Undertow by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Contentedly, the Bradleys dined. Bert served scrambled eggs and canned macaroni to the ravenous children--a meal that was supplemented by a cold roast fowl from the Rose's, a sheet of rolls brought at the last moment by the Fieldings' man, sweet butter and peach ice-cream from the Seward Smiths, and a tray of various delicacies from the concerned and sympathetic Ingrams. Every one was hungry and excited, and more than once the boys made their father shout with laughter. They were amusing kids, his indulgent look said to his wife.
At the conclusion of the meal little Anne went around the table, and got into her father's lap.
"'Member I used to do this when I was just a little girl?" Anne asked, happily. Nancy and Bert looked for a second at each other over the relaxed little head. It was almost dark now, Priscilla was silent in her mother's arms, even the boys were quiet. Bert smoked, and Nancy spoke now and then to the sleepy baby.
It was with an effort that she roused herself, to lead the little quartette upstairs. And even as she did so she remembered this old sensation, the old reluctance to leave after-dinner quiet and relaxation for the riot of the nursery. Smiling, she carried the baby upstairs, and settled the chattering children in all the novelty of the bare wide rooms.
Bert could hear the diminishing trills of talk and laughter, the repeated good-nights. The oblong of light from the upper window faded suddenly from the lawn. Somewhere from the big closet at the back, lately filled with slip-covers and new tires, Agnes hummed over the subdued click and tinkle of dishes and silver, and he could hear Nancy's feet coming carefully down the steep, unfamiliar stairway. Presently she joined him in the soft early darkness of the doorway, silently took the wide arm of his porch- chair, and leaned against his shoulder. Bert put his arm about her.
It was a heavenly summer evening, luminous even before the moon- rising. The last drift of smoke was gone, and the garden drenched with scent. Under the first stars the shrubs and trees stood in panoramic perspective; the lawns looked wide and smooth. Down the street, under a dark arch of elms, the lights of other houses showed yellow and warm; now and then a motor-car swept by, sending a circle of white light for a few moments against the gloom.
"Dead, dear?" Bert asked, after awhile. Nancy sighed contentedly before she answered:
"Tired, of course--a little!"
"Well," summarized Bert, after another pause, "we have now reduced our problem somewhat. A man, his wife, his children. There we are!"
"A roof above his head, a maid-servant, and all the Sunday meals in the house!" Nancy added optimistically.
"A barn roof," amended Bert.
"Barns have sheltered babies before this," Nancy reflected whimsically. Again she sighed. "I suppose babies do burn to death, sometimes, Bert? One sees it in the paper; just a line or two. I remember--"
"Don't let your mind dwell on that side of it, Nance. For that matter a brick might fall off the roof on our heads now."
"Yes, I know. But Priscilla was my responsibility, and I was a mile away."
"You'll be a mile away from her many a time and oft," Bert reminded her wholesomely.
"When I have to be," she conceded, slowly. "But to-day--" Her voice sank, and Bert, glancing sidewise at her, saw that her face was very thoughtful. "Bert," she said, "we have a good deal to be thankful for."
"Everything in the world!"