SHORT STORIES

The Revolt of Jepson

ELIZABETH L. HASKELL August 1 1909
SHORT STORIES

The Revolt of Jepson

ELIZABETH L. HASKELL August 1 1909

The Revolt of Jepson

ELIZABETH L. HASKELL

From Harper’s Bazaar

THE Jepsons had finished their evening meal and Mr. Jepson, paper in hand, was comfortably seated in his armchair toasting his slippered feet before the crackling fire.

He did not look, however, as a domesticated and thoroughly contented young husband should look. There was a troubled frown on his brow, a discontented droop to the corners of his mouth, and his eyes, instead of settling with satisfied precision upon his evening paper, wandered, expressive of disturbance, about the room.

There were no fresh flowers in the vases ; the piano was closed ; it made him think of a sealed sepulchre of sound ; the low, cushioned rocker on the other side of the hearth was mournfully unoccupied, and from the half-open lid of the work-box beside it protruded the same ribbed end of an undarned blue sock that had been aggravatingly dangling before his eyes for ten days or more, Mr. Jepson turned his head slightly, and looked out of the corner of his right eye at Mrs. Jepson, sitting tense in a straightbacked chair, her blond head bent in studied concentration over a shallow wooden frame resting on a small stand. Mr. Jepson sighed, then rustled his paper, then coughed, apparently unnoticed. In vexed desperation, with a manly effort to keep his tone amiable, he spoke,

“Laura.”

“Yes, dear.”

It was an abstracted and non-committal reply ; the conversation might have ceased here assuredly with no after clause to the response.

Jepson rolled his chair a little to one side and partially faced his wife.

“Don’t you want to come and talk to me a little, dear? I haven’t seen you all day; in fact, it seems days and days since we have really had a good chat together.”

Mrs. Jepson paused, her right hand holding a bit of colored board poised in midair, and patiently smiled at her husband.

“Just a few minutes, dear; I’ve not more than a dozen pieces to fit in, and this one has perplexed me so, I can’t wait to see it finished.”

“How long have you been at it?” This guardedly, the evenly conversational tone giving no hint of the ready snare.

“Since breakfast.” Airs. Jepson had deposited the bit at first in hand, and was now seeking a fit place for another. “After you left I started uo-stairs, and then thought I’d just take a peek at this one, and it looked so pretty, before I knew it I’d started, and then, of course, I couldn’t stop.”

“Laura ! A whole day !” This was undisguised reproach, but it fell on barren soil. Mrs. Jepson’s whole attention was again given over to the jig-sawed pieces before her.

Mr. Jepson said no more; he cast a look of bitter meaning at the ribbedsilk end of hosiery, bit his lip, and vehemently shook out the evening paper.

Ten minutes later the door-bell rang. Mr. Jepson groaned, Mrs. Jepson did not hear, Annie opened the door, and, sans ceremonie, the Blakelys announced themselves and removed their wraps. Mrs. Blakely carried a wooden tray. “I couldn’t wait, Laura !” she cried. “I just finished this, and simply had to bring it over to you, it’s such a beauty.”

Jepson, in half-hearted colloquy with Blakely, was fully conscious of the two women, the blond head and the dark, bent in eager scrutiny over the silly picture-puzzle, and of his wife’s first words to the newcomer :

“That must have been an absorbing one ; I’ve only a few more pieces to this one. Do sit down and help me ! Do you think this bit of marble urn belongs on the right or the left of the balustrade?”

Thereafter there was double concentration, with only an occasional murmured word of advice from one to the other. His own perfunctory talk with Blakely flowed uninterruptedly for some time, and then two satisfied exclamations, and a demand for instant aproval of “such a pretty picture” broke in upon them. Jepson and Blakely obediently looked over at the picture, an insipid lady and a peacock in a very unreal Italian garden. Blakely made a few polite remarks and even evinced some little interest in the description of the difficulty of putting together the peacock feathers. Jepson said never a word. He turned back to his conversation with Blakely, and the latter once launched on his hobby, he was able to open one ear to feminine talk.

“Llave you seen the Gorham’s new one?” Mrs. Blakely was saying.

“No, I haven’t,” Laura admitted, with as much reluctance as if she had failed to see some celebrated work of art on exhibition or hear about some really good book.

“Eight hundred and fifty pieces, my dear ! A coronation scene twentytwo by thirty-five ; the Oneen of *Holland, I think. They’ve had it mounted on linen and framed.”

“What a good idea !” said Laura. “Mrs. Cross has a six-hundred piece one that she is just finishing; she kept count of the exact number of hours it’s taken her; she’s on her twentythird now. She’s going to let me have it when she’s through, and I shall do my best to finish it in less time than she has. Lm going to give a party next Friday and I want you to come —just ten—and we’ll begin at two o’clock. I bought the puzzles yesterday ; they sound very interesting. I can hardly keep my hands off them until the time comes,” etc., etc.

Jepson looked closely at Blakely, talking obviously on ; Blakely didn’t seen to mind what his wife did, but he. Jepson, did. He wanted back the old sweet companionship of a few months ago, the thousand kindred interests, the inseparability of mind. He wanted a womanly comrade for a wife, not a silly faddist. He could scarcely contain the expression of his relief when the Blakelys rose to go.

“Laura,” he said, a moment later, “I wish you wouldn’t do any more of those silly puzzles.”

“Why, Joe, everyone does them!”

“I know, but that’s no reason. I don't want you to do them,” Jepson was irritated and most unwise. Mrs. Jepson visibly stiffened.

“It is absurd for you to be jealous of a puzzle ; I really can’t indulge yon in such whims.”

Jepson was angered. “Whims! Jealous! It isn’t a question of jealousy, it’s a question of wanting a home and a wife, not an unkempt abode and a so-called companion absorbed in an unworthy pursuit.” Perhaps Mrs. Jepson saw too much justice in this attack. She veered. “You didn’t mind bridge.”

“I minded it enough, but it wasn’t forced upon me ; we always had our evenings together, and you never played all day long! Besides, there’s some stimulation in bridge, some mental activity; it is training for the memory ; while these puzzles are pure insanity.”

“They teach concentration.”

“Concentration be hanged! If you would concentrate on Gibbon's Rome, or Carlyle's Revolution, you might accomplish something, while here”— Jepson swept his hand across the pictured board—“now wha,t have you achieved?”

Mrs. Jepson sprang forward protestingly, but too late. “Oh, Joe, that was mean ! I wanted to show it to Mollie !”

“If you would show her some darned stockings for me, and some mended clothes, and a tidy house instead, she might have the gpod sense to appreciate it.”

Mrs. Jepson had frozen into a grave and irate dignity. “I will see that your clothes are mended,” she said. “Good night.”

“Laura !” Jepson called. She turned at the foot of the stair. “Are you going to continue this idiocy against my wishes ?”

“I am sorry it displeases you, but I shall certainly go on doing puzzles just as long as I wish to.”

“Are you going to give that party ?”

“I am.”

“Well, you’ll be sorry.”

Laura went on up the stair, and Jepson returned to his armchair and threw himself down with a groan. He had gone about it in the wrong way, made a fool of himself, but fundamentali}'-, of course, he was right.

The following Thursday night, when all was still in the house and Mrs. Jepson was peacefully breathing in slumber, Jepson stole down to the library. On a corner table five neat new-labelled boxes rested, one on the other. Jepson lifted each one off and set them all in a row. He read the labels carefully ; they were all alike in dimension and number of pieces ; the titles in particular interested him.

“Old Black Joe,” he read, “Little Bo-Peep,” “The Evening Prayer,” “A Ballet-Dancer,” “The Woodsman.” He lifted the covers one by one and thoughtfully fingered the pieces of the “Old Black Joe” puzzle with his left hand ; he hesitated, withdrew his hand, then bravely plunged it in again, and brought up a scant handful of the wooden pieces. With his right hand he took some pieces from the “Little Bo-peep” box and dropped the left-hand pieces in ; he gave a half-sigh of guilty relief; he liad begun now, and must go on. He read the labels again with increasing interest, and next took a handful from the “Woodsman” and dropped the “Bo-Peep” pieces in. To put the “Evening Prayer” pieces into the “Ballet-Dancer” was the joking work of a moment, and a few of the “Ballet-Dancer” bits filled up the gap in “Old Black Joe,” then, at the last, the long-laid-aside bits of the “Woodsman” went into the “Evening Prayer” box, and the guilty deed was done. Jepson hastily put the covers on, restored the boxes to order, and half amused, half ashamed, guiltily triumphant and unaccountably oppressed, he made his way up the shadowy stair.

At two o’clock on Friday the guests began to arrive. Mrs. Jepson was not as enthusiastically cordial as she might, under other circumstances, have been. To tell the truth, she was rather bored at the prospect of an afternoon spent over a puzzle. Puzzles had gradually been growing of less interest to her. Shehad tried one or two since that stormy Monday evening, but had soon put them aside, wearied, ever more conscious of the justice of Joe’s remarks, really glad to return to the neglected household duties which seemed to her now so pleasant bv contrast, with a memory of profitable hours as a reward.

To-day, she resolved, was to be the beginning of the end. As soon as she could, with dignity, and obviously of her own inclination, abstain altogether she would, not, she determined, while Joe might believe it to be in obedience to his mandates.

It fell to her lot to put together “The Evening Prayer” with Mrs. Gorham, and they got along famously.

Being time-keeper and hostess, at propitious moments she left her table for a general survey, and found, to her satisfaction, all advancing with unusual ease. As the chaotic bits of their picture grew into a composition, however, she and Mrs. Gorham exchanged perplexed remarks about a handful of pieces at one side, sections of a plaid shirt and brawny arm and the blade of an axe, which did not seem a part of the rest. Soon she became conscious of similar murmurings on every side, which gradually merged into protestations and dissatisfied sentences exchanged from one table to another; her own puzzle, she was by this time convinced, was not going right ; the rag carpet, snowy cot, and kneeling figure of a flaxenhaired babe had come out nicely, but above, where the flowing nether drapery of an unmistakably angelic quality floated in the ether, was a gap, and the pieces left to fill it, she could see, would form, not a cherubic countenance and halo, but a strong right arm and shining axe.

Being thoroughly conversant with the titles of the other puzzles, the “Woodsman” at once popped into her mind, and, with a dawning suspicion of what had happened, she made the tour of the tables.

Mrs. Fitch and Mrs. Butler had almost completed “Bo-Peep,” but could with dignity go no farther. BoPeep’s bodice and flowered skirt and her crook were there, the daisied grass and the blue sky, but where her head should have been was a hole, and with the pieces left at the side Mrs. Butler was just finishing a black and grizzled physiognomy. The ladies did not smile or speak as Mrs. Jepson passed ; they looked at their puzzle, then at the clock, frowned, and bit their lips.

At the next table matters were even worse. The Ballet-Dancer was only finished to the waist, and Mrs. Jepson, with a glance at the remaining pieces, could see what might have been her own angel’s head and wings as a substitute for the coryphee’s flounces.

The ladies at work upon it were bewildered. Mrs. Blakely’s .partner at the next table had given up, and sat back in her chair while poor Mrs. Blakely strove to reconcile a coquettish shepherdess head-dress with a one-armed and axeless woodsman, and Mrs. Cross, in the corner, had Old Black Joe and his banjo all done save his head, and nothing to go .where that should be but bits suggesting a dancer’s skirt.

She had not passed the second table before she was fully convinced of the joke at her expense, and, while burningly indignant with Jepson, was instantly determined that she could not, even so, expose either herself or him to these indignant women. With the keen eye of defensive criticism she all at once perceived how lacking in humor the faces were. The need for instant decision brought out joyously a saving idea, and at the end of the room she .turned with flaming cheeks, and as natural a laugh as she could summon, and made a little speech.

“You all seem very much perplexed,” she said, with a mischeviously ingratiating air, “and I don’t wonder ! You see, I was tired of playing puzzles in the same old way, and thought it was time some new one should be invented. I mixed the pieces !”

There was an involutary start, a surprised rustle around the room. “I am going to give you each five minutes now to pick out your own pieces from the other tables and five more to put them together, One, two, three— go !”

For a few moments all was confusion, a hurred peering at other tables, then a carrying back of missing pieces to their proper sphere.

The first call of “finished” came within eight minutes from Mrs. Fitch, and other announcements followed at imperceptible intervals.

The signs of displeasure had disappeared under stress of the momentary excitement, and as Mrs. Jepson poured the tea she was besieged with compliments, and with confidence she enlarged upon her sudden idea.

“Yes,” she said, “I think it does make a pleasant little change; of course, I wasn’t quite sure how it would work, but next time I would mix them more.”

“It’s a splendid idea,” said Mrs. Gorham, “and do let's keep it quiet so we can surprise others.”

When they had gone Mrs. Jepson with satisfaction regarded each puzzle in turn. Pier vexation had all merged into expectant triumph. She placed the frames in advantageous positions, each to be a mute victory in the surprised eves of Jepson on his return.

But Jepson did not return.

Mrs. Jepson stood at the window and watched until nearly seven o’clock ; the long summer twilight was merging in to dark, and still no Jepson.

He had never been so late before. He was staying away to punish her, or perhaps something dreadful had happened to him. She had made his home distasteful, had disobeyed and displeased him. Oh, those miserable puzzles ! She heartily wished she had never seen one.

Dicconsolate, restless, on the verge of tears, she went up-stairs.

On the threshold of her room she paused amazed, incredulous ! The rays of dying light from the west window fell across a figure close to its sash, bending in deepest concentration over a wooden frame.

Mrs. Jepson, when she could move, tiptoed across the room. Jepson did not stir until she touched him on the shoulder, then, as their eyes met, they burst into shrieks of uncontrolled laughter.

Annie, coming up to announce dinner, paused, affrighted, thinking they had gone mad.

On his way to the dining-room Jepson took a look at the completed puzzles ; at dinner he explained :

“I came out on the two-ten to be in at the death. I sneaked up the back stairs, and was going to creep down again to see the fun when things went wrong, but I got awfully bored until I saw that puzzle-box, and then I thought I’d demonstrate to myself just how inane a thing it was to do, and, really, I knew nothing more until you touched my shoulder.”

“Oh, I wish you had come down,” said Mrs. Jepson, “to witness my presence of mind.”

“I might have known,” said Joe," “that I couldn’t get the best of you,” and he squeezed her hand under the table.

“Well, you have, really, you know, because I’m cured. In that moment when I was an outsider, and at their mercy, I realized how absurd their intensity was; it struck my sense of humor.* But it is fascinating now, isn’t it?”

“How can I deny it?” said Jepson.

STATING the thing broadly, the human individual usually lives far within his limits ; he possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use. He energizes below his maximum, and he behaves below his optimum. — William James.