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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOne Woman's Life - Part Two. Getting Married - Chapter 3. Milly Becomes Engaged
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One Woman's Life - Part Two. Getting Married - Chapter 3. Milly Becomes Engaged Post by :Paperboy Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :2837

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One Woman's Life - Part Two. Getting Married - Chapter 3. Milly Becomes Engaged

PART TWO. GETTING MARRIED
CHAPTER III. MILLY BECOMES ENGAGED

"Milly," Nettie Gilbert said impressively, "I've something serious to say to you."

It was a Sunday evening before the fire in the Gilberts' pleasant drawing-room. The other supper guests had taken themselves off, and Roy Gilbert had disappeared to his den, where he smoked many cigars and was supposed to read serious books upon history and political economy.

Milly glanced apprehensively at the pretty, plump lady beside her. The tone in which the words had been pronounced reminded her oddly of that time so far away--so very far back--when Eleanor Kemp had talked to her seriously about completing her education.

"Yes, dear?" she answered, caressing a dimpled hand at her side.

"Milly,"--Mrs. Gilbert leaned forward and frowned slightly. Milly thought, "Nettie's getting fat, like her mother." The Gilberts had awfully good food and a great deal of it, even if they did go in for missions. "Milly, I have you on my mind a great deal these days."

"That's so good of you, dear."

Milly thought it must be religion once more, and prepared herself.

"You ought to settle yourself.... All your friends think you should marry, dear."

"Why?" Milly demanded with some asperity.

"Why, a girl in your position--"

"Yes, I know all that," Milly interrupted quickly.

She knew far better than Nettie Gilbert how necessary it was for her to settle herself somehow. The bills had grown more rather than less the last two years, and the tea and coffee importing business did not seem to be doing what had been expected of it. There were signs of an increasing financial stringency about Horatio. Then there were other signs, more personal, that were not pleasant to recall. That social career which had opened so brilliantly rather more than two years before had been full of pleasures and excitements. For nearly a season Milly Ridge had been the most talked of and invited girl in her special circle. The next season she had still been "popular," but latterly at the opening of the new season there had been a distinct falling off. The fringe of cards about her long mirror, where she kept her invitations tucked into the margins and pinned in pendants, had grown less fresh--not to say stale--and less distinguished. Mrs. Bowman had forgotten altogether to invite her to dinner this fall. There were other stings and mortifications that need not be described.... Yes, Milly had been pondering the matter more or less consciously for some months.

"Well," she said to Mrs. Gilbert, with a brave little smile, "what shall I do about it?"

She recognized Nettie Gilbert's right to broach the subject. Nettie had been her best friend, and thanks to her own experience had a fellow-feeling for her and wished to see her launched upon a similar successful career matrimonial.

"With all your charm, you could have married a dozen times," she said with gentle reproach.

"But I haven't!" Milly retorted despairingly. She did not like to admit that her opportunities had not been as numerous as it was popularly supposed they had been. They never were, as Nettie must know from her own experience. Yet she had had her "chances," and why hadn't she pulled it off before this? Why had all the little flirtations with promising young men come to nothing? Were they afraid of her lavish hand? Or had she been waiting for something else,--"the real, right thing?" She did not know.

Her grandmother said that a penniless girl had no right to be so "particular"--which always maddened Milly.

"I'm afraid you're not serious enough, my dear," Mrs. Gilbert remarked in gentle reproof. She had always felt that was a flaw in Milly's character,--a lack of deep interest in the missionary side of life.

"But men don't like serious women," Milly said flippantly, dangling her slipper on the end of her toes.

"I think the best ones do," Mrs. Gilbert retorted severely. "You were making fun of Mr. Parker at supper to-night, and I'm afraid he understood."

"I know," Milly admitted penitently. "But he has such a funny voice." She imitated amusingly the shrill falsetto of the said Clarence Parker. "And he's so solemn about everything he says."

Mrs. Gilbert laughed in spite of her stern mood, then controlled herself.

"But, Milly, Clarence Parker's very nice. He's related to the best people where he comes from, and he is doing remarkably well in his business, Roy says."

"What is it?" Milly demanded more practically.

"Stocks and bonds, I think,--banking, you know."

"Oh," said Milly, somewhat impressed.

"What is Clarence Parker's business, Roy?" Mrs. Gilbert appealed to her husband, who at that moment happened to enter the room.

"He represents several large estates in the East--invests the money," Gilbert replied, and turning to Milly with a smile asked:--

"Going out for him, Milly? He's all right, solid as a rock."

"Lighthouse," Milly corrected sulkily.

"And he's got plenty of his own money--has sense about investments."

"I haven't any to make!"

"Oh, come--you've got one...."

Nevertheless, when the two friends said their good-bys, kissing each other affectionately on the cheek and saying, "Will you go with me to the Drummonds Tuesday?" and "How about the meeting for the Old Man's Mission?" Milly added, "Your financial rock asked if he might call. I told him he could."

Milly squeaked the words in imitation of Mr. Parker's thin voice. They both laughed.

But Milly trotted home around the corner to the little house in Acacia Street in anything but a gay mood. The angular, white face of Mr. Clarence Albert Parker was far from fulfilling the idea she had visioned to herself in her Sunday morning dream. She knew well enough why Nettie Gilbert had arranged this particular Sunday supper with the intimacy of only four guests--Milly was very much awake now socially--and she had taken pains to examine the new young man with critical care. He was little, scarcely taller than Horatio, and Milly disliked men whose heads she could look across. But with a silk hat it might not be too bad. And he was slightly bald, as well as pale,--on the whole not robust,--but he had keen little gray eyes that seemed to watch one from the side and take in a great deal. He was a precise, neat, colorless man, the sort turned out by a conservative New England family that invests its savings with scrupulous care at four and three-quarters per cent. No, he was not inspiring, this grandson of the Plymouth Rock, with the thin voice. But he seemed substantial. Mr. Gilbert said so, and Roy Gilbert knew.

There were other sombre reflections in Milly's revery that night. The sense of family stringency was urging her to "make good" in some way. She was aware that she was slipping back in the social sands, might become commonplace and neglected, if she did not do something to revive the waning interest in herself. She realized, as she had not definitely realized before, that outside of the social game her life held little or nothing. To be sure, she helped Mrs. Gilbert with her missionary business and charities: she read to a few old men once a week, and she carried flowers over to St. Joseph's Hospital. But she could not pretend to herself that charities occupied her whole being.... No, the only way out was Matrimony. A marriage, suitable and successful, would start her career once more. With something like a desperate resolve Milly put her latch-key into the hole, and let herself into the paternal home, where a familiar family odor greeted her sensitive nostrils. With a grimace of disgust she swept upstairs. Decidedly it was time for her to settle herself, as Nettie phrased it.

* * * * *

This time Milly arrived, in spite of homely paw or lukewarm inclination for the man. The young financier called at the Ridge home once, twice, and there met Horatio and Grandma Ridge, who both thought very highly of him. "A man with such principles, my dear," Grandma observed. The two young people "attended divine service together," showed up afterwards on the Drive, where Milly noted with satisfaction that Mr. Parker plus a silk hat overtopped her gaze. She also noted that the friends she met smiled and bowed with just an added touch of interest.... They talked--chiefly Milly--on a variety of colorless topics. It appeared that Mr. Parker had positive views only on financial matters. For all the rest,--art, literature, religion, and life,--he began with a cautious,--"Well, now, I don't know," and never got much farther. However, Milly wisely reflected, one didn't marry for the sake of exciting conversation.

The affair progressed quite smoothly; by the middle of winter Milly's friends smiled when they spoke of "Milly's young man" and were ready with their felicitations. On the whole they thought that Milly had "done quite well...."

It happened naturally, in the course of an expedition which the two made to the scene of the great new Exposition. They drove out in a smart carriage with a pair of lively horses which Mr. Parker managed very well, but which took all his attention. They first visited the tumultuous fair grounds, where an army of workmen were making desperate efforts to get the impromptu city in some shape for visitors. They talked of the beauty of the buildings, the grandeur of the whole design, the greatness of Chicago. Then they drove to a vast new hotel in which Mr. Parker had taken a conservative interest, and they still talked of the marvellous growth of the city, its Ultimate Destiny,--terms which had a lugubrious sound in the New Englander's piping voice. As they turned northwards around the great oval of Washington Park, the sun was sinking into a golden haze of dust and smoke. The horses dropped to a peaceful walk, and Milly knew that it was coming and braced herself for it. It came, slowly.

First, by way of preliminary flourish, Mr. Parker declared all over again his faith in the future of the city. He had come to stay, he repeated with emphasis; had thrown in his fate with that of Chicago.

"I'm going to stay," he trilled, "and grow up with the city." (At this point Milly almost upset the boat by laughing: the idea of the little man's growing up with Chicago seemed funny.)

Having struck the personal note, the young man spoke of his own "prospects," and outlined the dignified position he intended to occupy in the forefront of the elect. This implied, of course, an establishment and a suitable wife. Milly made the proper responses in the pauses. At last the fateful words reached her ear, "Will you marry me, Miss Ridge?" As Milly mimicked later his slow, solemn utterance, it sounded more like, "Will you bury me, Miss Ridge?"

And Milly, with commendable directness, looked him straight in the eye and said without a quiver,--"Yes, I will, Mr. Parker."

Afterwards, as if this effort had exhausted both, there was silence on the way back. When they reached the house, he said impressively, "I will call to-morrow and see your father."

"He'll be delighted to see you, I'm sure," Milly rejoined somewhat flatly. Then she fled up the steps, as if she were afraid he might try to kiss her or hold her hand. She escaped _that_, for the present....

So it was done at last.

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