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Susan Clegg

and

Her Neighbors' Affairs

By Anne Warner

_Author of "Susan Clegg and her Friend Mrs. Lathrop," "The Rejuvenation
of Aunt Mary," "A Woman's Will," etc._


Boston
Little, Brown, and Company
1906

Copyright, 1904,
By The Red Book Corporation.

Copyright, 1905,
By The Century Company.

Copyright, 1905,
By The Bobbs Merrill Company.

Copyright, 1906,
By Little, Brown, and Company.

_All rights reserved_
Published June, 1906
THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, CAMBRIDGE, U. S. A.




[Illustration: "It's a brand-new one, fer the price-tag's still hangin'
on the back."]




_PREFATORY NOTE_


_"Mrs. Lathrop's Love Affair" appeared in "The Century Magazine" in
1905. "The Wolf at Susan's Door" was published in "The Reader's
Magazine" in the early part of the present year, and "Old Man Ely's
Proposal" is printed for the first time in this volume. The original
version of "A Very Superior Man" appeared in "The Red Book."_

* * * * *

CONTENTS


MRS. LATHROP'S LOVE AFFAIR
Part First. The Deacon's Dilemma
Part Second. The Automobile

OLD MAN ELY'S PROPOSAL

THE WOLF AT SUSAN'S DOOR
Part First. Miss Clegg's Speculations
Part Second. Gran'ma Mullins's Woe
Part Third. Lucy Dill's Wedding
Part Fourth. Mr. Jilkins's Hat

A VERY SUPERIOR MAN

* * * * *




MRS. LATHROP'S LOVE AFFAIR




PART FIRST

THE DEACON'S DILEMMA


Miss Clegg was getting her own favorite tea. This always consisted of
itself, toast, and a slice of bacon; and she apparently took as much
pleasure in the preparation of the meal as if it were not the ten
thousandth of its kind which she had cooked and eaten. As she hustled
and bustled here and there, her manner seemed even more sprightly than
usual; and it was only occasionally, when her glance fell upon the light
shining across from her friend's kitchen window opposite, that her
cheerfulness knew any diminution. But there seemed to be some sad
influence in the effect of the rays of Mrs. Lathrop's lamp on this
particular night; and even if its effect on Susan was merely transitory,
it was not the less marked each time that it occurred.

Once, just as she was carrying the tea-pot from the stove to the table,
she voiced her thoughts aloud.

"I shall have to tell her to-night, so I may 's well make up my mind to
it," she said firmly; and then, after drawing up a chair by making a
hook out of one of her feet, she sat down and sought strength for the
ordeal in a more than ordinarily hearty supper.

It was a bleak, cold night in early November, and the wind whistled
drearily outside. There was a chill atmosphere everywhere, and a hint of
coming winter.

"I shall wear my cap an' my cardigan jacket to go over there," the
neighborly disposed Susan reflected as she carefully drank the last of
the tea. "Dear, dear! but it's goin' to be a terrible shock to her, poor
thing!"

Then she arose and carefully and scrupulously put the kitchen back into
its customary order. Having removed the last trace of any one's ever
having cooked or eaten there, she lighted a candle and sought her wraps
in the icy upper regions of the house. As she passed the parlor door she
shivered involuntarily.

"I expect he was cold," she murmured; "I know I was. But I could n't see
my way to sittin' in the kitchen with a caller: I never was one to do
nothin' improper, an' I was n't goin' to begin at my age."

Then she went upstairs and got out the cap and jacket. It was a man's
cap, with ear-tabs, and not at all in keeping with the fair Susan's
features; but she gave no heed to such matters and tied it on with two
firm jerks.

"I jus' do hope," she ejaculated as she struggled into the cardigan, "'t
she won't faint. It'll surely come very sudden on her, too, an' all my
talk 's to the advantage o' stayin' unmarried, an' the times an' times I
've said as we was always goin' to stay jus' so--"

The termination of the jacket-buttoning terminated the soliloquy also.
Miss Clegg went downstairs and warmed her hands at the kitchen stove,
preparatory to locking up. Ten minutes later she was tapping at Mrs.
Lathrop's door.

"I must n't tell her too quick," she reminded herself as she waited to
be let in; "I must lead up to it like they do after a railroad smash.
Mrs. Lathrop ain't what you call over-nervous; still, she has got
feelin's, an' in a time like this they ought to be a little steered out
for. If she saw him comin' in or goin' out, that 'll help some."

Mrs. Lathrop not answering to the tap, the caller knocked again, and
then tried to open the door from without, but found it to be bolted
inside.

"I s'pose she's asleep, with her feet in the oven," Susan said in a
spirit of rebellion and disapproval mixed, and then she battered madly
for entrance.

Mrs. Lathrop was asleep, and did have her feet in the oven. She was
particularly fond of finishing up her daily desultoriness in that
manner. It took time slightly to disturb her slumber, more time yet to
awaken her fully, and still again more time to get her to the door and
open it.

"Well, _Susan_!" she said in a tone of cordial surprise when she saw who
it was; "the idea of--"

"He wanted as I should see you to-night, rain or shine," said the
friend, advancing into the middle of the kitchen.

"Who wanted?"

"The deacon. Did n't you see him this afternoon?"

Mrs. Lathrop furtively rubbed her eyes.

"Oh, yes, yes--I--" she began.

"Well, he wanted as I should come right over an' tell you to-night. An'
I told him 't I would."

"Tell me wh--"

"I shall break it to you as easy as I can, Mrs. Lathrop; but there 's no
denyin' as it 'll come very sharp on you at the end."

Mrs. Lathrop ceased to rub her eyes, and a vague apprehension opened
them effectually instead.

"I presume, if you saw him at all, you saw how long he stayed?"

"Yes, I--"

"All of two hours, an' his talk was as dumfounderin' on me as it will be
on you. I 'd never thought o' any such doin's in this direction. I
always looked on as a complete outsider, did n't you?"

"I don't un--"

Susan had shed her jacket and cap while talking; she now took a chair
and surveyed her friend with the air of one who has pain to inflict and
yet is firm.

Mrs. Lathrop looked frankly troubled.

"Well, Mrs. Lathrop, you 'd ought to know me well enough, after all
these years, to know as I shall make this as easy as I can for you.
Perhaps the best way 'll be to go 'way back to the beginnin' an' speak
o' when Mrs. White died. It'll be a proper leadin' up, for if she had
n't died, he 'd never 'a' come to see me this afternoon, an' I 'd never
'a' come to see you to-night. Howsumsever, she did die; an', bein' dead,
I will say for her husband as you don't find chick or child in town to
deny as a nicer, tidier, more biddable little man never lived; 'n' 's
far as my personal feelin's go, I should think 't any woman might
consider it nothin' but a joy to get a man 's is always so long on the
door-mat 'n' so busy with his tie 's the deacon is. He got some wore out
toward the last o' her illness, for she was give' up in September 'n'
died in July; but even then I 've heard Mrs. Allen say 's it was jus'
pretty to see him putterin' aroun' busy 's a bee, tryin' to keep dusted
up for the funeral any minute." Susan paused to sigh.

"Seems like she did n't die but yesterday," she said reminiscently;
"don't seem like it can possibly be over a year. I never can but
remember them last days: they stand out afore me like a needle in a
camel's eye. Nobody could n't say 's everythin' was n't done; they had
two doctors 'n' a bill 't the drug-store, but the end come at last. She
begin to sink 'n' sink, 'n' young Dr. Brown said that way o' sinkin'
away was always, to his mind, one o' the most unfortunate features o'
dyin'. He said he knowed lots o' people 's 'd be alive 'n' well now if
they could just o' been kept from that sinkin' away. Old Dr. Carter told
Mrs. Jilkins his theory was 't while the pulse beats there 's life; but
even he had to admit 's Mrs. White was about beat out. 'N' it was so,
too; for she died while they was talkin', 'n' the deacon just beginnin'
on cleanin' the pantry shelves. He had to put all the dishes back on top
o' the old papers; 'n' any one could see how hard it was for him, for he
'd counted on havin' everythin' spick 'n' span at the end.

"Well, that was a busy time! It 's too bad you have to miss so much,
Mrs. Lathrop; now, that day at Mrs. White's would 'a' done you a world
o' good. There was a great deal o' company, 'n' the newspaper man led
off, comin' to know what she died of. He explained he had to know right
away, 'cause if she did n't die o' nothin' in particular, they needed
the extra line for stars to show up a cod-liver oil advertisement. I
said the deacon was the one to ask, 'n' we hunted high 'n' low for him
until Mrs. Jilkins remembered 's he'd took them keys Mrs. White always
had under her pillow 'n' gone up attic to see what trunks they fitted.
Mrs. Macy had to holler him down; 'n', my! but he was snappy. He said,
'Ask Dr. Brown,' 'n' then he clumb straight back up his ladder; 'n' Dr.
Brown said 's she died o' the complete seclusion of her aspirational 'n'
bronchoid tubes. I could see 't the newspaper man did n't know how to
spell it, 'n' he told young Dr. Brown any such doin's 'd squeeze the
cod-liver oil over into next week, which could n't be considered for a
minute. 'N' then he went on to say 't if folks want to die o' more 'n
one line, they 've got to do it Tuesday night, or at the very latest
Wednesday afore ten o'clock, if it's to be got in right.

"Well, next come the funeral; 'n' I will say right here 'n' now 't the
way 's the widows closed in around Deacon White was enough to send any
man up a ladder. There was Mrs. Macy 's was actually ready 'n' waitin'
to lay Mrs. White out afore she was dead. 'N' Mrs. Macy is n't one 's
any one 'd rashly set about makin' love to, I should n't suppose.



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