John patted the latter, then flicked the ashes from his cigar. "I didn't tell them, but I could have done so, that it wasn't an idiosyncrasy, but sense, that made you wear elbow sleeves all the time. An arm and wrist and hand like yours have no right to be hidden."
"Nonsense, nonsense!" Again the fan was waved, but Miss Gibbie's lips twitched. "Vanity in a woman of my age is past pardon. I don't like anything to touch my wrist, and sleeves are in the way. Tell me"—she leaned toward him—"is Mary worried with me?"
"Not that I know of. I have scarcely seen her for two days. She's been having so many committee meetings, and so many people have been after her for this and for that, and some sick child at the asylum had to be visited so often, that except in the evenings I have hardly had time to speak to her. And then she is so tired I don't like to keep her up. She can't stand this sort of thing, Miss Gibbie. It will wear her out, and it ought to be stopped." He got out of his chair and began to walk up and down the porch, one hand in his pocket, the other holding his cigar. "It's got to be stopped."
"Who is going to stop it?"
"I know who'd like to stop it." He stood in front of her. "Aren't you going to help me, Miss Gibbie?"
"I am not." She looked up into the strong face now suddenly serious. "I mean in the way you mean. I am going to keep her from wearing herself out, but she is not doing that. Hedwig takes care of her and sees that she gets proper food and rest and is spared a thousand things other women have to contend with. And it doesn't hurt anybody to be busy. If you don't think about something else you think about yourself, and the most ruinous of all germs is the ego germ. She isn't likely to be attacked, for she has good resistance, but it's in the air, and I don't want her to get it. She is very happy."
"Why not? Isn't she leading the life she wants to lead? She has a passion for service. She has a home of her own, simple, but complete; is earning an income sufficient to take care of herself, and has besides, a little money, every cent of which she gives away, however; and, above all, she has the power of making people love her. What more could a girl want?"
"Is it enough?"
"Quite enough!" Miss Gibbie's eyes flashed into John Maxwell's. "Why not enough? She has work to do, a place to fill, is needed, and is bringing cheer and sunshine to others. There is a great deal to be done for Yorkburg, and being that rare thing, a leader, she has already started much that will make great changes later on. Sit down and stop looking at me that way! She has quite enough."
John threw his cigar away and took the chair she pushed toward him. "I don't believe we do understand each other as well as we thought," he said, again leaning forward and clasping his hands together. "I know what Mary is to you. I saw it that first day I joined you at Windemere, and during the weeks we were together I saw also it wasn't Mary alone I'd have to win, but there'd be you to fight as well. I told you in the beginning just where I stood. I've kept nothing from you and I'm fighting fair, but neither you nor anybody else on God's earth can keep me from trying to make her my wife. Life is before us—"
"And behind me."
He flushed. "I didn't mean that. I mean that Mary is not to sacrifice herself to an idea, to a condition, if I can help it. I'm with her in all this work for the old place. I love it. I've tried to prove it in more than words, and I would not ask her to give it up entirely. A home can always be kept here, but another sort of home is meant for Mary. And it's the one I want to make for her."
John's steady eyes looked in the stormy ones. "No—not my mother's. When Mary is my wife she goes to the home of which she is to be the mistress. Like you, my mother—"
"Objects to matrimony. I understand Mrs. Maxwell is as much opposed to your marriage as I am to Mary's. That should be a stimulus to both of you. Opposition is a great incentive, but in this case the trouble is with Mary herself. Would you marry her, anyhow?"
"I would." He smiled. "I'd take Mary any way I could get her. Oh, I used to have theories of my own about such things, but love knocks theories into nothingness. It makes us do things we never thought we would, doesn't it?"
Miss Gibbie turned her head away from his understanding eyes, and tapped the porch impatiently with her foot.
"It makes fools of most people. But as long as we've mentioned it we might as well have this out, Mary doesn't want to marry anybody. She is happy, and you are not to be coming down here trying to make her change her mind, trying to take her away!"
"Who is going to stop it?"
They were her words, and at remembrance of them her face changed and over it swept sudden understanding, and her hand went helplessly toward him.
"John," she said, "I'm an old woman and she's all I've got. Don't take her from me! Don't take her away!"
He frowned slightly, but he took the hand which he had never before seen tremble, and smoothed it gently. "Not from you, Miss Gibbie. I wouldn't take her out of your life. She would let nothing or nobody do that, but for years I have been waiting—"
"How old are you?"
"Twenty-seven in October."
She sat suddenly upright. "An infant! She will be twenty-three in June. And I—I am sixty-five. Your life, as you said, is before you, yours and hers. Mine is behind, but in the little of mine left I need her. Will you hold off for a while? Listen! she doesn't know she loves you. Doesn't know the reason she has never loved any one else is because there is but one man in her life, and that is you. I didn't want to tell you this, didn't want you to know it, don't want her to know it—yet. She is a child still, though so verily a woman in much. She has owned you since that first visit you made to Michigan, a big, awkward, red-faced boy of seventeen, with the same fearless eyes you've got now and the same determined mouth. You've told me about it and she's told me about it and how all you said at first was 'How'd do, Mary? I'm here.' And you've been 'here' ever since. Don't you see she takes you for granted? The best of women will do that and never guess how rare a thing is a strong man's love. For you there's but one woman in the world, but a woman is the strangest thing God's made yet, and there are no rules by which to understand her. And you don't understand Mary. Until she does what it is in her heart to do here—gets rid of some of the regulations that use to enrage her as a child, starts flowers where are weeds, and opens eyes that are shut—she couldn't be happy. But listen! I am going to tell you what for cold, hard years I pretended not to believe. A woman's heart never ceases to long for the love that makes her first in life, and after a while Mary will know her arms were meant to hold children of her own."
For a moment there was silence, and then Miss Gibbie spoke again.
"Let her alone, John. Let her find for herself that the best community mother should be the woman who has borne children and knows the depths of human experience are needed to reach its heights. She has her own ideas of service; so have I. Mine are that most people you try to help are piggy and grunt if you happen to step on their toes. She says they grunt only when the stepping is not by accident, and the pigginess is often with the people who help. As benefactors they want to own the benefactored. Perhaps they do. She knows much more of the behind-the-scenes of life than I do. But I know some things she doesn't, and a good many you don't. If I didn't like you, boy, I wouldn't tell you what I'm going to tell you, and that is, stay away and let her miss you. I'd tell you to keep on and nag her to death, and make her despise you for your weakness. She'll never marry a man she doesn't respect, even if she loved him, and love is by no means dependent on respect."
Miss Gibbie nibbled the tip of her turkey-wing fan for a moment of stillness, unbroken save for the twitter of birds in the trees near by, then turned once more to the man by her side.
"I'll be honest with you. I don't want her to marry you or anybody else. I want to keep her with me; but I'll be square. It will be hands off until she decides for herself. If you will say nothing to her for a year I will say nothing before her against marriage in general, and I've said a great deal in the past. And, moreover, I will wrap my blessing up to-day and hand it out a year hence if you deserve it, even if the handing breaks my heart." She held out her hand. "Is it a bargain?"
"I don't know whether it is or not." He interlocked his fingers and looked down on the floor of the porch. The ridges in his forehead stood out heavily, and his teeth bit into his under lip. "It is asking a good deal, and I don't like to make a promise I might not be able to fulfil. A year is a long time. She might need me. Something might happen."
"About your only chance. Don't you see she needs something to wake her up? I'm not going to wake her. I want her to sleep on. I'm selfish and don't deny it. But, of course, do as you choose." She waved her fan with a wash-my-hands-of-you air, and settled herself back in her chair. "I've been a fool to talk as I have, perhaps, but I couldn't see a dog hit his tail on a fence and not tell him it was barbed if I knew it and he didn't. Being a man, you must think it over, I suppose, and take a week to find out what a woman could tell you in the wink of an eye. A man's head is no better than a cocoanut where his heart is concerned."
"If I should do this," he said, presently, "and anything should happen in which she needed me, and you did not let me know, did not send for me, I—"
"Don't be tragic, /mon enfant/. And in the mean time I don't mind telling you she is coming down the street. I wouldn't turn my head, if I were you, though that big hat she's got on, with the wreath of wild roses, is very becoming. She ought always to wear white. She is inside the gate now." His hand was given a quick warm grasp. "Boy—boy—I've been young. If she needs you I will let you know."
A GRATEFUL CONVALESCENT
"Ain't it pink and white and whispery to-day?" she said to herself. "The birds are having the best time, and the sun looks like it's singing out loud, it's so bursting bright. 'Tain't hard to love anybody on a day like this."
Peggy's thin little fingers played with the spray of roses on her lap, and her big brown eyes roved first in one direction and then the other as she followed the movements of the girl on the lawn cutting fresh flowers for the house; then as the latter came closer she held out a wasted little hand, but drew it back before it was seen.
It was her first day outdoors for three weeks, and it was very good to be in the open air again. She leaned back in the steamer-chair filled with pillows, in which she had been placed an hour before, and stretched out her feet luxuriously. Over them a light blanket had been thrown, and as she smoothed the pink kimona which covered her gown she sighed in happy content.
"This is me, Peggy McDougal, who lives in Milltown," she went on, talking to herself, "but right now feeling like she might be in heaven. My! but I'm glad I ain't, though, 'cause there mightn't be anybody in heaven I know, and this place where Miss Mary Cary lives is happy enough for me. Muther say I'd been dead and buried before this if'n it hadn't been for Miss Mary. I reckon I would. Some nights I thought I was goin' to strangle sure, and the night I had that sinker spell, and pretty near faded out, I saw Miss Mary, when 'twas over, put her head down on the table and just cry and cry. Look like she couldn't help it. She thought I didn't know a thing. But I did. I knowed she cared. Warn't it funny for a lady like her to care about a little child like me what comes of factory folks and ain't got nothin' ahead but plain humbleness?
"And diphtheria is a ketchin' disease muther says. That's why Miss Mary picked me up so quick and brought me out here when the doctor said I had it. If'n she hadn't Teeny might have took it from me, 'cause we sleep in the bed together, and Susie might, too, for she's in the same room, and all the twins might, the little ones and the big ones, and muther would have been worked to death a-nursin' of me and a-cookin' for the rest. And I might have died and been put in the ground, and then they'd had to pay for the funeral, and there warn't a cent for it. Muther couldn't have paid for a funeral out of eggs, 'cause coffins have gone up, and the hens don't lay 'em fast enough, and 'twould have took too many. I wish hens could lay more than one egg a day. Roosters ain't a bit of 'count for eggs."
She put her hands behind her head and drew in a deep breath. "But I ain't dead." Suddenly the wasted little fingers were pressed over tightly closed eyes. "Oh Lord," she said, soberly, "I'm very much obliged to you for lettin' of me live. I hope nobody will ever be sorry I didn't die. Help me to grow up and be like Miss Mary Cary. Lookin' out, like her, for little children what ain't got anybody special to be lookin' after them. 'Course I had my muther and father, but they had so much to do, and didn't have the money, and diphtheria takes money. Poor people ain't got it. If'n I don't ever have any money, please help me to help some other way. Maybe I might be cheerfuler. Amen."
"Hello, Peggy. Sleep?"
Mary Cary's hands, flower-filled, were held close to Peggy's face, and at sound of her voice Peggy's eyes opened joyfully. "Oh, Miss Mary, you skeered me! I thought you were way down by the gate. /Ain't/ they lovely! Ain't they LOVELY!" And Peggy's little pug nose sniffed eagerly the roses held close to them.
"Hardly anything left but roses now, but June is the rose month. Lend me one of your cushions and I'll sit down awhile and cool off before I go in."
She laid the flowers carefully on the ground, threw the cushion beside them and, pulling Peggy's chair closer to the large chestnut-tree, whose branches made a wide circle of shade in the brilliant sunshine, sat down, then rested her hand in Peggy's lap and smiled in her happy eyes.
"It's good to have you out here, Peggy child," she said. "You'll soon have cheeks like peaches. This sunshine and fresh air will paint them for you and make the color stick. Did you have some milk at ten?"
"Yes'm, thank you. Milk and eggs, too. Reckon I'll be bustin' fat by this time next week if'n I keep on swallowin' all them things Miss Hedwig brings me. She certainly is a good lady, that Miss Hedwig is. She's got roses in her cheeks, and ain't her light hair pretty? She wears it awful plain, just parted and brushed back, but it's like the silk in corn. Is that all the name she's got— Hedwig?"
"No. Hedwig Armstrong is her name. She's an Austrian."
"I knew a girl named Armstrong once, but she was a Yorkburger. Is Armstrong Austrian, too?"
"Armstrong is American, I suppose. I don't know what it is." She laughed, pulling the petals off a rose and popping them with her lips. "Hedwig is a pretty name, and the other part I never think of. I had almost forgotten the other part."
"I didn't know there was any other part. But I heard Susie tell muther once the Mrs. Deford and Miss Honoria Brockenborough were talking about her the day they bought their spring hats, and they said she looked like a mystery to them, and they thought 'twas very strange a nice-looking white woman should be willing to come down here and be a servant."
Mary Cary frowned quickly. "I wish they had said that to me. Hedwig is my maid, but she is my friend as well. She used to be in my uncle's hospital. In all this big country she hasn't a relative."
"They said her letters had Mrs. on them. Somebody at the post-office told them so, but her husband ain't ever been to see her, they said, and muther say she didn't think that sounded as righteous as it might, comin' from Mrs. Deford, whose husband don't seem to hanker after her neither, and—"
"Next time you hear anything like that you might mention that dead husbands can't visit conveniently. Hedwig's husband is dead."
Peggy sat upright, eyes wide and interested. "Poor thing! I thought she had an awful lonely look at times. I certainly am sorry he's dead. I mean if he was worth killing. Muther say all men ain't. Hasn't she got any little children, either?"
Mary Cary bent over the rose in her hand and buried her lips in its damp depths. "No," she said, after a moment, "she has no children. Her little girl died."
Peggy leaned back. Overhead a bluebird, straining its little throat in exultant melody, flew from branch to branch of the big chestnut-tree, and the hum of insects made soft monotone to the shrill cry of the locust, which promised greater heat next day. In the distance the Calverton road stretched white and dusty south to town, north to the unknown land, the land of dreams to Peggy and to Peggy's mother, who had never been beyond it, and as she looked toward it she wondered if it led to the place where Hedwig had laid her little child. She would never speak of this again. She could tell by Miss Mary's face she would not like it.
For some minutes they sat in silence and then Peggy's hand reached out and touched that of Mary Cary's, which was resting on the arm of her chair. The eyes of the latter were narrowed slightly as if lost in memories, and, looking at her, Peggy hesitated, then called her name.
With a deep breath as if back from a journey, she stirred, and with a start looked up. "Did you speak to me?"
Peggy's hand gripped the one on which it rested. "I just want to tell you something. How long has it been since the first day I was took sick?"
"Since the first day you were took sick? Let me see." Mary Cary laughed, and her fingers closed over the thin ones, which seemed to be trembling, "It's been three weeks to-day."
"And I've been here—?"
"Three weeks to-morrow. Why?"
"I was wondering if you would mind telling me what made you do it—what made you bring me out here and nurse me and sit up with me. What made you do it?"
"What made me do it?" Her voice was puzzled. "I never thought of what made me do it. I loved you, Peggy. You are my friend, you know, and you were sick. I wanted to do it."
"Diphtheria is ketchin'."
"Not if you're careful. I knew how to take care of myself. But your mother didn't, and with children it's a risk to have it around. I wasn't afraid."
"But you might have took it. And muther says you've been a prisoner since I've been out here. You couldn't go nowhere, and couldn't nobody come to see you. Ain't any the mill folks and factory folks seen you for three weeks. You couldn't even go to see Miss Gibbie Gault."
"But she has been to see me. I'd fumigate myself and come out here and see her nearly every day, and I can talk to everybody over the telephone. Wires are germ-proof so far, though they'll tell us they're not after a while, I suppose. And I've had a good rest and chance to catch up with lots of reading. You weren't really ill but four days, and—"
"Them four days near 'bout wore you out. I know. I saw a lot of things you didn't think I saw. It ain't pleasant for nobody to see somebody nearly strangle, and you thought I was gone once." She turned the big, brown eyes, which too early in life had learned to understand the burden of demand without supply, upon the girl beside her, and her lips quivered.
"I don't know how to tell you what I want to tell you. When you feel something right here"—she put her shut hand upon her breast—"it's hard to put it in words. There ain't any words for it. I couldn't no way tell you how much I thank you, and I ain't got but one way to show it. 'Tis by livin' right. But I want you to know I understand. So does God. I've been talkin' right much with Him about it, and I'm askin' Him every day to make me fitt'n' to be your friend. They say love can do a lot for a person, and make a good thing out of a bad one, quicker'n anything else. And you'll never know on this earth how much I love you, Miss Mary."
"Why, Peggy!" Mary Cary's arms were around the shaking little figure, whose face had grown white with the effort of her frankness.
"Why, Peggy dear, what are you talking about? There's nothing to thank me for. Who wouldn't do what's been done? You mustn't talk like—"
"Nobody but you would have done it. I warn't any kin, and 'twarn't a Christian duty like goin' to church. And 'twas enough to make Miss Gibbie mad. Is she mad with me, Miss Mary?"
"Of course she isn't! You couldn't help getting sick." The pillows were patted and Peggy was forced back among them. "And now there's to be no more thanks for anything. And Peggy"—the clear eyes, suddenly a bit dimmed, were looking into Peggy's—"I've got such a grand piece of news for you. I've been waiting to tell you all the morning."
"Is it I've got to go home?" Peggy's face fell, and she blinked hard to keep back sudden tears. "Have I got to go home?"
"Mercy, no! You won't be about to go home for some time yet. You are to stay here a week longer to get strong and then—you and your mother are to go to Atlantic City for two weeks. Two—whole— weeks!"
Peggy's hands fell limply in her lap, her eyes closed sharply, and down the thin little cheeks tears, no longer to be held back, rolled in big, round drops. For a moment she lay still, then threw her arms around the neck of the girl now leaning beside her, frightened a bit by the effect of her words, and sobbed in unrestraint.
"Please let it come out, Miss Mary. Please let it come out! It's been chokin' of me for days, this thankfulness inside, and I can't breathe good till I get it out!"
For a little longer the short, quick gasps continued, and then she drew herself out of the strong arms which had been folding her close, and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
"You mean muther won't have to cook for two weeks, won't have to wash dishes—I always wipe them—and can sit down as long as she wants, and can sleep till seven o'clock in the mornin'? You mean—You ain't foolin' of me are you, Miss Mary?"
"Of course I'm not. You are to go to-morrow week."
"But how we goin'? The hens can't lay eggs enough for—"
"The hens have nothing to do with this. A friend of yours and your mother's wants you to have this holiday. This friend knows your mother is tired out, and knows the salt air will do you good."
Peggy gave a deep sigh. "Muther's said fifty times, if she's said once, that if she could go to that Atlantic City and see those things she's read about and seen pictures of she'd give her left foot and hop the rest of her life. There's a lot of water there, ain't it?"
"Ocean of it. And a beautiful beach, and surf bathing, and a boardwalk miles long, and piers, and merry-go-rounds, and shops, and hot sausages, and moving-pictures, and rolling-chairs, and lovely music, and ice-cream waffles, and orangeade, and popcorn. Your mother will see it all, but you will have to be careful at first—just sit in the sand and not eat all those things right off."
"Do they give 'em to you?"
Mary Cary laughed. "Not exactly. Nothing is given that can be sold, but there're lots of things, the best things, that don't cost money. If we had to buy air and sunshine and sky and clouds and stars and sunsets we'd sell all we own to get them, but because they're free they're not noticed half the time."
"Does muther know we are goin', Miss Mary?" Peggy's face clouded suddenly. "Who's goin' to take care of things if she and me go way together? Lizzie lives away all the time, and Susie and Teeny works. Who's goin' to look after father and the boys?"
"Your Aunt Sarah. And if you will stop thinking of all those practical things and just be a child and enjoy yourself I will be much obliged to you. Time enough for you to be the mother of a family when you have children of you own."
"I ain't ever goin' to have children of my own. I've helped raise two sets of twins and took care of the baby till it died, and I made up my mind then I wasn't goin' to have any. It hurts too bad when they die. Mis' Toone's had twelve and she says when they're little they're lots of care and when they're big you're full of fear, and I reckon she knows. Her boys turned out awful bad. Muther don't mind havin' a lot of children, though. She don't take 'em serious, but she says I was born serious and always wonderin' if there's food and clothes enough to go round. And besides—"
"I don't think I'd like a husband. So many in Milltown is just trifles. Mis' Jepson says she's so glad her husband's no blood relation to her she don't know what to do."
"She's had three, if she isn't proud of this last one. Told me so herself."
"She tells everybody. Sometimes she's right set up about havin' buried two and havin' a third livin', and then when she gets mad with Mr. Jepson she says anybody could get husbands like hers. But, Miss Mary"—again the anxious look hovered a moment on the earnest little face—"muther ain't got a dress to her name fitt'n to wear. That's the reason she hasn't been to church this spring. Everybody else had to have something, and it takes all father's money for rent and food, and the egg money went for medicine when Billy was sick."
"Oh, that will be all right. We're going to see she's fixed up. Didn't I tell you to stop thinking about things like that? By the time you're grown you'll have all Milltown on your shoulders."
"You've got all Yorkburg on yours."
"Indeed I haven't." She got up. "But this isn't writing my letters. Did you know they were going to begin building both schools the first of August? The plans have been accepted, and next year you'll be in the new grammar school. Isn't that fine?"
Peggy nodded, but not enthusiastically. "I don't think my head was meant for much schoolin', but of course I'll go until I'm big enough to work. Are you goin' to write to that friend of yours and muther's to-day? If you do would you mind"—she hesitated and her face flushed slightly—"would you mind sayin' I'm awful much obliged for bein' sent to Atlantic City? I haven't took it in good yet. Don't seem like it can be true sure 'nough that Milltown people like muther and me can be goin' to a place like that. My stomach is quiverin' this minute in little chills from hearin' 'bout it. I reckon it will take 'till next week to get used to the feel of the thought. I saw a picture once of a lot of people in bathin', and muther said they didn't look to her like they had enough clothes on, but she say if they choose to make spectickles of themselves there warn't no law to keep you from lookin', and she always believed in seein' all there was to see in life. Muther certainly will have a grand time, and won't she throw back her head and laugh hearty? It certainly is good in your friend to give her the chance. I reckon it must be somebody who loves to give pleasure."
A MORNING TALK
Miss Lizzie Bettie Pryor lifted the heavy black veil with which her face was covered and looked up and down the long dusty street, half asleep in the full heat of a July day. Then she walked up the steps of Mrs. Deford's house and into the hall, the door of which was open. From the porch at the back she could hear voices, and for a moment she hesitated. The requirements of custom were punctiliously observed by Miss Lizzie Bettie, and though two months had passed since the death of her father she had paid no visits to friends or relatives, and this first one was now being made in the expectation of a talk alone with Mrs. Deford. Everybody had been kind and everything had been done that could be done, but people were doubtless tired of coming to see six black crows sitting in a darkened parlor, and had stopped doing it, with the result that she did not know what was going on as fully as she should, and it was time to find out.
She put down her parasol and walked to the end of the hall. In the door she stood a moment, looking at the south end of the long porch, then advanced slowly toward it. Miss Georganna Brickhouse and Lily Deford were nearest the railing, and near them were the latter's mother and Miss Puss Jenkins. Annie Steele, her little boy on her lap, was listening with her left ear—her right being deaf—to something Mrs. Deford was saying, and, as Miss Lizzie Bettie came nearer, jumped as if caught in an unrighteous act.
"Good gracious, Lizzie Bettie, you frightened me nearly to death!" Mrs. Deford got up and pushed her chair forward. "You came up like a black ghost. Do pray take that heavy veil off. It makes me hot just to look at you!"
"Then don't look." Miss Lizzie Bettie's voice was huffy. She had expected a different greeting. For weeks she had not been outside of her house except on business and to church and the cemetery, and now to be spoken to as if she'd been over every day was a jar. She did not like it.
"I can't help looking if you sit in front of me. It's a heathenish custom, this shrouding of one's self in black, and so unbecoming. Lily, get Lizzie Bettie a glass of iced tea, or would you rather have lemonade?" And Mrs. Deford stopped fanning long enough to put her lorgnette to her eyes and look at her latest visitor critically. She had on a new dress and looked better in it then anything she had ever seen her wear before. She wondered where it came from.
"I don't care for tea or lemonade either." Miss Lizzie Bettie unpinned her hat and veil and laid them on the chair behind her, drew off her gloves and, opening her bag of dull jet beads, took from it a handkerchief with a heavy black border, and wiped her lips with careful deliberation. "How are you, Miss Puss? I heard you were going away."
"I did expect to, but I've had dyspepsia so bad in my left foot that I haven't been able to finish my sewing. When I have dyspepsia in my foot this way it feels like it hasn't a bit of feeling in it, and makes me so nervous I'm not fit for a thing. It's a great deal worse than gout. I have gout in my right foot and can put my finger on the spot, but when you feel bad and can't exactly find the place that hurts and haven't any name to call it by it gets on your nerves so that—"
"Everybody runs when they see you coming. For goodness' sake don't get on nerves, Puss. Where are you going?" Mrs. Deford looked up. Lily, her daughter, was trying to get by.
"I want to see Sarah Sue Moon about something," she said. "I promised to be there by twelve and it's nearly half-past. Excuse me, Miss Georganna! Did I step on your toe? Good-bye." She nodded to the others and went into the hall, and her mother, getting up, took the chair she had left and drew it a little apart from her guests.
"Lily doesn't look well, Laura." Miss Georganna Brickhouse, who always talked through her nose and seemingly with it, owing to the nervous twitching of her nostrils, looked at Mrs. Deford. "You ought to take her away."
"Ought I? If you had a daughter eighteen who didn't want to go away how would you make her do it? Up to this summer we've never had any discussions on the subject. She has always done as I said and gone where I decided, but this year she persists in staying in this dead-and-buried place, and says she don't want to go away. She is very well, but she's got to go the first of August."
"Where are you going? Certainly do wish I had somebody to make me do things. Every time I make up my mind to do this, I wish I'd made it up to do that. But I'm like Lily. I'm more comfortable at home then anywhere else, and I don't think Yorkburg's dead and buried. Things are moving too fast for me. I wish I could make them stop and let it stay just like it is forever and ever. Where are you going in August?"
Mrs. Deford turned and looked at Miss Puss, her lorgnette at a withering angle. "We are going to the coast of Maine." She took up her embroidery and held it off at arm's-length to get its effect. "How is your mother, Lizzie Bettie?"
"Very well, thank you, though she thinks she's sick. I want mother to go away. I wish she and Maria could go to the coast of Maine. Maria's as nervous as a cat, and if she don't go somewhere we'll all be to pieces before the summer's over. Where will you stay, Laura? Is it very expensive? I've heard some places up there are very cheap."
"Cheap? Nothing's cheap after you leave Washington. But we are not going to a hotel. We are going to visit friends."
"Must be ashamed of them, as you don't mention their names. Wouldn't have asked if I'd known it was a secret." And Miss Lizzie Bettie took the fan out of Miss Georganna Brickhouse's hands and began to use it as if hot with something more than summer heat.
"You needn't get so mad about it." Mrs. Deford threaded her needle deliberately with a strand of scarlet silk. "And if you are so very anxious to know where we are going I don't mind telling you. We are to be Mrs. Maxwell's guests for the month of August."
"So she's asked you at last, has she? Knew you were terribly afraid she wouldn't?" Miss Puss Jenkins put the gouty foot on the dyspeptic one and rubbed it vigorously. "I heard Mrs. Maxwell's father left her barrels of money and she's rich even for New York. Is she? You visit her and ought to know. Somebody was telling me her house is magnificently furnished, and she tried footmen and butlers in livery, but she couldn't keep that up. John made such a fuss she had to stop. Mrs. Maxwell always was the most pretentious, ostentatious sort of person, and I never could understand how her son could be such a natural kind of a fellow with such a mother. He's like his father. They say his father's family was rather plain once, but his mother comes of very good New Jersey stock. Mr. Maxwell was a fine man, which is more than you can say of his wife, and I never did have any use for her. But I suppose if she invited me to spend a month with her in her summer home I'd go. Didn't somebody tell me John had gone to Europe?"
Mrs. Deford turned quickly. "Who said so?"
Miss Puss looked at Mrs. Steele, whose little boy, now on the grass playing with the dog, was satisfactorily disposed of. "Who told us, Annie? Oh yes, I know. It was Miss Gibbie Gault. We met her in the library yesterday morning and she said she and Mary Cary were going away on the twenty-first of this month and stay until the middle of September. I asked her where John was going. A blind man could see he is in love with Mary, and I thought he'd be with them, but Miss Gibbie said he was going to Norway, or was it Russia, Annie? I declare I haven't a bit of memory. But, anyhow, he was going somewhere and wasn't to be with Miss Gibbie this summer. I wonder if Mary has kicked him!"
"Kicked him?" Mrs. Deford's lips twisted in an up-curling movement and her eyebrows lifted, ridging her forehead in fine furrows. Again she held off her embroidery and looked at it. "Mary Cary will never have the chance to discard John Maxwell. He is sorry for her and is very kind to her. He knew her when she was in the asylum here, but he has about as much idea of marrying her as of marrying—"
"Lily. That's just what I was saying the other day," and Miss Georganna Brickhouse took off her spectacles and wiped them. "Some one told me he heard John and Lily were engaged, but I knew it wasn't so. A man can't even be polite to a girl these days without somebody gobbling him up and telling him he's done for. I told whoever it was told me I knew John's mother had her eye on something better known in the newspapers than Lily or Mary, either, and she'd never let him marry in Yorkburg if she could help it. Everybody says he's a fine man and a girl would do well to catch him, but—"
"He'll never be caught by Mary Cary. She's tried hard enough. It's a pity somebody don't tell her how it looks to be seen going about with him as she does. She hardly lets him get out of her sight when he's in town. I invited them to tea the last time they were here and she wouldn't let him come; kept him at her house, made some flimsy excuse, and had the evening with him to herself. She's tried her best to get him, but—"
Miss Lizzie Bettie Pryor took up her gloves and pulled out each finger separately. "She's done nothing of the kind, Laura, and you know it. I've got no sympathy with some of the things she's doing here, but Mary's not trying to marry anybody. I'll say that much for her. I'm surprised to hear John is going to Europe again. People step over there now just like it was across the street."
Mrs. Deford looked Miss Lizzie Bettie in the face, and this time her head was not on the side. "John Maxwell has no idea of going to Europe. I am better qualified to speak of John's movements than Miss Gibbie. I have very good reasons for being better qualified." She hesitated, tapped her lips significantly with her lorgnette, and smiled mysteriously. "Poor Miss Gibbie! It won't be her fault if Mary Cary don't marry John. She's done her best to run him down."
"Miss Gibbie may be a crank all right, but when she says a thing is so, it is so." Miss Lizzie Bettie's gloves came down with emphasis on the palm of her right hand. "And if she says John is going abroad, he is certainly going. I don't think it is very polite of him if his mother has invited you and Lily to spend August with her, but I never saw a man in my life who had good manners when they interfered with his pleasure. It was your brother who told me he'd heard John and Lily were engaged"—she turned to Miss Georganna Brickhouse—"and, like you, I told him I didn't believe there was a word of truth in it. But if Laura doesn't deny it, maybe there is."
Mrs. Deford got up and shook her skirt. "Do any of you see my needle? I've dropped it somewhere. Where did Miss Gibbie say she and Mary were going, Puss? She gives much information about others, but never about herself. Where are they going?"
"Here's your needle." Mrs. Steele held it toward Mrs. Deford. "She didn't say just where they were going, did she, Miss Puss?" Mrs. Steele, who talked little and agreed always with the last one who spoke, looked at the lady rubbing the foot that felt as if it had no feeling in it, and nodded toward her. "She said something about Nova Scotia, I believe, and Boston in September, as Mary wanted to see some schools up there, but she didn't mention just where they were going."
"Of course she didn't. And if Yorkburg knew what was good for it, all these Yankee ideas Mary Cary is bringing down here would be stopped. She spends money in every direction, sends this person away and that one away, and gives picnics and parties to people nobody ever heard of until lately. People of that class are ruined by having the things done for them that she is doing. After awhile they'll be wanting to move up on King Street and expect us to speak to them as if they were our friends."
"She says they are hers."
"Perhaps they are." Mrs. Deford's lips again made their favorite curve. "She evidently has a strong leaning toward poor whites. But there is one direction in which she will lean in vain, and that is—Oh, well—" She put her head on the side and shrugged her shoulders. "I really feel very sorry for her, but a girl can't make a man love her just because she wants him to."
"And a woman can't make a man marry where she'd like him to." Miss Lizzie Bettie pinned on her hat hurriedly. "That's a black cloud coming toward us. If we don't look out we'll get caught in a storm. When congratulations are in order let us know. Good-bye. Come on, Miss Puss." And without further waste of words she was gone.
In the street she and Miss Puss hurried in one direction, Mrs. Steele and Miss Georganna in another, and half-way home the rain began to fall. The one parasol was hastily opened and held close down over their heads, so close that a couple coming toward them with umbrella held in the same position as theirs bumped into them. With a hurried apology they passed on, but not before Miss Lizzie Bettie had seen who they were.
She turned and looked behind and then at Miss Puss. "A new way to come from Sarah Sue Moon's house," she said. "That's the second time this week I've seen them together."
"Who is it?" Miss Puss pulled her skirts up higher and stepped carefully aside from a puddle of water. "I can't see a thing with your parasol right over my face. Who was it?"
"Lily Deford and that Pugh boy. The one who stays in the bank."
"What!" Miss Puss stopped in the now pouring rain. "In broad daylight? I've heard they've been seen together several times lately in the evenings. His father keeps a livery stable and his father before him! Do you suppose Laura knows?"
"Of course she doesn't! Lily's soul doesn't belong to her, and if her mother knew this boy was in love with her—well, she mightn't kill him, but he'd be safer out of sight. Of all the ambitious mothers I've ever seen—Do pray hurry, Miss Puss! We'll be drenched if you don't walk faster!"
"Who in the world would have thought this morning it was going to rain like this? But that's weather; you never can tell what it's going to do. Just like women. Good gracious! Did you see that flash of lightning?"
Mrs. Tate, sitting on Mrs. Moon's front porch, clapped her hands to her ears and shut her eyes tight, then got up quickly. "You all may stay out here if you want to, but I'm going in. I never did think it was right to tempt Providence, and if there was a feather bed in the house I'd get on it. Can't the windows be lowered, Beth, and somebody start the pianola and turn on the lights? A thunderstorm like this gives me such a sinking feeling in my stomach I feel like I'm sitting on a trap-door with a broken catch. My love! there goes another one!"
Mrs. Moon laughed and got up. "I guess we had better go in, Mrs. Burnham, the porch is getting so wet. I hope Miss Georganna Brickhouse and Mrs. Steele got home before the rain. I saw them coming from Mrs. Deford's just now." She pulled the chairs quickly forward as a sudden heavy deluge beat in almost to the door, and called to the maid to lower the windows; then, inside the sitting-room, took up her sewing, Mrs. Burnham taking up hers also.
But sewing was not for Mrs. Tate. As another peal of thunder drowned the downpour of rain she ran to the sofa and piled around her the cushions upon it. Putting one under her feet, another on her head, and clasping one close to her breast with her crossed arms, she closed her eyes tight and sat in huddled terror waiting for the storm to pass.
Neither lightning nor thunder could silence her tongue, however, and, though at some distance from the window near which Mrs. Moon and Mrs. Burnham were sitting, she talked on with slight regard to their attention, from time to time opening her eyes, only to shut them quickly again it a flash of lightning caused fresh fright.
"I might have known it was going to storm like this," she said after a while, "for last night was the hottest night I ever felt in my life. When I went to bed I didn't think I was going to sleep a wink, and I wouldn't if I'd stayed awake and thought about it. The mosquitoes were perfectly awful. Biggest things I ever saw. I thought once there were bats in the room. Sakes alive! that reminds me I haven't ordered a thing for dinner! I didn't intend to stay here a minute; just stopped by on my way to Mr. Blick's, and here it is after one o'clock! I get so tired of those everlasting three meals a day that I almost wish there were no such things as stomachs. I would wish it if Mr. Tate wasn't in the feed business. Half one's time is spent in getting something to put in them and the other half in suffering from what we put. Do you all ever have dyspepsia? I do —awful. And not a doctor in town knows what to do for it. I take more medicine—"
"Maybe that is what gives it to you." Mrs. Burnham looked at Mrs. Moon and smiled. When she first came to Yorkburg she had wondered why Mrs. Tate was called "Buzzie," but she had long since found out, also the fitness of the appellation. "I guess I am queer about medicine," she went on, bending over to see if there were any breaks in the clouds. "I rarely take it. There is nothing so apt to keep you sick."
"That's so. And after a while we'll all have to be Christian Scientists or New Thoughters or some other thing that don't call in doctors. I wish I was one this minute. I'd rather think something than swallow something, and nobody but the rich can afford to be sick these days. If you say you've got a plain everyday sort of pain the doctor puts a name on it and yanks you to a hospital and cuts it out before he's sure what the thing really is. If you live you're lucky. If you don't—well, you're dead. That's all. And if you're tired out and fidgety and feel like crying as much as you want to, they say you're a nervous prostrationer and tie you to a trained nurse at twenty-five dollars a week, and don't let you see friend or relative until you're better or worse. I tell you Mr. Tate would go crazy if he had to hand out twenty-five dollars a week to have a girl in white wait on me. And I wouldn't blame him. If I were a young man I'd think a long time before I'd get married these days. A man wouldn't buy a horse unless he knew it was healthy, but he'd marry a girl without knowing. But I never saw a man who wouldn't rather butt his own head his own way then be told he didn't have to, and nobody gets thanked for telling. Mercy! I'm hot; nearly melting. Is it still raining, Beth?"
Mrs. Moon got up and raised the window. "Not very much, and the clouds seem to be scattering. I should think you would be roasting, way over in that corner with all those cushions around you. Why don't you come by the window? The air feels so fresh and good."
"No, sir!" Mrs. Tate opened her eyes, but closed them quickly again. "There goes another flash of lightning! The thunder is getting better, but I'm not going to sit by an open window as long as there's any of it left. But I'm hot, all right. Seems to me Yorkburg is a great deal hotter in summer now than it used to be. That's only natural, I suppose, as everything in Yorkburg has changed. If old General Wright and Mr. Brockenborough and Major Alden and Judge Gault and some others of their day could come back they wouldn't know it. They were the lordliest, high-handedest bunch of old aristocrats that ever lived, and they ruled this town like they owned it. Specially Major Alden. He didn't have a bit of business sense, Father Tate used to say, but he'd had money all his life and he would spend it; and when there wasn't any to spend he spent on just the same. Major Alden didn't really believe the Almighty made common people. He thought they came up like weeds and underbrush and, though you couldn't cut them down exactly, you must keep them down somehow. He really believed it. Some people think so now."
"Certainly his granddaughter doesn't." Mrs. Burnham put down her work and took up a palm-leaf fan and began to use it, running her finger around the neck of her collar to loosen it. "I don't think anybody in Yorkburg begins to understand what Mary Cary is doing here, or what she means to certain people—"
"I don't suppose we do"—Mrs. Moon started to say something, but Mrs. Tate was ahead of her—"And no one in the world would ever have imagined Mary would do things like that. But that's Mary. From childhood no one ever knew what she'd be doing next. She certainly is looking pretty, but she isn't the beauty her mother was. I'm like Miss Gibbie in one thing. I believe in a sure-enough hell. They say real smart people don't any more except preachers who have to and women who want to. Miss Gibbie says she wouldn't believe in it if it hadn't been for the war, but I believe in it because some things have to be burned out, and Major Alden needed to have his pride purified. You knew he used to be a beau of Miss Gibbie's, didn't you?"
Mrs. Burnham shook her head. "No, I know little of Yorkburg's personal history."
"Well, he was. She never was a raging beauty, but she had more men in love with her than any girl she ever knew, mother used to say, and more sense than all the rest put together. That's what I think was so funny. Men don't care for sense in a woman. If she can sign coal tickets and market tickets, and look after them, and be good-looking and nice it's all they care for. I never knew how to make out a check until my own daughter showed me. What's the use? Never had a dollar in bank in my life. Mr. Tate's the kind of man who thinks a woman ought to come to her husband for everything, and as he never gives me money unless I ask for it, and I don't ask until I need it to spend right away, it has no chance to get in a bank. I don't mean I have to worry Mr. Tate. He gives me all he can, and, besides, I always did think it was a mistake in a woman to know too much about business things. Men don't like it. I've always made it a rule never to do anything Mr. Tate could do for me. I've often noticed one or the other is going to be helpless, and I'd rather be waited on than wait."
She settled herself more comfortably on the sofa and again opened her eyes cautiously. "Of course I'm old-fashioned. Young people have very different ideas from their parents. Girls plank themselves right straight alongside of men and say they are just as smart as men are. Of course they are. Women have always known it, but they used to have too much sense to tell it. Nowadays they tell everything. The easiest thing on earth to fool is a man. He just naturally loves helplessness, and when Aylette married I told her for mercy's sake not to be one of these new-fashioned kind of wives, but be a clinger. She doesn't like clingers, and sometimes I'm afraid she's too smart to be real happy. She takes after her grandfather Tate. I certainly do thank the Lord He didn't see fit to make me clever. I've often heard my mother say a smart woman had a hard time in life."
"I wonder why Miss Gibbie did not marry." Mrs. Burnham was looking at Mrs. Moon. "If she had so many beaux it is strange she did not marry."
"Now who on earth could think of Miss Gibbie Gault being married!" The cushion dropped from the top of Mrs. Tate's head and she stooped to pick it up. "Her independent tongue was laughed at and her witty speeches repeated, but what home could have stood her? She knew better than to get married. If she ever loved anybody, nobody ever knew it, mother used to say, but I always have believed she did. She certainly is one queer person. Mrs. Porter asked her last week to give something to the choir fund and she said she'd do nothing of the kind, and she thought the people ought to be paid for having to listen to squeaks like we had instead of paying them to squeak, and she wouldn't give a cent. She holds on to what she's got like paper to the wall, Mrs. Porter says."
Mrs. Moon got up and pressed the button by the door, and when the maid appeared spoke to her.
"Mrs. Tate and Mrs. Burnham will stay to dinner, Harriet. See that there are places at the table for them."
"Indeed I can't stay to dinner." Mrs. Tate jumped up and came toward the window. "I believe it's stopped raining, and if the thunder is over I'll have to run on home. When I left there everything looked like scrambled eggs, and nobody knows where I am, and I wouldn't telephone just after a storm for forty dollars. There's the sun. I'm going. Good-bye." And picking up her skirts with both hands she ran down the steps and out into the street and across it to her house, half-way down the square.
Coming back from the door to which they had followed her, Mrs. Moon and Mrs. Burnham laughed good-naturedly. "How do you suppose she manages it?" both asked, and then laughed again at the oneness of thought.
"I've often wondered why she didn't lose breath," said Mrs. Burnham, taking her seat this time in the hall for the few minutes longer she could stay. "But I wouldn't dare try to see how she does it. She's worse than Mrs. McDougal. Did you hear of the letter she wrote Miss Gibbie? Mrs. McDougal, I mean. I'm so glad she's coming home before we go away. To hear her tell of her trip will be better than the minstrels. When are you going away, Mrs. Moon?"
The latter shook her head. "I don't know. I'm trying to make Mr. Moon go with me, but I'm afraid there's no use in even hoping it. Richard says it's for the family he is working as he does, and he is honest in thinking it, but if I and the children were to die to-morrow he'd begin the day after the funeral and keep at it just as persistently as ever."
Mrs. Burnham looked down at her work as if examining closely the stitches she had just put in. Mr. Moon was the richest man in Yorkburg, but not for years had he and his wife gone off together for a holiday. Presently she looked up. "Men are queer, aren't they? I suppose all wives wish sometimes they could mix up, as one does dough, a whole bunch of husbands and cut them out in new patterns with some of each other's qualities in each. There's Mr. Corbin. He doesn't work enough. Mr. Moon works too much. I saw Mr. Corbin on this front porch the other day reading Plato's /Republic/ as though it were the first reading. It was the third he told me. Mr. Moon—"
"Never heard of Plato's /Republic/, or if he did has forgotten it." Mrs. Moon laughed, but as pushing back a sigh. "His republic is Yorkburg and the mills. He can never go away. Often I wonder if it is worth it, the money he is making. He gives me everything on earth but what I want most."
Mrs. Burnham again bent over her work. "A woman has to pay full price for a successful husband," she said, presently. "Perhaps Mr. Corbin's philosophy isn't all wrong. He has no wealth, no fame, no great position, but he has gotten something out of life many men miss."
"And his wife has gotten much some other women miss. Men who make money never seem to have time to enjoy it until too late. In business it's the game men love. They build big houses, fill them with fine furniture and servants, give their wives beautiful clothes and carriages—and then find they have no home. I wish I didn't feel as I do about money, but I've come to see it's the most separating thing on earth."
She stopped and laughed with something of embarrassment. "This is a queer subject you and I have drifted into. We both have husbands of whom we should be proud, but—" Her lips quivered. "Men say women don't understand. Perhaps they don't; but when Mr. Moon was not so busy and we could take the buggy, shabby though it was, and go for a long afternoon in the country and talk over our plans, and whether we could afford this or whether that, it was a far happier ride than I take now in the automobile. He gave me one this spring, but he has no time to go with me." Her eyes filled. "There are some things women understand too well."
For a moment there was silence, then she drew her chair closer to the open door. "But a woman shouldn't be silly, should she? I often think of what my old mammy told me the day I was married. 'Don't never forget, honey, that what you's marryin' is a man,' she said, 'and don't be expectin' of all the heavenly virtues in him. They ain't thar."
Mrs. Burnham laughed. "They are not. In a woman 'they ain't thar,' either. Miss Matoaca Brockenborough says from observation there is something to be said on both sides." She looked up. "You knew Miss Matoaca was going away with Miss Gibbie Gault and Mary Cary, didn't you? She hasn't been out of Yorkburg for years and is as excited about it as if she were sixteen. She's going as Mary's guest, you know."
"Yes, I know." Mrs. Moon's voice was suddenly troubled. "It is all right, of course, but I can't understand why Mary keeps things so to herself. It isn't like her. She isn't rich. Her uncle is, but I'm sure it isn't his money she's spending. Last week Miss Ginnie Grant and her old mother were sent off for a month's stay in the mountains. I don't understand—"
"I don't either." Mrs. Burnham got up and smiled in the perplexed face before her. "But when the time comes we will all understand, and until then I'm willing to wait. Mary is acting for some one else, I suppose. Several people have been suggested, some men, some women. Somebody said they'd heard a very rich patient of her uncle's out in Michigan was sending her the money to use as she saw best, and others say John Maxwell got some one to buy the bonds for him, but—"
"I don't believe it's John. Of course I don't know." Mrs. Moon got up. "I wish you would stay to dinner. We have peach cream to-day. It's very nice. You'd better stay."
"I wish I could. Peach cream is terribly tempting, but if I'm not at the table Mr. Burnham is as injured as if I'd done him a grievous wrong. He's the only child I have, you know, and I guess he's rather—"
Mrs. Moon smiled in the laughing face. "I guess he is. Good-bye."
MEN AND HUSBANDS
When Mrs. Burnham reached the house in which Miss Gibbie lived she hesitated for a moment, hand on the gate, then opened it and walked slowly up the brick box-bordered path to the steps of the pillared porch. The door was open, and inside was Miss Gibbie, the morning paper in her hand.
A quick, absorbing glance took in each detail of the well-kept grounds, the beds of old-fashioned flowers, the fine old trees and stately house, but not until the porch was reached did she look toward the open door.
As she neared it she lowered her parasol, and at its click Miss Gibbie's eyes peered over the top of the paper and looked at her.
"Good-morning! May I come in?"
Miss Gibbie put the paper on the chair by her side, took off her glasses, wiped them, put them back, and again looked at her visitor.
"Not until I look at you for half a minute," she said. "Raise that parasol and stand just where you are. There! That's right! In the doorway you look like a Roisart I saw some years ago in France. I wanted to buy it, but the man imagined I was one of those fool Americans who value a thing according to its price, and charged what he thought he could get. He got nothing. Come in. Do you make you own clothes?"
"I make my summer ones." Mrs. Burnham's face lighted with amusement, and, as she took the chair Miss Gibbie pushed toward her, she brushed back the stray strands of hair the breeze had blown across her face, and fastened them securely.
"I told some one the other day you were an illustration of what I have always contended, and that is a woman can look well in very inexpensive clothes if she has sense enough to get the right kind. I hear you have a good deal of sense."
"I have in some things." Mrs. Burnham laughed and took the fan Miss Gibbie held toward her. "I've shown it to-day by coming to see you. Of course I shouldn't, according to regulations, as you won't come to see me, but I wanted to see you and so I came. Do you mind—that I have come?"
The sweet, fine face of the questioner flushed and, at sight of it, Miss Gibbie smiled, then tapped it with the tip of the turkey-wing fan.
"I am glad you have come. You are so fresh and cool in that white dress it's good to look at you. Did you go to the lecture last night? I hear the Mother's Club is made up of old maids and childless married women; but as they're the only ones who know anything about children nowadays, it's very proper they should issue edicts concerning them. What was the lecture about?"
"'Lungs and Livers.' and it was fine. It really was. How to breathe properly and how to make your liver behave itself are things few understand, according to Doctor Mallby. I love to hear him. He gets so mad with ignorance and stupidity. You would have enjoyed him."
"I never go to organ recitals." Miss Gibbie waved her fan as if to brush away unpleasant suggestions. "Have you seen anything of the Pryors lately? Some one told me Lizzie Bettie was trying to make her mother and Maria go away. The whole business ought to be separated from each other. Nothing so gets on your nerves as seeing from each other. Nothing so gets on your nerves as seeing the same sort of faces day after day. And of course they wouldn't think it proper to smile under three months at least.
"They certainly seem to be grieved by their father's death. I had no idea how many people loved Mr. Pryor, or how—"
"Little his family guessed it. They took William for granted, like they take everything else in life. And now it's too late to let him know how they loved him. My dear"—Miss Gibbie leaned forward suddenly—"you love your husband? Then tell him so. If he is a good husband tell him that also. There's nothing a man can stand so much of as praise. A woman can make a good husband out of almost any kind of man if she will just go about it right."
"But suppose she doesn't know how? It takes a long time for women to understand men."
"Do they ever?" Miss Gibbie's penetrating eyes were losing no shade of the color rising slowly in Mrs. Burnham's face. "But isn't it because they spend so much time wondering why men don't understand them? The best of men, you believe, are selfish? They are. I am not one of the people who thinks the Lord did such a mighty work when He made man, but if a woman can make up her mind to marry him, it is generally her fault if she doesn't keep his love to the end—"
"Oh, I don't think so!" Mrs. Burnham's voice was vehement in protest.
"Of course you don't. You are a married woman. I am not. I did not say always. I said generally, and I mean what I say. My dear"—again Miss Gibbie leaned forward—"I have been young and now am old, and I have watched many lives. With only occasional exceptions a woman has just about the kind of husband she makes the man she marries become."
"I don't think that, either. A man's character is supposedly formed before he marries; and, besides, a woman ought not to be required to make the kind of husband she wants. She certainly can't make him intelligent, or brilliant, or able, just because she wants him to be."
"I never said anything about making a husband intelligent or brilliant or able. Many miserable wives have husbands of that kind. Any woman of sense wants a man of sense—but most of all she wants to be his first thought in life. And when she isn't it's usually because of selfishness or sensitiveness or stupidity on her part."
"But look at the men who are—who are—"
"Who are what?" Miss Gibbie's eyes met Mrs. Burnham's steadily. "Unfaithful? And why? Oh, I know some men should be burned up like garbage taken from the kitchen door, but I'm talking now of the man who starts right, starts loving his wife. If there's anything in him she can make more. The more may not be much, but it's better than the less."
"My dear madam"—the turkey-wing fan made broad and leisurely strokes backward and forward—"you and asking me concerning that with which I have no experience, merely an opinion. I never felt equal to assuming the responsibility of a man, not was I sure the reward was worth the effort. But listen!" The fan stopped. "Had I been willing to marry I should have felt the blame and shame were mine had I not kept the love my husband gave me and increased it with time."
Mrs. Burnham leaned forward. Her hands unconsciously clasped tightly.
"Tell me," she said, "how can one do it?"
"In what way, you mean? How should I know? Besides, it would depend on how much the wife loved her husband, how much she wanted to keep his love. The ways would be as varied as the types of man to be dealt with. I've never seen a man who valued anything he got too easily, anything that held itself cheap, and the woman who doesn't inspire some reverence—"
"But you said just now the woman ought to tell her husband how much she loved him."
"Did I? I thought I said she ought to tell him she loved him. Men love to pursue. Something still to be won, something that may be lost, is something he should never forget. Neither should she. I did say just now a man could stand a full amount of praise. I've known good husbands made of mighty unpromising material. A woman of tact and judgment can do much with little. I've seen them do it."
She leaned back in her chair, and in her keen gray eyes was a gleam of the gay twinkle of her youth.
"It isn't bad judgment to make a man believe he is something. He is by nature inclined to it, and a little encouragement is good for most people. So is a better understanding. Most miserable marriages come from misunderstanding, with pride and stubbornness as its cause. I once know a girl, a very wealthy girl, whose health failed shortly after she married. Her husband was young, gay, selfish. Got to leaving her, and she was too proud to let him see she cared. He thought she didn't care, thought her absorbed in herself. One night, coming in late, he saw a light in her room and called good-night on the way to his. She had kept the light, a gas-lamp, by her side, hoping he would come in. There was something she wanted to say, so she wrote in the note she left, but when he passed by she wrote the note, turned her face to the lamp, put out the light and turned on the gas. The next morning they found the note in her hand."
Mrs. Burnham drew in her breath. "How horribly he must have felt!"
"He did. Didn't marry again for thirteen months. The next wife was sensible. There was no more suffering in silence. As her husband he walked upright forever after."
Mrs. Burnham twisted her handkerchief around the handle of her fan. "I feel so sorry for a man when he loses his wife."
"You do what?" Miss Gibbie's voice was little less than a shriek, and she sat upright, her fan at arm's-length.
"Feel sorry—" The look on Miss Gibbie's face stopped her and her own flushed. "Yes, I do," she protested, bravely. "Men are so helpless and they seem so bewildered."
Miss Gibbie lay back, relaxed and limp, her eyes closed. "My dear child, you are younger than I thought." Her eyes opened as significantly as they had closed, and the turkey-wing fan tapped one pink cheek and then the other.
"My dear, don't worry over widowers. For the first six weeks they are doubtless troubled. They don't know where their clothes belong and they can't find their shoes, and they're learning a great many things they didn't know. But man is recuperative and philosophic. Oh, I don't mean all men. All men are no more alike than all women, only aliker. But you've probably never watched widowers carefully. I have. The transformation that takes place in the ex-husband is something like that in little boys when they first begin to notice little girls. Both use more soap and water, both brush their hair and their clothes more carefully, and select their cravats with more caution, and there isn't a piece of femininity that passes that isn't looked at with speculation in the eye."
She waved her fan with a comprehensive sweep. "Even the most modest of released husbands get inflated. Of course if there are children there are complications, but a woman generally attends to complications. Haven't you ever noticed the way a first-year widower walks? In his own eyes he's a target, and those eyes are always roving to see who is looking his way. He's right, for a good many women look. Men have a large capacity for loving, and many of them deserve another chance at happiness."
Mrs. Burnham opened her handkerchief and wiped her lips. Somehow it was shocking, but Miss Gibbie's voice was beyond resistance.
"But surely you think men grieve?" she began.
"Of course I do. Some of them wouldn't change if they could, and all of them hate interruptions. But men are sensible. With them something ended is over, and you can't do business with a broken heart. And business is what man is made for. Business and pleasure."
"I don't think men forget." In Mrs. Burnham's eyes was the far-away look that meant the memory of other days.
"Perhaps they don't. Just cease to remember. Whichever it is, I approve of it, envy it. There are many admirable qualities in men. As I said just now, the average man will make a good husband if he has any encouragement, and all a woman has the right to ask of him is to think of her in life. Men are not much on memories. They want something definite and tangible, and memories are poor company for any one."
Mrs. Burnham looked up. The banter in Miss Gibbie's voice had changed to bitterness, but it was gone as quickly as the shadow that flitted for a moment over her face.
Miss Gibbie pushed back her chair, opened the bag hanging from her belt, and took from it a handkerchief of finest thread. "Speaking of company reminds me of Mary, whose uncle and aunt, three children and nurse went home yesterday. She's been like a bird since they've been here. Sang in her sleep one night, she was so happy to have them. But six extra people for three weeks is wearing on flesh and blood, no matter how much you love them, and she's pretty tired. I understand you and Mary are good friends. How did it happen?"
"She made it happen. It was when my baby died." Mrs. Burnham hesitated and her face whitened. "I don't think I could make any one understand what she was to me them. When we came to Yorkburg I was an entire stranger, and for some weeks I met no one except the members of my husband's church. Many of the latter are dear and lovely, but the most interesting from a—"
"Human standpoint. Go on!"
"From a human standpoint were the mill people, the factory people, the plain people, to whom Mr. Burnham is giving his life, and it was in connection with what Miss Cary was doing that we met her. At first I could not do very much to help, and Mr. Burnham was so busy and so interested he didn't know how lonely I was—"
"Of course. So busy making people good he had little time to make his wife happy. And not for the world would you have let him seen you were lonely. Been selfish, wouldn't it?"
"Wouldn't it have been?"
"Selfish? No. Sensible. My dear, there are some men whose heads have to be held while an opening is made with a gimlet before they will take a thing in. You husband is doubtless a good man, but doubtless also dense. How long before your baby was born did you come to Yorkburg?"
"Four months. We had been married six years and I was so happy over its coming that I wanted to help in everything, and tried to do too much. When we got to Yorkburg I had to be very quiet and the days were very long. Miss Cary was one of the first persons who called on me, and several times she took me to drive. Then the baby came. I was very ill for two weeks and was just beginning to get better, when suddenly the baby died."
She stopped. Her handkerchief, twisted into a tight cord, was knotted nervously. "I can't talk of it. I had waited so long, I wanted a child, a little child of my own, that there was nothing I would not have suffered. But to go down into the valley of the shadow—and come back with empty arms—" She drew in her breath, but her eyes were dry. "Even Mr. Burnham didn't understand. He was distressed and disappointed, but because I got well nothing else seemed to matter much. But he didn't know—no man can know— the awful ache in your heart, the awful emptiness of your arms when your baby is taken out of them. One day everything in me seemed to stop. I couldn't feel, or think, or talk. Mr. Burnham must have been frightened, for he got up suddenly and left the room. After a while he came back, then left again, and a few minutes later the door opened and closed, and Mary Cary was inside. As she came toward me I saw she had on no coat or hat. And then she was on her knees by my bed, and I was in her arms and held close to her heart.
"Oh, I can't tell—" Her voice broke in a half-sob she tried to smother. "No one can ever know what it meant to me, but I knew she understood, and suddenly the something that had been tight and cruel snapped, and for the first time tears came."
"I understand, child. I understand." Miss Gibbie patted the twisting hands softly. "Every woman has a corner in her heart she keeps covered. And the thing in life that's hardest is to hold your head up and smile and hide the ache. But it must be held up. That's the woman's part. I'm glad you and Mary are good friends. She tells me you and Mr. Burnham have been a great help to her, and she needs the help you and he can give. I'm about as much use as a shoestring for a buttoned boot. Never could stand smeary people with bad teeth. But possibly I wouldn't take a bath every day, either, if I didn't have a clean tub and hot water, with good soap and towels. Mary says I wouldn't. And if I had to cook, and mind babies, and make clothes, and live with a tobacco-chewer and pipe-smoker, and get up before light and hurry him off to a factory, and wash and dress the children for school, and then clean and cook some more, maybe I wouldn't be— quite like I am now. Maybe I wouldn't—"
"I am very sure of it." Mrs. Burnham's laugh was half a sigh. "Poor people make us dreadfully mad at times, and we call them shiftless and improvident and lazy, and some of them are. They are ignorant and untrained. But the woman who is doing the hardest, bravest work in the world to-day is the wife of the workingman, struggling to be respectable and make her children so on wages that often aren't human, much less Christian. When I build a monument it's to be to 'Unknown Mothers.'"
She got up and pushed back her chair. "When are you going away, Miss Gibbie? I'm so glad you are making Mary go with you." She hesitated and with the tip of her parasol outlined the pattern of the rug at her feet.
"Miss Puss Jenkins came to see me night before last and she said such queer things she'd heard." Again she hesitated, and in her face the color rose to the roots of her hair. "I don't suppose I ought to speak of it, but when any one says anything about Mary I get so hot I'm not—"
"What did Puss say?" Miss Gibbie sat upright and the fan in her hand was still.
"She didn't say anything herself, but it was what Mrs. Deford said that—"
"What did Mrs. Deford say?"
"Miss Puss said she practically admitted her daughter Lily was engaged to Mr. Maxwell, though you'd tried your best to get him for Mary." She stopped. "I didn't mean to tell that. It's too silly to be repeated."
Miss Gibbie lay back in her chair and covered her face with the turkey- wing fan, and from behind it came laughter such as Mrs. Burnham had never heard from her before. "John engaged to Lily Deford! To /Lily Deford!/ My dear, he'd much rather be engaged to me. Lily's mother goes with Lily." She put down the fan and wiped her eyes. "Poor Snobby! I've tried to get John for Mary, have I? And she has tried to get him for herself, has she? Though this you don't tell me. I'm afraid as a purveyor of gossip you will never be a success. Puss is a past-master. On your way home just stop at her house, will you, and tell her I want to see her at once."
IN WHICH MARY CARY IS PUZZLED
She was glad to be alone. The day had been happy, but happiness can only hold weariness in abeyance, not prevent it, and she was very tired. Miss Gibbie had protested against the giving of this party two days before they were to start for their summer holiday. But to go away without letting the children have the long, joyful day in the open would have worried her, and she had insisted on their coming.
Their joy had given her pleasure, and she was glad to have them, but of late she had been conscious of a restlessness too vague to be analyzed, too uncertain to be defined. And yet this restlessness was definite enough to depress, and it was with relief she had stood at the gate and waved good-bye to the last little hand waving in turn to her. Then she had gone back to the house and to the companionship of her understanding friends, the stars.
Watching them, she nodded. "What does anything matter, Mary Cary, if you just can look the stars in the face and tell them you've tried? They are going to keep on shining a good many million years after your little day is done, and the thing you are to remember is that they're under the clouds when you can't see them, and you also are to remember—"
The sound of footsteps behind made her turn from the railing of the porch against which she had been leaning and look toward the doorway. Hedwig was coming through it.
"Mr. Ash, he at the telephone is, and he would like much to know if you will him see this evening."
"Indeed I won't!" She looked perplexedly at the woman before her. "I'm so tired, Hedwig. Tell him I'm sleepy and can't see anybody. I mean, tell him I am very busy and have a good deal to do. Tell him anything you want, only don't let him come. I'm going to sit here for a while. Lock up the house and close the windows. If any one else telephones say I'm asleep, or dead, or anything. I'm so cross, Hedwig! Don't mind me, but I want to be alone."
Hedwig hesitated, drew the long, low chair closer to the railing and smoothed the cushions on it, then turned and left the porch. After a moment she came back and seeing the girl still leaning against the railing, stood by her side and looked at her in silence.
"Is there anything you wish, Hedwig?"
"No, mein Fraulein. Only"—the fingers of the strong white hands were interlaced—"only you a busy day have had, and busy weeks you have had also. And you have forgot that you of flesh and blood are too made. You think you of spirit are and do not wear out. But everything, it wears out, mein Fraulein, and you are tired more than you know. You have nothing eat all day."
"Oh yes, I have. I ate my lunch with the children. Didn't they have a beautiful time? How many were here, do you think?"
"Will you not in the chair sit?" Hedwig pushed the chair a little closer. "There were of the little orphans sixty-one, and of their minders, five. Can I not your feet rub a little bit, mein Fraulein? You on them have been all the long day."
"You certainly may, and you're a dear to think of it. My feet get so tired, and you know how to rest them so nicely. Thank you, Hedwig."
With an indrawing breath of which she was not conscience, Mary Cary leaned back in the chair and her hands dropped in her lap. On her knees Hedwig knelt and drew off the slippers, and with soft, firm movements, learned in her hospital days, began to rub first one foot and then the other.
"Your feet, they tired get, mein Fraulein, because they are not for the body big enough. Look! I can cover it with my hand! Your body is not large, but your feet"—she laughed as if the thought were funny—"your feet is like your heart. They are a child's!"
Mary Cary shook her head. "No, nothing about me is like a child any more, Hedwig. Sometimes I wonder if I ever was one, like other children, I mean. When I lived here in the asylum I thought I was a child, but I was only half one them. I played with the children, ate with them, studied and worked with them, but it was only part of me that did it, the outside part. The inside lived in another world, a world I used to make up and put people and things in which were very different from what I saw about me. And then as I grew older I saw so much that seemed hard and unjust and unfair, saw so much that was beautiful and nice to have and yet did not make people happy that I began to wonder and think again, just as I did when I was little, only in a different way. And now sometimes I wonder if I ever was really a child or just somebody always puzzling over something, always wanting to help and not knowing how—just making mistakes."
Hedwig looked up. In her Fraulein's voice was a tone she did not know, and on the lashes of her closed eyes she thought she saw tears. It was something very new and strange, and sudden fear filled her. She could as soon think of the sun shedding darkness as the spirit before her failing, and this apparent surrender to something that hurt and depressed she could not understand.
"He who does not make mistakes does not do anything. He is an onlooker and a sneerer. Mein Fraulein does much, and the mistakes not yet are many. The good God is helping her, and He in her heart puts wonder as to why things be as they be, and love that she may try them to better make. But He will not like it if she forget herself too much altogether, and remember but the others. Mein Fraulein is very tired to-night."
"But I've no business being tired, Hedwig." Her hands went up to her hair and she fastened the stray strands more securely. "It's been so lovely to have Uncle Parke and Aunt Katherine and the children; and everything is going all right, and my little orphans have had a happy day, and I'm going away on a beautiful trip and—It's just foolishness being tired." She threw back her head. "I'm not tired! Just cross as two sticks, and what about I couldn't even guess. Weren't the children funny and didn't they look nice? You're sure everybody had plenty to eat, didn't you, Hedwig?"
"If they did not a plenty have, mein Fraulein, it was because their little stomachs were not big enough for more. They swallowed all they could hold, but taste is good to the tongue even though there is no more room. They one good day have had, and they will sleep happy and tired to-night. They love you, mein Fraulein. They love you because you have not them forgot, and because you do not forget when you, too, were little and unloved and nobody cared. Love it a great thing is."
Mary Cary sat upright and her clear laughter broke the stillness of the soft night air. "Did you talk to that little Minna Haskins, Hedwig, or hear her talk? Her imagination is worse than mine ever was, but memory is her specialty. There's nothing she doesn't remember. She's only eight, but she goes back to the prehistoric without a blink. She certainly had a good time to-day."
"She have. A most very good time. I saw her and I heard her, and she say the queer things for a child. I was giving some of the children sandwiches and lemonade before lunch, and I heard three or four talking so loud and arguing like that I went to see what the matter it was, and guess, mein Fraulein, what that little Minna Haskins she did say?"
"I can't guess. Nobody could guess what Minna would say."
"The children, they were disputing as to what they remembered before they little orphans were, and one, she said she knew when she but four years old was and lived in the country with chickens and eggs and apple-trees like you here have. And another little girl said she could recollect when her father died and they had crepe on the door, and she was not but three, and then that little Minna Haskins her head did toss, and she said that was nothing, that she remembered perfectly the day she was born. That there wasn't a soul in the house but her grandmother, as her mother she had gone out to buy a new hat. And when she came back and saw her there with her hair all curled—her grandmother had curled it—she was so surprised she died from joy, and that's why she's an orphan."
Again Mary Cary's laughter broke the stillness. "What a dreadful thing to remember! Poor little thing! A too-active brain isn't much of a blessing with nothing to direct or control it. That will do, Hedwig. Thank you so much. My feet feel ever so much better; it was just the standing that tired them. But you are dead tired yourself, and there'll be so much to do to-morrow that you ought to be in bed this minute. You'll be such a help to everybody and the change will do you good."
"I would content be to stay or go, whichever it were the best. But I am glad to be with you." In the doorway she stood a moment, smoothing the folds of her apron, but this time she did not look around.
"Did you get the letter on the desk, mein Fraulein? I thought maybe you did not know it there was."
"Yes, thank you. I saw it. Good-night, Hedwig. And, Hedwig, wake me to-morrow at seven, will you? I have so much I want to do."
As Hedwig went inside the hall the clock near the door struck nine, and, at sound of the clear strokes, Mary Cary stirred and changed her position. The night was very still. Through the vines which draped the porch the moon shone calm and cool and serene in a sky as cloudless as a lake of silver, and out of the multitude of stars here and there some glowed so clearly that their points gleamed sharp and bright.
The restful stillness after the noisy day was good, and her eyes closed. For some time she lay back in her chair, and presently the old habit of her childhood asserted itself and, opening her eyes, she nodded as if to some one and began to talk softly.
"Eight months and two weeks you've been back here, Mary Cary, and everybody certainly has been good to you—that is, almost everybody— and you are just as happy as a person has a right to be. You always have known, or Martha has, that nobody can have everything just as they want it, and people will be pecky sometimes, and there will come down days as well as up ones. But you have so much to be thankful for that you'd be a selfish, silly creature, a weak and wicked creature, if you let anything, /anything/, make you the least bit tired or— lonely, or make you wish for—for what you've got no business wishing for. Martha certainly is ashamed of you, Mary. You always did have a horrid habit of asking what's the use of doing this or doing that, and it's pure selfishness and laziness that asks questions of that sort. You might have married money and lived in a big city and given parties to people who didn't want to come, but had to just to let the others know they were invited; and you might have had automobiles and Paris clothes, but you watched that and didn't like it." In the darkness she shook her head. "You certainly didn't. You tried it when visiting you rich friends, and then your inquiring nature did have some sense, because it kept on asking inside what it was all for. Nobody seemed to want to go where they went, or to enjoy what they did, and yet they were bored to death at home. The men talked money and the women talked clothes, and everybody seemed to be trying to make a noise so as not to hear something they're bound to hear, and to turn their backs on something that's got to be faced; and you kept looking for the pudding and could only find the meringue, and you don't like meringue much even if it is pretty to see. And then you had the chance to come here. That is, you made up your mind you might help a little here, not being needed specially anywhere else; and then this wonderful offer came. Not one person in forty thousand ever was situated just as you've been, or had what you have to do with. I wonder why more rich people wouldn't rather give their money away while living and get pleasure out of it, than keep it until they're dead for somebody else to fuss over. I guess they hate to give it up until the last minute. It hurts some people to part with what they don't want, much less with what they don't want any one else to have. And I've been so glad to be here. People think it's funny my living alone, and Miss Gibbie living in her big house alone. But if we want out dining-room chairs on top the table instead of around it, we like to feel we can have them that way, and nobody to say we can't. As Mrs. McDougal says, 'we're individuals,' and 'it isn't every kind what can congeal in running a house.' Mrs. McDougal says a lot of true things. But John"—she put her hand down and drew from under her belt a letter—"John never said in his life a truer one than that I was so alone here. I've been so busy and happy I didn't know I was alone, but since the big Aldens and the little Aldens went home I've felt sometimes I was just a bit of a boat in a great big sea, and I wasn't sure where I was going, though pulling as hard as I could pull."
She leaned forward in her chair and, with elbows on knees and chin in her hands, looked down upon the floor of the porch and tapped it with her foot.
"But everybody is queer at times. Men are just as queer as women, and John isn't a bit different from the rest. I wonder if there is anybody in the world, /anybody/, who doesn't disappoint you if you know them long enough! There's John." She held the letter between the palms of her hands and tapped her lips with it. "This is the first letter I've had from him in three weeks. Says he is so busy he has no chance to write. Busy! For nearly ten years he's never been too busy. Nobody is too busy to do what they want to do. If you can't take time you can always make it. And John is just proving he's only a man. Somehow I thought he wasn't like the rest. But he is. All of them are alike, every single one. And you can just write to him to-night, Mary Cary, and tell him if he's so busy you're sorry he bothered to write at all."