Badge of Honor
When the paint went Anne's control went too... But that was before she discovered a spotted dress can also be a battle-dress
ANNE Bannister woke at seven o’clock as she always did and lay wishing she need never get up. She was not sleepy—somehow, these days, she was too tense for that—but she was heavy with long-continued fatigue. She felt she would give anything in the world if only she could stay in bed and be waited on.
There was no use thinking about it. She could hear the slam of bureau and closet doors that meant Jimmy was dressing, and the sound of bath water running, an indication thut Deborah, too, was up. They would be ready and ravenous for breakfast in a few minutes and in mad haste to get to school.
Anne forced herself to get up, threw water on her face and drew a quick line of lipstick on her mouth. She ran a comb through her short fair hair not noticing, as she sometimes did, that a lot of grey had appeared in these past months. She was slender and small, with a fragile look about her, and the red-striped sweater and navy-blue slacks and gay red sandals that she slipped into made her appear almost like a young girl. They wholly belied the way she felt. She felt 100 instead of 34.
Nothing not her pretty house that had given her so much pleasure, nor her gay kitchen, modern and sparkling, nor even the children— could lift her spirits. This morning she knew an almost violent nostalgia for those other years: for the heady pleasure she and Tom had known in their pretty small house, in the growing beauty of the garden, in their delectable babies; for the days when there was leisure to enjoy them.
There was, now, no time for anything but the thousand chores that cropped up when one had no husband, no car, and no help. Siie forgot the deep satisfaction she often felt in doing a good job. Today she was fed up, she told herself; fed up with cooking and scrubbing and pitting her will against the children’s. It was a treadmill that wore her out and got nowhere, when there was so much vital war work on which she might be spending lier strength.
Jimmy, this morning, was shining and full of plans and enthusiasm. His freckles gleamed in the morning sun and so did the slicked-down red hair that would be standing on end by afternoon; but Deborah was unnaturally quiet. She did not even contest Jimmy’s statement that it was her turn to sweep the porches. Anne, as she transferred plates of steaming cereal from the stove to the breakfast table in front of the big window with its ruffled gingham curtains, was too absorbed in her own thoughts to notice that Deb’s usual clear pink color was missing and her lips looked dry.
Jimmy was 12 and Deborah nine. They were buoyant as a pair of corks, and usually she glowed with pride in them both. This morning they seemed nothing but the source of more work. The bathroom would be a shambles after Deb’s bath, and the floor of Jimmy’s room was, she knew, littered thickly with balsa wood slivers that were intended to compose a model airplane but somehow never quite did.
The postman came as she set tall glasses of milk before them. As a rule, both children leaped from their chairs and argued their way to the mail box, but this time Deb let Jimmy go alone. He cried: “There’s a letter. There’s a letter from Daddy.”
There was a letter from Tom every second day,
but the thrill of it never wore off for any of them.
“Open it quick. What does he say?”
Jimmy demanded, thrusting the envelope into his mother’s hand.
“Sit down and start on that oatmeal,” Anne said "firmly. “I’ll tell you while you eat.”
Anne glanced through the letter rapidly. This evening, in quiet, she would read it again with care, treasuring every word. It was a short one.
She said: “Guess what?”
They knew their mother and could read the sudden illumination in her face that erased the lines of tiredness.
They said together: “Daddy’s coming home!”
“He’s going to get a furlough.
He’ll be home next week. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“Hooray! Hooray!” Jimmy shouted.
“Won’t it turn the fellows green, though, when I walk him down the street with that crown onhis shoulders?”
Deb only breathed, her blue eyes shining: “Gol-lee, that’s swell!”
Anne’s own eyes were bright. “We must have everything nice for him, mustn’t we? We’ll have to get to work.
You’ve let the grass go lately, Jimmy.
Be sure you get it cut.”
He nodded. “And gee, I was going to paint the game-room floor. I’ll do that, too. Will that give him a surprise! I’ll do it this afternoon— maybe Ted Lane will help me. We’ve got a whole gallon of paint for it.”
rr*HEY rushed off to school in a whirl of plans and JL excitement. Anne smiled, watching them go, sharing their excitement, and thought: “Jimmy’s a darling—his intentions are always so terribly good.” Her smile quirked wryly. “Terribly is just the word, too.” And thinking of Jimmy she did not notice that Deb lagged a little.
They had missed their father during the seven months he had been away; but they could not know how much their mother had missed him.
As she cleared the table and started to wash the breakfast dishes she realized just how much she needed Tom and how wonderful it would be to see him. She had got along after a fashion, but she knew as she never did before that a woman alone lived only half a life. Somehow it took a man and a woman together to live a whole one.
It was only partly a physical thing. It wasn’t that social life dropped to nothing. It was, really, an aggregation of trifles that mounted up and made all the difference: Tom’s quiet level-headedness in emergency, his firm hand with the children, the absence of financial worries when he was around — for the balancing of a chequebook was a horror to Anne. It was just having him there; someone to talk to in understanding and sympathy. Not that they always agreed, but there was a community of minds not shared by anyone else.
It was a togetherness that made a complete life.
Tom, she was sure, felt the same way. The life he was leading was incomplete, too. He lived in a small furnished room in the crowded town near the camp, getting his meals as he could at the cafeteria or the officers’ club, spending his leisure hours at moving pictures. It was highly unsatisfactory for a man accustomed to family life, especially since he felt that the part he was allowed to take in the winning of the war was too small to count.
Her mind matched her busy hands, planning the things that needed to be done before Tom came home. The garden needed weeding and the edges of the borders trimmed. It was lovely but it was heavily planted and really too large for her to manage alone. And inside the house the silver and brass ought to be polished and the furniture and the bad spots on the floors waxed. She had maintained it well, but everything must gleam a special welcome for Tom.
She put away the last dish and started the washer going. The children used so many clothes, and the laundry service had almost broken down. It might be weeks before sheets and towels came back if she sent them away, so she had been doing all her own wash lately. Once the sheets were swirling in the thick suds she went to the telephone and called the employment agency.
The smooth-voiced woman at the agency almost laughed at her. “A cleaning woman? I wish we could find a few... A gardener? There’s just no such animal. I’m really sorry, Mrs. Bannister.’’
That, as she had expected, was that, but there had been no harm trying. She finished the wash and hung
it out and went upstairs to do the bedrooms. She could have wept when she saw Jimmy's room. He had been collecting stones for some mysterious purpose and had left them scattered all over the floor with the balsa wood shavings and the thousands of little sticks that were to make an airplane. She wanted to sweep up the entire lot and throw it in the trash but she knew from long and hard experience just what that would entail.
The airplane would become a vital part of Jimmy’s existence.
“Gosh, Mom, what do you expect a guy to do? That’s a fine note, that is. I cut the grass three times to earn the dollar I paid for that and then you go throw it out. I had those wings darned near ready to put together."
That would go on for weeks, too; and while she felt that she really should discipline Jimmy better, should compel him to clean his things up or have them thrown out, she was simply too weary in both body and nerves to cope with
his unending arguments. He’d be different if Tom were here. Tom had a quiet way of talking to the children that meant business. They never imposed on him as they did on her.
She gathered up the sticks and stones, hung up the pyjamas Jimmy had stepped out of in the middle of the floor, and gathered soiled socks and underwear from three different parts of the room. She took all the covers off the bed and made it up again. Jimmy’s bed always looked as if a family of wildcats had disported themselves in it.
By then it was 11.30 and time to start lunch. She hastily tidied her room and Deb’s and made the beds. Thank goodness she did not have to go to market. She had spent the morning at that., yesterday. It was Continued on page 27
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rarely possible to send the children nowadays, on account of rationing and shortages. She had to go herself, either taking the bus and carrying a limited amount of groceries in her arms, or pushing her Victory wagon the mile to the stores and bringing back half a week’s supplies. She had never realized before how much she had depended on the car, which Tom now needed at camp.
She mixed up a batch of pancakes and had just started to cook them when the telephone rang.
IT WAS the telegraph company. Her heart stopped for a moment. Had anything happened to Tom? Had his furlough been cancelled?
It was not from Tom. It was from her mother. “Arriving this afternoon 3.40 train for four days. Love.”
Anne’s heart sank another notch. The thought of any addition to the physical labor ahead of her before Tom came home seemed just too much. Anne loved her mother devotedly, but today no devotion could make up for the fact that mother meant one more person to market and cook for, another bed to make, extra dishes to wash and extra towels and sheets to launder. Her mother had a serene air of competence that was heartening; but she disliked housework. Anne felt she could not ask her for help—she was an honored guest and must be treated like one.
There wasn’t a thing she could do about it, so she tried to feel glad. There would be so much to talk about—so many things had happened in the year since they had last been together. Only Anne would not have time to talk. She said to herself sternly: For heaven’s sakes, stop thinking of all the things that still have to be done. It wears you out more than the work itself. Do what’s in front of you and forget the rest.
It was good advice except that she could not follow it. Her mind buzzed busily while the pile of pancakes grew on the hot plate. It would take a little work each day to get the garden looking really nice. Tom had loved his garden so and had spent so much time keeping it well-groomed that she could not bear to have him come home to find it all overgrown. Anne loved it, too. She usually made a little tour around it each morning after the breakfast dishes were done. It calmed her and gave her strength to face her busy day.
It brought her peace to watch a sparrow splashing busily in the ivytwined bird bath; to see the new green of sprouting plants or the new promise of a flower. She was glad Tom would be home while there was bloom. The tulips would be entirely gone, but the peonies would be banked red and white with the deep purple of iris in front of them and the fading white of great clumps of candytuft. The pink dogwood would be in bloom and the hedge of Spiraea would be a snowy waterfall before be left. She would be able to point with pride to her little vegetable patch in the back corner, with its slender lines of carrots and chard and beans.
Yes, she loved it as much as Tom did; but weeds grew so fast.
Jimmy came roaring in for his lunch and the huge pile of pancakes began to vanish like magic. He said, with his mouth full: “Ted says he’ll help me with the game-room floor. Boy, are we going to get it looking swell for Dad. Boy, will he be surprised!”
Deborah trailed in listlessly when Jimmy had half finished. Anne saw instantly that she was flushed and hot.
“I don't want any lunch. Mommy,” she said. “My ear hurts.”
“Then get to bed this minute. I’ll call the doctor.”
Tears welled up in Deborah’s round blue eyes. “But there’s an arithmetic test this afternoon. I’ve just got to go to school.”
“Please don’t argue,” Anne said, trying to keep fear out of her voice. “Get to bed.”
The argument stopped so suddenly that Anne knew a qualm almost of terror as Deb dragged upstairs. It was unnatural. It must mean the child was really ill; and Anne had a dread of earaches. In children they might lead to anything.
Jimmy was not even aware of his sister. He jumped up from the table. “We’re gonna start that painting this afternoon, the minute we get home from school—and boy! Are we gonna do a job on it!”
Anne did not know it for a premonition, but she had a sudden, definite wish that Jimmy would not tackle that big job right now. He was never daunted if he fell short of his rosy dreams of perfection, but his mother frequently was. She felt that if she had to make up for any deficiencies in this painting job it would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
HER concern with Deborah, however, was too great for her to pause now and battle it out with Jimmy—and it would take a battle, she knew, to stop him once his enthusiasm for the undertaking was aroused as it was now.
She ran upstairs and got the thermometer. Deb had not even undressed, but lay on top of the chintz spread, moaning a little.
“Gosh, Mommy, it hurts.”
Her temperature was 103.
The doctor said he would be around at once and was as good as his word. He was no longer a young man and he looked as tired as Anne herself did. Yet he managed to maintain a clean scrubbed look and an air of patience and kindness. He was, Anne knew, badly overworked, since the town had lost so many of its doctors to the services.
He flashed his little light into Deb’s ears, looked down her throat, counted her pulse and took her temperature. Anne watched him anxiously. He said nothing until she had followed him downstairs, her fears mounting sickeningly.
“She’s got an inflamed ear there,” he told her. “It may go down—or it may get worse. We can wait and see, if you like, for another 24 hours, or we can lance it right away. It’s up to you.”
If only Tom were here to make the decision! If she could only telephone him at the store as she used to do and just talk it over, she would know what ought to be done.
She said: “Which do you really think...?”
“Personally, I’d lance it. These infections can get a terrific head start if you let them alone and yet, as I say, it might subside.”
The decision had to be made and wishing for Tom would not make it. Anne drew a deep breath.
“Let’s lance it, then.”
He nodded. “Good. Put on a pan of water, will you please, so I can sterilize my instruments? . We’ll have to keep her quiet. We’ll give her a whiff of chloroform. Think you can administer it?”
“If she needs it, I can,” Anne said steadily.
She could never bear to see suffering
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Continued from page 27 in other people nor endure inflicting it, even in a good cause. It wrung her heart to see Deb’s small round face so flushed, her eyes so dull, and to hear her little moans ot pain. It would have been far easier to bear' the pain herself.
Holding the pad of chloroform to Deb’s face with one hand and pressing tightly her firm small palm with the other, she thought: I can’t even bear to take out a splinter—yet I can do this.
It’s strange what we can do if we have to.
The whole process hardly took five minutes. Deb lay inert, her delicately shaped mouth puffed and dry, her whole face suffused with an unhealthy red. Anne, standing above her, aching with pity and anxiety, wished once more for Tom. He never worried as she did at times like this; and although there was nothing he could do, any more than Anne herself could, his arm about her would be a rock of support.
The doctor said: “She’ll sleep for an hour or two and I think she’ll be all right. Keep washing that ear out with warm water and call me if the fever doesn’t drop.”
He hurried away to his next call and Anne was amazed to find it was only 10 minutes of two. She darkened the room and covered Deb warmly. Then she hurried downstairs and did the lunch dishes. Next she cleaned up the bathrooms and prepared the guest room for her mother.
She ran in every few minutes to look at Deb, who lay so utterly still. Suppose she had given her too much chloroform? Suppose Deb never waked out of this unconsciousness? Suppose she had been wrong in allowing this to be done at all? The weight of responsibility lay heavy on her.
The garden would get no weeding today. If the heavens fell, she would have to get off her feet for a while. She ran a big tub of water and soaked in its heat in almost a state of coma.
She emerged feeling a little refreshed.
She was liberal with rouge and lipstick and tied a blue ribbon around her short curly hair — a ribbon that matched the blue of her eyes and her fresh cotton frock. She decided, examining her face in the mirror, that she looked a dozen times better than she felt. The ribbon gave her a look of youth that was, she thought, entirely false. Today there was no youth in her; she was old, old.
IT WAS almost three o’clock now.
There would be a few minutes to work on her accounts—a task she loathed. She sat down at Tom's old flat-topped desk in the corner of the living room. There were letters to write: an insurance policy needed
altering and there was a question to raise over the oil bill. There were one or two other bills to pay and she ought really to tackle the chequebook again and try to come to something like agreement with the bank. Tom had always done all this so efficiently that she had been hardly aware of its necessity. Now, she found it one of her worst chores. Tom would have a spasm when he saw the system by which she kept the chequebook. It was full of little notes of explanation and extra figures showing how much the bank thought she had when her own arithmetic had given her quite a different result. Her system was simply to assume the bank was right, but Tom would hot approve of it.
I oday it was even worse than usual.
She could not concentrate; worry over Deb filled her mind, and she welcomed the interruption of the telephone. This time it was Claire Milland, one of her oldest friends.
“How about a bridge game thsi ! afternoon, Anne? We haven’t seen you for ages.”
“I’d love to, but I can’t,” Anne said. “Deb’s sick and Mother’s coming.” Claire said bluntly, “If it wasn’t that I it would be something else. Don’t j you ever stop working, Anne?”
The girls could never understand how | she felt about keeping things up for j Tom, or how little of what she did could be slighted. Their husbands were home. All the little extras that Tom had taken care of now ate up the time that used to be her leisure.
“You sound terribly tired,” Claire continued.
“I am tired,” Anne admitted, “but I’m all right.”
“I don’t know what Tom was thinking of to go off and leave so much on your shoulders. You need him more than the Army does.”
Anne knew what Tom had been thinking of—that a man could not | stand back and let others make all the | sacrifices—not a man who had a stake I in the future, a stake like Jimmy and j Deb. She was proud of him. It gave her pride in herself, too, to know he felt she was capable of holding the fort till he came home again.
At least that’s what she had believed in the beginning. Then there had been a period of just being happy knowing that Tom was going to be safe—that on account of his age and his experience as manager of Tiller’s Department Store he had been assigned to the Quartermaster’s branch and it was unlikely he would ever go overseas.
He had been disappointed, almost ; bitter. But she had been glad.
Now she was almost beginning to feel as Claire did—that she, Anne, needed Tom more than the Army did and that she had been wrong in not compelling him to stay.
She could have done it.
All she said to Claire, however, was: “I’m managing all right. And Tom’s getting his furlough next week. Isn’t that grand?”
They talked a little longer about Tom, about Deb. Claire passed on a little welcome gossip. As soon as she hung up Anne ran up and looked at Deb again. She was still unconscious but her breathing was easier, almost like a natural sleep. She looked such a baby for all the length that showed under the blanket. And for all her airs of growing up she was still so dependent on her parents’ judgment for her welfare. Anne prayed that this time her judgment had been good.
She had just turned from the bed when she heard Jimmy and his friend ! Ted Lane coming in from school with ! the usual clatter.
Jimmy shouted for her as he always did. “Hey, Mom, where are you?” “Upstairs.”
“Hey, listen. We’re going to start the game room now.”
She ran downstairs again. Was this the thousandth time she had gone down those stairs today? It felt like it. “Don’t make a noise. Deb’s sick.” “Gee, that’s too bad.” But he was ! too full of his project to have concern ; for anything else. “Where’s the paint, j Mom?”
“It’s on the shelf in Daddy’s workshop. Stir it for a good long time— your paint must be thoroughly mixed. Don’t forget, now.”
She heard them stop in the kitchen to raid the box of cookies and then clump on down into the cellar. She dropped onto the sofa with a long sigh, j There should be a little interval, now, ! before she had to start dinner. If Deb were all right Anne might even j have a little time to talk to her mother, j Anne sank quickly into a half-doze that i
Í was broken almost immediately by I her mother’s arrival.
MRS. MERIDAN came in on a wave of perfume, followed by the taximan with her bags. How young she managed to look, Anne thought. She wore a tailored suit with a frilly blouse and a foolish little lavender hat that was perfect with her silvery hair. Her cheeks were pink and clear and feathery-soft to the touch of Anne’s lips.
Mrs. Meridan paid off the driver and turned to Anne with maternal acuteness. “What’s the matter, dear? Aren’t you glad to see me?”
“Of course I am, darling. Sit down and I’ll get you a cup of tea. You’re looking marvellous.”
“I work at it,” her mother said dryly. Sne dropped into a chair, stripped off her gloves, and gazed frankly around the nright colorful living room. “You’re keeping the house and garden up beautifully, Anne.”
Anne smiled. “I work at it!”
Her mother nodded understandingly. “I know!”She added: “I thought
I’d never get here. Travelling’s frightful nowadays.”
“Everything’s frightful,” Anne said. “That doesn’t sound like you. What’s the trouble?”
“Nothing, really—it’s just that I’m worried about Deb, I guess. The doctor lanced her ear at noontime, and I’m praying I did the right thing to let him.”
“She’ll be all right. She always was good and tough,” Mrs. Meridan said comfortingly.
Somehow that made Anne feel better. Her mother knew nothing whatever about it, of course, but she had an authoritative optimism that was as bracing as a tonic. Anne was halfway to the kitchen to make a pot of tea when she heard Deb calling her.
The child was still languid but her fever had dropped to 100. Her ear, she told Anne, did not hurt any more. Anne syringed the ear, gave her a glass of water, and returned to her mother.
She had hardly opened her mouth to tell her Deb seemed to be all right when she caught a strange whirring sound from the cellar. It took her a minute to identify it. Why, it was Tom’s drill press. The boys had no business to touch it at any time and certainly had no need for it on a painting job. Anne rushed down the stairs.
“What in the world are you doing?” Jimmy met her at the door of Tom’s workshop. It was only a boarded-in corner of the cellar, but Tom had spent a lot of time in it. He had it arranged in workmanlike fashion, with his small tools hung on the wall, shelves full of paints and varnishes and putty, and a lathe and a vise on a big workbench with a drill press fastened to the floor beside it. Tom loved puttering about the house, fixing things.
Jimmy’s face, only slightly spotted with deck paint, was full of pride. He pointed to the drill press.
“Gee, Mom, did we have an idea! We weren’t getting anywhere stirring that big gallon of paint, so lookit! We put Dad’s big file in the drill press instead of a bit, and is it doin’ a job!” Anne, slightly mollified, went over to watch it. They had set the big can of paint under the arm. It held the big file in its teeth and revolved it rapidly in the paint.
It was, as Jimmy said, doing a job. Even as she watched she could see the streaks of paint, solidifying into solid grey. It was quite a clever idea, really.
Ted Lane was peering at it through his glasses with an expression of awed delight. “By crackers, Jim, you ought to get a patent out. That’s something!”
Anne laughed and turned away.
She had not reached the door when it happened.
The file, with lightning speed, bent to a right angle in the middle and its end caught the inner side of the can. The motor still whirred faithfully. The file picked up the big can and whirled it around like a top before it flung it off in disdain.
Even now Anne could see that there might come a time when this would be funny, for Ted got the full benefit of the first turn of the can when it was full. It smacked of low comedy to see him standing there streaming grey paint from head to foot and making queer choked noises. His glasses dripped.
The paint did not reach Anne’s face, but her fresh pretty frock was inundated. Jimmy’s brown corduroy trousers were a liquid grey.
Yes, it would make a story later on. It wasn’t funny now.
IT WAS the last, the unbearable straw. Anne did not know she had it in her to be such a virago. The sight of the viscid grey lake spreading on the concrete floor, of the splashes on walls and on Tom’s treasured tools; the feel of slow drops dripping onto her ankles and from her finger tips; and the thought of what Ted’s mother would have to say, roused her to fury.
“Jimmy Bannister, haven’t you ever in your life thought of anything to do that didn’t make the most horrible mess in the world? I don’t know why I work at all—you’d just as soon live in a pigpen.”
Her voice was high and shrill. She was, in truth, a frightening sight to the two small boys whose intentions had been so very good and they watched her with round chastened eyes. Ted automatically rubbed his glasses on the one unsullied spot on the shoulder of his white shirt. Anne pushed back a lock of hair with a wet hand and left a broad grey track across her forehead and on the tip of her nose. She pointed to the shelf.
“There are two bottles of turpentine. If you don’t clean yourselves up and every bit of this I—I don’t know what I’ll do. It will be pretty terrible, I can promise you!”
“Gee, Mom, I never expected...” “That’s just the trouble—you never do expect anything but that I’ll come along and clean up after you. Well, I’m not going to do it this time—hear me? You’re going to do it yourself and do it properly. I’m not going to lift a finger. I’m tired out. I’m through. You can live in a pigpen if that’s what you like!”
She finished on a furious wail and ran upstairs, leaving a sequence of grey tracks as she went. On the landing she stopped to strip off the frock that was slippery with paint and to kick off her ruined sandals. She opened the cellar door and threw them outside onto the path.
Her mother had been up to look at Deborah and had just returned to the kitchen when Anne burst into it. Mrs. Meridan’s eyes widened at the spectacle her daughter presented in her greyspotted slip, her face smeared, her hands thick with the paint.
“What in heaven’s name happened?” she demanded. “I could hear you shrieking all the way upstairs.”
Anne went to the closet where she kept a small bottle of turpentine to take care of the paint the children were always getting on them. She began to clean her hands with it, hardly seeing what she was doing. Tears streamed down her face. Between sobs she told her mother what had happened.
“It never fails. Never. Any time I have an extra amount to do or I’m extra tired or just haven’t much time,
it never, never fails that one of the children or both of them think up some scheme that swamps me.”
“You are tired. I saw that when I came in. But the boys are cleaning it up, aren’t they?”
The note of sympathy in her mother’s voice was all Anne needed to break down the last vestiges of her self-control. She dropped into a chair and buried her head on her arms on the glass-topped table.
“I want to give up. I’m going to,” she wept. “I’m going to get a job in a war plant and find some woman too old for that to tend the children. I’m working myself ragged for nothing at all. If I were doing any good I wouldn’t care. I’m not helping any to shorten the war, and nobody cares but me whether the place is kept up and the children attended to. And now I don’t care either. I mean it. I’m going out and get a job.”
It was, in its way, a delightful orgy. All the self-pity that had simmered in Anne all day boiled over.
She sat up suddenly and thrust out her palms to her mother. “Look at my hands. I haven’t got a fingernail left and my hands are thick with callouses. And nobody cares.” She picked up the turpentine again.
Her mother listened quietly, studying her as she had when Anne was a little girl in pigtails and not a grown woman with big children of her own. Finally she said:
“Stop talking nonsense, Anne. I’m ashamed of you. I care and Turn cares and the children do, too. We don’t always realize, that’s all. And it’s stupid to talk about working outside your home. Your first duty is to your children and Tom, and you know it. What kind of a country will we have after the war if the children are allowed to run wild and the men come home to nothing? Suppose you had not been home today to take care of Deb?” Anne rubbed her spattered cheek with violence. That air was sharp with the odor of turpentine. She said, more calmly: “But I feel so useless.”
“That’s stupid, too. You’ve a job to do and you’ve been doing it well. Don’t think I don’t know exactly how you feel. Remember, Anne, back in 1914? I know what it means—the backbreaking work, doing all the things a man does and your own chores, too, and bearing the responsibility besides.”
Anne nodded quickly as she removed the last trace of grey from her knuckles. “Then you know how it is, because Dad didn’t get across either. At first it seemed we were really doing something to help. But Tom’s keeping store like he always did... It seems so—so needless.”
Mrs. Meridan surveyed her daughter with a mixture of compassion and vexation and then turned to the stove and picked up the tea kettle. “I’m going to make that tea, and you’re going to bed until tomorrow afternoon and not give one thought to me or the house or the children. When you’re rested perhaps you can see straight.” “Perhaps I can,” Anne said. The prospect was heaven.
Jimmy yelled up from the cellar: “Hey, Mom, we’re going to be cleaned up good in a couple of minutes. Can Ted wear a pair of my pants home?” “Yes, of course.”
Mrs. Meridan nodded her silvery head briskly. “See? Deb’s feeling fine now and the boys have cleaned up the mess. You’ve been upset about nothing.”
“It’s not just those things that upset me, Mother; it’s a thousand things, day after day after day.”
“Yes, I know that,” her mother conceded. “The trouble is you think it
is needless. What I’m trying to make you understand is that it’s not. Tom did what he thought was right and he’s ! doing his part. Somebody has to keep store, too. He offered his life to his country and there his responsibility ends.
“He’ll get no medals, because there’s no glamour in storekeeping—no great, amazing sacrifice. Only the sacrifice that’s sometimes more difficult—that I of his own will, day after day. And as for you, you let your husband go when you could have forced him to stay. You’re keeping a home for him to come back to and raising a pair of splendid children.”
Mrs. MeridantookAnne’s work-worn hand in her own and ran her fingers gently along the rough calluses on its palm. “Don’t resent these, my dear. They are the proof that your sacrifice was a real one. Like Tom, you’ll get no medals—but these are your badge of 1 honor. Don’t ever forget that.”
Anne said wonderingly: “You make it seem different, Mother.”
Her mother nodded briskly. “I want to. . . Now run along and get into your best nightie. I’ll bring your tea up to you.”
Anne stared with new eyes at the marks of toil on her hands to which her mother, with her wisdom and sympathy, had given reason and purpose. She would be tired again, she knew, but she would never let go her courage after this.
She was smiling as she went up the ! stairs.