THE PERSIAN RUG WIFE
MARY BADGER WILSON
FROM the time she was born Marjorie had basked in the sunny appreciation of an admiring world. When she was three years old she had dragged her mother’s hand mirror off the dresser and after an examination of her pink, dimpled chubbiness, had looked up confidently at her adoring parent and asked, “Aren’t I pretty?” Her adoring parent was evidently no great student of the best baby-raising books for she gathered Marjorie into her arms and assured her, “Indeed you are, darling.” On through the yeurs her path had been strewn with conquests, and as her youth was spent in a college town she had every opportunity to collect her tax of masculine appreciation at the source.
According to all the rules of the game, she should have been a thoroughly spoiled girl. But life doesn’t always play the rules of the game, or maybe the man who wrote the rules made a mistake. There’s the popular idea of poverty, for instance.
Poverty and suffering are supposed to develop fine, strong, generous natures. Occasionally they do, but very often they don’t—frequently they produce hard, warped natures. So it is with girls; Cinderellas are not always Princesses in disguise, and the ugly, unattractive girls are not always the sweet ones.
Sometimes the pretty ones with the winning ways are sweet and loving too, reflecting back ali the love and gentleness that surrounds them.
Marjorie was a case in point.
Having lived only in an appreciative world, she was unafraid, unaffected and frank. Having been surrounded with love, she had a warm heart. Being familiar with happiness, she was not fooled by any imitation of that valuable article. All three facts explain why she married Jimmy Mitchel, with the firm mouth, the twinkle in his eye, and two thousand a year, instead of Henry Lathrop, with the hard eyes, the too-soft mouth and an income that kept the income tax collectors busy.
Her wedding was the conventional one with white satin and lace, a frightened bridegroom, chattering bridesmaids, a conscientious best man, flowers and Mendelssohn marches. The honeymoon was conventional in one respect, it was staged at Atlantic City. But at that point, both Marjorie and Jim would have sworn that all similarity with other honeymoons stopped short. Nobody else had been quite so happy, nobody else had had quite as much fun. Long swims out beyond the breakers, lazy hours on the sands, windowshopping down the wonderful miles of the Board Walk bazaar, dances in the pavillions built far out over the water,—these were all incidents. It was the happiness and love that strung them together into one experience that counted. On the last night they walked to the end of one of the long piers. Looking back over the dark waters, Jimmy regarded the pleasure city etched against the sky in electric lights, like a fairy tale come true.
“It’s like your life, Marjorie, all gaiety and happiness.” Then facing back toward the sea, he added:
“And there is the future that I am taking you into. Y ou see how uncertain it is. Doesn’t it frighten you?” Marjorie moved closer to him.
“ Nothing frightens me if we are together,” she said. The house to which Jimmy Mitchel took his bride was A pretty little bungalow out at “Twin Hills,” the residence section of Middleton, which was a factory town where
Jimmy earned his $2,000 a year. Middleton was a “small town” and if you keep up with the “best sellers” of course you think you know what that means. But not necessarily. There are small towns and small towns and it is not by their size you shall know them, but by their conversa-
Conversation may be divided into three parts, talk about things, talk about people, and talk about ideas. If your talk is all of things and people, with the emphasis on things, then you are a small towner, whether the things are located on Main Street or Fifth Avenue. If your talk is of people and ideas, with the emphasis on ideas, then you are a cosmopolite, even if you live in a village. The college town in which Marjorie had spent her twenty years was alive to its finger tips; the census man would have called it small, but in its easy camaraderie, its tolerance toward people, its eager welcome for ideas, its mental alertness,—it was a part of the big, round world. But Middleton,—Middleton was different.
Jimmy’s wife was different from other Middleton wives—That’s why he called her his Persian Rug Wife. They didn’t like her—Thought Persian Rugs almost immoral—but later—
There was of course a beauti ful thrill about coming home with Jimmy and the little bungalow did its best to live up to the occasion, posing its vine-covered green against the background of a vivid sunset. It was one of those storey-and-a-half bunga lows. With its half-shaded dormer windows looking like two sleepy eyes, and its porch, bisected by the front steps, outthrust like two paws, it gave all the effect, as Marjorie said, of a nice old watch dog, with his head on his paws, welcoming them home. Marjorie patted the porch rail affectionately and called it “Nice Rover.” After that the house was always “Rover" to them both. When they purchased household necessities, they were buying presents for Rover, when they watered the vines, they were giving him a drink, and when they installed labor-saving devices, they were teaching him tricks. But Marjorie never allowed “Rover” to become a petted lap dog. She had grown up among people who believed that houses were made to live in—not to live for, and she proceeded on that comfortable theory.
HER mother had given them all her “spare” furniture for a wedding present, but while the gift comprised some really good pieces of mahogany, there were not enough pieces to destroy what Jimmy and Marjorie happily called their effect of spaciousness. In fact, in moving from one room to another it wag usually necessary to carry one’s chair with one. The living room, however, aehieved quite a furnished look. Here there were Marjorie’s piano, her beloved books, some gay chintzes and roses from their tiny but hard-working garden; the room was made.
After they had been home a week the neighbors began to call. Mrs. Wilkinson and Mrs. Kram, who lived on either side of the little bungalow, called together. “We waited to give you time to get settled,” Mrs Wilkinson explained. As she spoke she glanced about her and there was something about the lift of her eyebrows that emphasized the lack of furniture in the house. As Marjorie described it that night:
“Her eyes took so long to go from one chair to another, that I felt as though miles of bare floor stretched between. Positively, Jimmy, I felt ashamed of our house, as though it didn’t have on enough clothes.”
But before the visitors Marjorie showed no shame.
“I really haven’t had much settling to do,” she explained, simply. “Everything had been unpacked before we came except my books. It did take me a long time to get them placed,” she confessed, “because I kept sitting down on the floor and reading snatches, while I was dusting them.”
Mrs. Kram smiled, but it could hardly be called an indulgent smile.
“I see you have not had much experience in housekeeping,” she remarked.
“By the way, wouldn’t you like to show us over the house? We knew the dear Ellises who lived here for five
years so well, and we would like to see how you have changed things.”
“Why certainly,” Marjorie jumped up with bright hospitality, but her heart sank a bit as she led the way into her little dining room. There were no dining room chairs at all, a fact that shrieked aloud through the silence of her two visitors.
“Of course, my dear, you have a hope chest of linen,” Mrs. Wilkinson assumed.
“No-o," admitted Marjorie. “You see I was only engaged to Jimmy a short time, and I was so busy with farewell parties and then Commencement season..and all. .
Marjorie felt the inadequacy of her excuses. Then she brightened.
“But I have a perfect love of a luncheon set that one of my girl friends gave me.”
She flew to a cabinet that stood in one corner, drew out a bulky tissue paper package and unwrapped some exquisite table mats.
“They were made in a convent in Italy, and the Sister who did them...”
Marjorie was started on a really romantic little tale, but she was interrupted by Mrs. Wilkinson.
“When I was married I had three luncheon sets, a dozen table cloths, six dozen napkins, fifty towels and a dozen linen sheets, all hand embroidered,” she announced impressively. “There was nobody in Middleton who could do better embroidery than I could, until I strained my eyes.”
MARJORIE glanced at the eyes in question. They were protected by double lens glasses. Involuntarily Marjorie rubbed her knuckles in the corners of her wide, long-lashed means of vision. That night she inquired of Jimmy:
“Honey, do you like my eyes?”
“I’ll say I do,” assured Jimmy. “Better than anything I know, except maybe that little curl at the back of your head.”
“Better than embroidered bath towels?” she urged. Jimmy snorted.
“What’s the idea?” he inquired.
When Marjorie explained he snorted again.
“What do you care about the old cats? Put on your bonnet and let’s go see a picture move.” He lit a cigarette and dismissed the subject.
The report on the new bride which Mrs. Wilkinson and Mrs. Kram carried to an interested neighborhood was not favorable.
“A slovenly housekeeper, inexperienced and shiftless,” they opined.
“I expect the house will soon look run down. They will lower the standard of Twin Hills,” added Mrs. Wilkinson.
The verdict of the neighborhood became unanimous as the ladies one by one paid their duty calls. It was finally sealed and delivered after Mrs. Naylor’s call. Mrs. Naylor was urging her favorite system of planning meals two weeks in advance.
“Oh but I couldn’t do that,” objected Marjorie. “You see I couldn’t decide to have spinach next Wednesday when I don’t know whether or not Wednesday will fed like spinach.”
“It is not a que» tion of feeling but of balanced rations,”
Mrs. Naylor rejoined heavily.
Despite its disapproval of the new bride, the neighborhood did its duty by her. She was asked to a number of luncheons and afternoon sewing parties, also to a few bridge parties.
The food values of the luncheons were balanced to perfection but Marjorie concluded that the conversation needed vitamins.
“It’s all heavy, starchy talk,” she complained to Jimmy. “All about pots and pans and how to discipline children and what to do to cut a few cents off the butcher’s bill. That’s just the machinery of living and I’ve always thought the machine should be well-oiled behind the scenes and then forgotten.
Don’t you think so too, dear?” she asked, hesitatingly.
“Ye-es,” Jimmy agreed slowly. “But you see, Margy, they are older than you and a bit middle-aged, but underneath there must be a meeting ground, if you can find it. Their husbands seem good fellows; I talk to them on the car in the mornings. You know, honey, I want you to be happy and it isn’t good to cut yourself off from people.” There was a little worried frown between his eyes. Marjorie rubbed her sunny head against his shoulder. “Silly,” she scoffed. “I am gloriously happy with you.” This was an argument that Jimmy found it a bit awkward to counter.
BEFORE her marriage Marjorie had done a considerable amount of research work for one of the professors, a man whose books had brought fame to himself and the college. In the early summer she received a letter from Professor Hartwell outlining the plans of a new book and asking her if she could help him to the extent of a few hours work a day. She was so familiar with his methods that her long-distance assistance would be more valuable to him than the efforts of any new person he might break in. Marjorie -was delighted. The work was stimulating and the extra money would provide for a servant to do the heavy work—the pots and pans which had always been depressing to her spirit. It was difficult to find a servant in Middleton; women whose husbands made five times Jimmy’s salary still did their own work. But finally Marjorie discovered Tempe, an untrained but good-natured colored girl, newly arrived from a western Ontario village. Tempe was willing, and Marjorie was unexacting.
“Some cook,” decided Jimmy, in large satisfaction, after sampling the little darky’s corn bread and waffles.
But her culinary achievements brought less delight to Marjorie than her happy giggle and her marvelous stories. “She is the only interesting person in Middleton,” Marjorie wrote her mother.
Middleton objected to Tempe unanimously and positively.
“A cook on a salary of $2,000 a year, imagine!” said the ladies one to another, knowing nothing of the extra money Marjorie was earning, not that they would have been appeased if they had known.
“That poor boy will be head over heels in debt before
he has been married a year,” decided Mrs. Naylor.
“I saw him going by my house yesterday evening,” contributed Mrs. Kram, “with his head bent and a frown between his eyes. Not like he looked two months ago, always whistling and happy.”
Jimmy brought the ghost of this frown home with him one night in early September.
“Marjorie,” he asked over their after-dinner coffee, which Tempe had been taught to serve in the most approved fashion, “don’t you think you ought to return some of the invitations you had when you first came? I know you don’t care for these people but they were
pretty decent about welcoming you in and it doesn’t seem right to let the tracks all run one way.”
“Oh, my dear, how dreadful.” Marjorie was all contrition. “Of course I should have. It is unpardonable but my days are so full that I really forgot.”
MARJORIE was literal in her explanation. ¡Her days were full. By the time she had put in three hours’ work for Professor Hartwell, had added the finishing touches to Tempe’s efforts, practised her allotted time on the piano and accomplished a fewr letters or a little reading, it was time to make ready for Jimmy,—wonderful evenings wnth Jimmy when all her sparkle that Middleton extinguished, came out with undiminished radiance. The fact that the stupidities of Middleton social life had receded from her doorstep had passed unnoticed by the absorbed little person. But once brought to her attention, the debt of unreturned hospitality weighed on her conscience.
So she and Tempe planned a party, an afternoon bridge party, which materialized on one of the first cool days of fall. There was an open fire in the living room and brilliant autumn foliage all about the first floor. The refreshments had been efficiently attended to in the morning hours, Marjorie making some delectable chicken salad and Tempe producing several batches of beaten biscuits, the bona-fide article. Thus Tempe was left free to “dress up” in frilled apron and cap, and admit the guests. ,
“How fortunate you are, my dear, to have a maid, Mrs. Kram remarked in that smooth tone which is woman’s version of the masculine, “Treat ’em rough.
“Yes, I think I’m tremendously lucky,” Marjorie answered in bright unconsciousness of irony. ^ ‘ I tell Jimmy that it is one of the compensations for being poor. You see we have so few possessions that our house is no trouble to keep—it doesn’t frighten the servants away. There’s the matter of rugs, for instance. I have only one rug, just that tiny scrap in front of the fireplace. No rugB, no rug beating,-—happy contented maid. Q. E. D. as they say at college.”
Marjorie noticed that her little attempt at being funny fell into a heavy silence, not even politely forced laughter breaking its fall. But she forgot it in the absorption of taking a trick with an ill-guarded queen. Later, however, when she had gone to the pantry to help Tempe serve the salad she caught the belated echo of her innocent remark. Her guests did not realize that the little bungalow was a perfect sounding board and they were not handicapped by the sort of social conscience that forbids discussing a host or hostess.
“Only one rug and keeping a maid! Did you ever hear of such a thing?” snorted Mrs. Naylor.
“It’s the poor boy that I feel sorry for.” Thus droned Mrs. Kram with the tremolo stop on her voice. “I watch him trudging up the hill in front of our house every evening and he used to come up whistling but now he has that worried frown on his face and holds his head down. I tell you a man may not say as much, but he takes a pride in his home just as much as a woman. Mrs. Bainbridge was telling me that she knew old Mrs. Mitchel, Jimmy’s mother, and that nobody kept a better house than she did. The boy has been used to things and then to come to such shiftlessness as this!” Back in the pantry, Marjorie could still see in her mind’s eye the contemptuous glance that Mrs. Kram was throwing around her little living room which only a few hours back had looked so festive in the glow of the firelight and with the gay autumn foliage all about.
i 1 K E the tl famous i-J Chari otte who went on cutting bread and butter. Marjorie continued to dish out salad. She had been brought up in the social school which teaches that Continued on page 51
The Persian Rug Wife
Continued from page 19
hospitality must not falter for little things like broken hearts. Her own heart was j not broken, only very sick. She had felt it grow chill at Mrs. Kram’s description of ¡ Jimmy trudging up the hill with his head down. Her quick mind had dashed out and retrieved various damaging details which heightened the effect of Mrs. Kram’s story. Jimmy’s defense of these women when she had criticised their stupid life. “There must be some meeting ground if you can find it. . . .Their husbands seem good fellows”—that was what he had said. Then his suggestion that she give this very party, that she had taken from these people and had given nothing. He was worried: Mrs. Kram was right. Several times lately she had surprised him with a frown between his eyes and now that she reflected, the eyes were always fixed on her. Somehow she had failed Jimmy. Their standard of values was different, after all. All the time that she had been thinking of herself as a daughter of Mary who had chosen a better part than these daughters of Martha, busied about many material things—all the time Jimmy had been thinking of her as “shiftless.” Somehow it would have to be worked out. One standard would have to yield—probably hers—but meanwhile the party must go on.
The party did go on without a ripple on its smooth surface. Marjorie’s guests were close but not keen observers. Her sudden pallor was quite unnoticed and her forced gaiety rang as true to them as the spontaneous variety. No one suspected how desperately tired she was as she ! smiled the last of the “bitter-enders” out of the front door.
Neither did Jimmy suspect it as he ¡ arrived on the heels of the departing guests, bringing with him another most unexpected guest.
“Marjorie, this is Mr. Walton, our Mr. Walton, of course, you know. (Naturally Marjorie knew the great T. K. Walton, president of Jimmy’s firm, who had built up a five million dollar business before he was forty-five.) Mr. Walton is motoring •over to Marchmont and his car broke down. I found him at the bottom of our hill arid persuaded him to wait with us while his chauffeur gets help from town.”
Marjorie was conventionally and convincingly cordial. She settled Mr. Walton, in the big wing chair in front of her crackling fire, and with Tempe’s aid she per| formed some quick, quiet magic in clearing away the party signs from the living room. In fifteen minutes she joined her guest and a little later Tempe rolled in a tea cart with fresh coffee from the percolator, heaping plates of the delectable . salad and Tempe’s prize biscuits. Marjorie was struggling to redeem herself ; she must not fail Jimmy before the “big boss.”
MR. WALTON, who was talking shop in a desultory way with Jimmy, Í roused himself perfunctorily at the entrance of his hostess, and less perfunctorily at the entrance of the coffee which ad-
vertised itself in advance by its savory
"This is a real imposition to drop in on you when you are scarcely through with your party, Mrs. Mitchel,” he protested.
Then with an evident attempt to make conversation:
"I hope it was a successful party. Are you fond of bridge?”
"Fond but not ‘over fond,’ ” Marjorie rejoined. “I’ve always thought of it as a means rather than an end.”
“A means toward what end?”
“Well, social contact, .matching minds ..general stimulation. I suppose I’m rather vague about the end,” Marjorie confessed. “In fact, I’m beginning to see that I am vague about ends and means generally. It must be most satisfying to be the kind of person who knows definitely from the start just what is important and what is not. That is the secret of success, is it not?”
‘T would say that was the secret of failure,” Mr. Walton replied. “It is only little people who are sure. The people who make a success of life experiment. It’s like a laboratory. Where would a chemist get who wasn’t willing to break a few test tubes? Besides, people who are sure of all their little theories are always uninteresting and uninteresting people are not successes. They sometimes make money but they don’t make a success out of life.”
“You really think that?” Marjorie was wistful in her appeal. The excitement of making good for Jimmy, superimposed on her utter fatigue, had brought out brilliant flares of color in her cheeks. Her eyes were soft. Her wistfulness held the eternal feminine appeal. Mr. Walton gave it the eternal masculine answer of assurance.
“I know it is true,” he said firmly.
THEN he began to draw on his experience. He was a man whose life nad given him colorful experiences and rich intellectual contacts. Marjorie’s experience had come largely through the medium of books but she could follow him. Their talk ranged widely,—science, politics, literary theories, the arts. Finally,— “I see that music is one of your means to an end,” Mr. Walton nodded toward the open piano. “Share it with me, won’t
Marjorie’s month of practice stood her in good stead. Her technique was able to support the confused emotion which her day had given her and which she poured into her music now. She had never before played with as much “feeling”, as Jimmy called it. Their guest lingered on fifteen minutes after his chauffeur had arrived to report all ready for the forward journey, and even then he left reluctantly.
Jimmy was elated.
“You two highbrows seemed to have a bully evening,” he enthused, drawing Marjorie to him.
But Marjorie was less responsive than he had ever known her.
“I hope it went off well, Jimmy,” was all that she said and that with a quiet wistfulness.
“Tired, honey?” Jimmy was immediately sympathetic.
“Very,” Marjorie nodded. But she
would not yield to his insistence that she omit dinner and let him forage for salad and bread; nor w'ould she leave the party dishes until next day. Tempe had gone home but Marjorie labored on to leave her house in order, such order as would satisfy exacting Middleton and a husband whose mother had accustomed him to the best in housekeeping. Could Marjorie have knowm it, the frown on Jimmy’s face as he followed her in an ineffectual attempt to be helpful, was etched far deeper than Mrs. Kram had ever seen it.
From this night Jimmy dated the change in his wife. The next evening when he capped dinner with hi usual formula, “Get on your bonnet and let’s go see a picture move,” Marjorie protested—
“We go too often, Jimmy. Let’s make it a rule to go once a week and put the money in this little bank I’ve got!”
She prodi cea child’s little iron bank. Her husba’d looked decidedly taken aback. There was a perceptible hesitation before he said :
“Allright. You are the boss.”
IN ALL sorts of little ways Marjorie began saving pennies. She also saved dollars. She broke it to Tempe that she
could no longer afford to keep a maid. Tempe left in tears: well she knew that she would find no other mistress like Miss Marjorie in this town. Her departure was not broken to Jimmy until the day she finally left. Then when he came home his wife, concealed in a big bungalow apron, informed him that he had a new
“What’s the idea?” he inquired.
“Well, the new cook won’t ask wages, Jimmy dear.”
Jimmy said nothing. His lips were pressed into a straight lire. It was queer, Marjorie reflected, that he did not seem to appreciate her conversion to Middleton.
Thus matters dragged on rather dully for a couple of weeks until one day Jimmy was called on the telephone in mid-afternoon and informed by a strange doctor’s voice that his wife had burned herself rather badly. Jimmy hurried home in a state of panic. He found Marjorie in bed with her left arm bandaged heavily and her face white with pain. Never very clever with pots and pans, she managed to overturn a double boiler and the boiling liquid it contained had poured over her whole arm and hand. She had gotten to the telephone and summoned a doctor; one of the neighbors had helped her get into bed.
Out of his panic Jimmy was reproachful.
“Why did you let that little darky go, Marjorie? I knew you couldn’t do this heavy work, you never have been used to it.”
Two large tears rolled dovn Marjorie’s white face.
“I have failed you, dear, altogether failed you. Now the doctor’s bills will eat up all the rug money I’ve saved.”
“Rug money? Was that what that pesky bank was for?”
“Did you want a rug so much, my dear?” Jimmy asked.
“Only for you. I didn’t want one.”
“For me—a rug for me?” He was dumfounded.
And then Marjorie sobbed out the whole story of what she had heard at the party and how she connected it up with that worried frown of his.
Jimmy buried his head in his hands and it was some minutes before he spoke at all. Then:
“There has never been so much as a gesture of yours that I would have changed, sweetheart. What worried me was your lack of companionship here. I thought you weren’t happy-that you must want something more than just evenings with me. That was why I wanted you to keep on trying to see if Middleton didn’t have something worth while. And yet all the time I knew there wasn’t anything for you. That was why I frowned, if I did frown. But what I don’t see now is why you didn’t come to me with all this instead of listening to those damned old gossips.”
“Oh, my dear, my dear..” Marjorie protested, but her eyes shone like stars in her white face.
Then suddenly Jimmy roused up.
“Well, I almost forgot the big news and here is where you get the laugh on them all. I was planning to come home with a regular rose bush and a cart load of candy this evening. Just listen to this. Early this morning the boss called me into his office,—the big boss, old T. K. you remember. It seems that he has not been able to fill that vacancy in the London office. He says it takes a young, active man; the old men can’t handle it. And he couldn’t find a young man in the firm who did not have what he calls the ‘suburban temperament.’ You will probably get what he means because he told me to tell you that he had to have somebody who was not one of the little, sure people and he knew you would never let me be one. That’s why he’s giving me the job, and, sweetheart, it pays”—Jimmy’s voice sank to tones of awe—“it pays $6,000 a year. But it isn’t just the money. It’s the chance, the big chance.”
SUDDENLY Marjorie gasped and closed her eyes. Sharp pain and sharper joy were too much for her and she fainted in the triumphant Jimmy’s arms.
Tempe, returning like the prodigal, soon had the household a going concern again. Their last few months in Middleton fairly flew. But Jimmy refused to leave without another party, this one for Marjorie’s birthday and a night party, he
jnsisted, so that he could ward off disaster, t was not clear to Marjorie why they c-hould do this but she did not fight it.
Once again she and Temp# planned and decorated. On the night of the party things were going with a somewhat heavy gaiety when Jimmy introduced a diversion by getting Mr. Kram to help him roll into the living room a large and mysterious package which had reposed in the hall all during the evening.
“This is a birthday party, my friends,” he announced. “And this is the surprise present for the old lady who has tottered one year nearer the grave.”
Out of its heavy wrappings slowly he unrolled a rug, ah such a rug! A rug to dream on, a rug to carry one into the most improbable Arabian night’s tale. The women of the party pushed nearer it; they fingered it; appraised it.
“Why, it’s real Persian,” Mrs. Naylor pronounced.
“Of course, it’s Persian,” Jimmy triumphed. “It couldn’t be anything else because I have a Persian rug kind of wife. What do you think, boys,”—he turned to the men—-“of a wife who gets her husband’s salary trebled in one year? Who...” Jimmy was going on boastfully, but Marjorie put her soft hand over his mouth quite firmly. He never was let to go on with his tale.
“Why, Margy, why couldn’t I tell the old cats just what you are?” he protested after the party was all over.
“Because, dear, I looked around at their faces as they looked at the rug. And it came over me how much we have, you and I. We have the dreams and the beautiful things that are woven into the rug. It hardly seemed fair to rub it in that we have the rug too.”
Jimmy thought for a minute and then he slowly lifted her little burned left hand to his lips.