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Short Sixes: Stories to be Read While the Candle Burns By H. C. Bunner Characters: 6172

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


When Rhodora Boyd-Rhodora Pennington that was-died in her little house, with no one near her but one old maid who loved her, the best society of the little city of Trega Falls indulged in more or less complacent reminiscence.

Except to Miss Wimple, the old maid, Rhodora had been of no importance at all in Trega for ten long years, and yet she had once given Trega society the liveliest year it had ever known. (I should tell you that Trega people never mentioned the Falls in connection with Trega. Trega was too old to admit any indebtedness to the Falls.)

Rhodora Pennington came to Trega with her invalid mother as the guest of her uncle, the Commandant at the Fort-for Trega was a garrison town. She was a beautiful girl. I do not mean a pretty girl: there were pretty girls in Trega-several of them. She was beautiful as the Queen of Sheba was beautiful-grand, perfect, radiantly tawny of complexion, without a flaw or a failing in her pulchritude-almost too fine a being for family use, except that she had plenty of hot woman's blood in her veins, and was an accomplished, delightful, impartial flirt.

All the men turned to her with such prompt unanimity that all the girls of Trega's best society joined hands in one grand battle for their prospective altars and hearths. From the June day when Rhodora came, to the Ash Wednesday of the next year when her engagement was announced, there was one grand battle, a dozen girls with wealth and social position and knowledge of the ground to help them, all pitted against one garrison girl, with not so much as a mother to back her-Mrs. Pennington being hopelessly and permanently on the sick-list.

Trega girls who had never thought of doing more than wait at their leisure for the local young men to marry them at their leisure now went in for accomplishments of every sort. They rode, they drove, they danced new dances, they read Browning and Herbert Spencer, they sang, they worked hard at archery and lawn-tennis, they rowed and sailed and fished, and some of the more desperate even went shooting in the Fall, and in the Winter played billiards and-penny ante. Thus did they, in the language of a somewhat cynical male observer, back Accomplishments against Beauty.

The Shakspere Club and the Lake Picnic, which had hitherto divided the year between them, were submerged in the flood of social entertainments. Balls and parties followed one another. Trega's square stone houses were lit up night after night, and the broad moss-grown gardens about them were made trim and presentable, and Chinese lanterns turned them into a fairy-land for young lovers.

It was a great year for Trega! The city had been dead, commercially, ever since the New York Central Railroad had opened up the great West; but the unprecedented flow of champagne and Apollinaris actually started a little business boom, based on the inferable wealth of Trega, and two or three of Trega's remaining firms went into bankruptcy because of the boom. And Rhodora Pennington did it all.

Have you ever seen the end of a sham-fight? You have

been shouting and applauding, and wasting enough enthusiasm for a foot-ball match. And now it is all finished, and nothing has been done, and you go home somewhat ashamed of yourself, and glad only that the blue-coated participants must feel more ashamed of themselves; and the smell of the villainous saltpetre, that waked the Berserker in your heart an hour ago, is now noisome and disgusting, and makes you cough and sneeze.

Even so did the girls of Trega's best society look each in the face of the other, when Ash Wednesday ended that nine months of riot, and ask of each other, "What has it all been about?"

True, there were nine girls engaged to be married, and engagement meant marriage in Trega. Alma Lyle was engaged to Dexter Townsend, Mary Waite to John Lang, Winifred Peters to McCullom McIntosh, Ellen Humphreys to George Lister, Laura Visscher to William Jans, (Oranje boven!-Dutch blood stays Dutch,) Millicent Smith to Milo Smith, her cousin, Olive Cregier to Aleck Sloan, Aloha Jones, (niece of a Sandwich Islands missionary,) to Parker Hall, and Rhodora Pennington to Charley Boyd.

But all of these matches, save the last, would have been made in the ordinary course of things. The predestination of propinquity would have settled that. And even if Ellen Humphreys had married John Lang instead of George Lister, and George Lister had wedded Mary Waite-why, there would have been no great difference to admire or to deplore. The only union of the nine which came as a surprise to the community was the engagement of Rhodora to Charley Boyd. The beauty of the season had picked up the one crooked stick in the town-a dissolute, ne'er-do-well hanger-on of Trega's best society, who would never have seen a dinner-card if he had not been a genius at amateur theatricals, an artist on the banjo, and a half-bred Adonis.

There the agony ended for the other girls, and there it began for Rhodora Boyd. In less than a year, Boyd had deserted her. The Commandant was transferred to the Pacific Coast. Rhodora moved, with her mother, bed-ridden now, into a little house in the unfashionable outskirts of Trega. There she nursed the mother until the poor bed-ridden old lady died. Rhodora supported them both by teaching music and French at the Trega Seminary, down by the Falls. Morning and evening she went out and back on that weary, jingling horse-car line. She received the annual visits that her friends paid her, inspired by something between courtesy and charity, with her old stately simplicity and imperturbable calm; and no one of them could feel sure that she was conscious of their triumph or of her degradation. And she kept the best part of her stately beauty to the very last. In any other town she would have been taught what divorce-courts were made for; but Trega society was Episcopalian, and that communion is healthily and conservatively monogamous.

And so Rhodora Boyd, that once was Rhodora Pennington, died in her little house, and her pet old maid closed her eyes. And there was an end of Rhodora. Not quite an end, though.

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