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HOME > Short Stories > The Queen of Farrandale > CHAPTER XIV ALICE
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 When Miss Frink went to her room that night, two red spots burned in her cheeks. She was a creature of habit and proud of it. Her maid had the bed turned down and prepared for the night as usual. A silk negligée hung over the back of a chair. The silver carafe of ice water with its cut-glass tumbler stood by the side of the bed. Her programme would be to slip off the black satin gown, don the negligée, go to the lighted bathroom and wind the waves of her front hair back on their crimping pins, and so proceed to the point of extinguishing the lights, getting into bed, and going at once to sleep. The mental picture behind those red spots was of the same envelope which was absorbing Adèle’s meditations. It had lain directly in the line of Miss Frink’s bi-focals when Mrs. Lumbard gave it its final flattening. Miss Frink crossed the room to where the enlarged portrait of her girlhood’s chum hung on the wall.
“Come on, Alice, let’s talk it over as we used to,” she said, and with a quick movement[162] unhooking the picture, she sat down in the nearest chair with it in her lap, and gazed into the eyes. “I want to look at a friend. I’m seventy-odd, Alice, and you’re still my only one: the only being who has ever loved me.” She paused in her soliloquy to swallow something. “I’m not going to make a tragedy of it. I could have adopted a child after Philip disappointed me. I could have had some one to love me, but I liked business better than domesticity, so I made my own bed and I’m not going to complain of it. You told me I was all wrong about Philip, wrong in not giving him his freedom, wrong to quarrel with him, wrong to cut myself off from him, I remember now everything you said, though I haven’t thought of it for years. The book was closed. Nothing could have surprised me more than to have it opened again. But, Alice”—Miss Frink’s hand pressed the sides of the picture frame until it hurt—“it is only my money. That is the humiliation. I couldn’t believe that I would feel it so.” The soliloquizing lips quivered. “Your Adèle—if she is yours, something in me cries out all the time that she is not—what interest would she have had in an Aunt Susanna who was old and poor? She fawns on me with meek, loving expressions[163] as if I could be fooled. Forgive me, dear, but you wouldn’t like her, either. There’s Grim, of course; it’s a religion with him to look after me, but he hasn’t any natural, spontaneous interest in his fellow-beings. The calf of gold rules his consciousness. He’s narrow, narrow as I am myself. Oh, Alice, if I had you here! If I could only do it over again and do it better.” For the first time in years tears stood in Miss Frink’s eyes. She winked them away quietly, and fell into meditation. Presently, her thoughts seething through the past and present, her lips moved again:
“John Ogden is a finished rascal; polished, suave, a real society man. Full of charm he is, and I wonder how he ran into the boy, and persuaded him. I’m hurt, Alice. Hugh’s old Aunt Sukey is hurt;—but it’s better to be hurt than dead, and he didn’t know who he was saving, I have that comfort. That was no part of John Ogden’s plan; and it makes the boy more mine than Ogden’s. He hasn’t been happy a minute since he came, and the why is plain. He hates the double-dealing, while Ogden thinks it is the best joke going. I hate lies, Alice”—with sudden heat. “You know I always did; and the humiliation—why does it cut me so that the boy, my own[164] flesh and blood that I’m mightily near to loving, has cold-bloodedly entered into some plan that has only my money for its object? I’ve been a dupe; and, of course, any young person would chuckle over my sympathy for his delirious longing for Aunt Sukey. Alice!”—suddenly Miss Frink clutched the picture frame again—“that girl—that photograph—is his mother. He said Aunt Sukey opposed her tooth and nail, and I asked him if I could do anything. He said it was too late.”
Miss Frink let the picture slide down into her lap while she followed this train of thought and looked into space. Presently she propped the frame up again between her hands.
“Of course, Alice, that single night in which your much-married granddaughter’s hair turned white might have come before she went over to France. I’m about as mean to the girl in my thoughts as anybody could be, and she has made the boy look really happy for the first time in all these weeks. I ought to give her some credit for that. It was pleasant down in the drawing-room to-night through her means; but the iron had entered into my soul, and I felt inside the way Grim looked outside. Poor Grim, he is not a society man. He doesn’t want our habits changed. Now, I’m up[165] against another fight, Alice, girl. It’s a long time since I’ve had to fight. It’s a temptation to say to them all—Ogden, the boy, and Adèle—‘I know you through and through. I’m not the dupe you think me. Get away all of you and never let me see you again.’ But, Alice, what’s the use of living seventy years unless you’ve learned to do nothing impulsively? I look right back to my treatment of Philip Sinclair and recall the things you said to me then. I shall let you help me, Alice. I will take the advice that I scorned thirty years ago. Good-night, Alice, girl.”
Miss Frink didn’t sleep much that night, and the next morning, the weather having made a sudden start summerward, she felt a new chapter of her life beginning.
Hugh came down to breakfast with John Ogden, and Adèle was ready with new ideas for her recital. Miss Frink allowed herself to be carried along on the tide of their talk until breakfast was over.
“What a lovely morning. Your grounds are charming,” said Ogden.
“Everything is blooming,” returned the hostess. “Let us make a little tour of inspection.”
She led the way through the small conservatory[166] attached to the dining-room, and out upon the lawn.
“How beautifully this place is kept,” said Ogden.
“Yes. I have so few amusements,” assented his companion.
“Thoroughness is your watchword, I’m sure.”
“I believe it is,” she agreed. “Whether I was doing right or wrong, I always seem to have made a clean sweep of it.”
Ogden regarded her in genuine admiration. “All your thoughts must be of satisfaction, I should think.”
Miss Frink tossed her head with a dissenting gesture. “You’d think wrong then, man. Let us sit down here awhile.”
She led the way to a rustic seat under an elm tree. “Shan’t I go in and get a wrap for you?” asked Ogden. The prospect of a tête-à-tête with his hostess was not without its qualms.
“No, no. This sun is hot.”
“So is this one,” thought Ogden, but he smiled with his usual air of finding the present situation inspiring.
“I’d like to know how you came to take such an interest in Hugh,” began his companion without prelude.
“Through liking his father, and loving his sister,” replied Ogden glibly.
“Eh? His sister?”
“Yes, his sister Carol. She couldn’t see me,” continued Ogden cheerfully. “She married a man named Morrison and went to Colorado. Hugh received word yesterday that her husband has died. She is left with two little children” (Miss Frink began to stiffen mechanically, and Ogden saw it), “but she is a young woman after your own heart. Her husband’s illness was a long one, and she learned his business in order to carry it on, and she won&rs............
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