Annie Kilburn, by William Dean Howells

Chapter 17

The people beyond the rope had nearly all gone away, and Mr. Savor was coming back across the court with Mr. Peck. The players appeared from the grove at the other end of the court in their vivid costumes, chatting and laughing with their friends, who went down from the piazzas and terraces to congratulate them. Mrs. Munger hurried about among them, saying something to each group. She caught sight of Mr. Peck and Mr. Savor, and she ran after them, arriving with them where Annie sat.

“I hope you were not anxious about Idella,” Annie said, laughing.

“No; I didn’t miss her at once,” said the minister simply; “and then I thought she had merely gone off with some of the other children who were playing about.”

“You shall talk all that over later,” said Mrs. Munger. “Now, Miss Kilburn, I want you and Mr. Peck and Mr. and Mrs. Savor to stay for a cup of coffee that I’m going to give our friends out there. Don’t you think they deserve it? Wasn’t it a wonderful success? They must be frightfully exhausted. Just go right out to them. I’ll be with you in one moment. Oh yes, the child! Well, bring her into the house, Mrs. Savor; I’ll find a place for her, and then you can go out with me.”

“I guess you won’t get Maria away from her very easy,” said Mr. Savor, laughing. His wife stood with the child’s cheek pressed tight against hers.

“Oh, I’ll manage that,” said Mrs. Munger. “I’m counting on Mrs. Savor.” She added in a hurried undertone to Annie: “I’ve asked a number of the workpeople to stay — representative workpeople, the foremen in the different shops and their families — and you’ll find your friends of all classes together. It’s a great day for the Social Union!” she said aloud. “I’m sure you must feel that, Mr. Peck. Miss Kilburn and I have to thank you for saving us from a great mistake at the outset, and now your staying,” she continued, “will give it just the appearance we want. I’m going to keep your little girl as a hostage, and you shall not go till I let you. Come, Mrs. Savor!” She bustled away with Mrs. Savor, and Mr. Peck reluctantly accompanied Annie down over the lawn.

He was silent, but Mr. Savor was hilarious. “Well, Mr. Putney,” he said, when he joined the group of which Putney was the centre, “you done that in apple-pie order. I never see anything much better than the way you carried on with Mrs. Wilmington.”

“Thank you, Mr. Savor,” said Putney; “I’m glad you liked it. You couldn’t say I was trying to flatter her up much, anyway.”

“No, no!” Mr. Savor assented, with delight in the joke.

“Well, Annie,” said Putney. He shook hands with her, and Mrs. Putney, who was there with Dr. Morrell, asked her where she had sat.

“We kept looking all round for you.”

“Yes,” said Putney, with his hand on his boy’s shoulder, “we wanted to know how you liked the Mercutio.”

“Ralph, it was incomparable!”

“Well, that will do for a beginning. It’s a little cold, but it’s in the right spirit. You mean that the Mercutio wasn’t comparable to the Nurse.”

“Oh, Lyra was wonderful!” said Annie. “Don’t you think so, Ellen?”

“She was Lyra,” said Mrs. Putney definitely.

“No; she wasn’t Lyra at all!” retorted Annie. “That was the marvel of it. She was Juliet’s nurse.”

“Perhaps she was a little of both,” suggested Putney. “What did you think of the performance, Mr. Peck? I don’t want a personal tribute, but if you offer it, I shall not be ungrateful.”

“I have been very much interested,” said the minister. “It was all very new to me. I realised for the first time in my life the great power that the theatre must be. I felt how much the drama could do — how much good.”

“Well, that’s what we’re after,” said Putney. “We had no personal motive; good, right straight along, was our motto. Nobody wanted to outshine anybody else. I kept my Mercutio down all through, so’s not to get ahead of Romeo or Tybalt in the public esteem. Did our friends outside the rope catch on to my idea?” Mr. Peck smiled at the banter, but he seemed not to know just what to say, and Putney went on: “That’s why I made it so bad. I didn’t want anybody to go home feeling sorry that Mercutio was killed. I don’t suppose Winthrop could have slept.”

“You won’t sleep yourself to-night, I’m afraid,” said his wife.

“Oh, Mrs. Munger has promised me a particularly weak cup of coffee. She has got us all in, it seems, for a sort of supper, in spite of everything. I understand it includes representatives of all the stations and conditions present except the outcasts beyond the rope. I don’t see what you’re doing here, Mr. Peck.”

“Was Mr. Peck really outside the rope?” Annie asked Dr. Morrell, as they dropped apart from the others a little.

“I believe he gave his chair to one of the women from the outside,” said the doctor.

Annie moved with him toward Lyra, who was joking with some of the hands.

With all her good-nature, she had the effect of patronising them, as she stood talking about the play with them in her drawl, which she had got back to again. They were admiring her, in her dress of the querulous old nurse, and told her how they never would have known her. But there was an insincerity in the effusion of some of the more nervous women, and in the reticence of the others, who were holding back out of self-respect.

She met Annie and Morrell with eager relief. “Well, Annie?”

“Perfect!”

“Well, now, that’s very nice; you can’t go beyond perfect, you know. I did do it pretty well, didn’t I? Poor Mr. Brandreth! Have you seen him? You must say something comforting to him. He’s really been sacrificed in this business. You know he wanted Miss Chapley. She would have made a lovely Juliet. Of course she blames him for it. She thinks he wanted to make up to Miss Northwick, when Miss Northwick was just flinging herself at Jack. Look at her!”

Jack Wilmington and Miss Sue Northwick were standing together near her father and a party of her friends, and she was smiling and talking at him. Eyes, lips, gestures, attitude expressed in the proud girl a fawning eagerness to please the man, who received her homage rather as if it bored him. His indifferent manner may have been one secret of his power over her, and perhaps she was not capable of all the suffering she was capable of inflicting.

Lyra turned to walk toward the house, deflecting a little in the direction of her nephew and Miss Northwick. “Jack!” she drawled over the shoulder next them as she passed, “I wish you’d bring your aunty’s wrap to her on the piazza.”

“Why, stay here!” Putney called after her. “They’re going to fetch the refreshments out here.”

“Yes, but I’m tired, Ralph, and I can’t sit on the grass, at my age.”

She moved on, with her sweeping, lounging pace, and Jack Wilmington, after a moment’s hesitation, bowed to Miss Northwick and went after her.

The girl remained apart from her friends, as if expecting his return.

Silhouetted against the bright windows, Lyra waited till Jack Wilmington reappeared with a shawl and laid it on her shoulders. Then she sank into a chair. The young man stood beside her talking down upon her. Something restive and insistent expressed itself in their respective attitudes. He sat down at her side.

Miss Northwick joined her friends carelessly.

“Ah, Miss Kilburn,” said Mr. Brandreth’s voice at Annie’s ear, “I’m glad to find you. I’ve just run home with mother — she feels the night air — and I was afraid you would slip through our fingers before I got back. This little business of the refreshments was an afterthought of Mrs. Munger’s, and we meant it for a surprise — we knew you’d approve of it in the form it took.” He looked round at the straggling workpeople, who represented the harmonisation of classes, keeping to themselves as if they had been there alone.

“Yes,” Annie was obliged to say; “it’s very pleasant.” She added: “You must all be rather hungry, Mr. Brandreth. If the Social Union ever gets on its feet, it will have you to thank more than any one.”

“Oh, don’t speak of me, Miss Kilburn! Do you know, we’ve netted about two hundred dollars. Isn’t that pretty good, doctor?”

“Very,” said the doctor. “Hadn’t we better follow Mrs. Wilmington’s example, and get up under the piazza roof? I’m afraid you’ll be the worse for the night air, Miss Kilburn. Putney,” he called to his friend, “we’re going up to the house.”

“All right. I guess that’s a good idea.”

The doctor called to the different knots and groups, telling them to come up to the house. Some of the workpeople slipped away through the grounds and did not come. The Northwicks and their friends moved toward the house.

Mrs. Munger came down the lawn to meet her guests. “Ah, that’s right. It’s much better indoors. I was just coming for you.” She addressed herself more particularly to the Northwicks. “Coffee will be ready in a few moments. We’ve met with a little delay.”

“I’m afraid we must say good night at once,” said Mr. Northwick. “We had arranged to have our friends and some other guests with us at home. And we’re quite late now.”

Mrs. Munger protested. “Take our Juliet from us! Oh, Miss Northwick, how can I thank you enough? The whole play turned upon you!”

“It’s just as well,” she said to Annie, as the Northwicks and their friends walked across the lawn to the gate, where they had carriages waiting. “They’d have been difficult to manage, and everybody else will feel a little more at home without them. Poor Mr. Brandreth, I’m sure you will! I did pity you so, with such a Juliet on your hands!”

In-doors the representatives of the lower classes were less at ease than they were without. Some of the ministers mingled with them, and tried to form a bond between them and the other villagers. Mr. Peck took no part in this work; he stood holding his elbows with his hands, and talking with a perfunctory air to an old lady of his congregation.

The young ladies of South Hatboro’, as Mrs. Munger’s assistants, went about impartially to high and low with trays of refreshments. Annie saw Putney, where he stood with his wife and boy, refuse coffee, and she watched him anxiously when the claret-cup came. He waved his hand over it, and said, “No; I’ll take some of the lemonade.” As he lifted a glass of it toward his lips he stopped and made as if to put it down again, and his hand shook so that he spilled some of it. Then he dashed it off, and reached for another glass. “I want some more,” he said, with a laugh; “I’m thirsty.” He drank a second glass, and when he saw a tray coming toward Annie, where Dr. Morrell had joined her, he came over and exchanged his empty glass for a full one.

“Not much to brag of as lemonade,” he said, “but first-rate rum punch.”

“Look here, Putney,” whispered the doctor, laying his hand on his arm, “don’t you take any more of that. Give me that glass!”

“Oh, all right!” laughed Putney, dashing it off. “You’re welcome to the tumbler, if you want it, Doc.”

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