Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin
It may be urged that all proper heroines go through a period of uncertainty before giving their hands and hearts in marriage. Occasionally, however, there are longer seasons of indecision, incident to pride, high temper, or misunderstanding on the lady’s side, or to poverty, undue timidity, or lack of high pressure on the part of the gentleman. I have christened the heroines of this volume “Ladies-in-Waiting,” and that no mental picture may be formed of Queen and Court and Maids of Honor I have asked the artist to portray for the frontispiece a marriageable maiden seated pensively upon a hillside. Her attitude is plainly one of suspended animation while the new moon above her shoulders suggests to the reader that she will not wait in vain.
Kate Douglas Wiggin
August 11, 1919
MISS THOMASINA TUCKER
“Good-bye, Miss Tucker!”
“Good luck, Miss Tommy!”
“Bye, bye, Tomsie!”
“Don’t stay away too long!”
These sentiments were being called from the Hoboken dock to the deck of an ocean steamer, while a young lady, buried in bouquets and bonbons, leaned over the rail, sparkling, inciting, compelling, responding.
“Take care of yourself, Tommy!”
“I don’t see but that I must! Nobody else to do it!” she responded saucily.
“You wouldn’t let ’em if they tried!” This from a rosy-cheeked youngster who was as close to the water’s edge as safety permitted. “Say, did you guess what my floral offering was to be when you trimmed your hat? I am flattered!”
“Sorry! The hat was trimmed weeks ago, and I’m wearing your bouquet because it matches.”
“Thanks, awfully,” replied the crestfallen youth. “Plans for reduction of head-size constantly on file in Miss Tucker’s office.”
“Just Carl’s luck to hit on a match.”
“Don’t see any particular luck in being accessory to a hat trimming,” grumbled Carl.
“Write now and then, Miss Tommy, won’t you?” said a fellow with eyeglasses and an air of fashion.
“Won’t promise! I’ll wait till I’m rich enough to cable!”
“Shilling a word’s expensive, but you can send ’em to me collect. My word is ‘Hopeful,’”—at which the little party laughed.
“Register another, and make it ‘Uncertain,’” called the girl roguishly, seeing that no one was paying any attention to her friends and their nonsense.
“London first, is it?” asked the rosy youth. “Decided on your hotel?”
“Hotel? It’s going to be my share of a modest Bloomsbury lodging,” she answered. “Got to sing my way from a third-floor-back in a side street to a gorgeous suite at the Ritz!”
“We’ll watch you!” cried three in chorus.
“But we’d rather hear you, darling,” said a nice, tailor-made girl, whose puffy eyelids looked as if she had been crying.
“Blessed lamb! I hope I’ll be better worth hearing! Oh, do go home, all of you; especially you, Jessie! My courage is oozing out at the heels of my shoes. Disappear! I’ve been farewelling actively for an hour and casually for a week. If they don’t take off the gangplank in a minute or two I shan’t have pluck enough to stick to the ship.”
“You can’t expect us to brace you up, Tommy,” said the rosy youth. “We’re losing too much by it. Come along back! What’s the matter with America?”
“Don’t talk to her that way, Carl,”—and the tailor-made girl looked at him reproachfully. “You know she’s got nobody and nothing to come back to. She’s given up her room. She’s quarreled with her beastly uncle at last; all her belongings are in the hold of the steamer, and she’s made up her mind.”
“All ashore that’s going ashore!” The clarion tones of the steward rang through the air for the third time, and the loud beating of the ship’s gong showed that the last moment had come. The gangplank was removed and the great liner pushed off and slowly wended her way down-river, some of the more faithful ones in the crowd waving handkerchiefs until she was a blur in the distance.
“Well, there’s no truer way of showing loyalty than by going to Hoboken to see a friend off,” said the eyeglassed chap as he walked beside Jessie Macleod to the ferry. “I wouldn’t do it for anybody but Tommy.”
“Nor I!” exclaimed the rosy youth. “Good old Tommy! I wonder whether she’ll sing and have a career, or fall in love over there?”
“She might do both, I should think; at least it has been done, though not, perhaps, with conspicuous success,” was Carl’s reply.
“Whatever she does, we’ve lost her,” sighed the girl; “and our little set will be so dull without Tommy!”
Fergus Appleton had leaned over the deck rail for a few moments before the ship started on her voyage; leaned there idly and indifferently, as he did most things, smoking his cigarette with an air of complete detachment from the world. He was going to no one, and leaving no one behind. He had money enough to live on, but life had always been something of a bore to him and he could not have endured it without regular occupation. His occasional essays on subjects connected with architecture, his critical articles in similar fields, his travels in search of wider information, the book on which he was working at the moment,—these kept him busy and gave him a sense of being tolerably useful in his generation. The particular group of juveniles shouting more or less intimate remarks to a girl passenger on board the steamer attracted his attention for a moment.
“They are very young,” he thought, “or they would realize that they are all revealing themselves with considerable frankness, although nobody seems to be listening but me!”
He would not have listened, as a matter of fact, had it not been for the voice of the girl they called Tommy. It was not loud, but it had the quality of a golden bell, and Fergus was susceptible to a beautiful voice. One other thing—the slightest possible thing—enlisted his notice. She wore a great bunch of mignonette stuck in the waistband of her green cloth dress, and her small hat had a flat wreath of the same flower. Mignonette was, perhaps, the only growing thing of which Fergus Appleton ever took note, and its perfume was the only one that particularly appealed to his rather dull sense of smell; the reason being that in the old garden of the house in which he was born there was always a huge straggling patch of mignonette. His mother used to sit there on summer mornings and read to him, and when he lay on his back in the sunshine he used to watch the butterflies and humming-birds and trees, and sniff the fragrance that filled the air. When his mother died, he wandered into the garden, sought the familiar corner, and flung himself on the bed of mignonette to cry his heart out—the lonely heart of an eight-year-old boy. That was five and twenty years ago, but he never passed a florist’s open door in summer-time without remembering that despairing hour and the fragrance of the flowers, bruised with his weight and moist with his tears.
The girl vanished the moment the steamer was out of sight of the dock, and Fergus did not give her another thought for a day or two. He had liked her green cloth dress and the hat that framed her young, laughing, plucky face. He had thought her name suited her, and wondered what dignified appellation had been edited, cut, and metamorphosed to make “Tommy,” deciding after a look at the passenger list that it was Thomasina, and that the girl must be Miss Thomasina Tucker, an alliterative combination which did not appeal to his literary taste.
The voyage was a rough one, and he saw her only now and then, always alone, and generally standing on the end of the ship, her green cape blowing in a gale of wind and showing a scarlet lining, her mignonette hat exchanged for a soft green thing with an upstanding scarlet quill. She was the only companionable person on board, but he did not know her and sat nowhere near her at table, an assemblage of facts that seemed to settle the matter, considering the sort of man he was and the sort of girl she was.
“She’s too pretty and too young to be gallivanting about ‘on her own,’” he said to himself one morning, when Tommy stood on the upper deck looking out to sea and, as far as he could judge, singing, though there was such a gale blowing that he could not hear her voice. “But all the girls are the same nowadays,”—and he puffed his pipe disconsolately; “all the same; brisk, self-supporting, good fellows. If I ever met a nice, unsuccessful-but-not-depressed sort of girl, soft but not silly, mild but not tame, flexible but not docile, spirited but not domineering, I think I should capitulate; but they’re all dead. The type has changed, and I haven’t changed with it.”
Fergus Appleton did not make acquaintances easily; no man does who has had a lonely, neglected boyhood, his only companion a father who seldom remembered his existence, and, when he did, apparently regretted it. He had known girls, but he was a shy, silent, ugly boy, and appealed as little to them as they to him. He did not live through the twenties without discovering that a fine crop of sentiment was growing in his heart; he also discovered that he didn’t know in the least what to do with it. George Meredith, speaking of Romance, says: “The young who avoid that region escape the title of Fool at the cost of a Celestial crown.” Fergus Appleton wouldn’t have minded being called a fool if only he could have contrived to deserve the title, and the glimmer of the crown celestial had been in his imagination more than once until he turned thirty and decided it was not for his head. Guileless school-girls did not appeal to him, and elderly sirens certainly had no power to charm; he was even widow-proof, so he became a thoroughfare for sisterly affection. Girls suffocated him with friendliness, which was not the stuff of which his dreams were made.
However, he had nothing to complain of, for he got as good as he gave, and it occurred to him that he could not expect to start a disastrous conflagration in any maiden bosom so long as he had no brimstone, nor any substitute for it, on his own premises.
“Anyway,” he reflected (though perhaps not oftener than once a year), “if I haven’t a tie in the world, I have complete freedom to do as I like!” And if the said freedom palled upon him occasionally, nobody was the wiser, for Fergus Appleton did not wear his heart on his sleeve.
As for Tommy, there had been several Thomas Tuckers in genealogical line, and the father of Thomasina was already Thomas Tucker the third. Mr. and Mrs. Tucker, the parents of the first Thomas, must have been somewhat lacking in humor, and somewhat ignorant of the classics, for although they could not, perhaps, help being Tuckers, they needn’t have saddled their offspring with a Christian name which would suggest Mother Goose to every properly educated person. However, the first Thomas grew into a great man, healthy, wealthy, and wise, and his descendants could hardly do less than keep his name alive. Thomas the third was disappointed, not to say mortified, when his only child, born in his old age, turned out to be a girl, but he bravely did the best he could and named her Thomasina. Mrs. Tucker did not like the name, but she died before the baby was three days old. The baby hated it herself when she reached years of discretion, and when she found that she possessed a voice and had a possible career before her, she saw plainly that something more mellifluous must be substituted if programmes should ever be in question. Meantime she was Tommy to her friends, and the gay little name suited her to a T. The gay little rhyme suited her, too, for like the Tommy Tucker in Mother Goose, she had to “sing for her supper”; for her breakfast, and her dinner, and her tea also, for that matter, if any were to be eaten.
Her only relation, a disagreeable bachelor uncle, had given her a home during her orphaned girlhood, and her first idea on growing up was to get out of it. This she did promptly when she secured a place in a Brooklyn choir. The salary was modest, but it provided a room and at least one meal a day, not, of course, a Roman banquet, but something to satisfy a youthful appetite. It seemed to the intrepid possessor of a charming voice, an equally charming face, and a positive gift for playing accompaniments, that the other two meals, and a few clothes and sundries, might be forthcoming. As a matter of fact, they were, although the uncle said that Tommy would starve, and he almost hoped that she would, just to break the back of her obstinate independence.
Tommy had none too much to eat, and, according to her own æsthetic ambitions, nothing at all to wear; but she was busy all day long and absurdly happy. Her income was uncertain, but that was amusing and thrilling rather than pitiful or tragic. She had two or three “steadies” among singers, who gave her engagements as accompanist at small drawing-room recitals or charitable entertainments. There was a stout prima donna whose arias for dramatic soprano kept her practicing until midnight, and a rich young lady amateur who needed a very friendly and careful accompaniment because she sang flat and always lost her breath before the end of a long phrase. The manner in which Tommy concealed these defects was thoroughly ingenious and sympathetic. When Miss Guggenheim paused for breath, Tommy filled the gap with instrumental arabesques; when she was about to flat, Tommy gave her the note suggestively. If she was too dreadfully below pitch, and had breath enough to hang on to the note so long that the audience (always composed of invited guests) writhed obviously, Tommy would sometimes drop a sheet of music on the floor and create a diversion, always apologizing profusely for her clumsiness. The third patron was a young baritone, who liked Miss Tucker’s appearance on the platform and had her whenever he didn’t sing Schubert’s “Erl König,” which Tommy couldn’t play. This was her most profitable engagement, but it continued alas! for only three months, for the baritone wanted to marry her, and she didn’t like him because he was bald and his neck was too fat. Also, she was afraid she would have to learn to play the “Erl König” properly.