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Mary Louise Stands the Test
A SMALL CLOUD
There were persons in Dorfield who said that Mary Louise’s life was too easy; that Fortune had smiled on her more than any one mortal had a right to expect. Why should beauty, charm, intelligence, and riches all belong to one girl? Why should she have an enormously wealthy grandfather whose one idea was to gratify her every wish, when any other girl, if she had any grandfather at all, was, perhaps, forced to support him or, at any rate, never got even a taste of the breast of the chicken because of the troublesome old gentleman’s predilection for that portion of the fowl? Why should Mary Louise marry the best looking and most promising young man who had settled in Dorfield for many a year? To be sure, when Danny Dexter first came to Dorfield at the close of the World War, he was not considered so very
desirable by the mothers of the young women of the town. Not one had cast her nets for him and Mary Louise was considered quite quixotic to have adopted the returned soldier with his uncertain fortunes and scarred face. It was looked upon as another proof of Mary Louise’s unfailing luck that she should have discerned the true worth of young Dexter through his ragged uniform and unhealed scars.
Those persons who gave voice to such sentiments concerning Mary Louise were ignorant of the girl’s past history or they surely would have felt that she had suffered enough as a child and young girl to deserve some good fortune from the Fate who is supposed to even up things sooner or later. What that suffering was and the adventures through which the young girl had finally come victorious, are well known to the true friends of Mary Louise. We will not dwell upon them but bring our history down-to-date.
Colonel Hathaway was palpably failing. Anyone could see it with half an eye, and poor Mary Louise had to shut both eyes to keep from acknowledging that her old grandfather had lost not only his physical vigor, but that his mind
was growing feeble. His old friend and lawyer, Peter Conant, who lived next door, had noticed that there was something queer about the Colonel. He had mentioned it to his wife Hannah, and Hannah being very deaf, he had been forced to mention it in such a loud tone that his niece, Irene Macfarlane, who was in the next room, could not help overhearing the conversation.
“I heard what you said to Aunt Hannah, Uncle Peter,” Irene said, wheeling herself into the sitting room where her uncle and aunt had settled themselves for the evening. Irene, Mary Louise’s best friend, was a lame girl who went everywhere in a rolling chair. “I heard some of it and I simply had to come and hear more,” she continued, her sweet face flushing and her clear steady eyes filling with tears. “I have noticed too that our dear old neighbor is not quite himself and I’ve been so worried about it.”
“Does Mary Louise notice it?” asked her uncle.
“I don’t know but she must think he talks strangely,” answered Irene sadly. “Colonel Hathaway has always been so kindly and genial and now he seems suspicious and a little bitter.
He has taken an unaccountable dislike to Danny lately. He picks on the poor fellow all the time. You remember he used to think the world and all of Danny even when he was so down and out that he hired himself to the Colonel as a chauffeur. Now he is doing splendidly and being advanced right along at the automobile factory. Laura Hinton says her father thinks he is the most promising young man he knows—certainly the best one in the factory.”
“Too bad! Too bad!” sighed Uncle Peter. “We must never forget what our old friend has been, and we must not deal harshly with him in our hearts for what he is now. A mind diseased! God grant it is merely a phase and will pass.”
Aunt Hannah had been listening to the above conversation with two ear trumpets, a method she employed when anything very interesting was being discussed.
“It may be a blood clot on the brain and he may be as right as a trivet again,” suggested Aunt Hannah, who always took a cheerful view of life and even death when the persons for whom she had prognosticated a perfect cure finally passed away. “I knew a man once—”
But Irene, who had been busily engaged in the next room on some sewing for the Higgledy Piggledy Shop, could not wait to hear about the man Aunt Hannah knew. Aunt Hannah always had known some one who had been miraculously saved from the calamity that was in question and, as her stories were long and full of detail, her husband and Irene did not always have time to listen to them. She had a way of removing her trumpet from her ear and there was no answering her or holding back the flood of her discourse. Once started, she talked on until she had freed her mind.
Irene and her Uncle Peter had a tacit agreement that one of them must always listen to Aunt Hannah’s long reminiscences beginning with “I knew a man,” or “I knew a woman,” and, since Irene was busy with her sewing and Peter was merely reading the paper, it was his duty on this occasion to give ear to his wife’s exhaustive and exhausting account of a man who had been seemingly dead from a clot on the brain and was in his coffin and the funeral under way when he sat up and demanded kidney hash.
“Well I hope Jim Hathaway will demand kidney hash and stop bedeviling Mary Louise’s
Danny,” sighed Mr. Conant. “Poor old Jim! Poor old Jim!”
Mary Louise was very sad over her grandfather’s feeling against her beloved Danny. The change had come on gradually, so gradually that Mary Louise could hardly tell when the old man had adopted the critical attitude he now held. In days gone by, he had looked at his grandson-in-law with kindly benevolent eyes and had always seemed glad to see him. He had taken pride in the young man’s power of attracting friends and keeping them, in his ability in the automobile factory, and his rapid advancement. Indeed, he had felt that in Mary Louise’s marrying Danny Dexter he had not lost a daughter but gained a son. Now that the old gentleman’s mind was failing, he looked upon the young man’s every word and action with jealous suspicion. In place of the kind and benevolent glances were sly, shifting eyes that seemed to be trying to fathom some unbelievable wickedness the young man was endeavoring to conceal.
Danny himself was the last to realize that he was heartily disliked by Colonel Hathaway. He was the least suspicious of mortals and not at all inclined to think anyone was trying to insult
him. He had a real affection for the grandfather of his darling Mary Louise and was grateful to the old gentleman for having taken him upon faith. Had the Colonel not given his consent to his granddaughter’s marrying Danny before he had proved himself altogether worthy of such an honor? This confidence in him had added zest to Danny’s determination to make good and not to betray the trust Colonel Hathaway had imposed in him. Danny had never wanted to be a financial burden to the Colonel and had insisted from the beginning that either he and his bride should go to housekeeping for themselves or he should be allowed to pay board for both of them. Of course, it was out of the question for Mary Louise to leave her grandfather in his old age and when the matter of board was broached the old gentleman had been very much amused.
“My dear Danny,” he had expostulated, “surely you will not take from me the pleasure and delight of having you young people in my home. As for board: I should pay you for being willing to live in my big old house that would be gloomy indeed without you. Say no more about it, my son. I have money enough
and to spare and it is all to be Mary Louise’s when I die—yours and Mary Louise’s I should say.”
Danny had felt that any further insistence on his part would have been in bad taste and had let the matter drop, although it had never been satisfactory to him to feel dependent on anyone, even his wife’s beloved grandfather. Mary Louise, never having known a father, had looked upon Grandpa Jim as one and accepted all things from him as naturally as a child does from father or mother.
What a change had come about in one short year! The first step in the uncomfortable situation was when Colonel Hathaway became slightly irritable with Danny. He seemed to begrudge the time Mary Louise spent with her husband and would say sadly, “I never see my granddaughter since she married.” This was an exaggeration, since Mary Louise was ever punctilious in her care for Grandpa Jim and in her anxiety to entertain him and make him happy.
Then began the gradual growth of this hatred which seemed to be poisoning the system of the once kindly old gentleman. First he would not address a remark to Danny, to whom he had
hitherto talked freely, finding much amusement in his long conversations with him. Danny overlooked this in his old friend and redoubled his efforts to find topics of interest. From not addressing a remark to Danny, it was an easy step to not answering him when asked a direct question. At first Danny thought that Colonel Hathaway was growing deaf and would shout his questions into an indignant ear.
Then began a kind of sly indirect invective against Danny. Colonel Hathaway never missed a chance to say something derogatory concerning his granddaughter’s husband. Loving the old gentleman as they did and being accustomed to look upon him as well nigh perfect, the young couple were slow to realize the change in Grandpa Jim. When they did realize that his feeling for Danny was one of intense hatred, they made a mistake in not discussing the matter thoroughly with each other. But Mary Louise was touchy about her grandfather’s peculiar behavior and Danny’s feelings were hurt, so that the question was the one thing that they tacitly agreed to hide from sight. The consequence was that a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand had come in the otherwise
perfect and cloudless firmament of their love.
Once in the early days when Colonel Hathaway had been strangely rude to Danny and loudly exclaimed, “Pish! Tush! Rot!” when Danny had advanced some inoffensive theory, the young man had wonderingly remarked to his wife, “What do you think is eating the Colonel?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Mary Louise had answered miserably and a little haughtily.
But Danny persisted:
“Why, what’s the matter with him? Why did he jump on me so hard? I merely remarked that, when the returned soldiers have once shed their uniforms, they are not crazy about getting back in them and parading up and down like n****r minstrels. I guess I ought to know. Anyhow, even if he disagreed with me, there was no use in jumping on me so hard, both feet down and chest extended.”
“You are mistaken. Grandpa Jim could not be rude to you. He merely hated to have you make fun of your country.”
“Fun of my country! Gee, honey, you are all off, you and the Colonel both. I was talking about parades, not my country.”
“All right, Danny dear, but please don’t say
things about Grandpa Jim,” and Mary Louise slipped her hand in his.
From that day on, Danny never mentioned the uncomfortable moments that he was forced to spend in the presence of his host. He made those moments as short as possible, sometimes not even coming home to his meals, making the plea of stress of business preventing him.
Poor Mary Louise was torn between two loves, two duties. She adored Grandpa Jim. Had he not been everything to her from the time she was a baby? Could she forget the supreme sacrifice he had made to her poor mother, hounded from city to city, country to country, falsely accused of having been disloyal to the United States when all the time it had been her father and mother who had been guilty of treason? No! Never could she forget the scene at Hillcrest Lodge after her mother’s death when the knowledge of her grandfather’s wonderful courage and unselfishness had come upon her with full force. Then there was Danny, her Danny, the same man to whom she had given her first and last and only love; Danny with his charming disposition and sweet merry eyes; Danny, the returned and wounded
soldier, who had been the most popular man in the regiment and looked upon as the bravest and best. It hurt Mary Louise to the quick that her grandfather should treat Danny as he did, but she could not face the fact that the old gentleman was not altogether himself. It would have been better had she realized the truth and talked the matter over with Danny and her friends, but a mistaken idea of loyalty to her beloved grandfather sealed her lips and her ears. She would not discuss it with them nor must they broach the subject to her.
And so the young couple drifted along, as devoted as ever but with the small cloud, no bigger than a man’s hand, beginning to spread over their bright sky.