Four Magic Words
Robert and Eleanor Ashfield sat at the breakfast table. "You had no right to say what you did!" she cried, stormily. It might have been their sixteenth or their sixtieth quarrel; he had long ago lost count. As it reached its unendurable climax he arose from the daintily set breakfast table, his food scarcely touched. Eleanor rose as soon as he had done so, saying bitterly, "I suppose you're going off without your breakfast just to annoy me!"
He flung back some violent answer, much like hundreds of others he had made before in those frequent recurring disturbances which well-bred people so scrupulously save for their nearest and dearest. Then he stalked from the room, and went to his office. The day was a miserable one.
Being a lawyer, he forced himself into his usual kindly professional air, and into an apparently personal interest in the woes of his clients.
In this way the morning passed; then came a tasteless luncheon, and the afternoon opened with more clients to the same assumed interest. When he found himself facing the last one of the day, it was with a feeling half of relief that the work for the day was over, half of wretched distaste that he must go home and finish out the quarrel he had left. He knew perfectly well it would come up again in some way that very night.
This sort of thing had been going on now for three years; they had been married five. Applied maxims as to the folly of getting angry with a woman had all failed him. He became conscious that he was thinking too much of his own affairs, that he was staring too absently at his last client. The latter, his law matters satisfactorily adjusted, was indulging in some personal memories induced by Ashfield's kingly manner.
"It's for her sake I'm after bein' so glad I won," the old man was saying, happily.
"Thirty years of good times we've had togither, Rosy an' me. She's made this world so pleasant to me that I'm after fearing' I'll never want to leave it, barrin' she should go first."
The lawyer was conscious of a sudden, genuine interest, "You are talking of your wife?"
"Of who else could I be talkin?"
"You say you've had thirty years of happiness with her? I suppose she's one of these yellow-haired saints."
"No, sir. Rosy an' her folks have all been redheaded, an' by the same token, had the highest of tempers."
"An you have been happy with her?" asked the lawyer, skeptically.
The old man answered, frankly, "Neither of us was happy the first five years. Trouble began almost in our honeymoon. It was just six months after we married that Rosy flung a fryin' pan at me and after just seven months I beat her. We scandalized the neighbors!"
"What changed it?" the lawyer asked, more skeptically still. "Did you get afraid of each other?"
"There's no scrap of 'fraid in either of us, Sir. Things was goin' from bad to worse. Me gittin' so I couldn't do me ditchin' decent because of thinkin' over the quarrels, when it come to me I might take counsel of Johnny Milligan, the very wise old man that lived behind us on the hill.
"Tis said the woman should be the peacemaker," I growled to Johnny when I finished me tale to him.
"Tis said wrong,"says Johnny. "Tis the man should handle all situations. There's four magic words which control an' subdue women, no matter what temper they are in; same as certain magic sounds will quiet a frantic horse. These four words, they never fail; they are hard to pronounce when a row is on, unless the man remembers how he is the superior, and 'tis his own fault if he doesn't say them.'
"Give me the words," says I.
"Use them when ye're angriest," says Johnny. "Use them when they strangle ye. Cough 'em out! Choke 'em out! But out they must come!"
"So old Johnny wrote them four words on a piece of paper for me. When I'd puzzled them out, me jaw dropped, and I'd no faith at all, rememberin' the fryin' pan and what Rosy was when she fell into a rage.
"For an exception, we had no quarrel that night, an' time mornin' come, I was more doubtful than ever of Johnny's prescription. The next evenin' when I came home, we both flew into a rage over how much buttermilk the pig ought to have you wouldn't believe what small things we would quarrel over. I was about to say the worst things, when I remembered old Johnny and what he'd wrote out for me, an' how he said they'd be hard to say in a quarrel an' they was hard! But I looked Rosy full in the eye, an' I said them out loud and distinct. She stared at me, flushed, and hesitated. I seen me advantage and I said them again. She tucked her head down and sidled away from the pigpen towards me. `Oh, Tim,' says she, `I didn't mean to be nasty! Feed the pig as much buttermilk as ye like.'
"Well, I must be goin', Sir."
"No hurry, Ryan," said the lawyer. "Did they always work the words?"
"Always, Sir! An' I've been no miser with the prescription, I give it to more than one fella in difficulties with his wife." They both arose. The lawyer blushed, but he said with a dry little smile, "Give me the words?"
That night, business sent Ashfield to a place five hundred miles away. He returned a week later, the story of old Johnny only a hazy memory.
Eleanor's nerves and temper, the smoother for his week's absence, kept sweet the day of his return until that night when a difference of opinion concerning a rug she had purchased (of a color he especially disliked) brought on a storm that was the fiercest of their whole married life.
They stood in their attractively furnished library, their feet on the offending rug, their tall, distinguished figures drawn up to full height, the woman passionately resentful, the man white with anger.
Suddenly, born apparently out of nowhere, a few sentences flashed vividly before him, "These four words they are hard to say when a row is on, but they never fail. Tis the man's own fault if he doesn't use them." Ashfield shook himself; his hands clenched. He made a wild effort, but his lips were soundless. The bitter powers inside were murdering the magic four. Then suddenly, impetuously, looking the angry woman before him straight in the eyes, he desperately flung out the sentence they made. They sounded grotesquely out of place in the midst of this wild quarrel; but he heard himself saying them clearly and distinctly, "Dear, I love you."
As the unexpected sentence fell on her ears, she stared; then she flushed. It sounded strangely sweet to her, strangely powerful; that sentence, flashing out in sheer gold from the base metal of their quarrel. Sudden remorse brought tears into her eyes. She had just wounded him all she could over a foolish thing like a rug! And yet, even in the midst of their mutual anger, he could say the sentence most beloved by every woman!
Like calming music, the words sang in her soul; her anger receded before them, then died utterly. Bowing her head, she said, "Oh, Robert! After all, why should I fuss about the hateful old rug? Let's send it back and exchange it for some color we both like."
He held out his arms mutely, then smiled down on the tear-wet face she lifted, and bent to kiss it.