Miss Kellam Circumnavigates
"Snupple pupple," said Miss Kellam when young love ran awry, "give your thumbs a good twiddle while I think this thing out"—Which she did
A YOUNG WOMAN, one of the nurses he supposed, was cutting roses with a pair of pruning shears and laying them in a flat basket, preparatory, he still further supposed, to arranging them in vases and bowls. He contemplated her for some moments, and had two sound reasons for committing this visual trespass. He was in no hurry and it was a pleasant thing to do.
The trees from which she was cutting the flowers, two long rows of them, bordered a straight walk from the narrow gate, on which he had already laid his hand, to the formal entrance of a three-story building of red brick and white trim whose wings, presumably extensive, were hidden behind masses of broad-leaved evergreens.
She was slim but not too slim. She went about her work with grace and precision. He judged her to be a year or two younger than himself. The lines of her cheek and chin were lovely lines. And. wondering if the averted face and eyes would be in keeping, he put the matter to the test.
“Does a Miss Kellam live here?” he asked.
He had often had disappointments in his short life, and recently a very great one, but the young woman’s face was not to be another. The alert comeliness of it went to his head like wine.
“A Miss Kellam does,” she answered after a little deliberation. “And how long have you been standing there gazing your fill? And what is the nature of your business with Miss Kellam?”
“Miss Sally Kellam,” he stated, without attempting to answer her pointed questions.
“She lives here,” said the young woman, “but most of the time she’s off on a trip around the world. That’s why we all call her the circumnavigator behind her dear old back. But if your business with her is urgent and by any possibility to her advantage, I might be able to fetch her back for a few minutes from Siam or the Islands Below the Wind.” “Loony?” he asked with concern.
“Ours is not that kind of a home for the aged. Lebanon House is a foundation, a kind of club.”
“I’ve heard tell. It’s a kind of annuity you buy, only you take your income out in food, lodging, clothes, service and a marble slab at the last.”
“There is also,” said the young woman, “a small weekly allowance of pocket money. And for a woman with no one to turn to and enough money to buy a membership, it’s a pretty good answer to a lot of questions.”
“How many of the old buzzards are there?” he asked. “The membership,” she said, “is limited to twenty ancient gentlewomen. And why do you wish to see Miss Sally Kellam?”
“I’d love to tell you,” he said, “because it’s a big laugh. It’s a big laugh on me. But it’s nice for her.”
“Then why don’t you tell me?”
“Because it wouldn’t be professional. Do I see her?” “Are you a relative?”
“Well, probably she’ll enjoy seeing you.”
"Why will she? Do you?”
“Heavens no, but I’m not a member. I get to see plenty of people, but they don’t.”
A vague and utterly unreasonable jealousy afflicted him as with a sudden emptiness.
“The members,” she continued demurely, “have these beautiful grounds toto—”
“Romp in?” he suggested.
“To romp in,” she accepted the suggestion with a withering tone of voice. "The matron is a dear, and they have capable Mary Brown, R. N., to nurse them when they are sick, and to see that they’ve always fresh flowers in their rooms. They have, as I say, all the blessings, but they don’t have many visitors. They don’t often get to see even rather ordinary young men with freckled noses.”
He defended his looks. “I have nice even teeth,” he said. She shot him with a sudden dimple, and, badly wounded, he followed her up the narrow walk to the house.
"K/flSS SALLY KELLAM did not have to be fetched back from Siam or the Islands Below the Wind or any other far place, because already she had returned of her own accord, and, a little tired by the circumnavigation, was resting on the edge of her bed and having a little cry.
Miss Kellam’s honeymoon with the man she loved was to have been a real trip around the world. The trip from which she had just returned, like all her others, had been purely imaginary.
They began at the left head of her bed with a little framed photograph of a ship sailing out of the Golden Gate into a sunset. Then came a photograph of dark ladies dressed mostly in straw and flowers—Hawaii. A flight of cranes with Fujiyama, an inverted fan, for a back-drop— Japan. Elephants piling teak—India. The Pyramids— Egypt. All the way around the room, wherever there was wall space, the little pictures hung cheek by jowl and at about the height of Miss Kellam’s eyes from the floor. To all the pictures she was able to add in imagination herself as she had once looked, and the tall handsome young man whom she still loved. He had been sweet and serious. In her imaginings their honeymoon would have been a happy blending of love and instruction. . . The towers of Ilium ! No, no, not Ilium—Manhattan—Manhattan from the water front. . . The Salt Lake Tabernacle. .' . San Francisco—the last little photograph of all. Home! No wonder she was tired.
There was a knock on the door, followed immediately by the entrance of Mary Brown, immaculate in her uniform and clear-eyed in her youth.
“Shame on you !” said Mary Brown. “Crying again!”
“But I didn’t mean to,” said Miss Kellam,
“Truly I didn’t.”
Shfe wiped at the fragile tears with the backs of her hands.
“We have to spruce up, Miss Kellam. We have a visitor.”
Mary Brown’s pleasant low voice had a trick of vibrating in pitch with her emotion of the moment. Just now it vibrated sympathy. “Sometimes I feel like crying my head off,” she said, “but I don’t. Now here’s a nice fresh handkerchief. . .”
“Did you say a visitor?”
“With some good news for you. He said it was good news.”
“But, my dear. I look such a frump.”
“You don’t any such thing. There’s the mirror. You look sweet.”
In the mirror Miss Kellam saw no traces of the gay, laughing and beautiful Miss Kellam who had once been a hub of admiration and social activity. Nevertheless some traces actually did linger. She was still straight and slim. Beneath the soft white hair shone bright eyes. The bone structure of her head and face was very fine, and there was still about her a certain rosiness.
She tightened the narrow black velvet band around her throat, and with fluttering fingers adjusted Great-grandmother Bixby’s garnet pendant to the exact centre of circumference.
“Did he give his name?”
Mary Brown shook her head.
“I only know that he is a respectable-looking young man, with rather a nice nose and very nice teeth.”
But as Miss Kellam entered the reception room and the young man rose to greet her, she thought him amazingly handsome.
“Miss Sally Kellam?”
“Yes,” she said, “but it’s really Sarah.”
“I’m Stephen Gates.”
MISS KELLAM was too old for shocks. Her breath quickened, her face paled and, as we say of children, she “could not find her tongue.”
“You must remember the name,” he insisted.
“I do,” she managed then to say. “And I remember your father very well.”
Young Stephen smiled and showed the “nice teeth.”
“I am named after my uncle,” he said.
“Ah yes, after your uncle. But it is many years, very many years since we have met. Your uncle—your Uncle Stephen,” her voice trembled a little on the name, “is well, I trust?”
Young Stephen shook his head. “Uncle’s dead,” he said simply.
She received this news without any visible perturbation. Since the image of the uncle as she had known him would not die while she lived, the announcement of his actual
physical dissolution at an older stage had little power to shock or grieve.
“I am so sorry,” she said.
“My uncle often spoke of you.”
"That was dear of him. Did he ever tell you that he and I were once engaged to be married?”
"And for your honeymoon,” smiled young Stephen, “you were to have gone on a trip around the world. You see, I know all about it. My uncle never married.”
“He never married?”
Miss Kellam felt a gentle accusation. By not marrying the uncle, she had, it seemed, hurt a loyal loving heart beyond mending. And she murmured something about a mother who had needed her care. But young Stephen knew
that “needed” was not the right word. An explanation embodying a domineering, selfish mother who had exacted (not needed) care and the limits of sacrifice, would have better filled the bill.
“I know. I know,” said young, Stephen. And then he said that Miss Kellam had not been easy to find, but that it had been necessary to find her.
“My uncle,” he said, “made a will. It is very simple and direct. As executor, I am directed to pay you five thousand dollars.”
She did not seem to understand.
“That is just the sum, my uncle told me, which he had set aside for his—for your—honeymoon.”
Miss Kellam felt as if she were just standing there like a bit of dry old stick. She managed to say:
“I am trying to say something.
I can’t. This—no one in this world, perhaps not even Stephen in the next, can know what this means to me.”
Young Stephen felt his throat closing. It seemed to him that Miss Kellam had managed to say a good deal. He steered quickly away from his emotion.
“It will take a little time to settle the estate,” he said, “and then you shall have the money.” He showed the very nice teeth and hitherto reserved twinkles in his eyes.
Miss Kellam was only just beginning to see the possibilities in her sudden good fortune. Her heart leaped like a child’s, and all in a flash she looked a younger woman.
“Oh,” she said, “you can’t know what this means. It means escape. I thought that I should be happy here—happy enough. But I have been so disappointed -—so disappointed in myself. I just can’t seem to stay put like an old piece of crackleware on a shelf. And now. . .”
“Why don’t you take that trip around the world? I think my uncle would like you to do that.”
“Oh, do you? Would he? Then I must give it very serious thought. But you see all my travels have been just from one photograph to the next, and the world is so big.”
“Don’t let that worry you, Miss Kellam, not too much. And I’d like to tell you that I’m glad that you’re glad.”
Something went wrong with a handshake, and there she was crying on his tweed shoulder.
HE STOOD it; embarrassed but manful. He soothed her. He said that it was nonsense to cry because she was glad, and then she laughed a little and got herself in hand. She accompanied him to the front door, and when this stood open, he perceived with a delectable bound of the heart that Mary Brown was back at the business of collecting roses.
“That young lady,” he said, “is a good friend of yours. May I tell her the news? She only half believed me when I assured her that my business with you was to your advantage.”
“Oh, but you must tell her. She is so good to me.”
So he had an excuse for lingering a little with the pretty nurse. And when he had told her about the old lavendersmothered romance and the legacy, she couldn’t have looked more surprised and delighted if she herself had been the legatee. And then a thought occurred to her which most certainly had not occurred to Miss Kellam.
“If your uncle,” she said, “could leave all that to an old sweetheart he hadn’t even heard of for years and years, you must be sitting pretty.”
“That’s the funny part,” he said. “I told you there was a big laugh on me. When my uncle made his will he had all kinds of money—oh, not really big money, but considerable. But when he died, very suddenly, he—he hadn’t— like most everybody else. So when I’ve scraped together Miss Kellam’s five thousand, there won’t be any remainder at all for the beloved nephew.”
“Do you mean to tell me? But Miss Kellam—I know her from A to Z. I know how her mind works. I know how her heart works. She won’t touch a cent of it, when she finds out about you being left holding the sack.”
“But she won’t find out.”
“It’s a shame. It’s the most unjust thing I ever heard of. If you’ve got so much false pride you won’t tell her, I’ll tell her myself.”
“If you do,” exclaimed young Stephen, “I’ll wring your neck. It’s none of your business.”
He aimed his eyes at her. They were loaded with valor for truth and with righteous indignation. He let her have them—both barrels at once. He shot her in the heart and the head, and wounded her very badly.
“I won’t tell,” she said, and the voice was small and humble for her.
She had been soundly rebuked. But she hated to feel the way she did indefinitely, and so .she tried a dimple on him. It worked.
His eyes softened. The wound which the dimple had made in the first place, opened still wider.
“I’ll have to come quite often to see Miss Kellam,” he said. “There’ll be papers to sign and all that, and maybe I’ll have the good luck to see you sometimes.”
“If I knew when you were coming,” she said, "there wouldn’t need to lie any luck about it.”
This simple phrase thrilled him.
“You’ll know all right," he said, half choking himself on the words, and received another dimpleshot in the now gaping wound.
Mary Brown, R.N., chose a proper rosebud and clipped the stem to a proper length.
“How about a rose for the old buttonhole?” she said.
HE WAS back the next day with a copy of his uncle’s will.
“I ought to have brought it yesterday,” he explained to Mary Brown. “It’s only right that Miss Kellam should see it.”
He fumbled about in the pocket nearest his heart, but could not seem to find whatever it was that he was after.
“If that isn’t just like me!” he exclaimed. “I’ve got the will all right, but there’s a ferrotype of my uncle that I thought she’d like to have and I’ve gone and come away without it.”
The girl hoped that he had come away without it on purpose, but she didn’t say so.
“I’m terribly forgetful,” he went on. “And now I’ll have to come again tomorrow, or the next day.”
“Is it a very long way?”
He considered this question for some moments, and then said gravely: “It would be a long way if I didn’t want to come.”
His eyes explained to her why he wanted to come sometimes, and why he wanted to come often, and why he pretended that he had forgotten to bring something or other as an excuse for coming again. And his eyes explained all this to her with an explicitness which is only vouchsafed to the eyes of young lovers and Newfoundland dogs.
Just where he lived developed then and there. More important things, concerning both of them, developed in the course of the ensuing weeks.
He lived across the water near San Rafael just under Tamalpais. He leased and operated a service station. There was a living in it and no more. But it stood on the comer of a five-acre plot of soil incomparable for roses and garden truck.
“The owner,” he explained, “is an old stodge. The rent I pay takes care of his taxes. He’ll sell, but he won’t lease. And he just sits back and waits for the next land boom. And, oh gee, what couldn’t I do with that place if I could swing it! My Uncle Stephen was going to stake me to it when all the funny things happened to the market and he died.”
It developed that Stephen lived in a four-room house covered with roses. It wrung her heart to learn that he made his own bed, washed his dishes and did all of his laundry that didn’t show, and had set his heart on an intensive five-acre career in the sweet lap of the Lord and had seen it slip from him.
With humility he invited her, upon her next day off, to inspect his premises, to sample his cooking, to dip a little into the life of a servicer, and to be returned safe and sound to Lebanon House before the night should become too old and too sweet for human forbearance.
She accepted this humble invitation with enthusiasm. He privileged her to fill the tanks of cars with gas, to measure oil, and to make change. Between such exercises she could look out over the beautiful bay or more covertly and sidewise at the young man who had come to mean so much to her. By dinner time she was ravening. And young
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Miss Kellam Circumnavigates
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Stephen announced that business was over for the day, and that, from that time forward, would-be customers must pick up their gas elsewhere.
It developed that he had already put baking potatoes into an oven and that they ought to be about done. He drew his one deep chair sidewise in front of the fire and made his guest sit in it. He set a little table deftly and placed it before her. Then he knelt, and over the live coals broiled two steaks that were two inches thick.
When he returned her to Lebanon House, the night was old enough to be very sweet.
But latterly he had seemed a little taciturn, a little talked out, and she wondered if he was tired and perhaps a little disillusioned. She even bit her nether lip a little. It would be too cruel if the holiday had been less happy for him than for her.
But she had no need to be worried. He was silent because wonder was possessing him and fear.
But he need not have wondered so tragically what she would do if he kissed her good night. And he need not have feared.
For she kissed him back.
BOUT THIS time Miss Kellam, who would always be at her window to watch for any of Stephen’s preannounced arrivals, began to wonder why he always came on foot.
“Wouldn’t you think,” she said to Mary Brown, “that a young man with plenty of money would have an automobile of his own? Why, he must be rolling! If his dear uncle could afford to leave five thousand dollars to me, think what he must have left to his own flesh and blood !”
“Yes,” Mary admitted. “I suppose Mr. Gates came into all the rest of the estate. But it’s troublesome to get a car on and off ferryboats, and it isn’t much of a walk. Perhaps if the new bridge were finished he’d drive.”
“Just the same,” Miss Kellam continued to doubt, “he don’t act like he was so well-off.”
The breath almost rasped in Miss Brown’s nostrils.
“Perhaps he’s mean,” she suggested and almost hissed with indignation.
“But he couldn’t be that,” protested Miss Kellam, “not possibly. Not with those eyes!”
Half an hour later those earnest kind eyes were smiling into hers. And she held, between tremulous hands, a book of traveller’s cheques, in denominations of fifty dollars each, and for a total of five thousand dollars. The estate of the late Stephen Gates had been wound up!
Young Stephen had just finished explaining for the third time that the moment her signature was on one of the cheques any bank in any part of the world would give her the face value in money.
“Stephen,” she said, “are you sure that my having all this money isn’t cramping you in any way?”
“Now what do you think, Aunt Sally?” They had reached this stage of affection. “Do I act like one at once bereft and cut off?”
“Of course you don’t, Stephen dear, but you always wear the same suit and you always come on foot. Only the other night I woke up in such a fright. I don’t know what I’d dreamed, only your Uncle Stephen was in it and it was about you, and he was trying to tell me how to help you and he couldn’t. I lay and thought and thought. . . Stephen, do you need this money?”
For a moment he was strongly tempted to tell her that he did. But in the upshot he only laughed at her.
“I’ll say I don’t,” he said, and not only felt the need of stating a fictitious case but of overstating it. “Aunt Sally,” he over-
stated, but not too much, “I’ve more than I’ve any right to have.”
He had Mary Brown’s love.
“This suit? Well I can’t seem to get another that’s so easy in the armpits. Maybe they don’t make them. Don't you hate a suit that binds, Aunt Sally? Well now, about me arriving here on foot? Why wouldn’t I, it’s only five minutes walk from the—the airport.”
“But, Stephen, I thought you always came by ferry and then took a trolley?” “Only when I don’t fly over,” said Stephen, who had yet to fly for the first time.
“Oh, but, Stephen, flying seems so reckless and dangerous.”
Stephen made light of both.
“Not when there’s a good reason,” he said. “For instance, I have to fly back today.”
He happened to know that he had sufficient funds in his pocket, and somehow' or other at any sacrifice Miss Kellam’s suspicions must be brought to the dust.
“How’d you like to see me take off?” he said. And read the answer in her eyes. “Good. I’ll telephone for a taxi. We’l! drive to the airport, and you’ll wave to me and I’ll wave to you, and then the taxi will bring you back here.”
She made some tremulous objections. “But, good lord, no!” he said. “Come as you are. Do you think I’d wear a hat if I had lovely white hair like you?”
But she wouldn’t come just as she was. She promised not to wear a hat, but she did have to prink, she said, just a little. So she went up to her room, and as if by prearrangement Mary Browm appeared ir. the reception room to take her place.
First they kissed. Then Stephen said: “Listen, Heart’s Darling. The old girl suspects—so I’m putting on airs. I’m flying, to play the young magnate, to San Rafael, and she’s coming to see me off. . . I’ll be flat broke again, but who cares?” “I do,” said Mary Brown. “Oh, why don’t you tell her about everything and us?”
“I know that—you being you. But, believe me, I’d tell her, only you said if I did you’d wring my neck. But listen; couldn’t w'e swing the five acres if I took nursing jobs on the side? Couldn’t we make a deal with old Weekums and pay for it a little at a time?”
“Not without a payment of fifteen hundred dollars down.”
MARY BROWN ground her teeth and plastered Weekums with an epithet. And upstairs in her room, while they talked heart to heart, Miss Kellam prinked. But it was a strange unorthodox prinking. She didn’t touch her hair or the velvet band or the Bixby pendant. She didn’t glance into the mirror. She placed the ferrotype of Uncle Stephen, which Nephew Stephen had given her, in a reticule, together with the book of traveller’s cheques, and then, turning to the four comers of her room, she muttered, or perhaps prinked, as follows:
“Prison !” She prinked. “Prison !” She shook the reticule. “Escape!” Then, to the bed, the window, the view of the grounds, the glimpse of a smaller room containing standard plumbing. “I hate you—I hate you—I hate you! Oh, it’s my own fault! I didn’t have to commit myself. The matron is sweet, I love Mary Brown—the other inmates are just as nice as I am—dreadful old things that ought to be sent to the pound—I hate them, hate them, hate them! But I’m through. When I leave with Stephen, without a hat, they’ll think I’m coming back. But I’m never coming back!”
She glanced at the cheek-by-jowl photographs of known and unknown places.
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“I’m through with acting silly Cook’s tours to myself,” she said. “It won’t be photographs this last time. This time I’ll touch the Moulmein Pagoda with my own living hands, and the temple bells will tinkle in my ears. This time I’ll set my own living feet on the Islands Below the Wind. . .”
She glanced from a window.
“Good heavens,” she thought, “there’s our taxi. I mustn’t keep Stephen waiting!” And with the ferrotype of her former lover in her reticule, a crumpled handkerchief, a last Christmas card, and the equivalent of $5,000 in cash, she made one last face at her prison, almost slammed the door, and hurried down the stair.
“Stephen,” she confided when the taxi was under way, “I’m never going back to that place. Never.”
He construed this confidence somewhat loosely. She would at least, he thought, go back and remain long enough to collect her tilings and say good-by to her friends.
“When you’ve made your plans, you’ll tell me about them, won’t you?” he said, and lie thought: Poor old girl, when she’s spent her money, she’ll have to go back. There’ll be no place else to go.
“My iilans are made, Stephen. I shall sail out through the Golden Gate and go around the world—all the way around the world.”
“I bet Uncle Stephen would be tickled to know that.”
“I shall think of him every minute of the time, and of you too.”
“I’ll do a lot of thinking about you, Aunt Sally, and some worrying. But you must write me a letter from every port.” “Try to stop me,” she said with affectionate energy, and she patted his hand.
She looked alertly about her. She felt that her long postponed travels had at last begun. As they drove into the airport, she fairly twittered with excitement.
“Oh, Stephen,” she exclaimed, “it’s my first airport, my very first.”
AS IT HAPPENED, it was also Stephen’s first airport, and he was nervous at the thought of going up for the first time. But he played the sophisticate. In Miss Kellam’s eyes he was now a young man to whom flying and throwing money about were old stories.
He kissed her good-by and threw in a hug for good measure.
And while the plane roared off she stood and waved her handkerchief, and kept on waving it long after the plane could no longer be seen by eyes which had been suddenly blinded with tears.
She was some little time recovering a sufficient composure.
“Back to the Home, m’am?”
“To the nearest bank,” said Miss Kellam. And rose considerably in the esteem of the driver.
“And where to now, madam?” said he when she had come out of the bank.
“To the best department store.”
In the emporium were purchased one hat, one coat, one bag (to contain the shabby old reticule) and two gloves.
At the ferry building the driver was obliged to do a sum in arithmetic. The young gentleman had paid him to return her to the Home. This sum must be deducted from her fare since leaving the airport.
“Now let’s see,” said the driver.
But Miss Kellam was impatient to be on her way. She counted out the charge indicated by the meter and pressed it into the driver’s palm.
“The balance.” she said, her manner a little touched with purple, “is a present from the—from my nephew and me.”
She entered the ferry building and bought a ticket for San Francisco. But as the ferry eased out of the slip it came suddenly over her that except for the matron, for Mary Brown, for the servants and the ancient ladies of Lebanon House on whom she had turned her back forever—except for these, except for Stephen, now no longer even a speck in the sky, except for
the friendly taxi driver, she hadn’t a friend in the world. She was alone, alone. Her courage spumed her. She clung to a railing, her frail hands trembling within the new gloves. Her spirits sank down and down. Deep, deep.
“I always think the city is so pretty from here, don’t you?”
The interrogating voice was that of a lady long past middle age but not yet old, who was plump, trim and bustling, and who felt that since God had given her a voice she ought to use it, if only out of gratitude. Receiving no answer, she pulled out a somewhat louder stop and repeated the question. This time Miss Kellam, who had heard well enough the first time, understood that an answer was expected from her and not from someone else, and as well as she could she rose to the occasion.
“Always,” she said.
Then she lifted her frightened eyes to the ascending opalescence which is San Francisco, and felt better, less alone, and in a strange astounding degree more discriminating.
“But pretty,” she said, “is hardly the word. To me, San Francisco from the water is the most beautiful city in the world, with the possible exception of Hong Kong and Rio. It always makes me think,” she carried on, “of mountains covered with doves and sudden trumpets.”
“You have travelled widely?”
The new contact was at least human, and Miss Kellam did not intend to lose it. She felt that she had interested the stranger, and must continue to do so.
“Oh,” she said, “I’ve puttered about a bit in my time. My friends at the—my friends call me the circumnavigator.”
rT"'HE STRANGER whose putterings Iabout had been mostly in Oakland and San Francisco, and who had once been seasick on a ferryboat, felt herself to be on losing ground.
This admission of a false identity should have shamed her. It had the contrary effect. She had the tingling feeling of one who has made an important discovery. Having with timidity and almost by accident begun to invent a new self for herself, she fell in love with that new self and determined to make it complete. Against a background of wide world travel she had married herself off, and in answer to Mrs, Burnham’s next question she proudly admitted that her marriage had not been without consequences.
She sighed and admitted that, while her private passion had always been for explorations and circumnavigations, there had always been so much family that she had never been able to indulge it.
“Only fancy,” she said, “at seventeen I had been a bride for over a year and was already a mother.”
She was a Mrs. Bumham. Her husband had “passed on.” She lived with her daughter and her daughter’s husband. But her greatest happiness was in her grandchildren. There were three of them. She lived for them.
Mrs. Burnham was no longer on losing ground. And Miss Kellam knew it, and her mind went drifting in wistful envy of the kind of life which she herself had never known. To have mirth around, and small sorrows; to be at once dependent and depended upon. To be one of many, but a needed link in a strong family chain. Never forgotten. Never alone.
She wasn’t hearing a word, and realized she was being rude without being at once able to correct her rudeness.
“. . . the little rascal. But you understand, don’t you, Mrs.—Mrs. . .?”
Miss Kellam stiffened. She was not going to lose a battle to a good-natured, lucky old windbag, so she didn’t correct the assumed Mrs. to the factual Miss. She simply said: “Kellam.”
“Only two,” she said, “little Stephen— just two years old—only yesterday, and now the baby D-Decatur. But then my son Stephen has only been married four years.”
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Miss Kellam Circumnavigates
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This transformation of a bachelor nephew by recent adoption into a fruitful son brought a blush to her cheeks, the blush of false colors, and under them she sailed brazenly on.
“Of course,” she said, “we all live together. They wouldn’t hear of any other arrangement. I built such a sweet house for them—Colonial you know...”
Mrs. Burnham could bear no more. “Ours,” she said with a touch of superiority, “is early California Spanish. I always think that California architecture is so appropriate for California, don’t you?”
Miss Kellam did, but she was not going to admit it. To her nice senses Mrs. Burnham’s voice smacked a little of Iowa, and she said: “Ah yes, perhaps, but not if you have your roots in Massachusetts and Virginia.”
They agreed to lunch together. Mrs. Burnham knew of such a delightful place at once Bohemian and respectable.
Mrs. Burnham ordered an old-fashion cocktail, but her more widely travelled and experienced companion, who was now in a cocoanut-palm and blue-lagoon mood, decided for a planter’s punch.
AFTER LUNCH the exhilarated ladies L drove to a department store. It was Miss Kellam’s intention to outfit herself for her contemplated voyage, but she was persuaded to accompany Mrs. Burnham to the children’s department.
Mrs. Burnham had a charge account and was in an extravagant mood.
“Nothing,” she said more than once, “is too good for my grandchildren.”
Miss Kellam shuddered. Supposed to have two grandchildren of her own, she felt meaner and meaner at not buying anything for them.
“I suppose,” said Mrs. Burnham, “that yours have everything they need.”
“Children,” said Miss Kellam, “never have everything they need.”
The battle was on.
But when Miss Kellam returned from a third visit to the cashier’s office waving a clawful of greenbacks, Mrs. Burnham gave in.
“Charge those,” she said, “and send them to Mrs. P. T. Burnham—no, not Turnham, Burnham—The Old Adobe, Oakmont Heights, Oakland. But of course,” she explained to Miss Kellam, “everybody knows the Old Adobe.”
Miss Kellam did not propose to see victory turned to defeat for want of a handsome address.
“Send my purchases,” she said, “to Mrs. Kellam, The Saint Francis—no, the initial isn’t necessary. I suppose,” she explained to Mrs. P. T. Burnham, “that I really do have to think of myself as the Mrs. Kellam. Others do.”
Before the great entrance of the store they parted with a show of sweetness and went their separate ways, the spinster for a while blithely and on light feet, the matron, routed, wilted and overspent.
But Miss Kellam soon tired. The pleasing effects of one planter’s punch followed by another had worn off, and her faculties were badly shattered. By good fortune, the driver of a taxi read dilemma in her wild eye and slumped shoulders and hailed her. Ten minutes later she was registering at the Saint Francis Hotel and pulling herself together.
“Is there a Mrs. Kellam stopping here?” There was not.
“That is fortunate. I am having some things sent from a store and the girl was so stupid. I couldn’t make her understand that I am not Mrs. but Miss Kellam. Miss Sarah Kellam.”
Alone in a pleasant modern room with a bird’s-eye view of the Plaza, Miss Sarah Kellam was on the verge of collapse. And when at last her purchases had been de-
livered she wept over them. Almost she had believed in her romantic marriage, in her son, Stephen, her little grandson, Stephen, and Decatur, the baby, but now, as she contemplated the neat piled boxes filled with lovely extravagances, they all died. Her background of travel and Colonial taste faded to nothing. She was just a little aching old woman with a little money and a lot of baby clothes. She hadn’t even remembered to get herself a few things for the night. That would have to be attended to before the shops closed. It was probably too late to do anything about passports and steamships. Perhaps a cup of tea. . .
The telephone rang.
“Miss Brown to see you, madam. Shall I send her up?”
Miss Kellam was so lonely that if instead of Miss Brown the clerk had said the Devil she would have said, “Yes, please. Send him right up.”
“Come in—oh Mary, Mary, it’s you! I’m such an old goose! It never entered my head that you could be Miss Brown. You've always been Mary Brown—said just as if it was one word.”
■\yf ARY BROWN was greatly relieved -*-*1 at having located Miss Kellam, but felt that a word or two of complaint was in order.
“You gave us all such a fright,” she said. “It was bad of you to run off like that without a word or even a hat.” Here she felt that compassion and forgiveness were in order. “You poor dear,” she said, “you look dead to the world. I don’t often advise it, but what you need is a good stiff drink.” “I’ve always thought,” said Miss Kellam, “that I’d like to try a planter’s punch.”
“I believe there’s rum in it,” said Miss Kellam, looking a little as old tabbies look after swallowing canaries. And at the moment her brain was in an efficient state of concentration. But while Mary Brown worked the telephone and connected herself with “Room Service,” it went off woolgathering.
“Planter’s punch!” she woolgathered. “Fiji. . . Hayrick heads of vermilion hair towering above ebony bodies. . .Frangipani. . . Pale jade green lagoons with emphatic touches of wine color. . . planter’s punch . . . And she and Stephen . . . Not young Stephen, of course, but her Stephen, sampling their first ones together . . . And Stephen saying perhaps, ‘What you mistake for lemon, darling, is lime; a closely related but more delicate member of the great citrus family . . . ’ ” “And what,” exclaimed Mary Brown, “is in all the boxes?”
Miss Kellam began to say, “Well, there’s didies for Decatur,” but checked herself in time.
“Just odds and ends,” she said. “Just odds and ends for my trip around the globe.” And again woolgathering. “Soft wash linen dresses in heavenly shades, and a strong loving arm around the waist of each. . . Stephen’s voice quoting, ‘The mountains kiss high heaven, and the waves clasp one another.’ Love. . . Instruction . . . ‘No, darling, that is Point Venus Light. I have examined the chart. . .’” “Stephen,” and at the name Miss Kellam returned to her room in the Saint Francis Hotel with a start, “is worried sick about you. He’s hunting for you too. I’ve no way of telling him that I’ve found you. But we’re meeting here at seven.” “Darling Stephen!”
“I wonder if you know what a brick he is. I’ve a good mind to tell you...”
As Miss Kellam fancied that she knew all about that, she chose to woolgather rather than to listen.
‘Thundering great camelia trees along the road to peace. . . Temple bells. . .
Elephants piling teak. . . Caparisoned elephants, their jewels outflashing the yellow Indian sun. Night and the smell of sandalwood burning. The sweet linen bed, and the great heavenly need of one for another in the dark. . . ‘True enough, darling, and don’t think that I fail to respect the other fellow’s point of view, hut to me the whole theory and practice of polygamy is disgusting. . .’ ”
“You’re not listening, Miss Kellam.” “Of course I’m listening. And sometimes I’ve thought that you were a little in love with him. Are you?”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you,” cried Mary Brown. “Oh, you dear, darling, sweet idiot !”
At this point they were served with a pair of planter’s punches. And there was a short business of signing a chit and tipping a grand duke or perhaps only an admiral.
Mary Brown smiled happiness. “Have you named the day?”
Mary Brown shook her head, and tried to keep on smiling happiness, but bungled it.
“And I’m not to be told why!”
Miss Kellam felt as if a hand had clutched her heart. That shabby suit, those long walks up from the ferry— Stephen. All in one lightning flash he stood revealed—a definite saint, a noble liar.
And so it was Stephen’s money she had been squandering on didies and rompers! And perhaps if it had not been for the planter’s punch she would have died then and there of shame-
It wasn’t going to be easy to give up the famous trip around the world and go back to Lebanon House but it was going to be done.
“Thank heaven ' she said, “there’s still over lour thousand dollars, and anyway if today is any criterion, travel at my age is a lonely business.’
Mary Brown made no comment.
“And you think he won’t take it,” exclaimed Miss Kellam. T say snupple pupple. But I m smart You leave it to me. Just give your thumbs a good twiddling while I think this thing out.”
Miss Kellam thought“Look, my love. The cliffs of Albion. London. Mayfair. And down to Kew in lilac time. . .Wait, Charon, wait ! Oh, Charon, wait on yon dark Stygian Shore, while we go down to Kew in lilac time, in lilac time. . . ” “Don’t you dare to hurt him, Miss Kellam !”
“Snupple pupple!” said Miss Kellam. These were the only scandalous words in her vocabulary. She liked them and repeated them. “Snupple pupple !” she said. “Leave me be. I’m thinking.”
She thought* “Wait, Charon, wait till we’ve gone down to Kew in lilac time. . . ‘Kew, my darling, is one of the five really important botanical gardens in the world.’ . . . Wait, Charon, wait. ‘Thy neck is like a tower of ivory, my beloved. . . ’ What are those, darling? ‘Come now, you know as well as I do. Gloxinias. . . ’ Gloxinias of course they were, but I—am the rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. . .”
“It’s almost seven, Miss Kellam. I said I’d meet him in the lobby.”
“We shall all three dine together in the grill,” said Miss Kellam, “and don’t worry.”
Over the table she told young Stephen that she had given up her trip.
“I’ve decided,” she said, “to invest my money, or most of it instead. A bit of income-paying property in a growing section, I think.”
She cast more bait on the waters, and young Stephen at length rose to it. He told her all about the five acres.
“I’ll lease them from you myself,” he said.
“And I’ll put all the money in a savings bank for him,” thought Miss Kellam.
“I’ll put a good man in the service station,” said Stephen, and glanced side-
wise at Mary Brown. “A steady young married man, I think.”
“And I’ll make a will,” thought Miss Kellam, “leaving everything of which I may be possessed at the time of my death to my dearly beloved nephew, Stephen Gates. . .”
“But you’re not listening, Aunt Sally. I was saying that it’s a great buy. I ’ll have it truck gardened for you on shares, and when the boom comes, oh boy!”
But he had to catch his ferry, and Mary Brown walked with him to the street car.
“It’s the most unbelievable piece of sheer luck!” he said, more than once.
One mincing shaft of suspicion did pierce him for a moment, but Mary Brown pulled it right out.
“She didn’t get an inkling of the true stete of affairs from you, did she. darling?” “If I had given you away, Stephen,” said Mary Brown, “I wouldn’t dare marry you. I wouldn’t be the kind of a girl who could make you happy.”
The next afternoon Miss Kellam, accompanied by Mary Brown, crossed the bay to Oakland. And Miss Kellam saw a great steamer all white and gold heading out through the Golden Gate.
“Oh, Stephen! Stephen! Stephen!”
A group of the ancient ladies in Lebanon House would give Miss Kellam no
peace until she had showed them what was in the boxes.
A lame attempt to explain begun with a stammer was changed by some act of mercy into a glib statement which was all sweetness and light.
“They’re pretty enough,” she glibbed, “to have about for their own sakes, but I am too practical a person to indulge in whimsies. And so, I must tell you that my nephew’s wife is going to have a baby.” Miss Kellam tossed her head in triumph. But old Miss Bellows, who read detective stories and knew how to throw a monkey wrench, held suddenly up a sturdy little suit of blue rompers for all to see.
“Surely, surely, Miss Kellam,” she exclaimed, “surely her baby isn’t going to be at least two years old to start with!” But Miss Kellam was cleared for action. She did not bat an eyelid.
“Good heavens!” she cried. “That stupid girl at the store mixed somebody else’s parcels with mine !”
When the ancient gentlewomen, especially Miss Bellows, had cleared themselves out of Miss Kellam’s room, Miss Kellam made a snorting sound of relief and defiance.
“Nosy old snupple pupple,” she said, and lifted her eyes to the photograph of a ship passing out through the Golden Gate.