Jane laughed. “What a funny name!” she said. “I didn’t mean your real name; I meant your callers’ name. One of us was Mrs. Jones, and one was—”
“I want to be Mrs. Jones,” said Rannie.
“Oh, my dear Mrs. Jones,” Jane began at once, “I want to tell you about my lovely chuldren. I have two, one only seven years old, and the other—”
“Jane!” called Mrs. Baxter from William’s window.
“You must go somewhere else to play. Willie’s trying to work at his studies up here, and he says you’ve disturbed him very much.”
The obedient Jane and her friend turned to go, and as they went, Miss Mary Randolph Kirsted allowed her uplifted eyes to linger with increased disfavor upon William, who appeared beside Mrs. Baxter at the window.
“I tell you what let’s do,” Rannie suggested in a lowered voice. “He got so fresh with us, an’ made your mother come, an’ all, let’s—let’s—”
“Let’s what?” Jane urged her, in an eager whisper.
“Let’s think up somep’n he won’t like—an’ do it!”
They disappeared round a corner of the house, their heads close together.
Up-stairs, Mrs. Baxter moved to the door of her son’s room, pretending to be unconscious of the gaze he maintained upon her. Mustering courage to hum a little tune and affecting inconsequence, she had nearly crossed the threshold when he said, sternly:
“And this is all you intend to say to that child?”
“Why, yes, Willie.”
“And yet I told you what she said!” he cried. “I told you I heard her stand there and tell that dirty-faced little girl how that idiot boy that’s always walkin’ past here four or five times a day, whistling and looking back, was in ‘love of’ her! Ye gods! What kind of a person will she grow up into if you don’t punish her for havin’ ideas like that at her age?”
Mrs. Baxter regarded him mildly, not replying, and he went on, with loud indignation:
“I never heard of such a thing! That Worm walkin’ past here four or five times a day just to look at Jane! And her standing there, calmly tellin’ that sooty-faced little girl, ‘He’s in love of me’! Why, it’s enough to sicken a man! Honestly, if I had my way, I’d see that both she and that little Freddie Banks got a first-class whipping!”
“Don’t you think, Willie,” said Mrs. Baxter—“don’t you think that, considering the rather noncommittal method of Freddie’s courtship, you are suggesting extreme measures?”
“Well, she certainly ought to be punished!” he insisted, and then, with a reversal to agony, he shuddered. “That’s the least of it!” he cried. “It’s the insulting things you always allow her to say of one of the noblest girls in the United States—that’s what counts! On the very last day—yes, almost the last hour—that Miss Pratt’s in this town, you let your only daughter stand there and speak disrespectfully of her—and then all you do is tell her to ‘go and play somewhere else’! I don’t understand your way of bringing up a child,” he declared, passionately. “I do not!”