The Hypocrites

ELIZABETH TYREE METCALFE July 1 1909

The Hypocrites

ELIZABETH TYREE METCALFE July 1 1909

The Hypocrites

ELIZABETH TYREE METCALFE

From Munsey’s Magazine

WE had been married three weeks. Although I expected to be happy, I never dreamed that there could be such a stretch of uninterrupted bliss. I told Richard so that morning, while we were dressing, and I added that it could not last ; something was bound to happen.

He replied that possibly a storm would blow up, for he had1 planned to have our breakfast served on the lawn, under the large maple. This was only one of the many pleasant surprises he was always arranging. I stepped to the window, and, sure enough, there was the table spread and the white linen gleaming through the green trees.

Nine men out of ten would1 have replied' that one finds trouble when one is looking for it; but Richard is different.

But here we are under the trees. Richard is puzzling over the very wabbly handwriting on a pink envelope.

“Ah, I know !” he exclaims. “It’s from Nora. Yes, she’s writing to find out when we expect to return.*

Nora was the one being who was to make ours the life simple that we both yearned for. Richard had trained her for eight years. She had kept house for him, cooked and served the meals, washed and ironed, and kept his apartment of eight rooms immaculately cleaned. Though our income was a limited affair, we could have afforded another girl ; but that was exactly what I didn’t want. Two in the kitchen, jabbering instead of doing their work, would annoy me ;.

two to find fault with me, instead of my finding fault with them would be the real state of affairs.

Furthermore, I wanted to do lots of things myself ; I wanted to show Richard, that I was not an ornamental. Dresden-china wife, but one of the old-fashioned, practical kind, contented and happy to look after our home ; provided, of course, I had such a valuable assistant as I knew Nora must be.

Richard opened the pink envelope. I saw his happy expression become grave.

“What’s the matter?” I exclaimed. “Is it the dachshund?”

“Worse than that !” he groaned.

“Not robbed, or a fire?”

“No—listen :

“Dear Mr. Armstrong:

“I write to tell you that the place is all in order, and unless I hear different I shall expect you home on the first of the month. I am sorry to tell you, Mr. Armstrong, that since you went away I have become engaged, and I expect to give up work and get married. I won’t do it right away. I will stay on until I am sure Mrs. Armstrong is broke in to all your wants.

“Your respectful servant,

“Nora Mulqueen.”

“Oh, Richard, how dreadful !” I cried.

“Broke in to all my wants,” he repeated. “Don’t be hurt, darling; she only means until you get the hang of things.”

“Oh, bother that! I mean that she is going away.”

“Yes,” he answers, “that was the impending cloud before we came down.”

“She mustn’t do it. She mustn’t be allowed to do it !”

“That’s the idea,” says Richard. “We’ll discourage her.”

“Yes, but how? She’ll see how perfectly happy we are and she’ll rush off to be just as happy.”

“True,” mutters Richard.

“Dick, I have it. Let's pretend not to be.”

“Not to be what ?”

“Happy.”

“Nonsense! We couldn’t.”

“Oh, yes, we can ; leave it to me.” “What will you do?”

“I will act—act as if marriage was a failure ; not all the time, of course, but only when Nora is around.” “How can you?”

“Just you wait and see. Oh, I could have had a career, had I chosen !” “I’ve no doubt; but Nora is too wise to be fooled.”

“Ah, but you must do your part, too, Dick! You must squabble with me while she is serving the meals ; you must disagree with everything I say. and I will get angry and pretend to be very unhappy. Then I’ll call her some morning, and in a tearful voice caution her about the step she is taking.”

“And,” said Richard, catching the spirit, “I’ll have a little talk with her and shake my head and sigh—so: ‘Ah, Nora, matrimony isn’t everything 1 in life !’ ”

“Splendid. Dick! You’ll do your part well. I’m sure we’ll succeed. It does seem selfish for us to consider only our own comfort, but it may be that we are saving her from a worse fate.”

• “Yes.” savs Richard, “she’d only have to work and wear herself out for some selfish man who wouldn’t appreciate her as we do.”

So it was all settled.

II.

We had been home three days. T was so perfectly happy that T hadn't

the heart to put our scheme into opso

eration. Nora seemed happy, too. When I attempted to question her about her engagement, she laughed outright, and turned crimson, but not a word would she say on the subject. We respected her shyness, and I proceeded to get acquainted with her methods of housekeeping.

One morning, as we were about to sit down to breakfast, I said:

“Well, here goes—you are going to catch it, Mr. Caudle; and”—nodding towards the pantry-door—“setback number one for Nora !”

“Ahem !” says Richard, ducking behind his newspaper, as Nora enters with the fruit.

“Dear me,” I say vexatiously, “are you always going to gobble your newspaper at breakfast?”

“Why, no, de—ah, Madge,” as he grasps the situation.

“Richard, I believe you were going to say ‘damn’ !”

“No, I assure you, Madge; you know very well what I—”

“No, I don’t,” I say sharply.

“Yes, you do!” he thunders.

Nora gives a quick look at each of us and leaves the room.

“Splendid, little woman, keep it up!" Richard whispers.

“No, now we must be grouchy, and not say a word.”

So we whisper to each other .lovingly. until 1 nng. Then a ponderous silence while Nora places ihe bacon and eggs, fortunately, our breakfast is a brim affair, and we go to Richard’s study ior a little while before he leaves for his office. To-morrow is Nora’s dav out, and Richard Proposes that we vary the monotony of home life bv dining out once a week.

“Good," say I. “and at dinner we will squabble over the place to go."

So it happened in this fashion: “Where would you like to dine this evening, Madge?”

“At Sherry’s, of course.”

“And why ‘of course,’ may I ask?" “Because—’’

“Because what?" lie demands. “Because T like to go there.” “Surely not for the bad cuisine?”

“No—not exactly.”

“Very well, then; you expect to meet some one there!” This very fiercely.

“And what if I do?” I retort in a tantalizing tone.

“That settles it !” thunders Richard. “We’ll dine somewhere else.” “Nonsense. I won’t dine anywhere else.”

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Armstrong,” Nora breaks in, “but I can come home and get the dinner. I don’t mind at all.”

“No. Nora,” I say, “I don’t wish you to spoil your day out.”

“No, of course not,” growls Richard.

Nora goes quickly to the kitchen, and it was well she did, for we were both bursting our sides with inward laughter. We finished our breakfast in whispers, making it appear that we were not on speaking terms.

When Richard had left the house, Nora came to me and in a most touching manner asked me if I didn’t think I ought to go out in the park for a whil^. the air was so fine.

“No, Nora, but you must hurry and get out into the open air yourself ; you need it more than I.”

“Thank you, ma’am. You are certainly very kind, Mrs. Armstrong.”

As she was leaving the room, I ventured to ask the name of her beau. She beamed all over, and then very shvlv said :

“His name is Patrick, ma’am.” “Well, Nora, I hope he has a nice disoosition.”

“He seems to, ma’am, but you never can tell about the men.”

Then she flew out of the room, as if she had said too much. Our medicine was taking effect already!

The next morning started off pleasantly enough. We had only a mild argument. Nora positively bubbled over, she seemed so relieved. This would never do ; so we went to the study after breakfast and decided to have a vigorous onslaught at dinner. Richard suggested that he had thought of giving up cocktails before dinner,

and that I might lecture him about it and ask me to abandon the habit.

“I can do that quite easily, for I had had it in my mind to do so, anyway,” I replied.

“Oh, you had, had you? Very well, go ahead,” he answered.

We sat down to dinner. As Nora served the hors d’œuvres, Richard remarked :

“This looks tempting, and I have a savage appetite.”

“Yes, but it is an artificial one.” “How so?”

“The cocktail.”

“Oh, you don’t approve of an appetizer?”

“Not regularly; especially cocktails.”

“What’s the harm ?”

“Better ask your doctor.”

“Piffle!”

“It won’t be piffle when you are informed some bright June day that you have cirrhosis of the liver and your days are numbered.”

“Confound it, Madge, you are a cheerful dinner companion! said Richard, not too good-naturedly.

“Do you think I’ll make a nicelooking widow?”

“Take care you don’t carry this thing too far !”

I could see that Richard was quite serious, and somehow it made me all the more flippant.

“It was your own suggestion,” I retorted.

“You know you can be exasperating, Madge.”

“Do you mean that?”

“I do,” he snapped.

“I think you are horrid, Dick,” and two tears popped instantly into view.

Nora discreetly left the room. Richard was at my side at once.

“Forgive me, dear! You did it so well I forgot you were acting.”

“Hush!” I whispered. “Nora is coming back.”

Richard went back to his place ; and as Nora removed the plates, I made my point.

“And you will give up cocktails for three months?”

He looked at me steadily for a second, and then said :

“Yes, I promise.”

III.

Richard suggested that we shouldn't pretend any more quarrels for a’day or so; and, after the serious turn the thing had just taken, I agreed that perhaps we were overdoing it. The next morning we breakfasted in nontalkative fashion. Nora, fearing another outburst, went busying herself in the pantry, and singing quietly at first, then louder, so that we could catch the words :

Kind words can never die, never die !

I thought we should, though ; and if she could have seen our hyprocritical faces while she was singing, she would have left us on the spot. When she (burst into “Comrades,” and dwelt on the words “bearing each other’s sorrows, sharing each other’s joys,” we had to fly from the dining-room to Richard’s study, where we laughed until we fairly cried.

Richard hurried to his office. I left the laugh-tears standing in my eyes and went to the kitchen to give my orders for the day. Nora looked at me so pityingly that I felt sure, no matter what she thought of our quarrels, I had her syhpathy. Finding her in this soft mood. I said: •

“Nora, I suppose Patrick won’t be willing to wait much longer, and you’ll be leaving us pretty soon.”

“Well, ma’am, that all depends; at any rate, he can wait, all right !” “Nora,” I said very solemnly, “be sure lie is the right man.”

“Well, ma’am, I’m not doing anything sudden. And I’ll tell you this, Mrs. Armstrong, I’m not going to leave you until I see that you are happy entirely, for a sweeter and kinder and more considerin’ little lady I never lay eyes upon. Tf Mr. Armstrong don't hold that opinion now— well, the day will come when he will !”

1 was embarrassed bv such frankness; 82

and she must have seen it, for she. added apologetically : “Though I

haven’t a word to say against him.”

“No—no—of course not, Nora.”

Fearing I might say the wrong thing, I left the kitchen. Her words came back to me—“He can wait,” and “I won’t do anything sudden.” Evidently we were making an impression on her. One more vigorous outbreak might shatter her faith in connubial happiness ; I could see that she was already shaken.

I must say I felt rather mean, and I told Richard so when he came home.

“What?” he exclaimed. “Are you going to weaken and not play the game out?”

“But, my dear Dick, just think how happy we are ; and we may be cheating her out of the same thing.”

“Impossible, darling. There never has been and there never will be sucn a happy couple as we, for there never was such a wonderful little woman in the world.”

“Very well, then,” I said, “you’ll find me no longer infirm of purpose ; and to-night I’ll bring things to a climax.”

But at dinner we were busy arranging the menu for the first dinnerparty, which was to take place the next evening. It was a serious event to me ; and Richard, divining my state of mind, assured me that Nora would pull it off all right. We neglected our wrangling; so Ï proposed that to-morrow I would behave as if I were bowed down with a secret grief.

When Richard had gone, I pulled a long, pathetic face and went to the kitchen.

“Nora,” I began, “I’m sure you are going to have a busy day. What can I do to help you?”

She evidently caught the discouraged tone in my voice, for she looked straight at me for some seconds and then burst out:

“Bless vour dear, kind little heart, dont you bother about the dinner! Just you go out and cheer yourself up a biff you'll look your prettiest

when your friends come to-night; and that’s the best help in the world to Nora.”

I felt so ashamed of myself that I did as she told me. The dinner was everything I could have hoped for. It was wonderful to see Nora, clad in her black sateen dress, with her neat white collar and apron, serving each course as if she was quite divorced from the kitchen. What should I do without her? I simply couldn’t, and I would not. I told Richard so.

“Very well,” he said. “In the morning, at breakfast, without fail.”

Now there was something on my mind that I had intended to speak to him about, but I reserved if for the breakfast squabble ; and this is how it happened. Richard was not in the best of spirits that morning, and had no appetite to speak of. I inquired the cause in the tenderest voice, but he rather snappishly answered that it was the long course dinner of the previous evening.

“Richard, I am disappointed in you ; you broke your promise.”

“What promise?”

“You not only took a cocktail last night, you took two. I’m sorry I can’t rely upon you to keep your word !”

“Well,” he replied quite peevishly, “what’s a fellow to do in his own house ?”

“You have no moral courage.”

“That’s the only kind a man can get along without.”

“Oh, Richard !” I cried in disgust ; and Nora, scenting trouble, left the room.

“Now see here, Madge!”

“Be savage and loud,” I directed in a whisper.

“I won’t be bullied about what I drink,” shouted Richard. “No more temperance-lectures at breakfast !”

He banged his fist on the table and swung out of the room ; and I heard him slam the study door. As Nora was just outside the pantry-door, I gave a heart-broken sob. For fear she should come suddenly upon me, I

put my handkerchief to my eyes and sneaked out to Richard.

"Slip out of the house quietly, darling. 1 think we have done the trick !”

“I hope so,” he mutters, as he kisses me tenderly.

An hour later Nora appears at my door.

“Mrs. Armstrong,” she inquired, “do you think your husband is in good health?”

“Oh, yes, Nora.”

“Excuse my askin’, ma’am ; but was he at all like this when you were away on your honeymoon?”

“'Not all the time;” and then a brilliant idea came to me. “At least, not until he got your leter saying you were going to leave us and get merried, Nora!” I cried. “I believe lie’s worrying about your future.”

We were gloomy enough at dinner; and it was not acting. I felt certain we were playing a losing game. Sure enough, as we left the dining-room, Nora stopped us, saying that as soon as she had washed up she had something to say to us.

“It’s the last blow,” I whispered to Richard. “She’s coming to give notice !”

We sat in the study and talked of her good points, as one does of a dearly loved one who has passed away. Richard decided to .give her a substantial cheque for a wedding-present. Finally, she appeared in a fresh cap and apron, and an expression that plainly told us what to expect.

“Mr. Armstrong,” she began, “1 ain’t goin’ to leave you.” She paused. “I ain’t goin’ to get married.”

We both jumped as if we had been sitting in electric chairs and the fatal current had struck us.

“Why, Nora !” we exclaim.

“No, sir; and I have never been engaged.”

“Nora, you told us a deliberate falsehood,” said Richard reproachfully-

“Oh, no, sir—it was just a loophole in case I shouldn’t like Mrs. Armstrong.”