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"If I live till next July, I shall be twenty-nine years old," simpered the young widow, and she looked around the table, as if to note the effect of such an incredible statement."You look much older," said The Disagreeable Woman, looking up from her tea and buttered toast.
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The Disagreeable Woman
A Social Mystery
TO MY READERS.
CHAPTER I.A SOCIAL MYSTERY.
CHAPTER II.THE MYSTERY DEEPENS.
CHAPTER III.PROF. POPPENDORF.
CHAPTER IV.PROF. POPPENDORF'S LECTURE.
CHAPTER V.A CONVERSATION WITH THE DISAGREEABLE WOMAN.
CHAPTER VI.COUNT PENELLI.
CHAPTER VIII.THE PROFESSOR IN LOVE.
CHAPTER IX.AN EVENING AT THE BOARDING-HOUSE.
CHAPTER X.A RUSTIC ADMIRER.
CHAPTER XI.A POOR PATIENT.
CHAPTER XII.THE DISAGREEABLE WOMAN IN A NEW LIGHT.
CHAPTER XIII.MRS. WYMAN'S CURIOSITY.
CHAPTER XIV.THE QUALITY OF MERCY.
CHAPTER XV.THE PROFESSOR'S COURTSHIP.
CHAPTER XVI.SITS THE WIND IN THAT QUARTER.
CHAPTER XVII.MY RICH PATIENT.
CHAPTER XVIII.THE PROFESSOR'S BOOK.
CHAPTER XIX.A SPEECH FROM THE THRONE.
CHAPTER XX.A STARTLING DISCOVERY.
CHAPTER XXI.AFTER THREE MONTHS.
CHAPTER XXII.I APPEAL TO THE DISAGREEABLE WOMAN.
CHAPTER XXIII.AT LAST.
CHAPTER XXIV.THE LIGHT OF HOPE.
In reading Miss Harraden's charming idyl "Ships That Pass in the Night," it occurred to me that if there were Disagreeable Men there are also Disagreeable Women. Hence this story.
"If I live till next July, I shall be twenty-nine years old," simpered the young widow, and she looked around the table, as if to note the effect of such an incredible statement.
"You look much older," said the Disagreeable Woman, looking up from her tea and buttered toast.
There was a general silence, and the boarders noted with curiosity the effect of this somewhat unceremonious remark.
Mrs. Wyman, the young widow, flushed and directed an angry and scornful look at the last speaker.
"I am sure I am very much obliged to you," she said.
"You are quite welcome," said the Disagreeable Woman, calmly.
"You look older than I do," said the widow, sharply.
"Very possibly," said the Disagreeable Woman, not at all excited.
"Do you mind telling us how old you are?"
"Not at all! I have reached the age—"
All bent forward to listen. Why is it that we take so much interest in the ages of our acquaintances? There was evidently a strong desire to learn the age of the Disagreeable Woman. But she disappointed the general expectation.
"I have reached the age of discretion," she continued, finishing the sentence.
"Who is that woman?" I asked my next neighbor, for I was a new comer at Mrs. Gray's table.
"Wait till after breakfast and I will tell you," he answered.
Mrs. Gray kept a large boarding-house on Waverley Place. Some fifteen boarders were gathered about the large table. I may have occasion to refer to some of them later. But first I will speak of myself.
I was a young medical practitioner, who after practising for a year in a Jersey village had come to New York in quest of a metropolitan practise and reputation. I was not quite penniless, having five hundred dollars left over from the legacy of an old aunt, the rest of which had been used to defray the expenses of my education. I had not yet come to realize how small a sum this was for a professional start in the city. I had hired an office, provided with a cabinet bedstead, and thus saved room rent. For table board I had been referred to Mrs. Gray's boarding-house, on Waverley Place.
"I boarded there once," said the friend who recommended me, "and found not only a fair table but a very social and entertaining family of boarders. They were of all classes," he continued, "from literateurs to dry goods clerks, school-teachers, actors, and broken-down professionals."
This description piqued my curiosity, and I enrolled myself as one of Mrs. Gray's boarders, finding her terms not beyond my modest means.
But in his list of boarders he forgot—the Disagreeable Woman, who must have come after his departure.
She was tall, inclined to be slender, with a keen face and singular eyes. She never seemed to be excited, but was always calm and self-possessed. She seemed to have keen insight into character, and as may already be inferred, of remarkable and even perhaps rude plainness of speech. Yet though she said sharp things she never seemed actuated by malice or ill-nature. She did not converse much, but was always ready to rebuke pretension and humbug as in the case of the young widow. What she said of her was quite correct. I judged from her appearance that Mrs. Wyman must be at least thirty-five years old, and possibly more. She evidently did not intend to remain a widow longer than was absolutely necessary.
She paid attention to every male boarder at the table, neglecting none. She even made overtures to Prof. Poppendorf, a learned German, with a deep bass voice and a German accent, whose green goggles and shaggy hair, somewhat grizzled, made him a picturesque personality.
We all enjoyed the rebuff which Mrs. Wyman received from the Disagreeable Woman, though it made us slightly afraid of her lest our turns might come next.
But I am keeping my readers from my friend's promised account of the lady who had excited my curiosity.
"The first time I met the Disagreeable Woman," said my neighbor, who was a commercial traveler, "was on my return from a business trip. Looking about the table to see what changes had occurred in the family, I saw sitting opposite to me a woman of somewhat unusual appearance, whose caustic speech made her feared by the rest of the boarders. This was three months since."
"What is her name?" I asked.
"Upon my word," he answered reflectively, "I am so accustomed to hear her spoken of as the Disagreeable Woman that I hardly remember. Let me see—yes, it is Blagden."
"And the first name?"
"Is it Miss or Mrs. Blagden?"
"I don't know."
"She has been here three months and you do not know," I said, in surprise.
"Did it never occur to any one to ask her?"
"Yes, Mrs. Wyman asked her one day."
"And what did she reply?"
"Whichever you please—it is quite immaterial."
"Do you think she has any reason to maintain secrecy on this point?"
"I think not. She probably takes the ground that it is nobody's business but her own."
"How soon did she obtain her designation of the 'Disagreeable Woman?'"
"Almost immediately I judge. When I first met her she had been a member of Mrs. Gray's household for a week, and already this was the way she was spoken of."
"I suppose she does not live in the house?"
"No one knows. She comes to her meals punctually, turning into Waverley Place from Broadway."
"Has no one ever thought of following her home?"
"Yes. A young broker's clerk, on a wager, attempted to track her to her lodging place. She was sharp enough to detect his purpose. When they reached Broadway she turned suddenly and confronted him. 'Are you going up or down Broadway?' she asked. 'Up Broadway,' he answered with some hesitation, 'Then good evening! I go in the opposite direction.' Of course there was nothing for him to do but to accept the hint, which was certainly pointed enough."
"She must be a woman with a history," I said, thoughtfully.
"Most women have histories."
"But not out of the common."
"True. What now do you conjecture as to Miss Blagden's history?"
"I am utterly at a loss."
"Do you think she has had a disappointment?"
"She does not look impressionable. One cannot conceive of her as having an affair of the heart."
"I don't know. One cannot always judge by the exterior."
"Do you think she has any employment?"
"If so, no one has been able to conjecture what it is."
"To me she seems like an advocate of Woman's Rights, perhaps a lecturer on that subject."
"Possibly, but I know of nothing to throw light on her business or her views."
"Do you think she is a woman of means?"
"Ah," said my friend, smiling, "you are really beginning to show interest in her. I believe you are unmarried?"
The suggestion was grotesque and I could not help smiling.
"I should pity the man who married the 'Disagreeable Woman,'" I made answer.
"I don't know. She is not beautiful, certainly, nor attractive, but I don't think she is as ill-natured as she appears."
"Is this conjecture on your part?"
"Not wholly. Did you notice the young woman who sat on her left?"
"We know her as the young woman from Macy's. Well, a month since she was sick for a week, and unable to pay her board. She occupies a hall bed-room on the upper floor. Miss Blagden guessed her trouble, and as she left the table on Saturday night put into her hands an envelope without a word. When it was opened it proved to contain ten dollars, sufficient to pay two weeks' board."
"Come, there seems to be something human about the Disagreeable Woman."
"Just so. To us it was a revelation. But she would not allow herself to be thanked."
"That last piece of information interests me. My office practise at present is very limited, and I find my small capital going fast. I may need the good office of Miss Blagden."
"I hope not, but I must leave you. My employers have sent me an orchestra ticket to Palmer's theatre."
"I hope you will enjoy yourself."
So we parted company. I went to my office, and spent a part of the evening in searching among my medical books for some light on a case that had baffled me. But from time to time my attention was distracted by thoughts of the Disagreeable Woman.
Dinner was nearly over. The dessert had been succeeded by a dish of withered russet apples, when Mrs. Gray, leaning forward a little, said: "If the boarders will kindly remain a short time, Prof. Poppendorf has an interesting communication to make."
The learned professor cleared his throat, removed his goggles for an instant, and after wiping them carefully with a red silk handkerchief, replaced them on a nose of large proportions.
"My friends," he said, "on Thursday next I am to deliver a lecture at Schiller Hall, on Second Avenue, and I hope I may have the honor of seeing you all present. The tickets are fifty cents."
"May I ask the subject of your lecture, Professor?" asked Mrs. Wyman, with an appearance of interest.
"I shall lecture on 'The Material and the Immaterial,'" answered the Professor, in a deep bass voice.
The boarders looked puzzled. The announcement of the subject did not seem to excite interest.
"Shall you treat the subject in a popular manner, Prof. Poppendorf?" asked the Disagreeable Woman, in a tone that did not necessarily suggest sarcasm.
Prof. Poppendorf seemed puzzled.
"I do not know!" he answered, "if it will be popular—I hope it will be instructive."
"Will there be any jokes in it, Professor?" asked Sam Lindsay, a vocalist from an uptown Dime Museum.
"Jokes!" repeated the Professor, evidently scandalized. "It would not be appropriate. The subject is metaphysical. If you want jokes you must go to the variety theatre."
"True," said Lindsay, "or to the Dime Museums. We've got a man at our place who will make you split your sides laughing."
"I have here some tickets," continued the Professor, "some tickets which I shall be glad to dispose of in advance," and he drew out a package of perhaps twenty-five. "Miss Blagden, I hope you will patronize me."
"You may give me two," said the Disagreeable Woman, drawing a dollar bill from her pocket, and passing it to the Professor.
"You take two tickets?" said Mrs. Wyman, with a knowing smile. "I suppose there is a gentleman in the case."
"You are mistaken," said the Disagreeable Woman, quietly.
"You don't want both tickets for yourself, surely?"
"No, I shall use neither of them."
"You will give them away, then?"
"I do not think so."
"Why then do I buy them? Out of compliment to our friend, Prof. Poppendorf, who, I hope, will win a success."
"I thank you," said the Professor, "but I should be glad to have you honor my lecture with your presence."
"I feel no particular interest in 'The Material and the Immaterial,'" said Mrs. Blagden. "Besides I am not sure whether I should get any clearer ideas respecting them from attending your lecture."
"You do not flatter the Professor," said Mrs. Wyman, appearing shocked.
"No, I never flatter any one. Why should I?" returned the Disagreeable Woman.
"I like to be flattered," said the widow, simpering. "I like to be told that I am young and charming."
"Even if you are not."
Mrs. Wyman colored, and looked annoyed. She evidently did not care to continue her conversation with the Disagreeable Woman.
"Professor Poppendorf," she said, "will you allow me to suggest something which will enable you to sell a good many tickets?"
"I should be very glad to hear," said the Professor, eagerly.
"Get Chauncey M. Depew to preside, and introduce you to the audience."
"I did ask him, but he could not come. He is engaged to preside at a dinner given to the Yale Football Team."
"Does Mr. Depew kick football?" asked the young woman from Macy's.
"I think not," I ventured to say. "Gentlemen over forty seldom indulge in athletics."
"I am so sorry you can't get Mr. Depew," said Mrs. Wyman. "I should so like to hear him."
"You will hear me," said Prof. Poppendorf, with dignity, "if you will kindly buy a ticket."
Mrs. Wyman looked embarrassed. She had a fair income, but carried economy to a fine point.
"Perhaps," she said, with a hesitating glance at the person of whom she spoke, "Miss Blagden will give me one of her tickets, as she does not intend to use either."
"That wouldn't help the Professor," said Miss Blagden, quietly. "You had better buy one of him."
The Professor evidently approved this suggestion.
Mrs. Wyman reluctantly drew from her pocket forty-five cents in change, and tendered it to the Professor.
"I will owe you a nickel," she said.
"You can pay it any time, my dear lady," said the Professor, politely, as he passed a ticket to the widow.
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