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Old Friends and New
Sarah Orne Jewett
Last summer (said Aunt Mary), while you were with your father in Canada, I met for the first time Miss Margaret Tennant of Boston, whom I had for years a great desire to see and know. My dear friend, Anne Langdon, has had from her girlhood two very intimate friends; and Miss Tennant is one, and I the other. Though we each had known the other through Anne, we had never seen each other before.
I was at the mountains, and upon our being introduced we became very good friends immediately; and, from at first holding complimentary and interesting conversations concerning Anne in the hotel parlor, we came to taking long walks, and spending the most of our time together; and now we are as fond of each other as possible. When we parted in September, I had promised to visit her at her house in Boston in the winter; and, when she was ready for it, I was too.
To my great delight, I found Anne there; and we three old maiden ladies enjoyed ourselves quite as well as if we were your age, my dear, with the world before us. Miss Margaret Tennant certainly keeps house most delightfully.
She lives alone in the old Tennant house, in a pleasant street; and I think most of the Tennants, for a dozen generations back, must have been maiden ladies with exquisite taste and deep purses, just like herself; for every thing there is perfect of its kind, and its kind the right kind. Then she is such a popular person: it is charming to see the delight her friends have in her. For one thing, all the young ladies of her acquaintance -- not to mention her nieces, who seem to bow down and worship her -- are her devoted friends; and she often gives them dinners and tea parties, takes them to plays and concerts, matronizes them in the summer, takes them to drive in her handsome carriages, and is the repository of all their joys and sorrows, and, I have no doubt, knows them better than their fathers and mothers do, and has nearly as much influence over them. Elly, my dear, I wish you were one of the clan; for I'm afraid, between your careless papa and your wicked aunty, you haven't had the most irreproachable bringing up! But, she is coming to visit me in June, and we'll see what she can do for you!
One night, while I was there, we were just home from a charming dinner-party at the house of her sister, Mrs. Bruce; and, as it was a very stormy night, we had come away early. Not being in the least tired, we sat ourselves down in our accustomed easy-chairs before the fire, for a talk, and were lazily making plans for the morrow; Miss Tennant telling us she should have the eight young ladies whom she knew best; the Quadrille as she calls them; to dine with us. I must tell you about that party some day, Elly. It was the nicest affair in its way I ever saw, and the girls were all such dear ones! I spoke of the company we had just left, and of my admiration of the Bruce family in general, and Mrs. Bruce in particular, and of my enjoyment of the evening.
"Yes," said Margaret, "I think Kitty is quite as young as her two daughters, and at their age she was more brilliant than either." She stopped talking for a moment, and then said, "Girls, are you in a hurry for bed?" (Elly! you ought to be ashamed of yourself for laughing! Just as if Anne Langdon and I were not as young as you and Nelly Cameron. There's no difference, sometimes, if we are fifty, and you twenty!)
We were not in a hurry, and told her so.
"Then," said Margaret, "I will tell you a story. Anne knows it, or used to; but I doubt if she has thought of it these dozen years, and I do not think she will mind hearing it again. It is about Kitty and Mr. Bruce, and their first meeting; also divers singular misunderstandings which followed, finally ending in their peaceful wedding in this very room."
Anne laughed; and I settled myself contentedly in my chair, for I had already found out that Miss Tennant possesses the art of telling a story capitally.
"Kitty Bruce is three years older than I," said Margaret, -- "though I dare say you do not believe me, -- and consequently, at the time I was fifteen she was eighteen; and whereas I was in my first year at boarding-school, she was about finishing. I was at Mrs. Walkintwo's, where you and I met, Anne; and that, as you know, was a quiet place, where we were taught history and arithmetic, and the other 'solids,' and from which she had graduated the year before, and gone to Madame Riché's to acquire the extras and be 'finished.' Her beauty was very striking, and she was quite as entertaining and agreeable as she is now, -- very witty and original, with the kindest heart in the world, and enjoying life to the utmost. In the Easter vacation of that year we were at home together; and one morning I was sitting with her in her chamber, and she was confiding to me some of the state secrets of her room at school, to my inexpressible delight, for it was my great ambition to be intimate with Kitty; and, you know, that elder sisters are often strangely blind to the virtues of the younger.
"Mamma came in in the midst of it, with her usually cheerful face exceedingly clouded, so much so that both of us immediately asked what had happened.
"'Happened!' said poor mamma, sitting down disconsolately on Kitty's bed, and helping herself, by way of relief, from a box of candy which lay there. 'I'm sure I don't know what I'm to do. Your father has just sent me a note from the office, saying he has invited four gentlemen to dine, and wishes to have every thing as nice as possible. I can send John for the dinner; and, of course, I don't mind that part of it, for there is time enough and to spare, and Peggy never fails me; but you know Hannah is away; and this morning a small Irish boy came for Ann, saying his sister is sick and she went away with him. About an hour ago another little wretch came to say she was obliged to go to Salem with the sister, and would be back to breakfast. Now, children, what shall I do for some one to wait on the table?[']
"Kitty and I were as much posed as mamma. John, our coachman, was an immense Englishman, and perfectly unavailable as to taking upon himself any of Ann's duties save waiting upon the door. His daughter, who had been our nurse and was at that time seamstress, might have done very well, but she was away at Portsmouth; and as for Peggy, our dear old black cook, though I never knew any one to equal her in her realm, the kitchen, she had no idea of any thing out of it, and never had done any thing of this kind. It was raining in torrents, and none of us could go out; and we sat and looked at each other.
"Suddenly Kitty clapped her hands. 'Mamma,' said she, 'read us their names again.'
"So mamma read the names of two gentlemen from South America, and one from New Orleans, and that of Mr. Philip Bruce of London.
"'All perfect strangers except to papa,' said Kitty joyfully; 'and they're interested in that South-American business of his, and are all on their way there very likely; and we shall never see them again.'
"'Well, child, what has all this to do with Ann's being gone?'
"'I'll tell you, mamma: I have the jolliest plan, and it will be such fun! I shall be so disappointed if you say no to me. It isn't the least harm, and I know it will make no trouble. Just let me wear one of Ann's white aprons and look stupid, you call me Katherine, and I'll wait on the table as well as she could. No one ever notices the servants, and I'm not like you or papa or Margaret. You can turn my portrait to the wall in the drawing-room, and they'll think it's somebody that is disinherited. Those gentlemen haven't the least particle of information concerning papa's family; they may be possessed of the delusion that he is a bachelor in lodgings, for all we know; and if any thing is said about your children, tell them that your sons are in college and your eldest daughter with a friend. Of course I shall be, whether I am with Peggy in the kitchen or standing behind you. Oh! I'd like it so much better than sitting at the table; and Peggy will never tell. Who will be the wiser?'
"Mamma at first, though very much amused, shook her head, and said it was too foolish to be thought of; we could explain our troubles to the gentlemen, and get on as best we could; but Kate would not give up. Mamma gave some very good reasons; what should we do without Kitty to help entertain them? And any one, -- though she knew it wouldn't be considered proper conduct in a mother to make such a remark, -- any one would know Kate was not a servant. Papa, too, would want her to sing for them in the evening (for, though her voice is wonderfully sweet now, then she sang like a bird; and we were all very proud of the girl, as well we might be).
"But she upset all mamma's arguments, asking her how in the world she entertained so much company unaided, during the years she was unable to appear on account of extreme youth. She was charmed to hear her say she was too good looking; but as to her being wanted to sing, just see if the whole five didn't go directly to the library, and if the waste-paper basket wasn't filled with papers covered with figures in the morning!
"And so the end was, that mamma very reluctantly yielded to our teasing. Peggy, to whom the secret was instantly confided, nearly went into fits with laughing; and the more we all thought of it the more we were amused. Kitty suggested our total discomfiture in case papa brought home some one who knew her. I suggested, that, if it were any one we were intimate with, we take them into the secret, for I wished to see how Kate would carry it out; and if it were not, we might -- and thereby I nearly ruined the whole affair -- send for the 'lending' of Mrs. Duncan's Mary, -- Mrs. Duncan being a great friend of ours, who lived only a door or two away. Such a pull as Kitty gave my dress when I mentioned it!
"However, in due season papa appeared with the four strangers, who had been at the office with him all day, and, luckily, no one with them. He was duly made acquainted with the programme for the evening; and finding the plans all settled, and Kitty's heart evidently set upon them, he made but little opposition, considering the disappointment it probably was to him not to show his uncommonly nice little daughter. We three could hardly conceal our amusement when Kate entered the drawing-room to announce dinner; and it was made the harder for us by the queer little Irish brogue she had assumed for the occasion. The guests -- one in particular -- could evidently not account for so striking a display of beauty and grace in so humble a position.
"The dinner went off capitally. Kitty was perfection; and the only way I could see that she betrayed herself was in having, for a moment or two, the most interested expression during a conversation we were all very much interested in. She told me afterward that she came very near giving her opinion, -- and I know it would have been very sensible and original, -- in the most decided manner. Wouldn't it have been shocking?
"We sat a much longer time than usual. The three gentlemen from the South were middle-aged, and evidently absorbed in business; but the Englishman was not over thirty, and as handsome and agreeable as possible. He watched Kitty as often as he dared, to our great amusement; and once, as she left the room, seemed on the point of asking us about her. My dears, what could mamma have said?
"Papa was overflowing with fun, and enjoyed it all very much. I could see he was nearly choking sometimes at Kitty's unnecessary 'Yis, sur-rs.' She never passed me a plate without giving me a poke; and, I dare say, reminded papa and mamma of her existence in the same way.
"As she had prophesied, they excused themselves after dinner, and went to the library, -- all but Mr. Bruce, who had no interest in South America. He had an engagement, and so left us in the course of half an hour. Conceive our amusement, when, just after we left the table, Kitty entered with a note on a waiter, and a message purporting to be from Miss Harriet Wolfe, to the effect that she would call for mamma to go to an afternoon concert the next day. I was just leaving the room as she entered; and I can tell you I hurried a bit after that; and, as I looked around at mamma to see how she bore it, she was holding a fan before her face, in a perfect convulsion of laughter; and there stood that wicked Kate, with her hands folded, waiting solemnly for the answer. Poor Miss Wolfe had died some years before, and had been stone-deaf at that! How mamma gave the answer, or excused her amusement, I have forgotten. Kitty did it, as she said then, for a grand finale to her masquerading; but as she says now, and I firmly believed at the time, for a parting look at the Englishman.
"He went away, and Kitty came into the parlor, and we had a great laugh over our dinner-party; and the next day it was told to an admiring audience of three, -- grandmamma and my two aunts; but I think the story never went any farther, as we did not even dare to tell my brothers. Ann probably wonders to this day who took her place.
"The next Monday we went back to our two boarding-schools, and after a while we forgot the whole affair. Kitty finished school with high honors in July, and 'came out' in November, and was a great belle in Boston all that winter. I, in durance vile at Mrs. Walkingtwo's, read her journal-letters to a select circle of friends; and they were a green spot in our so-considered desert of life.
"Towards the last of the winter, papa's sister, for whom Kate was named, and who was very fond of her, sent for my sister to come to her for a visit of a few weeks during my uncle's absence. She wrote she would not have to suspend her pleasure in the least, as there had never been more gayety in Baltimore than at that time; and some young friends of Kitty's had that very day come from Europe, which was a great inducement. Baltimore was a kind of paradise to her, and her friends there were very dear ones. Her room-mate at Madame Riché's, who was her very best friend, lived quite near my uncle Hunter's, and she had not seen her for months. Besides, Boston was getting dull, and she was tired, and Baltimore air always made her well. So it was settled, and Kitty went.
"Papa carried her on; and for the first week she had a cold, and was not out of the house. However, her letters were very happy ones; the contents being mostly abstracts of conversations between herself and the dear Alice Thornton, and bits of Baltimore gossip, in which I wasn't particularly interested. But the cold got better, and her letters grew rather shorter as she got farther into the round of parties and pleasure.
"Finally there came a very thick letter, and there was something new on the stage. She wrote to me somewhat after this fashion, while staying with Miss Thornton: --
"'You're not to tell this, Margie; but I'm getting involved in what seems to be a mystery. Ever since I've been here, the girls have talked to me of the most charming gentleman ever seen in Baltimore, and they all declared I must be introduced; so at last I got up quite a curiosity. They said he was an Englishman, very rich, and so handsome! why! if one were to believe their stories, he might be carried about for a show! He was said to be very reserved, and to pay very little attention to any of the young ladies. He knows Mr. Thornton, Alice's father; and they are good friends, so Alice has seen a good deal of him, and he has been more polite to her than to any one else.
"'She had told him of me, and he seemed quite anxious to know me. She had promised to present him the very first chance, and that was last night at her party.
"'I wish I had time to tell you about it. Every one says it was one of the most delightful ones ever given in Baltimore, and I did enjoy it wonderfully. But do let me tell you about the Englishman. It was about eleven before he came, and every thing was at its height. I was dancing with Mr. Dent; and the moment I stopped, up came Alice, with the most elegant-looking man I ever saw; and the strangest thing is, that I think now, and thought then, I have seen him somewhere before. He watched me intently as he crossed the room, and asked Alice, as she has told me to-day, who I was; and when she said, "That is Kitty Tennant," he looked as pleased as Punch. Don't tell mamma,' said Kitty. I keep wondering where it is I have met him; but I know I cannot have, for they say he is just from England. But you don't know how queerly he acted. All at once he looked as puzzled as could be; and by the time he was close to me he stared in the queerest way; and when Alice introduced us, he bowed, and said, "Haven't we met before, Miss Tennant?" I said, "I think so;" and said I wished he would help me remember, for I was very certain I had seen him.
"'Suddenly it seemed to flash into his mind; and he said to himself, "It couldn't be." But I heard hm; and after that he was a perfect icicle; and I didn't have the courage to ask him any questions, for I knew it was something horrid by his looks. He evidently mistakes me for some one, and it is so queer that I firmly believe I have seen him. He went away from me in a very few minutes, and staid only a half-hour or so, avoiding Alice all the time. I had promised all the dances, and was desperately busy all night, having such a good time that I quite forgot this unpleasant affair. Alice came to me after the people were gone away, and said, "Kate Tennant, what did you say to the poor man?" And she seemed so utterly astonished when I told her what had happened. She cannot account for it any more than I can, and says it is as unlike him as possible. I don't know whether I have told you his name: it is Bruce.'"
When Miss Tennant reached this point in her story, I laughed heartily (said Aunt Mary); and Anne and she laughed with me. "Why in the world didn't she know him," said I: "I should have thought the circumstances would have made her remember him always."
Miss Tennant said, "Indeed, I should have thought so too. I know I should have recognized him myself if I had seen him; but Kitty was always the very worst person in the world to remember people, and it had happened a year before nearly. We always had a great many guests.
"When I answered her letter, I said nothing about him; for I must confess that I did not recollect that the gentleman who stared so at Kitty the night she played waiter was Mr. Bruce of London; and, indeed, I didn't feel particularly interested; and my reply was probably filled as usual with an account of the exciting things that had happened to me at the school from which I so earnestly longed for deliverance.
"Kitty wrote me very often; and once in a while she mentioned this strange Mr. Bruce, and finally it occurred to me that my sister was getting very much interested in him; and as I had a woeful dread of losing her, I expostulated with her concerning the foolishness of caring any thing for a man who had treated her in so uncourteous a way, and I laughed at her.
"For some time after that she did not allude to him, and I had nearly forgotten him. At last there came a letter in which Kitty said, "I must tell you more of Mr. Bruce, if you are tired to death hearing of him; for it is really a perfect mystery. I have seen him at a number of parties, watching me in the most earnest way, as if he enjoyed it and still was rather ashamed. But when we meet he is just as cool and distant as possible. Alice and I have missed his calls; and all the way he has betrayed the slightest interest in me to any one else is that he met a Miss Burt, who has only lived here a short time, and to whom he had been presented a night or two before. He asked her incidentally if she knew Miss Alice Thornton; and, when she said she did a very little, he asked who the young lady was visiting her. Miss Burt said she never had seen her, but some one had told her it was a young lady Miss Thornton had met at boarding-school. "Then she has never been here before?" said he. And Miss Burt thought not, indeed was quite sure, as she never had heard of me. Isn't it a pity he didn't ask some one who could tell him all about me? -- and then he could know whether he had met me, of course.'
"Now Kitty, in that same letter, confessed to me that she liked Mr. Bruce better than any one she had ever seen, which alarmed me so much that I remember I wrote her the most shocking scolding."
And here Miss Tennant was silent for a little while, and, when she spoke, said, --
"I see by your faces you're quite interested; and I think the rest of the story cannot be better told than by my reading you some of the letters Kitty wrote to me at the time. I'd like to look them over myself; and, if you are not in the least sleepy, I will go up to my room and get them."
In a few minutes she returned; and after making the gas and fire a little brighter, and taking an observation on the state of the weather, she began to read: --
"My forlorn young sister, are you mourning over the inconstancy of woman in general; and your sister Kitty in particular? I own up to being very naughty, and on my knees I ask your pardon for not having written all these days. I cannot tell you, as you invariably do me, that I have had nothing to write; for my time has been more fully occupied than usual. Tuesday night was Miss Carroll's party; and I wasn't home till -- really not early, but late, in the morning. That party very nearly made me late to breakfast. Mr. Davenport was my 'devotedest,' and has called since, which Alice and I think very remarkable. My dear Meg, he's the queerest man! He has the most dejected expression, as if life were the most terrible bore. One would think he had been all through with it before, and didn't enjoy it the first time. He seems to have an exceedingly well-developed taste for grief, and talks in the saddest way about things in general. I think lately his object in life has been to make me think he has some dreadful hidden sorrow. I know he hasn't, by his way; and I talk more nonsense to him in an hour than I ever did to any one else in a day. I cannot help 'taking rises' out of him, as we used to say at school. But he dances well, and knows every thing apparently; and he is ever so much more entertaining to me than the people who are just like every one else. Wednesday he sent me the most exquisite bouquet: it came while Alice and I were out walking. It was raining a little; but we were tired of the house, and went ever so far, having the most delightful talk. You ought to have seen Alice: for the mist gave her more color than usual, and she looked like a beauty, as she is. Oh how I want you to know her, Maggie! I never have said a word hardly about the delightful visit I am having here. Alice's mother, you know, died so long ago that she doesn't remember her at all; and she lived with her aunt till she was old enough for school, and her father travelled and boarded. Now he has taken this delightful house, and she is mistress of it. How she knows the first thing about housekeeping, I cannot imagine! But she certainly succeeds admirably. There never was a girl who had her own way so thoroughly: but her way is always very sensible; and, though she has had the most remarkable chance for becoming a spoiled child, she is the farthest from it. However, I will not expatiate. Thursday night Mr. Thornton gave a whist-party; and -- do you think! one of the gentlemen was my Mr. Bruce. I dare say you are making the most awful face, Maggie, but I will tell you about him; and why you scold me so I cannot imagine, for I think it is very exciting; and I know there is some good reason for his conduct, for he is a perfect gentleman, every one says; and my only fear is, that I shall never find out about it. I am constantly expecting to hear he is gone: I heard he was to sail last Monday positively. I should feel horridly. When Alice and I found Mr. Thornton had invited him, we laid a bet whether he would accept; but I was right. Mr. Thornton's invitations are seldom refused; but I don't think that was his motive. I won the bet. Yes, he really came, and that wretch of an Alice had the audacity to seat us side by side at supper. He was perfectly polite, but talked very little. I caught him watching me ever and ever so many times; and Alice declares he is in love with me. I wish he would tell me what is the matter with me, for I like him more and more; but don't tell mamma. I have scarcely mentioned him, because I know papa would tell me not to take any notice of him, -- and I cannot help it. It is so nice I have you to tell about him. The only queer thing that happened was, in the course of the supper I was saying something to Mr. Dent, who was on my left, about Boston, in answer to some question. Mr. Bruce said, 'Did you ever live in Boston, Miss Tennant?' I answered that our family had always lived there, and I meant to; I had been away at school, however, most of the time for four years. ' Oh!' said he, and began to ask me something else, and stopped suddenly. I wish he had gone on, though perhaps it was only about some Boston people whom he met abroad. He never has been in this country before, you know. And he went on talking with Mr. Bowler, who sat just beyond him, and I found Mr. Dent was talking with Mr. Thornton; so I was left to myself, and was busy for a while over my oysters. I listened to Mr. Bowler and Mr. Bruce, talking about Mr. John Keith's marriage with his mother's nursery-maid, whom he had very sensibly fallen in love with. Mr. Bowler was saying that he had met her, and that she was remarkably ladylike, and did her teacher, whoever she might be, great credit. Mr. Bruce looked up, and saw I was listening, -- everybody has been interested in the affair, -- and said, 'Oh, yes! I have known several instances of persons, having naturally a great deal of refinement, being taken from a low position when quite grown up, with their tastes and habits apparently firmly established; and, upon their being educated, one could scarcely tell that they had not always been used to the society they were in.' He appealed to me to know if I had not known such cases. I answered that I never had seen any such person myself, but that I had not the least doubt of its being possible. He looked at me a moment, and then said, carelessly as he could, 'Of course you haven't.' And it seemed to me he emphasized the 'you' just the least bit. One might have inferred I was just such a person myself. My dear little sister, what an enormous letter this is. Forgive me if you are bored; and love me dearly, as I do you. Alice sent her love before she went to sleep, where I shall follow her directly. She has been sweetly unconscious of the perplexing Mr. Bruce for at least an hour. I'll tell you every thing else that has happened in my next letter; and do you write very soon to your naughty sister
[In the next three or four letters, there is hardly enough mention of Mr. Bruce for me to copy them all out. He seems to be growing more and more agreeable, in spite of his evident determination to the contrary; and as for Miss Kitty, her letters show very plainly what her feelings were toward him; and here is the last of the letters which Miss Margaret Tennant brought, which explains the whole matter, to the great satisfaction of all concerned: -- ]
"Maggy, my cross young sister, -- I declare, I'm muddled, as the chambermaid used to say at school. I have fallen into a chronic state of laughter, I'm dying to tell Alice, and have sent for her; but she has callers, and I will begin this very minute to tell you. It is the middle of the morning, but I am just down: I was up very late last night; and oh, we had such fun! Just to think how poor Mr. Bruce and I have puzzled our brains about each other! It is all out now, and I'm so greatly relieved. I never knew how much I cared about it till now. I didn't stop to date my letter, but to-day is Thursday; and Monday morning, as you already know, Aunt Kate came home, to my great delight, though I was broken-hearted to leave Alice's, where I have had such a charming time. Uncle Rob's mother is very much better; and aunty doesn't think she will have to go back, and says I must finish my visit. But I cannot stop to write about that. I came back here in the afternoon; and, Tuesday morning, who should appear but uncle Rob from Savannah, two weeks before we expected him. That night, when he came home to dinner, he said with great glee, 'Kate, I saw young Bruce down town to-day, whom I met in London, and liked so very much. I have invited him to dine with us to-morrow. He is a capital young fellow; and I'm glad we have this young niece to help us entertain him. Have you never met him, Kitty? I'm not going to ask any one else, so I can have him all to myself. I want to ask him about my friends in London; and he tells me he has some letters and messages for me, with which he called at my office, probably just after I went South.' So he rattled on, -- you know how fast he talks, -- and presently Aunt Kate introduced some other subject, and I wasn't obliged to tell the state of affairs between us. I supposed, of course, Mr. Bruce would treat me in a proper and becoming manner in my uncle's house; and I thought -- which thought proved true -- that he might not know I was uncle's niece; and that it might help the matter a little. Oh, it is too funny, Meg! How you will laugh! About dinner-time Mr. Bruce came in with Uncle Rob, and he looked so astonished to see me there; and before uncle Rob had time to get any farther in the introduction than 'Mr. Bruce,' he said, 'Oh, yes! I have met Miss Tennant very often. Is Miss Thornton with you?' Uncle said, 'Kitty, why haven't you told me?' Mr. Bruce looked more surprised when uncle called me 'Kitty;' and, after that, he got more and more involved, as he saw me whisper to aunty, and take some work from a little cabinet, and act as if I belonged here. I explained to Uncle Rob that he had talked so fast the night before, that he didn't give me time to say I knew Mr. Bruce. We didn't wait long for dinner; and the way it was all explained was by my saying, 'Uncle Rob, if you please, I'll have some pepper.' Mr. Bruce started, and really was pale. He looked at me and at Uncle Rob and aunty. I never saw such an expression on any one's face. 'Will you allow me to ask what may seem a very impertinent question?' said he, 'are you Mr. Hunter's niece, Miss Tennant?' 'No,' I answered, 'but I'm Mrs. Hunter's.' -- 'Oh!' says he, 'I'm inexpressibly relieved: and yet I'm sure it was you; I cannot have been mistaken. There never could be another person so exactly like you, and I remember your face perfectly.' Here he blushed furiously; and, I regret to say, I did too. 'It's a dreadful question to have to ask Mrs. Robert Hunter's niece, and I beg you not to be offended with me; but was it you, or your wraith, who waited upon the table at a house where I dined, just a year ago, in Boston? I haven't the faintest idea what the name was. It was a gentleman to whom I had letters from my father, who had some business with him. He was exceedingly kind to me, and his house was charming; and he had such a pretty little daughter[';] [,'] -- hear that, Meg! -- 'and I have remembered the table-girl ever since. It cannot have been you; for I have heard you say you were always away at school, except in the summer; and yet I am so sure of your face[,] and figure[,] and hair[,] and everything about you[;] [,] only you have lost a strong brogue you had then. Not you, of course, but the person I saw. I have been so foolishly sure about it, and supposed some one had become interested in you, as I was at the time,' -- here he blushed again, -- 'and had educated you where you met Miss Thornton, and that you had a vast deal of tact, and were deluding her and her friends. I have treated you dreadfully, and Miss Alice[,] too; and only the other night I had the most supreme contempt for you, because you were apparently so innocent concerning young women being raised above their station, and all that sort of thing. It would come over me once in a while that you could not be carrying this all out, and I didn't believe in my previous idea at all; and yet the face is the same. I am as much in the dark as ever,' said the poor man solemnly.
"All this time I was pinching my fingers under the table to keep from laughing; but when he stopped, looking to me for a solution of all his troubles, with that ridiculously perplexed face, and I saw uncle Rob's and aunt Kitty's faces, it would come, and I fairly shrieked, and rushed from the table into the library, and threw myself into an easy-chair; and I truly never laughed so in my life. I believe I had hysterics at last, and they came in in dismay. Don't you know what it was, Margaret? Don't you remember the day, last Easter vacation, when Ann had gone down to Salem with her sister, and papa had four strange gentlemen to dine with him, and I put on one of Ann's aprons, and waited on the table for fun? I think it was idiotic in me not to have recognized Mr. Bruce before. Only think how much it would have saved us! He was the handsome young Englishman who went to the drawing-room with you and mamma, instead of the library, and then went away early. You remember all about him now, don't you? I went back to the dining-room, and told the whole story from beginning to end, and if we didn't enjoy ourselves over it! Poor uncle Rob made himself ill with the extent of his laughter, and Mr. Bruce and I are the best of friends. Did you ever know any thing funnier to happen at Mrs. Walkintwo's? If you did, do write me. How I shall enjoy telling papa and mamma! There's Alice coming. Good-by, my dear. But wasn't he a goose?"
"Knowing," said Miss Margaret, "that Kitty has been Mrs. Bruce for nearly thirty years, you can imagine what followed. Mr. Bruce made full amends for his rudeness, and after a while it came to their having long walks and talks together. Uncle Rob approved the match; and, when it was time for her to come home, Mr. Bruce wisely concluded to sail from Boston, and to serve as escort to Aunt Kate and Kitty. So he was all ready to ask papa's consent when he arrived, and it was readily given. He became his father's American partner, and they were married in a year or so, and settled down in the house we left to-night; for Kitty was always loyal to Boston, like the true Tennant that she is. And they have always been the happiest couple in the world, and Kitty's little personification of the absent Ann turned out more happily than her reluctant mamma had any idea of.
"And now," said Miss Margaret, "the storm and the story are both over. It's nearly twelve, and the fire is low. Suppose we go up stairs."
"Mr. Bruce" was the first story The Atlantic accepted from Jewett (24:701-710), appearing in December 1869. It was published under her pen name: A. C. Eliot. It was collected in Old Friends and New, from which this text is taken.
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with the world before us: John Milton (1608-1674) ends Paradise Lost (1667) with these lines:
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest. . . .
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Quadrille: a type of square dance of French origin.
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Portsmouth: a seaport in New Hampshire
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'came out': For a young upper-class woman of the 19th-century, coming out meant entering society and becoming eligible for courtship and marriage.
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in durance vile: See Robert Burns (1759-1796) in "Epistle from Esopus to Maria," from Posthumous Pieces (1799).
In durance vile here must I wake and weep,
And all my frowsy couch in sorrow sleep.
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Punch: The main male puppet in a Punch and Judy show. Britannica Online provides the following information: "Punchinello, Italian Pulcinella, hooknosed, humpbacked character, the most popular of marionettes and glove puppets and the chief figure in the Punch-and-Judy puppet show. Brutal, vindictive, and deceitful, he is usually at odds with authority. His character had roots in the Roman clown and the comic country bumpkin.... His influence survives in such common phrases as 'pleased as Punch.'"
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Don't tell mamma,' said Kitty. I keep: What Jewett intended in this passage is a mystery, but it appears that she may have wanted "said Kitty" as a reminder that we are "hearing" the words Kitty wrote in her account of meeting Mr. Bruce at the Thornton's. In the Atlantic text, this passage reads: "'... Don't tell mamma,' said Kitty, -- 'but he looked at me with the most perfect admiration....'" This arrangement suggests that when the piece was revised for Old Friends and New, the complexity of the quotation marks in this passage baffled the editorial staff, too.
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'taking rises': teasing.
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uncle Rob: Jewett is inconsistent about capitalizing uncle and aunt when they are parts of names.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
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