There was a storm at home over this decision, but Martie weathered it. Even Sally demurred, observing that people would talk. But one or two persons approved, and if Martie had needed encouragement, it would not have been wanting.
One of her sympathizers was Dr. Ben. The two had grown to be good friends, and Martie's boy was as much at home in the little crowded garden and the three-peaked house as Sally's children were.
"You're showing your common sense, Martie," said the old man; "stick to it. I don't know how one of your mother's children ever came to have your grit!"
"I seem to have brought little enough back from New York," Martie said a little sadly. "But at least what Monroe thinks doesn't matter to me any more! People do what they like in the East."
"You're coming on!" Dr. Ben smiled at his velvet wallflowers.
Surprisingly, Joe Hawkes was another ally. He came back in May, penniless, but full of honours, and with his position in the new hospital secure. A small, second-hand car, packed with Hawkeses of all ages, began to be seen in Monroe streets, and Sally grew rosier and fatter and more childish-looking every day. Sally would never keep her hair neat, or care for hands or complexion, but evidently Joe adored her as he had on their wedding day.
"Your father'll have nothing to leave, Martie," Joe said. "What little the Estates don't eat up must go to Lydia, and if you make a start here, why, you'll move on to something better!"
"Miss Fanny hasn't moved on to something better," Martie submitted with a dubious smile.
"Miss Fanny isn't you, Mart. She's gotten a long way for her. You know her father was the Patterson's hired man, and her mother actually had town help for a while, when he died. Now they have that cottage free of debt, and something in the Bank, and Miss Fanny belongs to the woman's club--that's enough for her. You can do better, and you will!"
"I like you, Joe!" said Martie at this, quite frankly, and her brother-in-law's pleasant eyes met hers as he said:
"I like you, too!"
Sally, herself, did not belong to the Woman's Social and Civic Club; a fact that caused her some chagrin. Rose had actually been president once, as had May Parker, and among the thirty-six or seven members she and May were pleasantly prominent.
"I never see Rose, but I should have thought she might elect me to the club," Sally said to Martie. "Unless, of course," she added, brightening, "Rose realizes how busy I am, and that it really would be an extravagance."
"But why do you want to go, Sis? What do they do--sit around and read papers?"
"Oh, well, they have tea, and they entertain visitors in town. And they have a historical committee to keep up the fountains and statues--well, I don't care!" Sally interrupted herself with a reluctant smile as Martie laughed. "It makes me sick for Rose to have everything and always be so smug!"
"Oh, Sally Price Hawkes! Look at the children, and look at Joe, covering himself with glory!"
"Well, I know." Sally looked ashamed. "But sometimes it does seem as if it wasn't fair!"
"I met Rodney Parker the other day," Martie said thoughtfully. "It isn't that he wasn't extremely pleasant--not to say flattering! No one could have been more so. He told me that Rose was in the hospital, and that they had been so busy since I got to town--I told you all this? But as we parted my only thought was gratitude to Heaven that I had never married Rodney Parker!"
Lydia, sitting sewing near by, coloured with shame at the indelicacy of this, and made her characteristic comment.
"You don't mean that you--always felt so, Martie?"
"Always!" Martie echoed healthily. "Why, I was crazy about him."
Lydia visibly shrank.
"He's so limited" Martie continued with spirit. "I'm glad that things have gone well with them, and that they have a baby at last! But to sit opposite that pleasant, fat face--he is getting quite fat!--and hear that complacent voice all the days of my life, those little puns, and that cheerful way of implying that he is the greatest man since Alexander--no, I couldn't!"
"He has built Rose a lovely home, and made her a very happy woman," Lydia said sententiously.
"Well, I suppose that when I thought of marrying Rod, I thought of the old house," Martie pursued. "Of course, they have built a nice home, but the glory for me was the old place! Rose has a big drawing room, and a big bedroom, and a guest's bath, and pantries and a side porch--but I like your house better, Sally, with its trees and flowers and babies!"
"You're just saying that!" Sally observed.
"I like civic pride," Martie, who was rambling on in her old inconsequential way, presently added, "but Rod is merely smug. I happened to mention some building in New York--I didn't know what to talk to the man about! He immediately told me that the Mason building down town was reinforced concrete throughout. I said that I had always missed the orchards in the East, and he said, with such an unpleasant laugh, 'We lead the world, Martie, you can't get away from it. Do you suppose I'd stay here one moment if I didn't think that there is a better chance of making money right here to-day than anywhere else in the world?'"
She had caught his tone, and Sally disrespectfully laughed.
"Well, I know he is one of our most prominent young men, and Rose was president of the club, and I suppose we less fortunate people can talk all we please, they'll be just that much better off than we are!" Lydia said with a little edge to her voice.
"Because his father is rich, Lyd. If it wasn't for the dear old Judge, who pioneered and mined and planned and foresaw, where would Rod be to-day, telling me that he thought it best that Rose should nurse the baby, and that he does this and thinks that?"
"Oh, no, Mart, you can't say that. Rodney is really an awfully clever, steady fellow!" Sally said quickly.
"Sometimes I think we talk lightly about making money," said Lydia, "but it's not such an easy thing to do!"
"Well, I'm making a start!" she said cheerfully. It was Lydia's turn to colour with resentment; she thought that Martie's acceptance of Miss Fanny's offer was something only a trifle short of disgrace.
In the pleasant summer mornings Martie walked down town with her father, as she had done since she came home. But she left him at the big brick doorway of the Library now, and by the time the fogs had risen from Main Street, she was tied into her silicia apron and happily absorbed in her work. She and Miss Fanny tiptoed about the wide, cool spaces of the airy rooms, whispering, conferring. Sometimes, in mid-morning, Teddy came gingerly in with Aunt Lydia.
"You're talking out loud, Moth'!"
"Because there's nobody else here, darling!"
Martie would catch the child to her heart with a joyous laugh. She was expanding like a flower in sunlight. Her work interested her, she liked to pick books for boys and girls, old women and children. She liked moving about in a businesslike way--not a casual caller, but a part of the institution. She had long, whispered conversations, at the desk, with Dr. Ben, with the various old friends. Sometimes Sally brought the baby in, and Martie sat Mary on the desk, and talked with one arm about the soft little body.
Her duties were simple. She mastered them, to Miss Fanny's amazement, on the very first day, and in a week she felt herself happily at home.
All Monroe passed before her desk, and every one stopped for a whispered chat. Martie came to like the wet days, when the rain slashed down, and the boys, reading at the long table, rubbed wet shoes together. There was a warmth and brightness and openness about the Library entirely different from the warmest home. And she took a deep interest in the members, advised them as to books, and held good books for them. She studied human nature under her green hanging-lamp; her eager eyes and brain were never satisfied. Not the least advantage to her new work was that she could carry home the new books.
Where the happiness that began to flood her heart and soul came from had its source she could not tell. Like all happiness, it was made of little things; elements that had always been in Monroe, but that she had not seen before. She was splendidly well, as Teddy was, and their laughter made the days bright in the old house. Also she was lovely to look upon, and she must have been blind not to know it. Her tall, erect figure looked its best in plain black; Martie would never be fat again; her skin was like an apple blossom, white touched deeply with rose, her eyes, with their tender sadness and veiled mirth, were more blue than ever. Monroe came to know her buoyant step, her glittering, unconquered hair, her voice that had in it tones unfamiliar and charming. She scattered her gay and friendly interest everywhere; the women said that she had something, not quite style, better than style, an "air."
One summer day Lydia saw her absorbed in the closely written sheets of a long letter from New York.
"It's from Mr. Dryden, my friend there." Martie said, in answer to her mild look of questioning. "Don't you remember that I told you he had written a play that no manager would produce?"
"You didn't tell me, dear," Lydia amended, darning industriously.
"Oh, yes, I did, Lyddy! I remember telling you!"
"No, dear, perhaps you thought you did," Lydia persisted.
"Oh, well! Anyway, I wrote and suggested that he try to get it published instead, and my dear--it's to be published next month. Isn't that glorious?"
"That is all worn under the arms," Lydia murmured over an old waist that had been for months in her sewing basket, "I believe I will cut off the buttons and give it to the poor!"
"The old idiot!" Martie mused over her letter.
"Does his wife encourage this writing, Martie?"
"Adele? She isn't with him now at all. She's left him, in fact. I believe she wants a divorce."
"Oh?" Lydia commented, in a peculiar tone.
"He wrote me that some weeks ago," Martie explained, suddenly flushing. "She was a queer, unhappy sort of woman. She and this doctor of hers had some sort of affair, and the outcome was that she simply went to friends, and wrote John a hysterical girly-girly sort of letter--"
"Mr. Dryden, that is."
"He must be crushed and heartbroken," Lydia said emphatically.
"Well, no, he isn't," Martie said innocently. "He isn't like other people. If she wants a divorce--John won't mind awfully. He's really--really unusual."
"He must be," Lydia said witheringly, and trembling a little with excitement, "to let his own wife leave him while he writes letters asking the advice of a--a--another woman who is recently--recently widowed!"
Martie glanced at her, smiled a little, shrugged her shoulders, and calmly re-read her letter.
Lydia resumed her work, a flush on her cheeks.
"He can't have much respect for you, Martie," she said quietly, after a busy silence.
Martie looked up, startled.
"John can't? Oh, but Lyddy, you don't know him! He's such an innocent goose; he absolutely depends upon me! Why, fancy, he's the man who wanted me to open the boarding-house so that he and his wife could live there--he's as simple as that!"
"As simple as what?" Lydia asked with her deadly directness.
"Well--I mean--that if there were anything--wrong in his feeling for me--" Martie floundered.
"Oh, Martie, Martie, Martie, I tremble for you!" Lydia said sadly. "A married man, and you a married woman! My dear, can't you see how far you've drifted from your own better self to be able to laugh about it?"
"You goose!" Martie kissed the cool, lifeless cheek before she ran upstairs with her letter. John's straight-forward sentences kept recurring to her mind through many days. His letter seemed to bring a bracing breath of the big city. A day or two later she and Teddy chanced to be held in mid-street while the big Eastern passenger train thundered by, and she shut her fingers on John's letter in her pocket, and said eagerly, confidently, "Oh, New York! I wish I was going back!"
But Lydia wore a grave face for several days, and annoyed and amused her younger sister with the attitude that something was wrong.
Lydia had changed more than any one of them, Martie thought, although her life was what it had always been. She had been born in the old house, and had moved about it for these more than thirty years almost without an interruption. But in the last six years she had left girlhood forever behind; she was a prim, quiet, contentedly complaining woman now, a little too critical perhaps, a little self- righteous, but kind and good. Lydia's will was always for the happiness of others: Pa's comfort, Pauline's rights, and the wisest course for Martie and Sally to take occupied her mind and time far more than any personal interest of her own. But she had a limited vision of duty and convention, and even Sally fretted under her sway. Her father openly transferred his allegiance to Martie, and Lydia grieved over the palpable injustice without the slightest appreciation of its cause.
She was infinitely helpful in times of emergency, and would take charge of Sally's babies, if Sally were ill, or slave in Sally's nursery if all or any of the children were indisposed. But she was not so obliging if mere pleasure took Sally away from her maternal duties. Sally told Martie that there was no asking Lyd to help, either she did it voluntarily, or wild horses couldn't make her do it at all.
If her younger sisters entrusted their children to Aunt Lydia, she was an adoring and indulgent aunt. She loved to open her cookie jar for their raids, and to have them beg her favours or stories. But if Lydia had expressed the opinion that it was too cold for the children to go barefoot, and Martie or Sally revoked the decision, then Lydia wore a dark, resentful look for hours, and was apt to vent her disapproval on the children themselves.
"No, get out of my lap, Jimmy. I don't want a boy that runs to his Mama and doesn't trust his Auntie," Lydia would say patiently, firmly, and kindly. Martie and Sally, wives for years, were able to refrain from any comment. To be silent when children are disciplined is one of the great lessons of marriage.
"But I don't believe that a woman who ever had had a baby could rebuff a child like that," Martie told Sally. "I don't know, though, some aunts are wonderful! Only that pleasant justice does seem wasted on a child; it merely stings without being comprehensible in the least!"
So the younger girls dismissed it philosophically. But it was one of the results of a life like Lydia's that human intercourse had no lighter phases for her. She must analyze and suspect and brood. Wherever a possible slight was hidden Lydia found it. She sometimes disappeared for a few hours upstairs, and came back with reddened eyes.
Her father's devotion to Martie she bore with martyred sweetness. When they laughed together at dinner she listened with downcast eyes, a faint, pained smile on her lips.
"Would you like Martie to sit in Ma's place, Pa?" she asked one morning, when she was folding her napkin neatly into the orange-wood napkin-ring marked "Souvenir of Santa Cruz." Her father's surprised negative hardly interrupted the account he was giving his youngest daughter of the law-suit he had won years ago against old man Thomas. But after breakfast Martie found Lydia crying into one of the aprons that Were hanging in the side-entry. "It's nothing!" she gulped as Martie's warm arms went about her. "Only--only I can't bear to have Ma forgotten already! You heard how Pa spoke-so short and so cold!"
"Oh, Lyddy, darling!" Martie protested, half-amused, half- sympathetic. Lydia straightened herself resentfully.
"I suppose I'm foolish," she said. "I suppose the best thing for us all to do is to forget and laugh, and go on as if life and death were only a joke!"
But these storms were rare. Lydia's was a placid life. She was deeply delighted when her cooking was praised, although she pretended to be annoyed by it. She was wearing dresses now that had been hers six years ago; sometimes a blue gingham or a gray madras was worn a whole season by Lydia without one trip to the tub. She carried a red and gray parasol that Cliff Frost had given her ten years ago; her boots were thin, unadorned kid, creased by her narrow foot; they seemed never to wear out.
As the years went by she quoted her mother more and more. The rather silent Mrs. Monroe had evidently left a fund of advice behind her. Nothing was too trivial to be affected by the memory of Ma's opinion.
"Nice thick cream Williams is giving us," Lydia might say at the breakfast table. "Dear Ma used to say that good cream was half the secret of good coffee!" "I remember Ma used to say that marigolds were rather bold, coarse flowers," she confided to Martie, "and isn't it true?"
Her appetite for the news of the village was still insatiable; it was rarely uncharitable, but it never ended. Martie came to recognize certain tones in Lydia's voice, when she and Alice Clark or Angela Baxter or young Mrs. King were on the shady side porch. There was the delicately tentative tone in which she trod upon uncertain ground: "How do you mean she's never been the same since last fall, Lou? I don't remember anything special happening to Minnie Scott last fall." There was a frankly and flatly amazed tone, in which Lydia might say: "Well, Clara told me yesterday about Potter Street, and if you'll tell me what possessed that boy, I'll be obliged to you!" And then there was the tone of incredible announcement: "Alice, I don't know that I should tell this, because I only heard it last night, but I haven't been able to think of one other thing ever since, and I believe I'll tell you; it won't go any further. Mrs. Hughie Wilson came in here last night, and we got to talking about old Mrs. Mulkey's death--"
And so on, for perhaps a full hour. Martie, smiling over her darning, would hear Alice's gratifying, "Well, for pity!" and "Did you ever!" at intervals. Sometimes she herself contributed something, a similar case in New York, perhaps, but the others were not interested. They knew, without ever having expressed it, that there is no intimacy like that of a small village, no novelty or horror that comes so closely home to the people of the Eastern metropolis as did these Monroe events to their own lives.
Martie loved her sister, and they came to understand each other's ways perfectly. Teddy was happy with Aunt Lyd when his mother was at the Library, and Lydia liked her authority over the child and his companionship. There was no peace in the old house, for all her silent meekness, unless Lydia's curious sense of justice was satisfied, and Martie took pains to satisfy it.
One memorable day, just before Christmas, Martie opened a small package, to find John Dryden's book. She was in the Library when Miss Fanny came in with the mail, and her hand trembled as she cut the strings. The flimsy tissue paper jacket blew softly over her hand; a dark blue book, slim, dignified: "Mary Beatrice."
He had not autographed it, but then John would never think of doing so. Martie smiled her motherly smile at the memory of his childish dependence upon her suggestions as to the smaller points of living. Her letter of congratulation began to run through her mind as she turned the title page.
Suddenly her heart stopped beating. She wet her lips and glanced about. Miss Fanny had gone into the coat-room; nobody was near.
Oh, madman, madman! He had dedicated it to her! A detected felony could not have given Martie a more sinking sensation than she experienced at the sight.
Her initials: M. S. B.--she need puzzle only a second over the selection, for her letters to him were always signed, "Martha Salisbury, Bannister." And under the initials, this:
Even as to Caesar, Cassar's toll, To God what in us is divine; So to your soul above my soul Whatever life finds good in mine. Martie read the four lines as many times, then she lifted the page to her cheek, and held it there, shutting her eyes, and drawing a deep, ecstatic breath.
"Oh, John, John, how wonderful of you!" she whispered, her heart rising on a swift, triumphant flight. Ah, this was something to have brought from the long years; this counted in that inner tribunal of hers.
After awhile she began to turn the pages, wishing that she were a better judge of all these phrases. The play was short: three brief acts.
"I think it's wonderful!" Martie decided. "I know it is!"
For the little volume, even at this first quick glimpse, was stamped with something fiery and strange. Martie's eyes drifted here and there; presently fell upon the lines that brought the frightened little Italian princess, fresh from her convent, to the strange coast of England, and to the welcome of the strange King, her prospective husband's brother. The words were simplicity's self, like all inspired words, yet they brought the colour to Martie's face, and a yearning pain to her heart. Youth and love in all their first gold glory were captured here, and something of youth and glory seemed to flood the Library throughout the quiet winter afternoon.
The hours droned on, Martie, moving noiselessly about, and touching the switch that suddenly lighted the dim big room, paused at the window to look down upon Monroe. An early twilight was creeping into the village street, and the drug-store windows glowed with globes of purple and green. The shops were already disguised under bushy evergreens; wreaths of red and green paper made circles of steam against the show windows. Silva, of the fruit market opposite, was selling a Christmas tree from the score that lay at the curb, to a stout country woman, whose shabby, well-wrapped children watched the transaction breathlessly from a mud-spattered surrey. The Baxter girls went by, Martie saw them turn into the church yard, and disappear into the swinging black doors, "for a little visit."
Nothing dramatic or beautiful in the scene: a little Western village street, on the eve of Christmas Eve, but to-night it was lighted for Martie with poetry and romance. The thought of a slim, dark-blue book with its four magic lines thrilled in her heart like a song.
"Christmas day after to-morrow!" she said to Fanny, "don't you love Christmas?"
But she knew that her real Christmas joy had come to-day.
The December kitchen was gas-lighted long before she got there, and Pauline was deep in calm preparation for dinner. Pauline was a Canadian girl, and if her work ever confused or fatigued her, at least she never betrayed the fact. There never were pots and pans awaiting cleaning in Pauline's sink, there never was a teaspoonful of flour spilled upon her biscuit board. Her gingham cuffs were always starched and stiff, her colourless hair smooth. She was a silent, dun-coloured creature, whose most violent expression was an occasional deep, unctuous laugh at Mrs. Bannister's nonsense.
Pauline did not prepare a meal in a series of culminating convulsions, with hair rumpling, face reddening, and voice rising every passing minute. She moved a shining pot forward on a shining stove, she took plates of inviting cold things from the safe, and lifted a damp napkin from her pats of butter. Then she said, in an uninterested voice: "You might tell your p'pa, Miss Lydia--"
Humble as her business was, she had been taught it well. Martie, insatiable on this particular topic, sometimes questioned Pauline. She was given a meagre picture of a farmhouse on Prince Edward's Island, of a stern, exacting, loving mother who "licked" daughters and sons alike with a "trace-end" for any infractions of domestic rule. Of snows so lasting and deep that housewives buried their brown linens in October, and found them again, snowy white, on the April grass. Pauline's mother, dying of "a shock," had been the devoted daughter's charge for eleven hard years, then Pauline had married at thirty, only to be made a widow, by a lumber jam, at thirty-two. So it was fortunate that she could cook, for she was a plain woman, and what the country folk call "dumb," meaning dull, and unresponsive, and unambitious.
To-night there was a little unusual clutter in the big, hot, clean kitchen; Lydia was making sandwiches for the Girls' Sodality Christmas Tree at the large table. Two or three empty cardboard boxes stood waiting the neatly trimmed and pressed bread: Lydia did this sort of thing perfectly. At the end of the table, his cheeks glowing, and his dark mop in a tumble, Teddy was watching in deep fascination.
The room had the charm that use and simplicity lend to any room. There was nothing superfluous here, and nothing assumed. Martie knew every crack in the yellow bowl that held a crinkled rice-pudding; the broom had held that corner for thirty years; for thirty years the roller towel had dangled from that door. She and Len and Sally had seen their mother go to the broom for a straw, to test baking cake, a hundred times; their sticky little faces had been dried a hundred times on the towel.
But to-night a new, homely sweetness seemed to permeate the place. Martie had left the slim, dark-blue book upstairs in her bureau drawer, but her mood of exquisite lightheartedness she had not laid aside. She sat down in the kitchen rocker, and Teddy climbed into her lap, and, while she talked with Lydia, distracted her with little kisses, with small hands squeezing her cold cheeks, and with the casual bumping of his hard little head against her face.
"I declare it begins to feel Christmassy, Lyd! Did you get down town to see the stores? I never saw anything like Bonestell's in my life. It's cold, too--but sort of bracing cold! We had both the stoves going all day; we had to light the lights at four! It was rather nice, everybody coming in to say 'Merry Christmas!'"
"The children had their closing exercises at school this morning," Lydia contributed, "and afterward Sally and I walked down town, with all the children. She expects Joe to-morrow. She wanted Billy and Jim to get in a nap, so I brought Ted home."
"And I took a long nap!" Teddy whispered in his mother's ear.
"I don't know what possesses the child to whisper that way!" Lydia said, annoyed.
"He just said that he had a nap, Lyd, I think he didn't want to interrupt."
"Oh, he got a good nap in," Lydia admitted, pacified, "if you're really going to take him to-night, I've laid out his clean things."
"I saw them on the bed, Lyd--you're a darling!"
"Am I going?" Teddy asked, with a bounce.
"Is Aunt Sally going to take the children?" Martie temporized. But Teddy knew from her tone that he was safe. Indeed, his mother loved the realization that she was his court of last appeal, that it was to her memory of authority abused that his happiness was entrusted. It was her joy to explain, to adjust, to reconcile, the little elements of his life. She taught him the rules of simplicity and industry and service as another mother might have taught him his multiplication table. Teddy might have poverty and discouragement to face some day, but life could never be all dark to him while his mother interpreted it.
She took him upstairs now, to dress for the great occasion of the Sodality Christmas tree, and dressed herself, prettily, as well. But before she turned out the gas, and followed the galloping small boy downstairs, she opened her bureau drawer.
And again the slim book was in her hands, and again her dazzled eyes were reading the few words that gave her new proof that John had not forgotten.
For a few minutes she stood dreaming; dreaming of the old boarding- house, and the little furniture clerk with his eager, faun-like smile. And for the first time she let her fancy play with the thought of what life might be for the woman John Dryden loved.
But she put the book and the thought quickly away, her cheeks burning, and went down to the homely, inviting odours of supper, of Pauline's creamed salmon and fluffy rolls. Her father sat beside the fire, in a sort of doze, his long, lean hands idly locked, his glasses pushed up on his lead-coloured forehead.
Martie kissed him, catching the old faint unpleasant smell of breath and moustache as she did so, helped him to the table, and tied Teddy's napkin under the child's round, firm chin. She talked of anything and everything, of Christmas surprises, and Christmas duties--
And all the while her heart sang. When with Teddy on one side, and Lydia leaning on the free arm, she was walking through the winter darkness her feet wanted to dance on the cold, hard earth.
"It's Christmas--Christmas--Christmas!" she laughed, when the little boy commented upon her gaiety. Lydia found the usual damper for her mood.
"Very different for you from last Christmas, poor Mart!" she observed, with a long sigh.
Martie was sobered. They went into the church for a moment's prayer, and Teddy wriggled against her in the dark, and managed to get a little arm about her neck, for he knew that she was crying. The revulsion had come, and Martie, tears running down her face in the darkness, was only a lonely woman again, unsuccessful, worried, trapped in a dull little village, missing her baby!
Women were coming and going on the altar, trimming it with odorous green for Christmas. There was a pungent smell of evergreen in the air. About the confessionals there was a constant shuffle, whispering and stirring; radiators hissed and clanked, the big doors creaked and swung windily.
Sally and her whispering tribe were just in front of them; presently they all went out into the cold, and across a bare yard to the lights and warmth and noise and music of the Sodality Hall. Sally saw that Martie had been crying, and when they were seated together in one of the rows of chairs against the wall, with their laps full of children's coats, she touched the hidden hurt.
"Martie, dearest, I'm so sorry!"
"I know!" Martie blinked and managed a smile.
"I'll be glad for you when this first Christmas is over!" Sally said earnestly.
Martie's answering look was full of gratitude: she thought it strangely touching to see the blooming little mother deliberately try to bring her gay Christmas mood into tune with sorrow and loss. Sally's beautiful Elizabeth was one of the Christmas angels in the play to-night, and Sally's pride was almost too great to bear. Billy was sturdily dashing about selling popcorn balls, and Jim was staggering to and fro flirting with admiring Sodality girls. The young Hawkeses were at their handsome best, and women on all sides were congratulating Sally.
What could Sally dream, Martie mused, of a freezing Eastern city packed under dirty snow, of bitter poverty, of a tiny, gold-crowned girl in a shabby dressing-gown, of a coaster wrapped in wet paper, and delivered in a dark, bare hall? Sally's serene destiny lay here, away from the damp, close heat under which milk poisoned and babies wilted, away from the icy cold that caught shuddering flesh and blood under its solid pall. These friendly, chattering women were Sally's world, these problems of school and rent and food were Sally's problems.
But Martie knew now that she was not of Monroe, that she must go back. She was not Sally, she was not Rose; she had earned her entry into a higher school. Those Eastern years were not wasted, she must go on now, she must go on--to what?--to what?
And with New York her thoughts were suddenly with John, and Sally, glancing anxiously at her, saw that she was smiling. Martie did not notice the look: she was far away. She saw the Christmas tree, and the surging children, through a haze of dreams.
Mysterious, enviable, unattainable--thought the Sodality girls, eying the black-clad figure, with its immaculate touches of white at wrists and throat. Mrs. Bannister had run away with an actor and had lived in New York, and was a widow, they reminded each other, and thrilled. She never dreamed that they made her a heroine and a model, quoted her, loitered into the Library to be enslaved afresh by her kind, unsmiling advice. She felt herself far from the earliest beginnings of real achievement: to them, as to herself ten years ago, she was a person romantic and exceptional--a somebody in Monroe!
Somebody brought her Jim, sweet and sleepy, and he subsided in her lap. Len's wife sank into a neighbouring chair, to express worried hopes that the March baby would be a boy, a male in the Monroe line at last. Rose fluttered near, with pleasant plans for a dinner party. Martie's thought were with a slim, dark-blue book, safe in her bureau drawer.
She wrote John immediately. There was no answer, but she realized that the weeks that went on so quietly in Monroe were bringing him rapidly to fame and fortune.
"Mary Beatrice" was an instantaneous success. It was not quite poetry, not quite drama, not quite history. But its combination of the three took the fancy, first of the critics, then of the public. It was read, quoted, and discussed more than any other book of the year. Martie found John's photograph in all the literary magazines, and saw his name everywhere. Interviews with him frequently stared at her from unexpected places, and flattering prophecies of his future work were sounded from all sides. Three special performances of "Mary Beatrice," and then three more, and three after that, were given in New York, and literary clubs everywhere took up the book seriously for study.
Well, Martie thought, reviewing the matter, it was not like one's dreams, but it was life, this curious success that had come to the husband of a woman like Adele, the odd, inarticulate little clerk in a furniture store. She wondered if it had come in time to save the divorce, wondered where John was living, what change this extraordinary event had made in his life.
Her own share in it came to seem unreal, as all the old life was unreal. Gradually, what Monroe did and thought and felt began to seem the real standard and the old life the false. Martie agreed with Lydia that the little Eastman girl had a prettier voice than any she had ever heard in New York; she agreed with Rose that the Woman's Club was really more up-to-date than it was possible for a club to be in the big Eastern city.
"I know New York," smiled Rose, "and of course, I love it. Rod and I have been there twice, and we do have the best times! And I admit that Tiffany's and the big shops and so on, well, of course, they're wonderful! We stayed there almost three weeks the last time, and we just went every moment of the time--"
Martie, leaning on the desk before her and smiling vaguely, was not listening. The other woman's words had evoked a sudden memory of the early snows and the lights in the Mall, of the crashing elevated trains with chestnut-sellers' lights blowing beneath them, of summer dawns, when the city woke to the creeping tide of heat, and of autumn afternoons, when motor cars began to crowd the Avenue, and leaves drifted--drifted--in the Park. To Rose she answered duly: "You must have had great fun!" But to herself she said: "Ah, you don't know my New York!"