ELIA W. PEATTIE
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
The Riverside Press Cambridge
A fanfare of trumpets is blowing to which women the world over are listening. They listen even against their wills, and not all of them answer, though all are disturbed. Shut their ears to it as they will, they cannot wholly keep out the clamor of those trumpets, but whether in thrall to love or to religion, to custom or to old ideals of self-obliterating duty, they are stirred. They move in their sleep, or spring to action, and they present to the world a new problem, a new force—or a new menace....
It was all over. Kate Barrington had her degree and her graduating honors; the banquets and breakfasts, the little intimate farewell gatherings, and the stirring convocation were through with. So now she was going home.
With such reluctance had the Chicago spring drawn to a close that, even in June, the campus looked poorly equipped for summer, and it was a pleasure, as she told her friend Lena Vroom, who had come with her to the station to see her off, to think how much further everything would be advanced "down-state."
"To-morrow morning, the first thing," she declared, "I shall go in the side entry and take down the garden shears and cut the roses to put in the Dresden vases on the marble mantelshelf in the front room."
"Don't try to make me think you're domestic," said Miss Vroom with unwonted raillery.
"Domestic, do you call it?" cried Kate. "It isn't being domestic; it's turning in to make up to lady mother for the four years she's been deprived of my society. You may not believe it, but that's been a hardship for her. I say, Lena, you'll be coming to see me one of these days?"
Miss Vroom shook her head.
"I haven't much feeling for a vacation," she said. "I don't seem to fit in anywhere except here at the University."
"I've no patience with you," cried Kate. "Why you should hang around here doing graduate work year after year passes my understanding. I declare I believe you stay here because it's cheap and passes the time; but really, you know, it's a makeshift."
"It's all very well to talk, Kate, when you have a home waiting for you. You're the kind that always has a place. If it wasn't your father's house it would be some other man's—Ray McCrea's, for example. As for me, I'm lucky to have acquired even a habit—and that's what college is with me—since I've no home."
Kate Barrington turned understanding and compassionate eyes upon her friend. She had seen her growing a little thinner and more tense everyday; had seen her putting on spectacles, and fighting anaemia with tonics, and yielding unresistingly to shabbiness. Would she always be speeding breathlessly from one classroom to another, palpitantly yet sadly seeking for the knowledge with which she knew so little what to do?
The train came thundering in—they were waiting for it at one of the suburban stations—and there was only a second in which to say good-bye. Lena, however, failed to say even that much. She pecked at Kate's cheek with her nervous, thin lips, and Kate could only guess how much anguish was concealed beneath this aridity of manner. Some sense of it made Kate fling her arms about the girl and hold her in a warm embrace.
"Oh, Lena," she cried, "I'll never forget you—never!"
Lena did not stop to watch the train pull out. She marched away on her heelless shoes, her eyes downcast, and Kate, straining her eyes after her friend, smiled to think there had been only Lena to speed her drearily on her way. Ray McCrea had, of course, taken it for granted that he would be informed of the hour of her departure, but if she had allowed him to come she might have committed herself in some absurd way—said something she could not have lived up to.
* * * * *
As it was, she felt quite peaceful and more at leisure than she had for months. She was even at liberty to indulge in memories and it suited her mood deliberately to do so. She went back to the day when she had persuaded her father and mother to let her leave the Silvertree Academy for Young Ladies and go up to the University of Chicago. She had been but eighteen then, but if she lived to be a hundred she never could forget the hour she streamed with five thousand others through Hull Gate and on to Cobb Hall to register as a student in that young, aggressive seat of learning.
She had tried to hold herself in; not to be too "heady"; and she hoped the lank girl beside her—it had been Lena Vroom, delegated by the League of the Young Women's Christian Association—did not find her rawly enthusiastic. Lena conducted her from chapel to hall, from office to woman's building, from registrar to dean, till at length Kate stood before the door of Cobb once more, fagged but not fretted, and able to look about her with appraising eyes.
Around her and beneath her were swarms, literally, of fresh-faced, purposeful youths and maidens, an astonishingly large number of whom were meeting after the manner of friends long separated. Later Kate discovered how great a proportion of that enthusiasm took itself out in mere gesture and vociferation; but it all seemed completely genuine to her that first day and she thought with almost ecstatic anticipation of the relationships which soon would be hers. Almost she looked then to see the friend-who-was-to-be coming toward her with miraculous recognition in her eyes.
But she was none the less interested in those who for one reason or another were alien to her—in the Japanese boy, concealing his wistfulness beneath his rigid breeding; in the Armenian girl with the sad, beautiful eyes; in the Yiddish youth with his bashful earnestness. Then there were the women past their first youth, abstracted, and obviously disdainful of their personal appearance; and the girls with heels too high and coiffures too elaborate, who laid themselves open to the suspicion of having come to college for social reasons. But all appealed to Kate. She delighted in their variety—yes, and in all these forms of aspiration. The vital essence of their spirits seemed to materialize into visible ether, rose-red or violet-hued, and to rise about them in evanishing clouds.
* * * * *
She was recalled to the present by a brisk conductor who asked for her ticket. Kate hunted it up in a little flurry. The man had broken into the choicest of her memories, and when he was gone and she returned to her retrospective occupation, she chanced upon the most irritating of her recollections. It concerned an episode of that same first day in Chicago. She had grown weary with the standing and waiting, and when Miss Vroom left her for a moment to speak to a friend, Kate had taken a seat upon a great, unoccupied stone bench which stood near Cobb door. Still under the influence of her high idealization of the scene she lost herself in happy reverie. Then a widening ripple of laughter told her that something amusing was happening. What it was she failed to imagine, but it dawned upon her gradually that people were looking her way. Knots of the older students were watching her; bewildered newcomers were trying, like herself, to discover the cause of mirth. At first she smiled sympathetically; then suddenly, with a thrill of mortification, she perceived that she was the object of derision.
What was it? What had she done?
She knew that she was growing pale and she could feel her heart pounding at her side, but she managed to rise, and, turning, faced a blond young man near at hand, who had protruding teeth and grinned at her like a sardonic rabbit.
"Oh, what is it, please?" she asked.
"That bench isn't for freshmen," he said briefly.
Scarlet submerged the pallor in Kate's face.
"Oh, I didn't know," she gasped. "Excuse me."
She moved away quickly, dropping her handbag and having to stoop for it. Then she saw that she had left her gloves on the bench and she had to turn back for those. At that moment Lena hastened to her.
"I'm so sorry," she cried. "I ought to have warned you about that old senior bench."
Kate, disdaining a reply, strode on unheeding. Her whole body was running fire, and she was furious with herself to think that she could suffer such an agony of embarrassment over a blunder which, after all, was trifling. Struggling valiantly for self-command, she plunged toward another bench and dropped on it with the determination to look her world in the face and give it a fair chance to stare back.
Then she heard Lena give a throaty little squeak.
"Oh, my!" she said.
Something apparently was very wrong this time, and Kate was not to remain in ignorance of what it was. The bench on which she was now sitting had its custodian in the person of a tall youth, who lifted his hat and smiled upon her with commingled amusement and commiseration.
"Pardon," he said, "but—"
Kate already was on her feet and the little gusts of laughter that came from the onlookers hit her like so many stones.
"Isn't this seat for freshmen either?" she broke in, trying not to let her lips quiver and determined to show them all that she was, at any rate, no coward.
The student, still holding his hat, smiled languidly as he shook his head.
"I'm new, you see," she urged, begging him with her smile to be on her side,—"dreadfully new! Must I wait three years before I sit here?"
"I'm afraid you'll not want to do it even then," he said pleasantly. "You understand this bench—the C bench we call it—is for men; any man above a freshman."
Kate gathered the hardihood to ask:—
"But why is it for men, please?"
"I don't know why. We men took it, I suppose." He wasn't inclined to apologize apparently; he seemed to think that if the men wanted it they had a right to it.
"This bench was given to the men, perhaps?" she persisted, not knowing how to move away.
"No," admitted the young man; "I don't believe it was. It was presented to the University by a senior class."
"A class of men?"
"Naturally not. A graduating class is composed of men and women. C bench," he explained, "is the center of activities. It's where the drum is beaten to call a mass meeting, and the boys gather here when they've anything to talk over. There's no law against women sitting here, you know. Only they never do. It isn't—oh, I hardly know how to put it—it isn't just the thing—"
"Can't you break away, McCrea?" some one called.
The youth threw a withering glance in the direction of the speaker.
"I can conduct my own affairs," he said coldly.
But Kate had at last found a way to bring the interview to an end.
"I said I was new," she concluded, flinging a barbed shaft. "I thought it was share and share alike here—that no difference was made between men and women. You see—I didn't understand."
The C bench came to be a sort of symbol to her from then on. It was the seat of privilege if not of honor, and the women were not to sit on it.
Not that she fretted about it. There was no time for that. She settled in Foster Hall, which was devoted to the women, and where she expected to make many friends. But she had been rather unfortunate in that. The women were not as cooeperative as she had expected them to be. At table, for example, the conversation dragged heavily. She had expected to find it liberal, spirited, even gay, but the girls had a way of holding back. Kate had to confess that she didn't think men would be like that. They would—most of them—have understood that the chief reason a man went to a university was to learn to get along with his fellow men and to hold his own in the world. The girls labored under the idea that one went to a university for the exclusive purpose of making high marks in their studies. They put in stolid hours of study and were quietly glad at their high averages; but it actually seemed as if many of them used college as a sort of shelter rather than an opportunity for the exercise of personality.
However, there were plenty of the other sort—gallant, excursive spirits, and as soon as Kate became acquainted she had pleasure in picking and choosing. She nibbled at this person and that like a cautious and discriminating mouse, venturing on a full taste if she liked the flavor, scampering if she didn't.
Of course she had her furores. Now it was for settlement work, now for dramatics, now for dancing. Subconsciously she was always looking about for some one who "needed" her, but there were few such. Patronage would have been resented hotly, and Kate learned by a series of discountenancing experiences that friendship would not come—any more than love—at beck and call.
That gave her pause. Love had not come her way. Of course there was Ray McCrea. But he was only a possibility. She wondered if she would turn to him in trouble. Of that she was not yet certain. It was pleasant to be with him, but even for a gala occasion she was not sure but that she was happier with Honora Daley than with him. Honora Daley was Honora Fulham now—married to a "dark man" as the gypsy fortune-tellers would have called him. He seemed very dark to Kate, menacing even; but Honora found it worth her while to shed her brightness on his tenebrosity, so that was, of course, Honora's affair.
Kate smiled to think of how her mother would be questioning her about her "admirers," as she would phrase it in her mid-Victorian parlance. There was really only Ray to report upon. He would be the beau ideal "young gentleman,"—to recur again to her mother's phraseology,—the son of a member of a great State Street dry-goods firm, an excellently mannered, ingratiating, traveled person with the most desirable social connections. Kate would be able to tell of the two mansions, one on the Lake Shore Drive, the other at Lake Forest, where Ray lived with his parents. He had not gone to an Eastern college because his father wished him to understand the city and the people among whom his life was to be spent. Indeed, his father, Richard McCrea, had made something of a concession to custom in giving his son four years of academic life. Ray was now to be trained in every department of that vast departmental concern, the Store, and was soon to go abroad as the promising cadet of a famous commercial establishment, to make the acquaintance of the foreign importers and agents of the house. Oh, her mother would quite like all that, though she would be disappointed to learn that there had thus far been no rejected suitors. In her mother's day every fair damsel carried scalps at her belt, figuratively speaking—and after marriage, became herself a trophy of victory. Dear "mummy" was that, Kate thought tenderly—a willing and reverential parasite, "ladylike" at all costs, contented to have her husband provide for her, her pastor think for her, and Martha Underwood, the domineering "help" in the house at Silvertree, do the rest. Kate knew "mummy's" mind very well—knew how she looked on herself as sacred because she had been the mother to one child and a good wife to one husband. She was all swathed around in the chiffon-sentiment of good Victoria's day. She didn't worry about being a "consumer" merely. None of the disturbing problems that were shaking femininity disturbed her calm. She was "a lady," the "wife of a professional man." It was proper that she should "be well cared for." She moved by her well-chosen phrases; they were like rules set in a copybook for her guidance.
Kate seemed to see a moving-picture show of her mother's days. Now she was pouring the coffee from the urn, seasoning it scrupulously to suit her lord and master, now arranging the flowers, now feeding the goldfish; now polishing the glass with tissue paper. Then she answered the telephone for her husband, the doctor,—answered the door, too, sometimes. She received calls and paid them, read the ladies' magazines, and knew all about what was "fitting for a lady." Of course, she had her prejudices. She couldn't endure Oriental rugs, and didn't believe that smuggling was wrong; at least, not when done by the people one knew and when the things smuggled were pretty.
Kate, who had the spirit of the liberal comedian, smiled many times remembering these things. Then she sighed, for she realized that her ability to see these whimsicalities meant that she and her mother were, after all, creatures of diverse training and thought.
What! Silver tree? She hadn't realized how the time had been flying. But there was the sawmill. She could hear the whir and buzz! And there was the old livery-stable, and the place where farm implements were sold, and the little harness shop jammed in between;—and there, to convince her no mistake had been made, was the lozenge of grass with "Silvertree" on it in white stones. Then, in a second, the station appeared with the busses backed up against it, and beyond them the familiar surrey with a woman in it with yearning eyes.
Kate, the specialized student of psychology, the graduate with honors, who had learned to note contrasts and weigh values, forgot everything (even her umbrella) and leaped from the train while it was still in motion. Forgotten the honors and degrees; the majors were mere minor affairs; and there remained only the things which were from the beginning.
She and her mother sat very close together as they drove through the familiar village streets. When they did speak, it was incoherently. There was an odor of brier roses in the air and the sun was setting in a "bed of daffodil sky." Kate felt waves of beauty and tenderness breaking over her and wanted to cry. Her mother wanted to and did. Neither trusted herself to speak, but when they were in the house Mrs. Barrington pulled the pins out of Kate's hat and then Kate took the faded, gentle woman in her strong arms and crushed her to her.
"Your father was afraid he wouldn't be home in time to meet you," said Mrs. Barrington when they were in the parlor, where the Dresden vases stood on the marble mantel and the rose-jar decorated the three-sided table in the corner. "It was just his luck to be called into the country. If it had been a really sick person who wanted him, I wouldn't have minded, but it was only Venie Sampson."
"Still having fits?" asked Kate cheerfully, as one glad to recognize even the chronic ailments of a familiar community.
"Well, she thinks she has them," said Mrs. Barrington in an easy, gossiping tone; "but my opinion is that she wouldn't be troubled with them if only there were some other way in which she could call attention to herself. You see, Venie was a very pretty girl."
"Has that made her an invalid, mummy?"
"Well, it's had something to do with it. When she was young she received no end of attention, but some way she went through the woods and didn't even pick up a crooked stick. But she got so used to being the center of interest that when she found herself growing old and plain, she couldn't think of any way to keep attention fixed on her except by having these collapses. You know you mustn't call the attacks 'fits.' Venie's far too refined for that."
Kate smiled broadly at her mother's distinctive brand of humor. She loved it all—Miss Sampson's fits, her mother's jokes; even the fact that when they went out to supper she sat where she used in the old days when she had worn a bib beneath her chin.
"Oh, the plates, the cups, the everything!" cried Kate, ridiculously lifting a piece of the "best china" to her lips and kissing it.
"Absurdity!" reproved her mother, but she adored the girl's extravagances just the same.
"Everything's glorious," Kate insisted. "Cream cheese and parsley! Did you make it, mummy? Currant rolls—oh, the wonders! Martha Underwood, don't dare to die without showing me how to make those currant rolls. Veal loaf—now, what do you think of that? Why, at Foster we went hungry sometimes—not for lack of quantity, of course, but because of the quality. I used to be dreadfully ashamed of the fact that there we were, dozens of us women in that fine hall, and not one of us with enough domestic initiative to secure a really good table. I tried to head an insurrection and to have now one girl and now another supervise the table, but the girls said they hadn't come to college to keep house."
"Yes, yes," chimed in her mother excitedly; "that's where the whole trouble with college for women comes in. They not only don't go to college to keep house, but most of them mean not to keep it when they come out. We allowed you to go merely because you overbore us. You used to be a terrible little tyrant, Katie,—almost as bad as—"
She brought herself up suddenly.
"As bad as whom, mummy?"
There was a step on the front porch and Mrs. Barrington was spared the need for answering.
"There's your father," she said, signaling Kate to meet him.
* * * * *
Dr. Barrington was tall, spare, and grizzled. The torpor of the little town had taken the light from his eyes and reduced the tempo of his movements, but, in spite of all, he had preserved certain vivid features of his personality. He had the long, educated hands of the surgeon and the tyrannical aspect of the physician who has struggled all his life with disobedience and perversity. He returned Kate's ardent little storm of kisses with some embarrassment, but he was unfeignedly pleased at her appearance, and as the three of them sat about the table in their old juxtaposition, his face relaxed. However, Kate had seen her mother look up wistfully as her husband passed her, as if she longed for some affectionate recognition of the occasion, but the man missed his opportunity and let it sink into the limbo of unimproved moments.
"Well, father, we have our girl home again," Mrs. Barrington said with pardonable sentiment.
"Well, we've been expecting her, haven't we?" Dr. Barrington replied, not ill-naturedly but with a marked determination to make the episode matter-of-fact.
"Indeed we have," smiled Mrs. Barrington. "But of course it couldn't mean to you, Frederick, what it does to me. A mother's—"
Dr. Barrington raised his hand.
"Never mind about a mother's love," he said decisively. "If you had seen it fail as often as I have, you'd think the less said on the subject the better. Women are mammal, I admit; maternal they are not, save in a proportion of cases. Did you have a pleasant journey down, Kate?"
He had the effect of shutting his wife out of the conversation; of definitely snubbing and discountenancing her. Kate knew it had always been like that, though when she had been young and more passionately determined to believe her home the best and dearest in the world, as children will, she had overlooked the fact—had pretended that what was a habit was only a mood, and that if "father was cross" to-day, he would be pleasant to-morrow. Now he began questioning Kate about college, her instructors and her friends. There was conversation enough, but the man's wife sat silent, and she knew that Kate knew that he expected her to do so.
Custard was brought on and Mrs. Barrington diffidently served it. Her husband gave one glance at it.
"Curdled!" he said succinctly, pushing his plate from him. "It's a pity it couldn't have been right Kate's first night home."
Kate thought there had been so much that was not right her first night home, that a spoiled confection was hardly worth comment.
"I'm dreadfully sorry," Mrs. Barrington said. "I suppose I should have made it myself, but I went down to the train—"
"That didn't take all the afternoon, did it?" the doctor asked.
"I was doing things around the house—"
"Putting flowers in my room, I know, mummy," broke in Kate, "and polishing up the silver toilet bottles, the beauties. You're one of those women who pet a home, and it shows, I can tell you. You don't see many homes like this, do you, dad,—so ladylike and brier-rosy?"
She leaned smilingly across the table as she addressed her father, offering him not the ingratiating and seductive smile which he was accustomed to see women—his wife among the rest—employ when they wished to placate him. Kate's was the bright smile of a comradely fellow creature who asked him to play a straight game. It made him take fresh stock of his girl. He noted her high oval brow around which the dark hair clustered engagingly; her flexible, rather large mouth, with lips well but not seductively arched, and her clear skin with its uniform tinting. Such beauty as she had, and it was far from negligible, would endure. She was quite five feet ten inches, he estimated, with a good chest development and capable shoulders. Her gestures were free and suggestive of strength, and her long body had the grace of flexibility and perfect unconsciousness. All of this was good; but what of the spirit that looked out of her eyes? It was a glance to which the man was not accustomed—feminine yet unafraid, beautiful but not related to sex. The physician was not able to analyze it, though where women were concerned he was a merciless analyst. Gratified, yet unaccountably disturbed, he turned to his wife.
"Martha has forgotten to light up the parlor," he said testily. "Can't you impress on her that she's to have the room ready for us when we've finished inhere?"
"She's so excited over Kate's coming home," said Mrs. Barrington with a placatory smile. "Perhaps you'll light up to-night, Frederick."
"No, I won't. I began work at five this morning and I've been going all day. It's up to you and Martha to run the house."
"The truth is," said Mrs. Barrington, "neither Martha nor I can reach the gasolier."
Dr. Barrington had the effect of pouncing on this statement.
"That's what's the matter, then," he said. "You forgot to get the tapers. I heard Martha telling you last night that they were out."
A flush spread over Mrs. Barrington's delicate face as she cast about her for the usual subterfuge and failed to find it. In that moment Kate realized that it had been a long programme of subterfuges with her mother—subterfuges designed to protect her from the onslaughts of the irritable man who dominated her.
"I'll light the gas, mummy," she said gently. "Let that be one of my fixed duties from now on."
"You'll spoil your mother, Kate," said the doctor with a whimsical intonation.
His jesting about what had so marred the hour of reunion brought a surge of anger to Kate's brain.
"That's precisely what I came home to do, sir," she said significantly. "What other reason could I have for coming back to Silvertree? The town certainly isn't enticing. You've been doctoring here for forty years, but you havn't been able to cure the local sleeping-sickness yet."
It stung and she had meant it to. To insult Silvertree was to hurt the doctor in his most tender vanity. It was one of his most fervid beliefs that he had selected a growing town, conspicuous for its enterprise. In his young manhood he had meant to do fine things. He was public-spirited, charitable, a death-fighter of courage and persistence. Though not a religious man, he had one holy passion, that of the physician. He respected himself and loved his wife, but he had from boyhood confused the ideas of masculinity and tyranny. He believed that women needed discipline, and he had little by little destroyed the integrity of the woman he would have most wished to venerate. That she could, in spite of her manifest cowardice and moral circumventions, still pray nightly and read the book that had been the light to countless faltering feet, furnished him with food for acrid sarcasm. He saw in this only the essential furtiveness, inconsistency, and superstition of the female.
The evening dragged. The neighbors who would have liked to visit them refrained from doing so because they thought the reunited family would prefer to be alone that first evening. Kate did her best to preserve some tattered fragments of the amenities. She told college stories, talked of Lena Vroom and of beautiful Honora Fulham,—hinted even at Ray McCrea,—and by dint of much ingenuity wore the evening away.
"In the morning," she said to her father as she bade him good-night, "we'll both be rested." She had meant it for an apology, not for herself any more than for him, but he assumed no share in it.
Up in her room her mother saw her bedded, and in kissing her whispered,—
"Don't oppose your father, Kate. You'll only make me unhappy. Anything for peace, that's what I say."
It was sweet to awaken in the old room. Through the open window she could see the fork in the linden tree and the squirrels making free in the branches. The birds were at their opera, and now and then the shape of one outlined itself against the holland shade. Kate had been commanded to take her breakfast in bed and she was more than willing to do so. The after-college lassitude was upon her and her thoughts moved drowsily through her weary brain.
Her mother, by an unwonted exercise of self-control, kept from the room that morning, stopping only now and then at the door for a question or a look. That was sweet, too. Kate loved to have her hovering about like that, and yet the sight of her, so fragile, so fluttering, added to the sense of sadness that was creeping over her. After a time it began to rain softly, the drops slipping down into the shrubbery and falling like silver beads from the window-hood. At that Kate began to weep, too, just as quietly, and then she slept again. Her mother coming in on tiptoe saw tears on the girl's cheek, but she did not marvel. Though her experience had been narrow she was blessed with certain perceptions. She knew that even women who called themselves happy sometimes had need to weep.
* * * * *
The little pensive pause was soon over. There was no use, as all the sturdier part of Kate knew, in holding back from the future. That very afternoon the new life began forcing itself on her. The neighbors called, eager to meet this adventurous one who had turned her back on the pleasant conventions and had refused to content herself with the Silvertree Seminary for Young Ladies. They wanted to see what the new brand of young woman was like. Moreover, there was no one who was not under obligations to be kind to her mother's daughter. So, presently the whole social life of Silvertree, aroused from its midsummer torpor by this exciting event, was in full swing.
Kate wrote to Honora a fortnight later:—
I am trying to be the perfect young lady according to dear mummy's definition. You should see me running baby ribbon in my lingerie and combing out the fringe on tea-napkins. Every afternoon we are 'entertained' or give an entertainment. Of course we meet the same people over and over, but truly I like the cordiality. Even the inquisitiveness has an affectionate quality to it. I'm determined to enjoy my village and I do appreciate the homely niceties of the life here. Of course I have to 'pretend' rather hard at times—pretend, for example, that I care about certain things which are really of no moment to me whatever. To illustrate, mother and I have some recipes which nobody else has and it's our role to be secretive about them! And we have invented a new sort of 'ribbon sandwich.' Did you ever hear of a ribbon sandwich? If not, you must be told that it consists of layers and layers of thin slices of bread all pressed down together, with ground nuts or dressed lettuce in between. Each entertainer astonishes her guests with a new variety. That furnishes conversation for several minutes.
"How long can I stand it, Honora, my dear old defender of freedom? The classrooms are mine no more; the campus is a departed glory; I shall no longer sing the 'Alma Mater' with you when the chimes ring at ten. The whole challenge of the city is missing. Nothing opposes me, there is no task for me to do. I must be supine, acquiescent, smiling, non-essential. I am like a runner who has trained for a race, and, ready for the speeding, finds that no race is on. But I've no business to be surprised. I knew it would be like this, didn't I? the one thing is to make and keep mummy happy. She needs me so much. And I am happy to be with her. Write me often—write me everything. Gods, how I'd like a walk and talk with you!"
Mrs. Barrington did not attempt to conceal her interest in the letters which Ray McCrea wrote her daughter. She was one of those women who thrill at a masculine superscription on a letter. Perhaps she got more satisfaction out of these not too frequent missives than Kate did herself. While the writer didn't precisely say that he counted on Kate to supply the woof of the fabric of life, that expectation made itself evident between the lines to Mrs. Barrington's sentimental perspicacity.
Kate answered his letters, for it was pleasant to have a masculine correspondent. It provided a needed stimulation. Moreover, in the back of her mind she knew that he presented an avenue of escape if Silvertree and home became unendurable. It seemed piteous enough that her life with her parents should so soon have become a mere matter of duty and endurance, but there was a feeling of perpetually treading on eggs in the Barrington house. Kate could have screamed with exasperation as one eventless day after another dawned and the blight of caution and apprehension was never lifted from her mother and Martha. She writhed with shame at the sight of her mother's cajolery of the tyrant she served—and loved. To have spoken out once, recklessly, to have entered a wordy combat without rancor and for the mere zest of tournament, to have let the winnowing winds of satire blow through the house with its stale sentimentalities and mental attitudes, would have reconciled her to any amount of difference in the point of view. But the hushed voice and covertly held position afflicted her like shame.
Were all women who became good wives asked to falsify themselves? Was furtive diplomacy, or, at least, spiritual compromise, the miserable duty of woman? Was it her business to placate her mate, and, by exercising the cunning of the weak, to keep out from under his heel?
There was no one in all Silvertree whom the discriminating would so quickly have mentioned as the ideal wife as Mrs. Barrington. She herself, no doubt, so Kate concluded with her merciless young psychology, regarded herself as noble. But the people in Silvertree had a passion for thinking of themselves as noble. They had, Kate said to herself bitterly, so few charms that they had to fall back on their virtues. In the face of all this it became increasingly difficult to think of marriage as a goal for herself, and her letters to McCrea were further and further apart as the slow weeks passed. She had once read the expression, "the authentic voice of happiness," and it had lived hauntingly in her memory. Could Ray speak that? Would she, reading his summons from across half the world, hasten to him, choose him from the millions, face any future with him? She knew she would not. No, no; union with the man of average congeniality was not her goal. There must be something more shining than that for her to speed toward it.
However, one day she caught, opportunely, a hint of the further meanings of a woman's life. Honora provided a great piece of news, and illuminated with a new understanding, Kate wrote:—
"MY DEAR, DEAR GIRL:—
"You write me that something beautiful is going to happen to you. I can guess what it is and I agree that it is glorious, though it does take my breath away. Now there are two of you—and by and by there will be three, and the third will be part you and part David and all a miracle. I can see how it makes life worth living, Honora, as nothing else could—nothing else!
"Mummy wouldn't like me to write like this. She doesn't approve of women whose understanding jumps ahead of their experiences. But what is the use of pretending that I don't encompass your miracle? I knew all about it from the beginning of the earth.
"This will mean that you will have to give up your laboratory work with David, I suppose. Will that be a hardship? Or are you glad of the old womanly excuse for passing by the outside things, and will you now settle down to be as fine a mother as you were a chemist? Will you go further, my dear, and make a fuss about your house and go all delicately bedizened after the manner of the professors' nice little wives—go in, I mean, for all the departments of the feminine profession?
"I do hope you'll have a little son, Honora, not so much on your account as on his. During childhood a girl's feet are as light as a boy's bounding over the earth; but when once childhood is over, a man's life seems so much more coherent than a woman's, though it is not really so important. But it takes precisely the experience you are going through to give it its great significance, doesn't it?
"What other career is there for real women, I wonder? What, for example, am I to do, Honora? There at the University I prepared myself for fine work, but I'm trapped here in this silly Silvertree cage. If I had a talent I could make out very well, but I am talentless, and all I do now is to answer the telephone for father and help mummy embroider the towels. They won't let me do anything else. Some one asked me the other day what colors I intended wearing this autumn. I wanted to tell them smoke-of-disappointment, ashes-of-dreams, and dull-as-wash-Monday. But I only said ashes-of-roses. "'Not all of your frocks, surely, Kate,' one of the girls cried. 'All,' I declared; 'street frocks, evening gowns, all.' 'But you mustn't be odd,' my little friend warned. 'Especially as people are a little suspicious that you will be because of your going to a co-educational college.'
"I thought it would be so restful here, but it doesn't offer peace so much as shrinkage. Silvertree isn't pastoral—it's merely small town. Of course it is possible to imagine a small town that would be ideal—a community of quiet souls leading the simple life. But we aren't great or quiet souls here, and are just as far from simple as our purses and experience will let us be.
"I dare say that you'll be advising me, as a student of psychology, to stop criticizing and to try to do something for the neighbors here—go in search of their submerged selves. But, honestly, it would require too much paraphernalia in the way of diving-bells and air-pumps.
"I have, however, a reasonable cause of worry. Dear little mummy isn't well. At first we thought her indisposition of little account, but she seems run down. She has been flurried and nervous ever since I came home; indeed, I may say she has been so for years. Now she seems suddenly to have broken down. But I'm going to do everything I can for her, and I know father will, too; for he can't endure to have any one sick. It arouses his great virtue, his physicianship."
* * * * *
A week later Kate mailed this:—
"I am turning to you in my terrible fear. Mummy won't answer our questions and seems lost in a world of thought. Father has called in other physicians to help him. I can't tell you how like a frightened child I feel. Oh, my poor little bewildered mummy! What do you suppose she is thinking about?"
* * * * *
Then, a week afterward, this—on black-bordered paper:—
"She's been gone three days. To the last we couldn't tell why she fell ill. We only knew she made no effort to get well. I am tormented by the fear that I had something to do with her breaking like that. She was appalled—shattered—at the idea of any friction between father and me. When I stood up for my own ideas against his, it was to her as sacrilegious as if I had lifted my hand against a king. I might have capitulated—ought, I suppose, to have foregone everything!
"There is one thing, however, that gives me strange comfort. At the last she had such dignity! Her silence seemed fine and brave. She looked at us from a deep still peace as if, after all her losing of the way, she had at last found it and Herself. The search has carried her beyond our sight.
"Oh, we are so lonely, father and I. We silently accuse each other. He thinks my reckless truth-telling destroyed her timid spirit; I think his twenty-five years of tyranny did it. We both know how she hated our rasping, and we hate it ourselves. Yet, even at that hour when we stood beside her bed and knew the end was coming, he and I were at sword's points. What a hackneyed expression, but how terrible! Yes, the hateful swords of our spirits, my point toward his breast and his toward mine, gleamed there almost visibly above that little tired creature. He wanted her for himself even to the last: I wanted her for Truth—wanted her to walk up to God dressed in her own soul-garments, not decked out in the rags and tags of those father had tossed to her.
"She spoke only once. She had been dreaming, I suppose, and a wonderful illuminated smile broke over her face. In the midst of what seemed a sort of ecstasy, she looked up and saw father watching her. She shivered away from him with one of those apologetic gestures she so often used. 'It wasn't a heavenly vision,' she said—she knew he wouldn't have believed in that—'it was only that I thought my little brown baby was in my arms.' She meant me, Honora,—think of it. She had gone back to those tender days when I had been dependent on her for all my well-being. My mummy! I gathered her close and held her till she was gone, my little, strange, frightened love.
"Now father and I hide our thoughts from each other. He wanted to know if I was going to keep house for him. I said I'd try, for six months. He flew in one of his rages because I admitted that it would be an experiment. He wanted to know what kind of a daughter I was, and I told him the kind he had made me. Isn't that hideous?
"I've no right to trouble you, but I must confide in some one or my heart will break. There's no one here I can talk to, though many are kind. And Ray—perhaps you think I should have written all this to him. But I wasn't moved to do so, Honora. Try to forgive me for telling you these troubles now in the last few days before your baby comes. I suppose I turn to you because you are one of the blessed corporation of mothers—part and parcel of the mother-fact. It's like being a part of the good rolling earth, just as familiar and comforting. Thinking of you mysteriously makes me good. I'm going to forget myself, the way you do, and 'make a home' for father.
In September she sent Honora a letter of congratulation.
"So it's twins! Girls! Were you transported or amused? Patience and Patricia—very pretty. You'll stay at home with the treasures, won't you? You see, there's something about you I can't quite understand, if you'll forgive me for saying it. You were an exuberant girl, but after marriage you grew austere—put your lips together in a line that discouraged kissing. So I'm not sure of you even now that the babies have come. Some day you'll have to explain yourself to me.
"I'm one who needs explanations all along the road. Why? Why? Why? That is what my soul keeps demanding. Why couldn't I go back to Chicago with Ray McCrea? He was down here the other day, but I wouldn't let him say the things he obviously had come to say, and now he's on his way abroad and very likely we shall not meet again. I feel so numb since mummy died that I can't care about Ray. I keep crying 'Why?' about Death among other things. And about that horrid gulf between father and me. If we try to get across we only fall in. He has me here ready to his need. He neither knows nor cares what my thoughts are. So long as I answer the telephone faithfully, sterilize the drinking-water, and see that he gets his favorite dishes, he is content. I have no liberty to leave the house and my restlessness is torture. The neighbors no longer flutter in as they used when mummy was here. They have given me over to my year of mourning—which means vacuity.
"Partly for lack of something better to do I have cleaned the old house from attic to cellar, and have been glad to creep to bed lame and sore from work, because then I could sleep. Father won't let me read at night—watches for signs of the light under my door and calls out to me if it shows. It is golden weather without, dear friend, and within is order and system. But what good? I am stagnating, perishing. I can see no release—cannot even imagine in what form I would like it to come. In your great happiness remember my sorrow. And with your wonderful sweetness forgive my bitter egotism. But truly, Honora, I die daily."
The first letter Honora Fulham wrote after she was able to sit at her desk was to Kate. No answer came. In November Mrs. Fulham telephoned to Lena Vroom to ask if she had heard, but Lena had received no word.
"Go down to Silvertree, Lena, there's a dear," begged her old schoolmate. But Lena was working for her doctor's degree and could not spare the time. The holidays came on, and Mrs. Fulham tried to imagine her friend as being at last broken to her galling harness. Surely there must be compensations for any father and daughter who can dwell together. Her own Christmas was a very happy one, and she was annoyed with herself that her thoughts so continually turned to Kate. She had an uneasy sense of apprehension in spite of all her verbal assurances to Lena that Kate could master any situation.
* * * * *
What really happened in Silvertree that day changed, as it happened, the course of Kate's life. Sorrow came to her afterward, disappointment, struggle, but never so heavy and dragging a pain as she knew that Christmas Day.
She had been trying in many unsuspected ways to relieve her father's grim misery,—a misery of which his gaunt face told the tale,—and although he had said that he wished for "no flubdub about Christmas," she really could not resist making some recognition of a day which found all other homes happy. When the doctor came in for his midday meal, Kate had a fire leaping in the old grate with the marble mantel and a turkey smoking on a table which was set forth with her choicest china and silver. She had even gone so far as to bring out a dish distinctly reminiscent of her mother,—the delicious preserved peaches, which had awaked unavailing envy in the breasts of good cooks in the village. There was pudding, too, and brandy sauce, and holly for decorations. It represented a very mild excursion into the land of festival, but it was too much for Dr. Barrington.
He had come in cold, tired, hungry, and, no doubt, bitterly sorrowful at the bottom of his perverse heart. He discerned Kate in white—it was the first time she had laid off her mourning—and with a chain of her mother's about her neck. Beyond, he saw the little Christmas feast and the old silver vase on the table, red with berries.
"You didn't choose to obey my orders," he said coldly, turning his unhappy blue eyes on her.
"Your orders?" she faltered.
"There was to be no fuss and feathers of any sort," he said. "Christmas doesn't represent anything recognized in my philosophy, and you know it. We've had enough of pretense in this house. I've been working to get things on a sane basis and I believed you were sensible enough to help me. But you're just like the rest of them—you're like all of your sex. You've got to have your silly play-time. I may as well tell you now that you don't give me any treat when you give me turkey, for I don't like it."
"Oh, dad!" cried Kate; "you do! I've seen you eat it many times! Come, really it's a fine dinner. I helped to get it. Let's have a good time for once."
"I have plenty of good times, but I have them in my own way."
"They don't include me!" cried Kate, her lips quivering. "You're too hard on me, dad,—much too hard. I can't stand it, really."
He sat down to the table and ran his finger over the edge of the carving-knife.
"It wouldn't cut butter," he declared. "Martha, bring me the steel!"
"I sharpened it, sir," protested Martha.
"Sharpened it, did you? I never saw a woman yet who could sharpen a knife."
He began flashing the bright steel, and the women, their day already in ashes, watched him fascinatedly. He was waiting to pounce on them. They knew that well enough. The spirit of perversity had him by the throat and held him, writhing. He carved and served, and then turned again to his daughter.
"So I'm too hard on you, am I?" he said, looking at her with a cold glint in his eye. "I provide you with a first-class education, I house you, clothe you, keep you in idleness, and I'm too hard on you. What do you expect?"
"Why, I want you to like me," cried Kate, her face flushing. "I simply want to be your daughter. I want you to take me out with you, to give me things. I wanted you to give me a Christmas present. I want other things, too,—things that are not favors."
She paused and he looked at her with a tightening of the lips.
"Go on," he said.
"I am not being kept in idleness, as I think you know very well. My time and energies are given to helping you. I look after your office and your house. My time is not my own. I devote it to you. I want some recognition of my services—I want some money."
She leaned back in her chair, answering his exasperated frown with a straight look, which was, though he did not see it, only a different sort of anger from his own.
"Well, you won't get it," he said. "You won't get it. When you need things you can tell me and I'll get them for you. But there's been altogether too much money spent in this house in years gone by for trumpery. You know that well enough. What's in that chest out there in the hall? Trumpery! What's in those bureau drawers upstairs? Truck! Hundreds of dollars, that might have been put out where it would be earning something, gone into mere flubdub."
He paused to note the effect of his words and saw that he had scored. Poor Mrs. Barrington, struggling vaguely and darkly in her own feminine way for some form of self-expression, had spent her household allowance many a time on futile odds and ends. She had haunted the bargain counter, and had found herself unable to get over the idea that a thing cheaply purchased was an economic triumph. So in drawers and chests and boxes she had packed her pathetic loot—odds and ends of embroidery, of dress goods, of passementerie, of chair coverings; dozens of spools of thread and crochet cotton; odd dishes; jars of cold cream; flotsam and jetsam of the shops, a mere wreckage of material. Kate remembered it with vicarious shame and the blood that flowed to her face swept on into her brain. She flamed with loyalty to that little dead, bewildered woman, whose feet had walked so falteringly in her search for the roses of life. And she said—
But what matter what she said?
Her father and herself were at the antipodes, and they were separated no less by their similarities than by their differences. Their wistful and inexpressive love for each other was as much of a blight upon them as their inherent antagonism. The sun went down that bleak Christmas night on a house divided openly against itself.
The next day Kate told her father he might look for some one else to run his house for him. He said he had already done so. He made no inquiry where she was going. He would not offer her money, though he secretly wanted her to ask for it. But it was past that with her. The miserable, bitter drama—the tawdry tragedy, whose most desperate accent was its shameful approach to farce—wore itself to an end.
Kate took her mother's jewelry, which had been left to her, and sold it at the local jeweler's. All Silvertree knew that Kate Barrington had left her home in anger and that her father had shown her the back of his hand.
Honora Fulham, sitting in her upper room and jealously guarding the slumbers of Patience and Patricia, her tiny but already remarkable twin daughters, heard a familiar voice in the lower hallway. She dropped her book, "The Psychological Significance of the Family Group," and ran to the chamber door. A second later she was hanging over the banisters.
"Kate!" she called with a penetrating whisper. "You!"
"Yes, Honora, it's bad Kate. She's come to you—a penny nobody else wanted."
Honora Fulham sailed down the stairs with the generous bearing of a ship answering a signal of distress. The women fell into each other's arms, and in that moment of communion dismissed all those little alien half-feelings which grow up between friends when their enlarging experience has driven them along different roads. Honora led the way to her austere drawing-room, from which, with a rigorous desire to economize labor, she had excluded all that was superfluous, and there, in the bare, orderly room, the two women—their girlhood definitely behind them—faced each other. Kate noted a curious retraction in Honora, an indescribable retrenchment of her old-time self, as if her florescence had been clipped by trained hands, so that the bloom should not be too exuberant; and Honora swiftly appraised Kate's suggestion of freedom and force.
"Kate," she announced, "you look like a kind eagle."
"A wounded one, then, Honora."
"You've a story for me, I see. Sit down and tell it."
So Kate told it, compelling the history of her humiliating failure to stand out before the calm, adjudging mind of her friend.
"But oughtn't we to forgive everything to the old?" cried Honora at the conclusion of the recital.
"Oh, is father old?" responded Kate in anguish. "He doesn't seem old—only formidable. If I'd thought I'd been wrong I never would have come up here to ask you to sustain me in my obstinacy. Truly, Honora, it isn't a question of age. He's hardly beyond his prime, and he has been using all of his will, which has grown strong with having his own way, to break me down the way most of the men in Silvertree have broken their women down. I was getting to be just like the others, and to start when I heard him coming in at the door, and to hide things from him so that he wouldn't rage. I'd have been lying next."
"Oh, you think it isn't decent for me to speak that way of my father! You can't think how it seems to me—how—how irreligious! But let me save my soul, Honora! Let me do that!"
The girl's pallid face, sharpened and intensified, bore the imprint of genuine misery. Honora Fulham, strong of nerve and quick of understanding, embraced her with a full sisterly glance.
"I always liked and trusted you, Kate," she said. "I was sorry when our ways parted, and I'd be happy to have them joined again. I see it's to be a hazard of new fortune for you, and David and I will stand by. I don't know, of course, precisely what that may mean, but we're yours to command."
A key turned in the front door.
"There's David now," said his wife, her voice vibrating, and she summoned him.
* * * * *
David Fulham entered with something almost like violence, although the violence did not lie in his gestures. It was rather in the manner in which his personality assailed those within the room. Dark, with an attractive ugliness, arrogant, with restive and fathomless eyes, he seemed to unite the East and the West in his being. Had his mother been a Jewess of pride and intellect, and his father an adventurous American of the superman type? Kate, looking at him with fresh interest, found her thoughts leaping to the surmise. She knew that he was, in a way, a great man—a man with a growing greatness. He had promulgated ideas so daring that his brother scientists were embarrassed to know where to place him. There were those who thought of him as a brilliant charlatan; but the convincing intelligence and self-control of his glance repudiated that idea. The Faust-like aspect of the man might lay him open to the suspicion of having too experimental and inquisitive a mind. But he had, it would seem, no need for charlatanism.
He came forward swiftly and grasped Kate's hand.
"I remember you quite well," he said in his deep, vibratory tones. "Are you here for graduate work?"
"No," said Kate; "I'm not so humble."
"Not so humble?" He showed his magnificent teeth in a flashing but somewhat satiric smile.
"I'm here for Life—not for study."
"Not 'in for life,' but 'out' for it," he supplemented. "That's interesting. What is Honora suggesting to you? She's sure to have a theory of what will be best. Honora knows what will be best for almost everybody, but she sometimes has trouble in making others see it the same way."
Honora seemed not to mind his chaffing.
"Yes," she agreed, "I've already thought, but I haven't had time to tell Kate. Do you remember that Mrs. Goodrich said last night at dinner that her friend Miss Addams was looking about for some one to take the place of a young woman who was married the other day? She was an officer of the Children's Protective League, you remember."
"Oh, that—" broke in Fulham. He turned toward Kate and looked her over from head to foot, till the girl felt a hot wave of indignation sweep over her. But his glance was impersonal, apparently. He paid no attention to her embarrassment. He seemed merely to be getting at her qualities by the swiftest method. "Well," he said finally, "I dare say you're right. But—" he hesitated.
"Well?" prompted his wife.
"But won't it be rather a—a waste?" he asked. And again he smiled, this time with some hidden meaning.
"Of course it won't be a waste," declared Honora. "Aren't women to serve their city as well as men? It's a practical form of patriotism, according to my mind."
Kate broke into a nervous laugh.
"I hope I'm to be of some use," she said. "Work can't come a moment too soon for me. I was beginning to think—"
"Well?" supplied Fulham, still with that watchful regard of her.
"Oh, that I had made a mistake about myself—that I wasn't going to be anything in particular, after all."
* * * * *
They were interrupted. A man sprang up the outside steps and rang the doorbell imperatively.
"It's Karl Wander," announced Fulham, who had glanced through the window. "It's your cousin, Honora."
He went to the door, and Kate heard an emphatic and hearty voice making hurried greetings.
"Stopped between trains," it was saying. "Can stay ten minutes precisely—not a second longer. Came to see the babies."
Honora had arisen with a little cry and gone to the door. Now she returned, hanging on to the arm of a weather-tanned man.
"Miss Barrington," she said, "my cousin, Mr. Wander. Oh, Karl, you're not serious? You don't really mean that you can't stay—not even over night?"
The man turned his warm brown eyes on Kate and she looked at him expectantly, because he was Honora's cousin. For the time it takes to draw a breath, they gazed at each other. Oddly enough, Kate thought of Ray McCrea, who was across the water, and whose absence she had not regretted. She could not tell why her thoughts turned to him. This man was totally unlike Ray. He was, indeed, unlike any one she ever had known. There was that about him which held her. It was not quite assertion; perhaps it was competence. But it was competence that seemed to go without tyranny, and that was something new in her experience of men. He looked at her on a level, spiritually, querying as to who she might be.
The magical moment passed. Honora and David were talking. They ran away up the stairs with their guest, inviting Kate to follow.
"I'll only be in the way now," she called. "By and by I'll have the babies all to myself."
Yet after she had said this, she followed, and looked into the nursery, which was at the rear of the house. Honora had thrust the two children into her cousin's big arms and she and David stood laughing at him. Another man might have appeared ridiculous in this position; but it did not, apparently, occur to Karl Wander to be self-conscious. He was wrapped in contemplation of the babies, and when he peered over their heads at Kate, he was quite grave and at ease.
Then, before it could be realized, he was off again. He had kissed Honora and congratulated her, and he and Kate had again clasped hands.
"Sorry," he said, in his explosive way, "that we part so soon." He held her hand a second longer, gave it a sudden pressure, and was gone.
Honora shut the door behind him reluctantly.
"So like Karl!" she laughed. "It's the second time he's been in my house since I was married."
"You'd think we had the plague, the way he runs from us," said David.
"Oh," responded Honora, not at all disturbed, "Karl is forever on important business. He's probably been to New York to some directors' meeting. Now he's on his way to Denver, he says—'men waiting.' That's Karl's way. To think of his dashing up here between trains to see my babies!" The tears came to her eyes. "Don't you think he's fine, Kate?"
The truth was, there seemed to be a sort of vacuum in the air since he had left—as if he had taken the vitality of it with him.
"But where does he live?" she asked Honora.
"Address him beyond the Second Divide, and he'll be reached. Everybody knows him there. His post-office bears his own name—Wander."
"He's a miner?"
"How did you know?"
"Oh, by process of elimination. What else could he be?"
"Nothing else in all the world," agreed David Fulham. "I tell Honora he's a bit mad."
"No, no," Honora laughed; "he's not mad; he's merely Western. How startled you look, Kate—as if you had seen an apparition."
* * * * *
It was decided that Kate was to stay there at the Fulhams', and to use one of their several unoccupied rooms. Kate chose one that looked over the Midway, and her young strength made nothing of the two flights of stairs which she had to climb to get to it. At first the severity of the apartment repelled her, but she had no money with which to make it more to her taste, and after a few hours its very barrenness made an appeal to her. It seemed to be like her own life, in need of decoration, and she was content to let things take their course. It seemed probable that roses would bloom in their time.
No one, it transpired, ate in the house.
"I found out," explained Honora, "that I couldn't be elaborately domestic and have a career, too, so I went, with some others of similar convictions and circumstances, into a cooeperative dining-room scheme."
Kate gave an involuntary shrug of her shoulders.
"You think that sounds desolate? Wait till you see us all together. This talk about 'home' is all very well, but I happen to know—and I fancy you do, too—that home can be a particularly stultifying place. When people work as hard as we do, a little contact with outsiders is stimulating. But you'll see for yourself. Mrs. Dennison, a very fine woman, a widow, looks after things for us. Dr. von Shierbrand, one of our number, got to calling the place 'The Caravansary,' and now we've all fallen into the way of it."
The Caravansary was but a few doors from the Fulhams'; an old-fashioned, hospitable affair, with high ceilings, white marble mantels, and narrow windows. Mrs. Dennison, the house-mother, suited the place well. Her widow's cap and bands seemed to go with the grave pretentiousness of the rooms, to which she had succeeded in giving almost a personal atmosphere. There was room for her goldfish and her half-dozen canary cages as well as for her "cooeperators"—no one there would permit himself to be called a boarder.
Kate, sensitive from her isolation and sore from her sorrows, had imagined that she would resent the familiarities of those she would be forced to meet on table terms. But what was the use in trying, to resent Marna Cartan, the young Irish girl who meant to make a great singer of herself, and who evidently looked upon the world as a place of rare and radiant entertainment? As for Mrs. Barsaloux, Marna's patron and benefactor, with her world-weary eyes and benevolent smile, who could turn a cold shoulder to her solicitudes? Then there were Wickersham and Von Shierbrand, members, like Fulham, of the faculty of the University. The Applegates and the Goodriches were pleasant folk, rather settled in their aspect, and all of literary leanings. The Applegates were identified—both husband and wife—with a magazine of literary criticism; Mr. Goodrich ran a denominational paper with an academic flavor; Mrs. Goodrich was president of an orphan asylum and spent her days in good works. Then, intermittently, the company was joined by George Fitzgerald, a preoccupied young physician, the nephew of Mrs. Dennison.
They all greeted Kate with potential friendship in their faces, and she could not keep back her feeling of involuntary surprise at the absence of anything like suspicion. Down in Silvertree if a new woman had come into a boarding-house, they would have wondered why. Here they seemed tacitly to say, "Why not?"
Mrs. Dennison seated Kate between Dr. von Shierbrand and Marna Cartan. Opposite to her sat Mrs. Goodrich with her quiet smile. Everyone had something pleasant to say; when Kate spoke, all were inclined to listen. The atmosphere was quiet, urbane, gracious. Even David Fulham's exotic personality seemed to soften under the regard of Mrs. Dennison's gray eyes.
"Really," Kate concluded, "I believe I can be happy here. All I need is a chance to earn my bread and butter."
And what with the intervention of the Goodriches and the recommendation of the Fulhams, that opportunity soon came.
A fortnight later she was established as an officer of the Children's Protective Association, an organization with a self-explanatory name, instituted by women, and chiefly supported by them. She was given an inexhaustible task, police powers, headquarters at Hull House, and a vocation demanding enough to satisfy even her desire for spiritual adventure.
It was her business to adjust the lives of children—which meant that she adjusted their parents' lives also. She arranged the disarranged; played the providential part, exercising the powers of intervention which in past times belonged to the priest, but which, in the days of commercial feudalism, devolve upon the social workers.
Her work carried her into the lowest strata of society, and her compassion, her efficiency, and her courage were daily called upon. Perhaps she might have found herself lacking in the required measure of these qualities, being so young and inexperienced, had it not been that she was in a position to concentrate completely upon her task. She knew how to listen and to learn; she knew how to read and apply. She went into her new work with a humble spirit, and this humility offset whatever was aggressive and militant in her. The death of her mother and the aloofness of her father had turned all her ardors back upon herself. They found vent now in her new work, and she was not long in perceiving that she needed those whom she was called upon to serve quite as much as they needed her.
Mrs. Barsaloux and Marna Carton, who had been shopping, met Kate one day crossing the city with a baby in her arms and two miserable little children clinging to her skirts. Hunger and neglect had given these poor small derelicts that indescribable appearance of depletion and shame which, once seen, is never to be confused with anything else.
"My goodness!" cried Mrs. Barsaloux, glowering at Kate through her veil; "what sort of work is this you are doing, Miss Barrington? Aren't you afraid of becoming infected with some dreadful disease? Wherever do you find the fortitude to be seen in the company of such wretched little creatures? I would like to help them myself, but I'd never be willing to carry such filthy little bags of misery around with me."
Kate smiled cheerfully.
"We've just put their mother in the Bridewell," she said, "and their father is in the police station awaiting trial. The poor dears are going to be clean for once in their lives and have a good supper in the bargain. Maybe they'll be taken into good homes eventually. They're lovely children, really. You haven't looked at them closely enough, Mrs. Barsaloux."
"I'm just as close to them as I want to be, thank you," said the lady, drawing back involuntarily. But she reached for her purse and gave Kate a bill.
"Would this help toward getting them something?" she asked.
Marna laughed delightedly.
"I'm sure they're treasures," she said. "Mayn't I help Miss Barrington take them to wherever they're going, tante? I shan't catch a thing, and I love to know what becomes of homeless children."
Kate saw a look of acute distress on Mrs. Barsaloux's face.
"This isn't your game just now, Miss Cartan," Kate said in her downright manner. "It's mine. I'm moving my pawns here and there, trying to find the best places for them. It's quite exhilarating."
Her arms were aching and she moved the heavy baby from one shoulder to the other.
"A game, is it?" asked the Irish girl. "And who wins?"
"The children, I hope. I'm on the side of the children first and last."
"Oh, so am I. I think it's just magnificent of you to help them."
Kate disclaimed the magnificence.
"You mustn't forget that I'm doing it for money," she said. "It's my job. I hope I'll do it well enough to win the reputation of being honest, but you mustn't think there's anything saintly about me, because there isn't. Good-bye. Hold on tight, children!"
She nodded cheerfully and moved on, fresh, strong, determined, along the crowded thoroughfare, the people making way for her smilingly. She saw nothing of the attention paid her. She was wondering if her arms would hold out or if, in some unguarded moment, the baby would slip from them. Perhaps the baby was fearful, too, for it reached up its little clawlike hands and clasped her tight about the neck. Kate liked the feeling of those little hands, and was sorry when they relaxed and the weary little one fell asleep.
Each day brought new problems. If she could have decided these by mere rule of common sense, her new vocation might not have puzzled her as much as it did. But it was uncommon, superfine, intuitive sense that was required. She discovered, for example, that not only was sin a virtue in disguise, but that a virtue might be degraded into a sin.
She put this case to Honora and David one evening as the three of them sat in Honora's drawing-room.
"It's the case of Peggy Dunn," she explained. "Peggy likes life. She has brighter eyes than she knows what to do with and more smiles than she has a chance to distribute. She has finished her course at the parochial school and she's clerking in a downtown store. That is slow going for Peggy, so she evens things up by attending the Saturday night dances. When she's whirling around the hall on the tips of her toes, she really feels like herself. She gets home about two in the morning on these occasions and finds her mother waiting up for her and kneeling before a little statue of the Virgin that stands in the corner of the sitting-room. As soon as the mother sees Peggy, she pounces on her and weeps on her shoulder, and after Peggy's in bed and dead with the tire in her legs, her mother gets down beside the bed and prays some more. 'What would you do, please,' says Peggy to me, 'if you had a mother that kept crying and praying every time you had a bit of fun? Wouldn't you run away from home and get where they took things aisier?'"
David threw back his head and roared in sympathetic commendation of Peggy's point of view.
"Poor little mother," sighed Honora. "I suppose she'll send her girl straight on the road to perdition and never know what did it."
"Not if I can help it," said Kate. "I don't believe in letting her go to perdition at all. I went around to see the mother and I put the responsibility on her. 'Every time you make Peggy laugh,' I said, 'you can count it for glory. Every time you make her swear,—for she does swear,—you can know you've blundered. Why don't you give her some parties if you don't want her to be going out to them?'"
"How did she take that?" asked Honora.
"It bothered her a good deal at first, but when I went down to meet Peggy the other day as she came out of the store, she told me her mother had had the little bisque Virgin moved into her own bedroom and that she had put a talking-machine in the place where it had stood. I told Peggy the talking-machine was just a new kind of prayer, meant to make her happy, and that it wouldn't do for her to let her mother's prayers go unanswered. 'Any one with eyes like yours,' I said to her, 'is bound to have beaux in plenty, but you've only one mother and you'd better hang on to her.'"
"Then what did she say?" demanded the interested Honora.
"She's an impudent little piece. She said, 'You've some eyes yourself, Miss Barrington, but I suppose you know how to make them behave."
"Better marry that girl as soon as you can, Miss Barrington," counseled David; "that is, if any hymeneal authority is vested in you."
"That's what Peggy wanted to know," admitted Kate. "She said to me the other day: 'Ain't you Cupid, Miss Barrington? I heard about a match you made up, and it was all right—the real thing, sure enough.' 'Have you a job for me—supposing I was Cupid?' I asked. That set her off in a gale. So I suppose there's something up Peggy's very short sleeves."
The Fulhams liked to hear her stories, particularly as she kept the amusing or the merely pathetic ones for them, refraining from telling them of the unspeakable, obscene tragedies which daily came to her notice. It might have been supposed that scenes such as these would so have revolted her that she could not endure to deal with them; but this was far from being the case. The greater the need for her help, the more determined was she to meet the demand. She had plenty of superiors whom she could consult, and she suffered less from disgust or timidity than any one could have supposed possible.
The truth was, she was grateful for whatever absorbed her and kept her from dwelling upon that dehumanized house at Silvertree. Her busy days enabled her to fight her sorrow very well, but in the night, like a wailing child, her longing for her mother awoke, and she nursed it, treasuring it as those freshly bereaved often do. The memory of that little frustrated soul made her tender of all women, and too prone, perhaps, to lay to some man the blame of their shortcomings. She had no realization that she had set herself in this subtle and subconscious way against men. But whether she admitted it or not, the fact remained that she stood with her sisters, whatever their estate, leagued secretly against the other sex.
By way of emphasizing her devotion to her work, she ceased answering Ray McCrea's letters. She studiously avoided the attentions of the men she met at the Settlement House and at Mrs. Dennison's Caravansary. Sometimes, without her realizing it, her thoughts took on an almost morbid hue, so that, looking at Honora with her chaste, kind, uplifted face, she resented her close association with her husband. It seemed offensive that he, with his curious, half-restrained excesses of temperament, should have domination over her friend who stood so obviously for abnegation. David manifestly was averse to bounds and limits. All that was wild and desirous of adventure, in Kate informed her of like qualities in this man. But she held—and meant always to hold—the restless falcons of her spirit in leash. Would David Fulham do as much? She could not be quite sure, and instinctively she avoided anything approaching intimacy with him.
He was her friend's husband. "Friend's husband" was a sort of limbo into which men were dropped by scrupulous ladies; so Kate decided, with a frown at herself for having even thought that David could wish to emerge from that nondescript place of spiritual residence. Anyway, she did not completely like him, though she thought him extraordinary and stimulating, and when Honora told her something of the great discovery which the two of them appeared to be upon the verge of making concerning the germination of life without parental interposition, she had little doubt that David was wizard enough to carry it through. He would have the daring, and Honora the industry, and—she reflected—if renown came, that would be David's beyond all peradventure.
No question about it, Kate's thoughts were satiric these days. She was still bleeding from the wound which her father had inflicted, and she did not suspect that it was wounded affection rather than hurt self-respect which was tormenting her. She only knew that she shrank from men, and that at times she liked to imagine what sort of a world it would be if there were no men in it at all.
Meantime she met men every day, and whether she was willing to admit it or not, the facts were that they helped her on her way with brotherly good will, and as they saw her going about her singular and heavy tasks, they gave her their silent good wishes, and hoped that the world of pain and shame would not too soon destroy what was gallant and trustful in her.
* * * * *
But here has been much anticipation. To go back to the beginning, at the end of her first week in the city she had a friend. It was Marna Cartan. They had fallen into the way of talking together a few minutes before or after dinner, and Kate would hasten her modest dinner toilet in order to have these few marginal moments with this palpitating young creature who moved to unheard rhythms, and whose laughter was the sweetest thing she had yet heard in a city of infinite dissonances.
"You don't know how to account for me very well, do you?" taunted Marna daringly, when they had indulged their inclination for each other's society for a few days. "You wonder about me because I'm so streaked. I suppose you see vestiges of the farm girl peeping through the operatic student. Wouldn't you like me to explain myself?"
She had an iridescent personality, made up of sudden shynesses, of bright flashes of bravado, of tenderness and hauteur, and she contrived to be fascinating in all of them. She held Kate as the Ancient Mariner held the wedding-guest.
"Of course I'd love to know all about you," answered Kate. "Inquisitiveness is the most marked of my characteristics. But I don't want you to tell me any more than I deserve to hear."
"You deserve everything," cried Marna, seizing Kate's firm hand in her own soft one, "because you understand friendship. Why, I always said it could be as swift and surprising as love, and just as mysterious. You take it that way, too, so you deserve a great deal. Well, to begin with, I'm Irish."
Kate's laugh could be heard as far as the kitchen, where Mrs. Dennison was wishing the people would come so that she could dish up the soup. Marna laughed, too.
"You guessed it?" she cried. She didn't seem to think it so obvious as Kate's laugh indicated.
"You don't leave a thing to the imagination in that direction," Kate cried. "Irish? As Irish as the shamrock! Go on."
"Dear me, I want to begin so far back! You see, I don't merely belong to modern Ireland. I'm—well, I'm traditional. At least, Great-Grandfather Cartan, who came over to Wisconsin with a company of immigrants, could tell you things about our ancestors that would make you feel as if we came up out of the Irish hills. And great-grandfather, he actually looked legendary himself. Why, do you know, he came over with these people to be their story-teller!"
"Yes, just that—their minstrel, you understand. And that's what my people were, 'way back, minstrels. All the way over on the ship, when the people were weeping for homesickness, or sitting dreaming about the new land, or falling sick, or getting wild and vicious, it was great-granddaddy's place to bring them to themselves with his stories. Then when they all went on to Wisconsin and took up their land, they selected a small beautiful piece for great-grandfather, and built him a log house, and helped him with his crops. He, for his part, went over the countryside and was welcomed everywhere, and carried all the friendly news and gossip he could gather, and sat about the fire nights, telling tales of the old times, and keeping the ancient stories and the ancient tongue alive for them."
"You mean he used the Gaelic?"
"What else would he be using, and himself the descendant of minstrels? But after a time he learned the English, too, and he used that in his latter years because the understanding of the Gaelic began to die out."
"How wonderful he must have been!"
"Wonderful? For eighty years he held sway over the hearts of them, and was known as the best story-teller of them all. This was the more interesting, you see, because every year they gathered at a certain place to have a story-telling contest; and great-grandfather was voted the master of them until—"
Marna hesitated, and a flush spread over her face.
"Until—" urged Kate.
"Until a young man came along. Finnegan, his name was. He was no more than a commercial traveler who heard of the gathering and came up there, and he capped stories with great-grandfather, and it went on till all the people were thick about them like bees around a flower-pot. Four days it lasted, and away into the night; and in the end they took the prize from great-grandfather and gave it to Gerlie Finnegan. And that broke great-granddad's heart."
"Yes, he died. A hundred and ten he was, and for eighty years had been the king of them. When he was gone, it left me without anybody at all, you see. So that was how I happened to go down to Baraboo to earn my living."
"What were you doing?"
Marna looked at the tip of her slipper for a moment, reflectively. Then she glanced up at Kate, throwing a supplicating glance from the blue eyes which looked as if they were snared behind their long dark lashes.
"I wouldn't be telling everybody that asked me," she said. "But I was singing at the moving-picture show, and Mrs. Barsaloux came in there and heard me. Then she asked me to live with her and go to Europe, and I did, and she paid for the best music lessons for me everywhere, and now—"
She hesitated, drawing in a long breath; then she arose and stood before Kate, breathing deep, and looking like a shining butterfly free of its chrysalis and ready to spread its emblazoned wings.
"Yes, bright one!" cried Kate, glowing with admiration. "What now?"
"Why, now, you know, I'm to go in opera. The manager of the Chicago Opera Company has been Mrs. Barsaloux's friend these many years, and she has had him try out my voice. And he likes it. He says he doesn't care if I haven't had the usual amount of training, because I'm really born to sing, you see. Perhaps that's my inheritance from the old minstrels—for they chanted their ballads and epics, didn't they? Anyway, I really can sing. And I'm to make my debut this winter in 'Madame Butterfly.' Just think of that! Oh, I love Puccini! I can understand a musician like that—a man who makes music move like thoughts, flurrying this way and blowing that. It's to be very soon—my debut. And then I can make up to Mrs. Barsaloux for all she's done for me. Oh, there come all the people! You mustn't let Mrs. Fulham know how I've chattered. I wouldn't dare talk about myself like that before her. This is just for you—I knew you wanted to know about me. I want to know all about you, too."
"Oh," said Kate, "you mustn't expect me to tell my story. I'm different from you. I'm not born for anything in particular—I've no talents to point out my destiny. I keep being surprised and frustrated. It looks to me as if I were bound to make mistakes. There's something wrong with me. Sometimes I think that I'm not womanly enough—that there's too much of the man in my disposition, and that the two parts of me are always going to struggle and clash."
Chairs were being drawn up to the table.
"Come!" called Dr. von Shierbrand. "Can't you young ladies take time enough off to eat?"
He looked ready for conversation, and Kate went smilingly to sit beside him. She knew he expected women to be amusing, and she found it agreeable to divert him. She understood the classroom fag from which he was suffering; and, moreover, after all those austere meals with her father, it really was an excitement and a pleasure to talk with an amiable and complimentary man.
"We're to have a new member in the family, Kate," Honora said one morning, as she and Kate made their way together to the Caravansary. "It's my cousin, Mary Morrison. She's a Californian, and very charming, I understand."
"She's to attend the University?"
"I don't quite know as to that," admitted Honora, frowning slightly. "Her father and mother have been dead for several years, and she has been living with her brother in Santa Barbara. But he is to go to the Philippines on some legal work, and he's taking his family with him. Mary begs to stay here with me during his absence."
"Is she the sort of a person who will need a chaperon? Because I don't seem to see you in that capacity, Honora."
"No, I don't know that I should care to sit against the wall smiling complacently while other people were up and doing. I've always felt I wouldn't mind being a chaperon if they'd let me set up some sort of a workshop in the ballroom, or even if I could take my mending, or a book to read. But slow, long hours of vacuous smiling certainly would wear me out. However, I don't imagine that Mary will call upon me for any such service."
"But if your cousin isn't going to college, and doesn't intend to go into society, how will she amuse herself?"
"I haven't an idea—not an idea. But I couldn't say no to her, could I? I've so few people belonging to me in this world that I can't, for merely selfish reasons, bear to turn one of my blood away. Mary's mother and my mother were sisters, and I think we should be fond of each other. Of course she is younger than I, but that is immaterial."
"And David—does he like the idea? She may be rather a fixture, mayn't she? Haven't you to think about that?"
"Oh, David probably won't notice her particularly. People come and go and it's all the same to him. He sees only his great problems." Honora choked a sigh.
"Who wants him to do anything else!" defended Kate quickly. "Not you, surely! Why, you're so proud of him that you're positively offensive! And to think that you are working beside him every day, and helping him—you know it's all just the way you would have it, Honora."
"Yes, it is," agreed Honora contritely, "and you should see him in the laboratory when we two are alone there, Kate! He's a changed man. It almost seems as if he grew in stature. When he bends over those tanks where he is making his great experiments, all of my scientific training fails to keep me from seeing him as one with supernatural powers. And that wonderful idea of his, the finding out of the secret of life, the prying into this last hidden place of Nature, almost overwhelms me. I can work at it with a matter-of-fact countenance, but when we begin to approach the results, I almost shudder away from it. But you must never let David know I said so. That's only my foolish, feminine, reverent mind. All the trained and scientific part of me repudiates such nonsense."
They turned in at the door of the Caravansary.
"I don't want to see you repudiating any part of yourself," cried Kate with sudden ardor. "It's so sweet of you, Honora, to be a mere woman in spite of all your learning and your power."
Honora stopped and grasped Kate's wrist in her strong hand.
"But am I that?" she queried, searching her friend's face with her intense gaze. "You see, I've tried—I've tried—"
She choked on the words.
"I've tried not to be a woman!" she declared, drawing her breath sharply between her teeth. "It's a strange, strange story, Kate."
"I don't understand at all," Kate declared.
"I've tried not to be a woman because David is so completely and triumphantly a man."
"Still I don't understand."
"No, I suppose not. It's a hidden history. Sometimes I can't believe it myself. But let me ask you, am I the woman you thought I would be?"
Kate smiled slowly, as her vision of Honora as she first saw her came back to her.
"How soft and rosy you were!" she cried. "I believe I actually began my acquaintance with you by hugging you. At any rate, I wanted to. No, no; I never should have thought of you in a scientific career, wearing Moshier gowns and having curtain-less windows. Never!"
Honora stood a moment there in the dim hall, thinking. In her eyes brooded a curiously patient light.
"Do you remember all the trumpery I used to have on my toilet-table?" she demanded. "I sent it to Mary Morrison. They say she looks like me."
She put her hand on the dining-room door and they entered. The others were there before them. There were growing primroses on the table, and the sunlight streamed in at the window. A fire crackled on the hearth; and Mrs. Dennison, in her old-fashioned widow's cap, sat smiling at the head of her table.
Kate knew it was not really home, but she had to admit that these busy undomestic moderns had found a good substitute for it: or, at least, that, taking their domesticity through the mediumship of Mrs. Dennison, they contrived to absorb enough of it to keep them going. But, no, it was not really home. Kate could not feel that she, personally, ever had been "home." She thought of that song of songs, "The Wanderer."