VITRIOL AND THE HOODOO
“I suppose it is absurd for a staid old matron like myself to be jealous, really jealous, at seeing a child like you being consumed alive by a lot of simpering misses in pink and blue chiffon pinafores, who ought to be in their nursery cots asleep, but I have been and am, boy. Did you forget that I was your oldest friend while Sue Tomlinson fed you sweets out of her hand?” And as she spoke she seated herself in the exact center of the window seat and motioned me to place myself in the portion of the left side that remained. I inserted myself into the space that was so indicated and laid my arm along the window ledge behind her very much undressed back, so that I might give to my lungs space to expand for air. I think that arrangement made very much for the comfort of the beautiful Madam Patricia, for she immediately appropriated that arm as a cushion for her undraped shoulders. We being thus comfortably wedged, the warfare began.
“All week I’ve been thinking about you, you wonderful boy, and wondering just what you have been doing and what has been doing to you. The General is so—so incomprehensible in his attitude towards you and yours. All these years he has been”—and as she spoke she looked up into my eyes and pressed slightly towards me—“uncompromising, hasn’t he?”
“Yes, Madam, I do find my Uncle, the General Robert, to be, as you say, uncompromising,” I answered as I looked down at her with a smile. “But you are not like that, are you, beautiful Madam Whitworth? You will compromise yourself, will you not?”
“Don’t use English words so carelessly, my dear, until you are less ignorant of their meaning,” she reproved me as she sat erect and gave to my lungs an inch more breathing space. I had heard that large lady of the State of Cincinnati on the ship say that a nice lady from a place called Kansas, and whom everyone gave the title of Mrs. Grass because of a disagreeable husband who was not dead, “compromised” herself with a very much drinking gentleman from Boston because she sat in a small space with him behind the chimney for smoke from the engine, and I thought it was a nice word to fit into the conversation with Madam Whitworth at that time. And I think it did fit better than I had quite intended that it should. I saw offense and I hastened to make a peace so that I should learn all that I wanted to know from her while letting her learn all that I did not know from me.