Read CHAPTER XVI - MESSRS.  BEAM AND LODLOE DECLINE TO WAIT FOR THE SECOND TABLE of The Squirrel Inn , free online book, by Frank R. Stockton, on ReadCentral.com.

As has been before mentioned, Walter Lodloe had grown into a condition of mind which made it unpleasant for him when people took Mrs. Cristie away or occupied her time and attention to the exclusion of his occupancy of the same.  As a literary man he had taken an interest in studying the character of Mrs. Cristie, and he had now come to like the character even better than he liked the study.

A pretty woman, of a lively and independent disposition, and quick wit, and yet with certain matronly and practical points in her character which always surprised as well as pleased him when they showed themselves, Mrs. Cristie could not fail to charm such a man as Lodloe, if the two remained long enough together.  She had charmed him, and he knew it and liked it, and was naturally anxious to know whether, in the slightest degree, she thought of him as he thought of her.  But he had never been able to perceive any indication of this.  The young widow was kind, gracious, and at times delightfully intimate with him, but he knew enough of the world to understand that this sort of thing in this sort of place might not in the least indicate that what was growing up in him was growing up in her.

On the afternoon of the day after Miss Calthea Rose had taken tea at the Squirrel Inn Walter Lodloe came down from his room in the tower with no other object in life than to find Mrs. Cristie.  It was about the hour that she usually appeared on the lawn, and if there should follow tennis, or talking, or walking, or anything else, one thing would be the same as another to Lodloe, provided he and she took part.  But when he saw Mrs. Cristie her avocation was one in which he could not take part.

She was sitting on a bench by Mr. Tippengray, Ida Mayberry was sitting at his other side, and the everlasting baby-carriage was standing near by.  The Greek scholar and the nurse-maid each had a book, but these were closed, and Mr. Tippengray was talking with great earnestness and animation, while the young women appeared to be listening with eager interest.  It was plain that the two were taking a lesson in something or other.

As Lodloe walked slowly from the gate of the little garden Mrs. Cristie looked up for a moment, saw him, but instantly resumed her attentive listening.  This was enough; he perceived that for the present, at least, he was not wanted.  He strolled on towards the field, and just below the edge of the bluff he saw Lanigan Beam sitting under a tree.

“Hello!” said the latter, looking up, “are they at that stupid business yet?”

Lodloe smiled.  “Are you waiting for Miss Mayberry to get through with her lesson?” he asked.

“Yes, I am,” said Lanigan.  “I have been hanging around here for half an hour.  I never saw such a selfish old codger as that Tippengray.  I suppose he will stick there with them the whole afternoon.”

“And you want him!” said Lodloe.

“Want him!” exclaimed Lanigan; “not much.  But I want her.  If there were only two together I would do as I did yesterday.  I would join them, take a part, and before long carry her off; but I can’t do that with Mrs. Cristie there.  I haven’t the cheek to break up her studies.”

Lodloe laughed.  “Don’t let us wait for the second table,” he said; “come and take a walk to Lethbury.”

It was now Lanigan’s turn to smile.

“You think you would better not wait for the second table,” he said; “very well, then; come on.”

The lesson on the bench had been deliberately planned by Mrs. Cristie.  She had been considering the subject of her nurse-maid and Lanigan Beam, and had decided that it was her duty to interfere with the growth of that intimacy.  She felt that it was her duty to exercise some personal supervision over the interests of the young person in her service, and had given her some guarded advice in regard to country-resort intimacies.

Having given this advice to Ida Mayberry, it struck Mrs. Cristie that it would apply very well to herself.  She remembered that she was also a young person, and she resolved to take to herself all the advice she had given to her nurse-maid, and thus it was that she was sitting on the bench by Mr. Tippengray, listening to his very interesting discourse upon some of the domestic manners and customs of the ancients, and their surprising resemblance in many points to those of the present day.  Therefore it was, also, that she allowed Walter Lodloe to pass on his way without inviting him to join the party.

When Lodloe and Beam reached Lethbury, the latter proposed that they should go and worry Calthea Rose; and to his companion’s surprised exclamation at being asked to join in this diversion Lanigan answered, that having been used to that sort of thing all his life, it seemed the most natural sport in which to indulge now that he found himself in Lethbury again.

“Very good,” said Lodloe, as they approached Miss Rose’s place of business; “I shall not interfere with your native sports, but I do not care to join them.  I shall continue my walk, and stop for you on my way back.”

When Lanigan Beam entered Miss Rose’s shop she was sitting, as was her custom, by the back window, sewing.  A neighbor had dropped in to chat with her a half-hour before, but had gone away very soon.  The people of Lethbury had learned to understand when Calthea Rose did not wish to chat.

Miss Calthea was not happy; she was disappointed.  Things had not gone as she hoped they would go, and as she had believed they would go when she accepted Mrs. Petter’s invitation to tea.  That meal had been a very pleasant one; even the presence of Ida Mayberry, who came to table with the family when the baby happened to be asleep, did not disturb her.  On the contrary, it gratified her, for Lanigan Beam sat by that young person and was very attentive to her.  She carefully watched Mr. Tippengray, and perceived that this attention, and the interest of the child’s nurse in Lanigan’s remarks, did not appear to give him the least uneasiness.  Thereupon she began gradually, and she hoped imperceptibly, to resume her former method of intercourse with the Greek scholar, and to do so without any show of restoring him to favor.  She did this so deftly that Mrs. Cristie was greatly interested in the performance, and an outside observer could have had no reason to suppose that there had been any break in the friendly intercourse between Miss Rose and Mr. Tippengray.

But this unsatisfactory state of things soon came to an end.  When the daylight began to wane, and Miss Calthea’s phaeton had been brought to the door, she went to it with her plans fully formed.  As Mr. Tippengray assisted her into the vehicle, she intended to accept his proposition to drive her to Lethbury.  She had slightly deferred her departure in order that the growing duskness might give greater reason for the proposition.  There would be a moon about nine o’clock, and his walk back would be pleasant.

But when she reached the phaeton Mr. Tippengray was not there.  Ida Mayberry, eager to submit to his critical eye two lines of Browning which she had put into a sort of Greek resembling the partly cremated corpse of a dead language, and who for the past ten minutes had been nervously waiting for Master Douglas to close his eyes in sleep that she might rush down to Mr. Tippengray while he was yet strolling on the lawn by himself, had rushed down to him, and had made him forget everything else in the world in his instinctive effort to conceal from his pupil the shock given him by the sight of her lines.  He had been waiting for Miss Calthea to come out, had been intending to hand her to her vehicle, and had thought of proposing to accompany her to the village; but he had not heard the phaeton roll to the door, the leave-taking on the porch did not reach his ear, and his mind took no note whatever of the fact that Miss Rose was on the point of departure.

As that lady, stepping out upon the piazza, swept her eyes over the scene and beheld the couple on the lawn, she gave a jerk to the glove she was drawing on her hand that tore in it a slit three inches long.  She then turned her eyes upon her phaeton, declined the offer of Mr. Petter to see her home, and, after a leave-taking which was a little more effusive than was usual with her, drove herself to Lethbury.  If the sorrel horse had behaved badly in the early part of that afternoon, he was punished for it in the early part of that evening, for he completely broke all previous records of time made between the Squirrel Inn and Lethbury.

Thus the hopes of Miss Calthea had been doubly darkened; the pariah with the brimstone blossoms had not only treacherously deserted Lanigan, but had made Mr. Tippengray treacherously desert her.  She had been furiously angry; now she was low-spirited and cross.  But one thing in the world could have then cheered her spirits, and that would have been the sight of her bitterest enemy and Lanigan Beam driving or walking together past her shop door; but when Lanigan alone entered that shop door she was not cheered at all.

Mr. Beam’s greeting was very free and unceremonious, and without being asked to do so he took a seat near the proprietress of the establishment.

“Well, well,” he said, “this looks like old times.  Why, Calthy, I don’t believe you have sold a thing since I was here last.”

“If you had any eyes in your head,” said Miss Calthea, severely, “you would see that I have sold a great deal.  Nearly everything, in fact.”

“That proves my point,” said Lanigan; “for nearly everything was gone when I left.”

“And some of the things that are gone,” said she, “you still owe me for.”

“Well put, Calthy,” said Lanigan, laughing; “and after that, let’s drop the business.  What’s new and what’s stale in Lethbury?”

“You are about the newest as well as the stalest thing here,” said she.

Lanigan whistled.  “Calthy,” said he, “would you mind my smoking a cigar here!  There will be no customers coming in.”

“You know very well you cannot smoke here,” she said; “what is the matter with you?  Has that pincushion-faced child’s nurse driven you from the inn?”

A pang went through Lanigan.  Was Calthea jealous of Miss Mayberry on his account?  The thought frightened him.  If he could have said anything which would have convinced Calthea that he was on the point of marrying Miss Mayberry, and that therefore she might as well consider everything at an end between herself and him, he would have said it.  But he merely replied: 

“She is a nice girl, and very much given to learning.”

Now Miss Calthea could restrain herself no longer.

“Learning!” she exclaimed.  “Stuff and deception!  Impudent flirting is what she is fond of, as long as she can get a good-for-naught like you, or an old numskull like that Tippengray, to play her tricks on.”

Now Lanigan Beam braced himself for action.  This sort of thing would not do; whatever she might say or think about the rest of the world, Calthea must not look with disfavor on the Greek scholar.

“Numskull!” said he.  “You’re off the track there, Calthy, I never knew a man with a better skull than Mr. Tippengray, and as to his being old ­there is a little gray in his hair to be sure, but it’s my opinion that that comes more from study than from years.”

“Nonsense!” said Calthea; “I don’t believe he cares a snap for study unless he can do it with some girl.  I expect he has been at that all his life.”

Now Lanigan’s spirits rose; he saw that it was not on his account that Calthea was jealous of Ida Mayberry.  His face put on an expression of serious interest, and he strove to speak impressively, but not so much so as to excite suspicion.

“Calthea,” said he, “I think you are not treating Mr. Tippengray with your usual impartiality and fairness.  From what I have seen of him, I am sure that the great object of his life is to teach, and when he gets a chance to do that he does it, and for the moment forgets everything else.  You may be right in thinking that he prefers to teach young persons, and this is natural enough, for young people are much more likely than older ones to want to learn.  Now, to prove that he doesn’t care to teach young girls just because they are girls, I will tell you that I saw him, this very afternoon, hard at work teaching Mrs. Cristie and Ida Mayberry at the same time, and he looked twice as happy as when he was instructing only one of them.  If there were enough people here so that he could make up a class, and could have a sort of summer school, I expect he would be the happiest man on earth.

“I am afraid that is Mr. Tippengray’s fault,” continued Lanigan, folding his hands in his lap and gazing reflectively at his outstretched legs.  “I am afraid that he gives too much of his mind to teaching, and neglects other things.  He is carried away by his love of teaching, and when he finds one person, or a dozen persons who want to learn, he neglects his best friends for that one person, or those dozen persons.  He oughtn’t to do it; it isn’t right ­but then, after all, no man is perfect, and I suppose the easiest way for us to get along is to stop looking for perfection.”

Miss Calthea made no answer.  She gazed out of the window as if she was mildly impressed with a solicitude for the welfare of her garden.  There flitted into her mind a wavering, indeterminate sort of notion that perhaps Lanigan was a better fellow than he used to be, and that if she should succeed in her great purpose it might not be necessary that he should go away.  But still, ­and here prudence stepped in front of kindliness, ­if that child’s nurse remained in the neighborhood, it would be safer if Lanigan kept up his interest in her; and if she ultimately carried him off, that was his affair.

Leaning forward, Miss Calthea took a match from a box on a shelf, and handed it to Lanigan.

“You may as well smoke if you want to,” she said; “it’s not likely any one will be coming in, and I don’t object when the window is open.”

Gratefully Lanigan lighted his cigar.

“Calthy, this is truly like old times,” he said.  “And to finish up with Tippengray, I’ll say that if Lodloe and I had not our mind so filled with our own businesses and projects, I’d get him to go in with me, and help make up a class; but if I were to do that, perhaps people might say that all I wanted was to get in with the girls.”

Here was a chance for Calthea to give her schemes a little push.

“There is only one girl,” she said, “who would be likely to take part in that sort of thing, and that is the child’s nurse at the Squirrel Inn; but if she really is given to study, I suppose she might help you to improve your mind, and if you are what you used to be, it will stand a good deal of improving.”

“That’s so, Calthy,” said Lanigan; “that’s so.”  He was in high good humor at the turn the conversation had taken, but did his best to repress his inclination to show it.  “It might be well to go in for improvement.  I’ll do that, anyway.”  Lanigan blew out a long whiff of purple smoke.  “Calthy is a deep one,” he said to himself; “she wants me to draw off that girl from the old man.  But all right, my lady; you tackle him and I will tackle her.  That suits me beautifully.”

At this moment Lodloe entered the shop, and Miss Calthea Rose greeted him with much graciousness.

“You must have taken a short walk,” said Lanigan.  “Don’t you want to wait until I finish my cigar?  It’s so much pleasanter to smoke here than in the open air.  Perhaps Miss Calthea will let you join me.”

Lodloe was perfectly willing to wait, but did not wish to smoke.  He was interested in what he had heard of the stock of goods which was being sold off about as fast as a glacier moves, and was glad to have the opportunity to look about him.

“Do you know, Calthy,” said Lanigan, “that you ought to sell Mr. Lodloe a bill of goods?” He said this partly because of his own love of teasing, but partly in earnest.  To help Calthea sell off her stock was an important feature of his project.

“Mr. Lodloe shall not buy a thing,” said Calthea Rose.  “If he is ever in want of anything, and stops in here to see if I have it in stock, I shall be glad to sell it to him if it is here, for I am still in business; but I know very well that Mr. Lodloe came in now as an acquaintance and not as a customer.”

“Beg your pardons, both of you,” cried Lanigan, springing to his feet, and throwing the end of his cigar out of the window; “but I say, Calthy, have you any of that fire-blaze calico with the rocket sparks that’s been on hand ever since I can remember?”

“Your memory is pretty short sometimes,” said Calthea, “but I think I know the goods you mean, and I have seven yards of it left.  Why do you ask about it?”

“I want to see it,” said Lanigan.  “There it is on that shelf; it’s the same-sized parcel that it used to be.  Would you mind handing it down to me?”

Lanigan unrolled the calico upon the counter, and gazed upon it with delight.  “Isn’t that glorious!” he cried to Lodloe; “isn’t that like a town on fire!  By George!  Calthea, I will take the whole seven yards.”

“Now, Lanigan,” said Miss Calthea, “you know you haven’t the least use in the world for this calico.”

“I know nothing of the sort,” said Lanigan; “I have a use for it.  I want to make Mrs. Petter a present, and I have been thinking of a fire-screen, and this is just the thing for it.  I’ll build the frame myself, and I’ll nail on this calico, front and back the same.  It’ll want a piece of binding, or gimp, tacked around the edges.  Have you any binding, or gimp, Calthy, that would suit?”

Miss Calthea laughed.  “You’d better wait until you are ready for it,” she said, “and then come and see.”

“Anyway, I want the calico,” said he.  “Please put it aside for me, and I’ll come in to-morrow and settle for it.  And now it seems to me that if we want any supper we had better be getting back to the inn.”

“It’s not a bad idea,” said Miss Calthea Rose, when she was left to herself; “but it shall not be in a class.  No, indeed!  I will take good care that it shall not be in a class.”