Chapter II. Nurse Sarah's Story
 

And this is Nurse Sarah's story.

As I said, I'm going to tell it straight through as near as I can in her own words. And I can remember most of it, I think, for I paid very close attention.

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"Well, yes, Miss Mary Marie, things did begin to change right there an' then, an' so you could notice it. We saw it, though maybe your pa an' ma didn't, at the first.

"You see, the first month after she came, it was vacation time, an' he could give her all the time she wanted. An' she wanted it all. An' she took it. An' he was just as glad to give it as she was to take it. An' so from mornin' till night they was together, traipsin' all over the house an' garden, an' trampin' off through the woods an' up on the mountain every other day with their lunch.

"You see she was city-bred, an' not used to woods an' flowers growin' wild; an' she went crazy over them. He showed her the stars, too, through his telescope; but she hadn't a mite of use for them, an' let him see it good an' plain. She told him--I heard her with my own ears--that his eyes, when they laughed, was all the stars she wanted; an' that she'd had stars all her life for breakfast an' luncheon an' dinner, anyway, an' all the time between; an' she'd rather have somethin' else, now--somethin' alive, that she could love an' live with an' touch an' play with, like she could the flowers an' rocks an' grass an' trees.

"Angry? Your pa? Not much he was! He just laughed an' caught her 'round the waist an' kissed her, an' said she herself was the brightest star of all. Then they ran off hand in hand, like two kids. An' they was two kids, too. All through those first few weeks your pa was just a great big baby with a new plaything. Then when college began he turned all at once into a full-grown man. An' just naturally your ma didn't know what to make of it.

"He couldn't explore the attic an' rig up in the old clothes there any more, nor romp through the garden, nor go lunchin' in the woods, nor none of the things she wanted him to do. He didn't have time. An' what made things worse, one of them comet-tails was comin' up in the sky, an' your pa didn't take no rest for watchin' for it, an' then studyin' of it when it got here.

"An' your ma--poor little thing! I couldn't think of anything but a doll that was thrown in the corner because somebody'd got tired of her. She was lonesome, an' no mistake. Anybody'd be sorry for her, to see her mopin' 'round the house, nothin' to do. Oh, she read, an' sewed with them bright-colored silks an' worsteds; but 'course there wasn't no real work for her to do. There was good help in the kitchen, an' I took what care of your grandma was needed; an' she always gave her orders through me, so I practically run the house, an' there wasn't anything there for her to do.

"An' so your ma just had to mope it out alone. Oh, I don't mean your pa was unkind. He was always nice an' polite, when he was in the house, an' I'm sure he meant to treat her all right. He said yes, yes, to be sure, of course she was lonesome, an' he was sorry. 'T was too bad he was so busy. An' he kissed her an' patted her. But he always began right away to talk of the comet; an' ten to one he didn't disappear into the observatory within the next five minutes. Then your ma would look so grieved an' sorry an' go off an' cry, an' maybe not come down to dinner, at all.

"Well, then, one day things got so bad your grandma took a hand. She was up an' around the house, though she kept mostly to her own rooms. But of course she saw how things was goin'. Besides, I told her--some. 'T was no more than my duty, as I looked at it. She just worshipped your pa, an' naturally she'd want things right for him. So one day she told me to tell her son's wife to come to her in her room.

"An' I did, an' she came. Poor little thing! I couldn't help bein' sorry for her. She didn't know a thing of what was wanted of her, an' she was so glad an' happy to come. You see, she was lonesome, I suppose.

"'Me? Want me?--Mother Anderson?' she cried. 'Oh, I'm so glad!' Then she made it worse by runnin' up the stairs an' bouncin' into the room like a rubber ball, an' cryin': 'Now, what shall I do, read to you, or sing to you, or shall we play games? I'd love to do any of them!' Just like that, she said it. I heard her. Then I went out, of course, an' left them. But I heard 'most everything that was said, just the same, for I was right in the next room dustin', and the door wasn't quite shut.

"First your grandmother said real polite--she was always polite--but in a cold little voice that made even me shiver in the other room, that she did not desire to be read to or sung to, and that she did not wish to play games. She had called her daughter-in-law in to have a serious talk with her. Then she told her, still very polite, that she was noisy an' childish, an' undignified, an' that it was not only silly, but very wrong for her to expect to have her husband's entire attention; that he had his own work, an' it was a very important one. He was going to be president of the college some day, like his father before him; an' it was her place to help him in every way she could--help him to be popular an' well-liked by all the college people an' students; an' he couldn't be that if she insisted all the time on keepin' him to herself, or lookin' sour an' cross if she couldn't have him.

"Of course that ain't all she said; but I remember this part particular on account of what happened afterward. You see--your ma--she felt awful bad. She cried a little, an' sighed a lot, an' said she'd try, she really would try to help her husband in every way she could; an' she wouldn't ask him another once, not once, to stay with her. An' she wouldn't look sour an' cross, either. She'd promise she wouldn't. An' she'd try, she'd try, oh, so hard, to be proper an' dignified.

"She got up then an' went out of the room so quiet an' still you wouldn't know she was movin'. But I heard her up in her room cryin' half an hour later, when I stopped a minute at her door to see if she was there. An' she was.

"But she wasn't cryin' by night. Not much she was! She'd washed her face an' dressed herself up as pretty as could be, an' she never so much as looked as if she wanted her husband to stay with her, when he said right after supper that he guessed he'd go out to the observatory. An' 't was that way right along after that. I know, 'cause I watched. You see, I knew what she'd said she'd do. Well, she did it.

"Then, pretty quick after that, she began to get acquainted in the town. Folks called, an' there was parties an' receptions where she met folks, an' they began to come here to the house, 'specially them students, an' two or three of them young, unmarried professors. An' she began to go out a lot with them--skatin' an' sleigh-ridin' an' snowshoein'.

"Like it? Of course she liked it! Who wouldn't? Why, child, you never saw such a fuss as they made over your ma in them days. She was all the rage; an' of course she liked it. What woman wouldn't, that was gay an' lively an' young, an' had been so lonesome like your ma had? But some other folks didn't like it. An' your pa was one of them. This time 't was him that made the trouble. I know, 'cause I heard what he said one day to her in the library.

"Yes, I guess I was in the next room that day, too--er--dustin', probably. Anyway, I heard him tell your ma good an' plain what he thought of her gallivantin' 'round from mornin' till night with them young students an' professors, an' havin' them here, too, such a lot, till the house was fairly overrun with them. He said he was shocked an' scandalized, an' didn't she have any regard for his honor an' decency, if she didn't for herself! An', oh, a whole lot more.

"Cry? No, your ma didn't cry this time. I met her in the hall right after they got through talkin', an' she was white as a sheet, an' her eyes was like two blazin' stars. So I know how she must have looked while she was in the library. An' I must say she give it to him good an' plain, straight from the shoulder. She told him she was shocked an' scandalized that he could talk to his wife like that; an' didn't he have any more regard for her honor and decency than to accuse her of runnin' after any man living--much less a dozen of them! An' then she told him a lot of what his mother had said to her, an' she said she had been merely tryin' to carry out those instructions. She was tryin' to make her husband and her husband's wife an' her husband's home popular with the college folks, so she could help him to be president, if he wanted to be. But he answered back, cold an' chilly, that he thanked her, of course, but he didn't care for any more of that kind of assistance; an' if she would give a little more time to her home an' her housekeepin', as she ought to, he would be considerably better pleased. An' she said, very well, she would see that he had no further cause to complain. An' the next minute I met her in the hall, as I just said, her head high an' her eyes blazin'.

"An' things did change then, a lot, I'll own. Right away she began to refuse to go out with the students an' young professors, an' she sent down word she wasn't to home when they called. And pretty quick, of course, they stopped comin'.

"Housekeepin'? Attend to that? Well, y-yes, she did try to at first, a little; but of course your grandma had always given the orders--through me, I mean; an' there really wasn't anything your ma could do. An' I told her so, plain. Her ways were new an' different an' queer, an' we liked ours better, anyway. So she didn't bother us much that way very long. Besides, she wasn't feelin' very well, anyway, an' for the next few months she stayed in her room a lot, an' we didn't see much of her. Then by an' by you came, an'--well, I guess that's all--too much, you little chatterbox!"