Chapter VII. Comparisons
 

"Mrs. Atwood," said Mildred one Saturday evening, "I'll go with you to church to-morrow if you'll let me. Belle has been once, and it will be my turn to-morrow."

"Oh, certainly, miss; you will go with Roger in the buggy, I s'pose, like Miss Belle."

"If you please, I'd rather go with you."

"Really, miss, the roads have been muddy of late, and the wagon isn't very nice."

"I would rather go with you," pleaded Mildred, with an appeal in her blue eyes that few resisted.

"Father," said Mrs. Atwood, as soon as her husband came in, "Miss Jocelyn wishes to go with us to meeting to-morrow. Can't you or Roger tidy up the wagon a bit? 'Tain't fit for her to ride in."

"There'tis again--more time spent in fixing up and fussing than in looking after the main chance. You are all gettin' too fine for plain farmin' people."

"I don't see why plain farming people need enjoy mud more'n other folks. You ought to be ashamed to ask your wife and daughter to ride in such a wagon."

"I don't know why I should be more ashamed to-morrow than on any other Sunday, and you was never ashamed before. Your boarders don't seem inclined to take any rides and pay for them, so I don't see why I should fix up any more'n usual. Anyhow, it's too late now; Jotham's gone home, I'm too tired, and Roger's dressed to go out. Why can't she go with Roger?"

"She says she'd rather go with us, and if you men-folk let her ride in that wagon I hope the minister will give you a scorching sermon"--and she turned toward her son, who, dressed in his rural finery, was finishing an early supper, To her surprise he, from whom she expected no aid, gave her a significant nod and put his finger on his lips. He had already decided upon one bold stratagem, in the hope of opening Mildred's eyes, and if this failed his mother's words suggested another line of policy.

"Sue," he said, with affected carelessness, "I may bring Amelia Stone to spend part of the evening with you."

"Amelia Stone isn't my style, if the young men do say she's the prettiest girl in town."

"If you don't treat her well she'll think you're jealous," said Roger, and with this artful stroke he departed to carry out his experiment. "I'll teach my city lady that I'm not a clodhopper that other girls won't look at," he thought as he drove away.

Everything went according to his mind, for Amelia broke an engagement in order to come with him, and was very friendly. The young fellow thought that Mildred must see that he was not a person to be politely ignored when so handsome a girl was flattering in her favors. Susan would not be thought jealous for the world, and so was rather effusive over Miss Stone. She also imbibed the idea that it might be a good chance to make Mildred aware that they knew some nice, stylish people; therefore, as the rural beauty mounted the steps of the porch she introduced her to Mildred and Belle. Roger meanwhile stood near, and critically compared the two, girls. They certainly represented two very different types, and he might have brought a score of his acquaintances that would have been more to Mildred's taste than the florid beauty whose confidence was boldness, and who had inventoried her own pronounced charms more often than had any of her admirers. One girl was a lily, with a character like a delicate, elusive fragrance; the other, a tulip, very striking, especially at a distance. The one no more asserted herself than did the summer evening; the manner of the other the same as button-holed all present, and demanded attention. Her restless black eyes openly sought admiration, and would speedily sparkle with anger and malice should their request be unrewarded. Roger was quick enough to feel Mildred's superiority, although he could scarcely account for it, and he soon experienced so strong a revulsion of feeling toward his unconscious ally that he would have taken her home again with a sense of relief.

"If Miss Jocelyn thinks that's the style of girl that takes with me, I might as well have remained a scarecrow. Amelia Stone seems loud as a brass band beside her," and his gallantries perceptibly diminished.

True to her nature, Amelia assumed toward him what she imagined were very pretty airs of proprietorship. Eoger knew well that her manner would have been the same toward the youth with whom, from a sudden caprice, she had broken her engagement for the evening. Her habitual coquetry nevertheless unwittingly carried out his original programme with a success that made him grind his teeth with rage, for he supposed that Mildred would gain the idea that they were congenial spirits drawn together by strong affinities.

And she, half divining his vexation, shrewdly increased it by pretending to associate him with the transparent coquette, while at the same time manifesting disapproval of her by a fine reserve. Amelia felt herself scanned quietly, coldly, and half curiously, as if she belonged to some strange and hitherto unknown type, and her vivacious egotism began to fail her. She was much relieved therefore when Mildred excused herself and went to her room, for careless, light-hearted, and somewhat giddy Belle imposed no restraint. Roger, however, did not recover himself, for he saw that he had made a false step in his effort to win recognition from Mildred, and he waited impatiently until his companion should suggest returning. This she soon did, and they rode toward her home with a mutual sense of dissatisfaction. At last Amelia broke out, "I think she's absurdly proud!"

"Who?" Eoger asked demurely.

"You know who well enough. I thank my stars we have no city folks putting on airs around our house. I suppose you think her perfection. You looked as if you did."

"I'm not acquainted with her," he said quietly.

"Not acquainted! Darsn't you speak to her high mightiness then?"

"Oh, yes, I can speak to her when there is occasion, but that does not make one acquainted. I don't understand her."

"I do, perfectly. She thinks herself a wonderful deal better than you or me."

"Perhaps she is," he admitted.

"Well! that's a nice speech to make to me! I was a fool to break my engagement and go with you."

"All right," responded Eoger, with satirical good-nature, as he assisted her to alight; "we'll both know better next time."

She would not speak to Mm again, but he escorted her to her door, and bowed in parting with mocking politeness. Instead of inviting him in, as was her custom, she closed the door with a sharpness that spoke volumes.

"I don't believe Miss Jocelyn ever banged a door like that in her life," he muttered with a smile as he hastened homeward.

Hearing unusual sounds in the farmyard before retiring, Mildred peeped out from under her curtain. The moonlight revealed that Roger was washing the wagon with a vigor that made her laugh, and she thought, "After what I have seen this evening, I think I can civilize him."