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   Chapter 3 No.3

The Vehement Flame By Margaret Wade Campbell Deland Characters: 8885

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Edith and her fourteen-year-old neighbor, Johnny Bennett, had climbed into the old black-heart cherry tree-(Johnny always conceded that Edith was a good climber-"for a girl.") But when they saw Lion, tugging up the road, Edith, who was economical with social amenities, told her guest to go home. "I don't want you any longer," she said; "father and mother are coming!" And with that she rushed around to the stable door, just in time to meet the returning travelers, and ask a dozen questions-the first:

"Did you get a letter from Maurice?"

But when her father threw the reins down on Lion's back, and said, briefly, "Can't you unharness him yourself, Buster?" she stuck out her tongue, opened her eyes wide, and said nothing except, "Yes, father." Then she proceeded, with astonishing speed, to put Lion into his stall, run the buggy into the carriage house, and slam the stable door, after which she tore up to her mother's room.

"Mother! Something has bothered father!"

"Well, yes," Mrs. Houghton said; "a little. Maurice is married."

Edith's lips fell apart; "Maurice? Married? Who to? Did she wear a veil? I don't see why father minds."

Mrs. Houghton, standing in front of her mirror, said, dryly: "There are things more important than veils, when it comes to getting married. In the first place, they eloped-"

"Oh, how lovely! I am going to elope when I get married!"

"I hope you won't have such bad taste. Of course they ought not to have got married that way. But the thing that bothers your father, is that the lady Maurice has married is-is older than he."

"How much older?" Edith demanded; "a year?"

"I don't just know. Probably twenty years older."

Edith was silent, rapidly adding up nineteen and twenty; then she gasped, "Thirty-nine!"

"Well, about that; and father is sorry, because Maurice can't go back to college. He will have to go into business."

Edith saw no cause for regret in this. "Guess he's glad not to have to learn things! But why weren't we invited to the wedding? I always meant to be Maurice's bridesmaid."

Mrs. Houghton said she didn't know. Edith was silent, for a whole minute. Then she said, soberly:

"I suppose father's sorry 'cause she'll die so soon, she's so old? And then Maurice will feel awfully. Poor Maurice! Well, I'll live with him, and comfort him."

"My dear, I'm fifty!" Mrs. Houghton said, much amused.

"Oh, well, you-" Edith demurred; "that's different. You're my mother, and you-" She paused; "I never thought of you being old, or dying, ever. And yet I suppose you are rather old?" She pondered. "I suppose some day you'll die? Mother!-promise me you won't!" she said, quaveringly.

"Edith, don't be a goose!" Mrs. Houghton said, laughing-but she turned and kissed the rosy, anxious face, "Maurice's wife isn't old at all. She's quite young. It's only that he is so much younger."

Edith lapsed into silence. She was very quiet for the rest of that summer morning. Just before dinner she went across the west pasture to Doctor Bennett's house, and, hailing Johnny, told him the news. His indifference-for he only looked at her, with his mild, nearsighted brown eyes, and said, "Huh?"-irritated her so that she would not confide her dismay at Maurice's approaching widowerhood, but ran home to a sympathetic kitchen: "Katy! Maurice got eloped!"

Katy was much more satisfactory than Johnny; she said, "God save us! Mr. Maurice eloped? Who with, then? Well, well!" But Edith was still abstracted. Time, as related to life, had acquired significance. At dinner she regarded her father with troubled eyes. He, too, was old, like Maurice's wife. He, too, as well as the bride, and her mother, would die, sometime. And she and Maurice would have such awful grief!... Something tightened in her throat; "Please 'scuse me," she said, in a muffled voice; and, slipping out of her chair, made a dash for the back door, and ran as hard as she could to her chicken house. The little place was hot, and smelled of feathers; through the windows, cobwebbed and dusty, the sunshine fell dimly on the hard earth floor, and on an empty plate or two and a rusty, overturned tin pan. Here, sitting on a convenient box, she could think things out undisturbed: Maurice, and his lovely, dying Bride; herself, orphaned and alone; Johnny Bennett, indifferent to all this oncoming grief! Probably Maurice was worrying about it all the time! How long would t

he Bride live? Suddenly she remembered her mother's age, and had a revulsion of hope for Maurice. Perhaps his wife would live to be as old as mother? "Why, I hadn't thought of that! Well, then, she will live-let's see: thirty-nine from fifty leaves eleven-yes; the Bride will live eleven years!" Why, that wasn't so terrible, after all. "That's as long as I have been alive!" Obviously it would not be necessary to take care of Maurice for quite a good while. "I guess," she reflected, "I'll have some children by that time. And maybe I'll be married, too, for Maurice won't need me for eleven years. But I don't know what I'd do with my husband then?" She frowned; a husband would be bothering, if she had to go and live with Maurice. "Oh, well, probably my husband will be so old, he'll die about the time Maurice's wife does." She had meant to marry Johnny. "But I won't. He's too young. He's only three years older 'an me. He might live too long. I must get an old husband. I'll tell Johnny about it to-morrow. I'll wear mourning," she thought; "a long veil! It's so interesting. But not over my face-you can't see through it, and it isn't sense not to be able to see." (The test Edith applied to conduct was always, "Is it sense?") "Of course I shall feel badly about my husband; but I've got to take care of Maurice.... Yes; I must get an old one," she thought. "I must get one as old as the Bride. If they'd only waited, the Bride could have married my husband!"

But this line of thought was too complicated; and, besides, she had so entirely cheered up that she practically forgot death. She began to count how much money her mother owed her for eggs-which reminded her to look into the nests; and when, in spite of a clucking remonstrance, she put her hand under a feathery breast and touched the hot smoothness of a new-laid egg, she felt perfectly happy. "I guess I'll go and get some floating-island," she thought. "Oh, I hope they haven't eaten it all up!"

With the egg in her hand, she rushed back to the dining room, and was reassured by the sight of the big glass dish, still all creamy yellow and fluffy white.

"Edith," Mrs. Houghton said, "you won't mind letting Maurice and Eleanor have your room, will you, dear?"

"Is her name 'Eleanor'? I think it's a perfectly beautiful name! No, I'd love to give her my room! Mother, she won't be as old as you are for eleven years, and that's as long as I have been alive. So I won't worry about Maurice just yet. Mother, may I have two helpings? When are they coming?"

"They haven't been asked yet," her father said, grimly. "I'm not going to concoct a letter, Mary, for a week. Let 'em worry! Maurice, confound him!-has never worried in his life. Everything rolls off him like water off a duck's back. It will do him good to chew nails for a while. I wish I was asleep!"

"Why, father!" Edith said, aghast; "I don't believe you want the Bride!"

"You're a very intelligent young person," her father said, scratching a match under the table and lighting a cigar.

"But, my dear," his wife said, "has it occurred to you that it may be as unpleasant for the Bride to come, as for you to have her? Henry! That's the third since breakfast!"

"Wrong for once, Mrs. Houghton. It's the fourth."

"I want the Bride," said Edith.

Her mother laughed. "Come along, honey," she said, putting her hand on her husband's shoulder, "and tell me what to say to her."

"Say she's a harpy, and tell her to go to the-"

"Henry!"

"My dear, like Mr. F.'s aunt, 'I hate a fool.' Oh, I'll tell you what to say: Say, 'Mr. F.'s aunt will send her a wedding present.' That's friendly, isn't it?"

"Better not be too literary in public," his wife cautioned him, with a significant glance at Edith, who was all ears.

When, laughing, they left the table, their daughter scraping her plate, pondered thus: "I suppose Mr. F. is the Bride's father. I wonder what present his aunt will give her? I wonder what 'F' stands for-Frost? Fuller? Father and mother don't want the Bride to come; and mother thinks the Bride don't want to come. So why should they ask her to come? And why should she come? I wouldn't," Edith said; "but I hope she will, for I love her! And oh, I hope she'll bring her harp! I've never seen a harpy. But people are funny," Edith summed it up; "inviting people and not wanting 'em; and visiting 'em and not wanting to. It ain't sense," said Edith.

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