Martie The Unconquered
Part 5 out of 8
Theoretically, Wallace agreed with her. If they were to succeed,
there must be hard work, carefully controlled expenditure, and
temperance. They were still young, their children were well, and
life was before them. In a few years Wallace might make a big
success; then they could have a little country home, and belong to a
country club, and really live. Eager tears brimmed Martie's eyes as
she planned and he approved.
Actually, Wallace was not quite so satisfactory. He would be sweet-
tempered and helpful for a few days, but he expected a reward. He
expected his wife's old attitude of utter trust and devotion.
Rewarded by a happy evening when they dined and talked in utter
harmony, he would fail her again. Then came dark days, when Martie's
heart smouldered resentfully hour after busy hour. How could he--how
could he risk his position, waste his money, antagonize his wife,
break all his promises! She could not forgive him this time, she
could not go through the humiliating explanations, apologies,
asseverations, again be reconciled and again deceived!
He knew how to handle her, and she knew he knew. When the day or two
of sickness and headache were over he would shave and dress
carefully and come quietly and penitently back into the life of the
house. Would Ted like to go off with Dad for a walk? Couldn't he go
to market for her? Couldn't he go along and wheel Margaret?
Silently, with compressed lips, Martie might pass and repass him.
But the moment always came when he caught her and locked her in his
"Martie, dearest! I know how you feel--I won't blame you! I know
what a skunk and a beast I am. What can I do? How can I show you how
sorry I am? Don't--don't feel so badly! Tell me anything--any oath,
any promise, I'll make it! You're just breaking my heart, acting
For half an hour, for an hour, her hurt might keep her unresponsive.
In the end, she always kissed him, with wet eyes, and they began
Happy hours followed. Wallace would help her with the baby's bath,
with Teddy's dressing, and the united Bannisters go forth for a
holiday. Martie, her splendid square little son leaning on her
shoulder, the veiled bundle of blankets that was Margaret safely
sleeping in the crib, her handsome husband dressing for "a party,"
felt herself a blessed and happy woman.
Frequently, when he was not playing, they went to matinees,
afterward drifting out into the five o'clock darkness to join the
Broadway current. Here Wallace always met friends: picturesque
looking men, and bright-eyed, hard-faced women. Invariably they went
into some hotel, and sat about a bare table, for drinks. Warmed and
cheered, the question of convivialities arose.
"Lissen; we are all going to Kingwell's for eats," Wallace would
tell his wife.
"But, Wallace, Isabeau is going to have dinner at home!" It was no
use; the bright eye, the thickened lips, the loosened speech evaded
her. He understood her, he had perfect self-control, but she could
influence him no longer. Mutinous, she would go with the chattering
women into the dressing room, where they powdered, rouged lips and
cheeks, and fluffed their hair.
"Lord, he is a scream, that boy!" Mrs. Dolly Fairbanks might remark
appreciatively, offering Martie a mud-coloured powder-pad before
restoring it to the top of her ravelled silk stocking. "I'll bet
he's a scream in his own home!"
Martie could only smile forcedly in response. She was not in
sympathy with her companions. She hated the extravagance, the noise,
and the drinking that were a part of the evening's fun. Wallace's
big, white, ringed hand touched the precious greenbacks so readily;
here! they wanted another round of drinks; what did everybody want?
Wherever they went, the scene was the same: heat, tobacco smoke,
music; men drinking, women drinking, greenbacks changing hands,
waiters pocketing tips. Who liked it? she asked herself bitterly. In
the old days she and Sally had thought it would be fun to be in New
York, to know real actors and actresses, to go about to restaurants
in taxicabs. But what if the money that paid for the taxicabs were
needed for Ted's winter shirts and Margar's new crib? What if the
actors were only rather stupid and excitable, rather selfish and
ignorant men and women, to whom homes and children, gardens and
books were only words?
Presumably the real actors, the real writers and painters led a mad
and merry life somewhere, wore priceless gowns and opened champagne;
but it was not here. These were the imitators, the pretenders, and
the rich idlers who had nothing better to do than believe in the
Still, when Wallace suggested it, Martie found it wise to yield. He
might stumble home beside her at eleven, the worse for the eating
and drinking, but at least he did come home, and she could tell
herself that the men in the car who had smiled at his condition were
only brutes; she would never see them again; what did their opinion
matter! In other ways she yielded to him; peace, peace and affection
at any cost. Yet it cost her dear, for the possibility of another
child's coming was the one thought that frightened and dismayed her.
Strongly contrasted to Wallace's open-handedness when he was with
his friends was the strict economy Martie was obliged to practise in
her housekeeping. She went to market herself, as the spring came on,
heaping her little purchases at Margar's feet in the coach. Teddy
danced and chattered beside her, neighbours stopped to smile at the
baby. At the fruit carts, the meat market, the grocery, Martie
pondered and planned. Oranges had gone up, lamb had gone up--dear,
Sitting at the grocery counter, she would rearrange her menus.
"Butter fifty--my, that is high! Hasn't the new butter come in? I
had better have half a pound, I think. And the beans, and the
onions, yes. Let me see--how do you sell the canned asparagus--
that's too much. Send me those things, Mr. O'Brien, and I'll see
what I can get in the market."
All about her, in the heart-warming spring sunshine, other women
were mildly lamenting, mildly bartering. Martie's brain was still
busily milling, as she wheeled the coach back through the checkered
sun and shade of the elevated train. She would bump the coach down
into the area, carefully loading her arms with small packages,
catching Margar to her shoulder.
Panting, the perspiration breaking out on her forehead, she would
enter the dining room.
"Take her, Isabeau! My arms are breaking! Whew!--it is HOT! Not now,
Teddy, you can't have anything until lunch time. Amuse her a minute,
Isabeau, I can't take her until--I get--my breath! I had to change
dinner; he had no liver. I got veal for veal loaf; Mr. Bannister
likes that; and stuffed onions, and the pie, and baked potatoes.
Make tea. Put that down, Teddy, you can't have that. Now, my
blessedest girl, come to your mother! She's half asleep now; I'll
change her and put her out for her nap!"
The baby fed and asleep, Ted out again, Martie would serve Wallace's
breakfast herself rather than interrupt the steady thumping of irons
in the kitchen. She tried to be patient with his long delays.
"How's the head?" she would ask, sitting opposite him with little
socks to match, or boxed strawberries to stem.
"Oh, rotten! I woke up when the baby did."
"But, Wallie--that was seven o'clock! You've been asleep since."
"Just dozing. I heard you come in!"
"Well, I think I'll move her clothes out of that room. Aren't your
"Nope. They taste like storage. I should think we could get good
"They OUGHT to be good!"
"You ought to get a telephone in here," he might return sourly.
"Then you could deal with some decent place! I hate the way women
pinch and squeeze to save five cents; there's nothing in it!"
Silence. Martie's face flushed, her fingers flew.
"What are you doing to-day?" she might ask, after a while.
"Oh, I'll go down town, I guess. Never can tell when something'll
break. Bates told me that Foster was anxious to see me. He says
they're having a deuce of a time getting people for their plays.
Bates says to stick 'em for a couple of hundred a week."
Martie placed small hope in such a hint, but she was glad he could.
When he had sauntered away, she would go on patiently, mixing the
baby's bottles, picking toys from the floor, tying and re-tying
Ted's shoe-laces. This was a woman's life. Martha Bannister was not
a martyr; nobody in the city could stop to help or pity her.
The hot summer shut down upon them, and the baby drooped, even
though Martie was careful to wheel her out into the shade by the
river every day. She herself drooped, staring at life helplessly,
hopelessly. In March there would be a third child.
After a restless night, the sun woke her, morning after morning,
glaring into her room at six. Wearily, languidly, she dressed the
twisting and leaping Teddy, fastened little Margar, with her string
of spools and her shabby double-gown, in the high-chair. The kitchen
smelled of coffee, of grease; the whole neighbourhood smelled in the
merciless heat of the summer day. Had that meat spoiled; was the
cream just a little turned?
Ted, always absorbed in wheels, pulleys, and nails, would be in an
"Mother, could a giant step across the East River?"
"What was it, dear?--the water was running; Mother didn't hear you."
"Could a giant step across a river?"
"Why, I suppose he could. Don't touch that, Ted."
"Could he step across the whole WORLD?"
"I don't know. Here's your porridge, dear. Listen---"
For Wallace was shouting. Martie would go to the bedroom door, to
interrogate the tousle-headed, heaving form under the bedclothes.
"Say, Martie, isn't there an awful lot of noise out there?"
Martie would stand silent for a moment.
"You can't blame the children for chattering, Wallace."
"Well, you tell Ted he'll catch it, if I hear any more of it!"
She would go lifelessly back to the kitchen, to sip a cup of
scalding black coffee. Margar went into her basket for her
breakfast, banging the empty bottle rapturously against the wicker
sides as a finale.
"Wash both their faces, Isabeau," Martie would murmur, flinging back
her head with a long, weary sigh. "There are no buttons on this
suit; I'll have to go back into Mr. Bannister's room--too bad, for
he's asleep again! Yes, dear, you may go to market and push the
carriage--DON'T ask Mother that again, Ted! I always let you go, and
you ALWAYS push Sister." Her voice would sink to a whisper, and her
face fall into her hands. "Oh, Isabeau, I do feel so wretched.
Sometimes it seems as if---However!" and with a sudden desperate
courage, Martie would rally herself. "However, it's all in the day's
work! Run down to the sidewalk, Ted, and Mother'll be right down
with the baby!"
Coming in an hour later perhaps, Wallace, better-natured now, would
call her again.
"Come in, Mart! Hell-oo! Is that somebody that loves her Daddy?"
"She's just going to have her bottle, Wallie" Martie would fret.
"Well, here! Let me give it to her." Sitting up in bed, his
nightgown falling open at the throat, Margar's father would hold out
big arms for the child.
"No, you can't. She'll never go to sleep at that rate; and if she
misses her nap, that upsets her whole day!"
"Lord, but you are in a grouch, Mart. For Heaven's sake, cheer up!"
Wallace, rumpling and kissing his daughter, would give her a
Martie's face always darkened resentfully at such a speech.
Sometimes she did not answer.
"Perhaps if YOU couldn't sleep," she might say in a low, shaken
tone, "and you felt as miserable as I do, you might not be so
"Oh, well, I know! But you know it's nothing serious, and it won't
last. Forget it! After all, your mother had four children, and mine
had seven, and they didn't make such a fuss!"
He did not mean to be unkind, she would remind herself. And what he
said was true, after all. There was nothing more to say.
"Wallie, have you any money for the laundry?"
"Oh, Lord! How much is it?"
"Two dollars and thirteen cents; four weeks now."
"Well, when does he come?"
"Well, you tell him that I'll step in to-morrow and pay the whole
thing. I'm going to see Richards to-day; I won't be home to dinner."
"But I thought you were going to see that man in the Bronx, about
the moving picture job to-morrow?"
"Yes, I am. What about it?"
"Nothing. Only, Wallie, if you have dinner with Mr. Richards and all
those men, you know--you know you may not feel like--like getting up
early to-morrow!" Martie, hesitating in the doorway with the baby,
wavered between tact and truth.
"Why don't you say I'll be drunk, while you're about it?"
The ugly tone would rouse everything that was ugly in response.
"Very well, I WILL say that, if you insist!" The slamming door ended
the conversation; Martie trembled as she put the child to bed.
Presently Isabeau would come to her to say noncommittally, but with
watchful, white-rimmed eyes, that Mist' Bans'ter he didn' want no
breakfuss, he jus' take hisse'f off. For the rest of the day, Martie
carried a heart of lead.
Mentally, morally, physically, the little family steadily descended.
With Martie too ill to do more than drag herself through the autumn
days, Wallace idle and ugly, Isabeau overworked and discontented,
and bills accumulating on every side, there was no saving element
left. Desperately the wife and mother plodded on; the children must
have milk and bread, the rent-collector must be pacified if not
satisfied. Everything else was unimportant. Her own appearance
mattered nothing, the appearance of the house mattered nothing. She
pinned the children's clothing when their buttons disappeared; she
slipped a coat wearily over her house-dress, and went to the
delicatessen store five minutes before dinner-time. She was thin
enough now,--Martie, who had always longed to be thin. Sometimes,
sitting on the side of an unmade bed, with a worn little shirt of
Ted's held languidly in her hands, she would call the maid.
"Isabeau! Hasn't Teddy a clean shirt?"
"No, MA'AM! You put two them shirts in yo' basket 'n' says how you's
going to fix 'em!"
"I must get at those shirts," Martie would muse helplessly. "Come,
Ted, look what you're doing! Pay attention, dear!"
"Man come with yo meat bill, Mis' Ban'ster," Isabeau might add,
lingering in the doorway. "Ah says you's OUT."
"Thank you, Isabeau." Perhaps Martie would laugh forlornly. "Never
mind--things must change! We can't go on THIS way!"
Suddenly, she was ill. Without warning, without the slip or stumble
or running upstairs that she was quite instinctively avoiding, the
accident befell. Martie, sobered, took to her bed, and sent Isabeau
flying for Dr. Converse, the old physician whose pleasant wife had
often spoken to Teddy in the market. Strange--strange, that she who
so loved children should be reduced now to mere thankfulness that
the little life was not to be, mere gratitude for an opportunity to
lie quiet in bed!
"For I suppose I should stay in bed for a few days?" Martie asked
the doctor. Until she was told she might get up. Very well, but he
must remember that she had a husband and two children to care for,
and make that soon.
Dr. Converse did not smile in answer. After a while she knew why.
The baffling weakness did not go, the pain and restlessness seemed
to have been hers forever. Day after day she lay helpless; while
Isabeau grumbled, Margar fretted, and Teddy grew noisy and
unmanageable. Wallace was rarely at home, the dirt and confusion of
the house rode Martie's sick brain like a nightmare. She told
herself, as she lay longing for an appetizing meal, an hour's
freedom from worry, that there was a point beyond which no woman
might be expected to bear things, that if life went on in this way
she must simply turn her face to the wall and die.
Ghost-white, she was presently on her feet. The unbearable had been
borne. She was getting well again; ridden with debts, and as shabby
and hopeless as it could well be, the Bannister family staggered on.
Money problems buzzed about Martie's eyes like a swarm of midges:
Isabeau had paid this charge of seventy cents, there was a drug bill
for six dollars and ten cents--eighty cents, a dollar and forty
cents, sixty-five cents--the little sums cropped up on all sides.
Martie took pencil and paper, and wrote them all down. The hideous
total was two hundred and seventeen dollars on the last day of
October. But there would be rent again on the eleventh--
Her bright head went suddenly down on her arms. Oh, no--no--no! It
couldn't be done. It was all too hard, too bewildering--
Suddenly, looking at the pencilled sums, the inspiration came. Was
it a memory of those days long ago in Monroe, when she had
calculated so carefully the cost of coming on to the mysterious
fairyland of New York? As carefully now she began to count the cost
of going home.
It was five years since she had seen her own people; and in that
time she had carried always the old resentful feeling that she would
rather die than turn to Pa for help! But she knew better now; her
children should not suffer because of that old girlish pride.
Her mother was gone. Len and his wife, one of the lean, tall Gorman
girls, were temporarily living with Pa in the old place. Sally had
four children, Elizabeth, Billy, Jim, and Mary, and lived in the old
Mussoo place near Dr. Ben. Joe Hawkes was studying medicine, Lydia
kept house for Pa, of course, and Sally and her father were
reconciled. "We just started talking to each other when Ma was so
ill," wrote Sally, "and now he thinks the world and all of the
All these changes had filtered to Martie throughout the years. Only
a few weeks ago a new note had been sounded. Pa had asked Sally if
she ever heard of her sister; had said that Mary Hawkes was like her
Aunt Martie, "the cunningest baby of them all."
Wild with hope, Sally had written the beloved sister. It was as if
all these years of absence had been years of banishment to Sally.
Martie recognized the unchanging Monroe standard.
She got Sally's letter now, and re-read it. If Pa could send her a
few hundreds, if she could get the children into Lydia's hands, in
the old house in the sunken garden, if Teddy and Margar could grow
up in the beloved fogs and sunshine, the soft climate of home, then
how bravely she could work, how hopefully she could struggle to get
a foothold in the world for them! She wrote simply, lovingly,
penitently, to her father--She was convalescent after serious
illness; there were two small children; her husband was out of work;
could he forgive her and help her? In the cold, darkening days, she
went about fed with a secret hope, an abounding confidence.
But she held the letter a fortnight before sending it. If her father
refused her, she was desperate indeed. Planning, planning, planning,
she endured the days. Wallace was not well; wretched with grippe, he
spent almost the entire day in bed when he was at home, dressing at
four o'clock and going out of the house without a farewell.
Sometimes, for two or three nights a week, Martie did not know where
he was; his friends kept him in money, and made him feel himself a
deeply wronged and unappreciated man. She could picture him in bars,
in cafes, in hot hotel rooms seriously talking over a card-table,
She dismissed Isabeau Eato with a promise that the girl accepted
"If I had the money Isabeau, you should have it; you know that!"
"Yas'm. Hit's what dey all says'm."
"You SHALL have it," Martie promised, with hot cheeks. She breathed
easier when the girl was gone. She told the grocer that she had
written her father, and that his bills should be paid; she reminded
the big rosy man that she had been ill. He listened without comment,
cleaning a split thumb-nail. The story was not a new one.
No answer came to her letter, and a sick suspicion that no answer
would come began to trouble her. December was passing. Teddy was
careful to tell her just what he wanted from Santa Claus. On
Christmas Eve she asked Wallace, as he was silently going out, for
"I want to get Ted SOMETHING for Christmas, Wallie."
"What does he want?"
"Well, of course he wants a coaster and skates, but that's absurd. I
thought some sort of a gun--he's gun-mad, and perhaps a book of
With no further comment her husband gave her a five-dollar-bill, and
went on his way. She saw that he had other bills, and went
impulsively after him.
"Wallie! Could you let me have a little more? I do need it so!"
Still silent, he took the little roll from his pocket, and gave her
another five dollars. She saw still a third, and a one dollar bill.
But this was more than her wildest hopes. Joyfully, she went, shabby
and cold, through the happy streets. She walked four blocks to a new
market, and bought bread and butter and salt codfish and a candy
cane. She went into a department store, leaving Teddy to watch the
coach on the sidewalk, and got him the gun and the book. She gave
her grocer four, her butcher three dollars, with a "Merry
Christmas!" Did both men seem a little touched, a little pitying, or
was it just the holiday air? The streets were crowded, the leaden
sky low and menacing; they would have a white Christmas.
Teddy hung up his stocking at dark. The big things, he explained,
would have to go on the floor.
"What big things, my heart?" Martie was toasting bread, eying the
browned fish cakes with appetite.
"Well, the coaster or the skates!" he elucidated off-hand.
His mother's breast rose on a long sigh. She came to put one arm
about him, as she knelt beside him on the floor.
"Teddy, dear, didn't Mother tell you that old Santa Claus is poor
this year? He has so many, many little boys to go to! Wouldn't my
boy rather that they should all have something, than that some poor
little fellows should have nothing at all?" She stopped, sick at
heart, for the child's lip was trembling, and a hot tear fell on her
"But--but I've been good, Mother!" he stammered with a desperate
effort at self-control.
Well, if he could not be brave, she must be. She began to tell him
about going to California, to Grandfather's house. Later she put the
orange, the apple, the gun, with a triangle puzzle given away at the
drug store, a paper cow from the dairy, and five cents' worth of
pressed figs, into the little dangling stocking, placed the book
beside it, and hung the candy cane over all. Mrs. Converse, the
doctor's wife, had sent a big flannel duck, obviously second-hand,
but none the less wonderful for that, for Margar; Teddy had not seen
it, so it would be one more Christmas touch!
And at eight o'clock, as she was putting her kitchen in order, a
tired driver appeared, clumsily engineering something through the
narrow hall; a great coaster, its brave red and gold showing through
the flimsy, snow-wet wrappings.
"Teddy from Dad," Martie, bewildered, read on the card. Not to the
excited child himself would it bring the joy it gave his mother.
Poor Wallace--always generous! He had gone straight from her plea
for the boy's Christmas to spend his money for this. She hoped he
would come home to-morrow; that they might spend the day together.
Some of the shops would be open for a few hours; if he brought home
money, she could manage a chicken, and one of the puddings from the
Another ring at the bell? Martie wiped her hands, and went again to
the door. A telegram--
She tore and crumpled the wet yellow paper. The wonderful words
danced before her eyes:
Pa says come at once told Lydia he would give you and children home
as long as he lives sends his love merry Christmas darling
Martie went back to the kitchen, and put her head down on the little
table and cried.
Wallace did not come home for Christmas Day, nor for many days.
Teddy rejoiced in his coaster while his mother went soberly and
swiftly about her plans. Perhaps Pa had realized that she did not
actually have a cent, and was sending a check by mail. The perfect
telegram would have been just a little more than perfect, if he had
said so. But if he were not sending money, she must go nevertheless.
She must give up this house on January tenth, landlord and grocer
must trust her for the overdue rent and bill. If they would not,
well, then they must have her arrested; that was all.
The fare to California would be less than two hundred dollars. She
was going to borrow that from John.
Martie herself was surprised at the calm with which she came to this
decision. It had all the force of finality to her. She cared for the
hurt to her pride as little as she cared for what Rose Parker would
think of her ignominious return, as little as she cared for what the
world thought of a wife who deliberately left the father of her
children to his fate.
Early in January she planned to take the children with her, and find
John in his office. That very day the tickets should be bought. If
Wallace cared enough for his family to come home in the meantime,
she would tell him what she was doing. But Martie hoped that he
would not. The one possible stumbling-block in her path would be
Wallace's objection; the one thing of which she would not allow
herself to think was that he MIGHT, by some hideous whim, decide to
accompany them. Thinking of these things, she went about the process
of house-cleaning and packing. The beds, the chairs, the china and
linen and blankets must bring what they could. On the third day of
the year, in his room, Martie, broom in hand, paused to study
Wallace's "chestard." That must go, too. It had always been a
cheaply constructed article, with one missing caster that had to be
supplied by a folded wedge of paper. Still, in a consignment with
other things, it would add something to the total. Martie put her
hand upon it, and rocked it. As usual, the steadying wedge of paper
She stooped to push the prop into position again; noticed that it
was a piece of notepaper, doubly folded; recognized John Dryden's
The room whirled about her as she straightened the crumpled and
discoloured sheet, and smoothed it, and grasped at one glance its
DEAR MR. BANNISTER:
I am distressed to hear of Mrs. Bannister's illness, and can readily
understand that she must not be burdened or troubled now. Please let
me know how she progresses, and let me be your banker again, if the
need arises. I am afraid she does not know how to save herself.
The date was mid-December.
Martie read it once, read it again, crushed it in her hand in a
spasm of shame and pain. She brought the clenched hand that held it
against her heart, and shut her eyes. Oh, how could he--how could
he! To John, the last refuge of her wrecked life, he had closed the
way in the very hour of escape!
For a long time she stood, leaning against the tipped chest, blind
and deaf to everything but her whirling thoughts. After a while she
looked apathetically at the clock; time for Margar's toast and
boiled egg. She must finish in here; the baby would be waking.
Somehow she got through the cold, silent afternoon. She felt as if
she were bleeding internally; as if the crimson stain from her
shaken heart might ooze through her faded gingham. She must get the
children into the fresh air before the snow fell.
Out of doors a silence reigned. A steady, cold wind, tasting already
of snow, was blowing. The streets were almost deserted. Martie
pushed the carriage briskly, and the sharp air brought colour to her
cheeks, and a sort of desperate philosophy to her thoughts. Waiting
for the prescription for Margar's croup, with the baby in her lap,
Martie saw herself in a long mirror. The blooming young mother, the
rosy, lovely children, could not but make a heartening picture.
Margar's little gaitered legs, her bright face under the shabby,
fur-rimmed cap; Teddy's sturdy straight little shoulders and his
dark blue, intelligent eyes; these were Martie's riches. Were not
comfort and surety well lost for them at twenty-seven? At thirty-
seven, at forty-seven, there would be a different reckoning.
No woman's life was affected, surely, by a trifle like the tourist
fare to California, she told herself sensibly. If the money was not
to come from John, it must be forthcoming in some other way, if not
this month, then next month, or the next still. Perhaps she would
still go to John, and tell him the whole story.
Pondering, planning, she went back to the house, her spirits sinking
as the warm air smote her, the odour of close rooms, and of the
soaking little garments in the kitchen tub. Wallace had come in, had
flung himself across his bed, and was asleep.
Martie merely glanced at him before she set about the daily routine
of undressing the baby, setting the table, getting a simple supper
for Teddy and herself. No matter! It was only a question of a little
time, now. In ten days, in two weeks, she would be on the train; the
new fortune hazarded. The snoring sleeper little dreamed that some
of her things were packed, some of the children's things packed,
that Margar's best coat had been sent to the laundry, with the
Western trip in view; that a furniture man had been interviewed as
to the disposal of the chairs and tables.
At six o'clock Margar, with her bottle, was tucked away in the front
room, and Martie and Teddy sat down to their meal. Roused perhaps by
the clatter of dishes, Wallace came from the bedroom to the kitchen
door, and stood looking in.
"Wallace," Martie said without preamble, "why did you never tell me
that you borrowed money from Mr. Dryden?"
He stared at her stupidly, still sleepy, and taken unawares.
"He told you, huh?" he said heavily, after a pause.
"I found his note!" Martie said, beginning to breathe quickly.
Without glancing at Wallace, she put a buttered slice of bread
"I didn't want to distress you with it, Mart," Wallace said weakly.
"Distress me!" his wife echoed with a bitter laugh.
"Of course, some of it is paid back," Wallace added unconvincingly.
Martie shot him a quick, distrustful glance. Ah, if she could
believe him! "I have his note acknowledging half of it, seventy-
five," added Wallace more confidently. "I'll show it to you!"
"I wish you would!" Martie said in cold incredulity. Teddy, deceived
by his mother's dispassionate tone, gave Wallace a warm little
smile, embellished by bread and milk.
"I guess you've been wondering where I was?" ventured Wallace,
rubbing one big bare foot with the other, and hunching his shoulders
in his disreputable wrapper. Unshaven, unbrushed, he gave a
"No matter!" Martie said, shrugging. She poured her tea, noticed
that her fingernails were neglected, and sighed.
"I don't see why you take that attitude, Mart," Wallace said mildly,
sitting down. "In the first place, I sent you a letter day before
yesterday, which Thompson didn't mail--"
"Really!" said Martie, the seething bitterness within her making
hand and voice tremble.
"I have the deuce of a cold!" Wallace suggested tentatively. His
wife did not comment, or show in any way that she had heard him. "I
know what you think I've been doing," he went on. "But for once,
you're wrong. A lot of us have just been down at Joe's in the
country. His wife's away, and we just cooked and walked and played
cards--and I sat in luck, too!" He opened the wallet he held in his
hands, showing a little roll of dirty bills, and Martie was ashamed
of the instant softening of her heart. She wanted money so badly! "I
was coming home Monday," pursued Wallace, conscious that he was
gaining ground, "but this damn cold hit me, and the boys made me
stay in bed."
"Will you have some tea?" Martie asked reluctantly. He responded
instantly to her softened tone.
"I WOULD like some tea. I've been feeling rotten! And say, Mart," he
had drawn up to the table now, and had one wrappered arm about
Teddy, "say, Mart," he said eagerly, "listen! This'll interest you.
Thompson's brother-in-law, Bill Buffington, was there; he's an
awfully nice fellow; he's got coffee interests in Costa Rica. We
talked a lot, we hit it off awfully well, and he thinks there's a
dandy chance for me down there! He says he could get me twenty jobs,
and he wants me to go back when he goes--"
"But, Wallace--" Martie's quick enthusiasm was firing. "But what
about the children?"
"Why, they'd come along. Buff says piles of Americans down there
have children, you just have to dress 'em light--"
"And feed them light; that's the most important!" Martie added
"Sure. And I get my transportation, and you only half fare, so you
see there's not much to that!"
"Wallace!" The world was changing. "And what would you do?"
"Checking cargoes, and managing things generally. We get a house,
and he says the place is alive with servants. And he asked if you
were the sort of woman who would take in a few boarders; he says the
men there are crazy for American cooking, and that you could have
all you'd take--"
"Oh, I would!" Martie said excitedly. "I'd have nothing else to do,
you know! Oh, Wallie, I am delighted about this! I am so sick of
this city!" she added, smiling tremulously. "I am so sick of cold
and dirt and worry!"
"Well," he smiled a little shamefacedly, "one thing you'll like. No
booze down there. Buff says there's nothing in it; it can't be done.
He says that's the quickest way for a man to FINISH himself!"
The kitchen had been brightening for Martie with the swift changes
of a stage sunrise. Now the colour came to her face, and the happy
tears to her eyes. For the first time in many months she went into
her husband's arms, and put her own arms about his neck, and her
cheek against his, in the happy fashion of years ago.
"Oh, Wallie, dear! We'll begin all over again. We'll get away, on
the steamer, and make a home and a life for ourselves!"
"Don't you WANT to go, Moth'?" Teddy asked anxiously. Martie laughed
as she wiped her eyes.
"Crying for joy, Ted," she told him. "Don't sit there sneezing,
Wallie," she added in her ordinary tone. Her husband asked her,
dutifully, if she would object to his mixing a hot whisky lemonade
for his cold. After a second's hesitation she said no, and it was
mixed, and shortly afterward Wallace went to bed and to sleep. At
eight Martie tucked Teddy into bed, straightening the clothes over
Margar before she went into the dining room for an hour of
"Mrs. Bannister's Boarding House"; she liked the sound. The men
would tell each other that it was luck to get into Mrs. Bannister's.
White shoes--thin white gowns--she must be businesslike--bills and
receipts--and terms dignified, but not exorbitant--when Ted was old
enough for boarding-school--say twelve--but of course they could
tell better about that later on!
A little sound from the front bedroom brought her to her feet,
fright clutching her heart. Margar was croupy again!
It was a sufficiently familiar emergency, but Martie never grew used
to it. She ran to the child's side, catching up the new bottle of
medicine. A hideous paroxysm subsided as she took the baby in her
arms, but Margar sank back so heavily exhausted that no coaxing
persuaded her to open her eyes, or to do more than reject with
fretful little lips the medicine spoon. She is very ill--Martie said
to herself fearfully. She flew to her husband's side.
"Wallie--I hate to wake you! But Margar is croupy, and I'm going to
run for Dr. Converse. Light the croup kettle, will you, I won't be a
His daughter was the core of Wallace's heart. He was instantly
"Here, let me go, Mart! I'll get something on--"
"No, no, I'm dressed! But look at her, Wallie," Martie said, as they
came together to stand by the crib. "I don't like the way she's
She looked eagerly at his face, but saw only her own disquiet
"Get the doctor," he said, tucking the blankets about the shabby
little double-gown. "I'll keep her warm--"
A moment later Martie, buttoned into her old squirrel-lined coat,
was in the quiet, deserted street, which was being muffled deeper
and deeper in the softly falling snow. Steps, areas, fences, were
alike furred in soft white, old gratings wore an exquisite coating
over their dingy filigree. The snow was coming down evenly,
untouched by wind, the flakes twisting like long ropes against the
street lights. A gang of men were talking and clanking shovels on
the car tracks; an ambulance thudded by, the wheels grating and
slipping on the snow.
Dr. and Mrs. Converse were in their dining room, a pleasant, shabby
room smelling of musk, and with an old oil painting of fruit, a cut
watermelon, peaches and grapes, a fringed napkin and a glass of red
wine, over the curved black marble mantel. The old man was enjoying
a late supper, but struggled into his great coat cheerfully enough.
Mrs. Converse tried to persuade Martie to have just a sip of sherry,
but Martie was frantic to be gone. In a moment she and the old man
were on their way, through the silent, falling snow again, and in
her own hallway, and she was crying to Wallace: "How is she?"
The room was steamy with the fumes of the croup kettle; Wallace, the
child in his arms, met them with a face of terror. Both men bent
over the baby.
"She seems all right again now," said Wallace in a sharp whisper,
"but right after you left--my God, I thought she would choke!"
Martie watched the doctor's face, amazement and fright paralyzing
every sense but sight. The old man's tender, clever hands rested for
a moment on the little double-gown.
"Well, poor little girl!" he said, softly, after a moment of pulsing
silence. He straightened up, and looked at Martie. "Gone," he said
simply. "She died in her father's arms."
"Gone!" Martie echoed. The quiet word fell into a void of silence.
Father and mother stood transfixed, looking upon each other. Martie
was panting like a runner, Wallace seemed dazed. They stood so a
Relief came first to Wallace; for as they laid the tiny form on the
bed, and arranged the shabby little gown about it, he suddenly fell
upon his knees, and flung one arm about his child and burst into
bitter crying. But Martie moved about, mute, unhearing, her mouth
fallen a little open, her breath still coming hard. She answered the
doctor's suggestions only after a moment's frowning concentration--
what did he say?
After a while he was gone, and Wallace was persuaded to go to bed
again, Teddy tucked in beside him. Then Martie lowered the light in
what had been the children's room, and knelt beside her dead.
The snow was still falling with a gentle, ticking sound against the
window. Muffled whistles sounded on the river; the night was so
stilled that the clanking of shovels and the noise of voices came
clearly from the car-tracks at the corner.
Hour after hour went by. Martie knelt on; she was not conscious of
grief or pain; she was not conscious of the world that would wake in
the morning, and go about its business, and of the bright sun that
would blaze out upon the snow. There was no world, no sun, no
protest, and no hope. There was only the question: Why?
In the soft flicker of the gaslight Margar lay in unearthly beauty,
the shadow of her dark eyelashes touching her cheek, a smile
lingering on her baby mouth. She had been such a happy baby; Martie
had loved to rumple and kiss the aureole of bright hair that framed
the sleeping face.
The old double-gown--with the middle button that did not match--
Martie had ironed only yesterday. She would not iron it again. The
rag doll, and the strings of spools, and the shabby high-chair where
Margar sat curling her little bare toes on summer mornings; these
must vanish. The little feet were still. Gone!
Gone, in an hour, all the dreaming and hoping. No Margar in a
cleaned coat would run about the decks of the steamer--
Martie pressed her hand over her dry and burning eyes. She wondered
that she could think of these things and not go mad.
The days went by; time did not stop. Wallace remained ill; Teddy had
a cold, too. Mrs. Converse and John and Adele were there, all
sympathetic, all helpful. They were telling Martie that she must
keep up for the others. She must drink this; she must lie down.
Presently the front room, so terribly occupied, was more terribly
empty. Little Margaret Bannister was laid beside little Mary and
Rose and Paul Converse at Mount Kisco. Children, many of them, died
thus every year, and life went on. Martie had the perfect memory,
and the memory of Adele's tears, of Mrs. Converse's tears, of John's
agony of sympathy.
Then they all went out of her life as suddenly as they had entered
it. Only the old doctor came steadily, because of Teddy's cold and
Wallace's cold. Martie worked over their trays, read fairy-tales to
Teddy, read the newspaper to Wallace, said that she felt well, she
HAD eaten a good lunch, she WAS sleeping well.
When the first suspicion of Wallace's condition came to her she was
standing in the kitchen, waiting for a kettle to boil, and staring
dully out into a world of frozen bareness. Margaret had been with
her a week ago; a week ago it had been her privilege to catch the
warm little form to her heart, to kiss the aureole of gold, to
listen to the shaken gurgle of baby laughter--
The doctor came out from Wallace's room; Martie, still wrapped in
her thoughts, listened to him absently. ... pneumonia. Suddenly she
came to herself with a shock, repeating the word. Pneumonia? What
was he saying? But, Doctor--but Doctor--is Mr. Bannister so ill?
He was very ill; gravely ill. The fact that taken in time, and
fought with every weapon, the disease had gained, augured badly.
Martie listened in stupefaction.
She suggested a nurse. The old doctor smiled at her affectionately.
Perhaps to-morrow, if he was no better, they might consider it.
Meanwhile, he was in excellent hands.
A strange, silent day followed. Martie looked at her husband now
with that augmented concern that such a warning brings. He slept,
waked, smiled at her, was not hungry. His big hand, when she touched
it, was hot. Teddy, coughing, and with oil-saturated flannel over
his chest, played with his blocks and listened to fairy-tales.
Outside, a bitter cold wind swept the empty streets. Her husband
ill, perhaps dying, Margar gone; it was all unreal and unconvincing.
At four o'clock the doctor came back, and at five the nurse
pleasantly took possession of the sick room. She was a sensible New
England woman, who cooked potatoes in an amazing way for Teddy's
supper, and taught Martie a new solitaire in the still watches of
the night. Martie was anxious to make her comfortable; she must lie
down; and she must be sure to get out into the fresh air to-morrow
But Miss Swann did not leave her case the next day, a Sunday, and
Martie, awed and silent, spent the day beside the bed. Wallace died
at five o'clock.
He wandered in a light fever that morning, and at two o'clock fell
into the stupor that was not to end in this world. But Martie had,
to treasure, the memory of the early morning when she slipped
quietly into the room that was orderly, dimly lighted, and odorous
of drugs now. He was awake then, his eyes found her, and he smiled
as she knelt beside him.
"Better?" she said softly.
The big head nodded almost imperceptibly. He moistened his lips.
"I'm all right," he said voicelessly. "Bad--bad cold!"
He shut his eyes, and with them shut, added in a whisper: "Sweet,
sweet woman, Martie! Remember that day--in Pittsville--when you had
on--your brother's--coat? Mabel--and old Jesse--!"
Heavenly tears rushed to her eyes; she felt the yielding of her
frozen heart. She caught his hand to her lips, bowing her face over
"Ah, Wallace dear! We were happy then! We'll go back--back to that
time--and we'll start fresh!"
A long silence. Then he opened his eyes, found her, with a start, as
if he had not been quite sure what those opening eyes would see, and
"I'll make it--up to you, Martie!" he said heavily She had her arms
about him as he sank into unnatural sleep. At eight, whispering in
the kitchen with John, who had come for Teddy, she said that Wallie
was better; and busy with coffee and toast for Miss Swann, she began
to plan for Costa Rica. Beaten, crushed, purified by fire, healed by
tears, she was ready for life again.
But that was not to be. Wallace was dead, and those who gathered
about Martie wondered that she wept for her husband more than for
Wept for the wasted life, perhaps, and for the needless suffering
and sorrow. But even in the first hours of her widowhood Martie's
heart knew a deep and passionate relief. Vague and menacing as was
the future, stretching before her, she knew that she would never
wish Wallace back.
There were times when Martie found it difficult to believe that she
had ever been away from Monroe at all; evenings, when she and Lydia
sat talking in the shabby sitting room of the old house; or mornings
when she fed the chickens in the soft fog under the willow trees of
the yard. Len and Sally were married and gone, dear Ma was gone, and
Belle had married, too; a tall gaunt woman called Pauline was in her
But these things might all have transpired without touching Martie's
own life directly. She might still, in many ways, have been the
dreaming, ambitious, helpless girl of seven years ago. Sometimes the
realization of all she had endured came to her with an odd sense of
shock. She would glance down at her thin hand, in its black cuff,
and fall into deep musing, her face grave and weary. Or she would
call Teddy from his play, and hold his warm little body close,
staring at him with a look that always made the child uneasy. Third
Avenue, barred with sun and shade, in the early summer mornings;
Broadway on a snowy winter afternoon with the theatre crowd
streaming up and down, spring and babies taking possession of the
parks--were these all a dream?
No; she had gained something in the hard years; she saw that more
and more. Her very widowhood to Monroe had the stamp of absolute
respectability. Even Pa was changed toward her; or was it that she
was changed toward him? However caused, in their relationship there
was a fundamental change.
Pa had been a figure of power and tyranny seven years ago. Now he
seemed to Martie only an unreasonable, unattractive old man,
thwarted in his old age in everything his heart desired. Lydia was
still tremblingly filial in her attitude toward Pa, but Martie at
once assumed the maternal. She scolded him, listened to him, and
dictated to him, and he liked it. Martie had never loved him as
Lydia did; she had defied and disobeyed and deserted him, yet he
transferred his allegiance to her now, and clung to her helplessly.
He liked to have her walk down to his office beside him in the
mornings, in her plain black. While they walked he pointed out
various pieces of property, and told her how cheaply they had been
sold forty years ago. The whole post-office block had gone for seven
hundred dollars, the hotel site had been Mason's cow-yard! Old man
Sark had lived there, and had refused to put black on his house when
Lincoln was assassinated.
"And didn't he go to jail for that, Pa?"
"Yes, ma'am, he did!"
"I was in jail, too." Malcolm Monroe would chuckle under his now
gray moustache that was yellowed with tobacco stains. "Yes, sir, I
rounded up some of the boys, the Twentyonesters, we called
ourselves, and we led a riot 'round this town! The ringleaders were
arrested, but that was merely a form--merely a form!"
"You must have been a terror, Pa."
"Well--well, I had a good deal of your grandmother's spirit! And I
suppose they rather looked to me to set the pace--"
Smiling, they would go along in the sunlight, past the little homes
where babies had been turned out into grassy yards, past the
straggling stables and the smithy, and the fire-house, and the
office of the weekly Zeus. There was more than one garage in Monroe
now and the squared noses of Ford cars were at home everywhere.
Mallon's Hardware Emporium, the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store, still with
its pillars of twisted handkerchiefs, Mason and White's--how
familiar they were! And the old Bank, with its wide windows and
double roller shades was familiar, too. Martie learned that the Bank
had duly worn black a year or two ago for kindly old Colonel Frost;
his name had been obliterated from the big window, and Clifford
Frost was vice-president now.
"One death is two deaths, they say," Lydia had sighed, telling
Martie of the Colonel's death. "You know Cliff's wife died only two
months before his father did. That was a terrible thing! Her little
girl was seven years old, and she was going to have another--"
When Martie, in the early afternoon of a warm sweet day on mid-
February, had stepped from the train, with Teddy's little fingers
held tight in hers, Sally's face, running over with tears and
smiles, had been the first she found. Curiously changed, yet
wonderfully familiar, the sisters had clung together, hardly knowing
how to begin their friendship again after six long years. There were
big things to say, but they said the little things. They talked
about the trip and the warm weather that had brought the buttercups
so soon, and the case that had kept Pa on jury duty in Pittsville.
Len--rather pompous, and with a moustache!--explained why his wife
could not be there: the two-year-old daughter was not very well.
Martie questioned him eagerly of his two children. Both girls, Len
said gloomily; he asked his sister if she realized that there was
not a Monroe yet.
Lydia wept a few tears; "Martie, dear, to see you in black!" and
Martie's eyes watered, and her lip shook.
"Grace and all the others would have come," Sally said quickly, "but
we knew you'd be tired, and then it's homecoming, Martie, and you'll
have lots of time to see us all!"
She introduced Elizabeth, a lovely, fly-away child with bright loose
hair, and Billy, a freckled, ordinary-looking boy, who gave his aunt
a beautiful smile from large, dark eyes. The others were left with
"But, Sally, you're so fat!"
"And, Mart, you're so thin!"
"Never mind; it's becoming to you, Sally. You look still like a
little girl. Really, you do! And how's Joe?"
"Oh, Joe's lovely. I went down and spent a week with him. I had the
choice of that or a spring suit, and I took that!"
"Went--but where is he? I suppose he hasn't been sent to San
"Oh, Martie, don't! You know Russell Harrison, 'Dutch's' cousin,
that used to play with Len, really WAS sent there!"
"For Heaven's sake, what for?"
"Well, Hugh Wilson had some trouble with Paul King, and--it was
about money--and Russell Harrison went to Hughie and told him--"
So the conversation was diverted over and over again; and the
inessential things were said, and the important ones forgotten. Len
had borrowed the firm's motor car, and they all got in. Martie, used
to Wallace's careless magnificence, was accustomed enough to this
mode of travel, but she saw that it was a cause of great excitement
to the children, and even to Sally.
"You say the 'firm,' Len--I'll never get used to my little brother
with a moustache! What do you mean by the 'firm?'" asked Martie. "My
goodness--goodness--goodness, there's the Library and Lacey's!" she
added, her eyes eagerly roving the streets.
"Miss Fanny is still there; she always speaks so affectionately of
you, Martie," said Lydia eagerly and tremulously. Martie perceived
that in some mysterious way Lydia was ill at ease. Lydia did not
quite know how to deal with a younger sister who was yet a widow,
and had lived in New York.
"There was an awful lot of talk about getting her out of the
Library," contributed Sally; "they said the Streets were at the back
of it; they wanted to put a man in! There was the greatest
excitement; we all went down to the Town Hall and listened to the
speeches--it was terrific! I guess the Streets and their crowd felt
pretty small, because they got--what was it, Len?"
"Seventeen votes out of one hundred and eleven!" Len said, not
moving his eyes from the road before him.
"My house is right down there, next door to Uncle Ben's," said
Sally, craning her neck suddenly. "You can't see it, but no matter;
there's lots of time! Here's the Hawkes's place; remember that?"
"I remember everything," Martie said, smiling. "We're nearly home!"
The old Monroe house looked shabby, even in the spring green. Martie
had seen the deeper, fresher green of the East for six successive
springs. The eucalyptus trees wore their tassels, the willows' fresh
foliage had sprung over the old rusty leaves. A raw gateway had been
cut, out by the old barn, into Clipper Lane, and a driveway filled
in. Tired, confused, train-sick, Martie got down into the old yard,
and the old atmosphere enveloped her like a garment. The fuchsia
bushes, the marguerites so green on top, so brown and dry under
their crown of fresh life, the heliotrope sprawling against the
peeling boards under the dining-room windows, and tacked in place
with strips of kid glove--how well she knew them!
They went in the side door, and through the dark dining room,
odorous of vegetable soup and bread and butter. An unearthly quiet
held the house. Pa's door was closed; Martie imagined the room
darker and more grim than ever.
Lydia had given her her old room; the room in which she and Sally
had grown to womanhood. It was as clean and bare as a hotel room.
Lydia and Sally had discussed the advisability of a bowl of flowers,
but had decided flowers might remind poor Mart of funerals. Martie
remembered the counterpane on the bed and the limp madras curtains
at the windows. She put her gloves in a bureau drawer lined with
folded newspaper, and hung her wraps in the square closet that was,
for some unimaginable reason, a step higher than the room.
Lydia sat on the bed, and Sally on a chair, while Martie slowly
moved about her new domain. The children had gone into the yard,
'Lizabeth and Billy charged not to let their little cousin get his
clothes dirty; when the trunks came, with his overalls, he could get
as dirty as he pleased.
The soiled, tumbled contents of the hand bag, after the five days'
trip, filled Martie with a sort of weary concern. She stood,
puzzling vaguely over the damp washcloth that was wrapped about a
cake of soap, the magazines of which she had grown so tired, the
"I suppose I should hang these up; we may not get the trunks to-
"Oh, you will!" Lydia reassured her. A certain blankness fell on
them all. It was the glaring spring hour of four o'clock; not lunch
time, nor dinner time, nor bed time, nor time to go to market.
Suddenly a tear fell on Martie's hand; she sniffed.
"Ah, don't, Mart!" Lydia said, fumbling for her own handkerchief.
"We know--we know how hard it is! Your husband, and Ma not here to
The sisters cried together.
But she slept well in the old walnut bed, and enjoyed a delicious,
unfamiliar leisure the next morning, when Teddy was turned out to
the safety of the yard, and Pa, after paternally reassuring her as
to her welcome and pompously reiterating that her old father's home
was hers for the rest of her life, was gone. She and Lydia talked
deeply over the breakfast table, while Pauline rattled dishes in the
kitchen and a soft fog pressed against the windows.
Martie had said that she was going over to Sally's immediately after
breakfast, but, in the old way, time drifted by. She went upstairs
to make her bed, and she and Lydia talked again, from doorway to
doorway. When they were finally dressed to walk down town, Lydia
said that she might as well go to market first; they could stop at
Teddy galloped and curveted about them; Monroe enchanted Teddy. The
sunshine was just pushing back the fog, and the low hills all about
the town were coming into view, when Martie took her son in to meet
Grayer and thinner, the librarian was otherwise unchanged. The old
strong, coarse voice, the old plain dress, serviceable and
comfortable, the old delighted affection. Miss Fanny wore glasses
now; she beamed upon Teddy as she put them on, after frankly wiping
She made a little fuss about Martie's joining the Library, so that
Teddy could take home "Davy and the Goblin."
They went out into the warming, drying Main Street again; everywhere
Martie was welcomed. In the shops and on the street humble old
friends eyed her black respectfully.
The nervousness that she had felt about coming back began to melt
like the mist itself. She had dreaded Monroe's old standards,
dreaded Rose and Len, and the effect her poverty must have on them.
Now she began to see that Rose mattered as little here as she had
mattered when Martie was struggling in East Twenty-sixth Street.
Rose "went" with the Frosts and the Streets and the Pattersons now.
Her intimate friend was Dr. Ellis's wife, a girl from San Francisco.
"Shall we go in for a minute, and make a little visit?" said Lydia,
as she had said years ago, whenever they passed the church. Martie
nodded. They creaked into the barnlike shabbiness of the edifice;
the little red light twinkled silently before the altar. Clara
Baxter was tiptoeing to and fro with vases. Teddy twisted and
turned, had to be bumped to his knees, was warned in a whisper that
he must not talk.
Father Martin was not well; he had an assistant, Lydia said. The
bishop wanted to establish a convent here, and old Mrs. Hanson had
left eleven hundred dollars for it. Gertie Hanson lived in
Fruitvale; she was married to a widower. She had threatened to fight
the will, but people said that she got quite a lot of money; the
Hansons were richer than any one thought. Anyway, she had not put up
a gravestone to her mother yet, and Alice Clark said that Gertie had
said that she couldn't afford it.
"Why, that house must have been worth something!" Martie commented,
picking up the threads with interest.
"Well, wouldn't you think so!" Lydia said eagerly.
The morning had been so wasted that Sally was in a whirl of dinner-
getting when they reached her house. She had her hearty meal at noon
on the children's account; her little kitchen was filled with smoke
and noise. To-day she had masses of rather dark, mushy boiled rice,
stewed neck of lamb, apples, and hot biscuits. Martie, fresh from
New York's campaign of dietetic education, reflected that it was
rather unusual fare for small children, but Sally's quartette was
healthy-looking enough, and full of life and excitement. 'Lizabeth
set the table; there was great running about, and dragging of
Martie studied her sister with amused admiration. There was small
room for maternal vapours in Sally's busy life. Her matter-of-fact
voice ruled the confusion.
"Jim, you do as 'Lizabeth tells you, or you'll get another whipping,
sir! Pour that milk into the pitcher, Brother. Put on both sugar
bowls, darling; Brother likes the brown. Martie, dearest, I am
ashamed of this muss, but in two minutes I'll have them all started-
-there's baby--'Lizabeth, there's baby; you'll have to go up--"
"I'll go up!" Lydia and Martie said together. Martie went through
the bare little hallways upstairs, and peeped into shabby bedrooms
full of small beds and dangling nightgowns and broken toys.
Mary was sitting up in her crib, tumbled, red-cheeked, tears hanging
on her lashes. The room was darkened for her nap; she wore a worn
little discoloured wrapper; she clung to her rag doll. Martie, with
deathly weakness sweeping over her, smiled, and spoke to her. The
baby eyed her curiously, but she was not afraid. Martie picked her
up, and stood there holding her, while the knife turned and twisted
in her heart.
After a while she wrapped a blanket about Mary, and carried her
downstairs. Sally saw that Martie's face was ashen, and she knew
why. Lydia saw nothing. Lydia would have said that Martie had placed
poor Wallace's picture on her bureau that morning, and had talked
about him, calmly and dry-eyed; so why should she feel so much more
for her baby? Teddy had been a little strange, if eagerly friendly,
with his other cousins; but he knew how to treat Mary. He picked up
the things she threw down from her high-chair, and tickled her, and
made her laugh.
"If this elaborate and formal meal is dinner, Sally dear, what is
"Oh, Martie, it's so delicious to hear you again! Why, supper will
be apple sauce and bread and butter and milk, and gingerbread and
cookies. It's the same the year round! I like it, really; after we
go up to Pa's to supper the children don't sleep well, and neither
"You haven't told me yet where Joe is."
"Oh, I know, and I WILL! We get talking, and somehow there's so much
to say. Why, Joe's finishing his course at Cooper's College in San
Francisco; he'll graduate this May. Dr. J. F. Hawkes; isn't that
"A regular doctor!" Martie exclaimed. "But--but is he going to BE
"BE one! I should think he is!" Sally announced proudly. "Uncle Ben
says he's a born doctor--"
"And how long has it been UNCLE Ben?"
"Oh, 'Lizabeth adopted him. He adores the children."
"He loaned Joe the money," Lydia said with her old air of delicately
emphasizing an unsavoury truth.
Sally gave her younger sister a rather odd look at this, but she did
not deny the statement.
"And who keeps the quartette going?" asked Martie, glancing about.
"Joe's people; and Pa does send barrels of apples and things,
doesn't he, Sally?" Lydia supplied.
"Oh, yes; we only pay twelve dollars rent, and we live very
cheaply!" Sally said cheerfully, with another mysterious look.
A day or two later, when they were alone, she told Martie the whole
"It's Uncle Ben, of course, Mart; you remember his old offer, if
ever I had any children? He pays me twelve hundred a year for my
four. Nobody knows it, not even Lyd. People would only talk, you
know, and it's none of their affair. It's his fad, you know. We
married young, and Joe had no profession. Uncle Ben thinks the State
ought to pay women for bearing children. He says it's their business
in life. Women are taking jobs, foregoing marriage, and the nation
is being robbed of citizens. He believes that the hardest kind of
work is the raising of children, and the women who do it for the
State ought to be paid by the State. He does it for me, and I feel
as if he was a relation. It's meant everything to Joe and me, and
the children, too. Sometimes, when I stop to think of it, it is a
little queer, but--when you think of the way people DO spend money,
for orchids or old books or rugs--it's natural after all! He simply
invests in citizens, that's what he says. I would have had them
anyway, but I suppose, indeed I know, Mart, that there are lots of
women who wouldn't!"
"And is he financing Joe, too?"
"Oh, no, indeed! Uncle Ben never speaks of money to me; I don't ever
get one cent except my regular allowance. Why, when Joe was ill, and
one of the babies--Billy, it was--was coming, he came in to see me
now and then, but he never said boo about helping! Joe is working
his way; he's chauffeur for Dr. Houston; that's something else
"I think that's magnificent of Joe!" Martie said, her face glowing.
"He graduates this year," Sally said proudly, "and then I think he
will start here. For a long time we thought we'd have to move away
then, because every one remembers little Joe Hawkes delivering
papers, and working in the express office. But now that the
hospital, up toward the Archer place, is really going to be built,
Uncle Ben says that Joe can get a position there. It's Dr. Knowles's
hospital, and Uncle Ben is his best friend. Of course that's big
luck for Joe."
"Not so much luck," Martie said generously, "as that Joe has worked
awfully hard, and done well."
"Oh, you don't know how hard, Mart! And loving us all as he does,
too, and being away from us!" Sally agreed fervently. "But if he
really gets that position, with my hundred, we'll be rich! We'll
have to keep a Ford, Mart; won't that be fun?"
"Dr. Ben might die, Sally," Martie suggested.
"That wouldn't make any difference," the older sister said
composedly. "I have the actual deeds--the titles, whatever they are-
-to the property MY money comes from. He gave me them a year ago,
when he was sixty. I certainly dread the talk there'll be when his
will comes to light, but Joe will be here then, and Joe isn't afraid
of any one."
"He's done for you what Pa should have done," Martie mused.
"Oh, well, Pa did his best for us, Mart." Sally said dutifully; "he
gave us a good home--"
"WAS it a good home?" Martie questioned mildly.
"It was a much finer home than MY children have, Mart."
"As far as walls and tables and silver spoons, I suppose it was.
But, Sally, there's no child alive who has a sweeter atmosphere than
this--always with mother, always learning, and always considered!
Why, my boy is blooming already in it!"
Sally's face flushed with pleasure.
"Martie, you make me so proud!"
"If you can only keep it up, Sally. With me it doesn't matter so
much, because I've only the one, and no husband whose claims might
interfere. But when 'Lizabeth and Mary, as well as the boys, are
"You mean--always let them have their friends at the house, and so
on?" Sally asked slowly.
"Yes, but more than that! Let them feel as much a part of the world
as the boys do. Put them into any work--only make them respect it!"
"Pa might have helped us, only neither you nor I, nor Lyd, ever
showed the least interest in work," Sally submitted thoughtfully.
"Neither did Len--but he MADE Len!"
"Yes, I see what you mean," Sally admitted with an awakening face.
"But we would have thought he was pretty stern, Mart," she added.
"Just as children do when they have to learn to read and write,"
countered Martie. "Don't you see?"
Sally did not see, but she was glad to see Martie's interest. She
told Lydia later that Martie really seemed better and more like her
old self, even in these few days.
With almost all the women of Monroe, Lydia now considered Martie's
life a thing accomplished, and boldly accomplished. To leave home,
to marry, to have children in a strange city, to be honorably
widowed and to return to her father's home, and rear her child in
seclusion and content; this was more than fell to the lot of many
women. Lydia listened with actual shudders to Martie's casually
"This John Dryden that I told you about, Lyd--the man who wrote the
play that failed--was anxious for me to go on with the Curley
boarding-house," Martie said one day, "and sometimes now I think I
should have done so."
"Good heavens!" Lydia, smoothing the thin old blankets on Martie's
wide, flat bed, stopped aghast. "But why should you--Pa is more than
willing to have you here!"
"I know, darling. But what really deterred me was not so much Pa's
generosity, but the fact that I would have had to lease the property
for three years; George Curley wanted to be rid of the
responsibility. And to really make the thing a success, I should
have had the adjoining house, too; that would have been about four
"Four thousand--Martie, you would have been crazy!"
Martie, tinkling pins into a saucer on the bureau, opening the upper
drawer to sweep her brush and comb into it, and jerking the limp
linen scarf straight, only smiled and shrugged in answer. She had
been widowed three months, and already reviving energy and self-
confidence were running in her veins. Already she realized that it
had been a mistake to accept her father's hospitality in the first
panic of being dependent. However graceful and dignified her
position was to the outsider's eye, in this old house in the sunken
block, she knew now that Pa was really unable to offer her anything
more than a temporary relief from financial worry, and that her
chances of finding employment in Monroe as compared to New York were
about one to ten.
Malcolm Monroe had been deeply involved for several years in "the
firm" by which term he and Len referred to their real estate
business together. A large tract of grassy brown meadow, south of
the town, had been in his possession for thirty years; it was only
with the opening of the new "Monroe's Grove" that he had realized
its possibilities, or rather that Len had realized them.
Len had held one or two office positions in Monroe unsatisfactorily
before his twentieth year, and then had persuaded his father to send
him to Berkeley, to the State University. Ma and Lydia had been
proud of their under-graduate for one brief year, then Len was back
again, disgusted with study. After a few months of drifting and
experimenting, the brilliant idea of developing the old south tract
into building sites had occurred to Len, and presently his father
was also persuaded that here was a splendid opportunity. A little
office on Main Street was rented, and its window embellished with
the words "Own a Home in the Monroe Estates." Len really worked
violently for a time; he rode his bicycle back and forth tirelessly.
He married, and moved out into the Estates, and he personally
superintended the work that went on there. Streets and plots were
laid out, trees planted, the fresh muddy roads were edged with
pyramids of brown sewer pipes.
The financial outlay was enormous, unforeseen. Taxes went up,
sidewalks crumbled back into the grass again, the four or five
unfenced little wooden houses that were erected and occupied added
to the general effect of forlornness. The Estates were mortgaged,
and to the old mortgage on the homestead another was added.
Len took Martie out to see the place. Slim little trees were bending
in a sharp April wind; a small woman at the back of one of the small
houses was taking whipping clothes from a line. The streets were
deep in mud; Martie smiled as she read the crossposts: "High
Street," "Maple Avenue," and "Sunset Avenue." Here and there a sign
"Sold" embellished a barren half-acre.
"You've really done wonders, Len," she said encouragingly. "And of
course there's nothing like LAND for making money!"
"Oh, there's a barrel of money in it," he answered dubiously,
kicking a lump of dirt at his feet. They had left the little car at
a comparatively dry crossing, and were walking about. "We've put in
a hundred more trees this year, and I think we'll start another
house pretty soon." And when they got back in the car, his face
flushed from vigorous cranking, he added, "I talked Pa into getting
the car; it makes it look as if we were making money!"
"Of course it does," Martie said amiably. She thought her own
Lydia had nothing but praise for Len; he had worked like a Trojan,
she said. And Pa had been wonderfully patient and good about the
"Pa was telling me the other day that he could have gotten ever so
much money for this place, if he had had it levelled the time the
whole town was," Lydia said, in her curious tone that was
triumphantly complaining, one day.
"I wonder what it's worth, as it stands," mused Martie.
"Oh, Martie, I don't know! I don't know anything about it; he just
happened to say that!"
It was later on this same day that Martie went in to see Miss Fanny,
and put her elbows on the desk, resting her troubled face in her
"Miss Fanny, sometimes I despair! Heaven knows I have had hard
knocks enough, and yet I never learn," she burst out. "Seven years
ago I used to come in here to you, and rage because I was so
helpless! Well, I've had experience since, bitter experience, and
yet here I am, helpless and a burden still!"
Miss Fanny smiled her wide, admiring smile. Without a word she
reached to a shelf behind her, and handed Martie a familiar old
volume: "Choosing a Life Work." The colour rushed into Martie's face
as she took it.
"I'll read it NOW!" she said simply.
"If you really want to work, Martie," suggested the older woman,
"why don't you come in here with me? Now that we've got the Carnegie
endowment, we have actually appropriated a salary for an assistant."
Martie looked at her thoughtfully, looked backward perhaps over the
"I will," she said.
There was a storm at home over this decision, but Martie weathered
it. Even Sally demurred, observing that people would talk. But one
or two persons approved, and if Martie had needed encouragement, it
would not have been wanting.
One of her sympathizers was Dr. Ben. The two had grown to be good
friends, and Martie's boy was as much at home in the little crowded
garden and the three-peaked house as Sally's children were.
"You're showing your common sense, Martie," said the old man; "stick
to it. I don't know how one of your mother's children ever came to
have your grit!"
"I seem to have brought little enough back from New York," Martie
said a little sadly. "But at least what Monroe thinks doesn't matter
to me any more! People do what they like in the East."
"You're coming on!" Dr. Ben smiled at his velvet wallflowers.
Surprisingly, Joe Hawkes was another ally. He came back in May,
penniless, but full of honours, and with his position in the new
hospital secure. A small, second-hand car, packed with Hawkeses of
all ages, began to be seen in Monroe streets, and Sally grew rosier
and fatter and more childish-looking every day. Sally would never
keep her hair neat, or care for hands or complexion, but evidently
Joe adored her as he had on their wedding day.
"Your father'll have nothing to leave, Martie," Joe said. "What
little the Estates don't eat up must go to Lydia, and if you make a
start here, why, you'll move on to something better!"
"Miss Fanny hasn't moved on to something better," Martie submitted
with a dubious smile.
"Miss Fanny isn't you, Mart. She's gotten a long way for her. You
know her father was the Patterson's hired man, and her mother
actually had town help for a while, when he died. Now they have that
cottage free of debt, and something in the Bank, and Miss Fanny
belongs to the woman's club--that's enough for her. You can do
better, and you will!"
"I like you, Joe!" said Martie at this, quite frankly, and her
brother-in-law's pleasant eyes met hers as he said:
"I like you, too!"
Sally, herself, did not belong to the Woman's Social and Civic Club;
a fact that caused her some chagrin. Rose had actually been
president once, as had May Parker, and among the thirty-six or seven
members she and May were pleasantly prominent.
"I never see Rose, but I should have thought she might elect me to
the club," Sally said to Martie. "Unless, of course," she added,
brightening, "Rose realizes how busy I am, and that it really would
be an extravagance."
"But why do you want to go, Sis? What do they do--sit around and
"Oh, well, they have tea, and they entertain visitors in town. And
they have a historical committee to keep up the fountains and
statues--well, I don't care!" Sally interrupted herself with a
reluctant smile as Martie laughed. "It makes me sick for Rose to
have everything and always be so smug!"
"Oh, Sally Price Hawkes! Look at the children, and look at Joe,
covering himself with glory!"
"Well, I know." Sally looked ashamed. "But sometimes it does seem as
if it wasn't fair!"
"I met Rodney Parker the other day," Martie said thoughtfully. "It
isn't that he wasn't extremely pleasant--not to say flattering! No
one could have been more so. He told me that Rose was in the
hospital, and that they had been so busy since I got to town--I told
you all this? But as we parted my only thought was gratitude to
Heaven that I had never married Rodney Parker!"
Lydia, sitting sewing near by, coloured with shame at the indelicacy
of this, and made her characteristic comment.
"You don't mean that you--ALWAYS felt so, Martie?"
"Always!" Martie echoed healthily. "Why, I was crazy about him."
Lydia visibly shrank.
"He's so LIMITED" Martie continued with spirit. "I'm glad that
things have gone well with them, and that they have a baby at last!
But to sit opposite that pleasant, fat face--he is getting quite
fat!--and hear that complacent voice all the days of my life, those
little puns, and that cheerful way of implying that he is the
greatest man since Alexander--no, I couldn't!"
"He has built Rose a lovely home, and made her a very happy woman,"
Lydia said sententiously.
"Well, I suppose that when I thought of marrying Rod, I thought of
the old house," Martie pursued. "Of course, they HAVE built a nice
home, but the glory for me was the old place! Rose has a big drawing
room, and a big bedroom, and a guest's bath, and pantries and a side
porch--but I like your house better, Sally, with its trees and
flowers and babies!"
"You're just SAYING that!" Sally observed.
"I like civic pride," Martie, who was rambling on in her old
inconsequential way, presently added, "but Rod is merely SMUG. I
happened to mention some building in New York--I didn't know what to
talk to the man about! He immediately told me that the Mason
building down town was reinforced concrete throughout. I said that I
had always missed the orchards in the East, and he said, with such
an unpleasant laugh, 'We lead the world, Martie, you can't get away
from it. Do you suppose I'd stay here one moment if I didn't think
that there is a better chance of making money right here to-day than
anywhere else in the world?'"
She had caught his tone, and Sally disrespectfully laughed.
"Well, I know he is one of our most prominent young men, and Rose
was president of the club, and I suppose we less fortunate people
can talk all we please, they'll be just that much better off than we
are!" Lydia said with a little edge to her voice.
"Because his father is rich, Lyd. If it wasn't for the dear old
Judge, who pioneered and mined and planned and foresaw, where would
Rod be to-day, telling me that HE thought it best that Rose should
nurse the baby, and that he does this and thinks that?"
"Oh, no, Mart, you can't say that. Rodney is really an awfully
clever, steady fellow!" Sally said quickly.
"Sometimes I think we talk lightly about making money," said Lydia,
"but it's not such an easy thing to do!"
"Well, I'm making a start!" she said cheerfully. It was Lydia's turn
to colour with resentment; she thought that Martie's acceptance of
Miss Fanny's offer was something only a trifle short of disgrace.
In the pleasant summer mornings Martie walked down town with her
father, as she had done since she came home. But she left him at the
big brick doorway of the Library now, and by the time the fogs had
risen from Main Street, she was tied into her silicia apron and
happily absorbed in her work. She and Miss Fanny tiptoed about the
wide, cool spaces of the airy rooms, whispering, conferring.
Sometimes, in mid-morning, Teddy came gingerly in with Aunt Lydia.
"You're talking out loud, Moth'!"
"Because there's nobody else here, darling!"
Martie would catch the child to her heart with a joyous laugh. She
was expanding like a flower in sunlight. Her work interested her,
she liked to pick books for boys and girls, old women and children.
She liked moving about in a businesslike way--not a casual caller,
but a part of the institution. She had long, whispered
conversations, at the desk, with Dr. Ben, with the various old
friends. Sometimes Sally brought the baby in, and Martie sat Mary on
the desk, and talked with one arm about the soft little body.
Her duties were simple. She mastered them, to Miss Fanny's
amazement, on the very first day, and in a week she felt herself
happily at home.
All Monroe passed before her desk, and every one stopped for a
whispered chat. Martie came to like the wet days, when the rain
slashed down, and the boys, reading at the long table, rubbed wet
shoes together. There was a warmth and brightness and openness about
the Library entirely different from the warmest home. And she took a
deep interest in the members, advised them as to books, and held
good books for them. She studied human nature under her green
hanging-lamp; her eager eyes and brain were never satisfied. Not the
least advantage to her new work was that she could carry home the
Where the happiness that began to flood her heart and soul came from
had its source she could not tell. Like all happiness, it was made
of little things; elements that had always been in Monroe, but that
she had not seen before. She was splendidly well, as Teddy was, and
their laughter made the days bright in the old house. Also she was
lovely to look upon, and she must have been blind not to know it.
Her tall, erect figure looked its best in plain black; Martie would
never be fat again; her skin was like an apple blossom, white
touched deeply with rose, her eyes, with their tender sadness and
veiled mirth, were more blue than ever. Monroe came to know her
buoyant step, her glittering, unconquered hair, her voice that had
in it tones unfamiliar and charming. She scattered her gay and
friendly interest everywhere; the women said that she had something,
not quite style, better than style, an "air."
One summer day Lydia saw her absorbed in the closely written sheets
of a long letter from New York.
"It's from Mr. Dryden, my friend there." Martie said, in answer to
her mild look of questioning. "Don't you remember that I told you he
had written a play that no manager would produce?"
"You didn't tell ME, dear," Lydia amended, darning industriously.
"Oh, yes, I did, Lyddy! I remember telling you!"
"No, dear, perhaps you thought you did," Lydia persisted.
"Oh, well! Anyway, I wrote and suggested that he try to get it
published instead, and my dear--it's to be published next month.
Isn't that glorious?"
"That is all worn under the arms," Lydia murmured over an old waist
that had been for months in her sewing basket, "I believe I will cut
off the buttons and give it to the poor!"
"The old idiot!" Martie mused over her letter.
"Does his wife encourage this writing, Martie?"
"Adele? She isn't with him now at all. She's left him, in fact. I
believe she wants a divorce."
"Oh?" Lydia commented, in a peculiar tone.
"He wrote me that some weeks ago," Martie explained, suddenly
flushing. "She was a queer, unhappy sort of woman. She and this
doctor of hers had some sort of affair, and the outcome was that she
simply went to friends, and wrote John a hysterical girly-girly sort
"Mr. Dryden, that is."
"He must be crushed and heartbroken," Lydia said emphatically.
"Well, no, he isn't," Martie said innocently. "He isn't like other
people. If she wants a divorce--John won't mind awfully. He's
"He must be," Lydia said witheringly, and trembling a little with
excitement, "to let his own wife leave him while he writes letters
asking the advice of a--a--another woman who is recently--recently
Martie glanced at her, smiled a little, shrugged her shoulders, and
calmly re-read her letter.
Lydia resumed her work, a flush on her cheeks.
"He can't have much respect for you, Martie," she said quietly,
after a busy silence.
Martie looked up, startled.
"John can't? Oh, but Lyddy, you don't know him! He's such an
innocent goose; he absolutely depends upon me! Why, fancy, he's the
man who wanted me to open the boarding-house so that he and his wife
could live there--he's as simple as that!"
"As simple as what?" Lydia asked with her deadly directness.
"Well--I mean--that if there were anything--wrong in his feeling for
me--" Martie floundered.
"Oh, Martie, Martie, Martie, I tremble for you!" Lydia said sadly.
"A married man, and you a married woman! My dear, can't you see how
far you've drifted from your own better self to be able to laugh
"You goose!" Martie kissed the cool, lifeless cheek before she ran
upstairs with her letter. John's straight-forward sentences kept
recurring to her mind through many days. His letter seemed to bring
a bracing breath of the big city. A day or two later she and Teddy
chanced to be held in mid-street while the big Eastern passenger
train thundered by, and she shut her fingers on John's letter in her
pocket, and said eagerly, confidently, "Oh, New York! I wish I was
But Lydia wore a grave face for several days, and annoyed and amused
her younger sister with the attitude that something was wrong.
Lydia had changed more than any one of them, Martie thought,
although her life was what it had always been. She had been born in
the old house, and had moved about it for these more than thirty
years almost without an interruption. But in the last six years she
had left girlhood forever behind; she was a prim, quiet, contentedly
complaining woman now, a little too critical perhaps, a little self-
righteous, but kind and good. Lydia's will was always for the
happiness of others: Pa's comfort, Pauline's rights, and the wisest
course for Martie and Sally to take occupied her mind and time far
more than any personal interest of her own. But she had a limited
vision of duty and convention, and even Sally fretted under her
sway. Her father openly transferred his allegiance to Martie, and
Lydia grieved over the palpable injustice without the slightest
appreciation of its cause.
She was infinitely helpful in times of emergency, and would take
charge of Sally's babies, if Sally were ill, or slave in Sally's
nursery if all or any of the children were indisposed. But she was
not so obliging if mere pleasure took Sally away from her maternal
duties. Sally told Martie that there was no asking Lyd to help,
either she did it voluntarily, or wild horses couldn't make her do
it at all.
If her younger sisters entrusted their children to Aunt Lydia, she
was an adoring and indulgent aunt. She loved to open her cookie jar
for their raids, and to have them beg her favours or stories. But if
Lydia had expressed the opinion that it was too cold for the
children to go barefoot, and Martie or Sally revoked the decision,
then Lydia wore a dark, resentful look for hours, and was apt to
vent her disapproval on the children themselves.
"No, get out of my lap, Jimmy. I don't want a boy that runs to his
Mama and doesn't trust his Auntie," Lydia would say patiently,
firmly, and kindly. Martie and Sally, wives for years, were able to
refrain from any comment. To be silent when children are disciplined
is one of the great lessons of marriage.
"But I don't believe that a woman who ever had had a baby COULD
rebuff a child like that," Martie told Sally. "I don't know, though,
some aunts are wonderful! Only that pleasant justice does seem
wasted on a child; it merely stings without being comprehensible in
So the younger girls dismissed it philosophically. But it was one of
the results of a life like Lydia's that human intercourse had no
lighter phases for her. She must analyze and suspect and brood.
Wherever a possible slight was hidden Lydia found it. She sometimes
disappeared for a few hours upstairs, and came back with reddened
Her father's devotion to Martie she bore with martyred sweetness.
When they laughed together at dinner she listened with downcast
eyes, a faint, pained smile on her lips.
"Would you like Martie to sit in Ma's place, Pa?" she asked one
morning, when she was folding her napkin neatly into the orange-wood
napkin-ring marked "Souvenir of Santa Cruz." Her father's surprised
negative hardly interrupted the account he was giving his youngest
daughter of the law-suit he had won years ago against old man
Thomas. But after breakfast Martie found Lydia crying into one of
the aprons that Were hanging in the side-entry. "It's nothing!" she
gulped as Martie's warm arms went about her. "Only--only I can't
bear to have Ma forgotten already! You heard how Pa spoke-so short
and so cold!"
"Oh, Lyddy, DARLING!" Martie protested, half-amused, half-
sympathetic. Lydia straightened herself resentfully.
"I suppose I'm foolish," she said. "I suppose the best thing for us
all to do is to forget and laugh, and go on as if life and death
were only a JOKE!"
But these storms were rare. Lydia's was a placid life. She was
deeply delighted when her cooking was praised, although she
pretended to be annoyed by it. She was wearing dresses now that had
been hers six years ago; sometimes a blue gingham or a gray madras
was worn a whole season by Lydia without one trip to the tub. She
carried a red and gray parasol that Cliff Frost had given her ten
years ago; her boots were thin, unadorned kid, creased by her narrow
foot; they seemed never to wear out.
As the years went by she quoted her mother more and more. The rather
silent Mrs. Monroe had evidently left a fund of advice behind her.
Nothing was too trivial to be affected by the memory of Ma's
"Nice thick cream Williams is giving us," Lydia might say at the
breakfast table. "Dear Ma used to say that good cream was half the
secret of good coffee!" "I remember Ma used to say that marigolds
were rather bold, coarse flowers," she confided to Martie, "and
isn't it true?"
Her appetite for the news of the village was still insatiable; it
was rarely uncharitable, but it never ended. Martie came to
recognize certain tones in Lydia's voice, when she and Alice Clark
or Angela Baxter or young Mrs. King were on the shady side porch.
There was the delicately tentative tone in which she trod upon
uncertain ground: "How do you mean she's never been the same since
last fall, Lou? I don't remember anything special happening to
Minnie Scott last fall." There was a frankly and flatly amazed tone,
in which Lydia might say: "Well, Clara told me yesterday about
Potter Street, and if you'll tell me what POSSESSED that boy, I'll
be obliged to you!" And then there was the tone of incredible
announcement: "Alice, I don't know that I should tell this, because
I only heard it last night, but I haven't been able to think of one
other thing ever since, and I believe I'll tell you; it won't go any
further. Mrs. Hughie Wilson came in here last night, and we got to
talking about old Mrs. Mulkey's death--"
And so on, for perhaps a full hour. Martie, smiling over her
darning, would hear Alice's gratifying, "Well, for pity!" and "Did
you EVER!" at intervals. Sometimes she herself contributed
something, a similar case in New York, perhaps, but the others were
not interested. They knew, without ever having expressed it, that
there is no intimacy like that of a small village, no novelty or
horror that comes so closely home to the people of the Eastern
metropolis as did these Monroe events to their own lives.
Martie loved her sister, and they came to understand each other's
ways perfectly. Teddy was happy with Aunt Lyd when his mother was at
the Library, and Lydia liked her authority over the child and his
companionship. There was no peace in the old house, for all her
silent meekness, unless Lydia's curious sense of justice was
satisfied, and Martie took pains to satisfy it.
One memorable day, just before Christmas, Martie opened a small
package, to find John Dryden's book. She was in the Library when
Miss Fanny came in with the mail, and her hand trembled as she cut
the strings. The flimsy tissue paper jacket blew softly over her
hand; a dark blue book, slim, dignified: "Mary Beatrice."
He had not autographed it, but then John would never think of doing
so. Martie smiled her motherly smile at the memory of his childish
dependence upon her suggestions as to the smaller points of living.
Her letter of congratulation began to run through her mind as she
turned the title page.
Suddenly her heart stopped beating. She wet her lips and glanced
about. Miss Fanny had gone into the coat-room; nobody was near.
Oh, madman, madman! He had dedicated it to her! A detected felony
could not have given Martie a more sinking sensation than she
experienced at the sight.
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