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Why They Got Married by Sherwood Anderson

 

People keep on getting married. Evidently hope is eternal in the human breast. Every one laughs about it. You cannot go to a show but that some comedian takes a shot at the institution of marriage--and gets a laugh. It is amusing to watch the faces of married couples at such moments.

But I had intended to speak about Will. Will is a painter. I had intended to tell you about a conversation that took place in Will's apartment one night. Every man or woman who marries must wonder sometimes how it happened to be just that other one he or she married.

"You have to live so close to the other when you are married," said Will.

"Yes, you do," said Helen, his wife.

"I get awfully tired of it sometimes," Will said.

"And don't I?" said Helen.

"It is worse for me than it is for you."

"No, I think it is worse for me."

"Well, gracious sakes, I would like to know how you figure that out."

"I was in New York, was a student there," said Will. It was evident that he had risen above the little choppy matrimonial sea in which he had been swimming with Helen--conversational swimming--he was ready to tell how it happened. That is always an interesting moment.

 

"Well," said Will, "as I said, there I was, in New York. I was a young bachelor. I was going to school. Then I got through school. I got a job. It wasn't much of a job. I got thirty dollars a week. I was making advertising drawings. So I met a fellow named Bob. He was getting his seventy-five dollars a week. Think of that, Helen. Why didn't you get that one?"

"But, Will, dear, you are now making more than he will ever make," Helen said. "But it wasn't only that. Will is such a sweet, gentle man. You can see that by just looking at him." She walked across the room and took her husband's hands.

"You can't tell about that gentle-looking kind sometimes," I said.

"I know it," Helen said, smiling.

She was surely a very lovely thing at that moment. She had big gray eyes and was very slender and graceful.

Will said that the man Bob, he had met, had some relatives living over near Philadelphia. He was, Helen said, a large, rather mushy-looking man with white hands.

So they began going over there for week-ends. Will and Bob. Will's own people lived in Kansas.

At the place where Bob had the relatives--it was in a suburb of Philadelphia--there were two girls. They were cousins of Bob's.

Will said the girls were all right, and when he said it Helen smiled. He said their father was an advertising man. "They made us welcome at their house. They gave us grand beds to sleep in." Will had got launched into his tale.

"We would get over there about five o'clock of a Saturday afternoon. The father's name was J. G. Small. He had a swell-looking car.

"So he would be at home and he would take a look at us, the way an older man does look at two young fellows making up to the young women folks in his house. At first he looks at you as much as to say, 'Hello, I envy you your youth, etc.,' and then he takes another look and his eyes say, 'What are you hanging around here for, you young squirt?'

"After dinner, of a Saturday night, we got the car, or rather the girls did. I sat on the back seat with one of them. Her name was Cynthia.

"She was a tall, heavy-looking girl with dark eyes. She embarrassed me. I don't know why."

Will went a bit aside from his subject to speak of men's embarrassment with such women. "There is a certain kind that just get your goat," he said, speaking a bit inelegantly, I thought, for a painter. "They feel they ought to be up to their business, getting themselves a man, but maybe they have thought too much about it. They are self-conscious and, of course, they make you feel that way.

"Naturally, we made love. It seemed to be expected. Bob was at it with her sister on the front seat. Everybody does it nowadays, and I was glad enough for the chance. Just the same I kept wishing it came a little more natural with me--with that one I mean."

When Will was saying all this to me he was sitting on a couch in his apartment in New York. I had dined with him and his wife. She was sitting on the couch beside him. When he spoke about the other woman, she crept a little nearer to him. She remarked casually that it was only a chance that she, instead of the woman Cynthia, got Will. When she said that, it was very hard to believe her. I doubt whether she wanted me to believe.

Will said that, with Cynthia, it was very hard indeed to get close. He said she never really did, what he called "melt." The fellow on the front seat, that is to say his friend Bob, was usually in a playful mood during these drives. Of the two girls, his cousins, he always seemed to prefer, not the one named Cynthia, but a smaller, darker, livelier one named Grace. He used to stop the car sometimes, on a dark road in that country somewhere outside Philadelphia, and he and Grace would make up to each other.

It was simply amazing how the girl named Grace could talk. Will said she used to swear at Bob and that when he got, what she called "too gay," she hit him. Sometimes Bob stopped the car and he and Grace got out and took a walk. They would be gone quite a long time. Will sat in the back seat with Cynthia. He said her hands were like men's hands. "They looked like competent hands," he thought. She was older than her sister Grace, and had taken a job in the city.

Apparently she was not very competent in love making; Will thought Grace and Bob would never come back. He was trying to think up things to say to Cynthia. One night they all went together to a dance. It was at a road-house, somewhere near Philadelphia.

It must have been a rather tough place. Will said it was, but when he said so, his wife, Helen, laughed. "What the devil were you doing there anyway?" Will suddenly said, turning and glaring at her as though it were the first time he had thought of asking the question.

"I was after a man and I got one, too. I got you," she said.

 

She had gone to the dance with a young man of the same suburb in which Bob's cousins lived. Her father was a doctor. Helen took the tale right out of Will's hands. She explained that when Will and Bob and the two girls, Grace and Cynthia, came into the dance hall she spotted Will at once. "That one's mine," she said to herself and almost before they had got inside the door she had been introduced to Will. They danced together at once.

There must really have been some tough people in the road-house that night. When Will and Helen were dancing together there was a big, low-browed, tough-looking fellow who kept trying to "make" Helen, Will said. He had started to tell me about it and then got an idea. "Say, you look here, Helen," he said, turning to look at his wife, "didn't you have something to do with that? Had you given that low-browed man the eye? Were you egging him on?"

"Sure," she said.

She explained that when a woman, like herself, was at work, when she really was laying herself out to get a man, the right thing to do was to have a rival in the field. "You have to work with what material you have at hand, don't you? You are an artist. You are always talking about art. You ought to understand that."

There came very near being a row. Will had taken Helen to a table where Bob sat with Grace and Cynthia. The young tough swaggered up--he was a little high--and demanded a dance with Helen.

Helen got indignant. She looked frightened and Will felt it was up to him, and he isn't the kind that is good at that sort of thing. Will is the kind that in such an emergency grows rather helpless.

Such a man begins to tremble. His back hurts. He dreams of being cool and determined, but is so helpless that very likely he shouts, makes the situation much worse, goes too far. What happened was that Helen settled the matter. She had already become a little tender about Will.

"What did you do?" I asked. "I understood you had become indignant."

"I had," she said, "but I managed. I got up and danced with him. I liked it. He was a good dancer."

Helen, like Grace and Cynthia, had got her father's car for the evening. When they left that tough place the young man who had come with her was on the back seat of the other car with Cynthia, and Will was in the car with her. That did not much please Cynthia, but it seemed Cynthia had very little to do with it.

So they had got started in that way. Afterward, Will continued going to Philadelphia with Bob for the week-ends, but things were different at the cousin's house. "It was not so warm and cheerful there," Will said. Helen was always dropping in. Soon the two young men began stopping at a hotel in Philadelphia. Bob had also got interested in Helen. They stopped at a cheap hotel, not having much money, and Helen came to see them. Will said she came right up into the hotel bedroom. As he began thinking of what went on during that time, Will looked at Helen with a kind of wonder in his eyes. "I guess you could have had either of us," he said, with a note of awe in his voice. It was obvious he admired his wife.

"I was not so sure about Bob," Helen said.

She wrote letters to both of the men during the week, when they were in New York at work, and when they arrived in Philadelphia, there she was. She always managed to get her father's car. She went home to her suburb late on Saturday nights and came back again early on Sundays. Saturday nights they all went together to a dance.

One day her father grew alarmed and angry, and followed her. He saw her go to the two men, right into their room, in the cheap hotel.

She had to decide the matter. She had made up her mind to marry one of the men, was tired of living at home. Things, I gathered, were getting rather warm at home. She was an only child. She said her mother was crying all the time and her father was furious. "I had to be hard-boiled with them for the time," she explained. She was rather like a surgeon about to perform an operation on a frightened patient. She cajoled and bullied them. When her father tried to put his foot down she issued an ultimatum. "I'm twenty-one," she said. "If you interfere with me I shall leave home."

"But how will you live?"

"Don't be silly, Father, a woman can always live."

She went right out to the garage, got her father's car and drove to Philadelphia. In the room in the hotel she was studying the two men. She got Will to go down to the car with her. "Get in," she said. They drove away from the hotel. "I didn't know where we were going," Will said.

They drove and drove. Will spoke of her mood that night. He was in love. When I heard this tale he was still very much in love. "It was a soft clear night with stars." Speaking of it, he took hold of his wife's hands.

"Let's get married," she said to Will that night. "But when?" he asked. She thought they had better do it at once. "But think of my salary," Will said. "I am thinking about it. It isn't much, is it?" The meagerness of his salary didn't seem to alter her determination. "I can't wait any longer," was what she said. She said they would drive around all night and get married early the next morning.

And so they did. Her people, the doctor and his wife, were in a panic.

Will and his wife went to them the next day. "How were you received?" I asked. "Fine," Will said. He said that the doctor and his wife would have been happy no matter whom she had married. "You see, I had arranged for that," Helen said. "I had got them into a state where marriage sure seemed like salvation to them."

 
 
 

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