Uncle Herbert and Aunt Alberta's silver wedding was delicately referred t_mong the Stirlings during the following weeks as "the time we first notice_oor Valancy was—a little— _you_ understand?"
Not for words would any of the Stirlings have said out and out at first tha_alancy had gone mildly insane or even that her mind was slightly deranged.
Uncle Benjamin was considered to have gone entirely too far when he ha_jaculated, "She's dippy—I tell you, she's dippy," and was only excuse_ecause of the outrageousness of Valancy's conduct at the aforsaid weddin_inner.
But Mrs. Frederick and Cousin Stickles had noticed a few things that made the_neasy _before_ the dinner. It had begun with the rosebush, of course; an_alancy never was really "quite right" again. She did not seem to worry in th_east over the fact that her mother was not speaking to her. You would neve_uppose she noticed it at all. She had flatly refused to take either Purpl_ills or Redfern's Bitters. She had announced coolly that she did not inten_o answer to the name of "Doss" any longer. She had told Cousin Stickles tha_he wished she would give up wearing that brooch with Cousin Artemas Stickles'
hair in it. She had moved her bed in her room to the opposite corner. She ha_ead _Magic of Wings_ Sunday afternoon. When Cousin Stickles had rebuked he_alancy had said indifferently, "Oh, I forgot it was Sunday"—and _had gone o_eading it._
Cousin Stickles had seen a terrible thing—she had caught Valancy sliding dow_he bannister. Cousin Stickles did not tell Mrs. Frederick this—poor Ameli_as worried enough as it was. But it was Valancy's announcement on Saturda_ight that she was not going to go to the Anglican church any more that brok_hrough Mrs. Frederick's stony silence.
"Not going to church any more! Doss, have you absolutely taken leave—"
"Oh, I'm going to church," said Valancy airily. "I'm going to the Presbyteria_hurch. But to the Anglican church I will not go."
This was even worse. Mrs. Frederick had recourse to tears, having foun_utraged majesty had ceased to be effective.
"What have you got against the Anglican church?" she sobbed.
"Nothing—only just that you've always made me go there. If you'd made me go t_he Presbyterian church I'd want to go to the Anglican."
"Is that a nice thing to say to your mother? Oh, how true it is that it i_harper than a serpent's tooth to have a thankless child."
"Is that a nice thing to say to your daughter?" said unrepentant Valancy.
So Valancy's behaviour at the silver wedding was not quite the surprise t_rs. Frederick and Christine Stickles that it was to the rest. They wer_oubtful about the wisdom of taking her, but concluded it would "make talk" i_hey didn't. Perhaps she would behave herself, and so far no outside_uspected there was anything queer about her. By a special mercy of Providenc_t had poured torrents Sunday morning, so Valancy had not carried out he_ideous threat of going to the Presbyterian church.
Valancy would not have cared in the least if they had left her at home. Thes_amily celebrations were all hopelessly dull. But the Stirlings alway_elebrated everything. It was a long-established custom. Even Mrs. Frederic_ave a dinner party on her wedding anniversary and Cousin Stickles had friend_n to supper on her birthday. Valancy hated these entertainments because the_ad to pinch and save and contrive for weeks afterwards to pay for them. Bu_he wanted to go to the silver wedding. It would hurt Uncle Herbert's feeling_f she stayed away, and she rather liked Uncle Herbert. Besides, she wanted t_ook over all her relatives from her new angle. It would be an excellent plac_o make public her declaration of independence if occasion offered.
"Put on your brown silk dress," said Mrs. Stirling.
As if there were anything else to put on! Valancy had only the one festiv_ress—that snuffy-brown silk Aunt Isabel had given her. Aunt Isabel ha_ecreed that Valancy should never wear colours. They did not become her. Whe_he was young they allowed her to wear white, but that had been tacitl_ropped for some years. Valancy put on the brown silk. It had a high colla_nd long sleeves. She had never had a dress with low neck and elbow sleeves,
although they had been worn, even in Deerwood, for over a year. But she di_ot do her hair pompadour. She knotted it on her neck and pulled it out ove_er ears. She thought it became her—only the little knot was so absurdl_mall. Mrs. Frederick resented the hair but decided it was wisest to sa_othing on the eve of the party. It was so important that Valancy should b_ept in good humour, if possible, until it was over. Mrs. Frederick did no_eflect that this was the first time in her life that she had thought i_ecessary to consider Valancy's humours. But then Valancy had never been
On their way to Uncle Herbert's—Mrs. Frederick and Cousin Stickles walking i_ront, Valancy trotting meekly along behind—Roaring Abel drove past them.
Drunk as usual but not in the roaring stage. Just drunk enough to b_xcessively polite. He raised his disreputable old tartan cap with the air o_ monarch saluting his subjects and swept them a grand bow, Mrs. Frederick an_ousin Stickles dared not cut Roaring Abel altogether. He was the only perso_n Deerwood who could be got to do odd jobs of carpentering and repairing whe_hey needed to be done, so it would not do to offend him. But they responde_ith only the stiffest, slightest of bows. Roaring Abel must be kept in hi_lace.
Valancy, behind them, did a thing they were fortunately spared seeing. Sh_miled gaily and waved her hand to Roaring Abel. Why not? She had always like_he old sinner. He was such a jolly, picturesque, unashamed reprobate an_tood out against the drab respectability of Deerwood and its customs like _lame-red flag of revolt and protest. Only a few nights ago Abel had gon_hrough Deerwood in the wee sma's, shouting oaths at the top of his stentoria_oice which could be heard for miles, and lashing his horse into a furiou_allop as he tore along prim, proper Elm Street.
"Yelling and blaspheming like a fiend," shuddered Cousin Stickles at th_reakfast-table.
"I cannot understand why the judgment of the Lord has not fallen upon that ma_ong ere this," said Mrs. Frederick petulantly, as if she thought Providenc_as very dilatory and ought to have a gentle reminder.
"He'll be picked up dead some morning—he'll fall under his horse's hoofs an_e trampled to death," said Cousin Stickles reassuringly.
Valancy had said nothing, of course; but she wondered to herself if Roarin_bel's periodical sprees were not his futile protest against the poverty an_rudgery and monotony of his existence. _She_ went on dream sprees in he_lue Castle. Roaring Abel, having no imagination, could not do that. _His_scapes from reality had to be concrete. So she waved at him today with _udden fellow feeling, and Roaring Abel, not too drunk to be astonished,
nearly fell off his seat in his amazement.
By this time they had reached Maple Avenue and Uncle Herbert's house, a large,
pretentious structure peppered with meaningless bay windows and excrescen_orches. A house that always looked like a stupid, prosperous, self-satisfie_an with warts on his face.
"A house like that," said Valancy solemnly, "is a blasphemy."
Mrs. Frederick was shaken to her soul. What had Valancy said? Was it profane?
Or only just queer? Mrs. Frederick took off her hat in Aunt Alberta's spare-
room with trembling hands. She made one more feeble attempt to avert disaster.
She held Valancy back on the landing as Cousin Stickles went downstairs.
"Won't you try to remember you're a lady?" she pleaded.
"Oh, if there were only any hope of being able to forget it!" said Valanc_earily.
Mrs. Frederick felt that she had not deserved this from Providence.