Well, the next morning was Father's lecture, and I went with Mother. Of course Grandfather was there, too, but he was with the other astronomers, I guess. Anyhow, he didn't sit with us. And Aunt Hattie didn't go at all. So Mother and I were alone.
We sat back—a long ways back. I wanted to go up front, real far front—the front seat, if I could get it; and I told Mother so. But she said, "Mercy, no!" and shuddered, and went back two more rows from where she was, and got behind a big post.
I guess she was afraid Father would see us, but that's what I wanted. I wanted him to see us. I wanted him to be right in the middle of his lecture and look down and see right there before him his little girl Mary, and she that had been the wife of his bosom. Now that would have been what I called thrilling, real thrilling, especially if he jumped or grew red, or white, or stammered, or stopped short, or anything to show that he'd seen us—and cared.
I'd have loved that.
But we sat back where Mother wanted to, behind the post. And, of course, Father never saw us at all.
It was a lovely lecture. Oh, of course, I don't mean to say that I understood it. I didn't. But his voice was fine, and he looked just too grand for anything, with the light on his noble brow, and he used the loveliest big words that I ever heard. And folks clapped, and looked at each other, and nodded, and once or twice they laughed. And when he was all through they clapped again, harder than ever. And I was so proud of him I wanted to stand right up and holler, "He's my father! He's my father!" just as loud as I could. But, of course, I didn't. I just clapped like the rest; only I wished my hands were big like the man's next to me, so I could have made more noise.
Another man spoke then, a little (not near so good as Father), and then it was all over, and everybody got up to go; and I saw that a lot of folks were crowding down the aisle, and I looked and there was Father right in front of the platform shaking hands with folks.
I looked at Mother then. Her face was all pinky-white, and her eyes were shining. I guess she thought I spoke, for all of a sudden she shook her head and said:
"No, no, I couldn't, I couldn't! But you may, dear. Run along and speak to him; but don't stay. Remember, Mother is waiting, and come right back."
I knew then that it must have been just my eyes that spoke, for I did want to go down there and speak to Father. Oh, I did want to go! And I went then, of course.
He didn't see me at first. There was a long line of us, and a big fat man was doing a lot of talking to him so we couldn't move at all, for a time. Then it came to when I was just three people away from him. And I was looking straight at him.
He saw me then. And, oh, how I did love the look that came to his face; it was so surprised and glad, and said, "Oh! You!" in such a perfectly lovely way that I choked all up and wanted to cry. (The idea!—cry when I was so glad to see him!)
I guess the two folks ahead of me didn't think they got much attention, and the next minute he had drawn me out of the line, and we were both talking at once, and telling each other how glad we were to see each other.
But he was looking for Mother—I know he was; for the next minute after he saw me, he looked right over my head at the woman back of me. And all the while he was talking with me, his eyes would look at me and then leap as swift as lightning first here, and then there, all over the hall. But he didn't see her. I knew he didn't see her, by the look on his face. And pretty quick I said I'd have to go. And then he said:
"Your mother—perhaps she didn't—did she come?" And his face grew all red and rosy as he asked the question.
And I said yes, and she was waiting, and that was why I had to go back right away.
And he said, "Yes, yes, to be sure," and, "good-bye." But he still held my hand tight, and his eyes were still roving all over the house. And I had to tell him again that I really had to go; and I had to pull real determined at my hand, before I could break away. And I don't believe I could have gone even then if some other folks hadn't come up at that minute.
I went back to Mother then. The hall was almost empty, and she wasn't anywhere in sight at all; but I found her just outside the door. I knew then why Father's face showed that he hadn't found her. She wasn't there to find. I suspect she had looked out for that.
Her face was still pinky-white, and her eyes were shining; and she wanted to know everything we had said—everything. So she found out, of course, that he had asked if she was there. But she didn't say anything herself, not anything. She didn't say anything, either, at the luncheon table, when Grandfather was talking with Aunt Hattie about the lecture, and telling some of the things Father had said.
Grandfather said it was an admirable address, scholarly and convincing, or something like that. And he said that he thought Dr. Anderson had improved greatly in looks and manner. And he looked straight at Mother when he said that; but still Mother never said a word.
In the afternoon I went to walk with one of the girls; and when I came in I couldn't find Mother. She wasn't anywhere downstairs, nor in her room, nor mine, nor anywhere else on that floor. Aunt Hattie said no, she wasn't out, but that she was sure she didn't know where she was. She must be somewhere in the house.
I went upstairs then, another flight. There wasn't anywhere else to go, and Mother must be somewhere, of course. And it seemed suddenly to me as if I'd just got to find her. I wanted her so.
And I found her.
In the little back room where Aunt Hattie keeps her trunks and moth-ball bags, Mother was on the floor in the corner crying. And when I exclaimed out and ran over to her, I found she was sitting beside an old trunk that was open; and across her lap was a perfectly lovely pale-blue satin dress all trimmed with silver lace that had grown black. And Mother was crying and crying as if her heart would break.
Of course, I tried and tried to stop her, and I begged her to tell me what was the matter. But I couldn't do a thing, not a thing, not for a long time. Then I happened to say what a lovely dress, only what a pity it was that the lace was all black.
She gave a little choking cry then, and began to talk—little short sentences all choked up with sobs, so that I could hardly tell what she was talking about. Then, little by little, I began to understand.
She said yes, it was all black—tarnished; and that it was just like everything that she had had anything to do with—tarnished: her life and her marriage, and Father's life, and mine—everything was tarnished, just like that silver lace on that dress. And she had done it by her thoughtless selfishness and lack of self-discipline.
And when I tried and tried to tell her no, it wasn't, and that I didn't feel tarnished a bit, and that she wasn't, nor Father either, she only cried all the more, and shook her head and began again, all choked up.
She said this little dress was the one she wore at the big reception where she first met Father. It was a beautiful blue then, all shining and spotless, and the silver lace glistened like frost in the sunlight. And she was so proud and happy when Father—and he was fine and splendid and handsome then, too, she said—singled her out, and just couldn't seem to stay away from her a minute all the evening. And then four days later he asked her to marry him; and she was still more proud and happy.
And she said their married life, when they started out, was just like that beautiful dress, all shining and spotless and perfect; but that it wasn't two months before a little bit of tarnish appeared, and then another and another.
She said she was selfish and willful and exacting, and wanted Father all to herself; and she didn't stop to think that he had his work to do, and his place to make in the world; and that all of living, to him, wasn't just in being married to her, and attending to her every whim. She said she could see it all now, but that she couldn't then, she was too young, and undisciplined, and she'd never been denied a thing in the world she wanted. As she said that, right before my eyes rose that box of chocolates she made me eat one at a time; but, of course, I didn't say anything! Besides, Mother hurried right on talking.
She said things went on worse and worse—and it was all her fault. She grew sour and cross and disagreeable. She could see now that she did. But she did not realize at all then what she was doing. She was just thinking of herself—always herself; her rights, her wrongs, her hurt feelings, her wants and wishes. She never once thought that he had rights and wrongs and hurt feelings, maybe.
And so the tarnish kept growing more and more. She said there was nothing like selfishness to tarnish the beautiful fabric of married life. (Isn't that a lovely sentence? I said that over and over to myself so as to be sure and remember it, so I could get it into this story. I thought it was beautiful.)
She said a lot more—oh, ever so much more; but I can't remember it all. (I lost some while I was saying that sentence over and over, so as to remember it.) I know that she went on to say that by and by the tarnish began to dim the brightness of my life, too; and that was the worst of all, she said—that innocent children should suffer, and their young lives be spotted by the kind of living I'd had to have, with this wretched makeshift of a divided home. She began to cry again then, and begged me to forgive her, and I cried and tried to tell her I didn't mind it; but, of course, I'm older now, and I know I do mind it, though I'm trying just as hard as I can not to be Mary when I ought to be Marie, or Marie when I ought to be Mary. Only I get all mixed up so, lately, and I said so, and I guess I cried some more.
Mother jumped up then, and said, "Tut, tut," what was she thinking of to talk like this when it couldn't do a bit of good, but only made matters worse. And she said that only went to prove how she was still keeping on tarnishing my happiness and bringing tears to my bright eyes, when certainly nothing of the whole wretched business was my fault.
She thrust the dress back into the trunk then, and shut the lid. Then she took me downstairs and bathed my eyes and face with cold water, and hers, too. And she began to talk and laugh and tell stories, and be gayer and jollier than I'd seen her for ever so long. And she was that way at dinner, too, until Grandfather happened to mention the reception to-morrow night, and ask if she was going.
She flushed up red then, oh, so red! and said, "Certainly not." Then she added quick, with a funny little drawing-in of her breath, that she should let Marie go, though, with her Aunt Hattie.
There was an awful fuss then. Aunt Hattie raised her eyebrows and threw up her hands, and said:
"That child—in the evening! Why, Madge, are you crazy?"
And Mother said no, she wasn't crazy at all; but it was the only chance Father would have to see me, and she didn't feel that she had any right to deprive him of that privilege, and she didn't think it would do me any harm to be out this once late in the evening. And she intended to let me go.
Aunt Hattie still didn't approve, and she said more, quite a lot more; but Grandfather spoke up and took my part, and said that, in his opinion, Madge was right, quite right, and that it was no more than fair that the man should have a chance to talk with his own child for a little while, and that he would be very glad to take me himself and look after me, if Aunt Hattie did not care to take the trouble.
Aunt Hattie bridled up at that, and said that that wasn't the case at all; that she'd be very glad to look after me; and if Mother had quite made up her mind that she wanted me to go, they'd call the matter settled.
And Mother said she had, and so it was settled. And I'm going. I'm to wear my new white dress with the pink rosebud trimming, and I'm so excited I can hardly wait till to-morrow night. But—oh, if only Mother would go, too!
* * * * *
Two days later.
Well, now I guess something's doing all right! And my hand is shaking so I can hardly write—it wants to get ahead so fast and tell. But I'm going to keep it sternly back and tell it just as it happened, and not begin at the ice-cream instead of the soup.
Very well, then. I went last night with Grandfather and Aunt Hattie to the reception; and Mother said I looked very sweet, and any-father-ought-to-be-proud-of me in my new dress. Grandfather patted me, put on his glasses, and said, "Well, well, bless my soul! Is this our little Mary Marie?" And even Aunt Hattie said if I acted as well as I looked I'd do very well. Then Mother kissed me and ran upstairs quick. But I saw the tears in her eyes, and I knew why she hurried so.
At the reception I saw Father right away, but he didn't see me for a long time. He stood in a corner, and lots of folks came up and spoke to him and shook hands; and he bowed and smiled—but in between, when there wasn't anybody noticing, he looked so tired and bored. After a time he stirred and changed his position, and I think he was hunting for a chance to get away, when all of a sudden his eyes, roving around the room, lighted on me.
My! but just didn't I love the way he came through that crowd, straight toward me, without paying one bit of attention to the folks that tried to stop him on the way. And when he got to me, he looked so glad to see me, only there was the same quick searching with his eyes, beyond and around me, as if he was looking for somebody else, just as he had done the morning of the lecture. And I knew it was Mother, of course. So I said:
"No, she didn't come."
"So I see," he answered. And there was such a hurt, sorry look away back in his eyes. But right away he smiled, and said: "But you came! I've got you."
Then he began to talk and tell stories, just as if I was a young lady to be entertained. And he took me over to where they had things to eat, and just heaped my plate with chicken patties and sandwiches and olives and pink-and-white frosted cakes and ice-cream (not all at once, of course, but in order). And I had a perfectly beautiful time. And Father seemed to like it pretty well. But after a while he grew sober again, and his eyes began to rove all around the room.
He took me to a little seat in the corner then, and we sat down and began to talk—only Father didn't talk much. He just listened to what I said, and his eyes grew deeper and darker and sadder, and they didn't rove around so much, after a time, but just stared fixedly at nothing, away out across the room. By and by he stirred and drew a long sigh, and said, almost under his breath:
"It was just such another night as this."
And of course, I asked what was—and then I knew, almost before he had told me.
"That I first saw your mother, my dear."
"Oh, yes, I know!" I cried, eager to tell him that I did know. "And she must have looked lovely in that perfectly beautiful blue silk dress all silver lace."
He turned and stared at me.
"How did you know that?" he demanded.
"I saw it."
"You saw it!"
"Yesterday, yes—the dress," I nodded.
"But how could you?" he asked, frowning, and looking so surprised. "Why, that dress must be—seventeen years old, or more."
I nodded again, and I suppose I did look pleased: it's such fun to have a secret, you know, and watch folks guess and wonder. And I kept him guessing and wondering for quite a while. Then, of course, I told him that it was upstairs in Grandfather's trunk-room; that Mother had got it out, and I saw it.
"But, what—was your mother doing with that dress?" he asked then, looking even more puzzled and mystified.
And then suddenly I thought and remembered that Mother was crying. And, of course, she wouldn't want Father to know she was crying over it—that dress she had worn when he first met her long ago! (I don't think women ever want men to know such things, do you? I know I shouldn't!) So I didn't tell. I just kind of tossed it off, and mumbled something about her looking it over; and I was going to say something else, but I saw that Father wasn't listening. He had begun to talk again, softly, as if to himself.
"I suppose to-night, seeing you, and all this, brought it back to me so vividly." Then he turned and looked at me. "You are very like your mother to-night, dear."
"I suppose I am, maybe, when I'm Marie," I nodded.
He laughed with his lips, but his eyes didn't laugh one bit as he said:
"What a quaint little fancy of yours that is, child—as if you were two in one."
"But I am two in one," I declared. "That's why I'm a cross-current and a contradiction, you know," I explained.
I thought he'd understand. But he didn't. I supposed, of course, he knew what a cross-current and a contradiction was. But he turned again and stared at me.
"A—what?" he demanded.
"A cross-current and a contradiction," I explained once more. "Children of unlikes, you know. Nurse Sarah told me that long ago. Didn't you ever hear that—that a child of unlikes was a cross-current and a contradiction?"
"Well, no—I—hadn't," answered Father, in a queer, half-smothered voice. He half started from his seat. I think he was going to walk up and down, same as he usually does. But in a minute he saw he couldn't, of course, with all those people around there. So he sat back again in his chair. For a minute he just frowned and stared at nothing; then he spoke again, as if half to himself.
"I suppose, Mary, we were—unlikes, your mother and I. That's just what we were; though I never thought of it before, in just that way."
He waited, then went on, still half to himself, his eyes on the dancers:
"She loved things like this—music, laughter, gayety. I abhorred them. I remember how bored I was that night here—till I saw her."
"And did you fall in love with her right away?" I just couldn't help asking that question. Oh, I do so adore love stories!
A queer little smile came to Father's lips.
"Well, yes, I think I did, Mary. There'd been dozens and dozens of young ladies that had flitted by in their airy frocks—and I never looked twice at them. I never looked twice at your mother, for that matter, Mary." (A funny little twinkle came into Father's eyes. I love him with that twinkle!) "I just looked at her once—and then kept on looking till it seemed as if I just couldn't take my eyes off her. And after a little her glance met mine—and the whole throng melted away, and there wasn't another soul in the room but just us two. Then she looked away, and the throng came back. But I still looked at her."
"Was she so awfully pretty, Father?" I could feel the little thrills tingling all over me. Now I was getting a love story!
"She was, my dear. She was very lovely. But it wasn't just that—it was a joyous something that I could not describe. It was as if she were a bird, poised for flight. I know it now for what it was—the very incarnation of the spirit of youth. And she was young. Why, Mary, she was not so many years older than you yourself, now."
I nodded, and I guess I sighed.
"I know—where the brook and river meet," I said; "only they won't let me have any lovers at all."
"Eh? What?" Father had turned and was looking at me so funny. "Well, no, I should say not," he said then. "You aren't sixteen yet. And your mother—I suspect she was too young. If she hadn't been quite so young—"
He stopped, and stared again straight ahead at the dancers—without seeing one of them, I knew. Then he drew a great deep sigh that seemed to come from the very bottom of his boots.
"But it was my fault, my fault, every bit of it," he muttered, still staring straight ahead. "If I hadn't been so thoughtless—As if I could imprison that bright spirit of youth in a great dull cage of conventionality, and not expect it to bruise its wings by fluttering against the bars!"
I thought that was perfectly beautiful—that sentence. I said it right over to myself two or three times so I wouldn't forget how to write it down here. So I didn't quite hear the next things that Father said. But when I did notice, I found he was still talking—and it was about Mother, and him, and their marriage, and their first days at the old house. I knew it was that, even if he did mix it all up about the spirit of youth beating its wings against the bars. And over and over again he kept repeating that it was his fault, it was his fault; and if he could only live it over again he'd do differently.
And right there and then it came to me that Mother said it was her fault, too; and that if only she could live it over again, she'd do differently. And here was Father saying the same thing. And all of a sudden I thought, well, why can't they try it over again, if they both want to, and if each says it, was their—no, his, no, hers—well, his and her fault. (How does the thing go? I hate grammar!) But I mean, if she says it's her fault, and he says it's his. That's what I thought, anyway. And I determined right then and there to give them the chance to try again, if speaking would do it.
I looked up at Father. He was still talking half under his breath, his eyes looking straight ahead. He had forgotten all about me. That was plain to be seen. If I'd been a cup of coffee without any coffee in it, he'd have been stirring me. I know he would. He was like that.
"Father. Father!" I had to speak twice, before he heard me. "Do you really mean that you would like to try again?" I asked.
"Eh? What?" And just the way he turned and looked at me showed how many miles he'd been away from me.
"Try it again, you know—what you said," I reminded him.
"Oh, that!" Such a funny look came to his face, half ashamed, half vexed. "I'm afraid I have been—talking, my dear."
"Yes, but would you?" I persisted.
He shook his head; then, with such an oh-that-it-could-be! smile, he said:
"Of course;—we all wish that we could go back and do it over again—differently. But we never can."
"I know; like the cloth that's been cut up into the dress," I nodded.
"Cloth? Dress?" frowned Father.
"Yes, that Mother told me about," I explained. Then I told him the story that Mother had told me—how you couldn't go back and be unmarried, just as you were before, any more than you could put the cloth back on the shelf, all neatly folded in a great long web after it had been cut up into a dress.
"Did your mother say—that?" asked Father. His voice was husky, and his eyes were turned away, but they were not looking at the dancers. He was listening to me now. I knew that, and so I spoke quick, before he could get absent-minded again.
"Yes, but, Father, you can go back, in this case, and so can Mother, 'cause you both want to," I hurried on, almost choking in my anxiety to get it all out quickly. "And Mother said it was her fault. I heard her."
"Her fault!" I could see that Father did not quite understand, even yet.
"Yes, yes, just as you said it was yours—about all those things at the first, you know, when—when she was a spirit of youth beating against the bars."
Father turned square around and faced me.
"Mary, what are you talking about?" he asked then. And I'd have been scared of his voice if it hadn't been for the great light that was shining in his eyes.
But I looked into his eyes, and wasn't scared; and I told him everything, every single thing—all about how Mother had cried over the little blue dress that day in the trunk-room, and how she had shown the tarnished lace and said that she had tarnished the happiness of him and of herself and of me; and that it was all her fault; that she was thoughtless and willful and exacting and a spoiled child; and, oh, if she could only try it over again, how differently she would do! And there was a lot more. I told everything—everything I could remember. Some way, I didn't believe that Mother would mind now, after what Father had said. And I just knew she wouldn't mind if she could see the look in Father's eyes as I talked.
He didn't interrupt me—not long interruptions. He did speak out a quick little word now and then, at some of the parts; and once I know I saw him wipe a tear from his eyes. After that he put up his hand and sat with his eyes covered all the rest of the time I was talking. And he didn't take it down till I said:
"And so, Father, that's why I told you; 'cause it seemed to me if you wanted to try again, and she wanted to try again, why can't you do it? Oh, Father, think how perfectly lovely 'twould be if you did, and if it worked! Why, I wouldn't care whether I was Mary or Marie, or what I was. I'd have you and Mother both together, and, oh, how I should love it!"
It was just here that Father's arm came out and slipped around me in a great big hug.
"Bless your heart! But, Mary, my dear, how are we going to—to bring this about?" And he actually stammered and blushed, and he looked almost young with his eyes so shining and his lips so smiling. And then is when my second great idea came to me.
"Oh, Father!" I cried, "couldn't you come courting her again—calls and flowers and candy, and all the rest? Oh, Father, couldn't you? Why, Father, of course, you could!"
This last I added in my most persuasive voice, for I could see the "no" on his face even before he began to shake his head.
"I'm afraid not, my dear," he said then. "It would take more than a flower or a bonbon to to win your mother back now, I fear."
"But you could try," I urged.
He shook his head again.
"She wouldn't see me—if I called, my dear," he answered.
He sighed as he said it, and I sighed, too. And for a minute I didn't say anything. Of course, if she wouldn't see him—
Then another idea came to me.
"But, Father, if she would see you—I mean, if you got a chance, you would tell her what you told me just now; about—about its being your fault, I mean, and the spirit of youth beating against the bars, and all that. You would, wouldn't you?"
He didn't say anything, not anything, for such a long time I thought he hadn't heard me. Then, with a queer, quick drawing-in of his breath, he said:
"I think—little girl—if—if I ever got the chance I would say—a great deal more than I said to you to-night."
"Good!" I just crowed the word, and I think I clapped my hands; but right away I straightened up and was very fine and dignified, for I saw Aunt Hattie looking at me from across the room, as I said:
"Very good, then. You shall have the chance."
He turned and smiled a little, but he shook his head.
"Thank you, child; but I don't think you know quite what you're promising," he said.
"Yes, I do."
Then I told him my idea. At first he said no, and it couldn't be, and he was very sure she wouldn't see him, even if he called. But I said she would if he would do exactly as I said. And I told him my plan. And after a time and quite a lot of talk, he said he would agree to it.
And this morning we did it.
At exactly ten o'clock he came up the steps of the house here, but he didn't ring the bell. I had told him not to do that, and I was on the watch for him. I knew that at ten o'clock Grandfather would be gone, Aunt Hattie probably downtown shopping, and Lester out with his governess. I wasn't so sure of Mother, but I knew it was Saturday, and I believed I could manage somehow to keep her here with me, so that everything would be all right there.
And I did. I had a hard time, though. Seems as if she proposed everything to do this morning—shopping, and a walk, and a call on a girl I knew who was sick. But I said I did not feel like doing anything but just to stay at home and rest quietly with her. (Which was the truth—I didn't feel like doing anything else!) But that almost made matters worse than ever, for she said that was so totally unlike me that she was afraid I must be sick; and I had all I could do to keep her from calling a doctor.
But I did it; and at five minutes before ten she was sitting quietly sewing in her own room. Then I went downstairs to watch for Father.
He came just on the dot, and I let him in and took him into the library. Then I went upstairs and told Mother there was some one downstairs who wanted to see her.
And she said, how funny, and wasn't there any name, and where was the maid. But I didn't seem to hear. I had gone into my room in quite a hurry, as if I had forgotten something I wanted to do there. But, of course, I didn't do a thing—except to make sure that she went downstairs to the library.
They're there now together. And he's been here a whole hour already. Seems as if he ought to say something in that length of time!
After I was sure Mother was down, I took out this, and began to write in it. And I've been writing ever since. But, oh, I do so wonder what's going on down there. I'm so excited over—
* * * * *
One week later.
At just that minute Mother came into the room. I wish you could have seen her. My stars, but she looked pretty!—with her shining eyes and the lovely pink in her cheeks. And young! Honestly, I believe she looked younger than I did that minute.
She just came and put her arms around me and kissed me; and I saw then that her eyes were all misty with tears. She didn't say a word, hardly, only that Father wanted to see me, and I was to go right down.
And I went.
I thought, of course, that she was coming too. But she didn't. And when I got down the stairs I found I was all alone; but I went right on into the library, and there was Father waiting for me.
He didn't say much, either, at first; but just like Mother he put his arms around me and kissed me, and held me there. Then, very soon, he began to talk; and, oh, he said such beautiful things—such tender, lovely, sacred things; too sacred even to write down here. Then he kissed me again and went away.
But he came back the next day, and he's been here some part of every day since. And, oh, what a wonderful week it has been!
They're going to be married. It's to-morrow. They'd have been married right away at the first, only they had to wait—something about licenses and a five-day notice, Mother said. Father fussed and fumed, and wanted to try for a special dispensation, or something; but Mother laughed, and said certainly not, and that she guessed it was just as well, for she positively had to have a few things; and he needn't think he could walk right in like that on a body and expect her to get married at a moment's notice. But she didn't mean it. I know she didn't; for when Father reproached her, she laughed softly, and called him an old goose, and said, yes, of course, she'd have married him in two minutes if it hadn't been for the five-day notice, no matter whether she ever had a new dress or not.
And that's the way it is with them all the time. They're too funny and lovely together for anything. (Aunt Hattie says they're too silly for anything; but nobody minds Aunt Hattie.) They just can't seem to do enough for each other. Father was going next week to a place 'way on the other side of the world to view an eclipse of the moon, but he said right off he'd give it up. But Mother said, "No, indeed," she guessed he wouldn't give it up; that he was going, and that she was going, too—a wedding trip; and that she was sure she didn't know a better place to go for a wedding trip than the moon! And Father was so pleased. And he said he'd try not to pay all his attention to the stars this time; and Mother laughed and said, "Nonsense," and that she adored stars herself, and that he must pay attention to the stars. It was his business to. Then she looked very wise and got off something she'd read in the astronomy book. And they both laughed, and looked over to me to see if I was noticing. And I was. And so then we all laughed.
And, as I said before, it is all perfectly lovely and wonderful.
So it's all settled, and they're going right away on this trip and call it a wedding trip. And, of course, Grandfather had to get off his joke about how he thought it was a pretty dangerous business; and to see that this honeymoon didn't go into an eclipse while they were watching the other one. But nobody minds Grandfather.
I'm to stay here and finish school. Then, in the spring, when Father and Mother come back, we are all to go to Andersonville and begin to live in the old house again.
Won't it be lovely? It just seems too good to be true. Why, I don't care a bit now whether I'm Mary or Marie. But, then, nobody else does, either. In fact, both of them call me the whole name now, Mary Marie. I don't think they ever said they would. They just began to do it. That's all.
Of course, anybody can see why: now each one is calling me the other one's name along with their own. That is, Mother is calling me Mary along with her pet Marie, and Father is calling me Marie along with his pet Mary.
Funny, isn't it?
But one thing is sure, anyway. How about this being a love story now? Oh, I'm so excited!
WHICH IS THE TEST
ANDERSONVILLE. Twelve years later.
Twelve years—yes. And I'm twenty-eight years old. Pretty old, little Mary Marie of the long ago would think. And, well, perhaps to-day I feel just as old as she would put it.
I came up into the attic this morning to pack away some things I shall no longer need, now that I am going to leave Jerry. (Jerry is my husband.) And in the bottom of my little trunk I found this manuscript. I had forgotten that such a thing existed; but with its laboriously written pages before me, it all came back to me; and I began to read; here a sentence; there a paragraph; somewhere else a page. Then, with a little half laugh and half sob, I carried it to an old rocking-chair by the cobwebby dormer window, and settled myself to read it straight through.
And I have read it.
Poor little Mary Marie! Dear little Mary Marie! To meet you like this, to share with you your joys and sorrows, hopes and despairs, of those years long ago, is like sitting hand in hand on a sofa with a childhood's friend, each listening to an eager "And do you remember?" falling constantly from delighted lips that cannot seem to talk half fast enough.
But you have taught me much, little Mary Marie. I understand—oh, I understand so many things so much better, now, since reading this little story in your round childish hand. You see, I had almost forgotten that I was a Mary and a Marie—Jerry calls me Mollie—and I had wondered what were those contending forces within me. I know now. It is the Mary and the Marie trying to settle their old, old quarrel.
It was almost dark when I had finished the manuscript. The far corners of the attic were peopled with fantastic shadows, and the spiders in the window were swaying, lazy and full-stomached, in the midst of the day's spoils of gruesome wings and legs. I got up slowly, stiffly, shivering a little. I felt suddenly old and worn and ineffably weary. It is a long, long journey back to our childhood—sometimes, even though one may be only twenty-eight.
I looked down at the last page of the manuscript. It was written on the top sheet of a still thick pad of paper, and my fingers fairly tingled suddenly, to go on and cover those unused white sheets—tell what happened next—tell the rest of the story; not for the sake of the story—but for my sake. It might help me. It might make things clearer. It might help to justify myself in my own eyes. Not that I have any doubts, of course (about leaving Jerry, I mean), but that when I saw it in black and white I could be even more convinced that I was doing what was best for him and best for me.
So I brought the manuscript down to my own room, and this evening I have commenced to write. I can't finish it to-night, of course. But I have to-morrow, and still to-morrow. (I have so many to-morrows now! And what do they all amount to?) And so I'll just keep writing, as I have time, till I bring it to the end.
I'm sorry that it must be so sad and sorry an end. But there's no other way, of course. There can be but one ending, as I can see. I'm sorry. Mother'll be sorry, too. She doesn't know yet. I hate to tell her. Nobody knows—not even Jerry himself—yet. They all think I'm just making a visit to Mother—and I am—till I write that letter to Jerry. And then—
I believe now that I'll wait till I've finished writing this. I'll feel better then. My mind will be clearer. I'll know more what to say. Just the effort of writing it down—
Of course, if Jerry and I hadn't—
But this is no way to begin. Like the little Mary Marie of long ago I am in danger of starting my dinner with ice-cream instead of soup! And so I must begin where I left off, of course. And that was at the wedding.
I remember that wedding as if it were yesterday. I can see now, with Mary Marie's manuscript before me, why it made so great an impression upon me. It was a very quiet wedding, of course—just the members of the family present. But I shall never forget the fine, sweet loveliness of Mother's face, nor the splendid strength and tenderness of Father's. And the way he drew her into his arms and kissed her, after it was all over—well, I remember distinctly that even Aunt Hattie choked up and had to turn her back to wipe her eyes.
They went away at once, first to New York for a day or two, then to Andersonville, to prepare for the real wedding trip to the other side of the world. I stayed in Boston at school; and because nothing of consequence happened all those weeks and months is the reason, I suspect, why the manuscript got tossed into the bottom of my little trunk and stayed there.
In the spring, when Father and Mother returned, and we all went back to Andersonville, there followed another long period of just happy girlhood, and I suspect I was too satisfied and happy to think of writing. After all, I've noticed it's when we're sad or troubled over something that we have that tingling to cover perfectly good white paper with "confessions" and "stories of my life." As witness right now what I'm doing.
And so it's not surprising, perhaps, that Mary Marie's manuscript still lay forgotten in the little old trunk after it was taken up to the attic. Mary Marie was happy.
And it was happy—that girlhood of mine, after we came back to Andersonville. I can see now, as I look back at it, that Father and Mother were doing everything in their power to blot out of my memory those unhappy years of my childhood. For that matter, they were also doing everything in their power to blot out of their own memories those same unhappy years. To me, as I look back at it, it seems that they must have succeeded wonderfully. They were very happy, I believe—Father and Mother.
Oh, it was not always easy—even I could see that. It took a lot of adjusting—a lot of rubbing off of square corners to keep the daily life running smoothly. But when two persons are determined that it shall run smoothly—when each is steadfastly looking to the other's happiness, not at his own—why, things just can't help smoothing out then. But it takes them both. One can't do it alone. Now, if Jerry would only—
But it isn't time to speak of Jerry yet.
I'll go back to my girlhood.
It was a trying period—it must have been—for Father and Mother, in spite of their great love for me, and their efforts to create for me a happiness that would erase the past from my mind. I realize it now. For, after all, I was just a girl—a young girl, like other girls; high-strung, nervous, thoughtless, full of my whims and fancies; and, in addition, with enough of my mother and enough of my father within me to make me veritably a cross-current and a contradiction, as I had said that I was in the opening sentence of my childish autobiography.
I had just passed my sixteenth birthday when we all came back to live in Andersonville. For the first few months I suspect that just the glory and the wonder and joy of living in the old home, with Father and Mother happy together, was enough to fill all my thoughts. Then, as school began in the fall, I came down to normal living again, and became a girl—just a growing girl in her teens.
How patient Mother was, and Father, too! I can see now how gently and tactfully they helped me over the stones and stumbling-blocks that strew the pathway of every sixteen-year-old girl who thinks, because she has turned down her dresses and turned up her hair, that she is grown up, and can do and think and talk as she pleases.
I well remember how hurt and grieved and superior I was at Mother's insistence upon more frequent rubbers and warm coats, and fewer ice-cream sodas and chocolate bonbons. Why, surely I was old enough now to take care of myself! Wasn't I ever to be allowed to have my own opinions and exercise my own judgment? It seemed not! Thus spoke superior sixteen.
As for clothes!—I remember distinctly the dreary November rainstorm of the morning I reproachfully accused Mother of wanting to make me back into a stupid little Mary, just because she so uncompromisingly disapproved of the beaded chains and bangles and jeweled combs and spangled party dresses that "every girl in school" was wearing. Why, the idea! Did she want me to dress like a little frump of a country girl? It seems she did.
Poor mother! Dear mother! I wonder how she kept her patience at all. But she kept it. I remember that distinctly, too.
It was that winter that I went through the morbid period. Like our childhood's measles and whooping cough, it seems to come to most of us—us women children. I wonder why? Certainly it came to me. True to type I cried by the hour over fancied slights from my schoolmates, and brooded days at a time because Father or Mother "didn't understand," I questioned everything in the earth beneath and the heavens above; and in my dark despair over an averted glance from my most intimate friend, I meditated on whether life was, or was not, worth the living, with a preponderance toward the latter.
Being plunged into a state of settled gloom, I then became acutely anxious as to my soul's salvation, and feverishly pursued every ism and ology that caught my roving eye's attention, until in one short month I had become, in despairing rotation, an incipient agnostic, atheist, pantheist, and monist. Meanwhile I read Ibsen, and wisely discussed the new school of domestic relationships.
Mother—dear mother!—looked on aghast. She feared, I think, for my life; certainly for my sanity and morals.
It was Father this time who came to the rescue. He pooh-poohed Mother's fears; said it was indigestion that ailed me, or that I was growing too fast; or perhaps I didn't get enough sleep, or needed, maybe, a good tonic. He took me out of school, and made it a point to accompany me on long walks. He talked with me—not to me—about the birds and the trees and the sunsets, and then about the deeper things of life, until, before I realized it, I was sane and sensible once more, serene and happy in the simple faith of my childhood, with all the isms and ologies a mere bad dream in the dim past.
I was seventeen, if I remember rightly, when I became worried, not over my heavenly estate now, but my earthly one. I must have a career, of course. No namby-pamby everyday living of dishes and dusting and meals and babies for me. It was all very well, of course, for some people. Such things had to be. But for me—
I could write, of course; but I was not sure but that I preferred the stage. At the same time there was within me a deep stirring as of a call to go out and enlighten the world, especially that portion of it in darkest Africa or deadliest India. I would be a missionary.
Before I was eighteen, however, I had abandoned all this. Father put his foot down hard on the missionary project, and Mother put hers down on the stage idea. I didn't mind so much, though, as I remember, for on further study and consideration, I found that flowers and applause were not all of an actor's life, and that Africa and India were not entirely desirable as a place of residence for a young woman alone. Besides, I had decided by then that I could enlighten the world just as effectually (and much more comfortably) by writing stories at home and getting them printed.
So I wrote stories—but I did not get any of them printed, in spite of my earnest efforts. In time, therefore, that idea, also, was abandoned; and with it, regretfully, the idea of enlightening the world at all.
Besides, I had just then (again if I remember rightfully) fallen in love.
Not that it was the first time. Oh, no, not at eighteen, when at thirteen I had begun confidently and happily to look for it! What a sentimental little piece I was! How could they have been so patient with me—Father, Mother, everybody!
I think the first real attack—the first that I consciously called love, myself—was the winter after we had all come back to Andersonville to live. I was sixteen and in the high school.
It was Paul Mayhew—yes, the same Paul Mayhew that had defied his mother and sister and walked home with me one night and invited me to go for an automobile ride, only to be sent sharply about his business by my stern, inexorable Aunt Jane. Paul was in the senior class now, and the handsomest, most admired boy in school. He didn't care for girls. That is, he said he didn't. He bore himself with a supreme indifference that was maddening, and that took (apparently) no notice of the fact that every girl in school was a willing slave to the mere nodding of his head or the beckoning of his hand.
This was the condition of things when I entered school that fall, and perhaps for a week thereafter. Then one day, very suddenly, and without apparent reason, he awoke to the fact of my existence. Candy, flowers, books—some one of these he brought to me every morning. All during the school day he was my devoted gallant, dancing attendance every possible minute outside of session hours, and walking home with me in the afternoon, proudly carrying my books. Did I say "home with me"? That is not strictly true—he always stopped just one block short of "home"—one block short of my gate. He evidently had not forgotten Aunt Jane, and did not intend to take any foolish risks! So he said good-bye to me always at a safe distance.
That this savored of deception, or was in any way objectionable, did not seem to have occurred to me. Even if it had, I doubt very much if my course would have been altered, for I was bewitched and fascinated and thrilled with the excitement of it all. I was sixteen, remember, and this wonderful Adonis and woman-hater had chosen me, me!—and left all the other girls desolate and sighing, looking after us with longing eyes. Of course, I was thrilled!
This went on for perhaps a week. Then he asked me to attend a school sleigh-ride and supper with him.
I was wild with delight. At the same time I was wild with apprehension. I awoke suddenly to the fact of the existence of Father and Mother, and that their permission must be gained. And I had my doubts—I had very grave doubts. Yet it seemed to me at that moment that I just had to go on that sleigh-ride. That it was the only thing in the whole wide world worth while.
I can remember now, as if it were yesterday, the way I debated in my mind as to whether I should ask Father, Mother, or both together; and if I should let it be seen how greatly I desired to go, and how much it meant to me; or if I should just mention it as in passing, and take their permission practically for granted.
I chose the latter course, and I took a time when they were both together. At the breakfast-table I mentioned casually that the school was to have a sleigh-ride and supper the next Friday afternoon and evening, and that Paul Mayhew had asked me to go with him, I said I hoped it would be a pleasant night, but that I should wear my sweater under my coat, anyway, and I'd wear my leggings, too, if they thought it necessary.
(Sweater and leggings! Two of Mother's hobbies. Artful child!)
But if I thought that a sweater and a pair of leggings could muffle their ears as to what had gone before, I soon found my mistake.
"A sleigh-ride, supper, and not come home until evening?" cried Mother. "And with whom, did you say?"
"Paul Mayhew," I answered. I still tried to speak casually; at the same time I tried to indicate by voice and manner something of the great honor that had been bestowed upon their daughter.
Father was impressed—plainly impressed; but not at all in the way I had hoped he would be. He gave me a swift, sharp glance; then looked straight at Mother.
"Humph! Paul Mayhew! Yes, I know him," he said grimly. "And I'm dreading the time when he comes into college next year."
"You mean—" Mother hesitated and stopped.
"I mean I don't like the company he keeps—already," nodded Father.
"Then you don't think that Mary Marie—" Mother hesitated again, and glanced at me.
"Certainly not," said Father decidedly.
I knew then, of course, that he meant I couldn't go on the sleigh-ride, even though he hadn't said the words right out. I forgot all about being casual and indifferent and matter-of-course then. I thought only of showing them how absolutely necessary it was for them to let me go on that sleigh-ride, unless they wanted my life forever-more hopelessly blighted.
I explained carefully how he was the handsomest, most popular boy in school, and how all the girls were just crazy to be asked to go anywhere with him; and I argued what if Father had seen him with boys he did not like—then that was all the more reason why nice girls like me, when he asked them, should go with him, so as to keep him away from the bad boys! And I told them, that this was the first and last, and only sleigh-ride of the school that year; and I said I'd be heart-broken, just heart-broken, if they did not let me go. And I reminded them again that he was the very handsomest, most popular boy in school; and that there wasn't a girl I knew who wouldn't be crazy to be in my shoes.
Then I stopped, all out of breath, and I can imagine just how pleading and palpitating I looked.
I thought Father was going to refuse right away, but I saw the glance that Mother threw him—the glance that said, "Let me attend to this, dear." I'd seen that glance before, several times, and I knew just what it meant; so I wasn't surprised to see Father shrug his shoulders and turn away as Mother said to me:
"Very well, dear. Ill think it over and let you know to-night."
But I was surprised that night to have Mother say I could go, for I'd about given up hope, after all that talk at the breakfast-table. And she said something else that surprised me, too. She said she'd like to know Paul Mayhew herself; that she always wanted to know the friends of her little girl. And she told me to ask him to call the next evening and play checkers or chess with me.
Happy? I could scarcely contain myself for joy. And when the next evening came bringing Paul, and Mother, all prettily dressed as if he were really truly company, came into the room and talked so beautifully to him, I was even more entranced. To be sure, it did bother me a little that Paul laughed so much, and so loudly, and that he couldn't seem to find anything to talk about only himself, and what he was doing, and what he was going to do. Some way, he had never seemed like that at school. And I was afraid Mother wouldn't like that.
All the evening I was watching and listening with her eyes and her ears everything he did, everything he said. I so wanted Mother to like him! I so wanted Mother to see how really fine and splendid and noble he was. But that evening—Why couldn't he stop talking about the prizes he'd won, and the big racing car he'd just ordered for next summer? There was nothing fine and splendid and noble about that. And were his finger nails always so dirty?
Why, Mother would think—
Mother did not stay in the room all the time; but she was in more or less often to watch the game; and at half-past nine she brought in some little cakes and lemonade as a surprise. I thought it was lovely; but I could have shaken Paul when he pretended to be afraid of it, and asked Mother if there was a stick in it.
The idea—Mother! A stick!
I just knew Mother wouldn't like that. But if she didn't, she never showed a thing in her face. She just smiled, and said no, there wasn't any stick in it; and passed the cakes.
When he had gone I remember I didn't like to meet Mother's eyes, and I didn't ask her how she liked Paul Mayhew. I kept right on talking fast about something else. Some way, I didn't want Mother to talk then, for fear of what she would say.
And Mother didn't say anything about Paul Mayhew—then. But only a few days later she told me to invite him again to the house (this time to a chafing-dish supper), and to ask Carrie Heywood and Fred Small, too.
We had a beautiful time, only again Paul Mayhew didn't "show off" at all in the way I wanted him to—though he most emphatically "showed off" in his way! It seemed to me that he bragged even more about himself and his belongings than he had before. And I didn't like at all the way he ate his food. Why, Father didn't eat like that—with such a noisy mouth, and such a rattling of the silverware!
And so it went—wise mother that she was! Far from prohibiting me to have anything to do with Paul Mayhew, she let me see all I wanted to of him, particularly in my own home. She let me go out with him, properly chaperoned, and she never, by word or manner, hinted that she didn't admire his conceit and braggadocio.
And it all came out exactly as I suspect she had planned from the beginning. When Paul Mayhew asked to be my escort to the class reception in June, I declined with thanks, and immediately afterwards told Fred Small I would go with him. But even when I told Mother nonchalantly, and with carefully averted eyes, that I was going to the reception with Fred Small—even then her pleasant "Well, that's good!" conveyed only cheery mother interest; nor did a hasty glance into her face discover so much as a lifted eyebrow to hint, "I thought you'd come to your senses sometime!"
Wise little mother that she was!
In the days and weeks that followed (though nothing was said) I detected a subtle change in certain matters, however. And as I look back at it now, I am sure I can trace its origin to my "affair" with Paul Mayhew. Evidently Mother had no intention of running the risk of any more block-away courtships; also evidently she intended to know who my friends were. At all events, the old Anderson mansion soon became the rendezvous of all the boys and girls of my acquaintance. And such good times as we had, with Mother always one of us, and ever proposing something new and interesting!
And because boys—not a boy, but boys—were as free to come to the house as were girls, they soon seemed to me as commonplace and matter-of-course and free from sentimental interest as were the girls.
Again wise little mother!
But, of course, even this did not prevent my falling in love with some one older than myself, some one quite outside of my own circle of intimates. Almost every girl in her teens at some time falls violently in love with some remote being almost old enough to be her father—a being whom she endows with all the graces and perfections of her dream Adonis. For, after all, it isn't that she is in love with him, this man of flesh and blood before her; it is that she is in love with love. A very different matter.
My especial attack of this kind came to me when I was barely eighteen, the spring I was being graduated from the Andersonville High School. And the visible embodiment of my adoration was the head master, Mr. Harold Hartshorn, a handsome, clean-shaven, well-set-up man of (I should judge) thirty-five years of age, rather grave, a little stern, and very dignified.
But how I adored him! How I hung upon his every word, his every glance! How I maneuvered to win from him a few minutes' conversation on a Latin verb or a French translation! How I thrilled if he bestowed upon me one of his infrequent smiles! How I grieved over his stern aloofness!
By the end of a month I had evolved this: his stern aloofness meant that he had been disappointed in love; his melancholy was loneliness—his heart was breaking. How I longed to help, to heal, to cure! How I thrilled at the thought of the love and companionship I could give him somewhere in a rose-embowered cottage far from the madding crowd! (He boarded at the Andersonville Hotel alone now.) What nobler career could I have than the blotting out of his stricken heart the memory of that faithless woman who had so wounded him and blighted his youth? What, indeed? If only he could see it as I saw it. If only by some sign or token he could know of the warm love that was his but for the asking! Could he not see that no longer need he pine alone and unappreciated in the Andersonville Hotel? Why, in just a few weeks I was to be through school. And then—
On the night before commencement Mr. Harold Hartshorn ascended our front steps, rang the bell, and called for my father. I knew because I was upstairs in my room over the front door; and I saw him come up the walk and heard him ask for Father.
Oh, joy! Oh, happy day! He knew. He had seen it as I saw it. He had come to gain Father's permission, that he might be a duly accredited suitor for my hand!
During the next ecstatic ten minutes, with my hand pressed against my wildly beating heart, I planned my wedding dress, selected with care and discrimination my trousseau, furnished the rose-embowered cottage far from the madding crowd—and wondered why Father did not send for me. Then the slam of the screen door downstairs sent me to the window, a sickening terror within me,
Was he going—without seeing me, his future bride? Impossible!
Father and Mr. Harold Hartshorn stood on the front steps below, talking. In another minute Mr. Harold Hartshorn had walked away, and Father had turned back on to the piazza.
As soon as I could control my shaking knees, I went downstairs.
Father was in his favorite rocking-chair. I advanced slowly. I did not sit down.
"Was that Mr. Hartshorn?" I asked, trying to keep the shake out of my voice.
"Mr. H-Hartshorn," I repeated stupidly.
"Yes. He came to see me about the Downer place," nodded Father. "He wants to rent it for next year."
"To rent it—the Downer place!" (The Downer place was no rose-embowered cottage far from the madding crowd! Why, it was big, and brick, and right next to the hotel! I didn't want to live there.)
"Yes—for his wife and family. He's going to bring them back with him next year," explained Father.
"His wife and family!" I can imagine about how I gasped out those four words.
"Yes. He has five children, I believe, and—"
But I had fled to my room.
After all, my recovery was rapid. I was in love with love, you see; not with Mr. Harold Hartshorn. Besides, the next year I went to college. And it was while I was at college that I met Jerry.
Jerry was the brother of my college friend, Helen Weston. Helen's elder sister was a senior in that same college, and was graduated at the close of my freshman year. The father, mother, and brother came on to the graduation. And that is where I met Jerry.
If it might be called meeting him. He lifted his hat, bowed, said a polite nothing with his lips, and an indifferent "Oh, some friend of Helen's," with his eyes, and turned to a radiant blonde senior at my side.
And that was all—for him. But for me—
All that day I watched him whenever opportunity offered; and I suspect that I took care that opportunity offered frequently. I was fascinated. I had never seen any one like him before. Tall, handsome, brilliant, at perfect ease, he plainly dominated every group of which he was a part. Toward him every face was turned—yet he never seemed to know it. (Whatever his faults, Jerry is not conceited. I will give him credit for that!) To me he did not speak again that day. I am not sure that he even looked at me. If he did there must still have been in his eyes only the "Oh, some friend of Helen's," that I had seen at the morning introduction.
I did not meet Jerry Weston again for nearly a year; but that did not mean that I did not hear of him. I wonder if Helen ever noticed how often I used to get her to talk of her home and her family life; and how interested I was in her gallery of portraits on the mantel—there were two fine ones of her brother there.
Helen was very fond of her brother. I soon found that she loved to talk about him—if she had a good listener. Needless to say she had a very good one in me.
Jerry was an artist, it seemed. He was twenty-eight years old, and already he had won no small distinction. Prizes, medals, honorable mention, and a special course abroad—all these Helen told me about. She told me, too, about the wonderful success he had just had with the portrait of a certain New York society woman. She said that it was just going to "make" Jerry; that he could have anything he wanted now—anything. Then she told me how popular he always was with everybody. Helen was not only very fond of her brother, but very proud of him. That was plain to be seen. In her opinion, evidently, there was none to be compared with him.
And apparently, in my own mind, I agreed with her—there was none to be compared with him. At all events, all the other boys that used to call and bring me candy and send me flowers at about this time suffered woefully in comparison with him! I remember that. So tame they were—so crude and young and unpolished!
I saw Jerry myself during the Easter vacation of my second year in college. Helen invited me to go home with her, and Mother wrote that I might go. Helen had been home with me for the Christmas vacation, and Mother and Father liked her very much. There was no hesitation, therefore, in their consent that I should visit Helen at Easter-time. So I went.
Helen lived in New York. Their home was a Fifth-Avenue mansion with nine servants, four automobiles, and two chauffeurs. Naturally such a scale of living was entirely new to me, and correspondingly fascinating. From the elaborately uniformed footman that opened the door for me to the awesome French maid who "did" my hair, I adored them all, and moved as in a dream of enchantment. Then came Jerry home from a week-end's trip—and I forgot everything else.
I knew from the minute his eyes looked into mine that whatever I had been before, I was now certainly no mere "Oh, some friend of Helen's." I was (so his eyes said) "a deucedly pretty girl, and one well worth cultivating." Whereupon he began at once to do the "cultivating."
And just here, perversely enough, I grew indifferent. Or was it only feigned—not consciously, but unconsciously? Whatever it was, it did not endure long. Nothing could have endured, under the circumstances. Nothing ever endures—with Jerry on the other side.
In less than thirty-six hours I was caught up in the whirlwind of his wooing, and would not have escaped it if I could.
When I went back to college he held my promise that if he could gain the consent of Father and Mother, he might put the engagement ring on my finger.
Back at college, alone in my own room, I drew a long breath, and began to think. It was the first chance I had had, for even Helen now had become Jerry—by reflection.
The more I thought, the more frightened, dismayed, and despairing I became. In the clear light of calm, sane reasoning, it was all so absurd, so impossible! What could I have been thinking of?
Of Jerry, of course.
With hot cheeks I answered my own question. And even the thought of him then cast the spell of his presence about me, and again I was back in the whirl of dining and dancing and motoring, with his dear face at my side. Of Jerry; yes, of Jerry I was thinking. But I must forget Jerry.
I pictured Jerry in Andersonville, in my own home. I tried to picture him talking to Father, to Mother.
Absurd! What had Jerry to do with learned treatises on stars, or with the humdrum, everyday life of a stupid small town? For that matter, what had Father and Mother to do with dancing and motoring and painting society queens' portraits? Nothing.
Plainly, even if Jerry, for the sake of the daughter, liked Father and Mother, Father and Mother certainly would not like Jerry. That was certain.
Of course I cried myself to sleep that night. That was to be expected. Jerry was the world; and the world was lost. There was nothing left except, perhaps, a few remnants and pieces, scarcely worth the counting—excepting, of course, Father and Mother. But one could not always have one's father and mother. There would come a time when—
Jerry's letter came the next day—by special delivery. He had gone straight home from the station and begun to write to me. (How like Jerry that was—particularly the special-delivery stamp!) The most of his letter, aside from the usual lover's rhapsodies, had to do with plans for the summer—what we would do together at the Westons' summer cottage in Newport. He said he should run up to Andersonville early—very early; just as soon as I was back from college, in fact, so that he might meet Father and Mother, and put that ring on my finger.
And while I read the letter, I just knew he would do it. Why, I could even see the sparkle of the ring on my finger. But in five minutes after the letter was folded and put away, I knew, with equal certitude—that he wouldn't.
It was like that all that spring term. While under the spell of the letters, as I read them, I saw myself the adored wife of Jerry Weston, and happy ever after. All the rest of the time I knew myself to be plain Mary Marie Anderson, forever lonely and desolate.
I had been at home exactly eight hours when a telegram from Jerry asked permission to come at once.
As gently as I could I broke the news to Father and Mother. He was Helen's brother. They must have heard me mention him, I knew him well, very well, indeed. In fact, the purpose of this visit was to ask them for the hand of their daughter.
Father frowned and scolded, and said, "Tut, tut!" and that I was nothing but a child. But Mother smiled and shook her head, even while she sighed, and reminded him that I was twenty—two whole years older than she was when she married him; though in the same breath she admitted that I was young, and she certainly hoped I'd be willing to wait before I married, even if the young man was all that they could ask him to be.
Father was still a little rebellious, I think; but Mother—bless her dear sympathetic heart!—soon convinced him that they must at least consent to see this Gerald Weston. So I sent the wire inviting him to come.
More fearfully than ever then I awaited the meeting between my lover and my father and mother. With the Westons' mansion and manner of living in the glorified past, and the Anderson homestead, and its manner of living, very much in the plain, unvarnished present, I trembled more than ever for the results of that meeting. Not that I believed Jerry would be snobbish enough to scorn our simplicity, but that there would be no common meeting-ground of congeniality.
I need not have worried—but I did not know Jerry then so well as I do now.
Jerry came—and he had not been five minutes in the house before it might easily have seemed that he had always been there. He did know about stars; at least, he talked with Father about them, and so as to hold Father's interest, too. And he knew a lot about innumerable things in which Mother was interested. He stayed four days; and all the while he was there, I never so much as thought of ceremonious dress and dinners, and liveried butlers and footmen; nor did it once occur to me that our simple kitchen Nora, and Old John's son at the wheel of our one motorcar, were not beautifully and entirely adequate, so unassumingly and so perfectly did Jerry unmistakably "fit in." (There are no other words that so exactly express what I mean.) And in the end, even his charm and his triumph were so unobtrusively complete that I never thought of being surprised at the prompt capitulation of both Father and Mother.
Jerry had brought the ring. (Jerry always brings his "rings"—and he never fails to "put them on.") And he went back to New York with Mother's promise that I should visit them in July at their cottage in Newport.
They seemed like a dream—those four days—after he had gone; and I should have been tempted to doubt the whole thing had there not been the sparkle of the ring on my finger, and the frequent reference to Jerry on the lips of both Father and Mother.
They loved Jerry, both of them. Father said he was a fine, manly young fellow; and Mother said he was a dear boy, a very dear boy. Neither of them spoke much of his painting. Jerry himself had scarcely mentioned it to them, as I remembered, after he had gone.
I went to Newport in July. "The cottage," as I suspected, was twice as large and twice as pretentious as the New York residence; and it sported twice the number of servants. Once again I was caught in the whirl of dinners and dances and motoring, with the addition of tennis and bathing. And always, at my side, was Jerry, seemingly living only upon my lightest whim and fancy. He wished to paint my portrait; but there was no time, especially as my visit, in accordance with Mother's inexorable decision, was of only one week's duration.
But what a wonderful week that was! I seemed to be under a kind of spell. It was as if I were in a new world—a world such as no one had ever been in before. Oh, I knew, of course, that others had loved—but not as we loved. I was sure that no one had ever loved as we loved. And it was so much more wonderful than anything I had ever dreamed of—this love of ours. Yet all my life since my early teens I had been thinking and planning and waiting for it—love. And now it had come—the real thing. The others—all the others had been shams and make-believes and counterfeits. To think that I ever thought those silly little episodes with Paul Mayhew and Freddy Small and Mr. Harold Hartshorn were love! Absurd! But now—
And so I walked and moved and breathed in this spell that had been cast upon me; and thought—little fool that I was!—that never had there been before, nor could there be again, a love quite so wonderful as ours.
At Newport Jerry decided that he wanted to be married right away. He didn't want to wait two more endless years until I was graduated. The idea of wasting all that valuable time when we might be together! And when there was really no reason for it, either—no reason at all!
I smiled to myself, even as I thrilled at his sweet insistence. I was pretty sure I knew two reasons—two very good reasons—why I could not marry before graduation. One reason was Father; the other reason was Mother. I hinted as much.
"Ho! Is that all?" He laughed and kissed me. "I'll run down and see them about it," he said jauntily.
I smiled again. I had no more idea that anything he could say would—
But I didn't know Jerry—then.
I had not been home from Newport a week when Jerry kept his promise and "ran down." And he had not been there two days before Father and Mother admitted that, perhaps, after all, it would not be so bad an idea if I shouldn't graduate, but should be married instead.
And so I was married.
(Didn't I tell you that Jerry always brought his rings and put them on?)
And again I say, and so we were married.
But what did we know of each other?—the real other? True, we had danced together, been swimming together, dined together, played tennis together. But what did we really know of each other's whims and prejudices, opinions and personal habits and tastes? I knew, to a word, what Jerry would say about a sunset; and he knew, I fancy, what I would say about a dreamy waltz song. But we didn't either of us know what the other would say to a dinnerless home with the cook gone. We were leaving a good deal to be learned later on; but we didn't think of that. Love that is to last must be built upon the realization that troubles and trials and sorrows are sure to come, and that they must be borne together—if one back is not to break under the load. We were entering into a contract, not for a week, but, presumedly, for a lifetime—and a good deal may come to one in a lifetime—not all of it pleasant. We had been brought up in two distinctly different social environments, but we didn't stop to think of that. We liked the same sunsets, and the same make of car, and the same kind of ice-cream; and we looked into each other's eyes and thought we knew the other—whereas we were really only seeing the mirrored reflection of ourselves.
And so we were married.
It was everything that was blissful and delightful, of course, at first. We were still eating the ice-cream and admiring the sunsets. I had forgotten that there were things other than sunsets and ice-cream, I suspect. I was not twenty-one, remember, and my feet fairly ached to dance. The whole world was a show. Music, lights, laughter—how I loved them all!
Marie, of course. Well, yes, I suspect Marie was in the ascendancy about that time. But I never thought of it that way.
Then came the baby, Eunice, my little girl; and with one touch of her tiny, clinging fingers, the whole world of sham—the lights and music and glare and glitter just faded all away into nothingness, where it belonged. As if anything counted, with her on the other side of the scales!
I found out then—oh, I found out lots of things. You see, it wasn't that way at all with Jerry. The lights and music and the glitter and the sham didn't fade away a mite, to him, when Eunice came. In fact, sometimes it seemed to me they just grew stronger, if anything.
He didn't like it because I couldn't go with him any more—to dances and things, I mean. He said the nurse could take care of Eunice. As if I'd leave my baby with any nurse that ever lived, for any old dance! The idea! But Jerry went. At first he stayed with me; but the baby cried, and Jerry didn't like that. It made him irritable and nervous, until I was glad to have him go. (Who wouldn't be, with his eternal repetition of "Mollie, can't you stop that baby's crying?" As if that wasn't exactly what I was trying to do, as hard as ever I could!) But Jerry didn't see it that way. Jerry never did appreciate what a wonderful, glorious thing just being a father is.
I think it was at about this time that Jerry took up his painting again. I guess I have forgotten to mention that all through the first two years of our marriage, before the baby came, he just tended to me. He never painted a single picture. But after Eunice came—
But, after all, what is the use of going over these last miserable years like this? Eunice is five now. Her father is the most popular portrait painter in the country, I am almost tempted to say that he is the most popular man, as well. All the old charm and magnetism are there. Sometimes I watch him (for, of course, I do go out with him once in a while), and always I think of that first day I saw him at college. Brilliant, polished, witty—he still dominates every group of which he is a member. Men and women alike bow to his charm. (I'm glad it's not only the women. Jerry isn't a bit of a flirt. I will say that much for him. At any rate, if he does flirt, he flirts just as desperately with old Judge Randlett as he does with the newest and prettiest debutante: with serene impartiality he bestows upon each the same glances, the same wit, the same adorable charm.) Praise, attention, applause, music, laughter, lights—they are the breath of life to him. Without them he would—But, there, he never is without them, so I don't know what he would be.
After all, I suspect that it's just that Jerry still loves the ice-cream and the sunsets, and I don't. That's all. To me there's something more to life than that—something higher, deeper, more worth while. We haven't a taste in common, a thought in unison, an aspiration in harmony. I suspect—in fact I know—that I get on his nerves just as raspingly as he does on mine. For that reason I'm sure he'll be glad—when he gets my letter.
But, some way, I dread to tell Mother.
* * * * *
Well, it's finished. I've been about four days bringing this autobiography of Mary Marie's to an end. I've enjoyed doing it, in a way, though I'll have to admit I can't see as it's made things any clearer. But, then, it was clear before. There isn't any other way. I've got to write that letter. As I said before, I regret that it must be so sorry an ending.
I suppose to-morrow I'll have to tell Mother. I want to tell her, of course, before I write the letter to Jerry.
It'll grieve Mother. I know it will. And I'm sorry. Poor Mother! Already she's had so much unhappiness in her life. But she's happy now. She and Father are wonderful together—wonderful. Father is still President of the college. He got out a wonderful book on the "Eclipses of the Moon" two years ago, and he's publishing another one about the "Eclipses of the Sun" this year. Mother's correcting proof for him. Bless her heart. She loves it. She told me so.
Well, I shall have to tell her to-morrow, of course.
* * * * *
To-morrow—which has become to-day.
I wonder if Mother knew what I had come into her little sitting-room this morning to say. It seems as if she must have known. And yet—I had wondered how I was going to begin, but, before I knew it, I was right in the middle of it—the subject, I mean. That's why I thought perhaps that Mother—
But I'm getting as bad as little Mary Marie of the long ago. I'll try now to tell what did happen.
I was wetting my lips, and swallowing, and wondering how I was going to begin to tell her that I was planning not to go back to Jerry, when all of a sudden I found myself saying something about little Eunice. And then Mother said:
"Yes, my dear; and that's what comforts me most of anything—because you are so devoted to Eunice. You see, I have feared sometimes—for you and Jerry; that you might separate. But I know, on account of Eunice, that you never will."
"But, Mother, that's the very reason—I mean, it would be the reason," I stammered. Then I stopped. My tongue just wouldn't move, my throat and lips were so dry.
To think that Mother suspected—knew already—about Jerry and me; and yet to say that on account of Eunice I would not do it. Why, it was for Eunice, largely, that I was going to do it. To let that child grow up thinking that dancing and motoring was all of life, and—
But Mother was speaking again.
"Eunice—yes. You mean that you never would make her go through what you went through when you were her age."
"Why, Mother, I—I—" And then I stopped again. And I was so angry and indignant with myself because I had to stop, when there were so many, many things that I wanted to say, if only my dry lips could articulate the words.
Mother drew her breath in with a little catch. She had grown rather white.
"I wonder if you remember—if you ever think of—your childhood," she said.
"Why, yes, of—of course—sometimes." It was my turn to stammer. I was thinking of that diary that I had just read—and added to.
Mother drew in her breath again, this time with a catch that was almost a sob. And then she began to talk—at first haltingly, with half-finished sentences; then hurriedly, with a rush of words that seemed not able to utter themselves fast enough to keep up with the thoughts behind them.
She told of her youth and marriage, and of my coming. She told of her life with Father, and of the mistakes she made. She told much, of course, that was in Mary Marie's diary; but she told, too, oh, so much more, until like a panorama the whole thing lay before me.
Then she spoke of me, and of my childhood, and her voice began to quiver. She told of the Mary and the Marie, and of the dual nature within me. (As if I didn't know about that!) But she told me much that I did not know, and she made things much clearer to me, until I saw—
You can see things so much more clearly when you stand off at a distance like this, you know, than you can when you are close to them!
She broke down and cried when she spoke of the divorce, and of the influence it had upon me, and of the false idea of marriage it gave me. She said it was the worst kind of thing for me—the sort of life I had to live. She said I grew pert and precocious and worldly-wise, and full of servants' talk and ideas. She even spoke of that night at the little cafe table when I gloried in the sparkle and spangles and told her that now we were seeing life—real life. And of how shocked she was, and of how she saw then what this thing was doing to me. But it was too late.
She told more, much more, about the later years, and the reconciliation; then, some way, she brought things around to Jerry and me. Her face flushed up then, and she didn't meet my eyes. She looked down at her sewing. She was very busy turning a hem just so.
She said there had been a time, once, when she had worried a little about Jerry and me, for fear we would—separate. She said that she believed that, for her, that would have been the very blackest moment of her life; for it would be her fault, all her fault.
I tried to break in here, and say, "No, no," and that it wasn't her fault; but she shook her head and wouldn't listen, and she lifted her hand, and I had to keep still and let her go on talking. She was looking straight into my eyes then, and there was such a deep, deep hurt in them that I just had to listen.
She said again that it would be her fault; that if I had done that she would have known that it was all because of the example she herself had set me of childish willfulness and selfish seeking of personal happiness at the expense of everything and everybody else. And she said that that would have been the last straw to break her heart.
But she declared that she was sure now that she need not worry. Such a thing would never be.
I guess I gasped a little at this. Anyhow, I know I tried to break in and tell her that we were going to separate, and that that was exactly what I had come into the room in the first place to say.
But again she kept right on talking, and I was silenced before I had even begun.
She said how she knew it could never be—on account of Eunice. That I would never subject my little girl to the sort of wretchedly divided life that I had had to live when I was a child.
(As she spoke I was suddenly back in the cobwebby attic with little Mary Marie's diary, and I thought—what if it were Eunice—writing that!)
She said I was the most devoted mother she had ever known; that I was too devoted, she feared sometimes, for I made Eunice all my world, to the exclusion of Jerry and everything and everybody else. But that she was very sure, because I was so devoted, and loved Eunice so dearly, that I would never deprive her of a father's love and care.
I shivered a little, and looked quickly into Mother's face. But she was not looking at me. I was thinking of how Jerry had kissed and kissed Eunice a month ago, when we came away, as if he just couldn't let her go. Jerry is fond of Eunice, now that she's old enough to know something, and Eunice adores her father. I knew that part was going to be hard. And now to have Mother put it like that—
I began to talk then of Jerry. I just felt that I'd got to say something. That Mother must listen. That she didn't understand. I told her how Jerry loved lights and music and dancing, and crowds bowing down and worshiping him all the time. And she said yes, she remembered; that he'd been that way when I married him.
She spoke so sort of queerly that again I glanced at her; but she still was looking down at the hem she was turning.
I went on then to explain that I didn't like such things; that I believed that there were deeper and higher things, and things more worth while. And she said yes, she was glad, and that that was going to be my saving grace; for, of course, I realized that there couldn't be anything deeper or higher or more worth while than keeping the home together, and putting up with annoyances, for the ultimate good of all, especially of Eunice.
She went right on then quickly, before I could say anything. She said that, of course, I understood that I was still Mary and Marie, even if Jerry did call me Mollie; and that if Marie had married a man that wasn't always congenial with Mary, she was very sure Mary had enough stamina and good sense to make the best of it; and she was very sure, also, that if Mary would only make a little effort to be once in a while the Marie he had married, things might be a lot easier—for Mary.
Of course, I laughed at that. I had to. And Mother laughed, too. But we understood. We both understood. I had never thought of it before, but I had been Marie when I married Jerry. I loved lights and music and dancing and gay crowds just exactly as well as he did. And it wasn't his fault that I suddenly turned into Mary when the baby came, and wanted him to stay at home before the fire every evening with his dressing-gown and slippers. No wonder he was surprised. He hadn't married Mary—he never knew Mary at all. But, do you know? I'd never thought of that before—until Mother said what she did. Why, probably Jerry was just as much disappointed to find his Marie turned into a Mary as I—
But Mother was talking again.
She said that she thought Jerry was a wonderful man, in some ways; that she never saw a man with such charm and magnetism, or one who could so readily adapt himself to different persons and circumstances. And she said she was very sure if Mary could only show a little more interest in pictures (especially portraits), and learn to discuss lights and shadows and perspectives, that nothing would be lost, and that something might be gained; that there was nothing, anyway, like a community of interest or of hobbies to bring two people together; and that it was safer, to say the least, when it was the wife that shared the community of interest than when it was some other woman, though, of course, she knew as well as I knew that Jerry never would—She didn't finish her sentence, and because she didn't finish it, it made me think all the more. And I wondered if she left it unfinished—on purpose.
Then, in a minute, she was talking again.
She was speaking of Eunice. She said once more that because of her, she knew that she need never fear any serious trouble between Jerry and me, for, after all, it's the child that always pays for the mother's mistakes and short-sightedness, just as it is the soldier that pays for his commanding officer's blunders. That's why she felt that I had had to pay for her mistakes, and why she knew that I'd never compel my little girl to pay for mine. She said that the mother lives in the heart of the child long after the mother is gone, and that was why the mother always had to be—so careful.
Then, before I knew it, she was talking briskly and brightly about something entirely different; and two minutes later I found myself alone outside of her room. And I hadn't told her.
But I wasn't even thinking of that. I was thinking of Eunice, and of that round, childish scrawl of a diary upstairs in the attic trunk. And I was picturing Eunice, in the years to come, writing her diary; and I thought, what if she should have to—
I went upstairs then and read that diary again. And all the while I was reading I thought of Eunice. And when it was finished I knew that I'd never tell Mother, that I'd never write to Jerry—not the letter that I was going to write. I knew that—
* * * * *
They brought Jerry's letter to me at just that point. What a wonderful letter that man can write—when he wants to!
He says he's lonesome and homesick, and that the house is like a tomb without Eunice and me, and when am I coming home?
* * * * *
I wrote him to-night that I was going—to-morrow.