Part 4 out of 8
meant success. She went to his rehearsals, feeling herself a proud
part of the whole enterprise, keenly appreciative of the theatre
atmosphere. When he went away with his company in late August,
Martie saw him off cheerfully, moved to a smaller room, and began to
plan for his return, and for the baby. She was in love with life--
she wrote Sally.
"You're lucky our climate don't affect you no more than it does,"
observed Mrs. Curley comfortably. "I suffer considerable from the
heat, myself; but then, to tell you the honest truth, I'm fleshy."
"I like it!" Martie answered buoyantly. "The thunder storms are
delicious! Why, at home the gardens are as dry as bones, now, and
look at Central Park--as green as ever. And I love the hurdy-gurdies
and the awnings and the elevated trains and the street markets!"
"I like the city," said the old woman, with a New Yorker's approval
of this view. "My daughter wants me to go down and open a house in
Asbury; she has a little summer place there, with a garage and all.
But I tell her there's almost nobody in the house now, and we get a
good draf' through the rooms. It's not so bad!"
"It's better for me," said the young wife, "because of the
uncertainty of Mr. Bannister's plans."
"They're all uncertain--men," submitted Mrs. Curley thoughtfully.
"That is, the nice ones are," she added. "You show me a man whose
wife isn't always worrying about him and I'll show you a fool!"
"Which was Mr. Curley?" Martie asked, twinkling. For she and his
relict were the only women in the big boarding-house during the hot
months, and they had become intimate.
"Curley," said his widow solemnly, "was one of God's own. A better
father seven children never had, nor a better neighbour any man!
He'd be at his place in church on a Sunday be the weather what it
might, and that strong in his opinions that the boys would ask him
this and that like the priest himself! I'm not saying, mind you,
that he wouldn't take a drop too much, now and then, and act very
harshly when the drink was on him, but he'd come out of it like a
She fell into a reverie, repeating dreamily to herself the words "a-
-little--child---" and Martie, dreaming, too, was silent.
The two women were in one of the cool back bedrooms. For hot still
blocks all about the houses were just the same; some changed into
untidy flats, some empty, some with little shops or agencies in
their basements, and some, like this one, second-class boarding-
houses. On Second and Third avenues, under the elevated trains, were
miles of shops; all small shops, crowded upon each other. Every
block had its two or three saloons, its meat market, its delicacy
store, its tiny establishments where drygoods and milk and shoes and
tobacco and fruit and paints and drugs and candies and hats were
sold, and the women who drifted up and down all morning shopping
usually patronized the nearest store. In the basements were smaller
stores where ice and coal and firewood and window-glass and tinware
might be had, and along the street supplementary carts of fruit and
vegetables were usually aligned, so that, especially to
inexperienced eyes like Martie's, the whole presented a delightfully
She accepted the fact that Wallace must come and go as best suited
his engagements. Her delight in every novel phase of life in the big
city fired his own enthusiasm, and it was with great satisfaction
that he observed her growing friendship with Mrs. Curley.
There were four or five men in the boarding-house, but they usually
disappeared after an early breakfast and did not come back until
supper, so that the two women had a long, idle day to themselves.
Henny, the coloured maid, droned and laughed with friends of her own
in the kitchen. Mrs. Curley, mighty, deep-voiced, with oily, graying
hair and spotted clothes, spent most of the day in a large chair by
the open window, and Martie, thinly dressed, wandered about
aimlessly. She never tired of the old woman's pungent reminiscences,
browsing at intervals on the old magazines and books that were
scattered over the house, even going into the kitchen to convulse
the appreciative Henny, and make a cake or pudding for dinner.
Summer smouldered in the city. The sun seemed to have been shining
hot and merciless for hours when Martie rose at six, to stand
yawning at her window. At nine families began to stream by, to the
Park; perspiring mothers pushing the baby carriages, small children,
already eating, staggering before and behind. By ten the streets
were deserted, baked, silent, glaring. Martie and Mrs. Curley would
establish themselves in a cool back room, as to-day, with a pitcher
of iced tea near at hand.
Somehow the hot, empty hours dragged by. At four o'clock the two,
with perhaps a friend or two who had come in, would begin to gasp
that this was the worst yet. This was awful. The heat had a positive
and brassy quality, there was no air stirring. The children in the
Park would drag home in the hot sunset light, tired, dirty, whining,
and a breathless evening follow the burning day. Then Martie and
Mrs. Curley and mild little Mr. Bull and bellicose Mr. Snow would
perhaps sit on the steps until eleven o'clock, exchanging
pleasantries with various neighbours, wilted like themselves in the
furnace of the day.
Martie liked the sense of extremes, as they all did. In a few months
they would be shaking their heads over a blizzard with the same
solemn enjoyment. She liked the suddenly darkening sky, the ominous
rattle of thunder; "like boxes being smashed," she wrote Sally. She
fairly sang when the rain began to stream down, washing, cooling,
From the window of the back bedroom she looked down to-day upon a
stretch of bare, fenced backyards. Here and there a cat slept in the
shade, or moved silently from shadow to shadow. From some of the
opposite windows strings of washed garments depended, and upon one
fire-escape two girls were curled, talking and reading.
Her hostess was the source of much affectionate amusement to Martie,
and as the old lady liked nothing so much as an appreciative
listener, they got on splendidly. Martie laughed at the older
woman's accounts of quarrels, births, and law-suits, thrilled over
the details of sudden deaths, murders, and mysteries, and drank in
with a genuine dramatic appreciation the vision of a younger,
simpler city. No subway, no telephones, no motor cars, no elevated
roads--what had New York been like when Mrs. Curley was a bride?
Booth and Parepa Rosa and Adelina Patti walked the boards again; the
terrible Civil War was fought; the draft riots raged in the streets;
the great President was murdered. There was no old family in the
city of whose antecedents Mrs. Curley did not know something. "The
airs of them!" she would say, musing over a newspaper list of "among
those present." "I could tell them something!"
Martie did not understand how any woman could really be content with
this dark old house, this business, these empty days, but she
realized that Mrs. Curley was free to adopt some other mode of
living had she pleased. Gradually Martie pieced the old woman's
history together; there had been plenty of change, prosperity, and
excitement in her life. She had had seven children, only three of
whom were living: Mary, a prosperous, big matron whose husband, Joe
Cunningham, had some exalted position on the Brooklyn police force;
Ralph, who was a priest in California; and George, the youngest, a
handsome ne'er-do-well of about twenty-five, who was a "heart
scald." George floated about his own and neighbouring cities, only
coming to see his mother when no other refuge offered.
The four children who had died were quite as much in their mother's
thoughts and conversation, and probably more in her prayers, than
the living ones. Of "Curley," too, Martie heard much. She was able
to picture a cheerful, noisy home, full of shouting, dark, untidy-
headed children, with an untidy-headed servant, a scatter-brained
mother, and an unexacting father in charge. "Curley" usually went to
sleep on the sofa after dinner, and Mrs. Curley's sister, Mrs.
Royce, with her children, or her sister-in-law, "Mrs. Dan," with
hers, came over to pick up the Curleys on the way to a Mission
sermon, a church concert, or a meeting of the Women's Auxiliary of
the Saint Vincent de Paul.
"... Or else maybe the priest would step in," said Mrs. Curley,
remembering these stirring days, "or often I'd take Mollie or Katie-
-God rest her!--and go over to see the Sisters. But many a night
there'd be sickness in the house--Curley had two cousins and an aunt
that died on us--and then I'd be there sitting up with the
medicines, and talking with this one and that. I was never one to
run away from sickness, nor death either for that matter. I'm a
great hand with death in the house; there's no sole to my foot when
I'm needed! I'll never forget the day that I went over to poor Aggie
Lemmon's house--she was a lovely woman who lived round the corner
from me. Well, I hadn't been thinking she looked very well for
several weeks, do you see?--and I passed the remark to my brother
Thomas's wife--God rest her---"
A reminiscence would follow. Martie never tired of them. Whether she
was held, just now, in the peaceful, unquestioning mood that
precedes a serious strain on mind and body, or whether her old
hostess really had had an unusually interesting experience, she did
not then or ever decide. She only knew that she liked to sit playing
solitaire in the hot evenings, under a restricted cone of light,
with Mrs. Curley sitting in the darkness by the window, watching the
lively street, fanning herself comfortably, and pouring forth the
history of the time Curley gave poor Ralph a "crule" beating, or of
the day Alicia Curley died in convulsions at the age of three.
Martie had hoped to be in her own little home when the baby came,
but this was swiftly proven impossible. Wallace's play failed after
the wonderful salary had been paid for only eight weeks. He idled
about with his wife for a few happy weeks, and then got another
engagement with a small comic opera troupe, and philosophically and
confidently went on the road. Presently he was home again and in
funds, but this time it was only a few days before the next parting.
The golden Indian Summer came, and the city blazed in glorious
colour. Homecoming began; the big houses on the Avenue were opened.
Martie never saw the burning leaves of September in later years
without a memory of the poignant uneasiness with which she first had
walked beneath them, worrying about money, about Wallace's
prospects, about herself and her child. Many of her walks were
filled with imaginary conversations with her husband, in which she
argued, protested, reproached. She was lonely, she was still strange
to the city, and she was approaching her ordeal.
Even when he was with her, she missed the old loverlike attitude.
She was wistful, gentle, dependent now, and she knew her wistfulness
and gentleness and dependence vaguely irritated. But she could not
help it; she wanted to touch him, to cling to him, to have him
praise and encourage her, and tell her how much he loved her.
Her hour came near, and she went bravely to meet it. Wallace was in
Baltimore, playing juvenile roles in a stock company. Martie went
alone to the big hospital, and put herself into the hands of a
capable but indifferent young nurse, who candidly explained that she
had more patients than she could care for without the newcomer.
Martie, frightened by the businesslike preparations and the clean,
ether-scented rooms, submitted and obeyed with a sick heart. Through
the dull quiet of a dark November day the first snow of the season,
the first Martie had ever seen, began to flutter. Moving restlessly
about her little room, she stopped at the window to look out upon it
through a haze of pain.
Heat and hot lights, strange halls, a strange doctor, and early
evening in a great operating-room; she had only a dazed impression
of them all. Life roared and crackled about her. She leaped into the
offered oblivion with no thought of what it might entail....
After a long while she awakened, in a peaceful dawning, to hear
nurses cheerfully chatting, and the boy warmly fussing and grunting
in his basket. The little room was flooded with sunlight, sunlight
bright on a snowy world, and the young women who had been so
casually indifferent to another woman's agony were proudly awake to
the charms of the baby. The cocoon was lifted; Martie in a tremor of
love and tenderness looked down at the scowling, wrinkled little
Instantly terror for his safety, for his health, for his immortal
soul possessed her. She looked uneasily at Miss Everett, when that
nurse bore him away. Did the woman realize what motherhood MEANT?
Did she dream the value of that flannel bundle she was so jauntily
Rain was falling in such sweeping sheets that the windows actually
shook under the onslaught; all day long a high wind had raged about
the house. Above the noise of the November storm in the warm
basement bedroom rose the steady click and purr of the sewing-
machine and the chattering of a child's voice, and from outside, on
the pavement, was a furious rushing of coal. The big van had been
backed up against the curb, and the cascading black torrent
interrupted the passers-by.
"Heavens! Was there ever such an uproar!" exclaimed Martie, ceasing
her operations at the machine and leaning back in her chair with a
long sigh. The lengths of flimsy white curtaining she had been
hemming slipped to the floor; she put her hands behind her head, and
yawned luxuriously. The room was close, and even at four o'clock
there was need of lights; its other occupants were only two, the
child who played with the small gray and red stone blocks upon the
floor, and the old woman who was peering through her glasses at the
curtaining that lay across her lap, and manipulating it with knotted
hands. Mrs. Curley was "Nana" to little Teddy Bannister now, and
this shabby room overlooking a cemented area, and with its windows
safeguarded by curved ornamental iron bars from attack from the
street, would be his first memory of life.
But it was a comfortable room; once the dining room, it had been
changed and papered and carpeted for its present tenants when
Martie, as housekeeper of the boarding-house, had decided to move
the dining room into the big, useless rear parlour upstairs. She and
Teddy had privacy here; they had plenty of room, and the feet that
crisped by on the sidewalk, the noises from the kitchen behind her,
and the squeaking of rats about the basement entrance at night
annoyed her not at all. She had her own telephone here, her own
fireplace, and she was comfortably accessible for the maids--there
were two maids now--for the butcher and ice-man. Between her and
the kitchen was a small dark space, named by herself the "Cold
Lairs," where she had a wash-stand and a small bath-tub. A bead of
gas burned here night and day, but if Teddy ever became REALLY
naughty he was to be placed in here as punishment and the gas turned
out entirely. Teddy had never deserved this terrible fate, but he
did not like the Cold Lairs, where his little crash wash-rag and his
tiny toothbrush glimmered at him in the half-light, and where he
always smelled the raw smell of the lemon his mother kept to whiten
He idolized his mother; they had a separate game for every hour and
every undertaking of his happy day. He climbed out of his crib, in
his little faded blue pajamas, for uproarious tumbling and pillow-
fighting every morning. Then it was seven o'clock, and she told him
a story while she dressed, and recited poems and answered his
questions. There was a game about getting all the tangles out of his
hair, the father and mother tangles, and the various children, and
even the dog and cat. Then for months it was a game to have her go
on washing Teddy's face as long as he cried, and stop short when he
stopped, so that after a while he did not cry at all. But by that
time he could spell "Hot" and "Cold" from the faucets, and could
clean out the wash-stand with great soaping and scrubbing all by
Then he and Mother went into the big dark kitchen, where Henny and
Aurora were yawning over the boarders' breakfasts, Henny perhaps
cutting out flat little biscuit, and Aurora spooning out prunes from
a big stone jar with her slender brown thumb getting covered with
juice. His mother stirred the oatmeal, and, if it were summer,
sometimes quickly and suspiciously tasted the milk that was going
into all the little pitchers. Then they went upstairs.
The boarders had their meals at little separate tables now, and the
"family," which was Mother and Nana, and Aunt Adele and Uncle John,
were together at the largest table at the back where the serving and
carving were done, and where the big shiny percolator stood. Teddy
knew all the boarders--old Colonel and Mrs. Fox from the big
upstairs bedroom, and Miss Peet and her sister, the school-teachers,
from the hall-room on that floor, and the Winchells, mother and
daughter and son, in the two front rooms on the third floor, and the
two clerks in the back room. Uncle John and Aunt Adele had the
pleasant big back room on the middle floor, and Nana existed darkly
in the small room that finished that floor. The persons who filled
his world, if they went away to the country at all in summer, went
only for a fortnight, and this gave Mother only the time she needed
to have their blankets washed and their rooms papered and the
woodwork cleaned before their return.
Of them all, of course he liked Uncle John and Aunt Adele best, as
Mother did. He had seen Aunt Adele kiss his mother, and often she
and Uncle John would get into such gales of laughter at dinner that
even Nana, even Teddy, in his high-chair, would laugh violently in
sympathy. All the boarders were kind to Teddy, but Uncle John was
much more than kind. He brought Teddy toys from Broadway, sombreros
and moccasins and pails. He was never too tired when he came home at
night to take Teddy into his lap, and murmur long tales of giants
and fairies. And on long, wet Sundays he had been known to propose
trips to the Zoo and the Aquarium.
Flanking his own picture on his mother's bureau was a photograph of
a magnificent person in velvet knickerbockers and a frilled shirt
with a cocked hat under his arm. This was Daddy, Teddy's mother told
him; he must remember Daddy! But Teddy could not remember him.
"Darling--don't you remember Muddy taking you down to a train, and
don't you remember the big man that carried you and bought you a
"Where is my sand-machine, Moth'?" the little boy would demand
"But Teddy, my heart, you were a big boy then, you were long past
two. CAN'T you remember?"
No use. When Wallace came back he must make the acquaintance of his
son all over again. Martie would sigh, half-vexed, half-amused.
"Aren't they the queer little things, Adele? He remembers his sand-
machine and doesn't remember his father!"
"Oh, I don't know, Martie. That was just after we came, you know.
And I remember thinking that Teddy was a mere baby then!"
"Well, Wallace may be back any day now." Martie always sighed deeply
over the courageous phrase. Wallace had followed a devious course in
these years of the child's babyhood. Short engagements, failures,
weeks on the road, some work in stock companies in the lesser
cities--it was a curious history. He had seen his wife at long
intervals, sometimes with a little money, once or twice really
prosperous and hopeful, once--a dreadful memory--discouraged and
idle and drinking. This was the last time but one, more than a year
ago. Then had come the visit when she had met him, and he had given
Teddy the sand toy. Martie had clung to her husband then; he had not
looked well; he would never make anything of this wretched
profession, she had pleaded. She was doing well at the boarding-
house; he could stay there while he looked about him for regular
But Wallace was "working up" a new part, and it was going to be a
great hit, he said. Every one was crazy about it. He would not go to
the boardinghouse; he said that his wife's work there was the
"limit." For his three days in town he lived with a fellow-actor at
a downtown hotel, and Martie had a curious sense that he did not
belong to her at all. There was about him the heavy aspect and
manner of a man who has been drinking, but he told her that he was
"all to the wagon." His associate, a heavy, square-jawed man with a
dramatic manner, praised Wallace's professional and personal
character highly. Martie, deeply distressed, saw him go away to try
the new play and went back to her own life.
This was in a bitter January. Now Teddy, building houses on the
floor, had passed his third enchanting birthday, and winter was upon
the big city again. Martie awaited it philosophically. Her coal was
in, anyway, or would be in, in another hour, and if the coal-
drivers' strike came to pass she might sleep in the comfortable
consciousness that no one under her roof would suffer. Her clean
curtains would go up this week; it had been an endless job; it was
"And the next thing on the programme is Thanksgiving!" she said
between two yawns
"Most of them goes out for that," said Mrs. Curley. "But the Colonel
and her will stay. Nice to be them that never had to ask the price
of turkey-meat this ten years!"
"Oh, well--we don't have it but twice a year!" Martie was folding
the new curtains; presently she gave the neat pile a brisk,
condensing slap with the flat of her hand. "There now, look what
your smart Nana and Mother did, Ted!" she boasted. "And come here
and give hims mother seventeen kisses and hugs, you darling,
adorable, fat, soft, little old monkey!" The last words were
smothered in the fine, silky strands under Teddy's dark, thick mop,
on his soft little neck. He submitted to the tumbling and hugging,
trying meanwhile to keep one eye upon the ship he had been building
from an upturned chair.
Breathless, Martie looked up from the embrace to see a pretty
smiling woman standing in the doorway, a wet raincoat over one arm,
and a wet hat balanced on her hand.
"Hello, people!" said the newcomer. "I'm drenched. I don't believe
this can keep up, it's frightful."
"Hello, Adele!" Martie said, setting Teddy on his feet. "Come in,
and spread those things on the heater. Sit there where your skirts
will get the heat. How was the matinee?"
"It was killing," said Mrs. Dryden, establishing herself comfortably
by the radiator. She was a slender, bright-eyed woman of perhaps
thirty, whose colouring ran to cool browns: clear brown eyes, brown
hair prettily dressed, a pale brown skin under which a trace of red
only occasionally appeared. To-day her tailor-made suit was brown,
and about her throat was a narrow boa of some brown fur. "Here,
Teddy, take these to your mother," she added, extending a crushed
box half full of chocolates. "The place was PACKED," she went on,
crunching. "And, my dear!--coming out we were right CLOSE to Doris
Beresford, in the most divine coat I ever laid eyes on! I suppose
they all like to have an idea of what's going on at the other
theatres. I don't believe she uses one bit of make-up; wonderful
skin! There was such a mob in the car it was something terrible. A
man crushed up against Ethel; she said she thought he'd break her
arm! I got a seat; I don't know how it is, but I always do. We'd
been running, and I suppose my colour was high, and a man got up
IMMEDIATELY. Nice--I always thank them. I think that's the least you
can do. Ethel said he sat and stared at me all the way up to Fifty-
ninth, where he got off. He was an awfully nice-looking fellow; I'll
tell you what he looked like: a young doctor. Don't you know those
awfully CLEAN-looking men---"
Martie, now changing Teddy's little suit for dinner, let the stream
run on unchecked. Mrs. Curley, who did not particularly fancy Mrs.
Dryden, had gone upstairs, but Martie really liked to listen to
Adele. Presently she turned on the lights, and led Teddy into the
Cold Lairs, to have his face washed. Adele reached for the evening
paper, and began to peruse it idly. When Martie came out of the
bath-room, it was to hear a knock at the door.
"It's John!" predicted Adele. A moment later her husband came into
the room. Like his wife, he was cold and wet and rosy from the
street, but he had evidently been upstairs, for he wore his old
house-coat and dry slippers, and had brushed his hair. He was
younger than Adele by three or four years, but he looked like a boy
of twenty; squarely built, not tall, but giving an impression of
physical power nevertheless. Martie had first thought his face odd,
then interesting; now she found it strangely attractive. His eyes,
between sandy lashes and under thick sandy brows, were of a sea-blue
in colour, his head was covered with a cap of thick, lustreless,
sand-coloured hair. Something odd, elfin, whimsical, in his crooked
smile lent an actual charm to his face, for Martie at least. She
told him he looked like Pan.
Early in their acquaintance she had asked him if he were not a Dane,
not a Norwegian, if he had not viking blood? She said that he
suggested sagas and berserkers and fjords--"not that I am sure what
any of those words mean!" His answering laugh had been as wild as a
delighted child's. No; he was American-born, of an English father
and an Irish mother, he said. He had never been abroad, never been
to college, never had any family that he remembered, except Adele.
He had meant to be a "merchant sailor"--a term he seemed to like,
although it conveyed only a vague impression to Martie--but his
lungs hadn't been strong. So he went to Arizona and loafed. And
there he met Adele; her mother kept the boarding-house in which he
lived, in fact, and there they were married. Adele had a glorious
voice and she wanted to come to New York to cultivate it. And then
Adele had been ill.
His voice fell reverently when he spoke of this illness. Adele had
nearly died. What the hope that had also really died at this time
meant to him, Martie could only suspect when she saw him with Teddy.
Adele herself told her that she was never strong enough for new
"We couldn't afford it, of course; so perhaps it was just as well,"
said Adele one day when she and Martie had come to be good friends,
and were confidential. "I felt terribly for a while, because I have
a wonderful way with children; I know that myself. They always come
to me--funniest thing! Dr. Poole was saying the other day that I had
a remarkable magnetism. I said, 'I don't know about THAT,'--and I
don't, Martie! I don't think I'm so magnetic, do you--'BUT,' I said,
'I really do seem to have a hold on children!' Jack loves children,
too, but he spoils them. I don't believe in letting children run a
house; it isn't good for them, and it isn't good for you. Let them
have their own toys and treat them as kindly as possible, but---"
John Dryden was a salesman in a furniture house; perhaps the city's
finest furniture house. Martie suspected that his pleasant, half-
shy, yet definite manner, made him an excellent salesman. He talked
to her about his associates, whom he took upon their own valuations,
and deeply admired. This one was a "wizard" at figures, and that one
had "a deuce of a manner with women." John chuckled over their
achievements, but she knew that he himself must be the secret wonder
of the place. He might be more or less, but he was certainly not a
typical furniture salesman. Sometimes the manager took him to lunch;
Martie wondered if he quoted the queer books he read, and made the
staid echoes of the club to which they went awake to his pagan
His extraordinarily happy temperament knew sudden despairs, but they
were usually because he had made a "rotten mistake," or because he
was "such a fool" about something. He never complained of the stupid
daily round; perhaps it was not stupid to him, who always had a book
under his arm, and to whom the first snow and the first green leaves
were miracles of delight every year. He treated Adele exactly as if
she had been an engaging five-year-old, and she had charming
childish mannerisms for him alone. He pacified her when she fretted
and complained, and was eagerly grateful when her mood was serene.
Her prettiness and her little spoiled airs, Martie realized
surprisedly, were full of appeal for him.
"You don't mean that--you don't mean that!" he would say to her when
she sputtered and raged. He listened absently to her long
dissertation upon the persons--and for Adele the world was full of
them--who tried to cheat her, or who were insolent to her, and to
whom she was triumphantly insolent in return. She found Martie much
more sympathetic as a listener.
Toward Martie, too, John soon began to display a peculiar
sensitiveness. At first it was merely that she spurred his sense of
humour; he began to test the day's events by her laughter. After
that her more general opinions impressed him; he watched her at
dinner and accepted eagerly her verdict upon political affairs or
the books and plays of the hour. She noticed, and was a little
touched to notice, that he quoted her weeks after she had expressed
herself. He brought her books and they disagreed and argued about
them. In summer, with Adele languid under her parasol, and Teddy
enchanting in white, they went to the park concerts, or to the
various museums, and wrangled about the new Strauss and Debussy, and
commented upon the Hals canvases and the art of Meissonier and
This evening he had a book for her from the Public Library; he had
been dipping into it on the elevated train.
"Which ticket is this on, John?"
"Well, then, you paid my dues on the other! How much?"
She showed him the six coppers on her white palm.
"You were an angel to do it. Listen; do you want to read this when
"Well, if you think so."
"Think so?--Carlyle's 'Revolution'? Of course you ought to! Adele,
isn't he ignorant?"
"I read that in High School," smiled Adele. "It's awfully good."
"Mis' Ban'ster," Aurora was at the door, "Hainy was cuttin' open the
chickens f' t'morrer, and she says one of 'em give an awful queer
sort of POP--!"
"Oh, for Heaven's sake!" Martie started kitchenward. John Dryden
gave a laugh of purest joy; Aurora was one of his delights. "We
always say we're going to read aloud in the evenings," she called
back. "Now here's a chance--a wet evening, and Adele and I with
oceans of sewing!"
She went from the kitchen upstairs, finding the various boarders
quietly congregating in the hall and parlour, awaiting the opening
of the dining-room door. Adele had gone up to her room, but Teddy
and John were roaming about. Rain still slashed and swished out of
doors. The winter was upon them.
"Seems to be such a smell of PAINT," said the younger Miss Peet.
"Well, that's just trying out the radiators," Martie said
hearteningly. "It won't last. Did you get caught?"
"Sister did; I got home just before it started. It seems to me we're
having rain early this year--"
"We had had two inches at this time last year," said old Colonel Fox.
Martie knew that this unpromising avenue would lead him immediately
to Chickamauga; she slipped into the dining room and began to carve.
Aurora was rushing about with butter-plates, her cousin Lyola,
engaged merely for the dinner-hour, was filling glasses. A moment
later the entire household assembled for the meal. Mrs. Fox, a
gentle, bony old lady, with clean, cool hands, and with a dowdy
little yoke of good lace in the neck of her old silk, smiled about
her sadly. Mrs. Winchell was a plump little woman who always burst
out laughing as a preliminary to speech. Her daughter was eye-
glassed, pretty, capable, a woman who realized perfectly, at twenty-
six, that she had no charm whatever for men. She realized, too, that
Mrs. Bannister, with her bronze hair and quick speech, was full of
it, and envied the younger woman in a bloodless sort of way. Her
brother, known as "Win," had already had a definite repulse from
Mrs. Bannister, and nothing was too bad for the snubbed suitor to
intimate about her in consequence. Win had never seen "this husband
of hers"; Win thought she looked "a little gay, all right." He had a
much more successful friendship with Adele, who slapped his hand and
told him he was the "limit."
To-night one of the clerks from the top floor, shaking out his
napkin, called gaily to Mrs. Bannister that this was his birthday.
It was characteristic of her kindly relationship that she came
immediately to his table. Now why hadn't he told her yesterday? He
should have had a cake, and chicken-pie, because he had once said
chicken was his favourite "insect." He was twenty-eight? He seemed
such a boy!
She went back to her place, determining that she would set out a
little supper of cake and crackers and cheese for him to find when
his room-mate and he came in tired and wet from their theatre that
night. She looked at Teddy; would he keep a birthday in a boarding-
house some day with only the housekeeper to mother him?
"We're betting that you're younger than I am, Mrs. Bannister!"
"You win." She smiled at him frankly. "I'm not yet twenty-four!"
Martie was conscious of a little pang as she met his surprised
almost pitying look.
"I think that talk about ages was just a little undignified," said
Edna Winchell later that night.
"Yes, I do, too!" her mother answered quickly.
"There's something about that girl we don't understand, you bet,"
contributed the son. "When I went down for a match she was just
getting a special delivery letter, and she looked as if she was
going to drop. You mark my words--it had something to do with that
mysterious husband of hers!"
For the boarding-house had never seen Wallace, who held the whole
place in bitter scorn. He resented the fact of Martie's position
there; the fact of her having made herself useful to old Mrs. Curley
represented a difference in their point of view. When, in Teddy's
first year, regular letters and a regular remittance from Wallace
ceased to appear, Martie had gone through an absolute agony of
worry. Her husband was then on the road, and she was not even sure
that her letters reached him.
Alone except for the baby, in the freezing, silent cold of the city,
she had pondered, planned, and fretted for day after weary day. The
one or two acquaintances she had made in Wallace's profession would
have advised her not to worry, nobody ever was turned out for board
in these days. But Martie was too proud to appeal to them for
counsel, and for other but even stronger reasons she could not
confide in Mrs. Curley. So passed the first Christmas alone, doubly
sad because it reminded her of the Christmas a year before, when
they had been so happy and so prosperous in San Francisco.
In snowy February, however, Mrs. Curley herself had unconsciously
offered a solution. She wanted to go to her daughter in Brooklyn for
a fortnight. "Run the house for me, that's the good girl," she said
to Martie. "You can do it as good as I can, any day of the world!
Aurora knows what the menus for the week are and all you've got to
do is to do the ordering and show the rooms to folks that come
looking for them."
Martie had been feeling a little more comfortable about her overdue
board, because Wallace, playing in stock in Los Angeles, had sent
her one hundred dollars early in the year. It was not enough, but it
sufficed to pay a comfortable installment on her bill, and to keep
her in money for another week or two. But she was sick of waiting
and worrying, and she seized the opportunity to be helpful. Chance
favoured her, for during the old woman's visit the daughter in
Brooklyn fell ill, and it was mid-March before the mother came home
again. By that time the trembling Martie had weathered several
storms, had rented the long-vacant front room, and was more brisk
and happy than she had been for months, than she had ever been
perhaps. So the arrangement drifted along. There was no talk of a
salary then, but in time Martie came to ask for such money as she
needed--for Teddy's rompers, for gingham dresses for summer, for
stationery and stamps--and it was always generously accorded.
"Get good things while you're about it," Mrs. Curley would say. "You
buy for the ragman when you buy trash. This lad here," she would
indicate the splendid Teddy, with his loose dark curls and his
creamy skin, "he wants to look elegant, so that the girls will run
Martie felt more free to obey her because the business was in a
steadily improving condition. This fancy for keeping a few "paying
guests" had become a sort of expensive luxury for the solitary
woman, whose children no longer needed her, and who would not live
with any of them. Mrs. Curley was not entirely dependent upon her
boarding-house, but she had never been reconciled to the actual loss
of money in the business. She liked to have other persons about, she
having no definite interests of her own, and the new arrangement
suited her perfectly: an attractive young woman to help her, a baby
to lend a familiar air to the table, and money enough to pay all
bills and have something left over.
Amazingly, the money flowed in. Martie told them one night at dinner
that she had always fancied a boarding-house was a place where a
slap-heeled woman climbed bleak stairs to tell starving geniuses
that their rent was overdue. Mrs. Curley had laughed comfortably at
"You can always make money feeding people," she had asserted. John
had given Martie a serious look after his laugh.
"Geniuses don't HAVE to starve," he had submitted thoughtfully.
"There's always plenty of work in the world, if people will do it!"
Adele had added. "Dear me, I often wonder if the people who talk
charity--charity--charity--realize that it's all two thirds laziness
and dirt. I don't care HOW poor I was, I know that I would keep my
little house nice; you don't have to have money to do that! But
you'll always hear this talk of the unemployed--when any employer
will tell you the hard thing is to get trustworthy men! The other
day Ethel was asking me to join some society or other--take tickets
for an actors' benefit, I think it was--and I begged to be excused.
I told her we didn't have any money to spare for that sort of thing!
Genius, indeed! Why don't they get jobs?"
"Jobs in a furniture store, eh, John?" Martie smiled. The man
answered her smile sturdily.
"It isn't so rotten!" he said.
Her letters to-night, for there were two in the special delivery
stamped envelope, were from Lydia and Sally. Sally had written often
to her sister during the years, and Martie was fairly in touch with
Monroe events: the young Hawkeses had three babies now, and Grace
had twins. Rose had been ill, and had lost her hopes a second time,
but she was well now, and she and Rodney had been to New York.
People said that the Parkers were coining money, and Rose had
absolutely everything she wanted. Colonel Frost was dead. Miss Frost
looked like death--Martie had smiled at the old phrase--and Grandma
Kelly was dead; Father Martin was quoted as saying that she was a
saint if ever there was one. George Patterson had been sued by a
girl in Berkeley, and Monroe was of the opinion that the Pattersons
never would hold up their heads again. Pa and Len were in some real
estate venture together, Len had talked Pa into it at last. And
finally, Sally and the children were well, and Joe wrote her every
This last sentence had puzzled Martie; where was Joe Hawkes then,
that he must write every day to his wife? She had intended to write
Sally in the old affectionate, confidential strain, and ask all the
questions that rose now and then in her thoughts of Monroe. But she
had not written for months, and now--now this.
She grasped the news in the tear-stained sheets at a first glance.
Her mother was dead. Martie repeated the words to herself with a
stupid realization that she could not grasp their meaning. The old
dark house in the sunken square would know that slender, gentle
presence no more. She had never felt the parting final; a chill wind
from some forgotten country smote her. Her mother was dead, her
child was growing up, her husband had failed her.
Sally's letter was brief, restrained, and tender. Martie could read
Sally's development in the motherly lines. But Lydia had written in
a sort of orgy of grief. Ma had "seemed like herself all Wednesday,"
and had gone with Lydia to see old Mrs. Mussoo, and had eaten her
dinner that night, and the next day, Thursday, she had come down as
usual to breakfast, and so on and on for ten long days, every hour
of which was treasured now in Lydia's heart. "And poor Pa," wrote
the older sister, "I must be all in all to him now; I never can
marry now. And oh, Martie, I couldn't help wishing, for your sake,
that you could feel that you had never, even as a thoughtless girl,
caused our dear angel an hour of grief and pain! You must say to
yourself that she forgave you and loved you through it all ..."
Martie made a wry mouth over the letter. But into the small hours of
the morning she lay awake, thinking of her mother and of the old
days. Odd little memories came to her: the saucer pies that she and
Sally used to have for their tea-parties, out under the lilac trees,
and a day when she, Martie, had been passionately concerned for the
fate of a sick cat, and had appealed to her mother for help. Mrs.
Monroe had been filling lamps, and her thin dark hands were oily and
streaked with soot, but she had been sympathetic about the kitten,
and on her advice the invalid had been wrapped in a clean cloth, and
laid tenderly on the heaps of soft, sweet, dying grass that had been
raked to one side of the lawn. Here kindly death had found the
kitten a little later, and Martie, cat and all, had climbed into her
mother's lap and cried. But she was not a little girl any longer--
she would never feel her mother's arms about her again.
The next day she received a box of roses, not remarkable roses,
inasmuch as they were rather small, of a solid red, and wired
heavily from the end of their sterns to the very flower. But the
enclosed note in which John Dryden said that he knew how hard it was
for her, and was as sorry as he could be, touched Martie. A far more
beautiful gift would not have gone to her heart quite so deeply as
did this cheap box and the damp card with its message smudged and
Through the long icy winter she began to feel, with a sense of vague
pain, that life was passing, that if she and Wallace were ever to
have that big, shadowy studio, that long-awaited time of informal
hospitality and financial ease, it must come soon. Her marriage was
already measured by years; yet she was still a child in Wallace's
hands. He could leave her thus bound and thus free; she was
helpless, and she began to chafe against the injustice of it. One
day she found, and rewrote her old article, filled with her own
resentful theories of a girl's need of commercial fitness. She sent
it to a magazine; it was almost immediately returned.
But the episode bore fruit, none the less. For, discussing it with
John, as she discussed everything with John, she was led to accept
his advice as to the appearance of the closely written sheets. It
would have a much better chance if it were typewritten, he assured
her. He carried it off to his stenographer.
This was in April, and as, with characteristic forgetfulness, he
failed to bring it back, Martie, chancing to pass his office one
day, determined to go in and get it for herself. She had never been
in John's place of business before. She went from the spring warmth
and dazzle of the street into the pleasant dimness of the big store
that smelled pleasantly of reedy things, wickerwork and carpets.
Three or four salesmen "swam out like trout" from the shadows to
meet her, she told John presently, evoking one of his bursts of
laughter. One of them called him, and Martie had a sensation of real
affection as he came down, his eager, faunlike face one radiant
smile. She spoke of the manuscript, but he hardly heard her. Where
could they talk?--he said concernedly. He glanced about; his face
"I know! There's a set of five rooms just finished by our decorator
on the fourth floor; we'll go there!"
"But, John--truly I haven't but a minute!" Martie protested.
He did not hear her. He touched the elevator bell, and they went
The furnished suite was unbelievably lovely to Martie's unaccustomed
eyes. She wanted to exclaim over the rugs and chairs; John wanted to
talk. They wandered through the perfect rooms, laughing like happy
"I came down to get some things for to-morrow--Teddy needs a straw
hat, if we're really going to Coney"--Martie found his steady look a
little confusing. "You like my pongee, and my four-dollar hat?" she
"I think you're PERFECTLY--GORGEOUS!" he answered intensely. "To
have you come in here like this!--I had no idea of it! Brewer simply
came and said 'a lady'--I thought it was that woman from the hotel.
I'll never forget the instant my eyes fell upon you, standing there
by old Pitcher. It--honestly, Martie, it seemed to me like a burst
"Why--you goose!" she said, a little shaken. The circumstance of
their being here, in this exquisite semblance of domestic comfort,
the sweet summer day, the new flowery hat and cool pongee gown,
combined to stir her blood. She forgot everything but that she was
young, and that it was strangely thrilling to have this man, so
ardent and so forceful, standing close beside her.
It was almost with a sense of relief, a second later, that she
realized that other groups were drifting through the little
apartment, that she and John were not alone. She remembered, with a
strange, poignant contraction of her heart, the expression in his
eyes as they met, the authoritative finger with which he had touched
the elevator bell.
John spoke appreciatively of her visit that night at the table;
Adele said that Martie had told her of it.
"I was going down town with her," said Adele, playing idly with
knife and fork. "But I got started on that disgusting centrepiece
again, and Ethel came in, and we just sewed. I'm so sick of the
thing now I told Miriam I was going to give it to her and let her
finish it herself--I'll have to go down town Monday and match the
silk anyway; it's too maddening, for there's just that one leaf to
do, but I might as well keep AT it, and get RID of it! If we go to
Coney to-morrow I believe I'll take it along, and go on with it; I
suppose it would look funny, but I don't know why not. Ethel went to
Coney last week with the Youngers in their auto; she said it was a
perfect scream all the way; Tom WOULD pass everything on the road,
and she said it was a scream! She says Mrs. Younger talks about
herself and her house and her servants all the time, and she
wouldn't get out of the car, so it wasn't much fun. I asked her why
she wouldn't get out of the car, and she said her complexion. I
didn't see anything so remarkable about it myself; anyway, if you
rub plenty of cream in--I'm going to do that to-morrow, Martie, and
you ought to!--and then wear a veil, I don't mean too heavy a veil,
but just to keep your hat tight, why, you don't burn!"
"Both you girls come down town Monday, and I'll show you a rug worth
fifty thousand dollars," suggested John.
"Oh, thank you, dear!" Adele said in bright protest. "But if you
knew what I've got to do Monday! I'm going to have my linen fitted,
and I'm going in to see the doctor about that funny, giddy feeling
I've had twice. And Miriam wants me to look at hats with her. I'll
be simply dead. Miriam and I will get a bite somewhere; we're dying
to try the fifty-cent lunch at Shaftner's; they say it isn't so bad.
It'll be an awful day, to say nothing of being all tired out from
Coney. But I suppose I'll have to get through it."
She smiled resignedly at Martie. But Martie had fallen suddenly into
absent thought. She was thinking of the odd look on John's face as
he came forward in the pleasant dimness and coolness of the big
The next day they went duly to Coney Island; their last trip
together, as it chanced, and one of the most successful of their
many days in the parks or on the beaches. John, Martie, and Teddy
were equally filled with childish enthusiasm for the prospect, and
perhaps Adele liked as well her role of amused elder.
It was part of the pleasure for Martie to get up early, to slip off
to church in the soft, cool morning. The dreaming city, awaiting the
heat of the day, was already astir, churchgoers and holiday-makers
were at every crossing. Freshly washed sidewalks were drying,
enormous Sunday newspapers and bottles of cream waited in the
doorways. Fasting women, with contented faces, chatted in the bakery
and the dairy, and in the push-cart at the curb ice melted under a
carpet cover. It was going to be a scorcher--said the eager boys and
girls, starting off in holiday wear, coatless, gloveless, frantic to
be away. Little families were engineered to the surface cars, clean
small boys in scalloped blue wash suits, mother straining with the
lunch-basket, father carrying the white-coated baby and the
newspaper and the children's cheap coats.
Martie, kissing Teddy as a preliminary to her delayed breakfast,
came home to discuss the order of events. The route and the time
were primarily important: Teddy's bucket, John's camera, her own
watch, must not be forgotten. There were last words for Henny and
Aurora, good-byes for Grandma; then they were out in the Sunday
streets, and the day was before them!
John took charge of the child; Adele and Martie talked and laughed
together all the long trip. The extraordinary costumes of the boys
and girls about them, the sights that filled the streets, these and
a thousand other things were of fresh interest. Adele's costume was
"My gloves washed so beautifully; he said they would, but I didn't
believe him! My skirt doesn't look a bit too short, does it, Martie?
I put this old veil on, and then if we have dinner any place decent,
I'll change to the other. I wore these shoes, because I'll tell you
why: they only last one summer, anyway, and you might as well get
your wear out of them. Listen, does any powder show? I simply put it
on thick, because it does save you so. It's that dead white. I told
her I didn't have colour enough for it; she said I had a beautiful
colour--absurd, but I suppose they have to say those things!"
And Adele, her clear brown eyes looking anxiously from her slender
brown face, leaned toward Martie for inspection. Martie was always
reassuring. Adele looked lovely; she had her hat on just right.
At Coney Teddy played bare-legged in the warm sand. Adele had a
beach chair near by. She put on her glasses, and began her sewing;
later they would all read parts of the paper, changing and
exchanging constantly. Martie and John, beaming upon all the world,
joined the long lines that straggled into the bath-houses, got their
bundled suits and their gray towels, and followed the attendant
along the aisles that were echoing with the sound of human voices,
and running with the water from wet bathing-suits. Fifteen minutes
later they met again, still beaming, to cross under the damp, icy
shadow of the boardwalk, and come out, fairly dancing with high
spirits, upon the long, hot curve of the beach. The delicious touch
of warm sand under her stockinged feet, the sunlight beating upon
her glittering hair, Martie would run down the shore to the first
wheeling shallows of the Atlantic.
"Nothing I have ever done in my life is so wonderful as this!" she
shouted as the waves caught them, and carried them off their feet.
John swam well; Martie a little; neither could get enough of the
tumbling blue water.
Breathless, they presently joined Adele; Martie spreading her
glittering web of hair to dry, as she sat in the sand by the other
woman's chair; John stretched in the hot sand for a nap; Teddy
staggering to and fro with a dripping pail. They liked to keep a
little away from the crowd; a hundred feet away the footmarked sand
was littered with newspapers, cigarette-butts, gum-wrappers, and
empty paper-bags, the drowsing men and women were packed so close
that laughing girls and boys, going by in their bathing-suits, had
to weave a curving path up and down the beach.
Presently they had a hearty meal: soft-shell crabs fried brown, with
lemon and parsley, coffee ready-mixed with milk and sugar, sliced
tomatoes with raw onions, all served in cheap little bare rooms, at
scarred little bare tables, a hundred feet from the sea. Later came
the amusements: railways and flying-swings enjoyed simultaneously
with hot sausages and ice-cream cones.
Adele liked none of this so much as she liked to go up toward the
big hotels at about five o'clock, to find a table near the
boardwalk, and sit twirling her parasol, and watching the people
stream by. The costumes and the types were tirelessly entertaining.
At six they ordered sandwiches and beer, and Teddy had milk and
toast. The uniformed band, coming out into its pagoda, burst into a
brassy uproar, the sun sank, the tired crowd in its brilliant
colours surged slowly to and fro. Beyond all, the sea softly came
and went, waves broke and spread and formed again unendingly.
Martie felt that she would like to sit so forever, with her son's
soft, relaxed little body in her arms. To-night she did not analyze
the new emotion that John's glances, John's voice, John's quiet
solicitude for her comfort, had lent the day. Of course he liked
her; of course he admired her; that was a fact long recognized with
maternal amusement by Adele and herself. Of course he laughed at
her, but every one laughed at Martie when she chose to be humorous.
Let it go at that!
Sandy, sore, sleepy, and sunburned, they were presently in the
returning cars, all wilted New York returning with them. Teddy slept
soundly, sometimes in his mother's arms, sometimes in John's. It was
John who carried him up the steps of the Seventieth Street house at
A gentleman waiting to see Mrs. Bannister? Goodness, Aurora, why
didn't you ask Mrs. Curley to see him? Martie surrendered her loose
coat and hat to the maid, put a hand to her disordered hair.
Apologetic, smiling, she went into the parlour.
Wallace Bannister was waiting for her; she was in her husband's
"But, Wallace--Wallace--Wallace, what does it matter, dear? You
don't have to tell me all about it, all the sickness and failure and
bad luck! You're home again, now, and you've gotten back into your
own line, and that's all that matters!"
Thus Martie, laughing with lashes still wet. She understood, she
forgave; what else was a wife for? All that mattered was that he was
here, and was deep in new plans, he had a new part to work up, he
was to begin rehearsing next week, and the past was all a troubled
dream. Ah, this was worth while; this made up for it all!
Not quite a dream, for he seemed much older; the boyish bravado was
gone. He was stout, settled, curiously deliberate in manner. But
then she was older, too.
He answered her generous concession only with compliments. She had
grown handsome, by George, she had a stunning figure, she had a
stunning air! Martie laughed; she knew it was true.
He felt his old hatred for her employment at the boarding-house, and
she was as eager as he to launch into real housekeeping at last.
After the lonely years, it was wonderful to have a husband again! He
bought whatever she wanted, took her proudly about. She went with
him to his first rehearsals, finding the old stage atmosphere
strangely exhilarating. Adele was frankly jealous of this new
development, Martie saw and heard her as little as she noticed
John's silence and seriousness, and Mrs. Curley's dubious
A friend of Wallace proposed to sub-let them a furnished apartment
in East Twenty-sixth Street. Martie inspected it briefly, with eyes
too dazzled with dreams to see it truly.
She was not trained to business responsibility: she merely laughed
because her old employer was annoyed to have her housekeeper desert
her. After all, could there be a better reason for any move than
that one's husband wished it? Swiftly and gaily she snapped the ties
that bound her to the boarding-house.
There seemed to be plenty of money for teas and dinners: she stared
about the brightly lighted restaurants like an excited child.
Wallace was boisterously fond of his son, but he was too busy to be
much with Teddy, and he wanted his wife all day and every day. So
Martie engaged a housekeeper to take her place in the house, and a
little coloured girl to take care of Teddy, and devoted herself to
The flat in East Twenty-sixth Street was not what Martie's lonely
dreams had fashioned, but she accepted it with characteristic
courage and made it a home. She had hoped for something irregular,
old-fashioned: big rooms, picturesque windows, picturesque
inconveniences, interesting neighbours.
She found five rooms in a narrow, eight-story, brick apartment-
house; a narrow parlour with a cherry mantel and green tiles,
separated from a narrow bedroom by closed folding doors, a narrow,
long hall passing a dark little bathroom and the tiny dark room that
Teddy had, a small dining room finished in black wood and red paper,
and, wedged against it, a strip of kitchen.
These were small quarters after the airy bareness of the Curley
home, and they were additionally reduced in effect by the peculiar
taste their first occupant had shown in furnishing. The walls were
crowded with heavily framed pictures, coloured photographs of
children in livid pink and yellow gowns dancing to the music played
by draped ladies at grand pianos; kittens in hats, cheap prints of
nude figures, with ugly legends underneath. The chairs were of every
period ever sacrificed to flimsy reproduction: gilt, Mission, Louis
XIV, Pembroke, and old English oak. There were curtains, tassels,
fringes, and portieres everywhere, of cotton brocade, velours,
stencilled burlap, and "art" materials generally. There was a
Turkish corner, with a canopy, daggers, crescents, and cushions. The
bookcase in the parlour and the china cabinet in the dining room
were locked. The latter was so large, and the room it adorned so
small, that it stood at an angle, partly shutting out the light of
the one window. Every room except the parlour opened upon an air-
well, spoken of by the agent as "the court." The rent was fifty
dollars, and Wallace considered the place a bargain.
For the first day or two Martie laughed bravely at her surroundings,
finding in this vase or that picture cause for great amusement. She
promised herself that she would store some of these horrors, but
inasmuch as there was not a spare inch in the flat for storage, it
was decidedly simplest to leave them where they were. Wallace did
not mind them, and Wallace's happiness was her aim in life.
But, strangely, after the first excitement of his return was over, a
cool distaste descended upon her. Before the first weeks of the new
life were over, she found herself watching her husband with almost
hostile eyes. It must be wrong for a wife to feel so abysmal--so
overwhelming an indifference toward the man whose name she bore.
Wallace, weary with the moving, his collar off, his thick neck bare,
his big pale face streaked with drying perspiration, was her husband
after all. She was angry at herself for noticing that his sleek hair
was thinning, that the old look of something not fine was stamped
more deeply upon his face. She resolutely suppressed the deepening
resentment that grew under his kisses; kisses scented with alcohol.
Generations of unquestioning wives behind her, she sternly routed
the unbidden doubts, she deliberately put from her thoughts many
another disillusion as the days went by. She was a married woman
now, protected and busy; she must not dream like a romantic girl.
There was delightfully novel cooking to do; there was freedom from
hateful business responsibility. All beginnings were hard, she told
her shrinking soul; she was herself changed by the years; what
wonder that Wallace was changed?
Perhaps in his case it was less change than the logical development
of qualities that would have been distinctly discernible to clearer
eyes than hers in the very hour of their meeting. Wallace had always
drifted with the current, as he was drifting now. He would have been
as glad as she, had success come instead of failure; he did not even
now habitually neglect his work, nor habitually drink. It was merely
that his engagement was much less distinguished than he had told her
it was, his part was smaller, his pay smaller, and his chances of
promotion lessening with every year. He had never been a student of
life, nor interested in anything that did not touch his own comfort;
but in the first days of their love, days of youth and success and
plenty, Martie had been as frankly an egotist as he. His heaviness,
his lack of interest in what excited her, his general
unresponsiveness, came to her now more as a recollection than a
The farce in which he had a part really did prove fairly successful,
and his salary was steady and his hours comfortable until after the
new year. Then the run ended, and Wallace drifted for three or four
weeks that were full of deep anxiety for Martie.
When he was engaged again, in a vaudeville sketch that was booked
for a few weeks on one of the smaller circuits about New York, she
had some difficulty in making him attend rehearsals, and take his
part seriously. His friends were generally of the opinion that it
was beneath his art. His wife urged that "it might lead to
Wallace was amused at her concern. Actors never worked the whole
year round, he assured her. There was nothing doing in the
summertime, ever. Martie remarked, with a half-sorry laugh, that a
salary of one hundred dollars a week for ten weeks was less than
eighty-five dollars a month, and the same salary, if drawn for only
five weeks, came to something less than a living income.
"Don't worry!" Wallace said.
"Wallace, it's not for myself. It's for the--the children. My dear!
If it wasn't for that, it would be a perfect delight to me to take
luck just as it came, go to Texas or Canada with you, work up parts
myself!" she would answer eagerly. She wanted to be a good wife to
him, to give him just what all men wanted in their wives. But under
all her bravery lurked a sick sense of defeat. He never knew how
often he failed her.
And he was older. He was not far from forty, and his youth was gone.
He did not care for the little dishes Martie so happily prepared,
the salads and muffins, the eggs "en cocotte" and "suzette." He
wanted thick broiled steak, and fried potatoes, and coffee, and
nothing else. He slept late in the mornings, coming out frowsy-
headed in undershirt and trousers to breakfast at ten or eleven,
reading the paper while he ate, and scenting the room with thick
Martie waited on him, interrupting his reading with her chatter. She
would sit opposite him, watching the ham and eggs vanish, and the
coffee go in deep, appreciative gulps.
"How d'you feel, Wallie?"
"Oh, rotten. My head is the limit!"
"Too bad! More coffee?"
"Nope. Was that the kid banging this morning?"
"My dear, he was doing it just for the time it took me to snatch the
hammer away! I was so sorry!"
"Oh, that's all right." He would yawn. "Lord, I feel rotten!"
"Isn't it perhaps--drinking and smoking so much, Wallace?" Martie
might venture timidly.
"That has nothing to do with it!"
"But, Wallie, how do you know it hasn't?"
"Because I do know it!"
He would return to his paper, and Martie to her own thoughts. She
would yawn stupidly, when he yawned, in the warm, close air.
Sometimes she went into the tumbled bedrooms and put them in order,
gathering up towels and scattered garments. But usually Wallace did
not bathe until after his breakfast, and nothing could be done until
that was over. Equally, Martie's affairs kitchenward were delayed;
sometimes Wallace's rolls were still warming in the oven when she
put in Teddy's luncheon potato to bake. The groceries ordered by
telephone would arrive, and be piled over the unwashed dishes on the
table, the frying pan burned dry over and over again.
After Teddy and his mother had lunched, if Wallace was free, they
all went out together. He was devoted to the boy, and broke
ruthlessly into his little schedule of hours and meals for his own
amusement. Or he and Martie went alone to a matinee. But when he was
playing in vaudeville, even if he lived at home, he must be at the
theatre at four and at nine. Often on Sunday afternoons he went out
to meet his friends, to drift about the theatrical clubs and hotels,
and dine away from home.
Then Martie would take Teddy out, happy times for both. They went to
the library, to the museums, to the aquarium and the Zoo. Martie
came to love the second-hand book-stores, where she could get George
Eliot's novels for ten cents each, a complete Shakespeare for
twenty-five. She drank in the passing panorama of the streets: the
dripping "L" stations, the light of the chestnut dealer, a blowing
flame in the cold and dark, the dirty powder of snow blowing along
icy sidewalks, and the newspapers weighted down at corner stands
with pennies lying here and there in informal exchange. Cold, rosy
faces poured into the subway hoods, warm, pale faces poured out, wet
feet slipped on the frozen rubbish of the sidewalks, little
salesgirls gossiped cheerfully as they dangled on straps in the
Often Martie and Teddy had their supper at Childs', in the clean
warm brightness of marble and nickel-plate. Teddy knew their
waitress and chattered eagerly over his rice and milk. Martie had a
sandwich and coffee, watching the shabby fingers that fumbled for
five-cent tips, the anxious eyes studying the bill-of-fare, the pale
little working-women who favoured a supper of butter cakes and lemon
meringue pie after the hard day.
She would go home to find the breakfast dishes waiting, the beds
unmade, the bathroom still steamed from Wallace's ablutions. Teddy
tucked away for the night, she would dream over a half-sensed book.
Why make the bed she was so soon to get into? Why wash the dishes
now rather than wait until she was in her comfortable wrapper? She
went back to her old habit of nibbling candy as she read.
The jolly little Bohemian suppers she had foreseen never became a
reality. Wallace hated cheap food; he was done with little
restaurants, he said. More than that, among his friends there did
not seem to be any of those simple, busy, gifted artists to whose
acquaintance Martie had looked forward. The more distinguished
members of his company he hardly knew; the others were semi-
successful men like himself, women too poor and too busy to waste
time or money, or other women of a more or less recognized looseness
of morals. Martie detested them, their cologne, their boasting,
their insinuations as to the personal lives of every actor or
actress who might be mentioned. They had no reserves, no respect for
love or marriage or parenthood; they told stories entirely beyond
her understanding, and went about eating, drinking, dressing, and
dancing as if these things were all the business of life.
Wallace's favourite hospitality was extended to six silent,
overdressed, genial male friends, known as "the crowd." These he
frequently asked to dinner on Sunday nights, a hard game of poker
always following. Martie did not play, but she liked to watch her
husband's hands, and during this winter he attributed his phenomenal
good luck to her. He never lost, and he always parted generously
with such sums as he won. He loved his luck; the envious comments of
the other players delighted him; the good dinner, and the presence
of his beautiful wife always put him in his best mood. They called
him "Three deuces Wallie," and Martie's remark that his weight was
also "Two--two--two" passed for wit.
She took his winnings without shame. It was to take them, indeed,
that she endured the long, silent evening, with its incessant
muttering and shuffling and slapping of cards. The gas whined and
rasped above their heads, the air grew close and heavy with smoke.
Ash-trays were loaded with the stumps and ashes of cigars; sticky
beer glasses ringed the bare table. But Martie stuck to her post. At
one o'clock it would all be over, and Wallace, carrying a glass of
whisky-and-soda to his room, would be undressing between violent
yawns and amused recollections.
"Some of that comes to me, Wallie. I have the rent coming this
"Sure. Take all you want, old girl. You're tired, aren't you?"
"Tired and cold." Martie's circulation was not good now, and she
knew why. Her meals had lost their interest, and sometimes even
Teddy's claims were neglected. She was sleepy, tired, heavy all the
time. "When I see a spoon lying on the dining-room floor, and
realize that it will lie there until I pick it up I could scream!"
she told Wallace.
"It's a shame, poor old girl!"
"Oh, no--it's all right." She would blink back the tears. "I'm not
But she was sorry and afraid. She resented Wallace's easy sympathy,
resented the doctor's advice to rest, not to worry, his mild
observation that a good deal of discomfort was inevitable.
Early in the new year she began to agitate the question of a dinner
to the Drydens. Wallace, who had taken a fancy to Adele, agreed
lazily to endure John's company, which he did not enjoy, for one
evening. But he obstinately overruled Martie on the subject of a
dinner at home.
"Nix," said Wallace flatly. "I won't have my wife cooking for
"But Wallace--just grape-fruit and broilers and a salad! And they'll
come out and help cook it. You don't know how informally we did
things at Grandma's!"
"Well, you're not doing things informally now. It would be different
if you had a couple of servants!"
"But it may be years before we have a couple of servants. Aren't we
ever going to entertain, until then?"
"I don't know anything about that. But I tell you I won't have them
thinking that we're hard up. I'll take them to a restaurant
somewhere, and show that little boob a square meal!"
He finally selected an oppressively magnificent restaurant where a
dollar-and-a-half table-d'hote dinner was served.
"But I'd like to blow them to a real dinner!" he regretted.
"Oh, Wallace, I'm not trying to impress them! We'll have more than
enough to eat, and music, and a talk. Then we can break up at about
ten, and we'll have done the decent thing!"
The four were to meet at half-past six, but both Adele and Wallace
were late, and John and Martie had half an hour's talk while they
waited. Martie fairly bubbled in her joy at the chance to speak of
books and poems, ideals and reforms again. She told him frankly and
happily that she had missed him; she had wanted to see him so many
times! And he looked tired; he had had grippe?
"Always motherly!" he said, a smile on the strange mouth, but no
corresponding smile in the faunlike eyes.
Wallace arrived in a bad mood, as Martie instantly perceived. But
Adele, radiant in a new hat, was prettily concerned for his cold and
fatigue, and they were quickly escorted to a table near the
fountain, and supplied with cocktails. Cheered, Wallace demanded the
bill-of-fare, "the table-d'hote, Handsome!" said he to the
The man lowered his head and murmured obsequiously. The table-d'hote
dinner was served only on the balcony, sir.
This caused a halt in the rising gaiety. The group looked a little
blank. They were established here, the ladies had surrendered their
wraps, envious late-comers were eying their table. Still Martie did
not hesitate. She straightened back in her chair, and pushed her
hands at full length upon the table, preliminary to rising.
"Then we'll go up!" she said sensibly. But Wallace demurred. What
was the difference! They would stay here.
The difference proved to be about twenty dollars.
"I hope it was worth it to you!" Wallace said bitterly to his wife
at breakfast the next day. "Twenty-six dollars the check was. It was
worth about twenty-six cents to me!"
"But, Wallie, you didn't have to order wine!"
"I didn't expect to order it, and if that boob had had the sense to
know it, it was up to him to pay for it!"
"Why, he's a perfect babe-in-the-woods about such things, Wallie!
And none of us wanted it!" Martie tried to speak quietly, but at the
memory of the night before her anger began to smoulder. Wallace had
deliberately urged the ordering of wine, John quite as innocently
disclaimed it. Adele had laughed that she could always manage a
glass of champagne; Martie had merely murmured, "But we don't need
it, Wallie; we've had so much now!"
"We couldn't sit there holding that table down all evening," Wallace
said now. Martie with a great effort kept silence. Opening his
paper, her husband finished the subject sharply. "I want to tell you
right now, Mart, that with me ordering the dinner, it was up to him
to pay for the wine! Any man would know that! Ask any one of the
crowd. He's a boob, that's all, and I'm done with him!"
Martie rose, and went quietly into the kitchen. There was nothing to
say. She did not speak of the Drydens again for a long while. Her
own condition engrossed her; and she was not eager to take the
initiative in hospitality or anything else.
In April Wallace went on the road again for eleven weeks, and Martie
and Ted enjoyed a delicious spring together. They spent hours on the
omnibuses, hours in the parks. Spring in the West was cold, erratic;
spring here came with what a heavenly wash of fragrance and heat! It
was like a re-birth to abandon all the heavy clothing of the winter,
to send Teddy dancing into the sunshine in socks and galatea and
straw hat again!
Martie's son was almost painfully dear to her. Every hour of his
life, from the helpless days in the big hospital, through creeping
and stammering and stumbling, she had clung to his little phases
with hungry adoration, and that there was a deep sympathy between
their two natures she came to feel more strongly every day. They
talked confidentially together, his little body jolting against hers
on the jolting omnibus, or leaning against her knees as she sat in
the Park. She lingered in the lonely evening over the ceremony of
his bath, his undressing, his prayers, and the romping that was
always the last thing. For his sake, her love went out to meet the
newcomer; another soft little Teddy to watch and bathe and rock to
sleep; the reign of double-gowns and safety-pins and bottles again!
Writing Wallace one of the gossipy, detailed letters that
acknowledged his irregular checks, she said that they must move in
the fall. They really, truly needed a better neighbourhood, a better
nursery for "the children."
One hot, heavy July morning she fell into serious musing over the
news of Grandma Curley's death. Her son, a spoiled idler of forty,
inherited the business. He wanted to know if Mrs. Bannister could
come back. The house had never prospered so well as under her
management. She could make her own terms.
The sun was pouring into East Twenty-sixth Street, flashing an ugly
glaring reflection against the awnings. At nine, the day was burning
hot. Teddy, promised a trip to the Zoo, was loitering on the shady
steps of the houses opposite, conscious of clean clothes, and of a
holiday mood. The street was empty; a hurdy-gurdy unseen poured
forth a brassy flood of sound. Trains, on the elevated road at the
corner, crashed by. Martie had been packing a lunch; she went slowly
back to the cut loaf and the rapidly softening butter.
"Happy, Teddy?" she asked, when they had found seats in the train,
and were rushing over the baking stillness of the city.
"Are you, Moth'?" he asked quickly.
She nodded, smiling. But, for some reasons vaguely defined, she was
heavy-hearted. The city's endless drama of squalor and pain was all
about her; she could not understand, she could not help, she could
not even lift her own little problem out of the great total of
failures! All day long the sense of impotence assailed her.
Wallace was at home, when they came back, heavily asleep across his
bed. Martie, with firmly shut lips, helped him into bed, and made
the strong coffee for which he longed. After drinking it, he gave
her a resentful, painstaking account of his unexpected return. His
face was flushed, his voice thick. She gathered that he had lost his
"He came right up to me before Young, d'ye see? He put it up to me.
'Nelson,' I says, 'Nelson, this isn't a straight deal!' I says. 'My
stuff is my stuff,' I says, 'but this is something else again.'
'Wallie,' he says, 'that may be right, too. But listen,' he says. I
says, 'I'm going to do damn little listening to you or Young!' I
says, 'Cut that talk about my missing rehearsals--'"
The menacing, appealing voice went on and on. Martie watched him in
something far beyond scorn or shame. He had not shaved recently, his
face was blotched.
"What else could I do, Mart?" he asked presently. She answered with
a long sigh:
"Nothing, I suppose, Wallace."
After a while he slept heavily. The afternoon was brassy hot. Women
manipulated creaking clotheslines across the long double row of
backyards; the day died on a long, gasping twilight. Martie let
Teddy go to the candy store for ten cents' worth of ice cream for
his supper. She made herself iced tea, and deliberately forced
herself to read. To-night she would not think. After a while she
wrote her letter of regret to George Curley.
The situation was far from desperate, after all. Wallace had a
headache the next day, but on the day after that he shaved and
dressed carefully, assured his wife that this experience should be
the last of its type, and began to look for an engagement. He had
some money, and he insisted upon buying her a thin, dark gown, loose
and cool. He carried Teddy off for whole afternoons, leaving Martie
to doze, read, and rest; and learning that she still had a bank
account of something more than three hundred dollars--left from
poker games and from her old bank account--she engaged a stupid,
good-natured coloured girl to do the heavy work. Isabeau Eato was
willing and strong, and for three dollars a week she did an
unbelievable amount of drudgery. Martie felt herself fortunate, and
listened to the crash of dishes, the running of water, and the swish
of Isabeau's broom with absolute satisfaction.
One broiling afternoon she was trying to read in the darkened dining
room. Heat was beating against the prostrate city in metallic waves,
but since noon there had been occasional distant flashes toward the
west, and faint rumblings that predicted the coming storm. In an
hour or two the streets would be awash, and white hats and flimsy
gowns flying toward shelter; meanwhile, there was only endurance.
She could only breathe the motionless leaden air, smell the dry,
stale odours of the house, and listen to the thundering drays and
cars in the streets.
Wallace had gone to Yonkers to see a moving picture manager; Isabeau
had taken Teddy with her on a trip to the Park. Sitting back in a
deep chair, with her back to the dazzling light of the window,
Martie closed her book, shut her eyes, and fell into a reverie.
Expense, pain, weakness, helplessness; she dreaded them all. She
dreaded the doctor, the hospital, the brisk, indifferent nurses; she
hated above all the puzzled realization that all this cost to her
was so wasted; Wallace was not sorry for the child's coming, nor was
she; that was all. No one was glad. No one praised her for the slow
loss of days and nights, for dependence, pain, and care. Her
children might live to comfort her; they might not. She had been no
particular comfort to her own father--her own mother--
Tears slipped through her closed lids, and for a moment her lips
quivered. She struggled half-angrily for self-control, and opened
"Martie?" said a voice from the doorway. She looked up to see John
Dryden standing there.
The sight of the familiar crooked smile, and the half-daring, half-
bashful eyes, stirred her heart with keen longing; she needed
friendship, sympathy, understanding so desperately! She clung
eagerly to his hands.
He sat down beside her, and rumpled his hair in furious
embarrassment and excitement, studying her with a wistful and
puzzled smile. She did not realize how her pale face, loosely massed
hair, and black-rimmed eyes impressed him.
"John! I am so glad! Tell me everything; how are you, and how's
Adele was well. He was well. His wife's sister, Mrs. Baker of
Browning, Indiana, was visiting them. Things were much the same at
the office. He had not been reading anything particularly good.
She laughed at his sparse information.
"But, John--talk! Have you been to any lectures lately? What have
you been doing?" she demanded.
"I've been thinking for days of what we should talk about when we
saw each other," he said, laughing excitedly. "But now that I'm here
I can't remember them!"
The sense his presence always gave her, of being at ease, of being
happily understood, was enveloping Martie. She was as comfortable
with John as she might have been with Sally, as sure of his
affection and interest. She suddenly realized that she had missed
John of late, without quite knowing what it was she missed.
"You're going on with your writing, John?"
"Oh"--he rumpled his hair again--"what's the use?"
"Why, that's no way to talk. Aren't you doing ANYTHING?"
"Not much," he grinned boyishly.
"But, John, that's sheer laziness! How do you ever expect to get out
of the groove, if you don't make a start?"
"Oh, damn it all, Martie," he said mildly, with a whimsical smile,
"what's the use? I suppose there isn't a furniture clerk in the city
that doesn't feel he is fit for great things!"
"You didn't talk like this last year," Martie said, in
disappointment and reproach. John looked at her uneasily, and then
"Sweet." Martie laid one hand on her breast, and drew a short,
stifled breath. "Isn't it fearful?" she said, of the heat.
John nodded absently: she knew him singularly unaffected by anything
so trivial as mere heat or cold. He was fingering a magazine
carelessly, suddenly he flung it aside.
"I am writing something, of course!" he confessed. "But it seems
sort of rotten, to me."
"But I'm glad!" she said, with shining eyes.
"I work at it in the office," John added. "And what is it?"
"You know what it is: you suggested it!"
"You said it would make a good play."
Martie's thin cheek dimpled, she widened her eyes.
"I don't remember!"
"It was when I was reading Strickland's 'Queens.' You said that this
one's life would make a good play."
"Oh, I do dimly remember!" She knotted her brows. "Mary--Mary
Isabelle--an Italian girl?--wasn't it?"
"Mary Beatrice," he corrected simply.
"Of course! And does it work up pretty well?"
"How much have you done, John?"
"Oh, not much!"
"Oh, John, for heaven's sake--you will drive me insane!" she laughed
joyously, laying her hand over his. "Tell me about it." She laughed
again when he drew some crumpled pages from his pocket. But he was
presently garrulous, sketching his plan to her, reading a passage
here and there, firing her with his own interest and delight. He had
as little thought of boring her as she of being bored, they fled
together from the noise and heat of the city, and trod the Dover
sands, and rode triumphant into the old city of London at the King's
"I'm not a judge--I wish I was," she said finally. "But it seems to
He silently folded the sheets, and put them away. Glancing at his
face, she saw that its thoughtful look was almost stern. Martie
wondered if she had said something to offend him.
When he sat down beside her again, she again laid her hand on his.
"What is it, John?" she asked anxiously.
"Nothing!" he said, with a brief glance and smile.
"I've made you cross?"
"You!" His dark gaze was on the floor, his hands locked. For a full
minute there was silence in the room. Then he looked up at her with
a disturbing smile. "I am human, Martie," he said simply.
The note was so new in their relationship that Martie's heart began
to hammer with astonishment and with a curious thrilling pleasure.
There was nothing for her to say. She could hardly believe that he
knew what he implied, or that she construed the words aright. He was
so different from all other men, so strangely old in many ways, so
boyish in others. A little frightened, she smiled at him in silence.
But he did not raise his eyes to meet her look.
"I did not think that when I was thirty I would be a clerk in a
furniture house, Martie!" he said sombrely, after awhile.
"You may not be!" she reminded him hearteningly. And presently she
added: "I did not think that I would be a poor man's wife on the
upper East Side!"
He looked up then with a quick smile.
"Isn't it the deuce?" he asked.
"Life is queer!" Martie said, shrugging.
"I was up in Connecticut last week," John said, "and I'll tell you
what I saw there. I went up to that neighbourhood to buy some old
furniture for an order we were filling--I was there only a few
hours. I found a little old white house, on a river bank, with big
trees over it. It was on a foundation of old stones, that had been
painted white, and there was an orchard, with a stone wall. The man
wanted eighteen hundred dollars for it."
"Is THAT all?" Martie asked, amazed.
"That's all. I sat there and talked to him for awhile."
"Well?" said Martie, as he stopped.
"Well, nothing," he answered, after a moment's pause. "Only I've
been thinking about it ever since--what it would be to live there,
and write, and walk about that little farm! Funny, isn't it?
Eighteen hundred dollars--not much, only I'll never have it. And you
are another poor man's wife--only not mine! Do you believe in God?"
"You know I do!" she answered, laughing, but a little shaken by his
"You think GOD manages things this way?"
"John, don't talk like a high school boy!"
"I suppose it sounds that way," he said mildly, and he rose suddenly
from his chair. "Well, I have to go!" He looked at her keenly. "But
you don't look very well, Martie," he said. "You've no colour at
all. Is it the weather?"
"John, what a baby you are!" But Martie was amazed, under her flush
of laughter, at his simplicity. Could it be possible that he did not
know? "I am expecting something very precious here one of these
days," she said. He looked at her with a polite smile, entirely
uncomprehending. "Surely you know that we--that I--am going to have
another baby, John?" she asked.
She saw the muscles of his face stiffen, and the blood rise. He
looked at her steadily. A curious silence hung between them.
"Didn't you know?" Martie pursued lightly.
"No," he said at last thickly, "I didn't know." He gave her a look
almost frightening in its wildness; shot to the heart, he might have
managed just such a smile. He made a frantic gesture with his hands.
"Of course--" he said at random. "Of course--a baby!" He walked
across the room to look at a picture on the wall. "That's rather--
pretty!" he said in a suffocating voice. Suddenly he came back, and
sat close beside her; his face was pale. "Martie," he said
pitifully, "it's dangerous for you--you're not strong, and if you--
if you die, you know---You look pale now, and you're so thin. I
don't know anything about it, but I wish it was over!"
Tears sprang to Martie's eyes, but they were tears of exquisite joy.
She laid a warm hand over his.
"Why, John, dear, there's no danger!"
"Isn't there?" he asked doubtfully.
"Not the least, you goose! I'm ever so glad and proud about it--
don't look so woe-begone!"
Their hands were tightly locked: her face was radiant as she smiled
up at him.
"It all works out, John--the furniture clerking, you know, and the
being poor, and all that!"
"Sure it does!"
"Other people have succeeded in spite of it, I mean, so why not you
"Of course, they're not BORN rich and successful," he submitted
"Look at Lincoln--and Napoleon!" Martie said hardily.
John scowled down at the hand he held.
"Well, it's easier for some people than others," he stated firmly.
"Lincoln may have had to split rails for his supper--what DO you
split rails for, anyway?" he interrupted himself to ask, suddenly
"Fences, I guess!" Martie offered, on a gale of laughter.
"Well, whatever it was. But I don't see what they needed so many
fences for! But anyway, being poor or rich doesn't seem to matter
half as much as some other things! And now I'm going. Good-bye,
"And write me, John, and send me books!" she urged, as he turned
He was at the door: meditating with his hand on the knob, and his
back turned to her. Martie watched him, expecting some parting word.
But he did not even turn to smile a farewell. He let himself quietly
out without another glance, and was gone. A moment later she heard
the outer door close.
She sat on, in the darkening room, her book forgotten. The storm was
coming fast now. Women in the backyards were drawing in their
clothes-lines with a great creaking and rattling, and the first rush
of warm, sullen drops struck the dusty dining-room window. Curtains
streamed, and pictures on the wall stirred in the damp, warm wind.
Half an hour of furious musketry passed: blue dashes lighted the
room with an eerie splendour, thunder clapped and rolled; died away
toward the south as a fresh onslaught poured in from the north.
Martie heeded nothing. Her soul was wrapped in a deep peace, and as
the cooling air swept in, she dropped her tired head against the
chair's cushion, and drifted into a dream of river and orchard, and
of a white house set in green grass.
She knew that John would write her: she held the unopened envelope
in her fingers the next morning, a strange, sweet emotion at her
heart. The beautiful, odd handwriting, the cleanly chosen words,
these made the commonplace little note significant.
"Who's your letter from?" Wallace asked idly. She tossed it to him
unconcernedly: she had told him of John's call. "He must have a case
on you, Mart!" Wallace said indifferently.
"Well, in his curious way, perhaps he has," she answered honestly.
Ten days later she wrote him an answer. She thanked him for the
books, and announced that her daughter Margaret was just a week old,
and sent her love to Uncle John. Adele immediately sent baby roses
and a card to say that she was dying to see the baby, and would come
soon. She never came: but after that John wrote occasionally to
Martie, and she answered his notes. They did not try to meet.
Wallace was playing a few weeks' engagement in the vaudeville houses
of New Jersey and Brooklyn when his second child was born. He had
been at home for a few hours that morning, coming in for clean
linen, a good breakfast, and a talk with his wife. He was getting
fifty dollars a week, as support for a woman star, and was happy and
confident. The hard work--twelve performances a week--left small
time for idling or drinking, and Martie's eager praise added the
last touch to his content.
She was happy, too, as she walked back into the darkened, orderly
house. It was just noon. Isabeau, having finished her work, had
departed with Teddy to see a friend in West One Hundredth Street;
John had sent Martie Maeterlinck's "Life of the Bee," and a fat,
inviting brown book, "All the Days of My Life." She had planned to
go to the hospital next week, Wallace coming home on Sunday to act
as escort, and she determined to keep the larger book for the stupid
days of convalescence.
She stretched herself on the dining-room couch, reached for the
smaller book, and began to read. For a second, a look of surprise
crossed her face, and she paused. Then she found the opening
paragraph, and plunged into the story. But she had not read three
sentences before she stopped again.
Suddenly, in a panic, she was on her feet. Frightened, breathless,
laughing, she went into the kitchen.
"Isabeau out ... Heavenly day! What shall I do!" she whispered. "It
can't be! Fool that I was to let her go ... what SHALL I do!"
Life caught her and shook her like a helpless leaf in a whirlwind.
She went blindly into the bedroom and began feverishly to fling off
her outer garments. Presently she made her way back to the kitchen
again, and put her lips to the janitor's telephone.
Writhing seconds ensued. Finally she heard the shrill answering
"Mr. Kelly, is Mrs. Brice at home, do you know? Or Mrs. Napthaly?
This is Mrs. Bannister... I'm ill. Will you get somebody?"
She broke off abruptly; catching the back of a chair. Kelly was a
grandfather ... he would understand. But if somebody didn't come
It seemed hours; it was only minutes before the blessed sound of
waddling feet came to the bedroom door. Old Grandma Simons, Mrs.
Napthaly's mother, came in. Martie liked and Teddy loved the
shapeless, moustached old woman, who lived out obscure dim days in
the flat below, washing and dressing and feeding little black-eyed
grandchildren. Martie never saw her in anything but a baggy, spotted
black house-dress, but there were great gatherings and feasts
occasionally downstairs, and then presumably the adored old head of
the family was more suitably clad.
"Vell ... vot you try and do?" said Grandma Simons, grasping the
situation at once, and full of sympathy and approval.
"I don't know!" half-laughed, half-gasped Martie from the pillows.
"I'm awfully afraid my baby..." A spasm of pain brought her on one
elbow, to a raised position. "Oh, DON'T DO THAT!" she screamed.
"I do nothing!" said the old woman soothingly. And as Martie sank
back on the pillows, gasping and exhausted, yet with excited relief
brightening her face, Grandma Simons added triumphantly: "Now you
shall rest; you are a goot girl!"
A second later the thin cry with which the newborn catch the first
weary breath of an alien world floated through the room. Protesting,
raw, it fell on Martie's ears like the resolving chord of an
exquisite melody. Still breathless, still panting from strain and
fright, she smiled.
"Ah, the darling! Is he all right?" she whispered.
"You haf a girl!" the old woman interrupted her clucking and
grumbling to say briefly. "Vill you lay still, and let the old
Grandma fix you, or not vill you?" she added sternly. "Grandma who
has het elefen of dem...."
"Don't cry, little Margaret!" Martie murmured, happy under the
kindly adjusting old hands. The old woman stumped about composedly,
opening bureau drawers and scratching matches in the kitchen, before
she would condescend to telephone for the superfluous doctor. She
was pouring a flood of Yiddish endearments and diminutives about the
newcomer, when the surprised practitioner arrived. Mrs. Simons
scouted the idea of a nurse; she would come upstairs, her daughters
would come upstairs--what was it, one baby! Martie was allowed a
cupful of hot milk, and went to sleep with one arm about the flannel
bundle that was Margaret.
Well--she thought, drifting into happy dreams--of course, the
hospital was wonderful: the uniformed nurses, the system, the
sanitation. But this was wonderful, too. So many persons had to be
consulted, had to be involved, in the coming of a hospital baby; so
much time, so many different rooms and hallways.
The clock had not yet struck two; she had given Wallace his
breakfast at eleven, Isabeau would be home at five; Grandma had gone
downstairs to borrow some of the put-away clothes of the last little
Napthaly. Martie had nothing to do but smile and sleep. To-morrow,
perhaps, they would let her go on with "The Life of the Bee."
Peace lapped soul and body. The long-approaching trial was over. In
a few days she would arise, mistress of herself once more, and free
to remake her life.
First, they must move. Even if they could afford to pay six hundred
dollars a year in rent, this flat was neither convenient nor
sanitary for little children. Secondly, Wallace must understand that
while he worked and was sober, his wife would do her share; if he
failed her, she must find some other life. Thirdly, as soon as the
baby's claims made it possible, Martie must find some means of
making money; her own money, independent of what Wallace chose to
She pondered the various possibilities. She could open a boarding-
house; although that meant an outlay for furniture and rent. She
could take a course in library work or stenography; that meant
leaving the children all day.
She began to study advertisements in the newspapers for working
housekeepers, and one day wrote a businesslike application to the
company that controlled a line of fruit steamers between the city
and Panama. Mrs. Napthaly's sister-in-law was stewardess on one of
these, and had good pay. Short stories, film-plays, newspaper work--
other women did these things. But how had they begun?
"Begin at the beginning!" she said cheerfully to herself. The move
was the beginning. Through the cool autumn days she resolutely
hunted for flats. It was a wearisome task, especially when Wallace
accompanied her, for his tastes ran to expensive and vestibuled
apartments and fashionable streets. Martie sternly held to quiet
side streets, cut off from the city by the barriers of elevated
trains and the cheap shopping districts.
When she found what she wanted, she and Wallace had a bitter
struggle. He refused at first to consider four large bare shabby
rooms in a poor street, overlooking a coal-yard, and incidentally,
on the very bank of the East River. What cars went there, he
demanded indignantly; what sort of neighbours would they have? What
would their friends think!
Martie patiently argued her point. The neighbourhood, the east
fifties, if cheap and crowded, was necessarily quiet because the
wide street ended at the river. The rooms were on a first floor, and
so pleasantly accessible for baby and baby-carriage. The coalyard,
if not particularly pleasant, was not unwholesome; there was
sunshine in every room, and finally, the rent was eighteen dollars.
They must entertain their friends elsewhere.
She did not know then that what really won him was her youth and
beauty; the new brilliant colour, the blue, blue eyes, the revived
strength and charm of the whole, lovely woman. She put her arms
about him, and he kissed her and gave her her way.
Happily they went shopping. Martie had gathered some furniture in
her various housekeeping adventures; the rest must be bought. They
prowled through second-hand stores for the big things: beds, tables,
a "chestard" for Wallace. The cottage china, chintzes, net curtains,
and grass rugs were new. Martie conceded a plaster pipe-rack, set
with little Indian faces, to Wallace; her own extravagance was a
meat-chopper. Wallace got a cocktail shaker, and when the first
grocery order went in, gin and vermouth and whisky-were included.
Martie made their first meal a celebration, in the room that was
sitting-and dining-room combined, and tired and happy, they sat long
into the evening over the table, talking of the future.