The unspoken end of Aunt Jane’s sentence pursued me into dreams in which an unknown gentleman obligingly broke his neck riding to hounds and left Apollo heir to the title and estates.
I ENGAGE THE ENEMY
It was fortunate that I slept well in my narrow berth on board the Rufus Smith, for the next day was one of trial. Aunt Jane had recovered what Mr. Tubbs, with deprecating coughs behind his hand, alluded to as her sea-legs, and staggered forth wanly, leaning on the arm of Miss Higglesby-Browne. Yes, of Miss Browne, while I, Aunt Jane’s own niece, trotted meekly in the rear with a cushion. Already I had begun to realize how fatally I had underrated the lady of the hyphen, in imagining I had only to come and see and conquer Aunt Jane. The grim and bony one had made hay while the sun shone—while I was idling in California, and those criminally supine cousins were allowing Aunt Jane to run about New York at her own wild will. Miss Higglesby-Browne had her own collar and tag on Aunt Jane now, while she, so complete was her perversion, fairly hugged her slavery and called it freedom. Yes, she talked about her Emancipation and her Soul-force and her Individuality, prattling away like a child that has learned its lesson well.
“Mercy, aunty, what long words!” I cried gaily, sitting down beside her and patting her hand. Usually I can do anything with her when I pet her up a bit. But the eye of Miss Higglesby-Browne was on her—and Aunt Jane actually drew a little away.
“Really, Virginia,” she said, feebly endeavoring to rise to the occasion as she knew Miss Browne would have her rise, “really, while it’s very nice to see you and all that, still I hope you realize that I have had a—a deep Soul-experience, and that I am no longer to be—trifled with and—and treated as if I were—amusing. I am really at a loss to imagine why you came. I wrote you that I was in the company of trusted friends.”
“Friends?” I echoed aggrievedly. “Friends are all very well, of course, but when you and I have just each other, aunty, I think it is unkind of you to expect me to stay thousands of miles away from you all by myself.”
“But it was you who sent me to New York, and insisted on my staying there!” she cried. Evidently she had been living over her wrongs.
“Yes—but how different!” I interrupted hastily. “There were the cousins—of course I have to spare you sometimes to the rest of the family!” Aunt Jane is strong on family feeling, and frequently reproaches me with my lack of it.
But in expecting Aunt Jane to soften at this I reckoned without Miss Higglesby-Browne. A dart from the cold gray eyes galvanized my aunt into a sudden rigid erectness.
“My dear Virginia,” she said with quavering severity, “let me remind you that there are ties even dearer than those of blood—soul-affinities, you know, and—and, in short, in my dear friend Miss Higglesby-Browne I have met for the first time in my life with a—a Sympathetic Intelligence that understands Me!”