THE BRIDE WHO WAS CALLED A “QUITTER”
WOMEN and THEIR WORK
But She Soon Showed She Had Plenty of Spunk. The Final Article in the Series of “War Bride” Experiences. This Is Bobs’ Story, as Told by Her to Her Intimate Friend, the Author
AGNES M. STANLEY
THERE was a time when I pointedly disliked being called a “War Bride.” That, I must explain, was after I had earned that to the average Canadian mind the term implied a vampish sort of person, not always of the best morals, who had taken advantage of the social upheaval of wartime to insinuate herself
into the affections of a good, clean-hearted lad whose women-folk were too far away to protect him from the wiles of the unprincipled; and that to Canadians, the corresponding masculine form of the noun “War Bride,” was “boob” or “simp.” After I had heard the expression: “So this is the new little warbride! How perfectly charming!” uttered with much the same inflection that on’e would say: “So this is the man-eating shark!
How perfectly killing!” on an average of eightteen times a day, I hated the name.
Yet anyone with half an eye can plainly see that “War Bride” is the only fitting and appropriate term to describe the girls who have fought so many battles with pride, disillusionment, ignorance and prejudice to win the respect, friendship and love of new “inlaws” and associates.
Some of us expected too much, and were bitterly disappointed; of some of us too much was expected, and we proved disappointments. Some of us found the shaping and remodelling that was a necessary part of our adjustment to new conditions and new surroundings, too drastic, and, disillusioned and homesick, dropped out of the struggle. Butthe greatmajority of us adapted ourselves to conditions surprisingly different from those to which we were accustomed, and in proving our mettle assured ourselves of a happiness that had seemed about to elude us.
I was born in England, the only girl in a family of five, and spent the greater part of my life in one of the big northern cities. My father was interested in a music-publishing concern that had its headquarters in the city in which we lived, though business often took him for indefinite periods to other places. My mother is but an indistinct memory, she having died when Tiny Tim, my junior by five years, was born. We lived in one of those rows of suburban houses so typical of English cities, the household affairs being in the hands of a lovable old lady whom we called Aunt Katy. She and a charwoman who came three days a week to “do” for us kept us contented and comfortable.
There were two ruling passions in Aunt Katy’s life, cooking and boys, and in our house there was ample scope for the development of both. I don’t think she ever quite forgave me for not being a boy, but my sex was not held against me and I was
treated exactly as were the boys. The same rules applied to me as to them, and I received the same forms of punishment for infractions of rules. We were all a bit musical and were given the same course of musical instruction. I played the same games as the boys and received the same allowance for “tuck-money.”
As a concession to my feminity I was sometimes required to “wipe the pots,” (Aunt Katy’s colloquialism for “drying the dishes”). I never cooked or planned a meal in my life and was as ignorant of the science of house-keeping as was Tiny Tim. If the thought ever entered Aunt Katy’s head that I might one day be called upon to take charge of a house of my own, I’m sure her thought always included a Katy to keep the inmates well-fed and comfortable.
I had not reached my seventeenth birthday when the war-bolt struck. My two older brothers, both with posts in London, immediately enlisted. In the Fall of 1914, we received word that our Canadian cousin, Dave, was in camp near Quebec and expected to be in England before winter. We received no further news until just about Christmas, when Dave wrote from Salisbury asking permission for himself and his pal to spend Christmas leave with us. And so fate took a hand in my game of life.
We sent a hearty invitation to both, and they arrived on the same train that brought my brothers home. Both Canadians were tall and well-built, Dave very much like my own brothers. Jack, his pal. with a jolly smile and the handsomest head of bronzy-red hair I have ever seen, was very shy, and in our efforts to put him at his ease, we developed a hilarity that lasted throughout their whole visit. In spite of the cloud hanging over us, probably because of it, everyone was as
jolly as could be, and Aunt Katy revelled in her household of boys.
That visit was the first of many. Whenever they could “wangle” leave both boys spent part of it with us, sometimes together, sometimes alone. During these visits my friendship with Jack developed very rapidly and soon I felt as if I really
knew the family and home he had left in Canada.
He was four years my senior, the eldest of the family, and had been in his fourth year at college when he enlisted. His father was a business man in one of the largest eastern cities, though their home was some distance from the city. The snaps he carried showed a rambling old house, surrounded by lawns and shrubberies. “It used to be a farmhouse in the old days,” he explained. “All these trees are part of the old orchard. Back of those shrubs is the tennis court. There is a big vegetable garden right at the back. This used to be the barn but Dad had it fixed up for a garage. And this is the kids’ special garden,”
He was very proud of his Dad, who looked in the picture as if he might be Jack’s own elder brother, and of his
Mother, a handsome, capable looking woman. Of his sister, Nell, who was just about my own age, he said very little; of Peg, just twelve, he spoke volumes, and of the twins, Pat and Mike, aged ten, he never tired talking.
Certainly it was a family to be proud of, and I was very happy and proud too, when he asked me to go to Canada as his wife, and meet that family. This was not, however, until after the armistice was signed and Canadian troops were returning home.
Jack pleaded with me to marry him in England and go home with him, but my father, though very fond of him, proved unexpectedly obdurate and flatly refused to allow me to marry for at least six months. This he said was to enable Jack to look about him and get settled to work. My wily old Dad was really giving us a chance to prove that our affection was more than a passing fancy. Nor did he like the thought of my being thrust without a welcome on Jack’s family. Whatever his reasons, we were regretfully forced to abide by his decision.
And Then I Sailed.
WITH Jack’s first letter from his home came a note from his Mother. It was a friendly message saying how glad she was for Jack’s happiness and promising a warm welcome when I should go out. After this Dad appeared quite satisfied and preparations for my journey were begun at once.
In August I sailed. It cost me more than I had anticipated to leave Dad, Aunt Katy and the boys, yet the thought of Jack and the happiness that waited me helped me over the parting. Among the passengers on the boat were a number of “War Brides” going to their husbands and we soon got acquainted with one another. One, a vivacious girl from London who had been married the previous year, was going to a ranch in Alberta; another, much older, who had not seen her fiance for two years, was on her way to the Peace River District. A third, a pathetic little creature with a three-months’ old baby, was going to her husband’s home, not very sure of the welcome she would receive. She promised to write me, but no word ever came. I often wondered how these other brides fared.
Our boat docked at Montreal, and what a thrill it gave me to see Jack’s red head shining like a beacon on the wharf! I had somehow expected him to be changed, to have grown older, but there he was with the same crinkly smile that showed his nice white teeth, and the frank blue eyes that smiled so affectionately at me. And talk! My goodness! There was a five hours’train journey ahead of us, but even that didn’t give us time to say all we had to. Before I could fully realize it, the journey was over and there we were on the platform of a little suburban station and I was being presented to a new “Dad” and “Moms.” They welcomed me very kindly and I felt I should soon learn to love both of them.
“The family didn’t come,” explained Dad when Jack looked about us as if expecting somebody else. “We didn’t want to bring a crowd when Bobs is all tired out. You don’t mind my calling you Bobs, do you?” And he turned to me again with a smile so like Jack’s it warmed me all over. Mind! I should say not.
_ They piloted me to a waiting automobile and soon we were flying along the road toward my new home.
But here was more than a new home; it was a new world, filled with strange people, speaking a new and strange language. A few minutes’ ride brought us to the door of the house I had seen so often in the photos. Before the car had well stopped a long-legged, short-frocked, bobbed-hair girl, about fifteen, sprang to the running-board and threw herself over the door of the car into Jack’s lap. With one arm about his neck, she stared at me for a long minute. Then she slipped softly over to my knee and kissed me shyly.
“I think you’re nice,” she said slowly, and I loved Peg from that minute.
Indoors we met Nell and the twins. Nell was pretty and, as I afterwards discovered, very smart and fashionable. Yet my heart sank when I saw the hostility of her glance. She inspected me coolly from head to foot, and asked in a flat voice if I had had a pleasant journey. Plainly, to Nell, I was an unwelcome guest. The twins, whose real names I discovered to be Keith and Donald, were manly little chaps, frankly curious, but disposed to be friendly. They offered to take me immediately on a tour of inspection, promising to show me a snake’s hole, and the new puppies, But Moms shoo-ed them away and presently carried me off to a bright little room where I found my “box” already installed.
“Now,” she said, “just fifteen minutes to freshen up and then supper. Peg’ll call you.”
A Probationary Period
BUT suddenly I found that I didn’t want to freshen up and didn’t want any supper. The only thing I wanted in this world was to jump out of the window, fly down the road to the station, catch the next train to Montreal, then the first steamer to England and then run all the way to Aunt Katy and my own Dad. But just then I heard Jack’s voice in the hall outside my door. In a minute I was on the other side of the door, and nothing else mattered for the time being.
The next few days were some of the happiest I have spent. Jack, who had gone into his father’s business, was having a week’s holiday, and together we explored the neighbourhood and made our plans. We were not to be married until the end of September, and it was Mom’s wish that after the momentous event we should live at Hillcrest, at least till Spring. Then, with Jack’s army pay, the five hundred pounds left me by my mother, which I would receive after my next
birthday, and what he could save in the meantime, we would be in a position to look for a little house of our own. And in the meantime I could be learning Canadia ways, and house-keeping methods. “And so, Bobs dear,” Jack assured me, “everything in the garden will be beautiful.”
The following week Jack went back to business and I begged to be given some part in the work of the house. “Why, my dear,” said Moms, when I voiced my plea, “there’s no hurry. You just amuse yourself and keep happy. There’ll be plenty of work for you by and by. Nell and I can manage nicely.”
But I objected, I knew so little and there was so much for me to learn, I ought to begin at once. From the first it had amazed me to find that all the work of the big house was done without any outside help. There were electrical appliances for everything, it seemed, yet it was one of the oustanding grievances of Nell’s life that they had no maid as other folks had. And I think that her mother’s attitude towards my not helping, increased Nell’s animosity towards me and made her scornful and contemptuous of my attempts to learn. Ignorant I most undoubtedly was, yet I inwardly resented the scathing criticisms which my efforts invariably provoked.
One afternoon about ten days after my arrival, Nell was called to the ’phone and presently returned flushed and excited.
“Oh dear,” she cried, “Alice Lane is back from Muskoka and she’s bringing some of the crowd out for tennis this afternoon. I’ll have to give them tea and there isn’t enough cake and not a scrap of salad dressing. Mother can’t you stay home and help me out?” Moms was going to a Club Meeting.
“Sorry, dear, I promised to go, but Bobs and Peg will help you.”
“Peg won’t, and Bobs can’t. There isn’t a darn thing that girl can do decently but play the piano and flirt with Jack,” and with this Nell marched into the kitchen and banged the door.
This candid expression of opinion made me feel little, and stupid, and very, very useless, and doubtless I looked all of this. “Never mind, Bobs,” said Peg, giving me a friendly pinch, “I’ll make a cake for her and put in a dose of paris green for Miss Alice Lane. Come on out and help me do it.”
But Nell from the kitchen vetoed this.
“They’re coming to size you up, of course, so you go up and pick out some of your prettiest frocks, and put them on the bed. When I get this dressing made, I’ll come up and look them over. Don’t do your hair, I’ll do it for you.”
Hot rebellion surged somewhere inside me, but catching a wink Peg shot me, I turned and obeyed meekly.
Later while we were waiting for Nell to come and look me over, Peg explained Alice Lane.
“Her father did something during the war and made a lot of money. They they bought the old Dunlop place and fixed it all up. Alice Lane never even looked at Nell till Jack came home. She met him at the Club Dance last Spring and ever since then she’s been fairly haunting this place. I don’t suppose she’d be back from Muskoka yet, only she knew you’d come. Don’t you care, Bobs, though. She’s an awful ‘pot of message’ and Jack couldn’t see her with a magnifying glass. Of course, Nell’d be glad if Alice got a line on Jack then Nell’d ring in on all the parties they have at Lane’s. Some parties, believe you me,” added my Job’s comforter. “But don’t mind her. Jack thinks you’re the only girl that ever happened.”
By the time Nell arrived I was too down-hearted to resent the remarks she made about my clothes.
“H-m-m! Pretty, but too English. Too long! No style! This’ll do though.”
“This” was a pretty soft blue voile, one that the folks at home had specially admired. Picking up my manicure scissors Nell deftly clipped off the sleeves close to the shoulder. A snip or two and off came the collar.
“Now, Peg, you run a good wide tuck under the fold of this skirt while I do her hair.”
Submissive as the proverbial sheep before the slaughter, I sat and allowed that girl to twist and torture my poor hair, heretofore my pride and joy, into all sorts of lumps and bumps all over my head. Peg, running in shortly with a very much abbreviated skirt, cocked her head
at a critical angle and gave me a curious look.
All she said was: “Oh you cootie garages.” When all was ready for the fray,
I looked at myself in the glass and shivered. With arms and neck quite bare, hair protruding in bulbous horns over each ear, and .a skirt barely covering mjr knees I was a sight to behold. And having seen the vision I could not get it out of my mind’s eye. I was hot, uncomfortable and thoroughly ill at ease. In this frame of mind I waited the arrival of the party.
Just before thé big car whirled up, the drive, Nell fired a round or two more of advice.
“You needn’t play tennis, Bobs, unless you want to. Your service is rotten, you know. And if the girls are still here when Dad ánd Jack come home, don’t for heaven’s sake, chase down the drive to meet them like a kid. And keep out of the sun, you’re as brown as an Indian.”
Alice Lane Arrives
THEN she flew down the walk to meet the girls. There were a half dozen or so, assorted shapes and sizes, yet only one held any interest for me. Alice Lane was a tall, dark girl with silky black hair, dark eyes,, and very vivid coloring of cheek and lip. Each article of her apparel seemed to have been chosen for its distinctive style, and the effect was certainly striking. She came slowly up the walk, chatting vivaciously with Nell, till they reached the steps where I had waited. Then :
“So this is the new little ‘War Bride’. How perfectly charming! Is it true Jack proposed before he’d seen you? You’ve no idea Nell, how hard it is to keep from, tanning in Muskoka. I hate to get all brown and leathery, don’t you. Well, who’s going to play?” And so, I made my debut.
The whole party drifted over to the courts, a quiet brown-eyed girl Mary Stafford, walking with me. She had been to England during the war, and knew my part of the country well. While the others played in a desultory fashion, we sat under the. trees and grew quite chummy. And she alone of all the girls there made any friendly advances to me.
Though the visitors declared they simply could not stay to tea, they were still there when Dad and Jack drove up. Mindful of Nell’s admonitions, I fought back the impulse to run to meet them, and waited as best I could for the car to come up. As Jack got out, he looked around, and catching sight of me, he stared.
“Say, old thing, whatever have you done to yourself?”
I was spared the necessity of a reply for at this minute, Alice cried out:
“Oh Jack, we all think your little girl is perfectly sweet. You must bring her over to our place often, won’t you?” And she smiled at me very affectionately.
Jack promised readily enough, and after a great deal of joking and jollying the party left, As we went into supper, Jack whispered. “You certainly made a hit with that crowd, old thing.” And I wondered if a hit were a pleasant thing to make.
There followed for me three of the most miserable weeks I had ever known. Nell was invited here, there and everywhere, and the invitation was usually extended to me. Yet at each succeeding affair, I was made to feel more than ever that I was an alien; that I was in the crowd, yet not of it. Elderly women and all the men were friendly and kind, yet the girls of my own age, whose friendship I craved, would have none of me. I loathed the clothes Nell insisted I wear, and hated her critical patronizing attitude. I was never natural. I was afraid to do even what I knew I could do well, for ' fear of provoking the laughter and joke that came so readily at my expense. And the worst of it was, Jack saw the change in me and wondered.
I could not go to him for sympathy for I could not tell him what, he,—manlike— Jailed to see—that his own sister made life miserable for me. I could not unburden myself to his mother or father for the same reason. Peggy was my true and stalwart ally, and though little escaped her watchful eye, I was barred from her sympathy too.
The Climax—and Sobs
THINGS came to a climax just two weeks before the day set for my wedding. Nell and I had gone to an afternoon party given in honor of one of the
girls who was to be married in a day or two. It was a gay little party, yet more than ever did I realize that I was a rank, outsider. Try as I would I could not help but think of the jolly little affairs, given for me before I left England, and such a wave of homesickness swept over me, that I was powerless to resist it. My head throbbed, aad my eyes burned with suppressed tears. Pleading a headache, I made my escape, and ran blindly down the road towards home.
Jack was sitting on the verandah, as I stumbled up the steps.
“Hello,” he said, “home already?”
Then as he caught sight of my face his voice changed.
“Why little girl, what’s happened? Come and tell old Jack, all about it.” And he pulled me to his knee.
With my head on his shoulder, his arms about me, all the pent-up misery and unhappiness of the past month, broke out in a flood of hysterical sobbing.
“Oh send me home, Jack, send me home. I can’t stay here, please send me home,” was all I could sob.
As tenderly as if I were a child he soothed me. But by this time I was really ill, and Moms, thoroughly upset, refused to allow him to question me, and carried me off to bed.
For a day or two I stayed in my room, too miserable to care whether I went home to England or remained in Canada. Then one afternoon when I was feeling better, Peg, who spent most of her leisure time with me, suddenly stopped her chatter and looked at me very critically.
“You know, Bobs,” she said, “when Jack first told us about you we didn’t know what you’d be like. Nell said you’d be like Lil who used to work at Bennett’s She always wore her back hair in a little flat bun at the back of her neck, and frizzed the front like a Zulu’s, all round her face. She always wore her blouse out of her skirt, and she never laced her boots all the way, or cleaned her teeth much. Moms said you wouldn’t be like that because that wouldn’t make a hit with Jack.
I bet you’d be like Miss Mainwaring who used to stay at Anderson’s. She was pretty but snooty.”
“Snooty, Peg?” I echoed.
“Yes, snooty, like this.” And Peg stuck her nose in the air in a most unmistakable way. “She was always sitting around having folks wait on her, and never had enough pep to walk anywhere or do anything. She asked me once where I picked up the strange language I spoke, I said I learned most of it at school, and she told the Major who used to call there, that they actually taught slang in Canadian schools.” Peg chuckled renrniscently.
“Well, Peg,” I asked a er a pause, “which am I most like?”
“W-e-1-1,” she said, regarding me critically, “you’re heaps prettier than Miss Mainwaring but I don’t think you have as much grit as Lil.’
“Grit?” I stupidly echoed again.
“Yes, grit—sand—spunk. I like you an awful lot, Bobs, but I bet you’re a quitter.”
“A quitter?” I understood that. “I am not.”
“Well,” she said slowly, “I didn’t think you were either, but I think I missed my guess. You see, here you are all ready to go home just because a few snobs who don’t really matter, are jealous of you. Oh yes, that’s all that’s the matter with them. And all the rest of us, Jack and Dad and Moms and the kids and Mary Stafford who really like you like everything, don’t count with you at all. Jack’s pretty near as sick as you are but he won’t say anything. Maybe it would be better for him to marry a Canadian girl—like Mary Stafford or somebody^”
With this she stalked out of the room. A moment later she opened the door again and poked her head in again: “That is, if Alice Lane lets him,” she added.
I lay for some time thinking of what the extraordinary child had said. And, as I thought, I became “mad”, clear through. A quitter, was I? ' I’d show her. Presently I got up, brushed my hair, did it my own style, put on one of my prettiest English frocks and went down stairs. I found Moms in the sitting-room.
“Moms,” I said, “I’m going to stay if you’ll let me.”
Let me! Well it certainly looked as if she would. But I had only just begun to explain my change of heart when we heard the horn of the car announcing the
airival of the men from business. Without ceiemony I threw open the door, raced across the verandah, and dashed down the drivey-just like a kid!
Jack said—well, it doesn’t really matter what he said but it pleased me very much. We were married as we had arranged, and after a short wedding-jaunt in the car, returned to Hillcrest. Dad and Moms had
agreed in the meantime that Nell could be spared for a Winter with an aunt in the South and she departed very happily.
That winter Moms became my teacher and I did my best to learn all she could teach me. I certainly made some funny mistakes but seldom made the same one twice. Early in the Spring we were able to buy a bungalow about a mile from Hill-
crest and here we still are. We are not exactly in the social swim but, as Jack says, we are not losing any sleep over it.
_ For ray own part I have no wish or desire for it. I have the finest husband in Canada, the sweetest, brightest baby boy, and a nice home. I have, too, some of the staunchest, truest friends a girl could have. What more could I want?