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   Chapter 18 No.18

It Pays to Smile By Nina Wilcox Putnam Characters: 18677

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


It was almost two months later before the traditional bravery of my family was really put to a supreme test, however. All that had gone before-the terrible publicity which followed upon Peaches' elopement, the escape with her husband to foreign shores and his official "pardon," the international complications which this involved and my own public identification with the whole affair-was as nothing to face when compared with the emotion which assailed me upon that late June day when I stood alone upon the threshold of my father's house in Boston, and rang the newly polished door bell.

True, I had lived much in the past six and one half years, and might justly consider myself ripe in the experience gleaned therefrom. Without doubt my worldly knowledge was far beyond that of my elder sister, and yet nothing in my entire career caused me to experience such memories or cost me such effort as did the ringing of that bell.

Not that there was anything in the least alarming about the aspect of Chestnut Street itself. Quite to the contrary, its neat brick houses with their scoured limestone steps and carefully trimmed window boxes were peculiarly restful to the eye, to the spirit. The sheltering elm trees were in their finest plumage of delicate green, the destroying beetle being still at bay. The feather brick of the sidewalk was warmly colorful and quaint, and a flock of grackles foraged noisily in the gutter. It was indeed a street of peaceful beauty-unchanged after all this stormy interlude of the great war and the first turbulent months of reconstruction. All was as I had left it. Only I was changed.

And yet not so changed but that I felt the old childish fear of outraged authority upon me as I found myself about to face my sister Euphemia. The essence of her chaste personality seemed to rush out at me like a cooling wind to chill the ardor of my greeting even before I made my presence known-before I was even sure that she was at home.

For I had sent no word of my coming, wishing to take her unaware, and so surprise her perchance into some expression of warmth. Of course her ignoring of my letters and gifts was not exactly what might be called a hopeful sign. And still, hope I did, the while I feared. But after all she could do no more than turn me out, and it had been my duty to come. At any rate she could not deny this, and so at length gathering my forces in a mighty effort and determining to try to be strong in my consciousness of right, and not allow her to get the better of me the way she always used to in the old days, I finally rang the bell.

My heart pounded audibly as I did so, though I scarcely know just what I expected would happen when the door opened. Goodness knows I had time enough to calm down before it did-and during the wait I had ample opportunity for observing the changes which had been made in the home of my father.

It had been newly painted, for one thing, and the rotting column of the porch which had so long distressed Euphemia had been replaced by a sound one. Moreover, the stable was in repair, and, if I could credit my senses, in use. The patch of lawn was neat and trim, and the glimpse which I got of the garden betrayed the hand of a hired man-a first-class hired man. In the parlor windows hung new lace curtains of a most elegant design. Altogether the effect was at once prosperous and dignified, and glad tears came into my eyes as I realized that this was the fruit of my labors! For this, the substantial restoration of the house which had been my dear father's pride and joy but undoubtedly rather jerry-built in the beginning, had been restored to its pristine glory by the labor of my-well, by my labor!

What a beautiful thought! How it exalted me! And dear Euphemia had a comfortable and aristocratic though virginal old age to look forward to here in a house which was henceforth to be her very own, secured in it through my bounty. What an exquisite appreciation of the virtue of generosity was mine at that moment! How glad I was that she wouldn't have a single thing to say to me for which I would not have a mighty tangible comeback!

And then just as I had reached this high peek of enthusiastic pleasure in the rewarding power of good deeds-especially good deeds that cost only a small portion of a handsome income-just at this point in my reflections I heard a slow footstep making laggard response to my ringing, and at once my heart sank into my walkrite shoes-for I would not have dared appear in French heels-and my hands trembled in their silk gloves. Was it Euphemia herself coming to admit the wanderer? Had she grown so feeble in six and one half years that her step was slow and halting? I feared to look as the door slowly opened. Yet look I must and did.

It was an enormous colored woman.

"Yass, Ise coming," she was beginning, when suddenly she recognized me, and her broad face lighted in a grin which extended from ear to ear.

"Lordy, if it ain't Miss Free!" she cried. "Ain't changed nothin' a-tall! My lawsy-where you-all come from, Miss Free?"

"I'm just from the train," I replied, stepping gingerly into the hall. "Surely you are not Galadia?"

"I sho' am!" she said. "You didn' spek I wuz gwine be a pickaninny no mo', did you, Miss Free?"

Of course this was exactly what I had expected-a pickaninny,-fourteen-year-old Galadia, short dress, long apron and all. Indeed not to find her so was a distinct shock.

"I'm afraid I did," I admitted truthfully.

"Well, bless yo' heart, Ise got fo' pickaninnies of ma own!" she exclaimed amazingly. "Three triplets and one single!"

"Galadia!" I exclaimed. "And you are still working here. Why didn't you write me you had married!"

"Well, dat no-count nigger what Ah married wiv-he spen' so much time in de jail Ah reckoned Ah couldn't afford to lose all dem handsome single wages you done been sendin' me."

"I see!" I replied. "And now tell me-is my sister at home?"

"Ain't home yet!" she said. "Reckon you didn't tell her you was comin'? No! Well, jes' yo' set in de parlor an I fotch you a nice cup tea!"

Despite my protest the good soul hustled off to attend to my imaginary wants, and I stood looking about me dazedly. The change in the interior of the house was even greater than the external alterations, and not nearly so pleasing.

The quaint old wallpapers were gone, and in their place were cartridge papers-new and drab. This was bad enough, but when I caught sight of mission furniture in gray oak, and a player-piano encumbering our erstwhile rosewood drawing-room, my blood turned cold with horror. It was all new, all expensive, frightfully snappy, if I may borrow the term, and too, too perfectly dreadful! If this had been done to my mother's parlor what had become of the rest of the house? I trembled to think! But before I had opportunity to explore further the noise of a high-powered car stopping at the curb outside the door distracted my attention.

Through the lace of the new curtains I could see a slim woman in some sort of uniform, as she dismounted from the driver's seat. The car was one of those low-hung, long-chassised affairs with tool box and tires on the running board, solid wheels, no top and no windshield-a tremendously sporty affair. The chauffeuress wore heavy dust goggles and thick gloves, and over the smart uniform, the skirt of which did not quite cover her knees, a linen duster was worn rakishly.

Whistling a little tune of the type popularly known as jazz she shut off the motor and came up the front steps, letting herself in with a latchkey. By this time I was fairly overcome with curiosity as to who this young house guest of my sister's might be, and to my great delight she came directly into the drawing-room. When she caught sight of me she stopped dead in her tracks.

"Good Lord! Freedom Talbot!" she exclaimed. Then she removed the goggles with one hand and held out the other like a frank boy.

"Glad to see you, old thing!" she said heartily.

* * *

It was Euphemia!

Somehow or other I tottered to a chair and sank into it, calling feebly for "Water! Water!"

"Water! Stuff and nonsense!" said Euphemia. "A little brandy is what you need! Here you are!"

She held something to my lips and gratefully, but expecting at any moment to awaken from my dream, I drank.

"I carry it in my emergency kit," Euphemia was explaining. "Need it sometimes in my work with the boys!"

"With the boys?" I asked feebly.

If she had forthwith produced, like Galadia, a set of triplets and a single, I should not have been more astonished. In point of fact I was not capable of further astonishment because she had already taken all the astonishment I had.

"Oh! I forgot. You wouldn't know, of course!" she said briskly. "Reconstruction work. I'm on the ambulance-take 'em out for a ride from the hospital and all that. Well, how are you now? Better?"

"I'm as much better as I ever shall be after seeing you in the costume, Euphemia!" I said severely. "I'm surprised at you, I really am!"

"You have nothing on me!" she retorted. "I'm as surprised at you as you could possibly be at me. Look at the opportunities you have had-look at the places you have been-the money you have earned-and then look at the clothes you have on!"

"What i

s the matter with my clothes?" I gasped, outraged at her. But laughingly Euphemia got to her feet and coming over to me lifted my reticule.

"Same old bag!" she said. "Full of junk, I suppose! Same old dress-actually the same one, I do believe! And that curled fringe. Really, my dear, at your age they are ridiculous!"

"At my age!" I fairly squeaked with indignation.

"Yes-you are far too young for them!" she went on calmly. "As for those gloves and those shoes! Really, Free, it's too much! I don't understand it, really!"

This was more than human nature could endure. Either her brain had gone or mine had. My clothes, of course, were in many ways a concession to the feelings of the Euphemia I had left behind me. This new creature with her carefully massaged old face, her upright figure, her perfect hearing, was a stranger to me; but a rather splendid, competent stranger, I was forced to admit.

"Euphy!" I cried in despair. "Will you not confide in me what has come over you? What has effected this amazing transformation? You owe me some explanation! I-I don't know what to think!"

She regarded me with a look that was suddenly more serious.

"I suppose it all does seem a bit queer to you," she conceded, throwing herself into one of the hideous new chairs with a boyish abandon. "I've got used to myself, you see, and I forget. I've been so frightfully busy all through the war too. I suppose the war and being in the motor corps rather waked me up a bit. The war and Uncle Joshua's money."

"Uncle Joshua!" I exclaimed. "I didn't know we had an Uncle Joshua!"

"Well, we had, and he left me all his fortune unconditionally, about two weeks after you left home," said Euphemia. "I never wrote you, because-well, your showing all that grit, going off your own bat and all, made me frightfully jealous. Made me feel so useless. And I determined I'd make something out of myself before I got too old. And, old dear, with the masseuse I've got and the good time I'm having, I expect to live to be a hundred. You see I went to a course of lectures the first month you were away. On subconscious inhibitions and suppressed desires, they were. I bought the ticket with the first of Uncle Joshua's money. I found out at these lectures that all I had to do to be a success was to be myself. I at once started in to be myself-and-here I am!"

"And I slaved like a-a prisoner!" I sniffed, "and sent you money to squander in this-this outrageous life you are leading!"

"There is nothing in the least outrageous about my life!" she snapped with some of her old-time asperity. "It's far less outrageous than my old, selfish, self-centered life was. Anybody but an old-fashioned woman like yourself would see that. And as for your money, every cent of it has been spent upon the maintenance of a motor-ambulance corps-in France, during the war, and here in Boston in reconstruction since!"

"It must be admitted that I find the news very gratifying," I said after a short silence. "I am sorry I was so short. But I am upset-fearfully upset. I suppose-indeed I believe that you are living as you think right. From my standpoint I think it most unwomanly. However, I want to be friends. I wish to make this visit a success. I have some other shoes, Euphemia, really I have-quite high-heeled ones. And I only keep to my curls because Mr. Pegg, my husband, admires them!"

That fixed her! I noted with satisfaction the look of blank amazement which spread over her face.

"Yes, my dear!" I said. "Your masculine ways may be all very well for you. But they will never catch you a husband. For my part, nothing could appear sweeter than to go gradually down life's sunset path hand-in-hand with a beloved partner as I am doing-and the fact that the five-carat stone on the left one is a real diamond does not make me any the less happy!" Here I withdrew my despised silk gloves and displayed the beautiful solitaire which Mr. Markheim had given to Peaches and which my dear husband had taken off the banker's hands at cost.

"And we are going to live in golden California," I went on. "Of course the East is all very well once in a while for a change, but for living give me the West. You ought to see California, Euphemia. No rain, no snow, no bad roads, no labor troubles and no high cost of living! And the delight of all the flowers you want-such blossoms-blossoms as you have never even dreamed of, all with hardly any cultivation! Such beaches, Euphemia! Such lovely houses! We never have to heat them in the winter, except occasionally, you know."

"Perhaps I'll motor out some day!" murmured Euphemia, plainly awed.

"Oh, do!" I cried. "Gasoline is only nineteen cents in California. We grow our own, you know!"

"Must be pretty nice!" said my sister, now almost thoroughly cowed. I've noticed that is usually the effect it has upon the listener when they get me started about the Coast.

"Oh, you'd love it!" I went on enthusiastically. "You know you Easterners never see the real California fruit. It's so much larger and finer than that which you get. Of course there is only about enough of it for home consumption, so we eat it ourselves. We couldn't supply the demand it would create. The California farmer, my dear, is the only farmer in the world who consumes his own best products. And the life is so varied-boating, swimming, fishing, hunting, tennis, tobogganing at Truckee in the winter! Everything!"

"And so you are going to live on a ranch and become a regular-er-vegetable!" exclaimed Euphemia, apparently unable to think of anything more contemptuous.

"Well, Mr. Pegg says I am pretty wild stock," I admitted, blushing, "but he hopes that by cultivating me he can tame me. And I'm sure I hope he will!"

THE END

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