Now, I don’t take much stock in all this mother-in-law talk, though I’ve usually found that where there’s so much smoke there’s a little fire; but I’m bound to say that Helen’s ma came back at me with a sniff and a snort, and made me feel sorry that I’d intruded on her sacred grief. Told me that a girl of Helen’s beauty and advantages had naturally been very, very popular, and greatly sought after. Said that she had been received in the very best society in Europe, and might have worn strawberry leaves if she’d chosen, meaning, I’ve since found out, that she might have married a duke.
[Illustration: Crying into her third plate of ice cream]
I tried to soothe the old lady, and to restore good feeling by allowing that wearing leaves had sort of gone out of fashion with the Garden of Eden, and that I liked Helen better in white satin, but everything I said just seemed to enrage her the more. Told me plainly that she’d thought, and hinted that she’d hoped, right up to last month, that Helen was going to marry a French nobleman, the Count de Somethingerino or other, who was crazy about her. So I answered that we’d both had a narrow escape, because I’d been afraid for a year that I might wake up any morning and find myself the father-in-law of a Crystal Slipper chorus-girl. Then, as it looked as if the old lady was going to bust a corset-string in getting out her answer, I modestly slipped away, leaving her leaking brine and acid like a dill pickle that’s had a bite taken out of it.
Good mothers often make bad mothers-in-law, because they usually believe that, no matter whom their daughters marry, they could have gone farther and fared better. But it struck me that Helen’s ma has one of those retentive memories and weak mouths—the kind of memory that never loses anything it should forget, and the kind of mouth that can’t retain a lot of language which it shouldn’t lose.
Of course, you want to honor your mother-in-law, that your days may be long in the land; but you want to honor this one from a distance, for the same reason. Otherwise, I’m afraid you’ll hear a good deal about that French count, and how hard it is for Helen to have to associate with a lot of mavericks from the Stock Yards, when she might be running with blooded stock on the other side. And if you glance up from your morning paper and sort of wonder out loud whether Corbett or Fitzsimmons is the better man, mother-in-law will glare at you over the top of her specs and ask if you don’t think it’s invidious to make any comparisons if they’re both striving, to lead earnest, Christian lives. Then, when you come home at night, you’ll be apt to find your wife sniffing your breath when you kiss her, to see if she can catch that queer, heavy smell which mother has noticed on it; or looking at you slant-eyed when she feels some letters in your coat, and wondering if what mother says is true, and if men who’ve once taken chorus-girls to supper never really recover from the habit.