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Chapter 2

ROBERTS AND WILLIS CAMPBELL

Campbell: "Don't mind me, Roberts."

Roberts, looking up: "Heigh? What! Why, Willis! Glad to see you—"

Campbell: "Now that you do see me, yes, I suppose you are. What have you got there that makes you cut all your friends?" He looks at Roberts's open page. "Oh! Popular Science Monthly. Isn't Agnes a little afraid of your turning out an agnostic? By-the-way, where is Agnes?"

Roberts: "She left her purse at Stearns's, and she's gone back after it. Where's Amy?"

Campbell: "Wherever she said she wouldn't be at the moment. I expected to find her here with you and Agnes. What time did you say your train started?"

Roberts. "At ten minutes to four. And, by-the-way—I'd almost forgotten it—I must keep an eye out for the cook Agnes has been engaging. She was to meet us here before half-past two, and I shall have to receive her. You mustn't tell Amy; Agnes doesn't want her to know she's been changing cooks; and I've got to be very vigilant not to let her give us the slip, or you won't have any dinner to-night."

Campbell: "Is that so? Well, that interests me. Were you expecting to find her in the Pop. Sci.?"

Roberts: "Oh, I'd only been reading a minute when you came in."

Campbell: "I don't believe you know how long you'd been reading. Very likely your cook's come and gone."

Roberts, with some alarm: "She couldn't. I'd only just opened the book."

Campbell: "I dare say you think so. But you'd better cast your eagle eye over this assemblage now, and see if she isn't here; though probably she's gone. What sort of looking woman is she?"

Roberts, staring at him in consternation: "Bless my soul! I don't know! I never saw her!"

Campbell: "Never saw her?"

Roberts: "No; Agnes engaged her at the intelligence-office, and told her we should meet her here, and she had to go back for her purse, and left me to explain."

Campbell: "Ha, ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha! How did she expect you to recognize her?"

Roberts: "I—I don't know, I'm sure. She—she was very anxious I shouldn't let her get away."

Campbell, laughing: "You poor old fellow! What are you going to do?"

Roberts: "I'm sure I've no idea. Agnes—"

Campbell: "Agnes ought to have a keeper. You know what I've always thought of your presence of mind, Roberts; but Agnes—I'm really surprised at Agnes. This is too good! I must tell Amy this. She'll never get over this. Ah, ha, ha, ha!"

Roberts: "No, no! You mustn't, Willis. Agnes would be very much provoked with me, if you told Amy she had been engaging a cook. She expects to smuggle her into the house without Amy's knowing."

Campbell: "And she left you to meet her here, and keep her—a cook you'd never set eyes on! Ha, ha, ha, ha! Ah, ha, ha, ha! What's her name?"

Roberts: "Agnes couldn't remember her last name—one never remembers a cook's last name. Her first name is Norah or Bridget."

Campbell: "Maggie, perhaps; they all sound alike. Ah, ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha! This improves."

Roberts: "Don't, Willis; you'll attract attention. What—what shall I do? If Agnes comes back, and finds I've let the cook get away, she'll be terribly put out."

Campbell: "Perfectly furious, you poor old fellow!—the rage of a disappointed pigeon! I wouldn't be in your shoes for anything. Oh my! I wish Amy was here. Did—did—Agnes"—(he struggles with his laughter, and explodes from time to time between syllables)—"did she tell you how the woman looked?"

Roberts: "She said she was a very respectable-looking old thing—a perfect butter-ball. I suppose she was stout."

Campbell: "That covers the ground of a great many cooks. They're apt to look respectable when they're off duty and they're not in liquor, and they're apt to be perfect butter-balls. Any other distinctive traits?"

Roberts, ruefully: "I don't know. She's Irish, and a Catholic."

Campbell: "They're apt to be Irish, and Catholics too. Well, Roberts, I don't see what you can ask better. All you've got to do is to pick out a respectable butter-ball of that religion and nationality, and tell her you're Mrs. Roberts's husband, and you're to keep her from slipping away till Mrs. Roberts gets here."

Roberts: "Oh, pshaw, now, Willis! What would you do?"

Campbell: "There's a respectable butter-ball over in the corner by the window there. You'd better go and speak to her. She's got a gingham bundle, like a cook's, in her lap, and she keeps looking about in a fidgety way, as if she expected somebody. I guess that's your woman, Roberts. Better not let her give you the slip. You'll never hear the last of it from Agnes if you do. And who'll get our dinner to-night?"

Roberts, looking over at the woman in the corner, with growing conviction; "She does answer to the description."

Campbell: "Yes, and she looks tired of waiting. If I know anything of that woman's character, Roberts, she thinks she's been trifled with, and she's not going to stay to be made a fool of any longer."

Roberts, getting to his feet: "Do you think so? What makes you think so? Would you go and speak to her?"

Campbell: "I don't know. She seems to be looking this way. Perhaps she thinks she recognizes you, as she never saw you before."

Roberts: "There can't be any harm in asking her? She does seem to be looking this way."

Campbell: "Pretty blackly, too. I guess she's lost faith in you. It wouldn't be any use to speak to her now, Roberts."

Roberts: "I don't know. I'm afraid I'd better. I must. How would you introduce the matter, Willis?"

Campbell: "Oh, I wouldn't undertake to say! I must leave that entirely to you."

Roberts: "Do you think I'd better go at it boldly, and ask her if she's the one; or—or—approach it more gradually?"

Campbell: "With a few remarks about the weather, or the last novel, or a little society gossip? Oh, decidedly."

Roberts: "Oh, come, now, Willis! What would you advise? You must see it's very embarrassing."

Campbell: "Not the least embarrassing. Simplest thing in the world!"

The Colored Man who calls the Trains, coming and going as before: "Cars for Newton, Newtonville, West Newton, Auburndale, Riverside, Wellesley Hills, Wellesley, Natick, and South Framingham. Express to Newton. Track No. 5."

Campbell: "Ah, she's off! She's going to take the wrong train. She's gathering her traps together, Roberts!"

Roberts: "I'll go and speak to her." He makes a sudden dash for the woman in the corner. Campbell takes up his magazine, and watches him over the top of it, as he stops before the woman, in a confidential attitude. In a moment she rises, and with a dumb show of offence gathers up her belongings and marches past Roberts to the door, with an angry glance backward at him over her shoulder. He returns crestfallen to Campbell.

Campbell, looking up from his magazine, in affected surprise: "Where's your cook? You don't mean to say she was the wrong woman?"

Roberts, gloomily: "She wasn't the right one."

Campbell: "How do you know? What did you say to her?"

Roberts: "I asked her if she had an appointment to meet a gentleman here."

Campbell: "You did? And what did she say?"

Roberts: "She said 'No!' very sharply. She seemed to take it in dudgeon; she fired up."

Campbell: "I should think so. Sounded like an improper advertisement."

Roberts, in great distress: "Don't, Willis, for Heaven's sake!"

Campbell: "Why, you must see it had a very clandestine look. How did you get out of it?"

Roberts: "I didn't. I got into it further. I told her my wife had made an appointment for me to meet a cook here that she'd engaged—"

Campbell: "You added insult to injury. Go on!"

Roberts: "And that she corresponded somewhat to the description; and—and—"

Campbell: "Well?"

Roberts: "And she told me she was no more a cook than my wife was; and she said she'd teach me to be playing my jokes on ladies; and she grabbed up her things and flew out of the room."

Campbell; "Waddled, I should have said. But this is pretty serious, Roberts. She may be a relation of John L. Sullivan's. I guess we better get out of here; or, no, we can't! We've got to wait for Amy and Agnes."

Roberts: "What—what would you do?"

Campbell: "I don't know. Look here, Roberts: would you mind sitting a little way off, so as to look as if I didn't belong with you? I don't want to be involved in this little row of yours unnecessarily."

Roberts: "Oh, come now, Willis! You don't think she'll make any trouble? I apologized. I said everything I could think of. She must think I was sincere."

Campbell: "In taking her for a cook? I've no doubt she did. But I don't see how that would help matters. I don't suppose she's gone for an officer; but I suspect she's looking up the largest Irishman of her acquaintance, to come back and interview you. I should advise you to go out and get on some train; I'd willingly wait here for Amy and Agnes; but you see the real cook might come here, after you went, and I shouldn't know her from Adam—or Eve. See?"

Roberts, desperately. "I see—Good heavens! Here comes that woman back; and a man with her. Willis, you must help me out." Roberts gets falteringly to his feet, and stands in helpless apprehension, while Mr. and Mrs. McIlheny bear down upon him from the door. Mr. McIlheny, a small and wiry Irishman, is a little more vivid for the refreshment he has taken. He is in his best black suit, and the silk hat which he wears at a threatening slant gives dignified impressiveness to his figure and carriage. With some dumb-show of inquiry and assurance between himself and his wife, he plants himself in front of Roberts, in an attitude equally favorable for offence and defence.

William Dean Howells

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