Read CHAPTER XI of Turn About Eleanor , free online book, by Ethel M. Kelley, on ReadCentral.com.

GERTRUDE HAS TROUBLE WITH HER BEHAVIOR

“Dear Uncle Peter,” Eleanor wrote from Colhassett when she had been established there under the new regime for a week or more. “I slapped Albertina’s face. I am very awfully sorry, but I could not help it. Don’t tell Aunt Margaret because it is so contrary to her teachings and also the golden rule, but she was more contrary to the golden rule that I was. I mean Albertina. What do you think she said? She said Aunt Gertrude was homely and an old maid, and the hired girl was homely too. Well, I think she is, but I am not going to have Albertina think so. Aunt Gertrude is pretty with those big eyes and ink like hair and lovely teeth and one dimple. Albertina likes hair fuzzed all over faces and blonds. Then she said she guessed I wasn’t your favorite, and that the gold spoons were most likely tin gilded over. I don’t know what you think about slapping. Will you please write and say what you think? You know I am anxsuch to do well. But I think I know as much as Albertina about some things. She uster treat me like a dog, but it is most a year now since I saw her before.

“Well, here we are, Aunt Gertrude and me, too. Grandpa did not like her at first. She looked so much like summer folks, and acted that way, too. He does not agree with summer folks, but she got him talking about foreign parts and that Spanish girl that made eyes at him, and nearly got him away from Grandma, and the time they were wrecked going around the horn, and showing her dishes and carvings from China. Now he likes her first rate. She laughs all the time. Grandma likes her too, but not when Grandpa tells her about that girl in Spain.

“We eat in the dining-room, and have lovely food, only Grandpa does not like it, but we have him a pie now for breakfast, his own pie that he can eat from all the time and he feels better. Aunt Gertrude is happy seeing him eat it for breakfast and claps her hands when he does it, only he doesn’t see her.

“She is teaching me more manners, and to swim, and some French. It is vacation and I don’t have regular lessons, the way I did while we were on Long Island.

“Didn’t we have a good time in that hotel? Do you remember the night I stayed up till ten o’clock and we sat on the beach and talked? I do. I love you very much. I think it is nice to love anybody. Only I miss you. I would miss you more if I believed what Albertina said about my not being your favorite. I am.

“I wish you could come down here. Uncle Jimmie is coming and then I don’t know what Albertina will say.

“About teaching me. Aunt Gertrude’s idea of getting me cultivated is to read to me from the great Masters of literature and funny books too, like Mark Twain and the Nonsense Thology. Then I say what I think of them, and she just lets me develop along those lines, which is pretty good for summer.

“Here is a poem I wrote. I love you best.

“The sun and wind are on the sea,
The waves are clear and blue,
This is the place I like to be,
If I could just have you.

“The insects chirrup in the grass,
The birds sing in the tree,
And oh! how quick the time would pass
If you were here with me.”

“What do you think of slapping, Aunt Gertrude?” Eleanor asked one evening when they were walking along the hard beach that the receding tide had left cool and firm for their pathway, and the early moon had illumined for them. “Do you think it’s awfully bad to slap any one?”

“I wouldn’t slap you, if that’s what you mean, Eleanor.”

“Would you slap somebody your own size and a little bigger?”

“I might under extreme provocation.”

“I thought perhaps you would,” Eleanor sighed with a gasp of relieved satisfaction.

“I don’t believe in moral suasion entirely, Eleanor,” Gertrude tried to follow Eleanor’s leads, until she had in some way satisfied the child’s need for enlightenment on the subject under discussion. It was not always simple to discover just what Eleanor wanted to know, but Gertrude had come to believe that there was always some excellent reason for her wanting to know it. “I think there are some quarrels that have to be settled by physical violence.”

Eleanor nodded. Then,

“What about refinement?” she asked unexpectedly. “I want to bring myself up good when when all of my aunts and uncles are too busy, or don’t know. I want to grow up, and be ladylike and a credit, and I’m getting such good culture that I think I ought to, but I get worried about my refinement. City refinement is different from country refinement.”

“Refinement isn’t a thing that you can worry about,” Gertrude began slowly. She realized perhaps better than any of the others, being a better balanced, healthier creature than either Beulah or Margaret, that there were serious defects in the scheme of cooperative parentage. Eleanor, thanks to the overconscientious digging about her roots, was acquiring a New England self-consciousness about her processes. A child, Gertrude felt, should be handed a code ready made and should be guided by it without question until his maturer experience led him to modify it. The trouble with trying to explain this to Eleanor was that she had already had too many things explained to her, and the doctrine of unselfconsciousness can not be inculcated by an exploitation of it. “If you are naturally a fine person your instinct will be to do the fine thing. You must follow it when you feel the instinct and not think about it between times.”

“That’s Uncle Peter’s idea,” Eleanor said, “that not thinking. Well, I’ll try but you and Uncle Peter didn’t have six different parents and a Grandpa and Grandma and Albertina all criticizing your refinement in different ways. Don’t you ever have any trouble with your behavior, Aunt Gertrude?”

Gertrude laughed. The truth was that she was having considerable trouble with her behavior since Jimmie’s arrival two days before. She had thought to spend her two months with Eleanor on Cape Cod helping the child to relate her new environment to her old, while she had the benefit of her native air and the freedom of a rural summer. She also felt that one of their number ought to have a working knowledge of Eleanor’s early surroundings and habits. She had meant to put herself and her own concerns entirely aside. If she had a thought for any one but Eleanor she meant it to be for the two old people whose guest she had constituted herself. She explained all this to Jimmie a day or two before her departure, and to her surprise he had suggested that he spend his own two vacation weeks watching the progress of her experiment. Before she was quite sure of the wisdom of allowing him to do so she had given him permission to come. Jimmie was part of her trouble. Her craving for isolation and undiscovered country; her eagerness to escape with her charge to some spot where she would not be subjected to any sort of familiar surveillance, were all a part of an instinct to segregate herself long enough to work out the problem of Jimmie and decide what to do about it. This she realized as soon as he arrived on the spot. She realized further that she had made practically no progress in the matter, for this curly headed young man, bearing no relation to anything that Gertrude had decided a young man should be, was rapidly becoming a serious menace to her peace of mind, and her ideal of a future lived for art alone. She had definitely begun to realize this on the night when Jimmie, in his exuberance at securing his new job, had seized her about the waist and kissed her on the lips. She had thought a good deal about that kiss, which came dangerously near being her first one. She was too clever, too cool and aloof, to have had many tentative love-affairs. Later, as she softened and warmed and gathered grace with the years she was likely to seem more alluring and approachable to the gregarious male. Now she answered her small interlocutor truthfully.

“Yes, Eleanor, I do have a whole lot of trouble with my behavior. I’m having trouble with it today, and this evening,” she glanced up at the moon, which was seemingly throwing out conscious waves of effulgence, “I expect to have more,” she confessed.

“Oh! do you?” asked Eleanor, “I’m sorry I can’t sit up with you then and help you. You you don’t expect to be provocated to slap anybody, do you?”

“No, I don’t, but as things are going I almost wish I did,” Gertrude answered, not realizing that before the evening was over there would be one person whom she would be ruefully willing to slap several times over.

As they turned into the village street from the beach road they met Jimmie, who had been having his after-dinner pipe with Grandfather Amos, with whom he had become a prime favorite. With him was Albertina, toeing out more than ever and conversing more than blandly.

“This virtuous child has been urging me to come after Eleanor and remind her that it is bedtime,” Jimmie said, indicating the pink gingham clad figure at his side. “She argues that Eleanor is some six months younger than she and ought to be in bed first, and personally she has got to go in the next fifteen minutes.”

“It’s pretty hot weather to go to bed in,” Albertina said. “Miss Sturgis, if I can get my mother to let me stay up half an hour more, will you let Eleanor stay up?”

Just beyond her friend, in the shadow of her ample back, Eleanor was making gestures intended to convey the fact that sitting up any longer was abhorrent to her.

“Eleanor needs her sleep to-night, I think,” Gertrude answered, professionally maternal.

“I brought Albertina so that our child might go home under convoy, while you and I were walking on the beach,” Jimmie suggested.

As the two little girls fell into step, the beginning of their conversation drifted back to the other two, who stood watching them for a moment.

“I thought I’d come over to see if you was willing to say you were sorry,” Albertina began. “My face stayed red in one spot for two hours that day after you slapped me.”

“I’m not sorry,” Eleanor said ungraciously, “but I’ll say that I am, if you’ve come to make up.”

“Well, we won’t say any more about it then,” Albertina conceded. “Are Miss Sturgis and Mr. Sears going together, or are they just friends?”

“Isn’t that Albertina one the limit?” Jimmie inquired, with a piloting hand under Gertrude’s elbow. “She told me that she and Eleanor were mad, but she didn’t want to stay mad because there was more going on over here than there was at her house and she liked to come over.”

“I’m glad Eleanor slapped her,” Gertrude said; “still I’m sorry our little girl has uncovered the clay feet of her idol. She’s through with Albertina for good.”

“Do you know, Gertrude,” Jimmy said, as they set foot on the glimmering beach, “you don’t seem a bit natural lately. You used to be so full of the everlasting mischief. Every time you opened your mouth I dodged for fear of being spiked. Yet here you are just as docile as other folks.”

“Don’t you like me as well?” Gertrude tried her best to make her voice sound as usual.

“Better,” Jimmie swore promptly; then he added a qualifying “I guess.”

“Don’t you know?” But she didn’t allow him the opportunity to answer. “I’m in a transition period, Jimmie,” she said. “I meant to be such a good parent to Eleanor and correct all the evil ways into which she has fallen as a result of all her other injudicious training, and, instead of that, I’m doing nothing but think of myself and my own hankerings and yearnings and such. I thought I could do so much for the child.”

“That’s the way we all think till we tackle her and then we find it quite otherwise and even more so. Tell me about your hankerings and yearnings.”

“Tell me about your job, Jimmie.”

And for a little while they found themselves on safe and familiar ground again. Jimmie’s new position was a very satisfactory one. He found himself associated with men of solidity and discernment, and for the first time in his business career he felt himself appreciated and stimulated by that appreciation to do his not inconsiderable best. Gertrude was the one woman Eleanor had not yet attained the inches for that classification to whom he ever talked business.

“Now, at last, I feel that I’ve got my feet on the earth, Gertrude; as if the stuff that was in me had a chance to show itself, and you don’t know what a good feeling that is after you’ve been marked trash by your family and thrown into the dust heap.”

“I’m awfully glad, Jimmie.”

“I know you are, ’Trude. You’re an awfully good pal. It isn’t everybody I’d talk to like this. Let’s sit down.”

The moonlight beat down upon them in floods of sentient palpitating glory. Little breathy waves sought the shore and whispered to it. The pines on the breast of the bank stirred softly and tenderly.

“Lord, what a night,” Jimmie said, and began burying her little white hand in the beach sand. His breath was not coming quite evenly. “Now tell me about your job,” he said.

“I don’t think I want to talk about my job tonight.”

“What do you want to talk about?”

“I don’t know.” There was no question about her voice sounding as usual this time.

Jimmie brushed the sand slowly away from the buried hand and covered it with his own. He drew nearer, his face close, and closer to hers. Gertrude closed her eyes. It was coming, it was coming and she was glad. That silly old vow of celibacy, her silly old thoughts about art. What was art? What was anything with the arms of the man you loved closing about you. His lips were on hers.

Jimmie drew a sharp breath, and let her go.

“Gertrude,” he said, “I’m incorrigible. I ought to be spanked. I’d make love to Eleanor’s grandmother if I had her down here on a night like this. Will you forgive me?”

Gertrude got to her feet a little unsteadily, but she managed a smile.

“It’s only the moon,” she said, “and and young blood. I think Grandfather Amos would probably affect me the same way.”

Jimmie’s momentary expression of blankness passed and Gertrude did not press her advantage. They walked home in silence.

“It’s awfully companionable to realize that you also are human, ’Trude,” he hazarded on the doorstep.

Gertrude put a still hand into his, which is a way of saying “Good night,” that may be more formal than any other.

“The Colonel’s lady, and July O’Grady,” she quoted lightly. “Good night, Jimmie.”

Up-stairs in her great chamber under the eaves, Eleanor was composing a poem which she copied carefully on a light blue page of her private diary. It read as follows:

“To love, it is the saddest thing,
When friendship proves unfit,
For lots of sadness it will bring,
When e’er you think of it.

Alas! that friends should prove untrue
And disappoint you so.
Because you don’t know what to do,
And hardly where to go.”