The Patronee Party
MRS. CHARLTON would have been very much surprised had she known that Eunice regarded her simple housekeeping as luxurious, for she rather prided herself upon her economy, since the doctor's modest salary required much management to make it supply the exigencies of a large family and a dignified social position.
Accustomed in her youth to a retinue of houseservants, she had thought it impossible at first to get along with the two good "girls" that were all most Bellaire housekeepers considered necessary to carry on the work of a house. But she had learned rapidly, and had a year or two before consummated an arrangement by which, she prided herself, she had still further reduced her domestic expenses. She had taken into her employ a colored woman with a fourteen-year-old son and a little girl; and in consideration of getting a comfortable home for her family, Alcinda was willing to take smaller wages even than the very modest sum paid for a cook in those days. It was part of the arrangement that her son, in return for his board and clothing, was to be dining-room boy and to assist in the rougher part of the up-stairs work; and it was not long before Charles Cook, junior, had become the most indispensable member of the household.
He had never been named by any shorter title in the family from the day when he first presented himself in the dining-room with his brown face shining from a liberal application of soap and water, his black wool laboriously brushed into almost the semblance of a part, his black eyes dancing, and showing all his teeth with the pleased sense of importance attached to the immaculate white apron he was wearing, and the shining silver salver he was holding in his hand. The kindly doctor, wishing to show his good-will toward this new member of his family, had asked him his name, and at his prompt response, accompanied with a respectful duck, "Charles Cook, junior, sah," the boys had shouted with delight, and the doctor himself had set the fashion of perpetuating the name by always addressing him by his full title.
Taking the new teacher to board in exchange for the tuition of their children had been another stroke of economy on Mrs. Charlton's part; and although the doctor had at first demurred at adding to their already large family or increasing his wife's cares, she was so childishly pleased with her thrifty project that he had to yield finally. Now she was saying to the doctor, who had just come in from his class-room and was waiting for the dinner-bell in Mrs. Charlton's large sunny room:
"I am so glad we decided to take her. Isn't she charming? I know I shall love her."
"Yes, dear, your little plans always turn out well," with an admiring glance; "she is a perfect type of a young New England gentlewoman, and I am very glad Lucy is to have her for companion as well as teacher. "
"I am going up-stairs now to waken her for dinner," said Mrs. Charlton; "and I have a great mind to call her 'Eunice.' Would you, dear?" looking wistfully at her husband, and adding, "She must be so homesick so far from home and among so many strangers."
"My love," said the doctor, earnestly, taking her hand and looking into her shining eyes as she stood beside him, " do exactly as your heart prompts you. It can never prompt you to do anything but what is kindest and best."
When Eunice heard a soft voice calling her name, and thought, too, she felt a light kiss on her forehead, she opened her eyes and lay for a moment quite still and bewildered. Her sleep had been the heavy sleep of exhaustion, and she could not at once collect her scattered faculties. She almost thought she had lost her identity altogether, awakening so suddenly in that strange room to find a sweet face framed in dark glossy curls bending over her, and a pair of beautiful brown eyes looking lovingly into hers.
Gradually, however, the mists cleared away, she recognized the eyes that were now smiling at her bewilderment, and sprang quickly up, exclaiming:
"Is it morning, and am I late?"
"It is too bad to arouse you," said Mrs. Charlton, "when you were sleeping so sweetly; but it is dinnertime. Don't stop to do anything, but bathe your face a little, put on that pretty gown on the chair that I have been admiring, and come down and see Mr. Charlton. He is very impatient to make your acquaintance further. Would you like to have me help you with your fastenings?"
"Oh no," answered Eunice, quickly. She had already risen, and Mrs. Charlton was pouring some fresh water into the basin for her.
"You must not do that for me, Mrs. Charlton," said Eunice, greatly disturbed at being waited upon in such fashion, "I do not need any help, and I will be downstairs in five minutes."
"Oh, don't hurry; it doesn't matter if you are late. And, my dear, I want to ask you to let me call you Eunice. I think it will make you feel more at home, and I want you to be very much at home with us."
Eunice found it difficult to reply, the motherly tone touched her so deeply; but she managed to stammer out her grateful thanks.
The pretty morning-gown she had laid ready upon her chair was one that she and her mother had taken great pride in making. It was of soft gray cashmere faced with quilted blue silk and falling open over a fine white cambric "front" tucked from the hem to the waist with tiny tucks. But she bad never worn it, and she found the getting into it the first time no easy problem; and so she did not keep quite to her five minutes. It was fully a quarter of an hour later, therefore, when Millie, who had been sent to conduct her down-stairs opened the dining-room door and ushered in proudly the new teacher. The doctor was in the very midst of "asking the blessing," and Eunice had to stop at the door until he had finished and stood with dropped lids, while four pairs of curious eyes took sly peeps at her from between fingers that were supposed to be reverently covering them. Simultaneously with the four boyish "Amens," pronounced loudly and promptly, the four heads were lifted, and Eunice had to run the gauntlet of their undisguised admiration as she passed to her seat beside the doctor at the farther end of the table. She was too conscious of her new finery not to find it a trying ordeal, and the color was coming and going in her cheeks as she took her place.
The doctor had taken in at a glance the pretty gown, its mingled blue and gray matching the tints of the large, calm eyes, and it quite satisfied his esthetic sense. So did the face, although its oval was almost too long for a perfect line of beauty, and looked still longer with the light curls drooping on both sides of it. But the chin was well molded, and there were lines of firmness about the mouth that he liked as betokening the strength of character suitable to her vocation. The brow was white and open, a little inclined perhaps to be high and narrow, but that was no fault in those days. On the whole, he was very much pleased with the personnel of the new teacher. He thought her a quaint New England type, and he was scientifically fond of finding new types. He decided there must be Quaker blood in her ancestry, and he could easily imagine himself addressing her as "Friend Eunice," with the pretty "thee" and "thou." Of course this mental inventory took but a moment of time, and Eunice had only begun to unfold her napkin when the doctor was saying to her, gallantly:
"You have won the boys' hearts already, Miss Harlowe. A pretty woman in pretty clothes completely subjugates them."
The boys, according to their different temperaments, smiled a gallant response to their father's speech, or looked foolish; and Mrs. Charlton, glancing saucily at her husband, said:
"He is speaking for himself, Miss Harlowe. You will not be long in finding out that the boys come by their weakness honestly."
And then the good doctor rubbed his hands delightedly at being found out, and was just about to make another gallant rejoinder when he discovered that Eunice did not quite know how to take these pleasantries and was becoming embarrassed for a reply. His manner changed instantly, and he was the grave but kindly host, leading the table-talk that followed into topics of general interest. Eunice was included in it all just enough to make her feel not so much the honored guest as the welcome member of the home circle, and she was soon quite at her ease, and taking a modest share in the conversation, with great good sense and ready appreciation, the doctor thought.
"And now, Eunice, we must tell you about the patronee party," said Mrs. Charlton when Charles Cook, junior, staagering under the weight of an enormous watermelon, had placed it before the doctor, who skilfully dissected a bit of the luscious heart and laid it before Eunice. Lucy looked up in surprise to hear her mother use such a familiar address to the dignified stranger.
"I don't believe, mamma, she said, "that Miss Harlowe ever heard of a patronee party;" and Lucy's surmise proving correct, Mrs. Charlton proceeded to explain it in full.
I do not know whether "patronee parties" were peculiar to Old Tomlinson, but they were time-honored institutions there, and much looked forward to by the belles and beaux. It was a requirement of the college that each student, at his entrance, should select one of the faculty as his "patron"; with him were deposited the student's funds, and he regulated his expenditures. And back somewhere in the eighteenth century, I suspect, had arisen the custom of the patron giving a party to his patronees, to which an equal number of young ladies was invited. I have sometimes fancied that there was a friendly rivalry among the professors as to who should give the finest party to his patronees, and that new students, on entering college were advised by old ones as to which professor made the best patron in that respect; and the bachelor professors, necessarily disqualified from entertaining, had a rather small clientèle.
I hardly think Mrs. Charlton gave Eunice quite so full an explanation as this, but it was sufficient to make her understand the name at least, and then she added:
"We have always given our patronee party in winter, but it is a much more troublesome affair then, with hot oysters and salads, and I have decided to try it this year early in the season. It will be full moon to-morrow night, and we can use the veranda and garden; and it is so warm that ices and simple refreshments will be very acceptable. But our principal reason in having it so early is to introduce you at once to the young people. You see, I am thriftily trying to kill two birds with one stone, giving you a début party and getting through with the patronee party at the same time."
There was something formidable to Eunice in the sound of the word "party." She could not remember that she had ever been to a real young ladies' party with young gentlemen in attendance, and it was with very mingled emotions that she heard of the approaching festivity. She was not quite sure that she would know what to do, and she wondered vaguely if they would play games, as she remembered that the factory girls and boys did at the church sociables–and grew so loud and noisy that Eunice shuddered at the remembrance. Or perhaps they danced! And mingled with her very severe ideas of the wickedness of such an ungodly pastime was a latent sense of the dreariness she would experience in being a wall-flower.
But it was not all trepidation. "A party" sounded very nice, too; and she was sure to meet Mr. McAllister, and she found that pleasant to look forward to. And then she had her graduating-dress all ready, and she was quite sure nothing could be nicer or more appropriate for a party than that. She and Lucy had a chance to get very well acquainted in the long, hot afternoon that followed, which they spent, for the sake of comfort, in the cool parlors; and she was greatly relieved when to her timid inquiry if there would be dancing, Lucy replied in quite a shocked tone: "Oh, no! of course not; you know father is a clergyman"; and then added reflectively: "I am not sure that he disapproves of dancing very much–or mother, either. We dance sometimes in the evening by ourselves; but I suppose people would not like it if they thought father countenanced it, and of course it would not do to have dancing at a party in our house. "
Eunice was so much relieved to find that she was not to be compelled to pass through that trial that she was half tempted to confide in Lucy the fact that she did not know what they did at parties, or how they did it; but she remembered that Lucy was to be her pupil, and that there must be a certain amount of dignity maintained in their relations, and she decided she must simply watch others and do as they did.
There could hardly be a greater contrast than Lucy and Eunice presented when they were both dressed the next evening and awaiting in the parlor the arrival of the first guests. They stood on either side of Mrs. Charlton, who, beautiful at all times, was quite queenly when arrayed for a state occasion in sweeping robes of silk, her dress opened at the neck to show a kerchief of finest lace, and the flowing sleeves displaying undersleeves of the same costly fabric. Her dark, glossy hair, falling in curls about her face, was gathered into a high knot at the back with a broad shell-comb, and her eyes were as bright and her cheeks as rosy as any girl's in the room. She was a splendid foil to the two girls, both fair, but of such different types. Eunice, with her Quaker-like beauty, looked just as she ought in her simple muslin dress tucked in wide tucks from the hem to the waist, and with a blue sash confining the folds of the "baby" waist, her eyes a little brighter than usual, the tint on her cheeks a little deeper, and her hair, if possible, smoother, with a little wreath of white rosebuds resting on it. On the other side of her mother stood Lucy, a very rose herself. Her hair was curled, too, in golden fluffy curls, waving about her face like a bright halo. Her eyes were like the deepest blue of her own soft skies, and the pink rose fastened in her hair was not more exquisitely tinted than her cheek. Her round white arms were bare, and so was her neck, gleaming in snowy whiteness from among clouds of soft tulle, which were fastened at her waist with a pink satin girdle where they met the fleecy ruffles of her skirt.
Eunice had always a confused remembrance of that evening: a party where they neither danced nor played games; where the amusement was conversation with a little very good music, yet where there was not a particle of "stiffness"; where the stream of talk flowed lightly, swiftly, and sometimes sparklingly; and where long lines of young men and young women were brought up and presented to her,–the young, men not all handsome, but all having something bright to say in the minute or two they were permitted to linger at her side; and the young women, most of them to her eye extremely pretty, and all of them to her quick feminine perception thoroughly well dressed and perfectly at home with this kind of thing, and very cordial and sweet in their manner toward her.
But if most of the evening was a dazzling blur on her memory, the latter part of it always, stood out with startling vividness. She had begun to be very weary with long standing, and from the continued strain of keeping up with so much bright nonsense, when McAllister appeared at her side. She had seen him earlier in the evening, but only for a moment, when he had inquired with great empressement whether she had recovered from the fatigues of her journey, and she had felt the foolish color leap up into her face at his tones. Now when he appeared again he said, with quite an air of concern:
"You look tired, Miss Harlowe; let me insist upon your coming out upon the veranda and getting a little air and a little rest."
Mrs. Charlton turned to her quickly. "Yes, go with Mr. McAllister, Eunice; there is no necessity of your staying here any longer. If everybody has not arrived, they deserve not to meet you for coming so late. I am going to dismiss Lucy, too, in a few minutes.
So she took McAllister's offered arm, and he skillfully piloted her through the throng and out the low French window on to the veranda. The veranda continued around the other side of the house, and there at the farther end sofas and low chairs and an ottoman or two had been arranged to make a pretty boudoir. The full moon was flooding the garden, but that part of the veranda was shaded by a great maple. The seats seemed to Eunice to be all occupied, but at their approach a young lady rose from a low easy chair in which she had been half reclining, and a young man sprang up from an ottoman at her feet.
"We have been saving this chair for you, Miss Harlowe," said the young lady in a pleasant voice; "we were sure you must be tired." And the young man said, "Here's your seat, Mac; Miss Mazie and I are going for a walk."
They lingered a moment to interchange a few pleasant words, and then as they walked away McAllister said:
"That young fellow is Willie Dayton, and if I tell you a secret you must not betray him. He is dead in love with Miss Lucy, over head and ears, and I don't believe she cares a picayune for him."
He had the air of being very confidential as he spoke, and assuming that they were very old friends, and Eunice could not help feeling that the were. He went on:
"The young lady with him is the younger Miss Burton; she does not belong to the college set, and is invited only on formal occasions like this. She and her sister and Miss McNair and Miss Morris are all here to-night from the army set, with Lieutenant Watson. They are great admirers of Dr. and Mrs. Charlton, though they are not at all intimate at the house. Perhaps you remember meeting Miss Morris, a very handsome brunette, and Miss McNair, a rather dashing girl, not exactly pretty, but with more men at her feet than any girl in town. "
"Yes, I remember them all," said Eunice, quietly; "I saw them the day I arrived, sitting on the steps of a house we passed."
"The deuce you did!" said Rex, betrayed into the expression by his surprise that the quiet and apparently unobservant little creature had not only taken them all in, but remembered them perfectly. But he regretted his expletive as soon as it was uttered; for he saw by Eunice's shocked face that it had all the effect of an oath on her ears.
"I beg your pardon," he said quickly, "for my rude expression. But will you please tell me, Miss Harlowe, how you managed to see so much with your eyes closed? For I can take my oath you never lifted them once when you passed."
Eunice smiled, but did not vouchsafe an explanation, and he continued:
"Then I suppose you saw my humble self also, or do you keep your eyes only for the ladies?"
"I saw you distinctly, and recognized you at once when you overtook us on our way to the college," said Eunice, looking at him with her quiet gray eyes, in which he could see by the moonlight there was a little twinkle of amusement.
"Ah, thank you–Miss Eunice," he murmured softly; "may I not call you so? I heard Mrs. Charlton call you Eunice, and I thought it the most charming name I bad ever heard, and so perfectly suited to you that I determined on the spot to ask you to allow me to call you Miss Eunice."
Eunice could not stand the steadfast gaze of the bright black eves, softened to a look of tenderness, either real or assumed. He was sitting on an ottoman at her feet, and it was harder to avoid them than if he had been looking down upon her. She turned to look away, and with as much indifference as she could master answered:
"I presume it is the custom here. I noticed everyone called Miss Charlton, Miss Lucy; and Mr. Dayton call Miss Burton, Miss Mazie. I am quite willing to be a Roman in Rome."
"The cold-hearted little Yankee, with her dreadful presumes,'" thought Rex. "She is making game of me, but I reckon two can play at that." And forthwith he proceeded in his most dexterous fashion to utter the soft and airy nothings he had found so effective in many a flirtation with the girls of South Carolina and Bellaire. Eunice parried them very well, but he had begun to congratulate himself upon the impression he was making, when two people who had been promenading the length of the veranda now approached them, and the lady said:
"Mr. McAllister, I think you have been monopolizing Miss Harlowe quite long enough. Here is Lieutenant Watson dying to make her acquaintance, and I know Miss Harlowe must be anxious to get rid of you. Miss Harlowe, if you will permit me, I will relieve you of Mr. McAllister, and take him to Mrs. Charlton, who will doubtless find some service for him.
Rex rose with the slow, languid grace peculiar to him.
"Really, Miss Lydia," he said, "you are too kind; but if I must be torn from one fair charmer, I can only rejoice that it is 't' other dear charmer' that does it. Miss Harlowe, I hope I have not been boring you; but I give you fair warning that if you are any kinder to Lieutenant Watson than you have been to me, I shall find it out and call him to account."
When he had taken Miss Lydia off, who was still protesting she was going to carry him to Mrs. Charlton, a rather awkward silence fell on the lieutenant and Eunice. He was a good-looking young fellow, quite as tall as Rex McAllister and broader, with not so much padding at the shoulders nor quite so much compression at the waist, though the unwritten law of the service required a certain amount of it, to which every good officer conformed.
Eunice had never in her life met an officer, and the dazzling gold and blue of his full-dress uniform frightened her. His fierce cavalry mustache, his military erectness and close-cropped hair, were formidable also; but he had honest brown eyes which invited trust, and she summoned up courage to ask him to sit down. It was a somewhat difficult feat to accomplish, his sword entangling itself awkwardly with his feet as he took the low seat, and he did not look as graceful as Rex McAllister had in that lowly attitude.
Altogether he was so little at his ease that Eunice took courage from his diffidence and began the conversation by some slightly stilted remarks about the beauty of the moon-lighted garden with groups of gaily laughing and talking people flitting through it. The lieutenant responded to her efforts, and, once fairly launched, talked well. He had nothing of the soft sentimentalist in his manner, but he had many questions to ask her about her New England home; for New England was a mysterious land to him, and he was intensely curious about it. It had been his desire to find out what kind of creature a New England young lady might be that had made him express a wish to meet her, though nothing could have been further from his desires than to have Miss Lydia take him at his word so promptly. Eunice was glad to tell him about the home customs, and give him her impressions of these that seemed to her to belong to people of another clime and a foreign nation. She quite warmed with her subject, and talked much better than she had talked with McAllister, but she was not at all excited. Her eyes had lost much of their brightness, and little tongues of flame no longer darted at inconvenient moments into her cheeks. They were getting on very well, indeed, when a gay party with Willie Dayton and Lucy among them, followed by Charles Cook, junior, and another colored boy bearing trays of ices and cakes, broke in upon them.
"We thought we should find you here," said Willie, "and we have come to eat our supper with you."
He drew up a little table as he spoke, on which he placed the cream and cake, and then drew up a sofa beside it for Lucy. They were having a very cozy little supper when they were joined by McAllister and Miss Lydia.
"Room for any more?" they asked, as they came up.
"Plenty of room," said Willie, rising from his place beside Lucy on the sofa. "Take my seat, Miss Lydia."
"Not for worlds," said Lydia, laughingly. I should certainly feel de trop then. I like this seat better," and she dropped into a low chair and motioned Rex to a seat on an ottoman beside her. But Rex, apparently, did not see her gesture. Instead, he stopped behind Eunice and leaned over the back of her chair while he half whispered:
"You are unkind to me; here you have been talking to the lieutenant for a good quarter of an hour, and you hardly allowed me ten minutes."
Eunice was embarrassed at his confidential whispering, which yet the lieutenant might easily have overheard; greatly embarrassed that he should bend over her chair with an air of devotion as new to her as it was difficult for her to deal with; and above all was she annoyed and irritated with him that he should cause her such embarrassment. Nothing could have been primmer than her reply to him, unless it was her manner of making it; and her words were intentionally clear-cut for the lieutenant's ear as well:
"I presume, Mr. McAllister, you have found the fifteen minutes quite as pleasant as I have found them." If she had supposed she was administering a rebuke to Rex, as one might have been led to infer from the severity of her manner, she was mistaken. Rex chuckled inwardly. "Jealous," he said to himself, "and playing off the lieutenant against me! Verily, the little Quakeress is progressing."
At her words the lieutenant, who, since Miss Lydia's advent, had been only waiting his chance, sprang up.
"Take my seat, Mr. McAllister," he said, and without waiting to see whether it was accepted or declined, he slipped into the one to which Miss Lydia had motioned Rex.
"Adorable!" murmured Rex, sinking into the seat the lieutenant had vacated with a rapturous sigh; "I shall always hereafter believe that fiery man of war to be also a man of the utmost discernment. Ah, Miss Harlowe," fixing his bold black eyes on her and disregarding her blushes, painfully apparent in the flooding moonlight, " 'On such a night as this–' "
How far he might have progressed with Jessica's soft speech is uncertain. Miss Lydia's penetrating tones interrupted him.
"Mr. McAllister, am I to go hungry while you whisper airy nothings?" she said icily.
It was unpardonably rude of Miss Lydia; and to be rude to a girl and a stranger was the way to rouse all that was best in Rex to defend the defenseless, and all that was worst in him to resent the rudeness.
"I cannot imagine so ethereal a creature ever suffering such earthly pangs," he answered, coolly and intentionally insolent. "Lieutenant, will you be so good as to see that Miss McNair has an ice? A homeopathic prescription."
But the lieutenant had sprung to his feet at Miss Lydia's first words, and, with a swift apology for his neglect, was hurrying away, and so did not hear McAllister's speech, which he, in turn, might have resented. Strange to say Miss Lydia did not resent it at all. It seemed, instead, to bring her to a sense of her rudeness to Eunice, and she apologized very prettily to her; and Lucy and Willie, throwing themselves into the breach with an animated controversy as to the respective merits of the army or the law as a profession, which they had been discussing between themselves, and in which they now, with rather too evident a purpose, perhaps, included the others, all was quite amicable by the time the lieutenant had returned with his ices and cakes. The little incident had apparently created only an access of gaiety, and they lingered long over their ices, Miss Lydia's high-pitched voice and ringing laugh more and more in evidence as the evening wore on and as Rex's attentions to Eunice grew more and more pronounced.
Up-stairs–the guests all gone, the house below darkened–Lucy came into Eunice's room to "talk it over" in her dressing-gown while she brushed out her curls, and they found so much to tell each other of all that had happened that they parted finally to lay their tired heads upon their pillows with the feeling of old friends and confidantes.
Lucy dropped asleep at once, but the experience had been too new and exciting for Eunice; she found herself going over in her mind words and tones and looks that she was quite sure meant nothing at all, and that she was quite indignant with herself for remembering. None the less, her last waking thoughts were of dark eyes and admiring glances and softly murmured words.