When a Man Marries by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter VIII. Correspondents' Department
The following letters were found in the house post box after the lifting of the quarantine, and later were presented to me by their writers, bound in white kid (the letters, not the authors, of course).
From Thomas Harbison, late engineer of bridges, Peruvian Trunk Lines, South america, to Henry Llewellyn, care of Union Nitrate Company, Iquique, Chili.
Dear Old Man:
I think I was fully a week trying to drive out of my mind my last glimpse of you with your sickly grin, pretending to be tickled to pieces that the only white man within two hundred miles of your shack was going on a holiday. You old bluffer! I used to hang over the rail of the steamer, on the way up, and see you standing as I left you beside the car with its mule and the Indian driver, and behind you a million miles of soul-destroying pampa. Never mind, Jack; I sent yesterday by mail steamer the cigarettes, pipes and tobacco, canned goods and poker chips. Put in some magazines, too, and the collars. Don't know about the ties--guess it won't matter down there.
Nothing happened on the trip. One of the engines broke down three days out, and I spent all my time below decks for forty-eight hours. Chief engineer raving with D.T.'s. Got the engine fixed in record time, and haven't got my hands clean yet. It was bully.
With this I send the papers, which will tell you how I happen to be here, and why I have leisure to write you three days after landing. If the situation were not so ridiculous, it would be maddening. Here I am, off for a holiday and congratulating myself that I am foot free and heart free--yes, my friend, heart free--here I am, shut in the house of a man I never saw until last night, and wouldn't care if I never saw again, with a lot of people who never heard of me, who are almost equally vague about South America, who play as hard at bridge as I ever worked at building one (forgive this, won't you? The novelty has gone to my head), and who belong to the very class of extravagant, luxury-loving, non-producing parasites (isn't that what we called them?) that you and I used to revile from our lofty Andean pinnacle.
To come down to earth: here we are, six women and five men, including a policeman, not a servant in the house, and no one who knows how to do anything. They are really immensely interesting, these people; they all know each other very well, and it is "Jimmy" here, and "Dal" there--Dallas Brown, who went to India with me, you remember my speaking of him--and they are good natured, too, except at meal times. The little hostess, Mrs. Wilson, took over the cooking, and although luncheon was better than breakfast, the food still leaves much to the imagination.
I wish you could see this Mrs. Wilson, Hal. You would change a whole lot of your ideas. She is a thoroughbred, sure enough, and of course some of her beauty is the result of the exquisite care about which you and I--still from our Andean pinnacle--used to rant. But the fact is, she is more than that. She has fire, and pluck, no end. If you could have seen her this morning, standing in front of a cold kitchen range, determined to conquer it, and had seen the tilt of her chin when I offered to take over the cooking--you needn't grin; I can cook, and you know it--you would understand what I mean. It was so clear that she was paralyzed with fright at the idea of getting breakfast, and equally clear that she meant to do it. By the way, I have learned that her name was McNair before she married this would-be artist, Wilson, and that she is a daughter of the McNair who financed the Callao branch!
I have not met the others so intimately. There are two sisters named Mercer, inclined to be noisy--they are playing roulette in the next room now. One is small and dark, almost Hebraic in type, named Leila and called Lollie. The other, larger, very blonde and languishing, and with a decided preference for masculine society, even, saving the mark, mine! Dallas Brown's wife, good looking, smokes cigarettes when I am not around--they all do, except Mrs. Wilson.
Then there is a maiden aunt, who is ill today with grippe and excitement, and a Miss Knowles, who came for a moment last night to see Mrs. Wilson, was caught in the quarantine (see papers), and, after hiding all night in the basement, is sulking all day in her room. Her presence created an excitement out of all proportion to the apparent cause.
From the fact that I have reason to know that my artist host and his beautiful wife are on bad terms, and from the significant glances with which the announcement of Miss Knowles' presence was met, the state of affairs seems rather clear. Wilson impresses me as a spineless sort, anyhow, and when the lady of the basement shut herself away from the rest today and I happened on "Jimmy," as they call him, pleading with her through the door, I very nearly kicked him down the stairs. Oh, yes, I'll keep out, right enough; it isn't my affair.
By the way, after the quarantine and with the policeman locked in the furnace room, a pearl necklace and a diamond bracelet were stolen! Just ten of us to divide the suspicion! Upon my word, Hal, it's the queerest situation I ever heard of. Which of us did it? I make a guess that not a few of us are fools, but which is the knave? The worst of it is, I am the only unaccredited member of the household!
This is more scandal than I ever wrote in my life. Lay it to circumscribed environment, and the lack of twenty miles over the pampa before breakfast. We have all been vaccinated, and the officious gentlemen from the board of health have taken their grins and their formaldehyde and gone. Ye gods, how we cough!
The Carlton order will go through all right, I think. Phoned him this morning. If it does, old man, we will take a month in September and explore the Mercator property.
Do you know, Hal, I have been thinking lately that you and I stick too close to the grind. Business is right enough, but what's the use of spending one's best years succeeding in everything except the things that are worth while? I'll be thirty sooner than I care to say, and--oh, well, you won't understand. You'll sit down there, with the Southern Cross and the rest of the infernal astronomical galaxy looking down on you, and the Indians chanting in the village, and you will think I have grown sentimental. I have not. You and I down there have been looking at the world through the reverse end of the glass. It's a bully old world, Hal, and this is God's part of it.
Burn this letter after you read it; I suspect it is covered with germs. Well, happy days, old man.
P.S. By the way, can't you spare some of the Indian pottery you picked up at Callao? I told Mrs. Wilson about it, and she was immensely interested. Send it to this address. Can you get it to the next steamer?--T.
From Maxwell Reed to Richard Burton Bagley, University Club, New York.
Enclosed find my check for five hundred, as per wager. Possibly you were within your rights in protecting your bet in the manner you chose, but while I do not wish to be offensive, your reporters are damnably so.
Yours, Maxwell Reed
From Officer Flannigan to Mrs. Maggie Flannigan, Erin Street.
As soon as you receive this, go down to Mac and tell him the story as I tell you hear. Tell him I was walkin my beat, and I'd been afther seein Jimmy Alverini about doin the right thing for Mac on Monday, at the poles, when I seen a man hangin suspicious around this house, which is Mr. Wilson's, on Ninety-fifth. And, of coorse, afther chasin the man a mile or more, I lose him, which was not my fault. So I go back to the Wilson house, and tell them to be careful about closin up fer the night, and while I'm standin in the hall, with all the swells around me, sparklin with jewels, the board of health sends a man to lock us all in, because the Jap thats been waiter has took the smallpox and gone to the hospitle. I stood me ground. I sez, sez I, you cant shtop an officer in pursute of his duty. I rafuse to be shut in. Be shure to tell Mac that.
So here I am, and like to be for a month. Tell Mac theres four votes shut up here, and I can get them for him, if he can stop this monkey business.
Then go over to the Dago Church on Webster Avenue and put a dollar in Saint Anthony's box. He'll see me out of this scrape, right enough. Do it at once. Now remember, go to Mac first; maybe you can get the dollar from him, and mind what you tell him.
Your husband, Tim Flannigan
From me to Mother--Mrs. Theodore McNair, Hotel Hamilton, Bermuda.
I hope you will get this before you read the papers, and when you do read them, you are not to get excited and worried. I am as well as can be, and a great deal safer than I ever remember to have been in my life. We are quarantined, a lot of us, in Jim Wilson's house, because his irreproachable Jap did a very reproachable thing--took smallpox. Now read on before you get excited. His room has been fumigated, and we have been vaccinated. I am well and happy. I can't be killed in a railway wreck or smashed when the car skids. Unless I drown myself in my bath, or jump through a window, positively nothing can happen to me. So gather up all your maternal anxieties and cast them to the Bermuda sharks.
Anne Brown is here--see the papers for list--and if she can not play propriety, Jimmy's Aunt Selina can. In fact, she doesn't play at it; she works. I have telephoned Lizette for some clothes--enough for a couple of weeks, although Dallas promises to get us out sooner. Now, dear, do go ahead and have a nice time, and on no account come home. You could only have the carriage to stop in front of the house, and wave to me through a window.
Mother, I want you to do something for me. You know who is down there, and--this is awfully delicate, Mumsy--but he's a nice boy, and I thought I liked him. I guess you know he has been rather attentive. Now, I do like him, Mumsy, but not the way I thought I did, and I want you to--very gently, of course--to discourage him a little. You know how I mean. He's a dear boy, but I am so tired of people who don't know anything but horses and motors.
And, oh, yes,--do you remember a girl named Lucille Mellon who was at school with you in Rome? And that she married a man named Harbison? Well, her son is here! He builds railroads and bridges and things, and he even built himself an automobile down in South America, because he couldn't afford to buy one, and burned wood in it! Wood! Think of it!
I wired father in Chicago for fear he would come rushing home. The picture in the paper of the face at the basement window is supposed to be Mr. Harbison, but of course it isn't any more like him than mine is like me.
Anne Brown mislaid her pearl collar when she took it off last night, and has fussed herself into a sick headache. She declares it was stolen! Some of the people are playing bridge, Betty Mercer is doing a cake walk to the Rhapsodie Hongroise--Jim has no every-day music--and the telephone is ringing. We have received enough flowers for a funeral--somebody sent Lollie a Gates Ajar, only with the gates shut.
There are no servants--think of it, Mumsy. I wish you had made me learn to cook. Mr. Harbison has shown me a little--he was a soldier in the Spanish War--but we girls are a terribly ignorant lot, Mumsy, about the real things of life.
Now, don't worry. It is more sport than camping in the Adirondacks, and not nearly so damp.
Your loving daughter, Katherine.
P.S.--South America must be wonderful. Why can't we put the Gadfly in commission, and take a coasting trip this summer? It is a shame to own a yacht and never use it. K.
This note, evidently delivered by messenger, was found among other litter in the vestibule after the lifting of the quarantine.
Mr. Alex Dodds, City Editor, Mail and Star:
Dear D.--Can't get a picture. Have waited seven hours. They have closed the shutters.
Written on the back of the above note.
Watch the roof.