Mary Marie by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter IX. WHich is the Test
ANDERSONVILLE. Twelve years later.
Twelve years--yes. And I'm twenty-eight years old. Pretty old, little Mary Marie of the long ago would think. And, well, perhaps to-day I feel just as old as she would put it.
I came up into the attic this morning to pack away some things I shall no longer need, now that I am going to leave Jerry. (Jerry is my husband.) And in the bottom of my little trunk I found this manuscript. I had forgotten that such a thing existed; but with its laboriously written pages before me, it all came back to me; and I began to read; here a sentence; there a paragraph; somewhere else a page. Then, with a little half laugh and half sob, I carried it to an old rocking-chair by the cobwebby dormer window, and settled myself to read it straight through.
And I have read it.
Poor little Mary Marie! Dear little Mary Marie! To meet you like this, to share with you your joys and sorrows, hopes and despairs, of those years long ago, is like sitting hand in hand on a sofa with a childhood's friend, each listening to an eager "And do you remember?" falling constantly from delighted lips that cannot seem to talk half fast enough.
But you have taught me much, little Mary Marie. I understand--oh, I understand so many things so much better, now, since reading this little story in your round childish hand. You see, I had almost forgotten that I was a Mary and a Marie--Jerry calls me Mollie--and I had wondered what were those contending forces within me. I know now. It is the Mary and the Marie trying to settle their old, old quarrel.
It was almost dark when I had finished the manuscript. The far corners of the attic were peopled with fantastic shadows, and the spiders in the window were swaying, lazy and full-stomached, in the midst of the day's spoils of gruesome wings and legs. I got up slowly, stiffly, shivering a little. I felt suddenly old and worn and ineffably weary. It is a long, long journey back to our childhood--sometimes, even though one may be only twenty-eight.
I looked down at the last page of the manuscript. It was written on the top sheet of a still thick pad of paper, and my fingers fairly tingled suddenly, to go on and cover those unused white sheets--tell what happened next--tell the rest of the story; not for the sake of the story--but for my sake. It might help me. It might make things clearer. It might help to justify myself in my own eyes. Not that I have any doubts, of course (about leaving Jerry, I mean), but that when I saw it in black and white I could be even more convinced that I was doing what was best for him and best for me.
So I brought the manuscript down to my own room, and this evening I have commenced to write. I can't finish it to-night, of course. But I have to-morrow, and still to-morrow. (I have so many to-morrows now! And what do they all amount to?) And so I'll just keep writing, as I have time, till I bring it to the end.
I'm sorry that it must be so sad and sorry an end. But there's no other way, of course. There can be but one ending, as I can see. I'm sorry. Mother'll be sorry, too. She doesn't know yet. I hate to tell her. Nobody knows--not even Jerry himself--yet. They all think I'm just making a visit to Mother--and I am--till I write that letter to Jerry. And then--
I believe now that I'll wait till I've finished writing this. I'll feel better then. My mind will be clearer. I'll know more what to say. Just the effort of writing it down--
Of course, if Jerry and I hadn't--
But this is no way to begin. Like the little Mary Marie of long ago I am in danger of starting my dinner with ice-cream instead of soup! And so I must begin where I left off, of course. And that was at the wedding.
I remember that wedding as if it were yesterday. I can see now, with Mary Marie's manuscript before me, why it made so great an impression upon me. It was a very quiet wedding, of course--just the members of the family present. But I shall never forget the fine, sweet loveliness of Mother's face, nor the splendid strength and tenderness of Father's. And the way he drew her into his arms and kissed her, after it was all over--well, I remember distinctly that even Aunt Hattie choked up and had to turn her back to wipe her eyes.
They went away at once, first to New York for a day or two, then to Andersonville, to prepare for the real wedding trip to the other side of the world. I stayed in Boston at school; and because nothing of consequence happened all those weeks and months is the reason, I suspect, why the manuscript got tossed into the bottom of my little trunk and stayed there.
In the spring, when Father and Mother returned, and we all went back to Andersonville, there followed another long period of just happy girlhood, and I suspect I was too satisfied and happy to think of writing. After all, I've noticed it's when we're sad or troubled over something that we have that tingling to cover perfectly good white paper with "confessions" and "stories of my life." As witness right now what I'm doing.
And so it's not surprising, perhaps, that Mary Marie's manuscript still lay forgotten in the little old trunk after it was taken up to the attic. Mary Marie was happy.
And it was happy--that girlhood of mine, after we came back to Andersonville. I can see now, as I look back at it, that Father and Mother were doing everything in their power to blot out of my memory those unhappy years of my childhood. For that matter, they were also doing everything in their power to blot out of their own memories those same unhappy years. To me, as I look back at it, it seems that they must have succeeded wonderfully. They were very happy, I believe--Father and Mother.
Oh, it was not always easy--even I could see that. It took a lot of adjusting--a lot of rubbing off of square corners to keep the daily life running smoothly. But when two persons are determined that it shall run smoothly--when each is steadfastly looking to the other's happiness, not at his own--why, things just can't help smoothing out then. But it takes them both. One can't do it alone. Now, if Jerry would only--
But it isn't time to speak of Jerry yet.
I'll go back to my girlhood.
It was a trying period--it must have been--for Father and Mother, in spite of their great love for me, and their efforts to create for me a happiness that would erase the past from my mind. I realize it now. For, after all, I was just a girl--a young girl, like other girls; high-strung, nervous, thoughtless, full of my whims and fancies; and, in addition, with enough of my mother and enough of my father within me to make me veritably a cross-current and a contradiction, as I had said that I was in the opening sentence of my childish autobiography.
I had just passed my sixteenth birthday when we all came back to live in Andersonville. For the first few months I suspect that just the glory and the wonder and joy of living in the old home, with Father and Mother happy together, was enough to fill all my thoughts. Then, as school began in the fall, I came down to normal living again, and became a girl--just a growing girl in her teens.
How patient Mother was, and Father, too! I can see now how gently and tactfully they helped me over the stones and stumbling-blocks that strew the pathway of every sixteen-year-old girl who thinks, because she has turned down her dresses and turned up her hair, that she is grown up, and can do and think and talk as she pleases.
I well remember how hurt and grieved and superior I was at Mother's insistence upon more frequent rubbers and warm coats, and fewer ice-cream sodas and chocolate bonbons. Why, surely I was old enough now to take care of myself! Wasn't I ever to be allowed to have my own opinions and exercise my own judgment? It seemed not! Thus spoke superior sixteen.
As for clothes!--I remember distinctly the dreary November rainstorm of the morning I reproachfully accused Mother of wanting to make me back into a stupid little Mary, just because she so uncompromisingly disapproved of the beaded chains and bangles and jeweled combs and spangled party dresses that "every girl in school" was wearing. Why, the idea! Did she want me to dress like a little frump of a country girl? It seems she did.
Poor mother! Dear mother! I wonder how she kept her patience at all. But she kept it. I remember that distinctly, too.
It was that winter that I went through the morbid period. Like our childhood's measles and whooping cough, it seems to come to most of us--us women children. I wonder why? Certainly it came to me. True to type I cried by the hour over fancied slights from my schoolmates, and brooded days at a time because Father or Mother "didn't understand," I questioned everything in the earth beneath and the heavens above; and in my dark despair over an averted glance from my most intimate friend, I meditated on whether life was, or was not, worth the living, with a preponderance toward the latter.
Being plunged into a state of settled gloom, I then became acutely anxious as to my soul's salvation, and feverishly pursued every ism and ology that caught my roving eye's attention, until in one short month I had become, in despairing rotation, an incipient agnostic, atheist, pantheist, and monist. Meanwhile I read Ibsen, and wisely discussed the new school of domestic relationships.
Mother--dear mother!--looked on aghast. She feared, I think, for my life; certainly for my sanity and morals.
It was Father this time who came to the rescue. He pooh-poohed Mother's fears; said it was indigestion that ailed me, or that I was growing too fast; or perhaps I didn't get enough sleep, or needed, maybe, a good tonic. He took me out of school, and made it a point to accompany me on long walks. He talked with me--not to me--about the birds and the trees and the sunsets, and then about the deeper things of life, until, before I realized it, I was sane and sensible once more, serene and happy in the simple faith of my childhood, with all the isms and ologies a mere bad dream in the dim past.
I was seventeen, if I remember rightly, when I became worried, not over my heavenly estate now, but my earthly one. I must have a career, of course. No namby-pamby everyday living of dishes and dusting and meals and babies for me. It was all very well, of course, for some people. Such things had to be. But for me--
I could write, of course; but I was not sure but that I preferred the stage. At the same time there was within me a deep stirring as of a call to go out and enlighten the world, especially that portion of it in darkest Africa or deadliest India. I would be a missionary.
Before I was eighteen, however, I had abandoned all this. Father put his foot down hard on the missionary project, and Mother put hers down on the stage idea. I didn't mind so much, though, as I remember, for on further study and consideration, I found that flowers and applause were not all of an actor's life, and that Africa and India were not entirely desirable as a place of residence for a young woman alone. Besides, I had decided by then that I could enlighten the world just as effectually (and much more comfortably) by writing stories at home and getting them printed.
So I wrote stories--but I did not get any of them printed, in spite of my earnest efforts. In time, therefore, that idea, also, was abandoned; and with it, regretfully, the idea of enlightening the world at all.
Besides, I had just then (again if I remember rightfully) fallen in love.
Not that it was the first time. Oh, no, not at eighteen, when at thirteen I had begun confidently and happily to look for it! What a sentimental little piece I was! How could they have been so patient with me--Father, Mother, everybody!
I think the first real attack--the first that I consciously called love, myself--was the winter after we had all come back to Andersonville to live. I was sixteen and in the high school.
It was Paul Mayhew--yes, the same Paul Mayhew that had defied his mother and sister and walked home with me one night and invited me to go for an automobile ride, only to be sent sharply about his business by my stern, inexorable Aunt Jane. Paul was in the senior class now, and the handsomest, most admired boy in school. He didn't care for girls. That is, he said he didn't. He bore himself with a supreme indifference that was maddening, and that took (apparently) no notice of the fact that every girl in school was a willing slave to the mere nodding of his head or the beckoning of his hand.
This was the condition of things when I entered school that fall, and perhaps for a week thereafter. Then one day, very suddenly, and without apparent reason, he awoke to the fact of my existence. Candy, flowers, books--some one of these he brought to me every morning. All during the school day he was my devoted gallant, dancing attendance every possible minute outside of session hours, and walking home with me in the afternoon, proudly carrying my books. Did I say "home with me"? That is not strictly true--he always stopped just one block short of "home"--one block short of my gate. He evidently had not forgotten Aunt Jane, and did not intend to take any foolish risks! So he said good-bye to me always at a safe distance.
That this savored of deception, or was in any way objectionable, did not seem to have occurred to me. Even if it had, I doubt very much if my course would have been altered, for I was bewitched and fascinated and thrilled with the excitement of it all. I was sixteen, remember, and this wonderful Adonis and woman-hater had chosen me, me!--and left all the other girls desolate and sighing, looking after us with longing eyes. Of course, I was thrilled!
This went on for perhaps a week. Then he asked me to attend a school sleigh-ride and supper with him.
I was wild with delight. At the same time I was wild with apprehension. I awoke suddenly to the fact of the existence of Father and Mother, and that their permission must be gained. And I had my doubts--I had very grave doubts. Yet it seemed to me at that moment that I just had to go on that sleigh-ride. That it was the only thing in the whole wide world worth while.
I can remember now, as if it were yesterday, the way I debated in my mind as to whether I should ask Father, Mother, or both together; and if I should let it be seen how greatly I desired to go, and how much it meant to me; or if I should just mention it as in passing, and take their permission practically for granted.
I chose the latter course, and I took a time when they were both together. At the breakfast-table I mentioned casually that the school was to have a sleigh-ride and supper the next Friday afternoon and evening, and that Paul Mayhew had asked me to go with him, I said I hoped it would be a pleasant night, but that I should wear my sweater under my coat, anyway, and I'd wear my leggings, too, if they thought it necessary.
(Sweater and leggings! Two of Mother's hobbies. Artful child!)
But if I thought that a sweater and a pair of leggings could muffle their ears as to what had gone before, I soon found my mistake.
"A sleigh-ride, supper, and not come home until evening?" cried Mother. "And with whom, did you say?"
"Paul Mayhew," I answered. I still tried to speak casually; at the same time I tried to indicate by voice and manner something of the great honor that had been bestowed upon their daughter.
Father was impressed--plainly impressed; but not at all in the way I had hoped he would be. He gave me a swift, sharp glance; then looked straight at Mother.
"Humph! Paul Mayhew! Yes, I know him," he said grimly. "And I'm dreading the time when he comes into college next year."
"You mean--" Mother hesitated and stopped.
"I mean I don't like the company he keeps--already," nodded Father.
"Then you don't think that Mary Marie--" Mother hesitated again, and glanced at me.
"Certainly not," said Father decidedly.
I knew then, of course, that he meant I couldn't go on the sleigh-ride, even though he hadn't said the words right out. I forgot all about being casual and indifferent and matter-of-course then. I thought only of showing them how absolutely necessary it was for them to let me go on that sleigh-ride, unless they wanted my life forever-more hopelessly blighted.
I explained carefully how he was the handsomest, most popular boy in school, and how all the girls were just crazy to be asked to go anywhere with him; and I argued what if Father had seen him with boys he did not like--then that was all the more reason why nice girls like me, when he asked them, should go with him, so as to keep him away from the bad boys! And I told them, that this was the first and last, and only sleigh-ride of the school that year; and I said I'd be heart-broken, just heart-broken, if they did not let me go. And I reminded them again that he was the very handsomest, most popular boy in school; and that there wasn't a girl I knew who wouldn't be crazy to be in my shoes.
Then I stopped, all out of breath, and I can imagine just how pleading and palpitating I looked.
I thought Father was going to refuse right away, but I saw the glance that Mother threw him--the glance that said, "Let me attend to this, dear." I'd seen that glance before, several times, and I knew just what it meant; so I wasn't surprised to see Father shrug his shoulders and turn away as Mother said to me:
"Very well, dear. Ill think it over and let you know to-night."
But I was surprised that night to have Mother say I could go, for I'd about given up hope, after all that talk at the breakfast-table. And she said something else that surprised me, too. She said she'd like to know Paul Mayhew herself; that she always wanted to know the friends of her little girl. And she told me to ask him to call the next evening and play checkers or chess with me.
Happy? I could scarcely contain myself for joy. And when the next evening came bringing Paul, and Mother, all prettily dressed as if he were really truly company, came into the room and talked so beautifully to him, I was even more entranced. To be sure, it did bother me a little that Paul laughed so much, and so loudly, and that he couldn't seem to find anything to talk about only himself, and what he was doing, and what he was going to do. Some way, he had never seemed like that at school. And I was afraid Mother wouldn't like that.
All the evening I was watching and listening with her eyes and her ears everything he did, everything he said. I so wanted Mother to like him! I so wanted Mother to see how really fine and splendid and noble he was. But that evening--Why couldn't he stop talking about the prizes he'd won, and the big racing car he'd just ordered for next summer? There was nothing fine and splendid and noble about that. And were his finger nails always so dirty?
Why, Mother would think--
Mother did not stay in the room all the time; but she was in more or less often to watch the game; and at half-past nine she brought in some little cakes and lemonade as a surprise. I thought it was lovely; but I could have shaken Paul when he pretended to be afraid of it, and asked Mother if there was a stick in it.
The idea--Mother! A stick!
I just knew Mother wouldn't like that. But if she didn't, she never showed a thing in her face. She just smiled, and said no, there wasn't any stick in it; and passed the cakes.
When he had gone I remember I didn't like to meet Mother's eyes, and I didn't ask her how she liked Paul Mayhew. I kept right on talking fast about something else. Some way, I didn't want Mother to talk then, for fear of what she would say.
And Mother didn't say anything about Paul Mayhew--then. But only a few days later she told me to invite him again to the house (this time to a chafing-dish supper), and to ask Carrie Heywood and Fred Small, too.
We had a beautiful time, only again Paul Mayhew didn't "show off" at all in the way I wanted him to--though he most emphatically "showed off" in his way! It seemed to me that he bragged even more about himself and his belongings than he had before. And I didn't like at all the way he ate his food. Why, Father didn't eat like that--with such a noisy mouth, and such a rattling of the silverware!
And so it went--wise mother that she was! Far from prohibiting me to have anything to do with Paul Mayhew, she let me see all I wanted to of him, particularly in my own home. She let me go out with him, properly chaperoned, and she never, by word or manner, hinted that she didn't admire his conceit and braggadocio.
And it all came out exactly as I suspect she had planned from the beginning. When Paul Mayhew asked to be my escort to the class reception in June, I declined with thanks, and immediately afterwards told Fred Small I would go with him. But even when I told Mother nonchalantly, and with carefully averted eyes, that I was going to the reception with Fred Small--even then her pleasant "Well, that's good!" conveyed only cheery mother interest; nor did a hasty glance into her face discover so much as a lifted eyebrow to hint, "I thought you'd come to your senses sometime!"
Wise little mother that she was!
In the days and weeks that followed (though nothing was said) I detected a subtle change in certain matters, however. And as I look back at it now, I am sure I can trace its origin to my "affair" with Paul Mayhew. Evidently Mother had no intention of running the risk of any more block-away courtships; also evidently she intended to know who my friends were. At all events, the old Anderson mansion soon became the rendezvous of all the boys and girls of my acquaintance. And such good times as we had, with Mother always one of us, and ever proposing something new and interesting!
And because boys--not a boy, but boys--were as free to come to the house as were girls, they soon seemed to me as commonplace and matter-of-course and free from sentimental interest as were the girls.
Again wise little mother!
But, of course, even this did not prevent my falling in love with some one older than myself, some one quite outside of my own circle of intimates. Almost every girl in her teens at some time falls violently in love with some remote being almost old enough to be her father--a being whom she endows with all the graces and perfections of her dream Adonis. For, after all, it isn't that she is in love with him, this man of flesh and blood before her; it is that she is in love with love. A very different matter.
My especial attack of this kind came to me when I was barely eighteen, the spring I was being graduated from the Andersonville High School. And the visible embodiment of my adoration was the head master, Mr. Harold Hartshorn, a handsome, clean-shaven, well-set-up man of (I should judge) thirty-five years of age, rather grave, a little stern, and very dignified.
But how I adored him! How I hung upon his every word, his every glance! How I maneuvered to win from him a few minutes' conversation on a Latin verb or a French translation! How I thrilled if he bestowed upon me one of his infrequent smiles! How I grieved over his stern aloofness!
By the end of a month I had evolved this: his stern aloofness meant that he had been disappointed in love; his melancholy was loneliness--his heart was breaking. How I longed to help, to heal, to cure! How I thrilled at the thought of the love and companionship I could give him somewhere in a rose-embowered cottage far from the madding crowd! (He boarded at the Andersonville Hotel alone now.) What nobler career could I have than the blotting out of his stricken heart the memory of that faithless woman who had so wounded him and blighted his youth? What, indeed? If only he could see it as I saw it. If only by some sign or token he could know of the warm love that was his but for the asking! Could he not see that no longer need he pine alone and unappreciated in the Andersonville Hotel? Why, in just a few weeks I was to be through school. And then--
On the night before commencement Mr. Harold Hartshorn ascended our front steps, rang the bell, and called for my father. I knew because I was upstairs in my room over the front door; and I saw him come up the walk and heard him ask for Father.
Oh, joy! Oh, happy day! He knew. He had seen it as I saw it. He had come to gain Father's permission, that he might be a duly accredited suitor for my hand!
During the next ecstatic ten minutes, with my hand pressed against my wildly beating heart, I planned my wedding dress, selected with care and discrimination my trousseau, furnished the rose-embowered cottage far from the madding crowd--and wondered why Father did not send for me. Then the slam of the screen door downstairs sent me to the window, a sickening terror within me,
Was he going--without seeing me, his future bride? Impossible!
Father and Mr. Harold Hartshorn stood on the front steps below, talking. In another minute Mr. Harold Hartshorn had walked away, and Father had turned back on to the piazza.
As soon as I could control my shaking knees, I went downstairs.
Father was in his favorite rocking-chair. I advanced slowly. I did not sit down.
"Was that Mr. Hartshorn?" I asked, trying to keep the shake out of my voice.
"Mr. H-Hartshorn," I repeated stupidly.
"Yes. He came to see me about the Downer place," nodded Father. "He wants to rent it for next year."
"To rent it--the Downer place!" (The Downer place was no rose-embowered cottage far from the madding crowd! Why, it was big, and brick, and right next to the hotel! I didn't want to live there.)
"Yes--for his wife and family. He's going to bring them back with him next year," explained Father.
"His wife and family!" I can imagine about how I gasped out those four words.
"Yes. He has five children, I believe, and--"
But I had fled to my room.
After all, my recovery was rapid. I was in love with love, you see; not with Mr. Harold Hartshorn. Besides, the next year I went to college. And it was while I was at college that I met Jerry.
Jerry was the brother of my college friend, Helen Weston. Helen's elder sister was a senior in that same college, and was graduated at the close of my freshman year. The father, mother, and brother came on to the graduation. And that is where I met Jerry.
If it might be called meeting him. He lifted his hat, bowed, said a polite nothing with his lips, and an indifferent "Oh, some friend of Helen's," with his eyes, and turned to a radiant blonde senior at my side.
And that was all--for him. But for me--
All that day I watched him whenever opportunity offered; and I suspect that I took care that opportunity offered frequently. I was fascinated. I had never seen any one like him before. Tall, handsome, brilliant, at perfect ease, he plainly dominated every group of which he was a part. Toward him every face was turned--yet he never seemed to know it. (Whatever his faults, Jerry is not conceited. I will give him credit for that!) To me he did not speak again that day. I am not sure that he even looked at me. If he did there must still have been in his eyes only the "Oh, some friend of Helen's," that I had seen at the morning introduction.
I did not meet Jerry Weston again for nearly a year; but that did not mean that I did not hear of him. I wonder if Helen ever noticed how often I used to get her to talk of her home and her family life; and how interested I was in her gallery of portraits on the mantel--there were two fine ones of her brother there.
Helen was very fond of her brother. I soon found that she loved to talk about him--if she had a good listener. Needless to say she had a very good one in me.
Jerry was an artist, it seemed. He was twenty-eight years old, and already he had won no small distinction. Prizes, medals, honorable mention, and a special course abroad--all these Helen told me about. She told me, too, about the wonderful success he had just had with the portrait of a certain New York society woman. She said that it was just going to "make" Jerry; that he could have anything he wanted now--anything. Then she told me how popular he always was with everybody. Helen was not only very fond of her brother, but very proud of him. That was plain to be seen. In her opinion, evidently, there was none to be compared with him.
And apparently, in my own mind, I agreed with her--there was none to be compared with him. At all events, all the other boys that used to call and bring me candy and send me flowers at about this time suffered woefully in comparison with him! I remember that. So tame they were--so crude and young and unpolished!
I saw Jerry myself during the Easter vacation of my second year in college. Helen invited me to go home with her, and Mother wrote that I might go. Helen had been home with me for the Christmas vacation, and Mother and Father liked her very much. There was no hesitation, therefore, in their consent that I should visit Helen at Easter-time. So I went.
Helen lived in New York. Their home was a Fifth-Avenue mansion with nine servants, four automobiles, and two chauffeurs. Naturally such a scale of living was entirely new to me, and correspondingly fascinating. From the elaborately uniformed footman that opened the door for me to the awesome French maid who "did" my hair, I adored them all, and moved as in a dream of enchantment. Then came Jerry home from a week-end's trip--and I forgot everything else.
I knew from the minute his eyes looked into mine that whatever I had been before, I was now certainly no mere "Oh, some friend of Helen's." I was (so his eyes said) "a deucedly pretty girl, and one well worth cultivating." Whereupon he began at once to do the "cultivating."
And just here, perversely enough, I grew indifferent. Or was it only feigned--not consciously, but unconsciously? Whatever it was, it did not endure long. Nothing could have endured, under the circumstances. Nothing ever endures--with Jerry on the other side.
In less than thirty-six hours I was caught up in the whirlwind of his wooing, and would not have escaped it if I could.
When I went back to college he held my promise that if he could gain the consent of Father and Mother, he might put the engagement ring on my finger.
Back at college, alone in my own room, I drew a long breath, and began to think. It was the first chance I had had, for even Helen now had become Jerry--by reflection.
The more I thought, the more frightened, dismayed, and despairing I became. In the clear light of calm, sane reasoning, it was all so absurd, so impossible! What could I have been thinking of?
Of Jerry, of course.
With hot cheeks I answered my own question. And even the thought of him then cast the spell of his presence about me, and again I was back in the whirl of dining and dancing and motoring, with his dear face at my side. Of Jerry; yes, of Jerry I was thinking. But I must forget Jerry.
I pictured Jerry in Andersonville, in my own home. I tried to picture him talking to Father, to Mother.
Absurd! What had Jerry to do with learned treatises on stars, or with the humdrum, everyday life of a stupid small town? For that matter, what had Father and Mother to do with dancing and motoring and painting society queens' portraits? Nothing.
Plainly, even if Jerry, for the sake of the daughter, liked Father and Mother, Father and Mother certainly would not like Jerry. That was certain.
Of course I cried myself to sleep that night. That was to be expected. Jerry was the world; and the world was lost. There was nothing left except, perhaps, a few remnants and pieces, scarcely worth the counting--excepting, of course, Father and Mother. But one could not always have one's father and mother. There would come a time when--
Jerry's letter came the next day--by special delivery. He had gone straight home from the station and begun to write to me. (How like Jerry that was--particularly the special-delivery stamp!) The most of his letter, aside from the usual lover's rhapsodies, had to do with plans for the summer--what we would do together at the Westons' summer cottage in Newport. He said he should run up to Andersonville early--very early; just as soon as I was back from college, in fact, so that he might meet Father and Mother, and put that ring on my finger.
And while I read the letter, I just knew he would do it. Why, I could even see the sparkle of the ring on my finger. But in five minutes after the letter was folded and put away, I knew, with equal certitude--that he wouldn't.
It was like that all that spring term. While under the spell of the letters, as I read them, I saw myself the adored wife of Jerry Weston, and happy ever after. All the rest of the time I knew myself to be plain Mary Marie Anderson, forever lonely and desolate.
I had been at home exactly eight hours when a telegram from Jerry asked permission to come at once.
As gently as I could I broke the news to Father and Mother. He was Helen's brother. They must have heard me mention him, I knew him well, very well, indeed. In fact, the purpose of this visit was to ask them for the hand of their daughter.
Father frowned and scolded, and said, "Tut, tut!" and that I was nothing but a child. But Mother smiled and shook her head, even while she sighed, and reminded him that I was twenty--two whole years older than she was when she married him; though in the same breath she admitted that I was young, and she certainly hoped I'd be willing to wait before I married, even if the young man was all that they could ask him to be.
Father was still a little rebellious, I think; but Mother--bless her dear sympathetic heart!--soon convinced him that they must at least consent to see this Gerald Weston. So I sent the wire inviting him to come.
More fearfully than ever then I awaited the meeting between my lover and my father and mother. With the Westons' mansion and manner of living in the glorified past, and the Anderson homestead, and its manner of living, very much in the plain, unvarnished present, I trembled more than ever for the results of that meeting. Not that I believed Jerry would be snobbish enough to scorn our simplicity, but that there would be no common meeting-ground of congeniality.
I need not have worried--but I did not know Jerry then so well as I do now.
Jerry came--and he had not been five minutes in the house before it might easily have seemed that he had always been there. He did know about stars; at least, he talked with Father about them, and so as to hold Father's interest, too. And he knew a lot about innumerable things in which Mother was interested. He stayed four days; and all the while he was there, I never so much as thought of ceremonious dress and dinners, and liveried butlers and footmen; nor did it once occur to me that our simple kitchen Nora, and Old John's son at the wheel of our one motorcar, were not beautifully and entirely adequate, so unassumingly and so perfectly did Jerry unmistakably "fit in." (There are no other words that so exactly express what I mean.) And in the end, even his charm and his triumph were so unobtrusively complete that I never thought of being surprised at the prompt capitulation of both Father and Mother.
Jerry had brought the ring. (Jerry always brings his "rings"--and he never fails to "put them on.") And he went back to New York with Mother's promise that I should visit them in July at their cottage in Newport.
They seemed like a dream--those four days--after he had gone; and I should have been tempted to doubt the whole thing had there not been the sparkle of the ring on my finger, and the frequent reference to Jerry on the lips of both Father and Mother.
They loved Jerry, both of them. Father said he was a fine, manly young fellow; and Mother said he was a dear boy, a very dear boy. Neither of them spoke much of his painting. Jerry himself had scarcely mentioned it to them, as I remembered, after he had gone.
I went to Newport in July. "The cottage," as I suspected, was twice as large and twice as pretentious as the New York residence; and it sported twice the number of servants. Once again I was caught in the whirl of dinners and dances and motoring, with the addition of tennis and bathing. And always, at my side, was Jerry, seemingly living only upon my lightest whim and fancy. He wished to paint my portrait; but there was no time, especially as my visit, in accordance with Mother's inexorable decision, was of only one week's duration.
But what a wonderful week that was! I seemed to be under a kind of spell. It was as if I were in a new world--a world such as no one had ever been in before. Oh, I knew, of course, that others had loved--but not as we loved. I was sure that no one had ever loved as we loved. And it was so much more wonderful than anything I had ever dreamed of--this love of ours. Yet all my life since my early teens I had been thinking and planning and waiting for it--love. And now it had come--the real thing. The others--all the others had been shams and make-believes and counterfeits. To think that I ever thought those silly little episodes with Paul Mayhew and Freddy Small and Mr. Harold Hartshorn were love! Absurd! But now--
And so I walked and moved and breathed in this spell that had been cast upon me; and thought--little fool that I was!--that never had there been before, nor could there be again, a love quite so wonderful as ours.
At Newport Jerry decided that he wanted to be married right away. He didn't want to wait two more endless years until I was graduated. The idea of wasting all that valuable time when we might be together! And when there was really no reason for it, either--no reason at all!
I smiled to myself, even as I thrilled at his sweet insistence. I was pretty sure I knew two reasons--two very good reasons--why I could not marry before graduation. One reason was Father; the other reason was Mother. I hinted as much.
"Ho! Is that all?" He laughed and kissed me. "I'll run down and see them about it," he said jauntily.
I smiled again. I had no more idea that anything he could say would--
But I didn't know Jerry--then.
I had not been home from Newport a week when Jerry kept his promise and "ran down." And he had not been there two days before Father and Mother admitted that, perhaps, after all, it would not be so bad an idea if I shouldn't graduate, but should be married instead.
And so I was married.
(Didn't I tell you that Jerry always brought his rings and put them on?)
And again I say, and so we were married.
But what did we know of each other?--the real other? True, we had danced together, been swimming together, dined together, played tennis together. But what did we really know of each other's whims and prejudices, opinions and personal habits and tastes? I knew, to a word, what Jerry would say about a sunset; and he knew, I fancy, what I would say about a dreamy waltz song. But we didn't either of us know what the other would say to a dinnerless home with the cook gone. We were leaving a good deal to be learned later on; but we didn't think of that. Love that is to last must be built upon the realization that troubles and trials and sorrows are sure to come, and that they must be borne together--if one back is not to break under the load. We were entering into a contract, not for a week, but, presumedly, for a lifetime--and a good deal may come to one in a lifetime--not all of it pleasant. We had been brought up in two distinctly different social environments, but we didn't stop to think of that. We liked the same sunsets, and the same make of car, and the same kind of ice-cream; and we looked into each other's eyes and thought we knew the other--whereas we were really only seeing the mirrored reflection of ourselves.
And so we were married.
It was everything that was blissful and delightful, of course, at first. We were still eating the ice-cream and admiring the sunsets. I had forgotten that there were things other than sunsets and ice-cream, I suspect. I was not twenty-one, remember, and my feet fairly ached to dance. The whole world was a show. Music, lights, laughter--how I loved them all!
Marie, of course. Well, yes, I suspect Marie was in the ascendancy about that time. But I never thought of it that way.
Then came the baby, Eunice, my little girl; and with one touch of her tiny, clinging fingers, the whole world of sham--the lights and music and glare and glitter just faded all away into nothingness, where it belonged. As if anything counted, with her on the other side of the scales!
I found out then--oh, I found out lots of things. You see, it wasn't that way at all with Jerry. The lights and music and the glitter and the sham didn't fade away a mite, to him, when Eunice came. In fact, sometimes it seemed to me they just grew stronger, if anything.
He didn't like it because I couldn't go with him any more--to dances and things, I mean. He said the nurse could take care of Eunice. As if I'd leave my baby with any nurse that ever lived, for any old dance! The idea! But Jerry went. At first he stayed with me; but the baby cried, and Jerry didn't like that. It made him irritable and nervous, until I was glad to have him go. (Who wouldn't be, with his eternal repetition of "Mollie, can't you stop that baby's crying?" As if that wasn't exactly what I was trying to do, as hard as ever I could!) But Jerry didn't see it that way. Jerry never did appreciate what a wonderful, glorious thing just being a father is.
I think it was at about this time that Jerry took up his painting again. I guess I have forgotten to mention that all through the first two years of our marriage, before the baby came, he just tended to me. He never painted a single picture. But after Eunice came--
But, after all, what is the use of going over these last miserable years like this? Eunice is five now. Her father is the most popular portrait painter in the country, I am almost tempted to say that he is the most popular man, as well. All the old charm and magnetism are there. Sometimes I watch him (for, of course, I do go out with him once in a while), and always I think of that first day I saw him at college. Brilliant, polished, witty--he still dominates every group of which he is a member. Men and women alike bow to his charm. (I'm glad it's not only the women. Jerry isn't a bit of a flirt. I will say that much for him. At any rate, if he does flirt, he flirts just as desperately with old Judge Randlett as he does with the newest and prettiest debutante: with serene impartiality he bestows upon each the same glances, the same wit, the same adorable charm.) Praise, attention, applause, music, laughter, lights--they are the breath of life to him. Without them he would--But, there, he never is without them, so I don't know what he would be.
After all, I suspect that it's just that Jerry still loves the ice-cream and the sunsets, and I don't. That's all. To me there's something more to life than that--something higher, deeper, more worth while. We haven't a taste in common, a thought in unison, an aspiration in harmony. I suspect--in fact I know--that I get on his nerves just as raspingly as he does on mine. For that reason I'm sure he'll be glad--when he gets my letter.
But, some way, I dread to tell Mother.
* * * * *
Well, it's finished. I've been about four days bringing this autobiography of Mary Marie's to an end. I've enjoyed doing it, in a way, though I'll have to admit I can't see as it's made things any clearer. But, then, it was clear before. There isn't any other way. I've got to write that letter. As I said before, I regret that it must be so sorry an ending.
I suppose to-morrow I'll have to tell Mother. I want to tell her, of course, before I write the letter to Jerry.
It'll grieve Mother. I know it will. And I'm sorry. Poor Mother! Already she's had so much unhappiness in her life. But she's happy now. She and Father are wonderful together--wonderful. Father is still President of the college. He got out a wonderful book on the "Eclipses of the Moon" two years ago, and he's publishing another one about the "Eclipses of the Sun" this year. Mother's correcting proof for him. Bless her heart. She loves it. She told me so.
Well, I shall have to tell her to-morrow, of course.
* * * * *
To-morrow--which has become to-day.
I wonder if Mother knew what I had come into her little sitting-room this morning to say. It seems as if she must have known. And yet--I had wondered how I was going to begin, but, before I knew it, I was right in the middle of it--the subject, I mean. That's why I thought perhaps that Mother--
But I'm getting as bad as little Mary Marie of the long ago. I'll try now to tell what did happen.
I was wetting my lips, and swallowing, and wondering how I was going to begin to tell her that I was planning not to go back to Jerry, when all of a sudden I found myself saying something about little Eunice. And then Mother said:
"Yes, my dear; and that's what comforts me most of anything--because you are so devoted to Eunice. You see, I have feared sometimes--for you and Jerry; that you might separate. But I know, on account of Eunice, that you never will."
"But, Mother, that's the very reason--I mean, it would be the reason," I stammered. Then I stopped. My tongue just wouldn't move, my throat and lips were so dry.
To think that Mother suspected--knew already--about Jerry and me; and yet to say that on account of Eunice I would not do it. Why, it was for Eunice, largely, that I was going to do it. To let that child grow up thinking that dancing and motoring was all of life, and--
But Mother was speaking again.
"Eunice--yes. You mean that you never would make her go through what you went through when you were her age."
"Why, Mother, I--I--" And then I stopped again. And I was so angry and indignant with myself because I had to stop, when there were so many, many things that I wanted to say, if only my dry lips could articulate the words.
Mother drew her breath in with a little catch. She had grown rather white.
"I wonder if you remember--if you ever think of--your childhood," she said.
"Why, yes, of--of course--sometimes." It was my turn to stammer. I was thinking of that diary that I had just read--and added to.
Mother drew in her breath again, this time with a catch that was almost a sob. And then she began to talk--at first haltingly, with half-finished sentences; then hurriedly, with a rush of words that seemed not able to utter themselves fast enough to keep up with the thoughts behind them.
She told of her youth and marriage, and of my coming. She told of her life with Father, and of the mistakes she made. She told much, of course, that was in Mary Marie's diary; but she told, too, oh, so much more, until like a panorama the whole thing lay before me.
Then she spoke of me, and of my childhood, and her voice began to quiver. She told of the Mary and the Marie, and of the dual nature within me. (As if I didn't know about that!) But she told me much that I did not know, and she made things much clearer to me, until I saw--
You can see things so much more clearly when you stand off at a distance like this, you know, than you can when you are close to them!
She broke down and cried when she spoke of the divorce, and of the influence it had upon me, and of the false idea of marriage it gave me. She said it was the worst kind of thing for me--the sort of life I had to live. She said I grew pert and precocious and worldly-wise, and full of servants' talk and ideas. She even spoke of that night at the little cafe table when I gloried in the sparkle and spangles and told her that now we were seeing life--real life. And of how shocked she was, and of how she saw then what this thing was doing to me. But it was too late.
She told more, much more, about the later years, and the reconciliation; then, some way, she brought things around to Jerry and me. Her face flushed up then, and she didn't meet my eyes. She looked down at her sewing. She was very busy turning a hem just so.
She said there had been a time, once, when she had worried a little about Jerry and me, for fear we would--separate. She said that she believed that, for her, that would have been the very blackest moment of her life; for it would be her fault, all her fault.
I tried to break in here, and say, "No, no," and that it wasn't her fault; but she shook her head and wouldn't listen, and she lifted her hand, and I had to keep still and let her go on talking. She was looking straight into my eyes then, and there was such a deep, deep hurt in them that I just had to listen.
She said again that it would be her fault; that if I had done that she would have known that it was all because of the example she herself had set me of childish willfulness and selfish seeking of personal happiness at the expense of everything and everybody else. And she said that that would have been the last straw to break her heart.
But she declared that she was sure now that she need not worry. Such a thing would never be.
I guess I gasped a little at this. Anyhow, I know I tried to break in and tell her that we were going to separate, and that that was exactly what I had come into the room in the first place to say.
But again she kept right on talking, and I was silenced before I had even begun.
She said how she knew it could never be--on account of Eunice. That I would never subject my little girl to the sort of wretchedly divided life that I had had to live when I was a child.
(As she spoke I was suddenly back in the cobwebby attic with little Mary Marie's diary, and I thought--what if it were Eunice--writing that!)
She said I was the most devoted mother she had ever known; that I was too devoted, she feared sometimes, for I made Eunice all my world, to the exclusion of Jerry and everything and everybody else. But that she was very sure, because I was so devoted, and loved Eunice so dearly, that I would never deprive her of a father's love and care.
I shivered a little, and looked quickly into Mother's face. But she was not looking at me. I was thinking of how Jerry had kissed and kissed Eunice a month ago, when we came away, as if he just couldn't let her go. Jerry is fond of Eunice, now that she's old enough to know something, and Eunice adores her father. I knew that part was going to be hard. And now to have Mother put it like that--
I began to talk then of Jerry. I just felt that I'd got to say something. That Mother must listen. That she didn't understand. I told her how Jerry loved lights and music and dancing, and crowds bowing down and worshiping him all the time. And she said yes, she remembered; that he'd been that way when I married him.
She spoke so sort of queerly that again I glanced at her; but she still was looking down at the hem she was turning.
I went on then to explain that I didn't like such things; that I believed that there were deeper and higher things, and things more worth while. And she said yes, she was glad, and that that was going to be my saving grace; for, of course, I realized that there couldn't be anything deeper or higher or more worth while than keeping the home together, and putting up with annoyances, for the ultimate good of all, especially of Eunice.
She went right on then quickly, before I could say anything. She said that, of course, I understood that I was still Mary and Marie, even if Jerry did call me Mollie; and that if Marie had married a man that wasn't always congenial with Mary, she was very sure Mary had enough stamina and good sense to make the best of it; and she was very sure, also, that if Mary would only make a little effort to be once in a while the Marie he had married, things might be a lot easier--for Mary.
Of course, I laughed at that. I had to. And Mother laughed, too. But we understood. We both understood. I had never thought of it before, but I had been Marie when I married Jerry. I loved lights and music and dancing and gay crowds just exactly as well as he did. And it wasn't his fault that I suddenly turned into Mary when the baby came, and wanted him to stay at home before the fire every evening with his dressing-gown and slippers. No wonder he was surprised. He hadn't married Mary--he never knew Mary at all. But, do you know? I'd never thought of that before--until Mother said what she did. Why, probably Jerry was just as much disappointed to find his Marie turned into a Mary as I--
But Mother was talking again.
She said that she thought Jerry was a wonderful man, in some ways; that she never saw a man with such charm and magnetism, or one who could so readily adapt himself to different persons and circumstances. And she said she was very sure if Mary could only show a little more interest in pictures (especially portraits), and learn to discuss lights and shadows and perspectives, that nothing would be lost, and that something might be gained; that there was nothing, anyway, like a community of interest or of hobbies to bring two people together; and that it was safer, to say the least, when it was the wife that shared the community of interest than when it was some other woman, though, of course, she knew as well as I knew that Jerry never would--She didn't finish her sentence, and because she didn't finish it, it made me think all the more. And I wondered if she left it unfinished--on purpose.
Then, in a minute, she was talking again.
She was speaking of Eunice. She said once more that because of her, she knew that she need never fear any serious trouble between Jerry and me, for, after all, it's the child that always pays for the mother's mistakes and short-sightedness, just as it is the soldier that pays for his commanding officer's blunders. That's why she felt that I had had to pay for her mistakes, and why she knew that I'd never compel my little girl to pay for mine. She said that the mother lives in the heart of the child long after the mother is gone, and that was why the mother always had to be--so careful.
Then, before I knew it, she was talking briskly and brightly about something entirely different; and two minutes later I found myself alone outside of her room. And I hadn't told her.
But I wasn't even thinking of that. I was thinking of Eunice, and of that round, childish scrawl of a diary upstairs in the attic trunk. And I was picturing Eunice, in the years to come, writing her diary; and I thought, what if she should have to--
I went upstairs then and read that diary again. And all the while I was reading I thought of Eunice. And when it was finished I knew that I'd never tell Mother, that I'd never write to Jerry--not the letter that I was going to write. I knew that--
* * * * *
They brought Jerry's letter to me at just that point. What a wonderful letter that man can write--when he wants to!
He says he's lonesome and homesick, and that the house is like a tomb without Eunice and me, and when am I coming home?
* * * * *
I wrote him to-night that I was going--to-morrow.