“I should like a slice, if you please, of Lady Baltimore,” I said with extreme formality.
I thought she was going to burst; but after an interesting second she replied, “Certainly,” in her fit Regular Exchange tone; only, I thought it trembled a little.
I returned to the table and she brought me the cake, and I had my first felicitous meeting with Lady Baltimore. Oh, my goodness! Did you ever taste it? It’s all soft, and it’s in layers, and it has nuts—but I can’t write any more about it; my mouth waters too much.
Delighted surprise caused me once more to speak aloud, and with my mouth full. “But, dear me, this Is delicious!”
A choking ripple of laughter came from the counter. “It’s I who make them,” said the girl. “I thank you for the unintentional compliment.” Then she walked straight back to my table. “I can’t help it,” she said, laughing still, and her delightful, insolent nose well up; “how can I behave myself when a man goes on as you do?” A nice white curly dog followed her, and she stroked his ears.
“Your behavior is very agreeable to me,” I remarked.
“You’ll allow me to say that you’re not invited to criticise it. I was decidedly put out with you for making me ridiculous. But you have admired my cake with such enthusiasm that you are forgiven. And—may I hope that you are getting on famously with the battle of Cowpens?”
I stared. “I’m frankly very much astonished that you should know about that!”
“Oh, you’re just known all about in Kings Port.”
I wish that our miserable alphabet could in some way render the soft Southern accent which she gave to her words. But it cannot. I could easily misspell, if I chose; but how, even then, could I, for instance, make you hear her way of saying “about”? “Aboot” would magnify it; and besides, I decline to make ugly to the eye her quite special English, that was so charming to the ear.
“Kings Port just knows all about you,” she repeated with a sweet and mocking laugh.
“Do you mind telling me how?”
She explained at once. “This place is death to all incognitos.”
The explanation, however, did not, on the instant, enlighten me. “This? The Woman’s Exchange, you mean?”
“Why, to be sure! Have you not heard ladies talking together here?”
I blankly repealed her words. “Ladies talking?”
“Oh!” I cried. “How dull of me! Ladies talking! Of course!”
She continued. “It was therefore widely known that you were consulting our South Carolina archives at the library—and then that notebook you bring marked you out the very first day. Why, two hours after your first lunch we just knew all about you!”
“Dear me!” said I.