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HOME > Short Stories > The Disagreeable Woman > CHAPTER I. A SOCIAL MYSTERY.
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"If I live till next July, I shall be twenty-nine years old," simpered the young widow, and she looked around the table, as if to note the effect of such an incredible statement.

"You look much older," said the Disagreeable Woman, looking up from her tea and buttered toast.

There was a general silence, and the boarders noted with curiosity the effect[Pg 8] of this somewhat unceremonious remark.

Mrs. Wyman, the young widow, flushed and directed an angry and scornful look at the last speaker.

"I am sure I am very much obliged to you," she said.

"You are quite welcome," said the Disagreeable Woman, calmly.

"You look older than I do," said the widow, sharply.

"Very possibly," said the Disagreeable Woman, not at all excited.

"Do you mind telling us how old you are?"

"Not at all! I have reached the age—"

All bent forward to listen. Why is it that we take so much interest in the ages of our acquaintances? There was evidently a strong desire to learn the age of the Disagreeable Woman. But she disappointed the general expectation.

[Pg 9]

"I have reached the age of discretion," she continued, finishing the sentence.

"Who is that woman?" I asked my next neighbor, for I was a new comer at Mrs. Gray's table.

"Wait till after breakfast and I will tell you," he answered.

Mrs. Gray kept a large boarding-house on Waverley Place. Some fifteen boarders were gathered about the large table. I may have occasion to refer to some of them later. But first I will speak of myself.

I was a young medical practitioner, who after practising for a year in a Jersey village had come to New York in quest of a metropolitan practise and reputation. I was not quite penniless, having five hundred dollars left over from the legacy of an old aunt, the rest of which had been used to defray the expenses of my education. I had not yet come to realize how small a sum this was for a professional start in the city. I had[Pg 10] hired an office, provided with a cabinet bedstead, and thus saved room rent. For table board I had been referred to Mrs. Gray's boarding-house, on Waverley Place.

"I boarded there once," said the friend who recommended me, "and found not only a fair table but a very social and entertaining family of boarders. They were of all classes," he continued, "from literateurs to dry goods clerks, school-teachers, actors, and broken-down professionals."

This description piqued my curiosity, and I enrolled myself as one of Mrs. Gray's boarders, finding her terms not beyond my modest means.

But in his list of boarders he forgot—the Disagreeable Woman, who must have come after his departure.

She was tall, inclined to be slender, with a keen face and singular eyes. She never seemed to be excited, but was always calm and self-possessed. She[Pg 11] seemed to have keen insight into character, and as may already be inferred, of remarkable and even perhaps rude plainness of speech. Yet though she said sharp things she never seemed actuated by malice or ill-nature. She did not converse much, but was always ready to rebuke pretension and humbug as in the case of the young widow. What she said of her was quite correct. I judged from her appearance that Mrs. Wyman must be at least thirty-five years old, and possibly more. She evidently did not intend to remain a widow longer than was absolutely necessary.

She paid attention to every male boarder at the table, neglecting none. She even made overtures to Prof. Poppendorf, a learned German, with a deep bass voice and a German accent, whose green goggles and shaggy hair, somewhat grizzled, made him a picturesque personality.

We all enjoyed the rebuff which Mrs.[Pg 12] Wyman received from the Disagreeable Woman, though it made us slightly afraid of her lest our turns might come next.

But I am keeping my readers from my friend's promised account of the lady who had excited my curiosity.

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