The Troll Garden and Selected Stories HTML version

A Wagner Matinee
I received one morning a letter, written in pale ink on glassy, blue-lined notepaper, and
bearing the postmark of a little Nebraska village. This communication, worn and rubbed,
looking as though it had been carried for some days in a coat pocket that was none too
clean, was from my Uncle Howard and informed me that his wife had been left a small
legacy by a bachelor relative who had recently died, and that it would be necessary for
her to go to Boston to attend to the settling of the estate. He requested me to meet her at
the station and render her whatever services might be necessary. On examining the date
indicated as that of her arrival I found it no later than tomorrow. He had characteristically
delayed writing until, had I been away from home for a day, I must have missed the good
woman altogether.
The name of my Aunt Georgiana called up not alone her own figure, at once pathetic and
grotesque, but opened before my feet a gulf of recollection so wide and deep that, as the
letter dropped from my hand, I felt suddenly a stranger to all the present conditions of my
existence, wholly ill at ease and out of place amid the familiar surroundings of my study.
I became, in short, the gangling farm boy my aunt had known, scourged with chilblains
and bashfulness, my hands cracked and sore from the corn husking. I felt the knuckles of
my thumb tentatively, as though they were raw again. I sat again before her parlor organ,
fumbling the scales with my stiff, red hands, while she, beside me, made canvas mittens
for the huskers.
The next morning, after preparing my landlady somewhat, I set out for the station. When
the train arrived I had some difficulty in finding my aunt. She was the last of the
passengers to alight, and it was not until I got her into the carriage that she seemed really
to recognize me. She had come all the way in a day coach; her linen duster had become
black with soot, and her black bonnet gray with dust, during the journey. When we
arrived at my boardinghouse the landlady put her to bed at once and I did not see her
again until the next morning.
Whatever shock Mrs. Springer experienced at my aunt's appearance she considerately
concealed. As for myself, I saw my aunt's misshapen figure with that feeling of awe and
respect with which we behold explorers who have left their ears and fingers north of
Franz Josef Land, or their health somewhere along the Upper Congo. My Aunt Georgiana
had been a music teacher at the Boston Conservatory, somewhere back in the latter
sixties. One summer, while visiting in the little village among the Green Mountains
where her ancestors had dwelt for generations, she had kindled the callow fancy of the
most idle and shiftless of all the village lads, and had conceived for this Howard
Carpenter one of those extravagant passions which a handsome country boy of twenty-
one sometimes inspires in an angular, spectacled woman of thirty. When she returned to
her duties in Boston, Howard followed her, and the upshot of this inexplicable infatuation
was that she eloped with him, eluding the reproaches of her family and the criticisms of
her friends by going with him to the Nebraska frontier. Carpenter, who, of course, had no
money, had taken a homestead in Red Willow County, fifty miles from the railroad.