To Love and to Cherish
A new serial by an author who writes fearlessly of the problems of modern married life
CONSTANCE TRAVERS SWEATMAN
THEY were quite happy in their married life, and satisfied with one another.
Neither the rising young lawyer, Paul Beaton, nor his wife Mary, after ten years of marriage in the mid-western Canadian city where both had been born, would have answered with anything but an enthusiastic positive, had they been asked if theirs was a successful mating.
For all but the first two married years, they had been swept along on a current of activity so absorbing as to have excluded every purpose save the practical necessity of getting through the details of each crowded day.
The first two years had been uneventful—if years filled to overflowing with the wonder of romance in early love-marriage can be dismissed with so colorless a word. Then the twins came roaring into Paradise, took the centre of the scene, and by sheer force of circumstance held their vantage ground.
The conditions were commonplace enough—semipoverty, ambition, conscientiousness, and a wistful desire for some fun occasionally to lift the feeling of crushing responsibility even a first baby can lay upon young parents. Paul worked and schemed, worried, and spent all his income as thoroughly as does the average young father without means in a country where rigors of climate keep providers hustling. The twins had to be warm and well-clothed. They had to have the best milk. They should live in a desirable neighborhood, and it was sensible to own one’s home, looking ahead to problems of accessible schools. With pleasant com-
panions. Mary must have competent help. Romance had many weights on its wings, but while eliminating the heights where it had soared at first, kept pace with necessity.
Broken sleep brought fussy nerves to Mary. Soon she was magnifying every physical vagary of the twins into serious symptoms, and doctors’ Vuils ran up.
Paul battled along, whittling at bills he could not pay in full. He tried to be helpful at home, but was capable of falling asleep while both babies shrieked, and of dozing while heating bottles boiled, and ruined early morning feedings. Mary gave up asking him to help, and struggled along, fighting irritability and dullness brought on by fatigue and monotony.
Presently, responsibility loomed less gigantic, the babies took to sleeping, Mary’s sturdy body adjusted itself to new conditions, and life grew normal. The
years flew by, and the twins bloomed into two strongly contrasted individuals.
“Eight years old to-morrow,” Mary said, tucking them into bed. “And it seems just yesterday they showed me two darling monkeys and told me I was their mother!”
“Eight years,” said Paul, stooping over first one and then the other for his goodnight kiss, “and I’ve accomplished next to nothing.”
But going downtown to a mild movie, Mary scorned such humility. “Nothing? You’ve kept us all in comfort, you’ve got the first mortgage almost clear, and you’re nearly out of debt. Call that nothing?”
“And not a nickel ahead of expenses to date.”
“Time enough,” she encouraged. “We’re well away now. We will go on living simply, we’ll save something each month, we’ll invest carefully—”
“Too slow,” he said. “I’m going to concentrate— study how big money is made—get somewhere, before we’re too old to enjoy life.”
She moved close to him, and laid one hand on his on the steering-wheel of the cheap little car. “I’m enjoying life now,” she said. “I’m perfectly happy.”
“I’m going to give you things,” he said. “I love to see you well dressed. You and I are going to travel—” “I couldn’t be any happier than I am now.”
“You’re a dear,” he said.
HE DID concentrate. After being accustomed to his companionship, Mary began to find herself alone quite often, found herself lonely after the children had gone to bed.
She took herself and her loneliness sensibly in hand. This, inevitably, was marriage and future success. Childish, to expect the impossible. She had plenty of interests. She would have leisure now to read. There was always mending to do, she had women friends with whom she could occasionally spend an interesting evening, she need never be idle or dull. She must not worry Paul or drag on him for companionship. He was keen to succeed for her sake and the children’s.
Pack and crowd the hours as he might, there were not enough days in the week for Paul ever to accomplish all he planned. Mary stood aside and said nothing of her difficulty in adjusting herself to his increasing preoccupation. But the habit of companionship dies hard in sociable natures, and Mary fought many a small battle with herself to remain silent and retain her cheerful philosophy.
The twins were in the kitchen watching Jessie, the
general factotum who had been Paul’s devoted housekeeper before his marriage. She had come to help out temporarily before the arrival of the twins, had settled happily into her niche in Paul’s family, and had stayed on until now she was part of their lives.
Jessie was icing the birthday cake. Its color scheme was violent and satisfying. Paula’s ideal was a pink cake, Peter’s purple. Paula wanted roses as candleholders, Peter wanted violets. Brilliantly Jessie had compromised. The cake was four crooked stories high. Stories one and three were a passionate magenta. Stories two and four were a sickly lavender. The lavender from the top story, on which Jessie was using up the remains of the icing, dribbled down in streaks on the pink of the third story. The children found no fault with that. Each child clutched a small cardboard box in which were candles to match their special layers.
“Nickels in next!” shouted Paula.
“I love this part,” exulted Peter, in his sweet treble.
They took turns to insert the sterilized coins. “Not too far in!” warned Jessie, greatly interested, when Paula’s fat thumb made a deep dent in the fresh icing.
“’Member, Pete, you swallowed your nickel last year?” and Paula’s eyes were solemn, recalling how she had walked around her brother in awe for days after the horrifying disappearance of a nickel which might have bought an “all-day sucker.”
“Now, the candles!” Paula hopped on one foot, clutching the table-edge.
Jessie demurred. It was good luck, she said, to have the whole family present at the placing of the candles. If even one member were absent, it might change the luck of the birthday person for a whole year. “Wait till your dad comes in!” cautioned Jessie.
Their mother was consulted on this important issue. She came in answer to the summons to inspect the gaudy cake. “Lovely!” she said. “I think it would be nice to wait for Dad; he’d like to help, I know. But— luck? Oh, Jessie, I don’t think such small things change our “luck,” do you? We make our own “luck” by the way we live our lives. We change it only by doing something that hurts somebody.”
“Let’s put them on!” Paula urged, not at all impressed by the little sermon, but keen to complete the beauty of the cake.
“I’ll save mine till Dad comes. Perhaps Dad would feel sort of left out,” Peter decided; and Mary hugged him for the thought.
This solution left Jessie nervous of the fates. “What happens, happens!” she said gloomily. “Not a candle should go on till all are here. I’ve seen things happen—” But Paula had already stuck her eight candles at uneven intervals around the top layer. “Oh, mother, did you ever see such a cake?”
“Never,” Mary said, admiring purple and magenta with a whole heart.
But after all, their father didn’t assist at the little candle ceremony. He had an early appointment on the birthday morning, had no time for a frolic in bed, presented Paula with a gorgeous doll he couldn’t afford, delighted Peter with an extravagant electric train to be paid for next month, rushed through his breakfast, and called back from the porch steps, in answer to Peter’s anxious reminder, “Oh, Dad, the candles!” with an apparently impatient, “Can’t wait, son, I’m late now. Fix my share for me!” and was gone till night.
Peter put his box of candles in his pocket, and looked up at his mother. “Of course, it doesn’t really matter,” he said, smiling bravely. “Luck depends on not hurting anybody’s feelings, doesn’t it?”
THE “party” arrived at four o’clock, -®little manikins in their best clothes, shy and awkward. They had scattered from their mutual play an hour before to be dressed for the party, and now stood about, eyeing each other as though they had never met. Tea was to be served at six o’clock. They waited until a quarter past six for Paul. The telephone rang. Mary answered with a sinking heart. Peter had saved a candle for Paul to put on at the last minute. Paul’s voice. “I’m terribly sorry, dear, I’ve been so rushed all day I forgot about the party. It won’t matter, will it? Make dinner seven-thirty, will you? Gillis is in town, and wants to see me now.”
“We won’t wait, dear; Dad’s detained ; come along.” She was relieved that Peter in the excitement of filing in to the dining room, had no time to be disappointed about his father’s absence. Paula, she knew, would never notice that he was not there. Paula lived always in, and for, the moment. Everybody rose and blew with all his might to put the candles out when the time came to cut the cake; and nobody missed the purple candle saved by Peter that Paul might be included in the circle of love. Even Peter himself forgot about it.
Mary looked around the table, and her heart warmed to Paul for making such a celebration possible. Even with all the loving labor she and Jessie had expended on the preparations, such parties were expensive. Poor Paul, tolling downtown, made such pleasures possible for her children. Lucky children. Lucky wife. Mary’s eyes met Jessie’s over the dismantled table, and both tired women smiled. They were thinking the same thought. Paul, exerting himself to please a client downtown, had no idea that two women were loving him at that moment for making radiant a circle of small faces munching cake.
When Paul came to dinner, she tried to tell him of her appreciation. “It was a lovely sight, dear, they were all so happy. I wish you could have been here to see.”
Somehow his amusement jarred. “You’re about eight years old yourself,” he laughed. “A children’s party is a children’s party; a dickens of a mess, a big feed, and a heap of work for the women.”
“How women and kids do love a jamboree!” And again his laughter jarred. She had not felt a childish pleasure, she had never felt so much his partner and his mate. But her laughter at herself blended with his as perfectly as though he had not made her feel rather absurd because of her enthusiasms.
FOR the second Friday in succession Carolyn March telephoned that she would like to spend the week-end with Paul and Mary—“and the darling twins—I scarcely saw them last week.”
Three years before, the Beatons had met Carolyn and her indefinite husband. Carolyn was then in her late thirties, her husband slightly younger. Paul and Mary drove them home from the concert at which they met them. “There’s a smart woman!” Paul had said that
night, and many times after that. “Smart as paint and no nonsense about her. None of your die-hard coquettes about that woman! Lots of poise. Funny little spook of a husband!”
Mary had not listened to Mrs. March’s conversation on the drive home. In the back seat with the “funny little spook” she had heard most intelligent comments on the concert they had just attended, had encouraged and liked the quiet little man.
After eighteen months of growing friendship with the Marches, Paul was still calling Carolyn—or “Carol” as he had affectionately christened her—a smart woman; and Mary knew why gentle Christopher March seemed vague. Carolyn talked through him as though he were a telephone. He would interpolate a remark and she would take up the thread of her conversation as though it had been unbroken, ignoring him as though he were a buzzing sound on a wire she was using. She did not pay to his timid comments even the compliment of being annoyed by interruption. She did not feel interrupted, she did not know he was speaking.
At the end of that first eighteen months, Christopher faded out of the picture as unobtrusively as he had been in it. Waiting in the chill anteroom of a lecture-hall for his wife to finish reading a club-paper he had prepared for her, he caught a heavy cold, and was in danger before anybody realized he was ill. After four days of pneumonia he died as he had lived, with as little fuss as possible.
Whereupon, for a time, Paul ceased calling Carolyn a smart woman, and called her that poor little plucky thing, instead.
On a sympathetic impulse, a week after his death when Carolyn was dining with them, Mary said to Carolyn, “Don’t stay too much alone, dear, you know our home is yours, come as often and stay as long as you like.”
The next year Mary had plenty of opportunity to realize the folly of spontaneous blanket invitations. She became accustomed to Carolyn’s brisk voice over the telephone saying confidently that she was planning to spend the week-end with them. Mary would not have resented this during the week; but Sunday was their only day for close family contact, and she found it hard to be gracious in sharing her home with anyone, however, congenial, for the whole of that day.
Once she spoke of her reluctance to Paul, but found that Carolyn’s visits did not in the least disturb him. “Oh, why worry, dear? Carol’s like one of the family, we don’t put ourselves out at all for her. She’s lonely, poor little plucky thing, let her come, and don't worry!”
“The children like having you to themselves on Sundays when you’ve finished with golf—”
“A pretty theory,” he smiled. “They make a fuss over me for half an hour after lunch, then go off about their business—”
She knew it was useless to explain that the reason they ran off and left him after half an hour was that he stretched himself out on the couch, closed his eyes, grunted disconnected monosyllables in reply to their chatter, and fell asleep in the middle of the most thrilling stories of their adventures.
It would be both useless and unkind to explain this to him. Useless, because after eighteen holes and a good dinner, he couldn’t stay awake on Sundays. Unkind, because after the heavy indoor work of a week, he needed golf, he needed his dinner, and he needed his nap. But it was hardly fair on that account, she thought, to call the children’s hearty desire to be chummy with him a “theory.”
There were other accepted ideas in the house she believed might better come under the head of “pretty theories.” Paul believed himself to be the court of final appeal in his household. He believed he knew all that went on and was consulted on all matters of family interest. As a matter of fact, so engrossed had he become
by this time—the twins were now nine years old—in his immediate business affairs that nobody told him anything he did not actually have to know about family problems. In most cases their affairs were not so pressing that it was worth while struggling for his attention. For the children—mother was always there, mother always had time to listen, mother knew all the ins and outs of their affairs, knew the progress of all their enterprises. Mother needed few explanations, mother was interested and remembered where such and such a matter left off in the last discussion. Father listened and read The Financial Post at the same time; and his answers could hardly be called interesting, they were so uninterested! “Let Father alone, he’s tired!” had become the family slogan which was steadily but inevitably squeezing father to the position of being on the outside, scarce even looking in.
CAROLYN arrived before dinner on Friday, full as usual of anecdotes about her “work,” bubbling over with interest in the twins. She was warm in her praise of the new guest-room curtains, admired Mary’s new hat, and expressed her deep gratitude for the privilege of week-ending with them again so soon. “You’re just spoiling me with kindness, you and Paul! I don’t know what I’d do without you!” She hugged reluctant Paula against her side while she talked. “I’m so tired, I’m just going to relax till Monday. My work takes so much out of me—if I could only shut my heart to some of the troubles of those poor people—”
“Tell me more definitely about your charity work, Carol. I’m stupid, I’m afraid—I’ve never been quite clear about your line—”
Carolyn found it difficult to be definite. “Oh—so many things must be done for them, poor souls—things crop up—I’m often exhausted by night trying to think up ways to make life easier for the unskilled workman—” “But just what do you do?” Mary was tired herself that week-end. Perhaps she’d feel less sorry for herself if she heard of some woman whose lot was really hard. Perhaps Carol was more tired than she looked. Nervous exhaustion wasn’t spectacular.
“Well—I visit, of course—many visits a week—
ostensibly assisting the district nurse—really gathering material—”
“Material! Writing a novel?”
“My dear—” Carolyn thrust Paula from her side, and moved close to Mary, her manner mysterious. “This is a secret, I have no right to tell you—but I am ‘Rose Thaley’ who does the sob-corner in the Standard Saturday supplement!”
“You’re joking! That hokum! Not seriously, Carolyn?” Mary knew the sickly column. When it’s weak sentimentality did not amuse her, it revolted her. Teaching self-pity, the most insidious of diseases.
“I have never heard it called ‘hokum’,” Carolyn said, her tone offended.
“Surely you’re joking!”
“I never was more in earnest. If you happen to be of a sympathetic nature, digging up all that terrible material, my dear, is hard, hard work. It eats me up. If I could shut my heart—”
Mary laughed. “Oh, nonsense, Carol, you’re not fooling me! Whoever writes that column does it with her tongue in her cheek!”
Carolyn looked very hurt. “I do it to stir public sympathy for the destitute—”
“But we have no slums—”
“ ‘One half doesn’t know how the other half lives’,” Carolyn quoted as though the thought were original.
“Surely you’re joking!”
“You hurt me—” Carolyn stopped, then went on very gently, “But I don’t resent it, for you are just one of those who don’t understand—who find it too painful to think—”
Mary replied with spirit, “I find it rather painful to dig out of our family budget the amount Paul thinks we should give to the Charity Budget in this city! I’d often like to cut it down because I think we give more than we need. The poor in this city are wonderfully well looked after. Your column encourages the people who fike to be dependent—”
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“If that is all the sympathy my column stirs, then I have failed,” Carolyn said sadly.
Mary suggested with some impatience that they have a look at the garden before dinner.
Peter was in the kitchen shelling peas for Jessie. They saw Mary pass the kitchen window in her inspection of the garden and Jessie knocked and beckoned her attention.
“Careful, Petie!” Jessie was warning Peter as Mary entered the kitchen, and Mary noticed that her voice was sharper than usual.
Carolyn’s visits always ruffled Jessie. Though Carolyn made few demands, attended to her own room, asked nothing in the way of personal service, effaced herself as an additional member of the simple little household in every practical way, Jessie became a lowering thundercloud of resentment as soon as she appeared.
“It’s the springin’ herself on us that sets my back up!” Jessie confided to the old milkman. “A house isn’t your own, you might say, when a person can ask herself in for days at a time!”
Jessie would have denied with horror the accusation that jealousy lay at the root of her objection to Mrs. March. Of Mary she had never been jealous. It had not taken her a week in Paul’s house after he had married, to be sure that Mary contributed to Paul’s happiness. Then with Mary she could share the one man she had ever loved; between them, they could make him both happy and comfortable. But Carolyn interfered with his Sunday rest. So great a respect had Jessie for Paul’s intensive struggle to make money that she believed he lived in a perpetual state of near-collapse from overwork. At every turn she pampered and guarded him.
“Company!” grumbled Jessie. “And only chops and a bread pudding! She’ll think that I’m no cook. One of them soups, now, with gobs of whipped cream floatin’?”
“Don’t worry so, Jessie. Mrs. March likes our simple meals. Never mind soup.”
“Then apple-pie à la mud. I’ll make the ice-cream.”
“I don’t know why you worry so—”
“With some people I don’t; with some people I do. She always looks down her nose at the food—”
“Oh, Jessie, you’re absurd! Mrs. March enjoys everything you cook.”
“It’s not for the sake of pleasing Her. Some women make you want to be just yourself; and some make you want to show off!”
“Oh, Jessie, isn’t that rather silly? Pete, you’re shooting more peas on the floor than in the bowl, dear.”
T)AUL had had an unusually busy week -F and at breakfast on Friday morning asked Mary to plan that they have a quiet week-end. “Just let’s stay home together.”
Mary did not remind him of a dinnerdance invitation they had already accepted for Saturday. She had heard him express similar desires after other busy weeks, and by Saturday night he might be in the mood for a little fun. She would wait until Saturday before cancelling their acceptance.
When he found Carolyn installed at dinner time, he forgot his fatigue in his pleasure at seeing her. She invariably stimulated him, and Mary often wondered how she had that effect upon him. Nothing especially seemed to happen, but the effect was always the same. Paul would become animated as soon as he saw her.
“I was thinking of you on the way home,” he told Carolyn and stooped to kiss Mary.
“Oh?” Inviting details, with her hand lingering in his in greeting.
“I was thinking of that book you lent me. To be honest, I couldn’t make head or tail of it, and I didn’t give a darn, when I got through with it, why the bridge fell! I never bother about why things are so-and-so; too busy making them happen my way, I guess!”
“Old extravert, I believe you!” Carolyn laughed affectionately. Mary had gone into the garden to call Paula to her tea.
“Tired?” Carolyn said, and slid her arm into Paul’s to lead him into the library.
“You look tired.” She slid a cushion under his head as he stretched out on the couch. She handed him a cigarette, lit it for him and stood beside him looking down in his face. “You work too hard,” she said.
“Oh, pshaw!” Very pleased to be appreciated.
“How you keep on, month after month, never complaining—”
“Oh, pshaw, every man does that!”
“Not so cheerfully. I think you’re wonderful—”
“Is he?” Mary entered, and patted Paul’s head in passing. “What’s he been doing now?”
“Earning my living,” Paul felt a little foolish having to explain so commonplace a reason for such fulsome praise.
“Good for you!” Mary laughed. “I’ve earned mine to-day, too, making grape jelly that jelled, thank God!”
At dinner, Mary asked Paul to tell Carolyn of a case he had fought and won in court that week. With gusto he did so, making a good story of it, and encouraged by the interest of his wife and Carolyn. Jessie, serving apple-pie and ice-cream, dawdled around the table, listening avidly, glorying in the success of the one man in her life. Had he lost his case, Jessie would have blamed the judge, the jury, the counsel on the other side, anybody and everybody but Paul.
Mary watched his eyes light, heard his voice mellow. She was a lucky woman to belong to him, she thought. He was splendid, the old dear. And how he did love a fight! At no time did he ever appear more vital than when reporting a good stiff legal battle which had demanded all his wit and ingenuity to win.
“Wonderful!” breathed Carolyn when he finished his story. “Oh, how I wish I’d been a man! Woman’s work is so deadly dull!”
“I’ll never agree with that,” Mary said, as Peter and Paula came in for dessert with them. “Here’s a sample of woman’s work! Call them a dull job?”
Carolyn sighed. “I spoke as a childless woman, dear.” And Paul’s glance across at her made Mary feel guilty, feel she had been tactless and unkind.
ON SATURDAY morning Mary reminded Paul of the invitation for that evening.
“I’m not keen. Mind going without me? Think Edith—their hostess—would mind if you took Neil in my place?”
“I’ll stay home if you say so.”
“No need, if Edith doesn’t mind. Carol will keep me company here, and dinners bore me.”
“Shall I tell Edith you’re tied up?” “Anything. You’ll let me out gracefully, I know.”
Neil Meredith left his solitary table at his club to answer Mary’s call. He went back to his breakfast with a benign feeling toward all his world.
For two years now he had drifted on a pleasant current of friendship with Mary, not heeding whither he was being carried. Recently he had found himself restless if a longer period of time than usual elapsed without his hearing from her, or without a chance encounter.
In his fortieth year, he looked back upon two years in his early twenties when he had been married, had a child, and 1
ost both wife and child on the same day— two days after his son’s birth. Those two years seemed but a dream now; but the dream had clouded life’s realities, and women had come and gone in his life thereafter like shadows. None had made any vivid or lasting impression until he met Mary Beaton. Even she, at first, had been but a pleasant incident in a lonely life. But theirs was soon the sort of friendship that ripens on one side into love; and on the other into warm affection untouched by romance.
Of late, he had found his meetings with her disturbing, and knew that he was deeply in love with her. He believed he was capable of philosophically accepting circumstances. She was his friend’s wife. She was inaccessible. He must be grateful and content with her friendship. That was that. Impasse. He did not know that the foundation of his faith in himself was his conviction that she did not love him in the way that he loved her. He had had no experience to warn him that one solitary grain of hope might cause his high-minded sense of moral security to evaporate.
To be her friend. To serve her sometimes in some slight manner. This was his privilege, and with this he must learn to be, if not content, at least happier than if he had no outlet of any kind for his emotion. After several weeks without sight or sound of her, the prospect of an evening with her, even though he would have little time alone with her, was happiness enough. He forgot for the moment other similar evenings which had left him sleepless with a consciousness of futility, restless with a sense of lost opportunity. He might have said this or that; he might have been more alert and secured a longer tête-à-tête with her. Always what he might have done overshadowed what he had accomplished with her.
T>AUL thought he had never seen his
wife more vital or attractive than she appeared to him that evening when Neil called for her. Momentarily he regretted that he was not escorting her himself. She assuredly was a credit to a man, he thought, watching Neil wrap her white cloak around her.
He sat down to dinner with Carolyn in a mood of depression. He should have taken Mary himself to that dinner. Her new green gown suited her to perfection. He would have liked to see admiration for her in the eyes of other men. He would have enjoyed comparing her with women of less distinction. Her poise was always a great satisfaction to him. Her taste in clothes appealed to him. Stupid to have stayed at home, when he had a wife like Mary to exhibit! He must stir himself to be more sociable. But, Lord, what a bore the average party usually turned out to be!
Halfway through their dinner, Carolyn said with a mischievous tension at the corners of her pretty mouth: “Paul, dear, you are a complacent husband! Aren’t you ever jealous?”
“Complacent?” lazily pouring sherry in an amber glass.
“Well! The way Neil wrapped your handsome wife into her pretty cloak! You’d imagine she was a bit of rarest china, he was so very tender!”
Paul held his glass up to the yellow candle’s soft light, admiring the color of the wine. “You women!” he laughed. “You see a lover in every man but a husband!”
Carolyn shrugged. “All right, old dear! ‘None so blind—’.”
Paul set down his glass. “You’re not in earnest?”
But she was not going any further with that topic just then. “Adorable idiot!” she said.
After dinner, she went to the piano and played for him, not very skilfully but with a pleasing emotionalism, and always the themes he liked. Paul lay back in his big shabby chair and closed his eyes. Presently his head jerked forward, he
slumped a little, and she saw that he was asleep. Smiling, she played on and on, softly, humming to herself at times, at times playing almost inaudibly, watching Paul asleep.
When she stopped, he opened his eyes, yawned unashamedly, stretched long lazy arms over his sleek head. “Carol, you’re the world’s most restful woman. There’s not another woman living who wouldn’t resent a man’s falling asleep while she’s entertaining him!”
She leaned over him, hooking her little finger into his to steady her hand while she lighted her cigarette at his. “You were tired,” she said simply, as though to rest him were happiness enough for her.
“I’m rested now,” he said gratefully. “My turn to entertain you. German whist?”
At once she responded, getting out cards, adjusting the light, moving the card-table up to him so that he did not need to move.
“You’re spoiling me,” he said.
“You spoil everybody else,” she told him, and set an ash-tray at his elbow.
\ ÆARY came in late, crept into bed ■^*'1 without disturbing Paul, and woke on Sunday morning to find him gone from her side. She glanced at her wristwatch; half past eight!
Paul strolled in from the bathroom, with the face of a clown, lather-distorted, a safety-razor in his right hand. “Good time last night, dear?”
“Lovely party. Golf?”
“Yes; Carol’s coming, just to follow around. Want to trail along?”
“No, thanks. Going to sleep a while; and I promised to take the youngsters to church.”
Mary dozed. Paul and Carolyn breakfasted together and departed. The children woke and bounced into Mary’s bed.
They nestled close to her, one on each arm, a brown cropped head on either shoulder. “Church day,” Peter said, and kissed her ear.
“I love the red windows with the sun coming through, and I like the organ when it shakes your stomach,” Paula wriggled her enthusias, for tremolo effects. “And I love the choir-boys’ mouths opening and shutting when they come down the aisle. Jimmy Elsen looks like a fish.”
“Like the service?” Mary asked, stroking the child’s burrowing head.
“Not much; but I like the rest, except the sermon.”
“That’s all there is,” observed Peter. “Oh, no, there’s collection—isn’t Mr. Buxton’s back straight when he walks up the aisle with one hand behind him, and the money-plate sticking out in front of him? And Mrs. Buxton always holds her head down when he’s going past. If Dad took up collection, I bet I’d giggle!” “I like the singing, but I don’t like the words much. Hymns are all about sad things.” Peter sat up in bed. “Mother, when may I caddie for Dad? To-day?” “He’s gone, dear; next Sunday, perhaps.”
“Oh, darn, I’ve just been once, and I love going with him. I haven’t seen him to talk to for two whole days!”
“Two days, dear?”
“Two days. He didn’t call us for dessert last night, and Friday night I was at Scouts. And he goes so early in the mornings now, I’m never dressed in time.”
Paula sat up then. “When is Mrs. March going home? I wish she wouldn’t kiss me. Her mouth’s wet. Why does she stay with us so much? Doesn’t she like her own home?”
“Why, Paula, she’s very kind to you!” “I don’t need her to be kind to me, because she’s kind on purpose!”
“What do you mean, dear?”
“She has to try to be kind to me because she doesn’t like me; if she liked me, she wouldn’t need to fuss so over me.” “Paula, dear, don’t be silly.”
“Oh, no, she doesn’t like me, she’s just showing off.”
“That's not a kind way to speak of anyone who is nice to you, dear.”
“Oh, pooh, mother, she’s not like that when you or Daddy aren’t there! She never fusses over me when we’re alone. She just looks up and makes a little cross noise with her mouth if I drop anything when she’s reading. And can’t I ask her not to kiss me?”
“That might hurt her feelings.”
“I wouldn’t care.”
“You should care!”
“When she kisses me, my back feels furry. I guess I’ll just duck when she tries.” “Couldn’t you try to like her?”
"No, mother, I couldn’t. I’ll just keep away from her. If I like a person, I love kissing, and if I don’t like a person, kissing makes me sort of sick.”
“You told a fib yesterday,” Peter remarked. “ Y ou hadn’t any sore throat!” “Well, I don’t care, she would kiss me when I went in to speak to mother, and I thought a sore throat’d stop her. But then she kissed my neck, and that was worse!”
“Forget about it, dear, and don’t invent stories. And when you’re being kissed, think of something else. We can’t hurt her feelings!”
“Kissing and thinking of something else is wasting time,” said Paula, “but I’ll try, to please you.”
TAURING the mediocre sermon Mary’s mind wandered to Paul. She wished he and Peter had more time together. Days went by in which their contacts were negligible and superficial. Recently it had seemed impossible to hold Paul’s attention when she wanted to tell him about the children. She tried to bring them together, tried to interpret them to one another. But there seemed so little time. There used to be an hour after dinner—but the new radio had ended that. To be sure, they heard the radio together; but Peter’s effort to tell his father of some new personal interest was squashed by static, or by a reverent “Hush!” from Paul, who, fingers on the dial, listened at the expense of family conversation to some unknown singer’s sentimental interpretation of “Blue Heaven,” which filled their ears several times an evening during that season.
Mary looked about her at the family groups in the stately church. She wondered how many of these families were going through similar experiences. It was not a subject about which one wanted to enquire or give one’s personal account. It was not desirable to go about reporting that one’s husband and one’s children were growing farther apart each year. Perhaps it was not so grave a matter as she believed; perhaps it was normal and inevitable. Perhaps she was morbid, or perhaps childish about it. No matter what it was, there seemed no solution. Apparently, Paul was not disturbed by the widening gulf. If he were, it might be easier to narrow it. But if he were to succeed, he must be free. What was “success?” She might hamper or discourage him, if she brought to his notice his failure as a companion to her and the children.
Along the slippery pew she slid her hands to make contact with a child on either side of her. How serene their little faces were, how sweet and grave their eyes, upturned in an imitation of listening to the dull sermon! She wondered what they thought about at this minute, behind those serious eyes.
She would carry on, and stop her fretting. She would be mother and father to them until poor Paul should be more free to refresh himself at the clear pool of a child’s intimacy.
She felt drowsy—the minister’s voice droned on—
“Praise God from Whom all blessings flow,” the choir sang; and in grateful unison her heart sang with them.
AT ELEVEN o’clock that evening Paul laid his book wide open on his chest, and gazed from one absorbed face to the other of the two women in the
library with him. He was stretched full length on the couch at the end of the room, under a tall reading-lamp. The title of the book on his breast was “The Stock Barometer.” He could not see the books that Carolyn and Mary were reading by the fireplace, and lay idly conjecturing what manner of book each might be interested in. He gave it up, concluding that he knew nothing whatever of their tastes.
Carolyn glanced up, caught his speculative eye, and laid her book, closed, in her lap. “Penny for your thoughts,” she said.
“Haven’t any. I was wondering— well, take it the other way around.” Mary also laid down her book, and listened. “I was trying to guess what manner of books you girls were reading. I hadn’t the remotest idea of what they were likely to be.”
“Without looking, I can guess yours; stocks and bonds, or law.” Mary smiled across at him when he admitted she was right.
Carolyn also smiled, tolerantly, as though Mary had been critical. “Only the single-tracker succeeds,” said Carolyn. “We women jump from one interest to another, and never get anywhere.”
“My idea of a perfect evening,” Pau said, arms comfortably under his head, slippered feet crossed on the end of the couch. “Peace, and two pretty women to look at when I tire of stocks and bonds.”
“Tired of them now?” Mary had her finger in her book at the place where she had left off.
Carolyn rose and crossed the room to sit on the side of Paul’s couch; he moved slightly, to make room for her. Mary resumed her reading.
Carolyn reached up and pulled the brass chain which shut off one bulb of Paul’s reading-lamp. “Shut ’em all off,” Paul advised “My bald spot’s in evidence.”
Presently a low laugh from Carolyn attracted Mary’s attention. She glanced up and saw that Carolyn had perched herself at the head of Paul’s couch, and was bending over him, her fingers in his hair. “Ten minutes massage every night, and you’d not be bald,” she was saying. “I was taught how to do it by a masseuse when my husband began to get bald. I’ll call every evening for ten minutes after dinner—if Mary won’t object!”
“Mary never objects to anything,” Paul said, and Mary raised her eyes from her book, surprised at the sudden feeling of jealousy that flared up in her. The couch on which Paul lay was now in semidarkness. Carolyn was seated on the couch-end so that Paul’s dark head was outlined against her white frock with an appearance of resting on her knee. Carolyn’s fingers moved slowly across his head, and she talked steadily in a low undertone. Without warning, she stooped and kissed Paul’s head. “That was always the finishing touch to my husband’s massage, but it’s not necessarily a part of the treatment!”
Mary sat motionless. Paul glanced up and found her eyes upon him. Immediately, he sat up and smoothed down his ruffled hair with the palm of one hand, laughed with slight embarrassment, and rose to his feet. Carolyn made no move.
He went over to Mary, and, selfconsciously, did a thing he had not done in years. He seated himself on the arm of her chair, tipped back her head against his arm, and kissed her. Mary’s lips were unresponsive, and he showed his discomfort in his uneasy laugh. “What are you reading?” he asked, although he never took the least interest in anything she read.
Carolyn sauntered across the room and relieved his embarrassment without showing a trace of it herself. “Mary, don’t let this lad lose his nice hair without a struggle. I’ve been giving him the same massage I used to give Chris. Remember Chris’s nice blond hair?”
There was nothing for Mary to do or Continued on page 40
say but take up the conversation in the same light tone, and Paul felt relieved. He wished women wouldn’t do that sort of thing; no wife could be expected to like it, if she saw it done. But Mary was so pleasant, she and Carolyn were chatting away as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened; she couldn’t have seen the little incident. Of course, it meant nothing to Carolyn, just her little way, and no doubt she had been thinking of poor Chris while she rubbed his head. He congratulated himself that Mary must have glanced up just after the kiss, instead of, as he had feared, just before it.
He murmured something about getting a drink, and left the two women together.
“I hope you didn’t mind?” Carolyn challenged fate at once.
“Mind what?” Mary asked casually, picking up her book again. “The massage? Don’t be silly, Carol! I’m grateful. He has a bald spot!”
“I thought you might—”
“Be jealous?” Mary trilled her gay amusement. “My dear, I could never be jealous of you! Paul is so used to you! It’s novelty we wives need to fear!”
Carolyn’s emotions were mixed when Mary smiled straight into her puzzled eyes, and then began to read again. She had been sure that Mary saw the kiss, when she caught the expression in Mary’s eyes just after it. She couldn’t imagine any wife not being jealous of such an incident. And she could not imagine any wife considering her so lacking in allure as to put her in the innocuous class of safe women.
She followed Paul out to the kitchen, where he was lifting ice cubes from the electric refrigerator drawer. “Did she see?” she asked abruptly.
“Don’t think so, but don’t take such a chance again, please! Honestly, Carol, I know it means nothing—but I wouldn’t hurt her feelings for anything—and I’d not like the situation reversed, I’m mighty sure!”
“Pooh!” she scoffed; and with both arms around his neck, kissed him again, full on his lips. “She didn’t see that one!” she laughed softly, and left him tingling to the warmth of her sudden onslaught. Against his will, the contrast between the clinging pressure of her mouth, and the coldness of Mary’s kiss a moment before impressed him. He had never before kissed Carolyn, even casually. Promiscuous kissing bored him. It was the first time a woman had kissed him so, since the days when Mary’s kisses had all been of that passionate quality. He found himself disturbed, and angry with himself for being disturbed. Carolyn was only teasing him! The kiss meant nothing to her! He was a fool to let it stir him to any degree whatever! He thought he had reasoned himself out of any reaction to the unexpected kiss, until he went back to the living room. Then Carolyn looked up and caught his eye, and her own eyes lingered an instant, before her lids drooped as though memory stirred her to embarrassment with Mary present.
Paul attempted a feeble yawn and said he guessed he’d go to bed.
T)AUL ate his dinner in troubled silence.
He was worried over Peter’s behavior. There was no doubt it had been reprehensible, and there was no doubt that Peter could not see how reprehensible it had been.
There was a hazy recollection in Paul’s mind of having been tempted similarly in his youth, and of having succumbed to temptation. The temptation and the succumbing were hazy, but the subsequent punishment stood out sharply in Paul’s memory. It had been brief, brisk, stereotyped, and to the point! It had happened in a woodshed.
But in nineteen-twenty-seven there were no woodsheds, and from what he could gather, no such simple solutions to bringing up a son in the way he should go. Parents did not use brute force as an
argument any more, it seemed, according to Mary. They used persuasion in very young children; and reason, in children old enough to understand. He had shown his faith in Mary’s advanced judgment in the matter, until now; but when a boy of eleven played truant from school, it seemed to Paul that reasoning with Peter was a bit mild. There was nothing to say to him. He knew he had done wrong; reasoning was superfluous. He knew he must not do it again; but he knew he should not have done it in the first place, and it seemed very weak as a parent, to let the matter go by without some form of punishment more impressive than mere talk.
Brought to an accounting before dinner, Peter had offered no excuse. He seemed, indeed, uncertain as to the manner in which his crime had materialized. “I meant to go to school; but it was hot, and the roofs were steamy, and the air smelled awfully good—and the breeze was sort of soft, real summer already. And I took off my hat and stuck it in my pocket. And I saw a squirrel and followed it a little way. And I knew it was getting late. And I crossed the bridge, and some boys were skipping stones down by the river. And I went down with them and skipped a few. And they went on to school, and I stayed and skipped a few more. And— well—I just didn’t go to school—that’s all.”
“And you did very wrong,” said Paul, seeing stones skip on a sunny day, leaping over dancing water, hop-hop-hop —
“It didn’t seem wrong—I saw some pussy-willows—”
“Deceiving your mother is wrong.” The pussy-willows Peter had brought home to his mother were on the mantelshelf, a bit of spring’s awakening.
“You know it’s wrong to play truant, no matter what tempted you. Do you suppose I always want to go to the office? This morning, I was tempted, too. I would much rather have played golf than go to the office. But what sort of a man would I be if I let appointments go, and my work stand, every time I took a notion?”
“Well, son, there’s nothing to it, you know. It mustn’t happen again, that’s all! I think you should be punished, to make you remember that what you did was very wrong. But your mother believes that, if I make you understand why it is wrong, you’ll remember without punishment. Perhaps. I hope so. You see what I mean, don’t you, about my reason for not yielding to my temptation this morning?”
“You mean you’d have missed making some money ; yes I see, Dad. But we had only review to-day, and I didn’t miss anything I can’t catch up on tomorrow—”
“That’s not the point, son. The point is that any man worth while has a respect for his job. That’s the thing. Work that can be thrown aside while a man follows a whim is not worth doing.”
“I know, Dad. But reviewing stuff I know perfectly well—”
“Now, listen, Pete. You had a purpose, you had a job—and a little temptation sidetracked you. Do that often enough, and you turn out to be a man of weak character. See?”
Peter slowly shook his head. “If you had had nothing important at the office to-day—”
“I am in a position to judge when I am justified in taking a day for golf; you are too young to make such decisions about your work—and, anyway, there’s no argument about it! Don’t do it again, that’s all! Understand?”
Peter nodded, his grave eyes on his father’s face with a look of doubt.
“You understand why you can’t be allowed to do such things, don’t you?”
Peter shook his head. “I know I can’t do it often, or I’ll never know anything. I see that, Dad. But—just skipping stones and getting pussy-willows and
chasing squirrels, when I honestly do know my history, well—I really can’t see ‘wrong’ in it, Dad. If I had a job that I’d promised to be on, well, of course, that’s different. But to-day—”
Paul was becoming irritated. “You’re talking in circles and dodging the point. Don’t play truant again, young man, or you will be punished! Severely!”
“I won’t do it again, Dad. But I can’t see any ‘wrong’ in what—”
“That will do, Peter!”
Peter went out to play in a very thoughtful mood.
Breakfast over next morning, Peter kissed his mother and father good-by, and set out for school. Heavy with thought, he dawdled.
He passed the old postman, hailed him. “Do you like being a postman?” Peter asked politely.
“Have no choice, sonny, a man has to live.”
“It’s a lovely day, isn’t it? Did you feel like carrying that heavy bag to-day?” Fingering the bag, and earnestly gazing into the moist old face under the blue cap.
“Me? Say, sonny, I’d have given my shirt for a late snooze this morning!” “Would you lose your job if you just took a day now and then?”
“I haven’t tried it. But I don’t think my job’s so unimportant. I’ve got the service record now. Never missed a day yet, except regular holidays!”
“Don’t you get tired?”
“Sure! Everybody does. Don’t quit for that reason, though. Too many men ready to jump into my shoes!”
“Sure! Well—no time for gab, son. So long.”
“’by,” said Peter thoughtfully.
Peter’s milkman ran out of a neighbor’s gate, his bottles clinking in their tray.
“Hello,” said Peter, following him to the rear of his cart.
“Hello, Pumpkin-eater, how’s the boy?” “Well, thanks. Do you work every day but Sunday?”
“Sundays too, Beano. Don’t you like milk on Sundays?”
“Do you ever just don’t take the milk around?”
The milkman filled his tray with fresh cold bottles. “Say, I’d be some milkman, wouldn’t I? All the babies hollerin’ on Sunday, and all the mothers raisin’ blue hell on Monday!”
“Would your boss fire you if you just took a day off?”
“I’m my own boss, kid. But I didn’t get that way takin’ days off!”
“No, siree, not me! I’ll take days off when my ship comes in, maybe. Maybe not. Why, Beano?”
“Oh—nothing, ’by,” said Peter.
The grocer’s boy kicked at a snapping puppy with a passion for spinning spokes, and tumbled off his wheel.
“Hello,” Peter hailed him, standing in his way.
“Hello yerself. Goin’ to school?” “Yes.”
“Well—what’s on your mind, kid?” When Peter did not move.
“I was just wondering—do you ever just take a day off?”
The boy guffawed, and wiped his unpleasant nose on his sleeve. “Well, you tell ’em! Took one off twice a week, and got fired last month. Heck, I didn’t care!”
“Me? Say, if you’re goin’ to worry about them things—life’s too short!” “Was your father mad?”
“Madl He licked the tar outa me, that’s all! I’m workin’ for my uncle now.”
“Pay? Nothin’ doin’! My Dad takes it out in trade.”
“Don’t you care?”
“Sure, I care! But I can’t kick, my old man’s too sore at me!”
“I mean, don’t you care about being fired ’cause it was your own fault?”
“I should worry! Say. kid, don’t
ever let any little thing like losin’ a job eat you, so long’s you’ve an old man workin’! They can lick the tar outa you, but the law says they gotta keep you till you’re of age. I should worry! Me for a good time!”
“Well—’by,” said Peter, repelled by filthy overalls.
At dinner time that night, Peter told Paul that he thought perhaps he had done wrong in playing truant.
“I hoped you’d see my point,” said Paul.
“I did,” Peter said. “Gee, our old grocery boy’s a pig! His overalls are awful!”
“I wish you’d try to keep your mind on a subject long enough to take it in!” Paul said crossly. “We’re talking about your faults—not about our old grocery boy, young man!”
“Yes,” said Peter respectfully; and Paul gave up trying to make him appreciate his crime, and wondered how other fathers managed with a heedless son.
TDAUL was finished with trying to under-
stand women. To be comprehensible, people must be to some degree consistent.
Mary, who had been the most contented of women when her life was rigorous, when the demands upon her strength and patience were exorbitant, now that times were better, her life fairly luxurious, was developing some sort of complex that no man could be expected to understand! She who had worked, and smiled, and encouraged, and refused to be baffled, was the same woman who now fretted because she had to spend a few evenings alone!
Companionship! All very well to talk of companionship to a man driven all day and every day with detail, needing his evenings for concentration on problems which must be studied now while he was young, if financial stress were not to haunt him when he grew old. Companionship? What more could a man give than every minute of his spare time?
What the devil got into women of the semi-leisured class, anyway? Great sports they could be during hard times, yet all around him he heard men talking of the same bewilderment he now experienced. What did women expect of a man? There seemed no way of satisfying them. It was discouraging. For whom else did a man slave, study, concentrate on moneymaking than for his wife and children?
“What more can I do than work with all my might, and give you all my spare time?” he wanted to know.
“You live in a trance, dear.”
“I live in a whirlwind! The telephone all day; people coming in; appointments that take longer than anyone could anticipate. Crowding, hunting a man to distraction—I wish all women could have a downtown training before marriage—”
And that had not been the right thing to say, it seemed. “We can’t be every kind of woman in one,” Mary said. “I know you are driven, I know it’s hard, I know you can’t get anywhere unless you keep a jump ahead of the next man—but what’s it all about, if in the meantime life is slipping by, the children are growing up, and we are living practically separate lives? Is ambition for a future which may never come, worth the sacrifice of a present that could be perfect? That’s what I’m fighting for, Paul dear. Ten years from now—”
“Ten years from now you’re going to be mighty glad I rustled! Ten years from now, we’re going to be on Easy Street—”
“Easy Street. That’s the well-known address of many couples whose children have grown up and left them without ever having been a part of them; of couples who have found separate interests in the years between Poverty Row and Easy Street, and who sit down to enjoy life only to find that life has passed them by when life and love should have been fullest and sweetest.”
“But, good God, Mary, that is life! It’s all a damned compromise! You can’t have everything. If I were a one-horse
clerk, now, you’d have me around the house you wanted, but what else would you have?”
“Listen, dear. To-day, Johnny the little cockney taxi-driver—you know the one we took the turkey to at Christmas— Johnny told me to-day that his fouryear-old boy always waited for him to have a race going to bed. That he supposed it wasn’t good for a lad that age to stay up till ten o’clock—but he said the kick would be out of his day if that lad didn’t wait up and romp with him, and be awake in his bed when he got into it. He always let the boy win the race, and crow over him. He looked forward to Sundays off, because the boy just lived for them. He and his wife have never been separated a night in fifteen years—”
“And if I weren’t capable of making more money than he is, the four-year-old would have gone turkeyless for Christmas. And if you couldn’t give Johnny a darn good tip every time he drives you, the four-year-old might be short of socks! And so it goes. You’re bumping your head against a stone wall, Mary, when you kick at the price of success. It’s all compromise!”
“Then let us compromise!” she said eagerly. “Let’s plan our lives so that you see more of the children. Let them have dinner with us, for instance—”
“You may think I don’t care enough for those kids when I tell you their chatter at the table, after a strenuous day downtown, drives me crazy. It does, and I can’t help it! I have to have relaxation at meals—”
“I think their chatter worries you because you don’t give it your attention. Your mind is still downtown. Their chatter is an account of their actions, their thoughts, their very lives! If you refuse to listen—you are refusing to know them intimately!”
“Need I become acquainted at mealtime?”
“What other time is there? In simpler days, for people like us, meal-time was family time—”
“I remember; and if you opened your mouth for any other purpose than to put food into it, Lord help you! Children were seen and not heard in those days!”
“Ten and twelve children to a family, yes, in the generation before ours. A decent-sized small family should get a better chance.”
But it all ended in the same impasse. If they were to have the comforts, and later the luxuries he planned to give them, they must do without his society to a large extent just now. “Just be patient,” he would say, discouraged. “You’ll see, it will be worth it!”
“I have been patient,” she replied, and stroked his head. “And anything that can take a man like you from the intimate life of his family, must needs be worth more than appears on the surface, dear! It’s not as though I demanded real wealth—”
“You take the heart out of me,” he said. “And I need all the heart I have to carry on. You don’t understand.”
And so it went. Always their discussion of life-values ended in a stalemate. He wanted his conception of the fulness of life for her; and the fulness of life for her meant living very close to him. She hoped always to reach some compromise that would leave him less absentminded in the family circle, more alive to immediate happiness. He hoped always that some day she would realize his conviction that his love for her and the children was the motive power that urged him on.
Well, perhaps, on serious reflection, he might make more effort to spend his evenings at home. Some day when he could afford it he was going to add a real law library to his house; then he could do his digging at home in the evenings, and Mary would not be so much alone. To-night, for instance, he supposed he could just as well take that Wells-versusJohnson brief home, as come downtown
again after dinner. Perhaps Mary had some justice in her dissatisfaction. Perhaps it was pretty lonely after the children went to bed. Closing his briefbag, he thought things might be better if Mary had a few more interests outside the house. Evening interests, women’s interests—whatever they were! But on second thoughts, that idea didn’t seem so good. The evenings on which she would arrange to be busy, might be the evening, when he was free and wanted her. He wouldn’t like that any too well, he guessed he wouldn’t suggest that little
idea! As things now were, she was always eagerly available when he wanted her; better let well enough alone. It would adjust itself somehow. Life had a comfortable way of doing that. Better to let unpleasant things ride. People became accustomed to anything. Perhaps after a while, she would not need him quite so much. Life would be simpler then. He’d be able to concentrate, then, unhampered by the constant suppression of a feeling in the back of his mind that Mary missed him overmuch.
With his good intentions his spirits
revived. Mary met him in the hall and responded instantly to the unusual warmth of his kiss. She kissed him a second time. The children slid down the glossy stair-rail to greet him, his handsome gentle-mannered boy, his happy hoyden girl with up-tilted freckled nose and generous laughing mouth.
“Hello, Button; hello son. Wow! Don’t break my neck!” when Paula leaped on him, strong arms around his neck, colt’s legs around his middle, saluting him wetly with her ardent mouth.
To be continued