Miss Lydia slid the letter beneath a fold of her dress.
“The Mobile Chronicle came,” she said promptly. “It’s on the table in your study.”
By George Randolph Chester (1869- )
[From McClure’s Magazine, June, 1905; copyright, 1905, by the S.S. McClure Co.; republished by the author’s permission.]
Just as the stage rumbled over the rickety old bridge, creaking and groaning, the sun came from behind the clouds that had frowned all the way, and the passengers cheered up a bit. The two richly dressed matrons who had been so utterly and unnecessarily oblivious to the presence of each other now suspended hostilities for the moment by mutual and unspoken consent, and viewed with relief the little, golden-tinted valley and the tree-clad road just beyond. The respective husbands of these two ladies exchanged a mere glance, no more, of comfort. They, too, were relieved, though more by the momentary truce than by anything else. They regretted very much to be compelled to hate each other, for each had reckoned up his vis-a-vis as a rather proper sort of fellow, probably a man of some achievement, used to good living and good company.
Extreme iciness was unavoidable between them, however. When one stranger has a splendidly preserved blonde wife and the other a splendidly preserved brunette wife, both of whom have won social prominence by years of hard fighting and aloofness, there remains nothing for the two men but to follow the lead, especially when directly under the eyes of the leaders.
The son of the blonde matron smiled cheerfully as the welcome light flooded the coach.
He was a nice-looking young man, of about twenty-two, one might judge, and he did his smiling, though in a perfectly impersonal and correct sort of manner, at the pretty daughter of the brunette matron. The pretty daughter also smiled, but her smile was demurely directed at the trees outside, clad as they were in all the flaming glory of their autumn tints, glistening with the recent rain and dripping with gems that sparkled and flashed in the noonday sun as they fell.
It is marvelous how much one can see out of the corner of the eye, while seeming to view mere scenery.
The driver looked down, as he drove safely off the bridge, and shook his head at the swirl of water that rushed and eddied, dark and muddy, close up under the rotten planking; then he cracked his whip, and the horses sturdily attacked the little hill.
Thick, overhanging trees on either side now dimmed the light again, and the two plump matrons once more glared past the opposite shoulders, profoundly unaware of each other. The husbands took on the politely surly look required of them. The blonde son’s eyes still sought the brunette daughter, but it was furtively done and quite unsuccessfully, for the daughter was now doing a little glaring on her own account. The blonde matron had just swept her eyes across the daughter’s skirt, estimating the fit and material of it with contempt so artistically veiled that it could almost be understood in the dark.