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- The Whole Family - 6/38 -

middle-aged violets, and black ribbons tied under my chin. I know I am wicked to put on that pink gown and hat, but I shall do it. I wonder why it amuses me to be made fun of. Thank fortune, I have a sense of humor. If I did not have that it might have come to the black silk and the bonnet with the tuft of violets, for the Lord knows I have not, after all, so very much compared with what some women have. It troubles me to think of that young fool rushing away and poor, dear little Peggy; but what can I do? This pink gown is fetching, and how they will stare when I go down!

Well, they did stare. How pretty this street is, with the elms arching over it. I made quite a commotion, and they all saw me through their eyeglasses of prejudice, except, possibly, Tom Price, Maria's husband. I am certain I heard him say, as I marched away, "Well, I don't care; she does look stunning, anyhow," but Maria hushed him up. I heard her say, "Pink at her age, and a pink hat, and a parasol lined with pink!" Ada really looked more disturbed than I have ever seen her. If I had been Godiva, going for my sacrificial ride through the town, it could not have been much worse. She made her eyes round and big, and asked, in a voice which was really agitated, "Are you going out in that dress. Aunt Elizabeth?" And Aunt Elizabeth replied that she certainly was, and she went after she had exchanged greetings with the family and kissed Peggy's tear-stained little face. Charles Edward's wife actually straightened her spinal column, she was so amazed at the sight of me in my rose-colored array. Charles Edward, to do him justice, stared at me with a bewildered air, as if he were trying to reconcile his senses with his traditions. He is an artist, but he will always be hampered by thinking he sees what he has been brought up to think he sees. That is the reason why he has settled down uncomplainingly in Cyrus's "Works," as he calls them, doing the very slight aesthetics possible in such a connection. Now Charles Edward would think that sunburned grass over in that field is green, when it is pink, because he has been taught that grass is green. If poor Charles Edward only knew that grass was green not of itself, but because of occasional conditions, and knew that his aunt looked--well, as she does look--he would flee for his life, and that which is better than his life, from the "Works," and be an artist, but he never will know or know that he knows, which comes to the same thing.

Well, what does it matter to me? I have just met a woman who stared at me, and spoke as if she thought I were a lunatic to be afield in this array. What does anything matter? Sometimes, when I am with people who see straight, I do take a certain pleasure in looking well, because I am a woman, and nothing can quite take away that pleasure from me; but all the time I know it does not matter, that nothing has really mattered since I was about Peggy's age and Lyman Wilde quarrelled with me over nothing and vanished into thin air, so far as I was concerned. I suppose he is comfortably settled with a wife and family somewhere. It is rather odd, though, that with all my wandering on this side of the water and the other I have never once crossed his tracks. He may be in the Far East, with a harem. I never have been in the Far East. Well, it does not matter to me where he is. That is ancient history. On the whole, though, I like the harem idea better than the single wife. I have what is left to me--the little things of life, the pretty effects which go to make me pretty (outside Eastridge); the comforts of civilization, travelling and seeing beautiful things, also seeing ugly things to enhance the beautiful. I have pleasant days in beautiful Florence. I have friends. I have everything except--well, except everything. That I must do without. But I will do without it gracefully, with never a whimper, or I don't know myself. But now I AM worried over Peggy. I wish I could consult with somebody with sense. What a woman I am! I mean, how feminine I am! I wish I could cure myself of the habit of being feminine. It is a horrible nuisance; this wishing to consult with somebody when I am worried is so disgustingly feminine.

Well, I have consulted. I am back in my own room. It is after supper. We had three kinds of cake, hot biscuits, and raspberries, and--a concession to Cyrus--a platter of cold ham and an egg salad. He will have something hearty, as he calls it (bless him! he is a good-fellow), for supper. I am glad, for I should starve on Ada's New England menus. I feel better, now that I have consulted, although, when I really consider the matter, I can't see that I have arrived at any very definite issue. But I have consulted, and, above all things, with Ned Temple! I was walking down the street, and I reached his newspaper building. It is a funny little affair; looks like a toy house. It is all given up to the mighty affairs of the Eastridge Banner. In front there is a piazza, and on this piazza sat Ned Temple. Changed? Well, yes, poor fellow! He is thin. I am so glad he is thin instead of fat; thinness is not nearly so disillusioning. His hair is iron-gray, but he is, after all, distinguished-looking, and his manners are entirely sophisticated. He shows at a glance, at a word, that he is a brilliant man, although he is stranded upon such a petty little editorial island. And--and he saw ME as I am. He did not change color. He is too self-poised; besides, he is too honorable. But he saw ME. He rose immediately and came to speak to me. He shook hands. He looked at my face under my pink-lined hat. He saw it as it was; but bless him! that stupid wife of his holds him fast with his own honor. Ned Temple is a good man. Sometimes I wonder if it would not have been better if he, instead of Lyman--Well, that is idiotic.

He said he had to go to the post-office, and then it was time for him to go home to supper (to the cake and sauce, I suppose), and with my permission he would walk with me. So he did. I don't know how it happened that I consulted with him. I think he spoke of Peggy's engagement, and that led up to it. But I could speak to him, because I knew that he, seeing me as I really am, would view the matter seriously. I told him about the miserable affair, and he said that I had done exactly right. I can't remember that he offered any actual solution, but it was something to be told that I had done exactly right. And then he spoke of his wife, and in such a faithful fashion, and so lovingly of his two commonplace little girls. Ned Temple is as good as he is brilliant. It is really rather astonishing that such a brilliant man can be so good. He told me that I had not changed at all, but all the time that look of faithfulness for his wife never left his handsome face, bless him! I believe I am nearer loving him for his love for another woman than I ever was to loving him for himself.

And then the inconceivable happened. I did what I never thought I should be capable of doing, and did it easily, too, without, I am sure, a change of color or any perturbation. I think I could do it, because faithfulness had become so a matter of course with the man that I was not ashamed should he have any suspicion of me also. He and Lyman used to be warm friends. I asked if he knew anything about him. He met my question as if I had asked what o'clock it was, just the way I knew he would meet it. He knows no more than I do. But he said something which has comforted me, although comfort at this stage of affairs is a dangerous indulgence. He said, very much as if he had been speaking of the weather, "He worshipped you, Lily, and wherever he is, in this world or the next, he worships you now." Then he added: "You know how I felt about you. Lily. If I had not found out about him, that he had come first, I know how it would have been with me, so I know how it is with him. We had the same views about matters of that kind. After I did find out, why, of course, I felt different--although always, as long as I live, I shall be a dear friend to you. Lily. But a man is unfaithful to himself who is faithful to a woman whom another man loves and whom she loves."

"Yes, that is true," I agreed, and said something about the hours for the mails in Eastridge. Lyman Wilde dropped out of Ned's life as he dropped out of mine, it seems. I shall simply have to lean back upon the minor joys of life for mental and physical support, as I did before. Nothing is different, but I am glad that I have seen Ned Temple again, and realize what a good man he is.

Well, it seems that even minor pleasures have dangers, and that I do not always read characters rightly. The very evening after my little stroll and renewal of friendship with Ned Temple I was sitting in my room, reading a new book for which the author should have capital punishment, when I heard excited voices, or rather an excited voice, below. I did not pay much attention at first. I supposed the excited voice must belong to either Maria or Alice, for no others of my brother's family ever seem in the least excited, not to the extent of raising their voices to a hysterical pitch. But after a few minutes Cyrus came to the foot of the stairs and called. He called Aunt Elizabeth, and Aunt Elizabeth, in her same pink frock, went down. Cyrus met me at the foot of the stairs, and he looked fairly wild. "What on earth, Aunt Elizabeth!" said he, and I stared at him in a daze.

"The deuce is to pay," said he. "Aunt Elizabeth, did you ever know our next-door neighbor before his marriage?"

"Certainly," said I; "when we were both infants. I believe they had gotten him out of petticoats and into trousers, but much as ever, and my skirts were still abbreviated. It was at Harriet Munroe's before she was married."

"Have you been to walk with him?" gasped poor Cyrus.

"I met him on my way to the post-office last night, and he walked along with me, and then as far as his house on the way home, if you call that walking out," said I. "You sound like the paragraphs in a daily paper. Now, what on earth do you mean, if I may ask, Cyrus?"

"Nothing, except Mrs. Temple is in there raising a devil of a row," said Cyrus. He gazed at me in a bewildered fashion. "If it were Peggy I could understand it," he said, helplessly, and I knew how distinctly he saw the old-maid aunt as he gazed at me. "She's jealous of you, Elizabeth," he went on in the same dazed fashion. "She's jealous of you because her husband walked home with you. She's a dreadfully nervous woman, and, I guess, none too well. She's fairly wild. It seems Temple let on how he used to know you before he was married, and said something in praise of your looks, and she made a regular header into conclusions. You have held your own remarkably well, Elizabeth, but I declare--" And again poor Cyrus gazed at me.

"Well, for goodness' sake, let me go in and see what I can do," said I, and with that I went into the parlor.

I was taken aback. Nobody, not even another woman, can tell what a woman really is. I thought I had estimated Ned Temple's wife correctly. I had taken her for a monotonous, orderly, dull sort of creature, quite incapable of extremes; but in reality she has in her rather large, flabby body the characteristics of a kitten, with the possibilities of a tigress. The tigress was uppermost when I entered the room. The woman was as irresponsible as a savage. I was disgusted and sorry and furious at the same time. I cannot imagine myself making such a spectacle over any mortal man. She was weeping frantically into a mussy little ball of handkerchief, and when she saw me she rushed at me and gripped me by the arm like a mad thing.

"If you can't get a husband for yourself," said she, "you might at least let other women's husbands alone!"

She was vulgar, but she was so wild with jealousy that I suppose vulgarity ought to be forgiven her. I hardly know myself how I managed it, but, somehow, I got the poor thing out of the room and the house

The Whole Family - 6/38

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