A short story by Rupert Hughes
Daughters Of Shiloh
Title: Daughters Of Shiloh
Author: Rupert Hughes [More Titles by Hughes]
It is bad enough for it to be Monday, but for it to be raining is inexcusable.
Young Horace Pepperall used to say that that was the reason the world didn't improve much. People got good on Sunday, and then it had to go and be Monday. He had an idea that if Sunday could be followed by some other day, preferably Saturday, there would be more happiness and virtue in the world. Mrs. Pepperall used to say that her boy was quite a ph'losopher in his way. Mr. Pepperall said he was a hopeless loafer and spent more time deciding whether he'd ought to do this or that than it would have taken to do 'em both twice. Whereupon Mrs. Pepperall, whose maiden name was Boody--daughter of Mrs. Ex-County-Clerk Boody--would remind her husband that he was only a Pepperall, after all, while her son was at least half Boody. Whereupon her husband would remind her of certain things about the Boodys. And so it would go. But that was other mornings. This was this morning.
Among all the homes that the sun looked upon--or would have looked upon if it could have looked upon anything and if it hadn't been raining and the Pepperall roof had not been impervious to light, though not to moisture--among them all, surely the Pepperall reveille would have been the least attractive. Homer never got his picture of rosy-fingered Aurora smilingly leaping out of the couch of night from any such home as the Pepperalls' in Carthage.
Serina was as unlike Aurora as possible. Aurora is usually poised on tiptoe, with her well-manicured nails gracefully extended, and nothing much about her except a chariot and more or less chiffon, according to whether the picture is for families or bachelors.
Serina was entirely surrounded by flannelette, of simple and pitilessly chaste design--a hole at the top for her head to go through and a larger one at the other extreme for her feet to stick out at. But it was so long that you couldn't have seen her feet if you had been there. And Papa Pepperall, who was there, was no longer interested in those once exciting ankles. They had been more interesting when there had been less of them. But we'd better talk about the sleeves.
The sleeves were so long that they kept falling into the water where Serina was making a hasty toilet at the little marble-topped altar to cleanliness which the Pepperalls called the "worsh-stand"--that is, the "hand-wash-basin," as Mrs. Hippisley called it after she came back from her never-to-be-forgotten trip to England.
But then Serina's sleeves had always been falling into the suds, and ever since she could remember she had rolled them up again with that peculiar motion with which people roll up sleeves. This morning, having failed to elicit papa from the bed by persuasion, she made such a racket about her ablutions that he lifted his dreary lids at last. He realized that it was morning, Monday, and raining. It irritated him so that he glared at his faithful wife with no fervor for her unsullied and unwearied--if not altogether unwearisome--devotion. He watched her roll up those sleeves thrice more. Somehow he wanted to scream at the futility of it. But he checked the impulse partly, and it was with softness that he made a comment he had choked back for years. "Serina--" he began.
"Well," she returned, pausing with the soap clenched in one hand.
He spoke with the luxurious leisureliness and the pauses for commas of a nearly educated man lolling too long abed:
"Serina, it has just occurred to me that, since we have been married, you have expended, on rolling back those everlastingly relapsing sleeves of yours, enough energy to have rolled the Sphinx of Egypt up on top of the Pyramid of Cheops."
Serina was so surprised that she shot the slippery soap under the wash-stand. She went right after it. There may be nymphs who can stalk a cake of soap under a wash-stand with grace, but Serina was not one of them. Her indolent spouse made another cynical comment:
"Don't do that! You look like the Goddess of Liberty trying to peek into the Subway."
But she did not hear him. She was rummaging for the soap and for an answer to his first remark. At length she emerged with both. She stood up and panted.
"Well, I can't see as it would 'a' done me any good if I had have!"
"Had have what?" her husband yawned, having forgotten his original remark.
"Got the Sphinnix on top of the Cheops. And besides, I've been meaning to hem them up; but now that you've gone bankrupt again, and I have to do my own cooking and all--"
"But, my dear Serina, you've said the same thing ever since we were married. What frets me is to think of the terrible waste of labor with nothing to show for it."
She sniffed, and retorted with all the superiority of the unsuccessful wife of an unsuccessful husband:
"Well, I can't see as you're so smart. Ever since we been married you been goin' to that stationery-store of yours, and you never learned enough to keep from going bankrupt three times. And now they've shut the shop, and you've nothing better to do than lay in bed and make fun of me that have slaved for you and your children."
They were always his children when she talked of the trouble they were. Her all too familiar oration was interrupted by the eel-like leap of the soap. This time it described a graceful arc that landed it under the middle of the bed--a double bed at that.
Pepperall had the gallantry to pursue it. He went head first over the starboard quarter of the deck, leaving his feet aboard. Just as he tagged the soap with his fingers his feet came on over after him, and he found himself flat on his back, with his head under the bed and his feet under the bureau.
When the thunder of his downfall had subsided he heard Serina say, "Now that you're up you better stay up."
So he wriggled out from under and got himself aloft, rubbing his indignant back. If Serina was no Aurora rising from the sea, her husband was no Phoebus Apollo. His gown looked like hers, only younger. It had a frivolous little pocket, and the slit-skirt effect on both sides; and it was cut what is called "misses' length," disclosing two of the least attractive shins in Carthage.
He was aching all over and he was angry, and he snarled as he stood at the wash-stand:
"Have you finished with this water?"
"Yes," she said, muffledly, from the depths of a face-towel.
"Why don't you ever empty the bowl then?" he growled, and viciously tilted the contents into the--must I say the awful word?--the slop-jar--what other word is there?
The water splashed over and struck the bare feet of both icily. They yowled and danced like Piute Indians, and glared at each other as they danced. They glared in a nagged rage that would have turned into an ugly quarrel if a great sorrow had not suddenly overswept them. They saw themselves as they were and by a whim of memory they remembered what they had been. He laughed bitterly:
"It's the first time we've danced together in a long time, eh?"
Her lower lip began to quiver and swell quite independently and she sighed:
"Not much like the dances we used to dance. Oh dear!"
She dropped into a chair and stared, not at her husband, but at the bridegroom of long ago he had shriveled from. She remembered those honeymoon mornings when they had awakened like eager children and laughed and romped and been glad of the new day. The mornings had been precious then, for it was a tragedy to let him go to his shop, as it was a festival to watch from the porch in the evening till he came round the corner and waved to her.
She looked from him to herself, to what she could see of herself--it was not all, but more than enough. She saw her heavy red hands and the coarse gown over her awkward knees, and the dismal slovenliness of her attitude. She felt that he was remembering the slim, wild, sweet girl he had married. And she was ashamed before his eyes, because she had let the years prey upon her and had lazily permitted beauty to escape from her--from her body, her face, her motions, her thoughts.
She felt that for all her prating of duty she had committed a great wickedness lifelong. She wondered if this were not "the unpardonable sin," whose exact identity nobody had seemed to decide--to grow strangers with beauty and to forget grace.
Whatever her husband may have been thinking, he had the presence of mind to hide his eyes in the water he had poured from the pitcher. He scooped it up now in double handfuls. He made a great splutter and soused his face in the bowl, and scrubbed the back of his neck and behind his ears and his bald spot, and slapped his eminent collar-bones with his wet hand. And then he was bathed.
Serina pulled on her stockings, and hated them and the coarser feet they covered. She opened the wardrobe door as a screen, less from modesty for herself than from sudden disgust of her old corset and her all too sober lingerie. She resolved that she would hereafter deck herself with more of that coquetry which had abruptly returned to her mind as a wife's most solemn duty.
Then she remembered that they were poorer than they ever had been. Now they could not even run into debt again; for who would give them further credit, since their previous bills had been canceled by nothing more satisfactory than the grim "Received payment" of the bankruptcy court?
It was too late for her to reform. Her song was sung. And as for buying frills and fallals, there were two daughters to provide for and a son who was growing into the stratum of foppery. With a sigh of dismissal she flung on her old wrapper, whose comfortableness she suddenly despised, and made her escape, murmuring, "I'll call the childern."
She pounded on the boy's door, and Horace eventually answered with his regular program of uncouth noises, like some one protesting against being strangled to death. These were followed by moans of woe, and then by far-off-sounding promises of "Oh, aw ri', I'm git'nup."
Serina moved on to her youngest daughter's door. She had tapped but once when it was opened by "the best girl that ever lived," according to her father; and according to her mother, "a treasure; never gave me a bit of trouble--plain, of course, but so willing!"
Ollie was fully dressed and so was her room, except for the bed, the covers of which were thrown back like a wave breaking over the footboard. In fact, after Ollie had kissed her mother she informed her that the kitchen fire was made, the wash-boiler on, and the breakfast going.
"You are a treasure!" Serina sighed.
She passed on to the door of Prue. Prue was the second daughter. Rosie, the eldest, had married Tom Milford and moved away. She was having troubles of her own, and children with a regularity that led Serina to dislike Tom Milford more than ever.
Serina knocked several times at Prue's door without response. Then she went in as she always had to. Prue was still asleep, and her yesterday's clothes seemed to be asleep, too, in all sorts of attitudes and all sorts of places. The only regularity about the room was the fact that every single thing was out of place. The dressing-table held a little chaos, including one stocking. The other stocking was on the floor. One silken garter glowed in the southeast corner and one in the northwest. One shoe reclined in the southwest corner and the other gaped in the northeast. But they were pretty shoes.
Her frock was in a heap, but it suggested a heap of flowers. Hair-ribbons and ribboned things and a crumpled sash bedecked the carpet. But the prettiest thing of all was the head half fallen from the pillow and half smothered in the tangled skeins of hair. One arm was bent back over her brow to shut out the sunlight and the other arm dangled to the floor. There was something adorable about the round chin nestling in the soft throat. Her chin seemed to frown with a lovable sullenness. There was a mysterious grace in the very sprawl vaguely outlined by the long wrinkles and ridges of the blankets.
Serina shook her head over Prue in a loving despair. She was the bad boy of the family, impatient, exacting, hot-tempered, stormy, luxurious, yet never monotonous.
"You can always put your hand on Ollie," Serina would say; "but you never know where Prue is from one minute to the next."
Consequently Ollie was not interesting and Prue was.
They were all afraid of Prue and afraid for her. They all toadied to her and she kept them excited--alarmed, perhaps; angry, oh yes; but never bored.
And there were rewards in her service, too, for she could be as stormy with affection as with mutiny. Sometimes she would attack Serina with such gusts of gratitude or admiration that her mother would cry for help. She would squeeze her father's ribs till he gasped for breath. When she was pleased she would dance about the house like a whirling maenad with ululations of ecstasy. These crises were sharp, but they left a sweet taste in the memory.
So Prue had the best clothes and did the least work. Prue was sent off to boarding-school in Chicago, though she had never been able to keep up with her classes in Carthage; while Ollie--who took first prizes till even the goody-goody boys hated her--stayed at home. She had dreamed of being a teacher in the High, but she never mentioned it, and she studied bookkeeping and stenography in the business college so that she could help her father.
Prue had not been home long and had come home with bad grace. When her father had found it impossible to borrow more money even to pay his clerks, to say nothing of boarding-school bills, he had to write the truth to Prue. He told her to come again to Carthage.
She did not come back at once and she refused to explain why. As a matter of fact, she had desperately endeavored to find a permanent job in Chicago. It was easy for so attractive a girl to get jobs, but it was hard for so domineering a soul to keep one. She was regretfully bounced out of three department stores in six days for "sassing" the customers and the aisle-manager.
She even tried the theater. She was readily accepted by a stage-manager, but when he found that he could not teach her the usual figures or persuade her to keep in step or line with the rest he regretfully let her go.
It was the regularity of it that stumped Prue. She could dance like a ballerina by herself, but she could not count "one-two-three-four" twice in succession. The second time it was "o-o-one-t'threeee-f'r" and next it would be "onety-thry-fo-o-our."
Prue hung about Chicago, getting herself into scrapes by her charm and fighting her way out of them by her ferocious pride. Finally she went hungry and came home. When she learned the extent of her father's financial collapse she delivered tirades against the people of Carthage and she sang him up as a genius. And then she sought escape from the depression at home by seeking what gaiety Carthage afforded. She made no effort to master the typewriter and she declined to sell dry-goods.
Serina stood and studied the sleeping girl, that strange wild thing she had borne and had tried in vain to control. She thought how odd it was that in the mystic transmission of her life she had given all the useful virtues to Ollie and none of them to Prue. She wondered what she had been thinking of to make such a mess of motherhood. And what could she do to correct the oversight? Ollie did not need restraint, and Prue would not endure it. She stood aloof, afraid to waken the girl to the miseries of existence in a household where every day was blue Monday now.
Ollie had not waited to be called. Ollie had risen betimes and done all the work that could be done, and stood ready to do whatever she could. Prue was still aloll on a bed of ease. Even to waken her was to waken a March wind. The moment she was up she would have everybody running errands for her. She would be lavish in complaint and parsimonious of help. And yet she was a dear! She did enjoy her morning sleep so well. It would be a pity to disturb her. The rescuing thought came to Serina that Prue loved to take a long hot bath on Monday mornings, because on wash-day there was always a plenty of hot water in the bathroom. On other mornings the hot-water faucet suffered from a distressing cough and nothing more.
So she tiptoed out and closed the door softly.
At breakfast Ollie waited on the table after compelling Serina to sit down and eat. There was little to tempt the appetite and no appetite to be tempted.
Papa was in the doldrums. He had always complained before of having to gulp his breakfast and hurry to the shop. And now he complained because there was no hurry; indeed, there was no shop. He must set out at his time of years, after his life of independent warfare, to ask for enlistment as a private in some other man's company--in a town where vacancies rarely occurred and where William Pepperall would not be welcome.
The whole town was mad at him. He had owed everybody, and then suddenly he owed nobody. By the presto-change-o of bankruptcy his debts had been passed from the hat of unpaid bills to the hat of worthless accounts.
Serina was as dismal as any wife is when she is faced with the prospect of having her man hanging about the house all day. A wife in a man's office hours is a nuisance, but a man at home in household office hours is a pest. This was the newest but not the least of Serina's woes.
Horace was even glummer than ever, as soggy as his own oatmeal. At best he was one of those breakfast bruins. Now he was a bear that has been hit on the nose. He, too, must seek a job. School had seemed confining before, but now that he must go to work, school seemed like one long recess.
Even Ollie was depressed. Hers was the misery of an active person denied activity. She had prepared herself as an aid in her father's business, and now he had no business. In this alkali desert of inanition Prue's vivacious temper would have been welcome.
"Where's Prue?" said papa for the fifth time.
Serina was about to say that she was still asleep when Prue made her presence known. Everybody was apprised that the water had been turned on in the bathroom; it resounded throughout the house. It seemed to fall about one's head.
Prue was filling the tub for her Monday morning siesta. She was humming a strange tune over the cascade like another Minnehaha. And from the behavior of the dining-room chandelier and the plates on the sideboard she was evidently dancing.
"What's that toon she's dancing to?" papa asked, after a while.
"I don't know," said Serina.
"I never heard it," said Ollie.
"Ah," growled Horace, "it's the Argentine tango."
"The tango!" gasped papa. "Isn't that the new dance I've been reading about, that's making a sensation in New York?"
"Ah, wake up, pop!" said Horace. "It's a sensation here, too."
"In Carthage? They're dancing the tango in our home town?"
"Surest thing you know, pop. The whole burg's goin' bug over it."
"How is it done? What is it like?"
"Something like this," said Horace, and, rising, he indulged in the prehistoric turkey-trot of a year ago, with burlesque hip-snaps and poultry-yard scrapings of the foot.
"Stop it!" papa thundered. "It's loathsome! Do you mean to tell me that my daughter does that sort of thing?"
"Sure! She's a wonder at it."
"What scoundrel taught my poor child such--such--Who taught her, I say?"
"Gosh!" sniffed Horace, "sis don't need teachin'. She's teachin' the rest of 'em. They're crazy about her."
"Teaching others! My g-g-goodness! Where did she learn?"
"Chicago, I guess."
"Oh, the wickedness of these cities and the foreigners that are dragging our American homes down to their own level!"
"I guess the foreigners got nothin' on us," said Horace. "It's a Namerican dance."
"What are we coming to? Go tell Prue to come here at once. I'll put a stop to that right here and now."
Serina gave him one searing glance, and he understood that he could not deliver his edict to Prue yet awhile. He heard her singing even more barbaric strains. The chandelier danced with a peculiar savagery, then the dance was evidently quenched and subdued. Awestruck yowls from above indicated that Prue was in hot water.
"This is the last straw!" groaned papa, with all the wretchedness of a father learning that his daughter was gone to the bad.
Prue did not appear below-stairs for so long that her father had lost his magnificent running start by the time she sauntered in all sleek and shiny and asked for her food. She brought a radiant grace into the dull gray room; and Serina whispered to Will to let her have her breakfast first.
She and Ollie waited on Prue, while the father paced the floor, stealing sidelong glances at her, and wondering if it were possible that so sweet a thing should be as vicious as she would have to be to tango.
When she had scoured her plate and licked her spoon with a child-like charm her father began to crank up his throat for a tirade. He began with the reluctant horror of a young attorney cross-examining his first murderer:
"Prue--I want to--to--er--Prue, do you--did you--ever--This--er--this tango business--Prue--have you--do you--er--What do you know about it?"
"Well, of course, papa, they change it so fast on you it's hard to keep up with it, but I was about three days ahead of Chicago when I left there. I met with a man who had just stepped off the twenty-hour train and I learned all he knew before I turned him loose."
In a strangled tone the father croaked, "You dance it, then?"
"You bet! Papa, stand up and I'll show you the very newest roll. It's a peach. Put your weight on your right leg. Say, it's a shame we haven't a phonograph! Don't you suppose you could afford a little one? I could have you all in fine form in no time. And it would be so good for mamma."
Papa fell back into a chair with just strength enough to murmur, "I want you to promise me never to dance it again."
"Don't be foolish, you dear old bump-on-a-log!"
"I forbid you to dance it ever again."
She laughed uproariously: "Listen at the old Skeezicks! Get up here and I'll show you the cutest dip."
When at last he grew angry, and made her realize it, she flared into a tumult of mutiny that drove him out into the rain. He spent the day looking for a job without finding one. Horace came home wet and discouraged with the same news. Ollie, the treasure, however, announced that she had obtained a splendid position as typist in Judge Hippisley's office, at a salary of thirty dollars a month.
William was overjoyed, but Serina protested bitterly. She and Mrs. Judge Hippisley had been bitter social rivals for twenty years. They had fought each other with teas and euchre parties and receptions from young wifehood to middle-aged portliness. And now her daughter was to work in that hateful Anastasia Hippisley's old fool of a husband's office? Well, hardly!
"It's better than starving," said Ollie, and for once would not be coerced, though even her disobedience was on the ground of service. After she had cleared the table and washed the dishes she set out for her room, lugging a typewriter she had borrowed to brush up her speed on.
Prue had begged off from even wiping the dishes, because she had to dress. As Ollie started up-stairs to her task she was brought back by the door-bell. She ushered young Orton Hippisley into the parlor. He had come to take Prue to a dance.
When papa heard this mamma had to hold her hand over his mouth to keep him from making a scene. He was for kicking young Hippisley out of the house.
"And lose me my job?" gasped Ollie.
The overpowered parent whispered his determination to go up-stairs and forbid Prue to leave. He went up-stairs and forbade her, but she went right on binding her hair with Ollie's best ribbon. In the midst of her father's peroration she kissed him good-by and danced down-stairs in Ollie's new slippers. Her own had been trotted into shreds.
Papa sat fuming all evening. He would not go to bed till Prue came home to the ultimatum he was preparing for her. From above came the tick-tock-tock of Ollie's typewriter. It got on his nerves, like rain on a tin roof.
"To think of it--Ollie up-stairs working her fingers to the bone to help us out, and Prue dancing her feet off disgracing us! To think that one of our daughters should be so good and one so bad!"
"I can't believe that our little Prue is really bad," Serina sighed.
"Yet girls do go wrong, don't they?" her husband groaned. "This morning's paper prints a sermon about the tango. Reverend Doctor What's-his-name, the famous New York newspaper preacher, tears the whole tango crowd to pieces. He points out that the tango is the cause of the present-day wickedness, the ruin of the home!"
Serina was dismal and terrified, but from force of habit she took the opposite side.
"Oh, they were complaining of divorces long before the tango was ever heard of. That same preacher used to blame them on the bicycle, then on the automobile and the movies. And now it's the tango. It'll be flying-machines next."
Papa was used to fighting with mamma, and he roared with fine leoninity: "Are you defending your daughter's shamelessness? Do you approve of the tango?"
"I've never seen it."
"Then it must be just because you always encourage your children to flout my authority. I never could keep any discipline because you always fought for them, encouraged them to disobey their father, to--to--to--"
She chanted her responses according to the familiar family antipathy antiphony. They talked themselves out eventually; but Prue was not home. Ollie gradually typewrote herself to sleep and Prue was not home. Horace came in from the Y. M. C. A. bowling-alley and went to bed, and Prue was not home.
The old heads nodded. The sentinels slept. At some dimly distant time papa woke with a start and inquired, "Huh?"
Mamma jumped and gasped, "Who?"
They were shivering with the after-midnight chill of the cold room, and Prue was not home. Papa snapped his watch open and snapped it shut; and the same to his jaw:
"Two o'clock! And Prue not home. I'm going after her!"
He thrust into his overcoat, slapped his hat on his aching head, flung open the door. And Prue came home.
She was alone! And in tears!
As papa's overcoat slid off his arms and his hat off his head she tore down her gloves, tossed her cloak in the direction of the hat-tree and stumbled up the stairs, sobbing. Her mother caught her hand.
"What's the matter, honey?"
Prue wrenched loose and went on up.
Father and mother stared at her, then at each other, then at the floor. Each read the same unspeakable fear in the other's soul. Serina ran up the stairs as fast as she could. William automatically locked the doors and windows, turned out the lights, and followed.
He paused in the upper hall to listen. Prue was explaining at last.
"It's that Orton Hippisley," Prue sobbed.
"What--what has he done?" Serina pleaded, and Prue sobbed on:
"Oh, he got fresh! Some of these fellas in this town think that because a girl likes to have a good time and knows how to dance they can get fresh with her. I didn't like the way Ort Hippisley held me and I told him. Finally I wouldn't dance any more with him. I gave his dances to Grant Beadle till the last; then Ort begged so hard I said all right. And he danced like a gentleman. But on the way home he--he put his arm round me. And when I told him to take it away he wouldn't. He said I had been in his arms half the evening before folks, and if I hadn't minded then I oughtn't to mind now. And I said: 'Is that so? Well, it's mighty different when you're dancing.' And he said, 'Oh no, it isn't,' and I said, 'Oh yes, it is.' And he tried to kiss me and I hauled off and smashed him right in the nose. It bloodied all over his dress soot, and I'm glad of it."
Somehow Papa Pepperall felt such an impulse to give three cheers that he had to put his own hand over his mouth. He tiptoed to his room, and when mamma appeared to announce with triumph, "I guess Prue hasn't gone to the bad yet," papa said: "Who said she had? Prue is the finest girl in America!"
"I thought you were saying--"
"Why can't you ever once get me right? I was saying that Prue is too fine a girl to be allowed to mingle with that tango set. I'm going to cowhide that Hippisley cub. And Prue's not going to another one of those dances."
But he didn't. And she did.
Ollie was up betimes the next morning to get breakfast and make haste to her office. She was so excited that she dropped a stove-lid on the coalscuttle just as her mother appeared.
"For mercy's sake, less noise!" Serina whispered. "You'll wake poor Prue!"
Ollie next dropped the tray she had just unloaded on the table. Serina was furious. Ollie whispered:
"I'm so nervous for fear I've lost my job at Judge Hippisley's, now that Prue had to go and slap Orton."
"Always thinking of yourself," was Serina's rebuke. "Don't be so selfish!"
But Ollie's fears were wasted. Orton Hippisley might have boasted of kisses he did not get, but not of the slaps that he did. He had gained a new respect for Prue, and at the first opportunity pleaded for forgiveness, eying her little fist the while. He begged her to go with him to a dance at his home that evening.
She forgave him for the sake of the invitation--and she glided and dipped at the judge's house while Ollie spent the evening in his office trying to finish the day's work. Her speed was not yet up to requirements. Prue's speed was.
Other girls watched Prue manipulating her members in the intricate mechanisms of the latest dances. They begged her to teach them, but she laughed and said: "It's easy. Just watch what I do and do the same."
So Raphael told his pupils and Napoleon his subordinates.
That night Ollie and Prue reached home at nearly the same time. Ollie told how well she was getting along in the judge's office. Prue told how she had made wall-flowers of everybody else in Mrs. Hippisley's parlor. Let those who know a mother's heart decide which daughter Serina was the prouder of, the good or the bad.
She told William about it--how Ollie had learned to type letters with both hands and how Prue got there with both feet. And papa said, "She's a great girl!"
And that was singular.
A few mornings later Judge Hippisley stopped William on the street and spoke in his best bench manner:
"Will, I hate to speak about your daughter, but I've got to."
"Why, Judge, what's Ollie done? Isn't she fast enough?"
"Ollie's all right. I'm speaking of Prue. She's entirely too fast. I want you to tell her to let my son alone."
"My boy was clerking in Beadle's hardware-store, learning the business and earning twelve dollars a week. And now he spends half his time dancing with that dam--daughter of yours. And Beadle is going to fire him if he doesn't 'tend to business better."
"I--I'll speak to Prue," was all Pepperall dared to say. The judge had too many powers over him to be talked back to.
Papa spoke to Prue and it amused her very much. She said that old Mr. Beadle had better speak to his own boy, who was Orton's fiercest rival at the dances. And as for the fat old judge, he'd better take up dancing himself.
The following Sunday three of the Carthage preachers attacked the tango. One of them used for his text Matthew xiv:6, and the other used Mark vi:22. Both told how John the Baptist had lost his head over Salome's dancing. Doctor Brearley chose Isaiah lix:7 "Their feet run to evil ... their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths."
Mr. and Mrs. Pepperall and Ollie sat under Doctor Brearley. Prue had slept too late to be present. Doctor Brearley blamed so many of the evils of the world on the tango craze that if a visitor from Mars had dropped into a pew he might have judged that the world had been an Eden till the tango came. But then Doctor Brearley had always blamed old things on new things.
It was a ferocious sermon, however, and the wincing Pepperalls felt that it was aimed directly at them. When Doctor Brearley denounced modern parents for their own godlessness and the irreligion of their homes, William took the blame to himself. On his way home he announced his determination to resume the long-neglected family custom of reading from the Bible.
After the heavy Sabbath dinner had been eaten--Prue was up in time for this rite--he gathered his little flock in the parlor for a solemn while. It had been his habit to choose the reading of the day at random--he called it "letting the Lord decide." The big rusty-hinged Bible fell open with a loud puff of dust several years old. Papa adjusted his spectacles and read what he found before him:
"Nehemiah x: 'Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah, the Tirshatha, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush ...'" He began to breathe hard. He was lost in an impenetrable forest of names, and he could not pronounce one of them. He sneaked a peek ahead, dimly made out "Bunni, Hizkijah, Magpiash and Hashub," and choked.
It looked like sacrilege, but he ventured to close the Book and open it once more.
This time he happened on the last chapter of the Book of Judges, wherein is the chronicle of the plight of the tribe of Benjamin, which could not get women to marry into it. The wife famine of the Benjamites was not in the least interesting to Mr. Pepperall, but he would not tempt the Lord again. So he read on, while the children yawned and shuffled, Prue especially.
Suddenly Prue sat still and listened, and papa's cough grew worse. He was reading about the "feast of the Lord in Shiloh yearly," and how the elders of the congregation ordered the children of Benjamin to go and lie in wait in the vineyards.
"'And see, and behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh....
"'And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they caught: and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and repaired the cities, and dwelt in them....
"'In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes."
He closed the Book and stole a glance at Prue. Her eyes were so bright with triumph that he had to say:
"Of course that proves nothing about dancing. It doesn't say that the Shiloh girls made good wives."
Prue had the impudence to add, "And it doesn't say that the sons of Benjamin were good dancers."
Her father silenced her with a scowl of horror. Then he made a long prayer, directed more at his family than at the Lord. It apparently had an equal effect on each. After a hymn had been mumbled through the family dispersed.
Prue lingered just long enough to capture the Bible and carry it off to her room in a double embrace. Serina and William tried to be glad to see her sudden interest, but they were a little afraid of her exact motive.
She made no noise at all and did not come down in time to help get supper--the sad, cold supper of a Sunday evening. She slipped into the dining-room just before the family was called. Papa found at his plate a neat little stack of cards, bearing each a carefully lettered legend in Prue's writing. He picked them up, glanced at them, and flushed.
"I dare you to read them," said Prue.
So he read: "'To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven ... a time to mourn and a time to dance.... He hath made every thing beautiful in his time.' Ecclesiastes iii.
"'Let them praise his name in the dance ... for the Lord taketh pleasure in his people.... Praise him with the timbrel and dance.... Praise him upon the loud cymbals.' Psalms cxlix, cl.
"'O virgin of Israel ... thou shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry.... Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together.' Jeremiah xxxi.
"'We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced.' Matthew xi: 17.
"'Michal, Saul's daughter, looked through a window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.... Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.' II Samuel vi: 16, 23."
Papa did not fall back upon the Shakesperean defense that the devil can quote Scripture to his purpose. He choked a little and filled his hand with the apple-butter he was spreading on his cold biscuit. Then he said:
"It's not that I don't believe in dancing. I don't say all dances are immor'l."
"You better not," said Serina, darkly. "You met me at a dance. We used to dance all the time till you got so's you wouldn't take me to parties any more. And you got so clumsy and I began to take on flesh, and ran short of breath like."
"Oh, there's mor'l dances as well as immor'l dances," William confessed, not knowing the history of the opposition every dance has encountered in its younger days. "The waltz now, or the lancers or the Virginia reel. Even the two-step was all right. But this turkey-trot-tango business--it's goin' to be the ruination of the home. It isn't fit for decent folks to look at, let alone let their daughters do. I want you should quit it, Prue. If you need exercise help your mother with the housework. You go and tango round with a broom awhile. I don't see why you don't try to help your sister, too, and make something useful of yourself. I tell you, in these days a woman ought to be able to earn her own living same's a man. You could get a good position in Shillaber's dry-goods store if you only would."
Prue wriggled her shoulders impatiently and said: "I guess I'm one of those Shiloh girls. I'll just dance round awhile, and maybe some rich Benjamin gent'man will grab me and take me off your hands."
One evening Prue came home late to supper after a session at Bertha Appleby's. An informal gathering had convened under the disguise of a church-society meeting, only to degenerate into a dancing-bee after a few perfunctory formalities.
Prue had just time to seize a bite before she went to dress for a frankly confessed dancing-bout at Eliza Erf's. As she ate with angry voracity she complained:
"I guess I'll just quit going to dances. I don't have a bit of fun any more."
Her father started from his chair to embrace the returned prodigal, but he dropped into Ollie's place as Prue exclaimed:
"Everybody is always at me for help. 'Prue, is this right?' 'Prue, teach me that.' 'Oh, what did you do then?' 'Is it the inside foot or the outside you start on?' 'Do you drop on the front knee or the hind?' 'Do you do the Innovation?' Why, it's worse than teaching school!"
"Why don't you teach school?" said William, feebly. "There's going to be a vacancy in the kindergarten."
Prue sniffed. "I see myself!" And went to her room to dress.
Her father sank back discouraged. What ailed the girl? She simply would not take life seriously. She would not lift her hand to help. When they were so poor and the future so dour, how could she keep from earning a little money? Was she condemned to be altogether useless, shiftless, unprofitable? A weight about her father's neck till he could shift her to the neck of some unhappy husband?
He remembered the fable of the ant and the locust. Prue was the locust, frivoling away the summer. At the first cold blast she would be pleading with the industrious ant, Ollie, to take her in. In the fable the locust was turned away to freeze, but you couldn't do that with a human locust. The ants just have to feed them. Poor Ollie!
Munching this quinine cud of thought, he went up to bed. He was footsore from tramping the town for work. He had covered almost as much distance as Prue had danced. He was all in. She was just going out.
She kissed him good night, but he would not answer. She went to kiss her mother and Ollie and Horace. Ollie was practising shorthand, and kissed Prue with sorrowing patience. Horace dodged the kiss, but called her attention to an article in the evening paper:
"Say, Prue, if you want to get rich quick whyn't you charge for your tango advice? Says here that teachers are springing up all over Noo York and Chicawgo, and they get big, immense prices."
"How much?" said Prue, indifferently.
"Says here twenty-five dollars an hour. Some of 'em's earning a couple of thousand dollars a week."
This information went through the room like a projectile from a coast-defense gun. Serina listened with bated breath as Horace read the confirmation. She shook her head:
"It beats all the way vice pays in this world."
Horace read on. The article described how some of the most prominent women in metropolitan society were sponsoring the dances. A group of ladies, whose names were more familiar to Serina than the Christian martyrs, had rented a whole dwelling-house for a dancing couple to disport in, so that the universal amusement could be practised exclusively.
That settled Serina. Whatever Mrs. ---- and Miss ---- and the mother of the Duchess of ---- did was better than right. It was swell.
Prue's frown now was the frown of meditation. "If they charge twenty-five dollars an hour in New York, what ought to be the price in Carthage?"
"About five cents a week," said Serina, who did not approve of Carthage. "Nobody in this town would pay anything for anything."
"We used to pay old Professor Durand to teach us to waltz and polka," said Horace, "in the good old days before pop got the bankruptcy habit."
That night Prue made an experiment. She danced exclusively with Ort Hippisley and Grant Beadle, the surest-footed bipeds in the town. When members of the awkward squad pleaded to cut in she danced away impishly, will-o'-the-wispishly. When the girls lifted their skirts and asked her to correct their footwork she referred them to the articles in the magazines.
She was chiefly pestered by Idalene Brearley, daughter of the clergyman, and his chief cross.
Finally Idalene Brearley tore Prue from the arms of Ort Hippisley, backed her into a corner, and said:
"Say, Prue, you've got to listen! I'm invited to visit the swellest home in Council Bluffs for a house-party. They call it a week-end; that shows how swell they are. They're going to dance all the time. When it comes to these new dances I'm weak at both ends, head and feet." She laughed shamelessly at her own joke, as women do. "I don't want to go there like I'd never been any place, or like Carthage wasn't up to date. I'm just beginning to get the hang of the Maxixe and the Hesitation, and I thought if you could give me a couple of days' real hard work I wouldn't be such an awful gump. Could you? Do you suppose you could? Or could you?"
Prue looked such astonishment at this that Idalene hastened to say:
"O' course I'm not asking you to kill yourself for nothing. How much would you charge? Of course I haven't much saved up; but I thought if I took two lessons a day you could make me a special rate. How much would it be, d'you s'pose? Or what do you think?"
Prue wondered. This was a new and thrilling moment for her. A boy is excited enough over the first penny he earns, but he is brought up to earn money. To a girl, and a girl like Prue, the luxury was almost intolerably intense. She finally found voice to murmur:
"How much you gettin' for the lessons you give?"
Idalene had, for the sake of pin money, been giving a few alleged lessons in piano, voice, water-colors, bridge whist, fancy stitching, brass-hammering, and things like that. She answered Prue with reluctance:
"I get fifty cents an hour. But o' course I make a specialty of those things."
"I'm making a specialty of dancing," said Prue, coldly.
Idalene was torn between the bitterly opposite emotions of getting and giving. Prue tried to speak with indifference, but she looked as greedy as the old miser in the "Chimes of Normandy."
"Fifty cents suits me, seeing it's you."
Idalene gasped: "Well, o' course, two lessons a day would be a dollar. Could you make it six bits by wholesale?"
Prue didn't see how she could. Teaching would interfere so with her amusements. Finally Idalene sighed:
"Oh, well, all right! Call it fifty cents straight. When can I come over to your house?"
"To my house?" gasped Prue. "Papa doesn't approve of my dancing. I'll come to yours."
"Oh no, you won't," gasped Idalene. "My father doesn't dream that I dance. I'm going to let him sleep as long as I can."
Here was a plight! Mrs. Judge Hippisley strolled up and demanded, "What's all this whispering about?"
They explained their predicament. Mrs. Hippisley thought it was a perfectly wonderful idea to take lessons. She would let Prue teach Idalene in her parlor if Prue would teach her at the same time for nothing.
"Unless you think I'm too old and stupid to learn," she added, fishingly.
Prue put a catfish on her hook: "Oh, Mrs. Hippisley, I've seen women much older and fatter and stupider than you dancing in Chicago."
While the hours of tuition were being discussed Bertha Appleby tiptoed up to eavesdrop, and pleaded to be accepted as a pupil. And she forced on the timorous Prue a quarter as her matriculation fee.
Orton Hippisley beau'd Prue home that night, and they paused in an arcade of maples to practise a new step she had been composing in the back of her head.
He was an apt pupil, and when they had resumed their homeward stroll she neglected to make him take his arm away. Encouraged, he tried to kiss her when they reached the gate. She cuffed him again, but this time her buffet was almost a caress. She sighed:
"I can't get very mad at you, you're such a quick student. I hope your mother will learn as fast."
"My mother!" he exclaimed.
"Yes. She wants me to teach her the one-step."
"Don't you dare!"
"And why not?" she asked, with sultry calm.
"Do you think I'll let my mother carry on like that? Well, hardly!"
"Oh, so what I do isn't good enough for your mother!"
"I don't mean just that; but can't you see--Wait a minute--"
She slammed the gate on his outstretched fingers and he went home fondling his wound.
The next day he strolled by the parlor door at his own home, but Prue would not speak to him and his mother was too busy to invite him in. It amazed him to see how humble his haughty mother was before the hitherto neglected Prue.
Prue would have felt sorrier for him if she had not been so exalted over her earnings.
She had not let on at home about her class till she could lay the proof of her success on the supper-table. When she stacked up the entire two dollars that she had earned by only a few miles of trotting, it looked like the loot the mercenaries captured in that old Carthage which the new Carthage had never heard of.
The family was aghast. It was twice as much as Ollie had earned that day. Ollie's money "came reg'lar," of course, and would total up more in the long run.
But for Prue to earn anything was a miracle. And in Carthage two dollars is two dollars, at the very least.
The news that Carthage had a tango-teacher created a sensation rivaling the advent of its first street-car. It gave the place a metropolitan flavor. If it only had a slums district, now, it would be a great and gloriously wicked city.
Prue was fairly besieged with applicants for lessons. Those who could dance a few steps wanted the new steps. Those who could not dance at all wanted to climb aboard the ark.
Mrs. Hippisley's drawing-room did not long serve its purpose. On the third day the judge stalked in. He came home with a chill. At the sight of his wife with one knee up, trying to paw like a horse, his chill changed to fever. His roar was heard in the kitchen. He was so used to domineering that he was not even afraid of his wife when he was in the first flush of rage.
Prue and Idalene and Bertha he would have sentenced to deportation if he had had the jurisdiction. He could at least send them home. He threatened his wife with dire punishments if she ever took another step of the abominable dance.
Prue was afraid of the judge, but she was not afraid of her own father. She told him that she was going to use the parlor, and he told her that she wasn't. The next day he came home to find the class installed.
He peeked into the parlor and saw Bertha Appleby dancing with Idalene Brearley. Prue was in the arms of old "Tawm" Kinch, the town scoundrel, a bald and wealthy old bachelor who had lingered uncaught like a wise old trout in a pool, though generations of girls had tried every device, from whipping the' stream to tickling his sides. He had refused every bait and lived more or less alone in the big old mansion he had inherited from his skinflint mother.
At the sight of Tawm Kinch in his parlor embracing his daughter and bungling an odious dance with her, William Pepperall saw red. He would throw the old brute out of his house. As he made his temper ready Mrs. Judge Hippisley hurried up the hall. She had walked round the block, crossed two back yards and climbed the kitchen steps to throw the judge off the scent. William could hardly make a scene before these women. He could only protest by leaving the house.
He found that, having let the outrage go unpunished, once, it was hard to work up steam to drive it out the second day. Also he remembered that he had asked Tawm Kinch for a position in his sash-and-blind factory and Tawm had said he would see about it. Attacking Tawm Kinch would be like assaulting his future bread and butter. He kept away from the house as much as he could, sulking like a punished boy. One evening as he went home to supper, purposely delaying as long as possible, he saw Tawm Kinch coming from the house. He ran down the steps like an urchin and seized William's hand as if he had not seen him for a long time.
"Take a walk with me, Bill," he said, and led William along an unfrequented side street. After much hemming and hawing he began: "Bill, I got a proposition to make you. I find there's a possibility of a p'sition openin' up in the works and maybe I could fit you into it if you'd do something for me."
William tried not to betray his overweening joy.
"I'd always do anything for you, Tawm," he said. "I always liked you, always spoke well of you, which is more 'n I can say of some of the other folks round here."
Tawm was flying too high to note the raw tactlessness of this; he went right on:
"Bill--or Mr. Pepperall, I'd better say--I'm simply dead gone on that girl of yours. She's the sweetest, smartest, gracefulest thing that ever struck this town, and when I--Well, I'm afraid to ask her m'self, but I was thinkin' if you could arrange it."
"I want to marry her. I know I'm no kid, but she could have the big house, and I can be as foolish as anybody about spending money when I've a mind to. Prue could have 'most anything she wanted and I could give you a good job. And then ever'body would be happy."
Papa did his best to be dignified and not turn a handspring or shout for joy. He was like a boy trying to look sad when he learns that the school-teacher is ill. He managed to hold back and tell Tawm Kinch that this was kind of sudden like and he'd have to talk to the wife about it, and o' course the girl would have to be considered.
He was good salesman enough not to leap at the first offer, and he left Tawm Kinch guessing at the gate of the big house. To Tawm it looked as lonely and forlorn as it looked majestic and desirable to Papa Pepperall, glancing back over his shoulder as he sauntered home with difficult deliberation. His heart was singing, "What a place to eat Sunday dinners at!"
Once out of Tawm Kinch's range, he broke into a walk that was almost a lope, and he rounded a corner into the portico that Judge Hippisley carried ahead of him. When the judge had regained his breath he seized papa by both lapels and growled:
"Look here, Pepperall, I told you to keep your daughter away from my boy, and you didn't; and now Ort has lost his job. Beadle fired him to-day. And jobs ain't easy to get in this town, as you know. And now what's going to happen?"
William Pepperall was so exultant that he tried to say two things at the same time; that Orton's job or loss of it was entirely immaterial and a matter of perfect indifference. What he said was, "It's material of perfect immaterence to me."
He spurned to correct himself and stalked on, leaving the judge gaping. A few paces off William's knees weakened at the thought of how he had jeopardized Ollie's position; but he tossed that aside with equal "immaterence," for when Prue became Mrs. Kinch she could take Ollie to live with her, or send her to school, or something.
When he reached home he drew his wife into the parlor to break the glorious news to her. She was more hilarious than he had been. All their financial problems were solved and their social position enhanced, as if the family had suddenly been elevated to the peerage.
She was on pins and needles of impatience because Prue was late for supper. She came down at last when the others had heard all about it and nearly finished their food. She had her hat on, and she was in such a hurry that she paid no attention to the fluttering of the covey, or the prolonged throat-clearing of her father, who had difficulty in keeping Serina from blurting out the end of the story first. At length he said:
"Well, Prue, I guess the tango ain't as bad as I made out."
"You going to join the class, poppa?" said Prue, round the spoonful of preserved pears she checked before her mouth.
Her father went on: "I guess you're one of those daughters of Shiloh like you said you was. And the son of Benjamin has come right out after you. And he's the biggest son of a gun in the whole tribe."
Prue put down the following spoonful and turned to her mother: "What ails poppa, momma? He talks feverish."
Serina fairly gurgled: "Prepare yourself for the grandest surprise. You'd never guess."
And William had to jump to beat her to the news: "Tawm Kinch wants to marry you."
"What makes you think so?"
"He asked me."
Serina clasped her hands and her eyes filled with tears of the rescued. "Oh, Prue, ain't it wonderful? Ain't the Lord good to us?"
Prue did not catch fire from the blaze. She sniffed, "He wasn't very good to Tawm Kinch."
William, bitter with disappointment, snapped: "What do you mean? He's the richest man in town. Some folks say he's as good as worth a hundred thousand dollars."
"Well, what of it? He'll never learn to dance. His feet interfere."
"What's dancing got to do with it? You'll stop all that foolishness after you've married Tawm."
"Oh, will I? Ort Hippisley can dance better with one foot than Tawm Kinch could dance if he was a centipede."
"Ort Hippisley! Humph! He's lost his job and he'll never get another. You couldn't marry him."
"I'm not in any hurry to marry anybody."
The reaction from hope to confusion, the rejection of the glittering gift he proffered, infuriated the hen-pecked, chickpecked father. He shrieked:
"Well, you're going to marry Tawm Kinch or you're going to get out of my house!"
"Papa!" gasped Ollie.
"Here, dad!" growled Horace.
"William!" cried Serina.
William thumped the table and rose to his full height. He had not often risen to it. And his voice had an unsuspected timbre:
"I mean it. I've been a worm in this house long enough. Here's where I turn. This girl has made me a laughing-stock and a despising-stock long enough. She can take this grand opportunity I got for her or she can pack up her duds and clear out--for good!"
He thumped the table again and sat down trembling with spent rage. Serina was so crushed under the crumbled wall of her air-castles that she could not protest. Olive and Horace felt that since Prue was so indifferent to their happiness they need not consider hers. There was a long, long silence.
The sound of a low whistle outside stole into the silence. Prue rose and said, quietly:
"Ollie, would you mind packing my things for me? I'll send over for them when I know where I'll be."
Ollie tried to answer, but her lips made no sound. Prue kissed each of the solemn faces round the table, including her father's. They might have been dead in their chairs for all their response. She paused with prophetic loneliness. That low whistle shrilled again.
She murmured a somber, "Good-by, everybody," and went out.
The door closed like a dull "Good-by." They heard her swift feet slowly crossing the porch and descending the steps. They imagined them upon the walk. They heard the old gate squeal a rusty, "Good-by-y--Prue-ue!"
It was Ort Hippisley, of course, that waited for Prue outside the gate. They swapped bad news. She had heard that he had lost his job, but not that his father had forbidden him to speak to Prue.
Her evil tidings that she had been compelled to choose between marrying Tawm Kinch and banishment from home threw Ort into a panic of dismay. He was a natural-born dancer, but not a predestined hero. He had no inspirations for crises like these. He was as graceful as a manly man could be, but he was not at his best when the hour was darkest. He was at his best when the band was playing.
In him Prue found somebody to support, not to lean on. But his distress at her distress was so complete that it endeared him to her war-like soul more than a braver quality might have done. They stood awhile thus in each other's arms like a Pierrot and his Columbine with winter coming on. Finally Orton sighed:
"What in Heaven's name is goin' to become of us? What you goin' to do, Prue? Where can you go?"
Prue's resolution asserted itself. "The first place to go is Mrs. Prosser's boardin'-house and get me a room. Then we can go on to the dance and maybe that'll give us an idea."
"But maybe Mrs. Prosser won't want you since your father's turned you out."
"In the first place it was me that turned me out. In the second place Mrs. Prosser wants 'most anybody that's got six dollars a week comin' in. And I've got that, provided I can find a room to teach in."
Mrs. Prosser welcomed Prue, not without question, not without every question she could get answered, but she made no great bones of the family war. "The best o' families quar'ls," she said. "And half the time they take their meals with me till they quiet down. I'll be losin' you soon."
Prue broached the question of a room to teach in. To Mrs. Prosser, renting a room had always the joy of renting a room. She said that her "poller" was not used much and she'd be right glad to get something for it. She would throw in the use of the pianna. Prue touched the keys. It was an old boarding-house piano and sounded like a wire fence plucked; but almost anything would serve.
So Prue and Orton hastened away to the party, and danced with the final rapture of doing the forbidden thing under an overhanging cloud of menace. Several more pupils enlisted themselves in Prue's classes. Another problem was solved and a new danger commenced by Mr. Norman Maugans.
The question of music had become serious. It was hard to make progress when the dancers had to hum their own tunes. Prue could not buy a phonograph, and the Prosser piano dated from a time when pianos did not play themselves. Prue could "tear off a few rags," as she put it, but she could not dance and teach and play her own music all at once. Mrs. Hippisley was afraid to lend her phonograph lest the judge should notice its absence.
And now like a sent angel came Mr. Norman Maugans, who played the pipe-organ at the church, and offered to exchange his services as musician for occasional lessons and the privilege of watching Prue dance, for which privilege, he said, "folks in New York would pay a hundred dollars a night if they knew what they was missin'."
Prue grabbed the bargain, and the next morning began to teach him to play such things as "Some Smoke" and "Leg of Mutton."
At first he played "Girls, Run Along" so that it could hardly be told from "Where Is My Wandering Boy To-night?" and his waltzes were mostly hesitation; but by and by he got so that he fairly tangoed on the pedals, and he was so funny bouncing about on the piano-stool to "Something Seems Tingle-ingle-ingle-ingling So Queer" that the pupils stopped dancing to watch him.
The tango was upon the world like a Mississippi at flood-time. The levees were going over one by one; or if they stood fast they stood alone, for the water crept round from above and backed up from below.
In Carthage, as in both Portlands, Maine and Oregon, and the two Cairos, Illinois and Egypt, the Parises of Kentucky and France, the Yorks and Londons, old and new; in Germany, Italy, and Japan, fathers, monarchs, mayors, editors stormed against the new dance; societies passed resolutions; police interfered; ballet-girls declared the dances immoral and ungraceful. The army of the dance went right on growing.
Doctor Brearley called a meeting of the chief men of his congregation to talk things over and discipline, if not expel, all guilty members. Deacon Luxton was in a state of mind. He dared not vote in favor of the dance and he dared not vote against it. He and his wife were taking lessons from Prue surreptitiously at their own home. Judge Hippisley's voice would have been louder for war if he had not discovered that his wife was secretly addicted to the one-step. Old Doctor Brearley was walking about rehearsing a sermon against it when he happened to enter a room where Idalene was practising. He wrung from her a confession of the depth of her iniquity. This knowledge paralyzed his enthusiasm.
Sour old Deacon Flugal was loudly in favor of making an example of Prue. His wife was even more violent. She happened to mention her disgust to Mrs. Deacon Luxton:
"I guess this'll put an end to the tango in Carthage!"
"Oh, I hope not!" Mrs. Luxton cried.
"You hope not!"
"Yes, I do. It has done my husband no end of good. It's taken pounds and pounds of fat off him. It brings out the prespiration on him something wonderful. And it's taken years off his age. He's that spry and full of jokes and he's gettin' right spoony. He used to be a tumble cut-up, and then he settled down so there was no livin' with him. But now he keeps at me to buy some new clothes and he's thinkin' of gettin' a tuxeda. His old disp'sition seems to have come back and he's as cheerful and, oh, so affectionate! It's like a second honeymoon."
Mrs. Luxton gazed off into space with rapture. Mrs. Flugal was so silent that Mrs. Luxton turned to see if she had walked away in disgust. But there was in her eyes that light that lies in woman's eyes, and she turned a delicious tomato-red as she murmured:
"How much, do you s'pose, would a term of lessons cost for my husband?"
Somehow the church failed to take official action. There was loud criticism still, but phonographs that had hitherto been silent or at least circumspect were heard to blare forth dance rhythms, and not always with the soft needle on.
Mrs. Prosser's boarders were mainly past the age when they were liable to temptation. At first the presence and activities of Prue had added a tang of much-needed spice to this desert-island existence. They loved to stare through the door or even to sit in at the lessons. But at the first blast of the storm that the church had set up they scurried about in consternation. Mrs. Prosser was informed that her boarding-house was no longer a fit place for church-fearing ladies. She was warned to expurgate Prue or lose the others. Mrs. Prosser regretfully banished the girl.
And now Prue felt like the locust turned away from ant-hill after ant-hill. She walked the streets disconsolately. Her feet from old habit led her past her father's door. She paused to gaze at the dear front walk and the beloved frayed steps, the darling need of paint, the time-gnawed porch furniture, the empty hammock hooks. She sighed and would have trudged on, but her mother saw her and called to her from the sewing-room window, and ran out bareheaded in her old wrapper.
They embraced across the gate and Serina carried on so that Prue had to go in with her to keep the neighbors from having too good a time. Prue told her story, and Serina's jaw set in the kind of tetanus that mothers are liable to. She sent Horace to fetch Prue's baggage from "old Prosser's," and she re-established Prue in her former room.
When William came slumping up the steps, still jobless, he found the doors locked, front and back, and the porch windows fastened. Serina from an upper sill informed him that Prue was back, and he could either accept her or go somewhere else to live.
William yielded, salving his conscience by refusing to speak to the girl. Prue settled down with the meekness of returned prodigals for whom fatted calves are killed. According to the old college song, "The Prod.," when he got back, "sued father and brother for time while away." That was the sort of prodigal Prue was. Prue brought her classes with her.
Papa Pepperall gave up the battle. He dared not lock his daughter in or out or up. He must not beat her or strangle her with a bowstring or drop her into the Bosporus. He could not sell her down the river. A modern father has about as much authority as a chained watch-dog. He can jump about and bark and snap, but he only abrades his own throat.
There were Pepperall feuds all over town. One by one the most conservative were recruited or silenced.
William Pepperall, however, still fumed at home and abroad, and Judge Hippisley would have authorized raids if there had been any places to raid. Thus far the orgies had been confined to private walls. There was, indeed, no place in Carthage for public dancing except the big room in the Westcott Block over Jake Meyer's restaurant, and that room was rented to various secret societies on various nights.
Prue's class outgrew the parlor, spread to the dining-room, and trickled into the kitchen. Here the growth had to stop, till it was learned that if Mr. Maugans played very loud he could be heard in the bedrooms up-stairs. And there a sort of University Extension was practised for ladies only.
And still the demand for education increased. The benighted held out hands pleading for help. Young men and old offered fabulous sums, a dollar a lesson, two dollars! Prue decided that if her mother would stay up-stairs as a chaperon it would be proper to let the men dance there, too.
"But how am I going to cook the meals?" said mamma.
"We'll hire a cook," said Prue. And it was done. She even bought mamma a new dress, and established her above-stairs as a sort of grand duenna.
Mamma watched Prue with such keenness that now and then, when Prue had to rush down-stairs, mamma would sometimes solve a problem for one of Prue's "scholars," as she called them.
One day papa came home to his pandemonium, jostled through the couple-cluttered hall, stamped up-stairs, and found mamma showing Deacon Flugal how to do the drop-step.
"You trot four short steps backward," mamma was saying, "then you make a little dip; but don't swing your shoulders. Prue says if you want to dance refined you mustn't swing your shoulders or your--your--the rest of you."
Papa was ready to swing his shoulders and drop the deacon through the window, but as he was about to protest the deacon caught mamma in his arms and swept backward, dropping his fourth step incisively on papa's instep, rendering papa hors de combat.
By the time William had rubbed witch-hazel into the deacon's heel-mark, the deacon in a glorious "prespiration" had gone home with his own breathless wife ditto. William dragged Serina into the bathroom, the only room where dancing was not in progress. He warned her not to forget that she had sworn to be a faithful wife. She pooh-poohed him and said:
"You'd better learn to dance yourself. Come on, I'll show you the Jedia Luna. It's very easy and awful refined. Do just like I do."
She put her hands on her hips and began to sidle. She had him nearly sidled into the bathtub before he could escape with the cry of a hunted animal. At supper he thumped the table with another of his resolutions, and cried:
"My house was not built for a dance-hall!"
"That's right, poppa," said Prue; "and it shakes so I'm afraid it'll come down on us. I've been thinking that you'll have to hire me the lodge-room in the Westcott Block. I can give classes there all day."
He refused flatly. So she persuaded Deacon Flugal and several gentlemen who were on the waiting-list of her pupils to arrange it for her.
And now all day long she taught in the Westcott Block. The noise of her music interfered with business--with lawyers and dentists and insurance agents. At first they were hostile, then they were hypnotized. Lawyer and client would drop a title discussion to quarrel over a step. The dentist's forceps would dance along the teeth, and many an uncomplaining bicuspid was wrenched from its happy home, many an uneasy molar assumed a crown. The money Prue made would have been scandalous if money did not tend to become self-sterilizing after it passes certain dimensions.
By and by the various lodge members found their meetings and their secret rites to be so stupid, compared with the new dances, that almost nobody came. Quorums were rare. Important members began to resign. Everybody wanted to be Past Grand Master of the Tango.
The next step was the gradual postponement of meetings to permit of a little informal dancing in the evening. The lodges invited their ladies to enter the precincts and revel. Gradually the room was given over night and day to the worship of Saint Vitus.
The solution of every human problem always opens another. People danced themselves into enormities of appetite and thirst. It was not that food was attractive in itself. Far from it. It was an interruption, a distraction from the tango; a base streak of materialism in the bacon of ecstasy. But it was necessary in order that strength might be kept up for further dancing.
Deacon Flugal put it happily: "Eating is just like stoking. When I'm giving a party at our house I hate to have to leave the company and go down cellar and throw coal in the furnace. But it's got to be did or the party's gotter stop."
Carthage had one good hotel and two bad ones, but all three were "down near the deepo." Almost the only other place to eat away from home was "Jake Meyer's Place," an odious restaurant where the food was ill chosen and ill cooked, and served in china of primeval shapes as if stone had been slightly hollowed out.
Prue was complaining that there was no place in Carthage where people could dance with their meals and give "teas donsons." Horace was smitten with a tremendous idea.
"Why not persuade Jake Meyer to clear a space in his rest'runt like they do in Chicawgo?"
Prue was enraptured, and Horace was despatched to Jake with the proffer of a magnificent opportunity. Horace cannily tried to extract from Jake the promise of a commission before he told him. Jake promised. Then Horace sprang his invention.
Now Jake was even more bitter against the tango than Doctor Brearley, Judge Hippisley, or Mr. Pepperall. The bar annex to his restaurant, or rather the bar to which his restaurant was annexed, had been almost deserted of evenings since the vicious dance mania raged. The bowling-alley where the thirst-producing dust was wont to arise in clouds was mute. Over his head he heard the eternal Maugans and the myriad-hoofed shuffle of the unceasing dance. When he understood what Horace proposed he emitted the roar of an old uhlan, and the only commission he offered Horace was the commission of murder upon his person.
Horace retreated in disorder and reported to Prue. Prue called upon Jake herself, smilingly told him that all he needed to do was to crowd his tables together round a clear space, revolutionize his menu, get a cook who would cook, and spend about five hundred dollars on decorations.
"Five hundret thalers!" Jake howled. "I sell you de whole shop for five hundret thalers."
"I'll think it over," said Prue as she walked out.
She could think over all of it except the five hundred dollars. She had never thought that high. She told Horace, and he said that the way to finance anything was to borrow the money from the bank.
Prue called on Clarence Dolge, the bank president she knew best. He asked her a number of personal questions about her earnings. He was surprised at their amount and horrified that she had saved none of them. He advised her to start an account with him; but she reminded him that she had not come to put in, but to take out.
He said that he would cheerfully lend her the money if she could get a proper indorsement on her note. She knew that her father did not indorse her dancing, but perhaps he might feel differently about her note.
"I might get poppa to sign his name," she smiled.
Mr. Dolge exclaimed, "No, thank you!" without a moment's hesitation. He already had a sheaf of papa's autographs, all duly protested.
She went to another bank, whose president announced that he would have to put the very unusual proposal before the directors. Judge Hippisley was most of the directors. The president did not report exactly what the directors said, for Prue, after all, was a woman. But she did not get the five hundred.
Prue had set her heart on providing Carthage with a cafe dansant. She determined to save her money. Prue saving!
It was hard, too, for shoes gave out quickly and she could not wear the same frock all the time. And sometimes at night she was so tired she just could not walk home and she rode home in a hack. A number of young men offered to buggy-ride her home or to take her in their little automobiles. But they, too, seemed to confuse art and business with foolishness.
Sometimes she would ask Ort to ride home with her, but she wouldn't let him pay for the hack. Indeed he could not if he would. His devotion to Prue's school had cost him his job, and the judge would not give him a penny.
Sometimes in the hack Prue would permit Ort to keep his arm round her. Sometimes when he was very doleful she would have to ask him to put it round her. But it was all right, because they were going to get married when Orton learned how to earn some money. He was afraid he would have to leave Carthage. But how could he tear himself from Prue? She would not let him talk about it.
Now the fame of Prue and her prancing was not long pent up in Carthage. Visitors from other towns saw her work and carried her praises home. Sometimes farmers, driving into town, would hear Mr. Maugans's music through the open windows. Their daughters would climb the stairs and peer in and lose their taste for the old dances, and wistfully entreat Prue to learn them them newfangled steps.
In the towns smaller than Carthage the anxiety for the tango fermented. A class was formed in Oscawanna, and Prue was bribed to come over twice a week and help.
Clint Sprague, the manager of the Carthage Opera House, which was now chiefly devoted to moving pictures, with occasional interpolations of vaudeville, came home from Chicago with stories of the enormous moneys obtained by certain tango teams. He proposed to book Prue in a chain of small theaters round about, if she could get a dancing partner. She said she had one.
Sprague wrote glowing letters to neighboring theater-managers, but, being theater-managers, they were unable to know what their publics wanted. They declined to take any risks, but offered Sprague their houses at the regular rental, leaving him any profits that might result.
Clint glumly admitted that it wouldn't cost much to try it out in Oscawanna. He would guarantee the rental and pay for the show-cards and the dodgers; Prue would pay the fare and hotel bills of herself, her partner, and Mr. Maugans.
Prue hesitated. It was an expense and a risk. Prue cautious! She would take nobody for partner but Orton Hippisley. Perhaps he could borrow the money from his father. She told him about it, and he was wild with enthusiasm. He loved to dance with Prue. To invest money in enlarging her fame would be divine.
He saw the judge. Then he heard him.
He came back to Prue and told her in as delicate a translation as he could manage that it was all off. The judge had bellowed at him that not only would he not finance his outrageous escapade with that shameless Pepperall baggage, but if the boy dared to undertake it he would disown him.
"Now you'll have to go," said Prue, grimly.
"But I have no money, honey," he protested, miserably.
"I'll pay your expenses and give you half what I get," she said.
He refused flatly to share in the profits. His poverty consented to accept the railroad fare and food enough to dance on. And he would pay that back the first job he got.
Then Prue went to Clint Sprague and offered to pay the bills if he would give her three-fourths of the profits. He fumed; but she drove a good bargain. Prue driving bargains! At last he consented, growling.
When Prue announced the make-up of her troupe there was a cyclone in her own home. Papa was as loud as the judge.
"You goin' gallivantin' round the country with that Maugans idiot and that young Hippisley scoundrel? Well, I guess not! You've disgraced us enough in our own town, without spreading the poor but honorable name of Pepperall all over Oscawanna and Perkinsville and Athens and Thebes."
The worn-out, typewritten-out Ollie pleaded against Prue's lawlessness. It would be sure to cost her her place in the judge's office. It was bad enough now.
Even Serina, who had become a mere echo of Prue, herself went so far as to say, "Really, Prue, you know!"
Prue thought awhile and said: "I'll fix that all right. Don't you worry. There'll be no scandal. I'll marry the boy."
And she did! Took ten dollars from the hiding-place where she banked her wealth, and took the boy to an Oscawanna preacher, and telegraphed home that he was hers and she his and both each other's.
The news spread like oil ablaze on water. Mrs. Hippisley had consented to take lessons of Prue, but she had never dreamed of losing her eldest son to her. She and Serina had quite a "run-in" on the telephone. William and the judge almost had a fight-out--and right on Main Street, too.
Each accused the other of fathering a child that had decoyed away and ruined the life of the other child. Both were so scorched with helpless wrath that each went home to his bed and threatened to bite any hand that was held out in comfort. Judge Hippisley had just strength enough to send word to poor Olive that she was fired.
The next news came the next day. Oscawanna had been famished for a sight of the world-sweeping dances. It turned out in multitudes to see the famous Carthage queen in the new steps. The opera-house there had not held such a crowd since William J. Bryan spoke there--the time he did not charge admission. According to the Oscawanna Eagle: "This enterprising city paid one thousand dollars to see Peerless Prue Pepperall dance with her partner Otto Hipkinson. What you got to say about that, ye scribes of Carthage?"
Like the corpse in Ben King's poem, Judge Hippisley sat up at the news and said: "What's that?" And when the figures were repeated he "dropped dead again."
The next day word was received that Perkinsville, jealous of Oscawanna, had shoveled twelve hundred dollars into the drug-store where tickets were sold. Two sick people had nearly died because they couldn't get their prescriptions filled for twelve hours, and the mayor of the town had had to go behind the counter and pick out his own stomach bitters.
The Athens theater had been sold out so quickly that the town hall was engaged for a special matinee. Athens paid about fifteen hundred dollars. The Athenians had never suspected that there was so much money in town. People who had not paid a bill for months managed to dig up cash for tickets.
Indignant Oscawanna wired for a return engagement, so that those who had been crowded out could see the epoch-making dances. Those who had seen them wanted to see them again. In the mornings Prue gave lessons to select classes at auction prices.
Wonderful as this was, unbelievable, indeed, to Carthage, it was not surprising. This blue and lonely dispeptic world has always been ready to enrich the lucky being that can tempt its palate with something it wants and didn't know it wanted. Other people were leaping from poverty to wealth all over the world for teaching the world to dance again. Prue caught the crest of the wave that overswept a neglected region.
The influence of her success on her people and her neighbors was bound to be overwhelming. The judge modulated from a contemptuous allusion to "that Pepperall cat" to "my daughter-in-law." Prue's father, who had never watched her dance, had refused to collaborate even that far in her ruination, could not continue to believe that she was entirely lost when she was so conspicuously found.
Perhaps he was right. Perhaps the world is so wholesome and so well balanced that nobody ever attained enormous prosperity without some excuse for it. People who contribute the beauty, laughter, thrills, and rhythm to the world may do as much to make life livable as people who invent electric lights and telephones and automobiles. Why should they not be paid handsomely?
Prue, the impossible, unimaginable Prue, triumphed home safely with several thousands of dollars in her satchel. Orton bought a revolver to guard it with, and nearly shot one of his priceless feet off with it. They dumped the money upon the shelf of the banker who had refused to lend Prue five hundred dollars. He had to raise the steel grating to get the bundle in. The receiving teller almost fainted and had to count it twice.
Clint Sprague alone was disconsolate. He had refused to risk Prue's expenses, had forced her to take the lioness's share of the actual costs and the imaginary profits. He almost wept over what he might have had, despising what he had.
Prue ought to have been a wreck; but there is no stimulant like success. In a boat-race the winning crew never collapses. Prue's mother begged her to rest; her doctor warned her that she would drop dead. But she smiled, "If I can die dancing it won't be so bad."
Even more maddeningly joyful than the dancing now was the rhapsody of income. To be both Salome and Hetty Green! Mr. Dolge figured out her income. At any reasonable rate of interest it represented a capital far bigger than Tawm Kinch's mythical hundred thousand. Mr. Dolge said to William Pepperall:
"Bill, your daughter is the richest man in town. Any time you want to borrow a little money, get her name on your note and I'll be glad to let you have it."
Somehow his little pleasantry brought no smile to William's face. He snapped:
"You mind your own business and I'll mind mine."
"Oh, I suppose you don't have to borrow it," Dolge purred; "she just gives it to you."
William almost wept at this humiliation.
Prue bought out Jake Meyer's restaurant. She spent a thousand dollars on its decoration. She consoled Ollie with a position as her secretary at twenty-five dollars a week and bought her some new dresses.
Her mother scolded poor Ollie for being such a stick as not to be able to dance like her sister and having to be dependent on her. There was something hideously immoral and disconcerting about this success. But then there always is. Prue was whisked from the ranks of the resentful poor to those of the predatory rich.
Prue established Horace as cashier of the restaurant. She wanted to make her father manager, but he could not bend his pride to the yoke of taking wages from his child. If she had come home in disgrace and repentance he could have been a father to her.
The blossoming of what had been Jake Meyer's place into what Carthage called the "Palais de Pepperall" was a festival indeed. The newspapers, in which at Horace's suggestion Prue advertised lavishly, gave the event head-lines on the front page. The article included a complete catalogue of those present. This roster of forty "Mesdames" was thereafter accepted as the authorized beadroll of the Carthage Four Hundred. Mrs. Hippisley was present and as proud as Judy. But the judge and William Pepperall were absent, and Prue felt an ache in a heart that should have been so full of pride. She and Orton rode home in a hack and she cried all the way. In fact, he had to stick his head out and tell the driver to drive round awhile until she was calm enough to go home.
A few days later, as Prue was hurrying along the street looking over a list of things she had to purchase for her restaurant, she encountered old Doctor Brearley, who was looking over a list of subscribers to the fund for paying the overdue interest on the mortgage on the new steeple. He was afraid the builders might take it down.
In trying to pass each other Prue and the preacher fell into an involuntary tango step that delighted the witnesses. When Doctor Brearley had recovered his composure, and before he had adjusted his spectacles, he thought that Prue was Bertha Appleby, and he said:
"Ah, my dear child, I was just going to call on you and see if you couldn't contribute a little to help us out in this very worthy cause."
Prue let him explain, and then she said:
"Tell you what I'll do, Doctor: I'll give you the entire proceeds of my restaurant for one evening. And I'll dance for you with my husband."
Doctor Brearley was aghast when he realized the situation. He was afraid to accept; afraid to refuse. He was in an excruciating dilemma. Prue had mercy on him. She said:
"I'll just announce it as an idea of my own. You needn't have anything to do with it."
The townspeople were set in a turmoil over Prue's latest audacity. Half the church members declared it an outrage; the other half decided that it gave them an opportunity to see her dance under safe auspices. Foxy Prue!
The restaurant was crowded with unfamiliar faces, terrified at what they were to witness. Doctor Brearley had not known what to do. It seemed so mean to stay away and so perilous to go. His daughter solved the problem by telling him that she would say she had made him come. He went so far as to let her drag him in. "But just for a moment," he explained. "He really must leave immediately after Mr. and Mrs. Hippisley's--er--exercises." He apparently apologized to the other guests, but really to an outraged heaven.
He trembled with anxiety on the edge of his chair. The savagery of the music alarmed him. When Prue walked out with her husband the old Doctor was distressed by her beauty. Then they danced and his heart thumped; but subtly it was persuaded to thump in the measure of that unholy Maxixe. He did not know that outside in the street before the two windows stood two exiled fathers watching in bitter loneliness.
He saw a little love drama displayed, and reminded himself that, after all, some critics said that the Song of Solomon was a kind of wedding drama or dance. After all, Mrs. Hippisley was squired by her perfectly proper and very earnest young husband--though Orton in his black clothes was hardly more than her shifting shadow.
The old preacher had been studying his Cruden, and bolstering himself up, too, with the very Scriptural texts that Prue had written out for her stiff-necked father. He had met other texts that she had not known how to find. The idea came to the preacher that, in a sense, since God made everything He must have made the dance, breathed its impulse into the clay.
This daughter of Shiloh was an extraordinarily successful piece of workmanship. There was nothing very wicked surely about that coquettish bending of her head, those playful escapes from her husband's embrace, that heel-and-toe tripping, that lithe elusiveness, that joyous psalmody of youth.
Prue was so pretty and her ways so pretty that the old man felt the pathos of beauty, so fleet, so fleeting, so lyrical, so full of--Alas! The tears were in his eyes, and he almost applauded with the others when the dance was finished. He bowed vaguely in the direction of the anxious Prue and made his way out. She felt rebuked and condemned and would not be comforted by the praise of others. She did not know that the old preacher had encountered on the sidewalk Judge Hippisley. Doctor Brearley had forgotten that the judge had not yet ordered his own decision reversed, and he thought he was saying the unavoidable thing when he murmured:
"Ah, Judge, how proud you must be of your dear son's dear wife. I fancy that Miriam, the prophetess, must have danced something like that on the banks of the Red Sea when the Egyptians were overthrown."
Then he put up the umbrella he always carried and stumbled back to his parsonage under the star-light. His heart was dancing a trifle, and he escaped the scene of wrath that broke out as soon as he was away.
For William Pepperall had a lump in his throat made up of equal parts of desire to cry and desire to fight, and he said to Judge Hippisley with all truculence:
"Look here, Judge! I understand you been jawin' round this town about my daughter not being all she'd ought to be. Now I'm goin' to put a stop to that jaw of yours if I have to slam it right through the top of your head. If you want to send me to jail for contemp' of court, sentence me for life, because that's the way I feel about you, you fat old--"
Judge Hippisley put up wide-open hands and protested:
"Why, Bill, I--I just been wonderin' how I could get your daughter to make up with me. I been afraid to ask her for fear she'd just think I was toadyin' to her. I think she's the finest girl ever came out of Carthage. Do you suppose she'd make up and--and come over to our house to dinner Sunday?"
"Let's ask her," said William, and they walked in at the door.
Early one morning about six months from the first dismal Monday morning after William Pepperall's last bankruptcy, Serina wakened to find that William was already up. She had been oversleeping with that luxury which a woman can experience only in an expensive and frilly nightie combined with hemstitched linen sheets. She opened her heavy and slumber-contented eyes to behold her husband in a suit of partly-silk pajamas. He was making strange motions with his feet. "What on earth you doing there?" she yawned, and William grinned.
"Yestiddy afternoon the judge was showin' me a new step in this Max Hicks dance. It's right cute. Goes like this."
Mamma Pepperall watched him cavort a moment, then sniffed contemptuously, and rolled out like a fireman summoned.
"Not a bit like it! It goes like this."
A few minutes later the door opened and Ollie put her head in.
"For Heaven's sake be quiet! You'll wake Prue, and she's all wore out; and she's only got an hour more before they have to get up and take the train for Des Moines."
The old rascals promised to be good, but as soon as she had gone they wrangled in whispers and danced on tiptoes. Suddenly Prue put her head in at the door and gasped:
"What in Heaven's name are you and poppa up to? Do you want to wake Orton?"
Papa had to explain:
"I got a new step, Prue. Goes like this. Come on, momma."
Serina shyly took her place in his arms; but they had taken only a few strides when Prue hissed:
"Sh-h! Don't do it! Stop it!"
"In the first place it's out of date. And in the second place it's not respectable."
Then the hard-working locust, having rebuked the frivolous ants, went back to bed.
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