Jill’s Side of It

Jacky has made a fearful muddle of his part, but I suppose I shall
just have to let it go. You couldn’t expect much better of a boy. But
I am determined to re-describe Aunt Tommy, for the way Jacky has done
it is just disgraceful. I know exactly how to do it, the way it is
always done in stories.

Aunt Tommy is divinely beautiful. Her magnificent wealth of burnished
auburn hair flows back in amethystine waves from her sun-kissed brow.
Her eyes are gloriously dark and deep, like midnight lakes mirroring
the stars of heaven; her features are like sculptured marble and her
mouth is like a trembling, curving Cupid’s bow (this is a classical
allusion) luscious and glowing as a dewy rose. Her creamy skin is as
fair and flawless as the inner petals of a white lily. (She may have a
weeny teeny freckle or two in summer, but you’d never notice.) Her
slender form is matchless in its symmetry and her voice is like the
ripple of a woodland brook.

There, I’m sure that’s ever so much better than Jacky’s description,
and now I can proceed with a clear conscience.

Well, I didn’t like the idea of going and explaining to Dick very
much, but it had to be done unless I wanted to run the risk of having
Pinky Carewe in the family. So I went the next morning.

I put on my very prettiest pink organdie dress and did my hair the new
way, which is very becoming to me. When you are going to have an
important interview with a man it is always well to look your very
best. I put on my big hat with the wreath of pink roses that Aunt
Tommy had brought me from New York and took my spandy ruffled parasol.

“With your shield or upon it, Jill,” said Jacky when I started. (This
is another classical allusion.)

I went straight up the hill and down the road to the manse where Dick
lived with his old housekeeper, Mrs. Dodge. She came to the door when
I knocked and I said, very politely, “Can I see the Reverend Stephen
Richmond, if you please?”

Mrs. Dodge went upstairs and came right back saying would I please go
up to the study. Up I went, my heart in my mouth, I can tell you, and
there was Dick among his books, looking so pale and sorrowful and
interesting, for all the world like Lord Algernon Francis in the
splendid serial in the paper cook took. There was a Madonna on his
desk that looked just like Aunt Tommy.

“Good evening, Miss Elizabeth,” said Dick, just as if I were grown up,
you know. “Won’t you sit down? Try that green velvet chair. I am sure
it was created for a pink dress and unfortunately neither Mrs. Dodge
nor I possess one. How are all your people?”

“We are all pretty well; thank you,” I said, “except Aunt Tommy.
She–” I was going to say, “She cries every night after she goes to
bed,” but I remembered just in time that if I were in Aunt Tommy’s
place I wouldn’t want a man to know I cried about him even if I did.
So I said instead “–she has got a cold.”

“Ah, indeed, I am sorry to hear it,” said Dick, politely but coldly,
as if it were part of his duty as a minister to be sorry for anybody
who had a cold, but as if, apart from that, it was not a concern of
his if Aunt Tommy had galloping consumption.

“And Jack and I are terribly harrowed up in our minds,” I went on.
“That is what I’ve come up to see you about.”

“Well, tell me all about it,” said Dick.

“I’m afraid to,” I said. “I know you’ll be cross even if you are a
minister. It’s about what Jack told you about that man in New York and
Aunt Tommy.”

Dick turned as red as fire.

“I’d rather not discuss your Aunt Bertha’s affairs,” he said stiffly.

“You must hear this,” I cried, feeling thankful that Jacky hadn’t come
after all, for he’d never have got any further ahead after that snub.
“It’s all a mistake. There is a man in New York and he just worships
Aunt Tommy and she just adores him. But he’s seventy years old and
he’s her Uncle Matthew who brought her up ever since her father died
and you’ve heard her talking about him a hundred times. That’s all,
cross my heart solemn and true.”

You never saw anything like Dick’s face when I stopped. It looked just
like a sunrise. But he said slowly, “Why did Jacky tell me such
a–tell me it in such a way?”

“We wanted to make you jealous,” I said. “I put Jacky up to it.”

“I didn’t think it was in either of you to do such a thing,” said Dick
reproachfully.

“Oh, Dick,” I cried–fancy my calling him Dick right to his face!
Jacky will never believe I really did it. He says I would never have
dared. But it wasn’t daring at all, it was just forgetting. “Oh, Dick,
we didn’t mean any harm. We thought you weren’t getting on fast enough
and we wanted to stir you up like they do in books. We thought if we
made you jealous it would work all right. We didn’t mean any harm. Oh,
please forgive us!”

I was just ready to cry. But that dear Dick leaned over the table and
patted my hand.

“There, there, it’s all right. I understand and of course I forgive
you. Don’t cry, sweetheart.”

The way Dick said “sweetheart” was perfectly lovely. I envied Aunt
Tommy, and I wanted to keep on crying so that he would go on
comforting me.

“And you’ll come back to see Aunt Tommy again?” I said.

Dick’s face clouded over; he got up and walked around the room several
times before he said a word. Then he came and sat down beside me and
explained it all to me, just as if I were grown up.

“Sweetheart, we’ll talk this all out. You see, it is this way. Your
Aunt Bertha is the sweetest woman in the world. But I’m only a poor
minister and I have no right to ask her to share my life of hard work
and self-denial. And even if I dared I know she wouldn’t do it. She
doesn’t care anything for me except as a friend. I never meant to tell
her I cared for her but I couldn’t help going to Owlwood, even though
I knew it was a weakness on my part. So now that I’m out of the habit
of going I think it would be wisest to stay out. It hurts dreadfully,
but it would hurt worse after a while. Don’t you agree with me, Miss
Elizabeth?”

I thought hard and fast. If I were in Aunt Tommy’s place I mightn’t
want a man to know I cried about him, but I was quite sure I’d rather
have him know than have him stay away because he didn’t know. So I
spoke right up.

“No, I don’t, Mr. Richmond; Aunt Tommy does care–you just ask her.
She cries every blessed night because you never come to Owlwood.”

“Oh, Elizabeth!” said Dick.

He got up and stalked about the room again.

“You’ll come back?” I said.

“Yes,” he answered.

I drew a long breath. It was such a responsibility off my mind.

“Then you’d better come down with me right off,” I said, “for Pinky
Carewe had her out driving last night and I want a stop put to that as
soon as possible. Even if he is rich he’s a perfect pig.”

Dick got his hat and came. We walked up the road in lovely creamy
yellow twilight and I was, oh, so happy.

“Isn’t it just like a novel?” I said.

“I am afraid, Elizabeth,” said Dick preachily, “that you read too many
novels, and not the right kind, either. Some of these days I am going
to ask you to promise me that you will read no more books except those
your mother and I pick out for you.”

You don’t know how squelched I felt. And I knew I would have to
promise, too, for Dick can make me do anything he likes.




When we got to Owlwood I left Dick in the parlour and flew up to Aunt
Tommy’s room. I found her all scrunched up on her bed in the dark with
her face in the pillows.

“Aunt Tommy, Dick is down in the parlour and he wants to see you,” I
said.

Didn’t Aunt Tommy fly up, though!

“Oh, Jill–but I’m not fit to be seen–tell him I’ll be down in a few
minutes.”

I knew Aunt Tommy wanted to fix her hair and dab rose-water on her
eyes, so I trotted meekly down and told Dick. Then I flew out to Jacky
and dragged him around to the glass door. It was all hung over with
vines and a wee bit ajar so that we could see and hear everything that
went on.

Jacky said it was only sneaks that listened–but he didn’t say it
until next day. At the time he listened just as hard as I did. I
didn’t care if it was mean. I just had to listen. I was perfectly wild
to hear how a man would propose and how a girl would accept and it was
too good a chance to lose.

Presently in sweeps Aunt Tommy, in an elegant dress, not a hair out of
place. She looked perfectly sweet, only her nose was a little red.
Dick looked at her for just a moment, then he stepped forward and took
her right into his arms.

Aunt Tommy drew back her head for just a second as if she were going
to crush him in the dust, and then she just all kind of crumpled up
and her face went down on his shoulder.

“Oh–Bertha–I–love–you–I–love you,” he said, just like that, all
quick and jerky.

“You–you have taken a queer way of showing it,” said Aunt Tommy, all
muffled.

“I–I–was led to believe that there was another man–whom you cared
for–and I thought you were only trifling with me. So I sulked like a
jealous fool. Bertha, darling, you do love me a little, don’t you?”

Aunt Tommy lifted her head and stuck up her mouth and he kissed her.
And there it was, all over, and they were engaged as quick as that,
mind you. He didn’t even go down on his knees. There was nothing
romantic about it and I was never so disgusted in my life. When I grow
up and anybody proposes to me he will have to be a good deal more
flowery and eloquent than that, I can tell you, if he wants me to
listen to him.

I left Jacky peeking still and I went to bed. After a long time Aunt
Tommy came up to my room and sat down on my bed in the moonlight.

“You dear blessed Elizabeth!” she said.

“It’s all right then, is it?” I asked.

“Yes, it is all right, thanks to you, dearie. We are to be married in
October and somebody must be my little flower girl.”

“I think Dick will make a splendid husband,” I said. “But Aunt Tommy,
you mustn’t be too hard on Jacky. He only wanted to help things along,
and it was I who put him up it in the first place.”

“You have atoned by going and confessing,” said Aunt Tommy with a hug,
“Jacky had no business to put that off on you. I’ll forgive him, of
course, but I’ll punish him by not letting him know that I will for a
little while. Then I’ll ask him to be a page at my wedding.”

Well, the wedding came off last week. It was a perfectly gorgeous
affair. Aunt Tommy’s dress was a dream–and so was mine, all pink silk
and chiffon and carnations. Jacky made a magnificent page too, in a
suit of white velvet. The wedding cake was four stories high, and Dick
looked perfectly handsome. He kissed me too, right after he kissed
Aunt Tommy.

So everything turned out all right, and I believe Dick would never
have dared to speak up if we hadn’t helped things along. But Jacky and
I have decided that we will never meddle in an affair of the kind
again. It is too hard on the nerves.