Mother's battery is out of order, too. Can't raise anybody down-stairs--that is plain."
He sat down at a rosewood desk, leaned his chin on the left-hand edge of it and spoke, as if to the floor: "Aunt Susan!"
A low, pleasant voice answered, "Is that you, Alonzo?'
"Yes. I'm too lazy and comfortable to go downstairs; I am in extremity, and I can't seem to scare up any help."
"Dear me, what is the matter?"
"Matter enough, I can tell you!"
"Oh, don't keep me in suspense, dear! What is it?"
"I want to know what time it is."
"You abominable boy, what a turn you did give me! Is that all?"
"All--on my honor. Calm yourself. Tell me the time, and receive my blessing."
"Just five minutes after nine. No charge--keep your blessing."
"Thanks. It wouldn't have impoverished me, aunty, nor so enriched you that you could live without other means."
He got up, murmuring, "Just five minutes after nine," and faced his clock. "Ah," said he, "you are doing better than usual. You are only thirty-four minutes wrong. Let me see . . , let me see. . . . Thirty-three and twenty-one are fifty-four; four times fifty-four are two hundred and thirty-six. One off, leaves two hundred and thirty-five. That's right."
He turned the hands of his clock forward till they marked twenty-five minutes to one, and said, "Now see if you can't keep right for a while --else I'll raffle you!"
He sat down at the desk again, and said, "Aunt Susan!"
"Yes, indeed, an hour ago."
"No--except sewing. Why?"
"Got any company?"
"No, but I expect some at half past nine."
"I wish I did. I'm lonesome. I want to talk to somebody."
"Very well, talk to me."
"But this is very private."
"Don't be afraid--talk right along, there's nobody here but me."
"I hardly know whether to venture or not, but--"
"But what? Oh, don't stop there! You know you can trust me, Alonzo--you know, you can."
"I feel it, aunt, but this is very serious. It affects me deeply--me, and all the family---even the whole community."
"Oh, Alonzo, tell me! I will never breathe a word of it. What is it?"
"Aunt, if I might dare--"
"Oh, please go on! I love you, and feel for you. Tell me all. Confide in me. What is it?"
"Plague take the weather! I don't see how you can have the heart to serve me so, Lon."
"There, there, aunty dear, I'm sorry; I am, on my honor. I won't do it again. Do you forgive me?"
"Yes, since you seem so sincere about it, though I know I oughtn't to. You will fool me again as soon as I have forgotten this time."
"No, I won't, honor bright. But such weather, oh, such weather! You've got to keep your spirits up artificially. It is snowy, and blowy, and gusty, and bitter cold! How is the weather with you?"
"Warm and rainy and melancholy. The mourners go about the streets with their umbrellas running streams from the end of every whalebone. There's an elevated double pavement of umbrellas, stretching down the sides of the streets as far as I can see. I've got a fire for cheerfulness, and the windows open to keep cool. But it is vain, it is useless: nothing comes in but the balmy breath of December, with its burden of mocking odors from the flowers that possess the realm outside, and rejoice in their lawless profusion whilst the spirit of man is low, and flaunt their gaudy splendors in his face while his soul is clothed in sackcloth and ashes and his heart breaketh."
Alonzo opened his lips to say, "You ought to print that, and get it framed," but checked himself, for he heard his aunt speaking to some one else. He went and stood at the window and looked out upon the wintry prospect. The storm was driving the snow before it more furiously than ever; window-shutters were slamming and banging; a forlorn dog, with bowed head and tail withdrawn from service, was pressing his quaking body against a windward wall for shelter and protection; a young girl was plowing knee-deep through the drifts, with her face turned from the blast, and the cape of her waterproof blowing straight rearward over her head.