Episode 4. Back to a Changed Philadelphia
It seems that I cannot do anything right these days. My beautiful letter to my parents provoked the following ironic passage from stepmother Elizabeth: "I am much obliged for your very polite letter, and would answer it in as high a stile was I capable, but I have no talent for such sort of epistolary writing, therefore you must be content to receive a plain, simple letter in return, without one brilliant flight of fancy." And my father chimes in, advising me to avoid too Elphinstonic a style. "You should consider yourself as conversing with the person to whom you write," he says, "and that all attempts at the sublime, all quaint words and phrases are to be as carefully avoided in letters as in conversation." How, I wonder, would Headmaster Elphinston appreciate that comment?
Allright, Father, my messages henceforth will be brief and to the point. I shall remind Aunt Sally, on behalf of your wife, to procure a certain mantua she desires — whatever a mantua may mean — as well as ruffles and edging "fit to trim the ruffles" and asthmatic elixir. Does Elizabeth know that Sally is taking care of a sick baby, day and night? Does she care?
Those two sisters-in-law could not be more different. Aunt Sally spends all her time and energy making other people happy; Elizabeth concentrates on her personal appearance, her health, her comfort. And yet Elizabeth is the one who holds sway over every man in the room, making each of them eager to please her, to help her. Is it the rustle of her dresses? Her perfume? Her beauty? I don't know, but I feel that pull myself and I find it, what shall I say, troubling?
All this business between men and women, how complicated it is! My big question: How can I go about meeting the dimpled girl again? Would they allow an unaccompanied boy my age into the City Tavern? Or should I wait for her at the door? Let's try the door.