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- Mr. Bingle - 30/49 -
creature on earth, going away with Mr. and Mrs. Force like this.
Frederick and Wilberforce openly declared--in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Bingle--that you bet they'd go in a minute if they had the chance to see the land where Melissa's pirates and smugglers did most of their plundering--an attitude that created an unhappy half-hour for Melissa later on in the day. Any one else but Melissa would have received her walking-papers.
The frocks, the personal maid, the prospect of the dining-car and the assurance that it wouldn't be necessary to call Mr. Force "daddy" until she became a little more accustomed to seeing him around, brought Kathleen to a proper way of thinking. She became quite eager to go!
"Well," said Mr. Bingle to his wife, after the storm, "I fancy we'd better make an appointment with Rouquin as soon as possible. I am really quite enthusiastic, my dear, over that idea of yours to have a cute little French baby. The sooner we get it the better, I say. It is going to be pretty lonesome for awhile. Somehow I hope we find one that cries a good deal. It would cheer us up considerably, I'm sure, if we had something like that to annoy us, especially at night. We shall probably lie awake anyhow."
Frederick was causing them no little anxiety. The boy wasn't eating well. He was beginning to look a bit peaked. Dr. Fiddler was puzzled. He could not discover anything wrong, and yet could not account for the listlessness that had come over the lad during the past few weeks.
As a matter of fact, Frederick was in love--quite desperately in love. The object of his adoration was the beautiful Miss Fairweather. No doctor in the world could have properly diagnosed the youngster's case, for the simple reason that Frederick's disease was a perfectly healthy one, and when you confront a doctor with anything in the nature of health you stump him completely. He doesn't know what to do about it. Nevertheless, Dr. Fiddler--being a great man and entirely ignorant of Frederick's complaint--gave him castor oil.
Now this same Dr. Fiddler undoubtedly had been in love at the tender age of twelve. What man is there to-day who was not desperately afflicted at that age, and who is there among us that has forgotten the experience? Who is there among us, past the age of thirty, who cannot tell without an instant's hesitation, the name of the mature young lady who first assailed his susceptibilities? Who can honestly say that he doesn't remember the school-teacher, or the choir-singer who taught the Sunday-school class, or the lady who came to visit mother and went away engaged to a friend of father's, or the nurse who queened it over the house when mother was ill and who devoted entirely too much time to the new baby? There is always one full-grown, lamentably old young lady in the life of every boy, and her name is imperishable. It is invariably MISS Somebody-or-other. No man can recall the Christian name of his first love for the very good reason that he never knew it. The universal lady is always MISS So-and-so. Even the most ardent of twelve-year-olds never forgets that his heart's desire is a lady whose years demand the most respectful consideration. Dr. Fiddler, having loved and lost, should have appreciated the tender passion that took away Frederick's appetite and made of him a melancholy sufferer. What Frederick needed was the moral support of a physician who would recommend and supply a quick and deadly poison with which Mr. Richard Flanders could be permanently squashed.
Melissa was his only friend and comforter. The children, and the servants who were not too busily engaged with their own affairs, openly scoffed at the love-sick young gentleman. Wilberforce sustained a bloody nose in retaliation and Watson, being a special offender, met with a painful and unaccountable accident one day while passing between the kitchen and the milk-house. A full-sized brick dropped from heaven knows where--(it must have come from heaven judging by the way it felt)--and as Watson's hat happened to be directly in the path of its descent the unfortunate footman was unable to tease Frederick for the better part of two days immediately thereafter and had to have six stitches taken in his head besides. Oddly enough, the only place from which a brick was found to be missing was in the walk leading to the stables, and Butts, being a thrifty soul, filled up the vacant spot with the heaven-sent substitute, having found on investigation that it fitted the vacuum perfectly. It was Melissa who kept Watson from taking out a warrant for young Master Frederick. She spoke very sharply to the damaged footman about something that had completely escaped the notice of Mr. Bingle, who, being no smoker, wouldn't have missed them if Watson had taken a whole handful of cigars a day instead of two or three twice a week the year round.
The privileged maid had read love stories from the time she was ten years old up to the beginning of her affair with Diggs the butler. The pleasant discovery that the mighty Diggs had taken a shine to her quite destroyed all of her interest in romance as it is written. She was not long in finding out that the people who write love-stories are not to be depended upon for accuracy in the depiction of passion. Diggs gave her an entirely new idea of manly devotion. Instead of adhering to the well-known and well-preserved formulas set down by the fictionists he behaved in a perfectly astonishing manner. He became acutely bashful and apprehensive, so much so, in fact, that for a while Melissa imagined that Mr. Bingle had given him notice because of the mistletoe episode on Christmas Eve. The poor fellow seemed to be dodging her all the time. And when she came upon him suddenly or unexpectedly he always began winding his watch and talking about the extraordinary resemblance she bore to a girl he had once known in England. The shock, therefore, was tremendous when Diggs asked her if she thought she could ever learn to care for him in THAT way. It was almost a week before Melissa could think of an answer to this astonishing question. It was "yes."
And so, having but recently suffered the surprise of her life, Melissa rushed to the succour of young Frederick. She whispered words of encouragement into the ear of the despairing youngster, and urged him to stand by his guns.
"You never can tell what is going to happen," she said. "Look at me, for instance. What could have been more miraculous than the thing that happened to me, Freddie? Who could have ever dreamed of Mr. Diggs falling in love with me? An important person like him falling heels over head in love with the likes of me! Can you beat it? Well, that's what I mean when I say you never can tell. You just keep a stiff upper lip, Freddie--and grow a little, of course--and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if you conquered the proud Miss Fairweather's haughty heart. Nothing--NOTHING on God's earth would surprise me now. Go in and win, Freddie. Of course, she is about twelve years older'n you are at present, but as time goes on she'll be getting younger. We always do. By the time you are thirty you will have caught up to her, I can tell you that. Take Mr. Diggs, for instance; he thinks I am only twenty-six. He says it's a crime for a man of his age--he's thirty- seven--to be making eyes at a soft young thing like me. He knows I'm only twenty-six, but what he don't know is that I was born nearly ten years before he even starts to counting. Now, in a very few years you will be twenty. Well, by that time she will be only eight years older than you are. You see, women don't put on years as rapidly as men. It's a peculiar trick of nature. I don't suppose there is another living creature in all God's dominion that lives as long as a woman does before it can get past thirty. Take Miss Stokes, the nurse, for instance. She's been nearly nine years going from twenty-seven to twenty-nine. So there you are. You just keep on growing up, Freddie-- you needn't hurry, either--putting on a year every twelve months, and before you know it you'll be six months older than Miss Fairweather. Then--"
"Yes, but how about this big Flanders?" protested Frederick. "He's already grown-up and--"
"Nothing to it," said Melissa, "He hasn't got any money. He can't give her diamonds and fine raiment. He's got to ask her to wait till he's able to marry, hasn't he? Well, while she's about it, why shouldn't she wait for you? It all amounts to the same thing. You'll be able to marry her just as soon as he is. Now, don't be discouraged. Cheer up."
"You're awfully good, Melissa," said Frederick gloomily.
"And what's more, don't let 'em guy you about her. Mr. Diggs don't let any one guy him about me, you can bet. And say, if you can manage to sneak one of Mr. Bingle's razors out of his room some day, I'll shave you. There's nothing like getting your whiskers started early."
"Gee, Melissa, will you?"
"Like a shot. Let me feel your chin. Why, I swear to goodness, there's something there already. It's--"
"Honest, Melissa? Do you really mean it? I thought it was only fuzz."
"Fuzz your granny," said Melissa stoutly. "In a couple of months you could get a beard like a billy goat if you shaved regular."
"I don't want chin whiskers. I want a moustache."
"And in the meantime," went on Melissa with rare diplomacy, "you may see some one else that you like better than Miss Fairweather. That very frequently happens to a fellow when he's busy trying to get a beard."
"Do you think she likes Mr. Flanders, Melissa?" A great deal depended on her answer. That was to be seen by the expression in his young blue eyes.
"Certainly," said she promptly. "Everybody likes him. I like him. So does your ma and so does your pa. That's nothing to go by. Why, I'll bet you like him yourself. He's a fine fellow."
"Do you think he's very good looking?"
"In a way, yes," said Melissa, musingly. "I shouldn't call him quite perfect, however."
"Do you think he's as good-looking as Diggs?"
"I used to think so, but--Now, that reminds me: if you ever say a word to anybody about Mr. Diggs and me being enamoured of each other, I'll have nothing more to do with you--not a thing, d'you understand? It's a secret. Your pa and ma are not to know about it until we get ready to announce our engagement."
"I'll never tell," promised the young lover.
"And here's another thing: Don't you ever let on to Mr. Diggs that I'm over twenty-six. If you do, I'll tell your pa that you're using his razor, and--well, say, that would be a mortification for you. Miss Fairweather would never get over laughing at you. Do you know, I'm awfully sorry for Mr. Flanders. He is a fine fellow, and it will break his heart if you get her away from him, Freddie. It seems too bad for a rich young gentleman like you to be pitted against a poor, struggling newspaper man whose heart is afire with--"
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