FICTION

THEY ALSO SERVE

A tender and moving story of a woman who felt she wasn't wanted...but found happiness in being needed

EVE BURKHARDT February 1 1945
FICTION

THEY ALSO SERVE

A tender and moving story of a woman who felt she wasn't wanted...but found happiness in being needed

EVE BURKHARDT February 1 1945

THEY ALSO SERVE

FICTION

EVE BURKHARDT

MRS. DARCY, for the first time, felt all of her 70 years rest heavily on her. Here she was still at the Hotel Highland, coming down to breakfast, lunch and dinner, the dining room all changed by the new faces in it, brisk young faces and brisk young manners.

Here she was, her best friends gone. Mrs. Taggart to her son’s home to help with the children because nurses were so hard to get; Mrs. Canfield to a niece’s who didn’t want to be alone for the duration. Mrs. Spero had just left today to take care of her first great-granddaughter, who was eight days old.

In the last year there had been a considerable thinning of the Highland’s permanent guests, then these past weeks an exodus.

Suddenly the black Persian lamb coats were gone and the delicately blued white hair, the quiet bridge games in the lounge. All the rich old women who paid the high prices of the hotel willingly from their own pocketbooks and all the old women not rich at all whose sons or daughters met the bills. Some one of their people had said, “We need you,” and they had hurried away, gladly, happily.

But Mrs. Darcy had no one to say she was needed, except Ellen, who was her son Jim’s wife. Jim would never say it unless Ellen asked him to and Ellen never would. From the first Ellen had plainly indicated the sharply defined line separating old Mrs. Darcy from the young Darcys and the place each was to keep on his own side of the line. Ellen had made all the arrangements in her pleasantly efficient way, which later gained her chairmanships on committees and in clubs.

What old Mrs. Darcy wanted was so different from what she had. An old lady’s dream, she supposed. A little place of her own near Jim’s where his two children, Peter and Mary, could run in and out, where she could bake them gingerbread men and marshmallow cake and give them hot milk after school. Where she could tuck them into bed some nights, where they needn’t be on their good behavior all the time. A place on their way to school so she could wave to them in the mornings and give them flowers for their teachers.

What she had, wha-t Ellen had given her, was the expensive room at the Highland, too far from Jim’s house for the children ever to get there alone, Friday night dinner with Jim.

“You never need be afraid we’ll break it for social engagements,” Ellen had said. “We’ll never accept an engagement for Friday. That’s your night with Jim.”

And it was. She met Jim near his office and they ate at the Carlton Grill. Fridays were something for old Mrs. Darcy to look forward to. But she would have preferred dinner at his house so she could see the children. Peter at 10 was so much like Jim used to be. Mary was a year younger.

She didn’t see the children much. Three times a year she was invited to Jim’s house for meals: on her birthday in June, on Jim’s birthday in September, and on Christmas Day. She never went there other times because Ellen didn’t ask her.

So when she saw the children, they acted strange. She, too, because all the love in her heart started spilling at the sight of them. Besides their mother was present to see to their manners and their father was ill at ease.

And now the foursome that had been together at the Highland for so many years was broken up. Mr.

Roper, the manager, had no trouble filling the rooms, there was a big waiting list. Not, however, of rich old ladies and old ladies, like Mrs. Darcy, who were pensioners. The new tenants were young, executives in defense plants, high-priced secretaries, some warworkers with private substantial incomes. No more could the wits around town dub the Highland, The Old Ladies’ Home or Mrs. Custer’s Last Stand.

Mr. Roper was especially kind to Mrs. Darcy after Mrs. Spero left. She was his last old lady and his reputation in the hotel game had been built on old ladies.

At first she seemed like a lost, forgotten soul wandering in a strange place and he wondered if he shouldn’t call her son. Then, before his mind was made up, she changed, not back to the familiar self-effacing Mrs. Darcy but to a new Mrs. Darcy, purposeful, deter-

mined, her blue eyes like forget-me-nots, a pleased satisfied smile on her thin mouth, a snap to her walk. She was quick and spry for her age.

The fourth day after Mrs. Spero left she came into his office. There was a glow about her, a bloom to her cheeks he had never seen before. -

“I’m going to be a very bad old lady, Mr. Roper, and I want you to help me. I haven’t got anyone else to go to, because I can’t go to my son.” The pink deepened in her cheeks.

“I can’t stay here any longer, Mr. Roper, knowing that Mrs. Spero and Mrs. Canfield and Mrs. Taggart are busy. I can’t bear to stay here. If my own people don’t need me there are others who do. I’m strong even if I am 70. Strong enough to hold a job.”

“A job, Mrs. Darcy?”

“Yes, a job. I got it this morning. I answered an advertisement. I’m going to start this afternoon. It’s something I can do—keeping house for a nice young couple—the wife is in bed and has to stay there for six weeks.”

“Have you talked this over with your son?”

“No, Mr. Roper, and Jim isn’t going to know about it. He wouldn’t understand that I have to do it.” There was no use telling Mr. Roper that asking Jim would mean asking Ellen and she knew what her answer would be.

“That’s where you’re going to help me, if you will,” she went on, “for although I’m going to give up my room here for six weeks—it would seem a shame for me to hold it when rooms are so much in demand—I want Jim to think I’m still here. And if he calls, would you have the phone girls take the message? Then phone me where I’m working with the message? Is that too much to ask?” Some of the brightness went out of her face and she looked frightened. “He calls so seldom . .

“I don’t think that’s too much, Mrs. Darcy. We can manage it. We can also rent your room and give you occupancy of it when you want it and we’ll continue to receive your mail as usual.”

“Thanks, Mr. Roper. Thanks.” The bloom was back in her cheeks.

Later Mrs. Darcy left with one medium-sized suitcase. The cab that took her made two stops before the end of its journey, one to a bookstore where she purchased a cookbook, because she hadn’t cooked a meal in 15 years, and another to a dress shop where she picked out quickly three cotton print house dresses and some aprons, for at the Highland there never was any need for house dresses or aprons.

The Mahlons lived on the second floor of an apartment house. Five rooms, all so young, and such blond wood and such pale soft colors, and overflowing with wedding silver. It was like meeting more sunshine inside, a sunshine that stayed and beamed even in the lamplight. Mrs. Mahlon was in one of the twin beds in the front bedroom. She had a thin sweet face and too much energy burned in her dark eyes.

“Oh, you’ve come!” She cried happily, like a child who is waiting for a special treat. “I was so afraid you’d think it was too much for you.”

“Of course I came,” Mrs. Darcy replied. “I’ll put my things away and start dinner.”

Her room was the other bedroom, a guest bedroom, pale peach walls with a pale blue spread on the bed and a shaggy white fur rug on the floor.

The kitchen, too, was a bride’s kitchen, all red and white with ruffling on every shelf, the pans new and the implements shining. Rig, with a breakfast nook in one corner.

“I think I’ll make a cheese soufflé,” Mrs. Darcy whispered to herself as she slipped on her apron. “And some apple dumplings if there are any apples. I’ll be slow but I think I can do it.”

She was slow; it took time to get used to the kitchen and to the tools of the kitchen and to remember how the stove turned on and off. A million things to remember when you haven’t been in a kitchen for so long. Although she brought the new cookbook with her, she forgot about it, and the soufflé came out all right, and the apple dumplings.

She set up a card table in the bedroom for the Mahlons and put on it one of the organdy cloths from the linen cabinet.

“It’s heaven,” Mrs. Mahlon sighed. “Pure unadulterated heaven!”

“Would there be another dumpling, Mrs. Darcy?” Mr. Mahlon asked, as Jim used to and Jim’s father before him.

In the morning for breakfast there was orange juice and piping hot corn bread dredged in syrup, and shirred eggs and coffee.

“You’re spoiling us, Mrs. Darcy,” Mrs. Mahlon laughed as she took a second piece of corn bread. “We’ll be brats when you go.”

“I like to be spoiled,” Mr. Mahlon said solemnly. He was big and tall and strong, an engineer in a war factory. “You don’t suppose you could find a little chocolate for a cake tonight, do you?”

“I think I saw some in the cupboard.”

It wasn’t a new world Mrs. Darcy had come into. It was an old one, a familiar one. A beautiful one. It hurt her that she was taking money, $60 a month, for what she loved so much to do. And yet, too, she was proud of herself because this was the first money she had ever earned in her life. She was tired, yes. Some nights she thought she couldn’t make it to bed, but then she did, but there was no lying awake as there had been at the Highland.

There wasn’t much time to think about Jim or Ellen or even the children here at the Mahlons, for there was something to do all the time. Breakfast, getting Mrs. Mahlon fixed for the day, the shopping to do, lunch and dinner. In between straightening up, for the heavy cleaning was done once a week by the apartment maid.

The days were full, busy ones and when she wasn’t thinking about what she was doing she was deciding what the Mahlons should eat and whether she had enough coupons.

The years at the Highland fell away as if they had never existed, the petty gossip, the bridge which Mrs. Darcy played so badly, the querulous complaints about the service. The chatter about doctors and investments.

On Friday, which was her day off, Mrs. Darcy had lunch with Mrs. Spero. They didn’t mention the Highland once. Mrs. Spero was full of wonderful tales of her new great-granddaughter and the schedule she had to follow and the diapers she washed. Her

days were long ones but she seemed to be thriving under them. She didn’t talk of her stomach or her stocks at all.

Mrs. Darcy told about the Mahlons and what she was cooking for them. In a little candy box she had brought some raisin cookies and a piece of chocolate cake of her own baking for Mrs. Spero.

That evening she had dinner with Jim at the Carlton Grill, the same table in the same corner where they had eaten for years. The same waiter brought up a footstool for her feet.

Jim was not looking so well. Something he had eaten, he thought. Juanita was gone and Ellen had a new maid she was trying out but Jim didn’t think she’d do.

“Juanita gone!” old Mrs. Darcy exclaimed. You might almost say Ellen gone, for Juanita had been with Jim and Ellen for years, since their marriage, Mrs. Darcy couldn’t conceive of the household without Juanita. She was the other part of Ellen, the part that stayed home and kept things running smoothly while Ellen was busy with her clubs, and now her war work, of course. Both of them so efficient.

“Her sister in Texas is ill and needed her so she went,” Jim explained.

Someone needed Juanita too . . .

“It’s amazing what a difference it makes around the house. The kids are unmanageable,” Jim went on, “Mary sassy and Peter sullen, and they always were good kids for Juanita. She made them mind. It just means that Ellen will have to give up some of her war activities. She hates to but if it’s the only way we can keep the youngsters in line, it’s the right thing to do. I never realized until Juanita left how much we depended on her.”

There was a bunch of violets on Mrs. Darcy’s night table when she got back to the Mahlons. And a note in Mr. Mahlon’s handwriting. “I missed you. How about some of that corn bread and syrup in the morning to make up for your rank desertion?”

She cried a little about the violets and about Mary getting sassy and Peter sullen and she didn’t sleep so well that night.

A week passed, and Jim was telling her Ellen had hired another maid and they were waiting to see how this one turned out. Peter and Mary weren’t any better; they were worse if anything. Ellen thought surely now she’d have to give up her committees but she hadn’t yet. It was either that or send the kids away to school and they didn’t want to go away.

The following Monday afternoon Mrs. Mahlon called Mrs. Darcy to the phone, which was by her bedside.

“For me?” the old woman asked, and a dart of fear went through her. It would be Mr. Roper, of course; he was the only one who had the number here. Jim must have called the hotel.

It was Mr. Roper but Jim hadn’t called. Young Peter Darcy had come seeking his grandmother and when he had been told she was out said he would wait for her. He was doing that now, in the lounge. Mr. Roper didn’t know how to proceed from there.

Mrs. Darcy glanced at the crystal clock between

the beds. It was four and she had some beef stew on the stove.

“Get a taxi, Mr. Roper, if you please, and send Peter here to me.”

“My grandson,” she murmured to Mrs. Mahlon when she hung up. “But he won’t bother you—I’ll keep him in the kitchen.”

“Let him make all the noise he wants. The place needs kids’ voices.”

Mrs. Darcy was out on the street when the cab came and she wasn’t too eager when she took Peter in her arms, because she was worried. So she didn’t make a fuss over him, although this was the first time in his life he had come to visit her.

“I just decided after school to come down and see you so I hopped a bus and came,” he said when she led him into the kitchen. Then, a little belligerently, “I

A tender and moving story of a woman who felt she wasn't wanted...but found happiness in being needed

guess I can come and see my grandmother if I want to!”

“I guess so.” She went to the ice box and got some milk and some malt and mixed them together with a little syrup. Then she put a plate of cookies on the breakfast table. Peter sat down. “Good,” he said, sampling a cooky. “I guess I was hungry.”

Mrs. Darcy slipped down beside him on the bench.

“It’s heck at the house now since Juanita’s gone and Mother’s so cross. We got another maid yesterday again. Daddy’s cross too. Gosh, I can’t do anything right, neither can Mary. We can’t walk across the floor without having somebody yell at us.”

“Your mother will get someone soon who will fit into your way of living, Peter. She’s trying but it’s hard now to get the right kind of help. So many of the girls and women who used to do housework and cooking are in the war factories.”

“It isn’t that I liked Juanita so much,” he was making quick work of the cookies. “She was pretty strict but Mary and I always knew where we stood with her.”

Mrs. Darcy replenished the cooky dish and brought her peas to the table to shell.

“Say, what’s this?” Peter asked suddenly. “Have you got an apartment now? Aren’t you living at the hotel anymore?”

She took a deep bseath, so deep it made her dizzy. There was that first impulse to lie and then she realized how difficult it would be.

“No, Peter, I’m working. I’m keeping house for a young couple, the lady is ill and needs help. And we old ones now have to do our share—we women who kept house in the past and know only that. I’m getting $60 a month for my work. But your father and mother wouldn’t like it if they knew, they want me to stay at the hotel, so I haven’t told them. I don’t want you to tell them either, Peter.”

“Oh, I won’t!” He looked with new interest at his grandmother. “I can’t see why you can’t do what you want to do. You’re old enough.”

“Yes, I’m old enough . . .”

“But I can tell Mary, can’t I, Grandma? I tell her most everything.”

Mrs. Darcy thought it would be all right to tell Mary.

“Maybe I could bring her tomorrow after school,” he said excitedly. “I know all the buses and streetcars in town and how to get every place. Mary does too. We go around a lot. We’ve been all over. For years. Down to the docks, to the carbarns, to the mills, to the jail. The city dump, a million places.

“It’s a secret but seeing you told me yours I can tell you ours. Mother and Daddy don’t know about our travelling. They think we play in the gym or on the grounds after school but we don’t. We scram right after the closing bell and hop the bus.”

“I’d like to have you bring Mary tomorrow,” she said evenly. “We’ll have a tea party here in the kitchen.”

“I see you’re going to be a swell grandma. I guess Mary and I had you all wrong.”

At five he went home by himself on a bus and Mrs. Darcy tried not to worry about him. He was so confident, so self-reliant, like Jim had been at his age. He could do anything in the world.

The following afternoon he brought Mary. They came up the back stairs and knocked at the kitchen door. Mrs. Darcy was ready for them. On the table was a tray of gingerbread men and women with red sugar buttons on their jackets and blue sugar tassels on their caps. Warm malts, too, and for Mary a cutout paper doll set and for Peter a cardboard jeep to be assembled.

So it came about that every school afternoon at a little after 3.30 the knocking would come at the kitchen door and Mary and Peter appeared. Even Fridays, for Mrs. Darcy would leave with them when they went. Sometimes there were hot biscuits and honey, sometimes cookies, or fresh slices of bread spread with soft peanut butter. Always milk with good malt in it.

It was surprising how quiet they were. Mrs. Mahlon never heard them in her room, and Mrs. Darcy never had to tell them to hush. Yet they talked a lot. They were talking most of the time, sometimes of things they never would have said to their father and mother. The shy secret things in a child’s heart. To one another, because they were

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sensitive children, they had always confided, but never to an outsider. So magically the grandmother was drawn into their hidden lives.

Saturdays they didn’t come because they had a dancing lesson. Sunday they had to be home with their parents.

Mrs. Darcy hated to see them go; she hated five o’clock to come and see them start down the back stairs.

She was always afraid, too, just before 3.30, that they wouldn’t come, that they would have tired of her and gone on with other more exciting adventures. Every day she watched out the kitchen window, fearfully, where she could see them as they turned the corner, Peter slightly in the lead, in his brown-stained leather jacket and old cords, no cap, of course. Mary in her red flannel jacket and her blue plaid skirt, so little, so thin, so frail.

One day there was only Mary turning the corner, and Mrs. Darcy, her heart sinking, walked down the stairs to meet her.

“Where’s Peter?” she asked.

“He had to stay after school. He’ll come as soon as he gets out.”

Then that blessed relief that he was coming, that he wanted to come!

“Grandma, what do you think?” Mary dug into her jacket pocket and pulled out a folded crumpled paper. She pointed to the two blue pencilled A’s at the top. “See! A double A on the composition I wrote yesterday—the first I ever got. You can read it if you like. It’s about you.”

Mary sat down to her hot chocolate and her bread with butter and brown sugar while Mrs. Darcy took up the composition. It was entitled, “What I Like Best To Do.” Mary had said that she liked best to go to her grandmother’s every afternoon after school. She told about the cookies and the biscuits she had there and that she sometimes helped get the vegetables ready for dinner. Once she had measured out the flour and sugar for a cake.

It was simply told, in a child’s language.

“Well, that’s fine,” Mrs. Darcy said, and she had to wipe her eyes.

“Nobody saw it but the teacher,” Mary explained. “We never have to read anything we write aloud. But I had to write it. I felt like it. I wanted to.”

It was so confusing to go right from the children to Jim. To sit down and hear him talk about Peter and Mary as if she never saw them and was waiting breathlessly for news of them, as she had

in the past. To see his father attitude and his father side. And then to realize how little he knew his children, how very little, and how little Ellen knew them. Their hearts and their minds and their busy hands. Even Juanita hadn’t known them.

What would Jim say if he knew what they had been doing with their free time all these years? If she said, “Your two children are just little tramps, Jim. Not now, because for the time being their wanderlust is quenched, but how long will it last?”

She wouldn’t tell him, of course. She couldn’t. They had told her their secret because she had told them hers. They were children of honor and she respected that honor. But when she thought of Mary and Peter growing tired of her, setting out again by themselves, she grew frightened.

The children were better-mannered at home now, Jim reported, with great relief. Peter was not sullen any more, neither was Mary sa/ssy. It was the help problem that was so bad. Ellen couldn’t get a decent cook. The children might have to go away to school yet for the doctor had advised Ellen not to give up her committee work. Her nerves, he had said, were geared to that and he didn’t think she could make the adjustment to housekeeping successfully and happily.

“I could come, Jim!” Mrs. Darcy said. “Ellen could get someone to do the heavy work and I would be there to see that everything went smoothly, that the meals were all right, that the children were well taken care of.”

“That’s out of the question, Mother. We’re not going to disrupt your life. What if the children don’t want to go away to school? Everybody has to do something these days he doesn’t want to. Peter and Mary are old enough to realize that.”

“But I’d like to help, Jim . . .” “Forget it. We’re not going to talk about it again.” He frowned, the way he did when a subject was closed.

The next week she had her first cheque. One month’s wages, $60. It seemed so wonderful to her that she kept it on the window sill to look at while she did the dishes, and she showed it to the milkman when he came. He didn’t think it was so wonderful, but the children did when they came. They studied it from all angles. Peter made up a jingle and Mary made out lists of how her grandmother could spend the money, and they had a beautiful hour. One of the most beautiful old Mrs. Darcy had ever had in all her life.

“I heard you laughing today and I heard the children’s voices,” Mrs.

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Mahlon said when Mrs. Darcy was setting the card table for dinner. “I was so jealous of you. How wonderful it must be after you’ve raised your own family and things are getting dull to have another family!”

“It—is wonderful,” Mrs. Darcy replied. It was just what she had hoped it would be. What her dreams had been since Jim’s children had been born. Yet this was only an island on which she was standing. This glorious present, this fulfillment. Any minute the island might sink back into the sea and she would be left where she had been before.

“The doctor says I’ll be getting up this week,” Mrs. Mahlon smiled happily. “Soon I’ll be able to do everything again.”

And I’ll be gone, Mrs. Darcy thought sadly. No more red-and-white kitchen, no more footsteps to listen for, quick footsteps of Peter and Mary. No more Mr. Mahlon to leave violets on her table. Her island was beginning to sink already.

As soon as Mrs. Darcy saw Peter and Mary turning the corner on Monday afternoon she knew something was wrong. There was no spring to their steps, they were plodding along like two old people, Peter behind his sister, his head bent, his hands in his pockets. He didn’t say anything when he got into the kitchen, just slid behind the table.

“We’re going to have to go away to school/” Mary explained. “And not to the same school. Different schools. We won’t even be able to come home week ends. We go next week for the new term. Oh, Grandma!” She ran over to Mrs. Darcy and buried her head in the cherry-sprigged apron.

“There, there, Mrs. Darcy said. She knew it wasn’t adequate but that there was nothing else to say.

“I’ll never see Mary,” Peter muttered. “Never. And I’m so used to her.”

Mrs. Darcy made Mary sit down and then she tried to get them interested in the cookies on the table, the warm malts that were ready. But they sat just looking at the cookies and the glasses, not eating and not drinking.

In the quiet of the kitchen she heard the telephone, and a moment later Mrs. Mahlon’s bell tinkling for her. She gave one look at the children and left.

“Telephone, Mrs. Darcy.”

Mr. Roper it must be. Her hands started to tremble and her voice wasn’t steady as she said hello.

Mr. Roper was apologetic. Very. He had been out when Mrs. James Darcy had come into the hotel asking for her mother-in-law. His new secretary, who wasn’t too bright yet about Highland affairs, had given her both the phone number and the address of the Mahlon apartment. It was all a bad mistake, of course, and Mr. Roper was sorry. He had just heard it now.

Mrs. Darcy hung up the phone and started for the kitchen. The front doorbell rang when she was in the dining room.

She thought she knew who was ringing and she was right. For when she opened the door Ellen was standing in the hall. And old Mrs. Darcy felt as she always did before Jim’s wife, small, inarticulate, inadequate, confused. Even before Ellen had married Jim, she had been that way with her.

The younger woman stepped into the hall and closed the door. Just then Peter’s head poked out the kitchen and he exclaimed, “Why, it’s Mother!”

So Ellen walked ahead and old Mrs. Darcy followed. She felt as if she were 10 and going to be scolded too.

Ellen was tall and stately, with steady brown eyes and smooth full lips that didn’t smile easily. She seemed taller and her eyes steadier than ever as she faced the three of them in the kitchen, for the grandmother had taken her place next to the children.

“Well,” Ellen said at last, “what does this mean? Here I go to school this afternoon to get you children for fittings for your new uniforms and I find out from the playground teacher that you never stay after hours. No one knows what you do until I get hold of Mary’s teacher, and she thinks you may be at your grandmother’s.”

Old Mrs. Darcy felt Mary’s shoulder twitch under her hand. The child looked up and their eyes met. The composition, they both were thinking, “What I Like Best To Do.” It had given them away.

“So,” Ellen continued, “I go down to the Highland and I find that Mother Darcy isn’t living there any longer. Will one of you tell me what this means?” There was a moment’s silence and old Mrs. Darcy spoke. She didn’t feel so small now for the first time in her experience with Ellen, nor so inarticulate or confused.

“This is where I’m working, Ellen. I’m keeping house for a couple. I got tired of sitting around the hotel with nothing to do and all my friends working so hard. I felt like a drone. I’ve felt like a drone for years, because I’m still strong, still able to take care of a house. I’m never going back to the Highland again, or any other hotel, even after the war is over.”

There, her bridges were burned. She felt good, able to stand up to Ellen, able to say what she chose, do what she chose. She felt an equal to Ellen for the first time in her life. It was as if she were breathing the fresh new air of freedom.

“Grandma!” Peter cried, “why can’t you come to our house and cook for us? Then we wouldn’t have to go away to school! Mary and 1 would help you! Mother, couldn’t she? Oh, Mother!” “Mother, couldn’t she?” Mary’s arms went tighter around Mrs. Darcy.

“You children go downstairs and get into the car,” Ellen said quickly. “I want to talk to your grandmother.” Whatever it was that Ellen was going

to say to her mother-in-law, she didn’t say it. She stood for a while as she had been. Old Mrs. Darcy waited. It didn’t seem strange to her that Ellen was the inarticulate one today.

“Well, I guess I’ll go,” she said at last.

A few moments later Jim’s mother saw the long blue car turn the corner, the children in the back.

“She’ll tell Jim and he’ll call or come,” she thought.

She wasn’t angry when she thought of Ellen and she wasn’t jealous and she didn’t have that feeling any more that Ellen was trying to shut her away from the children. All the old feelings and animosities were somehow gone. She felt sorry for Ellen and she was sorry for Jim, for she knew that he was as much to blame for neglecting the children as Ellen had been. He had simply assumed that Ellen’s motherhood was supreme and her care more than adequate. He hadn’t looked into the problems of the children himself.

He came when she had just finished the dishes, walked up the back stairs and knocked at the kitchen door.

“The kids told us everything,” he said, as he sank down at the breakfast table. “What rotten parents we’ve been! Pushing everything onto Juanita! But it’s as much my fault as it is Ellen’s.”

She sat down beside him and put her hand over his. “Yes, it is, Jim.”

“They don’t want to go away to school. Be separated. They’re funny kids. I never realized how much they love each other.”

“Because they’ve had to depend on each other so much,” his mother said softly. “And they’re such good children, Jim, even if they are runaways.”

“Will you come to the house and help Ellen and me with them, Mother? We need you so.”

“Ellen really wants me, Jim?”

“She’s out in the car now. She was crying, so she didn’t want to come up. She’s taking it hard—she always thought she was a good mother.”

“Of course I’ll come, son.” She lifted her head proudly. For she was proud. “They need me,” she whispered to herself. “All of them need me, Peter and Mary and Jim. Ellen, too.”