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"A" As in "Father" by Rupert Hughes

I

For two years life at Harvard was one long siesta to Orson Carver, 2d. And then he fell off the window-seat. Orson Carver, 1st, ordered him to wake up and get to work at once. Orson announced to his friends that he was leaving college to pay an extensive visit to “Carthage” and it sounded magnificent until he added, “in the Middle West.”

A struggling young railroad had succumbed to hard times out there, and Orson senior had been appointed receiver. It was the Carthage, Thebes & Rome Railroad, connecting three towns whose names were larger than their populations.

Since Orson had seemed unable to decide what career to choose, if any, his father decided for him—decided that he should take up railroading and begin at the beginning, which was the office at Carthage. And Orson went West to “grow up young man with the country.”

Carthage bore not the faintest resemblance to the moving-picture life of the West; he didn't see a single person on horseback. Yet his mother thought of him as one who had vanished into the Mojave desert. She wrote to warn him not to drink the alkali water.

Young Orson, regarding the villagers with patient disdain, was amazed to find that they were patronizing him with amusement. They spoke of his adored Boston as an old-fogy place with “no git-up-and-git.”

Orson's mother was somewhat comforted when he wrote her that the young women of Carthage were noisy rowdies dressed like frumps. She was a trifle alarmed when she read in his next letter that some of them were not half bad-looking, surprisingly well groomed for so far West, and fairly attractive till they opened their mouths. Then, he said, they twanged the banjo at every vowel and went over the letter “r” as if it were a bump in the road. He had no desire for blinders, but he said that he would derive comfort from a pair of ear-muffs. By and by he was writing her not to be worried about losing him, for there was safety in numbers, and Carthage was so crowded with such graces that he could never single out one siren among so many. The word “siren” forced his mother to conclude that even their voices had ceased to annoy him. She expected him to bring home an Indian squaw or a cowgirl bride on any train.

And so Orson Carver was by delicate degrees engulfed in the life of Carthage. He was never assimilated. He kept his own “dialect,” as they called it.

The girl that Orson especially attended in Carthage was Tudie Litton, as pretty a creature as he could imagine or desire. For manifest reasons he affected an interest in her brother Arthur. And Arthur, with a characteristic brotherly feeling, tried to keep his sister in her place. He not only told her that she was “not such a much,” but he also said to Orson:

“You think my sister is some girl, but wait till you see Em Terriberry. She makes Tudie look like something the pup found outside. Just you wait till you see Em. She's been to boarding-school and made some swell friends there, and they've taken her to Europe with 'em. Just you wait.”

“I'll wait,” said Orson, and proceeded to do so.

But Em remained out of town so long that he had begun to believe her a myth, when one day the word passed down the line that she was coming home at last.

That night Tudie murmured a hope that Orson would not be so infatuated with the new-comer as to cast old “friends” aside. She underlined the word “friends” with a long, slow sigh like a heavy pen-stroke, and not without reason, for the word by itself was mild in view of the fact that the “friends” were seated in a motionless hammock in a moon-sheltered porch corner and holding on to each other as if a comet had struck the earth and they were in grave danger of being flung off the planet.

Orson assured Tudie: “No woman exists who could come between us!” And a woman must have been supernaturally thin to achieve the feat at that moment.

But even Tudie, in her jealous dread, had no word to say against the imminent Em. Everybody spoke so well of her that Orson had a mingled expectation of seeing an Aphrodite and a Sister of Charity rolled into one.

Now Carthage was by no means one of those petty towns where nearly everybody goes to the station to meet nearly every train. But nearly everybody went down to see Em arrive. Foremost among the throng was Arthur Litton. Before Em left town he and she had been engaged “on approval.” While she was away he kept in practice by taking Liddy Sovey to parties and prayer-meetings and picnics. Now that Em was on the way home Arthur let Liddy drop with a thud and groomed himself once more to wear the livery of Em's fiancé.

When the crowd met the train it was recognized that Arthur was next in importance to Em's father and mother. Nobody dreamed of pushing up ahead of him. On the outskirts of the mêlée stood Orson Carver. He gave railroad business as the pretext for his visit to the station, and he hovered in the offing.

As the train from the East slid in, voices cried, “Hello, Em!” “Woo-oo!” “Oh, Em!” “Oh, you Emma!” and other Carthage equivalents for “Ave!” and “all hail!”

Orson saw that a girl standing on the Pullman platform waved a handkerchief and smiled joyously in response. This must be Em. When the train stopped with a pneumatic wail she descended the steps like a young queen coming down from a dais.

She was gowned to the minute; she carried herself with metropolitan poise; her very hilarity had the city touch. Orson longed to dash forward and throw his coat under her feet, to snatch away the porter's hand-step and put his heart there in its place. But he could not do these things unintroduced. He hung back and watched her hug her mother and father in a brief wrestling-match while Arthur stood by in simpering homage.

When she reached out her hand to Arthur he wrung it and clung to it with the dignity of proprietorship and a smirk that seemed to say: “I own this beautiful object, and I could kiss her if I wanted to. And she would like it. But I am too well bred to do such a thing in the presence of so many people.”

Orson was not close enough to hear what he actually said. The glow in his eyes, however, was enough. Then Em visibly spoke. When her lips moved Arthur stared at her aghast; seemed to ask her to repeat what she said. She evidently did. Now Arthur looked askance as if her words shocked him.

Her father and mother, too, exchanged glances of dismay and chagrin. The throng of friends pressing forward in noisy salutation was silenced as if a great hand were clapped over every murmurous mouth.

Orson wondered what terrible thing the girl could have spoken. There was nothing coarse in her manner. Delicacy and grace seemed to mark her. And whatever it was she said she smiled luminously when she said it.

The look in her eyes was incompatible with profanity, mild soever. Yet her language must have been appalling, for her father and mother blushed and seemed to be ashamed of bringing her into the world, sorry that she had come home. The ovation froze away into a confused babble.

What could the girl have said?

II

Orson was called in by the station agent before he could question any of the greeters. When he was released the throng had dispersed. The Terriberrys had clambered into the family surrey and driven home with their disgrace.

But that night there was a party at the Littons', planned in Emma's honor. Tudie had invited Orson to be present.

He found that the one theme of conversation was Emma. Everybody said to him, “Have you seen Emma?” and when he said “Yes,” everybody demanded, “Have you heard her?” and when he said “No” everybody said, “Just you wait!”

Orson was growing desperate over the mystery. He seized Newt Elkey by the arm and said, “What does she do?”

“What does who do?”

“This Miss Em Terriberry. Everybody says, 'Have you heard her?'”

“Well, haven't you?”

“No! What under the sun does she say?”

“Just you wait. 'Shh!”

Then Emma came down the stairs like a slowly swooping angel.

She had seemed a princess in her traveling-togs; in her evening gown—! Orson had not seen such a gown since he had been in Paris. He imagined this girl poised on the noble stairway of the Opéra there. Em came floating down upon these small-town girls with this fabric from heavenly looms, and reduced them once for all to a chorus.

But there was no scorn in her manner and no humility in her welcome. The Carthage girls frankly gave her her triumph, yet when she reached the foot of the stairs and the waiting Arthur she murmured something that broke the spell. The crowd rippled with suppressed amusement. Arthur flushed.

Orson was again too remote to hear. But he could feel the wave of derision, and he could see the hot shame on Arthur's cheeks. Emma bent low for her train, took Arthur's arm, and disappeared into the parlor where the dancing had begun.

Orson felt his arm pinched, and turned to find Tudie looking at him. “This is our dance,” she said, “unless you'd rather dance with her.”

“With her? With Miss Terriberry, you mean?”

“Naturally. You were staring at her so hard I thought your eyes would roll out on the floor.”

There was only one way to quell this mutiny, and that was to soothe it away. He caught Tudie in his arms. It was strenuous work bumping about in that little parlor, and collisions were incessant, but he wooed Tudie as if they were afloat in interstellar spaces.

They collided oftenest with Arthur and his Emma, for the lucky youth who held that drifting nymph seemed most unhappy in his pride. The girl was talking amiably, but the man was grim and furtive and as careless of his steering as a tipsy chauffeur.

Orson forgot himself enough to comment to Tudie, “Your brother doesn't seem to be enjoying himself.”

“Poor boy, he's heartbroken.”

“Why?”

“He's so disappointed with Em.”

“I can't see anything wrong with her.”

“Evidently not; but have you heard her?”

In a sudden access of rage Orson stopped short in the middle of the swirl, and, ignoring the battery of other dancers, demanded, “In Heaven's name, what's the matter with the girl?”

“Nothing, I should judge from the look on your face after your close inspection.”

“Oh, for pity's sake, don't begin on me; but tell me—”

“Talk to her and find out,” said Tudie, with a twang that resounded as the music came to a stop. “Oh, Em—Miss Terriberry, this is Mr. Carver; he's dying to meet you.”

She whirled around so quickly that he almost fell into the girl's arms. She received him with a smile of self-possession: “Chahmed, Mr. Cahveh.”

Orson's Eastern ears, expecting some horror of speech, felt delight instead. She did not say “charrmed” like an alarm-clock breaking out. She did not trundle his name up like a wheelbarrow. She softened the “a” and ignored the “r.”

Tudie rolled the “r” on his ear-drums as with drum-sticks, and by contrast the sound came to him as: “Misterr Carrverr comes from Harrvarrd. He calls it Havvad.”

“Oh,” said Em, with further illumination, “I woah the Hahvahd colohs the lahst time I went to a game.”

Orson wanted to say something about her lips being the perfect Havvad crimson, but he did not quite dare—yet. And being of New England, he would always be parsimonious with flatteries.

Tudie hooked her brother's arm and said with an angelic spitefulness, “We'll leave you two together,” and swished away.

Orson immediately asked for the next dance and Em granted it. While they were waiting for the rheumatic piano to resume they promenaded. Orson noted that everybody they passed regarded them with a sly and cynical amusement. It froze all the language on his lips, and the girl was still breathing so fast from the dance that she apologized. Orson wanted to tell her how glorious she looked with her cheeks kindled, her lips parted, and her young bosom panting. But he suppressed the feverish impulse. And he wondered more and more what ridiculous quality the Carthaginians could have found in her who had returned in such splendor.

The piano exploded now with a brazen impudence of clamor. Orson opened his arms to her, but she shook her head: “Oh, I cahn't dahnce again just yet. You'd bettah find anothah pahtnah.”

She said it meekly, and seemed to be shyly pleased when he said he much preferred to sit it out. And they sat it out—on the porch. Moonlight could not have been more luscious on Cleopatra's barge than it was there. The piazza, which needed paint in the daylight, was blue enameled by the moon. The girl's voice was in key with the harmony of the hour and she brought him tidings from the East and from Europe. They were as grateful as home news in exile.

He expected to have her torn from him at any moment. But, to his amazement, no one came to demand her. They were permitted to sit undisturbed for dance after dance. She was suffering ostracism. The more he talked to her the more he was puzzled. Even Arthur did not appear. Even the normal jealousy of a fiancé was not evident. Orson's brain grew frantic for explanation. The girl was not wicked, nor insolent. She plainly had no contagious disease, no leprosy, no plague, not even a cold. Then why was she persecuted?

He was still fretting when the word was passed that supper was ready, and they were called in. Plates and napkins were handed about by obliging young gallants; chicken salad and sandwiches were dealt out with a lavish hand, and ice-cream and cake completed the banquet.

Arthur had the decency to sit with Em and to bring her things to eat, but he munched grimly at his own fodder. Orson tagged along and sat on the same sofa. It was surprising how much noise the guests made while they consumed their food. The laughter and clatter contrasted with the soft speech of Em, all to her advantage.

When the provender was gone, and the plates were removed, Tudie whisked Orson away to dance with her. As he danced he noted that Em was a wall-flower, trying to look unconcerned, but finally seeking shelter by the side of Tudie's mother, who gave her scant hospitality.

Tudie began at once, “Well, have you found out?”

“No, I haven't.”

“Didn't you notice how affected she is?”

“No more than any other girl.”

“Oh, thank you! So you think I'm affected.”

“Not especially. But everybody is, one way or another—even the animals and the birds.”

“Really! And what is my affectation?”

“I don't know, and I wouldn't tell you if I did. What's Miss Terriberry's?”

“Didn't you dahnce with her?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that's it.”

“What's that?”

“She says 'dahnce,' doesn't she?”

“I believe she does.”

“Well, she used to say 'dannce' like the rest of us.”

“What of it? Is it a sin to change?”

“It's an affectation.”

“Why? Is education an affectation?”

“Oh! so you call the rest of us uneducated?”

“For Heaven's sake, no! You know too much, if anything. But what has that to do with Miss Terriberry?”

Because their minds were at such loggerheads their feet could not keep measure. They dropped out of the dance and sought the porch, while Tudie raged on:

“She has no right to put on airs. Her father is no better than mine. Who is she, anyway, that she should say 'dahnce' and 'cahn't' and 'chahmed'?”

Orson was amazed at the depths of bitterness stirred up by a mere question of pronunciation. He answered, softly: “Some of the meekest people in the world use the soft 'a.' I say 'dahnce.'”

“Oh, but you can't help saying it.”

“Yes, I could if I tried.”

“But you were born where everybody talks like that. Em was born out here.”

“She has traveled, though.”

“So have I. And I didn't come back playing copy-cat.”

“It's natural for some people to mimic others. She may not be as strong-minded as you are.” He thought that rather diplomatic. “Besides 'dannce' and 'cann't' aren't correct.”

“Oh yes, they are!”

“Oh no, they're not! Not by any dictionary ever printed.”

“Then they'd better print some more. Dictionaries don't know everything. They're very inconsistent.”

“Naturally.”

“Now you say 'tomahto' where I say 'tomayto.'”

“Yes.”

“Why don't you say 'potahto'?”

“Because nobody does.”

“Well, nobody that was born out here says 'dahnce' and 'cahn't.'”

“But she's been East and in Europe, and—where's the harm of it, anyway? What's your objection to the soft 'a'?”

“It's all right for those that are used to it.”

“But you say 'father.' Why don't you say 'rather' to rhyme with it?”

“Don't be foolish.”

“I'm trying not to be.”

“Well, then, don't try to convince me that Em Terriberry is a wonderful creature because she's picked up a lot of foreign mannerisms and comes home thinking she's better than the rest of us. We'll show her—the conceited thing! Her own father and mother are ashamed of her, and Arthur is so disgusted the poor boy doesn't know what to do. I think he ought to give her a good talking to or break off the engagement.”

Orson sank back stunned at the ferocity of her manner. He beheld how great a matter a little fire kindleth. It was so natural to him to speak as Miss Terriberry spoke that he could not understand the hatred the alien “a” and the suppressed “r” could evoke among those native to the flat vowel and the protuberant consonant. He was yet to learn to what lengths disputes could go over quirks of speech.

III

The very “talking to” that Tudie believed her brother ought to give his betrothed he was giving her at that moment at the other end of the porch. Arthur had hesitated to attempt the reproof. It was not pleasant to broach the subject, and he knew that it was dangerous, since Em was high-spirited. Even when she expressed a wonder at the coolness of everybody's behavior he could not find the courage for the lecture seething in his indignant heart.

He was worrying through a perfunctory consolation: “Oh, you just imagine that people are cold to you, Em. Everybody's tickled to death to have you home. You see, Em—”

“I wish you wouldn't call me Em,” she said.

“It's your name, isn't it?”

“It's a part of my old name; but I've changed Emma to Amélie. After this I want to be called Amélie.”

If she had announced her desire to wear trousers on the street, or to smoke a pipe in church, or even to go in for circus-riding, he could not have been more appalled than he was at what she said.

“Amélie?” he gasped. “What in the name of—of all that's sensible is that for?”

“I hate Em. It's ugly. It sounds like a letter of the alphabet. I like Amélie better. It's pretty and I choose it.”

“But look here, Em—”

“Amélie.”

“This is carrying things too blamed far.”

He was not entirely heedless of her own welfare. He had felt the animosity and ridicule that had gathered like sultry electricity in the atmosphere when Emma had murmured at the station those words that Orson had not heard.

Orson, seated with Tudie at one end of the porch, heard them now at the other end of the porch as they were quoted with mockery by Arthur. Orson and Tudie forgot their own quarrel in the supernal rapture of eavesdropping somebody's else wrangle.

“When you got off the train,” Arthur groaned, “you knocked me off my pins by what you said to your father and mother.”

“And what did I say?” said Em in innocent wonder.

“You said, 'Oh, my dolling m'mah, I cahn't believe it's you'!”

“What was wrong with that?”

“You used to call her 'momma' and you called me 'darrling.' And you wouldn't have dared to say 'cahn't'! When I heard you I wanted to die. Then you grabbed your father and gurgled, 'Oh, p'pah, you deah old angel!' I nearly dropped in my tracks, and so did your father. And then you turned to me and I knew what was coming! I tried to stop you, but I couldn't. And you said it! You called me 'Ahthuh'!”

“Isn't that your name, deah?”

“No, it is not! My name is 'Arrthurr' and you know it! 'Ahthuh'! what do you think I am? My name is good honest 'Arrthurr.'“ He said it like a good honest watch-dog, and he gnarred the “r” in the manner that made the ancients call it the canine letter.

Amélie, born Emma, laughed at his rage. She tried to appease him. “I think 'Ahthuh' is prettiah. It expresses my tendah feelings bettah. The way you say it, it sounds like garrgling something.”

But her levity in such a crisis only excited her lover the more. “Everybody at the station was laughing at you. To-night when you traipsed down the stairs, looking so pretty in your new dress, you had to spoil everything by saying: 'What a chahming pahty. Shall we dahnce, Ahthuh?' I just wanted to die.”

The victim of his tirade declined to wither. She answered: “I cahn't tell you how sorry I am to have humiliated you. But if it's a sin to speak correctly you'll have to get used to it.”

“No, I won't; but you'll get over it. You can live it down in time; but don't you dare try to change your name to Amélie. They'd laugh you out of Carthage.”

“Oh, would they now? Well, Amélie is my name for heahaftah, and if you don't want to call me that you needn't call me anything.”

“Look here, Em.”

“Amélie.”

“Emamélie! for Heaven's sake don't be a snob!”

“You're the snob, not I. There's just as much snobbery in sticking to mispronunciation as there is in being correct. And just as much affectation in talking with a burr as in dropping it. You think it's all right for me to dress as they do in New York. Why shouldn't I talk the same way? If it's all right for me to put on a pretty gown and weah my haiah the most becoming way, why cahn't I improve my name, too? You cahn't frighten me. I'm not afraid of you or the rest of your backwoods friends. Beauty is my religion, and if necessary I'll be a mahtah to it.”

“You'll be a what?”

“A mahtah.”

“Do you mean a motto?”

“I mean what you'd call a marrtyrr. But I won't make you one. I'll release you from our engagement, and you can go back to Liddy Sovey. I understand you've been rushing her very hahd. And you needn't take me home. I'll get back by the gahden pahth.”

She rose and swept into the house, followed by her despairing swain.

Orson and Tudie eavesdropped in silence. Tudie was full of scorn. Amélie's arguments were piffle or worse to her, and her willingness to undergo “martyrdom” for them was the most arrant pigheadedness, as the martyrdom of alien creeds usually is.

Orson, the alien, was full of amazement. Here was a nice young man in love with a beautiful young woman. He had been devoted for years, and now, because she had slightly altered her habits in one vowel and one consonant, their love was curdled.

IV

Greater wars have begun from less causes and been waged more fiercely. They say that an avalanche can be brought down from a mountain by a whispered word. Small wonder, then, that the murmur of a vowel and the murder of a consonant should precipitate upon the town of Carthage the stored-up snows of tradition. Business was dull in the village and any excitement was welcome. Before Emma's return there had been a certain slight interest in pronunciation.

Orson Carver had for a time stimulated amusement by his droll talk. He had been suspected for some time of being an impostor because he spoke of his university as “Havvad.” The Carthaginians did not expect him to call it “Harrvarrd,” as it was spelled, but they had always understood that true graduates called it “Hawvawd,” and local humorists won much laughter by calling it “Haw-haw-vawd.” Orson had bewildered them further by a sort of cockneyism of misappropriated letters. He used the flat “a” in words where Carthaginians used the soft, as in his own name and his university's. He saved up the “r” that he dropped from its rightful place and put it on where it did not belong, as in “idear.” He had provoked roars of laughter one evening when a practical joker requested him to read a list of the books of the Bible, and he had mentioned “Numbas, Joshuar, Ezrar, Nehemiar, Estha, Provubbs, Isaiar, Jeremiar.”

Eventually he was eclipsed by another young man sent to a post in the C., T. &R. Railroad by an ambitious parent—Jefferson Digney, of Yale. Digney, born and raised in Virginia and removed to Georgia, had taken his accent to New Haven and taken it away with him unsullied. His Southern speech had given Carthage acute joy for a while.

Arthur Litton had commented once on the contrast between Orson and Jefferson. “Neither of you can pronounce the name of his State,” said Arthur. “He calls it 'Jawja' and you call it 'Jahjar.'”

“What should it be?”

“Jorrjuh.”

“Really!”

“You can't pronounce your own name.”

“Oh, cahn't I?”

“No, you cahn't I. You call it 'Cavveh.' He calls it 'Cyahvah.'”

“What ought it to be?”

“Carrvurr—as it's spelt.”

Yet another new-comer to the town was an Englishman, Anthony Hopper, a younger son of a stock-holder abroad. He was not at all the Englishman of the stage, and the Carthaginians were astonished to find that he did not drop his “h's” or misapply them. And he never once said “fawncy,” but flat “fancy.” He did not call himself “Hanthony 'Opper,” as they expected. But he did take a “caold bahth in the mawning.”

With a New Englander, an old Englander, and an Atlantan in the town, Carthage took an astonishing interest in pronunciation that winter. When conversation flagged anybody could raise a laugh by referring to their outlandish pronunciations. Quoting their remarks took the place of such parlor games as trying to say “She sells sea shells,” or “The sea ceaseth and it sufficeth us.”

The foreigners entered into the spirit of it and retorted with burlesques of Carthagese. They were received with excellent sportsmanship. One might have been led to believe that the Carthaginians took the matter of pronunciation lightly, since they could laugh tolerantly at foreigners. This, however, was because the foreigners had missed advantages of Carthaginian standards.

Emma Terriberry's crime was not in her pronunciation, but in the fact that she had changed it. Having come from Carthage, she must forever remain a Carthagenian or face down a storm of wrath. Her quarrel with her lover was the beginning of a quarrel with the whole town.

Arthur Litton became suddenly a hero, like the first man wounded in a war. The town rallied to his support. Emma was a heartless wretch, who had insulted a faithful lover because he would not become as abject a toady to the hateful East as she was. Her new name became a byword. Her pronunciations were heard everywhere in the most ruthless parody. She was accused of things that she never had said, things that nobody could ever say.

They inflicted on her the impossible habit of consistency. She was reported as calling a hat a “hot,” a rat a “rot,” of teaching her little sister to read from the primer, “Is the cot on the mot?” Pronunciation became a test of character. The soft “r” and the hard “a” were taken as proofs of effeminate hypocrisy.

Carthage differed only in degree, not in kind, from old Italy at the time of the “Sicilian Vespers,” when they called upon everybody to pronounce the word “ciceri.” The natives who could say “chee-cheree” escaped, but the poor French who could come no nearer than “seeseree” were butchered. Gradually now in Carthage the foreigners from Massachusetts, Georgia, England, and elsewhere ceased to be regarded with tolerance. Their accents no longer amused. They gave offense.

In the railroad office there were six or seven of these new-comers. They were driven together by indignation. They took up Amélie's cause; made her their queen; declined invitations in which she was not included; gave parties in her honor: took her buggy-riding. Each had his day.

A few girls could not endure her triumph. They broke away from the fold and became renegades, timidly softening their speech. This infuriated the others, and the town was split into Guelph and Ghibelline.

Amélie enjoyed the notoriety immensely. She flaunted her success. She ridiculed the Carthage people as yokels. She burlesqued their jargon as outrageously as they hers.

The soda-water fountains became battle-fields of backbiting and mockery. The feuds were as bitter, if not as deadly, as those that flourished around the fountains in medieval Italian towns. Two girls would perch on the drug-store stools back to back, and bicker in pretended ignorance of each other's presence. Tudie Litton would order “sahsahpahrillah,” which she hated, just to mock Amélie's manner; and Amélie, assuming to be ignorant of Tudie's existence, would retort by ordering “a strorrburry sody wattur.” Then each would laugh recklessly but miserably.

The church at which the Terriberrys worshiped was almost torn apart by the matter. The more ardent partisans felt that Amélie's unrepentant soul had no right in the sacred edifice. Others urged that there should be a truce to factions there, as in heaven. One Sunday dear old Dr. Brearley, oblivious of the whole war, as of nearly everything else less than a hundred years away, chose as his text Judges xii: 6:

“Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.”

If the anti-Amélites had needed any increase of enthusiasm they got it now. They had Scripture on their side. If it were proper for the men of Gilead, where the well-known balm came from, to slay forty-two thousand people for a mispronunciation, surely the Carthaginians had authority to stand by their “alturrs” and their “fi-urs” and protect them from those who called them “altahs” and “fiahs.”

No country except ours could foster such a feud. No language except the chaos we fumble with could make it possible. By and by the war wore out of its own violence. People ceased to care how a thing was said, and began to take interest again in what was said. Those who had mimicked Amélie had grown into the habit of mimicry until they half forgot their scorn. The old-time flatness and burr began to soften from attrition, to be modified because they were conspicuous. You would have heard Arthur subduing his twang and unburring the “r.” If you had asked him he would have told you his name was either “Arthuh” or “Ahthur.”

Amélie and her little bodyguard, on the other hand, grew so nervous of the sacred emblems that they avoided their use. When they came to a word containing an “a” or a final “r” they hesitated or sidestepped and let it pass. Amélie fell into the habit of saying “couldn't” for “cahn't,” and “A. M.” for “mawning.”

People began to smile when they met her, and she smiled back. Slowly everybody that had “not been speaking” began speaking, bowing, chatting. Now, when one of the disputed words drifted into the talk, each tried to concede a little to the other's belief, as soldiers of the blue and the gray trod delicately on one another's toes after peace was decreed. Everybody was now half and half, or, as Tudie vividly spoke it, “haff and hahf.” You would hear the same person say “haff-pahst ten,” “hahf-passt eleven,” and “hahf-pahst twelve.”

Carthage became as confused in its language as Alsace-Lorraine.

V

All through this tremendous feud Orson Carver had been faithful to Amélie. Whether he had given Tudie the sack or she him was never decided. But she was loyal to her dialect. He ceased to call; Tudie ceased to invite him. They smiled coldly and still more coldly, and then she ceased to see him when they met. He was simply transparent.

Orson was Amélie's first cavalier in Carthage. He found her mightily attractive. She was brisk of wit and she adored his Boston and his ways. She was sufficiently languorous and meek in the moonlight, too—an excellent hammock-half.

But when the other Outlanders had begun to gather to her standard it crowded the porch uncomfortably.

Dissension rose within the citadel. Orson's father had fought Jefferson's father in 1861-65. The great-grandfathers of both of them had fought Anthony Hopper's forefathers in '76-83. The pronunciations of the three grew mutually distasteful, and dreadful triangular rows took place on matters of speech.

Amélie sat in silence while they wrangled, and her thoughts reverted to Arthur Litton. He had loved her well enough to be ashamed of her and rebuke her. She was afraid that she had been a bit of a snob, a trifle caddish. She had aired her new accent and her new clothes a trifle too insolently. Old customs grew dear to her like old slippers. She remembered the Littons' shabby buggy and the fuzzy horse, and the drives Arthur and she had taken under the former moons.

Her father and mother had shocked her with their modes of speech when she came home, and she had ventured to rebuke them. She felt now that they ought to have spanked her. A great tenderness welled up in her heart for them and their homely ways. She wanted to be like them.

The village was taking her back into its slumberous comfortableness.

She would waken from her reveries to hear the aliens arguing their alien rules of speech. It suddenly struck her that they were all wrong, anyway. She felt an impulse to run for a broom and sweep them off into space. She grew curt with them. They felt the chill and dropped away, all but Orson. At last his lonely mother bullied his father into recalling him from the Western wilds.

He called on Amélie to bid a heartbreaking good-by. He was disconsolate. He asked her to write to him. She promised she would. He was excited to the point of proposing. She declined him plaintively. She could never leave the old folks. “My place is here,” she said.

He left her and walked down the street like a moving elegy.

He suffered agonies of regret till he met a girl on the East-bound train. She was exceedingly pretty and he made a thrilling adventure of scraping acquaintance with her mother first, and thus with her. They were returning to Boston, too. They were his home folks.

When at last the train hurtled him back into Massachusetts he had almost forgotten that he had ever been in Carthage. He had a sharp awakening.

When he flung his arms about his mother and told her how glad he was to see her, her second exclamation was: “But how on uth did you acquiah that ghahstly Weste'n accent?”

       * * * * *

One evening in the far-off Middle West the lonely Amélie was sitting in her creaking hammock, wondering how she could endure her loneliness, plotting how she could regain her old lover. She was desperately considering a call upon his sister. She would implore forgiveness for her sin of vanity and beg Tudie's intercession with Arthur. She had nearly steeled herself to this glorious contrition when she heard a warning squeal from the front gate, a slow step on the front walk, and hesitant feet on the porch steps.

And there he stood, a shadow against the shadow. In a sorrowful voice he mumbled, “Is anybody home?”

“I am!” she cried. “I was hoping you would come.”

“No!”

“Yes. I was just about ready to telephone you.”

There was so much more than hospitality in her voice that he stumbled forward. Their shadows collided and merged in one embrace.

“Oh, Amélie!” he sighed in her neck.

And she answered behind his left ear: “Don't call me Amélie any more. I like Em betterr from you! It's so shorrt and sweet—as you say it. We'll forget the passt forreverr.”

“Am! my dolling!”

“Oh, Arrthurr!”

 
 
 

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