Eugene Wood.

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Author of Back Home



Copyright, ipoS, by The McClure Company
Published, February, 1908

Copyright, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1903, 1906, by Ainslee s Magazine
Copyright, 1903, by The Frank A. Munsey Company

Copyright, 1905, by Harper & Brothers
Copyright, 1906, by Broadway Magazine, Inc.

To my most critical appreciator
To my most doubting admirer

The most thoroughgoing

Sentimentalist and Realist

To the one who has lost all illusions

save that I am the greatest of all

Living Writers

in short

Co m? Witt

This book is dedicated

Ml 04381


















FOR a minute or two Mrs. Smith felt provoked
that Mr. Burns should have called just when
he did. She wasn t much of a hand to read;
she couldn t seem to get her mind on it, she said,
but she liked to have Clara read aloud, and they had
got to the place where it looked as if She wasn t
going to get Him after all. When Clara went into
the parlor, Mrs. Smith laid down her Battenberg and
read a few pages herself, but it kept looking more
and more as if He would never see that She was
just tantalizing Him and leading Him on. The next
chapter began with : " But let us return to our young
friends, Harry and George." Mrs. Smith did not care
two pins about Harry and George. She hesitated a
moment and then boldly turned over to the last chap
ter. Well, She got Him. It was quite a load off Mrs.
Smith s mind, but she felt like a child that has
peeped on Christmas eve. Her fun was spoiled now.
Clara would want to finish the book and would no
tice that she wasn t interested. She would ask ques-



tions. Clara despised to have people turn over to
the last chapter.

Mrs. Smith began to think up things to say, and
she had hardly got a good start when she heard the
parlor door open and Mr. Burns come out into the
hall. What, already? She heard him take his things
from the hat-rack and put them on, helped by Clara.
Both were very still. Usually they clattered away at
a great rate, but to-night . . . She wondered what
was up. She heard him ask something in a pleading
voice. In the silence that followed Mrs. Smith clair-
voyantly saw Clara shake her head. He sighed and
said, " Good night," in a subdued and humble voice.
Clara s "Good night" also betokened emotion. Then
came the departing footsteps on the brick walk and
the door shut.

Mrs. Smith wanted to jump right up and run to
her daughter to ask all about it. But something kept
her at her Battenberg. It seemed to take Clara a very
long time to fix the parlor fire for the night and to
straighten the room into its habitual decorum. When
she came out and took a chair in the sitting room
she seemed to have no more desire than her mother
to resume the interrupted reading.

After waiting a reasonable time for Clara to
speak, Mrs. Smith gave her Battenberg a turn on
her lap and began: " Mr. Burns didn t make a long
stay to-night."


Clara held her peace.

With something like a sigh for glories now for
ever past, Mrs. Smith complained: " Young folks
nowadays ain t what they was. In my time they
didn t use to think nothin at all o settin up till
two three o clock in the mornin when they was
sparkin a girl, but now they ain t more n good and
got their hats off before it s, Well, I ll be goin
along. It s no wonder they don t nobody get mar
ried any more hardly."

If this was intended to draw Clara out it failed
of its purpose, but it did draw Mrs. Smith out.

" I mind one time when John Van Meter was
courtin me that was before your pa s folks moved
here from Clark County John set up with me till
plumb four o clock Monday mornin . Pap, he was
always up and about at four, winter and summer.
He d set and read till it was light enough to see to
do the chores. He come in and ast John if he
wouldn t stay for breakfast. Well, sir, I thought
John would sink through the floor. . . . He quit
comin after that. . . . Pap says, Won t you stay
fer breakfast, Mr. Van Meter? and John, he
reached fer his hat arid lit out, and not a word out
o him. I never seen him ag in, except at meetin
and such places. ... He was the poorest hand to
carry on a conversation, John was. Two three times
I prett near went to sleep. I had a big wash to do


that day, and not gittin my rest jist about finished
me. I went to bed right after I hung the clothes out
and never waked up till time to set the table for sup
per. I always knowed after that how it was with that
young couple over to Rum Creek. I told you about
them, didn t I, Clara?"

Clara roused herself to ask: What young cou
ple? " Not that she was much interested though.

" W y, he was settin up with her in front of a
open fireplace, and I guess he must a ben another
John Van Meter, fer they both went to sleep and
fell over into the fire and was burned so bad before
they was got out that the both of em died. She was
burned worse n he was. Course it s turrable to think
o folks burnin up alive. That s one thing I got
ag inst the Catholics. But, still, it s kind o comi
cal, too, one way you look at it. I tell you what,
they wasn t no noddin and gapin when your pa was
around. He was a great cut-up. . . . John Van Me
ter was lots older n me, anyways."

Mrs. Smith worked on in silence a little longer
and attacked the subject again: "You didn t say
nothin to Mr. Burns to hurt his feelin s, did you?
Because I know how you are, Clara. Whatever you
think you blat right out. The men don t like a girl
to be too outspoken. I sometimes think that s the
reason why you don t get a man."

Clara stirred impatiently.


" I don t know what s got into the young men
nowadays. So little sense. Now see at Elnora
Rhinehart, the humbliest bein I think the Lord
ever made, red hair and sandy complected, and as
freckled as a turkey egg, and a big nose, and a
mouth look like a whole double-handful o horse
teeth had jist ben shoved in anyways, and look how
well she done! And here s you that s a reel good-
lookin girl, I won t say pirty, but nice-\ookiri, and
stylish-looking and can make all her own things
Mrs. Perkypile wouldn t believe, the other day, but
what your winter hat was trimmed by a reg lar mil
liner and you can play on the instrument some and
reel well educated "

" Oh, pshaw, mother! "

" Aw, pshaw nothin ! You are so. You got to
be, a teacher in the High School like you are. And
you get to go to socials and all like that where the
men are, and I don t believe one of em has ever
ast you, and here you are, twenty-eight, goin on
twenty-nine. Your pa used to say, Oh, they ll all be
after her when she grows up, but, my land! I don t
believe you give em any encouragement whatso

" Maybe I don t want to get married."

" W y, Clara Smith!"

That s my name, mum," said Clara, with a little
quirk of the corners of her mouth.


" Yes, and it s likely to be your name, too."

" Well, bein as they s so many nice folks has got
that name, I dassent say nothin ag in it," said Clara,
with exaggerated dialect. " I jist as soon have that
name as Snigglefritz. I don t know but sooner. It
seems to be easier, anyhow, to keep what I have
than to get another."

" Tchk! You re jist like your pa. You couldn t get
him to talk seriously about anything."

" Well, ma am, I ll talk seriously with you, if
that s what you want. Why should I want to get
married? You own this house, and I s pose you ll
let me live with you as long as I behave myself, and
when you die (which I hope you won t till you get
good and ready) I s pose you ll will it to me, seeing
that John s got his share and is doing so well out
in Omaha. There s a roof over me all my days. I ve
got my place in the High School, and I guess I can
keep it as long as I want to. They don t pay as much
as they ought, but it s sure and it s enough to eat
and wear for you and me, and a little over. It s work
that I like to do, and the hours are from nine in
the morning till four in the afternoon, quarter of an
hour recess morning and afternoon, and an hour and
a half for dinner. Saturdays and Sundays, the Christ
mas and Easter holidays, and the summer-time I m

" Well, now. If I got married that is, s posin I


could, mum I go to work for my board and clothes
and maybe not that, if anything happens to him.
If I want five cents I can t have it unless he is a
mind to give it to me. That s nice! I d like that!
There s no vacation, and the hours are from the
time you get up in the morning till you go to bed
at night and no recess. I don t mind helping you
with the housework, because it s a change, but it s
not the work I like, and to be tied to it forever and
eternally No, ma am, thank you. Not any for me."

" But s posin you got a man well enough off so s
at you needn t do the housework yourself."

"Yes, and what should I be to such a man?
Come, mother, look me in the eye and tell me what
I should be?"

Mrs. Smith reddened and did not look her daugh
ter in the eye.

" That s no way to talk, Clara," she reproved.
" It isn t ladylike to say such things."

"What things?"

" What you jist now said."

" I didn t say anything. Neither did you. You
were afraid to. But you thought it. And I tell you
something else. The woman that marries for a
home, do you know what I think of her? I think she
hasn t any cause to turn up her nose at Gentle Annie
and the other trollops up in Stringtown."

There was silence, which Clara broke by: "And


why should you be so anxious for me to get mar
ried? What would become of you if I did? "

"Oh, I d get along all right!" This was said
rather faintly.

" Oh, you d do fine! Suppose he didn t want a
mother-in-law about, wouldn t I be happy wouldn t
I be tickled to death to know that you were staying
here nights all alone? Or maybe you would go out
to Omaha and live with John and Inez."

Mrs. Smith winced at both suggestions.

* You know you and Iny couldn t get along to
gether at all. It was as much as you could do to
hold in when she and John were here on a visit last
fall, and what would you do if you had to live in
the house with her? Iny s well-meaning, but laws-a-
my! it beats me to guess what John could ever see
in her, and yet he thinks she s the finest woman that
ever stepped. He d take her part against you. He d
have to."

" Yes," sighed Mrs. Smith, " the Scripture says
for a man to leave father and mother and cleave to
his wife. We dassent go agen Scripture, but I al
ways thought it was a kind o hard for the boy that
she s tended to ever since he was born to take and
leave her for some woman he s only knowed a little
while, especially when they re slack housekeepers,
and jist let them two little children go lookin like
distraction "


Mrs. Smith was on the point of crying when Clara
interrupted with:

" Well, there s no Scripture commanding old
maids to leave their poor lone mother to take up
with the first slick-head that comes along/

" Now, Clara, you mustn t consider me," qua
vered Mrs. Smith. " I done my sheer. I bore the bur
den in the heat o the day and now it s your turn
and I ortn t to hender you. You ve ben a awful good
daughter to me, and you ll make some man a good
wife, A and it ain t right it ain t natural fer you to
say you don t want to git married."

" Who said I didn t want to get married? "

" W y, you jist this very minute said how much
nicer it would be fer you to go on teachin school
than to git married and have to do housework."

" So it would, but that isn t it. As far as getting
a living is concerned, I d be a fool to give up teach
ing at good wages and go as a servant for no wages
at all. But getting a living isn t all there is to life.
It s only half of it. If I were a sexless being, like
the worker bees I was telling the children about this
afternoon, I shouldn t think twice about whether I
was an old maid or not. But I m a woman, and a
woman isn t all of a woman unless she s a mother! "

" I hope you didn t say that before Mr. Burns!"

" No, ma am, I didn t. I was going to, but I
thought I d better not."


"Clara Smith! You didn t think of saying it.! "

"Huh! Do you reckon I ve gone plumb crazy?
Either he d have been shocked into a faint or
else They re a low-minded lot, the best of em.
But, mother," she declared, passionately, " I m hun
gry for children of my own. When I go into Mrs.
Power s room and see the little things there I could
just eat em up, I love em so! "

"W y, Clara!"

" Oh-o-o-oh ! " she laughed, with a laugh that was
half a moan, " I know it isn t respectable to talk
about having children, and I don t know why, unless
it is too holy, too sacred to be spoken of; but you
can t reprove me. You re worse than I am. You ve
had em. Honest, now, ma, don t you wish you had
grandchildren that you could pet and spoil and
jaw with me about because I didn t do for them

The girl s eyes glittered with emotion too intense
for tears, but they instantly sprang into her mother s
eyes. " I didn t git no good at all o John s all
the time he was here," she whimpered. " Iny jist
watched em like a hawk, and begrutched me every
minute I was with em. And it s jist tantalizin to
me to see their pictures and know at they re so fur
away from me, and maybe their little underclothes
is all ragged. When you get married, Clara, you ll let
me be with your children, won t you? "


" Yes when I get married." There was a queer
note in her voice.

Her mother hunted for a handkerchief. " I wish t
you could get a man, Clara," she said, humbly.

" Well, maybe I could if I was to try right hard,"
said Clara, dryly. " Let s see, now, who ll be the
lucky fellow? There s Henry Enright."

" Huh! You shan t take up with such trash as him
if I ve got anything to say about it."

" Well, then, there s Charley Pope."

" Charley d be an awful nice boy if he didn t drink
so. I wouldn t want you to have a drinking man."

" There s Frank Rodehaver."

" It ain t you he ought to be marryin ."

" No, from what I hear. Well, there s Charley De

" Yes, and he s a lazy, triflin hound as ever

" I suppose you d object to Chet Miller because
he forged his father s name, and Jim Detwiler be
cause he s always stealing from his mother."

"Ain t it a pity! And the Detwilers so nice,

" Well, there s Bert Palmer. He doesn t drink or
gamble or steal, and he isn t onry.

" No. He ain t got spunk enough to do anything.
I don t believe he s reel bright."

" Well, ma am, that s about all on this side the


tracks that ain t bespoke. On the other side, there s
Miky Ryan."

" The Ryans is Catholics. I wouldn t want you to
marry a Catholic. ... I don t know what s the
matter with the young men. So footy and no-
account. Stock s kind o runnin out, I guess."

" We ve only the leavings in this town, mother.
All the boys that amount to anything pick up and
go away."

" Like Dick Wambaugh. You used to think a
good deal o him, didn t you? Full of ambition, my!
Your pa thought a heap o him. Where is he now? "

" Chicago. Or he was, last I heard."

" What ever made you quit correspondin with
him? "

" Oh, it kind o dropped off. He owes me a let
ter now, let s see three years and four months."

" I s pose he seen some girl up in Chicago he

" I reckon so."

" Be nice if you could a got him. W y, Clara! "
Mrs. Smith suddenly recollected. " We forgot all
about pore Mr. Burns. And he was here jist this
evening. Wouldn t he do? He s educated and prin
cipal of the High School. He s got nice connections.
The Burnses is well thought of in Mechanicsburg.
He s reel nice in some ways. No bad habits nor


" No," said Clara.

"Awful spindlin -lookin , though, ain t he? Your
pa was always so big and hearty till he was took
down with typhoid pneumonia. I always liked these
strong, hearty men."

" Yes," said Clara.

" Deliver me from these grunty men that s always
achin and ailin and fussin about draughts and
catchin cold. Miz Parker, where he boards, was
goin on about him the other day. She says he s a
reg ler old granny about things. There! That Bat-
tenberg s done at last. I m goin to have a piece o
bread and butter and go to bed. Did you hear about
Corinne Snively? She s Mrs. Perkypile s cousin, and
Mrs. Perkypile was invited up to her weddin up to
Radnor. She married Morgan Griffith, and they got
a whole lot o nice presents, Mrs. Perkypile said;
pickle castor and two sets o plated knives and forks,
and I don t know what all. And amongst em was
a pair o lace curtains, Battenberg, all hand-made,
every stitch. Mrs. Perkypile said they were the
loveliest things she ever laid eyes on. But she said
look like the burden laid on Corinne was greater n
she could bear, because her and Morg has got a
big bow window to their front room, and one pair
won t be enough, and other curtains wouldn t match,
and if Corinne don t put em in her front windows
so s folks goin by can see em, the lady that give


em 11 think she don t appreciate em, and what
to do she don t know, and the lady that give
em said she wouldn t undertake a job like that
again for a thousand dollars, even if she had the
time, which she hasn t, because her brother s wife
died not long ago, and she s takin care of the chil
dren. We re most out o butter. I must think
to order some in the mornin . He didn t make
much of a stay to-night, did he? Well, what did
Prunes, Prisms, and Pyramids have to say for him
self? "

" Why, among other things," said Clara, tasting
the humor of the situation, " among other things,
he asked me if I d marry him."

" W y, Clara Smith! You set there and ca mly tell
me that!"

" Did you expect me to jump up and crack my
heels together? Yessum, it s the pine-blank facts
I m a-tellin you. Your daughter has had an offer
of marriage."

The poor lady s jaw dropped with chagrin at the
recollection of what she had just said about Mr.
Burns and with astonishment that Clara had not told
her sooner.

" And what did you say to him? "

" While you re up," said the young woman, with
half-dropped eyelids and a fine affectation of calm
ness, " I wish you d cut and spread me a piece, too.


Put a little sugar on it, won t you? I believe I d
like it."

" Well, you are the funniest-actin girl I ever saw.
What did you tell him? "

" What would you want me to tell him? "

" W y w y I I don t know."

" I didn t, either."

" Did you say that? "

" No. I said it was so sudden and you know
and I d like to have time to think it over. No. He
said that. He said I might have time in which to
consider it."

" You re goin to take him, ain t you? "

"Would you?"

Mrs. Smith sank down into a chair.

" W y ah " said she, and sat staring at nothing.


Mr. Burns was to come for his answer that night
a week. Clara had that much time to think it over,
or, rather, to talk it over with her mother. Between
them they canvassed the advantages and disadvan
tages of the alliance, now one favoring it and now
the other.

"Ain t it ridiculous?" snickered Clara once, after
she had been repelling her mother s contention that
Mr. Burns s complexion indicated that he might be


liable to lung trouble. " A body d think we were
buying a horse and wanted him warranted sound in
wind and limb, gentle and broke to double harness.
If I ought to take him, why, I d want him so bad
I d be like that girl you were telling me about, oh,
what s her name? You know."

"What girl?"

" Why, that girl when the fellow asked her if she d
marry him and she squalled out : W y, ye-e-es, and
jump at the chance! You know."

" Oh, Priscill. Strayer. I wouldn t want you to be
like her. But you must consider, Clara," turning
right around to the fervent advocacy of Mr. Burns
when Clara attacked him, " it isn t every girl has a
chance to get as good a man. Now, where are they
a nicer one in this town than him? So refined
and "

" Always wears his rubbers and shuts the door
softly and "

" Hush up when I m talkin to you. And though
he ain t a member of any church, he s a moral man,
and I believe he s a good man, and he orta make
you a good husband."

" Yes, but will he? "

"Well, that they can t nobody tell till they ve
tried. Men is funny creatures."

" Well, I guess I won t try."

"Why not?"


" I don t like him well enough."

" Aw, now, yes, you do. You jist a little while ago
said he was good company and could carry on a
conversation lovely about Emerson and literatoor
and all like that. You said you liked him reel well."

" That isn t it. I don t isn t it funny how we hate
to say the word? I don t love him."

" Aw, well, now, Clara, that s foolishness. This
thing o bein crazy after a fellow, like they are in
the novels, is kind o green, I think. It don t last no
time. A girl got to be your age she don t git car
ried away with that. You like him, and you ll like
him better when you git used to him."

" Maybe."

" And another thing. He s the principal of the
High School and, if you didn t take him, he could
make it mighty unpleasant for you."

" Now, Ma Smith, that does settle it. I wouldn t
have him after that if he was the last man on earth.
I ve got as many friends on the school board as he
has, I guess, and if he tries to come any of his shen-
annigan on me, he ll find out a thing or two, I
shouldn t wonder."

Mrs. Smith saw her mistake in a minute, and after
that Mr. Burns never got a good word from her.
As for the married state, it was an affliction too
grievous to be borne and children children were a
terrible care. A body was just plumb worried out


of their mind, what with scarlet fever and mumps
and chicken pox, and falling down on knives and
hatchets, and stepping on broken glass and getting
the lockjaw from it. John had her scared half to death
all the time when he was little.

" You got to walk softly with Clara," she told
herself. " Her pa used to call her Paddy s pig/ she
was so contrairy. He said she was jist fer all the
world like that pig that they got to Dublin only by
makin him think he was goin to Cork. She was as.
fat as butter then, anyhow."

As a result, when Mr. Burns called on the fateful
evening, Clara dodged into the sitting room from
the front window and whispered hoarsely, " Here he
is now. Do, for mercy s sake, tell me what to say
to him."

" Well, Clara, all I got to say is: If you don t like
him, don t have him."

" Well, I do kind o like him."

" You want to be right shore now."

" I guess I won t."

" All right. Suit yourself. They s plenty men in
the world."

" It seems so kind o mean to snap him off with
* No, " Clara mused, and then the loud clang of the
doorbell gong exploded. " Good land! " she scolded,
" I wish I d told him No, in the first place."

Mrs. Smith did not exactly listen at the keyhole,


but she made no more noise sitting still than was
necessary. She tried to forecast the result. It was a
funny kind of doings, Mrs. Smith thought. It wasn t
that way in her young days.

Mr. Burns stayed considerably later this time, but
as the week before, in the hall, just as he departed,
he preferred a request in a low tone of voice, and
as before Mrs. Smith clairvoyantly saw Clara shake
her head in refusal. He did not persist.

" Well? " said Clara, half defiantly, when she re
turned to the room and met her mother s inter
rogating glance.


"Well ah " Clara started to relate, and then
broke off to titter: " Strikes me that for so many
wells the conversation s pretty dry."

This was too much.

" Behave yourself. You re actin flighty. I want
you to quit your foolin and tell me what you said
to that man."

" Well, sir, ma, I fully intended as much as any
thing to tell that man/ as you call him, that while

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