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'I will tell you what we should do,' said she. 'We must make a vow that we shall never pass a line until we understand it. We will go over it again and again until we grasp its meaning.'
'What an excellent idea!' cried Maude, with one of her little bursts of enthusiasm. 'Now that is really splendid, Mrs. Beecher.'
'My friends always call me Nellie,' said the little brunette.
'How nice of you to say so! I should love to call you so, if you don't mind. It is such a pretty name too. Only you must call me Maude.'
'You look like a Maude,' said Mrs. Beecher. 'I always picture a Maude as bright and pretty and blonde. Isn't it strange how names associate themselves with characters. Mary is always domestic, and Rose is a flirt, and Elizabeth is dutiful, and Evelyn is dashing, and Alice is colourless, and Helen is masterful--'
'And Matilda is impatient,' said Mrs. Hunt Mortimer, laughing. 'Matilda has reason to be, seated here with an index in front of her while you two are exchanging compliments.'
'Why, we were waiting for you to begin,' said Mrs. Beecher reproachfully. 'Do let us have something, for really the time is slipping away.'
'It would be a pity to begin at the beginning, because that represents his immature genius,' remarked Mrs. Hunt Mortimer. 'I think that on this the opening day of the Society, we should have the poet at his best.'
'How are we to know which IS his best?' Maude asked.
'I should be inclined to choose something with a title which suggests profundity--"A Pretty Woman," "Love in a Life," "Any Wife to any Husband"--'
'Oh, what DID she say to him?' cried Maude.
'Well, I was about to say that all these subjects rather suggested frivolity.'
'Besides, it really is a very absurd title,' remarked Mrs. Beecher, who was fond of generalising from her six months' experience of matrimony. '_A_ husband to _A_ wife' would be intelligible, but how can you know what ANY husband would say to ANY wife? No one can really foretell what a man will do. They really are such extraordinary creatures.'
But Mrs. Hunt Mortimer had been married for five years, and felt as competent to lay down the law about husbands as about entrees.
'When you have had a larger experience of them, dear, you will find that there is usually a reason, or at least a primitive instinct of some sort, at the root of their actions. But, seriously, we must really concentrate our attention upon the poet, for my other engagement will call me away at four, which only leaves me ten minutes to reach Maybury.'
Mrs. Beecher and Maude settled down with anxious attention upon their faces.
'Do please go on!' they cried.
'Here is "The Pied Piper of Hamelin."'
'Now that interests me more than I can tell,' cried Maude, with her eyes shining with pleasure. 'Do please read us everything there is about that dear piper.'