| GENTLE JULIA |
PENROD, PENROD AND SAM,
THE TURMOIL, Etc.
C. ALLAN GILBERT
GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Made in the United States of America
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY P. F. COLLIER AND SON COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY THE PICTORIAL REVIEW COMPANY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES AT THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS,GARDEN CITY, N. Y.
TO M. L. K.
"Risingto the point of order, this one saidthat since the morgue was not yet establishedas the central monument and inspiration ofour settlement, and true philosophy was aswell expounded in the convivial manner asin the miserable, he claimed for himself, notthe license, but the right, to sing a ballad, ifhe chose, upon even so solemn a matter asthe misuse of the town pump by witches."
Superciliousness is not safe after all, becausea person who forms the habit of wearingit may some day find his lower lip grownpermanently projected beyond the upper, so that hecan't get it back, and must go through life lookinglike the King of Spain. This was once foretoldas a probable culmination of Florence Atwater'sstill plastic profile, if Florence didn't change herway of thinking; and upon Florence's remarkingdreamily that the King of Spain was an awf'ly han'someman, her mother retorted: "But not for a girl!"She meant, of course, that a girl who looked too muchlike the King of Spain would not be handsome, buther daughter decided to misunderstand her.
"Why, mamma, he's my Very Ideal! I'd marryhim to-morrow!"
Mrs. Atwater paused in her darning, and let the[Pg 2]stocking collapse flaccidly into the work-basket inher lap. "Not at barely thirteen, would you?" shesaid. "It seems to me you're just a shade tooyoung to be marrying a man who's already got a wifeand several children. Where did you pick up that'I'd-marry-him-to-morrow,' Florence?"
"Oh, I hear that everywhere!" returned thedamsel, lightly. "Everybody says things like that.I heard Aunt Julia say it. I heard Kitty Silversay it."
"About the King of Spain?" Mrs. Atwater inquired.
"I don't know who they were saying it about,"said Florence, "but they were saying it. I don'tmean they were saying it together; I heard one sayit one time and the other say it some other time. Ithink Kitty Silver was saying it about some colouredman. She proba'ly wouldn't want to marry anywhite man; at least I don't expect she would. She'sbeen married to a couple of coloured men, anyhow;and she was married twice to one of 'em, and theother one died in between. Anyhow, that's what shetold me. She weighed over two hunderd poundsthe first time she was married, and she weighed overtwo hunderd-and-seventy the last time she was married[Pg 3]to the first one over again, but she says she don'tknow how much she weighed when she was marriedto the one in between. She says she never gotweighed all the time she was married to that one.Did Kitty Silver ever tell you that, mamma?"
"Yes, often!" Mrs. Atwater replied. "I don'tthink it's very entertaining; and it's not what wewere talking about. I was trying to tell you——"
"I know," Florence interrupted. "You said I'dget my face so's my underlip wouldn't go back whereit ought to, if I didn't quit turning up my nose atpeople I think are beneath contemp'. I guess thebest thing would be to just feel that way withoutletting on by my face, and then there wouldn't beany danger."
"No," said Mrs. Atwater. "That's not what Imeant. You mustn't let your feelings get theirnose turned up, or their underlip out, either, becausefeelings can grow warped just as well as——"
But her remarks had already caused her daughterto follow a trail of thought divergent from the mainroad along which the mother feebly struggled to progress."Mamma," said Florence, "do you b'lieveit's true if a person swallows an apple-seed or alemon-seed or a watermelon-seed, f'r instance, do[Pg 4]you think they'd have a tree grow up inside of 'em?Henry Rooter said it would, yesterday."
Mrs. Atwater looked a little anxious. "Did youswallow some sort of seed?" she asked.
"It was only some grape-seeds, mamma; andyou needn't think I got to take anything for it, becauseI've swallowed a million, I guess, in my time!"
"In your time?" her mother repeated, seeminglymystified.
"Yes, and so have you and papa," Florence wenton. "I've seen you when you ate grapes. Henrysaid maybe not, about grapes, because I told himall what I've just been telling you, mamma, how Imust have swallowed a million, in my time, and hesaid grape-seeds weren't big enough to get a goodholt, but he said if I was to swallow an apple-seed atree would start up, and in a year or two, maybe,it would grow up so't I couldn't get my mouth shuton account the branches."
"Henry said another boy told him, but he said youcould ask anybody and they'd tell you it was true.Henry said this boy that told him's uncle died of itwhen he was eleven years old, and this boy knew agrown woman that was pretty sick from it right now.[Pg 5]I expect Henry wasn't telling such a falsehood aboutit, mamma, but proba'ly this boy did, because Ididn't believe it for a minute! Henry Rooter says henever told a lie yet, in his whole life, mamma, and hewasn't going to begin now." She paused for amoment, then added: "I don't believe a word hesays!"
She continued to meditate disapprovingly uponHenry Rooter. "Old thing!" she murmured gloomily,for she had indeed known moments of apprehensionconcerning the grape-seeds. "Nothing but anold thing—what he is!" she repeated inaudibly.
"Florence," said Mrs. Atwater, "don't you want toslip over to grandpa's and ask Aunt Julia if she hasa very large darning needle? And don't forget not tolook supercilious when you meet people on the way.Even your grandfather has been noticing it, and hewas the one that spoke of it to me. Don't forget!"
Florence went out of the house somewhat moodily,but afternoon sunshine enlivened her; and, openingthe picket gate, she stepped forth with a fair renewalof her chosen manner toward the public,though just at that moment no public was in sight.Miss Atwater's underlip resumed the position for[Pg 6]which her mother had predicted that regal Spanishfixity, and her eyebrows and nose were all three perceptiblyelevated. At the same time, her eyelidswere half lowered, while the corners of her mouthsomewhat deepened, as by a veiled mirth, so thatthis well-dressed child strolled down the shadysidewalk wearing an expression not merely of high-bredcontempt but also of mysterious derision.It was an expression that should have put any pedestrianin his place, and it seems a pity that the longstreet before her appeared to be empty of human life.No one even so much as glanced from a window ofany of the comfortable houses, set back at the endof their "front walks" and basking amid pleasantlawns; for, naturally, this was the "best residencestreet" in the town, since all the Atwaters and otherrelatives of Florence dwelt there. Happily, anold gentleman turned a corner before she had gonea hundred yards, and, as he turned in her direction, itbecame certain that they would meet. He was astranger—that is to say, he was unknown to Florence—andhe was well dressed; while his appearance ofage (proba'ly at least forty or sixty or something)indicated that he might have sense enough to beinterested in other interesting persons.[Pg 7]
An extraordinary change took place upon thesurface of Florence Atwater: all superciliousness andderision of the world vanished; her eyes opened wide,and into them came a look at once far-away andintently fixed. Also, a frown of concentration appearedupon her brow, and her lips moved silently,but with rapidity, as if she repeated to herselfsomething of almost tragic import. Florence hadrecently read a newspaper account of the earlier strugglesof a now successful actress: As a girl, this determinedgenius went about the streets repeating thelines of various roles to herself—constantly rehearsing,in fact, upon the public thoroughfares, so carriedaway was she by her intended profession and so setupon becoming famous. This was what Florencewas doing now, except that she rehearsed no rôle inparticular, and the words formed by her lips wereneither sequential nor consequential, being, in fact,the following: "Oh, the darkness ... never,never, never! ... you couldn't ... hewouldn't ... Ah, mother! ... Where theriver swings so slowly ... Ah, no!" Nevertheless,she was doing all she could for the elderlystranger, and as they came closer, encountered, andpassed on, she had the definite impression that he[Pg 8]did indeed take her to be a struggling young actresswho would some day be famous—and then he mightsee her on a night of triumph and recognize her as thegirl he had passed on the street, that day, so longago! But by this time, the episode was concluded;the footsteps of him for whom she was performinghad become inaudible behind her, and she began toforget him; which was as well, since he went out ofher life then, and the two never met again. Thestruggling young actress disappeared, and the previoussuperiority was resumed. It became elaboratelyemphasized as a boy of her own age emergedfrom the "side yard" of a house at the next cornerand came into her view.
The boy caught sight of Florence in plenty of timeto observe this emphasis, which was all too obviouslyproduced by her sensations at sight of himself;and, after staring at her for a moment, he allowedhis own expression to become one of painful fatigue.Then he slowly swung about, as if to return intothat side-yard obscurity whence he had come;making clear by this pantomime that he reciprocallyfound the sight of her insufferable. In truth, he did;for he was not only her neighbour but her first-cousinas well, and a short month older, though taller[Pg 9]than she—tall beyond his years, taller than need be,in fact, and still in knickerbockers. However, hisparents may not have been mistaken in the matter,for it was plain that he looked as well in knickerbockersas he could