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Chapter VII--Real Excitement
 If the bracelet had not been gone I would have thought I imagined everything of the afternoon before, but when morning light and a real search revealed no trace of it, I believed I had been followed and had heard those footsteps drawing closer and closer to me as I ran. And it did not make me comfortable. I wondered what to do all morning, and after reflection decided not to speak of it to my cousins, aunt, or uncle (my uncle I had met the night before; he had just come in from a business trip), for somehow I knew they would not believe it, and I didn’t want them to laugh. My Uncle Archie has a great big stomach and says “Huh?” if anyone speaks to him, which they don’t often. He eats a great deal, and tells Ito to “hurry up.” He said something about bills to Aunt Penelope. They don’t seem to be very congenial. But he can talk, for I heard him at the telephone. “Sold it to-day!” he simply yelled; then, “Fools! I’ll teach ’em! I’ll--the----” and he simply spluttered. It was becoming interesting when Aunt Penelope said, “Ito, close the door,” and, of course, when Ito did, the rest was lost.
I was sorry, but Amy only looked bored. Evelyn, after having tea with us, had gone out to a dinner dance. Aunt Penelope at tea told the other women what a great treat it was to have Evelyn at home. She did it a great many times, and it almost seemed as if she wanted them to know that Evelyn went out a great deal, although why she didn’t say it outright, if she did want them to know, I don’t see. But that’s the way a great many people in New York act. They sort of sidle around back of the truth and shout around it--about the weather. Which I think is silly. Well, to get on. After dinner Amy and I sat. I never have done so much sitting as I have done since coming to New York. The chairs and davenports are so luxurious they just must be sat on or curled up in. Amy and I each have our pet arm-chair and way of sitting in it. But this is beside the subject.
I found that Amy had never done any hazing. And she was much interested in my accounts of it. I told her how we had had a secret society called “The Ancient and Effervescent Order of Yellow Pups,” and how we made the new members get down on all fours and chew at a ham-bone, and she honestly giggled. And then I told her how Willy Jepson had filled his aunt’s bedroom slippers full of tar, and she was interested in that and a description of how his aunt acted when she slipped her feet in the slippers. You see, she was still half asleep and sort of blinky, the way you are in the morning.
“Who would we haze?” she asked. I suggested Evelyn. And not alone because I wanted to, but because I thought she honestly needed it. I decided it would do wonders for her character.
“How would we do it?” Amy next asked, and I suggested the “cold bottle trick,” which is simple, but satisfactory.
You take a bottle and fill it with cold water, the colder the better. And if you can get ice in it, that adds a great deal. Then you tie a ribbon around the cork, awfully tight, and pin the other end of the ribbon to the bottom of the mattress, and the bottle, then in place and at the foot of some dear friend’s bed, awaits. When their feet hit it, they naturally reach down and pull, and when they do it uncorks and the puller wades. And I can tell you, it is one thing to wade in the babbling brook, and another to wade in an Ostermoor! Willy Jepson put green paint in the bottle he put in his brother’s bed, and his brother looked like the first note of spring for weeks, but we decided that wouldn’t do for Evelyn, because the sort of stockings she wears show the colour of her skin.
Amy said people would comment on it if her ankles were green, and I believed it. “We could blame it on Jane,” said Amy. I didn’t think that was fair, until she explained. It seems Jane is exceptional because she is willing to be a parlourmaid and help Aunt Penelope dress too, which combination is not often found. “Mother wouldn’t think of dismissing her,” said Amy, “so that would be all right.”
I agreed. Then Amy told me that they were bitterly poor and lived like paupers, and my chin did drop! And she went on to say that her mother encouraged her father to make money all the time, but that he didn’t make nearly all that they really needed, now that Evelyn was out and had to have about sixty costumes to the minute.
I just listened. It was the only thing to do. But I thought too! And I decided that it is bad to want things so much. And that it is especially easy for a girl to do, and so it is well to guard against it. Here was my cousin Evelyn with this lovely home, and simply beautiful clothes--wanting more and fretting because she can’t have them. And my aunt hurrying my uncle so that he hasn’t time or energy left to do anything but eat and say “Huh?” when he’s at home, and Amy--being sorry for herself because she hasn’t all the pretty things that her wealthiest friend has. And I saw that wanting was just a habit, and a bad one.
I said: “I think it would be a fine thing for you to take account of stock, Amy, and count all the lovely things you have. Maybe you’d feel better.” But she said: “I haven’t time; I’m too busy thinking of the things I haven’t----” And the whole trouble lay right there.
Well, as I said, we talked a lot, played the victrola a little, and then we got a long-necked mint-sauce bottle from the cook and fixed Evelyn’s bed. And then we turned in, or, as Miss Hooker would say, “retired.”
And I thought, as I always do, about Uncle Frank and Bradly-dear, and the Cranes, Willy Jepson, and baseball. But I went to sleep feeling less badly than I had the night before, for I felt confident that the bracelet would come back to me, and somehow Mr. Kempwood had made me less afraid, and home seemed nearer.
Evelyn found that bottle. I never heard such a noise. She said someone was trying to murder her! And everyone got up except Amy and me. We giggled until Aunt Penelope came in and said, “Does either of you know anything about this?” (Amy had come over in my bed), and then Amy said, “Maybe Jane did it,” but her mother didn’t seem convinced. She only said, “I will attend to you two in the morning!” and she said it sternly. When she went out we giggled some more. It was impossible to help, for Evelyn’s room is near ours, and we could hear her gasp and threaten to sit up all night, and then sort of hiccup and say she thought she was getting hysterics and that she hoped her mother would beat me. . . . And we could hear Aunt Penelope and Jane flop around and bells ring and hot drinks ordered, and all because Evelyn’s feet were a little wet, which was irrational, since she puts them in the tub at least once every day.
But as Uncle Archie said to me much later, “There is no reasoning with a woman,” and there is a lot in that statement. We giggled until Aunt Penelope returned, when we pretended to be asleep. I hoped the way we looked in sleep would soften her, but it didn’t.
I was in disgrace until about seven the next evening, but that comes later.
The next morning I will pass over hurriedly, as it was not pleasant. Aunt talked to us frankly, and Amy put the blame on me, where it belonged. But I would have liked her better if she’d let me step forward and take it, as I intended to. “You know it was your fault,” she said, after we went out of her mother’s room.
I said I knew it was.
“Well,” she said, “you needn’t be annoyed because I said so.”
I wasn’t annoyed. I was sorry that she was so poor a sport, but I wasn’t angry. I pitied her. I think you always feel sorry for a person when they don’t play the best game they can.
Because Amy had failed to stick to fair rules, I didn’t care so much for her that day, and I suppose because she dimly felt that she’d failed, she avoided me; so, after lunch, I asked aunt if I might go walking. She said yes, if I was careful not to get lost, adding that she would rather not have me leave the immediate neighbourhood. I said I wouldn’t, and then I started out. I put on the tam again because it sticks and doesn’t have to have pins. And then Mr. Kempwood said it was becoming. I will acknowledge that that influenced me a little.
After I’d walked around several blocks and seen nothing but the same sort of houses and pavements and babies, all with nurses, I turned toward the Jumel Mansion. And again the people who take care of it were kind to me, and I enjoyed my visit.
And I learned some more about the place. It seemed the French merchant, Stephen Jumel, did not build it, but Roger Morris, then loyal servant of the King, built it for his wife, seven years after they were married. Before she became Mrs. Morris she was Mary Philipse, nicknamed “The Charming Polly.” He built it well and strongly, which was fortunate, since it was to have so many inmates and so much wear. When you think of it, a house that was put up in 1765 and 1766 would have to be splendidly made to stand the years.
“The Charming Polly” must have been indeed charming, for her descendants say that Washington, who was, just before her marriage, a man of twenty-five, offered her his hand and name, but from the look of things it would not seem so. For a friend of Washington’s, Joseph Chew, wrote him that Captain Roger Morris, who was a “lady’s man, always something to say,” was breakfasting often with Mistress Philipse, and that the “town talk’t of it as a sure & settled affair,” and he added an urgent appeal for Washington to return, as he was sure Charming Mistress Polly must prefer Washington to all others. . . . But perhaps Washington had found another “Charming” somebody, for the letter of July brought no visit from Washington until late one winter’s eve, when, the descendants of Mary Philipse say, he “arrived post haste, and demanded an interview immediate, notwithstanding that the hour was late. . . .”
However, whether or not it was more than a flirtation or a light admiration, it does seem strange, does it not, that Washington should direct his army from the house that his rival built for the much-admired and talked-of Mistress Polly Philipse?
Mary Philipse and Captain Morris were married in 1758. They had four children, two boys and two girls, if I recall correctly what I was told; and when General Washington took command at Cambridge, they had been married for seventeen years.
Now, to me there is something unsatisfactory about a man who doesn’t take sides, and Captain Morris didn’t. In fact, the builder of that lovely house evaded siding with either the British or the United States, at the time of the Revolution, and one day while the mails were being taken aboard The Harriet Packet he quietly slipped aboard with John Watts, who, with Roger Morris, was a member of His Majesty’s Council for this province. Together they sailed for England, and Captain Morris remained abroad for almost two years. And unhappy years they were too, for he was homesick for the big white house, his lovely wife and children. (And I can understand the first, although no one who hadn’t lived in it would think that Uncle Frank’s house was lovely.)
Rumour states that Captain Roger Morris took rooms in “London Town,” so to be nearer the mails of the ships, that his wife’s letters would come to him without delay. . . . And can you see him waiting for those, wanting them, and looking for the crosses that his girls and boys wrote at the bottom of the letter? . . . I am sure they were there. . . . Perhaps his littlest girl wrote, “For my dearest father, whom I do so greatly love. . . . Dear kisses,” and, of course, one of every doubled s was written like an f, for that is the way they did it in that time.
Can you see it? The little girl in quaint, long frock, painfully writing out a message, while her mother looked on and wondered whether the “dearest father” would ever reach home? . . . The letters he wrote her were lovely, but I didn’t see those that day. Mr. Kempwood showed me those after he began to teach me to SEE history. For history, he says, is not a dead thing although it is about dead people. . . . All you have to do is to remember that they LIVED, just as we do, and to shut your eyes, not to think dates most important, and to remember those people as living. And he taught me to do that. But that comes later.
Well, after I’d learned quite a little bit about the Morrises and had felt ever so glad that he did get back, the man who had so kindly told me these things had to leave me, and I was alone. I wandered over to stand before Madam Jumel’s portrait. . . . And here, I leaned forward and whispered to her, and I said: “Won’t you please return it? . . . My mother wore it. Won’t you, please?”
And then I went out and turned toward home. I saw the blind man again, but no one followed me. I went up in the elevator with Mr. Kempwood, and I was so glad.
“Any more home runs?” he asked. I shook my head.
“And how does New York please you?” he asked further.
And to that I replied that it was all right, but made an involved living, since my aunt insisted on my changing my clothes all the way through every day, and eating in a different dress at night. I said it was simpler at home, where you dressed for dinner when you got up. I told him it left you more time for fishing and baseball and the more serious things of life. He laughed, and then looked suspicious.
“Young woman,” he said, “that country bloom doesn’t hide a brain-picker, does it?”
And I didn’t understand him then, but he explained. It seemed that Robert Louis Stevenson had lived on an island in the Pacific, and when someone had asked whether they dressed for dinner, he had said just as I did: “No, we dress when we get up.”
I said I hadn’t quoted, and that I hadn’t read Stevenson, liking Alger best of anyone, but Mr. Kempwood said that “Treasure Island” couldn’t be beaten and that he’d loan it to me, and then I found out what he meant by brain-picker. He meant someone who pikes. Evelyn reads book covers and reviews and then talks of the books as if she’d read them. I told Mr. Kempwood so. He said she wouldn’t thank me for doing so, and then--it was our floor, and again he stepped out, waited until Jane opened the door, and then said good-night. And I remembered his smile, as I had the night before.
On a long hall table I found a letter from Bradly-dear, and I was so glad to see it! And it made me laugh, but felt ever so tight in my throat too. Here is what she wrote, or some of it:
“Dear Natalie,
“We miss you fierce. Willy Jepson run a nail in his foot and fell offa the back ruf. Don’t you climb no fences at your aunt’s or ride a cow if they keep one. Your uncle is deep in bugs and has a mess of them in my tubs, with netting over the top. And the Lord knows when I will get the wash to soak. We miss you.”
There was a lot more. Bradly-dear had been fine about writing the news. I went to my room with it, sat down, and then got up and went over to Amy’s, for my radiator had cooled off and I didn’t know how to turn it on. It was not easy for me to ask servants to do things then; I had not learned how. . . . Well, I read that letter a great many times, and there was no one to interrupt me, and I was glad. Everyone but Evelyn was out, and she was lying down.
Somewhere I heard a clock strike seven and realized they would soon be in and that I must begin to change my clothes for dinner. I heard a little noise in my room, a little, scratching noise, and I got up and looked in, but no one was there. Then I heard a noise in Amy’s room, but, going back there, I found that empty. I turned on all the lights and read Bradly-dear’s letter again. . . . I felt curiously nervous and oppressed. Quite as if I were breathing something poisonous. . . . And my heart began to pump. I thought I was simply letting myself be silly from nervousness. . . . “You silly thing!” I said scornfully. And I read the end of Mrs. Bradly’s letter. It said: “Now, dearie, I must stop. I love you and I pray God for your safety and happiness.” And then: “Yours sincerely, Mrs. G. N. Bradly.” . . . It helped me a lot, that about loving and praying. I looked at it, and then I did hear something; there was a step behind me and a voice, a high-pitched voice, said very slowly: “Do not turn. You will be sorry if you turn. Do not turn. . . .” I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was absolutely frozen. I felt something drop over my face, and then things began to swim and grow black. . . . I think I struggled a little and tried to scream, but I am not sure of anything but horror--and the horror I felt at that moment will live in my soul until I am an old, old woman, and am allowed to forget all the things that hurt me and to have another start.

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