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- The Whole Family - 4/38 -
owned that my reasons had at times some such way of turning against me from the mouths of others, and he went on: "But they seemed to silence her own misgivings, and she's been enthusiastic for the engagement ever since. What's the reason," he asked, "why a man, if he's any way impetuous, wants to back out of a situation just about the time a woman has got set in it like the everlasting hills? Is it because she feels the need of holding fast for both, or is it because she knows she hasn't the strength to keep to her conclusion, if she wavers at all, while a man can let himself play back and forth, and still stay put."
"Well, in a question like that," I said, and I won my neighbor's easy laugh, "I always like to give my own sex the benefit of the doubt, and I haven't any question but man's inconsistency is always attributable to his magnanimity."
"I guess I shall have to put that up on the doctor," my neighbor said, as he lifted his arms from the fence at last, and backed away from it. I knew that he was really going in-doors now, and that I must come out with what was in my mind, if I meant to say it at all, and so I said, "By-the-way, there's something. You know I don't go in much for what's called society journalism, especially in the country press, where it mostly takes the form of 'Miss Sadie Myers is visiting with Miss Mamie Peters,' but I realize that a country paper nowadays must be a kind of open letter to the neighborhood, and I suppose you have no objection to my mentioning the engagement?"
This made Mr. Talbert look serious; and I fancy my proposition made him realize the affair as he had not before, perhaps. After a moment's pause, he said, "Well! That's something I should like to talk with my wife about."
"Do so!" I applauded. "I only suggest it--or chiefly, or partly--because you can have it reach our public in just the form you want, and the Rochester and Syracuse papers will copy my paragraph; but if you leave it to their Eastridge correspondents--"
"That's true," he assented. "I'll speak to Mrs. Talbert--" He walked so inconclusively away that I was not surprised to have him turn and come back before I left my place. "Why, certainly! Make the announcement! It's got to come out. It's a kind of a wrench, thinking of it as a public affair; because a man's daughter is always a little girl to him, and he can't realize--And this one--But of course!"
"Would you like to suggest any particular form of words?" I hesitated.
"Oh no! Leave that to you entirely. I know we can trust you not to make any blare about it. Just say that they were fellow-students--I should like that to be known, so that people sha'n't think I don't like to have it known--and that he's looking forward to a professorship in the same college--How queer it all seems!"
"Very well, then, I'll announce it in our next. There's time to send me word if Mrs. Talbert has any suggestions."
"All right. But she won't have any. Well, good-evening."
"Good-evening," I said from my side of the fence; and when I had watched him definitively in-doors, I turned and walked into my own house.
The first thing my wife said was, "You haven't asked him to let you announce it in the Banner?"
"But I have, though!"
"Well!" she gasped.
"What is the matter?" I demanded. "It's a public affair, isn't it?"
"It's a family affair--"
"Well, I consider the readers of the Banner a part of the family."
II. THE OLD-MAID AUNT
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
I am relegated here in Eastridge to the position in which I suppose I properly belong, and I dare say it is for my best spiritual and temporal good. Here I am the old-maid aunt. Not a day, not an hour, not a minute, when I am with other people, passes that I do not see myself in their estimation playing that role as plainly as if I saw myself in a looking-glass. It is a moral lesson which I presume I need. I have just returned from my visit at the Pollards' country-house in Lancaster, where I most assuredly did not have it. I do not think I deceive myself. I know it is the popular opinion that old maids are exceedingly prone to deceive themselves concerning the endurance of their youth and charms, and the views of other people with regard to them. But I am willing, even anxious, to be quite frank with myself. Since--well, never mind since what time--I have not cared an iota whether I was considered an old maid or not. The situation has seemed to me rather amusing, inasmuch as it has involved a secret willingness to be what everybody has considered me as very unwilling to be. I have regarded it as a sort of joke upon other people.
But I think I am honest--I really mean to be, and I think I am--when I say that outside Eastridge the role of an old-maid aunt is the very last one which I can take to any advantage. Here I am estimated according to what people think I am, rather than what I actually am. In the first place, I am only fifteen years older than Peggy, who has just become engaged, but those fifteen years seem countless aeons to the child herself and the other members of the family. I am ten years younger than my brother's wife, but she and my brother regard me as old enough to be her mother. As for Grandmother Evarts, she fairly looks up to me as her superior in age, although she DOES patronize me. She would patronize the prophets of old. I don't believe she ever says her prayers without infusing a little patronage into her petitions. The other day Grandmother Evarts actually inquired of me, of ME! concerning a knitting-stitch. I had half a mind to retort, "Would you like a lesson in bridge, dear old soul?" She never heard of bridge, and I suppose she would have thought I meant bridge-building. I sometimes wonder why it is that all my brother's family are so singularly unsophisticated, even Cyrus himself, able as he is and dear as he is.
Sometimes I speculate as to whether it can be due to the mansard-roof of their house. I have always had a theory that inanimate things exerted more of an influence over people than they dreamed, and a mansard-roof, to my mind, belongs to a period which was most unsophisticated and fatuous, not merely concerning aesthetics, but simple comfort. Those bedrooms under the mansard-roof are miracles not only of ugliness, but discomfort, and there is no attic. I think that a house without a good roomy attic is like a man without brains. Possibly living in a brainless house has affected the mental outlook of my relatives, although their brains are well enough. Peggy is not exactly remarkable for hers, but she is charmingly pretty, and has a wonderful knack at putting on her clothes, which might be esteemed a purely feminine brain, in her fingers. Charles Edward really has brains, although he is a round peg in a square hole, and as for Alice, her brains are above the normal, although she unfortunately knows it, and Billy, if he ever gets away from Alice, will show what he is made of. Maria's intellect is all right, although cast in a petty mould. She repeats Grandmother Evarts, which is a pity, because there are types not worth repeating. Maria if she had not her husband Tom to manage, would simply fall on her face. It goes hard with a purely patronizing soul when there is nobody to manage; there is apt to be an explosion. However, Maria HAS Tom. But none of my brother's family, not even my dear sister-in-law, Cyrus's wife, have the right point of view with regard to the present, possibly on account of the mansard-roof which has overshadowed them. They do not know that today an old-maid aunt is as much of an anomaly as a spinning-wheel, that she has ceased to exist, that she is prehistoric, that even grandmothers have almost disappeared from off the face of the earth. In short, they do not know that I am not an old-maid aunt except under this blessed mansard-roof, and some other roofs of Eastridge, many of which are also mansard, where the influence of their fixed belief prevails. For instance, they told the people next door, who have moved here recently, that the old-maid aunt was coming, and so, when I went to call with my sister-in-law, Mrs. Temple saw her quite distinctly. To think of Ned Temple being married to a woman like that, who takes things on trust and does not use her own eyes! Her two little girls are exactly like her. I wonder what Ned himself will think. I wonder if he will see that my hair is as red-gold as Peggy's, that I am quite as slim, that there is not a line on my face, that I still keep my girl color with no aid, that I wear frills of the latest fashion, and look no older than when he first saw me. I really do not know myself how I have managed to remain so intact; possibly because I have always grasped all the minor sweets of life, even if I could not have the really big worth-while ones. I honestly do not think that I have had the latter. But I have not taken the position of some people, that if I cannot have what I want most I will have nothing. I have taken whatever Providence chose to give me in the way of small sweets, and made the most of them. Then I have had much womanly pride, and that is a powerful tonic.
For instance, years ago, when my best lamp of life went out, so to speak, I lit all my candles and kept my path. I took just as much pains with my hair and my dress, and if I was unhappy I kept it out of evidence on my face. I let my heart ache and bleed, but I would have died before I wrinkled my forehead and dimmed my eyes with tears and let everybody else know. That was about the time when I met Ned Temple, and he fell so madly in love with me, and threatened to shoot himself if I would not marry him. He did not. Most men do not. I wonder if he placed me when he heard of my anticipated coming. Probably he did not. They have probably alluded to me as dear old Aunt Elizabeth, and when he met me (I was staying at Harriet Munroe's before she was married) nobody called me Elizabeth, but Lily. Miss Elizabeth Talbert, instead of Lily Talbert, might naturally set him wrong. Everybody here calls me Elizabeth. Outside Eastridge I am Lily. I dare say Ned Temple has not dreamed who I am. I hear that he is quite brilliant, although the poor fellow must be limited as to his income. However, in some respects it must be just as well. It would be a great trial to a man with a large income to have a wife like Mrs. Temple, who could make no good use of it. You might load that poor soul with crown jewels and she would make them look as if she had bought them at a department store for ninety-eight cents. And the way she keeps her house must be maddening, I should think, to a brilliant man. Fancy the books on the table being all arranged with the large ones under the small ones in perfectly even piles! I am sure that he has his meals on time, and I am equally sure that the principal dishes are preserves and hot biscuits and cake. That sort of diet simply shows forth in Mrs. Temple and her children. I am sure that his socks are always mended, but I know that he always wipes his feet before he enters the house, that it has become a matter of conscience with him; and those exactions are to me pathetic. These reflections are uncommonly like the popular conception as to how an old-maid aunt should reflect, had she not ceased to exist. Sometimes I wish she were still existing and that I carried out her character to the full. I am not at all sure but she, as she once was, coming here, would not have brought more happiness than I have. I must say I thought so when I saw poor Harry Goward turn so pale when he first saw me after
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