« PředchozíPokračovat »
THE NUGLEUS OF A SALON.
KATHARINE L. JOHNSTON.
is over a year ago that Belinda first told me of her plan. I was staying all night at her house, and when we went to bed I was surprised to be allowed to go to sleep peaceably, Belinda merely remarking, as she turned out the gas, that these cool autumn nights were nice for sleeping. As up to then I had never known either of us to find it difficult to sleep on any night that the thermometer had been able to supply us with, I didn't quite see her idea in the remark; but I accepted it thankfully, and went to sleep. I do not know how long my sleep lasted, but I know that it was nearer to-morrow than yesterday when her voice woke ine, and my dream fled away into the darkness. I heard her calling:
"Gertrude, Gertrude, are you dead? Wake up a minute."
Who but Belinda would expect a person to "wake up a minute," especially when there was a doubt as to that person's being alive? And who, knowing Belinda, would have pected to be allowed to go to sleep again at the expiration of the minute?
ed-up moon there was, all tangled up in the top of the elm-tree.
I did not, and I don't yet. The moon has not been invented that will lure me out of bed just at the sharp corner of an autumn morning. I told Belinda this, and she turned her attention from the scenery for a moment, and said she had awakened a little while ago, and had found that there was a barbed-wire fence between her and sleep, and she had torn several large, jagged rents in her mind trying to pass it, so she had given up. I threw her a blanket, to supplement the shawl, and piled my pillows up in a conversational attitude, reflecting meanwhile on a possible reason for Belinda's unusual wakefulness. Then I said:
"Belinda, dear, who was the big young man you introduced to me the other day?" Belinda turned her face to the dear little curled-up moon. Mr. Lincoln."
I remembered his name." "Oh
he is the nucleus of a salon." she went on.
I repeated, unwisely, for my vocal organs seem to have been made for the pronunciation of English only.
Yes. I'm going to be wise one night a week this winter-see if I'm not. Mamma says I may- Oh, by all means,' she said, when I suggested it, by all means, dearie. And I will get a dove-coloured silk dress, and endeavour to find some invaluable old lace among your Grandmother's things
I opened my eyes and saw her sitting curled up in the window-seat, and looking much smaller, even in the enshrouding shawl, than her five feet of stature would lead one to expect. I uttered my mind somewhat freely on the subject of her unwisdom; and she, seeing that I was awake, told me I ought to see how queer and quiet everything outdoors looked. I drew a pathetic picture of the daisy-covered grave she would sleep in soon if she did not avail herself of the present more comfortable arrangements for slumber, and she merely replied that I didn't know what a dear little curl
though I doubt my success-and I will try to drink coffee as if it were merely an adjunct to intellectual and literary conversation.'
"More than I would do for you," I struck in.
"More than I should expect of you, dear." Belinda answered softly. Yes, Mother is humourous at times, but she always does me the honour to understand what I want."
"Your mother must have a magnificent intellect, for you have wanted many and divers and peculiar things," I said. "Where does Mr. Lincoln come in ?"
"Oh-look yonder! What is it your friend Lippo says about the grey beginning-zooks? Well, zooks is the proper word to use now. Consider I've said zooks. Mr. Lincoln ? He is going to bring his brain along and be wise, too. You know, dear, Jack's chums are good enough lads, but there's only one of them who's at all clever, and the girls, though they're awfully nice, don't know much but how to wear becoming clothes and look pretty-except you, dear, of courseand so I thought if I imported another brain into our circle, it would balance nicely-and that's the whole thing, Gertie."
Where did you find him?" I asked. "At Grey's. He was lonesome there, and they didn't want him; he merely scared them with his brains. So I annexed him myself." Two things in this caught my attention. I spoke of one.
"How is the annexation process managed?" I asked. "I never understood it."
"Are you also going to tell him—I mean, does he know how nice he is?" I asked.
'No-how can you expect one man to know all that? It's zooksing some more over there. I'm coming to bed." She began to untangle herself from her wrappings. "There's one thing," she added. "He may incapacitate himself for salon purposes. He may"
Belinda has the grace not to use the heavy words of our language unless they are necessary. This sometimes necessitates slang, or circumlocution"he may get smitten on some one. Wouldn't that be horrid? You'll see, I hope, that it isn't you, Gertrude?"
"He will see to that himself, probably," I assured her, out of my experience.
Think so?" she said, with a most polite rising inflection. "And you'll put on a pretty gown, and come over to our house and scintillate, next Thursday?"
So far as I am a judge of such things, the salon was successful for the one brief winter of its life. Our idea of the brilliant drawing-rooms of France was a little vague, but this merely enabled us to give the benefit of the doubt to any recreation that seemed, on first sight, too frivolous for a salon. Perhaps we did not carry out the specifications at all-probably not, indeed, as none of us knew exactly what they were; but we had a picturesque and happy sort of time. I was captured the first evening by a largebrowed and charmingly serious-mannered young man, who undertook to teach me to play chess. "He asked me to introduce him, dear," Belinda said, softly, while he was bringing the little inlaid chess-table from the other end of the room," so I'm afraid you'll have to play with him. You have brain enough, I think." I had a fuller knowledge of said brain than Belinda, and I thought not; but I sat down, amiably, and gave my most respectful attention to all the instructions I
had received. I never won a game, by any chance, during the whole win. ter, but did my best and really learned more than I had expected. And I had some satisfaction; one night when we waxed frivolous, and unbent our minds as Mistress Sarah Battle did not, in playing whist against my chess-opponent, I won seven games out of seven. We played cards only twice, I think; in fact, apart from our chess, we did very little but talk. Sometimes somebody sang never anyone who couldn't; and sometimes somebody read a poem-always someone who could. I will confess that I recollect but little of our talk, though it seemed very wise and interesting to hear when it was uttered. But I think that when I am an old woman, and any stray sequence of ideas or some other old man or woman—recalls to my mind that winter, it will be as when one finds in a drawer the absurd symbol that marked one's membership in one's first, mostbelieved-in, and most charming schoo!girl club, or the two inches of striped ribbon that suggests the cricket or football matches one used to watch. I don't recollect any tale in mythology in which a flower changes into a jewel, but there should be such a legend to symbolize the fragrant flower-charm of the present hour, and the lasting jewel-grace of the past.
I did not say that at the salon, but I said plenty of other things, and listened to plenty. At this moment, however, I recall only two conversations, and one of them was very short —at least, I heard only two sentences of it, as Belinda and Mr. Lincoln passed the chess-table on their way to the piano
'Little Boy Blue, I didn't tell you that."
"Little Girl Green, you didn't need
Belinda found the following verses on her breakfast plate the next morning-author too cautious to sign :
And the smallest maid that ever was seen
Little Boy Blue stood six feet two,
The wit of this was thought to be below salon level, for the verses were not read at the next meeting.
The other conversation that I remember occurred the last time we met. Somebody said he had read a pathetic story about a girl who died at twenty-three, and had been wondering, about two o'clock the previous night (the hour at which he finished reading the story), what he would be sorriest to miss, if he had died at twenty-three. I put aside the two things that came promptly into the fore-ground of my mind, in order to see how the rest of the people responded. Almost every face showed knowledge on the subject, and you ought to have heard the amount of wisdom we uttered, when we had all decided what not to say. In the meantime the young gentleman to whom Belinda's brother has given the Indian name of "Man-with-frills-on-his-manners," turned to Belinda's mother with a graceful speech as to what we should all have missed by dying before that winter. Then the prettiest girl in the room said she was not twenty-three yet, but hoped to be if we gave her time (she didn't say how much), and meanwhile she would be very sorry to have died before learning how to spell spontaneity, because ignorance on this point had darkened her childhood. Several of us looked as if we could not spell spontaneity yet, but no one was rash enough to raise the point. One man, who must have been nearly thirty-five, said he would not be willing to lose a single minute out of all his days since he was twenty-three. I looked at him in awe, and wondered whether it was his conscience or his memory that was at fault. And Belinda's brother said, admiringly:
"What a rattling good time you. must have had!"
Then my serious young chess-player said:
"None of you seem to think how good it would be to get rid of things you've done since, by dying at twentythree. You must be awfully good." "Or stupid," I said, sagely. "It doesn't seem possible, to the ordinary conscience, to get rid of iniquities, by dying or by any other extreme measure. Then the man-with-frills-onhis-manners told me, in a most com, plimentary tone, that I must be frightfully wicked. In fact, there were many opinions expressed, more or less seriously, but I should have much preferred to hear those that were not spoken.
One sincere word was said, and that I did not hear, but saw. Belinda and Mr. Lincoln were standing near the piano, arrested in a search for some music by a moment's interest in the discussion. I saw Mr. Lincoln's colour rise as he spoke, and I knew what he was saying, as well as if I had heard it. But I think he made a mistake in policy; he looked straight across the room at the girl who was not twenty-three yet. I did not know whether he saw her, or not; it's easy to look at things, or even people, without seeing them, when one's preoccupied. But if he meant that by leaving this earth at twenty-three he would have missed the great happiness of knowing her, it was surely a sinful waste of time to say it to Belinda, and if he meant that Belinda's friendship was the happiness he would have been cheated of by an early death, he should not have looked at an unusually pretty other girl while he said it. I suppose the primæval man who discovered the device of articulate speech thought he had done something large for his race; one can picture his fresh delight, and almost hear him saying: Now, I'll know what all the other fools in the world mean, and they'll know what I mean, and everything will be truly lovely." He did not contemplate the divers uses to which
his discovery might be put. All this went through my mind in a flash, as Belinda's face changed, and her eyesturned away from the uncomforting beauty of that other face. I bent my head quickly in the direction of the nearest window.
'Is that the fire-bell?" I said, and one of the men pulled back the curtain for me. I do not know how they do these things in France, but I do not believe that there is in this country material for a salon that will not rush window-wards on a hint of a fire. We all looked out eagerly, and listened a few moments, then some one said:
"I don't hear it."
"Neither do I, now," I answered in a disappointed tone. I think I should not tell a direct lie, unless the provocation is something stupendous; but my conscience hasn't even mentioned this little dramatic performance to me since-not even in my bluest moments, when it might have had a chance.
I was sorry that was the last time we met at the salon, for I thought there were some of us who didn't quite know where we were. My own ignorance of matters was unimportant,. of course, but I was naturally interested, and should have liked to know the facts. I learned them later, when Belinda came back to town, after a long summer of camping and hilarity. We went walking the day after she came home.
It was a hazy September afternoon, and we took the shortest way to get out of the region of pavement of any sort, and when we had accomplished this, and had reached a road that was chiefly grass and cart-ruts, we walked contentedly along for a time, and then sat down upon a conveniently broken fence to talk.
Belinda told me amusing stories of camp-fires, and swimming lessons, and canoeing exploits, and I waited for a name. It came after a time, uttered casually, and I waited till it was well buried under half a dozen others, and then asked:
"Was Alice there-and is she twentythree yet?"
"Yes, Alice was there-and not yet twenty-three, I should judge-but then you wouldn't have thought any of us more than fifteen. Alice pitched out of the big canoe one day, and you should have seen the lads plunge after her, though they knew she could swim"-and then followed a sparkling history of that adventure.
It was not till we discovered the difference between a broken fence and an easy chair, and consequently rose to go home, that Belinda at last spoke
Bonny Jean, winsome Jean,
Donald's but a silly lad,
Scarce a bawbee till his name, Hoo can he support ye? Canna bide an hour at hame; Diona lat him court ye!
There's mysel'-an honest chiel,
Come awa' an' bide wi' me,
Busk ye out, a sicht tae see-
"You remember the night you didn't hear the fire-bells?"
"I thought that night," she went on, "that Mr. Lincoln had-incapacitated himself for salon purposes, you know. I found this summer that it was so." A voice may shake through grief, or joy, or mere nervousness, and I was afraid to look.
"That's too bad," I said, watching the sunset.
"Oh, I shouldn't say that," she answered, tolerantly, "I should not say that, Gertrude-for it's I."
Katharine L. Johnston.
Haud, awa'! ye crazy loon!
All your siller and your gear,
Gin my Donald loves to roam, Blyth maun be his life then ; Gin he winna bide at hame, Mair he needs a wife then!
Donald's worth a score o' you!
Noo gaud nicht! but bide a wee !