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Told in a French Garden / August, 1914 By Mildred Aldrich Characters: 13616

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The Tale of an Adolescent

The next day was very peaceful. We were becoming habituated to the situation. It was a Sunday, and the weather was warm. There had been no real news so far as we knew, except that Japan had lined up with the Allies. The Youngster had come near to striking fire by wondering how the United States, with her dislike for Japan, would view the entering into line of the yellow man, but the spark flickered out, and I imagine we settled down for the story with more eagerness than on the previous evening, especially when the Doctor thrust his hands into his pockets and lifted his chin into the air, as if he were in the tribune. More than one of us smiled at his resemblance to Pierre Janet entering the tribune at the Collège de France, and the Youngster said, under his breath, "A Clinique, I suppose."

The Doctor's ears were sharp. "Not a bit," he answered, running his keen brown eyes over us to be sure we were listening before he began:

* * *

In the days when it was thought that the South End was to be the smart part of Boston, and when streets were laid out along wide tree shaded malls, with a square in the centre, in imitation of some quarters of London,-for Boston was in those days much more English in appearance than it is now,-there was in one of those squares a famous private school. In those days it was rather smart to go to a private school. It was in the days before Boston had much of an immigrant quarter, when some smart families still lived in the old Colonial houses at the North End, and ministers and lawyers and all professional men sent their sons and their daughters to the public schools, at that time probably the best in the world.

At this private school, there was, at the time of which I speak, what one might almost call a "principal girl."

She was the daughter of a rich banker-his only daughter. The gods all seemed to have been very good to her. She was not only a really beautiful girl, she was, for her age, a distinguished girl,-one of the sort who seemed to do everything better than any one else, and with a lack of self-consciousness or pretension. Every one admired her. Some of her comrades would have loved her if she had given them the chance. But no one could ever get intimate with her. She came and went from school quite alone, in the habit of the American girl of those days before the chaperon became the correct thing. She was charming to every one, but she kept every one a little at arm's length. Of course such a girl would be much talked over by the other type of girl to whom confidences were necessary.

As always happens in any school there was a popular teacher. She taught history and literature, and I imagine girls get more intimate with such a teacher than they ever do with the mathematics.

Also, as always happens, there was a "teacher's pet," one of those girls that has to adore something, and the literature teacher, as she was smart and good looking, was as convenient to adore as anything else,-and more adjacent.

Of course "teacher's pet" never has any secrets from the teacher, and does not mean to be a sneak either. Just can't help turning herself inside out for her idol, and when the heart of a girl of seventeen turns itself inside out, almost always something comes out that is not her business. That was how it happened that one day the literature teacher was told that the "Principal Girl" was receiving wonderful boxes of violets at the school door, and "Don't you know one day she was seen by a group of pupils who happened to be going home, and were just behind her, getting into a closed carriage and driving away from the corner of the street!"

Now the literature teacher did not, as a rule, encourage such confidences, but this time it seemed useful. She liked the Principal Girl-admired her, in fact. She was terribly shocked. She warned her pet to talk to no one else, and then she went at once to the clergyman who was at the head of the school. She knew that he felt responsible for his pupils, and this had an unpleasant look. He took the pains to verify the two statements. Then there was but one thing to do-to lay the matter before the parents of the girl.

Now, as so often happens in American families, the banker and his wife stood in some awe of their daughter. There was not that confidence between them which one traditionally supposes to exist between parents and children. I imagine that there is no doubt that the adolescent finds it much easier to confide in some one other than the parents who would seem to be her proper confidants.

At any rate the banker and his wife were simply staggered. They dared not broach the subject to the Principal Girl, and in their distress turned to the family lawyer. As they were too cowardly to take his first advice-perhaps they were afraid the daughter would lie, they sometimes do in the best regulated families,-it was decided to put a discreet person "on the job," and discover first of all what was really going on.

The result of the investigation was at first consoling, and then amazing.

They discovered that the bunches of violets were ordered at a smart down town florist by the girl herself, and by her order delivered at the school door by a liveried messenger boy, who, by her orders, awaited her arrival. As for the closed carriage, that she also bespoke herself at a smart livery stable where she was known. When she entered it, she was at once driven to the Park Street station, where she bought a round trip ticket to Waltham. There she walked to the river, hired a boat, rowed herself up stream, tied her boat at a wooden bank, climbed the slope, and sat there all the afternoon, sometimes reading, and sometimes merely staring out at the river, or up at the sky. At sunset she rowed back to the town, returned to the city, and walked from the station to her home.

This all seemed simple enough, but it puzzled the father, it made him unquiet in his mind. Why all this mystery? Why-well, why a great many things, for of course the Principal Girl had to prepare for these absences, and, although the little fibs she told were harmless enough-well, why? The literature teacher, who had been watching her carefully, had her theory. She knew a lot about girls. Wasn't she once one herself? So it was by her advice that the family doctor was taken into the family confidence, chiefly because neither father nor mother had the pluck to tackle the matter-they were ashamed to have their daughter know that she had been caught in even a small deception-it seemed so like intruding into her intimate life.

There are parents like that, you know.

The doctor had known the girl since he ushered her into the world. If there were any one with whom she had shown the

slightest sign of intimacy, it was with him. Like all doctors whose associations are so largely with women, and who are moderately intelligent and temperamental, he knew a great deal about the dangers of the imagination. No one ever heard just what passed between the two. One thing is pretty sure, he made no secrets regarding the affair, and at the end of the interview he advised the parents to take the girl out of school, take her abroad, keep her active, present her at courts, show her the world, keep her occupied, interest her, keep her among people whether she liked it or not.

The literature teacher counted for something in the affair, and I imagine that it was never talked over between the parents and daughter, who soon after left town for Europe, and for three years were not seen in Boston.

When they did return, it was to announce the marriage of the Principal Girl to the son of the family lawyer, a clever man, and a rising politician.

Relations between the literature teacher and the Principal Girl had never wholly broken off, so ten years after the school adventure it happened one beautiful day in early September that the teacher was a guest at the North Shore summer home of the Principal Girl, now the mother of two handsome boys.

That afternoon at tea, sitting on the verandah, watching the white sails as the yachts made for Marblehead harbor, and the long line of surf beating against the rugged rocks beyond the wide pebbly beach on which the dragging stones made weird music, the literature teacher, supposing the old story to be so much ancient history that it could, as can so many of the incidents of one's teens, be referred to lightly, had the misfortune to mention it. To her horror, the Principal Girl gave her one startled look, and then rolled over among the cushions of the hammock in which she was swinging, and burst into a torrent of tears.

When the paroxysm had passed, she sat up, wiped her eyes in which, however, there was no laughter, and said passionately:

"I suppose you think me the most ungrateful woman in the world. I know only too well that to many women my position has always appeared enviable. Poor things, if they only knew! Of course, my husband is a good man. In all ways I do him perfect justice. He is everything that is kind and generous-only, alas, he is not the lover of my dreams. My children are nice handsome boys, but they are the every day children of every day life. I dreamed another and a different life in which my children were oh, so different, and beside which the life I try to lead with all the strength I have is no more like the life I dreamed than my boys are like my dream children. If you think it has not taken courage to play the part I have played, I am sorry for your lack of insight."

And she got up, and walked away.

It was as well, for, as the literature teacher told the doctor afterward, it was one notch above her experience, and she absolutely could have found no word to say. When the Wife came back to the hammock, ten minutes later, the cloud was gone from her face, and she never mentioned the subject again. And you may be sure that the literature teacher never did. She always looked upon the incident as her worst moment of tactlessness.

* * *

"Bully, bully!" exclaimed the Lawyer, "Take off your laurels, Critic, and crown the Doctor!"

"For that little tale," shouted the Critic. "Never! That has not a bit of literary merit. It has not one rounded period."

"The Lawyer is a realist," said the Sculptor. "Of course that appeals to him."

"If you want my opinion, I consider that there is just as much imagination in that story as in the morbid rigmarole you threw at us last night," persisted the Lawyer.

"Why," declared the Critic, "I call mine a healthy story compared with this one. It is a shocking tale for the operating room-I mean the insane asylum."

"All right," laughed the Doctor, "then we had all better go inside the sanitarium walls at once."

"Do you presume," said the Journalist, "to pretend that this is a normal incident?"

"I am not going into that. I only claim that more people know the condition than dare to confess it. It is after all only symbolic of the duality of the soul-or call it what you like. It is the embodiment of a truth which no one thinks of denying-that the spirit has its secrets. Imagination plays a great part in most of our lives-it is the glory that gilds our facts-it is the brilliant barrier which separates us from the beasts, and the only real thing that divides us into classes, though, of course, it does not run through the world like straight lines of latitude and longitude, but like the lines of mean temperature."

"The truth is," said the Lawyer, "if the Principal Girl had been obliged to struggle for her living, the fact that her imagination did not run at any point into her world of realities would not have been dangerous."

"Naturally not," said the Doctor, "for she would have been a great novelist, or a poor one, and all would have been well, or not, according to circumstances."

"All the same," persisted the Critic, "I think it a horrid story and-"

"I think," interrupted the Doctor, "that you have a vicious mind, and-" Here the Doctor cast a quick look in the direction of the Youngster, who was stretched out in a steamer chair and had not said a word.

"All right," said the Trained Nurse, "he is fast asleep." And so he was.

"Just as well," said the Doctor, "though it does not speak so well for the story as it might."

"Well," laughed the Journalist, "you have had a double success, Doctor. You have been spontaneously applauded by the man of law, and sent the man of the air to faire dodo. I reckon you get the laurels."

"Don't you be in such a hurry to award the palm," protested the Sculptor. "There are some of us who have not spoken yet. I am going to put some brilliant touches on mine before I give my star performance."

"What's that about stars?" yawned the Youngster, waking up slowly.

"Nothing except that you have given a very distinguished and unexpected star performance as a sleeper," said the Doctor.

"I say!" he exclaimed, sitting up. "By Jove, is the story of the Principal Girl all told? That's a shame. What became of her?"

"You'll never know now," said the Doctor.

"Besides," said the Critic, "you would not understand. You are too young."

"Well, I like your cheek."

"After all," said the Journalist, "it is only another phase of the Dear Little Josephine, and I still think that is the banner story."

"Me, too," said the Doctor, as we went into the house.

And I thought to myself, "I can tell a third phase-the tragic-when my turn comes," and I was the only one who knew that my story would come last.

* * *

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