A Disturbed Hostess

Unfortunately for Berty, a woman across the street chose the hour of seven o’clock to have a fit of hysterics. Nothing would satisfy her perturbed relatives but a visit from “Madam,” as Grandma was known to the street.

Half-past seven came, and no Mayor. Selina Everest, tall, pale, and lilylike, in white and green, arrived soon after, then came Margaretta and Roger, and then, to Berty’s dismay, appeared Tom Everest, dropping in as if he expected to find her alone.

Berty said nothing, but her face grew pinker. Then she swept them all out to the semi-darkness of the veranda. The Mayor should not step into that brightly lighted room and find them all there.

Wedged comfortably on the veranda, and talking over mutual friends, Margaretta, Selina, and Tom were having a charming time. Roger, seated by the[140] glass door, was restless, and kept moving in and out the dining-room.

Berty was like a bird, perching here and there, and running at intervals to the front windows, ostensibly to watch for her grandmother, in reality to seize upon the Mayor at the earliest moment of his arrival.

Margaretta and Selina were in a corner of the veranda. Tom was nearest the dining-room, and presently there was a whisper in his ear. “Jimson has arrived—hot—mad—explanatory—detained—Berty condoling.”

Not a muscle of Tom’s face moved, and Roger, turning on his heel, departed.

Presently he came back. “Berty frantic—Jimson has got on wrong kind of necktie. She has corralled him behind piano.”

Poor Berty—she had indeed driven the unhappy late-comer behind the upright piano in the parlour. “Oh, Mr. Jimson, how could you? That necktie is a bright green!”

“Gr—green!” stuttered the discomfited man. “Why, I matched your sample.”

“You’re colour blind!” exclaimed the girl, in despair. “Oh, what shall we do—but your suit is lovely,” she added, as she saw the wilting effect of her words upon him. “Come, quick, before any[141] one sees,” and she hurried him out into the hall. “Here, go in that corner while I get one of my shirt-waist ties.”

Mr. Jimson, hot and perspiring, tried to obliterate himself against the wall until she came back.

“Here is a pale blue tie,” said Berty. “Now stand before the glass in that hat-rack,—give me that green thing. Selina Everest would have a fit if she saw it.”

The Mayor hastily tore off the bit of brilliant grass-green silk, and, seizing Berty’s blue satin, endeavoured to fasten it round his creaking collar.

Roger peeped out through the dining-room door and went back to Tom, and in a convulsion of wicked delight reported. “He’s titivating in the hall—has got on one of Berty’s ties. Just creep out to see him.”

Tom could not resist, and seeing that Margaretta and his sister were deep in the mysteries of coming fashions in dress, he tiptoed into the dining-room.

Berty and the Mayor out in the hall were too much engaged with each other to heed the peeping eyes at the crack of the dining-room door.

Mr. Jimson was in a rage, and was sputtering unintelligible words. Berty, too, was getting excited. “If you say a naughty word,” she threatened,[142] “I’ll take that tie away from you, and you’ll have to go home!”

The Mayor, wrathfully beating one foot up and down on the oilcloth, was trying to make the tie tie itself.

“Hang it!” he said, at last, throwing it down, “the thing won’t go at all. It was made for some woman’s neck. Give me that green thing.”

“You sha’n’t have it,” Berty flared up. “You will spoil yourself. Here, let me have the blue one. I’ll fasten it for you, if you’ll never tell any one I did it.”

Tom and Roger nearly exploded into unseemly merriment. The sight of the unfortunate Jimson’s face, the mingled patience and wrath of Berty, made them clap their hands over their mouths.

“There!” cried Berty, at last, “it’s tied. You men have no patience. Look round now. Come softly into the dining-room and drink some lemonade before I introduce you—no, stay here, I’ll bring it to you. Smooth your hair on the left side.”

The unfortunate man, breathing heavily, stood like a statue, while Tom and Roger tumbled over each other out to the veranda.

“What are you two laughing at?” asked Margaretta, suspiciously.

[143]

“At that black cloud there,” said Tom, pointing to the sky. “See it dragging itself over the stars. I say, Stanisfield, doesn’t that cloud strike you as being of a comical shape?”

“Very,” exclaimed Roger, with sudden laughter, “very comical. Trails out just like a four-in-hand necktie.”

“Very like it,” echoed Tom; then they both laughed again.

In the midst of their merriment, a quiet, patient voice was heard saying, “Margaretta, let me introduce Mr. Jimson to you,—and Miss Everest, Mr. Jimson.”

Tom and Roger huddled aside like two naughty boys, and Berty, with the Mayor behind her, stepped to the other end of the veranda.

Margaretta stretched out a slim, pretty hand. Miss Everest did likewise, and the Mayor, breathing hard and fast, turned to the two men. “I don’t need an introduction to you.”

“No,” they both said, shaking hands with a sudden and overwhelming solemnity.

They all sat down, and an uninterrupted and uninteresting chatter began. Every one but the Mayor was good-naturedly trying to make Berty’s party a success, and every one was unconsciously defeating[144] this object by engaging in trifling and stupid small talk.

“We’re not having a bit of a good time,” said Berty, at last, desperately. “Let’s go into the house.”

They all smiled, and followed her into the parlour. Here at least the Mayor would be able to look at Miss Everest. Out on the veranda he could not see her at all.

Quite unconscious of the others, he stared uninterruptedly at her. She was apparently oblivious of him, and was again talking fashions to Margaretta.

But Tom and Roger—Berty glared wrathfully at them. They were examining one of Grandma’s books of engravings taken from Italian paintings, and if it had been the latest number of some comic paper they would not have had more fun over it.

“Here is a framed one,” she said, taking a picture from the mantel, “by Sandro Botticelli.” Then, as she got close to them, she said, threateningly, “If you two don’t stop giggling, I’ll shame you before everybody!”

They tried to be good, they honestly did. They did not want to tease the kind little sister, but something had come over the two men—they were just like two bad schoolboys. If Mr. Jimson had been[145] aware of their mirth, they would have ceased, but just now he was so utterly unconscious—so wrapped up in the contemplation of Miss Everest, that they went on enjoying their secret pleasure with the luxury of good men who seldom indulge in a joke at the expense of others, but who rival the most thoughtless and frivolous when once they set out to amuse themselves.

Yes, Mr. Jimson was staring and silent, but after a time his silence ceased, and he began to talk. To talk for no apparent reason, and on no apparent subject.

Margaretta and Selina, who had been paying very little attention to him, courteously paused to listen, and he went on. Went on, till Berty began to twitch in dismay, and to wink—at first slyly and secretly, then openly and undisguisedly at him.

It was of no use. He had got “rattled,” as he had predicted, and was bound to have his say out. He made her a slight sign with his head to assure her that he understood her signals, and would if he could pay attention to them, but he was too far gone.

Berty was in despair. Tom and Roger, to keep themselves from downright shouting, were also talking[146] very fast and very glibly about nothing in particular.

Berty, in utter dismay, turned her head to her three groups of guests—Selina and Margaretta gently and wonderingly polite, the Mayor seated by a small table flooding the air with garrulity, and Tom and Roger in the shade of the big piano lamp, expounding all sorts of nonsensical theories and fancies.

Tom just now was on language. “Yes, my dear fellow,” he was saying, rapidly and with outstretched arm, “language is a wonderful thing. I may say that to see a young child grappling with the problem is an awe-inspiring and remarkable sight. Sometimes when it fills the air with its incoherent longings and strivings after oral utterance, after the sounds which custom has made the representation of ideas, the soul of the beholder is struck dumb with admiration, and even I may say terror. If such is the power of the infant brain, what will be the grasp of the adult?”

At this instant Grandma entered the room. She took in the situation at a glance, and her presence afforded instant relief. The flood of “Jimsonese,” as Roger and Tom styled the Mayor’s eloquence, instantly ceased, the two bad boys shut their mouths.

[147]

Grandma shook hands with all her guests, then quietly sat down.

“I hope you are not very tired,” said Margaretta, gently. “How is your patient?”

“Better—she only wanted a little comfort.”

“What made her have hysterics?” asked Berty, eagerly, and with a desire to make much of the latest addition to their circle.

Grandma smiled. “She is a very nervous woman, and has been up nights a great deal with a sick baby. She lay down about two hours ago to take a nap. The house has a great many mice in it, and one got in her hair. It was entangled for a few seconds, and she was terrified. It would be very much more afraid of her than she would be of it.”

Tom and Roger laughed uproariously, so uproariously and joyfully that Grandma’s black eyes went to them, rested on them, and did not leave them.

But they did not care. They had not enjoyed themselves so much for years, and they were going to continue doing so, although their punishment was bound to come. Presently, when the conversation between Grandma, Margaretta, Selina, and Berty became really interrupted by their giggling, the old lady left her seat and came over to them.

[148]

“Have you been acting like this all the evening?” she asked, severely.

Tom looked at Roger, and Roger looked at Tom.

“And teasing poor Berty?”

Again they looked at each other.

“When I was a girl,” said Grandma, musingly, “I remember getting into those gales of laughter. How I revelled in that intoxication of the spirit! I would even scream with delight, and if I were alone with my girl companions would sometimes roll on the ground in ecstasy. You are pretty old for such pranks, but I see you are ready for one. You ought to be alone for a time. Follow me,” and she left the room.

She took them down-stairs. “Where are we going?” asked Roger, humbly, and nudging Tom.

“Out with the pigeons,” she said. “There is no room in my house for guests who make fun of each other.”

“But the supper?” said Roger, anxiously.

“It would grieve Berty’s hospitable heart for you to miss that,” said Grandma, “so when you have quite finished your laughing, come up-stairs again, and we will all have a nice time together.”

Tom gave Roger a thwack, then, as he found himself in a latticed porch, and contemplated by a[149] number of mild-faced, inquiring pigeons, he dropped on a box and began to snicker again.

“What set you off?” asked the old lady, curiously.

They both began to tell her of poor Berty’s trials with the Mayor.

Grandma laughed too. “There is something funny about that friendship,” she said, “but there is no harm, but rather good in it, and I shall not put a stop to it. Do you know that man would make a good husband for your sister, Tom Everest?”

Tom at this became so silly, and began to pound Roger on the back in such an idiotic manner, that Grandma gently closed the door and stole away.

Going up the steps, she could hear them laughing—now in Homeric fashion. There were no women about to be startled by their noise.