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   Chapter 2 No.2

It Pays to Smile By Nina Wilcox Putnam Characters: 12879

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


As my dear father used to say, it is personality rather than character which holds the world's attention, and this was undoubtedly the case with Miss Alicia Pegg, or Peaches, as she was termed by her surviving parent. It is the unqualified fact that even at this tumultuous period of my life it is her personality rather than my esteemed sister's character which overshadows my memory. And although without doubt Euphemia's impeccable virtue and righteousness should have won the struggle I find myself impatient of her just reproaches, her critical indignation, and even of her final cold and terrible dismissal of me from the house of my fathers as meet punishment for the crime of earning five thousand dollars per annum; a feat which she somehow contrived to make appear in the light of an outrage unworthy of serious discussion, and rendering me unfit to remain longer under the paternal roof.

True, I had already dismissed myself before she did so, the fact being implicit in my agreement with Mr. Pegg. And as for my father's roof, there had been rather more than a likelihood of its being permanently removed from over both our heads had we attempted to remain beneath it in idleness much longer. But Euphemia was a true woman-far more genuinely feminine than I shall ever be, and her heart ever overruled her reason. In fact she had often publicly maintained that it was unwomanly to reason very much. Secondly, I had for weeks anticipated that the announcement of my intention of going to work would result in a terrible scene, and so was somewhat prepared for the deluge, though I had hoped it would be less violent than it proved.

I will draw a veil over this section of my narrative, because it was purely a family affair, of no possible interest to the public, and I do not believe that sister truly meant all that she said. Suffice to recount that I left her seventy-five dollars with the promise-unaccepted-to send more shortly, and departed at eight-thirty the following morning, taking a few belongings in the small trunk which I had had at school when a girl, and receiving a tearful farewell from Galadia, if not from my dear sister, for whom in reality I was setting forth into the wide world.

"Freedom Talbot," said I to myself as the hack which I had felt justified in hiring to transport me to the hotel moved away-"Freedom Talbot, face the world with a smile-and soon you will be smiling in your heart. Freedom should mean more than a name to you-it should mean and must mean the welcoming of adventure."

And thus resolutely putting behind me the last vestige of feminine weakness I assumed in spirit at least the attitude which I knew my dear father would have required of the son he had hoped I would be, and was presently set down before the hotel, where I directed the porter about my trunk, surrendered my dear father's umbrella, my own folding lace parasol and dolman, together with my valise, to the same little boy who had so kindly attended me the day before, and for whom I had remembered to bring a package of ginger cookies. Even the elevator, that flying gilded bird cage, held no terrors for me to-day, and I ascended to the seventh floor without a qualm.

So much for character and its hold upon the human mind. The entire episode of leaving what for fifty years had been my home is somewhat hazy. What I encountered upon entering the anteroom of the Copley-Plaza's royal suite for the second time I shall never forget. And this evidences my claim regarding personality.

It was precisely one minute of nine by my dear father's chronometer, and my arrival must have been expected, and yet several moments elapsed prior to the opening of the door outside of which I stood. In point of fact I eventually opened it myself, inasmuch as it was not quite closed and from the noise inside I deduced that my knocking and the ringing of the small boy who accompanied me were not discernible above the clamor. The most amazing language came out to me.

"Come on you, seven!" said a female voice excitedly. "Oh baby! Come, you loving little Joe!" said a male voice.

It was at this juncture that I entered, the patience and perhaps the curiosity of my young companion breaking under the strain, and then we beheld a most remarkable picture.

Seated upon either end of the gold-and-marble table in the middle of the magnificent and formal apartment were a young man and a young woman. The latter was in the very act of shaking dice from the palm of her hand. I at once recognized them because my dear father indulged in backgammon, and possessed a pair. But the young female who was occupied with them resembled nothing I had ever before encountered.

To begin with, she was of tremendous height-the tallest girl I had ever beheld or ever shall, standing, as I afterward ascertained, six feet two without the unwholesome French heels she later affected. Her exquisite face was as clear cut and regular of feature as that upon the shell cameo which my dear father gave my dear mother when they became betrothed. Her hair was so brilliantly gold as to seem artificially gilded-not with chemicals but with burnished metal-and waved low over her ears with a grace impossible of imitation by the hair dresser's art. Her coloring was perfect and her wide set eyes were startlingly dark brown, as were the rather heavy brows above them.

This young Juno was clad in a dress of violet satin heavily embroidered in gold and coral beads, a garment clearly intended for the most elaborate of afternoon functions, and this costume was further embellished by a pair of black-and-white sports shoes, such as are worn upon tennis courts. But curiously enough this outrageous costume was not the first thing that registered upon my vision. The girl herself shone like the sun, dwarfing her garments and almost neutralizing them.

Of the young man I will say only this: He was a chauffeur, properly liveried, and though a clean, decent-looking young man, he was a distinctly common person, a thought which curiously did not occur to me until later. He was an ugly young man with a long nose.

It was a full moment that I stood in the doorway before they saw me, and then the girl slid from her perch with a blank look of amazement.

"Judas Priest! Holy mackerel!" she said involuntarily. Then quickly recovering herself she came forward politely. "I guess you are in the wrong pew," she said. "Did

you want anybody?"

"It's for you, Miss Peaches," said the infant who carried my luggage. "The new nurse has came."

"What d'yer mean-new nurse?" queried the beauty, wrinkling her handsome nose. "Are you sure this is for our ranch?"

"Perhaps your father has been up to something new, Peaches," said the chauffeur, sliding from his end of the table and removing the cap, which had all the time remained upon the back of his red head.

I felt it time to enlighten them.

"I am the new governess for Miss Alicia Pegg," I said with what dignity I could muster under the circumstances. "Mr. Pegg engaged me yesterday."

"There!" exclaimed the chauffeur. "I told you so!"

"Shut up, Dicky!" snapped the beauty, becoming suddenly serious, not to say alarmed, and looking down upon me from her enormous height very much as if I had been something terrible-like, say, a mouse. "Shut up, Dicky, and let me handle this. So my old man hired you, did he?" she went on gravely. "Without a word to me! Well, that's not your fault. We will have to talk this over in private. Sit down, ma'am; here's a nice chair. Get out, cutie!"

This last was addressed to the little page boy, who promptly dropped my baggage and prepared for flight. There was that in the young woman's voice which betrayed the habit of command. But with a gesture I detained him.

"Wait, little boy. I have something for you this time!" I said.

The boy stopped in his tracks and waited quite as promptly as if it were a custom with him, while I delved into the depths of my reticule and produced six nice brown sugar cookies, which I presented. He was pleased, I perceived that. Indeed he was quite wordless with surprise. But I knew they were wholesome and that six were not too many, and presently he was shut out by the chauffeur, who leaned against the closed portal shaking with unaccountable mirth. Miss Pegg seemed to see no humor in the situation any more than did I myself, but led me to the window and made me sit there opposite her. The Dick person leaned against the center table, toying with the dice.

"What's the name, did you say?" she inquired.

"My name is Freedom Talbot-Miss Talbot!" said I.

"Gee! That's funny!" said Miss Peaches Pegg.

"It sure is!" remarked the chauffeur.

"It's Dick's name, too!" said my hostess. "Make you acquainted-shake hands with Mr. Talbot, Miss Talbot!"

There was nothing to do but acquiesce, for the young chap without the least trace of self-consciousness came forward most politely.

"Pleased to meetcher!" he said. "I wonder are you any relative to my Aunt Lucy? That's my father's sister, but he got killed in a gun fight up to Nome."

"I scarcely think it likely," said I. "Our family is practically extinct."

"Well, never mind the family tree just now!" said Alicia. "And let's get down to cases on this dry-nurse business. Of course, Miss Talbot, I realize you are not to blame in this. But it's got to be understood right here and now. Tell me what the old boy put over on me this time?"

Well, I recounted the tale in as much detail as I could recall, amid continuous interruptions from my strange audience, beginning with my situation at home, and ending with my quarrel with Euphemia. When my recital was complete Miss Peaches gave a long whistle, which feat was amazingly expressive of her emotions.

"Well, see here, Miss Freedom," she said. "As I get the dope, it is, that you are to take me out and show me the world and everything-to teach me what little it is proper for me to know-and how to tell the culls from the sound fruit? Well, well! Do you believe you can do it?"

"I, of course, believe that I would be a proper influence and shield for a young woman!" I replied quietly. "Else I would not have engaged to perform such a task."

"And you'd sure be gosh-awful disappointed if you didn't go to Europe, wouldn't you?" she went on.

As I made no reply to this she continued to guide the conversation.

"I think you are a damn good sport to break away at your age," she went on. "And it would be a crime to send you back to the corral. I know just how it must feel."

"I bet you do!" said the Dick person. "After the ranch!"

"You see, he means our home ranch," the girl explained. "Pa has kept me there since I was a seedling. Never been away from it until three weeks ago-kept me pure and healthy and everything. But I've got fed up on it, and I'm glad to get loose and see life, even with you tagging along. Tell you what I'll do. So long as you've got your camp all broke I'll help you to see the world if you'll help me to see the world instead of preventing it. I'll be reasonable if you will. Are you on?"

"I am!" said I, half hypnotized by her charm. "I'm on!"

"Good! It's a bet!" cried Peaches, suddenly shaking my hand with a grip of most unladylike vigor. "Now let's dope this out some more. I've bought all the clothes in the stores in San Francisco, at least all costing over a hundred dollars each, as befits my new society stunt, so we ought to start right off and go some place where we know somebody besides the head waiters. Do you really know a lot of swells?"

"I-well, really-I know the proper people, of course," said I. "But I don't think that you would fancy Boston very much."

"Oh, Boston is all O. K." she said. "Only, of course, it's not like San Francisco-or even Fresno. No pep, and a rotten climate. Don't you know any gay ducks some other place?"

"Well, let me cogitate the matter," said I. "I know the Loringstons, in New York-two charming maiden ladies."

"Hold me-or I'll die of excitement!" said Peaches. "Nothing doing! If I've got to be pushed into the world of fashion and gayety I want there to be some class to it-snappy stuff-titles and everything. Do you know any titles?"

"Only the dean of Radcliffe," I responded; "unless one were to except the Countess Veruchio. But she lives in Monte Carlo. She was my first cousin until she married this foreign person."

Miss Pegg's large eyes grew incredibly larger, and instinctively she turned her gaze toward the neglected dice upon the center table. I shuddered at her words which followed. Had I already, unwittingly in my novitiate as guide, mentor and friend, set her upon evil ways? I deeply feared so.

"A countess!" she breathed. "Monte Carlo! Why, that's in Italy! Oh boy! Oh boy! Say, do they rattle the bones at Monte Carlo?"

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