Prithee, smite the poet in the eye when he would sing to you praises
of the month of May. It is a month presided over by the spirits of
mischief and madness. Pixies and flibbertigibbets haunt the budding
woods: Puck and his train of midgets are busy in town and country.
In May nature holds up at us a chiding finger, bidding us remember
that we are not gods, but overconceited members of her own great
family. She reminds us that we are brothers to the chowder-doomed
clam and the donkey; lineal scions of the pansy and the chimpanzee,
and but cousins-german to the cooing doves, the quacking ducks and the
housemaids and policemen in the parks.
In May Cupid shoots blindfolded--millionaires marry stenographers;
wise professors woo white-aproned gum-chewers behind quick-lunch
counters; schoolma'ams make big bad boys remain after school; lads
with ladders steal lightly over lawns where Juliet waits in her
trellissed window with her telescope packed; young couples out for a
walk come home married; old chaps put on white spats and promenade
near the Normal School; even married men, grown unwontedly tender and
sentimental, whack their spouses on the back and growl: "How goes it,
This May, who is no goddess, but Circe, masquerading at the dance
given in honour of the fair debutante, Summer, puts the kibosh on us
Old Mr. Coulson groaned a little, and then sat up straight in his
invalid's chair. He had the gout very bad in one foot, a house near
Gramercy Park, half a million dollars and a daughter. And he had a
housekeeper, Mrs. Widdup. The fact and the name deserve a sentence
each. They have it.
When May poked Mr. Coulson he became elder brother to the turtle-dove.
In the window near which he sat were boxes of jonquils, of hyacinths,
geraniums and pansies. The breeze brought their odour into the room.
Immediately there was a well-contested round between the breath of the
flowers and the able and active effluvium from gout liniment. The
liniment won easily; but not before the flowers got an uppercut to
old Mr. Coulson's nose. The deadly work of the implacable, false
enchantress May was done.
Across the park to the olfactories of Mr. Coulson came other
unmistakable, characteristic, copyrighted smells of spring that belong
to the-big-city-above-the-Subway, alone. The smells of hot asphalt,
underground caverns, gasoline, patchouli, orange peel, sewer gas,
Albany grabs, Egyptian cigarettes, mortar and the undried ink on
newspapers. The inblowing air was sweet and mild. Sparrows wrangled
happily everywhere outdoors. Never trust May.
Mr. Coulson twisted the ends of his white mustache, cursed his foot,
and pounded a bell on the table by his side.
In came Mrs. Widdup. She was comely to the eye, fair, flustered,
forty and foxy.
"Higgins is out, sir," she said, with a smile suggestive of vibratory
massage. "He went to post a letter. Can I do anything for you, sir?"
"It's time for my aconite," said old Mr. Coulson. "Drop it for me.
The bottle's there. Three drops. In water. D---- that is, confound
Higgins! There's nobody in this house cares if I die here in this
chair for want of attention."
Mrs. Widdup sighed deeply.
"Don't be saying that, sir," she said. "There's them that would care
more than any one knows. Thirteen drops, you said, sir?"
"Three," said old man Coulson.
He took his dose and then Mrs. Widdup's hand. She blushed. Oh, yes,
it can be done. Just hold your breath and compress the diaphragm.
"Mrs. Widdup," said Mr. Coulson, "the springtime's full upon us."
"Ain't that right?" said Mrs. Widdup. "The air's real warm. And
there's bock-beer signs on every corner. And the park's all yaller and
pink and blue with flowers; and I have such shooting pains up my legs
"'In the spring,'" quoted Mr. Coulson, curling his mustache, "'a y----
that is, a man's--fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.'"
"Lawsy, now!" exclaimed Mrs. Widdup; "ain't that right? Seems like
it's in the air."
"'In the spring,'" continued old Mr. Coulson, "'a livelier iris shines
upon the burnished dove.'"
"They do be lively, the Irish," sighed Mrs. Widdup pensively.
"Mrs. Widdup," said Mr. Coulson, making a face at a twinge of his gouty
foot, "this would be a lonesome house without you. I'm an--that is,
I'm an elderly man--but I'm worth a comfortable lot of money. If half
a million dollars' worth of Government bonds and the true affection of
a heart that, though no longer beating with the first ardour of youth,
can still throb with genuine--"
The loud noise of an overturned chair near the portieres of the
adjoining room interrupted the venerable and scarcely suspecting
victim of May.
In stalked Miss Van Meeker Constantia Coulson, bony, durable, tall,
high-nosed, frigid, well-bred, thirty-five, in-the-neighbourhood-of-
Gramercy-Parkish. She put up a lorgnette. Mrs. Widdup hastily
stooped and arranged the bandages on Mr. Coulson's gouty foot.
"I thought Higgins was with you," said Miss Van Meeker Constantia.
"Higgins went out," explained her father, "and Mrs. Widdup answered
the bell. That is better now, Mrs. Widdup, thank you. No; there is
nothing else I require."
The housekeeper retired, pink under the cool, inquiring stare of Miss
"This spring weather is lovely, isn't it, daughter?" said the old man,
"That's just it," replied Miss Van Meeker Constantia Coulson, somewhat
obscurely. "When does Mrs. Widdup start on her vacation, papa?"
"I believe she said a week from to-day," said Mr. Coulson.
Miss Van Meeker Constantia stood for a minute at the window gazing,
toward the little park, flooded with the mellow afternoon sunlight.
With the eye of a botanist she viewed the flowers--most potent
weapons of insidious May. With the cool pulses of a virgin of
Cologne she withstood the attack of the ethereal mildness. The arrows
of the pleasant sunshine fell back, frostbitten, from the cold panoply
of her unthrilled bosom. The odour of the flowers waked no soft
sentiments in the unexplored recesses of her dormant heart. The chirp
of the sparrows gave her a pain. She mocked at May.
But although Miss Coulson was proof against the season, she was
keen enough to estimate its power. She knew that elderly men and
thick-waisted women jumped as educated fleas in the ridiculous train
of May, the merry mocker of the months. She had heard of foolish old
gentlemen marrying their housekeepers before. What a humiliating
thing, after all, was this feeling called love!
The next morning at 8 o'clock, when the iceman called, the cook told
him that Miss Coulson wanted to see him in the basement.
"Well, ain't I the Olcott and Depew; not mentioning the first name at
all?" said the iceman, admiringly, of himself.
As a concession he rolled his sleeves down, dropped his icehooks on a
syringa and went back. When Miss Van Meeker Constantia Coulson
addressed him he took off his hat.
"There is a rear entrance to this basement," said Miss Coulson, "which
can be reached by driving into the vacant lot next door, where they
are excavating for a building. I want you to bring in that way within
two hours 1,000 pounds of ice. You may have to bring another man or
two to help you. I will show you where I want it placed. I also want
1,000 pounds a day delivered the same way for the next four days.
Your company may charge the ice on our regular bill. This is for your
Miss Coulson tendered a ten-dollar bill. The iceman bowed, and held
his hat in his two hands behind him.
"Not if you'll excuse me, lady. It'll be a pleasure to fix things up
for you any way you please."
Alas for May!
About noon Mr. Coulson knocked two glasses off his table, broke the
spring of his bell and yelled for Higgins at the same time.
"Bring an axe," commanded Mr. Coulson, sardonically, "or send out
for a quart of prussic acid, or have a policeman come in and shoot me.
I'd rather that than be frozen to death."
"It does seem to be getting cool, Sir," said Higgins. "I hadn't
noticed it before. I'll close the window, Sir."
"Do," said Mr. Coulson. "They call this spring, do they? If it keeps
up long I'll go back to Palm Beach. House feels like a morgue."
Later Miss Coulson dutifully came in to inquire how the gout was
"'Stantia," said the old man, "how is the weather outdoors?"
"Bright," answered Miss Coulson, "but chilly."
"Feels like the dead of winter to me," said Mr. Coulson.
"An instance," said Constantia, gazing abstractedly out the window,
"of 'winter lingering in the lap of spring,' though the metaphor is
not in the most refined taste."
A little later she walked down by the side of the little park and on
westward to Broadway to accomplish a little shopping.
A little later than that Mrs. Widdup entered the invalid's room.
"Did you ring, Sir?" she asked, dimpling in many places. "I asked
Higgins to go to the drug store, and I thought I heard your bell."
"I did not," said Mr. Coulson.
"I'm afraid," said Mrs. Widdup, "I interrupted you sir, yesterday when
you were about to say something."
"How comes it, Mrs. Widdup," said old man Coulson sternly, "that I
find it so cold in this house?"
"Cold, Sir?" said the housekeeper, "why, now, since you speak of it
it do seem cold in this room. But, outdoors it's as warm and fine
as June, sir. And how this weather do seem to make one's heart jump
out of one's shirt waist, sir. And the ivy all leaved out on the side
of the house, and the hand-organs playing, and the children dancing on
the sidewalk--'tis a great time for speaking out what's in the
heart. You were saying yesterday, sir--"
"Woman!" roared Mr. Coulson; "you are a fool. I pay you to take care
of this house. I am freezing to death in my own room, and you come in
and drivel to me about ivy and hand-organs. Get me an overcoat at
once. See that all doors and windows are closed below. An old, fat,
irresponsible, one-sided object like you prating about springtime
and flowers in the middle of winter! When Higgins comes back, tell him
to bring me a hot rum punch. And now get out!"
But who shall shame the bright face of May? Rogue though she be and
disturber of sane men's peace, no wise virgins cunning nor cold
storage shall make her bow her head in the bright galaxy of months.
Oh, yes, the story was not quite finished.
A night passed, and Higgins helped old man Coulson in the morning to
his chair by the window. The cold of the room was gone. Heavenly
odours and fragrant mildness entered.
In hurried Mrs. Widdup, and stood by his chair. Mr. Coulson reached
his bony hand and grasped her plump one.
"Mrs. Widdup," he said, "this house would be no home without you. I
have half a million dollars. If that and the true affection of a
heart no longer in its youthful prime, but still not cold, could--"
"I found out what made it cold," said Mrs. Widdup, leanin' against his
chair. "'Twas ice--tons of it--in the basement and in the furnace
room, everywhere. I shut off the registers that it was coming through
into your room, Mr. Coulson, poor soul! And now it's Maytime again."
"A true heart," went on old man Coulson, a little wanderingly, "that
the springtime has brought to life again, and--but what will my
daughter say, Mrs. Widdup?"
"Never fear, sir," said Mrs. Widdup, cheerfully. "Miss Coulson, she
ran away with the iceman last night, sir!"