Don't You Care!
by Rupert Hughes
When she was told it was a girl, Mrs. Govers sighed. Well, I never
did have any luck, anyway; so I d' know's I'm supprised.
Later she wept feebly:
Girls are easier to raise, I suppose; but I kind of had my heart
set on namin' him Launcelot. After another interval she rallied to a
smile: I was prepared for the worst, though; so I picked out Ellaphine
for a name in case he was a her. It's an awful pirty name, Ellaphine
is. Don't you think so?
Yes, yes, said the nurse, who would have agreed to anything then.
After a time Mrs. Govers resumed: She'll be an awful pirty girl, I
hope. Is that her makin' all that noise? Give me a glimpse of her, will
you? I got a right, I guess, to see my own baby. Oh, Goshen! Is that
how she looks? A kind of swoon; then more meditation, followed by a
courageous philosophy: Children always look funny at first. She'll
outgrow it, I expect. Ellaphine is such an elegant name. It ought to be
a kind of inducement to grow up to. Don't you think so?
The nurse, who was juggling the baby as if it were red-hot, mumbled
through a mustache of safety-pins that she thought so. Mrs. Govers
echoed, I thought so, too. After that she went to sleep.
Ellaphine, however, did not grow up elegant, to fit the name. The
name grew inelegant to fit her. During her earliest years the witty
little children called her Elephant until they tired of the ingenuity
and allowed her to lapse indolently from Ellar to El.
Mrs. Govers for some years cherished a dream that her ugly duckling
would develop into a swan and fly away with a fabulously wealthy
prince. Later she dwindled to a prayer that she might capture a man who
was tol'able well-to-do.
The majority of ugly ducklings, however, grow up into uglier ducks,
and Mrs. Govers resigned herself to the melancholy prospect of the
widowed mother of an old maid perennial.
To the confusion of prophecy, among all the batch of girls who
descended on Carthage about the time of Ellaphine's birthout of the
nowhere into the hereEllaphine was the first to be married! And she
cut out the prettiest girl in the townshipit was not such a small
Those homely ones seem to make straight for a home the first thing.
Ellaphine carried off Eddie Pouchthe very Eddie of whom his mother
used to say, He's little, but oh, my! The rest of the people said,
Oh, my, but he's little!
Eddie's given name was Egbert. Edward was his taken name. He took it
after his mother died and he went to live at his uncle Loren's. Eddie
was sorry to change his name, but he said his mother was not
responsible at the time she pasted the label Egbert on him, and his shy
soul could not endure to be called Egg by his best friendsleast of
all by his best girl.
His best girl was the township champion looker, Luella Thickins.
From the time his heart was big enough for Cupid to stick a
child's-size arrow in, Eddie idolized Luella. So did the other boys;
and as Eddie was the smallest of the lot, he was lost in the crowd.
Even when Luella noticed him it was with the atrocious contempt of
little girls for little boys they do not like.
Eddie could not give her sticks of candy or jawbreakers, for his
uncle Loren did not believe in spending money. And Eddie had no mother
to go to when the boys mistreated him and the girls ignored him. A
dismal life he led until he grew up as far as he ever grew up.
Eddie reached his twenty-second birthday and was working in Uncle
Loren's factoryone of the largest feather-duster factories in the
whole Statewhen he observed a sudden change in Luella's manner.
She had scared him away from paying court to her, save from a
distance. Now she took after him, with her aggressive beauty for a club
and her engaging smiles for a net. She asked him to take her to the
Sunday-school picnic, and asked him what he liked best for her to put
in for him. She informed him that she was going to cook it for herself
and everybody said she could fry chicken something grand. So he chose
He was so overjoyed that it was hard for him to be as solemn about
the house as he ought to have been, in view of the fact that Uncle
Loren had been taken suddenly and violently ill. Eddie was the natural
heir to the old man's fortune.
Uncle Loren was considered close in a town where extravagance was
almost impossible, but where rigid economy was supposed to pile up
tremendous wealth. Hitherto it had pained Uncle Loren to devote a penny
to anything but the sweet uses of investment. Now it suddenly occurred
to the old miser that he had invested nothing in the securities of New
Jerusalem, Limited. He was frightened immeasurably.
In his youth he had joined the Campbellite church and had been
baptized in the town pond when there was a crust of ice over it which
the pastor had to break with a stick before he immersed Loren.
Everybody said the crust of ice had stuck to his heart ever since.
In the panic that came on him now he craftily decided to transfer
all his savings to the other shore. The factory, of course, he must
leave behind; but he drafted a hasty will presenting all his money to
the Campbellite church under conditions that he counted on to gain him
a high commercial rating in heaven.
Over his shoulder, as he wrote, a shadow waited, grinning; and the
old man had hardly folded his last testament and stuffed it into his
pillow-slip when the grisly hand was laid on his shoulders and Uncle
Loren was no longer there.
His uncle's demise cut Eddie out of the picnic with Luella; but she
was present at the funeral and gave him a wonderful smile. Uncle
Loren's final will was not discovered until the pillow-slip was sent to
the wash; and at the funeral Eddie was still the object of more or less
disguised congratulations as an important heir.
Luella solaced him with rare tact and tenderness, and spoke much of
his loneliness and his need of a helpmate. Eddie resolved to ask her to
marry him as soon as he could compose the speech.
Some days later Uncle Loren's farewell will turned up, and Eddie
fell from grace with a thump. The town laughed at him, as people always
laugh when a personparticularly so plump a person as Eddie wasfalls
hard on the slippery sidewalk of this icy world.
In his dismay he hastened to Luella for sympathy, but she turned up
missing. She jilted him with a jolt that knocked his heart out of his
mouth. He stood, as it were, gaping stupidly, in the middle of the
Then Ellaphine Govers came along, picked his heart out of the road,
dusted it, and offered it back. He was so grateful that he asked her to
keep it for him. He was so pitiable an object that he felt honored even
by the support of Ellar Govers.
He went with Ellar quite a lot. He found her very comfortable
company. She seemed flattered by his attention. Other people acted as
if they were doing him a favor by letting him stand around.
He had lost Uncle Loren's money, but he still had a small job at the
factory. Partly to please Ellar and partly to show certain folks that
he was not yet dead, he took her out for a drive behind a livery-stable
horse. It was a beautiful drive, and the horse was so tame that it
showed no desire to run away. It was perfectly willing to stand still
where the view was good.
He let Ellar drive awhile, and that was the only time the horse
misbehaved. It saw a stack of hay, nearly went mad, and tried to climb
a rail fence; but Ellar yelled at it and slapped the lines at it and
got it past the danger zone, and it relapsed into its usual mood of
Eddie told Ellar the horse was attackted with haydrophobia. And
she nearly laughed herself to death and said:
You do say the funniest things!
She was a girl who could appreciate a fellow's jokes, and he saw
that they could have awful good times together. He told her so without
difficulty and she agreed that they could, and they were as good as
engaged before they got back as far as the fair-grounds. As they came
into the familiar streets Eddie observed a remarkable change in the
manner of the people they passed. People made an effort to attract his
eye. They wafted him salutes from a distance. He encountered such a
lifting of hats, elaborateness of smiles and flourish of hands, that he
said to Ellaphine:
Say, Pheeny, I wonder what the joke is!
Me, I guess, sighed Ellaphine. They're makin' fun of you for
takin' me out buggy-ridin'.
Ah, go on! said Eddie. They've found out something about me and
they're pokin' fun.
He was overcome with shame and drove to Ellaphine's house by a side
street and escorted the horse to the livery-stable by a back alley. On
his way home he tried in vain to dodge Luella Thickins, but she headed
him off with one of her Sunday-best smiles. She bowled him over by an
Why, Eddie, you haven't been round to see me for the longest time!
Can't you come on over 'safternoon? I'd just love to see you!
He wondered whether she had forgotten how she had ground his meek
heart under her heel the last time he called.
She was so nice to him that she frightened him. He mumbled that he
would certainly call that afternoon, and got away, wondering what the
trick was. Her smile seemed less pretty than it used to be.
A block farther on Eddie met a man who explained the news, which had
run across the town like oil on water. Tim Holdredge, an idle lawyer
who had nothing else to do, looked into the matter of Uncle Loren's
will and found that the old man, in his innocence of charity and his
passion for economy, had left his money to the church on conditions
that were not according to the law. The money reverted to the estate.
Eddie was the estate.
When Tim Holdredge slapped Eddie on the shoulder and explained the
result of what he called the little joker in Uncle Loren's will,
Eddie did not rejoice, as Tim had a right to expect.
Eddie was poisoned by a horrible suspicion. The logic of events ran
through his head like a hateful tune which he could not shake off:
When Luella thought I was coming into a pile of money she was nice
to me. When she heard I wasn't she was mean to me. Now that my money's
coming to me, after all, she's nice again. Therefore But he was
ashamed to give that ungallant ergo brain room.
Still more bewildering was the behavior of Ellaphine. As soon as he
heard of his good fortune he hurried to tell her about it. Her mother
answered the door-bell and congratulated him on his good luck. When he
asked for Ellar, her mother said, She was feelin' right poorly, so
she's layin' down. He was so alarmed that he forgot about Luella, who
waited the whole afternoon all dressed up.
After supper that night he patrolled before Ellaphine's home and
tried to pluck up courage enough to twist that old door-bell again.
Suddenly she ran into him. She was sneaking through the front gate. He
tried to talk to her, but she said:
I'm in a tur'ble hurry. I got to go to the drug-store and get some
chloroform liniment. Mamma's lumbago's awful bad.
He walked along with her, though she tried to escape him. The first
drowsy lamp-post showed him that Ellaphine had been crying. It was the
least becoming thing she could have done. Eddie asked whether her
mother was so sick as all that. She said Nothen changed to
Yesand then stopped short and began to blubber uncouthly, dabbing
her eyes alternately with the backs of her wrists.
Eddie stared awhile, then yielded to an imperious urge to clasp her
to his heart and comfort her. She twisted out of his arms, and snapped,
Don't you touch me, Eddie Pouch!
Eddie mumbled, inanely, You didn't mind it this mornin',
Her answer completely flabbergasted him:
No; because you didn't have all that money then.
Gee whiz, Pheeny! he gasped. What you got against Uncle Loren's
money? It ain't a disease, is it? It's not ketchin', is it?
No, she sobbed; but weWell, when you were so poor and all, I
thought you mightyou might really like me because I could be of
someof some use to you; but now youyou needn't think I'm goin' to
hold you to anyanything against your will.
Eddie realized that across the street somebody had stopped to
listen. Eddie wanted to throw a rock at whoever it was, but Ellaphine
absorbed him as she wailed:
It 'd be just like you to be just's nice to me as ever; but I'm not
goin' to tie you down to any homely old crow like me when you got money
enough to marry anybody. You can get Luella Thickins back now. You
could marry the Queen of England if you'd a mind to.
Eddie could find nothing better to say than, Well, I'll be
While he gaped she got away.
Luella Thickins cast her spells over Eddie with all her might, but
he understood them now and escaped through their coarse meshes. She was
so resolute, however, that he did not dare trust himself alone in the
same town with her unless he had a chaperon.
He sent a note to Ellaphine, saying he was in dire trouble and
needed her help. This brought him the entree to her parlor. He told her
the exact situation and begged her to rescue him from Luella.
Ellaphine's craggy features grew as radiant as a mountain peak in
the sunrise. The light made beautiful what it illumined. She consented
at last to believe in Eddie's devotion, or at least in his need of her;
and the homely thing enjoyed the privilege of being pleaded for and of
yielding to the prayers of an ardent lover.
She assumed that the marriage could not take place for several
years, if ever. She wanted to give Eddie time to be sure of his heart;
but Eddie was stubborn and said:
Seein' as we're agreed on gettin' married, let's have the wedding
right away and get it over with.
When Ellaphine's mother learned that Ellaphine had a chance to marry
an heir and was asking for time, Mrs. Govers delivered an oration that
would have sent Ellaphine to the altar with almost anybody, let alone
her idolized Eddie.
The wedding was a quiet affair. Everybody in Carthage was invited.
Few came. People feared that if they went they would have to send
wedding-presents, and Eddie and Ellar were too unimportant to the
social life of Carthage to make their approval valuable.
Eddie wore new shoes, which creaked and pinched. He looked twice as
uncomfortable and twice as sad as he had looked at his uncle Loren's
obsequies; and he suffered that supreme disenchantment of a too-large
collar with a necktie rampant.
In spite of the ancient and impregnable theory that all brides are
beautiful, was there ever a woman who looked her best in the uniform of
approaching servitude? In any case, Ellaphine's best was not good, and
she was at her worst in her ill-fitting white gown, with the veil
askew. Her graceless carriage was not improved by the difficulty of
keeping step with her escort and the added task of keeping step with
The organist, Mr. Norman Maugans, always grew temperamental when he
played Mendelssohn's Wedding March, and always relieved its
monotonous cadence with passionate accelerations and abrupt
retardations. That made walking difficult.
When the minister had finished with the couple and they moved down
the aisle to what the paper called the Bridle March, by Lohengrin,
Mr. Maugans always craned his neck to see and usually put his foot on
the wrong pedal, with the startling effect of firing a cannon at the
He did not crane his neck, however, to see Mr. and Mrs. Pouch
depart. They were too commonplace entirely. He played the march with
such doleful indifference that Eddie found the aisle as long as the
distance from Marathon to Athens. Also he was trying to walk so that
his pinching shoes would not squeak.
At the end of the last pew Eddie and Ellaphine encountered Luella
Thickins leaning out into the aisle and triumphantly beautiful in her
finest raiment. Her charms were militant and vindictive, and her smile
plainly said: Uh-huh! Don't you wish you'd taken me instead of that
thing you've hitched up with for life?
Eddie gave her one glance and found her hideous. Ellaphine lowered
her eyelids in defeat and slunk from the church, thinking:
Now he's already sorry that he married me. What can he see in me to
love? Nothing! Nothing!
When they clambered into the carriage Eddie said, Well, Mrs. Pouch,
give your old husband a kiss!
Ellaphine shrank away from him, however, crying again. He was hurt
and puzzled until he remembered that it is the business of brides to
cry. He held her hand and tried to console her for being his victim,
and imagined almost every reason for her tears but the true one.
The guests at the church straggled to Mrs. Govers's home, drawn by
the call of refreshments. Luella was the gayest of them all. People
wondered why Eddie had not married her instead of Ellaphine. Luella
heard some one say, What on earth can he see in her?
Luella answered, What on earth can she see in him? It was hardly
playing fair, but Luella was a poor loser. She even added, to clinch
it, What on earth can they see in each other?
That became the town comment on the couple when there was any
comment at all. Mainly they were ignored completely.
Eddie and Ellar were not even honored with the usual outburst of the
ignoblest of all sportsbride-baiting. Nobody tied a white ribbon to
the wheel of the hack that took them to the depot. Old shoes had not
been provided and rice had been forgotten. They were not pelted or
subjected to immemorial jokes. They were not chased to the train, and
their elaborate schemes for deceiving the neighbors as to the place of
their honeymoon were wasted. Nobody cared where they went or how long
They returned sheepishly, expecting to run a gantlet of humor; but
people seemed unaware that they had been away. They settled down into
the quiet pool of Carthage without a splash, like a pair of mud-turtles
slipping off a log into the water. Even the interest in Eddie's
inheritance did not last long, for Uncle Loren's fortune did not last
longnot that they were spendthrift, for they spent next to nothing;
but money must be fed or it starves to death. Money must grow or
Eddie found that his uncle's reputation for hard dealing had been a
condition of his success. He soon learned that the feather-duster
factory could be run at a profit only by the most microscopic care.
Wages must be kept down; hours kept up; the workers driven every
minute, fined if they were late, nagged if they dawdled. Profit could
be wrung from the trade only by ugly battles with dealers and
purchasers. Raw material had to be fought down, finished product fought
up; bills due fought off, accounts fought in; the smallest percentage
of a percentage wrestled for.
Eddie was incapable of such vigilant hostility toward everybody. The
factory almost immediately ceased to pay expenses. Eddie was prompt to
meet debts, but lenient as a collector. The rest of his inheritance
fared no better. Eddie was an ideal mortgagee. The first widow wept him
out of his interest in five tears. Having obliged her, he could hardly
deny the next person, who had money but wanted more, to carry out a
Eddie first gained a reputation for being a kind-hearted gentleman
and a Christian, and later a notoriety for being an easy mark. Eddie
overheard such comment eventually, and it wounded him as deeply as it
bewildered him. Bitterer than the contempt for a hard man is the
contempt for a soft man who is betrayed by a vice of mercy. Eddie was
hopelessly addicted to decency.
Uncle Loren had been a miser and so close that his nickname had
implied the ability to skin a flint. People hated him and raged against
him; but it suddenly became evident that they had worked hard to meet
their bills payable to him. They had sat up nights devising schemes to
gain cash for him. He was a cause of industry and thrift and
self-denial. He paid poor wages, but he kept the factory going. He
squeezed a penny until the eagle screamed, but he made dusters out of
the tail feathers, and he was planning to branch out into whisk brooms
and pillows when, in the words of the pastor, he was called home. The
pastor liked the phrase, as it did not commit him to any definite
Eddie, however, though he worked hard and used thrift, and, with
Ellaphine's help, practised self-denial, found that he was not so big a
man as the small man he succeeded. He increased the wages and cut down
the hours, and found that he had diminished the output of everything
except complaints. The men loafed shamelessly, cheated him of the
energy and the material that belonged to him, and whined all the time.
His debtors grew shiftless and contemptuous.
It is the irony, the meanness, of the trade of life that virtue may
prove vicious in effect; and viciousness may produce good fruit. Figs
do grow from thistles.
For a time the Pouch couple attracted a great deal of attention from
the people of Carthagethe sort of attention that people on shore
devote to a pair of capsized canoeists for whom nobody cares to risk
Luella Thickins had forced the note of gaiety at the wedding, but
she soon grew genuinely glad that Eddie had got away. She began to
believe that she had jilted him.
People who wondered what Mr. and Mrs. Pouch saw in each other could
not realize that he saw in her a fellow-sufferer who upheld him with
her love in all his terrors. She was everything that his office was
notpeace without demand for money; glowing admiration and raptures of
What she saw in him was what a mother sees in a crippled child that
runs home to her when the play of the other boys is too swift or too
rough. She saw a good man, who could not fight because he could not
slash and trample and loot. She saw what the Belgian peasant women
sawa little cottage holder staring in dismay at the hostile armies
crashing about his homestead.
The only comfort Eddie found in the situation was the growing
realization that it was hopeless. The drowsy opiate of surrender began
to spread its peace through his soul. His torment was the remorse of
proving a traitor to his dead uncle's glory. The feather-dustery that
had been a monument was about to topple into the weeds. Eddie writhed
at that and at his feeling of disloyalty to the employees, who would be
turned out wageless in a small town that was staggering under the
burden of hard times.
He made a frantic effort to keep going on these accounts, but the
battle was too much for him. He could not imagine ways and meanshe
knew nothing of the ropes of finance. He was like a farmer with a
scythe against sharpshooters. Ellaphine began to fear that the struggle
would break him down. One night she persuaded him to give up.
She watched him anxiously the next morning as his fat little body,
bulging with regrets, went meekly down the porch steps and along the
walk. The squeal of the gate as he shoved through sounded like a groan
from his own heart. He closed the gate after him with the gentle care
he gave all things. Then he leaned across it to wave to his Pheeny. It
was like the good-by salute of a man going to jail.
Ellaphine moped about the kitchen, preparing him the best dinner she
could to cheer him when he came home at noon. To add a touch of grace
she decided to set a bowl of petunias in front of him. He loved the
homely little flowers in their calico finery, like farmers' daughters
at a picnic. Their cheap and almost palpable fragrancy delighted him
when it powdered the air. She hoped that they would bring a smile to
him at noon, for he could still afford petunias.
She was squatting by the colony aligned along the walk, and her big
sunbonnet hid her unbeautiful face from the passers-by and theirs from
her, when she caught a glimpse of Luella Thickins coming along,
giggling with the banker's son. Luella put on a little extra steam for
the benefit of Ellaphine, who was glad of her sunbonnet and did not
Later there came a quick step, thumping the boardwalk in a rhythm
she would have recognized but for its allegrity. The gate was opened
with a sweep that brought a shriek from its old rheumatic hinge, and
was permitted to swing shut with an unheeded smack. Ellaphine feared it
was somebody coming with the haste that bad news inspires. Something
awful had happened to Eddie! Her knees could not lift her to face the
evil tidings. She dared not turn her head.
Then she heard Eddie's own voice: Pheeny! Pheeny, honey!
Everything's all right!
Pheeny spilled the petunias and sat down on them. Eddie lifted her
up and pushed his glowing face deep into her sunbonnet, and kissed her.
Luella Thickins was coming back and her giggling stopped. She and
the banker's son, who were just sauntering about, exchanged glances of
disgust at the indecorous proceeding. Later Luella resumed her giggle
and enjoyed hugely her comment:
Ellar looks fine in a sunbonnet! The bigger it is, the better she
Meantime Eddie was supporting his Pheeny into the house. His path
was strewn with petunias and she supposed he had some great victory to
announce. He had; but he was the victim.
The conqueror was the superintendent of the factory, Jabez
Pittinger, who had survived a cycle of Uncle Loren's martinetism with
less resentment than a year of Eddie's lenience. But Eddie is telling
Ellaphine of his glorious achievement:
You see, I went to the fact'ry feeling like I was goin' to my
I know, she said; but what happened?
I just thought I'd rather die than tack up the notice that we were
going to shut down and turn off those poor folks and all.
I know, said Ellaphine; but tell me.
Well, finally, Eddie plodded along, I tried to draw up the
'nouncement with the markin'-brush; but I just couldn't make the
letters. So I called in Jabe Pittinger and told him how it was; and I
says to him: 'Jabe, I jest naturally can't do it m'self. I wisht you'd
send the word round that the factory's goin' to stop next Sat'd'y.' I
thought he'd show some surprise; but he didn't. He just shot a splash
of tobacco-juice through that missin' tooth of his and says, 'I
wouldn't if I's you.' And I says, 'Goodness knows I hate to; but
there's no way out of it.' And he wopsed his cud round and said, 'Mebbe
there is.' 'What do you mean?' I says. And he says, 'Fact is,
Eddie'he always called me Mr. Pouch or Boss before, but I couldn't
say anything to him, seeing
I know! Ellaphine almost screamed. But what'd he say? What's the
Eddie went on at his ox-like gait. 'Well,' he says, 'fact is,
Eddie,' he says, 'I been expectin' this, and I been figgerin' if they
wasn't a way somewhere to keep a-runnin',' says he; 'and I been talkin'
to certain parties that believes as I do, that the fault ain't with the
feather-duster business, but with the way it's run,' he says. 'People
gotter have feather dusters,' he says; 'but they gotter be gave to 'em
right.' O' course I knew he was gettin' at me, but I was in no p'sition
to talk back.
Oh, please, Eddie! Ellaphine moaned. Please tell me! I'm goin'
crazy to know the upshot of it, and I smell the pie burnin'it's
You got rhubob pie for dinner to-day? Eddie chortled. Oh,
crickety, that's fine!
He followed her into the kitchen and helped her carry the things to
the dining-room, where they waited on each other in alternate dashes
and clashes of Lemme get it! and You set right still!
Eventually he reached the upshot, which was that Mr. Pittinger
thought he might raise money to run the factory if Eddie would give him
the control and drop out. Eddie concluded, with a burst of rapture:
I'm so tickled I wisht I could telegraft poor Uncle Loren that
everything's all right!
It was an outrageous piece of petty finance on high models, and it
euchred Eddie out of everything he had in the world except his illusion
that Jabez was working for the good of the factory.
Eddie always said The Fact'ry in the tone that city people use
when they say The Cathedral.
Ellaphine saw through the wiles of Jabez and the measly capitalists
he had bound together, and she was ablaze with rage at them and with
pity for her tender-hearted child-husband; but she did not reveal these
emotions to Eddie.
She encouraged him to feast on the one sweetmeat of the situation:
that the hands would not be turned off and the factory would keep open
doors. In fact, when doubt began to creep into his own idle soul and a
feeling of shame depressed him, as the butt of the jokes and the pity
that the neighbors flung at him, Ellaphine pretended to be overjoyed at
the triumph he had wrested from defeat.
And when he began to chafe at his lack of occupation, and to fret
about their future, she went to the factory and invaded the office
where the usurper, Jabez Pittinger, sat enthroned at the hallowed desk,
tossing copious libations of tobacco-juice toward a huge new cuspidor.
She demanded a job for Eddie and bullied Jabez into making him a
bookkeeper, at a salary of forty-five dollars a month.
Thus, at last, Eddie Pouch found his place in the world. There are
soldiers who make ideal first sergeants and are ruined and ruinous as
second lieutenants; and there are soldiers who are worthless as first
sergeants, but irresistible as major-generals. Eddie was a born first
sergeant, a routine man, a congenital employeedoomed, like fire, to
be a splendid servant and a disastrous master.
Working for himself, he neglected every opportunity. Working for
another, he neglected nothing. Meeting emergencies, tricking creditors
and debtors, and massacring competitors were not in his line; but when
it came to adding up columns of figures all day, making out bills,
drawing checks for somebody else to sign, and the Santa Claus function
of stuffing the pay-roll into the little envelopesEddie was there.
Shrewd old Jabez recognized this. He tried him on a difficult
collection oncesent him forth to pry an ancient debt of eighteen
dollars and thirty-four cents out of the meanest man in town, vice
Uncle Loren. Eddie came back with a look of contentment.
Did you git it? said Jabez.
Well, you see, it was like this: the poor feller
Poor heller! Did you git it?
No; he was so hard up I lent him four dollars.
Out of my own pocket, o' course.
Jabez remarked that he'd be hornswoggled; but he valued the incident
and added it to the anecdotes he used when he felt that he had need to
justify himself for playing Huerta with his dreamy Madero.
After that the most Jabez asked of Eddie was to write Please remit
or Past due on the mossier bills. Eddie preferred an exquisite poem
he had copied from a city creditor: This account has no doubt escaped
your notice. As we have several large obligations to meet, we should
greatly appreciate a check by return mail.
Eddie loved that. There was a fine chivalry and democracy about it,
as one should say: We're all debtors and creditors in this world, and
we big fellows and you little fellows must all work together.
Life had a regularity now that would have maddened a man more
ambitious than Eddie or a woman more restless than Ellaphine. Their
world was like the petunia-gardenthe flowers were not orchids or
telegraph-pole-stemmed roses; but the flower faces were joyous, their
frocks neat, and their perfume savory.
Eddie knew just how much money was coming in and there was no
temptation to hope for an increase. They knew just how much time they
had, and one day was like another except that along about the first of
every month Eddie went to the office a little earlier and went back at
night to get out the bills and adjust his balances.
On these evenings Ellaphine was apt to go along and sit with him,
knitting thick woolen socks for the winter, making him shirts or
nightgowns, or fashioning something for herself or the house. Her
loftiest reach of splendor was a crazy quilt; and her rag carpets were
On Sundays they went to church in the morning and again in the
evening. Prayer-meeting night saw them always on their way to the place
where the church bell called: Come! Come!
Sometimes irregular people, who forgot it was prayer-meeting night,
would be reminded of it by seeing Eddie and Ellar go by. They went so
early that there was time for the careless to make haste with their
bonnets and arrive in time.
It was a saying that housewives set their kitchen clocks by Eddie's
transits to and from the factory. At any rate, there was no end to the
occasions when shiftless gossips, dawdling on their porches, were
surprised to see Eddie toddle homeward, and scurried away, cackling:
My gracious! There goes Eddie Pouch, and my biscuits not cut out!
The whole year was tranquil now for the Pouches, and the halcyon
brooded unalarmed in the waveless cove of their life. There were no
debtors to be harassed, no creditors to harass them. They paid cash for
everythingat least, Ellaphine did; for Eddie turned his entire
forty-five dollars over to her. She was his banker and his steward.
She could not persuade him to smoke, or to buy new clothes before
the old ones grew too shabby for so nice a man as a bookkeeper is apt
to be. He did not drink or play cards or billiards; he did not belong
to any lodge or political organization.
The outgo of money was as regular as the incomeso much for the
contribution-basket on Sundays; so much for the butcher; so much for
the grocer; so much for the coal-oil lamps. The baker got none of their
money and the druggist little.
A few dollars went now and then to the dry-goods store for dress
goods, which Pheeny made up; and Eddie left an occasional sum at the
Pantatorium for a fresh alpaca coat, or for a new pair of trousers when
the seat of the old ones grew too refulgent or perilously extenuate. As
Eddie stood up at his tall desk most of the time, however, it was
rather his shoes than his pantaloons that felt the wear and tear of
And yet, in spite of all the tender miserhood of Ellaphine and the
asceticism of Eddie, few of the forty-five dollars survived the thirty
days' demands. Still, there was always something for the savings-bank,
and the blessing on its increment was that it grew by exactions from
themselvesnot from their neighbors.
The inspiration of the fund was the children that were to be. The
fund had ample time for accretion, since the children were as late as
Such things are not discussed, of course, in Carthage. And nobody
knew how fiercely they yearned. Nobody knew of the high hopes that
flared and faded.
After the first few months of marriage Eddie had begun to call
Pheeny Motherjust for fun, you know. And it teased her so that he
kept it up, for he liked a joke as well as the next fellow. Before
people, of course, she was Pheeny, and, on very grand occasions, the
wife. Mrs. Pouch was beyond him. But once, at a sociable, he called
across the room, Say, mother!
He was going to ask her whether she wanted him to bring her a piece
of the chalklut cake or a hunk of the cokernut, but he got no
farther. Nobody noticed it; but Eddie and Pheeny were consumed with
shame and slunk home scarlet. Nobody noticed that they had gone.
Time went on and on, and the fund grew and grewa little coral reef
of pennies and nickels and dimes. The amusements of the couple were
pettyan occasional church sociable was society; a revival period was
drama. They never went to the shows that came to the Carthage Opera
House. They did not miss much.
Eddie wasted no time on reading any fiction except that in the news
columns of the evening paper, which a boy threw on the porch in a
twisted boomerang every afternoon, and which Eddie untwisted and read
after he had wiped the dishes that Pheeny washed.
Ellaphine spent no money on such vanities as novels or short
stories, but she read the edifying romances in the Sunday-school paper
and an occasional book from the Sunday-school library, mainly about
children whose angelic qualities gave her a picture of child life that
would have contrasted strongly with what their children would have been
if they had had any.
Their great source of literature, however, was the Bible. Soon after
their factory passed out of their control and their evenings ceased to
be devoted to riddles in finance, they had resolved to read the Bible
through, from kiver to kiver. And Eddie and Ellaphine found that a
chapter read aloud before going to bed was an excellent sedative.
They had not invaded Genesis quite three weeks before the evening
when it came Eddie's turn to read aloud the astonishing romance of
Abram, who became Abraham, and of Sarai, who became Sarah. It was very
exciting when the child was promised to Sarah, though she was well
stricken in age. Eddie smiled as he read, Sarah laughed within
herself. But Pheeny blushed.
Ellaphine was far from the ninety years of Sarah, but she felt that
the promise of a son was no laughing matter. These poignant hopes and
awful denials and perilous adventures are not permitted to be written
about or printed for respectable eyes. If they are discussed it must be
with laughing ribaldry.
Even in their solitude Eddie and Pheeny used modest paraphrases and
breathed hard and looked askance, and made sure that no one overheard.
They whispered as parents do when their children are abed up-stairs.
The neighbors gave them hardly thought enough to imagine the lofty
trepidation of these thrilling hours. The neighbors never knew of the
merciless joke Fate played on them when, in their ignorance, they
believed the Lord had sent them a sign. They dwelt in a fools' paradise
for a long time, hoarding their glorious expectations.
At length Pheeny grew brazen enough to consult the old and peevish
Doctor Noxon; and he laughed her hopes away and informed her that she
need never trouble herself to hope again.
That was a smashing blow; and they cowered together under the shadow
of this great denial, each telling the other that it did not matter,
since children were a nuisance and a danger anyway.
They pretended to take solace in two current village tragediesthe
death of the mayor's wife in childbed and the death of the minister's
son in disgrace; but, though they lied to each other lovingly, they
were neither convincing nor convinced.
Year followed year as season trudged at the heel of season. The only
difference it made to them was that now Ellaphine evicted weeds from
the petunia-beds, and now swept snow from the porch and beat the broom
out on the steps; now Eddie carried his umbrella up against the sun or
rain and mopped his bald spot, and now he wore his galoshes through the
slush and was afraid he had caught a cold.
The fund in the bank went on growing like a neglected garden, but it
was growing for nothing. Eddie walked more slowly to and from the
office, and Pheeny took a longer time to set the table. She had to sit
down a good deal between trips and suffered a lot of pain. She said
nothing about it to Eddie of evenings, but it grew harder to conceal
her weakness from him when he helped her with the Sunday dinner.
Finally she could not walk to church one day and had to stay at
home. He stayed with her, and their empty pew made a sensation. Eddie
fought at Pheeny until she consented to see the doctor againon
The doctor censured her for being foolish enough to try to die on
her feet, and demanded of Eddie why they did not keep a hired girl.
Eddie had never thought of it. He was horrified to realize how
heartless and negligent he had been. He promised to get one in at once.
Pheeny stormed and wept against the very idea; but her protests
ended on the morning when she could not get up to cook Eddie's
breakfast for him. He had to get his own and hers, and he was late at
the office for the first time in years. Two householders, seeing him
going by, looked at their clocks and set them back half an hour.
Jabez spoke harshly to Eddie about his tardiness. It would never do
to ignore an imperfection in the perfect. Eddie was Pheeny's nurse that
night and overslept in the morning. It would have made him late again
if he had stopped to fry an egg or boil a cup of coffee. He ran
breakfastless to his desk.
After that Pheeny consented to the engagement of a cook. They tried
five or six before they found one who combined the traits of being both
enduring and endurable.
Eddie was afraid of her to a pitiful degree. She put too much coffee
in his coffee and she made lighter bread than Pheeny did.
There's no substance to her biscuits! Eddie wailed, hoping to
comfort Pheeny, who had leisure enough now to develop at that late date
her first acquaintance with jealousy.
The cook was young and vigorous, and a hired man on a farm might
have called her good-looking; but her charms did not interest Eddie.
His soul was replete with the companionship of his other selfPheeny;
and if Delia had been as sumptuous a beauty as Cleopatra he would have
been still more afraid of her. He had no more desire to possess her
than to own the Kohinoor.
And Delia, in her turn, was far more interested in the winks and
flatteries of the grocer's boy and the milkman than in any conquest of
the fussy little fat man, who ate whatever she slammed before him and
never raised his eyes.
Pheeny, however, could not imagine this. She could not know how
secure she was in Eddie's heart, or how she had grown in and about his
soul until she fairly permeated his being.
So Pheeny lay up in the prison of her bed and imagined vain things,
interpreting the goings-on down-stairs with a fantastic cynicism that
would have startled Boccaccio. She did not openly charge Eddie with
these fancied treacheries. She found him guilty silently and silently
acquitted him of fault, abjectly asking herself what right she had to
deny him all acquaintance with beauty, hilarity, and health.
She remembered her mother's eternal moan, All men are alike. She
dramatized her poor mouse of a husband as a devastating Don Juan; and
then forgave him, as most of the victims of Don Juan's ruthless
piracies forgave him.
She suffered hideously, however. Eddie, seeing the deep, sad look of
her eyes as they studied him, wondered and wondered, and often asked
her what the matter was; but she always smiled as a mother smiles at a
child that is too sweet to punish for any mischief, and she always
answered: Nothing! Nothing! But then she would sigh to the caverns of
her soul. And sometimes tears would drip from her brimming lids to her
pillow. Still, she would tell him nothing but Nothing!
Finally the long repose repaired her worn-out sinews and she grew
well enough to move about the house. She prospered on the medicine of a
new hope that she should soon be well enough to expel the third person
who made a crowd of their little home.
And then Luella Thickins came back to town. Luella had married long
before and moved away; but now she came back a widow, handsome instead
of pretty, billowy instead of willowy, seductive instead of spoony, and
with that fearsome menace a widow carries like a cloud about her.
Eddie spoke of meeting her down-town, and in his fatuous innocence
announced that she was as pirty as ever. If he had hit Pheeny with a
hatchet he would have inflicted a less painful wound.
Luella's presence cast Pheeny into a profounder dismay than she had
ever felt about the cook. After all, Delia was only a hired girl, while
Luella was an old sweetheart. Delia had put wicked ideas into Eddie's
head and now Luella would finish him. As Ellaphine's mother had always
said, Men have to have novelty.
The Lord Himself had never seen old Mr. Govers stray an inch aside
from the straight path of fidelity; but his wife had enhanced him with
a lifelong suspicion that eventually established itself as historical
Pheeny could find some excuse for Eddie's Don Juanity with the
common clay of Delia, especially as she never quite believed her own
beliefs in that affair; but Luella was different. Luella had been a
rival. The merest courtesy to Luella was an unpardonable affront to
every sacred right of successful rivalry.
The submerged bitternesses that had gathered in her soul like
bubbles at the bottom of a hot kettle came showering upward now, and
her heart simmered and thrummed, ready to boil over if the heat were
One day, soon, Luella fastened on Eddie as he left the factory to go
home to dinner. She had loitered about, hoping to engage the eye of
Jabez, who was now the most important widower in town. Luella had
elected him for her next; but he was away, and she whetted her wits on
Eddie. She walked at his side, excruciating him with her glib memories
of old times and the mad devotion he had cherished for her then.
He felt that it was unfaithful of him even to listen to her, but he
could not spur up courage enough to bolt and run. He welcomed the sight
of his own gate as an asylum of refuge. To his horror, Luella stopped
and continued her chatter, draping herself in emotional attitudes and
italicizing her coquetries. Her eyes seemed to drawl languorous words
that her lips dared not voice; and she committed the heinous offense of
plucking at Eddie's coat-sleeve and clinging to his hand. Then she
walked on like an erect cobra.
Eddie's very back had felt that Pheeny was watching him from one of
the windows or from all the windows; for when, at last, he achieved the
rude victory of breaking away from Luella and turned toward the porch,
every window was a somber eye of reproach.
He would not have looked so guilty if he had been guilty. He
shuffled into the house like a boy who comes home late from swimming;
and when he called aloud Pheeny! Oh, Pheeny! his voice cracked and
his throat was uncertain with phlegm.
He found Pheeny up-stairs in their room, with the door closed. He
closed it after him when he went in. He feigned a care-free joy at the
sight of her, and stumbled over his own foot as he crossed the room and
put his arms about her, where she sat in the big rocking-chair; but she
brushed his arms aside and bent her cheek away from his pursed lips.
This startled him, and he gasped:
Why, what's the matter, honey? Why don't you kiss me?
You don't want to kiss me, she muttered.
Why don't I? he exclaimed.
Because I'm not pirty. I'm not young. I'm not round or tall. I
haven't got nice clothes or those terrible manners that men like in
women. You're tired of me. I don't blame you; but you don't have to
kiss me, and you don't want to.
It was a silly sort of contest for so old a couple; but their souls
felt as young as childhood, or younger, and this debate was
all-important. He caught at her again and tried to drag her head to his
lips, pleading inanely:
Of course I want to kiss you, honey! Of course I do! Pleaseplease
don't be this way!
But she evaded him still, and glared at him as from a great
distance, sneering rather at herself than him and using that old byword
What can you see in me? Suddenly she challenged him: Who do you
kiss when you kiss me?
He stared at her for a while as if he were not sure who she was.
Then he sat down on the broad arm of her chair and took one of her
hands in histhe hand with the wedding-ring on itand seemed to talk
to the hand more than to her, lifting the fingers one after another and
studying each digit as though it had a separate personalityas perhaps
Who do I kiss when I kiss you? That's a funny question!
He laughed solemnly. Then he made a very long speech, for him; and
she listened to it with the attention due to that most fascinating of
themes, the discussion of oneself by another.
Pheeny, when I was about knee-high to a grasshopper I went over to
play in Tim Holdredge's father's orchard; and when I started for home
there was a big dawg in old Mrs. Pittinger's front yard, and it jumped
round and barked at me. I guess it was just playing, because, as I
remember it now, it was wagging its tail, and afterward I found out it
was only a cocker spaniel; but I thought it was a wolf and was going to
eat me. I begun to cry, and I was afraid to go backward or to go
forward. And by and by a little girl came along and asked me what I was
crying about, and I said, 'About the dawg!' And the little girl said:
'O-oh! He's big, ain't he?' And I said, 'He's goin' to eat one of us
all up!' And the little girl said: 'Aw, don't you care! You take a-holt
of my hand and I'll run past with you; and if he bites he'll bite me
first and you can git away!' She was as scared as I was, but she
grabbed my hand and we got by without being et up. Do you remember who
that little girl was?
The hand in his seemed to remember. The fingers of it closed on his
a moment, then relaxed as if to listen for more. He mused on:
I wasn't very big for my size even then, and I wasn't very brave
ever. I didn't like to fight, like the other boys did, and I used to
rather take a lickin' than give one. Well, one day I was playin'
marbles with another boy, and he said I cheated when I won his big taw;
but I didn't. He wanted to fight, though, and he hit me; and I wouldn't
hit back. He was smaller than what I was, and he give me a lot of lip
and dared me to fight; and I just couldn't. He said I was afraid, and
so did the other boys; and I guess I was. It seemed to me I was more
afraid of hurtin' somebody else than gettin' hurt myself; but I guess I
was just plain afraid. The other boys began to push me round and call
me a cowardy calf, and I began to cry. I wanted to run home, but I was
afraid to start to run. And then a little girl came along and said:
'What's the matter, Eddie? What you cryin' for?' And I said, 'They're
all pickin' on me and callin' me cowardy calf!' And she said: 'Don't
you care! You come right along with me; and if one of 'em says another
word to you I'll scratch their nasty eyes out!' Do you remember that,
Her other hand came forward and embraced his wrist.
And another time you found me cryin'. I was a little older, and I'd
studied hard and tried to get my lessons good; but I failed in the
exam'nations, and I was goin' to tie a rock round my neck and jump in
the pond. But you said: 'Aw, don't you care, Eddie! I didn't pass in
And when I wanted to go to college, and Uncle Loren wouldn't send
me, I didn't cry outside, but I cried inside; and I told you and you
said: 'Don't you care! I don't get to go to boardin'-school myself.'
And when I was fool enough to think I liked that no-account Luella
Thickins, and thought I'd go crazy because her wax-doll face wouldn't
smile for me, you said: 'Don't you care, Eddie! You're much too good
for her. I think you're the finest man in the country.'
And when the baby didn't come and I acted like a baby myself, you
said: 'Don't you care, Eddie! Ain't we got each other?'
Seems like ev'ry time I been ready to lay down and die you've been
there with your old 'Don't you care! It's going to be all right!'
Just last night I had a turrible dream. I didn't tell you about it
for fear it would upset you. I dreamed I got awful sick at the office.
I couldn't seem to add the figures right and the old desk wabbled.
Finally I had to leave off and start for home, though it was only a
quarter of twelve; and I had to set down on Doc Noxon's horse-block and
on Holdredge's wall to rest; and I couldn't get our gate open. And you
run out and dragged me in, and got me up-stairs somehow, and sent Delia
around for the doctor.
Doc Noxon made you have a trained nurse, but I couldn't stand her;
and I wouldn't take medicine from anybody but you. I don't suppose I
was dreamin' more 'n a few minutes, all told; but it seemed like I laid
there for weeks, till one day Doc Noxon called you out of the room. I
couldn't hear what he was saying, but I heard you let out one horrible
scream, and then I heard sounds like he was chokin' you, and you kept
sayin': 'Oh no! No! No!'
I tried to go and help you, but I couldn't lift my head. By and by
you come back, with your eyes all red. Doc Noxon was with you and he
called the nurse over to him. You come to me and tried to smile; and
'Well, honey, how are you now?'
Then I knew what the doctor had told you and I was worse scared
than when the black dawg jumped at me. I tried to be brave, but I never
could seem to be. I put out my hands to you and hollered:
'Pheeny, I'm goin' to die! I know I'm goin' to die! Don't let me
go! I'm afraid to die!'
Now the hands clenched his with a frenzy that hurtbut beautifully.
And he kissed the wedding-ring as he finished:
And you dropped down to me on the floor by the bed and took my
handsjust like that. And you whispered: 'Don't you care, honey! I'll
go with you. Don't you care!'
And the fever seemed to cool out of me, and I kind of smiled and
wasn't afraid any more; and I turned my face to you and kissed
youlike this, Pheeny.
Why, you've been cryin', haven't you? You mustn't cryyou mustn't!
All those girls I been tellin' you about are the girl I kiss when I
kiss you, Pheeny. There couldn't be anybody as beautiful as you are to
I ain't 'mounted to much; but it ain't your fault. I wouldn't have
'mounted to anything at all if it hadn't been for you, Pheeny; and I
been the happiest feller in all this worldor I have been up to now.
I'm awful lonedsome just now. Don't you s'pose you could spare me a
She spared him one.
Then the cook pounded on the door and called through in a voice that
threatened to warp the panels: Ain't you folks ever comin' down to
dinner? I've rang the bell three times. Everything's all cold!
But it wasn't. Everything was all warm.