The Home-Loving Man
A poignant story of a wife’s renunciation and a husband’s long atonement
ANSON DELL had held seven jobs in ten years. He stuck to his work only as long as he had secret need of being in a certain place. Anson was fifty-two years old. sandy-haired, blue-eyed, home-loving. His hands were large, and the way the thumbs branched out from his palms was like the tough growth of hickory branches. He measured six feet three in his woollen socks. A s rong man with an appearance of easy good humor. But he carried a volcano under his vest.
If his hands were large, his feet were enormous, yet he moved with effortless assurance. "Don't make no difference how she’s a-pitchin’ when a sea boards this old hulk,” a sailor once remarked to his companion, "that old slob walks like he was lollin' down a bool’vard squintin’ at the girls.’’
This fact had been stated during Anson’s third job. when he was serving as ship's carpenter aboard a freighter carrying lumber from Windsor. Nova Scotia, to New York. He overheard the comment and said pleasantly: "If we ship so much as a bucket of water, you blankety blank blockheads walk like ye was teeterin’ acrost a tightrope t’ a circus.”
"Aw, go to . ” muttered the discomfited one.
“What’s that?” Anson’s blue eyes roved with dangerous mildness over the shrimplike figure of the scoffer.
“Oh, mithin’ . . .”
The carpenter’s sure poise had been early acquired in the fishing village of Cableville, Nova Scotia. He had been one of those boys who swarmed like monkeys up and down the wharf ladders, who jumped from one bobbing dory to another, who splashed recklessly about in leaky punts and sometimes even steered a boat across the Basin.
Grown older, he had served several years as cabin boy on his uncle’s fishing schooner; from which, at the age of eighteen, he had departed amid hearty curses from his exasperated relative. Anson somehow managed to do the
least possible work in the places where it would show the most. After that he had partly supported a proud and doting mother.
Often, with the sweet clamor of water rushing away from the bows when he stood his trick at the wheel, Anson pushed his thoughts back toward his childhood, and he suffered troubled moments trying to solve the riddle of his behavior. His mind approached but never quite reached the actual wedge which separated him from the life of an average man in a fishing village. Perhaps an instinctive loyalty refused to convict the one person who, through flattery and single-minded devotion, had weakened the props of his character. Mrs. Dell, his mother, had been a bleak-looking, much respected widow in Cableville. It would have been very difficult to suspect her of weakness even in the matter of her only son. However, it was a rule of Anson to talk to no one. If the fools on the freighter thought him a ship’s carpenter—well, let ’em. He could repair a damaged hatch as well as the next one.
Boston had been his first great idea. He had fed there was a fair chance of finding Celinda there. His trips to Boston by boat had given him excellent opportunities for prowling. Anson was a methodical man. and he had prowled methodically. At the end of his first day in Boston—now several years ago—he had by unerring instinct selected a seafaring man who was looking into a ship-chandler’s window. With a shrewd nod shared between them, they had at once repaired to a restaurant to talk of ships, ports and far places. Over thick cups of coffee Anson learned about Boston, its streets and outlying sections.
It was then that his long search for Celinda had begun.
ANSON DELL had been an only child. When his -**-mother died he found himself the owner of a neat little house on the hilly road of Cableville and heir to two savings accounts, the existence of which his mother had kept a secret during her entire life. These accounts represented not only pension money saved almost intact for twenty years, but other astute and economical margins. Mrs. Dell was a thrifty woman.
Anson was several years over twenty when his mother died a handsome young man who mourned his mother sincerely yet retained a bright, canny way with women. He laughed off his conquests, which were many, and was
all the more pursued. But Anson took his time. He was missing his mother’s raised biscuits, her admiring affection, and the comfortable evenings they had spent together beside the kitchen stove.
“My son don’t care to go junketin’ round the world on long voyages,’ had been her boast. And her neighbors, whose sons and husbands were off on dangerous fishing cruises to the Banks, were too kindly to suggest that the boy was “havin’ it too easy and gittin’ spoiled.” Though his laziness was a common topic among the townspeople.
Yet few could resist Anson. He was good-looking, goodnatured and gentle. No girl in the village watched his arrival with equanimity. And his departure was followed by long looks which dwelt upon his broad back with curious brooding.
There was Lela with the dark hair and flashing eyes. There was May with the color of wild roses in her cheeks and the prettiest teeth in town. And there was Sura, different from them all. She was amber and honey, with a warm bloom on her cheeks like peaches in the sun.
Anson decided on Sura, but there was no hurry. So, for two years following his mother’s death, he fished when he happened to feel like it, and "took to dancin’.” In fact he set about enjoying himself as only young strength can. And he walked a little arrogantly in the knowledge of being loved and admired.
Sura often felt that she was the chosen one, but she was tortured by the pangs of uncertainty. Lela took pains to report every time she had been with Anson. “His cheeks was awful smooth, just like a baby's, wa’nt they? And, say, he could lift you right off your feet with no trouble at all,” Sura agreed, laughing—and felt her heart torn to ribbons.
Anson grew lazier and more handsome. He began to be fastidious about his clothes, and actually sent away to a mail-order house for suits instead of getting them readymade in the next town, thereby earning a wide reputation as a man of fashion.
By February of the year following his mother’s death her careful savings had dwindled to unimportance. Anson fished on fine days and flirted on fine evenings. He refused two excellent chances to go to sea on long cruises. “He’s a lazy loafer,” growled the men. “It’s got so now he pays thirty-five cents a tub for boys to bait his trawl. Now ain’t that somethin’?” And they spat contemptuously over the
edge of the wharf. Few men could afford such expensive luxury.
But the girls dreamed about him in the long, grey afternoons of winter. His passing was to them like the long streak of light at the edge of a pewter-colored
Now and then Anson took Lela to a dance. These two caused more ungracious comment from ladies of questionable charms than any other couple on the floor. The girl’s black, smooth wings of hair lay close to her glowing face.
Her eyes laughed with the light of public conquest, and other men who desired to dance with her sulked wretchedly in knots. They worked hard for their money, and it made them rage to see Anson, who hardly baited five tubs of trawl a week, make such a careless thing of keeping the best dancer on the floor to himself.
Yet, after all. Anson married Sura. She ran away from a pile of supper dishes one evening, flushed and a bit untidy, her full apron swinging like sails about her slim legs, her lovely light hair tangled in a mesh of gold, her lips tremulous, and her heart bursting with delicious fright.
Anson had grow n tired of Lela. She appropriated him. Her ready laugh jangled his nerves. He'd never meant to marry her anyhow. It was just fun to take her places and make the other fellows mad. So, thinking it all over by his solitary kitchen table, with the red-checked tablecloth on top and his plate of boiled potatoes and fish, he had suddenly grabbed his cap from a hook on the wall and gone to Sura.
The girl would never forget him as he stood smiling in the doorway. His shirt was open at the throat, and his bronzed neck was round and strong like a column. His eyes asked her to go with him before his lips spoke. Sura
loved him, and she went without one backward look in the
¿ r"PHEY settled down at y L once after their marriage,
' in the neat house on the hilly road of Cableville; and Lela found it inconvenient to drop in for several months, though she lived only three doors away.
These two, Anson and Sura, were foolishly happy. The wife radiated an ecstatic sunshine. The husband reacted to this glory by an
increased beauty of young manhood. He gave up dancing, flirting and wasting his time, and went to work in good earnest. Sura rather expected a gay time as the wife of the village beau, but her grave young husband abandoned social amusements from the moment they walked together to the white-shingled cottage of his mother.
"I’m a home-lovin’ man, sweetheart,” he would smile
down at her; "a home-lovin’ man. Many’s the night me and ma has jest set here by the (ire alone together, she sewin’, me readin’. I was brought up to it and I like it.”
And Sura would reach up and clutch the collar of his plaid windbreaker in both hands, and, raising herself on her toes, kiss his clean wide lips. “I like it too, Anson. Jest us two, together like this.”
She thought him rich. As the years went on, the superstition about Anson's money grew to enormous proportions. But if his mother had been secretive about saving money, her son was equally silent in the spending of it. He enjoyed the rôle of playing the town’s only rich man, though in all conscience he was poor enough.
In three years two boys were born to the Dell household. Anson boasted of them. And he had good reason to be proud. Sturdy, fair-skinned children, they might well have been the offspring of legendary Norsemen. They were bathed and scrubbed and starched as no other children in the village, and Sura looked upon them almost as if they were heaven-sent and of a superior race.
Once their father remonstrated with her for buying two winter coats, exactly alike, trimmed with brass buttons and caps to match.
“But they look darlin’ in them,” she protested, “just darlin’. Here, Eddie, look up at papa. See, Anson, ain’t they smart as rich folks’ children?”
The father frowned. “But we ain’t rich folks, Sura. Whatever put that fool notion into your head? I want the kids to be warm and neat lookin’, but them brass buttons—!” He wagged his head. “Good lord, Sura!” She bit her lip and said nothing to remind him of his own earlier and foolish expenditures on clothes for himself. But, after all, the little boys wore the blue coats and hats to match, and were the joy of their mother's heart.
After Anson married he gave up fishing entirely, setting up a small store which supplied miscellaneous necessities to other fishermen. Here, during slack hours of trade, he would often pull out his one remaining pass book at the Savings Bank, looking worried as his big hands fingered the thin pages. There was so little left to represent the years of his mother's thrifty saving. This residue he firmly determined to keep untouched. "Children need book learnin’,” he mused, “and books cost money.”
In the evenings he settled himself with a long sigh in the rocker with the red cushion, lighted his pipe, and, in stockinged feet, read the paper.
"I'm a’ home-lovin’ man,’’ he smiled at his pretty wife. “It’s bred in the bone. I don’t hold with junketin’ round the world on long cruises. And ma never wanted me to, neither.”
Sura would answer a trifle wearily:
“Yes, ye don't have to explain it so often to me. Anson. The boys need a new pair of shoes. They stub ’em out so fast. They ain’t got a decent pair for Sunday.”
Then would follow a long argument; Sura growing angrily resentful that her husband, a rich man, should be so stingy in providing for his children.
In another two years there came a third child, a handsome boy but frail and delicate. They called him Bruce. He developed a persistent cough the first winter. There were doctor’s bills, and Anson sometimes grew sarcastic. He could never remember having a doctor in the house when he was a boy. His mother was hardy as a wild blackberry vine, and did not need even a prescription until the day she died. He was finding it increasingly difficult to hoard
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The HomeToving Man
Continued, from page 5
his small savings in the bank. He worried over it, and Sura was the most convenient hook upon which to hang the blame.
Anson had never been anxious when he was single. He began to brood over the quiet evenings he used to enjoy with his mother; how often he looked up to find her sharp eyes resting upon him; how they softened and glowed as soon as he returned her smile. Sura always wanted something, always had a complaint. He wondered how it would have been if he had married Lela. Sometimes he toyed with the idea, but the thought of Lela’s jangling laugh turned him disgustedly away.
Yet he loved his family. One morning, when Bruce was ailing and Sura stood before her husband, her gleaming hair dishevelled, her hands wrinkled by the hot suds, and told him flatly he’d better loosen up on all that money he was saving or go to sea like other men, he was genuinely shocked.
“You act like I made the little feller poor and peaked a-purpose,” he sneered. “He’s as much yours as mine. No pindlin’ ways in my family, as I ever heard tell of.”
Tears stood in Sura’s lovely eyes. “Oh, Anson, how can you!” The ‘little feller’ coughed, and the exasperated husband departed, slamming the kitchen door.
During the following year Sura surrendered some of her radiance to the washtubs and ironing board. Another child was expected. Anson was by turns gentle and sullen. For days he would bend over his plate at the kitchen table, scarcely speaking to his family. His store was fairly prosperous and the Dells certainly did not suffer for food or common necessities, yet there lived a pervading atmosphere of strain in the little cottage.
And the babies kept coming. When Anson had reached thirty he was the father of five boys. Not an unheard-of number— there were several larger families in the village—but the man was taking his responsibilities hard. He compared his own happy childhood to that of his children. He wanted them to have the same. Yet, running through this ambition like a slack strand in a hawser, were the self-conceit and laziness cultivated by his mother’s early adulation. Anson would not go to sea and set his strength to the winning of bigger prizes. He stayed in his store and his home, and he grew thin and increasingly silent.
SURA was by now a mere wisp of a woman, her hair beautifully bright as ever, the bloom gone from her cheeks, her features pinched with worry. Yet she adored her children and found a spring of happiness in their good looks. Bruce, however, continued to be frail. When he was four he had an especially hard cold, contracted pneumonia, and died within a few
Anson was heartbroken. He was obliged to draw some money from his hoardings to pay the funeral expenses. He gave the little fellow the best he could, and for a while this grief drew the anxious man and his wife nearer together.
During the long evenings when the children were asleep they sat by the kitchen stove. Sura mended the boys’ stockings, and Anson read or gazed sombrely at nothing.
Lela had finally married a man from the States, a florid fellow noisy with success. Occasionally Sura received a letter describing the gay life Lela spent. She had one child, a boy.
“Lela’s done real well for herself, Anson. She’s got a nurse, mind you, to come in every day to look after her boy, so’s she can go places and have a good time,” the tired woman would remark, handing the lavendertinted note over to her husband. And he would read it, knitting his brows over the round, childish handwriting, and return it to Sura with no comment.
Lela had one child; he had five. Maybe if he’d married Lela . . . The cheap perfume she always used floated under his nostrils.
He had the strange sensation of guiding her through a waltz in a crowded hall.
One morning, six months after the death of Bruce, a neighbor came in to borrow a cup of sugar. She found Sura crumpled up on the floor in a dead faint. Two of the younger children were bending over her, their faces stiff with fright, their small hands twitching at their mother’s apron.
When Anson came home to dinner that noon, he found his wife lying under a bed quilt on the sofa in the kitchen. Her face was white, and her blue eyes, at sight of him, darkened with furtive apprehension.
A small fat man in a brown suit sat in a chair by the window.
"Your wife,” said this individual with no formality of greeting, “is expecting a child. She is in no condition to work. She needs rest and care, rest and care!” He glared at Anson and blinked rapidly.
The husband stared first at the doctor, then at his wife. A slow tide of rage washed over him. Another child ! He could hardly care for the ones they already had. Perversely he saw Lela—her dark wings of hair, her bold, flashing eyes. If he had married
“Get some woman to come in and help regularly,” ordered the doctor. He was quite aware, as country doctors are, of village gossip. Anson had the reputation of being rich, and of being a miser. “See that your wife has proper attendance.” He rose, smiled at Sura, and left.
Anson was no brute, but his manhood had been ravelled away by the foolish flattery of his mother. He expected life to go the way he wanted, simply because this was his natural course of thinking. Yet in the days that followed he waited patiently on his wife, giving up his usual hours at the store. If her blue eyes followed him wistfully he said no word, but got her some broth or found a coat and mittens for one of the boys. Later, in fear of losing too much trade, he went back to his store, and a Mrs. Toomey bustled in to “stir up a mess of vittles,” and look after the children and the invalid.
In the afternoons this well-meaning woman found time to sit down and gossip. Sura paid little heed to her chatter until she heard the name of her husband slyly and persistently introduced into the conversation. “Square Deal was tellin’ my man yisterday,” said Mrs. Toomey, “that he asked Anson to go along o’ him on a fishin’ cruise, but Anson said he had too big a family to leave home that a-way.”
Sura kept her eyes on a shimmering crack in the window shade.
“You sure got a good devoted husband, girl,” continued the woman, launching forth with more vigor on the real bent of her discourse. “He won’t move nary a step from you and the children. He works real stiddy at the store, too. Not as hard perhaps as he would a-haulin’ trawl into a fishin’dory ; maybe not as hard as that . . .” She paused for some sign from the woman on the bed. Sura said nothing. “Most men, though, is glad enough to git clear from their families. I know mine is, for one.”
Sura smiled faintly. She knew well enough what her neighbor insinuated. Square Deal had a wife, too. Yet he went on hazardous trips to the Banks, and came home with a pleased, haggard face, and good bounty in his pocket. Once she had overheard two men talking together in the village. She hurried by, but she could not fail to catch their words. “Anson Dell . . . the lazy fool. Huggin’ the shore like a baby . . . Why don’t he . . . ”
Soon Sura was up and about again, and she and Anson had their first ugly quarrel. It flared up because she could not resist asking him why he had not gone with Square Deal on the cruise. “Mrs. Toomey told me her husband said . . . ”
Anson grew scarlet with chagrin. He had not meant Sura to know.
“Mrs. Toomey can go straight to . . .” he growled.
“You'd make a lot more money that way,” persisted Sura with a challenge in her eyes, “than sticking around in that stuffy store sellin' fishhooks to other fishermen who aren't afraid of hard work.”
As this was exactly what Anson thought himself but would never admit, he grew angrier than he ever had done in his life. His wife had placed her finger on the festering wound of his self-respect.
With three children clinging wide-eyed to their mother’s skirts and a fourth standing dumb and terrified in a corner, she flung taunt after taunt at the amazed man. In the desperation of despair, she would say for once all that she had hoarded against him for years.
“And you say you can’t afford to have another child. You with money rotting in the bank ! And too lazy to go out like other men and bring home good bounty!”
Anson looked at her like a sleep-walker. Veins began to swell in his neck. A red mist rocked before his eyes.
“Do you suppose it’s fun for me, bearing children?” Sura shrilled. “Do you? What do you know of the sufferin’ I go through with? And the work, and the worry. I’m sick and tired of slavin’ like a dog!”
In the fury of her attack, she magically regained some of the fire and spirit of her youth. Always her hair seemed alive like a young girl’s, and now her eyes blazed with a chill, cold burning.
"You’re a coward! A good-for-nothin'.
I know it now—too late’ Blamin'me . .
Her voice rose to a thin edge of sound. Anson’s face was convulsed with fury. "My children? Why mine?” Then he lost his sense of values entirely. His mother's worshipful smile rose to shut out the accusing figure of his wife. “I didn’t aim," he said coarsely, “to run a rabbit hutch.”
“You low-down hound !” Sura was aghast. The words riddled her fury like hail, tore it into ribbons. Then she laughed. Blindly she sought a chair. There she sat down bent over in a grotesque huddle of mirth.
Anson was hardly recognizable; his features were swollen with rage and hideously twisted.
"Don't you never tell me what you do with the brat!" he yelled. “I don’t want to know—never! I’ve taken care of my family as well as I could. And I won’t have another squallin’ baby to provide for. Go away! Do anything!” He grabbed his cap and strode off.
Sura stopped laughing. The cold fangs of hatred strengthened her with poison.
“I’ll do just as he says,” she remarked aloud. “I'll follow his orders in every particular.”
Anson had his way, and his long punishment began.
COMEHOW Anson Dell endured his family and his fireside for ten more years. Then he took up his wanderingsr The home-loving man scarcely set foot in his house twice a year. Boston, New York, and ports farther south. Once he even went to Chicago. Ship's carpenter, ordinary seaman. cook, longshoreman he was all of these many times over. And he was ever on his secret errand.
When he stood his trick at the wheel (ordinary seaman . . . Carrie Mills . . . cargo of gypsum from Bear River to Boston) he was tortured almost past bearing by remembrance of those dreadful years which followed the arrival of his last child. Sura had never spoken a syllable about the baby. She had managed, even in her ignorance and poverty, to do exactly as her husband wished. He had known that she watched him out of bitter, triumphant eyes. Her look hung endlessly on his spirit, and bore it down until he panted with the burden.
Just once he had broken his silence. It was during a brief stay ashore at Cableville. Somehow he had the notion that the young minister of the village knew something about Sura and the baby. So he asked him in gruff surliness a pointed question or two.
“I promised your wife I would say nothing,” replied the young man, who was not without courage, “but I think it wrong for you to know nothing of your child.” Anson’s heart kicked against his ribs.
“Your wife confided in me before the baby came,” continued the minister. “She said she had no one else to turn to, and she wanted no gossip in the village. On the night the baby arrived, I came and took her in my horse-and-buggy to the hospital in the next city. Fortunately you were out when I reached your house, and as it was night no one particularly noticed. I asked her why she did not have her old doctor, but she insisted on coming with me. At the hospital she persuaded me to tell the physician there of her predicament—how she wanted a good home for the baby, how she could not keep it herself. Finally it was satisfactorily arranged.” The youthful parson gazed across the Gap with thoughtful eyes, then added: “The child was finally taken to the States.”
“Was it a boy or girl?” blurted out Anson.
“It was a girl. Your wife called her Celinda, after your mother.”
W/ITH the bright stars beating down on
* his head, Anson thought of Celinda. She would be about eleven now. Perhaps she would have Sura’s gleaming hair, her small lovely hands. He could speak of her to no one, least of all the woman who bore her. He was a sea-going man in good earnest now. “Ye always wanted me on the water, and now I am. Don’t complain if ye don’t set eyes on me for a year at a time,” was his unvarying excuse to his puzzled wife.
Sura thought him heartless and tried to forget him. She never guessed his humiliation, his pride gone down, his hot despair. When he had first left home on his wanderings, he had drawn the last of his mother’s savings from the bank and given them to Sura. “Here, take this. I’ll soon have more when I git my pay." She took the money, about three hundred dollars, wondering at this strange burst of generosity; and still she did not know that this was all he had.
The years wore on. Anson gradually changed from a savage-hearted rebel to a middle-aged man. His humor returned, his manner was easy. He met his mates on their own ground and for the most part they liked him. “Somethin’ devilish queer about that ’un,” they muttered among themselves. “Don’t never seem to want to go home like the rest of us. Always a-snoopin’ and a-pokin’ round the streets, soon’s we git into port. I seen him only yesterday studyin’ a sign post, and writin’ figgers in a book. He kinda give me a start. Soon’s he see me he pretended to laugh.”
Anson looked for a girl about eleven years, with yellow hair and blue eyes. The simple expedient of asking Sura the name of the people who raised her never occurred to him. He’d find her himself. He’d sent her away, and he’d bring her home with help from no one.
Sometimes he’d follow children out of school and linger near them in shy attention while they talked. “I’ll know her quick's I set eyes on her,” he assured himself.
He made a grim mistake. He allowed her no years beyond her girlhood. When Celinda would have been sixteen, he was still searching for a little girl with thin legs and flying hair. His fourth job, when he had exhausted Boston as a possible home of his daughter, was on a steamer plying the Great Lakes. He regularly sent money to Sura, and was insistent that she get someone to help her with the housework. He wrote her brief, infrequent letters:
"I get good wages on the Henrietta Foss. We seen dirty weather on Erie, and I hurt my leg a little mite, jamming it against a chest in the galley. All right now, though. Hope you are well. How are the boys?”
Sura answered them—pencilled notes carefully written on greyish, lined paper. (You couldn't keep a pen in the house with the children going to school, and all.)
“Eddie’s had a sore throat. Mrs. Toomey ain’t real well, but gets around some. I had a letter from Lela. She says she thinks she saw you the other day. She wasn’t sure. They’ve moved to Detroit. Her husband’s real rich, according to her say. Was you in Detroit?”
Yes, he had been in Detroit. He had stayed in the shabbiest lodgings when ashore and saved his money to send home.
Seven, eight years! Home at long intervals. His boyhood friends guyed him without mercy. “Here comes the homelovin’ man we all heard teil about!” they jeered. “Say, Anson, me lad, ye average about ten minutes a year by your own kitchen stove, don’t ye? Or mebbe it’s five.” Sura welcomed him quietly and asked no questions about his journeyings. It is doubtful if she were even curious. She was fatter now, her small hands completely spoiled, her smile rather sad. The boys were working—fishermen down at the wharf. Some of them had even gone on longer cruises to the Banks.
Sura was “havin’ it easy.” Her sons sent her part of their wages—those who had gone away. A girl came in to help her scrub and wash and iron; someone from a village farther up the shore. When Anson enquired about this, Sura was evasive.
“Oh, I git her when I’m tuckered out. Two or three times a week, just as it comes handy. I ain’t as spry as I used to be.”
“You have her every day!” Anson had insisted. This was during one of his infrequent visits home, when he found the little house more tidy and comfortable than he ever remembered it, even during his mother’s life. “Why ain’t she here now a-helpin’, long’s ye got me extra to cook for?”
Sura looked at him with a curious reflectiveness. Something in her eyes made him lower his own.
"She’s thinkin’ she needed help long ago, not now,” the man miserably told himself. He did not mention the girl again.
Nine years of searching. He stood on corners, watching. “I’ll know Celinda quick’s I set eyes on her!” A flash of blue out of sunny eyes, slim legs racing with other children, bright hair flying in the wind.
Mrs. Toomey had by now grown to be quite ancient. She often wheezed up the village road to have a dish of gossip with
“My land ! Ain’t that a handsome carpet? It suits the room complete. You do be havin’ a grand good time of it now, dearie. Y our boys workin’ stiddy and your man gone to sea. Funny, ain’t it, how he took sudden to cruisin’ after all his years ashore? Do ye mind the terrible time I took care of ye after the faintin’ spell ye had, count o’ expectin’ a baby? My, my,” she wailed comfortably; then in another tone: “Yesay your aunt in Boston took the baby?” “Yes,” answered Sura. She had said it so many times it was like the truth now.
"VyfRS. TOOMEY narrowed her old eyes 4V1 and looked quizzical.
“I should think you'd like to see her now and agin; your own flesh and blood, that way.” “I shall, some day,” said Sura evenly, “when she’s educated.” She had thought this out. too, and almost believed her own words as she heard them issuing from her mouth.
People in the village began to say, "I do believe Sura grows prettier every day. They was a time when she looked kinda old and faded. But now she’s perked up smart as a fiddle. Well, she’d ought to. All hands of ’em workin’ and bringin’ in good bounty.” Sura was happy. Her smile came back. A sweet look of content hovered around her lips. That shining quality she wore when Anson married her enveloped her like a faint halo. Her boys actually took her to dances, in the same hall where Lela and Anson had caused such doubtful flutter in the hearts of wallflowers. They gave her money for extras, like a new scarf or lace collar.
And Anson went on hunting. He thought of nothing else. “I'll bring Celinda home myself. It’s my job now. I'll bring Celinda home to Sura; and then perhaps she'll like to have me stay home a bit, as I used to.” He reasoned it all out in slow carefulness. When he was young and strong he had refused to go to sea like other men; now he was paying for it. His wandering was a judgment on him, and he bowed under it with a strange humility.
Once, as he was loitering on a busy street, a woman twitched eagerly at his sleeve. She was fashionably and unbecomingly dressed, and stood teetering perilously on high, goatlike heels.
“Why, for goodness sake,” she shrieked, “I do believe it’s Anson Dell, for all the world!" She eyed the big man with a sort of metallic brightness. “How’s yourself? How’s Sura?”
It was Lela, grown large and buxom. She seemed encased in a hard enamel of manner, through which even her surprise had difficulty in registering.
Anson saw that she was amused at his country bearing but glad nevertheless to see an old friend from home. They talked together in the street, pushed hither and yon by hurrying crowds. Lela finally wrung a promise from him to come to her apartment that night for dinner. He did not want to go, but he accepted her invitation gravely. Lela’s laugh was just the same, only harsher. Anson felt an overwhelming relief that he had not married her.
He was acutely uncomfortable that evening in the overstuffed chairs in Lela’s apartment. He felt smothered and restless. He picked a careful course among the silver forks and spoons at dinner and said, “No, I thank ye,” to a solicitous maid who pressed ridiculous looking food on him.
Lela’s husband was square of face and small of eye. He had invented, so Anson gathered, a shock absorber. And the shock absorber had pleased a vast and growing public.
“We been back home once or twice,” remarked Anson’s hostess, leaning fat elbows on the table, “but we ain’t never seen you there, Anson. Sura said you was always off cruising somewhere or another. Not like the old days, eh?” she enquired with a sly look of understanding.
“No, I ain’t been home much lately,” replied Anson.
“Well, I’m going to collar Frank”—she threw a condescending glance at her husband, who sat entirely out of the circle of reminiscences—“and take him home again soon. Of course, and you can’t blame him, he thinks it’s fierce up there—a hick place full of fish smells. But our son, Lester, has fallen in love with a girl up there by the name of Mary Wayne. Know her? He picked her up one time she was to Cableville, though she don’t live there. I ain’t seen her myself, but Lester thinks she’s the nuts. I could have wrung his darn neck for picking up someone in that hole, when he has the chance to marry almost anyone he looks at. Lester is awful social; way up!” She made large and jewelled gestures.
Anson expressed polite interest.
“I guess we got to give in, though,” continued his hostess. “Lester gets just about what he wants. And he wants Mary Wayne. Say, Anson”—she threw him an arch look out of heavy-lidded eyes—“why don’t you meet us in Boston and come up with us? Kind of nice to chum around together again in that little town where we used to have such a good time; me and you, Anson.”
Anson smiled and said no. He wasn’t quite ready to go home yet. He had a little business to see to. After smoking an expensive cigar, pressed upon him by his host, he awkwardly excused himself and left. Outside, in the cool darkness of the street, he took a long breath. But in his lodgings that night he thought a good deal about Lela. His younger days rose up before him, and he marvelled at his youthful capacity for fun, for doing nothing, for evading all kinds of hard work. “I reckon it kind of grinds on Lela to have her son go back to Cableville and pick out a girl, when Lela’s been so careful all these years tellin’ us how grand she is. Funny how things turn out.” He chuckled softly at the remembrance of her fat fingers encrusted with diamonds, her lusty contours illadapted to modish lines and flounces. Then suddenly he said aloud:
“I bet a cookie her son can’t hold a candle to one of my boys!”
In two weeks Anson was once more in Boston. He had entirely forgotten about Lela’s invitation to go home with them back to Cableville, but when he found a letter from Sura he read it with pleased surprise.
“I hope you can fix things so’s to come home right soon,” she wrote. “Three of the boys is home now. And there’s something
special I want to talk over.” Here a few words were rubbed out. “1 want to see you, too. Sometimes I get to missing you.”
The man re-read the last sentence. “She says she gets to missin’ me. She says that. Sounded like she really wanted to see me. First time I ever heard that sence I been goin’ to sea.” At once he posted a letter, saying he would come home right away. And his heart felt lighter and eased of its burden.
HE THOUGHT about Sura’s letter for hours at a time. It was worn limp with reading. "Sura seems real anxious soundin’.
If she’s gentle, maybe I’ll tell her what’s been keepin’ me from home all these years. She might forgive me. She might even go with me sometimes while I’m huntin’.’’
He became happily absorbed in this astounding possibility.
Two mornings later he crossed the Bay of Fundy, and then caught a ride in Square Deal’s boat over the Basin. A strange young man was also waiting to cross, but Anson paid little heed to him until Square Deal said: “This is Lela’s boy, Lester. Remember Lela, Anson?”
The big man shook hands and said, “Pleased to meet you,” and was agreeably surprised by the young man’s clear eyes and quiet manner. “Not a bit like his ma or pa,” he thought privately. _
But he quickly forgot him in the curious joy he felt as the boat ran swiftly across the blue, ruffled water of the Basin.
“Home again for a meal or somethin’?” asked Square Deal. The question was kindly meant. Square Deal felt sorry for Anson. “He looks so thin and kinda hectored,” he told his wife at dinner.
Anson climbed the slippery ladder at the wharf, and with his bag in his hand, the home-loving man walked up the steep, familiar path to the shore road. People called greetings to him from open doorways. Children stared at him and scuttled away. He smiled and waved his hand. This seemed a different home-coming from all the others. He felt happy and excited. “Glad I thought to git a new dress for Sura,” he thought. “Mebbe if she’s real pleased and gentle, I’ll tell her about Celinda.”
He walked quickly. The sun shone. Between the bright, green leaves. of the bushes lining the road, he saw blue patches of shining water. The air was cool and delicious. “Ain’t nowhere else like this,” he said aloud, and inhaled long breaths of it.
Then he caught sight of his own house. Flowers bloomed in the tiny dooryard. Fresh white paint made it look trim and prosperous. He sighed with pleasure.
He hurried up the last hill, and as he turned into the path which led through the gate of his dooryard the front door opened. He smiled and waved his hand, hardly comprehending what he saw.
Golden hair blowing in the wind, skin like the ripe bloom of peaches, blue eyes laughing, stood a young woman. She was speaking to someone inside. “Good-by; I’ll come over tomorrow to help you, Mrs. Dell. And I’ll bring him along, too.” There was an answering murmur inside.
“Sura!” whispered the man. His throat tightened until he could hardly breathe. His heart seemed to split in two.
The girl lifted her hand to brush back a flying wisp of hair. It was a small hand, delicately fashioned.
“Sura ! She can’t have grown young again like this!”
The girl came down the steps. She moved quickly with an easy grace. She gave him a questioning smile and, passing him, turned into the road.
“I’ll know her quick’s I see her!” The words came stiffly to his lips. Anson wavered toward a large stone and sat down. He was shaking from head to foot. The flowers jerked back and forth before his eyes in dizzy whirls of color. The hill behind the house pressed down upon his heart, and cracked it open. He stared stupidly at one spray of wild carrot. “I was all the time thinkin’ of her as a little girl . . . and now she’s a woman grown !” he muttered thickly.
His brain grew numb with the terrific expansion of this adjustment.
“. . a little girl . . . and now she’s a woman grown.”
It was not to be borne. He toppled over from the stone and lay sprawled across his bag, a big man in a blue serge suit. His hat rolled down the path to the road.
THAT evening Sura and Anson sat together in the kitchen, he in the rocker with the red cushion, his wife close beside him.
“But you never told me, Anson. You just went away. You said nary a word about huntin’ for Celinda. I thought ye was just tired of me, of the children, of all of us.” Tears were in her voice. She patted the sleeves of his coat.
“I was plumb ashamed,” he muttered, not looking at her. “I wanted to bring her home myself. I sent her away . . . and I couldn’t bear to ask ye a word about her.” Then after a long silence: “She’s so tall, ain’t she? Tall and grown-up. And I was huntin’ for a little girl. I was goin’ to ask ye, Sura, to come along o’ me now, and hunt, too; that is, if ye wanted to.” His voice died away on a note of uncertainty. She stroked his sleeve.
“But Anson, I’ve had her here, off and on, to this house ever since ye took to goin’ away. I couldn’t bear not seein’ her. I got the minister to find the folks who took her, and they hadn’t really adopted her after all because the minister had told ’em private that I’d be wantin’ her again soon’s I could fix it. So when you went away on them long trips I sent for her. She boarded with people in the next town. I didn’t dare tell you, Anson. I didn’t dare. She was the girl I had to come in and help me with the washin’ and scrubbin’ when she grew old enough. And though she looks like me, somehow no one guessed a thing.”
“All those years a-huntin’ and a-lookin’— searchin’ for a little girl with light hair.”
“If you’d only told me, Anson. If you only had!” She beat her hands upon his knee. She was crying, but a radiance of happiness showed through her tears.
“She was here all the time—home. Helpin’ you like she would have if she’d. . But he could not go on. “And me takin’ those long cruises, me heart near breakin’. She don’t even know me.”
“No, Anson,” said Sura gently, “and she don’t know me, neither. I ain’t never said a word to her, because there was so much to explain. But we’ll tell her tomorrow. We got to face the music and we’ll do it together. People will gab and go on somethin’ blue; but we got each other now to ride out the storm. She’ll be awful happy, Celinda will. She’s real fond of me already, though she’s no idea I’m her mother. And Lela will like
“Lela!” Anson looked sharply at his wife. “What do you mean, about Lela?” “It’s her son, Lester, who’s a-goin’ to marry Celinda.”
Anson unfolded his big hands and turned halfway round in his chair.
“She said she was cornin’ up here. I didn’t pay no attention to her. Lela’s son!” “Yes, he met her here a summer or two ago. Ye was away, Anson. Kinda funny the way things turned out, ain’t it? I nearly died holdin’ me tongue.”
“Lela’s son marryin’ me daughter—me daughter that’s been here all the time; and me huntin’ to bring her home to ye.” He threw back his head and laughed, a grim guffaw without merriment. “It’s a judgment on me.” Then soberly: “Look here, Sura, I want ye to know one thing. I wasn’t never in love with Lela, never. It was always you—but I was so stingy mean ...” There was a long silence.
“You’re awful pretty, Sura. I got a dress for ye. It’s in my duffle somewheres. Is Lela’s boy a good, smart feller to work? Will he look after Celinda good?”
“By what Lela tells, he beats anyone in the States! And the first thing he’s got to learn is to call Celinda by her right name. She goes by the name of Mary Wayne around here.”