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- T. Tembarom - 40/104 -
So, not having herself been gifted with conversational powers to begin with, and never having enjoyed the exhibition of such powers in others, her ideals had been high. She was not sure that Mr. Temple Barholm's fluent and cheerful talk could be with exactness termed "conversation." It was perhaps not sufficiently lofty and intellectual, and did not confine itself rigorously to one exalted subject. But how it did raise one's spirits and open up curious vistas! And how good tempered and humorous it was, even though sometimes the humor was a little bewildering! During the whole dinner there never occurred even one of those dreadful pauses in which dead silence fell, and one tried, like a frightened hen flying from side to side of a coop, to think of something to say which would not sound silly, but perhaps might divert attention from dangerous topics. She had often thought it would be so interesting to hear a Spaniard or a native Hindu talk about himself and his own country in English. Tembarom talked about New York and its people and atmosphere, and he did not know how foreign it all was. He described the streets--Fifth Avenue and Broadway and Sixth Avenue--and the street-cars and the elevated railroad, and the way "fellows" had to "hustle" "to put it over." He spoke of a boarding-house kept by a certain Mrs. Bowse, and a presidential campaign, and the election of a mayor, and a quick- lunch counter, and when President Garfield had been assassinated, and a department store; and the electric lights, and the way he had of making a sort of picture of everything was really instructive and, well, fascinating. She felt as though she had been taken about the city in one of the vehicles the conductor of which described things through a megaphone.
Not that Mr. Temple Barholm suggested a megaphone, whatsoever that might be, but he merely made you feel as if you had seen things. Never had she been so entertained and enlightened. If she had been a beautiful girl, he could not have seemed more as though in amusing her he was also really pleasing himself. He was so very funny sometimes that she could not help laughing in a way which was almost unladylike, because she could not stop, and was obliged to put her handkerchief up to her face and wipe away actual tears of mirth.
Fancy laughing until you cried, and the servants looking on!
Once Burrill himself was obliged to turn hastily away, and twice she heard him severely reprove an overpowered young footman in a rapid undertone.
Tembarom at least felt that the unlifting heaviness of atmosphere which had surrounded him while enjoying the companionship of Mr. Palford was a thing of the past.
The thrilled interest, the surprise and delight of Miss Alicia would have stimulated a man in a comatose condition, it seemed to him. The little thing just loved every bit of it--she just "eat it up." She asked question after question, sometimes questions which would have made him shout with laughter if he had not been afraid of hurting her feelings. She knew as little of New York as he knew of Temple Barholm, and was, it made him grin to see, allured by it as by some illicit fascination. She did not know what to make of it, and sometimes she was obliged hastily to conceal a fear that it was a sort of Sodom and Gomorrah; but she wanted to hear more about it, and still more.
And she brightened up until she actually did not look frightened, and ate her dinner with an excellent appetite.
"I really never enjoyed a dinner so much in my life," she said when they went into the drawing-room to have their coffee. "It was the conversation which made it so delightful. Conversation is such a stimulating thing!"
She had almost decided that it was "conversation," or at least a wonderful substitute.
When she said good night to him and went beaming to bed, looking forward immensely to breakfast next morning, he watched her go up the staircase, feeling wonderfully normal and happy.
"Some of these nights, when she's used to me," he said as he stuffed tobacco into his last pipe in the library--"some of these nights I'm darned if I sha'n't catch hold of the sweet, little old thing and hug her in spite of myself. I sha'n't be able to help it." He lit his pipe, and puffed it even excitedly. "Lord!" he said, "there's some blame' fool going about the world right now that might have married her. And he'll never know what a break he made when he didn't."
A fugitive fine day which had strayed into the month from the approaching spring appeared the next morning, and Miss Alicia was uplifted by the enrapturing suggestion that she should join her new relative in taking a walk, in fact that it should be she who took him to walk and showed him some of his possessions. This, it had revealed itself to him, she could do in a special way of her own, because during her life at Temple Barholm she had felt it her duty to "try to do a little good" among the villagers. She and her long-dead mother and sister had of course been working adjuncts of the vicarage, and had numerous somewhat trying tasks to perform in the way of improving upon "dear papa's" harrying them into attending church, chivying the mothers into sending their children to Sunday-school, and being unsparing in severity of any conduct which might be construed into implying lack of appreciation of the vicar or respect for his eloquence.
It had been necessary for them as members of the vicar's family-- always, of course, without adding a sixpence to the household bills-- to supply bowls of nourishing broth and arrowroot to invalids and to bestow the aid and encouragement which result in a man of God's being regarded with affection and gratitude by his parishioners. Many a man's career in the church, "dear papa" had frequently observed, had been ruined by lack of intelligence and effort on the part of the female members of his family.
"No man could achieve proper results," he had said, "if he was hampered by the selfish influence and foolishness of his womenkind. Success in the church depends in one sense very much upon the conduct of a man's female relatives."
After the deaths of her mother and sister, Miss Alicia had toiled on patiently, fading day by day from a slim, plain, sweet-faced girl to a slim, even plainer and sweeter-faced middle-aged and at last elderly woman. She had by that time read aloud by bedsides a great many chapters in the Bible, had given a good many tracts, and bestowed as much arrowroot, barley-water, and beef-tea as she could possibly encompass without domestic disaster. She had given a large amount of conscientious, if not too intelligent, advice, and had never failed to preside over her Sunday-school class or at mothers' meetings. But her timid unimpressiveness had not aroused enthusiasm or awakened comprehension. "Miss Alicia," the cottage women said, "she's well meanin', but she's not one with a head." "She reminds me," one of them had summed her up, "of a hen that lays a' egg every day, but it's too small for a meal, and 'u'd never hatch into anythin'."
During her stay at Temple Barholm she had tentatively tried to do a little "parish work," but she had had nothing to give, and she was always afraid that if Mr. Temple Barholm found her out, he would be angry, because he would think she was presuming. She was aware that the villagers knew that she was an object of charity herself, and a person who was "a lady" and yet an object of charity was, so to speak, poaching upon their own legitimate preserves. The rector and his wife were rather grand people, and condescended to her greatly on the few occasions of their accidental meetings. She was neither smart nor influential enough to be considered as an asset.
It was she who "conversed" during their walk, and while she trotted by Tembarom's side looking more early-Victorian than ever in a neat, fringed mantle and a small black bonnet of a fashion long decently interred by a changing world, Tembarom had never seen anything resembling it in New York; but he liked it and her increasingly at every moment.
It was he who made her converse. He led her on by asking her questions and being greatly interested in every response she made. In fact, though he was quite unaware of the situation, she was creating for him such an atmosphere as he might have found in a book, if he had had the habit of books. Everything she told him was new and quaint and very often rather touching. She related anecdotes about herself and her poor little past without knowing she was doing it. Before they had talked an hour he had an astonishing clear idea of "poor dear papa" and "dearest Emily" and "poor darling mama" and existence at Rowcroft Vicarage. He "caught on to" the fact that though she was very much given to the word "dear,"--people were "dear," and so were things and places,--she never even by chance slipped into saying "dear Rowcroft," which she would certainly have done if she had ever spent a happy moment in it.
As she talked to him he realized that her simple accustomedness to English village life and all its accompaniments of county surroundings would teach him anything and everything he might want to know. Her obscurity had been surrounded by stately magnificence, with which she had become familiar without touching the merest outskirts of its privileges. She knew names and customs and families and things to be cultivated or avoided, and though she would be a little startled and much mystified by his total ignorance of all she had breathed in since her birth, he felt sure that she would not regard him either with private contempt or with a lessened liking because he was a vandal pure and simple.
And she had such a nice, little, old polite way of saying things. When, in passing a group of children, he failed to understand that their hasty bobbing up and down meant that they were doing obeisance to him as lord of the manor, she spoke with the prettiest apologetic courtesy.
"I'm sure you won't mind touching your hat when they make their little curtsies, or when a villager touches his forehead," she said.
"Good Lord! no," he said, starting. "Ought I? I didn't know they were doing it at me." And he turned round and made a handsome bow and grinned almost affectionately at the small, amazed party, first puzzling, and then delighting, them, because he looked so extraordinarily friendly. A gentleman who laughed at you like that ought to be equal to a miscellaneous distribution of pennies in the future, if not on the spot. They themselves grinned and chuckled and nudged one another, with stares and giggles.
"I am sorry to say that in a great many places the villagers are not nearly so respectful as they used to be," Miss Alicia explained. "In Rowcroft the children were very remiss about curtseying. It's quite sad. But Mr. Temple Barholm was very strict indeed in the matter of demanding proper respectfulness. He has turned men off their farms for
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