Sisters by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Meanwhile, the hot train sped on, and the drab autumn country flew by the windows, and still the bride sat wrapped in her dream, smiling, musing, rousing herself to notice the scenery. The lap of the cream-coloured gown held magazines and a box of candy, and in the rack above her head were the new camera and the new umbrella and the new suitcase.
When Martin asked her if she liked to be a married woman, travelling with her husband, she smiled and said that it seemed "funny." For the most part she was silent, pleased and interested, but not quite her usual unconcerned self. She and Alix, taking this trip, would have been chattering like magpies. She and Martin had their dinner in the train, and then she did brighten, trying to pierce with her eyes the darkness outside, and getting only a lovely reflected face under bronzed cocks feathers, instead. After dinner they had a long, murmured talk; she began to droop sleepily now, although even this long day had not paled her cheeks or visibly tired her.
At ten they stumbled out, cramped and over-heated, and smitten on tired foreheads with a rush of icy mountain air.
"Is this the pl-l-ace?" yawned Cherry, clinging to his arm.
"This is the place, Baby Girl, El Nido, and not much of a place!" her husband told her. "That's the Hotel McKinley, over there where the lights are! We stay there to-night, and drive out to the mine to-morrow. I'll manage the bags, but don't you stumble!"
She was wide-awake now, looking alertly about her at the dark streets of the little town. Mud squelched beneath their feet, planks tilted. Beside Martin Cherry entered the bright, cheerful lobby of a cheap hotel where men were smoking and spitting. She was beside him at the desk, and saw him write on the register, "J. M. Lloyd and wife." The clerk pushed a key across the counter; Martin guided her to a rattling elevator.
She had a fleeting thought of home; of Dad reading before the fire, of the little brown room upstairs, with Alix, slender in her thin nightgown, yawning over her prayers. A rush of reluctance--of strangeness--of something like terror smote her. She fought the homesickness down resolutely; everything would seem brighter to- morrow, when the morning and the sunshine came again.
There was a brown and red carpet in the oblong of the room, and a brown bureau, and a wide iron bed with a limp spread, and a peeling brown washstand with a pitcher and basin. The boy lighted a flare of electric lights which made the chocolate and gold wallpaper look like one pattern in the light and another in the shadow. A man laughed in the adjoining room; the voice seemed very near.
Cherry had never been in a hotel of this sort before; she learned later that El Nido was extremely proud of it, with its rattling elevator and its dining room on the "American Plan." It seemed to her cheap and horrible; she did not want to stay in this room, and Martin, tipping the boy and asking for ice-water, seemed somehow a part of this new strangeness and crudeness. She began to be afraid that he would think she was silly, presently, if she said her prayers as usual.
In the morning Martin hired a phaeton, and they drove out to the mine. It had rained in the night, and there were pools of water on the soft dirt road, but the sky was high and blue, and the air tingled with sweetness and freshness after the shower. Cherry had had a good breakfast, and was wearing a new gown; they stopped another phaeton on the long, pleasant drive and Martin said to the fat man in it:
"Mr. Bates, I want to make you acquainted with my wife!"
"Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Lloyd!" said the fat man, pleasantly. Martin told Cherry, when they passed him, that that was the superintendent of the mine, and seemed pleased at the encounter. And Cherry smiled up at the blue sky, and felt the warmth and silence of the day saturate her whole being. Presently Martin put his arm about her, and the bay horse dawdled along at his own sweet will, while Martin's deep voice told his wife over and over again how adorable and beautiful she was, and how he loved her.
Cherry listened happily, and for a little while the old sense of pride and achievement came back--she was married, she was wearing a plain gold ring! But after a few days that feeling vanished forever, and instead it began to seem strange to her that she had ever been anything else than Martin's wife. The other women at the mine were married; she was married; and nobody seemed to think the thing remarkable in them, or in her. She was, to be sure, younger and prettier than any of the others, but the men she met here were not the sort whose admiration would have satisfied her innocent ambition to have Martin's friends flock about her adoringly, and more than that, they knew her to be newly married, and left the young Lloyds to their presumably desired isolation. And very soon Cherry found herself a little housewife among other housewives, much more praised if she made a good shortcake than because the tilt of her new hat was becoming.
For several days she and Martin laughed incessantly, and praised each other incessantly, while they experimented with cooking, and ate delicious gipsy meals. In these days Martin was always late at the mine, and every evening he came home to find that ducks, or a jar of honey, or a loaf of cake, had been contributed to Cherry's dinner by the interested women in the near-by cottages. In all, there were not a dozen families at the "Emmy Younger," and Cherry was watched with interest and sympathy during her first efforts at housekeeping.
By midwinter she had settled down to the business of life, buying bacon and lard and sugar and matches at the store of the mine, cooking and cleaning, sweeping and making beds. She still kissed Martin good-bye every morning, and met him with an affectionate rush at the door when he came home, and they played Five Hundred evening after evening after dinner, quarrelling for points, and laughing at each other, while rain sluiced down on the "Emmy Younger," and dripped on the porch. But sometimes she wondered how it had all come about, wondered what had become of the violent emotions that had picked her out of the valley home, and established her here, in this strange place, with this man she had never seen a year ago.
Of these emotions little was left. She still liked Martin, she told herself, and she still told him that she loved him. But she knew she did not love him, and in such an association as theirs there can be no liking. Her thoughts rarely rested on him; she was either thinking of the prunes that were soaking, the firewood that was running low, the towels that a wet breeze was blowing on the line; or she was far away, drifting in vague realms where feelings entirely strange to this bare little mining camp, and this hungry, busy, commonplace man, held sway. Cherry was in the position of a leading lady mysteriously forced into a minor role; she had never known what she wanted in life, and was learning now in a hard school.
The first time that she quarrelled with Martin, she cried for an entire day, with the old childish feeling that somehow her crying mattered, somehow her abandonment to grief would help to straighten affairs. The cause of the quarrel was a trifle; her father had sent her a Christmas check, and she immediately sent to a San Francisco shop for a clock that had taken her fancy months before.
Martin, who chanced to be pressed for money, although she did not know it, was thunderstruck upon discovering that she had actually disposed of fifty dollars so lightly. For several days a shadow hung over their intercourse, and when the clock came, as large as a banjo, gilded and quaint, he broke her heart afresh by pretending not to admire it.
But on Christmas Eve he was delayed at the mine, and Cherry, smitten suddenly with the bitterness of having their first Christmas spoiled in this way, sat up for him, huddled in her silk wrapper by the air-tight stove. She was awakened by feeling herself lowered tenderly into bed, and raised warm arms to clasp his neck, and they kissed each other. The little house was warm and comfortable, they had a turkey to roast on the morrow, and ranged on the table were the home boxes, and a stack of unopened envelopes waiting for Christmas morning.
The next day they laughed at the clock together, and after that peace reigned for several weeks. But it was inevitable that another quarrel should come and then another; Cherry was young and undisciplined, perhaps not more selfish than other girls of her age, but self-centred and unreasonable. She had to learn self- control, and she hated to control herself. She had to economize when poverty possessed neither picturesqueness nor interest. They were always several weeks late in the payment of domestic bills, and these recurring reminders of money stringency maddened Cherry. Sometimes she summed it up, with angry tears, reminding him that she was still wearing her trousseau dresses, and had no maid, and never went anywhere--!
But she developed steadily. As she grew skilful in managing her little house, she also grew in the art of managing her husband and herself. She became clever at avoiding causes of disagreement; she listened, nodded, agreed, with a boiling heart, and had the satisfaction of having Martin's viewpoint veer the next day, or the next hour, to meet her own secret conviction. Martin's opinion, she told herself wearily, as she swept and cooked and marketed busily, didn't matter anyhow. He would rage and storm at his superiors, he would threaten and brood, and then it would all be forgotten, time after time after time. Silent, absent-minded, looking closely at a burn upon her smooth arm or pleating her checked apron, Cherry would sit opposite him at his late lunch.
"I suppose you don't agree with me?" he would interrupt himself to ask scowlingly.
"Mart--" The innocent blue eyes would be raised vaguely. "I don't know anything about it, dear. If Mr. Taylor--"
"Well, you know what I tell you, don't you?"
"Yes, dear. But--"
"For God's sake don't call me dear when you--"
"Mart!" Her dignity always rose in arms. "Please don't get excited."
"Well!" His tone would be modified, as the appetizing little meal was dispatched. "But Lord, you do make me so mad, sitting there criticizing me--I can always tell when you're in sympathy with me- -my Lord, I wish you had to go up against these fellows sometimes- -" The grumbling voice would go on and on; Cherry would pause at the door, carrying out plates, to have him finish a phrase; would nod sympathizingly as she set his dessert before him. But her soul was like some living thing spun into a cocoon, hearing the sounds of life only vaguely, interested in them not at all.
Martin seemed satisfied, and all their little world accepted her as a matter of course. Pretty little Mrs. Lloyd went every morning into the Company Store as the only store at the mine was called, and smiled over her shopping; she stopped perhaps at the office to speak to her husband; she met some other woman wheeling a baby up to the cottages, and they gossiped together. She and her husband dined and played cards now and then with a neighbour and his wife, and they gave dinners in return, when the men praised every dish extravagantly, and the woman laughed at their greedy enthusiasms. Like the other women, she had her small domestic ambitions; Mrs. Brown wanted a meat-chopper; Mrs. White's one desire was to have a curly maple bedroom set; Mrs. Lloyd wanted a standing mahogany lamp for the sitting room.
But under it all Cherry knew that something young and irresponsible and confident in her had been killed. She never liked to think of the valley, of the fogs and the spokes of sunlight under the redwood aisles, of Alix and the dogs and the dreamy evenings by the fire. And especially she did not like to think of that eighteenth birthday, and herself thrilling and ecstatic because the strange young man from Mrs. North's had stared at her, in her sticky apron, with so new and disturbing a smile in his eyes.