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One Taste of the Old Time by Eliza Calvert Hall

 

“There is no organic disease whatever,” said the doctor. “The trouble is purely mental. No, I don't mean that,” he corrected hastily, as he saw the look of dismay on David Maynor's face. “Your wife is not losing her mind. Nothing of that sort. Indeed, I take her to be a woman of unusually sound mentality. But, evidently there is some trouble preying on her mind and producing these nervous symptoms. The prescription I am leaving will palliate these, but it remains for you to find out what the trouble is and remove it, if you can. There are some cases where doctors are powerless, and this, I think, is one of them.” He reached for his hat and bowing with professional courtesy turned to leave.

“How much do I owe you?” said David Maynor.

The blunt question was like a sentry's challenge, and the doctor paused with his hand on the knob of the door.

“Ah—never mind about that now. A bill will be sent you at the end of the month.” His tone and manner implied that this was too trivial a matter to be mentioned.

But David Maynor's hand was in his pocket, and he was drawing forth his new seal-leather purse.

“I always pay as I go,” he said stolidly. The corners of the doctor's mouth twitched, and a gleam of humor came into his eyes. “Ten dollars,” he said, and while David Maynor was counting out the bills, the physician's quick glance was taking note of the expensive furniture and the utter absence of individuality, that gave the house the air of a hotel rather than a home. “The new rich,” he thought with good-natured amusement, then aloud:

“Let me hear from your wife to-morrow, Mr. Maynor. But, as I said before, the case is in your hands. Good afternoon!” And with another courtly bow he was gone.

David Maynor hurried back up-stairs to his wife's bedside. “Sarah,” he said, bending over her and smoothing her hair clumsily, “the doctor says there's not a thing the matter with you, except you've got something on your mind that's worrying you. He says he can't do much for you, and that I've got to find out what the trouble is and remove it, if I can.”

Sarah Maynor turned her head restlessly on the pillow. “I must say he's got more sense than I thought he had,” she said, with a nervous laugh. “I was afraid he'd go to dosing me with bitters and pills. He's exactly right: no doctor can cure me.” Her voice broke, and she buried her face in the pillow.

A deep anxiety settled on David's rugged features. “Why, Sarah,” he said, with tender reproach in his voice, “when did you get to hiding your troubles from me? Is there anything you want? Anything I can do for you? You know you can have everything now that money can buy.”

Sarah turned her face toward her husband. Her gray eyes were filled with tears, and her hands were clenched in an effort to control her feelings.

“That's just the trouble!” she cried, her voice rising into a wail. “You've given me everything that money buys, and I don't want anything except the things that love buys. I want to go back to Millville! I want to live in our own little cottage! I'm sick of this sort of life! I never was made to be a rich man's wife, and it's killing me! It's killing me! Oh! I know I'm ungrateful, Dave, but I can't help it!” Her voice broke in a storm of sobs. She covered her face with the bedclothes and shrank away from her husband's hand.

A look of profound relief lighted David Maynor's face. “Is that all?” he exclaimed. “And here I've been putting up with everything because I thought you were pleased! My gracious, Sarah! You don't hate this life any more than I do.”

Sarah lifted her head from the pillow and searched his face with her tear-reddened eyes. “Dave Maynor,” she said solemnly, “are you just saying that to please me, or is it the truth?”

“I'd go back to Millville to-morrow, if I could,” said David, with an emphasis that swept away all doubt of his sincerity.

Sarah fell back on her pillows with a long, sobbing breath of relief. Her tears flowed again, but they were tears of happiness, and an ecstatic smile shone through them.

“Oh! Then it's all right, Dave! It's all right!” She reached for David's hand and laid it against her wet cheek. “You see, it was just the thought that you and I didn't think alike—that was what I couldn't stand. But if you feel as I do, why, I can stand anything. You know what I mean, don't you, Dave?”

“Of course I know what you mean, honey,” said David soothingly, as if he were talking to a child in distress. “I've felt exactly the same way, ever since we left our little Millville home and come to this two-story brick house. I thought you liked it,—women always like fine houses and fine furniture,—and I wanted to please you, but I hated it from the start; and we'd always thought the same about everything, and to have this big pile of brick and mortar comin' between us at our time of life—”

At this point words failed him. He was not in the habit of analyzing and describing his own feelings, but Sarah's eyes met his, and a look of perfect understanding passed between husband and wife. They had been living a divided life, but now they were one.

“It was my fault,” said Sarah. “I ought to have stopped you in the beginning; but I knew you were trying to please me, and I didn't want to seem ungrateful—”

“Yes, honey, yes,” interrupted David, “I know just how it was, and it was my fault, not yours. I ought to have asked you what you wanted, instead of takin' things for granted. Yes, if it's anybody's fault, it's mine. But what's the use in blamin' anybody? My doctrine is that when a thing has happened, instead of blamin' ourselves or anybody else, we just ought to conclude that it had to happen, and then make the best of it. This house is built; it's ours; we're in it; we don't like it; and now what are we going to do about it?”

Sarah's face clouded at once. She and David were of one mind, but things were not “all right", for still the burden of unaccustomed wealth and luxury weighed upon her, and David's question brought her face to face with the old troubles.

“Oh! I don't know,” she said wearily. “If we just hadn't left our little cottage!”

“It was that architect fellow's fault, my buildin' this house,” said David ruefully. “He was a young man just startin' out in the world, and I thought I'd give him a helpin' hand. And then it didn't look right for people with the income we've got to live in a four-room cottage in Millville.”

“I don't care how it looked,” said Sarah fretfully, “we were in our right place there, and we're out of place here. When we lived in Millville, I'd get up in the morning, and I knew just exactly what I'd have to do, and I knew I could do whatever I had to do. But now—” She made a gesture of unutterable despair—“Why, I hate to open my eyes, I hate to get up, I hate to think there's another day before me, for I'm certain there'll be things to do that I never did before, and don't know how to do and don't want to do, even if I knew how. People come to see me and they talk about things I never heard of, and ask me to do things I can't do, and I feel just exactly as if I was caught in some kind of a cage and couldn't get out. There was that Mrs. Emerson—she wanted me to join a club she belongs to. She said it used to be a literary club, but that they'd changed their plans, and, instead of writin' papers, they'd decided to do civic work.”

She paused in her passionate confession and turned abruptly to David with a look of self-scorn that was tragic in its intensity. “Do you know what 'civic work' is, David?” David did not answer at once.

“Why, no, Sarah, I can't say I do,” he said cautiously. “It seems to me I've seen that word somewhere, and maybe I could think up what it means, if you'd give me time to—”

Sarah cut him short. “You don't know what that word means, David, and neither do I,” she said with studied calmness.

David was genuinely puzzled by Sarah's evident distress over so unimportant a circumstance as the meaning of a word. “Honey,” he said tenderly, “I'll go right down town and buy you a dictionary, so you can find out what that word means. But what difference does it make, anyhow?”

Once more his wife turned on him a face that was like a mask of tragedy. “What difference does it make?” she wailed. “Oh, David! Can't you see? Can't you understand? There I sat—in my own house—like a fool—not knowin' what answer to give her, just because I didn't know what that word meant! And every day something like this happens, something that makes me feel that I'm out of place, something that makes me hate myself! Can't you understand?”

Yes, David understood as well as a man could be expected to understand a woman. Many times since Fortune had smiled on him, he had been thrown with men of superior education and social position and had known momentarily the feeling of being out of place. And if Sarah's passionate words failed to convey all she felt and suffered, the despair in her eyes and the nervous twitching of her fingers brought comprehension to her husband's mind.

“There! There!” he soothed, taking her hands in his. “You mustn't carry on this way, Sarah, or I'll have to send for the doctor again. Just give me time to think; there must be a way out of this trouble. My goodness!” He shook his head in helpless wonderment over the strange situation. “I thought we'd be through with troubles when we got rich, but it looks as if this money's the most trouble we ever had.”

“It wouldn't be a trouble if we were used to it,” explained Sarah. “We were born poor, and we've lived poor all our lives, and we don't know how to get happiness out of money.”

David sighed. “We can't go back to Millville to live,” he said thoughtfully. “At least we can't get back our old place.” Sarah's face was already clouded, but at these words a deeper shadow passed over it. She had known, when she left the Millville house, that the owner of the property intended tearing down the cottage and building a tenement house for the mill-workers, and every time she thought of her house in ruins, she had a dull heartache. “I never hankered after riches,” mused David, his mind still occupied with the mysterious ways of the Providence that had made him rich. “I never even tried to invent that machine. It just seemed to come to me, without any thinkin' or tryin' on my part; and when I patented the thing, I never supposed it would do any more than make us fairly comfortable in our old age. But here's the money comin' in all the time; it's ours, and it's honest money, and we've got to take it and make the best of it. But,” tenderly, “I'm not goin' to let it worry you to death if I can help it. What is it that bothers you most, honey?”

Sarah moved her head restlessly on the pillow and sighed heavily. “Oh! everything; but I believe the servants are the worst aggravation of all.”

“What's the matter with 'em?” asked David; “don't they do their work right?”

“No, they don't,” said Sarah despairingly. “I never saw such cleanin' as that Bertha does—dust behind the doors and on the window sills; and she never takes up a rug, and the windows look like Jacob's cattle, all ringed and striped and streaked. And Nelly's just as bad. The dish towels are a sight, and the kitchen closet's in such a mess I can't sleep for thinkin' of it. I never could stand dust, especially in my kitchen; you know that, David. And here we are payin' these good-for-nothin' creatures every week almost as much money as you used to earn in a month! It's enough to drive me crazy.” It was the lamentation of a housekeeper, a cry as old as civilization, that Sarah was uttering, and David heard it sympathetically, for his wife's troubles were his own.

“Can't you make 'em do their work right?” he asked.

“Make 'em?” Sarah's voice rose in a petulant wail. “No, I can't. I can make myself work, but I don't know how to make anybody else work.”

“Do they ever give you any back talk?” asked David.

“No, they don't,” said Sarah, a dull flush crimsoning her face. “They're polite enough to my face, but, David, I believe they laugh at us both behind our backs. Two or three times I've turned around right quick, and I've seen a look on their faces that made me want to turn 'em out of the house.”

David's face hardened. “Why don't you discharge 'em?” he asked grimly.

“Oh! I don't know how,” said Sarah fretfully. “It seems to me you ought to know that, without being told. I never discharged anybody in my life. I wouldn't know what to say. Don't you have to give servants warning before you turn 'em off?”

David deliberated a moment. “Either they have to give you warning, or you have to give them warning, or maybe it's both,” he announced. “I guess it would take a lawyer to settle that question.”

“People that don't know how to get rid of a servant have got no business with servants,” said Sarah bitterly. “Here I am, a stout, able-bodied woman, holdin' my hands all day, when I ought to be doin' my own work just as I always have.”

“You couldn't do your work in this house,” argued David. “It would break you down if you tried it.”

“There it is again,” cried Sarah. “The house! It's the house that's to blame for everything. Why, it was just last week I met Molly Matthews on the street, and she turned her head away and wouldn't speak to me! Molly Matthews that nursed me when I had the fever and that's been like a sister to me all these years!”

David's face darkened angrily. “What right has Molly Matthews to fall out with you, because you've got a better house than she has? That's just envy.”

“No, it's not envy!” cried Sarah in loyal defense of the absent friend. “I know Molly as well as I know myself. She hasn't changed, but she thinks I've changed; she thinks I feel above her just because I've got this two-story brick. And I don't blame her a bit. When we left Millville and moved into town, it looked just like we had turned our backs on all our old friends. I'd feel just as Molly does, if I were in Molly's place. I've wanted to have Molly and Annie and all the rest of my friends to spend the day with me,—I've only waited because I wanted to feel at home in my own house, before I had visitors,—but now I can't do it. We've got a fine house, David, and plenty of money, but we've lost our old friends; and what is life without friends?”

The god of Mammon had showered his favors on these simple souls, but they would never be worshippers of the god. David, too, had felt the barrier of wealth rising, hard and cruel, between him and the friends of a lifetime, and his heart echoed Sarah's question, “What is life without friends?”

“Well,” he said, with an effort at lightness, “if our old friends forsake us, we'll have to make new ones.”

“But I don't want new friends!” cried Sarah, with the accent of a fretful child, “Haven't I just told you I couldn't talk to that Mrs. Emerson?”

A sudden thought seemed to strike David. He took out his watch and glanced at it. “It's time for you to take another dose of the medicine the doctor left. I have to go down-town for a few minutes. You lie still and see if you can't sleep a little.”

He handed her the medicine and left the room. Sarah waited till he was out of the house, and then she rose hastily from the bed and began making a hurried toilet.

When David reappeared, he found her fully dressed and the marks of tears gone from her face.

“That medicine's helped you already,” he said cheerfully; “and here's a dictionary, and we'll find out what that word means.”

The dictionary was an unfamiliar book to David, but after a patient search he found the strange word. “Here it is: civic, of or pertaining to a city, a citizen, or citizenship.” He looked hopefully at Sarah. She shook her head rather sadly.

“I don't know a bit more now than I did before, David, but never mind that word. I told you awhile ago that I could stand anything, if we only felt alike about it, and I'm goin' to stand this.”

“That's right,” said David heartily; “and while you're standing it, I'll be looking for a way out of it. I didn't build this house for you to stand, I built it for you to enjoy, and if you don't enjoy it, you don't have to live in it.” At that moment the supper bell rang.

“Come on, honey,” said David, holding out his hand to help her from the chair, “you'll feel better after you've had something to eat.”

But Sarah only sighed and shook her head languidly. “If I'd only cooked the supper, I might feel hungry. But I just don't care whether I eat or not. I'd rather go hungry than to eat with that Nelly starin' at me.”

“You stay up here, Sarah,” said David with sudden determination. He wheeled a small table in front of her and hurried from the room. In a few minutes Nelly appeared with a laden tray that she set on the table.

“Mr. Maynor says if there's anything else you want, to let him know.” Nelly's tone and manner were those of the well-trained servant, and she looked at her mistress with a gleam of real sympathy in her eyes.

“This is all I want. I'm much obliged,” said Sarah Maynor awkwardly.

Nelly withdrew, and Sarah began to eat, more from gratitude to David than from any sense of hunger. David was so good to her, she must get used to things for his sake. But the relief of eating without the espionage of a servant quickened her appetite, and when David rejoined her, he looked with satisfaction on the empty dishes.

“Don't worry about me, David,” said Sarah, with a good attempt at a careless smile. “I've been actin' like a child, but from now on I'm goin' to behave myself.” David did not answer. He appeared to be in deep thought about some important matter. He took out a pencil, did some figuring on the back of an envelope, relapsed again into the thoughtful mood, and finally went to bed silent and preoccupied.

For the next few weeks, he was away from home the greater part of the time. Many days he failed to appear at the midday meal, and often it would be dusk before he came to supper. The vague excuse of “business” satisfied Sarah, for she had the wifely faith that forbade questioning, and though David's sympathy helped her to stand the hard conditions of her daily life, she was still too unhappy to feel any keen curiosity about her husband's comings and goings. But one day David came home wearing an expression of such triumphant satisfaction that it could not be overlooked.

“What's the matter, David?” she asked wistfully. “You look just like you did the day you got your patent.”

David laughed joyously. “I feel just as I did the day I got my patent, Sarah: I've got a little business to see to after dinner, but about four o'clock I'll come around with the buggy, and we'll take a long ride. I've been workin' hard for the last few weeks, and I reckon I'm entitled to a little holiday.”

That horse and phaeton had been the occasion of much comment on the part of the general public. People often smiled to see the rich inventor and his wife in their modest turnout, while men of lesser worth whizzed by in costly machines; only Sarah knew that the shining little phaeton and the gentle mare were the realization of a childish dream.

“I reckon I ought to have bought a car,” said David apologetically, as he helped Sarah into the phaeton for their first ride together; “but when I was a little shaver I wanted a pony; every boy does. Nobody but God will ever know how much I wanted that pony I never got. And when I grew older, I wanted a horse just as bad as I wanted a pony, and now the time's come when I can have what I want. Some day we can get one of these big machines, but right now this little buggy and this little mare just suit me.” And Sarah had acquiesced fully in these views.

“You can't love a big machine, but you can love a horse,” she said. And thereafter the horse and phaeton were the only mitigating circumstances of her new life, for they enabled her to get away, for a few happy, care-free hours, from the two-story brick and the two hateful servants. She ate her dinner with a better appetite because of the promised ride. Long before the hour appointed she was dressed and waiting with the impatience of a child, and before they had gone a mile, she had caught David's spirit of happiness, and was looking up into her husband's face with a look her face used to wear before the curse of wealth came upon her.

“Are we going to Millville?” she asked apprehensively.

“No,” said David. “We're going in that direction, but we'll stop before we get there.” He understood why Sarah would not want to drive through the village; it would seem like flaunting her new wealth in the faces of her old neighbors. David's eyes sparkled, and his mouth kept curving into a smile even though there was no occasion for smiling. Sarah felt that she was on the verge of a pleasant surprise, and her eyes roved here and there searching for the possible stopping-place. There were pretty cottages at intervals along the road, and each one reminded her of her lost home. On they went, around a sharp turn in the road, and suddenly David drew rein in the shade of a huge tulip tree just in front of a little country place. A new paling fence painted gray enclosed the lot; the house was not a new one, but its coat of gray matched the fence, and a fresh green roof crowned its walls. Sarah leaned forward, her eyes alight with wonder.

“Why, Dave, it looks like our old cottage. It's exactly like it, only it's had a new coat of paint. What are we stopping here for? Does anybody live here?”

David was helping her out of the phaeton. His eyes were smiling, and the corners of his mouth twitched.

“It does look considerably like our cottage,” he said gravely. “That's why I brought you out here. I thought you might enjoy lookin' at it.” He opened the gate, and they walked up the path, Sarah glancing from side to side at the newly planted shrubs and trees.

“Why, Dave, it looks just like our front yard, only everything's new. There's that little maple tree at the corner of the house, just like our maple tree at home, and all the shrubs I used to have, and planted in exactly the same places. It's right curious how much it's like our old place.”

They were on the front porch now. David knocked loudly on the door. That door! Sarah's eyes were scanning it as if it were a written page from which she hoped to learn good tidings. It glistened bravely in its thick coat of white paint, but when one has opened and shut the same door for twenty years, the brush of the painter cannot wholly conceal its familiar features. Surely that was her front door!

“The folks don't seem to be at home,” said David, and as he spoke, he took a key from his pocket, unlocked the door, and flung it wide open. David was no playwright, but he understood how to produce a dramatic situation and bring a scene to a successful climax. The opening of the door disclosed a narrow entry. The floor was covered with an oilcloth somewhat worn, and in front of the door lay a rug of braided rags. Against the wall stood a very ugly hatrack, and over the door leading into the room on the left was a Bible text worked in faded yarns and framed in dingy gilt. For a moment Sarah stood gazing bewildered at the familiar interior, then she grasped her husband's hand and stepped across the threshold, uttering an inarticulate expression of rapture, while David laughed aloud in pure delight.

“Oh, David! David!” she cried, “it's my own home, my own little home! What does it mean, David? Am I crazy or dreaming or what?” She was clinging to David's arm, trembling and tearful. David patted her kindly on the hand.

“You're not crazy, honey, and you're wide-awake, too. It means that you've got your old home again, and you needn't ever go back to the two-story brick house in town unless you want to.”

“But I thought the house was torn down,” insisted Sarah, incredulous of the happy reality.

“So it was,” explained David, “but I bought the lumber and had it all put together again. Everything's just like it used to be except the wall paper and paint. They're new.”

Oh! the miracle of it! And it was David's love that had wrought the miracle. Sarah tried to speak, tried to tell David all her happiness and gratitude, but the words were so incoherent, broken, and mixed with tears that no one but David could have understood their meaning.

“Kind?” he said, patting her shoulder. “No, there's no particular kindness about this. I've just got Doctor Bourland's prescription filled, that's all. You know he said I had to find out what the trouble was and remove it, and that's what I've tried to do.”

Sarah's tears flowed afresh at this proof of David's thoughtfulness. “Oh, David!” she cried remorsefully. “I thought you didn't care for the things—our things! And it hurt me so!”

“Cheer up, old woman,” said David. “Dry your eyes and see if I've got everything here I ought to have. You'll find some clothes in the bureau drawers, enough to last for a few days, anyhow. We're goin' to stay here awhile, till that head of yours quits achin' and your nerves get quieted down.”

But Sarah was in the kitchen now, opening drawers, doors, and boxes like a true daughter of Pandora. “Sugar—meal—soda—bacon—salt. How on earth did you manage to think of everything, David?”

“Come out in the garden,” urged David. “Pretty outlook, ain't it?” he said, with a gesture toward the west where green meadows and blue hills slumbered in the late afternoon sunshine. “See the new stable and the chicken yard. I'll put up some martin boxes next week, and we'll have pigeons, too. Here's the asparagus bed, and over against the stable we'll have a little hotbed and raise early lettuce. It's too late to do much now, but I've got the walks laid off, and this time next year we'll be sittin' under our own 'vine and fig-tree.'”

Hand in hand, like two children, they wandered over their acre of ground, planning for the flower garden, the vegetable garden, and the tiny orchard and the grape arbor that were to be, till the level rays of the sun warned them of approaching evening. David took out his watch.

“Pretty near supper time,” he said. “The fire's laid in the kitchen stove. I wonder if you've forgotten how to cook a meal, Mrs. Maynor?”

Sarah answered with a laugh; and as she walked to the house and entered her kitchen, she looked as Eve might have looked, if, with her womanly tears and sighs, she had bribed the Angel of the Flaming Sword to let her pass through the gate and stroll for an hour along the paths of her lost Eden. But Sarah's Paradise Regained was the paradise of the worker. She rolled up her sleeves, tied a gingham apron around her waist, and set about getting supper with the zeal of those who count themselves blest in having to earn the bread they eat.

She set the little square table near a western window, and the sunset light fell on the cheap cloth, the ill-matched pieces of cheap china, and the plain food of the working man. It was all she could do to keep back the tears of joy when she called David in to supper. David's eyes filled, too, when he seated himself at the table. He bowed his head to say grace, but his voice failed, and their grace was a silent thanksgiving, not for food, but for the restoration of the old home and the old life.

In the midst of the meal Sarah laid down her knife and fork with an expression of dismay. “Oh, David!” she exclaimed, “what will we do about the house in town? We can't leave it in charge of those no-account servants.”

“Don't worry,” said David placidly. “Ann Bryan's in charge of that house, and she'll stay as long as we're here. Ann knows how to manage servants. She used to be the housekeeper at Northcliffe Manor, you remember. I told her about the trouble you'd had, and I think you'll find Nelly and Bertha well broken in when you get back.”

Sarah drew a sigh of relief. It was good to know that those hateful servants were in stronger hands than hers, and better still, that she and David could eat their meals in the privacy of the kitchen with no spying eyes upon them.

“Do the people at Millville know about this house, David?” she asked later, as they sat on the porch in the stillness and coolness of the night. David blew a puff of smoke into the darkness before he answered.

“They all know, Sarah, and I think it'll make things a good deal easier for you. Annie McGowan came by one day, when I was havin' the cottage torn down and the lumber hauled out here; she stopped to ask questions, and I told her how you pined for your old home and what I intended to do, and I guess she told all the other women, for I notice a change in everybody's face.”

“What did Annie say?” urged Sarah eagerly.

“She said she always knew your heart was in the right place.”

The old home and the old friends, too! All her loved and lost possessions were found, and if David's wealth were suddenly snatched away, she would still be a rich woman. She slept soundly and woke with a thrill of rapture at the thought of the day's work before her. How many things there were to be done and how willingly she would do them, for she was back in her own place, living her own life, and finding health and happiness in daily toil. She went from task to task, rejoicing that her hand had not lost its cunning for sweeping, dusting, sewing, cooking, and all the rest of the blessed work that goes to the making of a home; “and the evening and the morning were the first day.” The second day was like unto the first, and on the third day Mary Matthews and Annie McGowan came, and a broken friendship was cemented, never to be broken again.

At the end of the week David came home with a grave face. “I'm sorry, Sarah,” he said, as they sat down to their supper, “but I'm afraid we'll have to break camp and go back to town to-morrow morning. I had a letter from Bates and Hammond, that big firm I told you about, and I have to go to St. Louis to-morrow morning. I can't leave you out here alone, so I reckon you'll have to go back to the two-story brick for awhile.”

He expected an outburst of tears from Sarah, but to his great relief she went calmly on, pouring his coffee and helping him to the corn bread and bacon.

“That's all right, David,” she said pleasantly. “I was just wonderin' to-day how things were in town, and I'd just as soon go back as not.”

David drew a breath of relief. “I think you'll find everything in good order,” he said. “Ann Bryan has got Nelly and Bertha well in hand. She says they're good servants, and all they need is a tight rein to hold them to their work. She says you must look them straight in the eye when you give an order, and never let a bad piece of work pass. She says that's the secret of managin' servants.”

Sarah said nothing, but there was a look on her face that Ann Bryan would have approved.

“We have to make an early start to-morrow,” continued David, “for I leave on the nine o'clock train. Ann may leave the house before we get to town. Her brother's wife is sick, and she's needed at home, and that's another reason why we ought to go back to town for awhile.”

“Of course it is,” agreed Sarah, “and I don't mind it at all.”

David watched his wife closely, as they made preparations for leaving the next morning, but there was nothing in her manner or her words to indicate the slightest annoyance over the return to town. She seemed alert, cheerful, and more than willing to make the change, and when they came in sight of the two-story brick, David thought she looked rather pleased.

“Maybe you'd better have some one to stay with you while I'm gone,” he suggested, as he kissed her good-by.

“No,” said Sarah, very decidedly, “I've got some work to do, and I'd rather be alone. Take care of yourself, David, and come home as soon as you can.”

She stood on the porch till David was out of sight and then walked back to the kitchen where the two servants were dawdling and gossiping over their breakfast.

“Nelly,” she said, pointing to the kitchen clock and looking the maid squarely in the face, “it's nearly nine o'clock and no cleaning done yet. Go up-stairs and open the windows so the house'll have a good airing, and then get the parlor in order first before company comes.” While the astonished Nelly obeyed orders, she turned to Bertha and gave directions for the next meal. “You've got your kitchen in good order,” she said approvingly, “and from now on you must keep it just this way.”

“She's learnin' fast,” said Nelly to Bertha an hour later, when they came together for a whispered conference in the kitchen pantry.

“Believe me!” returned Bertha, “it won't be long before I'll be cookin' six o'clock dinner instead of supper.”

Sarah had ample time to work and think, for David was gone a week instead of three days. Every morning she arose with certain plans in her mind, and every night she lay down to sleep, calmly satisfied because she had carried these plans to a successful completion. The forenoons were spent in a careful superintendence of household affairs, and Nelly and Bertha were made to feel the authority of a mistress whose ideas of cleanliness and order were beyond any they had ever known. In the afternoon she put on her brown suit and went out to walk, or to call on the friendly people whose cards lay in the silver tray on her center table. Her air at such times was one of grave determination, and even David never knew with what fear and trembling and heart-sinking these first social duties were performed. She was a pleasant-faced, wholesome-looking woman; her dark, abundant hair was somewhat coarse, but it waved naturally, and she arranged it well; her skin was not fine, but it had a clear, healthy color, and her form was erect, in spite of years of drudgery. Each day a careful observer might have found some slight improvement in her dress and manner. Hitherto the putting on of clothes had been to Sarah merely a part of her day's work, something to be done with the utmost speed; but now she was learning to make a toilette, varying the arrangement of her hair and observing the fit of her garments and the effect of different colors. Her taste in clothes happened to be good, and the fine simplicity of her suit and hat offset the plainness of her manner and her evident embarrassment over the difficult function of making calls.

“I like her,” said Mrs. Emerson, the minister's wife, to Mrs. Morris, the banker's wife. “She is what you call a plain woman, and they're unmistakably 'new rich', but the newspaper paragrapher will never have anything on her. She's absolutely without pretense, and she has a world of common sense. I'm glad she's consented to join our club, for we need just such a woman in this legislative work we're undertaking.”

When David wrote her the date of his home-coming, she made it a festal occasion. The house had an extra cleaning; the grocer's boy left the choicest meat, fruits, and vegetables on Nelly's kitchen table, and Bertha was ordered to make the table look as attractive as possible. Notwithstanding her longing for the old life, Sarah had always taken a timid, tremulous sort of pleasure in the fine damask, the cut glass, silver, and china that David had bought when they moved into the “two-story brick", and after she had dressed to meet David, she stole down to the dining-room to feast her eyes on the costly things that had replaced the plated spoons, steel knives, ten-cent dishes, and cotton napkins of other days. Closing the door lest Bertha should intrude on her, she gazed fondly at her possessions. She was just beginning to feel they were really hers. She touched the lace of the centerpiece and a daring thought came into her mind. Was there time to do it before David came? She rushed up-stairs, put on her hat and coat, seized her purse, and walked swiftly to a near-by greenhouse.

“Roses?” said the florist, “certainly, madam, what kind?”

What kind? Alas! the only roses she knew by name were roses like the old-fashioned ones that grew in the gardens of the Millville people. These stately queens clad in white, pink, and crimson satin and cloth of gold, were strangers to her. She looked hesitatingly from the Bridesmaid to the Bride, from the Bride to the Jacqueminot, and the florist, seeing her perplexity, suggested La France as a desirable choice and called her attention to the perfume. Yes, she wanted a dozen,—she almost turned pale at the thought of her own extravagance,—and when the florist laid the big, soft bundle of roses and ferns on her arm, she hurried home with a fearful joy in her heart. She was used to placing flowers on her table, gay nasturtiums, delicate sweet peas, and gorgeous zinnias from her own little back-yard garden. But to buy flowers for the table had always seemed to her the acme of luxury. Often she had gazed admiringly at the treasures of the florist's window, with never a thought that such splendors of color and perfume would one day be within her reach. She had really never accepted the change from poverty to wealth, and not once had she put her fingers into the purse that the hand of fortune held out to her. It was David who bought the house and its furnishings, David who bought even her clothes, while she, fettered by the frugal habits of a lifetime, stood aghast at what seemed to her a reckless, sinful extravagance. But now the rich fragrance of the roses was like an enchantment. Her hands trembled, a flush rose to her cheek, and as she placed the blossoms in a cut-glass vase, unconsciously she stepped across the boundary line between the old life and the new. Those hothouse flowers and ferns were the signs of wealth, David's wealth. She was David's wife, and she had a right to every costly and beautiful thing that her husband's money could purchase. She drew back from the table to observe the effect of the flowers drooping over the heavy damask cloth set with sparkling glass and silver and delicate china; then, moved by a sudden impulse that she could not have explained, she drew one of the roses from the vase and hurried up to her room, glancing furtively back to see whether she was observed by either of the servants. Standing before the mirror, she broke off the long stem and pinned the flower at her belt, then gazed anxiously into the glass. Clearly the flower looked out of place. She unpinned it, noticing how rough and coarse her hands were when they touched the satiny rose petals. But she had seen other women wearing great clusters of such flowers, and she too must learn to wear them. She heard David's step on the pavement below; the front door opened. She replaced the rose, and turning from the mirror with an air of firm resolve, she went bravely down to meet her husband.

Ah, the joy of reunion! All her perplexities fell away from her as she and David clasped hands and smiled at each other after the manner of long married lovers.

“Thank God for home!” ejaculated David, sinking into an easy chair. He looked around the room, looked again at his wife, and was conscious of a subtle change in the atmosphere of the house. The exquisite order and cleanliness reminded him of the housekeeping he had been accustomed to, when he and Sarah lived in the little Millville cottage; and on Sarah's face there was an expression that her husband had never before seen there, the look of a soul that is girding itself for new responsibilities and new duties. David did not understand the look, but he observed that Sarah no longer crept about the house like an awkward, frightened guest; her step and bearing were that of the mistress, and he had a thrill of exultant pride a few moments later, when he heard her address Nelly in a tone of calm command. He also saw and approved the rose at her belt, but he did not know that the flower was a symbol of all the changes that had been wrought during his absence.

There was no self-consciousness in the manner of either when they sat down at the flower-decked table. David had seen persons of importance and transacted business of importance; he was the sort of husband who makes his wife a silent partner in all his business affairs, and the two talked at ease, forgetting the hated presence of a servant. David looked across the roses at his wife's face, serene and happy as it used to be in the old days, and again he silently blessed the doctor and his magic prescription.

“How do you feel now, Sarah?” he asked, as they seated themselves in the parlor, and Sarah took up her basket of crocheting. “You know the doctor said I must let him know how you got along.”

“I am perfectly well,” said Sarah emphatically, “and what's more, I intend to stay well.”

David laughed aloud with pleasure. “I'll tell the doctor how well his prescription worked. That cottage is the best investment I ever made.”

“Even if we never went back to it,” said Sarah thoughtfully, “it would make me happy just to know it's there and it's ours.”

“That reminds me,” said David, with a sudden change of manner. “Hale and Davis say they can sell this house for me any day.”

“Hale and Davis?” inquired Sarah with a look of surprise.

“Real estate men,” explained David.

“What right have they to sell my house?” asked Sarah almost angrily.

David looked embarrassed. “Why, Sarah, I told them you were dissatisfied; you know you said—”

“Yes, I know I did,” owned Sarah hastily. Her face crimsoned with an embarrassment greater than David's. During his absence she had been born again, born from poverty to riches. This sudden change of heart and mind that had made her a new creature was a mystery to herself; how, then, could she explain it satisfactorily to her husband? “I know you'll think I'm notionate and changeable, but—I don't want to sell this house. I feel just as much at home here now as I do in the little cottage. I've got used to the servants and everything, and I want to stay, and if I did not want to, I'd stay anyhow. It's cowardly to run away or turn back when you've set out to do a certain thing, and I'm not a coward. Oh! I know I can't make you understand how I feel about it and how I came to change so, but—I want to stay in this house. “ She paused and looked pleadingly at David. For a few seconds he was dumb with astonishment, then:

“Good for you, Sarah,” ejaculated David: “That's exactly the way I feel about it.” Pride and exultation shone in his eyes. Sarah had risen to the situation, and if Sarah could, so could he.

“But can we afford to keep this house and the cottage, too?” asked Sarah anxiously.

David laughed as one laughs at the questioning of a child.

“Wait a minute, Sarah; I've got something to show you.” He rose and left the room, returning presently with a drawing-board covered with sheets of drafting paper. He drew his chair near to Sarah's, rested the board on her knees, and began an enthusiastic description of the mechanism pictured in his rough drawings. Sarah could not comprehend the complexities of wheels, pulleys, flanges, and weights that David pointed out to her, but David's mechanical genius was the glory of her life, and she looked at the drawings with the rapt admiration a painter's wife might bestow on a canvas fresh from her husband's touch.

“I've been hammering at this idea a good while,” concluded David, “and I believe I've got it in working shape at last. I'll have some better drawings made this week and get them off to Washington, and if all goes well, we'll have more money than we know what to do with.”

“No, we won't,” said Sarah. Her lips closed to a thin line, and she spoke with defiant emphasis. “That's another thing I've learned while you were away. I know what to do with money, and I don't care how rich we are.”

David stared at his wife in unveiled amazement. Was this his wife, who a few short weeks ago was weeping over unwelcome riches and longing for a life of poverty? Sarah's face crimsoned with the confusion of the woman who is suddenly called upon to explain a change of mind, and she began her explanation, speaking slowly and hesitatingly.

“You remember I told you about that Mrs. Emerson who came to see me and ask me to join her club,—the Fortnightly, I believe they call it. Well, the day after you left, I dressed myself in my best and went to see her. And I told her that if the place was still open, I believed I'd join. She was real pleasant about it, and said she was so glad I'd changed my mind, and that they'd all be glad to have me for a member. And I said to her: 'Now, Mrs. Emerson, I'm not an educated woman, but I've got sense enough to know what I can do and what I can't do. I can't write papers and make speeches, but maybe there's some kind of work for me to do, if I join the club;' and she laughed and said that if I have sense enough to know what I could do and what I couldn't do, I'd make a fine club woman. And she said they had been studyin' The Ring and the Book, whatever that is, but now they've concluded to change their plan of work, and they were lookin' into the conditions of workin' people, especially workin' women, and she was sure I could help in that sort of work. And I said: 'That's very likely, for I've been a workin' woman myself, and lived with workin' women all my life.' And she said that was something to be proud of, and that every woman ought to be a workin' woman, and it was just for that reason they wanted me in the club.”

Sarah paused here and bent over to straighten out a tangle in her worsteds. David was holding a paper open before him, but his wife's social adventures were of more interest to him than any page of the Inventor's Journal, and he waited patiently for Sarah to resume her story.

“The next day was Wednesday, and the club met at Mrs. Morton's—she's the president.”

“What Morton? Alexander Morton's wife?” interrupted David.

Sarah nodded. “Yes, Mrs. Alexander Morton. They live in the big white stone house over on First Avenue.”

“He's president of the bank and about everything else in this place.” David stated this fact in an un-emotional way, but his eyes gleamed with triumph. His wife and Alexander Morton's wife members of the same club!

“When Mrs. Emerson said the club met at Mrs. Morton's, I declare, Dave, my heart stood still at the thought of goin' by myself to that club. But Mrs. Emerson said she'd come by in her carriage and take me there, and she did.”

David laid down his paper and straightened himself in his chair. “How did they treat you?” he asked eagerly.

“Just as nice as they possibly could,” said Sarah. “I won't mind goin' by myself next time.”

David's face expressed a satisfaction and pride too deep for words. “What did they do?” he asked with the curiosity of the masculine mind that seeks to penetrate the mysteries of a purely feminine affair.

“Well, they talked mostly, and at first I couldn't see what they were drivin' at, but I kept on listenin', and at last I began to understand what they intend to do. They're lookin' into the conditions of workin' women and girls and children, and they're tryin' to get laws passed that will make things easier for people that work in mills and factories. They asked me about the hours of work at the mills, and the wages and how the mill people lived, and, David, they said when the Legislature meets this winter, they'll have to go up to the capital to get some bills passed, and they want me to go with them.”

It was impossible for Sarah to stifle the note of triumph in her voice. There was a red spot on each cheek, her eyes shone with enthusiasm, and though she might not be able yet to define the word “civic", evidently she had caught the spirit of civic work. As for David, he was speechless with astonishment and delight. If long residence in Millville had qualified Sarah for membership in the Fortnightly Club, then, after all, the world of the rich and the world of the poor were not very far apart.

“I told them about Agnes Thompson, how she lost her thumb and finger in the mill this spring, and what the Company offered her for damages, and how hard it is for mothers with little children to leave home and work; and they want to build a day nursery where the babies and children can be looked after, and that's why I said I'd learned what to do with money.” She paused and looked at David, who nodded sympathetically. “One thing that helped me to see things right,” she continued, “was a sermon I heard the Sunday you were away. You know that little church just three blocks down the street back of us? Well, Sunday morning I dressed and started out, and I said to myself: 'I'll go to the first church I come to;' and it happened to be that little church down the street with the cross on the steeple and over the door 'Church of the Eternal Hope.' That's a pretty name for a church, ain't it? Church of Eternal Hope. I went in while they were singin' the first hymn, and when the preacher read his text and begun to preach, it seemed to me that something must have led me there, for that sermon, every word of it, was just meant for me. The text was: 'I know both how to abound and to suffer need,' and he said life was a school, and every change that life brought to us was a lesson, and instead of complaining about it, we ought to go to work and learn that lesson, and get ready for a new one. He said if poverty came to us, it was because we needed the lesson of poverty; and if riches came, it was because we needed another lesson; and he said the lesson of poverty was easier to learn than the lesson of wealth. Oh, David!”—Sarah's face was glowing with repressed emotion and her voice trembled,—“I wish you could have heard him, I can't remember it all, but it seemed as if he was preaching just to me, and I sat and listened, and all my troubles and worries just seemed to leave me, because I began to see the meaning of them; and when you know what trouble means, it's not a trouble any longer. And he said that there was a purpose in every life, and it was our duty to find out what the purpose was and do our best to carry it out. Now, I believe, David, that I see why all this money's been put into our hands. We were happy without it, and it made us pretty miserable at first, but it was given to us for a purpose, and we must carry out the purpose. Both of us were born poor, and we've lived with poor people all our lives, and I can see the purpose in that. We know how poor people live, we know what they need, and now we've got money”—she stopped abruptly. “Don't you see the purpose, David?”

David was silent, but Sarah knew that the silence did not mean dissent. His wife's narrative had started a train of thoughts and emotions that would be henceforth the mainspring of all his acts. Of late the sleeping ambition that lies in the heart of every man had begun to stir, and he had dared to think timidly and doubtfully of a time when he should be, to use his own words, “something and somebody” in the world. As he listened to the story of Sarah's social adventures, his heart swelled proudly. His wife had found her place among her fellow women; he would find his among his fellow men. Before him were the doors of opportunity all “barred with gold", but he held in his hand the “golden keys” that would unlock them, and the finger of Divinity was pointing out the way he should go. Could it be that the Infinite Power had planned his life for a certain end? That he had come into the world for something more than daily toil, daily wages, and, at last, old age and death? Were his mortal days a part of some great, immortal plan? A thrill of awe shook the man as he caught a momentary vision of the majesty in a human life that expresses a divine purpose. He had no words for thoughts like these, and the silence lasted a long time. When he spoke, it was of practical affairs.

“The club will have to meet with you one of these days, won't it?” he asked.

“It meets with me the last of the month,” said Sarah, trying to speak in a matter-of-fact way.

David looked critically around the room. “This furniture's pretty nice,” he said, “but I don't know how it compares with other people's.”

“The furniture's all right,” said Sarah hastily. “Of course, this house doesn't look like Mrs. Emerson's. Her parlor looked as if everything in it had grown there and belonged there; this room looks as if we'd just bought the things and put them here. Maybe after we've lived here a long time, it'll look different, but there's no use tryin' to make my house look like Mrs. Emerson's or Mrs. Morton's.”

“Are your clothes as good as the other women's?” inquired David solicitously.

“Suppose they're not,” argued Sarah sturdily. “I'm not goin' to try to dress like other women. My clothes suit me, and that's enough.”

Sarah's sturdy independence pleased David, but like a good husband, he wanted his wife to look as well as other women. “Oughtn't you to have some jewelry, Sarah? Some rings and chains and—things of that sort?” he added vaguely.

“David! David!” cried his wife half in anger, half in love. “Do you want to make me a laughing stock? My hands are not the kind for rings; and what would Molly and Annie say if they saw me wearin' jewelry? We've got enough things between us and our old friends without jewelry. Instead of rings, you can give me a check for the day nursery.”

Sarah was rolling up her work now and smiling softly. “Two weeks ago,” she said, “it seemed as if everything was in a tangle just like this worsted gets sometimes. But I've picked and pulled and twisted, you might say, till I've straightened it out. You see, David, there's some things you can't understand till you get 'way off from them. As long as I was in this house, I thought I was out of place, but I hadn't been in the cottage long, till I saw that this house was just as much my home as the little cottage was. I never could have seen it, though, if I hadn't gone back to the old house.”

Wise Sarah! It was well for her that the club had changed its plan of work. She would never be able to write an analysis of The Ring and the Book, or throw an interpretative flashlight into the obscurity of Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, but like the knight of the Dark Tower, she had learned that

    “One taste of the old time sets all things right.”

 
 
 

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