Martie The Unconquered
Part 1 out of 8
Produced by Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE WORKS OF KATHLEEN NORRIS
MARTIE THE UNCONQUERED
AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED TO
JOSEPH SEXTON THOMPSON
At about four o'clock on a windy, warm September afternoon, four
girls came out of the post-office of Monroe, California. They had
loitered on their way in, consciously wasting time; they had spent
fifteen minutes in the dark and dirty room upon an absolutely
unnecessary errand, and now they sauntered forth into the village
street keenly aware that the afternoon was not yet waning, and
disheartened by the slow passage of time. At five they would go to
Bonestell's drug store, and sit in a row at the soda counter, and
drink effervescent waters pleasingly mingled with fruit syrups and
an inferior quality of ice cream. Five o'clock was the hour for
"sodas," neither half-past four nor half-past five was at all the
same thing in the eyes of Monroe's young people. After that they
would wander idly toward the bridge, and separate; Grace Hawkes
turning toward the sunset for another quarter of a mile, Rose
Ransome opening the garden gate of the pretty, vine-covered cottage
near the bridge, and the Monroe girls, Sarah and Martha, in a
desperate hurry now, flying up the twilight quiet of North Main
Street to the long picket fence, the dark, tree-shaded garden, and
the shabby side-doorway of the old Monroe house.
Three of these girls met almost every afternoon, going first to each
other's houses, and later wandering down for the mail, for some
trivial errand at drug store or dry-goods store, and for the
inevitable ices. Rose Ransome was not often with them, for Rose was
just a little superior in several ways to her present companions,
and frequently spent the afternoon practising on her violin, or
driving, or walking with the Parker girls and Florence Frost, who
hardly recognized the existence of Grace Hawkes and the Monroes. The
one bank in Monroe was the Frost and Parker Bank; there were Frost
Street and Parker Street, the Frost Building and the Parker
Building. May and Ida Parker and Florence Frost had gone to Miss
Bell's Private School when they were little, and then to Miss
Spencer's School in New York.
But even all this might not have accounted for the exclusive social
instincts of the young ladies if both families had not been very
rich. As it was, with prosperous fathers and ambitious mothers, with
well-kept, old-fashioned homes, pews in church, allowances of so
many hundred dollars a year, horses to ride and drive, and servants
to wait upon them, the three daughters of these two prominent
families considered themselves as obviously better than their
neighbours, and bore themselves accordingly. Cyrus Frost and Graham
Parker had come to California as young men, in the seventies; had
cast in their lot with little Monroe, and had grown rich with the
town. It was a credit to the state now; they had found it a mere
handful of settlers' cabins, with one stately, absurd mansion
standing out among them, in a plantation of young pepper and willow
and locust and eucalyptus trees.
This was the home of Malcolm Monroe, turreted, mansarded, generously
filled with the glass windows that had come in a sailing vessel
around the Horn. Incongruous, pretentious, awkward, it might to a
discerning eye have suggested its owner, who was then not more than
thirty years old; a tall, silent, domineering man. He was reputed
rich, and Miss Elizabeth--or "Lily"--Price, a pretty Eastern girl
who visited the Frosts in the winter of 1878, was supposed to be
doing very well for herself when she married him, and took her
bustles and chignons, her blonde hair with its "French twist," and
her scalloped, high-buttoned kid shoes to the mansion on North Main
Now the town had grown to several hundred times its old size;
schools, churches, post-office, shops, a box factory, a lumber yard,
and a winery had come to Monroe. There was the Town Hall, a plain
wooden building, and, at the shabby outskirts of South Main Street,
a jail. The Interurban Trolley "looped" the town once every hour.
All these had helped to make Cyrus Frost and Graham Parker rich.
They, like Malcolm Monroe, had married, and had built themselves
homes. They had invested and re-invested their money; they had given
their children advantages, according to their lights. Now, in their
early fifties, they were a power in the town, and they felt for it a
genuine affection and pride, a loyalty that was unquestioning and
sincere. In the kindly Western fashion these two were now accorded
titles; Cyrus, who had served in the Civil War, was "Colonel Frost,"
and to Graham, who had been a lawyer, was given the titular dignity
of being "Judge Parker."
Malcolm Monroe kept pace with neither his old associates nor with
the times. His investments were timid and conservative, his faith in
the town that had been named for his father frequently wavered. He
was in everything a reactionary, refusing to see that neither the
sheep of the old Spanish settlers nor the gold of the early pioneers
meant so much to this fragrant, sun-washed table land as did wheat
and grapes and apple trees. Monroe came to laugh at "old Monroe's"
pigheadedness. He fought the town on every question for
improvements, as it came up. The bill for pavements, the bill for
sewerage, the bill for street lights, the high school bill, found in
him an enemy as the years went by. He denounced these innovations
bitterly. When the level of Main Street was raised four feet, "old
Monroe" almost went out of his senses, and the home site, gloomily
shut in now by immense trees, and a whole block square, was left
four feet below the street level, so that there must be built three
or four wooden steps at all the gates. The Monroe girls resented
this peculiarity of their home, but never said so to their father.
Rose Ransome, the pretty, neat little daughter of a pretty, neat
little widow, was cultivated eagerly by the Monroes, and patronized
kindly by the Frost and Parker girls. She had lived all of her
twenty years in Monroe, and was too conscientious and amiable to
snub the girls supposedly beneath her, and too merry, ladylike, and
entertaining to be quite ignored by the richer group. So she
brightly, obligingly, and gratefully lunched and drove, read and
walked, and practised music with May and Ida and Florence, when they
wanted her, and when they did not, or when Eastern friends visited
them, or there was for some reason no empty seat in the surrey, she
turned back to the company of Grace Hawkes and of Sally and Martie
Monroe. Rose admitted frankly to her mother that with the latter
group she had "more fun," but that with her more elevated friends
she enjoyed, of course, "nicer times." Politically she steered a
diplomatic middle course between the two, implying, with equal
readiness, that she only associated with the poor Monroes because
Uncle Ben made her, or that she accepted invitations from the Frost
and Parker faction simply to be amiable.
Sally Monroe, innocent, simple, unexacting at twenty-one, really
believed Rose to be the sweetly frank and artless person she seemed,
but Martie, two years younger, had her times of absolutely detesting
Rose. Sally was never jealous, but Martie burned with a fierce young
jealousy of all life: of Rose, with her dainty frocks and her rich
friends, her curly hair and her violin; of Florence Frost's riding
horse; of Ida Parker's glib French; of her own brother, Leonard
Monroe, with his male independence; of the bare-armed women who
leaped on the big, flat-backed horses in the circus; of the very
Portuguese children who rode home asleep of a summer afternoon, in
fragrant loads of alfalfa.
To-day she was vaguely smarting at Grace's news: Grace was going to
work. She, like the Monroe girls, had often discussed the
possibilities of this step, but opportunities were not many, and the
idle, pleasant years drifted by with no change. But Ellie Hawkes,
Grace's big sister, who had kept books in the box factory for three
years, was to be married now; a step down for Ellie--for her
"friend" was only Terry Castle, a brawny, ignorant giant employed by
the Express Company--but a step up for Grace. She would be a wage-
earner; her pretty, weak face grew animated at the thought, and her
shrill voice more shrill.
Martie Monroe had no real desire to work in the box factory, to walk
daily the ugly half mile that lay between it and her home, to join
the ranks of toilers that filed through the poorer region of town
every morning. But like all growing young things she felt a
desperate, undefined need. She could not know that self-expression
is as necessary to natures like hers as breath is to young bodies.
She could only grope and yearn and struggle in the darkness of her
She was nineteen, a tall, strong girl, already fully developed, and
handsome in a rather dull and heavy way. Her hands and feet were
beautifully made, her hair, although neglected, of a wonderful silky
bronze, and her skin naturally of the clear creamy type that
sometimes accompanies such hair. But Martie ruined her skin by
injudicious eating; she could not resist sweets; natural indolence,
combined with the idle life she led, helped to make her too fat. Now
and then, in the express office, in the afternoon, the girls got on
the big freight scales, and this was always a mortification to
Martie. Terry Castle and Joe Hawkes would laugh as they adjusted the
weights, and Martie always tried to laugh, too, but she did not
think it funny. Martie might have seemed to her world merely a
sweet, big, good-natured tomboy, growing into an eager, amusing,
ignorant young woman, too fond of sleeping and eating.
But there was another Martie--a sensitive, ambitious Martie--who
despised idleness, dependence, and inaction; who longed to live a
thousand lives--to conquer all the world; a Martie who was one day a
great singer, one day a wartime nurse, one day a millionaire's
beautiful bride, the mother of five lovely children, all carefully
named. She would waken from her dreams almost bewildered, blinking
at Sally or at her mother in the surprised fashion that sometimes
made folk call Martie stupid, humbly enough she thought of herself
as stupid, too. She never suspected that she was really "dreaming
true," that the power and the glory lay waiting for the touch of her
heart and hand and brain. She never suspected that she was to Rose
and Grace and Sally what a clumsy young swan would be in a flock of
bustling and competent ducks. Martie did not know, yet, where her
kingdom lay, how should she ever dream that she was to find it?
Rose was going back to stay with her cousin in Berkeley to-morrow,
it was understood, and so had to get home early this afternoon.
Rose, as innocent as a butterfly of ambition or of the student's
zeal, had finished her first year in the State University and was to
begin her second to-morrow.
Monroe's shabby Main Street seemed less interesting than ever when
Rose had tripped away. A gusty breeze was blowing fitfully, whisking
bits of straw and odds and ends of paper about. The watering cart
went by, leaving a cool wake of shining mud. Here and there a
surrey, loaded with stout women in figured percales, and dusty,
freckled children, started on its trip from Main Street back to some
As the three girls, arms linked, loitered across the square, Dr. Ben
Scott--who was Rose Ransome's mother's cousin and was regarded as an
uncle--came out of the Court House and walked toward his buggy. The
dreaming white mare roused as she heard his voice, and the old
brown-and-white setter sprang into the seat beside him.
"Howdy, girls!" said the old man, his big loose figure bulging
grotesquely over the boundaries of the seat. "Father pretty well?"
"Well enough, Doc' Ben, but not pretty!" Martie said, laughing. The
doctor's eyes twinkled.
"They put a tongue in your head, Martie, sure enough!" he said,
gathering up the reins.
"It was all they did put, then!" Martie giggled.
The girls all liked Doc' Ben. A widower, rich enough now to take
only what practice he pleased, simple in his tastes, he lived with
his old servant, his horse and cow, his dog and cat, chickens and
bees, pigeons and rabbits, in a comfortable, shabby establishment in
an unfashionable part of town. Monroe described him as a "regular
character." His jouncing, fat figure--with tobacco ash spilled on
his spotted vest, and stable mud on his high-laced boots--was
familiar in all her highways and byways. His mellow voice, shot with
humorous undertones even when he was serious, touched with equal
readiness upon Plato, the habits of bees, the growth of fungus,
fashions, Wordsworth, the Civil War, or the construction of
chimneys. He was something of a philosopher, something of a poet,
something of a reformer.
Martie, watching him out of sight, said to herself that she really
must go down soon and see old Dr. Ben, poke among his old books,
feed his pigeons, and scold him for his untidy ways. The girl's
generous imagination threw a veil of romance over his life; she told
Sally that he was like some one in an English story.
After he had gone, the girls idled into the Town Library, a large
room with worn linoleum on the floor, and with level sunlight
streaming in the dusty windows. At the long table devoted to
magazines a few readers were sitting; others hovered over the table
where books just returned were aligned; and here and there, before
the dim bookcases that lined the walls, still others loitered, now
and then picking a book from the shelves, glancing at it, and
restoring it to its place. The room was warm and close with the
smell of old books. The whisking of pages, and occasionally a
sibilant whisper, were its only sounds. From the ceiling depended
signs, bearing the simple command: "Silence"; but this did not
prevent the girls from whispering to the energetic, gray-haired
woman who presided at the desk.
"Hello, girls!" said Miss Fanny Breck cheerfully, in the low tone
she always used in the library. "Want anything to read? You don't?
What are you reading, Martie?"
"I'm reading 'Idylls of the King,'" Sally said.
"I've got 'Only the Governess,'" added Grace.
"I didn't ask either of you," Miss Breck said with the brisk amused
air of correction that made the girls a little afraid of her. "It's
Martie here I'm interested in. I'm going to scold her, too. Are you
reading that book I gave you, Martie?"
Martie, as Grace and Sally turned away, raised smiling eyes. But at
Miss Fanny's keen, kindly look she was smitten with a sudden curious
inclination toward tears. She was keenly sensitive, and she felt an
"Don't like it?" asked the librarian, disposing of an interruption
with that casual ease that always fascinated Martie. To see Miss
Fanny seize four books from the hands that brought them into her
range of vision, flip open the four covers with terrific speed,
manipulate various paper slips and rubber stamps with energy and
certainty, vigorously copy certain mysterious letters and numbers,
toss the discarded books into a large basket at her elbow and then,
for the first time, as she handed the selected books to the
applicant, glance up with her smile and whispered "Good afternoon,"
was a real study in efficiency.
"I don't understand it," Martie smiled.
"Did you read it?" persisted the older woman.
"Well--not much." Martie had, in fact, hardly opened the book, an
excellent collection of some twenty essays for girls under the
general title "Choosing a Life Work."
"Listen. Why don't you study the Cutter system, and familiarize
yourself a little with this work, and come in here with me?" asked
Miss Fanny, in her firm, pushing voice.
"When?" Martie asked, considering.
"Well--I can't say when. I'm no oracle, my dear. But some day the
grave and reverend seigneurs on my Board may give me an assistant, I
"Oh--I know--" Martie was vague again. "What would I get?"
Miss Fanny's harsh cheeks and jaw stiffened, her eyes half closed,
as she bit her lip in thought.
"Fifteen, perhaps," she submitted.
Martie dallied with the pleasing thought of having fifteen dollars
of her own each month.
"But can't Miss Fanny make you feel as if you were back in school?"
she asked, when the girls were again in Main Street. "I'd just as
lieves be in the lib'ary as anywheres," she added.
"I drather be in the box factory," Grace said. "More money."
"More work, too!" Martie suggested. "Come on, let's go to
Other persons of all ages were in the drug store, seated on stools
at the high marble counter, or at the little square cherry tables in
the dim room at the rear. Drugs were a lesser consideration than
brushes, stationery, cameras, candy, cigars, post cards, gum,
mirrors, celluloid bureau sets, flower seeds, and rubber toys and
rattles, but large glass flagons of coloured waters duly held the
corners of the show windows on the street, and dusty and fly-specked
cards advertising patent medicines overlapped each other.
The three girls nodded to various acquaintances, and, as they slid
on to seats at the counter, greeted the soda clerk familiarly. This
was Reddy Johnson, a lean, red-headed youth in a rather dirty white
jacket buttoned up to the chin. Reddy was assisted by a blear-eyed
little Swedish girl of about sixteen, who rushed about blindly with
her little blonde head hanging. He himself did not leave the
counter, which he constantly mopped with a damp, mud-coloured rag.
He plunged the streaked and sticky glasses into hot water, set them
on a dripping grating to dry, turned on this faucet of sizzling
soda, that of rich slow syrup, beat up the contents of glasses with
his long-handled spoon, slipped them into tarnished nickelled
frames, and slid them deftly before the waiting boys and girls. Hot
sauce over this ice cream, nuts on that, lady fingers and whipped
cream with the tall slender cups of chocolate for the Baxter girls,
crackers with the tomato bouillon old Lady Snow was noisily sipping;
Reddy never made a mistake.
Presently he, with a swift motion, set a little plate of sweet
crackers before the girls. These were not ordinarily served with
five-cent orders, and the three instantly divided them, concealing
the little cakes in their hands, and handing the tell-tale plate
back to the clerk. A wise precaution it proved, for a moment later
"old Bones," as the proprietor of the establishment was nicknamed,
sauntered through the store. In a gale of giggles the girls went
out, stealthily eating the crackers as they went. This adventure was
enough to put them in high spirits; Martie indeed was so easily
fired to excitement that the crossing of wits with Dr. Ben, the
personal word with Miss Fanny, and now Reddy's gallantry, had
brightened her colour and carried her elation to the point of
effervescence. Sparkling, chattering, flushed under her shabby
summer hat, Martie sauntered between her friends straight to her
Face to face they came with a tall, loosely built, well-dressed
young man, with a straw hat on one side of his head. Such a
phenomenon was almost unknown in the streets of Monroe, and keenly
conscious of his presence, and instantly curious as to his identity,
the girls could not pass him without a provocative glance.
"Stunning!" said each girl in her heart. "Who on earth--?"
Suddenly he blocked their way.
"Hello, Sally! Hello, Martie! Too proud to speak to old friends?"
"Why--it's Rodney Parker!" Martie said in her rich young voice.
All four shook hands and laughed joyously. To Rodney the
circumstance, at the opening of his dull return home, was welcome;
to the girls, nothing short of delight. He was so handsome, so
friendly, and in the four years he had been at Stanford University
and the summers he had spent in hunting expeditions or in eastern
visits to his aunt in New York, he had changed only to improve!
Even in this first informal greeting it was Martie to whom he
devoted his special attention. Sally was usually considered the
prettier of the two, but Martie was lovely to-night. Rodney turned
with them, and they walked to the bridge together. Sally and Grace
The wind had fallen with the day, the air was mild and warm, and in
the twilight even Monroe had its charm. Flowers were blooming in
many dooryards, yellow light streamed hospitably across the
gravelled paths, and in the early darkness women were waiting in
porches or by gates, and whirling hoses over the lawns were drawing
all the dark, hidden perfumes into the damp night air.
"You've not changed much, Martie--except putting up your hair. I
mean it as a compliment!" said Rodney, eagerly, in his ready, boyish
"You've changed a good deal; and I mean that as a compliment, too!"
Martie returned, with her deep laugh.
His own broke out in answer. He thought her delightful. The creamy
skin, the burnished hair that was fanned into an aureole under her
shabby hat, the generous figure with its young curves, had helped to
bring about in Rodney Parker a sweet, irrational surrender of
reason. He had never been a reasonable boy. He knew, of course, that
Martie Monroe was not in his sisters' set, although she was a
perfectly NICE girl, and to be respected. Martie was neither one
thing nor the other. With Grace, indeed, who was frankly beneath the
Parkers' notice, he might have had almost any sort of affair; even
one of those affairs of which May and Ida must properly seem
unaware. He might have flirted with Grace, have taken her about and
given her presents, in absolute safety. Grace would have guessed him
to be only amusing himself, and even confident Rodney, his mother's
favourite and baby, would never have attempted to bring Grace Hawkes
home as his sisters' equal.
But with Martie there was a great difference. The Monroes had been
going down slowly but steadily in the social scale, yet they were
Monroes, after all. Lydia Monroe had been almost engaged to Clifford
Frost, years ago, and still, at all public affairs, the Monroes, the
Parkers, and the Frosts met as old friends and equals. Indeed, the
Parker girls and Florence Frost had been known to ask the girls'
only brother, Leonard Monroe, to their parties, young as he was, men
being very scarce in Monroe, and Leonard, although his sisters were
not asked, had gone.
So that when Rodney Parker stopped Martie Monroe on the way home,
and fell to flattering and teasing her, and walked beside her to the
bridge, he quite innocently plunged himself into social hot water,
and laid a disturbing touch upon the smooth surface of the girl's
They talked of trivialities, laughing much. Rodney asked her if she
remembered the dreadful day when they had been sent up to apologize
to the French teacher, and Martie said, "Mais oui.'" and thrilled at
the little intimate memory of disgrace shared.
"And are you still such a little devil, Martie?" he asked, bringing
his head close to hers.
"That I'll leave you to find out, Rod!" she said laughingly.
"Well--that's one of the things I'm back here to find out!" he
Yes, he was back to stay; he was to go into the Bank. He confidently
expected to die of the shock and Martie must help him bear it.
Martie promised to open an account. His Dad might let him have a
car, if he behaved himself; did Martie like automobiles? Martie knew
very little about them, but was sure she could honk the horn. Very
well; Martie should come along and honk the horn.
How did they come to be talking of dancing? Martie could not
afterward remember. Rodney had a visit promised from a college
friend, and wondered rather disconsolately what might be arranged to
amuse him. Fortnightly dances--that was the thing; they ought to
have Friday Fortnightlies.
The very word fired the girl. She heard the whine of violins, the
click of fans, the light shuffle of satin-clad feet. Her eyes saw
dazzling lights, shifting colours, in the dull September twilight.
"You could have one at your house," Rodney suggested.
"Of course we could! Our rooms are immense," Martie agreed eagerly.
"To begin--say the last Friday in October!" the boy said. "You look
up the date, and we'll get together on the lists!"
Get together on the lists! Martie's heart closed over the phrase
with a sort of spasm of pleasure. She and Rodney conferring--
arranging! The bliss--the dignity of it! She would have considered
anything, promised anything.
Grace was gone now, and generous little Sally still ahead of them in
the shadows. Martie said a quick, laughing good-night, and ran to
join her sister just before Sally opened the side gate. It was now
The two girls crossed the sunken garden where clumps of flowers
bloomed dimly under the dark old trees, gave one apprehensive glance
at the big house, which showed here and there a dully lighted
window, and fled noiselessly in at the side door. They ran through a
wide, bare, unaired hallway, and up a long flight of unlighted
stairs that were protected over their dark carpeting by a worn brown
Sally, and Martie breathless, entered an enormous bedroom, shabbily
and scantily furnished. The outline of a large walnut bedstead was
visible in the gloom, and the dark curtains that screened two bay
windows. Across the room by a wide, dark bureau, a single gas jet on
a jointed brass arm had been drawn out close to the mirror, and by
its light a slender woman of twenty-seven or eight was straightening
her hair. Not combing or brushing it, for the Monroe girls always
combed their hair and coiled it when they got up in the morning, and
took it down when they went to bed at night. Between times they only
As the younger girls came in, and flung their hats on the bed, their
sister turned on them reproachfully.
"Martie, mama's furious!" she said. "And I do think it's perfectly
terrible, you and Sally running round town at all hours like this.
It's after six o'clock!"
"I can't help it if it is!" Martie said cheerfully. "Pa home?"
She asked the all-important question with more trepidation than she
showed. Both she and Sally hung anxiously on the reply.
"No; Pa was to come on the four-eleven, and either he missed it, or
else something's kept him down town," Lydia said in her flat, gentle
voice. "Len's not home either ..."
"Praise God from whom all blessings flow!" Martie ejaculated
piously, with her gay, wild laugh. "Tell Lyd who we met, Sally!" she
called back, as she ran downstairs.
She dashed through the dining room, noting with gratitude that dear
old Lyd had set the table in spite of her disapproval. Beyond the
big, gloomy room was an enormous pantry, with a heavy swinging door
opening into a large kitchen. In this kitchen, in the dim light from
one gas jet, and in the steam from sink and stove, Mrs. Monroe and
her one small servant were in the last hot and hurried stages of
Martie kissed her mother's flushed and sunken cheek; a process to
which Mrs. Monroe submitted with reproachful eyes and compressed
"I don't like this, Martie!" said her mother, shaking her head.
"What were you and Sally doing to be so late?"
"Oh, nothing," Martie said ashamedly. "I'm awf'ly sorry. I had no
idea what time it was!"
"Well, I certainly will have Pa speak to you, if you can't get into
the house before dark!" Mrs. Monroe said in mild protest. "Lyd
stopped her sewing to set the table."
"Len home?" Martie, now slicing bread, asked resentfully.
"No. But a boy is different," Mrs. Monroe answered as she had
answered hundreds of times before. "Not that I approve of Len's
actions, either," she added. "But a man can take care of himself, of
course! Len's always late for meals," she went on. "Seems like he
can't get it through his head that it makes a difference if you sit
down when things are ready or when they're all dried up. But Pa's
late anyway to-night, so it doesn't matter much!"
Martie carried the bread on its ugly, heavy china plate in to the
table, entering from the pantry just as her father came in from the
"Hello, Pa!" said the girl, placing the bread on the wrinkled cloth
with housewifely precision.
Malcolm Monroe gave his youngest daughter glance of lowering
suspicion. But there was no cause for definite question, and Martie,
straightening the salt-cellars lovingly, knew it.
"Where's your sister?" her father asked discontentedly.
"Upstairs, straightening her hair for dinner, I THINK." Martie was
sweetly responsive. "But I can find out, Pa."
"No matter. Here, take these things." Martie carried away the
overcoat and hat, and hung them on the hat rack in the hall.
"Joe Hawkes wants to know if you wish to pay him for driving you up,
Pa," Sally said, coming in from the steps. Dutifully, meekly, she
stood looking at her father. Lydia, coming in from the kitchen, gave
him a respectful yet daughterly kiss. Singly and collectively there
was no fault to be found with the Monroe girls to-night, even by the
most exacting parent.
"Your sister said you were upstairs, Sally," Malcolm said, narrowing
"So I was, Pa, but I came down to light the hall gas, and while I
was there Joe came to the door," Sally answered innocently.
"H'm! Well, you tell him to charge it." Malcolm sat down by the
fireplace. There was no fire, the evening was not cold enough for
one. He began to unlace his shoes. "Brother home?" he asked,
glancing from Lydia, who was filling the water glasses from a glazed
china pitcher, to Martie, who was dragging and pushing six chairs
"Not yet--no, sir!" the two girls said together unhesitatingly.
Leonard could take care of himself under his father's displeasure.
Martie added solicitously, "Would you like your slippers, Pa? I know
where they are; by the chestard."
He did not immediately answer, being indeed in no mood for a civil
response, and yet finding no welcome cause for grievance. He sat, a
lean, red-faced man, with a drooping black moustache, a high-bridged
nose, and grizzled hair, looking moodily about him.
"Get them--get them; don't stand staring there, Martie!" he burst
out suddenly. Martie caught up his shoes and dashed upstairs.
She went into the large, vault-like apartment that had been her
mother's bedroom for nearly thirty years. To a young and ardent
nature, facing the great question of loving and mating, any place
less indicative of the warmth and companionship of marriage could
hardly have been imagined. The bedstead of heavy redwood was wide,
flat, and hard. It was flanked by a marble-topped table and a chair.
There were two large, curtained bay windows in this room, too, a
faded carpet, a wash-stand with two pallid towels on the rack,
several other stiff-backed chairs, and a large bureau with a square
mirror and a brown marble slab. Over this slab a thin strip of
fringed scarf was laid, and on the scarf stood a brown satin box,
with the word "Gloves" painted over the yellow roses that ornamented
This was all. Mrs. Monroe kept in the box an odd castor, an empty
cologne bottle, a new corset string, five coat buttons, a rusty pair
of scissors, an old jet bar-brooch whose pin was gone, and various
other small odds and ends. She had but one pair of gloves, of black
shiny kid, somewhat whitened at the finger-tips, and worn only to
church or to funerals. They were a sort of institution, "my gloves,"
and were kept in the bureau drawer. They distinguished her state
from that of Belle, the maid, who had no gloves at all.
Opposite the bureau, but because of the enormous size of the room,
some twenty-five feet away, was the "chestard" the high "chest of
drawers" that had won its name from the children's contracted
pronunciation. This bleak article of furniture contained the smaller
pieces of Malcolm Monroe's wardrobe, which matched in plainness and
ugliness that of his wife. Stiff white collars caught and rasped
when the shallow upper drawer was opened; the middle drawers were
filled with brownish gray flannels, and shirts stiff-bosomed and
limp of sleeves. But if a curious Martie, making the bed, or putting
away the "wash," ever cautiously tugged out the lowest drawer, she
found it so loaded with papers, old account books, and bundles of
letters as to awe her young soul. These meant nothing to Martie, and
the drawer was heavy to open noiselessly and awkward to close in
haste, yet at intervals now and then she liked to peep at its
To-night, however, Martie gave it neither glance nor thought. She
picked up her father's slippers and ran downstairs again, going to
kneel before him and put them on his feet. As she did so her young
warm hand felt the cool, slender length of his foot in the thin
stocking, and she was conscious of repugnance that even the
slightest contact with her father always caused her. There was a
definite antagonism between Malcolm and his youngest daughter,
suspected by neither. But Martie knew that she did not like the
faint odour of his moustache, his breath, and his skin, on those
rather infrequent occasions when he kissed her, and her father was
well aware that in baffling him, evading him, and anticipating him,
Martie was more annoying than the three other children combined.
"Where's your son?" asked the man of the house, as the dinner,
accompanied by his wife, came in from the kitchen.
"I don't know, Pa," Mrs. Monroe said earnestly yet soothingly.
"Come, girls. Come, Pa!"
Malcolm rose stiffly, and went to his place.
"He comes and goes as if his father's house was a hotel, does he?"
he asked, as one merely curious. "Is that the idea?"
"Why, no, Pa." Mrs. Monroe was serving an uninteresting meal on
heavy plates decorated in toneless brown. Soda crackers and sliced
bread were on the table, and a thin slice of butter on a blue china
plate. The teaspoons stood erect in a tumbler of red pressed glass.
The younger girls had old, thin silver napkin rings; their mother's
was of orange-wood with "Souvenir of Santa Cruz" painted on it; and
Lydia and her father used little strips of scalloped and embroidered
linen. Lydia had read of these in a magazine and had made them
herself, and as her daughterly love swept over all the surface
ugliness of his character, she alone among his children sometimes
caught a glimpse of her father's heart. She had an ideal of
fatherhood, had gentle, silent, useless Lydia--formed upon the
genial, sunshiny type of parent popular in books, and she cast a
romantic veil over disappointed, selfish, crossgrained Malcolm
Monroe and delighted in little daughterly attentions to him. She sat
next to him at table, and put her own kindly interpretation upon his
"I confess I don't understand your tactics with that boy!" he said
"Well, he came in after school, and asked could he go out with the
other boys, and I didn't feel you would disapprove, Pa," Mrs. Monroe
said in a worried voice. "Do eat your dinner before it gets all
cold! Lenny'll be here. You'll get one of your bad headaches ...
here he is!"
For, to the great relief of his mother and sisters, Leonard Monroe
really did break in from the hall at this point, flinging his cap
toward the hat rack with one hand as he opened the door with the
other. A big, well-developed boy of seventeen was Lenny, dearest of
all her children to his mother, her son and her latest-born, and the
secret hope of his father's heart.
"Say--I'm awful sorry to be so late. Gosh! I ran all the way home. I
thought you'd be on the late train, Pa, and I waited to walk up with
you!" said Lenny, falling upon cooling mutton, boiled potatoes
glazed and sticky, and canned corn.
"Where did you wait?" his father asked, laying one of his endless
traps for an untruth.
"Bonestell's," Lenny answered, perceiving and evading it.
"Young Hawkes drove me up," Malcolm said in a mollified tone.
"Oh?" Lenny's mouth opened innocently. "That's the way I missed
The inevitable ill-temper on their father's part being partly
dissipated by this time, the girls were free to begin a
conversation. Martie's happiness was flooding her spirit like a
golden tide; she was conscious, under all the sordid actualities of
a home dinner, that something sweet--sweet--sweet--had happened to
her. She bubbled news.
Grace Hawkes actually was going to work Monday--Rose was going back
to visit Alma--they had met Doc' Ben, hadn't they, Sally? Oh, and
Rodney Parker was home!
"Lucky stiff!" Lenny commented in reference to Rodney.
"He's awfully nice!" Martie said eagerly. "He walked up with us!"
"With us--with YOU!" Sally corrected archly.
"What time was that?" their father asked suddenly.
"About--oh, half-past four or five. Sally and I went down for the
"Rodney Parker ..." Leonard began. "Say, mama, this is all cold," he
interrupted himself to say coaxingly.
"I'll warm it for you, Babe," Lydia said, rising as her mother began
to rise, and reaching for the boy's plate.
"Don't call me BABE!" he protested.
His older sister gave his rough head a good-natured pat as she
"You're all the baby we have, Lenny--and he was an awfully sweet
baby, wasn't he, ma?" she said.
"Rodney Parker's going to be in the Bank; I bet he doesn't stay,"
Leonard resumed. "Could you get me into the Bank, Pa?"
"Dear me--I remember that boy as such a handsome baby, before you
were born, Martie," her mother said. "And to think he's been through
"I wish I could go to college, you bet!" observed Lenny. His father
shot him a glance.
"Your grandfather was a college graduate, my son, and as you know
only an accident cut short my own stay at my alma mater--hem!" he
said pompously. "I have no money to throw away; yet, when you have
decided upon a profession, you need only come to your father with a
frank, manly statement of your plans, and what can be done will be
done; you know that." He wiped his moustache carefully, and glanced
about, meeting the admiring gaze of wife and daughters.
"If you've got any sense, you'll go, Len," Martie said. "I wish
you'd let me go study to be a trained nurse, Pa! Miss Fanny wants me
to go into the lib'ary. I bet I could do it, and I'd like it, too ..."
"And speaking of your grandfather reminds me," Malcolm said heavily,
"that one of the things that delayed me to-day was a matter that
came up a week or two ago. When the town buys the old Archer ranch
as a Park, they propose to put twelve thousand dollars into
"Oh, joy!" said Martie. "Excuse me, Pa!"
"The trolley will pass it," her father pursued, "the Park being
almost exactly half-way between Monroe and Pittsville. Now
"What do you bet they get all the glory?" Martie flashed. "Their
Woman's Club..." Her voice fell: "I DO beg your pardon, Pa!" she
said again contritely.
"I can discuss this with your mother," Malcolm said in majestic
"Oh, no! PLEASE, Pa!"
Her father studied her coldly, while the table waited with bated
"Pittsville," he resumed in a measured voice, without moving his
eyes from his third daughter, "is, as usual, making a very strong
and a most undignified claim for the Park. They wish it to be known
as the Pittsville Casino. But Selwyn told me to-day that our people
propose to take a leading share of the liability and to call the
Park the Monroe Grove."
He paused. His listeners exchanged glances of surprise and
"Not that there's a tree there now!" Martie said cheerfully.
It was an unfortunate speech, breaking irreverently as it did upon
this moment of exaltation. Lydia hastily came to Martie's relief.
"Pa! ISN'T that splendid--for Grandfather Monroe! I think that's
very nice. They know what this town would have amounted to without
HIM! All those fine reference books in the library--and files and
files of bound magazine's! And didn't he give the property for the
Every one present was aware that he had; there was enthusiastic
assent about the table.
"They propose," Malcolm added as a climax, "to erect a statue of
Leonard Monroe in a prominent place in that Park; my gift."
"Pa!" said a delighted chorus. The girls' shining eyes were moist.
"It was Selwyn's idea that there should be a fund for the cost of
the statue," their father said. "But as the town will feel the added
taxation in any case, I propose to make that my gift. The cost is
not large, the time limit for paying it indefinite."
"Twenty thousand dollars?" Martie, who had a passion for guessing,
"Not so much." But Malcolm was pleased to have the reality so much
more moderate than the guess. "Between two and three thousand."
"Some money!" Leonard exclaimed. He grinned at Martie
contemptuously. "TWENTY!" said he.
"Your sister naturally has not much idea of the value of money,"
Malcolm said, with what was for him rare tolerance. "Yes, it is a
large sum, but I can give it, and if my townspeople turn to me for
this tribute to their most distinguished pioneer ..."
During the rest of the meal no other subject was discussed.
The evening was bright with memories and dreams for Martie. When a
large dish of stewed apples in tapioca had been eaten, the whole
family rose and left the room, and Belle, the little maid, came in
wearily, alone, to attack the disordered table. For two hours the
sound of running water and the dragging of Belle's heavy feet would
be heard in the kitchen. Meanwhile, Belle's mother, in a small house
down in the village, would keep looking at the clock and wondering
whatever had become of Belle, and Belle's young man would loiter
disconsolately at the bridge, waiting.
The three Monroe girls and their mother went into the parlour,
Malcolm going across the hall to a dreary library, where he had an
old-fashioned cabinet desk, and Lenny gaining a reluctant consent to
his request to go down to "Dutch's" house, where he and Dutch would
"Why doesn't Dutch Harrison ever come here to play lotto?" Martie
asked maliciously. "You go to Dutch's because it's right down near
Bonestell's and Mallon's and the Pool Parlour!" Leonard shot her a
threatening glance, accepted a half-permission, snatched his cap and
The parlour was large, cold, and uncomfortable, its woodwork brown,
its walls papered in dark green. Lydia lighted the fire, and as
Leonard had made his escape, Belle brought up a supplementary hodful
of coal. Martie lighted two of the four gas jets, and settled down
to solitaire. Sally read "Idylls of the King." Lydia and her mother
began to sew, the older woman busy with mending a hopelessly worn
table-cloth, the younger one embroidering heavy linen with hundreds
of knots. Lydia had been making a parasol top for more than a year.
They gossiped in low, absorbed tones of the affairs of friends and
neighbours; the endless trivial circumstances so interesting to the
women of a small town.
There were two gas jets, also on hinged arms, beside the white
marble fireplace, and one of these Sally lighted, taking her
father's comfortable chair. A hood of thin plum-coloured flannel,
embroidered in coloured flowers, was on the mantel, with shells, two
pink glass vases, and a black marble clock. On the old square piano,
where yellowing sheets of music were heaped, there was a cover of
the same flannel. Albums and gift books, Schiller's "Bell" with
Flaxman plates, and Dante's "Inferno" with Dore's illustrations--lay
on the centre table; Martie pushed them back for her game.
She looked a mere overgrown, untidy girl, to whose hair, belt,
finger-nails, and shoes she might have attended with advantage. But
Martie was a bride to-night, walking the realm of Romance.
She had never had an admirer, nor had Sally. Neither girl admitted
it, but it was true. Poor Lydia had had a taste of the joy of life,
and a full measure of the sorrow, seven years ago, when Clifford
Frost, twelve years her senior, at thirty-one the perfect match, had
singled her out for his favour. Martie and Sally could remember how
pleasantly exciting it was to have Cliff Frost so much at the house,
how Lydia laughed and bloomed! Lydia had been just Sally then: her
age, and her double.
What had gone wrong, the younger girls sometimes wondered. Pa had
been pompous, of course; Cliff had not been made exactly
comfortable, here by this marble mantel. Lydia had quavered out her
happy welcome, her mother had fluttered and smiled. And Cliff had
given her candy, and taken her to the Methodist Bazaar and the Elks'
Minstrels, and had given her a fan. The candy was eaten long ago,
and the dance music and the concerts long forgotten in the village,
but Lydia still had the fan.
For a year, for two, for three, the affair went on. There was a
cloud in the sky before Mary Canfield came to visit Mrs. Frost, but
with her coming, joy died in Lydia's heart. Mary was made for
loving; Mary's mother and father and aunts and cousins all made it
easy for any man to fall in love with her. Mary danced, played the
piano, chattered French, changed from one pretty frock to another,
tirelessly. In short, Mary was a marketable product, and Lydia was
Cliff came to tell Lydia that he and Mary were to be married, and
that she had always been his best pal, and that their friendship had
been one of the sweetest things in his life. He kissed her in
brotherly fashion when he went away. Mary, lovely in bridal silks,
came to call on Lydia a few months later, and to this day when she
met faded, sweet Miss Monroe, the happy little wife and mother would
stop in street or shop and display little Ruth's charms, and chat
graciously for a few minutes. She always defended Lydia when the
Frost and Parker factions lamented that the Monroe girls were
inclined to be "common."
Martie thought of none of these things to-night. She thought of
Rodney Parker, and her heart floated upon clouds of rose-coloured
delight. Dreamily manipulating the cards, she remembered that
twilight meeting. "Are you still a little devil, Martie ... I'm
going to find out." Again they were walking slowly toward the
bridge. "How many people have told you you've grown awfully pretty,
Martie? ... You and I'll get together on the lists. ..."
The girl stopped, with arrested fingers and absent eyes. The rapture
of remembering thrilled her young body like a breath of flame blown
against her. She breathed with deep, slow respirations, holding her
breath with a risen breast, and letting it go with a long sigh. Now
and then she looked with an ashamed and furtive glance from her
mother's gray head and Lydia's busy fingers to Sally's absorbed face
under the opaque white globe of the gaslight, almost as if she
feared that the enchantment that held heart and brain would be
visible to watching eyes.
"Mind you," Lydia was saying in a low tone, "Flora said that Lou
acted very queer, from the very moment she went in--Lou asked her if
she wanted to look at poor Mr. Lowney, and Flora went in, and he was
all laid out, with flowers and all, in that upstairs room where Al
died. Grandma Lowney was there, and--oh, quite a few others, coming
and going, Mrs. Mallon and the Baxter girls. Flora only stayed a
minute, and when she and Lou went out, she says, 'Lou, has Annie
Poett been here since he was taken sick?' and Lou began to cry and
said that her mother answered the telephone when Annie called up
last week, and it seems Annie asked was Joe Lowney sick and Mrs.
King said 'No.'"
"For heaven's sake!" Mrs. Monroesaid, incredulous and absorbed.
"Well, that's what Flora said. But mind you, Ma, on Tuesday night
little Hildegarde King went to the door, and she says that Annie
Poett came in and went upstairs--Lou was dishing supper, you know
the Allens and Mrs. Gorman were there for the funeral, and they were
all at table--and, by the way, Flora says that Lou says that Lizzie
Alien was there in that house for three days--that is, it was nearly
three days, for they stayed for supper Wednesday night--and that
Lizzie never raised her hand to ONE THING, just did nothing but sit
around and cry, and say what a good brother Joe was!"
"Did you ever!" commented Mrs. Monroe.
"Anyway, nobody got up from the table, and all they had for it was
Hildegarde's word, and she wasn't sure it was Annie. Grandma Lowney
was asleep--they'd gotten her to lie down; she took more care of Joe
than any one else, you know, and she sat up both nights. Clara
Baxter says she looks awful; she doesn't believe she'll get over
"I shouldn't wonder!" said Mrs. Monroe with a click of
"Lou told Flora that the night Joe was dying, Grandma broke out and
said to Paul King that if Joe hadn't gone with him out to Deegan
Point two weeks ago, he never would have had that chill. But Flora
The low voices went on and on, even after Malcolm Monroe came in,
thoroughly tired and a little chilly, to take his own chair by the
fire. Sally, deposed, came to sit opposite Martie, and idly watched
"Isn't Rodney Parker nice?" Sally whispered cautiously, after a
"I think he is!" Martie answered hardily; but the happy colour came
to her cheeks.
"I'll bet all the girls go crazy about him!" Sally submitted.
A faint pang of jealousy, a vague sense of helplessness, seized upon
Martie. He had been so cordially gay and delightful with her; would
he be that with all the girls? Would Florence Frost, three years
older than he, fall a victim to his charm as quickly as she, Martie,
had fallen? Martie had mentioned Florence Frost this afternoon, and
by subtle, instinctive, girlish reasoning had found consolation in
his reply. "She's my sister's friend; she's awfully smart, you know-
-books and all that!" Rodney honestly felt an entire indifference to
this admirable young neighbour, and Martie understood his remark as
meaning exactly that.
She went on with her patience, the particular game known as the
"Idle Year." Sometimes Sally touched or mentioned a card. Sometimes,
as a final problem presented itself, the girls consulted as to the
wisdom of this play or that. Between games Martie shuffled
vigorously, and they talked more freely.
"I think he's crazy about you," said Sally.
"Oh, Sally, don't be such a fool!"
"I'm not fooling. Look at the way he turned back and walked with us,
and he never took his eyes off you!" Sally, somewhat dashed for an
instant by Martie's well-assumed scorn, gained confidence now, as
the new radiance brightened her sister's face. "Why, Mart," she said
boldly, "there is such a thing as love at first sight!"
Love at first sight! Martie felt a sort of ecstatic suffocation at
the words. An uncontrollable smile twitched at her mouth, she
recommenced her game briskly. Her heart was dancing.
"Lissun; do you suppose Ma would ever let us have a party here?"
Martie presently ventured.
Sally pursed her lips and shook a doubtful head.
"Oh, but, Sally, I don't mean a real party, of course. Just about
twenty--" Martie began.
"Lemonade and cake?" Sally supplied.
"Well--coffee and sandwiches, Rodney seemed to think. And punch."
"Punch! Martie! You know Pa never would."
"I don't see why not," Martie said discontentedly, slapping down her
cards noisily. Sally spoke only the truth, yet it was an irritating
truth, and Martie would have preferred a soothing lie.
"What about music for dancing?" Sally asked, after a thoughtful
"Angela Baxter," Martie said with reviving hope.
"But she charges two dollars; at least she did for the Baptist
"Well--that's not so much!"
"We could make those cute brown-bread sandwiches Rose had," Sally
mused, warming to the possibility. "And use the Canton set. Nobody
in town has china like ours, anyway!"
"Oh, Sally," Martie was again fired, "we could have creamed chicken
and sandwiches--that's all anybody ever wants! And it's so much
sweller than messy sherbets and layer cake. And we could decorate
the rooms with greens--"
"Our rooms are lovely, anyway!" Sally stated with satisfaction.
"Why, with the folding doors open, and fires in both grates, they
would be perfectly stunning!" Martie spoke rapidly, her colour
rising, her blue eyes glittering like stars. "Of course, the back
room isn't furnished, but we could scatter some chairs around in
there; we'll need all the room for dancing, anyway!"
"We couldn't dance on this carpet," Sally submitted, perplexed, as
she glanced at the parlour's worn floor-covering.
"No, but we could in the back room--that floor's bare--and in the
hall," Martie answered readily. You see it's the first of a sort of
set of dances; the next would be at the Frosts' or the Barkers', and
it would mean that we were right in things--"
"Oh, it would be lovely if we could do it!" Sally agreed with a
sigh. "Play the Queen on here, Martie, and then you'll have a
"Do you propose to play that game much longer, girls?" their father
asked, looking patiently over his book.
"Are we disturbing you, Pa?" Martie countered politely.
"Well--but don't stop on my account. Of course the sound of cards
and voices isn't exactly soothing. However, go on with your game--go
on with your game! If I can't stand it, I'll go back to the
"Oh, no, Pa, it's too cold in there; this is the time of year you
always get that cold in your nose," Mrs. Monroe said pleadingly.
"I was going right up, anyway," Sally said with an apologetic air
and a glance toward the door.
"I'll go, too!" Martie jumbled the cards together, and rose. "It's
nearly ten, anyway."
A moment later she and Sally went out of the room together. But
while Sally went straight upstairs, to light the bedroom gas, fold
up the counterpane, and otherwise play the part of the good sister
she was, Martie noiselessly opened the side door and stepped out for
a breath of the sweet autumn night.
There was a spectacularly bright moon, somewhere; Martie could not
see it, but beyond the sunken garden she caught glimpses of silvery
brightness on the roofs of Monroe. Even here, under the dark trees,
pools of light had formed and the heavy foliage was shot with shafts
of radiance. A strong wind was clicking the eucalyptus leaves
together, and carrying bits of rubbish here and there about the
yard. Martie could hear voices, the barking of dogs, and the whine
of the ten o'clock trolley, down in the village.
The gate slammed. Leonard came in.
"Pa tell you to watch for me?" he asked fearfully.
"No." Martie, sitting on the top step and hugging her knees,
answered indifferently. "It's not ten yet. What you been doing?"
"Oh, nothing!" Len passed her and went in.
As a matter of fact, he had called for his chum, sauntered into the
candy store for caramels, joined the appreciative group that watched
a drunken man forcibly ejected from Casserley's saloon, visited the
pool room and witnessed a game or two, gone back into the street to
tease two hurrying and giggling girls with his young wit, and
drifted into a passing juggler's wretched and vulgar show. This, or
something like this, was what Len craved when he begged to "go out
for a while" after dinner. It was sometimes a little more
entertaining, sometimes less so; but it spelled life for the
He could not have described this to Martie, even had he cared to do
so. She would not have understood it. But she felt a vague yearning,
too, for lights and companionship and freedom, a vague envy of
The world was out there, beyond the gate, beyond the village. She
was in it, but not of it. She longed to begin to live, and knew not
how. Ten years before she had been only a busy, independent, happy
little girl; turning to her mother and sister for advice, obeying
her father without question. But Pa and Lydia, and Len with his
egotism, and Ma with her trials, were nothing to Martie now. In
battle, in pestilence, or after a great fire, she would have risen
head and shoulders above them all, would have worked gloriously to
reestablish them. She supposed that she loved them dearly. But so
terrible was the hunger of her heart for her share of life--for
loving, serving, planning, and triumphing--that she would have swept
them all aside like cobwebs to grasp the first reality flung her by
Not to stagnate, not to smother, not to fade and shrink like Lydia--
like Miss Fanny at the library, and the Baxter girls at the post-
office! Every healthy young fibre of Martie's soul and body rebelled
against such a fate, but she could not fully sense the barriers
about her, nor plan any move that should loosen her bonds. Martie
believed, as her parents believed, that life was largely a question
of "luck." Money, fame, friends, power, to this man; poverty and
obscurity and helplessness to that one. Wifehood, motherhood, honour
and delight to one school girl; gnawing, restless uselessness to the
next. "I only hope you girls are going to marry," their mother would
sometimes say plaintively; "but I declare I don't know who--with all
the nice boys leaving town the way they do! Pa gives you a good
home, but he can't do much more, and after he and I go, why, it will
be quite natural for you girls to go on keeping house for Len--I
Martie's sensitive soul writhed under these mournful predictions.
Dependence was bitter to her, Len's kindly patronage stung her only
a little less than his occasional moods of cheerful masculine
contempt. He meant to take care of his sisters, he wasn't ever going
to marry. Pa needn't worry, Len said. The house was mortgaged,
Martie knew; their father's business growing less year by year;
there would be no great inheritance, and if life was not satisfying
now, when she had youth and plenty, what would it be when Pa was
It was all dark, confusing, baffling, to ignorant, untrained
nineteen. The sense of time passing, of opportunities unseen and
ungrasped, might well make Martie irritable, restless, and reckless.
Happiness and achievement were to be bought, but she knew not with
To-day the darkness had been shot by a gleam of living light.
Through Rodney Parker's casual gallantries Martie's eyes looked into
a new world. It was a world of loving, of radiant self-confidence
and self-expression. Martie saw herself buying gowns for the
wedding, whisking in and out of Monroe's shops, stopped by
affectionate and congratulatory friends. She was dining at Mrs.
Barker's, dignified, and yet gracious and responsive, too. Dear old
Judge Parker was being courteous to her; Mrs. Parker advising
Rodney's young wife. There were grandchildren running over the old
place. Martie remembered the big rooms from long-ago red-letter days
of her childhood. How she would love her home, and what a figure of
dignity and goodness Mrs. Rodney Parker would be in the life of the
Oh, dear God--it was not so much to ask! People were getting married
all the time; Rodney Parker must marry some one. Lydia was unwed,
Sally had no lover; but out of so rich and full a world could not so
much be spared to Martie? Oh, how good she would be, how generous to
Pa and the girls, how kind to Ida and May!
Martie bowed her head on her knees. If this one thing might come her
way, if it might be her fate to have Rodney Parker love her, to have
the engagement and the wedding follow in their happy order, she
would never ask more of God; gaining so much she would truly be
good, she would live for others then!
When she raised her face it was wet with tears.
The next morning, when the younger girls came down to breakfast,
they found only the three women in the kitchen. An odour of coffee
hung in the air. Belle was scraping burned toast at the sink, the
flying, sooty particles clinging to wet surfaces everywhere. Lydia
sat packing cold hominy in empty baking-powder tins; to be sliced
and fried for the noon meal. Mrs. Monroe, preferring an informal
kitchen breakfast to her own society in the dining room, was
standing by the kitchen table, alternating swallows from a
saucerless cup of hot coffee with indifferent mouthfuls of buttered
cold bread. She rarely went to the trouble of toasting her own
bread, spending twice the energy required to do so in protests
against the trouble.
Lydia had breakfasted an hour ago. Sally and Martie sliced bread,
pushed forward the coffee pot, and entered a spirited claim for
cream. It was Saturday morning, when Leonard slept late. Pa was
always late. Lydia was anxious to save a generous amount of cream
for the sleepers.
"Len often takes a second cup of coffee when he's got lots of time,"
"Well, I don't care!" Martie said, suddenly serious. "I'm going to
take my coffee black, anyway. I'm getting too fat!"
"Oh, Martie, you are not!" Sally laughed.
"That's foolish--you'll just upset your health!" her mother added
Martie's only answer was a buoyant kiss. She and Sally carried their
breakfast into the dining room, where they established themselves
comfortably at one end of the long table. While they ate, dipping
their toast in the coffee, buttering and rebuttering it, they
chattered as tirelessly as if they had been deprived of each other's
society and confidence for weeks.
The morning was dark and foggy, and a coal fire slumbered in the
grate, giving out a bitter, acrid smell. Against the windows the
soft mist pressed, showing a yellow patch toward the southeast,
where the sun would pierce it after a while.
Malcolm Monroe came downstairs at about nine o'clock, and the girls
gathered up their dishes and disappeared in the direction of the
kitchen. Not that Ma would not, as usual, prepare their father's
toast and bacon with her own hands, and not that Lydia would not, as
usual, serve it. The girls were not needed. But Pa always made it
impossible for them to be idle and comfortable over their own meal.
If he did not actually ask them to fetch butter or water, or if he
could find no reasonable excuse for fault-finding, he would surely
introduce some dangerous topic; lure them into admissions, stand
ready to pursue any clue. He did not like to see young girls care-
free and contented; time enough for that later on! And as years
robbed him of actual dignities, and as Monroe's estimate of him fell
lower and lower, he turned upon his daughters the authority, the
carping and controlling that might otherwise have been spent upon
respectful employees and underlings. He found some relief for a
chafed and baffled spirit in the knowledge that Sally and Martie
were helpless, were bound to obey, and could easily be made angry
Lydia, her father's favourite, came in with a loaded tray, just as
Len, slipping down the back stairs, was being stealthily regaled by
his mother on a late meal in the kitchen. Len had no particular
desire for his father's undiluted company.
"Good morning, Pa!" Lydia said, with a kiss for his cool forehead.
"Your paper's right there by the fire; there's quite a fog, and it
Hands locked, she settled herself opposite him, and revolved in her
mind the terms in which she might lay before him the younger girls'
hopes. It was part of Lydia's concientiousness not to fail them now,
even though she secretly disapproved of the whole thing.
"Pa," she began bravely, "you wouldn't mind the girls having some of
their friends in some evening, would you? I thought perhaps some
night when you were down in the city--"
"Your idea, my dear?" Malcolm said graciously.
"Well--Martie's really." Lydia was always scrupulously truthful.
His face darkened a little. He pursed his lips.
"Oh, no, Pa! Just dancing, or--" Lydia was watching him closely, "or
games," she substituted hurriedly. "You see the other girls have
these little parties, and our girls--" her voice fell.
"Such an affair costs money, my dear!"
"Not much, Pa!"
His eyes were discontentedly fixed upon the headlines of his paper,
but he was thinking.
"Making a lot of work for your mother," he protested, "upsetting the
whole house like a pack of wolves! Upon my word, I can't see the
necessity. Why can't Sally and Martie--"
"But it's only once in a long while, Pa," Lydia urged.
"I know--I know! Well, you ask Martie to speak to me about it in a
day or two. Now go call your mother."
For the gracious permission Lydia gave him an appreciative kiss,
leaving him comfortable with his fire, his newspaper, and his
armchair, as she went on her errand.
"Pa was terribly sweet about the dance," she told Martie and Sally.
Belle was now deep in breakfast dishes, and the two girls had gone
out into the foggy dooryard with the chickens' breakfast. A flock of
mixed fowls were clucking and pecking over the bare ground under the
willows. Martie held the empty tin pan in one hand, in the other was
a half-eaten cruller. Sally had turned her serge skirt up over her
shoulders as a protection against the cool air, exposing a shabby
"Oh, Lyd, you're an angel!" Martie said, holding the cruller against
Lydia's mouth. But Lydia expressed a grateful negative with a shake
of her head; she never nibbled between meals.
She retailed the conversation with her father. Martie and Sally
became fired with enthusiasm as they listened. An animated
discussion followed. Grace was a problem. Dared they ignore Grace?
There was a lamentable preponderance of girls without her. All their
lists began and ended with, "Well, there's Rodney and his friends--
The day was as other days, except to Martie. When the chickens were
fed, she and Sally idled for perhaps half an hour in the yard, and
then went into the kitchen. Belle, sooty and untidy, had paused at
the kitchen table, with her dustpan resting three feet away from the
cold mutton that lay there. Mrs. Monroe's hair was in some disorder,
and a streak of black from the stove lay across one of her lean,
greasy wrists. The big stove was cooling now, ashes drifted from the
firebox door, and an enormous saucepan of slowly cooking beans gave
forth a fresh, unpleasant odour. At all the windows the fog pressed
"Are you going down town, Sally?" the mother asked.
"Well--I thought we would. We can if you want!" said Sally.
"If you do, I wish you'd step into Mason & White's, and ask one of
the men there if they aren't ever going to send me the rest of my
box of potatoes."
"All right!" Martie and Sally put their hats on in the downstair
hall, shouted upstairs to Lydia for the shoes, and sauntered out
contentedly into the soft, foggy morning. The Monroe girls never
heard the garden gate slam behind them without a pleasant yet
undefined sense of freedom. The sun was slowly but steadily gaining
on the fog, a bright yellow blur showed the exact spot where shining
light must soon break through. Trees along the way dripped softly,
but on the other side of the bridge, where houses were set more
closely together, and gardens less dense, sidewalks and porches were
The girls walked past the new, trim little houses and the clumsy,
big, old-fashioned ones, chattering incessantly. Their bright,
interested eyes did not miss the tiniest detail. The village,
sleepier than ever on the morning of the half-holiday, was full of
interest to them.
Mrs. Hughie Wilson was sweeping her garden path, and called out to
them that the church concert had netted 327 dollars; wasn't that
A few steps farther on they met Alice Clark, who kept them ten
minutes in eager, unimportant conversation. Her parting remark sent
the Monroe girls happily on their way.
"I hear Rodney Parker's home--don't pretend to be surprised, Martha
Monroe. A little bird was telling me that I'll have to go up North
Main Street for news of him after this!"
"Who do you s'pose told her we met Rod Parker?" Martie grinned as
they went on.
"People see everything! Oh, Martie," said Sally earnestly, "I do
hope you are going to marry; no, don't laugh! I don't mean Rod, of
course, I'm not such a fool. But I mean some one."
"You ought to marry first, Sally; you're the older," Martie said,
with averted eyes and a sort of delicious shame.
"Oh, I don't mind that, Martie, if only we begin!" Sally answered
fervently. "When I think of what the next ten years MEAN for us, it
just makes me sick! Either we'll marry and have our own homes and
children, or we'll be like Alice, and the Baxters, and Miss Fanny--"
"I'd just as soon have a good job like Miss Fanny," Martie said
hardily. "She gets sixty a month."
"Well, I wouldn't!" Sally protested in a sudden burst. "Being in an
office would KILL me, I think! I just couldn't do it! But I believe
I COULD manage a little house, and children, and I'd like that! I
wouldn't mind being poor--I never really think of being anything
else--but what I'm so afraid of is that Len'll marry and we'll just
be--just be AUNTS!"
Such vehemence was not usual to Sally, and as her earnestness
brought her to a full stop on the sidewalk, the two sisters found
themselves facing each other. They burst into a joyous laugh, as
their eyes met, and the full absurdity of the conversation became
Still giggling, they went on their way, past the old smithy, where a
pleasant breath of warmth and a splendid ringing of hammers came
from the forge, and past the new garage of raw wood with the still-
astonishing miracle of a "horseless carriage" in its big window,
pots of paint and oil standing inside its door, and workmen, behind
a barrier of barrels and planks, laying a cement sidewalk in front.
They passed the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store, its unwashed windows jammed
with pyramids of dry-looking chocolates, post cards, and jewellery,
and festoons of trashy embroidery, and the corner fruit stands
heaped with tomatoes and sprawling grapes. At the Palace Candy Store
a Japanese boy in his shirt-sleeves was washing the show window,
which was empty except for some rumpled sheets of sun-faded pink
crepe paper. By the door stood two large wooden buckets for packing
ice cream. The ice and salt were melted now, and the empty moulds,
still oozing a little curdled pink cream, were floating in the dirty
"Why aren't you girls at home sewing for the poor?" demanded a
pleasant voice over their shoulders. The girls wheeled about to
smile into the eyes of Father Martin. A tall spare old man, with
enormous glasses on his twinkling blue eyes, spots and dust on his
priestly black, and a few teeth missing from his kindly, big, homely
mouth, he beamed upon them.
"Well, how are ye? And your mother's well? Well, and what are ye
"We're just looking, Father," Martie giggled. "Looking for husbands
first, and then clothes!"
Laughing, the girls walked with him across the street to Mallon's
Hardware Emporium, where baskets of jelly glasses were set out on
the damp sidewalk, with enamel saucepans marked "29c." and "19c." in
black paint, carpet sweepers, oil stoves, and pink-and-blue glass
vases. They went on to the shoe shop, to the grocery, to the post-
office, past the express office, where Joe Hawkes sat whittling in
the sun. They paused to study with eager interest the flaring
posters on the fences that announced the impending arrival of
Poulson's Star Stock Company, for one night only, in "The Sword of
the King." They discovered with surprise that it was nearly twelve
o'clock, bought five cents' worth of rusty, sweet, Muscat grapes, to
be eaten on the way home, and turned their faces toward the bridge.
But the morning, for Martie, had held its golden moment. When they
passed the Bank, Sally had been dreaming, as Sally almost always
was, but Martie's eyes had gone from shining gold-lettered window to
window, and with that new, sweet suffocation at her heart she had
found the object of her searching--the satiny crest of Rodney
Parker's sleek hair, the fresh-coloured profile that had been in her
waking and sleeping thoughts since yesterday. He was evidently hard
at work; indeed he was nervous and discouraged, had Martie but known
it; he did not look up.
But Martie did not want him to look up. She wanted only the
stimulation to her thoughts that the sight of him caused, the
enchanting realization that he was there. She had a thrilling vision
of herself entering that bank, a privileged person, "young Mrs.
Rodney." Old Judge Parker coming out of his private office with his
hands full of papers would nod to her with his fatherly smile,
Rodney grin the proud yet embarrassed grin of a man confronted in
office hours by his women-folk.
Suddenly Martie decided that she would begin to save money. She and
Sally had jointly fallen heir to a young Durham cow when Cousin
Sally Buckingham died, and the cow being sold for thirty-five
dollars, exactly seventeen dollars and fifty cents had been
deposited in the bank in each girl's name. This was four years ago;
neither one ever dreamed of touching the precious nest-egg; to them
it represented wealth. Len had no bank account, nor had Mama nor
Lydia. All Martie's dreams of the future began, included, or ended
on the expenditure of this sum. It bought text books, wedding veils,
railway tickets in turn. Now she thought that if she saved another
dollar, and went into the Bank duly to deposit it, Rodney must see
her, might even wait upon her; it would be a perfectly legitimate
way of crossing his line of vision.
The Monroes had plenty of spending money; for although their father
was strongly opposed to the idea of making any child of his a
definite allowance, he allowed them to keep the change whenever they
executed small commissions for him, and to wheedle from him stray
quarter and half dollars. Lydia had only to watch for the favourable
moment to get whatever she asked, and with Leonard he was especially
generous. Martie knew that she could save, if she determined to do
so. She imagined Rodney's voice: "Bringing more money in? You'll
soon be rich at this rate, Martie!"
A few days later Rodney Parker walked home from the village with
Martie Monroe again. Meeting her in Bonestell's, he paid for her
chocolate sundae, and on their way up Main Street they stopped in
the Library, so that Miss Fanny saw them. Every one saw them: first
of all generous little Sally, who was to meet Martie in Bonestell's,
but who, perceiving that Rodney had joined her there, slipped away
unseen, and, blindly turning over the ribbons on Mason's remnant
counter, prayed with all her heart that Rodney would continue to
fill her place.
They walked up Main Street, Martie glancing up from under her shabby
hat with happy blue eyes, Rodney sauntering contentedly at her side.
How much he knew, how much he had done, the girl thought, with an
ache of hopeless admiration. Almost every sentence opened a new
vista of his experience and her ignorance. She did not suspect that
he meant it to be so; she only felt dazzled by the easy, glancing
references he made to men and books and places.
They stopped at the railroad track to watch the eastward-bound train
thunder by. Five hours out of San Francisco, its passengers looked
quite at home in the big green upholstered seats. Bored women looked
idly out upon little Monroe, half-closed magazines in their hands.
Card-playing men did not glance up as the village flashed by. On the
platform of the observation car the usual well-wrapped girl and
pipe-smoking young man were carrying on the usual flirtation. Martie
saw the train nearly every day, but never without a thrill. She said
to herself, "New York!" as a pilgrim might murmur of Mecca or of
"That's a good train," said Rodney. "Let's see, this is Wednesday.
They'll be in New York Sunday night. Awful place on Sunday--no
theatres, no ball games, no drinks--"
"I could manage without theatres or ball games," Martie laughed.
"But I must have my whisky!"
"It sounded as if I meant that, but you know me!" he laughed back.
"Lord, how I'd like to show you New York. Wouldn't you love it!
Broadway--well, it's a wonder! There's something doing every minute.
You'd love the theatres--"
"I know I would!" Martie assented, glowing.
"My aunt lives there; she has an apartment right on the Park, at
West Ninetieth," Rodney said. "Her husband has scads of money," the
boy pursued. "You'll have to go on, Martie, there's no two ways
"And Delmonico's?" the girl suggested eagerly. "I've heard of
"Delmonico's is where the wedding parties go. Of course, if you say
That was one of the sweet and thrilling things to remember. And
there were other things to make Martie's heart dance as she set the
dinner table. But she wondered if she should have asked him in.
Martie stopped short, salt-cellars in her hand. How could she--with
Pa's arrival possible at any moment. Besides she had asked him, as
they lingered laughing at the gate. That was all right--it was late,
anyway. He had gaily refused, and she had not pressed him. And,
wonderful thought, they were going walking on Sunday.
Monroe boys and girls usually walked on Sunday. They walked up the
track to the Junction, or up between bare fields past the Poor House
to the Cemetery. When a young man hired a phaeton at Beetman's, and
took his girl for a drive on Sunday, it was a definite avowal of
serious attachment. In that case they usually had their Sunday
supper at the home of the young man's mother, or married sister, or
with some female relative whose sanction upon their plans was
Rodney Parker was not quite familiar with this well-established
precedent. His sisters were not enough of the village to be asked
either to walk or drive with the local swains, and he had been away
for several years. For two Sundays he walked with Martie, and then
he asked her to drive.
For the girl, these weeks were suffused with a tremulous and
ecstatic delight beyond definition, beyond words. What she would not
have dared to hope, she actually experienced. No need to boast
before Sally and Grace and Florence Frost. They saw: the whole
Martie bloomed like a rose. She forgot everything--Pa, Len, the
gloomy home, the uncertain future--for joy. That her old hat was
shabby and her clothes inappropriate meant nothing to Martie;
ignorant, unhelped, she stumbled on her way alone. Nobody told her
to pin her bronze braids more trimly, to keep her brilliant skin
free from the muddying touch of sweets and pastries, to sew a hook
here and catch a looping hem there. Nobody suggested that she
manicure her fine big hands, or use some of her endless leisure to
remove the spots from her blue silk dress.
More; the family dared take only a stealthy interest in Martie's
affair, because of Malcolm's extraordinary perversity and Len's
young scorn. Malcolm, angered by Lydia's fluttered pleasure in the
honour Rodney Parker was doing their Martie, was pleased to assume a
high and mighty attitude. He laughed heartily at the mere idea that
the attentions of Graham Parker's son might be construed as a
compliment to a Monroe, and sarcastically rebuked Lydia when, on a
Sunday afternoon, she somewhat stealthily made preparations for tea.
Martie and Rod were walking, and Martie, before she went, had said
something vague about coming back at half-past four.
Lydia, abashed, gave up her plan for tea. But she did what she could
for Martie, by inveigling her father into a walk. Martie and Rod
came into an empty house, for Sally was out, no one knew where, and
Mrs. Monroe had gone to church where vespers were sung at four
o'clock through the winter.
Martie's colour was high from fast walking in the cold wind, her
eyes shone like sapphires, and her loosened hair, under an old
velvet tam-o'-shanter cap, made a gold aureole about her face.
Rodney, watching her mount the little hill to the graveyard with a
winter sunset before her, had called her "Brunhilde," and he had
been talking of grand opera as they walked home.
Enchanted at finding the house deserted, she very simply took him
into the kitchen. The kettle was fortunately singing over a sleeping
fire; Rodney sliced bread and toasted it, while Martie, trying to
appear quite at her ease, but conscious of awkward knees and elbows
just the same, whisked from pantry to kitchen busily, disappearing
into the dining room long enough to lay the tea cups and plates at
one end of the big table.
Only a few moments before the little feast was ready, Lydia came
rather anxiously into the kitchen. She greeted Rodney smilingly,
seizing the first opportunity for an aside to say to Martie:
"Pa's home, Mart. And he doesn't like your having Rod out here. I
walked him up to the Tates', but no one was home except Lizzie.
Shame! He saw Rodney's cap in the hall--he's in the dining room."
Aloud she said cheerfully: "I think this is dreadful--making you
work so hard, Rod. Come--tea's nearly ready. You and I'll wait for
it in the dining room, like the gentleman and lady we are!"
"Oh, I'm having a grand time!" Rodney laughed. But he allowed
himself to be led away. A few minutes later Martie, with despair in
her heart, carried the loaded tray into the dining room.
Her father, in one of his bad moods, was sitting by the empty
fireplace. The room, in the early autumn twilight, was cold. Len had
come in and expected his share of the unfamiliar luxury of tea, and
more than his share of the hot toast.
Rodney, unaffected by the atmosphere, gaily busied himself with the
tray. Lydia came gently in with an armful of light wood which she
laid in the fireplace.
"There is no necessity for a fire," Malcolm said. "I wouldn't light
that, my dear."
"I thought--just to take the chill off," Lydia stammered.
Her father shook his head. Lydia subsided.
"We shall be having supper shortly, I suppose?" he asked patiently,
looking at a large gold watch. "It's after half-past five now."
"But, Pa," Lydia laughed a little constrainedly, "we never have
dinner until half-past six!"
"Oh, on week days--certainly," he agreed stiffly. "On Sundays,
unless I am entirely wrong, we sit down before six."
"Len," Martie murmured, "why don't you go make yourself some toast?"
"Don't have to!" Len laughed with his mouth full.
"Here--I'll go out and make some more!" Rodney said buoyantly,
catching up a plate. Lydia instantly intervened; this would not do.
Pa would be furious. Obviously Martie could not go, because in her
absence Pa, Rodney, and Len would either be silent, or say what was
better unsaid. Lydia herself went out for a fresh supply of toast.
Martie was grateful, but in misery. Lydia was always slow. The
endless minutes wore away, she and Rodney playing with their empty
plates, Len also waiting hungrily, her father watching them
sombrely. If Len hadn't come in and been so greedy, Martie thought
in confused anger, tea would have been safely over by this time; if
Pa were not there glowering she might have chattered at her ease
with Rodney, no tea hour would have been too long. As it was, she
was self-conscious and constrained. The clock struck six. Really it
The toast came in; Sally came in demurely at her mother's side. She
had rushed out of the shadows to join her mother at the gate, much
to Mrs. Monroe's surprise. Conversation, subdued but general,
ensued. Martie walked boldly with Rodney to the gate, at twenty
minutes past six, and they stood there, laughing and talking, for
another ten minutes.
When she went in, it was to face unpleasantness. Her mother, with
her bonnet strings dangling, was helping Lydia hastily to remove
signs of the recent tea party. Sally was in the kitchen; Len reading
opposite his father.
"Come here a minute, Martie," her father called as I the girl
hesitated in the hallway. Martie came in and eyed him. "I would like
to know what circumstances led to young Parker's being here this
afternoon?" he asked.
"Why--we were walking, and I--I suppose I asked him, Pa."
"You SUPPOSE you asked him?"
"Well--I DID ask him."
"Oh, you DID ask him; that's different. You had spoken to your
mother about it?"
"No." Martie swallowed. "No," she said again nervously. There was a
silence while her father eyed her coldly.
"Then you ask whom you like to the house, do you? Is that the idea?
You upset your mother's and your sister's arrangement entirely at
your own pleasure?" he suggested presently.
"I didn't think it was so much to ask a person to have a cup of
tea!" Martie stammered, with a desperate attempt at self-defense.
She felt tears pressing against her eyes. Lydia would have been
meek, Sally would have been meek, but Martie's anger was her nearest
weapon. It angered her father in turn.
"Well, will you kindly remember in future that your ideas of what to
ask, and what not to ask, are not the ideas by which this house is
governed?" Malcolm asked magnificently.
"Yes, sir." Martie stirred as if to turn and go.
"One moment," Malcolm said discontentedly. "You thoroughly
understand me, do you?"
"Yes, sir." Martie's eyes met Len's discreetly raised over the edge
of his book and full of reproachful interest. She went into the
The spell of a nervous silence which had held the dining room was
broken. Mrs. Monroe and Lydia talked in low tones as they went to
and fro; Len shifted his position; Sally coming in with a plate of
sliced bread hummed contentedly. Martie appeared in her usual place
at supper, not too subdued to win a laugh even from her father with
some vivacious imitation of Miss Tate rallying the children for
Sunday School. Happiness was bubbling like a spring in her heart.
After dinner, the dishes being piled in the sink to greet Belle on
Monday morning, she went to the piano and crashed into "Just a Song
at Twilight," and "Oh, Promise Me," and "The Two Grenadiers." These
and many more songs were contained in a large, heavy album entitled
"Favourite Songs for the Home." Martie had a good voice; not better
than Sally's or Lydia's, but Sally and Lydia rarely sang. Martie had
sung to her own noisy accompaniment since she was a child; she loved
the sound of her own voice. She had a hunger for accomplishment,
rattled off the few French phrases she knew with an unusually pure
accent, and caught an odd pleasing word or an accurate pronunciation
eagerly on the few occasions when lecturers or actors in Monroe gave
her an opportunity.
To-night her father, in his library, heard the sweet, true tones of
her voice in "Lesbia" and "Believe Me," and remembered his mother
singing those same old songs. But when a silence followed he
remembered only faulty Martie, awkwardly making Rodney Parker
welcome at the most inconvenient time her evil genius could have
suggested, and he presently went into the sitting room with the
familiar scowl on his face.
On the next Sunday Rodney hired a Roman-nosed, rusty white horse at
Beetman's, and for two hours he and Martie drove slowly about. They
drove up past the Poor House to the Cemetery, and into the Cemetery
itself, where black-clad forms were moving slowly among the graves.
The day was cold, with a bleak wind blowing; the headstones looked
bare and forlorn.
At half-past three, driving down the Pittsville road, back toward
Monroe, Rodney said:
"Why don't you come and have tea at our house, Martie?"
Martie's heart rose on a great spring.
"Why--would your mother--" She stopped short, not knowing quite how
to voice her hesitation. Had she expressed exactly what was in her
mind she might have said: "First, won't your mother and sisters snub
me? And secondly, is it quite correct, from a conventional
standpoint, for me to accept your casual invitation?"
"Sure. Mother'll be delighted--come on!" Rodney urged.
"I'd love to!" Martie agreed.
"You know, the beauty about you, Martie, is that you're such a good
pal," Rodney said enthusiastically as he drove on. "I've always
wanted a pal. You and I like the same things; we're both a little
different from the common run, perhaps--I don't want to throw any
flowers at us, but that's true--and it's wonderful to me that living
here in this hole all your life you're so up-to-date--so darned
This was nectar to Martie's soul. But she had never been indulged so
recklessly in personalities before, and she did not quite know how
to meet them. She wanted to say the right thing, to respond
absolutely to his mood; a smile, half-deprecating, half-charmed,
fluttered on her lips when Rodney talked in this fashion, but even
to herself her words seemed ill-chosen and clumsy. A more
experienced woman, with all of Martie's love and longing surging in
her heart, would have vouchsafed him just that casual touch of hand
on hand, that slight, apparently involuntary swerve of shoulder
against shoulder that would have brought the boy's arms about her,
his lips to hers.
It was her business in life to make him love her; the only business
for which her mother and father had ever predestined her. But she
knew nothing of it, except that no "nice" girl allowed a boy to put
his arm about her or kiss her unless they were engaged. She knew
that girls got into "trouble" by being careless on these matters,
but what that trouble was, or what led to it, she did not know. She
and Sally innocently believed that some mysterious cloud enveloped
even the most staid and upright girl at the touch of a man's arm, so
that of subsequent events she lost all consciousness. A girl might
attract a man by words and smiles to the point of wishing to marry
her, but she must never permit the slightest liberties, she must
indeed assume, to the very day of her marriage, that the desire for
marriage lived in the heart of the man alone.
Martie never dreamed that the youth and sex within her had as
definite a claim on her senses as hunger had in the hour before
dinner time, or sleep had when she nodded over her solitaire at
night. But she drank in enchantment with Rodney's voice, his
laughter, his nearness, and the night was too short for her dreams
or the days for her happiness.
They left the Roman-nosed horse and the surrey at Beetman's livery
stable, a damp and odorous enclosure smelling of wet straw, and with
the rear quarters of nervous bay horses stirring in the stalls. The
various men, smoking and spitting there in the Sunday afternoon
leisure, knew Martie and nodded to her; knew who her companion was.
Martie and Rodney walked down South California Street, into the
town's nicest quarter, and passed the old-fashioned wooden houses,
set far back in bare gardens: the Wests' with its wooden palings;
the Clifford Frosts', with a hooded baby carriage near the side
door; and the senior Frosts', a dark red house shut in by a dark red
fence. The Barkers' house was the last in the row, rambling, ugly,
decorated with knobs and triangles of wood, with many porches, with
coloured glass frames on its narrow windows, yet imposing withal,
because of its great size and the great trees about it. Martie had
not been there since her childhood, in the days before Malcolm
Monroe's attitude on the sewer and street-lighting questions had
antagonized his neighbours, in the days when Mrs. Frost and Mrs.
Parker still exchanged occasional calls with Martie's mother.
The girl found strangely thrilling Rodney's familiarity here. He
crossed the porch, opened the unlocked front door, and led Martie
through a large, over-furnished hall and a large, stately drawing
room. The rugs, lamps, chairs, and tables all belonged to entirely
different periods, some were Mission oak, some cherry upholstered in
rich brocade; there was a little mahogany, some maple, even a single
handsome square chair of teakwood from the Orient. On the walls
there were large crayon portraits made from photographs of the
girls, and there were cushions everywhere, some of fringed leather,
some of satin painted or embroidered, some of cigar ribbons of clear
yellow silk, some with college pennants flaunting across them.
Beyond this room was another large one, looking out on the lawn and
the shabby willows at the side of the house. Into this room the more
favoured one had been casting off its abandoned fineries for many
years. There were more rugs, pillows, lamps, and chairs in here, but
it was all more shabby, and the effect was pleasanter and softer.
Ida's tea table stood by the hearth, with innovations such as a
silver tea-ball, and a porcelain cracker jar decorated with a rich
design in the minutely cut and shellacked details of postage stamps.
A fire winked sleepily behind the polished steel bars of the grate,
the western window was full of potted begonias and ferns, the air
was close and pleasantly scented with the odour of a good cigar.
Judge Parker, a genial man looking more than his fifty-five years,
sat alone, smoking this cigar, and Martie, greeting him prettily,
was relieved to find that she must not at once face the ladies of
the house. Rather uncertainly she took off her hat, but did not
remove the becoming blue sweater. She sat erect in a low,
comfortable armchair whose inviting curves made her rigid attitude
unnatural and difficult, and talked to the Judge. The old man liked
all fresh young girls, and laughing with her, he vaguely wondered in
his hospitable heart why Monroe's girls were not more often at the
Ida and May, tall, colourless young women, presently came down. They
noticed Martie's shoe-lacings and the frill of muddy petticoat, the
ungloved hands and the absurdity of her having removed her hat, and
told Rodney about these things later. At the time they only made her
uncomfortable in quiet little feminine ways; not hearing her when
she spoke, asking her questions whose answers must surely embarrass
Tea came in. Martie smiled at Carrie David, who brought it. She
liked Carrie, who was the Hawkes' cousin, but did not quite think
she should speak to her here. Carrie, who was a big, gray-haired
woman of fifty, was in the room only a moment after all.
Judge Parker, amiably under the impression that young people were
happier alone, went away to walk down Main Street, glancing at the
sky and greeting his townspeople in his usual genial fashion. May
poured the tea, holding Rodney in conversation the while. Ida talked
to Martie in a vivacious, smiling, insincere way, difficult to
Martie listened sympathetically, more than half believing in the
bright picture of social triumphs and San Francisco admirers that
was presented her, even though she knew that Ida was twenty-six, and
had never had a Monroe admirer. Dr. Ben had once had a passing fancy
for May's company; May was older than Ida, and, though like her
physically, was warmer and more human in type. But even this had
never been a recognized affair; it had died in infancy, and the
Parker girls were beginning to be called old maids.
Rodney walked with Martie to the gate when she left, but no farther,
and as she went on her way, uncomfortable thoughts were uppermost in
her mind. Martie had never driven with a young man before, and so
had no precedent to guide her, but she wondered if Rodney should not
have gone with her to her own gate. Perhaps she had stayed too long-
-another miserable possibility. And how "snippy" Ida and May had
Still, Monroe had seen her driving with Rodney, and she had had tea
at the Parkers'! So much was gain. She had almost reached the shabby
green gate that led into the sunken garden when Sally, flying up
behind her in the dusk, slipped a hand through her arm. Martie,
turning with a start and a laugh, saw Joe Hawkes, ten feet away,
smiling at her.
"Hello, Joe!" she said, a little puzzled. Not that it was not quite
natural for Sally to stop and speak to Joe, if she wanted to; Joe
had been a familiar figure in their lives since they were children.
But Sally was laughing and panting in a manner new and
incomprehensible. She caught Martie by both hands. All three, young
and not understanding themselves or life, stood laughing a little
vaguely in the sharp winter dusk. Joe was a mighty blond giant, only
Martie's age, and younger, except in inches and in sinews, than his
Back to Full Books