Part 6 out of 6
does inevitably bring a certain staleness, so, as the pile of little
clipped reports grew bigger Missy's first prideful swell in them
Perhaps it would have been different had not the items always been,
perforce, so much the same.
There was so little chance to be "original"--one must use the same
little forms and phrases over and over again: "A large gathering
assembled on Monday night at the home of--" "Mrs. So-and-so, who has
been here visiting Mrs. What's-her-name, has returned--" One must
crowd as much as possible into as little space as possible. That was
hard on Missy, who loved words and what words could do. She wasn't
allowed much latitude with words even for "functions." "Function"
itself had turned out to be one of her most useful words since it
got by Ed Martin and, at the same time, lent the reported affair a
certain distinguished air.
It was at a function--an ice-cream festival given by the
Presbyterian ladies on Mrs. Paul Bonner's lawn--that Missy met
She had experienced a curious, vague stir of emotions about going to
the Bonner home that evening; it was the first time she'd ever gone
there when Raymond Bonner wasn't present. Raymond was the handsomest
and most popular boy in her "crowd," and she used to be secretly
pleased when he openly admired her more than he did the other girls-
-indeed, there had been certain almost sentimental passages between
Raymond and Missy. Of course all that happened before her horizon
had "broadened"--before she encountered a truly distinguished person
like Ridgeley Holman Dobson.
Yet memories can linger to disturb, and Missy was accompanied by
memories that moonlit Wednesday evening when, in her "best" dress of
pale pink organdie, she carried her note-book to the Bonners' to
report the lawn-festival.
She had hesitated over the pink organdie; not many of the "crowd"
were going, and it was to be for her a professional rather than a
social occasion. Perhaps it was sentiment that carried the day.
Anyway, she was soon to be glad she'd worn the pink organdie.
Before she had a chance to get in any professional work, Mrs. Bonner
bore down on her with a tall young man, a stranger.
"Oh, Missy! I want you to meet Raymond's cousin, Archie Briggs.
Archie, this is one of Raymond's friends, Miss Merriam." Missy was
grateful for that "Miss Merriam."
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Merriam," said Mr. Briggs. He was dark
and not very good-looking--not nearly so good-looking as Raymond--
but there was something in his easy, self-assured manner that struck
her as very distingue. She was impressed, too, by the negligent way
in which he wore his clothes; not nearly so "dressed-up" looking as
the Cherryvale boys, yet in some subtle way declassing them. She was
pleased that he seemed to be pleased with her; he asked her to
"imbibe" some ice-cream with him.
They sat at one of the little tables out on the edge of the crowd.
From there the coloured paper lanterns, swaying on the porch and
strung like fantastic necklaces across the lawn, were visible yet
not too near; far enough away to make it all look like an unreal,
colourful picture. And, above all, a round orange moon climbing up
the sky, covering the scene with light as with golden water, and
sending black shadows to crawl behind bushes and trees.
It was all very beautiful; and Mr. Briggs, though he didn't speak of
the scene at all, made a peculiarly delightful companion for that
setting. He was "interesting."
He talked easily and in a way that put her at her ease. She learned
that he and his sister, Louise, had stopped off in Cherryvale for a
few days; they were on their way back to their home in Keokuk, Iowa,
from a trip to California. Had Miss Merriam ever been in California?
No; she'd never been in California. Missy hated to make the
admission; but Mr. Briggs seemed the kind of youth not to hold it
against a pretty girl to give him a chance to exploit his travels.
She was a flattering listener. And when, after California had been
disposed of, he made a wide sweep to "the East," where, it
developed, he attended college--had Miss Merriam ever been back
No; she'd never been back East. And then, with a big-eyed and
appreciatively murmuring auditor, he dilated on the supreme
qualities of that foreign spot, on the exotic delights of football
and regattas and trips down to New York for the "shows." Yes, he was
"interesting"! Listening, Missy forgot even Mr. Ridgeley Holman
Dobson. Here was one who had travelled far, who had seen the world,
who had drunk deep of life, and who, furthermore, was near to her
own age. And, other things being equal, nothing can call as youth
calls youth. She wasn't conscious, at the time, that her idol was in
danger of being replaced, that she was approaching something akin to
faithlessness; but something came about soon which brought her a
Missy, who had all but forgotten that she was here for a serious
purpose, suddenly explained she had to get her "copy" into the
office by ten o'clock; for the paper went to press next morning.
"I must go now and see some of the ladies," she said reluctantly.
"Well, of course, if you'd rather talk to the ladies--" responded
Mr. Briggs, banteringly. "Oh, it's not that!" She felt a sense of
satisfaction, in her own importance as she went on to explain:
"I want to ask details and figures and so forth for my report in the
paper--I'm society editor of the Beacon, you know."
"Society editor!--you? For Pete's sake!"
At first Missy took his tone to denote surprised admiration, and her
little thrill of pride intensified.
But he went on:
"What on earth are you wasting time on things like that for?"
"Wasting time--?" she repeated. Her voice wavered a little.
"I'd never have suspected you of being a highbrow," Mr. Briggs
Missy felt a surge akin to indignation--he didn't seem to appreciate
her importance, after all. But resentment swiftly gave way to a kind
of alarm: why didn't he appreciate it?
"Don't you like highbrows?" she asked, trying to smile.
"Oh, I suppose they're all right in their place," said Mr. Briggs
lightly. "But I never dreamed you were a highbrow."
It was impossible not to gather that this poised young man of the
world esteemed her more highly in his first conception of her.
Impelled by the eternal feminine instinct to catch at possibly
flattering personalities, Missy asked:
"What did you think I was?" "Well," replied Mr. Briggs, smiling, "I
thought you were a mighty pretty girl--the prettiest I've seen in
this town." (Missy couldn't hold down a fluttering thrill, even
though she felt a premonition that certain lofty ideals were about
to be assailed.)
"The kind of girl who likes to dance and play tennis and be a good
sport, and all that."
"But can't a--" Missy blushed; she'd almost said "a pretty girl.
"Can't that kind of girl be--intellectual, too?"
"The saints forbid!" ejaculated Mr. Briggs with fervour.
"But don't you think that everyone ought to try--to enlarge one's
field of vision?"
At that Mr. Briggs threw back his head and laughed a laugh of
"Oh, it's too funny!" he chortled. "That line of talk coming from a
girl who looks like you do!"
Even at that disturbed moment, when she was hearing sacrilege aimed
at her most cherished ideals--perilously swaying ideals, had she but
realized it--Missy caught the pleasing significance of his last
phrase, and blushed again. Still she tried to stand up for those
imperilled ideals, forcing herself to ask:
"But surely you admire women who achieve--women like George Eliot
and Frances Hodgson Burnett and all those?"
"I'd hate to have to take one of them to a dance," said Mr. Briggs.
Missy turned thoughtful; there were sides to "achievement" she
hadn't taken into consideration. "Speaking of dances," Mr. Briggs
was continuing, "my aunt's going to give Louise and me a party
before we go--maybe Saturday night."
A party! Missy felt a thrill that wasn't professional.
Mr. Briggs leaned closer, across the little table. "If you're not
already booked up," he said, "may I call for you Saturday night?"
Missy was still disturbed by some of the things Mr. Briggs had said.
But it was certainly pleasant to have a visiting young man--a young
man who lived in Keokuk and travelled in California and attended
college in the East--choose her for his partner at his own party.
Later that night at the Beacon office, after she had turned in her
report of the Presbyterian ladies' fete, she lingered at her desk.
She was in the throes of artistic production:
"Mr. Archibald Briggs of Keokuk is visiting Mr. and Mrs. Paul
That was too bald; not rich enough. She tried again:
"Mr. Archibald Briggs of Keokuk, Iowa, is visiting at the residence
of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Bonner on Maple Avenue."
Even that didn't lift itself up enough out of the ordinary. Missy
puckered her brows; a moist lock fell down and straggled across her
forehead. With interlineations, she enlarged:
"Mr. Archibald Briggs, who has been travelling in California and the
Far West, on his way to his home in Keokuk, Iowa, is visiting at the
residence of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Bonner "in Maple Avenue."
An anxious scrutiny; and then "on his way" was amended to "en
That would almost do. And then, as she regarded the finished item, a
curious feeling crept over her: a sort of reluctance, distaste for
having it printed--printing it herself, as it were. That seemed,
somehow, too--too public. And then, as she sat in a maze of strange
emotions, a sudden thought came to the rescue:
His sister--Louise! She'd forgotten to include Louise! How terrible
if she'd left out his sister! And adding the second name would
remove the personal note. She quickly interlined again, and the item
"Mr. Archibald Briggs and Miss Louise Briggs, who have been
travelling in California and the Far West, en route to their home in
Keokuk, Iowa, are visiting at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Paul
Bonner in Maple Avenue."
As her father entered the office to take her home, Missy gave a deep
sigh, a sigh of mingled satisfaction and exhaustion such as seals a
difficult task well done.
Late as it was when she reached home, Missy lingered long before her
mirror. With the aid of a hand-glass she critically studied her pink
organdie from every angle. She wished she had a new dress; a
delicate wispy affair of cream net--the colour of moonlight--would
be lovely and aristocratic-looking. And with some subtle but
distinguished colour combination, like dull blue and lilac, for the
girdle. That would be heavenly. But one can't have a new dress for
every party. Missy sighed, and tilted back the dresser mirror so as
to catch the swing of skirt about her shoe-tops. She wished the
skirt was long and trailing; there was a cluster of tucks above the
hem--maybe mother would allow her to let one out; she'd ask to-
Then she tilted the mirror back to its normal position; maybe mother
would allow her to turn in the neck just a wee bit lower--like this.
That glimpse of throat would be pretty, especially with some kind of
necklace. She got out her string of coral. No. The jagged shape of
coral was effective and the colour was effective, but it didn't "go"
with pale pink. She held up her string of pearl beads. That was
better. But ah! if only she had some long pearl pendants, to dangle
down from each ear; she knew just how to arrange her hair--something
like Lady Sylvia Southwoode's--so as to set them off.
She was engaged in parting her hair in the centre and rolling it
back in simple but aristocratic-looking "puffs" on either side--she
did look the least bit like Lady Sylvia!--when she heard her
mother's voice calling:
"Missy! haven't you gone to bed yet?"
"No, mother," she answered meekly, laying down the brush very
"What on earth are you doing?"
"Nothing--I'm going to bed right now," she answered, more meekly
yet. "You'd better," came the unseen voice. "You've got to get up
early if you're going to the picnic."
The picnic--oh, bother! Missy had forgotten the picnic. If it had
been a picnic of her own "crowd" she would not have forgotten it,
but she was attending this function because of duty instead of
And it isn't especially interesting to tag along with a lot of
children and their Sunday-school teachers.
She wondered if, maybe, she could manage to get her "report" without
But she'd already forgotten the picnic by the time she crept into
her little bed, across which the moon, through the window, spread a
shining breadth of silver. She looked at the strip of moonlight
drowsily--how beautiful moonlight was! And when it gleamed down on
dewy grass . . . everything outdoors white and magical . . . and
dancing on the porch . . . he must be a wonderful dancer--those
college boys always were . . . music . . . the scent of flowers . .
. "the prettiest girl I've seen in this town" . . .
Yes; the bothersome picnic was forgotten; and the Beacon, alluring
stepping-stone to achievements untold; yes, even Ridgeley Holman
The moon, moving its gleaming way slowly up the coverlet, touched
tenderly the face of the sleeper, kissed the lips curved into a
soft, dreaming smile. Missy went to the picnic next day, for her
mother was unsympathetic toward the suggestion of contriving a
"report." "Now, Missy, don't begin that again! You're always
starting out to ride some enthusiasm hard, and then letting it die
down. You must learn to see things through. Now, go and get your
Missy meekly obeyed. It wasn't the first time she'd been rebuked for
her unstable temperament. She was meek and abashed; yet it is not
uninteresting to know one possesses an unstable temperament which
must be looked after lest it prove dangerous. The picnic was as dull
as she had feared it would be. She usually liked children but, that
day, the children at first were too riotously happy and then, as
they tired themselves out, got cross and peevish. Especially the
Smith children. One of the teachers said the oldest little Smith
girl seemed to have fever; she was sick--as if that excused her
acting like a little imp! She ought to have been kept at home--the
whole possessed Smith tribe ought to have been kept at home!
Missy wished she herself were at home. She'd probably missed a
telephone call from Mr. Briggs--he had said he might call up. She
could hardly wait to reach home and find out.
Yes; he had telephoned. Also Mrs. Bonner, inviting Missy to a party
on Saturday night. Missy brightened. She broached the subject of
letting out a tuck. But mother said the pink organdie was long
enough--too long, really. And Aunt Nettie chimed in:
"Why is it that girls can never get old quickly enough? The time'll
come soon enough when they'll wish they could wear short dresses
again!" Missy listened with inner rebellion. Why did old people
always talk that way--that "you-don't-appreciate-you're-having-the-
best-time-of-your-life" sort of thing?
Next day was Friday--the day before the party.
It was also "cleaning day" at the Merriams' and, though Missy felt
lassitudinous and headachy, she put extra vim into her share of the
work; for she wished to coax from mother a new sash, at least.
But when Saturday came she didn't mention the sash; her headache had
increased to such a persistent throbbing she didn't feel like going
down to look over the Bonner Mercantile Co.'s stock of ribbons. She
was having trouble enough concealing her physical distress. At
dinner mother had noticed that she ate almost nothing; and at supper
"Don't you feel well, Missy?"
"Oh, yes, I feel all right--fine!" replied Missy, trying to assume a
"You look flushed to me. And sort of heavy around the eyes--don't
you think so, papa?"
"She does look sort of peaked," affirmed Mr. Merriam.
"She's been dragging around all day," went on the mother. Missy
tried harder than ever to "perk up"--if they found out about the
headache, like as not they'd put a taboo on the party--grown-ups
were so unreasonable. Parties were good for headaches.
"I heard over at Mrs. Allen's this afternoon," Aunt Nettie put in,
"that there's measles in town. All the Smith children are down with
it." Missy recalled the oldest little Smith girl, with the fever, at
the picnic, but said nothing.
"I wonder if Missy could have run into it anywhere," said mother
"Me?" ejaculated the Society Editor, disdainfully.
"Children have measles!"
"Children! Listen to her!" jeered Aunt Nettie with delight.
"I've had the measles," Missy went on. "And anyway I feel fine!" So
saying, she set to to make herself eat the last mouthful of the
blackberry cobbler she didn't want.
It was hard to concentrate on her toilette with the fastidious care
she would have liked. Her arms were so heavy she could scarcely lift
them to her head, and her head itself seemed to have jagged weights
rolling inside at her slightest movement. She didn't feel up to
experimenting with the new coiffure d'la Lady Sylvia Southwoode;
even the exertion of putting up her hair the usual way made her
uncomfortably conscious of the blackberry cobbler. She wasn't yet
dressed when Mr. Briggs called for her. Mother came in to help.
"Sure you feel all right?" she enquired solicitously.
"Oh, yes--fine!" said Missy.
She was glad, on the rather long walk to the Bonners', that Mr.
Briggs was so easy to talk to--which meant that Mr. Briggs did most
of the talking. Even at that it was hard to concentrate on his
conversation sufficiently to make the right answers in the
And things grew harder, much harder, during the first dance. The
guests danced through the big double parlours and out the side door
on to the big, deep porch. It was inspiringly beautiful out there on
the porch: the sweet odour of honeysuckle and wistaria and "mock
orange" all commingled; and the lights shining yellow out of the
windows, and the paler, glistening light of the moon spreading its
fairy whiteness everywhere. It was inspiringly beautiful; and the
music was divine--Charley Kelley's orchestra was playing; and Mr.
Briggs was a wonderful dancer. But Missy couldn't forget the
oppressive heat, or the stabbing weights in her head, or, worse yet,
that blackberry cobbler.
As Mr. Briggs was clapping for a second encore, she said
"Will you excuse me a minute?--I must run upstairs--I forgot my
"Let me get it for you," offered Mr. Briggs gallantly.
"No! oh, no!" Her tone was excited and, almost frantically, she
turned and ran into the house and up the stairs.
Up there, in the bedroom which was temporarily the "ladies' cloak-
room, prostrate on the bed, Mrs. Bonner found her later. Missy
protested she was now feeling better, though she thought she'd just
lie quiet awhile. She insisted that Mrs. Bonner make no fuss and go
back down to her guests. Mrs. Bonner, after bringing a damp towel
and some smelling-salts, left her. But presently Missy heard the
sound of tip-toeing steps, and lifted a corner of the towel from off
her eyes. There stood Mr. Briggs.
"Say, this is too bad!" he commiserated. "How's the head?"
"It's better," smiled Missy wanly. It wasn't better, in fact, but a
headache isn't without its advantages when it makes a young man
forsake dancing to be solicitous.
"Sure it's better?"
"Sure," replied Missy, her smile growing a shade more wan.
"Because if it isn't--" Mr. Briggs began to rub his palms together
briskly--"I've got electricity in my hands, you know. Maybe I could
rub it away."
"Oh," said Missy.
Her breathing quickened. The thought of his rubbing her headache
away, his hands against her brow, was alarming yet exhilarating. She
glanced up as she felt him removing the towel from her head, then
quickly down again. She felt, even though her face was already fiery
hot, that she was blushing. She was embarrassed, her head was
racking, but on the whole she didn't dislike the situation. Mr.
Briggs unlinked his cuffs, turned back his sleeves, laid his palms
on her burning brow, and began a slow, pressing movement outward, in
both directions, toward her temples.
"That feel good?" he asked. "Yes," murmured Missy. She could
scarcely voice the word; for, in fact, the pressure of his hands
seemed to send those horrible weights joggling worse than ever,
seemed to intensify the uneasiness in her throat--though she
wouldn't for worlds let Mr. Briggs think her unappreciative of his
The too-kind hands stroked maddeningly on.
"Feel better now?"
"Yes," she gasped.
Things, suddenly, seemed going black. If he'd only stop a minute!
Wouldn't he ever stop? How could she make him stop? What could she
The whole world, just then, seemed to be composed of the increasing
tumult in her throat, the piercing conflict in her head, and those
maddening strokes--strokes--strokes--strokes. How long could she
Presently, after eons it seemed, she desperately evoked a small,
"I think--it must--be getting worse. Thanks, but--Oh, won't you--
She didn't open her eyes to see whether Mr. Briggs looked hurt,
didn't open them to see him leave the room. She was past caring,
now, whether he was hurt or not. She thought she must be dying. And
she thought she must be dying, later, while Mrs. Bonner, aided by a
fluttering, murmuring Louise, attended her with sympathetic
ministrations; and again while she was being taken home by Mr.
Bonner in the Bonner surrey--she had never dreamed a surrey could
bump and lurch and jostle so. But people seldom die of measles; and
that was what young Doc Alison, next morning, diagnosed her malady.
It seemed that there is more than one kind of measles and that one
can go on having one variety after another, ad nauseam, so to speak.
"The case is well developed--you should have called me yesterday,"
said young Doc rebukingly.
"I knew you were sick yesterday!" chided mother. "And to think I let
you go to that party!"
"Party?" queried young Doc. "What party?--when?"
Then he heard about the function at the Bonners', and Missy's
"Well," he commented, "I'll bet there'll be a fine little aftermath
of measles among the young folks of this town."
The doctor's prophecy was to fulfill itself. On her sick-bed Missy
heard the reports of this one and that one who, in turn, were "taken
For the others she was sorry, but when she learned Mr. Archibald
Briggs had succumbed, she experienced poignant emotions. Her
emotions were mingled: regret that she had so poorly repaid a deed
of gallant service but, withal, a regret tempered by the thought
they were now suffering together--he ill over there in Raymond
Bonner's room, she over here in hers--enduring the same kind of
pain, taking the same kind of medicine, eating the same
uninteresting food. Yes, it was a bond. It even, at the time, seemed
a romantic kind of bond.
Then, when days of convalescence arrived, she wrote a condoling note
to the two patients at the Bonnets'--for Louise had duly "taken
down," also; and then, as her convalescence had a few days' priority
over theirs, she was able to go over and visit them in person.
Friendships grow rapidly when people have just gone through the same
sickness; people have so much in common to talk about, get to know
one another so much more intimately--the real essence of one
another. For instance Missy within a few days learned that Louise
Briggs was an uncommonly nice, sweet, "cultured" girl. She enlarged
on this point when she asked her mother to let her accept Louise's
invitation to visit in Keokuk.
"She's the most refined girl I've ever met, mother--if you know what
"Yes--?" said mother, as if inviting more.
"She's going to a boarding-school in Washington, D. C., this
"Yes--?" said mother again.
"And she's travelled a lot, but not a bit uppish. I think that kind
of girl is a good influence to have, don't you?"
Mother, concentrated on an intricate place in her drawn-Yv'ork,
didn't at once answer. Missy gazed at her eagerly. At last mother
"But what about your work on the Beacon?" she asked.
"Oh, I've thought about that," Missy returned glibly. "And I really
think a trip of this kind would do me more good than just hanging
round a poky newspaper office. Travel, and a different sphere--
Keokuk's a big town, and there seems to be a lot going on there.
It's really a good chance to enlarge my field of vision--to broaden
my horizon--don't you see, mother?"
Mother bent her head lower over her work.
"Are you sure the thought of parties and a lot going on and--"
mother paused a second--"and Archie has nothing to do with it,
Missy didn't mind the teasing hint about Archie when mother said
"dear" in that tone. It meant that mother was weakening.
Nor did thoughts of the abandoned Cosmos trouble her very much
during the blissfully tumultuous days of refurbishing her wardrobe
and packing her trunk. Nor when she wrote a last society item for Ed
Martin to put in the Beacon:
"Miss Melissa Merriam of Locust Avenue has gone for a two weeks'
visit at the home of Miss Louise Briggs in Keokuk, Iowa."'
The little item held much in its few words. It was a swan-song.
As Ed Martin inelegantly put it, in speaking later with her father,
Missy had "canned the Cosmos."