Read CHAPTER XIX - THE AROUSED ROSE of The Squirrel Inn , free online book, by Frank R. Stockton, on

The soul of Miss Calthea Rose was now filled with one burning purpose, and that was to banish from the Squirrel Inn that obtrusive and utterly obnoxious collegiate nurse-maid who had so shamelessly admitted a desire for surgical research in connection with the care of an infant.  It was of no use for Miss Calthea to think at this moment of her plans in regard to Mr. Tippengray, nor indeed of anything but this one absorbing object.  Until she had rid herself of Ida Mayberry she could expect to do nothing that she wished to do.  Leaving Mr. Tippengray to the quiet enjoyment of his agitations, Miss Calthea and Mrs. Petter immediately set off to find Mrs. Cristie.

“She must instantly know,” said the former, “what sort of a serpent she has in her service.  If I were in her place I would never let that creature touch my baby again.”

“Touch the baby!” exclaimed Mrs. Petter, “I wouldn’t let her touch me.  When a person with such a disposition begins on infants there is no knowing where she will stop.  Of course I don’t mean that she is dangerous to human life, but it seems to me horrible to have any one about us who would be looking at our muscles, and thinking about our bones, and wondering if they worked together properly, and if they would come apart easily.  Ugh!  It’s like having a bat in the room.”

Mrs. Cristie was not in the mood to give proper attention to the alarming facts which were laid before her by the two women, who found her sitting by the window in her room.  It had been so short a time since she had come from the garden, and the blossom of the sweet pea, which she still held in her hand, had been so recently picked from its vine, that it was not easy for her to fix her mind upon the disqualifications of nurse-maids.  Even the tale that was told her, intensified by the bitter feeling of Miss Rose, and embellished by the imagination of Mrs. Petter, did not have the effect upon her that was expected by the narrators.  She herself had been a student of anatomy, and was still fond of it, and if she had been able properly to consider the subject at that moment, she might not have considered it a bad thing for Ida Mayberry to have the experience of which she had boasted.

But the young widow did not wish at that moment to think of her nurse-maid or even of her baby, and certainly not to give her attention to the tales of her landlady and the spinster from Lethbury.

“I must admit,” she said, “that I cannot see that what you tell me is so very, very dreadful, but I will speak to Ida about it.  I think she is apt to talk very forcibly, and perhaps imprudently, and does not always make herself understood.”

This was said with an air of abstraction and want of interest which greatly irritated Miss Calthea.  She had not even been thanked for what she had done.  Mrs. Cristie had been very civil, and was evidently trying to be more so, but this was not enough for Miss Calthea.

“We considered it our duty,” she said, with a decided rigidity of countenance, “to tell you what we know of that girl, and now we leave the matter with you”; which was a falsehood, if Miss Calthea was capable of telling one.

Then with much dignity she moved towards the door, and Mrs. Petter prepared to follow; but before going she turned with moist eyes towards Mrs. Cristie, and said: 

“Indeed, indeed, you ought to be very careful; and no matter how you look at it, she is not fit for a nurse, as everybody can see.  Make up your mind to send her away, and I’ll go myself and get you a good one.”

Glancing out of the door to see that the Lethbury lady was out of hearing, Mrs. Cristie said: 

“You are very good, Mrs. Petter, and I know you wish me well, but tell me one thing; wasn’t it Miss Rose who proposed that you should come to me with this story about Ida!”

“Of course I should have told you myself,” said Mrs. Petter, “though I might have taken my time about it; but Calthea did not want to lose a minute, and said we must go right off and look for you.  She was as mad as hops any way, for we were talking to Mr. Tippengray at the time, and Calthea does hate to be interrupted when she is talking to him.  But don’t you worry yourself any more than you can help, and remember my promise.  I’ll stick to it, you may count on that.”

When Mrs. Cristie had been left to herself she gave enough time to the consideration of what had been told her to come to the following conclusion:  “She shall not have him; I have made up my mind to that.  Interrupted by Ida!  Of course that is at the bottom of it.”  And having settled this matter, she relapsed into her former mood, and fell to thinking what she should do about the sweet-pea blossom.

She thought until the supper-bell rang, and then she rose and with a pretty smile and flush upon her face, which showed that her thoughts had not in the least worried her, she put the sweet-pea blossom into a little jar which she had brought from Florence, and which was just big enough for one small flower.

At supper Walter Lodloe was very quiet and very polite, and Mrs. Cristie, who was opposite to him, though not at all quiet, was also very polite, but bestowed her attention almost entirely upon Mr. Tippengray, who sat beside her.  The Greek scholar liked this, and his conversation sparkled.

Miss Calthea Rose, who had accepted Mrs. Petter’s invitation to spend the night, ­for if ever she was going to do anything at the Squirrel Inn, this was the time to do it, ­did not like Mrs. Cristie’s politeness, and her conversation did not sparkle.  In fact she was quieter than Mr. Lodloe, and paid little heed to the chatter of her neighbor, Lanigan Beam.  This young man was dissatisfied.  There was a place at the table that was sometimes filled and sometimes not filled.  At present it was empty.

“I cannot see,” said he, speaking to the company in general, “why babies are not brought to the table.  I think they ought to be taught from the very beginning how to behave themselves at meals.”

Mr. Petter fixed his eyes upon him, and, speaking through the young man, also addressed the company.

“I’m not altogether in favor of having small children at the table,” said he.  “Their food is different from ours, and their ways are often unpleasant; but I do think ­”

“No, you don’t,” interrupted Mrs. Petter from the other end of the table ­“you don’t think anything of the kind.  That has all been fixed and settled, and there’s no use in bringing it up again.”

Mr. Petter looked at his wife with a little flash in his eye, but he spoke quietly.

“There are some things,” he said, “that can be unfixed and unsettled.”

Mrs. Cristie hastened to stop this discussion.

“As I own the only baby in the house,” she said, with a smile, “I may as well say that it is not coming to the table either by itself or in any other way.”

A thought now tickled Mr. Tippengray.  Without any adequate reason whatever, there came before him the vision of an opossum which he once had seen served at a Virginia dinner-table, plump and white, upon a china dish.  And he felt almost irresistibly impelled to lean forward and ask Mr. Lodloe if he had ever read any of the works of Mr. Jonathan Carver, that noted American traveler of the last century; but he knew it wouldn’t do, and he restrained himself.  If he had thought Lodloe would understand him he would have made his observation in Greek, but even that would have been impolite to the rest of the company.  So he kept his joke to himself, and, for fear that any one should perceive his amusement, he asked Mrs. Petter if she had ever noticed how much finer was the fur of a cat which slept out of doors than that of one which had been in the house.  She had noticed it, but thought that the cat would prefer a snug rug by the fire to fine fur.

Calthea Rose said little and thought much.  It was necessary that she should take in every possible point in the situation, and she was doing it.  She did not like Mrs. Cristie’s attention to Mr. Tippengray, because it gave him pleasure, and she did not wish that other women should give him pleasure; but she was not jealous, for that would have been absurd in this case.

But the apparent state of feeling at the table had given her an idea.  She was thinking very bitterly of Mrs. Cristie, and would gladly do anything which would cause that lady discomfort.  There seemed to be something wrong between her and Mr. Lodloe, otherwise the two lovers would be talking to each other, as was their custom.  Perhaps she might find an opportunity to do something here.  If, for instance, she could get the piqued gentleman to flirt a little with her, ­and she had no doubt of her abilities in this line, ­it might cause Mrs. Cristie uneasiness.  And here her scheme widened and opened before her.  If in any way she could make life at the Squirrel Inn distasteful to Mrs. Cristie, that lady might go away.  And in this case the whole problem that engrossed her would be solved, for of course the maid would go with the mistress.

Calthea’s eyes brightened, and with a smile she half listened to something Lanigan Beam was saying to her.

“Yes,” she thought; “that would settle the whole business.  The widow is the person I ought to drive away; then they would all go, and leave him to me, as I had him before.”

And now she listened a little, and talked a little, but still kept on thinking.  It was really a very good thing that her feeling towards Mrs. Cristie had so suddenly changed, otherwise she might never have thought of this admirable scheme.