Don't Tell the Children
The story of two people who learned that life is not a matter of money
RUTH BURR SANBORN
I WON’T GO,” said Larry. He sat down hard in a straight chair, and his arms hung straight at his sides.
Elizabeth lifted her shoulders in a gesture ever so slightly fainter than a shrug. She had expressive shoulders, scornful and enticing; a
little thinner than they were, but very white and shapely under the faded negligée with the bands of real lace.
“You’ve got to,” she said. “I promised Polly Rowe.”
Larry stared back at her in the stubborn way he sometimes had now. His mouth was set in a sulky line like a child’s, so that he looked too ridiculously young for his years, but his eyes were old and unfriendly under bent brows.
“Yes, and how did Polly Rowe happen to ask us? Tell me that. How?”
Elizabeth tried to be reasonable.
“It was all just informal and on the spur of the moment,’’ she explained. “She was asking everybody, and I was right there, and so she said, ‘Won’t you and Mr. Hanover come, too? We’d specially like to have it a nice party. And John and I have been wanting for a long time to ask you.’ ”
“Yes,” said Larry bitterly. “They’ve heard we’re on the skids and so they think they can make us. They never would have when John Rowe and I were both at Bagley’s. But now they ask us with ‘everybody.’ Why didn’t you make up an excuse? I should think you’d have some pride.” His voice was high-pitched and jagged.
Elizabeth cut him off short.
“After all,” she said, “John Rowe kept his job at Bagley’s.” She had not meant to say that. But the jab at her pride hurt her.
She had held her head as high as Larry’s, and walked as straightly in her thin-soled shoes, and been as top-lofty with the butcher when they could not pay the bill. She thought mutinously that Larry’s own wild pride that had marched so gloriously with success but ill became him now.
“And why?” he flashed back at her. “Because John Rowe was a cheap man. And I wasn’t.”
“It doesn’t always pay,” murmured Elizabeth, “to be too expensive for anyone to afford you.” The thought had burned for a long time in her mind, but she had never said it before. She rushed on, half hoping that Larry had not heard. “I don’t suppose it occurs to you that I might like one dinner that I didn’t have to cook. After all, a free meal is a free meal. That ought to appeal to you.”
Larry laughed; too loudly.
“Free! We’d have to entertain them back.”
“I suppose we could, for once.”
“And have burned eggplant, the way you did for the Appersons.
And pay that heavy-handed wench two dollars to spill coffee down their necks.”
Larry needn’t have thrown that up at her.
“Is it my fault.” said Elizabeth, “that we had to let the servants go?”
“Is it my fault,” said Larry, “that you couldn’t boil water?”
Elizabeth looked down at the oven burn on her slim wrist, unable
to shape words out of seething resentment.
“Free!” Larry was repeating. “We’d have to get Matilda to stay with the children and pay her fifty cents.
It’s I don’t know how far to Rowe’s place, and no gas in the car—”
“I got some this afternoon.”
The very reasonableness of it pushed him beyond reason.
“Here I wear my nose off, holding it to the grindstone;
here I wear my pants shiny, sitting on Dobbett’s high stool—and you go cutting round in the car, spending all the money.”
“Whose money?” Elizabeth had not meant to say that either. But now it was said.
"You’d think,” said Larry, “that measly thousand or so of yours paid for everything.”
“It paid the children’s camp bill last summer,” said Elizabeth. “It paid their tuition at Miss Carey’s and St. Jude’s. It paid ...”
She saw the angry color go out of Larry’s face and leave it white. She saw the queer tight way the skin w'as drawn across his jaw.
"If you’re not satisfied with the way I support you,” he said, “you know what you can do.”
"Perhaps that would be best,” said Elizabeth. Her voice sounded to her own ears as cold and sharp as the nail file that dropped from her cold fingers. “There must be other wives to suit you better.”
Dowmstairs the outside door slammed. As if the sound had snatched them back from some far place of shame and discord, they stared across the ample room in fear and silence, aware of their own words and of each other. Larabee Hanover, his expensive tweed suit gone threadbare at the seams so that the brown strands stood out solid and dark above the tan; his face gone bitter about the mouth so that the lines of his discontent stood out above his pride . . . Elizabeth Hanover, his beloved wife, the thin, unearthly fairness of her face twisted to the earthiness of sorrow, and her slim little thumbs stained with carrots; her shoulder, maddening white and scornful, slipping from a faded négligée ...
In two years this was what the depression had brought them to. They had loved each other. And they were quarrelling, raggedly, hurtfully—over fifty cents.
“Hush,” said Elizabeth softly. "There come the children. We mustn’t let them hear.”
1ARRY had been very decided about not telling the J children when he lost his job at Bagley’s.,
“They’re too little to understand,” he said. “We’ve brought them up to expect certain things, and now they’ve got to have them. It isn’t their fault this happened.” Elizabeth agreed with him. It wasn’t the children’s fault. It wasn’t Larry’s fault either. She said that often in those first bewildering weeks.
Elizabeth never forgot how Larry looked when he came home that day and told her. A captain might have looked like that when his ship sank under him suddenly, without reason or warning, in the midst of a calm sea with no time to lower the lifeboats. Surprised rather than frightened. Incredulous more than shocked. Resentful of a blind force that had seen fit to do this thing. Only his lips gone white and hard with dawning realization.
Elizabeth went running when she saw him -she had on the yellow knitted dress that shrank so disastrously later when she washer! it herself.
“Larry!” she cried. “Are you sick? Has there been an accident? Larry, what's the matter?”
He put his hands down hard on her shoulders before he kissed her. , Í.
"I’ve been let out, Elizabeth,” he said. /
At the time she had hardly understood him. The phrase was not so familiar then as it became afterward.
Larabee Hanover was apparently a man made for success. The things that other men worked for came to him without effort the right clubs at college, tfifc right friends, a wicked backhand at tennis, a hole in one or* the Mayfair course, an uncalculated charm that was less*of looks than manner; ready laughter across good white teeth, a talent for companionship, a natural expectation that things would come out right. Elizabeth said once that Larry was the chieftain type. She said it laughing, but she meant it too. She was proud of her big. blonde, handsome husband, with his sunburned thatch, and his clean brown skin, and his outrageous sea-blue eyes that flashed with laughter as the sea flashes with sun. There was a sure ease about his movements, a swing and rhythm as if he led armies to victory, an unconscious arrogance. It was one of the hardest things that Elizabeth had to bear afterward—the way Larry looked at his boots when he walked, as if he could not trust even the earth to stay in place.
People had said enviously of the Manövers’ marriage that it was one of those perfect things. They were a striking couple; both so tall and fair. Elizabeth was long-boned and graceful, with the thin fine lines of good breeding and good grooming, and an intrepid head carried high on a lovely throat. Her long, green eyes were as tempting as her lips.
She and Larry were pleased with life and with each other. They liked their generous home on the right side of Golden Hill, and the smart people who came there, and their holidays, and their twro fair children. Betsy had her mother’s honey-colored hair and lorry’s blue eyes. Larry, Jr., already had a hint of his father’s arrogance; it was terribly amusing in such a little chap.
Elizabeth had seen Larry first at the shore, that summer she was nineteen. He came leaping up out of the sea, splashing the waves about him in a shower of gold and
foam and shaking his head to clear his eyes. The sun shone on his wet fair hair, and on his wet brown skin, and he was laughing . . . And Elizabeth, who knew what her owm beauty did to men and had never cared a whit, felt confusedly that a miracle had been wrought—as if Larry had been created before her eyes out of bright elements, especially for her. It was an extravagant fancy. But nothing was too extravagant, too whirlwindy and deliciously absurd, to be bound up with Larry.
After that it seemed only a breath’s space to another moment on the edge of winter. They were dancing together, and suddenly they could not wait. They fled from the dancing floor, through a long window, to a terrace outside. There was a thin layer of snow over everything like icing on a cake, and a supercilious little moon sat cooling its heels in the sky. The paleness of the moon and of the snow gave a faint air of unreality to the world. Only Larry was real, and Elizabeth in the reality of Larry’s kisses. When he touched her she felt her life pounding all through her body in a happy madness.
“You and I together,” Larry said, “why, we can do anything.”
“Anything,” said Elizabeth.
It was dreadful, dreadful and ridiculous, that that moment should have flashed across her mind the day Larry came home to tell her. Her body was ringing to his touch before her mind took in his words: “They’ve let me out, Elizabeth.”
They had been married the next June, and Larry walked from college into business without missing a step. The father of a college friend. Then a friend of his. Then Bagley’s. Bagley’s paid Larry a thumping salary, and he spent it easily, with a certain verve in spending. They called Elizabeth’s odd hundreds “stocking money” —and she had lots of lovely stockings for her lovely, slender feet.
When the crash came, the Hanovers remarked over the dinner table how lucky it was that Larry had been satisfied to let well enough alone without splurging in the market. Faint reverberations of trouble reached their ears, but it affected them no more than distant thunder on a summer’s night when one says idly, “They’re getting a shower somewhere. I hope it won’t come here.”
And then it came. Larry was efficiency man at Bagley’s. Perhaps his job had been rather a gesture, an earnest of Bagley’s own prosperity; perhaps he had never quite saved for the company what they paid for his decorative presence. In Bagley’s swift spasm of retrenchment, Larry was one of the first to go. Bagley’s was sorry. But what could they do about it? Larry was a luxury.
AFTER those first blind hours of bewilderment,
he and Elizabeth talked the matter over, deciding on the line that they should take. It was incredible to both of them then that Larry should rtot firid something—something better— within a few days. In the meantime they were all right. Of course, they hadn’t saved anything.
But Elizabeth had a little money of her own.
Their credit was. good. They owned the house.
And they hadn’t any debts. (They were surprised afterward when the outstanding bills came in.)
They agreed that the children must not feel any difference. 'Thére’was to be no mention of finances; no hint that everything was not just as it had been. You couldn’t economize on your children, Larry said. ¿Of course, they would economize themselves—let the upstairs maid go, perhaps,4Hi one1*of the cars. (They had not known thenwmat the word “economy” meant.)
They agreed also that it might hurt Larry’s credit if the facts were generally known. So they let it be understood, without exactly saying so, that he had left Bagley’s of his o\yn accord and had something better in view.
But Larry did not find anything better. The places that, then, he might have had. he would not even consider. The places he would have liked would not consider him. No one wanted the high-priced efficiency man that Bagley’s—the rumor began to circulate—had no longer felt the need of. At first Larry went off every morning at the usual hour.-looking handsome and assured in a freshly pressed suit! More and more often he returned early—as soon as the children w'ere in school—and wandered about the house; listening for a telephone call that did not come, smoking a thousand cigarettes and leaving the stubs behind him.
Larry’s homecomings had always been things to look forward to. When he flung open the door, it had been like a big fresh wind blowing through the house. It was hard for Elizabeth that she should grow' to dread his coming—heavy step on the porch, look of bafflement. She loved and pitied
Larry profoundly; and her love and her pity and her shrunken yellow dress were so many raw blows across his quivering pride. They hurt each other because they tried too hard not to. They fell into petty bickerings.
“For heaven’s sake, Larry. If Dobbett and Company offered you a job. why didn’t you take it? That would be better than nothing.”
“Do you want the boy to go down to St. Jude’s and say his father is timekeeper for Dobbett?”
“Great guns, Elizabeth! Do you have to spend all our income at the hairdresser’s?”
“The Appersons are bringing Betsy home. I have to be decent, don’t I?”
It always came back, like that, to the children. The children and the children's needs swallowed up their lives. Larry and Elizabeth wore their old clothes. They let the
cook go, and Elizabeth watered the lumpy gravy with her tears. They mortgaged the house and ate up the mortgage and mortgaged it again. They taught the credit men to come during school hours, and held up their heads and promised something for next week. But when the other boys at St. Jude’s formed a riding class, Larry, Jr., sat his horse with the best. He looked ever so manly and important in his little riding clothes. When Betsy was seven, they had a caterer for her party.
They kept one of the cars because Betsy could not go to Miss Carey’s by street car. They kept the house because Larry. Jr., could not bring his friends, like Marcus Randle, home to an apartment. Larry borrowed money on his life insurance to pay the interest on other loans. But when the Appersons had their children’s party at Christmas Betsy and Larry, Jr., went, bearing seemly gifts.
Later the Manövers entertained the Appersons at dinner and served burned eggplant. That was the first time since their marriage when they had not kissed each other good night. Afterward they fell out of the way of kissing.
Betsy and Larry, Jr., accepted things as they came, after the habit of the young. To youth at eight and seven, perhaps, it did not seem remarkable that old people of almost thirty should no longer go to the country club, should not care for dancing or bridge with high stakes or entertaining. Larry and Elizabeth let their friends go. That was the worst, but one must be meticulous about accepting hospitality that he cannot repay. They lied when they had to. and cheated their creditors when they must, and Larry broke down and took the place at Dobbett and Company and hated himself for doing it, and said in public that he was in the payroll department, and harried
Elizabeth in private. But they still put up a front in the places where it would do the children the most good. They never talked openly of money. They never openly quarrelled. If the children noticed that they were a little less loving -why, then, what of it? Marcus Randle’s father and mother did not even live together.
The bedroom door burst open to let the children in.
“Hello, there,” said Larry.
“Hello,” said Elizabeth.
T> ETSY pulled off her white oeret and threw it across the room. Elizabeth picked it up and brushed it. When the beret came off, Betsy’s short bright curls bubbled over her head. She was a lovely child, all honey and cream, with a fair, sulky little face like a fretful flower. She looked adorable, Elizabeth thought, in the short white wool dress and the long white socks with their amusing cross-stitched bands, the little short black coat barely covering her childish flanks—like a picture in a Parisian fashion book. But Elizabeth noticed that Betsy paused in front of the long mirror in the closet door and did a little dance step to her own reflection. That was from the aesthetic dancing class at Miss Carey’s, and it was very fetching. It occurred to Elizabeth to wonder if Betsy were not sometimes a trifle old for seven.
“Mother,” said Betsy, “I’ve got to have a fur coat.”
Elizabeth drew the negligee about her shoulders as if she were suddenly cold.
“Why, Betsy,” she said, “you don’t need a fur coat.”
“Yes, I do so,” said Betsy.
“Why, no, dear. Riding back and forth in a dosed car—”
“I do,” said Betsy.
"Pull up your socks if you’re cold,” Larry said. He spoke with a conscious jocularity that was a trifle heavy.
Betsy thrust out a fragile lower lip.
“Barbara Appersons got a fur coat,” she said. “It’s grey squirrel and it’s got a big collar—broad-shouldered effect.” Elizabeth recognized Mrs. Apperson’s own accents. “And it’s got fur buttons.”
“What’s the matter with your coat?” said Larry. His voice was suddenly loud, almost bullying.
Betsy stirred the black coat, flung over a chair, with a scornful toe.
“That old rag,” she said. “Why I’ve worn that practic’ly the whole season.” The unconscious mimicry might have been funny, only somehow it wasn't. “Jean Pollock's going to have a fur coat, too. Hers is prob’ly going to be beaver.”
“But. dear, that’s no reason—”
“Yes, it is so,” said Betsy. She lx*gan, devastating!y, to cry. “I should think,” she sobbed with startling acumen, “that you’d want your little girl to have just as nice things as Barbara.”
Over the top of Betsy’s head, Elizabeth’s eyes went to Larry, and Larry’s kx)k fled away from her. She felt helpless and alone. It was wrong, she knew. But she knew also that, somehow. Ik*tsy would have a fur coat.
“I’ll think about it.” she said weakly. She was thinking already. Did one sell her engagement ring, she wondered, if it were a very large square-cut emerald, a hundred years old?
“Promise.” demanded Betsy.
Larry, Jr., had been occupied self-consciously with some affair of a shoestring. Now, with the air of one saving a bomb until the torjxxioes were fired, he stfxxl up. He had his father’s trick of spreading his feet apart. 1 le had already some of his father’s lovable, headlong grace.
“Marcus Randle’s father is going to send him abroad next summer,” he said, “while he and Marcus's mother are getting their divorce, and Marcus am ask anyone he wants to go with him. And Marcus says
“You can’t go.” said Larry harshly.
“Oh. no,” cried Elizabeth, in such a strange little twisted voice that she hardly recognized it.
“You might just let me tell you,” said I-arry. Jr., reasonably enough. But there was something in his manner, a pert elevation of the soft young chin, that was subtly challenging, subtly -derogatory. “There’s going to be a tutor. And Mr. Randle said to tell you that he would pay the tutor, so there would be just the travelling —”
“He said that, did he?” cried Larry. The red came up in a hard streak across his face, as if it were the mark of a blow. It was just that; a blow to the bitter pride that would not admit to anyone that he needed to count the price. "You just tell Mr. Marcus Randle. Senior, that if I permit my son to go at all, I shall insist on paying my share of the expense.”
“I knew you wouldn’t be a cheap sport,” said Larry. Jr.,
a shade too knowingly.
“But the camp . . .” Elizabeth began. This morning even the camp had seemed impossible.
“I’m sick of that old camp. Nothing to do. And Marcus wouldn’t be there.”
“I’m not sure.” said Elizabeth, “that I like having you go round so much with Marcus. He’s almost three years older than you are.”
“His father’s awful rich.”
“What's that got to do with it?” Larry was shouting
Continued, on page 48
Continued from page 9
again. She must speak to Larry about not shouting at the children.
“I guess it’s got about everything,” said Larry, Jr., with a terrifying wisdom.
The phrases hung in the still room, important suddenly out of proportion to its context because it summed up not only the European tour but the whole situation. It had come to this, then: all their twisting and turning and heartbreak and loss, that the children should recognize money as the most important thing in the world—and scorn their parents if they could not give it. This time Larry’s look met hers; and in Larry’s face Elizabeth saw a picture of her own fear.
“We’ll talk about it later,” he said. “Your mother and I are busy now. We’re going out to dinner.”
HE ROWES lived in an incredibly small bright house at the other end of town. Elizabeth thought, as she and Larry went up the walk, that it looked exactly like pictures she had seen—undistinguished but cheerful, with lights bursting out the windows as if there were not room enough inside to hold them.
Polly Rowe herself opened the door. She was a little, merry, round-faced person, with a windy mop of dark hair and friendly eyes and a cherry-red dress. She looked too young to be the mother of the chunky child hovering in the background.
“Oh, good,” said Polly Rowe cordially. “You did come, didn’t you? I’m glad.” She gave them a warm little brown hand and drew them inside. If there was the least hint of condescension in Larry’s bow, Polly Rowe seemed unaware of it. “John was’ late,” she said. “He’s dressing, but he’ll be right down. Mary—this is my grown-up daughter Mary, aged nine—will you take Mr. and Mrs. Hanover upstairs and show them where to put their things? You’ll excuse me, won’t you?” She vanished in a lively red streak down the hall.
Mary led them up the white-railed stairs. “Will you come this way, please?” she said, a stupendous gravity thinly overlaying a giggle. Mary Rowe was like a goodhumored caricature of her mother; little and browner and merrier and ever so much rounder, a childlike pudginess overemphasizing Polly Rowe’s round curves. She made Elizabeth think of a little, round fruit pudding, well-baked and full of nourishment and sweetness.
Mary pointed out a door on the left to Larry, and led Elizabeth into the room opposite.
“May I take your coat?” she said formally. And then, as the coat slipped off in her fingers, the grown-up air of responsibility slipped away, too. “Oo! That’s a pretty dress.”
Elizabeth was absurdly pleased. It had been a long time since any one had admired her clothes. It was a good dress; two years old. of course, but it had come from Trefry’s, and Trefry is always so far ahead of the season that it takes the world in general a while to catch up. It was black, and Elizabeth, with her ivory coloring, wore black supremely well. It was still tight in the right places, and the dip of the ruffles down the back gave it a tantalizing air of being about to drop off. She had marked its simple blackness by the square-cut emerald and the green slippers, and her stockings were a survival of the days when she had odd hundreds for stockings.
“Thank you. Mary,” she said. A faint, faint color sprang in her cheeks. “That’s a pretty dress, too.”
“Mother made it,” said Mary. “See. it’s got smocking.”
Over these feminine intimacies the first strangeness wore away, and they were quite chatty when they went out to join I^irry.
“Do you want to wash?” enquired Mary. “Because if you do, I guess you’ll have to wait. Father’s in the bathroom now. I can hear him splashing.’’
“I washed before I came,” Larry reassured her gravely. Larry could be irresistible with children when he chose.
“I always do that myself,” Mary agreed. “It saves trouble. Father usually gets out of the bathroom, so mother can tidy it up before the people come; but this time he was late because he had to stay at Bagley’s to draw a red line.”
“A red line?”
“You draw a red line,” Mary explained, “when you’re through. Father is through at Bagley’s. That’s why we’re having the party—to celebrate.”
“To—to celebrate?” said Elizabeth involuntarily.
“Mother said it would be a sorrowful occasion if we didn’t,” Mary went on. “We always celebrate sorrowful occasions. We had parties both times father got his pay cut, and it was lots of fun.”
“Oh,” said Elizabeth. She stole a look at Larry and saw that his ears were crimson.
“Come on,’’ Mary instructed them. “We’d better be getting downstairs, because you never know what father might not have on when he comes out of the bathroom.’"
Elizabeth trailed down slowly, aware of being probably overdressed. Larry had insisted on a dinner coat.
“It will be the only one there,” she warned him.
“That’s why I’m wearing it,” said Larry stubbornly.
She could understand the feeling, even if she did not approve. So she had worn the black dress to match. She was sorry now.
Polly Rowe flashed back to meet them at the stair foot, and a stubby little boy, who seemed to be called Dobbin and had a slow grin of amazing width, attached himself to Larry. They all trooped into the living room together.
The Rowes’ living room was like the outside of the house, small and cheerful, with warm colors in the rugs and comfortable sat-in chairs, and a small bright fire grinning between small bright andirons. It seemed at first as if there were a lot of people, but that was because the room was crowded. There were perhaps a dozen. These were the Jewetts. These were the Youngs. These . . . Elizabeth was acknowledging introductions.
At once, somehow, she no longer felt overdressed. Her gown was undoubtedly the most expensive in the room, but she was not oppressed by its costliness because nobody else was. There was a variety of costume—a chiffon and a sport jersey, a printed silk and a suit. Some of the men wore dinner coats; some, not. For the first time in Elizabeth’s experience, it did not seem to matter.
JOHN ROWE came almost as soon as the introductions were over; they heard him running down the stairs before he appeared in the doorway. Elizabeth was shocked when she saw him. He was so much thinner than she remembered John Rowe, so much greyer at the temples, with such tired eyes. But the next instant, he was surprised that she had felt like that. For no one who could laugh that way. with such an open look, needed sympathy.
John Rowe was popular; there was no doubt of that. There was a big shout of greeting. *
“Hello, feller. Get your two pays?”
“I hear you’re one of the great army of the unemployed.”
“Would you care to speak a word or two in favor of the dole?”
“Save me a place in the bread line tomorrow if you get there ahead of me.” Elizabeth heard herself murmuring in confusion, not knowing what she said. She did not dare look at Larry. She did not dare to look anywhere. They were joking John Rowe about losing his job.
And then suddenly Elizabeth realized that her confusion, her attempt at tact was every bit wasted. John Rowe was not angry.
He was not even embarrassed. He did not act as if it were anything to be ashamed of. He was joking them back again.
“That will do for you, Jeff Jewett. Have you got your overcoat out of hock yet?”
She found herself going out to dinner.
Elizabeth had a hard time during that dinner not to eat too impolitely, too disgustingly much. It was all so good and so hot, and it appeared so effortlessly out of the kitchen. And yet when you came right down to it, the soup was unremarkable; the meat, however fragrantly steaming, was only a pot roast, and the vegetables that surrounded it, however crafty the shapes in which they were cut, were carrots and beets and turnips; the dessert was a glorified tapioca topped with jelly and meringue. There was the most marvellously good coffee, and rather small crackers without much cheese.
“Yes, Mr. Young, Larry is with Dobbett and Company now ...”
“No, Mr. Jewett, we did not go to the dance ...”
The talk swept on about her, leaving Elizabeth clutching at half thoughts. How could Polly Rowe have such a good time; alert and watchful, but somehow giving the impression of glorying in watchfulness? Where had Polly Rowe found that neathanded maid who walked so softly and knew when the water glasses were empty? What made the potato fluffy like that? Was there, perhaps, an egg in it?
Afterward there was a table of bridge in the sun porch, orange wicker and bright chintz above a grey-painted floor—but the others settled in the living room, the dummy at bridge wandering in and out, and just talked. Elizabeth was amazed at the talk. She was scandalized that Mary and Dobbin should be allowed to hear it.
Polly Rowe took a pillow and curled up by the hearth.
“Now don’t everybody be polite and get up,” John Rowe said, “just because there aren’t chairs enough to go round. Pixie really likes that. She thinks it’s becoming.”
It was becoming, too. And the nickname suited her. With her feet tucked under her like a little girl and her cheeks flushed from the fire, her tossed dark hair and her bright dress, there was something pixyish, ineffably gay, about Polly Rowe.
“Your dress came out awfully well,” Neida Young said.
Polly Rowe spread the red skirt proudly over her knees.
“It did, didn’t it?” she sâid. “It was that old apricot-colored one,” she explained generally, “that faded the color of lemons just beginning to spoil. I took the flipper off the side and sewed it in the middle to get more length, and then I washed it and dyed it, and it’s new. It’s even got a Trefry label that I stole off a wrap in the Club rummage sale. It has, honest. Want to see?” She craned her little brown neck about to get at the alleged label in the back. There was a roar of laughter.
Elizabeth was puzzled and a little upset by this frank acceptance of makeshift. She remembered how she had washed the yellow dress in secret; how she had tossed off a light lie or two afterward about the unreliability of her cleaner. Things like that had been a part of what Larry called putting up a front. They had put up a good front, she and Larry, pretending valiantly that there was something behind it, and being hurt and angry when any one guessed there wasn’t. But these people did not put up any front at all. They let the public into the back premises. They made a jest of misfortunes that she 'and Larry hardly mentioned to each other.
Some one was telling an uproariously funny story about how the installment man had come to take away the radio right in the middle of a concert. “But, my good man,” I said to him, “you must not let mercenary motives triumph over art. Come on in and
listen, and I’ll whack you up some tea . . . In the end he let us keep the radio till morning so we could get the last of the Philharmonic series ...”
“That reminds me,” Jeff Jewett said. “Some night before the tenth, Lou and I want you all to drop round. We’re going to have sherbet and drinks with pink and green ice cubes and everything. Because the next morning bright and early we’re going to lose our refrigerator, and after that we’ll have to serve our refreshments hot.”
Elizabeth thought he was joking. But he wasn’t.
“He hasn’t had a lick of work for six months,” Neida Young whispered. “They’re good sports, aren’t they? Bob was lucky. He was only out nine weeks. Of course this job he’s got is only temporary.”
TT WAS like that with all of them, ElizaA beth found. Paul Langtree was an architect “specializing in chicken houses.” "I’d be coining money, too,” he said, “if anyone kept chickens.” Lucian Truwellen was an advertising man. “I’ve got a permanent position with myself,” he told them, “advertising my own talents.”
It did not seem half so bad, somehow, when you could talk about it.
“Got any plans?” they asked John Rowe.
“Sure,” he said. “Shoe leather.”
“You’re with Dobbett and Company, aren’t you?” somebody said to Larry.
“Er—yes,” said Larry apologetically. Larry was always apologetic about Dobbett and Company. But Elizabeth, looking across the room at his discomfited face realized suddenly a strange thing. Larry was apologizing, not for having so poor a job, but for having any job at all. “I’m timekeeper,” he said abruptly. Not a word about the payroll department.
“You’re lucky,” Jeff said. There was admiration, more than envy, in his voice.
“Yeah,” said Larry gruffly. He went over to the fireplace and threw in a match with too much elaboration. He had to turn round finally. Elizabeth glanced at him quickly as he turned, and quickly away again. For the look in Larry’s face was something that no one had a right to see. There was shame in it, and fear in it, and a stark bewilderment with both.
Dobbin edged over to him with a comical air of we-men-must-stick-together. And presently Elizabeth found herself with Larry wedged on the davenport, Mary and Dobbin between them.
“. . .So now we go to public school,” Mary was saying. “I’m doing p’portion. But I knew all about p’portion anyhow”— loftily —“on account of our allowances.”
“Your allowances?” Elizabeth repeated absently; and became instantly, sharply attentive.
“You see every time father got his pay cut,” Mary was explaining, “we got our allowances cut in p’portion. It made ten cents off’n mine the first time. Mother got her housekeeping allowance cut, too. And Andalusia would have got her pay cut, only father let her choose, and she chose to do all the laundry instead.”
“Who is Andalusia?” asked Elizabeth. She felt like the inconsiderable person in vaudeville whose duty it is to ask the questions which point another’s speech.
“Don’t you know Andalusia?” Mary cried, incredulous. “Why she waited on table. Andalusia Skagg is her whole name. She is our greatest luxury. But she is our responsibility, too, and father says we must keep her as long as there is a roof over our heads, because Andalusia’s got a roof herself, and quite a lot of children under it, and she has to keep it over their heads. Do you see?”
“Oh,” said Elizabeth. “Yes. I see.” .She was seeing in imagination the tear-swollen face of the upstairs maid when she had been given notice.
“I p’sume,” said Mary philosophically, j “that now father hasn’t any pay, we won’t have any allowances.”'
“Pooh!” said Dobbin. “I don’t care. We’ll have a meeting.”
“What—what kind of meeting?” Larryasked suddenly. He looked away from all of them as he spoke, but Elizabeth saw a muscle spring and tighten in his jaw.
“A meeting to consider ways and means,” explained Mary, delighted to oblige. “You see we have to think what we can do without, and still not do without anything. Like maybe I’d buy an all-day sucker instead of two chocolates for a cent. Dobbin and I were afraid we’d have to give up parties, but father said no, and mother said if we couldn’t have chicken why then we’d have spaghetti. I love parties, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Elizabeth faintly. She looked down at the slim hands in her lap; she had never noticed before that trick of clasping them, thumbs in, to hide the carrot stains. She turned the thumbs out defiantly.
“Anyway we don’t have to worry,” said Mary. “About the roof, I mean. Because father will break rocks or anything. He hasn’t any pride. He said so. It makes it lucky, doesn’t it?”
Elizabeth tried to answer and couldn’t. Because she caught sight of Larry’s hands, too, clenched so tight over the edge of the davenport that the knuckles stood out white. He made a big uncouth noise like one about to choke.
“I guess your father could be proud if he wanted to,” he said then.
“Oh, sure,” said Dobbin. “My father could do anything.”
Suddenly it was as if every drop of blood in Elizabeth’s body were beating in her throat; and she was looking at Larry. It seemed curiously as if they had not really seen each other for two years, only their outer seeming. The bewilderment was gone from Larry’s face. The stubbornness was gone, too.
They were standing up, then. They were going.
“You must come over some time,” Elizabeth said uncertainly to Polly Rowe.
“Make it Saturday,” said Larry. “All of you.” He was very white. But his chin was lifted to a new reality, and his sea-blue eyes were laughing. There was about him again that indomitable charm that swept everything before it. “The butcher has shut down on our bill,” he said, “but we’ll open up a can of beans or something.”
1ARRY stopixxl the car at the top of J Golden Hill. There was just enough snow so that you could hear it squeak under the wheels, and a thin white mx)ii was riding in the sky. It made patterns of the trees against the dark.
Larry did not speak. Only suddenly he leaned over and took Elizabeth in his arms. He üx)k her in his arms hard, and his lips were hard and tender, both, against hers, and her body came alive again in the touch of Larry’s hands. D:ng ago, on a terrace, Elizabeth had thought there would never be another kiss like that. She was right. There never would. For that was a young kiss, given in ignorance. But these kisses had knowledge behind them, and belief, and promise for the future.
“I’ve been a fool,” Larry said.
“We’ve been two fools,” said Elizabeth. “But we don’t have to be forever.”
It was a long time afterward —or maybe it was a minute. They w-ould have to pay Matilda a dollar if they were not in by j twelve. But it didn’t matter. Perhaps Matilda needed a dollar.
“Do you want to tell the children, or shall I?” Larry asked.
Elizabeth stirred a little against his shoulder.
“Let’s tell them together,” she said.