society. Neither Mrs. Lathrop nor Susan was materially altered since we saw them last. Time had moved on a bit, but not a great deal, and although both were older, still they were not much older.

They were not enough older for Mrs. Lathrop to have had a new rocker, nor for Susan to have purchased a new bonnet. Susan indeed looked almost absolutely[Pg 2] unaltered. She was a woman of the best wearing quality; she was hard and firm as ever, and if there were any plating about her, it was of the quadruple kind and would last.

If the reader knows Susan Clegg at all, he will surmise that she was talking. And he will be right. Susan was most emphatically talking. She had returned from the Sewing Society full to the brim, and Mrs. Lathrop was already enjoying the overflow. Mrs. Lathrop liked to rock and listen. She never went to the Sewing Society herself—she never went anywhere.

"We was talking about dreams," Susan was saying; "it's a very curious thing about dreams. Do you know, Mrs. Lathrop," wrinkling her brow and regarding her friend with that look of friendship which is not blind to any faults, "do you know, Mrs. Lathrop, they said down there that dreams always go by contraries. We was discussing it for a long time, and they ended up by making me believe in it. You see, it all began by my saying how I dreamed last night[Pg 3] that Jathrop was back, and he was a cat and your cat, too, and he did something he wasn't let to, and you made one jump at him, and out of the window he went. Now that was a very strange dream for me to have dreamed, Mrs. Lathrop, and Mrs. Lupey, who's staying with Mrs. Macy to-day and maybe to-morrow, too, says she's sure it's a sign. She says if dreams go by contraries, mine ought to be a sign as Jathrop is coming back, for the contraries is all there: Jathrop wasn't a cat, and he never done nothing that he shouldn't—nor that he should, neither—and you never jump—I don't believe you've jumped in years, have you?"

"I—" began Mrs. Lathrop reminiscently.

"Oh, that time don't count," said Susan, "it was just my ball of yarn, even if it did look like a rat; I meant a jump when you meant it; you didn't mean that jump. Well, an' to go back to the dream and what was said about it and to tell you the rest of it, there wasn't any more of it, but there was plenty more said about it. All of the dream[Pg 4] was that the cat went out of the window, and I woke up, but, oh, my, how we did talk! Gran'ma Mullins wanted to know in the first place how I knew that the cat was Jathrop. She was most interested in that, for she says she often dreams of animals, but it never struck her that they might be any one she knew. She dreamed she found a daddy-long-legs looking in her bureau drawer the other night, but she never gave it another thought. She'll be more careful after this, I guess. Well, then I begun to consider, and for the life of me I can't think how I knew that that cat was Jathrop. As I remember it was a very common looking cat, but being common looking wouldn't mean Jathrop. Jathrop was common looking, but not a common cat kind of common looking. It was a very strange dream, Mrs. Lathrop, the more I consider it, the more I can't see what give it to me. I finished up the doughnuts just before I went to bed, for I was afraid they'd mold in another day with this damp weather, but it don't seem as if[Pg 5] doughnuts ought to result in cats like Jathrop. If I'd dreamed of mice, it'd been different, for some of the doughnuts was gnawed in a way as showed as there'd been mice in the jar. It does beat all how mice get about. Maybe it was the mice made me think Jathrop was a cat. But even then I can't see how I did come to dream that dream. Unless it was a sign. Mrs. Lupey's sure it was a sign. We talked about signs the whole of the Sewing Society. Dreams and signs. Everybody told all they knew. Mrs. Macy told about her snow dream. Whenever Mrs. Macy has her snow dream, somebody dies. She says it's so interesting to look in a paper the next time she gets hold of one and see who it was. One time she thought it was Edgar Allen Poe, but when she read it over twice, she see that it was just that he'd been born. She says her snow dream's a wonderful sign; it's never failed once. She dreamed it the night before the earthquake in Italy, and she says to think how many died of it that time![Pg 6]

"This started Gran'ma Mullins, and Gran'ma Mullins told about that dream she had the year before she met her husband. That was an awful dream. I wonder she met her husband a tall after it. She thought she was alone in a thick wood, and she saw a man coming, and she was scared to death. She says she can feel her trembling now. She didn't know what to do, 'cause if she'd hid among the trees he couldn't have seen her, and that idea scared her as bad as the other. So she just stood and shook and watched the man coming nearer and nearer. I've heard her tell the story a hundred times, but my blood always sort o' runs cold to hear it. The man come nearer and nearer and, my, but she says he was a man! She was just a young girl, but she was old enough to be afraid, and old enough not to want to hide from him, neither. She says it was an awful lesson to her about going in woods alone, because of course you can't never expect any sympathy if the man does murder you or kiss you—everybody'll just say, 'Why[Pg 7] didn't she hide in the woods?' Well, Gran'ma Mullins says there she stood, and she can see herself still standing there. She says she's never been in the woods since just on account of that dream—and then, too, she's one of those that the mosquitos all get on in the woods. And then, besides, she doesn't like woods, anyway. And then, besides, there ain't no thick woods around here. But, anyhow, you know what happened—just as he got to her she woke up, and I must say of all the tame stories to have to sit and listen to over and over, that dream of Gran'ma Mullins is the tamest. I get tired the minute she begins it, but my dream had started every one to telling signs, and so of course Gran'ma Mullins had to tell hers along with the rest.

"When she was done Mrs. Lupey told us about her mother, Mrs. Kitts, and a curious kind of prophetic dream she used to have and kept right on having up to the day she died. Mrs. Lupey said she never heard the like of those dreams of her mother's, and I[Pg 8] guess nobody else ever has, either. No, nor never will. Well, it seems Mrs. Kitts used to dream she was falling out of bed, and the curious part is that she always did fall out of bed just as she dreamed it, so it never failed to come true. She'd dream she hit the floor bang! and the next second she'd hit the floor bang! Mrs. Lupey said she never saw such a dream for coming true; if old Mrs. Kitts dreamed she hit her head, she'd hit her head, and the time she dreamed she sprained her wrist, she sprained her wrist, and the time she had her stroke, as soon as her mind was got back in place she told them she'd dreamed she had a stroke in her chair just before she fell out of her chair with the stroke. Even the minister's wife didn't have a word to say.

"Mrs. Lupey said her mother was a most remarkable woman. She's very sorry now she didn't board that painter for a portrait of her. The painter was so awful took with old Mrs. Kitts that he was willing to do her for six weeks and with the frame for two[Pg 9] months. But Mrs. Lupey was afraid to have a painter around. She'd just read a detective story about a painter that killed the woman he was painting because he didn't want any one else to paint her. Mrs. Lupey said it was a very Frenchy story—there was a lot between the lines and on the lines, too—as she couldn't make out, but it taught her never to have painters around, for you never could be sure in a house with four other women that he'd kill the one he was painting. But she's sorry now, for she's older now and wiser and a match for any painter going, long-haired, short-haired or no hair at all. But it's too late now, and there's Mrs. Kitts dead unpainted, and all they've got left is a sweet memory and that cane she used to hit at 'em with when they weren't spry enough to suit her, and her hymn-book which she marked up without telling any one and left for a remembrance. Mrs. Lupey says such markings you never heard of.

"When Mrs. Lupey was all done, Mrs.[Pg 10] Brown took her turn and told us some very interesting things about Amelia. Seems Amelia is so far advanced in learning what nobody can understand that she can see quite a little ways ahead now and tell just what she's going to do. She can't see for the rest of the family, but she can see for herself. Sometimes it's just a day ahead, and sometimes it's a long way ahead. The longest way ahead that she's seen yet is that she can't see herself ever getting up to breakfast again. Mrs. Brown says of course she respects Amelia's religious views, but it's trying when Amelia wants to go to church, but doesn't see herself going, so has to stay at home. She says Amelia just loves to sew, but she can't see herself sewing any more, so she's given it all up. She says Amelia's got a superior mind—anybody can tell that only to see the way she's took to doing her hair—but she says it's a little hard on young Doctor Brown and her, who haven't got superior minds, to live with her. Amelia don't want to kill flies any more, for fear[Pg 11] they're going to be her blood relations a million years from now, and Mrs. Brown says she never was any good once a mouse was caught, but now she won't even hear to setting a trap; she says all things has equal rights, and if she feels a spider, some one has got to take it off her and set it gently outside on the grass. Oh, Mrs. Brown says, Amelia's very hard to live up to, even with the best will in the world. Mrs.—"

Here Susan was interrupted by Brunhilde Susan, the minister's youngest child, who brought the evening milk and the evening paper.

"There was a letter, so I brought that, too," said Brunhilde Susan.

"A letter!" said Susan in surprise.

"It's for Mrs. Lathrop," said Brunhilde Susan.

"For me!" said Mrs. Lathrop in even greater surprise.

"Yes'm," said Brunhilde Susan.

A letter for Mrs. Lathrop was indeed a surprise, as that good lady had only received[Pg 12] two in the last five years. As those had been of the least interesting variety, she looked upon the present one with but mild interest. The next minute she gave a scream, for, turning it over as some people always do turn a letter over before opening it, she read on the back "Return to Jathrop Lathrop..." and her fingers turning numb with surprise and her head dizzy for the same reason, she dropped it on the floor forthwith.

Brunhilde Susan had turned and gone back down the walk. Miss Clegg, who had been regarding her friend's slowness to take action with ill-concealed impatience, now made no attempt at concealing anything, but leaned over abruptly and picked up the letter. As soon as she looked at it she came near dropping it, too. "From Jathrop!" she exclaimed, in a tone appalled. "Well, Mrs. Lathrop!"

Mrs. Lathrop was quite speechless. Susan held the letter and began to regard it closely. It was quite a minute before[Pg 13] another sound was made, then suddenly a light burst over the younger woman's face. "It's my dream. I told you so. It was a sign, just as Mrs. Lupey said. He's coming back!"

She looked toward Mrs. Lathrop, but Mrs. Lathrop still sat quite limp and gasping for breath.

"Shall I open it and read it to you?" Susan then suggested.

"Y—y—" began Mrs. Lathrop and could get no further.

At that Susan promptly opened the letter. It was written on the paper of a Chicago hotel, and ran thus:

"Dear Mother:

"Years have passed by, and here I am on my way home again. I've been to the Klondike and am now rich and on my way home. I hope that you are well and safe at home. You'll be glad to see me home again, I know. How is everybody at home? How is Susan Clegg? I shall get home Saturday morning.

"Your afft. son,
"J. Lathrop, Esq."

[Pg 14]

That was all and surely it was quite enough.

"Well, I declare!" Susan Clegg said, staring first at the letter and then at the mother. "Well, Mrs. Lathrop! Well, I declare. It was a sign. You and me'll never doubt signs after this, I guess."

Mrs. Lathrop made an effort to rally, but only succeeded in just feebly shaking her head.

Susan continued to hold the letter in her hand and contemplate it. Another slow minute or two passed.

But at last the wheels of life began to turn again, and that active mind, which grasped so much so readily, grasped this news, too. Miss Clegg ceased to view the letter and began to take action regarding it.

"Did you notice what he says here, Mrs. Lathrop? He says he's rich. I don't know whether you noticed or not as I read, but he says he's rich. I wonder how rich he means!"

Mrs. Lathrop opened and shut her eyes in[Pg 15] a futile way that she had, but continued speechless.

"Rich," repeated Miss Clegg, "and me dreaming of him last night; that's very curious, when you come to think of it, 'cause I'm rich, too. And I was dreaming of him! It doesn't make any difference my thinking he was a cat; I knew it was Jathrop, even if he was only a cat in a dream. Strange my dreaming of him that way! I can see him flying out of the window right now. He was one of those lanky, long cats that eat from dawn till dark and every time your back's turned and yet keep the neighbors saying you starve it. And to think it was Jathrop all the time! Thinking of me right that minute, probably. And he says, 'How's Susan Clegg?' And he's rich. I do wonder what he'd call rich!"

Susan paused and looked at her friend, but Mrs. Lathrop remained dumb.

"The Klondike, that's where he went to, was it? Goodness, I wonder how he ever got there! Well, I'll never be surprised at[Pg 16] nothing after this. I've had many little surprises in my life, but never nothing to equal this. Jathrop Lathrop come back rich! Why, the whole town will be at the station to meet him to-morrow. I wonder if he'll come in the parlor-car! Think of Jathrop being a cat overnight and coming in a parlor-car next day! And he says, 'How's Susan Clegg?'"

The last three words seemed to make quite an impression on Susan, but Mrs. Lathrop appeared smashed so supremely flat that nothing could make any further impression on her. She continued dumb, and Susan continued to hold the letter and comment on it.

"I wonder what he looks like now. I wonder if he's grown any better looking! I certainly do wonder if he's got any homelier. And he's rich! Why, nobody from this town has ever gone away and got rich before, not that I can remember. I call myself a rich woman, but I ain't rich enough to dream of writing it in a letter. I certainly[Pg 17] should like to know what Jathrop calls being rich. He couldn't possibly have millions, or it would have reached here somehow. Maybe he's been digging under another name! I suppose three or four thousand would seem enough to make him call himself rich. If he comes home with three or four thousand and calls that being rich, I shall certainly feel very sorry for you, Mrs. Lathrop. He'll be very airy over his money, and he'll live on yours. If you've got to have any one live with you, it's better for them to have no money a tall, because if they've got ever such a little, they always feel so perky over it. Mrs. Brown says if Amelia didn't have that six dollars and seventy-five cents a month from her dead mother, she'd be much easier to live with. Mrs. Brown says whenever Doctor Brown trys to control Amelia, Amelia hops up and says she'll pay for it with her own money. Mrs. Brown says to hear Amelia, you'd think she had at least ten dollars a month of her own. Mrs. Brown's so sad over Amelia. Amelia sees herself[Pg 18] doing such outlandish things some days. Mrs. Brown says your son's wife is the biggest puzzle a woman ever gets. I guess Mrs. Brown would have liked young Doctor Brown never to marry."

Mrs. Lathrop opened her mouth and shut it again.

"I suppose you're thinking where to put Jathrop when he comes," Susan said quickly. "I've been thinking of that, too. Where can you put him, anyway? He never can sleep in that little shed bedroom where he used to sleep, if he's really rich, and he'll have to have some place to wash before we can find out."

Mrs. Lathrop looked distressed. "I—" she began.

"Oh, that wouldn't do," said Susan, knitting her brows quickly. "Think of the work of changing all your things. No, I'll tell you what's the best thing to do; he can sleep over at my house. Father's room was all cleaned last week, and I'll make up the bed, and Jathrop can sleep there until we find out how[Pg 19] to treat him. Maybe his old shed bedroom will do, after all, or maybe he's so awfully rich he'll enjoy sleeping in it, like the president liked to stack hay. Maybe he'll ask nothing better than to chop wood and take the ashes out of the stove just for a change. I do wonder how rich he is. If he's rich enough to have a private car, I expect this town will open its eyes. You'll see a great change in your position, Mrs. Lathrop, if Jathrop comes in a private car to-morrow morning. There's something about a private car as makes everybody step around lively. I don't say that I shan't respect him more myself if he comes in a private car. But he can sleep one night in father's room, anyway, although if he calls it being rich to come home with just two or three thousand, I think he'd better understand it's for just one night right from the start. I wouldn't want Jathrop to think that I had any time to waste on him if he calls just two or three thousand being rich. It'd be no wonder I dreamed he was a cat, if he's got the face to call that[Pg 20] being rich. But that would be just like Jathrop. You know yourself that if Jathrop could ever do anything to disappoint anybody, he never let the chance slide. I never had no use for Jathrop Lathrop, as you know to your cost, Mrs. Lathrop. But, still, if he really is rich, I haven't got anything against him, and I'll tell you what I'll do right now: I'll go home and put that room in order and get my supper, and then after supper I'll just run down to the square and see if anybody else knows, and then I'll come back and tell you if they do. It's no use your trying to put things a little in order, because you couldn't straighten this place up in a month, and, besides, it isn't worth fussing till we know how rich he is. He may just have writ that in for a joke—to break it to you gently that he's coming back again to live here. Heaven help you if that's the case, Mrs. Lathrop, for Jathrop never will. It isn't in me to deceive so much as a fly on the window, and I never have deceived you and I never will."[Pg 21]

With which promise Susan took her departure.

It was all of three hours—quite nine in the evening—when Susan came back. She found Mrs. Lathrop transferred to her back porch and seemingly in a somewhat less complete state of total paralysis than when she had left her.

Mrs. Lathrop looked up as her friend approached and smiled.

"Nobody knew," Susan announced as she mounted the steps, "but every one knows now, for I told them. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, you never saw anything like it. There isn't a person in town as ever expected to see Jathrop again, and only about three as always thought he'd come back rich. Every one's going to the station to-morrow morning, even Mrs. Macy. Mrs. Macy says if it's one of the mornings she can't walk, she'll hire Hiram and his wheelbarrow just as she does for church those Sundays. Everybody's so interested. I told them about the private car, and everybody hopes that he's got one,[Pg 22] and that he'll come in it. Mr. Dill says he must be rich if he's been to the Klondike and come back a tall. He says there's no halfway work about the Klondike. Either you come back a millionaire or else you eat first your dog and then your boots and that's the last of you. Gran'ma Mullins says she never heard of eating boots in the Klondike; she thought you rode on a sled there and that there weren't any women. She says Hiram's spoken of going there once or twice, and Lucy thought maybe the coasting would do him good, but Gran'ma Mullins says not while she's alive, no, sir. Why, it's 'way across America and up a ways, and so many people want to go up that they have to sleep three in a berth, and she says will you only think of Hiram, with the way she's brought him up, three in a berth. If the bed ain't tucked in with Gran'ma Mullins' own particular kind of tuck, Hiram kicks at night and don't get any proper nourishment out of his sleep. No, Gran'ma Mullins says she couldn't think of Hiram in the Klondike[Pg 23] sleeping under a snow-pile and having to hunt up a whale whenever he was in need of more kerosene oil. And she says what good would millions do her with the bones of the only baby she ever had feeding whatever kind of creature they have up there. No, she says, no, and a million times more, no; she's been reading about it in a New York paper that came wrapped around her new stove lid, and she knows all there is to know on that subject now. She says a New York paper is so interesting. She says the way they print them makes it very entertaining. She was reading about a sea serpent, and when she turned, she turned wrong, and she read twelve columns about the suffragettes, looking eagerly to see when the sea serpent was going on again. She says she give up trying to see why they print them so or ever trying to finish any one subject at a time; she just goes regularly through the paper now and lets the subjects fight it out to suit themselves. She says it makes the last part very interesting. You read about a baby, and[Pg 24] after a while you find out whether it's the Queen of Spain's or just a race-horse. She says she supposes next Sunday there'll be a picture of Jathrop in the paper; maybe there'll be a view of this house with you and me. I think that that would be very interesting."

Susan paused to consider the idyllic little picture thus presented to her mind's eye, and Mrs. Lathrop continued to say nothing. After a while Susan went on again:

"I've been thinking a good deal about that letter, Mrs. Lathrop. I don't know whether you noticed or not, but to my order of thinking it was very strange his saying, 'How's Susan Clegg?' That's a curious thing for an unmarried man to ask his mother about an unmarried woman. When you come to consider how Jathrop was wild to marry me once, it really means a terrible lot. I was the first woman except you he ever kissed; he wasn't but a year old, and I was thirteen, but those things make an impression. I don't mind telling you that I've often thought[Pg 25] about Jathrop nights—and days, too. And lately I've been thinking of him more and more. And you can see that he's been feeling the same about me, for he's showed that plain enough by saying in black and white, 'How's Susan Clegg?' Jathrop is a very silent nature, you can see that from his never writing even to his own mother in all these years. It means a good deal when a silent nature opens its mouth all of a sudden and writes, 'How's Susan Clegg?' And then my dreaming of him was so strange. He had soft gray fur and big bright yellow eyes, and the way he flew out of the window! Even in my dream I noticed how nice he jumped. He made a beautiful cat. And you know I always stood up for him, Mrs. Lathrop, I always did that. Even when I thought he needed lynching as much as anybody, I never said so. And now he's come back rich, and he's coming home to you and me, and he says, 'How's Susan Clegg?' 'How's—Susan—Clegg?'"

Susan's voice died dreamily away. Mrs.[Pg 26] Lathrop said nothing. After a minute Susan's voice went on again: "It's too bad I haven't time to sort of freshen up my striped silk. It's got awful creasy laying folded so long. I'd of put some new braid around the bottom if I'd known, and if this town wasn't so noticey, I'd put my hair up on rollers to-night. A little crimp sets my wave off so. But, laws, everybody'd be asking why I did it, and if Jathrop's got any idea of me in his head, it'll be very easy to knock it right straight out if this town gets first chance at him. But I don't intend that this town shall get first chance at him. I shall be on that platform to-morrow morning, and I'll be the nearest to that train, and once he gets off that train, I shall bring him right straight up here to you and me. It's safest, and it's his duty, too. As soon as you've seen him, I'll take him over to my house to wash. Then I'll give him his breakfast, and by the time he's done his breakfast, if he really means anything, I'll know it. If he really means anything, we'll[Pg 27] come over after breakfast, and it'll do your heart good to see how happy we'll look. He can leave his bag in father's room then, for we'll have so much to talk over it'll be more convenient to take him over there. You can see that for yourself, Mrs. Lathrop—you know how young people like to be alone together when they're engaged, and a woman of my age don't need no looking after any longer. I'm no Gran'ma Mullins to be worrying over woods nor yet any Mrs. Lupey as supposes every man you let into your house may be going to hit you over the head when you're thinking of something pleasant.

"No, I ain't afraid of Jathrop Lathrop nor of any other man alive, thank heaven. But, if I find out as he don't mean anything, I shall march him over to you in sharp order, bag and all. If he don't mean anything, I'll soon know the reason why, and as soon as I know the reason why, I'll send Mr. Jathrop Lathrop flying. 'How's Susan Clegg?' indeed! He'll find it's a very dangerous joke[Pg 28] to go joking about me, no matter how much money he's scraped out of the Klondike. A joke is a thing as I never stand, Mrs. Lathrop, and if you'd been one as joked, you'd have found that out to your deep and abiding sorrow long ago. Very few people have ever tried to have any fun with me, and I've got even with the most of them, I'm happy to remark. I shall find out yet who sent me that comic valentine with the man skipping over the edge of the world and me after him with a net, and when I do find out, I'll get even about that, too. Me with a net! I'd like to see myself skipping after any man that was skipping away from me. If he was skipping toward me, I wouldn't marry him—not 'nless I loved him. I know that. Love is a thing as you can't raise and lower just as the fancy strikes you. A woman can't love but once, and I've got a kind of warm bubbling all around my heart as tells me that I've loved that once and that it was Jathrop. It's very strange, Mrs. Lathrop, but I've been thinking of Jathrop a great[Pg 29] deal lately. I keep remembering more and more how much I've been thinking about him. I suppose he was thinking of me, and that's what started me. 'How's Susan Clegg?' I can just seem to hear Jathrop's voice; Jathrop had a very strange voice. 'How's Susan Clegg?'

"The mind is a curious thing, when you stop to consider, Mrs. Lathrop. Mrs. Brown says Amelia says minds can communicate if you know how. Mrs. Brown says if she calls to Amelia when she's in the hammock and Amelia don't answer, Amelia always explains afterwards as she was communicating.

"It all shows that the mind is a wonderful thing. There was Jathrop and me communicating regularly, and me so little understanding what it all meant that I dreamed he was a cat. I can't get over that dream. I wonder if that meant that he's got whiskers now. If he's got whiskers, and he loves me, he's got to cut 'em right straight off. You'll have to speak to him about that as soon as[Pg 30] you see him, Mrs. Lathrop, for I won't be able to, of course. And you can see for yourself that I couldn't have whiskers around. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, and I've had no experience with whiskers."

Mrs. Lathrop promised to remonstrate with Jathrop if he really had whiskers, and after some further conversation Susan went home and to bed and slept soundly. In the morning she was up very promptly, and Mrs. Lathrop saw her off for the station.

The whole town was at the station. But in front of them all—closest to the track—stood Susan Clegg.

It was a breathless moment when Johnny ran out with the flag and the train stopped. Susan motioned the rest back with dignity and stood her ground alone. The car door opened, and a stout, homely man, with eyes set wide apart and a very large mouth, appeared on the platform. He was well dressed and carried an alligator-skin traveling-bag.[Pg 31]

Everybody gasped. But it was not his appearance nor the alligator-skin bag that caused them to gasp. It was that Jathrop Lathrop, returning after his long absence, had brought back a lady with him.


[Pg 32]

II

SUSAN CLEGG AND THE CHINESE LADY

And not merely a lady, but a Chinese lady at that. A particularly chubby, solemn, Chinese lady, who descended from the train which brought Jathrop Lathrop back to his native town after making a fortune in the Klondike, and meekly trotted along in his wake, carrying the large valise, while Jathrop carried the small one.

Susan walked off straightway with Jathrop and the Chinese lady, while the town remained stock and staring behind. The town was frankly "done did up." That Jathrop might return with a wife had never once entered the head of any one. Still less had the idea of any one of that community ever wedding a Chinese been entertained. It was a[Pg 33] peculiarly overwhelming sensation, and one which led Gran'ma Mullins to lean against Hiram, while Mrs. Macy leaned against the equally firm side-wall of the station itself. It was several seconds before people came to their senses enough to go around by the track gate and look to see how far the bewildering party had got on their way. They were just crossing the square.

"Well, if that doesn't beat the Dutch," said Mr. Kimball, and his words seemed to break the deadlock; everybody scattered forthwith, all talking at once.

Meanwhile Jathrop, arriving at his mother's gate, paused and said quite easily:

"I'll go in alone, Susan; mother will like the first hour or so quite alone with me, I know. Won't you take Hop Loo to your house for breakfast?"

Susan, who had by no means as yet recovered from the shock of the Celestial bride, opened and shut her mouth once and her eyes twice, and yielded. For the nonce she[Pg 34] seemed as speechless as Mrs. Lathrop herself. Jathrop's appealing ease of manner had overawed her all the way up from the station, and the walk had been accomplished in stately silence. If the Klondike Prodigal had been surprised over the alteration in Susan, he had not said so, and now he quietly handed Hop Loo his alligator-skin traveling-bag (or hers, whichever it was), and passing in through his mother's gate, shut it forthwith behind him, and went on up the walk. Susan cast one look, which would have thrown a basilisk into everlasting darkness, after him; and then, turning, marched back to her own gate. Hop Loo followed, Susan opened her own gate and passed through it; Hop Loo passed through after her. Susan went up her walk; Hop kept close to her heels. Together they mounted the steps and then entered the house.

It was all of half an hour before Mrs. Macy, the first completely to rally from the shock at the station, arrived to call. When[Pg 35] she climbed the steps and rang the bell, Susan came to the door at once. She looked peculiarly grim and smileless. It was plain to be seen at the present moment that she was not pleased with the world in general.

"I thought I'd just come up for a little," began Mrs. Macy, smiling enough for two all alone by herself. Mrs. Macy always tried to keep up her own spirits in a laudable attempt, possibly, to heighten those of others. "I thought maybe you'd be glad to see a face you knew."

This allusion to the Chinese lady was not intended as unkindly as it might have been in better society, Mrs. Macy being wholly incapable of anything so subtle.

"Sit down," said Susan, briefly, indicating a porch chair. "There's no use taking you in; she's up-stairs unpacking, and she's already set about doing his cooking. It's plain to be seen that Jathrop Lathrop never come all this way from the Klondike to take any chances of being poisoned by me as soon as he got here. No, sir, Jathrop Lathrop[Pg 36] has learned too many little tricks for that."

Susan's tone was extremely bitter. She had removed the famous striped silk and applied her hairbrush to both sides of her head after dipping it (the hairbrush, not her head) in water. It was easy to be seen that the vanities of this life had suddenly become offensive in her nostrils.

"Do you suppose she's really his wife?" asked Mrs. Macy, seating herself and looking eagerly in her friend's face.

"Oh, yes, she's his wife," said Susan.

"Oh, Susan," Mrs. Macy went on, her eyes becoming quite globular under the severe stress of her curiosity, "do you suppose anybody married 'em, or did he just buy her for beads?"

"I don't know," said Susan, rocking severely back and forth, "I don't know a tall. You must ask some one wiser than me what a white man does about a Chinese when he wants her to cook for him. You ought to have seen her in my kitchen, Mrs. Macy; she[Pg 37] walked straight to my rack of pans and took down just whatever she fancied. I never saw the beat! No, nor nobody else. She's learned how to be cool from Jathrop and the North Pole together, looks to me. I never see such ways as Jathrop has picked up. He never said a word walking up—nothing but 'Ah' once. I don't call 'Ah' once much of a conversation for the woman as rocked your cradle and might have married you, too—if she'd wanted to. For I could have married Jathrop Lathrop, Mrs. Macy; nobody but me will ever know what passed between us, but I could have married him. I won't say what prevented, but I can tell you it wasn't him. And he's lived to regret it, too. Just like the minister regrets it. When the minister speaks of the treasure that layeth up in heaven, he doesn't mean no chicken—he means me."

Susan paused and shook her head angrily.

"I don't doubt but what he's sorry," said Mrs. Macy; "maybe he married a Chinese[Pg 38] for fear any other kind would remind him of you."

Miss Clegg rejected this possible poetic view of Jathrop's action with a look of great disgust accompanied by another shake of the head.

"I don't believe it's very often that a man ever marries some other woman on account of any other woman. That's very pretty in books, but books ain't life. Life's life, and if Jathrop Lathrop's married that heathen Chinese, he's got very strange notions of life, and that's all I can say. Why, if she didn't lug that heavy bag along and walk a little back, and he never bothered to speak to her. She's very different from what I'd have been, I can tell you. You can maybe fancy me carrying Jathrop Lathrop's bag a little behind Jathrop Lathrop! I think I see myself. 'How's Susan Clegg?' He'll soon find out how Susan Clegg is. What do you think, Mrs. Macy, what do you think? When we came to his mother's gate, he just stopped, said he thought she'd like him alone best,[Pg 39] said to me, 'Give Hop Loo some breakfast, will you?'—and then if my gentleman didn't walk through the gate and shut it after him! Well, I never did. There was me and his wife carefully shut out on the other side of the fence like we was pigs. And then I had to bring her over here and give her father's room. What would my dead and gone father say to a Chinese woman having his room, I wonder! Father had very fine feelings for a man as got about so little, and if he was alive, I don't believe no Jathrop Lathrop would have gone sending no heathen Chinese wife to live with me. She won't live with me long, I can tell you that to your face, Mrs. Macy. I took her because I was too dumb did up over having a gate shut in my face by Jathrop Lathrop to do anything else, but I ain't intending to have her long. I've always been for shutting the Chinese out, and I ain't going back on my principles at my time of life. No, indeed. 'How's Susan Clegg?'"

Susan paused angrily. Her repetition of[Pg 40] the deceptive phrase in Jathrop's letter seemed to turn her boiling wrath into one of still, white menace. She sat perfectly still, snapping her eyelids up and down, and breathing hard.

"I don't blame you one mite, Susan," said Mrs. Macy warmly; "I wish Mrs. Lupey was here. She wanted to come, too, but she's got her bag to pack to go home. She only come for one night, and to-night'll make two, so she wants to get packed. But she knows all about the Chinese. Her husband's got a cousin who is a missionary in China, and she could have felt for you. The cousin's got eleven Chinese servants besides a Bible class of two as she's training to be missionaries after they're trained. Mrs. Lupey says she'd have known what to do when that Chinese lady got off the train this morning. They don't let 'em ride in the same cars in China."

Just here Jathrop came out of his mother's front door and walked down the path. Both ladies were freshly shocked by the sight. At[Pg 41] the gate he turned in the opposite direction. Both ladies stared after him. Soon he was out of sight. Then they stared at each other.

"Well, what is he up to now?" Mrs. Macy finally ejaculated.

"I don't know," said Susan in a tone of complete despair as to ever again gaining any insight into the motives which moved Jathrop, "I d'n know, Mrs. Macy. Don't ask me anything about Jathrop Lathrop after he's gone home to see his mother and has handed me over a Chinese wife to board. He may be gone up to Mrs. Brown's to run off with Amelia for all I know. Nothing is ever going to surprise me any more after this day. I only know one thing, if he does run off with Amelia, that Chinee'll find herself and his valises dumped off of my premises pretty quick. I never was one for false feelings, and I should see no call for Christian charity toward a heathen who comes to me with two black bags on her legs and a dressing-sack for an overcoat."[Pg 42]

"I wonder if Jathrop likes her wearing such clothes," said Mrs. Macy. "Everybody is wondering."

"I don't know," said Miss Clegg, "men are very queer. There's no telling what they are going to fancy till they get out of the train married to it. Think of his having the face to write 'How's Susan Clegg?' and him married to that puzzle-blocks thing all the time. I wonder what his mother said when he told her!"

"Let's go over and see Mrs. Lathrop!" suggested Mrs. Macy, "she's over there alone now."

This idea immediately found favor with Susan. "But I'll have to go in and see what she's up to first," she said. "If she's caught a rat and is making soup in my teapot with it, I shan't feel to enjoy leaving her alone with my teapot."

Mrs. Macy could but feel the extreme justice of this view, and Susan, whose countenance indicated that she was sorely beset by misgivings, went into the house.[Pg 43]

When she came out, her face wore a relieved expression.

"She's all safe," she said. "She's asleep on the floor. I must say it's changed my feelings toward her. It shows she knows her place."

They walked sedately to Mrs. Lathrop's. They climbed the back steps, and they knocked.

Mrs. Lathrop was busy making preparations for dinner. She came to the door with a promptitude which, in view of her well-known habit of deliberation, was little short of miraculous.

"We came to see how you were," said Mrs. Macy.

"Come in," said Mrs. Lathrop.

They walked in and seated themselves on two of the wooden-bottomed kitchen chairs. Mrs. Lathrop went on with her work. She was uncommonly active, and her face wore a broad, unusual smile. "Jathrop's gone up to the cemetery," she said. "He's going to have a monument put up to his father."[Pg 44]

"What do you think of—?" interrupted Susan.

"Yes, we come to—" began Mrs. Macy.

"He's going," continued Mrs. Lathrop, taking down a plate and blowing the thick dust from its surface, "to have an awful handsome monument put up. Not a animal like you put up to your father, Susan, but a angel hanging to a pillar with both hands and feeling for a cloud with its feet. He showed me the picture. And he's going to have the parlor papered and give the town a watering-trough for horses, with a tin cup on a chain for people, and he's—"

"Yes, but—" interrupted Susan.

"You know, of course—" began Mrs. Macy.

Mrs. Lathrop swept off the top of the rolling-pin with the stove-brush. "And he's going to build me on a bedroom right off the hall," she continued, "and put a furnace under the whole house. And one of those lamps that haul up and down, and a new set[Pg 45] of kitchen things, and he'll come here every year and see if I want anything else, and if I do, I'm to have it. I'm to have a pew in church, even if I never do go to church, and a paper every day, and his baby picture done big, and be fitted for new glasses."

"But, Mrs. Lathrop—" Susan interrupted, seeing that Mrs. Lathrop was surely still in ignorance as to her Mongolian daughter-in-law.

"Yes, you—" began Mrs. Macy.

"Liza Em'ly is to do all the sewing I want," went on Mrs. Lathrop, proceeding with her baking preparations at a great rate, "and Jathrop'll pay the bill. And any things I want, I'm just to send for, and Jathrop'll pay the bill; and anything I can think of what I want done, I'm just to say so, and Jathrop'll pay the bill."

It seemed as if Susan Clegg would burst at this. It was plain now that Jathrop really was rich, and here was his mother supposing the rose was utterly thornless.

"But did he tell you about his wife?" she[Pg 46] broke in desperately. "That's what I want to know."

Mrs. Lathrop, who was mixing butter and sugar together in a yellow bowl, stopped suddenly and stared.

"His wife!" she said blankly.

"Yes, his wife," repeated Susan.

"The wife he brought back with him," explained Mrs. Macy.

"The wife he—" Mrs. Lathrop pushed the yellow bowl a little back on the table and rested her hands on the edge. They trembled visibly; "the wife he—" she repeated.

"Surely you know that he brought his wife back with him?" said Mrs. Macy. "Surely he's told you?"

Mrs. Lathrop—turned her usual dumb self again—looked at Mrs. Macy with almost unseeing eyes.

"I—" she ejaculated faintly, "no, he—"

"Now, you see," exclaimed Susan, half to the friend and half to the stricken mother, "it don't make any difference what a man turns into outside, he stays just the same[Pg 47] inside. What have I always said to you, Mrs. Lathrop? You can't make no kind of a purse out of ears like Jathrop's. Jathrop Lathrop could turn into fifty millionaires, and he'd still be Jathrop Lathrop. He can hang all the angels he pleases and water all the horses from here to Meadville, and still he never could be any other man but just himself. And being himself, he never by no manner of means could be frank and open. He was always one that held things back. You thought it was because he didn't have no brains, but you was his mother and naturally looked on the best side of him. But he never deceived me, Mrs. Lathrop; I saw through Jathrop right from the start. There was a foxiness about Jathrop as nobody never fully saw into but me. That was my reason for never marrying him—one of my many reasons, for his foxiness hasn't been the only thing about Jathrop that I've seen through. I never was one to soften the blows to a tempered lamb, so I will say that so many reasons for not loving a man as[Pg 48] I've seen in Jathrop I never see in any other man yet. But none of my reasons for not marrying him has ever equalled this new reason as has cropped up now in his bringing home a wife. When a man comes home with a wife, then you do see through him for good and all, and when Jathrop come scrambling out from between those two cars this morning with a heathen Chinee at his heels—"

Mrs. Lathrop screamed loudly. "A—"

"Heathen Chinee," repeated Susan.

"You know what a Chinee is, don't you?" interposed Mrs. Macy; "they're from China, you know."

Mrs. Lathrop retreated to her rocker with a totter.

"Yes, she's a heathen Chinee," said Susan, with unfailing firmness, "the kindest heart in the world couldn't mistake her for anything even as high up as a nigger. Her eyes cross just under her nose, and she's got her hair wound round her head with a piece of black tape to hold it on. She wears[Pg 49] divided skirts as is most plainly divided, and not a gore has she got to her name or her figure. She is a Chinese and no mistake, and you may believe me or not, just as you please, Mrs. Lathrop, but Jathrop without a so much as by-your-leave dumped her onto me for breakfast, and she's asleep on father's floor now."

"On your—" gasped Mrs. Lathrop.

"No, on father's," said Susan, "and now, Mrs. Lathrop, you see what he is at last. He not only marries a Chinese when if he'd been patient he might have got a white one, but he brings her home, and don't even tell you he's brought her home, or even that he's got her, or even that he's married her, or anything. A man might line my house with furnaces and have his baby picture done big in every room, and I'd never forgive his acting in such a way. I never hear the beat. It throws all the other calamities as ever come upon anybody in this community clean out of the shade. What will be the use of your having a pew in church; you won't even[Pg 50] be able to face the minister now with your son's marrying one of them as we have to give our good money to teach to wear clothes. What good will your having the parlor papered be with everybody ashamed to go to see a woman who has got a Chinese daughter. To my order of thinking, you was better off poor. Why, they eat the hen's nests, the Chinese do, and prefer 'em to the eggs. It's small wonder I dreamed Jathrop was a cat, with him descending on us like the wrath of heaven married to a China woman. Jathrop's no fool though, and if you'd seen that humble heathen going along back of him with his big valise, you'd have to see as the man as picks out a wife like that never could have been a fool. I felt for her, I really did, only she was watching me with the wrong eye all the time, and it made me dizzy to try and look at her kindly. I'll tell you what, Mrs. Lathrop, when Jathrop comes back, you'll just go for him and give it to him good. Men must learn as they can't bring their Chinese wives[Pg 51] into this community. There's a principle as we'd ought to live up to whether we enjoy it or not, and it's all against marrying Chinese. The Chinese are all right, I hope and trust, but nothing as feeds itself with a toothpick had ever ought to be held pressed to the bosom of families like you and me, Mrs. Lathrop. It isn't the way we're brought up to look at them, and it's a well-known fact as no matter what the leopard does to the Ethiopian, he sticks to his spot just the same as before—"

"But—" broke in Mrs. Lathrop.

"I don't want to hurt your feelings, Mrs. Lathrop,—we've been friends too long for me not to feel kindly to you,—but Mrs. Macy is a witness to his bringing her, even if I wasn't well known to be one as never lies. Mrs. Macy is a witness, too, to how he's got her dressed, and a more burning disgrace than this keeping your chosen wife in loose overalls and a jacket as any monkey on a hand-organ would weep to see the fit of, I never see. It may be the custom in the Klondike[Pg 52] and may be convenient for sliding, but this is no sliding community, and, to my order of thinking, Jathrop would have showed you more affection and us more respect if he'd bought his wife a bonnet and a shawl before he brought her here."

Susan paused for breath. Mrs. Lathrop continued speechless. Mrs. Macy tried to lighten the atmosphere by remarking, "Lands, she's got a pigtail, too."

Susan picked up the cudgels afresh at that. "Wound twice around her head," she said bitterly; "oh, she is a figure of fun and no mistake. I d'n know, I'm sure, what Jathrop was ever thinking of the day he picked her out, but this I do know, and that is, that he'd better pick her off of me pretty quick. You know, Mrs. Lathrop, as a friend is a friend and I've always been a good friend to you, but I never was one to stand any nonsense—not now and not never—and when a man writes, 'I'm rich' and 'How's Susan Clegg?' he gets me where no Chinese wife ain't going to please me in a hurry.[Pg 53] I'm glad Jathrop is rich, on your account, Mrs. Lathrop, but his being rich don't alter my views of him a mite. I look upon him as a gray deceiver, that's what I look upon him as, and if he's brought a piece of carnelian or anything back to me, you can tell him to give it to his lawfully wedded wife, for I don't want to have nothing more to do with him."

"But, Susan—" broke in poor Mrs. Lathrop.

"Don't interrupt me, Mrs. Lathrop; I'm in no mood to listen to no one just now. I ain't mad, but I'm hurt. It's no wonder I dreamed he was a cat, for of all the sly, back-door things a cat is the meanest. And there was always something very cat-like about Jathrop Lathrop—something soft and slow and creepy—nothing bold and out-spoken. I might have known as even if he did come home rich, he'd find a way to even it up. And now look how he has evened it up. Think of your grandchildren; there won't be one of 'em able to ever look[Pg 54] anybody straight in more'n one eye at once. Marrying Chinese is terrible, anyway—in some States it's forbidden. It's to be hoped Jathrop'll keep out of those States or he may land in the penitentiary yet."

Just here the front door slammed, and Jathrop's voice was heard calling, "Where are you, mother?"

He didn't wait for an answer, but came straight through the kitchen. Entering there, what he saw startled him so much that he came to a sudden halt.

"We've been telling your—" began Mrs. Macy.

"—mother about your wife," finished up Susan.

Jathrop looked at all three in great astonishment. "About my wife!" he repeated. "Did you say 'my wife'?"

"Yes," said Susan, absolutely undaunted. "I think it would have been kinder in you to have broke it to her yourself; but anyhow, we've done it now."

"Oh, Jathrop, my son, my son!" wailed[Pg 55] poor Mrs. Lathrop in heart-wringing Biblical paraphrase.

"But I haven't got any wife," said Jathrop. "What under the sun do you mean?"

There was a clammy pause; Susan and Mrs. Macy clasped hands.

"What made you think I had one?" Jathrop asked, quite bewildered. "Who said I had one?"

Susan rose with dignity and coughed. Mrs. Macy rose, too, looking at Susan. Poor Mrs. Lathrop seemed fairly terror-stricken.

"I think I'll go now," said Susan. "I hope I needn't board her much longer, that's all. Even if she's only using the floor, it's a floor as has been sacred to my dead father up to now, and a dead father is not to be lightly took in vain by a heathen Chinee."

"But what does it all mean?" asked Jathrop, appearing genuinely bewildered. "I don't understand. What are you talking about?"

Susan moved toward the door; Mrs. Macy[Pg 56] faltered. "Maybe it was all right in the Klondike," she began, trying to put a brace under the situation.

"Maybe what was all right in the Klondike?" asked Jathrop.

"To buy her with beads."

"To buy who with beads? Who's her?" Jathrop's voice was becoming exasperated.

"Hop Loo," said Susan, in a tone of piercing scorn, "the Chinese lady as you brought with you and gave me to board."

Jathrop looked at them all in amazement. "But Hop Loo's a boy—my boy," he said.

"Your boy!" said Susan.

"Yes, my boy."

Miss Clegg turned and gave him a long look fraught with disgust, pity, and hopeless resignation.

"Jathrop Lathrop," she said, "I did suppose you had some sense even in the view of all that's dead and gone, but I guess now I'll have to give up. I did have some respect for you while I thought she was maybe your wife, but if you've gone so clean crazy that[Pg 57] you believe that that is your boy—well!"

Susan thereupon sailed out of Mrs. Lathrop's house with Mrs. Macy wobbling in her wake.


[Pg 58]

III

SUSAN CLEGG SOLVES THE MYSTERY

Susan Clegg and Mrs. Macy walked down to Mrs. Lathrop's gate, and out of her gate and to Miss Clegg's gate; the whole in a silence deadly and impressive. Mrs. Macy paused there.

"I don't believe I'll come in," she said doubtfully.

"I don't blame you," said Susan, "I wouldn't if it was me. Jathrop's boy, indeed! What kind of a man is it as'll have a Chinese family and go forcing them onto the true and long-tried friends of his one and only mother!"

"I can't see why he didn't leave the boy in the Klondike," said Mrs. Macy slowly and reflectively. "I thought men always left their Chinese families just where they[Pg 59] found 'em. It's strange Jathrop brought him home with him."

"You see now what my dream meant," said Susan darkly, "a cat, indeed. It's small wonder I knew the cat was Jathrop Lathrop. Of all the mean, sly, creeping creatures that ever come up against the back of your legs sudden a cat is the worst. A snake is open and aboveboard beside a cat. You can see a snake. You don't see 'em often around here, thank heaven."

"Well, we haven't seen Jathrop often around here for a long time," said Mrs. Macy, whose mind was as given to easy logical deduction as many of her mental caliber, "and we do see a lot of cats—you know that, Susan."

"'How's Susan Clegg?'" quoted Susan in a tone of reflective wrath. "I don't know whether you know it or not, Mrs. Macy, but Jathrop asked after me in his letter to his mother, and him with a Chinese wife. 'How's Susan Clegg?' What did he write that for if he was married, I'd like to know."[Pg 60]

"Maybe he wanted to know how you were," suggested Mrs. Macy.

The look she received in recognition of this offered explanation led to her immediately proposing to go on home. "You've got the Chinaman to look after, anyhow," she added.

"You'd better come in while I go up and look at him again," said Susan shortly. "It's a very strange sensation to be alone in your house with what you fully and freely take to your dead father's bed and board, supposing it's a wife, and then find out as it's her son instead. Come on in."

Mrs. Macy was easily persuaded, and they thereupon went up the walk. "I guess I'll go see if he's still asleep," Susan said when they reached the piazza, and Mrs. Macy forthwith sat down to await what might come of it.

Susan was absent but a few minutes; she returned with a fresh layer of disapproval upon her face.

"Is he still sleeping?" Mrs. Macy asked.

"Yes, he's still sleeping," Miss Clegg[Pg 61] replied, jerking a chair forward for herself. "You'd know he was Jathrop Lathrop's child just by the way he sleeps. You remember what a one Jathrop always was for sleeping. I don't know as I remember Jathrop's ever being awake till he was fairly grown. Whatever you set him at always just made him more sleepy. You know yourself, Mrs. Macy, as he wouldn't be no grasshopper with Mrs. Lathrop for his mother, but a cocoon is a comet beside what Jathrop Lathrop always was. I don't know whether he's rich or not, but I do know that heathen Chinee is his son, and I know it just by the way he sleeps."

"And so Jathrop's rich," said Mrs. Macy, rocking agreeably to and fro, and evidently striving toward more pleasant conversation.

"Yes," said Susan darkly, "rich and with a Chinese wife somewhere. Just as often as I think of Jathrop Lathrop writing, 'How's Susan Clegg,' with a Chinese wife I feel more and more tempered, and I can't conceal my feelings. I never was one to[Pg 62] conceal anything; if I had a Chinese wife the whole world might know it."

Just here Gran'ma Mullins hove in sight, coming slowly and laboriously up the street.

"Why, there's Gran'ma Mullins!" Mrs. Macy exclaimed. "She's surely coming to see you, too."

Both ladies remained silent, watching the progress of Gran'ma Mullins.

Gran'ma Mullins arrived a good deal out of breath. Susan brought a chair out of the house for her.

"I come to—tell you," panted the new visitor as soon as she had attained unto the chair, "that Jathrop's—things is—coming."

"What things?" asked Susan.

"They all come on—the ten o'clock—from the junction; Hiram is helping unload."

"What's he brought?" Susan asked.

"Well, he's brought an automobile," said Gran'ma Mullins, "and a lot of other trunks and boxes."

"An automobile!" exclaimed Mrs. Macy, "well, he is rich then!"[Pg 63]

"I wouldn't be too sure of that," said Susan, "some very poor folks is riding that way nowadays."

"And he brought three trunks and seventeen big wooden boxes," continued Gran'ma Mullins, "big boxes."

"Three trunks and sev-en-teen—Three trunks and sev-en—" Susan's voice faded into nothingness.

"Goodness knows what's in them," said Gran'ma Mullins. "Hiram was getting so hot unloading that I wanted him to stop and let me fan him, but he wouldn't hear to it. Hiram's so brave. If he said he'd unload something, he'd unload it if he dropped dead under it and was smashed to nothing."

There was a pause of unlimited bewilderment while Mrs. Macy and Susan raised Jathrop upon the pedestal erected by his three trunks, seventeen boxes and the automobile.

"And to think of his having a Chinese wife," Susan exclaimed, the keen edge of[Pg 64] sorrow cutting crossways through all her words.

It was just here that Mrs. Lupey now appeared, approaching at a good pace. Mrs. Lupey was a large, imposing woman and wore a silk dolman with fringe. It was immediately necessary for the party to adjourn to the sitting-room, as the piazza was strictly limited.

It was Mrs. Lupey who without loss of time did away with the Lathrop parentage of the young Chinese.

"Why, he's his servant, of course," she said in a lofty scorn. "I'm surprised you didn't know that by his age."

"I did think of his age," Susan said, "but I read once in some paper as the women in China get married when they're four years old, so you'd never be able to tell nothing by the age of no one there. Well, well, and so she isn't his wife, nor yet his son. Well, I'm glad—for Mrs. Lathrop's sake."

"But if Jathrop's really got a automobile and seventeen trunks, he must be awful[Pg 65] rich," said Mrs. Macy. "It'll be a great thing for this town if Jathrop's rich. He'd ought to be very grateful to the place where his happy childhood memories run around barefoot."

"Oh, he'll remember," said Gran'ma Mullins, "it's easy to remember when you've got the money to do it. But I hope to heaven he won't set Hiram off on that track again. Hiram does so want to go away and make a fortune; I'm worried for fear he will all the time. And Lucy wants him to, too. I can't understand a woman as wants a fortune worse than she wants Hiram. Lucy doesn't seem to want Hiram 'round at all any more. If he's asleep, she starts right in making the bed the same as if he wasn't in it, and if she's sewing, he don't dare go within the length of her thread.

"Life has come to a pretty pass when a wife'll run a needle into a husband just for the simple pleasure of feeling him go away when she sticks him." Gran'ma Mullins sighed.[Pg 66]

"I wonder what they're doing now!" Mrs. Macy said.

All four turned at this and looked toward the Lathrop house together. It was quiet as usual.

"I d'n know as it changes my opinion of Jathrop much, that being his servant," said Miss Clegg suddenly. "It's kind of different, his handing his wife or his son over to me; but his heathen Chinee servant! I don't know as I'm very pleased."

"Pleased!" said Mrs. Lupey. "Why, in San Francisco they make 'em live underground like rats."

"Maybe that was why you dreamed he was a cat, Susan?" suggested Mrs. Macy, whose brain seemed to grasp at the subject under consideration with special illumination.

Susan rose. "I think you'd better go," she said abruptly, "I've got to get dinner. My mind's in no state to deal with all these sides of Jathrop and his Chinaman just now."[Pg 67]

What the day brought up the street and in and around Mrs. Lathrop's house would take too long to catalogue. Suffice it to say that poor Mrs. Lathrop, who had been for long years the veriest zero in the life of the community, became suddenly its center and apex.

When Jathrop went to New York at the end of the week, he left his mother not only sitting, but rocking in the lap of luxury, with her head leaning back against more luxury and her feet braced firmly on yet more luxury. Even her friend over the way was rendered utterly content.

And the pleasantest part of it all was the way that it affected Susan Clegg. As Susan sat by Mrs. Lathrop and turned upon her that tender gaze which one old friend may turn on another old friend when the latter's son has suddenly bloomed forth golden, her full heart found utterance thus:

"Well, Mrs. Lathrop—well, Mrs. Lathrop, I guess no one will ever doubt anything again. Talk about dreams, now! I[Pg 68] dreamed Jathrop was a cat, and the reason was that it's a well-known fact that cats always come back. Why, Mrs. Macy told me once how she chloroformed a cat, and put it in a flour sack with a stone, and put the sack in a hogshead of water, and put the cover on the hogshead, and put a stone—another stone—on that, and went to church to hear the minister preach on 'Do unto others as you do unto others,' and when she came back, the cat was asleep on top of the hogshead, and Mrs. Macy got the worst shock she ever got. So you can easy see why I dreamed Jathrop was a cat; and he did come back.

"I declare that'll always be the pleasantest recollection of my life, how I met him at the station and how we came chatting up the street together. How he has improved, Mrs. Lathrop—not but what he was always handsome! There was always something noble about Jathrop. Gran'ma Mullins said yesterday as he made her think of a man she saw in a play once as stood on his crossed[Pg 69] legs in front of a fire and smoked. So careless.

"And then his bringing Mrs. Macy that polar-bear skin! Mrs. Macy says if there was one spot in the whole wide world where she never expected to set foot it was on top of a polar bear, and now she can stand on her head on one if the fancy takes her. I saw the minister when I was down in the square to-night, and he told me not to speak of it, but he thought a service of prayer for any stocks and mines as Jathrop has would be the only fitting form of gratitude which a reverent and affectionate congregation might offer to the great and glorious generosity of him who is going to give us a steeple after all these years of finishing flat at the top. Mr. Kimball came out to tell me to ask you if you'd like some one to come regularly for your order, and he says he'll keep caviare from now on, just on the chance of Jathrop's being here to eat it; he says why he didn't keep it before was he thought it was a kind of chamois skin.[Pg 70]

"It's beautiful to see the faces down-town, Mrs. Lathrop; you never saw nothing like it. Everybody's just so happy. Hiram is grinning from ear to ear over being took to the Klondike, and everybody is swore to not let Gran'ma Mullins know he's going. He's going to climb out of the window at night and get away that way, and Gran'ma Mullins won't mind what she feels when he really does come back a millionaire, too. She'll be just like you, Mrs. Lathrop; no one minds anything once it's over. Little misunderstandings are easy forgot.

"And to think there's been a blue automobile puffing at these very kitchen steps! To think you and me was over to Meadville and back between dinner and supper one day! I guess Mrs. Lupey never got such a start. She'd been all the morning getting home on the train and was only just putting her bonnet away in its box when we rolled up. I never enjoyed nothing like that roll up in all my life! I never see automobiles from the automobile's side before, but now[Pg 71] I can. When a automobile goes over a duck it makes all the difference in the world whether it's your automobile or your duck.

"And then Jathrop's generosity! Not but what he was always generous. Deacon White says he will say that for Jathrop, he was always generous. And look what he brought home. Every child in town is just about out of their senses. Felicia Hemans is crazy about the earrings, and 'Liza Em'ly won't never take off the bracelet. Mr. Shores can't keep the tears back when he looks at his watch charm. I think it was so kind of Jathrop. But Jathrop was always kind; you know yourself that a kinder creature never lived than Jathrop. I always said that for him.

"And then his having a new fence built around the cemetery. It was thoughtful, and Judge Fitch says nobody can't say more. But Judge Fitch says Jathrop was always thoughtful; he says he's been interested in him always just for that very reason.[Pg 72] Judge Fitch says Jathrop's nature was always that deep kind that's easy overlooked. He says he'll have to confess to his shame that some of the time he overlooked him himself. He says it's very difficult to understand a deep nature, because if a deep nature don't make money, there's hardly any way of ever knowing that it really was deep; people just think you're a fool then—like we always thought Jathrop was. You know, nobody ever thought he ever could amount to nothing. You know that yourself, Mrs. Lathrop. But making money lets you see just what a person's got in 'em and see it plain.

"I'm sure for all I've loved Jathrop as if he was going to be my own, for years and years and years, still I never credited him with being the man he is. I supposed he was a tramp somewhere—yes, I really did, Mrs. Lathrop, you may believe me or not, but that's just what I thought when I thought anything at all about him—which wasn't often.[Pg 73]

"Everybody in the whole place is busy remembering pleasant things about him now. The minister's wife remembers his coming to a Christmas tree once a long time ago when they both was little; she says she hasn't thought of it in thirty years, but she remembers it as plain as day now,—he had on a coat and a little tie.

"And Gran'ma Mullins says she never will forget the day before he was born, for she went to town and dropped her little bead bag, and you know how much she thinks of her little bead bag now when the beads is all worn off, so you can think what store she set by it when the beads were still on, and so she was all back and forth along the road hunting for it the whole blessed afternoon, and when she found it and went home, she was tired, and she slept late next morning because her husband was out very late the night before, and when he slept late she always slept late, 'cause she said sleeping late was almost the only treat he ever give her, and, anyhow, when they did wake up and[Pg 74] get up and get out, there was Jathrop, and she says she shall never forget her joy over having found the bead bag again.

"Mrs. Macy says she remembers the day he hid, and you thought he was in the cistern, and you was kneeling down looking in when he jumped out from behind the stove and give you such a start you went in head first.

"I remember that day myself, too—father was insisting he was paralyzed then, and mother and me wouldn't take his word for it, and we fully expected he'd race over and help haul you out, but all he said was, 'She'll have to manage the best she can—I'm paralyzed,' and we really began to believe him from then on.

"The minister says he shall always remember how well he looked when he put on long trousers; the minister's preparing a little paper on Jathrop to read at the Sunday-school annual, and he says he shall begin with the day he put on long trousers and then mark his rise step by step. The[Pg 75] minister's so pleased over Jathrop's patting Brunhilde Susan on the head; he says there are pats and pats, but that pat that Jathrop give Brunhilde Susan was what he calls, in pure and Biblical simplicity, a pat."

Susan paused. Mrs. Lathrop just felt her diamond solitaires, glanced at the new kitchen range, and was silent.

"And then, Mrs. Lathrop, that dear blessed little Chinese angel—I tell you I shall never forget that boy. I liked his face when I first laid eyes on him, and when I thought he was Jathrop's lawful wife, I loved him as I'd loved even a Chinaman if he was your daughter; but when I saw him cleaning up my sink, polishing my pans, washing out my cupboards and all that, just the same as yours, then was when I see that a heathen Chinee has just the same right to go to heaven that anybody else has, and from then on I just trusted him completely and let him do every bit of the work till he left.

"I see now why everybody's so happy[Pg 76] being a missionary if you can just get away and live with the Chinee. I'd have kept that boy if Jathrop hadn't wanted him—I'd have been very glad to; and it's awful to think we're keeping quiet, lovable natures like his from settling here. A girl might do much worse than marry that Chinese—very much worse. A very great deal worse. Though I suppose many would hesitate."

Mrs. Lathrop rose, went to the cupboard, took out a bottle of homemade gooseberry wine, poured out a little, and took a sip. She did not offer any to Susan.

"It'll do you good," said Susan encouragingly. "I don't like the taste myself, but it'll do you good. Besides, Mrs. Lathrop, you must begin to get used to it. When you go around with Jathrop in his private car, you'll have to drink wine, and if I was you, I'd stop tying a stocking around your neck nights, for you'll have to wear a very different cut of gowns soon. If Jathrop buys that yacht he's gone to look at, you'll have to wear a sailor blouse."[Pg 77]

"Oh," said Mrs. Lathrop faintly, "oh, Susan, I—" Miss Clegg put her hastily back into her chair.

"Never mind if it does make your head go 'round a little, Mrs. Lathrop; you must learn how. It may be hard, but it'll make Jathrop happy, and now he's come back rich, that's what everybody wants to do.

"Mrs. Brown says next time he comes she's going to make him a jet-black pound-cake, and Mrs. Allen says she's going to work him a pincushion. She says it'll be a plain, simple token of affection, but those whom Fortune smiles on soon learn to know the true worth of a simple gift of purest love. She says no one has ever known how she loved Jathrop, 'cause she kept it to herself for fear you'd think she was after him for Polly."

Mrs. Lathrop rocked dreamily.

Susan rose to go.

"Don't—" said Mrs. Lathrop.

"I must," said Susan. "Oh, Mrs. Lathrop, think of his giving me those fifty shares[Pg 78] of stock just on account of my long-suffering friendship for you. I declare he's a great character—that's all I can say.

"I always had a feeling he'd end in some unusual way; when they started to lynch him, I thought that was the way, but now I see that this was the way, and I thank heaven that I wasn't right the other time and am right this time. For human nature is human nature, Mrs. Lathrop, and people are always kinder to a woman whose son comes home from the Klondike a millionaire than they are if they had the bother of lynching him, no matter how much he may have deserved it."

Mrs. Lathrop continued to finger her solitaire earrings in happy silence. Miss Clegg, who never exhibited any tenderness toward anything, went over and arranged the fold-over of her friend's gold-embroidered, silk-quilted kimono.

"I'll be glad when your new hair gets here, Mrs. Lathrop," she said tenderly, "it'll make a different woman of you. It's astonishing[Pg 79] what a little extra hair can do; I always feel that when I put on my wave.

"You and me will have to be getting used to all kinds of new things now. And that beautiful dream of mine letting us know he was coming. Mrs. Brown says Amelia says the Egyptians worshipped cats and used to pickle them when they died.

"It's astonishing how, if you know enough, you can see how any dream is full of meaning. There's Jathrop so fond of pickles, and you and me worshipping him. And he writing in every letter he has time to get somebody to write for him, 'How's Susan Clegg?'"

Mrs. Lathrop lapsed into beatific slumber. Susan Clegg went quietly home.


[Pg 80]

IV

SUSAN CLEGG AND THE OLIVE BRANCH

It was not in reason to suppose that the return of Jathrop Lathrop should continue to occupy wholly the attention of the community. Each week—even each day—brought its fresh interests. Not the least exciting of the provocative elements was borne back from the metropolis to which 'Liza Em'ly, that hitherto negatively regarded olive branch of the ministerial family, had but recently emigrated. 'Liza Em'ly, it was whispered one day, had written a book.

The Sewing Society, at its next meeting, discussed it, as a matter of course; and Susan Clegg, equally as a matter of course, promptly reported the proceedings to her friend and neighbor, Mrs. Lathrop.[Pg 81]

"Well," she began, sitting down with the heavy thump of one who is completely and utterly overcome, "I give up. It's beyond me. I was to the Sewing Society, and it's beyond them all, too. The idea of 'Liza Em'ly's writing a book! No one can see how she ever come to think as she could write a book. No one can see where she got any ideas to put in a book. I don't know what any one thought she would do when she set out for the city to earn her own living, but there wasn't a soul in town as expected her to do it, let alone writing a book, too. I can't see whatever gives any one the idea of earning their living by writing books. Books always seem so sort of unnecessary to me, anyway—I ain't read one myself in years. No one in this community ever does read, and that's what makes everybody so surprised over 'Liza Em'ly, after living among us so long and so steady, starting up all of a sudden and doing anything like this. And what makes it all the more surprising is she never[Pg 82] said a word about it either—never wrote home to the family or told a living soul. And so you can maybe imagine the shock to the minister when he got word as his own flesh and blood daughter had not only written a book but got it all printed without consulting him. His wife says he was completely done up and could hardly speak for quite a little while, and later when the newspaper clippings begin to come, he had to go to bed and have a salt-water cloth over his eyes. I tell you, Mrs. Lathrop, the minister is a very sensitive nature; it's no light thing to a sensitive nature to get a shock like a daughter's writing a book."

"Is—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.

"Well, I should say that it was," said Miss Clegg. "I should say that it was. And not only is it being advertised, but people are buying it just like mad, the papers say. The minister is still more upset over that; seems the responsibilities of even being connected with books nowadays is no light thing. There was that man as was shot for what[Pg 83] he wrote in a book the other day, you know, and the minister's wife says as the minister is most nervous over what may be in the book; she says he says very few books as everybody is reading ought to be read, and he knows what he's talking about, for he's a great reader himself. Why, his wife says he's got books hid all over the house, and she says—speaking confidentially—as he says most of 'em he's really very sorry he's read—after he's finished 'em. She says—he says he'll know no peace night or day now until he's read 'Liza Em'ly's book. I guess it's no wonder that he's nervous. 'Liza Em'ly's been a handful for years, and since she fell in love with Elijah, there's been just no managing her a tall. If Elijah'd loved her, of course it would have been different, but Elijah wasn't a energetic nature, and 'Liza Em'ly was, and when a energetic nature loves a man like Elijah, there's just no knowing where they will end up. I never see why Elijah didn't love 'Liza Em'ly, but her grandmother's nose has always been[Pg 84] against her, and he told me himself as it was all he could think of when he sat quietly down to think about her. But all that's neither here nor there, for it's a far cry from a girl's nose to her brains nowadays, thank heavens, and 'Liza Em'ly's got something to balance her now. Polly White has sent for one of the books. She says she'll lend it around, no matter what's in it. Polly says there's one good thing in getting married, and that is it makes you a married woman, and being a married woman lets you read all kinds of books. I guess Polly's been a great reader since she was married. She's meant to get some good out of that situation, and she's done it. The deacon isn't so badly off, either. I wouldn't say that he's glad he's married all the time, but I guess some of the time he don't mind, and it's about all married people ask if only some of the time they can feel to not be sorry. A little let-up is a great relief."

"You—" said Mrs. Lathrop.

"Yes, I know," said Miss Clegg, "but I[Pg 85] pick up a good deal from others, and there's a feeling as married women have when they talk to a woman as they suppose can't possibly know anything just 'cause she never got into any of their troubles, as makes them show forth the truth very plainly. I won't say as married women strike me more and more as fools, for it wouldn't be kindly, but I will say as the way they revel in being married and saying how hard it is, kind of strikes me as amusing. I wouldn't go into a store and buy a dress and then, when every one knew as I picked it out myself, keep running around telling how it didn't fit and was tearing out in all the seams—but that's about what most of this marriage talk comes to. I do wonder what 'Liza Em'ly has said about marriage in Deacon Tooker Talks. That's a very funny name for a book, I think myself, but that's what she's named it. And as it seems to be about most everything, I suppose it must be about marriage, too. Of course 'Liza Em'ly's so wild to marry Elijah that everybody knows that that was what[Pg 86] took her up to town. She didn't want to earn her living any more than any girl does. Nobody ever really aches to earn their living. But some has to, and some wants to be around with men, and there ain't no better way to be around with men nowadays than to go to work with 'em. You have 'em all day long then, and pretty soon you have 'em all the time. 'Liza Em'ly wants to have Elijah all the time."

"What—" began Mrs. Lathrop.

"Oh, she says she thinks they're so congenial; she told me herself as Elijah 'understood.' It seems to be a great thing to understand nowadays. It's another of those things we used to take for granted but which is now got new and uncommon and most remarkable. She told me when she and Elijah watched the sun setting together, they both understood, and she seemed to feel that that was a safe basis on which to set out for town and start in to earn her own living. The minister didn't want her to go. He was very much against it. It cost such a lot,[Pg 87] too. The minister's wife said it would have been ever so much cheaper to fix a girl to get married. You can get married with six pairs of new stockings, the minister's wife says, and it takes a whole dozen with the heels run to earn your living. The minister's wife was very confidential with me about it all, and 'Liza Em'ly confided considerably in me, too. They both knew I'd never tell. Every one always confides in me because they know I never tell. Why, the things folks in this community have told me! Well!—But I never tell. The real reason I never tell is because they always tell every one themselves before I can get around, but then a confiding nature is always telling its affairs, and so you can't really blame 'em. I never tell my own affairs, because I've learned as affairs is like love letters, and if they're interesting enough, it is very risky. But really, Mrs. Lathrop, I must be going now, and as soon as I get hold of that book, I'll be over with my opinion. Deacon Tooker Talks! My, but that is a funny[Pg 88] name for a book! I can't see myself what kind of a book it can possibly be with that title—but anyway, we shall soon know now."

"Yes, we—" began Mrs. Lathrop.

"Yes, indeed," said Susan, and the seance broke up for that day.

It was resumed the day after, and the day after that, but no further progress having been made in the development of 'Liza Em'ly's affairs, that interesting topic remained in abeyance until after the next meeting of the Sewing Society, when the subject was put forward with emphasis.

"You never hear the beat," said the lady who nearly always went to the Sewing Society to the lady who hadn't been there for years; "this book of 'Liza Em'ly's seems to be something just beyond belief. Polly read it all aloud to us to-day, and I must say it's a most astonishing book. I will tell you in confidence, Mrs. Lathrop, as I ain't surprised that the minister hid his copy and that the newspapers is all printing things about it.[Pg 89] Seems it's a man in bed talking to his wife who is asleep most of the time, only he don't pay the slightest attention to her not paying the slightest attention. Polly had the name right, it is Deacon Tooker Talks (which is a most singular name to my order of thinking). The cover has got a picture of the deacon's head on a pillow talking, and you can think how the minister would feel over his daughter's book's cover having a pillow on it! I walked home with Mrs. Fisher, and she will have it that 'Liza Em'ly's put her father into the book, soul and body. There's a man called Mr. Lexicon as is a lawyer in the book, and Mrs. Fisher says it's the minister. I wouldn't swear as it wasn't the minister myself, but I hate to believe it, for a girl as'll put her father in a book would be equal to most anything, I should suppose. But Mrs. Fisher's sure it's the minister; she says she knew him right off by his ear-muffs. Only 'Liza Em'ly has disguised the ear-muffs by calling them overshoes. Mr. Lexicon has always got on his overshoes. Mrs. Fisher[Pg 90] waited until we got away from all the rest, and then she showed me a review from a New York paper that just took my breath away. It says no such book has appeared before a welcoming public in two hundred and fifty years, and she's going to write the paper and ask what the book two hundred and fifty years ago was about. Mrs. Fisher says she's thinking very seriously of writing a book herself. She says she's always wanted to write a book, and now she thinks she'll go up to town and see 'Liza Em'ly and ask her about their writing a book together. She says she'll furnish all the story, and 'Liza Em'ly can write the book. Then they'll divide the money even. And there'll be money to divide, too, for 'Liza Em'ly's book is surely selling. Mrs. Macy come up after Mrs. Fisher went home, and she had a piece out of another newspaper that Mrs. Lupey sent her, saying the book was in its ninth edition already. She had it with her at the Sewing Society, but she didn't bring it out, out of consideration for the feelings of the[Pg 91] minister's wife. Mrs. Macy says she thinks she'll write a book, too. She's got the same idea as Mrs. Fisher about writing it with 'Liza Em'ly, only she says she'll let 'Liza Em'ly use some of her own ideas mixed in with Mrs. Macy's ideas, and she can have two thirds of the money. She says it can't be hard to write a book, or 'Liza Em'ly couldn't never have done it, but she says 'Liza Em'ly has got the Fishers in her book, and she's surprised Mrs. Fisher didn't recognize 'em at the Sewing Society. 'Liza Em'ly calls 'em the Hunters. Fishers, hunters—you see! An' John Bunyan she calls Martin Luther, an' in place of being a genius, she covered that all up by making him a painter. Laws, Mrs. Macy says writing a book's easy. She says that book of 'Liza Em'ly's is really too flat for words, and what makes people buy it, she can't see. Well, I shan't buy a copy, I know that. I ain't knowed 'Liza Em'ly all my life to go doing things like that now."

With which very common view as to the[Pg 92] works produced by our intimate friends, Miss Clegg rose to take her departure.

"Did—?" asked Mrs. Lathrop, when they next met.

"No—I asked, but not a soul knew. We haven't got any man in town as it could possibly be. They was all discussing it, too. Mrs. Macy and Mrs. Fisher is really going to town to see 'Liza Em'ly and take up their ideas to talk over. Mrs. Macy is putting her ideas down on a piece of paper, so as to be sure she has 'em with her. Mrs. Fisher's keeping hers in her head, for she says if she lost them, anybody might write her book. They think they'll go Tuesday. I hope they will, 'cause if they do, they'll come straight from the train and tell me, and then I'll come straight over and tell you."

With which amicable arrangement Miss Clegg again took her departure.

It was quite two weeks before affairs shaped themselves for Mrs. Macy and Mrs. Fisher to go to the city on their literary errand, but they managed it at last, and you[Pg 93] may be very sure that Mrs. Lathrop peeked eagerly and earnestly out of her window many times the afternoon after their journey. They came up to call upon Miss Clegg and narrate their adventures quite according to their usual friendly ideals, and directly they took their leave that good lady hied herself rapidly to Mrs. Lathrop to tell the tale.

Mrs. Lathrop met her at the door and both sank into chairs immediately.

"Well, what—" said the older lady then, and her younger friend rejoined promptly:

"Perfectly dumfounding; nothing like it was ever knowed before or ever will be again."

"Wha—?" began Mrs. Lathrop.

"They're both completely paralyzed. Mrs. Fisher can't say a word, and Mrs. Macy can't keep still."

"Wha—?" began Mrs. Lathrop again.

Miss Clegg drew a sharp breath. "They went to see 'Liza Em'ly, an' they saw her. My goodness heavens, I should think they[Pg 94] did see her. Mrs. Macy says if any one ever supposed as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon was any wonder, they'd ought to go to the city an' see 'Liza Em'ly, and the Hanging Gardens would keep their mouths shut forever after."

"Wha—?" began Mrs. Lathrop for the third time.

But Miss Clegg was now quite ready to discharge her full duty. "Seems 'Liza Em'ly's book went into the twentieth edition yesterday," she said, opening her eyes and mouth with great expressiveness. "They knew that before they got there, for you can believe Mrs. Macy or not, just as you please, Mrs. Lathrop, but there were actually signboards saying so stuck up all along in the fields as the train went by. The train-boy had the books for sale on the train, too, and kept dropping 'em on top of 'em all the way, but they didn't mind that, for Mrs. Fisher read her book as fast as she could until he picked it up again, and she read to good purpose, for this afternoon she asked for a glass[Pg 95] of water, and while I was out with her in the kitchen getting it, she told me there isn't a mite of doubt but Mrs. Macy is in the book, and Doctor Carter of Meadville is in right along with her. Mrs. Fisher says 'Liza Em'ly has called her Miss Grace and him Doctor Wagner of Lemonadetown, but she says she knew 'em instantly by the description of how they was in love; she says you'd recognize how they was in love right off. I must say, Mrs. Lathrop, as I think 'Liza Em'ly ought to be very careful what she writes about real people if you can tell 'em as quick as that; but anyway, they got to town and took a street car, and then, lo and behold, if their first little surprise wasn't the finding as 'Liza Em'ly has stopped living where she lives and gone to live in a hotel, so they had to go to the hotel, too, and when they got there, what do you think?—If 'Liza Em'ly wasn't giving a reception to celebrate the twentieth edition!"

"Wh—?" cried Mrs. Lathrop.

"Yes, indeed," continued Miss Clegg,[Pg 96] "certainly—yes, I should say so, too. If they didn't get a fine shock over 'Liza Em'ly and her hotel and her reception and the whole thing, Mrs. Macy says she'll never know what a shock is when she sees it. Seems they was shoved into one end of a elevator without so much as by your leave and out the other end before they'd caught their breath, and then they found themselves in a room with flowers all tied up in banners, and Elijah, with his hair parted in the middle, passing cups of tea which a lady, with her muff on her head, was pouring out, while 'Liza Em'ly sat on a table swinging her feet in shoes she never bought in this town, Mrs. Macy'll take her Bible oath, and a dress that trained on the floor even from the table."

"My heavens alive!" cried Mrs. Lathrop.

"Oh, that isn't anything," said Susan, "just you wait. Well, and so Mrs. Macy says you can maybe imagine their feelings when they found their two perfectly respectable and well brought up selves in the middle of such a kind of a party! One man and one girl was under[Pg 97] the piano playing cat's cradle, while another man was doing a sum on the wallpaper with a hatpin. Mrs. Macy says she wouldn't have been surprised at nothing after that, you'd think, but she says when it comes to 'Liza Em'ly nowadays, you don't know even what you're thinkin', for you'd suppose 'Liza Em'ly would at least have looked ashamed of her feet and her train. Instead of that, she just clapped her hands and said, 'Hello, home-folks,' which nearly sent Mrs. Fisher over backwards. Elijah saw them then, and he had the good manners to drop a teacup, but even he didn't look anywhere near as used up as in Mrs. Macy's opinion a man away from business with his hair parted in the middle in the middle of the afternoon had ought to look. He gave them chairs though, and they set down between a young lady as was smoking a cigarette and another as was very carefully powdering herself in a little mirror set in her pocketbook. Just then there was a noise like a awful crash and a hailstorm, and after they'd both jumped and Mrs. Macy[Pg 98] come near dislocating her hip, they see that a man was beginning on the piano. Well, Mrs. Macy says such piano-playing her one hope is as she may be going to be spared hereafter; she says he'd skitter up the piano with both hands, and then he'd bang his way back to where he belonged, and every time he hit the very bottom, he'd give his head a flop and jerk down another lot of hair over his eyes. Mrs. Macy says she never see a man with so much loose hair where he could manage it, for he kept getting down more and more till he looked like a cocoanut and nothing else, so help Mrs. Macy, and then, when he was completely hid, he hit the piano four cracks and folded his arms and was done."

"Mercy on—!" cried Mrs. Lathrop.

"I should say so," continued Miss Clegg, "and Mrs. Macy says everybody clapped like mad, and then 'Liza Em'ly come to earth and went and threw her arms around his neck, which to Mrs. Macy's order of thinking, didn't look much like she was going to marry Elijah. And then, before they could shake[Pg 99] hands or say good-by or do a thing, a boy came in with a lot of telegrams on a tray, and while 'Liza Em'ly was fixing half a spectacle in one eye to read 'em, a young lady dressed in snakeskins, and very little else, jumped into the room right over the backs of their two chairs in a most totally unlooked-for way, and then began to spin about and wriggle here and there and in and out generally, and Mrs. Fisher got up and said they really must go, and Elijah showed 'em to the door with the lady in snakeskins making figure eights around them all three and 'Liza Em'ly throwing a rose at them and kissing her hand till somehow they got into the hall. They walked down flights of stairs then till they thought there never would be a bottom anywhere, and then they looked at each other, and after a while they got where they could speak, and then they came home."

"Well, wha—?" began Mrs. Lathrop.

"Me, too," said Susan, "I think it's awful! And the worst of it is for her to be the minister's daughter. Think of it! They bought[Pg 100] a paper as had her picture on it and a account of the reception as they'd just been at. It said Herr Schnitzel Beerstein played, so they know his name now, and Madame Kalouka S-k-z-o-h danced, so when it comes to her name, they ain't much better off than they were before. Wherever they looked they see posters of Deacon Tooker Talks, and people in the cars was all discussing the book. Two ministers is going to take it for a text to-morrow, and the candy stores has all got little candy boxes like beds with a chocolate drop for Deacon Tooker and a gum-drop for his wife."

"Well, wha—" began Mrs. Lathrop.

"I don't know," said Miss Clegg. "The book's made right out of this community, and since I've read it myself, I can see who every one is except Deacon Tooker. I can't see who Deacon Tooker is, for we haven't got anybody like him. He's talking the whole time; in fact, the book is all what he says about everything, and all his wife ever does is to wake up when he shakes her and[Pg 101] then go to sleep again. The idea's very remarkable of a man laying awake chattering to himself all night long, but I never heard of any such person here. Our only deacon is Deacon White, and he never talks a tall."

"I wonder if the min—" began Mrs. Lathrop.

"No, I don't believe so," said Miss Clegg. "My goodness, suppose he did and hit something like they did! No, I hope he won't ever think of it, and as for 'Liza Em'ly, I hope she'll remember her married father and mother soon and remember her quiet and loving home, too, before she gets in the habit of having parties like that very often. My gracious, think of going to call on a girl as you see christened and having a snake-lady gartering her way up your leg while you were trying to say good-by and get away alive. Mrs. Macy says the creature was diving here and wriggling there and slipping under tables and over chairs in a way as made your flesh go creeping right after her. Well, it's clear 'Liza Em'ly's started on a[Pg 102] most singular career. Mrs. Macy says first they give her a sandwich with a bow of ribbon on it, and she swallowed the ribbon; and then they give her a piece out of a cake that they said had a lucky quarter in it, and she's almost sure she swallowed the quarter, so maybe she was prejudiced."

"Well, I—" began Mrs. Lathrop.

"They felt the same way," said Miss Clegg; "they've come home very much used up. Mrs. Macy says you can talk to her about the days of ancient Rome and the way folks act underground in Paris, but she says she knows positively as what she and Mrs. Fisher saw with their own eyes in 'Liza Em'ly's sitting-room beat all those kind of little circuses hollow. Mrs. Macy says she's seen enough of what they call high life now to last her till she dies of shame. She says the only bright spot in the whole thing is as 'Liza Em'ly's nose isn't anywhere near as prominent as you'd think any more, and she's got a automobile and is going to Europe when the book goes into its fiftieth edition."[Pg 103]

"Well—I—" mused Mrs. Lathrop.

"Yes, and I will, too," said Miss Clegg. "I'll go straight home and do it. I'm awful tired. And it bothers me more than I like to own not knowing who Deacon Tooker is. You know my nature, Mrs. Lathrop, and although I was never one to try to find out things nor to talk about 'em after I've managed to find 'em out, still I never was one to like not to know things, and I must say I do want to know who Deacon Tooker is. Well, they say all things comes to him who waits, so I think I won't stop here any longer. Good-by, and when I do find out, you can count on my coming right over to tell you."

"Goo—" began Mrs. Lathrop.

But Miss Clegg had shut the door after her.


[Pg 104]

V

SUSAN CLEGG'S "IMPROVEMENTS"

There was nothing small or mean or economical about Jathrop Lathrop, now that he had turned out rich. He was the soul of generosity, the epitome of liberality, the concentrated essence of filial devotion as expressed in checks and carte-blanche orders directed at his mother.

One of his earliest kind thoughts was to have Mrs. Lathrop's home completely modernized, and as Susan Clegg lived next door and was his mother's best and dearest friend, he decided to build her house over, too.

To that end he hunted up the highest-priced architect of whom he could hear and asked to have designs submitted forthwith. The highest-priced architect readily undertook the[Pg 105] reconstruction of the Lathrop and Clegg domiciles, but being too occupied to go down into the country and look over the field personally, he delegated one of his youngest and most promising assistants to accomplish the task, and the young and promising assistant forthwith packed his dress-suit case and set off.

He was an assistant of most extraordinary youth and almost unbelievable promise, and he saw a chance to plan colleges (endowed by J. Lathrop, Esq.), palaces (to be built for Lathrop, the millionaire), possibly to be commissioned with the overseeing of the artistic development of some new, up-springing city (Lathropville, Alaska, or something of that sort), if he should only succeed in at once accomplishing a close union of feeling with the golden offspring of our old friend. His first really rich client is to a young débutant in bricks just what a well-hung picture is to the budding artist, or a song before royalty is to a singer. Such being the well-known facts of life the young and promising assistant[Pg 106] fully intended to do himself proud in the reconstruction of the two houses consigned by Jathrop's benevolence to his tender mercies.

The young architect came to town and went to the hotel (at Jathrop's expense). He spent the next ten days in going twice each day to study his task, sketch its realities and idealities, and also make the acquaintance of Mrs. Lathrop and Susan Clegg, for he was a young man of new and novel ideas, and one of his newest and most novel ideas was to build a house which would really suit those who were to live in it. He was so young that he had no conception as to how this was to be done, nor the faintest inkling as to what a Titanic-crossed-with-Promethean undertaking it would be to do, if even he did know how; but he felt—and most truly—that it was a new view of the relation between house and builder, and he felt proud over having thought it out for himself as well as for all time to come. Then he had another novel idea—not so altogether his[Pg 107] own, however—which was that a house should "express its dweller." This latter idea was quite beyond the grasp of his present audience and just a little beyond his own grasp, too, but he was brave and conscientious and didn't see it that way at all.

It has taken some time to lay out all these premises, but if there is any one with whom one can desire close acquaintance it is surely the man who comes to build over a comfortable and in-most-ways-satisfactory home of long years' standing, so I trust that the minutes have not been altogether wasted.

Mrs. Lathrop and Miss Clegg received the young man and his mission in such states of mind as were entirely compatible with their individual outlook over life.

"I must say I'm far from altogether liking him," Susan said to her friend, a very real note of disapproval in her voice, one day toward the end of the week. Mrs. Lathrop was rocking in her new old-gold-plush stationary rocker and listened as usual with interest. "He's on the woodpile now, drawing[Pg 108] a three-quarter profile of the woodshed. The way he perches anywhere and then goes to work and draws anything would surely make an English snail pull his castle right into his house along with him, for I've got a feeling as there's nothing about me as he hasn't got in his book by this time, and there's many things he's drawn as I never would choose to have the world in general looking over. I'm sure I don't want no view of my woodshed going down to posterity for one thing. I've had to have a woodshed, but I've never admired it, and the way I've nailed anything handy over holes in it is far from my usual way of mending. You've always mended 'hit or miss,' Mrs. Lathrop, and after years of such doings as was more worthy a poorhouse than a Christian, heaven has seen fit to reward your patching with a son fresh from the Klondike, but I've always darned blue with blue and brown with brown, and the only spot in my whole life that I haven't carefully and neatly matched the stripes in is my woodshed, and now to-day[Pg 109] when I was thinking very seriously of using it up for the kitchen-stove next winter, if there isn't a young man from New York out drawing it in black and white, and ten to one he'll print it in some unexpected Sunday paper marked 'Jathrop Lathrop's mother's friend Susan Clegg's woodshed!' That'll be a pretty kettle of fish, and you needn't tell me that there won't be somebody to perk up and say, 'No smoke without some fire,' which will be as good as throwing it in my teeth that I'm one of those as use a safety pin when a button's off, when it's a thing as I've never done and never would do even if there is a proverb that a pin's a pin for all that."

Susan paused here and looked upon her friend in serious question. Mrs. Lathrop, however, merely continued to rock pleasantly. A change had come over the spirit of her rocking since the return of Jathrop. She had rocked for years with a more or less apologetic air, as if she knew that there were those who might criticize her action and yet she couldn't personally feel that she really[Pg 110] ought to give it up. But now she rocked with a wide, free swing as if life was life and if she liked to rock, she was going to rock, and if there were those who objected, they could object—she didn't care. There is nothing that so quickly develops an independent standpoint as the possession of money; there is nothing that so fully produces a conviction that one is thoroughly justified in doing just exactly what one pleases; there is nothing that leads to quite the same lofty indifference as to whether what pleases one pleases or displeases all the rest of the world.

We have but to look at Jathrop to see that this is true. Of all the tame, mild-eyed, listless young individuals, Jathrop was the worst, falling asleep on an average of three times an afternoon in school, and never keeping conscious a whole evening. Whether a sudden change in Jathrop's character was the cause of making him a financial power or whether his Klondike-acquired bank account was the cause of his awakening, it still is a[Pg 111] fact that now in his quiet way he was a very live person.

Jathrop was indifferent to a degree, also, as witness his appearance with his Chinese boy whom everybody took to be his wife with his great baggy trousers and pigtail that no respectable boy, Chinese or otherwise, should wear. Of course, it must be acceded that Jathrop was indifferent in that case from ignorance. He did not know what the world was saying.

Perhaps that accounts for the lofty attitude, one might say lofty altitude, of so many of our millionaires. They are so far removed from the world that their ears cannot hear what is being said. People talk in whispers about the "very rich," which makes it doubly hard for them to hear, or hearing, to think that it matters very much, else people would shout. However, when all is said, money does make a difference.

Mrs. Lathrop had been a silent, sat-upon, unaggressively-rocking person for years; now Jathrop had come back from the[Pg 112] Klondike and altered all that; it was not that she had turned talkative, it was not that she had so far altered the very foundations of her being as to presume ever to try to contradict any other body's opinions, but the return of Jathrop and the wealth of Jathrop had found expression in his mother through the one medium of almost all expression with her. Mrs. Lathrop had ceased to concern herself as to the length or the vigor of her rocking. It was beautiful to see the energy of independence with which she went back and forth, bringing her feet down with an audible clap whenever she desired fresh impetus.

Susan Clegg did not seem to sympathize. Instead, sitting on her straight chair opposite, she shook her head severely, further discontent making itself visible in the manner of her shake.

But Mrs. Lathrop was proof against all manifestations of disapproval now. She flew back and forth in the old-gold-plush stationary rocker like the happy pendulum of some beatific clock. Jathrop was home.[Pg 113] Jathrop was rich. Jathrop would buy her anything she wanted.

"I d'n know, I'm sure, Mrs. Lathrop," Susan went on, the discontent ringing somewhat more distinctly in her tone, "as I'm much taken with this idea of building us over, even if Jathrop does mean it kindly. I know there's a many as would nigh to go out of their senses at the very idea of being made over new for nothing, but I was never one to go out of my senses easy, and that young man on the woodpile doesn't give me any kind of secure feeling as to what he'll make out of my house. He looks to me like the kind of young man as will open doors square across windows where the knob'll smash the glass sure if you're trying to carry a bureau out at the time of the house-cleaning. The kind of cravats he's got looks to me like his chimneys would be very likely not to draw, and their color gives me a feeling that doughnuts in his house will smell in shut-up closets a week after the frying. You know what shut-up fryings is like after they've had no[Pg 114] fresh air for a week, but I wasn't raised that way. When I have fish I have fish and done with it, and when I have onions I have onions, and I ain't very wild over maybe boarding my fish and my onions in my best bonnet henceforth and forever.

"Mrs. Brown was telling me yesterday as she heard of some city woman as had a system of ventilation put into her house, and the rats and mice used it so freely that you couldn't sleep nights. They nested in it, and they fought in it, and they died in it, all as happy and gay as you please, and the family had to have it picked out of the walls in the end and all new paper put on. That's the kind of ideas young men call modern improvements, and that young man on the woodpile is about as modern and improving as they make 'em, I take it.

"I can't say what it is about that young man that I don't like, but, being as I'm always frank and open with you, I will remark that so far I ain't found one thing about him as I do like. He's been down cellar hammering[Pg 115] on the wall wherever the wind blew him to listeth to hammer, and I had to sit up-stairs and listen without no chance to blow myself. I caught him down on all fours this morning peeking under my front porch, and he didn't even have the manners to blush. As to the way he makes free with the outside of your house, I wouldn't waste breath with trying to tell you, but my own feeling is that an architect learns his trade on a tight-rope to judge from that young man's manner, and from what I've seen while he was swinging by one arm from your premises, I wouldn't feel safe to take a bath even on top of a chimney, myself."

Susan rose at this and went to the window and looked out; from her expression as she turned, it was plain to be seen that the artist was still at his task.

"I don't know, Mrs. Lathrop," she said, coming back to her seat, "I d'n know, I'm sure, as I'm took with this idea a tall. I never was one for favors either given or asked, and although I know this isn't no[Pg 116] favor, but just a evidence of what I've been through with you first and last, still it's done in spite of me and I've got no feeling that I'm going to enjoy it. There's something about kindness as is always most trying to the people who've got no choice but to stand up and be tried. People who get freely given to is in the habit of getting what they don't want and can't use, but I ain't. I'm very far from it. There's nothing in me that's going to be pleased with getting a green hat when I needed a pink coat—no, sir.

"And I don't need nothing. Or if I do, I can buy it. I know Jathrop means it kindly, but Jathrop can't enter into my ways of thinking. Jathrop is looking into life from the Klondike gold-fields and I'm looking at it from my back stoop. That young man was out swishing his pocket handkerchief about and sucking his thumb and holding it up all yesterday afternoon, and about the time I'd made up my mind to bolt him out of the kitchen for a lunatic, he come in and told me he really thought there was wind[Pg 117] enough in your back yard and my back yard together to run a windmill, in which case a water system could be easy inaugurated. I told him I didn't know you could inaugurate anything but a president, but he said anything as you hadn't had before and thought was going to work fine and be a great improvement could be inaugurated. I told him I supposed I could stand a windmill if you could.

"What do you think—what do you think, Mrs. Lathrop, if that young man didn't ask if he might go and look up the parlor fireplace! Well, I told him he could, and I give him a newspaper to shake his head on after he was done looking, too. He's been in my garret until I bet he knows every trunk label by heart, and I must say I feel as if I'd have very little of my own affairs to tell on Judgment Day if he gets dressed and out of his grave quicker than I get dressed and out of mine. But that isn't all, whatever you may think. There's a many other things about him as I don't like and don't like a tall.[Pg 118]

"For one thing, he's got a way of looking around as if it was my house that was the main thing and I was the last and smallest piece of cross-paper tied in the kite's tail. To my order of thinking, that's a far from polite way for a young man as Jathrop's hiring and boarding to look on a woman whose house he may thank his lucky stars if he may get the chance to build over. Mrs. Macy says Mrs. Lupey says architects is all like that, but I'm far from seeing why. I don't consider that young man superior a tall. I consider his brains as very far from being equal to my own. When he asks me to hold the other end of his tape-line and does it just as if a pin would do as well, only I was handier at the moment, I'm very far from feeling flattered. I never saw just such a young man before, and when I think of being delivered up to him—house and all—for the summer, I'm also very far from feeling easy. I d'n know, I'm sure, what will be the end of this, but I do know that it looks to me like a pretty bad business."[Pg 119]

Susan paused again and looked at her friend, but Mrs. Lathrop just rocked onward. Life had widened so tremendously for her that she couldn't possibly be perturbed in any way or by anything. If the roof fell in, Jathrop would buy her another, and if she were smashed by it, Jathrop would have her put together again. Why worry?

The young man remained ten days in all, and when his visit of investigation was completed, he returned to New York. Jathrop took him to the Lotus Club to wash and to the Yacht Club to lunch and to Claremont in the afternoon (in his motor), and they talked it all over. The young man had his sketches, ideas, ideals, and plans all tied into a neat patent cover with cost-estimates lightly glued in the back. Jathrop was deeply interested, and the young man expounded the inmost soul of all his measurements and proposed altitudes and alterations. The young man reminded Jathrop of his pertinent hypothesis that a house should express its owner. Jathrop's own view of "express"[Pg 120] was that if you could pay the bill, it beat freighting all out of sight, but he felt that perhaps the young man meant something different, so he merely gave him a cigar.

The young man took the cigar and proceeded to elucidate his hypothesis by explaining that, having carefully studied both Mrs. Lathrop and Miss Clegg, he should suggest that Miss Clegg's house express her by being severely Doric and that Mrs. Lathrop's should be rambling and Queen Anne with wide, free floor spaces. He further suggested a hyena-headed door-knocker for Miss Clegg and an electric button to press, so that the door opened of itself for Mrs. Lathrop. Also a roofless pergola to connect the two houses. Jathrop liked all his ideas and sketches very much, but as he was really good-hearted and had not the least desire to present green hats to those who wanted pink coats, he had the whole book sent down to his mother and begged her to carefully inspect it in company with Susan Clegg. They inspected it.[Pg 121]

"Well," said Susan, "all I can say is I'll have to carry this book home and sit down and try and make out what he does mean. He's done it very neat, that I will say, but between crosses and dotted lines and your house behind mine like two Roman emperors on a cameo pin, I can't make head or tail of what's going to be done to either of us. I can't even find my own house in this plan on some pages, and as for this bird-cage walk that I'm supposed to run back and forth in like a polar bear in a circus all day long, my own opinion is that if it's got no roof, it's going to be very hard indeed about the snow in winter, for I'll have to carry every single solitary shovelful to one end or the other so as to throw it out of either your kitchen window or mine. That's all the good that will do us."

Mrs. Lathrop swung to and fro, totally unconcerned. No sort of proposition could disconcert her now. If the house when built over proved a failure, Jathrop would build her another.[Pg 122]

Susan took the prettily-bound portfolio home with her and spent the evening over it. She studied it profoundly and to some purpose, for the next morning when she brought it back to Mrs. Lathrop, it held but few secrets, other than those of a purely technical character, for her.

"I've been all through it," she said to her friend, "and now I can't really tell what I think a tall. But this I do know, if we ever really get these houses, I will be running back and forth from dawn to dark through that wire tunnel in a way as'll make the liveliest polar bear that ever kept taking a fresh turn look like a petrified tree beside me. Why, only to keep the conveniences he's got put in scoured bright would take me all of every morning in my house, to say nothing of wiping up the floors, for Jathrop isn't intending to buy us no carpets ever. We're to sit around on cherry when we ain't on Georgia pine, and he's got every mantelpiece marked with the kind of wood we're to burn in it, and he's been kind enough to tell us what[Pg 123] colored china we're to use in each bedroom. We're to shoot our clothes into the cellar through a hole from up-stairs and wash 'em there in those two square boxes as we couldn't make out. That thing I read 'angle-hook' is a 'inglenook,' and so far from sitting in it to fish we're to set in it to look at the fire, if we can get any mahogany to burn in that particular fireplace.

"Those fans are stairs, we're to go up 'em the way the arrow points, and heaven knows where or how we're to get down again. What we thought was beds is closets, and what we thought was closets is beds, and it's evident with all his hopping and hanging he didn't really charge his mind with us a tall, for he's got a bedroom in your house marked 'Mr. Lathrop,' when the last bit of real thought would have made him just have to remember as you're a widow. He's give me a sewing-room when he must have seen that I always do my mending in the kitchen, and he's give us each enough places to wash to keep the whole community clean. I must say he's[Pg 124] tried to be fair, for he's give both houses the same number of rooms and the same names to each room. We've each got a summer kitchen, but he left the spring and autumn to scratch along anyhow; we've each got a bathtub, and we've each got a china-closet as well as a pantry, which shows he had very little observation of the way you keep things in order."

Mrs. Lathrop absorbed all this with the happy calm of a contented (and rocking) sponge.

"But what takes me is the way he's not only got a finger, but has just smashed both hands, into every pie on the place," Susan continued. "He's moved the chicken-house and give us each a horse and give the cow a calf without even so much as 'by your leave.' I don't know which will be the most surprised if this plan comes true—me with my horse, or the cow finding herself with a calf in the fall as well as the spring this year. Then it beats me where he's going to get all his trees, for both houses is a blooming bower, and[Pg 125] the way tree-toads will sing me to sleep shows he's had no close friends in the country. Trees brushing your window mean mosquitos at night and spiders whenever they feel so disposed. And that ain't all, whatever you may think, for you haven't got a window-pane over four inches square and, as every window has fifty-six of them, I see your windows going dirty till out of very shame I get 'em washed for your funeral. And that ain't all, whatever you may think, either, for the snow is going to lodge all around all those little gables and inglenooks he's trimmed your roof with, and you'll leak before six months goes by, or I'll lose my guess."

But it was impossible to impress Mrs. Lathrop. If things leaked, Jathrop would have them mended. She just rocked and rocked.

"I don't know what to write Jathrop about these plans," Susan Clegg said slowly. "Of course, I've got to write him something, and I declare I don't know what to say. He[Pg 126] means it kindly, and there's nothing in the wide world that makes things so hard as when people mean kindly. You can do all sorts of things when people is enemies, but when any one means anything kindly, you've got to eat it if it kills you. Mrs. Allen was telling me the other day that since she's took a vow to do one good action daily, she's lost most all of her friends.

"That just shows how people feel about being grabbed by the neck and held under till you feel you've done enough good to 'em. Jathrop means this well, but I've got a feeling as we'll go through a great deal of misery being built over, and I really don't think we'll be so much better off after we've survived. You'll have to be torn right down, and the day that that young man was up on my porch post, he said he couldn't be positive that I'd keep even my north wall. He pounded it all over in the dining-room until the paper was a sight, and then when he saw how very far from pleased I was, he tried to get out of it by saying the wall would have to come down,[Pg 127] anyhow. I think he saw toward the last that he'd gone too far in a many little ways. I didn't like his taking the hens off their nests to measure how wide the henhouse was. I consider a hen is one woman when she's seated at work and had ought not to be called off by any man alive. But, laws, that young man wasn't any respecter of work or hens or anything else! He called himself an artist, and since I've been studying these plans, I've begun to think as he was really telling the truth, for artists is all crazy, and anything crazier than these plans I never did see. Not content with having us wash in the sink and the cellar, we're to wash under the front stairs, too, not to speak of all but swimming up-stairs."

Mrs. Lathrop just smiled and rocked more.

"I'm not in favor of it," said Miss Clegg, rising to go. "I don't believe it'll be any real advantage. We'll be like the Indians that die as soon as you civilize 'em—that's what we'll be. The windmill will keep us awake nights, and you don't use any water to speak[Pg 128] of, anyhow. So I don't see why I should be kept awake. As for that laughing tiger he's give me on my front door, I just won't have it, and that's all there is about it. A laughing tiger's no kind of a welcome to people you want, and when people come that I don't want, I don't need no tiger to let 'em know it. No, I never took to that young man, and I don't take to his plans. I don't like those four pillars across my front any more than I do that mouse-hole without a roof that he's give me to go to you in. I consider it a very poor compliment to you, Mrs. Lathrop, that he's fixed it so if I once start to go to see you, I've got to keep on, for I can't possibly get out so to go nowhere else."

Susan Clegg paused. Mrs. Lathrop rocked.

"Well?" said Miss Clegg, impatiently.

But Mrs. Lathrop just rocked. If Susan didn't like it, she needn't like it. Jathrop would pay the bill.

Susan Clegg went home, her mind still unconvinced.


[Pg 129]

VI

SUSAN CLEGG UPROOTED

Many things against which we protest bitterly at first we eventually come to accept and possibly even to enjoy. It was that way, to a degree at least, with the reconstruction of the houses of Susan Clegg and her friend Mrs. Lathrop, neither lady being particularly charmed with the idea when it was originally presented, and Miss Clegg being even frankly displeased with the plans that were sent down for approval. But the plans were accepted, nevertheless, after some alterations, and by easy stages Susan Clegg and Mrs. Lathrop arrived at that degree of philosophy which enabled them to face with commendable composure the fact that they must vacate their dwellings for an indefinitely extended period.[Pg 130]

It was not that Miss Clegg had ceased to entertain doubts as to the advisability of "being renovated," nor was it that Mrs. Lathrop looked forward gladly to a temporary transplanting of herself and her rocker. But Jathrop's glory as a millionaire was now so strongly to the fore in their minds that both bowed, more or less resignedly, to his wishes.

"I must say I d'n know how this thing is going to work out in the end," Susan observed to Mrs. Lathrop, as the date set for the beginning of the work drew nearer. "I'm against it myself, but I ain't against Jathrop, so I'm giving up my views just to see what will happen. My own opinion is as it's all very well to build over most anything, but if your house is to be built over, you've got to get out of it, and I must say as I don't just see as yet when we get out of our houses what we're going to get into. Jathrop says we can go to the hotel, and that he'll pay the bill. Well, I must say it's good he'd pay the bill, for I'd never go to any hotel if somebody[Pg 131] else didn't pay the bill—I know that. But even if I haven't got the bill to pay, I don't feel so raving, raring mad to go to the hotel. It wouldn't matter to you, Mrs. Lathrop, for nothing ever does matter to you, and anyway, even if anything had mattered to you before, you'd not mind it now that Jathrop's come back. But just the same a hotel does matter to me. They take very little interest in their housekeeping in hotels, and no matter who's eat off of what, if they can use it again—and they generally can—they always do. Why, they churn up the melted odds and ends of ice-cream and serve 'em out as fresh-made with that cheerful countenance as loveth no giver. And what we'd throw to the cat they scrape right back into the soup pot, and glad enough to get it. I don't suppose you'd mind what you ate, nor what kind of a cloth had dusted your plate, but I was brought up to be clean, and I don't want to sleep with spiders swinging themselves down to see how I do it. No, Mrs. Lathrop, I can't consider no hotel, not even in common affection for Jathrop.[Pg 132] I'd go down a well on my hands and knees to dig coal for him if necessary, or I'd do any other thing as a woman as respects Jathrop might do if she didn't respect herself more. But live in a hotel I will not, and you can write and tell him so, for I don't want to hurt his feelings. But all kindness has its limits, and if I let a boy architect run through the heart of my house, I consider as I've done enough to prove my Christian spirit for one year."

"What—?" ventured Mrs. Lathrop, but Susan Clegg went right on.

"I don't see where we're ever going to put our things while they haul our walls down and rock our foundations. That young man says there won't be a room as won't have to have something done to it, and I don't want my furniture spoiled, even if I do have to have my house built over against my will. My furniture is very good furniture, Mrs. Lathrop. It's been oiled, and rubbed, and polished ever since it was bought, and none of the chairs has ever had their middles stepped[Pg 133] on, and nothing of mine has got a sunk hole from sitting,—no, sir! My mattresses is all slept even, from side to side, and there ain't a bottle-mark in the whole house. It's a sin to take and wreck a happy home like mine. I shall have untold convenience hereafter, but I shall never take any more real comfort. That's what I see a-coming. And where under the sun we are going to put our things the Lord only knows."

Mrs. Lathrop was one of those who rarely take a question as a personal matter. She made no suggestion; she just rocked.

"I can see what I've got to be doing," said Susan, a clearer light breaking. "I've got to be getting up and seeing where you and me can go, and where we can put our goods. I don't want to live under the same roof with you if I can possibly help it. And not to do it's going to be hard, for knowing we're such friends, folks is going to naturally plan to take us together. I don't want to hurt your feelings, Mrs. Lathrop, and yet I can't in Christian courtesy deny that to live with you[Pg 134] would drive me distracted, and so I shan't consider it for a minute. Not for one single minute. Still, I can't live far from you, for we are old friends, and the brother that leaveth all else to cleave to his brother wasn't more close when he done it than I am to you. Besides, if they're building our houses over, I shall naturally be pretty lively in watching them do it, and as one of the houses is yours, you'll like to be where I can easy tell you how it's being done. And so it goes without saying we've got to be close together. But not too close together."

All these premises were so undeniably true that the passive Mrs. Lathrop could not have gainsaid them even had she been so disposed; which she wasn't.

Accordingly, upon the very next day, Susan began her search for an abiding place, and the right abiding place was—as she had predicted—not to be easily found.

"There's plenty of places," said Susan, when she returned from her task, "but they don't any of them suit my views. You're[Pg 135] easily suited, Mrs. Lathrop, but I'm not and never will be. I'm of a nature that never is to be lightly took in vain, nor yet to be just lightly took either. And no one isn't going to put me in a room that'll be sunny in July, nor yet in one that will be shady in September. No room as is pleasant in September can help being most hot in summer; and although I'm willing to be hot in my own house, I will not be hot in any place where I pay board. You'll do very well almost anywhere, Mrs. Lathrop, for Lord knows whatever other virtues you may have, being particular could never be left at your door in no orphaned basket. But I'm different. Mrs. Brown would take us until young Doctor Brown and Amelia gets back, and Mrs. Allen would be glad of the very dust of our feet; but I couldn't go to either of those two places. Mrs. Brown would have to have both of us, for there's no one else to take you, and Mrs. Allen would want to read us her poetry. It's all right to write if you ain't got brains or time for nothing better, but I[Pg 136] have, and I ain't going to knowingly board myself with no one as hasn't."

Mrs. Lathrop made no comment. She merely rocked and waited.

"As for our things," Susan continued, "I've found where we can put them. It wasn't easy, but I never give up, and Mr. Shores says he's willing we should have all the back of his upper part. I told him as I should want to be able to go to 'em any time, and he said far be it from him to desire to prevent no woman from visiting what was her own. I could see from his tone as he was thinking of his wife as run off with his clerk, and it does beat all how you can even make a misery out of a woman's visiting her furniture if you feel so inclined. So the goods is off our minds, and now it's just us as has got to be put somewheres till our own doors is opened to us again. I must say I'd like to know where we'll end."

On the very next day the solution was effected.

"I've got it all fixed," said Susan, returning,[Pg 137] dovelike, with the evening shadows. "Mrs. Macy'll take one of us and Gran'ma Mullins the other. Gran'ma Mullins says with Hiram gone to the Klondike and Lucy gone to her father, either you or me can have their room; only for the love of heaven we mustn't look like Hiram in bed; for her heart is aching and breaking, and the car-wheels of his train ain't grinding on any track half as much as they're grinding in her tenderest spot. Now the question is, Mrs. Lathrop, which'll go which, and it's a thing as I must consider very carefully, for Lord knows I don't want to be no more miserable than I've got to be. And it goes without saying I wouldn't choose to live with Gran'ma Mullins, nor Mrs. Macy, nor nobody else if I had my choice. I'm too much give to liking to live alone with myself. Of course, Mrs. Macy is a pleasanter disposition than Gran'ma Mullins, for she ain't got Hiram to wear my bones into skin over; but I feel as living with Mrs. Macy all summer will surely lead to her trying to make it come out even[Pg 138] for the rent up to next January, so I would have to worry over that. Then, too, even if Gran'ma Mullins is wearing, she's soothing too, and I shall need soothing this summer. I declare, Mrs. Lathrop, I can't well see how I'm ever going to pack up my things. I can't see what's to keep 'em from getting scratched and the corners knocked. How can I fix a toilet set smooth together? A toilet set don't never fit smooth together; the handles always stick out. And the frying-pan's got a handle too, and a clothesbar ain't any ways adaptable to nothing. Chair legs is very bad and table legs is worse, and there's Mother's wedding-present clock as found its level years ago and ain't been stirred since. Father give it to her, and it's so heavy I couldn't stir it if I wanted to, anyhow. But I don't want to stir it. It's my dead mother's last wish, and as such is sacred. I wasn't to stir Father nor the clock. It's a French clock, and it's marble. It's a handsome clock. It was Father's one handsome present to Mother. And now I've got to put it in storage. And[Pg 139] then there's our hens. I don't know but what it'd be wisest to set right to eating them. I know one thing—I'll never board chickens. Oh, Mrs. Lathrop, this is going to be an awful business! Think of the carpets! Think of the window shades, and my dead mother's lamberquins! Think of the things in the garret! And the things in the cellar! And the things in the closets! I don't know, I'm sure, how we'll ever get moved."

As the days went on, the slow trend of life brought the problem still more pressingly to the front. Susan decided to lodge herself with Gran'ma Mullins. Gran'ma Mullins, whose heart was still very heavy over Hiram's escape from the home nest, would have preferred Mrs. Lathrop. Mrs. Lathrop's capacity for listening would have meant much to Gran'ma Mullins in these hours of bitter loneliness; but Mrs. Macy wanted Mrs. Lathrop, and Susan didn't want Mrs. Macy, so the outcome of that question was a fore-gone conclusion.[Pg 140]

When all was settled, Jathrop dispatched emissaries who, with a deftness and dexterity possessed only by the hirelings of millionaires, descended on Mrs. Lathrop, and in the course of a single afternoon transferred her, her rocker, and the whole contents of her bedroom to Mrs. Macy's. The emissaries offered to do the same thing for Susan Clegg, but she rejected their aid. Alone and unassisted Susan wrestled with her packing, and no one ever knew just how she accomplished it. It took her several days, and it introduced a new order of things into not only her life but her speech. Her struggle was valiant, but towards the end she had to call on Felicia Hemans and Sam Durny for help. When, on Saturday night, Susan arrived at Gran'ma Mullins's, her first observation was that when the Lord got through with the creation it was small wonder He arranged to rest on the seventh day.

"I d'n know as I shall ever get up again," she said to Gran'ma Mullins, who was watching[Pg 141] her take off her bonnet. "A apron as has been used to carry things in for six days is bright and starched beside me. Oh, Gran'ma Mullins, pray on your folded knees as Hiram won't come back rich and want to build you over! Anything but that."

"Oh, if he'll only come back, it's all I'll ask!" returned Gran'ma Mullins sadly. "To think he can't get there for four weeks yet. And think of Hiram in a boat! Why Hiram can't even see a mirror tipped back and forth without having to go right where he'll be the only company. And then to be in a boat! A boat is such a tippy thing. I read about one man being drowned in one last week. They're hooking for him with dynamite to see if they can even get a piece of him back for his wife. His wife isn't much like Lucy, I guess. Oh, Susan, you'll never know what I've stood from Lucy! Nobody will."

Miss Clegg shook her head and looked about her quarters with an eye that was dubious.[Pg 142]

"I've got some eggs for supper," said Gran'ma Mullins, "one for you and one for me, and one for either of us as can eat two."

"I can eat two," said Susan, who thought best to declare herself at the outset.

"Is your things all out of the house?" Gran'ma Mullins asked, as they seated themselves at the table.

"Oh, yes," answered Susan, "everything is out! Towards the last we acted more like hens being fed than anything else, but we got everything finished."

"Did you get the clock out safe?"

Susan's expression altered suddenly. "The clock! Oh, the clock! What do you think happened to that clock? And I didn't feel to mind it, either."

"Oh, Susan, you didn't break it!"

"I did. And in sixty thousand flinders. And I'm glad, too. Very glad. It's a sad thing as how we may be found out, no matter how careful we sweep up our trackings. And I don't mind telling you as the bitterest[Pg 143] pill in my cup of clearing out has been that very same clock."

"It was such a handsome clock," said Gran'ma Mullins, opening her naturally open countenance still wider. "Oh, Susan! What did happen?"

"You thought it was a handsome clock," said Susan, "and so did I. It was such a handsome clock that we weren't allowed to pick it up and look at it. Father screwed it down with big screws, so we couldn't, and he wet 'em so they rusted in. I had a awful time getting those screws out to-day, I can tell you. You get a very different light on a dead and gone father when you're trying to get out screws that he wet thirty-five years ago. Me on a stepladder digging under the claws of a clock for two mortal hours! And when I got the last one out, I had to climb down and wake my foot up before I could do the next thing. Then I got a block and a bed-slat, and I proceeded very carefully to try how heavy that handsome clock—that handsome marble clock—might be. I put the[Pg 144] block beside it, and I put the bed-slat over the block and under the clock. Then I climbed my ladder again, and then I bore down on the bed-slat. Well, Gran'ma Mullins, you can believe me or not, just as you please, but it's a solemn fact that nothing but the ceiling stopped that clock from going sky-high. And nothing but the floor stopped me from falling through to China. I come down to earth with such a bang as brought Felicia Hemans running. And the stepladder shut up on me with such another bang as brought Sam Durny."

"The saints preserve us!" ejaculated Gran'ma Mullins.

"It wasn't a marble clock a tall," confessed Susan. "It was painted wood. That was why Father screwed it down. Oh, men are such deceivers! And the best wife in the world can't develop 'em above their natural natures. I expect it was always a real pleasure to Father to think as Mother and me didn't know that marble clock was wood. I don't know what there is about a man as[Pg 145] makes his everyday character liking to deceive and his Sunday sense of righteousness satisfied with just calling it fooling. Well, he's gone now, and the Bible says 'to him as hath shall be given,' so I guess he's settling up accounts somewheres. Give me the other egg!"

After supper they stepped over to Mrs. Macy's, which was next door, and the four sat on the piazza in the pleasant spring twilight. Mrs. Macy was so happy over having Mrs. Lathrop instead of Susan Clegg that she smiled perpetually. Mrs. Lathrop sat and rocked in her old-gold-plush rocker. Gran'ma Mullins and Susan Clegg occupied the step at the feet of the other two.

"Well, Susan," Mrs. Macy remarked meditatively, "I never looked to see you leave your house any way except feet first. Well, well, this certainly is a funny world."

"Yes," returned Susan, brief for once, "it certainly is."

"It's a very sad world, I think," contributed Gran'ma Mullins with a heavy,[Pg 146] heavy sigh. "My goodness, to think this time last spring Hiram was spading up the potato patch! And now where is he?"

"Nobody knows," answered Susan. "See how many years it was till Jathrop come back. But I do hope for your sake, Gran'ma Mullins, that when Hiram does come back he won't take it into his head to buy this house and build it over for you."

Gran'ma Mullins looked at Mrs. Macy, and Mrs. Macy looked back at Gran'ma Mullins, and a message flashed and was answered in the glances.

"Well, Susan," said Gran'ma Mullins with neighborly interest, "you do see that the house needs fixing up, don't you?"

Susan was the owner and Mrs. Macy only the tenant, and the implication was not at all pleasing to her. She turned with the air of the weariest worm that had ever done so and gave Gran'ma Mullins a look that could only be translated as an admonition to mind her own business. Whereupon Gran'ma[Pg 147] Mullins promptly subsided, and the subject did not come up again.

It was on a Monday—the very next Monday—that the workmen arrived and set to work to demolish the outer casing of the homes of Susan and Mrs. Lathrop. Susan went up and stood about for an hour, viewing the way they did it with great but resigned scorn. She went every day thereafter, and her heart was rent at the sight of the sacrilege. Then, to add to her woe, Gran'ma Mullins proved less soothing than had been expected, and Susan suffered keenly at her hands.

"Oh, Mrs. Lathrop," she said one morning, when the exigencies of shopping left the two old friends full freedom of intercourse, "if I'm going to live in that house for this whole summer, the first thing that I'll have to do is either to change Gran'ma Mullins or change me! I can see that. Why, I never heard anything like Gran'ma Mullins' views on Hiram. You've heard Mrs. Macy, and I've told you what Lucy's told me whenever[Pg 148] I've met her, but I never had no idea it was anything like what it is. I'm stark, raving crazy hearing about Hiram. Gran'ma Mullins says no child was ever like Hiram, and I begin to wonder if it ain't so. No child ever made such an impression on his mother before,—I can take my Bible oath on that, for she's talking about him from the time I wake till long after I'm asleep,—and she remembers things in the stillness of the night and wakes me up to hear 'em for fear she'll forget 'em before morning. Last night she was up at two to tell me how Hiram used to shut his eyes before he went to sleep when he was a baby. She said he had a different way of doing it from any other child that's ever been born. He picked it all up by himself. She couldn't possibly tell me just how he did it, but it was most remarkable. He had it in May and well into June the year he was born, but along in July he began to lose it, and by October he opened and shut just like other people's babies. That's what I was woke up to hear, Mrs. Lathrop, and[Pg 149] Herod was a sweet and good-tempered mother of ten compared to me as I listened. And then at daybreak if she didn't come in again to explain as Hiram was so different from all other babies that he crept before he walked, and the first of his trying to walk he climbed up a chair leg."

"Why, Jathrop—" volunteered Mrs. Lathrop.

"Of course. They all do. But I must say I don't see how I'm going to stand it till my house is ready to receive me back with open bosom if this is the way she's going on straight along. I wouldn't stay with Mrs. Macy because I was tired of hearing what she said Gran'ma Mullins said about Hiram, but it never once struck me that if I stayed with Gran'ma Mullins I'd have it all to hear straight from the fountain mouth. My lands alive, Mrs. Lathrop, you never hear the beat! Hiram used to wrinkle up his face when she washed it, and he never wanted to have a bath. And he used to bring mud turtles into the house; and when[Pg 150] she thinks of that and how now he's off for the Klondike, she says she feels like going straight after him. She says she could be very useful in the Klondike. She could polish his pick and his sled-runners, and hang up his snowy things, and wash out his gold and his clothes. She says she can't just see how they wash out gold, but she knows how to polish silver, and she says mother-love like hers can pick up anything. She goes on and on till I feel like going to the Klondike myself. I'm getting a great deal of sympathy for Lucy. Lucy always said she could have been happy with Hiram—maybe—if it hadn't been for his mother. Lucy's got no kind of tender feeling for Gran'ma Mullins, and I certainly don't feel to blame her none."

"Is your—?" asked Mrs. Lathrop, striving towards pleasanter paths.

"Well, it ain't burnt up yet," answered Susan. "I stopped at Mr. Shores' coming back and took a look at it, and I was far from pleased to find the door as opens into[Pg 151] the next room to the room as my furniture is locked up in a little open. Goodness knows who'd opened it, but it looked very much like some one had been trying my door, to me. I asked Mr. Shores, and I saw at a glance as it was news to him, which shows just how much interest he's taking in looking out for my things. He said maybe the cat had pushed it open. The cat! I unlocked my door and went in. The furniture's all safe enough, but it's enough to put any housekeeper's heart through the clothes wringer only to see how it's piled. The beds is smashed flat along the wall, and wherever they could turn a table or a chair upside down and plant something on the wrong side of it, they've done it. As for the way the dishes is combined, I can only say that the Lord fits the back to the burden, so the wash-bowls is bearing everything. They've put Mother's picture in a coal-hod for safety, and the coal-hod is sitting on the bookcase. It's a far from cheering sight, Mrs. Lathrop, but you know I was against being built[Pg 152] over from the start. When I see the walls of my happy home being smashed flat and then picked over like they was raisins to see what'll do to use again, and then when I see my furniture put together in a way as no one living can make head or tail of, and when I see myself woke up at three in the night to be told that sometimes when Hiram was a baby he would go to sleep and sometimes he wouldn't, why I feel as if that Roman as they rolled down hill in a barrel because he wouldn't stay anywhere else where they put him was sitting smoking cross-legged compared to me. I d'n know what I'm going to do this summer. It would just drive an ordinary woman crazy. But I presume I'll survive."

Mrs. Lathrop looked slightly saddened. "Well, Susan,—" she began to murmur sympathetically.

"Oh, it doesn't matter," said Susan. "Of course, if it gets where I can't stand it, we'll just have to change houses, that's all."


[Pg 153]

VII

SUSAN CLEGG UNSETTLED

Life under the roof of Gran'ma Mullins eventually—and eventually was a matter of days rather than weeks—became unbearable for Susan Clegg. At least, she so decided, and finding opportunity in the fact that both Gran'ma Mullins and Mrs. Macy had gone to market, Susan hastened to her old friend, Mrs. Lathrop, and laid open her fresh burden of woes.

"I can't stand it, Mrs. Lathrop," she declared with strongest emphasis, "I can't stand it. No matter what the Bible says, a saint on a gridiron would smile all over and wriggle for nothing but joy only to think as where he was and wasn't boarding with Gran'ma Mullins. It's awful. That's what it is—awful. I never had no idea that nothing[Pg 154] could be so awful. I've got to where I'm thinking very seriously of leaving my property to Lucy. I'm becoming very sorry for Lucy. Lucy isn't properly appreciated. Why, Hiram was stung by a bee once,—no ordinary bee, but a bee a third bigger than the usual bee,—and it swelled up all different from common, and Gran'ma Mullins thought he was surely going to die right there before her streaming eyes. But Hiram was so bright he remembered about putting mud on bee-bites, and he did it. Only there wasn't no mud, and nobody knew what they could do about it. But Hiram's mind wasn't like the mind of a ordinary person. Hiram's mind is all different, and Hiram said, just as quick as scat, to mix water and earth and make some mud. So they did, and the water and earth, Gran'ma Mullins says, made the finest mud she ever saw. They covered up Hiram's bee-bite with it, and it didn't leave so much as a scar. And now there's Hiram in the Klondike, knowing just what to do when bit by a bee,[Pg 155] but without a notion what to put on if a seal catches him unawares. And all this going on hour after hour, Mrs. Lathrop, and me sitting there waiting for my dinner, half mad anyway over the way my dead-and-gone father's home is being torn limb from limb, and in no mood to listen to anything. Oh, laws, no! It's no use. I can't stand it, and I won't either."

Susan paused expressively.

Mrs. Lathrop gasped. "What will—?"

"I'm going to find another place to live right away," Susan went on. "I've too much consideration for you to ask you to go there, Mrs. Lathrop, and besides, I feel it would be exchanging the fire for the stew-pan for me to come here. I'm going this town over this very afternoon, and I think I'll find some place where I can sleep part of the night, at any rate. I guess I got about three quarters of a hour's sleep last night. Gran'ma Mullins woke me up weeping on the foot of my bed before daylight. Just before daylight is her special time for[Pg 156] recollecting how Hiram used to drink milk out of a cup when he was a baby, and how he used to eat candy if anybody gave him any, and other remarkable doings that he did. My lands, I wish Job could have met Gran'ma Mullins! His friends and his boils would have just been pleasant things to amuse him, then. I'm going first to Mrs. Allen, and then I'm going to every one. I shan't make no bones about my errand, for everybody knows Gran'ma Mullins. I'll have the sympathy of the whole community. I need sympathy, and I feel I can soak up a good lot of it if I'm let to."

"How's the—?" asked Mrs. Lathrop.

"They're still pulling 'em down," said Susan gloomily. "It's a awful sight, and one that doesn't give me more strength for Gran'ma Mullins. I shall never have another house that will suit me as mine did, Mrs. Lathrop. I know that Jathrop means it kindly, and I'm far from being one to hold any gift-horse by the tail, but the truth is the truth, and I must say nothing teaches[Pg 157] you to really prize your cupboards like seeing men going through 'em with pick-axes. There was many little conveniences in my house as I never really thought much of until now I see 'em gone forever. But it's a poor cat that lives on spilt milk, so I'll say no more of that, but go back and get ready to hunt up a place to live. For live I must, Mrs. Lathrop, and live I will. And I won't live by eating and drinking and breathing Hiram Mullins the twenty-four hours round, neither."

Miss Clegg's round of visits ended, curiously enough, in her establishing herself with Lucy Mullins.

"Which I don't doubt is a very great surprise to you, Mrs. Lathrop," she confessed to her friend that evening. "But Lucy ran across me in the street, and when she saw me, those two women who met in the Bible and knew all each other's business directly was strangers passing on express trains beside Lucy and me. I took one look at Lucy, and I see she knowed it all. Judge Fitch is[Pg 158] going to be away a lot this month, seeing where he can hire his witnesses for a big lawsuit, and Lucy says she and me'll be alone and able to be silent from dawn to dark and on through the night. She don't want to have to listen to no manner of talk, she says, and I can have the second floor all alone to myself, for her and her father sleep in the wings down-stairs."

"So you—" said Mrs. Lathrop.

"Yes, I didn't look no more. I was suited, so I didn't see no use in further fussing. I shall tell Gran'ma Mullins to-night and go there to-morrow. And I may in confidence remark as no howling oasis in a desert ever howled for joy the way I'll feel like howling when I get my trunk on a wheelbarrow again. I've spoke for the wheelbarrow at eight o'clock to-morrow morning, so I'll be over at Lucy's and settled before you wake up, Mrs. Lathrop."

The next day Susan went, and, surprising as it may seem, Gran'ma Mullins was singularly content over her going.[Pg 159]

"I don't want to make no trouble between friends," said Gran'ma Mullins, clambering up Mrs. Macy's steps to sit with Mrs. Macy and Mrs. Lathrop. "But really, Susan is become most changed since her house is begun to be built over. I wouldn't hardly have known her. I wouldn't say stuck-up and I wouldn't say airy, but I will say as she's most changed. I wouldn't say rude, neither, but I didn't consider it exactly friendly to always either pull her breath in long and loud or else let it out short and sharp whenever I mentioned Hiram. Hiram is my only legal and natural child, and with him in the Klondike, and my heart aching and quaking and breaking for fear the ice'll thaw and let him through into some unexpected volcano all of a sudden, how can I but mention him? You know what Hiram is to me, Mrs. Macy. We haven't lived in these two houses for forty years without your knowing what Hiram is to me. You remember him as a baby, Mrs. Macy, but you don't, Mrs. Lathrop, so I'll tell you what Hiram was as[Pg 160] a baby. Hiram was a most remarkable—"

When Mrs. Lathrop saw Susan Clegg again, Miss Clegg was looking far from happy.

"Are you—?" enquired Mrs. Lathrop.

"Well, I d'n know," came the answer more than a little dubiously. Then: "Seeing that I am always frank and open with you, Mrs. Lathrop, I may as well say plainly as I ain't. Very far from it. I never knew when I went to live with Lucy as Judge Fitch has got a dog as barks. He ain't no ordinary dog—he's a most uncommon dog. He only barks when it's moonlight, or when he hears something, and I must say he's got the sharpest ears I ever see. But it isn't his barking that's so bad, as it is that whenever he barks, Lucy gets right up to see whether it's Hiram come back. It seems the reason Lucy took me to board is she hates to go around the house alone nights with the dog and a candle. That's a pretty thing for me to never mistrust till I got there with my trunk. I must say I don't blame Lucy for not[Pg 161] liking to go around alone, for the dog smells your heels all the time, and if he was in the Klondike with Hiram his nose couldn't be colder. But all the same I think she ought to of told me. For whatever it may be to others, a cold nose is certainly most new to my heels. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, we was out hunting with our dog three times last night, and Lucy says often enough he gets her up nine and ten times. Lucy's so nervous for fear Hiram'll come back that she can't possibly sleep if she thinks there's a chance of it. She says if Hiram's come back, she wants to know it right off. She says that's her nature. If she's got to have a tooth out, she wants it out at once. She says she never was one to shrink from nothing. And the dog's prompt, too. He's quite of the same mind as Lucy. He gives one bark, and then he don't dilly-dally none. He gets right up, and by the time he's got to Lucy, Lucy's got up too, and they both come racing up-stairs for me to join 'em. My door don't lock, so the dog's licking my face before I know[Pg 162] where I am. And then, before I know much more where I am, we're all three capering down-stairs together again. Then we take the whole house carefully around and listen at every door and window, with the dog smelling while we listen. Then, when we know for sure as it ain't Hiram, the dog scrambles back into his basket, and Lucy tucks him up, and she and I go back to bed alone and untucked. That's a pretty kettle of fish. And you can believe me or not, just as you please, Mrs. Lathrop, but I never had no notion of having my heels smelled by a cold dog's nose three times, and maybe nine, a night when I went to live at Judge Fitch's, and if it keeps on, I shall just leave. Lucy's got no lease on me, and although I'm sorry for her, I ain't anywhere near sorry enough for her to be woke up to pussy-cornering all over the premises with a dog the livelong night through. As between having Gran'ma Mullins sitting on my feet wailing over Hiram, and Lucy's dog smelling of my heels while we hunt for Hiram, I think I'd rather[Pg 163] have Gran'ma Mullins. I was warm and comfortable and laid out flat at Gran'ma Mullins, but I'm goodness knows what at Lucy's. And I do hate having my face licked. I don't like it. I never was used to such things, and I can't begin now."

"What will—?" asked Mrs. Lathrop.

"I shall look up another nice place to live," said Miss Clegg, "and I shall take a leaf out of the dog's book and be prompt about it, too. I've spoke for the wheelbarrow to-morrow at ten o'clock, and I shall move then, whether or no."

Susan, again on the lookout for a new abiding place, discovered a most attractive proposition in Mrs. Allen. Mrs. Allen and her husband lived alone, were neat and well-fed, and kept no dog.

"I'll never go where there's a dog again, I know that," said Susan. "Why, Mrs. Lathrop, if I was in a blizzard in Switzerland and fifty of those little beer-keg dogs they've got there came scurrying up to rescue me, I wouldn't get up and let 'em have[Pg 164] the joy of seeing me obliged. I won't ever get up for no dog again in my life, I know that. And I know it for keeps. And there's a bolt on my side of my door at Mrs. Allen's. I've looked to that, too; and no one is to wake me nights; I've looked to that. I told Mrs. Allen all the story of what I'd suffered, and she said she'd see as I had peace in her house. She told me that I'd suffered because I needed to suffer, but now I was to have peace, and I'd have it with her. I didn't bother to ask what she meant, for I guess if she's got any secret thorn, I'll find it out quick enough, anyhow. And if it's anything that wakes me up nights, my present feeling is as I won't be well able to bear it. Well, the wheelbarrow is set for ten o'clock, and so I must go, and when I see you, I'll know what's wrong with Mrs. Allen, and the Lord help me if it's something as makes me have to move again. That's all I can say."

Susan did not visit her old friend directly after her third change of residence. Two[Pg 165] whole days passed by, and Mrs. Lathrop was openly troubled.

"Don't you worry," said Gran'ma Mullins soothingly. "There's nothing the matter with her, because I see her in the square this very morning. But she looked at me odd and went down a side street. I'm sure I hope Susan's not losing her mind."

"Oh, wouldn't that be awful!" exclaimed Mrs. Macy with real sympathy. "We'd have to appoint a commission to catch her and sit on her, and then if she was put in the insane asylum, I guess Susan Clegg would be mad."

"Oh, Susan wouldn't like that a bit," said Gran'ma Mullins meditatively. "They make little cups and saucers out of beads. I know, because Hiram had one once. And they read books with the letters all punched out at you."

"You're thinking of the Home for the Blind," corrected Mrs. Macy. "I was there once, too. I don't think Susan would mind going there so much, because of course she[Pg 166] can see, which would give her a great advantage over the others, and Susan does like to have an advantage over anybody else. But I don't believe she'd like going to the Insane Asylum much. The Insane Asylum's so limited. My husband's sister went to the Insane Asylum once, but it didn't help her none, so she came home. It wouldn't ever suit Susan."

"Well, maybe not," said Gran'ma Mullins amicably. "And I don't think she could go there, anyway, for she isn't crazy, and she's got her own money. So why should she be a charge on the county?"

The very next day Susan came wearily in to see her old friend.

"Well, I d'n know what I've ever done to have this kind of a summer," she began, seating herself sadly. "Why didn't I stay in my own house and just simply take you to board while they laid violent hands on your house? I was against being built over all along, Mrs. Lathrop, you know that. And now the fox has his cheese and the cow has[Pg 167] her corn, just as the Scripture says, but Susan Clegg's absolutely forced to live with Mrs. Allen. Oh, Mrs. Lathrop, you don't know what living with Mrs. Allen is, and you can't imagine, either. I never dreamed of such a thing before I went there. I was a little afraid she'd want to read me her poetry, but her poetry would have been paradise to what is. Seems as if Mrs. Allen has got a new kind of religion, and heaven help the present run of mankind if any more new religions is sprung on us, and heaven help me if I've got to live long with Mrs. Allen's new one. Mrs. Allen's new religion is most peculiar. I never see nothing like it. It's Persian, and it's very singular just to look at. But it's most awful to live with. Lucy and her dog is simple beside it, and as to Gran'ma Mullins, she's nothing but a baby dabbing a ball in comparison. According to Mrs. Allen's new religion, you mustn't find fault with nothing or nobody—never. Everything's all right, no matter how wrong it is; and if you lose your purse, you was[Pg 168] meant to lose it, so why complain? You was give your purse for just a little while, and in place of wildly running here and there trying to find it, you must just thank heaven for kindly letting you have it so long, and think no more about it. If you're meant to see any more of that purse, it'll kindly look you up itself. But it's no manner of use your looking for it, because if heaven takes back a purse deliberately, never intending to return it, it never does return it, and that's all there is to be said on the subject. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, you think perhaps you can see what it would be to live with any one that feels to see life in that way; but you don't really know what you think a good deal of the time, and never less than now. Mrs. Allen's things is mostly back in heaven's hands again, and her biscuits is mostly burnt, and not one bit does she care, seeing as she don't consider as she has the least thing to do with any of it. She's happy and singing and forgetting from dawn to dark. She says the day'll soon be that the whole[Pg 169] earth will see the truth and be singing with her. She says the toiling millions will cease to toil then, and life'll be all Adams and Eves and no manner of misery. In the meantime, I don't get nothing to eat, and when I feel to holler down-stairs, she says dinner was meant to be late that day, or it couldn't possibly have been late. Not by no manner of means."

"Well, I—" commented Mrs. Lathrop blankly.

"Just my way of seeing it," said Susan, "and she aggravates me still more with pointing her moral, from dawn to dark. She says it's beautiful to see how beautiful life comes along. You and me needed quiet, and we got quiet. And now we need our houses built over, and we're getting 'em built over. I told her I didn't need my house built over a tall, and she said as I just thought so, but that I really did, or it wouldn't be being done. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, I d'n know, I'm sure, what I will run up against next. But I don't believe I can[Pg 170] stay at Mrs. Allen's. I really don't. There's one thing—it'll be mighty easy to leave her, for I shan't have to say nothing. I shall say I was meant to leave and then and there leave. It's a poor religion as don't fit others as easy as its own selves; and I ain't washed in the Allens' dirty rain water full of dead and drowned bugs for two days because I was meant to wash and they was meant to drown, without learning how to turn even a drowned bug to my advantage. No, sir, I'm going out this afternoon and see what I can get, and if I can't do no better, I'll buy a bolt for my door and come back to Gran'ma Mullins. Gran'ma Mullins has her good points. I always said that, Mrs. Lathrop, Gran'ma Mullins certainly has her good points. And I must learn to bear Hiram if I must. There's one thing certain: I can hear about Hiram in bed, and I don't have to get up and out of bed to hunt for him. And whatever else Gran'ma Mullins does, she don't burn her bread and blame it on the Almighty. Mrs. Allen's got the Bible so pat[Pg 171] that you don't need to do nothing, according to her—nothing a tall, but just sit still and let the world turn you around with its turning. She says Solomon said the little lilies didn't spin, and so why should she? Well, if we're to quit doing everything that lilies don't have a hand in, I must say we'll soon be in a pretty state. I never was one to admire Solomon like some people, and as for David, I think he was a fool—dancing around the ark like he'd just got it for Christmas!"

Susan searched long and wearily for a fourth abiding place that afternoon, but in the end she had to speak for the wheelbarrow for the next morning and move back to Gran'ma Mullins's.

And Gran'ma Mullins was very glad to see her back.

"Your bed's all made up with the same sheets for you, Susan," she said cordially, "and I ain't even swept so as to spoil the homelike look. You'll see your own last burnt matches and all, just as you left 'em."[Pg 172]

"I've bought a bolt for my door," said Susan, "and I'll beg to borrow a screwdriver and something sharp to put it on with."

"I'll get 'em," agreed Gran'ma Mullins happily, "and I won't wake you no more nights, Susan. I suppose it's only natural that you, never having been married, can't possibly know the feelings of a mother. But I meant it kindly, Susan. When Lucy speaks of Hiram, she means it unkindly. But when I speak of Hiram, I always mean it kindly."

"Yes, I know," said Susan, "and if I believed like Mrs. Allen does, I'd know I was meant to listen and wouldn't mind. But I don't take no stock in that religion of Mrs. Allen's, and I won't be woke up. And although I don't want to hurt your feelings, I do want that understood right from the beginning."

"I'll remember," said Gran'ma Mullins submissively. "And now I'll fetch the screwdriver."

That evening the four friends sat[Pg 173] pleasantly once again on Mrs. Macy's piazza.

"Mrs. Lathrop had a letter from Jathrop to-day. Did you know that, Susan?" asked Mrs. Macy.

"No, I didn't," returned Susan Clegg. "What did he say?"

"He's going sailing to the West Indies in his new boat," Mrs. Macy informed her. "He's going for his health, and he's going to take three other millionaires and their own doctor."

Susan appeared unimpressed.

"He sent his mother a book about the place where he's going," said Mrs. Macy. "Do you want to see it?" She went in and brought it out.

Susan took the volume and viewed the title with an indifferent eye.

"Stark's Guide to the Bahamas," she read aloud. "What are they—something to eat?"

"You're thinking of bananas," suggested Mrs. Macy. "It's islands. It's where Columbus hit first. Nobody knows just where[Pg 174] he hit, but he hit there; everybody knows that."

Susan placed the book under her arm. "I'll read it," she said briefly. "But I must say as to my order of thinking Jathrop's setting off just now is very much like a hen getting up from her eggs. Here's you and me—" addressing Mrs. Lathrop directly—"with our houses done away with, and him as has engineered the wreck skipping away with a parcel of men."

"He isn't skipping," interposed Mrs. Macy. "He's sailing—sailing in his own private boat, like the tea-man with the cup."

"Oh, I don't care what he's doing," said Susan, rising. "I'm about beat out, and I'm going home and going to bed. Such a week! The Bible says 'Whom the Lord loveth He chaseth,' and heaven knows I've been chased this week till my legs is about wore off. Such a week! I've had all the chasing I want for one while. And I never was great on being loved, so I'm going home and going to bed."[Pg 175]

Whereupon, with the Guide to the Bahamas under her arm and a heavy fold between her brows, Susan Clegg stalked over to her temporary domicile.

"I don't think Susan's very well," said Gran'ma Mullins.

"Maybe she's worried over Jathrop," suggested Mrs. Macy.

Mrs. Lathrop said nothing. She just rocked.


[Pg 176]

VIII

SUSAN CLEGG AND THE CYCLONE

"I d'n know, I'm sure, what star this town could ever have been laid out under," said Susan Clegg, one exceptionally hot night as the four friends sat out on Mrs. Macy's steps, "but my own opinion is as it must have been a comet, for we're always skiting along into some sort of hot water. When it ain't all of us, it's some of us, and when it ain't some of us, it's one of us, and now the walls of my house is up I'd be willing to bet a nickel as a calamity'll happen along just because something's always happening here and my walls is the youngest and tenderest thing in the community now."

"Your roof ain't—" began Mrs. Lathrop.[Pg 177]

"Of course not; how could it be, when my walls is only just up? I don't wish to be casting no stones at him as is the least among us, but I will say, Mrs. Lathrop, as Jathrop's orders seem to be taking you up under the loving protection of their wings, while I'm running around like I was a viper without no warm bosom to hatch me. Your walls have been up and a-doing for a week, but my walls have been sitting around waiting until I was nigh to put out. To see your laths going in and your plaster going on, while I stay lumber and nails, is a lesson in yielding to the will of heaven as I never calculated on. There's few things more aggravating than to see some other house speeding along while your own house sits silently, patiently waiting. Of course I can't say nothing, as even the boy as carries water knows my house is going to be a present to me in the end. It's all right, and likely enough the Lord has seen fit to send this summer to me as a chastisement; but I will say that if I'd known how this summer[Pg 178] was going, the Lord would most certainly have had to plan some other way to punish me. I don't say as it wasn't natural that your walls should go up first, Jathrop being your son, and, now that he's rich, no more to me than a benefactor—"

"Oh, Susan!" expostulated Mrs. Macy.

"That's what he is, Mrs. Macy; he's my benefactor, and I can't escape if I want to. You may tend a man's mother ten years, day and night, house cleanings and cistern cleanings, moths and the well froze up, and if the man comes back rich, he's your benefactor."

"Susan!" cried Mrs. Lathrop, "you—"

"Don't deny it, Mrs. Lathrop; it's the truth. It's one of those truths that the wiser they are, the sadder you get. It's one of those truths as is the whole truth and a little left over; and I'm learning that I'm to be what's left over, more every day. After a life of being independent and living on my own money, I'm now going down on my knees learning the lesson of being humbly grateful for what I don't want. I may[Pg 179] sound bitter, but if I do it isn't surprising, for I feel bitter; and Gran'ma Mullins knows I'm always frank and open, so she'll excuse my saying that there's nothing in living with her as tends to calm me much. A woman as sleeps in a bed as Hiram must have played leap-frog over all his life from the feel of the springs, and pours out of a pitcher as has got a chip out of its nose, ain't in no mood to mince nothing. I never was one to mince, and I never will be—not now and not never. Mincing is for them as ain't got it in them to speak their minds freely; and my mind is a thing that's made to be free and not a slave."

"Well, really, Susan," expostulated Mrs. Macy, "what ever—"

"Don't interrupt me, Mrs. Macy. I'm full of goodness knows what, but whatever it is, I'm too full of it for comfort. There's nothing in the life I'm leading this summer to make me expect comfort, and very little to make me feel full, but there's things as would make a man dying of starvation bust[Pg 180] if he experienced them. And I'm full of such things. I never had no idea of being out of my house all summer, and now, when my walls is up at last, and it looks like maybe I'd get back a home feeling some day soon, I must up and get quite another kind of feeling—a feeling that something is going to happen. It's a very strange feeling, and at first I thought it was just some more of Gran'ma Mullins' cooking; but it kept getting stronger, and when I was in the square, I spoke to Mr. Kimball about it; and he says this is cyclone weather, and maybe a cyclone is going to happen. He says a man was in town yesterday wanting to insure everybody against fire and cyclones. Most everybody did it. Mr. Kimball says after the young man got through, you pretty much had to do it. Them as had policies with the company could get the word 'cyclone' writ in for a dollar. I guess the young man did a very good day's work. Mr. Kimball says if it's true as there's any cyclones coming nosing about here, he wants his dried-apple machine[Pg 181] insured anyhow. It's a fine machine, and every kind of fruit as is left over each night comes out jam next day, while all the vegetables make breakfast food. He says it's a wonder."

"What makes him think we're going to have a cyclone?" inquired Mrs. Macy anxiously.

"He says the weather is cyclony. And he says if I feel queer that's a sign, for I'm a sensitive nature."

"I never—" said Mrs. Lathrop.

"No, nor me, neither. But Mr. Kimball seemed to feel there wasn't no doubt. He says I'm just the kind of sensitive nature as could feel a cyclone. Why, he says cyclones take the roofs off the houses!"

"Ow!" cried Gran'ma Mullins in surprise.

"If one's coming, I'm glad to know, for I never see one near to," said Mrs. Macy pensively.

"You won't see it a tall," said Susan, "for Mr. Kimball says the only safe place in a cyclone is the cellar; and to pull a kitchen[Pg 182] table over you to keep the house from squashing you flat when it caves in."

"My heavens alive!" cried Mrs. Lathrop.

"That's what he said. But he says not to worry, for the young man told him as they're getting so common no one notices them any more. He says they're always going hop, skip, and jump over Kansas and everywhere, and no one pays no attention to 'em. He knows all about it. But he wanted it clear as he was only insuring for cyclones; he says his firm wouldn't have nothing to do with tornadoes. You can get as much on a cyclone as on a fire, but you can't get a penny on a tornado—"

"What's the diff—" asked Gran'ma Mullins.

"That's the trouble; nobody can just tell. A cyclone is wind and lightning mixed by combustion and drove forward by expulsion, the young man told Mr. Kimball. He said they'd got cyclones all worked out, and they can average 'em up same as everything else, but he says a tornado is something as no man[Pg 183] can get hold of, and no man will ever be able to study. Tornadoes drive nails through fences—"

"Where do they get the nails?" asked Gran'ma Mullins.

"I d'n know. Pick 'em out of the fences first, I guess. And they strip the feathers off chickens and scoop up haystacks and carry them up in the air for good and all."

"Oh, my!" cried Mrs. Macy.

"Mr. Kimball said the young man told him that a tornado dug up a complete marsh once in Minnesota and spread it out upside down on top of a wood a little ways off; and when there's a tornado anywhere near, the sewing-machines all tick like they was telegraphing."

"No!" cried Mrs. Macy.

"Yes, the young man said so."

"But do you believe him?"

"I don't know why not. I wouldn't believe Mr. Kimball because he's always fixing up his stories to sound better than they really are, which makes me have very little[Pg 184] faith in him; but Judge Fitch says he'd make a splendid witness for any one just on that very account. Judge Fitch says with a little well-advised help Mr. Kimball would carry convictions to any man,—he don't except none,—but I see no reason why the young man wasn't telling the truth. Young men do tell the truth sometimes; most everybody does that. A tornado catches up pigs and carries 'em miles and pulls up trees by the roots. I don't wonder they won't insure 'em."

"The pigs?" asked Mrs. Macy.

"No, the tornadoes."

"What's the signs of a tornado?" asked Gran'ma Mullins uneasily.

"Well, the signs is alike for both. The signs is weather like to-day and a kind of breathlessness like to-night. Mr. Kimball says a funnel-shaped cloud is a great sign; and when you see it, in three minutes it's on you, and off goes your roof if it's a cyclone, and off you go yourself if it's a tornado."

"My heavens alive!" cried Mrs. Lathrop,[Pg 185] clutching the arms of her old-gold-plush stationary rocker.

"Do people ever come down again?" Gran'ma Mullins inquired; she was very pale.

"Elijah didn't, Mr. Kimball says."

"Elijah Doxey?" cried Mrs. Macy. "Why, is he off on a cyclone? No one ever told me."

"No, Elijah in the Bible, you know. The Elijah as was caught up in a chariot of fire. Mr. Kimball says there ain't a mite of doubt in his mind but that it was a tornado. I guess Mr. Kimball told the truth that time, for it's all in the Bible."

"That's true," said Gran'ma Mullins. "I remember Elijah myself. He kept a tame raven, seems to me, or some such thing."

"Oh, Susan!" Mrs. Lathrop cried out suddenly. "There's a fun—" Her voice failed her; she raised her hand and pointed.

Susan turned quickly, and her face became suddenly gray-white. "It can't be a cy—" she faltered.[Pg 186]

With that all four women jumped different ways at once.

"Where shall we go?" shrieked Mrs. Macy. "Oh, saints and sinners preserve us! Oh, Susan, where shall we go?"

But Susan Clegg stood as if paralyzed, staring straight at the funnel-shaped cloud.

Gran'ma Mullins started for her own house; Mrs. Lathrop sprang up and clasped the piazza post nearest; Mrs. Macy grabbed her skirts up at both sides and faced the cyclone just as she had once faced the cow.

The funnel-shaped cloud came sweeping towards them. The town was between, and a darkness and a mighty roar arose. Buildings seemed falling; the din was terrible.

"I knew it," said Susan grimly. "It is a cyclone!" She faced the worst—standing erect.

The next instant the storm was on them all. It lifted Mrs. Lathrop's old-gold-plush stationary rocker and hurled it at that good[Pg 187] lady, smashing her hard against the post. It raised the roof of Mrs. Macy's house and dropped it like an extinguisher over the fleeing form of Gran'ma Mullins.

"Oh, Gran'ma Mullins, it is a cyclone!" Susan shrieked. But Gran'ma Mullins answered not.

A second mighty burst of fury blew down two trees, and it blew Susan herself back against the side wall of the house which shook and swayed like a bit of cardboard.

"Oh, yes, it's a cyclone," Susan screamed over and over. "Oh, Mrs. Lathrop, it's a real cyclone! It isn't a tornado; you can see the difference now. It's a cyclone; look at the roof; it's a cyclone!"

Mrs. Lathrop could see nothing. She and the old-gold-plush stationary rocker were all piled together under the piazza post.

And now came the third and worst burst of fury. It crashed on the blacksmith's shop; it carried the sails of the windmill swooping down the road, and then "without halting, without rest" lifted Mrs. Macy with[Pg 188] her outspread skirts and carried her straight up in the air. "Oh! Oh!" she shrieked and sailed forth.

Susan gave a piercing yell. "Oh, Mrs. Macy, it's a tornado, it's a tornado!" But Mrs. Macy answered not.

Tipping, swaying, ducking to the right or left, she flew majestically away over her own roof first and then over that of Gran'ma Mullins' woodshed.

"Help! Help!" cried Gran'ma Mullins from under the roof.

Mrs. Lathrop was oblivious to all, smashed by her own old-gold-plush stationary rocker.

Susan Clegg stood as one fascinated, staring after the trail which was all that was left of Mrs. Macy.

"It was a tornado!" she said over and over. "Mrs. Macy'll always believe in the Bible now, I guess. It was a tornado! It was a tornado!"


"No, they ain't found her yet," Susan said, coming into the hotel room where Mrs.[Pg 189] Lathrop and Gran'ma Mullins had found a pleasant and comfortable refuge and were occupied in recuperating together at Jathrop's expense. Neither lady was seriously injured. Gran'ma Mullins had been preserved from even a wetting through the neat capping of her climax by Mrs. Macy's roof; while Mrs. Lathrop's squeeze between the piazza post and her well beloved old-gold-plush stationary rocker had not—as Gran'ma Mullins put it—so much as turned a hair of even the rocker.

"No one's heard anything from her yet," continued Susan, "but that ain't so surprising as it would be if anybody had time to want to know. But nobody's got time for nothing to-day. The town's in a awful taking, and I d'n know as I ever see a worse situation. You two want to be very grateful as you're so nicely and neatly laid aside, for what has descended on the community now is worse'n any cyclone, and if you could get out and see what the cyclone's done, you'd know what that means."[Pg 190]

"Was you to my house, Susan?" asked Gran'ma Mullins anxiously.

"I was; but the insurance men was before me, or anyhow, we met there."

"The insurance men!"

"That's what I said,—the insurance men. Oh, Mrs. Lathrop, we all know one side of what it is to insure ourselves, but now the Lord in his infinite wrath has mercifully seen fit to show us the other side. The Assyrian pouncing down on the wolf in his fold is a young mother wrapping up her first baby to look out the window compared to those insurance men. They descended on us bright and shining to-day, and if we was murderers with our families buried under the kitchen floor, we couldn't be looked on with more suspicion. I was far from pleased when I first laid eyes on 'em, for there's a foxiness in any city man as comes to settle things in the country as is far from being either soothing or syrupy to him as lives in the country; but you can maybe imagine my feelings when they very plainly[Pg 191] informed me as I couldn't put the roof back on Mrs. Macy's house till it was settled whether it was a cyclone or a tornado—"

"Settled—whether—" cried Mrs. Lathrop.

"Cyclone or tornado," repeated Susan. "The first thing isn't to get to rights, but it is to settle whether we've got any rights to get. I never dreamed what it was to be injured—no, or no one else neither. Seems if it's a tornado, we don't get a cent of our insurance. And to think it all depends on Mrs. Macy."

"On Mrs.—" cried Gran'ma Mullins.

"Yes, because she's the only one as really knows whether she was carried off or not. Well, all I can say is, if she don't come back pretty quick, we're going to have a little John Brown raid right here in town; we—"

"But what—?"

"I'm telling you. It'll be the town rising up against the insurance men, and the insurance men will soon find that when it[Pg 192] comes to dilly-dallying with folks newly cycloned upside down, it's life and death if you don't deal fair. What with chimneys down and roofs turned up at the corner like the inquiring angels didn't have time to take the cover all off but just pried up a little to see what was inside,—I say with all this and everything wet and Mrs. Macy gone, this community was in no mood to be sealed up—"

"Sealed up!" cried Mrs. Lathrop and Gran'ma Mullins together.

"That's what it is. Sealed up we are, and sealed up we've got to stay until Mrs. Macy gets back—"

"But—" cried Gran'ma Mullins.

"Everybody's just as mad as you are. Charging bulls is setting hens beside this town to-night. Even Mr. Kimball's mad for once in his life; he's losing money most awful, for he can't sell so much as a paper of tacks. They've got both his doors and all his windows sealed, and he's standing out in front with nothing to do except to keep a sharp eye[Pg 193] out for Mrs. Macy. He says it ain't in reason to expect as she'll fly back, but she's got to come from somewhere, and he means to prevent her getting away again on the sly. He says his opinion is as she'd have stood a better chance before airships was so common. He says ten years ago folks would have took steps for hooking at her just as quick as they saw her coming along, but nowadays it'd be a pretty brave man as would try to stop anything he saw flying overhead. I guess he's about right there. It's a hard question to know what to do with things that fly, even if Mrs. Macy hadn't took to it, too. My view is that we advance faster than we can learn how to manage our new inventions. I d'n know, I'm sure, though, what Mrs. Macy is going to do about this trip of hers. She went without even the moment's notice as folks in a hurry always has had up to now. She's been gone most twenty-four hours. She's skipped three meals already, not to speak of her night and her nap; and you know as well as I do[Pg 194] how Mrs. Macy was give to her nights and her napping."

Susan shook her head, and Mrs. Lathrop looked wide-eyed and alarmed.

"But now—" Gran'ma Mullins asked.

"I've been all over the place," Susan continued. "I didn't understand fully what was up when I scurried off to try and get those men to put the roof back on Mrs. Macy's house, but I know it all now. It's no use trying to get anybody to do nothing now; the whole town's upside down and inside out. I never see nothing like it. And the insurance men has got it laid down flat as nobody can't touch nothing till it's settled whether it's a cyclone or a tornado. Seems a good many was insured for cyclones right in with their fires without knowing it; but there ain't a soul in the place insured against a tornado, because you can't get any insurance against tornadoes—no one will insure them. The insurance men say if it's a tornado, we won't have nothing to do except to do the best we can; but if it's a cyclone, we[Pg 195] mus'n't touch anything till they can get some one to judge what's worth saving and how much it's worth and deduct that from our insurance. That's how it is."

"But what has—?" began Gran'ma Mullins.

"How long—?" demanded Mrs. Lathrop.

"Nobody knows," said Susan. "The whole town is asking, and nobody knows. The insurance company won't let anybody go home or get anything unless they'll sign a paper giving up their insurance and swearing that it was a tornado. Mr. Dill just had to sign the paper because he was taking a bath and had nothing except the table cover to wear. He signed the paper and said he'd swear anything if only for his shoes alone; and it seems that his house isn't hurt a mite, and he didn't have no insurance anyhow. A good many is blaming him, but he says he really couldn't think of anything in the excitement and the table cloth. It's a awful state of things. The cyclone has tore everything to pieces, and the insurance[Pg 196] men has put their seal on the chips. People is being drove to all lengths. The minister and his family is camping in the henhouse. Our walls is fell in so goodness knows what will happen to you and me next, Mrs. Lathrop. The wires is all down, so we can't hear nothing about the storm. The rails is all up, so there's no trains. The church is stove in, so we can't pray. But I must say as to my order of thinking, it looks as if no one feels like praying. The insurance men is running all over, like winged ants hatching out, sealing up more doors and more windows every minute and getting more signatures as it was a tornado before they'll unstick them. Nothing can't be really settled till Mrs. Macy comes back. Mrs. Macy is the key to the whole situation."

"But why—?" asked Mrs. Lathrop.

"The Jilkins is in from Cherry Pond, and all it did there was to rain. The Sperrits was in, too, and the storm was most singular with them. It hailed in the sunshine till[Pg 197] they see four rainbows—they never see the beat. Mr. Weskins is advising everybody to go into their houses and make a test case of it. Judge Fitch is advising everybody not to. It's plain as he's on the side of the insurance men. He says just as they do, that we'd better wait till Mrs. Macy comes back and hear her story. He says in the very nature of things her view'll be a most general one. He says all there is to know she'll know; she'll know the area affected and be able to tell whether it was electricity or just wind. Mr. Kimball said if she went far enough, she'd be a star witness; but no one thinks that jokes about Mrs. Macy ought to be told now. The situation is too serious. It may be very serious for Mrs. Macy. If the storm stopped sudden, it may be very serious indeed for Mrs. Macy. Mrs. Macy isn't as young as she was, and she hadn't the least idea of leaving town; she wasn't a bit prepared, that we can all swear to. She was just carried away by a sudden impulse—as you might say—and the main question is how[Pg 198] far did she get on her impulse, and where is she now? To my order of thinking, it all depends on how she come down. Cycloning along like she was, if she come down on a pond or a peak, she'll be far from finding it funny. I was thinking about her all the way here, and I can't think of any way as'll be easy for her to come to earth, no matter how she comes. And if she hits hard, she isn't going to like it. Mrs. Macy was never one as took a joke pleasant; she never made light of nothing. She took life very solemn-like—a owl was a laughing hyena compared to Mrs. Macy. It's too bad she was that way. My own view is as she never got over not getting married again. Some women don't. She always took it as a reflection. There's no reflection to not getting married; my opinion is as there's a deal of things more important and most thing's more comfortable. If Mrs. Macy was married, she'd be much worse off than she is right now, for instead of being able to give her whole time and attention to whatever she's doing and looking over, she'd[Pg 199] be wondering what he was giving his time and attention to doing and prying into. When a man's out of your sight, you've always got to wonder, and most of the time that's all in the world you can do about a man. Now Mrs. Macy's perfectly independent, she can go where she pleases and come down when she pleases, and she hasn't got to tell what she saw unless she wants to. Mrs. Brown says she ain't never been nowhere. It's plain to be seen as Mrs. Brown's envying Mrs. Macy her trip."

"But why—?" began Gran'ma Mullins with great determination.

"That's just it," replied Susan promptly. "I declare, I can't but wonder what'll happen next. I'm in that state that nothing will surprise me. Everything's so upset and off the track there's no use even trying to think. My walls is fell into my cistern, and Mrs. Macy's roof is sitting on the ground beside her house yet. The insurance men has sealed up Gran'ma Mullins' house, and they wouldn't leave the henhouse open till I signed[Pg 200] a affidavit on behalf of the hens and released 'em from all claims for feed. Mr. Dill said they tried to seal up his cow. They've got Mr. Kimball's dried-apple machine tied with a rope. It's awful."

"But Susan—" interrupted Gran'ma Mullins.

"Mr. Weskins says the great difficulty is the insurance men say they don't see how anything is going to be settled or decided until we hear from Mrs. Macy. The point's right here. If she comes back, it's evidence as it was a tornado, because if she comes back it proves as she was carried off, in which case the insurance men won't have to pay nothing anyhow, and we'll all be unsealed and allowed to go to work putting our roofs back on our heads and clearing up as fast as we can. But Mr. Weskins says if Mrs. Macy don't come back, there'll be no way to prove as she was even carried off by the storm for you, Mrs. Lathrop, had your back turned; and you, Gran'ma Mullins, was under the roof; and I'm only one, and it takes two witnesses to[Pg 201] prove anything as is contrary to law and nature."

"Do they doubt—?" cried Mrs. Lathrop, quite excited—for her.

"Yes, they do. They doubt everything. Insurance men don't take nothing for granted. They've decided to just pin their whole case to Mrs. Macy, and there's Mrs. Macy gone away to, heaven knows where."

"Well, Susan," said Gran'ma Mullins, "we must look on the bright side. Mrs. Macy'll have something to talk about as'll always interest everybody if she does come back, and if she don't come back, we'll always have her to remember."

"Yes, and if we don't get our houses unstuck pretty soon, we'll remember her a long while," said Susan darkly.

Three days passed by and no word was heard from Mrs. Macy. As soon as the telegraph assumed its usual route, messages were sent all about in the direction whither she had flown, but not a trace of her was discovered by any one. The town was very much[Pg 202] wrought up, for although its members were given to having strange experiences, no experience so strange as this had ever happened there before. The exasperation of being barred out of house and home until Mrs. Macy should be found, naturally heightened the interest. Everybody had had just time to add the magic word "cyclone" to their policies before the cyclone came "damaging along"—as Susan Clegg expressed it. Susan was much perturbed.

"Well, Mrs. Lathrop,"—she said on the afternoon of the third day, as she came into the hotel room where the mother of the millionaire was now equal to her usual vigorous exercise in her old-gold-plush stationary rocker. "Well, Mrs. Lathrop, you may well be grateful as Jathrop has got money enough for us to be living here, for the living of the community is getting to be no living a tall."

Gran'ma Mullins, still in bed, turned herself about and manifested a vivid interest, "Well, Susan," she said, "it's three days now; how long is this going to keep up?"[Pg 203]

"It can't keep up very much longer, or we'll have a new French Revolution, that's what we'll have," said Susan. "Why, the community is getting where it won't stand even being said good morning to pleasantly. The children is running all over, pulling each other's hair, and Deacon White says he's going to buy a pistol. Things is come to a pretty pass when Deacon White wants to buy a pistol, for he's just as afraid of one end as the other. But it's a straw as shows which way the cyclone blew his house."

"But isn't something—?"

"Something has got to be done. The boys stretched a string across the door of the insurance men's room this morning, and they fell in a heap when they started out; and some one as nobody can locate poured a pitcher of ice water through the ventilator as is over their bed. Seeing that public feeling is on the rise, they sent right after breakfast for the appraisers, and they're going to begin appraising and un-sealing to-morrow morning. They've entirely give up the idea of waiting[Pg 204] for Mrs. Macy. The town just won't stand for any more hanging around waiting for nothing. I never see us so before. Every one is so upset and divided in their feelings that some think we'd ought to horsewhip the insurance men, and some think we'd ought to hold a burial service for Mrs. Macy."

"I wouldn't see any good in holding a service for Mrs. Macy," said Gran'ma Mullins. "She wouldn't have been buried here if she was dead; she was always planning to go to Meadville when she was dead."

"Yes," said Susan, "I know. Because Mrs. Lupey's got that nice lot with that nice mausoleum as she bought from the Pennybackers when they got rich and moved even their great-grandfather to the city."

"I remember the Pennybackers," said Gran'ma Mullins. "Old man Pennybacker used to drive a cart for rags. It was a great day for the Pennybackers when Joe went into the pawnbroker business."

"Yes," said Susan, "it's wonderful how rich men manage to get on when they're[Pg 205] young. Seems as if there's just no way to crowd a millionaire out of business or kill him off. I'm always reading what they went through in the papers, but it never helped none. A millionaire is a thing as when it's going to be is going to be, and you've just got to let 'em do it once they get started."

"It was a nice mausoleum," said Gran'ma Mullins. "Mrs. Macy has told me about it a hundred times. It's so big, Mrs. Lupey says, she can live up to her hospitable nature at last, for there's room for all and to spare. Mrs. Macy was the first person she asked. Mrs. Macy thought that was very kind of just a cousin. There's only Mrs. Kitts there, now, and Mrs. Lupey's aunt, Mrs. Cogetts."

"Mrs. Macy didn't know she had a aunt," said Susan. "Mrs. Cogetts came way from Jacoma just on account of the mausoleum. That's a long ways to come just to save paying for a lot where you are, seems to me; but some natures'll go to any lengths to save money."[Pg 206]

"I wonder where Mrs. Macy is now," said Gran'ma Mullins, with a sigh.

"Nobody knows. A good many is decided that it's surely a clear case of Elijah, only nobody pretends to believe in the Bible so much as to think that she can go up and stay there. Mrs. Macy'd have to come down, and the higher she went the more heaven help her when she does come down. Mrs. Macy was very solid, as we all know who've heard her sit down or seen her get up, and I can't see no happy ending ahead, even though we all wish her well. The insurance men is very blue over her not coming back, for they expected to prove a tornado sure; but even insurance men can't have the whole world run to suit them these days. Anyhow, my view is as it's no use worrying. Spilt milk's a poor thing to cook with. If you're in the fire, you ain't in the frying-pan. The real sufferers is this community, as is all locked out of their houses. The Browns is living in the cellar to the cowshed, with two lengths of sidewalk laid over them. Mrs. Brown says she feels[Pg 207] like a Pilgrim Father, and she sees why they got killed off so fast by the Indians,—it was so much easier to be scalped than to do your hair. Mr. and Mrs. Craig takes turns at one hammock all night long. Mrs. Craig says they change regular, for whoever turns over spills out, and the other one is sitting looking at the moon and waiting all ready to get in."

"I declare, Susan," said Gran'ma Mullins warmly, "I think it's most shocking. I won't say outrageous, but I will say shocking."

"But what are you going to do about it?" said Susan. "That's the rub in this country. There's plenty as is shocking, but here we sit at the mercy of any cyclone or Congress as comes along. Here we was, peaceful, happy, and loving, and a cyclone swishes through. Down comes half a dozen men from the city and seals up everything in town. I tell you you ought to have heard me when they was sealing up your house and Mrs. Macy's. I give it to 'em, and I didn't mince matters none. I spoke my whole mind, and it was a[Pg 208] great satisfaction, but they went right on and sealed up the houses."

"Oh, Susan," began Mrs. Lathrop, "how are—?"

"All in ruins," replied Susan promptly. "I don't believe you and me is ever going to live in happy homes any more. Fate seems dead set against the idea. And nobody can get ahead of Fate. They may talk all they please about overcoming, and when I was young I was always charging along with my horns down and my tail waving same as every other young thing; but I'm older now, and I see as resignation is the only thing as really pays in the end. I get as mad as ever, but I stay meek. I wanted to lam those insurance men with a stick of wood as was lying most handy, but all I did was to walk home. Mr. Shores says he's just the same way. We was talking it over this morning. He says when his wife first run off with his clerk, he was nigh to crazy; he says he thought getting along without a wife was going to just drive him out of his senses, and he said her taking[Pg 209] the clerk just seemed to add insult to perjury, but he says now, as he gets older, he finds having no wife a great comfort."

"I wish Jathrop would—" sighed Mrs. Lathrop.

"Well, he will, likely enough," said Susan. "Now he's rich, some girl will snap him up, and he won't find how he's been fooled till three or four months after the wedding."

"I suppose Jathrop could marry just any one he pleased now," said Gran'ma Mullins, sighing in her turn. "Hiram didn't have no choice; Jathrop'll have a choice."

"He may be none the better for that," said Susan darkly. "If Jathrop Lathrop is wise, he'll not go routing wildly around like a president after a elephant; he'll stick to what's tried and true. But I have my doubt as to Jathrop's being wise; very few men with money have any sense."

"Who do you think—?" began Mrs. Lathrop, looking intently at Susan.

"I d'n know," said Susan, looking hard at Mrs. Lathrop; "far be it from me to judge."[Pg 210]

"They do say, Susan," said Gran'ma Mullins wisely, "as he'll end up by marrying you. Everybody says so."

Susan shook her head hard. "It's not for me to say. Affairs has been going on and off between Jathrop and me for too many years now for me to begin to discuss them. What is to be will be, and what isn't to be can't possibly be brought about."

Gran'ma Mullins sighed again, and Mrs. Lathrop went on rocking. As she rocked, she viewed Susan Clegg from time to time in a speculative manner. It was many, many years since she had suggested to Susan the idea of marrying Jathrop.


It was the next morning that Mrs. Macy re-appeared on the scene. The insurance men had unsealed all the houses, and the result was her discovery.

"Well, you could drown me for a new-born kitten, and I'd never open my eyes in surprise after this," Susan expounded to the friends at the hotel. "But Mrs. Macy[Pg 211] always was peculiar; she was always give to adventures. To think of her living there as snug as a moth in a rug, cooking her meals on the little oil-stove—"

"But where—?" interposed Mrs. Lathrop.

"I'm telling you. She's been sleeping in a good bed, too, and being perfectly comfortable while we've all been suffering along of waiting for her to come back."

"But Susan—" cried Gran'ma Mullins, wide-eyed.

"I'll tell you where she was; she was in your house—that's where she was. The cyclone just gave her a lift over your woodshed, and then it set her down pretty quick. She says she came to earth like a piece of thistledown on the other side. Her story is as your back door was open, so she run in, and then it begun to rain, so she saw no reason for going out again. When it stopped raining, she looked out and seen nobody. That isn't surprising, for we wasn't there. She thought that it was strange not seeing any lights, but she started to go home, and she says what[Pg 212] was her feelings when she fell over her own roof in the path. She says of all the strange sensations a perfectly respectable woman can possibly ever get to start to go home and fall over her own roof is surely the most singular. She says she was so sleepy she thought maybe she was dreaming, and not having any lantern, it was no use trying to investigate, so she just went back to your house and went to bed in my bed. She says she dreamed of Hiram's ears all night long. I'd completely forgot Hiram's ears, which is strange, for they was far and away the most amusing things in this community. I think that way he could turn 'em about was so entertaining. That way he used to cock 'em at you always give him the air of paying so much attention. They say he never cocked 'em at Lucy but once—"

"Oh, my, that once!" exclaimed Gran'ma Mullins involuntarily.

"It was a sin and a shame for Lucy to choke Hiram's ears off like she did," Susan declared warmly. "She just seemed to take[Pg 213] all the courage right out of 'em. Hiram always reminded me of a black-and-tan as long as he had the free use of his ears, but after Lucy broke their backbone like she did, he never reminded me of much of nothing." Susan paused to sigh. Gran'ma Mullins wiped her eyes.

"You and Hiram give up to Lucy too much," said Susan. "I wish she'd married me."

"I wish she had, Susan," said Gran'ma Mullins. "I wouldn't wish to seem unkind to the wife of my born and wedded only son, but I do wish that she'd married you, and if Hiram could only see Lucy with a mother's clear blue eye, he'd wish it, too."

"Where is—?" asked Mrs. Lathrop, desiring to recur to the main object under discussion.

"Oh, she's gone straight over to Meadville," said Susan. "Oh, my, she says, but think of her feelings as she sat inside that nice, comfortable house and realized that she was the only person in town with a[Pg 214] roof over her head! You see, she heard me talking with the insurance men, and she didn't know why we was to be sealed up, but she got it all straight as we was going to be turned out of house and home, and she says she made up her mind as no one should ever know as she was in a house and so come capering up to put her out. She says she settled down as still as a mouse, made no smoke, and never lit so much as a candle nights. Mrs. Macy is surely most foxy!"

"And she's gone to Meadville?" said Gran'ma Mullins.

"Yes, she didn't want to pay board here, and her own house hasn't got no roof, so she's gone to Mrs. Lupey. Old Doctor Carter was over here to appraise the damage done to folks, and he took her back with him."

"I wonder if she'll ever—" wondered Gran'ma Mullins.

"I d'n know. If folks talk about a marriage long enough, it usually ends up that[Pg 215] way. Doctor Carter and Mrs. Macy has been kind of jumping at each other and then running away for fifteen years or so. They say he'd like her money, but he hates to be bothered with her."

"She wouldn't like to be bothered with him, either," said Gran'ma Mullins.

"I know," said Susan. "That's what's making so few people like to get married nowadays. They don't want to be bothered with each other."

Mrs. Lathrop fixed her little, black, beady eyes hard on Susan.

Susan stared straight ahead.


[Pg 216]

IX

SUSAN CLEGG'S PRACTICAL FRIEND

"Mrs. Sperrit can't stand it no longer, and she's going visiting," announced Susan Clegg to the three friends who, seated together on Mrs. Macy's piazza, had been awaiting her return from down-town. Both Mrs. Macy and Gran'ma Mullins were now back in their own houses after the temporary absence due to the cyclone, and Mrs. Lathrop and she who might yet be her daughter-in-law were reëstablished as their paying guests.

"Why, I never knew that Mr. Sperrit was that kind of a man," said Gran'ma Mullins, opening her eyes very wide indeed. "I wouldn't say he's han'some, and I wouldn't say he's entertaining; but I always thought they got on well together."[Pg 217]

"He isn't that kind of a man a tall," rejoined Susan, who had been holding one hatpin in her mouth while she felt for the other, but now freed herself of both. "It's just that Mrs. Sperrit's sick of all this clutter of mending up after the cyclone. She says she's nervous for the first time in her life and has got to have a change. She says the carrying off of the barn and its never being heard from any more has got on her nerves somehow, even if it was only a barn. She says God forgive her and not to mention it to you, Mrs. Macy, but she wishes every hour of her life as the cyclone had took you and left their barn, because the barn had her sewing-machine in it, and she'd as leave be dead as be without that sewing-machine."

"Where—?" mildly interpolated Mrs. Lathrop.

"Mr. Sperrit says wherever she likes. He's been upset by the barn too, because it had his tool-chest in it, and he's such a handy man with his tools that he feels for her in a way as not many women get felt for."[Pg 218]

"Where does—?" began Gran'ma Mullins.

"She didn't know at first, but now she thinks she'll go and stay with her cousin. She hasn't had much to do with her cousin for years, and she says she feels as maybe the barn was a judgment. She never got along well with her cousin. She says her cousin was pretty, with curls, and she herself was freckled, with straight hair, and so it was only natural as she always hated her. I don't feel to blame her none, for curls is very hard on them as is born straight-haired. But there was more reasons than one for Mrs. Sperrit not to get along with her cousin, and she says it never was so much the curls as it was her not being practical. Mrs. Sperrit is practical, and she's always been practical, and her cousin wasn't. They didn't speak for years and years."

"Whatever set 'em at it again?" asked Mrs. Macy.

"Well, Mrs. Sperrit says it come by degrees. She says she first noticed as her cousin was trying to make up about five years[Pg 219] ago, but she thought she'd best wait and be sure. Mrs. Sperrit's practical; she don't never look in anywhere until she's leaped around the edge enough to know what she's doing. She says her cousin named her first boy Gringer, which is Mrs. Sperrit's family name; but then, it is the cousin's family name, too, so she didn't pay any attention to that. Then she named her first girl Eliza, which, as we know, is Mrs. Sperrit's own name, but seeing as it was the name of the grandmother of both of them, she didn't pay any attention to that, either. Then she named the second boy Sperrit, which was a little pointed, of course; and Mrs. Sperrit says if her cousin had been practical, she would certainly have thought that the Sperrits ought to have given the child something. But she wasn't and didn't, and they didn't. Then she named the second girl Azile—which is Eliza spelt backwards—and Mrs. Sperrit says it was the spelling of Eliza backwards as first showed her how awful friendly her cousin was trying to get to be. Then, when she named the[Pg 220] third boy Jacob, after Mr. Sperrit, and the fourth boy Bocaj—which is Jacob spelled backwards—Mrs. Sperrit says that it was no use pretending not to see. Besides, naming the baby Bocaj just did go to her heart, particularly as the baby wasn't very strong, anyway. So since then the Sperrits has sent 'em a turkey every Thanksgiving and a quarter apiece to the children every Christmas."

"What's she named the other children?" asked Mrs. Macy with real interest.

"Why, there ain't no more yet. Bocaj is only six months old."

"Oh, then they ain't sent no turkey yet!" exclaimed Mrs. Macy.

"No, not yet, but when they begin, they'll keep it up steady. And now Mrs. Sperrit says she'll go and visit and see for herself how things are. She's not very hopeful of enjoying herself, for she says visiting a person as isn't practical is most difficult. She knows, because when she taught school, she used to board with a family as was that way. She says she kept the things she bought then,[Pg 221] and she shall take 'em all to her cousin's. She says when you stay with any one as isn't practical, you must take your own spirit-lamp, and teapot, and kettle, and tea, and matches, and a small blanket, and pen and ink, and a box of crackers, and a sharp knife, and some blank telegrams, and a good deal of court-plaster, and a teacup, and sugar if you take it, and a ball of good heavy string, and your own Bible, and a pillow. And never forget to wear your trunk-key round your neck, even if you only go down-stairs to look at the clock. She's got all those things left over from her school-teaching days. She says everything always comes in handy again some time if you're practical, and she thanks God she's practical."

"I don't think that I should care to visit that way," said Gran'ma Mullins thoughtfully. "I wouldn't say I wouldn't, and I wouldn't say I couldn't, but I don't think—"

"She's going Tuesday," continued Susan Clegg. "Mr. Sperrit says she can, and she's going Tuesday. She's written her cousin,[Pg 222] and her cousin's written her. Her cousin says they'll be too glad for words, and for her to stay till Christmas—or till Thanksgiving, anyway. Mrs. Sperrit says she won't do that, but she'll stay until the end of next week if she can stand her cousin's husband. She says she never had any use for her cousin's husband, because he isn't practical either, and when he was young, his tie was never on straight. Mrs. Sperrit says a man that wears his tie crooked when he's young is the kind to keep shy of later. She says he'll never have a pocket knife and borrow hers, and never have a pencil and borrow hers. And then, too, she's almost sure as by this time he's spoilt her cousin's temper; and visiting a cousin whose temper's spoilt wouldn't be fun, even if she was practical. Which this one ain't."

"If her cousin's got a sharp tongue I—" began Gran'ma Mullins in quiet, sad reminiscence.

"She was buying some wood alcohol and a cheap spoon at Mr. Kimball's," Susan went[Pg 223] on. "She took me in her buggy and drove me up to look at our houses, which is trying feebly to climb again to where they was before the cyclone. But they're a sorry sight. I don't know when we're ever going to get into them, I'm sure. I only wish Jathrop was to see how slow those carpenters can be." Then Miss Clegg's countenance assumed a coy expression, her eyes lowered bashfully, and her fingers nervously sought to touch between the buttons of her waist some treasured object hidden within. "I—I had a letter from him to-day."

And at that all three listeners started in more or less violent amazement.

"What!" cried Mrs. Lathrop.

"Nothing that I can tell any one," said Susan serenely. "So it's no use asking me another word about it."

Mrs. Sperrit left on Tuesday precisely and practically as she had planned; but she returned very much sooner than she had expected.

"And no wonder," declared Susan, just[Pg 224] back from the Sewing Society, to Mrs. Lathrop, who never went. "I should say it was no wonder. Well, Mrs. Sperrit has had an experience, and I guess no lost barn will ever lead her into looking up no more cousins after this."

"She's so worn-looking," said Gran'ma Mullins, who had returned with Susan. "I wouldn't say white, and I wouldn't say worried, but I call it peaked."

"Why, she's been through enough to make a book," said Mrs. Macy, who had come in with the others, "—a book like The Jungle, as makes you right down sick in spots."

"Oh, The Jungle isn't so bad," said Susan. "If it was, Roosevelt would have straightened it out soon enough when he was in it himself. But what's awful about Mrs. Sperrit is what she has suffered, for that woman certainly has suffered. She's a lesson once for all as to visiting. No one as hears her is ever going lightly visiting after this. She lost her trunk-key as soon as she landed in the house, and she says she was too took up[Pg 225] to miss it for three days, which shows what kind of a time she had. Why, her cousin went right to bed as soon as she got there, because she said as she knowed that Mrs. Sperrit was practical and could do everything better than she could. So that was a nice beginning to begin with. Well, she says such a house you never see. The chickens come into the dining-room, and they was raising mud turtles in the bathtub, and caterpillars in the cake-box. The children was awful right from the start. She slept in the room with two of them, and they woke her up mornings playing shave with the ends of her braids. She found out as they dipped 'em first in the water pitcher and then in the tooth powder to make it like lather."

"My heavens alive!" exclaimed Mrs. Lathrop.

"Then Jacob, who's only two and a half, ate mashed potatoes with his fingers, which is a thing, Mrs. Sperrit says, as must be seen to be believed, and they all just swum in jam from dawn to dark. She says she never see[Pg 226] such children, anyway. Whenever anybody sat down, they'd play she was the Alps, and go back and forth over her wherever they could get a purchase. And she says—would you believe it?—her cousin is got to be so calm that it drives you out of your senses only to see the way she takes things. Mrs. Sperrit says all she can say is as when a woman as isn't practical does go to bed, she's resigned to that degree that you wish you could blow her up with dynamite if only to see her move quick just once."

"Why didn't she come home?" asked Mrs. Macy. "My view would be as I'd come home. I said so to her to-day."

"She did come home, didn't she?" said Miss Clegg. "You heard her, and you know she's home. It's Mrs. Lathrop as all this is new to, isn't it? Well, Mrs. Lathrop, it would go to your heart to hear what happened to all those little conveniences as she took. There wasn't no sharp knife in the house but hers, so she never see hers after she unpacked it. There wasn't no string[Pg 227] or court-plaster either, so they disappeared too. Then they run out of tea the minute they see she brought some, and not being practical, her cousin's teapot naturally didn't have no nose, so she lost her teapot, too. The whole family took her hairbrush and used it for a clothes brush, and she thinks for a shoe brush when she was down-town. Her cousin wore her stockings and her collars, and her cousin's husband slept on the pillow with the blanket folded around him. Not being practical, he liked his feet free."

"Well, I nev—!" ejaculated Mrs. Lathrop.

"Mrs. Sperrit said by the third day she had to begin to do something, so she asked if she could clean her own room, and her cousin said she was going to let her make herself happy in her own way and just to go ahead and clean the whole house if she liked. So she went to work and cleaned the whole house, and she says such a house she never dreamed could exist. She found families of mice, and families of swallows, and families of moths. She found things as had been[Pg 228] lost for years, and they was wild with delight to see 'em again. She found things as, she says, she wouldn't like to say she found, because when all's said and done a cousin is still a cousin, but she says—Good lands, what she found! Well, she says when she got the house cleaned, her cousin was still in bed, so she took heart of grace and asked if she might teach the children to mind. Her cousin said she didn't care, so Mrs. Sperrit went to work on those six children. Well, she says that was a job, and it was that as led to her coming away like she did. She says the children was the very worst children anybody ever saw. She says she taught school, and she thought she knew children, but anything like those children nobody—even those as is chock full of things not fit to eat—could ever by any possibility of dreamed of. Why, she says they was used to heating the poker and jabbing one another with it when mad; and while you was leaning down to tie your shoe, they'd snatch your chair away from behind you, and such games. But Mrs.[Pg 229] Sperrit is practical, and she believes in her Bible, and she thought as how the Lord had delivered them into her hands and set to work. She said she begun by washing them all—for they was always slippery from jam. And then she cut their nails very short and started in. Well, she says it was some work, for they was so funny she could hardly keep from laughing. She says they're mighty bright children—she must say that for 'em, although it don't soften her feelings a mite towards 'em. Well, she says you couldn't do nothing a tall with 'em. But she didn't lose courage. When she talked serious, they took it as a great joke, and she had to stop for meals so often that it used her all up; for she says such steady eating she never see. She says the meals was most terrible, too, as they always had herring, and of course the bones made so much picking that the children kept telling her she ate with her fingers, herself. She says that was the most awful part, the way they talked back. But she didn't despair. She kept washing them out[Pg 230] of the jam and taking a fresh cut at their nails, until finally come the last hour of wrath. And then, she says, they did make her mad—good and mad."

"But what did—?" began Mrs. Lathrop.

"Well, seems the worst child was 'Zile. Of course, Mrs. Sperrit, having taught school, thought they'd pronounce it like Azalea, and make a real pretty name out of Eliza spelt backwards, but seems they dropped the A and just called her 'Zile to rhyme with file; and Mrs. Sperrit says she rhymed with file all right."

"Go on, Susan," urged Mrs. Macy.

"Well, the cousin and the husband was invited to go on a all-day excursion, so the cousin got up and dressed and went. She said she might as well, seeing as Mrs. Sperrit was there with the children. When they was gone, Mrs. Sperrit made up her mind as now was her chance to bring those children to time, once and for all. So she rolled up her sleeves and give 'em all a good bath—for she says the way they'd get freshly jammed[Pg 231] was most astonishing—and then she went up-stairs to get her scissors to cut their nails. She was opening her trunk to get out the scissors when she heard a click. Well, when she run to the door, what do you suppose? She found they'd locked her in.

"Well, maybe you can imagine her feelings! She says she was never so mad in all her life. She called through the door, but not a sound. There was a crack big enough to put your hand through under the door, and she tried to look through it, but it wasn't high enough to put your eye to. Then she heard a shout and run to the window. There they all was, out on the grass in front,—all but Bocaj, who was asleep in his cradle down-stairs. Well, such doings! She says 'Zile, who was always full of ideas, was just outstripping herself in ideas this time. They had a old pair of scissors, and first they went to work for half an hour cutting each other's hair. She says you can maybe think of her feelings in the upper window, left in charge of 'em, with full permission to whip 'em if[Pg 232] necessary, and having to sit and watch 'em trim each other anyway the notion hit 'em. She says tying a man to a tree while cannibals eat up his family is the only thing as would express it a tall. After they got done cutting hair, they went in and got a pot of jam and brought it out and sat down in full sight and eat jam with their fingers till there was no more jam. She says she'd stopped calling things to 'em by that time and was just sitting quietly in the window, thanking God for every minute as they stayed where she could see what they was doing. But when they had finished the jam, they went in the house and was so deathly quiet she was scared to fits. She thought maybe they was setting fire to something. But after a while they begun to bang on the piano, and when she was half crazy over the noise, she looked towards the door, and there was the key poked under. She made a jump for the key, and it was jerked back by a piece of string. And her own string at that. Then she was called to the window by Gringer yelling, and[Pg 233] while she was trying to hear what he had to say—the piano jangling worse than ever—they opened the door suddenly and bundled Bocaj into the room and then locked the door again.

"The baby was just woke up and hungry, and it was a pretty kettle of fish. She says she made up her mind then and there to quit that house and adopt Bocaj. She says she saw as there was no use trying to reform the rest; but Bocaj was so little and helpless, and nothing in her heart made her feel as he couldn't be raised to be practical. She went to work and fed him crackers soaked in boiling water while she packed her trunk. And when her cousin came home, she was sitting with her bonnet on ready to go. Her cousin just naturally felt awful. She wanted to call it a joke; but Mrs. Sperrit is a woman whose feelings isn't lightly took in vain. She left, and she took Bocaj with her. She telegraphed Mr. Sperrit, and he met her at the train. He was some disappointed because he'd forgotten about the baby's name and[Pg 234] thought from reading it in the telegraph that she was bringing back a monkey. Seems Mr. Sperrit has always wanted a monkey, and she wouldn't have one. But now she says he can have a monkey or anything else, if he'll only stay practical. She says she doesn't believe she could ever live with any one as wasn't practical, after this experience."

Susan paused, Mrs. Macy and Gran'ma Mullins rose to go to their kitchens and get suppers for their guests. When they had gone, Susan, having Mrs. Lathrop alone, eased a troubled conscience.

"Oh, Mrs. Lathrop," she confided, "do you remember me saying the other evening I'd had a letter from Jathrop?"

Mrs. Lathrop suddenly stopped rocking. "Yes—yes, Susan," she answered eagerly. "I—"

"Well, I didn't have one. It was just as everybody in this community has got their minds fixed on Jathrop's being wild about me, so I felt to mention a letter, and I shall[Pg 235] go on mentioning getting a letter from him whenever the spirit moves me."

"Why, Susan—!" exclaimed Mrs. Lathrop.

"It doesn't hurt him a tall," said Susan Clegg with calm decision, "and it saves me from being asked questions. And you know as well as I do, Mrs. Lathrop, that I can have him if I want him."

Mrs. Lathrop sat open-mouthed, dumb.

"If I don't have him, it'll be because I don't want him," added Miss Clegg with dignity. "So it's no use your saying one other word, Mrs. Lathrop."

And Mrs. Lathrop, thus adjured, refrained from further speech.


[Pg 236]

X

SUSAN CLEGG DEVELOPS IMAGINATION

"Far be it from me, Mrs. Lathrop," said Susan Clegg, returning from an early errand down-town and dropping in at Mrs. Macy's to find her friend still in her own room and rocking in her old-gold stationary rocker. It was now autumn, and to take the chill off the room an oil burner was brightly ablaze. "Far be it from me to say anything disrespectful of such a good Samaritan as your son Jathrop, but as we have it in the scriptures, he certainly does move in a mysterious way his neighbors to inform. It's mighty good of him to go to all the expense of building over my house in a way I'd never in this wide world have had it if I could 'a' understood those plans of that boy architect, and it may be—providing we escape[Pg 237] earthquake, fire, blood, and famine—that I'll get into it once more before next summer, notwithstanding it's all of two months behind yours, you being his mother, Mrs. Lathrop, and me only your friend. But a early frost is sure to crack the plaster, and, seeing as the glass blowers has gone on a strike, there's no telling when they'll blow the panes for the windows. Just the same, kind and good as Jathrop is, he might have had more consideration for me as would this day have been his wife, if I'd felt to answer him with a three-letter word instead of a two, than to put me on the pillar of scorn before a community as has known me always as a scrupulous lover of the voracious truth."

"You don't—" began Mrs. Lathrop, in mild astonishment.

"Yes, I do," continued Susan, with growing indignation. "Jathrop has done his best to make me out a liar, and I don't know as I'll ever be able to hold my head up again. He's struck me in the tenderest spot he could strike me in, and not boldly neither, but in a[Pg 238] skulking, underhand way that makes it all the bitterer pill to swallow."

"I can't see—" objected Mrs. Lathrop.

"No, nor me neither. But he did, and in no time everybody'll know it from Johnny, at the station, to Mrs. Lupey in Meadville, not forgettin' the poor demented over to the insane asylum. And it all comes of those letters I have been getting from Jathrop during the summer."

"But—"

"Yes, I know and you know there was no letters a tall. But everybody else, except you and me and the postmaster, believed I had a letter regular every week. Whenever I run short of subjects at the Sewing Society, I just fell back on my last letter from Jathrop and told them all about what he was doing in those islands. I'd read the book he sent, and I'd read it to good profit. There was some things as I didn't quite understand, of course, but on them I just put my own interpretations, and knowing Jathrop as I did, it was easy enough for me to figure out how[Pg 239] he'd be most likely to act in a strange, barbaric land. The book didn't have a word to say about the costumes of the native tribes, but I'm not so ignorant as not to know how those South Sea Islanders never wear nothing more hamperin' than sea-shell earrings and necklaces of sharks' teeth; and I'd read, too, that foreign visitors, on account of the unbearable heat, was in the habit of adoptin' the native fashions in dress. When you get started makin' things up, there's no knowing just where you're likely as to end. It's so easy to go straight ahead and say just whatever you please that seems in any way interesting. And so, when Mrs. Fisher asked me one day whether I supposed there was any cannibals there, I said there was one cannibal tribe that was most ferocious and had appetites that there was no such thing as quenchin'. I said that in Jathrop's last letter he had written me about how this tribe had captured the cook off the yacht and that when they finally found his captors and defeated them in a desperate battle lasting three days,[Pg 240] all that was found of the cook was two chicken croquettes."

"For gra—!" cried Mrs. Lathrop.

"That's what Mrs. Fisher said. Of course, with the cook eat up—all but what was in the two croquettes, that is,—Jathrop and his millionaire friends was a good deal put about. There wasn't a one of 'em as knew the first thing about cooking, and after the exercise of the three days' battle they was most awful hungry. And then, I says, quoting from the letter from Jathrop which never came, they had a piece of real luck, just as millionaires is always having. They had taken one prisoner, and by means of signs, not knowin' a word of the cannibal language, they discovered that the prisoner was the cook of the tribe. He pointed to the croquettes as a example of his handiwork, and Jathrop said that he never saw anything in the cookin' line that looked more toothsome than they did. So, of course they engaged the cannibal cook on the spot and carried him back to the yacht with 'em. Everything[Pg 241] went well for a few days, but on a day when they had invited the chief of a friendly tribe to dinner, there was something as aroused their suspicions. The principal dish for the feast was, so far as they could make out from the cook's sign-language, a savory rabbit stew. Now as they had never seen or heard tell of a rabbit in the Bahamas, they was naturally curious to learn where the cook had managed to dig it up. He either couldn't or wouldn't tell. I says that Jathrop says you might 'a' thought that the cook was a thirty-second degree mason and that the origin of the rabbit was a thirty-second degree masonic secret. The millionaires gathered in council and discussed the question, pro and con, from every obtainable or imaginable angle. Then, just as they were about to adjourn without having reached any conclusion whatever, they rang for the cabin boy to fetch some liquid refreshment. But there wasn't no answer. And they might 'a' been ringing yet as to any good it would do. They never did see that cabin boy, and the only one to eat[Pg 242] the savory rabbit stew was the visiting chief."

"I don't—" observed Mrs. Lathrop, rocking faster.

"Well, Mrs. Lathrop, you're right about that," Susan confirmed, loosening her shawl, for the oil-stove was rapidly lifting the room's temperature. "I don't see, myself, why anybody should ever have known any better, and nobody would have, if it hadn't been as Jathrop took it into his head to talk to a newspaper man at Atlantic City on about the same day as I had him missing the cabin boy and refusing a helping to the rabbit stew. Mr. Kimball showed me the paper as came from New York wrapped around a new ledger he just received by express. The reporter had written two columns and over about the 'Klondike Bonanza King,' and if Jathrop had set his mind to makin' me out a Ananias and a Saphira boiled into one, he couldn't have succeeded better. He hasn't been in the Bahamas a tall. The yacht started for there, but it went[Pg 243] to Cuba instead, and he and his friends only stayed in Cuba a week. From there they went down to Panama and looked over the canal as far as it's gone. They spent the summer sailin' from one summer resort to another, and I must say I should think there was better ways of passin' the time than that. When it comes to eatin', I'd about as leave eat the dishes of a cannibal cook as eat things made of the salt water that people go bathin' in, and that's what they do at Atlantic City. The minister showed me some candy 'Liza Em'ly sent him from Atlantic City in July, and I know what I'm talkin' about, for it was printed on the paper around each piece. 'Salt-water Taffy.' Think of that! It's plain to be seen that they ain't got any fresh water there, or they wouldn't use salt. Jathrop and the other millionaires, I suppose, drink nothin' but wine, but the poor folks must drink salt water or go thirsty. I suppose it saves salt in seasonin', but I'd rather have my vituals unseasoned than have 'em salted with water that folks has swum in.[Pg 244] They certainly ain't got no enterprise, that's sure. If they had they'd pipe water—fresh water—from somewheres. And if there's no place near enough to pipe it from, they'd build cisterns. But water's not the only thing as shows their shiftlessness. Our town isn't exactly a metropolis, but we got a few cement sidewalks. Atlantic City ain't got a one. I heard about that long ago. And in these days of progress, too! Nothing but a board walk on its principal street—nothing a tall."

"What did—?" asked Mrs. Lathrop.

"He said a good deal more'n his prayers, I can tell you that. He said his object in going to the Bahamas, to which he never went, after all, was to look into the possibility of securin' a large tract of land there for the cultivation and growth of sisal. Now what under the sun would you suppose sisal was? I saw in the book that sisal was being grown in increasing quantities in the islands, and I just naturally supposed it was some sort of animal. It might of been[Pg 245] buffalo, or it might of been guinea pigs, but when I spoke at the Sewing Society of how Jathrop had mentioned the great number of sisal, and Mrs. Allen says: 'What is sisal?' I just right then and there on the spur of the minute says: 'Why, don't you know? Sisal is a sort of small oxen striped like a zebra and spotted like a leopard.' And would you believe it, Mrs. Lathrop, when Mr. Kimball asked me that same question to-day, I said the very same thing—small oxen striped like a zebra and spotted like a leopard. 'That's what Mrs. Allen told me you said, Miss Clegg,' says he, 'but accordin' to the paper, Jathrop Lathrop don't quite agree with you.' I don't know, Mrs. Lathrop, I d'n know, I'm sure, why Jathrop should take pleasure in making me appear like a ignoramus, but there ain't no question about it that that's what he did when he gave that interview to that there reporter. 'What kind of animal is a sisal, then, Mr. Kimball?' I asked, and you can believe me my blood was boilin' in my veins. 'It ain't no animal a[Pg 246] tall,' he says. 'It's hemp what they make ropes out of to hang murderers with. And the seeds they feed canaries on.' 'Well,' I says, 'that may be the reporter's sisal, but it ain't mine, and it ain't Jathrop's. The newspapers never get nothin' right nohow, but when it comes to reducin' cattle into rope and birdseed, they are certainly goin' one better on the Chicago pork packers.' In all my life I have never been a respecter of the untruth, but I know enough on the subject to tell a good lie when necessity calls upon me and to stick to it as long as it has an eyelid to hang by. But I will say this for your son Jathrop, Mrs. Lathrop, and that is that before he got done with that reporter, he didn't leave so much as a eyelash, let alone a lid. It wasn't only that he'd never been to those islands a tall, and I'd been tellin' everybody in town as how I'd had a letter from him there every week the whole summer through, but he must air his acquaintance with things on the islands just as if he'd been born and raised there. And it seems there[Pg 247] ain't no natives within miles of the Bahamas, and hasn't been since Columbus and his people was there, goin' on fifteen hundred years ago. Columbus told 'em that he'd take 'em to the land where all their dead relatives and friends had gone to, a land flowin' with milk and honey, and he kept his word. Seems he shipped every last mother's son and daughter of 'em back to Spain with him, and left the islands bare for the next comers. It may have appeared a rather roundabout way for the native Bahamians to reach heaven and their departed folks, seeing as it led through hard work in the Spanish mines, but there ain't no question whatever that they every one got there in the end."

"You mean—" suggested Mrs. Lathrop.

"I mean that unless Lathrop or the reporter made it up, or the pair of 'em together, that nobody lives there now except whites and blacks, and there's not enough whites to make a nice shepherd's plaid out of the combination. But savagery, except for pirates, has never had any place there, and[Pg 248] cannibalism is absolutely unknown. It's all very humiliating, and it'd 'a' been much better to let people ask me and never said nothing back a tall. When people is in the dark, they've got to imagine for themselves, and as long as they don't tell what they imagine to others, no piece in a newspaper can never make 'em blush. I can tell you it's learnt me a lesson as I won't soon forget. I'll never get over the way Mr. Kimball looked at me when he said as how sisal was hemp; and me thinking all the time it was a animal when it was a herb. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, it's a ill wind that don't chill the shorn lamb. I'm that chilled that I feel I never shall talk again. I'll never say black is black or white is white until I've looked at the color twice with my glasses on. Accuracy is the best policy, I says, from this day henceforth."

"You might—" began Mrs. Lathrop sympathetically.

"That's true, too. I might have known that it didn't sound true to be getting letters every week from a man who went away to[Pg 249] the Klondike and never sent his mother so much as a picture postal card in all the years he was there. But then, too, you've got to consider the kind of folks as you're telling things to, and with all due respect to the ladies of the Sewing Society, from Mrs. Allen to Gran'ma Mullins, they're not over-burdened with the kind of intellect as can add two and two and get the same answer twice in succession. There wasn't a one of 'em as thought of that, or they'd 'a' said it straight out, without once considering my feelings. And I'll say this much for you, Mrs. Lathrop: you're not the best housekeeper I ever see, and you're about a match for Mrs. Sperrit's cousin when it comes to being practical, but you have got some brains, and I'd no more think of trying to deceive you than I'd think of trying to deceive Judge Fitch when he'd got a big retainer to get the truth out of me."

Mrs. Lathrop leaned down and turned out the oil burner.

"Was that—?"[Pg 250]

"No, it wasn't all. There was something else that has set me all of a flutter. If it wasn't as you never can tell whether a newspaper is voracious or just bearing false witness, I'd certainly feel as if Jathrop was playing fast and loose with my affections. I can remember, and you can remember, too, when the freedom of the press didn't mean freedom to make a Pike's Peak out of a ant hill. But in these days there's no telling whether, when we read of a poor soul being attacked by a wild beast, it's a jungle tiger or just a pet yellow kitten. Folks would rather read about the tiger than the kitten, and so the papers give 'em what they want without any regard for the real facts a tall. Elijah Doxey, who's a real editor if there ever was one, and knows all about the paper business, says that the newspaper, like everything else, has to keep abreast of the times or go to the wall, and that since people in these days 'ld rather read fiction than history, it stands to reason a paper can't stand in its own light by sticking always to cold commonplace facts."[Pg 251]

"Did the—?" Mrs. Lathrop attempted mildly to question.

"I don't know, I d'n know, I'm sure, Mrs. Lathrop. But the interview with Jathrop wasn't all interview, by no means. It said a lot about his party, and it mentioned each of the millionaires as was in it. Seems the interview was given on one of those Atlantic City board walks, and it was given—from what on earth do you think, Mrs. Lathrop? From a wheel chair. Jathrop in a wheel chair! Think of that! And not alone, either. 'Beside him,' wrote the interviewer, 'was the beautiful, dark-eyed Cuban señora who, rumor says, is soon to become his bride.' My lands! If it hadn't been for Mr. Kimball's apple barrel, I certainly would have dropped. It would 'a' been bad enough if they was both strong and well, but to think of Jathrop being too weak to walk and going to marry a foreigner no more robust than himself. You can't imagine the shock it give me. For a minute I was clean speechless, and I'd 'a' been dumb yet, I do believe, if it[Pg 252] wasn't as I begun to figure things out in my head and got sight of a ray of hope. Just as like as not, I says, Jathrop was suffering from the sudden change of climate,—from the Klondike to Cuba seems to me a pretty rigorous switch for any constitution,—and the Cuban woman was more'n likely his trained nurse fetched from the island. Either that or the woman was just recovering from a illness, and Jathrop got in to ride with her out of pure kindness of heart. Then, too, I remembered that: 'rumor says,' and cheered right up. Rumor never told the truth yet, as far as I know, and it's not in reason to believe the shameless thing is going to reform in these degenerate days. Jathrop may be going to marry the señora, I don't say he isn't, and I don't say he is. But before I believe it, I've got to have some better authority than what rumor says. He's steered clear of wives in the Klondike, and he's steered clear of 'em in other places, and I don't see as there's any reason to think his steering apparatus come to grief while he[Pg 253] was in Cuba. 'How's Susan Clegg?' That was what he wrote in the first letter you'd had from him in a dog's age, Mrs. Lathrop, and it showed pretty clear to me who he was thinking of while engaged in the steering operation."

"You don't think—" Mrs. Lathrop began distressfully.

"No man as was seriously sick, Mrs. Lathrop, ever talked two whole long newspaper columns to a reporter. You can bank on that. He was well enough to make me out the king of prevaricators, and it took some strength and a good deal of attention to small details to do it, and as the Cuban señora never said one word in all that time, I can't think as she is cutting any figure eights in his affairs. Consequently, I don't believe it'll pay either of us to do any great lot of worrying."

"If—" Mrs. Lathrop attempted once more to interpolate.

"That's just what I told Mr. Kimball. 'If Mrs. Lathrop could only see this paper,'[Pg 254] I says, 'I know she'd be delighted.' It stands to reason as a mother must be proud of a son who, after having no more sense than to take a kicking cow for a bad debt, goes to the Klondike and comes back a millionaire; but it stands to reason, too, that she'd be more proud of him to get two columns of free advertising in a New York paper that can sell its columns to the department stores for real money. Well, I asked him for the paper just to show you, and though he didn't feel to part with it, just the same he did in the end, and I carried it away in triumph."

"You've brought—"

"No, I haven't. I'm sorry to disappoint you, Mrs. Lathrop, more sorry than I am to disappoint Mr. Kimball in not being able to return it, but the truth is I lost it on the way home."

"Lost—"

"Every last scrap of it. And I can't say as it was altogether accidental either. As Shakespeare says: 'Self-protection is the[Pg 255] best part of valor.' If that paper was ever to get before the Sewing Society, my character would be stripped off me to the last rag. Mr. Kimball can say what was in it, but without the paper itself, he'll have a hard time proving anything, and my word when it comes to a dispute is as good as his and a thousand times better."

Mrs. Lathrop leaned forward and for a moment stopped rocking.

"You—" she said quietly but tensely.

"Tore it into small bits," returned Susan, rising, "and scattered them to the winds of heaven. There's a paper trail all the way from the square to Mrs. Macy's gate."

Mrs. Lathrop resumed her rocking and relapsed into silence.

Susan Clegg, laying her finger to her lips as a parting warning, went quietly out.


[Pg 256]

XI

SUSAN CLEGG AND THE PLAYWRIGHT

"Well," said Miss Clegg to her dear friend in the early fall of that same year, while they still waited under alien roofs the completion of their own made-over houses, "the men who write the Sunday papers and say that when you look at the world with a impartial eye in this century you can't but have hopes of women some day developing into something, surely would know they spoke the truth if they could see Elijah Doxey now."

"But Eli—" expostulated Mrs. Lathrop.

"No, of course not. But 'Liza Em'ly is, and it's her I'm talking about. She was up to see me this afternoon, and she says she'll spare no money nowhere. The trained nurse is to stay with him right along forever[Pg 257] if he likes, and the two can have her automobile and ride or walk or do anything, without thinking once what it costs. There was a doctor up from the city again yesterday, and that makes four visits at a hundred a visit. But 'Liza Em'ly says even if Elijah hadn't anything of his own, she'd pay all the bills sooner'n think anything that could be done was being left out. It's a pretty sad case, Mrs. Lathrop, and this last doctor says he never see a sadder. He said nothing more could be done right now, for there really is nothing in this community to remind Elijah that he ever wrote a play, if they only could get those clippings from the newspapers away from him. But that's just what they can't do. He keeps looking them over, and then such a look of agony comes into his eyes,—and Elijah was never one to bear pain as you must know, remembering him with the colic,—and he clasps his hands and shakes his head, and—well, Mrs. Lathrop, Elijah just wasn't strong enough to write a play, and some one as was stronger[Pg 258] ought to of restrained him right in the first of it."

"He—" said Mrs. Lathrop pityingly.

"Yes, that's it," confirmed Susan, "and oh, it's awful to take a bright young promising life like his and wreck it completely like that! To see Elijah walking about with a trained nurse and those clippings at his age is surely one of the most touching sights as this town'll ever see. 'Liza Em'ly says she offered a thousand dollars to any newspaper as would print one good notice, 'cause the doctors say just one good notice might turn the whole tide of his brain. But the newspapers say if they printed one good notice of such a play, the Pure Food Commission would have 'em up for libel within a week, and they just don't dare risk it. This last doctor says he can't blame Elijah for going mad, 'cause he knows a little about the stage through being in love with a actress once, and he says he wasn't treated fair. He says play-writing is not like any other kind of writing, and Elijah wasn't prepared[Pg 259] for the great difference. Seems all words on the stage mean something they don't mean in the dictionary, and that makes it very hard for a mere ordinary person to know what they're saying if they say anything a tall. And then, too, Elijah never grasped that the main thing is to keep the gallery laughing, even if the two-dollar people have tears running down their cheeks. And you can't write for the stage nowadays without you keep folks laughing the whole time. Elijah never thought about the laughing, because his play was a tragedy like Hamlet, only with Hamlet left out. For the lady is dead in the play, and her ghost is all that's left of her. But 'Liza Em'ly told me to-day as his trouble came right in the start, for the people who look plays over no sooner looked Elijah's over before they took hold of it and fixed it. And they kept on fixing it till it was Hamlet with nobody but Hamlet left in. And then, so as to manage the laughs, they dressed everybody like chickens if they turned back-to. So that while the[Pg 260] audience was weeping, if any one on the stage turned 'round, they went off into shrieks of laughter. 'Liza Em'ly says they never told Elijah about the chicken feathers, and the opening night was the first he knew about that little game, for he was laid up for ever so long before then. He got all used up in the first part of the rehearsals; for it seems you can only have a theater to rehearse in at times when even the people who sweep it don't feel to be sweeping. And so they always rehearse from one to six in the morning. And Elijah naturally wasn't used to that. But they'd had trouble even before then; for right from the start there was a pretty how-d'ye-do over the plot. Seems Elijah wanted his own plot and his own people in his own play, and they had a awful time getting it through his head as it's honor enough to have your own play, and it's only unreasonable to stick out for your own plot and your own people too. 'Liza Em'ly says they had a awful time with him over it all, and there was a time when he felt so bad[Pg 261] over giving up his plot and his people that any one ought to have seen right there as he'd never be strong enough to stand all the rest of what was surely coming. 'Liza Em'ly didn't tell me the whole of the rest what come, but Mr. Kimball told me that what was one great strain on Elijah, right through to the hour he begun to scream, was that the leading lady fell in love with him and used to have him up at all hours to fix up her part, and then kiss him. And Elijah didn't want to fix up her part, and he hated to be kissed. But they told him the part must be fixed up to suit her, and that the kisses didn't matter, because they was only little things after all.

"He was wading along through the mire as best he could, when all of a sudden it come out as she had one husband as she'd completely overlooked and never divorced. He turned up most unexpectedly and come at Elijah about the kisses. Then they told Elijah he couldn't do a better thing by his play than to let the man shoot him two or[Pg 262] three times in places as would let him be carried pale and white to a box for the opening night; and then, between the last two acts, marry the lady and let it be in all the morning papers. You can maybe think, Mrs. Lathrop, how such a idea would come to the man as is to be shot. But, oh, my, they didn't make nothing of Elijah's feelings in the matter. Nothing a tall. They just set right to work and called a meeting of the play manager and the stage manager and the leading lady's manager and Elijah's manager, and the man who really does the managing. They all got together, and they drew up a diagram as to where Elijah was to be hit, and a contract for him and the leading lady to sign as they wouldn't marry anybody else in the meantime. And if it hadn't been for 'Liza Em'ly, the deal, as they called it, would have gone straight through. For Elijah was so dead beat by this time that about all he was fit for was to sit on a electric battery with a ice bag on his head, and look up words in a stage[Pg 263] dictionary and then cross 'em out of his play."

"Oh, I—" cried Mrs. Lathrop.

"That's just what 'Liza Em'ly said she said," rejoined Susan Clegg. "I tell you, Mrs. Lathrop, 'Liza Em'ly is no fool since her book's gone into the thirty-seventh edition, and that's a fact. She told me to-day as when she realized the man she loved—for 'Liza Em'ly really loves Elijah; any one can see that just by looking at the trained nurse she's got him—was being murdered alive, she went straight up and took a hand in the matter herself. I guess she had a pretty hard time, for the leading lady wouldn't hear to changing any of what they call the routing, and said if Elijah wasn't shot and married according to the signed agreement, she wouldn't play. And when a leading lady won't play, then is when you find out what Shakespeare really did write for, according to 'Liza Em'ly. For a little they was all running this way and that way, just beside themselves, with the leading[Pg 264] lady in the Adirondacks and two detectives watching her husband. And the man as was painting the scenery took a overdose of chloral and went off with all his ideas in his head, and that unexpected trouble brought 'em all together again. The husband came down off his high horse and said he'd take five per cent, of the net—Don't ask me what that means, for Mr. Dill don't know either—and the littlest chorus girl and go to Europe. And he said, too, as he'd sign a paper first releasing Elijah from all claim on account of his wife. So they all signed, and he sailed. He was clear out to sea before they discovered as he had another wife as he'd never divorced, so the leading lady could of married Elijah, after all. Well, that was a pretty mess, with a husband as had no claim on nobody gone off to Europe with five percent of the net. The stage manager and Elijah's manager took the Mauretania and started right after him, for when it comes to five per cent. on any kind of stage thing, Mr. Kimball says, any[Pg 265] monkeying counts up so quick that even hiring a yacht is nothing if you want to catch that five per cent. in time. So they was off, one in the captain's room and the other in the bridal suite, while 'Liza Em'ly was down in Savannah getting local color to patch up the scenery, leaving Elijah totally unprotected on his battery with his ideas.

"But Elijah wasn't to be left in peace even now. Seems they was having a investigation into the poor quality of the electricity in the city, and a newspaper opened a referendum and made 'em double the power. The company was so mad, they didn't give no warning to a soul, but just slid up the needle from 100 to 200 right then and there; and one of the results was they blew Elijah nearly through the ceiling. Nothing in the world but the ice bag saved him from having his skull caved in, and the specialist thinks he's got a concussion in his sinus right now. Poor Elijah!"

"But—?" Mrs. Lathrop queried.

"They took him to the hospital, and from[Pg 266] then on to the opening night he had nothing to do with his own play. The leading lady married the stage manager till she got the stage to suit her, and then she married the man who really does the managing until she got everything else to suit her. Next, without letting any of the others know, she married Elijah's manager secretly, so that when poor Elijah in the hospital thought he was looking at his manager, he was really nursing a viper in his bosom. When 'Liza Em'ly came back with her local color, they told her they didn't want it because they was going to have the camping-out scene in the parlor, and play the people all liked a joke. When she went to a lawyer to protest, the lawyer looked through all Elijah's contracts and said Elijah had never stipulated as the camping-out scene should be in the woods. So 'Liza Em'ly paid him fifty dollars and come away a good deal wiser than she went.

"Then come the opening night, and Mr. Kimball says he shall never forget that opening night as long as he lives. You know he[Pg 267] bought himself one of those hats as when you sit on 'em just gets a better shape, and then he went up to see his own nephew's own play. Seems he sat on his hat in Elijah's own box, but he says Elijah was looking very bad even before the curtain went up. Seems Elijah didn't expect much, but he did have just a little hope that here and there in spots he'd see some of his own play. But the hope was very faint. After the curtain went up, it kept getting fainter. Of course Elijah meant it for a tragedy and called it Millicent; and seeing the title changed to Milly Tilly was a hard blow to him right in the beginning. Seems the woman poisoned herself because she was unhappy, and after she's dead, she remembers there was some poison left in the bottle, and so she wants to warn the family. It was a very nice plot, Polly White thinks, and Elijah was wild over it 'cause there's never been a plot used like it. But of course his idea was as it should be took seriously. Do you wonder then, Mrs. Lathrop, that the first time in the[Pg 268] play when one of the play actors turned round he nearly died? Mr. Kimball says he nearly died himself. He says he never saw anything so funny as those chicken backs in all his life. He says people was just laying any way and every way in their seats, wailing to stop, so they could stop too. He says he was laughing fit to kill himself when all of a sudden he looked up to see Elijah, and he says nothing ever give him such a chill as Elijah's then-and-there expression. Seems Elijah was just staring at the leading lady as was flapping her wings and playing crow, while the gallery was pounding and yelling like mad. And then Elijah suddenly shot out of the box and round behind the scenes and vanished completely."

Mrs. Lathrop gasped and lifted her hands, but no word issued from between her lips.

"Well, of course we know now what happened, but nobody did then. Nobody was expecting him on the stage, before the scenes or behind 'em, and Mr. Kimball didn't know[Pg 269] where he was gone. So it was the end of the piece before he was really missed. Then they begun to hunt, and no Elijah high or low nowhere. You know how the papers was full of it, and there would have been more about it, only Mr. Kimball and 'Liza Em'ly supposed it was just advertising. Even 'Liza Em'ly thought it was the wrong kind of advertising and that the leading lady had seen Elijah's face and thought it was better to kidnap him until the play got settled down her way. Seems if you can keep a play going any kind of a way for a little while, you can't never change it afterwards, no matter what you've put in it. It's all most remarkable business, a play is. But anyway, wherever he was, they all moved on to the next town anyhow. 'Liza Em'ly and Mr. Kimball went right with them to protect Elijah's interest, as it was plain to be seen from where Elijah's manager was sleeping, where his interest was now. And as soon as they begun to unload the scenery, the afternoon of that day, whatever do you[Pg 270] suppose? There was Elijah, just where he'd fell when he tripped over the first scene. They'd carted him off in the triangle that unfolds into a grand piano, right along to the baggage-car, where they'd piled the whole of his play on top of him, ending up even with the chicken feathers."

"Great heav—!" cried Mrs. Lathrop.

"So he said," interrupted Miss Clegg. "But there was no help for it. Seems while you're playing Act III. of a play, Act II. is getting packed up, and Act I. is already in the train. So Elijah was all packed and pretty flat before they even missed him, and most crazy before he was found. Well, and so to try and soothe him they took him to the theater that night again, and the leading lady, when she looked at him and saw how awful weak he looked, sent him in a new idea she'd got, which was to let her have a poster done of him packed up in the scenery. Then every night he could sit in a box and at a certain sign give a yell and shoot out. Then she'd make a speech about his having[Pg 271] been in the scenery car all the night before, and being naturally kind of excited. She said it would make the play draw like mad. Well, Elijah wouldn't consent to that a tall. And then again they worked with him and talked to him and called him a fool till he really begun to get awfully scared. They had in all the managers together, and they wouldn't let him consult any one. Seems they just all sat looking at his forehead just over his nose where you hypnotize people, and he kept getting more and more scared. Seems he told his nurse, during what they call a lucid interval, that you can talk all you please about will power—and it may be true of people in general—but no rule ever made on earth can possibly apply to any one who has just written a play. There's something about writing a play as takes all the marrow out of your bones and the blood out of your body. And he says he wasn't no more responsible when he signed that contract to go mad in a box every evening and at least one matinée every week than a grasshopper. He[Pg 272] says his one and only thought by that time was to get away from 'em and make a break to where he'd never hear about his play again. But after he'd signed, they never let him out of sight. They locked him up in a dressing-room with the leading lady's pet mouse until after the performance, and then they took him and introduced him to two very big managers as was engaged to do nothing except manage him nights in the box.

"Well, you know the rest, Mrs. Lathrop. He really did go mad, then, and we've got him here now helpless, getting rich almost as fast as 'Liza Em'ly, and crazy as a loon. I declare, it's one of the saddest cases I ever see. I don't know whatever can be done. They say as fast as he gets sane, the play'll surely drive him crazy again, so I don't see what 'Liza Em'ly will do. She set with me the whole afternoon and talked very nicely about it all. To see her here, you'd never think she could act the way Mrs. Macy and Mrs. Fisher tell about. I can see she's got a[Pg 273] little airy, and she says she misses her maid and her secretary more than she ever tells the minister's family; but on the whole I like her very much, and her devotion to Elijah is most beautiful. She says he's the one love of her life, and she shall marry him if ever he gets sense enough to know what he's doing. If he doesn't, she says she shall take a yacht and sail with him and write books until he dies. She says they can land once in a while to get their provisions and their royalties. But she says the only possible salvation for Elijah, as things are now, will be to stay where he never sees a car to remind him of scenery, or a house to remind him of a stage, for years and years to come. I asked her what she really thought of his play, and she said she thought the leading lady was just right and very clever, only Elijah was too sensitive a nature to understand little artistic touches like the chicken feathers. She says folks are too tired nowadays to be bothered to laugh. They want to be made to laugh without even thinking. She says Elijah is a[Pg 274] earnest nature as likes to work his laughs out very carefully and conscientious; but the leading lady understands getting the same effect, only a million times quicker, with chicken feathers and divorces. 'Liza Em'ly says the leading lady is very fair according to her own idea of fairness. She didn't have no money to put in the play, so she agreed to put in four divorces and one scandal as her part of the stock. Now the play's only been on a month, and she's paid up everything except one divorce and the scandal; and she's done so well they're trying to work up some scheme to let her pay both those off at the same time. The play is going fine. They print columns about Elijah and his madness, and the whole company is learning to crow together at the end of the second act. Every night they take out a little of what Elijah wrote, and the main manager says that there'll soon be nothing of Elijah left in except the ghost, and the ghost of the bottle, and the agreement to pay Elijah his royalties. And according to the main manager's[Pg 275] views, that's being pretty fair and square with Elijah."

"Do you—?" queried Mrs. Lathrop.

"Well, I don't know," answered Miss Clegg, "I really d'n know what to say. I'm kind of dumb did over both 'Liza Em'ly and Elijah, for you know as well as I do, Mrs. Lathrop, that nobody ever looked for those kind of things from them."

"Shall—?" asked Mrs. Lathrop.

"Yes, if it ever comes where I can," responded Miss Clegg, "I shall like to see it very much."

"Did—?" pressed Mrs. Lathrop.

"Oh, yes, I asked her," Susan admitted, "I asked her fair and square. I says: ''Liza Em'ly, there's no use denying as you've used real people in this community in your book, and now I want to know who is Deacon Tooker?' She said Deacon Tooker was just the book itself. She seemed more amused than there was any particular sense in; but I thought if anything could give her a good laugh, it wasn't me would begrudge her.[Pg 276] There's this to be said for our young folks when they do get rich, Mrs. Lathrop, and that is that they're nice about it, and it makes every one feel kindly towards 'em. Every one feels kindly towards Jathrop, and every one feels kindly towards 'Liza Em'ly, and as for poor, dear Elijah—Well!"

The tone was expressive enough. Mrs. Lathrop shook her head sadly. Then both were silent.


[Pg 277]

XII

SUSAN CLEGG'S DISAPPEARANCE

The "building-over" of Susan Clegg and her friend, Mrs. Lathrop, was completed during the second week in December, and in less than twenty-four hours they were once more established in their own dwellings, surrounded by their own goods and chattels. For only the briefest space, however, did Miss Clegg remain where she was put. Then she hurried through the passageway afforded by the connecting pergola and burst excitedly into her neighbor's brand new kitchen in the very center of which sat Mrs. Lathrop in her old-gold-plush stationary rocker, calmly surveying her domiciliary spick-and-spanness. On her lap lay a just-opened letter; but for once the scrupulously observing Miss Clegg failed to observe. She was too full of fresh trials.[Pg 278]

"I d'n know whatever sins I committed in this world, Mrs. Lathrop," she began, dropping into the nearest chair and facing her friend in an upright, a little bent forward attitude that was clearly pugnacious, "that I should have these things visited upon me. The Lord knows, just the same as you do, as I've always been a good and pure woman, loving my neighbors like myself and doing all my Christian duties as I was give to see 'em. When I was tore up from my home by the roots and cast wilted and faded upon Gran'ma Mullins, where the infant memories of Hiram certainly wasn't calculated to do no reviving, I made the best of it. I made the best of Lucy and a dog with a cold nose, too; and I bore up with courage and no complaint under Mrs. Allen and her Persian religion. And I did it all to please you, Mrs. Lathrop, and your fool of a son, Jathrop, whose money, it's my opinion, has acted on him in a most injurious way. He never had much sense, as you yourself know, but now he ain't got no sense a tall."[Pg 279]

"I don't—" Mrs. Lathrop started gently to protest.

"Well, I do," rejoined Susan Clegg spiritedly; "and if you don't, you ought to. Anyhow, I mean to tell you, if it's the last act of my life. Anybody as has any sense a tall must have seen that building over was just a mite removed from building new; and what's new never did go with what's old, and it never will. If we was to be built over, we ought to have been all built over or let alone. Jathrop's built the houses over, but he ain't built over the furnishings, and the built-over houses and the not-built-over furniture and carpets and window shades and pots and kettles and pans and china and linen and everything else don't agree and just naturally can't and never can. They're fighting now like sixty, and they'll go on fighting the longer they're kept together. My house was restful and peaceful before, but now it's like a circus with all the wild animals let loose. And I can tell you this, Mrs. Lathrop; my things is getting the worst of it.[Pg 280] Why, before they went to storage at Mr. Shores', they was in the best repair you ever see, and now it would make your heart ache to look at 'em. They've aged a century at least during the summer. They're wrinkled and halt and lame and blind, and the new paper on the walls and the new polish on the floors and the new paint on the woodwork is making 'em look sicker and sicker every minute. If there's a society for the prevention of cruelty to furniture and other household goods, it ought to put Jathrop Lathrop in prison. I feel so sorry for those poor tables and chairs and bedsteads and all the rest of 'em as I could cry my eyes out this very minute. There's one walnut, haircloth sofa as Father laid on before he was took to his bed as is pitiful to behold. It looks sicker than Father did even in his last hours, and I wouldn't be surprised any minute to see it just turn over all of itself and give up the ghost. And everything has on such a reproachful look it's more than human nature can bear to face it. If I'd ever thought as[Pg 281] being built over would of come to this, I'd of gone on my knees and worked 'em to the bare bones before I'd of put up with it."

Mrs. Lathrop continued to rock in silence.

"Still, there's no cloud, however black, as hasn't got some silk in its lining, and the silk in this is the clock as Father gave Mother, which was supposed to be marble and wasn't. Much as I hated that clock, I couldn't have borne to see its agonies when set on by the new fireplace below, and the pink and gold wall paper behind, and the roses and cupids in the cornish above. It must just of shriveled in shame instead of going out in glorious flight, as it did when I set it flying at the end of the bed-slat. Lord knows, though, Mrs. Lathrop, that's a small thing to be thankful for; and it's the only thing. I haven't begun yet to tell you all. And I don't intend to. There's a limit to my temper, and if I once got started, there's no saying where I'd end. But there's one thing more as I can't hold in, and it's the thing as was marked on the plans: 'But. Pan.' I[Pg 282] never did understand why I should be give a separate room to keep butter pans in, seeing as I ain't got no cow, let alone no dairy. And even if I had, why I should keep my butter pans or my milk pans either in a little alley-way between the kitchen and the dining-room, just where the heat and smells could get at 'em from one side and the flies from both, not to mention the added footsteps put on me journeying from the stove to the dinner table. You can see for yourself, Mrs. Lathrop, there's no sense in it, whatever. But I'd never say a word about it, if that was all. But it ain't all. It's the littlest part. For Jathrop's cruelty hasn't stopped with torturing the furniture. It's clear he couldn't be satisfied till he fixed up a trap as sooner or later would hit me square in the face and break my nose. At both ends of his 'But. Pan.' he's had hung doors as swing, and springs on 'em to make 'em swing hard and deadly. What either one of those swinging doors might do to my features, let alone to the pudding or stew I might be[Pg 283] carrying, it isn't in mortal tongue to express. If I could find one thing as was right in the whole house, I'd be fair and square enough to overlook the others; but there ain't to my mind a single solitary betterment. There's glass knobs on all the doors as will show every finger mark, and will keep me busy wiping from dawn to dark. The old brown knobs never showed nothing and didn't never have to be thought of, let alone polished. It's always been my idea as a cupboard was a place to shut things up in out of sight, and here if he hasn't gone and put glass doors on the one in the corner of the dining room, so as every one can see just what's meant to be hid. It's clear to be seen he's crazy on the subject of glass, which I ain't and never have been. And I don't like the way he's stinted things as is necessary and put all the money in things as had better been left out. Necessities before everything is my motto. What use, I'd like to know, is that cupid and rose cornish? But he puts that there just to catch dust and leaves out the whole of one[Pg 284] parlor wall. If you'll believe me, Mrs. Lathrop, there's not a hair or hide of a wall between my entry hall and my parlor. Nothing but a pair of white posts as most people use on their piazzas. How I'm ever going to keep that parlor dark I don't see; for he's got glass over the front door and on both sides of it, and no shutters to keep the sun out. He's built in both the kitchen stove and the ice box, and for the life of me, I can't find no reasonable way of taking the ashes out of the one or the water out of the other. The builder says the ashes dump into a place in the cellar and the water from the ice drains down a pipe underneath the house. But I don't like neither plan. The drip from a ice box is a very cheering sound, I think, and with hot ashes going down cellar where you can't see 'em, I'll be in deadly fear of the house going up in smoke while I'm dreaming in my bed. The long and the short of it is, Mrs. Lathrop, I feel as I have been assaulted and robbed. Jathrop's took away my home and left me a house as isn't a home to me[Pg 285] and never can be. And as far as I can see, he's done the same to you, which is ten thousand times worse, you being his mother."

"I—" began Mrs. Lathrop, taking up the letter from her lap so that at last it was forced upon Susan's observance.

"From him, I suppose," Miss Clegg instantly concluded, reaching for it. "If he's got anything to say in his defence, I'm sure I'd delight to read it. But no matter what he says, he can't undo to me what he's done to me. I'll never feel the same towards Jathrop, your son or not your son, Mrs. Lathrop, as long as I live."

Mrs. Lathrop passed the letter to Miss Clegg. Like all of Jathrop's letters, it was brief and to the point. He announced that he would spend Christmas with his mother in her rebuilt home and would bring with him a friend as his guest. Susan read it over twice, turning the page each time, evidently in hope of finding an enlightening postscript.

"Well, of all things!" she exclaimed, as she[Pg 286] passed the letter back to her friend. "Coming to see his work of destruction and going to bring her with him!"

"He don't—" Mrs. Lathrop endeavored to explain.

"He don't, because he don't dare; but there's no question what he means. He's bringing the señora. And he wouldn't bring her if it wasn't that he's going to marry her. Even you must see that. And if there was ever a insult multiplied by perjury, Jathrop's done it in that action. It's a good thing he didn't ask: 'How's Susan Clegg?' this time, as he did the time he was coming back from the Klondike. For I don't believe I could ever have stood that. All I can say, Mrs. Lathrop, is as I'm sorry for you from the soles of my feet up. You'll never in the world be able to get up a Christmas dinner as will please any señora, you can take my word on that. And not to please her will be a bad beginning with a señora as is to be your future daughter-in-law. Señoras don't care shucks for turkey and mince pie. They're[Pg 287] not used to 'em and likely to get indigestion from 'em, and think what it would mean to Jathrop, let alone to her, if she should be carried off by a acute attack right here in your new, built-over house, at the dinner table. He'd blame it on you, and like as not she'd haunt you the rest of your living days. No, sir. You've got to give her Spanish omelets with lots of red peppers in 'em, and everything else Creole style, which means all he't up with tabasco sauce fit to burn out your insides. It's eating like that as makes those Spaniards and Cubans so dark colored you can't tell 'em from mulattoes. The peppers and the tabasco sauce bakes 'em brown on the outside, after leaving 'em all scorched and parched within."

For once, however, Susan Clegg was wrong in her deduction. Jathrop arrived in a red automobile on the day before Christmas, with a chauffeur in bear-skins driving, and a guest in sealskin beside him. But the guest was not the señora. It was one of Jathrop's millionaire friends who, Jathrop said,[Pg 288] could buy and sell him twenty times over. He was a small man with a bald head and a red beard and old enough to be Jathrop's father.

Miss Clegg viewed the arrival from her bedroom window and was so glad it wasn't the señora that she at once set about baking extra doughnuts and mince pie to contribute to the festivities of the morrow. This occupied her until supper time. Then she made a hurried meal, washed her one plate and cup and saucer, and loaded down with her thank offering, flitted through the pergola and in at Mrs. Lathrop's kitchen door. The kitchen was empty, but voices penetrating from the dining room told her that her friend and her visitors were still at table. Being a trifle nervous and unable to sit quietly, she began at once to put the disordered kitchen into some degree of order, purely for the sake of occupation.

She had just finished washing and scouring the pots and pans and was flushing the waste-pipe of Mrs. Lathrop's new porcelain[Pg 289] sink with lye-water so strong that her eyes ran tears from the fumes, when the voices growing more and more audible told her that Jathrop was leading his mother and his guest toward the kitchen. She just had time hurriedly to dry her hands on the roller towel when they appeared.

"Well, well," exclaimed Jathrop, in apparent surprise, "if here ain't our old friend, Susan Clegg!"

There is no question that Miss Clegg was slightly flustered at thus being taken unawares, but she recovered herself promptly, and shook hands cordially with Jathrop and not less cordially with the little millionaire, whom he introduced as Mr. Kettlewell. And Mr. Kettlewell was cordiality itself. Everybody sat down, right there in the kitchen and talked for a full hour, and in the course of the talk, Jathrop told Susan that he had arranged with a department store in New York to let her have whatever she needed for her built-over house and charge the same to his account. She could select the things from[Pg 290] the firm's catalogue, or go to the city at his expense and pick out the actual articles. It was his Christmas present to his mother's and his own oldest friend. In conclusion, Jathrop joined with his mother in an invitation to Susan to take Christmas dinner with them; and Mr. Kettlewell smilingly begged her, for his sake, not to refuse. Altogether Susan had the pleasantest evening she had experienced in years, and the next morning, while Jathrop and Mr. Kettlewell were off in the car after evergreens with which to decorate the two houses, she ran over with the express purpose of telling Mrs. Lathrop so.

"Jathrop mayn't have much judgment when it comes to selecting architects," she began, "nor again when it comes to selecting servants, as was proved by his bringing that Hop Loo all the way from the Klondike. Nor again, neither, when it comes to wives, if it's a real fact that he's going to marry a brown-baked señora; but there's no getting away from the fact that he's a king in choosing his men friends. I've seen men in my[Pg 291] life of all sorts and descriptions, from the minister to the blacksmith, but I ain't never see before such a handsome, high-minded, superior gentleman as Jathrop's friend, Mr. Kettlewell. I never thought much of bald-headed men before, but his head is so white and shiny, it's a pleasure to look at it. And I always just hated a red beard; but Mr. Kettlewell's beard is of a different red. It's a nice, warm, comforting red as makes you feel as cosy as the glow of a red-hot stove when the thermometer's down around zero. I can't say either, Mrs. Lathrop, as I wasn't more or less prejudiced against men as never rightly grew up, but stopped in the women's sizes. But there's a something about Mr. Kettlewell's proportions as gives you the idea he's really taller than he seems. And there's only one thing to compare his voice to. It's milk and honey. My lands, what a sweet, clear-rolling, liquid voice that Mr. Kettlewell has!"

"Ja—" began Mrs. Lathrop.

"Yes, I heard him. But I don't put that[Pg 292] against Mr. Kettlewell, not a tall. I'm sure he made every penny of it honestly, and if he's retired from business now, it don't mean he's quit work. It's no easy job cutting coupons off all the bonds he must have, and collecting rents is a occupation I don't envy nobody. It's the penalty that rich men have to pay for their success. They work hard to get the principal, and then they're made to work twice as hard to get the interest. There's no such thing as rest for the rich any more'n there is for the poor. I used to think before Father died as I'd like to roll in wealth, but it ain't no easy rolling, I can tell you that, Mrs. Lathrop, especially when you've got a tenant like Mrs. Macy, who won't buy so much as a gas-tip or do so much as drive a nail without charging it up to the owner."

Miss Clegg's participation in the Christmas dinner at her neighbors' was twofold. She took part in its preparation as well as in its discussion. It was her soup which began it, it was her "stuffing" which added zest to[Pg 293] the roast turkey, it was her cranberry sauce which sweetened contrastingly the high seasoning, and it was her mince pie which brought the repast to a fitting and enjoyable close. Seated opposite to Mr. Kettlewell, where she could revel in a full view of his shining pate and his warmly comforting whiskers, her enjoyment was ocular as well as gustatory; and under the caressing sweetness of his voice it was likewise auricular. For the occasion Jathrop had provided a fine vintage champagne, and though Miss Clegg, whose total-abstinence principles forbade her to even taste, refrained from so much as touching her lips to the edge of her glass, she unquestionably warmed in the stimulating atmosphere of the sparkling, bubbling, golden juice of the grape. To her it was indeed the red-letter Christmas of her life, and every incident, of the dinner especially, was a matter for reflection and rumination in the succeeding hours.

In this vale of tears, however, there is apparently no great joy without its compensating[Pg 294] sorrow; and in Susan Clegg's case the one followed swiftly on the heels of the other. In the pale gray of the dawn of the following day, Susan Clegg dashed wildly out of her kitchen door and flitted with lifted skirts across the brief intervening space that led to Mrs. Lathrop's back door. As pallid as the morning itself, her scant hair streaming, her eyes wide with mixed terror and indignation, she burst into her neighbor's kitchen, where to her great relief she found her old friend already up and occupied.

One glimpse of Susan was enough for Mrs. Lathrop. Up went her hands and down went she on to the nearest chair with an inarticulate gasp of horrified yet questioning astonishment, while Miss Clegg flopped limply into another at the end of the kitchen table.

There she must have sat for a full minute before she could get breath to utter a word, which, being contrary to all her habits, was in itself terrifying to her friend. Eventually, however, she forced herself to assume[Pg 295] an upright position and simultaneously attained a somewhat feeble attempt at speech.

"Well, of all things in this world to happen to me!" Then she paused for a fresh breath, which being utterly without precedent, added mightily to Mrs. Lathrop's alarm. "And even now at this minute I don't really know whether I'm more dead than alive, or more alive than dead."

Mrs. Lathrop, believing that the situation being extraordinary, some extraordinary effort on her part was demanded, stirred herself to a prolonged speech.

"Don't tell me I'm looking—"

"No, I'm not a ghost, if that's what you mean. You are looking at Susan Clegg in the flesh—all the flesh that ain't been scared clean off her. But it's the greatest miracle as ever happened in this community that it's my body and not my spirit as is here to tell the tale. My house was broken into by a burglar, Mrs. Lathrop, and I was tied up and gagged in one of my own chairs."[Pg 296]

Mrs. Lathrop just gasped. Susan drew herself up a little straighter, gaining courage from the sound of her own voice, and striking something like her old oral gait.

"I was gagged for five hours, Mrs. Lathrop, and knowing me as you do for all these years and years, maybe you can feel what being gagged for five hours and not able to say even 'boo' meant to a active person like me. Every one of those hours was like a eternity in a Spanish inferno of torture. And everything I possess in this world, from my bonnet and striped silk dress to Father's deeds at the mercy of that gagger. And all I've got to say is this: If I hadn't of been built over, it never in the wide creation would have happened. And if your son Jathrop thinks he can ever make up to me for being gagged by inviting me to a Christmas dinner, most of which I cooked with my own hands, and offering to give me strange pieces of furniture to take the place of pieces as is old friends and dearer than the apples of my two eyes, he'd better do[Pg 297] some more thinking. There never was nothing about the house I was born in and my mother and father died in to make a burglar look at it twice. No burglar as had any respect for himself or his calling, Mrs. Lathrop, would have looked at it once or knowed as it was there. But built over it's as different as diamon's is from pebbles. It looks money from the tips of its lightning rods to its cellar windows and is as inviting to robbers as if it had a sign on the gatepost, reading: 'Walk in!' So, however you look at it, there's nobody responsible for my gagging and for whatever is missing but one man, and that man is Jathrop Lathrop. It's easy to be seen as he's no more fit to have money than a crow as steals gold trinkets that cost fortunes and goes and hides 'em in hollow trees. He was born poor, and the Lord meant him to stay poor, no matter what Mrs. Allen and her Persian religion has to say about things as happens being meant to happen. The Lord hadn't nothing to do with Jathrop going to the Klondike and[Pg 298] getting rich, you can be certain about that. If he hadn't been fool enough to take a kicking cow for a perfectly good debt and then let it loose to ride over a peaceful and long-suffering community, he'd 'a' lived and died a pauper in this here very town. So's far as I can see it was the devil and not the Lord as guided Jathrop from the first, and everything as has happened since shows the devil is still guiding him. Everything he turns his mind to goes by contraries. I'm not saying anything against the goodness of Jathrop's intentions, mind you, Mrs. Lathrop, but no matter how good they are, evil and misery certainly seems sure to follow."

The tirade stirred Mrs. Lathrop to her feet, but she was not resentful. She knew that Susan Clegg's bitterness was confined to her tongue, and that even with that she could salve as well as sting.

"Can't I—?" she suggested.

"Indeed you can," answered Miss Clegg. "I never felt as I needed a cup of tea more, and if the doughnuts I brought you ain't all[Pg 299] eat up, I'd relish four or five of 'em right now."

"You haven't—" began Mrs. Lathrop, taking down the teapot.

"No; but I'm coming to it. I begun with the cause, and the effect'll come trailing after like the tails of Mary's little lambs. Only the tails in this case was bigger than the sheep. It may have been hearing the noise Jathrop makes when he eats, or it may have been your turkey gravy or your biscuits, Mrs. Lathrop, or all of 'em put together. Not knowing which, I'm not foolish enough to blame one more'n the other. But it's a fact as is undeniable that I never slept poorer than last night. I was in bed by nine, but I never closed my eyes till eleven, and I certainly heard the clock strike midnight. I counted goats jumping over a stile, and I counted 'em backward as well as forward, but I heard one struck, and I heard two. And then I heard something as set my hair up on end and the gooseflesh sprouting all over me. It sounded like footsteps in the[Pg 300] 'But. Pan.,' and they was too heavy for the cat's, I could tell that at once, though at two in the morning it's surprising how loud a cat's footsteps can sound, especially when it's reached the pouncing stage, and the rat ain't got no hole to run to. I'd forgot to put the turkey leg in the ice-box as I'd carried home with me, and all I could think of was that if it was the cat, there'd be nothing left on that bone by morning, unless I stopped things right then and immediately. You'd never believe how cold a house can be at two o'clock in the morning of the day after Christmas unless you'd got up in it as I did; and now to look back at it, I see how lucky it was as it was as cold as it was, for if it hadn't of been, I'd a gone down just as I was, and I was in no trim to meet a man burglar, I can tell you that. So I just slipped into this flannel wrapper and a old pair of slippers, which I've got on now under these arctics, and I picked up the candle as I'd lit, and down-stairs I went. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, I hope you may never in your born[Pg 301] days in this world or the other have such a shock as met me there face to face in my own new, built-over kitchen. If there wasn't the biggest giant of a man I ever see coming out of the shadows between the cookstove and the cellar door. And he with his head all wrapped around in one of my best plaid roller towels, so that nothing of him was to be seen but two fierce, staring, bloodshot eyes as gleamed like a wild beast's. Oh, my soul and body, Mrs. Lathrop, that minute! How I ever kept my senses I don't pretend to say, more especially as he was on me with one jump. There was no such thing as holding on to the candle, you can see that. It dropped, and I never knew I dropped it. For, of course, I shut my eyes, and when your eyes is shut, there's no knowing whether there's a lighted candle about or whether there isn't."

In her agitation over the recital, Mrs. Lathrop, who was placing cups and saucers on the table, let one of the cups slide crashing to the floor. "Oh, Su—!" she exclaimed.[Pg 302]

"You may well say: 'Oh, Susan!'" Miss Clegg continued. "There is times when 'Oh, Susan' don't half express the state of affairs, and this was one of 'em, Mrs. Lathrop. It wasn't in nature for me not to scream, so I screamed, and it was that scream that did the business. It showed the burglar I wasn't deaf and dumb, and people as isn't deaf and dumb is looked on by burglars as their natural enemies. Maybe some people can scream without opening their mouths, but I never was one of that kind, and the kind as open their mouths when they scream is the kind that all burglars prefer. It saves 'em the trouble of forcing apart their jaws. I never shut my mouth after opening it; for the burglar just shoved something in it as quick as scat, and then he tied a bandage around back of my head so I couldn't spit it out. Then he picked me up and plumped me down hard in a chair and tied me fast to it with my own clothesline. And all the time he never no more opened his lips to speak than if he couldn't. It's my opinion he must[Pg 303] have had a cold and lost his voice. Either that, or his voice was such a unpleasant voice he was ashamed to let anybody hear it. For it ain't in common sense as a man, even if he is a burglar, could keep as still as he did, if he had a speaking voice that's in any way fit for use. I know in the time he took there was a lot of things I felt to say to him, and would if I could, and common sense'll tell you, Mrs. Lathrop, that he must have felt to say a lot of things to me. But he didn't make so much as a peep behind his roller towel."

"Did—?" asked Mrs. Lathrop, pouring the tea.

"I can't say as he did or he didn't. I haven't missed nothing yet, but then I haven't looked. Still, if he didn't I can't say as I'd have much respect for him. What sort of a burglar would a burglar be to take all that trouble of breaking in, binding and gagging, and then go away without helping himself to something for his trouble. I ain't got no love for burglars in general or in[Pg 304] particular. But any burglar as 'ld do a fool trick like that I ain't got no respect for neither."

"How—?" queried her neighbor as she passed Susan her cup.

"It was something of a job I can tell you, but when I sets my mind to a thing I sets my mind to it, and ropes and a kitchen chair ain't got the power to stop me. I begun wriggling as soon as I heard the burglar shut the door behind him, and I kept on wriggling for every minute of the five hours. A tramped-on worm never did more turning and wriggling than I did between two and seven this morning, and at last wriggling being its own reward, I wriggled free, first with my hands and then with my feet. But before I got my feet free, I undid the band and ungagged myself and said just a few of the things that was bottled up all that time. The Bible says there's a time to talk and a time to be still, but there's such a thing as overdoing the still time, I think, and when you're gagged by a burglar is one of 'em."[Pg 305]

Susan sipped her tea for a moment in silence.

"Where's Jathrop and Mr. Kettlewell?" she asked at length. "Ain't they up yet?"

Mrs. Lathrop nodded. "They start—" she began.

"You don't mean they've both lit out already?" asked Susan in surprise. Then: "I was hoping to see Mr. Kettlewell again. But it's a long journey back to New York, so I suppose they set off before light."

Mrs. Lathrop nodded once more.

"Aren't—?" she questioned.

"I certainly am. I'm going to report the burglary at once. I've got a clue, and it ought to be easy enough to run down that burglar." She drew from her bosom a rather damp handkerchief. "That's what he left me to chew on for five hours," she said, as she spread it out. "And there's the clue right there in the corner."

Mrs. Lathrop took it to the window and inspected it through her glasses. The handkerchief was initialed with a "K."[Pg 306]

The New Year came and January was passing and, so far as Susan Clegg cared to divulge at least, there was no news of her burglar. It was noted, however, not only by Mrs. Lathrop, but by Mrs. Macy and Gran'ma Mullins, and indeed by all the ladies of the Sewing Society, that Miss Clegg had adopted an air of secretiveness concerning the matter that was quite foreign to her usual frank, unreserved communicativeness. But the curiosity provoked by this strangely unfamiliar attitude was swallowed up in the sensational tidings which spread throughout the community shortly after. Without so much as a hint of warning, Susan Clegg had vanished between dark and dawn, leaving her house locked, bolted, and barred, the blinds drawn, and the shutters fast closed.

For once Mrs. Lathrop, thus deprived of her prop and her stay, evinced sufficient initiative to have the cellar door forced and a search of the premises made; a rumor having got abroad that the burglar had returned, this time more murderously inclined, and[Pg 307] that Miss Clegg's mangled corpse would be found stiff and stark within her own darkened domicile. To every one's infinite relief the search proved the rumor utterly unfounded; and it proved something more, as well. It proved that Susan's departure was plainly premeditated—"with malice prepense," to quote Judge Fitch—since all her best clothes had gone with her. Whereupon sentiment switched to the opposite pole, and it was openly declared that Miss Clegg had gone after the burglar.

The wonder was of a magnitude calculated to extend far beyond the proverbial nine days, and it probably would have greatly exceeded that limit, had not the heroine of the affair chosen to cut it short of her own volition by reappearing quite as suddenly as she had vanished, at the end of a single week.

Mrs. Lathrop, looking across from her bedroom window as she arose from her night's sleep on the morning of the eighth day, was joyously startled to see the Clegg windows unshaded, and the house otherwise[Pg 308] displaying signs of rehabitation. Nor did she have long to wait for the explanation of the mystery, which to the exclusion of everything else had filled her mind ever since her friend's going. With a shawl over her head and shoulders, she hastened through the pergola, and the next moment was facing her neighbor with glad eyes across four yards of kitchen floor space.

"Oh, Susan! Such a fri—" These were her four and a half words of greeting.

"I knew it would," Miss Clegg caught her up, beaming as Mrs. Lathrop couldn't remember ever to have seen her beam before. "I knew it would frighten you all half to death, but when a thing's to be done, it's to be done, and there ain't no use shirking. I had to go, and I had to go quick, and I was never so glad of anything in my life, past or present, as that I went. Of course, it was all along of that burglary, as any fool might have guessed if they took the trouble. In the first place, I don't mind telling you now, I went straight to Mr. Weskin the morning[Pg 309] after it happened, and I took him the clue and showed it to him. The way he spun around in his spinning chair was fit to make even a level-headed person like me dizzy. He examined the linen, and he examined the way the K was worked, and then he says, no it couldn't possibly be Mr. Kimball's. Now, what do you think of that? Just as if I ever suspected it was. I guess I know Mr. Kimball well enough to know him, even if he has got his head wrapped up in one of my new roller towels, and I told Lawyer Weskin so. Mr. Kimball, indeed! But Lawyer Weskin said as he didn't never hear of a burglar whose name commenced with K, and he didn't know a soul in these parts either, burglar or no burglar, whose name did, except Mr. Kimball. There's only one way to ferret out the perpetrator of a crime, he says, and that's by deduction, and the first rule of deduction is to guess what the K stands for. I never thought much of Lawyer Weskin, I'm free to admit that, but if he don't know nothing else, it's as clear as shooting that he[Pg 310] does know about education. For in the end it worked out just as he said, and the Lord be praised for it."

"You don't—" began Mrs. Lathrop in astonishment.

"I don't say as Mr. Kimball had a thing to do with it. I certainly don't. In the first place, Mr. Kimball would never dare to come to my house at such a hour of the morning, and in the second place Mr. Kimball never carried as fine a handkerchief as the one I chewed on. So that put it past Mr. Kimball. And the only other K I could possibly think of was old Mrs. Kitts over to Meadville, who could no more of got over here than could the king of the Sandwich Islands, whose name begins with K, too. There was the Kellys, of course, but the Kellys couldn't qualify neither, for they're too rich to need to do any burglarizing. Well, I can tell you, I soon come to a point where I didn't know where to turn, and I never would of turned neither, if it hadn't of been for a letter I got the day of the night I went away. You'd[Pg 311] never guess in the world, Mrs. Lathrop, who that letter was from so I may as well tell you first as last. It was from Mr. Kettlewell."

Mrs. Lathrop opened her mouth in astonishment, but no sound came forth.

"I knew it'ld surprise you, but it's as true as we're both standing in this kitchen at this minute. It was a very nice letter, and it said as how he had admired me from the first minute he saw me, but more particularly after he'd sat opposite to me at the table and eat my cranberry sauce. He said he'd always loved cranberry sauce, but as he felt he'd never tasted none until he tasted mine. I certainly never see a more complimentary letter than that letter of Mr. Kettlewell's. But it was the end of the letter where he signed his name that lit me up with the clear light of revelation. Until I see his name spelled out there in black and white, I never once believed it begun with a K. I'd thought all along as his name was Cattlewell, with a C. Far be it from me, Mrs. Lathrop, to[Pg 312] ever have suspected as Jathrop's friend would stoop to housebreaking and to binding and gagging a lone woman, but there's other ways as his handkerchief might have got to my mouth, and I felt to know the truth. His address was on the letter, and there was nothing as could have stayed me from getting to that address as fast as steam and steel could carry me. I left in the middle of the night, and I got to New York in the morning, and I didn't have that feeling for nothing. Mr. Kettlewell was at his hotel, and in all my born days I never see a person gladder to see anybody than Mr. Kettlewell was to see me. It's marvelous what a impression a little good cooking will make on a man, even if it's only in cranberry sauce. His mouth actually hadn't stopped watering yet. Leastwise he said it hadn't, and I'd be a fool not to believe him. He begun talking about it right away, and I let him talk, just so's I could look at his shiny bald head and his red whiskers without having to think of anything else except the sound of his[Pg 313] milk-and-honey voice. Finally he said he supposed I'd come to the city to select Jathrop's Christmas present of furnishings, and if I'd like him to help me select 'em, he'd be glad enough to go along and lend a hand. Well, nothing could of been nicer than that, now, could it? But I told him I wasn't one as traveled all the way to New York under false pretences, and that if he must have the truth, I'd never give one thought to Jathrop's present since he mentioned it. All my thought, I said, had been give to finding a handkerchief with a K onto it, which I'd washed and ironed with my own hands and brought to him, believing I must of picked it up at the Christmas dinner by mistake, and not wanting him to feel the need of it any longer. And you can believe me or not, Mrs. Lathrop, just as you feel about it, if he didn't right then and there on seeing that clue, confess that it did belong to him, and that he couldn't for the life of him remember where he'd left it."

Mrs. Lathrop, who had been standing all[Pg 314] the while, dropped into a chair at this point in dumb stupefaction. But Susan, who had been caught with a bowl of batter in one hand and a spoon in the other, paused only to do a little more stirring.

"Yes, sir," she went on, still apparently as pleased as punch. "The clue belonged to Mr. Kettlewell and no one else, which led me to suspect right away that the burglar must have robbed your house first. I knowed very well that I never carried that clue home myself, though I'd said I might, just for the sake of drawing Mr. Kettlewell on. And so how could it have got into my mouth unless the burglar got it from Mr. Kettlewell himself? But there is stranger things in this world than you and me ever dreamed of, Mrs. Lathrop, and that was one of 'em. Mr. Kettlewell is a very frank and open gentleman, and seeing how disturbed I was over something, though I'd never so much as breathed burglar or burglary, he made another confession. And when it comes to dreaming, there is very few people, he said, as[Pg 315] has the power to dream the way he does. He don't just lie still in bed and picture things out in his sleep, but he gets up and does the things he's dreaming about. He ain't got no limitations in it, either. Sleepwalkers is more or less common. But sleepwalkers just walk, and that ends 'em. Mr. Kettlewell says he very seldom walks. He usually drives a automobile when he's dreaming, just as he does when he's wide awake. Sometimes he comes to while he's driving, and he's found himself often as much as a couple a hundred miles from home, and without a cent in his clothes, the clothes usually being just pajamas with nothing but a handkerchief in the pocket. Now, if you had any imagination a tall, Mrs. Lathrop, you'd see what I'm coming to, but as you haven't you don't, I can tell by the way you look. So you'll get the full benefit of the surprise when I say that on Christmas night Mr. Kettlewell distinctly remembers he dreamed of committing a burglary. He says it wasn't my mince pie as did it, because he's often eaten[Pg 316] mince pie before and never dreamed nothing worse than going to the electric chair; and it wasn't my stuffing neither, for turkey stuffing when it's indigestible always makes him dream he's a monkey climbing trees. He says once he woke up sudden and fell and broke his arm, but that that was a long while ago. Now he's had more experience, he never wakes up till he's safe back in bed again. And he says doughnuts causes his dreams to run back to when he was a boy, and one time he come to, after a after-dinner nap, when he had doughnuts for dessert, playing marbles in the back alley with a lot of street urchins. I can tell you, Mrs. Lathrop, he was most interesting. He's got all his dreams sort of classified in that way, and can almost tell to a dot what he'll dream about according to what he eats. And he says soggy biscuits always makes him dream he's robbing a house or killing somebody. It was mighty lucky for me, as you can see for yourself, that this time he only dreamed of binding and gagging. If he'd dreamed of[Pg 317] murder, I'd not be here now to tell the tale. And it's clean to be seen that your biscuits would of been an accessory before the fact."

"Then he—"

"Yes, it was him as done it, and without no moral blame attaching to him a tall. If he'd killed me, the law couldn't of touched him either, for the law takes no account of what a person does while they're asleep. But as you made the biscuits in your full senses and with your eyes wide open, you'd of been the only one to blame."

Mrs. Lathrop groaned. "You know, Sus—" she protested.

"Of course if I was alive, I'd never hold it against you, because I know very well you can't make biscuits no better, and ain't never had sense enough to learn. But if I was murdered, my ghost couldn't testify, and I don't see as how you could be saved from the law taking its course."

At this juncture there was a sound overhead, and both ladies started, Mrs. Lathrop[Pg 318] in surprise and her friend in sudden realization of neglected duties.

"What is—?" inquired Mrs. Lathrop.

"It's him," answered Susan. "Mr. Kettlewell. And the coffee's boiled now till it's bitter, and there ain't a single cake on the griddle." She was turning back to the stove as Mrs. Lathrop's exclamation caught her and switched her around.

"Why, Susan Clegg!"

"Don't Susan Clegg me, Mrs. Lathrop," she commanded. "There ain't no Susan Clegg any more. When Susan Clegg disappeared a week ago last night, she disappeared for good, never to return. And if you suspect anything else, it's best I should introduce myself here and now,—Susan Kettlewell, from this time forth, if you please."

Mrs. Lathrop sprang up and dropped back again.

"You don't—"

"I do. I do mean to say I'm married at last. We was wedded with a ring in New[Pg 319] York last Wednesday, and it's my husband's footsteps you hear up there in the new bathroom."

She dropped three spreading spoonfuls of batter on the greased griddle and gave Mrs. Lathrop a full minute to absorb the announcement. Then, as she drew the coffee pot to one side, she continued:

"And it was purely a love match, make no mistake about that. He's got money enough to buy and sell Jathrop, but he's as simple-minded and simple-tasted as a babe in arms. And there's nothing I can think of that he's not ready and willing to give me. Besides, he's frank and open about everything. He says his teeth is false, and he has a bullet in his right leg, got one time when he dreamed somebody was shooting him; but that otherwise he's as perfect as a man of his age can be. He says he'll buy a wig if I want him to, and that if I don't like the color of his whiskers, he'll have 'em dyed whatever color I'd like best, and the wig'l be made to match. But I wouldn't have him changed[Pg 320] the least mite. And if there's one thing in the world I'm thankful for it is that I got him and not Jathrop. And I'm not thinking from the financial standpoint, neither."

THE END


Distinctive Fiction by Anne Warner

The reading world owes Anne Warner a vote of thanks for her contributions to the best of American humor.—New York Times.

Anne Warner has taken her place as one of the drollest of American humorists.—Century Magazine.

The Gay and Festive Claverhouse

A story of the desperate attempt of a supposedly dying man to lose the love of a girl.

Sunshine Jane

The joyful story of a Sunshine Nurse whose mission was not to care for sick bodies but to heal sick souls.

When Woman Proposes.

A clever and entertaining story of a woman who fell in love with an army officer.

How Leslie Loved

Not only a buoyant love story but a penetrating satire on modern manners.

Just Between Themselves

A vivacious satire on married life which is full of mirth of the quieter, chuckling variety.

The Taming of Amorette

A clever comedy telling how a man cured his attractive wife of flirting.

Susan Clegg, Her Friend, and Her Neighbors

A study of life which is most delectable for its simplicity and for the quaint character creation.

Susan Clegg and a Man in the House

The remarkable happenings at the Clegg homestead after the boarder came.

The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary.

The pranks of a scapegrace nephew who was showing his old aunt a "good time."

In a Mysterious Way

Compounded of amusing studies of human nature in a rural community.

A Woman's Will

Describes the wooing of a young American widow on the continent by a musical genius.

Little, Brown & Co., Publishers, Boston






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