Annie Kilburn, by William Dean Howells

Chapter 15

The spring had filled and flushed into summer. Bolton had gone over the grass on the slope before the house, and it was growing thick again, dark green above the yellow of its stubble, and the young generation of robins was foraging in it for the callow grasshoppers. Some boughs of the maples were beginning to lose the elastic upward lift of their prime, and to hang looser and limper with the burden of their foliage. The elms drooped lower toward the grass, and swept the straggling tops left standing in their shade.

The early part of September had been fixed for the theatricals. Annie refused to have anything to do with them, and the preparations remained altogether with Brandreth. “The minuet,” he said to her one afternoon, when he had come to report to her as a co-ordinate authority, “is going to be something exquisite, I assure you. A good many of the ladies studied it in the Continental times, you know, when we had all those Martha Washington parties — or, I forgot you were out of the country — and it will be done perfectly. We’re going to have the ball-room scene on the tennis-court just in front of the evergreens, don’t you know, and then the balcony scene in the same place. We have to cut some of the business between Romeo and Juliet, because it’s too long, you know, and some of it’s too — too passionate; we couldn’t do it properly, and we’ve decided to leave it out. But we sketch along through the play, and we have Friar Laurence coming with Juliet out of his cell onto the tennis-court and meeting Romeo; so that tells the story of the marriage. You can’t imagine what a Mercutio Mr. Putney makes; he throws himself into it heart and soul, especially where he fights with Tybalt and gets killed. I give him lines there out of other scenes too; the tennis-court sets that part admirably; they come out of a street at the side. I think the scenery will surprise you, Miss Kilburn. Well, and then we have the Nurse and Juliet, and the poison scene — we put it into the garden, on the tennis-court, and we condense the different acts so as to give an idea of all that’s happened, with Romeo banished, and all that. Then he comes back from Mantua, and we have the tomb scene set at one side of the tennis-court just opposite the street scene; and he fights with Paris; and then we have Juliet come to the door of the tomb — it’s a liberty, of course; but we couldn’t arrange the light inside — and she stabs herself and falls on Romeo’s body, and that ends the play. You see, it gives a notion of the whole action, and tells the story pretty well. I think you’ll be pleased.”

“I’ve no doubt I shall,” said Annie. “Did you make the adaptation yourself, Mr. Brandreth?”

“Well, yes, I did,” Mr. Brandreth modestly admitted. “It’s been a good deal of work, but it’s been a pleasure too. You know how that is, Miss Kilburn, in your charities.”

Don’t speak of my charities, Mr. Brandreth. I’m not a charitable person.”

“You won’t get people to believe that” said Mr. Brandreth. “Everybody knows how much good you do. But, as I was saying, my idea was to give a notion of the whole play in a series of passages or tableaux. Some of my friends think I’ve succeeded so well in telling the story, don’t you know, without a change of scene, that they’re urging me to publish my arrangement for the use of out-of-door theatricals.”

“I should think it would be a very good idea,” said Annie. “I suppose Mr. Chapley would do it?”

“Well, I don’t know — I don’t know,” Mr. Brandreth answered, with a note of trouble in his voice. “I’m afraid not,” he added sadly. “Miss Kilburn, I’ve been put in a very unfair position by Miss Northwick’s changing her mind about Juliet, after the part had been offered to Miss Chapley. I’ve been made the means of a seeming slight to Miss Chapley, when, if it hadn’t been for the cause, I’d rather have thrown up the whole affair. She gave up the part instantly when she heard that Miss Northwick wished to change her mind, but all the same I know —.”

He stopped, and Annie said encouragingly: “Yes, I see. But perhaps she doesn’t really care.”

“That’s what she said,” returned Mr. Brandreth ruefully. “But I don’t know. I have never spoken of it with her since I went to tell her about it, after I got Miss Northwick’s note.”

“Well, Mr. Brandreth, I think you’ve really been victimised; and I don’t believe the Social Union will ever be worth what it’s costing.”

“I was sure you would appreciate — would understand;” and Mr. Brandreth pressed her hand gratefully in leave-taking.

She heard him talking with some one at the gate, whose sharp, “All right, my son!” identified Putney.

She ran to the door to welcome him.

“Oh, you’re both here!” she rejoiced, at sight of Mrs. Putney too.

“I can send Ellen home,” suggested Putney.

“Oh no, indeed!” said Annie, with single-mindedness at which she laughed with Mrs. Putney. “Only it seemed too good to have you both,” she explained, kissing Mrs. Putney. “I’m so glad to see you!”

“Well, what’s the reason?” Putney dropped into a chair and began to rock nervously. “Don’t be ashamed: we’re all selfish. Has Brandreth been putting up any more jobs on you?”

“No, no! Only giving me a hint of his troubles and sorrows with those wretched Social Union theatricals. Poor young fellow! I’m sorry for him. He is really very sweet and unselfish. I like him.”

“Yes, Brandreth is one of the most lady-like fellows I ever saw,” said Putney. “That Juliet business has pretty near been the death of him. I told him to offer Miss Chapley some other part — Rosaline, the part of the young lady who was dropped; but he couldn’t seem to see it. Well, and how come on the good works, Annie?”

“The good works! Ralph, tell me: do people think me a charitable person? Do they suppose I’ve done or can do any good whatever?” She looked from Putney to his wife, and back again with comic entreaty.

“Why, aren’t you a charitable person? Don’t you do any good?” he asked.

“No!” she shouted. “Not the least in the world!”

“It is pretty rough,” said Putney, taking out a cigar for a dry smoke; “and nobody will believe me when I report what you say, Annie. Mrs. Munger is telling round that she don’t see how you can live through the summer at the rate you’re going. She’s got it down pretty cold about your taking Brother Peck’s idea of the invited dance and supper, and joining hands with him to save the vanity of the self-respecting poor. She says that your suppression of that one unpopular feature has done more than anything else to promote the success of the Social Union. You ought to be glad Brother Peck is coming to the show.”

“To the theatricals?”

Putney nodded his head. “That’s what he says. I believe Brother Peck is coming to see how the upper classes amuse themselves when they really try to benefit the lower classes.”

Annie would not laugh at his joke. “Ralph,” she asked, “is it true that Mr. Peck is so unpopular in his church? Is he really going to be turned out — dismissed?”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. But they’ll bounce him if they can.”

“And can nothing be done? Can’t his friends unite?”

“Oh, they’re united enough now; what they’re afraid of is that they’re not numerous enough. Why don’t you buy in, Annie, and help control the stock? That old Unitarian concern of yours isn’t ever going to get into running order again, and if you owned a pew in Ellen’s church you could have a vote in church meeting, after a while, and you could lend Brother Peck your moral support now.”

“I never liked that sort of thing, Ralph. I shouldn’t believe with your people.”

“Ellen’s people, please. I don’t believe with them either. But I always vote right. Now you think it over.”

“No, I shall not think it over. I don’t approve of it. If I should take a pew in your church it would be simply to hear Mr. Peck preach, and contribute toward his —”

“Salary? Yes, that’s the way to look at it in the beginning. I knew you’d work round. Why, Annie, in a year’s time you’ll be trying to buy votes for Brother Peck.”

“I should never vote,” she retorted. “And I shall keep myself out of all temptation by not going to your church.”

“Ellen’s church,” Putney corrected.

She went the next Sunday to hear Mr. Peck preach, and Putney, who seemed to see her the moment she entered the church, rose, as the sexton was showing her up the aisle, and opened the door of his pew for her with ironical welcome.

“You can always have a seat with us, Annie,” he mocked, on their way out of the church together.

“Thank you, Ralph,” she answered boldly. “I’m going to speak to the sexton for a pew.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38