"YOU look tired, Mary," said Jack, tenderly, as they entered their apartment on Central Park South, which they were soon to give up for a house of their own - the House that Jack built. "I'm afraid we ought not to have kept it up all day. The morning at Henderson's was quite enough to fag out the strongest man, let alone a delicate woman."
"Speak for yourself," retorted Mary. "I'm no more tired than you are. And I noticed that at luncheon you were too exhausted to say a word until you had stuffed yourself full. Why, I couldn't get a word out of you. If it had been any one else, I'd have called it plain grouch. But you're never that, no matter what else you may be."
Jack smiled. He loved Mary's vivacity, and accepted her Parthian shafts of wit without a protest, even when they made him wince. "I was just hungry, Mary; hungry as a bear, and you know I never can talk when I'm starving."
"Well, I'll forgive you this time," said Mary, "but don't let it happen again. I'm willing to do my share of the conversation and more, but I like an occasional question or comment in order to make sure I'm being listened to."
"As if any one could help listening to you," smiled Jack.
"That'll do for your taffy," returned Mary. "You get me all worked up and excited, and then think you can stroke me down with a few soft words."
"Can't I?" asked Jack.
Mary turned the subject. It always annoys her to linger too long in the same conversational territory. As soon as she grasps the situation completely, she imagines every one else has, and presto! change! Besides, she wanted tea and she wanted to talk about bedroom furniture.
"I don't think much of the example rooms at Henderson's," she remarked, after they had removed their wraps. They were seated in the tiny reception-room facing the Park, and Mary was dangling the silver tea-ball in Jack's cup.
"They certainly represent an immense expenditure of money," commented Jack.
"Money thrown away," declared Mary.
"They certainly draw the crowd," said Jack.
"That's just what I don't like about them," said Mary. "I don't enjoy being elbowed when I'm trying to make up my mind whether the room I'm looking at is in the Adam style that I do like, or in the Georgian style that I don't like. I want to have space and plenty of it, and a chance to read the signs that tell the story."
"We were particularly unfortunate to-day," said Jack. "One of the clerks told me they have a guessing contest on this week, a prize for the persons who guess nearest, and next nearest, and second next nearest, to the prices of the furnishings of the different rooms."
"How much is the prize?" queried Mary, with lively interest. She was keen on prizes. She always won - or rather she always got a prize at progressive euchre parties - so Jack said. But it was quite as often the consolation prize as one of the high ones. Some afternoons Mary didn't feel like playing euchre. And if she didn't, woe to her score and all those who were her partners. She would simply bubble over with stories of the exciting things that she had seen happen that very day, on her way there - a horse that had slipped down in the street and refused to get up until she gave him a piece of sweet stuff out of her bonbonniere. All the crowd thought he was hurt, had broken his leg or something, and the policeman was going to shoot him. But the horse no sooner got kind words and confectionery, than up he jumped and went back to the thankless task of dragging a dilapidated express wagon, and enduring the insults and blows of his driver, a dirty lad of twelve or fourteen.
Jack's Dining Room.
However, Jack sometimes exaggerates Mary's amiable weaknesses. Life with her has injected a great deal of additional picturesqueness into his narrative. There are times when Mary actually listens to him in silence for ten full minutes.
"The prize?" returned Jack. "There are twenty of them - one for each of the nineteen rooms, and one grand prize for the house as a whole."
"I'm going to one of the clerks and make him figure it out for me," ejaculated Mary. "Or isn't that fair?"
"Oh, they've probably guarded against that," answered Jack. "Here is the literature that tells all about it."
"I'm through with prize contests," said Mary, spurning the literature. "You know little Stella Brown? She sent an answer to a Boston magazine that offered a trip to Europe to those successfully solving an acrostic. Of course, they had to subscribe first. She sent in two dollars for her subscription and the answer to the acrostic that was dreadfully easy."
"I haven't heard of her going to Europe," chuckled Jack.
"No," said Mary. "Then they wrote back that she had been successful, but must first send five dollars as a registration fee to insure her identity, or some nonsense like that."
"Did she send the five?" asked Jack.
"She did," responded Mary, "and that was six months ago and she's still writing to the Boston address and trying to find out why they don't send her the transportation."
"I thought you wanted to talk over the furniture for the bedroom," said Jack.
"So I do," she responded, with a quizzical glance, "but you will keep getting off the subject."
Just then the bell rang, and presently the maid brought in a card. "Why, it's Cousin Tom!" cried Mary, dropping her napkin on the floor for Jack to pick up, and sliding back the folding doors into the library.
"And Harriet, too," she added, kissing the latter with enthusiasm, and taking Tom's big hand in both her own tiny ones. "You're just in time for a cup of tea, and some of the most delicious little cakes that ever came from Mary Elizabeth's. Hurry, Hilda. Be sure to put out the lace doylies."
Hilda hurried. Mary's maids always did hurry after they had been with her a while. But she hurried with great good nature, and was evidently completely under the spell of Mary's charming personality.