THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
I WONDER whether other women’s address-books are like Cynthia’s. Hers defies definition: it cannot be indexed or codified, but must be interpreted by its amazing creator. To give an idea of the system by which it has been compiled I must quote a specific instance.
The other day a lady who was calling on my wife inquired whether she could recommend a good laundress.
‘Oh, certainly!’ cried the practical Cynthia, ‘I always keep the names and addresses of everyone who can possibly be useful to anyone. Algernon,’she called out to me as I was trying to read the paper in the next room, ‘just look in my book of Social and Domestic Emergencies and tell me Nora Mahoney’s address. It is something River Street.’
Obediently I took up the little red book with its alphabetical pages, and turning to the M’s, ran my finger down the list, encountering on the way an alien group of P’s who had somehow strayed into the wrong fold. There was no Mahoney among them. But I knew some of my wife’s mental processes, and, nothing daunted, I turned to the N’s, remembering that Cynthia had once dropped the remark that very few of the people she had ever employed seemed to have last names. There was no Nora among the Nightwatchmen, the Nurses, the Nellys, and the Neds. ‘Is your name M or N?’ I murmured as I abandoned both initials and turned to L for Laundress. Again I was thwarted, but my hunting-blood was stirred, and I feverishly, but vainly, sought the needle of a Nora in the haystack of Hired Help.
‘Don’t you find it, dear?’ inquired Cynthia with a note of gentle surprise. ‘Perhaps you had better let me look. You can never seem to learn my system of registration.’
When the mystic volume was in her hands, she appeared to go into a trance, and with eyes closed muttered, ‘Let me see now, would it be under W for Washerwoman? No. Perhaps it might be under G for General Housework — don’t you remember, Algernon, how cleverly Nora was always able to do things that we did n’t want her to do? Here are the G’s, — let me see, — Gasman, Gymnasium teacher, Mrs. Gordon, Glove Cleansing, Miss Grant, Oh, here we are! General Housework! Oh, no, that is n’t Housework, it’s General Houston — don’t you remember that delightful man with the military moustache we met in Virginia? He gave me his card, and I just jotted his name down in my address-book. I put him among the G’s because I knew that though I might forget his name, I should never forget that he was a General; so here he is, just where he belongs —only, where is Nora?’
She knit, her brow for an instant and then unraveled it hastily. ‘Now I remember! How stupid of me to forget the workings of my own mind! I always used to think that Nora’s name was Agnes, — it’s so exactly the same kind of a name, — and I probably put her down under A, thinking that is where I should look for her. Oh, yes, here she is!’ she called to her patiently waiting friend. ’She leads off the A’s, like Abou Ben Adhem. Nora Mahoney, 18 Brook Street — just what I told you, except that I thought it was River Street.’
A few days after this episode I tried to get Cynthia really to explain her address-book to me so that I might be able to assist others, or myself, in some domestic crisis, if she were away or ill; but she found me very literal and thickwitted.
‘You see,’ she interpreted, ‘if a person has a very marked characteristic that distinguishes him more than his name, of course I put him down under the initial of his idiosyncrasy. For instance, there’s that deaf old upholsterer that Aunt Eliza told me about, who comes to the house and does n’t hear the awful noise he makes when he hammers. He is entered under D for Deaf Upholsterer, because the image that is flashed into my mind when the chairs need recovering is of a deaf man — the fact that his name is Rosenburg is of minor importance.’
‘But you have such a confusing way of mixing names and profession,’ I objected. ‘For instance, those delightful English people who were so good to us in London, Sir James and Lady Taylor, would be flattered if they could see that right on the heels of Lady Taylor follows, “Ladies’ Tailor, seventy-five dollars and not very good!" Then here under M is Mason, A. P., such and such a street. That of course is our old friend Miss Anna, but right under her name is Mason, A, with some business address following.’
‘Oh, but A is n’t an initial in that case,’ cried Cynthia. ‘A is just A, you know, a mason whose name I don’t remember but who was highly recommended by the carpenter that time when the bricks fell out of the chimney! Really, Algernon, you don’t seem to be using your mind.’
I was still doggedly turning over the pages, and hardly listened to her. ‘Now look here,’ I triumphantly exclaimed, ‘can you give me any logical reason why under the letter F, I should find Mrs. Charles B. Redmond, 32 Pineland Road?’
‘Why, of course I can!’ Cynthia informed me without an instant’s hesitation. ‘Mrs. Charles Redmond was Fanny Flemming before she was married, and people always speak of her by her maiden name, on account of the alliteration, so I put her down under the initial that brings her to my mind, but of course using the names she is called by. Don’t you see?’
I saw, but there were still unplumbed depths of mystery.
‘Can you tell me, please,’ I asked humbly, ‘why there should be flowery beds of E’s among the O’s, and why a little oasis of blossoms beginning with B should be blooming among the weedy W’s? I’m sure there is some perfectly good feminine reason, but —’
‘Ah, there there is some excuse for you!’ Cynthia acknowledged; ‘but surely even you must always associate certain letters together for no apparent reason. For instance, perhaps you may have forgotten a name, but you are certain that it begins with a T. Later you remember the name and find that it does n’t begin with a T at all, but with an L. Of course, there is some psychological reason why those two letters are associated together in your mind. Now to me, B and W are practically interchangeable, so I have put Mrs. Blake and the Burlingtons and old Miss Bosworth in with the W’s, and the Wilkinsons and the Warners are among the B’s. It really helps me very much to have them like that, but I can see that it would be confusing to people who had different group associations.’
I closed the little red volume abruptly. ‘Oh, well, if your address-book is simply an Intelligence Test —’I began.
But Cynthia interrupted me. ’It is n’t an Intelligence Test, it’s an Intelligence Office,’ she gently explained.
‘Well, it’s no use, I can’t understand it,’I confessed. ‘Your addresses are as safe from me as if they were written in Sanscrit instead of ciphers, and were locked into a safety deposit vault. I have no key that fits, and I don’t know the combination.’
‘That’s because you ’re a man/ my wife pityingly explained. ‘There is n’t a woman of my acquaintance who does n’t do her address-book-keeping on this general plan, but the word that opens the combination is one that no man will ever understand.'
‘Thank Heaven there are still the Telephone Book and the Social Register,’I cried, stung by the tone of superiority in Cynthia’s voice.
But her last word was yet to be spoken. ‘If ever you want to look up your own name in my address-book,’she said very sweetly, ‘remember the Parable of the Deaf Upholsterer, and look under S.’