- PART II
- CHAPTER II JACK HARCOURT TO HOWARD CROMPTON
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Mayville, July--, 18--.
JACK HARCOURT TO HOWARD CROMPTON
"That you are a scamp of the first water goes without saying, insinuating yourself into an eccentric old man's confidence in hopes to be his heir! I dare say, Amy is his daughter, and you will have to work for a living after all, and serve you right, too. But have a good time while you can, and I'll help you after a little, as I accept your invitation with pleasure.
"Now for the girl! I have seen her, and if there was ever a case of love at first sight, I'm that case. It was this way. Mayville is not a very lively place, and when my sister, Mrs. Lovell, who you know has a summer home here, suggested one morning that we attend the commencement exercises of the Normal School, saying, that twenty-five or thirty young girls were to be graduated, I concluded that it was better than nothing. I hate such places, as a rule, they are so close and stuffy, and the essays so long and dull, and the girls all look pretty much alike, and I begged Bell to get a seat as near the door as possible, so I could go out when it became unendurable. Just then your letter was brought to me, and after reading it, nothing could have kept me from Eloise Smith. I asked Bell if she knew her.| | 123
"'I don't know many of the girls by name,' she said, 'but I have heard of Eloise Smith. She sings in the choir, and is a basket-boarder of Mrs. Brown's.'
"'What the mischief is a basket-boarder?' I asked, and Bell explained that girls sometimes hire a room, and bring their food from home, and have the family with whom they lodge cook it for them, or cook it themselves on the family stove. A kind of picnic to get an education, you see, and just think of all we spent uselessly in college. Why, it would keep a lot of basket-boarders. Well, we started for the chapel, which was literally crammed, and the thermometer at ninety. You know, Mr. Lovell is wealthy, and from New York, and that makes Bell a kind of swell woman in the place, while I fancy your humble servant had something to do with the attention we received. Instead of a seat by the door, we were pushed to the front, within ten feet of the rostrum, and I was wedged in with Bell on one side of me, afraid I'd jam her sleeves, and on the other side was a woman, who weighed at least two hundred, and was equally afraid of her sleeves. In front of me was a hat so big that I couldn't begin to see all the stage, and but for Eloise I'd have got out some way, I was so uncomfortable with Bell fanning on one side till that rheumatic spot on my shoulder, which troubled me some at Harvard, began to ache, and the fat woman the other side mopping her face with a handkerchief saturated with cheap perfumery, and the big hat in front flopping and nodding this way and that, and no place to stretch my long legs.
"There was a prayer, a song circle, and et ceteras, and a great flutter in a row of white dresses, and many colored ribbons to my left. 'The Graduates,' | | 124 Bell whispered, and the business of the day began. There were eight in all to read essays--nice looking girls, and much like the Lasells and Wellesleys we used to know. As for the essays--well, there was either a good deal of bosh in them, or a profundity of learning and thought to which Jack Harcourt never attained. But the people cheered like mad whenever one was ended, and sent up flowers, while I grew hotter and hotter, and when the seventh went up, and unfolded the 'Age of Progress and Reason,' which looked as if it might last an age, I made up my mind to bolt, and said so to Bell.
"'Keep still; there's only one more after this one, and that is Eloise Smith,' she said.
"I thought of you, and settled myself for another fifteen minutes, while a red-haired girl in glasses went through the 'Age of Progress and Reason' with great applause, and a basket of flowers, and bowed herself off the stage. There was a little delay. Somebody had fainted. I wonder they didn't all faint, the air was so hot and thick; and to crown all, the window near us had to be shut, because that fat woman didn't want a draught on her back! When they got the fainting person out, and the window shut, I saw the flutter of a white dress, and knew the eighth and last essay was coming.
"'That's Eloise,' Bell said, as a slender little girl walked on to the rostrum, looking as fresh, and cool, and sweet as a--well, as the white lilies of which I am so fond.
"'By George!' I said, so loud that those nearest me must have heard me, and wondered what ailed me.
"Perhaps she heard me, for she looked at me with her beautiful eyes, which steadied me, and kept me | | 125 quiet all through her essay. Don't ask me what it was about. I don't know. I was so absorbed in the girl herself, she was so graceful, and pretty, and self-possessed, and her voice was so musical that I could think of nothing but her; and when she finished I cheered louder than anybody else, and kept on cheering as they do in plays when they want them to come back, till Bell nudged my side, and whispered, 'Are you crazy? Everybody is looking at you.'
"I was a little ashamed to be spatting away alone, but it pleased the fat woman, who proved to be Mrs. Brown, the keeper of the basket-boarders.
"'That's Miss Smith. She done nice, didn't she, and she or'to of had some flowers,' she said to me; and then I remembered with a pang that not a flower had been sent up to her--the flower of them all--and wished I had a whole green-house to give her.
"Did she think of it ? I wondered, as I watched her after she sat down. The big hat had moved a little, and I could see the top of Eloise's head, with its crown of reddish-brown hair, on which a gleam of sunshine from a window fell, bringing out tints of gold, as well as red. That sounds rather poetical, don't it? for a prosy chap who professes never to have been moved by any piece of femininity, however dainty. I'll confess I was moved by this little girl. She is very slight and very young, I judge. I like Mrs. Brown, and do not think her perfumery bad, or herself very fat, and am glad they had the window shut for her. I wouldn't have her in a draught for anything, because she told me Eloise was the nicest girl she ever had in her house, and the best scholar in her class. Of course she is; I'd swear to that. She may not be rooted and grounded in the fundamentals your queer | | 126 old uncle thinks necessary, and I doubt if she knows about the grindstone, and the rest of it. I'd laugh to see a great hulking fellow like you questioning her on such subjects. I've a great mind to write out the lingo, and send it to her anonymously, so she will be prepared to satisfy your uncle, who, I fancy, is the Great Mogul of Crompton.
"I got quite chummy with Mrs. Brown before the exercises were over, and she told me Eloise lived in North Mayville with her grandmother, and that she was real glad she had a place to teach in Crompton, for she needed it.
"'Poor?' I asked, feeling ashamed of myself for the question.
"But Mrs. Brown saw nothing wrong in it, and answered, 'Very.'
"Just then Bell nudged me again, and said, 'Let's go. We can get out now. You don't care to see them receive their diplomas?'
"But I did, and sat it out till Eloise had hers, and I saw her face again, and saw, too, what I had not noticed before, that her dress looked poor and plain beside the others. Of course she's poor; but what do I care for that? I am a good deal struck, you see, and if there were nothing else to bring me to Crompton, Eloise would do it. So expect me in September about the time her school commences. When will that be?"Very truly, "JACK HARCOURT."
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