THE PLEASANT PURPLE PORPOISE
Idalia was lying with her ankles crossed over the brass rail at the foot of her bed. She was reading a novel and yawning portentously as she turned the pages.
"Whee-ooh," she whistled, curling and uncurling herself luxuriously like a disturbed kitten. "This is dull as New Jersey," she said. "I must get off soon, or, as I tell Marcus, I shall have to run away all over again with somebody else — anybody, in fact, who will give me a more amusing mother-in-law."
"If you had seen the lady just now — you could not have wished for more or better," said Ione.
"Du tell! Want t'know!" cried Idalia with instant interest, speaking, as she often did, in the dialect of an old summer landlady of hers in the White Mountains.
"Well," said Ione, throwing herself on the opposite end of the bed and leaning an elbow on the brass bar which Idalia had indicated with the gesture of a man offering another a cigar. Idalia obligingly slid her feet further along to make room.
"I met Mr. Harford by accident in the garden - "
“By accident in the garden! Yes, I know! Go on," said Idalia breathlessly, taking her pretty slippered feet down from the bar and gathering them under her with excitement. "Was he making love to you? How nice! I thought it would come to that — high time too! Say, does he do it nicely?"
Ione smiled reflectively.
"Well, no — if it comes to that, he doesn't!" (Idalia looked disappointed.) "In fact, to tell the truth, if there was any love in the vicinity, it was I who was making it."
Idalia nodded with the air of a connoisseur. Her lips smiled slightly and daintily at a remembered deliciousness — like one who tastes old memories and finds them good.
"Yes, that's nice too," she agreed, her eyes still mistily reminiscent. "I didn't think you had it in you, Ione. There's more than one kind of man who needs to be made speak. They mean well, but somehow can't make the riffle. Let me see — there was Mortimer Kitson, he was that kind, and Billy Pitt — no, he wasn't, quite the contrary in fact. But go on, Ione; don't let me interrupt the progress of this romantic ghost illusion. For when it came to solid spooning, I guess the pair of you would be about as warm as a couple of average spectres on a chilly night. In fact you both look like 'haunts' as it is. It's about time you made it up — if that's what concealment does to your four damask cheeks. Why, look at me, I'm getting as fat as a little porpoise — "
She burst into gay song :--
"A sweetly perfect porpoise,
A pleasant purple porpoise,
From the waters of Chili!"
"Oh!" cried Idalia, her ideas darting off at a tangent on the track of something new, "did you ever try to say that second line over in different ways? First seductively, 'A pleasant purple porpoise' — as if the dear beast was before you and you were quite determined to take your hair out of curl-papers and produce your best impression on him? Then tragically with your hands in the air, thus, — 'A pleasant purple porpoise, from the waters of Chili!' Doesn't it sound as if all your friends were dead and you yourself were doomed to an early grave — like that tiresome 'poor little Jim.' Or blubberingly, like sour butter-milk gurgling out of a tin dipper at the old farm up in the mountains. Oh, do you remember that funny calf they had, and Zeke the farm-boy, who fell in love with me?"
Idalia was sitting up now with her feet tucked under her, heedless alike of skirts and lace frilleries in her heady excitement.
"No," commented Ione with severity; "I don't want to hear either about 'pleasant purple porpoises,' or yet of farm hands whom you tried to break the hearts of. Lady Clara Vere de Vere at third hand makes me tired. For, you see, I wasn't at that farm. It was some other gooseberry who aided and abetted. All the same, I don't doubt you proved yourself the same little fiend you always were, Mrs. Marcus Hardy. On the contrary, if you will attend for a moment I will tell you that Mr. Harford and I had the honour to meet your esteemed mother-in-law in the garden walk, and so it came about, that just when she was almost upon us — she saw him- "
“No; you don't say," cried Idalia, clapping her hands joyously. "Good for Keith, excellent good! I never thought he had the spirit."
"I don't know what you mean, Idalia Judd," said Ione with dignity, "nor yet how your inspired cowherds out Salem way were in the habit of behaving. But, as a matter of fact, Mr. Harford was kissing my hand."
"Mff!" came with a sniff contemptuous from the Paris wrapper, "that all? My — what a fuss about nothing! Why, any young men I’d have had anything to do with always did that the second day on the steamer trip, or sometimes when we were just losing sight of the lighthouse, if the ship was a racer!"
"Idalia, I’ll tell Marcus if you talk nonsense like that; I will, for true!"
"Oh, shoot!" cried the married lady, recklessly. "I don't care for a crate of Marcuses. He is a dear old slow-coach anyway, and I had to love him better than the lot of them — I just couldn't help it somehow. But he knows all about it pretty well, I guess. Only, as for me, I've quite given up the follies of my youth. And now for the rest of my life I'm going to devote myself to seeing that Marcus does not flirt — nor kiss my dearest friends in corners — that is, when they are as pretty as some one I know."
"Set a thief to catch a thief!" smiled Ione, willing for the time being to let herself be carried out of her own troubles by the gay irresponsibility of her friend.
"Exactly," cried Idalia, unabashed; "but come, you have not told me all. Reveal the dark secret of your crime. Keith Harford kissed your hand, did he? Well — so far good. It is often enough a fair enough opening, and after that I've frequently mated in four moves. But, after all — it is only the gong before dinner — the question is, 'What next?' sez I to myself, sez I."
"Why, then," said Ione calmly, taking no notice at all of this persiflage, "we looked up, and there was Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy standing tragically on the path before us, like Lady Macbeth done up in a red shawl. And that was all!"
"Come now, Ione March," said Idalia, fixing her friend with a hooked index finger, "look me in the eye! Say, 'Hope-I-may-die,' and then tell me that was all she saw! "
"Well," said Ione slowly, as if trying to recall the infinitely remote, "perhaps he was going to - "
"I knew it — I said it," cried Idalia, clapping her hands, "you can always feel it coming miles before it arrives. What a shame! It would have come all right in another moment but for that crazy old woman. And now — why, it mayn't happen for ever so long. O it's too bad! Keith Harford is just the kind to give up easily when he's crossed — sort of shut off steam sudden-like just when his pressure gauge is registering 160! What an old wretch! Talk about the Scarlet Woman! We must have him here, and then when he is reading us poetry — Tennyson and those things — (he reads poetry beautifully, Marcus says), I’ll pretend that I hear Marcus calling me, and I’ll slip out! See! I've got a lovely collection in the blue and gold series — 'Gems of Love ' it is called. We'll give him that — not a miss-fire from cover to cover — all prizes and no blanks, roses and raptures right through from beginning to end!"
Ione laughed happily. There seemed so few things to laugh about these days that the sound of her own mirth quite startled her.
"Your methods are excellent but crude, Idalia dear," she said; "you might just as well say to Mr. Harford when he comes, as I have heard my father tell of an old negro mammy, at a house where he visited when he was young, 'Go on courtin', honeys! — Doan’ ye mind ole Sally! Ole Sally's bin dar her own self! Shu-ah!'"
Then Ione went out, and Idalia sped off to find her husband. But, strange to relate, Marcus did not laugh.
"You don't know the mater" he said, dolefully shaking his head. "She will stick at nothing once she gets started. I'm deuced sorry we ever thought of bringing Ione here!"
And for once in his life Marcus Hardy looked grave for five minutes at a time.
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.