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An Adventure In Altruria
by [?]

The story came to me through my friend, Mrs. Katherine Biff. Mrs. Biff is a widow. Her profession–I will not slight her beautiful art by a lesser word–is that of cook. She cooks for my cousin, Elinor, and it was during one of Elinor’s absences in Europe that Mrs. Biff had her experience in Altruria, as the supply for Miss Mercedes Van Arden. It was highly interesting, I think.

She gave me the episode herself; because, in the first place, I am Elinor’s own cousin (like the rest of the world, she loves Elinor) and in the second place, she knows that I appreciate her conversation. Assuredly I do value Katy’s freehand sketches of life. She is a shrewd observer. Often while she talks I recall Stevenson’s description of another: “She is not to be deceived nor think a mystery solved when it is repeated.”

Katy is an American by birth, but Celtic by race and by nature; a widow to whom children never were granted, but who out of her savings has helped educate and settle half a dozen of her nieces and nephews. Katy’s married life was brief and not happy. The late Biff was a handsome man who never let other people’s comforts or rights interfere with his own pleasure. Nevertheless, when he was killed in a saloon brawl she did not grudge him many carriages for his last journey (she who believes in simple funerals. “When I give free rides, I’ll give ’em while I’m alive and can hear folks say ‘Thank you!'” says she), and she has erected a neat stone to his memory.

It was three years after his death that Mrs. Biff came to Elinor, with whom she has lived since.

Elinor, one may say, bequeathed her to the Van Ardens. At least she suggested them importunately to Katy. To me she explained, “Katy is a maternal soul, and she can’t help taking care of Mercy Van Arden, who is a stray angel in a wicked world and thinks she is a socialist.”

We are conservative, peaceful, mid-Westerners in our town, and the only socialists belong to a class that we do not meet nor recognize save by their names in the papers published preliminary to fiery addresses delivered at not very reputable tavern halls. Therefore, to have a cultivated socialist, a young lady of wealth, who regarded her fortune as a “trust,” come to live among us was exciting. Her aunt, from whom she had recently inherited her fortune, was well known to us, being a large property owner in the town. She, the late aunt, was not in the least a socialist; on the contrary, we esteemed her a particularly shrewd and merciless adept at a bargain. She had a will of her own; and considering that Miss Mercedes had borne the yoke for ten years, it was generally considered that she had earned her legacy.

Under all these conditions of interest, I admit I was glad enough to see Katy Biff’s decent black hat approaching the side door the day after her entrance into the Van Arden family circle.

* * * * *

“Well, Miss Patsy,” she began, “I guess you know she’s queer; I thought I knew most of the brands of wine and women, as old Judge Howells used to say, but this one beats me! I came ’round to the yard–she’s hired the Bateman place, furnished, you know, while the Batemans are towering in Canada, she and her sister, who’s a doctor lady. I hope the doctor’ll be a kinder balance wheel, but she’s got a chore!

“As I was saying, I came ’round the yard, aiming for the kitchen door, when I heard somebody calling, and there she was opening the front door to Nellie Small. Don’t you remember Nellie Small? She was the Batemans’ waitress for three months–poor young things–and smashed a lot of their nice wedding presents, the other girl told me. She’s the kind that always looks so fine and never dusts the hind legs of the table. I wasn’t none too pleased at the sight of her, but Miss Van Arden, she was awful polite; took us both right into the parlor and made us set down. I got worried thinking she’d mistook, and I hesitate a minute and then I says: