ELEANOR H. PORTER
With Illustrations by Helen Mason Grose
TO MY FRIEND
ELIZABETH S. BOWEN
PREFACE, WHICH EXPLAINS THINGS
I. I AM BORN
II. NURSE SARAH'S STORY
III. THE BREAK IS MADE
IV. WHEN I AM MARIE
V. WHEN I AM MARY
VI. WHEN I AM BOTH TOGETHER
VII. WHEN I AM NEITHER ONE
VIII. WHICH IS THE REAL LOVE STORY
IX. WHICH IS THE TEST
"IF I CONSULTED NO ONE'S WISHES BUT MY OWN, I SHOULD KEEP HER HERE ALWAYS"
"I TOLD HER NOT TO WORRY A BIT ABOUT ME"
"WHY MUST YOU WAIT, DARLING?"
THEN I TOLD HIM MY IDEA.
From drawings by HELEN MASON GROSE
WHICH EXPLAINS THINGS
Father calls me Mary. Mother calls me Marie. Everybody else calls me Mary Marie. The rest of my name is Anderson.
I'm thirteen years old, and I'm a cross-current and a contradiction. That is, Sarah says I'm that. (Sarah is my old nurse.) She says she read it once—that the children of unlikes were always a cross-current and a contradiction. And my father and mother are unlikes, and I'm the children. That is, I'm the child. I'm all there is. And now I'm going to be a bigger cross-current and contradiction than ever, for I'm going to live half the time with Mother and the other half with Father. Mother will go to Boston to live, and Father will stay here—a divorce, you know.
I'm terribly excited over it. None of the other girls have got a divorce in their families, and I always did like to be different. Besides, it ought to be awfully interesting, more so than just living along, common, with your father and mother in the same house all the time—especially if it's been anything like my house with my father and mother in it!
That's why I've decided to make a book of it—that is, it really will be a book, only I shall have to call it a diary, on account of Father, you know. Won't it be funny when I don't have to do things on account of Father? And I won't, of course, the six months I'm living with Mother in Boston. But, oh, my!—the six months I'm living here with him—whew! But, then, I can stand it. I may even like it—some. Anyhow, it'll be different. And that's something.
Well, about making this into a book. As I started to say, he wouldn't let me. I know he wouldn't. He says novels are a silly waste of time, if not absolutely wicked. But, a diary—oh, he loves diaries! He keeps one himself, and he told me it would be an excellent and instructive discipline for me to do it, too—set down the weather and what I did every day.
The weather and what I did every day, indeed! Lovely reading that would make, wouldn't it? Like this:
"The sun shines this morning. I got up, ate my breakfast, went to school, came home, ate my dinner, played one hour over to Carrie Heywood's, practiced on the piano one hour, studied another hour. Talked with Mother upstairs in her room about the sunset and the snow on the trees. Ate my supper. Was talked to by Father down in the library about improving myself and taking care not to be light-minded and frivolous. (He meant like Mother, only he didn't say it right out loud. You don't have to say some things right out in plain words, you know.) Then I went to bed."
* * * * *
Just as if I was going to write my novel like that! Not much I am. But I shall call it a diary. Oh, yes, I shall call it a diary—till I take it to be printed. Then I shall give it its true name—a novel. And I'm going to tell the printer that I've left it for him to make the spelling right, and put in all those tiresome little commas and periods and question marks that everybody seems to make such a fuss about. If I write the story part, I can't be expected to be bothered with looking up how words are spelt, every five minutes, nor fussing over putting in a whole lot of foolish little dots and dashes.
As if anybody who was reading the story cared for that part! The story's the thing.
I love stories. I've written lots of them for the girls, too—little short ones, I mean; not a long one like this is going to be, of course. And it'll be so exciting to be living a story instead of reading it—only when you're living a story you can't peek over to the back to see how it's all coming out. I shan't like that part. Still, it may be all the more exciting, after all, not to know what's coming.
I like love stories the best. Father's got—oh, lots of books in the library, and I've read stacks of them, even some of the stupid old histories and biographies. I had to read them when there wasn't anything else to read. But there weren't many love stories. Mother's got a few, though—lovely ones—and some books of poetry, on the little shelf in her room. But I read all those ages ago.
That's why I'm so thrilled over this new one—the one I'm living, I mean. For of course this will be a love story. There'll be my love story in two or three years, when I grow up, and while I'm waiting there's Father's and Mother's.
Nurse Sarah says that when you're divorced you're free, just like you were before you were married, and that sometimes they marry again. That made me think right away: what if Father or Mother, or both of them, married again? And I should be there to see it, and the courting, and all! Wouldn't that be some love story? Well, I just guess!
And only think how all the girls would envy me—and they just living along their humdrum, everyday existence with fathers and mothers already married and living together, and nothing exciting to look forward to. For really, you know, when you come right down to it, there aren't many girls that have got the chance I've got.
And so that's why I've decided to write it into a book. Oh, yes, I know I'm young—only thirteen. But I feel really awfully old; and you know a woman is as old as she feels. Besides, Nurse Sarah says I am old for my age, and that it's no wonder, the kind of a life I've lived.
And maybe that is so. For of course it has been different, living with a father and mother that are getting ready to be divorced from what it would have been living with the loving, happy-ever-after kind. Nurse Sarah says it's a shame and a pity, and that it's the children that always suffer. But I'm not suffering—not a mite. I'm just enjoying it. It's so exciting.
Of course if I was going to lose either one, it would be different. But I'm not, for I am to live with Mother six months, then with Father.
So I still have them both. And, really, when you come right down to it, I'd rather take them separate that way. Why, separate they're just perfectly all right, like that—that—what-do-you-call-it powder?—sedlitzer, or something like that. Anyhow, it's that white powder that you mix in two glasses, and that looks just like water till you put them together. And then, oh, my! such a fuss and fizz and splutter! Well, it's that way with Father and Mother. It'll be lots easier to take them separate, I know. For now I can be Mary six months, then Marie six months, and not try to be them both all at once, with maybe only five minutes between them.
And I think I shall love both Father and Mother better separate, too. Of course I love Mother, and I know I'd just adore Father if he'd let me—he's so tall and fine and splendid, when he's out among folks. All the girls are simply crazy over him. And I am, too. Only, at home—well, it's so hard to be Mary always. And you see, he named me Mary—
But I mustn't tell that here. That's part of the story, and this is only the Preface. I'm going to begin it to-morrow—the real story—Chapter One.
But, there—I mustn't call it a "chapter" out loud. Diaries don't have chapters, and this is a diary. I mustn't forget that it's a diary. But I can write it down as a chapter, for it's going to be a novel, after it's got done being a diary.
I AM BORN
The sun was slowly setting in the west, casting golden beams of light into the somber old room.
That's the way it ought to begin, I know, and I'd like to do it, but I can't. I'm beginning with my being born, of course, and Nurse Sarah says the sun wasn't shining at all. It was night and the stars were out. She remembers particularly about the stars, for Father was in the observatory, and couldn't be disturbed. (We never disturb Father when he's there, you know.) And so he didn't even know he had a daughter until the next morning when he came out to breakfast. And he was late to that, for he stopped to write down something he had found out about one of the consternations in the night.
He's always finding out something about those old stars just when we want him to pay attention to something else. And, oh, I forgot to say that I know it is "constellation," and not "consternation." But I used to call them that when I was a little girl, and Mother said it was a good name for them, anyway, for they were a consternation to her all right. Oh, she said right off afterward that she didn't mean that, and that I must forget she said it. Mother's always saying that about things she says.
Well, as I was saying, Father didn't know until after breakfast that he had a little daughter. (We never tell him disturbing, exciting things just before meals.) And then Nurse told him.
I asked what he said, and Nurse laughed and gave her funny little shrug to her shoulders.
"Yes, what did he say, indeed?" she retorted. "He frowned, looked kind of dazed, then muttered: 'Well, well, upon my soul! Yes, to be sure!'"
Then he came in to see me.
I don't know, of course, what he thought of me, but I guess he didn't think much of me, from what Nurse said. Of course I was very, very small, and I never yet saw a little bit of a baby that was pretty, or looked as if it was much account. So maybe you couldn't really blame him.
Nurse said he looked at me, muttered, "Well, well, upon my soul!" again, and seemed really quite interested till they started to put me in his arms. Then he threw up both hands, backed off, and cried, "Oh, no, no!" He turned to Mother and hoped she was feeling pretty well, then he got out of the room just as quick as he could. And Nurse said that was the end of it, so far as paying any more attention to me was concerned for quite a while.
He was much more interested in his new star than he was in his new daughter. We were both born the same night, you see, and that star was lots more consequence than I was. But, then, that's Father all over. And that's one of the things, I think, that bothers Mother. I heard her say once to Father that she didn't see why, when there were so many, many stars, a paltry one or two more need to be made such a fuss about. And I don't, either.
But Father just groaned, and shook his head, and threw up his hands, and looked so tired. And that's all he said. That's all he says lots of times. But it's enough. It's enough to make you feel so small and mean and insignificant as if you were just a little green worm crawling on the ground. Did you ever feel like a green worm crawling on the ground? It's not a pleasant feeling at all.
Well, now, about the name. Of course they had to begin to talk about naming me pretty soon; and Nurse said they did talk a lot. But they couldn't settle it. Nurse said that that was about the first thing that showed how teetotally utterly they were going to disagree about things.
Mother wanted to call me Viola, after her mother, and Father wanted to call me Abigail Jane after his mother; and they wouldn't either one give in to the other. Mother was sick and nervous, and cried a lot those days, and she used to sob out that if they thought they were going to name her darling little baby that awful Abigail Jane, they were very much mistaken; that she would never give her consent to it—never. Then Father would say in his cold, stern way: "Very well, then, you needn't. But neither shall I give my consent to my daughter's being named that absurd Viola. The child is a human being—not a fiddle in an orchestra!"
And that's the way it went, Nurse said, until everybody was just about crazy. Then somebody suggested "Mary." And Father said, very well, they might call me Mary; and Mother said certainly, she would consent to Mary, only she should pronounce it Marie. And so it was settled. Father called me Mary, and Mother called me Marie. And right away everybody else began to call me Mary Marie. And that's the way it's been ever since.
Of course, when you stop to think of it, it's sort of queer and funny, though naturally I didn't think of it, growing up with it as I did, and always having it, until suddenly one day it occurred to me that none of the other girls had two names, one for their father, and one for their mother to call them by. I began to notice other things then, too. Their fathers and mothers didn't live in rooms at opposite ends of the house. Their fathers and mothers seemed to like each other, and to talk together, and to have little jokes and laughs together, and twinkle with their eyes. That is, most of them did.
And if one wanted to go to walk, or to a party, or to play some game, the other didn't always look tired and bored, and say, "Oh, very well, if you like." And then both not do it, whatever it was. That is, I never saw the other girls' fathers and mothers do that way; and I've seen quite a lot of them, too, for I've been at the other girls' houses a lot for a long time. You see, I don't stay at home much, only when I have to. We don't have a round table with a red cloth and a lamp on it, and children 'round it playing games and doing things, and fathers and mothers reading and mending. And it's lots jollier where they do have them.
Nurse says my father and mother ought never to have been married. That's what I heard her tell our Bridget one day. So the first chance I got I asked her why, and what she meant.
"Oh, la! Did you hear that?" she demanded, with the quick look over her shoulder that she always gives when she's talking about Father and Mother. "Well, little pitchers do have big ears, sure enough!"
"Little pitchers," indeed! As if I didn't know what that meant! I'm no child to be kept in the dark concerning things I ought to know. And I told her so, sweetly and pleasantly, but with firmness and dignity. I made her tell me what she meant, and I made her tell me a lot of other things about them, too. You see, I'd just decided to write the book, so I wanted to know everything she could tell me. I didn't tell her about the book, of course. I know too much to tell secrets to Nurse Sarah! But I showed my excitement and interest plainly; and when she saw how glad I was to hear everything she could tell, she talked a lot, and really seemed to enjoy it, too.
You see, she was here when Mother first came as a bride, so she knows everything. She was Father's nurse when he was a little boy; then she stayed to take care of Father's mother, Grandma Anderson, who was an invalid for a great many years and who didn't die till just after I was born. Then she took care of me. So she's always been in the family, ever since she was a young girl. She's awfully old now—'most sixty.
First I found out how they happened to marry—Father and Mother, I'm talking about now—only Nurse says she can't see yet how they did happen to marry, just the same, they're so teetotally different.
But this is the story.
Father went to Boston to attend a big meeting of astronomers from all over the world, and they had banquets and receptions where beautiful ladies went in their pretty evening dresses, and my mother was one of them. (Her father was one of the astronomers, Nurse said.) The meetings lasted four days, and Nurse said she guessed my father saw a lot of my mother during that time. Anyhow, he was invited to their home, and he stayed another four days after the meetings were over. The next thing they knew here at the house, Grandma Anderson had a telegram that he was going to be married to Miss Madge Desmond, and would they please send him some things he wanted, and he was going on a wedding trip and would bring his bride home in about a month.
It was just as sudden as that. And surprising!—Nurse says a thunderclap out of a clear blue sky couldn't have astonished them more. Father was almost thirty years old at that time, and he'd never cared a thing for girls, nor paid them the least little bit of attention. So they supposed, of course, that he was a hopeless old bachelor and wouldn't ever marry. He was bound up in his stars, even then, and was already beginning to be famous, because of a comet he'd discovered. He was a professor in our college here, where his father had been president. His father had just died a few months before, and Nurse said maybe that was one reason why Father got caught in the matrimonial net like that. (Those are her words, not mine. The idea of calling my mother a net! But Nurse never did half appreciate Mother.) But Father just worshipped his father, and they were always together—Grandma being sick so much; and so when he died my father was nearly beside himself, and that's one reason they were so anxious he should go to that meeting in Boston. They thought it might take his mind off himself, Nurse said. But they never thought of its putting his mind on a wife!
So far as his doing it right up quick like that was concerned, Nurse said that wasn't so surprising. For all the way up, if Father wanted anything he insisted on having it, and having it right away then. He never wanted to wait a minute. So when he found a girl he wanted, he wanted her right then, without waiting a minute. He'd never happened to notice a girl he wanted before, you see. But he'd found one now, all right; and Nurse said there was nothing to do but to make the best of it, and get ready for her.
There wasn't anybody to go to the wedding. Grandma Anderson was sick, so of course she couldn't go, and Grandpa was dead, so of course he couldn't go, and there weren't any brothers or sisters, only Aunt Jane in St. Paul, and she was so mad she wouldn't come on. So there was no chance of seeing the bride till Father brought her home.
Nurse said they wondered and wondered what kind of a woman it could be that had captured him. (I told her I wished she wouldn't speak of my mother as if she was some kind of a hunter out after game; but she only chuckled and said that's about what it amounted to in some cases.) The very idea!
The whole town was excited over the affair, and Nurse Sarah heard a lot of their talk. Some thought she was an astronomer like him. Some thought she was very rich, and maybe famous. Everybody declared she must know a lot, anyway, and be wonderfully wise and intellectual; and they said she was probably tall and wore glasses, and would be thirty years old, at least. But nobody guessed anywhere near what she really was.
Nurse Sarah said she should never forget the night she came, and how she looked, and how utterly flabbergasted everybody was to see her—a little slim eighteen-year-old girl with yellow curly hair and the merriest laughing eyes they had ever seen. (Don't I know? Don't I just love Mother's eyes when they sparkle and twinkle when we're off together sometimes in the woods?) And Nurse said Mother was so excited the day she came, and went laughing and dancing all over the house, exclaiming over everything. (I can't imagine that so well. Mother moves so quietly now, everywhere, and is so tired, 'most all the time.) But she wasn't tired then, Nurse says—not a mite.
"But how did Father act?" I demanded. "Wasn't he displeased and scandalized and shocked, and everything?"
Nurse shrugged her shoulders and raised her eyebrows—the way she does when she feels particularly superior. Then she said:
"Do? What does any old fool—beggin' your pardon an' no offense meant, Miss Mary Marie—but what does any man do what's got bejuggled with a pretty face, an' his senses completely took away from him by a chit of a girl? Well, that's what he did. He acted as if he was bewitched. He followed her around the house like a dog—when he wasn't leadin' her to something new; an' he never took his eyes off her face except to look at us, as much as to say: 'Now ain't she the adorable creature?'"
"My father did that?" I gasped. And, really, you know, I just couldn't believe my ears. And you wouldn't, either, if you knew Father. "Why, I never saw him act like that!"
"No, I guess you didn't," laughed Nurse Sarah with a shrug. "And neither did anybody else—for long."
"But how long did it last?" I asked.
"Oh, a month, or maybe six weeks," shrugged Nurse Sarah. "Then it came September and college began, and your father had to go back to his teaching. Things began to change then."
"Right then, so you could see them?" I wanted to know.
Nurse Sarah shrugged her shoulders again.
"Oh, la! child, what a little question-box you are, an' no mistake," she sighed. But she didn't look mad—not like the way she does when I ask why she can take her teeth out and most of her hair off and I can't; and things like that. (As if I didn't know! What does she take me for—a child?) She didn't even look displeased—Nurse Sarah loves to talk. (As if I didn't know that, too!) She just threw that quick look of hers over her shoulder and settled back contentedly in her chair. I knew then I should get the whole story. And I did. And I'm going to tell it here in her own words, just as well as I can remember it—bad grammar and all. So please remember that I am not making all those mistakes. It's Nurse Sarah.
I guess, though, that I'd better put it into a new chapter. This one is yards long already. How do they tell when to begin and end chapters? I'm thinking it's going to be some job, writing this book—diary, I mean. But I shall love it, I know. And this is a real story—not like those made-up things I've always written for the girls at school.
NURSE SARAH'S STORY
And this is Nurse Sarah's story.
As I said, I'm going to tell it straight through as near as I can in her own words. And I can remember most of it, I think, for I paid very close attention.
* * * * *
"Well, yes, Miss Mary Marie, things did begin to change right there an' then, an' so you could notice it. We saw it, though maybe your pa an' ma didn't, at the first.
"You see, the first month after she came, it was vacation time, an' he could give her all the time she wanted. An' she wanted it all. An' she took it. An' he was just as glad to give it as she was to take it. An' so from mornin' till night they was together, traipsin' all over the house an' garden, an' trampin' off through the woods an' up on the mountain every other day with their lunch.
"You see she was city-bred, an' not used to woods an' flowers growin' wild; an' she went crazy over them. He showed her the stars, too, through his telescope; but she hadn't a mite of use for them, an' let him see it good an' plain. She told him—I heard her with my own ears—that his eyes, when they laughed, was all the stars she wanted; an' that she'd had stars all her life for breakfast an' luncheon an' dinner, anyway, an' all the time between; an' she'd rather have somethin' else, now—somethin' alive, that she could love an' live with an' touch an' play with, like she could the flowers an' rocks an' grass an' trees.
"Angry? Your pa? Not much he was! He just laughed an' caught her 'round the waist an' kissed her, an' said she herself was the brightest star of all. Then they ran off hand in hand, like two kids. An' they was two kids, too. All through those first few weeks your pa was just a great big baby with a new plaything. Then when college began he turned all at once into a full-grown man. An' just naturally your ma didn't know what to make of it.
"He couldn't explore the attic an' rig up in the old clothes there any more, nor romp through the garden, nor go lunchin' in the woods, nor none of the things she wanted him to do. He didn't have time. An' what made things worse, one of them comet-tails was comin' up in the sky, an' your pa didn't take no rest for watchin' for it, an' then studyin' of it when it got here.
"An' your ma—poor little thing! I couldn't think of anything but a doll that was thrown in the corner because somebody'd got tired of her. She was lonesome, an' no mistake. Anybody'd be sorry for her, to see her mopin' 'round the house, nothin' to do. Oh, she read, an' sewed with them bright-colored silks an' worsteds; but 'course there wasn't no real work for her to do. There was good help in the kitchen, an' I took what care of your grandma was needed; an' she always gave her orders through me, so I practically run the house, an' there wasn't anything there for her to do.
"An' so your ma just had to mope it out alone. Oh, I don't mean your pa was unkind. He was always nice an' polite, when he was in the house, an' I'm sure he meant to treat her all right. He said yes, yes, to be sure, of course she was lonesome, an' he was sorry. 'T was too bad he was so busy. An' he kissed her an' patted her. But he always began right away to talk of the comet; an' ten to one he didn't disappear into the observatory within the next five minutes. Then your ma would look so grieved an' sorry an' go off an' cry, an' maybe not come down to dinner, at all.
"Well, then, one day things got so bad your grandma took a hand. She was up an' around the house, though she kept mostly to her own rooms. But of course she saw how things was goin'. Besides, I told her—some. 'T was no more than my duty, as I looked at it. She just worshipped your pa, an' naturally she'd want things right for him. So one day she told me to tell her son's wife to come to her in her room.
"An' I did, an' she came. Poor little thing! I couldn't help bein' sorry for her. She didn't know a thing of what was wanted of her, an' she was so glad an' happy to come. You see, she was lonesome, I suppose.
"'Me? Want me?—Mother Anderson?' she cried. 'Oh, I'm so glad!' Then she made it worse by runnin' up the stairs an' bouncin' into the room like a rubber ball, an' cryin': 'Now, what shall I do, read to you, or sing to you, or shall we play games? I'd love to do any of them!' Just like that, she said it. I heard her. Then I went out, of course, an' left them. But I heard 'most everything that was said, just the same, for I was right in the next room dustin', and the door wasn't quite shut.
"First your grandmother said real polite—she was always polite—but in a cold little voice that made even me shiver in the other room, that she did not desire to be read to or sung to, and that she did not wish to play games. She had called her daughter-in-law in to have a serious talk with her. Then she told her, still very polite, that she was noisy an' childish, an' undignified, an' that it was not only silly, but very wrong for her to expect to have her husband's entire attention; that he had his own work, an' it was a very important one. He was going to be president of the college some day, like his father before him; an' it was her place to help him in every way she could—help him to be popular an' well-liked by all the college people an' students; an' he couldn't be that if she insisted all the time on keepin' him to herself, or lookin' sour an' cross if she couldn't have him.
"Of course that ain't all she said; but I remember this part particular on account of what happened afterward. You see—your ma—she felt awful bad. She cried a little, an' sighed a lot, an' said she'd try, she really would try to help her husband in every way she could; an' she wouldn't ask him another once, not once, to stay with her. An' she wouldn't look sour an' cross, either. She'd promise she wouldn't. An' she'd try, she'd try, oh, so hard, to be proper an' dignified.
"She got up then an' went out of the room so quiet an' still you wouldn't know she was movin'. But I heard her up in her room cryin' half an hour later, when I stopped a minute at her door to see if she was there. An' she was.
"But she wasn't cryin' by night. Not much she was! She'd washed her face an' dressed herself up as pretty as could be, an' she never so much as looked as if she wanted her husband to stay with her, when he said right after supper that he guessed he'd go out to the observatory. An' 't was that way right along after that. I know, 'cause I watched. You see, I knew what she'd said she'd do. Well, she did it.
"Then, pretty quick after that, she began to get acquainted in the town. Folks called, an' there was parties an' receptions where she met folks, an' they began to come here to the house, 'specially them students, an' two or three of them young, unmarried professors. An' she began to go out a lot with them—skatin' an' sleigh-ridin' an' snowshoein'.
"Like it? Of course she liked it! Who wouldn't? Why, child, you never saw such a fuss as they made over your ma in them days. She was all the rage; an' of course she liked it. What woman wouldn't, that was gay an' lively an' young, an' had been so lonesome like your ma had? But some other folks didn't like it. An' your pa was one of them. This time 't was him that made the trouble. I know, 'cause I heard what he said one day to her in the library.
"Yes, I guess I was in the next room that day, too—er—dustin', probably. Anyway, I heard him tell your ma good an' plain what he thought of her gallivantin' 'round from mornin' till night with them young students an' professors, an' havin' them here, too, such a lot, till the house was fairly overrun with them. He said he was shocked an' scandalized, an' didn't she have any regard for his honor an' decency, if she didn't for herself! An', oh, a whole lot more.
"Cry? No, your ma didn't cry this time. I met her in the hall right after they got through talkin', an' she was white as a sheet, an' her eyes was like two blazin' stars. So I know how she must have looked while she was in the library. An' I must say she give it to him good an' plain, straight from the shoulder. She told him she was shocked an' scandalized that he could talk to his wife like that; an' didn't he have any more regard for her honor and decency than to accuse her of runnin' after any man living—much less a dozen of them! An' then she told him a lot of what his mother had said to her, an' she said she had been merely tryin' to carry out those instructions. She was tryin' to make her husband and her husband's wife an' her husband's home popular with the college folks, so she could help him to be president, if he wanted to be. But he answered back, cold an' chilly, that he thanked her, of course, but he didn't care for any more of that kind of assistance; an' if she would give a little more time to her home an' her housekeepin', as she ought to, he would be considerably better pleased. An' she said, very well, she would see that he had no further cause to complain. An' the next minute I met her in the hall, as I just said, her head high an' her eyes blazin'.
"An' things did change then, a lot, I'll own. Right away she began to refuse to go out with the students an' young professors, an' she sent down word she wasn't to home when they called. And pretty quick, of course, they stopped comin'.
"Housekeepin'? Attend to that? Well, y-yes, she did try to at first, a little; but of course your grandma had always given the orders—through me, I mean; an' there really wasn't anything your ma could do. An' I told her so, plain. Her ways were new an' different an' queer, an' we liked ours better, anyway. So she didn't bother us much that way very long. Besides, she wasn't feelin' very well, anyway, an' for the next few months she stayed in her room a lot, an' we didn't see much of her. Then by an' by you came, an'—well, I guess that's all—too much, you little chatterbox!"
THE BREAK IS MADE
And that's the way Nurse Sarah finished her story, only she shrugged her shoulders again, and looked back, first one way, then another. As for her calling me "chatterbox"—she always calls me that when she's been doing all the talking.
As near as I can remember, I have told Nurse Sarah's story exactly as she told it to me, in her own words. But of course I know I didn't get it right all the time, and I know I've left out quite a lot. But, anyway, it's told a whole lot more than I could have told why they got married in the first place, and it brings my story right up to the point where I was born; and I've already told about naming me, and what a time they had over that.
Of course what's happened since, up to now, I don't know all about, for I was only a child for the first few years. Now I'm almost a young lady, "standing with reluctant feet where the brook and river meet." (I read that last night. I think it's perfectly beautiful. So kind of sad and sweet. It makes me want to cry every time I think of it.) But even if I don't know all of what's happened since I was born, I know a good deal, for I've seen quite a lot, and I've made Nurse tell me a lot more.
I know that ever since I can remember I've had to keep as still as a mouse the minute Father comes into the house; and I know that I never could imagine the kind of a mother that Nurse tells about, if it wasn't that sometimes when Father has gone off on a trip, Mother and I have romped all over the house, and had the most beautiful time. I know that Father says that Mother is always trying to make me a "Marie," and nothing else; and that Mother says she knows Father'll never be happy until he's made me into a stupid little "Mary," with never an atom of life of my own. And, do you know? it does seem sometimes, as if Mary and Marie were fighting inside of me, and I wonder which is going to beat. Funny, isn't it?
Father is president of the college now, and I don't know how many stars and comets and things he's discovered since the night the star and I were born together. But I know he's very famous, and that he's written up in the papers and magazines, and is in the big fat red "Who's Who" in the library, and has lots of noted men come to see him.
Nurse says that Grandma Anderson died very soon after I was born, but that it didn't make any particular difference in the housekeeping; for things went right on just as they had done, with her giving the orders as before; that she'd given them all alone anyway, mostly, the last year Grandma Anderson lived, and she knew just how Father liked things. She said Mother tried once or twice to take the reins herself, and once Nurse let her, just to see what would happen. But things got in an awful muddle right away, so that even Father noticed it and said things. After that Mother never tried again, I guess. Anyhow, she's never tried it since I can remember. She's always stayed most of the time up in her rooms in the east wing, except during meals, or when she went out with me, or went to the things she and Father had to go to together. For they did go to lots of things, Nurse says.
It seems that for a long time they didn't want folks to know there was going to be a divorce. So before folks they tried to be just as usual. But Nurse Sarah said she knew there was going to be one long ago. The first I ever heard of it was Nurse telling Nora, the girl we had in the kitchen then; and the minute I got a chance I asked Nurse what it was—a divorce.
My, I can remember now how scared she looked, and how she clapped her hand over my mouth. She wouldn't tell me—not a word. And that's the first time I ever saw her give that quick little look over each shoulder. She's done it lots of times since.
As I said, she wouldn't tell me, so I had to ask some one else. I wasn't going to let it go by and not find out—not when Nurse Sarah looked so scared, and when it was something my father and mother were going to have some day.
I didn't like to ask Mother. Some way, I had a feeling, from the way Nurse Sarah looked, that it was something Mother wasn't going to like. And I thought if maybe she didn't know yet she was going to have it, that certainly I didn't want to be the one to tell her. So I didn't ask Mother what a divorce was.
I didn't even think of asking Father, of course. I never ask Father questions. Nurse says I did ask him once why he didn't love me like other papas loved their little girls. But I was very little then, and I don't remember it at all. But Nurse said Father didn't like it very well, and maybe I did remember that part, without really knowing it. Anyhow, I never think of asking Father questions.
I asked the doctor first. I thought maybe 't was some kind of a disease, and if he knew it was coming, he could give them some sort of a medicine to keep it away—like being vaccinated so's not to have smallpox, you know. And I told him so.
He gave a funny little laugh, that somehow didn't sound like a laugh at all. Then he grew very, very sober, and said:
"I'm sorry, little girl, but I'm afraid I haven't got any medicine that will prevent—a divorce. If I did have, there'd be no eating or drinking or sleeping for me, I'm thinking—I'd be so busy answering my calls."
"Then it is a disease!" I cried. And I can remember just how frightened I felt. "But isn't there any doctor anywhere that can stop it?"
He shook his head and gave that queer little laugh again.
"I'm afraid not," he sighed. "As for it's being a disease—there are people that call it a disease, and there are others who call it a cure; and there are still others who say it's a remedy worse than the disease it tries to cure. But, there, you baby! What am I saying? Come, come, my dear, just forget it. It's nothing you should bother your little head over now. Wait till you're older."
Till I'm older, indeed! How I hate to have folks talk to me like that! And they do—they do it all the time. As if I was a child now, when I'm almost standing there where the brook and river meet!
But that was just the kind of talk I got, everywhere, nearly every time I asked any one what a divorce was. Some laughed, and some sighed. Some looked real worried 'cause I'd asked it, and one got mad. (That was the dressmaker. I found out afterward that she'd had a divorce already, so probably she thought I asked the question on purpose to plague her.) But nobody would answer me—really answer me sensibly, so I'd know what it meant; and 'most everybody said, "Run away, child," or "You shouldn't talk of such things," or, "Wait, my dear, till you're older"; and all that.
Oh, how I hate such talk when I really want to know something! How do they expect us to get our education if they won't answer our questions?
I don't know which made me angriest—I mean angrier. (I'm speaking of two things, so I must, I suppose. I hate grammar!) To have them talk like that—not answer me, you know—or have them do as Mr. Jones, the storekeeper, did, and the men there with him.
It was one day when I was in there buying some white thread for Nurse Sarah, and it was a little while after I had asked the doctor if a divorce was a disease. Somebody had said something that made me think you could buy divorces, and I suddenly determined to ask Mr. Jones if he had them for sale. (Of course all this sounds very silly to me now, for I know that a divorce is very simple and very common. It's just like a marriage certificate, only it unmarries you instead of marrying you; but I didn't know it then. And if I'm going to tell this story I've got to tell it just as it happened, of course.)
Well, I asked Mr. Jones if you could buy divorces, and if he had them for sale; and you ought to have heard those men laugh. There were six of them sitting around the stove behind me.
"Oh, yes, my little maid" (above all things I abhor to be called a little maid!) one of them cried. "You can buy them if you've got money enough; but I don't reckon our friend Jones here has got them for sale."
Then they all laughed again, and winked at each other. (That's another disgusting thing—winks when you ask a perfectly civil question! But what can you do? Stand it, that's all. There's such a lot of things we poor women have to stand!) Then they quieted down and looked very sober—the kind of sober you know is faced with laughs in the back—and began to tell me what a divorce really was. I can't remember them all, but I can some of them. Of course I understand now that these men were trying to be smart, and were talking for each other, not for me. And I knew it then—a little. We know a lot more things sometimes than folks think we do. Well, as near as I can remember it was like this:
"A divorce is a knife that cuts a knot that hadn't ought to ever been tied," said one.
"A divorce is a jump in the dark," said another.
"No, it ain't. It's a jump from the frying-pan into the fire," piped up Mr. Jones.
"A divorce is the comedy of the rich and the tragedy of the poor," said a little man who wore glasses.
"Divorce is a nice smushy poultice that may help but won't heal," cut in a new voice.
"Divorce is a guidepost marked, 'Hell to Heaven,' but lots of folks miss the way, just the same, I notice," spoke up somebody with a chuckle.
"Divorce is a coward's retreat from the battle of life." Captain Harris said this. He spoke slow and decided. Captain Harris is old and rich and not married. He's the hotel's star boarder, and what he says, goes, 'most always. But it didn't this time. I can remember just how old Mr. Carlton snapped out the next.
"Speak from your own experience, Tom Harris, an' I'm thinkin' you ain't fit ter judge. I tell you divorce is what three fourths of the husbands an' wives in the world wish was waitin' for 'em at home this very night. But it ain't there." I knew, of course, he was thinking of his wife. She's some cross, I guess, and has two warts on her nose.
There was more, quite a lot more, said. But I've forgotten the rest. Besides, they weren't talking to me then, anyway. So I picked up my thread and slipped out of the store, glad to escape. But, as I said before, I didn't find many like them.
Of course I know now—what divorce is, I mean. And it's all settled. They granted us some kind of a decree or degree, and we're going to Boston next Monday.
It's been awful, though—this last year. First we had to go to that horrid place out West, and stay ages and ages. And I hated it. Mother did, too. I know she did. I went to school, and there were quite a lot of girls my age, and some boys; but I didn't care much for them. I couldn't even have the fun of surprising them with the divorce we were going to have. I found they were going to have one, too—every last one of them. And when everybody has a thing, you know there's no particular fun in having it yourself. Besides, they were very unkind and disagreeable, and bragged a lot about their divorces. They said mine was tame, and had no sort of snap to it, when they found Mother didn't have a lover waiting in the next town, or Father hadn't run off with his stenographer, or nobody had shot anybody, or anything.
That made me mad, and I let them see it, good and plain. I told them our divorce was perfectly all right and genteel and respectable; that Nurse Sarah said it was. Ours was going to be incompatibility, for one thing, which meant that you got on each other's nerves, and just naturally didn't care for each other any more. But they only laughed, and said even more disagreeable things, so that I didn't want to go to school any longer, and I told Mother so, and the reason, too, of course.
But, dear me, I wished right off that I hadn't. I supposed she was going to be superb and haughty and disdainful, and say things that would put those girls where they belonged. But, my stars! How could I know that she was going to burst into such a storm of sobs and clasp me to her bosom, and get my face all wet and cry out: "Oh, my baby, my baby—to think I have subjected you to this, my baby, my baby!"
And I couldn't say a thing to comfort her, or make her stop, even when I told her over and over again that I wasn't a baby. I was almost a young lady; and I wasn't being subjected to anything bad. I liked it—only I didn't like to have those girls brag so, when our divorce was away ahead of theirs, anyway.
But she only cried more and more, and held me tighter and tighter, rocking back and forth in her chair. She took me out of school, though, and had a lady come to teach me all by myself, so I didn't have to hear those girls brag any more, anyway. That was better. But she wasn't any happier herself. I could see that.
There were lots of other ladies there—beautiful ladies—only she didn't seem to like them any better than I did the girls. I wondered if maybe they bragged, too, and I asked her; but she only began to cry again, and moan, "What have I done, what have I done?"—and I had to try all over again to comfort her. But I couldn't.
She got so she just stayed in her room lots and lots. I tried to make her put on her pretty clothes, and do as the other ladies did, and go out and walk and sit on the big piazzas, and dance, and eat at the pretty little tables. She did, some, when we first came, and took me, and I just loved it. They were such beautiful ladies, with their bright eyes, and their red cheeks and jolly ways; and their dresses were so perfectly lovely, all silks and satins and sparkly spangles, and diamonds and rubies and emeralds, and silk stockings, and little bits of gold and silver slippers.
And once I saw two of them smoking. They had the cutest little cigarettes (Mother said they were) in gold holders, and I knew then that I was seeing life—real life; not the stupid kind you get back in a country town like Andersonville. And I said so to Mother; and I was going to ask her if Boston was like that. But I didn't get the chance. She jumped up so quick I thought something had hurt her, and cried, "Good Heavens, Baby!" (How I hate to be called "Baby"!) Then she just threw some money on to the table to pay the bill and hurried me away.
It was after that that she began to stay in her room so much, and not take me anywhere except for walks at the other end of the town where it was all quiet and stupid, and no music or lights, or anything. And though I teased and teased to go back to the pretty, jolly places, she wouldn't ever take me; not once.
Then by and by, one day, we met a little black-haired woman with white cheeks and very big sad eyes. There weren't any spangly dresses and gold slippers about her, I can tell you! She was crying on a bench in the park, and Mother told me to stay back and watch the swans while she went up and spoke to her. (Why do old folks always make us watch swans or read books or look into store windows or run and play all the time? Don't they suppose we understand perfectly well what it means—that they're going to say something they don't want us to hear?) Well, Mother and the lady on the bench talked and talked ever so long, and then Mother called me up, and the lady cried a little over me, and said, "Now, perhaps, if I'd had a little girl like that—!" Then she stopped and cried some more.
We saw this lady real often after that. She was nice and pretty and sweet, and I liked her; but she was always awfully sad, and I don't believe it was half so good for Mother to be with her as it would have been for her to be with those jolly, laughing ladies that were always having such good times. But I couldn't make Mother see it that way at all. There are times when it seems as if Mother just couldn't see things the way I do. Honestly, it seems sometimes almost as if she was the cross-current and contradiction instead of me. It does.
Well, as I said before, I didn't like it very well out there, and I don't believe Mother did, either. But it's all over now, and we're back home packing up to go to Boston.
Everything seems awfully queer. Maybe because Father isn't here, for one thing. He wrote very polite and asked us to come to get our things, and he said he was going to New York on business for several days, so Mother need not fear he should annoy her with his presence. Then, another thing, Mother's queer. This morning she was singing away at the top of her voice and running all over the house picking up things she wanted; and seemed so happy. But this afternoon I found her down on the floor in the library crying as if her heart would break with her head in Father's big chair before the fireplace. But she jumped up the minute I came in and said, no, no, she didn't want anything. She was just tired; that's all. And when I asked her if she was sorry, after all, that she was going to Boston to live, she said, no, no, no, indeed, she guessed she wasn't. She was just as glad as glad could be that she was going, only she wished Monday would hurry up and come so we could be gone.
And that's all. It's Saturday now, and we go just day after to-morrow. Our trunks are 'most packed, and Mother says she wishes she'd planned to go to-day. I've said good-bye to all the girls, and promised to write loads of letters about Boston and everything. They are almost as excited as I am; and I've promised, "cross my heart and hope to die," that I won't love those Boston girls better than I do them—specially Carrie Heywood, of course, my dearest friend.
Nurse Sarah is hovering around everywhere, asking to help, and pretending she's sorry we're going. But she isn't sorry. She's glad. I know she is. She never did appreciate Mother, and she thinks she'll have everything her own way now. But she won't. I could tell her a thing or two if I wanted to. But I shan't.
Father's sister, Aunt Jane Anderson, from St. Paul, is coming to keep house for him, partly on account of Father, and partly on account of me. "If that child is going to be with her father six months of the time, she's got to have some woman there beside a meddling old nurse and a nosey servant girl!" They didn't know I heard that. But I did. And now Aunt Jane is coming. My! how mad Nurse Sarah would be if she knew. But she doesn't.
I guess I'll end this chapter here and begin a fresh one down in Boston. Oh, I do so wonder what it'll be like—Boston, Mother's home, Grandpa Desmond, and all the rest. I'm so excited I can hardly wait. You see, Mother never took me home with her but once, and then I was a very small child. I don't know why, but I guess Father didn't want me to go. It's safe to say he didn't, anyway. He never wants me to do anything, hardly. That's why I suspect him of not wanting me to go down to Grandpa Desmond's. And Mother didn't go only once, in ages.
Now this will be the end. And when I begin again it will be in Boston. Only think of it—really, truly Boston!
WHEN I AM MARIE
Yes, I'm here. I've been here a week. But this is the first minute I've had a chance to write a word. I've been so busy just being here. And so has Mother. There's been such a lot going on since we came. But I'll try now to begin at the beginning and tell what happened.
Well, first we got into Boston at four o'clock Monday afternoon, and there was Grandpa Desmond to meet us. He's lovely—tall and dignified, with grayish hair and merry eyes like Mother's, only his are behind glasses. At the station he just kissed Mother and me and said he was glad to see us, and led us to the place where Peter was waiting with the car. (Peter drives Grandpa's automobile, and he's lovely, too.)
Mother and Grandpa talked very fast and very lively all the way home, and Mother laughed quite a lot. But in the hall she cried a little, and Grandpa patted her shoulder, and said, "There, there!" and told her how glad he was to get his little girl back, and that they were going to be very happy now and forget the past. And Mother said, yes, yes, indeed, she knew she was; and she was so glad to be there, and that everything was going to be just the same, wasn't it? Only—then, all of a sudden she looked over at me and began to cry again—only, of course, things couldn't be "just the same," she choked, hurrying over to me and putting both arms around me, and crying harder than ever.
Then Grandpa came and hugged us both, and patted us, and said, "There, there!" and pulled off his glasses and wiped them very fast and very hard.
But it wasn't only a minute or two before Mother was laughing again, and saying, "Nonsense!" and "The idea!" and that this was a pretty way to introduce her little Marie to her new home! Then she hurried me to the dearest little room I ever saw, right out of hers, and took off my things. Then we went all over the house. And it's just as lovely as can be—not at all like Father's in Andersonville.
Oh, Father's is fine and big and handsome, and all that, of course; but not like this. His is just a nice place to eat and sleep in, and go to when it rains. But this—this you just want to live in all the time. Here there are curtains 'way up and sunshine, and flowers in pots, and magazines, and cozy nooks with cushions everywhere; and books that you've just been reading laid down. (All Father's books are in bookcases, always, except while one's in your hands being read.)
Grandpa's other daughter, Mother's sister, Hattie, lives here and keeps house for Grandpa. She has a little boy named Lester, six years old; and her husband is dead. They were away for what they called a week-end when we came, but they got here a little after we did Monday afternoon; and they're lovely, too.
The house is a straight-up-and-down one with a back and front, but no sides except the one snug up to you on the right and left. And there isn't any yard except a little bit of a square brick one at the back where they have clothes and ash barrels, and a little grass spot in front at one side of the steps, not big enough for our old cat to take a nap in, hardly. But it's perfectly lovely inside; and it's the insides of houses that really count just as it is the insides of people—their hearts, I mean; whether they're good and kind, or hateful and disagreeable.
We have dinner at night here, and I've been to the theater twice already in the afternoon. I've got to go to school next week, Mother says, but so far I've just been having a good time. And so's Mother. Honestly, it has just seemed as if Mother couldn't crowd the days full enough. She hasn't been still a minute.
Lots of her old friends have been to see her; and when there hasn't been anybody else around she's taken Peter and had him drive us all over Boston to see things;—all kinds of things; Bunker Hill and museums, and moving pictures, and one play.
But we didn't stay at the play. It started out all right, but pretty soon a man and a woman on the stage began to quarrel. They were married (not really, but in the play, I mean), and I guess it was some more of that incompatibility stuff. Anyhow, as they began to talk more and more, Mother began to fidget, and pretty soon I saw she was gathering up our things; and the minute the curtain went down after the first act, she says:
"Come, dear, we're going home. It—it isn't very warm here."
As if I didn't know what she was really leaving for! Do old folks honestly think they are fooling us all the time, I wonder? But even if I hadn't known then, I'd have known it later, for that evening I heard Mother and Aunt Hattie talking in the library.
No, I didn't listen. I heard. And that's a very different matter. You listen when you mean to, and that's sneaking. You hear when you can't help yourself, and that you can't be blamed for. Sometimes it's your good luck, and sometimes it's your bad luck—just according to what you hear!
Well, I was in the window-seat in the library reading when Mother and Aunt Hattie came in; and Mother was saying:
"Of course I came out! Do you suppose I'd have had that child see that play, after I realized what it was? As if she hasn't had enough of such wretched stuff already in her short life! Oh, Hattie, Hattie, I want that child to laugh, to sing, to fairly tingle with the joy of living every minute that she is with me. I know so well what she has had, and what she will have—in that—tomb. You know in six months she goes back—"
Mother saw me then, I know; for she stopped right off short, and after a moment began to talk of something else, very fast. And pretty quick they went out into the hall again.
Dear little Mother! Bless her old heart! Isn't she the ducky dear to want me to have all the good times possible now so as to make up for the six months I've got to be with Father? You see, she knows what it is to live with Father even better than I do.
Well, I guess she doesn't dread it for me any more than I do for myself. Still, I'll have the girls there, and I'm dying to see them again—and I won't have to stay home much, only nights and meals, of course, and Father's always pretty busy with his stars and comets and things. Besides, it's only for six months, then I can come back to Boston. I can keep thinking of that.
But I know now why I've been having such a perfectly beautiful time all this week, and why Mother has been filling every minute so full of fun and good times. Why, even when we're at home here, she's always hunting up little Lester and getting him to have a romp with us.
But of course next week I've got to go to school, and it can't be quite so jolly then. Well, I guess that's all for this time.
* * * * *
About a month later.
I didn't make a chapter of that last. It wasn't long enough. And, really, I don't know as I've got much to add to it now. There's nothing much happened.
I go to school now, and don't have so much time for fun. School is pretty good, and there are two or three girls 'most as nice as the ones at Andersonville. But not quite. Out of school Mother keeps things just as lively as ever, and we have beautiful times. Mother is having a lovely time with her own friends, too. Seems as if there is always some one here when I get home, and lots of times there are teas and parties, and people to dinner.
There are gentlemen, too. I suppose one of them will be Mother's lover by and by; but of course I don't know which one yet. I'm awfully interested in them, though. And of course it's perfectly natural that I should be. Wouldn't you be interested in the man that was going to be your new father? Well, I just guess you would! Anybody would. Why, most folks have only one father, you know, and they have to take that one just as he is; and it's all a matter of chance whether they get one that's cross or pleasant; or homely or fine and grand-looking; or the common kind you can hug and kiss and hang round his neck, or the stand-off-don't-touch-me-I-mustn't-be-disturbed kind like mine. I mean the one I did have. But, there! that doesn't sound right, either; for of course he's still my father just the same, only—well, he isn't Mother's husband any more, so I suppose he's only my father by order of the court, same as I'm his daughter.
Well, anyhow, he's the father I've grown up with, and of course I'm used to him now. And it's an altogether different matter to think of having a brand-new father thrust upon you, all ready-made, as you might say, and of course I am interested. There's such a whole lot depends on the father. Why, only think how different things would have been at home if my father had been different! There were such a lot of things I had to be careful not to do—and just as many I had to be careful to do—on account of Father.
And so now, when I see all these nice young gentlemen (only they aren't all young; some of them are quite old) coming to the house and talking to Mother, and hanging over the back of her chair, and handing her tea and little cakes, I can't help wondering which, if any, is going to be her lover and my new father. And I am also wondering what I'll have to do on account of him when I get him, if I get him.
There are quite a lot of them, and they're all different. They'd make very different kinds of fathers, I'm sure, and I'm afraid I wouldn't like some of them. But, after all, it's Mother that ought to settle which to have—not me. She's the one to be pleased. 'T would be such a pity to have to change again. Though she could, of course, same as she did Father, I suppose.
As I said, they're all different. There are only two that are anywhere near alike, and they aren't quite the same, for one's a lawyer and the other's in a bank. But they both carry canes and wear tall silk hats, and part their hair in the middle, and look at you through the kind of big round eyeglasses with dark rims that would make you look awfully homely if they didn't make you look so stylish. But I don't think Mother cares very much for either the lawyer or the bank man, and I'm glad. I wouldn't like to live with those glasses every day, even if they are stylish. I'd much rather have Father's kind.
Then there's the man that paints pictures. He's tall and slim, and wears queer ties and long hair. He's always standing back and looking at things with his head on one side, and exclaiming "Oh!" and "Ah!" with a long breath. He says Mother's coloring is wonderful. I heard him. And I didn't like it very well, either. Why, it sounded as if she put it on herself out of a box on her bureau, same as some other ladies do! Still, he's not so bad, maybe; though I'm not sure but what his paints and pictures would be just as tiresome to live with as Father's stars, when it came right down to wanting a husband to live with you and talk to you every day in the year. You know you have to think of such things when it comes to choosing a new father—I mean a new husband. (I keep forgetting that it's Mother and not me that's doing the choosing.)
Well, to resume and go on. There's the violinist. I mustn't forget him. But, then, nobody could forget him. He's lovely: so handsome and distinguished-looking with his perfectly beautiful dark eyes and white teeth. And he plays—well, I'm simply crazy over his playing. I only wish Carrie Heywood could hear him. She thinks her brother can play. He's a traveling violinist with a show; and he came home once to Andersonville. And I heard him. But he's not the real thing at all. Not a bit. Why, he might be anybody, our grocer, or the butcher, up there playing that violin. His eyes are little and blue, and his hair is red and very short. I wish she could hear our violinist play!
And there's another man that comes to the parties and teas;—oh, of course there are others, lots of them, married men with wives, and unmarried men with and without sisters. But I mean another man specially. His name is Harlow. He's a little man with a brown pointed beard and big soft brown eyes. He's really awfully good-looking, too. I don't know what he does do; but he's married. I know that. He never brings his wife, though; but Mother's always asking for her, clear and distinct, and she always smiles, and her voice kind of tinkles like little silver bells. But just the same he never brings her.
He never takes her anywhere. I heard Aunt Hattie tell Mother so at the very first, when he came. She said they weren't a bit happy together, and that there'd probably be a divorce before long. But Mother asked for her just the same the very next time. And she's done it ever since.
I think I know now why she does. I found out, and I was simply thrilled. It was so exciting! You see, they were lovers once themselves—Mother and this Mr. Harlow. Then something happened and they quarreled. That was just before Father came.
Of course Mother didn't tell me this, nor Aunt Hattie. It was two ladies. I heard them talking at a tea one day. I was right behind them, and I couldn't get away, so I just couldn't help hearing what they said.
They were looking across the room at Mother. Mr. Harlow was talking to her. He was leaning forward in his chair and talking so earnestly to Mother; and he looked just as if he thought there wasn't another soul in the room but just they two. But Mother—Mother was just listening to be polite to company. Anybody could see that. And the very first chance she got she turned and began to talk to a lady who was standing near. And she never so much as looked toward Mr. Harlow again.
The ladies in front of me laughed then, and one of them said, with a little nod of her head, "I guess Madge Desmond Anderson can look out for herself all right."
Then they got up and went away without seeing me. And all of a sudden I felt almost sorry, for I wanted them to see me. I wanted them to see that I knew my mother could take care of herself, too, and that I was proud of it. If they had turned I'd have said so. But they didn't turn.
I shouldn't like Mr. Harlow for a father. I know I shouldn't. But then, there's no danger, of course, even if he and Mother were lovers once. He's got a wife now, and even if he got a divorce, I don't believe Mother would choose him.
But of course there's no telling which one she will take. As I said before, I don't know. It's too soon, anyway, to tell. I suspect it isn't any more proper to hurry up about getting married again when you've been unmarried by a divorce than it is when you've been unmarried by your husband's dying. I asked Peter one day how soon folks did get married after a divorce, but he didn't seem to know. Anyway, all he said was to stammer: "Er—yes, Miss—no, Miss. I mean, I don't know, Miss."
Peter is awfully funny. But he's nice. I like him, only I can't find out much by him. He's very good-looking, though he's quite old. He's almost thirty. He told me. I asked him. He takes me back and forth to school every day, so I see quite a lot of him. And, really, he's about the only one I can ask questions of here, anyway. There isn't anybody like Nurse Sarah used to be. Olga, the cook, talks so funny I can't understand a word she says, hardly. Besides, the only two times I've been down to the kitchen Aunt Hattie sent for me; and she told me the last time not to go any more. She didn't say why. Aunt Hattie never says why not to do things. She just says, "Don't." Sometimes it seems to me as if my whole life had been made up of "don'ts." If they'd only tell us part of the time things to "do," maybe we wouldn't have so much time to do the "don'ts." (That sounds funny, but I guess folks'll know what I mean.)
Well, what was I saying? Oh, I know—about asking questions. As I said, there isn't anybody like Nurse Sarah here. I can't understand Olga, and Theresa, the other maid, is just about as bad. Aunt Hattie's lovely, but I can't ask questions of her. She isn't the kind. Besides, Lester's always there, too; and you can't discuss family affairs before children. Of course there's Mother and Grandpa Desmond. But questions like when it's proper for Mother to have lovers I can't ask of them, of course. So there's no one but Peter left to ask. Peter's all right and very nice, but he doesn't seem to know anything that I want to know. So he doesn't amount to so very much, after all.
I'm not sure, anyway, that Mother'll want to get married again. From little things she says I rather guess she doesn't think much of marriage, anyway. One day I heard her say to Aunt Hattie that it was a very pretty theory that marriages were made in heaven, but that the real facts of the case were that they were made on earth. And another day I heard her say that one trouble with marriage was that the husband and wife didn't know how to play together and to rest together. And lots of times I've heard her say little things to Aunt Hattie that showed how unhappy her marriage had been.
But last night a funny thing happened. We were all in the library reading after dinner, and Grandpa looked up from his paper and said something about a woman that was sentenced to be hanged and how a whole lot of men were writing letters protesting against having a woman hanged; but there were only one or two letters from women. And Grandpa said that only went to prove how much more lacking in a sense of fitness of things women were than men. And he was just going to say more when Aunt Hattie bristled up and tossed her chin, and said, real indignantly:
"A sense of fitness of things, indeed! Oh, yes, that's all very well to say. There are plenty of men, no doubt, who are shocked beyond anything at the idea of hanging a woman; but those same men will think nothing of going straight home and making life for some other woman so absolutely miserable that she'd think hanging would be a lucky escape from something worse."
"Harriet!" exclaimed Grandpa in a shocked voice.
"Well, I mean it!" declared Aunt Hattie emphatically. "Look at poor Madge here, and that wretch of a husband of hers!"
And just here is where the funny thing happened. Mother bristled up—Mother—and even more than Aunt Hattie had. She turned red and then white, and her eyes blazed.
"That will do, Hattie, please, in my presence," she said, very cold, like ice. "Dr. Anderson is not a wretch at all. He is an honorable, scholarly gentleman. Without doubt he meant to be kind and considerate. He simply did not understand me. We weren't suited to each other. That's all."
And she got up and swept out of the room.
Now wasn't that funny? But I just loved it, all the same. I always love Mother when she's superb and haughty and disdainful.
Well, after she had gone Aunt Hattie looked at Grandpa and Grandpa looked at Aunt Hattie. Grandpa shrugged his shoulders, and gave his hands a funny little flourish; and Aunt Hattie lifted her eyebrows and said:
"Well, what do you know about that?" (Aunt Hattie forgot I was in the room, I know, or she'd never in the world have used slang like that!) "And after all the things she's said about how unhappy she was!" finished Aunt Hattie.
Grandpa didn't say anything, but just gave his funny little shrug again.
And it was kind of queer, when you come to think of it—about Mother, I mean, wasn't it?
* * * * *
One month later.
Well, I've been here another whole month, and it's growing nicer all the time. I just love it here. I love the sunshine everywhere, and the curtains up to let it in. And the flowers in the rooms, and the little fern-dish on the dining-room table, the books and magazines just lying around ready to be picked up; Baby Lester laughing and singing all over the house, and lovely ladies and gentlemen in the drawing-room having music and tea and little cakes when I come home from school in the afternoon. And I love it not to have to look up and watch and listen for fear Father's coming in and I'll be making a noise. And best of all I love Mother with her dancing eyes and her laugh, and her just being happy, with no going in and finding her crying or looking long and fixedly at nothing, and then turning to me with a great big sigh, and a "Well, dear?" that just makes you want to go and cry because it's so hurt and heart-broken. Oh, I do just love it all!
And Mother is happy. I'm sure she is. Somebody is doing something for her every moment—seems so. They are so glad to get her back again. I know they are. I heard two ladies talking one day, and they said they were. They called her "Poor Madge," and "Dear Madge," and they said it was a shame that she should have had such a wretched experience, and that they for one should try to do everything they could to make her forget.
And that's what they all seem to be trying to do—to make her forget. There isn't a day goes by but that somebody sends flowers or books or candy, or invites her somewhere, or takes her to ride or to the theater, or comes to see her, so that Mother is in just one whirl of good times from morning till night. Why, she'd just have to forget. She doesn't have any time to remember. I think she is forgetting, too. Oh, of course she gets tired, and sometimes rainy days or twilights I find her on the sofa in her room not reading or anything, and her face looks 'most as it used to sometimes after they'd been having one of their incompatibility times. But I don't find her that way very often, and it doesn't last long. So I really think she is forgetting.
About the prospective suitors—I found that "prospective suitor" in a story a week ago, and I just love it. It means you probably will want to marry her, you know. I use it all the time now—in my mind—when I'm thinking about those gentlemen that come here (the unmarried ones). I forgot and used it out loud one day to Aunt Hattie; but I shan't again. She said, "Mercy!" and threw up her hands and looked over to Grandpa the way she does when I've said something she thinks is perfectly awful.
But I was firm and dignified—but very polite and pleasant—and I said that I didn't see why she should act like that, for of course they were prospective suitors, the unmarried ones, anyway, and even some of the married ones, maybe, like Mr. Harlow, for of course they could get divorces, and—
"Marie!" interrupted Aunt Hattie then, before I could say another word, or go on to explain that of course Mother couldn't be expected to stay unmarried always, though I was very sure she wouldn't get married again until she'd waited long enough, and until it was perfectly proper and genteel for her to take unto herself another husband.
But Aunt Hattie wouldn't even listen. And she threw up her hands and said "Marie!" again with the emphasis on the last part of the name the way I simply loathe. And she told me never, never to let her hear me make such a speech as that again. And I said I would be very careful not to. And you may be sure I shall. I don't want to go through a scene like that again!
She told Mother about it, though, I think. Anyhow, they were talking very busily together when they came into the library after dinner that night, and Mother looked sort of flushed and plagued, and I heard her say, "Perhaps the child does read too many novels, Hattie."
And Aunt Hattie answered, "Of course she does!" Then she said something else which I didn't catch, only the words "silly" and "romantic," and "pre-co-shus." (I don't know what that last means, but I put it down the way it sounded, and I'm going to look it up.)
Then they turned and saw me, and they didn't say anything more. But the next morning the perfectly lovely story I was reading, that Theresa let me take, called "The Hidden Secret," I couldn't find anywhere. And when I asked Mother if she'd seen it, she said she'd given it back to Theresa, and that I mustn't ask for it again. That I wasn't old enough yet to read such stories.
There it is again! I'm not old enough. When will I be allowed to take my proper place in life? Echo answers when.
Well, to resume and go on.
What was I talking about? Oh, I know—the prospective suitors. (Aunt Hattie can't hear me when I just write it, anyway.) Well, they all come just as they used to, only there are more of them now—two fat men, one slim one, and a man with a halo of hair round a bald spot. Oh, I don't mean that any of them are really suitors yet. They just come to call and to tea, and send her flowers and candy. And Mother isn't a mite nicer to one than she is to any of the others. Anybody can see that. And she shows very plainly she's no notion of picking anybody out yet. But of course I can't help being interested and watching.
It won't be Mr. Harlow, anyway. I'm pretty sure of that, even if he has started in to get his divorce. (And he has. I heard Aunt Hattie tell Mother so last week.) But Mother doesn't like him. I'm sure she doesn't. He makes her awfully nervous. Oh, she laughs and talks with him—seems as if she laughs even more with him than she does with anybody else. But she's always looking around for somebody else to talk to; and I've seen her get up and move off just as he was coming across the room toward her, and I'm just sure she saw him. There's another reason, too, why I think Mother isn't going to choose him for her lover. I heard something she said to him one day.
She was sitting before the fire in the library, and he came in. There were other people there, quite a lot of them; but Mother was all alone by the fireplace, her eyes looking fixed and dreamy into the fire. I was in the window-seat around the corner of the chimney reading; and I could see Mother in the mirror just as plain as could be. She could have seen me, too, of course, if she'd looked up. But she didn't.
I never even thought of hearing anything I hadn't ought, and I was just going to get down to go and speak to Mother myself, when Mr. Harlow crossed the room and sat down on the sofa beside her.
"Dreaming, Madge?" he said, low and soft, his soulful eyes just devouring her lovely face. (I read that, too, in a book last week. I just loved it!)
Mother started and flushed up.
"Oh, Mr. Harlow!" she cried. (Mother always calls him "Mr." That's another thing. He always calls her "Madge," you know.) "How do you do?" Then she gave her quick little look around to see if there wasn't somebody else near for her to talk to. But there wasn't.
"But you do dream, of the old days, sometimes, Madge, don't you?" he began again, soft and low, leaning a little nearer.
"Of when I was a child and played dolls before this very fireplace? Well, yes, perhaps I do," laughed Mother. And I could see she drew away a little. "There was one doll with a broken head that—"
"I was speaking of broken hearts," interrupted Mr. Harlow, very meaningfully.
"Broken hearts! Nonsense! As if there were such things in the world!" cried Mother, with a little toss to her head, looking around again with a quick little glance for some one else to talk to.
But still there wasn't anybody there.
They were all over to the other side of the room talking, and paying no attention to Mother and Mr. Harlow, only the violinist. He looked and looked, and acted nervous with his watch-chain. But he didn't come over. I felt, some way, that I ought to go away and not hear any more; but I couldn't without showing them that I had been there. So I thought it was better to stay just where I was. They could see me, anyway, if they'd just look in the mirror. So I didn't feel that I was sneaking. And I stayed.
Then Mr. Harlow spoke again. His eyes grew even more soulful and devouring. I could see them in the mirror.
"Madge, it seems so strange that we should both have had to trail through the tragedy of broken hearts and lives before we came to our real happiness. For we shall be happy, Madge. You know I'm to be free, too, soon, dear, and then we—"
But he didn't finish. Mother put up her hand and stopped him. Her face wasn't flushed any more. It was very white.
"Carl," she began in a still, quiet voice, and I was so thrilled. I knew something was going to happen—this time she'd called him by his first name. "I'm sorry," she went on. "I've tried to show you. I've tried very hard to show you—without speaking. But if you make me say it I shall have to say it. Whether you are free or not matters not to me. It can make no difference in our relationship. Now, will you come with me to the other side of the room, or must I be so rude as to go and leave you?"
She got up then, and he got up, too. He said something—I couldn't hear what it was; but it was sad and reproachful—I'm sure of that by the look in his eyes. Then they both walked across the room to the others.
I was sorry for him. I do not want him for a father, but I couldn't help being sorry for him, he looked so sad and mournful and handsome; and he's got perfectly beautiful eyes. (Oh, I do hope mine will have nice eyes, when I find him!)
As I said before, I don't believe Mother'll choose Mr. Harlow, anyway, even when the time comes. As for any of the others—I can't tell. She treats them all just exactly alike, as far as I can see. Polite and pleasant, but not at all lover-like. I was talking to Peter one day about it, and I asked him. But he didn't seem to know, either, which one she will be likely to take, if any.
Peter's about the only one I can ask. Of course I couldn't ask Mother, or Aunt Hattie, after what she said about my calling them prospective suitors. And Grandfather—well, I should never think of asking Grandpa a question like that. But Peter—Peter's a real comfort. I'm sure I don't know what I should do for somebody to talk to and ask questions about things down here, if it wasn't for him. As I think I've said already, he takes me to school and back again every day; so of course I see him quite a lot.
Speaking of school, it's all right, and of course I like it, though not quite so well as I did. There are some of the girls—well, they act queer. I don't know what is the matter with them. They stop talking—some of them—when I come up, and they make me feel, sometimes, as if I didn't belong. Maybe it's because I came from a little country town like Andersonville. But they've known that all along, from the very first. And they didn't act at all like that at the beginning. Maybe it's just their way down here. If I think of it I'll ask Peter to-morrow.
Well, I guess that's all I can think of this time.
* * * * *
'Most four months later.
It's been ages since I've written here, I know. But there's nothing special happened. Everything has been going along just about as it did at the first. Oh, there is one thing different—Peter's gone. He went two months ago. We've got an awfully old chauffeur now. One with gray hair and glasses, and homely, too. His name is Charles. The very first day he came, Aunt Hattie told me never to talk to Charles, or bother him with questions; that it was better he should keep his mind entirely on his driving.
She needn't have worried. I should never dream of asking him the things I did Peter. He's too stupid. Now Peter and I got to be real good friends—until all of a sudden Grandpa told him he might go. I don't know why.
I don't see as I'm any nearer finding out who Mother's lover will be than I was four months ago. I suppose it's still too soon. Peter said one day he thought widows ought to wait at least a year, and he guessed grass-widows were just the same. My, how mad I was at him for using that name about my mother! Oh, I knew what he meant. I'd heard it at school. (I know now what it was that made those girls act so queer and horrid.) There was a girl—I never liked her, and I suspect she didn't like me, either. Well, she found out Mother had a divorce. (You see, I hadn't told it. I remembered how those girls out West bragged.) And she told a lot of the others. But it didn't work at all as it had in the West. None of the girls in this school here had a divorce in their families; and, if you'll believe it, they acted—some of them—as if it was a disgrace, even after I told them good and plain that ours was a perfectly respectable and genteel divorce. Nothing I could say made a mite of difference, with some of the girls, and then is when I first heard that perfectly horrid word, "grass-widow." So I knew what Peter meant, though I was furious at him for using it. And I let him see it good and plain.
Of course I changed schools. I knew Mother'd want me to, when she knew, and so I told her right away. I thought she'd be superb and haughty and disdainful sure this time. But she wasn't. First she grew so white I thought she was going to faint away. Then she began to cry, and kiss and hug me. And that night I heard her talking to Aunt Hattie and saying, "To think that that poor innocent child has to suffer, too!" and some more which I couldn't hear, because her voice was all choked up and shaky.
Mother is crying now again quite a lot. You see, her six months are 'most up, and I've got to go back to Father. And I'm afraid Mother is awfully unhappy about it. She had a letter last week from Aunt Jane, Father's sister. I heard her read it out loud to Aunt Hattie and Grandpa in the library. It was very stiff and cold and dignified, and ran something like this:
DEAR MADAM: Dr. Anderson desires me to say that he trusts you are bearing in mind the fact that, according to the decision of the court, his daughter Mary is to come to him on the first day of May. If you will kindly inform him as to the hour of her expected arrival, he will see that she is properly met at the station.
Then she signed her name, Abigail Jane Anderson. (She was named for her mother, Grandma Anderson, same as Father wanted them to name me. Mercy! I'm glad they didn't. "Mary" is bad enough, but "Abigail Jane"—!)
Well, Mother read the letter aloud, then she began to talk about it—how she felt, and how awful it was to think of giving me up six whole months, and sending her bright little sunny-hearted Marie into that tomb-like place with only an Abigail Jane to flee to for refuge. And she said that she almost wished Nurse Sarah was back again—that she, at least, was human.
"'And see that she's properly met,' indeed!" went on Mother, with an indignant little choke in her voice. "Oh, yes, I know! Now if it were a star or a comet that he expected, he'd go himself and sit for hours and hours watching for it. But when his daughter comes, he'll send John with the horses, like enough, and possibly that precious Abigail Jane of his. Or, maybe that is too much to expect. Oh, Hattie, I can't let her go—I can't, I can't!"
I was in the window-seat around the corner of the chimney, reading; and I don't know as she knew I was there. But I was, and I heard. And I've heard other things, too, all this week.
I'm to go next Monday, and as it comes nearer the time Mother's getting worse and worse. She's so unhappy over it. And of course that makes me unhappy, too. But I try not to show it. Only yesterday, when she was crying and hugging me, and telling me how awful it was that her little girl should have to suffer, too, I told her not to worry a bit about me; that I wasn't suffering at all. I liked it. It was ever so much more exciting to have two homes instead of one. But she only cried all the more, and sobbed, "Oh, my baby, my baby!"—so nothing I could say seemed to do one mite of good.
But I meant it, and I told the truth. I am excited. And I can't help wondering how it's all going to be at Father's. Oh, of course, I know it won't be so much fun, and I'll have to be "Mary," and all that; but it'll be something different, and I always did like different things. Besides, there's Father's love story to watch. Maybe he's found somebody. Maybe he didn't wait a year. Anyhow, if he did find somebody I'm sure he wouldn't be so willing to wait as Mother would. You know Nurse Sarah said Father never wanted to wait for anything. That's why he married Mother so quick, in the first place. But if there is somebody, of course I'll find out when I'm there. So that'll be interesting. And, anyway, there'll be the girls. I shall have them.
I'll close now, and make this the end of the chapter. It'll be Andersonville next time.
WHEN I AM MARY
Well, here I am. I've been here two days now, and I guess I'd better write down what's happened so far, before I forget it.
First, about my leaving Boston. Poor, dear Mother did take on dreadfully, and I thought she just wouldn't let me go. She went with me to the junction where I had to change, and put me on the parlor car for Andersonville, and asked the conductor to look out for me. (As if I needed that—a young lady like me! I'm fourteen now. I had a birthday last week.)
But I thought at the last that she just wouldn't let me go, she clung to me so, and begged me to forgive her for all she'd brought upon me; and said it was a cruel, cruel shame, when there were children, and people ought to stop and think and remember, and be willing to stand anything. And then, in the next breath, she'd beg me not to forget her, and not to love Father better than I did her. (As if there was any danger of that!) And to write to her every few minutes.
Then the conductor cried, "All aboard!" and the bell rang, and she had to go and leave me. But the last I saw of her she was waving her handkerchief, and smiling the kind of a smile that's worse than crying right out loud. Mother's always like that. No matter how bad she feels, at the last minute she comes up bright and smiling, and just as brave as can be.
I had a wonderful trip to Andersonville. Everybody was very kind to me, and there were lovely things to see out the window. The conductor came in and spoke to me several times—not the way you would look after a child, but the way a gentleman would tend to a lady. I liked him very much.
There was a young gentleman in the seat in front, too, who was very nice. He loaned me a magazine, and bought some candy for me; but I didn't see much more of him, for the second time the conductor came in he told me he'd found a nice seat back in the car on the shady side. He noticed the sun came in where I sat, he said. (I hadn't noticed it specially.) But he picked up my bag and magazine—but I guess he forgot the candy-box the nice young gentleman in front had just put on my window-sill, for when I got into my new seat the candy wasn't anywhere; and of course I didn't like to go back for it. But the conductor was very nice and kind, and came in twice again to see if I liked my new seat; and of course I said I did. It was very nice and shady, and there was a lady and a baby in the next seat, and I played with the baby quite a lot.
It was heaps of fun to be grown up and traveling alone like that! I sat back in my seat and wondered and wondered what the next six months were going to be like. And I wondered, too, if I'd forgotten how to be "Mary."
"Dear me! How shall I ever remember not to run and skip and laugh loud or sing, or ask questions, or do anything that Marie wants to do?" I thought to myself.
And I wondered if Aunt Jane would meet me, and what she would be like. She came once when I was a little girl, Mother said; but I didn't remember her.
Well, at last we got to Andersonville. John was there with the horses, and Aunt Jane, too. Of course I knew she must be Aunt Jane, because she was with John. The conductor was awfully nice and polite, and didn't leave me till he'd seen me safe in the hands of Aunt Jane and John. Then he went back to his train, and the next minute it had whizzed out of the station, and I was alone with the beginning of my next six months.
The first beginning was a nice smile, and a "Glad to see ye home, Miss," from John, as he touched his hat, and the next was a "How do you do, Mary?" from Aunt Jane. And I knew right off that first minute that I wasn't going to like Aunt Jane—just the way she said that "Mary," and the way she looked me over from head to foot.
Aunt Jane is tall and thin, and wears black—not the pretty, stylish black, but the "I-don't-care" rusty black—and a stiff white collar. Her eyes are the kind that says, "I'm surprised at you!" all the time, and her mouth is the kind that never shows any teeth when it smiles, and doesn't smile much, anyway. Her hair is some gray, and doesn't kink or curl anywhere; and I knew right off the first minute she looked at me that she didn't like mine, 'cause it did curl.
I was pretty sure she didn't like my clothes, either. I've since found out she didn't—but more of that anon. (I just love that word "anon.") And I just knew she disapproved of my hat. But she didn't say anything—not in words—and after we'd attended to my trunk, we went along to the carriage and got in.
My stars! I didn't suppose horses could go so slow. Why, we were ages just going a block. You see I'd forgotten; and without thinking I spoke right out.
"My! Horses are slow, aren't they?" I cried. "You see, Grandpa has an auto, and—"
"Mary!"—just like that she interrupted—Aunt Jane did. (Funny how old folks can do what they won't let you do. Now if I'd interrupted anybody like that!) "You may as well understand at once," went on Aunt Jane, "that we are not interested in your grandfather's auto, or his house, or anything that is his." (I felt as if I was hearing the catechism in church!) "And that the less reference you make to your life in Boston, the better we shall be pleased. As I said before, we are not interested. Besides, while under your father's roof, it would seem to me very poor taste, indeed, for you to make constant reference to things you may have been doing while not under his roof. The situation is deplorable enough, however you take it, without making it positively unbearable. You will remember, Mary?"