Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter I

For days it was her one triumphant thought. She was married! She was splendidly and unexpectedly a wife. And her life partner was no mere Monroe youth, and her home was not merely one of the old, familiar Monroe cottages. She was the wife of a rising actor, and she lived in the biggest city of the State!

Martie exulted innocently and in secret. She reviewed the simple fact again and again. The two Monroe girls were married. A dimple would deepen in her cheek, a slow smile tug at her lips, when she thought of it. She told Wallace, in her simple childish way, that she had never really expected to be married; she thought that she would like to go back to Monroe for a visit, and let her old friends see the plain gold ring on her big, white hand.

Everything in Martie's life, up to this point, had helped her to believe that marriage was the final step in any woman's experience. A girl was admired, was desired, and was married, if she was, humanly speaking, a success. If she was not admired, if no one asked her in marriage, she was a failure. This was the only test.

Martie's thoughts never went on to the years that followed marriage, the experiences and lessons; these were all lost in the golden glow that surrounded the step safely accomplished. That the years between thirty and fifty are as long as the years between ten and thirty, never occurred to her. With the long, dull drag of her mother's life before her eyes, she never had thought that Rose's life, that Sally's life, as married women, could ever be long and dull. They were married--doubt and surmise and hope were over. Lydia and Miss Fanny were not married. Therefore, Rose and Sally and Martie had an obvious advantage over Lydia and Fanny.

It was a surprise to her to find life placidly proceeding here in this strange apartment in Geary Street, as if all the world had not stopped moving and commenced again. The persons she met called her "Mrs. Bannister" with no visible thrill. Nobody seemed surprised when she and the big actor quietly went into their room at night and shut the door.

She had fancied that the mere excitement of the new life filled all brides with a sort of proud complacency; that they felt superior to other human beings, and secretly scorned the unwed. It was astonishing to find herself still concerned with the tiny questions of yesterday: the ruffle torn on the bureau, the little infection that swelled and inflamed her chin, the quarter of a dollar her Chinese laundryman swore he had never received. It was always tremendously thrilling to have Wallace give her money: delightful gold pieces such as even her mother seldom handled. She felt a naive resentment that so many of them had to be spent for what she called "uninteresting" things: lodging and food and car fares. They seemed so more than sufficient, when she first touched them; they melted so mysteriously away. She felt that there should be great saving on so generous an allowance, but Wallace never saved, nor did any of his friends and associates.

So that a sense of being baffled began to puzzle her. She was married now; the great question of life had been answered in the affirmative. But--but the future was vague and unsettled still. Even married persons had their problems. Even the best of husbands sometimes left a tiny something to be desired.

Husbands, in Martie's dreams, were ideal persons who laughed indulgently at adored wives, produced money without question or stint, and for twenty or fifty years, as the span of their lives might decree, came home appreciatively to delicious dinners, escorted their wives proudly to dinner or theatre, made presents, paid compliments, and disposed of bills. That her mother had once perhaps had some such idea of her father did not occur to her.

"Lissen, dear, did I wake you up?" said Mrs. Wallace Bannister, coming quietly into the sitting room that connected her bedroom with that of Mrs. Jesse Cluett, in the early hours of an August morning.

"No--o! This feller wakes me up," Mrs. Cluett said, yawning and pale, but cheerful. She indicated the fat, serious baby in her arms. "Honest, it's enough to kill a girl, playing every night and Sunday, and trying to raise children!" she added, manipulating her flat breast with ringed fingers to meet the little mouth.

"I wish I could either have the baby nights, or play your parts!" laughed Martie, reaching lazily for manicure scissors and beginning to clip her nails, as she sat in a loose, blue kimono opposite the older woman.

"Dearie, you'll have your own soon enough!" Mabel answered gratefully. "It won't be so hard long. They get so's they can take care of themselves very quick. Look at Dette--goodness knows where she's been ever since she got up. She must of drunk her milk and eaten her san'wich, because here's the empty glass. She's playing somewhere; she's all right."

"Oh, sure--she's all right!" Martie said, smiling lazily. And as Leroy finished his meal she put out her arms. "Come to Aunt Martie, Baby. Oh, you--cunnin'--little--scrap, you!"

"You'd ought to have one, Mart," said Mabel affectionately.

The wife of a month flushed brightly. With her loosened bronze braid hanging over her shoulder, her blue eyes soft with happiness, and her full figure only slightly disguised by the thin nightgown and wrapper she wore, she looked the incarnation of potent youth and beauty.

"I'd love it," she said, burying her hot cheeks in the little space between Leroy's fluffy crown and the collar of his soggy little double gown.

"I love 'em, too," Mabel agreed. "But they cert'ny do tie you down. Dette was the same way--only I sort of forgot it."

"If this salary was going to keep up, I'd like a dozen of 'em!" Martie smiled.

"Well, Wallace ought to do well," Mabel conceded. "But of course, you can't be sure. My idea is to plunge in and have them, regardless. Things'll fit if they've got to."

"That's the nicest way," Martie said timidly. She had married, knowing nothing of wifehood and motherhood, except the one fact that the matter of children must be left entirely to chance. But she did not like to tell Mabel so.

She sat on in the pleasant morning sunshine, utterly happy, utterly at ease. The baby went to sleep as the two women murmured together. Outside the lace-curtained windows busy Geary Street had long been astir. Wagons rattled up and down; cable-cars clanged. Sunlight had already conquered the summer fog. It was nine o'clock.

Mabel was enjoying tea and toast, but Martie refused to join her. If every hour had not been so blissful the young wife would have said that the happiest time of the day was when she and Wallace wandered out into the sunshine together for breakfast.

Presently she slipped away to take the bath that was a part of her morning routine now, and to wake Wallace. With his tumbled hair, his flushed face and his pale blue pajama jacket open at the throat Martie thought him no more than a delightful, drowsy boy. She sat on the edge of the bed beside him, teasing him to open his eyes.

"Ah--you darling!" Wallace was not too sleepy to appreciate her cool, fresh kisses. "Oh, Lord, I'm a wreck! What time is it?"

"Nearly ten. You've had ten hours' sleep, darling. I don't know what you want!" Martie answered--at the bureau now, with the glory of her hair falling about her.

While they dressed they talked; delicious irrelevant chatter punctuated with laughter and kisses. The new stock company was a success, and Wallace working hard and happily. At ten the young Bannisters went forth in search of breakfast, the best meal of the day.

Martie loved the city: Market Street, Kearney Street, Union Square. She loved the fresh breath of the morning in her face. She always had her choice of flowers at the curb market about Lotta's fountain, pinning a nodding bunch of roses, Shasta daisies, pansies, or cafnations at the belt of her white shirtwaists. They went to the Vienna Bakery or to Swain's for their leisurely meal, unless Wallace was hungry enough to beg for the Poodle Dog, or they felt rich enough for the Palace. Now and then they walked out of the familiar neighbourhood and tried a strange restaurant or hotel--but not often.

Usually Martie had Swain's famous toasted muffins for her breakfast, daintily playing with coffee and fruit while Wallace disposed of cereal, eggs and ham, and fried potatoes. She used to marvel that he never grew fat on this hearty fare; sometimes he had sharp touches of indigestion.

Over their meal they talked untiringly, marvelling anew at the miracle of their finding each other. Martie learned her husband's nature as if it had been a book. Sensitive here--evasive there; a little coarse, perhaps, a little simple. However surprising his differences it was for her to adapt herself. She was almost glad when his unconscious demands required of her the smallest sacrifice; getting so much, how glad she was to give!

After breakfast, when Wallace was not rehearsing and they were free to amuse themselves, they prowled through the Chinese quarter, and through the Italian colony. They rode on windy "dummies" out to the beach, and went scattering peanut shells along the wet sands. They visited the Park, the Mint, and the big baths, or crossed to Oakland or Sausalito, where Martie learned to swim. Martie found Wallace tireless in his appetite for excursions, and committed herself cheerfully to his guidance. Catching a train, they rejoiced; missing it, they were none the less happy.

Twice a week a matinee performance brought Wallace to the Granada Theatre at one o'clock. On other days, rehearsals began at eleven and ended at three or occasionally as late as four. The theatre life charmed Martie like a fairy tale. She never grew tired of its thrill.

It was gratifying in the first place to enter the door marked "Stage" with a supplementary legend, No Admittance, and pass the old doorkeeper who knew and liked her. The dark passages beyond, smelling of escaping gas and damp straw, of unaired rooms and plumbing and fresh paint, were perfumed with romance to her, as were the little dressing rooms with old photographs stuck in the loosened wallpaper and dim initials scratched on the bare walls, and odd wigs and scarfs and paint jars littering the shelves. Wallace making up his face was an exalted being in the eyes of his wife.

When the play began, she took her station in the wings--silent, unobtrusive, eager to keep out of everybody's way, eager not to miss a word of the play. The man over her head, busy with his lights; the one or two shirt-sleeved, elderly men who invariably stood dispassionately watching the performance; the stage-hands; the various members of the cast: for all these she had a smile, and their answering smiles were Martie's delight.

"Take off ten pounds, Martie, and Bellew will give you a show some time!" said Maybelle La Rue, who was Mabel Cluett in private life. Martie gasped at the mere thought. She determined to diet.

A few months before, she had supposed that social intercourse was a large factor in the actor's life, that midnight suppers were shared by the cast, and that intimacy of an unconventional if harmless nature reigned among them. Now, with some surprise, she learned that this was not the case. The actors, leaving the play at different moments, quietly got into their street clothes and disappeared; so that Mabel and Wallace, usually holding the stage for the last few moments by reason of their respective parts of maid and lover, often left a theatre empty of performers except for themselves. Jesse would frequently reach home enough earlier to be sound asleep when his wife rushed in to seize her hungry and fretting baby. Little Leroy spent the early evening in Martie's bed; one of the maids in the house being paid in Mabel's old finery for coming to look at the children now and then.

At intervals the Bannisters and the Cluetts did have little after- theatre suppers, but Martie was heroically dieting, Mabel tired and sleepy, and both gentlemen somewhat subject to indigestion. So Martie and Wallace more often went alone, Martie drinking bouillon and nibbling a cracker, and her husband devouring large orders of coffee and scrambled eggs.

They had been married perhaps eight weeks when Wallace astonished her by drinking too much. She had always fancied herself too broad- minded to resent this in the usual wifely way, but the fact angered her, and she suffered over the incident for days.

It was immediately after the termination of his successful engagement, and he and the Cluetts were celebrating the inauguration of a rest. With two or three other members of the cast, they went to dine at the Cliff House, preceding the dinner with several cocktails apiece. There was a long wait for the planked steak, during which time more cocktails were ordered; Martie, who had merely tasted the first one, looking on amiably as the others drank.

Presently Mabel began to laugh unrestrainedly, much to Martie's half-comprehending embarrassment. The men, far from seeming to be shocked by her hysteria, laughed violently themselves.

"Time f'r 'nother round cocktails!" Jesse said. Martie turned to her husband.

"Wallace! Don't order any more. Not until we've had some solid food, anyway. Can't you see that we don't need them?"

"What is it, dear?" Wallace moved his eyes heavily to look at her. His face was flushed, and as he spoke he wet his lips with his tongue. "Whatever you say, darling," he said earnestly. "You have only to ask, and I will give you anything in my power. Let me know what you wish---"

"I want you not to drink any more," Martie said distressedly.

"Why not, Martie--why not, li'l girl?" Wallace asked her caressingly. He put his arm about her shoulders, breathing hotly in her face. "Do you know that I am crazy about you?" he murmured.

"If you are," Martie answered, with an uncomfortable glance about for watching eyes, "please, please---!"

"Martie," he said lovingly, "do you think I am drinking too much?"

"Well--well, I think you have had enough, Wallace," she stammered.

"Dearie, I will stop if you say so," he answered, "but you amuse me. I am just as col' sober---" And, a fresh reinforcement of cocktails having arrived, he drank one off as he spoke, setting down the little empty glass with a long gasp.

After that the long evening was an agony to Martie. Mabel laughed and screamed; wine was spilled; the food was wasted and wrecked. Wallace's face grew hotter and hotter. Jesse became sodden and sleepy; champagne packed in a bucket of ice was brought, and Martie saw Wallace's gold pieces pay for it.

It was not an unusual scene. She had looked on at just such scenes, taking place at the tables all about her, more than once in the last few weeks. Even now, this was not the only group that had dined less wisely than well. But the shame of it, the fear of what might happen before Wallace was safely at home in bed, sickened Martie to the soul.

She went to the dressing room with Mabel, who was sick. Presently they were all out in a drizzling rain, stumbling their way up the hill and blundering aboard a street car. Two nice, quiet women on the opposite seat watched the group in shocked disgust; Martie felt that she would never hold up her head again. Wallace fell when they got off, and his hat rolled in the mud. Martie tried to help him, somehow got him upstairs to his room, somehow got him into bed, where he at once fell asleep, and snored.

It was just eleven o'clock. Martie washed her face, and brushed her hair, and sat down, in a warm wrapper, staring gloomily at the unconscious form on the bed. She could hear Mabel and Jesse laughing and quarrelling in the room adjoining. Presently Mabel came in for the baby, who usually slept in Martie's room during the earlier part of the night, so that his possible crying would not disturb Bernadette.

"Poor Wallace--he is all in, down and out!" Mabel said, settling herself to nurse the baby. She looked flushed and excited still, but was otherwise herself. "He certainly was lit up like a battleship," she added in an amused voice; "as for me, I'm ashamed of myself--I'm always that way!"

Martie's indignant conviction was that Mabel might indeed be ashamed of herself, and this airy expression of what should have been penitence too deep for words, gave her a curious shock.

"They all do it," said Mabel, smiling after a long yawn, "and I suppose it's better to have their wives with 'em, than to have 'em go off by themselves!"

"They all shouldn't do it!" Martie answered sombrely.

"Well, no; I suppose they shouldn't!" Mabel conceded amiably. She carried the baby away, and Martie sat on, gazing sternly at the unconscious Wallace.

Half an hour passed, another half hour. Martie had intended to do some serious thinking, but she found herself sleepy.

After a while she crept in beside her husband, and went to sleep, her heart still hot with anger.

But when the morning came she forgave him, as she was often to forgive him. What else could she do? The sunlight was streaming into their large, shabby bedroom, cable cars were rattling by, fog whistles from the bay penetrated the soft winter air. Martie was healthily hungry for breakfast, Wallace awakened good natured and penitent.

"You were a darling to me last night, Mart," he said appreciatively.

Martie had not known he was awake. She turned from her mirror, regarding him steadily between the curtains of her shining hair.

"And you're a darling not to rub it in," Wallace pursued.

"I would rub it in," Martie said in a hurt voice, "if I thought it would do any good!"

Wallace sat up, and pressed his hands against his forehead.

"Well, believe me--that was the last!" he said fervently. "Never again!"

"Oh, dearest," Martie said, coming to sit beside him, "I hope you mean that!" That he did mean it, they both believed.

Half an hour later, when they went out to breakfast, she was in her happiest mood. The little cloud, in vanishing, had left the sky clearer than before. But some little quality of blind admiration and faith was gone from her wifeliness thereafter.

In December the stock company had a Re-engagement Extraordinary, and Martie got her first part. It was not much of a part--three lines-- but she approached it with passionate seriousness, and when the first rehearsal came, rattled off her three lines so glibly that the entire jaded company and the director enjoyed a refreshing laugh. At the costumier's, in a fascinating welter of tarnished and shabby garments, she selected a suitable dress, and Wallace coached her, made up her face, and prompted her with great pride. So the tiny part went well, and one of the papers gave a praising line to "Junoesque Miss Salisbury." These were happy days. Martie loved the odorous, dark, crowded world behind the scenes, loved to be a part of it. This was living indeed!

And Sally was expecting a baby! Martie laughed aloud from sheer excitement and pleasure when the news came. It was almost like having one herself; in one way even more satisfactory, because she was too busy now to be interrupted. She spent the first money she had ever earned in sending Sally a present for the baby; smiling again whenever she pictured Sally was showing it to old friends in Monroe: "From Martie; isn't it gorgeous?"

The weeks fled by. Wallace began to talk of moving to New York. It was always their dream. Instinctively they wanted New York. Their talk of it, their plans for it, were as enthusiastic as they were ignorant, if Wallace could only get the chance to play on Broadway! That seemed to both of them the goal of their ambition. Always hopeful of another part, Martie began to read and study seriously. She had much spare time, and she used it. From everybody and everything about her she learned: a few German phrases from the rheumatic old man whose wife kept the lodging house; Juliet's lines and the lines of Lady Macbeth from Mabel's shabby books; and something of millinery from the little Irishwoman who kept a shop on the corner, with "Elise" written across its window. She learned all of Wallace's parts, and usually Mabel's as well. Often she went to the piano in the musty parlour of the Geary Street house and played "The Two Grenadiers" and "Absent." She brimmed with energy; while Wallace or Mabel wrangled with the old costumier, Martie was busily folding and smoothing the garments of jesters and clowns and Dolly Vardens. She had a curious instinct for trade terms; she could not buy a yard of veiling without an eager little talk with the saleswoman; the chance phrase of a conductor or the woman in the French laundry amused and interested her.

Away from all the repressing influences of her childhood, healthy and happy, she met the claims of the new state with a splendid and unthinking passion. To yield herself generously and supremely was the only natural thing; she had no dread and no regret. From the old life she brought to this hour only an instinctive reticence, so that Mabel never had the long talks and the short talks she had anticipated with the bride, and never dared say a word to Martie that might not have been as safely said to Bernadette.

Kathleen Norris

Sorry, no summary available yet.