Effie Whittlesey by George Ade

Mrs. Wallace assisted her husband to remove his overcoat and put her warm palms against his red and wind-beaten cheeks.

“I have good news,” said she.

“Another bargain sale?”

“Pshaw, no! A new girl, and I really believe she’s a jewel. She isn’t young or good-looking, and when I asked her if she wanted any nights off she said she wouldn’t go out after dark for anything in the world. What do you think of that?”

“That’s too good to be true.”

“No, it isn’t. Wait and see her. She came here from the intelligence office about two o’clock and said she was willing to ‘lick right in.’ You wouldn’t know the kitchen. She has it as clean as a pin.”

“What nationality?”

“Nonethat is, she’s a home product. She’s from the countryand green! But she’s a good soul, I’m sure. As soon as I looked at her, I just felt sure that we could trust her.”

“Well, I hope so. If she is all that you say, why, for goodness sake give her any pay she wantsput lace curtains in her room and subscribe for all the story papers on the market.”

“Bless you, I don’t believe she’d read them. Every time I’ve looked into the kitchen she’s been working like a Trojan and singing ‘Beulah Land.’ “

“Oh, she sings, does she? I knew there’d be some draw-back.”

“You won’t mind that. We can keep the doors closed.”

The dinner-table was set in tempting cleanliness. Mrs. Wallace surveyed the arrangement of glass and silver and gave a nod of approval and relief. Then she touched the bell and in a moment the new servant entered.

She was a tall woman who had said her last farewell to girlhood.

Then a very strange thing happened.

Mr. Wallace turned to look at the new girl and his eyes enlarged. He gazed at her as if fascinated either by cap or freckles. An expression of wonderment came to his face and he said: “Well, by George!”

The girl had come very near the table when she took the first overt glance at him. Why did the tureen sway in her hands? She smiled in a frightened way and hurriedly set the tureen on the table.

Mr. Wallace was not long undecided, but during that moment of hesitancy the panorama of his life was rolled backward. He had been reared in the democracy of a small community, and the democratic spirit came uppermost.

“This isn’t Effie Whittlesy?” said he.

“For the land’s sake!” she exclaimed, backing away, and this was a virtual confession.

“You don’t know me.”

“Well, if it ain’t Ed Wallace!”

Would that words were ample to tell how Mrs. Wallace settled back in her chair blinking first at her husband and then at the new girl, vainly trying to understand what it meant.

She saw Mr. Wallace reach awkwardly across the table and shake hands with the new girl and then she found voice to gasp: “Of all things!”

Mr. Wallace was confused and without a policy. He was wavering between his formal duty as an employer and his natural regard for an old friend. Anyway, it occurred to him that an explanation would be timely.

“This is Effie Whittlesy from Brainerd,” said he. “I used to go to school with her. She’s been at our house often. I haven’t seen her forI didn’t know you were in Chicago,” turning to Effie.

“Well, Ed Wallace, you could knock me down with a feather,” said Effie, who still stood in a flustered attitude a few paces back from the table. “I had no more ides when I heard the name Wallace that it’d be you, though knowin’, of course, you was up here. Wallace is such a common name I never give it a second thought. But the minute I seen youlaw! I knew who it was, well enough.”

“I thought you were still at Brainerd,” said Mr. Wallace, after a pause.

“I left there a year ago November, and come to visit Mort’s people. I s’pose you know that Mort has a position with the street-car company. He’s doin’ so well. I didn’t want to he no burden on him, so I started out on my own hook, seein’ that there was no use of goin’ back to Brainerd to slave for two dollars a week. I had a good place with Mr. Sanders, the railroad man on the north side, but I left becuz they wanted me to some liquor. I’d about as soon handle a toad as a bottle of beer. Liquor was the ruination of Jesse. He’s gone to the dogsbeen off with a circus somewheres for two years.”

“The family’s all broken up, eh!” asked Mr. Wallace.

“Gone to the four winds since mother died. Of course you know that Lora married Huntford Thomas and is livin’ on the old Murphy place They’re doin’ about as well as you could expect, with Huntford as lazy as he is.”

“Yes? That’s good,” said Mr. Wallace.

Was this an old settlers’ reunion or a quiet family dinner. The soup had been waiting.

Mrs. Wallace came into the breach.

“That will be all for the present, Effie,” said she.

Effie gave a startled “Oh!” and vanished into the kitchen.

“What does this mean?” asked Mrs. Wallace, turning to her husband, who had lain back in his chair to relieve himself with silent laughter.

“It means,” said Mr. Wallace, “that we were children together, made mud pies in the same puddle and sat next to each other in the old school-house at Brainerd. She is a Whittles. Everybody in Brainerd knew the Whittlesys. Large family, all poor as church mice, but sociableand freckled. Effie’s a good girl.”

“Effie! Effie! And she called you Ed!”

“My dear, there are no misters in Brainerd. Why shouldn’t she call me ‘Ed’? She never heard me called anything else.”

“She’ll have to call you something else here. You tell her so.”

“Now, don’t ask me to put on any airs with one of the Whittlesys, because they know me from away back. Effie has seen me licked at school. She has been at our house, almost like one of the family, when mother was sick and needed another girl. If my memory serves me right, I’ve taken her to singing-school and exhibitions. So I’m in no position to lord it over her, and I wouldn’t do it any way. I’d hate to have her go back to Brainerd and report that she met me here in Chicago and I was too stuck up to remember old times and requested her to address me as ‘Mister Wallace.’ Now, you never lived in a small town.”

“No, I never enjoyed that privilege,” said Mrs. Wallace, dryly.

“Well, it is a privilege in some respects, but it carries certain penalties with it, too. It’s a very poor schooling for a fellow who wants to be a snob.”

“I wouldn’t call it snobbishness to correct a servant who addresses me by my first name. ‘Ed’ indeed! Why, I never dared to call you that.”

“No, you never lived in Brainerd.”

“And you say you used to take her to singing-school?”

“Yes, ma’amtwenty years ago, in Brainerd. You’re not surprised, are you? You knew when you married me that I was a child of the soil, who worked his way through college and came to the city in a suit of store clothes. I’ll admit that my past does not exactly qualify me for the Four Hundred, but it will be great if I ever get into politics.”

“I don’t object to your having a past, but I was just thinking has pleasant it will be when we give a dinner-party to have her come in and address you as ‘Ed.'”

Mr. Wallace patted the table-cloth cheerily with both hands and laughed.

“I really don’t believe you’d care,” said Mrs. Wallace.

“Effie isn’t going to demoralise the household,” he said, consolingly. “Down in Brainerd we may be a little slack on the by-laws of etiquette, but we can learn in time.”

Mrs. Wallace touched the bell and Effie returned.

As she brought in the second course, Mr. Wallace deliberately encouraged her by an amiable smile, and she asked, “Do you get the Brainerd papers?”

“Yesevery week.”

“There’s been a good deal of sickness down there this winter. Lora wrote to me that your uncle Joe had been kind o’ poorly.”

“I think he’s up and around again.”

“That’s good.”

And she edged back to the kitchen.

With the change for dessert she ventured to say: “Mort was wonderin’ about you the other day. He said he hadn’t saw you for a long time. My! You’ve got a nice house here.”

After dinner Mrs. Wallace published her edict. Effie would have to go. Mr. Wallace positively forbade the “strong talking-to” which his wife advocated. He said it was better that Effie should go, but she most be sent away gently and diplomatically.

Effie was “doing up” the dishes when Mr. Wallace lounged into the kitchen and began a roundabout talk. His wife, seated in the front room, heard the prolonged murmur. “Ed” and Effie were going over the family histories of Brainerd and recalling incidents that may have related to mud pies or school exhibitions.

Mrs. Wallace had been a Twombley, of Baltimore, and no Twombley, with relatives in Virginia, could humiliate herself into rivalry with a kitchen girl, or dream of such a thing, so why should Mrs. Wallace be uneasy and constantly wonder what Ed and Effie were talking about?

Mrs. Wallace was faint from the loss of pride. The night before they had dined with the Gages. Mr. Wallace, a picture of distinction in his evening clothes, had shown himself the bright light of the seven who sat at the table. She had been proud of him. Twenty-four hours later a servant emerges from the kitchen and hails him as “Ed”!

The low talk he the kitchen continued. Mrs. Wallace had a feverish longing to tip-toe down that way and listen, or else go into the kitchen, sweepingly, and with a few succinct commands, set Miss Whittlesy back into her menial station. But she knew that Mr. Wallace would misinterpret any such move and probably taunt her with joking references to her “jealousy,” so she forbore.

Mr. Wallace, with an unlighted cigar in his mouth (Effie had forbidden him to smoke in the kitchen), leaned in the doorway and waited to give the conversation a turn.

At last he said: “Effie, why don’t you go down and visit Lora for a month or so? She’d be glad to see you.”

“I know, Ed, but I ain’t no Rockefeller to lay off work a month at a time an’ go around visitin’ my relations. I’d like to well enoughbut”

“O pshaw! I can get you a ticket to Brainerd to-morrow and it won’t cost you anything down there.”

“No, it ain’t Chicago, that’s a fact. A dollar goes a good ways down there. But what’ll your wife do? She told me to-day she’d had an awful time gettin’ any help.”

“Wellto tell you the truth, Effie, you seeyou’re an old friend of mine and I don’t like the idea of your being here in my house as awell, as a hired girl.”

“No, I guess I’m a servant now. I used to be a hired girl when I worked for your ma, but now I’m a servant. I don’t see as it makes any difference what you call me, as long as the work’s the same.”

“You understand what I mean, don’t you? Any time you come here to my house I want you to come as an old acquaintancea visitor, not a servant.”

“Ed Wallace, don’t he foolish. I’d as soon work for you as any one, and a good deal sooner.”

“I know, but I wouldn’t like to see my wife giving orders to an old friend, as you are. You understand, don’t you?”

“I don’t know. I’ll quit if you say so.”

“Tut! tut! I’ll get you that ticket and you can start for Brainerd to-morrow. Promise me, now.”

“I’ll go, and tickled enough, if that’s the way you look at it.”

“And if you come back, I can get you a dozen places to work.”

Next evening Effie departed by carriage, although protesting against the luxury.

“Ed Wallace,” said she, pausing in the hallway, “they never will believe me when I tell it in Brainerd.”

“Give them my best and tell them I’m about the same as ever.”

“I’ll do that. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye.”

Mrs. Wallace, watching from the window, saw Effie disappear into the carriage.

“Thank goodness,” said she.

“Yes,” said Mr. Wallace, to whom the whole episode had been like a cheering beverage, “I’ve invited her to call when she comes back.”

“To callhere?”

“Most assuredly. I told her you’d be delighted to see her at any time.”

“The idea! Did you invite her, really?”

“Of course I did! And I’m reasonably certain that she’ll come.”

“What shall I do?”

“I think you can manage it, even if you never did live in Brainerd.”

Then the revulsion came and Mrs. Wallace, with a full return of pride in her husband, said she would try.

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