Read CHAPTER V of The Gentle Art of Cooking Wives , free online book, by Elizabeth Strong Worthington, on ReadCentral.com.

A lover’s ecstasy is ofttimes cut short by the reflection that he has yet to face that awful bugbear the old folk. There is something terrible about age, it would seem, not only to its possessor, but even to those who must encounter it second hand, and Steve was not without his qualms. Although in his wooing he had not for one moment lost his gentle self-possession, he had entirely forgotten about the ordeal of an interview with Nannie’s guardians until she reminded him by saying with an impish chuckle:

“Won’t Aunt Frances be happy when she hears of this!”

“Is she anxious that you should marry?” asked Steve with some wonder.

Nannie looked at him with wide eyes for a moment. It seemed hardly possible that one could be so dull of comprehension, and yet there was no doubting Steve’s grave, earnest expression.

“Yes,” was her only reply, but inwardly she was convulsed with laughter as she looked ahead and in thought rapidly sketched a scene.

And so Steve walked up to his task with but a faint conception of its magnitude.

“I have called, Mrs. Lamont,” he said in his easy, gentlemanly way, “to ask for the hand of your niece. Nannie and I have had a little talk about it and understand each other, I think, and now we await your consent.”

“You surely don’t expect my consent,” said Mrs. Lamont.

Steve’s shyness and gentleness seemed to return to him.

“I really,” he said hesitatingly, “had not thought of any reason why we should not have it.”

“Mr. Loveland well, this is intensely trying to me. You’ve no idea, I am sure, how I dislike to be so plain; but can you not understand that you are hardly a suitable match for Nannie? You are very poor, I believe.”

“Why, no,” said Steve gently.

He had a good position on a daily paper and his mother’s little property had been disposed of to advantage, so that he had several thousand in bank now. To him, with his small needs and quiet tastes, this seemed like wealth.

“Oh, why will you force me to such brutal plainness!” exclaimed Mrs. Lamont impatiently. “Really this interview will make me ill.”

“It may indeed,” said Steve.

He had no thought of sarcasm.

“Mr. Loveland, this is a business matter. We must understand each other. You have property, I suppose?”

“Not now; it was sold.”

“What do you own, may I ask? Oh, isn’t it fearful to have to talk so! But I must lead you to see things clearly.”

“I have forty-five hundred dollars in bank and a good situation,” said Steve, with a feeling that he was turning his life inside out under a stranger’s gaze, and had returned to barbarism and was buying Nannie.

“Bringing you what, may I ask?”

“A hundred and twenty-five a month.”

Mrs. Lamont gave a short laugh.

“Why, my dear sir excuse me, but that would not suffice to keep Nannie’s carriage, let alone herself.”

“Must she have a carriage?” asked Steve with a lengthening face.

“As a matter of course! Would you expect her to walk?”

Several things flashed through Steve’s bewildered brain. Until to-day he had always met Nannie in her own or some other parlor. She had walked to-day, it is true, but perhaps she ought not to have done so. He remembered that when he saw her feet as she was paddling in the brook he thought them wonderfully small. He also recalled the fact that Chinese women of rank have very small feet and cannot walk; possibly Nannie was in a similar predicament.

“Is she deformed?” he gasped.

And then Mrs. Lamont put her handkerchief to her face and wept for vexation.

Meanwhile Steve sat there, bewildered and distressed. He had come to expect this sort of conduct from women in general, but it was harrowing. His poor invalid mother often wept; Mary had cried now and then, poor worn-out girl; and last week, when he was at her house, even Constance had burst into tears when Randolph tried to explain something to her; Nannie had cried that day, and now Mrs. Lamont was weeping. No doubt it was a sort of melancholy punctuation mark in vogue with the sex.

“Evidently we speak different languages, and it is an almost hopeless task to try to explain,” said the lady at length; “but Nannie’s interests are at stake, and I must attempt it.”

She knew only too well how futile it would be to try to influence Nannie. If this affair were ended it must be by Steve.

“Can you not see,” she continued, emphasizing every word and speaking in a hard, metallic tone, “that Nannie’s position in society calls for certain expenditures which are far beyond your means? As a woman of fashion she will be obliged to keep a carriage and maintain a style of living which would eat up your monthly salary in half a day. She has a suitor of abundant means, a millionaire several times over Mr. Harding. He is infatuated with her and he will give her everything she can desire.”

“But he is a very bad man,” said Steve simply.

“Oh, well really, Mr. Loveland, please don’t push me into a discussion of such matters. Few men are saints, and I think he’ll make a good husband. He is very rich and he moves in the best circles.”

“Does Nannie love him?” asked Steve, and his voice and manner had changed. He spoke very firmly.

“Mr. Loveland, you exhaust me! Some of us who have reached maturity have the good sense to provide for material advantages and take the rest for granted.”

“If Nannie loves Mr. Harding and wishes me to withdraw in his favor, I will do so.”

“I don’t!” said a curt voice, and looking around with a start, Mrs. Lamont beheld her dutiful niece between the portieres.

For a moment nothing was said, but Nannie’s appearance did not portend peace. Her eyes looked out wickedly from beneath her curls, and her impish mouth was pursed up in an expression already familiar to her aunt.

“Leave the room instantly!” cried Mrs. Lamont at last with rising anger.

“I won’t!” said Nannie shortly.

“Then I will teach you that I also can be firm. I command you to break off this foolish, insane affair at once.”

“I won’t!” said Nannie.

“Ungrateful minx!” cried Mrs. Lamont. “Here I have dressed you all these years and gone to no end of other expense, and this is how you repay me.”

“It is,” said Nannie.

Now, Mrs. Lamont was a shrewd, worldly woman, and she took in the situation fully. She realized that Nannie would hold to her own course. She also realized that arguments such as hers were without weight with Steve. These two, then, would marry for all she could say or do, for Nannie was just come of age. Now she had already strained her means to provide for the fashionable necessities of Nannie’s debut and society life, and she dreaded her wedding. Had the child married well, however, all the monetary effort attendant upon the occasion could have been repaid afterward all that and more; but now to have an outlay and no return that was too much! She would avert it.

“I can do nothing with this saucy, impudent girl, this ungrateful creature, but I appeal to you,” she said to Steve, “to let her come to her senses.”

It was Mrs. Lamont, he thought, who was worse than mad to try to force a young girl into an odious marriage, and Nannie’s rebellion seemed justifiable to him, unused though he himself was to defying any one.

“Nannie and I have decided,” he said quietly. “I regret that you feel so.”

“You shall never be married from this house!” cried the aunt.

“We can go elsewhere,” said Steve, not realizing that he was walking into a net.

“And you may expect a bitter time after this conduct, miss,” she added.

“Mrs. Lamont,” said Steve, stepping forward and taking Nannie’s little hand in his, “you will force us to an earlier marriage than we had contemplated.”

And now Steve was well in the toils of the net, and this was how it happened that Mrs. Lamont was spared further expense for her willful niece, and that Steve all but took Randolph’s and Constance’s breath away by inviting them to a very quiet wedding which was to take place at a church one morning about a week after this stormy scene, and society buzzed like a bee over the elopement, as it called it, and so forth, and so on, and all at once in the midst of the distractions Nannie caught her breath and cried out:

“Why, goodness me! I’m married!”

And Steve received the news with almost equal dismay.

Really, if the Shah of Persia had presented this gentleman with a white elephant, with long flowing trunk and two tails three or four tails, in fact and this little gift had been brought up to his room on a silver salver (always supposing that were possible) he could not have felt much more nonplussed as to its proper disposal and care than he did when he suddenly came out of a dream to realize he had a wife on his hands.

“Where do you wish to live, my dear?” he asked in a tone that might imply that he had all Europe and America to draw from as a place of residence.

He was rather expecting Nannie to say that she wished to reside on Calumet Avenue and to have a coach and four purchased that very day.

But nothing could surprise him now, so he received her abrupt answer calmly.

“I want to live in the country, near Mrs. Chance.”

Happily this wish was not impossible of fulfillment, so Steve at once consulted his friends, and after much walking about (Nannie could walk) and much discussion, the four agreed upon a small dovecote of a place about a mile from Randolph’s and Constance’s home a dear little cottage with enough land about it to raise anything and everything.

Nannie was like a child with a new toy, and her delight lent her a hundred little airs and graces that would only have provoked Mrs. Lamont had she seen them. She always said that the child was rude and stupid in society where she should have done her best, and only fascinating with people who could be of no earthly use to her.

And now the little kitchen was set up, the fire was burning briskly, the cook was at hand, and the delectable, indigestible material was ready for the spit.