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A Court of Inquiry By Grace S. Richmond Characters: 13475

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

A mother is a mother still,

The holiest thing alive.

-S. T. Coleridge.

"I am to spend the day with Azalea to-morrow," I announced, as I said good night, one evening, "and I shall not come back until so late that you mustn't sit up for me. Azalea couldn't ask me to stay all night, on account of using the guest-room for a nursery during the winter, but she's very anxious to have me there in the evening, for it's the only chance I shall have to see her husband."

"Remain late enough to see her husband, by all means," urged the Skeptic. "I want to hear what sort of man had the courage to marry a musical genius who could wipe only one teaspoon at a time."

"Azalea was a lovely girl," said Hepatica warmly. "It couldn't take much courage to marry her."

"All right-we'll hear about it when our guest comes back. And I'll be over to bring you home, if you'll telephone about an hour before you'll be ready to start."

"Thank you-it really won't be necessary for you to come," I replied.

The Skeptic eyed me narrowly. Then he glanced at Hepatica and grinned. "Good night," said I, again, and walked away to my room.

"Good night," the Skeptic called after me. "But don't hesitate to call me if anything should detain Philo."

I arrived at Azalea's home early next morning, having been earnestly asked to come in time to see the babies take their bath. There is nothing I like better than to see a baby take a bath, and to see two at once was a bribe indeed.

Azalea met me at the door of her suburban home, the larger of her two children-the two-year-old-on her arm. He was evidently just ready for his bath, for he was wrapped in a blanket, and one pink foot stuck temptingly out from its folds. Azalea greeted me with enthusiasm, pushing back the loose, curling locks from her forehead as she did so, explaining that Bud had just pulled them down. She did not look in the least like the girl who had sung for us, but it occurred to me that, enveloped in the big flannel bath-apron, she was even more engaging than she had been upon the porch at the Farm.

I don't know when I have enjoyed anything so much as I enjoyed seeing Azalea give that bath. The little baby was asleep in her crib when we went into the nursery-which had been the guest-room before the second baby came-so Azalea gave Bud his splash all by himself. He was plump and dimpled and jolly, and he cried only once-when his mother inadvertently rubbed soap in his eyes while talking with me. When he smiled again he was a cherub of cherubs, but he had waked his small sister, and Azalea gave me permission to take her up while she finished with Bud. She was six months old, and she was afraid of me only for a minute or two, and I held her and cuddled her and wanted to take her away with me so fiercely that I had all I could do to give her over to Azalea for her bath. Boy babies are delightful, but girl babies are heavenly!

* * *

We had a busy day-made up of babies, with more or less talk between, which didn't matter in the least. Late in the afternoon Azalea put everything straight in the rooms, more or less upset by Bud during the day; and dressed herself for the evening. She dressed both children, also, making them fresh as rosebuds. I saw her putting flowers on the table in the dining-room, lighting a special reading-lamp at a table in the corner of the living-room, and pulling an easy chair to stand close beside it. There was a small grand piano in the room. It had been closed all day, for Bud's fingers could just reach the keyboard. Azalea opened it.

"You haven't had time to-day," said I, "but I'm looking forward to hearing you sing this evening."

"It's my husband you are to hear sing," said Azalea contentedly. "He has a splendid voice."

"I shall be delighted," I agreed; "but surely you will sing too."

"My voice seems to wake up the children," said she, "Arthur's never does. It's odd, for his voice is much heavier, of course. But I can never take really high notes without hearing a wail from either Bud or Dot. And that's not worth while."

"Won't you sing now, then," I begged, "while they are awake? I really can't go away without hearing you. And you know when the Philosopher comes he will be so anxious to have you sing."

"The babies will go to bed before dinner," she insisted, "so I can't very well sing for the Philosopher. But I'll sing for you now, of course."

She laid little Dot in my lap, but Dot was already sleepy and protested. So Azalea went to the piano with Dot on her arm. Bud, seeing her go, followed and stood by her knee-on her trailing skirts. I don't know how she managed to play her own accompaniment, but she did-at least subdued chords enough to carry the harmony of the song. There were no notes before her on the rack, and she looked down into one or the other of the two small faces as she sang. And, of course, it was a lullaby which fell like notes of pearl and silver from her lips.

When she finished, I could only smile at her through an obscuring mist. Never, in all the times I had heard her sing, had she reached my heart like this. But, somehow, the picture of her, sitting in the half light at the grand piano, with the babies in her arms and at her knee, singing lullabies and leaving the fine music for her husband to sing by and by, was quite irresistible. Somehow, as I listened, I was troubled by no doubts lest she had not learned deftly to wipe ten teaspoons at once.

Her husband came home presently; a tall, thin, young bank cashier, with a face I liked at once. He was plainly weary, but his eyes lit up with satisfaction at sight of the three who met him at the door, and the welcome his young son gave him showed that Bud recognized a play-fellow. I heard the pair romping upstairs as the Cashier made dressing for dinner a game in which the little child could join.

"The picture of her, sitting in the half light at the grand piano, with the babies

in her arms and at her knee ... was quite irresistible"

But before we sat down to dinner both babies had been put to bed. The Cashier remained with me while Azalea was busy at this task, but he excused himself toward the last, and went tiptoeing upstairs, where I think he must have offered his services in getting the children tucked away. While he was gone the Philosopher arrived.

I let him in myself, motioning the maid away. It was a small house, and I knew she was needed in the kitchen. "Don't make a bit of noise," I cautioned him, as he came smiling into the little hall. "The babies are going to bed."

"Babies!" whispered the Philosopher, in an awestruck way. "I didn't know there were any babies."

"Of course you knew it," I whispered back, leading

him into the room. "If you would only store away really important facts in that capacious mind of yours, instead of limiting it to--"

"Tell me how many babies, and of what sex-quick!" commanded the Philosopher, "or I shall say the wrong thing. And how on earth do they come to know enough to put their babies to bed before they ask a bachelor to dine, anyhow?"

I hastily set him straight upon these points, adding that Azalea had developed wonderfully.

"You mean she can soar to high Q now, I suppose?" interpreted the Philosopher.

"Not at all. I mean that she's--"

But they were coming downstairs together. The Cashier's arm was about his wife's shoulders; he removed it only just in time to save his dignity as he entered.

"I'm disappointed not to see the boy and girl," declared the Philosopher genially. The Cashier took him by the shoulders and turned him toward the light, laughing. "That was bravely said," he answered. "How did you know but we might go and wake them up for you to see?"

The dinner was quite unpretentious, but very good. Evidently Azalea had a capable servant. We talked gaily, the Cashier proving an adept at keeping the ball in the air, and keenly appreciative of others' attempts to meet him at the sport.

By and by, when we were back in the room where the grand piano stood, and conversation had reached a momentary halt, Azalea went to the piano. "Come, Arthur," she said, sitting down at it and patting a pile of music, "I want our friends to hear 'The Toreador.'"

The Cashier looked up protestingly. "You are the one they want to hear, dear," he declared.

She shook her head. "They've heard me often, but never you, I think. Besides, it wakes the babies, you know, for me to sing."

"You don't need to sing high notes, Azalea," I urged. "I'd like nothing so well as the lullaby you sang to the babies."

But she shook her head again. "That's their song," she said. "You were specially privileged to hear it at all. But I can't do it for company. Come, Arthur-please."

So the Cashier sang. The Philosopher and I found it necessary to avoid each other's eyes as he did it. The Cashier could roar 'The Toreador,' no doubt of that. The voice of the bull of Bashan would have been as the summer wind in the trees beside it. Where so much volume came from we could not tell, as we looked at the thin frame of the performer. Why the babies did not wake up will ever remain a mystery. Why Azalea did not desert her accompaniment to press her hands over bursting ear drums I cannot imagine, for it was with difficulty that I surrendered my own to the shock. But Azalea played on to the end, and looked up into the Cashier's flushed face at the last note with a smile of proprietary triumph. Then she turned about to us.

"That fairly takes me off my feet!" cried the Philosopher. I groped hurriedly for a compliment which would match the equivocal fervour of this, but I could not equal it.

"How much you must enjoy singing together," I said, "when the babies are awake,"-and felt annoyed that I could have said it, for I could really not imagine the two voices together.

Azalea glowed. The Cashier grinned. He is as quick-witted as he is good-humoured. "You're a clever pair," he chuckled.

"I've trained him myself," said Azalea. "When I knew him first he'd never thought of singing. I only discovered his voice by accident. It needs much more work with it, of course, but it's powerful, and it has a quality that will improve with cultivation."

The Cashier patted her shoulders. "Now you sing some soft little thing for them, my girl," he commanded-and looking up at him again, Azalea obeyed. She chose an old ballad, one with no chance in it to show the range of her voice. She sang it exquisitely, and the Cashier stood by and turned her music as if he considered it a high privilege. Yet, half-way through, the little Dot woke up. Azalea broke off in the middle of a bar, and fled up the stairs.

"The truth is, I'm afraid," said the Cashier, looking after her with an expression on his face which indicated that he wanted to flee, too, "nothing really counts in this house but the babies."

"They-and something else," suggested the Philosopher gently.

The Cashier looked at him. He nodded. "Yes-and something else," he agreed with his bright smile.

We came away rather late. The Philosopher looked up at the house as the door closed upon the warm farewells which had sent us out into the night. "It's a little bit of a house, isn't it?" he commented.

I looked up, too-at the nursery windows where the faintest of night-lights showed. "Yes, it's very small," I agreed. "Yet quite big enough, although it holds so much."

"One would hardly have said, four years ago, that anything smaller than the biggest musical auditorium in the city would have been big enough to hold Azalea's voice," he mused.

"If you could have heard her sing her lullaby to those babies," I replied, as we walked slowly on, "you would have said her voice would be wasted on a concert audience."

"It seems a pleasant home."

"It is one."

"Somehow, one distrusts the ability of musical prodigies to make pleasant homes."

"I wonder why. Shouldn't the knowledge of any art make one appreciative of other arts?"

"It took some time for a certain exhibition of the domestic art to strike in, at your home, that summer," said the Philosopher. "But I believe Azalea came to envy our Hepatica at the last, didn't she?"

"Indeed she did. And she's never got over envying her her accomplishments. She asked me ever so many questions to-day about Hepatica's housekeeping. I wish I had had a chance before I went to tell her that I was sure her will to succeed would make her home as dear a one as even Hepatica's could be."

"One thing is sure-as long as she lets the Cashier do the singing in the limelight, while she looks after the babies, there'll be no occasion for their friends to demand more music of an evening than is good for her pride of spirit," chuckled the Philosopher. "What-are we at our station already? I say-let's not make a quick trip by train-let's make a slow one, by cab."

"By cab! It would take two hours! No, no-here comes our train."

"This is the first time we've gone anywhere since you've been here without two alert chaperons-younger than myself," grumbled the Philosopher.

"The more reason, then, that we should give them no anxiety on my account."

"I'd like to walk the whole way," said he.

I laughed as I obeyed the signal of an impatient guard and rushed upon the train. "Now, talk to me," said I, as we took our seats.

"My lungs weren't built for the Toreador song," he objected.

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