The Wild Oats Of A Spinster by Alice Hegan Rice
Judging from appearances Miss Lucinda Perkins was
justifying her reason for being by conforming absolutely
to her environment. She apparently fitted as perfectly
into her little niche in the Locustwood Seminary for
young ladies as Miss Joe Hill fitted into hers. The only
difference was that Miss Joe Hill did not confine
herself to a niche; she filled the seminary, as a plump
hand does a tight glove.
It was the year after Miss Lucinda had come to the
seminary to teach elocution that Miss Joe Hill
discovered in her an affinity. As principal, Miss Joe
Hill's word was never questioned, and Miss Lucinda, with
pleased obedience, accepted the honor that was thrust
upon her, and meekly moved her few belongings into Miss
Joe Hill's apartment.
For four years they had lived in the rarified atmosphere
of celestial friendship. They clothed their bodies in
the same raiment, and their minds in the same thoughts,
and when one was cold the other shivered.
If Miss Lucinda, in those early days found it difficult
to live up to Miss Joe Hill's transcendental code she
gave no sign of it. She laid aside her mildly adorned
garments and enveloped her small angular person in a
garb of sombre severity. Even the modest bird that
adorned her hat was replaced by an uncompromising band.
She foreswore meat and became a vegetarian. She stopped
reading novels and devoted her spare time to essays and
biography. In fact she and Miss Joe Hill became one and
that one was Miss Joe Hill.
It was not until Floss Speckert entered the senior class
at Locustwood Seminary that this sublimated friendship
suffered a jar.
Floss's father lived in Chicago, and it was due to his
unerring discernment in the buying and selling of live
stock that Floss was being "finished" in all branches
without regard to the cost.
"Learn her all you want to," he said magnanimously to
Miss Lucinda, who negotiated the arrangement. "I ain't
got but two children, her and Tom. He's just like
me—don't know a blame thing but business; but Floss—"
his bosom swelled under his checked vest—"she's on to it
all. I pay for everything you get into her head.
Dancin', singin', French—all them extries goes."
Miss Lucinda had consequently undertaken the management
of Floss Speckert, and the result had been far-reaching
in its consequences.
Floss was a person whose thoughts did not dwell upon the
highest development of the spiritual life. Her mind was
given over to the pursuit of worldly amusements, her
only serious thought being a burning ambition to win
histrionic honors. The road to this led naturally
through the elocution classes, and Floss accepted Miss
Lucinda as the only means toward the desired end.
A drop of water in a bottle of ink produces no visible
result, but a drop of ink in a glass of water
contaminates it at once. Miss Lucinda took increasing
interest in her frivolous young pupil; she listened with
half-suppressed eagerness to unlimited gossip about
stage-land, and even sank to the regular perusal of
certain bold theatrical papers. She was unmistakably
Meanwhile Miss Joe Hill, quite blind to the situation,
condoned the friendship. "You are developing your own
character," she told Miss Lucinda. "You are exercising
self-control and forbearance in dealing with that crude,
undisciplined girl. Florence is the natural outcome of
common stock and newly acquired riches. It is your noble
aspiration to take this vulgar clay and mold it into
something higher. Your motive is laudable, Lucinda; your
self-sacrifice in giving up our evening hour together is
heroic. I read you like an open book, dear."
And Miss Lucinda listened and trembled. They were
standing together before the window of their rigid
little sitting room, the chastened severity of which
banished all ideas of comfort. "What purpose do you
serve?" Miss Joe Hill demanded of every article that
went into her apartment, and many of the comforts of
life failed to pass the examination.
After Miss Joe Hill had gone out, Miss Lucinda remained
at the window and restlessly tapped her knuckles against
the sill. The insidious spring sunshine, the laughter of
the girls in the court below, the foolish happy birds
telling their secrets under the new, green leaves, all
worked together to disturb her peace of mind.
She resolutely turned her back to the window and took
breathing exercises. That was one of Miss Joe Hill's
sternest requirements—fifteen minutes three times a day
and two pints of water between meals. Then she sat down
in a straight-back chair and tried to read "The Power
Through Poise." Her body was doing its duty, but it did
not deceive her mind. She knew that she was living a
life of black deception; evidences of her guilt were on
every hand. Behind the books on her little shelf was a
paper of chocolate creams; in the music rack, back to
back with Grieg and Brahms, was an impertinent sheet of
ragtime which Floss had persuaded her to learn as an
accompaniment. And deeper and darker and falser than all
was a plan which had been fermenting in her mind for
In a fortnight the school term would be over. Following
the usual custom, Miss Lucinda was to go to her brother
in the country and Miss Joe Hill to her sister for a
week. This obligation to their respective families being
discharged, they would repair to the seclusion of a
Catskill farmhouse, there to hang upon each other's
souls for the rest of the summer.
Miss Lucinda's visits to her brother were reminiscent of
a multiplicity of children and a scarcity of room. To
her the Inferno presented no more disquieting prospect
than the necessity of sharing her bedroom. She always
returned from these sojourns in the country with
impaired digestion, and shattered nerves. She looked
forward to them with dread and looked back on them with
horror. Was it any wonder that when a brilliant
alternative presented itself she was eager to accept it?
Floss Speckert had gained her father's consent to spend
her first week out of school in New York provided she
could find a suitable chaperon. She had fallen upon the
first and most harmless person in sight and besieged her
Miss Lucinda would have flared to the project had not a
forbidding presence loomed between her and the alluring
invitation. She knew only too well that Miss Joe Hill
would never countenance the proposition.
As she sat trying vainly to concentrate on her "Power
Through Poise," she was startled by a noise at the
window, followed immediately by a dishevelled figure
that scrambled laughingly over the sill.
"I came down the fire escape!" whispered the invader
breathlessly, "Miss Joe Hill caught us making fudge in
the linen closet, and I gave her the slip."
"But Florence!" Miss Lucinda began reproachfully, but
Floss interrupted her:
"Don't 'Florence' me, Miss Lucy! You're just pretending
to be mad anyhow. You are a perfect darling and Miss Joe
Hill is an old bear!"
Miss Lucinda was aghast at this irreverence but her
halting protests had no effect on the torrent of Floss's
"I am going to take you to New York," the girl declared
"and I am going to give you the time of your life! Dad's
got to put us up in style—a room and a bath apiece and
maybe a sitting room. He likes me to splurge around a
bit, says he'd hate to have a daughter that acted like
she wasn't used to money."
Miss Lucinda glanced apprehensively at the door and then
back at the sparkling face before her.
"I can't go," she insisted miserably, trying to free her
hand from Floss's plump grasp. "My brother is expecting
me and Miss Hill—"
"Oh, bother Miss Joe Hill! You don't have to tell her
anything about it! You can pretend you are going to your
brother's and meet me some place on the road instead."
Miss Lucinda looked horrified, but she listened. A
material kept plastic by years of manipulation does not
harden to a new hand. Her objections to Floss's plan
grew fainter and fainter.
"Think of the theaters," went on the temptress, putting
an arm around her neck, and ignoring the fact that
caresses embarrassed Miss Lucinda almost to the point of
tears; "think of it! A new show every night, and operas
and pictures. There will be three Shakspere plays that
week, 'Merchant of Venice,' 'Twelfth Night,' and
Miss Lucinda's heart fluttered in her bosom. Although
she had spent a great part of her life interpreting the
Bard of Avon, she had never seen one of his plays
produced. In her secret soul she believed that her own
rendition of "The quality of mercy," was not to be
"I—I haven't any clothes," she urged feebly, putting up
her last defense.
"I have," declared Floss in triumph—"two trunks full,
and we are almost the same size. It's just for a week,
Miss Lucy; won't you come?"
Miss Lucinda, sitting rigid, felt a warm cheek pressed
against her own, and a stray curl touched her lips. She
sat for a moment with her eyes closed. It was more than
disconcerting to be so close to youth and joy and life;
it was infectious. The blood surged suddenly through her
veins, and an exultation seized her.
"I'm going to do it," she cried recklessly; "I never had
a real good time in my life."
Floss threw her arms about her and waltzed her across
the room, but a step in the hall brought them to a halt.
"It's Miss Joe Hill," whispered Floss, with trepidation;
"I am going out the way I came. Don't you forget; you
When Miss Joe Hill entered, she smiled complacently at
finding Miss Lucinda in the straight-back chair,
absorbed in the second volume of the "Power Through
At the Union Depot in Chicago, two weeks later, a small,
nervous lady fluttered uncertainly from one door to
another. She wore a short, brown coat suit of classic
severity, and a felt hat which was fastened under her
smoothly braided hair by a narrow elastic band.
On her fourth trip to the main entrance she stopped a
train-boy. "Can you tell me where I can get a drink?"
she asked, fanning her flushed face. He looked
surprised. "Third door to the left," he answered. Miss
Lucinda, carrying a hand-bag, a suit-case, and an
umbrella, followed directions. When she pushed open the
heavy door she was confronted by a long counter with
shining glasses and a smiling bartender. Beating a
confused retreat, she fled back to the main entrance,
and stood there trembling. For the hundredth time that
day she wished she had not come.
The arrangements, so glibly planned by Floss, had not
been adhered to in any particular. At the last moment
that mercurial young person had decided to go on two
days in advance and visit a friend in Philadelphia. She
wrote Miss Lucinda to come on to Chicago, where Tom
would meet her and give her her ticket, and that she
would meet her in New York.
With many misgivings and grievous twinges of conscience,
Miss Lucinda had bade Miss Joe Hill a guilty farewell,
and started ostensibly for her brother's home. At the
Junction she changed cars for Chicago, missed two
connections, and lost her lunch-box. Now that she had
arrived In Chicago, three hours late, nervous and
excited over her experiences, there was no one to meet
A sense of homesickness rushed over her, and she decided
to return to Locustwood. It was the same motive that
might prompt a newly hatched chicken, embarrassed by its
sudden liberty, to return to its shell. Just as she was
going in search of a time-table, a round-faced young man
"Miss Perkins?" he asked, and when she nodded, he went
on: "Been looking for you for half an hour. Sis told me
what you looked like, but I couldn't find you." He
failed to observe that Floss's comparison had been a
"Isn't it nearly time to start?" asked Miss Lucinda,
"Just five minutes; but I want to explain something to
you first." He looked through the papers in his pocket
and selected one. "This is a pass," he explained; "the
governor can get them over this road. I got there late,
so I could only get one that had been made out for
somebody else and not been used. It's all right, you
know; you won't have a bit of trouble."
Miss Lucinda took the bit of paper, put on her glasses,
and read, "Mrs. Lura Doring."
"Yes," said Tom; "that's the lady it was made out for.
Nine chances out of ten they won't mention it; but if
anything comes up, you just say yes, you are Mrs.
Doring, and it will be all right."
"But," protested Miss Lucinda, ready to weep, "I cannot
tell a falsehood."
"I don't think you'll have to," said Tom, somewhat
impatiently; "but if you deny it, you'll get us both
into no end of a scrape. Hello! there's the call for
your train. I'll bring your bag."
In the confusion of getting settled in her section, and
of expressing her gratitude to Tom, Miss Lucinda forgot
for the time the deadly weight of guilt that rested upon
her. It was not until the conductor called for her
ticket that her heart grew cold, and a look of
consternation swept over her face. It seemed to her that
he eyed the pass suspiciously and when he did not return
it a terror seized her. She knew he was coming back to
ask her name, and what was her name? Mrs. Dora Luring,
or Mrs. Dura Loring, or Mrs. Lura Doring?
In despair she fled to the dressing room and stood there
concealed by the curtains. In a few moments the
conductor passed, and she peeped at his retreating
figure. He stopped in the narrow passage by the window
and studied her pass, then he compared it with a
telegram which he held in his hand. Just then the porter
joined him, and she flattened herself against the wall
and held her breath.
"It's the same name," she heard the conductor say in an
undertone. "I'll wire back to headquarters at the next
If ever retribution followed an erring soul, it followed
Miss Lucinda on that trip. No one spoke to her, and
nothing happened, but she sat in terrified suspense,
looking neither to right nor left, her heart beating
frantically at every approach, and the whirring wheels
repeating the questioning refrain, "Dora Luring? Dura
Loring? Lura Doring?"
In New York, Floss met her as she stepped off the train,
fairly enveloping her in her enthusiasm.
"Here you are, you old darling! I have been having a fit
a minute for fear you wouldn't come. This is my Cousin
May. She is going to stay with us the whole week. New
York is simply heavenly, Miss Lucy. We have made four
engagements already. Matinée this afternoon, a dinner
to-night—What's the matter? Did you leave anything on
"No, no," stammered Miss Lucinda, still casting furtive
glances backward at the conductor. "Was he talking to a
policeman?" she asked suspiciously.
The girls laughed.
"I don't wonder you were scared," said Floss; "a
policeman always does remind me of Miss Joe Hill."
They called a cab and, to Miss Lucinda's vast relief,
were soon rolling away from the scene of danger.
It needed only one glance into a handsome suite of an
up-town hotel one week later to prove the rapid moral
deterioration of the prodigal.
Arrayed in a shell-pink kimono, she was having her nails
manicured. Her gaily figured garment was sufficient in
itself to give her an unusual appearance; but there was
a more startling reason.
Miss Lucinda's hair, hitherto a pale drab smoothly drawn
into a braided coil at the back, had undergone a
startling metamorphosis. It was Floss's suggestion that
Miss Lucinda wash it in "Golden Glow," a preparation
guaranteed to restore luster and beauty to faded locks.
Miss Lucinda had been over-zealous, and the result was
that of copper in sunshine.
These outward manifestations, however, were
insignificant compared with the evidences of Miss
Lucinda's inner guilt. She was taking the keenest
interest in the manicure's progress, only lifting her
eyes occasionally to survey herself with satisfaction in
the mirror opposite.
At first her sense of propriety had been deeply offended
by her changed appearance. She wept so bitterly that the
girls, seeking to console her, had overdone the matter.
"I never thought you could look so pretty," Floss
had declared; "you look ten years younger. It makes your
eyes brighter and your skin clearer. Of course this
awfully bright color will wear off, and then it will be
Miss Lucinda began to feel better; she even allowed May
to arrange her changed locks in a modest pompadour.
The week she had spent in New York was a riotous round
of dissipation. May's fiancé had prepared a whirlwind of
pleasures, and Miss Lucinda was caught up and revolved
at a pace that made her dizzy. Dances, dinners, plays,
roof-gardens, coaching parties, were all held together
by a line of candy, telegrams, and roses.
There was only one time in the day when Miss Lucinda
came down to earth. Every evening, no matter how
exhausted she might he from the frivolities of the day,
she conscientiously penned an affectionate letter to her
celestial affinity, expressing her undying devotion, and
incidentally mentioning the health and doings of her
brother's family. These she sent under separate cover to
her brother to be mailed.
Her conscience assured her that the reckoning would
come, that sooner or later she would face the bar of
justice and receive the verdict of guilty; but while one
day of grace remained, she would still "in the fire of
spring, her winter garments of repentance fling."
As the manicure put the finishing touch to her nails,
Floss came rushing in:
"Hurry up, Miss Lucy dear! Dick Benson has just 'phoned
that he is going to take us for a farewell frolic. We
leave here at five, have dinner somewhere, then do all
sorts of stunts. You are going to wear my tan coat-suit
and light blue waist. Yes, you are, too! That's all
foolishness; everybody wears elbow-sleeves. Blue's your
color, and I've got the hat to match. May says she'll
fix your hair, and you can wear her French-heel Oxfords
again. They pitch you over? Oh, nonsense! you just
tripped along the other day like a nice little jay-bird.
Even Miss Lucinda's week of strenuous living had not
prepared her for what followed. First, there was a short
trip on the train, during which she conscientiously
studied a map. Then followed a dinner at a large and
ostentatious hotel. The decorations were more brilliant,
the music louder, and the dresses gayer, than at any
place Miss Lucinda had yet been. She viewed the passing
show through her glasses, and experienced a pleasant
thrill of sophistication. This, she assured herself, was
society; henceforth she was in a position to rail at its
follies as one having authority.
In the midst of these complacent reflections she choked
on a crumb, and, after groping with closed eyes for her
tumbler, gulped down the contents. A strange, delicious
tingle filled her mouth; she forgot she was choking, and
opened her eyes. To her horror, she found that she had
emptied her glass of champagne.
"Spirituous liquor!" she thought in dismay, as the shade
of Miss Joe Hill rose before her.
Total abstinence was such a firm plank in the platform
of the celestial affinity that, even in the
chafing-dish, alcohol had been tabooed. The utter
iniquity of having deliberately swallowed a glass of
champagne was appalling to Miss Lucinda. She sat silent
during the rest of the dinner, eating little, and
plucking nervously at the ruffles about her elbows. The
fear of rheumatism in her wrists which had assailed her
earlier in the evening gave way to a deeper and more
When the dinner was over, the party started forth on a
hilarious round of sight-seeing. Miss Lucinda limped
after them, vaguely aware that she was in a giant
electric cage filled with swarming humanity, that bands
were playing, drums beating, and that at every turn
disagreeable men with loud voices were imploring her to
"step this way."
"Come on!" cried Dick. "We are going on the scenic
But the worm turned. "I—I'm not going," she protested.
"I will wait here. All of you go; I will wait right
With a sigh of relief she slipped into a vacant corner,
and gave herself up to the luxury of being miserable.
She longed for solitude in which to face the full
enormity of her misdeed, and to plan an immediate
reformation. She would throw herself bodily upon the
mercy of Miss Joe Hill, she would spare herself nothing;
penance of any kind would be welcome, bodily pain even—
She shifted her weight to the slender support of one
high-heeled shoe while she rested the other foot. Her
hair, unused to its new arrangement, pulled cruelly upon
every restraining hair-pin, and her head was beginning
"I deny the slavery of sense. I repudiate the bondage of
matter. I affirm spirit and freedom," she quoted to
herself, but the thought failed to have any effect.
A two-ringed circus was in progress at her right while
at her left a procession of camels and Egyptians was
followed by a noisy crowd of urchins. People were
thronging in every direction, and she realized that she
was occasionally the recipient of a curious glance. She
began to watch rather anxiously for the return of her
party. Ten minutes passed, and still they did not come.
Suddenly the awful possibility presented itself that
they might have lost her. She had no money, and even
with it, she knew she could not find her way back to the
hotel alone. Anxiety gained upon her in leaps. In bitter
remorse she upbraided herself for ever having strayed
from the blessed protection of Miss Joe Hill's
authority. Gulfs of hideous possibility yawned at her
feet; imagination faltered at the things that might
befall a lone and unprotected lady in this bedlam of
Just as her fear was turning to terror the party
"Oh, here you are!" cried Floss. "We thought we had lost
you. It was just dandy, Miss Lucy; you ought to have
gone. It makes you feel like your feet are growing right
out of the top of your head. Come on; we are going to
have our tintypes taken."
Strengthened by the fear of being left alone again, Miss
Lucinda rallied her courage, and once more followed in
their wake. She was faint and exhausted, but the one
grain of comfort she extracted from the situation was
that through her present suffering she was atoning for
At midnight Dick said: "There's only one other thing to
do. It's more fun than all the rest put together. Come
Miss Lucinda followed blindly. She had ceased to think;
there were only two realities left in the world,
French-heels and hair-pins.
At the foot of a flight of steps the party paused to buy
"You can wait for us here, Miss Lucy," said Floss.
Miss Lucinda protested eagerly that she was not too
tired to go with them. The prospect of being left alone
again nerved her to climb to any height.
"But," cried Floss, "if you get up there, there's only
one way to come down. You have to—"
"Let her come!" interrupted the others in laughing
chorus, and, to Miss Lucinda's great relief, she was
allowed to pass through the little gate.
When she reached the top of the long stairs, she looked
about for the attraction. A wide inclined plane slanted
down to the ground floor, and on it were bumps of
various sizes and shapes, all of a shining smoothness.
She had a vague idea that it was a mammoth map for the
blind, until she saw Dick and Floss sit down at the top
and go sliding to the bottom.
"Come on, Miss Lucinda!" cried May. "You can't get down
any other way, you know. Look out! Here I go!"
One by one the others followed, and Miss Lucinda could
not distinguish them as they merged in the laughing
crowd at the base.
Delay was fatal; they would lose her again if she
hesitated. In desperation she gathered her skirts about
her, and let herself cautiously down on the floor. For
one awful moment terror paralyzed her, then, grasping
her skirts with one hand and her hat with the other and
closing her eyes, she slid.
Miss Lucinda did not "hump the bumps"; she slid
gracefully around them, describing fanciful curves and
loops in her airy flight. When she arrived in a confused
bunch on the cushioned platform below, she was greeted
with a burst of applause.
"Ain't it great?" cried Floss, straightening Miss
Lucinda's hat and trying to get her to open her eyes.
"Dick says you are the gamest chaperon he ever saw. Sit
up and let me pin your collar straight."
But Miss Lucinda's sense of direction had evidently been
disturbed, for she did not yet know which was up, and
which was down. She leaned limply against Floss and
tried to get her breath.
"Excuse me," said a man's voice above her, "but are
either of you ladies Mrs. Lura Doring?"
The effect was electrical. Miss Lucinda sat bolt upright
and stared madly about. Tom Speckert had told her to be
sure to answer to that name. It would get him into
trouble if she failed to do so.
"Yes, yes," she gasped; "I am Mrs. Lura Doring."
The members of her little party looked at her anxiously
and ceased to laugh. The slide had evidently unsettled
"Why, this is Miss Perkins—Miss Lucinda Perkins of
Locustwood, Ohio," explained Dick Benson to the officer,
"She's rather upset by her tobogganing, and didn't
"I did," declared Miss Lucinda, making mysterious signs
to Dick to be silent. "It's all right; I am Mrs.
The officer looked suspiciously from one to the other,
then consulted his memorandum: "Small, slender woman,
yellow hair, gray eyes, answers to name of Mrs. Lura
Doring. Left Chicago on June 10."
"When did she get to New York?" asked the officer.
"A week ago to-morrow, on the eleventh," said Floss.
"Then I guess I'll have to take her up," said the
officer; "she answers all the requirements. I've got a
warrant for her arrest."
"Arrest!" gasped Benson. "What for?"
"For forging her husband's name, and defrauding two
hotels in Chicago."
"My husband—" Miss Lucinda staggered to her feet, then,
catching sight of the crowd that had collected, she gave
a fluttering cry and fainted away in the arms of the
When Miss Joe Hill arrived in New York, in answer to an
urgent telegram, she went directly to work with her
usual executive ability to unravel the mystery. After
obtaining the full facts in the case, she was able to
make a satisfactory explanation to the officers at
headquarters. Then she sent the girls to their
respective homes, and turned her full attention upon
"The barber will be here in half an hour to cut your
hair," she announced on the eve of their departure for
"You ought not to be so good to me!" sobbed Miss
Lucinda, who was lying limply on a couch.
Miss Joe Hill took her hand firmly and said: "Lucinda,
error and illness and disorder are man-made perversions.
Let the past week be wiped from our memories. Once we
are in the mountains we will turn the formative power of
our thoughts upon things invisible, and yield ourselves
to the higher harmonies."
The next morning, Miss Lucinda, shorn and penitent, was
led forth from the scene of her recent profligacy. It
was her final exit from a world which for a little space
she had loved not wisely but too well.