« PreviousContinue »
back-action, ten-donkey power Rochester, and And this lover of mine; lover, indeed-ha! he can't treat me mean enough to do his feel-ha! If you could hear that laugh it would ings justice. And the result is, I find myself curdle your blood, it is so bitter and wicked. thinking about him night and day. What per- Well, then-Mr. Taft-he's a homely little vilverse animals we women are! A certain amount lain, and as for sense he don't begin to be my of kicking seems indispensable to our happi- equal. (Mem.- A man don't need sense if he ness.
will carry around a little private bulldog in his What makes me madder than any thing else disposition with which to bark at the women is the fact that this individual has literally noth- out of his eyes.) I have never heard Mr. Taft ing to recommend him to my interest but the make but one attempt at a laugh, and that was fact that he has fenced himself in against me. when he had said something particularly cutVictor Hugo defines man as the animal that ting to me; and oh, what a laugh! It went off laughs; hand my name down to posterity for like a bunch of damp fire-crackers. There may. defining women as the divinity that climbs. be other laughs where that came from, but
Climbing - that is it. I am climbing every surely it was the pioneer of its tribe, and broke moment of my life, either in imagination or its brambly way as an advance guard. He has reality; climbing the fence Mr. Taft has built no wit, and no appreciation of it in others, and about himself. I am like a mouse that pros- you know, madam, that is my strong suit. But pects with untiring zeal the vulnerable spot in Mr. Taft-0, heavens! he's as dry as Mark the trap for the morsel of cheese that seems so Twain's last joke, and as depressing in his intempting. But, mind you, the mouse acts on fluence as the funny column in the newspapers. her best judgment, while I have learned, from He is a lawyer. I said he was homely, but a previous experience, that after the first be- that cannot be. There is dignity and characwitching bait there is nothing but starvation. ter in his face, and reticence, and modest self
For I tell you, Liz, that love don't last after respect. Worth makes weight; and it seems marriage.
as if he had absorbed some special privileges And, great heavens, who would want it to? in specific gravity, and could hold down the It is the most tormenting of all infernal con- beam against any other man. In appearance ditions that ever was hatched. It binds you he is short and stocky-not fat, but full; and as neck and crop to one idea; you cannot get he wears his clothes tight, and very fine and away. You are staked out with a short halter, fashionable, he is a regular little brick. He and all you can do is to wind yourself up into stands square on his dew-claws, and has the tortured, complicated knots and snarls in never- finest walk of any man in the city. He clips it ending variety.
off down street like a small stern-wheel steamer. There are but two happy moments in the He “squabbles” all my admiration of handsome whole experience. The first is when you cut men by being so much handsomer than the loose from your senses and drop in. There is handsomest of them without any beauty at all. a dare-devil recklessness in this species of He is on the shady side of forty, I think; but abandonment that challenges all heaven for you know I was not a spring chicken myself, competition. Then follows the double-distilled until I got released from my hated marriage quintessence of purgatory (label it with a word and went back on my age. But there is someof four letters and pass on) into which you are thing about Mr. Taft-a cool alabaster polishsubmerged; and presently this flood flows off, that seems widely removed from the heat of and you crawl forth to the light of day weak, youth. Let me see what it is. He seems auhelpless, feeling like a drowned rat, but happy; tomatic, as if the Lord had not made him; as mind that, Liz, happy at last just to be out of if he had accreted his existence from some other torment.
source, to show the Lord what could be done AND AS LIKE AS NOT YOU'LL TAKE THE without his assistance. DIVE AGAIN IN LESS THAN A YEAR.
I was in his library one day, and then I could I tell you, my girl, I stand dumbfounded be understand him better. There was all the dry, fore this last sentence; I give myself up for a rubbishy books on law that ever were written. hopeless case. And it isn't me alone; it is you, Volumes and volumes; Chitty and Blackstone, it is every living soul all gone to the “demnition and Wawkeen Miller, and all the rest. And bow-wows” in one line of small caps. All were safes, and holes innumerable full of hopelessly insane, and no keepers to take care paper bundles, and these were cases he had had, of us.
I suppose. Now, my little man is a digest of all Now, of all the "aggerawations” connected these books. He has fed on them; they are with this blarsted, humbugging life this is the incorporated in every atom of his body. He is darndest.
a man made out of the raw material of books,
and informed, and vivified, and set in motion by person represented by this name. I do not their contents. The ten pounds or so of origi- know him, but I am sure he is too spiritual to nal man-material which he brought into the succeed in this wooden world, and had better world has served as stock on which to graft a be transplanted to his heavenly home. I shiver cutting of law; and the cutting has absorbed as I look at the intangible representation, and the original until there is nothing but law in the turn to my comfortable, earthly letters, so sugwhole concern.
gestive of life and warmth. Now, imagine me (Mem.-Can he love a woman, I wonder? Is secretly looking up at this door, like Hope gazit in the soul of the law to implant such a pas- ing upon the overhanging cross in the chromo sion?)
we see everywhere; or maybe it is Faith, or PaYes, Mr. Taft is a book-worm. 'Way back tience, or Charity, or some other female reprein the home nest, I remember, we brats found sentative of some special virtue. I have no a book-worm one day, and dissected it under a memory for anything now-I am daft outside microscope; and it was full of “chawred up of Taft. Well, I gaze on these magical letters. paper," as we told mother afterward, who was They are all Greek to me except the last word. in the habit of spanking us when our scientific I wonder what the C stands for. I run through investigations took a cruel turn.
the whole range of names-Charles, Clarence, It was an unfortunate thought, this of the Clement, Conrad, Carl, Claude, and all the rest book-worm, coming to me in his library as it down to Caleb. I always stick on Caleb, with did, for I was instantly filled with the idea that a wretched conviction. I hate the name—it is he, too, was filled with chewed up paper. In- simply awful; and I feel it is part of the infadeed, it seems likely, and if so I am sure the mous luck tracking me through life that this pieces were chewed up by rule and red lined man's name should be Caleb. If ever you have on the edges; also, that they are packed in a doubt of anything, Liz, no matter how wide a according to the most perfect method, all the range it may take, from despair upward, be sure space being fully occupied. His appearance and hitch on to the lowest round; then, if you bears me out in this. His form is so plump, find yourself mistaken, it will be because there and his skin so creamy fair. He is just as com- were invisible rounds below the range of your pact as he can be; and his actions, though rapid, utmost dread, and all you will have to do will prompt, and graceful, seem to be by role. He be to unhitch and descend. So I feel sure, if has a set répertoire of movements, and when he this man's name is not Caleb, it is something gets through them he is wound up and goes worse. Then I go to the L, but I can make through them again.
nothing of it. It is as inscrutable as the Sphinx. I cannot tell you what intense curiosity I It has not even the semblance of a countenance have about him. His simplest acts are full of to give it expression. Just two little sticks and interest for me. If I hear his name but men. a small triangle. Are these symbols, and have tioned, I can feel my ears prick up and set for- they some cabalistic meaning? ward instantly. No matter how dead I may be Come to think about it, this is the first time in every other direction, I am all alive Taft- I have written you since I came here to live. ward.
I am copyist in the office of Lehang & Morgan; MURDERATION, Liz! Think of a woman of and Mr. Taft's rooms are just across the hall my bitter experience coiling up all her logic from ours. Both my employers are kind to me, against marriage and going over to the dement- and Mr. Morgan would be in love with me if I ed majority! I wonder if I am fool enough to would let him. But who wants what they can marry him. There is another question of graver have. Give me the pleasures of the chaseimport, poking its head high above this one, give me something to overcome. I want to and goggling at me with the round, unmeaning break down barriers. I want to climb into eyes of Minerva's bird; and that question is, somebody's pen; (I just “clim” out of one, but whether he is fool enough to marry me? don't mention it.) I am like a breachy ox-it
There is a sign on the hall-door of his rooms, makes no difference which side of the fence I high up, “C. L. TAFT.” And you don't know am on, I must jump it. what fascination the name has for me. All the Lawyers are a new revelation to me. From letters are square-built and stocky, like the man the nature of their profession, they are secrehimself; and they are plump, as if stuffed with tive. They question, and cross-question, and cut paper. There is another sign, farther down hunt for motives, and trust no one. At least, the hall, with the letters carved bodily out of this is true of Mr. Taft. He can no more comthe solid board; and a window in the back- prehend my frankness than he can fly. I am a ground, the light of which shines through the perfect enigma to him. He continually probes open spaces. I have my own opinion of the I the undertow of my character for what does
current below. Keep my tongue still, and, if I so much for hard sense
not exist. He smells dead men's bones, and been girls together, and I could not forget the means to drag them to the light of day. Our charm of her society. She was so strong, so conversations are made up of questions on his loving, so pitying, so hopeful, so original, and part, and answers, dodges, evasions, and all so unconventional. The irrepressible quality sorts of whimsical lies on mine. He is uncon- of her spirits, her frank jollity and her laugh, scious that the strongest point in his social life which was music and sunshine, with a touch is an interrogation point.
of pathos, would ring through my memory as The knowledge he has of men and women often as I thought of her. Her married life had has been gathered from law-suits. He fights been wretched, and she had lost her only child. shy of the “softer” sex, and only knows them This quite crushed her for a time; but the years in the witness-box. He keeps a kind of secret, had brought healing, and Kate was herself again. detective watch over me, and does not suspect It was only a short time until I received her that I know every move in his game better than second letter.] he does. Little he dreams that the concealments of the wise are open proclamations to the Dear Lizzie :- How good you are to write foolish. If I look at the clock, and afterward me so soon, and how you do write. If I know put on my hat, he is sure I have an appoint- anything about it, you will make your mark in ment with some one, and would bet on its be- literature yet. Now, Liz, aren't you ashamed ing a man. I can read all this, and much more; to talk of obstacles? What is an obstacle but he is as open to me as I am shut to him. I am something to climb over? One goes to sleep glad to be an object of interest to him on any on a smooth road. So much for that nonsense. terms, and find no fault with the situation. And what did you say about failures? Don't
I have written enough to show you that he you know that a failure is just a door shut in your has no appreciation of me. What is there to face; some other person's door at that. When appreciate? Something, perhaps; I hardly you reach your own door, it will open to you. know what. But I tell you, Liz, the cussed. And you are borrowing trouble about these ness so apparent on the surface of my kind of things. Read Emerson; come up into the overwomen is only an effervesence, that purifies the life, and discard both hope and fear.
And now, Presto, should escape explosion, I might pass for a rea- change !-and enter Mr. Taft with his train of sonably good woman. However, it matters lit- vanities, and, prominent in that train, myself. tle what people think so that one really is the I have been getting paler every day since I best she knows. And, as for me, I have love came here, and yesterday I invested the whole and pity; I hate selfishness and hypocrisy, and amount of ten cents in rooge-how do you spell would like the privilege of speaking the truth. it?-r-u-ge?-r-u-s-h-e?-r-0-g-u-e? Well, take The necessity of concealment from the strict- your choice of these spells, and if you
don't ures of social enactment makes me mad. What the right one it is your bad spelling, not mine. person, or number of persons, have the right to Now, this roo-truck just sets me up and makes extort a lie from an honest soul? I want to my looking-glass a greater attraction than ever. live out the best there is in me, and the world OH, I HAVE A THOUGHT! Quicksilver is a won't let me do it.
little world by itself, and revolves on its own And Mr. Taft's treatment of me shows that axis. Quicksilver made into mirrors demands he is ignorant of the existence of such feelings; more quicksilver made into vermilion; and verand he regards their careless and whimsical milion demands more mirrors. Here is perpetoutcropping through my talk as a covering to ual motion at last, turning on the pivot of womsomething I wish to conceal. This phase of an's vanity, and promising to endure forever. our doings pains me, and puts it in my head But, to go back before this last world was that I am possibly barking up the wrong tree discovered, if I am half as handsome as I think for a man.
I am, I don't see how Mr. Taft can resist me. I don't know where this thing will land me. Now, listen to this description : My hair is a Shouldn't wonder if there were breakers ahead. lovely auburn. I assisted it in its transmogrifiI'll write again soon.
cation from its original mud color by a little As ever, your friend,
preparation known to the initiated. It is cut CATHERINE LLIS.
off in front, and tortured into crinl that fall
low on my "alabaster brow." My lovely eyes, [At the time I received this letter, I had not so soft and yet so bright, so liquid in their light, seen Kate Ellis for several years. I had writ- like stars that gem the night, look out from beten to her on hearing of her being in San Fran- neath this frizzled mass like the innocent peepcisco, and the foregoing is the reply. We had ers of a poodle dog. My features, though
somewhat irregular, harmonize as a whole, and I don't know, but I think he is more familiar the result stands before you—a perfect crea- with me, though familiar is too strong a word. tion, an unexceptionable piece of loveliness, a A few days ago I was in his room, and he cameo struck whole from the great divine source began asking me questions as usual, and they of Beauty. So much for me.
took a personal turn. He asked how long I Now, if people cannot see how beautiful I had been in the city?- where I came from?am it is their loss, not mine. “Beauty is in the was I Mrs. or Miss Ellis? eye of the beholder;" and if the beholder is “And so you have been married ?" he said. blind, does that mar the fact? Therefore, I “Yes." warn you against that little touch of sarcasm “And have had children." in the laugh with which you greet this descrip- “Yes.” tion, madam, lest you fix upon yourself the im- “Are they living?" putation-devoid of taste.
“How many had you?” I stopped this letter here yesterday, for an “Six." accident happened to my darling. Noma dar- “Six? Is it possible?” ling, though not mine. He slipped on the steps And indeed, Liz, I suppose it was possible; and sprained his ankle. It is an awful sprain, but you ought to have seen his look of astonishalmost a fracture. I heard his quick step past ment. I was transfixed by it. But I never my door; then I heard him fall and ran to him. was with him ten minutes that he did not put He was holding on to the banisters, trying to me in the witness-box. get up stairs when I saw him. I made a swoop “How long were you married?” was his next downward, like a hawk on a June-bug, and question. "lit" close by him. He smiled when he saw “Five years." me, and as I caught him about the waist he “Five years and six children? Explain.” laid his arm over my shoulder and yielded to Oh, but I had to think fast. “Twins and my assistance. But it was no use; he could triplets,” I said. not bear any weight on the injured limb, and I “Two births.” had to call help and have him carried up to his
“Yes.” room. His pain was intolerable. In spite of “That only accounts for five." his evident self-control, the groans trembled “I said five." through his white lips. My heart was torn at “You said five years and six children." the sight. I sent for a doctor, and then I took “You are wrong; I said six years and five off his shoe and stocking, and pressed and children.” chafed his delicate white foot and ankle—how “Let it go at that, then. Was your marlovingly and tenderly, he may never know. riage one of love?” But it did him good; his face relaxed, and his “No." breath came easier.
“Did you marry for money?” Say, Liz, I don't believe he wears more than
“No." No. 4 shoes. I wear No. 5 myself, though I “For a home?" never owned it before. The two things I have "No." lied about with unswerving persistence and “Will you mention the consideration that innulish perversity are my age and the size of duced you to take so momentous a step?” my feet, and I don't believe it is in the power “I wanted to see how I would look in orange of the gospel to save me on these points. There flowers and a bridal veil.” is no doubt but the first thing I shall do when “Couldn't you have hired a costume and I enter the next world will be to order a pair found out?” of shoes too small for me, and exchange them “But I wanted the sensation." with the under-clerk surreptitiously. Now,
I "And so you were married six years?" always hated small feet in men, until I saw and
“Five years." handled this beautiful little foot of Mr. Taft's; "Are you positive?" and then my ideas underwent a change. And “I should think I ought to know. why not, even on rational principles, leaving there." my love-lorn condition out of the question.
you have?" Beauty is beauty wherever you find it. So I “Six." wipe out another prejudice, and am all the “Are you positive?” more free for it.
“I counted them every night when they Since I wrote you before I think I have made came home.” sine progress in the pursuit of Mr. Taft's heart. “And you always made out six ?"
“And how many
“Yes, very. I wanted it large, for fear he “Suppose the number fell short, what did you might claw out and come back again.” do?"
“I don't refer to the tombstone; I refer to the "Borrowed one of a neighbor."
bill.” “Do you know what I think of those chil- “Oh, yes, the bill for the tombstone was very dren?”
“Drop the tombstone, and tell me about the “I think they were all borrowed, Mrs. Ellis.” bill for the divorce. I am more interested in
And then he took up his pen and began to that." write one of those interminable briefs. Why “Ah! That was a different bill altogether. briefs, in the name of Moses? This was a hint His name is Bill Wilson. He is the man my for me to leave, and, as a natural consequence, husband was jealous of.” I didn't want to. I was standing all this time, “That was before he died." and he was sitting at his desk. He wrote “No, afterwards." pages, and still I stood there. Presently he “Mrs. Ellis, you can be excused.” looked up, and said:
“My name is not Mrs. Ellis; at least, not “How long did you live with your husband, that I know. Don't a divorced woman take Mrs. Ellis?"
her own name again?” “Fifteen years."
“As a rule, madam, she takes some other “Ah! and how many children had you?” person's—Bill Wilson's, for instance." “One."
Then, Liz, he rose to his feet, and bowed, to “You have been awfully bereaved since I signify that the interview was ended; whereheard from you last.”
I walked round the desk, and sat down “Bereaved indeed, Mr. Taft. Six children by him, just as he was reseating himself. And could have filled my heart no more perfectly now, mark my words, I saw an unmistakable than did my one little daughter that died so flash of pleasure in his face, but he stifled it young."
instantly, and turned toward me, cold and imI felt my voice tremble, and he glanced away passive. a moment, only to turn his calm eyes upon me In the meantime, I was making myself quite again. He had seen tears in the witness - box comfortable. I put my feet on the rungs of a thousand times. He knew their analysis - his chair, adjusted my overskirt, and smiled on salt, sodium, and water.
him bewitchingly. Don't dock that word of "And so you were married fifteen years; and one particle of its strength. I mean it. I was where is your husband?”
in my most dare-devil mood, and did not care “I am a widow."
where it led. “Is your husband dead ?"
Truly, the allurements of the chase are won“Yes; and glad of it.”
derful. Heigh, ho, tantivy! Put in the yelp“You or your husband?”
ing of the dogs, the tooting of the horns, the “I, of course. I haven't heard from him reckless speed of the sportsman, and the poor since.”
little hare almost run down, and you have the “Did he treat you badly?”
Oh, men! men ! if you knew as much about "And you?”
women as I do, your power would be unlimited. “I kept even. I squared accounts with him This is an apostrophe—not intended for the ear every day."
of any male biped that lives. Could I be so “Did you sue him for a divorce?”
base as to give away my own sex by showing “No, he sued me."
our enemies that their power lies in their in“On what complaint?”
difference to us? “That I failed to provide for him.”
I am afraid of making my letter too long by "And he got a divorce on that ground?” recounting any further conversation with Mr.
He might have done it if he had not died.” Taft. It lasted an hour; it was sensible and “And where is he now?"
sincere on both sides. As I got up to leave “In Arizona working a gold mine.”
the room, he raised with me, giving me his “What did your divorce cost you?”
hand, and so we walked, still holding hands, to “Nothing as yet; I am to pay the bill when the door, where he bowed me out, with the I marry again."
rarest smile that ever illuminated a face. “What bill.”
I wish I could go and take care of him as he “For the tombstone."
lies in the next room suffering, but I dare not "Is it a large one?”