The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
The winter months were spent at Monrovia, where Orde and his wife lived for a time at the hotel. This was somewhat expensive, but Orde was not quite ready to decide on a home, and he developed unexpected opposition to living at Redding in the Orde homestead.
"No, I've been thinking about it," he told Grandma Orde. "A young couple should start out on their own responsibility. I know you'd be glad to have us, but I think it's better the other way. Besides, I must be at Monrovia a good deal of the time, and I want Carroll with me. She can make you a good long visit in the spring, when I have to go up river."
To this Grandma Orde, being a wise old lady, had to nod her assent, although she would much have liked her son near her.
At Monrovia, then, they took up their quarters. Carroll soon became acquainted with the life of the place. Monrovia, like most towns of its sort and size, consisted of an upper stratum of mill owners and lumber operators, possessed of considerable wealth, some cultivation, and definite social ideas; a gawky, countrified, middle estate of storekeepers, catering both to the farm and local trade and the lumber mill operatives, generally of Holland extraction, who dwelt in simple unpainted board shanties. The class first mentioned comprised a small coterie, among whom Carroll soon found two or three congenials--Edith Fuller, wife of the young cashier in the bank; Valerie Cathcart, whose husband had been killed in the Civil War; Clara Taylor, wife of the leading young lawyer of the village; and, strangely enough, Mina Heinzman, the sixteen-year-old daughter of old Heinzman, the lumberman. Nothing was more indicative of the absolute divorce of business and social life than the unbroken evenness of Carroll's friendship for the younger girl. Though later the old German and Orde locked in serious struggle on the river, they continued to meet socially quite as usual; and the daughter of one and the wife of the other never suspected anything out of the ordinary. This impersonality of struggle has always been characteristic of the pioneer business man's good-nature.
Newmark received the news of his partner's sudden marriage without evincing any surprise, but with a sardonic gleam in one corner of his eye. He called promptly, conversed politely for a half hour, and then took his leave.
"How do you like him?" asked Orde, when he had gone.
"He looks like a very shrewd man," replied Carroll, picking her words for fear of saying the wrong thing.
"You don't like him," he stated.
"I don't dislike him," said Carroll. "I've not a thing against him. But we could never be in the slightest degree sympathetic. He and I don't--don't--"
"Don't jibe," Orde finished for her. "I didn't much think you would. Joe never was much of a society bug." It was on the tip of Carroll's tongue to reply that "society bugs" were not the only sort she could appreciate, but she refrained. She had begun to realise the extent of her influence over her husband's opinion.
Newmark did not live at the hotel. Early in the fall he had rented a small one-story house situated just off Main Street, set well back from the sidewalk among clumps of oleanders. Into this he retired as a snail into its shell. At first he took his meals at the hotel, but later he imported an impassive, secretive man-servant, who took charge of him completely. Neither master nor man made any friends, and in fact rebuffed all advances. One Sunday, Carroll and Orde, out for a walk, passed this quaint little place, with its picket fence.
"Let's go in and return Joe's call," suggested Orde.
Their knock at the door brought the calm valet.
"Mr. Newmark is h'out, sir," said he. "Yes, sir, I'll tell him that you called."
They turned away. As they sauntered down the little brick-laid walk, Carroll suddenly pressed close to her husband's arm.
"Jack," she begged, "I want a little house like that, for our very own."
"We can't afford it, sweetheart."
"Not to own," she explained, "just to rent. It will be next best to having a home of our own."
"We'd have to have a girl, dear," said Orde, "and we can't even afford that, yet."
"A girl!" cried Carroll indignantly. "For us two!"
"You couldn't do the housework and the cooking," said Orde. "You've never done such a thing in your life, and I won't have my little girl slaving."
"It won't be slaving, it will be fun--just like play-housekeeping," protested Carroll. "And I've got to learn some time. I was brought up most absurdly, and I realise it now."
"We'll see," said Orde vaguely.
The subject was dropped for the time being. Later Carroll brought it up again. She was armed with several sheets of hotel stationery, covered with figures showing how much cheaper it would be to keep house than to board.
"You certainly make out a strong case--on paper," laughed Orde. "If you buy a rooster and a hen, and she raises two broods, at the end of a year you'll have twenty-six; and if they all breed--even allowing half roosters--you'll have over three hundred; and if they all breed, you'll have about thirty-five hundred; and if--"
"Stop! stop!" cried Carroll, covering her ears.
"All right," agreed Orde equably, "but that's the way it figures. Funny the earth isn't overrun with chickens, isn't it?"
She thrust her tables of figures into her desk drawer. "You're just making fun of me always," she said reproachfully.
Two days later Orde took her one block up the street to look at a tiny little house tucked on a fifty-foot lot beneath the shadow of the church.
"It's mighty little," said he. "I'll have to go out in the hall to change my collar, and we couldn't have more than two people at a time to call on us."
"It's a dear!" said she, "and I'm not so e-nor-mous myself, whatever you may be."
They ended by renting the little house, and Carroll took charge of it delightedly. What difficulties she overcame, and what laughable and cryable mistakes she made only those who have encountered a like situation could realise. She learned fast, however, and took a real pride in her tiny box of a home. A piano was, of course, out of the question, but the great golden harp occupied one corner, or rather one side, of the parlour. Standing thus enshrouded in its covering, it rather resembled an august and tremendous veiled deity. To Carroll's great delight, Orde used solemnly to go down on all fours and knock his forehead thrice on the floor before it when he entered the house at evening. When the very cold weather came and they had to light the base-burner stove, which Orde stoutly maintained occupied all the other half of the parlour, the harp's delicate constitution necessitated its standing in the hall. Nevertheless, Carroll had great comfort from it. While Orde was away at the office, she whispered through its mellow strings her great happiness, the dreams for her young motherhood which would come in the summer, the vague and lingering pain over the hapless but beloved ones she had left behind her in her other life. Then she arose refreshed, and went about the simple duties of her tiny domain.
The winter was severe. All the world was white. The piles of snow along the sidewalks grew until Carroll could hardly look over them. Great fierce winds swept in from the lake. Sometimes Orde and his wife drove two miles to the top of the sand hills, where first they had met in this their present home, and looked out beyond the tumbled shore ice to the steel-gray, angry waters. The wind pricked their faces, and, going home, the sleigh-bells jingled, the snowballs from the horses' hoofs hit against the dash, the cold air seared the inside of their nostrils. When Orde helped Carroll from beneath the warm buffalo robes, she held up to him a face glowing with colour, framed in the soft fluffy fur of a hood.
"You darling!" he cried, and stooped to kiss her smooth, cold cheek.
When he had returned from the stable around the corner, he found the lit lamp throwing its modified light and shade over the little round table. He shook down the base-burner vigorously, thrust several billets of wood in its door, and turned to meet her eyes across the table.
"Kind of fun being married, isn't it?" said he.
"Kind of," she admitted, nodding gravely.
The business of the firm was by now about in shape. All the boom arrangements had been made; the two tugs were in the water and their machinery installed; supplies and equipments were stored away; the foremen of the crews engaged, and the crews themselves pretty well picked out. Only there needed to build the wanigan, and to cart in the supplies for the upper river works before the spring break-up and the almost complete disappearance of the roads. Therefore, Orde had the good fortune of unusual leisure to enjoy these first months with his bride. They entered together the Unexplored Country, and found it more wonderful than they had dreamed. Almost before they knew it, January and February had flown.
"We must pack up, sweetheart," said Orde.
"It's only yesterday that we came," she cried regretfully.
They took the train for Redding, were installed in the gable room, explored together for three days the delights of the old-fashioned house, the spicy joys of Grandma Orde's and Amanda's cookery, the almost adoring adulation of the old folks. Then Orde packed his "turkey," assumed his woods clothes, and marched off down the street carrying his bag on his back.
"He looks like an old tramp in that rig," said Grandma Orde, closing the storm door.
"He looks like a conqueror of wildernesses!" cried Carroll, straining her eyes after his vanishing figure. Suddenly she darted after him, calling in her high, bird-like tones. He turned and came back to her. She clasped him by the shoulders, reluctant to let him go.
"Good-bye," she said at last. "You'll take better care of my sweetheart than you ever did of Jack Orde, won't you, dear?"