Ruggles of Red Gap
by Harry Leon Wilson
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Not the least of my reward, then, was to see his eyebrows more than once eloquently raise, as when the cattle-persons, Hank and Buck, appeared in suits of decent black, or when the driver chap Pierce entered with his quite obscure mother on his arm, or a few other cattle and horse persons with whom the Honourable George had palled up during his process of going in for America.

This laxity I felt that the Earl of Brinstead and his bride could amply afford, while for myself I had soundly determined that Red Gap should henceforth be without "sets." I mean to say, having frankly taken up America, I was at last resolved to do it whole-heartedly. If I could not take up the whole of it, I would not take up a part. Quite instinctively I had chosen the slogan of our Chamber of Commerce: "Don't Knock—Boost; and Boost Altogether." Rudely worded though it is, I had seen it to be sound in spirit.

These thoughts ran in my mind during the smart repast that now followed. Insidiously I wrought among the guests to amalgamate into one friendly whole certain elements that had hitherto been hostile. The Bohemian set was not segregated. Almost my first inspiration had been to scatter its members widely among the conservative pillars of the North Side set. Left in one group, I had known they would plume themselves quite intolerably over the signal triumph of their leader; perhaps, in the American speech, "start something." Widely scattered, they became mere parts of the whole I was seeking to achieve.

The banquet progressed gayly to its finish. Toasts were drunk no end, all of them proposed by Senator Floud who, toward the last, kept almost constantly on his feet. From the bride and groom he expanded geographically through Red Gap, the Kulanche Valley, the State of Washington, and the United States to the British Empire, not omitting the Honourable George—who, I noticed, called for the relish and consumed quite almost an entire bottle during the meal. Also I was proposed—"through whose lifelong friendship for the illustrious groom this meeting of hearts and hands has been so happily brought about."

Her ladyship's eyes rested briefly upon mine as her lips touched the glass to this. They conveyed the unspeakable. Rather a fool I felt, and unable to look away until she released me. She had been wondrously quiet through it all. Not dazed in the least, as might have been looked for in one of her lowly station thus prodigiously elevated; and not feverishly gay, as might also have been anticipated. Simple and quiet she was, showing a complete but perfectly controlled awareness of her position.

For the first time then, I think, I did envision her as the Countess of Brinstead. She was going to carry it off. Perhaps quite as well as even I could have wished his lordship's chosen mate to do. I observed her look at his lordship with those strange lights in her eyes, as if only half realizing yet wholly believing all that he believed. And once at the height of the gayety I saw her reach out to touch his sleeve, furtively, swiftly, and so gently he never knew.

It occurred to me there were things about the woman we had taken too little trouble to know. I wondered what old memories might be coming to her now; what staring faces might obtrude, what old, far-off, perhaps hated, voices might be sounding to her; what of remembered hurts and heartaches might newly echo back to make her flinch and wonder if she dreamed. She touched the sleeve again, as it might have been in protection from them, her eyes narrowed, her gaze fixed. It queerly occurred to me that his lordship might find her as difficult to know as we had—and yet would keep always trying more than we had, to be sure. I mean to say, she was no gabbler.

The responses to the Senator's toasts increased in volume. His final flight, I recall, involved terms like "our blood-cousins of the British Isles," and introduced a figure of speech about "hands across the sea," which I thought striking, indeed. The applause aroused by this was noisy in the extreme, a number of the cattle and horse persons, including the redskin Tuttle, emitting a shrill, concerted "yipping" which, though it would never have done with us, seemed somehow not out of place in North America, although I observed Belknap-Jackson to make gestures of extreme repugnance while it lasted.

There ensued a rather flurried wishing of happiness to the pair. A novel sight it was, the most austere matrons of the North Side set vying for places in the line that led past them. I found myself trying to analyze the inner emotions of some of them I best knew as they fondly greeted the now radiant Countess of Brinstead. But that way madness lay, as Shakespeare has so aptly said of another matter. I recalled, though, the low-toned comment of Cousin Egbert, who stood near me.

"Don't them dames stand the gaff noble!" It was quite true. They were heroic. I recalled then his other quaint prophecy that her ladyship would hand them a bottle of lemonade. As is curiously usual with this simple soul, he had gone to the heart of the matter.

The throng dwindled to the more intimate friends. Among those who lingered were the Belknap-Jacksons and Mrs. Effie. Quite solicitous they were for the "dear Countess," as they rather defiantly called her to one another. Belknap-Jackson casually mentioned in my hearing that he had been asked to Chaynes-Wotten for the shooting. Mrs. Effie, who also heard, swiftly remarked that she would doubtless run over in the spring—the dear Earl was so insistent. They rather glared at each other. But in truth his lordship had insisted that quite almost every one should come and stop on with him.

"Of course, course, what, what! Jolly party, no end of fun. Week-end, that sort of thing. Know she'll like her old friends best. Wouldn't be keen for the creature if she'd not. Have 'em all, have 'em all. Capital, by Jove!"

To be sure it was a manner of speaking, born of the expansive good feeling of the moment. Yet I believe Cousin Egbert was the only invited one to decline. He did so with evident distress at having to refuse.

"I like your little woman a whole lot," he observed to his lordship, "but Europe is too kind of uncomfortable for me; keeps me upset all the time, what with all the foreigners and one thing and another. But, listen here, Cap! You pack the little woman back once in a while. Just to give us a flash at her. We'll give you both a good time."

"What ho!" returned his lordship. "Of course, course! Fancy we'd like it vastly, what, what!"

"Yes, sir, I fancy you would, too," and rather startlingly Cousin Egbert seized her ladyship and kissed her heartily. Whereupon her ladyship kissed the fellow in return.

"Yes, sir, I dare say I fancy you would," he called back a bit nervously as he left.

Belknap-Jackson drove the party to the station, feeling, I am sure, that he scored over Mrs. Effie, though he was obliged to include the Mixer, from whom her ladyship bluntly refused to be separated. I inferred that she must have found the time and seclusion in which to weep a bit on the Mixer's shoulder. The waist of the latter's purple satin gown was quite spotty at the height of her ladyship's eyes.

Belknap-Jackson on this occasion drove his car with the greatest solicitude, proceeding more slowly than I had ever known him do. As I attended to certain luggage details at the station he was regretting to his lordship that they had not had a longer time at the country club the day it was exhibited.

"Look a bit after silly old George," said his lordship to me at parting. "Chap's dotty, I dare say. Talking about a plantation of apple trees now. For his old age—that sort of thing. Be something new in a fortnight, though. Like him, of course, course!"

Her ladyship closed upon my hand with a remarkable vigour of grip.

"We owe it all to you," she said, again with dancing eyes. Then her eyes steadied queerly. "Maybe you won't be sorry."

"Know I shan't." I fancy I rather growled it, stupidly feeling I was not rising to the occasion. "Knew his lordship wouldn't rest till he had you where he wanted you. Glad he's got you." And curiously I felt a bit of a glad little squeeze in my throat for her. I groped for something light—something American.

"You are some Countess," I at last added in a silly way.

"What, what!" said his lordship, but I had caught her eyes. They brimmed with understanding.

With the going of that train all life seemed to go. I mean to say, things all at once became flat. I turned to the dull station.

"Give you a lift, old chap," said Belknap-Jackson. Again he was cordial. So firmly had I kept the reins of the whole affair in my grasp, such prestige he knew it would give me, he dared not broach his grievance.

Some half-remembered American phrase of Cousin Egbert's ran in my mind. I had put a buffalo on him!

"Thank you," I said, "I'm needing a bit of a stretch and a breeze-out."

I wished to walk that I might the better meditate. With Belknap-Jackson one does not sufficiently meditate.

A block up from the station I was struck by the sight of the Honourable George. Plodding solitary down that low street he was, heeled as usual by the Judson cur. He came to the Spilmer public house and for a moment stared up, quite still, at the "Last Chance" on its chaffing signboard. Then he wheeled abruptly and entered. I was moved to follow him, but I knew it would never do. He would row me about the service of the Grill—something of that sort. I dare say he had fancied her ladyship as keenly as one of his volatile nature might. But I knew him!

Back on our street the festival atmosphere still lingered. Groups of recent guests paused to discuss the astounding event. The afternoon paper was being scanned by many of them. An account of the wedding was its "feature," as they say. I had no heart for that, but on the second page my eye caught a minor item:

"A special meeting of the Ladies Onwards and Upwards Club is called for to-morrow afternoon at two sharp at the residence of Mrs. Dr. Percy Hailey Martingale, for the transaction of important business."

One could fancy, I thought, what the meeting would discuss. Nor was I wrong, for I may here state that the evening paper of the following day disclosed that her ladyship the Countess of Brinstead had unanimously been elected to a life honorary membership in the club.

Back in the Grill I found the work of clearing the tables well advanced, and very soon its before-dinner aspect of calm waiting was restored. Surveying it I reflected that one might well wonder if aught momentous had indeed so lately occurred here. A motley day it had been.

I passed into the linen and glass pantry.

Mrs. Judson, polishing my glassware, burst into tears at my approach, frankly stanching them with her towel. I saw it to be a mere overflow of the meaningless emotion that women stock so abundantly on the occasion of a wedding. She is an almost intensely feminine person, as can be seen at once by any one who understands women. In a goods box in the passage beyond I noted her nipper fast asleep, a mammoth beef-rib clasped to its fat chest. I debated putting this abuse to her once more but feared the moment was not propitious. She dried her eyes and smiled again.

"A prince in his palace," she murmured inanely. "She thought first he was going to be as funny as the other one; then she found he wasn't. I liked him, too. I didn't blame her a bit. He's one of that kind—his bark's worse than his bite. And to think you knew all the time what was coming off. My, but you're the Mr. Deep-one!"

I saw no reason to stultify myself by denying this. I mean to say, if she thought it, let her!

"The last thing yesterday she gave me this dress."

I had already noted the very becoming dull blue house gown she wore. Quite with an air she carried it. To be sure, it was not suitable to her duties. The excitements of the day, I suppose, had rendered me a bit sterner than is my wont. Perhaps a little authoritative.

"A handsome gown," I replied icily, "but one would hardly choose it for the work you are performing."

"Rubbish!" she retorted plainly. "I wanted to look nice—I had to go in there lots of times. And I wanted to be dressed for to-night."

"Why to-night, may I ask?" I was all at once uncomfortably curious.

"Why, the boys are coming for me. They're going to take No-no home, then we're all going to the movies. They've got a new bill at the Bijou, and Buck Edwards especially wants me to see it. One of the cowboys in it that does some star riding looks just like Buck—wavy chestnut hair. Buck himself is one of the best riders in the whole Kulanche."

The woman seemed to have some fiendish power to enrage me. As she prattled thus, her eyes demurely on the glass she dried, I felt a deep flush mantle my brow. She could never have dreamed that she had this malign power, but she was now at least to suspect it.

"Your Mr. Edwards," I began calmly enough, "may be like the cinema actor: the two may be as like each other as makes no difference—but you are not going." I was aware that the latter phrase was heated where I had merely meant it to be impressive. Dignified firmness had been the line I intended, but my rage was mounting. She stared at me. Astonished beyond words she was, if I can read human expressions.

"I am!" she snapped at last.

"You are not!" I repeated, stepping a bit toward her. I was conscious of a bit of the rowdy in my manner, but I seemed powerless to prevent it. All my culture was again but the flimsiest veneer.

"I am, too!" she again said, though plainly dismayed.

"No!" I quite thundered it, I dare say. "No, no! No, no!"

The nipper cried out from his box. Not until later did it occur to me that he had considered himself to be addressed in angry tones.

"No, no!" I thundered again. I couldn't help myself, though silly rot I call it now. And then to my horror the mother herself began to weep.

"I will!" she sobbed. "I will! I will! I will!"

"No, no!" I insisted, and I found myself seizing her shoulders, not knowing if I mightn't shake her smartly, so drawn-out had the woman got me; and still I kept shouting my senseless "No, no!" at which the nipper was now yelling.

She struggled her best as I clutched her, but I seemed to have the strength of a dozen men; the woman was nothing in my grasp, and my arms were taking their blind rage out on her.

Secure I held her, and presently she no longer struggled, and I was curiously no longer angry, but found myself soothing her in many strange ways. I mean to say, the passage between us had fallen to be of the very shockingly most sentimental character.

"You are so masterful!" she panted.

"I'll have my own way," I threatened; "I've told you often enough."

"Oh, you're so domineering!" she murmured. I dare say I am a bit that way.

"I'll show you who's to be master!"

"But I never dreamed you meant this," she answered. True, I had most brutally taken her by surprise. I could easily see how, expecting nothing of the faintest sort, she had been rudely shocked.

"I meant it all along," I said firmly, "from the very first moment." And now again she spoke in almost awed tones of my "deepness." I have never believed in that excessive intuition which is so widely boasted for woman.

"I never dreamed of it," she said again, and added: "Mrs. Kenner and I were talking about this dress only last night and I said—I never, never dreamed of such a thing!" She broke off with sudden inconsequence, as women will.

We had now to quiet the nipper in his box. I saw even then that, domineering though I may be, I should probably never care to bring the child's condition to her notice again. There was something about her—something volcanic in her femininity. I knew it would never do. Better let the thing continue to be a monstrosity! I might, unnoticed, of course, snatch a bun from its grasp now and then.

Our evening rush came and went quite as if nothing had happened. I may have been rather absent, reflecting pensively. I mean to say, I had at times considered this alliance as a dawning possibility, but never had I meant to be sudden. Only for the woman's remarkably stubborn obtuseness I dare say the understanding might have been deferred to a more suitable moment and arranged in a calm and orderly manner. But the die was cast. Like his lordship, I had chosen an American bride—taken her by storm and carried her off her feet before she knew it. We English are often that way.

At ten o'clock we closed the Grill upon a day that had been historic in the truest sense of the word. I shouldered the sleeping nipper. He still passionately clutched the beef-rib and for some reason I felt averse to depriving him of it, even though it would mean a spotty top-coat.

Strangely enough, we talked but little in our walk. It seemed rather too tremendous to talk of.

When I gave the child into her arms at the door it had become half awake.

"Ruggums!" it muttered sleepily.

"Ruggums!" echoed the mother, and again, very softly in the still night: "Ruggums—Ruggums!"

* * * * *

That in the few months since that rather agreeable night I have acquired the title of Red Gap's social dictator cannot be denied. More than one person of discernment may now be heard to speak of my "reign," though this, of course, is coming it a bit thick.

The removal by his lordship of one who, despite her sterling qualities, had been a source of discord, left the social elements of the town in a state of the wildest disorganization. And having for myself acquired a remarkable prestige from my intimate association with the affair, I promptly seized the reins and drew the scattered forces together.

First, at an early day I sought an interview with Belknap-Jackson and Mrs. Effie and told them straight precisely why I had played them both false in the matter of the wedding breakfast. With the honour granted to either of them, I explained, I had foreseen another era of cliques, divisions, and acrimony. Therefore I had done the thing myself, as a measure of peace.

Flatly then I declared my intention of reconciling all those formerly opposed elements and of creating a society in Red Gap that would be a social union in the finest sense of the word. I said that contact with their curious American life had taught me that their equality should be more than a name, and that, especially in the younger settlements, a certain relaxation from the rigid requirements of an older order is not only unavoidable but vastly to be desired. I meant to say, if we were going to be Americans it was silly rot trying to be English at the same time.

I pointed out that their former social leaders had ever been inspired by the idea of exclusion; the soul of their leadership had been to cast others out; and that the campaign I planned was to be one of inclusion—even to the extent of Bohemians and well-behaved cattle-persons—-which I believed to be in the finest harmony with their North American theory of human association. It might be thought a naive theory, I said, but so long as they had chosen it I should staunchly abide by it.

I added what I dare say they did not believe: that the position of leader was not one I should cherish for any other reason than the public good. That when one better fitted might appear they would find me the first to rejoice.

I need not say that I was interrupted frequently and acridly during this harangue, but I had given them both a buffalo and well they knew it. And I worked swiftly from that moment. I gave the following week the first of a series of subscription balls in the dancing hall above the Grill, and both Mrs. Belknap-Jackson and Mrs. Effie early enrolled themselves as patronesses, even after I had made it plain that I alone should name the guests.

The success of the affair was all I could have wished. Red Gap had become a social unit. Nor was appreciation for my leadership wanting. There will be malcontents, I foresee, and from the informed inner circles I learn that I have already been slightingly spoken of as a foreigner wielding a sceptre over native-born Americans, but I have the support of quite all who really matter, and I am confident these rebellions may be put down by tact alone. It is too well understood by those who know me that I have Equality for my watchword.

I mean to say, at the next ball of the series I may even see that the fellow Hobbs has a card if I can become assured that he has quite freed himself from certain debasing class-ideals of his native country. This to be sure is an extreme case, because the fellow is that type of our serving class to whom equality is unthinkable. They must, from their centuries of servility, look either up or down; and I scarce know in which attitude they are more offensive to our American point of view. Still I mean to be broad. Even Hobbs shall have his chance with us!

* * * * *

It is late June. Mrs. Ruggles and I are comfortably installed in her enlarged and repaired house. We have a fowl-run on a stretch of her free-hold, and the kitchen-garden thrives under the care of the Japanese agricultural labourer I have employed.

Already I have discharged more than half my debt to Cousin Egbert, who exclaims, "Oh, shucks!" each time I make him a payment. He and the Honourable George remain pally no end and spend much of their abundant leisure at Cousin Egbert's modest country house. At times when they are in town they rather consort with street persons, but such is the breadth of our social scheme that I shall never exclude them from our gayeties, though it is true that more often than not they decline to be present.

Mrs. Ruggles, I may say, is a lady of quite amazing capacities combined strangely with the commonest feminine weaknesses. She has acute business judgment at most times, yet would fly at me in a rage if I were to say what I think of the nipper's appalling grossness. Quite naturally I do not push my unquestioned mastery to this extreme. There are other matters in which I amusedly let her have her way, though she fondly reminds me almost daily of my brutal self-will.

On one point I have just been obliged to assert this. She came running to me with a suggestion for economizing in the manufacture of the relish. She had devised a cheaper formula. But I was firm.

"So long as the inventor's face is on that flask," I said, "its contents shall not be debased a tuppence. My name and face will guarantee its purity."

She gave in nicely, merely declaring that I needn't growl like one of their bears with a painful foot.

At my carefully mild suggestion she has just brought the nipper in from where he was cattying the young fowls, much to their detriment. But she is now heaping compote upon a slice of thickly buttered bread for him, glancing meanwhile at our evening newspaper.

"Ruggums always has his awful own way, doesn't ums?" she remarks to the nipper.

Deeply ignoring this, I resume my elocutionary studies of the Declaration of Independence. For I should say that a signal honour of a municipal character has just been done me. A committee of the Chamber of Commerce has invited me to participate in their exercises on an early day in July—the fourth, I fancy—when they celebrate the issuance of this famous document. I have been asked to read it, preceding a patriotic address to be made by Senator Floud.

I accepted with the utmost pleasure, and now on my vine-sheltered porch have begun trying it out for the proper voice effects. Its substance, I need not say, is already familiar to me.

The nipper is horribly gulping at its food, jam smears quite all about its countenance. Mrs. Ruggles glances over her journal.

"How would you like it," she suddenly demands, "if I went around town like these English women—burning churches and houses of Parliament and cutting up fine oil paintings. How would that suit your grouchy highness?"

"This is not England," I answer shortly. "That sort of thing would never do with us."

"My, but isn't he the fierce old Ruggums!" she cries in affected alarm to the now half-suffocated nipper.

Once more I take up the Declaration of Independence. It lends itself rather well to reciting. I feel that my voice is going to carry.


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