WATKINS had been telling his friend Ingelow about an eccentric beauty he had met in the mountains during the previous summer, and Ingelow, by way of a fair exchange, narrated to Watkins the story of Jessica Brail, whom he had known from childhood.
“The young lady I am going to tell you about,” began Ingelow, “is endowed with sufficient charms to make two ordinary society belles. Perhaps you won’t believe that, but if you ever see her you will indorse the apparently rash statement without the slightest hesitation. She is a perfect blonde, with Quaker-colored eyes, and hair of infinite golden sheen and fineness.
“Shortly after her début, which was the talk of society at the time, she became engaged to a promising chap by the name of Jerome Van Dusen, who had recently come into a magnificent fortune, thanks to a kind old bachelor uncle, with whom Jerome, being 35 an orphan, had lived for several years. No time had been fixed for the marriage, and it was supposed that it would take place not under a year or so, as Jessica was but eighteen when she became affianced.
“She was suddenly seized one morning with a violent and strange illness which baffled the doctors. For weeks she lay in delirium, and a number of times her life was despaired of. But finally she grew better, and when she had quite recovered her normal strength and health, she again assumed her old place in the social whirl where she had been a delight and a dream.
“But in some ways her intimate friends observed that Jessica’s illness had changed her. Something was lacking in her old-time spontaneity. Then, too, she caused gossip by treating young Van Dusen in a shabby manner. She did not seem to be conscious of her engagement to him. She held him at arm’s length, so to speak, and repulsed his chivalrous attentions. Of course Jerome couldn’t understand what it was all about, and he could get little satisfaction out of Mrs. Brail, to whom he went for a conference on the subject. Mrs. Brail expressed herself as being very much worried about Jessica, and ended 36 by requesting Jerome not to be quite so assiduous in his attentions to the young lady for the time being.
“Now, the chief thing in which Jessica manifested her eccentricity was in her complete mania for everything yellow. Wherever she appeared, she was gowned in yellow from head to foot — gloves, shoes, and all. She even discarded her diamonds and other jewels for yellow gems. She frankly confessed she possessed more than a mere penchant for all things yellow; it was a passion with her, and one over which she had no control. Rather alarmed over this excessive fad of her daughter, Mrs. Brail thought it would be a wise policy to allow Jessica to indulge her caprice in this direction, instead of trying to restrain her, and so she offered no definite protest when the young lady expressed a wish to have a phaeton all yellow, and a yellow horse, yellow harness, and yellow whip. With Mrs. Brail’s abundant resources it was not difficult to obtain the phaeton, harness, and whip, but the yellow horse was not so easily within reach.
“However, a horse-dealer of large experience, procured a horse that would pass for a yellow nag, except for a few white spots on his 37 flanks. Jessica driving through Central Park alone in her peculiar turnout excited no end of comment, and her inexplicable craze for yellow was duly exploited in the newspapers. Neither gossip nor ridicule had any effect on Jessica. She bout a dozen canary birds and as many yellow wire cages one afternoon, and ordered them sent to her home on Madison Avenue.”
“Oh, come off, Ingelow! Do you think you can stuff me in this way, old chap? I say, let’s have some more brandy and soda.”
“I am simply repeating facts. Order your drink and listen. It was in the autumn when this queerness of Miss Brail was first manifested. She and her mother on a certain night in October gave a swell party. What do you suppose the only floral decorations consisted of?”
“Golden-rod,” suggested Watkins, wearily, as he poured his club soda into a long glass.
“Precisely. You are good at riddles, old man. Golden-rod exclusively. Of course Jessica was garbed entirely in yellow, even to her lingerie. Now please don’t interrupt me again. As a matter of fact this young woman practically carried out her mania even in the matter 38 of eating. She was fond of butter, celery-tops, squash, and lemon pie, the hard-boiled yolks of eggs, all kinds of yellow-colored cake, the inside of corn-bread, Chablis, Sauterne, and Rhine wines, scrambled eggs and plain omelet, and other edibles and drinkables having a yellowish tinge. Though very fond of literature, she never read other than yellow covered or bound books; and one night she engaged a squad of painters to come and cover the entire front of the Brail brownstone mansion with a brilliant coat of yellow. The next day several friends and relatives of the family called and advised the now nearly distracted Mrs. Brail to place poor Jessica in some retreat. This the mother refused to do. But she did resolve to take Jessica on a journey West, perhaps to California, thinking that a change of scene and climate would benefit her. Jessica’s consent, strangely enough, was easily won. They took an excursion steamer bound for San Francisco by way of the Horn. Would you believe it, Watkins, on board that steamer Jessica met her fate?”
“She died, eh?”
“No. She met a man whom she afterward, not long afterward either, married in ‘Frisco.’ ”39
“What became of Jerome?”
“Well, Jerome had became disgusted with her antics and had gone off to Berlin to study diplomacy.”
“The young man Jessica became acquainted with aboard the steamer Brazil bore the name of Uriah Jeffrey. He was a struggling inventor, who had nearly killed himself with hard work, and was taking the voyage for his health. A severe case of jaundice, which made him somewhat morbid, afflicted him, but on being introduced, Jessica fell in love with him right away.”
“I see,” put in Watkins, drolly, “because he had the jaundice. He was right in her line.”
“And,” proceeded Ingelow, not paying any attention to the other’s interruption, “Uriah, of course, was doubly attracted to her by reason of her yellow attire and belongings. So they fell to courting without any considerable delay, satisfied that in each other they had found their true affinity. And in spite of all that mamma Brail could do to prevent it, these two cooing doves plighted their troth before reaching Golden Gate.”
“Is that all?”40
“They were married quietly in San Francisco a fortnight after their arrival there, and a few days later returned to New York. Jeffrey’s jaundice gradually disappeared and with it his wife’s mania for yellow. She is now somewhat prejudiced against that color, for she feels a little sensitive over her foolish excesses with it — when she was not quite her own sweet self.”
“Ingelow,” drawled Watkins, after finishing the last swallow in his glass, “you are one of the most fearful, wonderful, and consummate — conversationalists I ever listened to. But, by way of giving your narrative an artistic finish, why didn’t you have Jessica take the Gold Cure for her malady?”