Miss Johanna did not go back to bed. She had had six months of rest, she said, and that was enough.
"Besides," she added, "I must show myself for poor Russell's sake. I can't have people saying that he ruined my health for life, as well as destroyed my reason."
She spoke frankly to Kitty, as they sat together on the leather sofa, the evening after the funeral.
"That was why I went away!" said Miss Johanna. "We were very much in love with each other, but it was no use. He couldn't keep straight; and I am not a fool, Kitty. He wouldn't give me up, so I went away. Wrongly, your little mother thought; John knew I was right. So there is all about that!" Thus Miss Johanna, very erect on the sofa. Kitty, moving close beside her, put her arm round her and laid her fair head against her shoulder.
"Thank you, my dear! yes, it was hard; almost as hard to have Mary disapprove of me as to lose him." Miss Johanna brushed away a tear, and frowned at the spot on her handkerchief.
"She asked me—little romantic goose of a white [pg 201] rose!—if I thought she would leave John if he——'My child,' I said, 'John would leave you! John would allow nothing of that kind to come within sight or sound of you. If he found he had to drink, he would go and drink in the Mammoth Cave, and drop the bottles into the bottomless pit.' It was true!
"But mind you, Kitty!" Miss Johanna spoke incisively, after a silence, during which both had gazed into the fire with tear-bright eyes. "You must not think I have mourned for twenty years. People don't do that, not even women. I mourned for a good while, as long as was reasonable; perhaps longer. Otherwise, I have been a busy and on the whole a contented woman. Why shouldn't I be? I have friends all over the country; I have had many pleasures; now, thanks to you, my dear child, I have a home, the home of my own childhood. Considering humanity in the aggregate, I have done extremely well. Extremely well! A single woman can be happy enough, Kitty," Miss Johanna did not look at her niece as she spoke, "happy enough if she has sense. I have known spinsters who had twice as many children as if they had borne 'em; and I've known mothers, dozens of 'em, with hearts and arms as empty as their heads. And if Sarepta Darwin wants anything," added Miss Johanna, "I'll thank her to put a name to it, instead of clucking and scuttling out there in the hall."
Sarepta appeared, and fixed the speaker with a wintry eye. "I don't want anything!" she said austerely. "I was comin' to ask whether you wanted any supper; that's all. Bell rang ten minutes ago; [pg 202] don't make no odds to me whether it's hot or cold."
It did make odds to Miss Johanna, however, that Sarepta had prepared for supper all her little favorite delicacies, down to the dash of cinnamon on the buttered toast, with which she usually "couldn't bother." Late that evening, when Kitty was in bed, the stately lady crept down the back stairs to the kitchen, and had a comfortable little cry with her old grammar-school mate, who in her grim fashion had worshiped Russell Gaylord ever since, at the age of twelve, he gave her a bite of his apple.
The next thing, Miss Johanna announced, was the Visits. People had left cards for her when she came: sympathetic cards, inquisitive cards, scandalized cards, as the case might be. Now, for the sake of things in general (and Kitty in particular, it may be confessed between author and reader), Miss Johanna determined to "make her manners," and prove her sanity of mind and body. These were exciting days for Cyrus. One hardly dared leave the house for fear of missing The Call.
"Has she been to see you? She has? Well! how did she appear? Was she flighty, or what you would call reasonable? Stylish? Well, you would expect that! she was always one to dress. What did she——oh! broadcloth! Well! that is always ladylike. They claim basket-weaves are all the style now, but I don't know. Anyhow, it's something for her to be in her right mind."
Mrs. Wibird was openly disturbed about the influence that Johanna was likely to exert over Kitty.
[pg 203] "While she was in her bed," said the lady, "it was another matter; but now, the two of them together, and like that, it's my fear we shall see things that we are not used to them in Cyrus."
Melissa was on fire instantly.
"I don't know what you mean, Mother! What kind of things?"
"No, you don't know, my child;" Mrs. Wibird shook a melancholy head over the bowl in which she was mixing gingerbread. "You don't know, and it is far from my wish that you should." (N. B. The good lady had no idea herself what she meant, but Lissy shouldn't speak back like that.) "I say nothing; nothing at all! I never do say anything, as is well known. But take the way Kitty Ross drives, which is in itself a scandal, be the other who it may; and add to it a person who has always been peculiar, and now little better than a lunatic, if all one hears—hand me the spice-box, will you, Lissy? You've kned that dough enough; you'll take the courage all out of it—all I say is, I hope Cyrus will not rue the day that either one of them—My gracious, Lissy! they're driving up to the door this minute! Here, take my apron! No! You go to the door—no, I'll go to the door and keep 'em back while you pull up the parlor curt——
"Johanna Ross! do not tell me this is you! well! well! well! you are a stranger! Kitty comin' in? No! the wild animal wouldn't stand, of course. Terrible!" as Kitty and Pilot whisked round the corner. "I expect to see her dashed in fragments any day: any day! My son Wilson nearly met his death the night of [pg 204] Madam Flynt's party. Well, if this isn't a sight for sore eyes. Come in! Come right in, Johanna! I never thought to be welcoming you into my humble sitting-room in this world!"
The Misses Bygood had made fitting preparations to receive their old friend and schoolmate. The covers were taken off Aunt Messenger's Chair (embroidered by that lady seventy-five years ago, and as fresh as the day it was finished, owing to the covers; there were three, one basted, one tied, and the third but- toned on); the tidies and the frilled tassel-bags were done up—I met some one the other day who had never heard of a tassel-bag!—an extra touch given to the shining silver and crystal. And after all this, Miss Johanna made her call in the shop! One might have known she would! Miss Almeria reflected; there was a shade of austerity on her smooth brow as she advanced to greet her guest. Miss Johanna was buoyant.
"Howdy? howdy?" she cried. "Second call, you see, Almy! First call on Madam Flynt, second on Miss Bygoods: Proprieties of Cyrus, volume I, chapter I. Father down yet?"
Father not down; it was early for him. Egeria usually brought him down at ten o'clock. It was now but——
"I know! half-past nine. I came early on purpose. To-morrow Kitty and I are coming to the house to tea, if you will have us, Almy. We want the Chair taken out, and the tassel-bags done up, and the Lowestoft cups. I'll wear my best dress, which [pg 205] is a beauty. But now—may I help you dust? You used to let me—thanks! Best of Almys!"
Miss Almeria proffered a silk duster with fingers that trembled slightly. She and Johanna Ross had been intimates in girlhood; she had found it hard to forgive the slight put upon Cyrus by her friend in leaving it with no word of explanation. She now felt that there had been extenuating circumstances. She had never thought to have Johanna dusting with her again.
For some minutes they plied their delicate task in silence; then:
"My stars!" cried Miss Johanna. She turned with shining eyes, holding up a book. "Almeria! here is 'Guy Livingstone' behind the Manila envelopes, where I dropped him twenty years ago when you wanted to burn him. Precious tome! untidy girl! Where is your housekeeping?"
Her laugh rang out triumphantly; a delightful laugh, clear and bell-like as Kitty's own.
Miss Almeria laughed, too. "I think you will find no dust on the volume, Johanna!" she said demurely. "I never thought it suitable for general circulation, as you are aware, but——"
Miss Johanna gave her a kind glance.
"But you kept it for naughty Johanna's sake! That was very sweet of you, Almy. I'll take it with me now, if you don't mind. Ah! 'I know men who would have given five years of life for the whisper that glided into his ear as he gave Miss Bellasys her candle on retiring, ten for the Parthian glance that shot its arrow [pg 206] home.' Now that is the way to write, Almeria Bygood! Nobody writes like that nowadays."
Then with an abrupt change of tone, "I wanted to ask you one or two things, Almy. You have sense, even if you don't appreciate 'Guy Livingstone.' People like my Kitty, do they, Almeria?"
"Can you doubt it, Johanna? She is the idol of Cyrus. I express myself too strongly!" Miss Almeria corrected herself: "idolatry is not a—sentiment which—everybody loves her, Johanna! Who could possibly help it? She is the light of the place!"
The touch of frost melted away, and Miss Almeria glowed with tenderness.
"Good!" Miss Johanna nodded approbation. "She ought to be! She is a blessed little Christmas candle! And—a—about the driving, Almy! It hasn't—eh? People don't think—you know what I mean!"
"Perfectly!" Miss Almeria bent her stately head in comprehension. "At first, Johanna, there were a few criticisms; only a few, and those not from persons whose opinions carry any weight in the community. In general, Kitty has had from the first the respect as well as the affection of Cyrus. Her course was unusual, but the circumstances were unusual. You need have no fear, Johanna!"
"Because of course," Miss Johanna paused to straighten a calendar which was hanging awry; "of course there is no need of her driving, you know, Almy!"
"No need?" repeated Miss Almeria.
"None in the world! I have done very well; I [pg 207] have plenty for both of us. But it was so good for her, and she was enjoying it so, I hadn't the heart to say 'Stop! Sit down, fold your hands, be a Young Lady of Cyrus'—Beg pardon, Almy! You know I always loved it, if it did stifle me!—when she was so gallant and having such a wonderful time. I pay enough to make it easy for her, with the business, you see. A single woman without a trade is a dog without a tail, my dear; you know that! What are you flashing at, Almeria Bygood? Have people been saying—they have! Transparency, thy name is Almy! They have been saying that I am—I suppose you would never speak to me again if I should say 'bumming' on Kitty!"
"The expression is new to me!" Miss Almeria stiffened for an instant, then flashed again.
"Of course, Josie—" the diminutive slipped out unaware—"Egeria and I—in fact, all your friends knew it was absurd to suppose for a moment that—that you would think of any such thing; but—well, you know there are persons, even in Cyrus, of suspicious nature; in short, my dear, I am glad to be able to make a positive statement to the effect——"
"Ah, but you aren't!" Johanna Ross turned a face a-twinkle with mischief.
"You aren't able to make any statement at all, Almy. I don't authorize it! No!" as Miss Almeria exclaimed, protesting. "You are not to say a single word. Let Cyrus sup full on my iniquities! My dear soul, when I say Cyrus in this sense, of course I mean the Sharpes, and I know as well as you that they are [pg 208] really Tinkham, So—Ah! here is Mr. Bygood! Good morning, Mr. Bygood! What can I offer you this morning? Something in the fancy line, my dear Sir? A looking-glass is what you need, to see how handsome you are. Oh! oh! if here is not Marsh Mallow! Marshall, how do you do? How do you spell 'fish' nowadays? Do you remember, Almy? He thought 'Psyche' was the queerest way of spelling 'fish' that ever he saw. Ha! ha!"
Judge Peters was late that morning. He had been detained by various petty annoyances. First he had cut his chin while shaving; then Mary wanted to talk about the price of eggs, which was a scandal, and to explain at length why there had been a button off his shirt last week. A client had come blundering to the house instead of the office—most annoying!—with a flood of questions about stumpage and flowage, and a torrent of asseverations that he wasn't goin' to be put upon, nobody needn't think he was. No l'ywer had ever got the better of him yet, his teeth was all eye-teeth, and he didn't cut 'em yesterday neither, no, sir! Etc., etc., etc. Altogether the Judge had been tried, and was in great need of his morning paper, and a few minutes of sedate chat at Bygoods' before going to his office. On entering the familiar door he started; absolutely started! the quiet place was a-bubble with laughter. Mr. Bygood's high "Te-hee! oh, very neat! very neat! te-hee!" quavered above the rest, but they were all laughing. Miss Almeria's blue eyes were flashing with merriment, Miss Egeria's beaming softly, as she murmured, "Most diverting, I [pg 209] am sure!" Mr. Jordano was waving his notebook in a state of excited rapture, while Mr. Mallow, his head thrown back, uttered sonorous bellows of laughter. Miss Johanna was telling stories. Standing erect, her back against the counter, trim and elegant in her purple broadcloth, she held them all spellbound. Her dark eyes shot sparkles of mirth; her whole countenance was alight with fun and mischief. At sight of the Judge's grave face in the doorway, a shadow swept over her own for a moment; their looks crossed gravely, not like swords; say, like heralds' staves! Next moment the lady was laughing again.
"Come in, Judge!" she cried. "Come in, Edward! Here I am, Johanna rediviva! We are having a Bygood reunion. There is one new boy!" she flashed a smile at Mr. Jordano, reducing him to the verge of fatuous idiocy; "the rest of us are all Bygood children, and Mr. Bygood is going to call the spelling class this minute. Go away, Kitty!" as Kitty's wondering face peeped in at the door. "This isn't the infant class. You are not born or thought of yet. Drive up and down the street a couple of times, will you, my dear? Or—say you meet me at Cheeseman's in fifteen minutes! I want some lemon drops."
Kitty, with a nod of comprehension, sped away; a little lonely at heart, seeing them all so merry. Youth was a sad time, it seemed; when one was entirely used to it, it would be different, she supposed. Then she caught sight of Lissy Wibird and Nelly Chanter posting along the street, laden with parcels from the General Store (Adamses' had no delivery; if [pg 210] folks wanted things, they could come and get 'em, was their view). Joyously signaling, Kitty drew up at the curbstone; swept the girls and their parcels into the wagon, and took them for a "perfectly delirious spin," as Nelly called it, along the Tupham Causeway. It was nearer half an hour than fifteen minutes before she drew up at Cheeseman's, her pocket full of apologies for keeping her aunt waiting; when, behold, the said aunt coming slowly down the street, Judge Peters beside her. The laughter had died out of Miss Johanna's face; she looked gravely downward, listening to her companion, whose face was equally grave. Kitty wondered; might have wondered more, had she overheard their words.
"I shall come very soon!" said the Judge. "You will find me unchanged, Johanna, in every respect."
"I am glad to hear it, Edward!" Miss Johanna gave a glance half sad, half quizzical, at the Judge's handsome iron-gray hair; "I have never found the Fountain of Youth; I am an old woman, simply and frankly."
"You are pleased to say so!" the Judge bowed courteously. "I have never measured sentiment by the calendar; nor do I find," the Judge's deep voice trembled slightly, "that Memory has lost any of her charm. With your permission, Johanna, I will call to-morrow evening."
"Oh, dear!" sighed Miss Johanna. "Yes, do, Edward; I shall be delighted to see you, and so will Kitty. Here I am, child! Had you given me up? We had to recite our history lesson, as well as spelling. [pg 211] 'King Canute reproved his flatterers and bade them perceive that he was unable to keep back the rising tide——'"
"Quite so!" said the Judge. "I wish you good morning, Johanna. Kitty, my love, your most obedient!"
"Oh, dear!" sighed Miss Johanna again as they entered the shop. "What is it Peggotty says? 'Drat the man!' Oh, how do you do, Mr. Cheeseman? You have been growing steadily younger for twenty years, I do believe!"