Puslapio vaizdai
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"INY," began Louisa, with tears. The slight testimony he had given had

Louisa was forty years old, married only complicated the matter for Wilhelwith good fortune far beyond her deserts mina. to Miles Barrett, and the mother of six Either by chance or with great tact children. "Tiny-"

John Barrett had taken himself off. He Wilhelmina answered long before the was Miles Barrett's brother, held in enoreyes of her other sisters, Harriet and mous awe by Miles's wife. When he had Mary, had had time to flash to each other arrived unexpectedly from Boston she had disapproval of Louisa's tactlessness. Har- sent him as usual to her father's. This riet was Mrs. Herbert Wilson, Mary was time her guest-room was being papered, the wife of the Rev. John Smith.

and John was not a person to whom one “My name is not 'Tiny, Louisa. It is could offer less than one's best. Louisa Wilhelmina, and I wish you to remember and Harriet and Mary all sent unexpected it. I was perfectly willing to be called guests or bothersome children to their 'Tiny' when I was a baby, but now that father's. And John Barrett always frightI am forty-two years old and five feet ened Louisa, he was so important a person, nine inches tall, I do not like it, especially and exceedingly cultivated. Louisa never from persons younger than I.”

knew what to say to him. She often won“Very well,” assented Louisa, dully. dered what he thought of Wilhelmina, She said to herself that she would have and hoped that the superior creature comassented to anything, if only this horrible forts which one had at "father's" would business could be cleared up. But of that compensate for the dullness of mind of an Louisa could see no prospect, even though unmarried woman of forty-two. She had the minds of all of them were bent upon advised Wilhelmina to send his breakfast its solving. Their father was at hand to his room in the English fashion. Foralso, working at his desk in the next room, tunately, he was not there for many other but he could not help. Father did not meals. Louisa still prayed that he might count, had never counted. Within his have been away all of last night. It was book-crammed library he was allowed to bad enough to have a sister unmarried at be as queer, as untidy, and as irritable as forty-two; it was horrible to feel that that he liked; outside it, his wife and his sister had been guilty of an amazing inyounger daughters had always treated him discretion and that a person like John Barlike a child. He was supposed to under- rett knew it. stand them no more than they understood Wilhelmina stood by the window, the his Arabic texts. Harriet always spoke of sunshine on her curly hair. Her sisters the texts as Choctaw.

had always envied her her curls and her Now he worked away calmly, making slenderness. They envied her the more the strange noises in his throat to which now as they themselves grew fat and gray. his women-folk had long since grown ac- It seemed such a waste for Wilhelmina to customed, and remaining totally oblivious be so pretty. to the fact that there was in progress the

Wilhelmina made no defense; she prefirst serious difficulty of their amiable lives. tended not to know what they meant.

“It was this way,” explained Harriet. “I should think you would have a bed She was not tearful like Louisa ; emotion made up constantly for such steady visimade her almost savage.

She had been tors, Wilhelmina," laughed Miles Baroutrageously treated, and she meant to rett, a little uneasily. He was as fat as speak her mind. Her husband's depreca- his wife, but much handsomer. He had tory cough had no effect upon her. "We always been fond of Wilhelmina; he came into town to the theater and we pitied her now, with all these women after missed our train."

her. If it had been any morning but Sun"As you very often do, Harriet,” inter- day, he would have been at his office inrupted Wilhelmina, calmly. Already in stead of in attendance at this family counthe position of the greatest strategic value cil. And why did they not come to the with her back to the light, she now sat point? It was perfectly true that Wilheldown and took up some knitting as an mina had done a strange thing,—at least additional support. She never sewed; she the women thought it was strange, - but hated putting in tiny stitches. It was not he was perfectly sure that Wilhelmina until much later in the day that any one

could explain. remembered that for the first time in her Wilhelmina smiled back at him. life she had knitted on Sunday.

“Harriet can't sleep in a bed that is n't “It does n't make any difference whether freshly made up,” she said. She turned to we miss it or not,” Harriet went on. look smilingly at Harriet. "I 'm sorry, “The children are well taken care of, and Harriet, but I can't see that it is anything it gives Herbert a longer night's rest." to be angry about. You 've been married

“We always have to waken Wilhel- for fifteen years, and you 've missed your mina,” reminded Herbert, uneasily. train at least once a week ever since, and

Harriet proceeded, unheeding. She I 've never failed to let you in and make never paid any attention to what Herbert you comfortable. Have I ?” said. She had learned from her mother “It is my father's house," protested how to manage a husband.

Harriet. "I've always advised you, and "It is perfectly right that I should come helped you run it. I ought to be ‘let in,' to my father's house. It is still my home,

as you call it.” just as though dear mother were still with "No, Harriet." Wilhelmina laid down us. As I said—” She turned her frown- her knitting for an instant. “It is father's ing brows from Herbert to Wilhelmina. home, and it will be all his life, but it is There was not only disapproval in her not his house. It is my house. Aunt Wileyes, but there was real concern, almost helmina gave it to me, as you know. fright-"as I said, we missed our train And—” Wilhelmina paused for an instant, and came to my father's house to spend then went on with the deliberation of one the night. And—” Harriet's voice rose who has long weighed her words - "the tragically—“and we could not get in; the furnishings are mine. Mother left them door was locked against us!”

to me in her will, as you know. I am “The maids cannot hear the bell in the delighted to have you and Herbert come third story,” said Wilhelmina. She spoke in at any time, even in the middle of the quietly. They all spoke quietly, being night, and I am perfectly willing to get well-bred women.

“And father cannot up and let you in. I do not mind Louisa's hear."

sending Mr. Barrett here--" “We have always got in before,” said “Does he know?" faltered Louisa. Harriet.

Wilhelmina looked at her. “Does he “Because you rapped on the pipe that know what, Louisa?" runs down by my window," answered It was then that Louisa remembered Wilhelmina. “I always heard you, and that the main issue had not been touched. came down and let you in, and made up “Oh, nothing,” she groaned. “What your beds, and got you something to eat." were you saying, Ti-Wilhelmina?"

“And you did n't hear us last night?” “And I am perfectly willing," went on asked Harriet, slowly. Her tone offered Wilhelmina, even more calmly, “to have to her sister an opportunity to confess. Louisa's four children here for a month But Wilhelmina was dull.

while the other two have the mumps, and "No," she said; “I did n't hear you." then to have the two while the other four have the mumps. I am glad that is, I Wilhelmina laughed almost hysterically. have been glad to leave the furniture ex- "I am seven years older than you, Haractly where it has been for the last twenty riet.” years because Mary has a sentimental “But I am married. And I have had fondness for having it the way mother children, and I--I know the world, and placed it, even though it is inconvenient we have always planned everything for and mother would have changed it long you, and we have tried to make it up to since, but I wish you would realize that it you because you were n't married, and—” is because I like to please you, and not “Don't you think it is time I had a because I consider it my duty. And here- little liberty ?” asked Wilhelmina, lightly. after-"

"And so this morning early we called “But,” began Harriet.

up the house again, and got father, and he "But, Tiny !" gasped Louisa.

said you were home last night." “Why, Wilhelmina !” cried Mary. “Did n't you believe him?"

"She's perfectly right," said Louisa's "Our dear father," sobbed Mary, "it husband, and the other men nodded. They would be so easy to deceive him.” became each moment more desirous of Louisa too burst into sobs. “And John escape. Their errand began to seem in- Barrett must have known it,” she said. sulting. Mary's jolly preacher husband “I had to send him here because the room reminded her that church-time was ap- was being papered. I don't know what proaching, and she answered that there he will think. I-" was still an hour.

Wilhelmina got slowly to her feet and “But, Wilhelmina!" Harriet's voice looked round at them-at her three fat choked. She was getting to her subject sisters and their greatly superior husbands, at last. Louisa began to cry, red spots and over their heads at her father working came into Mary's cheeks, and the men away in the library. Her eyes seemed to looked at the floor. “Where were you say that the joke had gone far enough. last night?"

“Will you good people please tell me “Where was I last night?" repeated what you mean?” she asked sharply. Wilhelmina.

“Miles, what is it?" Harriet looked at her, gasping.

There was no cutting in before the “I-1- don't want to seem like a spy,

flood of Harriet's speech. Wilhelmina,- none of us does, and we "So we called a taxicab and drove to would n't d-dream you could do anything Louisa's, and there--and there,” The wrong. As I said, we missed our train, flood of words ceased. Harriet too reand then we could not get in. We did n't signed herself to tears. mind standing in the snow and banging at "Miles!" begged Wilhelmina. the pipe. And we might have gone right “It 's all nonsense, I 'm sure," he said. to a hotel, only I had to borrow overshoes “Louisa and Herbert came in, terribly to go home to-day, on account of the snow, wrought up, and we could n't get the and, besides, I was frightened. So we house on the 'phone, and then our Helen went to the chemist's at the corner and came in in great excitement to say she'd rang his night-bell, and he came down and seen you going into a restaurant with a let us in, and Herbert called you up on

I told her she must be mistaken, the 'phone, and there was no answer. It but she insisted that she knew your hat or was twelve o'clock, Wilhelmina."

coat or something. The women thought “The maids are n't expected to answer it was late for you to be out, that 's the 'phone after eleven."

all.” “But the extension 'phone is in your "Then what was my niece doing out at sitting-room, and you sleep with the door such an hour ?" asked Wilhelmina. open and you are a light sleeper. You “She had been to the theater," exwere n't in the house, Wilhelmina!" plained Louisa. “She was driving home "Well,” said Wilhelmina.

with Mrs. Wentworth. She was chaper“And you had n't told any one you oned, Wilhelmina, and you were not. were going out, and there has never been They all saw you, and poor Helen was so a night in your life that we did n't know mortified she almost cried." where you were, and—”

Wilhelmina's eyes traveled from one to

man.

even

the other. The eyes of Louisa and Har- “Father would have to - to announce riet and Mary were averted. The hysterical

your engagement,” she faltered. “And note returned to Wilhelmina's voice. you could have a matron of honor. Any

"Eighteen-year-old Helen weeping over one of us could be it. And we would give the sins of her forty-two-year-old aunt! you luncheons and-and-but, oh, WilDoes n't that seem a trifle ridiculous ? helmina, why do you do it?" And suppose I did go to a restaurant for Wilhelmina ignored the last despairing supper after the theater!"

wail. “Wilhelmina!” said Louisa.

“I think that such weddings are vul“Wilhelmina !" cried Harriet.

gar." "Wilhelmina!" groaned Mary.

“Vulgar!” cried Harriet and Louisa "You don't know how often I have and Mary together. All their wedbeen there."

dings had been six-week pageants of din“That," wailed Louisa, "is the awful ners and luncheons and theater-parties. part."

Again their husbands looked at each other "Or how often I may go there in the slyly. future.”

“Yes, vulgar,” said Wilhelmina. Her three brothers-in-law, the "Well, I give up!" cried Harriet. Rev. John Smith, stared at her with aston- “And to whom,” faltered Louisa — "to ished, amazed approval. Her three sisters whom would you like to be married ?" stared at one another aghast. That Wil- “I am married,” said Wilhelmina. “I helmina, in the foolish immaturity of an was married last evening at Dr. Pryor's. unmarried person, might yield even once Then we went to the theater. We sat to the temptation to be unconventional two rows behind Helen and Mrs. Wentwas hard to believe; that she boldly pur- worth, and we went out early on purpose posed to repeat the offense was incred- to avoid them. I never thought of their ible.

driving past our restaurant. Then we There was a middle-aged woman of their came home. I sent you announcements acquaintance, a widow, who surrounded this morning by special messenger. If you herself with a circle of admiring young had waited a little longer you would have men whom she took yachting and auto

The others have gone by mobiling. Was Wilhelmina, staid, forty- mail." two-year-old Wilhelmina, to become an- Announcements,” cried Harriet—"to other Anna Lenwood ? They knew no

your sisters!.wrong of Anna Lenwood, but her be- “I did n't wish to be talked over even havior was undignified, unconventional, for a week.” mad.

"And who— " gasped Louisa, in her They remembered with terror the el- mind a dozen frantic possibilities of atderly men, friends of their father, and the tractive, foolish boys and unattractive old boys, sons of friends of their own, who men, each of whom was an enemy taking liked to go to see Wilhelmina. They re- an inheritance away from her childrenmembered also their own children, Wil- “who is the man?” helmina's nieces and nephews, whom they "The man?" Wilhelmina flushed crimhad expected her to enrich as their Aunt A man appeared suddenly in the Wilhelmina had enriched her. Suppose doorway. At sight of him Louisa groaned Wilhelmina should buy a yacht and an

It was John Barrett. She automobile!

had been praying that he would not apHarriet found her breath first.

pear. “No unmarried woman should go to a John Barrett seemed to be very much theater or to supper alone with a man if at home. He walked across the room, put she is eighty,” she declared.

“The newer

his arm round Wilhelmina, and called her set may do those things. We do not."

Tiny. “But

suppose,” said Wilhelmina, “What do you think of it?” he asked slowly, "suppose I should say I was going them all. to be married.”

"John!" said Miles Barrett. Lor' i spoke as though she were plan- "Is it you?cried Louisa. ning ilhelmina's funeral.

"Of course," said John Barrett. "None

got them.

son.

once more.

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