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THE YOUNGEST MISS PIPER


I do not think that any of us who enjoyed the acquaintance of the
Piper girls or the hospitality of Judge Piper, their father, ever
cared for the youngest sister. Not on account of her extreme
youth, for the eldest Miss Piper confessed to twenty-six--and the
youth of the youngest sister was established solely, I think, by
one big braid down her back. Neither was it because she was the
plainest, for the beauty of the Piper girls was a recognized
general distinction, and the youngest Miss Piper was not entirely
devoid of the family charms. Nor was it from any lack of
intelligence, nor from any defective social quality; for her
precocity was astounding, and her good-humored frankness alarming.
Neither do I think it could be said that a slight deafness, which
might impart an embarrassing publicity to any statement--the
reverse of our general feeling--that might be confided by any one
to her private ear, was a sufficient reason; for it was pointed out
that she always understood everything that Tom Sparrell told her in
his ordinary tone of voice. Briefly, it was very possible that
Delaware--the youngest Miss Piper--did not like us. Yet it was
fondly believed by us that the other sisters failed to show that
indifference to our existence shown by Miss Delaware, although the
heartburnings, misunderstandings, jealousies, hopes and fears, and
finally the chivalrous resignation with which we at last accepted
the long foregone conclusion that they were not for us, and far
beyond our reach, is not a part of this veracious chronicle.
Enough that none of the flirtations of her elder sisters affected
or were shared by the youngest Miss Piper. She moved in this
heart-breaking atmosphere with sublime indifference, treating her
sisters' affairs with what we considered rank simplicity or
appalling frankness. Their few admirers who were weak enough to
attempt to gain her mediation or confidence had reason to regret
it.

"It's no kind o' use givin' me goodies," she said to a helpless
suitor of Louisiana Piper's who had offered to bring her some
sweets, "for I ain't got no influence with Lu, and if I don't give
'em up to her when she hears of it, she'll nag me and hate you like
pizen. Unless," she added thoughtfully, "it was wintergreen
lozenges; Lu can't stand them, or anybody who eats them within a
mile." It is needless to add that the miserable man, thus put upon
his gallantry, was obliged in honor to provide Del with the
wintergreen lozenges that kept him in disfavor and at a distance.
Unfortunately, too, any predilection or pity for any particular
suitor of her sister's was attended by even more disastrous
consequences. It was reported that while acting as "gooseberry"--a
role usually assigned to her--between Virginia Piper and an
exceptionally timid young surveyor, during a ramble she conceived a
rare sentiment of humanity towards the unhappy man. After once or
twice lingering behind in the ostentatious picking of a wayside
flower, or "running on ahead" to look at a mountain view, without
any apparent effect on the shy and speechless youth, she decoyed
him aside while her elder sister rambled indifferently and somewhat
scornfully on. The youngest Miss Piper leaped upon the rail of a
fence, and with the stalk of a thimbleberry in her mouth swung her
small feet to and fro and surveyed him dispassionately.

"Ye don't seem to be ketchin' on?" she said tentatively.

The young man smiled feebly and interrogatively.

"Don't seem to be either follering suit nor trumpin'," continued
Del bluntly.

"I suppose so--that is, I fear that Miss Virginia"--he stammered.

"Speak up! I'm a little deaf. Say it again!" said Del, screwing
up her eyes and eyebrows.

The young man was obliged to admit in stentorian tones that his
progress had been scarcely satisfactory.

"You're goin' on too slow--that's it," said Del critically. "Why,
when Captain Savage meandered along here with Jinny" (Virginia)
"last week, afore we got as far as this he'd reeled off a heap of
Byron and Jamieson" (Tennyson), "and sich; and only yesterday Jinny
and Doctor Beveridge was blowin' thistletops to know which was a
flirt all along the trail past the crossroads. Why, ye ain't
picked ez much as a single berry for Jinny, let alone Lad's Love or
Johnny Jumpups and Kissme's, and ye keep talkin' across me, you
two, till I'm tired. Now look here," she burst out with sudden
decision, "Jinny's gone on ahead in a kind o' huff; but I reckon
she's done that afore too, and you'll find her, jest as Spinner
did, on the rise of the hill, sittin' on a pine stump and lookin'
like this." (Here the youngest Miss Piper locked her fingers over
her left knee, and drew it slightly up,--with a sublime
indifference to the exposure of considerable small-ankled red
stocking,--and with a far-off, plaintive stare, achieved a
colorable imitation of her elder sister's probable attitude.)
"Then you jest go up softly, like as you was a bear, and clap your
hands on her eyes, and say in a disguised voice like this" (here
Del turned on a high falsetto beyond any masculine compass),
"'Who's who?' jest like in forfeits."

"But she'll be sure to know me," said the surveyor timidly.

"She won't," said Del in scornful skepticism.

"I hardly think"--stammered the young man, with an awkward smile,
"that I--in fact--she'll discover me--before I can get beside her."

"Not if you go softly, for she'll be sittin' back to the road, so--
gazing away, so"--the youngest Miss Piper again stared dreamily in
the distance, "and you'll creep up just behind, like this."

"But won't she be angry? I haven't known her long--that is--don't
you see?" He stopped embarrassedly.

"Can't hear a word you say," said Del, shaking her head decisively.
"You've got my deaf ear. Speak louder, or come closer."

But here the instruction suddenly ended, once and for all time!
For whether the young man was seriously anxious to perfect himself;
whether he was truly grateful to the young girl and tried to show
it; whether he was emboldened by the childish appeal of the long
brown distinguishing braid down her back, or whether he suddenly
found something peculiarly provocative in the reddish brown eyes
between their thickset hedge of lashes, and with the trim figure
and piquant pose, and was seized with that hysteric desperation
which sometimes attacks timidity itself, I cannot say! Enough that
he suddenly put his arm around her waist and his lips to her soft
satin cheek, peppered and salted as it was by sun-freckles and
mountain air, and received a sound box on the ear for his pains.
The incident was closed. He did not repeat the experiment on
either sister. The disclosure of his rebuff seemed, however, to
give a singular satisfaction to Red Gulch.

While it may be gathered from this that the youngest Miss Piper was
impervious to general masculine advances, it was not until later
that Red Gulch was thrown into skeptical astonishment by the rumors
that all this time she really had a lover! Allusion has been made
to the charge that her deafness did not prevent her from perfectly
understanding the ordinary tone of voice of a certain Mr. Thomas
Sparrell.

No undue significance was attached to this fact through the very
insignificance and "impossibility" of that individual;--a lanky,
red-haired youth, incapacitated for manual labor through lameness,--
a clerk in a general store at the Cross Roads! He had never been
the recipient of Judge Piper's hospitality; he had never visited
the house even with parcels; apparently his only interviews with
her or any of the family had been over the counter. To do him
justice he certainly had never seemed to seek any nearer
acquaintance; he was not at the church door when her sisters,
beautiful in their Sunday gowns, filed into the aisle, with little
Delaware bringing up the rear; he was not at the Democratic
barbecue, that we attended without reference to our personal
politics, and solely for the sake of Judge Piper and the girls; nor
did he go to the Agricultural Fair Ball--open to all. His
abstention we believed to be owing to his lameness; to a wholesome
consciousness of his own social defects; or an inordinate passion
for reading cheap scientific textbooks, which did not, however, add
fluency nor conviction to his speech. Neither had he the
abstraction of a student, for his accounts were kept with an
accuracy which struck us, who dealt at the store, as ignobly
practical, and even malignant. Possibly we might have expressed
this opinion more strongly but for a certain rude vigor of repartee
which he possessed, and a suggestion that he might have a temper on
occasion. "Them red-haired chaps is like to be tetchy and to kinder
see blood through their eyelashes," had been suggested by an
observing customer.




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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