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´╗┐Title: Martie, the Unconquered
Author: Norris, Kathleen Thompson, 1880-1966
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Martie, the Unconquered" ***

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THE WORKS OF KATHLEEN NORRIS



MARTIE THE UNCONQUERED

VOLUME VIII



AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED TO

JOSEPH SEXTON THOMPSON



BOOK I

CHAPTER I


At about four o'clock on a windy, warm September afternoon, four girls
came out of the post-office of Monroe, California. They had loitered on
their way in, consciously wasting time; they had spent fifteen minutes
in the dark and dirty room upon an absolutely unnecessary errand, and
now they sauntered forth into the village street keenly aware that the
afternoon was not yet waning, and disheartened by the slow passage of
time. At five they would go to Bonestell's drug store, and sit in a row
at the soda counter, and drink effervescent waters pleasingly mingled
with fruit syrups and an inferior quality of ice cream. Five o'clock
was the hour for "sodas," neither half-past four nor half-past five was
at all the same thing in the eyes of Monroe's young people. After that
they would wander idly toward the bridge, and separate; Grace Hawkes
turning toward the sunset for another quarter of a mile, Rose Ransome
opening the garden gate of the pretty, vine-covered cottage near the
bridge, and the Monroe girls, Sarah and Martha, in a desperate hurry
now, flying up the twilight quiet of North Main Street to the long
picket fence, the dark, tree-shaded garden, and the shabby side-doorway
of the old Monroe house.

Three of these girls met almost every afternoon, going first to each
other's houses, and later wandering down for the mail, for some trivial
errand at drug store or dry-goods store, and for the inevitable ices.
Rose Ransome was not often with them, for Rose was just a little
superior in several ways to her present companions, and frequently
spent the afternoon practising on her violin, or driving, or walking
with the Parker girls and Florence Frost, who hardly recognized the
existence of Grace Hawkes and the Monroes. The one bank in Monroe was
the Frost and Parker Bank; there were Frost Street and Parker Street,
the Frost Building and the Parker Building. May and Ida Parker and
Florence Frost had gone to Miss Bell's Private School when they were
little, and then to Miss Spencer's School in New York.

But even all this might not have accounted for the exclusive social
instincts of the young ladies if both families had not been very rich.
As it was, with prosperous fathers and ambitious mothers, with
well-kept, old-fashioned homes, pews in church, allowances of so many
hundred dollars a year, horses to ride and drive, and servants to wait
upon them, the three daughters of these two prominent families
considered themselves as obviously better than their neighbours, and
bore themselves accordingly. Cyrus Frost and Graham Parker had come to
California as young men, in the seventies; had cast in their lot with
little Monroe, and had grown rich with the town. It was a credit to the
state now; they had found it a mere handful of settlers' cabins, with
one stately, absurd mansion standing out among them, in a plantation of
young pepper and willow and locust and eucalyptus trees.

This was the home of Malcolm Monroe, turreted, mansarded, generously
filled with the glass windows that had come in a sailing vessel around
the Horn. Incongruous, pretentious, awkward, it might to a discerning
eye have suggested its owner, who was then not more than thirty years
old; a tall, silent, domineering man. He was reputed rich, and Miss
Elizabeth--or "Lily"--Price, a pretty Eastern girl who visited the
Frosts in the winter of 1878, was supposed to be doing very well for
herself when she married him, and took her bustles and chignons, her
blonde hair with its "French twist," and her scalloped, high-buttoned
kid shoes to the mansion on North Main Street.

Now the town had grown to several hundred times its old size; schools,
churches, post-office, shops, a box factory, a lumber yard, and a
winery had come to Monroe. There was the Town Hall, a plain wooden
building, and, at the shabby outskirts of South Main Street, a jail.
The Interurban Trolley "looped" the town once every hour.

All these had helped to make Cyrus Frost and Graham Parker rich. They,
like Malcolm Monroe, had married, and had built themselves homes. They
had invested and re-invested their money; they had given their children
advantages, according to their lights. Now, in their early fifties,
they were a power in the town, and they felt for it a genuine affection
and pride, a loyalty that was unquestioning and sincere. In the kindly
Western fashion these two were now accorded titles; Cyrus, who had
served in the Civil War, was "Colonel Frost," and to Graham, who had
been a lawyer, was given the titular dignity of being "Judge Parker."

Malcolm Monroe kept pace with neither his old associates nor with the
times. His investments were timid and conservative, his faith in the
town that had been named for his father frequently wavered. He was in
everything a reactionary, refusing to see that neither the sheep of the
old Spanish settlers nor the gold of the early pioneers meant so much
to this fragrant, sun-washed table land as did wheat and grapes and
apple trees. Monroe came to laugh at "old Monroe's" pigheadedness. He
fought the town on every question for improvements, as it came up. The
bill for pavements, the bill for sewerage, the bill for street lights,
the high school bill, found in him an enemy as the years went by. He
denounced these innovations bitterly. When the level of Main Street was
raised four feet, "old Monroe" almost went out of his senses, and the
home site, gloomily shut in now by immense trees, and a whole block
square, was left four feet below the street level, so that there must
be built three or four wooden steps at all the gates. The Monroe girls
resented this peculiarity of their home, but never said so to their
father.

Rose Ransome, the pretty, neat little daughter of a pretty, neat little
widow, was cultivated eagerly by the Monroes, and patronized kindly by
the Frost and Parker girls. She had lived all of her twenty years in
Monroe, and was too conscientious and amiable to snub the girls
supposedly beneath her, and too merry, ladylike, and entertaining to be
quite ignored by the richer group. So she brightly, obligingly, and
gratefully lunched and drove, read and walked, and practised music with
May and Ida and Florence, when they wanted her, and when they did not,
or when Eastern friends visited them, or there was for some reason no
empty seat in the surrey, she turned back to the company of Grace
Hawkes and of Sally and Martie Monroe. Rose admitted frankly to her
mother that with the latter group she had "more fun," but that with her
more elevated friends she enjoyed, of course, "nicer times."
Politically she steered a diplomatic middle course between the two,
implying, with equal readiness, that she only associated with the poor
Monroes because Uncle Ben made her, or that she accepted invitations
from the Frost and Parker faction simply to be amiable.

Sally Monroe, innocent, simple, unexacting at twenty-one, really
believed Rose to be the sweetly frank and artless person she seemed,
but Martie, two years younger, had her times of absolutely detesting
Rose. Sally was never jealous, but Martie burned with a fierce young
jealousy of all life: of Rose, with her dainty frocks and her rich
friends, her curly hair and her violin; of Florence Frost's riding
horse; of Ida Parker's glib French; of her own brother, Leonard Monroe,
with his male independence; of the bare-armed women who leaped on the
big, flat-backed horses in the circus; of the very Portuguese children
who rode home asleep of a summer afternoon, in fragrant loads of
alfalfa.

To-day she was vaguely smarting at Grace's news: Grace was going to
work. She, like the Monroe girls, had often discussed the possibilities
of this step, but opportunities were not many, and the idle, pleasant
years drifted by with no change. But Ellie Hawkes, Grace's big sister,
who had kept books in the box factory for three years, was to be
married now; a step down for Ellie--for her "friend" was only Terry
Castle, a brawny, ignorant giant employed by the Express Company--but a
step up for Grace. She would be a wage-earner; her pretty, weak face
grew animated at the thought, and her shrill voice more shrill.

Martie Monroe had no real desire to work in the box factory, to walk
daily the ugly half mile that lay between it and her home, to join the
ranks of toilers that filed through the poorer region of town every
morning. But like all growing young things she felt a desperate,
undefined need. She could not know that self-expression is as necessary
to natures like hers as breath is to young bodies. She could only grope
and yearn and struggle in the darkness of her soul.

She was nineteen, a tall, strong girl, already fully developed, and
handsome in a rather dull and heavy way. Her hands and feet were
beautifully made, her hair, although neglected, of a wonderful silky
bronze, and her skin naturally of the clear creamy type that sometimes
accompanies such hair. But Martie ruined her skin by injudicious
eating; she could not resist sweets; natural indolence, combined with
the idle life she led, helped to make her too fat. Now and then, in the
express office, in the afternoon, the girls got on the big freight
scales, and this was always a mortification to Martie. Terry Castle and
Joe Hawkes would laugh as they adjusted the weights, and Martie always
tried to laugh, too, but she did not think it funny. Martie might have
seemed to her world merely a sweet, big, good-natured tomboy, growing
into an eager, amusing, ignorant young woman, too fond of sleeping and
eating.

But there was another Martie--a sensitive, ambitious Martie--who
despised idleness, dependence, and inaction; who longed to live a
thousand lives--to conquer all the world; a Martie who was one day a
great singer, one day a wartime nurse, one day a millionaire's
beautiful bride, the mother of five lovely children, all carefully
named. She would waken from her dreams almost bewildered, blinking at
Sally or at her mother in the surprised fashion that sometimes made
folk call Martie stupid, humbly enough she thought of herself as
stupid, too. She never suspected that she was really "dreaming true,"
that the power and the glory lay waiting for the touch of her heart and
hand and brain. She never suspected that she was to Rose and Grace and
Sally what a clumsy young swan would be in a flock of bustling and
competent ducks. Martie did not know, yet, where her kingdom lay, how
should she ever dream that she was to find it?

Rose was going back to stay with her cousin in Berkeley to-morrow, it
was understood, and so had to get home early this afternoon. Rose, as
innocent as a butterfly of ambition or of the student's zeal, had
finished her first year in the State University and was to begin her
second to-morrow.

Monroe's shabby Main Street seemed less interesting than ever when Rose
had tripped away. A gusty breeze was blowing fitfully, whisking bits of
straw and odds and ends of paper about. The watering cart went by,
leaving a cool wake of shining mud. Here and there a surrey, loaded
with stout women in figured percales, and dusty, freckled children,
started on its trip from Main Street back to some outlying ranch.

As the three girls, arms linked, loitered across the square, Dr. Ben
Scott--who was Rose Ransome's mother's cousin and was regarded as an
uncle--came out of the Court House and walked toward his buggy. The
dreaming white mare roused as she heard his voice, and the old
brown-and-white setter sprang into the seat beside him.

"Howdy, girls!" said the old man, his big loose figure bulging
grotesquely over the boundaries of the seat. "Father pretty well?"

"Well enough, Doc' Ben, but not pretty!" Martie said, laughing. The
doctor's eyes twinkled.

"They put a tongue in your head, Martie, sure enough!" he said,
gathering up the reins.

"It was all they did put, then!" Martie giggled.

The girls all liked Doc' Ben. A widower, rich enough now to take only
what practice he pleased, simple in his tastes, he lived with his old
servant, his horse and cow, his dog and cat, chickens and bees, pigeons
and rabbits, in a comfortable, shabby establishment in an unfashionable
part of town. Monroe described him as a "regular character." His
jouncing, fat figure--with tobacco ash spilled on his spotted vest, and
stable mud on his high-laced boots--was familiar in all her highways
and byways. His mellow voice, shot with humorous undertones even when
he was serious, touched with equal readiness upon Plato, the habits of
bees, the growth of fungus, fashions, Wordsworth, the Civil War, or the
construction of chimneys. He was something of a philosopher, something
of a poet, something of a reformer.

Martie, watching him out of sight, said to herself that she really must
go down soon and see old Dr. Ben, poke among his old books, feed his
pigeons, and scold him for his untidy ways. The girl's generous
imagination threw a veil of romance over his life; she told Sally that
he was like some one in an English story.

After he had gone, the girls idled into the Town Library, a large room
with worn linoleum on the floor, and with level sunlight streaming in
the dusty windows. At the long table devoted to magazines a few readers
were sitting; others hovered over the table where books just returned
were aligned; and here and there, before the dim bookcases that lined
the walls, still others loitered, now and then picking a book from the
shelves, glancing at it, and restoring it to its place. The room was
warm and close with the smell of old books. The whisking of pages, and
occasionally a sibilant whisper, were its only sounds. From the ceiling
depended signs, bearing the simple command: "Silence"; but this did not
prevent the girls from whispering to the energetic, gray-haired woman
who presided at the desk.

"Hello, girls!" said Miss Fanny Breck cheerfully, in the low tone she
always used in the library. "Want anything to read? You don't? What are
you reading, Martie?"

"I'm reading 'Idylls of the King,'" Sally said.

"I've got 'Only the Governess,'" added Grace.

"I didn't ask either of you," Miss Breck said with the brisk amused air
of correction that made the girls a little afraid of her. "It's Martie
here I'm interested in. I'm going to scold her, too. Are you reading
that book I gave you, Martie?"

Martie, as Grace and Sally turned away, raised smiling eyes. But at
Miss Fanny's keen, kindly look she was smitten with a sudden curious
inclination toward tears. She was keenly sensitive, and she felt an
undeserved rebuke.

"Don't like it?" asked the librarian, disposing of an interruption with
that casual ease that always fascinated Martie. To see Miss Fanny seize
four books from the hands that brought them into her range of vision,
flip open the four covers with terrific speed, manipulate various paper
slips and rubber stamps with energy and certainty, vigorously copy
certain mysterious letters and numbers, toss the discarded books into a
large basket at her elbow and then, for the first time, as she handed
the selected books to the applicant, glance up with her smile and
whispered "Good afternoon," was a real study in efficiency.

"I don't understand it," Martie smiled.

"Did you read it?" persisted the older woman.

"Well--not much." Martie had, in fact, hardly opened the book, an
excellent collection of some twenty essays for girls under the general
title "Choosing a Life Work."

"Listen. Why don't you study the Cutter system, and familiarize
yourself a little with this work, and come in here with me?" asked Miss
Fanny, in her firm, pushing voice.

"When?" Martie asked, considering.

"Well--I can't say when. I'm no oracle, my dear. But some day the grave
and reverend seigneurs on my Board may give me an assistant, I suppose."

"Oh--I know--" Martie was vague again. "What would I get?"

Miss Fanny's harsh cheeks and jaw stiffened, her eyes half closed, as
she bit her lip in thought.

"Fifteen, perhaps," she submitted.

Martie dallied with the pleasing thought of having fifteen dollars of
her own each month.

"But can't Miss Fanny make you feel as if you were back in school?" she
asked, when the girls were again in Main Street. "I'd just as lieves be
in the lib'ary as anywheres," she added.

"I'd rather be in the box factory," Grace said. "More money."

"More work, too!" Martie suggested. "Come on, let's go to Bonestell's!"

Other persons of all ages were in the drug store, seated on stools at
the high marble counter, or at the little square cherry tables in the
dim room at the rear. Drugs were a lesser consideration than brushes,
stationery, cameras, candy, cigars, post cards, gum, mirrors, celluloid
bureau sets, flower seeds, and rubber toys and rattles, but large glass
flagons of coloured waters duly held the corners of the show windows on
the street, and dusty and fly-specked cards advertising patent
medicines overlapped each other.

The three girls nodded to various acquaintances, and, as they slid on
to seats at the counter, greeted the soda clerk familiarly. This was
Reddy Johnson, a lean, red-headed youth in a rather dirty white jacket
buttoned up to the chin. Reddy was assisted by a blear-eyed little
Swedish girl of about sixteen, who rushed about blindly with her little
blonde head hanging. He himself did not leave the counter, which he
constantly mopped with a damp, mud-coloured rag. He plunged the
streaked and sticky glasses into hot water, set them on a dripping
grating to dry, turned on this faucet of sizzling soda, that of rich
slow syrup, beat up the contents of glasses with his long-handled
spoon, slipped them into tarnished nickelled frames, and slid them
deftly before the waiting boys and girls. Hot sauce over this ice
cream, nuts on that, lady fingers and whipped cream with the tall
slender cups of chocolate for the Baxter girls, crackers with the
tomato bouillon old Lady Snow was noisily sipping; Reddy never made a
mistake.

Presently he, with a swift motion, set a little plate of sweet crackers
before the girls. These were not ordinarily served with five-cent
orders, and the three instantly divided them, concealing the little
cakes in their hands, and handing the tell-tale plate back to the
clerk. A wise precaution it proved, for a moment later "old Bones," as
the proprietor of the establishment was nicknamed, sauntered through
the store. In a gale of giggles the girls went out, stealthily eating
the crackers as they went. This adventure was enough to put them in
high spirits; Martie indeed was so easily fired to excitement that the
crossing of wits with Dr. Ben, the personal word with Miss Fanny, and
now Reddy's gallantry, had brightened her colour and carried her
elation to the point of effervescence. Sparkling, chattering, flushed
under her shabby summer hat, Martie sauntered between her friends
straight to her golden hour.

Face to face they came with a tall, loosely built, well-dressed young
man, with a straw hat on one side of his head. Such a phenomenon was
almost unknown in the streets of Monroe, and keenly conscious of his
presence, and instantly curious as to his identity, the girls could not
pass him without a provocative glance. "Stunning!" said each girl in
her heart. "Who on earth--?"

Suddenly he blocked their way.

"Hello, Sally! Hello, Martie! Too proud to speak to old friends?"

"Why--it's Rodney Parker!" Martie said in her rich young voice. "Hello,
Rodney!"

All four shook hands and laughed joyously. To Rodney the circumstance,
at the opening of his dull return home, was welcome; to the girls,
nothing short of delight. He was so handsome, so friendly, and in the
four years he had been at Stanford University and the summers he had
spent in hunting expeditions or in eastern visits to his aunt in New
York, he had changed only to improve!

Even in this first informal greeting it was Martie to whom he devoted
his special attention. Sally was usually considered the prettier of the
two, but Martie was lovely to-night. Rodney turned with them, and they
walked to the bridge together. Sally and Grace ahead.

The wind had fallen with the day, the air was mild and warm, and in the
twilight even Monroe had its charm. Flowers were blooming in many
dooryards, yellow light streamed hospitably across the gravelled paths,
and in the early darkness women were waiting in porches or by gates,
and whirling hoses over the lawns were drawing all the dark, hidden
perfumes into the damp night air.

"You've not changed much, Martie--except putting up your hair. I mean
it as a compliment!" said Rodney, eagerly, in his ready, boyish voice.

"You've changed a good deal; and I mean that as a compliment, too!"
Martie returned, with her deep laugh.

His own broke out in answer. He thought her delightful. The creamy
skin, the burnished hair that was fanned into an aureole under her
shabby hat, the generous figure with its young curves, had helped to
bring about in Rodney Parker a sweet, irrational surrender of reason.
He had never been a reasonable boy. He knew, of course, that Martie
Monroe was not in his sisters' set, although she was a perfectly NICE
girl, and to be respected. Martie was neither one thing nor the other.
With Grace, indeed, who was frankly beneath the Parkers' notice, he
might have had almost any sort of affair; even one of those affairs of
which May and Ida must properly seem unaware. He might have flirted
with Grace, have taken her about and given her presents, in absolute
safety. Grace would have guessed him to be only amusing himself, and
even confident Rodney, his mother's favourite and baby, would never
have attempted to bring Grace Hawkes home as his sisters' equal.

But with Martie there was a great difference. The Monroes had been
going down slowly but steadily in the social scale, yet they were
Monroes, after all. Lydia Monroe had been almost engaged to Clifford
Frost, years ago, and still, at all public affairs, the Monroes, the
Parkers, and the Frosts met as old friends and equals. Indeed, the
Parker girls and Florence Frost had been known to ask the girls' only
brother, Leonard Monroe, to their parties, young as he was, men being
very scarce in Monroe, and Leonard, although his sisters were not
asked, had gone.

So that when Rodney Parker stopped Martie Monroe on the way home, and
fell to flattering and teasing her, and walked beside her to the
bridge, he quite innocently plunged himself into social hot water, and
laid a disturbing touch upon the smooth surface of the girl's life.

They talked of trivialities, laughing much. Rodney asked her if she
remembered the dreadful day when they had been sent up to apologize to
the French teacher, and Martie said, "Mais oui!" and thrilled at the
little intimate memory of disgrace shared.

"And are you still such a little devil, Martie?" he asked, bringing his
head close to hers.

"That I'll leave you to find out, Rod!" she said laughingly.

"Well--that's one of the things I'm back here to find out!" he answered
gaily.

Yes, he was back to stay; he was to go into the Bank. He confidently
expected to die of the shock and Martie must help him bear it. Martie
promised to open an account. His Dad might let him have a car, if he
behaved himself; did Martie like automobiles? Martie knew very little
about them, but was sure she could honk the horn. Very well; Martie
should come along and honk the horn.

How did they come to be talking of dancing? Martie could not afterward
remember. Rodney had a visit promised from a college friend, and
wondered rather disconsolately what might be arranged to amuse him.
Fortnightly dances--that was the thing; they ought to have Friday
Fortnightlies.

The very word fired the girl. She heard the whine of violins, the click
of fans, the light shuffle of satin-clad feet. Her eyes saw dazzling
lights, shifting colours, in the dull September twilight.

"You could have one at your house," Rodney suggested.

"Of course we could! Our rooms are immense," Martie agreed eagerly.

"To begin--say the last Friday in October!" the boy said. "You look up
the date, and we'll get together on the lists!"

Get together on the lists! Martie's heart closed over the phrase with a
sort of spasm of pleasure. She and Rodney conferring--arranging! The
bliss--the dignity of it! She would have considered anything, promised
anything.

Grace was gone now, and generous little Sally still ahead of them in
the shadows. Martie said a quick, laughing good-night, and ran to join
her sister just before Sally opened the side gate. It was now quite
dark.

The two girls crossed the sunken garden where clumps of flowers bloomed
dimly under the dark old trees, gave one apprehensive glance at the big
house, which showed here and there a dully lighted window, and fled
noiselessly in at the side door. They ran through a wide, bare, unaired
hallway, and up a long flight of unlighted stairs that were protected
over their dark carpeting by a worn brown oilcloth.

Sally, and Martie breathless, entered an enormous bedroom, shabbily and
scantily furnished. The outline of a large walnut bedstead was visible
in the gloom, and the dark curtains that screened two bay windows.
Across the room by a wide, dark bureau, a single gas jet on a jointed
brass arm had been drawn out close to the mirror, and by its light a
slender woman of twenty-seven or eight was straightening her hair. Not
combing or brushing it, for the Monroe girls always combed their hair
and coiled it when they got up in the morning, and took it down when
they went to bed at night. Between times they only "straightened" it.

As the younger girls came in, and flung their hats on the bed, their
sister turned on them reproachfully.

"Martie, mama's furious!" she said. "And I do think it's perfectly
terrible, you and Sally running round town at all hours like this. It's
after six o'clock!"

"I can't help it if it is!" Martie said cheerfully. "Pa home?"

She asked the all-important question with more trepidation than she
showed. Both she and Sally hung anxiously on the reply.

"No; Pa was to come on the four-eleven, and either he missed it, or
else something's kept him down town," Lydia said in her flat, gentle
voice. "Len's not home either ..."

"Praise God from whom all blessings flow!" Martie ejaculated piously,
with her gay, wild laugh. "Tell Lyd who we met, Sally!" she called
back, as she ran downstairs.

She dashed through the dining room, noting with gratitude that dear old
Lyd had set the table in spite of her disapproval. Beyond the big,
gloomy room was an enormous pantry, with a heavy swinging door opening
into a large kitchen. In this kitchen, in the dim light from one gas
jet, and in the steam from sink and stove, Mrs. Monroe and her one
small servant were in the last hot and hurried stages of dinner-getting.

Martie kissed her mother's flushed and sunken cheek; a process to which
Mrs. Monroe submitted with reproachful eyes and compressed lips.

"I don't like this, Martie!" said her mother, shaking her head. "What
were you and Sally doing to be so late?"

"Oh, nothing," Martie said ashamedly. "I'm awf'ly sorry. I had no idea
what time it was!"

"Well, I certainly will have Pa speak to you, if you can't get into the
house before dark!" Mrs. Monroe said in mild protest. "Lyd stopped her
sewing to set the table."

"Len home?" Martie, now slicing bread, asked resentfully.

"No. But a boy is different," Mrs. Monroe answered as she had answered
hundreds of times before. "Not that I approve of Len's actions,
either," she added. "But a man can take care of himself, of course!
Len's always late for meals," she went on. "Seems like he can't get it
through his head that it makes a difference if you sit down when things
are ready or when they're all dried up. But Pa's late anyway to-night,
so it doesn't matter much!"

Martie carried the bread on its ugly, heavy china plate in to the
table, entering from the pantry just as her father came in from the
hall.

"Hello, Pa!" said the girl, placing the bread on the wrinkled cloth
with housewifely precision.

Malcolm Monroe gave his youngest daughter glance of lowering suspicion.
But there was no cause for definite question, and Martie, straightening
the salt-cellars lovingly, knew it.

"Where's your sister?" her father asked discontentedly.

"Upstairs, straightening her hair for dinner, I THINK." Martie was
sweetly responsive. "But I can find out, Pa."

"No matter. Here, take these things." Martie carried away the overcoat
and hat, and hung them on the hat rack in the hall.

"Joe Hawkes wants to know if you wish to pay him for driving you up,
Pa," Sally said, coming in from the steps. Dutifully, meekly, she stood
looking at her father. Lydia, coming in from the kitchen, gave him a
respectful yet daughterly kiss. Singly and collectively there was no
fault to be found with the Monroe girls to-night, even by the most
exacting parent.

"Your sister said you were upstairs, Sally," Malcolm said, narrowing
his eyes.

"So I was, Pa, but I came down to light the hall gas, and while I was
there Joe came to the door," Sally answered innocently.

"H'm! Well, you tell him to charge it." Malcolm sat down by the
fireplace. There was no fire, the evening was not cold enough for one.
He began to unlace his shoes. "Brother home?" he asked, glancing from
Lydia, who was filling the water glasses from a glazed china pitcher,
to Martie, who was dragging and pushing six chairs into place.

"Not yet--no, sir!" the two girls said together unhesitatingly. Leonard
could take care of himself under his father's displeasure. Martie added
solicitously, "Would you like your slippers, Pa? I know where they are;
by the chestard."

He did not immediately answer, being indeed in no mood for a civil
response, and yet finding no welcome cause for grievance. He sat, a
lean, red-faced man, with a drooping black moustache, a high-bridged
nose, and grizzled hair, looking moodily about him.

"Get them--get them; don't stand staring there, Martie!" he burst out
suddenly. Martie caught up his shoes and dashed upstairs.

She went into the large, vault-like apartment that had been her
mother's bedroom for nearly thirty years. To a young and ardent nature,
facing the great question of loving and mating, any place less
indicative of the warmth and companionship of marriage could hardly
have been imagined. The bedstead of heavy redwood was wide, flat, and
hard. It was flanked by a marble-topped table and a chair. There were
two large, curtained bay windows in this room, too, a faded carpet, a
wash-stand with two pallid towels on the rack, several other
stiff-backed chairs, and a large bureau with a square mirror and a
brown marble slab. Over this slab a thin strip of fringed scarf was
laid, and on the scarf stood a brown satin box, with the word "Gloves"
painted over the yellow roses that ornamented its cover.

This was all. Mrs. Monroe kept in the box an odd castor, an empty
cologne bottle, a new corset string, five coat buttons, a rusty pair of
scissors, an old jet bar-brooch whose pin was gone, and various other
small odds and ends. She had but one pair of gloves, of black shiny
kid, somewhat whitened at the finger-tips, and worn only to church or
to funerals. They were a sort of institution, "my gloves," and were
kept in the bureau drawer. They distinguished her state from that of
Belle, the maid, who had no gloves at all.

Opposite the bureau, but because of the enormous size of the room, some
twenty-five feet away, was the "chestard" the high "chest of drawers"
that had won its name from the children's contracted pronunciation.
This bleak article of furniture contained the smaller pieces of Malcolm
Monroe's wardrobe, which matched in plainness and ugliness that of his
wife. Stiff white collars caught and rasped when the shallow upper
drawer was opened; the middle drawers were filled with brownish gray
flannels, and shirts stiff-bosomed and limp of sleeves. But if a
curious Martie, making the bed, or putting away the "wash," ever
cautiously tugged out the lowest drawer, she found it so loaded with
papers, old account books, and bundles of letters as to awe her young
soul. These meant nothing to Martie, and the drawer was heavy to open
noiselessly and awkward to close in haste, yet at intervals now and
then she liked to peep at its mysterious contents.

To-night, however, Martie gave it neither glance nor thought. She
picked up her father's slippers and ran downstairs again, going to
kneel before him and put them on his feet. As she did so her young warm
hand felt the cool, slender length of his foot in the thin stocking,
and she was conscious of repugnance that even the slightest contact
with her father always caused her. There was a definite antagonism
between Malcolm and his youngest daughter, suspected by neither. But
Martie knew that she did not like the faint odour of his moustache, his
breath, and his skin, on those rather infrequent occasions when he
kissed her, and her father was well aware that in baffling him, evading
him, and anticipating him, Martie was more annoying than the three
other children combined.

"Where's your son?" asked the man of the house, as the dinner,
accompanied by his wife, came in from the kitchen.

"I don't know, Pa," Mrs. Monroe said earnestly yet soothingly. "Come,
girls. Come, Pa!"

Malcolm rose stiffly, and went to his place.

"He comes and goes as if his father's house was a hotel, does he?" he
asked, as one merely curious. "Is that the idea?"

"Why, no, Pa." Mrs. Monroe was serving an uninteresting meal on heavy
plates decorated in toneless brown. Soda crackers and sliced bread were
on the table, and a thin slice of butter on a blue china plate. The
teaspoons stood erect in a tumbler of red pressed glass. The younger
girls had old, thin silver napkin rings; their mother's was of
orange-wood with "Souvenir of Santa Cruz" painted on it; and Lydia and
her father used little strips of scalloped and embroidered linen. Lydia
had read of these in a magazine and had made them herself, and as her
daughterly love swept over all the surface ugliness of his character,
she alone among his children sometimes caught a glimpse of her father's
heart. She had an ideal of fatherhood, had gentle, silent, useless
Lydia--formed upon the genial, sunshiny type of parent popular in
books, and she cast a romantic veil over disappointed, selfish,
crossgrained Malcolm Monroe and delighted in little daughterly
attentions to him. She sat next to him at table, and put her own kindly
interpretation upon his moods.

"I confess I don't understand your tactics with that boy!" he said now
irritably.

"Well, he came in after school, and asked could he go out with the
other boys, and I didn't feel you would disapprove, Pa," Mrs. Monroe
said in a worried voice. "Do eat your dinner before it gets all cold!
Lenny'll be here. You'll get one of your bad headaches ... here he is!"

For, to the great relief of his mother and sisters, Leonard Monroe
really did break in from the hall at this point, flinging his cap
toward the hat rack with one hand as he opened the door with the other.
A big, well-developed boy of seventeen was Lenny, dearest of all her
children to his mother, her son and her latest-born, and the secret
hope of his father's heart.

"Say--I'm awful sorry to be so late. Gosh! I ran all the way home. I
thought you'd be on the late train, Pa, and I waited to walk up with
you!" said Lenny, falling upon cooling mutton, boiled potatoes glazed
and sticky, and canned corn.

"Where did you wait?" his father asked, laying one of his endless traps
for an untruth.

"Bonestell's," Lenny answered, perceiving and evading it.

"Young Hawkes drove me up," Malcolm said in a mollified tone.

"Oh?" Lenny's mouth opened innocently. "That's the way I missed you!"

The inevitable ill-temper on their father's part being partly
dissipated by this time, the girls were free to begin a conversation.
Martie's happiness was flooding her spirit like a golden tide; she was
conscious, under all the sordid actualities of a home dinner, that
something sweet--sweet--sweet--had happened to her. She bubbled news.

Grace Hawkes actually was going to work Monday--Rose was going back to
visit Alma--they had met Doc' Ben, hadn't they, Sally? Oh, and Rodney
Parker was home!

"Lucky stiff!" Lenny commented in reference to Rodney.

"He's awfully nice!" Martie said eagerly. "He walked up with us!"

"With us--with YOU!" Sally corrected archly.

"What time was that?" their father asked suddenly.

"About--oh, half-past four or five. Sally and I went down for the mail."

"Rodney Parker ..." Leonard began. "Say, mama, this is all cold," he
interrupted himself to say coaxingly.

"I'll warm it for you, Babe," Lydia said, rising as her mother began to
rise, and reaching for the boy's plate.

"Don't call me BABE!" he protested.

His older sister gave his rough head a good-natured pat as she passed
him.

"You're all the baby we have, Lenny--and he was an awfully sweet baby,
wasn't he, ma?" she said.

"Rodney Parker's going to be in the Bank; I bet he doesn't stay,"
Leonard resumed. "Could you get me into the Bank, Pa?"

"Dear me--I remember that boy as such a handsome baby, before you were
born, Martie," her mother said. "And to think he's been through
college!"

"I wish I could go to college, you bet!" observed Lenny. His father
shot him a glance.

"Your grandfather was a college graduate, my son, and as you know only
an accident cut short my own stay at my alma mater--hem!" he said
pompously. "I have no money to throw away; yet, when you have decided
upon a profession, you need only come to your father with a frank,
manly statement of your plans, and what can be done will be done; you
know that." He wiped his moustache carefully, and glanced about,
meeting the admiring gaze of wife and daughters.

"If you've got any sense, you'll go, Len," Martie said. "I wish you'd
let me go study to be a trained nurse, Pa! Miss Fanny wants me to go
into the lib'ary. I bet I could do it, and I'd like it, too ..."

"And speaking of your grandfather reminds me," Malcolm said heavily,
"that one of the things that delayed me to-day was a matter that came
up a week or two ago. When the town buys the old Archer ranch as a
Park, they propose to put twelve thousand dollars into improvements--"

"Oh, joy!" said Martie. "Excuse me, Pa!"

"The trolley will pass it," her father pursued, "the Park being almost
exactly half-way between Monroe and Pittsville. Now Pittsville ..."

"What do you bet they get all the glory?" Martie flashed. "Their
Woman's Club..." Her voice fell: "I DO beg your pardon, Pa!" she said
again contritely.

"I can discuss this with your mother," Malcolm said in majestic
patience.

"Oh, no! PLEASE, Pa!"

Her father studied her coldly, while the table waited with bated breath.

"Pittsville," he resumed in a measured voice, without moving his eyes
from his third daughter, "is, as usual, making a very strong and a most
undignified claim for the Park. They wish it to be known as the
Pittsville Casino. But Selwyn told me to-day that our people propose to
take a leading share of the liability and to call the Park the Monroe
Grove."

He paused. His listeners exchanged glances of surprise and
gratification.

"Not that there's a tree there now!" Martie said cheerfully.

It was an unfortunate speech, breaking irreverently as it did upon this
moment of exaltation. Lydia hastily came to Martie's relief.

"Pa! ISN'T that splendid--for Grandfather Monroe! I think that's very
nice. They know what this town would have amounted to without HIM! All
those fine reference books in the library--and files and files of bound
magazine's! And didn't he give the property for the church?"

Every one present was aware that he had; there was enthusiastic assent
about the table.

"They propose," Malcolm added as a climax, "to erect a statue of
Leonard Monroe in a prominent place in that Park; my gift."

"Pa!" said a delighted chorus. The girls' shining eyes were moist.

"It was Selwyn's idea that there should be a fund for the cost of the
statue," their father said. "But as the town will feel the added
taxation in any case, I propose to make that my gift. The cost is not
large, the time limit for paying it indefinite."

"Twenty thousand dollars?" Martie, who had a passion for guessing,
ventured eagerly.

"Not so much." But Malcolm was pleased to have the reality so much more
moderate than the guess. "Between two and three thousand."

"Some money!" Leonard exclaimed. He grinned at Martie contemptuously.
"TWENTY!" said he.

"Your sister naturally has not much idea of the value of money,"
Malcolm said, with what was for him rare tolerance. "Yes, it is a large
sum, but I can give it, and if my townspeople turn to me for this
tribute to their most distinguished pioneer ..."

During the rest of the meal no other subject was discussed.

The evening was bright with memories and dreams for Martie. When a
large dish of stewed apples in tapioca had been eaten, the whole family
rose and left the room, and Belle, the little maid, came in wearily,
alone, to attack the disordered table. For two hours the sound of
running water and the dragging of Belle's heavy feet would be heard in
the kitchen. Meanwhile, Belle's mother, in a small house down in the
village, would keep looking at the clock and wondering whatever had
become of Belle, and Belle's young man would loiter disconsolately at
the bridge, waiting.

The three Monroe girls and their mother went into the parlour, Malcolm
going across the hall to a dreary library, where he had an
old-fashioned cabinet desk, and Lenny gaining a reluctant consent to
his request to go down to "Dutch's" house, where he and Dutch would
play lotto.

"Why doesn't Dutch Harrison ever come here to play lotto?" Martie asked
maliciously. "You go to Dutch's because it's right down near
Bonestell's and Mallon's and the Pool Parlour!" Leonard shot her a
threatening glance, accepted a half-permission, snatched his cap and
was gone.

The parlour was large, cold, and uncomfortable, its woodwork brown, its
walls papered in dark green. Lydia lighted the fire, and as Leonard had
made his escape, Belle brought up a supplementary hodful of coal.
Martie lighted two of the four gas jets, and settled down to solitaire.
Sally read "Idylls of the King." Lydia and her mother began to sew, the
older woman busy with mending a hopelessly worn table-cloth, the
younger one embroidering heavy linen with hundreds of knots. Lydia had
been making a parasol top for more than a year. They gossiped in low,
absorbed tones of the affairs of friends and neighbours; the endless
trivial circumstances so interesting to the women of a small town.

There were two gas jets, also on hinged arms, beside the white marble
fireplace, and one of these Sally lighted, taking her father's
comfortable chair. A hood of thin plum-coloured flannel, embroidered in
coloured flowers, was on the mantel, with shells, two pink glass vases,
and a black marble clock. On the old square piano, where yellowing
sheets of music were heaped, there was a cover of the same flannel.
Albums and gift books, Schiller's "Bell" with Flaxman plates, and
Dante's "Inferno" with Dore's illustrations--lay on the centre table;
Martie pushed them back for her game.

She looked a mere overgrown, untidy girl, to whose hair, belt,
finger-nails, and shoes she might have attended with advantage. But
Martie was a bride to-night, walking the realm of Romance.

She had never had an admirer, nor had Sally. Neither girl admitted it,
but it was true. Poor Lydia had had a taste of the joy of life, and a
full measure of the sorrow, seven years ago, when Clifford Frost,
twelve years her senior, at thirty-one the perfect match, had singled
her out for his favour. Martie and Sally could remember how pleasantly
exciting it was to have Cliff Frost so much at the house, how Lydia
laughed and bloomed! Lydia had been just Sally then: her age, and her
double.

What had gone wrong, the younger girls sometimes wondered. Pa had been
pompous, of course; Cliff had not been made exactly comfortable, here
by this marble mantel. Lydia had quavered out her happy welcome, her
mother had fluttered and smiled. And Cliff had given her candy, and
taken her to the Methodist Bazaar and the Elks' Minstrels, and had
given her a fan. The candy was eaten long ago, and the dance music and
the concerts long forgotten in the village, but Lydia still had the fan.

For a year, for two, for three, the affair went on. There was a cloud
in the sky before Mary Canfield came to visit Mrs. Frost, but with her
coming, joy died in Lydia's heart. Mary was made for loving; Mary's
mother and father and aunts and cousins all made it easy for any man to
fall in love with her. Mary danced, played the piano, chattered French,
changed from one pretty frock to another, tirelessly. In short, Mary
was a marketable product, and Lydia was not.

Cliff came to tell Lydia that he and Mary were to be married, and that
she had always been his best pal, and that their friendship had been
one of the sweetest things in his life. He kissed her in brotherly
fashion when he went away. Mary, lovely in bridal silks, came to call
on Lydia a few months later, and to this day when she met faded, sweet
Miss Monroe, the happy little wife and mother would stop in street or
shop and display little Ruth's charms, and chat graciously for a few
minutes. She always defended Lydia when the Frost and Parker factions
lamented that the Monroe girls were inclined to be "common."

Martie thought of none of these things to-night. She thought of Rodney
Parker, and her heart floated upon clouds of rose-coloured delight.
Dreamily manipulating the cards, she remembered that twilight meeting.
"Are you still a little devil, Martie ... I'm going to find out." Again
they were walking slowly toward the bridge. "How many people have told
you you've grown awfully pretty, Martie? ... You and I'll get together
on the lists. ..."

The girl stopped, with arrested fingers and absent eyes. The rapture of
remembering thrilled her young body like a breath of flame blown
against her. She breathed with deep, slow respirations, holding her
breath with a risen breast, and letting it go with a long sigh. Now and
then she looked with an ashamed and furtive glance from her mother's
gray head and Lydia's busy fingers to Sally's absorbed face under the
opaque white globe of the gaslight, almost as if she feared that the
enchantment that held heart and brain would be visible to watching eyes.

"Mind you," Lydia was saying in a low tone, "Flora said that Lou acted
very queer, from the very moment she went in--Lou asked her if she
wanted to look at poor Mr. Lowney, and Flora went in, and he was all
laid out, with flowers and all, in that upstairs room where Al died.
Grandma Lowney was there, and--oh, quite a few others, coming and
going, Mrs. Mallon and the Baxter girls. Flora only stayed a minute,
and when she and Lou went out, she says, 'Lou, has Annie Poett been
here since he was taken sick?' and Lou began to cry and said that her
mother answered the telephone when Annie called up last week, and it
seems Annie asked was Joe Lowney sick and Mrs. King said 'No.'"

"For heaven's sake!" Mrs. Monroe said, incredulous and absorbed.

"Well, that's what Flora said. But mind you, Ma, on Tuesday night
little Hildegarde King went to the door, and she says that Annie Poett
came in and went upstairs--Lou was dishing supper, you know the Allens
and Mrs. Gorman were there for the funeral, and they were all at
table--and, by the way, Flora says that Lou says that Lizzie Alien was
there in that house for three days--that is, it was nearly three days,
for they stayed for supper Wednesday night--and that Lizzie never
raised her hand to ONE THING, just did nothing but sit around and cry,
and say what a good brother Joe was!"

"Did you ever!" commented Mrs. Monroe.

"Anyway, nobody got up from the table, and all they had for it was
Hildegarde's word, and she wasn't sure it was Annie. Grandma Lowney was
asleep--they'd gotten her to lie down; she took more care of Joe than
any one else, you know, and she sat up both nights. Clara Baxter says
she looks awful; she doesn't believe she'll get over it."

"I shouldn't wonder!" said Mrs. Monroe with a click of commiseration.

"Lou told Flora that the night Joe was dying, Grandma broke out and
said to Paul King that if Joe hadn't gone with him out to Deegan Point
two weeks ago, he never would have had that chill. But Flora says ..."

The low voices went on and on, even after Malcolm Monroe came in,
thoroughly tired and a little chilly, to take his own chair by the
fire. Sally, deposed, came to sit opposite Martie, and idly watched the
solitaire.

"Isn't Rodney Parker nice?" Sally whispered cautiously, after a while.

"I think he is!" Martie answered hardily; but the happy colour came to
her cheeks.

"I'll bet all the girls go crazy about him!" Sally submitted.

A faint pang of jealousy, a vague sense of helplessness, seized upon
Martie. He had been so cordially gay and delightful with her; would he
be that with all the girls? Would Florence Frost, three years older
than he, fall a victim to his charm as quickly as she, Martie, had
fallen? Martie had mentioned Florence Frost this afternoon, and by
subtle, instinctive, girlish reasoning had found consolation in his
reply. "She's my sister's friend; she's awfully smart, you know--books
and all that!" Rodney honestly felt an entire indifference to this
admirable young neighbour, and Martie understood his remark as meaning
exactly that.

She went on with her patience, the particular game known as the "Idle
Year." Sometimes Sally touched or mentioned a card. Sometimes, as a
final problem presented itself, the girls consulted as to the wisdom of
this play or that. Between games Martie shuffled vigorously, and they
talked more freely.

"I think he's crazy about you," said Sally.

"Oh, Sally, don't be such a fool!"

"I'm not fooling. Look at the way he turned back and walked with us,
and he never took his eyes off you!" Sally, somewhat dashed for an
instant by Martie's well-assumed scorn, gained confidence now, as the
new radiance brightened her sister's face. "Why, Mart," she said
boldly, "there is such a thing as love at first sight!"

Love at first sight! Martie felt a sort of ecstatic suffocation at the
words. An uncontrollable smile twitched at her mouth, she recommenced
her game briskly. Her heart was dancing.

"Lissun; do you suppose Ma would ever let us have a party here?" Martie
presently ventured.

Sally pursed her lips and shook a doubtful head.

"Oh, but, Sally, I don't mean a real party, of course. Just about
twenty--" Martie began.

"Lemonade and cake?" Sally supplied.

"Well--coffee and sandwiches, Rodney seemed to think. And punch."

"Punch! Martie! You know Pa never would."

"I don't see why not," Martie said discontentedly, slapping down her
cards noisily. Sally spoke only the truth, yet it was an irritating
truth, and Martie would have preferred a soothing lie.

"What about music for dancing?" Sally asked, after a thoughtful
interval.

"Angela Baxter," Martie said with reviving hope.

"But she charges two dollars; at least she did for the Baptist euchre."

"Well--that's not so much!"

"We could make those cute brown-bread sandwiches Rose had," Sally
mused, warming to the possibility. "And use the Canton set. Nobody in
town has china like ours, anyway!"

"Oh, Sally," Martie was again fired, "we could have creamed chicken and
sandwiches--that's all anybody ever wants! And it's so much sweller
than messy sherbets and layer cake. And we could decorate the rooms
with greens--"

"Our rooms are lovely, anyway!" Sally stated with satisfaction.

"Why, with the folding doors open, and fires in both grates, they would
be perfectly stunning!" Martie spoke rapidly, her colour rising, her
blue eyes glittering like stars. "Of course, the back room isn't
furnished, but we could scatter some chairs around in there; we'll need
all the room for dancing, anyway!"

"We couldn't dance on this carpet," Sally submitted, perplexed, as she
glanced at the parlour's worn floor-covering.

"No, but we could in the back room--that floor's bare--and in the
hall," Martie answered readily. "You see it's the first of a sort of
set of dances; the next would be at the Frosts' or the Barkers', and it
would mean that we were right in things--"

"Oh, it would be lovely if we could do it!" Sally agreed with a sigh.
"Play the Queen on here, Martie, and then you'll have a space."

"Do you propose to play that game much longer, girls?" their father
asked, looking patiently over his book.

"Are we disturbing you, Pa?" Martie countered politely.

"Well--but don't stop on my account. Of course the sound of cards and
voices isn't exactly soothing. However, go on with your game--go on
with your game! If I can't stand it, I'll go back to the library."

"Oh, no, Pa, it's too cold in there; this is the time of year you
always get that cold in your nose," Mrs. Monroe said pleadingly.

"I was going right up, anyway," Sally said with an apologetic air and a
glance toward the door.

"I'll go, too!" Martie jumbled the cards together, and rose. "It's
nearly ten, anyway."

A moment later she and Sally went out of the room together. But while
Sally went straight upstairs, to light the bedroom gas, fold up the
counterpane, and otherwise play the part of the good sister she was,
Martie noiselessly opened the side door and stepped out for a breath of
the sweet autumn night.

There was a spectacularly bright moon, somewhere; Martie could not see
it, but beyond the sunken garden she caught glimpses of silvery
brightness on the roofs of Monroe. Even here, under the dark trees,
pools of light had formed and the heavy foliage was shot with shafts of
radiance. A strong wind was clicking the eucalyptus leaves together,
and carrying bits of rubbish here and there about the yard. Martie
could hear voices, the barking of dogs, and the whine of the ten
o'clock trolley, down in the village.

The gate slammed. Leonard came in.

"Pa tell you to watch for me?" he asked fearfully.

"No." Martie, sitting on the top step and hugging her knees, answered
indifferently. "It's not ten yet. What you been doing?"

"Oh, nothing!" Len passed her and went in.

As a matter of fact, he had called for his chum, sauntered into the
candy store for caramels, joined the appreciative group that watched a
drunken man forcibly ejected from Casserley's saloon, visited the pool
room and witnessed a game or two, gone back into the street to tease
two hurrying and giggling girls with his young wit, and drifted into a
passing juggler's wretched and vulgar show. This, or something like
this, was what Len craved when he begged to "go out for a while" after
dinner. It was sometimes a little more entertaining, sometimes less so;
but it spelled life for the seventeen-year-old boy.

He could not have described this to Martie, even had he cared to do so.
She would not have understood it. But she felt a vague yearning, too,
for lights and companionship and freedom, a vague envy of Leonard.

The world was out there, beyond the gate, beyond the village. She was
in it, but not of it. She longed to begin to live, and knew not how.
Ten years before she had been only a busy, independent, happy little
girl; turning to her mother and sister for advice, obeying her father
without question. But Pa and Lydia, and Len with his egotism, and Ma
with her trials, were nothing to Martie now. In battle, in pestilence,
or after a great fire, she would have risen head and shoulders above
them all, would have worked gloriously to reestablish them. She
supposed that she loved them dearly. But so terrible was the hunger of
her heart for her share of life--for loving, serving, planning, and
triumphing--that she would have swept them all aside like cobwebs to
grasp the first reality flung her by fate.

Not to stagnate, not to smother, not to fade and shrink like
Lydia--like Miss Fanny at the library, and the Baxter girls at the
post-office! Every healthy young fibre of Martie's soul and body
rebelled against such a fate, but she could not fully sense the
barriers about her, nor plan any move that should loosen her bonds.
Martie believed, as her parents believed, that life was largely a
question of "luck." Money, fame, friends, power, to this man; poverty
and obscurity and helplessness to that one. Wifehood, motherhood,
honour and delight to one school girl; gnawing, restless uselessness to
the next. "I only hope you girls are going to marry," their mother
would sometimes say plaintively; "but I declare I don't know who--with
all the nice boys leaving town the way they do! Pa gives you a good
home, but he can't do much more, and after he and I go, why, it will be
quite natural for you girls to go on keeping house for Len--I suppose."

Martie's sensitive soul writhed under these mournful predictions.
Dependence was bitter to her, Len's kindly patronage stung her only a
little less than his occasional moods of cheerful masculine contempt.
He meant to take care of his sisters, he wasn't ever going to marry. Pa
needn't worry, Len said. The house was mortgaged, Martie knew; their
father's business growing less year by year; there would be no great
inheritance, and if life was not satisfying now, when she had youth and
plenty, what would it be when Pa was gone?

It was all dark, confusing, baffling, to ignorant, untrained nineteen.
The sense of time passing, of opportunities unseen and ungrasped, might
well make Martie irritable, restless, and reckless. Happiness and
achievement were to be bought, but she knew not with what coinage.

To-day the darkness had been shot by a gleam of living light. Through
Rodney Parker's casual gallantries Martie's eyes looked into a new
world. It was a world of loving, of radiant self-confidence and
self-expression. Martie saw herself buying gowns for the wedding,
whisking in and out of Monroe's shops, stopped by affectionate and
congratulatory friends. She was dining at Mrs. Barker's, dignified, and
yet gracious and responsive, too. Dear old Judge Parker was being
courteous to her; Mrs. Parker advising Rodney's young wife. There were
grandchildren running over the old place. Martie remembered the big
rooms from long-ago red-letter days of her childhood. How she would
love her home, and what a figure of dignity and goodness Mrs. Rodney
Parker would be in the life of the town.

Oh, dear God--it was not so much to ask! People were getting married
all the time; Rodney Parker must marry some one. Lydia was unwed, Sally
had no lover; but out of so rich and full a world could not so much be
spared to Martie? Oh, how good she would be, how generous to Pa and the
girls, how kind to Ida and May!

Martie bowed her head on her knees. If this one thing might come her
way, if it might be her fate to have Rodney Parker love her, to have
the engagement and the wedding follow in their happy order, she would
never ask more of God; gaining so much she would truly be good, she
would live for others then!

When she raised her face it was wet with tears.



CHAPTER II


The next morning, when the younger girls came down to breakfast, they
found only the three women in the kitchen. An odour of coffee hung in
the air. Belle was scraping burned toast at the sink, the flying, sooty
particles clinging to wet surfaces everywhere. Lydia sat packing cold
hominy in empty baking-powder tins; to be sliced and fried for the noon
meal. Mrs. Monroe, preferring an informal kitchen breakfast to her own
society in the dining room, was standing by the kitchen table,
alternating swallows from a saucerless cup of hot coffee with
indifferent mouthfuls of buttered cold bread. She rarely went to the
trouble of toasting her own bread, spending twice the energy required
to do so in protests against the trouble.

Lydia had breakfasted an hour ago. Sally and Martie sliced bread,
pushed forward the coffee pot, and entered a spirited claim for cream.
It was Saturday morning, when Leonard slept late. Pa was always late.
Lydia was anxious to save a generous amount of cream for the sleepers.

"Len often takes a second cup of coffee when he's got lots of time,"
Lydia said.

"Well, I don't care!" Martie said, suddenly serious. "I'm going to take
my coffee black, anyway. I'm getting too fat!"

"Oh, Martie, you are not!" Sally laughed.

"That's foolish--you'll just upset your health!" her mother added
disapprovingly.

Martie's only answer was a buoyant kiss. She and Sally carried their
breakfast into the dining room, where they established themselves
comfortably at one end of the long table. While they ate, dipping their
toast in the coffee, buttering and rebuttering it, they chattered as
tirelessly as if they had been deprived of each other's society and
confidence for weeks.

The morning was dark and foggy, and a coal fire slumbered in the grate,
giving out a bitter, acrid smell. Against the windows the soft mist
pressed, showing a yellow patch toward the southeast, where the sun
would pierce it after a while.

Malcolm Monroe came downstairs at about nine o'clock, and the girls
gathered up their dishes and disappeared in the direction of the
kitchen. Not that Ma would not, as usual, prepare their father's toast
and bacon with her own hands, and not that Lydia would not, as usual,
serve it. The girls were not needed. But Pa always made it impossible
for them to be idle and comfortable over their own meal. If he did not
actually ask them to fetch butter or water, or if he could find no
reasonable excuse for fault-finding, he would surely introduce some
dangerous topic; lure them into admissions, stand ready to pursue any
clue. He did not like to see young girls care-free and contented; time
enough for that later on! And as years robbed him of actual dignities,
and as Monroe's estimate of him fell lower and lower, he turned upon
his daughters the authority, the carping and controlling that might
otherwise have been spent upon respectful employees and underlings. He
found some relief for a chafed and baffled spirit in the knowledge that
Sally and Martie were helpless, were bound to obey, and could easily be
made angry and unhappy.

Lydia, her father's favourite, came in with a loaded tray, just as Len,
slipping down the back stairs, was being stealthily regaled by his
mother on a late meal in the kitchen. Len had no particular desire for
his father's undiluted company.

"Good morning, Pa!" Lydia said, with a kiss for his cool forehead.
"Your paper's right there by the fire; there's quite a fog, and it got
wet."

Hands locked, she settled herself opposite him, and revolved in her
mind the terms in which she might lay before him the younger girls'
hopes. It was part of Lydia's concientiousness not to fail them now,
even though she secretly disapproved of the whole thing.

"Pa," she began bravely, "you wouldn't mind the girls having some of
their friends in some evening, would you? I thought perhaps some night
when you were down in the city--"

"Your idea, my dear?" Malcolm said graciously.

"Well--Martie's really." Lydia was always scrupulously truthful.

His face darkened a little. He pursed his lips.

"Dinner, eh?"

"Oh, no, Pa! Just dancing, or--" Lydia was watching him closely, "or
games," she substituted hurriedly. "You see the other girls have these
little parties, and our girls--" her voice fell.

"Such an affair costs money, my dear!"

"Not much, Pa!"

His eyes were discontentedly fixed upon the headlines of his paper, but
he was thinking.

"Making a lot of work for your mother," he protested, "upsetting the
whole house like a pack of wolves! Upon my word, I can't see the
necessity. Why can't Sally and Martie--"

"But it's only once in a long while, Pa," Lydia urged.

"I know--I know! Well, you ask Martie to speak to me about it in a day
or two. Now go call your mother."

For the gracious permission Lydia gave him an appreciative kiss,
leaving him comfortable with his fire, his newspaper, and his armchair,
as she went on her errand.

"Pa was terribly sweet about the dance," she told Martie and Sally.

Belle was now deep in breakfast dishes, and the two girls had gone out
into the foggy dooryard with the chickens' breakfast. A flock of mixed
fowls were clucking and pecking over the bare ground under the willows.
Martie held the empty tin pan in one hand, in the other was a
half-eaten cruller. Sally had turned her serge skirt up over her
shoulders as a protection against the cool air, exposing a shabby
little "balmoral."

"Oh, Lyd, you're an angel!" Martie said, holding the cruller against
Lydia's mouth. But Lydia expressed a grateful negative with a shake of
her head; she never nibbled between meals.

She retailed the conversation with her father. Martie and Sally became
fired with enthusiasm as they listened. An animated discussion
followed. Grace was a problem. Dared they ignore Grace? There was a
lamentable preponderance of girls without her. All their lists began
and ended with, "Well, there's Rodney and his friends--that's two--"

The day was as other days, except to Martie. When the chickens were
fed, she and Sally idled for perhaps half an hour in the yard, and then
went into the kitchen. Belle, sooty and untidy, had paused at the
kitchen table, with her dustpan resting three feet away from the cold
mutton that lay there. Mrs. Monroe's hair was in some disorder, and a
streak of black from the stove lay across one of her lean, greasy
wrists. The big stove was cooling now, ashes drifted from the firebox
door, and an enormous saucepan of slowly cooking beans gave forth a
fresh, unpleasant odour. At all the windows the fog pressed softly.

"Are you going down town, Sally?" the mother asked.

"Well--I thought we would. We can if you want!" said Sally.

"If you do, I wish you'd step into Mason & White's, and ask one of the
men there if they aren't ever going to send me the rest of my box of
potatoes."

"All right!" Martie and Sally put their hats on in the downstair hall,
shouted upstairs to Lydia for the shoes, and sauntered out contentedly
into the soft, foggy morning. The Monroe girls never heard the garden
gate slam behind them without a pleasant yet undefined sense of
freedom. The sun was slowly but steadily gaining on the fog, a bright
yellow blur showed the exact spot where shining light must soon break
through. Trees along the way dripped softly, but on the other side of
the bridge, where houses were set more closely together, and gardens
less dense, sidewalks and porches were already drying.

The girls walked past the new, trim little houses and the clumsy, big,
old-fashioned ones, chattering incessantly. Their bright, interested
eyes did not miss the tiniest detail. The village, sleepier than ever
on the morning of the half-holiday, was full of interest to them.

Mrs. Hughie Wilson was sweeping her garden path, and called out to them
that the church concert had netted 327 dollars; wasn't that pretty good?

A few steps farther on they met Alice Clark, who kept them ten minutes
in eager, unimportant conversation. Her parting remark sent the Monroe
girls happily on their way.

"I hear Rodney Parker's home--don't pretend to be surprised, Martha
Monroe. A little bird was telling me that I'll have to go up North Main
Street for news of him after this!"

"Who do you s'pose told her we met Rod Parker?" Martie grinned as they
went on.

"People see everything! Oh, Martie," said Sally earnestly, "I do hope
you are going to marry; no, don't laugh! I don't mean Rod, of course,
I'm not such a fool. But I mean some one."

"You ought to marry first, Sally; you're the older," Martie said, with
averted eyes and a sort of delicious shame.

"Oh, I don't mind that, Martie, if only we begin!" Sally answered
fervently. "When I think of what the next ten years MEAN for us, it
just makes me sick! Either we'll marry and have our own homes and
children, or we'll be like Alice, and the Baxters, and Miss Fanny--"

"I'd just as soon have a good job like Miss Fanny," Martie said
hardily. "She gets sixty a month."

"Well, I wouldn't!" Sally protested in a sudden burst. "Being in an
office would KILL me, I think! I just couldn't do it! But I believe I
COULD manage a little house, and children, and I'd like that! I
wouldn't mind being poor--I never really think of being anything
else--but what I'm so afraid of is that Len'll marry and we'll just
be--just be AUNTS!"

Such vehemence was not usual to Sally, and as her earnestness brought
her to a full stop on the sidewalk, the two sisters found themselves
facing each other. They burst into a joyous laugh, as their eyes met,
and the full absurdity of the conversation became apparent.

Still giggling, they went on their way, past the old smithy, where a
pleasant breath of warmth and a splendid ringing of hammers came from
the forge, and past the new garage of raw wood with the
still-astonishing miracle of a "horseless carriage" in its big window,
pots of paint and oil standing inside its door, and workmen, behind a
barrier of barrels and planks, laying a cement sidewalk in front. They
passed the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store, its unwashed windows jammed with
pyramids of dry-looking chocolates, post cards, and jewellery, and
festoons of trashy embroidery, and the corner fruit stands heaped with
tomatoes and sprawling grapes. At the Palace Candy Store a Japanese boy
in his shirt-sleeves was washing the show window, which was empty
except for some rumpled sheets of sun-faded pink crepe paper. By the
door stood two large wooden buckets for packing ice cream. The ice and
salt were melted now, and the empty moulds, still oozing a little
curdled pink cream, were floating in the dirty water.

"Why aren't you girls at home sewing for the poor?" demanded a pleasant
voice over their shoulders. The girls wheeled about to smile into the
eyes of Father Martin. A tall spare old man, with enormous glasses on
his twinkling blue eyes, spots and dust on his priestly black, and a
few teeth missing from his kindly, big, homely mouth, he beamed upon
them.

"Well, how are ye? And your mother's well? Well, and what are ye
buying--trousseaux?"

"We're just looking, Father," Martie giggled. "Looking for husbands
first, and then clothes!"

Laughing, the girls walked with him across the street to Mallon's
Hardware Emporium, where baskets of jelly glasses were set out on the
damp sidewalk, with enamel saucepans marked "29c." and "19c." in black
paint, carpet sweepers, oil stoves, and pink-and-blue glass vases. They
went on to the shoe shop, to the grocery, to the post-office, past the
express office, where Joe Hawkes sat whittling in the sun. They paused
to study with eager interest the flaring posters on the fences that
announced the impending arrival of Poulson's Star Stock Company, for
one night only, in "The Sword of the King." They discovered with
surprise that it was nearly twelve o'clock, bought five cents' worth of
rusty, sweet, Muscat grapes, to be eaten on the way home, and turned
their faces toward the bridge.

But the morning, for Martie, had held its golden moment. When they
passed the Bank, Sally had been dreaming, as Sally almost always was,
but Martie's eyes had gone from shining gold-lettered window to window,
and with that new, sweet suffocation at her heart she had found the
object of her searching--the satiny crest of Rodney Parker's sleek
hair, the fresh-coloured profile that had been in her waking and
sleeping thoughts since yesterday. He was evidently hard at work;
indeed he was nervous and discouraged, had Martie but known it; he did
not look up.

But Martie did not want him to look up. She wanted only the stimulation
to her thoughts that the sight of him caused, the enchanting
realization that he was there. She had a thrilling vision of herself
entering that bank, a privileged person, "young Mrs. Rodney." Old Judge
Parker coming out of his private office with his hands full of papers
would nod to her with his fatherly smile, Rodney grin the proud yet
embarrassed grin of a man confronted in office hours by his women-folk.

Suddenly Martie decided that she would begin to save money. She and
Sally had jointly fallen heir to a young Durham cow when Cousin Sally
Buckingham died, and the cow being sold for thirty-five dollars,
exactly seventeen dollars and fifty cents had been deposited in the
bank in each girl's name. This was four years ago; neither one ever
dreamed of touching the precious nest-egg; to them it represented
wealth. Len had no bank account, nor had Mama nor Lydia. All Martie's
dreams of the future began, included, or ended on the expenditure of
this sum. It bought text books, wedding veils, railway tickets in turn.
Now she thought that if she saved another dollar, and went into the
Bank duly to deposit it, Rodney must see her, might even wait upon her;
it would be a perfectly legitimate way of crossing his line of vision.

The Monroes had plenty of spending money; for although their father was
strongly opposed to the idea of making any child of his a definite
allowance, he allowed them to keep the change whenever they executed
small commissions for him, and to wheedle from him stray quarter and
half dollars. Lydia had only to watch for the favourable moment to get
whatever she asked, and with Leonard he was especially generous. Martie
knew that she could save, if she determined to do so. She imagined
Rodney's voice: "Bringing more money in? You'll soon be rich at this
rate, Martie!"



CHAPTER III


A few days later Rodney Parker walked home from the village with Martie
Monroe again. Meeting her in Bonestell's, he paid for her chocolate
sundae, and on their way up Main Street they stopped in the Library, so
that Miss Fanny saw them. Every one saw them: first of all generous
little Sally, who was to meet Martie in Bonestell's, but who,
perceiving that Rodney had joined her there, slipped away unseen, and,
blindly turning over the ribbons on Mason's remnant counter, prayed
with all her heart that Rodney would continue to fill her place.

They walked up Main Street, Martie glancing up from under her shabby
hat with happy blue eyes, Rodney sauntering contentedly at her side.

How much he knew, how much he had done, the girl thought, with an ache
of hopeless admiration. Almost every sentence opened a new vista of his
experience and her ignorance. She did not suspect that he meant it to
be so; she only felt dazzled by the easy, glancing references he made
to men and books and places.

They stopped at the railroad track to watch the eastward-bound train
thunder by. Five hours out of San Francisco, its passengers looked
quite at home in the big green upholstered seats. Bored women looked
idly out upon little Monroe, half-closed magazines in their hands.
Card-playing men did not glance up as the village flashed by. On the
platform of the observation car the usual well-wrapped girl and
pipe-smoking young man were carrying on the usual flirtation. Martie
saw the train nearly every day, but never without a thrill. She said to
herself, "New York!" as a pilgrim might murmur of Mecca or of Heaven.

"That's a good train," said Rodney. "Let's see, this is Wednesday.
They'll be in New York Sunday night. Awful place on Sunday--no
theatres, no ball games, no drinks--"

"I could manage without theatres or ball games," Martie laughed. "But I
must have my whisky!"

"It sounded as if I meant that, but you know me!" he laughed back.
"Lord, how I'd like to show you New York. Wouldn't you love it!
Broadway--well, it's a wonder! There's something doing every minute.
You'd love the theatres--"

"I know I would!" Martie assented, glowing.

"My aunt lives there; she has an apartment right on the Park, at West
Ninetieth," Rodney said. "Her husband has scads of money," the boy
pursued. "You'll have to go on, Martie, there's no two ways about it."

"And Delmonico's?" the girl suggested eagerly. "I've heard of
Delmonico's!"

"Delmonico's is where the wedding parties go. Of course, if you say so,
Martie--"

That was one of the sweet and thrilling things to remember. And there
were other things to make Martie's heart dance as she set the dinner
table. But she wondered if she should have asked him in.

Martie stopped short, salt-cellars in her hand. How could she--with
Pa's arrival possible at any moment. Besides she had asked him, as they
lingered laughing at the gate. That was all right--it was late, anyway.
He had gaily refused, and she had not pressed him. And, wonderful
thought, they were going walking on Sunday.

Monroe boys and girls usually walked on Sunday. They walked up the
track to the Junction, or up between bare fields past the Poor House to
the Cemetery. When a young man hired a phaeton at Beetman's, and took
his girl for a drive on Sunday, it was a definite avowal of serious
attachment. In that case they usually had their Sunday supper at the
home of the young man's mother, or married sister, or with some female
relative whose sanction upon their plans was considered essential.

Rodney Parker was not quite familiar with this well-established
precedent. His sisters were not enough of the village to be asked
either to walk or drive with the local swains, and he had been away for
several years. For two Sundays he walked with Martie, and then he asked
her to drive.

For the girl, these weeks were suffused with a tremulous and ecstatic
delight beyond definition, beyond words. What she would not have dared
to hope, she actually experienced. No need to boast before Sally and
Grace and Florence Frost. They saw: the whole village saw.

Martie bloomed like a rose. She forgot everything--Pa, Len, the gloomy
home, the uncertain future--for joy. That her old hat was shabby and
her clothes inappropriate meant nothing to Martie; ignorant, unhelped,
she stumbled on her way alone. Nobody told her to pin her bronze braids
more trimly, to keep her brilliant skin free from the muddying touch of
sweets and pastries, to sew a hook here and catch a looping hem there.
Nobody suggested that she manicure her fine big hands, or use some of
her endless leisure to remove the spots from her blue silk dress.

More; the family dared take only a stealthy interest in Martie's
affair, because of Malcolm's extraordinary perversity and Len's young
scorn. Malcolm, angered by Lydia's fluttered pleasure in the honour
Rodney Parker was doing their Martie, was pleased to assume a high and
mighty attitude. He laughed heartily at the mere idea that the
attentions of Graham Parker's son might be construed as a compliment to
a Monroe, and sarcastically rebuked Lydia when, on a Sunday afternoon,
she somewhat stealthily made preparations for tea. Martie and Rod were
walking, and Martie, before she went, had said something vague about
coming back at half-past four.

Lydia, abashed, gave up her plan for tea. But she did what she could
for Martie, by inveigling her father into a walk. Martie and Rod came
into an empty house, for Sally was out, no one knew where, and Mrs.
Monroe had gone to church where vespers were sung at four o'clock
through the winter.

Martie's colour was high from fast walking in the cold wind, her eyes
shone like sapphires, and her loosened hair, under an old velvet
tam-o'-shanter cap, made a gold aureole about her face. Rodney,
watching her mount the little hill to the graveyard with a winter
sunset before her, had called her "Brunhilde," and he had been talking
of grand opera as they walked home.

Enchanted at finding the house deserted, she very simply took him into
the kitchen. The kettle was fortunately singing over a sleeping fire;
Rodney sliced bread and toasted it, while Martie, trying to appear
quite at her ease, but conscious of awkward knees and elbows just the
same, whisked from pantry to kitchen busily, disappearing into the
dining room long enough to lay the tea cups and plates at one end of
the big table.

Only a few moments before the little feast was ready, Lydia came rather
anxiously into the kitchen. She greeted Rodney smilingly, seizing the
first opportunity for an aside to say to Martie:

"Pa's home, Mart. And he doesn't like your having Rod out here. I
walked him up to the Tates', but no one was home except Lizzie. Shame!
He saw Rodney's cap in the hall--he's in the dining room." Aloud she
said cheerfully: "I think this is dreadful--making you work so hard,
Rod. Come--tea's nearly ready. You and I'll wait for it in the dining
room, like the gentleman and lady we are!"

"Oh, I'm having a grand time!" Rodney laughed. But he allowed himself
to be led away. A few minutes later Martie, with despair in her heart,
carried the loaded tray into the dining room.

Her father, in one of his bad moods, was sitting by the empty
fireplace. The room, in the early autumn twilight, was cold. Len had
come in and expected his share of the unfamiliar luxury of tea, and
more than his share of the hot toast.

Rodney, unaffected by the atmosphere, gaily busied himself with the
tray. Lydia came gently in with an armful of light wood which she laid
in the fireplace.

"There is no necessity for a fire," Malcolm said. "I wouldn't light
that, my dear."

"I thought--just to take the chill off," Lydia stammered.

Her father shook his head. Lydia subsided.

"We shall be having supper shortly, I suppose?" he asked patiently,
looking at a large gold watch. "It's after half-past five now."

"But, Pa," Lydia laughed a little constrainedly, "we never have dinner
until half-past six!"

"Oh, on week days--certainly," he agreed stiffly. "On Sundays, unless I
am entirely wrong, we sit down before six."

"Len," Martie murmured, "why don't you go make yourself some toast?"

"Don't have to!" Len laughed with his mouth full.

"Here--I'll go out and make some more!" Rodney said buoyantly, catching
up a plate. Lydia instantly intervened; this would not do. Pa would be
furious. Obviously Martie could not go, because in her absence Pa,
Rodney, and Len would either be silent, or say what was better unsaid.
Lydia herself went out for a fresh supply of toast.

Martie was grateful, but in misery. Lydia was always slow. The endless
minutes wore away, she and Rodney playing with their empty plates, Len
also waiting hungrily, her father watching them sombrely. If Len hadn't
come in and been so greedy, Martie thought in confused anger, tea would
have been safely over by this time; if Pa were not there glowering she
might have chattered at her ease with Rodney, no tea hour would have
been too long. As it was, she was self-conscious and constrained. The
clock struck six. Really it WAS late.

The toast came in; Sally came in demurely at her mother's side. She had
rushed out of the shadows to join her mother at the gate, much to Mrs.
Monroe's surprise. Conversation, subdued but general, ensued. Martie
walked boldly with Rodney to the gate, at twenty minutes past six, and
they stood there, laughing and talking, for another ten minutes.

When she went in, it was to face unpleasantness. Her mother, with her
bonnet strings dangling, was helping Lydia hastily to remove signs of
the recent tea party. Sally was in the kitchen; Len reading opposite
his father.

"Come here a minute, Martie," her father called as I the girl hesitated
in the hallway. Martie came in and eyed him. "I would like to know what
circumstances led to young Parker's being here this afternoon?" he
asked.

"Why--we were walking, and I--I suppose I asked him, Pa."

"You SUPPOSE you asked him?"

"Well--I DID ask him."

"Oh, you DID ask him; that's different. You had spoken to your mother
about it?"

"No." Martie swallowed. "No," she said again nervously. There was a
silence while her father eyed her coldly.

"Then you ask whom you like to the house, do you? Is that the idea? You
upset your mother's and your sister's arrangement entirely at your own
pleasure?" he suggested presently.

"I didn't think it was so much to ask a person to have a cup of tea!"
Martie stammered, with a desperate attempt at self-defense. She felt
tears pressing against her eyes. Lydia would have been meek, Sally
would have been meek, but Martie's anger was her nearest weapon. It
angered her father in turn.

"Well, will you kindly remember in future that your ideas of what to
ask, and what not to ask, are not the ideas by which this house is
governed?" Malcolm asked magnificently.

"Yes, sir." Martie stirred as if to turn and go.

"One moment," Malcolm said discontentedly. "You thoroughly understand
me, do you?"

"Yes, sir." Martie's eyes met Len's discreetly raised over the edge of
his book and full of reproachful interest. She went into the kitchen.

The spell of a nervous silence which had held the dining room was
broken. Mrs. Monroe and Lydia talked in low tones as they went to and
fro; Len shifted his position; Sally coming in with a plate of sliced
bread hummed contentedly. Martie appeared in her usual place at supper,
not too subdued to win a laugh even from her father with some vivacious
imitation of Miss Tate rallying the children for Sunday School.
Happiness was bubbling like a spring in her heart.

After dinner, the dishes being piled in the sink to greet Belle on
Monday morning, she went to the piano and crashed into "Just a Song at
Twilight," and "Oh, Promise Me," and "The Two Grenadiers." These and
many more songs were contained in a large, heavy album entitled
"Favourite Songs for the Home." Martie had a good voice; not better
than Sally's or Lydia's, but Sally and Lydia rarely sang. Martie had
sung to her own noisy accompaniment since she was a child; she loved
the sound of her own voice. She had a hunger for accomplishment,
rattled off the few French phrases she knew with an unusually pure
accent, and caught an odd pleasing word or an accurate pronunciation
eagerly on the few occasions when lecturers or actors in Monroe gave
her an opportunity.

To-night her father, in his library, heard the sweet, true tones of her
voice in "Lesbia" and "Believe Me," and remembered his mother singing
those same old songs. But when a silence followed he remembered only
faulty Martie, awkwardly making Rodney Parker welcome at the most
inconvenient time her evil genius could have suggested, and he
presently went into the sitting room with the familiar scowl on his
face.

On the next Sunday Rodney hired a Roman-nosed, rusty white horse at
Beetman's, and for two hours he and Martie drove slowly about. They
drove up past the Poor House to the Cemetery, and into the Cemetery
itself, where black-clad forms were moving slowly among the graves. The
day was cold, with a bleak wind blowing; the headstones looked bare and
forlorn.

At half-past three, driving down the Pittsville road, back toward
Monroe, Rodney said:

"Why don't you come and have tea at our house, Martie?"

Martie's heart rose on a great spring.

"Why--would your mother--" She stopped short, not knowing quite how to
voice her hesitation. Had she expressed exactly what was in her mind
she might have said: "First, won't your mother and sisters snub me? And
secondly, is it quite correct, from a conventional standpoint, for me
to accept your casual invitation?"

"Sure. Mother'll be delighted--come on!" Rodney urged.

"I'd love to!" Martie agreed.

"You know, the beauty about you, Martie, is that you're such a good
pal," Rodney said enthusiastically as he drove on. "I've always wanted
a pal. You and I like the same things; we're both a little different
from the common run, perhaps--I don't want to throw any flowers at us,
but that's true--and it's wonderful to me that living here in this hole
all your life you're so up-to-date--so darned intelligent!"

This was nectar to Martie's soul. But she had never been indulged so
recklessly in personalities before, and she did not quite know how to
meet them. She wanted to say the right thing, to respond absolutely to
his mood; a smile, half-deprecating, half-charmed, fluttered on her
lips when Rodney talked in this fashion, but even to herself her words
seemed ill-chosen and clumsy. A more experienced woman, with all of
Martie's love and longing surging in her heart, would have vouchsafed
him just that casual touch of hand on hand, that slight, apparently
involuntary swerve of shoulder against shoulder that would have brought
the boy's arms about her, his lips to hers.

It was her business in life to make him love her; the only business for
which her mother and father had ever predestined her. But she knew
nothing of it, except that no "nice" girl allowed a boy to put his arm
about her or kiss her unless they were engaged. She knew that girls got
into "trouble" by being careless on these matters, but what that
trouble was, or what led to it, she did not know. She and Sally
innocently believed that some mysterious cloud enveloped even the most
staid and upright girl at the touch of a man's arm, so that of
subsequent events she lost all consciousness. A girl might attract a
man by words and smiles to the point of wishing to marry her, but she
must never permit the slightest liberties, she must indeed assume, to
the very day of her marriage, that the desire for marriage lived in the
heart of the man alone.

Martie never dreamed that the youth and sex within her had as definite
a claim on her senses as hunger had in the hour before dinner time, or
sleep had when she nodded over her solitaire at night. But she drank in
enchantment with Rodney's voice, his laughter, his nearness, and the
night was too short for her dreams or the days for her happiness.

They left the Roman-nosed horse and the surrey at Beetman's livery
stable, a damp and odorous enclosure smelling of wet straw, and with
the rear quarters of nervous bay horses stirring in the stalls. The
various men, smoking and spitting there in the Sunday afternoon
leisure, knew Martie and nodded to her; knew who her companion was.

Martie and Rodney walked down South California Street, into the town's
nicest quarter, and passed the old-fashioned wooden houses, set far
back in bare gardens: the Wests' with its wooden palings; the Clifford
Frosts', with a hooded baby carriage near the side door; and the senior
Frosts', a dark red house shut in by a dark red fence. The Barkers'
house was the last in the row, rambling, ugly, decorated with knobs and
triangles of wood, with many porches, with coloured glass frames on its
narrow windows, yet imposing withal, because of its great size and the
great trees about it. Martie had not been there since her childhood, in
the days before Malcolm Monroe's attitude on the sewer and
street-lighting questions had antagonized his neighbours, in the days
when Mrs. Frost and Mrs. Parker still exchanged occasional calls with
Martie's mother.

The girl found strangely thrilling Rodney's familiarity here. He
crossed the porch, opened the unlocked front door, and led Martie
through a large, over-furnished hall and a large, stately drawing room.
The rugs, lamps, chairs, and tables all belonged to entirely different
periods, some were Mission oak, some cherry upholstered in rich
brocade; there was a little mahogany, some maple, even a single
handsome square chair of teakwood from the Orient. On the walls there
were large crayon portraits made from photographs of the girls, and
there were cushions everywhere, some of fringed leather, some of satin
painted or embroidered, some of cigar ribbons of clear yellow silk,
some with college pennants flaunting across them.

Beyond this room was another large one, looking out on the lawn and the
shabby willows at the side of the house. Into this room the more
favoured one had been casting off its abandoned fineries for many
years. There were more rugs, pillows, lamps, and chairs in here, but it
was all more shabby, and the effect was pleasanter and softer. Ida's
tea table stood by the hearth, with innovations such as a silver
tea-ball, and a porcelain cracker jar decorated with a rich design in
the minutely cut and shellacked details of postage stamps. A fire
winked sleepily behind the polished steel bars of the grate, the
western window was full of potted begonias and ferns, the air was close
and pleasantly scented with the odour of a good cigar.

Judge Parker, a genial man looking more than his fifty-five years, sat
alone, smoking this cigar, and Martie, greeting him prettily, was
relieved to find that she must not at once face the ladies of the
house. Rather uncertainly she took off her hat, but did not remove the
becoming blue sweater. She sat erect in a low, comfortable armchair
whose inviting curves made her rigid attitude unnatural and difficult,
and talked to the Judge. The old man liked all fresh young girls, and
laughing with her, he vaguely wondered in his hospitable heart why
Monroe's girls were not more often at the house.

Ida and May, tall, colourless young women, presently came down. They
noticed Martie's shoe-lacings and the frill of muddy petticoat, the
ungloved hands and the absurdity of her having removed her hat, and
told Rodney about these things later. At the time they only made her
uncomfortable in quiet little feminine ways; not hearing her when she
spoke, asking her questions whose answers must surely embarrass her.

Tea came in. Martie smiled at Carrie David, who brought it. She liked
Carrie, who was the Hawkes' cousin, but did not quite think she should
speak to her here. Carrie, who was a big, gray-haired woman of fifty,
was in the room only a moment after all.

Judge Parker, amiably under the impression that young people were
happier alone, went away to walk down Main Street, glancing at the sky
and greeting his townspeople in his usual genial fashion. May poured
the tea, holding Rodney in conversation the while. Ida talked to Martie
in a vivacious, smiling, insincere way, difficult to follow.

Martie listened sympathetically, more than half believing in the bright
picture of social triumphs and San Francisco admirers that was
presented her, even though she knew that Ida was twenty-six, and had
never had a Monroe admirer. Dr. Ben had once had a passing fancy for
May's company; May was older than Ida, and, though like her physically,
was warmer and more human in type. But even this had never been a
recognized affair; it had died in infancy, and the Parker girls were
beginning to be called old maids.

Rodney walked with Martie to the gate when she left, but no farther,
and as she went on her way, uncomfortable thoughts were uppermost in
her mind. Martie had never driven with a young man before, and so had
no precedent to guide her, but she wondered if Rodney should not have
gone with her to her own gate. Perhaps she had stayed too long--another
miserable possibility. And how "snippy" Ida and May had been!

Still, Monroe had seen her driving with Rodney, and she had had tea at
the Parkers'! So much was gain. She had almost reached the shabby green
gate that led into the sunken garden when Sally, flying up behind her
in the dusk, slipped a hand through her arm. Martie, turning with a
start and a laugh, saw Joe Hawkes, ten feet away, smiling at her.

"Hello, Joe!" she said, a little puzzled. Not that it was not quite
natural for Sally to stop and speak to Joe, if she wanted to; Joe had
been a familiar figure in their lives since they were children. But--

But Sally was laughing and panting in a manner new and
incomprehensible. She caught Martie by both hands. All three, young and
not understanding themselves or life, stood laughing a little vaguely
in the sharp winter dusk. Joe was a mighty blond giant, only Martie's
age, and younger, except in inches and in sinews, than his years. He
had a sweet, simple face, rough, yellow hair, and hairy, red, clumsy
hands. A greater contrast to gentle little Sally, with her timid brown
eyes and the bloodless quiet of manner that was like her mother and
like Lydia, could hardly have been imagined.

"Where've you been?" Martie asked.

"We've been to church!" dimpled Sally with a glance at Joe.

The pronoun startled Martie.

"We were up in the organ loft," Joe contributed with his half-laughing,
half-nervous grin.

Still bewildered, Martie followed her sister into the dark garden,
after a good-night nod to Joe, and went into the house. Their father
reluctantly accepted the girls' separate accounts of the afternoon:
Sally had been in church, Martie had driven about with Rod and had gone
to tea at his house. Lydia fluttered with questions. Who was there?
What was said? Malcolm asked Martie where Rodney had left her.

"At the gate, Pa," the girl responded promptly.

All through the evening her eyes kept wandering in disapproval toward
Sally. Joe Hawkes!--it was monstrous. That stupid, common lout of a
boy--nearly two years her junior, too.

They were undressing, alone in their room, when she spoke of the matter.

"Sally," said she, "you didn't really go sit in the choir with Joe
Hawkes, did you?"

"Well--yes, in a way," Sally admitted, adding indulgently, "he's SUCH
an idiot!"

"How do you mean?" Martie asked sharply. For Sally to flush and dimple
and give herself the airs of a happy woman over the calf-like
attentions of this clumsy boy of nineteen was more than absurd, it was
painful. "Sally--you couldn't! Why, you oughtn't even to be FRIENDS
with Joe Hawkes!" she stammered. "He gets--I suppose he gets twenty
dollars a month."

"On, no; more than that!" Sally said, brushing her fine, silky,
lifeless hair. "He gets twenty-five from the express company, and when
he meets the trains for Beetman he gets half he makes."

Martie stood astounded at her manner. That one of the Monroe girls
should be talking thus of Joe Hawkes! What mattered it to Sarah Price
Monroe how much Joe Hawkes made, or how? Joe Hawkes--Grace's
insignificant younger brother! Sally saw her consternation.

"Now listen, Mart, and don't have a fit," she said, laughing. "I'm not
any crazier over Joe than you are. I know what Pa would say. I'm not
likely to marry any one on thirty dollars a month, anyway. But listen,
Joe has always liked me terribly--"

"I never knew it!" Martie exclaimed.

"No; well, neither did I. But last year when he broke his leg I used to
go in and see him with Grace, and one day she left the room for a
while, and he sort of--broke out--"

"The GALL!" ejaculated Martie.

"Oh, no, Mart--he didn't mean it that way. Really he didn't. He just
wanted--to hold my hand, you know--and that. And he never thinks of
money, or getting married. And, Mart, he's so GRATEFUL, you know, for
just a moment's meeting, or if I smile at him, going out of church--"

"I should think he might be!" Martie interpolated in fine scorn.

"Yes, I know how you feel, Martie," Sally went on eagerly, "and that's
true, of course. I feel that way myself. But you don't know how
miserable he makes himself about it. And does it seem wrong to you,
Mart, for me just to be kind to him? I tell him--I was telling him this
afternoon--that some day he'll meet some nice sweet girl younger than
he, and that he'll be making more money then--you know--"

Her voice faltered. She looked wistfully at her sister.

"But I can't see why you let a big dummy like that talk to you at all!"
Martie said impatiently after a short silence. "What do you care what
he thinks? He's got a lot of nerve to DARE to talk to you that way.
I--well, I think Pa would be wild!"

"Oh, of course he would," Sally agreed in a troubled voice. "And I know
how you feel, Martie, with Joe's aunt working for the Parkers, and
all," she added. "I'll--I'll stop it. Truly I will. I'm only doing it
to be considerate to Joe, anyway!"

"You needn't do anything on my account," Martie said gruffly. "But I
think you ought to stop it on your own. Joe is only a kid, he doesn't
know beans--much less enough to really fall in love!"

She lay awake for a long time that night, in troubled thought. Cold
autumn moonlight poured into the room; a restless wind whined about the
house. The cuckoo clock struck eleven--struck twelve.

At all events she HAD gone driving with Rodney; she HAD had tea at the
Parkers'--



CHAPTER IV


"I honestly think that some of us ought to go down to-night and see
Grandma Kelly," said Lydia at luncheon a week later. November had come
in bright and sunny, but with late dawns and early twilights. Rodney
Parker's college friend having delayed his promised visit, the
agitating question of the Friday Fortnightly had been temporarily laid
to rest, but Martie saw him nearly every day, and family and friends
alike began to change in their attitude to Martie.

"I'll go," she and Sally said together--Martie, because she was in a
particularly amiable mood; Sally, perhaps because old Mrs. Kelly was
Joe Hawkes's grandmother.

"Well, I wish you would, girls," their mother said in her gentle,
complaining voice. "She's a dear old lady--a perfect saint about
getting to church in all weathers! And while Pa doesn't care much about
having you so intimate with the Hawkeses, he was saying this morning
that Grandma Kelly is different. She was my nurse when all four of you
were born, and she certainly was interested and kind."

"We can go down about seven," Lydia said, "and not stay too long. But I
suppose 'most every one in Monroe will run in to wish her many happy
returns. Tom David's wife will come in from Westlake with Grandma's
great-grandchildren, I guess, and all the others will be there."

"That houseful alone would kill me, let alone having the whole tribe
stream in, if _I_ were seventy-eight!" Martie observed. "But I'd just
as soon go. We'll see how we feel after dinner!"

And after dinner, the night being fresh and sweet, and the meal early
concluded because Malcolm was delayed in Pittsville and did not return
for dinner, the three Monroes pinned on their hats, powdered their
noses, and buttoned on their winter coats. Any excitement added to her
present ecstatic mood was enough to give Martie the bloom of a wild
rose, and Sally had her own reasons for radiance. Lydia alone, walking
between them, was actuated by cool motives of duty and convention and
sighed as she thought of the heat and hubbub of the Hawkes's house, and
the hour that must elapse before they were back in the cool night again.

The Hawkeses had always lived in one house in Monroe. It was a large,
square, cheap house near the bridge, with a bare yard kept shabby by
picking chickens, and a fence of struggling pickets. Behind the house,
which had not been painted in the memory of man, was a yawning barn
which had never been painted at all. In the yard were various odds and
ends of broken machinery and old harness; a wagon-seat, on which
Grandma sometimes sat shelling beans or peeling potatoes in the summer
afternoons; old brooms, old saucepans, and lengths of rope, clotted
with mud. Fuchsia and rose-bushes languished in a tipsy wire enclosure
near the front door.

To-night, although the yard presented a rather dismal appearance in the
early winter dark, the house was bursting with hospitality and good
cheer. From every one of the bare high windows raw gushes of light
tunnelled the gloom outside, and although the cold outside had frosted
all the glass, dim forms could be seen moving about, and voices and
laughter could be heard.

Martie briskly twisted the little rotary bell-handle that was set in
the centre of the front door, and before its harsh noise had died away,
the door was flung open and the Monroe sisters were instantly made a
part of the celebration. Hilarious members of the family and their even
more hilarious friends welcomed them in; the bare hallway was swarming
with young persons of both sexes; girls were coming down the stairs,
girls going up, and the complementary boys lined the wall, or,
grinning, looked on from the doorways.

The front room on the left, usually a bedroom, was used for a smoking
room to-night; the dining-room door had been locked, but on the right
two doors gave entrance to the long parlours, and here were older men,
older women--Mrs. Hawkes, big, energetic, perspiring all over her
delighted face; Carrie David, wild with hospitable excitement; and Joe
Hawkes, Senior, a lean little eager Irishman, quite in his glory
to-night. Throned on a sort of dais, in the front bay window, was
Grandma Kelly, a little shrivelled beaming old woman, in a crumpled,
shining, black satin gown. Her hair was scanty, showing a wide bald
parting, and to hear in all the confusion she was obliged occasionally
to cup one hand behind her ear, but her snapping eyes were as bright as
a monkey's and her lips, over toothless gums, worked constantly with a
rotary motion as she talked and laughed. On each side of her were
grouped other old ladies--Mrs. Sark, Mrs. Mulkey, Mrs. Hansen, and Mrs.
Mussoo--her friends since the days, fifty years before, when they had
crossed the plains in hooded wagons, and fought out their simple and
heroic destinies on these strange western prairies.

They had borne children, comforting and caring for each other in the
wilderness; they had talked of wolves and of Indians while trusting
little hands caught their knees and ignorant little lips pulled at
their breasts; they had known fire and flood and famine, crude offense
and cruder punishment; they had seen the Indians and the buffalo go
with the Missions and the sheep; they had followed the gold through its
sensational rise to its sensational fall, and had held the wheat
dubiously in their fingers before ever California's dark soil knew
it--had wondered whether the first apple trees really might come to
blossom and bear where the pines were cleared away.

And now, with the second and third generation, had come schools and
post-offices, cable cars and gaslight; villages were cities; crossroads
were towns. At seventy-eight, Grandma Kelly was far from ready for her
nunc dimittis. Great days had been, no doubt, but great days were also
to be. Children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren kept the house
swarming with life, and she could never have enough of it.

The air, never too fresh in the Hawkes's house, was hot and charged
with odours of cheap cologne, of powder, of human bodies, and of
perspiration-soaked garments. The very gaslights screamed above the din
as if they found it contagious. Large crayon portraits decorated the
walls, that of the late Mr. Kelly having attached to its frame the
sheaf of wheat that had lain on his coffin. On the walls also were the
large calendars of insurance companies, and one or two china plaques in
plush frames. A bead portiere hung between the two parlours, constantly
clicking and catching as the guests swarmed to and fro. All the chairs
in the house had been set about the walls, and all were occupied. A
disk on the phonograph was duly revolving, in charge of a hysterical
girl in blue silk and a flushed, humorous young man, but the music was
almost unheard.

Whatever their attitude toward this merrymaking had previously been,
the Monroe girls were instantly drawn into the spirit of the occasion.
Martie and Sally were dragged upstairs, where they left hats and coats,
were taken downstairs again with affectionate, girlish arms about their
waists; and found themselves laughing and shouting with the rest. Towed
through the boiling crowd to Grandma, they kissed the cool, soft old
face. They greeted the other old women with pretty enthusiasm.

Lydia meanwhile had decorously delivered her message of good wishes and
had drifted to a chair against the wall, where matrons greeted her
eagerly and where, in her own way, she began to enjoy herself.
Sentiment, hospitality, gaiety filled the air.

"Isn't Grandma wonderful?" said all the voices, over and over. "I think
she's wonderful! Mrs. Hawkes had a dinner for just the five old ladies,
you know. Wasn't that sweet? The family had to have their dinner
earlier--just the five old ladies. Wasn't that a cute idea? Ellen said
they looked perfectly dear, all together! Mary Clute couldn't get here
from San Francisco, you know, but she sent Grandma a tea-pot cover--the
cutest thing! Did you see the Davids' baby? It's upstairs, I guess;
it's a darling little thing! Think of it, three great-grandchildren!
Oh, I do, too; I think it's a lovely party--I think the rooms look
lovely--I think it was an awfully cute idea!"

The oldest David grandchild, becoming sodden with sleepiness, climbed
into Lydia's lap. Sally, after exchanging a conscious undertone with
young Joe, slipped through the dining-room door with him, and happily
joined the working forces in the kitchen. In her mind Sally knew that
the Hawkeses were but homely folk; she knew that any Monroe should
shrink from this hot and noisy kitchen. But Sally's heart welcomed the
eager bustle, the tasks so imperative that her timid little entity was
entirely forgotten, the talk that was friendly and affectionate and
comprehensible.

Joe and she laughed over piecing tablecloths together for the long
table, and kept a jingling ripple of laughter accompanying the jingling
of plated spoons and the thick glasses. Ellen and Grace, as the family
debutantes, were inside with the company, but Carrie and Min, the
married daughters, were here, with old Mrs. Crowley, who never missed
an occasion of this kind, Mrs. Mulkey's daughter Annie Tate, Gertie
Hansen, and an excited fringe of children too young to dance and too
old to be sent off to bed.

As it was the custom for the more intimate friends to bring a cake, a
pan of cookies, or a great jug of strong lemonade to such an affair,
there was more food than twice this surging group of men, women, and
children could possibly consume, so that the boys and girls could keep
their mouths full of oily, nutty, walnut wafers and broken bits of
layer cake without any conscientious scruples. One of the large kitchen
tables was entirely covered with plates bearing layer cakes, with
chocolate, maple, shining white, and streaky orange icings, or topped
with a deadly coating of fluffy cocoa-nut. On the floor half a dozen
ice cream freezers leaked generously; at the sink, Mrs. Rose, who had
been Minnie Hawkes, was black and sticky to the elbows with lemon juice.

Meanwhile Martie, more in tune with the actual jollity than either of
her sisters, was warming to her most joyous mood. Her costume of thin
white waist and worn serge skirt might have been considered deficient
in a more formal assembly, but here it passed without comment; the
girls' dresses varied widely, and no one seemed any the less gay. Grace
had a long streamer of what appeared to be green window-net tied
loosely about a worn pink satin slip; Elsa Prout wore the shepherdess
costume she had made for the Elks' Hallowe'en Dance, and Mrs. Cazley,
sitting with her back against the wall, wore her widow's bonnet with
its limp little veil falling down to touch her fresh white shirtwaist.
Martie improved her own costume by pinning a large pink tissue-paper
rose against her high white stock, and fastening another in her bronze
hair; the girls laughed appreciatively at her audacity; a vase of the
paper roses had been in the parlour for years. Youth and excitement did
the rest.

Here, where her motives could not be misunderstood, where her presence
indeed was to be construed as adding distinction and dignity to the
festivities, Martie could be herself. She laughed, she flirted with the
common yet admiring boys, she paid charming attention to the old women.
A rambling musical programme was presently set in motion; Martie's
voice led all the voices. She was presently asked to sing alone, and
went through "Believe Me" charmingly, putting real power and pathos
into the immortal words. Returning, flushed and happy in a storm of
clapping, to her place between Al Lunt and Art Carter on the sofa, she
kept those appreciative youths in such convulsions of laughter that
their entire neighbourhood was sympathetically affected. Carl Polhemus,
who played the organ at church, had begun a wandering improvisation on
the piano, evidently so taken with certain various chords and runs that
he could not resist playing them passionately over and over. A
dangerous laugh, started among the younger set, began to strangle and
stifle his audience. Martie, looking straight ahead of her, gave only
an occasional spasmodic heave of shoulders and breast, but her lips
were compressed in an agony, and her eyes full of tears. From the
writhing boys on each side of her came frequent smothered snorts.

In upon this scene came old Dr. Ben, who had worked hand in hand with
Grandma Kelly in the darkened rooms where many of these hilarious
youngsters had drawn their first breath. Although the infatuated
musician did not stop at this interruption, many of his listeners rose
to greet the newcomer, and the tension snapped.

Dr. Ben sat down next to the old lady, and the room, from which the
older guests were quietly disappearing, was enthusiastically cleared
for dancing. The air, close already, became absolutely insufferable
now; the men's collars wilted, the girls' flushed faces streamed
perspiration. But the cool side-porch was accessible, and the laughter
and noise continued unabated.

Quietly crossing the dark backyard for his horse and buggy at ten
o'clock, Dr. Ben came upon Joe Hawkes sitting on the shadowy steps
with--he narrowed his eyes to make sure--yes, with little Sally Monroe.
The old man formed his lips into a slow, thoughtful whistle as he
busied himself with straps and buckles. Slowly, thoughtfully, he
climbed into his buggy.

"Sally!" he called, sitting irresolute with the reins in his hands.

The opaque spot that was Sally's gown did not stir in the shadows.

"Sally!" he called again. "I see ye, and Joe Hawkes, too. Come here a
minute!"

She went then, slowly into the clear November moonlight.

"What is it, Doc' Ben?" she asked, in a rather thick voice and with a
perceptible gulp. Even in this light he could see her wet lashes
glitter.

For a minute he did not speak, fat hands on fat knees. Sally, innocent,
loving, afraid, hung her head before him.

"Like Joe, do ye, Sally?" said the mild old voice.

"I--" Sally's voice was almost inaudible--"why, I don't know, Doc,
Ben," she faltered. "My mother--my father--" she stopped short.

"Your father and mother, eh?" Dr. Ben repeated musingly, as if to
himself.

"I couldn't like--any one--if it was to make all the people who love me
unhappy, I suppose," Sally said in her mild, prim voice, with an effort
at lightness. "No happiness could come of that, could it, Doctor?"

To this dutiful expression the doctor made no immediate answer,
observing in a dissatisfied tone, after a pause: "That sounds like your
mother, or Lydia."

Sally, leaning against the shabby cushions of the carriage, looked down
in silent distress.

"There never could be anything serious between Joe Hawkes and I," she
said presently, with a little unnatural laugh. She was not quite sure
of her pronoun. She looked anxiously at Dr. Ben's face. It was still
troubled and overcast. Sally wondered uncomfortably if he would tell
her mother that she was seeing Joe frequently. As it chanced, she and
Joe had more than once encountered the old man on their solitary walks
and talks. She thought, in her amiable heart, that if she only knew
what Dr. Ben wanted her to say she would say it; or what viewpoint he
expected her to take she would assume it.

"Joe and I were helping Mrs. David," she submitted timidly, "and we
came out to sit in the cool."

"Don't be a hypocrite, Sally," the doctor said absently. Sally laughed
with an effort to make the conversation seem all a joke, but she was
puzzled and unhappy. "Well," said the doctor suddenly, gathering up his
reins and rattling the whip in its socket as a gentle hint to the old
mare, "I must be getting on. I want you to come and see me, Sally. Come
to-morrow. I want to talk to you."

"Yes, sir," Sally answered obediently. She would have put out her
tongue for his inspection then and there if he had suggested it.

When the old phaeton had rattled out of the yard she went back to the
shadows and Joe. She was past all argument, all analysis, all reason,
now. She hungered only for this: Joe's big clean young arms about her;
Joe's fresh lips, with their ignorant passion, against hers. For years
she had known Joe only by sight; a few months ago she had been merely
amused and flattered by the boy's crudely expressed preference; even
now she knew that for a Monroe girl, at twenty-one, to waste a thought
on a Hawkes boy of nineteen was utter madness. But a week or two ago,
walking home from church with her mother and herself on Sunday night,
Joe had detained her for a moment under the dooryard trees--had kissed
her. Sally was like a young tiger, tamed, petted, innocuous, whose
puzzled lips have for the first time tasted blood. Every fibre in her
being cried for Joe, his bashful words were her wisdom, his nearness
her very breath and being.

She clung to him now, in the dark kitchen porch, in a fever of pure
desire. Their hearts beat together. Sally's arms were bent against the
boy's big chest, as his embrace crushed her; they breathed like runners
as they kissed each other.

A moment later they went back into the kitchen to scoop the hard-packed
ice cream into variegated saucers and enjoy unashamedly such odd bits
of it as clung to fingers or spoon. The cakes had all been cut now,
enormous wedges of every separate variety were arranged on the plates
that were scattered up and down the long stretch of the table in the
dining room. The dancers and all the other guests filed out to enjoy
the supper, the room rang with laughter and screamed witticisms. A
popular feature of the entertainment was the mottoes, flat scalloped
candies of pink and white sugar, whose printed messages caused endless
merriment among these uncritical young persons. "Do You Love Me?"; "I
Am A Flirt"; "Don't Kiss Me"; "Oh, You Smarty," said the mottoes
insinuatingly, and the revellers read them aloud, exchanged them,
secreted them, and even devoured them, in their excessive delight.

Presently they all toasted Grandma Kelly in lemonade. The old lady,
with Lydia and some of the older women, was enjoying her cake and cream
in the parlour, but tears of pride and joy came to her eyes when the
young voices all rose with lingering enjoyment on "Silver Threads Among
the Gold," and there was a general wiping of eyes at "She's a Jolly
Good Fellow" which followed it. Then some of the girls rushed in to
kiss her once more, and, as it was now nearly twelve o'clock, Lydia
called her sisters, and they said their good-nights.

Walking home under a jaded moon, yawning and cold in the revulsion from
hours of excitement and the change from the heated rooms to the cold
night air, Lydia was complacently superior; they were certainly
warm-hearted, hospitable people, the Hawkeses, and she was glad that
they, the Monroes, had paid Grandma the compliment of going. Sally,
hanging on Lydia's arm, was silent. Martie, on her other arm, was
smilingly reminiscent. "That Al Lunt was a caution," she observed.
"Wasn't Laura Carter's dance music good? Wasn't that maple walnut cake
delicious?" She had eaten goodness knows how much ice cream, because
she sat at table between Reddy Johnson and Bernard Thomas, and every
time Carrie David or any one asked them if they wanted any more ice
cream, Bernie had put their saucers in his lap, and told Carrie that
they hadn't had any yet.

Len suddenly came up behind his sisters, frightening them with a deep
"Boo!" before he emerged from the blackness to join them.

"Javva good time?" he asked, adding carelessly, "I was there."

"Yes, you were!" Martie said incredulously. "You wish you were!"

"Honest, I was," Len said. "Honest I was, Lyd."

"Well, you weren't there until pretty late, Len," Lydia said in mild
disapproval.

"Lissun," Len suggested pleadingly. "Tell Pa I brought you girls home
from Hawkes's--go on! Lissun, Lyd, I'll do as much for you some time--"

"Oh, Len, how can I?" Lydia objected.

"Well, I went in, honest, early in the evening," the boy asserted
eagerly. "But I can't stand those boobs and roughnecks, so I went down
town for a while. Then I came back and waited until you girls came out
of the gate. I'll cross my heart and hope to die if I didn't!"

"If Pa asks me--" Lydia said inexorably.

For a few moments they all walked together in the dark. Then Len said
suddenly:

"Say, Mart, I saw Rod Parker to-night. He was down town, and he asked
me how my pretty sister was!"

"Did he?" Martie spoke carelessly, but her heart leaped.

"He talked a lot about you," went on Len, "he's going to call you up in
the morning about something."

"Oh--?" Martie mused. "I shouldn't wonder if it was about a dance we
were talking about," she said thoughtfully. She was quite acute enough
to see perfectly that Len was trying to enlist her silence in his cause
should their father make a general inquiry, and philosophical enough to
turn his mood to her own advantage. "Lissun, Len," said she, "if I try
to have a party you'll get the boys you know to come, won't you? There
are always too many girls, and I want it to go off nicely. You will,
won't you?"

"Sure I will," Len promised heartily. He and his sister perfectly
understood each other.

They all went quietly upstairs; Len to dreamless sleep, Sally to
thrilled memories of Joe--Joe--Joe, and Martie to shifting happy
thoughts of the evening and its little triumphs, thoughts that always
came back to Len's talk with Rodney. Rodney had asked Len for his
pretty sister.

Lydia lay wide awake for a long time. There was no doubt of it now; she
and her mother had told each other several times during the last month
or two that there was still doubt. But she was not mistaken to-night in
thinking that Len's breath was strong from something alcoholic, that
Len's eager, loose-lipped speech, his unusual manner--She went over and
over the words she would use in telling her mother all about it in the
morning. The two women would carry heavy hearts on Len's account for
the whole cold, silent day. But they would not tell Pa--no, there was
nothing sufficiently serious as yet to tell Pa!



CHAPTER V


Martie and Sally loitered through the village, past the post-office and
the main shops and down through the poorer part of the town. They
entered a quiet region of shabby old houses, turned into a deserted
lane, and opened the picket gate before Dr. Ben's cottage. The little
house in winter stood in a network of bare vines; in summer it was
smothered in roses, and fuchsias, marguerites, hollyhocks, and
geraniums pressed against the fence. Marigolds, alyssum, pansies, and
border pinks flourished close to the ground, with sweet William, stock,
mignonette, and velvet-brown wallflowers. Dr. Ben had planted all these
himself, haphazard, and loved the resulting untidy jumble of bloom,
with the lilac blossoms rustling overhead, birds nesting in his willow
and pepper trees, and bees buzzing and blundering over his flowers.

The house was not quite definite enough in type to be quaint; it
presented three much-ornamented gables to the lane, its windows were
narrow, shuttered inside with dark brown wood. At the back-between the
house and the little river, and shut away from the garden by a
fence--were a little barn, decorated like the house in scalloped wood,
and various small sheds and out-houses and their occupants.

Here lived the red cow, the old white mare, the chickens and pigeons,
the rabbits and bees that had made the place fascinating to Monroe
children for many years. Martie said to herself to-day that she always
felt like a child when she came to Dr. Ben's, shut once more into
childhood's world of sunshine and flowers and happy companionship with
animals and the good earth.

To-day the old man, with his setter Sandy, was busy with his
bookshelves when the girls went in. Two of the narrow low bay windows
that looked directly out on the level of the kitchen path were in this
room; the third, the girls knew, was a bedroom. Upstairs were several
unused rooms full of old furniture and piles of magazines, and back of
the long, narrow sitting room were a little dining room with Crimson
Rambler roses plastered against its one window, and a large kitchen in
which old Mis' Penny reigned supreme.

Here in the living room were lamps, shabby chairs, an air-tight stove,
shells, empty birds' nests, specimens of ore, blown eggs, snakeskins,
moccasins, wampum, spongy dry bees' nests, Indian baskets and rugs,
ropes and pottery, an enormous Spanish hat of yellow straw with a gaudy
band, and everywhere, in disorderly cascades and tumbled heaps, were
books and pamphlets and magazines.

Dr. Ben welcomed them eagerly and sent Martie promptly to the kitchen
to interview Mis' Penny on the subject of tea. The girls were quite at
home here, for the old doctor was Rose Ransome's mother's cousin, and
through their childhood the little gabled house had been the favourite
object of their walks. Sally, alone with her host, began to help him in
his hopeless attempt to get his library in order.

"The point is this, Sally," said Dr. Ben suddenly, after a few
innocuous comments on the weather and the health of the Monroe family
had been exchanged. "Have you and Joe Hawkes come to care for each
other?"

Sally flushed scarlet. She had been thinking hard--for Sally, who was
not given to thought--in the hours since the party for Grandma Kelly.
Now she began readily, with a great air of frankness.

"I'll tell you, Dr. Ben. I know you feel as if I was trying to hide
something from Ma and Pa, and it's worried me a good deal, too. But the
truth is, I've known Joe all my life, and he's only a boy, of
course--ever so much younger than I am--and he has just gotten this
notion into his head. Of course, it's perfectly ridiculous--because
naturally I am not going to throw my life away in any such fashion as
that! But Joe thinks now that he will never smile again--"

Thus Sally, kneeling among the books, her earnest, pretty, young face
turned toward the doctor, her eyes widely opened, as the extraordinary
jumble of words poured forth. The unpleasant sensation of their last
meeting, the confusing feeling that she was not saying what Dr. Ben
wanted her to say, beset her. She felt a sudden, dreadful inclination
toward tears, although with no clear sense of a reason for crying.

"I suppose all boys go through their silly stages like measles," said
Sally rapidly. "And it's only my misfortune and Joe's that his first
love affair had to be me. One reason why I haven't mentioned it at home
is--"

"Then you don't care for Joe?" the old man asked with his serious smile.

"Oh, Dr. Ben! Of course, I like Joe enormously, he's a dear sweet boy,"
Sally answered smoothly. "But you know as well as I do how my father
feels toward the village people in Monroe, and while the Hawkeses are
just as nice as they can be in their way--" again Sally's flow of
eloquence was strangely shaken; she felt as a child might, caught up in
the arm of a much larger person and rushed along helplessly with only
an occasional heartening touch of her feet to the ground--"after all,
that isn't quite our way, is it?" she asked. If only, thought the
nervous little girl who was Sally, if only she knew what Dr. Ben wanted
her to say!

"Why can't ye be honest with me, Sally?" said the doctor. "Ye love Joe,
don't ye?"

Sally's head dropped, the colour rose in her cheeks, and the tears
came. She nodded, and through all her body ran a delicious thrill at
the acknowledged passion.

"Ye've found each other out, in spite of them all!" said the old man
musingly. "And what does his age or yours, or his place or yours,
matter beside that? They've tried to fill you with lies, and you've
found that the lies don't hold water. Well--"

He straightened up suddenly, and began to march about the room. Sally,
kneeling still over the books, tears drying on her cheeks, watched him.

"Sally," said the doctor, "God made you and Joe Hawkes and your love
for each other. I don't know who made the social laws by which women
govern these little towns, but I suspect it was the devil. You've been
brought up to feel that if you marry a man Mrs. Cy Frost doesn't ask to
her house, you'll be unhappy ever after. But I ask you, Sally--I ask
you as a man old enough to be your father--if you had your home, your
husband, your health, your garden, and your children, wouldn't you be a
far happier woman than--than Lydia say, or Florence Frost, or all the
other girls who sit about this town waiting for a man with position
enough--position, BAH!--to marry?"

Sally's face was glowing.

"Oh, Dr. Ben, _I_ don't care anything about position!" she said, all
her honest innocence in her face.

"Then why do you act as if you did?" he said, well pleased.

"And would you advise me to marry Joe?" she asked radiantly.

"Joe--Tom--Billy, whomever you please!" he answered impatiently. "But
don't be afraid because he doesn't wear silk socks, Sally, or smoke a
monogrammed cigarette. Why, my child, that little polish, that little
fineness, is the woman's gift to her man! These Frosts and Parkers: it
was the coarse strength of their grandfathers that got them across the
plains; it was the women who packed the books in the horsehair trunks,
that read the Bibles and cleaned and sewed and prayed in the old home
way. You don't suppose those old miners and grocers, who came later to
be the city fathers, ever had as much education as Joe Hawkes, or half
as much!"

"I wish my father felt as you do, Doc' Ben," Sally said presently, the
brightness dying from her face. "But Pa will never, never--And even if
there were no other reason, why Joe hasn't a steady job--"

"That brings me to what I really want to say to you to-day, Sally," the
old man interrupted her briskly. He opened a desk drawer and took from
it a small, old-fashioned photograph. Sally saw a young woman's form,
disguised under the scallops, ruffles, and pleats of the early
seventies, a bright face under a cascade of ringlets, and a little oval
bonnet set coquettishly awry. "D'ye know who that is?" asked Dr. Ben.

"I--well, yes; I suppose?" murmured Sally sympathetically.

"Yes, it's my wife," he answered. "Mary--Our boy would be thirty. They
went away together--poor girl, poor girl! We wanted a big family,
Sally; we hoped for a houseful of children. And I had her for only
fifteen months--only fifteen months to remember for thirty years!"

Sally was deeply impressed. She thought it strangely flattering in Dr.
Ben to take her into his confidence in this way, and that she would
tell Martie about it as they walked home.

"No," he said musingly. "I never had a child! And Sally, if I had it
all to do over again, I'd marry again. I'd have sons. That's the
citizen's duty. Some day we'll recognize it, and then you bearers of
children will come into your own. There'll be recognition for every one
of them, we'll be the first nation to make our poor women proud and
glad when a child is coming. It's got to be, Sally."

Sally was listening politely, but she was not interested. She had heard
all this before, many times. Dr. Ben's extraordinary views upon the
value of the family were familiar to every one in Monroe. But her
attention was suddenly aroused by the mention of her own name.

"Now, supposing that you and Joe take it into your heads to get married
some day," the doctor was saying, "how about children?"

Sally's ready colour flooded her face. She made no attempt to answer
him.

"Would ye have them?" the old man asked impatiently.

"Why--why, Dr. Ben, I don't know!" Sally said in great confusion. "I--I
suppose people DO."

"You suppose people do?" he asked scornfully. "Don't ye KNOW they do?"

"Well, I don't suppose any girl thinks very much of such things until
she's married," Sally said firmly. "Mama doesn't like us to discuss--"

"Doesn't your mother ever talk to you about such things?" the old man
demanded.

"Certainly not!" Sally answered with spirit.

"What DOES she talk to you about?" he asked amazedly. "It's your
business in life, after all. She's not taught ye any other. What does
she expect ye to do--learn it all after it's too late to change?"

"All what?" Sally said, a little frightened, even a little sick. He
stopped his march, and looked at her with something like pity.

"All the needs of your soul and body," he said kindly, "and your
children's souls and bodies. Well! that's neither here nor there. But
the fact is this, Sally: I've no children of my own to raise. And as ye
very well know, I've got my own theories about putting motherhood on a
different basis, a business basis. I want you to let me pay you--as the
State ought to pay you--three hundred a year for every child you bear.
I want to demonstrate to my own satisfaction, before I try to convince
any Government, that if the child-bearing woman were put on a plane of
economic value, her barren, parasite sister would speedily learn--"

Sally had turned pale. Now she rose in girlish dignity.

"I hope you'll forgive me, Dr. Ben, for saying that I won't listen to
ONE word more. I know you've been thinking about these things so long
that you forget how OUTRAGEOUS they sound! Motherhood is a sacred
privilege, and to reduce it to--"

"So is wifehood, Sally!" the old man interposed soothingly.

"Well," she flashed back, "nobody's PAID for wifehood!"

"Oh, yes, my dear. You can sue a man for not supporting you. It's done
every day!"

"Then--then a man ought to pay the three hundred a year!" countered
Sally.

"Well, I'm with you there. But the world has got to see that before you
can force him." The doctor sighed. "So you won't let me stand
grandfather to your children, Sally?"

"Oh, if you WERE their grandfather!" she answered. "Then you could do
as you liked!"

"There you are, the parasite!" he said, smiling whimsically. "You're
your mother's daughter, Sally. Give you the least blood-claim on a
man's money, and you'll push it as far as you can. But offer to pay you
for doing the work God meant you to do and you're cut to the soul.
Well--"

He was still holding forth eloquently on the subject of children and
nations when Martie came back, and Sally, with a scarlet face, was
evidently lost in thoughts of her own.

As the girls walked home, Sally did not repeat to Martie her
conversation with the old doctor, nor for many weeks afterward. But
Martie did not notice her sister's indignant silence, for they met
Rodney Parker coming out of the Bank, and he walked with them to the
bridge, and asked Martie to go with him to see the Poulson Star Stock
Company in a Return Engagement Extraordinary on the following night.

Martie was conscious of passing a milestone in her emotional life on
the evening of this day, when she said to herself that she loved Rodney
Parker. She admitted it with a sort of splendid shame, as she went
about her usual household occupations, passing from the hot
pleasantness of the kitchen to the cool, stale odours of the dining
room; running upstairs to light the bathroom-and hall-gas for her
father and brother, and sometimes stepping for a moment into the
darkness of the yard to be alone with her enchanted thoughts.

All the young Monroes regarded their father's temperamental
shortcomings with stoicism, so that it was in no sense resentfully that
she faced the inevitable preliminaries that night.

"Pa," said she cheerfully over the dessert, "you don't mind if I go to
the show with Rodney to-morrow, do you?"

"This is the first I've heard of any show," Malcolm said stiffly,
glancing at his wife. Mrs. Monroe patiently told him what she knew of
it. "Why, no, I suppose there is no reason you shouldn't go," he
presently said discontentedly.

"Oh, thank you, Pa!" Martie said, with a soaring heart. He looked at
her dispassionately.

"Your sisters and your brother are going, I suppose?" Malcolm asked,
glancing about the circle. Martie told herself she might have known he
was not done with the subject so easily.

"I'm not--because I haven't the price!" grinned Leonard. His mother and
Lydia laughed.

"I don't suppose Martie proposes going alone with young Parker?"
Malcolm asked in well-assumed amazement.

"Why, Pa--I don't see why NOT" Mrs. Monroe protested weakly.

Her husband was magnificent in his surprise. He looked about in a sort
of royal astonishment.

"Don't you, my dear?" he asked politely. "Then permit me to say that
_I_ DO."

Martie sat dumb with despair.

"Certainly Martha may go, if Leonard and one of her sisters go; not
otherwise," said Malcolm. He retired to his library, and Martie had to
ease her boiling heart by piling the dinner dishes viciously, and
question no more.

However, she consoled herself, there was something rather dignified in
this arrangement, after all; Len was presentable, and she was always
the happier for being with Sally. She washed her only gloves, pressed
her suit, and spent every alternate minute during the next day
anxiously inspecting her chin where an ugly pimple threatened to form.
The family was again at dinner when Len broached a change of plan.

"Can I go up to Wilson's to-night, Pa?" he asked. Martie flashed him a
glance.

"I suppose so, for a little while," Malcolm said tolerantly. The girls
looked at each other.

"But I thought you were going to the Opera House with us?" Martie
exclaimed.

"Well, now you know I ain't," Len answered airily.

"I am not, Len," corrected his mother. Martie gave him a look of hate.

"Len says he promised to go to Wilson's," Lydia said placatingly. "So I
thought perhaps Sally and I would go with you--I'm sorry, Martie!"

For Martie's breast was heaving dangerously.

"Pa, didn't you say Len was to go with us?" she asked with desperate
calm.

"I said SOME ONE was to go," Malcolm said, disapproving of her
vehemence. "I confess I cannot see why it must be Len!"

"Because--because when a man asks a girl to go out with him he doesn't
ask the whole FAMILY!" Martie muttered in a fury. Her lip trembled, and
she got to her feet. "It doesn't matter in the least," she said in a
low, shaking voice, "because I am not going myself!"

Flashing from the room, she ran upstairs. She flung herself across her
bed, and cried stormily for ten minutes. Then she grew calmer, and lay
there crying quietly, and shaken by only an occasional long sob. It was
during this stage that Lydia came into the room, and sitting down
beside Martie's knees, patted her hand soothingly. Lydia's weak
acceptance of the younger sister's distaste for her company gave Martie
a sort of shamed heart-sickness.

"Don't!" said she huskily, jerking her arm away.

But Lydia was not to be rebuffed, and Martie was but nineteen, after
all, and longing for the happiness she had denied. An hour later, all
the prettier for her tears, she met Rodney at the hall door, the boy
making no sign of disappointment when Lydia and Sally joined them.

"But say, Martie," he said at once, "I've got only the two seats!"

"Oh, that's all right!" Lydia said quickly and cautiously. "We don't
have to SIT together!"

Martie's mood brightened and she flushed like a rose when the boy said
eagerly:

"Say, listen, Martie. My sister Ida's going to-night, and one or two
others, and Mrs. Cliff Frost is going to chaperon us afterward; ask
your mother if that's all right."

The girl wasted no time on her mother, but crossed to the library door.

"Pa," said she without preamble, "Mrs. Cliff Frost is chaperoning some
of them after the theatre tonight. Can I go?"

"Go where? Shut that door," her father said, half turning.

"Oh--I don't know; to the hotel, I suppose."

"Yes," her father said in a dry voice. "Yes," he added unwillingly. "Go
ahead."

So the evening was a great success; one of the memorable times. Martie
and Rodney walked ahead of her sisters down town, the boy gallantly
securing the girls' tickets before he and Martie went up the aisle to
their own seats. All Monroe was in the Opera House. Martie bowed and
smiled radiantly. Rodney's sister and Mrs. Frost and a strange man
presently returned her smile.

"Rod--wouldn't you rather be with your own family?"

"Well--what do you think?"

The enchantment of it, the warmth and stimulus of his admiration, his
absorbed companionship, how they changed the world for Martie! There
was a witchery in the air, the blood ran quick in her veins. The dirty
big hall, with its high windows, was fairyland; the whispering crowd,
Rodney's nearness, and the consciousness of her own youth and beauty,
her flushed cheeks and loosened bronze hair, acted upon Martie like
strong wine. She grew lovely beneath his very eyes; she was nineteen,
and she loved!

They talked incessantly, elaborating the simple things they said with a
by-play of eyes and hands, making the insignificant words rich with
lowered tones, with smiles and the meeting of eyes. He told Martie of
his college days; borrowing episodes at random from the lives of other
men, men whom he admired. Martie believed it all, believed that he had
written the Junior Farce, that he had been president of his class, that
the various college societies had disputed for his membership. In
return, she spun her own romances, flinging a veil of attractive
eccentricity over her father's character, generously giving Lydia an
anonymous admirer, and painting the dreary old mansion of North Main
Street as a sort of enchanted prison with her pretty restless self as
captive therein. The two exchanged brief French phrases, each believing
the other to have a fair command of the language, and Martie even
quoted poetry, to which Rodney listened in intense silence, his eyes
fixed upon hers.

Suddenly the house was darkened and the curtain rose. The play was "The
Sword of the King," a drama that seemed to Martie well suited to her
own exalted mood. She thought the whole company wonderful, the leading
lady especially gifted. She learned with awe that Rodney had known
Wallace Bannister, the leading man, more or less intimately for years.
An aunt of his lived in Pittsville and the two had met as boys and
later had been classmates for the brief period Bannister had remained
at the Leland Stanford University. Martie wrapped her beauty-starved
young soul in the perfect past, when men wore ruffles and buckles and
capes, and were all gallantry and courage, and when women were
beautiful and desired. Between the acts the delicious exchange of
confidences between herself and Rodney went on; they nibbled
Bonestell's chocolates from a striped paper bag as they talked, and
when the final curtain fell on a ringing line there were real tears of
pleasure in Martie's eyes.

"Oh, Rodney--this is LIVING!" she whispered, as they filed slowly out.

Sally and Lydia had considerately disappeared. Mrs. Clifford Frost was
waiting for them at the door, and Martie, with quick tact, fell into
conversation with the kindly matron, walking at her side down the
crowded street, and leaving Rodney to follow with the others. Little
Ruth Frost had had some trouble fearfully resembling diphtheria, and
Martie's first interested question was enough to enlist the mother's
attention. The girl did not really notice the others in the party.

They crossed muddy Main Street, passed Wilkins's Furniture and Coffin
Parlours, and went into the shabby French restaurant known as Mussoo's.
The little eating house, with its cheap, white-painted shop window,
looking directly upon the sidewalk, its pyramid of oyster shells
cascading from a box set by the entrance, its jangling bell that the
opening door set to clanging, its dingy cash register, damp
tablecloths, and bottles of red catsup, was not a place to which Monroe
residents pointed with pride. Martie would ordinarily have passed it as
one unaware of its existence.

But it seemed a thoroughly daring and exciting thing to come here
to-night; quite another thing from going to the hotel for vanilla ice
cream and chocolate--even supposing the hotel had kept its dining room
open for a change, after the six o'clock supper--or to Bonestell's for
banana specials. This--this was living! Martie established herself
comfortably in the corner, slipped off her coat, smiled lazily at
Rodney's obvious manipulation of the party so that he should be next
her, played with her hot, damp, blackened knife and fork, and was in
paradise.

Ida Parker was in the party, and Florence Frost. The men were Clifford
Frost, a pleasant young man getting stout and bald at forty; Billy
Frost, a gentle little lad of fifteen who was lame; Rodney, and a
rosy-cheeked, black-moustached Dr. Ellis from San Francisco, whose
occasional rather simple and stupid remarks were received with great
enthusiasm by Ida and Florence.

In this group Martie shone. She had her own gift for ready nonsense,
and she was the radiant element that blended the varied types into a
happy whole. She skilfully ignored Rodney; Billy, Mary, Cliff, and even
Dr. Ellis were drawn into her fun. Rodney glowed. "Isn't she great?" he
said to Mary Frost in an aside.

A large bowl of small crackers was set before them, damp squares of
strong butter on small nicked plates, finally a bowl of pink, odorous
shrimps. These were all gone when, after a long wait, the fried oysters
came smoking hot, slipped straight from the pan to the plates. Martie
drank coffee, as Mary did; the others had thick goblets of red wine.
With the hot, warming food, their gaiety waxed higher; everybody felt
that the party was a great success.

The bell on the door reverberated, and a man came in alone, and looked
about undecidedly for a seat.

"Hello!" said Rodney. "There's Wallace Bannister!"

The young actor joined them. And this, to Martie, was one of the most
thrilling moments of her life. He quite openly wedged his way in to sit
on the other side of her; he said that he could see they didn't need
the gaslight when Miss Monroe was along. Rodney said she was Brunhilde,
and Bannister's comment was that she could save wig bills with that
hair! Florence said eagerly that she loved Brunhilde--let's see, what
opera did that come in? It was the Ring, anyway. The spirits of the
group rose every second.

Ah, this was living--thought Martie. Oysters and wine and a real actor,
a man who knew the world, who chattered of Portland, Los Angeles, and
San Francisco as if they had been Monroe and Pittsville. It was
intoxicating to hear him exchanging comments with Rodney; no, he hadn't
finished "coll." "I'm a rolling stone, Miss Monroe; we actor-fellows
always are!" He was "signed up" now; he gave them a glimpse of a long,
typewritten contract. Martie ventured a question as to the leading lady.

"She's a nice woman," said Wallace Bannister generously. "I like to
play against Mabel. Jesse Cluett, her husband, is in the play; and his
kid, too, her stepson--Lloyd--he's seventeen. Ever try the profession,
Miss Monroe?"

Martie flushed a pleased disclaimer. But the tiny seed was sown,
nevertheless. She liked the question; she was even vaguely glad that
Mrs. Cluett was forty and a married woman.

Wallace Bannister was older than Rodney, thirty or thirty-two, although
even off the stage he looked much younger. He had dipped into college
work in a dull season, amusing himself idly in the elementary classes
of French and English where his knowledge in these branches gave him
immediate prominence--and drifting away in a road company after only a
few months of fraternity and campus popularity. His mother and father
were both dead; the latter had been a theatrical manager in a small
way, sending little stock companies up and down the coast for one-night
stands.

Bannister was tall, well-built, and handsome. His cheeks had a fresh
fullness, and his black hair was as shining as wet coal. He was eager
and magnetic; musical, literary, or religious, according to the company
in which he found himself. Martie's thrilled interest firing him
to-night, he exerted himself: told stories in Chinese dialect, in
brogue, and with an excellent Scotch burr; he went to the rickety
piano, and from the loose keys, usually set in motion by a nickel in
the slot, he evoked brilliant songs, looking over his shoulder with his
sentimental bold eyes at the company as he sang. And Martie said to
herself, "Ah--this IS life!"

Rodney took her home, the clock in the square booming the half hour
after midnight as they went by. And at the side door he told her to
look up at the Dipper throbbing in the cool sky overhead. Martie knew
what was coming, but she looked innocently up, and went to sleep for
the first time in her life with a man's kiss still tingling on her
smiling lips.

The cold November weather might have been rosy June; the dull routine
of the Monroe home a life rich and full for Martie now. She sang like a
lark, feeding the chickens in the foggy mornings; she dimpled at her
own reflection in the mirror; she walked down town as if treading the
clouds. Anything interested her, everything interested her. Mrs. Harry
Locker, born Preble, said that Martie just seemed inspired, the way she
talked when old lady Preble died. Miss Fanny, in the Library, began to
entertain serious hopes that the girl would take the Cutter system to
heart, and make a clever understudy at the old desk. Sally, watching,
dreamed and yearned of Martie's distinction, Martie's happiness; Lydia
prayed. Malcolm Monroe, as became a man of dignity, ignored the whole
affair, but Len, realizing that various advantages accrued, befriended
his sister, and talked to Rodney familiarly, as man to man.

"I can't stand that fresh kid!" said Rodney of Len. Martie shrugged
without speaking. She owed Len no allegiance. Had it suited Rodney to
admire Len, Martie would have been a loyal sister. As it was, she would
not risk a difference with Rodney for any one like Len. She was
embarked now upon a vital matter of business. Had a few hundreds of
dollars been involved, Malcolm Monroe would have been at her elbow,
advising, commending. As it was, her happiness, her life, her children,
her whole future might be jeopardized or secured with no sign from him.
Interference from her mother or sisters would have been considered
indelicate. So Martie stood alone.

Immediately after the theatre party, the question of a series of dances
again arose, and Martie somewhat hesitatingly repeated her offer of the
Monroe house for the first. Rodney's friend, Alvah Brigham, was to come
to the Parker family for Thanksgiving; the dance was to be on Friday
night, and a large picnic to Brewster's Woods on Saturday. They would
take a lunch, build a fire for their coffee, and have the old
school-day programme of singing and games.

For the dance, the two big parlours and the back room must be cleared;
that was simple enough. Angela Baxter would be at the piano for the
music; sufficient, if not extraordinary, and costing only two dollars.
The supper would be sandwiches, cake, coffee, and lemonade: Monroe's
invariable supper. Rodney thought ices necessary, and suggested at
least a salad. Martie and Sally considered the salad.

"Lord, I wish we could have a punch," Rodney complained. The girls
laughed.

"Oh, Rod--Pa would explode!"

"Darn it," the boy mused, "I don't see WHY. He's not a teetotaler."
"Well, I know," Martie conceded. "But that's different, of course!
No--we can't have punch. I don't know how to make it, anyway--" She was
hardly following her own words. Under them lay the wonderful
consciousness that Rodney Parker was here at the house, sitting on the
porch steps on a warm November morning, as much at home as Leonard
himself. The sun was looking down into the dark garden, damp paths were
drying in sudden warmth after a rain.

In such an hour and such a mood, Martie felt absolutely confident that
the dance would be a great success. More; it seemed to her in the
heartening morning sunlight that it would be the first of many such
innocent festivities, and that before it was over--before it was over,
she and Rodney might have something wonderful to tell the girls and
boys of Monroe.

But in the long winter afternoons her confidence waned a little, and at
night, dreaming over her cards, she began to have serious misgivings.
Then the old house seemed cold and inhospitable and the burden of
carrying a social affair to success fell like a dreadful weight on the
girl's soul. Mama, Lydia, and Sally would cooperate to the best of
their power, of course; Pa and Len might be expected to make themselves
as annoying as possible.

Supper, decorations, even the question of gowns paled before the task
of making a list of guests. Sally and Martie early realized that they
must inevitably hurt the feelings and disappoint the trust of more than
one old friend. Mrs. Monroe and Lydia grew absolutely sick over the
necessity.

"Ma, this is just for the younger set," Martie argued. "And if people
like Miss Fanny and the Johnsons expect to come to it, why, it's
ridiculous, that's all!"

"I know, dear, but it's the first party we have given in YEARS" her
mother said plaintively, "and one hates to--"

"What I've DONE" said Martie in a worried tone, "is write down all the
POSSIBLE boys in Monroe, even counting Len and Billy Frost, and Rod,
and Alvah Brigham. Then I wrote down all the girls I'd like to ask if I
COULD, and there were about fourteen too many. So now I'm scratching
off all the girls I CAN--"

"I do think you ought to ask Grace Hawkes!" Lydia said firmly and
reproachfully.

"Well, I can't!" Martie answered quickly. "So it doesn't matter what
you think! I beg your pardon, Lyd," she added penitently, laying her
hand on Lydia's arm. "But you know Rodney's sisters would die if Grace
came!"

"Well, I think it's a mistake to slight Grace," Lydia persisted.

Martie studied her pencilled list gloomily for a few seconds.

"Sometimes I wish we weren't having it!" she said moodily.

"Oh, Martie, when we've always said we'd give ANYTHING to entertain as
other people do!" Sally exclaimed. "I DO think that's unreasonable!"

Martie made no answer. She was looking at a memorandum which read:
"Invitations--cream--Angela--stamps--illusion--slippers."

As the days went by the thought of the dance grew more and more
troublesome. The details of the affair were too strange to be entered
into with any confidence, any rush of enthusiasm and spontaneity. Every
hour brought her fresh cause for worry.

Nothing went well. The thought of her dress worried her. She had
conceived the idea of a black gown ornamented with cretonne roses,
carefully applied. She and Sally cut out the flowers, and applied them
with buttonhole stitch, sewing until their fingers were sore, their
faces flushed, and their hair in frowsy disorder. It was slow work.
Miss Pepper, the seamstress, engaged for one day only to do the
important work on both Sally's and Martie's gown, kept postponing, as
she always did postpone, the day, finally appointing the Wednesday
before Thanksgiving Day. Pa's cousin, a certain Mrs. Potts, wrote from
Portland that she was coming down for the holiday, and Sally and Martie
could have wept at the thought of the complication of having her
exacting presence in the house. Worse than this Pa, who was to have
gone to San Francisco on business on Friday morning--whose decision to
do so had indeed been one of Martie's reasons for selecting this date
for the affair--suddenly changed his plan. He need not go until
December, he said.

Leonard, who at first had been faintly interested in the proceedings,
later annoyed his sisters by intimating that he would not be present at
the dance. Martie and Sally did not want him for any social qualities
he possessed, but he was a male; he would at least help to offset the
alarming plurality of females.

Acceptances came promptly from the young women of Monroe, even from Ida
and May Parker. Florence Frost regretted; she was smitten even now with
the incurable illness that would end her empty life a few years later.
Such men as Martie and Sally had been able to list as eligible--the new
young doctor from the Rogers building, little Billy Frost, the
Patterson boys, home from college for Thanksgiving, Reddy Johnson, and
Carl Polhemus--answered not at all, as is the custom with young men.
Sally and Martie did not like the Patterson boys; George was fat and
stupid; Arthur at eighteen sophisticated and blase, with dissipated
eyes; both were supercilious, and the girls did not really believe that
they would come. Still, there was not much to lose in asking them.

There had been a debate over Reddy Johnson's name; but Reddy was a
wonderful dancer. So he was asked, and Martie went so far as to say
that had Joe Hawkes possessed an evening suit, he and Grace might have
been asked, too. As it was, Sally and Martie hoped they would not meet
Grace until the affair was over.

They fumed and fussed over the list until they knew it by heart. They
wondered who would come first, how soon they should begin dancing, how
soon serve supper. Mrs. Monroe thought supper should be served at
half-past ten. Martie groaned. Oh, they couldn't serve supper until
almost midnight, she protested.

Dinner was at noon on Thanksgiving Day, and the Monroes, sated and
overwarm, were sitting about the fire when Rodney Parker and his
friend, Alvah Brigham, came to take Martie and Sally walking. The girls
were sewing at the endless roses; but they jumped up in a flutter, and
ran for hats and sweaters. They did not exchange a word, nor lose a
second, while they were upstairs, running down again immediately to end
the uncomfortable silence that held the group about the fire.

It was a cold, bleak day, and the pure air was delicious to Martie's
hot cheeks after the close house. She had immediately taken possession
of Alvah; Sally and Rodney followed. They took the old bridge road,
which the girls loved for the memory of bygone days, when they had
played at dolls' housekeeping along the banks of the little Sonora,
climbed the low oaks, and waded in the bright shallow water. Even
through to-day's excitement Martie had time for a memory of those
long-ago summer afternoons, and she said to herself with a vague touch
of pain that it would of course be impossible to have with any man the
serene communion of those days with Sally.

Mr. Brigham was a pale, rather fat young man with hair already
thinning. He did not have much to say, but he was always ready to
laugh, and Martie saw that he had cause for laughter. She rattled on
recklessly, anxious only to avoid silence; hardly conscious of what she
said. The effect of the cool, fresh air was lost upon Martie to-day;
she was fired to fever-pitch by Rodney's nearness.

He had not ever said anything exactly loverlike, she said to herself,
with a sort of breathless discontent, when she was setting the table
for a cold supper that night. But he had brought his friend to them
after all! She must not be exacting. She had so much--

"I beg your pardon, Cousin Allie?" she stammered. Her obnoxious
relative, a stout, moustached woman of fifty, warming her skirts at the
fire, was smiling at her unkindly.

"You always was a great one to moon, Martha!" said Mrs. Potts, "I's
asking you what you see in that young feller to make such a to-do
about?"

"Then you don't like him?" Martie countered, laughing. Mrs. Potts
bridled. Her favourite attitude toward life was a bland but suspicious
superiority; she liked to be taken seriously.

"I didn't say I didn't like him," she answered, accurately, a little
nettled. "No, my dear, I didn't say that. No. I wouldn't say that of
any young man!" she added thoughtfully.

Smiling a dark smile, she looked into the fire. Martie, rather
uncomfortable, went on with her task.

"He's seemed to admire our Mart in a brotherly sort of way since the
very beginning," Lydia explained, anxious as usual to say the kind
thing, and succeeding as usual in saying the one thing that could hurt
and annoy. "He's quite a boy for the girls, but we think our Martie is
too sensible to take him seriously, yet awhile!" And Lydia gave her
sister a smile full of sweet significance.

"HOPE she is!" Mrs. Potts said heavily. "For if that young feller means
business I miss MY guess!"

"Oh, for pity's sake--can't a man ask a girl to go walking without all
this fuss!" Martie burst out angrily. "I NEVER heard so
much--crazy--silly--talk--about--nothing!"

The last words were only an ashamed mumble as she disappeared
kitchenward.

"H'm!" said Mrs. Potts, eying Lydia over her glasses. "Kinder touchy
about him just the same. Well! what's he to that young feller used to
come see you, Lydia? Ain't the Frosts and the Parkers kin?"

"I really think she's the most detestable old woman that ever was!"
Martie said, when the three girls were going to bed that night. Lydia,
loitering in her sister's room for a few minutes, made no denial.

"Well, by this time to-morrow night the party will be nearly over!"
yawned Sally.

Martie looked at the clock. A quarter past eleven. What would be
happening at quarter past eleven to-morrow night?

The girls awakened early, and were early astir. A rush of preparation
filled the morning, so soothing in its effect upon nerves and muscles
that Martie became wild with hope. The parlours looked prettier than
the girls had ever seen them; the pungent sweetness of chrysanthemums
and evergreen stealing into the clean, well-aired spaces, and bowls of
delicious violets sending out currents of pure perfume. Martie swept,
straightened, washed gas globes, shook rugs. She gathered the flowers
herself, straightening the shoulders that were beginning to ache as she
arranged them with wet, cool fingers. Sally was counting napkins,
washing china and glass. Belle dragged through the breakfast dishes.
Lydia was capably mixing the filling for sandwiches. Outside, the
morning was still; fog dripped from the trees. Sometimes the sudden
sputtering chuckle of disputing chickens broke the quiet; a fish cart
rattled by unseen, the blare of the horn sending Mrs. Monroe with a
large empty platter to the gate.

At two o'clock Lydia and Martie walked down town for the last shopping.
Martie was aware, under the drumming excitement in her blood, that she
was already tired. But to buy bottled cherries for the lemonade, olives
for the sandwiches, and flat pink and white mint candies was
exhilarating, and Reddy Johnson's cheery "See you to-night, Martie!"
made her blue eyes dance with pleasure. After all, a dance was no such
terrible matter!

They were in Mason and White's, seated at a counter, in consultation
over a purchase of hairpins, when two gloved hands were suddenly
pressed over Martie's eyes, and a joyous voice said "Hello!" The next
instant Rose's eyes were laughing into hers.

"Rose Ransome!" Martie and Lydia said together. The two younger girls
began to chatter eagerly.

Why, when had she gotten home? Only this morning. And oh, it did seem
so good to be home! And how was everybody? And how was college? Oh,
fine! And was she still at the same house? Oh, yes! And so poor old
Mrs. Preble was dead? Uncle Ben had felt so badly--

"Say, Rose, we're having a sort of party to-night," Martie said
awkwardly, and with a certain hesitation. Details followed. Rose, as
pretty as a bird in her little checked suit and feathered hat, listened
with bright interest. "Why can't you come?" Martie finished eagerly.
"The more the merrier!"

"Well--no." Rose hesitated prettily. "My first evening at home, you
know--I think I hadn't better. I'd love to, Martie. And about the
picnic to-morrow; that I CAN do! What'll I bring?"

"Rose is a sweet little thing," Lydia said, when the sisters were
walking home again. "I'm sorry she can't come to-night; she has a way
of making things GO."

Martie did not answer. She was mentally, for the hundredth time,
putting on the black gown with the pink roses stitched all about the
flounce, and piling up her bronze hair.

The short afternoon waned, fog closing in the village again with the
dark. Martie and Sally came down to supper with thin little crepe
wrappers over their crisp skirts and best stockings and slippers. Both
girls had spent the late afternoon in bathing, taking last stitches,
laughing and romping over the upper floor, but the blazing colour in
their faces now was as much from nervous fatigue as from excitement.
Neither was hungry, nor talkative, and Mrs. Potts and their father
monopolized the conversation.

Len was sulky because he had played his usual game badly this evening,
and chance failing him had favoured the girls. He had asked to be
excused from the party, to their deep but unexpressed indignation, and
had almost won his father's consent to a request to go down town a
while, when a casual inquiry from Malcolm as to what he intended to do
down town inspired Len to a reminiscent chuckle and an artless
observation that gee! he might get a chance to sit outside of the hotel
and watch Colonel Frost's new automobile for him, if the Colonel, as
was usual, came down to the monthly meeting of the Republican Club.

For a few seconds Malcolm did not sense the full indignity of his son's
position as groom for Cyrus Frost. When he did, Leonard had a bad
quarter of an hour, and was directed to get into his Sunday suit, make
himself as useful and agreeable to his sisters as was possible, and let
his father hear no more of this nonsense about old Frost and his
automobile.

Chuckling over this turn of events, the girls went upstairs to finish
dressing. Sally, in an old pink gown, freshly pressed, was pretty; but
Martie, turning flushed and self-conscious from the dim old mirror, was
quite lovely. The black gown made her too-generous figure seem almost
slender; the cretonne roses glowed richly against the black, and
Martie's creamy skin and burnished hair were all the more brilliant for
the contrast. Her heart rose buoyantly as she realized the success of
the gown, and she ran downstairs with sudden gay confidence in herself
and her party.

Her father and mother, with Mrs. Potts, had considerately disappeared.
Malcolm had gone down town; the ladies, wrapped in shawls, were
gossiping in Mrs. Potts's vaultlike chamber. Lydia was moving about in
the downstairs rooms.

"Oh, Martie, Rose telephoned," Lydia said as her sister came in, "and
she says that Mr. Rice and her mother say she must come up to-night, if
it's only for a little while. She's going to bring her violin."

"Oh, that's good," Martie answered absently, sitting down to play "The
Two Grenadiers" with great spirit. "There's some one now, Lyd!" she
added in a half panic, as the doorbell rang. Lydia, her colour rising
suddenly, went to the door, raising her hand above as she passed under
the gaslight to turn the lights to their full brilliancy. The first
arrival was Angela Baxter, with her music roll under her arm. She
kissed Lydia, and went upstairs with Sally.

Then there were other feet on the porch: in came the German girls and
Laura Carter, hooded in knitted fragile scarfs, and wrapped in pale
blue and pink circular capes edged narrowly with fluffy eiderdown.
Elmer King, hoarsely respectful, and young Potter Street followed.
Martie, taking the girls upstairs, called back to them that she would
send Len down. While they were all in Lydia's room, laying off wraps
and powdering noses, Maude Alien came up, and "Dutch" Harrison's older
sister Kate, and Amy Scott, and Martie was so funny and kept them all
in such roars of laughter that Sally was conscious of a shameless wish
that this was what Monroe called a "hen party," with no men asked. Then
they could have games, Proverbs and even Hide-the-Thimble, and every
one would feel happy and at home.

When they went down Robert Archer, a quiet mild young man who was in
the real estate business, had come; and he and Elmer and Potter were
sitting silently in the parlour. Martie and Sally and the other girls
went in, and every one tried to talk gaily and naturally as the young
men stood up, but there seemed to be no reason why they should not all
sit down, and, once seated, it seemed hard to talk. What Martie said
was met with a nervous glimmer of laughter and a few throaty
monosyllables.

Sally wanted to suggest games, but did not dare. Martie, and indeed
every one else, would have been glad to play Proverbs and Twenty
Questions, but she did not quite like to begin anything so childish at
a real dance. She looked at the clock: just nine. The evening was yet
young.

Suddenly Angela Baxter stopped murmuring to Lydia, and began to rattle
a quick two step from the piano. Robert Archer, sitting next to Martie,
asked her at once to dance, and Potter Street asked Sally, but both
girls, glancing self-consciously at their guests, declined, and the
young men subsided. So nobody danced the first dance, and after it
there was another lull. Then Martie cheerfully asked Angela for a
waltz, and said bravely:

"Come on, some of you, DO dance this! I can't because I'm hostess."

At this there was some subdued laughter, and immediately the four young
men found partners, and two of the girls danced together. Then little
Billy Frost came in, and after him, as fresh and sweet as her name,
came Rose with the Monroe's only dentist, Bruce Tate. Dr. Tate was a
rather heavy young man, flirtatious and conceited.

Rose put her violin on the piano, and explained that she had met Rodney
Parker that afternoon, "hadn't seen him for YEARS!" and that he had
talked her into coming. No--she wouldn't play until later laughed Rose;
now she wanted to dance.

The hours that followed seemed to Martie like years. She never forgot
them. She urged her guests into every dance with almost physical force;
she felt for the girls who did not dance a nervous pity. Ida and May
came in: neither danced, nor was urged to dance. They went home at ten
o'clock. It was immediately afterward that Rodney came with his friend.
Martie met them in the hall, ready for the intimate word, the smile
that should make all this tiresome business of lights and piano and
sandwiches worth while. Rodney was a little flushed and noisy, Alvah
red-faced, breathing and speaking a little thickly. They said they were
thirsty.

"Lemonade?" Martie suggested confidently.

Rodney glanced quickly at his friend. "Oh, Gawd!" said Mr. Brigham
simply.

Then they were in the hot parlour, and Martie was introducing them to a
circle that smiled and said "Pleased to meet choo," over and over.
Alvah would not dance, remarking that he hated dancing. And
Rodney--Rodney had eyes for no one but Rose. Martie saw it, every one
saw it.

Rose was at her best to-night. She knew college songs that Rodney and
Alvah knew, she dimpled and coquetted with the pretty confidence of a
kitten. She stood up, dainty and sweet in her pink gown, and played her
violin, with the gaslight shining down into her brown eyes, and her
lace sleeve slipping back and forth over her white arm as the bow
whipped to and fro.

Rodney did not leave her side, except for a dance with Martie and one
with Sally. After a while he and Rose went out to sit on the stairs.
Alvah grew noisy and familiar, and Martie did not know quite how to
meet his hilarity, although she tried. She was afraid the echoes of his
wild laugh would greet her father's ears, if he had come in and was
upstairs, and that Pa might do something awful.

The evening wore on. Lydia looked tired, and Sally was absolutely mute,
listening politely to Robert Archer's slow, uninteresting narration of
the purchase of the Hospital site. Martie felt as if she had been in
this dreadful gaslight forever; she watched the clock.

At eleven they all went out to the dining room, and here the first real
evidences of pleasure might be seen on the faces of the guests. Now
Lydia, too, was in her favourite element, superintending coffee cups,
while Sally, alert again, cut the layer cakes. The table looked
charming and the sandwiches and coffee, cream and olives, were swiftly
put in circulation. Under the heartening rattle of cutlery and china
every one talked, the air was scented with coffee, the room so warm
that two windows by general consent were opened to the cool night.

Martie took her share of the duties of hospitality as if in an
oppressive dream. Rodney sat beside her, and Rose on his other side. To
an outsider Martie might have seemed her chattering self, but she
knew--and Sally knew--that the knife was in her heart. She said
good-night to Rodney brightly, and kissed Rose. Rodney was to take Rose
home because, as she explained to Martie in an aside, it was almost on
his way, and it seemed a shame to take Dr. Tate so far.

"I've been scolding Rod terribly; those boys had highballs or something
before they came here," Rose said, puckering her lips and shaking her
head as she carefully pinned a scarf over her pretty hair. "So silly!
That's what we were talking about on the stairs."

She tripped away on Rodney's arm. Alvah, complaining of a splitting
head, went off alone. Somehow the others filtered away; Angela Baxter,
who was to spend the night with Lydia, piled the last of the dishes
with Lydia in the kitchen. Sally, silent and yawning, sank into an
armchair by the dying fire. Martie, watching the lanterns, and hearing
the voices die away after the last slamming of the gate, stood on the
dark porch staring into the night. The trees scarcely showed against a
heavy sky, a restless wind tossed their uppermost branches; a few drops
of rain fell on a little gust of air. The night was damp and heavy; it
pressed upon the village almost like a soft, smothering weight. Martie
felt as if she could hear the world breathe.

With miserable, dry eyes, she looked up at the enveloping blackness;
drops of rain on her burning face, a chill shaking her whole body in
the thin gown. Martie wanted to live no longer; she longed to press
somehow into that great silent space, to cool her burning head and
throbbing heart in those immeasurable distances on distances of dark.
She did not want to go back into the dreadful house, where the chairs
were pushed about, and the table a wreck of wilted flowers and crumbs,
where the air was still laden with the odour of coffee and cigarettes.
She did not want to reclaim her own shamed and helpless little entity
after this moment of escape.

Her own pain and mortification--ah, she could have borne those. But to
have Lydia and Sally and Len and all Monroe sorry for her ...

Martie did not sleep that night. She tossed in a restless agony of
remembering, and the pitiable party seemed a life-failure, as she lay
thinking of it in the dark, a colossal blunder never to be obliterated.
They were unlucky--the Monroes. They never could do things like other
people.

Early in the cold dawn she heard the quiet slop and spatter of rain.
Thank God there could be no picnic to-day! Exhausted, she slept.



CHAPTER VI


Whatever Lydia, her mother, and Sally agreed between themselves the
next day they never told, but there was a conspiracy immediately on
foot. Little was said of the party, and nothing of Rodney Parker, for
many days. And if Martie in her fever of hurt pride was not openly
grateful, at least they knew her benefited by the silence. Rose had no
such compunction.

On the afternoon of the long rainy Saturday that was to have been
filled with a picnic, Rose telephoned. She just wanted to see how every
one was--and say what a lovely time she'd had! Ida Parker had just
telephoned, and Rose was going up there at about four o'clock to stay
for dinner, just informally, of course. She would go back to Berkeley
to-morrow night, but she hoped to see the girls in the meantime.

Silently, heavily, Martie went on wiping the "company" dishes, carrying
them into the pantry shelves where they had been piled untouched for
years, and where they would stand again unused for a long, long time.
Sally was tired, and complained of a headache. Lydia was irritatingly
cheerful and philosophical. Len had disappeared, as was usual on
Saturday, and Mrs. Monroe and Mrs. Potts were talking in low tones over
the sitting-room fire. Outside, the rain fell and fell and fell.

Martie thought of Rose, laughing, pink-cheeked, discarding her neat
little raincoat with Rodney's help at four o'clock, at the Parkers'
house, and bringing her fresh laughter into their fire. She thought of
her at six--at seven--and during the silent two hours when she brooded
over her cards.

Coming out of church the next morning, Rose rejoiced over the clear
bath of sunlight that followed the rain. "Rod is going to take me
driving," she told Martie. "I like him ever so much; don't you, Martie?"

Alice Clark, coming in for a chat with Lydia late that afternoon, added
the information that when little Rose Ransome left the city at four
o'clock, Rod Parker and that fat friend of his went, too. Escorting
Rose--and he and Rose would have tea in the city before he took her to
Berkeley--Martie thought.

That was the beginning, and now scarcely a day passed without its new
sting. The girl was not conscious of any instinct for bravery; she did
not want to be brave, she wanted to draw back from the rack--to escape,
rather than to endure. A first glimpse of happiness had awakened
fineness in her nature; she had been generous, sweet, ambitious, only a
few weeks ago. She had given new thought to her appearance, had carried
her big frame more erectly. All her bigness, all her capacity for
loving and giving she would have poured at Rodney's feet; his home, his
people, his hopes, and plans--these would have been hers.

Repulsed, this gold of youth turned to brass; through long idle days
and wakeful nights Martie paid the cruel price for a few hours of
laughter and dreaming. She was not given another moment of hope.

Not that she did not meet Rodney, for in Monroe they must often meet.
And when they met he greeted her, and they laughed and chatted gaily.
But she was not Brunhilde now, and if Sally or Lydia or any one else
was with her she knew he was not sorry.

In the middle of December Rose's mother, the neat little widow who was
like an older Rose, told Sally that Rose was not going back to college
after Christmas. Quietly, without comment, Sally told this to Martie
when they were going to bed that night.

Martie walked to the window, and stood looking out for a long time.
When she came back to Sally her face was pale, her breast moving
stormily, and her eyes glittering.

"They're engaged, I suppose?" Martie said.

Sally did not speak. But her eyes answered.

"Sally," said her sister, in a voice thick with pain, as she sat down
on the bed, "am I to blame? Could I have done differently? Why does
this come to Rose, who has everything NOW, and pass me by? I--I don't
want to be like--like Lyd, Sally; I want to live! What can I do? Oh, my
GOD," said Martie, rising suddenly and beginning to walk to and fro,
with her magnificent mane of hair rolling and tumbling about her
shoulders as she moved, "what shall I do? There is a world, out there,
and people working and living and succeeding in it--and here I am, in
Monroe--dying, dying, DYING of longing! Sally ..." and with tears wet
on her cheeks, and her mouth trembling, she came close to her sister.
"Sally," whispered Martie unsteadily, "I care for--him. I wanted
nothing better. I thought--I thought that by this time next year we
might--we might be going to have a baby--Rodney and I."

She flung back her head, and went again to the window. Sally burst into
bitter crying.

"Oh, Martie--Martie--I know! I know! My darling, splendid, glorious
sister--so much more clever than any one else, and so much BETTER! I
think it'll break my heart!"

And in each other's arms, nineteen and twenty-one wept together at the
bitterness of life.

The days wore by, and Rose came smiling home for Christmas, and early
in the new year Martie and Sally were asked to a pink luncheon at the
Ransome cottage, finding at each chair two little tissue-paper
heart-shaped frames initialled "R. P." and "R. R." with kodak prints of
Rose and Rodney inside. The Monroe girls gave Rose a "linen shower" in
return, and the whole town shared the pleasure of the happy pair.

Martie had enough to think of now. Not even the thoughts of the
prospective bride could dwell more persistently on her own affairs than
did Martie's thoughts. Rose, welcome at the Parkers', envied and
admired even by Ida and May and Florence; Rose, prettily buying her
wedding finery and dashing off apt little notes of thanks for her
engagement cups and her various "showers"; Rose, fluttering with
confidences and laughter to the admiring Rodney, with the diamond
glittering on her hand; these and a thousand other Roses haunted
Martie. Lydia and her mother admired and marvelled with the rest. Lydia
it was who first brought home the news that the young Parkers were to
be married at Easter, Sally learned from Rose's own lips that they were
to spend a week in Del Monte as honeymoon.

The Monroe girls still wandered down town on weekday mornings,
loitering into the post-office, idling an hour away in the Library,
drifting home to mutton stew or Hamburg steak when the clock in the
town hall struck twelve. Sometimes Martie watched the big eastern
trains thunder by, looking with her wistful young blue eyes at the
card-playing men and the flushed, bored young women with their heads
resting on the backs of their upholstered seats. Sometimes she stopped
at the little magazine stand outside of Carlson's cigar store; her eye
caught by a photograph on the cover of a weekly: "Broadway at
Forty-Second," or "Night Lights from the Singer Building," or the
water-front silhouette that touches like the sight of a beloved face
even some hearts that know it not. She wanted to do something, now that
it was certain that she would not marry. Slowly, and late, Martie's
soul was awakening.

She asked her father if she might go to work. Certainly she might, her
father said lifelessly. Well, what should she do?--the girl persisted.

"Ah, that's quite another thing!" Malcolm said, with his favourite air
of detecting an inconsistency. "You want to work? Well and good, go
ahead and do it! But don't expect me to tell you what to do. Your
mother may have some idea. Your grandmother--and she was the loveliest
woman I ever knew!--was content to be merely a lady, something I wish
my daughters knew a little more about. Her beautiful home, her children
and servants, her friends and her church--that was her work! She didn't
want to push coarsely out into the world. However, if you do, go ahead!
I confess I am tired of seeing the dark, ugly expression you've worn
lately, Martie. Go your own way!"

Armed with this ungracious permission, Martie went down to see Miss
Fanny, talked with Grace, and even, meeting him on a lonely walk,
climbed into the old phaeton beside Dr. Ben, and asked his advice.
Nothing definite resulted, yet Martie was the happier for the new
interest. Old Father Martin talked to her of her plans one day, and
presently put her in communication with a certain widow, Mrs. O'Brien,
of San Francisco, who wanted an intelligent young woman to go with her
to New York to help with the care and education of two little O'Briens.

This possibility fired Martie and Sally to fever-heat, and they hoped
and prayed eagerly while it was under discussion. New York at last!
said Martie, who felt that she had been waiting endless years for New
York. But Mrs. O'Brien, it seemed, wanted some one who would be able to
begin French and German and music lessons for little Jane and Cora, and
the question of Martie's fitness was settled.

Still she was happier, and when Easter came, and the Monroe girls were
bidden to Rose's wedding, it was with a new and charming gravity in
face and manner that Martie went.

The ceremony took place in the comfortable parlours of the Ransome
house; the pretty home wedding possible because Rodney was not a
Catholic. Just like Rose's luck--instead of being married in the bare,
big church, thought Martie, at whose age the religious side of the
question did not appear important. Dr. Ben gave his young cousin away,
and Rose's mother, whose every thought since the fatherless child was
born had been for the girl's good, who had schemed and worked and
prayed for twenty years that Rose might be happy, that Rose might have
music and languages, travel and friends, had her reward when the lovely
little Mrs. Parker flung her fragrant arms about her, and gave her her
first kiss.

Rose looked her prettiest, just becomingly pale, becomingly merry,
becomingly tearful. Her presents, on view upstairs, were far finer than
any Monroe had seen since Cliff Frost was married. Rodney was the usual
excited, nervous, laughing groom. The wedding supper was perfection,
and the young people danced when Father Martin was gone, and when the
bride and groom had dashed away to the ten-o'clock train.

It was all over. Rose had everything, as usual, and Martie had nothing.

Easter was in early April that year, and the sweet, warm month was
dying away when one afternoon Miss Fanny, always hopeful for this
dreaming helpless young creature so full of big faults and big
possibilities, detained Martie in the Library for a little dissertation
upon card catalogues. Martie listened with her usual enthusiastic
interest. Yes--she understood; yes, she understood.

"There's your telephone, Miss Fanny!" said she, in the midst of a
demonstration. The older woman picked up the instrument.

"It's for you, Martie. It's Sally," she said, surprised. "Sally!"
Martie did not understand. She had left Sally at the bridge, and Sally
was to go on to the Town Hall for Pa, with a letter.

"Hello, Martie!" said a buoyant yet tremulous voice. "Martie--this is
Sally. I'm over at Mrs. Hawkes's. Martie--I'm married!"

"Married!" echoed Martie stupidly, eyeing the listening Miss Fanny
bewilderedly.

"Yes--to Joe. Lissun--can't you come right over? I'll tell you all
about it!"

Martie put back the receiver in a state of utter stupefaction.
Fortunately the Library was empty, and after telling Miss Fanny the
little she knew, she went out into the sweet, hot street. The town was
in a tent of rustling new leaves; lilacs were in heavy flower. Roses
and bridal-wreath and mock-orange trees were in bloom. Rank brown grass
stood everywhere; the fruit blossoms were gone, tall buttercups were
nodding over the grass.

At the Hawkes's house there were laughter and excitement. Sally, rosier
and more talkative than even Martie had ever seen her before, was the
heroine of the hour. When Martie came in, she flew toward her in an
ecstasy, and with laughter and tears the tale was told. She and Joe had
chanced to meet on the Court House steps, Sally coming out from the
task of delivering a letter from Pa to Judge Parker, Joe going in with
a telegram for Captain Tate. And almost without words from the
lilac-scented, green-shaded street they had gone into the License
Bureau; and almost without words they had walked out to find Father
Martin. And now they were married! And the thin old ring on Sally's
young hand had belonged to Father Martin's mother.

Martie was too generous not to respond to her sister's demand, even if
she had not been completely carried away by the excitement about her.

Mrs. Hawkes, tears of joy in her eyes, yet smiles shining through them,
was brewing tea for the happy pair. Minnie Hawkes's Rose was making
toast when she was not jumping up and down half mad with delight. Ellen
Hawkes, now Mrs. Castle, was setting the table. Grandma Kelly was
quavering out blessings, and Joe's older brother, Thomas, who worked at
night, and had been breakfasting at four o'clock, when the young pair
burst in, rushed out to the bakery to come back triumphantly with a
white frosted cake.

"It's a fair cake," said Mrs. Hawkes in the babel. "But you wait--I'll
make you a cake!"

"And you know, Joe and I between us just made up the dollar for the
license!" laughed Sally.

"Say, listen," said Ellen suddenly, "you folks have got to take our
house for a few days; how about that, Mother? You and Joe can start
housekeeping there like Terry and me. How about it, Mother? We'll come
here!"

"But, Sally--not to tell me!" Martie said reproachfully.

"Oh, darling--I did that deliberately!" her sister answered earnestly.
"I'm going to telephone Pa, and I know he'll be wild. And I DIDN'T want
you to be in it! You'll have enough--poor Martie!"

Already the shadow of the old house was passing from her. With what
gaiety she went about the old room, thought Martie, stopped by Mrs.
Hawkes's affectionate arms for a kiss, stopping to kiss Grandma Kelly
of her own free will. Sally had no sense of social values; she loved to
be here, admired, loved, busy.

"Think of the priest giving her his mother's own ring!" said the women
over and over. "It'll bring you big luck, Sally!"

They all sat down at the table, and Terry and John Healey came in to
rejoice, and the Healey baby awoke, and Grace came in from work. When
Martie left there was talk of supper; everybody was to stay for supper.

Walking home in the late spring twilight, Martie felt a certain
satisfaction. Sally was happy, and they would be good to her, and she
would be better off than Lydia, anyway. Joe as a husband was perfectly
absurd, of course, but Joe certainly did love Sally. Monroe would buzz,
but Martie had heard Monroe buzzing for a long time now, and after the
first shock, had found herself unhurt. Curiously, Sally's plunge into a
new life seemed to free her own hands.

"Now I am going to get out!" said Martie, opening her own gate.

When Malcolm Monroe came home that night it was to a well-sustained
hurricane of tears and protest. Mrs. Monroe and Lydia shed genuine
tears, and Martie and Len added diplomatically to the hubbub. Pa must
suspect no one of sympathy for the shameless Sally.

"To think, Pa, after all we've done for her!" sobbed Mrs. Monroe, and
Lydia, wiping her nose and shaking her head, kept saying with
reproachful firmness: "I can't believe it of Sally! Why shouldn't she
tell one of us. To stand up and be married all alone!"

Her father took the news exactly as might have been expected. While
there was hope of convicting Martie or Lydia of complicity, he
questioned them sharply and sternly. When this was gone, he swiftly
worked himself into such a passion as his children had rarely seen
before. Sally and Joe were solemnly denounced, disinherited, and
abandoned. And any child of his who spoke to either should share their
fate.

"Oh, Papa--don't!" quavered Lydia, as her father strode to the Bible,
and with horrible precision inked from the register the record of
Sally's birth. Mrs. Monroe looked terrified, and even Leonard was pale.
But Martie, to her own amazement, found a sudden calm scorn in her
heart. What a silly thing to do, just because poor little Sally married
the boy she loved. How dared Pa call himself a Christian while he
regarded Sally's downward step from a mere social level a disgrace! And
how cruel he was, playing upon poor Ma's and Lydia's feelings just for
his own satisfaction.

"You understand me, don't you, Martie?" he asked grimly.

"I suppose so." An ugly smile curved Martie's lips. Her lids were half
lowered.

"Well--remember it. And never any one of you mention your sister's name
to me again!"

"No, Pa," said four fervent voices. Then they had dinner.

The next day the three women packed up Sally's things; Lydia and her
mother in tears, but Martie strangely content. Something had happened
at all events. She put Sally's baby sash and collar and other treasured
rubbish in the package, with two scribbled lines pinned to them:
"Praying for you, darling. Pa is furious. The slipper is for luck. Your
M."

And then the eventless days began to wheel by again. Rose came home,
and came to see Martie, and Martie dined at the Parkers'. Rodney,
though obviously blind to all women but his wife, was cordial and
gallant to the guest and Rose took her up to her pretty, frilly
bedroom, so that Martie might take off her hat and coat, and told
Martie that Rod was the neatest man she had ever seen, such a fusser
about his bath and his clothes. On Rose's bureau was a big photograph
of Rodney in a silver frame, and on Rodney's high dresser a charming
photograph of Rose in her wedding gown. When she was putting on her hat
four hours later to be driven home by Rodney, Martie heard Rose's
wifely voice in the hall: "You are a darling to do this, Rod!" The tone
was that in which a man is praised by his women for a hard duty
cheerfully done. Martie was not surprised when Rose merrily confided to
her that Rod wanted his wife to go along--the silly!--and accompanied
them on the short drive.

She did not see much of the young Parkers after that, nor did she
expect to be counted among their intimate friends. She began to drift
into the public kindergarten in the mornings, to help Miss Malloy with
the unruly babies. And she missed Sally more every day.

Sally and Joe had gone to Pittsville immediately after their wedding;
Joe having received a dazzling offer of forty dollars a month for two
summer months from the express company there.

But when Sally had been married six weeks, Martie heard her voice one
day when the younger sister was passing the Hawkes's house. Instantly
she entered the gate, her heart beating high. Sally's dear,
unforgettable voice! And Sally's slender shoulders and soft, loose hair!

The girls were in each other's arms, laughing and crying as they clung
together. Martie thought she had never seen her sister look so well, or
seem so sweet and gay. There were a thousand questions on each side to
ask; Martie poured out the home news. Sally and Joe were housekeeping
in three rooms, and it was more FUN! And Sally really cooked him
wonderful dinners; his father and mother had come over to one, and
wasn't it good? Mrs. Hawkes enthusiastically agreed.

Of course, they had hardly ANYTHING, bubbled Sally, only two saucepans
and one frying pan and the coffee pot. But it was more FUN! And in the
evenings they walked around Pittsville, and went to the ten-cent
theatre, or bought candy and divided it. COULDN'T Martie come some time
to dinner?

"Pa," said Martie simply. Sally's bright face clouded. She sent a kiss
to Ma and darling Lyd. She and Joe would come back to Monroe in
September, and then she would come see Pa and make him forgive her.
Tell him she still loved him!

Martie delivered none of these airy messages. She secretly marvelled at
the happiness that could blind Sally to a memory of Pa, and Pa's
stubbornness.

"Listen, Martie," said Sally, when for a moment the sisters were alone,
"it wasn't so sudden as you think, my marrying Joe!" She stopped,
interrupted by some thought, and added impulsively, "Isn't it STRANGE,
Mart, that we might have missed each other; it makes us both just
SHIVER to think of it! Well"--and with a visible effort the little wife
brought herself down from a roseate cloud to realities again--"if--if
Lyd had married Cliff Frost," she said uncertainly, "I never should
have DARED marry Joe!"

"Or if I had married Rodney Parker, Sally?" Martie added steadily.

"Well--" The colour flew to Sally's face. "As it was," she went on a
little hurriedly, "I just--couldn't bear to go on and on, it made me
desperate! And I thought Pa and Ma's way is no good, our house never
seems to have much happiness in it--and I'm going to get OUT! There
never was a place like this for good times, and babies, and jokes, and
company to dinner!" smiled Sally, looking about the Hawkeses' parlour
triumphantly.

But then Sally was born devoid of a social sense, mused Martie, walking
home. What would life be without it--she wondered. No affectations, no
barriers, no pretenses--

"Flout me not, Sweet!" said some one at her side. She looked up into
the beaming eyes of Wallace Bannister. "Don't you remember me--I'm the
city feller that came here breakin' all hearts awhile back!"

"You idiot!" Martie laughed, too. "I thought you were miles away!"

"Well, judging by your expression, darling, you were miles away, too,"
said the irrepressible Wallace. "How are you, Brunhilde? Ich liebe
dich! Yes'm, we ought to be miles away, but to tell you the honest
truth, the season is simply ROTTEN here on the coast. We've bust up,
for the moment, but dry those tears. Here's my contract for seven weeks
in San Francisco--seven plays. Sixty bones per week; pretty neat, what?
We begin rehearsing in July, open August eighth, and if it's a go, go
on indefinitely. The Cluetts and I are in this--the rest of the
company's gone flooey. Meanwhile, I have three weeks to wait, and I'm
staying with my aunt in Pittsville studying like mad."

"And what are you doing in Monroe?" Martie said contentedly, as they
wandered along.

"I came here a week ago to change some shoes," said Wallace, "and I saw
you. So to-day I came and made you a formal call."

"You did NOT!" Martie ejaculated, laughing.

"Why didn't I? I fell down eleven steps into your garden, knocked on
the front door, knocked on the side door, talked to some one called
'Ma,' talked to some one called 'Lydia,' and learned that Miss Martha
Brunhilde Monroe was out for a sashay. There!"

"Well--for goodness sake!" Martie was conscious of flushing. From that
second she grew a little self-conscious. He was a funny creature. He
would have been unusually handsome, she thought, if it were not for a
certain largeness--it was not quite coarseness--of feature. He would
have been extraordinarily charming, decided Martie, but for that same
quality in his manner; recklessness, carelessness. She knew he was not
always telling the truth; these honours, these affairs, these
fascinating escapades were not all his own. His exaggerated expressions
of affection for herself were only a part of this ebullient sense of
romance. But he was amusing.

"Bon soir, papillon!" he said at her gate. "How about a meet to-morrow?
Tie a pink scarf to thy casement if thy jailer sleeps. Seriously, leave
us meet, kid. Leave us go inter Bonestell's with the crowd--watto? I'll
wait for youse outside the Library at three."

"With the accent on the WAIT," said Martie significantly. But she did
not think of Rodney that evening. She thought of Sally and of Wallace
Bannister.

Fortunately for her, it did not occur to her father to cross-examine
her on any other event of the day except the circumstance that she had
been seen walking with an unknown young man. This was food for much
advice.

"I don't like it, my daughter," said Malcolm, rubbing his shins
together and polishing his glasses as he sat by the fire. "I don't like
it at all. I don't like this tendency to permit familiarities with this
young man and that young man--all very well for a while, but not the
sort of thing a young man chooses in a WIFE."

Martie, looking at him respectfully, as she placed a red Queen on a
black King, felt in her heart that she would like to kill him.

The next afternoon she decided to clean the chicken house, one of the
tasks in which her strange nature delighted. To splash about with hose
and broom, tip over the littered drinking trough, wash cobwebs from the
windows with a well-directed stream of water; in these things Martie
found some inexplicable satisfaction. She went upstairs after luncheon
to get into old clothes, came down half an hour later with her best hat
on, walked straight out of the gate and down town.

Wallace was waiting, elated at her punctuality. Martie explaining her
fear that some one might report their meeting to her father, they
waited openly at Masset's corner, boarded the half-past three o'clock
trolley, and went to Pittsville.

Pittsville was two miles away, but this adventure had all the charm of
foreign travel to Martie. Every house interested her, the main street
of the little town might have been Broadway in New York. The people
looked different, she said. She and Wallace laughed their way through
the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store, enjoyed a Floradora Special composed of
bananas, ice cream, nuts, whipped cream, maple syrup, and cherries, and
finally bought six cream puffs and carried them to Sally.

Sally's delight was almost tearful. She led Martie rapturously over her
domain: the little bedroom spotless and sunshiny in the summer
afternoon; the microscopic kitchen scented with the baked apples that
HAD burned a little and the cookies that would NOT brown; the
living-and-dining room that was at once so bare and so rich. It was a
home, Martie realized dimly, and Sally was a person at last. The
younger sister peeped interestedly into spice-tins and meat safe; three
eggs were in a small yellow bowl, two thin slices of bacon on a plate.
In the bread box was half a loaf of bread and one cut slice.

"Sally, it must be fun!" said Martie. "All this doll's house for six
dollars a month!"

"Oh--fun!" Sally was rapturous beyond words. She gave them pale, hot
cookies; the cream puffs would delight Joe.

The three laughed and feasted happily; Martie with a new sense of
freedom and independence that exhilarated her like wine.

"Find us a nice little place like this, sister," said Wallace. "Martie
loves me, Sarah. Their lips met in one long, rapturous kiss. The end."

The girls laughed joyously. Martie went home at five, Wallace
accompanying her. She told her father that night that she had been in
the Library.

The next day she did clean the chicken house, and did go down to spend
the afternoon with Miss Fanny. But freedom danced in her veins; on the
third afternoon she and Wallace took a long walk, and stopped to see
Dr. Ben, and, sitting on two barrels behind the old railway station,
ate countless cherries and apricots. Again--and again--they went to
Pittsville. Sally was in their confidence and feasted them in the
little flat or went with them on their innocent expeditions.

From their third meeting, it was cheerfully taken for granted that
Wallace and Martie belonged to each other. Martie never knew what he
really felt, any more than he dreamed of the girlish amusement and
distrust in which she held him. They flirted only, but they swiftly
found life uninteresting when apart. They never talked of marriage, yet
every time they parted it was reluctantly, and never without definite
plans for another immediate meeting. Wallace began to advise Martie not
to eat the rich things that made her sick; Martie counselled him about
his new suit, and listened, uneasy and ashamed, to a brief, penitential
reference to "crazy" things he had done, as a "kid." He promised her
never to drink again and incidentally told her that his real name was
Edward Tenney. Suddenly they found the plural pronoun: we must do that;
that doesn't interest us; Pa must not suspect our affair.

"The Cluetts are going to be in Pittsville," said Wallace one day. "I
want you to meet them. You'll like Mabel; she's got two little kids.
She and Jesse have been married only six years. And they'll like you,
too; I've told 'em you're my girl!"

"Am I?" said Martie huskily. They were alone in Sally's little house,
and for answer he put his arms about her. "Do you love me, Wallace?"
she asked.

The question, the raised blue eyes, fired him to sudden passion. They
kissed each other blindly, with shut eyes. After that, whenever they
might, they kissed, and sometimes Martie, ignorant and innocent,
wondered why the memory of his hot lips worried her a little.

There was nothing wrong in kissing! Martie still said to herself that
of course they would not marry; yet when she was with Wallace she loved
the evidences of her power over him, and seemed unable, as he was
unable, to keep from the constant question: "Do you love me?"

In late June the Cluetts--pretty faded Mabel, her two enormous babies,
her stepson Lloyd, and Jesse, the husband and father--all came to
Pittsville for a few days' leisure before rehearsals began. Lloyd was a
"light juvenile," off as well as on the stage. Jesse played father,
judge, guardian, prime minister, and old family doctor in turn. Mabel,
rouged and befrilled, still made an attractive foil for Wallace as the
hero. Martie liked them all; their chatter of the fairyland of the
stage, their trunks plastered with labels, their fine voices, their
general air of being incompetent children adrift in a puzzling world.
Deep laughter stirred within her when they spoke of business or of
finance.

They talked frankly, in their three cheap rooms at the "Pittsville
White House," before Wallace's girl. Jesse was pompous; Lloyd boyishly
fretful; Mabel, patient, sympathetic, discouraged, and sanguine by
turns. Martie was enraptured by the babies: Bernadette, a crimped heavy
little brunette of five, and Leroy delicious at three months in limp
little flannel wrappers.

"I'll tell you what, Miss Monroe--I'm going to call you Martha--" said
Mabel, "I'm just about sick of California. I'm not a Californian;
little old New York for mine. I first seen the light of day at the
corner of Sixth Avenue and Sixteenth Street, and I wish to the good
Lord I was there now. You'll never get a fair deal in Frisker, if any
one should ride up on a bike and ask you, dear. We were doing very good
last fall when little Mister Man here decided to join the party--after
that I was simply no good! The box receipts have fell off steadily
since we put that awful girl in. Don't leave that heavy child paralyze
your limbs--she'll set there forever like an immidge, if you go on
telling her stories!"

"I am amused--genuinely amused at the circumstances under which you
find us, Miss Monroe," said Jesse Cluett with a dignified laugh. "And
my friends in the East would be equally surprised. Professional pride
brought me West, the pride of a man whose public demands one or two
favoured parts from him, year after year. My three or four successes
were a great gratification to me; not only the public, but my fellow
actors at the Lambs, assured me that my future was MADE. 'Made?--no,' I
said. 'No. I have no wish to become a one-part man.' To John Drew I
said--I met him going into the Club-'H'ar you, Jesse?' he said. ... Oh,
yes; we are warm friends, old friends. I played for two years with John
Drew. Very brilliant actor--in some ways. And that is only one instance
of the enthusiastic appreciation to which I am accustomed. ... Are we
going to eat, my dear?" For Mrs. Cluett, who in her hospitable
enthusiasm over Martie had taken a little spirit lamp from the
washstand and placed a full kettle over the flame, was now looking
about her in a vague, distressed sort of way.

"It's going out," said she blankly. Philosophically, Jesse put his
wide-brimmed hat over his loose curls and, straightening his shoulders,
walked mincingly out for alcohol with the younger men. Mrs. Cluett
spread a small, spotted fringed cloth on a trunk, setting on it a cut
and odorous lemon a trifle past its prime and a sticky jar of jam.
Martie continued to cuddle Leroy and tell Bernadette a fairy tale. She
found the crowded, tawdry bedroom delightfully cosy, especially when
the men came back with graham crackers and cheese and spongy, greasy
bakery doughnuts.

They all laughed when Wallace asked for the rat-trap's delight; and
when Lloyd dropped a cruller on the floor and thumped his heel to show
its weight; and when Wallace said: "Don't jam or jar Miss Monroe,
Jesse!" But when, in retort for this latest witticism, Martie said:
"Put your hand where it hurts, Wallace, and show Mama"; the laughter
changed to actual shrieks of mirth; Jesse indulging in a deep
"ha-ha-ha!" and Mabel hammering her heels madly together and sobbing
put faintly that she should die--she should simply DIE!

Martie almost missed the five o'clock trolley, but Wallace pushed her
upon the moving platform at the last possible moment, and she laughed
and gasped blindly half the way home, accepting his help with her
disordered hair and hat. When she finally raised her face, and somewhat
shamefacedly eyed the one or two other occupants of the car, she saw
Rose sitting opposite, a neat and interested Rose in her trousseau
tailor-made.

Uncomfortable, Martie bowed, and Rose responded sweetly, presently
patting the seat beside her with an inviting glove. Somewhat surprised
at this unexpected graciousness, Martie and her escort crossed the car.

"No, MRS.--not Miss!" Rose contradicted Wallace merrily, looking up at
him prettily. "I know I'm not very imposing, but I'm a really truly old
married lady!"

"This is Mrs. Rodney Parker, Wallace," Martie said. Instantly she was
pleasantly conscious that her easy use of this actor's name was a
surprise to Rose, and for the first time a definite pride in possession
seized her. He might not be perfection, but he was hers.

"Is that so!" Wallace exclaimed, with new interest in eyes and voice.
"Gosh--what fun we had that night! Do you remember the night we had
oysters, and sat in that little place gassing for two hours? You know,"
said he, in a confidential aside to Rose, "Martie's a wonder when she
gets started!"

"Isn't she?" Rose responded politely. "That was before I met my
husband, I think," she added, "or rather re-met him, for years ago Mr.
Parker and I----"

But Wallace, amused by the discussion that had arisen between the
conductor and a Chinese who was getting on the car, interrupted
abruptly to call Martie's attention to the affair, and Rose's
reminiscence was lost. She said, with her good-byes, that Mr. Bannister
must come and dine with them.

"Gosh, I see myself!" ejaculated Wallace ungratefully, as he walked
with Martie to the gate. "I never could stand that ass Parker!"

"Don't you think she's very pretty, Wallace?"

"Oh, I don't know! I don't care much for those dolly women. I like red
hair and big women, myself. Listen, Martie. To-morrow----"

No more was said of Rose. Martie wondered why she liked to hear Rodney
Parker called an ass.

Malcolm Monroe came home for luncheon every day except Wednesday, which
made Wednesday for the women of the family the easy day of the week.
Their midday meal, never elaborate or formal, was less formal and even
simpler on this day; conversation was more free, and time less
considered.

For several days after Sally's extraordinary marriage Mrs. Monroe had
wept continually, and even her always mild and infrequent attempts at
conversation had been silenced. Later, she and Lydia had long and
mournful discussions of the event, punctuating them with heavy sighs
and uncomprehending shaking of their heads. That a Monroe in her senses
could stoop to a Hawkes was a fact that would never cease to puzzle and
amaze, and what the town was saying and thinking in the matter was an
agonized speculation to Mrs. Monroe and Lydia. "Socially, of course,"
said Lydia, "we will never hold up our heads again!"

But as the days went by and the divorce of the young Mulkeys, and the
new baby at Mrs. Hughie Wilson's, and the Annual Strawberry Festival
and Bazaar for the Church Debt came along to make the gossip about
Sally and Joe of secondary interest, Sally's mother and sister revived.
They came to take a bitter-sweet satisfaction in the sympathy and
interest that were shown on all sides.

Martie was not often at home in these days. "She fairly lives at the
Library, and she takes long walks, I imagine, Ma," Lydia said once.
"You know Martie misses--she's lonely. And then--there was, of course,
the feeling about Rodney. It's just Martie's queer way of righting
herself."

But on the hot Wednesday morning that brought in July Martie, with a
clear conscience, was baking gingerbread. She had improved in manner
and habit, of late, displaying an unwonted interest in the care of
herself and her person, and an unwonted energy in discharging domestic
duties.

She was buttering pans vigorously, and singing "The Two Grenadiers,"
when Lydia came into the kitchen.

"Martie, Pa just came in the gate. Isn't that maddening! We'll have to
give him something canned; he hates eggs. Can't you make some drop
cakes of that batter so they'll be done?"

"Sure I can!" Martie snatched a piece of paper to butter. "But what
brings him home?"

"Why, I haven't the faintest----" Lydia was beginning, when her
father's voice came in a shout from the dining room:

"Martie--Martie--MARTIE!"

Terror seized Martie, her mouth watered saltly, her knees touched, and
a chill shook her. The hot day turned bleak. She and Lydia exchanged a
sick look before Martie, trembling, crossed the pantry, littered by
Lydia's silver polish and rags, and went in to face the furious old man
on the hearthrug. Malcolm was quivering so violently that his own fear
seemed to be that he would lose his voice before he had gained his
information. Martie was vaguely conscious that her mother, frightened
and pale, was in the room, and that Len had come to the hall doorway.

"Martie," said her father, breathing hard, "where were you yesterday
afternoon?"

"At Alice Clark's Five Hundred with Lyd----" the girl was beginning
innocently. He cut her short with an impatient shake of the head.

"I don't mean yesterday! Where were you on Monday?"

"Monday? Why, Mama and I walked down to Bonestell's."

"Yes, we did, Pa! Yes, we did!" quavered Mrs. Monroe. "Oh, Pa, WHAT IS
IT?"

"And then what did you do?" he pursued blackly, turning to his wife.

"Why--why, Martie said she was going to go over to Pittsville and back,
just for the ride--just to stay on the trolley, Pa!" explained his wife.

"Martie," thundered her father, "when you went to Pittsville you saw
your sister, didn't you?"

Martie's head was held erect. She was badly frightened, but conscious
through all her fear that there was a certain satisfaction in having
the blow fall at last.

"Yes, sir," she gulped; she wet her lips. "Yes, sir," she said again.

"You admit it?" said Malcolm, his eyes narrowing.

Lydia, pale and terrified, had come in from the kitchen. Now she
suddenly spoke.

"Oh, Pa, don't--don't blame Martie for that! You know what the girls
always were to each other--I don't mean to be impertinent, Pa--do
forgive me!--but Martie and Sally always----"

"One moment, Lydia," said her father, with a repressive gesture, the
veins blue on his forehead. "JUST--ONE--MOMENT." And, panting, he
turned again to Martie. "Yes, and who else did you see in Pittsville?"
he whispered, his voice failing.

Martie, breathing fast, her bright eyes fixed upon him with a sort of
fascination, did not answer.

"I'll tell you who you saw," said Malcolm at white heat. "I'll tell
you! You met this young whippersnapper Jackanapes--what's his
name--this young one-night actor----"

"Do you mean Mr. Wallace Bannister?" Martis asked with a sort of
frightened scorn.

Lydia and her mother gasped audibly in the silence. Malcolm moved his
eyes slowly from his youngest daughter's face to his wife's, to
Lydia's, and back to Martie again. For two dreadful moments he studied
her, an ugly smile touching his harsh mouth.

"You don't deny it," he said, after the interval, in a shaking voice.
"You don't deny that you've been disobeying me and lying to me for
weeks? Now I tell you, my girl--there's been enough of this sort of
thing going on in this family. You couldn't get the man you wanted, so,
like your sister, you pick up----"

Martie laughed briefly and bitterly. The sound seemed to madden him.
For a moment he watched her, his head dropped forward like a menacing
animal.

"Understand me, Martie," he said. "I'll break that spirit in you--if it
takes the rest of my life! You'll laugh in a different way! My God--am
I to be the laughing-stock of this entire town? Is a girl your age
to----"

"Pa!" sobbed Mrs. Monroe. "Do what you think best, but don't--DON'T
excite yourself so!"

Her clutching fingers on his arm seemed to soothe in through all his
fury. He fell silent, still panting, and eying Martie belligerently.

"You--go to your room!" he commanded, pointing a shaking finger at her.
"Go upstairs with your sister, Lydia, and bring me the key of her door.
When I decide upon the measure that will bring this young lady quickest
to her senses, I'll let her know. Meanwhile----"

"Oh, Pa, you needn't lock Martie in," quivered Lydia, "she'll
stay--won't you, Martie?"

Martie, like a young animal at bay, stood facing them all for a
breathless moment. In that time the child that had been in her, through
all these years of slow development, died. Anger went out of her eyes,
and an infinite sadness filled them. A quick tremble of her lips and a
flutter at her nostrils were the only signs she gave of the tears she
felt rising. She flung one arm about her mother and kissed the wet,
faded cheek.

"Good-bye, Ma," she said quickly. In another instant she had crossed to
the entrance hall, blindly snatched an old soft felt hat from the rack,
caught up Len's overcoat, and slipped into it, and was gone. Born in
that moment of unreasoning terror, her free soul went with her.

The streets were flooded with hot summer sunshine, the sky almost
white. Not a breeze stirred the thick foliage of the elm trees on Main
Street as Martie walked quickly down to the Bank.

It was Rodney Parker who gave her her money; the original seventeen
dollars and fifty cents had swelled to almost twenty-two dollars now.
Martie hardly saw the gallant youth who congratulated her upon her
becoming gipsy hat; mechanically she slipped her money into a pocket,
mechanically started for the road to Pittsville.

Five minutes later she boarded the half-past twelve o'clock trolley,
coming in excited and exultant upon Sally who was singing quietly over
a solitary luncheon. The girls laughed and cried together.

"The funny thing is, I am as free as air!" Martie exclaimed, her cheeks
glowing from the tea and the sympathy and the warm room. "But I never
knew it! If Pa had gotten on that trolley, I think I would have fainted
with shock. But what could he do? I am absolutely FREE, Sally--with
twenty-one dollars and eighty-one cents!"

"I wish you had a husband----" mused Sally.

"I'd rather have a job," Martie said with a quick, bright flush
nevertheless. "But I think I know how to get one. Mrs. Cluett is going
to be playing steadily now, and after this engagement they're going to
try very hard to get booked in New York. She's got to have SOME ONE to
look out for the children."

"But Martie----" Sally said timidly, "you'd only be a sort of
servant----"

"Well, that's the only thing I know anything about," Martie answered
simply. "It might lead to something----"

"Then you and Wallace aren't----?" Sally faltered. "There's nothing
serious----?"

Martie could not control the colour that swept up to the white parting
of her hair, but her mouth showed new firmness as she answered gravely:

"Sally--I don't know. Of course, I like him--how could I help it? We're
awfully good chums; he's the best chum I ever had. But he never--well,
he never asked me. Sally"--Martie rested her elbows on the table, and
her chin on her hands--"Sally, would you marry him?"

"If I loved him I would," said Sally.

"Yes, but did you KNOW you loved Joe?" Martie asked. Sally was silent.

"Well--not so much--before--as after we were married," she said
hesitatingly, after a pause.

Martie suddenly sprang up.

"Well, I'm going to see Mrs. Cluett!"

"I'll go, too," said Sally, "and we'll stop at the express office and
tell Joe!"

Mrs. Cluett was alone with her children when the callers went in, and
even Martie's sensitive heart could have asked no warmer reception of
her plan.

The little actress kissed Sally, and kissed Martie more than once,
brimming over with interest and sympathy.

"Dearie, it ain't much of a start for you, but it is a start!" said
Mabel warmly over the head of the nursing baby. "And you'll get your
living and your railroad fares out of it, anyway! It'll be an ackshal
godsend to Mr. Cluett and me, for the children have took to you
something very unusual. We'll have elegant times going around together,
and you'll never be sorry."

These cheering sentiments Jesse echoed when he came in with Lloyd a few
minutes later.

"Much depends upon our future contracts, Miss Monroe," said he, "but I
will go so far as to say this. Should you some time desire to try the
calling that Shakespeare honoured, the opportunity will not be lacking!"

This threw Sally, Martie, and Mabel into transports. It now being after
three o'clock tea was proposed.

And now Martie busied herself happily as one belonging to the little
establishment. Sally had taken rapturous possession of Leroy. Mabel
lighted the alcohol lamp. Martie, delayed by the affectionate
Bernadette, shook out the spotted cloth, and cut the stale cake.

They were all absorbed and chattering when Wallace Bannister opened the
door. At sight of him Martie straightened up, the long knife in one
hand, Bernadette's sticky little fingers clinging to the other. The
news was flung at him excitedly. Martie had left home--she was never
going back--she had only twenty dollars and an old coat and hat--she
was going to stay with Mabel for the present----

"What's this sweet dream about staying with Mabel?" Wallace said,
bewildered, reproachful, definite. He came over to Martie and put one
arm about her. "Look here, folks," he said, almost indignantly,
"Martie's my girl, aren't you, Martie? We're going to be married right
now, this afternoon; and hereafter what I do, she does--and where I go,
she goes!"

The love in his eyes, the love in all their watching faces, Martie
never forgot. Like a great river of warmth and sunshine it lifted her
free of her dry, thirsty girlhood; she felt the tears of joy pressing
against her eyes. There was nothing critical, nothing calculating,
nothing repressing here; her lover wanted her, just as she stood,
penniless, homeless, without a dress except the blue gingham she wore!

The glory of it lighted with magic that day and the days to come. They
laughed over the pretty gipsy hat, over Len's coat, over the need of
borrowing Mabel's brush and comb. With Joe and Sally, they all dined
together, and wandered about the village streets in the summer
moonlight; then Martie went to bed, too happy and excited to sleep, in
Bernadette's room, wearing a much-trimmed nightgown of Mabel's. It had
been decided that the marriage should take place in San Francisco,
Wallace sensibly suggesting that there would be less embarrassing
questioning there, and also that Martie's money might be spent to
better advantage in the city.

Martie's trunk came to Sally's house the next morning, unaccompanied by
message or note, and three days later Martie wrote her mother a long
letter from a theatrical boarding-house in Geary Street, sending a copy
of the marriage certificate of Martha Salisbury Monroe to Edward
Vincent Tenney in Saint Patrick's Church, San Francisco, and observing
with a touch of pride that "my husband" was now rehearsing for an
engagement of seven weeks at sixty dollars a week. There was no answer.



BOOK II

CHAPTER I


For days it was her one triumphant thought. She was married! She was
splendidly and unexpectedly a wife. And her life partner was no mere
Monroe youth, and her home was not merely one of the old, familiar
Monroe cottages. She was the wife of a rising actor, and she lived in
the biggest city of the State!

Martie exulted innocently and in secret. She reviewed the simple fact
again and again. The two Monroe girls were married. A dimple would
deepen in her cheek, a slow smile tug at her lips, when she thought of
it. She told Wallace, in her simple childish way, that she had never
really expected to be married; she thought that she would like to go
back to Monroe for a visit, and let her old friends see the plain gold
ring on her big, white hand.

Everything in Martie's life, up to this point, had helped her to
believe that marriage was the final step in any woman's experience. A
girl was admired, was desired, and was married, if she was, humanly
speaking, a success. If she was not admired, if no one asked her in
marriage, she was a failure. This was the only test.

Martie's thoughts never went on to the years that followed marriage,
the experiences and lessons; these were all lost in the golden glow
that surrounded the step safely accomplished. That the years between
thirty and fifty are as long as the years between ten and thirty, never
occurred to her. With the long, dull drag of her mother's life before
her eyes, she never had thought that Rose's life, that Sally's life, as
married women, could ever be long and dull. They were married--doubt
and surmise and hope were over. Lydia and Miss Fanny were not married.
Therefore, Rose and Sally and Martie had an obvious advantage over
Lydia and Fanny.

It was a surprise to her to find life placidly proceeding here in this
strange apartment in Geary Street, as if all the world had not stopped
moving and commenced again. The persons she met called her "Mrs.
Bannister" with no visible thrill. Nobody seemed surprised when she and
the big actor quietly went into their room at night and shut the door.

She had fancied that the mere excitement of the new life filled all
brides with a sort of proud complacency; that they felt superior to
other human beings, and secretly scorned the unwed. It was astonishing
to find herself still concerned with the tiny questions of yesterday:
the ruffle torn on the bureau, the little infection that swelled and
inflamed her chin, the quarter of a dollar her Chinese laundryman swore
he had never received. It was always tremendously thrilling to have
Wallace give her money: delightful gold pieces such as even her mother
seldom handled. She felt a naive resentment that so many of them had to
be spent for what she called "uninteresting" things: lodging and food
and car fares. They seemed so more than sufficient, when she first
touched them; they melted so mysteriously away. She felt that there
should be great saving on so generous an allowance, but Wallace never
saved, nor did any of his friends and associates.

So that a sense of being baffled began to puzzle her. She was married
now; the great question of life had been answered in the affirmative.
But--but the future was vague and unsettled still. Even married persons
had their problems. Even the best of husbands sometimes left a tiny
something to be desired.

Husbands, in Martie's dreams, were ideal persons who laughed
indulgently at adored wives, produced money without question or stint,
and for twenty or fifty years, as the span of their lives might decree,
came home appreciatively to delicious dinners, escorted their wives
proudly to dinner or theatre, made presents, paid compliments, and
disposed of bills. That her mother had once perhaps had some such idea
of her father did not occur to her.

"Lissen, dear, did I wake you up?" said Mrs. Wallace Bannister, coming
quietly into the sitting room that connected her bedroom with that of
Mrs. Jesse Cluett, in the early hours of an August morning.

"No--o! This feller wakes me up," Mrs. Cluett said, yawning and pale,
but cheerful. She indicated the fat, serious baby in her arms. "Honest,
it's enough to kill a girl, playing every night and Sunday, and trying
to raise children!" she added, manipulating her flat breast with ringed
fingers to meet the little mouth.

"I wish I could either have the baby nights, or play your parts!"
laughed Martie, reaching lazily for manicure scissors and beginning to
clip her nails, as she sat in a loose, blue kimono opposite the older
woman.

"Dearie, you'll have your own soon enough!" Mabel answered gratefully.
"It won't be so hard long. They get so's they can take care of
themselves very quick. Look at Dette--goodness knows where she's been
ever since she got up. She must of drunk her milk and eaten her
san'wich, because here's the empty glass. She's playing somewhere;
she's all right."

"Oh, sure--she's all right!" Martie said, smiling lazily. And as Leroy
finished his meal she put out her arms. "Come to Aunt Martie, Baby. Oh,
you--cunnin'--little--scrap, you!"

"You'd ought to have one, Mart," said Mabel affectionately.

The wife of a month flushed brightly. With her loosened bronze braid
hanging over her shoulder, her blue eyes soft with happiness, and her
full figure only slightly disguised by the thin nightgown and wrapper
she wore, she looked the incarnation of potent youth and beauty.

"I'd love it," she said, burying her hot cheeks in the little space
between Leroy's fluffy crown and the collar of his soggy little double
gown.

"I love 'em, too," Mabel agreed. "But they cert'ny do tie you down.
Dette was the same way--only I sort of forgot it."

"If this salary was going to keep up, I'd like a dozen of 'em!" Martie
smiled.

"Well, Wallace ought to do well," Mabel conceded. "But of course, you
can't be sure. My idea is to plunge in and HAVE them, regardless.
Things'll fit if they've GOT to."

"That's the NICEST way," Martie said timidly. She had married, knowing
nothing of wifehood and motherhood, except the one fact that the matter
of children must be left entirely to chance. But she did not like to
tell Mabel so.

She sat on in the pleasant morning sunshine, utterly happy, utterly at
ease. The baby went to sleep as the two women murmured together.
Outside the lace-curtained windows busy Geary Street had long been
astir. Wagons rattled up and down; cable-cars clanged. Sunlight had
already conquered the summer fog. It was nine o'clock.

Mabel was enjoying tea and toast, but Martie refused to join her. If
every hour had not been so blissful the young wife would have said that
the happiest time of the day was when she and Wallace wandered out into
the sunshine together for breakfast.

Presently she slipped away to take the bath that was a part of her
morning routine now, and to wake Wallace. With his tumbled hair, his
flushed face and his pale blue pajama jacket open at the throat Martie
thought him no more than a delightful, drowsy boy. She sat on the edge
of the bed beside him, teasing him to open his eyes.

"Ah--you darling!" Wallace was not too sleepy to appreciate her cool,
fresh kisses. "Oh, Lord, I'm a wreck! What time is it?"

"Nearly ten. You've had ten hours' sleep, darling. I don't know what
you WANT!" Martie answered--at the bureau now, with the glory of her
hair falling about her.

While they dressed they talked; delicious irrelevant chatter punctuated
with laughter and kisses. The new stock company was a success, and
Wallace working hard and happily. At ten the young Bannisters went
forth in search of breakfast, the best meal of the day.

Martie loved the city: Market Street, Kearney Street, Union Square. She
loved the fresh breath of the morning in her face. She always had her
choice of flowers at the curb market about Lotta's fountain, pinning a
nodding bunch of roses, Shasta daisies, pansies, or carnations at the
belt of her white shirtwaists. They went to the Vienna Bakery or to
Swain's for their leisurely meal, unless Wallace was hungry enough to
beg for the Poodle Dog, or they felt rich enough for the Palace. Now
and then they walked out of the familiar neighbourhood and tried a
strange restaurant or hotel--but not often.

Usually Martie had Swain's famous toasted muffins for her breakfast,
daintily playing with coffee and fruit while Wallace disposed of
cereal, eggs and ham, and fried potatoes. She used to marvel that he
never grew fat on this hearty fare; sometimes he had sharp touches of
indigestion.

Over their meal they talked untiringly, marvelling anew at the miracle
of their finding each other. Martie learned her husband's nature as if
it had been a book. Sensitive here--evasive there; a little coarse,
perhaps, a little simple. However surprising his differences it was for
her to adapt herself. She was almost glad when his unconscious demands
required of her the smallest sacrifice; getting so much, how glad she
was to give!

After breakfast, when Wallace was not rehearsing and they were free to
amuse themselves, they prowled through the Chinese quarter, and through
the Italian colony. They rode on windy "dummies" out to the beach, and
went scattering peanut shells along the wet sands. They visited the
Park, the Mint, and the big baths, or crossed to Oakland or Sausalito,
where Martie learned to swim. Martie found Wallace tireless in his
appetite for excursions, and committed herself cheerfully to his
guidance. Catching a train, they rejoiced; missing it, they were none
the less happy.

Twice a week a matinee performance brought Wallace to the Granada
Theatre at one o'clock. On other days, rehearsals began at eleven and
ended at three or occasionally as late as four. The theatre life
charmed Martie like a fairy tale. She never grew tired of its thrill.

It was gratifying in the first place to enter the door marked "Stage"
with a supplementary legend, NO ADMITTANCE, and pass the old doorkeeper
who knew and liked her. The dark passages beyond, smelling of escaping
gas and damp straw, of unaired rooms and plumbing and fresh paint, were
perfumed with romance to her, as were the little dressing rooms with
old photographs stuck in the loosened wallpaper and dim initials
scratched on the bare walls, and odd wigs and scarfs and paint jars
littering the shelves. Wallace making up his face was an exalted being
in the eyes of his wife.

When the play began, she took her station in the wings--silent,
unobtrusive, eager to keep out of everybody's way, eager not to miss a
word of the play. The man over her head, busy with his lights; the one
or two shirt-sleeved, elderly men who invariably stood dispassionately
watching the performance; the stage-hands; the various members of the
cast: for all these she had a smile, and their answering smiles were
Martie's delight.

"Take off ten pounds, Martie, and Bellew will give you a show some
time!" said Maybelle La Rue, who was Mabel Cluett in private life.
Martie gasped at the mere thought. She determined to diet.

A few months before, she had supposed that social intercourse was a
large factor in the actor's life, that midnight suppers were shared by
the cast, and that intimacy of an unconventional if harmless nature
reigned among them. Now, with some surprise, she learned that this was
not the case. The actors, leaving the play at different moments,
quietly got into their street clothes and disappeared; so that Mabel
and Wallace, usually holding the stage for the last few moments by
reason of their respective parts of maid and lover, often left a
theatre empty of performers except for themselves. Jesse would
frequently reach home enough earlier to be sound asleep when his wife
rushed in to seize her hungry and fretting baby. Little Leroy spent the
early evening in Martie's bed; one of the maids in the house being paid
in Mabel's old finery for coming to look at the children now and then.

At intervals the Bannisters and the Cluetts did have little
after-theatre suppers, but Martie was heroically dieting, Mabel tired
and sleepy, and both gentlemen somewhat subject to indigestion. So
Martie and Wallace more often went alone, Martie drinking bouillon and
nibbling a cracker, and her husband devouring large orders of coffee
and scrambled eggs.

They had been married perhaps eight weeks when Wallace astonished her
by drinking too much. She had always fancied herself too broad-minded
to resent this in the usual wifely way, but the fact angered her, and
she suffered over the incident for days.

It was immediately after the termination of his successful engagement,
and he and the Cluetts were celebrating the inauguration of a rest.
With two or three other members of the cast, they went to dine at the
Cliff House, preceding the dinner with several cocktails apiece. There
was a long wait for the planked steak, during which time more cocktails
were ordered; Martie, who had merely tasted the first one, looking on
amiably as the others drank.

Presently Mabel began to laugh unrestrainedly, much to Martie's
half-comprehending embarrassment. The men, far from seeming to be
shocked by her hysteria, laughed violently themselves.

"Time f'r 'nother round cocktails!" Jesse said. Martie turned to her
husband.

"Wallace! Don't order any more. Not until we've had some solid food,
anyway. Can't you see that we don't need them?"

"What is it, dear?" Wallace moved his eyes heavily to look at her. His
face was flushed, and as he spoke he wet his lips with his tongue.
"Whatever you say, darling," he said earnestly. "You have only to ask,
and I will give you anything in my power. Let me know what you wish----"

"I want you not to drink any more," Martie said distressedly.

"Why not, Martie--why not, li'l girl?" Wallace asked her caressingly.
He put his arm about her shoulders, breathing hotly in her face. "Do
you know that I am crazy about you?" he murmured.

"If you are," Martie answered, with an uncomfortable glance about for
watching eyes, "please, please----!"

"Martie," he said lovingly, "do you think I am drinking too much?"

"Well--well, I think you have had enough, Wallace," she stammered.

"Dearie, I will stop if you say so," he answered, "but you amuse me. I
am just as col' sober----" And, a fresh reinforcement of cocktails
having arrived, he drank one off as he spoke, setting down the little
empty glass with a long gasp.

After that the long evening was an agony to Martie. Mabel laughed and
screamed; wine was spilled; the food was wasted and wrecked. Wallace's
face grew hotter and hotter. Jesse became sodden and sleepy; champagne
packed in a bucket of ice was brought, and Martie saw Wallace's gold
pieces pay for it.

It was not an unusual scene. She had looked on at just such scenes,
taking place at the tables all about her, more than once in the last
few weeks. Even now, this was not the only group that had dined less
wisely than well. But the shame of it, the fear of what might happen
before Wallace was safely at home in bed, sickened Martie to the soul.

She went to the dressing room with Mabel, who was sick. Presently they
were all out in a drizzling rain, stumbling their way up the hill and
blundering aboard a street car. Two nice, quiet women on the opposite
seat watched the group in shocked disgust; Martie felt that she would
never hold up her head again. Wallace fell when they got off, and his
hat rolled in the mud. Martie tried to help him, somehow got him
upstairs to his room, somehow got him into bed, where he at once fell
asleep, and snored.

It was just eleven o'clock. Martie washed her face, and brushed her
hair, and sat down, in a warm wrapper, staring gloomily at the
unconscious form on the bed. She could hear Mabel and Jesse laughing
and quarrelling in the room adjoining. Presently Mabel came in for the
baby, who usually slept in Martie's room during the earlier part of the
night, so that his possible crying would not disturb Bernadette.

"Poor Wallace--he is all in, down and out!" Mabel said, settling
herself to nurse the baby. She looked flushed and excited still, but
was otherwise herself. "He certainly was lit up like a battleship," she
added in an amused voice; "as for me, I'm ashamed of myself--I'm always
that way!"

Martie's indignant conviction was that Mabel might indeed be ashamed of
herself, and this airy expression of what should have been penitence
too deep for words, gave her a curious shock.

"They all do it," said Mabel, smiling after a long yawn, "and I suppose
it's better to have their wives with 'em, than to have 'em go off by
themselves!"

"They all SHOULDN'T do it!" Martie answered sombrely.

"Well, no; I suppose they shouldn't!" Mabel conceded amiably. She
carried the baby away, and Martie sat on, gazing sternly at the
unconscious Wallace.

Half an hour passed, another half hour. Martie had intended to do some
serious thinking, but she found herself sleepy.

After a while she crept in beside her husband, and went to sleep, her
heart still hot with anger.

But when the morning came she forgave him, as she was often to forgive
him. What else could she do? The sunlight was streaming into their
large, shabby bedroom, cable cars were rattling by, fog whistles from
the bay penetrated the soft winter air. Martie was healthily hungry for
breakfast, Wallace awakened good natured and penitent.

"You were a darling to me last night, Mart," he said appreciatively.

Martie had not known he was awake. She turned from her mirror,
regarding him steadily between the curtains of her shining hair.

"And you're a darling not to rub it in," Wallace pursued.

"I WOULD rub it in," Martie said in a hurt voice, "if I thought it
would do any good!"

Wallace sat up, and pressed his hands against his forehead.

"Well, believe me--that was the last!" he said fervently. "Never again!"

"Oh, dearest," Martie said, coming to sit beside him, "I hope you mean
that!" That he did mean it, they both believed.

Half an hour later, when they went out to breakfast, she was in her
happiest mood. The little cloud, in vanishing, had left the sky clearer
than before. But some little quality of blind admiration and faith was
gone from her wifeliness thereafter.

In December the stock company had a Re-engagement Extraordinary, and
Martie got her first part. It was not much of a part--three lines--but
she approached it with passionate seriousness, and when the first
rehearsal came, rattled off her three lines so glibly that the entire
jaded company and the director enjoyed a refreshing laugh. At the
costumier's, in a fascinating welter of tarnished and shabby garments,
she selected a suitable dress, and Wallace coached her, made up her
face, and prompted her with great pride. So the tiny part went well,
and one of the papers gave a praising line to "Junoesque Miss
Salisbury." These were happy days. Martie loved the odorous, dark,
crowded world behind the scenes, loved to be a part of it. This was
living indeed!

And Sally was expecting a baby! Martie laughed aloud from sheer
excitement and pleasure when the news came. It was almost like having
one herself; in one way even more satisfactory, because she was too
busy now to be interrupted. She spent the first money she had ever
earned in sending Sally a present for the baby; smiling again whenever
she pictured Sally was showing it to old friends in Monroe: "From
Martie; isn't it gorgeous?"

The weeks fled by. Wallace began to talk of moving to New York. It was
always their dream. Instinctively they wanted New York. Their talk of
it, their plans for it, were as enthusiastic as they were ignorant, if
Wallace could only get the chance to play on Broadway! That seemed to
both of them the goal of their ambition. Always hopeful of another
part, Martie began to read and study seriously. She had much spare
time, and she used it. From everybody and everything about her she
learned: a few German phrases from the rheumatic old man whose wife
kept the lodging house; Juliet's lines and the lines of Lady Macbeth
from Mabel's shabby books; and something of millinery from the little
Irishwoman who kept a shop on the corner, with "Elise" written across
its window. She learned all of Wallace's parts, and usually Mabel's as
well. Often she went to the piano in the musty parlour of the Geary
Street house and played "The Two Grenadiers" and "Absent." She brimmed
with energy; while Wallace or Mabel wrangled with the old costumier,
Martie was busily folding and smoothing the garments of jesters and
clowns and Dolly Vardens. She had a curious instinct for trade terms;
she could not buy a yard of veiling without an eager little talk with
the saleswoman; the chance phrase of a conductor or the woman in the
French laundry amused and interested her.

Away from all the repressing influences of her childhood, healthy and
happy, she met the claims of the new state with a splendid and
unthinking passion. To yield herself generously and supremely was the
only natural thing; she had no dread and no regret. From the old life
she brought to this hour only an instinctive reticence, so that Mabel
never had the long talks and the short talks she had anticipated with
the bride, and never dared say a word to Martie that might not have
been as safely said to Bernadette.



CHAPTER II


On A hot Sunday in early March Martie came back from church to find
Wallace gone. She had had no breakfast, but had stopped on the way home
to get six enormous oranges in a paper bag. The heat had given her a
stupid headache, and she felt limp and tired. It was delicious to
undress, to climb into the smoothed bed, and to sink back against the
pillows.

A bulky newspaper, smelling of printer's ink, was on the chair beside
her bed, but Martie did not open it for a while. Serious thoughts held
her. Opening her orange, she said to herself, with a little flutter at
her heart, that it must be so. She was going to have a baby!

Fear and pride shook her. It seemed a tremendous thing; not at all like
the other babies other women had been having since time began. She
could not believe it--of herself, Martie Monroe, who had been an
ignorant girl only a few months ago!

Yet she had been vaguely suspecting the state of affairs for more than
a week; when morning after morning found her languid and weary, when
Wallace's fork crushing an egg-yolk had given her a sudden sensation of
nausea. She felt so stupid, so tired all the time. She could not sleep
at night; she could hardly stay awake in the daytime.

Her eyes were heavy now. She glanced indifferently at the newspaper,
smiled a contented little smile, and, murmuring, "I wonder--I wonder--"
and fell into delicious sleep.

She slept for a long time. Wallace, coming in at two o'clock, awakened
her. Afternoon sunlight was streaming into the room, which was scented
with the decaying sweetness of orange peel. Dazed and stupid, yet
dreamily content, Martie smiled upon him. He hated Sunday rehearsals:
she could see that he was in a bad mood, and his obvious effort to
think of her and to disguise his own feeling touched her.

"Tired?" she asked affectionately. "Isn't it hot?"

"How are you?" Wallace questioned in turn. "You felt so rotten
yesterday."

He sat down beside her, and pushed the dark hair from his big forehead,
and she saw that his face was damp and pale.

"Fine!" she assured him, laying her hand over his.

They remained so for a full minute, Wallace staring gloomily at
nothing, Martie's eyes idly roving about the room. Then the man reached
for a section of the paper, glanced at it indifferently, and flung it
aside.

"There wasn't any rehearsal this morning," he observed after a pause.
He cleared his throat self-consciously before speaking and Martie,
glancing quickly at him, saw that he intended the statement to have a
significance.

"Where were you then?" she asked duly.

"I was--I was--" He hesitated, expelling a long breath suddenly.
"Something came up," he amended, "and I had to see about it."

"What came up?" Martie pursued, more anxious to set his mind at rest,
than curious.

"Well--it all goes back to some time ago, Mart; before I knew you,"
Wallace said, in a carefully matter-of-fact tone. But she could see
that he was troubled, and a faint stir of apprehension shook her own
heart.

"Money?" she guessed quickly.

"No," he said reassuringly, "nothing like that!"

He got up, and restlessly circled the room, drawing the shade that was
rattling gently at the window, flinging his coat across a chair.

Then he went back, and sat down by the bed again, locking his dropped
hands loosely between his knees, and looking steadily at the worn old
colourless carpet.

"You see this Golda--" he began.

"Golda who?" Martie echoed.

"This girl I've been talking to this morning," Wallace supplied
impatiently; "Golda White."

"Who is she?" Martie asked, bewildered, as his heavy voice stopped on
the name.

"Oh, she's a girl I used to know! I haven't seen her for eight or ten
years--since I left Portland, in fact."

"But who IS she, Wallie?" Martie had propped herself in pillows, she
was wide awake now, and her voice was firm and quick.

"Well, wait and I'll tell you, I'll tell you the whole thing. I don't
believe there's anything in it, but anyway, I'll tell you, and you and
I can sort of talk it over. You see I met this girl in Portland, when I
was a kid in my uncle's lumber office. I was about twenty-two or three,
and she was ten years older than that. But we ran with the same crowd a
lot, and I saw her all the time----"

"She was in the office?"

"Sure. She was Uncle Chester's steno. She was a queer sort of girl;
pretty, too. I was sore because my father made me work there, and I
wanted to join the navy or go to college, or go on the stage, and she'd
sit there making herself collars and things, and sort of console me.
She was engaged to a fellow in Los Angeles, or she said she was.

"We liked each other all right, she'd tell me her troubles and I'd tell
her mine; she had a stepfather she hated, and sometimes she'd cry and
all that. The crowd began to jolly us about liking each other, and I
could see she didn't mind it much----"

"Perhaps she loved you, Wallie?" Martie suggested on a quick, excited
breath.

"You bet your life she loved me!" he affirmed positively.

"Poor girl!" said the wife in pitying anticipation of a tragedy.

"Don't call her 'poor girl!'" Wallace said, his face darkening. "She'll
look out for herself. There's a lot of talk," he added with a sort of
dull resentment, "about 'leading young girls astray,' and 'betraying
innocence,' and all that, but I want to tell you right now that nine
times out of ten it's the girls that do the leading astray! You ask any
fellow----"

The expression on Martie's face did not alter by the flicker of an
eyelash. She had been looking steadily at him, and she still stared
steadily. But she felt her throat thicken, and the blood begin to pump
convulsively at her heart.

"But Wallace," she stammered eagerly, "she wasn't--she wasn't----"

"Sure she was!" he said coarsely; "she was as rotten as the rest of
them!"

"But--but----" Martie's lips felt dry, her voice failed her.

"I was only a kid, I tell you," said Wallace, uneasily watching her.
"Why, Mart," he added, dropping on his knees beside the bed, and
putting his arms about her, "all boys are like that! Every one knows
it. There isn't a man you know----And you're the only girl I ever
loved, Sweetheart, you know that. Men are different, that's all. A boy
growing up can't any more keep out of it----And I never lied to you,
Mart. I told you when we were engaged that I wished to God, for your
sake, that I'd never----"

"Yes, I know!" Martie whispered, shutting her eyes. He kissed her
suddenly colourless cheek, and she heard him move away.

"Well, to go on with the rest of this," Wallace resumed suddenly.
Martie opened tired eyes to watch him, but he did not meet her look.

"Golda and I went together for about a year," he said, "and finally she
got to talking as if we were going to be married. One day--it was a
rainy day in the office, and I had a cold, and she fixed me up
something hot to drink--she got to crying, and she said her stepfather
had ordered her out of the house. I didn't believe it then, and I don't
believe it now, but anyway, we talked it all over, and she said she was
going down to Los Angeles and hunt up this other fellow. Well, that
made me feel kind of sick, because we had been going together for so
long, and her talking about how things would be when we were married
and all that, and I said--you know the way you do--'What's the matter
with us getting married, right now?'"

Martie's face was fixed in a look of agonized attention: she made no
sound.

"She said we wouldn't have anything to live on," Wallace pursued, not
looking at his wife, "and that she wanted to take a rest when she got
married, and have a little fun. Well, I says, we can keep it quiet for
awhile. Well, we talked about it that day, and after that we would kind
of josh about it, and finally one day we walked over to the bureau and
got out a license, and the Justice of the Peace----"

"Wallie--my God!" Martie breathed.

"Well, listen!" he urged her impatiently. "I put a wrong age on the
license and so did she, and she had told me a lot of lies about
herself, as I found out later, Martie----"

"So that it wasn't legal!"

"Well, listen. After that we went on with the crowd for a few weeks,
and we didn't tell anybody. And then this Dr. Prendergast turned up----"

"WHAT Dr. Prendergast!"

"I don't know who he was--a dentist anyway. And he had known Golda
before, somewhere, and he was crazy about her. His wife was getting a
divorce, it seems; anyway, he butted right in, and she let him. I don't
think she had awfully good sense, she would act sort of crazy
sometimes, as if she didn't know what she was doing. Well, I told her I
wouldn't stand for that, and we had some fights. But just then my dad
wrote and told me that he would finance me for a year at Stanford, and
I began to think I'd like to cut the whole bunch. So I said to Golda:
'I'm done. I'm going to get out! You keep your mouth shut, and I'll
keep mine!' She says, 'Leon'--that was Prendergast--'is going to marry
me, and you'll talk before I do!' So----"

"But, Wallace----"

"But what, dearie?"

"But it wasn't left that way?"

"Now, listen, dearie. Of course it wasn't! She and Prendergast were
going to leave town, a few days later, but I was kind of worried about
it, and I finally told my uncle the whole story. Of course he blew up!
He sent for her, and she came right in, scared to death. He told her
that he'd give away the whole story to Prendergast, or else he'd give
her a check for five hundred dollars on her wedding day. She fell for
it, and we said good-bye. She swore it was only a sort of joke anyway,
and that the day we--we did it, she'd been filling me up with whisky
lemonades and all that, and that the whole thing was off. And let me
tell you that I was glad to beat it! I never saw her again until this
morning! I went on the stage, and changed my name because the leading
lady in that show happened to be Thelma Tenney. About a month later my
uncle wrote me that she had sent him a newspaper notice of her
marriage, and he had sent her the check. I'll never forget reading that
letter. I'd been worrying myself black in the face, but that day I went
on a bust, I can tell you!"

"That marriage would cancel the other?" Martie asked, with a dry throat.

"Sure it would!" he said easily.

"But now--now----" she pursued fearfully.

"Now she's turned up," he said, a shadow falling on his heavy face
again. "She was at the theatre last night. God knows what she's been
doing all these years; she looks awful. She saw my picture in some
paper, and she came straight to the city. She found out where I lived,
and this morning, while you were at church, Mabel came in and said a
lady wanted to see me. I took her to breakfast. I didn't know what to
do with her--and we talked."

"And what does she say, Wallie--what does she want?"

"Oh, she wants anything she can get! She doesn't know that I'm married.
If she did, I suppose she might make herself unpleasant along that
line!"

"But she has no claim on you! She married another man!"

"She says now that she never was married to Prendergast!"

"But she WAS!" Martie said hotly. Her voice dropped vaguely. Her eyes
were fixed and glassy with growing apprehension. "Perhaps she was lying
about that," she whispered, as if to herself.

"She'd lie about anything!" Wallace supplied.

"But if she wasn't, Wallace, if she wasn't--then would that second
marriage cancel the first?" she asked feverishly.

"I should THINK so!" he answered. "Shouldn't you?"

"Shouldn't _I_?" she echoed, with her first flash of anger. "Why, what
do _I_ know about it? What do _I_ know about it? I don't know anything!
You come to me with this now--NOW!"

"Don't talk like that!" he pleaded. "I feel--I feel awfully about it,
Martie! I can't tell you how I feel! But the whole thing was so long
ago it had sort of gone out of my mind. Every fellow does things that
he's ashamed of, Mart--things that he's sorry for; but you always think
that you'll marry some day, and have kids, and that the world will go
on like it always has----"

The fire suddenly died out of Martie. In a deadly calm she sat back
against her pillows, and began to gather up her masses of loosened hair.

"If she is right----" she began, and stopped.

"She's not right, I tell you!" Wallace said. "She hasn't got a leg to
stand on!"

"No," Martie conceded lifelessly, patiently. "But if she SHOULD be
right----"

"But I tell you she isn't, Mart!"

"Yes, I know you do." The deadly gentleness was again in her voice. "I
know you do!" she repeated mildly. "Only--only----" Her lip trembled
despite her desperate effort, she felt her throat thicken and the tears
come.

Instantly he was beside her again, and with her arms still raised she
felt him put his own arms about her, and felt his penitent kisses
through the veil of her hair. A sickness swept over her: they were here
in the sacred intimacy of their own room, the room to which he had
brought her as a bride only a few months before.

She freed herself with what dignity she could command. He asked her a
hundred times if she loved him, if she could forgive him. Her one
impulse was to silence him, to have him go away.

"I know--I know how you feel, Wallie! I'm sorry--for you and myself,
and the whole thing! I'm terribly sorry! I--I don't know what we can
do. I have to go away, of course; I can't stay here until we know; and
you'll have to investigate, and find out just what she claims. I'll go
to Sally, I suppose. People can think I've come up to help when the
baby comes--I don't care what they think!"

"I thought you might go to Oakland for awhile," he agreed, gratefully;
"but of course it'll be best to have you go to Sally--it'll only be for
a few days. Mart, I feel rotten about it!"

"I know you do, Wallace," she answered nervously.

"To spring this on you--it's just rotten!"

Martie was silent. Her mind was in a whirl.

"Will you go out?" she asked simply. "I want to dress."

"What do you want me to go out for?" he asked, amazed.

Again his wife was silent. Her cheeks were bright scarlet, her eyes
hard and dry. She looked at him steadily, and he got clumsily to his
feet.

"Sure I'll go out!" he said stupidly. "I'll do anything you want me to.
I feel like a skunk about this--it had sort of slipped my mind, Mart!
Every fellow lets himself in for something like this."

Trapped. It was the one thought she had when he was gone, and when she
had sprung feverishly from bed, and was quickly dressing. Trapped, in
this friendly, comfortable room, where she had been so happy and so
proud! She had been so innocently complacent over her state as this
man's wife, she had planned for their future so courageously. Now she
was--what? Now she was--what?

Just to escape somehow and instantly, that was the first wild impulse.
He was gone, but he was coming back: he must not find her here. She
must disappear, nobody must ever find her. Sally and her father, Rose
and Rodney must never know! Martie Monroe, married to a man who was
married before, disgraced, exiled, lost. Nobody knew that she was going
to have a baby, but Monroe would surmise that.

Oh, fool--fool--fool that she had been to marry him so! But it was too
late for that. She must face the situation now, and fret over the past
some other day.

She had felt the thought of a return to Monroe intolerable: but quickly
she changed her mind. Sally's home might be an immediate retreat, she
could rest there, and plan there. Her sister was eagerly awaiting an
answer to the letter in which she begged Martie to come to her for the
month of the baby's birth.

Martie, packing frantically, glanced at the clock. It was two o'clock
now, she could get the four o'clock boat. She would be in peaceful
Monroe at seven. And after that----?

After that she did not know. Should she ever return to Wallace, under
any circumstances? Should she tell Sally? Should she hide both
Wallace's revelations and the morning's earlier hopes of motherhood?

Child that she was, she could not decide. She had had no preparation
for these crises, she was sick with shock and terror. Married to a man
who was already married--and perhaps to have a baby!

But she never faltered in her instant determination to leave him. If
she was not his wife, at least she could face the unknown future far
more bravely than the dubious present. If she had been wrong, she would
not add more wrong.

With her bag packed, and her hat pinned on, she paused, and looked
about the room. The window curtain flapped uncertainly, a gritty wind
blew straight down Geary Street. The bed was unmade, the sweet orange
peels still scented the air.

Martie suddenly flung her gloves aside, and knelt down beside her bed.
She had an impulse to make her last act in this room a prayer.

Wallace, pale and quiet, opened the door, and as she rose from her
knees their eyes met. In a second they were in each other's arms, and
Martie was sobbing on his shoulder.

"Mart--my darling little girl! I'm so sorry!"

"I know you are--I know you are!"

"It's only for a few days, dearie--until I settle her once and for all!"

"That's all!"

"And then you'll come back, and we'll go have Spanish omelette at the
Poodle Dog, won't we?"

"Oh, Wallie, darling, I hope--I hope we will!"

She gasped on a long breath, and dried her eyes.

"How much money have you got, dearie?"

"About--I don't know. About four dollars, I think."

"Well, here--" He was all the husband again, stuffing gold pieces into
her purse. "You're going down to the four boat? I'll take you down. And
wire me when you get there, Martie, so I won't worry. And tell Sally I
wish her luck, I'll certainly be glad to hear the news." They were at
the doorway; he put his arm about her. "You DO love me, Mart?"

"Oh, Wallie----!" The tender moment, following upon her hour of lonely
agony, was almost too much. "We--we didn't think--this would be the end
of our happy time, did we?" she stammered. And as they kissed again,
both faces were wet with tears.

Sally met her; a Sally ample of figure and wonderful in complexion. All
the roses of spring were in Sally's smiling face; she laughed and
rejoiced at their meeting with a certain quality of ease and poise for
which Martie was puzzled to account, but which was new to quiet,
conventional Sally. Sally was in the serene mood that immediately
precedes motherhood; all the complex elements of her life were
temporarily lapped in a joyous peace. Of Martie's hidden agony she
suspected nothing.

She took Martie to the tiny house by the river; the plates and spoons
and pillow-slips looked strange to Martie, and for every one of them
Sally had an amused history. Martie felt, with a little twinge of pain,
that she would have liked a handsomer home for Sally, would have liked
a more imposing husband than the tired, dirty, boyish-looking Joe,
would have liked the first Monroe baby to come to a prettier layette
than these plain little slips and flannels; but Sally saw everything
rose-coloured. They had almost no money, she told Martie, with a happy
laugh. Already Sally, who had been brought up in entire ignorance of
the value of money, was watching the pennies. Never had there been
economy like this in Pa's house!

Sally kept house on a microscopic scale that amused and a little
impressed Martie. Every apple, every onion, was used to the last scrap.
Every cold muffin was reheated, or bit of cold toast was utilized. When
Carrie David brought the young householders a roasted chicken, it was
an event. The fowl was sliced and stewed and minced and made into soup
before it went into the family annals to shine forevermore as "the
delicious chicken Cousin Carrie brought us before the baby was born."
Sally's cakes were made with one egg, her custards reinforced with
cornstarch, her cream was only "top milk." Even her house was only half
a house: the four rooms were matched by four other rooms, with only a
central wall between. But Sally had a square yard, and a garden, and
Martie came to love every inch of the little place, so rich in
happiness and love.

The days went on and on, and there was no word of Wallace. Martie's
heart was like lead in her breast. She talked with Sally, set tables,
washed dishes, she laughed and planned, and all the while misgivings
pressed close about her. Sometimes, kneeling in church in the soft warm
afternoons of early spring, she told herself that if this one cup were
taken from her lips, if she were only proved to be indeed an honourable
wife, she would bear with resignation whatever life might bring. She
would welcome poverty, welcome humiliations, welcome the suffering and
the burden of the baby's coming--but dear Lord, dear Lord, she could
not face the shame that menaced her now!

Sally saw the change in her, the new silence and gravity, and wondered.

"Martie, dearest, something's worrying you?"

"Nothing much, dear. Wallace--Wallace doesn't write to me as often as I
should like!"

"You didn't quarrel with him, Mart?"

"Oh, no--he's the best husband in the world. We never quarrel."

"But it's not like you to fret so," Sally grieved. Presently she
ventured a daring question: "Has it ever occurred to you, Mart, that
perhaps----"

Martie laughed shakily.

"The way you and Grace wish babies on to people--it's the limit!"

Sally laughed, too, and if she was unconvinced, at least she said no
more. She encouraged Martie to take long walks, to help with the
housework, and finally, to attempt composition. Sitting at the clean
little kitchen table, in the warm evenings, Martie wrote an article
upon the subject of independence for women.

For a few days she laboured tirelessly with it: then she tired of it,
and flung it aside. Other things absorbed her attention.

First came the expected letter from Wallace. Martie's hand shook as she
took it from the postman. Now she would know--now she would know!
Whatever the news, the suspense was over.

Perhaps the hardest moment of the hard weeks was when she realized that
the tension was not snapped, after all. Wallace wrote affectionately,
but with maddening vagueness. He missed his girl, he had a rotten cold,
he was not working now. Golda was raising hell. He did not believe half
that she said, but he had written to his uncle, who advised him to go
to Portland, and investigate the matter there. So unless Martie heard
to the contrary he would probably go north this week. Anyway, Martie
had better stay where she was, and not worry.

Not worry! It became a marvel to Martie that life could go on for any
one while her own future was so frightfully uncertain. She was going to
have a baby, and she was not married--that was the summary of the
situation. It was like something in a book, only worse than any book
that she had ever read. Sometimes she felt as if her brain were being
affected by the sheer horror of it. Sometimes, Sally noticed, Martie
fell into such deep brooding that she neither heard nor saw what went
on about her. Her mind was in a continual fever; she was exhausted with
fruitless hoping and unavailing endurance.

At the end of a hot, endless April day, into the darkness of Sally's
disordered bedroom, came life. A little hemstitched blanket had been
made ready for the baby; it seemed to Martie's frightened heart nothing
short of a miracle when Sally's crying daughter was actually wrapped in
it. Martie had travelled a long road since the placid spring afternoon
when they had made that blanket.

But the strain and fright were over now; Sally lay at peace, her eyes
shut in a white face. The tears dried on Martie's cheeks; Mrs. Hawkes
and Dr. Ben were even laughing as they consulted and worked together.
Martie took the baby down to the kitchen for her bath, and it seemed
strange to her that the dried peaches Sally had set on the stove that
morning were still placidly simmering in their saucepan.

For a day or two everything was unreal, the smoke of battle and the
shadow of death still hung over the little household. Gradually, the
air cleared. Joe and Martie ate the deluge of layer cakes and apple
pies--debated over details. Joe's mother came in to bathe the baby and
Sally did nothing but laugh and eat and sleep. She called her
first-born Elizabeth, for her mother; and sometimes the sisters
wondered if Ma and Lydia ever talked about the first baby, and ever
longed to see her first tiny charms.

The event shook Martie from her brooding, and brought her the first
real happiness she had known since the terrible morning of Golda's
appearance. She and Sally found the care of the baby only a delight,
and disputed for the privilege of bathing and dressing her.

One episode in the tiny Elizabeth's life was unusual, and long years
afterward Martie found a place for it in her own slowly-forming
theories. At the time the three young persons debated it amusedly and
carelessly before it came to be just an accepted, if incomprehensible,
fact.

Dr. Ben, whose modest bill for attendance upon Sally was promptly paid,
had sent the baby a check for seventy-five dollars. The card with this
check was merely pencilled: "For Miss Elizabeth's first quarter, from
Uncle Ben." At first Sally and Martie and Joe were puzzled to
understand it.

Then suddenly Sally remembered her talk with the doctor a year ago.
This was the "mother's pay" he had spoken about then.

"It does seem funny that we were only girls then, and that to speak of
such things really made me almost die of embarrassment," smiled Sally,
"and now, here we are, and we know all about it! But now, the question
is, what to do?"

Sally and Joe were at first for a polite refusal of the money. It was
so "queer," they said. It seemed too "odd." It was not as if Pa had
decided to do it, or as if Dr. Ben really was the child's uncle. It was
better not to chance possible complications--

Presently Joe dropped out of this debate. He said simply that it was a
deuce of a lot of money, and that there were lots of things that the
baby needed, but he didn't care either way. Sally then said that it was
settled, for if he didn't care the check should go back.

But here Martie found herself with an opinion. She said suddenly that
she thought Sally would be foolish to refuse. It was Dr. Ben's money.
If he endowed a library, or put a conservatory into the Monroe Park,
Sally would enjoy them to the full. Why shouldn't he do this? His money
and the way he spent it were his own affair.

"He's working out an experiment, Sally. I don't see why you shouldn't
let him. You may never have another baby, but if you do, why six
hundred a year is just that much better than three!"

There were several days of debate. It was inevitable that the check
lying on Sally's cheap little three-drawer bureau should suggest things
it would purchase. Martie summarily took it to the Bank one day and
brought home crackling bills in exchange. One of the first things that
was purchased was the perambulator in which 'Lizabeth was proudly
wheeled to call upon her benefactor.

Then the dreadful days began to go by again, and still there was no
letter from Wallace. June came in with enervating, dry heat, and Martie
wilted under it. There was no longer any doubt about her condition. The
hour was coming closer when Sally must know, when all Monroe must know
just how mad a venture her marriage had been.

One day she had a letter from Mabel, who begged her to come back to the
city. Jesse was sure he could get her an occasional engagement; it was
better than fretting herself to death there in that "jay" town.

Martie sat thinking for a long time with this letter in her hand. For
the first time thoughts consciously hostile to Wallace swept through
her mind. She analyzed the motives that had urged her into marriage;
she had been taught to think of it as a woman's surest refuge. If she
had not been so taught, what might she have done for herself in this
year? Was it fair of him to take what she had to give then, in quick
and generous devotion, and to fail her so utterly now, when the old
physical supremacy was gone, and when she must meet, in the future, not
only her own needs but the needs of a child? He had known more of life
than she--her mother and father had known more--why had nobody helped
her?

That evening, when Sally and Joe had gone to the moving pictures,
leaving Martie to listen for 'Lizabeth's little snuffle of awakening,
should she unexpectedly awake, Martie cleared the dining-room table and
wrote to Wallace.

This was not one of her cheerful, courageous letters, filled with
affectionate solicitude for him, and brave hope for the future. She
wept over the pages, she reproached and blamed him. For the first time
she told him of the baby's coming. She was his wife, he must help her
get away, at least until she was well again. She was sick of waiting
and hoping; now he must answer her, he must advise her.

Her face was wet with tears; she went that night to mail it at the
corner. Afterward she lay long awake, wondering in her ignorant girl's
heart if such an unwifely tirade were sufficient cause for divorce,
wondering if he would ever love her again after reading it.

Wallace brought the answer himself, five days later. Coming in from a
lonely walk, Martie found him eating bread and jam and scrambled eggs
in Sally's kitchen. The sight of him there in the flesh, smiling and
handsome, was almost too much for her. She rushed into his arms, and
sobbed and laughed like a madwoman, as she assured herself of his
blessed reality.

Sally, in sympathetic tears herself, tried to join in Wallace's
heartening laugh, and Martie, quieted, sat on the arm of her husband's
chair, feeling again the delicious comfort of his arm about her, and
smiling with dark lashes still wet.

After a while they were alone, and then they talked freely.

"Wallie--only tell me this! Have you got enough money to get me away
somewhere? I can't stay here! You see that! Oh, dearest, if you
knew----"

"Get you away! Why, you're going with me! We're going to New York!"

Her bewildered eyes were fixed upon him with dawning hope.

"But Golda!" she said.

"Oh, Golda!" He dismissed the adventuress impatiently. "Now I'll tell
you all about that some time, dear----"

"But, Wallace, it's--it's ALL RIGHT?" Martie must turn the knife in the
wound now, there must be no more doubt.

"All RIGHT?" The old bombastic, triumphant voice! "Her husband's alive,
if you call THAT all right!"

"Her husband?" Martie's voice died in a sort of faintness.

"Sure! She was married six years before I ever saw her. Uncle Chess
says he heard it, and then forgot it, you know the way you do? I've
been to Portland and Uncle Chess was bully. His old lawyer, whom he
consulted at the time I left there, was dead, but we dug up the license
bureau and found what we were after. She had been married all right and
her husband's still living. We found him in the Home for Incurables up
there; been there fifteen years. I got a copy of her marriage license
from the Registrar and if Mrs. Golda White Ferguson ever turns up again
we'll see who does the talking about bigamy! The she-devil! And I told
you about meeting Dawson?"

"Oh, God, I thank Thee--I thank Thee!" Martie was breathing to herself,
her eyes closed. "Dawson?" she asked, when he repeated the name.

Wallace had straightened up; it was quite in his old manner that he
said:

"I--would--rather work for Emory Dawson than for any man I know of in
New York!"

"Oh, a manager?"

"The coming manager--you mark what I say!"

"And you met him?" Martie was asking the dutiful questions; but her
face rested against her husband's as she talked, and she was crying a
little, in joy and relief.

For answer Wallace gently dislodged her, so that he might take from his
pocket a letter, the friendly letter that the manager had dashed off.

"He swears he'll book me!" Wallace said, refolding the letter. "He said
he needs me, and I need him. I borrowed two hundred from Uncle Chess,
and now it's us to the bright lights, Baby!"

"And nothing but happiness--happiness--happiness!" Martie said,
returning his handkerchief, and finishing the talk with one of her
eager kisses and with a child's long sigh.

"I was afraid you might be a little sorry about--November, Wallie,"
said she, after a while. "You are glad, a little; aren't you?"

"Sure!" he answered good-naturedly. "You can't help it!"

Martie looked at him strangely, as if she were puzzled or surprised.
Was it her fault? Were women to be blamed for bearing? But she rested
her case there, and presently Sally came in, wheeling the baby, and
there was a disorderly dinner of sausages and fresh bread and
strawberries, with everybody jumping up and sitting down incessantly.
Wallace was a great addition to the little group; they were all young
enough to like the pose of lovers, to flush and dimple over the new
possessives, over the odd readjustment of relationships. The four went
to see the moving pictures in the evening, and came home strewing
peanut-shells on the sidewalk, laughing and talking.

Two little clouds spoiled the long-awaited glory of going to New York
for Martie, when early in July she and Wallace really arranged to go.
One was the supper he gave a night or two before they left to various
young members of the Hawkes family, Reddy Johnson, and one or two other
men. Martie thought it was "silly" to order wine and to attempt a smart
affair in the dismal white dining room of the hotel; she resented the
opportunity Wallace gave her old friends to see him when he was not at
his best. She scolded him for incurring the unnecessary expense.

The second cloud lay in the fact that, without consulting her, he had
borrowed money from Rodney Parker. This stung Martie's pride bitterly.

"Wallace, WHY did you?" she asked with difficult self-control.

"Oh, well; it was only a hundred; and he's coining money," Wallace
answered easily. "I breezed into the Bank one day, and he was boasting
about his job, and his automobile. He took out his bank book and showed
me his balance. And all of a sudden it occurred to me I might make a
touch. I told him about Dawson." He looked at his wife's dark,
resentful face. "Don't you worry, Mart," he said. "YOU didn't borrow
it!"

Martie silently resuming her packing reflected upon the irony of life.
She was married, she was going to New York. What a triumphant
achievement of her dream of a year ago! And yet her heart was so heavy
that she might almost have envied that old, idle Martie, wandering
under the trees of Main Street and planning so hopefully for the future.

On the day before she left, exhilarated with the confusion, the new hat
she had just bought, the packed trunks, she went to see her mother. It
was a strange hour that she spent in the old sitting room, in the cool,
stale, home odours, with the home pictures, the jointed gas brackets
under which she had played solitaire and the square piano where she had
sung "The Two Grenadiers." Outside, in the sunken garden, summer
burgeoned fragrantly; the drawn window shades bellied softly to and
fro, letting in wheeling spokes of light, shutting down the twilight
again. Lydia and her mother, like gentle ghosts, listened to her,
reproving and unsympathetic.

"Pa is angry with you, Martie, arid who can blame him?" said Lydia.
"I'm sure I never heard of such actions, coming from a girl who had
loving parents and a good home!"

This was the mother's note. Lydia was always an echo.

"It isn't as if you hadn't had everything, Mart. You girls had
everything you needed--that party at Thanksgiving and all! And you've
no idea of the TALK in town! Pa feels it terribly. To think that other
girls, even like Rose, who had no father, should have so much more
sense than OUR girls."

Martie talked of Sally's baby. "Named for you, Ma," she told her
mother. And with sudden earnestness she added: "WHY don't you go see it
some day? It's the dearest baby I ever saw!"

Mrs. Monroe, who had a folded handkerchief in her bony, discoloured
fingers, now pressed it to her eyes, shaking her head as she did so.
Lydia gave Martie a resentful look, and her mother a sympathetic one,
before she said primly:

"If Sally Monroe wanted Ma and me to go see her and her baby, why
didn't she marry some man Pa could have been proud of, and have a
church wedding and act in a way becoming to her family?"

To this Martie had nothing to say. She left messages of love for Len
and for her father. Her mother and sister came with her for good-byes
to the old porch with its peeling dark paint and woody rose-vines.

"Pa said at noon that you had 'phoned you wanted to come say good-bye,"
said her mother mildly. "I hope you'll always be happy, Martie, and
remember that we did our best for you. If you're a good girl, and write
some day and ask Pa's forgiveness, I think he may come 'round, because
he was always a most affectionate father to his children."

The toneless, lifeless voice ceased. Martie kissed Lydia's unresponsive
warm cheek, and her mother's flat soft one. She walked quickly down the
old garden, through the still rich green, and smelled, as she had
smelled a thousand times before, the velvety sweetness of wallflowers.
As she went, she heard her sister say, in a quick, low tone:

"Look, Ma--there's Angela Baxter with that man again. I wonder who on
earth he is?"



CHAPTER III


The big train moved smoothly. Martie, her arm laid against the window,
felt it thrill her to her heart. She smiled steadily as she watched the
group on the platform, and Sally, Joe, and all the others who had come
to say good-bye smiled steadily back. Sometimes they shouted messages;
but they all were secretly anxious for the train to move, and Martie,
for all her smiling and nodding, was in a fever to be gone.

They vanished; all the faces she knew. The big train slid through
Monroe. Martie had a last glimpse of Mason and White's--of the
bridge--of the winery with its pyramids of sweet-smelling purple
refuse. Outlying ranches, familiar from Sunday walks and drives,
slipped by. Down near the old Archer ranch, Henry Prout was driving his
mother into town. The surrey and the rusty white horse were smothered
in sulphurous dust. It seemed odd to Martie that Henny was driving Mrs.
Prout into town with an air of actual importance; Henny was clean, and
the old lady had on cotton gloves and a stiff gray percale. Yet they
were only going to hot little Monroe. Martie was going to New York!

All her life she remembered the novelty and delight of the trip.
Wallace was at his best; the new hat had its share in the happy
recollection. The dining car, the berths, the unchanging routine of the
day--all charmed her.

She watched her first thunder storm in Chicago with awed pleasure. The
hour came, when, a little jaded, feeling dirty and tumbled, feeling
excited and headachy and nervous, Martie saw her neighbours in the car
begin to straighten garments and gather small possessions. They were
arriving!

She was silent, as first impressions jumbled themselves together in her
tired brain. Wallace, at her elbow, was eager with information.

"Look, Mart--this is the Grand Central. They're going to tear all this
down! Look--that's the subway--those hoods, where the people are going
down! See over that way--this is Forty-Second Street, one of the
biggest cross-streets there is--and over that way is Broadway! We can't
take the subway, I wish we could--you wait until you see the expresses!
But I'll tell you what we'll do, we'll go over and take a 'bus, on the
Avenue--see, here's a Childs'--see, there's the new Library! Climb
right up on the 'bus, if you get a chance, because then we can see the
Park!"

Bewildered, dirty, tired, she stumbled along at his side, her eyes
moving rapidly over the strange crowds, the strange buildings, the
strange streets and crossings. That must be an elevated train banging
along; here was a park, with men packed on the benches, and newspapers
blowing lazily on the paths. And shops in all the basements--why had no
one ever told her that there were shops in all the basements? And a
placid church facade breaking this array of trimmed windows and crowded
little enterprises! It was hot: she felt her forehead wet, her clothes
seemed heavy and sticky, and her head ached dully.

"How'd you like it?" Wallace asked enthusiastically.

"I love it, sweetheart!"

Wallace, frankly embarrassed for money, took her at once to Mrs.
Curley's big boarding-house in East Seventieth Street, where the
Cluetts had stayed.

Mabel had told Martie that "Grandma Curley" was a "character." She was
a plain, shrewd, kindly old woman, who lived in an old brownstone house
that had been acquired after his death, Martie learned, for a bad debt
of her husband's making. She liked everybody and believed in nobody;
smiling a deep, mysterious smile when her table or her management was
praised. She eyed Martie's fresh beauty appraisingly, immediately
suspected her condition, was given the young wife's unreserved
confidence, and, with a few brief pieces of advice, left her new
boarders entirely to their own devices. Wallace's daring compliments
fell upon unhearing ears; she would not lower her prices for anybody,
she said. They could have the big room for eighteen, or the little one
for fourteen dollars a week.

"Sixteen for the big one! You know you like our looks," said Wallace.

"I'd be losing money on it, Mr. Bannister. You can take it or leave it,
just as you like."

He was a little daunted by her firmness, but in the end he told Martie
that eighteen was cheap enough, and as she scattered her belongings
about, his wife gave a happy assent. It was fun to be married and be
boarding in New York.

She was too confused, too excited, to eat her dinner. They were both in
wild spirits; and went out after dinner to take an experimental ride on
the elevated train. That evening the trunk came, and Martie, feeling
still in a whirl of new impressions, unpacked in the big bare bedroom;
as pleased as a child to arrange her belongings in the empty bureau or
hang them in the shallow closet. She had been looking forward, for five
hot days, to the pleasure of a bath and a quiet bed. The bath was not
to be had; neither faucet in the bathroom ran hot; but the bed was
deliciously comfortable, and Martie tumbled into it with only one
thought in her head:

"Anyway, whatever happens now--I'm here in New York!"

The first few days of exploration were somewhat affected by the fact
that Wallace had almost no money; yet they were glorious days, filled
with laughter and joy. The heat of summer had no terrors for Martie as
yet, she was all enthusiasm and eagerness. They ate butter cakes and
baked apples at Child's, they bought fruit and ice cream bricks and
walked along eating them. All New York was eating, and panting, and
gasping in the heat. They went to Liberty Island, and climbed the
statue, and descended into the smothering subway to be rushed to the
Bronx Zoo.

And swiftly the city claimed Martie's heart and mind and body, swiftly
she partook of its freedom, of its thousand little pleasures for the
poor, of its romance and pathos and ugliness and beauty. Even to the
seasoned New Yorkers she met, she seemed to hold some key to what was
strange and significant.

Italian women, musing bareheaded and overburdened in the cars, Rabbis
with their patriarchal beards, slim saleswomen who wore masses of
marcelled curls and real Irish lace, she watched them all. She drank in
the music of the Park concerts, she dreamed in the libraries, she
eagerly caught the first brassy mutter of the thunder storms.

"If five million other people can make a living here, can't we?" she
amused Wallace by asking with spirit.

"There's something in that!" he assured her.

A day came when Wallace shaved and dressed with unusual care, and went
to see Dawson. Hovering about him anxiously at his toilet, his wife had
reminded him bravely that if Dawson failed, there were other managers;
Dawson was not the only one! The great thing was that he was HERE,
ready for them.

Dawson, however, did not fail him. Wallace came back buoyantly with the
contract. He had been less than a week in New York, and look at it!
Seventy-five dollars a week in a new play. Rehearsals were to start at
once.

The joy that she had always felt awaited her in New York was Martie's
now! She told Wallace that she had KNOWN that New York meant success.
She went to his rehearsals, feeling herself a proud part of the whole
enterprise, keenly appreciative of the theatre atmosphere. When he went
away with his company in late August, Martie saw him off cheerfully,
moved to a smaller room, and began to plan for his return, and for the
baby. She was in love with life--she wrote Sally.

"You're lucky our climate don't affect you no more than it does,"
observed Mrs. Curley comfortably. "I suffer considerable from the heat,
myself; but then, to tell you the honest truth, I'm fleshy."

"I like it!" Martie answered buoyantly. "The thunder storms are
delicious! Why, at home the gardens are as dry as bones, now, and look
at Central Park--as green as ever. And I love the hurdy-gurdies and the
awnings and the elevated trains and the street markets!"

"I like the city," said the old woman, with a New Yorker's approval of
this view. "My daughter wants me to go down and open a house in Asbury;
she has a little summer place there, with a garage and all. But I tell
her there's almost nobody in the house now, and we get a good draf'
through the rooms. It's not so bad!"

"It's better for me," said the young wife, "because of the uncertainty
of Mr. Bannister's plans."

"They're all uncertain--men," submitted Mrs. Curley thoughtfully. "That
is, the nice ones are," she added. "You show me a man whose wife isn't
always worrying about him and I'll show you a fool!"

"Which was Mr. Curley?" Martie asked, twinkling. For she and his relict
were the only women in the big boarding-house during the hot months,
and they had become intimate.

"Curley," said his widow solemnly, "was one of God's own. A better
father seven children never had, nor a better neighbour any man! He'd
be at his place in church on a Sunday be the weather what it might, and
that strong in his opinions that the boys would ask him this and that
like the priest himself! I'm not saying, mind you, that he wouldn't
take a drop too much, now and then, and act very harshly when the drink
was on him, but he'd come out of it like a little child----"

She fell into a reverie, repeating dreamily to herself the words
"a--little--child----" and Martie, dreaming, too, was silent.

The two women were in one of the cool back bedrooms. For hot still
blocks all about the houses were just the same; some changed into
untidy flats, some empty, some with little shops or agencies in their
basements, and some, like this one, second-class boarding-houses. On
Second and Third avenues, under the elevated trains, were miles of
shops; all small shops, crowded upon each other. Every block had its
two or three saloons, its meat market, its delicacy store, its tiny
establishments where drygoods and milk and shoes and tobacco and fruit
and paints and drugs and candies and hats were sold, and the women who
drifted up and down all morning shopping usually patronized the nearest
store. In the basements were smaller stores where ice and coal and
firewood and window-glass and tinware might be had, and along the
street supplementary carts of fruit and vegetables were usually
aligned, so that, especially to inexperienced eyes like Martie's, the
whole presented a delightfully distracting scene.

She accepted the fact that Wallace must come and go as best suited his
engagements. Her delight in every novel phase of life in the big city
fired his own enthusiasm, and it was with great satisfaction that he
observed her growing friendship with Mrs. Curley.

There were four or five men in the boarding-house, but they usually
disappeared after an early breakfast and did not come back until
supper, so that the two women had a long, idle day to themselves.
Henny, the coloured maid, droned and laughed with friends of her own in
the kitchen. Mrs. Curley, mighty, deep-voiced, with oily, graying hair
and spotted clothes, spent most of the day in a large chair by the open
window, and Martie, thinly dressed, wandered about aimlessly. She never
tired of the old woman's pungent reminiscences, browsing at intervals
on the old magazines and books that were scattered over the house, even
going into the kitchen to convulse the appreciative Henny, and make a
cake or pudding for dinner.

Summer smouldered in the city. The sun seemed to have been shining hot
and merciless for hours when Martie rose at six, to stand yawning at
her window. At nine families began to stream by, to the Park;
perspiring mothers pushing the baby carriages, small children, already
eating, staggering before and behind. By ten the streets were deserted,
baked, silent, glaring. Martie and Mrs. Curley would establish
themselves in a cool back room, as to-day, with a pitcher of iced tea
near at hand.

Somehow the hot, empty hours dragged by. At four o'clock the two, with
perhaps a friend or two who had come in, would begin to gasp that this
was the worst yet. This was awful. The heat had a positive and brassy
quality, there was no air stirring. The children in the Park would drag
home in the hot sunset light, tired, dirty, whining, and a breathless
evening follow the burning day. Then Martie and Mrs. Curley and mild
little Mr. Bull and bellicose Mr. Snow would perhaps sit on the steps
until eleven o'clock, exchanging pleasantries with various neighbours,
wilted like themselves in the furnace of the day.

Martie liked the sense of extremes, as they all did. In a few months
they would be shaking their heads over a blizzard with the same solemn
enjoyment. She liked the suddenly darkening sky, the ominous rattle of
thunder; "like boxes being smashed," she wrote Sally. She fairly sang
when the rain began to stream down, washing, cooling, cleansing.

From the window of the back bedroom she looked down to-day upon a
stretch of bare, fenced backyards. Here and there a cat slept in the
shade, or moved silently from shadow to shadow. From some of the
opposite windows strings of washed garments depended, and upon one
fire-escape two girls were curled, talking and reading.

Her hostess was the source of much affectionate amusement to Martie,
and as the old lady liked nothing so much as an appreciative listener,
they got on splendidly. Martie laughed at the older woman's accounts of
quarrels, births, and law-suits, thrilled over the details of sudden
deaths, murders, and mysteries, and drank in with a genuine dramatic
appreciation the vision of a younger, simpler city. No subway, no
telephones, no motor cars, no elevated roads--what had New York been
like when Mrs. Curley was a bride? Booth and Parepa Rosa and Adelina
Patti walked the boards again; the terrible Civil War was fought; the
draft riots raged in the streets; the great President was murdered.
There was no old family in the city of whose antecedents Mrs. Curley
did not know something. "The airs of them!" she would say, musing over
a newspaper list of "among those present." "I could tell them
something!"

Martie did not understand how any woman could really be content with
this dark old house, this business, these empty days, but she realized
that Mrs. Curley was free to adopt some other mode of living had she
pleased. Gradually Martie pieced the old woman's history together;
there had been plenty of change, prosperity, and excitement in her
life. She had had seven children, only three of whom were living: Mary,
a prosperous, big matron whose husband, Joe Cunningham, had some
exalted position on the Brooklyn police force; Ralph, who was a priest
in California; and George, the youngest, a handsome ne'er-do-well of
about twenty-five, who was a "heart scald." George floated about his
own and neighbouring cities, only coming to see his mother when no
other refuge offered.

The four children who had died were quite as much in their mother's
thoughts and conversation, and probably more in her prayers, than the
living ones. Of "Curley," too, Martie heard much. She was able to
picture a cheerful, noisy home, full of shouting, dark, untidy-headed
children, with an untidy-headed servant, a scatter-brained mother, and
an unexacting father in charge. "Curley" usually went to sleep on the
sofa after dinner, and Mrs. Curley's sister, Mrs. Royce, with her
children, or her sister-in-law, "Mrs. Dan," with hers, came over to
pick up the Curleys on the way to a Mission sermon, a church concert,
or a meeting of the Women's Auxiliary of the Saint Vincent de Paul.

"... Or else maybe the priest would step in," said Mrs. Curley,
remembering these stirring days, "or often I'd take Mollie or
Katie--God rest her!--and go over to see the Sisters. But many a night
there'd be sickness in the house--Curley had two cousins and an aunt
that died on us--and then I'd be there sitting up with the medicines,
and talking with this one and that. I was never one to run away from
sickness, nor death either for that matter. I'm a great hand with death
in the house; there's no sole to my foot when I'm needed! I'll never
forget the day that I went over to poor Aggie Lemmon's house--she was a
lovely woman who lived round the corner from me. Well, I hadn't been
thinking she looked very well for several weeks, do you see?--and I
passed the remark to my brother Thomas's wife--God rest her----"

A reminiscence would follow. Martie never tired of them. Whether she
was held, just now, in the peaceful, unquestioning mood that precedes a
serious strain on mind and body, or whether her old hostess really had
had an unusually interesting experience, she did not then or ever
decide. She only knew that she liked to sit playing solitaire in the
hot evenings, under a restricted cone of light, with Mrs. Curley
sitting in the darkness by the window, watching the lively street,
fanning herself comfortably, and pouring forth the history of the time
Curley gave poor Ralph a "crule" beating, or of the day Alicia Curley
died in convulsions at the age of three.

Martie had hoped to be in her own little home when the baby came, but
this was swiftly proven impossible. Wallace's play failed after the
wonderful salary had been paid for only eight weeks. He idled about
with his wife for a few happy weeks, and then got another engagement
with a small comic opera troupe, and philosophically and confidently
went on the road. Presently he was home again and in funds, but this
time it was only a few days before the next parting.

The golden Indian Summer came, and the city blazed in glorious colour.
Homecoming began; the big houses on the Avenue were opened. Martie
never saw the burning leaves of September in later years without a
memory of the poignant uneasiness with which she first had walked
beneath them, worrying about money, about Wallace's prospects, about
herself and her child. Many of her walks were filled with imaginary
conversations with her husband, in which she argued, protested,
reproached. She was lonely, she was still strange to the city, and she
was approaching her ordeal.

Even when he was with her, she missed the old loverlike attitude. She
was wistful, gentle, dependent now, and she knew her wistfulness and
gentleness and dependence vaguely irritated. But she could not help it;
she wanted to touch him, to cling to him, to have him praise and
encourage her, and tell her how much he loved her.

Her hour came near, and she went bravely to meet it. Wallace was in
Baltimore, playing juvenile roles in a stock company. Martie went alone
to the big hospital, and put herself into the hands of a capable but
indifferent young nurse, who candidly explained that she had more
patients than she could care for without the newcomer. Martie,
frightened by the businesslike preparations and the clean,
ether-scented rooms, submitted and obeyed with a sick heart. Through
the dull quiet of a dark November day the first snow of the season, the
first Martie had ever seen, began to flutter. Moving restlessly about
her little room, she stopped at the window to look out upon it through
a haze of pain.

Heat and hot lights, strange halls, a strange doctor, and early evening
in a great operating-room; she had only a dazed impression of them all.
Life roared and crackled about her. She leaped into the offered
oblivion with no thought of what it might entail....

After a long while she awakened, in a peaceful dawning, to hear nurses
cheerfully chatting, and the boy warmly fussing and grunting in his
basket. The little room was flooded with sunlight, sunlight bright on a
snowy world, and the young women who had been so casually indifferent
to another woman's agony were proudly awake to the charms of the baby.
The cocoon was lifted; Martie in a tremor of love and tenderness looked
down at the scowling, wrinkled little face.

Instantly terror for his safety, for his health, for his immortal soul
possessed her. She looked uneasily at Miss Everett, when that nurse
bore him away. Did the woman realize what motherhood MEANT? Did she
dream the value of that flannel bundle she was so jauntily carrying?



CHAPTER IV


Rain was falling in such sweeping sheets that the windows actually
shook under the onslaught; all day long a high wind had raged about the
house. Above the noise of the November storm in the warm basement
bedroom rose the steady click and purr of the sewing-machine and the
chattering of a child's voice, and from outside, on the pavement, was a
furious rushing of coal. The big van had been backed up against the
curb, and the cascading black torrent interrupted the passers-by.

"Heavens! Was there ever such an uproar!" exclaimed Martie, ceasing her
operations at the machine and leaning back in her chair with a long
sigh. The lengths of flimsy white curtaining she had been hemming
slipped to the floor; she put her hands behind her head, and yawned
luxuriously. The room was close, and even at four o'clock there was
need of lights; its other occupants were only two, the child who played
with the small gray and red stone blocks upon the floor, and the old
woman who was peering through her glasses at the curtaining that lay
across her lap, and manipulating it with knotted hands. Mrs. Curley was
"Nana" to little Teddy Bannister now, and this shabby room overlooking
a cemented area, and with its windows safeguarded by curved ornamental
iron bars from attack from the street, would be his first memory of
life.

But it was a comfortable room; once the dining room, it had been
changed and papered and carpeted for its present tenants when Martie,
as housekeeper of the boarding-house, had decided to move the dining
room into the big, useless rear parlour upstairs. She and Teddy had
privacy here; they had plenty of room, and the feet that crisped by on
the sidewalk, the noises from the kitchen behind her, and the squeaking
of rats about the basement entrance at night annoyed her not at all.
She had her own telephone here, her own fireplace, and she was
comfortably accessible for the maids--there were two maids now--for the
butcher and ice-man. Between her and the kitchen was a small dark
space, named by herself the "Cold Lairs," where she had a wash-stand
and a small bath-tub. A bead of gas burned here night and day, but if
Teddy ever became REALLY naughty he was to be placed in here as
punishment and the gas turned out entirely. Teddy had never deserved
this terrible fate, but he did not like the Cold Lairs, where his
little crash wash-rag and his tiny toothbrush glimmered at him in the
half-light, and where he always smelled the raw smell of the lemon his
mother kept to whiten her hands.

He idolized his mother; they had a separate game for every hour and
every undertaking of his happy day. He climbed out of his crib, in his
little faded blue pajamas, for uproarious tumbling and pillow-fighting
every morning. Then it was seven o'clock, and she told him a story
while she dressed, and recited poems and answered his questions. There
was a game about getting all the tangles out of his hair, the father
and mother tangles, and the various children, and even the dog and cat.
Then for months it was a game to have her go on washing Teddy's face as
long as he cried, and stop short when he stopped, so that after a while
he did not cry at all. But by that time he could spell "Hot" and "Cold"
from the faucets, and could clean out the wash-stand with great soaping
and scrubbing all by himself.

Then he and Mother went into the big dark kitchen, where Henny and
Aurora were yawning over the boarders' breakfasts, Henny perhaps
cutting out flat little biscuit, and Aurora spooning out prunes from a
big stone jar with her slender brown thumb getting covered with juice.
His mother stirred the oatmeal, and, if it were summer, sometimes
quickly and suspiciously tasted the milk that was going into all the
little pitchers. Then they went upstairs.

The boarders had their meals at little separate tables now, and the
"family," which was Mother and Nana, and Aunt Adele and Uncle John,
were together at the largest table at the back where the serving and
carving were done, and where the big shiny percolator stood. Teddy knew
all the boarders--old Colonel and Mrs. Fox from the big upstairs
bedroom, and Miss Peet and her sister, the school-teachers, from the
hall-room on that floor, and the Winchells, mother and daughter and
son, in the two front rooms on the third floor, and the two clerks in
the back room. Uncle John and Aunt Adele had the pleasant big back room
on the middle floor, and Nana existed darkly in the small room that
finished that floor. The persons who filled his world, if they went
away to the country at all in summer, went only for a fortnight, and
this gave Mother only the time she needed to have their blankets washed
and their rooms papered and the woodwork cleaned before their return.

Of them all, of course he liked Uncle John and Aunt Adele best, as
Mother did. He had seen Aunt Adele kiss his mother, and often she and
Uncle John would get into such gales of laughter at dinner that even
Nana, even Teddy, in his high-chair, would laugh violently in sympathy.
All the boarders were kind to Teddy, but Uncle John was much more than
kind. He brought Teddy toys from Broadway, sombreros and moccasins and
pails. He was never too tired when he came home at night to take Teddy
into his lap, and murmur long tales of giants and fairies. And on long,
wet Sundays he had been known to propose trips to the Zoo and the
Aquarium.

Flanking his own picture on his mother's bureau was a photograph of a
magnificent person in velvet knickerbockers and a frilled shirt with a
cocked hat under his arm. This was Daddy, Teddy's mother told him; he
must remember Daddy! But Teddy could not remember him.

"Darling--don't you remember Muddy taking you down to a train, and
don't you remember the big man that carried you and bought you a
sand-machine?"

"Where is my sand-machine, Moth'?" the little boy would demand
interestedly.

"But Teddy, my heart, you were a big boy then, you were long past two.
CAN'T you remember?"

No use. When Wallace came back he must make the acquaintance of his son
all over again. Martie would sigh, half-vexed, half-amused.

"Aren't they the queer little things, Adele? He remembers his
sand-machine and doesn't remember his father!"

"Oh, I don't know, Martie. That was just after we came, you know. And I
remember thinking that Teddy was a mere baby then!"

"Well, Wallace may be back any day now." Martie always sighed deeply
over the courageous phrase. Wallace had followed a devious course in
these years of the child's babyhood. Short engagements, failures, weeks
on the road, some work in stock companies in the lesser cities--it was
a curious history. He had seen his wife at long intervals, sometimes
with a little money, once or twice really prosperous and hopeful,
once--a dreadful memory--discouraged and idle and drinking. This was
the last time but one, more than a year ago. Then had come the visit
when she had met him, and he had given Teddy the sand toy. Martie had
clung to her husband then; he had not looked well; he would never make
anything of this wretched profession, she had pleaded. She was doing
well at the boarding-house; he could stay there while he looked about
him for regular work.

But Wallace was "working up" a new part, and it was going to be a great
hit, he said. Every one was crazy about it. He would not go to the
boardinghouse; he said that his wife's work there was the "limit." For
his three days in town he lived with a fellow-actor at a downtown
hotel, and Martie had a curious sense that he did not belong to her at
all. There was about him the heavy aspect and manner of a man who has
been drinking, but he told her that he was "all to the wagon." His
associate, a heavy, square-jawed man with a dramatic manner, praised
Wallace's professional and personal character highly. Martie, deeply
distressed, saw him go away to try the new play and went back to her
own life.

This was in a bitter January. Now Teddy, building houses on the floor,
had passed his third enchanting birthday, and winter was upon the big
city again. Martie awaited it philosophically. Her coal was in, anyway,
or would be in, in another hour, and if the coal-drivers' strike came
to pass she might sleep in the comfortable consciousness that no one
under her roof would suffer. Her clean curtains would go up this week;
it had been an endless job; it was finished.

"And the next thing on the programme is Thanksgiving!" she said between
two yawns.

"Most of them goes out for that," said Mrs. Curley. "But the Colonel
and her will stay. Nice to be them that never had to ask the price of
turkey-meat this ten years!"

"Oh, well--we don't have it but twice a year!" Martie was folding the
new curtains; presently she gave the neat pile a brisk, condensing slap
with the flat of her hand. "There now, look what your smart Nana and
Mother did, Ted!" she boasted. "And come here and give hims mother
seventeen kisses and hugs, you darling, adorable, fat, soft, little old
monkey!" The last words were smothered in the fine, silky strands under
Teddy's dark, thick mop, on his soft little neck. He submitted to the
tumbling and hugging, trying meanwhile to keep one eye upon the ship he
had been building from an upturned chair.

Breathless, Martie looked up from the embrace to see a pretty smiling
woman standing in the doorway, a wet raincoat over one arm, and a wet
hat balanced on her hand.

"Hello, people!" said the newcomer. "I'm drenched. I don't believe this
can keep up, it's frightful."

"Hello, Adele!" Martie said, setting Teddy on his feet. "Come in, and
spread those things on the heater. Sit there where your skirts will get
the heat. How was the matinee?"

"It was killing," said Mrs. Dryden, establishing herself comfortably by
the radiator. She was a slender, bright-eyed woman of perhaps thirty,
whose colouring ran to cool browns: clear brown eyes, brown hair
prettily dressed, a pale brown skin under which a trace of red only
occasionally appeared. To-day her tailor-made suit was brown, and about
her throat was a narrow boa of some brown fur. "Here, Teddy, take these
to your mother," she added, extending a crushed box half full of
chocolates. "The place was PACKED," she went on, crunching. "And, my
dear!--coming out we were right CLOSE to Doris Beresford, in the most
divine coat I ever laid eyes on! I suppose they all like to have an
idea of what's going on at the other theatres. I don't believe she uses
one bit of make-up; wonderful skin! There was such a mob in the car it
was something terrible. A man crushed up against Ethel; she said she
thought he'd break her arm! I got a seat; I don't know how it is, but I
always do. We'd been running, and I suppose my colour was high, and a
man got up IMMEDIATELY. Nice--I always thank them. I think that's the
least you can do. Ethel said he sat and stared at me all the way up to
Fifty-ninth, where he got off. He was an awfully nice-looking fellow;
I'll tell you what he looked like: a young doctor. Don't you know those
awfully CLEAN-looking men----"

Martie, now changing Teddy's little suit for dinner, let the stream run
on unchecked. Mrs. Curley, who did not particularly fancy Mrs. Dryden,
had gone upstairs, but Martie really liked to listen to Adele.
Presently she turned on the lights, and led Teddy into the Cold Lairs,
to have his face washed. Adele reached for the evening paper, and began
to peruse it idly. When Martie came out of the bath-room, it was to
hear a knock at the door.

"It's John!" predicted Adele. A moment later her husband came into the
room. Like his wife, he was cold and wet and rosy from the street, but
he had evidently been upstairs, for he wore his old house-coat and dry
slippers, and had brushed his hair. He was younger than Adele by three
or four years, but he looked like a boy of twenty; squarely built, not
tall, but giving an impression of physical power nevertheless. Martie
had first thought his face odd, then interesting; now she found it
strangely attractive. His eyes, between sandy lashes and under thick
sandy brows, were of a sea-blue in colour, his head was covered with a
cap of thick, lustreless, sand-coloured hair. Something odd, elfin,
whimsical, in his crooked smile lent an actual charm to his face, for
Martie at least. She told him he looked like Pan.

Early in their acquaintance she had asked him if he were not a Dane,
not a Norwegian, if he had not viking blood? She said that he suggested
sagas and berserkers and fjords--"not that I am sure what any of those
words mean!" His answering laugh had been as wild as a delighted
child's. No; he was American-born, of an English father and an Irish
mother, he said. He had never been abroad, never been to college, never
had any family that he remembered, except Adele. He had meant to be a
"merchant sailor"--a term he seemed to like, although it conveyed only
a vague impression to Martie--but his lungs hadn't been strong. So he
went to Arizona and loafed. And there he met Adele; her mother kept the
boarding-house in which he lived, in fact, and there they were married.
Adele had a glorious voice and she wanted to come to New York to
cultivate it. And then Adele had been ill.

His voice fell reverently when he spoke of this illness. Adele had
nearly died. What the hope that had also really died at this time meant
to him, Martie could only suspect when she saw him with Teddy. Adele
herself told her that she was never strong enough for new hopes.

"We couldn't afford it, of course; so perhaps it was just as well,"
said Adele one day when she and Martie had come to be good friends, and
were confidential. "I felt terribly for a while, because I have a
wonderful way with children; I know that myself. They always come to
me--funniest thing! Dr. Poole was saying the other day that I had a
remarkable magnetism. I said, 'I don't know about THAT,'--and I don't,
Martie! I don't think I'm so magnetic, do you--'BUT,' I said, 'I really
do seem to have a hold on children!' Jack loves children, too, but he
spoils them. I don't believe in letting children run a house; it isn't
good for them, and it isn't good for you. Let them have their own toys
and treat them as kindly as possible, but----"

John Dryden was a salesman in a furniture house; perhaps the city's
finest furniture house. Martie suspected that his pleasant, half-shy,
yet definite manner, made him an excellent salesman. He talked to her
about his associates, whom he took upon their own valuations, and
deeply admired. This one was a "wizard" at figures, and that one had "a
deuce of a manner with women." John chuckled over their achievements,
but she knew that he himself must be the secret wonder of the place. He
might be more or less, but he was certainly not a typical furniture
salesman. Sometimes the manager took him to lunch; Martie wondered if
he quoted the queer books he read, and made the staid echoes of the
club to which they went awake to his pagan laughter.

His extraordinarily happy temperament knew sudden despairs, but they
were usually because he had made a "rotten mistake," or because he was
"such a fool" about something. He never complained of the stupid daily
round; perhaps it was not stupid to him, who always had a book under
his arm, and to whom the first snow and the first green leaves were
miracles of delight every year. He treated Adele exactly as if she had
been an engaging five-year-old, and she had charming childish
mannerisms for him alone. He pacified her when she fretted and
complained, and was eagerly grateful when her mood was serene. Her
prettiness and her little spoiled airs, Martie realized surprisedly,
were full of appeal for him.

"You don't mean that--you don't mean that!" he would say to her when
she sputtered and raged. He listened absently to her long dissertation
upon the persons--and for Adele the world was full of them--who tried
to cheat her, or who were insolent to her, and to whom she was
triumphantly insolent in return. She found Martie much more sympathetic
as a listener.

Toward Martie, too, John soon began to display a peculiar
sensitiveness. At first it was merely that she spurred his sense of
humour; he began to test the day's events by her laughter. After that
her more general opinions impressed him; he watched her at dinner and
accepted eagerly her verdict upon political affairs or the books and
plays of the hour. She noticed, and was a little touched to notice,
that he quoted her weeks after she had expressed herself. He brought
her books and they disagreed and argued about them. In summer, with
Adele languid under her parasol, and Teddy enchanting in white, they
went to the park concerts, or to the various museums, and wrangled
about the new Strauss and Debussy, and commented upon the Hals canvases
and the art of Meissonier and Detaille.

This evening he had a book for her from the Public Library; he had been
dipping into it on the elevated train.

"Which ticket is this on, John?"

"Yours."

"Well, then, you paid my dues on the other! How much?"

"Six cents."

She showed him the six coppers on her white palm.

"You were an angel to do it. Listen; do you want to read this when I'm
through?"

"Well, if you think so."

"Think so?--Carlyle's 'Revolution'? Of course you ought to! Adele,
isn't he ignorant?"

"I read that in High School," smiled Adele. "It's awfully good."

"Mis' Ban'ster," Aurora was at the door, "Hainy was cuttin' open the
chickens f' t'morrer, and she says one of 'em give an awful queer sort
of POP--!"

"Oh, for Heaven's sake!" Martie started kitchenward. John Dryden gave a
laugh of purest joy; Aurora was one of his delights. "We always say
we're going to read aloud in the evenings," she called back. "Now
here's a chance--a wet evening, and Adele and I with oceans of sewing!"

She went from the kitchen upstairs, finding the various boarders
quietly congregating in the hall and parlour, awaiting the opening of
the dining-room door. Adele had gone up to her room, but Teddy and John
were roaming about. Rain still slashed and swished out of doors. The
winter was upon them.

"Seems to be such a smell of PAINT," said the younger Miss Peet.

"Well, that's just trying out the radiators," Martie said hearteningly.
"It won't last. Did you get caught?"

"Sister did; I got home just before it started. It seems to me we're
having rain early this year--"

"We had had two inches at this time last year," said old Colonel Fox.
Martie knew that this unpromising avenue would lead him immediately to
Chickamauga; she slipped into the dining room and began to carve.
Aurora was rushing about with butter-plates, her cousin Lyola, engaged
merely for the dinner-hour, was filling glasses. A moment later the
entire household assembled for the meal. Mrs. Fox, a gentle, bony old
lady, with clean, cool hands, and with a dowdy little yoke of good lace
in the neck of her old silk, smiled about her sadly. Mrs. Winchell was
a plump little woman who always burst out laughing as a preliminary to
speech. Her daughter was eye-glassed, pretty, capable, a woman who
realized perfectly, at twenty-six, that she had no charm whatever for
men. She realized, too, that Mrs. Bannister, with her bronze hair and
quick speech, was full of it, and envied the younger woman in a
bloodless sort of way. Her brother, known as "Win," had already had a
definite repulse from Mrs. Bannister, and nothing was too bad for the
snubbed suitor to intimate about her in consequence. Win had never seen
"this husband of hers"; Win thought she looked "a little gay, all
right." He had a much more successful friendship with Adele, who
slapped his hand and told him he was the "limit."

To-night one of the clerks from the top floor, shaking out his napkin,
called gaily to Mrs. Bannister that this was his birthday. It was
characteristic of her kindly relationship that she came immediately to
his table. Now why hadn't he told her yesterday? He should have had a
cake, and chicken-pie, because he had once said chicken was his
favourite "insect." He was twenty-eight? He seemed such a boy!

She went back to her place, determining that she would set out a little
supper of cake and crackers and cheese for him to find when his
room-mate and he came in tired and wet from their theatre that night.
She looked at Teddy; would he keep a birthday in a boarding-house some
day with only the housekeeper to mother him?

"We're betting that you're younger than I am, Mrs. Bannister!"

"You win." She smiled at him frankly. "I'm not yet twenty-four!" Martie
was conscious of a little pang as she met his surprised almost pitying
look.

"I think that talk about ages was just a little undignified," said Edna
Winchell later that night.

"Yes, I do, too!" her mother answered quickly.

"There's something about that girl we don't understand, you bet,"
contributed the son. "When I went down for a match she was just getting
a special delivery letter, and she looked as if she was going to drop.
You mark my words--it had something to do with that mysterious husband
of hers!"

For the boarding-house had never seen Wallace, who held the whole place
in bitter scorn. He resented the fact of Martie's position there; the
fact of her having made herself useful to old Mrs. Curley represented a
difference in their point of view. When, in Teddy's first year, regular
letters and a regular remittance from Wallace ceased to appear, Martie
had gone through an absolute agony of worry. Her husband was then on
the road, and she was not even sure that her letters reached him.

Alone except for the baby, in the freezing, silent cold of the city,
she had pondered, planned, and fretted for day after weary day. The one
or two acquaintances she had made in Wallace's profession would have
advised her not to worry, nobody ever was turned out for board in these
days. But Martie was too proud to appeal to them for counsel, and for
other but even stronger reasons she could not confide in Mrs. Curley.
So passed the first Christmas alone, doubly sad because it reminded her
of the Christmas a year before, when they had been so happy and so
prosperous in San Francisco.

In snowy February, however, Mrs. Curley herself had unconsciously
offered a solution. She wanted to go to her daughter in Brooklyn for a
fortnight. "Run the house for me, that's the good girl," she said to
Martie. "You can do it as good as I can, any day of the world! Aurora
knows what the menus for the week are and all you've got to do is to do
the ordering and show the rooms to folks that come looking for them."

Martie had been feeling a little more comfortable about her overdue
board, because Wallace, playing in stock in Los Angeles, had sent her
one hundred dollars early in the year. It was not enough, but it
sufficed to pay a comfortable installment on her bill, and to keep her
in money for another week or two. But she was sick of waiting and
worrying, and she seized the opportunity to be helpful. Chance favoured
her, for during the old woman's visit the daughter in Brooklyn fell
ill, and it was mid-March before the mother came home again. By that
time the trembling Martie had weathered several storms, had rented the
long-vacant front room, and was more brisk and happy than she had been
for months, than she had ever been perhaps. So the arrangement drifted
along. There was no talk of a salary then, but in time Martie came to
ask for such money as she needed--for Teddy's rompers, for gingham
dresses for summer, for stationery and stamps--and it was always
generously accorded.

"Get good things while you're about it," Mrs. Curley would say. "You
buy for the ragman when you buy trash. This lad here," she would
indicate the splendid Teddy, with his loose dark curls and his creamy
skin, "he wants to look elegant, so that the girls will run after him!"

Martie felt more free to obey her because the business was in a
steadily improving condition. This fancy for keeping a few "paying
guests" had become a sort of expensive luxury for the solitary woman,
whose children no longer needed her, and who would not live with any of
them. Mrs. Curley was not entirely dependent upon her boarding-house,
but she had never been reconciled to the actual loss of money in the
business. She liked to have other persons about, she having no definite
interests of her own, and the new arrangement suited her perfectly: an
attractive young woman to help her, a baby to lend a familiar air to
the table, and money enough to pay all bills and have something left
over.

Amazingly, the money flowed in. Martie told them one night at dinner
that she had always fancied a boarding-house was a place where a
slap-heeled woman climbed bleak stairs to tell starving geniuses that
their rent was overdue. Mrs. Curley had laughed comfortably at the
picture.

"You can always make money feeding people," she had asserted. John had
given Martie a serious look after his laugh.

"Geniuses don't HAVE to starve," he had submitted thoughtfully.

"There's always plenty of work in the world, if people will do it!"
Adele had added. "Dear me, I often wonder if the people who talk
charity--charity--charity--realize that it's all two thirds laziness
and dirt. I don't care HOW poor I was, I know that I would keep my
little house nice; you don't have to have money to do that! But you'll
always hear this talk of the unemployed--when any employer will tell
you the hard thing is to get trustworthy men! The other day Ethel was
asking me to join some society or other--take tickets for an actors'
benefit, I think it was--and I begged to be excused. I told her we
didn't have any money to spare for that sort of thing! Genius, indeed!
Why don't they get jobs?"

"Jobs in a furniture store, eh, John?" Martie smiled. The man answered
her smile sturdily.

"It isn't so rotten!" he said.

Her letters to-night, for there were two in the special delivery
stamped envelope, were from Lydia and Sally. Sally had written often to
her sister during the years, and Martie was fairly in touch with Monroe
events: the young Hawkeses had three babies now, and Grace had twins.
Rose had been ill, and had lost her hopes a second time, but she was
well now, and she and Rodney had been to New York. People said that the
Parkers were coining money, and Rose had absolutely everything she
wanted. Colonel Frost was dead. Miss Frost looked like death--Martie
had smiled at the old phrase--and Grandma Kelly was dead; Father Martin
was quoted as saying that she was a saint if ever there was one. George
Patterson had been sued by a girl in Berkeley, and Monroe was of the
opinion that the Pattersons never would hold up their heads again. Pa
and Len were in some real estate venture together, Len had talked Pa
into it at last. And finally, Sally and the children were well, and Joe
wrote her every day.

This last sentence had puzzled Martie; where was Joe Hawkes then, that
he must write every day to his wife? She had intended to write Sally in
the old affectionate, confidential strain, and ask all the questions
that rose now and then in her thoughts of Monroe. But she had not
written for months, and now--now this.

She grasped the news in the tear-stained sheets at a first glance. Her
mother was dead. Martie repeated the words to herself with a stupid
realization that she could not grasp their meaning. The old dark house
in the sunken square would know that slender, gentle presence no more.
She had never felt the parting final; a chill wind from some forgotten
country smote her. Her mother was dead, her child was growing up, her
husband had failed her.

Sally's letter was brief, restrained, and tender. Martie could read
Sally's development in the motherly lines. But Lydia had written in a
sort of orgy of grief. Ma had "seemed like herself all Wednesday," and
had gone with Lydia to see old Mrs. Mussoo, and had eaten her dinner
that night, and the next day, Thursday, she had come down as usual to
breakfast, and so on and on for ten long days, every hour of which was
treasured now in Lydia's heart. "And poor Pa," wrote the older sister,
"I must be all in all to him now; I never can marry now. And oh,
Martie, I couldn't help wishing, for your sake, that you could feel
that you had never, even as a thoughtless girl, caused our dear angel
an hour of grief and pain! You must say to yourself that she forgave
you and loved you through it all ..."

Martie made a wry mouth over the letter. But into the small hours of
the morning she lay awake, thinking of her mother and of the old days.
Odd little memories came to her: the saucer pies that she and Sally
used to have for their tea-parties, out under the lilac trees, and a
day when she, Martie, had been passionately concerned for the fate of a
sick cat, and had appealed to her mother for help. Mrs. Monroe had been
filling lamps, and her thin dark hands were oily and streaked with
soot, but she had been sympathetic about the kitten, and on her advice
the invalid had been wrapped in a clean cloth, and laid tenderly on the
heaps of soft, sweet, dying grass that had been raked to one side of
the lawn. Here kindly death had found the kitten a little later, and
Martie, cat and all, had climbed into her mother's lap and cried. But
she was not a little girl any longer--she would never feel her mother's
arms about her again.

The next day she received a box of roses, not remarkable roses,
inasmuch as they were rather small, of a solid red, and wired heavily
from the end of their sterns to the very flower. But the enclosed note
in which John Dryden said that he knew how hard it was for her, and was
as sorry as he could be, touched Martie. A far more beautiful gift
would not have gone to her heart quite so deeply as did this cheap box
and the damp card with its message smudged and blurred.

Through the long icy winter she began to feel, with a sense of vague
pain, that life was passing, that if she and Wallace were ever to have
that big, shadowy studio, that long-awaited time of informal
hospitality and financial ease, it must come soon. Her marriage was
already measured by years; yet she was still a child in Wallace's
hands. He could leave her thus bound and thus free; she was helpless,
and she began to chafe against the injustice of it. One day she found,
and rewrote her old article, filled with her own resentful theories of
a girl's need of commercial fitness. She sent it to a magazine; it was
almost immediately returned.

But the episode bore fruit, none the less. For, discussing it with
John, as she discussed everything with John, she was led to accept his
advice as to the appearance of the closely written sheets. It would
have a much better chance if it were typewritten, he assured her. He
carried it off to his stenographer.

This was in April, and as, with characteristic forgetfulness, he failed
to bring it back, Martie, chancing to pass his office one day,
determined to go in and get it for herself. She had never been in
John's place of business before. She went from the spring warmth and
dazzle of the street into the pleasant dimness of the big store that
smelled pleasantly of reedy things, wickerwork and carpets.

Three or four salesmen "swam out like trout" from the shadows to meet
her, she told John presently, evoking one of his bursts of laughter.
One of them called him, and Martie had a sensation of real affection as
he came down, his eager, faunlike face one radiant smile. She spoke of
the manuscript, but he hardly heard her. Where could they talk?--he
said concernedly. He glanced about; his face brightened.

"I know! There's a set of five rooms just finished by our decorator on
the fourth floor; we'll go there!"

"But, John--truly I haven't but a minute!" Martie protested.

He did not hear her. He touched the elevator bell, and they went
upstairs.

The furnished suite was unbelievably lovely to Martie's unaccustomed
eyes. She wanted to exclaim over the rugs and chairs; John wanted to
talk. They wandered through the perfect rooms, laughing like happy
children.

"I came down to get some things for to-morrow--Teddy needs a straw hat,
if we're really going to Coney"--Martie found his steady look a little
confusing. "You like my pongee, and my four-dollar hat?" she said.

"I think you're PERFECTLY--GORGEOUS!" he answered intensely. "To have
you come in here like this!--I had no idea of it! Brewer simply came
and said 'a lady'--I thought it was that woman from the hotel. I'll
never forget the instant my eyes fell upon you, standing there by old
Pitcher. It--honestly, Martie, it seemed to me like a burst of
sunshine!"

"Why--you goose!" she said, a little shaken. The circumstance of their
being here, in this exquisite semblance of domestic comfort, the sweet
summer day, the new flowery hat and cool pongee gown, combined to stir
her blood. She forgot everything but that she was young, and that it
was strangely thrilling to have this man, so ardent and so forceful,
standing close beside her.

It was almost with a sense of relief, a second later, that she realized
that other groups were drifting through the little apartment, that she
and John were not alone. She remembered, with a strange, poignant
contraction of her heart, the expression in his eyes as they met, the
authoritative finger with which he had touched the elevator bell.

John spoke appreciatively of her visit that night at the table; Adele
said that Martie had told her of it.

"I was going down town with her," said Adele, playing idly with knife
and fork. "But I got started on that disgusting centrepiece again, and
Ethel came in, and we just sewed. I'm so sick of the thing now I told
Miriam I was going to give it to her and let her finish it
herself--I'll have to go down town Monday and match the silk anyway;
it's too maddening, for there's just that one leaf to do, but I might
as well keep AT it, and get RID of it! If we go to Coney to-morrow I
believe I'll take it along, and go on with it; I suppose it would look
funny, but I don't know why not. Ethel went to Coney last week with the
Youngers in their auto; she said it was a perfect scream all the way;
Tom WOULD pass everything on the road, and she said it was a scream!
She says Mrs. Younger talks about herself and her house and her
servants all the time, and she wouldn't get out of the car, so it
wasn't much fun. I asked her why she wouldn't get out of the car, and
she said her complexion. I didn't see anything so remarkable about it
myself; anyway, if you rub plenty of cream in--I'm going to do that
to-morrow, Martie, and you ought to!--and then wear a veil, I don't
mean too heavy a veil, but just to keep your hat tight, why, you don't
burn!"

"Both you girls come down town Monday, and I'll show you a rug worth
fifty thousand dollars," suggested John.

"Oh, thank you, dear!" Adele said in bright protest. "But if you knew
what I've got to do Monday! I'm going to have my linen fitted, and I'm
going in to see the doctor about that funny, giddy feeling I've had
twice. And Miriam wants me to look at hats with her. I'll be simply
dead. Miriam and I will get a bite somewhere; we're dying to try the
fifty-cent lunch at Shaftner's; they say it isn't so bad. It'll be an
awful day, to say nothing of being all tired out from Coney. But I
suppose I'll have to get through it."

She smiled resignedly at Martie. But Martie had fallen suddenly into
absent thought. She was thinking of the odd look on John's face as he
came forward in the pleasant dimness and coolness of the big store.

The next day they went duly to Coney Island; their last trip together,
as it chanced, and one of the most successful of their many days in the
parks or on the beaches. John, Martie, and Teddy were equally filled
with childish enthusiasm for the prospect, and perhaps Adele liked as
well her role of amused elder.

It was part of the pleasure for Martie to get up early, to slip off to
church in the soft, cool morning. The dreaming city, awaiting the heat
of the day, was already astir, churchgoers and holiday-makers were at
every crossing. Freshly washed sidewalks were drying, enormous Sunday
newspapers and bottles of cream waited in the doorways. Fasting women,
with contented faces, chatted in the bakery and the dairy, and in the
push-cart at the curb ice melted under a carpet cover. It was going to
be a scorcher--said the eager boys and girls, starting off in holiday
wear, coatless, gloveless, frantic to be away. Little families were
engineered to the surface cars, clean small boys in scalloped blue wash
suits, mother straining with the lunch-basket, father carrying the
white-coated baby and the newspaper and the children's cheap coats.

Martie, kissing Teddy as a preliminary to her delayed breakfast, came
home to discuss the order of events. The route and the time were
primarily important: Teddy's bucket, John's camera, her own watch, must
not be forgotten. There were last words for Henny and Aurora, good-byes
for Grandma; then they were out in the Sunday streets, and the day was
before them!

John took charge of the child; Adele and Martie talked and laughed
together all the long trip. The extraordinary costumes of the boys and
girls about them, the sights that filled the streets, these and a
thousand other things were of fresh interest. Adele's costume was
discussed.

"My gloves washed so beautifully; he said they would, but I didn't
believe him! My skirt doesn't look a bit too short, does it, Martie? I
put this old veil on, and then if we have dinner any place decent, I'll
change to the other. I wore these shoes, because I'll tell you why:
they only last one summer, anyway, and you might as well get your wear
out of them. Listen, does any powder show? I simply put it on thick,
because it does save you so. It's that dead white. I told her I didn't
have colour enough for it; she said I had a beautiful colour--absurd,
but I suppose they have to say those things!"

And Adele, her clear brown eyes looking anxiously from her slender
brown face, leaned toward Martie for inspection. Martie was always
reassuring. Adele looked lovely; she had her hat on just right.

At Coney Teddy played bare-legged in the warm sand. Adele had a beach
chair near by. She put on her glasses, and began her sewing; later they
would all read parts of the paper, changing and exchanging constantly.
Martie and John, beaming upon all the world, joined the long lines that
straggled into the bath-houses, got their bundled suits and their gray
towels, and followed the attendant along the aisles that were echoing
with the sound of human voices, and running with the water from wet
bathing-suits. Fifteen minutes later they met again, still beaming, to
cross under the damp, icy shadow of the boardwalk, and come out, fairly
dancing with high spirits, upon the long, hot curve of the beach. The
delicious touch of warm sand under her stockinged feet, the sunlight
beating upon her glittering hair, Martie would run down the shore to
the first wheeling shallows of the Atlantic.

"Nothing I have ever done in my life is so wonderful as this!" she
shouted as the waves caught them, and carried them off their feet. John
swam well; Martie a little; neither could get enough of the tumbling
blue water.

Breathless, they presently joined Adele; Martie spreading her
glittering web of hair to dry, as she sat in the sand by the other
woman's chair; John stretched in the hot sand for a nap; Teddy
staggering to and fro with a dripping pail. They liked to keep a little
away from the crowd; a hundred feet away the footmarked sand was
littered with newspapers, cigarette-butts, gum-wrappers, and empty
paper-bags, the drowsing men and women were packed so close that
laughing girls and boys, going by in their bathing-suits, had to weave
a curving path up and down the beach.

Presently they had a hearty meal: soft-shell crabs fried brown, with
lemon and parsley, coffee ready-mixed with milk and sugar, sliced
tomatoes with raw onions, all served in cheap little bare rooms, at
scarred little bare tables, a hundred feet from the sea. Later came the
amusements: railways and flying-swings enjoyed simultaneously with hot
sausages and ice-cream cones.

Adele liked none of this so much as she liked to go up toward the big
hotels at about five o'clock, to find a table near the boardwalk, and
sit twirling her parasol, and watching the people stream by. The
costumes and the types were tirelessly entertaining. At six they
ordered sandwiches and beer, and Teddy had milk and toast. The
uniformed band, coming out into its pagoda, burst into a brassy uproar,
the sun sank, the tired crowd in its brilliant colours surged slowly to
and fro. Beyond all, the sea softly came and went, waves broke and
spread and formed again unendingly.

Martie felt that she would like to sit so forever, with her son's soft,
relaxed little body in her arms. To-night she did not analyze the new
emotion that John's glances, John's voice, John's quiet solicitude for
her comfort, had lent the day. Of course he liked her; of course he
admired her; that was a fact long recognized with maternal amusement by
Adele and herself. Of course he laughed at her, but every one laughed
at Martie when she chose to be humorous. Let it go at that!

Sandy, sore, sleepy, and sunburned, they were presently in the
returning cars, all wilted New York returning with them. Teddy slept
soundly, sometimes in his mother's arms, sometimes in John's. It was
John who carried him up the steps of the Seventieth Street house at ten
o'clock.

A gentleman waiting to see Mrs. Bannister? Goodness, Aurora, why didn't
you ask Mrs. Curley to see him? Martie surrendered her loose coat and
hat to the maid, put a hand to her disordered hair. Apologetic,
smiling, she went into the parlour.

Wallace Bannister was waiting for her; she was in her husband's arms.

"But, Wallace--Wallace--Wallace, what does it matter, dear? You don't
have to tell me all about it, all the sickness and failure and bad
luck! You're home again, now, and you've gotten back into your own
line, and that's all that matters!"

Thus Martie, laughing with lashes still wet. She understood, she
forgave; what else was a wife for? All that mattered was that he was
here, and was deep in new plans, he had a new part to work up, he was
to begin rehearsing next week, and the past was all a troubled dream.
Ah, this was worth while; this made up for it all!

Not quite a dream, for he seemed much older; the boyish bravado was
gone. He was stout, settled, curiously deliberate in manner. But then
she was older, too.

He answered her generous concession only with compliments. She had
grown handsome, by George, she had a stunning figure, she had a
stunning air! Martie laughed; she knew it was true.

He felt his old hatred for her employment at the boarding-house, and
she was as eager as he to launch into real housekeeping at last. After
the lonely years, it was wonderful to have a husband again! He bought
whatever she wanted, took her proudly about. She went with him to his
first rehearsals, finding the old stage atmosphere strangely
exhilarating. Adele was frankly jealous of this new development, Martie
saw and heard her as little as she noticed John's silence and
seriousness, and Mrs. Curley's dubious cooperation.

A friend of Wallace proposed to sub-let them a furnished apartment in
East Twenty-sixth Street. Martie inspected it briefly, with eyes too
dazzled with dreams to see it truly.

She was not trained to business responsibility: she merely laughed
because her old employer was annoyed to have her housekeeper desert
her. After all, could there be a better reason for any move than that
one's husband wished it? Swiftly and gaily she snapped the ties that
bound her to the boarding-house.

There seemed to be plenty of money for teas and dinners: she stared
about the brightly lighted restaurants like an excited child. Wallace
was boisterously fond of his son, but he was too busy to be much with
Teddy, and he wanted his wife all day and every day. So Martie engaged
a housekeeper to take her place in the house, and a little coloured
girl to take care of Teddy, and devoted herself to Wallace.



CHAPTER V


The flat in East Twenty-sixth Street was not what Martie's lonely
dreams had fashioned, but she accepted it with characteristic courage
and made it a home. She had hoped for something irregular,
old-fashioned: big rooms, picturesque windows, picturesque
inconveniences, interesting neighbours.

She found five rooms in a narrow, eight-story, brick apartment-house; a
narrow parlour with a cherry mantel and green tiles, separated from a
narrow bedroom by closed folding doors, a narrow, long hall passing a
dark little bathroom and the tiny dark room that Teddy had, a small
dining room finished in black wood and red paper, and, wedged against
it, a strip of kitchen.

These were small quarters after the airy bareness of the Curley home,
and they were additionally reduced in effect by the peculiar taste
their first occupant had shown in furnishing. The walls were crowded
with heavily framed pictures, coloured photographs of children in livid
pink and yellow gowns dancing to the music played by draped ladies at
grand pianos; kittens in hats, cheap prints of nude figures, with ugly
legends underneath. The chairs were of every period ever sacrificed to
flimsy reproduction: gilt, Mission, Louis XIV, Pembroke, and old
English oak. There were curtains, tassels, fringes, and portieres
everywhere, of cotton brocade, velours, stencilled burlap, and "art"
materials generally. There was a Turkish corner, with a canopy,
daggers, crescents, and cushions. The bookcase in the parlour and the
china cabinet in the dining room were locked. The latter was so large,
and the room it adorned so small, that it stood at an angle, partly
shutting out the light of the one window. Every room except the parlour
opened upon an air-well, spoken of by the agent as "the court." The
rent was fifty dollars, and Wallace considered the place a bargain.

For the first day or two Martie laughed bravely at her surroundings,
finding in this vase or that picture cause for great amusement. She
promised herself that she would store some of these horrors, but
inasmuch as there was not a spare inch in the flat for storage, it was
decidedly simplest to leave them where they were. Wallace did not mind
them, and Wallace's happiness was her aim in life.

But, strangely, after the first excitement of his return was over, a
cool distaste descended upon her. Before the first weeks of the new
life were over, she found herself watching her husband with almost
hostile eyes. It must be wrong for a wife to feel so abysmal--so
overwhelming an indifference toward the man whose name she bore.
Wallace, weary with the moving, his collar off, his thick neck bare,
his big pale face streaked with drying perspiration, was her husband
after all. She was angry at herself for noticing that his sleek hair
was thinning, that the old look of something not fine was stamped more
deeply upon his face. She resolutely suppressed the deepening
resentment that grew under his kisses; kisses scented with alcohol.

Generations of unquestioning wives behind her, she sternly routed the
unbidden doubts, she deliberately put from her thoughts many another
disillusion as the days went by. She was a married woman now, protected
and busy; she must not dream like a romantic girl. There was
delightfully novel cooking to do; there was freedom from hateful
business responsibility. All beginnings were hard, she told her
shrinking soul; she was herself changed by the years; what wonder that
Wallace was changed?

Perhaps in his case it was less change than the logical development of
qualities that would have been distinctly discernible to clearer eyes
than hers in the very hour of their meeting. Wallace had always drifted
with the current, as he was drifting now. He would have been as glad as
she, had success come instead of failure; he did not even now
habitually neglect his work, nor habitually drink. It was merely that
his engagement was much less distinguished than he had told her it was,
his part was smaller, his pay smaller, and his chances of promotion
lessening with every year. He had never been a student of life, nor
interested in anything that did not touch his own comfort; but in the
first days of their love, days of youth and success and plenty, Martie
had been as frankly an egotist as he. His heaviness, his lack of
interest in what excited her, his general unresponsiveness, came to her
now more as a recollection than a surprise.

The farce in which he had a part really did prove fairly successful,
and his salary was steady and his hours comfortable until after the new
year. Then the run ended, and Wallace drifted for three or four weeks
that were full of deep anxiety for Martie.

When he was engaged again, in a vaudeville sketch that was booked for a
few weeks on one of the smaller circuits about New York, she had some
difficulty in making him attend rehearsals, and take his part
seriously. His friends were generally of the opinion that it was
beneath his art. His wife urged that "it might lead to something."

Wallace was amused at her concern. Actors never worked the whole year
round, he assured her. There was nothing doing in the summertime, ever.
Martie remarked, with a half-sorry laugh, that a salary of one hundred
dollars a week for ten weeks was less than eighty-five dollars a month,
and the same salary, if drawn for only five weeks, came to something
less than a living income.

"Don't worry!" Wallace said.

"Wallace, it's not for myself. It's for the--the children. My dear! If
it wasn't for that, it would be a perfect delight to me to take luck
just as it came, go to Texas or Canada with you, work up parts myself!"
she would answer eagerly. She wanted to be a good wife to him, to give
him just what all men wanted in their wives. But under all her bravery
lurked a sick sense of defeat. He never knew how often he failed her.

And he was older. He was not far from forty, and his youth was gone. He
did not care for the little dishes Martie so happily prepared, the
salads and muffins, the eggs "en cocotte" and "suzette." He wanted
thick broiled steak, and fried potatoes, and coffee, and nothing else.
He slept late in the mornings, coming out frowsy-headed in undershirt
and trousers to breakfast at ten or eleven, reading the paper while he
ate, and scenting the room with thick cigar smoke.

Martie waited on him, interrupting his reading with her chatter. She
would sit opposite him, watching the ham and eggs vanish, and the
coffee go in deep, appreciative gulps.

"How d'you feel, Wallie?"

"Oh, rotten. My head is the limit!"

"Too bad! More coffee?"

"Nope. Was that the kid banging this morning?"

"My dear, he was doing it just for the time it took me to snatch the
hammer away! I was so sorry!"

"Oh, that's all right." He would yawn. "Lord, I feel rotten!"

"Isn't it perhaps--drinking and smoking so much, Wallace?" Martie might
venture timidly.

"That has nothing to do with it!"

"But, Wallie, how do you know it hasn't?"

"Because I do know it!"

He would return to his paper, and Martie to her own thoughts. She would
yawn stupidly, when he yawned, in the warm, close air. Sometimes she
went into the tumbled bedrooms and put them in order, gathering up
towels and scattered garments. But usually Wallace did not bathe until
after his breakfast, and nothing could be done until that was over.
Equally, Martie's affairs kitchenward were delayed; sometimes Wallace's
rolls were still warming in the oven when she put in Teddy's luncheon
potato to bake. The groceries ordered by telephone would arrive, and be
piled over the unwashed dishes on the table, the frying pan burned dry
over and over again.

After Teddy and his mother had lunched, if Wallace was free, they all
went out together. He was devoted to the boy, and broke ruthlessly into
his little schedule of hours and meals for his own amusement. Or he and
Martie went alone to a matinee. But when he was playing in vaudeville,
even if he lived at home, he must be at the theatre at four and at
nine. Often on Sunday afternoons he went out to meet his friends, to
drift about the theatrical clubs and hotels, and dine away from home.

Then Martie would take Teddy out, happy times for both. They went to
the library, to the museums, to the aquarium and the Zoo. Martie came
to love the second-hand book-stores, where she could get George Eliot's
novels for ten cents each, a complete Shakespeare for twenty-five. She
drank in the passing panorama of the streets: the dripping "L"
stations, the light of the chestnut dealer, a blowing flame in the cold
and dark, the dirty powder of snow blowing along icy sidewalks, and the
newspapers weighted down at corner stands with pennies lying here and
there in informal exchange. Cold, rosy faces poured into the subway
hoods, warm, pale faces poured out, wet feet slipped on the frozen
rubbish of the sidewalks, little salesgirls gossiped cheerfully as they
dangled on straps in the packed cars.

Often Martie and Teddy had their supper at Childs', in the clean warm
brightness of marble and nickel-plate. Teddy knew their waitress and
chattered eagerly over his rice and milk. Martie had a sandwich and
coffee, watching the shabby fingers that fumbled for five-cent tips,
the anxious eyes studying the bill-of-fare, the pale little
working-women who favoured a supper of butter cakes and lemon meringue
pie after the hard day.

She would go home to find the breakfast dishes waiting, the beds
unmade, the bathroom still steamed from Wallace's ablutions. Teddy
tucked away for the night, she would dream over a half-sensed book. Why
make the bed she was so soon to get into? Why wash the dishes now
rather than wait until she was in her comfortable wrapper? She went
back to her old habit of nibbling candy as she read.

The jolly little Bohemian suppers she had foreseen never became a
reality. Wallace hated cheap food; he was done with little restaurants,
he said. More than that, among his friends there did not seem to be any
of those simple, busy, gifted artists to whose acquaintance Martie had
looked forward. The more distinguished members of his company he hardly
knew; the others were semi-successful men like himself, women too poor
and too busy to waste time or money, or other women of a more or less
recognized looseness of morals. Martie detested them, their cologne,
their boasting, their insinuations as to the personal lives of every
actor or actress who might be mentioned. They had no reserves, no
respect for love or marriage or parenthood; they told stories entirely
beyond her understanding, and went about eating, drinking, dressing,
and dancing as if these things were all the business of life.

Wallace's favourite hospitality was extended to six silent,
overdressed, genial male friends, known as "the crowd." These he
frequently asked to dinner on Sunday nights, a hard game of poker
always following. Martie did not play, but she liked to watch her
husband's hands, and during this winter he attributed his phenomenal
good luck to her. He never lost, and he always parted generously with
such sums as he won. He loved his luck; the envious comments of the
other players delighted him; the good dinner, and the presence of his
beautiful wife always put him in his best mood. They called him "Three
deuces Wallie," and Martie's remark that his weight was also
"Two--two--two" passed for wit.

She took his winnings without shame. It was to take them, indeed, that
she endured the long, silent evening, with its incessant muttering and
shuffling and slapping of cards. The gas whined and rasped above their
heads, the air grew close and heavy with smoke. Ash-trays were loaded
with the stumps and ashes of cigars; sticky beer glasses ringed the
bare table. But Martie stuck to her post. At one o'clock it would all
be over, and Wallace, carrying a glass of whisky-and-soda to his room,
would be undressing between violent yawns and amused recollections.

"Some of that comes to me, Wallie. I have the rent coming this week!"

"Sure. Take all you want, old girl. You're tired, aren't you?"

"Tired and cold." Martie's circulation was not good now, and she knew
why. Her meals had lost their interest, and sometimes even Teddy's
claims were neglected. She was sleepy, tired, heavy all the time. "When
I see a spoon lying on the dining-room floor, and realize that it will
lie there until I pick it up I could scream!" she told Wallace.

"It's a shame, poor old girl!"

"Oh, no--it's all right." She would blink back the tears. "I'm not
sorry!"

But she was sorry and afraid. She resented Wallace's easy sympathy,
resented the doctor's advice to rest, not to worry, his mild
observation that a good deal of discomfort was inevitable.

Early in the new year she began to agitate the question of a dinner to
the Drydens. Wallace, who had taken a fancy to Adele, agreed lazily to
endure John's company, which he did not enjoy, for one evening. But he
obstinately overruled Martie on the subject of a dinner at home.

"Nix," said Wallace flatly. "I won't have my wife cooking for anybody!"

"But Wallace--just grape-fruit and broilers and a salad! And they'll
come out and help cook it. You don't know how informally we did things
at Grandma's!"

"Well, you're not doing things informally now. It would be different if
you had a couple of servants!"

"But it may be years before we have a couple of servants. Aren't we
ever going to entertain, until then?"

"I don't know anything about that. But I tell you I won't have them
thinking that we're hard up. I'll take them to a restaurant somewhere,
and show that little boob a square meal!"

He finally selected an oppressively magnificent restaurant where a
dollar-and-a-half table-d'hote dinner was served.

"But I'd like to blow them to a real dinner!" he regretted.

"Oh, Wallace, I'm not trying to impress them! We'll have more than
enough to eat, and music, and a talk. Then we can break up at about
ten, and we'll have done the decent thing!"

The four were to meet at half-past six, but both Adele and Wallace were
late, and John and Martie had half an hour's talk while they waited.
Martie fairly bubbled in her joy at the chance to speak of books and
poems, ideals and reforms again. She told him frankly and happily that
she had missed him; she had wanted to see him so many times! And he
looked tired; he had had grippe?

"Always motherly!" he said, a smile on the strange mouth, but no
corresponding smile in the faunlike eyes.

Wallace arrived in a bad mood, as Martie instantly perceived. But
Adele, radiant in a new hat, was prettily concerned for his cold and
fatigue, and they were quickly escorted to a table near the fountain,
and supplied with cocktails. Cheered, Wallace demanded the
bill-of-fare, "the table-d'hote, Handsome!" said he to the appreciative
waiter.

The man lowered his head and murmured obsequiously. The table-d'hote
dinner was served only on the balcony, sir.

This caused a halt in the rising gaiety. The group looked a little
blank. They were established here, the ladies had surrendered their
wraps, envious late-comers were eying their table. Still Martie did not
hesitate. She straightened back in her chair, and pushed her hands at
full length upon the table, preliminary to rising.

"Then we'll go up!" she said sensibly. But Wallace demurred. What was
the difference! They would stay here.

The difference proved to be about twenty dollars.

"I hope it was worth it to you!" Wallace said bitterly to his wife at
breakfast the next day. "Twenty-six dollars the check was. It was worth
about twenty-six cents to me!"

"But, Wallie, you didn't have to order wine!"

"I didn't expect to order it, and if that boob had had the sense to
know it, it was up to him to pay for it!"

"Why, he's a perfect babe-in-the-woods about such things, Wallie! And
none of us wanted it!" Martie tried to speak quietly, but at the memory
of the night before her anger began to smoulder. Wallace had
deliberately urged the ordering of wine, John quite as innocently
disclaimed it. Adele had laughed that she could always manage a glass
of champagne; Martie had merely murmured, "But we don't need it,
Wallie; we've had so much now!"

"We couldn't sit there holding that table down all evening," Wallace
said now. Martie with a great effort kept silence. Opening his paper,
her husband finished the subject sharply. "I want to tell you right
now, Mart, that with me ordering the dinner, it was up to him to pay
for the wine! Any man would know that! Ask any one of the crowd. He's a
boob, that's all, and I'm done with him!"

Martie rose, and went quietly into the kitchen. There was nothing to
say. She did not speak of the Drydens again for a long while. Her own
condition engrossed her; and she was not eager to take the initiative
in hospitality or anything else.

In April Wallace went on the road again for eleven weeks, and Martie
and Ted enjoyed a delicious spring together. They spent hours on the
omnibuses, hours in the parks. Spring in the West was cold, erratic;
spring here came with what a heavenly wash of fragrance and heat! It
was like a re-birth to abandon all the heavy clothing of the winter, to
send Teddy dancing into the sunshine in socks and galatea and straw hat
again!

Martie's son was almost painfully dear to her. Every hour of his life,
from the helpless days in the big hospital, through creeping and
stammering and stumbling, she had clung to his little phases with
hungry adoration, and that there was a deep sympathy between their two
natures she came to feel more strongly every day. They talked
confidentially together, his little body jolting against hers on the
jolting omnibus, or leaning against her knees as she sat in the Park.
She lingered in the lonely evening over the ceremony of his bath, his
undressing, his prayers, and the romping that was always the last
thing. For his sake, her love went out to meet the newcomer; another
soft little Teddy to watch and bathe and rock to sleep; the reign of
double-gowns and safety-pins and bottles again! Writing Wallace one of
the gossipy, detailed letters that acknowledged his irregular checks,
she said that they must move in the fall. They really, truly needed a
better neighbourhood, a better nursery for "the children."

One hot, heavy July morning she fell into serious musing over the news
of Grandma Curley's death. Her son, a spoiled idler of forty, inherited
the business. He wanted to know if Mrs. Bannister could come back. The
house had never prospered so well as under her management. She could
make her own terms.

The sun was pouring into East Twenty-sixth Street, flashing an ugly
glaring reflection against the awnings. At nine, the day was burning
hot. Teddy, promised a trip to the Zoo, was loitering on the shady
steps of the houses opposite, conscious of clean clothes, and of a
holiday mood. The street was empty; a hurdy-gurdy unseen poured forth a
brassy flood of sound. Trains, on the elevated road at the corner,
crashed by. Martie had been packing a lunch; she went slowly back to
the cut loaf and the rapidly softening butter.

"Happy, Teddy?" she asked, when they had found seats in the train, and
were rushing over the baking stillness of the city.

"Are you, Moth'?" he asked quickly.

She nodded, smiling. But, for some reasons vaguely defined, she was
heavy-hearted. The city's endless drama of squalor and pain was all
about her; she could not understand, she could not help, she could not
even lift her own little problem out of the great total of failures!
All day long the sense of impotence assailed her.

Wallace was at home, when they came back, heavily asleep across his
bed. Martie, with firmly shut lips, helped him into bed, and made the
strong coffee for which he longed. After drinking it, he gave her a
resentful, painstaking account of his unexpected return. His face was
flushed, his voice thick. She gathered that he had lost his position.

"He came right up to me before Young, d'ye see? He put it up to me.
'Nelson,' I says, 'Nelson, this isn't a straight deal!' I says. 'My
stuff is my stuff,' I says, 'but this is something else again.'
'Wallie,' he says, 'that may be right, too. But listen,' he says. I
says, 'I'm going to do damn little listening to you or Young!' I says,
'Cut that talk about my missing rehearsals--'"

The menacing, appealing voice went on and on. Martie watched him in
something far beyond scorn or shame. He had not shaved recently, his
face was blotched.

"What else could I do, Mart?" he asked presently. She answered with a
long sigh:

"Nothing, I suppose, Wallace."

After a while he slept heavily. The afternoon was brassy hot. Women
manipulated creaking clotheslines across the long double row of
backyards; the day died on a long, gasping twilight. Martie let Teddy
go to the candy store for ten cents' worth of ice cream for his supper.
She made herself iced tea, and deliberately forced herself to read.
To-night she would not think. After a while she wrote her letter of
regret to George Curley.

The situation was far from desperate, after all. Wallace had a headache
the next day, but on the day after that he shaved and dressed
carefully, assured his wife that this experience should be the last of
its type, and began to look for an engagement. He had some money, and
he insisted upon buying her a thin, dark gown, loose and cool. He
carried Teddy off for whole afternoons, leaving Martie to doze, read,
and rest; and learning that she still had a bank account of something
more than three hundred dollars--left from poker games and from her old
bank account--she engaged a stupid, good-natured coloured girl to do
the heavy work. Isabeau Eato was willing and strong, and for three
dollars a week she did an unbelievable amount of drudgery. Martie felt
herself fortunate, and listened to the crash of dishes, the running of
water, and the swish of Isabeau's broom with absolute satisfaction.

One broiling afternoon she was trying to read in the darkened dining
room. Heat was beating against the prostrate city in metallic waves,
but since noon there had been occasional distant flashes toward the
west, and faint rumblings that predicted the coming storm. In an hour
or two the streets would be awash, and white hats and flimsy gowns
flying toward shelter; meanwhile, there was only endurance. She could
only breathe the motionless leaden air, smell the dry, stale odours of
the house, and listen to the thundering drays and cars in the streets.

Wallace had gone to Yonkers to see a moving picture manager; Isabeau
had taken Teddy with her on a trip to the Park. Sitting back in a deep
chair, with her back to the dazzling light of the window, Martie closed
her book, shut her eyes, and fell into a reverie. Expense, pain,
weakness, helplessness; she dreaded them all. She dreaded the doctor,
the hospital, the brisk, indifferent nurses; she hated above all the
puzzled realization that all this cost to her was so wasted; Wallace
was not sorry for the child's coming, nor was she; that was all. No one
was glad. No one praised her for the slow loss of days and nights, for
dependence, pain, and care. Her children might live to comfort her;
they might not. She had been no particular comfort to her own
father--her own mother--

Tears slipped through her closed lids, and for a moment her lips
quivered. She struggled half-angrily for self-control, and opened her
book.

"Martie?" said a voice from the doorway. She looked up to see John
Dryden standing there.

The sight of the familiar crooked smile, and the half-daring,
half-bashful eyes, stirred her heart with keen longing; she needed
friendship, sympathy, understanding so desperately! She clung eagerly
to his hands.

He sat down beside her, and rumpled his hair in furious embarrassment
and excitement, studying her with a wistful and puzzled smile. She did
not realize how her pale face, loosely massed hair, and black-rimmed
eyes impressed him.

"John! I am so glad! Tell me everything; how are you, and how's Adele?"

Adele was well. He was well. His wife's sister, Mrs. Baker of Browning,
Indiana, was visiting them. Things were much the same at the office. He
had not been reading anything particularly good.

She laughed at his sparse information.

"But, John--talk! Have you been to any lectures lately? What have you
been doing?" she demanded.

"I've been thinking for days of what we should talk about when we saw
each other," he said, laughing excitedly. "But now that I'm here I
can't remember them!"

The sense his presence always gave her, of being at ease, of being
happily understood, was enveloping Martie. She was as comfortable with
John as she might have been with Sally, as sure of his affection and
interest. She suddenly realized that she had missed John of late,
without quite knowing what it was she missed.

"You're going on with your writing, John?"

"Oh"--he rumpled his hair again--"what's the use?"

"Why, that's no way to talk. Aren't you doing ANYTHING?"

"Not much," he grinned boyishly.

"But, John, that's sheer laziness! How do you ever expect to get out of
the groove, if you don't make a start?"

"Oh, damn it all, Martie," he said mildly, with a whimsical smile,
"what's the use? I suppose there isn't a furniture clerk in the city
that doesn't feel he is fit for great things!"

"You didn't talk like this last year," Martie said, in disappointment
and reproach. John looked at her uneasily, and then said boldly:

"How's Ted?"

"Sweet." Martie laid one hand on her breast, and drew a short, stifled
breath. "Isn't it fearful?" she said, of the heat.

John nodded absently: she knew him singularly unaffected by anything so
trivial as mere heat or cold. He was fingering a magazine carelessly,
suddenly he flung it aside.

"I am writing something, of course!" he confessed. "But it seems sort
of rotten, to me."

"But I'm glad!" she said, with shining eyes.

"I work at it in the office," John added. "And what is it?"

"You know what it is: you suggested it!"

"_I_ did?"

"You said it would make a good play."

Martie's thin cheek dimpled, she widened her eyes.

"I don't remember!"

"It was when I was reading Strickland's 'Queens.' You said that this
one's life would make a good play."

"Oh, I do dimly remember!" She knotted her brows. "Mary--Mary
Isabelle--an Italian girl?--wasn't it?"

"Mary Beatrice," he corrected simply.

"Of course! And does it work up pretty well?"

"Fine!"

"How much have you done, John?"

"Oh, not much!"

"Oh, John, for heaven's sake--you will drive me insane!" she laughed
joyously, laying her hand over his. "Tell me about it." She laughed
again when he drew some crumpled pages from his pocket. But he was
presently garrulous, sketching his plan to her, reading a passage here
and there, firing her with his own interest and delight. He had as
little thought of boring her as she of being bored, they fled together
from the noise and heat of the city, and trod the Dover sands, and rode
triumphant into the old city of London at the King's side.

"I'm not a judge--I wish I was," she said finally. "But it seems to me
extraordinary!"

He silently folded the sheets, and put them away. Glancing at his face,
she saw that its thoughtful look was almost stern. Martie wondered if
she had said something to offend him.

When he sat down beside her again, she again laid her hand on his.

"What is it, John?" she asked anxiously.

"Nothing!" he said, with a brief glance and smile.

"I've made you cross?"

"You!" His dark gaze was on the floor, his hands locked. For a full
minute there was silence in the room. Then he looked up at her with a
disturbing smile. "I am human, Martie," he said simply.

The note was so new in their relationship that Martie's heart began to
hammer with astonishment and with a curious thrilling pleasure. There
was nothing for her to say. She could hardly believe that he knew what
he implied, or that she construed the words aright. He was so different
from all other men, so strangely old in many ways, so boyish in others.
A little frightened, she smiled at him in silence. But he did not raise
his eyes to meet her look.

"I did not think that when I was thirty I would be a clerk in a
furniture house, Martie!" he said sombrely, after awhile.

"You may not be!" she reminded him hearteningly. And presently she
added: "I did not think that I would be a poor man's wife on the upper
East Side!"

He looked up then with a quick smile.

"Isn't it the deuce?" he asked.

"Life is queer!" Martie said, shrugging.

"I was up in Connecticut last week," John said, "and I'll tell you what
I saw there. I went up to that neighbourhood to buy some old furniture
for an order we were filling--I was there only a few hours. I found a
little old white house, on a river bank, with big trees over it. It was
on a foundation of old stones, that had been painted white, and there
was an orchard, with a stone wall. The man wanted eighteen hundred
dollars for it."

"Is THAT all?" Martie asked, amazed.

"That's all. I sat there and talked to him for awhile."

"Well?" said Martie, as he stopped.

"Well, nothing," he answered, after a moment's pause. "Only I've been
thinking about it ever since--what it would be to live there, and
write, and walk about that little farm! Funny, isn't it? Eighteen
hundred dollars--not much, only I'll never have it. And you are another
poor man's wife--only not mine! Do you believe in God?"

"You know I do!" she answered, laughing, but a little shaken by his
seriousness.

"You think GOD manages things this way?"

"John, don't talk like a high school boy!"

"I suppose it sounds that way," he said mildly, and he rose suddenly
from his chair. "Well, I have to go!" He looked at her keenly. "But you
don't look very well, Martie," he said. "You've no colour at all. Is it
the weather?"

"John, what a baby you are!" But Martie was amazed, under her flush of
laughter, at his simplicity. Could it be possible that he did not know?
"I am expecting something very precious here one of these days," she
said. He looked at her with a polite smile, entirely uncomprehending.
"Surely you know that we--that I--am going to have another baby, John?"
she asked.

She saw the muscles of his face stiffen, and the blood rise. He looked
at her steadily. A curious silence hung between them.

"Didn't you know?" Martie pursued lightly.

"No," he said at last thickly, "I didn't know." He gave her a look
almost frightening in its wildness; shot to the heart, he might have
managed just such a smile. He made a frantic gesture with his hands.
"Of course--" he said at random. "Of course--a baby!" He walked across
the room to look at a picture on the wall. "That's rather--pretty!" he
said in a suffocating voice. Suddenly he came back, and sat close
beside her; his face was pale. "Martie," he said pitifully, "it's
dangerous for you--you're not strong, and if you--if you die, you
know----You look pale now, and you're so thin. I don't know anything
about it, but I wish it was over!"

Tears sprang to Martie's eyes, but they were tears of exquisite joy.
She laid a warm hand over his.

"Why, John, dear, there's no danger!"

"Isn't there?" he asked doubtfully.

"Not the least, you goose! I'm ever so glad and proud about it--don't
look so woe-begone!"

Their hands were tightly locked: her face was radiant as she smiled up
at him.

"It all works out, John--the furniture clerking, you know, and the
being poor, and all that!"

"Sure it does!"

"Other people have succeeded in spite of it, I mean, so why not you and
I?"

"Of course, they're not BORN rich and successful," he submitted
thoughtfully.

"Look at Lincoln--and Napoleon!" Martie said hardily.

John scowled down at the hand he held.

"Well, it's easier for some people than others," he stated firmly.
"Lincoln may have had to split rails for his supper--what DO you split
rails for, anyway?" he interrupted himself to ask, suddenly diverted.

"Fences, I guess!" Martie offered, on a gale of laughter.

"Well, whatever it was. But I don't see what they needed so many fences
for! But anyway, being poor or rich doesn't seem to matter half as much
as some other things! And now I'm going. Good-bye, Martie."

"And write me, John, and send me books!" she urged, as he turned away.

He was at the door: meditating with his hand on the knob, and his back
turned to her. Martie watched him, expecting some parting word. But he
did not even turn to smile a farewell. He let himself quietly out
without another glance, and was gone. A moment later she heard the
outer door close.

She sat on, in the darkening room, her book forgotten. The storm was
coming fast now. Women in the backyards were drawing in their
clothes-lines with a great creaking and rattling, and the first rush of
warm, sullen drops struck the dusty dining-room window. Curtains
streamed, and pictures on the wall stirred in the damp, warm wind.

Half an hour of furious musketry passed: blue dashes lighted the room
with an eerie splendour, thunder clapped and rolled; died away toward
the south as a fresh onslaught poured in from the north.

Martie heeded nothing. Her soul was wrapped in a deep peace, and as the
cooling air swept in, she dropped her tired head against the chair's
cushion, and drifted into a dream of river and orchard, and of a white
house set in green grass.

She knew that John would write her: she held the unopened envelope in
her fingers the next morning, a strange, sweet emotion at her heart.
The beautiful, odd handwriting, the cleanly chosen words, these made
the commonplace little note significant.

"Who's your letter from?" Wallace asked idly. She tossed it to him
unconcernedly: she had told him of John's call. "He must have a case on
you, Mart!" Wallace said indifferently.

"Well, in his curious way, perhaps he has," she answered honestly.

Ten days later she wrote him an answer. She thanked him for the books,
and announced that her daughter Margaret was just a week old, and sent
her love to Uncle John. Adele immediately sent baby roses and a card to
say that she was dying to see the baby, and would come soon. She never
came: but after that John wrote occasionally to Martie, and she
answered his notes. They did not try to meet.



CHAPTER VI


Wallace was playing a few weeks' engagement in the vaudeville houses of
New Jersey and Brooklyn when his second child was born. He had been at
home for a few hours that morning, coming in for clean linen, a good
breakfast, and a talk with his wife. He was getting fifty dollars a
week, as support for a woman star, and was happy and confident. The
hard work--twelve performances a week--left small time for idling or
drinking, and Martie's eager praise added the last touch to his content.

She was happy, too, as she walked back into the darkened, orderly
house. It was just noon. Isabeau, having finished her work, had
departed with Teddy to see a friend in West One Hundredth Street; John
had sent Martie Maeterlinck's "Life of the Bee," and a fat, inviting
brown book, "All the Days of My Life." She had planned to go to the
hospital next week, Wallace coming home on Sunday to act as escort, and
she determined to keep the larger book for the stupid days of
convalescence.

She stretched herself on the dining-room couch, reached for the smaller
book, and began to read. For a second, a look of surprise crossed her
face, and she paused. Then she found the opening paragraph, and plunged
into the story. But she had not read three sentences before she stopped
again.

Suddenly, in a panic, she was on her feet. Frightened, breathless,
laughing, she went into the kitchen.

"Isabeau out ... Heavenly day! What shall I do!" she whispered. "It
can't be! Fool that I was to let her go ... what SHALL I do!"

Life caught her and shook her like a helpless leaf in a whirlwind. She
went blindly into the bedroom and began feverishly to fling off her
outer garments. Presently she made her way back to the kitchen again,
and put her lips to the janitor's telephone.

Writhing seconds ensued. Finally she heard the shrill answering whistle.

"Mr. Kelly, is Mrs. Brice at home, do you know? Or Mrs. Napthaly? This
is Mrs. Bannister... I'm ill. Will you get somebody?"

She broke off abruptly; catching the back of a chair. Kelly was a
grandfather ... he would understand. But if somebody didn't come pretty
soon...

It seemed hours; it was only minutes before the blessed sound of
waddling feet came to the bedroom door. Old Grandma Simons, Mrs.
Napthaly's mother, came in. Martie liked and Teddy loved the shapeless,
moustached old woman, who lived out obscure dim days in the flat below,
washing and dressing and feeding little black-eyed grandchildren.
Martie never saw her in anything but a baggy, spotted black
house-dress, but there were great gatherings and feasts occasionally
downstairs, and then presumably the adored old head of the family was
more suitably clad.

"Vell ... vot you try and do?" said Grandma Simons, grasping the
situation at once, and full of sympathy and approval.

"I don't know!" half-laughed, half-gasped Martie from the pillows. "I'm
awfully afraid my baby..." A spasm of pain brought her on one elbow, to
a raised position. "Oh, DON'T DO THAT!" she screamed.

"I do nothing!" said the old woman soothingly. And as Martie sank back
on the pillows, gasping and exhausted, yet with excited relief
brightening her face, Grandma Simons added triumphantly: "Now you shall
rest; you are a goot girl!"

A second later the thin cry with which the newborn catch the first
weary breath of an alien world floated through the room. Protesting,
raw, it fell on Martie's ears like the resolving chord of an exquisite
melody. Still breathless, still panting from strain and fright, she
smiled.

"Ah, the darling! Is he all right?" she whispered.

"You haf a girl!" the old woman interrupted her clucking and grumbling
to say briefly. "Vill you lay still, and let the old Grandma fix you,
or not vill you?" she added sternly. "Grandma who has het elefen of
dem...."

"Don't cry, little Margaret!" Martie murmured, happy under the kindly
adjusting old hands. The old woman stumped about composedly, opening
bureau drawers and scratching matches in the kitchen, before she would
condescend to telephone for the superfluous doctor. She was pouring a
flood of Yiddish endearments and diminutives about the newcomer, when
the surprised practitioner arrived. Mrs. Simons scouted the idea of a
nurse; she would come upstairs, her daughters would come upstairs--what
was it, one baby! Martie was allowed a cupful of hot milk, and went to
sleep with one arm about the flannel bundle that was Margaret.

Well--she thought, drifting into happy dreams--of course, the hospital
was wonderful: the uniformed nurses, the system, the sanitation. But
this was wonderful, too. So many persons had to be consulted, had to be
involved, in the coming of a hospital baby; so much time, so many
different rooms and hallways.

The clock had not yet struck two; she had given Wallace his breakfast
at eleven, Isabeau would be home at five; Grandma had gone downstairs
to borrow some of the put-away clothes of the last little Napthaly.
Martie had nothing to do but smile and sleep. To-morrow, perhaps, they
would let her go on with "The Life of the Bee."

Peace lapped soul and body. The long-approaching trial was over. In a
few days she would arise, mistress of herself once more, and free to
remake her life.

First, they must move. Even if they could afford to pay six hundred
dollars a year in rent, this flat was neither convenient nor sanitary
for little children. Secondly, Wallace must understand that while he
worked and was sober, his wife would do her share; if he failed her,
she must find some other life. Thirdly, as soon as the baby's claims
made it possible, Martie must find some means of making money; her own
money, independent of what Wallace chose to give.

She pondered the various possibilities. She could open a
boarding-house; although that meant an outlay for furniture and rent.
She could take a course in library work or stenography; that meant
leaving the children all day.

She began to study advertisements in the newspapers for working
housekeepers, and one day wrote a businesslike application to the
company that controlled a line of fruit steamers between the city and
Panama. Mrs. Napthaly's sister-in-law was stewardess on one of these,
and had good pay. Short stories, film-plays, newspaper work--other
women did these things. But how had they begun?

"Begin at the beginning!" she said cheerfully to herself. The move was
the beginning. Through the cool autumn days she resolutely hunted for
flats. It was a wearisome task, especially when Wallace accompanied
her, for his tastes ran to expensive and vestibuled apartments and
fashionable streets. Martie sternly held to quiet side streets, cut off
from the city by the barriers of elevated trains and the cheap shopping
districts.

When she found what she wanted, she and Wallace had a bitter struggle.
He refused at first to consider four large bare shabby rooms in a poor
street, overlooking a coal-yard, and incidentally, on the very bank of
the East River. What cars went there, he demanded indignantly; what
sort of neighbours would they have? What would their friends think!

Martie patiently argued her point. The neighbourhood, the east fifties,
if cheap and crowded, was necessarily quiet because the wide street
ended at the river. The rooms were on a first floor, and so pleasantly
accessible for baby and baby-carriage. The coalyard, if not
particularly pleasant, was not unwholesome; there was sunshine in every
room, and finally, the rent was eighteen dollars. They must entertain
their friends elsewhere.

She did not know then that what really won him was her youth and
beauty; the new brilliant colour, the blue, blue eyes, the revived
strength and charm of the whole, lovely woman. She put her arms about
him, and he kissed her and gave her her way.

Happily they went shopping. Martie had gathered some furniture in her
various housekeeping adventures; the rest must be bought. They prowled
through second-hand stores for the big things: beds, tables, a
"chestard" for Wallace. The cottage china, chintzes, net curtains, and
grass rugs were new. Martie conceded a plaster pipe-rack, set with
little Indian faces, to Wallace; her own extravagance was a
meat-chopper. Wallace got a cocktail shaker, and when the first grocery
order went in, gin and vermouth and whisky-were included. Martie made
their first meal a celebration, in the room that was sitting-and
dining-room combined, and tired and happy, they sat long into the
evening over the table, talking of the future.

Theoretically, Wallace agreed with her. If they were to succeed, there
must be hard work, carefully controlled expenditure, and temperance.
They were still young, their children were well, and life was before
them. In a few years Wallace might make a big success; then they could
have a little country home, and belong to a country club, and really
live. Eager tears brimmed Martie's eyes as she planned and he approved.

Actually, Wallace was not quite so satisfactory. He would be
sweet-tempered and helpful for a few days, but he expected a reward. He
expected his wife's old attitude of utter trust and devotion. Rewarded
by a happy evening when they dined and talked in utter harmony, he
would fail her again. Then came dark days, when Martie's heart
smouldered resentfully hour after busy hour. How could he--how could he
risk his position, waste his money, antagonize his wife, break all his
promises! She could not forgive him this time, she could not go through
the humiliating explanations, apologies, asseverations, again be
reconciled and again deceived!

He knew how to handle her, and she knew he knew. When the day or two of
sickness and headache were over he would shave and dress carefully and
come quietly and penitently back into the life of the house. Would Ted
like to go off with Dad for a walk? Couldn't he go to market for her?
Couldn't he go along and wheel Margaret?

Silently, with compressed lips, Martie might pass and repass him. But
the moment always came when he caught her and locked her in his arms.

"Martie, dearest! I know how you feel--I won't blame you! I know what a
skunk and a beast I am. What can I do? How can I show you how sorry I
am? Don't--don't feel so badly! Tell me anything--any oath, any
promise, I'll make it! You're just breaking my heart, acting like this!"

For half an hour, for an hour, her hurt might keep her unresponsive. In
the end, she always kissed him, with wet eyes, and they began again.

Happy hours followed. Wallace would help her with the baby's bath, with
Teddy's dressing, and the united Bannisters go forth for a holiday.
Martie, her splendid square little son leaning on her shoulder, the
veiled bundle of blankets that was Margaret safely sleeping in the
crib, her handsome husband dressing for "a party," felt herself a
blessed and happy woman.

Frequently, when he was not playing, they went to matinees, afterward
drifting out into the five o'clock darkness to join the Broadway
current. Here Wallace always met friends: picturesque looking men, and
bright-eyed, hard-faced women. Invariably they went into some hotel,
and sat about a bare table, for drinks. Warmed and cheered, the
question of convivialities arose.

"Lissen; we are all going to Kingwell's for eats," Wallace would tell
his wife.

"But, Wallace, Isabeau is going to have dinner at home!" It was no use;
the bright eye, the thickened lips, the loosened speech evaded her. He
understood her, he had perfect self-control, but she could influence
him no longer. Mutinous, she would go with the chattering women into
the dressing room, where they powdered, rouged lips and cheeks, and
fluffed their hair.

"Lord, he is a scream, that boy!" Mrs. Dolly Fairbanks might remark
appreciatively, offering Martie a mud-coloured powder-pad before
restoring it to the top of her ravelled silk stocking. "I'll bet he's a
scream in his own home!"

Martie could only smile forcedly in response. She was not in sympathy
with her companions. She hated the extravagance, the noise, and the
drinking that were a part of the evening's fun. Wallace's big, white,
ringed hand touched the precious greenbacks so readily; here! they
wanted another round of drinks; what did everybody want?

Wherever they went, the scene was the same: heat, tobacco smoke, music;
men drinking, women drinking, greenbacks changing hands, waiters
pocketing tips. Who liked it? she asked herself bitterly. In the old
days she and Sally had thought it would be fun to be in New York, to
know real actors and actresses, to go about to restaurants in taxicabs.
But what if the money that paid for the taxicabs were needed for Ted's
winter shirts and Margar's new crib? What if the actors were only
rather stupid and excitable, rather selfish and ignorant men and women,
to whom homes and children, gardens and books were only words?

Presumably the real actors, the real writers and painters led a mad and
merry life somewhere, wore priceless gowns and opened champagne; but it
was not here. These were the imitators, the pretenders, and the rich
idlers who had nothing better to do than believe in the pretenders.

Still, when Wallace suggested it, Martie found it wise to yield. He
might stumble home beside her at eleven, the worse for the eating and
drinking, but at least he did come home, and she could tell herself
that the men in the car who had smiled at his condition were only
brutes; she would never see them again; what did their opinion matter!
In other ways she yielded to him; peace, peace and affection at any
cost. Yet it cost her dear, for the possibility of another child's
coming was the one thought that frightened and dismayed her.

Strongly contrasted to Wallace's open-handedness when he was with his
friends was the strict economy Martie was obliged to practise in her
housekeeping. She went to market herself, as the spring came on,
heaping her little purchases at Margar's feet in the coach. Teddy
danced and chattered beside her, neighbours stopped to smile at the
baby. At the fruit carts, the meat market, the grocery, Martie pondered
and planned. Oranges had gone up, lamb had gone up--dear, dear, dear!

Sitting at the grocery counter, she would rearrange her menus.

"Butter fifty--my, that is high! Hasn't the new butter come in? I had
better have half a pound, I think. And the beans, and the onions, yes.
Let me see--how do you sell the canned asparagus--that's too much. Send
me those things, Mr. O'Brien, and I'll see what I can get in the
market."

All about her, in the heart-warming spring sunshine, other women were
mildly lamenting, mildly bartering. Martie's brain was still busily
milling, as she wheeled the coach back through the checkered sun and
shade of the elevated train. She would bump the coach down into the
area, carefully loading her arms with small packages, catching Margar
to her shoulder.

Panting, the perspiration breaking out on her forehead, she would enter
the dining room.

"Take her, Isabeau! My arms are breaking! Whew!--it is HOT! Not now,
Teddy, you can't have anything until lunch time. Amuse her a minute,
Isabeau, I can't take her until--I get--my breath! I had to change
dinner; he had no liver. I got veal for veal loaf; Mr. Bannister likes
that; and stuffed onions, and the pie, and baked potatoes. Make tea.
Put that down, Teddy, you can't have that. Now, my blessedest girl,
come to your mother! She's half asleep now; I'll change her and put her
out for her nap!"

The baby fed and asleep, Ted out again, Martie would serve Wallace's
breakfast herself rather than interrupt the steady thumping of irons in
the kitchen. She tried to be patient with his long delays.

"How's the head?" she would ask, sitting opposite him with little socks
to match, or boxed strawberries to stem.

"Oh, rotten! I woke up when the baby did."

"But, Wallie--that was seven o'clock! You've been asleep since."

"Just dozing. I heard you come in!"

"Well, I think I'll move her clothes out of that room. Aren't your eggs
good?"

"Nope. They taste like storage. I should think we could get good eggs
now!"

"They OUGHT to be good!"

"You ought to get a telephone in here," he might return sourly. "Then
you could deal with some decent place! I hate the way women pinch and
squeeze to save five cents; there's nothing in it!"

Silence. Martie's face flushed, her fingers flew.

"What are you doing to-day?" she might ask, after a while.

"Oh, I'll go down town, I guess. Never can tell when something'll
break. Bates told me that Foster was anxious to see me. He says they're
having a deuce of a time getting people for their plays. Bates says to
stick 'em for a couple of hundred a week."

Martie placed small hope in such a hint, but she was glad he could.
When he had sauntered away, she would go on patiently, mixing the
baby's bottles, picking toys from the floor, tying and re-tying Ted's
shoe-laces. This was a woman's life. Martha Bannister was not a martyr;
nobody in the city could stop to help or pity her.

The hot summer shut down upon them, and the baby drooped, even though
Martie was careful to wheel her out into the shade by the river every
day. She herself drooped, staring at life helplessly, hopelessly. In
March there would be a third child.

After a restless night, the sun woke her, morning after morning,
glaring into her room at six. Wearily, languidly, she dressed the
twisting and leaping Teddy, fastened little Margar, with her string of
spools and her shabby double-gown, in the high-chair. The kitchen
smelled of coffee, of grease; the whole neighbourhood smelled in the
merciless heat of the summer day. Had that meat spoiled; was the cream
just a little turned?

Ted, always absorbed in wheels, pulleys, and nails, would be in an
interrogative mood.

"Mother, could a giant step across the East River?"

"What was it, dear?--the water was running; Mother didn't hear you."

"Could a giant step across a river?"

"Why, I suppose he could. Don't touch that, Ted."

"Could he step across the whole WORLD?"

"I don't know. Here's your porridge, dear. Listen----"

For Wallace was shouting. Martie would go to the bedroom door, to
interrogate the tousle-headed, heaving form under the bedclothes.

"Say, Martie, isn't there an awful lot of noise out there?"

Martie would stand silent for a moment.

"You can't blame the children for chattering, Wallace."

"Well, you tell Ted he'll catch it, if I hear any more of it!"

She would go lifelessly back to the kitchen, to sip a cup of scalding
black coffee. Margar went into her basket for her breakfast, banging
the empty bottle rapturously against the wicker sides as a finale.

"Wash both their faces, Isabeau," Martie would murmur, flinging back
her head with a long, weary sigh. "There are no buttons on this suit;
I'll have to go back into Mr. Bannister's room--too bad, for he's
asleep again! Yes, dear, you may go to market and push the
carriage--DON'T ask Mother that again, Ted! I always let you go, and
you ALWAYS push Sister." Her voice would sink to a whisper, and her
face fall into her hands. "Oh, Isabeau, I do feel so wretched.
Sometimes it seems as if----However!" and with a sudden desperate
courage, Martie would rally herself. "However, it's all in the day's
work! Run down to the sidewalk, Ted, and Mother'll be right down with
the baby!"

Coming in an hour later perhaps, Wallace, better-natured now, would
call her again.

"Come in, Mart! Hell-oo! Is that somebody that loves her Daddy?"

"She's just going to have her bottle, Wallie" Martie would fret.

"Well, here! Let me give it to her." Sitting up in bed, his nightgown
falling open at the throat, Margar's father would hold out big arms for
the child.

"No, you can't. She'll never go to sleep at that rate; and if she
misses her nap, that upsets her whole day!"

"Lord, but you are in a grouch, Mart. For Heaven's sake, cheer up!"
Wallace, rumpling and kissing his daughter, would give her a
reproachful look.

Martie's face always darkened resentfully at such a speech. Sometimes
she did not answer.

"Perhaps if YOU couldn't sleep," she might say in a low, shaken tone,
"and you felt as miserable as I do, you might not be so cheerful!"

"Oh, well, I know! But you know it's nothing serious, and it won't
last. Forget it! After all, your mother had four children, and mine had
seven, and they didn't make such a fuss!"

He did not mean to be unkind, she would remind herself. And what he
said was true, after all. There was nothing more to say.

"Wallie, have you any money for the laundry?"

"Oh, Lord! How much is it?"

"Two dollars and thirteen cents; four weeks now."

"Well, when does he come?"

"To-day."

"Well, you tell him that I'll step in to-morrow and pay the whole
thing. I'm going to see Richards to-day; I won't be home to dinner."

"But I thought you were going to see that man in the Bronx, about the
moving picture job to-morrow?"

"Yes, I am. What about it?"

"Nothing. Only, Wallie, if you have dinner with Mr. Richards and all
those men, you know--you know you may not feel like--like getting up
early to-morrow!" Martie, hesitating in the doorway with the baby,
wavered between tact and truth.

"Why don't you say I'll be drunk, while you're about it?"

The ugly tone would rouse everything that was ugly in response.

"Very well, I WILL say that, if you insist!" The slamming door ended
the conversation; Martie trembled as she put the child to bed.
Presently Isabeau would come to her to say noncommittally, but with
watchful, white-rimmed eyes, that Mist' Bans'ter he didn' want no
breakfuss, he jus' take hisse'f off. For the rest of the day, Martie
carried a heart of lead.

Mentally, morally, physically, the little family steadily descended.
With Martie too ill to do more than drag herself through the autumn
days, Wallace idle and ugly, Isabeau overworked and discontented, and
bills accumulating on every side, there was no saving element left.
Desperately the wife and mother plodded on; the children must have milk
and bread, the rent-collector must be pacified if not satisfied.
Everything else was unimportant. Her own appearance mattered nothing,
the appearance of the house mattered nothing. She pinned the children's
clothing when their buttons disappeared; she slipped a coat wearily
over her house-dress, and went to the delicatessen store five minutes
before dinner-time. She was thin enough now,--Martie, who had always
longed to be thin. Sometimes, sitting on the side of an unmade bed,
with a worn little shirt of Ted's held languidly in her hands, she
would call the maid.

"Isabeau! Hasn't Teddy a clean shirt?"

"No, MA'AM! You put two them shirts in yo' basket 'n' says how you's
going to fix 'em!"

"I must get at those shirts," Martie would muse helplessly. "Come, Ted,
look what you're doing! Pay attention, dear!"

"Man come with yo meat bill, Mis' Ban'ster," Isabeau might add,
lingering in the doorway. "Ah says you's OUT."

"Thank you, Isabeau." Perhaps Martie would laugh forlornly. "Never
mind--things must change! We can't go on THIS way!"

Suddenly, she was ill. Without warning, without the slip or stumble or
running upstairs that she was quite instinctively avoiding, the
accident befell. Martie, sobered, took to her bed, and sent Isabeau
flying for Dr. Converse, the old physician whose pleasant wife had
often spoken to Teddy in the market. Strange--strange, that she who so
loved children should be reduced now to mere thankfulness that the
little life was not to be, mere gratitude for an opportunity to lie
quiet in bed!

"For I suppose I should stay in bed for a few days?" Martie asked the
doctor. Until she was told she might get up. Very well, but he must
remember that she had a husband and two children to care for, and make
that soon.

Dr. Converse did not smile in answer. After a while she knew why. The
baffling weakness did not go, the pain and restlessness seemed to have
been hers forever. Day after day she lay helpless; while Isabeau
grumbled, Margar fretted, and Teddy grew noisy and unmanageable.
Wallace was rarely at home, the dirt and confusion of the house rode
Martie's sick brain like a nightmare. She told herself, as she lay
longing for an appetizing meal, an hour's freedom from worry, that
there was a point beyond which no woman might be expected to bear
things, that if life went on in this way she must simply turn her face
to the wall and die.

Ghost-white, she was presently on her feet. The unbearable had been
borne. She was getting well again; ridden with debts, and as shabby and
hopeless as it could well be, the Bannister family staggered on. Money
problems buzzed about Martie's eyes like a swarm of midges: Isabeau had
paid this charge of seventy cents, there was a drug bill for six
dollars and ten cents--eighty cents, a dollar and forty cents,
sixty-five cents--the little sums cropped up on all sides.

Martie took pencil and paper, and wrote them all down. The hideous
total was two hundred and seventeen dollars on the last day of October.
But there would be rent again on the eleventh--

Her bright head went suddenly down on her arms. Oh, no--no--no! It
couldn't be done. It was all too hard, too bewildering--

Suddenly, looking at the pencilled sums, the inspiration came. Was it a
memory of those days long ago in Monroe, when she had calculated so
carefully the cost of coming on to the mysterious fairyland of New
York? As carefully now she began to count the cost of going home.

It was five years since she had seen her own people; and in that time
she had carried always the old resentful feeling that she would rather
die than turn to Pa for help! But she knew better now; her children
should not suffer because of that old girlish pride.

Her mother was gone. Len and his wife, one of the lean, tall Gorman
girls, were temporarily living with Pa in the old place. Sally had four
children, Elizabeth, Billy, Jim, and Mary, and lived in the old Mussoo
place near Dr. Ben. Joe Hawkes was studying medicine, Lydia kept house
for Pa, of course, and Sally and her father were reconciled. "We just
started talking to each other when Ma was so ill," wrote Sally, "and
now he thinks the world and all of the children."

All these changes had filtered to Martie throughout the years. Only a
few weeks ago a new note had been sounded. Pa had asked Sally if she
ever heard of her sister; had said that Mary Hawkes was like her Aunt
Martie, "the cunningest baby of them all."

Wild with hope, Sally had written the beloved sister. It was as if all
these years of absence had been years of banishment to Sally. Martie
recognized the unchanging Monroe standard.

She got Sally's letter now, and re-read it. If Pa could send her a few
hundreds, if she could get the children into Lydia's hands, in the old
house in the sunken garden, if Teddy and Margar could grow up in the
beloved fogs and sunshine, the soft climate of home, then how bravely
she could work, how hopefully she could struggle to get a foothold in
the world for them! She wrote simply, lovingly, penitently, to her
father--She was convalescent after serious illness; there were two
small children; her husband was out of work; could he forgive her and
help her? In the cold, darkening days, she went about fed with a secret
hope, an abounding confidence.

But she held the letter a fortnight before sending it. If her father
refused her, she was desperate indeed. Planning, planning, planning,
she endured the days. Wallace was not well; wretched with grippe, he
spent almost the entire day in bed when he was at home, dressing at
four o'clock and going out of the house without a farewell. Sometimes,
for two or three nights a week, Martie did not know where he was; his
friends kept him in money, and made him feel himself a deeply wronged
and unappreciated man. She could picture him in bars, in cafes, in hot
hotel rooms seriously talking over a card-table, boasting, threatening.

She dismissed Isabeau Eato with a promise that the girl accepted
ungraciously.

"If I had the money Isabeau, you should have it; you know that!"

"Yas'm. Hit's what dey all says'm."

"You SHALL have it," Martie promised, with hot cheeks. She breathed
easier when the girl was gone. She told the grocer that she had written
her father, and that his bills should be paid; she reminded the big
rosy man that she had been ill. He listened without comment, cleaning a
split thumb-nail. The story was not a new one.

No answer came to her letter, and a sick suspicion that no answer would
come began to trouble her. December was passing. Teddy was careful to
tell her just what he wanted from Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve she
asked Wallace, as he was silently going out, for some money.

"I want to get Ted SOMETHING for Christmas, Wallie."

"What does he want?"

"Well, of course he wants a coaster and skates, but that's absurd. I
thought some sort of a gun--he's gun-mad, and perhaps a book of
fairy-tales."

With no further comment her husband gave her a five-dollar-bill, and
went on his way. She saw that he had other bills, and went impulsively
after him.

"Wallie! Could you let me have a little more? I do need it so!"

Still silent, he took the little roll from his pocket, and gave her
another five dollars. She saw still a third, and a one dollar bill.

But this was more than her wildest hopes. Joyfully, she went, shabby
and cold, through the happy streets. She walked four blocks to a new
market, and bought bread and butter and salt codfish and a candy cane.
She went into a department store, leaving Teddy to watch the coach on
the sidewalk, and got him the gun and the book. She gave her grocer
four, her butcher three dollars, with a "Merry Christmas!" Did both men
seem a little touched, a little pitying, or was it just the holiday
air? The streets were crowded, the leaden sky low and menacing; they
would have a white Christmas.

Teddy hung up his stocking at dark. The big things, he explained, would
have to go on the floor.

"What big things, my heart?" Martie was toasting bread, eying the
browned fish cakes with appetite.

"Well, the coaster or the skates!" he elucidated off-hand.

His mother's breast rose on a long sigh. She came to put one arm about
him, as she knelt beside him on the floor.

"Teddy, dear, didn't Mother tell you that old Santa Claus is poor this
year? He has so many, many little boys to go to! Wouldn't my boy rather
that they should all have something, than that some poor little fellows
should have nothing at all?" She stopped, sick at heart, for the
child's lip was trembling, and a hot tear fell on her hand.

"But--but I've been good, Mother!" he stammered with a desperate effort
at self-control.

Well, if he could not be brave, she must be. She began to tell him
about going to California, to Grandfather's house. Later she put the
orange, the apple, the gun, with a triangle puzzle given away at the
drug store, a paper cow from the dairy, and five cents' worth of
pressed figs, into the little dangling stocking, placed the book beside
it, and hung the candy cane over all. Mrs. Converse, the doctor's wife,
had sent a big flannel duck, obviously second-hand, but none the less
wonderful for that, for Margar; Teddy had not seen it, so it would be
one more Christmas touch!

And at eight o'clock, as she was putting her kitchen in order, a tired
driver appeared, clumsily engineering something through the narrow
hall; a great coaster, its brave red and gold showing through the
flimsy, snow-wet wrappings.

"Teddy from Dad," Martie, bewildered, read on the card. Not to the
excited child himself would it bring the joy it gave his mother. Poor
Wallace--always generous! He had gone straight from her plea for the
boy's Christmas to spend his money for this. She hoped he would come
home to-morrow; that they might spend the day together. Some of the
shops would be open for a few hours; if he brought home money, she
could manage a chicken, and one of the puddings from the French
confectioner's--

Another ring at the bell? Martie wiped her hands, and went again to the
door. A telegram--

She tore and crumpled the wet yellow paper. The wonderful words danced
before her eyes:


Pa says come at once told Lydia he would give you and children home as
long as he lives sends his love merry Christmas darling

SALLY.


Martie went back to the kitchen, and put her head down on the little
table and cried.

Wallace did not come home for Christmas Day, nor for many days. Teddy
rejoiced in his coaster while his mother went soberly and swiftly about
her plans. Perhaps Pa had realized that she did not actually have a
cent, and was sending a check by mail. The perfect telegram would have
been just a little more than perfect, if he had said so. But if he were
not sending money, she must go nevertheless. She must give up this
house on January tenth, landlord and grocer must trust her for the
overdue rent and bill. If they would not, well, then they must have her
arrested; that was all.

The fare to California would be less than two hundred dollars. She was
going to borrow that from John.

Martie herself was surprised at the calm with which she came to this
decision. It had all the force of finality to her. She cared for the
hurt to her pride as little as she cared for what Rose Parker would
think of her ignominious return, as little as she cared for what the
world thought of a wife who deliberately left the father of her
children to his fate.

Early in January she planned to take the children with her, and find
John in his office. That very day the tickets should be bought. If
Wallace cared enough for his family to come home in the meantime, she
would tell him what she was doing. But Martie hoped that he would not.
The one possible stumbling-block in her path would be Wallace's
objection; the one thing of which she would not allow herself to think
was that he MIGHT, by some hideous whim, decide to accompany them.
Thinking of these things, she went about the process of house-cleaning
and packing. The beds, the chairs, the china and linen and blankets
must bring what they could. On the third day of the year, in his room,
Martie, broom in hand, paused to study Wallace's "chestard." That must
go, too. It had always been a cheaply constructed article, with one
missing caster that had to be supplied by a folded wedge of paper.
Still, in a consignment with other things, it would add something to
the total. Martie put her hand upon it, and rocked it. As usual, the
steadying wedge of paper was misplaced.

She stooped to push the prop into position again; noticed that it was a
piece of notepaper, doubly folded; recognized John Dryden's
handwriting--

The room whirled about her as she straightened the crumpled and
discoloured sheet, and smoothed it, and grasped at one glance its
contents:

DEAR MR. BANNISTER:

I am distressed to hear of Mrs. Bannister's illness, and can readily
understand that she must not be burdened or troubled now. Please let me
know how she progresses, and let me be your banker again, if the need
arises. I am afraid she does not know how to save herself.

Faithfully yours,

JOHN DRYDEN.

The date was mid-December.

Martie read it once, read it again, crushed it in her hand in a spasm
of shame and pain. She brought the clenched hand that held it against
her heart, and shut her eyes. Oh, how could he--how could he! To John,
the last refuge of her wrecked life, he had closed the way in the very
hour of escape!

For a long time she stood, leaning against the tipped chest, blind and
deaf to everything but her whirling thoughts. After a while she looked
apathetically at the clock; time for Margar's toast and boiled egg. She
must finish in here; the baby would be waking.

Somehow she got through the cold, silent afternoon. She felt as if she
were bleeding internally; as if the crimson stain from her shaken heart
might ooze through her faded gingham. She must get the children into
the fresh air before the snow fell.

Out of doors a silence reigned. A steady, cold wind, tasting already of
snow, was blowing. The streets were almost deserted. Martie pushed the
carriage briskly, and the sharp air brought colour to her cheeks, and a
sort of desperate philosophy to her thoughts. Waiting for the
prescription for Margar's croup, with the baby in her lap, Martie saw
herself in a long mirror. The blooming young mother, the rosy, lovely
children, could not but make a heartening picture. Margar's little
gaitered legs, her bright face under the shabby, fur-rimmed cap;
Teddy's sturdy straight little shoulders and his dark blue, intelligent
eyes; these were Martie's riches. Were not comfort and surety well lost
for them at twenty-seven? At thirty-seven, at forty-seven, there would
be a different reckoning.

No woman's life was affected, surely, by a trifle like the tourist fare
to California, she told herself sensibly. If the money was not to come
from John, it must be forthcoming in some other way, if not this month,
then next month, or the next still. Perhaps she would still go to John,
and tell him the whole story.

Pondering, planning, she went back to the house, her spirits sinking as
the warm air smote her, the odour of close rooms, and of the soaking
little garments in the kitchen tub. Wallace had come in, had flung
himself across his bed, and was asleep.

Martie merely glanced at him before she set about the daily routine of
undressing the baby, setting the table, getting a simple supper for
Teddy and herself. No matter! It was only a question of a little time,
now. In ten days, in two weeks, she would be on the train; the new
fortune hazarded. The snoring sleeper little dreamed that some of her
things were packed, some of the children's things packed, that Margar's
best coat had been sent to the laundry, with the Western trip in view;
that a furniture man had been interviewed as to the disposal of the
chairs and tables.

At six o'clock Margar, with her bottle, was tucked away in the front
room, and Martie and Teddy sat down to their meal. Roused perhaps by
the clatter of dishes, Wallace came from the bedroom to the kitchen
door, and stood looking in.

"Wallace," Martie said without preamble, "why did you never tell me
that you borrowed money from Mr. Dryden?"

He stared at her stupidly, still sleepy, and taken unawares.

"He told you, huh?" he said heavily, after a pause.

"I found his note!" Martie said, beginning to breathe quickly.

Without glancing at Wallace, she put a buttered slice of bread before
Teddy.

"I didn't want to distress you with it, Mart," Wallace said weakly.

"Distress me!" his wife echoed with a bitter laugh.

"Of course, some of it is paid back," Wallace added unconvincingly.
Martie shot him a quick, distrustful glance. Ah, if she could believe
him! "I have his note acknowledging half of it, seventy-five," added
Wallace more confidently. "I'll show it to you!"

"I wish you would!" Martie said in cold incredulity. Teddy, deceived by
his mother's dispassionate tone, gave Wallace a warm little smile,
embellished by bread and milk.

"I guess you've been wondering where I was?" ventured Wallace, rubbing
one big bare foot with the other, and hunching his shoulders in his
disreputable wrapper. Unshaven, unbrushed, he gave a luxurious yawn.

"No matter!" Martie said, shrugging. She poured her tea, noticed that
her fingernails were neglected, and sighed.

"I don't see why you take that attitude, Mart," Wallace said mildly,
sitting down. "In the first place, I sent you a letter day before
yesterday, which Thompson didn't mail--"

"Really!" said Martie, the seething bitterness within her making hand
and voice tremble.

"I have the deuce of a cold!" Wallace suggested tentatively. His wife
did not comment, or show in any way that she had heard him. "I know
what you think I've been doing," he went on. "But for once, you're
wrong. A lot of us have just been down at Joe's in the country. His
wife's away, and we just cooked and walked and played cards--and I sat
in luck, too!" He opened the wallet he held in his hands, showing a
little roll of dirty bills, and Martie was ashamed of the instant
softening of her heart. She wanted money so badly! "I was coming home
Monday," pursued Wallace, conscious that he was gaining ground, "but
this damn cold hit me, and the boys made me stay in bed."

"Will you have some tea?" Martie asked reluctantly. He responded
instantly to her softened tone.

"I WOULD like some tea. I've been feeling rotten! And say, Mart," he
had drawn up to the table now, and had one wrappered arm about Teddy,
"say, Mart," he said eagerly, "listen! This'll interest you. Thompson's
brother-in-law, Bill Buffington, was there; he's an awfully nice
fellow; he's got coffee interests in Costa Rica. We talked a lot, we
hit it off awfully well, and he thinks there's a dandy chance for me
down there! He says he could get me twenty jobs, and he wants me to go
back when he goes--"

"But, Wallace--" Martie's quick enthusiasm was firing. "But what about
the children?"

"Why, they'd come along. Buff says piles of Americans down there have
children, you just have to dress 'em light--"

"And feed them light; that's the most important!" Martie added eagerly.

"Sure. And I get my transportation, and you only half fare, so you see
there's not much to that!"

"Wallace!" The world was changing. "And what would you do?"

"Checking cargoes, and managing things generally. We get a house, and
he says the place is alive with servants. And he asked if you were the
sort of woman who would take in a few boarders; he says the men there
are crazy for American cooking, and that you could have all you'd
take--"

"Oh, I would!" Martie said excitedly. "I'd have nothing else to do, you
know! Oh, Wallie, I am delighted about this! I am so sick of this
city!" she added, smiling tremulously. "I am so sick of cold and dirt
and worry!"

"Well," he smiled a little shamefacedly, "one thing you'll like. No
booze down there. Buff says there's nothing in it; it can't be done. He
says that's the quickest way for a man to FINISH himself!"

The kitchen had been brightening for Martie with the swift changes of a
stage sunrise. Now the colour came to her face, and the happy tears to
her eyes. For the first time in many months she went into her husband's
arms, and put her own arms about his neck, and her cheek against his,
in the happy fashion of years ago.

"Oh, Wallie, dear! We'll begin all over again. We'll get away, on the
steamer, and make a home and a life for ourselves!"

"Don't you WANT to go, Moth'?" Teddy asked anxiously. Martie laughed as
she wiped her eyes.

"Crying for joy, Ted," she told him. "Don't sit there sneezing,
Wallie," she added in her ordinary tone. Her husband asked her,
dutifully, if she would object to his mixing a hot whisky lemonade for
his cold. After a second's hesitation she said no, and it was mixed,
and shortly afterward Wallace went to bed and to sleep. At eight Martie
tucked Teddy into bed, straightening the clothes over Margar before she
went into the dining room for an hour of solitaire.

"Mrs. Bannister's Boarding House"; she liked the sound. The men would
tell each other that it was luck to get into Mrs. Bannister's. White
shoes--thin white gowns--she must be businesslike--bills and
receipts--and terms dignified, but not exorbitant--when Ted was old
enough for boarding-school--say twelve--but of course they could tell
better about that later on!

A little sound from the front bedroom brought her to her feet, fright
clutching her heart. Margar was croupy again!

It was a sufficiently familiar emergency, but Martie never grew used to
it. She ran to the child's side, catching up the new bottle of
medicine. A hideous paroxysm subsided as she took the baby in her arms,
but Margar sank back so heavily exhausted that no coaxing persuaded her
to open her eyes, or to do more than reject with fretful little lips
the medicine spoon. She is very ill--Martie said to herself fearfully.
She flew to her husband's side.

"Wallie--I hate to wake you! But Margar is croupy, and I'm going to run
for Dr. Converse. Light the croup kettle, will you, I won't be a
moment!"

His daughter was the core of Wallace's heart. He was instantly alert.

"Here, let me go, Mart! I'll get something on--"

"No, no, I'm dressed! But look at her, Wallie," Martie said, as they
came together to stand by the crib. "I don't like the way she's
breathing--"

She looked eagerly at his face, but saw only her own disquiet reflected
there.

"Get the doctor," he said, tucking the blankets about the shabby little
double-gown. "I'll keep her warm--"

A moment later Martie, buttoned into her old squirrel-lined coat, was
in the quiet, deserted street, which was being muffled deeper and
deeper in the softly falling snow. Steps, areas, fences, were alike
furred in soft white, old gratings wore an exquisite coating over their
dingy filigree. The snow was coming down evenly, untouched by wind, the
flakes twisting like long ropes against the street lights. A gang of
men were talking and clanking shovels on the car tracks; an ambulance
thudded by, the wheels grating and slipping on the snow.

Dr. and Mrs. Converse were in their dining room, a pleasant, shabby
room smelling of musk, and with an old oil painting of fruit, a cut
watermelon, peaches and grapes, a fringed napkin and a glass of red
wine, over the curved black marble mantel. The old man was enjoying a
late supper, but struggled into his great coat cheerfully enough. Mrs.
Converse tried to persuade Martie to have just a sip of sherry, but
Martie was frantic to be gone. In a moment she and the old man were on
their way, through the silent, falling snow again, and in her own
hallway, and she was crying to Wallace: "How is she?"

The room was steamy with the fumes of the croup kettle; Wallace, the
child in his arms, met them with a face of terror. Both men bent over
the baby.

"She seems all right again now," said Wallace in a sharp whisper, "but
right after you left--my God, I thought she would choke!"

Martie watched the doctor's face, amazement and fright paralyzing every
sense but sight. The old man's tender, clever hands rested for a moment
on the little double-gown.

"Well, poor little girl!" he said, softly, after a moment of pulsing
silence. He straightened up, and looked at Martie. "Gone," he said
simply. "She died in her father's arms."

"Gone!" Martie echoed. The quiet word fell into a void of silence.
Father and mother stood transfixed, looking upon each other. Martie was
panting like a runner, Wallace seemed dazed. They stood so a long time.

Relief came first to Wallace; for as they laid the tiny form on the
bed, and arranged the shabby little gown about it, he suddenly fell
upon his knees, and flung one arm about his child and burst into bitter
crying. But Martie moved about, mute, unhearing, her mouth fallen a
little open, her breath still coming hard. She answered the doctor's
suggestions only after a moment's frowning concentration--what did he
say?

After a while he was gone, and Wallace was persuaded to go to bed
again, Teddy tucked in beside him. Then Martie lowered the light in
what had been the children's room, and knelt beside her dead.

The snow was still falling with a gentle, ticking sound against the
window. Muffled whistles sounded on the river; the night was so stilled
that the clanking of shovels and the noise of voices came clearly from
the car-tracks at the corner.

Hour after hour went by. Martie knelt on; she was not conscious of
grief or pain; she was not conscious of the world that would wake in
the morning, and go about its business, and of the bright sun that
would blaze out upon the snow. There was no world, no sun, no protest,
and no hope. There was only the question: Why?

In the soft flicker of the gaslight Margar lay in unearthly beauty, the
shadow of her dark eyelashes touching her cheek, a smile lingering on
her baby mouth. She had been such a happy baby; Martie had loved to
rumple and kiss the aureole of bright hair that framed the sleeping
face.

The old double-gown--with the middle button that did not match--Martie
had ironed only yesterday. She would not iron it again. The rag doll,
and the strings of spools, and the shabby high-chair where Margar sat
curling her little bare toes on summer mornings; these must vanish. The
little feet were still. Gone!

Gone, in an hour, all the dreaming and hoping. No Margar in a cleaned
coat would run about the decks of the steamer--

Martie pressed her hand over her dry and burning eyes. She wondered
that she could think of these things and not go mad.

The days went by; time did not stop. Wallace remained ill; Teddy had a
cold, too. Mrs. Converse and John and Adele were there, all
sympathetic, all helpful. They were telling Martie that she must keep
up for the others. She must drink this; she must lie down.

Presently the front room, so terribly occupied, was more terribly
empty. Little Margaret Bannister was laid beside little Mary and Rose
and Paul Converse at Mount Kisco. Children, many of them, died thus
every year, and life went on. Martie had the perfect memory, and the
memory of Adele's tears, of Mrs. Converse's tears, of John's agony of
sympathy.

Then they all went out of her life as suddenly as they had entered it.
Only the old doctor came steadily, because of Teddy's cold and
Wallace's cold. Martie worked over their trays, read fairy-tales to
Teddy, read the newspaper to Wallace, said that she felt well, she HAD
eaten a good lunch, she WAS sleeping well.

When the first suspicion of Wallace's condition came to her she was
standing in the kitchen, waiting for a kettle to boil, and staring
dully out into a world of frozen bareness. Margaret had been with her a
week ago; a week ago it had been her privilege to catch the warm little
form to her heart, to kiss the aureole of gold, to listen to the shaken
gurgle of baby laughter--

The doctor came out from Wallace's room; Martie, still wrapped in her
thoughts, listened to him absently.... pneumonia. Suddenly she came to
herself with a shock, repeating the word. Pneumonia? What was he
saying? But, Doctor--but Doctor--is Mr. Bannister so ill?

He was very ill; gravely ill. The fact that taken in time, and fought
with every weapon, the disease had gained, augured badly. Martie
listened in stupefaction.

She suggested a nurse. The old doctor smiled at her affectionately.
Perhaps to-morrow, if he was no better, they might consider it.
Meanwhile, he was in excellent hands.

A strange, silent day followed. Martie looked at her husband now with
that augmented concern that such a warning brings. He slept, waked,
smiled at her, was not hungry. His big hand, when she touched it, was
hot. Teddy, coughing, and with oil-saturated flannel over his chest,
played with his blocks and listened to fairy-tales. Outside, a bitter
cold wind swept the empty streets. Her husband ill, perhaps dying,
Margar gone; it was all unreal and unconvincing.

At four o'clock the doctor came back, and at five the nurse pleasantly
took possession of the sick room. She was a sensible New England woman,
who cooked potatoes in an amazing way for Teddy's supper, and taught
Martie a new solitaire in the still watches of the night. Martie was
anxious to make her comfortable; she must lie down; and she must be
sure to get out into the fresh air to-morrow afternoon.

But Miss Swann did not leave her case the next day, a Sunday, and
Martie, awed and silent, spent the day beside the bed. Wallace died at
five o'clock.

He wandered in a light fever that morning, and at two o'clock fell into
the stupor that was not to end in this world. But Martie had, to
treasure, the memory of the early morning when she slipped quietly into
the room that was orderly, dimly lighted, and odorous of drugs now. He
was awake then, his eyes found her, and he smiled as she knelt beside
him.

"Better?" she said softly.

The big head nodded almost imperceptibly. He moistened his lips.

"I'm all right," he said voicelessly. "Bad--bad cold!"

He shut his eyes, and with them shut, added in a whisper: "Sweet, sweet
woman, Martie! Remember that day--in Pittsville--when you had on--your
brother's--coat? Mabel--and old Jesse--!"

Heavenly tears rushed to her eyes; she felt the yielding of her frozen
heart. She caught his hand to her lips, bowing her face over it.

"Ah, Wallace dear! We were happy then! We'll go back--back to that
time--and we'll start fresh!"

A long silence. Then he opened his eyes, found her, with a start, as if
he had not been quite sure what those opening eyes would see, and
smiled sleepily.

"I'll make it--up to you, Martie!" he said heavily She had her arms
about him as he sank into unnatural sleep. At eight, whispering in the
kitchen with John, who had come for Teddy, she said that Wallie was
better; and busy with coffee and toast for Miss Swann, she began to
plan for Costa Rica. Beaten, crushed, purified by fire, healed by
tears, she was ready for life again.

But that was not to be. Wallace was dead, and those who gathered about
Martie wondered that she wept for her husband more than for her child.

Wept for the wasted life, perhaps, and for the needless suffering and
sorrow. But even in the first hours of her widowhood Martie's heart
knew a deep and passionate relief. Vague and menacing as was the
future, stretching before her, she knew that she would never wish
Wallace back.



BOOK III

CHAPTER I


There were times when Martie found it difficult to believe that she had
ever been away from Monroe at all; evenings, when she and Lydia sat
talking in the shabby sitting room of the old house; or mornings when
she fed the chickens in the soft fog under the willow trees of the
yard. Len and Sally were married and gone, dear Ma was gone, and Belle
had married, too; a tall gaunt woman called Pauline was in her place.

But these things might all have transpired without touching Martie's
own life directly. She might still, in many ways, have been the
dreaming, ambitious, helpless girl of seven years ago. Sometimes the
realization of all she had endured came to her with an odd sense of
shock. She would glance down at her thin hand, in its black cuff, and
fall into deep musing, her face grave and weary. Or she would call
Teddy from his play, and hold his warm little body close, staring at
him with a look that always made the child uneasy. Third Avenue, barred
with sun and shade, in the early summer mornings; Broadway on a snowy
winter afternoon with the theatre crowd streaming up and down, spring
and babies taking possession of the parks--were these all a dream?

No; she had gained something in the hard years; she saw that more and
more. Her very widowhood to Monroe had the stamp of absolute
respectability. Even Pa was changed toward her; or was it that she was
changed toward him? However caused, in their relationship there was a
fundamental change.

Pa had been a figure of power and tyranny seven years ago. Now he
seemed to Martie only an unreasonable, unattractive old man, thwarted
in his old age in everything his heart desired. Lydia was still
tremblingly filial in her attitude toward Pa, but Martie at once
assumed the maternal. She scolded him, listened to him, and dictated to
him, and he liked it. Martie had never loved him as Lydia did; she had
defied and disobeyed and deserted him, yet he transferred his
allegiance to her now, and clung to her helplessly.

He liked to have her walk down to his office beside him in the
mornings, in her plain black. While they walked he pointed out various
pieces of property, and told her how cheaply they had been sold forty
years ago. The whole post-office block had gone for seven hundred
dollars, the hotel site had been Mason's cow-yard! Old man Sark had
lived there, and had refused to put black on his house when Lincoln was
assassinated.

"And didn't he go to jail for that, Pa?"

"Yes, ma'am, he did!"

"But YOU--"

"I was in jail, too." Malcolm Monroe would chuckle under his now gray
moustache that was yellowed with tobacco stains. "Yes, sir, I rounded
up some of the boys, the Twentyonesters, we called ourselves, and we
led a riot 'round this town! The ringleaders were arrested, but that
was merely a form--merely a form!"

"You must have been a terror, Pa."

"Well--well, I had a good deal of your grandmother's spirit! And I
suppose they rather looked to me to set the pace--"

Smiling, they would go along in the sunlight, past the little homes
where babies had been turned out into grassy yards, past the straggling
stables and the smithy, and the fire-house, and the office of the
weekly Zeus. There was more than one garage in Monroe now and the
squared noses of Ford cars were at home everywhere. Mallon's Hardware
Emporium, the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store, still with its pillars of
twisted handkerchiefs, Mason and White's--how familiar they were! And
the old Bank, with its wide windows and double roller shades was
familiar, too. Martie learned that the Bank had duly worn black a year
or two ago for kindly old Colonel Frost; his name had been obliterated
from the big window, and Clifford Frost was vice-president now.

"One death is two deaths, they say," Lydia had sighed, telling Martie
of the Colonel's death. "You know Cliff's wife died only two months
before his father did. That was a terrible thing! Her little girl was
seven years old, and she was going to have another--"

When Martie, in the early afternoon of a warm sweet day on
mid-February, had stepped from the train, with Teddy's little fingers
held tight in hers, Sally's face, running over with tears and smiles,
had been the first she found. Curiously changed, yet wonderfully
familiar, the sisters had clung together, hardly knowing how to begin
their friendship again after six long years. There were big things to
say, but they said the little things. They talked about the trip and
the warm weather that had brought the buttercups so soon, and the case
that had kept Pa on jury duty in Pittsville.

Len--rather pompous, and with a moustache!--explained why his wife
could not be there: the two-year-old daughter was not very well. Martie
questioned him eagerly of his two children. Both girls, Len said
gloomily; he asked his sister if she realized that there was not a
Monroe yet.

Lydia wept a few tears; "Martie, dear, to see you in black!" and
Martie's eyes watered, and her lip shook.

"Grace and all the others would have come," Sally said quickly, "but we
knew you'd be tired, and then it's homecoming, Martie, and you'll have
lots of time to see us all!"

She introduced Elizabeth, a lovely, fly-away child with bright loose
hair, and Billy, a freckled, ordinary-looking boy, who gave his aunt a
beautiful smile from large, dark eyes. The others were left with
"Mother"--Joe's mother.

"But, Sally, you're so fat!"

"And, Mart, you're so thin!"

"Never mind; it's becoming to you, Sally. You look still like a little
girl. Really, you do! And how's Joe?"

"Oh, Joe's lovely. I went down and spent a week with him. I had the
choice of that or a spring suit, and I took that!"

"Went--but where is he? I suppose he hasn't been sent to San Quentin?"

"Oh, Martie, don't! You know Russell Harrison, 'Dutch's' cousin, that
used to play with Len, really WAS sent there!"

"For Heaven's sake, what for?"

"Well, Hugh Wilson had some trouble with Paul King, and--it was about
money--and Russell Harrison went to Hughie and told him--"

So the conversation was diverted over and over again; and the
inessential things were said, and the important ones forgotten. Len had
borrowed the firm's motor car, and they all got in. Martie, used to
Wallace's careless magnificence, was accustomed enough to this mode of
travel, but she saw that it was a cause of great excitement to the
children, and even to Sally.

"You say the 'firm,' Len--I'll never get used to my little brother with
a moustache! What do you mean by the 'firm?'" asked Martie. "My
goodness--goodness--goodness, there's the Library and Lacey's!" she
added, her eyes eagerly roving the streets.

"Miss Fanny is still there; she always speaks so affectionately of you,
Martie," said Lydia eagerly and tremulously. Martie perceived that in
some mysterious way Lydia was ill at ease. Lydia did not quite know how
to deal with a younger sister who was yet a widow, and had lived in New
York.

"There was an awful lot of talk about getting her out of the Library,"
contributed Sally; "they said the Streets were at the back of it; they
wanted to put a man in! There was the greatest excitement; we all went
down to the Town Hall and listened to the speeches--it was terrific! I
guess the Streets and their crowd felt pretty small, because they
got--what was it, Len?"

"Seventeen votes out of one hundred and eleven!" Len said, not moving
his eyes from the road before him.

"My house is right down there, next door to Uncle Ben's," said Sally,
craning her neck suddenly. "You can't see it, but no matter; there's
lots of time! Here's the Hawkes's place; remember that?"

"I remember everything," Martie said, smiling. "We're nearly home!"

The old Monroe house looked shabby, even in the spring green. Martie
had seen the deeper, fresher green of the East for six successive
springs. The eucalyptus trees wore their tassels, the willows' fresh
foliage had sprung over the old rusty leaves. A raw gateway had been
cut, out by the old barn, into Clipper Lane, and a driveway filled in.
Tired, confused, train-sick, Martie got down into the old yard, and the
old atmosphere enveloped her like a garment. The fuchsia bushes, the
marguerites so green on top, so brown and dry under their crown of
fresh life, the heliotrope sprawling against the peeling boards under
the dining-room windows, and tacked in place with strips of kid
glove--how well she knew them!

They went in the side door, and through the dark dining room, odorous
of vegetable soup and bread and butter. An unearthly quiet held the
house. Pa's door was closed; Martie imagined the room darker and more
grim than ever.

Lydia had given her her old room; the room in which she and Sally had
grown to womanhood. It was as clean and bare as a hotel room. Lydia and
Sally had discussed the advisability of a bowl of flowers, but had
decided flowers might remind poor Mart of funerals. Martie remembered
the counterpane on the bed and the limp madras curtains at the windows.
She put her gloves in a bureau drawer lined with folded newspaper, and
hung her wraps in the square closet that was, for some unimaginable
reason, a step higher than the room.

Lydia sat on the bed, and Sally on a chair, while Martie slowly moved
about her new domain. The children had gone into the yard, 'Lizabeth
and Billy charged not to let their little cousin get his clothes dirty;
when the trunks came, with his overalls, he could get as dirty as he
pleased.

The soiled, tumbled contents of the hand bag, after the five days'
trip, filled Martie with a sort of weary concern. She stood, puzzling
vaguely over the damp washcloth that was wrapped about a cake of soap,
the magazines of which she had grown so tired, the rumpled night-wear.

"I suppose I should hang these up; we may not get the trunks to-night."

"Oh, you will!" Lydia reassured her. A certain blankness fell on them
all. It was the glaring spring hour of four o'clock; not lunch time,
nor dinner time, nor bed time, nor time to go to market. Suddenly a
tear fell on Martie's hand; she sniffed.

"Ah, don't, Mart!" Lydia said, fumbling for her own handkerchief. "We
know--we know how hard it is! Your husband, and Ma not here to welcome
you--"

The sisters cried together.

But she slept well in the old walnut bed, and enjoyed a delicious,
unfamiliar leisure the next morning, when Teddy was turned out to the
safety of the yard, and Pa, after paternally reassuring her as to her
welcome and pompously reiterating that her old father's home was hers
for the rest of her life, was gone. She and Lydia talked deeply over
the breakfast table, while Pauline rattled dishes in the kitchen and a
soft fog pressed against the windows.

Martie had said that she was going over to Sally's immediately after
breakfast, but, in the old way, time drifted by. She went upstairs to
make her bed, and she and Lydia talked again, from doorway to doorway.
When they were finally dressed to walk down town, Lydia said that she
might as well go to market first; they could stop at Sally's afterward.

Teddy galloped and curveted about them; Monroe enchanted Teddy. The
sunshine was just pushing back the fog, and the low hills all about the
town were coming into view, when Martie took her son in to meet Miss
Fanny.

Grayer and thinner, the librarian was otherwise unchanged. The old
strong, coarse voice, the old plain dress, serviceable and comfortable,
the old delighted affection. Miss Fanny wore glasses now; she beamed
upon Teddy as she put them on, after frankly wiping her eyes.

She made a little fuss about Martie's joining the Library, so that
Teddy could take home "Davy and the Goblin."

They went out into the warming, drying Main Street again; everywhere
Martie was welcomed. In the shops and on the street humble old friends
eyed her black respectfully.

The nervousness that she had felt about coming back began to melt like
the mist itself. She had dreaded Monroe's old standards, dreaded Rose
and Len, and the effect her poverty must have on them. Now she began to
see that Rose mattered as little here as she had mattered when Martie
was struggling in East Twenty-sixth Street. Rose "went" with the Frosts
and the Streets and the Pattersons now. Her intimate friend was Dr.
Ellis's wife, a girl from San Francisco.

"Shall we go in for a minute, and make a little visit?" said Lydia, as
she had said years ago, whenever they passed the church. Martie nodded.
They creaked into the barnlike shabbiness of the edifice; the little
red light twinkled silently before the altar. Clara Baxter was
tiptoeing to and fro with vases. Teddy twisted and turned, had to be
bumped to his knees, was warned in a whisper that he must not talk.

Father Martin was not well; he had an assistant, Lydia said. The bishop
wanted to establish a convent here, and old Mrs. Hanson had left eleven
hundred dollars for it. Gertie Hanson lived in Fruitvale; she was
married to a widower. She had threatened to fight the will, but people
said that she got quite a lot of money; the Hansons were richer than
any one thought. Anyway, she had not put up a gravestone to her mother
yet, and Alice Clark said that Gertie had said that she couldn't afford
it.

"Why, that house must have been worth something!" Martie commented,
picking up the threads with interest.

"Well, wouldn't you think so!" Lydia said eagerly.

The morning had been so wasted that Sally was in a whirl of
dinner-getting when they reached her house. She had her hearty meal at
noon on the children's account; her little kitchen was filled with
smoke and noise. To-day she had masses of rather dark, mushy boiled
rice, stewed neck of lamb, apples, and hot biscuits. Martie, fresh from
New York's campaign of dietetic education, reflected that it was rather
unusual fare for small children, but Sally's quartette was
healthy-looking enough, and full of life and excitement. 'Lizabeth set
the table; there was great running about, and dragging of chairs.

Martie studied her sister with amused admiration. There was small room
for maternal vapours in Sally's busy life. Her matter-of-fact voice
ruled the confusion.

"Jim, you do as 'Lizabeth tells you, or you'll get another whipping,
sir! Pour that milk into the pitcher, Brother. Put on both sugar bowls,
darling; Brother likes the brown. Martie, dearest, I am ashamed of this
muss, but in two minutes I'll have them all started--there's
baby--'Lizabeth, there's baby; you'll have to go up--"

"I'll go up!" Lydia and Martie said together. Martie went through the
bare little hallways upstairs, and peeped into shabby bedrooms full of
small beds and dangling nightgowns and broken toys.

Mary was sitting up in her crib, tumbled, red-cheeked, tears hanging on
her lashes. The room was darkened for her nap; she wore a worn little
discoloured wrapper; she clung to her rag doll. Martie, with deathly
weakness sweeping over her, smiled, and spoke to her. The baby eyed her
curiously, but she was not afraid. Martie picked her up, and stood
there holding her, while the knife turned and twisted in her heart.

After a while she wrapped a blanket about Mary, and carried her
downstairs. Sally saw that Martie's face was ashen, and she knew why.
Lydia saw nothing. Lydia would have said that Martie had placed poor
Wallace's picture on her bureau that morning, and had talked about him,
calmly and dry-eyed; so why should she feel so much more for her baby?
Teddy had been a little strange, if eagerly friendly, with his other
cousins; but he knew how to treat Mary. He picked up the things she
threw down from her high-chair, and tickled her, and made her laugh.

"If this elaborate and formal meal is dinner, Sally dear, what is
supper?"

"Oh, Martie, it's so delicious to hear you again! Why, supper will be
apple sauce and bread and butter and milk, and gingerbread and cookies.
It's the same the year round! I like it, really; after we go up to Pa's
to supper the children don't sleep well, and neither do I."

"You haven't told me yet where Joe is."

"Oh, I know, and I WILL! We get talking, and somehow there's so much to
say. Why, Joe's finishing his course at Cooper's College in San
Francisco; he'll graduate this May. Dr. J. F. Hawkes; isn't that fun!"

"A regular doctor!" Martie exclaimed. "But--but is he going to BE one?"

"BE one! I should think he is!" Sally announced proudly. "Uncle Ben
says he's a born doctor--"

"And how long has it been UNCLE Ben?"

"Oh, 'Lizabeth adopted him. He adores the children."

"He loaned Joe the money," Lydia said with her old air of delicately
emphasizing an unsavoury truth.

Sally gave her younger sister a rather odd look at this, but she did
not deny the statement.

"And who keeps the quartette going?" asked Martie, glancing about.

"Joe's people; and Pa does send barrels of apples and things, doesn't
he, Sally?" Lydia supplied.

"Oh, yes; we only pay twelve dollars rent, and we live very cheaply!"
Sally said cheerfully, with another mysterious look.

A day or two later, when they were alone, she told Martie the whole
truth.

"It's Uncle Ben, of course, Mart; you remember his old offer, if ever I
had any children? He pays me twelve hundred a year for my four. Nobody
knows it, not even Lyd. People would only talk, you know, and it's none
of their affair. It's his fad, you know. We married young, and Joe had
no profession. Uncle Ben thinks the State ought to pay women for
bearing children. He says it's their business in life. Women are taking
jobs, foregoing marriage, and the nation is being robbed of citizens.
He believes that the hardest kind of work is the raising of children,
and the women who do it for the State ought to be paid by the State. He
does it for me, and I feel as if he was a relation. It's meant
everything to Joe and me, and the children, too. Sometimes, when I stop
to think of it, it is a little queer, but--when you think of the way
people DO spend money, for orchids or old books or rugs--it's natural
after all! He simply invests in citizens, that's what he says. I would
have had them anyway, but I suppose, indeed I know, Mart, that there
are lots of women who wouldn't!"

"And is he financing Joe, too?"

"Oh, no, indeed! Uncle Ben never speaks of money to me; I don't ever
get one cent except my regular allowance. Why, when Joe was ill, and
one of the babies--Billy, it was--was coming, he came in to see me now
and then, but he never said boo about helping! Joe is working his way;
he's chauffeur for Dr. Houston; that's something else nobody knows."

"I think that's magnificent of Joe!" Martie said, her face glowing.

"He graduates this year," Sally said proudly, "and then I think he will
start here. For a long time we thought we'd have to move away then,
because every one remembers little Joe Hawkes delivering papers, and
working in the express office. But now that the hospital, up toward the
Archer place, is really going to be built, Uncle Ben says that Joe can
get a position there. It's Dr. Knowles's hospital, and Uncle Ben is his
best friend. Of course that's big luck for Joe."

"Not so much luck," Martie said generously, "as that Joe has worked
awfully hard, and done well."

"Oh, you don't know how hard, Mart! And loving us all as he does, too,
and being away from us!" Sally agreed fervently. "But if he really gets
that position, with my hundred, we'll be rich! We'll have to keep a
Ford, Mart; won't that be fun?"

"Dr. Ben might die, Sally," Martie suggested.

"That wouldn't make any difference," the older sister said composedly.
"I have the actual deeds--the titles, whatever they are--to the
property MY money comes from. He gave me them a year ago, when he was
sixty. I certainly dread the talk there'll be when his will comes to
light, but Joe will be here then, and Joe isn't afraid of any one."

"He's done for you what Pa should have done," Martie mused.

"Oh, well, Pa did his best for us, Mart." Sally said dutifully; "he
gave us a good home--"

"WAS it a good home?" Martie questioned mildly.

"It was a much finer home than MY children have, Mart."

"As far as walls and tables and silver spoons, I suppose it was. But,
Sally, there's no child alive who has a sweeter atmosphere than
this--always with mother, always learning, and always considered! Why,
my boy is blooming already in it!"

Sally's face flushed with pleasure.

"Martie, you make me so proud!"

"If you can only keep it up, Sally. With me it doesn't matter so much,
because I've only the one, and no husband whose claims might interfere.
But when 'Lizabeth and Mary, as well as the boys, are older--"

"You mean--always let them have their friends at the house, and so on?"
Sally asked slowly.

"Yes, but more than that! Let them feel as much a part of the world as
the boys do. Put them into any work--only make them respect it!"

"Pa might have helped us, only neither you nor I, nor Lyd, ever showed
the least interest in work," Sally submitted thoughtfully.

"Neither did Len--but he MADE Len!"

"Yes, I see what you mean," Sally admitted with an awakening face. "But
we would have thought he was pretty stern, Mart," she added.

"Just as children do when they have to learn to read and write,"
countered Martie. "Don't you see?"

Sally did not see, but she was glad to see Martie's interest. She told
Lydia later that Martie really seemed better and more like her old
self, even in these few days.

With almost all the women of Monroe, Lydia now considered Martie's life
a thing accomplished, and boldly accomplished. To leave home, to marry,
to have children in a strange city, to be honorably widowed and to
return to her father's home, and rear her child in seclusion and
content; this was more than fell to the lot of many women. Lydia
listened with actual shudders to Martie's casually dropped revelations.

"This John Dryden that I told you about, Lyd--the man who wrote the
play that failed--was anxious for me to go on with the Curley
boarding-house," Martie said one day, "and sometimes now I think I
should have done so."

"Good heavens!" Lydia, smoothing the thin old blankets on Martie's
wide, flat bed, stopped aghast. "But why should you--Pa is more than
willing to have you here!"

"I know, darling. But what really deterred me was not so much Pa's
generosity, but the fact that I would have had to lease the property
for three years; George Curley wanted to be rid of the responsibility.
And to really make the thing a success, I should have had the adjoining
house, too; that would have been about four thousand rent."

"Four thousand--Martie, you would have been crazy!"

Martie, tinkling pins into a saucer on the bureau, opening the upper
drawer to sweep her brush and comb into it, and jerking the limp linen
scarf straight, only smiled and shrugged in answer. She had been
widowed three months, and already reviving energy and self-confidence
were running in her veins. Already she realized that it had been a
mistake to accept her father's hospitality in the first panic of being
dependent. However graceful and dignified her position was to the
outsider's eye, in this old house in the sunken block, she knew now
that Pa was really unable to offer her anything more than a temporary
relief from financial worry, and that her chances of finding employment
in Monroe as compared to New York were about one to ten.

Malcolm Monroe had been deeply involved for several years in "the firm"
by which term he and Len referred to their real estate business
together. A large tract of grassy brown meadow, south of the town, had
been in his possession for thirty years; it was only with the opening
of the new "Monroe's Grove" that he had realized its possibilities, or
rather that Len had realized them.

Len had held one or two office positions in Monroe unsatisfactorily
before his twentieth year, and then had persuaded his father to send
him to Berkeley, to the State University. Ma and Lydia had been proud
of their under-graduate for one brief year, then Len was back again,
disgusted with study. After a few months of drifting and experimenting,
the brilliant idea of developing the old south tract into building
sites had occurred to Len, and presently his father was also persuaded
that here was a splendid opportunity. A little office on Main Street
was rented, and its window embellished with the words "Own a Home in
the Monroe Estates." Len really worked violently for a time; he rode
his bicycle back and forth tirelessly. He married, and moved out into
the Estates, and he personally superintended the work that went on
there. Streets and plots were laid out, trees planted, the fresh muddy
roads were edged with pyramids of brown sewer pipes.

The financial outlay was enormous, unforeseen. Taxes went up, sidewalks
crumbled back into the grass again, the four or five unfenced little
wooden houses that were erected and occupied added to the general
effect of forlornness. The Estates were mortgaged, and to the old
mortgage on the homestead another was added.

Len took Martie out to see the place. Slim little trees were bending in
a sharp April wind; a small woman at the back of one of the small
houses was taking whipping clothes from a line. The streets were deep
in mud; Martie smiled as she read the crossposts: "High Street," "Maple
Avenue," and "Sunset Avenue." Here and there a sign "Sold" embellished
a barren half-acre.

"You've really done wonders, Len," she said encouragingly. "And of
course there's nothing like LAND for making money!"

"Oh, there's a barrel of money in it," he answered dubiously, kicking a
lump of dirt at his feet. They had left the little car at a
comparatively dry crossing, and were walking about. "We've put in a
hundred more trees this year, and I think we'll start another house
pretty soon." And when they got back in the car, his face flushed from
vigorous cranking, he added, "I talked Pa into getting the car; it
makes it look as if we were making money!"

"Of course it does," Martie said amiably. She thought her own thoughts.

Lydia had nothing but praise for Len; he had worked like a Trojan, she
said. And Pa had been wonderfully patient and good about the whole
thing.

"Pa was telling me the other day that he could have gotten ever so much
money for this place, if he had had it levelled the time the whole town
was," Lydia said, in her curious tone that was triumphantly
complaining, one day.

"I wonder what it's worth, as it stands," mused Martie.

"Oh, Martie, I don't know! I don't know anything about it; he just
happened to say that!"

It was later on this same day that Martie went in to see Miss Fanny,
and put her elbows on the desk, resting her troubled face in her hands.

"Miss Fanny, sometimes I despair! Heaven knows I have had hard knocks
enough, and yet I never learn," she burst out. "Seven years ago I used
to come in here to you, and rage because I was so helpless! Well, I've
had experience since, bitter experience, and yet here I am, helpless
and a burden still!"

Miss Fanny smiled her wide, admiring smile. Without a word she reached
to a shelf behind her, and handed Martie a familiar old volume:
"Choosing a Life Work." The colour rushed into Martie's face as she
took it.

"I'll read it NOW!" she said simply.

"If you really want to work, Martie," suggested the older woman, "why
don't you come in here with me? Now that we've got the Carnegie
endowment, we have actually appropriated a salary for an assistant."

Martie looked at her thoughtfully, looked backward perhaps over the
long years.

"I will," she said.



CHAPTER II


There was a storm at home over this decision, but Martie weathered it.
Even Sally demurred, observing that people would talk. But one or two
persons approved, and if Martie had needed encouragement, it would not
have been wanting.

One of her sympathizers was Dr. Ben. The two had grown to be good
friends, and Martie's boy was as much at home in the little crowded
garden and the three-peaked house as Sally's children were.

"You're showing your common sense, Martie," said the old man; "stick to
it. I don't know how one of your mother's children ever came to have
your grit!"

"I seem to have brought little enough back from New York," Martie said
a little sadly. "But at least what Monroe thinks doesn't matter to me
any more! People do what they like in the East."

"You're coming on!" Dr. Ben smiled at his velvet wallflowers.

Surprisingly, Joe Hawkes was another ally. He came back in May,
penniless, but full of honours, and with his position in the new
hospital secure. A small, second-hand car, packed with Hawkeses of all
ages, began to be seen in Monroe streets, and Sally grew rosier and
fatter and more childish-looking every day. Sally would never keep her
hair neat, or care for hands or complexion, but evidently Joe adored
her as he had on their wedding day.

"Your father'll have nothing to leave, Martie," Joe said. "What little
the Estates don't eat up must go to Lydia, and if you make a start
here, why, you'll move on to something better!"

"Miss Fanny hasn't moved on to something better," Martie submitted with
a dubious smile.

"Miss Fanny isn't you, Mart. She's gotten a long way for her. You know
her father was the Patterson's hired man, and her mother actually had
town help for a while, when he died. Now they have that cottage free of
debt, and something in the Bank, and Miss Fanny belongs to the woman's
club--that's enough for her. You can do better, and you will!"

"I like you, Joe!" said Martie at this, quite frankly, and her
brother-in-law's pleasant eyes met hers as he said:

"I like you, too!"

Sally, herself, did not belong to the Woman's Social and Civic Club; a
fact that caused her some chagrin. Rose had actually been president
once, as had May Parker, and among the thirty-six or seven members she
and May were pleasantly prominent.

"I never see Rose, but I should have thought she might elect me to the
club," Sally said to Martie. "Unless, of course," she added,
brightening, "Rose realizes how busy I am, and that it really would be
an extravagance."

"But why do you want to go, Sis? What do they do--sit around and read
papers?"

"Oh, well, they have tea, and they entertain visitors in town. And they
have a historical committee to keep up the fountains and statues--well,
I don't care!" Sally interrupted herself with a reluctant smile as
Martie laughed. "It makes me sick for Rose to have everything and
always be so smug!"

"Oh, Sally Price Hawkes! Look at the children, and look at Joe,
covering himself with glory!"

"Well, I know." Sally looked ashamed. "But sometimes it does seem as if
it wasn't fair!"

"I met Rodney Parker the other day," Martie said thoughtfully. "It
isn't that he wasn't extremely pleasant--not to say flattering! No one
could have been more so. He told me that Rose was in the hospital, and
that they had been so busy since I got to town--I told you all this?
But as we parted my only thought was gratitude to Heaven that I had
never married Rodney Parker!"

Lydia, sitting sewing near by, coloured with shame at the indelicacy of
this, and made her characteristic comment.

"You don't mean that you--ALWAYS felt so, Martie?"

"Always!" Martie echoed healthily. "Why, I was crazy about him."

Lydia visibly shrank.

"He's so LIMITED" Martie continued with spirit. "I'm glad that things
have gone well with them, and that they have a baby at last! But to sit
opposite that pleasant, fat face--he is getting quite fat!--and hear
that complacent voice all the days of my life, those little puns, and
that cheerful way of implying that he is the greatest man since
Alexander--no, I couldn't!"

"He has built Rose a lovely home, and made her a very happy woman,"
Lydia said sententiously.

"Well, I suppose that when I thought of marrying Rod, I thought of the
old house," Martie pursued. "Of course, they HAVE built a nice home,
but the glory for me was the old place! Rose has a big drawing room,
and a big bedroom, and a guest's bath, and pantries and a side
porch--but I like your house better, Sally, with its trees and flowers
and babies!"

"You're just SAYING that!" Sally observed.

"I like civic pride," Martie, who was rambling on in her old
inconsequential way, presently added, "but Rod is merely SMUG. I
happened to mention some building in New York--I didn't know what to
talk to the man about! He immediately told me that the Mason building
down town was reinforced concrete throughout. I said that I had always
missed the orchards in the East, and he said, with such an unpleasant
laugh, 'We lead the world, Martie, you can't get away from it. Do you
suppose I'd stay here one moment if I didn't think that there is a
better chance of making money right here to-day than anywhere else in
the world?'"

She had caught his tone, and Sally disrespectfully laughed.

"Well, I know he is one of our most prominent young men, and Rose was
president of the club, and I suppose we less fortunate people can talk
all we please, they'll be just that much better off than we are!" Lydia
said with a little edge to her voice.

"Because his father is rich, Lyd. If it wasn't for the dear old Judge,
who pioneered and mined and planned and foresaw, where would Rod be
to-day, telling me that HE thought it best that Rose should nurse the
baby, and that he does this and thinks that?"

"Oh, no, Mart, you can't say that. Rodney is really an awfully clever,
steady fellow!" Sally said quickly.

"Sometimes I think we talk lightly about making money," said Lydia,
"but it's not such an easy thing to do!"

Martie coloured.

"Well, I'm making a start!" she said cheerfully. It was Lydia's turn to
colour with resentment; she thought that Martie's acceptance of Miss
Fanny's offer was something only a trifle short of disgrace.

In the pleasant summer mornings Martie walked down town with her
father, as she had done since she came home. But she left him at the
big brick doorway of the Library now, and by the time the fogs had
risen from Main Street, she was tied into her silicia apron and happily
absorbed in her work. She and Miss Fanny tiptoed about the wide, cool
spaces of the airy rooms, whispering, conferring. Sometimes, in
mid-morning, Teddy came gingerly in with Aunt Lydia.

"You're talking out loud, Moth'!"

"Because there's nobody else here, darling!"

Martie would catch the child to her heart with a joyous laugh. She was
expanding like a flower in sunlight. Her work interested her, she liked
to pick books for boys and girls, old women and children. She liked
moving about in a businesslike way--not a casual caller, but a part of
the institution. She had long, whispered conversations, at the desk,
with Dr. Ben, with the various old friends. Sometimes Sally brought the
baby in, and Martie sat Mary on the desk, and talked with one arm about
the soft little body.

Her duties were simple. She mastered them, to Miss Fanny's amazement,
on the very first day, and in a week she felt herself happily at home.

All Monroe passed before her desk, and every one stopped for a
whispered chat. Martie came to like the wet days, when the rain slashed
down, and the boys, reading at the long table, rubbed wet shoes
together. There was a warmth and brightness and openness about the
Library entirely different from the warmest home. And she took a deep
interest in the members, advised them as to books, and held good books
for them. She studied human nature under her green hanging-lamp; her
eager eyes and brain were never satisfied. Not the least advantage to
her new work was that she could carry home the new books.

Where the happiness that began to flood her heart and soul came from
had its source she could not tell. Like all happiness, it was made of
little things; elements that had always been in Monroe, but that she
had not seen before. She was splendidly well, as Teddy was, and their
laughter made the days bright in the old house. Also she was lovely to
look upon, and she must have been blind not to know it. Her tall, erect
figure looked its best in plain black; Martie would never be fat again;
her skin was like an apple blossom, white touched deeply with rose, her
eyes, with their tender sadness and veiled mirth, were more blue than
ever. Monroe came to know her buoyant step, her glittering, unconquered
hair, her voice that had in it tones unfamiliar and charming. She
scattered her gay and friendly interest everywhere; the women said that
she had something, not quite style, better than style, an "air."

One summer day Lydia saw her absorbed in the closely written sheets of
a long letter from New York.

"It's from Mr. Dryden, my friend there." Martie said, in answer to her
mild look of questioning. "Don't you remember that I told you he had
written a play that no manager would produce?"

"You didn't tell ME, dear," Lydia amended, darning industriously.

"Oh, yes, I did, Lyddy! I remember telling you!"

"No, dear, perhaps you thought you did," Lydia persisted.

"Oh, well! Anyway, I wrote and suggested that he try to get it
published instead, and my dear--it's to be published next month. Isn't
that glorious?"

"That is all worn under the arms," Lydia murmured over an old waist
that had been for months in her sewing basket, "I believe I will cut
off the buttons and give it to the poor!"

"The old idiot!" Martie mused over her letter.

"Does his wife encourage this writing, Martie?"

"Adele? She isn't with him now at all. She's left him, in fact. I
believe she wants a divorce."

"Oh?" Lydia commented, in a peculiar tone.

"He wrote me that some weeks ago," Martie explained, suddenly flushing.
"She was a queer, unhappy sort of woman. She and this doctor of hers
had some sort of affair, and the outcome was that she simply went to
friends, and wrote John a hysterical girly-girly sort of letter--"

"John?"

"Mr. Dryden, that is."

"He must be crushed and heartbroken," Lydia said emphatically.

"Well, no, he isn't," Martie said innocently. "He isn't like other
people. If she wants a divorce--John won't mind awfully. He's
really--really unusual."

"He must be," Lydia said witheringly, and trembling a little with
excitement, "to let his own wife leave him while he writes letters
asking the advice of a--a--another woman who is recently--recently
widowed!"

Martie glanced at her, smiled a little, shrugged her shoulders, and
calmly re-read her letter.

Lydia resumed her work, a flush on her cheeks.

"He can't have much respect for you, Martie," she said quietly, after a
busy silence.

Martie looked up, startled.

"John can't? Oh, but Lyddy, you don't know him! He's such an innocent
goose; he absolutely depends upon me! Why, fancy, he's the man who
wanted me to open the boarding-house so that he and his wife could live
there--he's as simple as that!"

"As simple as what?" Lydia asked with her deadly directness.

"Well--I mean--that if there were anything--wrong in his feeling for
me--" Martie floundered.

"Oh, Martie, Martie, Martie, I tremble for you!" Lydia said sadly. "A
married man, and you a married woman! My dear, can't you see how far
you've drifted from your own better self to be able to laugh about it?"

"You goose!" Martie kissed the cool, lifeless cheek before she ran
upstairs with her letter. John's straight-forward sentences kept
recurring to her mind through many days. His letter seemed to bring a
bracing breath of the big city. A day or two later she and Teddy
chanced to be held in mid-street while the big Eastern passenger train
thundered by, and she shut her fingers on John's letter in her pocket,
and said eagerly, confidently, "Oh, New York! I wish I was going back!"

But Lydia wore a grave face for several days, and annoyed and amused
her younger sister with the attitude that something was wrong.

Lydia had changed more than any one of them, Martie thought, although
her life was what it had always been. She had been born in the old
house, and had moved about it for these more than thirty years almost
without an interruption. But in the last six years she had left
girlhood forever behind; she was a prim, quiet, contentedly complaining
woman now, a little too critical perhaps, a little self-righteous, but
kind and good. Lydia's will was always for the happiness of others:
Pa's comfort, Pauline's rights, and the wisest course for Martie and
Sally to take occupied her mind and time far more than any personal
interest of her own. But she had a limited vision of duty and
convention, and even Sally fretted under her sway. Her father openly
transferred his allegiance to Martie, and Lydia grieved over the
palpable injustice without the slightest appreciation of its cause.

She was infinitely helpful in times of emergency, and would take charge
of Sally's babies, if Sally were ill, or slave in Sally's nursery if
all or any of the children were indisposed. But she was not so obliging
if mere pleasure took Sally away from her maternal duties. Sally told
Martie that there was no asking Lyd to help, either she did it
voluntarily, or wild horses couldn't make her do it at all.

If her younger sisters entrusted their children to Aunt Lydia, she was
an adoring and indulgent aunt. She loved to open her cookie jar for
their raids, and to have them beg her favours or stories. But if Lydia
had expressed the opinion that it was too cold for the children to go
barefoot, and Martie or Sally revoked the decision, then Lydia wore a
dark, resentful look for hours, and was apt to vent her disapproval on
the children themselves.

"No, get out of my lap, Jimmy. I don't want a boy that runs to his Mama
and doesn't trust his Auntie," Lydia would say patiently, firmly, and
kindly. Martie and Sally, wives for years, were able to refrain from
any comment. To be silent when children are disciplined is one of the
great lessons of marriage.

"But I don't believe that a woman who ever had had a baby COULD rebuff
a child like that," Martie told Sally. "I don't know, though, some
aunts are wonderful! Only that pleasant justice does seem wasted on a
child; it merely stings without being comprehensible in the least!"

So the younger girls dismissed it philosophically. But it was one of
the results of a life like Lydia's that human intercourse had no
lighter phases for her. She must analyze and suspect and brood.
Wherever a possible slight was hidden Lydia found it. She sometimes
disappeared for a few hours upstairs, and came back with reddened eyes.

Her father's devotion to Martie she bore with martyred sweetness. When
they laughed together at dinner she listened with downcast eyes, a
faint, pained smile on her lips.

"Would you like Martie to sit in Ma's place, Pa?" she asked one
morning, when she was folding her napkin neatly into the orange-wood
napkin-ring marked "Souvenir of Santa Cruz." Her father's surprised
negative hardly interrupted the account he was giving his youngest
daughter of the law-suit he had won years ago against old man Thomas.
But after breakfast Martie found Lydia crying into one of the aprons
that Were hanging in the side-entry. "It's nothing!" she gulped as
Martie's warm arms went about her. "Only--only I can't bear to have Ma
forgotten already! You heard how Pa spoke-so short and so cold!"

"Oh, Lyddy, DARLING!" Martie protested, half-amused, half-sympathetic.
Lydia straightened herself resentfully.

"I suppose I'm foolish," she said. "I suppose the best thing for us all
to do is to forget and laugh, and go on as if life and death were only
a JOKE!"

But these storms were rare. Lydia's was a placid life. She was deeply
delighted when her cooking was praised, although she pretended to be
annoyed by it. She was wearing dresses now that had been hers six years
ago; sometimes a blue gingham or a gray madras was worn a whole season
by Lydia without one trip to the tub. She carried a red and gray
parasol that Cliff Frost had given her ten years ago; her boots were
thin, unadorned kid, creased by her narrow foot; they seemed never to
wear out.

As the years went by she quoted her mother more and more. The rather
silent Mrs. Monroe had evidently left a fund of advice behind her.
Nothing was too trivial to be affected by the memory of Ma's opinion.

"Nice thick cream Williams is giving us," Lydia might say at the
breakfast table. "Dear Ma used to say that good cream was half the
secret of good coffee!" "I remember Ma used to say that marigolds were
rather bold, coarse flowers," she confided to Martie, "and isn't it
true?"

Her appetite for the news of the village was still insatiable; it was
rarely uncharitable, but it never ended. Martie came to recognize
certain tones in Lydia's voice, when she and Alice Clark or Angela
Baxter or young Mrs. King were on the shady side porch. There was the
delicately tentative tone in which she trod upon uncertain ground: "How
do you mean she's never been the same since last fall, Lou? I don't
remember anything special happening to Minnie Scott last fall." There
was a frankly and flatly amazed tone, in which Lydia might say: "Well,
Clara told me yesterday about Potter Street, and if you'll tell me what
POSSESSED that boy, I'll be obliged to you!" And then there was the
tone of incredible announcement: "Alice, I don't know that I should
tell this, because I only heard it last night, but I haven't been able
to think of one other thing ever since, and I believe I'll tell you; it
won't go any further. Mrs. Hughie Wilson came in here last night, and
we got to talking about old Mrs. Mulkey's death--"

And so on, for perhaps a full hour. Martie, smiling over her darning,
would hear Alice's gratifying, "Well, for pity!" and "Did you EVER!" at
intervals. Sometimes she herself contributed something, a similar case
in New York, perhaps, but the others were not interested. They knew,
without ever having expressed it, that there is no intimacy like that
of a small village, no novelty or horror that comes so closely home to
the people of the Eastern metropolis as did these Monroe events to
their own lives.

Martie loved her sister, and they came to understand each other's ways
perfectly. Teddy was happy with Aunt Lyd when his mother was at the
Library, and Lydia liked her authority over the child and his
companionship. There was no peace in the old house, for all her silent
meekness, unless Lydia's curious sense of justice was satisfied, and
Martie took pains to satisfy it.

One memorable day, just before Christmas, Martie opened a small
package, to find John Dryden's book. She was in the Library when Miss
Fanny came in with the mail, and her hand trembled as she cut the
strings. The flimsy tissue paper jacket blew softly over her hand; a
dark blue book, slim, dignified: "Mary Beatrice."

He had not autographed it, but then John would never think of doing so.
Martie smiled her motherly smile at the memory of his childish
dependence upon her suggestions as to the smaller points of living. Her
letter of congratulation began to run through her mind as she turned
the title page.

Suddenly her heart stopped beating. She wet her lips and glanced about.
Miss Fanny had gone into the coat-room; nobody was near.

Oh, madman, madman! He had dedicated it to her! A detected felony could
not have given Martie a more sinking sensation than she experienced at
the sight.

Her initials: M. S. B.--she need puzzle only a second over the
selection, for her letters to him were always signed, "Martha
Salisbury, Bannister." And under the initials, this:

Even as to Caesar, Cassar's toll, To God what in us is divine; So to
your soul above my soul Whatever life finds good in mine. Martie read
the four lines as many times, then she lifted the page to her cheek,
and held it there, shutting her eyes, and drawing a deep, ecstatic
breath.

"Oh, John, JOHN, how wonderful of you!" she whispered, her heart rising
on a swift, triumphant flight. Ah, this was something to have brought
from the long years; this counted in that inner tribunal of hers.

After awhile she began to turn the pages, wishing that she were a
better judge of all these phrases. The play was short: three brief acts.

"I think it's wonderful!" Martie decided. "I KNOW it is!"

For the little volume, even at this first quick glimpse, was stamped
with something fiery and strange. Martie's eyes drifted here and there;
presently fell upon the lines that brought the frightened little
Italian princess, fresh from her convent, to the strange coast of
England, and to the welcome of the strange King, her prospective
husband's brother. The words were simplicity's self, like all inspired
words, yet they brought the colour to Martie's face, and a yearning
pain to her heart. Youth and love in all their first gold glory were
captured here, and something of youth and glory seemed to flood the
Library throughout the quiet winter afternoon.

The hours droned on, Martie, moving noiselessly about, and touching the
switch that suddenly lighted the dim big room, paused at the window to
look down upon Monroe. An early twilight was creeping into the village
street, and the drug-store windows glowed with globes of purple and
green. The shops were already disguised under bushy evergreens; wreaths
of red and green paper made circles of steam against the show windows.
Silva, of the fruit market opposite, was selling a Christmas tree from
the score that lay at the curb, to a stout country woman, whose shabby,
well-wrapped children watched the transaction breathlessly from a
mud-spattered surrey. The Baxter girls went by, Martie saw them turn
into the church yard, and disappear into the swinging black doors, "for
a little visit."

Nothing dramatic or beautiful in the scene: a little Western village
street, on the eve of Christmas Eve, but to-night it was lighted for
Martie with poetry and romance. The thought of a slim, dark-blue book
with its four magic lines thrilled in her heart like a song.

"Christmas day after to-morrow!" she said to Fanny, "don't you love
Christmas?"

But she knew that her real Christmas joy had come to-day.

The December kitchen was gas-lighted long before she got there, and
Pauline was deep in calm preparation for dinner. Pauline was a Canadian
girl, and if her work ever confused or fatigued her, at least she never
betrayed the fact. There never were pots and pans awaiting cleaning in
Pauline's sink, there never was a teaspoonful of flour spilled upon her
biscuit board. Her gingham cuffs were always starched and stiff, her
colourless hair smooth. She was a silent, dun-coloured creature, whose
most violent expression was an occasional deep, unctuous laugh at Mrs.
Bannister's nonsense.

Pauline did not prepare a meal in a series of culminating convulsions,
with hair rumpling, face reddening, and voice rising every passing
minute. She moved a shining pot forward on a shining stove, she took
plates of inviting cold things from the safe, and lifted a damp napkin
from her pats of butter. Then she said, in an uninterested voice: "You
might tell your p'pa, Miss Lydia--"

Humble as her business was, she had been taught it well. Martie,
insatiable on this particular topic, sometimes questioned Pauline. She
was given a meagre picture of a farmhouse on Prince Edward's Island, of
a stern, exacting, loving mother who "licked" daughters and sons alike
with a "trace-end" for any infractions of domestic rule. Of snows so
lasting and deep that housewives buried their brown linens in October,
and found them again, snowy white, on the April grass. Pauline's
mother, dying of "a shock," had been the devoted daughter's charge for
eleven hard years, then Pauline had married at thirty, only to be made
a widow, by a lumber jam, at thirty-two. So it was fortunate that she
could cook, for she was a plain woman, and what the country folk call
"dumb," meaning dull, and unresponsive, and unambitious.

To-night there was a little unusual clutter in the big, hot, clean
kitchen; Lydia was making sandwiches for the Girls' Sodality Christmas
Tree at the large table. Two or three empty cardboard boxes stood
waiting the neatly trimmed and pressed bread: Lydia did this sort of
thing perfectly. At the end of the table, his cheeks glowing, and his
dark mop in a tumble, Teddy was watching in deep fascination.

The room had the charm that use and simplicity lend to any room. There
was nothing superfluous here, and nothing assumed. Martie knew every
crack in the yellow bowl that held a crinkled rice-pudding; the broom
had held that corner for thirty years; for thirty years the roller
towel had dangled from that door. She and Len and Sally had seen their
mother go to the broom for a straw, to test baking cake, a hundred
times; their sticky little faces had been dried a hundred times on the
towel.

But to-night a new, homely sweetness seemed to permeate the place.
Martie had left the slim, dark-blue book upstairs in her bureau drawer,
but her mood of exquisite lightheartedness she had not laid aside. She
sat down in the kitchen rocker, and Teddy climbed into her lap, and,
while she talked with Lydia, distracted her with little kisses, with
small hands squeezing her cold cheeks, and with the casual bumping of
his hard little head against her face.

"I declare it begins to feel Christmassy, Lyd! Did you get down town to
see the stores? I never saw anything like Bonestell's in my life. It's
cold, too--but sort of bracing cold! We had both the stoves going all
day; we had to light the lights at four! It was rather nice, everybody
coming in to say 'Merry Christmas!'"

"The children had their closing exercises at school this morning,"
Lydia contributed, "and afterward Sally and I walked down town, with
all the children. She expects Joe to-morrow. She wanted Billy and Jim
to get in a nap, so I brought Ted home."

"And I took a long nap!" Teddy whispered in his mother's ear.

"I don't know what possesses the child to whisper that way!" Lydia
said, annoyed.

"He just said that he had a nap, Lyd, I think he didn't want to
interrupt."

"Oh, he got a good nap in," Lydia admitted, pacified, "if you're really
going to take him to-night, I've laid out his clean things."

"I saw them on the bed, Lyd--you're a darling!"

"Am I going?" Teddy asked, with a bounce.

"Is Aunt Sally going to take the children?" Martie temporized. But
Teddy knew from her tone that he was safe. Indeed, his mother loved the
realization that she was his court of last appeal, that it was to her
memory of authority abused that his happiness was entrusted. It was her
joy to explain, to adjust, to reconcile, the little elements of his
life. She taught him the rules of simplicity and industry and service
as another mother might have taught him his multiplication table. Teddy
might have poverty and discouragement to face some day, but life could
never be all dark to him while his mother interpreted it.

She took him upstairs now, to dress for the great occasion of the
Sodality Christmas tree, and dressed herself, prettily, as well. But
before she turned out the gas, and followed the galloping small boy
downstairs, she opened her bureau drawer.

And again the slim book was in her hands, and again her dazzled eyes
were reading the few words that gave her new proof that John had not
forgotten.

For a few minutes she stood dreaming; dreaming of the old
boarding-house, and the little furniture clerk with his eager,
faun-like smile. And for the first time she let her fancy play with the
thought of what life might be for the woman John Dryden loved.

But she put the book and the thought quickly away, her cheeks burning,
and went down to the homely, inviting odours of supper, of Pauline's
creamed salmon and fluffy rolls. Her father sat beside the fire, in a
sort of doze, his long, lean hands idly locked, his glasses pushed up
on his lead-coloured forehead.

Martie kissed him, catching the old faint unpleasant smell of breath
and moustache as she did so, helped him to the table, and tied Teddy's
napkin under the child's round, firm chin. She talked of anything and
everything, of Christmas surprises, and Christmas duties--

And all the while her heart sang. When with Teddy on one side, and
Lydia leaning on the free arm, she was walking through the winter
darkness her feet wanted to dance on the cold, hard earth.

"It's Christmas--Christmas--Christmas!" she laughed, when the little
boy commented upon her gaiety. Lydia found the usual damper for her
mood.

"Very different for you from last Christmas, poor Mart!" she observed,
with a long sigh.

Martie was sobered. They went into the church for a moment's prayer,
and Teddy wriggled against her in the dark, and managed to get a little
arm about her neck, for he knew that she was crying. The revulsion had
come, and Martie, tears running down her face in the darkness, was only
a lonely woman again, unsuccessful, worried, trapped in a dull little
village, missing her baby!

Women were coming and going on the altar, trimming it with odorous
green for Christmas. There was a pungent smell of evergreen in the air.
About the confessionals there was a constant shuffle, whispering and
stirring; radiators hissed and clanked, the big doors creaked and swung
windily.

Sally and her whispering tribe were just in front of them; presently
they all went out into the cold, and across a bare yard to the lights
and warmth and noise and music of the Sodality Hall. Sally saw that
Martie had been crying, and when they were seated together in one of
the rows of chairs against the wall, with their laps full of children's
coats, she touched the hidden hurt.

"Martie, dearest, I'm so sorry!"

"I know!" Martie blinked and managed a smile.

"I'll be glad for you when this first Christmas is over!" Sally said
earnestly.

Martie's answering look was full of gratitude: she thought it strangely
touching to see the blooming little mother deliberately try to bring
her gay Christmas mood into tune with sorrow and loss. Sally's
beautiful Elizabeth was one of the Christmas angels in the play
to-night, and Sally's pride was almost too great to bear. Billy was
sturdily dashing about selling popcorn balls, and Jim was staggering to
and fro flirting with admiring Sodality girls. The young Hawkeses were
at their handsome best, and women on all sides were congratulating
Sally.

What could Sally dream, Martie mused, of a freezing Eastern city packed
under dirty snow, of bitter poverty, of a tiny, gold-crowned girl in a
shabby dressing-gown, of a coaster wrapped in wet paper, and delivered
in a dark, bare hall? Sally's serene destiny lay here, away from the
damp, close heat under which milk poisoned and babies wilted, away from
the icy cold that caught shuddering flesh and blood under its solid
pall. These friendly, chattering women were Sally's world, these
problems of school and rent and food were Sally's problems.

But Martie knew now that she was not of Monroe, that she must go back.
She was not Sally, she was not Rose; she had earned her entry into a
higher school. Those Eastern years were not wasted, she must go on now,
she must go on--to what?--to what?

And with New York her thoughts were suddenly with John, and Sally,
glancing anxiously at her, saw that she was smiling. Martie did not
notice the look: she was far away. She saw the Christmas tree, and the
surging children, through a haze of dreams.

Mysterious, enviable, unattainable--thought the Sodality girls, eying
the black-clad figure, with its immaculate touches of white at wrists
and throat. Mrs. Bannister had run away with an actor and had lived in
New York, and was a widow, they reminded each other, and thrilled. She
never dreamed that they made her a heroine and a model, quoted her,
loitered into the Library to be enslaved afresh by her kind, unsmiling
advice. She felt herself far from the earliest beginnings of real
achievement: to them, as to herself ten years ago, she was a person
romantic and exceptional--a somebody in Monroe!

Somebody brought her Jim, sweet and sleepy, and he subsided in her lap.
Len's wife sank into a neighbouring chair, to express worried hopes
that the March baby would be a boy, a male in the Monroe line at last.
Rose fluttered near, with pleasant plans for a dinner party. Martie's
thought were with a slim, dark-blue book, safe in her bureau drawer.

She wrote John immediately. There was no answer, but she realized that
the weeks that went on so quietly in Monroe were bringing him rapidly
to fame and fortune.

"Mary Beatrice" was an instantaneous success. It was not quite poetry,
not quite drama, not quite history. But its combination of the three
took the fancy, first of the critics, then of the public. It was read,
quoted, and discussed more than any other book of the year. Martie
found John's photograph in all the literary magazines, and saw his name
everywhere. Interviews with him frequently stared at her from
unexpected places, and flattering prophecies of his future work were
sounded from all sides. Three special performances of "Mary Beatrice,"
and then three more, and three after that, were given in New York, and
literary clubs everywhere took up the book seriously for study.

Well, Martie thought, reviewing the matter, it was not like one's
dreams, but it was life, this curious success that had come to the
husband of a woman like Adele, the odd, inarticulate little clerk in a
furniture store. She wondered if it had come in time to save the
divorce, wondered where John was living, what change this extraordinary
event had made in his life.

Her own share in it came to seem unreal, as all the old life was
unreal. Gradually, what Monroe did and thought and felt began to seem
the real standard and the old life the false. Martie agreed with Lydia
that the little Eastman girl had a prettier voice than any she had ever
heard in New York; she agreed with Rose that the Woman's Club was
really more up-to-date than it was possible for a club to be in the big
Eastern city.

"I know New York," smiled Rose, "and of course, I love it. Rod and I
have been there twice, and we do have the best times! And I admit that
Tiffany's and the big shops and so on, well, of course, they're
wonderful! We stayed there almost three weeks the last time, and we
just WENT every moment of the time--"

Martie, leaning on the desk before her and smiling vaguely, was not
listening. The other woman's words had evoked a sudden memory of the
early snows and the lights in the Mall, of the crashing elevated trains
with chestnut-sellers' lights blowing beneath them, of summer dawns,
when the city woke to the creeping tide of heat, and of autumn
afternoons, when motor cars began to crowd the Avenue, and leaves
drifted--drifted--in the Park. To Rose she answered duly: "You must
have had great fun!" But to herself she said: "Ah, you don't know MY
New York!"



CHAPTER III


One wet January night Malcolm came home tired and cross to find his
younger daughter his only company for dinner. Lydia had been sent for
in haste, by Mrs. Harry Kilroy, whose mother was not expected to live,
said the panting messenger, thereby delicately intimating that she WAS
expected to die. Teddy was as usual at Aunt Sally's.

Martie coaxed the fire to a steady glow, and seated herself opposite
her father with a curiosity entirely unmixed with the old apprehension.
Pa was unmistakably upset about something.

Under her pleasant questioning it came out. Old Tate and Cliff Frost
had come into the office of the Monroe Estates that afternoon to make
him an offer for the home site. Martie could see that her father
regretted that Lydia and Lydia's horrified protests were missing.

"I looked them in the eye," said Malcolm, wiping his moustache before
he gave her an imitation of his own scorn, "and I said, 'Gentlemen,
before the home that was my father's, and will be my son's, passes from
my hands, those hands will be dust!'"

"But why do they want it?" asked Martie after duly applauding this
sentiment.

She was rapidly thinking. The old house was mortgaged, and doubly
mortgaged. It was useless to the average buyer, for besides the fact
that the neighbourhood was no longer Monroe's best, it was four feet
below street level. It was surrounded by useless shabby barns and
outhouses, it was five times too large for the diminished family, and,
in case of Pa's death--and Pa was nearly seventy--it must fetch what it
might, for between Len's constant need of money for the Estates, and
Lydia's mild helplessness, there could be no holding it for a fair
price.

"For the new High School--for the new High School!" her father said
impatiently. For perhaps twenty years he had had occasional offers for
the property, and had always scornfully refused them.

"Yet I think that's rather touching, Pa," Martie said.

"What's touching?" he asked suspiciously, after a moment in which he
obviously tried to see any touching aspect in the affair.

"Why, to have the Monroe High School on the old Monroe site!" Martie
said innocently. "Of course Mr. Tate and Cliff Frost know what it means
to you, and yet I suppose they realize that the neighbourhood is
changing, and that those shops have come in, this side of the bridge,
and that, even if we lived here ten years more, we couldn't twenty. I
agree with your decision, Pa, of course; but at the same time, I see
that no other plot in Monroe would be so fitting!"

Malcolm stirred his tea, raised the cup, and drank off the hot fluid
with great gusto. A faint frown darkened his brow.

"And, pray, where would the family live?" he asked presently.

"Where we ought to be now," Martie answered promptly. "In the Estates.
I have been thinking lately, Pa, that nothing would give that
development such prestige as to have you there! Put up as pretty a
house as you choose, build a drive, and put in a handsome fence, but be
Malcolm Monroe of the Monroe Estates!"

Always captured by phrases, she saw him tug at his moustache to hide a
smile.

"Well!" he said presently. "Well! You astonish me. But yes, I see your
point. I must candidly admit you have a point there. With another
attractive home there--yes, there is something in that. But I had
supposed that you girls had a sentiment for this old place," he added
almost reproachfully.

"And so we have!" Martie answered quickly. "But it is one thing to sell
this place in small lots, Pa, and have it chopped into shops and
shanties, and another to have a three-hundred-thousand-dollar building
go in here. The new High School on the old Monroe place; you'll admit
there's a great difference?"

Had her bombastic father always been so easily influenced? Martie
wondered, remembering the old storms and the old stubbornness. It was
true, some persons couldn't do things; other persons could. Lydia and
Ma would have goaded him into an obstinacy that no later judgment could
dispel, and after his death Monroe would have lamented that he had left
next to nothing, for the place had to go for taxes and interest
overdue, and Lydia and Ma would have settled themselves comfortably on
Len for life.

"All the difference in the world," Malcolm said, now deep in thought.

"You could send a letter to the Zeus," Martie added presently, "saying
that you had never even considered such a step before, but that to sell
for educational purposes was--you know!--was in accord with the spirit
of your father--that sort of thing!"

"And so it was!" he answered warmly.

"A few ready thousands would be the making of the Estates, now," said
Martie, "but naturally the town need know nothing of that!"

Malcolm shrugged a careless assent, and silently finished his pie.

"Your sister Lydia--" he began suddenly, shaking his head.

"Yes, Lyd will object," Martie assented, as his voice stopped. "Lyd is
a conservative, Pa. She has very little of the spirit that brought
Grandfather Monroe here; she doesn't, in the Estates, see property that
will be just as beautiful and just as valuable as anything in Monroe in
a few years. Why, Pa, you must remember the days when our trees in the
yard here were only saplings?"

"Remember?" he echoed impressively. "Why, I remember Monroe as the
field between two sheep-ranches. There was not a blade of wheat, not a
fruit tree--"

He was well started. Martie listened to an hour's complacent
reminiscence. At eight o'clock he went to his study, but came back a
moment later, with his glasses pushed up on his lead-coloured forehead,
to say that the sum old Tait mentioned would clear the mortgage, build
a handsome house, and perhaps leave a bit over for Martie and her boy.
At nine he appeared again, to say that he would deed the new house to
Lydia, who would undoubtedly take the change a little hard--a little
hard!

"Yes," said old Malcolm thoughtfully, from the doorway, glancing, with
his spectacles still on his forehead, at the pencilled list he had in
his hand. "Yes, I believe I have hit upon the solution!
I--believe--I--have--hit--it!"

Old Mrs. Sark having fulfilled her family's mournful expectations,
Lydia stayed for the funeral, and was so deeply absorbed and satisfied
by her position in the Kilroy house that she returned home still
impressive, consolatory, and crushed in manner.

She sat beside Martie on the front steps, in the warm March twilight,
retailing the events of the last three days, and living again their
moments of grief and stress.

"I know I was a consolation to them, Mart--of course, there's little
enough one can do! But yesterday morning--I sat up both nights; I
declare I don't know where the strength comes from--yesterday morning,
before the funeral, I went up to Louis Kilroy--I never saw a grown man
take a thing so hard--and I said, 'Louis, you must come and have a cup
of hot, strong coffee!' Bessie was there, and I must say she seemed as
devoted to Grandma as if she'd been her own daughter, and she came and
took my hands, and she said, 'Lydia, I never will forget all you've
done for us!' Well," Lydia went on, with a sad little deprecatory
shrug, "I didn't do much. But it was somebody THERE, you know! Somebody
to do the plain little everyday things that MUST be done, whether death
is in the house, or not!" And Lydia sighed in weary content. "Carrie
David says she believes Tom'll go next--" she was pursuing mournfully,
when Martie interrupted.

"Say, Lyd dear, we've been having great times since you were away--I
didn't have a chance to say a word to you at the funeral--but the
school board, or the city fathers, or some one, has made Pa an offer
for the house!"

"What house?" Lydia asked interestedly.

"THIS one." Martie began to chew the fresh sprout of a yellow banksia
rose.

"This one!" Lydia's mouth remained a little open, her eyes were wild.

"Yes; this whole tract. They'll fill it in; they want if for the new
High School."

"Well--" Lydia tossed her head loftily. "Of course, Pa told them--?"

"Yes, he did tell them, as he always has--that nothing would persuade
him to part with it!"

"WELL!" said Lydia, breathing again.

"But he's been thinking it over, Lyd, and he's really seriously
reconsidering it. You see the instant Pa dies, the Bank will foreclose,
for neither you nor I have a cent, and Len is tied up for years with
the Estates--"

Martie began to speak eagerly and quickly. But her voice died before
Lydia's look.

"Martie! How can you! Speaking of Pa's death in that callous,
cold-blooded way; when poor Ma hasn't been buried three years--and now
dear old Grandma Sark--"

Lydia fumbled for a handkerchief, and began to sob. After a few
moments, in which Martie only offered a few timid pats on her shoulder
for consolation, she suddenly dried her eyes, and began with bitter
clearness:

"I know who has done this, Mart! I don't say much, but I see. I see now
where all your petting of Pa, and humouring Pa, was leading! Oh, how
can you--how can you--how CAN you! My home, the dear old Monroe place,
that three generations of us--but I won't stand it! I feel as if Ma
would rise up and rebuke me! No, you and Pa can decide what you please,
but no power on earth will make me--and where would we live, might I
ask? We couldn't go to the Poor House, I suppose?"

"Pa'd build a lovely house, smaller and more modern, on the Estates,"
Martie explained. Lydia assumed a look of high scorn.

"Oh, indeed!" she said, gulping and wiping her eyes again. "Indeed! Is
that so? Move out there so that Len would prosper, so that there would
be one more house out on that DESOLATE flat field--very well, you and
Pa can go! But I stay here!"

And trembling all over, as she always did tremble when forced into
anything but a mildly neutral position, Lydia went upstairs. The dinner
hour was embittered by a painful discussion and by more tears.

Malcolm was somewhat inclined to waver toward Lydia's view, but Martie
was firm. When Lydia tearfully protested that, just as it stood, the
house would made an ideal "gentleman's estate," Martie mercilessly
answered that at its present level, without electric light or garage or
baths, it was just so much "old wood and plaster." Lydia winced at this
term as if she had been struck.

"How would you pay taxes and interest, if anything happened to Pa?"
Martie demanded briskly.

"We would have no rent to pay," Lydia countered quickly, red spots
burning in her cheeks, and giving her mild face an unusually wild look.
"Why do people own their homes, if there's no economy in it?"

"Rent doesn't come to three thousand a year!" Martie reminded her.
Lydia looked startled. "We could rent that whole upper floor," she said
hesitatingly.

"But you would rather have this place a school house than a
boarding-house?" argued Martie.

Lydia's wet eyes reddened again.

"DON'T say such horrible things, Martie! The way you put things it's
enough to scare Pa to death! Why shouldn't we live here, as we always
have lived?" She turned to her father. "Pa, it's not RIGHT for you to
consider such a change just because Martie----"

"I'm doing it for you, Lyd," Martie said quickly. "I shall be in New
York--"

They hardly heard her; Martie had talked of New York since she was a
child. But Martie suddenly realized that it was true; she had really
been planning and contriving to go back through all these placid months.

"I'll discuss it with your brother," Malcolm finally said. "I'll see
what Leonard thinks."

"But, Pa," Martie protested, "what does LEN know about it?"

"I suppose a man may be supposed to know more about business than a
woman!" Lydia exclaimed.

"Yes--yes, this is a man's affair," Malcolm conceded, scraping his
chin. "Your brother has been associated with men in business affairs
for years; he had some college work. I'll see Len."

There was nothing more to say. Martie felt instinctively that Len would
approve of the sale of the old place, and she was right, but it was
galling to have his opinion so eagerly sought by her father, and to
have him so gravely quoted. Len, slow witted and suspicious, thought
that there was "something in the idea," but added pompously that he
could not see that the Monroes, as a family, were under any need of
obliging the Frosts and the Tates, and that the property was there in
any case, and there was no occasion for hurry.

Malcolm repeated these views at the dinner table with great
seriousness, and Lydia triumphantly echoed them over and over. As she
and Martie dusted and made beds the older sister poured forth a quiet
stream of satisfied comment. Such things were for men's deciding, after
all, and she, Lydia, never would and never could understand how they
were able to settle things so quickly and so wisely.

But Martie was not beaten. She knew that Len was wrong; there was no
time to waste. The old Mussoo tract, down at the other end of the town,
was also under consideration, and the deal might be closed any day. One
quiet, wet day she asked Miss Fanny for leave of absence, and went to
the office of old Charley Tate. Mr. Tate was not there, Potter Street
told her, taking his feet from a desk, and slapping his book shut.
However, if there was anything he could do, Mart--?

No; she thanked him. She would go up to the Bank, and see Mr. Frost.
She met Rose coming out as she went in.

"Hello, Martie!" Rose was all cordiality. "Nice weather for ducks,
isn't it? But fortunately you and I aren't sugar or salt, are we? Were
you going to see Rodney?"

"Clifford Frost," Martie told her. Did Rose's face really brighten a
little--she wondered?

"Oh! Well, he's there! Come soon and see Doris!" Rose got into the
motor car, and Martie went into the Bank.

Clifford was a tall man, close to fifty, thinner than Dr. Ben, more
ample of figure than Malcolm. He wore a thin old alpaca coat in the
Bank in this warm spring weather. A green shade was pushed up against
his high forehead, which shone a little, and as Martie settled herself
opposite him, he took off his big glasses, and dried them in a
leisurely fashion with a rotary motion of his white handkerchief.

He was reputedly the richest man in town, but rich in country fashion.
Such property as he had, cattle, a farm or two, several buildings in
Main Street, and stock in the Bank, he studied and nursed carefully,
not from any feeling of avarice, but because he was temperate and
conservative in all his dealings.

Martie liked his office, much plainer than Rodney's, but with something
dignified about its well-worn furnishings that Rodney's shining brass
and glass and mahogany lacked. She thought that perhaps Ruth had given
her father the two pink roses that were toppling in a glass on the
desk; she eyed the big photograph of Colonel Frost respectfully.

"Well, well, Mrs. Bannister, how do you do! I declare I haven't seen
much of you since you came back! How's that boy of yours? Nice
boy--nice little feller."

"He's well, thank you, Clifford; he's never been ill. And how's your
own pretty girl?" Martie smiled, using the little familiarity
deliberately.

When he answered, with a father's proud affection, he called her
"Martie," as she suspected he might. She went to her point frankly. Pa,
she explained, was playing fast and loose with the town's offer for the
property. The man opposite her frowned, nodded, and stared at the floor.

"You girls naturally feel--" he nodded sympathetically.

"Lydia does. But, Clifford, that's just where I need your help. I think
it would be madness not to sell!"

"Madness NOT to?" It was not clear yet. "Then you WANT to?"

She went over her ground patiently. His face brightened with
comprehension.

"I see! Well, now, that puts a different face on it," he said. "Of
course, I want the deal to go through," he admitted, "and if you can
talk your father over--"

"That's what I want you to do!" Martie assured him gaily.

He laughed in answer.

"He don't pay any attention to me!" he confessed. "I's telling him only
yes'day that it wasn't good business to hang onto that piece. I told--"

"But Clifford," she suggested, "I want you to take this tack. I want
you to tell him that the town has a sentiment about it--the old Monroe
place, you know. Tell him that people feel it OUGHT to be public
property, and then, when he agrees, whip some sort of paper out of your
pocket, and have him sign it then and there!"

Clifford Frost was not quick of thought, but he was shrewd, and his
smile now was compounded of admiration for the scheme and the schemer
alike.

"I declare you're quite a business woman, Martie!" he said. "It's a
pity Len hasn't got it, too. I b'lieve I can work your Pa that way;
anyway, I'll try it! I supposed you girls were hanging on like grim
death to that piece--"

After this the conversation rambled pleasantly; presently, in the midst
of a discussion of mortgages, he took one of the roses, and called her
attention to it. It had had some special care; Martie could honestly
admire it. Clifford told her to keep it, and her blue eyes met his
friendly ones, behind the big glasses, as she pinned it on her blouse.

"I declare you've got quite a different look since you came back,
Martie," he said. "You're quite a New Yorker! I said to Ruthie a while
back, that there was a strange lady in town; I'd seen her with Mrs. Joe
Hawkes. 'Why, Papa,' she says, 'that's Mrs. Bannister!' I assure you I
could hardly believe it. You've took off considerable flesh, haven't
you?"

"I've had my share," Martie answered in the country phrase, with a
smile and a sigh.

"Well, I guess that's so, too!" he said quickly with an answering sigh.
"What was the--the cause?" he asked delicately. "He was a big, strong
fellow. I remember him quite well; friend of Rodney's."

He told her circumstantially, in return for her brief confidences, of
his wife's death. How she had not been well, and how she had refused
the regular dinner on a certain night, first mentioned as "the
Tuesday," and then corrected to "the Wednesday," and had asked Polly to
boil her two eggs, and then had not wanted them, either. With loving
sorrow he had remembered it all; frank tears came to his eyes, and
Martie liked him for them.

When they parted, he walked with her to the Bank door, and asked her,
if she was interested in roses, to let him drive her up some day to see
his.

"An old-fashioned garden--an old-fashioned garden!" he said, smiling
from the doorway. Martie, pleasantly stirred, went back to the Library,
to put her rose in water and congratulate herself upon her mission.

"Poor Clifford! He will never get over his wife's death!" Lydia said
that evening. "Where'd you meet him, Mart?"

"I deposited some money in the Bank," Martie said truthfully. "He's
awfully pleasant, I think."

Lydia paid no further attention. She presently went back to another
topic. "Nelson Prout said he was going to take it up with the
Principal. He says there's no earthly reason in the world why Dorothy
shouldn't have passed this Christmas. Elsa told me Dorothy has been
crying ever since and they're worried to death about her--"

Lydia suspected no treachery. What Len and Pa had settled was settled.
She felt that Martie was merely easing her indignation when the younger
sister spent several evenings attempting to write an article on the
subject of economic independence for women. Martie had tried to write
years ago; it was a safe and ladylike amusement.

"What's it all about?" Lydia asked.

"Oh, it's practically an appeal to give girls the same chance that boys
have!"

Lydia smiled.

"But don't they HAVE it? Girls don't want it, that's all."

"Neither do boys, Lyd."

"So your idea would be to force something they didn't want on girls,
just because it's forced on boys?" Lydia said, quietly triumphant.

Martie, looking up from her scratched sheets, smiled and blinked at her
sister for a few seconds.

"Exactly!" she said then, pleasantly.

She finished the little article, and called it "Give Her A Job!" It was
only what she had attempted to express during her first return visit to
Monroe years ago; during those days and nights of fretting when the
thought of Golda White had ridden her troubled thoughts like an evil
dream. Later, she had re-written the article, just before Wallace's
return from long absence to New York. Now she wrote it again: it was a
relief to have it finally polished and finished, and sent away in the
mail. She had never before despatched it so indifferently.

Even when the editor's brief, pleasant note was in her hand, three
weeks later, and when she had banked the check for thirty-five dollars,
Martie was not particularly thrilled. It was so small a drop in the
ocean of magazine reading--it was so short a step toward independence!
She told Miss Fanny and Sally about it, and for a month or two watched
the magazine for it. Then she forgot it.



CHAPTER IV


She forgot it for a new dream. For long before the tangled negotiations
that surrounded the sale of the old Monroe place were completed,
Martie's thoughts were absorbed by a new and tremendous consideration:
Clifford Frost was paying her noticeable attention.

Monroe saw this, of course, before she did. Without realizing it,
Martie still kept a social gulf between herself and the Frost and
Parker families. They were the richest and most prominent people in the
village, she was just one of the Monroe girls. She was too busy, and
too little given to thought of herself, to waste time on speculations
of this nature.

More than that, Lydia's deep resentment of the sale of the old home
gave Martie food for thoughts of another nature. Lydia never let the
subject rest for an instant. She came to the table red-eyed and
sniffing. It was no use to plant sweet-peas this year, it was no use to
prune the roses. Whether Lydia was sitting rocking on the side porch
silently, through the spring twilight, or impatiently flinging a
setting hen off the nest, with muttered observations concerning the
senseless scattering of the Monroe family before that setting of eggs
could be hatched, Martie felt her deep and angry disapproval.

It was several weeks, and April had clothed Monroe in buttercups and
new grass, before Martie became aware that the name of Clifford Frost
was frequently associated with Lydia's long protests.

"I suppose it's the new way of doing things," she heard her sister
saying one day. "Delicacy--! They don't know what it is nowadays. Do as
you like--run into a man's office--meet him on the steps after
church--!"

Martie felt a sudden prick. She had indeed gone more than once to
Clifford's office, and last Sunday she had indeed chanced to meet him
after church--!

"Tear away old associations!" Lydia was continuing darkly.
"Slash--chop--nothing matters! I know I am old-fashioned," she added,
with a sort of violent scorn. "But I declare it makes me laugh to
remember how dignified _I_ was--Ma used to say that it was born in me
to hold aloof! A man had to say something PRETTY DEFINITE before I was
willing to fling myself into his arms! And what's the result, I'm an
old maid--and I have myself to thank!"

"Lyddy, darling, WHAT are you driving at?"

The sisters were at supper together, on a warm spring Sunday. Martie,
removing from his greasy little hand a chop-bone that Teddy had chewed
white, looked up to see that her sister's face was pale, and her eyes
reddened with tears. Cornered, Lydia took refuge in pathos.

"Oh--I don't know! I suppose it's just that I cannot seem to feel that
one of those bare little houses in the Estates EVER will seem like
home," faltered Lydia. "You and Pa must do as you think best, of
course--you're young and bright and full of life, and naturally you
forget--but I suppose I feel that Ma--that Ma--!"

She left the table in tears, Martie staring rather bewilderedly after
her. Teddy gazed steadily at his mother, a question in his dark eyes.
He was not a talkative child, except occasionally, when she and he were
alone, but they always understood each other. To Martie he was the one
exquisite and unalloyed joy in life. His splendid, warm little person
was at once the tie that bound her to the old days, and to the future.
Whatever that future might be, it would bring her nothing of which she
could be so proud. Nobody else might claim him; he was hers.

He suddenly smiled at her now, and slipping from the table with a great
square of sponge cake in his hand, backed up to his mother to have his
napkin untied. He guarded his cake as best he could when his mother
suddenly beset him with a general rumpling and kissing, and then
slipped out into the yard as silently as a little rabbit.

But Martie sat on, musing, trying to catch the inference that she knew
she had missed from Lydia's tirades. Lydia was furious about the sale
of the house, of course--but this new note--?

In a rush, comprehension came. Alone in the dark old dining room, in
the disorder of the Sunday suppertable, Martie's cheeks were dyed a
bright, conscious crimson. Could Lydia mean--could Lydia possibly be
implying that Cliff--that Cliff--?

For half an hour she sat motionless--thinking. The richest--the most
respected man in Monroe, and herself engaged to him, married to him.
But could it be true?

She began to remember, to recall and dissect and analyze her recent
encounters with Clifford, and as she did so, again the warm girlish
colour flooded her cheeks with June. No questioning it, he had rather
singled her out for his companionship of late. Last Sunday, and the
Sunday before, he had come to call--once, most considerately, the girls
thought, to show Pa the plans for the new High School, once to take
Martie and Sally and the children driving. Martie had sat next him on
the front seat, during the drive, her black veil blowing free about her
wide-brimmed hat, her blue eyes dancing with pleasure, and her cheeks
rosy in the cool foggy air.

Well, she was widowed. She was free to marry again. It seemed strange
to her that in eighteen months she had never once weighed the
possibility. She had pondered every other avenue open to women; she had
considered this work and that, but marriage had not once crossed her
mind.

She said to herself that she would not allow herself to think of it
now, probably Clifford had never thought of it, and if he had, he was
notoriously slow about making up his mind. Her only course was to be
friendly and dignified, and to meet the issue when it came.

But if--but if it were her fortune to win the affections of this man,
to take her place, here among her old friends, as their leader and
head, to entertain in the old house with the cupola, under the plumy
maple and locust trees--? If Teddy might grow to a happy boyhood, here
with Sally's children, and friendly, gentle little Ruth Frost might
find a real mother in her father's young wife--?

Martie's blood danced at the thought. She hardly saw Cliff's
substantial figure and kindly face for the glamour of definite
advantages that surrounded him. She would be rich, rich enough to do
anything and everything for Sally's children, for instance. And what
pleasure and pride such a marriage would bring to Lydia, and Pa, and
Sally! And how stupefied Len would be, to have the ugly duckling
suddenly show such brilliant plumage!

She thought of Rodney and Rose. Rodney was getting stout now, he was
full of platitudes, heavy and a little tiresome. Rose was still
birdlike, still sure that what she had and did and said and desired
were the sum of earthly good. A smile twitched Martie's sober mouth as
she thought of Rose's congratulations.

Rose would give her a linen shower, with delicious damp little
sandwiches, and maple mousse, or a dainty luncheon with silk-clad,
flushed women laughing about the table. And Martie would join the
club--be its president, some day--

Meanwhile, once more she must wait. A woman's life was largely waiting.
She had waited on Rodney's young pleasure, years ago; waited for
Wallace, at rehearsals, or at night; waited for news of Golda; waited
for Teddy; and for Wallace again and again; waited for Pa's letter and
the check. Patience, Martie said to her eager heart.

Bright, sisterly, Rose presently came into the office, to put a plump
little arm about Martie, and give her a laughing kiss. Rose had
discovered that Martie was at home again, and wanted her to come to
dinner.

It was one of many little signs of the impending event. Martie had not
been blind to the whispering and watching all about her. Fanny had
subtly altered her attitude, even Sally was changed. Now came Rose, to
prove that the matter was reaching a point where it must be taken
seriously.

Martie went to the dinner, a little ashamed of herself for doing so.
Rose had ignored her for more than a year. But just now she could not
afford to ignore Rose.

She was ashamed of Lydia's innocent pride in the invitation. Sally,
too, who came to the old house to watch Martie dress, had the old
attitude. There was an unexpressed feeling in the air that Martie was
stepping up, and stepping away from them. The younger sister, in her
filmy black, with her bright hair severely banded, and her quiet
self-possession, had some element in her that they were content to lack.

Lydia's red, clean little hands were still faintly odorous of chopped
onion, as she moved them from hook to hook. Sally wore an old plaid
coat that hung open and showed her shabby little serge gown. The very
room, where these girls had struggled with so many inadequate garments,
where they had pressed and pieced and turned a hundred gowns, spoke to
Martie of her own hungry girlhood.

A motor horn sounded outside. Rodney had come for her. He came in, in
his big coat, and shook hands with Sally and Lydia. His eyes were on
Martie as she slipped a black cloak over her floating draperies, and
the fresh white of throat and arms.

"What have you done to make yourself so pretty?" he asked gallantly,
when they were in the car.

"Am I pretty?" she asked directly, in a pleased tone.

It was a tone she could not use with Rodney. She was astonished to have
him fling his arm lightly about her shoulders for a minute.

"Just as pretty as when you broke my heart eight years ago!" he said
cheerfully. Martie was too much surprised to answer, and as he busied
himself with the turns of the road, she presently began to speak of
other things. But when they had driven into the driveway of the new
Parker house, and had stopped at the side door, he jumped from the car,
and came around it to help her out.

She felt him lightly detain her, and looked up at him curiously.

"Well, what's the matter--afraid of me?"

"No-o." Martie was a little confused. "But--but hadn't I better go in?"

"Well--what do I get out of it?" he asked, in the old teasing voice of
the boy who had liked to play "Post-office" and "Clap-in-and-clap-out"
years ago.

But they were not children now, and there was reproach in the glance
Martie gave him as she ran up the steps.

Rose, in blue satin, fluttered to meet her and she was conveyed
upstairs on a sort of cloud of laughter and affection. Everywhere were
lights and pretty rooms; wraps were flung darkly across the Madeira
embroidery and filet-work of Rose's bed.

"Other people, Rose?"

"Just the Ellises, Martie, and the Youngers--you don't know them. And a
city man to balance Florence, and Cliff." Rose, hovering over the
dressing-table exclaimed ecstatically over Martie's hair. "You look
lovely--you want your scarf? No, you won't need it--but it's so
pretty--"

She laid an arm about Martie's waist as they went downstairs.

"You've heard that we've had trouble with the girls?" Rose said, in a
confidential whisper. "Yes. Ida and May--after all Rodney had done for
them, too! He did EVERYTHING. It was over a piece of property that
their grandfather had left their father--I don't know just what the
trouble was! But you won't mention them to Rod--?"

Everything was perfection, of course. There were cocktails, served in
the big drawing room, with its one big rug, and its Potocka and le Brun
looking down from the tinted walls. Martie sat between Rodney and the
strange man, who was unresponsive.

Rodney, warmed by a delicious dinner, became emotional.

"That was a precious friendship of ours, to me, Martie," he said. "Just
our boy-and-girl days, but they were happy days! I remember waking up
in the mornings and saying to myself, 'I'll see Martie to-day!' Yes,"
said Rodney, putting down his glass, his eyes watering, "that's a
precious memory to me--very."

"Is Rodney making love to you, Martie?" Rose called gaily, "he does
that to every one--he's perfectly terrible!"

"How many children has Sally now?" Florence Frost, sickly, emaciated,
asked with a sort of cluck.

"Four," Martie answered, smiling.

"Gracious!" Florence said, drawing her shawl about her.

"Poor Sally!" Rose said, with the merry laugh that accompanied
everything she said.

Cliff did not talk to Martie at all, nor to any of the other women. He
and the other men talked politics after dinner, in real country
fashion. The women played a few rubbers of bridge, and Rose had not
forgotten a prize, in tissue-paper and pink ribbon. The room grew hot,
and the men's cigars scented the close air thickly.

Rose said that she supposed she should be able to offer Martie a
cigarette.

"It would be my first," Martie said, smiling, and Rose, giving her
shoulders a quick little impulsive squeeze, said brightly: "Good for
you! New York hasn't spoiled YOU!".

When at eleven o'clock Martie went upstairs for her wraps, Rose came,
too, and they had a word in private, in the pretty bedroom.

"Martie--did Cliff say that you and he were going on a--on a sort of
picnic on Sunday?"

"Why, yes," Martie admitted, surprised, "Sally is going down to the
city to see Joe, and I'll have the children. I happened to mention it
to Cliff, and he suggested that he take us all up to Deegan's Point,
and that we take a lunch."

Innocently commenced, the sentence ended with sudden
self-consciousness. Martie, putting a scarf over her bronze hair saw
her own scarlet cheeks in the mirror.

"Yes, I know!" Rose cocked her head on one side, like a pretty bird.
"Well, now, I have a plan!" she said gaily, "I suggest that Cliff take
his car, and we take ours, and the Ellises theirs, and we all
go--children and all! Just a real old-fashioned family picnic."

"I think that would be fun," Martie said, with a slow smile.

"I think it would be fun, too," Rose agreed, "and I've been sort of
half-planning something of the sort, anyway! And--perhaps, just now,"
she added sweetly, "it would be a little wiser that way. You see, _I_
understand you, Martie, and I know we seem awfully small and petty
here, but--since we ARE in Monroe, why, isn't it better not to give any
one a chance to talk? Well, about the picnic! Ida and May always bring
cake; I'll take the fried chicken; and Mrs. Ellis makes a delicious
salad--"

Martie's heart was beating high, and two little white lines marked the
firm closing of her lips. Rose's brightly flung suggestion as to the
impropriety of her going off for the day with Clifford, Teddy, and
Ruth, was seething like a poison within her. But presently she was
mechanically promising sandwiches, and Rose was so far encouraged that
she could give Martie's arm a little squeeze in farewell.

It had seemed such a natural thing to propose, when Sally announced
that she was to go down to San Francisco for the day. Martie had asked
for the two older children, and had in all innocence suggested to
Clifford that they make it a picnic. She carried all day a burning
resentment of Rose's interference, and something like anger at him for
consulting Rose.

But she showed nothing. She duly kissed Rose, and thanked her for the
lovely dinner, and Rodney took her home. Undressing, with moonlight
pouring in two cool triangles on the shabby carpet, Martie yawned. The
whole experience had been curiously flat, except for Rose's little
parting impertinence. But there was no question about it, it had had
its heartening significance! It was the future Mrs. Clifford Frost who
had been entertained to-night.

Plans for the picnic proceeded rapidly, and Martie knew, as they
progressed, that she need only give Cliff his opportunity that day to
enter into her kingdom. His eagerness to please her, his unnecessary
calls at the Library to discuss the various details, and the little
hints and jests that fluttered about her on all sides, were a sure clue.

The morning came when the Frost's big car squeaked down the raw
driveway from Clipper Lane, with little Ruth, in starched pink gingham,
beaming on the back seat. Martie, in white, with a daisy-crowned hat
mashed down over her bright hair, came out from the shadow of the side
porch, the children and boxes were duly distributed: they were off.

Martie glanced back to see Lydia's slender form, in a severe gray
percale, under one of the lilacs in the side yard. Mary and Jim Hawkes
were with her: they all waved hands. Lydia had shaded her face with her
fingers, and was blinking in the warm June sunlight. Poor Lydia, Martie
thought, she should have been beside Cliff on this front seat, she
should have been the happy mother of a sturdy Cliff and Lydia, where
Ruth and Teddy and the Hawkes children were rioting in the tonneau.

They went to the Parkers', where the other cars had gathered: there was
much laughing and running about in the bright sunlight. The day would
be hot--ideal picnic weather. Rodney, directing everybody, managed to
get close to Martie, who was stacking coats in the car.

"Like old times, Martie! Remember our picnics and parties?"

Martie glanced at him quickly, and smiled a little doubtfully. She
found nothing to say.

"I often look back," Rodney went on. "And I think sometimes that there
couldn't have been a sweeter friendship than yours and mine! What good
times we had! And you and I always understood each other; always, in a
way, brought out the best of each other." He looked about; no one else
was in hearing. "Now, I've got the sweetest little wife in the world,"
he said. "I worked hard, and I've prospered. But there's nothing in my
life, Martie, that I value more than I do the memory of those old days;
you believe that, don't you?"

"Indeed I do," Martie said cordially, over a deep amusement that was
half scorn.

Rodney's next remark was made in a low, intense tone and accompanied by
a direct look.

"You've grown to be a beautiful woman, Martie!"

"I have?" she laughed uncomfortably.

"And Cliff," he said steadily, "is a lucky fellow!"

He had noticed it, then? It must be--it must be so! But Martie could
not assume the implied dignity.

"Cliff is a dear!" she said lightly, warmly.

"Rose has seen this coming for a long time," Rodney pursued. "Rose is
the greatest little matchmaker!"

This was the final irony, thought Martie. To have Rose credited with
this change in her fortunes suddenly touched her sense of humour. She
did not speak.

"The past is the past," said Rodney. "You and I had our boy-and-girl
affair--perhaps it touched us a little more deeply than we knew at the
time; but that's neither here nor there! But in any case, you know that
you haven't a warmer or a more devoted friend than I am-you do know
that, don't you?-and that if ever I can do anything for you, Martie,
I'll put my hand in the fire to do it!"

And with his eyes actually a little reddened, and his heart glowing
with generous affection, Rodney lightly pressed her hand, laughed,
blinked, and turned away. A moment later she heard him call Rose
"Dearest," as he capably held her dust-coat for his wife, and capably
buttoned and straightened it. They were starting.

The three cars got away in a straggling line, trailed each other
through Main Street, and separated for the eleven-mile run. Martie was
listening with a half-smile to the children's eager chatter, and
thinking vaguely that Clifford might ask her to-day, or might not ask
her for three years, when a half-shy, half-husky aside from him, and a
sudden exchange of glances ended the speculation once and for all.

"Makes me feel a little bit out of it, seeing all the boys with their
wives," he said, with a rueful laugh.

"Well, DOESN'T it?" she agreed cordially, and she added, in a
thoughtful voice: "Nothing like happy married life, is there, Cliff?"

"You said it," he answered soberly. "I guess you were pretty happy,
Martie?" he questioned delicately.

"In some ways--yes," she said. "But I had sorrow and care, too." They
were on the top of the hill now, and could look back at the roofs of
Monroe, asleep in Sunday peace, and to the plumy tree-tops over the old
graveyard where Ma lay sleeping; "asleep," as the worn legend over the
gateway said, "until resurrection morn." Near the graveyard was the
"Town farm," big and black, with bent old figures moving about the bare
garden. "That's one reason why I love it all so, now," she said softly.
"I'm safe-I'm home again!"

"You've certainly got a lot of friends here, Martie."

"Yes, I know I have!" she said gratefully.

He cleared his throat.

"You've got one that will be mighty sorry to have you ever go away from
California again." He became suddenly confused and embarrassed by his
own words.

"I don't suppose--I don't suppose you'd care to--to try it again,
Martie? I'm considerable older than you are--I know that. But I don't
believe you'd ever be sorry--home for the boy--"

Colour rushed to her face: voiceless, she looked at him.

"Don't be in any hurry to make up your mind," he said kindly. "You and
me are old neighbours and friends--I'm not a-going to rush you--"

Still Martie was speechless, honestly moved by his affection.

"It never entered my head to put any one in Mary's place," he said,
gaining a little ease as he spoke, "until you came back, with that boy
to raise, and took hold so plucky and good-natured. Ruth and I are
alone now: I've buried my wife and my brother, and my father and
mother, and poor Florence ain't going to live long--poor girl. I
believe you'd have things comfortable, and, as I say--"

"Why, there's only one thing I can say, Cliff," Martie said, finding
words as his voice began to flounder. "I--I'm glad you feel that way,
and I hope--I hope I can make you happy. I certainly--I surely am going
to try to!"

He turned her a quick, smiling glance, and drew a great breath of
relief.

"Well, sir--then a bargain's a bargain!" he said in great satisfaction.
"I've been telling myself for several days that you liked me enough to
try it, but when it came right down to it I--well, I was just about
scared blue!"

Martie's happy laugh rang out. She laid her smooth fingers over his big
ones, on the wheel, for a second. "I don't know that I ever felt any
happier in my life!" the man presently declared. "We may not be
youngsters, but I don't know but what we can give them all cards and
spades when it comes to sure-enough, old-fashioned happiness!"

So it was settled, in a few embarrassed and clumsy phrases. Martie's
heart sang with joy and triumph. She really felt a wave of devotion to
the big, gentle man beside her; all the future was rose-coloured. She
had reached harbour at last.

There was time for little more talk before they were at the beach, and
the excitement of luncheon preparations were upon them. The bay, a
tidal bay perhaps a mile in circumference, was framed in a fine, sandy
shore: long, natural jetties of rock had been flung out far into the
softly rippling water. The tide was making, perhaps a dozen feet below
the fringe of shells and seaweed, cocoanuts and driftwood that marked
high-water.

In a group of great rocks the boxes and baskets were piled, and the
fire kindled. The wind blew a shower of fine sand across the faces of
the laughing men and women, the children screamed and shouted as they
flirted with the lazily running waves. Women, opening boxes of neatly
packed food, exclaimed with full mouths over every contribution but
their own.

"Martie, this spice cake--! Mine never looks like this. Oh, May, you
villain! You said you weren't going to bother with the lettuce
sandwiches; they look perfectly delicious! What's in these?--cream
cheese and pineapple--they look delicious! Look out for the eggs,
George!"

Salt sifted from a folded paper, white enamelled cups were set upon a
level surface of the rock, a quart glass jar held lump sugar. The smoke
of the fire shifted capriciously, reddening eyes, and bearing with it
the delicious odour of brewing coffee.

Bending over the cake she was cutting, Martie sensed that Cliff was
beside her. She dared not give him a betraying word, the others were
too close, but she sent him an upward glance. His answering glance was
so full of pride and excitement, Martie felt her soul flood with
content. Driving home, against the straight-falling spokes of the
setting sun, they could talk a little, shyly and inconsequently. A
first dew had fallen, bringing a sharp, sweet odour from the brown
grass; Monroe seemed a dear and homely place as they came home.

"Were you surprised, Martie?"

"When I first thought of it? I was absolutely stunned! But to-day?--no,
I wasn't exactly surprised to-day."

"I had no idea, even this morning!" he confessed. She wondered if her
admission smacked of the designing widow.

"Other people will be!" she said in smiling warning.

He chuckled mischievously.

"Well, won't they?" He smiled for a moment or two in silence, over his
wheel. Martie made another tiny misstep.

"I suppose there's no reason why I shouldn't tell Lydia--" she began
musingly.

"Don't tell a soul!" he said quickly. "Not for a while, anyway. When we
get all our plans made, then we'll tell 'em, and turn around and get
married before you could say 'Jack Robinson!'"

She felt a little chill; a younger woman, with a younger lover, would
have had her pouting and her petting for this. But what did it matter?
Clifford had his first kiss in the dim old parlour with the
gas-brackets that evening; and after a few days he was as fervent a
lover as any woman could ask, eager to rush through the necessary
preparations for their marriage, and to let the world know of his
happiness.

He was more demonstrative than Martie had anticipated, or than she
really cared to have him. She found odd girlish reserves deep in her
being when he put his arms about her. He was never alone with her for
even a minute without holding her close, turning up her lovely face for
his smiling kisses, locking a big warm arm about her shoulders.

After some thought, she told Lydia and Sally, on a hot afternoon when
they were upstairs in the cool window end of the hallway, patiently
going over boxes and boxes of old letters. She had been absent-minded
and silent that day, and Sally had once or twice looked at her in
surprise.

"Girls--listen. I'm going to be married!" she said abruptly, her eyes
childishly widened, dimples struggling at the corners of her demure
mouth. Sally leaped up in a whirlwind of letters, and gave a shout of
delight.

"I knew it! I knew it! You can't tell ME! I said so to Joe. Oh, Mart,
you old darling, I'm so glad--I'm gladder than I can say!"

"Well, dear, I hope you'll be just as happy as possible!" said Lydia's
wilted voice. Martie kissed her cheek, and she returned the kiss. "I
can't say I'm surprised, for nothing very much surprises me now," Lydia
went on. "Cliff was simply heartbroken when Mary died, and he said then
to Angela that there would never be another woman in his life, but of
course we all know how much that means, and perhaps it's better as it
is. I often wish I was constituted as most people seem to be
nowadays--forget, and rush on to something else; that's the idea! But I
hope you'll be very happy, Martie; you'll certainly have everything in
the world to make you happy, but that doesn't always do it, of course.
I believe I'll take these letters of Ma's to Aunt Sally downstairs;
they might get mixed in with the others and burned. I suppose I'm not
much in the mood for weddings and jollifications now, what with all
this change bringing back--our loss. If other people can be happy, I
hope they will; but sometimes I feel that I'll be glad to get out of it
all! I'll leave you two girls to talk wedding, and if you need me
again, call me."

"Isn't she the limit!" Sally said indignantly, when Lydia had trailed
away. "Just when you're so happy! For Heaven's sake tell me all about
it, and when it's going to be, and how it began, and everything!"

Martie was glad to talk. She liked to hear Sally's praise of Cliff; she
had much to praise in him herself. She announced a quiet wedding;
indeed they were not going to spread the news of the engagement until
all their plans were made. Perhaps a week or two before the event they
would tell a few intimate friends, and be safely away on their
honeymoon before the village was over the first gasp.

"Don't mind Lyd," Sally said consolingly. "She'll have a grand talk
with Pa, and feel martyred, and talk it over with Lou and Clara, and
come to the conclusion that it's all for the best. Poor Lyd, do you
remember how she used to laugh and dance about the house when we were
little? Do you remember the Spider-web Party?"

"Do you remember the pink dress, Sally? I used to think Lyd was the
loveliest thing in creation in that dress!"

Sally was flushed and dimpling; she was not listening.

"Mart! I think it's the most exciting thing--! Shall you tell Teddy?"

"Sally, I don't dare." A shadow fell across Martie's bright face. In
these days she was wistfully tender and gentle with her son. Teddy
would not always be first in her consideration; there might be serious
rivals some day. Life was changing for little unconscious Teddy.

He would not remember his father, and the little sister laughing in her
high-chair, and the cold, dirty streets, and the shabby, silent mother
with her busy, tired hands and her frozen heart. It was all gone, like
a dream of struggle and shame, love and hate, joy and suffering.

One day, with Teddy and Clifford, she went up to the old house. Ruth,
clean and mannerly, raised her innocent girl's face for her new
mother's kiss, for Ruth was in the secret. Martie liked Ruth, a simple,
normal little person who played "jacks" and "houses" with her friends
under the lilac trees, and had a "best dress" and loved "Little Women"
with a shy passion. Martie foresaw only a pleasant relationship with
the child. What she lacked in imagination was more than made up in
sense. Ruth would graduate, marry, have children, as placidly as a
stout and sturdy little cow. But Martie and Ruth would always love,
even if they did not understand, each other.

The house was old-fashioned: big double parlours, big folding doors,
and one enormous square bathroom on the second floor, for the needs of
all the house. The cheerful, orderly pantries smelt of painted wood;
the kitchen had cost old Polly two or three unnecessary miles of
walking every month of her twenty-six years' tenancy. Martie liked the
garden best, and the old stables painted white. She loved the rich
mingled scents of wallflower and alyssum and lemon verbena; and, as
they walked about, she tucked a velvet plume of dark heliotrope into
the belt of her thin white gown. "My first colour!" she said to
Clifford.

Ruth assumed charming, older-sister airs with Teddy. She laughed at his
comments, and quoted him to Martie: "He says he's going to learn to
ride Whitey!" "He says he doesn't like such big houses!"

Clifford opened doors and smiled at Martie's interest. She could see
that he loved every inch of the old place. She saw herself everywhere,
writing checks at the old walnut desk, talking with Polly in the
pantry. She could sow Shirley poppies in the bed beneath the side
windows; she could have Mrs. Hunter, the village sewing woman,
comfortably established here in the sewing-room for weeks, if she
liked, making ginghams for Ruth and Ruth's new mother.

When those days came Clifford would gradually abandon this unwelcome
role of lover, and be her kindly, middle-aged old friend again.
Sometimes, in the new shrinking reluctance she felt when they were
alone, she wondered what had become of the old Clifford. There was
something vaguely offending, something a little undignified, about this
fatuous, eager, elderly man who could so poorly simulate patience. He
was not passionate--she might have forgiven him that. But he was
assuming passion, assuming youth, happily egotistical.

He was fifty-one: he had won a beautiful woman hardly more than half
his age. He wanted to talk about it, to have the conversation always
congratulatory and flattering. He had the attitude of a young husband,
without his youth, to which everything is forgiven.

Altogether, Martie found her engagement strangely trying. Rose,
instantly suspicious, was presently told of it, and Martie's sisters
and Rose planned an announcement luncheon for early July. Martie
thought she would really be glad when the fuss and flurry was over.

Long familiar with money scarcity, she wondered sometimes just what her
financial arrangement with her new husband would be. Clifford was the
richest man in Monroe. Not a shop would refuse her credit; nor a woman
in town feel so sure of her comfort and safety.

But what else? Bitter as her long dependence had been, and widowed and
experienced as she was, she dared not ask. There was something
essentially indelicate in any talk of an allowance now. She would
probably do what was done by almost all the wives she knew: charge,
spend little, and when she must have money, approach her husband at
breakfast or dinner: "Oh, Clifford, I need about ten dollars. For the
man who fixed the surrey, dear, and then if I take all the children in
to the moving pictures, they'll want ice-cream. And I ought to send
flowers to Rose; we don't charge there. Although I suppose I could send
some of our own roses just as well!"

And Clifford, like other husbands, would take less money than was
suggested from his pocket and say: "How's seven? You can have more if
you want it, but I haven't any more here! But if you like, send Ruth
down to the Bank--"

"What a fool I am!" Martie mused. "What does independence amount to,
anyway? If I ever had it, I'd probably be longing to get back into
shelter again.

"Teddy, do you understand that Mother is going to marry Uncle Cliff?"
she asked the child. He rested his little body against her, one arm
about her neck, as he stood beside her chair.

"Yes, Mother," he answered unenthusiastically. After a second's thought
he began to twist a white button on her blouse. "And then are we going
back to New York?" he asked.

"No, Loveliness, we stay here." She looked at the child's downcast
face. "Why, Teddy?" she urged.

Ever since he could speak at all, he had had a fashion of whispering to
her anything that seemed to him especially important or precious, even
when, as now, they were quite alone. He put his lips to her ear.

"What is it, dearest? I can't hear you!"

"I said," he said softly, his lips almost touching her cheek, "that I
would like to go back to New York just with you, and have you take me
out in the snow again, and have you let me make chocolate custard, the
way you always did--for just our own supper, our two selves. I like all
my aunts and every one here, but I get lonesome."

"Lonesome?" she echoed, trying to laugh over a little pang.

"Lonesome--for you!" he answered simply. Martie caught him to her and
smothered him in her embrace.

"You little troubadour!" she laughed, with her kiss.

The three sisters had never been so much together in their lives as
they were when the time came to demolish the old home. Sally, with a
train of dancing children, came up every morning after breakfast, and
she and Martie and Lydia patiently plodded through store-rooms, attics,
and closets that had not been disturbed for years.

Lydia's constant cry was: "Ah, don't destroy that; I remember that ever
since I was a baby!" Sally was more apt to say: "I believe I could use
this; it's old, but it could be put in order cheaper than buying new!"
Martie was the iconoclast.

"Now here's this great roll of silk from Grandmother Price's wedding
dress; what earthly good is this to any one?" she would demand briskly.
"And here's the patchwork quilt Ma started when Len was a baby, with
all the patches pinned together! Why should we keep these things? And
Lydia's sketch-books, when she was taking lessons, and the old
air-tight stove, and Pa's brother's dentist chair--it's hopelessly
old-fashioned now! And what about these piles and piles of Harper's and
Scribner's, and the broken washstand that was in Belle's, room and the
curtains, that used to be in the back hall? I move we have a bonfire
and keep it going all day--"

"I'd forgotten that the old rocking-horse was here," Sally said one
day, with pleasure. "The boys will love it! And do you know, Lyd, I was
thinking that this little table with the leg mended and painted white
wouldn't be a bit bad in my hall. I really need a table there, for Joe
brings in his case, or the children get the mail--we'd have lots of use
for it. And here's the bedside table, that's an awfully good thing to
have, because in case of illness--"

"Heavens!" said Martie. "She's trying to break something to us; she
suspects that there may be an illness some day in her house--"

"Oh, I do not!" said Sally, flushing and giggling in the old way.

"Len's first little suit," Lydia mused. "Dear me--dear me! And this old
table-cover; I remember when that was new! And here are Aunt Carrie's
things; she sent Ma a great box of them when she died; look, Sally, the
old-fashioned sleeves with fibre-chamois in them! This box is full of
hats; this was my Merry Widow hat; it was always so pretty I hated to
destroy it, but I suppose it really isn't much good! I wonder if some
poor woman could use it. And these are all old collars of Pa's and
Len's--it seems a shame to throw them away. I wonder if we could find
some one who wears this size? Martie, don't throw that coat over there
in the pile for the fire--it's a good piece of serge, and that cape
style may come in again!"

Absorbed and interested, the three worked among memories. Sometimes for
an hour at a time there was silence in the attic. Martie, with a faded
pink gingham dress spread across her lap, would be eight again,
trotting off to school with Sally, and promising Ma to hold Len's hand
when they crossed Main Street. How clean and trim, how ready for the
day, she had felt, when her red braid was tied with a brown ribbon, and
this little garment firmly buttoned down the back, and pressed with a
great sweep of Ma's arms to crush the too stiffly starched skirt!

Sally observed amusedly, perhaps a little pityingly, that Lydia wanted
everything. There was nothing in the old house for which Lydia did not
expect to have immediate need in the new. This little table for the
porch, this extra chair for the maid's room, this mirror, this
mattress, this ladder. The older sister reserved enough furniture to
fill the new house twice over; she would presently pack the new rooms
with cumbersome, useless possessions, and go to her death believing
herself the happier for having them.



CHAPTER V


The Eastern editor who had taken her first article presently wrote her
again. Martie treasured his letter with burning, secret pride, and with
perhaps a faint, renunciatory pang. She had pushed in her opening wedge
at last, too late! For no trifling literary success could change the
destined course of Mrs. Clifford Frost.

This was the letter:

DEAR MRS. BANNISTER: We are constantly receiving more letters from
women who read "Give Her A Job," and find that what you had to say upon
an apparently well-worn subject struck a most responsive chord. Can you
not give us another two thousand words upon this, or a similar subject?
This type of article is always most welcome.

That was all. But it inspired Martie to try again. After all, even as a
rich man's wife, she might amuse herself in this way as well as another.

Between the move from the old house, her wedding plans, the claims of
her husband-to-be, and the Library work, she was busy now, every
instant of the day. Yet she found time, as only a busy woman can, for
writing, and put a new ardour into her attempts, because of the little
beginning of encouragement. Hoping and fearing, she presently sent a
second article on its way.

One July evening she stayed rather late at the Library working on a
report. Clifford was delayed in Pittsville, and would not see her until
after dinner; the rare opportunity was too precious to lose. In a day
or two all Monroe would know of her new plans: in six weeks she would
be Clifford's wife.

When the orderly sheets had been put into a long envelope, Martie
pinned on her white hat, and stepped into the level rays of sunset
light that were pouring into Main Street. The little fruit stand
opposite seemed wilted in the heat; hot little summer breezes were
tossing chaff and papers about the street.

Martie's eyes instantly found an unexpected sight: a low, rakish motor
car drawn up to the curb. She had not seen it before in Monroe, nor did
she recognize the man who sat on the seat next the driver's seat, with
his hat pulled over his eyes.

The driver, a handsome big fellow of perhaps forty or more, had just
jumped from the car, and now came toward her. She smiled into a clever,
unfamiliar face that yet seemed oddly recognizable. He asked her
something.

"I beg your pardon?" she had to say, her eyes moving quickly from him
to his companion, who had turned about in the seat, and was watching
them. Her heart stopped beating for a second, then, commenced to race.
Her colour rose in a radiant flood. With three swift steps she had
passed the big man, and was at the curb, and leaning over the car.

"John--!" she stammered. "My dear--my dear!"

The man in the car turned upon her the smile she knew so well: a
child's half-merry, half-wistful smile, from sea-blue eyes in fair
lashes. Time vanished, and Martie felt that she might have seen it
yesterday; have felt yesterday the muscular grip of John Dryden's hand.
Bewildered at their own emotion, laughing and confused, their fingers
clung together.

"Hello--Martie!" he said, in a shaken voice, his blue eyes suddenly
blazing as he saw her. Martie's eyes were wet, her delight turning her
cheeks to rose. John did not speak, unless his burning eyes spoke; and
Martie for a few minutes was hardly intelligible. It was the stranger
who spoke.

"I'm Dean Silver, Mrs. Bannister--you don't have to be introduced to
me, because I know John here. You're his favourite topic, you know."

"Dean Silver!" Martie smiled bewilderedly at the novelist; she knew
that name! He was a writer with twenty books to his credit. He had a
ranch somewhere in California; he spent his winters there. Some hazy
recollection struggled for recognition.

"But, John!" she laughed. "Here in Monroe! My dear, you'll never know
what it meant to glance up and see you--and you look so well! And
you're famous, too; isn't it wonderful! And, tell me, what brings you
to California!"

The quick, authoritative glance was delightfully familiar, yet somehow
new.

"Why, you brought me, of course, Martie," he said unsmilingly, as if
any other supposition would have been absurd. He had not spoken before;
she knew now that she had hungered for his rather deep, ready voice.
Her colour came up, her heart gave a curious twist, and she dropped her
eyes.

"Dryden and I have been batching it together in New York," said Dean
Silver. "My wife's been here since April with her mother and our kid.
When I came on, I got Dryden here to come, too. They want me to take a
long sea trip: I hope you'll help me persuade him to come, too. He's
trying to double-cross me on it, I think. He said he'd come as far as
California, and then see how things looked. So we shipped the car last
month, and left New York a week ago to-day."

"Well, Monroe is honoured," Martie smiled, amused, fluttered, a little
confused by this open recognition of John's feeling. "But now that
you're here, I don't know quite what to do with you!"

"There's a hotel?" asked the novelist.

"Oh, it's not that. I'm only anxious to make the most of you," said
Martie. "We've more than enough room at our house! But, like poor Fanny
Squeers, I do so palpitate!"

"Palpitate away!" said Dean Silver. "We're in your hands. You can send
us off right now, or let us take you to dinner somewhere, or direct us
to the hotel--for three thousand miles our main idea was to find you,
and we've done it!"

"Well, but JOHN!" Martie was still dazed and exulting. "It's so GOOD to
see you!"

"I had to see you," he said, in his simple way, his eyes never leaving
her.

"But now, let me plan!" she said, with an excited laugh. "If you'll let
me get in the car with you, and--and let me see, we'd better get
something extra for company--"

"Now, that's just what you shan't do," Dean Silver said decisively. "I
don't propose to have you--"

"Oh, she likes it," John assured him, with his dreamy air that was yet
so positive. "Don't waste time, Dean."

Martie laughed; John sat between herself and the novelist in the wide
seat. He turned his head so that she was always under the fire of his
adoring eyes. And in the old way he laughed, thrilled, exulted in
everything she said.

Half an hour later, as gaily as if she had known them both all her
life, she introduced them to Pa. Pa, whose youngest daughter was just
now in high favour, was mildly pleased with the invasion. This
impromptu hospitality smacked of prosperity, of worldliness. He went
stiffly into the study with John, to bore the poet with an old volume
about California: "From the Padres to the Pioneers."

Martie, cheerfully setting the dining table, kept a brisk conversation
moving with Dean Silver, who sat smoking on the side porch.

Presently she came put with an empty glass bowl, which she set down
beside him. He followed her down into the tipsy brick paths, under the
willows, while she gathered velvet wallflowers to fill it.

"You're very clever at this village sort of thing," the writer said.
"And I must say I like it myself. Old-fashioned street full of kids
streaming in for ice-cream, garden with stocks and what-you-call-'ems
all blooming together--you know, I had a sort of notion you weren't
half as nice as you are!"

Martie laughed, pleased at the frank audacity.

"You fit into it all so pleasantly!" he expanded his thought.

"I don't know why you say that," she answered, surprised. "I was born
here. I belong here. I lived for years in New York without being able
to demonstrate that I could do anything better!"

"Dryden has a great idea of what you can do," Silver suggested.

"Oh, well, John!" she laughed maternally. "If you've been listening to
John--"

"I've HAD to listen to him," the novelist said mildly.

"Tell me," she said suddenly, "I don't want to say the awkward thing to
him--has he got his divorce?"

He looked at her, amazed.

"Don't you correspond?"

"Twice a year, perhaps."

Dean Silver flung away his cigarette, and sunk his hands in his pockets.

"Certainly he's divorced," he said briefly.

Martie's heart thumped. The flowers in her hands, she stood staring
away from him, unseeing.

"I hope you'll forgive me--I feel like a fool touching the thing at
all," Dean Silver said, after a silence. "But I thought that there was
some sort of an understanding between you."

"Oh, no!" Martie half-whispered, with a fluttered breath.

"There isn't?" he asked, in a tone of keen protest.

"Oh, no!"

The novelist whistled a few notes and shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, then, there isn't," he said philosophically. He stooped to pick
a fragrant spike of mignonette, and put it in his buttonhole. When he
began speaking again, he did not look at Martie. "A few of us have come
to know Dryden well, this winter," he said gravely. "He's a rare
fellow, Mrs. Bannister--a big man, and he's got his field to himself.
You wouldn't believe me if I told you what a fuss they've been making
over him--back there, and how little it matters to him. He's going a
long way. You--you've got to be kind to him, my dear girl."

"I'm a Catholic, and he's a divorced man," Martie said, turning
troubled eyes toward him. "I never thought of him in that way!"

Dean Silver raised his eyebrows.

"People are still believing that sort of thing, are they?"

"Only about a hundred million!" she answered, drily in her turn.

The man laughed shortly.

"Sweet complication!" he observed.

"More than that," Martie said hurriedly, "I'm engaged to be married to
the president of the bank here, in about six weeks!"

Their eyes met steadily for a full minute.

"I devoutly trust you are not serious?" said Dean Silver then.

"Oh, but I am!" she said, with a nervous laugh.

For answer he merely shrugged his shoulders again. In silence they
turned toward the house.

"That is an actual settled fact, is it?" Silver asked, when they were
at the steps.

"Why, yes!" Martie answered, feeling a strange inclination toward
tears. "I've been here for a year and a half," she added lamely. "I've
not seen John--I tell you I never thought of him as anything but
Adele's husband! And Clifford--the man I am to marry--is a good man,
and it means a home for life for my boy and me--and it means the
greatest pleasure to my father and sisters--"

"I think I never heard such a damnable set of reasons for a beautiful
woman's marriage!" Silver said, as she paused.

Martie could find no answer. She was excited, bewildered, thrilled, all
at once. She felt that another word would be too much. Silently she
picked up her bowl and her flowers, and crossed the porch to the house.

Lydia, coming in late from a meeting of the Fair Committee, was
speechless. In a pregnant silence she lent cold aid to her audacious
sister. The big bed in Len's room was made, the bureau spread with a
clean, limp towel. Pauline was interviewed; she brightened. Dean Silver
was from Prince Edward's Island, too, it seemed. Pauline could make
onion soup, and rolls were set, thanks be! She could open preserves;
she didn't suppose that sliced figs were good enough for a company
dessert.

They had the preserves, and the white figs, too; figs that Teddy and
Martie had knocked that morning from the big tree in the yard. Lydia
noticed with resentment that Pa had really brightened perceptibly under
the unexpected stimulus. It was Lydia who said mildly, almost
reproachfully, "I'm sorry that I have to give you a rather small
napkin, Mr. Dryden; we had company to dinner last night, and I find
we're a little short--"

John hardly heard her; he saw nothing but Martie, and only rarely moved
his eyes from her, or spoke to any one else. He glowed at her lightest
word, laughed at her mildest pleasantry; he frequently asked her family
if she was not "wonderful."

This was the attitude of that old lover of her dreams, and in spite of
amusement and trepidation and nervous consciousness that she was
hopelessly entangling her affairs, Martie's heart began to swell, and
her senses to feel creeping over their alertness a deadly and delicious
languor. She had been powerless all her life: she thrilled to the
knowledge of her power now.

Dean Silver easily kept the conversation moving. They learned that he
had been overworking, had been warned by his physician that he must
take a rest. So he and John were off for the Orient: he himself had
always wanted to sail up the Nile, and to see Benares.

"John, what a year in fairyland!" Martie exclaimed.

"Well, that's what I tell him," said the novelist. "But he isn't at all
sure he wants to go!"

As John merely gave Martie an unmistakable look at this, she tried
hurriedly for a careless answer.

"John, you would be mad not to go!"

"You and I will talk it over after awhile," he suggested, with an
enigmatic smile.

This was terrible. Martie gave one startled look at Lydia, who had
compressed her mouth into a thin line of disapproval. Lydia was
obviously thinking of Cliff, who might come in later. Martie found
herself unable to think of Cliff.

They had coffee in the garden, in the still summer dusk. Teddy rioted
among the bushes, as alert and strategic as was his gray kitten. John
sat silent beside Martie, and whenever she glanced at him she met his
deep smile. Lydia preserved a forbidding silence, but Malcolm's
suspicions of his younger daughter were pleasantly diverted by the
novelist. Dean Silver was probing into the early history of the State.

"But there must have been silver and gold mines up as far as this,
then; aren't you in the gold belt?"

"In the year 1858," Malcolm began carefully, "a company was formed here
for the purpose of investigating the claims made by--"

John finished his coffee with a gulp, and walked across the dim grass
to Martie, and she rose without a word.

"Martie, isn't it Teddy's bedtime?" asked Lydia. John frowned faintly
at her.

"Can't you put him to bed?" he asked directly. Lydia's cool cheek
flushed.

"Why, yes--I will--" she answered confusedly. Martie called her thanks
over her shoulder as they walked away. She was reminded of the day she
had called on John at his office.

Quick and shaken, the beating of her heart bewildered her; she hardly
knew where they walked, or how they began to talk. The velvety summer
night was sweet with flowers; the moon would be late, but the sky was
high and dark, and thick with stars. In the silver glimmer the town
lights, and the dim eye of the dairy, far up on the range, burned red.
Children were shouting somewhere, and dogs barking; now and then the
other mingled noises were cut across by the clear, mellow note of a
motor car's horn.

They came to the lumber-yard by the river, and went in among the
shadowy piles of planks. The starry dome was arched, infinitely far and
yet friendly, above them; the air here was redolent of the clean wood.
From houses near by, but out of sight beyond the high wall, they heard
occasional voices: a child was called, a wire-door slammed. But they
were alone.

John was instantly all the acknowledged if not the accepted lover. Once
fairly inside the fence, she found her heart beating madly against his
own; as tall as he, she tried to deny him her lips. Her arms were
pinioned. Man and woman breathed fast.

"Martie--my wonderful--my beautiful--girl! I never lived until now!" he
said after a silence.

"But, John--John--" He had taken her off her guard; she was stammering
like a school-girl. "Please, dear, you mustn't--not now. I want to talk
to you--I must. Won't you wait until we have had a talk--please--you're
frightening me!"

His hold was instantly loosed.

"My dearest child, I wouldn't frighten you for anything in the world.
Let us have the talk--here, climb up here! It was only--realizing--what
I've been dreaming about all these months! I'm flesh and blood, you
know, dear. I shall not feel myself alive--you know that!--until you
are in my arms, my own--my wife."

She had seated herself on the top of the pile; now he sat on the ledge
that was a few inches lower, and laid his arms across her knees, so
that his hands were clasped in both her own. Her senses were swimming,
her heart itself seemed turned to liquid fire, and ran trembling
through her body.

"My wife!" John said, eager eyes fairly devouring her. "My glorious
wife, the loveliest woman in the world! Do you know what it means,
Martie? Do you know what it means, after what we both have known?"

The sight of his wistful, daring smile in the starlight, the touch of
his big, eager hands, and the sound of the odd, haunting voice turned
the words to magic. She tightened her fingers on his.

"I bought the Connecticut house on the river," he said presently. "It
belonged to a carpenter, a fine fellow; but the railroad doesn't go
there, and he and his wife wanted to go to a bigger place. Silver and I
went up and saw it, but I didn't want to do anything until you came.
But there are rocks, you know--" Hearing something between a laugh and
a sigh, he stopped short. "Rocks," he repeated, "you know all those
places are rocky!"

"I know, dearest boy!"

The term overwhelmed him. She heard him try to go on; he choked,
glanced at her smilingly, and shook his head. A second later he laid
his face against her hands, and she felt that it was wet.

The clock in the Town Hall struck nine--struck ten, and still they sat
on, sometimes talking, sometimes staring up at the steadily beating
stars. Quiet fell upon Monroe, lights moved in the little houses and
went out. There was a little stir when the crowd poured out from the
moving pictures: voices, shouts, laughter, then silence again.

Suddenly Martie decreed their return to the house. But the ecstasy of
finding each other, again was too new. They passed the dark old gateway
to the sunken garden, and walked on, talking thirstily, drinking deep
of the joy of words.

Hand in hand they went up the hill, and time and space might have
equally been demolished. That hill had seemed a long climb to Martie
years ago: to-night it seemed a dream hill, she and John were so soon
at its little summit.

Below them lay the dark village and the furry tops of trees flooded
with gray moonlight. The odours of a summer night crept out to meet
them, odours of flowers and dew-wet, sunburned grass. The roadside
fences were wreathed with wild blackberry vines that took weird shapes
in the dark. In the idle fields spreading oaks threw shadows of inky
blackness.

Martie hardly thought of Clifford. Across her spinning senses an
occasional thought of him crept, but he had no part in to-night.
To-morrow she must end this dream of exquisite fulfillment, to-morrow,
somehow, she must send John away. But to-night was theirs.

Their talk was that of lovers, whose only life is in each other's
presence. They leaned on an old fence, above the town, and whether they
were grave, or whether Martie's gay laugh and his eager echoing laugh
rang out, the enchantment held them alike.

It was after one o'clock when they came slowly down the hill, and let
themselves silently into the shadowy garden. Martie fled noiselessly
past the streak of light under Lydia's door, gained her own room, and
blinked at her lighted gas.

The mirror showed her a pale, exalted face, with glittering blue eyes
under loosened bronze hair. She was cold, excited, tired, and ecstatic.
She moved the sprawling Teddy to the inside of the bed, stooping to lay
her cold cheek and half-opened lips to his flushed little face. She got
into a wrapper, her hair falling free on her shoulders, and sat
dreaming and remembering.

Lydia, in her gray wrapper, came in, with haggard, reproachful eyes.
Lydia was pale, too, but it was the paleness of fatigue, and had
nothing in common with Martie's starry pallor.

"Martie, do you know what time it is?"

"Lyd--I know it's late!"

"Late? It's two o'clock."

"Not really?" Martie bunched her splendid hair with a white hand under
each ear, and faced her affronted sister innocently.

"Don't say 'not really!'" Lydia, who happened to hate this expression,
which as a matter of fact Martie only used in moments of airy
rebellion, said sharply: "If that man hasn't any sense, you ought to
have!"

"We used to be intimate friends a few years ago," Martie offered
mildly. "We had a lot to say."

"A lot that couldn't be said before Pa and me, I suppose?" Lydia asked
bitingly. Martie was silent. "What do you propose to tell Cliff of this
delightful friendship?" Lydia pursued. "And how long a visit do your
friends propose to make?"

"Only until to-morrow. Mrs. Silver wants me to visit them, you know, at
Glen Mary."

"Do you intend to go?" Lydia asked stonily.

"Well, I suppose not. But it would be a wonderful experience, of
course. But I suppose not." Martie sighed heavily. "I really hadn't
thought it out," she pleaded.

"I should think you hadn't! I never heard anything like it," Lydia
said. "I should think the time had come when you really might think it
out--I don't know what things are coming to--"

"Oh, Lyddy dear, don't be so tiresome!" Martie said rudely. Lydia at
once left the room, with a short goodnight, but the interrupted mood of
memories and dreams did not return. Martie sat still a long time,
wrapped in the blanket she caught from the bed, staring vaguely into
space.

"I've got to think it all out," she told herself, "I mustn't
make--another mistake."

And yet when she crept in beside Teddy, and flung her arm about him,
she would not let the half-formed phrase stand. The step that had
brought her splendid boy to her arms was not a mistake.

She slept lightly, and was up at five o'clock. Teddy, just shifting
from the stage when nothing could persuade him to sleep in the morning
to the stage when nothing could persuade him to wake, merely rolled
over when she left him. Martie, bathed, brushed, dressed in white, went
into the garden. They had arranged no meeting, but John came toward her
under the pepper trees as she closed the door.

Again they walked, this time in morning freshness. Martie showed him
the school gate, with "Girls" lettered over it, where she had entered
for so many years. They walked past the church, and up toward the
hills. She said she must get home in time to help Pauline with
breakfast for the augmented family, and John went with her into the old
kitchen, and cut peaches and mixed muffins with the enthusiasm of an
expert, talking all the time.

"But tell me about Adele, John!" she said suddenly, when Lydia and her
father had left the breakfast table, and they two were alone again.
"How do you EXPLAIN it?"

"Oh, well!" He brought his mind with an obvious effort to Adele. "We
had sort of a hard time of it--she wasn't well, and I wasn't. Her
sister came on--she's--she's quite a woman!" Evidently still a little
impressed by some memory, he made a wild gesture with his hands. "She
thought I didn't understand Adele?" he went on questioningly. "After
she left, Adele simply went away. She went to a boarding-house where
she knew the woman, and when I went there to see her she told me that
it was all over. That's what she said: it was all over. I went to see
the doctor, and he didn't deny that they had gone somewhere--Atlantic
City, I think it was, together! She asked for a divorce, and I gave it
to her, and her sister came on to stay with her for the time she got
it. She seemed awfully unhappy. It was just before my book was taken.
Her sister said she was unlucky, and I guess she was--poor Adele!"

"And there was never any fight, or any special cause?"

"Oh, no!" He smiled his odd and charming smile. "But I think I bored
her!" he said. "I do bore most people! But most people don't--don't
understand me, Martie," he went on, with a quality almost like hunger
in his eyes and voice. "And that's why I have been longing and longing
to see you again. YOU understand! And with you I always feel as if I
could talk, as if what I said mattered, as if--well, as if I had been
on a hot desert walk, and came suddenly to trees, and shade, and a
bubbling spring!"

"You poet!" she smiled. But a pang shook her heart. It was sweet, it
was perilously sweet, but it could not be for long now.

"John," she began, when like a happy child he had loitered out with her
to feed the chickens, "I've got something to tell you. I'm sorry."

Scattering crumbled cornbread on the pecked, bare ground under the
willows, he gave her a confiding look. Her heart stopped.

"It's about Mr. Frost," Martie went on, "I've known him all my life;
he's one of the nicest men here. I'm--I'm engaged to him, John!"

His hand arrested, John looked at her steadily. There was a silence.

"How do you mean--to be married?" he asked tonelessly, without stirring.

Martie nodded. Under the willows, and in the soft fog of the morning,
the thing suddenly seemed a tragedy.

"Aren't you," he said simply, "aren't you going to marry me?"

His tone brought the tears to her eyes.

"I can't!" she whispered. "John, I'm sorry!"

"Sorry," he echoed dully. "But--but I don't understand. You can't mean
that you have promised--that you expect--to marry any one else but me?"
And as Martie again allowed a silence to fall, he took a few steps away
from her, walking like a person blinded by sudden pain. "I don't
understand," he said again. "I never thought of anything but that we
belonged to each other--I've thought of it all the time! And now you
tell me--I can't believe it! Is it settled? Is it all decided?"

"My family and his family know," Martie said.

"Oh, but Martie--you can't mean that!" he burst out in agony. "What
have I done! What have I done--to have you do this! You don't love him!"

"John," she said steadily, catching his hands, "even if I were free,
you aren't, dear. We could never be married while Adele lives."

He turned his steady gaze upon her.

"Then last night--" he asked gravely.

"Last night I was a fool, John--I was all to blame! I'm so sorry--I'm
so terribly sorry!"

"I thought last night--" He turned away under the willows, and she
anxiously followed him. "You let me think you cared!"

"John, I do care!"

"You SAID you did!"

"I don't know what was the matter with me," Martie said wretchedly, "I
was so carried away by seeing you so suddenly--and thinking of old
times--and of all we had been through together--"

"But it wasn't of that we talked, Martie!"

"I know." Her head drooped. "I know!"

"I'm so sorry," he said, bewildered and hurt. "I don't understand you.
I can't believe that you are going to marry that man, whoever he is;
you didn't say anything about him last night! Who is he--what right has
he got to come into it?"

"He's a good and honourable man, John, and he asked me. And I said yes."

"You said yes--loving me?"

"Oh, John dear--you don't understand--"

"No," he said heavily, "I confess I don't."

The tone, curt and cold, brought tears to her eyes, and he saw them.
Instantly he was all penitence.

"Martie--ah, don't cry! Don't cry for me! Don't--I tell you, or I shall
rush off somewhere--I can't see you cry! I'll try to understand. But
you see last night--last night made me hope that you might care for me
a little--I couldn't sleep, Martie, I was so happy! But I won't think
of that. Now tell me, I'm quite quiet, you see. Tell me. You don't mean
that you don't--feel anything about it?"

"John," she said simply, "I don't know whether I love you or not. I
know that--that last night was one of the wonderful times of my life.
But it came on me like a thunderbolt--I never felt that way
before--even when I was first engaged, even when I was married! But I
don't know whether that's love, or whether it's just you--the
extraordinary effect of you! You belong to one of the hardest parts of
my life, and at first, last night, I thought it was just seeing you
again--like any other old friend. Now--this morning--I don't know." She
stopped, distressed. The man was silent. "If I've really made you
unhappy, it will kill me, I think," Martie began, again, pleadingly.
"How can I go on into this marriage feeling that you are lonely and
hurt about it?"

They had sat down on the old iron bench that had for fifty years stood
rooted in the earth far down at the end of the garden, under pepper
trees and gnarled evergreens and rusty pampas grass.

"I thought you would marry me," John said, "and that we would go to
live in the farmhouse with the white rocks."

His tone made her eyes fill again.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Yes, but I can't leave it this way, Martie," John said. "If I DID come
suddenly upon you, if I DID take you by surprise: why, I can give you
time. You can have all the time you want! I'll stay here in the
village--at the hotel, and see you every day, and we'll talk about it."

"Talking wouldn't make you anything but a divorced man, John," she said.

"But you can't blame me for that--Adele did that!"

"Yes, I know, dear. But the fact is a fact, just the same."

"But--" He began some protest eagerly; his voice died away.

"See here, John." Martie locked her hands about the empty, battered pan
that had held the chickens' breakfast. "I was a girl here, ten years
ago, and I gave my parents plenty of trouble. Then I married, and I
suffered--and paid--for that. Then I came home, shabby and sad and
poor, and my father and sister took me in. Now comes this opportunity
to make a good man happy, to give my boy a good home, to make my father
and sisters proud and satisfied, to do, in a word, the dutiful, normal
thing that I've been failing to do all these years! He loves me,
and--I've known him since I was a child--I do truly love him. This is
July--we are to be married in August."

"You are NOT!" he said, through set jaws.

"But I am. I've always been a trial and a burden to them, John--I could
work my hands to the bone, more, I could write another 'Mary Beatrice'
without giving them half the joy that this marriage will give!"

"That's the kind they are!" he said, with a boyish attempt at a sneer.

She laughed forgivingly, seeing the hurt beneath the unworthy effort,
and laid her fingers over his.

"That's the kind I am, too! This is my home, and this is my life, and
God is good to me to make it so pleasant and so easy!"

"Do you dare say, Martie, that if it were not for Adele you would not
marry me?"

Martie considered seriously.

"No, I can't say that, John. But you might as well ask me what I would
do if Cliff's wife were alive and yours dead!"

"I see," he said hopelessly.

For a few minutes there was silence in the old garden. John stared at
the neglected path, where shade lay so heavily that even in summer
emerald green moss filmed the jutting bricks. Martie anxiously watched
him.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked, presently, in a dead voice.

"I ask you not to make my life hard again, just when I have made it
smooth," she said eagerly. "I've been fighting all my life, John--now
I've won! I'm not only doing something that pleases them, I'm doing the
one thing that could please them most! And that means joy for me,
too--it's ALL right, for every one, at last! Dear, if I could marry
you, then that would be something else to think about, but I can't. It
would never be a marriage at all, in my eyes--"

"Oh, how I hate this petty talk of marriage, and duty, and all the rest
of it!" he burst out bitterly. "Tied to a little village, and its
ideals--YOU! Oh, Martie, why aren't you bigger than all this, why don't
you snap your fingers at them all? Come away with me--come away with
me, Sweetheart, let's get out of it--and away from them! You and I,
Martie, what do we need of the world? Oh, I want you so--I want you so!
We'll go to Connecticut, and live on the bank of our river, and we'll
make boats for Teddy--"

Teddy! If she had been wavering, even here in the old garden, which was
still haunted for her with memories of little girl days, of Saturday
mornings with dolls, houses and sugar pies, the child's name brought
her suddenly to earth. Teddy--! That was her answer.

She got to her feet, and began to walk steadily toward the house. He
followed her.

"I ask you--for my sake--to give up the thought of it," she said
firmly. "I BEG you--! I want you to go away--to India, John, and forget
me--forget it all!"

He walked beside her for a moment in silence. When he spoke his voice
was dead and level.

"Of course if you ask me, the thing is done, my dear!"

"Thank you, John," she said, with a sinking heart.

"Not at all."

When they reached the side doorway, he went quickly and quietly in.
Dean Silver, sauntering around from the front garden, met her. He had
his watch in his hand. The gray car was waiting in the drive.

"If we have to make Glen Mary to-night, Mrs. Bannister," he began. "And
I want your answer to my wife's invitation," he added, with a concerned
and curious look at her agitated face.

"Oh, Mr. Silver," she said unhappily, "I can't come and visit you--it's
all been a mistake--I think I must have been crazy last night! I'm so
sorry--but things can't be changed now, I want you to take him away--to
sail up the Nile--if you really are going--"

"My dear girl," the man said patiently, "he hasn't the faintest idea of
sailing with me--I wish to the Lord he had!"

"He said he would," she said lifelessly.

"Dryden did?" Silver turned upon her suddenly.

"Yes, he just said he would."

"DRYDEN?"

"Yes." Martie picked a dead marguerite from a bush, and crumbled it in
her fingers.

"When did he?"

"Just now."

Dean Silver looked keenly at her face and shook his head bewilderedly.

"You are really going through with it, then?"

"Oh, yes, I must!" she answered feverishly. And she added: "I want to!"

"I see you want to!" the novelist said drily. And his voice had lost
its brotherly, affectionate tone when he added: "Very well, then, if
you two have settled it between you, I will not presume to interfere, I
was going down to the city to-morrow to see about reservations; if
Dryden means it--of course it alters the entire aspect of affairs to
me!"

"Oh, don't use that tone!" she said agitatedly, "I didn't ask him to
come here--I never encouraged him--why, I never thought of him! Am I to
blame?"

"Look here," said Silver suddenly. "You can't fool me. You know you
love him!"

Martie did not answer. Her colour had faded, and she looked pale and
tired. She dropped her eyes Pity suddenly filled his own.

"I'm sorry!" the man said quickly; "I'm awfully sorry. I'll help you if
I can. He may buck the last moment, but perhaps he won't. And you think
it over. Think it all over. And if you send me a wire one minute before
the boat sails--that'll be time enough! We'll come back. I'll keep you
informed--and for God's sake, wire if you can!"

"We'll leave it that way," Martie said gratefully.

"I believe you'll wire," Silver said, with another searching look. She
only shrugged her shoulders wearily in answer.

They were silent for a few minutes, and then John came out of the house
with his bag in his hand. Lydia followed him down the steps.

Lydia was somewhat puzzled by the manner of the visitors, but relieved
to see that they were not planning to strain the hospitality of the
house for lunch. It was merely a question of thanks and good-byes now,
and these she had come forth to receive with dignity.

"Your suitcase is in?" John said to his friend. He put his own into the
rumble, snaps were snapped and locks closed. He did not look at Martie.
He lifted his cap, and took Lydia's hand. "Good-bye, Miss Monroe, and
thank you. Good-bye, Martie. Everything all right, Dean?"

He got into his seat. Lydia gave her hand in turn to the novelist.

"You mustn't count on a visit from this girl here, at Glen Mary," Lydia
said in pleasant warning. "She's going to be a pretty busy girl from
now on, I expect!"

"So she was saying," Dean Silver said gravely. "Our own plans may be
changed," he added casually. "I may yet persuade Dryden here to sail up
the Nile with me!"

"I certainly think any one who has such a wonderful opportunity would
be foolish to decline it," Lydia observed cheerfully.

"Good-bye," said the writer to Martie. "You'll wire me if you can, I
know!"

"Good-bye," she said, hardly conscious of what was being done and said,
in the fever of excitement that was consuming her. "And thank you!"

He jumped into the car. Martie, trembling, stepped back beside Lydia as
the engine began to throb.

"Good-bye, John," she faltered. John lifted his cap; the driver waved a
gloved hand.

They were gone.

"I'm so glad you told him about your engagement, Martie!" Lydia said
approvingly. "It was the only honest thing to do. And dear me, isn't it
quite a relief to think that they've had their visit, and it's over,
and everything is explained and understood?"

"Isn't it?" Martie echoed dully.

She went upstairs. The harsh light of the summer noon did not penetrate
the old Monroe house. Martie's room was full of greenish light; there
was an opaque streak across the old mirror where she found her white,
tired face.

She flung herself across the bed. Her heart was still beating high, and
her lips felt dry and hot. She could neither rest nor think, but she
lay still for a long while.

Chief among her confused emotions was relief. He had come, he had
frightened and disturbed her. Now he was gone again. She would
presently go down to mash Teddy's baked potato, and serve watery canned
pears from the pressed glass bowl. She would dress in white, and go
driving with Cliff and Teddy and Ruth in the late afternoon. Life would
resume its normal placidity.

A week from to-day Rose and Sally would give her the announcement
party. Martie resolutely forced her thoughts to the hour of John's
arrival: of what had she been thinking then? Of her wedding gown of
blue taffeta, and the blue straw hat wreathed with roses. She must go
down to the city, perhaps, for the hat--?

But the city brought John again to her mind, and for a few delicious
minutes she let herself remember his voice, his burning words, his
deep, meaning look.

"Well, it's wonderful--to have a man care that way!" she said, forcing
herself to get up, and set about dressing. "It's something to have had,
but it's over!"



CHAPTER VI


Over, however, the episode was not, and after a few days Martie
realized with a sort of shame that she did not wish it to be over. She
could not keep her memory away from the enchanted hours when John's
presence had lent a glory to the dark old house and the prosaic
village. She said with a pang: "It was only yesterday--it was only
two--only three--days ago, that he was here, that all the warmth and
delight of it was mine!"

The burning lightness and dryness seemed still to possess her: she was
hardly conscious of the days she was living, for the poignancy and
power of the remembered days. The blue taffeta dress had lost its
charm, everything had grown strangely dull and poor.

She passed the lumber-yard with a quickened heart; she climbed the hill
alone, and leaned on the fence where they had leaned, and let the full,
splendid recollection sweep across her. She knelt in church and prayed
that there would be a letter from Dean Silver, saying that Adele was
dead--

A little cottage on a river bank in Connecticut became her Heaven. She
gave it an old flag-stone walk, she sprinkled the green new grass of an
Eastern spring with daisies. She dreamed of a simple room, where
breezes and sunshine came by day, and the cool moon by night, and where
she and John laughed over their bread and cheese.

So far it was more joy than pain. But there swiftly came a time when
pain alone remained. Life became almost intolerable.

Clifford, coming duly to see her every evening, never dreamed of the
thoughts that were darkening her blue eyes. He sat in the big chair
opposite Malcolm's, and they talked about real estate, and about the
various business ventures of the village. At nine o'clock Malcolm went
stiffly upstairs, attended by Lydia, and then Martie took her father's
seat, and Clifford hitched his chair nearer.

He would ask her what she was sewing, and sometimes she laughed,
spreading the ruffle of a petticoat over her knee, and refused to
consider his questions. They talked of little things pertaining to
their engagement: Martie was sure somebody suspected it, Clifford had
been thinking of the Yellowstone for a wedding trip, and had brought
folders to study. Rarely they touched upon politics, or upon the
questions of the day.

His opinions were already stiff-jointed, those of an elderly man. He
did not believe in all this prohibition agitation, he believed that a
gentleman always knew where to stop in the matter of wine. What right
had a few temperance fanatics to vote that seven hundred acres of his,
Clifford Frost's property, should be made valueless because they
happened to be planted to grapes?

He disapproved of this agitation concerning the social evil. There had
always been women in that life, and there always would be. They were in
it because they liked it. They didn't have to choose it. Why didn't
they go into somebody's kitchen, and save money, and have good homes,
if they wanted to? He told Martie a little story that he thought was
funny of one of these women. It was the sort of story that a man might
tell the widow who was to be his wife. It made Martie want to cry.

She had always felt herself too ignorant to form an opinion of these
things. But she found herself rapidly forming opinions now, and they
were not Clifford's opinions.

Three days after his departure, Dean Silver wrote her briefly. John was
"taking it very quietly, but didn't seem to know just what had
happened." He, Dean, hoped to get the younger man safely on board the
vessel before this mood broke. He had therefore engaged passage on the
Nippon Maru, for Thursday, four days ahead. They were all in San
Francisco, Mrs. Silver and the little girl had come down with them, and
John was interested in the steamer, and seemed perfectly docile. He
never mentioned Martie.

This letter threw her into an agony of indecision. There were a few
moments when she planned to go down to the city herself, and see
him--hear him again. Just a few minutes of John's eyes and his voice,
of the intoxication of being so passionately loved--!

She put aside this impulse, and went to write a telegram. But her hand
trembled as she did so, and her soul sickened. What could she offer
him, what but pain and fresh renunciation?

She had made many mistakes in her life. But through them all a certain
underlying principle had kept her safe. Could she fling that all aside
now; that courage that had made her, a frightened girl of twenty, come
with her unborn baby, away from the man whose marriage to her was in
question, the faith that had helped her to kneel calm and brave beside
the child who had gone?

To do that would make it all wasted and wrong. To do that would be to
lose the little she had brought from the hard years. She knew that she
would not do it. She put it all away, when the constant thought of it
arose, as weakness and madness.

Thursday came, and Martie, walking toward Sally's house, where she and
Teddy always had their Thursday supper, bought a paper, and read that
the Nippon Maru had duly sailed.

On the way she met Teddy himself--he had been to the store for Aunt
Sally--with 'Lizabeth and Billy; he was happy, chattering and curveting
about her madly in the warm twilight. He was happy here, and safe, she
told herself. And the Nippon Maru had sailed--

Sally was in her kitchen, her silky hair curled in damp rings on her
forehead. She had on her best gown, a soft blue gingham, for Sally had
just been elected to the club, and had been there this afternoon. She
had turned up the skirt of her dress, and taken off the frilled white
collar, laying it on a shelf until the dinner fuss and hurry should be
over. Mary was sitting in the high-chair, clean and expectant, Jim was
hammering nails in porch.

The children put down their bread and butter, Sally kissed her sister.
Martie began to butter swiftly, and spread it with honey.

"San Francisco paper, Mart?"

"Yes." Martie did not look up. "Mr. Dryden and Mr. Silver sailed this
morning," she said.

"Oh, really?" Sally turned a flushed face from the stove. "Lyd was
talking about him to-day, and the way he acted, carrying you off for a
walk, or something," Sally pursued cheerfully. "And until she happened
to say that his wife is living, I declare I was frightened to death for
fear he was in love with you, Mart!"

Martie stared at her in simple bewilderment. Could it be possible that
Sally had seen nothing of the fevers and heartaches of this memorable
week? Her innocent allusion to the night of their walk--only a week
ago!--brought Martie an actual pang.

For just one other such evening, for just one more talk, Martie was
beginning to feel she would go mad. They had said so little then, they
had known so little what this new separation would mean!

And Sally knew nothing of it. A sudden lonely blankness fell upon
Martie's soul; it mattered nothing to Lydia and Rose and Sally that
John Dryden loved her. It mattered more than life to her.

What use to talk of it? How flat the words would seem for that memory
of everything high and splendid. Yet she felt the need of speech. She
must talk of him to some one, now when it was too late: when he was out
on the ocean: when she was perhaps never to see him again.

"Sis," she said, setting the filled plate in the centre of the table,
"do you specially remember him?"

Sally had chanced to come to the old home for just a minute on the
morning of her talk with John in the garden. Sally nodded now alertly.

"Certainly I do! He seemed a dear," she said cordially.

"I wish they had not come!" Martie said sombrely.

"You--wish--?" Sally's anxious eyes flashed to her face.

"That they had never come!"

"Oh, Mart! Oh, Mart, why?"

"Because--because I think perhaps I should not marry Cliff, feeling as
I do to John!" Martie said desperately.

She had not quite meant it when she said it: her sick heart was merely
trying to reach Sally's concern, it frightened her now to feel that it
was almost true.

"WHAT!" Sally whispered.

She was roused now: too much roused. Martie began hastily to reassure
Sally, and herself, too.

"Oh, I will, Sally. Of course I will. And nobody will ever know this
except you and me!"

"Martie, dear, he DOES care then?"

"Oh, yes, he cares!"

"But, Mart--that's terrible!"

Martie laughed ruefully.

"It's miserable!" she agreed, her eyes watering even while she smiled.

"He knew about Cliff?" Sally questioned.

"Oh, yes!"

"And his own wife is alive?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Well, then?" Sally concluded anxiously. "What does he want--what does
he expect you to do?"

To this Martie only answered unhappily:

"I don't know."

Sally, staring at her in distress, was silent. But as Martie suddenly
seemed to put the subject aside, and called the children for supper,
she turned back to the stove in relief. Presently they were all
gathered about the kitchen table, Martie encouraging the children, as
usual, to launch into the conversation, and laughing in quite her usual
merry manner at their observations. She took Mary into her lap,
ruffling the curly little head with her kisses, and whispering
endearments into the small ear. But Sally noticed that she was not
eating.

Later, when they had put away the hot, clean dishes, and made the
kitchen orderly for the night, Sally touched somewhat awkwardly upon
the delicate topic.

"Too bad--about Mr. Dryden," Sally ventured. Martie, at the open
doorway, gave no sign of hearing. Her splendid bronze head was resting
against the jamb, she was looking down the shabby little littered
backyard to the river. And suddenly it seemed to Sally that restless,
lovely Martie did not really belong to Monroe, that this mysterious
sister of hers never had belonged to Monroe, that Martie's well-groomed
hair and hands were as little in place here as Martie's curious
aloofness from the town affairs, as Martie's blue eyes through which
her hungry soul occasionally looked. "I'm awfully sorry for him," Sally
went on, a little uncertainly. "But what can you do? He must realize--"

"He realizes nothing!" Martie said, half-smiling, half-sighing.

"He's not a Catholic, then?"

"No. He's--nothing."

"But you explained to him? And you told him about Cliff?"

"Yes; he knew about Cliff." But Martie's tone was so heavy, and the
fashion in which she raised a hand to brush the hair from her white
forehead was so suggestive of pain, that Sally felt a little tremor of
apprehension.

"Martie--you don't--CARE, too?" she asked fearfully.

"With every fibre of my soul and body!" Martie answered, in a low,
moody voice from the doorway. "Sally--Sally--Sally--to be free!" she
went on, speaking, as Sally was vaguely aware, more for the relief of
her own heart than for any effect on her sister. "To have him free! We
always liked each other--loved each other, I think. What a life--what
joy we would have! Oh, I can't bear it. I can't bear to have the days
go by, and the years go by, and never--never see him or hear him again!
I can't help Cliff; I can't help John's wife; I can't help it if he
seems odd and boyish and different to other people--! That's what makes
him John--what he is!"

"I never dreamed it," Sally marvelled.

"I never dreamed it myself, a week ago. I always had a sort of special
feeling toward John, and I knew he had toward me. But I've been a
romantic sort of fool all my life--my Prince Charming had to come
dashing up on a white horse--I didn't recognize him because he was a
little clerk in a furniture store, and married to the stupidest woman
the Lord ever made!"

Sally laughed in spite of herself. Martie turned from the dimness of
the doorway, and came into the hot, clean little room. She sat down at
the table, and spread her arms across it, locking her white hands.

"It's all so funny. Sally," she said childishly. "A week ago, I was
sailing along, humbly grateful and happy because Cliff loved me. To-day
John Dryden sails for a year in the Orient. And between those few days
he drifts in here just long enough to bring my plans all tumbling about
my ears."

"I'm sorry!" Sally, busily setting bread, could say nothing more
significant. But as Martie remained silent, brooding eyes on her own
fingers, the older sister added timidly: "Do--do you think perhaps
you'll get over that--that feeling?"

"That is my only hope!" Martie said courageously.

"And after all," Sally went on, eagerly, "what could he offer you?
Cliff is--he's devoted to you, and he's steadiness itself! And I do
believe you would be perfectly contented if you just put the other
thing out of your mind, and tried to make the greatest happiness
possible out of your new life! Lydia and Pa, and all of us, and Ruth
and Teddy are all so happy about it And you know there's no safety like
the safety of being married to a good man!"

Martie laughed.

"You're quite right, Sally! But," she added, her face growing serious
again, "the terrible thing is this: If I marry Cliff, I do it--just a
LITTLE--with other things in view. The children, as you say, and the
good opinion of the town, and Pa's happiness, and Len's prosperity, and
the pleasure of being mistress of the old house, and dear knows what!
Of course I LIKE Cliff--but I tell you frankly that I'm looking even
now to the time when our honeymoon shall be over, and the first
strangeness of--well, of belonging to him is over!"

Sally's face was flaming. She had stopped working, and both sisters
faced each other consciously.

"In other words," smiled Martie, "I wish I had been married to him ten
years ago, and by this time had little Sally and Cliffy--"

"Oh, dearest, I do hope there are children!" Sally said eagerly.

"I hope so, too!" Martie said simply. And with suddenly misting eyes
Sally heard her say softly, half to herself, "I want another girl!"
Then her lip trembled, and to the older sister's consternation she
began to cry, with her shining head laid on her arms. "I don't know
w-w-what to do, Sally!" she sobbed. "I don't know what is right! I know
I'm desperately tired of worrying and fretting and being criticised! I
don't see why it should be my life that is always being upset and
disorganized, while other women go on placidly having children and
giving dinners!"

"Perhaps because you are so different from other? women?" Sally
suggested, somewhat timidly. She was not sure that Martie would like
this.

But Martie gave her a grateful glance, and immediately dried her eyes
with a brisk evidence of returning self-control.

"Well!" she said sensibly. "It is that way, anyhow, and I have to make
the best of it. I married foolishly, in some ways, and I paid the
price--nobody knows what it was! Then I came back here, and had really
worked out a happy life for myself, when Cliff came along, and no
sooner was I adjusted to Cliff--to the thought of marriage again, when
John upset it all!"

"The happiness of the woman who marries Cliff ought to be pretty safe,"
offered Sally.

"Yes, I know it. But Sally," Martie said, looking at her sister
questioningly, "sometimes I feel that I don't dare risk it! I can't
marry John, but I can't seem to--to let him go, either. I know what
madness that visit was, and yet--and yet every minute that we were
together was like--I don't know--like swimming in a sea of gold! I
didn't know what I wore or ate in those days! Pa and Lyd--other people
didn't seem to exist! I never believed before that any one could feel
as strange--as bewildered and excited and happy--as I did then. It was
like being hungry and satisfied at the same time. It was just like
being under a spell! His voice, Sally, and the way he speaks of men and
books--so surely, and yet in that boyish way--and his hands, and the
way he smiles through his lashes--I can't forget one instant of it! We
got breakfast together; I can't go into the kitchen now without
remembering it, and longing to have him there again, whipping eggs and
hunting about for the butter, while all the time we were laughing and
talking so wonderfully! It's that--loving that way, that makes life
worth while, Sally. Nothing else counts! Nothing that we did together
seemed insignificant, and nothing that I do without him is worth
while--I can't--can't--can't let him go!"

Sally was frightened as her sister's head went down again. She could
think of nothing to say. "I can't help thinking that our life would be
that," Martie went on presently, raising her sombre face to rest it on
one hand, her elbows propped on the table. "Everything would be
wonderful, just because we love each other so! He writes, and I would
write----"

"Feeling as you do," Sally said after a troubled silence, "I would
really say that you oughtn't to marry any one else, Mart. But even if
Cliff gave you up, how could you marry a divorced man?"

"Oh, Sally--don't keep reiterating that it's impossible!" Martie said
with a flash of impatience. "I know it--I know it--but that doesn't
make it any easier to bear! You women who have so much can't
realize----"

"You have Teddy," Sally suggested, in the silence.

"Yes, I have Teddy--God bless him!" his mother said, with a sudden
tender smile. And she seemed to see a line of little Teddies, playing
with Grandma Curley's spools, glancing fearfully at the "Cold Lairs,"
walking sturdily beside Margar's shabby coach, chattering to a quiet,
black-clad mother on the overland train. She had her gallant, gay
little Teddy still. "I don't know why I talk so recklessly, Sally," she
said sensibly. "It's only that I am so worried--and troubled. I don't
know what I ought to do! Suppose I tell Cliff frankly, and we break the
engagement? Then John will come back, and there'll be all that to go
over and over!"

"But that's--just selfishness," said Sally, spreading a checked blue
towel neatly over her pan of dough, and adding last touches to the now
orderly kitchen.

"Oh, men are all selfish!" Martie conceded. "Every one's selfish! Cliff
quite placidly broke Lydia's heart years ago; Rose and Rodney between
them nearly broke mine. But now Cliff wants something from me, and Rose
realizes that she has something to gain, and it's roses, roses all the
way."

"Well, that's life, Mart," submitted the older sister.

"If I had it all to do over again," Martie mused, "I wouldn't come back
after Wallace's death. Teddy and I could have made our way comfortably
in New York. By coming, I have more or less obliged myself to accept
the Monroe point of view----"

"Oh, but Mart, we've had such wonderful times together, and it means so
much to me to have you like Joe and the children!" said Sally.

"Yes," Martie's arm went about her sister, "that's been the one
definite gain, Sally, to see you so happy and prosperous, and to
realize that life is going so pleasantly for you. As the years go by,
Joe'll gain steadily; he's that sort; and Dr. Hawkes's children won't
have to envy any children in Monroe. But, oh, Sis--if I could get away!"

The old cry, Sally thought, as she anxiously studied the beautiful,
discontented face.

Presently Clifford came, to take his future wife home, and Joe came
back from the hospital in the Ford, and there was much friendly talk
and laughter. But Sally watched her sister a little wistfully that
evening; didn't Martie think this was all pleasant--all worth while?



CHAPTER VII


Rose's little daughter, pawn that she was in the game of Martie's
fortunes, was pushed into play the following day. For Rose telephoned
Martie at the Library, in the foggy early morning, that Doris was not
well: there was a rather suspicious rash on the baby's chest, and if it
really were measles, there must be no announcement luncheon to-day.

Martie had been eagerly awaiting that luncheon, when a dozen of the
prominent young matrons of Monroe should learn of her engagement. She
put up the telephone thoughtfully. Another delay. Another respite, when
she might still say to herself over and over: "I COULD end it now. It
isn't too late yet!"

In her hand to-day was a brief note brought to land by the tender of
the Nippon Maru. Dean Silver and John had duly sailed, they were far
out on the ocean now. That was settled. Now there was nothing to do but
go on serenely with her interrupted plans.

And yet the restless excitement caused by his coming was still about
her, she could not make herself forget. Everything that his odd and
vibrant personality had touched was changed to her. The wallflowers he
had twisted unseeingly in his nervous fingers, the kitchen where their
eager, ardent talk had gone on over the boiling of coffee and the
mixing of muffins, the hill they had climbed in gray, warm moonlight,
these things belonged to him now. Martie touched the books he had
praised tenderly, hearing his words again.

He had not written her: she knew why. She must be all or nothing to
John now. He had not spoken of her to Dean, he was trying in his
blundering boyish way to forget.

The novelist's note was short, and written in a tone of disappointment
and reproach. Martie read it, and winced as she crumpled it in her
hand. Presently she straightened it out, and read it again. She
flattened it on the desk before her, and studied it resolutely, with
reddened cheeks, and with a little pang at her heart.

Sally came in, full of happy plans. There was talk now of making Joe
resident physician at the hospital, with a little house up there right
near the big building. It would be so dignified, bubbled Sally, setting
little Mary on the desk, where she and Aunt Mart could each tie a
small, dragging shoe-lace.

"Of course, this won't be for a year or two, Mart--but think of the
fun! A pretty house with a big porch, to match the main building, I
suppose--"

"But you'll be a mile out of town, Sis!"

"Oh, I know--but I can run the children in to school in the Ford, and
you'll have your own car, and that's all I really care about! This is
only a possibility, you know. What are you thinking about, Mart?"

Martie laughed guiltily.

"I don't know what I was thinking," she confessed. Sally flushed,
studying her with bright eyes.

"Have you heard--"

"From John? No, but he sailed. I have a note from Mr. Silver here. He
was anxious to get him away, and they left suddenly. The sailing list
was in the paper, too, with a little notice of them both. It's better
so, I'm glad it's settled. But I wish I was a little more sure of what
the next step should be."

"I don't believe Rose's Doris has the measles at all," Sally said
thoughtfully, "and in that case, the luncheon will be in a day or two,
and won't that be rather--rather a relief to you? Oh, and Mart," she
broke off suddenly to say, "I have a letter for you here--Teddy and
Billy called for the mail yesterday, and they left this with mine."

Martie took the big envelope, smiling. The smile deepened as she read.
After a minute she turned the letter about on the desk, so that Sally
might read it too.

"From the editor of the magazine that took my other article," Martie
explained. "I sent them another, two weeks ago."

Sally read:

MY DEAR MRS. BANNISTER:

Your second article has been read with much interest in this office,
and we are glad to use it. Enclosed is a check for $100, which we hope
will be satisfactory to you. Our readers have taken so continued an
interest in your first article that we are glad to give them something
more from your pen.

If you are ever in New York, will you favor us with a call? It is
possible that we might interest you with an offer of permanent work on
our staff. We make a special feature, as perhaps you know, of articles
of interest to growing girls, and when we find a writer whose work has
this appeal, we feel that she belongs to us.

In any case, let us hear from you soon again.

"A hundred dollars!" Sally said proudly, handing the letter back. "You
smart thing! That's a nice letter, isn't it? Don't you think it is? I
do. Listen, Mart, don't say anything about Joe's plans, will you?
That's all in the air. I've got to go now, it's eleven. And Mart, don't
worry too much about anything. It will all seem perfectly natural and
pleasant once it's DONE. Good-bye, dear, I wish I could have been some
help to you about it all!"

"You have been, Sally--I believe you've been the greatest help in the
world!" Martie answered enigmatically, kissing Mary's soft little neck
where the silky curls showed under the little scalloped bonnet.
"Good-bye, dear--don't walk too fast in this sun!"

When Sally had tripped away, Martie sat on at the Library desk, staring
vaguely into space. Outside, the village hummed with the peaceful
sounds of a mild autumn morning. A soft fog had earlier enveloped it;
it was rising now; every hour showed more of the encircling brown
hills; by noon the school children would rush into a sunshiny world.
Shopping women pushed baby-carriages over the crossings; a new
generation of boys and girls would swarm to Bonestell's in the late
afternoon. Time was always moving, under it all; in a few weeks the
Clifford Frosts would be home again; in a few months the High School
would stand on the ground where little Sally and Martie Monroe had
played dolls' house a few years ago.

This was her last week at the Library; Daisy David was coming in to
take her place. Already Miss Fanny suspected the truth, and her manner
had changed toward Martie a little, already she was something of a
personage in Monroe.

Women and children and old men came out and in, their whispers sounding
in the quiet, airy space. Len's wife came in, with the third daughter
who should have been a son. Teddy and Billy came in; they wanted five
cents for nails; they had run out of nails. Measles had closed the
little boys' classes, and they were wild with the joy of unexpected
holiday.

Martie presently found herself telling Miss Fanny that she would like a
few hours' freedom that afternoon: she had shopping to do. She ate her
basket lunch as usual, then she walked out into the glaring afternoon
light of Main Street. A summer wind was blowing, the warm air was full
of grit and dust.

The Bank first, then Clifford's office, then a long, silent hour
praying, in the empty little church, where the noises of Main Street
were softened, as was the very daylight that penetrated the cheap
coloured windows. Then Martie went to Dr. Ben's, and last of all to
Sally's house.

She was to take Teddy home and Sally came with them to the gate. It was
sunset and the wind had fallen. There was a sweet, sharp odour of dew
on the dust.

"Be good to my boy, Sally!"

"Martie--as if he was mine!" Sally's eyes filled with tears at her
sister's tone: she was to have Teddy during the honeymoon.

Martie suddenly kissed her, an unusually tender kiss.

"And love me, Sis!"

"Martie," Sally said troubled, "I always DO!"

"I know you do!"

Martie laughed, with her own eyes suddenly wet, caught Teddy's little
hand, and walked away. Sally watched the tall, splendid figure out of
sight.

At the supper-table she was unusually thoughtful. Her eyes travelled
about the familiar room, the room where her high-chair had stood years
ago, the room where the Monroes had eaten tons of uninteresting bread
and butter, and had poured gallons of weak cream into strong tea, and
had cut hundreds of pies to Ma's or Lydia's mild apologies for the
crust or the colour. How often had the windows of this room been steamy
with the breath of onions and mashed potatoes, how many; limp napkins
and spotted tablecloths had had their day there! Martie remembered, as
long as she remembered anything, the walnut chairs, with their scrolls
and knobs, and the black marble fireplace, with an old engraving,
"Franklin at the Court of France," hanging above it. Mould had crept in
and had stained the picture, which was crumpled in deep folds now, yet
it would always be a work of art to Pa and to Lydia.

She looked at Lydia; gentle, faded, dowdy in her plum-coloured cloth
dress, with imitation lace carefully sewed at neck and sleeves; at
Lydia's flat cheeks and rather prim mouth. She was like her mother, but
life had perforce broadened Ma, and it was narrowing Lydia. Lydia was
young no longer, and Pa was old.

He sat chewing his food uncomfortably, with much working of the muscles
of his face; some teeth were missing now, and some replaced with
unmanageable artificial ones. The thin, oily hair was iron-gray, and
his moustache, which had stayed black so much longer, was iron-gray,
too, and stained yellow from the tobacco of his cigars. His eyes were
set in bags of wrinkles; it was a discontented face, even when Pa was
amiable and pleased by chance. Martie knew its every expression as well
as she knew the brown-and-white china, and the blue glass spoon holder,
and the napkin-ring with "Souvenir of Santa Cruz" on it. She could not
help wondering what they would make of the new house when they got into
it, and how the clumsy, shabby old furniture would look.

"Pa and Lyd," she said suddenly in a silence. Her tone was sufficiently
odd to arrest their immediate attention. "Pa--Lyd--I went in to see
Clifford this afternoon, and told him that I wanted to--to break our
engagement!"

An amazed silence followed. Teddy, chewing steadily on raisin cookies,
turned his eyes smilingly to his mother. He didn't quite understand,
but whatever she did was all right. Malcolm settled his glasses with
one lean, dark hand, and stared at his daughter. Lydia gave a horrified
gasp, and looked quickly from her father to her sister: a look that was
intended to serve the purpose of a fuse.

"How do you mean?" Malcolm asked painfully, at last.

"Well!" said Lydia, whose one fear was that she would not be able to
fully express herself upon this outrage.

"I mean that I--I don't truly feel that I love him," Martie said,
fitting her phraseology to her audience. "I respect him, of course, and
I like him, but--but as the time came nearer, I COULDN'T feel--"

Her voice dropped in an awful silence.

"You certainly waited some time to make up your mind, Martie," said her
father then, catching vaguely for a weapon and using it at random.

"But, Martie, what's your REASON?" Lydia overflowed suddenly. "What
earthly reason can you have--you can't just say that you don't want to,
now--you can't just suddenly--I never heard of anything so--so
inconsiderate! Why, what do you suppose everybody--"

"This is some of your heady nonsense, Martie," said her father's heavy
voice, drowning down Lydia's clatter. "This is just the sort of
mischief I expected to follow a visit from men as entirely
irresponsible as these New York friends of yours. I expected something
of this sort. Just as you are about to behave like a sensible woman,
they come along to upset you--"

"Exactly!" Lydia added, quivering. "I never said a word to you, Pa,"
she went on hurriedly, "but _I_ noticed it! I think it's perfectly
amazing that you should; of COURSE it's that! Martie listened to him,
and Martie walked with him, and several people noticed it, and spoke to
me about it! It's none of my business, of course, and I'm not going to
interfere, but all I can say is THIS, if Martie Monroe plays fast and
loose with a man like Cliff Frost, it will hurt us in this village more
than she has ANY idea! What are people going to think, that's all! I
certainly hope you will use your authority to bring her to her
senses--just a few days before the wedding, with everybody expecting--"

"Perhaps you will tell me what Clifford thinks of this astonishing
decision?" Malcolm asked, again interrupting Lydia's wild rush of words.

"Cliff was very generous, Pa. He feels that it is only a passing
feeling, and that I must have time to think things over if I want it,"
Martie began.

"Ha! I should think so!" Lydia interpolated scornfully.

"At first he was inclined to laugh about it, and to think that it was
nothing," Martie said almost timidly, glancing from one to the other,
and keeping one hand over Teddy's hand.

"What makes you feel that you HAVEN'T given the thing due
consideration, Martie?" her father asked darkly, with the air of
humouring a child's fantastic whims.

"Yes! You've been engaged for months!" Lydia shot in.

"Well, it's only lately, Pa," Martie confessed mildly.

"Exactly! Since somebody came along to upset you!" said Lydia. "All I
can say is, that I think it would break Ma's heart!" she added
violently. "You give up a fine man like Cliff Frost, and now I suppose
we'll have some of your divorced friends hanging about--"

"Lyd, dear, don't be so bitter," Martie said gently, almost maternally.
"Mr. Dryden has gone off for a long tour; he may not be back for years.
What I plan to do now is go to New York. I told Cliff that--that I
wanted to go."

"May I ask how you intend to live there?" Malcolm asked, with
magnificent and obvious restraint.

"By writing, Pa."

"You plan to take your child, and reenter--"

"I think I would leave Teddy, Pa, for a while at least." They had all
left the table now, and gone into the parlour, and Martie, sinking into
a chair, rested her chin on her hand, and looked bravely yet a trifle
uncomfortably at her interlocutors. Teddy had dashed out into the yard.

"Now, I think we have heard about enough of this nonsense, Martie,"
said her father, in a changed and hostile tone. Lydia gave a satisfied
nod; Pa was taking a stand at last. "You didn't have to say that you
would marry Clifford," he went on sternly. "You did so as a responsible
woman, of your own accord! Now you propose to make him and your family
ridiculous, just for a whim. I sent you money to come on here, after
your husband's death, and all your life I have tried to be a good
father to you. What is my reward? You run away and marry the first
irresponsible scamp that asks you; you show no sign of repentance or
feeling until you are in trouble; you come back, at my invitation, and
are made as welcome here as if you had been the most dutiful daughter
in the world, and then--THEN--you propose to bring fresh sorrow and
disgrace upon the parent who lifted you out of your misery, and offered
you a home, and forgot and forgave the past! I am not a rich man, but
what I have has been freely yours, your child has been promised a home
for my lifetime. What more can you ask? But no," said Malcolm, pacing
the floor, "you turn against me; yours is the hand that strikes me down
in my age! Now I tell you, Martie, that things have gone far enough. If
you follow your own course in this affair, you do so at your own risk.
The day you break your engagement, you are no longer my daughter. The
day you let it be known that you are acting in this flighty and
irresponsible way, that DAY your welcome here is withdrawn! I will not
be made the laughing-stock of this town!"

Lydia was in tears; Martie pale. But the younger woman did not speak.
She had been watching her father with slightly dilated eyes and a
rising breast, while he spoke.

"Cliff generous?" Malcolm went on. "Of course he's generous! He
probably doesn't know what to make of it; responsible people don't blow
hot and cold like this! The idea of your going in to him with any such
cock-and-bull story as this! You'll break your engagement, eh?--and go
on to New York for a while, eh?--and then come smiling back, I suppose,
and marry him when it suits your own sweet will? Well, now, I'll tell
you something, young lady," he added, with a sort of confident menace,
"you'll do nothing of the kind! You sit down now and write Clifford a
note, and tell him you were a fool. And don't let me ever hear another
word of this New York nonsense! Upon my word, I don't know how I ever
came to have such children! Other people's children seem to have some
sense, and act like reasonable human beings, but mine--however, you
know what I feel now, Martie. Going into the Bank indeed, and telling
the man you're going to marry that you are 'afraid' this and you
'fancy' that! I'll not have it, I tell you!"

"I told him that I knew I was acting badly," Martie said, "I said that
I felt terribly about it. I even cried--I'm not proud of myself, Pa!
And he asked me to think it over, and not to worry about postponing the
wedding, and--I think he was tremendously surprised, but he didn't say
one unkind word!"

"Well, he should have, then," Malcolm said harshly. "And you are a
fortunate woman if, when it suits your high-and-mightiness to come to
your senses, he doesn't take his turn to jilt YOU! On my word, I never
heard anything like it! What possesses you is more than I can
understand. You deliberately bring unhappiness down on your family, and
act as if you were proud of yourself! I don't pretend to be perfect,
but all my life I have given my children generously--"

"Pa," Martie said suddenly, "I wonder if you believe that!" She stood
up now, facing him, her breath coming quickly. It seemed to Martie that
she had been waiting all her life to say this: hoping for the
opportunity, years ago, dreading the necessity now. "I wonder if you
believe," she said, trembling a little, "that you--and half the other
fathers and mothers in the world--are really in the right! I didn't ask
to be born; Sally didn't ask to be born. We didn't choose our sex. We
came and we grew up, and went to school, and we had clothing and food
enough. But then--THEN!--when we must really begin to live, you
suddenly failed us. Oh, you aren't different from other fathers, Pa.
It's just that you don't understand! What help had we then in forming
human relationships? When did you ever tell us why this young man was a
possible husband, and that one was not? I wanted to work, I wanted to
be a nurse, or a bookkeeper--you laughed at me! I had a bitter
experience--an experience that you could have spared me, and Lydia
before me, if you had cared!--and I had a girl's hell to bear; I had to
go about among my friends ASHAMED! You didn't comfort me; you didn't
tell me that if I learned a little French, and brushed up my hair, and
bought white shoes, the NEXT young man wouldn't throw me over for a
prettier and more accomplished woman! You were ashamed of me! Sally,
just as ignorant as Teddy is this minute, dashed into marriage; she was
afraid, as I was, of being a dependent old maid! She married a good
man--but that wasn't your doing! I married a bad man, a man whose
selfishness and cruelty ruined all my young days, crushed the youth
right out of me, and he might be living yet, and Teddy and I tied to
him yet but for a chance! I suffered dependence and hunger--yes, and
death, too," said Martie, crying now, "just because you didn't give me
a livelihood, just because you didn't make me, and Sally, and Lydia,
too, useful citizens! You did Len; why didn't you give us the same
chance you gave Len? Len had college; he not only was encouraged to
choose a profession, but he was MADE to! Our profession was marriage,
and we weren't even prepared for that! I didn't know anything when I
married. I didn't know whether Wallace was fit to be a husband or a
father! I didn't know how motherhood came--all those first months were
full of misgivings and doubts! I knew I was giving him all I had, and
that financially I was just where I had been--worse off than ever, in
fact, for there were the children to think of! Why didn't I have some
work to do, so that I could have stepped into it, when bitter need
came, and my children and I were almost starving? What has Len cost
you, five thousand dollars, ten thousand? What did that statue to
Grandfather Monroe cost you? Sally and I have never cost you anything
but what we ate and wore!"

Malcolm had risen, too, and they were glaring at each other. The old
man's putty-coloured face was pale, and his eyes glittered with fury.

"You were always a headstrong, wicked girl!" he said now, in a toneless
dry voice, hardly above a whisper. "And heartless and wicked you will
be to the end, I suppose! How dare you criticise your father, and your
sainted mother? You choose your own life; you throw in your fortune
with a ne'er-do-well, and then you come and reproach me! Don't--don't
touch me!" he added, in a sort of furious crow, and as Martie laid a
placating hand on his arm: "Don't come near me!"

"No, don't you dare come near him!" sobbed Lydia. "Poor, dear Pa,
always so generous and so good to us! I should think you'd be afraid,
Martie--I should think you'd actually be afraid to talk so wickedly!"

She essayed an embrace of her father, but Malcolm shook her loose, and
crossed the hall; they heard the study door slam. For a few minutes the
sisters stared at each other, then Martie went to the side door, and
called Teddy in as quiet a voice as she could command, and Lydia
vanished kitchenward, with only one scared and reproachful look.

But the evening was not over. After Teddy was in bed, Martie, staring
at herself in the mirror, suddenly came to a new decision. She ran down
to the study, and entered informally.

"Pa!" She was on his knee, her arms about him. "I'm sorry I am such a
problem--so little a comfort!--to you. Forgive me, Pa, for I always
truly loved you--"

"If you truly want my forgiveness," he said stiffly, trying to dislodge
the clinging young arms, "you know how to deserve it--"

The old phraseology, and the old odour of teeth and skin! Martie alone
was changed.

"But forgive me, Pa, and I'll truly try never to cross you again."
Reluctantly, he conceded a response to her kiss, and she sat on the arm
of his chair, and played with the thin locks of his hair while she
completed the peace. Then she went into the kitchen, where Lydia was
sitting at the table, soaking circles of paper in brandy for the
preservation of the glasses of jelly ranged before her.

"Lyd, I just went and told Pa that I was sorry that I am such a beast,
and we've made it up--"

"I don't think you ought to talk as if it was just a quarrel," Lydia
said. "If Pa was angry with you, he had good cause--"

"Darling, I know he did! But I couldn't bear to go to sleep with ill
feeling between us, and so I came down, and apologized, and did the
whole thing handsomely--"

"You couldn't talk so lightly if you really CARED, Mart!"

"I care tremendously, Lyd. Why don't you use paraffin?"

"I know," Lydia said with interest, "Angela does. But somehow Ma always
did it this way."

"Well, I'll mark 'em for you!" Martie began to cut neat little labels
from white paper, and to write on them, "Currant Jelly with Rasp.
1915." Presently she and Lydia were chatting pleasantly.

"I really put up too much one year," Lydia said, "and it began to
spoil, so I sent a whole box of it out to the Poor House; I don't
suppose they mind! But Mrs. Dolan there never sent my glasses back!
However, this year I'll give you some, Mart; unless Polly put some up."

"Unless I go to New York!" Martie suggested.

Lydia's whole face darkened.

"And if I do, you and Sally will be good to Teddy?" his mother asked,
her tone suddenly faltering.

"Martie, what POSSESSES you to talk about going to New York now?"

"Oh, Lyddy, you'd never understand! It's just the longing to do
something for myself, to hold my own there, to--well, to make good!
Marrying here, and being comfortably supported here, seems like--like
failure, almost, to me! If it wasn't for Teddy, I believe that I would
have gone long ago!"

"And a selfish feeling like that is strong enough to make you willing
to break a good man's heart, and desert your child?" asked Lydia in
calm tones.

"It won't break his heart, Lyd--not nearly so much as he broke yours,
years ago! And when I can--when I could, I would send for my boy! He'd
be happier here--" Martie, rather timidly watching her sister's face,
suddenly realized the futility of this and changed her tone. "But let's
not talk about it any more to-night, Lydia, we're both too tired and
excited!"

"I don't understand you," Lydia said patiently and wearily, "I never
did. I should think that SOMETIMES you'd wonder whether you're right,
and everybody else in the world is wrong--or whether the rest of us
know SOMETHING--"

Martie generously let her have the prized last word, and went upstairs
again.

To her surprise she found Teddy awake. She sat down on the edge of the
bed, and leaned over the small figure.

"Teddy, my own boy! Haven't you been asleep?"

"Moth'," he said, with a child's uncanny prescience of impending
events, "if I were awfully, awfully bad--"

"Yes, Ted?" she encouraged him, as he paused.

"Would you ever leave me?" he asked anxiously.

The question stabbed her to the heart. She could not speak.

"I'm enough for you, aren't I?" he said eagerly. Still she did not
speak. "Or do you need somebody else?" he asked urgently.

A pang went through her heart. She tightened her arm about him.

"Teddy! You are all I have, dear!"

His small warm hand played with the ruffle of her blouse.

"But--how about Uncle Cliff, and Uncle John, and all?" he asked. Martie
was silent. "Are you going to marry them?" he added, with a child's
hesitation to say what might be ridiculous.

"No, Ted," she answered honestly.

"Well, promise me," he said urgently, sitting up to tighten his arms
about her throat, "promise me that you will never leave me! I will
never leave you, if you will promise me that! PROMISE!"

He was crying now, and Martie's own tears started thick and fast.

"I might have to leave you--just for a while--" she began.

"Not if you promised!" he said jealously.

"Even if I went away from Aunt Sally and the children, Ted, and we had
to live in a little flat again?" she stammered.

"Even THEN!" he said, with a shaken attempt at a manly voice. "I
remember the pears in the carts, and the box you dropped the train
tickets into," he said encouragingly, "and I remember Margar's bottles
that you used to let me wash! You'd take me into the parks, and down to
the beach, wouldn't you, Moth'?"

"Oh, Teddy, my little son! I'd try to make a life for you, dear!"

"And WE'D be our family, just you and me!" he said uncertainly.

"We'd be a family, all by ourselves," she promised him, laughing and
crying. And she clung to him hungrily, kissing the smooth little
forehead under the rich tumble of hair, her tears falling on his face.
Ah, this was hers, this belonged to her alone, out of all the world.
"I'm glad you told me how you felt about this, Teddy," she said. "It
makes it all clearer to me. You and I, dear--that's the only real life
for us. I owe you that. I promise you, we'll never be separated while
Mother can help it."

His wet little face was pressed against hers.

"And you'll NEVER talk about it any more!" he said violently. "Because
I cry about it sometimes, at night--"

"Never again, my own son!" He lay back on his pillow with a breath of
relief, but she kept her arms about him.

"Because you don't know how a boy feels about his own mother!" he
assured her. Kneeling there, Martie wondered how she had come to forget
his rights, forget his point of view for so long! He would always seem
a baby to her, but he was a person now, and he had his part in, and his
influence upon, her life. Suppose she had left him to cry out this
secret hunger of his uncomforted; suppose, while she thought him
contentedly playing with Billy and 'Lizabeth, he had been judging and
blaming his mother?

While she knelt, thinking, he went to sleep. But Lydia wondered what
was keeping Martie awake. The light in Martie's room was turned up, and
fell in a yellow oblong across the gravel; Lydia dozed and awakened,
but the light was always there.

Morning broke softly in a fog which did not lift as the hours went by.
Malcolm was at home until after lunch, to which meal Teddy and Martie
came downstairs unusually well dressed, Martie observing that she had
errands down town. Teddy kissed Grandpa good-bye as usual, and his
mother kissed Grandpa, too, which was not quite usual, and clung with
her white hands to his lapel.

"Teddy and I have shopping to do down town, Pa, and I've written Cliff
a note!" she said. Her father brightened.

"I'm glad you're inclined to act sensibly, my dear!" he said,
departing. "I thought we'd hear a different story this morning!"

"What are you going down town for?" asked Lydia. "I ought to have some
rubber rings from Mallon's."

"I'm taking a lot of things down--I have to pass the cleaner's anyway,"
answered Martie. "I'll get them, and send them."

"Oh, bring them; they'll go in your pocket," Lydia said. "Well, Ted,
what'll you do when these measles are over, and you have to go back to
school? You've put an awful good suit on him, Mart, just to play in."

"He'll change before he plays," Martie answered, nervously smiling.
"Come, dear!"

"Don't forget your things for the cleaner's!" Lydia said, handing her
her suitcase. Martie surprised the older sister with a sudden kiss.

"Thanks, Lyd, dear!" she said. "Good-bye! Come, Ted!"

They went down through the quiet village, shabby after the burning of
the summer. Fog lay in wet, dark patches on the yellow grass, and in
the thinning air was the good smell of wood fires. Grapes were piled
outside the fruit stores and pasted at a slant on Bonestell's window
was a neatly printed paper slip, "Chop Suey Sundae, 15c." Up on the
brown hills the fog was rising.

They went to see Dr. Ben in his old offices opposite the Town Hall, and
he gave Teddy a pink "sucker pill," as he had given Martie years ago.

At the grocery they met Sally, with all four children, and two small
children more, and Aunt Mart had her usual kisses. Sally was afraid
that Grace's baby boy had the measles, she confided to her sister, and
had taken the twins for a time.

"Martie, how smart you look, and Ted all dressed up!" said Sally. "And
look at my tramps in their old clothes! Mart, do go past Mason and
White's and see the linen dress patterns in the window; there's a
blue-and-tan there, and an all-white--they're too lovely!"

"Why don't you let me send you one, Sally?" Martie asked
affectionately. "I'm rich! I drew my two hundred and eleven dollars'
bank account yesterday, and cashed a check from my editor, and Cousin
Allie's wedding check!" Sally flamed into immediate protest.

"Martie, I'll be wild if you do--you mustn't! I never would have spoken
of it--"

Martie laughed as she kissed her sister, and presently Sally wheeled
Mary's carriage away. But Teddy and his mother went into Mason and
White's, nevertheless, and both the tan-and-blue and the all-white
dress were taken out of the window and duly paid for and sent away.
Teddy shouted to his mother when they were in the street again that
there was Uncle Joe in the car, and he could have taken the dresses to
Aunt Sally.

No, his mother told him, that was to be a surprise! But she crossed the
street to talk in a low tone to Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe said more than
once, "I'm with you--I think you're right!" and finally kissed Teddy,
and suddenly kissed his mother, before he drove away.

Teddy was bursting with the thought of the surprise. But this afternoon
was full of surprises. They were strolling along, peacefully enough,
when suddenly his mother took his small arm and guided him into the
station where they had arrived in Monroe nearly two years before.

A big train came thundering to a stop now as then, and Teddy's mother
said to him quickly and urgently: "Climb in, Love. That's my boy! Get
in, dear; mother'll explain to you later!"

She took a ticket from her bag, and showed it to the coloured porter,
and they went down the little passage past the dressing room, and came
to the big velvet seats which he remembered perfectly. His mother was
breathing nervously, and she was quite pale as she discussed the
question of Teddy's berth with the man who had letters on his cap.

She would not let Teddy look out of the windows until the train
started, but it started in perhaps two minutes, and then she took off
his hat and her own, and smoothed back his hair, and laughed
delightfully like a little girl.

"Where are we goin'?" asked Teddy, charmed and excited.

"We're going to New York, Loveliness! We're going to make a new start!"
she said.



CHAPTER VIII


From that hour Martie knew the joy of living. She emerged from the hard
school in which she had been stumbling and blundering so long; she was
a person, an individuality, she was alive and she loved life.

Her heart fairly sang as she paid for Teddy's supper, the lovely brown
hills of California slipping past the windows of the dining car. The
waiter was solicitous; would the lady have just a salad? No, said the
lady, she did not feel hungry. She and Teddy went out to breathe the
glorious air of the mountains from the observation car, and to flash
and clatter through the snow sheds.

And what a delight it was to be young and free and to have this
splendid child all for her own, thought Martie, her heart swelling with
a wonderful peace. Everybody liked Teddy, and Teddy's touching
happiness at being alone with his adored mother opened her eyes to the
feeling that had been hidden under a child's inarticulateness all these
months.

The two hundred dollars between her and destitution might have been two
million; she was rich. She could treat the troubled, pale little mother
and the two children from the next section to lemonades every
afternoon, and when they reached Chicago, hot and sunshiny at last, she
and Teddy spent the day loitering through a big department store. Here
Teddy was given a Boy Scout suit, and Martie bought herself a cake of
perfumed soap whose odour, whenever she caught it in after times,
brought back the enchanting emotion of these first days of independence.

Tired, dirty, they were sitting together late in the afternoon of the
fifth day, when she felt a sudden tug at her heart. Outside the car
window, slipping steadily by, were smoke-stained brick factories, and
little canals and backwaters soiled with oil and soot, and heaps of
slag and scrap iron and clinkers. Then villages swept by--flat, orderly
villages with fences enclosing summer gardens. Then factories
again--villages--factories--no more of the flat, bare fields: the
fields were all of the West.

But suddenly above this monotonous scene Martie noticed a dull glow
that grew rosier and steadier as the early evening deepened. Up against
the first early stars the lights of New York climbed in a wide bar of
pink and gold, flung a quivering bar of red.

She was back again! Back in the great city. She belonged once more to
the seething crowds in the Ghetto, to the cool arcades between the
great office buildings, to Broadway with its pushing crowds of
shoppers, to the Bronx teeming with tiny shops and swung with the signs
of a thousand apartments to let. The hotels, with their uniformed
starters, the middle Forties, with their theatrical boarding-houses,
the tiny experimental art shops and tea shops and gift shops that
continually appear and disappear among the basements of old brown-stone
houses--she was back among them all!

Tears of joy and excitement came to her eyes. She pressed her face
eagerly beside the child's face at the window.

"Look down, Ted, that's the East Side, dear, with all the children
playing; do you remember? And see all the darling awnings flapping!"

"I shouldn't wonder if we should have an electric storm!" said Teddy,
finding the old phrase easily, his warm little cheek against hers.

"We're back in New York, Teddy! We're home again!" She was gathering
her things together. A thought smote her, and she paused with suddenly
colouring cheeks. This might so easily have been her wedding-trip; she
and Clifford might have been together now.

Poor Clifford, with his stiffly moving brain and his platitudes! She
hoped he would marry some more grateful woman some day. What a Paradise
opening for Lydia if he could ever fancy her again! Martie spent a
moment in wonder as to what the story given Monroe would be. She had
mailed a letter to Lydia, and one to Clifford, during that last, quiet,
foggy morning--letters written after the packing had been done on that
last night. She had suggested that Monroe be given a hint that business
had taken Mrs. Bannister suddenly eastward. It would be a nine days'
wonder; in six months Monroe would only vaguely remember it. Gossips
might suspect the truth: they would never know it. Clifford himself, in
another year, would be placidly implying that there never had been
anything in the rumour of an engagement. Rose would dimple and shake
her head; Martie was always just a little ODD. Lydia would confide to
Sally that she was just sick for fear that Dryden man--and Sally,
sternly inspecting Jimmy's little back for signs of measles, would
quote Joe. Joe ALWAYS thought Martie would make good, and Joe wasn't
one bit sorry she had done as she had. Dr. Ben would defend her, too,
for on that sudden impulsive call she had let her full heart thank him
for all his fatherly goodness to her beloved Sally, and had told him
what she was doing.

"Mark ye, if you was engaged to me, ye wouldn't jump the traces like
this!" the old man had assured her.

"Dr. Ben, I wouldn't want to!" she had answered gaily. "You're older
than Cliff; I know that. But you're broad, Dr. Ben, and you're simple,
and you aren't narrow! You've grown older the way I want to, just
smiling and listening. And you know more in your little finger
than--than some people know in their whole bodies!" And she put her
arms about his neck, and gave him a daughter's laughing kiss.

"Looky here," said the old man, warming, "a man's got to be dead before
he can stand for a thing like this! You haven't got a waiting-list, I
suppose, Miss Martie?"

"No, sir!" she answered positively. "But if ever I do I'll let you
know!"

She and Teddy ate their first meal at Childs'. Little signs bearing the
single word "strawberries" were pasted on the window; Martie felt a
real thrill of affection for the place as she went in. After a while
"Old Southern Corn Cakes" would take the place of the strawberries, and
then grape-fruit "In Season Now."

"After a while we'll be too rich to come here, Ted!" she said as they
went out.

"Wull we?" Teddy asked regretfully. They went into the pushing and
crowding of the streets; heard the shrill trill of the crossing
policeman's whistle again; caught a glimpse of Broadway's lights,
fanning lower and higher, and as the big signs rippled up and down.

Martie drank it in eagerly, no faintest shadow of apprehension fell
upon this evening. She and Teddy walked to their little hotel;
to-morrow she would see her editor, and they would search for cheaper
quarters. She would get the half-promised position or another; it
mattered not which. She would board economically, or find diminutive
quarters for housekeeping; be comfortable either way. If they kept
house, some kindly old woman would be found to give Teddy bread and
butter when he came in from school. And on hot summer Sundays she and
Teddy would pack their lunch, and make an early start for the beach;
theoretically, it would be an odd life for the child, but actually--how
much richer and more sympathetic she would make it than her own had
been! Children are natural gypsies, and Teddy would never complain
because his mother kept him up later than was quite conventional in the
evening, and sometimes took him to her office, to draw pictures or look
at books for a quiet hour.

And she would have friends: women who were working like herself, and
men, too. She was as little afraid of the other as of the one now.
There would be visits to country cottages; there would be winter
dinners, down on the Square. And some day, perhaps, she would have the
studio with the bare floors and the dark rugs. Over and over again she
said the words to herself: she was free; she was free.

Dependence on Pa's whim, on Wallace's whim, was over. She stood alone,
now; she could make for herself that life that every man was always
free to make; that every woman should be offered, too. She had suffered
bitterly; she might live to be an old, old woman, but she knew that the
sight of a fluffy-headed girl baby must always stab her with
unendurable pain. She had been shabby, hungry, ashamed, penniless,
humiliated. She had been ill, physically handicapped for weary weeks
upon weeks.

And she had emerged, armed for the fight. The world needed her now,
Cliff and Pa needed her, even Dr. Ben and Sally and Len would have been
proud to offer her a home. Miss Fanny was missing her now; a dozen
persons idling into the Library in sleepy little Monroe's summer fog,
to-morrow morning, would wish that Miss David was not so slow, would
wish that Mrs. Bannister was back.

The editor himself was out of town; but his assistant was as
encouraging as a somewhat dazzled young man could be.

"She's a corker," said the assistant later. "She's pretty and she talks
fast and she's full of fun; but it's not that. She's got a sort of PUSH
to her; you'll like her. I bet she'll be just the person. I told her
that you'd be here this morning, and she said she'd call again."

"I hope she does!" the editor said. Her card was handed him a moment
later.

In came the tall, severely gowned woman with the flashing smile and
blue eyes, and magnificent bronze hair. She radiated confidence and
power. He had hoped for something like this from her letters; she was
better than his hopes. She wanted a position. She hoped, she said
innocently, that it was a good time for positions.

It was always a good time for certain people, the editor reflected.
They talked for half an hour, irrelevant talk, Martie thought it, for
it was principally of her personal history and his own. Then a
stenographer interrupted; the little boy was afraid that his mother had
gone away through some other door!

The little boy came in, and shook hands with Mr. Trowbridge, and
subsided into his mother's lap. Then the three had another half-hour's
talk. Mr. Trowbridge had boys, too, but they were up in the country now.

He himself escorted them over the office, through large spaces filled
with desks, past closed doors, through a lunch-room and a library.
Respectful greetings met them on all sides. Martie was glad she had on
her wedding suit, and the new hat that had been in a department store
on Sixth Avenue yesterday afternoon. Mr. Trowbridge called Mrs.
Bannister's attention to a certain desk. When they went back to the
privacy of his own office, he asked her if she would like to come to
use that desk, say on Monday?

"There's a bunch of confidential letters there now, for you to answer,"
he said. "Then there are always articles to change, or cut, or adapt.
Also our Miss Briggs, in the 'My Own Money Club,' needs help. We may
ask you sometimes to take home a bunch of stories to read; we may ask
you to do something else!"

"I'll address envelopes or stoke the furnace!" said Martie, bright
tears in her smiling eyes. "I don't know whether I'm worth all that
money," she added, "for it doesn't seem to me that anybody in the world
really EARNS as much as twenty dollars a week, but I'll try to be! I'm
twenty-eight years old, and I've been waiting all my life for this
chance!"

"Well, even at that age, you may have a year or two of usefulness left,
if your health is spared you." the editor said. They parted laughing,
and Martie went out into the wonderful, sunny, hospitable city as gay
as Teddy was. Oh, how she would work, how she would work! She would get
down to the office first of all; she would wear the trimmest suits; she
would never be cross, never be tired, never rebel at the most flagrant
imposition! She would take the cold baths and wear the winter underwear
that kept tonsilitis at bay; she would hire a typewriter, and keep on
with her articles. If ever a woman in the world kept a position, then
Martie would keep hers!

And, of course, women did. There was that pretty, capable woman who
came into Mr. Trowbridge's office, and was introduced as the assistant
editor. Coolly dressed, dainty and calm, she had not suggested that the
struggle was too hard. She had smilingly greeted Martie, offered a
low-voiced suggestion, and vanished unruffled and at peace.

"Why, that's what this world IS," Martie reflected. "Workers needing
jobs, and jobs needing workers." And suddenly she hit upon the keynote
to her new philosophy. "MEN don't worry and fidget about keeping their
jobs, and _I_'M not going to. I'm just as necessary and just as capable
as if I were--say, Len. If Len came on here for a job I wouldn't worry
myself sick about his ever getting it!"

What honeymoon would have been half so thrilling, she reflected, as
this business of getting herself and Teddy suitably established? Her
choice, not made until Sunday afternoon, fell upon a quiet
boarding-house on West Sixty-first Street. It was kept by a kindly
Irishwoman who had children younger and older than Teddy, and
well-disposed toward Teddy, and it was only half a block from the Park.
At first Mrs. Gilfogle said she would charge nothing at all for the
child; a final price for the two was placed at fifteen dollars a week.
Martie suspected that the young Gilfogles would accompany Teddy and
herself on their jaunts occasionally, and would help him scatter his
stone blocks all over her floor on winter nights. But the luncheon for
which they stayed was exceptionally good, and she was delighted with
her big back room.

"I'm alone wid the two of thim to raise," said Mrs. Gilfogle. "I know
what it is. He died on me just as I got three hundred dollars' worth of
furniture in, God rest him. I didn't know would I ever pay for it at
all, with Joe here at the breast, and Annie only walking. But I've had
good luck these seven years! You'll not find elegance, but at that
you'll never go hungry here. And you lost the child, too?--that was
hard."

"My girl would be three," Martie said wistfully. And suddenly reminded,
she thought that she would take Teddy and go to see the old Doctor and
Mrs. Converse.

That they welcomed her almost with tears of joy, and that her improved
appearance and spirits gave them genuine parental delight was only a
part of her new experience. Mrs. Converse wanted her to settle down
with Teddy in her old room. Martie would not do that; she must be near
the subway, she said, but she promised them many a Sunday dinner-hour.

"And that Mrs. Dryden got divorced, but she never married again,"
marvelled the old lady mildly.

"Oh, she didn't marry her doctor, then?"

"No, I think somebody told Doctor that she couldn't. Wasn't she just
the kind of woman who could spoil the lives of two good men? Somebody
told Doctor that the doctor was reconciled to his wife, and they went
away from New York, but I don't know."

Martie wondered. She thought that she would look up the doctor's name
in the telephone book, anyway, and perhaps chance an anonymous
telephone call. Suppose she asked for Mrs. Cooper, and Adele answered?

But before she did so, she met Adele. She had held her new position for
six weeks then, and Indian Summer was giving way to the delicious
coolness of the fall. Martie was in a department store, Teddy beside
her, when a woman came smiling up to her, and laid a hand on her arm.
She recognized a changed Adele. The beauty was not gone, but it seemed
to have faded and shrunk upon itself; Adele's bright eyes were ringed
with lead, the old coquetry of manner was almost shocking.

"Martie," said Adele, "this is my sister, Mrs. Baker."

Mrs. Baker, a big wholesome woman, who looked, Martie thought, as if
she might have a delicate daughter, married young, and a husband
prominent in the Eastern Star, and be herself a clever bridge player,
and a most successful hostess and guest at women's hilarious
lunch-eons, looked at the stranger truculently. She was a tightly
corseted woman, with prominent teeth, and a good-natured smile. Martie
felt sure that she always had good clothes, and wore white shoes in
summer, and could be generous without any glimmering of a sense of
justice. She was close to fifty.

"How do, Mrs. Bannister," she said heartily. "I've heard Adele mention
your name. How do you think she looks? I think she looks like death.
How do, dear?" she added to Teddy. "Are you mama's boy? I don't live in
New York like you do; I live in Browning, Indiana. Don't you think
that's a funny place to live? But it's a real pretty place just the
same."

"Have you had your lunch?" Adele was asking. "We haven't. I was kept by
the girl at the milliner's--"

It was one o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. Martie was free to lunch
where she pleased. She was free even to sit down with a woman whose
name was under a cloud. They all crowded into an express elevator, and
sat down at a table in the restaurant on the twelfth floor.

Presently the unreality of it faded from Martie's uppermost
consciousness and she began to enjoy herself. To sit with the wife of a
Mystic Shriner, and the woman who had done what Adele had done, and
whose husband incidentally was deeply devoted to herself, was not
according to Monroe. But she was in New York!

"I guess I was a silly girl, misled by a man of the world," Adele was
saying in her old, complaining, complacent voice. "I know I was a fool,
Martie, but don't men do that sort of thing all the time, and get over
it? Why should us women pay all the time? You know as well as I do that
John Dryden was just as queer as Dick's hatband; I was hungering, as a
girl will, for pleasure and excitement--"

"It was a dirty crime, the way that doctor acted," Mrs. Baker
contributed, her tone much pleasanter than her words. "He must have
been a skunk, if you ask me. Adele here was wrong, Mrs. Bannister; you
and I won't quarrel about that. But Adele wasn't nothing but a child at
heart--"

"I believed anything he told me!" Adele drawled, playing with her knife
and fork, her lashes dropped.

"Dryden," the loyal sister continued majestically, "threw her over the
second he got a chance; that's what she got for putting up with HIM for
all those years! And then, if you please, this other feller discovers
that he can't get rid of his wife. I came on then," she said warmly as
Martie murmured her sympathy, "and I says to Adele, throw the whole
crowd of them down. Billy Baker and I have plenty, and my
daughter--Ruby, she's a lovely girl and she's married an elegant feller
whose people own about all the lumber interests in our part of the
country--she doesn't need anything from us. But if you ask me, it's
just about killed Adele," she went on frankly, glancing at her sister,
"she looks like a sick girl to me. We came on two or three days ago, to
see a specialist about her, and I declare I'll be glad to get her back."

"What has become of Dr. Cooper?" Martie felt justified in asking.

"He lost all the practice he ever had, they say," Mrs. Baker said
viciously. "And good enough for him, too! His wife won't even see him,
and he lives at some boarding-house; and serve him right!"

"And Jack's book such a success!" Adele said, widening her eyes at
Martie. "Do you ever see him?"

"He's got a great friend in Dean Silver, the novelist," Martie answered
composedly. "I believe they're abroad."

"The idea!" Adele said lifelessly. She was playing with her bracelets
now, and looked about her in an aimless way.

"Well, if this little girl has any sense she'll let the past be the
past," remarked the optimistic Mrs. Baker. "There's a fellow out our
way, Joe Chase; he's got a cattle ranch. You never heard of him? He's a
di'mond in the rough, if you ask me, but he's been crazy about Adele
ever since she first visited me. He'd give her anything in God's world."

"But I think I'd die of loneliness winters!" Adele said, with the smile
of a petted child.

So there was a third man eager to sacrifice his life to her, Martie
marvelled. Adele would consider herself a martyr if she succumbed to
the wiles of the rough diamond; she would puzzle and distress him in
his ranch-house; she would Fret and exact and complain. Probably one of
the Swedish farmers thereabout could give him a daughter who would make
him an infinitely better wife, and bear him children, and worship him
blindly. But no; he must yearn for this neurotic, abnormal little
creature, with her ugly history and her barren brain and body.

"Isn't it funny how unlucky I am, Martie?" Adele asked at parting. "If
you'll tell me why one woman has to have so much bad luck, and others
just sail along on the top of the wave, I'll be obliged to you!" She
came close to Martie, her faded, bitter little face flushing suddenly.
"Now this Mrs. Cooper," she said in a low tone, "her father was a shoe
manufacturer, and left her half a million dollars. Of course, it's a
SNAP for her to say she'll do this, and say she'll do that! She says
it's for the children she refuses the divorce, but the real reason is
she wants him back. She can live in New York--"

Adele's voice trailed off disconsolately. Martie felt a genuine pang of
sympathy for the unhappy little creature whose one claim had been of
sex, and who had made her claim so badly.

"Write me now and then!" she said warmly.

"Oh, I will!" Adele stretched up to kiss the taller woman, and Mrs.
Baker kissed her, too. Martie went away smiling; over all its waste and
suffering life was amusing, after all.

Would John, with his irregular smile and his sea-blue eyes and his
reedy voice, also come back into her life some day? She could not say.
The threads of human intercourse were tangled enough to make living a
blind business at best, and she had deliberately tangled the web that
held them even more deeply than life had done. Before he himself was
back from long wandering, before he learned that she was in the city,
and that there had been no second marriage, months, perhaps years, must
go by.

Martie accepted the possibility serenely. She asked nothing better than
work and companionship, youth and health, and Teddy. Every day was a
separate adventure in happiness; she had never been happy before.

And suppose this was only the beginning, she wondered. Suppose real
achievement and real success lay ahead? Suppose she was one of the
women to whom California would some day point with pride? Deep in her
singing heart she suspected that it was true. How it was to come about
she could only guess. By her pen, of course. By some short story
suddenly inspired, or by one of her flashing articles on the women's
problems of the day. She was not a Shakespeare, not a George Eliot, but
she had something for which the world would pay.

Nine years since the September when Rodney Parker had flashed into her
world; a long nine years. Sitting under her green-shaded reading lamp,
Martie reviewed them, for herself, and for Sally. She and Sally had
thought of Dr. Ben as only an amiable theorist then, but there had been
nothing theoretical about the help he had given Sally and Joe with
their problem.

Martie had solved her own alone. Rodney, Pa, Wallace, and John had all
entered into it, but no one of them had helped her. It was in spite of
them rather than because of them that she was sitting here poised,
established, needed at last. She saw her life to-night as a long road,
climbing steadily up from the fields and valleys, mounting, sometimes
in storm, and sometimes in fog, but always mounting toward the
mountains. Rose and Adele and Lydia were content with the lowlands, the
quiet, sunny plains below. She must have the heights.

There were other women seeking that rising road; perhaps she might help
them. Love and wifehood and motherhood she had known, now she would
know the joy of perfected expression, the fulfillment of the height.
She dedicated herself solemnly, joyfully, to the claim of the years
ahead. Ten years ago she might have said that at twenty-eight the best
of a woman's life was over. Now she knew that she had only begun to
live.



THE END





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