Cyrus rises early as a rule, though the definition of the adverb varies. Six is my hour; I hold it a good one, winter and summer. But if I have ever mentioned this to City friends who get up at eight, with the purring contentment that early risers feel and that late risers scorn, I do so no more, since hearing the following fragment of dialogue between two Cyrus women:
Mrs. A.: "What time did it happen?"
Mrs. B.: "Oh! we was all up. 'Twas four or five o'clock; 'twas late!"
Collective Cyrus, that part of it at least that went to Madam Flynt's party, allowed itself an extra half hour the following morning; all but two people. With the earliest morning red, Mrs. Sharpe and Cissy leaped from their beds, prepared and swallowed a hasty breakfast, flung on their "things," and rushed out into the street. They wasted no time in speech beyond a few exclamatory remarks while dressing. No words were needed between them: they knew what they knew. Behooved that the World should know. In the street they separated, one going north, one [pg 151] south. Since we cannot follow both, let us take the mother.
The first person Mrs. Sharpe met was Jim Ruff, the one-armed milkman, whistling his way cheerily along. Jim was born with one arm, and never could for the life of him see what folks wanted of two. In his off hours he was a nurse, and in great demand among old gentlemen of rheumatic tendencies who liked to have "a rub and a lift" at bed-time. Mrs. Sharpe leapt into the roadway, beckoning: Jim checked his horse.
"Good morning, Jim! Only a pint this morning, please; we've had breakfast. Leave it inside the storm door, will you? Have you heard the news?"
"Not a word!" Jim leaned over the dasher sociably. "Nice party, was it? The cream was all right anyway, I bet!"
"Very nice! very nice!" Mrs. Sharpe waved the cream away hastily. "But what is the outcome, I ask you? What comes of dancing and jigging and feasting? Destruction! Kitty Ross has eloped with Wilson Wibird!"
"What!" People did not, as a rule, pay much attention to Mrs. Sharpe, but the milkman was startled out of his usual calm.
"What you say, Mis' Sharpe?"
"They have eloped!" she repeated. "Kitty Ross and Wilson Wibird! I saw them with these eyes. Isn't it awful? What did I always say? But I won't keep you, Jim!"
She waved her hand as if stricken speechless; in [pg 152] reality, she had spied Mr. Cheeseman, stumping along to take down his shutters and open shop. Him she attacked with such suddenness that he almost dropped his pipe.
"Let me prepare you for a shock!" cried the lady. "You are an aged man, Mr. Cheeseman, and your nerves are easy shook. What I have to tell might strike an aged person into palsy, I wouldn't wonder. There has been an elopement in Cyrus! a wicked, terrible elopement! Oh! what I say is, shall we ever hold up our heads again? When I think of what Tinkham will say!"
(Mrs. Sharpe came from Tinkham; we were too polite as a rule to say that that accounted for her.)
"I don't know what Tinkham will say," snapped Mr. Cheeseman, "nor I don't care. Cyrus will most likely say it ain't so. Who's eloped, I'd like to know!"
"Kitty Ross and Wilson Wibird!" The lady's thin neck shot forward, serpent-wise, as she hissed out the names. Mr. Cheeseman received the shock calmly.
"Don't believe a word of it!" he said.
"You don't! You don't believe the witness of these eyes? I tell you I saw them, the two of them, after midnight, in a sleigh, dashing through Cyrus Street, like—like flames of fire. The hoss was gallopin': they was fairly rushin' to their doom. Don't say you don't believe me, Mr. Cheeseman, because sight is sight, and I am not blind."
"No, nor dumb!" Mr. Cheeseman was not a patient man. "Likely the hoss got roused up, waitin' in the cold. I always tell Kitty she drives too tarnal [pg 153] fast. Wish you good mornin', Mis' Sharpe." And he stumped on, resuming his interrupted pipe in short, irritated puffs.
Mrs. Sharpe looked after him with a snort, half pitying, half contemptuous, and sped on her way. By this time the male part of Cyrus was trooping down to business. In half an hour every man in the street had heard with varying emotions that Kitty Ross had eloped with Wilson Wibird. I don't know that anybody exactly believed it; at least, no one was found who confessed afterward to having done so, but the Street certainly had an uncomfortable half hour till the counter report reached it; namely, that Wilson Wibird was lying in his bed, wounded and bleeding from a frightful accident with one of them wild hosses of Kitty Ross's. He had been hove out, and the hoss had gone off at a tearing gallop, and where Kitty was this minute no human being prob'ly knew. Likely she had been dragged to her death, and they would track her by the blood——
You see, Cissy had gone straight to the Wibirds', secretly determined for once to "get ahead of Mumma." Mrs. Wibird had been naturally perturbed at seeing her son "hove out" (it was at their own corner that the incident occurred) and at his stumbling into the house some minutes later, bleeding profusely, and in a savage humor. It was no wonder perhaps that she made the most of what she had seen, but she ought to have made it clear, as Melissa did afterward, that Wilson's bleeding was from the nose. The two reports met at Bygood's, like the two halves [pg 154] of a chemical formula. The gentlemen had just come in for their morning papers, and it seethed end bubbled around them. Judge Peters said "Pish!" Mr. Mallow said "Bosh!" Mr. Jordano waved his note-book in a composite frenzy of anxiety, incredulity and professional excitement, and murmured unintelligible sounds ending in "O". Italian, he always maintained, was the natural language of the emotions. The result of all this was that by eleven o'clock ("Earlier than that would not be decent, sir! not decent, after a party! The child is probably in bed, and the best place for her!" thus Judge Peters, very erect over his black satin stock), by eleven o'clock, I say, the Judge and Mr. Mallow were posting up the hill toward Ross House. Wholly improbable that anything was out of the way; those women ought to get thirty days, sir, and learn to govern their tongues! But if there were anything, these two, as old family friends, were manifestly the ones to look into it.
"We'll let you know, Very," said Mr. Mallow kindly, "if there's anything for you in it."
Mr. Jordano, still waving his notebook, thanked him, fervently, and turned to minister to Mr. Bygood, to whom the effervescence had penetrated, causing him great alarm. The ladies had not yet appeared: Mr. Jordano hovered about the old gentleman, adjuring him to be calm and murmuring, "No periloso! no dangeroso! Cheer up-pup-pup, my venerable friend; all will be right-tite-tite!" in a manner equally agitated and agitating.
The Judge and "the Mine Host," as the Centinel [pg 155] loved to call him, were not the first callers at Ross House. Bobby Chanter, speeding down the hill to his morning train, met Cissy's half of the chemical formula on the way; threw Education to the dogs, and sped back up the hill at a rate that brought him to Ross House crimson and breathless. His furious ring producing Sarepta Darwin in a state of high tension, he could only gape at her, and gasp, "All right?"
Now this was no morning to gape at Sarepta. In the first place, she had slaved like three niggers, as she expressed it, the day before, had got to bed long after midnight, and been kept awake long after that, recalling the way Kitty had looked and the way "the folks" had looked at her. In the second place, she had already been bothered enough by Jim Ruff, who had no business that she knew of to inquire minutely into the state of Kitty's health, wanting to know if Sarepta had seen her this morning, and what time she got home. He got a flea in his ear all right, Sarepta reflected comfortably; now she was fully ready for the next intruder.
"All right?" she said with acerbity. "All wrong, I should say, from the looks of you! Ain't you ashamed, Bobby Chanter, at this time in the morning? Go home and tell your Pa, and see what he'll say to you! The idea! You're a disgrace!"
She was shutting the door, but Bobby was not a football player for nothing. An adroit foot checked the door in its closing, and the next moment a broad shoulder pressed through the opening, followed by the whole person of a very vigorous young man. Bobby [pg 156] shut the door and stood against it: he had got his breath by this time; also, it was evident from Sarepta's aspect that no disaster had come to the house.
"Don't be crusty, Sarepta!" he said coaxingly. "Tell me how Kitty is after the party! There's nothing the matter with me!" he added, "and I'm your friend, you know, Sarepta! I always was."
Sarepta's iron face relaxed: it was true. With the sole exception of Kitty, she thought little of girls, had been heard to say that she wouldn't be bothered raisin' 'em: but she liked a good-looking boy, and Bobby was undeniably good-looking. Before she could speak, however, a clear voice sounded from the stairway.
"How Kitty is? Very well, I thank you, Bobby Shafto!" and there was Kitty herself coming downstairs, so distractingly pretty in her brown corduroy suit that Bobby's feelings flew "all ways to once't," like Huldy's in "The Courtin'." She was too adorable! Bobby wanted to go down on his knees then and there, among the walking-sticks and the Christmas greens, and cry out that she was his queen, and that he would rather be under her little lovely feet than on a king's throne. But Bobby was twenty-three years old and a senior at Corona College.
"All right, are you, Kitty?" he asked. "I—I thought I'd just inquire as I went to the train."
"Bobby! the train has gone! I heard it whistle just as you rang the bell. Won't you catch it from the dean? Come into the sitting-room!"
Muttering that he couldn't stop, Bobby came in; [pg 157] would not sit down, but leaned against the door with an air of elaborate detachment.
"Got home all right, Kitty? It was mean of you not to let me see you home."
"Don't you think I had earned a little solitude, Bobby? I didn't get it though!" Kitty's eyes twinkled.
"What do you mean? We were the last load, you said."
"Yes, you were! but I met Wilson, and he had lost his rubbers, and looked so forlorn, I had to take him home, Bobby, when he asked me."
"He didn't!" Bobby's cheek flushed. "The impudent shrimp!"
"Impudent shrimpudent!" said Kitty, and then remembered that she had never played rhymes with Bobby.
"I—I didn't take him quite all the way!" she began, and then broke into a peal of laughter so clear and joyous that Sarepta had to make a special errand—a stick of wood, it was, which the fire did not need—to see what was up.
"Glad you didn't! of all the cheek I ever heard of! I wish I'd been there. How did you get rid of him, Kitty?"
"Why—I ought not to tell, Bobby. Promise never to tell anybody! Promise, Sarepta! Well—Wilson felt a little sentimental after the party and all, and I—I—tipped him out, going round the corner!"
"Ha! ha! ha!" roared Bobby Shafto.
[pg 158] "He! he! he!" tittered Sarepta, and fled, her bread being in the oven.
Kitty held out her hands with a sudden gesture, Bobby grasped them, and the two danced up and down, holding hands and laughing like two children. Kitty ought to have known better. There are so many psycho-chemical formulae; they combine so easily, especially with certain cardiac conditions. She knew perfectly well that Bobby had been sighing and looking and sighing again, ever since she came back. I am afraid she was rather used to sighs and looks. She had spoken casually of "people" in Switzerland and Italy who had been "rather foolish." She knew, or she ought to have known, that it was one thing to dance with a lad at the party, one revolving unit among many, and a wholly different thing to take hands with that lad and dance child-fashion, just the two of them in all the world. What wonder that poor Bobby Shafto was swept out to sea in good earnest? He could not know that the girl was not really thinking of him at all, that she was dancing with Tommy Lee, as she always had danced, ever since she could toddle.
Kitty saw the look in Bobby's eyes, and a cold wave swept over her. She would have withdrawn her hands, but Bobby held them tight.
"Kitty!" The laughter died out of his rosy face.
"Yes, Bobby! we must stop now, and you must run along; I have my housekeeping to see to."
[pg 159] "Kitty, dear! wait just a minute. I—I want—I wish I might hold these little hands all the time!"
Kitty tried to laugh. "Can't be done, Bobby," she said, "it would interfere with my driving. Let me go, please, there's a good Bobby Shafto!"
But Bobby could not be stopped now. "I must tell you!" he cried. "I have to! I love you so, Kitty, I can't think of anything else. And it isn't all selfishness, dear. I want to take care of you. I won't have you exposed to insults from a miserable chump like Wilson Wibird. I shall be out of college next year, Kitty, and I have a good job promised me; won't you—won't you let me take care of you, my dear?"
Kitty was grave enough now. Her gray eyes were full of tender kindness, as they looked straight into the boy's burning blue ones; but at that kind look, the cold wave swept over him, too.
"Dear Bobby! dear, good friend! no! it can never, never be. No! don't say any more. Let me go, please, my dear!"
He dropped her hands, and turned away with a little broken sound. It was not quite a sob, but it went straight to Kitty's heart. Cruel, wicked girl that she had been! This was her friend, Tommy's friend, from petticoat-days. Was this the best she could do for him?
"Bobby," she said quietly, "come into the sitting-room a minute! I have something to say to you."
Bobby followed her mutely, with hanging head. She beckoned him to a seat beside her on the leather [pg 160] sofa. She was trembling, but she managed with an effort to steady her voice.
"We have been friends all our lives, Bobby!" she said. "I am going to be honest with you; it is the least thing I can do, and the only thing. If you think a little, Bobby Shafto, perhaps—you will see why I cannot—cannot care in the way you mean, my poorest Bobby. Think back a little! There—there used to be three of us; don't you remember?"
Her voice sank almost to a whisper, but her eyes were brave and honest. Bobby looked into them: then he hung his head: the comely red ebbed out of his face, leaving it very pale.
"I—I wouldn't have spoken at all if he had been here!" he muttered. "Of course I wouldn't! but——"
"I know you wouldn't, dear! And, oh, Bobby, I may never see him again. He may be dead, or—or—he may never think about me at all, he may care for somebody else: think of all the girls he has met since he went away! but—but you see, Bobby, there will never be any one else for me."
When Bobby had gone away sadly down the hill, Kitty ran up to her room and had a good solid cry, a thing she rarely indulged in.
"Tommy!" sobbed the girl, and she stretched out her young lonely arms to the empty air. "Tommy, I do want you so! Aren't you ever coming? Don't you really care? I want my Duke of Lee! Oh, how happy would this gentlewoman be, to be blessed with her Duke's good company! Oh! oh!"
By and by she got the better of herself, dried her [pg 161] eyes, washed her face, and was cheerful Kitty again. Then she did an absurd thing: Kitty was absurd, there was no denying that. She went to the long glass and curtsied to her image: then, gravely and formally, she proceeded to dance the "Duke of Lee," stepping high, stepping low, tossing her pretty head, waving her pretty arms, all as carefully and precisely as if a partner had been bowing and pirouetting opposite her. While she danced, she sang the song from end to end; sang it so clear and sweet (barring one little sob in the middle) that Aunt Johanna, in her bed, wiped her eyes and thanked goodness some one was happy in the world; and Sarepta Darwin in the kitchen sniffed, and forgot for the moment the dreadful fact of her having got too deep a bake on them loaves, l'iterin' in the parlor with them triflin' children.
As the last "Marry oo, diddy goo, diddy goo!" died away, the doorbell rang, and Kitty went down, cheerfully, to receive Judge Peters and Mr. Mallow.
The gentlemen had just called in passing to ask how Kitty found herself after the party: quite unnecessary to ask, on seeing her, said the Judge, but they thought they would call. What a delightful party! Madam Flynt always did things well. That was so! Mr. Mallow opined. She had a genus for soci'ty, no two ways about that. Used to entertain a great deal in the Colonel's time; Colonel was social, too. Great thing to have the house open again.
"Got home all right, did you, Kitty?" Mr. Mallow bolted from the carefully circuitous path laid down by the Judge.
[pg 162] "All right, thank you, Mr. Mallow! It cleared off fine, you know, and I took Pilot and the open sleigh for the last few loads. It was such fun!"
"Pilot is a fine horse!" the Judge nodded the approval of a connoisseur. "A spirited animal! a trifle hard-bitted, is he, Kitty?"
"Kind o' fresh last night, was he? Cold night and all; don't blame him a mite!" chimed in Mr. Mallow.
Kitty looked from one to the other; her eyes began to twinkle.
"What's the matter?" she asked. "Did I drive too fast for somebody? You know Father always called me a daughter of Jehu, Judge. Have you come to arrest me for fast driving? Is it to be fine or imprisonment?"
The Judge laughed outright. "You are too sharp for me, Kitty; or Brother Mallow is too impatient for diplomatic procedure. Well! nothing of any consequence, my dear; we gather that your last trip was rather speedy, and that there was a little—a trifling accident toward the end of it. We—a—passing by, you understand—thought we would inquire—we wanted to make sure that you were not hurt, my dear."
"Wilse Wibird was hove out, they claim!" Mr. Mallow could not abide what he called "snangles" in conversation. Give him a fack and he could handle it, but he wouldn't have no snangles.
"His Ma says the hoss was runnin' away; how about it, Kitty?"
[pg 163] Kitty broke into a sudden laugh; then suddenly looked grave.
"Pilot never ran away in his life, Mr. Mallow! Don't let John Tucker know that he was ever suspected of such a thing. I was to blame, Judge. I—wanted to get home; I cut the corner too sharp, and Wilson rolled out, that's all! I suppose I ought to have stopped," she added. "I never thought of his being hurt, I truly didn't. There was a nice fat drift, and he went into it so comfortably, I thought! I do hope he isn't hurt, Mr. Mallow!"
Here Kitty looked up at the two gentlemen with such a penitent expression that they both laughed again.
"No serious injury, I gather!" said Judge Peters.
"Hurt his pride and made his nose bleed," said Mr. Mallow. "That's all, Kitty. Don't you worry about him!"
Something in her face made him add impulsively, "Wilse hadn't been pesterin' you, had he, Kitty?"
Kitty turned scarlet and jumped up hastily.
"Oh, no!" she said. At least she was sure Wilson had not meant to annoy her. She was so glad he was not hurt, and now she wanted to show the Judge her Dutch bulbs. He knew all about bulbs, and she thought some of them looked queer.
"Blubs, eh? Good business!" Mr. Mallow rose also. "While you're showin' him the blubs, I'll step into the kitchen if you've no projection, Kitty, and ask S'repty for her receipt for them marracoons of [pg 164] hers. She promised it to me. Talk of Dutch, they beat any Dutch ever I see!"
The bulbs pronounced upon, and Mr. Mallow lingering in fervent consultation over the "marracoons," the Judge inquired for Miss Johanna. He trusted she was gaining steadily. It was hard for so active a person to be deprived of liberty of locomotion even for a time. Was she—a—interested in the bulbs? Fond of flowers, perhaps?
"Oh, yes, indeed, Judge! She enjoys them as much as I do. I take every pot up to her room as soon as it begins to bud. She isn't really ill, you know, just tired and resting. Speaking of flowers, do you know, some unknown friend sends her the most wonderful violets, every week! They scent the whole house! Don't you smell them, Judge Peters?"
The Judge sniffed gravely and thought he did perceive a fragrance: highly agreeable. Miss Ross was fond of violets?
"They are her favorite flowers; and just think," Kitty rippled on, "they have come to her every week for twenty years, and she has never known who sent them. Did you ever hear of anything so romantic?"
"Quite so!" the Judge rose and looked about for his hat. "Very pleasant, very agreeable. Probably the sender enjoys the blossoms fully as much as the recipient. Present my kindest regards to your aunt, will you, Kitty? Tell her I trust it will not be long before her old friends may enjoy the privilege of her society. Ahem! Brother Mallow, we should be stepping. [pg 165] Good-bye, my dear! Happy to find you so well!"
Going down the hill, the two gentlemen came to a conclusion which was less than just to the unfortunate Wilson. He was not drunk, only slightly "elevated," to use an obsolescent slang phrase. But Mr. Mallow knew his nephew well, and if there was a doubt, Wilson received no benefit of it. Wilson had been drunk, they decided, and had annoyed Kitty, who had "speeded up" the only-too-ready Pilot in order to escape his importunities. Young cub had ought to be horsewhipped, Mr. Mallow thought; the Judge urged a severe reprimand instead. Kitty must be kept out of this so far as might be, he said. A different impression must be created from either of the two which had been—unfortunately—put about early in the day. Yes! highly injudicious.
"Pair o' darned patterin' chetticoats!" interjected Mr. Mallow, and neither he nor the Judge noticed the transposition of consonants.
Gravely consulting, the two gentlemen repaired to the office of the Centinel, where "Italio" had already begun a fervid eulogy of the Party. As a result, the following paragraph appeared next morning in the paper:
"Among those who ministered to the enjoyment of Cyrus in connection with the delightful festivity of last evening, not least was our talented and accomplished young equestrienne, Miss Katharine Ross, who with the valuable assistance of Mr. John Tucker transported all the guests to and from the ball with equal [pg 166] skill and celerity. The gallant steeds which Mr. Tucker keeps in such prime condition partook of the gayety of the occasion, and doubtless in their equine fashion enjoyed the evening as much as the fortunate bipeds whom they furnished with the means of speedy locomotion. The Scribe is informed that an unexpected burst of playful speed on the part of the justly-celebrated black thoroughbred, Pilot, was the cause of one of our young gallants' receiving a morning bath of snow earlier than his accustomed hour. Hard luck, Wilson! Italio is glad you got off with a nosebleed!"
So Pilot had to bear the blame after all, and John Tucker was furious.