Undertow by Kathleen Thompson Norris
When the second boy came, in early December the Bradleys decided to move. They moved into a plain, old-fashioned flat, with two enormous rooms, two medium-sized, and two small ones, in an unfashionable street, and in a rather inaccessible block. There was a drug store at the corner opposite them, but the park was only a long block away, and the back rooms were flooded with sunshine. Nancy had only two flights of stairs to climb, instead of four, and plenty of room for the two cribs and the high chair. Also she had room for Elite, the coloured girl who put herself at the Bradleys' disposal for three dollars a week. Elite knew nothing whatever, but she had willing hands and willing feet. She had the sudden laugh of a maniac, but she held some strange power over the Bradley babies and they obeyed her lightest word.
They moved on the day after Christmas, when Edward Barrett Bradley was only three weeks old. Elite and Bert did the moving, and Nancy only laughed weakly at their experiences. Junior contracted chicken-pox during this time, and the family was quarantined on New Year's Eve.
Bert and his wife celebrated the occasion with a quart of oysters, eaten with hat-pins from a quart measure. The invalid slumbered in the same room, behind a screen. He was having a very light attack, and Nancy, who had been hanging over him all day, was reassured to-night, and in wild spirits. She laughed the tears into her eyes when Albert Senior, hearing the tentative horns at nine o'clock, telephoned the fish market for the wherewithal to celebrate. Bert had been hanging pictures, and was dirty and tired, but they got quite hysterical with merriment over their feast. The "new boy," as they called the baby, presently was brought in, and had his own meal, before the old-fashioned coal fire. Nancy sat dreaming over the small curved form.
"We'll think this is very funny, some day!" she said, dauntlessly.
Bert merely looked at her. But after a while he tried to tell her what he thought about it, and so made their third New Year memorable to her forever.
She settled down quickly, in the new quarters; some visionary, romancing phase of Nancy's character and Nancy's roses disappeared for a time. She baked and boiled, sewed on buttons, bandaged fingers, rose gallantly to the days' demands. She learned the economical value of soups and salads, and schooled herself, at least every other day, to leave the boys for an hour or two with Elite, and walk out for a little bracing solitude. Bert watched her in admiring amazement. His wife was a wonder!
Sometimes, on a cold afternoon, she walked down to meet Bert, and they went together to dinner. Their talk was practical now, of suits and rubber overshoes and milk bills. And Nancy was too tired to walk home; they went home in the rubber-scented dampness of a surface car.
Sometimes, as she went through the morning routine, the baths, bottles, dishes, the picking up, the disheartening conferences over the ice box, she wondered what had become of the old southern belle, Nancy Barrett, who had laughed and flirted and only a few years ago, who had been such a strong and pretty and confident egotist? There was no egotism left in Nancy now, she was only a busy woman in a world of busy women. She knew backache and headache, and moods of weary irritation. The cut of her gowns, the little niceties of table-service or of children's clothing no longer concerned her. She merely wanted her family comfortable, fed and housed and clothed, and well. Nancy could advise other women about the capable handling of children, before her firstborn was three years old.
They never went to "The Old Hill House" again, but they found a primitive but comfortable hotel in the Maine woods, for Ned's second summer, and for several summers after that. Here Nancy slept and tramped and rested happily, welcoming Bert rapturously every week-end. In near-by cabins, young matrons like herself were likewise solving the children's summer problem, she was never lonely, and the eight free, pine-scented weeks were cloudlessly happy. She told Bert that it was the only sensible solution for persons in moderate circumstances; old clothes, simple food, utter solitude.
"There are no comparisons to spoil things," Nancy said, contentedly. "I know I'm small-minded, Bert. But seeing things I can't have does upset me, somehow!"