THE NICE PEOPLE
“THEY certainly are nice people,” I assented to my wife’s observation, using the colloquial phrase with a consciousness that it was anything but “nice” English, “and I’ll bet that their three children are better brought up than most of----”
“Two children,” corrected my wife. “Three, he told me.” “My dear, she said there were two.” “He said three.”
“You’ve simply forgotten. I’m sure she told me they had only two--a boy and a girl.”
“Well, I didn’t enter into particulars.”
“No, dear, and you couldn’t have understood him. Two children.”
“All right,” I said; but I did not think it was all right. As a near-sighted man learns by enforced observation to recognize persons at a distance when the face is not visible to the normal eye, so the man with a bad memory learns, almost unconsciously, to listen carefully and report accurately. My memory is bad; but I had not had time to forget that Mr. Brewster Brede had told me that afternoon that he had three children, at present left in the care of his mother-in-law, while he and Mrs. Brede took their summer vacation.
“Two children,” repeated my wife; “and they are staying with his aunt Jenny.”
“He told me with his mother-in-law,” I put in. My wife looked at me with a serious expression. Men may not remember much of what they are told about children; but any man knows the difference between an aunt and a mother-in-law.
“But don’t you think they’re nice people?” asked my wife.
“Oh, certainly,” I replied. “Only they seem to be a little mixed up about their children.”
“That isn’t a nice thing to say,” returned my wife. I could not deny it.
And yet, the next morning, when the Bredes came down and seated themselves opposite us at table, beaming and smiling in their natural, pleasant, wellbred fashion, I knew, to a social certainty, that they were “nice” people. He was a fine-looking fellow in his neat tennis-flannels, slim, graceful, twenty-eight or thirty years old, with a Frenchy pointed beard. She was “nice” in all her pretty clothes, and she herself was pretty with that type of prettiness which outwears most other types-the prettiness that lies in a rounded figure, a dusky skin, plump, rosy cheeks, white teeth and black eyes. She might have been twenty-five; you guessed that she was prettier than she was at twenty, and that she would be prettier still at forty.
And nice people were all we wanted to make us happy in Mr. Jacobus’s summer boarding-house on top of Orange Mountain. For a week we had come down to breakfast each morning, wondering why we wasted the precious days of idleness with the company gathered around the Jacobus board.
What joy of human companionship was to be had out of Mrs. Tabb and Miss Hoogencamp, the two middleaged gossips from Scranton, Pa.--out of Mr. and Mrs. Biggle, an indurated head-bookkeeper and his prim and censorious wife--out of old Major Halkit, a retired business man, who, having once sold a few shares on commission, wrote for circulars of every stock company that was started, and tried to induce every one to invest who would listen to him? We looked around at those dull faces, the truthful indices of mean and barren minds, and decided that we would leave that morning.
Then we ate Mrs. Jacobus’s biscuit, light as Aurora’s cloudlets, drank her honest coffee, inhaled the perfume of the late azaleas with which she decked her table, and decided to postpone our departure one more day. And then we wandered out to take our morning glance at what we called “our view”; and it seemed to us as if Tabb and Hoogencamp and Halkit and the Biggleses could not drive us away in a year.
I was not surprised when, after breakfast, my wife invited the Bredes to walk with us to “our view.” The Hoogencamp-Biggle-Tabb-Halkit contingent never stirred off Jacobus’s veranda; but we both felt that the Bredes would not profane that sacred scene. We strolled slowly across the fields, passed through the little belt of woods and, as I heard Mrs. Brede’s little cry of startled rapture, I motioned to Brede to look up.
“By Jove!” he cried, “heavenly!”
We looked off from the brow of the mountain over fifteen miles of billowing green, to where, far across a far stretch of pale blue lay a dim purple line that we knew was Staten Island. Towns and villages lay before us and under us; there were ridges and hills, uplands and lowlands, woods and plains, all massed and mingled in that great silent sea of sunlit green.
For silent it was to us, standing in the silence of a high place--silent with a Sunday stillness that made us listen, without taking thought, for the sound of bells coming up from the spires that rose above the tree-tops--the treetops that lay as far beneath us as the light clouds were above us that dropped great shadows upon our heads and faint specks of shade upon the broad sweep of land at the mountain’s foot.
“And so that is your view?” asked Mrs. Brede, after a moment; “you are very generous to make it ours, too.”
Then we lay down on the grass, and Brede began to talk, in a gentle voice, as if he felt the influence of the place. He had paddled a canoe, in his earlier days, he said, and he knew every river and creek in that vast stretch of landscape. He found his landmarks, and pointed out to us where the Passaic and the Hackensack flowed, invisible to us, hidden behind great ridges that in our sight were but combings of the green waves upon which we looked down. And yet, on the further side of those broad ridges and rises were scores of villages--a little world of country life, lying unseen under our eyes.
“A good deal like looking at humanity,” he said; “there is such a thing as getting so far above our fellow men that we see only one side of them.”
Ah, how much better was this sort of talk than the chatter and gossip of the Tabb and the Hoogencamp-than the Major’s dissertations upon his everlasting circulars! My wife and I exchanged glances.
“Now, when I went up the Matterhorn” Mr. Brede began.
“Why, dear,” interrupted his wife, “I didn’t know you ever went up the Matterhorn.”