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 surprise.
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 something."
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 cigar smoke.
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 packed cars.
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 week!"
"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 sorry!"
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 anybody!"
"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 appreciative waiter.
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 position.
"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 her book.
"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?"
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 said boldly:
"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 side.
"I'm not a judge--I wish I was," she said finally. "But it seems to me extraordinary!"
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 seriousness.
"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 and I?"
"Of course, they're not born rich and successful," he submitted thoughtfully.
"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 diverted.
"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, Martie."
"And write me, John, and send me books!" she urged, as he turned away.
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.