At that Sheridan pounded the table till it jumped. “Look here, young lady!” he roared. “Some o’ these days I’m either goin’ to slap you— or I’m goin’ to kiss you!”
Edith looked aghast; she was afraid this was indeed “too awful,” but Mary Vertrees burst into ringing laughter.
“Both!” she cried. “Both! The one to make me forget the other!”
“But which—” he began, and then suddenly gave forth such stentorian trumpetings of mirth that for once the whole table stopped to listen. “Jim,” he roared, “if you don’t propose to that girl to-night I’ll send you back to the machine-shop with Bibbs!”
And Bibbs—down among the retainers by the sugar Pump Works, and watching Mary Vertrees as a ragged boy in the street might watch a rich little girl in a garden—Bibbs heard. He heard—and he knew what his father’s plans were now.
Mrs. Vertrees “sat up” for her daughter, Mr. Vertrees having retired after a restless evening, not much soothed by the society of his Landseers. Mary had taken a key, insisting that he should not come for her and seeming confident that she would not lack for escort; nor did the sequel prove her confidence unwarranted. But Mrs. Vertrees had a long vigil of it.
She was not the woman to make herself easy—no servant had ever seen her in a wrapper—and with her hair and dress and her shoes just what they had been when she returned from the afternoon’s call, she sat through the slow night hours in a stiff little chair under the gaslight in her own room, which was directly over the “front hall.” There, book in hand, she employed the time in her own reminiscences, though it was her belief that she was reading Madame de Remusat’s.
Her thoughts went backward into her life and into her husband’s; and the deeper into the past they went, the brighter the pictures they brought her—and there is tragedy. Like her husband, she thought backward because she did not dare think forward definitely. What thinking forward this troubled couple ventured took the form of a slender hope which neither of them could have borne to hear put in words, and yet they had talked it over, day after day, from the very hour when they heard Sheridan was to build his New House next door. For—so quickly does any ideal of human behavior become an antique —their youth was of the innocent old days, so dead! of “breeding” and “gentility,” and no craft had been more straitly trained upon them than that of talking about things without mentioning them. Herein was marked the most vital difference between Mr. and Mrs. Vertrees and their big new neighbor. Sheridan, though his youth was of the same epoch, knew nothing of such matters. He had been chopping wood for the morning fire in the country grocery while they were still dancing.
It was after one o’clock when Mrs. Vertrees heard steps and the delicate clinking of the key in the lock, and then, with the opening of the door, Mary’s laugh, and “Yes—if you aren’t afraid—to-morrow!”