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Amazing Grace, Who Proves That Virtue Has Its Silver Lining

Kate Trimble Sharber

  Produced by Melissa McDaniel and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at (This file wasproduced from images generously made available by TheInternet Archive)

  Transcriber's Note:

  Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.


  I took up the first one]


  _Who Proves That Virtue Has Its Silver Lining_













  V ET TU, BRUTE! 82

















  Some people, you will admit, can absorb experience in gentle littlehomeopathic doses, while others require it to be shot into them byhypodermic injections.

  Certainly my Dresden-china mother up to the time of my birth had beenforced to take this bitter medicine in every form, yet she had neverbeen known to profit by it. She would not, it is true, fly in the veryface of Providence, but she _would_ nag at its coat tails.

  "You might as well name this child 'Praise-the-Lord,' and be done withit!" complained the rich Christie connection (which mother had alwaysregarded as outlaws as well as in-laws), shaking its finger across thechristening font into mother's boarding-school face on the day of mybaptism. "Of course all the world knows you're _glad_ she'sposthumous, but--"

  "But with Tom Christie only six weeks in spirit-land it isn't decent!"Cousin Pollie finished up individually.

  "Besides, good families don't name their children for abstractthings," Aunt Hannah put in. "It--well, it simply isn't done."

  "A woman who never does anything that isn't done, never does anythingworth doing," mother answered, through pretty pursed lips.

  "But, since you must be freakish, why not call her Prudence, orPatience--to keep Oldburgh from wagging its tongue in two?" AuntLouella suggested.

  Oldburgh isn't the town's name, of course, but it's a descriptivealias. The place itself is, unfortunately, the worst overworkedsouthern capital in fiction. It is one of the Old South's "types,"boasting far more social leaders than sky-scrapers--and you can'tsuffer a blow-out on _any_ pike near the city's limits that isn'tflanked by a college campus.

  "Oldburgh knows how I feel," mother replied. "If this baby had been aboy I should have named him Theodore--gift of God--but since she's agirl, her name is _Grace_."

  She said it smoothly, I feel sure, for her Vere de Vere repose alwaysjutted out like an iceberg into a troubled sea when there was a familysquall going on.

  "_All_ right!" pronounced two aunts, simultaneously and acidly.

  "All _right_!" chorused another two, but Cousin Pollie hadn't given upthe ship.

  "Just name a girl Faith, Hope or Natalie, if you want her to grow upfreckle-faced and marry a ribbon clerk!" she threatened. "Grace isevery bit as bad! It is indicative! It proclaims what you think ofher--what you will expect of her--and just trust her to disappointyou!"

  Which is only too true! You may be named Fannie or Bess without yourfamily having anything up its sleeve, but it's an entirely differentmatter when you're named for one of the prismatic virtues. You knowthen that you're expected to take an A. B. degree, mate with amillionaire and bring up your children by the Montessori method.

  "Bet Gwace 'ud ruther be ducked 'n cwistened, anyhow!" observedGuilford Blake, my five-year-old betrothed.--Not that we were Hindusand believed in infant marriage exactly! Not that! We were simplysoutherners, living in that portion of the South where the principalambition in life is to "stay put"--where everything you get isinherited, tastes, mates and demijohns--where blood is thicker thanaxle-grease, and the dividing fence between your estate and the nextis properly supposed to act as a seesaw basis for your amalgamatedgrandchildren.--Hence this early occasion for "Enter Guilford."

  "My daughter is not going to disappoint me," mother declared, as shemotioned for Guilford's mother to come forward and keep him fromprofaning the water in the font with his little celluloid duck.

  "Don't be too sure," warned Cousin Pollie.

  "Well, I'll--I'll risk it!" mother fired back. "And if you must knowthe truth, I couldn't express my feelings of gratitude--yes, I said_grat_itude--in any other name than Grace. I have had a wonderfulblessing lately, and I am going to give credit where it is due! It wasnothing less than an act of heavenly grace that released me!"

  At this point the mercury dropped so suddenly that Cousin Pollie'sbreath became visible. Only six weeks before my father had died--ofdelirium tremens. It was a case of "the death wound on his gallantbreast the last of _many_ scars," but the Christies had never givenmother any sympathy on that account. He had done nothing worse, hisfamily considered, than to get his feet tangled up in the line ofleast resistance. Nearly every southern man born with a silver spoonin his mouth discards it for a straw to drink mint julep with!

  "Calling her the whole of the doxology isn't going to get thatChristie look off her!" father's family sniffed, their triumphanswering her defiant outburst. "She is the living image of UncleLancelot!"

  You'll notice this about in-laws. If the baby is like their familytheir attitude is triumphant--if it's like anybody else on the face ofthe earth their manner is distinctly accusing.

  "'Lancelot!'" mother repeated scornfully. "If they had to name him forpoetry why didn't they call him Lothario and be done with it!"

  The circle again stiffened, as if they had a spine in common.

  "Certainly it isn't becoming in you to train this child up with adisrespectful feeling toward Uncle Lancelot," some one reprimandedquickly, "since she gives every evidence of being very much like himin appearance."

  "My child like that notorious Lancelot Christie!" mother repeated,then burst into tears. "Why she's a Moore, I'll have youunderstand--from here--down to _here_!"

  She encompassed the space between the crown of my throbbing head andthe soles of my kicking feet, but neither the tears nor themeasurements melted Cousin Pollie.

  "A Moore! Bah! Why, you needn't expect that she'll turn out an
ythinglike you. A Lydia Languish mother always brings forth a caryatid!"

  "A what?" mother demanded frenziedly, then remembering that CousinPollie had just returned from Europe with guide-books full of strangebut not necessarily insulting words, she backed down into her formerassertion. "She's a Moore! She's the image of my revered father."

  "There's something in that, Pollie," admitted Aunt Louella, who wasthe weak-kneed one of the sisters. "Look at the poetic little browand expression of spiritual intelligence!"

  "But what a combination!" Aunt Hannah pointed out. "As sure as you'rea living woman this mouth and chin are like Uncle Lancelot!--Think ofit--Jacob Moore and Lancelot Christie living together in the sameskin!"

  "Why, they'll tear the child limb from limb!"

  This piece of sarcasm came from old great-great-aunt, PatriciaChristie, who never took sides with anybody in family disputes,because she hated them one and all alike. She rose from her chair nowand hobbled on her stick into the midst of the battle-field.

  "Let me see! Let me see!"

  "She's remarkably like Uncle Lancelot, aunty," Cousin Pollie declaredwith a superior air of finality.

  "She's a thousand times more like my father than I, myself, am," poorlittle mother avowed stanchly.

  "Then, all I've got to say is that it's a devilish bad combination!"Aunt Patricia threw out, making faces at them impartially.

  And to pursue the matter further, I may state that it was! All my lifeI have been divided between those ancient enemies--cut in two by aSolomon's sword, as it were, because no decision could be made as towhich one really owned me.

  You believe in a "dual personality"? Well, they're mine! They quarrelwithin me! They dispute! They pull and wrangle and seesaw in as manydifferent directions as a party of Cook tourists in Cairo--coming intothe council-chamber of my conscience to decide everything I do, fromthe selection of a black-dotted veil to the emancipation of thesex--while I sit by as helpless as a bound-and-gagged spiritualmedium.

  "They're not going to affect her future," mother said, but a littlegasp of fear showed that if she'd been a Roman Catholic she would becrossing herself.

  "Of course not!" Aunt Patricia answered. "It's all written down,anyhow, in her little hand. Let me see the lines of her palm!"

  "Her feet's a heap cuter!" Guilford advised, but the old ladyuntwisted my tight little fist.

  "Ah! This tells the story!"

  "What?" mother asked, peering over eagerly.

  "Nothing--nothing, except that the youngster's a Christie, sureenough! All heart and no head."

  Mother started to cry again, but Aunt Patricia stopped her.

  "For the lord's sake hush--here comes the minister! Anyhow, if thechild grows up beautiful she may survive it--but heaven help the womanwho has a big heart and a big nose at the same time."

  Then, with this christening and bit of genealogical gossip by way ofintroduction, the next mile-stone in my career came one day when thetwentieth century was in its wee small figures.

  "I hate Grandfather Moore and Uncle Lancelot Christie, both!" Iconfided to Aunt Patricia upon that occasion, having been sent to herroom to make her a duty visit, as I was home for the holidays--aslim-legged sorority "pledge"--and had learned that talking about thePast, either for or against, was the only way to gain her attention."I hate them both, I say! I wish you could be vaccinated against yourancestors. Are they in you to stay?"

  I put the question pertly, for she was not the kind to endure timiditynor hushed reverence from her family connections. She was a woman ofgreat spirit herself, and she called forth spirit in other people. Avisit with her was more like a bomb than a benediction.

  "Hate your ancestors?"

  At this time she was perching, hawk-eyed and claw-fingered, upon theedge of the grave, but she always liked and remembered me because Ihappened to be the only member of the family who didn't keep a blackbonnet in readiness upon the wardrobe shelf.

  "I hate that grandfather and Uncle Lancelot affair! Don't you thinkit's a pity I couldn't have had a little say-so in that business?"

  "Yes--no--I don't know--ouch, my knee!" she snapped. "What achatterbox you are, Grace! I've got rheumatism!"

  "But I've got 'hereditary tendencies,'" I persisted, "and chloroformliniment won't do any good with my ailment. I wish I need never hearmy family history mentioned again."

  "Then, you shouldn't have chosen so notable a lineage," she exclaimedviciously. "Your Grandfather Moore, as you know, was a famousdivine--"

  "I know--and Uncle Lancelot Christie was an equally famous infernal,"I said, for the sake of varying the story a little. I was so tired ofit.

  She stared, arrested in her recital.


  "Well, if you call a minister a divine, why shouldn't you call agambler an infernal?"

  "Just after the Civil War," she kept on, with the briefest pause leftto show that she ignored my interruption, "your grandfather did allin his power--although he was no kin to me, I give him credit forthat--he did all in his power to re-establish peace between the statesby preaching and praying across the border."

  "And Uncle Lancelot accomplished the feat in half the time by flirtingand marrying," I reminded her.

  She turned her face away, to hide a smile I knew, for she alwaysconcealed what was pleasant and displayed grimaces.

  "Well, I must admit that when Lancelot brought home his third Ohioheiress--"

  "The other two heiresses having died of neglect," I put in to show mylearning.

  "--many southern aristocrats felt that if the Mason and Dixon line hadnot been wiped away it had at least been broken up into dots anddashes--like a telegraph code."

  I smiled conspicuously at her wit, then went back to my former stand.I was determined to be firm about it.

  "I don't care--I hate them both! Nagging old crisscross creatures!"

  She looked at me blankly for a moment, then:

  "Grace, you amaze me!" she said.

  But she mimicked mother's voice--mother's hurt, helpless,moral-suasion voice--as she said it, and we both burst out laughing.

  "But, honest Injun, aunty, if a person's got to carry around aheritage, why aren't you allowed to choose which one you prefer?" Iasked; then, a sudden memory coming to me, I leaped to my feet andsprang across the room, my gym. shoes sounding in hospital thudsagainst the floor. I drew up to where three portraits hung on theopposite wall. They represented an admiral, an ambassador and anartist.

  "Why can't you adopt an ancestor, as you can a child?" I asked again,turning back to her.

  "Adopt an ancestor?"

  Her voice was trembling with excitement, which was not brought aboutby the annoyance of my chatter, and as I saw that she was nodding herhead vigorously, I calmed down at once and regretted my precipitateaction, for the doctor had said that any unusual exertion or change ofroutine would end her.

  "I only meant that I'd prefer these to grandfather and UncleLancelot," I explained soothingly, but her anxiety only increased.

  "Which one?" she demanded in a squeaky voice which fairly bubbled witha "bully-for-you" sound. "_Which one_, Grace?"

  "Him," I answered.

  "They're all hims!" she screamed impatiently.

  "I mean the artist."

  At this she tried to struggle to her feet, then settled back inexhaustion and drew a deep breath.

  "Come here! Come here quick!" she panted weakly.

  "Yes, 'um."

  She wiped away a tear, in great shame, for she was not a weepingwoman.

  "Thank God!" she said angrily. "Thank God! That awful problem issettled at last! I knew I couldn't have a moment's peace a-dying untilI had decided."

  "Decided what?" I gasped in dismay, for I was afraid from the look inher eyes that she was "seeing things." "Shall I call mother, or--someone?"

  "Don't you dare!" she challenged. "Don't you leave this room, miss.It's _you_ that I have business with!"

  "But I haven't done a thing!" I plead, as weak all of a sudden a
s shewas.

  "It's not what you've done, but what you _are_," she exclaimed."You're the only member of this family that has an idea which isn'tframed and hung up! Now, listen! I'm going to leave yousomething--something very precious. Do you know about that artist overthere--James Mackenzie Christie--our really famous ancestor--_my_great-uncle, who has been dead these sixty years, but will always beimmortal? Do you know about him?"

  "Yes--I know!"

  "Well, I'm going to leave--those letters--those terrible love-lettersto _you_!"

  I drew back, as if she'd pointed a pistol straight at me.

  "But they're the skeleton in the closet," I repeated, having heard itexpressed that way all my life.

  She was angry for a moment, then she began laughing reminiscently androcking herself backward and forward slowly in her chair. Her face wasas detached and crazy as Ophelia's over her botany lesson, when shegets on your nerves with her: "There is pansies, that's for thoughts,"and so forth.

  "Yes, he left a skeleton--what was considered a skeleton in thosedays--Uncle James--our family's great man--but such a skeleton! Peoplenow would understand how wonderful it is--with its carved ivorybones--and golden joints and ruby eyes! _You little fool!_"

  "Why, I'm proud!" I denied, backing back, all a-tremble. "I'll lovethose letters, Aunt Patricia."

  "You'd better!"

  "I'll be sure to," I reiterated, but her face suddenly softened, andshe caught up my hand in her yellow claw. She studied the palm for amoment.

  "You'll understand them," she sighed. "Poor little, heart-strongChristie!"

  And, whether her words were prophetic or delirious, she had told thetruth. I have understood them.

  She gave them over into my keeping that day; and the next morning wefound her settled back among her pillows, imagining that all herbrothers and sisters were flying above the mantlepiece and that theChinese vase was in danger. Another day passed, and on Sundayafternoon all the wardrobe shelves yielded up their black bonnets.

  I was not distressed, but I was lonely, with an ultra-Sabbathicalrepression over my spirits.

  "I believe I'll amuse myself by reading over those old letters," Isuggested to mother, as time dragged wearily before the crowd began togather. But she uttered a shriek, with an ultra-Sabbathical repressionover its tone.

  "Grace, you amaze me!" she said.

  "She's really a most American child!" Cousin Pollie pronouncedseverely, having just finished doing the British Isles.

  After this it seemed that years and years and years of the twentiethcentury passed--all in a heap. I awoke one morning to find myself setin my ways. Most women, in the formation of their happiness, arewilling to let nature take its course, then there are others who arenot content with this, but demand a postgraduate course. I,unfortunately, belonged to this latter class. Growing up I was fairlynormal, not idle enough at school to forecast a brilliant career inany of the arts, nor studious enough to deserve a prediction ofmediocre plodding the rest of my life; but after school came thedeluge. I was restless, shabby and _single_--no one of which mothercould endure in her daughter.

  So I was a disappointment to her, while the rest of the tribe gloated.The name, Grace, with all appurtenances and emoluments accruingthereto, availed nothing. I was a failure.

  "My pet abomination begins with C," I chattered savagely to myself oneafternoon in June, a suitable number of years after theabove-mentioned christening, as I made my way to my own private deskin the office of _The Oldburgh Herald_, pondering family affairs in myheart as I went. "Of course this is at the bottom of the whole agony!They just can't bear to see me turn out to be a newspaper reporterinstead of Mrs. Guilford Blake. And I hate everything that they lovebest--cities, clothes, clubs, culture, civilities, conventions,chiffons!"

  I was thinking of Cousin Pollie's comment when she first saw a featurestory in the _Herald_ signed with my name.

  "Is the girl named Grace or Disgrace?" she had asked. "Not sinceAmerica was a wilderness has the name of any Christie woman appearedoutside the head-lines of the society column!"

  "The whole connection has raised its eyebrows," I laughed, when I metthe owner and publisher of the paper down in his private office thenext day. He was an old friend of the family, having fought beside myrevered grandfather, and he had taken me into the family circle of the_Herald_ more out of sympathy than need.

  "That's all right! It's better to raise an eyebrow than to raisehell!" he laughed back.

  But on the June afternoon I have in mind, when I hurried up-townthinking over my pet abominations beginning with C, I was still afairly civilized being. I lived at home with mother in the old house,for one thing, instead of in an independent apartment, after thefashion of emancipated women--and I still wore Guilford Blake'sheirloom scarab ring.

  "Aren't your nerves a little on edge just now, Grace, from the scenethis morning?" something kept whispering in my ears in an effort totame my savagery. It was the soft virtuous personality of my innerconsciousness, which, according to science, was Grandfather Moore."You'll be all right, my dear, as soon as you make up your mind to dothe square thing about this matter which is agitating you. And ofcourse you are going to do the square thing. Money isn't all thereis."

  "Now, that's all rot, parson!" Uncle Lancelot, in the other hemisphereof my brain, denied stoutly. "Don't listen to him, Grace! You can't goon living this crocheted life, and money will bring freedom."

  "He's a sophist, Grace," came convincingly across the wires.

  "He's a purist, Grace," flashed back.

  "Hush! Hush! What do two old Kilkenny cats of ancestors know about myproblems?" I cried fiercely. Then, partly to drown out their clamor, Ikept on: "My pet abominations in several syllables are--checkeredcareer--contiguous choice--just because his mother and mine lived nextdoor when they were girls--circumscribed capabilities--"

  "And the desire of your heart begins with H," Uncle Lancelot saidtriumphantly. "You want Happy Humanness--different brand and harder toget than Human Happiness--you want a House that is a Home, and aboveall else you want a Husband with a sense of Humor!"

  "But how could this letter affect all this?" I asked myself, stoppingat the foot of the steps to take a message in rich vellum stationeryfrom my bag. "How can so much be contained in one little envelope?"

  After all, this was what it said:

  "My dear Miss Christie:

  "While in Oldburgh recently on a visit to Mr. Clarence Wiley"--he was the author of blood-and-thunder detective stories who lived on Waverley Pike and raised pansies between times--"I learned that you are in possession of the love-letters written by the famous Lady Frances Webb to your illustrious ancestor, James Mackenzie Christie. Mr. Wiley himself was my informer, and being a friend of your family was naturally able to give me much interesting information about the remaining evidences of this widely-discussed affair.

  "No doubt the idea has occurred to you that the love-letters of a celebrated English novelist to the first American artist of his time would make valuable reading matter for the public; and the suggestion of these letters being done into a book has made such charming appeal to my mind that I resolved to put the matter before you without delay.

  "To be perfectly plain and direct, this inheritance of yours can be made into a small fortune for you, since the material, properly handled, would make one of the best-selling books of the decade.

  "If you are interested I shall be glad to hear from you, and we can then take up at once the business details of the transaction. Mr. Wiley spoke in such high praise of the literary value of the letters that my enthusiasm has been keenly aroused.

  "With all good wishes, I am, "Very sincerely yours,

  "Julien J. Dutweiler."

  There was an embossed superscription on the envelope's flap whichread: "Coburn-Colt Company, Publishers, Philadelphia." They wereAmerica's best-known p
romoters--the kind who could take six inches ofadvertising and a red-and-gold binding and make a mountain out of amole-hill.

  "'Small fortune!'" I repeated. "Surely a great temptation _does_descend during a hungry spell--in real life, as well as in humandocuments."