"Going?" said Miss Johanna Ross: "of course I'm not going, Gerie; bed-ridden folks don't go to parties—except in novels. I might be carried in like that woman in 'Barchester Towers,' in a white velvet gown on a red silk sofa—or was it a red shawl thrown over the sofa? Well, I have no white velvet gown, but I think I could get up a fancy rig. Imagine Madam Flynt's face! Do you advise it, Gerie?"
Miss Egeria looked troubled: she never knew how far to take Johanna seriously.
"You always look charming, dear Johanna," she said. "I hardly think—of course you know far more than I about social functions: it is so long since we had a large party in Cyrus——"
"Cheer up! I'll stay at home to please you!" Miss Johanna settled herself comfortably among her pillows.
"Now let me look at you!"
In some trepidation, Miss Egeria removed her shawl (that, at least, was all right; a camel's hair shawl was always in good taste!) and felt the keen dark eyes take in and appraise every item of her apparel; the dove-colored [pg 127]moiré of antiquated cut, the mosaic jewelry, the "bertha" of splendid Honiton.
"It is so long since we had a party in Cyrus!" Miss Egeria repeated; her voice faltered a little; Johanna's eyes were really—she felt quite—"quite undressed, my love!" as she told Kitty afterward, "as if I were in my—my underwear!"
"Anne Peace took it in a little," she said, "but she thought it best not to alter the style: the lines were good, she thought——"
"If Anne Peace had altered it I'd have whipped her. You are perfect, Gerie: a perfect 'Keepsake'! I wouldn't change you for any model on Fifth Avenue. Where's Almeria? I don't believe she's a patch on you!"
"Oh, my dear! Almeria has the Velvet: you remember the Velvet, surely! You always thought it elegant: Aunt Vanderscholt, for whom it was made, employed the best dressmaker in New York, I have always understood. Sister is downstairs in the parlor with Father: so kind of you and Kitty to help us out in this way. Kitty is in such demand this evening! Would you like to see Sister, Johanna? She charged me to say—she felt that you would probably feel able to see only one person at a time——"
"Gammon!" Miss Johanna's eyes twinkled. "Trot her up, Gerie, and your father, too! Don't look like that! I am perfectly proper: it won't hurt him to see a bed at his time of life."
"My dear Johanna!" Miss Egeria gasped. "Not for worlds would Father intrude—a lady's chamber——"
[pg 128] "Mr. Bygood!" Miss Johanna raised a clear, high-pitched voice. "Come up, won't you, and bring Almy? I want to see you!"
Miss Egeria faded away with a little moan of protest; a moment later entered Miss Almeria, superb in black velvet, with a magnificent lace scarf on her admirable shoulders.
"Ah!" said Miss Johanna under her breath. "I knew there was more Honiton. That's the flounce!"
"Good evening, Almy!" she said aloud. "Where's your father? Oh, how do you do, Mr. Bygood? I am glad to see you! shake hands! Are you shocked? Gerie was too shocked to stay in the room. How do you like my jacket? You look perfectly lovely! I'd marry you to-morrow if you'd ask me. Now I've shocked Almeria!"
If Miss Almeria was shocked, she knew better than to give Johanna the satisfaction of knowing it. She drew up a chair for her father and settled herself in another, smoothing her velvet skirt composedly. Mr. Bygood was in a flutter. To be going to a party was exciting enough: to be called suddenly to wait upon an invalid lady of distinction was even more thrilling.
"My dear Miss Ross——" he began, with a tremulous bow.
"If you call me 'Miss', I'll throw the pillow at you and spoil your lovely necktie!" said the lady.
"Oh! oh!—te-hee! te-hee!" tittered Mr. Bygood.
"I used to be Jo," Miss Ross went on; and her sharp eyes softened. "Little naughty Jo, coming to play with little proper Almy and little saintly Gerie, and [pg 129] getting them both into hot water. Have you any peppermints in your pocket, Mr. Bygood? How many generations of children have you supplied with peppermints, my dear soul?"
"Well, Johanna!" Mr. Bygood twinkled; "several, I suppose; several! Yours was the first, though, my dear. You were a very good child, a very good child. All my little friends have been good children. You—you—you look extremely well, Johanna, for a—a sufferer! I trust——"
"I am extremely well!" said Miss Johanna calmly. "Bedridden, but well. Gerie wanted me to be carried to the party in my bed—" an agonized cough from the hall announced that Miss Egeria was within hearing; "at least we spoke of it. Cheer up, Gerie! Nobody would lay it to your door. 'Johanna! always peculiar!'" (She shot a wicked glance at Miss Almeria, who maintained her dignity, but could not suppress her blush.) "Can't you hear them say it? But I've decided not to go. I really think I am having the cream of the party here. This was my idea, Almy; you must allow I am clever, as well as peculiar. There's some one else coming in."
It was a clever idea; Madam Flynt was giving a party for Kitty and me; it was so kind of her to tuck me in! Of course everybody was going, and as it was a snowy evening in early April, Kitty and John Tucker were engaged ten deep, to transport the guests. It was necessary to begin early, and at Miss Johanna's suggestion, Kitty had asked a few special friends to be ready half an hour before the time set in the invitations. [pg 130] These favored ones were brought to Ross House, and deposited with instructions to walk right in (Sarepta was at Madam Flynt's, of course, helping Sarah and Abby Ann) and make Aunt Johanna a call, and then make themselves comfy in the parlor till called for.
Mr. Bygood was the only gentleman who went upstairs, but the Chanters and several other parties of ladies rustled up to the Red Indian room and were passed in review by the invalid Arbitress. Last of all came Kitty herself; first rosy and breathless, in fur coat and cap, to summon Miss Johanna's last caller; then, half an hour later, still rosy, but calm and demure, to show herself to her aunt. I was with her, in what male writers call "something white and filmy"; I called it chiffon; Miss Johanna had forbidden filminess for Kitty.
"When you've got lines, show 'em!" was her dictum. How different from Miss Egeria, who was always troubled if one sat down without shaking out one's skirts thoroughly. "My dear!" she would whisper. "You show your shape!"
Kitty had rummaged the ancestral trunks in the attic and had found a thick, heavy pale green satin, over which Miss Johanna had waved the scissors of a necromancer, Miss Anne Peace, as her attendant sprite (dear, meek little brown sprite! she was at Madam Flynt's, too, "taking off" for the ladies upstairs), translating her magic into terms of needle and thread. The soft gleaming fabric clung round as lovely a figure, I thought, as ever entered a ballroom. [pg 131] There was just enough lace at the neck, not an inch too much: wonderful Rose Point. The Bygoods were not the only people who had lace, Miss Johanna said with a friendly sniff: and there was the Beryl Necklace, for which, the same lady pointed out, the satin had probably been woven and dyed. Certainly they were an astonishing match, and anything more beautiful than the combination of necklace and gown and Kitty cannot possibly be imagined. This is not just my enthusiasm—everybody said the same thing—except Miss Johanna; but her nod, and "H'm! you'll do!" was fully as emphatic.
So we went to the Party; our Party, given for us! two proud and happy girls.
Madam Flynt's spacious double parlors looked more ample than usual from the removal of most of the furniture. The tables were gone, the big sofa, all the armchairs except Madam Flynt's own; the Sheraton chairs shrugging their shoulders against the wall took up little room. The Turkey carpet was up, the polished floor gleamed in the light of numberless wax candles. Madam Flynt sat at the upper end of the long room, stately and handsome in lilac brocade with cascades of creamy Venetian Point. (I seem to be saying a great deal about lace: I can't help it: it is one of the pleasantest things I know!) Kitty and I stood by her, one on either side; Miss Croly, her purple alpaca exchanged for a silk of the same hue, hovered in the background, beaming welcome on the guests, but casting an occasional anxious glance at her friend and patroness. On her arm she carried [pg 132] a white Canton crape shawl, heavily embroidered, with long fringe. Occasionally she would bend over Madam Flynt and murmur something, with a gesture toward the shawl, but the hostess seemed unaware of her existence.
The Bygoods were the first arrivals. "Father" must have a chance to see the rooms, and to find a comfortable seat, before the crowd came. Next came the Messrs. Jebus, very nervous, very neat in their claret-colored frock coats. Why did they wear claret-colored frock coats? Everybody in Cyrus knows! Twenty-five years ago Russell Gaylord had had one made for a frolic, or a wager, I forget which; and after wearing it once, had given to Mr. Jason. Even then, the two cousins always dressed alike: Russell Gaylord was the glass of fashion and the mold of form; Mr. Josiah had the coat copied as exactly as might be; that is all the story.
The little gentlemen had their plan of campaign carefully laid out. They stepped through the long rooms as quickly as Mr. Josiah's lameness allowed, casting bird-like glances around them; they made their bows as Meltiah Torrence had taught them in their youth. "Two steps forward, to first position; bend from the hips, bob from the neck, recover; two steps back! Dismiss!" They delivered their speeches—not quite as they intended, be it said.
"We congratulate you, Madam Flynt, on this festal occasion!" said Mr. Josiah. "We thank you for the honor of your invitation."
"We have enjoyed ourselves extremely, we are [pg 133] obliged to you," chimed in Mr. Jason, "and we gratefully take our leave."
Fortunately neither gentleman perceived that Mr. Jason had said this instead of "We are prepared to enjoy ourselves extremely, and we gladly join the gay circle!" Madam Flynt heard, understood, and appreciated. Their acknowledgments made, the Jebusites, as Dr. Ross used to call them, proceeded to explore the rooms, apparently with some special object in view. Their bird-like glances flitted from side to side, growing more and more anxious; they began to utter noises as of mice in peril. Miss Croly came to the rescue. "The beautiful screen," she said, "has been moved into the hall, Mr. Jebuses. (One always addressed them thus!) Madam Flynt feared that it might inconvenience—I would say feared that the dancers might injure it. It shows well in the hall!" she added kindly. The partners, with sounds as of mice relieved, fled to the hall, where the object of their search stood against the wall: a tall screen, covered with exquisite embroidery. This they considered with minute and anxious care.
"There is less light here!" said Mr. Josiah.
"But everybody will see it!" Mr. Jason consoled him.
Finally, they spent the greater part of the evening hovered about Mr. Josiah's chef d'œuvre and enjoyed themselves, as they had predicted, immensely.
Mr. Mallow and Mr. Jordano approached side by side, and were welcomed with dignified cordiality. They bent low before Madam Flynt; they gave separate [pg 134] and very special bows to Kitty and me: hers were the best, but I was not jealous.
"You've got an elegant party, Madam!" Mr. Mallow glowed with civic and neighborly pride. "I don't know as any place but Cyrus could show such a conjugation of pretty gals and handsome ladies."
"A galaxy!" exclaimed Mr. Jordano. "A golden galaxy! 'They walk in beauty like the night-tite-tite—' the second line escapes me! the poet Byron! Miss Kitty, boona sarah, as we say in beautiful Italy. Bella Italia, Miss Kitty! Bella Kitterina, also, if an old friend may take the liberty. Very eleganto, I must say."
"Grazie tante, Signor Jordano!" Kitty smiled and dimpled, and sent Mr. Jordano straight to the seventh heaven. He did not follow the words, but that did not matter; he was hearing Italian spoken by lovely lips, and his gentle spirit soared ecstatic. He stepped aside to make room for the Chanter girls who swept in, like a white muslin billow, and after breaking in curtseys to Madam Flynt, surged round Kitty and me in shouting chorus. Mr. and Mrs. Chanter came next, beaming good will on all; the three boys brought up the rear. Bobby and Rodney had come over from their college town on purpose; Aristides was in the High School; all three were in love with Kitty, in varying degrees of intensity, but Bobby's prior claim was silently conceded by the other two. He was the eldest; he had the Dress Suit (a gift from a distant uncle whose inches could no longer be clipped within it); he was captain of the college football team. He [pg 135] had been in love with Kitty as long as he could remember. Of course, while Tom was "round," Bobby never had any hope, not even when his enchantress used to call him "Pretty Bobby Shafto," and sing a little song, derisive but not unfriendly, about his being fat and fair, which he was, and about his combing down his yellow hair, which he might with advantage have done oftener, and about his going to sea, silver buckles at his knee, which was preposterous. When Kitty, perched on top of the fence, would trill in her silver voice,
"He'll come back and marry me, Pretty Bobby Shafto!" the boy's honest heart thumped at his ribs, and his cheeks grew redder, if that were possible. She was Tommy's girl; he was perfectly loyal to Tommy; still—but now that Tom was gone and no one ever heard a word from him, Bobby saw no reason why his own modest hopes might not soar; so soar they did.
Rodney and Aristides (the latter a chronic sufferer from his name, which he loathed equally in its entirety and in its customary abbreviation of "Sty") after making their bows, waited cheerfully for Bobby to ask Kitty for the first dance, which he promptly did. Rodney was just sidling up to claim the second when Wilson Wibird, leaning over Kitty from behind, laid a hand on the dance-card which hung from her fan.
"The rest are mine, Katrine!" he murmured.
Kitty, turning, spoke crisply. "Certainly not. Wilson! [pg 136] Why should they be? Did you ask for the second, Rodney? And you the third, Sty? I promised Mr. Jordano one; you can have the fifth, Wilson, if you like."
"If I like! cruel Katrine!" murmured Mr. Wibird. He folded his arms and glared savagely at the three Chanters, who smiled cheerfully at him and said in chorus, "Hello, Wilse! h'are ye?" Then he retired to the wall, where he stood, his arms folded in a Napoleonic attitude, his brows bent, his eyes following Kitty as she glided about the room.
Wilson Wibird had made up his mind to marry Kitty Ross, even before her return from Europe. There was no other mate for him in Cyrus, he confided to his one intimate, the greenish mirror that hung over his dressing table. She was lovely; she was accomplished; she had Mind and Taste; she could appreciate him, and on her the name of Wibird might be bestowed without derogation from its high descent. He saw himself in fancy—Wilson lived largely in fancy—the master of Ross House, welcoming his guests (and Kitty's) with the stately courtesy of a gentleman of the old school.
"Katrine and I bid you welcome!" he would say to the mirror. "The simple comforts of our home are yours as long as you care to share them!"
His air was very noble, he thought, as he waved his guests in. Now, Wilson was forced to acknowledge that up to this time Kitty had shown little sense of the honor he proposed to do her. He had met her several times, and walked with her along the street, [pg 137] but whenever he bestowed on her what he called a flower of speech, he found that she had an errand in the store they were passing. Sometimes he waited for her, and she never came out, being indeed well acquainted with the back door of every store on the street—sometimes he "punished" her by stalking on with bended brows. (Wilson loved bended brows; he sometimes bended them so far that his little eyes could hardly be seen; but this is by the way.) When he called in the evening, Kitty was apt to be busy waiting on her aunt, or else those Chanter girls were there. Altogether, Wilson felt that his suit was not prospering as it should: this, he told the mirror, must cease. She would set her will to his, forsooth! pretty birdling! She should see what it meant to thwart a man with a chin like that. He motioned toward his image. He must assert himself. Some lines of poetry came to his mind; lines which he had felt, the first time he read them, to describe himself:
"He was a strong man from the north, Light-locked, with eyes of dangerous gray." The poem went on to tell how the strong man took the lady in his strong white arms and bore her on his horse away. It was a fine poem. That, Wilson felt, was the attitude for him; he had been too gentle, too debonair; now she must feel his power. He had thought to impress it upon her by dancing with her through the entire evening. He had seen himself folding her in his strong white arms (decently hid in conventional black) floating through the glittering [pg 138] halls to the sound of voluptuous music. Now the music was sounding; old Meltiah Torrence scraping away at his old fiddle, his son Jabez squeaking on the cornet. It was our own, our only "music"; we loved it, but voluptuous is hardly the word for it. The music was sounding, and Wilson Wibird, instead of carrying out his program, was standing against the wall with folded arms and bended brows.
Mr. Mallow saw him and crossed the room to where he stood. "Why ain't you dancin', Wilse?" he inquired; and without waiting for a reply: "Go and take Lissy out for a turn! Nobody's asked her, and she admires dancin'. Ain't enough boys to go round. You go and take her out! Oh! hemp! nothin' at all, Very! nothin' at all!"
Mr. Jordano, backing down the room with Miss Almeria Bygood, had come to the end of it sooner than he expected, and his heel had come down with some force on Mr. Mallow's toe. Wilson took advantage of his uncle's momentary anguish to slip away, but he did not take Melissa out. He folded his arms and bended his brows against another part of the wall, where Kitty could not fail to see him as she passed. It was good Bobby Chanter who took Melissa out; I rather think he would have done it even without Kitty's breathless little, "Oh, no, Bobby; I must stop now. Do take out Melissa, there's a dear!" Bobby was a kind boy, and Melissa's face had been very wistful as she watched the dancing. A pretty face, if it could be filled out a little; the thin cheeks were [pg 139] flushed to-night, and the hazel eyes sparkled above the pretty pink challis, Uncle Marshall's gift.
"You make it tasty!" he bade Anne Peace. "Make it as tasty as any of 'em! put on plenty of gimp, or galloon, or whatever the style is. I want Lissy dressed as nice as any gal there. You make her look like Venus Dimedici, that travelin' man was talkin' about. He said she was great."
Mr. Mallow's rendering of the title of Venus made every i long. Miss Peace had her own opinion of Venus, but reserved it, and promised to do her best; which she certainly had done.
People came and came, and came. All Cyrus, of course, in its shining best: Mrs. Scatter in green poplin, Miss Pringle in blue; the Misses Caddie dressed alike in "that brown silk that was so fashionable one season—don't you remember? And then went out so sudden, and Hanks has been trying to get rid of the piece ever since. He put it down to half price directly Madam Flynt's invitations were out, and the Caddies took it and made it up themselves. There was four yards more than the pattern called for, but they took it all, so they could make over; and then if they didn't put every scrap of it into the skirt so 'twould fade alike! They stand out like penwipers, don't they?"
Thus Mrs. Bagley to her husband, who said, "Yes! yes! very tasty! very tasty!" being absorbed in the problem of how much "Acme astral" it would take to light these rooms, and what possibility there might be of persuading Madam Flynt to try it instead of candles.
[pg 140] Tinkham and Tupham came, in long barges: the former a little amused, a little patronizing as usual: patronizing not of Madam Flynt, but of Cyrus in general and Kitty in particular.
"Drives a cab, or so I understand. Yes! a sad come-down for an old family. I understand the aunt has come on to give countenance to it: you remember her; Johanna Ross; always peculiar!"
This attitude, whispered in the dressing room (to the silent rage of Miss Anne Peace, who longed to stick into Tinkham the pins she drew from its skirts and veils) rustled down the stairs and into the drawing-room, but appeared to evaporate at sight of Kitty and the beryl necklace.
Tupham was, as usual, hearty and friendly; pleased at being asked, and eager to "take in the whole show" for the benefit of those at home. Thus female Tupham managed to slide an appraising thumb and finger over Kitty's satin, "thick as a board, my dear, and soft—well, there!" while male Tupham made a point of sampling every item of food and drink with strict impartiality.
Corona College arrived rather late, in a somewhat superior, if not Tinkhamesque frame of mind. Madam Flynt, ever thoughtful, had bidden Bobby Chanter pick out ten nice boys for her, which he had done with anxious care. They had had a merry drive over, and were under the impression that they had come partly to please good old Bagpipes (a subtle rendering of Bobby's name), partly, perhaps unconsciously, to [pg 141] amuse themselves with the would-be graces of a rustic community.
A fragment of trialogue, overheard near the drawing-room door, conveys the attitude of these young gentlemen:
A. "Pink muslin one rather neat: what?"
B. "So-so; not too! blue one has more go to her. P'raps she's the lady cab-driver: they have one here, I'm told. Trot her out, what say? Put her through her paces!"
C. "Get on to the little thing with curls! She's quite a daisy. Think I must give her a turn." (Thank you, sir! This was my humble self.)
"Jerusalem! A. B. C. in sudden trio. "Great Scott! Who is that "By George! ripping perfectly stunning girl in green? I say, Bobs! Bags! screaming Pipes! Chanter! Won't you introduce me? Oh, I say, Bobby! I'm your friend! Don't go back on me!" etc., etc. Thus Corona in frantic whispers, plucking at Bobby Chanter, who swelled in serene pride, and was entirely kind to his friends, knowing Kitty's next dance to be his.
Kitty was kind to them too, and gave them an "extra" when she could, but mostly had to meet their impassioned pleadings with a smile and "So sorry! I am engaged, but do let me find you a partner!"
The collegians were nice, gentlemanly boys; we all had a delightful time, and I truly think they did. [pg 142] But here I may note a curious little by-product of the Party. For weeks after, Corona College had much business to transact in Cyrus. It came by train, one by one, and was observed to look eagerly about it on arrival, and to make hurried inquiry for a cab. Confronted by John Tucker, serenely yet critically observant, it suddenly decided it would walk, and proceeded to stroll about the village, investigating the shops and making aimless purchases, till the return train. Corona rarely met Kitty; the between-trains hour was just when she was taking Madam Flynt for her airing. Now and then, however, say on a rainy day, some happy youth would chance upon her, and walk home with her, and perhaps be asked in for a cup of tea, and return to Corona in a state of rapturous distraction very trying to his mates who had been dutifully practising football.
But here is a long digression: let us hurry back to the Party.
Among the revolving couples, none attracted more attention than Miss Almeria and Mr. Jordano, already mentioned. They danced the Boston Dip, seldom seen in these degenerate days. It is a slow, graceful waltz, very becoming to tall figures and sweeping velvet skirts. Mr. Jordano held his chin high; his eyes were nearly closed, a narrow slit only enabling him to pilot his partner safely through the dance; his expression, which totally belied him, was one of haughty arrogance. His lips moved constantly; one would have supposed he was murmuring caustic comments on the other dancers; instead, he was saying, [pg 143] "One, two, three, one, two, three!" in time, if not in tune, with the music. Miss Almeria's glossy braids bent gracefully over her partner's shoulder: her look was benign; she wore a slight, indulgent smile, as who should say, "Dancing is not what it was, but perhaps it is well for people to see occasionally what it can be."
Madam Flynt was enjoying her party immensely. Her eyes followed the dancers continuously. Kitty, of course, was the most delightful person to watch, but they all looked happy, and youth was not everything. Almeria held her own as well as anybody, and Egeria was hardly less graceful. Now if Johanna Ross hadn't a bee in her bonnet, she might be dancing with Edward Peters. She did not suggest this to the Judge, who was sitting beside her; she received his congratulations amiably. She was glad he thought it a pretty party; yes, the rooms did light up well. People with good rooms had a responsibility to Society—Madam Flynt leaned nearer the Judge, and her voice dropped.
"Of course, Edward, in a City, one might have thought—it might not have seemed proper to give Kitty a party so soon after—you understand! But everybody in Cyrus knows just how it is; and her not wearing black and all; but—well, if you must know, it was the Doctor made me do it."
"Dr. Pettijohn?" naming the Tinkham practitioner who had ministered to Cyrus' few ailments since Dr. Ross's death.
"No! no! our own Doctor—Dr. Ross, of course! [pg 144] I don't mean—I am no spiritualist, Edward, if that is why you are raising your left eyebrow!"
Judge Peters blushed and lowered the eyebrow.
"But it really is curious. Let me tell you! Several years ago, a young cousin came to visit me: Selina Hazelton: you may remember her. Her father had been ill, she may have had troubles of her own; in fact—but you shall hear. Anyhow, she drooped and drooped. I couldn't make her eat, and she didn't seem to care for anything; dreadful state she was in, and getting worse. So I sent for Dr. Ross, and he looked her over. Then I sent her out on an errand, and asked what he would advise. Would he give her a tonic? 'Give her a dance!' he said. 'Why Doctor!' I said. 'She can hardly walk, much less dance. Just to cross the street seems to tire her out. I think iron and wine is what she needs.' I always told him what I thought; he called me his consulting physician, you know: dear Doctor! Well, he said again, 'Give her a dance!' insisted on it, saying he got the idea out of Charles Reade. You know he was daft about Charles Reade. Well, my dear—friend, I did give her a dance. Invited all the college boys I knew; and they all came, and one beside. Georgie Hathaway asked if he might bring a friend, and I said yes, of course. Friend came; nice-looking lad; Porter, his name was. Well, when I saw the color he and Selina went, one white, the other greenish-purple, I knew what had been the matter with the child. They danced every dance together but two, and those they sat out on the woodbox in the upper hall. And I giving the party for her! [pg 145] Next day they were engaged—I was so surprised, of course! In two months they were married, and now they have three children and are as happy as June crickets. Well! so—now I come to the curious thing. You know how gay Kitty is—a gallant kind of gayety that makes me cry sometimes!"
The Judge nodded. Kitty passed at that moment, dancing with Mr. Mallow, who handed her about as if she were a cream tart on a gold dish. The Judge's eyes rested very tenderly on the girl.
"Well!" Madam Flynt bent still nearer till her lilac cap ribbons touched the Judge's fine gray hair. "I was thinking about her one evening, about ten days ago; and all of a sudden I seemed to hear Doctor speaking, as plain as I hear you to-night. 'Give her a dance!' he said. 'Give her a dance!' Now I am no spiritualist, Edward, but—what do you want, Cornelia Croly? I have told you that I will not be hovered over. You may be a hen turkey, but I am not—what is it?"
Miss Croly set her thin lips and advanced with a look of humble resolution. "Clarissa," she said firmly, "there is a draught!" and she folded the crape shawl round Madam Flynt's ample shoulders. Madam Flynt is a large woman, usually deliberate in her movements; but in the twinkling of an eye the shawl was whisked off, rolled in a ball, and handed to Judge Peters.
"Put that under my chair, will you, Edward?" said the lady. "Well under, so that nobody can get at it. [pg 146] Cornelia, I shall be obliged if you will go and see about supper. Time it was announced!"
Madam Flynt's supper ought to have a whole chapter to itself, but that may not be. It was a wonderful and delightful supper, and never was feast more thoroughly enjoyed. Kitty and I sat with the Chanters; such a merry time as we had! Sarepta had made the chicken salad, Sarah the croquettes, Abby Ann the coffee and rolls: as for the ice-cream, Bobby insisted that all the good fairies in the Fairy Book must have taken a turn at it; it was too good to be the work of earthly hands. Bobby glowed till you could have warmed your hands at him. His radiance was not lessened by the sight of Wilson Wibird glowering across the room.
"Poor Wilse!" he chuckled. "Supper doesn't seem to agree with him! Gee! it does with me, though! This salad suits my complaint first-rate: I wouldn't wonder but I got well now. Let me get you some more, Kitty!"
Kitty's kind heart smote her a little at sight of Wilson's tragic face. Had she been too horrid to him? She was almost sorry she hadn't another dance, though it was odious to be held so tight, and he would bump into one with his knees.
There were no more dances for Kitty that night. Her own party though it was, she had firmly refused to let it interfere with business. Directly after supper she slipped away, after a whisper in Madam Flynt's ear that brought the tears to the good lady's eyes, and made her even speak mildly when Miss Croly [pg 147] thought more ice-cream would not be good for her.
"I can get it myself, Cornelia," she said, "if you don't feel equal to the exertion. Or here is Mr. Jordano. Mr. Jordano, will you be so kind as to bring me some more ice-cream? Thank you! on the whole I'll have frozen pudding!"
Kitty, I say, slipped away, and in twenty minutes was back in her fur coat and cap, nodding brightly to the first departing guests. These were the Bygoods, who feared Father had already been up too long beyond his usual time; it was long since he had passed so delightful an evening.
"'The gay, the gay and festive throng, The halls, the halls of dazzling light!'" he quoted happily.
"But you never asked me to dance, Mr. Bygood!" said Kitty. "If you had asked me for the reel, I'd have stayed!"
"Oh! oh, te-hee! te-hee!" quavered Mr. Bygood. "I fear I might have reeled more than I should, Kitty,—though sober, my dear, though sober! New cider never hurt any one, and our amiable hostess assured me it was not twenty-four hours old."
Where had Wilson Wibird got hold of something stronger than new cider? Not at Madam Flynt's, certainly; yet this is what Kitty told me next day. Coming back from her last trip, at her own corner she came upon Wilson standing on the curbstone balancing himself and looking very forlorn. He called to her. He had lost his overshoes, and the snow was [pg 148] deep. "Could you give me a lift, Katrine?" he asked plaintively, the conqueror in him subdued by wet feet, which he hated as a cat does.
"If you'll promise not to call me 'Katrine'!" was on Kitty's lips; but she checked herself. She had been horrid to him; at her own party, too, when she ought to have been nice to everybody. "Weedy, seedy, needy—" "Think shame of yourself!" said Kitty to Kitty. Then aloud, "Very well, Wilson! I'll take you, though it's pretty late. Jump in!"
The weather had cleared, and the night was so glorious that for the latest guests, all young and vigorous, Kitty had insisted on shifting over to Pilot and the open sleigh, and sending John Tucker home to his Mary, who had chosen this evening to have a "spell." Pilot thought it was time for a warm mash and bed; he sped swiftly through the white silent streets, where only an upper window here and there twinkled its assurance that the event of the season was over. The Wibirds lived at the other end of the village; Mrs. Wibird and Melissa had been among the early departures in the warm hooded sleigh behind Dan.
Seated beside Kitty, wrapped in the same fur robe, Wilson felt the strong man from the north revive within him. The keen frosty air went to his head; or had something else gone there before? When Kitty, wishing to be kind to this forlornity, turned to him with "Hasn't it been a delightful evening, Wilson?" she was met by a burning glance (again, she would have called it a leer!) and a husky voice exclaiming, [pg 149] "Now, this moment, the evening begins! Katrine! my hour dawns!"
"Don't be silly, Wilson!" she said curtly, but Wilson swept on,
"You are beside me. I feel your presence, your gaze intoss-toxicates, Katrine! Together, thus, let us speed on through the night"——
"Kitty!" I cried, "you frighten me! What did you do?"
"My dear, it was perfectly simple. You know there is rather a sharp corner at the end of the street? We were near it. I cut it a little sharper, that's all. Up went one runner, out went Master Wilson into a nice soft drift. I was sorry to lower Pilot's opinion of my driving, but it was really the only thing to do. But that is the last time I shall be sorry for Wilson Wibird. Odious little atomy!"
Which shows that even strong men from the north do not always see themselves as others see them.