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The Contralto

Rev. Charles Maloy, C. M.
St. Joseph's Parish, Emmitsburg, Md.

Chapter 3 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 1

St. Joseph's Parish Rectory ~ 1900

Seated that evening on the piazza of the rectory which overlooks the valley to the west, the Professor narrated such of the day's events as he thought would interest the Rector. When asked the young lady's name he realized he had not learned it, and proceeded to give a description of her physical appearance, which caused the Parson to lift his eyebrows in astonishment at its eloquent minuteness. His picturing powers were loosened as under a stimulant.

"It must be Marion Tyson," declared the Rector, "and a very fine girl she is."

"She lives in that large Queen Ann cottage at the lower end of Main Street."

"Yes, that is the Tyson's; Marion and her mother Anna reside there; the father, John is a Government contractor in Washington."

"They struck me as above the level of Emmitsburg."

"They are, and consequently the object of much envious gossip."

"That explains her diffidence in accepting my aid, she said the people would talk."

"It's strange she admitted the idea for Marion is very independent and seldom consults the whims of her neighbors. She ought to be more careful, though, about horses, she has met with several accidents."

"The horse is gentle enough, but unaccustomed to motors, especially freighted with a crowd of yelling hoodlums who imagine they rule the county."

Right Rev. Mgr. Dennis J. Flynn, L.L. D. 15th President of Mt. St. Marys

"I have spoken to Father Flynn about that, but young George, Judge Motter's son owns it, hence his immunity from criticism."

"Some irate farmer will fill him full of buckshot yet," airily; then, "I say Governor, who was the tall, light-haired, willowy girl who spoke to Miss Tyson at the Square?"

"I should say from your description that it was Miss Seabold, a great friend of Marion. But do you know, Harry, you impress me as unusually interested in the ladies?"

"Homo sum, nihil humanum alienum me ease pub."

"And once that human begins to appeal in its female form science and philosophy become as ashes in the mouth," a remark which showed the Parson was wise in his generation.

After a few puffs of his cigar the Rector said, "Mr. Isaac Annan called here this afternoon."

"Mr. Isaac Annan? Oh, that cad I threatened to lick," the old anger blazing up. "Was he desirous of a personal encounter."

"I hardly think so, in fact I should say he was decidedly meek."

"I made a fool of myself this morning, Governor," quickly contrite. "I want to apologize for it, I am getting you into difficulties by my hot-headedness."

"Don't worry about me, my boy, and the more occasions you find to make a fool of yourself as you did this morning the better. I have been aware of that poker game for some time, and have endeavored by talking to make Elder stop it; your threat regarding Annan’s carcass has been more effective than all my preaching."

Emmitsburg received its latest sensation in various ways, expressing judgments according to the bias of the juries. At Peter's the general verdict was that the Professor was a brick, though Dr. Brawner opined Marion Tyson was wiser than most people gave her credit for, admitting, however, she had a rather severe sprain.

The Bennet Tyson  of East Main Street.

At the Dentist's house, Miss Lansinger declared it was all a put up job on Marion's part to become acquainted with the Stranger, while dainty Mrs. Forman avowed that she was somewhat unconventional. Dr. Forman, himself, wanted to know if the Professor was to leave the girl on the road to die.

But the clash of opinions threw off most vivid sparks at a meeting in Mrs. Martha Hopp's kitchen. Mrs. Neck could hardly take time to do her dishes, leave her youngest in care of her husband, and get over to discover what defense the Holy Terror had for the Tyson girl now. She had always extenuated Marion's supposed scandals, even when she was dismissed from the Academy, but the custodian of morals felt her arraignment would in the present instance be too strong for any other verdict than guilty. Walking into the kitchen she exclaimed shrilly:

"I suppose you have heard it!"

"God Almighty! heard what?" snapped Mrs. Hopp, and anyone not deafened by the emotions of an outraged moral sense, would have known from her tone that she was fully cognizant of the startling affair.

Mrs. Neck, heeding on: "Marion Tyson rode the Professor's horse down Main Street this afternoon and they say pretended to have a sprained ankle just to make his acquaintance."

"God Almighty! Marion made that skittish beast of her's run away I suppose, and the Professor ought to have left her on the road to die and the crows of this pick her bones and all because the tongues in town are hung in the middle and clack at both ends and some people can't mind their own business and, bah!"—the peroration of Mrs. Hopp's speech was lost in a generous infusion of snuff.

"Well, I don't care, she is a brawn thing and it's just like her to take up a flirtation with that fellow and bring a bad name on this town."

"God Almighty! Mary, if any woman could break her neck after a man the way you did after that poor galoot Joe Neck, I'd like to know."

This argumentum ad hominem served to check Mrs. Neck in her flow of moral indignation and caused her to take another tack. She came back at her adversary with: "Don't swear so, Mrs. Hopp, and you such a church member."

"God Almighty! woman, I ain't swearing, and as for my being a church member, I don't go half as much as you do, and when I go, I do it to worship God and not to find something to tell about my neighbors."

Mrs. Neck felt her grievance against Marion and the Professor intensified by this encounter with the Holy Terror and declared that she would never darken her door again, to which the latter retorted something about good riddance. Wending her weary way home, she poured out her grief to her husband, who held the position of cowman at the Academy. He felt bound to say something to assuage the sorrow of his much moved wife.

"Don't take it to heart so, Mary. Mrs. Hopp's getting on in years and she does think a heap of Marion."

"Well, that don't give her the right to insult me, one of her oldest and best friends, and you mark my words that Professor don't mean good to the young girls of this town."

"Oh! I don't know, Mary, the men think he's a all-right feller."

"Joe Neck! even you turn against me," she screamed and snatching the baby from him rushed into the best room, slammed the door and gave way to a paroxysm of grief. Joe, taking his hat, went down to meet the evening train.

In the large house at the end of Main Street sat Marion, her ankle, pHoppd on a chair, stinging from Dr. Brawner's liniment applications, reciting to her mother the details of the afternoon's adventure. She was almost ecstactic in her admiration of the Professor's horsmanship, telling how with a few deft movements he had made the fiery Prince do just as he wished. Every item of his appearance was discussed, his manner of wearing his cap commented upon as a possible index of his disposition. His age was guessed at, inquiry instituted as to why his hair should be turning grey. Had her mother noticed what beautiful blue eyes were hidden behind the thick lenses of his glasses, and how did he manage to wear pince-nez when riding?

"Don't you think him handsome, mumma?" "Yes, dear, and good, too."

"Of course, he is good," defiantly as though there were question in her mother's declaration. "We must invite him to dinner as soon as we become better acquainted."

On their tete-a-tete broke Mrs. Hopp. No lines of social demarcation existed for the Holy Terror. Others might draw and respect them but not she. Mrs. Hopp passed at her own sweet will from upper to lower crusts of Emmitsburg society without let or hindrance, never giving much information to one set about the business of the other. With a bottle of her five-year-old wine under her arm she bounced into the room, kissing mother and daughter in turn, risking the upsetting of the count in stitches of the one's knitting, and the other's balance in her chair.

"God Almighty! child are you hurt?"

"Only a sprain," answered the girl, recovering her equipoise.

"And what do you think of the Professor man?" "He is a perfect gentleman," affirmed the mother. "Of course he is," with a sniff for any possible contradiction, "did you talk much with him, Marion?"

"No, my ankle pained and the whole town was so interested."

"Sure they were interested, why wouldn't they be with them all just crazy to meet him?"

"Well, I wasn't," declared the girl stoutly.

"Here's a bottle of my five-year-old wine, dear, you shall need it to give you strength. Did you invite the Professor to dinner?"

"Not yet; it would not be the proper thing on such short acquaintance."

"Proper thing fiddlesticks! Who knows anything about the proper thing in this town? That boy is up there at the rectory eating his nails off for something to do and we stand on ceremony. Didn't he save your life? I'm going to invite him to tea as soon as I meet him again."

"So shall we," said Mrs. Tyson," but we are waiting lest he think us too forward."

"That young fellow is not the kind to bother about the intentions of anyone who is kind to him. I asked the Rector how he took my talking about his store teeth, and he told me the Professor enjoyed it immensely. Did you hear the dressing down he gave Ike Annan at the post office this morning?"

"No," answered both women, for they were never au courant with local gossip.

"I heard it up at Pete's, and I think it too good to keep. Annan was criticizing Sunday baseball, when Dr. Forman told the crowd that Father Flynn refused to let the Mt. St. Marys boys play the town. The Professor heard Ike and getting off his horse, had some words and then told him he would break every bone in his darned carcass, only he used the real word. He also told Ike that he was on to him playing poker in Jim's back room on Sundays."

"I am sure Isaac Annan provoked him," said Mrs. Tyson," or else he would not have used such language."

"I would like to have seen his blue eyes at the moment," declared Marion with a rather unladylike wink at Mrs. Hopp.

"Take care of yourself, my dear, and get that ankle in shape as soon as you can; and you," to the mother, "sell that beast of a horse and buy a more gentle one. Don't forget to invite him to dinner," was her parting advice.

Higbee, the foreman of the Emmitsburg Chronicle, interviewed the Professor that evening on the accident. He desired full details as the editor intended to make them the text for some scathing comment on reckless auto-driving. Shortly before, an old farmer had died of heart failure, the attack having been brought on through over-exertion in trying to master a colt frightened by a heedless motorist. The impression was abroad that the college youths had knowingly left the injured Miss Tyson to her fate and there were signs of a healthy indignation arising in the town.

The Professor defended the boys from this charge assuring Higbee they were well past before the young lady's horse bolted. He deduced this from what the girl had told him, admitting, however, the youngsters were exceeding the speed limit," though," he added, "Hugo Munsterburg would not allow the validity of such testimony in a court. "

This last gave a personal touch to the interview and Higbee soon lost his professional air. The baseball game which had been called off, came in for its share of discussion, naturally leading to the position taken by the college authorities toward the townspeople. Economic conditions received some consideration, the foreman evidencing well defined ideas on this point, also quoting the editor, Mr. Galt. Both were desirous to enlist his help in their endeavors for the uplift of the village, and Higbee left after obtaining a promise that the Professor would look in on the editorial staff of the town Paper.

After the Rector retired Harry sat long in thought. He tried to remount the stream of the day's happenings, but from every point his mental eyes were met by a distracting figure. A round olive face crowned with an aureole of raven black hair, large brown eyes smiling through tears, were present, whichever way he turned. Several times he laughed softly, endeavoring to dispel the vision. He had not come to his thirtieth year without sundry such experiences but never had they left a lasting impression. College widows in his callow youth supplied passing amusement, but vacation time and an early comprehension of the philosophy of Tallyrand's dictum, "None but a woman or a fool writes a letter," had kept him from compromises.

Long application to the study of the deeper problems of existence had unfitted him for dealing with the concrete phases of the world. Lack of contact with reality had generated a superman attitude, accompanied by mild cynicism towards the pleasanter aspects of life. Since overwork and indulgence in stimulants had led him to what he honestly termed, in his own mind, dipsomania, he had resolved to persevere in the blessed or cursed, whichever it might prove, way of single going. No woman should ever be subjected to sorrow on his account. Still he selfishly concluded the cultivation of Miss Tyson's friendship would help him pass the term of his exile more agreeably. On retiring he felt for the first time in years an inclination to pray, the struggle with insomnia and the severe thirst were absent, and in a few minutes he slept blissfully.

Chapter 4

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