HER AMERICA "A Jury of Her Peers" and Other Stories
By Susan Glaspell
University of Iowa Press Copyright © 2010 University of Iowa Press
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-1-58729-864-6
Chapter One Looking After Clara
When you opened the door which bore the lettering, "Bureau of Statistics of the Allied Societies for Social Betterment of the City of Boston," and Mr. Stephen Blatchford turned in his chair and looked at you, you felt that the figures you were about to receive would be both accurate and important. Nor was this alone because young Mr. Blatchford wore tortoise-rimmed glasses. Efficiency and responsibility also breathed from the chair in which he revolved. Mr. Blatchford was one of those persons who are constantly thanking Heaven that they have a sense of humor, and as he said it you had the feeling that he would the next instant turn to "Sense of Humor" in the card index. He was an utterly worthy young man, and there seemed every chance that he would receive the headship of the "Bureau of Statistics" when his chief, Mr. Snow, left the following month to assume the editorship of "The Social Good."
But this morning, after the second mail came in, Mr. Blatchford was guilty of a little dallying over the "Unmarried Women" table which he was revising. The second mail had brought a letter from Miss Dorothy Ainsley, the southern girl he had met during his vacation at Gloucester. Mr. Blatchford, speaking from the depth of his social researches, had always maintained that a man should marry. It was not until he heard the soft voice of Dorothy Ainsley that the idea seemed related to something other than social responsibility. When they were sailing, and the breeze fluttered her brown hair before her brown eyes, young Mr. Blatchford had had a disturbing sense of himself as something more than a member of society.
He had written her two letters, drawing a painstakingly humorous picture of himself as immersed in dry figures-with a little side note questioning his figure of speech-and expressing longing to be back in the "bully outdoors" of Gloucester. In reply had come only a picture postcard of the harbor, saying, "Lingering on here for a time longer." Now came the letter saying Miss Ainsley would get in that day at noon; she trusted that she did not presume too greatly upon their friendship in asking him to meet her at the North Station; this, she boldly confessed, that she might still further presume upon their friendship in a very great favor she was going to ask of him. She concluded: "There is no one else of whom I cared to ask it."
Mr. Blatchford dwelt upon this, as, arrayed in the new autumn overcoat which he wore with a gratifying sense of its impressiveness, he waited before the iron gate: No one else of whom she cared to ask it! And she knew Bob Graham, a Boston fellow. She had been more with Graham than with him; but it was not to Graham she turned now! Of course he would see much of her in the few days she had said she would be in Boston and vicinity. He was just a little sorry that it came at the time Mr. Hennesey wanted to go over things with him. It was Mr. Hennesey who would have the deciding voice as to the place left vacant by Mr. Snow's assuming editorship of "The Social Good." But then, should there be a time when he could not keep an engagement with her, she would understand. Might it not be that, as things developed, she herself would be greatly interested in those very meetings with Mr. Hennesey? Such, together with a warm feeling of self-congratulation in having just the day before received his new overcoat, were Mr. Blatchford's roseate considerations as the Gloucester train neared Boston.
An hour later, as they were finishing luncheon in the staid dining room he had taken her to-having gently turned her from the frivolous basement cafe of her suggestion, with the protecting remark that he did not believe he cared to take her there-he asked that he now hear of the little favor she was going to do him the honor to ask of him.
"Oh, do you know," Miss Ainsley began meaningly in her caressing southern voice, "now that I come right to it, I fear it would be asking too much?"
"I think not," said Mr. Blatchford, looking into her brown eyes as a strong man looks.
So, leaning confidingly across the table, Miss Dorothy told him. She was on her way home to Virginia; but a dear friend was in school out at Wellesley; she could not go through without a little visit with Stella. So, that afternoon, after a little shopping, she would go out to Wellesley, there to remain a couple of days, then come in and take the boat for New York. But there was one thing that greatly troubled her; her brown eyes beautifully clouded in the thought of it. She paused, looking over at Mr. Blatchford in timid appeal. "I wonder," she said, tremulous, troubled and yet trusting, "if you would-look after Clara?"
"Look after Clara?" uncertainly murmured the efficient Mr. Blatchford. She nodded, soft eyes all the while timidly, trustingly imploring. "But who," inquired the bewildered and reddening young man, "is Clara?"
She looked surprised. "Oh! Why, didn't I have Clara when you were there?"
"I do not recall-Clara," said Mr. Blatchford.
"Why, Clara," confided the lovely Dorothy, "is my cat." And then, as she looked into the face of young Mr. Blatchford, she threw back her head and laughed.
Mr. Blatchford, who felt momentarily affronted, pulled himself back to the fact that-Heaven be thanked!-he had a sense of humor. He laughed too-less lightly, but efficiently.
"I knew you had a sense of humor!" Dorothy cried in triumphant gratitude. "It just helps one through everything, doesn't it?"
"It certainly does!" vigorously agreed Mr. Blatchford.
He was never more desperately in earnest about his sense of humor than when he entered the express office where they would unbox Clara and deliver her into his keeping. He had pictured a soft, fuzzy, frolicsome kitten, probably Angora: such a cat might constitute one of the feminine foibles of a Dorothy Ainsley. Picture then the astonishment with which he peered through the slats at just such a cat as the alleys of Boston abounded in-the undistinguished, mottled gray, not kitten, not fine, big cat-for all the world just another one of those animals which constitute one of the problems of a humane municipality.
Sense of humor ebbed; face reddened; back grew stiff. But Dorothy was cooing: "Nicest Clara! Nicest Clara! Was her lonesome? Oh, was her scared?" She turned to him, sweetly grave. "I realize," she said, "that Clara at first may not seem an especially attractive cat. But, you see, it's her-ways."
"There was no one else I was willing to trust her to," she murmured while Mr. Blatchford was engaged with his first attempt at adjusting himself to Clara's "ways," Clara seeking escape from his arms by way of his neck. He had suggested taking her home in the box she had arrived in, but Dorothy could not bring herself to the idea of again shutting Clara up in a box. Poor dear Clara was frightened, but if he petted her there would be no trouble. Why couldn't he just tuck her under his overcoat? The very thing! Clara would snuggle under it-oh, just as cunning!
A more painfully disturbed young man never descended into the subway at Scollay Square. His slightly loosened coat was covering Clara; but Clara was squirming about, so he must keep one arm planted firmly against her, the other hand from time to time making hurried passes at his overcoat. To get out his nickel he had to hold Clara so tight that he heard a distinct spit and felt a clawing within him. To soothe her as he threw out his nickel he murmured, "Nicest Clara!"-dulcetly repeating, "Nicest Clara!" Then he chanced to look up at the feminine person within the cage. She was the picture of affronted virtue. As he stumbled on, appearing to be clasping himself to his own breast, he caught: "Those fresh guys!"
Waiting for his car, arm planted firmly across the breast of his bulging coat, he looked up to see a policeman regarding him. It was the first time a policeman had ever evinced official interest in Mr. Blatchford. He tried to lose himself in the crowd, then realized that that was the worst thing he could have done. Well he wasn't used to being taken for a criminal, he somewhat bitterly reflected, giving Clara a left-arm pressure which made it necessary that he instantly murmur, "Nicest Clara!" The woman crowded close to him edged away. He saw her looking back nervously.
Mr. Blatchford distinctly did not like the position in which he found himself. He had always moved freely and frankly among his fellow men. He had never been called a "fresh guy," nor suspiciously eyed by a policeman, nor edged away from by women. He had always stood-firm and not unimportant-among those enlightened and upright members of the community who are keenly alive to their responsibilities toward persons to be eyed with suspicion and edged away from. Now he sat as far as possible from his fellow passengers, stick between knees, left arm across his breast, right hand pressed, it would seem, over his heart. Occasionally, crimson face rigid, he patted his heart, as though he were attached to that organ.
Gloomily he looked into the immediate future. What was he going to say to Mrs. Lily, his landlady? What would they all think of him-bringing a cat home? He hated to think of all the silly things Charlie Morse, his roommate, would say, though Charlie was his great hope; he had recently sprained his ankle and had to stay at home. That was almost providential. Of course he would look after Clara.
Mr. Blatchford looked up to see that a woman sitting not far away, facing him, was staring. He shifted his position a little; so did Clara. She squirmed around as if preparatory to settling down. The woman had spoken to another woman and both were staring. Clara had chosen a place just over his stomach. He folded his arms over it and tried to look loftily unknowing; but he was conscious of the moving of his arms. Those vulgar women seemed to be going into hysterics! They had their handkerchiefs out and were laughing into them. They were saying things to each other and went into new convulsions at the things they said. It was disgusting. What was so funny? he'd like to know. Clara continued to squirm about and every time she moved there were renewed gasps of laughter.
The car came to a stop-not his stop; but, as sedately as circumstances permitted, he rose to leave.
This was intolerable. Those vulgar women had made him feel most uncomfortable; he knew that his face had been flaming as he left the car. Even now, as he turned toward his boardinghouse in St. James Avenue, the breast to which he pressed Clara was a tumultuous one. Why could not the young women of Wellesley College have looked after Clara quite as well as he? Did they have any more to do than he did? That very instant he should be at his desk, completing that "Unmarried Women" table. And what was he going to do with Clara when he got home? What would Mrs. Lily say? As he rounded the corner of St. James Avenue Mr. Blatchford was thinking of all that man has endured for woman.
He felt it was not just the moment for revealing Clara to Mrs. Lily. He could carry the situation better when he had himself a little more in hand; so with great difficulty he let himself in, softly cooing a final, "Nicest Clara!" as the key turned, and, with glances of fear to right and left, he stole stealthily up the stairs he had never before ascended with anything but manly tread.
He gained his room unseen. He addressed no word to his roommate, sitting there in the Morris chair, reading. Unfastening his overcoat he let Clara spring to the floor. He then sat down in weary and bitter silence.
Clara began at once on the usual feline tour of investigation. "Thought it would be nice to have a cat, did you, Steve?" mildly observed Charlie, his blue eyes dancing.
"Nice to have a cat!" bitterly murmured Mr. Blatchford. Then brusquely he explained: He was keeping her for a friend, a young lady; they would have to keep her several days; young lady very attached to her; she had come to their cottage in Gloucester; couldn't bear to abandon her; taking her home to Virginia.
"Awfully kindhearted girl," said Charlie.
Mr. Blatchford, who was trying to pull his new overcoat back into shape, vouchsafed no reply. About to depart he said shortly: "Well, it's a lucky thing that you're staying at home."
"Act of Providence," murmured Charlie.
Mr. Blatchford stood with his hand on the knob. "You'll look after her for me, Charlie?" he asked in humble appeal.
"Sure," cheerfully replied Charlie. "I like cats all right; she'll be company for me." He reached over and deftly pulled Clara to his lap. "Nice pussy," he soothed, stroking her. "What's her name, Steve?" he asked.
"Clara," briefly replied Mr. Blatchford.
"Cl-ara!" ejaculated Charlie. "How'd they happen to name her Clara?"
"How should I know?" sharply retorted Mr. Blatchford.
"I think she's hungry," said Charlie. "Better ask Lily-white for some milk."
Mr. Blatchford moved uneasily. "I-I haven't mentioned her being here yet," he said.
"I see," said Charlie in his mild way that was sometimes perturbing.
It ended with Mr. Blatchford being sent to Boylston Street for milk. The first dairy place he went to had none. With set teeth he strode to another. Late to his work! Mr. Hennesey might come in! Nice thing to tell him he had been out getting milk for a cat! On his way home he spilled milk on his overcoat. It gave him a feeling of acute resentment toward the whole of Wellesley College.
And then Mr. Stephen Blatchford eagerly turned a worn face toward that seat of decorum, the Bureau of Statistics of the Allied Societies for Social Betterment of the City of Boston. He returned that night to find a newspaper clipping, "Care of the Cat-How to Keep Your Pet Healthy and Happy," pinned on the inside of the door.
"Did you ever know anything more fortunate," Charlie began brightly, "than my running across that in today's paper? I've read the newspapers all my life, and this is the first time I ever remember coming across an article on the care of the cat. Sort of weird, don't you think?"
Mr. Blatchford was examining the milk spots on the overcoat he had just taken off, and made no reply. Clara came rubbing against his legs, swaying toward him in ingratiating cat fashion, flourishing her tail and purring as if they were on the best of terms.
"It says," remarked Charlie, "that you want to cultivate their love for open-air exercise."
Mr. Blatchford's face set to grimmer lines, but again he made no reply.
"And, if there's lettuce for dinner, I think you'd better try and pass a leaf into your pocket." Charlie hobbled to the door, and from the clipping solemnly read: "'Occasionally chop a lettuce leaf and mix it with chopped raw meat to keep their digestive systems in good order.'"
"I am glad you find this amusing, Charlie," said Mr. Blatchford with the cold forbearance of a superior person.
As the evening progressed Mr. Blatchford himself was finding it less and less amusing. He had not enjoyed his dinner. He was not enough at home in the surreptitious to be happy in the smuggling in of a cat. Nor had he ever sufficiently indulged in disorderly conduct to face with equanimity the prospect of that infringement upon dignity likely to ensue from the discovery of Clara. He had never at any time been a young man given to doing questionable things. He had led an orderly life. Until this unfortunate episode there had never been a time when he could not look all the world in the face. Now he could not look Mrs. Lily in the face. He had gone down before dinner intending to tell her, but found her in conversation with Miss Earle, the "Care-of-the-Scalp" lady. So he had eaten his dinner in guilty and miserable silence, ears wretchedly alert for cat noises from above.
And all through the evening, every time he started to tell Mrs. Lily, there was some reason for not doing it. Charlie, on the other hand, reveled in the concealment; he would hear someone coming, make a lurch for Clara-greatly imperiling his sprained ankle-and smother her in cushions while he talked with open countenance to the maid, or whoever it might be, at the door. The atmosphere that Charlie threw around it grew more and more distasteful to the honorable Mr. Blatchford. And his thoughts were not happy ones. He was not spending the evening with Dorothy Ainsley; he was at home looking after Dorothy Ainsley's cat. And what evening was he to spend with her? He could not see that there was going to be an evening. She had taken his office telephone number-that she might call up to inquire for Clara. He was to meet her for tea on the day of her departure-that he might deliver Clara. He considered again that there was no one else of whom she cared to ask it. But-ask what? With gloomy eye he watched Clara rolling on her back, twisting herself into meaningless feline shapes. An ugly doubt was trying to get into his mind. He banished it in the memory of her soft eyes as she asked this of him, the color fluttering in her cheeks, her tender, laughing mouth. She had come to him in her difficulty. He would not fail her and she would come to him again-for something different. His was not the only love that had been put to a great test. Mr. Blatchford dreamed of days to come.
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