Miss Billy Married by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XVII. The Efficiency Star--and Billy
Billy was not a young woman that did things by halves. Long ago, in the days of her childhood, her Aunt Ella had once said of her: "If only Billy didn't go into things all over, so; but whether it's measles or mud pies, I always know that she'll be the measliest or the muddiest of any child in town!" It could not be expected, therefore, that Billy would begin to play her new role now with any lack of enthusiasm. But even had she needed any incentive, there was still ever ringing in her ears Bertram's accusing: "If you'd tend to your husband and your home a little more--" Billy still declared very emphatically that she had forgiven Bertram; but she knew, in her heart, that she had not forgotten.
Certainly, as the days passed, it could not be said that Billy was not tending to her husband and her home. From morning till night, now, she tended to nothing else. She seldom touched her piano--save to dust it--and she never touched her half-finished song-manuscript, long since banished to the oblivion of the music cabinet. She made no calls except occasional flying visits to the Annex, or to the pretty new home where Marie and Cyril were now delightfully settled. The opera and the Symphony were over for the season, but even had they not been, Billy could not have attended them. She had no time. Surely she was not doing any "gallivanting" now, she told herself sometimes, a little aggrievedly.
There was, indeed, no time. From morning until night Billy was busy, flying from one task to another. Her ambition to have everything just right was equalled only by her dogged determination to "just show them" that she could do this thing. At first, of course, hampered as she was by ignorance and inexperience, each task consumed about twice as much time as was necessary. Yet afterwards, when accustomedness had brought its reward of speed, there was still for Billy no time; for increased knowledge had only opened the way to other paths, untrodden and alluring. Study of cookbooks had led to the study of food values. Billy discovered suddenly that potatoes, beef, onions, oranges, and puddings were something besides vegetables, meat, fruit, and dessert. They possessed attributes known as proteids, fats, and carbohydrates. Faint memories of long forgotten school days hinted that these terms had been heard before; but never, Billy was sure, had she fully realized what they meant.
It was at this juncture that Billy ran across a book entitled "Correct Eating for Efficiency." She bought it at once, and carried it home in triumph. It proved to be a marvelous book. Billy had not read two chapters before she began to wonder how the family had managed to live thus far with any sort of success, in the face of their dense ignorance and her own criminal carelessness concerning their daily bill of fare.
At dinner that night Billy told Bertram and William of her discovery, and, with growing excitement, dilated on the wonderful good that it was to bring to them.
"Why, you don't know, you can't imagine what a treasure it is!" she exclaimed. "It gives a complete table for the exact balancing of food."
"For what?" demanded Bertram, glancing up.
"The exact balancing of food; and this book says that's the biggest problem that modern scientists have to solve."
"Humph!" shrugged Bertram. "Well, you just balance my food to my hunger, and I'll agree not to complain."
"Oh, but, Bertram, it's serious, really," urged Billy, looking genuinely distressed. "Why, it says that what you eat goes to make up what you are. It makes your vital energies. Your brain power and your body power come from what you eat. Don't you see? If you're going to paint a picture you need something different from what you would if you were going to--to saw wood; and what this book tells is--is what I ought to give you to make you do each one, I should think, from what I've read so far. Now don't you see how important it is? What if I should give you the saw-wood kind of a breakfast when you were just going up-stairs to paint all day? And what if I should give Uncle William a--a soldier's breakfast when all he is going to do is to go down on State Street and sit still all day?"
"But--but, my dear," began Uncle William, looking slightly worried, "there's my eggs that I always have, you know."
"For heaven's sake, Billy, what have you got hold of now?" demanded Bertram, with just a touch of irritation.
Billy laughed merrily.
"Well, I suppose I didn't sound very logical," she admitted. "But the book--you just wait. It's in the kitchen. I'm going to get it." And with laughing eagerness she ran from the room.
In a moment she had returned, book in hand.
"Now listen. This is the real thing--not my garbled inaccuracies. `The food which we eat serves three purposes: it builds the body substance, bone, muscle, etc., it produces heat in the body, and it generates vital energy. Nitrogen in different chemical combinations contributes largely to the manufacture of body substances; the fats produce heat; and the starches and sugars go to make the vital energy. The nitrogenous food elements we call proteins; the fats and oils, fats; and the starches and sugars (because of the predominance of carbon), we call carbohydrates. Now in selecting the diet for the day you should take care to choose those foods which give the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in just the right proportion.' "
"Oh, Billy!" groaned Bertram.
"But it's so, Bertram," maintained Billy, anxiously. "And it's every bit here. I don't have to guess at it at all. They even give the quantities of calories of energy required for different sized men. I'm going to measure you both to-morrow; and you must be weighed, too," she continued, ignoring the sniffs of remonstrance from her two listeners. "Then I'll know just how many calories to give each of you. They say a man of average size and weight, and sedentary occupation, should have at least 2,000 calories-- and some authorities say 3,000--in this proportion: proteins, 300 calories, fats, 350 calories, carbohydrates, 1,350 calories. But you both are taller than five feet five inches, and I should think you weighed more than 145 pounds; so I can't tell just yet how many calories you will need."
"How many we will need, indeed!" ejaculated Bertram.
"But, my dear, you know I have to have my eggs," began Uncle William again, in a worried voice.
"Of course you do, dear; and you shall have them," soothed Billy, brightly. "It's only that I'll have to be careful and balance up the other things for the day accordingly. Don't you see? Now listen. We'll see what eggs are." She turned the leaves rapidly. "Here's the food table. It's lovely. It tells everything. I never saw anything so wonderful. A--b--c--d--e --here we are. `Eggs, scrambled or boiled, fats and proteins, one egg, 100.' If it's poached it's only 50; but you like yours boiled, so we'll have to reckon on the 100. And you always have two, so that means 200 calories in fats and proteins. Now, don't you see? If you can't have but 300 proteins and 350 fats all day, and you've already eaten 200 in your two eggs, that'll leave just--er--450 for all the rest of the day,--of fats and proteins, you understand. And you've no idea how fast that'll count up. Why, just one serving of butter is 100 of fats, and eight almonds is another, while a serving of lentils is 100 of proteins. So you see how it'll go."
"Yes, I see," murmured Uncle William, casting a mournful glance about the generously laden table, much as if he were bidding farewell to a departing friend. "But if I should want more to eat--" He stopped helplessly, and Bertram's aggrieved voice filled the pause.
"Look here, Billy, if you think I'm going to be measured for an egg and weighed for an almond, you're much mistaken; because I'm not. I want to eat what I like, and as much as I like, whether it's six calories or six thousand!"
Billy chuckled, but she raised her hands in pretended shocked protest.
"Six thousand! Mercy! Bertram, I don't know what would happen if you ate that quantity; but I'm sure you couldn't paint. You'd just have to saw wood and dig ditches to use up all that vital energy."
"Humph!" scoffed Bertram.
"Besides, this is for efficiency," went on Billy, with an earnest air. "This man owns up that some may think a 2,000 calory ration is altogether too small, and he advises such to begin with 3,000 or even 3,500--graded, of course, according to a man's size, weight, and occupation. But he says one famous man does splendid work on only 1,800 calories, and another on even 1,600. But that is just a matter of chewing. Why, Bertram, you have no idea what perfectly wonderful things chewing does."
"Yes, I've heard of that," grunted Bertram; "ten chews to a cherry, and sixty to a spoonful of soup. There's an old metronome up-stairs that Cyril left. You might bring it down and set it going on the table--so many ticks to a mouthful, I suppose. I reckon, with an incentive like that to eat, just about two calories would do me. Eh, William?"
"Bertram! Now you're only making fun," chided Billy; "and when it's really serious, too. Now listen," she admonished, picking up the book again. " `If a man consumes a large amount of meat, and very few vegetables, his diet will be too rich in protein, and too lacking in carbohydrates. On the other hand, if he consumes great quantities of pastry, bread, butter, and tea, his meals will furnish too much energy, and not enough building material.' There, Bertram, don't you see?"
"Oh, yes, I see," teased Bertram. "William, better eat what you can to-night. I foresee it's the last meal of just food we'll get for some time. Hereafter we'll have proteins, fats, and carbohydrates made into calory croquettes, and--"
"Bertram!" scolded Billy.
But Bertram would not be silenced.
"Here, just let me take that book," he insisted, dragging the volume from Billy's reluctant fingers. "Now, William, listen. Here's your breakfast to-morrow morning: strawberries, 100 calories; whole-wheat bread, 75 calories; butter, 100 calories (no second helping, mind you, or you'd ruin the balance and something would topple); boiled eggs, 200 calories; cocoa, 100 calories-- which all comes to 570 calories. Sounds like an English bill of fare with a new kind of foreign money, but 'tisn't, really, you know. Now for luncheon you can have tomato soup, 50 calories; potato salad--that's cheap, only 30 calories, and--" But Billy pulled the book away then, and in righteous indignation carried it to the kitchen.
"You don't deserve anything to eat," she declared with dignity, as she returned to the dining- room.
"No?" queried Bertram, his eyebrows uplifted. "Well, as near as I can make out we aren't going to get--much."
But Billy did not deign to answer this.
In spite of Bertram's tormenting gibes, Billy did, for some days, arrange her meals in accordance with the wonderful table of food given in "Correct Eating for Efficiency." To be sure, Bertram, whatever he found before him during those days, anxiously asked whether he were eating fats, proteins, or carbohydrates; and he worried openly as to the possibility of his meal's producing one calory too much or too little, thus endangering his "balance."
Billy alternately laughed and scolded, to the unvarying good nature of her husband. As it happened, however, even this was not for long, for Billy ran across a magazine article on food adulteration; and this so filled her with terror lest, in the food served, she were killing her family by slow poison, that she forgot all about the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Her talk these days was of formaldehyde, benzoate of soda, and salicylic acid.
Very soon, too, Billy discovered an exclusive Back Bay school for instruction in household economics and domestic hygiene. Billy investigated it at once, and was immediately aflame with enthusiasm. She told Bertram that it taught everything, everything she wanted to know; and forthwith she enrolled herself as one of its most devoted pupils, in spite of her husband's protests that she knew enough, more than enough, already. This school attendance, to her consternation, Billy discovered took added time; but in some way she contrived to find it to take.
And so the days passed. Eliza's mother, though better, was still too ill for her daughter to leave her. Billy, as the warm weather approached, began to look pale and thin. Billy, to tell the truth, was working altogether too hard; but she would not admit it, even to herself. At first the novelty of the work, and her determination to conquer at all costs, had given a fictitious strength to her endurance. Now that the novelty had become accustomedness, and the conquering a surety, Billy discovered that she had a back that could ache, and limbs that, at times, could almost refuse to move from weariness. There was still, however, one spur that never failed to urge her to fresh endeavor, and to make her, at least temporarily, forget both ache and weariness; and that was the comforting thought that now, certainly, even Bertram himself must admit that she was tending to her home and her husband.
As to Bertram--Bertram, it is true, had at first uttered frequent and vehement protests against his wife's absorption of both mind and body in "that plaguy housework," as he termed it. But as the days passed, and blessed order superseded chaos, peace followed discord, and delicious, well-served meals took the place of the horrors that had been called meals in the past, he gradually accepted the change with tranquil satisfaction, and forgot to question how it was brought about; though he did still, sometimes, rebel because Billy was always too tired, or too busy, to go out with him. Of late, however, he had not done even this so frequently, for a new "Face of a Girl" had possessed his soul; and all his thoughts and most of his time had gone to putting on canvas the vision of loveliness that his mind's eye saw.
By June fifteenth the picture was finished. Bertram awoke then to his surroundings. He found summer was upon him with no plans made for its enjoyment. He found William had started West for a two weeks' business trip. But what he did not find one day--at least at first--was his wife, when he came home unexpectedly at four o'clock. And Bertram especially wanted to find his wife that day, for he had met three people whose words had disquieted him not a little. First, Aunt Hannah. She had said:
"Bertram, where is Billy? She hasn't been out to the Annex for a week; and the last time she was there she looked sick. I was real worried about her."
Cyril had been next.
"Where's Billy?" he had asked abruptly. "Marie says she hasn't seen her for two weeks. Marie's afraid she's sick. She says Billy didn't look well a bit, when she did see her."
Calderwell had capped the climax. He had said:
"Great Scott, Henshaw, where have you been keeping yourself? And where's your wife? Not one of us has caught more than a glimpse of her for weeks. She hasn't sung with us, nor played for us, nor let us take her anywhere for a month of Sundays. Even Miss Greggory says she hasn't seen much of her, and that Billy always says she's too busy to go anywhere. But Miss Greggory says she looks pale and thin, and that she thinks she's worrying too much over running the house. I hope she isn't sick!"
"Why, no, Billy isn't sick. Billy's all right," Bertram had answered. He had spoken lightly, nonchalantly, with an elaborate air of carelessness; but after he had left Calderwell, he had turned his steps abruptly and a little hastily toward home.
And he had not found Billy--at least, not at once. He had gone first down into the kitchen and dining-room. He remembered then, uneasily, that he had always looked for Billy in the kitchen and dining-room, of late. To-day, however, she was not there.
On the kitchen table Bertram did see a book wide open, and, mechanically, he picked it up. It was a much-thumbed cookbook, and it was open where two once-blank pages bore his wife's handwriting. On the first page, under the printed heading "Things to Remember," he read these sentences:
"That rice swells till every dish in the house is full, and that spinach shrinks till you can't find it.
"That beets boil dry if you look out the window.
"That biscuits which look as if they'd been mixed up with a rusty stove poker haven't really been so, but have only got too much undissolved soda in them."
There were other sentences, but Bertram's eyes chanced to fall on the opposite page where the "Things to Remember" had been changed to "Things to Forget"; and here Billy had written just four words: "Burns," "cuts," and "yesterday's failures."
Bertram dropped the book then with a spasmodic clearing of his throat, and hurriedly resumed his search. When he did find his wife, at last, he gave a cry of dismay--she was on her own bed, huddled in a little heap, and shaking with sobs.
"Billy! Why, Billy!" he gasped, striding to the bedside.
Billy sat up at once, and hastily wiped her eyes.
"Oh, is it you, B-Bertram? I didn't hear you come in. You--you s-said you weren't coming till six o'clock!" she choked.
"Billy, what is the meaning of this?"
"N-nothing. I--I guess I'm just tired."
"What have you been doing?" Bertram spoke sternly, almost sharply. He was wondering why he had not noticed before the little hollows in his wife's cheeks. "Billy, what have you been doing?"
"Why, n-nothing extra, only some sweeping, and cleaning out the refrigerator."
"Sweeping! Cleaning! You! I thought Mrs. Durgin did that."
"She does. I mean she did. But she couldn't come. She broke her leg--fell off the stepladder where she was three days ago. So I had to do it. And to-day, someway, everything went wrong. I burned me, and I cut me, and I used two sodas with not any cream of tartar, and I should think I didn't know anything, not anything!" And down went Billy's head into the pillows again in another burst of sobs.
With gentle yet uncompromising determination, Bertram gathered his wife into his arms and carried her to the big chair. There, for a few minutes, he soothed and petted her as if she were a tired child--which, indeed, she was.
"Billy, this thing has got to stop," he said then. There was a very inexorable ring of decision in his voice.
"This housework business."
Billy sat up with a jerk.
"But, Bertram, it isn't fair. You can't--you mustn't--just because of to-day! I can do it. I have done it. I've done it days and days, and it's gone beautifully--even if they did say I couldn't!"
"Be an e-efficient housekeeper."
"Who said you couldn't?"
"Aunt Hannah and K-Kate."
Bertram said a savage word under his breath.
"Holy smoke, Billy! I didn't marry you for a cook or a scrub-lady. If you had to do it, that would be another matter, of course; and if we did have to do it, we wouldn't have a big house like this for you to do it in. But I didn't marry for a cook, and I knew I wasn't getting one when I married you."
Billy bridled into instant wrath.
"Well, I like that, Bertram Henshaw! Can't I cook? Haven't I proved that I can cook?"
Bertram laughed, and kissed the indignant lips till they quivered into an unwilling smile.
"Bless your spunky little heart, of course you have! But that doesn't mean that I want you to do it. You see, it so happens that you can do other things, too; and I'd rather you did those. Billy, you haven't played to me for a week, nor sung to me for a month. You're too tired every night to talk, or read together, or go anywhere with me. I married for companionship--not cooking and sweeping!"
Billy shook her head stubbornly. Her mouth settled into determined lines.
"That's all very well to say. You aren't hungry now, Bertram. But it's different when you are, and they said 'twould be."
"Humph! `They' are Aunt Hannah and Kate, I suppose."
"Yes--and the `Talk to Young Wives.' "
Billy choked a little. She had forgotten that Bertram did not know about the "Talk to Young Wives." She wished that she had not mentioned the book, but now that she had, she would make the best of it. She drew herself up with dignity.
"It's a book; a very nice book. It says lots of things--that have come true."
"Where is that book? Let me see it, please."
With visible reluctance Billy got down from her perch on Bertram's knee, went to her desk and brought back the book.
Bertram regarded it frowningly, so frowningly that Billy hastened to its defense.
"And it's true--what it says in there, and what Aunt Hannah and Kate said. It is different when they're hungry! You said yourself if I'd tend to my husband and my home a little more, and--"
Bertram looked up with unfeigned amazement.
"I said what?" he demanded.
In a voice shaken with emotion, Billy repeated the fateful words.
"I never--when did I say that?"
"The night Uncle William and I came home from--Pete's."
For a moment Bertram stared dumbly; then a shamed red swept to his forehead.
"Billy, did I say that? I ought to be shot if I did. But, Billy, you said you'd forgiven me!"
"I did, dear--truly I did; but, don't you see? --it was true. I hadn't tended to things. So I've been doing it since."
A sudden comprehension illuminated Bertram's face.
"Heavens, Billy! And is that why you haven't been anywhere, or done anything? Is that why Calderwell said to-day that you hadn't been with them anywhere, and that-- Great Scott, Billy! Did you think I was such a selfish brute as that?"
"Oh, but when I was going with them I was following the book--I thought," quavered Billy; and hurriedly she turned the leaves to a carefully marked passage. "It's there--about the outside interests. See? I was trying to brush up against them, so that I wouldn't interfere with your Art. Then, when you accused me of gallivanting off with--" But Bertram swept her back into his arms, and not for some minutes could Billy make a coherent speech again.
Then Bertram spoke.
"See here, Billy," he exploded, a little shakily, "if I could get you off somewhere on a desert island, where there weren't any Aunt Hannahs or Kates, or Talks to Young Wives, I think there'd be a chance to make you happy; but--"
"Oh, but there was truth in it," interrupted Billy, sitting erect again. "I didn't know how to run a house, and it was perfectly awful while we were having all those dreadful maids, one after the other; and no woman should be a wife who doesn't know--"
"All right, all right, dear," interrupted Bertram, in his turn. "We'll concede that point, if you like. But you do know now. You've got the efficient housewife racket down pat even to the last calory your husband should be fed; and I'll warrant there isn't a Mary Ellen in Christendom who can find a spot of ignorance on you as big as a pinhead! So we'll call that settled. What you need now is a good rest; and you're going to have it, too. I'm going to have six Mary Ellens here to-morrow morning. Six! Do you hear? And all you've got to do is to get your gladdest rags together for a trip to Europe with me next month. Because we're going. I shall get the tickets to- morrow, after I send the six Mary Ellens packing up here. Now come, put on your bonnet. We're going down town to dinner."