Another Wife by Sherwood Anderson
He thought himself compelled to say something special to
her--knowing her--loving her--wanting her. What he thought was
that perhaps she wanted him too, or she wouldn't have spent so
much time with him. He wasn't exactly modest.
After all, he was modest enough. He was quite sure several men
must have loved her and thought it not unlikely she had
experimented with at least a few of them. It was all imagined.
Seeing her about had started his mind--his thoughts--racing.
"Modern women, of her class, used to luxuries, sensitive, are not
going to miss anything, even though they don't take the final
plunge into matrimony as I did when I was younger," he thought.
The notion of sin had, for him, more or less been taken out of
that sort of thing. "What you try to do, if you are a modern
woman with any class to you, is to try to use your head," he
He was forty-seven and she ten years younger. His wife had
been dead two years.
For the last month she had been in the habit of coming down
from her mother's country house to his cabin two or three
evenings a week. She might have invited him up the hill to the
house--would have invited him oftener--but that she preferred
having him, his society, in his own cabin. The family, her
family, had simply left the whole matter to her, let her manage
it. She lived in her mother's country house, with the mother and
two younger sisters--both unmarried. They were delightful people
to be with. It was the first summer he had been up in that
country and he had met them after he took the cabin. He ate at a
hotel nearly a half mile away. Dinner was served early. By
getting right back he could be sure of being at home if she
decided to stroll down his way.
Being with her, at her mother's house with the others, was
fun, of course, but some one was always dropping in. He thought
the sisters liked to tease her and him by arranging things that
would tie them down.
It was all pure fancy, just a notion. Why should they be
concerned about him?
What a whirlpool of notions were stirred up in him that Summer
by the woman! He thought about her all the time, having really
nothing else to do. Well, he had come to the country to rest. His
one son was at a Summer school.
"It's like this--here I am, practically alone. What am I
letting myself in for? If she, if any of the women of that
family, were of the marrying sort, she would have made a marriage
with a much more likely man long ago." Her younger sisters were
so considerate in their attitude toward her. There was something
tender, respectful, teasing, too, about the way they acted when
he and she were together.
Little thoughts kept running through his head. He had come to
the country because something inside him had let down. It might
have been his forty-seven years. A man like himself, who had
begun life as a poor boy, worked himself up in his profession,
who had become a physician of some note--well, a man dreams his
dreams, he wants a lot.
At forty-seven he is likely, at any moment, to run into a
You won't get half, a third of what you wanted, in your work,
in life. What's the use going on? These older men who keep on
striving like young men, what about them? They are a little
childlike, immature, really.
A great man might go on like that, to the bitter end, to the
brink of the grave, but who, having any sense, any head, wants to
be a great man? What is called a great man may be just an
illusion in people's minds. Who wants to be an illusion?
Thoughts like that, driving him out of the city--to rest. God
knows it would have been a mistake if she hadn't been there.
Before he met her and before she got into the unwomanly habit of
coming to see him in his own cabin during the long Summer
evenings, the country, the quiet of the country, was
"It may be she only comes down here to me because she is
bored. A woman like that, who has known many men, brilliant men,
who has been loved by men of note. Still, why does she come? I'm
not so gay. It's sure she doesn't think me witty or
She was thirty-seven, a bit inclined to extremes in dress,
plump, to say the least. Life didn't seem to have quieted her
When she came down to his cabin, at the edge of the stream
facing the country road, she dropped onto a couch by the door and
lit a cigarette. She had lovely ankles. Really, they were
The door was open and he sat by a chair near a table. He
burned an oil-lamp. The cabin door was left open. Country people
"The trouble with all this silly business about resting is
that a man thinks too much. A physician in practice--people
coming in, other people's troubles--hasn't time."
Women had come to him a good deal--married and unmarried
women. One woman--she was married--wrote him a long letter after
he had been treating her for three years. She had gone with her
husband to California. "Now that I am away from you, will not see
you again, I tell you frankly I love you."
What an idea!
"You have been patient with me for these three years, have let
me talk to you. I have told you all the intimate things of my
life. You have been always a little aloof and wise."
What nonsense! How could he have stopped the woman's talking
intimately? There was more of that sort of thing in the letter.
The doctor did not feel he had been specially wise with the woman
patient. He had really been afraid of her. What she had thought
was aloofness was really fright.
Still, he had kept the letter--for a time. He destroyed it
finally because he did not want it to fall accidentally into his
A man likes to feel he has been of some account to some
The doctor, say, in the cabin, the new woman near him. She was
smoking a cigarette. It was Saturday evening. People--men, women
and children--were going along the country road toward a mountain
town. Presently the country women and children would be coming
back without the men. On Saturday evenings nearly all the
mountain-men got drunk.
You come from the city and, because the hills are green, the
water in mountain streams clear, you think the people of the
hills must be at the bottom clear and sweet.
Now the country people in the road were turning to stare into
the cabin at the woman and the doctor. On a previous Saturday
evening, after midnight, the doctor had been awakened by a noisy
drunken conversation carried on in the road. It had made him
tremble with wrath. He had wanted to rush out into the road and
fight the drunken country men, but a man of forty-seven . . . The
men in the road were sturdy young fellows.
One of the men was telling the others in a loud voice that the
woman now on the couch near the doctor--that she was really a
loose city woman. He had used a very distasteful word and had
sworn to the others that, before the Summer was over, he intended
having her himself.
It was just crude drunken talk. The fellow had laughed when he
said it, and the others had laughed. It was a drunken man trying
to be funny.
If the woman with the doctor had known--if he told her? She
would only have smiled.
How many thoughts about her in the doctor's head! He felt sure
she had never cared much what others thought. They had been
sitting like that, she smoking her after-dinner cigarette, he
thinking, but a few minutes. In her presence, thoughts came
quickly, dancing through his head. He wasn't used to such a
multitude of thoughts. When he was in town--in practice--there
were plenty of things to think of other than women, being in love
with some woman.
With his wife it had never been like that. She had never
excited him, except at first physically. After that he had just
accepted her. "There are many women. She is my woman. She is
rather nice, does her share of the job"--that sort of an
When she had died it had left a gaping hole in his life.
"That may be what is the matter with me."
"This other woman is a different sort surely. The way she
dresses; her ease with people. Such people, having money always,
from the first, a secure position in life--they just go along,
quite sure of themselves, never afraid."
His early poverty had, the doctor thought, taught him a good
many things he was glad to know. It had taught him other things
not so good to know. Both he and his wife had always been a
little afraid of people--of what people might think--of his
standing in his profession. He had married a woman who also came
from a poor family. She was a nurse before she married him. The
woman now in the room with him got up from the couch and threw
the end of her cigarette into the fireplace. "Let's walk," she
When they got out into the road and had turned away from the
town and her mother's house, standing on a hill between his cabin
and town, another person on the road behind might have thought
him the distinguished one. She was a bit too plump--not tall
enough--while he had a tall, rather slender figure and walked
with a free, easy carriage. He carried his hat in his hand. His
thick graying hairs added to his air of distinction.
The road grew more uneven and they walked close to each other.
She was trying to tell him something. There had been something he
had determined to tell her--on this very evening. What was
Something of what the woman in California had tried to tell
him in that foolish letter--not doing very well at it--something
to the effect that she--this new woman--met while he was off
guard, resting--was aloof from himself--unattainable--but that he
found himself in love with her.
If she found, by any odd chance, that she wanted him, then he
would try to tell her.
After all, it was foolish. More thoughts in the doctor's head.
"I can't be very ardent. This being in the country--resting--away
from my practice--is all foolishness. My practice is in the hands
of another man. There are cases a new man can't understand.
"My wife who died--she didn't expect much. She had been a
nurse, was brought up in a poor family, had always had to work,
while this new woman . . ."
There had been some kind of nonsense the doctor had thought he
might try to put into words. Then he would get back to town, back
to his work. "I'd much better light out now, saying nothing."
She was telling him something about herself. It was about a
man she had known and loved, perhaps.
Where had he got the notion she had had several lovers? He had
merely thought--well, that sort of woman--always plenty of
money--being always with clever people.
When she was younger she had thought for a time she would be a
painter, had studied in New York and Paris.
She was telling him about an Englishman--a novelist.
The devil--how had she known his thoughts?
She was scolding him. What had he said?
She was talking about such people as himself, simple,
straight, good people, she called them, people who go ahead in
life, doing their work, not asking much.
She, then, had illusions as he had.
"Such people as you get such ideas in your heads--silly
Now she was talking about herself again.
"I tried to be a painter. I had such ideas about the so-called
big men in the arts. You, being a doctor, without a great
reputation--I have no doubt you have all sorts of ideas about
so-called great doctors, great surgeons."
Now she was telling what happened to her. There had been an
English novelist she had met in Paris. He had an established
reputation. When he seemed attracted to her she had been much
The novelist had written a love story and she had read it. It
had just a certain tone. She had always thought that above
everything in life she wanted a love affair in just that tone.
She had tried it with the writer of the story and it had turned
out nothing of the sort.
It was growing dark in the road. Laurels and elders grew on a
hillside. In the half-darkness he could see faintly the little
hurt shrug of her shoulders.
Had all the lovers he had imagined for her, the brilliant,
witty men of the great world, been like that? He felt suddenly as
he had felt when the drunken country men talked in the road. He
wanted to hit someone with his fist, in particular he wanted to
hit a novelist--preferably an English novelist--or a painter or
He had never known any such people. There weren't any about.
He smiled at himself, thinking: "When that country man talked I
sat still and let him." His practice had been with well-to-do
merchants, lawyers, manufacturers, their wives and families.
Now his body was trembling. They had come to a small bridge
over a stream, and suddenly, without premeditation, he put his
arm about her.
There had been something he had planned to tell her. What was
it? It was something about himself. "I am no longer young. What I
could have to offer you would not be much. I cannot offer it to
such a one as yourself, to one who has known great people, been
loved by witty, brilliant men."
There had no doubt been something of the sort he had foolishly
thought of saying. Now she was in his arms in the darkness on the
bridge. The air was heavy with Summer perfumes. She was a little
heavy--a real armful. Evidently she liked having him hold her
thus. He had thought, really, she might like him but have at the
same time a kind of contempt for him.
Now he had kissed her. She liked that too. She moved closer
and returned the kiss. He leaned over the bridge. It was a good
thing there was a support of some sort. She was sturdily built.
His first wife, after thirty, had been fairly plump, but this new
woman weighed more.
And now they were again walking in the road. It was the most
amazing thing. There was something quite taken for granted. It
was that he wanted her to marry him.
Did he? They walked along the road toward his cabin and there
was in him the half-foolish, half-joyful mood a boy feels walking
in the darkness the first time, alone with a girl.
A quick rush of memories, evenings as a boy and as a young man
Does a man ever get too old for that? A man like himself, a
physician, should know more about things. He was smiling at
himself in the darkness--feeling foolish, feeling frightened,
glad. Nothing definite had been said.
It was better at the cabin. How nice it had been of her to
have no foolish, conventional fears about coming to see him! She
was a nice person. Sitting alone with her in the darkness of the
cabin he realized that they were at any rate both mature--grown
up enough to know what they were doing.
When they had returned to the cabin it was quite dark and he
lighted an oil-lamp. It all got very definite very rapidly. She
had another cigarette and sat as before, looking at him. Her eyes
were gray. They were gray, wise eyes.
She was realizing perfectly his discomfiture. The eyes were
smiling--being old eyes. The eyes were saying: "A man is a man
and a woman is a woman. You can never tell how or when it will
happen. You are a man and, although you think yourself a
practical, unimaginative man, you are a good deal of a boy. There
is a way in which any woman is older than any man and that is the
reason I know."
Never mind what her eyes were saying. The doctor was plainly
fussed. There had been a kind of speech he had intended making.
It may have been he had known, from the first, that he was
"O Lord, I won't get it in now."
He tried, haltingly, to say something about the life of a
physician's wife. That he had assumed she might marry him,
without asking her directly, seemed a bit rash. He was assuming
it without intending anything of the sort. Everything was
The life of a physician's wife--a man like himself--in general
practice--wasn't such a pleasant one. When he had started out as
a physician he had really thought, some time, he might get into a
great position, be some kind of a specialist.
Her eyes kept on smiling. If he was muddled she evidently
wasn't. "There is something definite and solid about some women.
They seem to know just what they want," he thought.
She wanted him.
What she said wasn't much. "Don't be so foolish. I've waited a
long time for just you."
That was all. It was final, absolute--terribly disconcerting
too. He went and kissed her, awkwardly. Now she had the air that
had from the first disconcerted him, the air of worldliness. It
might not be anything but her way of smoking a cigarette--an
undoubtedly good, although rather bold, taste in clothes.
His other wife never seemed to think about clothes. She hadn't
Well, he had managed again to get her out of his cabin. It
might be she had managed. His first wife had been a nurse before
he married her. It might be that women who have been nurses
should not marry physicians. They have too much respect for
physicians, are taught to have too much respect. This one, he was
quite sure, would never have too much respect.
It was all, when the doctor let it sink in, rather nice. He
had taken the great leap and seemed suddenly to feel solid ground
under his feet. How easy it had been!
They were walking along the road toward her mother's house. It
was dark and he could not see her eyes.
He was thinking--
"Four women in her family. A new woman to be the mother of my
son." Her mother was old and quiet and had sharp gray eyes. One
of the younger sisters was a bit boyish. The other one--she was
the handsome one of the family--sang Negro songs.
They had plenty of money. When it came to that his own income
was quite adequate.
It would be nice, being a kind of older brother to the
sisters, a son to her mother. O Lord!
They got to the gate before her mother's house and she let him
kiss her again. Her lips were warm, her breath fragrant. He
stood, still embarrassed, while she went up a path to the door.
There was a light on the porch.
There was no doubt she was plump, solidly built. What absurd
notions he had had!
Well, it was time to go on back to his cabin. He felt
foolishly young, silly, afraid, glad.
"O Lord--I've got me a wife, another wife, a new one," he said
to himself as he went along the road in the darkness. How glad
and foolish and frightened he still felt! Would he get over it
after a time?