Mary Marie by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter III. The Break is Made
And that's the way Nurse Sarah finished her story, only she shrugged her shoulders again, and looked back, first one way, then another. As for her calling me "chatterbox"--she always calls me that when she's been doing all the talking.
As near as I can remember, I have told Nurse Sarah's story exactly as she told it to me, in her own words. But of course I know I didn't get it right all the time, and I know I've left out quite a lot. But, anyway, it's told a whole lot more than I could have told why they got married in the first place, and it brings my story right up to the point where I was born; and I've already told about naming me, and what a time they had over that.
Of course what's happened since, up to now, I don't know all about, for I was only a child for the first few years. Now I'm almost a young lady, "standing with reluctant feet where the brook and river meet." (I read that last night. I think it's perfectly beautiful. So kind of sad and sweet. It makes me want to cry every time I think of it.) But even if I don't know all of what's happened since I was born, I know a good deal, for I've seen quite a lot, and I've made Nurse tell me a lot more.
I know that ever since I can remember I've had to keep as still as a mouse the minute Father comes into the house; and I know that I never could imagine the kind of a mother that Nurse tells about, if it wasn't that sometimes when Father has gone off on a trip, Mother and I have romped all over the house, and had the most beautiful time. I know that Father says that Mother is always trying to make me a "Marie," and nothing else; and that Mother says she knows Father'll never be happy until he's made me into a stupid little "Mary," with never an atom of life of my own. And, do you know? it does seem sometimes, as if Mary and Marie were fighting inside of me, and I wonder which is going to beat. Funny, isn't it?
Father is president of the college now, and I don't know how many stars and comets and things he's discovered since the night the star and I were born together. But I know he's very famous, and that he's written up in the papers and magazines, and is in the big fat red "Who's Who" in the library, and has lots of noted men come to see him.
Nurse says that Grandma Anderson died very soon after I was born, but that it didn't make any particular difference in the housekeeping; for things went right on just as they had done, with her giving the orders as before; that she'd given them all alone anyway, mostly, the last year Grandma Anderson lived, and she knew just how Father liked things. She said Mother tried once or twice to take the reins herself, and once Nurse let her, just to see what would happen. But things got in an awful muddle right away, so that even Father noticed it and said things. After that Mother never tried again, I guess. Anyhow, she's never tried it since I can remember. She's always stayed most of the time up in her rooms in the east wing, except during meals, or when she went out with me, or went to the things she and Father had to go to together. For they did go to lots of things, Nurse says.
It seems that for a long time they didn't want folks to know there was going to be a divorce. So before folks they tried to be just as usual. But Nurse Sarah said she knew there was going to be one long ago. The first I ever heard of it was Nurse telling Nora, the girl we had in the kitchen then; and the minute I got a chance I asked Nurse what it was--a divorce.
My, I can remember now how scared she looked, and how she clapped her hand over my mouth. She wouldn't tell me--not a word. And that's the first time I ever saw her give that quick little look over each shoulder. She's done it lots of times since.
As I said, she wouldn't tell me, so I had to ask some one else. I wasn't going to let it go by and not find out--not when Nurse Sarah looked so scared, and when it was something my father and mother were going to have some day.
I didn't like to ask Mother. Some way, I had a feeling, from the way Nurse Sarah looked, that it was something Mother wasn't going to like. And I thought if maybe she didn't know yet she was going to have it, that certainly I didn't want to be the one to tell her. So I didn't ask Mother what a divorce was.
I didn't even think of asking Father, of course. I never ask Father questions. Nurse says I did ask him once why he didn't love me like other papas loved their little girls. But I was very little then, and I don't remember it at all. But Nurse said Father didn't like it very well, and maybe I did remember that part, without really knowing it. Anyhow, I never think of asking Father questions.
I asked the doctor first. I thought maybe 't was some kind of a disease, and if he knew it was coming, he could give them some sort of a medicine to keep it away--like being vaccinated so's not to have smallpox, you know. And I told him so.
He gave a funny little laugh, that somehow didn't sound like a laugh at all. Then he grew very, very sober, and said:
"I'm sorry, little girl, but I'm afraid I haven't got any medicine that will prevent--a divorce. If I did have, there'd be no eating or drinking or sleeping for me, I'm thinking--I'd be so busy answering my calls."
"Then it is a disease!" I cried. And I can remember just how frightened I felt. "But isn't there any doctor anywhere that can stop it?"
He shook his head and gave that queer little laugh again.
"I'm afraid not," he sighed. "As for it's being a disease--there are people that call it a disease, and there are others who call it a cure; and there are still others who say it's a remedy worse than the disease it tries to cure. But, there, you baby! What am I saying? Come, come, my dear, just forget it. It's nothing you should bother your little head over now. Wait till you're older."
Till I'm older, indeed! How I hate to have folks talk to me like that! And they do--they do it all the time. As if I was a child now, when I'm almost standing there where the brook and river meet!
But that was just the kind of talk I got, everywhere, nearly every time I asked any one what a divorce was. Some laughed, and some sighed. Some looked real worried 'cause I'd asked it, and one got mad. (That was the dressmaker. I found out afterward that she'd had a divorce already, so probably she thought I asked the question on purpose to plague her.) But nobody would answer me--really answer me sensibly, so I'd know what it meant; and 'most everybody said, "Run away, child," or "You shouldn't talk of such things," or, "Wait, my dear, till you're older"; and all that.
Oh, how I hate such talk when I really want to know something! How do they expect us to get our education if they won't answer our questions?
I don't know which made me angriest--I mean angrier. (I'm speaking of two things, so I must, I suppose. I hate grammar!) To have them talk like that--not answer me, you know--or have them do as Mr. Jones, the storekeeper, did, and the men there with him.
It was one day when I was in there buying some white thread for Nurse Sarah, and it was a little while after I had asked the doctor if a divorce was a disease. Somebody had said something that made me think you could buy divorces, and I suddenly determined to ask Mr. Jones if he had them for sale. (Of course all this sounds very silly to me now, for I know that a divorce is very simple and very common. It's just like a marriage certificate, only it unmarries you instead of marrying you; but I didn't know it then. And if I'm going to tell this story I've got to tell it just as it happened, of course.)
Well, I asked Mr. Jones if you could buy divorces, and if he had them for sale; and you ought to have heard those men laugh. There were six of them sitting around the stove behind me.
"Oh, yes, my little maid" (above all things I abhor to be called a little maid!) one of them cried. "You can buy them if you've got money enough; but I don't reckon our friend Jones here has got them for sale."
Then they all laughed again, and winked at each other. (That's another disgusting thing--winks when you ask a perfectly civil question! But what can you do? Stand it, that's all. There's such a lot of things we poor women have to stand!) Then they quieted down and looked very sober--the kind of sober you know is faced with laughs in the back--and began to tell me what a divorce really was. I can't remember them all, but I can some of them. Of course I understand now that these men were trying to be smart, and were talking for each other, not for me. And I knew it then--a little. We know a lot more things sometimes than folks think we do. Well, as near as I can remember it was like this:
"A divorce is a knife that cuts a knot that hadn't ought to ever been tied," said one.
"A divorce is a jump in the dark," said another.
"No, it ain't. It's a jump from the frying-pan into the fire," piped up Mr. Jones.
"A divorce is the comedy of the rich and the tragedy of the poor," said a little man who wore glasses.
"Divorce is a nice smushy poultice that may help but won't heal," cut in a new voice.
"Divorce is a guidepost marked, 'Hell to Heaven,' but lots of folks miss the way, just the same, I notice," spoke up somebody with a chuckle.
"Divorce is a coward's retreat from the battle of life." Captain Harris said this. He spoke slow and decided. Captain Harris is old and rich and not married. He's the hotel's star boarder, and what he says, goes, 'most always. But it didn't this time. I can remember just how old Mr. Carlton snapped out the next.
"Speak from your own experience, Tom Harris, an' I'm thinkin' you ain't fit ter judge. I tell you divorce is what three fourths of the husbands an' wives in the world wish was waitin' for 'em at home this very night. But it ain't there." I knew, of course, he was thinking of his wife. She's some cross, I guess, and has two warts on her nose.
There was more, quite a lot more, said. But I've forgotten the rest. Besides, they weren't talking to me then, anyway. So I picked up my thread and slipped out of the store, glad to escape. But, as I said before, I didn't find many like them.
Of course I know now--what divorce is, I mean. And it's all settled. They granted us some kind of a decree or degree, and we're going to Boston next Monday.
It's been awful, though--this last year. First we had to go to that horrid place out West, and stay ages and ages. And I hated it. Mother did, too. I know she did. I went to school, and there were quite a lot of girls my age, and some boys; but I didn't care much for them. I couldn't even have the fun of surprising them with the divorce we were going to have. I found they were going to have one, too--every last one of them. And when everybody has a thing, you know there's no particular fun in having it yourself. Besides, they were very unkind and disagreeable, and bragged a lot about their divorces. They said mine was tame, and had no sort of snap to it, when they found Mother didn't have a lover waiting in the next town, or Father hadn't run off with his stenographer, or nobody had shot anybody, or anything.
That made me mad, and I let them see it, good and plain. I told them our divorce was perfectly all right and genteel and respectable; that Nurse Sarah said it was. Ours was going to be incompatibility, for one thing, which meant that you got on each other's nerves, and just naturally didn't care for each other any more. But they only laughed, and said even more disagreeable things, so that I didn't want to go to school any longer, and I told Mother so, and the reason, too, of course.
But, dear me, I wished right off that I hadn't. I supposed she was going to be superb and haughty and disdainful, and say things that would put those girls where they belonged. But, my stars! How could I know that she was going to burst into such a storm of sobs and clasp me to her bosom, and get my face all wet and cry out: "Oh, my baby, my baby--to think I have subjected you to this, my baby, my baby!"
And I couldn't say a thing to comfort her, or make her stop, even when I told her over and over again that I wasn't a baby. I was almost a young lady; and I wasn't being subjected to anything bad. I liked it--only I didn't like to have those girls brag so, when our divorce was away ahead of theirs, anyway.
But she only cried more and more, and held me tighter and tighter, rocking back and forth in her chair. She took me out of school, though, and had a lady come to teach me all by myself, so I didn't have to hear those girls brag any more, anyway. That was better. But she wasn't any happier herself. I could see that.
There were lots of other ladies there--beautiful ladies--only she didn't seem to like them any better than I did the girls. I wondered if maybe they bragged, too, and I asked her; but she only began to cry again, and moan, "What have I done, what have I done?"--and I had to try all over again to comfort her. But I couldn't.
She got so she just stayed in her room lots and lots. I tried to make her put on her pretty clothes, and do as the other ladies did, and go out and walk and sit on the big piazzas, and dance, and eat at the pretty little tables. She did, some, when we first came, and took me, and I just loved it. They were such beautiful ladies, with their bright eyes, and their red cheeks and jolly ways; and their dresses were so perfectly lovely, all silks and satins and sparkly spangles, and diamonds and rubies and emeralds, and silk stockings, and little bits of gold and silver slippers.
And once I saw two of them smoking. They had the cutest little cigarettes (Mother said they were) in gold holders, and I knew then that I was seeing life--real life; not the stupid kind you get back in a country town like Andersonville. And I said so to Mother; and I was going to ask her if Boston was like that. But I didn't get the chance. She jumped up so quick I thought something had hurt her, and cried, "Good Heavens, Baby!" (How I hate to be called "Baby"!) Then she just threw some money on to the table to pay the bill and hurried me away.
It was after that that she began to stay in her room so much, and not take me anywhere except for walks at the other end of the town where it was all quiet and stupid, and no music or lights, or anything. And though I teased and teased to go back to the pretty, jolly places, she wouldn't ever take me; not once.
Then by and by, one day, we met a little black-haired woman with white cheeks and very big sad eyes. There weren't any spangly dresses and gold slippers about her, I can tell you! She was crying on a bench in the park, and Mother told me to stay back and watch the swans while she went up and spoke to her. (Why do old folks always make us watch swans or read books or look into store windows or run and play all the time? Don't they suppose we understand perfectly well what it means--that they're going to say something they don't want us to hear?) Well, Mother and the lady on the bench talked and talked ever so long, and then Mother called me up, and the lady cried a little over me, and said, "Now, perhaps, if I'd had a little girl like that--!" Then she stopped and cried some more.
We saw this lady real often after that. She was nice and pretty and sweet, and I liked her; but she was always awfully sad, and I don't believe it was half so good for Mother to be with her as it would have been for her to be with those jolly, laughing ladies that were always having such good times. But I couldn't make Mother see it that way at all. There are times when it seems as if Mother just couldn't see things the way I do. Honestly, it seems sometimes almost as if she was the cross-current and contradiction instead of me. It does.
Well, as I said before, I didn't like it very well out there, and I don't believe Mother did, either. But it's all over now, and we're back home packing up to go to Boston.
Everything seems awfully queer. Maybe because Father isn't here, for one thing. He wrote very polite and asked us to come to get our things, and he said he was going to New York on business for several days, so Mother need not fear he should annoy her with his presence. Then, another thing, Mother's queer. This morning she was singing away at the top of her voice and running all over the house picking up things she wanted; and seemed so happy. But this afternoon I found her down on the floor in the library crying as if her heart would break with her head in Father's big chair before the fireplace. But she jumped up the minute I came in and said, no, no, she didn't want anything. She was just tired; that's all. And when I asked her if she was sorry, after all, that she was going to Boston to live, she said, no, no, no, indeed, she guessed she wasn't. She was just as glad as glad could be that she was going, only she wished Monday would hurry up and come so we could be gone.
And that's all. It's Saturday now, and we go just day after to-morrow. Our trunks are 'most packed, and Mother says she wishes she'd planned to go to-day. I've said good-bye to all the girls, and promised to write loads of letters about Boston and everything. They are almost as excited as I am; and I've promised, "cross my heart and hope to die," that I won't love those Boston girls better than I do them--specially Carrie Heywood, of course, my dearest friend.
Nurse Sarah is hovering around everywhere, asking to help, and pretending she's sorry we're going. But she isn't sorry. She's glad. I know she is. She never did appreciate Mother, and she thinks she'll have everything her own way now. But she won't. I could tell her a thing or two if I wanted to. But I shan't.
Father's sister, Aunt Jane Anderson, from St. Paul, is coming to keep house for him, partly on account of Father, and partly on account of me. "If that child is going to be with her father six months of the time, she's got to have some woman there beside a meddling old nurse and a nosey servant girl!" They didn't know I heard that. But I did. And now Aunt Jane is coming. My! how mad Nurse Sarah would be if she knew. But she doesn't.
I guess I'll end this chapter here and begin a fresh one down in Boston. Oh, I do so wonder what it'll be like--Boston, Mother's home, Grandpa Desmond, and all the rest. I'm so excited I can hardly wait. You see, Mother never took me home with her but once, and then I was a very small child. I don't know why, but I guess Father didn't want me to go. It's safe to say he didn't, anyway. He never wants me to do anything, hardly. That's why I suspect him of not wanting me to go down to Grandpa Desmond's. And Mother didn't go only once, in ages.
Now this will be the end. And when I begin again it will be in Boston. Only think of it--really, truly Boston!