Whatever Lydia, her mother, and Sally agreed between themselves the next day they never told, but there was a conspiracy immediately on foot. Little was said of the party, and nothing of Rodney Parker, for many days. And if Martie in her fever of hurt pride was not openly grateful, at least they knew her benefited by the silence. Rose had no such compunction.
On the afternoon of the long rainy Saturday that was to have been filled with a picnic, Rose telephoned. She just wanted to see how every one was--and say what a lovely time she'd had! Ida Parker had just telephoned, and Rose was going up there at about four o'clock to stay for dinner, just informally, of course. She would go back to Berkeley to-morrow night, but she hoped to see the girls in the meantime.
Silently, heavily, Martie went on wiping the "company" dishes, carrying them into the pantry shelves where they had been piled untouched for years, and where they would stand again unused for a long, long time. Sally was tired, and complained of a headache. Lydia was irritatingly cheerful and philosophical. Len had disappeared, as was usual on Saturday, and Mrs. Monroe and Mrs. Potts were talking in low tones over the sitting-room fire. Outside, the rain fell and fell and fell.
Martie thought of Rose, laughing, pink-cheeked, discarding her neat little raincoat with Rodney's help at four o'clock, at the Parkers' house, and bringing her fresh laughter into their fire. She thought of her at six--at seven--and during the silent two hours when she brooded over her cards.
Coming out of church the next morning, Rose rejoiced over the clear bath of sunlight that followed the rain. "Rod is going to take me driving," she told Martie. "I like him ever so much; don't you, Martie?"
Alice Clark, coming in for a chat with Lydia late that afternoon, added the information that when little Rose Ransome left the city at four o'clock, Rod Parker and that fat friend of his went, too. Escorting Rose--and he and Rose would have tea in the city before he took her to Berkeley--Martie thought.
That was the beginning, and now scarcely a day passed without its new sting. The girl was not conscious of any instinct for bravery; she did not want to be brave, she wanted to draw back from the rack- -to escape, rather than to endure. A first glimpse of happiness had awakened fineness in her nature; she had been generous, sweet, ambitious, only a few weeks ago. She had given new thought to her appearance, had carried her big frame more erectly. All her bigness, all her capacity for loving and giving she would have poured at Rodney's feet; his home, his people, his hopes, and plans--these would have been hers.
Repulsed, this gold of youth turned to brass; through long idle days and wakeful nights Martie paid the cruel price for a few hours of laughter and dreaming. She was not given another moment of hope.
Not that she did not meet Rodney, for in Monroe they must often meet. And when they met he greeted her, and they laughed and chatted gaily. But she was not Brunhilde now, and if Sally or Lydia or any one else was with her she knew he was not sorry.
In the middle of December Rose's mother, the neat little widow who was like an older Rose, told Sally that Rose was not going back to college after Christmas. Quietly, without comment, Sally told this to Martie when they were going to bed that night.
Martie walked to the window, and stood looking out for a long time. When she came back to Sally her face was pale, her breast moving stormily, and her eyes glittering.
"They're engaged, I suppose?" Martie said.
Sally did not speak. But her eyes answered.
"Sally," said her sister, in a voice thick with pain, as she sat down on the bed, "am I to blame? Could I have done differently? Why does this come to Rose, who has everything now, and pass me by? I--I don't want to be like--like Lyd, Sally; I want to live! What can I do? Oh, my God," said Martie, rising suddenly and beginning to walk to and fro, with her magnificent mane of hair rolling and tumbling about her shoulders as she moved, "what shall I do? There is a world, out there, and people working and living and succeeding in it--and here I am, in Monroe--dying, dying, dying of longing! Sally ..." and with tears wet on her cheeks, and her mouth trembling, she came close to her sister. "Sally," whispered Martie unsteadily, "I care for--him. I wanted nothing better. I thought--I thought that by this time next year we might--we might be going to have a baby-- Rodney and I."
She flung back her head, and went again to the window. Sally burst into bitter crying.
"Oh, Martie--Martie--I know! I know! My darling, splendid, glorious sister--so much more clever than any one else, and so much better! I think it'll break my heart!"
And in each other's arms, nineteen and twenty-one wept together at the bitterness of life.
The days wore by, and Rose came smiling home for Christmas, and early in the new year Martie and Sally were asked to a pink luncheon at the Ransome cottage, finding at each chair two little tissue- paper heart-shaped frames initialled "R. P." and "R. R." with kodak prints of Rose and Rodney inside. The Monroe girls gave Rose a "linen shower" in return, and the whole town shared the pleasure of the happy pair.
Martie had enough to think of now. Not even the thoughts of the prospective bride could dwell more persistently on her own affairs than did Martie's thoughts. Rose, welcome at the Parkers', envied and admired even by Ida and May and Florence; Rose, prettily buying her wedding finery and dashing off apt little notes of thanks for her engagement cups and her various "showers"; Rose, fluttering with confidences and laughter to the admiring Rodney, with the diamond glittering on her hand; these and a thousand other Roses haunted Martie. Lydia and her mother admired and marvelled with the rest. Lydia it was who first brought home the news that the young Parkers were to be married at Easter, Sally learned from Rose's own lips that they were to spend a week in Del Monte as honeymoon.
The Monroe girls still wandered down town on weekday mornings, loitering into the post-office, idling an hour away in the Library, drifting home to mutton stew or Hamburg steak when the clock in the town hall struck twelve. Sometimes Martie watched the big eastern trains thunder by, looking with her wistful young blue eyes at the card-playing men and the flushed, bored young women with their heads resting on the backs of their upholstered seats. Sometimes she stopped at the little magazine stand outside of Carlson's cigar store; her eye caught by a photograph on the cover of a weekly: "Broadway at Forty-Second," or "Night Lights from the Singer Building," or the water-front silhouette that touches like the sight of a beloved face even some hearts that know it not. She wanted to do something, now that it was certain that she would not marry. Slowly, and late, Martie's soul was awakening.
She asked her father if she might go to work. Certainly she might, her father said lifelessly. Well, what should she do?--the girl persisted.
"Ah, that's quite another thing!" Malcolm said, with his favourite air of detecting an inconsistency. "You want to work? Well and good, go ahead and do it! But don't expect me to tell you what to do. Your mother may have some idea. Your grandmother--and she was the loveliest woman I ever knew!--was content to be merely a lady, something I wish my daughters knew a little more about. Her beautiful home, her children and servants, her friends and her church--that was her work! She didn't want to push coarsely out into the world. However, if you do, go ahead! I confess I am tired of seeing the dark, ugly expression you've worn lately, Martie. Go your own way!"
Armed with this ungracious permission, Martie went down to see Miss Fanny, talked with Grace, and even, meeting him on a lonely walk, climbed into the old phaeton beside Dr. Ben, and asked his advice. Nothing definite resulted, yet Martie was the happier for the new interest. Old Father Martin talked to her of her plans one day, and presently put her in communication with a certain widow, Mrs. O'Brien, of San Francisco, who wanted an intelligent young woman to go with her to New York to help with the care and education of two little O'Briens.
This possibility fired Martie and Sally to fever-heat, and they hoped and prayed eagerly while it was under discussion. New York at last! said Martie, who felt that she had been waiting endless years for New York. But Mrs. O'Brien, it seemed, wanted some one who would be able to begin French and German and music lessons for little Jane and Cora, and the question of Martie's fitness was settled.
Still she was happier, and when Easter came, and the Monroe girls were bidden to Rose's wedding, it was with a new and charming gravity in face and manner that Martie went.
The ceremony took place in the comfortable parlours of the Ransome house; the pretty home wedding possible because Rodney was not a Catholic. Just like Rose's luck--instead of being married in the bare, big church, thought Martie, at whose age the religious side of the question did not appear important. Dr. Ben gave his young cousin away, and Rose's mother, whose every thought since the fatherless child was born had been for the girl's good, who had schemed and worked and prayed for twenty years that Rose might be happy, that Rose might have music and languages, travel and friends, had her reward when the lovely little Mrs. Parker flung her fragrant arms about her, and gave her her first kiss.
Rose looked her prettiest, just becomingly pale, becomingly merry, becomingly tearful. Her presents, on view upstairs, were far finer than any Monroe had seen since Cliff Frost was married. Rodney was the usual excited, nervous, laughing groom. The wedding supper was perfection, and the young people danced when Father Martin was gone, and when the bride and groom had dashed away to the ten-o'clock train.
It was all over. Rose had everything, as usual, and Martie had nothing.
Easter was in early April that year, and the sweet, warm month was dying away when one afternoon Miss Fanny, always hopeful for this dreaming helpless young creature so full of big faults and big possibilities, detained Martie in the Library for a little dissertation upon card catalogues. Martie listened with her usual enthusiastic interest. Yes--she understood; yes, she understood.
"There's your telephone, Miss Fanny!" said she, in the midst of a demonstration. The older woman picked up the instrument.
"It's for you, Martie. It's Sally," she said, surprised. "Sally!" Martie did not understand. She had left Sally at the bridge, and Sally was to go on to the Town Hall for Pa, with a letter.
"Hello, Martie!" said a buoyant yet tremulous voice. "Martie--this is Sally. I'm over at Mrs. Hawkes's. Martie--I'm married!"
"Married!" echoed Martie stupidly, eyeing the listening Miss Fanny bewilderedly.
"Yes--to Joe. Lissun--can't you come right over? I'll tell you all about it!"
Martie put back the receiver in a state of utter stupefaction. Fortunately the Library was empty, and after telling Miss Fanny the little she knew, she went out into the sweet, hot street. The town was in a tent of rustling new leaves; lilacs were in heavy flower. Roses and bridal-wreath and mock-orange trees were in bloom. Rank brown grass stood everywhere; the fruit blossoms were gone, tall buttercups were nodding over the grass.
At the Hawkes's house there were laughter and excitement. Sally, rosier and more talkative than even Martie had ever seen her before, was the heroine of the hour. When Martie came in, she flew toward her in an ecstasy, and with laughter and tears the tale was told. She and Joe had chanced to meet on the Court House steps, Sally coming out from the task of delivering a letter from Pa to Judge Parker, Joe going in with a telegram for Captain Tate. And almost without words from the lilac-scented, green-shaded street they had gone into the License Bureau; and almost without words they had walked out to find Father Martin. And now they were married! And the thin old ring on Sally's young hand had belonged to Father Martin's mother.
Martie was too generous not to respond to her sister's demand, even if she had not been completely carried away by the excitement about her.
Mrs. Hawkes, tears of joy in her eyes, yet smiles shining through them, was brewing tea for the happy pair. Minnie Hawkes's Rose was making toast when she was not jumping up and down half mad with delight. Ellen Hawkes, now Mrs. Castle, was setting the table. Grandma Kelly was quavering out blessings, and Joe's older brother, Thomas, who worked at night, and had been breakfasting at four o'clock, when the young pair burst in, rushed out to the bakery to come back triumphantly with a white frosted cake.
"It's a fair cake," said Mrs. Hawkes in the babel. "But you wait-- I'll make you a cake!"
"And you know, Joe and I between us just made up the dollar for the license!" laughed Sally.
"Say, listen," said Ellen suddenly, "you folks have got to take our house for a few days; how about that, Mother? You and Joe can start housekeeping there like Terry and me. How about it, Mother? We'll come here!"
"But, Sally--not to tell me!" Martie said reproachfully.
"Oh, darling--I did that deliberately!" her sister answered earnestly. "I'm going to telephone Pa, and I know he'll be wild. And I didn't want you to be in it! You'll have enough--poor Martie!"
Already the shadow of the old house was passing from her. With what gaiety she went about the old room, thought Martie, stopped by Mrs. Hawkes's affectionate arms for a kiss, stopping to kiss Grandma Kelly of her own free will. Sally had no sense of social values; she loved to be here, admired, loved, busy.
"Think of the priest giving her his mother's own ring!" said the women over and over. "It'll bring you big luck, Sally!"
They all sat down at the table, and Terry and John Healey came in to rejoice, and the Healey baby awoke, and Grace came in from work. When Martie left there was talk of supper; everybody was to stay for supper.
Walking home in the late spring twilight, Martie felt a certain satisfaction. Sally was happy, and they would be good to her, and she would be better off than Lydia, anyway. Joe as a husband was perfectly absurd, of course, but Joe certainly did love Sally. Monroe would buzz, but Martie had heard Monroe buzzing for a long time now, and after the first shock, had found herself unhurt. Curiously, Sally's plunge into a new life seemed to free her own hands.
"Now I am going to get out!" said Martie, opening her own gate.
When Malcolm Monroe came home that night it was to a well-sustained hurricane of tears and protest. Mrs. Monroe and Lydia shed genuine tears, and Martie and Len added diplomatically to the hubbub. Pa must suspect no one of sympathy for the shameless Sally.
"To think, Pa, after all we've done for her!" sobbed Mrs. Monroe, and Lydia, wiping her nose and shaking her head, kept saying with reproachful firmness: "I can't believe it of Sally! Why shouldn't she tell one of us. To stand up and be married all alone!"
Her father took the news exactly as might have been expected. While there was hope of convicting Martie or Lydia of complicity, he questioned them sharply and sternly. When this was gone, he swiftly worked himself into such a passion as his children had rarely seen before. Sally and Joe were solemnly denounced, disinherited, and abandoned. And any child of his who spoke to either should share their fate.
"Oh, Papa--don't!" quavered Lydia, as her father strode to the Bible, and with horrible precision inked from the register the record of Sally's birth. Mrs. Monroe looked terrified, and even Leonard was pale. But Martie, to her own amazement, found a sudden calm scorn in her heart. What a silly thing to do, just because poor little Sally married the boy she loved. How dared Pa call himself a Christian while he regarded Sally's downward step from a mere social level a disgrace! And how cruel he was, playing upon poor Ma's and Lydia's feelings just for his own satisfaction.
"You understand me, don't you, Martie?" he asked grimly.
"I suppose so." An ugly smile curved Martie's lips. Her lids were half lowered.
"Well--remember it. And never any one of you mention your sister's name to me again!"
"No, Pa," said four fervent voices. Then they had dinner.
The next day the three women packed up Sally's things; Lydia and her mother in tears, but Martie strangely content. Something had happened at all events. She put Sally's baby sash and collar and other treasured rubbish in the package, with two scribbled lines pinned to them: "Praying for you, darling. Pa is furious. The slipper is for luck. Your M."
And then the eventless days began to wheel by again. Rose came home, and came to see Martie, and Martie dined at the Parkers'. Rodney, though obviously blind to all women but his wife, was cordial and gallant to the guest and Rose took her up to her pretty, frilly bedroom, so that Martie might take off her hat and coat, and told Martie that Rod was the neatest man she had ever seen, such a fusser about his bath and his clothes. On Rose's bureau was a big photograph of Rodney in a silver frame, and on Rodney's high dresser a charming photograph of Rose in her wedding gown. When she was putting on her hat four hours later to be driven home by Rodney, Martie heard Rose's wifely voice in the hall: "You are a darling to do this, Rod!" The tone was that in which a man is praised by his women for a hard duty cheerfully done. Martie was not surprised when Rose merrily confided to her that Rod wanted his wife to go along-- the silly!--and accompanied them on the short drive.
She did not see much of the young Parkers after that, nor did she expect to be counted among their intimate friends. She began to drift into the public kindergarten in the mornings, to help Miss Malloy with the unruly babies. And she missed Sally more every day.
Sally and Joe had gone to Pittsville immediately after their wedding; Joe having received a dazzling offer of forty dollars a month for two summer months from the express company there.
But when Sally had been married six weeks, Martie heard her voice one day when the younger sister was passing the Hawkes's house. Instantly she entered the gate, her heart beating high. Sally's dear, unforgettable voice! And Sally's slender shoulders and soft, loose hair!
The girls were in each other's arms, laughing and crying as they clung together. Martie thought she had never seen her sister look so well, or seem so sweet and gay. There were a thousand questions on each side to ask; Martie poured out the home news. Sally and Joe were housekeeping in three rooms, and it was more fun! And Sally really cooked him wonderful dinners; his father and mother had come over to one, and wasn't it good? Mrs. Hawkes enthusiastically agreed.
Of course, they had hardly anything, bubbled Sally, only two saucepans and one frying pan and the coffee pot. But it was more fun! And in the evenings they walked around Pittsville, and went to the ten-cent theatre, or bought candy and divided it. Couldn't Martie come some time to dinner?
"Pa," said Martie simply. Sally's bright face clouded. She sent a kiss to Ma and darling Lyd. She and Joe would come back to Monroe in September, and then she would come see Pa and make him forgive her. Tell him she still loved him!
Martie delivered none of these airy messages. She secretly marvelled at the happiness that could blind Sally to a memory of Pa, and Pa's stubbornness.
"Listen, Martie," said Sally, when for a moment the sisters were alone, "it wasn't so sudden as you think, my marrying Joe!" She stopped, interrupted by some thought, and added impulsively, "Isn't it strange, Mart, that we might have missed each other; it makes us both just shiver to think of it! Well"--and with a visible effort the little wife brought herself down from a roseate cloud to realities again--"if--if Lyd had married Cliff Frost," she said uncertainly, "I never should have dared marry Joe!"
"Or if I had married Rodney Parker, Sally?" Martie added steadily.
"Well--" The colour flew to Sally's face. "As it was," she went on a little hurriedly, "I just--couldn't bear to go on and on, it made me desperate! And I thought Pa and Ma's way is no good, our house never seems to have much happiness in it--and I'm going to get out! There never was a place like this for good times, and babies, and jokes, and company to dinner!" smiled Sally, looking about the Hawkeses' parlour triumphantly.
But then Sally was born devoid of a social sense, mused Martie, walking home. What would life be without it--she wondered. No affectations, no barriers, no pretenses--
"Flout me not, Sweet!" said some one at her side. She looked up into the beaming eyes of Wallace Bannister. "Don't you remember me--I'm the city feller that came here breakin' all hearts awhile back!"
"You idiot!" Martie laughed, too. "I thought you were miles away!"
"Well, judging by your expression, darling, you were miles away, too," said the irrepressible Wallace. "How are you, Brunhilde? Ich liebe dich! Yes'm, we ought to be miles away, but to tell you the honest truth, the season is simply rotten here on the coast. We've bust up, for the moment, but dry those tears. Here's my contract for seven weeks in San Francisco--seven plays. Sixty bones per week; pretty neat, what? We begin rehearsing in July, open August eighth, and if it's a go, go on indefinitely. The Cluetts and I are in this- -the rest of the company's gone flooey. Meanwhile, I have three weeks to wait, and I'm staying with my aunt in Pittsville studying like mad."
"And what are you doing in Monroe?" Martie said contentedly, as they wandered along.
"I came here a week ago to change some shoes," said Wallace, "and I saw you. So to-day I came and made you a formal call."
"You did not!" Martie ejaculated, laughing.
"Why didn't I? I fell down eleven steps into your garden, knocked on the front door, knocked on the side door, talked to some one called 'Ma,' talked to some one called 'Lydia,' and learned that Miss Martha Brunhilde Monroe was out for a sashay. There!"
"Well--for goodness sake!" Martie was conscious of flushing. From that second she grew a little self-conscious. He was a funny creature. He would have been unusually handsome, she thought, if it were not for a certain largeness--it was not quite coarseness--of feature. He would have been extraordinarily charming, decided Martie, but for that same quality in his manner; recklessness, carelessness. She knew he was not always telling the truth; these honours, these affairs, these fascinating escapades were not all his own. His exaggerated expressions of affection for herself were only a part of this ebullient sense of romance. But he was amusing.
"Bon soir, papillon!" he said at her gate. "How about a meet to- morrow? Tie a pink scarf to thy casement if thy jailer sleeps. Seriously, leave us meet, kid. Leave us go inter Bonestell's with the crowd--watto? I'll wait for youse outside the Library at three."
"With the accent on the wait," said Martie significantly. But she did not think of Rodney that evening. She thought of Sally and of Wallace Bannister.
Fortunately for her, it did not occur to her father to cross-examine her on any other event of the day except the circumstance that she had been seen walking with an unknown young man. This was food for much advice.
"I don't like it, my daughter," said Malcolm, rubbing his shins together and polishing his glasses as he sat by the fire. "I don't like it at all. I don't like this tendency to permit familiarities with this young man and that young man--all very well for a while, but not the sort of thing a young man chooses in a wife."
Martie, looking at him respectfully, as she placed a red Queen on a black King, felt in her heart that she would like to kill him.
The next afternoon she decided to clean the chicken house, one of the tasks in which her strange nature delighted. To splash about with hose and broom, tip over the littered drinking trough, wash cobwebs from the windows with a well-directed stream of water; in these things Martie found some inexplicable satisfaction. She went upstairs after luncheon to get into old clothes, came down half an hour later with her best hat on, walked straight out of the gate and down town.
Wallace was waiting, elated at her punctuality. Martie explaining her fear that some one might report their meeting to her father, they waited openly at Masset's corner, boarded the half-past three o'clock trolley, and went to Pittsville.
Pittsville was two miles away, but this adventure had all the charm of foreign travel to Martie. Every house interested her, the main street of the little town might have been Broadway in New York. The people looked different, she said. She and Wallace laughed their way through the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store, enjoyed a Floradora Special composed of bananas, ice cream, nuts, whipped cream, maple syrup, and cherries, and finally bought six cream puffs and carried them to Sally.
Sally's delight was almost tearful. She led Martie rapturously over her domain: the little bedroom spotless and sunshiny in the summer afternoon; the microscopic kitchen scented with the baked apples that had burned a little and the cookies that would not brown; the living-and-dining room that was at once so bare and so rich. It was a home, Martie realized dimly, and Sally was a person at last. The younger sister peeped interestedly into spice-tins and meat safe; three eggs were in a small yellow bowl, two thin slices of bacon on a plate. In the bread box was half a loaf of bread and one cut slice.
"Sally, it must be fun!" said Martie. "All this doll's house for six dollars a month!"
"Oh--fun!" Sally was rapturous beyond words. She gave them pale, hot cookies; the cream puffs would delight Joe.
The three laughed and feasted happily; Martie with a new sense of freedom and independence that exhilarated her like wine.
"Find us a nice little place like this, sister," said Wallace. "Martie loves me, Sarah. Their lips met in one long, rapturous kiss. The end."
The girls laughed joyously. Martie went home at five, Wallace accompanying her. She told her father that night that she had been in the Library.
The next day she did clean the chicken house, and did go down to spend the afternoon with Miss Fanny. But freedom danced in her veins; on the third afternoon she and Wallace took a long walk, and stopped to see Dr. Ben, and, sitting on two barrels behind the old railway station, ate countless cherries and apricots. Again--and again--they went to Pittsville. Sally was in their confidence and feasted them in the little flat or went with them on their innocent expeditions.
From their third meeting, it was cheerfully taken for granted that Wallace and Martie belonged to each other. Martie never knew what he really felt, any more than he dreamed of the girlish amusement and distrust in which she held him. They flirted only, but they swiftly found life uninteresting when apart. They never talked of marriage, yet every time they parted it was reluctantly, and never without definite plans for another immediate meeting. Wallace began to advise Martie not to eat the rich things that made her sick; Martie counselled him about his new suit, and listened, uneasy and ashamed, to a brief, penitential reference to "crazy" things he had done, as a "kid." He promised her never to drink again and incidentally told her that his real name was Edward Tenney. Suddenly they found the plural pronoun: we must do that; that doesn't interest us; Pa must not suspect our affair.
"The Cluetts are going to be in Pittsville," said Wallace one day. "I want you to meet them. You'll like Mabel; she's got two little kids. She and Jesse have been married only six years. And they'll like you, too; I've told 'em you're my girl!"
"Am I?" said Martie huskily. They were alone in Sally's little house, and for answer he put his arms about her. "Do you love me, Wallace?" she asked.
The question, the raised blue eyes, fired him to sudden passion. They kissed each other blindly, with shut eyes. After that, whenever they might, they kissed, and sometimes Martie, ignorant and innocent, wondered why the memory of his hot lips worried her a little.
There was nothing wrong in kissing! Martie still said to herself that of course they would not marry; yet when she was with Wallace she loved the evidences of her power over him, and seemed unable, as he was unable, to keep from the constant question: "Do you love me?"
In late June the Cluetts--pretty faded Mabel, her two enormous babies, her stepson Lloyd, and Jesse, the husband and father--all came to Pittsville for a few days' leisure before rehearsals began. Lloyd was a "light juvenile," off as well as on the stage. Jesse played father, judge, guardian, prime minister, and old family doctor in turn. Mabel, rouged and befrilled, still made an attractive foil for Wallace as the hero. Martie liked them all; their chatter of the fairyland of the stage, their trunks plastered with labels, their fine voices, their general air of being incompetent children adrift in a puzzling world. Deep laughter stirred within her when they spoke of business or of finance.
They talked frankly, in their three cheap rooms at the "Pittsville White House," before Wallace's girl. Jesse was pompous; Lloyd boyishly fretful; Mabel, patient, sympathetic, discouraged, and sanguine by turns. Martie was enraptured by the babies: Bernadette, a crimped heavy little brunette of five, and Leroy delicious at three months in limp little flannel wrappers.
"I'll tell you what, Miss Monroe--I'm going to call you Martha--" said Mabel, "I'm just about sick of California. I'm not a Californian; little old New York for mine. I first seen the light of day at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Sixteenth Street, and I wish to the good Lord I was there now. You'll never get a fair deal in Frisker, if any one should ride up on a bike and ask you, dear. We were doing very good last fall when little Mister Man here decided to join the party--after that I was simply no good! The box receipts have fell off steadily since we put that awful girl in. Don't leave that heavy child paralyze your limbs--she'll set there forever like an immidge, if you go on telling her stories!"
"I am amused--genuinely amused at the circumstances under which you find us, Miss Monroe," said Jesse Cluett with a dignified laugh. "And my friends in the East would be equally surprised. Professional pride brought me West, the pride of a man whose public demands one or two favoured parts from him, year after year. My three or four successes were a great gratification to me; not only the public, but my fellow actors at the Lambs, assured me that my future was made. 'Made?--no,' I said. 'No. I have no wish to become a one-part man.' To John Drew I said--I met him going into the Club-'H'ar you, Jesse?' he said. ... Oh, yes; we are warm friends, old friends. I played for two years with John Drew. Very brilliant actor--in some ways. And that is only one instance of the enthusiastic appreciation to which I am accustomed. ... Are we going to eat, my dear?" For Mrs. Cluett, who in her hospitable enthusiasm over Martie had taken a little spirit lamp from the washstand and placed a full kettle over the flame, was now looking about her in a vague, distressed sort of way.
"It's going out," said she blankly. Philosophically, Jesse put his wide-brimmed hat over his loose curls and, straightening his shoulders, walked mincingly out for alcohol with the younger men. Mrs. Cluett spread a small, spotted fringed cloth on a trunk, setting on it a cut and odorous lemon a trifle past its prime and a sticky jar of jam. Martie continued to cuddle Leroy and tell Bernadette a fairy tale. She found the crowded, tawdry bedroom delightfully cosy, especially when the men came back with graham crackers and cheese and spongy, greasy bakery doughnuts.
They all laughed when Wallace asked for the rat-trap's delight; and when Lloyd dropped a cruller on the floor and thumped his heel to show its weight; and when Wallace said: "Don't jam or jar Miss Monroe, Jesse!" But when, in retort for this latest witticism, Martie said: "Put your hand where it hurts, Wallace, and show Mama"; the laughter changed to actual shrieks of mirth; Jesse indulging in a deep "ha-ha-ha!" and Mabel hammering her heels madly together and sobbing put faintly that she should die--she should simply die!
Martie almost missed the five o'clock trolley, but Wallace pushed her upon the moving platform at the last possible moment, and she laughed and gasped blindly half the way home, accepting his help with her disordered hair and hat. When she finally raised her face, and somewhat shamefacedly eyed the one or two other occupants of the car, she saw Rose sitting opposite, a neat and interested Rose in her trousseau tailor-made.
Uncomfortable, Martie bowed, and Rose responded sweetly, presently patting the seat beside her with an inviting glove. Somewhat surprised at this unexpected graciousness, Martie and her escort crossed the car.
"No, Mrs.--not Miss!" Rose contradicted Wallace merrily, looking up at him prettily. "I know I'm not very imposing, but I'm a really truly old married lady!"
"This is Mrs. Rodney Parker, Wallace," Martie said. Instantly she was pleasantly conscious that her easy use of this actor's name was a surprise to Rose, and for the first time a definite pride in possession seized her. He might not be perfection, but he was hers.
"Is that so!" Wallace exclaimed, with new interest in eyes and voice. "Gosh--what fun we had that night! Do you remember the night we had oysters, and sat in that little place gassing for two hours? You know," said he, in a confidential aside to Rose, "Martie's a wonder when she gets started!"
"Isn't she?" Rose responded politely. "That was before I met my husband, I think," she added, "or rather re-met him, for years ago Mr. Parker and I---"
But Wallace, amused by the discussion that had arisen between the conductor and a Chinese who was getting on the car, interrupted abruptly to call Martie's attention to the affair, and Rose's reminiscence was lost. She said, with her good-byes, that Mr. Bannister must come and dine with them.
"Gosh, I see myself!" ejaculated Wallace ungratefully, as he walked with Martie to the gate. "I never could stand that ass Parker!"
"Don't you think she's very pretty, Wallace?"
"Oh, I don't know! I don't care much for those dolly women. I like red hair and big women, myself. Listen, Martie. To-morrow---"
No more was said of Rose. Martie wondered why she liked to hear Rodney Parker called an ass.
Malcolm Monroe came home for luncheon every day except Wednesday, which made Wednesday for the women of the family the easy day of the week. Their midday meal, never elaborate or formal, was less formal and even simpler on this day; conversation was more free, and time less considered.
For several days after Sally's extraordinary marriage Mrs. Monroe had wept continually, and even her always mild and infrequent attempts at conversation had been silenced. Later, she and Lydia had long and mournful discussions of the event, punctuating them with heavy sighs and uncomprehending shaking of their heads. That a Monroe in her senses could stoop to a Hawkes was a fact that would never cease to puzzle and amaze, and what the town was saying and thinking in the matter was an agonized speculation to Mrs. Monroe and Lydia. "Socially, of course," said Lydia, "we will never hold up our heads again!"
But as the days went by and the divorce of the young Mulkeys, and the new baby at Mrs. Hughie Wilson's, and the Annual Strawberry Festival and Bazaar for the Church Debt came along to make the gossip about Sally and Joe of secondary interest, Sally's mother and sister revived. They came to take a bitter-sweet satisfaction in the sympathy and interest that were shown on all sides.
Martie was not often at home in these days. "She fairly lives at the Library, and she takes long walks, I imagine, Ma," Lydia said once. "You know Martie misses---she's lonely. And then--there was, of course, the feeling about Rodney. It's just Martie's queer way of righting herself."
But on the hot Wednesday morning that brought in July Martie, with a clear conscience, was baking gingerbread. She had improved in manner and habit, of late, displaying an unwonted interest in the care of herself and her person, and an unwonted energy in discharging domestic duties.
She was buttering pans vigorously, and singing "The Two Grenadiers," when Lydia came into the kitchen.
"Martie, Pa just came in the gate. Isn't that maddening! We'll have to give him something canned; he hates eggs. Can't you make some drop cakes of that batter so they'll be done?"
"Sure I can!" Martie snatched a piece of paper to butter. "But what brings him home?"
"Why, I haven't the faintest---" Lydia was beginning, when her father's voice came in a shout from the dining room:
Terror seized Martie, her mouth watered saltly, her knees touched, and a chill shook her. The hot day turned bleak. She and Lydia exchanged a sick look before Martie, trembling, crossed the pantry, littered by Lydia's silver polish and rags, and went in to face the furious old man on the hearthrug. Malcolm was quivering so violently that his own fear seemed to be that he would lose his voice before he had gained his information. Martie was vaguely conscious that her mother, frightened and pale, was in the room, and that Len had come to the hall doorway.
"Martie," said her father, breathing hard, "where were you yesterday afternoon?"
"At Alice Clark's Five Hundred with Lyd---" the girl was beginning innocently. He cut her short with an impatient shake of the head.
"I don't mean yesterday! Where were you on Monday?"
"Monday? Why, Mama and I walked down to Bonestell's."
"Yes, we did, Pa! Yes, we did!" quavered Mrs. Monroe. "Oh, Pa, what is it?"
"And then what did you do?" he pursued blackly, turning to his wife.
"Why--why, Martie said she was going to go over to Pittsville and back, just for the ride--just to stay on the trolley, Pa!" explained his wife.
"Martie," thundered her father, "when you went to Pittsville you saw your sister, didn't you?"
Martie's head was held erect. She was badly frightened, but conscious through all her fear that there was a certain satisfaction in having the blow fall at last.
"Yes, sir," she gulped; she wet her lips. "Yes, sir," she said again.
"You admit it?" said Malcolm, his eyes narrowing.
Lydia, pale and terrified, had come in from the kitchen. Now she suddenly spoke.
"Oh, Pa, don't--don't blame Martie for that! You know what the girls always were to each other--I don't mean to be impertinent, Pa--do forgive me!--but Martie and Sally always---" "One moment, Lydia," said her father, with a repressive gesture, the veins blue on his forehead. "Just--one--moment." And, panting, he turned again to Martie. "Yes, and who else did you see in Pittsville?" he whispered, his voice failing.
Martie, breathing fast, her bright eyes fixed upon him with a sort of fascination, did not answer.
"I'll tell you who you saw," said Malcolm at white heat. "I'll tell you! You met this young whippersnapper Jackanapes--what's his name-- this young one-night actor---"
"Do you mean Mr. Wallace Bannister?" Martis asked with a sort of frightened scorn.
Lydia and her mother gasped audibly in the silence. Malcolm moved his eyes slowly from his youngest daughter's face to his wife's, to Lydia's, and back to Martie again. For two dreadful moments he studied her, an ugly smile touching his harsh mouth.
"You don't deny it," he said, after the interval, in a shaking voice. "You don't deny that you've been disobeying me and lying to me for weeks? Now I tell you, my girl--there's been enough of this sort of thing going on in this family. You couldn't get the man you wanted, so, like your sister, you pick up---"
Martie laughed briefly and bitterly. The sound seemed to madden him. For a moment he watched her, his head dropped forward like a menacing animal.
"Understand me, Martie," he said. "I'll break that spirit in you--if it takes the rest of my life! You'll laugh in a different way! My God--am I to be the laughing-stock of this entire town? Is a girl your age to---"
"Pa!" sobbed Mrs. Monroe. "Do what you think best, but don't--don't excite yourself so!"
Her clutching fingers on his arm seemed to soothe in through all his fury. He fell silent, still panting, and eying Martie belligerently.
"You--go to your room!" he commanded, pointing a shaking finger at her. "Go upstairs with your sister, Lydia, and bring me the key of her door. When I decide upon the measure that will bring this young lady quickest to her senses, I'll let her know. Meanwhile---"
"Oh, Pa, you needn't lock Martie in," quivered Lydia, "she'll stay-- won't you, Martie?"
Martie, like a young animal at bay, stood facing them all for a breathless moment. In that time the child that had been in her, through all these years of slow development, died. Anger went out of her eyes, and an infinite sadness filled them. A quick tremble of her lips and a flutter at her nostrils were the only signs she gave of the tears she felt rising. She flung one arm about her mother and kissed the wet, faded cheek.
"Good-bye, Ma," she said quickly. In another instant she had crossed to the entrance hall, blindly snatched an old soft felt hat from the rack, caught up Len's overcoat, and slipped into it, and was gone. Born in that moment of unreasoning terror, her free soul went with her.
The streets were flooded with hot summer sunshine, the sky almost white. Not a breeze stirred the thick foliage of the elm trees on Main Street as Martie walked quickly down to the Bank.
It was Rodney Parker who gave her her money; the original seventeen dollars and fifty cents had swelled to almost twenty-two dollars now. Martie hardly saw the gallant youth who congratulated her upon her becoming gipsy hat; mechanically she slipped her money into a pocket, mechanically started for the road to Pittsville.
Five minutes later she boarded the half-past twelve o'clock trolley, coming in excited and exultant upon Sally who was singing quietly over a solitary luncheon. The girls laughed and cried together.
"The funny thing is, I am as free as air!" Martie exclaimed, her cheeks glowing from the tea and the sympathy and the warm room. "But I never knew it! If Pa had gotten on that trolley, I think I would have fainted with shock. But what could he do? I am absolutely free, Sally--with twenty-one dollars and eighty-one cents!"
"I wish you had a husband---" mused Sally.
"I'd rather have a job," Martie said with a quick, bright flush nevertheless. "But I think I know how to get one. Mrs. Cluett is going to be playing steadily now, and after this engagement they're going to try very hard to get booked in New York. She's got to have some one to look out for the children."
"But Martie---" Sally said timidly, "you'd only be a sort of servant---"
"Well, that's the only thing I know anything about," Martie answered simply. "It might lead to something---"
"Then you and Wallace aren't---?" Sally faltered. "There's nothing serious---?"
Martie could not control the colour that swept up to the white parting of her hair, but her mouth showed new firmness as she answered gravely:
"Sally--I don't know. Of course, I like him--how could I help it? We're awfully good chums; he's the best chum I ever had. But he never--well, he never asked me. Sally"--Martie rested her elbows on the table, and her chin on her hands--"Sally, would you marry him?"
"If I loved him I would," said Sally.
"Yes, but did you know you loved Joe?" Martie asked. Sally was silent.
"Well--not so much--before--as after we were married," she said hesitatingly, after a pause.
Martie suddenly sprang up.
"Well, I'm going to see Mrs. Cluett!"
"I'll go, too," said Sally, "and we'll stop at the express office and tell Joe!"
Mrs. Cluett was alone with her children when the callers went in, and even Martie's sensitive heart could have asked no warmer reception of her plan.
The little actress kissed Sally, and kissed Martie more than once, brimming over with interest and sympathy.
"Dearie, it ain't much of a start for you, but it is a start!" said Mabel warmly over the head of the nursing baby. "And you'll get your living and your railroad fares out of it, anyway! It'll be an ackshal godsend to Mr. Cluett and me, for the children have took to you something very unusual. We'll have elegant times going around together, and you'll never be sorry."
These cheering sentiments Jesse echoed when he came in with Lloyd a few minutes later.
"Much depends upon our future contracts, Miss Monroe," said he, "but I will go so far as to say this. Should you some time desire to try the calling that Shakespeare honoured, the opportunity will not be lacking!"
This threw Sally, Martie, and Mabel into transports. It now being after three o'clock tea was proposed.
And now Martie busied herself happily as one belonging to the little establishment. Sally had taken rapturous possession of Leroy. Mabel lighted the alcohol lamp. Martie, delayed by the affectionate Bernadette, shook out the spotted cloth, and cut the stale cake.
They were all absorbed and chattering when Wallace Bannister opened the door. At sight of him Martie straightened up, the long knife in one hand, Bernadette's sticky little fingers clinging to the other. The news was flung at him excitedly. Martie had left home--she was never going back--she had only twenty dollars and an old coat and hat--she was going to stay with Mabel for the present---
"What's this sweet dream about staying with Mabel?" Wallace said, bewildered, reproachful, definite. He came over to Martie and put one arm about her. "Look here, folks," he said, almost indignantly, "Martie's my girl, aren't you, Martie? We're going to be married right now, this afternoon; and hereafter what I do, she does--and where I go, she goes!"
The love in his eyes, the love in all their watching faces, Martie never forgot. Like a great river of warmth and sunshine it lifted her free of her dry, thirsty girlhood; she felt the tears of joy pressing against her eyes. There was nothing critical, nothing calculating, nothing repressing here; her lover wanted her, just as she stood, penniless, homeless, without a dress except the blue gingham she wore!
The glory of it lighted with magic that day and the days to come. They laughed over the pretty gipsy hat, over Len's coat, over the need of borrowing Mabel's brush and comb. With Joe and Sally, they all dined together, and wandered about the village streets in the summer moonlight; then Martie went to bed, too happy and excited to sleep, in Bernadette's room, wearing a much-trimmed nightgown of Mabel's. It had been decided that the marriage should take place in San Francisco, Wallace sensibly suggesting that there would be less embarrassing questioning there, and also that Martie's money might be spent to better advantage in the city.
Martie's trunk came to Sally's house the next morning, unaccompanied by message or note, and three days later Martie wrote her mother a long letter from a theatrical boarding-house in Geary Street, sending a copy of the marriage certificate of Martha Salisbury Monroe to Edward Vincent Tenney in Saint Patrick's Church, San Francisco, and observing with a touch of pride that "my husband" was now rehearsing for an engagement of seven weeks at sixty dollars a week. There was no answer.