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Jack's Side of It
Jill says I have to begin this story because it was me—I mean it was I—who made all the trouble in the first place. That is so like Jill. She is such a good hand at forgetting. Why, it was she who suggested the plot to me. I should never have thought of it myself—not that Jill is any smarter than I am, either, but girls are such creatures for planning up mischief and leading other folks into it and then laying the blame on them when things go wrong. How could I tell Dick would act so like a mule? I thought grown-up folks had more sense. Aunt Tommy was down on me for weeks, while she thought Jill a regular heroine. But there! Girls don't know anything about being fair, and I am determined I will never have anything more to do with them and their love affairs as long as I live. Jill says I will change my mind when I grow up, but I won't.
Still, Jill is a pretty good sort of girl. I have to scold her sometimes, but if any other chap tried to I would punch his head for him.
I suppose it is time I explained who Dick and Aunt Tommy are. Dick is our minister. He hasn't been it very long. He only came a year ago. I shall never forget how surprised Jill and I were that first Sunday we went to church and saw him. We had always thought that ministers had to be old. All the ministers we knew were. Mr. Grinnell, the one before Dick came, must have been as old as Methuselah. But Dick was young—and good-looking. Jill said she thought it a positive sin for a minister to be so good-looking, it didn't seem Christian; but that was just because all the ministers we knew happened to be homely so that it didn't appear natural.
Dick was tall and pale and looked as if he had heaps of brains. He had thick curly brown hair and big dark blue eyes—Jill said his eyes were like an archangel's, but how could she tell? She never saw an archangel. I liked his nose. It was so straight and finished-looking. Mr. Grinnell had the worst-looking nose you ever saw. Jill and I used to make poetry about it in church to keep from falling asleep when he preached such awful long sermons.
Dick preached great sermons. They were so nice and short. It was such fun to hear him thump the pulpit when he got excited; and when he got more excited still he would lean over the pulpit, his face all white, and talk so low and solemn that it would just send the most gorgeous thrills through you.
Dick came to Owlwood—that's our place; I hate these explanations—quite a lot, even before Aunt Tommy came. He and Father were chums; they had been in college together and Father said Dick was the best football player he ever knew. Jill and I soon got acquainted with him and this was another uncanny thing. We had never thought it possible to get acquainted with a minister. Jill said she didn't think it proper for a real live minister to be so chummy. But then Jill was a little jealous because Dick and I, being both men; were better friends than he and she could be. He taught me to skate that winter and fence with canes and do long division. I could never understand long division before Dick came, although I was away on in fractions.
Jill has just been in and says I ought to explain that Dick's name wasn't Dick. I do wish Jill would mind her own business. Of course it wasn't. His real name was the Reverend Stephen Richmond, but Jill and I always called him Dick behind his back; it seemed so jolly and venturesome, somehow, to speak of a minister like that. Only we had to be careful not to let Father and Mother hear us. Mother wouldn't even let Father call Dick "Stephen"; she said it would set a bad example of familiarity to the children. Mother is an old darling. She won't believe we're half as bad as we are.
Well, early in May comes Aunt Tommy. I must explain who Aunt Tommy is or Jill will be at me again. She is Father's youngest sister and her real name is Bertha Gordon, but Father has always called her Tommy and she likes it.
Jill and I had never seen Aunt Tommy before, but we took to her from the start because she was so pretty and because she talked to us just as if we were grown up. She called Jill Elizabeth, and Jill would adore a Hottentot who called her Elizabeth.
Aunt Tommy is the prettiest girl I ever saw. If Jill is half as good-looking when she gets to be twenty—she's only ten now, same age as I am, we're twins—I shall be proud of her for a sister.
Aunt Tommy is all white and dimpled. She has curly red hair and big jolly brown eyes and scrumptious freckles. I do like freckles in a girl, although Jill goes wild if she thinks she has one on her nose. When we talked of writing this story Jill said I wasn't to say that Aunt Tommy had freckles because it wouldn't sound romantic. But I don't care. She has freckles and I think they are all right.
We went to church with Aunt Tommy the first Sunday after she came, one on each side of her. Aunt Tommy is the only girl in the world I'd walk hand in hand with before people. She looked fine that day. She had on a gorgeous dress, all frills and ruffles, and a big white floppy hat. I was proud of her for an aunt, I can tell you, and I was anxious for Dick to see her. When he came up to speak to me and Jill after church came out I said, "Aunt Tommy, this is Mr. Richmond," just like the grown-up people say. Aunt Tommy and Dick shook hands and Dick got as red as anything. It was funny to see him.
The very next evening he came down to Owlwood. We hadn't expected him until Tuesday, for he never came Monday night before. That is Father's night for going to a lodge meeting. Mother was away this time too. I met Dick on the porch and took him into the parlour, thinking what a bully talk we could have all alone together, without Jill bothering around. But in a minute Aunt Tommy came in and she and Dick began to talk, and I just couldn't get a word in edgewise. I got so disgusted I started out, but I don't believe they ever noticed I was gone. I liked Aunt Tommy very well, but I didn't think she had any business to monopolize Dick like that when he and I were such old chums.
Outside I came across Jill. She was sitting all alone in the dark, curled up on the edge of the verandah just where she could see into the parlour through the big glass door. I sat down beside her, for I wanted sympathy.
"Dick's in there talking to Aunt Tommy," I said. "I don't see what makes him want to talk to her."
"What a goose you are!" said Jill in that aggravatingly patronizing way of hers. "Why, Dick has fallen in love with Aunt Tommy!"
Honest, I jumped. I never was so surprised.
"How do you know?" I asked.
"Because I do," said Jill. "I knew it yesterday at church and I think it is so romantic."
"I don't see how you can tell," I said—and I didn't.
"You'll understand better when you get older," said Jill. Sometimes Jill talks as if she were a hundred years older than I am, instead of being a twin. And really, sometimes I think she is older.
"I didn't think ministers ever fell in love," I protested.
"Some do," said Jill sagely. "Mr. Grinnell wouldn't ever, I suppose. But Dick is different. I'd like him for a husband myself. But he'd be too old for me by the time I grew up, so I suppose I'll have to let Aunt Tommy have him. It will be all in the family anyhow—that is one comfort. I think Aunt Tommy ought to have me for a flower girl and I'll wear pink silk clouded over with white chiffon and carry a big bouquet of roses."
"Jill, you take my breath away," I said, and she did. My imagination couldn't travel as fast as that. But after I had thought the idea over a bit I liked it. It was a good deal like a book; and, besides, a minister is a respectable thing to have in a family.
"We must help them all we can," said Jill.
"What can we do?" I asked.
"We must praise Dick to Aunt Tommy and Aunt Tommy to Dick and we must keep out of the way—we mustn't ever hang around when they want to be alone," said Jill.
"I don't want to give up being chums with Dick," I grumbled.
"We must be self-sacrificing," said Jill. And that sounded so fine it reconciled me to the attempt.
We sat there and watched Dick and Aunt Tommy for an hour. I thought they were awfully prim and stiff. If I'd been Dick I'd have gone over and hugged her. I said so to Jill and Jill was shocked. She said it wouldn't be proper when they weren't even engaged.
When Dick went away Aunt Tommy came out to the verandah and discovered us. She sat down between us and put her arms about us. Aunt Tommy has such cute ways.
"I like your minister very much," she said.
"He's bully," I said.
"He's as handsome as a prince," Jill said.
"He preaches splendid sermons—he makes people sit up in church, I can tell you," I said.
"He has a heavenly tenor voice," Jill said.
"He's got a magnificent muscle," I said.
"He has the most poetical eyes," Jill said.
"He swims like a duck," I said.
"He looks just like a Greek god," Jill said.
I'm sure Jill couldn't have known what a Greek god looked like, but I suppose she got the comparison out of some novel. Jill is always reading novels. She borrows them from the cook.
Aunt Tommy laughed and said, "You darlings."
For the next three months Jill and I were wild. It was just like reading a serial story to watch Dick and Aunt Tommy. One day when Dick came Aunt Tommy wasn't quite ready to come down, so Jill and I went in to the parlour to help things along. We knew we hadn't much time, so we began right off.
"Aunt Tommy is the jolliest girl I know," I said.
"She is as beautiful as a dream," Jill said.
"She can play games as good as a boy," I said.
"She does the most elegant fancy work," Jill said.
"She never gets mad," I said.
"She plays and sings divinely," Jill said.
"She can cook awfully good things," I said, for I was beginning to run short of compliments. Jill was horrified; she said afterwards that it wasn't a bit romantic. But I don't care—I believe Dick liked it, for he smiled with his eyes I just as he always does when he's pleased. Girls don't understand everything.
But at the end of three months we began to get anxious. Things were going so slow. Dick and Aunt Tommy didn't seem a bit further ahead than at first. Jill said it was because Aunt Tommy didn't encourage Dick enough.
"I do wish we could hurry them up a little," she said. "At this rate they will never be married this year and by next I'll be too big to be a flower girl. I'm stretching out horribly as it is. Mother has had to let down my frocks again."
"I wish they would get engaged and have done with it," I said. "My mind would be at rest then. It's all Dick's fault. Why doesn't he ask Aunt Tommy to marry him? What's making him so slow about it? If I wanted a girl to marry me—but I wouldn't ever—I'd tell her so right spang off."
"I suppose ministers have to be more dignified," said Jill, "but three months ought to be enough time for anyone. And Aunt Tommy is only going to be here another month. If Dick could be made a little jealous it would hurry him up. And he could be made jealous if you had any spunk about you."
"I guess I've got more spunk than you have," I said.
"The trouble with Dick is this," said Jill. "There is nobody else coming to see Aunt Tommy and he thinks he is sure of her. If you could tell him something different it would stir him up."
"Are you sure it would?" I asked.
"It always does in novels," said Jill. And that settled it, of course.
Jill and I fixed up what I was to say and Jill made me say it over and over again to be sure I had it right. I told her—sarcastically—that she'd better say it herself and then it would be done properly. Jill said she would if it were Aunt Tommy, but when it was Dick it was better for a man to do it. So of course I agreed.
I didn't know when I would have a chance to stir Dick up, but Providence—so Jill said—favoured us. Aunt Tommy didn't expect Dick down the next night, so she and Father and Mother all went away somewhere. Dick came after all, and Jill sent me into the parlour to tell him. He was standing before the mantel looking at Aunt Tommy's picture. There was such an adoring look in his eyes. I could see it quite plain in the mirror before him. I practised that look a lot before my own glass after that—because I thought it might come in handy some time, you know—but I guess I couldn't have got it just right because when I tried it on Jill she asked me if I had a pain.
"Well, Jack, old man," said Dick, sitting down on the sofa. I sat down before him.
"Aunt Tommy is out," I said, to get the worst over. "I guess you like Aunt Tommy pretty well, don't you, Mr. Richmond?"
"Yes," said Dick softly.
"So do other men," I said—mysterious, as Jill had ordered me.
Dick thumped one of the sofa pillows.
"Yes, I suppose so," he said.
"There's a man in New York who just worships Aunt Tommy," I said. "He writes her most every day and sends her books and music and elegant presents. I guess she's pretty fond of him too. She keeps his photograph on her bedroom table and I've seen her kissing it."
I stopped there, not because I had said all I had to say, but because Dick's face scared me—honest, it did. It had all gone white, like it does in the pulpit sometimes when he is tremendously in earnest, only ten times worse. But all he said was,
"Is your Aunt Bertha engaged to this—this man?"
"Not exactly engaged," I said, "but I guess anybody else who wants to marry her will have to reckon with him."
Dick got up.
"I think I won't wait this evening," he said.
"I wish you'd stay and have a talk with me," I said. "I haven't had a talk with you for ages and I have a million things to tell you."
Dick smiled as if it hurt him to smile.
"I can't tonight, Jacky. Some other time we'll have a good powwow, old chap."
He took his hat and went out. Then Jill came flying in to hear all about it. I told her as well as I could, but she wasn't satisfied. If Dick took it so quietly, she declared, I couldn't have made it strong enough.
"If you had seen Dick's face," I said, "you would have thought I made it plenty strong. And I'd like to know what Aunt Tommy will say to all this when she finds out."
"Well, you didn't tell a thing but what was true," said Jill.
The next evening was Dick's regular night for coming, but he didn't come, although Jill and I went down the lane a dozen times to watch for him. The night after that was prayer-meeting night. Dick had always walked home with Aunt Tommy and us, but that night he didn't. He only just bowed and smiled as he passed us in the porch. Aunt Tommy hardly spoke all the way home, only just held tight to Jill's and my hands. But after we got home she seemed in great spirits and laughed and chatted with Father and Mother.
"What does this mean?" asked Jill, grabbing me in the hall on our way to bed.
"You'd better get another novel from the cook and find out," I said grouchily. I was disgusted with things in general and Dick in particular.
The three weeks that followed were awful. Dick never came near Owlwood. Jill and I fought every day, we were so cross and disappointed. Nothing had come out right, and Jill blamed it all on me. She said I must have made it too strong. There was no fun in anything, not even in going to church. Dick hardly thumped the pulpit at all and when he did it was only a measly little thump. But Aunt Tommy didn't seem to worry any. She sang and laughed and joked from morning to night.
"She doesn't mind Dick's making an ass of himself, anyway, that's one consolation," I said to Jill.
"She is breaking her heart about it," said Jill, "and that's your consolation!"
"I don't believe it," I said. "What makes you think so?"
"She cries every night," said Jill. "I can tell by the look of her eyes in the morning."
"She doesn't look half as woebegone over it as you do," I said.
"If I had her reason for looking woebegone I wouldn't look it either," said Jill.
I asked her to explain her meaning, but she only said that little boys couldn't understand those things.
Things went on like this for another week. Then they reached—so Jill says—a climax. If Jill knows what that means I don't. But Pinky Carewe was the climax. Pinky's name is James, but Jill and I always called him Pinky because we couldn't bear him. He took to calling at Owlwood and one evening he took Aunt Tommy out driving. Then Jill came to me.
"Something has got to be done," she said resolutely. "I am not going to have Pinky Carewe for an Uncle Tommy and that is all there is about it. You must go straight to Dick and tell him the truth about the New York man."
I looked at Jill to see if she were in earnest. When I saw that she was I said, "I wouldn't take all the gems of Golconda and go and tell Dick that I'd been hoaxing him. You can do it yourself, Jill Gordon."
"You didn't tell him anything that wasn't true," said Jill.
"I don't know how a minister might look upon it," I said. "Anyway, I won't go."
"Then I suppose I've got to," said Jill very dolefully.
"Yes, you'll have to," I said.
And this finishes my part of the story, and Jill is going to tell the rest. But you needn't believe everything she says about me in it.
Jill's Side of It
Jacky has made a fearful muddle of his part, but I suppose I shall just have to let it go. You couldn't expect much better of a boy. But I am determined to re-describe Aunt Tommy, for the way Jacky has done it is just disgraceful. I know exactly how to do it, the way it is always done in stories.
Aunt Tommy is divinely beautiful. Her magnificent wealth of burnished auburn hair flows back in amethystine waves from her sun-kissed brow. Her eyes are gloriously dark and deep, like midnight lakes mirroring the stars of heaven; her features are like sculptured marble and her mouth is like a trembling, curving Cupid's bow (this is a classical allusion) luscious and glowing as a dewy rose. Her creamy skin is as fair and flawless as the inner petals of a white lily. (She may have a weeny teeny freckle or two in summer, but you'd never notice.) Her slender form is matchless in its symmetry and her voice is like the ripple of a woodland brook.
There, I'm sure that's ever so much better than Jacky's description, and now I can proceed with a clear conscience.
Well, I didn't like the idea of going and explaining to Dick very much, but it had to be done unless I wanted to run the risk of having Pinky Carewe in the family. So I went the next morning.
I put on my very prettiest pink organdie dress and did my hair the new way, which is very becoming to me. When you are going to have an important interview with a man it is always well to look your very best. I put on my big hat with the wreath of pink roses that Aunt Tommy had brought me from New York and took my spandy ruffled parasol.
"With your shield or upon it, Jill," said Jacky when I started. (This is another classical allusion.)
I went straight up the hill and down the road to the manse where Dick lived with his old housekeeper, Mrs. Dodge. She came to the door when I knocked and I said, very politely, "Can I see the Reverend Stephen Richmond, if you please?"
Mrs. Dodge went upstairs and came right back saying would I please go up to the study. Up I went, my heart in my mouth, I can tell you, and there was Dick among his books, looking so pale and sorrowful and interesting, for all the world like Lord Algernon Francis in the splendid serial in the paper cook took. There was a Madonna on his desk that looked just like Aunt Tommy.
"Good evening, Miss Elizabeth," said Dick, just as if I were grown up, you know. "Won't you sit down? Try that green velvet chair. I am sure it was created for a pink dress and unfortunately neither Mrs. Dodge nor I possess one. How are all your people?"
"We are all pretty well; thank you," I said, "except Aunt Tommy. She—" I was going to say, "She cries every night after she goes to bed," but I remembered just in time that if I were in Aunt Tommy's place I wouldn't want a man to know I cried about him even if I did. So I said instead "—she has got a cold."
"Ah, indeed, I am sorry to hear it," said Dick, politely but coldly, as if it were part of his duty as a minister to be sorry for anybody who had a cold, but as if, apart from that, it was not a concern of his if Aunt Tommy had galloping consumption.
"And Jack and I are terribly harrowed up in our minds," I went on. "That is what I've come up to see you about."
"Well, tell me all about it," said Dick.
"I'm afraid to," I said. "I know you'll be cross even if you are a minister. It's about what Jack told you about that man in New York and Aunt Tommy."
Dick turned as red as fire.
"I'd rather not discuss your Aunt Bertha's affairs," he said stiffly.
"You must hear this," I cried, feeling thankful that Jacky hadn't come after all, for he'd never have got any further ahead after that snub. "It's all a mistake. There is a man in New York and he just worships Aunt Tommy and she just adores him. But he's seventy years old and he's her Uncle Matthew who brought her up ever since her father died and you've heard her talking about him a hundred times. That's all, cross my heart solemn and true."
You never saw anything like Dick's face when I stopped. It looked just like a sunrise. But he said slowly, "Why did Jacky tell me such a—tell me it in such a way?"
"We wanted to make you jealous," I said. "I put Jacky up to it."
"I didn't think it was in either of you to do such a thing," said Dick reproachfully.
"Oh, Dick," I cried—fancy my calling him Dick right to his face! Jacky will never believe I really did it. He says I would never have dared. But it wasn't daring at all, it was just forgetting. "Oh, Dick, we didn't mean any harm. We thought you weren't getting on fast enough and we wanted to stir you up like they do in books. We thought if we made you jealous it would work all right. We didn't mean any harm. Oh, please forgive us!"
I was just ready to cry. But that dear Dick leaned over the table and patted my hand.
"There, there, it's all right. I understand and of course I forgive you. Don't cry, sweetheart."
The way Dick said "sweetheart" was perfectly lovely. I envied Aunt Tommy, and I wanted to keep on crying so that he would go on comforting me.
"And you'll come back to see Aunt Tommy again?" I said.
Dick's face clouded over; he got up and walked around the room several times before he said a word. Then he came and sat down beside me and explained it all to me, just as if I were grown up.
"Sweetheart, we'll talk this all out. You see, it is this way. Your Aunt Bertha is the sweetest woman in the world. But I'm only a poor minister and I have no right to ask her to share my life of hard work and self-denial. And even if I dared I know she wouldn't do it. She doesn't care anything for me except as a friend. I never meant to tell her I cared for her but I couldn't help going to Owlwood, even though I knew it was a weakness on my part. So now that I'm out of the habit of going I think it would be wisest to stay out. It hurts dreadfully, but it would hurt worse after a while. Don't you agree with me, Miss Elizabeth?"
I thought hard and fast. If I were in Aunt Tommy's place I mightn't want a man to know I cried about him, but I was quite sure I'd rather have him know than have him stay away because he didn't know. So I spoke right up.
"No, I don't, Mr. Richmond; Aunt Tommy does care—you just ask her. She cries every blessed night because you never come to Owlwood."
"Oh, Elizabeth!" said Dick.
He got up and stalked about the room again.
"You'll come back?" I said.
"Yes," he answered.
I drew a long breath. It was such a responsibility off my mind.
"Then you'd better come down with me right off," I said, "for Pinky Carewe had her out driving last night and I want a stop put to that as soon as possible. Even if he is rich he's a perfect pig."
Dick got his hat and came. We walked up the road in lovely creamy yellow twilight and I was, oh, so happy.
"Isn't it just like a novel?" I said.
"I am afraid, Elizabeth," said Dick preachily, "that you read too many novels, and not the right kind, either. Some of these days I am going to ask you to promise me that you will read no more books except those your mother and I pick out for you."
You don't know how squelched I felt. And I knew I would have to promise, too, for Dick can make me do anything he likes.
When we got to Owlwood I left Dick in the parlour and flew up to Aunt Tommy's room. I found her all scrunched up on her bed in the dark with her face in the pillows.
"Aunt Tommy, Dick is down in the parlour and he wants to see you," I said.
Didn't Aunt Tommy fly up, though!
"Oh, Jill—but I'm not fit to be seen—tell him I'll be down in a few minutes."
I knew Aunt Tommy wanted to fix her hair and dab rose-water on her eyes, so I trotted meekly down and told Dick. Then I flew out to Jacky and dragged him around to the glass door. It was all hung over with vines and a wee bit ajar so that we could see and hear everything that went on.
Jacky said it was only sneaks that listened—but he didn't say it until next day. At the time he listened just as hard as I did. I didn't care if it was mean. I just had to listen. I was perfectly wild to hear how a man would propose and how a girl would accept and it was too good a chance to lose.
Presently in sweeps Aunt Tommy, in an elegant dress, not a hair out of place. She looked perfectly sweet, only her nose was a little red. Dick looked at her for just a moment, then he stepped forward and took her right into his arms.
Aunt Tommy drew back her head for just a second as if she were going to crush him in the dust, and then she just all kind of crumpled up and her face went down on his shoulder.
"Oh—Bertha—I—love—you—I—love you," he said, just like that, all quick and jerky.
"You—you have taken a queer way of showing it," said Aunt Tommy, all muffled.
"I—I—was led to believe that there was another man—whom you cared for—and I thought you were only trifling with me. So I sulked like a jealous fool. Bertha, darling, you do love me a little, don't you?"
Aunt Tommy lifted her head and stuck up her mouth and he kissed her. And there it was, all over, and they were engaged as quick as that, mind you. He didn't even go down on his knees. There was nothing romantic about it and I was never so disgusted in my life. When I grow up and anybody proposes to me he will have to be a good deal more flowery and eloquent than that, I can tell you, if he wants me to listen to him.
I left Jacky peeking still and I went to bed. After a long time Aunt Tommy came up to my room and sat down on my bed in the moonlight.
"You dear blessed Elizabeth!" she said.
"It's all right then, is it?" I asked.
"Yes, it is all right, thanks to you, dearie. We are to be married in October and somebody must be my little flower girl."
"I think Dick will make a splendid husband," I said. "But Aunt Tommy, you mustn't be too hard on Jacky. He only wanted to help things along, and it was I who put him up it in the first place."
"You have atoned by going and confessing," said Aunt Tommy with a hug, "Jacky had no business to put that off on you. I'll forgive him, of course, but I'll punish him by not letting him know that I will for a little while. Then I'll ask him to be a page at my wedding."
Well, the wedding came off last week. It was a perfectly gorgeous affair. Aunt Tommy's dress was a dream—and so was mine, all pink silk and chiffon and carnations. Jacky made a magnificent page too, in a suit of white velvet. The wedding cake was four stories high, and Dick looked perfectly handsome. He kissed me too, right after he kissed Aunt Tommy.
So everything turned out all right, and I believe Dick would never have dared to speak up if we hadn't helped things along. But Jacky and I have decided that we will never meddle in an affair of the kind again. It is too hard on the nerves.
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