Friendship story

This is a quaint old story, rather dated, but to my mind, utterly charming and sweet. It’s pretty long for a blog post. YOu can send it to your kindle reader (which need not be a Kindle, can be the free app)- if you know your kindle email address (you can find that at Amazon), and then going to, clicking push to Kindle, and then pasting the URL for this post into the box and sending it. Right handy tool, that is.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The club had gone, save only the guest of the afternoon and a few friends of the hostess, who lingered to congratulate her. It had been a most successful meeting. The guest who had spoken was the president of a southern club. The hearers were warm in their praises of the leisurely music of her southern voice, the charm of her southern manner, so simple and direct and sympathetic, her beauty, her grace, even of the finish of her toilet. She had handled a weighty subject with a light touch (it was the child labor of the south), and her husband being a very large manufacturer, she had spoken out of experience as well as theory. Moreover, she had shown a luminous common sense and a tolerant humor such as did not always brighten such serious themes; and not only the earnest students of the club, but the more flippant members, were aroused to an unusual and captivated attention. Now they were loath to let her go; pressing about, tarrying amid the teacups, and only reluctantly faring forth as the maids appeared to remove the wreckage of the feast. The hostess sank, weary but elated, into a chair by Miss Clymer, the secretary, as the last silken skirt rustled away. Mrs. Waite, the president, who was dallying with socialism, had evidently introduced her new pet to the visitor, who listened politely.

“After all,” suggested Mrs. Clymer, more from the amiable design of steering the conversation within safe limits than out of any craving to exploit her own views, “after all, do we really know how these people feel? Is there one of us, for example, who ever had an intimate friend among them, a woman who worked with her hands?”

“Madelaide Dunbar told me once,” remarked the youngest club member, “that she was fonder of her maid than of most of her friends.”

“Which maid?” inquired another. “The one who took her pearl necklace?”

“Nobody took those pearls; Madelaide hid them herself, and forgot all about it, and then found them in her soiled-handkerchief bag! But it wasn’t that one. This one had a little wave to her nose and her eyes were near together.”

“Is she with Madelaide now?”

“I think she married. Madelaide was buying teaspoons the other day, and asking for rather light weight—maybe they were for her wedding present.”

The South Carolinian smothered a smile. “Madelaide doesn’t exactly count,” said the hostess.

A new voice took up the theme, a sweet, rather diffident voice, to which, nevertheless, the circle listened with an attention that was almost distinction. She who spoke had been born in the little mid-Western city, and there she had spent her early youth, but she had married a rich man of the East, and was only a visitor to-day. The Ridgelys were people of importance; and Constance Ridgely, the only child, who never went to parties with boys, and only paid visits with her mother, and finally disappeared into vistas of fashion and intimacy with the peerage, was a person of mark. The more, that no splendid transformation had altered her affection for the town, or her gentle, almost shy modesty of manner. She flushed slightly now as she spoke. “The best, the dearest girl friend I ever had, used to work with her hands,” said she.

The sudden silence was almost the dumbness of dismay; but the hostess sprang nimbly to the rescue with a murmur of “How picturesque!”

“Why, of course,” cried Mrs. Clymer. “I wish you would tell us of it. You mean Nannie, don’t you?”

The Southerner leaned slightly forward, with a look of interest.

“It is so long ago,” said Mrs. Curtis, who had been Constance Ridgely, “but something has made me think of Nannie all the afternoon. My friendship with Nannie began almost thirty years ago, when Miss Arthur kept the Pleasant Street kindergarten next to No. 3. The school was a dear; but I remember so well the odd mixture of admiration and dread I felt for the big, tumultuous public school. The boys used to make faces at us, but they were so daring and they turned somersaults so nimbly! And I was devoured with curiosity regarding the little girls who came to school without their nurses. I thought it must be grand! One little girl I singled out. She used to wear a red jersey and a red tam-o’-shanter. She wasn’t precisely pretty—according to my childish, wax-dolly standard of beauty—but there was something fascinating in the way her silky mop of brown hair flung itself to the wind, in the flash of her brown eyes and her white teeth and the feather-down lightness of her motions. She was as reckless of her frock as her bones—I was trained to be very careful of both. The fearless rush with which she would slide down the high bank or skin up a tree to the very awful, oscillating top—I can’t describe the awesome joy of seeing her! And she was so gay; she had the sweetest, merriest laugh in the world. I loved it. Ah, how many times did I glue my demure little face, which hid so many wild fancies, to a certain knot-hole in that high, high fence of Miss Arthur’s, which all our mothers praised because it protected our privacy, watching the boys and girls, and my girl run out to recess! And, oh, the blow it was when the hour of recess at the kindergarten was changed! Because the No. 3 boys stole Bennie Olmstead’s roller skates, and there was a combat, in which our injured and innocent boys were no match for the wicked No. 3’s; and Miss Betty, who attended to minor matters of our physical comfort, being only the third kindergartner, who was learning and received no salary, and of course had most of the drudgery, washed at least four bloody noses and one bitten ear, and put butchers’ brown paper on half a dozen bruises, while the little girls wept for sympathy and Bennie howled for his skates! I wept, too; but it was because I could never any more look through the knot-hole for Nannie. I knew her name, because I heard it so often. And then, in the midst of my dejection, I met her. It was by accident. Tina had come for me in the carriage, but Harland, having an errand at the harness shop, had sent her on ahead, and we two were waiting for him on the curb-stone. Of a sudden we heard an appalling outcry of canine yelps and boyish yells, and I saw a sickening sight, a wretched little dog with a tin can tied to his tail, which clattered against the bricks of the sidewalk as he bounded; and in the can a huge fire-cracker spitting fire! For sheer terror lest I should see the catastrophe, I covered up my face. And then I heard my Nannie’s voice, ‘Here, doggie! Here, poor doggie!’ I let my little coward hands drop. I saw her welcome the terrified beast to the shelter of her skirts, while with one swift curve she plucked out the hissing red stick and hurled it with admirable certainty of aim straight at the pursuers. As they scampered away, she told them what she thought of them. Before they could rally, Harland came to the rescue with the carriage; and Tina pushed both of us into it. It was one of those double phaetons which we all used to have then. I don’t know whether Tina’s mercy would have included the dog; but he included himself with a flying leap into Nannie’s lap.”

“And that was how you met Nancy?” said Mrs. Clymer. “You took her home, didn’t you, and found her conversation on the way very entertaining?”

“Entrancing. She was full of thrilling knowledge of the world. She went to school all alone. Her father was a carpenter, and she had a hatchet and a plane and a brace and bit all her very own. Her mother was dead, but she lived with her aunty, and she invited us most politely to get out and see her aunty, and her papa’s shop in the back yard. ‘We got a lovely home,’ said Nannie.”

“Was it?” laughed the youngest clubwoman.

“I thought it was; and, yes, I think it was, now. So specklessly, radiantly tidy. A tiny house of wood, but painted freshly in gray and white, and with a most wonderful garden. That belonged to Nannie’s aunt. Nannie said she could make anything with a root grow. I remember she was out amid the phlox—such brilliant, luxuriant phlox as it was! She had on a white apron, which the sun made dazzling. By a wonderful coincidence, the aunt went to Tina’s church, and Tina knew her; so Tina let me go inside the house, and the aunt gave us coffee hot from the stove, and delicious little spice cakes just out of the oven; and we carried out some to Harland; and it was a full half-hour before Tina’s conscience stirred, and we had to go. By that time Nannie and I were very well acquainted. Yet I had always been amazingly slow about making friends.

“After this episode Nannie and I always nodded and grinned when we saw each other, going or coming from school. The next month Nannie appeared at our Sunday school and announced that she would always attend there if she might be in Miss Browning’s class. Miss Browning taught my class. Fancy my happiness! It impressed me very much the way Nannie could make people do what she wanted. In summer another wonder happened. Nannie’s father built our new stable. Nannie used to bring him his luncheon daily. Before the summer ended we were great chums.”

“But did your mother approve of your intimacy?” asked Mrs. Waite, who was bewildered by conduct so opposed to her recollections of the Ridgelys.

“My mother was a wise woman. One day she sent me away on some pretext, and she asked Nannie into the house and showed her pictures and talked to her. Nannie adored my mother; and mamma never threw any obstacles in the way of my seeing Nannie, while Tina was always willing to take me to the Marshes; of course I never went alone. Tina thought Nannie one of the nicest little girls in town; and she had sense enough to see that while I was most often listless and shy with other girls, I was always happy with Nannie. I don’t think I can quite express her charm. She was clever, but clever people have bored me. She was pretty, too; and she was a true, delicate-minded little gentlewoman, though her father was a mechanic and her aunt helped the family income by taking in fine washing; but it was none of those things. I think it was that she was so wholesome! Always cheerful. Always fearless. By consequence she was the most absolutely truthful being I ever knew. Aunt Kate”—to Mrs. Clymer—”you heard about the red paint? Shall I tell them?” At Mrs. Clymer’s assent she continued, “It was a truly terrible experience. I was never so scared in my life; and I was always getting scared when I was little. Nannie’s next-door neighbor was a little girl named Elsa Clarke, whose father was a painter by trade. He was an easy-tempered man, and sometimes used to let us paint. If we daubed ourselves (which we seldom failed to do), he would scrub us off with turpentine. I had some painful scenes with Tina; for even if the paint was gone, the scent of roses, you know. She was going to put a ban on the whole business, when Nannie contrived some oilcloth aprons out of a discarded table covering. This appeased her. One day Elsa’s father gave us the dregs of a can of red paint. Another painter who was doing some work in the shop glowered at him, and from him to a white window sash that he had just finished. He was a very gruff old fellow, of whom I stood in dreadful fear. I thought he was very much such a looking man as the ogre in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk.’ ‘Them kids will mess up something if you give ’em paint, you’ll see,’ the ogre growled, ‘but they better keep clear of my sash, if they know what’s good for ’em!’ With that he followed Elsa’s father out of the shop. We were left with our artistic fury. I don’t know exactly how the calamity came about, but Elsa wanted the paint can which Nannie was using. If Elsa wanted anything and didn’t get it, she grew angry. It was her papa’s shop and her papa’s paint and she had a right to have it, she would have it! ‘But he gave it to us all,’ I protested, rather shocked at the squabble. Nannie didn’t say anything; she went on slapping the paint on a box in vast content. Then Elsa flew into a rage and laid hold of Nannie. I laid hold of her. And a dog in the household, hearing our loud voices, bounded joyously into the fray. And somehow Nannie tripped! The paint, the red, red paint made a ghastly cascade over the snowy whiteness of the ogre’s window frame. Stupefied by the enormity of our mishap, we stood staring miserably at each other. Elsa burst into tears. As for me, I could hear my heart thump.

“‘He’s coming back,’ gasped Elsa, ‘and papa ain’t with him. I saw him box a little girl’s ears once jest for using his brush—let’s run! Let’s run! He’ll think it was Jumper!’ (Jumper was wagging his tail and affectionately sympathizing.)

“‘Jumper didn’t do it,’ said Nannie.

“But Elsa was sprinting across the yard. My own terror seemed to clutch me and propel me without volition; I was outside and hurrying after Elsa before I realized. But at the sound of a dreadful, menacing voice I turned my head. Nannie had not fled. She was facing the brutal man who had boxed a little girl’s ears; and he was demanding who had done That! The rumble of thunder was in his deep tones. I ran back; but I was in such a panic I had to hold on to the bench to keep me on my feet. Elsa, from the fortress of her kitchen, screamed that Jumper had done it.

“‘Hay?’ exploded the man. It seemed to me an appalling interjection.

“‘Jumper didn’t do it,’ said Nannie. ‘I fell and the paint splashed. I’ll paint it over for you, all right.’

“‘You!’ the ogre bellowed, lifting his fist in a passion. ‘You’ve done enough mischief!’ I had been trying to speak, but I was so scared that my mouth only made little choking sounds, but now I did sob, ‘Please, mister, we made her do it, Elsa and I. Elsa caught her arm and I caught Elsa’s arm—I’ll pay you for it!’ I had my little purse out in my trembling fingers and would have given it all to him. Not Nannie. ‘It can’t take you an hour to paint it over,’ said she. ‘Will you take twenty-five cents—that’s an hour’s wages—and let me paint it? I’m awful sorry it happened.’

“‘I’ve a mind to lick you both,’ grumbled the man.

“But Nannie didn’t flinch; she looked into his face, repeating, ‘We’re awful sorry; and we’ll pay you. It wouldn’t do any good to spank us; and I’ll paint something else first, to show you I won’t daub the glass.’

“‘Well, you are a cool one,’ said the man. I could hardly believe my eyes; he was grinning. Actually he did let Nannie show him how neatly she painted; and the end of it was, he taught us a great deal about painting.”

“Didn’t Nannie think you were plucky to run back?” said the Southerner. “Truly, Mrs. Curtis, I think you were braver than she!”

Mrs. Curtis shook her head. “I couldn’t have done it but for Nannie. Merely being in her presence stiffened my limp courage. I was absurdly timid.”

“Well, I don’t wonder you were fond of her,” cried the youngest member. “What were her people like?”

“Her mother was dead and she was an only child. Her father was the kindest, gentlest of men, with a placid shrewdness such as one may draw from life rather than books. He loved beautiful things. Why, he taught me more about the loveliness of shadows and trees than the great artists, since. And I recognize now how fine was his passion for what he called in his homely way ‘a job good enough not to need putty.'”

“I remember Marsh well,” said Mrs. Clymer. “He was a wonderful workman and a particularly considerate person to have about. He always cleaned up his shavings. I never saw the aunt. She was a nice sort, too, wasn’t she, Connie?”

“Indeed she was! She was a widow with three children. The youngest, as Nannie told me with somber importance, was ‘bedrid’; she hadn’t walked for three years, and the doctor said she ‘never would walk in this world’; but Mr. Marsh had made her a most ingenious wheeled chair, which was always at the window, with her little pale, smiling face above it. Then there was little Ned, who was four, and Oscar, who was working his way through college. They all spoke of Oscar with deep respect. He was awfully clever, I was sure; and his mother had a handsome photograph of him on the mantel, under his father’s picture.”

“That was Jedidiah Marsh,” explained Mrs. Waite. “I remember him. He was a very handsome man and a plumber. He wasn’t very much of a plumber as I recall him; but he was an inventor always going to patent something, which always turned out to have been discovered before. Finally he did put some machine on the market, and died leaving the business in a tangle, and lots of debts, which his widow and Caleb Marsh paid off to the last cent of interest, although it took them years to do it.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Clymer; “he told Mr. Clymer once that maybe he wasn’t legally liable for Jed’s debts, but there never was a Marsh yet that anybody could find fault with for doing anything dishonest; and they shouldn’t begin with Jed, who was all right, whether his washing machine was or wasn’t. I have a sneaking idea myself that Caleb Marsh, who was shrewd in his simple way, did not take Jed’s wonderful genius seriously; but Jed’s wife did. Once I carried Nannie home when she had been to see you, Connie; and I remember their neat little parlor, with the pictures of Lincoln and Grant and the Rogers groups and some really fine, simple furniture which Marsh had made himself. But I remember best the two portraits over the mantel—a pretty girl I should have known was Nannie’s mother, only an enlarged photograph, but very well done, and an oil portrait of Jedidiah, which had been done from a photograph by the gifted daughter of a neighbor, who was learning to paint. It was pretty awful. I wonder didn’t Caleb Marsh think so, too.”

“If he did, he never said so, you may be sure,” said Mrs. Curtis quickly; “and somehow I have a kind of affection for that picture, too. There were always flowers before both of the portraits; perhaps in winter no more than some sprigs of lemon verbena or a pot of ivy, but always some green thing. Do you know, the pictures, and the flowers always before them, that little touch of faithful love, added an intangible and plaintive charm to the homely attraction of the house. I did love that room. It was so sunny, so spotless and peaceful, with the geraniums and the heliotrope in the window, and the white muslin curtains. There was a rug with a very bright and fierce-looking tiger on it before the fireplace (Mr. Marsh would have a fireplace), and Mr. Marsh’s grandmother’s andirons glittered behind the big peacock fan in summer time; and there used to float in through the window the lovely faint odors of old-fashioned flowers—spice pinks and sweetbrier roses and lemon verbenas.”

Mrs. Clymer sighed. “I wish there were a better ending to the story.”

“Does it end sadly?” asked the Southerner. “Did the little girls grow up and forget each other?”

Mrs. Curtis, who was looking absently over the lawn and the flowers, down the shady street, on which longer and warmer shadows were creeping, back perhaps in a reverie of her childhood, started a little; the sensitive blush which years in the world had not given her power to control, mantled her fair cheek; she turned and gave the Southerner’s light smile a serious, almost solemn gaze. When she spoke it was with a gentle coldness, as if she felt she had been too frank with strangers—at least so the hostess interpreted it.

“I didn’t forget; and we were not separated for several years. I went to the high school with Nannie; it was really I who went, for my entreaties overcame my mother’s aversion to the clamorous life of a public school. We were so happy; and when I had the trouble with my eyes, Nannie used to read my lessons to me. She learned a whole different course so she could help me. You see, she was awfully clever. The more I knew of other girls, the finer Nannie seemed to me. The—the difference between the classes, the real thing which keeps them apart, is their lack of a common ground of experience. They haven’t anything to talk about. I should have been as shy with another girl who worked for her living as she would have been with me, but I knew Nannie so well—I never knew any other woman friend so well, and only one man.”

“Whom you married?” said the Southerner with an apologetic accent.

“Yes, poor dear,” laughed Mrs. Curtis. “It wasn’t treating him well, perhaps, but he brought it on himself.”

“Did you go through the high school with your friend?” Mrs. Waite’s deep voice was heard again. “But no, surely you weren’t a graduate?”

“No; we went to Europe in my second year. I cried myself ill when we parted. My only comfort was that Nannie and I had promised each other that we would go to college together. Nannie was already earning money by her carving. Still—it was bitter. Youth can suffer so easily and so horribly!”

“Yet,” said Mrs. Clymer, “though I admit you were a woeful object, Connie, I thought at the time, and I think now, that Nannie suffered the most. She didn’t shed a tear that morning when she came up to your house to say good-by; and I went with you to the depot; but there was a look in her eyes which haunted me. And when she stood in the driveway as we rolled away, watching the carriage, and you turned and she waved her hand and smiled—I felt as if I had seen a surgical operation.”

“And then? Oh, Mrs. Curtis, that wasn’t the end of it?” cried the youngest member.

“Oh, no. I missed Nannie amid all the change and excitement; and I wrote her often. At first she wrote me as often. Now I can appreciate how hard she must have tried to collect the little items of news likely to interest me. And they were all about girls whom she barely knew, and things remote from her. Somehow she found out about everything. It was she who first wrote about when Annie Baylor had scarlet fever, and she who told first of that astounding happening, Mary Taine Willis’ engagement. Mary was only three years older than we; it was almost like one of us being engaged. And her reports about the house and the grounds and the horses, my father said, were clearer and more useful than those of the man in charge. But somehow during the last year the letters grew a little less open-hearted and affectionate; a queer film of constraint froze over them, if I may call it that. And on my part I was conscious of a mingling of dread in my delight at the prospect of seeing Nannie when we had come. I knew she would be the same faithful, dear girl whom I should always love; but my Nannie was more—she was the leader, she had charm; I admired her so tremendously, I wondered should I admire her in the same way. Maybe you think that was horrid of me?”

“I don’t know”—the Southern woman spoke before the others—”I know it was natural. Well, did you find it different? Had she changed?”

“I don’t remember; I only remember that, in the first half-hour, my only fear was lest she should be disappointed in me. I admired everything about her; her very clothes were so dainty; and I had expected to be superior there, I fancy. But it wasn’t that; it was my feeling that she was finer and stronger than my other friends. You know the pretty clothes, the pretty manners, are only signs of the real thing; and Nannie had the real thing, I was sure. But there was always that constraint about her. You would not believe,” said Mrs. Curtis gently to the Southerner, “you would not believe how absurdly this intangible reserve of hers hurt me.”

“I think it was very nasty of her, myself,” laughed the Southerner; “but did it never occur to you that some other friend of yours might have been making mischief? You were a very desirable chum, some one might have filled your friend’s head with notions of how different were your classes and walks in life; and how you were too loyal and kind hearted to desert or repel an old friend, but you might find such ties a drag on you. If that happened she would be a little morbid about making advances. She was probably proud in her own way.”

“There was Elsa Clarke,” Mrs. Clymer suggested; “she was always trying to be intimate with you; and if ever there was a sly little climber, it was she.”

“Wait a minute!” exclaimed the hostess. “I am beginning to reminisce, myself. Wasn’t there a boy in the Marsh family, Nannie Marsh’s brother or cousin? Yes, her cousin, Oscar. Why, to be sure. He came back from college and was a clerk in Norris Blanchard’s store, and fell madly in love with Gladys Blanchard. She treated him abominably, they did say. Led him on, and then married that young man from Massachusetts; and Oscar shot himself in the front yard while they were standing up under the floral bell.”

“How ghastly,” murmured the youngest member, “to kill himself—”

“Oh, it didn’t kill him, though they thought he would die. I don’t know but his uncle wondered sometimes if it wouldn’t have been better. For after he got up he took to drink and notions—wild, anarchistic, socialistic—”

“He couldn’t take to them both at the same time,” Mrs. Waite interrupted with fervor. “They are absolutely antagonistic, socialism—”

“Yes, yes, to be sure”—the hostess hastily turned a conversational switch before the collision—”of course I didn’t mean to say he believed in both, only that he took to making fierce speeches at the populist meetings, and wrote articles for the papers, girding at the rich. And he used to get drunk. The poor Marshes felt awfully. I shouldn’t be a bit surprised if that was what made Nannie a little shy and stiff. Did she tell you about Oscar’s tragedy?”

“Not until I found it out myself. I somehow had the feeling that I wasn’t so gladly welcomed as I used to be. And Mrs. Marsh was changed and saddened. But the little chair was no longer by the window; and I knew the mother grieved. Dear little Hattie, always so patient and so pleased with every little thing. One day Nannie was walking home with me, and we met Oscar. After that I knew. I will own up, when I saw his condition, I—I told you I was a coward—I simply turned and ran away. To be sure, Nannie had seen him also, and said suddenly, ‘Good-by, Connie; I can’t go any farther’; but that is only a mitigation, not an excuse. I was so ashamed of myself I hardly slept all night. Nannie was coming to see me the next afternoon. I was awfully afraid she wouldn’t come, and almost as afraid to see her when she did come. And when she began to talk, I couldn’t think of anything better than to kiss her, with my eyes shut—as if I were going to have a tooth pulled! We both cried. It gave me a weird, earthquaky sensation to see Nannie cry. I had never, through all our years of intimacy, seen her cry. But almost immediately she pulled herself together, and said, ‘Well, I’m not going to stand it. Daddy has found a place in the country where Oscar can go and learn the business and then be a partner. If he has a little property of his own he will stop wanting to overturn things so bad. So—he’s going; and he did seem to feel bad about making aunty so wretched; and he’s promised to give up drinking and talking; so I don’t know what I’m crying about, unless it is having to give up going to college with you! But it’s only putting it off for a year. I’ll make it all back by then; I’m going into the furniture factory this summer.’ But when I saw the family I realized for the first time what this education, which we take so lightly, indeed often with weariness, means to those who have to deny themselves for it. The love of it was a passion with Nannie’s people. They seemed to think a college was a wonderful place, where one learned all the secrets of life and art and knowledge. When they spoke of it their voices would drop reverentially, as they dropped when they spoke of heaven. To have this glory for Nannie put off another year seemed cruel to them. ‘Well,’ I suggested to Mr. Marsh, ‘at least it will be I who will have to miss her, and not you.’ ‘It’s wicked to take such comfort,’ said he, ‘but I guess I can’t help taking it a mite. Nannie is so very comforting and pleasant to have around.'”

“He certainly was a nice man,” said Mrs. Clymer. “Do you remember him beaming at Nannie’s graduation? I thought I should be bored, but I wasn’t; and you, my dear, were a little drama of delight by yourself, so scared when she began, and so radiant presently; and darting such furious glances at Elsa Clarke.”

“Well,” retorted Mrs. Curtis, “wasn’t she whispering all through the essay to a boy she had with her! But she was on the stage afterward, before any of us, and she had sent Nannie a most impressive and expensive bouquet; and she was hugging her and making joyful noise over her when my father and I came up. Father paid her the prettiest of compliments and called her Miss Nannie. Her own father and her aunt and Ned stood by, with Oscar, who had come in from the country for this important occasion. Mr. Marsh did not say a word. But I never knew before how many different kinds of smiles a man could smile. And somehow, after that evening, although Nannie was so little affected by the glamour of it all, I was provoked with her; somehow, she was more like her old gay self with me. Why do you suppose, Mrs. Atherton?”

“I suppose,” ventured the Southerner, smiling, “because she felt that her little triumph (no doubt she overvalued it, in spite of the level head you give her); she felt it made her a little better worth your friendship. But—what happened next? You went to college?”

“Yes, I went; and we had to have that odious little Elsa with us, because she was going, too. I was most dolefully homesick; and oh, how I missed Nannie! I wrote her, if I weren’t so afraid of the ferocious cabmen who roared so at one, I should run away, and it was all her fault—”

“Your father did want—” Mrs. Curtis cut Mrs. Clymer’s sentence off with a quick “Ah, they wouldn’t accept; they were quite as proud as we. However, the time dragged itself away, and I went home for the Christmas holidays. I found Nannie in very different circumstances, but quite as cheerful. She was working in the factory, and earning good wages, and she had all sorts of racy experiences with human nature to relate. How the whole family hung on my college stories! And Oscar was doing well, and becoming cheerful, and they could all talk proudly about him again! They comforted me as much as my own people, and I went back with a show of courage. Nannie wrote me every week. I don’t know just when I began to feel a change in the letters, not in their affection or their gaiety; but she no longer told me so much about her studies (for she wanted to keep up with me and enter in the second year); after a while she hardly mentioned them; yet she had shown the keenest interest. My people came on east for me that summer, and as we made several visits, it was late in the summer when we came home. Although I had noticed this change in Nannie’s letters, I had not dreamed what it really meant; and I was not prepared for the shock I received. She greeted me with all her old affection; but at my first inquiry about her savings, she answered, ‘Yes, I have enough—if I go.’ ‘If!’ I cried. ‘Don’t be talking of if’s!’ ‘Indeed, I ought not,’ she answered very gravely, ‘for there is no if about it; I know that I oughtn’t to go. It isn’t fair to the others.’ ‘But they want you to go!’ I pleaded in inexpressible dismay. ‘It will be the awfulest disappointment!’ It seems to me that I still remember every word of her reply. She said that she knew it, that her education had been the whole family’s day dream. But that, in the first place, it would be harder than they would admit for them to have her go. ‘If it were only this it would be hard,’ she said, ‘but we could bear it; but—it isn’t. What they couldn’t bear would be to—to have me grow away from them. I couldn’t, truly; but—you know Elsa is at home now. She talks of nothing but her college, her college friends, her high marks at exams, her basketball team, and all that. She is always complaining of her own people’s plain ways. Connie, I can see so plainly that when she has finished the education which her parents are pinching themselves to give her she will use it to establish herself as far as possible from them.’

“‘Oh, Elsa?’ I sniffed. ‘I can believe anything of Elsa. You couldn’t be so horrid and snobbish!’

“‘She doesn’t mean to be horrid, or know she is; she speaks of her mother with tears in her eyes. It is only that she has gone into another world from them, and wants to stay there. I don’t want to go into any other world than my father’s and the others’. I don’t want any better taste than they have! I want better taste and I want them to have it, but I want us all to get it together. Whatever I get I want to share with them. I couldn’t if I went away. I used to think I could bring it all back in a lump; but I know better now. You can’t pot culture and give it away as you choose; you have to grow it from the seed. What I am afraid of is that they should not get what I get. So far they have; why, aunty knows more of Virgil from hearing me translate aloud than I do myself; and dad is wonderful in geometry, and he has taught me to love Charles Lamb, whom he loved just from the extracts in the literature. First he bought the Essays, then I bought him the Letters. It is that way with so many things. You know’—she laughed—’you know we have some long-legged Fra Angelico angels instead of the pictures of Lincoln and Grant; they are in other frames, which my father made, and hang in the hall; and the Rogers groups have gone up-stairs, and, Connie, Oscar and dad and I have had a real artist paint a pastel of Uncle Jed as a present for aunty, and we have it in the parlor now; and nobody’s feelings are hurt; we were all pleased together. That is the right way. I can’t take any other way. Not even to be with you, Connie. No, dear, I can’t go.’ I am afraid I made it harder for her with my selfish grief, and her father almost frantically opposed the sacrifice, he who was always so tranquil; and Oscar was angry, and Ned cried. Oh, we gave poor Nannie a frightful quarter of an hour; but she did not go.”

“What became of her? How did it turn out in the end?” asked the youngest member.

“I don’t know,” answered Mrs. Curtis.

“Did her conduct make a breach between you?” Mrs. Waite showed the dawn of disapproval on her brow.

“Surely not. But in my next year we went abroad unexpectedly, on account of my mother’s health. We stayed four years; and while we were away, my grandfather died, and the house here was sold. At first we both wrote often; but, as the years went by, insensibly we wrote less often. Both of us, I suppose. That same film of constraint was over Nannie’s letters that had been over her manner before. Then it went away. This time it came, and did not go away. Then the letters ceased altogether. When I—when I found I was going to marry Mr. Curtis, I wrote Nannie the very first letter. There was no answer. I wrote again—not once, but many times. After a long while my letters came back to me, unopened, with the post-office inscription, ‘Not to be found.’ I wrote to Elsa, who was home. I asked her for Nannie’s address; for some word about her. She wrote back that the Marshes had sold their house after Oscar’s trouble, to raise money for his defense; and they had all moved away, she believed, to Dakota, but she didn’t know where. She said Nannie avoided everybody.”

“And what was Oscar’s trouble?” demanded Mrs. Waite. “I know there was some iniquitous blunder of the law, but what exactly was it?”

Mrs. Clymer, who had been watching Mrs. Curtis attentively, explained while the other woman seemed searching for the right words. “Oscar was convicted of burning the store of a rival merchant who had treated him very treacherously. He had lost his temper, and threatened the man. What he meant, he explained, was to give him a good hiding. But he was overheard; and when, that night, the store burned, and Oscar was discovered to have gone there, suspicion lighted on him. Of course, all his former wild actions were brought up against him, although he had quite reformed. There had been a number of incendiary fires, and you know how people always want somebody punished; poor Oscar Marsh was sent to the penitentiary, after his people had spent almost their last dollar to defend him. They moved away, and all trace of them was lost. It is a wretched story. And really, Oscar was innocent. A year afterward (I always credited it mostly to Nannie) it was discovered that the man had set fire to the store himself. Nannie got the insurance company on his trail. He fled. The governor pardoned Oscar. And that is all any of us know.”

“It is a sad story,” sighed Mrs. Waite. “I think she did wrong not to educate herself.”

“I think she did quite right,” said Mrs. Curtis.

“But as it was, the sacrifice was so useless,” urged the youngest member. “She didn’t lift them; they only all went under the waves together.”

“Not necessarily,” objected the Southerner. “Why be so dismal? Why not be cheerful? They had their good trade and their good sense and their love for each other. I am going to suppose that those things are more than money, and that they went to work in a new place, rose little by little, and then more and more, and are all prosperous and respected, and Miss Nannie has married the young superintendent of her new factory, who has now risen to be the main partner; he is of an old though impoverished family—”

“You think so much of family in the South, don’t you?” interjected Mrs. Waite.

“Well, we have so many old and good but impoverished families there, you see. I think the chances are she married such a boy; and they have made money, and Oscar has a nice plantation near them, and is married to a sweet little Southern girl, and his mother adores the baby; and Ned goes to college, and Mr. Marsh is a prosperous builder, high in the Scottish Rite, and growing used to his dress coat—”

“But,” said the hostess, “you are having them all south; they went to Dakota.”

“Why, so they did! I forgot,” cried the Southerner. “Maybe it was a mistake; and anyhow, they would have done better to go south!”

Everybody laughed and Mrs. Curtis’ fine eyes lit up. “I perceive you are a psychic, Mrs. Atherton,” she said gaily. “And they did go south. Being a psychic, can’t you tell me something? Why didn’t Nannie answer my letters?”

The Southerner dropped her chin and looked upward in the pose of a seer; no one noticed Mrs. Clymer’s sudden movement or the ripple of quick emotion in Mrs. Curtis’ face. “That’s easy,” she responded. “I see a slim girl with dark hair walking with another girl who answers to the name of Elsa. The dark-haired girl gives her a letter, stamped, but not addressed. She has sent a letter to her friend, which has not reached her. Letters sometimes do not reach people who are hurrying through Egypt or—or other places. This letter she gives to Elsa, who is to marry the cousin of an acquaintance of the friend. She is to post it—voilà tout!”

“She was engaged to Bertha Miller’s cousin; and she did try awfully hard to be intimate with Constance,” whispered Mrs. Clymer in the hostess’ ear; while everybody laughed again.

“He drinks like a fish,” returned the hostess irrelevantly.

“Oh, Mrs. Atherton, don’t stop, tell us more,” begged the youngest member. “I feel so interested in Nannie. Has she any children?” The youngest member had just acquired the most remarkable baby in the world.

“I reckon,” jested the Southerner, “two or three. Two boys, let us say—”

“How nice!” cried Mrs. Curtis, coloring prettily. “I have two boys.”

“And—I think a little girl, whom she has named Constance, Constance Ridgely—Are we going, Mrs. Clymer?”

Mrs. Clymer laid a kindly hand on her shoulder, saying, “Yes, my dear, I must go; but as I am stopping on my way, I shall walk; and Constance will take care of you.”

“Thank you, Aunt Kate,” said Mrs. Curtis, so low the others—except the Southerner—did not hear. They were alone in the carriage before she made any sign of that which had stirred her profoundly. Then she turned on her companion a pale face and eyes that were swimming in tears.

“Yes, dear,” said the Southerner, whose lips were smiling, but whose own eyes were wet.

“Oh—Nannie!” cried Constance Ridgely. And the faces of the two women were strangely like the faces of the two little girls who had found each other years and years ago.

From Stories That End Well by Octave Thanet,found at Gutenberg

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