A Quicksilver Cassandra, by John Kendrick Bangs
It was altogether queer, and Jingleberry to this day does not entirely
understand it. He had examined his heart as carefully as he knew how,
and had arrived at the entirely reasonable conclusion that he was in
love. He had every symptom of that malady. When Miss Marian Chapman was
within range of his vision there was room for no one else there. He
suffered from that peculiar optical condition which enabled him to see
but one thing at a time when she was present, and she was that one
thing, which was probably the reason why in his mind's eye she was the
only woman in the world, for Marian was ever present before
Jingleberry's mental optic. He had also examined as thoroughly as he
could in hypothesis the heart of this "only woman," and he had—or
thought he had, which amounts to the same thing—reason to believe that
she reciprocated his affection. She certainly seemed glad always when
he was about; she called him by his first name, and sometimes
quarrelled with him as she quarrelled with no one else, and if that
wasn't a sign of love in woman, then Jingleberry had studied the sex
all his years—and they were thirty-two—for nothing. In short, Marian
behaved so like a sister to him that Jingleberry, knowing how dreams
and women go by contraries, was absolutely sure that a sister was just
the reverse from that relationship which in her heart of hearts she was
willing to assume towards him, and he was happy in consequence.
Believing this, it was not at all strange that he should make up his
mind to propose marriage to her, though, like many other men, he was
somewhat chicken-hearted in coming to the point. Four times had he
called upon Marian for the sole purpose of asking her to become his
wife, and four times had he led up to the point and then talked about
something else. What quality it is in man that makes a coward of him in
the presence of one he considers his dearest friend is not within the
province of this narrative to determine, but Jingleberry had it in its
most virulent form. He had often got so far along in his proposal as
"Marian—er—will you—will you—," and there he had as often stopped,
contenting himself with such commonplace conclusions as "go to the
matinee with me to-morrow?" or "ask your father for me if he thinks the
stock market is likely to strengthen soon?" and other amazing
substitutes for the words he so ardently desired, yet feared, to utter.
But this afternoon—the one upon which the extraordinary events about
to be narrated took place—Jingleberry had called resolved not to be
balked in his determination to learn his fate. He had come to propose,
and propose he would, ruat coelum. His confidence in a successful
termination to his suit had been reinforced that very morning by the
receipt of a note from Miss Chapman asking him to dine with her parents
and herself that evening, and to accompany them after dinner to the
opera. Surely that meant a great deal, and Jingleberry conceived that
the time was ripe for a blushing "yes" to his long-deferred question.
So he was here in the Chapman parlor waiting for the young lady to come
down and become the recipient of the "interesting interrogatory," as it
is called in some sections of Massachusetts.
"I'll ask her the first thing," said Jingleberry, buttoning up his Prince
Albert, as though to impart a possibly needed stiffening to his backbone.
"She will say yes, and then I shall enjoy the dinner and the opera so much
the more. Ahem! I wonder if I am pale—I feel sort of—um—There's a
mirror. That will tell." Jingleberry walked to the mirror—an oval,
gilt-framed mirror, such as was very much the vogue fifty years ago, for
which reason alone, no doubt, it was now admitted to the gold-and-white
parlor of the house of Chapman.
"Blessed things these mirrors," said Jingleberry, gazing at the reflection
of his face. "So reassuring. I'm not at all pale. Quite the contrary. I'm
red as a sunset. Good omen that! The sun is setting on my bachelor
days—and my scarf is crooked. Ah!"
The ejaculation was one of pleasure, for pictured in the mirror
Jingleberry saw the form of Marian entering the room through the
"How do you do, Marian? been admiring myself in the glass," he said,
turning to greet her. "I—er—"
Here he stopped, as well he might, for he addressed no one. Miss Chapman
was nowhere to be seen.
"Dear me!" said Jingleberry, rubbing his eyes in astonishment. "How
extraordinary! I surely thought I saw her—why, I did see her—that is, I
saw her reflection in the gla—Ha! ha! She caught me gazing at myself
there and has hidden."
He walked to the door and drew the portiere aside and looked into the
hall. There was no one there. He searched every corner of the hall and of
the dining-room at its end, and then returned to the parlor, but it was
still empty. And then occurred the most strangely unaccountable event in
As he looked about the parlor, he for the second time found himself before
the mirror, but the reflection therein, though it was of himself, was of
himself with his back turned to his real self, as he stood gazing amazedly
into the glass; and besides this, although Jingleberry was alone in the
real parlor, the reflection of the dainty room showed that there he was
not so, for seated in her accustomed graceful attitude in the reflected
arm-chair was nothing less than the counterfeit presentment of Marian
It was a wonder Jingleberry's eyes did not fall out of his head, he stared
so. What a situation it was, to be sure, to stand there and see in the
glass a scene which, as far as he could observe, had no basis in reality;
and how interesting it was for Jingleberry to watch himself going through
the form of chatting pleasantly there in the mirror's depths with the
woman he loved! It almost made him jealous, though, the reflected
Jingleberry was so entirely independent of the real Jingleberry. The
jealousy soon gave way to consternation, for, to the wondering suitor, the
independent reflection was beginning to do that for which he himself had
come. In other words, there was a proposal going on there in the glass,
and Jingleberry enjoyed the novel sensation of seeing how he himself would
look when passing through a similar ordeal. Altogether, however, it was
not as pleasing as most novelties are, for there were distinct signs in
the face of the mirrored Marian that the mirrored Jingleberry's words were
distasteful to her, and that the proposition he was making was not one she
could entertain under any circumstances. She kept shaking her head, and
the more she shook it, the more the glazed Jingleberry seemed to implore
her to be his. Finally, Jingleberry saw his quicksilver counterpart fall
upon his knees before Marian of the glass, and hold out his arms and hands
towards her in an attitude of prayerful despair, whereupon the girl sprang
to her feet, stamped her left foot furiously upon the floor, and pointed
the unwelcome lover to the door.
Jingleberry was fairly staggered. What could be the meaning of so
extraordinary a freak of nature? Surely it must be prophetic. Fate was
kind enough to warn him in advance, no doubt; otherwise it was a trick.
And why should she stoop to play so paltry a trick as that upon him?
Surely fate would not be so petty. No. It was a warning. The mirror had
been so affected by some supernatural agency that it divined and reflected
that which was to be instead of confining itself to what Jingleberry
called "simultaneity." It led instead of following or acting coincidently
with the reality, and it was the part of wisdom, he thought, for him to
yield to its suggestion and retreat; and as he thought this, he heard a
soft sweet voice behind him.
"I hope you haven't got tired of waiting, Tom," it said; and, turning,
Jingleberry saw the unquestionably real Marian standing in the doorway.
"No," he answered, shortly. "I—I have had a pleasant—very entertaining
ten minutes; but I—I must hurry along, Marian," he added. "I only came to
tell you that I have a frightful headache, and—er—I can't very well
manage to come to dinner or go to the opera with you to-night."
"Why, Tom," pouted Marian, "I am awfully disappointed! I had counted on
you, and now my whole evening will be spoiled. Don't you think you can
rest a little while, and then come?"
"Well, I—I want to, Marian," said Jingleberry; "but, to tell the truth,
I—I really am afraid I am going to be ill; I've had such a strange
experience this afternoon. I—"
"Tell me what it was," suggested Marian, sympathetically; and Jingleberry
did tell her what it was. He told her the whole story from beginning to
end—what he had come for, how he had happened to look in the mirror, and
what he saw there; and Marian listened attentively to every word he said.
She laughed once or twice, and when he had done she reminded him that
mirrors have a habit of reversing everything; and somehow or other
Jingleberry's headache went, and—and—well, everything went!