On A hot Sunday in early March Martie came back from church to find Wallace gone. She had had no breakfast, but had stopped on the way home to get six enormous oranges in a paper bag. The heat had given her a stupid headache, and she felt limp and tired. It was delicious to undress, to climb into the smoothed bed, and to sink back against the pillows.
A bulky newspaper, smelling of printer's ink, was on the chair beside her bed, but Martie did not open it for a while. Serious thoughts held her. Opening her orange, she said to herself, with a little flutter at her heart, that it must be so. She was going to have a baby!
Fear and pride shook her. It seemed a tremendous thing; not at all like the other babies other women had been having since time began. She could not believe it--of herself, Martie Monroe, who had been an ignorant girl only a few months ago!
Yet she had been vaguely suspecting the state of affairs for more than a week; when morning after morning found her languid and weary, when Wallace's fork crushing an egg-yolk had given her a sudden sensation of nausea. She felt so stupid, so tired all the time. She could not sleep at night; she could hardly stay awake in the daytime.
Her eyes were heavy now. She glanced indifferently at the newspaper, smiled a contented little smile, and, murmuring, "I wonder--I wonder--" and fell into delicious sleep.
She slept for a long time. Wallace, coming in at two o'clock, awakened her. Afternoon sunlight was streaming into the room, which was scented with the decaying sweetness of orange peel. Dazed and stupid, yet dreamily content, Martie smiled upon him. He hated Sunday rehearsals: she could see that he was in a bad mood, and his obvious effort to think of her and to disguise his own feeling touched her.
"Tired?" she asked affectionately. "Isn't it hot?"
"How are you?" Wallace questioned in turn. "You felt so rotten yesterday."
He sat down beside her, and pushed the dark hair from his big forehead, and she saw that his face was damp and pale.
"Fine!" she assured him, laying her hand over his.
They remained so for a full minute, Wallace staring gloomily at nothing, Martie's eyes idly roving about the room. Then the man reached for a section of the paper, glanced at it indifferently, and flung it aside.
"There wasn't any rehearsal this morning," he observed after a pause. He cleared his throat self-consciously before speaking and Martie, glancing quickly at him, saw that he intended the statement to have a significance.
"Where were you then?" she asked duly.
"I was--I was--" He hesitated, expelling a long breath suddenly. "Something came up," he amended, "and I had to see about it."
"What came up?" Martie pursued, more anxious to set his mind at rest, than curious.
"Well--it all goes back to some time ago, Mart; before I knew you," Wallace said, in a carefully matter-of-fact tone. But she could see that he was troubled, and a faint stir of apprehension shook her own heart.
"Money?" she guessed quickly.
"No," he said reassuringly, "nothing like that!"
He got up, and restlessly circled the room, drawing the shade that was rattling gently at the window, flinging his coat across a chair.
Then he went back, and sat down by the bed again, locking his dropped hands loosely between his knees, and looking steadily at the worn old colourless carpet.
"You see this Golda--" he began.
"Golda who?" Martie echoed.
"This girl I've been talking to this morning," Wallace supplied impatiently; "Golda White."
"Who is she?" Martie asked, bewildered, as his heavy voice stopped on the name.
"Oh, she's a girl I used to know! I haven't seen her for eight or ten years--since I left Portland, in fact."
"But who is she, Wallie?" Martie had propped herself in pillows, she was wide awake now, and her voice was firm and quick.
"Well, wait and I'll tell you, I'll tell you the whole thing. I don't believe there's anything in it, but anyway, I'll tell you, and you and I can sort of talk it over. You see I met this girl in Portland, when I was a kid in my uncle's lumber office. I was about twenty-two or three, and she was ten years older than that. But we ran with the same crowd a lot, and I saw her all the time---"
"She was in the office?"
"Sure. She was Uncle Chester's steno. She was a queer sort of girl; pretty, too. I was sore because my father made me work there, and I wanted to join the navy or go to college, or go on the stage, and she'd sit there making herself collars and things, and sort of console me. She was engaged to a fellow in Los Angeles, or she said she was.
"We liked each other all right, she'd tell me her troubles and I'd tell her mine; she had a stepfather she hated, and sometimes she'd cry and all that. The crowd began to jolly us about liking each other, and I could see she didn't mind it much---"
"Perhaps she loved you, Wallie?" Martie suggested on a quick, excited breath.
"You bet your life she loved me!" he affirmed positively.
"Poor girl!" said the wife in pitying anticipation of a tragedy.
"Don't call her 'poor girl!'" Wallace said, his face darkening. "She'll look out for herself. There's a lot of talk," he added with a sort of dull resentment, "about 'leading young girls astray,' and 'betraying innocence,' and all that, but I want to tell you right now that nine times out of ten it's the girls that do the leading astray! You ask any fellow---"
The expression on Martie's face did not alter by the flicker of an eyelash. She had been looking steadily at him, and she still stared steadily. But she felt her throat thicken, and the blood begin to pump convulsively at her heart.
"But Wallace," she stammered eagerly, "she wasn't--she wasn't---"
"Sure she was!" he said coarsely; "she was as rotten as the rest of them!"
"But--but---" Martie's lips felt dry, her voice failed her.
"I was only a kid, I tell you," said Wallace, uneasily watching her. "Why, Mart," he added, dropping on his knees beside the bed, and putting his arms about her, "all boys are like that! Every one knows it. There isn't a man you know---And you're the only girl I ever loved, Sweetheart, you know that. Men are different, that's all. A boy growing up can't any more keep out of it---And I never lied to you, Mart. I told you when we were engaged that I wished to God, for your sake, that I'd never---"
"Yes, I know!" Martie whispered, shutting her eyes. He kissed her suddenly colourless cheek, and she heard him move away.
"Well, to go on with the rest of this," Wallace resumed suddenly. Martie opened tired eyes to watch him, but he did not meet her look.
"Golda and I went together for about a year," he said, "and finally she got to talking as if we were going to be married. One day--it was a rainy day in the office, and I had a cold, and she fixed me up something hot to drink--she got to crying, and she said her stepfather had ordered her out of the house. I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now, but anyway, we talked it all over, and she said she was going down to Los Angeles and hunt up this other fellow. Well, that made me feel kind of sick, because we had been going together for so long, and her talking about how things would be when we were married and all that, and I said--you know the way you do--'What's the matter with us getting married, right now?'"
Martie's face was fixed in a look of agonized attention: she made no sound.
"She said we wouldn't have anything to live on," Wallace pursued, not looking at his wife, "and that she wanted to take a rest when she got married, and have a little fun. Well, I says, we can keep it quiet for awhile. Well, we talked about it that day, and after that we would kind of josh about it, and finally one day we walked over to the bureau and got out a license, and the Justice of the Peace--- "
"Wallie--my God!" Martie breathed.
"Well, listen!" he urged her impatiently. "I put a wrong age on the license and so did she, and she had told me a lot of lies about herself, as I found out later, Martie---"
"So that it wasn't legal!"
"Well, listen. After that we went on with the crowd for a few weeks, and we didn't tell anybody. And then this Dr. Prendergast turned up- --"
"What Dr. Prendergast!"
"I don't know who he was--a dentist anyway. And he had known Golda before, somewhere, and he was crazy about her. His wife was getting a divorce, it seems; anyway, he butted right in, and she let him. I don't think she had awfully good sense, she would act sort of crazy sometimes, as if she didn't know what she was doing. Well, I told her I wouldn't stand for that, and we had some fights. But just then my dad wrote and told me that he would finance me for a year at Stanford, and I began to think I'd like to cut the whole bunch. So I said to Golda: 'I'm done. I'm going to get out! You keep your mouth shut, and I'll keep mine!' She says, 'Leon'--that was Prendergast-- 'is going to marry me, and you'll talk before I do!' So---"
"But what, dearie?"
"But it wasn't left that way?"
"Now, listen, dearie. Of course it wasn't! She and Prendergast were going to leave town, a few days later, but I was kind of worried about it, and I finally told my uncle the whole story. Of course he blew up! He sent for her, and she came right in, scared to death. He told her that he'd give away the whole story to Prendergast, or else he'd give her a check for five hundred dollars on her wedding day. She fell for it, and we said good-bye. She swore it was only a sort of joke anyway, and that the day we--we did it, she'd been filling me up with whisky lemonades and all that, and that the whole thing was off. And let me tell you that I was glad to beat it! I never saw her again until this morning! I went on the stage, and changed my name because the leading lady in that show happened to be Thelma Tenney. About a month later my uncle wrote me that she had sent him a newspaper notice of her marriage, and he had sent her the check. I'll never forget reading that letter. I'd been worrying myself black in the face, but that day I went on a bust, I can tell you!"
"That marriage would cancel the other?" Martie asked, with a dry throat.
"Sure it would!" he said easily.
"But now--now---" she pursued fearfully.
"Now she's turned up," he said, a shadow falling on his heavy face again. "She was at the theatre last night. God knows what she's been doing all these years; she looks awful. She saw my picture in some paper, and she came straight to the city. She found out where I lived, and this morning, while you were at church, Mabel came in and said a lady wanted to see me. I took her to breakfast. I didn't know what to do with her--and we talked."
"And what does she say, Wallie--what does she want?"
"Oh, she wants anything she can get! She doesn't know that I'm married. If she did, I suppose she might make herself unpleasant along that line!"
"But she has no claim on you! She married another man!"
"She says now that she never was married to Prendergast!"
"But she was!" Martie said hotly. Her voice dropped vaguely. Her eyes were fixed and glassy with growing apprehension. "Perhaps she was lying about that," she whispered, as if to herself.
"She'd lie about anything!" Wallace supplied.
"But if she wasn't, Wallace, if she wasn't--then would that second marriage cancel the first?" she asked feverishly.
"I should think so!" he answered. "Shouldn't you?"
"Shouldn't I?" she echoed, with her first flash of anger. "Why, what do I know about it? What do I know about it? I don't know anything! You come to me with this now--now!"
"Don't talk like that!" he pleaded. "I feel--I feel awfully about it, Martie! I can't tell you how I feel! But the whole thing was so long ago it had sort of gone out of my mind. Every fellow does things that he's ashamed of, Mart--things that he's sorry for; but you always think that you'll marry some day, and have kids, and that the world will go on like it always has---"
The fire suddenly died out of Martie. In a deadly calm she sat back against her pillows, and began to gather up her masses of loosened hair.
"If she is right---" she began, and stopped.
"She's not right, I tell you!" Wallace said. "She hasn't got a leg to stand on!"
"No," Martie conceded lifelessly, patiently. "But if she should be right---"
"But I tell you she isn't, Mart!"
"Yes, I know you do." The deadly gentleness was again in her voice. "I know you do!" she repeated mildly. "Only--only---" Her lip trembled despite her desperate effort, she felt her throat thicken and the tears come.
Instantly he was beside her again, and with her arms still raised she felt him put his own arms about her, and felt his penitent kisses through the veil of her hair. A sickness swept over her: they were here in the sacred intimacy of their own room, the room to which he had brought her as a bride only a few months before.
She freed herself with what dignity she could command. He asked her a hundred times if she loved him, if she could forgive him. Her one impulse was to silence him, to have him go away.
"I know--I know how you feel, Wallie! I'm sorry--for you and myself, and the whole thing! I'm terribly sorry! I--I don't know what we can do. I have to go away, of course; I can't stay here until we know; and you'll have to investigate, and find out just what she claims. I'll go to Sally, I suppose. People can think I've come up to help when the baby comes--I don't care what they think!"
"I thought you might go to Oakland for awhile," he agreed, gratefully; "but of course it'll be best to have you go to Sally-- it'll only be for a few days. Mart, I feel rotten about it!"
"I know you do, Wallace," she answered nervously.
"To spring this on you--it's just rotten!"
Martie was silent. Her mind was in a whirl.
"Will you go out?" she asked simply. "I want to dress."
"What do you want me to go out for?" he asked, amazed.
Again his wife was silent. Her cheeks were bright scarlet, her eyes hard and dry. She looked at him steadily, and he got clumsily to his feet.
"Sure I'll go out!" he said stupidly. "I'll do anything you want me to. I feel like a skunk about this--it had sort of slipped my mind, Mart! Every fellow lets himself in for something like this."
Trapped. It was the one thought she had when he was gone, and when she had sprung feverishly from bed, and was quickly dressing. Trapped, in this friendly, comfortable room, where she had been so happy and so proud! She had been so innocently complacent over her state as this man's wife, she had planned for their future so courageously. Now she was--what? Now she was--what?
Just to escape somehow and instantly, that was the first wild impulse. He was gone, but he was coming back: he must not find her here. She must disappear, nobody must ever find her. Sally and her father, Rose and Rodney must never know! Martie Monroe, married to a man who was married before, disgraced, exiled, lost. Nobody knew that she was going to have a baby, but Monroe would surmise that.
Oh, fool--fool--fool that she had been to marry him so! But it was too late for that. She must face the situation now, and fret over the past some other day.
She had felt the thought of a return to Monroe intolerable: but quickly she changed her mind. Sally's home might be an immediate retreat, she could rest there, and plan there. Her sister was eagerly awaiting an answer to the letter in which she begged Martie to come to her for the month of the baby's birth.
Martie, packing frantically, glanced at the clock. It was two o'clock now, she could get the four o'clock boat. She would be in peaceful Monroe at seven. And after that---?
After that she did not know. Should she ever return to Wallace, under any circumstances? Should she tell Sally? Should she hide both Wallace's revelations and the morning's earlier hopes of motherhood?
Child that she was, she could not decide. She had had no preparation for these crises, she was sick with shock and terror. Married to a man who was already married--and perhaps to have a baby!
But she never faltered in her instant determination to leave him. If she was not his wife, at least she could face the unknown future far more bravely than the dubious present. If she had been wrong, she would not add more wrong.
With her bag packed, and her hat pinned on, she paused, and looked about the room. The window curtain flapped uncertainly, a gritty wind blew straight down Geary Street. The bed was unmade, the sweet orange peels still scented the air.
Martie suddenly flung her gloves aside, and knelt down beside her bed. She had an impulse to make her last act in this room a prayer.
Wallace, pale and quiet, opened the door, and as she rose from her knees their eyes met. In a second they were in each other's arms, and Martie was sobbing on his shoulder.
"Mart--my darling little girl! I'm so sorry!"
"I know you are--I know you are!"
"It's only for a few days, dearie--until I settle her once and for all!"
"And then you'll come back, and we'll go have Spanish omelette at the Poodle Dog, won't we?"
"Oh, Wallie, darling, I hope--I hope we will!"
She gasped on a long breath, and dried her eyes.
"How much money have you got, dearie?"
"About--I don't know. About four dollars, I think."
"Well, here--" He was all the husband again, stuffing gold pieces into her purse. "You're going down to the four boat? I'll take you down. And wire me when you get there, Martie, so I won't worry. And tell Sally I wish her luck, I'll certainly be glad to hear the news." They were at the doorway; he put his arm about her. "You do love me, Mart?"
"Oh, Wallie---!" The tender moment, following upon her hour of lonely agony, was almost too much. "We--we didn't think--this would be the end of our happy time, did we?" she stammered. And as they kissed again, both faces were wet with tears.
Sally met her; a Sally ample of figure and wonderful in complexion. All the roses of spring were in Sally's smiling face; she laughed and rejoiced at their meeting with a certain quality of ease and poise for which Martie was puzzled to account, but which was new to quiet, conventional Sally. Sally was in the serene mood that immediately precedes motherhood; all the complex elements of her life were temporarily lapped in a joyous peace. Of Martie's hidden agony she suspected nothing.
She took Martie to the tiny house by the river; the plates and spoons and pillow-slips looked strange to Martie, and for every one of them Sally had an amused history. Martie felt, with a little twinge of pain, that she would have liked a handsomer home for Sally, would have liked a more imposing husband than the tired, dirty, boyish-looking Joe, would have liked the first Monroe baby to come to a prettier layette than these plain little slips and flannels; but Sally saw everything rose-coloured. They had almost no money, she told Martie, with a happy laugh. Already Sally, who had been brought up in entire ignorance of the value of money, was watching the pennies. Never had there been economy like this in Pa's house!
Sally kept house on a microscopic scale that amused and a little impressed Martie. Every apple, every onion, was used to the last scrap. Every cold muffin was reheated, or bit of cold toast was utilized. When Carrie David brought the young householders a roasted chicken, it was an event. The fowl was sliced and stewed and minced and made into soup before it went into the family annals to shine forevermore as "the delicious chicken Cousin Carrie brought us before the baby was born." Sally's cakes were made with one egg, her custards reinforced with cornstarch, her cream was only "top milk." Even her house was only half a house: the four rooms were matched by four other rooms, with only a central wall between. But Sally had a square yard, and a garden, and Martie came to love every inch of the little place, so rich in happiness and love.
The days went on and on, and there was no word of Wallace. Martie's heart was like lead in her breast. She talked with Sally, set tables, washed dishes, she laughed and planned, and all the while misgivings pressed close about her. Sometimes, kneeling in church in the soft warm afternoons of early spring, she told herself that if this one cup were taken from her lips, if she were only proved to be indeed an honourable wife, she would bear with resignation whatever life might bring. She would welcome poverty, welcome humiliations, welcome the suffering and the burden of the baby's coming--but dear Lord, dear Lord, she could not face the shame that menaced her now!
Sally saw the change in her, the new silence and gravity, and wondered.
"Martie, dearest, something's worrying you?"
"Nothing much, dear. Wallace--Wallace doesn't write to me as often as I should like!"
"You didn't quarrel with him, Mart?"
"Oh, no--he's the best husband in the world. We never quarrel."
"But it's not like you to fret so," Sally grieved. Presently she ventured a daring question: "Has it ever occurred to you, Mart, that perhaps---"
Martie laughed shakily.
"The way you and Grace wish babies on to people--it's the limit!"
Sally laughed, too, and if she was unconvinced, at least she said no more. She encouraged Martie to take long walks, to help with the housework, and finally, to attempt composition. Sitting at the clean little kitchen table, in the warm evenings, Martie wrote an article upon the subject of independence for women.
For a few days she laboured tirelessly with it: then she tired of it, and flung it aside. Other things absorbed her attention.
First came the expected letter from Wallace. Martie's hand shook as she took it from the postman. Now she would know--now she would know! Whatever the news, the suspense was over.
Perhaps the hardest moment of the hard weeks was when she realized that the tension was not snapped, after all. Wallace wrote affectionately, but with maddening vagueness. He missed his girl, he had a rotten cold, he was not working now. Golda was raising hell. He did not believe half that she said, but he had written to his uncle, who advised him to go to Portland, and investigate the matter there. So unless Martie heard to the contrary he would probably go north this week. Anyway, Martie had better stay where she was, and not worry.
Not worry! It became a marvel to Martie that life could go on for any one while her own future was so frightfully uncertain. She was going to have a baby, and she was not married--that was the summary of the situation. It was like something in a book, only worse than any book that she had ever read. Sometimes she felt as if her brain were being affected by the sheer horror of it. Sometimes, Sally noticed, Martie fell into such deep brooding that she neither heard nor saw what went on about her. Her mind was in a continual fever; she was exhausted with fruitless hoping and unavailing endurance.
At the end of a hot, endless April day, into the darkness of Sally's disordered bedroom, came life. A little hemstitched blanket had been made ready for the baby; it seemed to Martie's frightened heart nothing short of a miracle when Sally's crying daughter was actually wrapped in it. Martie had travelled a long road since the placid spring afternoon when they had made that blanket.
But the strain and fright were over now; Sally lay at peace, her eyes shut in a white face. The tears dried on Martie's cheeks; Mrs. Hawkes and Dr. Ben were even laughing as they consulted and worked together. Martie took the baby down to the kitchen for her bath, and it seemed strange to her that the dried peaches Sally had set on the stove that morning were still placidly simmering in their saucepan.
For a day or two everything was unreal, the smoke of battle and the shadow of death still hung over the little household. Gradually, the air cleared. Joe and Martie ate the deluge of layer cakes and apple pies--debated over details. Joe's mother came in to bathe the baby and Sally did nothing but laugh and eat and sleep. She called her first-born Elizabeth, for her mother; and sometimes the sisters wondered if Ma and Lydia ever talked about the first baby, and ever longed to see her first tiny charms.
The event shook Martie from her brooding, and brought her the first real happiness she had known since the terrible morning of Golda's appearance. She and Sally found the care of the baby only a delight, and disputed for the privilege of bathing and dressing her.
One episode in the tiny Elizabeth's life was unusual, and long years afterward Martie found a place for it in her own slowly-forming theories. At the time the three young persons debated it amusedly and carelessly before it came to be just an accepted, if incomprehensible, fact.
Dr. Ben, whose modest bill for attendance upon Sally was promptly paid, had sent the baby a check for seventy-five dollars. The card with this check was merely pencilled: "For Miss Elizabeth's first quarter, from Uncle Ben." At first Sally and Martie and Joe were puzzled to understand it.
Then suddenly Sally remembered her talk with the doctor a year ago. This was the "mother's pay" he had spoken about then.
"It does seem funny that we were only girls then, and that to speak of such things really made me almost die of embarrassment," smiled Sally, "and now, here we are, and we know all about it! But now, the question is, what to do?"
Sally and Joe were at first for a polite refusal of the money. It was so "queer," they said. It seemed too "odd." It was not as if Pa had decided to do it, or as if Dr. Ben really was the child's uncle. It was better not to chance possible complications--
Presently Joe dropped out of this debate. He said simply that it was a deuce of a lot of money, and that there were lots of things that the baby needed, but he didn't care either way. Sally then said that it was settled, for if he didn't care the check should go back.
But here Martie found herself with an opinion. She said suddenly that she thought Sally would be foolish to refuse. It was Dr. Ben's money. If he endowed a library, or put a conservatory into the Monroe Park, Sally would enjoy them to the full. Why shouldn't he do this? His money and the way he spent it were his own affair.
"He's working out an experiment, Sally. I don't see why you shouldn't let him. You may never have another baby, but if you do, why six hundred a year is just that much better than three!"
There were several days of debate. It was inevitable that the check lying on Sally's cheap little three-drawer bureau should suggest things it would purchase. Martie summarily took it to the Bank one day and brought home crackling bills in exchange. One of the first things that was purchased was the perambulator in which 'Lizabeth was proudly wheeled to call upon her benefactor.
Then the dreadful days began to go by again, and still there was no letter from Wallace. June came in with enervating, dry heat, and Martie wilted under it. There was no longer any doubt about her condition. The hour was coming closer when Sally must know, when all Monroe must know just how mad a venture her marriage had been.
One day she had a letter from Mabel, who begged her to come back to the city. Jesse was sure he could get her an occasional engagement; it was better than fretting herself to death there in that "jay" town.
Martie sat thinking for a long time with this letter in her hand. For the first time thoughts consciously hostile to Wallace swept through her mind. She analyzed the motives that had urged her into marriage; she had been taught to think of it as a woman's surest refuge. If she had not been so taught, what might she have done for herself in this year? Was it fair of him to take what she had to give then, in quick and generous devotion, and to fail her so utterly now, when the old physical supremacy was gone, and when she must meet, in the future, not only her own needs but the needs of a child? He had known more of life than she--her mother and father had known more--why had nobody helped her?
That evening, when Sally and Joe had gone to the moving pictures, leaving Martie to listen for 'Lizabeth's little snuffle of awakening, should she unexpectedly awake, Martie cleared the dining- room table and wrote to Wallace.
This was not one of her cheerful, courageous letters, filled with affectionate solicitude for him, and brave hope for the future. She wept over the pages, she reproached and blamed him. For the first time she told him of the baby's coming. She was his wife, he must help her get away, at least until she was well again. She was sick of waiting and hoping; now he must answer her, he must advise her.
Her face was wet with tears; she went that night to mail it at the corner. Afterward she lay long awake, wondering in her ignorant girl's heart if such an unwifely tirade were sufficient cause for divorce, wondering if he would ever love her again after reading it.
Wallace brought the answer himself, five days later. Coming in from a lonely walk, Martie found him eating bread and jam and scrambled eggs in Sally's kitchen. The sight of him there in the flesh, smiling and handsome, was almost too much for her. She rushed into his arms, and sobbed and laughed like a madwoman, as she assured herself of his blessed reality.
Sally, in sympathetic tears herself, tried to join in Wallace's heartening laugh, and Martie, quieted, sat on the arm of her husband's chair, feeling again the delicious comfort of his arm about her, and smiling with dark lashes still wet.
After a while they were alone, and then they talked freely.
"Wallie--only tell me this! Have you got enough money to get me away somewhere? I can't stay here! You see that! Oh, dearest, if you knew---"
"Get you away! Why, you're going with me! We're going to New York!"
Her bewildered eyes were fixed upon him with dawning hope.
"But Golda!" she said.
"Oh, Golda!" He dismissed the adventuress impatiently. "Now I'll tell you all about that some time, dear---"
"But, Wallace, it's--it's all right?" Martie must turn the knife in the wound now, there must be no more doubt.
"All right?" The old bombastic, triumphant voice! "Her husband's alive, if you call that all right!"
"Her husband?" Martie's voice died in a sort of faintness.
"Sure! She was married six years before I ever saw her. Uncle Chess says he heard it, and then forgot it, you know the way you do? I've been to Portland and Uncle Chess was bully. His old lawyer, whom he consulted at the time I left there, was dead, but we dug up the license bureau and found what we were after. She had been married all right and her husband's still living. We found him in the Home for Incurables up there; been there fifteen years. I got a copy of her marriage license from the Registrar and if Mrs. Golda White Ferguson ever turns up again we'll see who does the talking about bigamy! The she-devil! And I told you about meeting Dawson?"
"Oh, God, I thank Thee--I thank Thee!" Martie was breathing to herself, her eyes closed. "Dawson?" she asked, when he repeated the name.
Wallace had straightened up; it was quite in his old manner that he said:
"I--would--rather work for Emory Dawson than for any man I know of in New York!"
"Oh, a manager?"
"The coming manager--you mark what I say!"
"And you met him?" Martie was asking the dutiful questions; but her face rested against her husband's as she talked, and she was crying a little, in joy and relief.
For answer Wallace gently dislodged her, so that he might take from his pocket a letter, the friendly letter that the manager had dashed off.
"He swears he'll book me!" Wallace said, refolding the letter. "He said he needs me, and I need him. I borrowed two hundred from Uncle Chess, and now it's us to the bright lights, Baby!"
"And nothing but happiness--happiness--happiness!" Martie said, returning his handkerchief, and finishing the talk with one of her eager kisses and with a child's long sigh.
"I was afraid you might be a little sorry about--November, Wallie," said she, after a while. "You are glad, a little; aren't you?"
"Sure!" he answered good-naturedly. "You can't help it!"
Martie looked at him strangely, as if she were puzzled or surprised. Was it her fault? Were women to be blamed for bearing? But she rested her case there, and presently Sally came in, wheeling the baby, and there was a disorderly dinner of sausages and fresh bread and strawberries, with everybody jumping up and sitting down incessantly. Wallace was a great addition to the little group; they were all young enough to like the pose of lovers, to flush and dimple over the new possessives, over the odd readjustment of relationships. The four went to see the moving pictures in the evening, and came home strewing peanut-shells on the sidewalk, laughing and talking.
Two little clouds spoiled the long-awaited glory of going to New York for Martie, when early in July she and Wallace really arranged to go. One was the supper he gave a night or two before they left to various young members of the Hawkes family, Reddy Johnson, and one or two other men. Martie thought it was "silly" to order wine and to attempt a smart affair in the dismal white dining room of the hotel; she resented the opportunity Wallace gave her old friends to see him when he was not at his best. She scolded him for incurring the unnecessary expense.
The second cloud lay in the fact that, without consulting her, he had borrowed money from Rodney Parker. This stung Martie's pride bitterly.
"Wallace, why did you?" she asked with difficult self-control.
"Oh, well; it was only a hundred; and he's coining money," Wallace answered easily. "I breezed into the Bank one day, and he was boasting about his job, and his automobile. He took out his bank book and showed me his balance. And all of a sudden it occurred to me I might make a touch. I told him about Dawson." He looked at his wife's dark, resentful face. "Don't you worry, Mart," he said. "You didn't borrow it!"
Martie silently resuming her packing reflected upon the irony of life. She was married, she was going to New York. What a triumphant achievement of her dream of a year ago! And yet her heart was so heavy that she might almost have envied that old, idle Martie, wandering under the trees of Main Street and planning so hopefully for the future.
On the day before she left, exhilarated with the confusion, the new hat she had just bought, the packed trunks, she went to see her mother. It was a strange hour that she spent in the old sitting room, in the cool, stale, home odours, with the home pictures, the jointed gas brackets under which she had played solitaire and the square piano where she had sung "The Two Grenadiers." Outside, in the sunken garden, summer burgeoned fragrantly; the drawn window shades bellied softly to and fro, letting in wheeling spokes of light, shutting down the twilight again. Lydia and her mother, like gentle ghosts, listened to her, reproving and unsympathetic.
"Pa is angry with you, Martie, arid who can blame him?" said Lydia. "I'm sure I never heard of such actions, coming from a girl who had loving parents and a good home!"
This was the mother's note. Lydia was always an echo.
"It isn't as if you hadn't had everything, Mart. You girls had everything you needed--that party at Thanksgiving and all! And you've no idea of the talk in town! Pa feels it terribly. To think that other girls, even like Rose, who had no father, should have so much more sense than our girls."
Martie talked of Sally's baby. "Named for you, Ma," she told her mother. And with sudden earnestness she added: "Why don't you go see it some day? It's the dearest baby I ever saw!"
Mrs. Monroe, who had a folded handkerchief in her bony, discoloured fingers, now pressed it to her eyes, shaking her head as she did so. Lydia gave Martie a resentful look, and her mother a sympathetic one, before she said primly:
"If Sally Monroe wanted Ma and me to go see her and her baby, why didn't she marry some man Pa could have been proud of, and have a church wedding and act in a way becoming to her family?"
To this Martie had nothing to say. She left messages of love for Len and for her father. Her mother and sister came with her for good- byes to the old porch with its peeling dark paint and woody rose- vines.
"Pa said at noon that you had 'phoned you wanted to come say good- bye," said her mother mildly. "I hope you'll always be happy, Martie, and remember that we did our best for you. If you're a good girl, and write some day and ask Pa's forgiveness, I think he may come 'round, because he was always a most affectionate father to his children."
The toneless, lifeless voice ceased. Martie kissed Lydia's unresponsive warm cheek, and her mother's flat soft one. She walked quickly down the old garden, through the still rich green, and smelled, as she had smelled a thousand times before, the velvety sweetness of wallflowers. As she went, she heard her sister say, in a quick, low tone:
"Look, Ma--there's Angela Baxter with that man again. I wonder who on earth he is?"