“How did I act?” asked the Mayor, humbly. It was eight o’clock the next morning, and he was standing before Berty as she took her breakfast alone, Grandma having gone across the street to visit her hysterical patient.
Berty thoughtfully drank some coffee.
“I’d take a cup, too, if you’d offer it to me,” he said, still more humbly, and sitting down opposite her. “Somehow or other I hadn’t much appetite this morning, and only took a bite of breakfast.”
Berty, still in silence, poured him out a cup of strong coffee, and put in it a liberal supply of cream. Then, pushing the sugar-bowl toward him, she again devoted herself to her own breakfast.
“You’re ashamed of me,” said the Mayor, lifting lumps of sugar into his cup with a downcast air. “I gabbled.”
“Yes, you gabbled,” said Berty, quietly.
“But I’m going to make an impression,” said the Mayor, slapping the table with one hand. “I’m going to make that woman look at me, and size me up, if she doesn’t do anything more.”
“She sized you up last night,” said Berty, mournfully.
“Did she say anything about me?” asked Mr. Jimson, eagerly.
“Not a word—but she looked unutterable things.”
“Do you think I’d better call on her?” he asked, desperately.
“Oh, gracious, no!” cried Berty, “you’d spoil everything. Leave matters to me in future.”
“I thought I might explain,” he said, with a crestfallen air.
“What would you explain?” asked Berty, cuttingly.
“I’d tell her—well, I’d just remark casually after we’d spoken about the weather that she might have noticed that there was something queer, or that I was a little out in some of my remarks—”
“Well,” said Berty, severely, “what then?”
“I’d just inform her, in a passing way, that I’d always been a steady man, and that if she would kindly overlook the past—”
“Oh! oh!” ejaculated Berty, “you wouldn’t hint to a lady that she might have thought you were under the influence of some stimulant?”
“N-n-no, not exactly,” blundered the Mayor, “but I might quote a little poetry about the intoxication of her presence—I cut a fine piece out of the paper the other day. Perhaps I might read it to her.”
Berty put her arm down on the table and laughed. “Well, if you’re not the oddest man. You are just lovely and original.”
The Mayor looked at her doubtfully, and drank his coffee. Then he got up. “I don’t want you to think I’m not in earnest about this business. I never give up anything I’ve set my mind on, and I like that woman, and I want her to be Mrs. Peter Jimson.”
Berty shivered. “Oh, dear, dear! how badly you will feel if she makes up her mind to be Mrs. Somebody Else—but I’ll help you all I can. You have a great ally in me.”
“I’m obliged to you,” said the Mayor, gruffly.
“I was ashamed of those other two men last evening,” said Berty, getting up and walking out toward the hall with him. “I wanted to shake them.”
“I didn’t take much stock in their actions,” said the Mayor, indifferently. “They just felt funny, and would have carried on whether I had been there or not.”
“How forgiving in you—how noble,” said Berty, warmly.
“Nothing noble about it—I know men, and haven’t any curiosity about them. It’s you women that bother the life out of me. I don’t know how to take you.”
“It’s only a little past eight,” said Berty, suddenly. “Can’t you come down to the wharf with me? You don’t need to go to town yet.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” said the Mayor, reluctantly.
Berty caught up her sailor hat, and tripped beside him down to the street, talking on any subject that came uppermost.
The Mayor, however, returned to his first love. “Now, if there was something I could do to astonish her,” he said. “If her house got on fire, and I could rescue her, or if she fell out of a boat into the river, and I could pull her in.”
“She’s pretty tall,” said Berty, turning and surveying the rather short man by her side. “I doubt if you could pull her in.”
“If I got a good grip I could,” he said, confidently.
“The worst of it is, those heroic things don’t happen once in an age,” said Berty, in a matter-of-fact voice, “and, anyway, a woman would rather you would please her in a thousand little ways than in one big one.”
“What do you call little ways?” asked the Mayor.
“Oh, being nice.”
“And what is niceness?” he went on, in an unsatisfied voice.
“Niceness?—well, it is hard to tell. Pick up her gloves if she drops them, never cross her, always kiss her good-bye in the morning, and tell her she’s the sweetest woman in the world when you come home in the evening.”
“Well, now,” said the Mayor, in an aggrieved voice, “as if I’m likely to have the chance. You won’t even let me call on her.”
“No, don’t you go near her,” said Berty, “not for awhile. Not till I sound her about you.”
“How do you think I stand now with her?” asked Mr. Jimson, with a downcast air.
“Well, to tell the truth,” said Berty, frankly, “I think it’s this way. She wasn’t inclined to pay much attention to you at first, not any more than if you were a table or a chair. When you began to talk she observed you, and I think she was saying to herself, ‘What kind of a man is this?’ Then when Grandma drove Tom and Roger out of the room, I think she wanted to laugh.”
“Then she must have been a little interested,” said the man, breathlessly.
“No,” said Berty, gravely, “when a woman laughs at a man, it’s all up with him.”
“Then you think I might as well give up?” said the Mayor, bitterly.
“Not at all,” said his sympathizer, kindly. “There may fall to you some lucky chance to reinstate yourself.”
“Now what could it be?” asked Mr. Jimson, eagerly. “What should I be looking out for?”
“Look out for everything,” said Berty, oracularly. “She will forget about the other night.”
“I thought you told me the other day that women never forget.”
“Neither they do,” said Berty, promptly, “never, never.”
“According to all I can make out,” said the Mayor, with a chagrined air, “you women have all the airs and graces of a combine, and none of its understandabilities. Your way of doing business don’t suit me. When I spot a bargain I jump on it. I close the affair before another fellow has a chance. That’s how I’ve made what little money I have.”
“You mustn’t make love the way you do business,” said Berty, shaking her head. “Oh, no, no.”
“Well, now, isn’t it business to want a good wife?”
“Yes,” said Berty, promptly, “and I admire your up-to-date spirit. There’s been a lot of nonsense talked about roses, and cottages, and heavenly eyes, and delicious noses and chins. I believe in being practical. You want this kind of a wife—look for her. Don’t fall in love with some silly thing, and then get tired of her in a week.”
“What kind of a husband would you like?” asked the Mayor, curiously.
“Well,” said Berty, drawing in a long breath of the crisp morning air. “I want a tall, slight man, with brown curly hair and gray eyes.”
“That’ll be a hard combination to find,” said her companion, grimly.
“Yes, but I shall think all the more of him when I find him, and he must be clever, very clever—ahead of all the men in his State, whichever State it happens to be—and he must have a perfect temper, because I have a very faulty one, and he must be of a noble disposition, and looked up to by every one he knows.”
“I never met that kind of a man,” said the Mayor, drily.
“Nor I,” said Berty, “but there must be such a man in the world.”
“How about Tom Everest?” asked Mr. Jimson. “I saw him looking at you last night.”
“Tom Everest!” exclaimed Berty, indignantly. “An insurance agent!”
The Mayor snickered enjoyably, then fell behind a step, for they had just reached the entrance of Milligan’s Wharf.
Berty was talking to some little girls who, even at this early hour, were hanging about the gate of the new park.
“Of course you may come in,” she said, producing a key from her pocket. “The workmen have about finished—there are a few loose boards about, but I will take care that they don’t fall on you.”
With squeals of delight, the little girls dashed ahead, then stood staring about them.
Milligan’s Wharf had indeed been transformed. A high fence surrounded it on every side, one end had been smoothed and levelled for games, the other was grassy and planted with trees.
“Those elms will be kept trimmed,” said Berty, “except in midsummer. I am determined that these River Street children shall have enough sunlight for once—just look at those little girls.”
The Mayor smiled broadly. Like discoverers who have fallen on some rich store of treasure, the little girls had espied a huge heap of sand, and had precipitated themselves upon it.
“Isn’t it queer how crazy children get over sand?” said Berty. Then she stepped into a small gate-house. “Here, children, are pails and shovels. Now have a good time.”
The little shovels were plied vigorously, but they were not quick enough for the children, and presently abandoning them, they rolled in delight over the soft sandy mass.
“There is no doubt that our park will be a success,” said Berty, with a smile.
“By the way,” asked the Mayor, shrewdly, “who is to look after these children? If you turn all the hoodlums of the neighbourhood in, there will be scrapping.”
“I was thinking of that,” said Berty, wrinkling her brows. “We ought to have some man or woman here. But we have no money to pay any one.”
“I suppose you wouldn’t take such a position,” said the Mayor.
“I!” exclaimed Berty, “why, I’d love it.”
“You wouldn’t need to stay all the time,” said Mr. Jimson. “You could get a woman to help you.”
“All the women about here are pretty busy.”
“You’d pay her, of course. There’d have to be a salary—not a heavy one—but I could fix up something with the city council. They’ve built the park. They’re bound to provide for it.”
“I should love to earn some money,” said Berty, eagerly, “but, Mr. Jimson, perhaps people would talk and say I had just had the park made to create a position for myself.”
“Suppose they did—what would you care?”
“Why, I’d care because I didn’t.”
“And no one would think you had. Don’t worry about that. Now I must get back to town.”
“Mind you’re to make the first speech to-morrow at the opening of this place,” said Berty.
“Yes, I remember.”
“And,” she went on, hesitatingly, “don’t you think you’d better commit your speech to paper? Then you’d know when to stop.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” he said, hopelessly. “Something would prompt me to make a few oral remarks after I’d laid down the paper.”
“I should like you to make a good speech, because Miss Everest will be here.”
“Will she? Then I must try to fix myself. How shall I do it?”
“I might have a pile of boards arranged at the back of the park,” said Berty, “and as soon as you laid down the paper, I’d give a signal to a boy to topple them over. In the crash you could sit down.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” he said, drearily. “I’d wait till the fuss was over, then I’d go on.”
“And that wouldn’t be a good plan, either,” said Berty, “because some one might get hurt. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You give me a sheet of paper just the size of that on which you write your speech. Mind, now, and write it. Don’t commit it. And don’t look at this last sheet till you stand on the platform and your speech is finished.”
“What will be on it?” asked Mr. Jimson, eagerly.
“The most awful hobgoblin you ever saw. I used to draw beauties at school. When you see this hobgoblin you won’t be able to think of anything else. Just fix your eyes on his terrible eyes, and you will sit down in the most natural way possible.”
“Maybe I will,” he said, with a sigh, “but I doubt it—you’re a good girl, anyway.”
“Oh, no. I’m not, Mr. Mayor, begging your pardon. I’m only trying to be one.”
“Well, I’ve got to go,” said her companion, reluctantly. “I wish I could skip that stived-up office and go out on the river with you.”
“I wish you could,” said Berty, frankly. “But I’ve got work to do, too. I want every clergyman in the town to be present to-morrow. Have your speech short, will you, for it will probably be a hot day.”
“All right,” said the Mayor. “Good-bye,” and he trotted away.