“‘I think it’s terrible,’ said a fat lady from Louisville, distinguished for her appetite, an’ often surreptitiously referred to as ‘The Mammoth Cave of Kentucky.’ ’The idea of trying to make it fashionable to endure drudgery! I think we women have all we can do now.’
“‘To be respectable,’ said Mrs. Bill; ’but let’s try to do something else.’
“‘Why don’t you form a Ladies’ Protective Union,’ Bill suggested, ‘an’ choose the tiara for a symbol, an’ strike for no hours a day an’ all your husbands can earn?’
“‘And the employment of skilled idlers only,’ Mrs. Bill put in. ’They must all know how to do nothing in the modern way—by discussing the rights of women and the novel of lust, and the divorces past and prospective, by playing at bridge and benevolence. How absurd it all is! I’m not going to be an overgrown child any longer.’
“I saw that Mrs. Bill was makin’ progress, an’ with her assistance I began to hope for better things in that neighborhood.
“You’ve got to reach the women somehow, you see, before you can improve the social conditions of a community. I love them, but many are overgrown children, as Mrs. Bill had put it, an’ doin’ nothing with singular skill an’ determination an’ often with appalling energy.
“Our pretty hostess had been helping a butler, as this talk went on, an’ presently one of the other ladies joined her, an’ never was any company so picturesquely an’ amusingly served.
“‘I’ve quite fallen in love with that three-year-old boy,’ said Mrs. Bill, as we rose from the table. ’I had a good romp with him to-day.’
“’I wish you’d go over to the old farm-house with me; I want to show you something,’ I said.
“In a moment we were in wraps an’ making our way across the lawn.
“‘I was glad to get a rap at that Mrs. Barrow,’ she whispered, as we walked along. ’She’s just got back her jewels that were stolen, and has begun to go out again. She’s the vainest, proudest fool of a woman, and her husband is always borrowing money. Did you know it?’
“‘Some—that is, fairly well,’ I said, with bitterness.
“’So does Bill, and she goes about with the airs of a grand lady and the silliest notions. Really, it was for her benefit that I helped the butler.’
“‘If it weren’t for Bill I’d call you an angel,’ I said. ’You have it in your power to redeem the skilled idlers of this community.’
“We reached the little house so unlike the big, baronial thing we had left. It was a home. Mrs. Hammond sat by the reading-lamp in its cozy sitting-room before an open fire. She led us into the bedroom with the lamp in her hand. There lay the boy as I had left him, still smiling with a lovelier, softer red in his cheeks than that of roses.
[Illustration: She led us into the bedroom.]
“‘See the color and the dimples,’ I said.
“She looked from one to another, an’ suddenly the strong appeal of their faces fell upon her. She raised the boy from his bed, an’ he put his arms around her neck an’ began to talk in a tender baby treble.