THE CHILDREN’S MOTHER
MARGARET CULKIN BANNING
THE whole family seemed to be already snowed under with tissue paper and yet all the presents were not opened. In one end of the billiard room, the big fifteen foot spruce tree—by common consent one of the best trees the Morgans had ever had— glittered magnificently with its Christmas yield of electric flowers and fruit, colored birds and shining balls. There, according to established custom, was the tinseled angel at the top,of the tree gazing down at the family with her flat, sweet pasteboard smile as if she were noticing how much
the children had grown and how happy everyone was on this Christmas. Presents, handed out by Jerry Morgan, master of the house and chief official of the celebration, were being exclaimed over and there were recurrent high spots of excitement as now, when Marie, Phyllis Morgan’s younger sister, lifted the cover of a tiny blue jewelry box and held up a diamond and amethyst bracelet for every one to see, while Christopher, her tall fiance, stood back by the door, his own face rapturous at her happiness.
Phyllis added her enthusiasm with the rest. She had been kept steadily rejoicing over the children’s satisfac-
tions and her adjectives were growing a little weary. It had been fun to see Jerry’s pleasure in the new silk dressing-gown which she had bought for him, stretching her allowance to its very limit. She liked being hostess at these big riotous family parties which were always held at her house now because of the children, and she was glad everyone was having such a good time. But, strangely, at the sight of Marie’s bracelet, an odd, quit e unexpected feeling came over her. She looked down, almost involuntarily, at the little pile of her own gift s beside her. There were the lovely lunch-napkins from he r mother—they were beautifully embroidered and edged with lace, and a full dozen of them with the lunch-cloth to match. Marie had given her the linen pillow cases. The handkerchief had come from darling Cherry, who had hemmed it herself with her untidy child’s stitches and Bob had bought a package of absurd pink writing paper that his ten-year old soul rejoiced in, for his mother. The chair backs of real filet, yes, she needed those. The ones in the living room were fraying after twelve years of use and many washings. All the presents were lovely—and yet as Phyllis looked over at Marie, who was still holding her slim wrist up to the light, adorned already with its expensive bauble, she wondered what Jerry would give her. His present hadn’t come yet. Yes, here it was. Jerry, in his role of plain clothes Santa Claus, was bringing an enormous pasteboard box to his wife.
“The children have had enough,” said Jerry, affectionately; “here’s something for the children’s mother.” Phyllis hadn’t told him what she wanted. She hadn’t told anyone but she had a leap of secret excitement at the sight of the big box. If it should be a fur coat! Or a new evening dress. It was all very well to watch other people get their Christmas presents and act as if you did not care at all what came your way, but secretly, at twentynine, with your younger sister gloating over platinum bracelets and a pile of household linen beside you, you did care!
For a minute after opening her box, Phyllis did not lift her head. Jerry, fortunately, had gone back to his place beside the tree. It was several minutes before he turned around and called out to her:
“How did you like my present, Phyllis? Get what you wanted? They told me that it was what you’d like. Look nice in the hall before that table, won’t it?”
“It’s gorgeous,” answered Phyllis, hoping her voice had no false notes in it.
“What did you get, Mother?” asked Cherry, suspending her interest in her own loot.
Phyllis held it up—-“A lovely rug—-a lovely old one—a treasure—■”
It was a silken, soft, Persian rug and Phyllis guessed that it must have been very expensive. They needed a bright little rug like this in the hall and she had been telling her mother so. But—-
“It’s just a rug,” said Cherry without enthusiasm. “You did want a rug for your Christmas, mother? Not a bracelet like Aunt Marie?”
“You’ve a terribly domestic mother, young one,” said Phyllis’ brother, swinging Cherry to his shoulder, “if you gave her a tiara she’d trade it for a set of china. SheJikes mouldy old rugs, and green young kids.”
Phyllis tried to laugh, but the laugh was interfered with in her throat by a feeling so foreign to Christmas that it horrified her. If she didn’t control herself she was going to cry, and then what would happen to this family party and Jerry’s feelings and the children’s joy? This was so childish, she told herself angrily, to be disappointed because her present wasn’t for her personal use.
But no one seemed to notice. She thought for a moment that Jerry’s mother was looking at her curiously and then the elder Mrs. Morgan began talking to someone else with an absorption which showed her mind was far from Phyllis. Jerry, his duties over, came up to his wife. “Great day! And what a time those kids are having!” “Great.”
“Tired?” he asked.
“Oh, just a little! But it is such fun to watch the children.”
That was the way to restore her equilibrium, to think about the children. Christmas was for them, primarily. Phyllis concentrated on that thought stoutly while she picked up the heaps of abandoned tissue paper, and cautioned the children against eating more candy, and admired Marie’s gold mesh bag and lovely lingerie. Marie always had heaps of presents, but that was only natural to anyone as young and lovely as Marie. So many of Phyllis’ friends and relatives now sent a box of books or toys for the children and left Phyllis and Jerry out, except for a card of greeting. That was what was customary when you had a family, and it was, of course, both right and proper.
TPHE rest of the party went to the living room to escape the debris and Marie sang Christmas ballads while Christopher leaned over the piano and admired her. Phyllis took the children to the kitchen to feed them cereal and calm them down before bedtime. She was tired herself, she found. Christmas had come to be a very complicated day, in fact the whole season was complicated. It was a time against which she braced her strength, first for the buying of presents, the wrapping and dispatching of them, the long sessions while the children bought their gifts for others, with its searching of ten cent stores to find twenty or more articles within the range of their purses so that they might learn to really give. Then there was the tree, the wreaths, the plans for the menus which had to be large and elaborate, for everyone in the family had two meals at the Morgan’s on Christmas day. These were the arrangements that Phyllis wanted and approved of, but to-night she felt, as she tucked the children up and kissed their happy weary faces, that she was very old. She wanted to go into her
own room instead of downstairs, to go into her room and shut the door and cry. That was nervous and morbid and she^could not see how she had come to be this way, especially on Christmas. But she seemed left out, and not quite dispassionate enough to enjoy other people’s pleasure. It was partly the gifts of course. No one thought of her any more, except as the children’s mother, the housewife. And at twenty-nine, having been
a beauty as a debutante, it made her feel queer.
She sat at the head of the extended and laden Christmas supper table and tried to bring her spirits up to par.
What will you have, Mother?” asked Jerry, carving cold turkey.
He was not addressing his own mother. He was speaking to Phyllis, for he had fallen into the way of calling her that. At first she had liked it. It was a constant naming of the marvellous bond between them. Now she was rather less fond of the casual way he said it, using it in place of almost all the old endearments. At parties, it made her feel older and heavier and reminded her of her primary responsibilities. And, to-night, it reminded her that she was the head of a family and not at all a girl, while secretly she kept nudging down that outrageous jealousy of Marie who was, after all, only five years younger and looked like a poem to-night in velvet, which was the color of ashes of roses. Christopher was talking to Marie in a low absorbed voice and Phyllis, seated between her mother-in-law and her eldest aunt, wondered what he said to bring that enchanted look into her sister’s eyes. Not so long ago—
“Those children of yours are growing up, Phyllis,” said the aunt.
“Aren’t they big?”
“They’ll be a young man and woman before you know it. Ten more years and your Bob will be as old as Jack.”
Phyllis looked instinctively at Jack, her debonair young college brother. Perhaps Bob would be like that, in ten years. He’d probably be just like Jack, independent, a little bored by everyone who was even a little older than himself. All young men got that way.
In ten years, she would be thirty-nine, and Jerry fortytwo. What did people do after that until they died? Mrs. Morgan was seventy and still healthy. Of course she had clubs and things like that. And her own mother had seemed to live along with Phyllis, after her husband died. Perhaps she herself would be like that with Cherry. Phyllis shivered. It seemed so old.
“What did you say, Mrs. Morgan?” she asked, missing that lady’s remark.
“You’ve given everyone a delightful day,” said Jerry’s mother. “I hope yours has been as pleasant as ours.”
Again that keen look almost embarrassed Phyllis.
“Oh, yes,” she answered, “it’s always joyful to watch the children.”
“Nice to be the children’s mother on Christmas, isn’t it? I always found it so with mine. But they will grow up and then you are only the children’s grandmother on Christmas and that’s not a full-time job.”
“Being a mother is a full-time one.”
“I know it is to you,” said Mrs. Morgan, kindly, “but you mustn’t let them absorb you too much, you know.”
Phyllis was about to answer and was interrupted by an empty coffee cup passed up toward her big silver tray. Then she saw Jack pushing back his chair.
“You’re not going, are you, Jack?” she asked.
“I have an engagement. Sorry.”
“Oh, we all know,” taunted Marie.
“Well, you’ll be along yourself later,” Jack returned; “and I’ve got to get way out to Cliff Heights and back. I won’t be there before ten now.”
His mother looked after him, as he disappeared through the door. She was a white haired old lady, as softly sweet as Mrs. Morgan was definite and capable, and her glance at Jack was the slightly lonesome look of the mother who is left behind inevitably and naturally.
He might have stayed, thought Phyllis, rather irritably.
“Where’s the party?” she asked.
“At the Joseph Miles,” said Marie.
“Very high stepping,” said Phyllis caustically. She and Jerry hadn’t been asked. The Joseph Miles had good parties but they didn’t ask the rather domesticated married crowd. They liked people who didn’t go home too early. She poured more coffee and watched the disposition of mince pies and fruit cake, and ices and all the things which gave Phyllis a reputation as a housekeeper. The relatives all praised it as the best Christmas in years. They said the same things that they had said the year before, and would say next year, and Phyllis smiled in her sweet, faintly tired way, which was somehow like her mother’s.
With the Christmas supper over, the group scattered again.
“We’re sorry to have to go, Phyllis,” said Marie. “It's been heavenly. Hasn’t it, Christopher?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Christopher agreed, and hurried her off.
The few young people in the party all seemed to melt away like that. Phyllis saw Jerry settle down with Uncle Alec by the fire to talk business. When everyone was comfortable and the card tables were up, she went up to look at the children again and make sure that they were not feverish after their big day. Cherry had seemed so flushed when she went to bed. But she was all right now, and Phyllis went down again to the billiard room and tried to bring some order into the chaos of presents. It was rather good to be alone. The embers of the dying fire glowed and she turned off the lights and sat down for a minute before it. And suddenly, in the midst of all the debris of Christmas joy the foolish disappointment of the day seemed to come over her again. She buried her face in the Persian rug which hung over the back of the chair and let the tears come quietly. How dreadful to be crying on Christmas! She kept thinking and cried on. How dreadful for a happy wife and mother, and still cried. Over her head a wilting sprig of mistletoe swayed listlessly and the tree sparkled in the shadows.
AT FIRST the plan seemed absurd. When the elder ■ Mrs, Morgan had broached it, Phyllis had simply refused to think of it. She couldn’t let her parents-in-law take all that responsibility. It was altogether too much for them to think of taking the children to Miami for the winter months. If Jerry could get away, they might all come down for three weeks in March, but to send the children for four long months was out of the question. That was at first. But Mrs. Morgan had not let it go with a first refusal. She came back to the point, insisting that it was the best thing for the children and the best thing for Phyllis, and she pressed her points in a way which made it hard for Phyllis to refuse. Jerry was a complete convert to the plan.
“The folks have taken that house,” he urged, “and they will simply rattle around in it if they don’t have Cherry and Bob. It means swimming and sunning for the kids all winter, and if they go for the full time they can enter this good school mother’s been inquiring about. And you will get a rest.”
"I don’t need a rest. Besides I couldn’t stand having them away all that time.”
“Allright. You go along too.”
“But you’d be alone all winter, Jerry, if I did.”
“Oh, I’d be all right. I could go to the club or a hotel.” He hated clubs and hotels and Phyllis knew it.
“That’s out of the question,” she answered, “especially this winter when you have so much important work coming on. We’ll all stay home.”
Then the children began their own campaign of coaxing, which was, possibly, partly instigated by Mrs. Morgan. But as Phyllis said to her mother, it wasn’t right.
“If it were you, Mother,” said Phyllis, “I might feel differently. But Jerry’s mother is so unlike you. She has her clubs, and her bridge and golf, and she doesn’t seem to know much about children. How do I know the children would be properly cared for? Of course she offers to take Ella along, and Ella is the best nursemaid I’ve ever had, but even then it hardly seems as if I should let them gol” r ' ' ' '
Phyllis' mother wrinkled her soft, devoted, little brow and worried. She was used to worry. It wasn’t a thing within her experience. Her own idea of motherhood had been, as she often said, to ‘give up everything for her children.’ It wasn’t a thing within her experience to send children of eight and ten away to spend long months in Florida without her care. Y et there was the efficient M rs. Morgan sweeping away demurs, ignoring worries. When Phyllis finally said desperately that she simply could not get along without the children, Mrs. Morgan’s answer seemed to have been waiting for just that statement.
“I think that’s the trouble, Phyllis. Yet one of these days you must get along without them. They’ll be going off to school pretty soon, you know.”
Phyllis laughed. “I’ll meet the school problem when I must,” she said. “They’ll be older then.”
“So will you. Older and a little more inflexible. I wouldn’t let myself be one of these ingrowing mothers, Phillis.”
“It’s a little bit like a disease, I think. Some women catch it when they’re young, and going through that time of bottles and cradles when children are so dependent on them. You have some of the symptoms already— thinking that the children wouldn’t be safe away from you, and thinking you can’t get along without them. And yet, sometimes, you’re all tired out with being a mother and a little resentful that the rest of the world neglects you. It does, but that’s only because you neglect the rest of the world.”
Phyllis remembered those keen eyes fixed on her on Christmas day and flushed. She wanted to be angry but there was a cool impersonality about Mrs. Morgan against which one couldn’t rouse anger. It was like science. The elder lady tapped the table with the rim of her eyeglass and looked at Phyllis kindly.
“Try it out, my dear. I think it’s worth trying. The children will love a southern winter and you see how well you can get along without them. Take it as a test. It’s one of the things women have to face, you know, and it’s better to face it while you’re young. I wish all mothers could. But they can’t unfortunately. So at fifty they either turn skittish and foolish, and run to nerves for diversion, or become faintly melancholy, living for family celebrations and letters from the children.”
“How do you know?” asked Phyllis.
“Well,” said Mrs. Morgan, “I’ve had four children.” Somehow Phyllis never thought of Mrs. Morgan as the mother of four children. She knew Jerry’s sisters and brother and she knew that all the Morgan children had the greatest admiration for their mother. She was always the counsel they sought when they were worried or up against things, even Jerry. But she seemed such a definite individual, and she and Mr. Morgan were always going somewhere or doing something which was outside the family interests and often outside their knowledge. Even to Phyllis, she wasn’t just Jerry’s mother. She was Mrs. Morgan.
Because she was Mrs. Morgan, Phyllis weakened. There was a hurried week of sewing and planning, of packing and advising and then two small excited figures in fur-bordered coats waved at their mother from the rear platform of a train already in motion toward Florida.
Phyllis felt faint as the train vanished. In the first place the train looked dangerous, and not at all romantic as trains had used to look to her. There were grinding wheels and open windows and the railing on the observation platform didn’t look too firm and there were strange looking passengers. She heard Jerry again recounting all the advantages of the trip as they drove home, but his talk didn’t penetrate the dreadful aching emptiness inside of her. Dinner was a melancholy meal and after it came the dreadful hours when Phyllis lay awake until dawn thinking about the empty beds down the hall and the things that did happen to children when their mothers were away. She saw them to-night, undressing by themselves, crying into their hard Pullman pillows for their mother. It was dreadful. She knew that her worry was more than worry. It was her mother’s intuition warning her, carrying her into their moods.
“They must be half way to Chicago,” said Jerry, cheerfully, coming into the dining room at breakfast time, “lucky plutocratic little brats! Queer without them, isn’t it?”
Phyllis turned toward him drearily. “I think we made a terrible mistake, Jerry. Those children aren’t used to being away from home. And loneliness does leave an awful mark on a child’s psychology. Did you notice how pathetic poor little Cherry’s face was yesterday?”
“I thought she looked pretty cocky in that new coat.” “Just on the surface. Her face was sad. I noticed.”
It was just at the end of the miserable breakfast that the maid brought in a telegram. Phyllis’ face went white with apprehension.
“Jerry! Do you suppose it’s from them?”
The telegram was a fast message, for Mrs. Morgan also knew something of psychology. She had been generous with words.
“Children slept soundly all night and are now eating
breakfast, going straight down the menu. They are enjoying every minute. We all are. Please don’t worry.”
“I told you those hard-headed, lucky kids were all right,” said Jerry. “I’ll bet they’re still eating this minute.”
Phyllis read the message through twice with a guilty backward thought at her conviction about her intuition. So they had slept soundly all night. Well, she hadn’t. She yawned.
'“PHE next few telegrams, en route, and the first smeared * letters from the children only embellished the story of joy. Without a regret, Cherry and Bob seemed to have set themselves industriously to the task of having a good time. Indeed, in Cherry’s second letter she remarked in straggly letters—-‘Grandmother says that I must write you but I will only write a little because it is nicer on the sand. I like it here better than home because we have more fun. We wear our new bathing suits—’
It was ridiculous to let a child’s letter hurt so, but Phyllis went through a bad hour, an hour filled with emotions which seemed to spring to life all at once. Jealousy of Mrs. Morgan, pity for herself at being so soon unnecessary to her children, a dreadful sense of abandonment. She showed the letter to Jerry and was amazed at his chuckle.
“The little tyke!” he said, “isn’t that great? They must be having a wonderful time.”
Yet he was lonely, too! Phyllis knew it, because they constantly talked of the children and told old stories over again and made plans for their return. That was for the first week. Then, one night, he brought an old friend home for dinner who was passing through the city and the atmosphere changed. Jerry was full of a hundred interesting subjects. The men talked all during the evening and Jerry’s only remark about his children was that he had a couple of kids himself, boy and girl, south with their grandparents. For the rest of the time, it was business and politics, crisscrossed with references and anecdotes. Phyllis hadn’t heard Jerry talk like that in a long while, and she thought, as she listened, that while the children were away was a good time to talk about such things to him. But the friend took his train and on the next evening Jerry lifted his eyes kindly to her as they picked up their soup spoons and said: “Well, Mother, what do you hear from the children?”
Phyllis somehow resented that word ‘mother.’ Hadn’t she specially worn this new dinner dress? And he did not so much as notice it. They relapsed into their usual silence, broken only by some occasional remark about the children. Phyllis started to find another subject and was surprised to find that she was not sure of information on any other, on anything that would interest Jerry in the least. He had talked freely enough last night. But he was thinking to himself to-night, even during his little courtesies to her.
“Bob certainly is a manly little chap,” said Jerry with the air of saying something new.
“He certainly is,” agreed Phyllis without her usual enthusiasm.
“You remember the time he fell out of that tree? Wasn’t he a little prince?”
“My dear Jerry,” said Phyllis, astonishingly, “this isn’t Old Home Week! Do let’s talk about something else beside the children. We might be a couple of aged grandparents.”
“Well,” said Jerry: and then with equal drama, “but—!”
Their conversation on other subjects was not successful that night for it was too forced to be interesting. But it did open up the gaps for Phyllis. She knew, of course, that Jerry was a lawyer. She knew that he had won that big case for the B. L. and W. Railroad last year and that most of his business came from them. She knew he was getting along very well. But further than that, she knew very little, as a matter of fact. She didn’t know the dips and rises in his success which he had told of last night, nor of the political situation which affected the railroad. It occurred to her that Jerry, devoted as he was to his family, would not be bereft when the children grew up and drifted away. He was independent of them. That was the secret.
She was still thinking about that, when she went to see her mother next day. Phyllis turned to her mother in something like defence of herself but here, this afternoon, was Marie, with half a dozen other girls, all very gay and full of bridesmaids’ plans. It was light talk, but it was diverse, too, with its sprinkling of gossip about charity benefits and Junior League hours and the jobs which some of the girls had, or pretended they wanted. Marie’s life was very full, just as Phyllis’ own life had been before she married, but she was left out of all this gaiety now. When the girls spoke to her they invariably asked how the children were.
Marie noticed that. “I should think you’d shoot the next person who asked you about those kids!” she said.
“Oh the questions are so mechanical. They look at you and the idea ‘children’ pops into their heads. They seem The Children’s Mother
Continued on page 28
Continued, from page. 5
■ to think it’s the only thing to say to you.’’
I “Wait until you’re married,” said Phyllis suggestively.
“Oh, I shall be quite different.”
Phyllis made a gesture of scoffing.
“I tell you I shall be. My children aren’t going to be my whole life!” insisted Marie.
“Don’t be too sure.”
“But I am sure,” said Marie; and she looked so. “I adore Christopher, and I ; never mean to let him be pushed out of I the way. My gracious,” she added, driven i on by the skeptical smile Phyllis was wearing, “I’ve certainly had my lesson in watching you and Mother!”
“Me and Mother!”
“You’re just alike,” said Marie. “You just live in your children and, of course, it’s awfully dear of you and all that. But it certainly has drawbacks. Here are Christopher and me just aching to get married and the whole thing is blighted I because Mother is going to be so desolate I when I live less than a hundred miles from here but she’s just sick over it. With ! you married and Jack never home she acts as if my getting married was a kind of desertion.
j “Why, Marie! Mother doesn’t mind like that.”
“Oh, yes, she does. I see it. Jn the house ; with her I feel it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You’ve got your own family and your own worries. But that,” said Marie, coming back to the original point, “is why I say that I’ve learned my lesson. I never shall get that way with my daughter. I shall always say to her—‘have your own life and I’ll have mine’!”
And though it was a bit over-dramatic, Marie’s dark eyes were deep with wisdom.
“Do you think I could help Mother?” j asked Phyllis.
“Oh, we’ll all do what we can, I suppose. Come to see her often and make her come to see us. You can help, while I’m away on my wedding trip—that will be the worst time, I suppose. But there’s not much any of us really can do. She’ll just suffer, unless I give up Christopher. And I simply can’t, Phyllis. It’s time I got married. It’s natural — and I adore Christopher.”
“Of course you do,” Phyllis comforted ¡ j her. “Don’t talk that way. There’s no reason you should even think of giving him up. But, Marie, why did you say mother and I are just alike?”
“You bury yourself in your children j just as she did. And you see what happens —when you went away she was sad but it was bearable. When Jack does what every fellow in town does on vacations, runs around a lot, she just sits and pines and waits for him to turn up. And when I start to get married, just because I’m last, she suffers instead of being glad ” “You think I’m like that?”
“Oh well, of course, you have .Jerry. If father hadn’t died it might have been different with mother. He’d have been the big thing in her life probably. Though really, Phyllis,” Marie finished with terrible, sisterly frankness, “to look at you and Jerry sometimes one would just | imagine that you are parents first of all and only incidentally married.”
MRS. KENT came in just then and they cut off the conversation. Phyllis looked curiously at her mother. The sweet, devoted face, the constant solicitude—she’d never thought of it as j anything but beautiful. But when her mother sighed and said she didn’t really see how she could get along without Marie, Phyllis’ memory jumped guiltily. That had been her own big argument against letting the children go South.
Christopher came in, too. He was vaguely apologetic in his manner toward Mrs. Kent and yet, as Phyllis could not help but savor his feeling for Marie, the queer wave of jealousy she had felt on Christmas came over her again. That was the way Jerry used to look at her twelve years ago when she was eighteen.
Christopher had brought Marie violets, great single ones lying loose in the box, for that was the way Marie liked them and the heavy, romantic smell of them filled I the living room.
“You’ll stay for dinner, Christopher?” j asked Mrs. Kent.
Continued on page 3O
Continued from page 28 ‘Why,” he said awkwardly, “Marie and I had planned a little party to-night.”
“Oh, were you going out?” Mrs. Kent sighed gently. “1 hardly see my little girl these’days. And she’ll be gone so soon.”
She looked very yielding and pathetic and Marie’s face filled with pity.
“Oh, come on, Chris, let’s stay here,” she suggested.
“Of course,” he agreed, his face falling, and Phyllis coula guess how far the dinner with Marie’s mother was from the gay little one for two which he had been planning.
“Nonsense,” said Phyllis, “run along, both of you. Mother will come home with me or, if she’s too tired, I’ll stay here with her.”
So it was settled. Marie and her gallant went off in a beam of joy and Phyllis, the married and experienced one, dined with her mother and listened to her gentle reminiscences of all their childhoods, her worry about Phyllis, her sweet desolation. It struck her once, rather comically, that she got her type of conversation by direct inheritance. No wonder Jerry didn’t open up more at home. No wonder the look of marvel had gone out of his eyes.
If only Mother had something to do, Phyllis kept thinking. But it was too late to put a golf stick in her hands, even though she was not yet fifty-eight. It was too late for many things, too late for most occupations except those which concerned her devotion to her family. They played a quiet and unskillful game of double solitaire and talked of Phyllis’ children until at ten o’clock Phj-llis telephoned Jerry to call for her.
He came promptly, entering the room like a fine breath of wind.
“Well, Mother,” he said, “ready to come home? The house is like a morgue. No kids—no wife—”
So he had missed her, thought Phyllis cheerfully, bundling herself up in her furs.
It was very cold. The windows of the car were frosted and Phyllis slid down on the seat with her feet on the radiator.
“Cold, Mother?” asked Jerry.
“You know,” Phyllis said, “I think it’s about time you called me Phyllis again. Mother’s a nice word, very nice, but it is occasionally misleading. Sometime, someone’s going to take me for your mother.”
Jerry laughed, one of his pleasant shaking laughs. “All right, sweetheart,” he said; “how’s that?”
It was very satisfactory.
BUT resolves could not keep Phyllis from aching for the children. There were hours when she almost told Jerry to send her south, a day when she actually did write out a wire in a telegraph office asking Mrs. Morgan to send Bob and Cherry home. She missed their presence, and missed doing things for them and feared for them in a hundred devious ways. But she did not send the telegram. She left it in little bits on the floor of the office in a most untidy way as she went out of the place hurriedly, as if she fled temptation. After the first three weeks, she learned to conquer those impulses. She went to a few meetings of clubs she had long since ceased to attend and found them mildly interesting. She even gave a bridge party and, in the wake of that, came invitations to other parties. But the days were very, very long. Just as they will be when the children grow up, thought Phyllis grimly. May as well find out now what I am going to do with my time. I can’t go back and do the things I did when I was a debutante. I’ve got to learn to fill the days.
For the first time in years, she and Jerry stayed until two o’clock at a dance and Phyllis was astonished to find how young the hours of dissipation made her feel. Jerry had a wonderful time and seemed none the worse for it next morning. But he insisted that she stay in bed, and had her breakfast sent up to her.
“You must stay as beautiful as you were last night,” he told her, and it was the most direct compliment she had been given in a long time. But she had been beautiful. She still had the figure of a girl and in the new dress of pale green velvet she had been like a lily. Of course she had given a great deal more time to the dress and its fittings than she did when the children were home and she had dressed in a leisurely fashion which also helped.
Continued on page 32
Continued from paye 30
Also there was time to help Marie, now that she saw Marie’s great problem. She spent as much time as she could with her mother and the soft idleness of the older woman seemed always to menace her. It was especially threatening because Phyllis herself was still unsatisfied. Ir the six weeks of the children’s absence, she had learned a great deal about amusing herself but that was all. Amusing herself and getting into company again, was not enough. She had, still, vacant hours in the day and all the activities were strung loosely on the hours. Of course, she thought, I might send the cook away and do the cooking, hut that’s rather stupid. For at the rate Jerry’s going, we’ll always have a cook. And I never did like to do it. What I want is something vital, to lay up against those lean, middle-aged years; not just a scattering lot of interests, or make-shift occupations!
And then the thought came.
“Jerry,” she said one night at dinner, “what would you think if I went to the university?”
“What do you want to do that for?”
"I always wanted to. But mother sent me to Miss Pomeroy’s school, instead, and now’s my chance. I could do some extension work without needing to take examinations. The university is right here in the city.”
“What do you want to take?”
She looked at him guilelessly. “You’re a graduate. You tell me. You know who the best professors are.”
He not only knew, but he seemed to have intense prejudices. He took the catalogue which she had obtained and pored over it.
“Now Scudder’s just a dunderhead.” said Jerry, “but you really ought to have a few lectures with Stowe in modern history. He’s a wonder, you know. As good as you can get in the country. They got that fellow from McGill, with McGill shouting to keep him.”
It was a marvellous evening. Phyllis went to bed with a complete course mapped out for her.
“Of course, you may not be interested,” called Jerry; “but if you are going to take history you ought to brush up your knowledge of geography, too. There’s a man down there now—Bacon, I think his name is—I’ve always wished I could hear his lectures on the new map of Europe. You take notes and tell me what he says, will you, sweetheart?”
The strange impersonality of a classroom of extension students was the first thing that struck Phyllis, the sense of being finally out of the tiny world that surrounded her household. There were clear, sharp lectures of professors who assumed her mind was fit to follow theirs, the finding out that it wasn’t and trying to sharpen it, to make it adequate. There were mornings when Phyllis was hardly conscious of her own name. She was in the midst of world struggles, determining the boundaries of new countries. Then the day would be over—such part of it as she dared take from her mother—and she would go home to talk about it with Jerry and much of what had been obscure came clear to her. Occasionally she could tell Jerry something he did not know, and that was far from unpleasant. She could feel her mind ache as if its unused muscles were being stretched, and she voweJ it would never go unexercised again.
The weeks flew by, and the spring came, March soggily, and then April and finally early May when the children were coming home. That date which Phyllis had anticipated as so horribly distant in the first days of separation, was almost come. The children’s rooms were aired— their beds made ready. With the children coming, and Marie to be married in two months, it seemed unlikely that Phyllis would have much time for those classes which she had come to love. But she meant to get away for a few hours until the term closed and next fall go at it in earnest.
They talked of the children's coming now but with no touch of morbidity “They’ll have grown tremendously.”
“I can hardly wait.”
“Cherry seems enormous in that bathing-suit picture.”
It was exactly seven days before the children were to arrive when Jerry came home one night rather nervous, eyeing his wife as if he had news on his mind which bothered him.
Continued on page 34
Continued from page 32
“Sweetheart,” he said, for it was no longer ‘Mother,’ “I’ve got to go West next week.”
“Oh, Jerry, not before the children come!”
“I must. They’re going to let me handle the Bergamot case.”
“Jerry! They’ve always had special counsel on cases like that.” She knew what he was talking about now.
“That’s the reason I can’t hesitate. It means a month out there, perhaps, but it’s got to be done.”
“A month, Jerry! That’s a perfect shame.”
“Yes, but if I put it over, my reputation is made. I wish you could come with me, Phyllis.”
“I wish I could. But, of course, with the children just coming home, it’s out of the question.”
“Oh, of course,” he said rather guiltily, “but I am going to miss you. We’ve had such a nice time this winter, even without the children. It hasn’t been nearly as bad as I’d feared, having them away.”
“No,” she agreed, thoughtfully.
Suddenly Jerry brightened. “By the way,” he said, fishing in his pocket, “just after this thing came through to-day and I was feeling pretty good I went into Sparlings, to have my watch crystal fixed and I saw something there that I thought looked like you. So I blew myself to it.”
He pulled a flat jeweler’s box out of his pocket and handed it to her. Phyllis opened it excitedly.
“Jerry!” she cried, lifting the diamond pin from its velvet cushion, “are you joking?”
“Joking!” said Jerry, “haven’t I a right to give a present to my wife once in a while? Especially when I have to be away for a long miserable month?”
Phyllis looked at him gravely, the diamond sparkling in her open hand. The present somehow reinstated her as an individual; made her personally dear again.
“After all,” she said, “the children will have Ella. She is a wonderful nursemaid.
They got along without us for four months. They ought to be able to get along for another month when it is so important. There’ll be your mother—and mine—to take charge here. It would be very good for mine to take her mind off Marie, which in its turn would help Marie. We will be back for the wedding. So everybody would be all right, if I do go with you.”
“You don’t mean you think you’ll come along?” asked Jerry.
She meditated further. “I hate to leave my work at the university, too. But, after all, next winter I’ll go on with that.”
Jerry looked like a small boy on the edge of adventure. “You’re sure you want to come?” he doubted happily. “You’re sure you won’t be too lonely for the children? Can you get along without them?”
She sighed. It wasn’t easy. It was never going to be easy.
“I’m learning to do it,” she said, “another month ought to complete the course. And besides, being the children’s mother, I happen to be my husband’s wife.”
“You’re a wonderful human being,” Jerry told her; “that’s what you are!”
MRS. MORGAN, Jerry’s mother, stood on the veranda of the house at Miami with an opened telegram in her hand and an odd amused smile on her face.
“Look here, Robert,” she called to her husband, “that idea of mine seems to have worked. Almost overworked, you might say. Now, just when we are taking the children home, Jerry’s been given a big case to try out West and Phyllis is going with him. I’m to take the children home and let the other grandmother take charge.”
Mr. Morgan mused. He looked somewhat tired, as did his wife.
“That’s fine,” he said at last. “Fine. I’m glad of it. But it’s just as well we didn’t tell them about the measles and Cherry’s sprained ankle and Bob’s infected finger. Just as well.”
“Just as well,” echoed Mrs. Morgan.