Out Of The Question – William Dean Howells
“Out of the Question” is an amusing trifle, with just a thread of a plot, about the love of a young society girl for a brave young fellow without any social position other than his brains has gained him; the idea of marriage with him is scouted by herself and friends at first as quite “out of the question.” The charm of the story is in the piquant way in which it is handled, and in its bright, clever dialogue.
Out Of The Question.
Excerpt from the text:
I. IN THE PARLOR OF THE PONKWASSET HOTEL.
I. Miss Maggie Wallace and Miss Lilly Roberts.
The Ponkwasset Hotel stands on the slope of a hill and fronts the irregular mass of Ponkwasset Mountain, on which the galleries and northern windows of the parlor look out. The parlor is furnished with two hair-cloth sofas, two hair-cloth easychairs, and cane-seated chairs of divers patterns; against one side of the room stands a piano, near either end of which a door opens into the corridor; in the center of the parlor a marble-topped table supports a state-lamp of kerosene, — a perfume by day, a flame by night, — and near this table sit two young ladies with what they call work in their hands and laps.
Miss Maggie Wallace, with her left wrist curved in the act of rolling up a part of her work, at which she looks down with a very thoughtful air and a careworn little sigh: “I don’t think I shall cut it bias, after all, Lilly.”
Miss Lilly Roberts, letting her work fall into her lap, in amazement: ” Why, Maggie!”
Maggie: “No. Or at least I shan’t decide to do so till I’ve had Leslie’s opinion on it. She has perfect taste, and she could tell at a glance whether it would do.”
Lilly: “I wonder she isn’t here, now. The stage must be very late.”
Maggie: “I suppose the postmaster at South Herodias waited to finish his supper before he ‘changed the mail,’ as they call it. I was so in hopes she would come while they were at tea! It will so disgust her to see them all strung along the piazza and staring their eyes out at the arrivals, when the stage drives up,” — a horrible picture which Miss Wallace dreamily contemplates for a moment in mental vision.
Lilly: “Why don’t you go down, too, Maggie? Perhaps she’d find a familiar face a relief.”
Maggie, recalled to herself by the wild suggestion: “Thank you, Lilly. I’d rather not be thought so vulgar as that, by Leslie Bellingham, if it’s quite the same to other friends. Imagine her catching sight of me in that crowd! I should simply wither away.”
Lilly, rebelliously: “Well, I don’t see why she should feel authorized to overawe people in that manner. What does she do to show her immense superiority?”
Maggie: “Everything! In the first place she’s go refined and cultivated, you can’t live; and then she takes your breath away, she’s so perfectly lovely; and then she kills you dead with her style, and all that. She isn’t the least stiff. She’s the kindest to other people you ever saw, and the carefullest of their feelings; and she has the grandest principles, and she’s divinely impulsive! But somehow you feel that if you do anything that’s a little vulgar in her presence, you’d better die at once. It was always so at school, and it always will be. Why you would no more dare to do or say anything just a little common, don’t you know with Leslie Bellingham” — A young lady, tall, slender, and with an air of delicate distinction, has appeared at the door of the parlor. She is of that type of beauty which approaches the English, without losing the American fineness and grace; she is fair, and her eyes are rather gray than blue; her nose is slightly aquiline; her expression is serious, but becomes amused as she listens to Miss Wallace. She wears one of those blonde traveling-costumes, whose general fashionableness she somehow subdues into character with herself; over her arm she carries a shawl. She drifts lightly into the room. At the rustling of her dress Miss Wallace looks up, and with a cry of surprise and ecstasy springs from her chair, scattering the contents of her work-box in every direction over the floor, and flings herself into Miss Leslie Bellingham’s embrace. Then she starts away from her and gazes rapturously into her face, while they prettily clasp hands and hold each other at arm’s length: “Leslie! You heard every word!”
II. Miss Leslie Bellingham, Maggie, and Lilly.
Leslie: “Every syllable, my child. And when you came to my grand principles, I simply said to myself, ‘Then listening at keyholes is heroic,’ and kept on eavesdropping without a murmur. Had you quite finished?”
Maggie: “O Leslie! You know I never can finish when I get on that subject! It inspires me to greater and greater flights every minute. Where is your mother? Where is Mrs. Murray? Where is the stage? Why, excuse me! This is Miss Roberts. Lilly, it’s Leslie Bellingham! Oh, how glad I am to see you together at last! Didn’t the stage” —
Leslie, having graciously bowed to Miss Roberts: “No, Maggie. The stage didn’t bring me here. I walked.”
Maggie: “Why, Leslie! How perfectly ghastly!”
Leslie: “The stage has done nothing but disgrace itself ever since we left the station. In the first place it pretended to carry ten or twelve people and their baggage, with two horses. Four horses oughtn’t to drag such a load up these precipices; and wherever the driver would stop for me, I insisted upon getting out to walk.”
Maggie: “How like you, Leslie!”
Leslie: “Yes; I wish the resemblance were not so striking. I’m here in character, Maggie, if you like, but almost nothing else. I’ve nothing but a hand-bag to bless me with for the next twenty-four hours. Shall you be very much ashamed of me?”
Maggie: “Why, you don’t mean to say you’ve lost your trunks? Horrors!”
Leslie: “No. I mean that I wasn’t going to let the driver add them to the cruel load he had already, and I made him leave them at the station till to-morrow night.”
Maggie, embracing her: “Oh, you dear, good, grand, generous Leslie! How— Why, but Leslie! He’ll have just as many people to-morrow night, and your trunks besides theirs!”