Never had life seemed more fair and smiling than at the moment when Aunt Jane’s letter descended upon me like a bolt from the blue. The fact is, I was taking a vacation from Aunt Jane. Being an orphan, I was supposed to be under Aunt Jane’s wing, but this was the merest polite fiction, and I am sure that no hen with one chicken worries about it more than I did about Aunt Jane. I had spent the last three years, since Aunt Susan died and left Aunt Jane with all that money and no one to look after her but me, in snatching her from the brink of disaster. Her most recent and narrow escape was from a velvet-tongued person of half her years who turned out to be a convict on parole. She had her hand-bag packed for the elopement when I confronted her with this unpleasant fact. When she came to she was bitter instead of grateful, and went about for weeks presenting a spectacle of blighted affections which was too much for the most self-approving conscience. So it ended with my packing her off to New York, where I wrote to her frequently and kindly, urging her not to mind me but to stay as long as she liked.
Meanwhile I came up to the ranch for a long holiday with Bess and the baby, a holiday which had already stretched itself out to Thanksgiving, and threatened to last until Christmas. People wrote alluringly from town, but what had town to offer compared with a saddle-horse to yourself, and a litter of collie pups to play with, and a baby just learning to walk? I even began to consider ranching as a career, and to picture myself striding over my broad acres in top-boots and corduroys.
As to Aunt Jane, my state of mind was fatuously calm. She was staying with cousins, who live in a suburb and are frightfully respectable. I was sure they numbered no convicts among their acquaintance, or indeed any one from whom Aunt Jane was likely to require rescuing. And if it came to a retired missionary I was perfectly willing.
But the cousins and their respectability are of the passive order, whereas to manage Aunt Jane demands aggressive and continuous action. Hence the bolt from the blue above alluded to.
I was swinging tranquilly in the hammock, I remember, when Bess brought my letters and then hurried away because the baby had fallen down-stairs. Unwarned by the slightest premonitory thrill, I kept Aunt Jane’s letter till the last and skimmed through all the others. I should be thankful, I suppose, that the peace soon to be so rudely shattered was prolonged for those few moments. I recalled afterward, but dimly, as though a gulf of ages yawned between, that I had been quite interested in six pages of prattle about the Patterson dance.