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   Chapter 7 A CHAPTER OF CHILDISHNESS

My Friend the Chauffeur By A. M. Williamson Characters: 14767

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


When I waked up that morning in the old monastery at San Dalmazzo, if that's the way to call it, and especially to spell it, I really thought for a few minutes that I must be dreaming. "There's no good getting up," I thought, "for if I do I shall somnambulize, and maybe break my rather pleasing nose." Once, when I was a little girl, I fell downstairs when I was asleep, and made one of my front teeth come out. It was a front tooth, and Mamma had promised me five dollars if I'd have it pulled; so that was money in my pocket. But I haven't got any teeth to sell for five dollars now, and it's well to be careful. Accordingly I just lay still in that funny little iron bed, saying, "Beechy Kidder, is this you?"

Perhaps it was because of all those bewildering impressions the day before, or perhaps it was from having been so dead asleep that I felt exactly as if I were no relation to myself. Anyhow, that was the way I did feel, and I began to be awfully afraid I should wake up back in Denver months ago, before anything had happened, or seemed likely ever to happen.

When I thought of Mamma and myself, as we used to be, I grew almost sure that the things hadn't happened, because they didn't seem the kind of things that could possibly happen to us.

Why, I didn't even need to shut my eyes to see our Denver house, for it was so much more real than any other house I'd been in, or dreamed I'd been in since, and especially more real than that tiny, whitewashed room at the monastery with a green curtain of vines hanging over the window.

A square, stone house, with a piazza in front (only people out of America are so stupid, they don't know what I mean when I say "piazza"); about six feet of yard with some grass and flowers. Me at school; Mamma reading novels with one eye, and darning papa's stockings with the other. My goodness, what a different Mamma! When I thought of the difference, I was surer than ever that I must be dreaming her as she is now, and I had half a mind to go and peek into the next room to look, and risk falling down-stairs bang into realities and Denver.

Would she have smooth, straight dark hair with a few threads of grey, all streaked back flat to her head to please papa; or would she have lovely auburn waves done on a frame, with a curl draped over her forehead? Would her complexion be just as nice, comfortable, motherly sort of complexion, of no particular colour; or would it be pink and white like rose-leaves floating in cream? Would she have the kind of figure to fit the corsets you can pick up at any shop, ready made for fifty-nine and a half cents, and the dresses Miss Pettingill makes for ten dollars, with the front breadth shorter than the back? Or would she go in at the waist like an hour-glass and out like an hour-glass, to fit three hundred-franc stays in Paris, and dresses that would be tight for me?

Poor Mamma! I'd made lots of fun of her these last few months, if they were real months, I said to myself; and if more real months of that kind should come, I'd probably make lots of fun of her again. I am like that; I can't help it. I suppose it's what Papa used to call his "originality," and Mamma his "cantankerousness," coming out in me. But lying there in the narrow bed, with the dream-dawn fluttering little pale wings at the window, I seemed suddenly to understand how hard everything had been for her.

At some minutes, on some days, you do understand people with a queer kind of clearness, almost as if you had created them yourself-even people that you turn up your nose at, and think silly or uninteresting at other times, when your senses aren't sharpened in that magic sort of way. My "God-days," are what I call those strange days when I can sympathize with every one as if I'd known their whole history and all their troubles and thoughts and struggles, ever since they were born. I call them that, not to be irreverent, but because I suppose God always feels so; and the little spark of Him that's in every human being-even in a naughty, pert thing like me-comes out in us more on some days than on others, though only for a few minutes at a stretch even then.

Well, my spark burned up quite brightly for a little while in the dawn, as I was thinking of Mamma.

I don't suppose she could ever have been in love with Papa. I guess she must have married him because her parents were poor, or because she was too kind hearted to say no. Anyway, it must have been horrid for her to know that he was rich enough to let her do anything she liked, but wouldn't let her do anything nice, because he was a Consistent Democrat, and didn't believe in show or "tomfoolery."

I'm sure I couldn't explain what a Consistent Democrat really is; but Papa's idea of being it was to scorn "society people," not to have pretty clothes or many servants, to look plain and speak plainly, always to tell the whole truth, especially if you would hurt anybody's feelings by doing so, and not to spend much money except on uninteresting books

.

Mamma would have loved better than anything to be a society leader, and have her name appear often in the papers, like other ladies in Denver who, she used to tell me, didn't come from half as good family as she did. But Papa wouldn't let her go out much, and she didn't know any of the people she wanted to know-only quite common ones whose husbands kept stores or had other businesses which she didn't consider refined. I'm afraid I was never much comfort to poor Mamma either. That cantankerousness of mine which makes me see how funny people and things are, always came between us, and I expect it always will. I must have been born old.

Her only real pleasure was reading novels on the sly, all about smart society and the aristocracy, but especially English aristocracy. She simply revelled in such stories; and when Papa died suddenly without time to tie up his money so as to force Mamma to go on doing what he wanted, and not what she wanted, all the rest of her life, the first thing that occurred to her was how to make up for lost time.

"We'll travel in Europe for a year or two," she said to me, "and when we come back we'll just show Denver society people that we're somebody."

That was all she thought of in the beginning, but when we'd gone East to Chicago for a change, and were staying at a big hotel there, a new idea came into her head. Partly it was from seeing so many smart-looking young women having a good time every minute of their lives, and feeling what was the use of being free to enjoy herself at last, with plenty of money, when she was dowdy and not so very young any more? (I could tell just what was in her mind by the wistful way she looked at gorgeous ladies who had the air of owning the world, with a fence around it.) And partly it was seeing an advertisement in a newspaper.

Mamma didn't mention the advertisement to me at first. But when she'd been away one morning alone on a secret errand she stammered and fidgetted a little, and said she had something to explain to me. Then it all came out.

She'd been to call on a wonderful French madame who could make a woman of thirty-eight (that's Mamma's Bible age) look twenty-five, and she hoped I wouldn't lose respect for her as my mother or think her frivolous and horrid if she put herself into the madame's hands for a few weeks. I couldn't

help laughing, but Mamma cried, and said that she'd never had a real good time since she was grown up. She did long to have one at last, very much, if only I'd let her do it in peace.

I stopped laughing and almost cried, myself; but I didn't let her see that I wanted to. Instead, I asked what would be the sense of looking twenty-five, anyhow, when everybody would know she must be more, with a daughter going on seventeen.

Mamma hadn't thought of that. She seemed years older than ever for a minute; and then she put her hand in mine. Hers was as cold as ice. "Would you mind going back a little, darling?" she asked. "It would be so kind and sweet of you, and it would make all the difference to me."

"Going back?" I repeated. "Whatever do you mean?"

It made her dreadfully nervous to explain, because she was afraid I'd poke fun at her, but she did get out the idea finally. "Going back" was to bring on my second childhood prematurely. Thirteen was a nice age, she thought, because many girls get their full growth then; and if I wasn't more than thirteen she could begin life over again at twenty-nine.

"What, let down my hair and wear my dresses short?" I asked.

She admitted that was what I'd have to do.

I thought for a whole minute, and at last I just couldn't bear to disappoint her. But all the same, I reminded myself, I might as well make a good bargain while I was about it.

"If I do what you want," said I, "you'll have to be mighty nice to me. I must be given my way about important things. If you ever refuse to do what I like, after I've done so much for you, I'll just turn up my hair and put on a long frock. Then everybody'll see how old I am."

She would have promised anything, I guess; and that very afternoon she gave me three lovely rings, and a ducky little bracelet-watch, when we were out shopping for short clothes and babyfied hats. Soon we moved away from that hotel to one on the north side, where nobody had seen us; and the first thing I knew, I was a little girl again.

It certainly was fun. To really appreciate being a child, you ought to have been grown up in another state of existence, and remember your sensations. It was something like that with me, and my life was almost as good as a play. I could say and do dreadfully naughty things, which would have been outrageous for a grown-up young lady of nearly seventeen. And didn't I do them all? I never missed a single chance, and I flatter myself that I haven't since.

The French madame made a real work of art of Mamma. The progress was lovely to watch. She kept herself shut up in her room all day, pretending to be an invalid, and drove out in a veil to the madame's. Then, when she was finished, we went right away from Chicago to New York, where we meant to stay for a while till we sailed for Europe.

Mamma hadn't been East before, since she was a girl of twenty, for that was when she married Papa, and he took her to live in Denver. We bought lots of beautiful things in New York, and Mamma enjoyed herself so much, being pretty and having people stare at her, that she was almost sick from excitement.

When we'd seen all the sights and were tired of shopping, she remembered that she'd got a niece staying in the country not far away, on the Hudson River. I'd heard Mamma speak of her sister, who, when seventeen, had married a Savant (whatever that is), and had gone to California soon afterwards, because she was delicate. But evidently the change hadn't done her much good, because she died when her baby was born. The Savant went on living, but he couldn't love his daughter properly, as she'd been the cause of her mother's death. Besides, he wasn't the kind of man to understand children, so when Madeleine was nine or ten, he sent her to a school-a very queer school. It was kept by a Sisterhood; not nuns exactly, because they were Protestants, but almost as good or as bad; and an elderly female cousin of the Savant's was the head of the institution.

There Madeleine Destrey had been ever since, though Mamma said she must be nineteen or twenty; and now her father was dead. That news had been sent to Mamma months before we left Denver, but as she and the Savant had written to each other only about once every five or six years, it hadn't affected her much. However, she thought it would be nice to go and see Madeleine, and I thought so too.

It was a short journey in the train, and the place where the Sisterhood live is perfectly lovely, the most beautiful I ever saw, with quantities of great trees on a flowery lawn sloping down to the river.

I was wondering what my cousin would be like-the only cousin I've got in the world; and though Mamma said she must be pretty, if she was anything like her mother, I didn't expect her to be half as pretty as she really is.

We surprised her as much as she did us, for naturally she expected Mamma to be like other aunts, which she isn't at all-now; and evidently she considered me a curiosity. But she was very sweet, and when she found Mamma didn't want to be called Aunt Kathryn, she tried hard always to "Kitty" her.

We only intended to spend the day, but it turned out that the time of our visit was rather critical for Maida. She was in the act of having her twentieth birthday; and it seemed that in her father's will he had "stipulated" (that's the word the cousin-Mother-Superior used) that his daughter should be sent to travel in Europe when she was twenty, for a whole year.

The reason of the stipulation was, that though he didn't care for Maida as most fathers care for their children, he was a very just man, and was afraid, after living so long in the Sisterhood his daughter might wish to join the Order, without knowing enough about the outside world to make up her mind whether it truly was her vocation for good and all. That was why she was to go to Europe; for when you're twenty-one you can become a novice in the Sisterhood, if you like.

The Mother Superior didn't really want Maida to go one bit. It was easy to see her anxiety to have the "dear child safe in the fold." But Maida wasn't to inherit a penny of her father's money if she didn't obey his will, which wouldn't suit the Sisterhood at all; so the Mother had to hustle round and think how to pack Maida off for the year.

When we happened to arrive on the scene, she thought we were like Moses's ram caught in the bushes. She told Mamma the whole story-(a ramrod of a lady with a white face, a white dress, and a long, floating white veil, she was) asking right out if we'd take Maida with us to Europe.

Mamma didn't like the idea of being chaperon for such a girl as Maida; but it was her own sister's daughter, and Mamma is as good-natured as a Mellin's Food Baby in a magazine, though she gets into little tempers sometimes. So she said, "Yes," and a fort-night later we all three sailed on a huge German steamer for Cherbourg. "At least, that's what we did in the 'dream,'" I reminded myself, when I had got so far in my thoughts, lying in the monastery bed. And by that time the light was so clear in the tiny white room, that there was no longer any doubt about it, I really was awake. I was dear little thirteen-year-old Beechy Kidder, who wasn't telling fibs about her age, because she was thirteen, and was it anybody's business if she were something more besides?

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