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- The Whole Family - 5/38 -


my arrival. Why, in the name of common-sense, Ada, my sister-in-law, when she wrote to me at the Pollards', announcing Peggy's engagement, could not have mentioned who the man was, I cannot see.

Sometimes it seems to me that only the girl and the engagement figure at all in such matters. I suppose Peggy always alluded to me as "dear Aunt Elizabeth," when that poor young fellow knew me at the Abercrombies', where we were staying a year ago, as Miss Lily Talbert. The situation with regard to him and Peggy fairly puzzles me. I simply do not know what to do. Goodness knows I never lifted my finger to attract him. Flirtations between older women and boys always have seemed to me contemptible. I never particularly noticed him, although he is a charming young fellow, and there is not as much difference in our ages as in those of Harriet Munroe and her husband, and if I am not mistaken there is more difference between the ages of Ned Temple and his wife. Poor soul! she looks old enough to be his mother, as I remember him, but that may be partly due to the way she arranges her hair. However, Ned himself may have changed; there must be considerable wear and tear about matrimony, taken in connection with editing a country newspaper. If I had married Ned I might have looked as old as Mrs. Temple does. I wonder what Ned will do when he sees me. I know he will not turn white, as poor Harry Goward did. That really worries me. I am fond of little Peggy, and the situation is really rather awful. She is engaged to a man who is fond of her aunt and cannot conceal it. Still, the affection of most male things is curable. If Peggy has sense enough to retain her love for frills and bows, and puts on her clothes as well, and arranges her hair as prettily, after she has been married a year--no, ten years (it will take at least ten years to make a proper old-maid aunt of me)--she may have the innings. But Peggy has no brains, and it really takes a woman with brains to keep her looks after matrimony.

Of course, the poor little soul has no danger to fear from me; it is lucky for her that her fiance fell in love with me; but it is the principle of the thing which worries me. Harry Goward must be as fickle as a honey-bee. There is no assurance whatever for Peggy that he will not fall headlong in love--and headlong is just the word for it--with any other woman after he has married her. I did not want the poor fellow to stick to me, but when I come to think of it that is the trouble. How short-sighted I am! It is his perverted fickleness rather than his actual fickleness which worries me. He has proposed to Peggy when he was in love with another woman, probably because he was in love with another woman. Now Peggy, although she is not brilliant, in spite of her co-education (perhaps because of it), is a darling, and she deserves a good husband. She loves this man with her whole heart, poor little thing! that is easy enough to be seen, and he does not care for her, at least not when I am around or when I am in his mind. The question is, is this marriage going to make the child happy? My first impulse, when I saw Harry Goward and knew that he was poor Peggy's lover, was immediately to pack up and leave. Then I really wondered if that was the wisest thing to do. I wanted to see for myself if Harry Goward were really in earnest about poor little Peggy and had gotten over his mad infatuation for her aunt and would make her a good husband. Perhaps I ought to leave, and yet I wonder if I ought. Harry Goward may have turned pale simply from his memory of what an uncommon fool he had been, and the consideration of the embarrassing position in which his past folly has placed him, if I chose to make revelations. He might have known that I would not; still, men know so little of women. I think that possibly I am worrying myself needlessly, and that he is really in love with Peggy. She is quite a little beauty, and she does know how to put her clothes on so charmingly. The adjustments of her shirt-waists are simply perfection. I may be very foolish to go away; I may be even insufferably conceited in assuming that Harry's change of color signified anything which could make it necessary. But, after all, he must be fickle and ready to turn from one to another, or deceitful, and I must admit that if Peggy were my daughter, and Harry had never been mad about me six weeks ago, but about some other woman, I should still feel the same way.

Sometimes I wonder if I ought to tell Ada. She is the girl's mother. I might shift the responsibility on to her. I almost think I will. She is alone in her room now, I know. Peggy and Harry have gone for a drive, and the rest have scattered. It is a good chance. I really don't feel as if I ought to bear the whole responsibility alone. I will go this minute and tell Ada.

Well, I have told Ada, and here I am back in my room, laughing over the result. I might as well have told the flour-barrel. Anything like Ada's ease of character and inability to worry or even face a disturbing situation I have never seen. I laugh, although her method of receiving my tale was not, so to speak, flattering to me. Ada was in her loose white kimono, and she was sitting at her shady window darning stockings in very much the same way that a cow chews her cud; and when I told her, under promise of the strictest secrecy, she just laughed that placid little laugh of hers and said, taking another stitch, "Oh, well, boys are always falling in love with older women." And when I asked if she thought seriously that Peggy might not be running a risk, she said: "Oh dear, no; Harry is devoted to the child. You can't be foolish enough. Aunt Elizabeth, to think that he is in love with you NOW?"

I said, "Certainly not." It was only the principle involved; that the young man must be very changeable, and that Peggy might run a risk in the future if Harry were thrown in much with other women.

Ada only laughed again, and kept on with her darning, and said she guessed there was no need to worry. Harry seemed to her very much like Cyrus, and she was sure that Cyrus had never thought of another woman besides herself (Ada).

I wonder if another woman would have said what I might have said, especially after that imputation of the idiocy of my thinking that a young man could possibly fancy ME. I said nothing, but I wondered what Ada would say if she knew what I knew, if she would continue to chew her cud, that Cyrus had been simply mad over another girl, and only married her because he could not get the other one, and when the other died, five years after he was married to Ada, he sent flowers, and I should not to this day venture to speak that girl's name to the man. She was a great beauty, and she had a wonderful witchery about her. I was only a child, but I remember how she looked. Why, I fell in love with her myself! Cyrus can never forget a woman like that for a cud-chewing creature like Ada, even if she does keep his house in order and make a good mother to his children. The other would not have kept the house in order at all, but it would have been a shrine. Cyrus worshipped that girl, and love may supplant love, but not worship. Ada does not know, and she never will through me, but I declare I was almost wicked enough to tell her when I saw her placidly darning away, without the slightest conception, any more than a feather pillow would have, of what this ridiculous affair with me might mean in future consequences to poor, innocent little Peggy. But I can only hope the boy has gotten over his feeling for me, that he has been really changeable, for that would be infinitely better than the other thing.

Well, I shall not need to go away. Harry Goward has himself solved that problem. He goes himself to-morrow. He has invented a telegram about a sick uncle, all according to the very best melodrama. But what I feared is true--he is still as mad as ever about me. I went down to the post-office for the evening mail, and was coming home by moonlight, unattended, as any undesirable maiden aunt may safely do, when the boy overtook me. I had heard his hurried steps behind me for some time. Up he rushed just as we reached the vacant lot before the Temple house, and caught my arm and poured forth a volume of confessions and avowals, and, in short, told me he did not love Peggy, but me, and he never would love anybody but me. I actually felt faint for a second. Then I talked. I told him what a dishonorable wretch he was, and said he might as well have plunged a knife into an innocent, confiding girl at once as to have treated Peggy so. I told him to go away and let me alone and write friendly letters to Peggy, and see if he would not recover his senses, if he had any to recover, which I thought doubtful; and then when he said he would not budge a step, that he would remain in Eastridge, if only for the sake of breathing the same air I did, that he would tell Peggy the whole truth at once, and bear all the blame which he deserved for being so dishonorable, I arose to the occasion. I said, "Very well, remain, but you may have to breathe not only the same air that I do, but also the same air that the man whom I am to marry does." I declare that I had no man whatever in mind. I said it in sheer desperation. Then the boy burst forth with another torrent, and the secret was out.

My brother and my sister-in-law and Grandmother Evarts and the children, for all I know, have all been match-making for me. I did not suspect it of them. I supposed they esteemed my case as utterly hopeless, and then I knew that Cyrus knew about--well, never mind; I don't often mention him to myself. I certainly thought that they all would have as soon endeavored to raise the dead as to marry me, but it seems that they have been thinking that while there is life there is hope, or rather, while there are widowers there is hope. And there is a widower in Eastridge--Dr. Denbigh. He is the candle about which the mothlike dreams of ancient maidens and widows have fluttered, to their futile singeing, for the last twenty years. I really did not dream that they would think I would flutter, even if I was an old-maid aunt. But Harry cried out that if I were going to marry Dr. Denbigh he would go away. He never would stay and be a witness to such sacrilege. "That OLD man!" he raved. And when I said I was not a young girl myself he got all the madder. Well, I allowed him to think I was going to marry Dr. Denbigh (I wonder what the doctor would say), and as a consequence Harry will flit to-morrow, and he is with poor little Peggy out in the grape-arbor, and she is crying her eyes out. If he dares tell her what a fool he is I could kill him. I am horribly afraid that he will let it out, for I never saw such an alarmingly impetuous youth. Young Lochinvar out of the west was mere cambric tea to him. I am really thankful that he has not a gallant steed, nor even an automobile, for the old-maid aunt might yet be captured as the Sabine women were.

Well, thank fortune, Harry has left, and he cannot have told, for poor little Peggy has been sitting with me for a solid hour, sniffing, and sounding his praises. Somehow the child made me think of myself at her age. I was about a year older when my tragedy came and was never righted. Hers, I think, will be, since Harry was not such an ass as to confess before he went away. But all the same, I am concerned for her happiness, for Harry is either fickle or deceitful. Sometimes I wonder what my duty is, but I can't tell the child. It would do no more good for me to consult my brother Cyrus than it did to consult Ada. I know of no one whom I can consult. Charles Edward and his wife, who is just like Ada, pretty, but always with her shirt-waist hunching in the back, sitting wrong, and standing lopsided, and not worrying enough to give her character salt and pepper, are there. (I should think she would drive Charles Edward, who is really an artist, only out of his proper sphere, mad.) Tom and Maria are down there, too, on the piazza, and Ada at her everlasting darning, and Alice bossing Billy as usual. I can hear her voice. I think I will put on another gown and go for a walk.

I think I will put on my pink linen, and my hat lined with pink chiffon and trimmed with shaded roses. That particular shade of pink is just right for my hair. I know quite well how I look in that gown and hat, and I know, also, quite well how I shall look to the members of my family assembled below. They all unanimously consider that I should dress always in black silk, and a bonnet with a neat little tuft of


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