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would it be, for Asa certainly had n't any property to leave her? Why should she send him riding while she stayed in the store? Why was she so solicitous? In some it would have meant a change of heart, but they remembered that Myra had no heart.
Asa, seated at the wheel and noisily whizzing along at fifteen or twenty miles an hour on this and that transaction, was the happiest man in the county. He often went over to Lancaster, the neighboring large town, on a secret mission, and sometimes she would go with him. It was about this time that Hattie Buck also bought a car, not a second-hand one, which she drove herself, picking up any one she thought would like a ride, and thereby freshly endearing herself to Rossville.
summer, enabling Rossville to compare itself with California, he achieved the ten pounds before Christmas.
Something, however, besides pounds came to him. Its coming was partly due to the pounds and to the clothes Myra got him, but only because these helped to make visible the charm already in him, and I use the word "charm" deliberately. What it brought was popularity.
"Why, Asa 's getting to be actually good-looking!" was a frequent remark nowadays, and also his good nature and his honesty and other virtues were remembered to his credit. The phrase, "Oh, it 's only Asa" which used to be the commentary on his appearing, became, "Oh, it 's Asa!" Somehow there was a tremendous difference between the new and the old exclamation. His knack for the mandolin was called his talent, and he was made a member of the Lyceum orchestra, and on matters of animal diseases and weather signs and the countless things about which they used to consult him as a fake wizard, they now referred to him in re
All this fresh air and the good food Myra cooked-she was an excellent cook, for she dearly loved to eat had their effect on Asa; his eye cleared, his color was better, and one evening at supper he told her he had a surprise for her. When she asked him what it was he said: "Well, Myry, you won't believe it, spectful solemnity and faith. but I've gained eight pounds."
She set down the chowder-ladle and stared at him. At last she laughed rather shrilly. "I did n't believe it at first," she said, and he chuckled, and said he knew she did n't, but it was the truth. While he ate hungrily she looked at him; but finally she decided it was all right: people with his ailment are apt to have a rapid improvement just before the final decline. In fact, she had known he would gain, though she had n't allowed for anything like eight pounds. But maybe she must allow for even ten. And it was well she looked at it in that way, for, what with the mild fall and the long Indian
There was one Rossvillite in whom this change of attitude did not occur, for the simple reason that she had always had the attitude, and this was Hattie Buck. Hattie had always liked Asa and stood up for him. Now, when every one was respecting and liking him, she might have said, "I told you he was like this all along," but she did n't, and I know of no better way to show you just what Hattie was than to repeat what she did say, which was this:
"Well, Myra Spells was n't such a mean old maid as we thought she was, for she seen what was in Asa, and she knew if she married him and took care
of him, he 'd have a chance to show us the stuff he was made of."
In fact, that did seem the only logical explanation of Myra's marrying him, and the citizens verbally allowed that Hattie was right. Then they wondered why they were n't really convinced. Their faith in the meanness of Myra was dying a hard death; actually, its demise was as slow and dubious, for all their desiring it, as Asa's was threatening to be under the anxious eye of Myra. He was out in the car most of the time, but she thought, "It will be all the colder after winter does really set in," and she was not exactly alarmed.
Meantime there were some pleasant thoughts to occupy her mind. Three male citizens had begun to display an interest in her that was almost certainly significant. Two were widowers, one was a bachelor. I have n't their statements, they made none, but I assume their secret reflections to have been: a woman who can be a good wife once can be a good wife twice. The widower who had the grocery store sent her extra measure, the bachelor sent her books and magazines, though she never read, and the second widower, a confectioner, conveyed his preference by means of candy sent to her and Asa. She knew well what these attentions meant, but the thrill from them was feeble alongside the thrill she had on the day she met Jeffrey Simms by the post-office and he said banteringly that she and Asa had entertained all their old friends except him, and he wanted to know why he was snubbed. Myra flushed hotly.
"Why, Jeffrey, I did n't suppose you'd bother with our humble hospitality," she stammered. He jokingly
scolded her, and the upshot was his acceptance for supper the very next night.
Now, I believe the facts to be simply that Jeffrey, who loved to eat and who had heard of Myra's cooking, wanted to test that talent of hers. At any rate, a feast was spread that satisfied his curiosity as fully as his presence satisfied Myra's palpitating vanity. She could think of nothing but her triumph and of what Hattie Buck would say, for Jeffrey took many of his meals at the Hope Hotel, and it was that very cuisine Myra had set out to excel that night. And when Jeffrey said it was the best food he "had et in a year," she scoffed merrily; but she knew Asa would give the compliment full publicity, for he was overwhelmed by the honor Jeffrey had done them. Indeed, he was likely to gain another pound just on sheer pride.
You can see Myra's predicament. Here she was, famous now for her hospitality and her devotion to her spouse; yet, to keep up the demonstration, she had willy-nilly to keep up the weight of Asa, even to add to it. And as if to make things more difficult, the weather kept mild, and he was forever in the open air.
You say, Suppose he did live over for another year? But think of the expense! Myra thought of it, but most of all she thought of Hattie Buck, who was not marrying any of her suitors, and who must therefore be meaning to redouble her efforts to land Jeffrey Simms before Myra, her rival, could be freed. Yes, that was Myra's view of herself now; she was Hattie's rival. Jeffrey had signified a desire to dine at her table again. her table again. The secret longings of thirty years were crystallizing into hopes. It was now that the black eyes
began to watch Asa with hawk-like keenness, while her readings of the weather reports were almost rapacious. But "Fair and continued mild" was the daily message in the Lancaster "Herald," and "well and continued gaining" was the report of Asa in countenance and frame.
He still gave her small sums of money, and one day he presented her with fifty dollars "from a transaction," he said. But she was not mollified, for she did n't really believe he had earned the money; he was n't an earner. Moreover, rumor had aroused her suspicions, so she said to him one
his way down Main Street. In the post-office he met Hattie Buck. "You look so well, Asa!" she said in her friendly way. And they
"You, too, Hattie." chatted, and suddenly Asa found himself confiding his hopes about his new invention. "Myry don't set store by my tinkerings, but she 'll be mighty pleased when this one comes through, though she don't know about it, I don't talk to her about it. I aim to surprise her," he added.
Hattie said she would n't tell a soul. She wished him luck and gave him her warm, plump hand. She never told a soul about his invention, either.
Then he turned the little car toward Lancaster, after telephoning Myra that he was seeing some people about a transaction and might n't be home till ten or eleven that night.
That afternoon was the date of the beginning of the great weather change,
"What? You mean-and you did and who would have thought that what not tell me?"
"I'm so busy on my invention, Myry, and I had to have the money, and I could n't ask you for it."
When she could trust her voice she said:
began as a mere gentle snow would be the greatest blizzard in Rossville's history? Nor had Asa predicted it.
The gentle snow had not yet taken on ruffian manners when the moviegoers gathered at the Thelma for the
"Well, how about the front lot and seven-thirty performance. The bill
His embarrassment deepened.
"I sold them, too."
featured a favorite of Rossville's, and the audience was large, and Myra was of it. It seems to me that what hap
"So that was where the fifty came pened that night was in its nature pefrom?"
"Yes; it was all one transaction." "Transaction!" she cried in a high voice. Then, after a blank pause, she abruptly left him. He sat alone, startled and bewildered by her manner. Then he shook himself, whistled wistfully, then cheerily, and was soon on
culiarly ironical. You may recall that when Myra had had her great inspiration at the movies, she had immediately wondered why no one else had shared it. Well, some one else had shared it, and that some one must have been a writer of scenarios for the film.
Whether by the original author of
that four-ace comedy or not, the theme had been developed and produced.
A thin spinster, not unlike Myra, for that matter, seeing her neighbor, a widow, always surrounded by admirers, conceived the notion of winning a husband via the bereavement route. Down the street was a man so old that he tottered, toothless, deaf, and lame. He was the oldest inhabitant. The spinster wheedled him into marrying her, but not without his drawing up a contract that she would faithfully attend him until he died, which she cheerfully signed. The story then skipped a year and showed the old man still alive. Two years, five years, ten years passed, and he was unchanging, while his spouse, not young to begin with, got thinner and grayer and old. Of course he survived her, and lived to marry a pretty young girl who got all his money. Forgive the coarseness of the story.
I think it was Jeffrey Simms's niece, Mrs. Hemp, who first saw the light. The word was passed with mysterious swiftness, and when the lights were turned up, every eye was fastened on Myra Beebe, and the titter that went around was the same as three hundred pointing forefingers, and when the lights went out, Myra slipped away from her seat and fled from the Thelma.
When, in addition, Mrs. Rotchett, her next-door neighbor, called forth from an awesomely accurate memory the story of that previous four-ace comedy, together with the facts of Myra's having been present and of having on the very next day started out being kind to Asa Beebe, then Rossville saw, as plain as the nose on its face, the great secret of Myra's marriage. It was all over town that night. But so was the blizzard.
Myra did not sit up for Asa, for she was in no mood to look at him. He returned about eleven. She heard him come into the kitchen, stamping the snow from him, then to the bedroom door, where she heard him gently call her name.
She did not answer, and he went back to the kitchen, and soon his pottering noises told her that he was brisking up the fire to boil the kettle. Yes, likely enough he was most frozen, but what of it? Even if he 'd caught his death, what good would that do her now? She listened to the stumping of his wooden leg on the bare floor, then to the sounds of the faucet, of cup and saucer and spoon. These noises were peculiar, and at last she knew why: they were shaky and clattery because Asa was in the throes of a violent chill. Her thin lips pressed together.
"Let him shake!" she said fiercely. I'm glad she was in the dark, for I am spared the unpleasantness of visualizing her face just then, and can confine myself to her actions. She lay stiff for a time, then she twitched, turned over, made odd, muffled noises. Then she sat up, huddling the blankets about her. Next moment she cast these off, rose from bed, got into her bath-robe, and was on her way to the kitchen.
"What in the name of creation-" she asked sharply.
Asa looked up, and would have spoken, but the words were lost in the castanet-chatterings of his teeth.
"Lands' sakes! now you have got yourself in a fix! What? What's that you say?”
He repeated his grotesque phrases, and she discovered them to be:
"You go to bed, Myry; you 'll catch your death. I'm just mixing a hot drink o' ginger-tea."
His eye was wistful, yet there was solicitude in it; he was really afraid she 'd take cold.
She frowned sourly, then came at him in her abrupt, gaunt way, gesturing him toward the bedroom.
"Go get into bed. I'll fix the gingertea. Go on now," as he hesitated. He obeyed.
It was not ginger-tea she brewed; it was a fine big mug of mulled wine.
No, I am not going to strip the secret of that wine to its bones. I shall not say why Myra had been saving, carefully hidden, that noble bottle of port, twin to the bottle broken on the prow of the ship Matrimony, or, rather, Engagement, on a certain night away back last May. Whatever associations, past, present, or future, clustered about it, she sacrificed them now in this strange impulse, which she at the same time resented angrily, to minister to her spouse.
"Wh-wh-why, M-myry!" Asa clattered, his eye opening widely. "Where on earth d-did ju g-get-it?”
"Never mind that," she said brusquely. "You drink it while I get the irons wrapped." And when she brought in the hot irons he had drained the mug.
"Now you get into bed; you'll freeze," he urged, master of his words again. She made no reply, but went back to the kitchen. There she concocted a first-class mustard-plaster.
"You 're awful' good to me, Myry; it's a shame to spoil your sleep."
"The best way for me to get sleep is for you to shut up and let me, Asa," was her dry retort. Nevertheless, she reached over and tucked the extra blanket more closely under him.
These attentions must have helped, yet by morning Asa was a sick man
and the blizzard was a bad blizzard. The wires were down, and Myra saw no way of getting Doc Cranberry save by setting out on foot for his house. She faced this new problem of hers at her solitary breakfast in the kitchena breakfast she hardly tasted, though from mere habit she had prepared the usual viands. If she did everything she could to save him, people would laugh just the same, even more. They would say she was doing it only to save her face. She could even hear their gibes. But it would be gibes, either way.
Then she heard Asa's labored breathing in the next room, and all at once she realized that she had never seen anybody die. It was really so; her fortythree years had not vouchsafed her this solemn experience. Her parents had died when she was too young to remember, and the aunt she had lived with, and whose cottage she had inherited, had passed away while Myra was absent at Chautauqua; she had barely got home in time for the funeral. Since then she had lived alone, and she was not one of those who visit the sick.
She now saw that she had never visualized Asa's demise; she had only looked ahead to a time when he would have ceased to be. But there is usually a process of ceasing, a simple fact she had forgotten. Moreover, he had been so alive of late, so active and busy, and his now lying prostrate, stifling moans, made a contrast too sharp for her to accept offhand. In short, and even despite gibes, when a fellow-being is suffering
She dressed herself for the trip to Doctor Cranberry's, and brought him back with her.