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   Chapter 7 SIDE LIGHTS.

The Man-Made World; Or, Our Androcentric Culture By Charlotte Perkins Gilman Characters: 24209

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


High shines the golden shield in front,

To those who are not blind;

And clear and bright

In all men's sight,

The silver shield behind.

In breadth and sheen each face is seen;

How tall it is, how wide;

But its thinness shows

To only those

Who stand on either side.

Theophile wept aloud in the dining-room, nursing one hand in the other, like a hurt monkey.

Most of the diners had departed, but Professor Toomey and Mr. Cuthbert still lingered about Miss Susie's corner, to the evident displeasure of Mr. Saunders, who lingered also.

Miss Susie smiled upon them all; and Mr. Saunders speculated endlessly as to whether this was due to her general friendliness of disposition, to an interest in pleasing her aunt's boarders, to personal preference, or, as he sometimes imagined, to a desire to tease him.

Morton was talking earnestly with Vivian at the other end of the table, from which the two angular waitresses had some time since removed the last plate. One of them opened the swing door a crack and thrust her head in.

"He's burnt his hand," she said, "and his Ma's out. We don't dare go near him." Both of these damsels professed great terror of the poor boy, though he was invariably good natured, and as timid as a rabbit.

"Do get the doctor!" cried Susie, nervously; she never felt at ease with Theophile.

"Dr. Bellair, I fear, is not in her office," Professor Toomey announced. "We might summon Dr. Hale."

"Nonsense!" said Mr. Cuthbert, rising heavily. "He's a great baby, that's all. Here! Quit that howling and show me your hand!"

He advanced upon Theophile, who fled toward Vivian. Morton rose in her defence. "Get out!" he said, "Go back to the kitchen. There's nothing the matter with you."

"Wait till you get burned, and see if you think it's nothing," Jimmy Saunders remarked with some acidity. He did not like Mr. Elder. "Come here youngster, let me see it."

But the boy was afraid of all of them, and cowered in a corner, still bawling. "Stop your noise," Mr. Cuthbert shouted, "Get out of this, or I'll put you out."

Vivian rose to her feet. "You will do nothing of the kind. If you, all of you, will go away, I can quiet Theophile, myself."

Susie went promptly. She had every confidence in her friend's management. Mr. Cuthbert was sulky, but followed Susie; and Mr. Saunders, after some hesitation, followed Susie, too.

Morton lingered, distrustful.

"Please go, Morton. I know how to manage him. Just leave us alone," Vivian urged.

"You'd better let me put him out, and keep him out, till the old woman comes back," Morton insisted.

"You mean kindly, I don't doubt, but you're making me very angry," said the girl, flushing; and he reluctantly left the room. Professor Toomey had departed long since, to fulfill his suggestion of calling Dr. Hale, but when that gentleman appeared, he found that Vivian had quieted the boy, stayed him with flagons and comforted him with apples, as it were, and bound up his hand in wet cooking soda.

"It's not a very bad burn," she told the doctor, "but it hurt, and he was frightened. He is afraid of everybody but his mother, and the men were cross to him."

"I see," said Dr. Hale, watching Theophile as he munched his apple, keeping carefully behind Vivian and very near her. "He does not seem much afraid of you, I notice, and he's used to me. The soda is all right. Where did you learn first aid to the injured, and how to handle-persons of limited understanding?"

"The former I studied. The latter comes by nature, I think," replied the girl, annoyed.

He laughed, rather suddenly. "It's a good quality, often needed in this world."

"What's all this rumpus?" demanded Grandma, appearing at the door. "Waking me up out of my nap!" Grandma's smooth, fine, still dark hair, which she wore in "water waves," was somewhat disarranged, and she held a little shawl about her.

"Only the household baby, playing with fire," Dr. Hale answered. "Miss Lane resolved herself into a Red Cross society, and attended to the wounded. However I think I'll have a look at it now I'm here."

Then was Vivian surprised, and compelled to admiration, to see with what wise gentleness the big man won the confidence of the frightened boy, examined the hurt hand, and bound it up again.

"You'll do, all right, won't you Theophile," he said, and offered him a shining nickel and a lozenge, "Which will you have, old man?"

After some cautious hesitation the boy chose the lozenge, and hastily applied it where it would do the most good.

"Where's Mrs. Jones all this time?" suddenly demanded Grandma, who had gone back to her room and fetched forth three fat, pink gumdrops for the further consolation of the afflicted.

"She had to go out to buy clothes for him, she hardly ever leaves him you know," Vivian explained. "And the girls out there are so afraid that they won't take any care of him."

This was true enough, but Vivian did not know that "Mrs. Jones" had returned and, peering through her favorite peephole, had seen her send out the others, and attend to the boy's burn with her own hand. Jeanne Jeaune was not a sentimental person, and judged from her son's easy consolation that he was little hurt, but she watched the girl's prompt tenderness with tears in her eyes.

"She regards him, as any other boy;" thought the mother. "His infirmity, she does not recall it." Dr. Hale had long since won her approval, and when Theophile at last ran out, eager to share his gumdrops, he found her busy as usual in the kitchen.

She was a silent woman, professionally civil to the waitresses, but never cordial. The place pleased her, she was saving money, and she knew that there must be some waitresses-these were probably no worse than others. For her unfortunate son she expected little, and strove to keep him near her so far as possible; but Vivian's real kindness touched her deeply.

She kept a sharp eye on whatever went on in the dining-room, and what with the frequent dances and the little groups which used to hang about the table after meals, or fill a corner of the big room for quiet chats, she had good opportunities.

Morton's visible devotion she watched with deep disapproval; though she was not at all certain that her "young lady" was favorably disposed toward him. She could see and judge the feelings of the men, these many men who ate and drank and laughed and paid court to both the girls. Dr. Hale's brusque coldness she accepted, as from a higher order of being. Susie's gay coquetries were transparent to her; but Vivian she could not read so well.

The girl's deep conscientiousness, her courtesy and patience with all, and the gentle way in which she evaded the attentions so persistently offered, were new to Jeanne's experience. When Morton hung about and tried always to talk with Vivian exclusively, she saw her listen with kind attention, but somehow without any of that answering gleam which made Susie's blue eyes so irresistible.

"She has the lovers, but she has no beauty-to compare with my young lady!" Jeanne commented inwardly.

If the sad-eyed Jeanne had been of Scotch extraction instead of French, she might have quoted the explanation of the homely widow of three husbands when questioned by the good-looking spinster, who closed her inquiry by saying aggrievedly, "And ye'r na sae bonny."

"It's na the bonny that does it," explained the triple widow, "It's the come hither i' the een."

Susie's eyes sparkled with the "come hither," but those who came failed to make any marked progress. She was somewhat more cautious after the sudden approach and overthrow of Mr. A. Smith; yet more than one young gentleman boarder found business called him elsewhere, with marked suddenness; his place eagerly taken by another. The Cottonwoods had a waiting list, now.

Vivian made friends first, lovers afterward. Then if the love proved vain, the friendship had a way of lingering. Hers was one of those involved and over-conscientious characters, keenly sensitive to the thought of duty and to others, pain. She could not play with hearts that might be hurt in the handling, nor could she find in herself a quick and simple response to the appeals made to her; there were so many things to be considered.

Morton studied her with more intensity than he had ever before devoted to another human being; his admiration and respect grew with acquaintance, and all that was best in him rose in response to her wise, sweet womanliness. He had the background of their childhood's common experiences and her early sentiment-how much he did not know, to aid him. Then there was the unknown country of his years of changeful travel, many tales that he could tell her, many more which he found he could not.

He pressed his advantage, cautiously, finding the fullest response when he used the appeal to her uplifting influence. When they talked in the dining-room the sombre eye at the peephole watched with growing disapproval. The kitchen was largely left to her and her son by her fellow workers, on account of their nervous dislike for Theophile, and she utilized her opportunities.

Vivian had provided the boy with some big bright picture blocks, and he spent happy hours in matching them on the white scoured table, while his mother sewed, and watched. He had forgotten his burn by now, and she sewed contentedly for there was no one talking to her young lady but Dr. Hale, who lingered unaccountably.

To be sure, Vivian had brought him a plate of cakes from the pantry, and he seemed to find the little brown things efficiently seductive, or perhaps it was Grandma who held him, sitting bolt upright in her usual place, at the head of one table, and asking a series of firm but friendly questions. This she found the only way of inducing Dr. Hale to talk at all.

Yes, he was going away-Yes, he would be gone some time-A matter of weeks, perhaps-He could not say-His boys were all well-He did not wonder that they saw a good deal of them-It was a good place for them to come.

"You might come oftener yourself," said Grandma, "and play real whist with me. These young people play Bridge!" She used this word with angry scorn, as symbol of all degeneracy; and also despised pinochle, refusing to learn it, though any one could induce her to play bezique. Some of the more venturous and argumentative, strove to persuade her that the games were really the same.

"You needn't tell me," Mrs. Pettigrew would say, "I don't want to play any of your foreign games."

"But, Madam, bezique is not an English word," Professor Toomey had insisted, on one occasion; to which she had promptly responded, "Neither is 'bouquet!'"

Dr. Hale shook his head with a smile. He had a very nice smile, even Vivian admitted that. All the hard lines of his face curved and melted, and the light came into those deep-set eyes and shone warmly.

"I should enjoy playing whist with you very often, Mrs. Pettigrew; but a doctor has no time to call his own. And a good game of whist must not be interrupted by telephones."

"There's Miss Orella!" said Grandma, as the front door was heard to open. "She's getting to be quite a gadder."

"It does her good, I don't doubt," the doctor gravely remarked, rising to go. Miss Orella met him in the hall, and bade him good-bye with regret. "We do not see much of you, doctor; I hope you'll be back soon."

"Why it's only a little trip; you good people act as if I were going to Alaska," he said, "It makes me feel as if I had a family!"

"Pity you haven't," remarked Grandma with her usual definiteness. Dykeman stood holding Miss Orella's wrap, with his dry smile. "Good-bye, Hale," he said. "I'll chaperon your orphan asylum for you. So long."

"Come out into the dining-room," said Miss Orella, after Dr. Hale had departed. "I know you must be hungry," and Mr. Dykeman did not deny it. In his quiet middle-aged way, he enjoyed this enlarged family circle as much as the younger fellows, and he and Mr. Unwin seemed to vie with one another to convince M

iss Orella that life still held charms for her. Mr. Skee also hovered about her to a considerable extent, but most of his devotion was bestowed upon damsels of extreme youth.

"Here's one that's hungry, anyhow," remarked Dr. Bellair, coming out of her office at the moment, with her usual clean and clear-starched appearance. "I've been at it for eighteen hours, with only bites to eat. Yes, all over; both doing well."

It was a source of deep self-congratulation to Dr. Bellair to watch her friend grow young again in the new atmosphere. To Susie it appeared somewhat preposterous, as her Aunt seems to her mind a permanently elderly person; while to Mrs. Pettigrew it looked only natural. "Rella's only a young thing anyway," was her comment. But Jane Bellair marked and approved the added grace of each new gown, the blossoming of lace and ribbon, the appearance of long-hoarded bits of family jewelry, things held "too showy to wear" in Bainville, but somehow quite appropriate here.

Vivian and Grandma made Miss Orella sit down at her own table head, and bustled about in the pantry, bringing cheese and crackers, cake and fruit; but the doctor poked her head through the swing door and demanded meat.

"I don't want a refection, I want food," she said, and Jeanne cheerfully brought her a plate of cold beef. She was much attached to Dr. Bellair, for reasons many and good.

"What I like about this place," said Mrs. Pettigrew, surveying the scene from the head of her table, "is that there's always something going on."

"What I like about it," remarked Dr. Bellair, between well-Fletcherized mouthfuls, "is that people have a chance to grow and are growing."

"What I like," Mr. Dykeman looked about him, and paused in the middle of a sentence, as was his wont; "is being beautifully taken care of and made comfortable-any man likes that."

Miss Orella beamed upon him. Emboldened, he went on: "And what I like most is the new, delightful"-he was gazing admiringly at her, and she looked so embarrassed that he concluded with a wide margin of safety-"friends I'm making."

Miss Orella's rosy flush, which had risen under his steady gaze, ebbed again to her usual soft pink. Even her coldest critics, in the most caustic Bainvillian circles, could never deny that she had "a good complexion." New England, like old England, loves roses on the cheeks, and our dry Western winds play havoc with them. But Miss Orella's bloomed brighter than at home.

"It is pleasant," she said softly; "all this coming and going-and the nice people-who stay." She looked at no one in particular, yet Mr. Dykeman seemed pleased.

"There's another coming, I guess," remarked Grandma, as a carriage was heard to stop outside, the gate slammed, and trunk-burdened steps pounded heavily across the piazza. The bell rang sharply, Mr. Dykeman opened the door, and the trunk came in first-a huge one, dumped promptly on the hall floor.

Behind the trunk and the man beneath it entered a lady; slim, elegant, graceful, in a rich silk dust coat and soft floating veils.

"My dear Miss Elder!" she said, coming forward; "and Vivian! Dear Vivian! I thought you could put me up, somewhere, and told him to come right here. O-and please-I haven't a bit of change left in my purse-will you pay the man?"

"Well, if it isn't Mrs. St. Cloud," said Grandma, without any note of welcome in her voice.

Mr. Dykeman paid the man; looked at the trunk, and paid him some more. The man departed swearing softly at nothing in particular, and Mr. Dykeman departed also to his own room.

Miss Orella's hospitable soul was much exercised. Refuse shelter to an old acquaintance, a guest, however unexpected, she could not; yet she had no vacant room. Vivian, flushed and excited, moved anew by her old attraction, eagerly helped the visitor take off her wraps, Mrs. Pettigrew standing the while, with her arms folded, in the doorway of her room, her thin lips drawn to a hard line, as one intending to repel boarders at any risk to life or limb. Dr. Bellair had returned to her apartments at the first sound of the visitor's voice.

She, gracious and calm in the midst of confusion, sat in a wreath of down-dropped silken wrappings, and held Vivian's hand.

"You dear child!" she said, "how well you look! What a charming place this is. The doctors sent me West for my health; I'm on my way to California. But when I found the train stopped here-I didn't know that it did till I saw the name-I had them take my trunk right off, and here I am! It is such a pleasure to see you all."

"Huh!" said Mrs. Pettigrew, and disappeared completely, closing the door behind her.

"Anything will do, Miss Elder," the visitor went on. "I shall find a hall bedroom palatial after a sleeping car; or a garret-anything! It's only for a few days, you know."

Vivian was restraining herself from hospitable offers by remembering that her room was also Susie's, and Miss Orella well knew that to give up hers meant sleeping on a hard, short sofa in that all-too-public parlor. She was hastily planning in her mind to take Susie in with her and persuade Mrs. Pettigrew to harbor Vivian, somewhat deterred by memories of the old lady's expression as she departed, when Mr. Dykeman appeared at the door, suitcase in hand.

"I promised Hale I'd keep house for those fatherless boys, you know," he said. "In the meantime, you're quite welcome to use my room, Miss Elder." And he departed, her blessing going with him.

More light refreshments were now in order. Mrs. St. Cloud protesting that she wanted nothing, but finding much to praise in the delicacies set before her. Several of the other boarders drifted in, always glad of an extra bite before going to bed. Susie and Mr. Saunders returned from a walk, Morton reappeared, and Jeanne, peering sharply in, resentful of this new drain upon her pantry shelves, saw a fair, sweet-faced woman, seated at ease, eating daintily, while Miss Elder and Vivian waited upon her, and the men all gathered admiringly about. Jeanne Jeaune wagged her head. "Ah, ha, Madame!" she muttered softly, "Such as you I have met before!" Theophile she had long since sent to bed, remaining up herself to keep an eye on the continued disturbance in the front of the house. Vivian and Susie brought the dishes out, and would have washed them or left them till morning for the maids.

"Truly, no," said Jeanne Jeaune; "go you to your beds; I will attend to these."

One by one she heard them go upstairs, distant movement and soft dissuasion as two gentlemen insisted on bearing Mrs. St. Cloud's trunk into her room, receding voices and closing doors. There was no sound in the dining-room now, but still she waited; the night was not yet quiet.

Miss Elder and Susie, Vivian also, hovered about, trying to make this new guest comfortable, in spite of her graceful protests that they must not concern themselves in the least about her, that she wanted nothing-absolutely nothing. At last they left her, and still later, after some brief exchange of surprised comment and warm appreciation of Mr. Dykeman's thoughtfulness, the family retired. Vivian, when her long hair was smoothly braided for the night, felt an imperative need for water.

"Don't you want some, Susie? I'll bring you a glass." But Susie only huddled the bedclothes about her pretty shoulders and said:

"Don't bring me anything, until to-morrow morning!"

So her room-mate stole out softly in her wrapper, remembering that a pitcher of cool water still stood on one of the tables. The windows to the street let in a flood of light from a big street lamp, and she found her way easily, but was a bit startled for a moment to find a man still sitting there, his head upon his arms.

"Why, Morton," she said; "is that you? What are you sitting up for? It's awfully late. I'm just after some water." She poured a glassful. "Don't you want some?"

"No, thank you," he said. "Yes, I will. Give me some, please."

The girl gave him a glass, drank from her own and set it down, turning to go, but he reached out and caught a flowing sleeve of her kimono.

"Don't go, Vivian! Do sit down and talk to a fellow. I've been trying to see you for days and days."

"Why, Morton Elder, how absurd! You have certainly seen me every day, and we've talked hours this very evening. This is no time for conversation, surely."

"The best time in the world," he assured her. "All the other times there are people about-dozens-hundreds-swarms! I want to talk to just you."

There were certainly no dozens or hundreds about now, but as certainly there was one, noting with keen and disapproving interest this midnight tête-à-tête. It did not last very long, and was harmless and impersonal enough while it lasted.

Vivian sat for a few moments, listening patiently while the young man talked of his discouragements, his hopes, his wishes to succeed in life, to be worthy of her; but when the personal note sounded, when he tried to take her hand in the semi-darkness, then her New England conscience sounded also, and she rose to her feet and left him.

"We'll talk about that another time," she said. "Now do be quiet and do not wake people up."

He stole upstairs, dutifully, and she crept softly back to her room and got into bed, without eliciting more than a mild grunt from sleepy Susie. Silence reigned at last in the house. Not for long, however.

At about half past twelve Dr. Bellair was roused from a well-earned sleep by a light, insistent tap upon her door. She listened, believing it to be a wind-stirred twig; but no, it was a finger tap-quiet-repeated. She opened the door upon Jeanne in her stocking feet.

"Your pardon, Mrs. Doctor," said the visitor, "but it is of importance. May I speak for a little? No, I'm not ill, and we need not a light."

They sat in the clean little office, the swaying cottonwood boughs making a changeful pattern on the floor.

"You are a doctor, and you can make an end to it-you must make an end to it," said Jeanne, after a little hesitation. "This young man-this nephew-he must not marry my young lady."

"What makes you think he wants to?" asked the doctor.

"I have seen, I have heard-I know," said Jeanne. "You know, all can see that he loves her. He! Not such as he for my young lady."

"Why do you object to him, Jeanne?"

"He has lived the bad life," said the woman, grimly.

"Most young men are open to criticism," said Dr. Bellair. "Have you anything definite to tell me-anything that you could prove?-if it were necessary to save her?" She leaned forward, elbows on knees.

Jeanne sat in the flickering shadows, considering her words. "He has had the sickness," she said at last.

"Can you prove that?"

"I can prove to you, a doctor, that Coralie and Anastasia and Estelle-they have had it. They are still alive; but not so beautiful."

"Yes; but how can you prove it on him?"

"I know he was with them. Well, it was no secret. I myself have seen-he was there often."

"How on earth have you managed not to be recognized?" Dr. Bellair inquired after a few moments.

Jeanne laughed bitterly. "That was eight years ago; he was but a boy-gay and foolish, with the others. What does a boy know?... Also, at that time I was blonde, and-of a difference."

"I see," said the doctor, "I see! That's pretty straight. You know personally of that time, and you know the record of those others. But that was a long time ago."

"I have heard of him since, many times, in such company," said Jeanne. They sat in silence for some time. A distant church clock struck a single deep low note. The woman rose, stood for a hushed moment, suddenly burst forth with hushed intensity: "You must save her, doctor-you will! I was young once," she went on. "I did not know-as she does not. I married, and-that came to me! It made me a devil-for awhile. Tell her, doctor-if you must; tell her about my boy!"

She went away, weeping silently, and Dr. Bellair sat sternly thinking in her chair, and fell asleep in it from utter weariness.

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