The Deacons were at supper. In the middle of the table was a small, appealing tulip plant, looking as anything would look whose sun was a gas jet. This gas jet was high above the table and flared, with a sound.
“Better turn down the gas jest a little,” Mr. Deacon said, and stretched up to do so. He made this joke almost every night. He seldom spoke as a man speaks who has something to say, but as a man who makes something to say.
“Well, what have we on the festive board to-night?” he questioned, eyeing it. “Festive” was his favourite adjective. “Beautiful,” too. In October he might be heard asking: “Where’s my beautiful fall coat?”
“We have creamed salmon,” replied Mrs. Deacon gently. “On toast,” she added, with a scrupulous regard for the whole truth. Why she should say this so gently no one can tell. She says everything gently. Her “Could you leave me another bottle of milk this morning?” would wring a milkman’s heart.
“Well, now, let us see,” said Mr. Deacon, and attacked the principal dish benignly. “Let us see,” he added, as he served.
“I don’t want any,” said Monona.
The child Monona was seated upon a book and a cushion, so that her little triangle of nose rose adultly above her plate. Her remark produced precisely the effect for which she had passionately hoped.
“What’s this?” cried Mr. Deacon. “No salmon?”
“No,” said Monona, inflected up, chin pertly pointed. She felt her power, discarded her “sir.”
“Oh now, Pet!” from Mrs. Deacon, on three notes. “You liked it before.”
“I don’t want any,” said Monona, in precisely her original tone.
“Just a little? A very little?” Mr. Deacon persuaded, spoon dripping;
The child Monona made her lips thin and straight and shook her head until her straight hair flapped in her eyes on either side. Mr. Deacon’s eyes anxiously consulted his wife’s eyes. What is this? Their progeny will not eat? What can be supplied?
“Some bread and milk!” cried Mrs. Deacon brightly, exploding on “bread.” One wondered how she thought of it.
“No,” said Monona, inflection up, chin the same. She was affecting indifference to, this scene, in which her soul delighted. She twisted her head, bit her lips unconcernedly, and turned her eyes to the remote.
There emerged from the fringe of things, where she perpetually hovered, Mrs. Deacon’s older sister, Lulu Bett, who was “making her home with us.” And that was precisely the case. They were not making her a home, goodness knows. Lulu was the family beast of burden.
“Can’t I make her a little milk toast?” she asked Mrs. Deacon.
Mrs. Deacon hesitated, not with compunction at accepting Lulu’s offer, not diplomatically to lure Monona. But she hesitated habitually, by nature, as another is by nature vivacious or brunette.