The Mayor’s Dilemma

Berty was rowing down the river in her pink boat with its bands of white.

She was all pink and white, boat, cushions, oars, dress, and complexion—except her hair and eyes, which formed a striking and almost startling blue-black contrast.

However, Berty was nothing if not original, and just now in the late afternoon, when all the other boats and canoes were speeding homeward, she was hurrying down the river.

She gave a gay greeting to her friends and acquaintances, and to many of the fishermen and river-hands with whom she had become acquainted since she came to live on River Street.

She scarcely knew why she was turning her back on her home at this, the time of her evening meal, unless it was that she was so full of life and strength that she simply could not go into the house.

[100]

Grandma would not care. Grandma was too philosophical to worry. She would take her knitting to the veranda and sit tranquilly awaiting the return of her granddaughter. If she got hungry, she would take her supper.

“Grandma is a darling,
Grandma is a dear,”
chanted Berty, then she stopped. “But I must not be selfish. I will just row round Bobbetty’s Island and then go home.”

Bobbetty’s Island was a haunted island about the size of an extensive building lot. Poor old man Bobbetty had lived here alone for so many years that he had become crazy at last, and had hanged himself to one of the spruce-trees.

Picnic-parties rarely landed here—the island was too small, and the young people did not like its reputation. They always went farther down to some of the larger islands.

So this little thickly wooded piece of land stood alone and solitary, dropped like a bit of driftwood in the middle of the river.

Berty was not afraid of the ghost. She was rowing gaily round the spruces singing softly to herself,[101] when she saw something that made her mouth close abruptly.

An annoyed-looking man sat on a big flat rock close to the water’s edge. He stared at her without speaking, and Berty stared at him. This was no ghost. Poor old Bobbetty had not appeared in the flesh. This was a very living and very irritated man, judging from his countenance.

Berty smiled softly to herself, then, without a word, she drew near the islet, took her hands from the oars, and, pulling her note-book from her pocket, coolly scribbled a few lines on a slip of paper:

“Dear Sir:—If you have lost your boat, which I judge from appearances you have done, I am willing to give you a lift back to the city.

“Yours truly,

“Berty Gravely.”

Having finished her note, she drew in an oar, put the paper flat on the blade, stuck a pin through it to make it firm, then extended it to the waiting and watching man.

Without a word on his part, he got up from his rock seat, and, stretching out a hand, took the slip of paper. Then reseating himself with a slight[102] smile, he produced his own note-book, tore a leaf from it, and took a stylographic pen from his pocket.

“Dear Madam:—I have indeed lost my boat. I accept your offer with gratitude.

“Yours truly,

“Peter Jimson.”

The oar was still resting on the rocks. He pinned his answer to it, saw Berty draw it in, read it, and then she brought her boat round for him.

Still without speaking he stepped in, somewhat clumsily, seated himself, and mopped his perspiring face.

They were not moving, and he looked up. Berty had dropped the oars, and had calmly seated herself on the stern cushions. She had no intention of rowing with a man in the boat.

The Mayor set to work, while Berty lounged on her seat and studied the shell-like tints of the sky. Suddenly she heard a slight sound, and brought her gaze down to the river.

The Mayor was laughing—trying not to do so, but slowly and gradually giving way and shaking all over like a bowl of jelly.

[103]

She would not ask him what amused him, and presently he said, “Excuse me.”

“Why?” asked Berty, with preternatural gravity.

“Well, well,” he stuttered, “I don’t know, but I guess it isn’t good manners for one person to laugh when the other isn’t.”

“Laugh on,” said Berty, benevolently, “the whole river is before you.”

The Mayor did laugh on, and rowed at the same time, until at last he was obliged to take his hands from the oars, and get out his handkerchief to wipe his eyes.

Berty’s face was hidden from him. She had picked up a huge illustrated paper from the bottom of the boat, and her whole head was concealed by it. But the paper was shaking, and he had an idea that she, too, was laughing.

His suspicion was correct, for presently the paper dropped, and he saw that his companion was in a convulsion of girlish laughter.

“Oh! oh! oh!” she cried, taking away the handkerchief that she had been stuffing in her mouth, “it is too funny. You hate the sight of me, and write notes to avoid me, and then go lose your boat on a desert island, and have to be rescued by me. Oh! it is too delicious!”

[104]

The Mayor thought he could laugh, but his laughter was nothing to this ecstasy of youthful enjoyment, and his harsh, thick tones gradually died away, while he listened delightedly to this rippling outflow from pretty lips.

“It is comical,” he said, after a time, when she had somewhat calmed down. “I guess I ought to apologize to you. I have treated you mean. But you got a corner on me.”

“A corner in street urchins,” said Berty, gaspingly; “well, I’m obliged to you for getting the park, but I must say I wish you would give the work some of your personal superintendence.”

“I’ve been down,” he said, unguardedly.

“When?” asked Berty, promptly.

“At night,” he said, with some confusion. “I slip down after I know you’ve gone to bed.”

“How do you think the workmen are getting on?” she asked, anxiously.

“Fairly well—what do you want that high fence for?”

“For games—wall games. I wish we could have baths at the end of the wharf—public baths. The boys can go down to the river, but the women and children have no chance. Poor souls, they suffer.[105] You would not like to be cut off from your daily bath, would you, sir?”

“Well, no,” replied the Mayor, cautiously, “I don’t suppose I would.”

“The city ought to build baths,” said Berty, warmly.

“There’s private charity,” said the Mayor.

“Private charity, my dear sir! You don’t know those River Street people. They have as much pride as you have. What the city does for them is all right—what private citizens do for them publicly, and with all sorts of ridiculous restrictions, angers them.”

The Mayor looked longingly over his shoulder toward the city.

“Oh, pardon me,” said Berty, hurriedly. “I shouldn’t talk business to you in my own boat when you can’t escape me. Pray tell me of your adventures this afternoon. Was your boat stolen?”

“Stolen, no—it was my own carelessness. You know I’m driven to death with business, and if I take a friend out with me he’s got an axe to grind for some one, so I steal off alone whenever I can. Nobody goes to that island, and it’s a fine place to read or snooze, but to-day I neglected to secure my boat, and away it went.”

[106]

“And nobody came by?”

“Lots of people, I suppose, but I was asleep until just before you came.”

“Isn’t the river delicious?” said Berty, dreamily.

“I like it well enough,” said Mr. Jimson, letting unappreciative eyes wander over the blue water and the smiling landscape beyond. “It’s a great place to plan your business.”

“Business, business, business,” murmured the girl, “it seems sacrilege to mention that word here.”

“If it weren’t for business of various kinds, there wouldn’t be any Riverport,” said the man, with a backward nod of his head.

“Poor old Riverport!” said Berty; “poor, sordid, material old Riverport!”

The Mayor braced his feet harder and stared at her. Then he said, “If it weren’t for business, most of us would go under.”

“Yes, but we needn’t be holding it up all the time, and bowing down to it, and worshipping, and prostrating our souls before it, till we haven’t any spirit or beauty left.”

The Mayor stared at her again. Then he said, “You don’t seem as silly as most girls.”

This to Berty was a challenge. Her eyes sparkled wickedly, and from that instant till they reached the[107] city she poured out a babble of girlish nonsense that completely bewildered the plain man before her.

“Will you let me off at the city wharf?” he asked, at last, when she had paused to take breath.

“Certainly,” said Berty, “after you row me home.”

“Oh, excuse me,” he said, confusedly. “I am so little in ladies’ society that I don’t know how to act.”

“We’ve got a tiny wharf at the end of our back yard,” said Berty. “You’ll know it because all the wharves round are black and dingy, but ours is painted pink and white. There it is—look ahead and you’ll see.”

The Mayor looked, and soon the little boat was gliding toward the gay flight of steps.

“Now will you tie her up and come in through the house?” asked Berty, politely. NORFLOXACIN

The Mayor did as he was requested, and, stepping ashore, curiously followed his guide up through the tidy back yard to the big old-fashioned house that seemed to peer with its small eyes of windows far out over the river.

On the ground floor were a kitchen and pantry and several good-sized rooms that had been used for[108] servants’ quarters in the first, palmy days of the old mansion.

“A pity this neighbourhood was given up to poor people,” said the Mayor, as he tramped up a narrow, dark stairway behind his guide.

“A blessing that they have something so lovely as this river view,” said Berty, quickly. “I can’t tell you how we appreciate it after our limited outlook from Grand Avenue. Here is our dining-room,” and she threw open the door of a large room at the back of the house.

Mr. Jimson stepped in somewhat awkwardly. The room was plainly furnished, but the small windows were open, and also a glass door leading to a veranda, where a table was prepared for the evening meal. He could see a white cloth, and numerous dishes covered and uncovered.

“Grandma,” said Berty, “here is Mr. Jimson—you remember hearing me speak of him.”

Mr. Jimson, filled with curiosity, turned to the composed little old lady who came in from the veranda and shook hands with him. This was Madam Travers. He had been familiar with her face for years, but she never before had spoken to him.

“Will you stay and have a cup of tea with my[109] granddaughter and me?” she asked him, when he looked uncomfortably toward the door.

His gaze went again to the table. A rising breeze had just brushed aside the napkin covering a pitcher.

“Is that a jug of buttermilk I see?” he asked, wistfully.

“It is,” said the old lady, kindly.

“Then I’ll stay,” he said, and he dropped his hat on a chair.

Grandma and Berty both smiled, and he smiled himself, and, looking longingly toward the table, said, “I can’t get it at home, and in the restaurants it is poor stuff.”

“And do you like curds and cream?” asked Grandma, leading the way to the table.

“Yes, ma’am!” he said, vigorously.

“And sage cheese, and corn-cake, and crullers?”

“Why, you take me back to my grandfather’s farm in the country,” he replied, squeezing himself into the seat indicated.

“My granddaughter and I are very fond of simple dishes,” said Grandma. “Now I’ll ask a blessing on this food, and then, Berty, you must give Mr. Jimson some buttermilk. I see he is very thirsty.”

Mr. Jimson was an exceedingly happy man. He had pumpkin pie, and cold ham, and chicken, in[110] addition to the other dishes he liked, and to wind up with, a cup of hot tea.

“This is first-class tea,” he said, abruptly.

“It came from China,” said Grandma, “a present from a Chinese official to my late husband. I will show you some of the stalks with the leaves on them.”

“Well, you look pretty cozy here,” said the Mayor, after he had finished his meal, and sat gazing out on the river. “I wish I could stay, but I’ve got a meeting.”

“Come some other time,” said Grandma, graciously.

“I’d like to,” he said, abruptly. “I rarely go out, unless it’s to a big dinner which I hate, and sometimes you get tired of your own house—though I’ve got a good mother and sisters,” he added, hastily.

“I have no doubt of that,” said Grandma. “They were kind enough to call on us.”

“You have a good granddaughter,” he said, with a curious expression, as he looked down into the back yard where Berty had gone to feed some white pigeons, “but,” he added, “she is a puzzler sometimes. I expect she hates me.”

“She does not hate any one,” said Grandma,[111] softly. “She is young and overzealous at times, and will heartily scold the latest one to incur her displeasure, but she has a loving heart.”

“It’s fine to be young,” said the Mayor, with a sigh; “good-night, madam. I’ve enjoyed my visit.”

“Come again some other time,” said Grandma, with quaint, old-fashioned courtesy, “we shall always be glad to see you.”

“I will, madam,” said the Mayor, and he gripped her hand till it ached. Then he took his hat, and trotted nimbly away.

“Has he gone?” asked Berty, coming into the room a few minutes later.

“Yes,” said Grandma.

The girl’s eyes were dancing. She was longing to make fun of him, but her grandmother, she knew, was inexorable. No one should ever ridicule in her presence the guest who had broken her bread and eaten her salt.

Yet Berty must say something. “Grandma,” she remarked, softly, “it isn’t safe to cut any one, is it?”

“To cut any one?” repeated the old lady.

“To cut the acquaintance of any one. For instance—you hate a person, you stop speaking to[112] that person. You get into a scrape, that person is the only one who can help you out.”

Grandma said nothing.

“Surely,” said Berty, persuasively, “in the course of your long life, you must have often noticed it is not only mean, but it is bad policy to break abruptly with any one without just cause?”

“Yes,” said Grandma, quietly, “I have.”

“Any further remarks to make?” inquired Berty, after a long pause.

Grandma’s dimple slowly crept into view.

Berty laughed, kissed her, and ran off to bed, saying, as she did so, “I wonder whether your new admirer will ever call again?”

Grandma tranquilly rolled up her knitting and followed her.