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Mademoiselle Stylites by Margaret Vandegrift

I.

The discussion between Mr. John Woodstock and his sister was becoming animated, and their aunt, who never could understand the difference between a discussion and a quarrel, was listening anxiously, expecting every moment to see Marjory flounce out of the room at one door, and John at the other, in their respective furies. It began in this way: John had just read a notice of an extraordinary concert to come off the next week, and had pushed the paper over to Marjory, with the remark, "Like to go, Peg?"

She. Of course I should like to go! You don't mean to say you have tickets for it? (Excitedly.)

He. No, of course I don't: I am not a thief.

She. No, you are only the next thing to it—a shabby fellow. Why did you ask me in that way when you knew we couldn't go?

He. How you do jump at lame and impotent conclusions! Who said we could not go? I am sure I did not.

She. John Woodstock, if you don't stop this, and tell me what you mean, I will never make you another shirt!

He. Small loss! Of all mean things, a homemade shirt is the meanest; and why a man of my native nobility of character should be condemned to wear them—

Their aunt (distressedly). Children! children!—

He (soothingly). Never mind, aunty: she did not mean it. She would not put it out of her power to say that she had made every shirt I ever wore for all the mines of Golconda.

She. What a small potato you are!

He. Now, my dear Marjory, how often must I tell you that calling a fellow names is not arguing? If you could keep from being abusive for five minutes, you might hear of something to your advantage. I have a little money, for a wonder, but it is like the turkey—too much for one, and not enough for two. You cannot go by yourself, for it is an evening affair; but if you were not so frightfully vain about your personal appearance, I think we could manage it. I heard you say yesterday that you had the money for a new pair of gloves: if you will sacrifice them, we can go, and in two weeks I can give you the gloves besides. I can't before, for my princely income is at present heavily mortgaged. Can you furbish up your old ones till then, and thereby prove yourself sensible for once?

She. You are a pretty good boy, after all; but really I have not a decent pair to my name: that last pair of light ones got lemonade all over them, and it took the color out, of course.

He. Now I'll tell you what! I can take them for you on my way down town, and leave them to be dyed, and then you can do some fancy-work on their backs; and what more do you want?

She (doubtfully). But would black gloves do?

He (conclusively). Of course they would for a thing like that. Fetch them out, and be quick about it; and bring your money too, for I had better buy the tickets this morning, and then we shall have some choice as to seats.

So it was arranged. Marjory's lofty mind did wince a little at the idea of dyed gloves, but she tried not to think of it. John brought the objectionable kids home in time for elaborate decoration "on their backs;" but, as he watched her in the pauses of his reading aloud, they both observed with anxiety that the black "came off a little," and Marjory asked him to warn her if he saw her let them go anywhere near her face.

Two children never enjoyed a holiday more than these two enjoyed that concert. Dyed gloves and all other sublunary trials were forgotten: Marjory did not touch her face once; and when the happy evening was over, the gloves were put away with a loving pat on their backs, and John had risen ten degrees in Marjory's respect.

If those gloves had but rested on their laurels! But if people of genius will not do that, can you expect it of dyed gloves? Few are the authors who have not followed up a brilliant success with something very like a failure, and Marjory's gloves seemed to catch the spirit of the times.

Before the two weeks were up which were to restore John to comparatively easy circumstances, and Marjory to respectability so far as her hands went, John asked her to go with him to hear a lecture. Just about that time he was rather wild concerning natural history, for which, I am sorry to say, Marjory did not care a pin. She indignantly repelled the idea of a gorilla somewhere toward the top of her family tree, asserting that she preferred to believe that she had descended from so mean a man as Adam, and so curious a woman as Eve, to that: furthermore, she was indifferent upon the subject. But there was not much she would not do to please John; so when he asked her to go with him to hear a lecture about the gorilla, she made a face to herself, and said certainly she would.

She consented with rather better grace from the fact that Mr. Pradamite—such was the lecturer's euphonious name—undertook to prove conclusively that man was not descended from the gorilla; but when the little old gentleman walked briskly upon the stage, she whispered John that he would have been a valuable advocate of the theory held by the other side: he wanted nothing but a little pointed felt hat, with a feather in it, to look very much like a small edition of the original gorilla reduced to earning his living by assisting a hand-organist.

The lecture, to John, was delightful—so clear, so logical, went so far back, and so deep down, and so high up. "Walked all around that fellow I heard last week on the other side," John said. But Marjory, who had herself taken a long walk that afternoon, thought the whole thing unutterably stupid: her eyelids would drop, her neck felt double-jointed and would not stay erect. Fortunately, their seats were far back, not very brilliantly lighted, and Marjory's had the advantage of being next a pillar. John, however, considered this fact unfortunate, for he could not obtain a good view of the remarkable figures with which the old gentleman was illustrating his lecture, talking in spasmodic jerks as he drew, and when John saw a dear and scientific friend on a front seat, with a vacant place beside him, he could not resist the temptation to take it. He looked at Marjory: she was half asleep, but still contending bravely for the other half. He surveyed their immediate neighbors—three strong-minded-looking women just behind them; a fatherly-looking old gentleman in the seat next his own; a pillar protecting Marjory on the other side, and two highly respectable-looking young men in the row of seats before them, who appeared to be listening intently and occasionally taking notes; at least, one of them was, and he submitted his note-book to the criticism of the other, who smiled approvingly. The seats immediately in front of his own and Marjory's were vacant.

"Would you mind, Peggy," said John, deprecatingly, "if I left you for a few minutes? I can't half see what he is drawing, and there is a vacant front seat. I'll only stay five minutes."

"Certainly, dear," said Marjory with sleepy amiability: "stay up there till he has finished, and then come back for me. I am not at all afraid."

"Oh no: I will not do that," answered John, considerately, "but I do want to go for a few minutes." So away he went, and, once up there, he of course "took no note of time," and Marjory was left to her own devices. These were few and simple, but small causes sometimes produce great effects. She had on those gloves, of course.

She never could recall that part of the evening very distinctly. A confused recollection that she found the pillar very comfortable for a while; that finally the ridges in it hurt her cheek; that she had one or two lucid intervals between her naps, in one of which she concluded that it would be better to take those gloves off for fear of marking her face; and that while she was doing so she caught a sentence or two of the lecture—something like this: "This one essential point of difference is in itself convincing proof of the theory which I hold. The difference in the formation of the hands is a difficulty which no theory of development can overcome." These few insignificant items were all which remained in her memory: then the little gentleman's voice gradually took to her ears the form of a chant: his "theory," as the simple rustic said about a matter less abstruse, "might be wrong, but it was awful soothin'," and pleasant dreams of having four hands, all available, and not of the objectionable sort whose bones the professor was dangling, beguiled the time for Marjory—how long she knew not.

What woke her? Surely somebody laughed? She started up: the lecture was over at last; John, with a penitent face, was hastening back to her; the people who had sat nearest her were gone, and so were her gloves!

"What, in thunder—" said John forcibly, looking at her face in blank amazement.

"Oh, I didn't mind," she answered mildly, thinking he was apologizing. "I believe I have had a little nap, Jack, but I can't find my gloves: will you look under the next seat, please?"

"My dear child," said John, shaking with suppressed laughter, "your face has 'found your gloves' with a vengeance! It's as black as—anything. Can't you put your veil down till we get out of this?"

Obediently hiding her countenance, Marjory, bewildered and still not quite awake, followed John after a few minutes' further and fruitless search for the missing gloves.

The brisk walk home through the frosty air restored her consciousness, and when John led her up to the looking-glass, kindly removing her veil at the same time, consciousness took the form of wrath.

"I never could have done all that myself," she exclaimed indignantly. "Why, I took those hateful gloves off, and put them on the cushion; and it is just my belief that one of those dreadful boys in front of us—"

"Boys!" interrupted John. "Those fellows were enough older than you—or I either, for that matter."

"I don't care," said Marjory, with tears of vexation in her brown eyes. "They behaved like boys, for when I woke—I mean just before you came for me—I thought I heard somebody laugh, and then they were gone, and my gloves were gone too; and I just believe they managed to blacken my face somehow, and then stole my gloves."

"If I thought that—" exclaimed John savagely; and then added in a puzzled tone, "But how could they have done it, Peg, unless you were sleeping like a rock?"

"Well, I believe I was," answered the young woman candidly, "for I was tired to death, and couldn't understand half the gorilla said."

"It was all my fault for dragging you there, and then leaving you," said John, his penitence making him overlook this glaring disrespect to his hobby and its rider. "But those fellows looked like gentlemen; and besides, I know who that old man was who sat next me, and I am sure he would not have let any such trick be played right under his nose without stopping it."

"You can think what you please," said Marjory, a little crossly, for her naturally good temper had been severely tried, "but nothing will ever make me believe it was not those boys."

II.

Some weeks had elapsed since that sorrowful result of praiseworthy economy. Marjory's feelings had been soothed by a pair of tan-colored kids, three-buttoned, stitched on the backs, accompanied by a glove-buttoner and a hug from John. The mention of dyed gloves still raised a flush on her round cheeks and painful recollections in her heart, but she was beginning to banish the sore subject from her mind, and to half smile to herself when she did think of it; for, in spite of the enormity of the supposed offence, the vision of her remarkable appearance when John raised her veil before the glass was too much for her risibles as it grew more and more retrospective. For she was one of those happy mortals who cannot help seeing a joke, even when it points their way.

She came down stairs one evening arrayed in her best bib and tucker, and was speedily joined by John, whose appearance likewise indicated some approaching festivity—all but his face, which wore a rather disgusted expression. "What a bore parties are!" said that world-weary individual from the height of his twenty-third year.

"That depends," answered Marjory with the superior wisdom of eighteen. "If one meets bright people, they are not a bore. And I'll give you some advice, Jack: don't always take it for granted that the girls can only talk gossip and fashions. Take it for granted that they have at least as much sense as you have, and talk about something worth while."

"The descent of man, for instance?" suggested John, somewhat mischievously. "From the interest you take in that, I've no doubt the rest of the girls would be charmed."

"What is that thing somebody said about the man of one book?" asked Marjory, looking abstracted.

"Don't know," replied John—"never met him."

The party was about as lively and about as stupid as parties generally are. There was a little pleasant music, a little innocent "square dancing," a very well-ordered supper, and a good deal of conversation.

Toward the close of the evening the hostess came to Marjory. "My dear," she said, "I have a young friend here whom I wish to introduce to you and your brother: he told me he had heard of John's interest in scientific matters, and as he has just come to live in the city, he has not many acquaintances. He is a very nice fellow. I know all about him, and I want him to have a few pleasant visiting-places: I always feel so sorry for a young man away from his family in a large city. May I bring him and introduce him to you?"

"Certainly, if he is not stupid," said Marjory, smiling. "There is John: I will make him come here before you have captured your young man, and then we can be introduced together.".

John, however, was talking biology or protoplasm or something else to an interested listener on the other side of the room, and was blind to all Marjory's "nods and becks and wreathèd smiles." So, when the amiable old lady returned with her prize, whom she appeared to have "captured" without either difficulty or delay, Marjory had the introduction all to herself. She was not one of those wonderful inventions, a girl who can meet a man's eyes with a steady stare, and for the first few minutes after their hostess left them she only noticed that her new acquaintance looked and spoke like a gentleman, that he had a very pleasant voice, and that, without being pedantic, he was not talking nonsense. Imagine the sensation which took place in her head when, at some bright speech from her antagonist—for they had immediately fallen into an argument—she raised her laughing eyes to his face, and saw—one of the youths who had fallen under her righteous indignation on the memorable night of the gorilla lecture! Marjory had what are called "speaking eyes." It afflicted her greatly that, no matter what the emergency, her feelings would appear in her face; so—although she struggled hard to go on as if nothing had happened, resolving, after a hasty mental review of the situation, to behave as if she had never seen him before, and upon better acquaintance demand the truth if she liked him, and let him severely alone if she did not—anybody could have seen her countenance change, and to her intense chagrin she felt herself blushing. To make matters worse, he blushed too, and over his intelligent face flitted just the shadow of a smile.

This was too much! Marjory fanned herself vigorously, and hazarded an original observation in a constrained voice. "Don't you think it is very warm here?" she said.

"Very!" replied the student of nature. "Shall we walk in the hall for a few minutes?" and he offered her his arm. She rested the tips of her fingers on his sleeve, and they proceeded to walk up and down the hall, she being saved only by her escort from collision with various other couples similarly employed. This interesting exercise lasted for some minutes, varied by attempts at conversation which were about as natural as spasms. Marjory took a desperate resolution. This absurd state of things should not last much longer, if she could help it. "I never could act as if nothing was the matter when something was," she began, "and I can't help it if this is not polite; but I think, from what Mrs. Grove said about you, that you will tell me the truth if I ask you something. Will you?" and she looked up once more.

"Certainly I will," he answered gravely, meeting her glance with steady, honest eyes, and somehow, short as their acquaintance had been, she believed him.

She had meant to ask him deliberately if he or his companion, or both, had stolen her gloves and decorated her face, but she felt unable to do that with those eyes on hers; so she changed her tactics, and said, rather meekly, considering what her former feelings had been: "Will you please tell me exactly what happened the evening that man lectured about the gorilla, and you sat nearly in front of my brother and me?"

"That was your brother, then?" he said quickly, and then stopped, looking a little foolish.

"Yes," she answered, with a surprised glance at his face; "but you said you would answer."

"I beg your pardon," he replied. "I will, of course, and I know you will believe me. After your brother left you, you leaned your head against the pillar, and then, as if the grooving hurt your face, you put your hand between; and then—I must apologize for my apparent impoliteness, but I promised to tell the truth;" and he smiled a little—"then you seemed to fall fast asleep. A mosquito lit on your nose, and woke you. When you raised your head, your cheek was quite black from your glove; you rubbed your nose and made that black too; then you went to sleep again, and directly a curl of your hair fell over your other cheek, and woke you again, and you gave your cheek a little slap, thinking, I suppose, that the mosquito had come back: that left the mark of your fingers, and you rubbed it a little and made it yet blacker. Then you took your gloves off and fell asleep again; and then—you will believe now that I am telling you 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,' for I am risking your displeasure by telling what came next;" and he flushed up to his hair—"I made up my mind that it was my duty to secure those gloves, and prevent thereby the possibility of such an accident in the future. So I put my arm over the back of the seat carelessly, and when nobody was looking I picked them up and pocketed them. It was not I who laughed, but my brother, who did not notice your face—after you had blackened it, that is—until he rose to go, when he laughed involuntarily, and I collared him and took him off. Now you know all about it, and I await my sentence. Can you forgive me for stealing your gloves? The motive at least was good."

Marjory's face had cleared as this highly circumstantial narrative progressed, and when it was finished she looked up smiling. "Yes," she said, "I quite forgive you: the motive is everything. But do please tell me, were you really so interested in what that little gorilla said as you seemed to be? You were taking notes, you know—I saw that before I went to sleep. Now what was there that was worth making a note of? I am sure I heard nothing."

"Would you like to see my notes?" he asked, drawing a little book from his waistcoat pocket.

"Yes, if they are not long," she answered doubtfully; "but Jack will tell you how stupid I am on all such subjects as that."

He placed the book in her hand, open, and she saw a clever sketch of herself and the pillar: underneath was written, "Mademoiselle Stylites."

"Did you draw that?" she asked, smiling in spite of herself.

"Yes," he replied, answering her smile. "I am fond of sketching from nature." Then, as he glanced at the picture, he added hastily, "I forgot that absurd inscription: George, my brother, did that."

Marjory did not look deeply offended, even at the "absurd inscription;" and the conversation continued, upon different and indifferent subjects, until John bethought himself of his duty, and came to find her. She introduced her squire to him, and after a few minutes more of pleasant conversation they separated, Mr. Owen—such was the natural philosopher's name—having received John's assurance of a speedy call upon him, and given his address with an alacrity which proved, John thought, that they were kindred spirits.

As they walked home, John suddenly exclaimed, "You know I never remember faces, Peg, but somehow I feel as if I had seen that fellow before. He's an uncommonly good fellow, and Mrs. Grove says he is very fond of my hobby, as you call it, so I shall go to see him soon."

Of course Marjory gave him an outline of her evening's adventure "upon this hint," and he laughed heartily at the whole thing, assuring her that he had never believed for a moment in such an absurd possibility as she had fancied.

Well, what of it all? Nothing particular. Mr. Owen and John are fast friends by this time. Marjory is beginning to take an interest in natural history. Also, she has lost all faith in conviction upon circumstantial evidence. She is "o'er young to marry yet," her aunt thinks, and so do I of course, for this is not a love-story: I wish that to be distinctly understood.