Presenting a new answer to that old problem -Have you a little martyr in your home?
WHENEVER I think of the two Pennys I see them as they looked that night, the night Cora announced her engagement to Bruce Emory. They stood together on the screened porch, greeting the guests; that is, Cora greeted them and Diana stood dark and indifferent beside her.
Cora had grey eyes and gold hair and a softly curved mouth. Her face glowed with the delicate translucence of a spring flower petal, and her slim body in the highwaisted net frock suggested all the softness and sweetness of spring. She wore satin slippers; the net swirled around them when she moved.
Diana was dark and thin, with crisp dark hair that was always falling down over her eyes. Her eyes were a velvet brown set rather wide apart, and her mouth was straight above the determined Penny chin. Cora had the Penny chin t(x>, but you never noticed it because her expression was so gentle. Diana wore a seal-brown organdie which made her look darker and more shadowy beside Cora’s spring coloring.
Cora said, “How wonderful to see you again! Isn’t this the most heavenly night?” She rippled into laughter. "I told Bruce it made me feel like going out and trying to pick stars.”
Diana said briefly, “Hello.”
And I said, “Imagine you getting engaged to an absolute stranger. Gixxiness. Cora, we all thought you and Jim— Diana, weren't you terribly surprised?”
“No,” said Diana.
Cora said. “Well, it was quite sudden. Bruce just happened to be in Stevens Point that one week—and I happened to be there taking care of poor darling Aunt Sabina—and there it was!” She said, “It really doesn't seem real, does it?”
"Where’s Bill?” asked Diana.
“He had to go to the city.” I told her. “He said he’d try to get here in time to eat.”
We all laughed. Bill was born hungry and never outgrew it. I said. "I didn’t want to sit on the porch and wait for him. I had to come and meet Bruce.”
“He just drove down after the ice cream,” Cora explained. “You know in Stevens Point they deliver ice cream at night. I don’t see why they can’t deliver it in Stillriver. He’ll be back in a minute, so I’d better see if everything is all right in the kitchen. Mother needs help, she’s confused with all this.” Cora went in. Diana and I stood on the porch looking down the shadowy street. Inside the house the guests were dancing, and the wistful notes of “My Little Dream Girl” came through the open door. The music was provided by Harry’s Jazz Boys—piano, violin, mandolin, drums. Saxophones had not yet invaded our town.
Itwas warm, with tine dreamy warmth of June, the unstable warmth when any minute it may turn cold again with a wind from the north. The trees along Elm Street were lustrous with new leaves, the wide expanse of the Penny lawn laced with moonlight and darkness; the bridal wreath billow-ed along the walk and a stir of air shook sweetness from the last of the lilacs. The moon stood high.
I said, “Di, is it true Bruce’s father owns all those big paper mills? Is he really the Emory?”
Diana pushed back her hair and gave me an odd little smile. “You wouldn’t expect Cora to marry a nobody.” “Well, no. No, not Cora. With all the men she’s had falling for her,” I added warmly, “it’s a wonder she isn’t stuck up. But she’s always just as sweet and unselfish— always doing something wonderful like going up to nurse Aunt Sabina.”
“And meeting Bruce,” said Diana. She added, “Here he is.”
TDRUCE came up the walk just as the music changed. U They were playing “It’s Tulip Time in Holland.” It isn’t, I thought. It's bridal-wreath time in Stillriver.
Bruce said, “Hello.” He swung the ice-cream freezer through the door. His head was bare; the porch light shone on rough tawny hair, dark blue eyes, a square rugged face, and a mouth that was too sensitive almost for the angle of the jaw.
Diana said casually, “This is Margie, Bruce,” and he took my hand and said, “What a town! Isn’t there one homely girl anywhere in it?” There was rock salt on his hand. He said, “I know you. you’re Bill’s girl. He thumbed a ride from the station, said he'd be along as soon as he got a clean shirt on. He asked me to tell you.”
I said. “I hope you like Stillriver.”
“I feel as if I were in Paris,” he laughed. He had a wonderful laugh, rich and full and not too noisy. “You see I’ve been in the lumber camps for a year, getting experience. Cora was the first girl I laid eyes on in about eight months. I’m still a little dazed.”
Diana said, “The freezer’s leaking.’
“So it is.” He looked at the salty water oozing on the painted porch floor. “I'll take care of it.” And he swung the heavy freezer up as if it were a robin’s feather. “Where’s Cora?”
“In the kitchen,” said Diana, “being helpful.”
“He looks like the last of the Vikings,” I said.
Diana said nothing.
I said, “Imagine him coming right out of the woods and meeting Cora! Oh, Di, it’s so romantic. It really didn’t seem as if anybody would be good enough for Cora, did it? But he looks as if he might be marvellous enough even for Cora.”
“Yes,” said Diana. “Even for Cora.” She leaned against a pillar, staring out over the lawn. A big pale moth blurred against the screen. Diana fixed her dark eyes on it until it struggled away. Down the street a dog barked; there were plenty of rabbits in the gardens. People were sitting on their porches, and you could tell exactly what their social status was by the porch furniture and whether they had taken on screens or just put up with the mosquitoes.
The Pennys had screens, and one of those elegant porch swings without any back. If you sat too far over, You might be flung against the house wall suddenly on your head. Wicker furniture could be either green or orange. Theirs was orange. A grass rug covered the middle of the painted floor; it grew strange orange flowers.
The Pennys were comfortably fixed, as the saying was. Before Mr. Penny died, they had been edging into the upper brackets, but Mr. Penny died of flu when we were all children, and his impressive salary from the pulp mills had stopped naturally. Mrs. Penny kept up, as she said, managing with one girl in the kitchen and giving up the winter trips South. Cora gave up her singing lessons. “There’s no reason I should be an extravagance,” she explained lightly. So she came out, instead. Diana had to come out too, though it was quite clear to everybody that she hated the idea. “It would look as if I were selfish,” explained Cora, and that settled it.
Now, I thought, as I went in and danced with Bruce, everything was wonderful. The Emory fortune and Cora’s disposition—and Bruce turning out to be anything but the usual rich man’s son; looking indeed like a boy who meant to walk on his own.
Cora, it seemed, was still helping in the kitchen. Bill hadn’t come, and Diana was still on the porch. So Bruce and I danced two fox trots, then went to the library where the lemon punch was.
Bruce said, “I never knew a girl could dance that well.”
“Don’t let Cora hear you,” I laughed.
Bruce said a funny thing. He said, “I keep forgetting I’m engaged.” And he put down his little glass sherbet cup.
“Of course it is rather sudden,” I told him.
“Well, Cora felt— ” He broke off. He flushed. He put out his brown square hand and said, “Let’s sit down. I need a cigarette.” We sat on the sofa by the rubber plant. To this day I never hear “Araby” without seeing the rubber plant and Bruce’s lean strong figure and the glass punch cups.
“Diana is rather different,” he said abruptly.
I can still see the thoughtful puzzled look in his dark blue eyes and hear the curious note in his voice.
“Yes,” I said. “Diana is rather different.”
“She—she seems to have taken a dislike to me,” he said.
“Oh, I’m sure she hasn’t.” I said warmly. “Diana’s just reserved. She’s rather quiet and —remote. She’s like her father. You mustn't think— ”
“Cora warned me that Diana would feel terribly about her getting married,” he said. “When sisters are so close, I suppose, naturally— Diana has always adored Cora— Cora’ssortoflookedafterher, I gather.” He looked anxious.
“Well,” I said doubtfully, “Diana has never been dependent on anybody.” I drank my punch. “Diana is different.”
T WAS remembering the kitten episode. We were in -*• grade school then. The kitten had fallen in an old well, and was screaming blue murder from a perch on the halfsunken well bucket. We had a ladder put down and were peering fearfully down that dark moist hole. Cora was saying nobly, “I’ll go down. I don’t mind so much if I— get drowned.” Her grey eyes welled with tears. “It’s somebody’s dear little kitten,” she said.
“It’s an alley cat,” said Diana rudely. Then she flung her slim legs over the coping and disappeared in the well. When she came up, safe, she had the sodden kitten in one hand. We clustered around. “Oh, Diana, how brave!
Weren’t you scared as you went down? How did you feel?” Diana waved aside our admiration. “I felt scared.” she said brusquely, and walked away with the kitten.
Cora was always gracious. She would have described her sensations vividly, and accepted our praise with a gentle smile. But everybody knew Cora was the sweetest, most unselfish child in town. She was the one who carried broth and jelly to sick people, and she was sweet to old ladies. She was thoughtful and she had a soft appealing way of saying, “I don’t mind staying home. Let Diana go instead.” She would say, “If there are only two tickets, you go with father. Don’t give me a thought. I’ll just stay home and read. I don’t mind at all.”
Instead of being grateful. Diana usually said fiercely, “You needn’t sacrifice anything for me. I won’t have it.” And once she said, “Can't you ever leave me alone?”
But Cora was never resentful; she kept right on being wonderful to Diana. Of course I couldn't tell Bruce any of this. I didn't want him to think of Diana as disagreeable, it wasn't that. It was just that Cora was like a shining light. All I could find to say to Bruce was. “Diana is—reserved.” Cora came into the library then and said, "I think I’ve managed the refreshments. Hilda was utterly confused and so was mother. Where’s Diana gone?”
“She never came in,” I said.
Cora lifted grey eyes to Bruce. “Darling, do go and ask her to dance. Poor Diana—I can’t bear for her to feel unhappy or neglected. Tell her I sent you.”
Bruce went out. Cora smoothed her hair and powdered her straight little nose. “You know I would do anything,” she said, “to keep Diana from being left out.”
I said, “Cora, everybody knows how good you are. I wouldn’t start worrying. You can’t just make Diana rush around being gay. Diana’s all right, she’s just quiet.” I said, “As far as you being engaged is concerned, you know Diana wouldn’t be jealous. It’s not in her to be jealous
about anything.” I added, “You oughtn’t to put that idea in anybody's head. It—isn’t fair.”
“Oh, dear, Margie”—Cora laced her slender fingers together—“I wouldn’t say for the world—-I’m just worried, that’s all. When a family is as close as ours is-—and such a sudden change ...” She broke off and reached for my punch cup. “Now I hear the bell—that’s Bill. Let's go and meet him.” She linked her arm in mine and we went out.
Bruce was dancing with Diana. The Jazz Boys had slid into “Poor Butterfly,” the music was soft and wistful. Diana wasn’t talking. Bruce was staring down at her. The room was warm and he looked flushed. Diana was pale. Bill said, “Well, Cora, you did pull a fast one!”
Cora’s mouth drooped. “Now, Bill—what would anybody think?”
“Think he’s a lucky guy all right.” said Bill, taking my arm. “Hope you’ve told him what he’ll have to live up to. Kind of hard on a plain guy—if you get me.”
“Don’t tease Cora,” I said. “Being engaged is enough of a strain on a girl without being kidded all the time.”
Bruce got a job in the Fox mills, and it wasn’t pull. He had planned on another year in the North, learning some
more of the business of logging, cutting over land, running the sticks down. He said the paper business was like a canoe and the logging end was the water it rode on. But Cora, of course, couldn't leave her mother. Mother couldn’t get along. And Diana would simply drop everything without Cora to help her along. So Bruce changed his plans.
Sometimes I’ve wondered what would have happened if Cora hadn't been sick. The wedding date was set for the tenth of September, and of course the town was stuffed with parties. Getting married involved lavish entertainment; everybody had to give a luncheon or tea or dinner, and bridal showers were thick as rain in the tropics. Cora was everywhere at once; we all darted crazily around like waterbugs. Bill grew sullen because we were never alone, and I pointed out that Bruce and Cora never were either. Cora had to give a party for the poor children right in the midst of it; everybody said it was just like her. It was on the Penny lawn on a Saturday night—Japanese lanterns swaying, ice cream melting, and the Post photographers sweating around with flashlights to get pictures of Cora distributing toys to the underprivileged. At the end of the evening it began to rain, a cold wind blew up. The lanterns hissed and died, paper streamers sagged on the lawn. Cora insisted that everyone get in the house while she took the last children home.
She came down with a cold the next day. When I went over to see her, she was lying in bed with a comforter drawn under her chin.
“What a shame,” I said.
She smiled. “It doesn’t matter. As long as the poor little children had a happy time,” she said softly.
“Oh, Cora, you ought to think of yourself.”
She said. “All I’m bothered about is that this is the day I was going to see Mrs. Crandall and show her my trousseau. She has so little pleasure ...”
It was just a summer cold, but it grew worse. Cora was in bed for two weeks, running a temperature. We called it flu, but the doctor, who was old-fashioned, said it was simply grippe. The parties were called oil, and the old crowd either sat around on the shady lawns drinking frosty lemonade, or swam at the lake, or danced lazily at the beach pavilion. Bruce would stop and ask about Cora, and then pick up Diana and come along with the rest of us.
It was the hottest summer we ever had. The air was like a bush fire, lawns withered, fish died in the river. The heat changed us. It was intense and breathless and dramatic. Bill and I quarrelled and made up violently, and quarrelled again and made up more violently. After the exhausting heat of day, nights had a special quality; we were lightheaded as if we had fever. The moon looked larger, stars hung lower, you could smell all the flowers and all the leaves and the hot dry grass. The tar pavements hissed under the wheels that labored along on them.
I thought the heat was good for Diana. She looked fresh on the hottest days, her skin was pale gold from the August sun. and her hair blew' in a dark cloud. She was never tired, and I could see the stiffness and reserve melt out of her. She and Bruce took to getting up at five o’clock to play tennis, that being the only time the court wouldn’t burn the soles off your shoes.
r"PHE first day that Cora’s temperature dropped, I went in to see her. She was sitting up in the big mahogany four-poster, looking fragile and lovely as a white rose. She had a ribbon around her smooth gold hair and a lacy cloud of pink over her shoulders. The room was in a kind of green twilight with all the shutters closed.
I said, “Cora, everybody has been just sick about this.”
Her eyes widened. She smiled. She said, *‘I was so afraid mother would catch it. And all this time I’ve been just lying here —not doing anything for anybody.”
“Well, you'll be up soon,” I said. “The worst is over. You’ve missed a lot of grief anyway. Everybody’s been so keyed up with the heat . . . I’ve broken off with Bill twice, and you know Bill’s usually as good-tempered as sweet butter.”
Cora said, “Margie, I want to ask you —has—has Bruce been attentive to Diana?”
“Indeed he has,” I assured her warmly. “You needn’t worry over their not liking each other. Don’t give it another thought. They’ve been practically inseparable.”
“Oh, I see,” she said. “I asked Bruce to do his best. You know poor Diana”—she lifted one slender hand—“you know, Margie, I’ve always tried—but Diana just won’t make an effort to be attractive to men. She—she won’t try to make a good impression. I’ve worried so over it.”
“Well,” I said, “Diana hasn’t been so quiet lately. She’s acted kind of . . . ” I gave it up, there wasn’t a word.
Cora said suddenly, “I am going to get up tomorrow. I don’t care what the doctor says.”
“But you don’t want to risk a relapse,” I said.
“No.” Cora bit her lips. “No. I don’t want to risk a relapse.”
I got up to go. Cora looked tired and flushed.
“I haven’t any more germs,” she said.
“I want Bruce to come and see me. He’s just stood in the door a couple of times. I look all right now, don’t I?”
“You look beautiful,” I said. “Like a rose under glass.”
Cora smiled and relaxed against the pillow. She said, “I want a new dress for the harvest dance. I’ll have it made. White net spangled with silver.”
I left her and went down to the kitchen to speak to Mrs. Penny. She was helping the maid put up bread-and-butter pickles. The kitchen was steamy hot. Diana was there too, paring cucumbers swiftly and neatly, but with a faraway look in her eyes. Mrs. Penny was stirring the boiling vinegar and spices. Her round childlike face was damp with heat, and she had the abstracted look of pickling.
Diana said, “Hello. You looking for me?”
“I'm so glad Cora is better.” I sat down in a chair near the window. “I hojxi she’ll be able to go to the harvest dance.”
Diana dropped her knife. “The harvest dance!” she said, as if she had never heard of it.
“I doubt whether she’ll be strong enough.” Mrs. Penny measured in the tu meric carefully. “She'll have to be careful. Cora’s been such a wonderful patient—so thoughtful—•”
“Let’s go swimming,” Diana spoke abruptly. “It’s so darned hot.” She looked suddenly weary as she pulled off her apron.
“Wait for me,” said Bruce, sticking his head in. “I'll run up and speak to Cora.” He gave Mrs. Penny his engaging smile. “Make me a sandwich, Di, will you? I missed my lunch. I was afraid you’d go off to the lake without me.”
So the three of us drove out to the lake in Bruce’s roadster, Diana sitting in the middle. She had on a pale yellow linen with a brown leather belt. The wind blew her hair back in two dark wings. Bruce said casually, “You look like a wood nymph in yellow.”
Diana looked at him and the color flared in her cheeks. “Wood nymphs don't pare cucumbers,” she said.
The lake was very blue and shining, and the sand was like hot white gold. The opposite shores had already the early haze of autumn. The first birch leaves fell, like golden feathers. We swam and sat around on the sand, and talked idly. Diana raced Bruce to the float and won, which Cora would have thought tactless. Diana was the best swimmer in town, a cool smooth grace about her and a flashing speed. Bruce pulled her off the float and they rolled around in the water. I could hear their laughter as I sat toasting myself on the sand. They were out there a long time, two dark figures silhouetted against the hot blue sky. I had to call them in finally. I was meeting Bill at six. They swam in lazily, and when Diana climbed out and flung back her wet hair I thought with a sudden shock: Why, Diana’s beautiful! I never noticed it before!
THE next night Cora was up. Mrs.
Penny gave a buffet supper, and Cora s;it in the big mission armchair in the dining room. Cora wore sheer white organdie with hows of French velvet at the shoulders, and the candlelight made a nimbus of her hair. Mrs. Penny was beaming as she presided over the buffet. There was jellied veal, amber clear and cool, sliced cold pink ham, potato salad in a frosty bowl. There was iced coffee in silver pitchers, with extra bowls of cracked ice. You had to watch the ice because now and then there were sticks and dead leaves frozen in it. It was all cut on the river and delivered in great cakes, and to me it had a good outdoor taste.
Bruce wras late, he said he had extra work to do before the night shift got started. He phoned not to w'ait lor him, and I took the call. His voice sounded hot and tired. He said, “Margie? Tell Di— tell Cora Pm held up.”
Diana had on an old chartreuse chiffon. It made her skin look like ivory. Her hair was just brushed back hastily, and it kept swinging forward over her forehead and she nervously pushed it back. With Cora’s golden loveliness in the room, Piaña looked pale and tired. It was fearfully hot, heavy stifling air hung like a blanket in the house. Clouds were rolling up over the hot dry sky, now and then lightning knifed the horizon.
Then Bruce stood in the doorway and Cora cried happily, “Come in, you poor darling!” She held out both hands. “What do you think? Mother’s been trying to persuade me to postpone the wedding until Christmas! Diana too!” She laughed lightly. “I told them I could have the wedding tomorrow! I think we’ll change the date to next week so wre can go away from this frightful heat.”
I saw Diana turn swiftly and vanish in the kitchen, and I ran after her. She had gone dead white, and I was afraid the heat had been too much. When I got to the I itchen she had gone, hut the screen door \ as still swinging. I ran after her. In the close blackness of the lawn I almost stumbled over her.
She lay flat on her face and when I bent down, I could see her hands wrenching at the dead grass.
"Diana, what is it?” I was frightened to death.
Then her sobs came, great tearing sobs that shook her whole body. I knelt beside her, l don’t know how long it was. Sultry yellow lightning came and went, and thunder rolled and the leaves began to stir. “Diana,” I said again helplessly.
Then she seemed to realize I was there, and she got up on her knees and crept into my arms and I held her tight. She was quieter now, and she weakly pushed her hair back and drew a long exhausted breath.
“I—I’m all right now. I can’t—I mustn’t . . . Margie, you won’t—say anything?”
“You know I won’t.”
“He was—kind to me.” she said pitifully. “Cora told me today she had asked him to be for her sake.’
I said, “Nonsense', Diana.”
“I'll kill myself if she finds out.” she said dully. "She would tel! everybody —
how sorry she was— and do things for me
— and I—I couldn’t bear it!”
She got up then, and fumbled with her hair. “Nothing ever mattered before,” she said. “Always having everybody see how g(xxi Cora is—always giving up—and making me out a selfish heartless pig.”
I said, “Nobody ever thought such a thing of you.”
Her voice was scornful. “Oh, I know. ‘Look at Diana going to the concert, how sweet of Cora to stay home. Think of Cora missing the party to sit with old Mrs. Grey. Jim’s taking Cora to the club—but Cora found a man for Diana first!’ ” Her voice broke. “But I —I didn’t think Bruce was
— w-as just—was only—I thought he— liked me a little—just for myself.” Her voice was low'.
I said, “Oh. Diana, I’m so sorry.”
“And now,” said Diana, “she wants to get married next week—because she feels like taking a trip!”
The rain was falling, and I said, “We must go in. If you're soaked, everybody will wonder — ”
“I just couldn’t bear it,” she said simply, and began to walk toward the house. By the time we got back with the crowd I couldn't believe it had happened. Diana’s face was like a mask, cold and indifferent, and she never even looked at Bruce. But when I saw the grass stain on the knees of lier dress, I knew’ I had looked on passion and suffering beyond any imagination, and I w’as confused and afraid.
CORA w’as set on a last picnic and there w’as no way out of it. After the storm the weather had cooled off, summer seemed to be over. The trees wrere beginning to turn, the haze was deep and blue, and the air had the dreamy stillness of September. The fire wfas built, flared red against a red sunset. Cora was opening hampers when she found the forks were missing. Bruce and I were instructed to dash back to town and get them; a meal without forks was impossible for Cora.
As we went to the car I saw' Diana, standing alone and just staring over the water. I ran over to her and put my arm through hers. “Come on, darling,” I said, “we’re off to do an errand.”
Bruce looked both nervous and sulky. He said sharply, “You haven’t got a sweater, Diana.”
“I’m not cold.”
But Bruce took his cardi. an and wrapped it around her, and he said, “Don’t you ever give yourself a thought?”
Bruce was one of those drivers born with a steering wheel for a teething ring, but he was nervous and he wras speeding. The road fell away like water from a faucet. Still it w'asn’t much of an accident. We only left the curve and rabbited over a ditch and w'ent through a billboard. When I sat up, I was on a pile of hay. the car was ujx'nded like a beetle, and Diana was shouting at me, “Get up, get up. Bruce is pinned in !”
I shouted, “My back’s sprained. I can’t.”
Diana was wrenching at the door. “Bruce, you’ve got to get out!”
“Get away, you fool,” called Bruce. “It’s going to catch fire.”
Diana had a rock. “Shut your eyes,” she said. And she smashed out the rest of the window, and crawled inside. I could hear Bruce yelling at her all the time to get out, and Diana’s fierce, “Shut up. Pull now!” They’d both die. I closed my eyes and made a frightful effort, and got up and swayed toward the car with some odd notion that I ought to die with them.
Then suddenly they were out and Bruce said savagely. “You risked your neck. Diana. Didn’t you know it?” He seized her arm and added in a strange tone, “Diana, what made you do it?”
Diana lifted a pale streaked face and said fiercely, “Because I love you, that’s why ! And now you know !”
THERE was an instant of shocked silence, and then Bruce swept her into his arms. He kissed her. He kissed her pale cheeks and trembling mouth and her throat. Diana began to cry and he kissed the tears falling down her face. I sank down in the hay and cried too, for them both. But the car and I might have blown sky high for all they noticed.
“Heaven help me,” said Bruce. “I thought you hated me—and then I hoped—I thought—and then when Cora got up, you couldn’t even be civil to me!” “Why should it matter what I felt?” “Because I love you,” he said. “I loved you the minute I saw you, standing there so wild and proud and indifferent in that hideous brown organdie dress!”
Diana said, “But Bruce—you and Cora—•”
Bruce said harshly, “All right, I was a fool. 1 know it. Look here, you better understand this. I hadn’t seen any girl for months. I was—dazzled. And Cora . .
Diana said wearily, “I know. You don’t need to tell me how Cora made it seem. You woke up and found it was all settled. That’s the way it always is.” She looked up at him. “But it’s too late, Bruce.”
He said sharply, “You don't suggest I go on and marry Cora?”
“It’s too late,” she said again. “Think of the disgrace.”
“I’m thinking I love you,” he said harshly.
Diana said passionately, “I love you too! I’ll always love you. But I can’t disgrace the family—I can’t ruin Cora’s life.”
“You mean you’ll sacrifice both of us for your sister?”
Diana beat her hands together. “You’ll be happy, Bruce. This is just—just for now.” She said, “You know what it would mean in Stillriver if you deserted Cora just before the wedding! Even if youyou made a mistake, you’ve got to go through with it.”
Bruce said, “We’ll ask Cora.”
“Oh, no—she mustn’t ever know,” Diana cried. “She’ll make you marry her anyway. Cora couldn’t stand such a blow to her—her pride. Oh, Bruce, you don’t know—she’ll marry you, and then all her life she’ll do things for you—and give up things for you—and you’ll have to be grateful and you’ll feel like a murderer! I know-all my life it’s been—Bruce we can’t fight this!”
I had to do something. I got up and went over and said, “You’ll have to settle this later. We can’t stay here any longer.” I pulled Diana away. “Listen,” I said firmly, “remember they are still waiting supper.”
They stared at me as if I were from another world, as I guess I was. I said desperately. “We have got to get out of this hay field. And telephone.”
Diana drew her hand over her eyes. “Yes,” she said, “yes. of course. And Margie—-promise you’ll never speak a word—not a word—”
I said, “There comes a milk truck ! See if you can flag it, Bruce. We can ride to town and send out a wrecker.”
Bruce plunged toward the road, and Diana and I walked after him together.
T COULDN’T sleep that night, even after I’d been put to bed with hot cocoa and aspirin. I heard the ice wagon at daybreak. But it wasn’t the shock of the accident, it was the shock of Bruce and Diana. My mind just squirrelled around and around. Nobody in Stillriver had ever walked out on a wedding. I didn’t see how Bruce could do it. It was absolutely impossible, I told myself, watching the light creep through the lace curtain. And Cora and Diana—the Penny sisters.
Oh, but it was true this thing was bigger than any of us. Nothing had ever mattered to Diana. How could she see Bruce marry Cora, when he didn’t love her? Cora had been in love, or thought she was in love, with several men; she had been practically engaged to Jim.
But if the wedding were called off, how could she bear the pity, the staring, the whispering, the terrible truth that her sister had taken the bridegroom? Sud-
denly I sat up in bed. An idea had hit me like a thunderbolt. Cora didn't mind being pitied! All her little sacrifices— people always knew about them. Darling Cora—her good deeds were like candles in a naughty world, but they weren't hidden under a basket. She got sympathy, admiration, worship. I wondered suddenly if some of the early martyrs hadn’t been a little happy at being martyrs? Maybe it kind of pleased them to know they were too good for this earth.
Well, the wedding wouldn't be called offDiana wouldn’t let Bruce tell—I bounced up again. It was odd Cora hadn’t had any suspicion. Or had she? I remembered her sudden decision to get up, to rush the wedding, lier careful explanation to Diana about Bruce being so kind—the odd way she looked at me when I told her they had been practically inseparable—fool that I was.
I readied for my stockings. I was going to find out.
Whatever happened. Cora was going to know exactly what she was doing. Maybe I was wrong, maybe I would make things infinitely worse, but I had to speak.
I managed to swallow some black coffee. It was almost nine, a cool glowing morning. The sun was warm as golden wine, but the wind had autumn in it. Everything had that breathless perfection of the last moment before frost. It seemed terrible that so much unhappiness existed in such a day.
Mrs. Penny was checking over the wedding presents, and she looked up as I came in. “Go right on upstairs; Cora’s trying on her wedding dress.” She laid a silver salad bowl on the table. “Diana went off to get the car fixed,” she said, “and Bruce has been phoning he wants to see her about something. You don’t suppose the reporters got hold of the accident?”
I said I didn’t think so. I said, “Tell Di when she comes that I’m talking to Cora.”
Then I went on upstairs. Cora was in the big front bedroom just fastening the snaps on her wedding dress. The veil lay across the bed, Cora’s face was serene in the mirror, she was humming.
She said, “I think it might be taken in a little at the waist, don't you?”
And I said, "Cora, I have something to tell you.”
She turned, then, and looked at me. 11er eyes widened. “Margie, I won’t listen to anything serious.”
I felt as if an icy hand had closed over my mouth. But I went in and pulled the door to.
“This is serious,” I said, "but you’ve got to hear it.”
Cora went white. “Margie, you’ve got some silly notion in your head.” She went on quickly, “It’s bad enough to have this ridiculous smashup without you coming in with a face like death.”
I said, “I’ve been wondering all night whether you didn’t know.”
Her eyes wavered, she moved quickly to the window and the sunshine fell on her smooth gold hair and across the misty white of the wedding dress.
“But if you didn’t know, you must,” 1 said.
“Know what?” she asked.
“That Bruce and Diana are in love.” I said. “If you can goon, knowing that —if you can let them both sacrifice their whole lives for your sake— ”
' I 'HE door was flung open and Diana -L stood there in her old yellow linen. She cried, “Margie—mother said you were here.” Her lips were white, a pulse fluttered in her throat. “What are you doing?”
“Come in,” said Cora. “She’s telling me you and Bruce are in love. Will you please tell her it’s a lie?”
“No,” said Diana slowly, “it’s the truth.”
Cora said, “You’re both out of your senses!”
I shook my head. “It’s true,” I told her.
Cora took a step forward and a blackness came over her face. "You’re both lying,” she said in a dry hard voice, “though what you think you’ll gain—oh, I know Diana’s been mad over Bruce, ever since the beginning. ” Then she turned and went swiftly to Diana and the darkness was in her voice too. “I suppose he’s grateful to you for pulling him out of the car.”
Diana said, “Oh, shut up, Cora. I’ve told you the truth and you know it.” Her voice was heavy with weariness. “It didn’t seem fair for you not to know. I’ve told Bruce I wouldn’t marry him. Nothing’s going to ruin your wedding, and that’s the main thing, isn’t it? You’re not in love with Bruce, you don’t know what love means.” She said, “But I’ve given him up, it’s all over now.”
She turned and stumbled out of the room, and I could hear her go down the hall like someone walking in the dark. I started to leave too. but Cora said, “Don’t leave me ! Don’t leave me !”
So I stood there helplessly while Cora began pacing up and down the room, wringing her hands and moaning now and then. She wasn’t crying, but her mouth worked. She began talking, more to herself than to me, in broken phrases. “He found out—I could have—but it’s not possible —I’ve always done everything in the world for her—how could she?”
I was afraid she’d have hysterics, so I spoke sharply to her. “Cora, she can’t help loving Bruce. But you can’t say a word against Diana.”
“Trying to steal Bruce?”
“She did no such thing,” I said firmly. “As a matter of fact, she’s done just about the biggest thing any girl could do. She’s given up all hope of happiness, given up the man she loves. I know this is a terrible shock to you, Cora, and a perfectly awful mess, but at least Diana has done what very few girls would do.”
Cora stood motionless, her eyes fixed on mine, her lips moving. She said suddenly, "Is that what people will say?”
“It’s what they would say if they ever found out,” I said.
Cora nodded, and her face grew still some way, as if it were frozen. Her hair had fallen down, and she flung it back absently and then she said, “I see how it is.” For ten minutes or so longer she was sunk in a deep abstraction, then she came and said to me in a gentle sad voice, “Help me off with this dress, dear.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked fearfully.
She clasped her hands and looked up. “I’m going to release Bruce from his promise.” she said. “I shall simply tell him nothing matters except that he and Diana are happy.”
BRUCE and Diana were married in October. Cora simply insisted on it. She insisted on a regular wedding at the house and she was there herself. Everybody was so busy admiring her wonderful spirit that Diana got very little attention.
Cora kissed her when it was time for them to leave. She said in a voice that quivered just a little, “I want you to be happy, Diana. Will you—remember that always?”
Bruce said, “She’ll be happy. Come along. Di."
Jim Fraser was waiting. He moved away from his father and mother and took Cora’s arm. “Let me get you some coffee.” "Oh, thank you.” She gave him a misty smile. “I am a little—you know it’s warm inhere—and then you know . . They went away together.
Bill murmured in my ear. “Cora will simply love the Fraser sympathy.” And he grinned.
Mrs. Penny began to cry on my shoulder. I took her to the pantry and bathed her eyes in ice water. “I can’t help thinking—” she sobbed. “My poor brave Cora. Such a tragedy ! Nobody but Cora could be so wonderful about it all!” “Yes,” I said dryly, “yes, Cora is wonderful.”