Part 1 out of 4
WHAT DIANTHA DID
One may use the Old Man of the Sea,
For a partner or patron,
But helpless and hapless is he
Who is ridden, inextricably,
By a fond old mer-matron.
The Warden house was more impressive in appearance than its neighbors.
It had "grounds," instead of a yard or garden; it had wide pillared
porches and "galleries," showing southern antecedents; moreover, it had
a cupola, giving date to the building, and proof of the continuing
ambitions of the builders.
The stately mansion was covered with heavy flowering vines, also with
heavy mortgages. Mrs. Roscoe Warden and her four daughters reposed
peacefully under the vines, while Roscoe Warden, Jr., struggled
desperately under the mortgages.
A slender, languid lady was Mrs. Warden, wearing her thin but still
brown hair in "water-waves" over a pale high forehead. She was sitting
on a couch on the broad, rose-shaded porch, surrounded by billowing
masses of vari-colored worsted. It was her delight to purchase skein on
skein of soft, bright-hued wool, cut it all up into short lengths, tie
them together again in contrasting colors, and then crochet this hashed
rainbow into afghans of startling aspect. California does not call for
afghans to any great extent, but "they make such acceptable presents,"
Mrs. Warden declared, to those who questioned the purpose of her work;
and she continued to send them off, on Christmases, birthdays, and minor
weddings, in a stream of pillowy bundles. As they were accepted, they
must have been acceptable, and the stream flowed on.
Around her, among the gay blossoms and gayer wools, sat her four
daughters, variously intent. The mother, a poetic soul, had named them
musically and with dulcet rhymes: Madeline and Adeline were the two
eldest, Coraline and Doraline the two youngest. It had not occurred to
her until too late that those melodious terminations made it impossible
to call one daughter without calling two, and that "Lina" called them
"Mis' Immerjin," said a soft voice in the doorway, "dere pos'tively
ain't no butter in de house fer supper."
"No butter?" said Mrs. Warden, incredulously. "Why, Sukey, I'm sure we
had a tub sent up last--last Tuesday!"
"A week ago Tuesday, more likely, mother," suggested Dora.
"Nonsense, Dora! It was this week, wasn't it, girls?" The mother
appealed to them quite earnestly, as if the date of that tub's delivery
would furnish forth the supper-table; but none of the young ladies save
Dora had even a contradiction to offer.
"You know I never notice things," said the artistic Cora; and "the
de-lines," as their younger sisters called them, said nothing.
"I might borrow some o' Mis' Bell?" suggested Sukey; "dat's nearer 'n'
"Yes, do, Sukey," her mistress agreed. "It is so hot. But what have
you done with that tubful?"
"Why, some I tuk back to Mis' Bell for what I borrered befo'--I'm always
most careful to make return for what I borrers--and yo' know, Mis'
Warden, dat waffles and sweet potaters and cohn bread dey do take
butter; to say nothin' o' them little cakes you all likes so well--_an'_
de fried chicken, _an'_--"
"Never mind, Sukey; you go and present my compliments to Mrs. Bell, and
ask her for some; and be sure you return it promptly. Now, girls, don't
let me forget to tell Ross to send up another tub."
"We can't seem to remember any better than you can, mother," said
Adeline, dreamily. "Those details are so utterly uninteresting."
"I should think it was Sukey's business to tell him," said Madeline with
decision; while the "a-lines" kept silence this time.
"There! Sukey's gone!" Mrs. Warden suddenly remarked, watching the
stout figure moving heavily away under the pepper trees. "And I meant
to have asked her to make me a glass of shrub! Dora, dear, you run and
get it for mother."
Dora laid down her work, not too regretfully, and started off.
"That child is the most practical of any of you," said her mother; which
statement was tacitly accepted. It was not extravagant praise.
Dora poked about in the refrigerator for a bit of ice. She ho no idea
of the high cost of ice in that region--it came from "the store," like
all their provisions. It did not occur to her that fish and milk and
melons made a poor combination in flavor; or that the clammy,
sub-offensive smell was not the natural and necessary odor of
refrigerators. Neither did she think that a sunny corner of the back
porch near the chimney, though convenient, was an ill-selected spot for
a refrigerator. She couldn't find the ice-pick, so put a big piece of
ice in a towel and broke it on the edge of the sink; replaced the
largest fragment, used what she wanted, and left the rest to filter
slowly down through a mass of grease and tea-leaves; found the raspberry
vinegar, and made a very satisfactory beverage which her mother received
with grateful affection.
"Thank you, my darling," she said. "I wish you'd made a pitcherful."
"Why didn't you, Do?" her sisters demanded.
"You're too late," said Dora, hunting for her needle and then for her
thimble, and then for her twist; "but there's more in the kitchen."
"I'd rather go without than go into the kitchen," said Adeline; "I do
despise a kitchen." And this seemed to be the general sentiment; for no
"My mother always liked raspberry shrub," said Mrs. Warden; "and your
Aunt Leicester, and your Raymond cousins."
Mrs. Warden had a wide family circle, many beloved relatives,
"connections" of whom she was duly proud and "kin" in such widening
ramifications that even her carefully reared daughters lost track of
"You young people don't seem to care about your cousins at all!" pursued
their mother, somewhat severely, setting her glass on the railing, from
whence it was presently knocked off and broken.
"That's the fifth!" remarked Dora, under breath.
"Why should we, Ma?" inquired Cora. "We've never seen one of
them--except Madam Weatherstone!"
"We'll never forget _her!"_ said Madeline, with delicate decision,
laying down the silk necktie she was knitting for Roscoe. "What
_beautiful_ manners she had!"
"How rich is she, mother? Do you know?" asked Dora.
"Rich enough to do something for Roscoe, I'm sure, if she had a proper
family spirit," replied Mrs. Warden. "Her mother was own cousin to my
grandmother--one of the Virginia Paddingtons. Or she might do something
for you girls."
"I wish she would!" Adeline murmured, softly, her large eyes turned to
the horizon, her hands in her lap over the handkerchief she was marking
"Don't be ungrateful, Adeline," said her mother, firmly. "You have a
good home and a good brother; no girl ever had a better."
"But there is never anything going on," broke in Coraline, in a tone of
complaint; "no parties, no going away for vacations, no anything."
"Now, Cora, don't be discontented! You must not add a straw to dear
Roscoe's burdens," said her mother.
"Of course not, mother; I wouldn't for the world. I never saw her but
that once; and she wasn't very cordial. But, as you say, she might do
_something._ She might invite us to visit her."
"If she ever comes back again, I'm going to recite for her," said, Dora,
Her mother gazed fondly on her youngest. "I wish you could, dear," she
agreed. "I'm sure you have talent; and Madam Weatherstone would
recognize it. And Adeline's music too. And Cora's art. I am very
proud of my girls."
Cora sat where the light fell well upon her work. She was illuminating
a volume of poems, painting flowers on the margins, in appropriate
"I wonder if he'll care for it?" she said, laying down her brush and
holding the book at arm's length to get the effect.
"Of course he will!" answered her mother, warmly. "It is not only the
beauty of it, but the affection! How are you getting on, Dora?"
Dora was laboring at a task almost beyond her fourteen years, consisting
of a negligee shirt of outing flannel, upon the breast of which she was
embroidering a large, intricate design--for Roscoe. She was an
ambitious child, but apt to tire in the execution of her large projects.
"I guess it'll be done," she said, a little wearily. "What are you going
to give him, mother?"
"Another bath-robe; his old one is so worn. And nothing is too good for
"He's coming," said Adeline, who was still looking down the road; and
they all concealed their birthday work in haste.
A tall, straight young fellow, with an air of suddenly-faced maturity
upon him, opened the gate under the pepper trees and came toward them.
He had the finely molded features we see in portraits of handsome
ancestors, seeming to call for curling hair a little longish, and a rich
profusion of ruffled shirt. But his hair was sternly short, his shirt
severely plain, his proudly carried head spoke of effort rather than of
ease in its attitude.
Dora skipped to meet him, Cora descended a decorous step or two.
Madeline and Adeline, arm in arm, met him at the piazza edge, his mother
lifted her face.
"Well, mother, dear!" Affectionately he stooped and kissed her, and she
held his hand and stroked it lovingly. The sisters gathered about with
teasing affection, Dora poking in his coat-pocket for the stick candy
her father always used to bring her, and her brother still remembered.
"Aren't you home early, dear?" asked Mrs. Warden.
"Yes; I had a little headache"--he passed his hand over his
forehead--"and Joe can run the store till after supper, anyhow." They
flew to get him camphor, cologne, a menthol-pencil. Dora dragged forth
the wicker lounge. He was laid out carefully and fanned and fussed over
till his mother drove them all away.
"Now, just rest," she said. "It's an hour to supper time yet!" And she
covered him with her latest completed afghan, gathering up and carrying
away the incomplete one and its tumultuous constituents.
He was glad of the quiet, the fresh, sweet air, the smell of flowers
instead of the smell of molasses and cheese, soap and sulphur matches.
But the headache did not stop, nor the worry that caused it. He loved
his mother, he loved his sisters, he loved their home, but he did not
love the grocery business which had fallen so unexpectedly upon him at
his father's death, nor the load of debt which fell with it.
That they need never have had so large a "place" to "keep up" did not
occur to him. He had lived there most of his life, and it was home.
That the expenses of running the household were three times what they
needed to be, he did not know. His father had not questioned their
style of living, nor did he. That a family of five women might, between
them, do the work of the house, he did not even consider.
Mrs. Warden's health was never good, and since her husband's death she
had made daily use of many afghans on the many lounges of the house.
Madeline was "delicate," and Adeline was "frail"; Cora was "nervous,"
Dora was "only a child." So black Sukey and her husband Jonah did the
work of the place, so far as it was done; and Mrs. Warden held it a
miracle of management that she could "do with one servant," and the
height of womanly devotion on her daughters' part that they dusted the
parlor and arranged the flowers.
Roscoe shut his eyes and tried to rest, but his problem beset him
ruthlessly. There was the store--their one and only source of income.
There was the house, a steady, large expense. There were five women to
clothe and keep contented, beside himself. There was the unappeasable
demand of the mortgage--and there was Diantha.
When Mr. Warden died, some four years previously, Roscoe was a lad of
about twenty, just home from college, full of dreams of great service to
the world in science, expecting to go back for his doctor's degree next
year. Instead of which the older man had suddenly dropped beneath the
burden he had carried with such visible happiness and pride, such
unknown anxiety and straining effort; and the younger one had to step
into the harness on the spot.
He was brave, capable, wholly loyal to his mother and sisters, reared in
the traditions of older days as to a man's duty toward women. In his
first grief for his father, and the ready pride with which he undertook
to fill his place, he had not in the least estimated the weight of care
he was to carry, nor the time that he must carry it. A year, a year or
two, a few years, he told himself, as they passed, and he would make
more money; the girls, of course, would marry; he could "retire" in time
and take up his scientific work again. Then--there was Diantha.
When he found he loved this young neighbor of theirs, and that she loved
him, the first flush of happiness made all life look easier. They had
been engaged six months--and it was beginning to dawn upon the young man
that it might be six years--or sixteen years--before he could marry.
He could not sell the business--and if he could, he knew of no better
way to take care of his family. The girls did not marry, and even when
they did, he had figured this out to a dreary certainty, he would still
not be free. To pay the mortgages off, and keep up the house, even
without his sisters, would require all the money the store would bring
in for some six years ahead. The young man set his teeth hard and
turned his head sharply toward the road.
And there was Diantha.
She stood at the gate and smiled at him. He sprang to his feet,
headacheless for the moment, and joined her. Mrs. Warden, from the
lounge by her bedroom window, saw them move off together, and sighed.
"Poor Roscoe!" she said to herself. "It is very hard for him. But he
carries his difficulties nobly. He is a son to be proud of." And she
wept a little.
Diantha slipped her hand in his offered arm--he clasped it warmly with
his, and they walked along together.
"You won't come in and see mother and the girls?"
"No, thank you; not this time. I must get home and get supper.
Besides, I'd rather see just you."
He felt it a pity that there were so many houses along the road here,
but squeezed her hand, anyhow.
She looked at him keenly. "Headache?" she asked.
"Yes; it's nothing; it's gone already."
"Worry?" she asked.
"Yes, I suppose it is," he answered. "But I ought not to worry. I've
got a good home, a good mother, good sisters, and--you!" And he took
advantage of a high hedge and an empty lot on either side of them.
Diantha returned his kiss affectionately enough, but seemed preoccupied,
and walked in silence till he asked her what she was thinking about.
"About you, of course," she answered, brightly. "There are things I want
to say; and yet--I ought not to."
"You can say anything on earth to me," he answered.
"You are twenty-four," she began, musingly.
"Admitted at once."
"And I'm twenty-one and a half."
"That's no such awful revelation, surely!"
"And we've been engaged ever since my birthday," the girl pursued.
"All these are facts, dearest."
"Now, Ross, will you be perfectly frank with me? May I ask you an--an
"You may ask me any question you like; it couldn't be impertinent."
"You'll be scandalised, I know--but--well, here goes. What would you
think if Madeline--or any of the girls--should go away to work?"
He looked at her lovingly, but with a little smile on his firm mouth.
"I shouldn't allow it," he said.
"O--allow it? I asked you what you'd think."
"I should think it was a disgrace to the family, and a direct reproach
to me," be answered. "But it's no use talking about that. None of the
girls have any such foolish notion. And I wouldn't permit it if they
Diantha smiled. "I suppose you never would permit your wife to work?"
"My widow might have to--not my wife." He held his fine head a trifle
higher, and her hand ached for a moment.
"Wouldn't you let me work--to help you, Ross?"
"My dearest girl, you've got something far harder than that to do for
me, and that's wait."
His face darkened again, and he passed his hand over his forehead.
"Sometimes I feel as if I ought not to hold you at all!" he burst out,
bitterly. "You ought to be free to marry a better man."
"There aren't any!" said Diantha, shaking her head slowly from side to
side. "And if there were--millions--I wouldn't marry any of 'em. I
love _you,"_ she firmly concluded.
"Then we'll just _wait,"_ said he, setting his teeth on the word, as if
he would crush it. "It won't be hard with you to help. You're better
worth it than Rachael and Leah together." They walked a few steps
"But how about science?" she asked him.
"I don't let myself think of it. I'll take that up later. We're young
enough, both of us, to wait for our happiness."
"And have you any idea--we might as well face the worst--how many years
do you think that will be, dearest?"
He was a little annoyed at her persistence. Also, though he would not
admit the thought, it did not seem quite the thing for her to ask. A
woman should not seek too definite a period of waiting. She ought to
trust--to just wait on general principles.
"I can face a thing better if I know just what I'm facing," said the
girl, quietly, "and I'd wait for you, if I had to, all my life. Will it
be twenty years, do you think?"
He looked relieved. "Why, no, indeed, darling. It oughtn't to be at
the outside more than five. Or six," he added, honest though reluctant.
"You see, father had no time to settle anything; there were outstanding
accounts, and the funeral expenses, and the mortgages. But the business
is good; and I can carry it; I can build it up." He shook his broad
shoulders determinedly. "I should think it might be within five,
perhaps even less. Good things happen sometimes--such as you, my heart's
They were at her gate now, and she stood a little while to say
good-night. A step inside there was a seat, walled in by evergreen,
roofed over by the wide acacia boughs. Many a long good-night had they
exchanged there, under the large, brilliant California moon. They sat
there, silent, now.
Diantha's heart was full of love for him, and pride and confidence in
him; but it was full of other feelings, too, which he could not fathom.
His trouble was clearer to her than to him; as heavy to bear. To her
mind, trained in all the minutiae of domestic economy, the Warden family
lived in careless wastefulness. That five women--for Dora was older
than she had been when she began to do housework--should require
servants, seemed to this New England-born girl mere laziness and pride.
That two voting women over twenty should prefer being supported by their
brother to supporting themselves, she condemned even more sharply.
Moreover, she felt well assured that with a different family to
"support," Mr. Warden would never have broken down so suddenly and
irrecoverably. Even that funeral--her face hardened as she thought of
the conspicuous "lot," the continual flowers, the monument (not wholly
paid for yet, that monument, though this she did not know)--all that
expenditure to do honor to the man they had worked to death (thus
brutally Diantha put it) was probably enough to put off their happiness
for a whole year.
She rose at last, her hand still held in his. "I'm sorry, but I've got
to get supper, dear," she said, "and you must go. Good-night for the
present; you'll be round by and by?"
"Yes, for a little while, after we close up," said he, and took himself
off, not too suddenly, walking straight and proud while her eves were on
him, throwing her a kiss from the corner; but his step lagging and his
headache settling down upon him again as he neared the large house with
Diantha watched him out of sight, turned and marched up the path to her
own door, her lips set tight, her well-shaped head as straightly held as
his. "It's a shame, a cruel, burning shame!" she told herself
rebelliously. "A man of his ability. Why, he could do anything, in his
own work! And he loved it so!
"To keep a grocery store--
""And nothing to show for all that splendid effort!
"They don't do a thing? They just _live_--and 'keep house!' All those
"Six years? Likely to be sixty! But I'm not going to wait!"
WHAT DIANTHA DID
AN UNNATURAL DAUGHTER
The brooding bird fulfills her task,
Or she-bear lean and brown;
All parent beasts see duty true,
All parent beasts their duty do,
We are the only kind that asks
For duty upside down.
The stiff-rayed windmill stood like a tall mechanical flower, turning
slowly in the light afternoon wind; its faint regular metallic squeak
pricked the dry silence wearingly. Rampant fuchsias, red-jewelled,
heavy, ran up its framework, with crowding heliotrope and nasturtiums.
Thick straggling roses hung over the kitchen windows, and a row of dusty
eucalyptus trees rustled their stiff leaves, and gave an ineffectual
shade to the house.
It was one of those small frame houses common to the northeastern
states, which must be dear to the hearts of their dwellers. For no
other reason, surely, would the cold grey steep-roofed little boxes be
repeated so faithfully in the broad glow of a semi-tropical landscape.
There was an attempt at a "lawn," the pet ambition of the transplanted
easterner; and a further attempt at "flower-beds," which merely served
as a sort of springboard to their far-reaching products.
The parlor, behind the closed blinds, was as New England parlors are;
minus the hint of cosiness given by even a fireless stove; the little
bedrooms baked under the roof; only the kitchen spoke of human living,
and the living it portrayed was not, to say the least, joyous. It was
clean, clean with a cleanness that spoke of conscientious labor and
unremitting care. The zinc mat under the big cook-stove was scoured to
a dull glimmer, while that swart altar itself shone darkly from its
There was no dust nor smell of dust; no grease spots, no litter
anywhere. But the place bore no atmosphere of contented pride, as does
a Dutch, German or French kitchen, it spoke of Labor, Economy and
In the dead quiet of the afternoon Diantha and her mother sat there
sewing. The sun poured down through the dangling eucalyptus leaves.
The dry air, rich with flower odors, flowed softly in, pushing the white
sash curtains a steady inch or two. Ee-errr!--Ee-errr!--came the faint
whine of the windmill.
To the older woman rocking in her small splint chair by the rose-draped
window, her thoughts dwelling on long dark green grass, the shade of
elms, and cows knee-deep in river-shallows; this was California--hot,
arid, tedious in endless sunlight--a place of exile.
To the younger, the long seam of the turned sheet pinned tightly to her
knee, her needle flying firmly and steadily, and her thoughts full of
pouring moonlight through acacia boughs and Ross's murmured words, it
was California--rich, warm, full of sweet bloom and fruit, of boundless
vitality, promise, and power--home!
Mrs. Bell drew a long weary sigh, and laid down her work for a moment.
"Why don't you stop it Mother dear? There's surely no hurry about these
"No--not particularly," her mother answered, "but there's plenty else to
do." And she went on with the long neat hemming. Diantha did the "over
and over seam" up the middle.
"What _do_ you do it for anyway, Mother--I always hated this job--and
you don't seem to like it."
"They wear almost twice as long, child, you know. The middle gets worn
and the edges don't. Now they're reversed. As to liking it--" She
gave a little smile, a smile that was too tired to be sarcastic, but
which certainly did not indicate pleasure.
"What kind of work do you like best--really?" her daughter inquired
suddenly, after a silent moment or two.
"Why--I don't know," said her mother. "I never thought of it. I never
tried any but teaching. I didn't like that. Neither did your Aunt
Esther, but she's still teaching."
"Didn't you like any of it?" pursued Diantha.
"I liked arithmetic best. I always loved arithmetic, when I went to
school--used to stand highest in that."
"And what part of housework do you like best?" the girl persisted.
Mrs. Bell smiled again, wanly. "Seems to me sometimes as if I couldn't
tell sometimes what part I like least!" she answered. Then with sudden
heat--"O my Child! Don't you marry till Ross can afford at least one
girl for you!"
Diantha put her small, strong hands behind her head and leaned back in
her chair. "We'll have to wait some time for that I fancy," she said.
"But, Mother, there is one part you like--keeping accounts! I never saw
anything like the way you manage the money, and I believe you've got
every bill since yon were married."
"Yes--I do love accounts," Mrs. Bell admitted. "And I can keep run of
things. I've often thought your Father'd have done better if he'd let
me run that end of his business."
Diantha gave a fierce little laugh. She admired her father in some
ways, enjoyed him in some ways, loved him as a child does if not
ill-treated; but she loved her mother with a sort of passionate pity
mixed with pride; feeling always nobler power in her than had ever had a
fair chance to grow. It seemed to her an interminable dull tragedy;
this graceful, eager, black-eyed woman, spending what to the girl was
literally a lifetime, in the conscientious performance of duties she did
She knew her mother's idea of duty, knew the clear head, the steady
will, the active intelligence holding her relentlessly to the task; the
chafe and fret of seeing her husband constantly attempting against her
judgment, and failing for lack of the help he scorned. Young as she
was, she realized that the nervous breakdown of these later years was
wholly due to that common misery of "the square man in the round hole."
She folded her finished sheet in accurate lines and laid it away--taking
her mother's also. "Now you sit still for once, Mother dear, read or
lie down. Don't you stir till supper's ready."
And from pantry to table she stepped, swiftly and lightly, setting out
what was needed, greased her pans and set them before her, and proceeded
to make biscuit.
Her mother watched her admiringly. "How easy you do it!" she said. "I
never could make bread without getting flour all over me. You don't
spill a speck!"
Diantha smiled. "I ought to do it easily by this time. Father's got to
have hot bread for supper--or thinks he has!--and I've made 'em--every
night when I was at home for this ten years back!"
"I guess you have," said Mrs. Bell proudly. "You were only eleven when
you made your first batch. I can remember just as well! I had one of
my bad headaches that night--and it did seem as if I couldn't sit up!
But your Father's got to have his biscuit whether or no. And you said,
'Now Mother you lie right still on that sofa and let me do it! I can!'
And you could!--you did! They were bettern' mine that first time--and
your Father praised 'em--and you've been at it ever since."
"Yes," said Diantha, with a deeper note of feeling than her mother
caught, "I've been at it ever since!"
"Except when you were teaching school," pursued her mother.
"Except when I taught school at Medville," Diantha corrected. "When I
taught here I made 'em just the same."
"So you did," agreed her mother. "So you did! No matter how tired you
were--you wouldn't admit it. You always were the best child!"
"If I was tired it was not of making biscuits anyhow. I was tired
enough of teaching school though. I've got something to tell you,
She covered the biscuits with a light cloth and set them on the shelf
over the stove; then poked among the greasewood roots to find what she
wanted and started a fire. "Why _don't_ you get an oil stove? Or a
gasoline? It would be a lot easier."
"Yes," her mother agreed. "I've wanted one for twenty years; but you
know your Father won't have one in the house. He says they're
dangerous. What are you going to tell me, dear? I do hope you and Ross
"No indeed we haven't, Mother. Ross is splendid. Only--"
"Only what, Dinah?"
"Only he's so tied up!" said the girl, brushing every chip from the
hearth. "He's perfectly helpless there, with that mother of his--and
those four sisters."
"Ross is a good son," said Mrs. Bell, "and a good brother. I never saw
a better. He's certainly doing his duty. Now if his father'd lived you
two could have got married by this time maybe, though you're too young
Diantha washed and put away the dishes she had used, saw that the pantry
was in its usual delicate order, and proceeded to set the table, with
light steps and no clatter of dishes.
"I'm twenty-one," she said.
"Yes, you're twenty-one," her mother allowed. "It don't seem possible,
but you are. My first baby!" she looked at her proudly
"If Ross has to wait for all those girls to marry--and to pay his
father's debts--I'll be old enough," said Diantha grimly.
Her mother watched her quick assured movements with admiration, and
listened with keen sympathy. "I know it's hard, dear child. You've
only been engaged six months--and it looks as if it might be some years
before Ross'll be able to marry. He's got an awful load for a boy to
"I should say he had!" Diantha burst forth. "Five helpless women!--or
three women, and two girls. Though Cora's as old as I was when I began
to teach. And not one of 'em will lift a finger to earn her own
"They weren't brought up that way," said Mrs. Bell. "Their mother don't
approve of it. She thinks the home is the place for a woman--and so
does Ross--and so do I," she added rather faintly.
Diantha put her pan of white puff-balls into the oven, sliced a quantity
of smoked beef in thin shavings, and made white sauce for it, talking
the while as if these acts were automatic. "I don't agree with Mrs.
Warden on that point, nor with Ross, nor with you, Mother," she said,
"What I've got to tell you is this--I'm going away from home. To work."
Mrs. Bell stopped rocking, stopped fanning, and regarded her daughter
with wide frightened eyes.
"Why Diantha!" she said. "Why Diantha! You wouldn't go and leave your
Diantha drew a deep breath and stood for a moment looking at the feeble
little woman in the chair. Then she went to her, knelt down and hugged
"It's not because I don't love you, Mother. It's because I do. And
it's not because I don't love Ross either:--it's because I _do._ I want
to take care of you, Mother, and make life easier for you as long as you
live. I want to help him--to help carry that awful load--and I'm
She stood up hastily, for a step sounded on the back porch. It was only
her sister, who hurried in, put a dish on the table, kissed her mother
and took another rocking-chair.
"I just ran in," said she, "to bring those berries. Aren't they
beauties? The baby's asleep. Gerald hasn't got in yet. Supper's all
ready, and I can see him coming time enough to run back. Why, Mother!
What's the matter? You're crying!"
"Am I?" asked Mrs. Bell weakly; wiping her eyes in a dazed way.
"What are you doing to Mother, Diantha?" demanded young Mrs. Peters.
"Bless me! I thought you and she never had any differences! I was always
the black sheep, when I was at home. Maybe that's why I left so early!"
She looked very pretty and complacent, this young matron and mother of
nineteen; and patted the older woman's hand affectionately, demanding,
"Come--what's the trouble?"
"You might as well know now as later," said her sister. "I have decided
to leave home, that's all."
"To leave home!" Mrs. Peters sat up straight and stared at her. "To
leave home!--And Mother!"
"Well?" said Diantha, while the tears rose and ran over from her
mother's eyes. "Well, why not? You left home--and Mother--before you
"That's different!" said her sister sharply. "I left to be married,--to
have a home of my own. And besides I haven't gone far! I can see
Mother every day."
"That's one reason I can go now better than later on," Diantha said.
"You are close by in case of any trouble."
"What on earth are you going for? Ross isn't ready to marry yet, is
"No--nor likely to be for years. That's another reason I'm going."
"But what _for,_ for goodness sake."
"To earn money--for one thing."
"Can't you earn money enough by teaching?" the Mother broke in eagerly.
"I know you haven't got the same place this fall--but you can get
another easy enough."
Diantha shook her head. "No, Mother, I've had enough of that. I've
taught for four years. I don't like it, I don't do well, and it
exhausts me horribly. And I should never get beyond a thousand or
fifteen hundred dollars a year if I taught for a lifetime."
"Well, I declare!" said her sister. "What do you _expect_ to get? I
should think fifteen hundred dollars a year was enough for any woman!"
Diantha peered into the oven and turned her biscuit pan around.
"And you're meaning to leave home just to make money, are you?"
"Why not?" said Diantha firmly. "Henderson did--when he was eighteen.
None of you blamed him."
"I don't see what that's got to do with it," her mother ventured.
"Henderson's a boy, and boys have to go, of course. A mother expects
that. But a girl--Why, Diantha! How can I get along without you! With
"I should think you'd be ashamed of yourself to think of such a thing!"
said young Mrs. Peters.
A slow step sounded outside, and an elderly man, tall, slouching,
carelessly dressed, entered, stumbling a little over the rag-mat at the
"Father hasn't got used to that rug in fourteen years!" said his
youngest daughter laughingly. "And Mother will straighten it out after
him! I'm bringing Gerald up on better principles. You should just see
him wait on me!"
"A man should be master in his own household," Mr. Bell proclaimed,
raising a dripping face from the basin and looking around for the
towel--which his wife handed him.
"You won't have much household to be master of presently," said Mrs.
Peters provokingly. "Half of it's going to leave."
Mr. Bell came out of his towel and looked from one to the other for some
explanation of this attempted joke, "What nonsense are you talking?" he
"I think it's nonsense myself," said the pretty young woman--her hand on
the doorknob. "But you'd better enjoy those biscuits of Di's while you
can--you won't get many more! There's Gerald--good night!" And off she
Diantha set the plateful on the table, puffy, brown, and crisply
crusted. "Supper's ready," she said. "Do sit down, Mother," and she
held the chair for her. "Minnie's quite right, Father, though I meant
not to tell you till you'd had supper. I am going away to work."
Mr. Bell regarded his daughter with a stern, slow stare; not so much
surprised as annoyed by an untimely jesting. He ate a hot biscuit in
two un-Fletcherized mouthfuls, and put more sugar in his large cup of
tea. "You've got your Mother all worked up with your nonsense," said
he. "What are you talking about anyway?"
Diantha met his eyes unflinchingly. He was a tall old man, still
handsome and impressive in appearance, had been the head of his own
household beyond question, ever since he was left the only son of an
idolizing mother. But he had never succeeded in being the head of
anything else. Repeated failures in the old New England home had
resulted in his ruthlessly selling all the property there; and bringing
his delicate wife and three young children to California. Vain were her
protests and objections. It would do her good--best place in the world
for children--good for nervous complaints too. A wife's duty was to
follow her husband, of course. She had followed, willy nilly; and it
was good for the children--there was no doubt of that.
Mr. Bell had profited little by his venture. They had the ranch, the
flowers and fruit and ample living of that rich soil; but he had failed
in oranges, failed in raisins, failed in prunes, and was now failing in
But Mrs. Bell, though an ineffectual housekeeper, did not fail in the
children. They had grown up big and vigorous, sturdy, handsome
creatures, especially the two younger ones. Diantha was good-looking
enough. Roscoe Warden thought her divinely beautiful. But her young
strength had been heavily taxed from childhood in that complex process
known as "helping mother." As a little child she had been of constant
service in caring for the babies; and early developed such competence in
the various arts of house work as filled her mother with fond pride, and
even wrung from her father some grudging recognition. That he did not
value it more was because he expected such competence in women, all
women; it was their natural field of ability, their duty as wives and
mothers. Also as daughters. If they failed in it that was by illness
or perversity. If they succeeded--that was a matter of course.
He ate another of Diantha's excellent biscuits, his greyish-red whiskers
slowly wagging; and continued to eye her disapprovingly. She said
nothing, but tried to eat; and tried still harder to make her heart go
quietly, her cheeks keep cool, and her eyes dry. Mrs. Bell also strove
to keep a cheerful countenance; urged food upon her family; even tried
to open some topic of conversation; but her gentle words trailed off
into unnoticed silence.
Mr. Bell ate until he was satisfied and betook himself to a comfortable
chair by the lamp, where he unfolded the smart local paper and lit his
pipe. "When you've got through with the dishes, Diantha," he said
coldly, "I'll hear about this proposition of yours."
Diantha cleared the table, lowered the leaves, set it back against the
wall, spreading the turkey-red cloth upon it. She washed the
dishes,--her kettle long since boiling, scalded them, wiped them, set
them in their places; washed out the towels, wiped the pan and hung it
up, swiftly, accurately, and with a quietness that would have seemed
incredible to any mistress of heavy-footed servants. Then with
heightened color and firm-set mouth, she took her place by the lamplit
table and sat still.
Her mother was patiently darning large socks with many holes--a kind of
work she specially disliked. "You'll have to get some new socks,
Father," she ventured, "these are pretty well gone."
"O they'll do a good while yet," he replied, not looking at them. "I
like your embroidery, my dear."
That pleased her. She did not like to embroider, but she did like to be
Diantha took some socks and set to work, red-checked and excited, but
silent yet. Her mother's needle trembled irregularly under and over,
and a tear or two slid down her cheeks.
Finally Mr. Bell laid down his finished paper and his emptied pipe and
said, "Now then. Out with it."
This was not a felicitious opening. It is really astonishing how little
diplomacy parents exhibit, how difficult they make it for the young to
introduce a proposition. There was nothing for it but a bald statement,
so Diantha made it baldly.
"I have decided to leave home and go to work," she said.
"Don't you have work enough to do at home?" he inquired, with the same
air of quizzical superiority which had always annoyed her so intensely,
even as a little child.
She would cut short this form of discussion: "I am going away to earn my
living. I have given up school-teaching--I don't like it, and, there
isn't money enough in it. I have plans--which will speak for themselves
"So," said Mr. Bell, "Plans all made, eh? I suppose you've considered
your Mother in these plans?"
"I have," said his daughter. "It is largely on her account that I'm
"You think it'll be good for your Mother's health to lose your
assistance, do you?"
"I know she'll miss me; but I haven't left the work on her shoulders. I
am going to pay for a girl--to do the work I've done. It won't cost you
any more, Father; and you'll save some--for she'll do the washing too.
You didn't object to Henderson's going--at eighteen. You didn't object
to Minnie's going--at seventeen. Why should you object to my going--at
"I haven't objected--so far," replied her father. "Have your plans also
allowed for the affection and duty you owe your parents?"
"I have done my duty--as well as I know how," she answered. "Now I am
twenty-one, and self-supporting--and have a right to go."
"O yes. You have a right--a legal right--if that's what you base your
idea of a child's duty on! And while you're talking of rights--how
about a parent's rights? How about common gratitude! How about what
you owe to me--for all the care and pains and cost it's been to bring
you up. A child's a rather expensive investment these days."
Diantha flushed. she had expected this, and yet it struck her like a
blow. It was not the first time she had heard it--this claim of filial
"I have considered that position, Father. I know you feel that
way--you've often made me feel it. So I've been at some pains to work
it out--on a money basis. Here is an account--as full as I could make
it." She handed him a paper covered with neat figures. The totals read
Miss Diantha Bell,
To Mr. Henderson R. Bell, Dr.
To medical and dental expenses . . . $110.00
To school expenses . . . $76.00
To clothing, in full . . . $1,130.00
To board and lodging at $3.00 a week . . . $2,184.00
To incidentals . . . $100.00
He studied the various items carefully, stroking his beard, half in
anger, half in unavoidable amusement. Perhaps there was a tender
feeling too, as he remembered that doctor's bill--the first he ever
paid, with the other, when she had scarlet fever; and saw the exact
price of the high chair which had served all three of the children, but
of which she magnanimously shouldered the whole expense.
The clothing total was so large that it made him whistle--he knew he had
never spent $1,130.00 on one girl's clothes. But the items explained
Materials, three years at an average of $10 a year . . . $30.00
Five years averaging $20 each year . . . $100.00
Five years averaging $30 each year . . . $50.00
Five years averaging $50 each year . . . $250.00
The rest was "Mother's labor, averaging twenty full days a year at $2 a
day, $40 a year. For fifteen years, $600.00. Mother's labor--on one
child's, clothes--footing up to $600.00. It looked strange to see cash
value attached to that unfailing source of family comfort and advantage.
The school expenses puzzled him a bit, for she had only gone to public
schools; but she was counting books and slates and even pencils--it
brought up evenings long passed by, the sewing wife, the studying
children, the "Say, Father, I've got to have a new slate--mine's broke!"
"Broken, Dina," her Mother would gently correct, while he demanded, "How
did you break it?" and scolded her for her careless tomboy ways.
Slates--three, $1.50--they were all down. And slates didn't cost so
much come to think of it, even the red-edged ones, wound with black,
that she always wanted.
Board and lodging was put low, at $3.00 per week, but the items had a
footnote as to house-rent in the country, and food raised on the farm.
Yes, he guessed that was a full rate for the plain food and bare little
bedroom they always had.
"It's what Aunt Esther paid the winter she was here," said Diantha.
Circuses--three . . . $1.50
Share in melodeon . . . $50.00
Yes, she was one of five to use and enjoy it.
Music lessons . . . $30.00
And quite a large margin left here, called miscellaneous, which he
smiled to observe made just an even figure, and suspected she had put in
for that purpose as well as from generosity.
"This board account looks kind of funny," he said--"only fourteen years
"I didn't take table-board--nor a room--the first year--nor much the
second. I've allowed $1.00 a week for that, and $2.00 for the
third--that takes out two, you see. Then it's $156 a year till I was
fourteen and earned board and wages, two more years at $156--and I've
paid since I was seventeen, you know."
"Well--I guess you did--I guess you did." He grinned genially. "Yes,"
he continued slowly, "I guess that's a fair enough account. 'Cording to
this, you owe me $3,600.00, young woman! I didn't think it cost that
much to raise a girl."
"I know it," said she. "But here's the other side."
It was the other side. He had never once thought of such a side to the
case. This account was as clear and honest as the first and full of
exasperating detail. She laid before him the second sheet of figures
and watched while he read, explaining hurriedly:
"It was a clear expense for ten years--not counting help with the
babies. Then I began to do housework regularly--when I was ten or
eleven, two hours a day; three when I was twelve and thirteen--real work
you'd have had to pay for, and I've only put it at ten cents an hour.
When Mother was sick the year I was fourteen, and I did it all but the
washing--all a servant would have done for $3.00 a week. Ever since
then I have done three hours a day outside of school, full grown work
now, at twenty cents an hour. That's what we have to pay here, you
Thus it mounted up:
Mr. Henderson R. Bell,
To Miss Diantha Bell, Dr.
For labor and services--
Two years, two hours a day at 10c. an hour . . . $146.00
Two years, three hours a day at 10c. an hour . . . $219.00
One year, full wages at $5.00 a week . . . $260.00
Six years and a half, three hours a day at 20c . . . $1423.50
Mr. Bell meditated carefully on these figures. To think of that child's
labor footing up to two thousand dollars and over! It was lucky a man
had a wife and daughters to do this work, or he could never support a
Then came her school-teaching years. She had always been a fine scholar
and he had felt very proud of his girl when she got a good school
position in her eighteenth year.
California salaries were higher than eastern ones, and times had changed
too; the year he taught school he remembered the salary was only
$300.00--and he was a man. This girl got $600, next year $700, $800,
$900; why it made $3,000 she had earned in four years. Astonishing.
Out of this she had a balance in the bank of $550.00. He was pleased to
see that she had been so saving. And her clothing account--little
enough he admitted for four years and six months, $300.00. All
incidentals for the whole time, $50.00--this with her balance made just
$900. That left $2,100.00.
"Twenty-one hundred dollars unaccounted for, young lady!--besides this
nest egg in the bank--I'd no idea you were so wealthy. What have you
done with all that?"
"Given it to you, Father," said she quietly, and handed him the third
sheet of figures.
Board and lodging at $4.00 a week for 4 1/2 years made $936.00, that he
could realize; but "cash advance" $1,164 more--he could not believe it.
That time her mother was so sick and Diantha had paid both the doctor
and the nurse--yes--he had been much cramped that year--and nurses come
high. For Henderson, Jr.'s, expenses to San Francisco, and again for
Henderson when he was out of a job--Mr. Bell remembered the boy's
writing for the money, and his not having it, and Mrs. Bell saying she
could arrange with Diantha.
Arrange! And that girl had kept this niggardly account of it! For
Minnie's trip to the Yosemite--and what was this?--for his raisin
experiment--for the new horse they simply had to have for the drying
apparatus that year he lost so much money in apricots--and for the
spraying materials--yes, he could not deny the items, and they covered
that $1,164.00 exactly.
Then came the deadly balance, of the account between them:
Her labor . . . $2,047.00
Her board . . . $936.00
Her "cash advanced" . . . $1,164.00
His expense for her . . . $3,600
Due her from him . . . $547.00
Diantha revolved her pencil between firm palms, and looked at him rather
quizzically; while her mother rocked and darned and wiped away an
occasional tear. She almost wished she had not kept accounts so well.
Mr. Bell pushed the papers away and started to his feet.
"This is the most shameful piece of calculation I ever saw in my life,"
said he. "I never heard of such a thing! You go and count up in cold
dollars the work that every decent girl does for her family and is glad
to! I wonder you haven't charged your mother for nursing her?"
"You notice I haven't," said Diantha coldly.
"And to think," said he, gripping the back of a chair and looking down
at her fiercely, "to think that a girl who can earn nine hundred dollars
a year teaching school, and stay at home and do her duty by her family
besides, should plan to desert her mother outright--now she's old and
sick! Of course I can't stop you! You're of age, and children nowadays
have no sense of natural obligation after they're grown up. You can go,
of course, and disgrace the family as you propose--but you needn't
expect to have me consent to it or approve of it--or of you. It's a
shameful thing--and you are an unnatural daughter--that's all I've got
Mr. Bell took his hat and went out--a conclusive form of punctuation
much used by men in discussions of this sort.
WHAT DIANTHA DID
Duck! Dive! Here comes another one!
Wait till the crest-ruffles show!
Beyond is smooth water in beauty and wonder--
Shut your mouth! Hold your breath! Dip your head under!
Dive through the weight and the wash, and the thunder--
Look out for the undertow!
If Diantha imagined that her arithmetical victory over a too-sordid
presentation of the parental claim was a final one, she soon found
It is easy to say--putting an epic in an epigram--"She seen her duty and
she done it!" but the space and time covered are generally as far beyond
our plans as the estimates of an amateur mountain climber exceed his
Her determination was not concealed by her outraged family. Possibly
they thought that if the matter was well aired, and generally discussed,
the daring offender might reconsider. Well-aired it certainly was, and
widely discussed by the parents of the little town before young people
who sat in dumbness, or made faint defense. It was also discussed by
the young people, but not before their parents.
She had told Ross, first of all, meaning to have a quiet talk with him
to clear the ground before arousing her own family; but he was suddenly
away just as she opened the subject, by a man on a wheel--some wretched
business about the store of course--and sent word that night that he
could not come up again. Couldn't come up the next night either. Two
long days--two long evenings without seeing him. Well--if she went away
she'd have to get used to that.
But she had so many things to explain, so much to say to make it right
with him; she knew well what a blow it was. Now it was all over
town--and she had had no chance to defend her position.
The neighbors called. Tall bony Mrs. Delafield who lived nearest to
them and had known Diantha for some years, felt it her duty to make a
special appeal--or attack rather; and brought with her stout Mrs.
Schlosster, whose ancestors and traditions were evidently of German
Diantha retired to her room when she saw these two bearing down upon the
house; but her mother called her to make a pitcher of lemonade for
them--and having entered there was no escape. They harried her with
questions, were increasingly offended by her reticence, and expressed
disapproval with a fullness that overmastered the girl's self-control.
"I have as much right to go into business as any other citizen, Mrs.
Delafield," she said with repressed intensity. "I am of age and live in
a free country. What you say of children no longer applies to me."
"And what is this mysterious business you're goin' into--if one may
inquire? Nothin you're ashamed to mention, I hope?" asked Mrs.
"If a woman refuses to mention her age is it because she's ashamed of
it?" the girl retorted, and Mrs. Delafield flushed darkly.
"Never have I heard such talk from a maiden to her elders," said Mrs.
Schlosster. "In my country the young have more respect, as is right."
Mrs. Bell objected inwardly to any reprimand of her child by others; but
she agreed to the principle advanced and made no comment.
Diantha listened to quite a volume of detailed criticism, inquiry and
condemnation, and finally rose to her feet with the stiff courtesy of
"You must excuse me now," she said with set lips. "I have some
necessary work to do."
She marched upstairs, shut her bedroom door and locked it, raging
inwardly. "Its none of their business! Not a shadow! Why should
Mother sit there and let them talk to me like that! One would think
childhood had no limit--unless it's matrimony!"
This reminded her of her younger sister's airs of superior wisdom, and
did not conduce to a pleasanter frame of mind. "With all their
miserable little conventions and idiocies! And what 'they'll say,' and
'they'll think'! As if I cared! Minnie'll be just such another!"
She heard the ladies going out, still talking continuously, a faint
response from her mother now and then, a growing quiet as their steps
receded toward the gate; and then another deeper voice took up the theme
and heavily approached.
It was the minister! Diantha dropped into her rocker and held the arms
tight. "Now I'll have to take it again I suppose. But he ought to know
me well enough to understand."
"Diantha!" called her mother, "Here's Dr. Major;" and the girl washed
her face and came down again.
Dr. Major was a heavy elderly man with a strong mouth and a warm hand
clasp. "What's all this I hear about you, young lady?" he demanded,
holding her hand and looking her straight in the eye. "Is this a new
kind of Prodigal Daughter we're encountering?"
He did not look nor sound condemnatory, and as she faced him she caught
a twinkle in the wise old eyes.
"You can call it that if you want to," she said, "Only I thought the
Prodigal Son just spent his money--I'm going to earn some."
"I want you to talk to Diantha, Doctor Major," Mrs. Bell struck in.
"I'm going to ask you to excuse me, and go and lie down for a little. I
do believe she'll listen to you more than to anybody."
The mother retired, feeling sure that the good man who had known her
daughter for over fifteen years would have a restraining influence now;
and Diantha braced herself for the attack.
It came, heavy and solid, based on reason, religion, tradition, the
custom of ages, the pastoral habit of control and protection, the
father's instinct, the man's objection to a girl's adventure. But it
was courteous, kind, and rationally put, and she met it point by point
with the whole-souled arguments of a new position, the passionate
enthusiasm of her years.
They called a truce.
"I can see that you _think_ its your duty, young, woman--that's the main
thing. I think you're wrong. But what you believe to be right you have
to do. That's the way we learn my dear, that's the way we learn!
Well--you've been a good child ever since I've known you. A remarkably
good child. If you have to sow this kind of wild oats--" they both
smiled at this, "I guess we can't stop you. I'll keep your secret--"
"Its not a secret really," the girl explained, "I'll tell them as soon
as I'm settled. Then they can tell--if they want to." And they both
"Well--I won't tell till I hear of it then. And--yes, I guess I can
furnish that document with a clean conscience."
She gave him paper and pen and he wrote, with a grin, handing her the
She read it, a girlish giggle lightening the atmosphere. "Thank you!"
she said earnestly. "Thank you ever so much. I knew you would help
"If you get stuck anywhere just let me know," he said rising. "This
Proddy Gal may want a return ticket yet!"
"I'll walk first!" said Diantha.
"O Dr. Major," cried her mother from the window, "Don't go! We want you
to stay to supper of course!"
But he had other calls to make, he said, and went away, his big hands
clasped behind him; his head bent, smiling one minute and shaking his
head the next.
Diantha leaned against a pearly eucalyptus trunk and watched him. She
would miss Dr. Major. But who was this approaching? Her heart sank
miserably. Mrs. Warden--and _all_ the girls.
She went to meet them--perforce. Mrs. Warden had always been kind and
courteous to her; the girls she had not seen very much of, but they had
the sweet Southern manner, were always polite. Ross's mother she must
love. Ross's sisters too--if she could. Why did the bottom drop out of
her courage at sight of them?
"You dear child!" said Mrs. Warden, kissing her. "I know just how you
feel! You want to help my boy! That's your secret! But this won't do
it, my dear!"
"You've no idea how badly Ross feels!" said Madeline. "Mrs. Delafield
dropped in just now and told us. You ought to have seen him!"
"He didn't believe it of course," Adeline put in. "And he wouldn't say
a thing--not a thing to blame you."
"We said we'd come over right off--and tried to bring him--but he said
he'd got to go back to the store," Coraline explained.
"He was mad though!" said Dora--"_I_ know."
Diantha looked from one to the other helplessly.
"Come in! Come in!" said Mrs. Bell hospitably. "Have this rocker, Mrs.
Warden--wouldn't you like some cool drink? Diantha?"
"No indeed!" Mrs. Warden protested. "Don't get a thing. We're going
right back, it's near supper time. No, we can't think of staying, of
course not, no indeed!--But we had to come over and hear about this dear
child's idea!--Now tell us all about it, Diantha!"
There they sat--five pairs of curious eyes--and her mother's sad
ones--all kind--all utterly incapable of understanding.
She moistened her lips and plunged desperately. "It is nothing
dreadful, Mrs. Warden. Plenty of girls go away to earn their livings
nowadays. That is all I'm doing."
"But why go away?"
"I thought you were earning your living before!"
"Isn't teaching earning your living?"
"What _are_ you going to do?" the girls protested variously, and Mrs.
Warden, with a motherly smile, suggested--
"That doesn't explain your wanting to leave Ross, my dear--and your
"I don't want to leave them," protested Diantha, trying to keep her
voice steady. "It is simply that I have made up my mind I can do better
"Do what better?" asked Mrs. Warden with sweet patience, which reduced
Diantha to the bald statement, "Earn more money in less time."
"And is that better than staying with your mother and your lover?"
pursued the gentle inquisitor; while the girls tried, "What do you want
to earn more money for?" and "I thought you earned a lot before."
Now Diantha did not wish to state in so many words that she wanted more
money in order to marry sooner--she had hardly put it to herself that
way. She could not make them see in a few moments that her plan was to
do far more for her mother than she would otherwise ever be able to.
And as to making them understand the larger principles at stake--the
range and depth of her full purpose--that would be physically
"I am sorry!" she said with trembling lips. "I am extremely sorry.
But--I cannot explain!"
Mrs. Warden drew herself up a little. "Cannot explain to me?--Your
mother, of course, knows?"
"Diantha is naturally more frank with me than with--anyone," said Mrs.
Bell proudly, "But she does not wish her--business--plans--made public
Her daughter looked at her with vivid gratitude, but the words "made
public" were a little unfortunate perhaps.
"Of course," Mrs. Warden agreed, with her charming smile, "that we can
quite understand. I'm sure I should always wish my girls to feel so.
Madeline--just show Mrs. Bell that necktie you're making--she was asking
about the stitch, you remember."
The necktie was produced and admired, while the other girls asked
Diantha if she had her fall dressmaking done yet--and whether she found
wash ribbon satisfactory. And presently the whole graceful family
withdrew, only Dora holding her head with visible stiffness.
Diantha sat on the floor by her mother, put her head in her lap and
cried. "How splendid of you, Mother!" she sobbed. "How simply
splendid! I will tell you now--if--if--you won't tell even
"Dear child" said her Mother, "I'd rather not know in that case. It
"That's what I kept still for!" said the girl. "It's hard enough,
goodness knows--as it is! Its nothing wicked, or even risky, Mother
dear--and as far as I can see it is right!"
Her mother smiled through her tears. "If you say that, my dear child, I
know there's no stopping you. And I hate to argue with you--even for
your own sake, because it is so much to my advantage to have you here.
I--shall miss you--Diantha!"
"Don't, Mother!" sobbed the girl.
"Its natural for the young to go. We expect it--in time. But you are
so young yet--and--well, I had hoped the teaching would satisfy you till
Ross was ready."
Diantha sat up straight.
"Mother! can't you see Ross'll never be ready! Look at that family!
And the way they live! And those mortgages! I could wait and teach and
save a little even with Father always losing money; but I can't see Ross
wearing himself out for years and years--I just _can't_ bear it!"
Her mother stroked her fair hair softly, not surprised that her own plea
was so lost in thought of the brave young lover.
"And besides," the girl went on "If I waited--and saved--and married
Ross--what becomes of _you,_ I'd like to know? What I can't stand is to
have you grow older and sicker--and never have any good time in all your
Mrs. Bell smiled tenderly. "You dear child!" she said; as if an
affectionate five-year old had offered to get her a rainbow, "I know you
mean it all for the best. But, O my _dearest_! I'd rather have
you--here--at home with me---than any other 'good time' you can
She could not see the suffering in her daughter's face; but she felt she
had made an impression, and followed it up with heart-breaking
sincerity. She caught the girl to her breast and held her like a little
child. "O my baby! my baby! Don't leave your mother. I can't bear
A familiar step outside, heavy, yet uncertain, and they both looked at
each other with frightened eyes.
They had forgotten the biscuit.
"Supper ready?" asked Mr. Bell, with grim humor.
"It will be in a moment, Father," cried Diantha springing to her feet.
"At least--in a few moments."
"Don't fret the child, Father," said Mrs. Henderson softly. "She's
feeling bad enough."
"Sh'd think she would," replied her husband. "Moreover--to my mind--she
He got out the small damp local paper and his pipe, and composed himself
in obvious patience: yet somehow this patience seemed to fill the
kitchen, and to act like a ball and chain to Diantha's feet.
She got supper ready, at last, making griddle-cakes instead of biscuit,
and no comment was made of the change: but the tension in the atmosphere
was sharply felt by the two women; and possibly by the tall old man, who
ate less than usual, and said absolutely nothing.
"I'm going over to see Edwards about that new incubator," he said when
the meal was over, and departed; and Mrs. Bell, after trying in vain to
do her mending, wiped her clouded glasses and went to bed.
Diantha made all neat and tidy; washed her own wet eyes again, and went
out under the moon. In that broad tender mellow light she drew a deep
breath and stretched her strong young arms toward the sky in dumb
"I knew it would be hard," she murmured to herself, "That is I knew the
facts--but I didn't know the feeling!"
She stood at the gate between the cypresses, sat waiting under the
acacia boughs, walked restlessly up and down the path outside, the dry
pepper berries crush softly under foot; bracing herself for one more
struggle--and the hardest of all.
"He will understand!" he told herself, over and over, but at the bottom
of her heart she knew he wouldn't.
He came at last; a slower, wearier step than usual; came and took both
her hands in his and stood holding them, looking at her questioningly.
Then he held her face between his palms and made her look at him. Her
eyes were brave and steady, but the mouth trembled in spite of her.
He stilled it with a kiss, and drew her to a seat on the bench beside
him. "My poor Little Girl! You haven't had a chance yet to really tell
me about this thing, and I want you to right now. Then I'm going to
kill about forty people in this town! _Somebody_ has been mighty
She squeezed his hand, but found it very difficult to speak. His love,
his sympathy, his tenderness, were so delicious after this day's
trials--and before those further ones she could so well anticipate. She
didn't wish to cry any more, that would by no means strengthen her
position, and she found she couldn't seem to speak without crying.
"One would think to hear the good people of this town that you were
about to leave home and mother for--well, for a trip to the moon!" he
added. "There isn't any agreement as to what you're going to do, but
they're unanimous as to its being entirely wrong. Now suppose you tell
me about it."
"I will," said Diantha. "I began to the other night, you know, you
first of course--it was too bad! your having to go off at that exact
moment. Then I had to tell mother--because--well you'll see presently.
Now dear--just let me say it _all_--before you--do anything."
"Say away, my darling. I trust you perfectly."
She flashed a grateful look at him. "It is this way, my dear. I have
two, three, yes four, things to consider:--My own personal problem--my
family's--yours--and a social one."
"My family's?" he asked, with a faint shade of offence in his tone.
"No no dear--your own," she explained.
"Better cut mine out, Little Girl," he said. "I'll consider that
"Well--I won't talk about it if you don't want me to. There are the
"I won't question your second, nor your imposing third, but isn't the
first one--your own personal problem--a good deal answered?" he
suggested, holding her close for a moment.
"Don't!" she said. "I can't talk straight when you put it that way."
She rose hurriedly and took a step or two up and down. "I don't
suppose--in spite of your loving me, that I can make you see it as I do.
But I'll be just as clear as I can. There are some years before us
before we can be together. In that time I intend to go away and
undertake a business I am interested in. My purpose is to--develop the
work, to earn money, to help my family, and to--well, not to hinder
"I don't understand, I confess," he said. "Don't you propose to tell me
what this 'work' is?"
"Yes--I will--certainly. But not yet dear! Let me try to show you how
I feel about it."
"Wait," said he. "One thing I want to be sure of. Are you doing this
with any quixotic notion of helping me--in _my_ business? Helping me to
take care of my family? Helping me to--" he stood up now, looking very
tall and rather forbidding, "No, I won't say that to you."
"Would there be anything wrong in my meaning exactly that?" she asked,
holding her own head a little higher; "both what you said and what you
"It would be absolutely wrong, all of it," he answered. "I cannot
believe that the woman I love would--could take such a position."
"Look here, Ross!" said the girl earnestly. "Suppose you knew where
there was a gold mine--_knew it_--and by going away for a few years you
could get a real fortune--wouldn't you do it?"
"Naturally I should," he agreed.
"Well, suppose it wasn't a gold mine, but a business, a new system like
those cigar stores--or--some patent amusement specialty--or
_anything_--that you knew was better than what you're doing--wouldn't
you have a right to try it?"
"Of course I should--but what has that to do with this case?"
"Why it's the same thing! Don't you see? I have plans that will be of
real benefit to all of us, something worth while to _do_--and not only
for us but for _everybody_--a real piece of progress--and I'm going to
leave my people--and even you!--for a little while--to make us all
happier later on."
He smiled lovingly at her but shook his head slowly. "You dear, brave,
foolish child!" he said. "I don't for one moment doubt your noble
purposes. But you don't get the man's point of view--naturally. What's
more you don't seem to get the woman's."
"Can you see no other point of view than those?" she asked.
"There are no others," he answered. "Come! come! my darling, don't add
this new difficulty to what we've got to carry! I know you have a hard
time of it at home. Some day, please God, you shall have an easier one!
And I'm having a hard time too--I don't deny it. But you are the
greatest joy and comfort I have, dear--you know that. If you go
away--it will be harder and slower and longer--that's all. I shall have
you to worry about too. Let somebody else do the gold-mine, dear--you
stay here and comfort your Mother as long as you can--and me. How can I
get along without you?"
He tried to put his arm around her again, but she drew back. "Dear,"
she said. "If I deliberately do what I think is right--against your
wishes--what will you do?"
"Do?" The laughed bitterly. "What can I do? I'm tied by the leg
here--l can't go after you. I've nothing to pull you out of a scrape
with if you get in one. I couldn't do anything but--stand it."
"And if I go ahead, and do what you don't like--and make
you--suffer--would you--would you rather be free?" Her voice was very
low and shaken, but he heard her well enough.
"Free of you? Free of _you_?" He caught her and held her and kissed
her over and over.
"You are mine!" he said. "You have given yourself to me! You cannot
leave me. Neither of us is free--ever again." But she struggled away
"Both of us are free--to do what we think right, _always_ Ross! I
wouldn't try to stop you if you thought it was your duty to go to the
North Pole!" She held him a little way off. "Let me tell you, dear.
Sit down--let me tell you all about it." But he wouldn't sit down.
"I don't think I want to know the details," he said. "It doesn't much
matter what you're going to do--if you really go away. I can't stop
you--I see that. If you think this thing is your 'duty' you'll do it if
it kills us all--and you too! If you have to go--I shall do
nothing--can do nothing--but wait till you come back to me! Whatever
happens, darling--no matter how you fail--don't ever be afraid to come
back to me."
He folded his arms now--did not attempt to hold her--gave her the
freedom she asked and promised her the love she had almost feared to
lose--and her whole carefully constructed plan seemed like a child's
sand castle for a moment; her heroic decision the wildest folly.
He was not even looking at her; she saw his strong, clean-cut profile
dark against the moonlit house, a settled patience in its lines. Duty!
Here was duty, surely, with tenderest happiness. She was leaning toward
him--her hand was seeking his, when she heard through the fragrant
silence a sound from her mother's room--the faint creak of her light
rocking chair. She could not sleep--she was sitting up with her
trouble, bearing it quietly as she had so many others.
The quiet everyday tragedy of that distasteful life--the slow withering
away of youth and hope and ambition into a gray waste of ineffectual
submissive labor--not only of her life, but of thousands upon thousands
like her--it all rose up like a flood in the girl's hot young heart.
Ross had turned to her--was holding out his arms to her. "You won't go,
my darling!" he said.
"I am going Wednesday on the 7.10," said Diantha.
WHAT DIANTHA DID
A CRYING NEED
"Lovest thou me?" said the Fair Ladye;
And the Lover he said, "Yea!"
"Then climb this tree--for my sake," said she,
"And climb it every day!"
So from dawn till dark he abrazed the bark
And wore his clothes away;
Till, "What has this tree to do with thee?"
The Lover at last did say.
It was a poor dinner. Cold in the first place, because Isabel would
wait to thoroughly wash her long artistic hands; and put on another
dress. She hated the smell of cooking in her garments; hated it worse
on her white fingers; and now to look at the graceful erect figure, the
round throat with the silver necklace about it, the soft smooth hair,
silver-filletted, the negative beauty of the dove-colored gown,
specially designed for home evenings, one would never dream she had set
the table so well--and cooked the steak so abominably.
Isabel was never a cook. In the many servantless gaps of domestic life
in Orchardina, there was always a strained atmosphere in the Porne
"Dear," said Mr. Porne, "might I petition to have the steak less cooked?
I know you don't like to do it, so why not shorten the process?"
"I'm sorry," she answered, "I always forget about the steak from one
time to the next."
"Yet we've had it three times this week, my dear."
"I thought you liked it better than anything," she with marked
gentleness. "I'll get you other things--oftener."
"It's a shame you should have this to do, Isabel. I never meant you
should cook for me. Indeed I didn't dream you cared so little about
"And I never dreamed you cared so much about it," she replied, still
with repression. "I'm not complaining, am I? I'm only sorry you should
be disappointed in me."
"It's not _you,_ dear girl! You're all right! It's just this
everlasting bother. Can't you get _anybody_ that will stay?"
I can't seem to get anybody on any terms, so far. I'm going again,
to-morrow. Cheer up, dear--the baby keeps well--that's the main thing."
He sat on the rose-bowered porch and smoked while she cleared the table.
At first he had tried to help her on these occasions, but their methods
were dissimilar and she frankly told him she preferred to do it alone.
So she slipped off the silk and put on the gingham again, washed the
dishes with the labored accuracy of a trained mind doing unfamiliar
work, made the bread, redressed at last, and joined him about nine
"It's too late to go anywhere, I suppose?" he ventured.
"Yes--and I'm too tired. Besides--we can't leave Eddie alone."
"O yes--I forget. Of course we can't."
His hand stole out to take hers. "I _am_ sorry, dear. It's awfully
rough on you women out here. How do they all stand it?"
"Most of them stand it much better than I do, Ned. You see they don't
want to be doing anything else."
"Yes. That's the mischief of it!" he agreed; and she looked at him in
the clear moonlight, wondering exactly what he thought the mischief was.
"Shall we go in and read a bit?" he offered; but she thought not.
"I'm too tired, I'm afraid. And Eddie'll wake up as soon as we begin."
So they sat awhile enjoying the soft silence, and the rich flower scents
about them, till Eddie did wake presently, and Isabel went upstairs.
She slept little that night, lying quite still, listening to her
husband's regular breathing so near her, and the lighter sound from the
crib. "I am a very happy woman," she told herself resolutely; but there
was no outpouring sense of love and joy. She knew she was happy, but by
no means felt it. So she stared at the moon shadows and thought it
She had planned the little house herself, with such love, such hope,
such tender happy care! Not her first work, which won high praise in
the school in Paris, not the prize-winning plan for the library, now
gracing Orchardina's prettiest square, was as dear to her as this most
womanly task--the making of a home.
It was the library success which brought her here, fresh from her
foreign studies, and Orchardina accepted with western cordiality the
youth and beauty of the young architect, though a bit surprised at first
that "I. H. Wright" was an Isabel. In her further work of overseeing
the construction of that library, she had met Edgar Porne, one of the
numerous eager young real estate men of that region, who showed a
liberal enthusiasm for the general capacity of women in the professions,
and a much warmer feeling for the personal attractions of this one.
Together they chose the lot on pepper-shaded Inez Avenue; together they
watched the rising of the concrete walls and planned the garden walks
and seats, and the tiny precious pool in the far corner. He was so
sympathetic! so admiring! He took as much pride in the big "drawing
room" on the third floor as she did herself. "Architecture is such fine
work to do at home!" they had both agreed. "Here you have your north
light--your big table--plenty of room for work! You will grow famouser
and famouser," he had lovingly insisted. And she had answered, "I fear
I shall be too contented, dear, to want to be famous."
That was only some year and a-half ago,--but Isabel, lying there by her
sleeping husband and sleeping child, was stark awake and only by
assertion happy. She was thinking, persistently, of dust. She loved a
delicate cleanliness. Her art was a precise one, her studio a workshop
of white paper and fine pointed hard pencils, her painting the
mechanical perfection of an even wash of color. And she saw, through
the floors and walls and the darkness, the dust in the little shaded
parlor--two days' dust at least, and Orchardina is very dusty!--dust in
the dining-room gathered since yesterday--the dust in the kitchen--she
would not count time there, and the dust--here she counted it
inexorably--the dust of eight days in her great, light workroom
upstairs. Eight days since she had found time to go up there.
Lying there, wide-eyed and motionless, she stood outside in thought and
looked at the house--as she used to look at it with him, before they
were married. Then, it had roused every blessed hope and dream of
wedded joy--it seemed a casket of uncounted treasures. Now, in this
dreary mood, it seemed not only a mere workshop, but one of alien tasks,
continuous, impossible, like those set for the Imprisoned Princess by
bad fairies in the old tales. In thought she entered the
well-proportioned door--the Gate of Happiness--and a musty smell greeted
her--she had forgotten to throw out those flowers! She turned to the
parlor--no, the piano keys were gritty, one had to clean them twice a
day to keep that room as she liked it.
From room to room she flitted, in her mind, trying to recall the
exquisite things they meant to her when she had planned them; and each
one now opened glaring and blank, as a place to work in--and the work
"If I were an abler woman!" she breathed. And then her common sense and
common honesty made her reply to herself: "I am able enough--in my own
work! Nobody can do everything. I don't believe Edgar'd do it any
better than I do.--He don't have to!--and then such a wave of bitterness
rushed over her that she was afraid, and reached out one hand to touch
the crib--the other to her husband.
He awakened instantly. "What is it, Dear?" he asked. "Too tired to
sleep, you poor darling? But you do love me a little, don't you?"
"O _yes_!" she answered. "I do. Of _course_ I do! I'm just tired, I
guess. Goodnight, Sweetheart."
She was late in getting to sleep and late in waking.
When he finally sat down to the hurriedly spread breakfast-table, Mr.
Porne, long coffeeless, found it a bit difficult to keep his temper.
Isabel was a little stiff, bringing in dishes and cups, and paying no
attention to the sounds of wailing from above.
"Well if you won't I will!" burst forth the father at last, and ran
upstairs, returning presently with a fine boy of some eleven months, who
ceased to bawl in these familiar arms, and contented himself, for the
moment, with a teaspoon.
"Aren't you going to feed him?" asked Mr. Porne, with forced patience.
"It isn't time yet," she announced wearily. "He has to have his bath
"Well," with a patience evidently forced farther, "isn't it time to feed
"I'm very sorry," she said. "The oatmeal is burned again. You'll have
to eat cornflakes. And--the cream is sour--the ice didn't come--or at
least, perhaps I was out when it came--and then I forgot it. . . . . I
had to go to the employment agency in the morning! . . . . I'm sorry I'm
"So am I," he commented drily. "Are there any crackers for instance?
And how about coffee?"
She brought the coffee, such as it was, and a can of condensed milk.
Also crackers, and fruit. She took the baby and sat silent.
"Shall I come home to lunch?" he asked.
"Perhaps you'd better not," she replied coldly.
"Is there to be any dinner?"
"Dinner will be ready at six-thirty, if I have to get it myself."
"If you have to get it yourself I'll allow for seven-thirty," said he,
trying to be cheerful, though she seemed little pleased by it. "Now
don't take it so hard, Ellie. You are a first-class architect,
anyhow--one can't be everything. We'll get another girl in time. This
is just the common lot out here. All the women have the same trouble."
"Most women seem better able to meet it!" she burst forth. "It's not my
trade! I'm willing to work, I like to work, but I can't _bear_
housework! I can't seem to learn it at all! And the servants will not
do it properly!"
"Perhaps they know your limitations, and take advantage of them! But
cheer up, dear. It's no killing matter. Order by phone, don't forget
the ice, and I'll try to get home early and help. Don't cry, dear girl,
I love you, even if you aren't a good cook! And you love me, don't
He kissed her till she had to smile back at him and give him a loving
hug; but after he had gone, the gloom settled upon her spirits once
more. She bathed the baby, fed him, put him to sleep; and came back to
the table. The screen door had been left ajar and the house was buzzing
with flies, hot, with a week's accumulating disorder. The bread she
made last night in fear and trembling, was hanging fatly over the pans;
perhaps sour already. She clapped it into the oven and turned on the
Then she stood, undetermined, looking about that messy kitchen while the
big flies bumped and buzzed on the windows, settled on every dish, and
swung in giddy circles in the middle of the room. Turning swiftly she
shut the door on them. The dining-room was nearly as bad. She began to
put the cups and plates together for removal; but set her tray down
suddenly and went into the comparative coolness of the parlor, closing
the dining-room door behind her.
She was quite tired enough to cry after several nights of broken rest
and days of constant discomfort and irritation; but a sense of rising
anger kept the tears back.
"Of course I love him!" she said to herself aloud but softly,
remembering the baby, "And no doubt he loves me! I'm glad to be his
wife! I'm glad to be a mother to his child! I'm glad I married him!
But--_this_ is not what he offered! And it's not what I undertook! He
hasn't had to change his business!"
She marched up and down the scant space, and then stopped short and
laughed drily, continuing her smothered soliloquy.
"'Do you love me?' they ask, and, 'I will make you happy!' they say; and
you get married--and after that it's Housework!"
"They don't say, 'Will you be my Cook?' 'Will you be my Chamber maid?'
'Will you give up a good clean well-paid business that you love--that
has big hope and power and beauty in it--and come and keep house for
"Love him? I'd be in Paris this minute if I didn't! What has 'love' to
do with dust and grease and flies!"
Then she did drop on the small sofa and cry tempestuously for a little
while; but soon arose, fiercely ashamed of her weakness, and faced the
day; thinking of the old lady who had so much to do she couldn't think
what to first--so she sat down and made a pincushion.
Then--where to begin!
"Eddie will sleep till half-past ten--if I'm lucky. It's now nearly
half-past nine," she meditated aloud. "If I do the upstairs work I
might wake him. I mustn't forget the bread, the dishes, the parlor--O
those flies! Well--I'll clear the table first!"
Stepping softly, and handling the dishes with slow care, she cleaned the
breakfast table and darkened the dining-room, flapping out some of the
flies with a towel. Then she essayed the parlor, dusting and arranging
with undecided steps. "It _ought_ to be swept," she admitted to
herself; "I can't do it--there isn't time. I'll make it dark--"
"I'd rather plan a dozen houses!" she fiercely muttered, as she fussed
about. "Yes--I'd rather build 'em--than to keep one clean!"
Then were her hopes dashed by a rising wail from above. She sat quite
still awhile, hoping against hope that he would sleep again; but he
wouldn't. So she brought him down in full cry.
In her low chair by the window she held him and produced bright and
jingling objects from the tall workbasket that stood near by, sighing
again as she glanced at its accumulated mending.
Master Eddy grew calm and happy in her arms, but showed a growing
interest in the pleasing materials produced for his amusement, and a
desire for closer acquaintance. Then a penetrating odor filled the air,
and with a sudden "O dear!" she rose, put the baby on the sofa, and
started toward the kitchen.
At this moment the doorbell rang.
Mrs. Porne stopped in her tracks and looked at the door. It remained
opaque and immovable. She looked at the baby--who jiggled his spools
and crowed. Then she flew to the oven and dragged forth the bread, not
much burned after all. Then she opened the door.
A nice looking young woman stood before her, in a plain travelling suit,
holding a cheap dress-suit case in one hand and a denim "roll-bag" in
the other, who met her with a cheerful inquiring smile.
"Are you Mrs. Edgar Porne?" she asked.
"I am," answered that lady, somewhat shortly, her hand on the doorknob,
her ear on the baby, her nose still remorsefully in the kitchen, her
eyes fixed sternly on her visitor the while; as she wondered whether it
was literature, cosmetics, or medicine.
She was about to add that she didn't want anything, when the young lady
produced a card from the Rev. Benjamin A. Miner, Mrs. Porne's
particularly revered minister, and stated that she had heard there was a
vacancy in her kitchen and she would like the place.
"Introducing Mrs. D. Bell, well known to friends of mine."
"I don't know--" said Mrs. Porne, reading the card without in the least
grasping what it said. "I--"
Just then there was a dull falling sound followed by a sharp rising one,
and she rushed into the parlor without more words.
When she could hear and be heard again, she found Mrs. Bell seated in
the shadowy little hall, serene and cool. "I called on Mr. Miner
yesterday when I arrived," said she, "with letters of introduction from
my former minister, told him what I wanted to do, and asked him if he
could suggest anyone in immediate need of help in this line. He said he
had called here recently, and believed you were looking for someone.
Here is the letter I showed him," and she handed Mrs. Porne a most
friendly and appreciative recommendation of Miss D. Bell by a minister
in Jopalez, Inca Co., stating that the bearer was fully qualified to do
all kinds of housework, experienced, honest, kind, had worked seven
years in one place, and only left it hoping to do better in Southern
Backed by her own pastor's approval this seemed to Mrs. Porne fully
sufficient. The look of the girl pleased her, though suspiciously above
her station in manner; service of any sort was scarce and high in
Orchardina, and she had been an agelong week without any. "When can you
come?" she asked.
"I can stop now if you like," said the stranger. "This is my baggage.
But we must arrange terms first. If you like to try me I will come this
week from noon to-day to noon next Friday, for seven dollars, and then
if you are satisfied with my work we can make further arrangements. I
do not do laundry work, of course, and don't undertake to have any care
of the baby."
"I take care of my baby myself!" said Mrs. Porne, thinking the new girl
was presuming, though her manner was most gently respectful. But a week