Read Alice Adams Online

Authors: Booth Tarkington

Tags: #General, #Business & Economics

Alice Adams (6 page)

It was a violet.

Alice ran upstairs, put on her hat, went outdoors and began to search out the violets. She found twenty-two, a bright omen--since the number was that of her years--but not enough violets. There were no more; she had ransacked every foot of the yard.

She looked dubiously at the little bunch in her hand, glanced at the lawn next door, which offered no favourable prospect; then went thoughtfully into the house, left her twenty-two violets in a bowl of water, and came quickly out again, her brow marked with a frown of decision. She went to a trolley-line and took a car to the outskirts of the city where a new park had been opened.

Here she resumed her search, but it was not an easily rewarded one, and for an hour after her arrival she found no violets. She walked conscientiously over the whole stretch of meadow, her eyes roving discontentedly; there was never a blue dot in the groomed expanse; but at last, as she came near the borders of an old grove of trees, left untouched by the municipal landscapers, the little flowers appeared, and she began to gather them. She picked them carefully, loosening the earth round each tiny plant, so as to bring the roots up with it, that it might live the longer; and she had brought a napkin, which she drenched at a hydrant, and kept loosely wrapped about the stems of her collection.

The turf was too damp for her to kneel; she worked patiently, stooping from the waist; and when she got home in a drizzle of rain at five o'clock her knees were tremulous with strain, her back ached, and she was tired all over, but she had three hundred violets. Her mother moaned when Alice showed them to her, fragrant in a basin of water.

"Oh, you POOR child! To think of your having to: work so hard to get things that other girls only need; lift their little fingers for!"

"Never mind," said Alice, huskily. "I've got 'em and I AM going to have a good time to-night!"

"You've just got to!" Mrs. Adams agreed, intensely sympathetic. "The Lord knows you deserve to, after picking all these violets, poor thing, and He wouldn't be mean enough to keep you from it. I may have to get dinner before I finish the dress, but I can get it done in a few minutes afterward, and it's going to look right pretty. Don't you worry about THAT! And with all these lovely violets----"

"I wonder----" Alice began, paused, then went on, fragmentarily: "I suppose--well, I wonder--do you suppose it would have been better policy to have told Walter before----"

"No," said her mother. "It would only have given him longer to grumble."

"But he might----"

"Don't worry," Mrs. Adams reassured her. "He'll be a little cross, but he won't be stubborn; just let me talk to him and don't you say anything at all, no matter what HE says."

These references to Walter concerned some necessary manoeuvres which took place at dinner, and were conducted by the mother, Alice having accepted her advice to sit in silence. Mrs. Adams began by laughing cheerfully. "I wonder how much longer it took me to cook this dinner than it does Walter to eat it?" she said. "Don't gobble, child! There's no hurry."

In contact with his own family Walter was no squanderer of words.

"Is for me," he said. "Got date."

"I know you have, but there's plenty of time."

He smiled in benevolent pity. "YOU know, do you? If you made any coffee--don't bother if you didn't. Get some down-town." He seemed about to rise and depart; whereupon Alice, biting her lip, sent a panic-stricken glance at her mother.

But Mrs. Adams seemed not at all disturbed; and laughed again. "Why, what nonsense, Walter! I'll bring your coffee in a few minutes, but we're going to have dessert first."

"What sort?"

"Some lovely peaches."

"Doe' want 'ny canned peaches," said the frank Walter, moving back his chair. "G'-night."

"Walter! It doesn't begin till about nine o'clock at the earliest."

He paused, mystified. "What doesn't?"

"The dance."

"What dance?"

"Why, Mildred Palmer's dance, of course."

Walter laughed briefly. "What's that to me?"

"Why, you haven't forgotten it's TO-NIGHT, have you?" Mrs. Adams cried. "What a boy!"

"I told you a week ago I wasn't going to that ole dance," he returned, frowning. "You heard me."

"Walter!" she exclaimed. "Of COURSE you're going. I got your clothes all out this afternoon, and brushed them for you. They'll look very nice, and----"

"They won't look nice on ME," he interrupted. "Got date down-town, I tell you."

"But of course you'll----"

"See here!" Walter said, decisively. "Don't get any wrong ideas in your head. I'm just as liable to go up to that ole dance at the Palmers' as I am to eat a couple of barrels of broken glass."

"But, Walter----"

Walter was beginning to be seriously annoyed. "Don't 'Walter' me! I'm no s'ciety snake. I wouldn't jazz with that Palmer crowd if they coaxed me with diamonds."

"Walter----"

"Didn't I tell you it's no use to 'Walter' me?" he demanded.

"My dear child----"

"Oh, Glory!"

At this Mrs. Adams abandoned her air of amusement, looked hurt, and glanced at the demure Miss Perry across the table. "I'm afraid Miss Perry won't think you have very good manners, Walter."

"You're right she won't," he agreed, grimly. "Not if I haf to hear any more about me goin' to----"

But his mother interrupted him with some asperity: "It seems very strange that you always object to going anywhere among OUR friends, Walter."

"YOUR friends!" he said, and, rising from his chair, gave utterance to an ironical laugh strictly monosyllabic. "Your friends!" he repeated, going to the door. "Oh, yes! Certainly! Good-NIGHT!"

And looking back over his shoulder to offer a final brief view of his derisive face, he took himself out of the room.

Alice gasped: "Mama----"

"I'll stop him!" her mother responded, sharply; and hurried after the truant, catching him at the front door with his hat and raincoat on.

"Walter----"

"Told you had a date down-town," he said, gruffly, and would have opened the door, but she caught his arm and detained him.

"Walter, please come back and finish your dinner. When I take all the trouble to cook it for you, I think you might at least----"

"Now, now!" he said. "That isn't what you're up to. You don't want to make me eat; you want to make me listen."

"Well, you MUST listen!" She retained her grasp upon his arm, and made it tighter. "Walter, please!" she entreated, her voice becoming tremulous. "PLEASE don't make me so much trouble!"

He drew back from her as far as her hold upon him permitted, and looked at her sharply. "Look here!" he said. "I get you, all right! What's the matter of Alice GOIN' to that party by herself?"

"She just CAN'T!"

"Why not?"

"It makes things too MEAN for her, Walter. All the other girls have somebody to depend on after they get there."

"Well, why doesn't she have somebody?" he asked, testily. "Somebody besides ME, I mean! Why hasn't somebody asked her to go? She ought to be THAT popular, anyhow, I sh'd think--she TRIES enough!"

"I don't understand how you can be so hard," his mother wailed, huskily. "You know why they don't run after her the way they do the other girls she goes with, Walter. It's because we're poor, and she hasn't got any background.

"'Background?' " Walter repeated. "'Background?' What kind of talk is that?"

"You WILL go with her to-night, Walter?" his mother pleaded, not stopping to enlighten him. "You don't understand how hard things are for her and how brave she is about them, or you COULDN'T be so selfish! It'd be more than I can bear to see her disappointed to-night! She went clear out to Belleview Park this afternoon, Walter, and spent hours and hours picking violets to wear. You WILL----"

Walter's heart was not iron, and the episode of the violets may have reached it. "Oh, BLUB!" he said, and flung his soft hat violently at the wall.

His mother beamed with delight. "THAT'S a good boy, darling! You'll never be sorry you----"

"Cut it out," he requested. "If I take her, will you pay for a taxi?"

"Oh, Walter!" And again Mrs. Adams showed distress. "Couldn't you?"

"No, I couldn't; I'm not goin' to throw away my good money like that, and you can't tell what time o' night it'll be before she's willin' to come home. What's the matter you payin' for one?"

"I haven't any money."

"Well, father----"

She shook her head dolefully. "I got some from him this morning, and I can't bother him for any more; it upsets him. He's ALWAYS been so terribly close with money----"

"I guess he couldn't help that," Walter observed. "We're liable to go to the poorhouse the way it is. Well, what's the matter our walkin' to this rotten party?"

"In the rain, Walter?"

"Well, it's only a drizzle and we can take a streetcar to within a block of the house."

Again his mother shook her head. "It wouldn't do."

"Well, darn the luck, all right!" he consented, explosively. "I'll get her something to ride in. It means seventy-five cents."

"Why, Walter!" Mrs. Adams cried, much pleased. "Do you know how to get a cab for that little? How splendid!"

"Tain't a cab," Walter informed her crossly. "It's a tin Lizzie, but you don't haf' to tell her what it is till I get her into it, do you?"

Mrs. Adams agreed that she didn't.

CHAPTER VI

Alice was busy with herself for two hours after dinner; but a little before nine o'clock she stood in front of her long mirror, completed, bright-eyed and solemn. Her hair, exquisitely arranged, gave all she asked of it; what artificialities in colour she had used upon her face were only bits of emphasis that made her prettiness the more distinct; and the dress, not rumpled by her mother's careful hours of work, was a white cloud of loveliness. Finally there were two triumphant bouquets of violets, each with the stems wrapped in tin-foil shrouded by a bow of purple chiffon; and one bouquet she wore at her waist and the other she carried in her hand.

Miss Perry, called in by a rapturous mother for the free treat of a look at this radiance, insisted that Alice was a vision. "Purely and simply a vision!" she said, meaning that no other definition whatever would satisfy her. "I never saw anybody look a vision if she don't look one to-night," the admiring nurse declared. "Her papa'll think the same I do about it. You see if he doesn't say she's purely and simply a vision."

Adams did not fulfil the prediction quite literally when Alice paid a brief visit to his room to "show " him and bid him good-night; but he chuckled feebly. "Well, well, well!" he said.

"You look mighty fine--MIGHTY fine!" And he waggled a bony finger at her two bouquets. "Why, Alice, who's your beau?"

"Never you mind!" she laughed, archly brushing his nose with the violets in her hand. "He treats me pretty well, doesn't he?"

"Must like to throw his money around! These violets smell mighty sweet, and they ought to, if they're going to a party with YOU. Have a good time, dearie."

"I mean to!" she cried; and she repeated this gaily, but with an emphasis expressing sharp determination as she left him. "I MEAN to!"

"What was he talking about?" her mother inquired, smoothing the rather worn and old evening wrap she had placed on Alice's bed. "What were you telling him you 'mean to?'"

Alice went back to her triple mirror for the last time, then stood before the long one. "That I mean to have a good time to-night," she said; and as she turned from her reflection to the wrap Mrs. Adams held up for her, "It looks as though I COULD, don't you think so?"

"You'll just be a queen to-night," her mother whispered in fond emotion. "You mustn't doubt yourself."

"Well, there's one thing," said Alice. "I think I do look nice enough to get along without having to dance with that Frank Dowling! All I ask is for it to happen just once; and if he comes near me to-night I'm going to treat him the way the other girls do. Do you suppose Walter's got the taxi out in front?"

"He--he's waiting down in the hall," Mrs. Adams answered, nervously; and she held up another garment to go over the wrap.

Alice frowned at it. "What's that, mama?"

"It's--it's your father's raincoat. I thought you'd put it on over----"

"But I won't need it in a taxicab."

"You will to get in and out, and you needn't take it into the Palmers'. You can leave it in the--in the ----It's drizzling, and you'll need it."

"Oh, well," Alice consented; and a few minutes later, as with Walter's assistance she climbed into the vehicle he had provided, she better understood her mother's solicitude.

"What on earth IS this, Walter?" she asked.

"Never mind; it'll keep you dry enough with the top up," he returned, taking his seat beside her. Then for a time, as they went rather jerkily up the street, she was silent; but finally she repeated her question: "What IS it, Walter?"

"What's what?"

"This--this CAR?"

"It's a ottomobile."

"I mean--what kind is it?"

"Haven't you got eyes?"

"It's too dark."

"It's a second-hand tin Lizzie," said Walter. "D'you know what that means? It means a flivver."

"Yes, Walter."

"Got 'ny 'bjections?"

"Why, no, dear," she said, placatively. "Is it yours, Walter? Have you bought it?"

"Me?" he laughed. "
I
couldn't buy a used wheelbarrow. I rent this sometimes when I'm goin' out among 'em. Costs me seventy-five cents and the price o' the gas."

"That seems very moderate."

"I guess it is! The feller owes me some money, and this is the only way I'd ever get it off him."

"Is he a garage-keeper?"

"Not exactly!" Walter uttered husky sounds of amusement. "You'll be just as happy, I guess, if you don't know who he is," he said.

His tone misgave her; and she said truthfully that she was content not to know who owned the car. "I joke sometimes about how you keep things to yourself," she added, "but I really never do pry in your affairs, Walter."

"Oh, no, you don't!"

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