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- From Jest to Earnest - 20/79 -
that humanity everywhere often has its ridiculous side, but I have been laughed at too much myself to enjoy laughing at others."
"And why should you be laughed at so much?"
"I suppose it is the fate of overgrown, awkward boys, who have a tendency to blurt out the truth on all occasions."
"Such a tendency as that will always make you trouble, I assure you."
"It hasn't with you, yet."
"Our acquaintance has been very brief."
"And yet I seem to know you so well! I would not have believed it possible in one short day."
"I think you are mistaken. But you have ceased to be n stranger to me. I have remarked before to-day, that I knew you better than some I have seen from childhood."
"I am happy to say that I wish to conceal nothing."
"Few can say that."
"O, I don't mean that I am better than other people, only that it's best to appear just what we are. People should be like coin, worth their face--"
"I was in search of you," interrupted De Forrest, as they stood talking a moment near the head of the stairs in the hall. "We did not know but that the sylph you escorted away had made a supper of Hemstead, with you as a relish. Have you seen enough of this bear-garden yet?"
"No, indeed," said Lottie; "I'm just beginning to enjoy myself."
From openly staring at and criticising the party from Mrs. Marchmont's, the young people began to grow aggressive, and, from class prejudices, were inclined to be hostile. There were whispered consultations, and finally one habitue of the store and tavern thought he could cover himself with glory by a trick, and at the same time secure a kiss from Lottie, the prettiest. The conspiracy was soon formed. A kissing game in one of the upper rooms was suspended for a moment, and one of the tall girls accompanied him down as if they were a delegation, and on the principle that in designs against a woman a female confederate is always helpful in disarming suspicion.
He approached Lottie with the best manners he could assume, and said, "We are having some games upstairs. Perhaps you would like to join us. We'd like to have you."
"Do come," added the tall girl; "they are real nice."
"Certainly," said Lottie, who was now ready for another adventure. "Come; let us all go."
"The others needn't come unless they want to," said the young man; for he didn't relish the lawyer's presence, whom he knew by reputation, nor the searching look of the tall stranger whom he did not know.
"Mr. Hemstead, you and Julian come," said Lottie, and as they ascended the stairs she studied this new specimen of Scrub Oaks, who was a loafer of the village as De Forrest was an idler of the town. They both belonged to the same genus, though the latter would have resented such a statement as the foulest insult.
The manners and the smart finery of her new acquaintance amused Lottie very much. When they reached the room, they found it full of whispering, giggling young people.
The tall girl, as instructed, said, "Now let us form a ring with our hands on this rope."
This having been done, she said, "Now, Mr. Shabb, you must go inside first"; and then, with a nudge to Lottie, she explained," He'll try to hit our hands with his, and if he hits your hands you will have to go inside the ring."
What else he would do, she left to be disclosed by action.
Then he of the flaming neck-tie and bulging cheek took his place with a twinkling eye that meant mischief. De Forrest and Hemstead declined to play, but the latter slipped forward and stood near Lottie. He was not sure, but dimly remembered seeing this game before, when it was not played so innocently as the tall girl had described.
The young rustic made extravagant but purposely vain efforts to strike the hands of others, and Lottie watched the scene with laughing curiosity. Suddenly he wheeled round and struck her hands sharply; and to her horrified surprise it seemed but a second later that his repulsive face was almost against her own. But something came between, and, starting back, she saw the baffled youth imprint a fervent kiss on the back of Hemstead's hand.
There was a loud laugh at him from those who had expected to laugh with him. He swaggered up to Hemstead, and said threateningly, "What do you mean?"
"What do YOU mean?" asked Lottie, confronting him with blazing eyes. "It is well this gentleman interposed. If you had succeeded in your insult I should have had you punished in a way that you would not soon forget."
"It's only part of the game," muttered he, abashed by her manner.
"Part of the game?"
"Yes," giggled the tall girl, faintly; "it's a kissing game."
"Did you know it was such?" asked Lottie, indignantly, of De Forrest and Hemstead.
"Indeed I did not," said De Forrest; "and if you say so I'll give this fellow the flogging, anyway."
"Come right out, and do it now," was the pert response.
"All I can say is, Miss Marsden," explained Hemstead, "that I suspected something wrong, and took means to prevent it. How these nice-looking girls can allow this fellow to kiss them is more than I can understand."
"No lady would," said Lottie, as she swept disdainfully out; and under the withering influence of these remarks kissing games languished the rest of the evening; only young children, and a few of the coarser-natured ones, participating. But soon the absurdity of the whole scene overcame Lottie, and she laughed till the tears stood in her eyes.
As they were slowly descending the stairs a faded little woman said, "I'm glad to see you enjoying yourself, Miss Marchmont. It was very kind of you and your party to come so far."
"I am not Miss Marchmont," said Lottie, "though I came with her."
"Well, as the minister's wife, I would like her and all her party to know of our grateful appreciation."
"You thank us beyond our deserts. But are you the minister's wife? I am glad to make your acquaintance"; and she held out her hand, which Mrs. Dlimm seemed glad to take.
At this moment there came the cry of an infant from one of the upper rooms.
"O, there goes my baby," said Mrs. Dlimm; "I thought I heard it before"; and she was about to hasten on.
"May I not go with you and see the baby?" asked Lottie.
What mother ever refused such a request? In a moment Lottie was in the one small room in which, on this portentous occasion, the three younger children were huddled, the others being old enough to take part in what, to them, was the greatest excitement of their lives, thus far.
Lottie looked curiously around, with the quick, appreciative eye by which ladies seem to gather accurately at a glance the effect of a costume and the style and character of an apartment and its occupants. But she politely, and from a certain innate interest, gave such attention to the baby as to win the mother's heart. It was but an ordinary baby, although the fattest and sturdiest member of a rather pinched household; but Lottie wonderingly saw that to the faded mother it was a cherub just from heaven.
Lottie could not understand it. A perfumed baby, in lace and muslin, might be a nice pet if the nurse were always within call; but the sole care of this chubby-cheeked Moloch, that would sacrifice its mother as unconsciously and complacently as the plant absorbs moisture, seemed almost as prosaic and dreadful as being devoured alive.
"Does no one help you take care of that child?" asked she.
"Well, my husband and the elder children help some."
"Haven't you a nurse for all these children?"
"No, indeed. It's as much as we can do to clothe and feed them."
"Don't you keep any servants at all?"
"Yes, we have a girl in the kitchen, but she's almost as much bother as she is worth."
"How do you get along?"
"I hardly know--somewhat as the birds do out of doors."
"Are you happy?"
"I've hardly time to think. I think I am, though,--happy as most people. Some days bright, some days cloudy, and now and then a storm. That's the way it is with all, I imagine. We all have our crosses, you know, but by and by all will come right."
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