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Dirinda’s Dilemma

From Ailenroc’s Book, by Cornelia Alexander

When Jeems Henry’s name first appeared in the Buglehorn as a candidate for the office of constable, I was just as proud as proud could be. Jeems Henry always stood high in my estimation, and I was glad that others had a good opinion of him also. To be sure, it was not much of an office, but Jeems Henry soon reconciled me to that. He illustrated it by a ladder, and made it look beautiful to my eyes. Of course, every one knows that you ascend a ladder step by step and round by round, and I must confess that I built in my imagination a stairway that rivaled Jacob’s; only, his led to heaven, and mine to the presidency.

It was a right pretty little notice that was in the paper. Things were said of Jeems Henry that I could have told them long before, concerning his good looks, good morals, and fine sense, and I took real pleasure in reading it. “Several friends” wrote it out, so it said, and I was wrathy all over when the opposition hinted that it was Jeems Henry himself. But he didn’t run after office—not he. He told me in confidence that if his party chose to give it to him, he would accept, but he did not ask for office.

Old Peter Doolittle ran against him, and, like an old scamp, as he is, he must rake up a great chance of tales against Jeems Henry, and narrate them all over the country, till, if I hadn’t known them to be false, I couldn’t have voted for him myself. But Jeems Henry paid him back in his own coin. He picked up some things about old Peter that were true, and published them in the Buglehorn, and old Peter’s son sent Jeems Henry word that he would thrash him on first sight. After that you may know I was uneasy all the time. I was troubled all day and dreamed bad dreams all night, till I wished the election was safely over.

Jeems Henry had to be gone a good deal, too, and I was worried with the care of home affairs, besides having to live like a widow. I told Jeems Henry that I’d just stay at home if I was in his place, and if they wanted to elect me, let them do it; but he said that as his friends had put him out, he owed it to them to win if he could. Then I told him I wouldn’t ask people to vote for me, and he said he had to keep up with the opposition. Then I told him there was one thing I would not do: I would not treat for votes. If men wouldn’t vote for me without a drink of whisky, I wouldn’t have their votes. He said he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t stoop to it; and I don’t think he would have done it if Major Self hadn’t come to him and told him that old Peter was treating right and left, and he would have to fight the old boy with fire. Jeems Henry hated to do it—I know he did, for it was against his principles—but he had it to do to please his friends. Well, first and last, they ran up a big account for him at the grocery, and we had to do without a good many things. I didn’t get a new dress in six months, but I don’t suppose the party ever knew that I sacrificed anything for it.

But the first thing that threw me off my balance completely was this: A widow woman came to me one day and said the free drinks on Jeems Henry’s credit were ruining her boy. He was a great friend to Jeems Henry, and he had got to taking in crowds to drink to his success. I felt like a thief, almost, and though I held up for Jeems Henry, I told her I knew he would stop it. She dried her tears and went off—poor heartbroken thing!—and I boned Jeems Henry with it as soon as he got home. I suppose he was in a bad frame of mind, anyway, for he blustered and said: “Must I burst up the party just for one woman’s son?” It flew all over me, and I said: “Yes, that boy’s soul is worth more than forty parties.”

Jeems Henry said he would have to go on now, but the cussed thing would soon be over, and then he would turn a new leaf. Now, that looks bad on paper, and it sounds bad, and I am ashamed to tell it on him; but he did say it, and I took a cry about it. I began to be afraid about this time that Jeems Henry would lose all the religion he ever had, but it looked like he couldn’t help it.

After he rode around all the week and talked politics day and night, he wanted to lie about and rest when Sunday came; and I hated to leave him so much, and I didn’t go like I ought to. We lived on politics at our house till I began to think, with Mrs. Partington, that “Polly ticks was the worst ticks that ever was made.”

Well, by and by the election came off, and Jeems Henry beat old Peter ‘way yonder. We had lost a good deal of money in the race, but he had got elected, and if that widow’s son and other sons hadn’t come up to haunt me, I would have been glad. As it was, I was smartly worried. Jeems Henry had to be gone a great deal, staying off whole weeks at court, and I had to stay at home and see to things. Then other things kinder pinched me. He had to have good clothes to wear about; and when I did go out, I didn’t think my calico and his broadcloth went well together. In fact, I got my fill of politics, especially when I noticed that Jeems Henry didn’t seem to be satisfied at home at all, but was in for everything that took him away. If it had been anybody else but my own Jeems Henry, I would have said that he had got to be right hateful.

Then his party put him up to run for another bigger office, and it was the old thing over, only worse. Jeems Henry began to drill me how to speak and act in a way that would not lessen his popularity. I am naturally a plain-spoken person. If I don’t like a person, I want to say so, and give my reason for it; but Jeems Henry taught me a different song to that. I must tolerate everything and everybody, and always act so as to make him friends; and let me say right here that there are some of the hardest things about that I ever encountered. I always did like to have company to eat with me, but when it comes to taking in every old red-nosed toper, and waiting upon him like he was a Vanderbilt himself, just for a vote—and then, maybe, miss it—I’d like to be counted out.

I declare I got so I saw every man with an imaginary ballot in his hand, and every woman as having a man who voted, and that word “popularity” hung over my head like the sword that was suspended over old—what’s his name? I’ve read it, but later events have crowded his name out of my memory.

It takes money to electioneer—it will not do to appear close—and it got so Jeems Henry never had any to spare for the preacher, and it made me feel so mean to have nothing to give that I felt better to stay away.

Then there was another trouble. Our daughter, Dirinda Ann—named for me, though we just call her “Annie,” had got about grown, big enough to catch beaux, at any rate; and some rather wild young men took it into their heads to keep her company. I said: “Jeems Henry, if she keeps such company, she will marry some of them; she must not do it.” “It won’t do to slight them,” he said; “I can’t have their influence against me.” “She shall not keep such low company,” I said; and he answered, “Keep her at home, then;” and I’ve done it. I see that she wants to go to church, singings, etc., and is getting rebellious; but what can I do? She must do nothing against her father’s popularity.

I don’t know what is the matter with Jeems Henry of late. Sometimes I think it is true that we change entirely every seven years, and that is what is the matter with him—he is turning to somebody else, and I will have to get acquainted with a new Jeems Henry. Sometimes I think it is being from home so much, mingling with smart people, and I, staying at home, am standing still, or going backward. O dear! I’m conscious of it every day of my life.

Jeems Henry doesn’t mean to do wrong, but I’m dreadfully afraid that he will. He calls me a fool sometimes because I can’t understand the “chicanery,” he calls it, of politics, and I am one to cry about it; but I can’t, to save my life, see into what “pulling the wires” means any more than I can a “corner in the market.”

It was late when Jeems Henry came home last night from talking over politics, and when I opened the door for him, I thought: “It is another Jeems Henry.” I suppose I looked at him too hard, for he leaned up against the door facing, and said: “Whas-a masher, old ‘oman? Think I’m ‘toshcated?” I was afraid Jeems Henry was drunk; but I smelt his breath, and, though it smelt awful bad, I couldn’t detect the spirits in it. He had a bad headache this morning, and laid it to eating supper at the restaurant. He says their Frenchified dishes don’t agree with him, and I suppose that was what made his breath smell so dreadful last night. I don’t believe it is right for him to pay for suppers there when our boy hasn’t a shoe to his foot, but, of course, he knows best, or thinks he does, and I’ve noticed that people act mightily on “think so’s.”

Well, I’ve told some of my troubles, because open confession is said to be good for the soul, but I don’t know as anybody will be the better for this; and now a dreadful thought strikes me: It may be that Jeems Henry will think that this will lessen his popularity! Dear, dear! What shall I do?

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