ew a half century or soago."
AUNT JANE'S NIECES IN SOCIETY
EDITH VAN DYNE
LIST OF CHAPTERS
I UNCLE JOHN'S DUTY II A QUESTION OF "PULL" III DIANA IV THE THREE NIECES V PREPARING FOR THE PLUNGE VI THE FLY IN THE BROTH VII THE HERO ENTERS AND TROUBLE BEGINS VIII OPENING THE CAMPAIGN IX THE VON TAER PEARLS X MISLED XI LIMOUSINE XII FOGERTY XIII DIANA REVOLTS XIV A COOL ENCOUNTER XV A BEWILDERING EXPERIENCE XVI MADAME CERISE, CUSTODIAN XVII THE MYSTERY DEEPENSXVIII A RIFT IN THE CLOUDS XIX POLITIC REPENTANCE XX A TELEPHONE CALL XXI THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS XXII GONEXXIII THE CRISIS XXIV A MATTER OF COURSE
UNCLE JOHN'S DUTY
"You're not doing your duty by those girls, John Merrick!"
The gentleman at whom this assertion was flung in a rather angry tonedid not answer his sister-in-law. He sat gazing reflectively at thepattern in the rug and seemed neither startled nor annoyed. Mrs.Merrick, a pink-cheeked middle-aged lady attired in an elaborate morninggown, knitted her brows severely as she regarded the chubby little manopposite; then, suddenly remembering that the wrinkles might leave theirdreadful mark on her carefully rolled and massaged features, shebanished them with a pass of her ringed hand and sighed dismally.
"It would not have mattered especially had the poor children been leftin their original condition of friendless poverty," she said. "They werethen like a million other girls, content to struggle for a respectablelivelihood and a doubtful position in the lower stratas of socialcommunion. But you interfered. You came into their lives abruptly,appearing from those horrid Western wilds with an amazing accumulationof money and a demand that your three nieces become your special_protegees_. And what is the result?"
The little man looked up with a charming smile of good humored raillery.His keen gray eyes sparkled as mischievously as a schoolboy's. Softly herubbed the palms of his hands together, as if enjoying the situation.
"What is it, Martha, my dear? What is the result?" he asked.
"You've raised them from their lowly condition to a sphere in which theyreign as queens, the envy of all who know them. You've lavished yourmillions upon them unsparingly; they are not only presumptive heiressesbut already possessed of independent fortunes. Ah, you think you've beengenerous to these girls; don't you, John Merrick?" "Go on, Martha; goon."
"You've taken them abroad--you took my own daughter, John Merrick, andleft _me_ at home!--you've lugged your three nieces to the mountains andcarried them to the seashore. You even encouraged them to enlist in anunseemly campaign to elect that young imbecile, Kenneth Forbes, and--"
"Oh, Martha, Martha! Get to the point, if you can. I'm going,presently."
"Not until you've heard me out. You've given your nieces every advantagein your power save one, and the neglect of that one thing renders futileall else you have accomplished."
Now, indeed, her listener seemed perplexed. He passed a hand over hisshiny bald head as if to stimulate thought and exorcise bewilderment.
"What is it, then? What have I neglected?" was his mild enquiry.
"To give those girls their proper standing in society."
He started; smiled; then looked grave.
"You're talking foolishly," he said. "Why, confound it, Martha, they'reas good girls as ever lived! They're highly respected, and--" "Sir, Irefer to Fashionable Society." The capitals indicate the impressivemanner in which Mrs. Merrick pronounced those words.
"I guess money makes folks fashionable; don't it, Martha?"
"No, indeed. How ignorant you are, John. Can you not understand thatthere is a cultured, aristocratic and exclusive Society in New York thatmillions will not enable one to gain _entree_ to?"
"Oh, is there? Then I'm helpless."
"You are not, sir."
"Eh? I thought you said--"
"Listen, John; and for heaven's sake try for once to be receptive. I amspeaking not only for the welfare of my daughter Louise but for Bethand Patricia. Your nieces are charming girls, all three. With theadvantages you have given them they may well become social celebrities."
"H-m-m. Would they be happier so?"
"Of course. Every true woman longs for social distinction, especially ifit seems difficult to acquire. Nothing is dearer to a girl's heart thanto win acceptance by the right social set. And New York society is themost exclusive in America."
"I'm afraid it will continue to exclude our girls, Martha."
"Not if you do your duty, John."
"That reminds me. What is your idea of my duty, Martha? You've beentalking in riddles, so far," he protested, shifting uneasily in hischair.
"Let me explain more concisely, then. Your millions, John Merrick, havemade you really famous, even in this wealthy metropolis. In the city andat your club you must meet with men who have the _entree_ to the mostdesirable social circles: men who might be induced to introduce yournieces to their families, whose endorsement would effect their properpresentation."
"It isn't nonsense at all."
"Then blamed if I know what you're driving at."
"You're very obtuse."
"I won't agree to that till I know what 'obtuse' means. See here,Martha; you say this social position, that the girls are so crazyfor--but they've never said anything to _me_ about it--can't be bought.In the next breath you urge me to buy it. Phoo! You're a thoughtless,silly woman, Martha, and let your wild ambitions run away with yourcommon sense."
Mrs. Merrick sighed, but stubbornly maintained her position.
"I don't suggest 'buying' such people; not at all, John. It's what iscalled--ah--ah--'influence'; or, or--"
"Or 'pull.' 'Pull' is a better word, Martha. Do you imagine there's anyvalue in social position that can be acquired by 'pull'?"
"Of course. It has to be acquired some way--if one is not born to it. Asa matter of fact, Louise is entitled, through her connection with _my_family--"
"Pshaw, I knew _your_ family, Martha," he interrupted. "An arrant lot ofhumbugs."
"Don't get riled. It's the truth. I _knew_ 'em. On her father's sideLouise has just as much to brag about--an' no more. We Merricks neveramounted to much, an' didn't hanker to trip the light fantastic inswell society. Once, though, when I was a boy, I had a cousin whospelled down the whole crowd at a spellin'-bee. We were quite proud ofhim then; but he went wrong after his triumph, poor fellow! and became abook agent. Now, Martha, I imagine this talk of yours is all hot air,and worked off on me not because the girls want society, but because youwant it for 'em. It's all _your_ ambition, I'll bet a peanut."
"You misjudge me, as usual, John. I am urging a matter of simplejustice. Your nieces are lovely girls, fitted to shine in any sphere oflife," she continued, knowing his weak point and diplomaticallyfostering it. "Our girls have youth, accomplishments, money--everythingto fit them for social triumphs. The winter season is now approaching;the people are flocking back to town from their country homes;fashionable gaieties and notable events will soon hold full sway. Thedear girls are surely entitled to enjoy these things, don't you think?Aren't they _worthy_ the best that life has to offer? And why shouldn'tthey enter society, if you do your full duty? Once get them properlyintroduced and they will be able to hold their own with perfect ease.Give me the credit for knowing these things, John, and try to help yournieces to attain their ambition."
"But _is_ it their ambition?" he asked, doubtfully.
"They have not said so in words; but I can assure you it _is_ theirambition, because all three are sensible, spirited, young women, wholive in this age and not the one you yourself kn
Mr. Merrick sighed and rubbed his head again. Then he slowly rose.
"Mornin', Martha," he said, with a somewhat abstracted nod at hissister-in-law. "This is a new idea to me. I'll think it over."