Making Allowances for Mamma by Kathleen Norris
At the head of her own breakfast table,—a breakfast table
charmingly littered with dark-blue china and shining glass, and made
springlike by a great bowl of daisies,—Mary Venable sat alone,
trying to read her letters through a bitter blur of tears. She was
not interested in her letters, but something must be done, she
thought desperately, to check this irresistible impulse to put her
head down on the table and cry like a child, and uninteresting
letters, if she could only force her eyes to follow the lines of
them, and her brain to follow the meaning, would be as steadying to
the nerves as anything else.
Cry she would NOT; for every reason. Lizzie, coming in to carry
away the plates, would see her, for one thing. It would give her a
blazing headache, for another. It would not help her in the least to
solve the problem ahead of her, for a third and best. She must think
it out clearly and reasonably, and—and—Mary's lip began to quiver
again, she would have to do it all alone. Mamma was the last person
in the world who could help her, and George wouldn't.
For of course the trouble was Mamma again, and George—
Mary wiped her eyes resolutely, finished a glass of water, drew a
deep great breath. Then she rang for Lizzie, and carried her letters
to the shaded, cool little study back of the large drawing-room.
Fortified by the effort this required, she sank comfortably into a
deep chair, and began to plan sensibly and collectedly. Firstly, she
reread Mamma's letter.
Mary had seen this letter among others at her plate, only an hour
ago. A deep sigh, reminiscent of the recently suppressed storm,
caught her unawares as she remembered how happy she and George had
been over their breakfast until Mamma's letter was opened. Mary had
not wanted to open it, suggesting carelessly that it might wait until
later; she could tell George if there was anything in it. But George
had wanted to hear it read immediately, and of course there had been
something in it. There usually was something unexpected in Mamma's
letters. In this one she broke the news to her daughter and son-in-law
that she hated Milwaukee, she didn't like Cousin Will's house,
children, or self, she had borrowed her ticket money from Cousin Will,
and she was coming home on Tuesday.
Mary had gotten only this far when George, prefacing his remarks
with a forcible and heartfelt "damn," had said some very sharp and
very inconsiderate things of Mamma. He had said—But no, Mary
wouldn't go over that. She would NOT cry again.
The question was, what to do with Mamma now. They had thought her
so nicely settled with Cousin Will and his motherless boys, had packed
her off to Milwaukee only a fortnight ago with such a generous check
to cover incidental expenses, had felt that now, for a year or two at
least, she was anchored. And in so many ways it seemed a special
blessing, this particular summer, to have Mamma out of the way,—
comfortable and happy, but out of the way. For Mary had packed her
three babies and their nurse down to the cottage at Beach Meadow for
the summer, and she and George had determined—with only brief
weekend intervals to break it—to try staying in the New York house
Ordinarily Mary, too, would have been at Beach Meadow with the
children, seeing George only in the rare intervals when he could run
up from town, two or three times a season perhaps, and really rather
more glad than otherwise to have Mamma with her. But this promised to
be a trying and overworked summer for him, and Mary herself was tired
from a winter of close attention to her nursery, and to them both the
plan seemed a most tempting chance for jolly little dinners together,
Sunday and evening trips in the motor, roof-garden shows and suppers.
They had had too little of each other's undivided society in the three
crowded years that had witnessed the arrival of the twins and baby
Mary, there had been infantile illnesses, Mary's own health had been
poor, Mamma had been with them, nurses had been with them, doctors had
been constantly coming and going, nothing had been normal. Both Mary
and George had thought and spoken a hundred times of that one first,
happy year of their marriage, and they wanted to bring back some of
its old free charm now. So the children, with Miss Fox, who was a
"treasure" of a trained nurse, and Myra, whose Irish devotion was
maternal in its intensity, were sent away to the seaside, and they
were living on the beach all day, and sleeping in the warm sea air all
night, and hardier and browner and happier every time they rushed
screaming out to welcome mother and daddy and the motor-car for a
brief visit. And Mamma was with Cousin Will. Or at least she HAD
Well, there was only one thing certain, Mary decided,—Mamma could
not come to them. That would spoil all the summer they had been
planning so happily. To picnic in the hot city with one beloved
companion is one thing, to keep house there for one's family is quite
another. Mamma was not adaptable, she had her own very definite ideas.
She hated a dimly lighted drawing-room, and interrupted Mary's
music—to which George listened in such utter content—with cheery
random remarks, and the slapping of cards at Patience. Mamma hated
silences, she hated town in summer, she made jolly and informal little
expeditions the most discussed and tedious of events. If George,
settling himself happily in some restaurant, suggested
enthusiastically a planked steak, Mamma quite positively wanted some
chicken or just a chop for herself, please. If George suggested red
wine, Mamma was longing for just a sip of Pommerey: "You order it,
Georgie, and let it be my treat!"
It never was her treat, but that was the least of it.
No, Mamma simply couldn't come to them now. She would have to go to
Miss Fox and the children. Myra wouldn't like it, and Mamma always
interfered with Miss Fox, and would have to take the second best
bedroom, and George would probably make a fuss, but there was nothing
else to do. It couldn't be helped.
Sometimes in moments of less strain, Mary was amused to remember
that it was through Mamma that she had met George. She, Mary, had
gone down from, her settlement work in hot New York for a little
breathing spell at Atlantic City, where Mamma, who had a very small
room at the top of a very large hotel, was enjoying a financially
pinched but entirely carefree existence. Mary would have preferred
sober and unpretentious boarding in some private family herself, but
Mamma loved the big dining-room, the piazzas, the music, and the
crowds of the hotel, and Mary amiably engaged the room next to hers.
They had to climb a flight of stairs above the last elevator stop to
reach their rooms, and rarely saw any one in their corridors except
maids and chauffeurs, but Mamma didn't mind that. She knew a score of
Southern people downstairs who always included her in their good
times; her life never lacked the spice of a mild flirtation. Mamma
rarely had to pay for any of her own meals, except breakfast, and the
economy with which she could order a breakfast was a real surprise to
Mary. Mamma swam, motored, danced, walked, gossiped, played bridge,
and golfed like any debutante. Mary, watching her, wondered sometimes
if the father she had lost when a tiny baby, and the stepfather whose
marriage to her mother, and death had followed only a few years later,
were any more real to her mother than the dreams they both were to
On the day of Mary's arrival, mother and daughter came down to the
wide hotel porch, in the cool idle hour before dinner, and took
possession of big rocking-chairs, facing the sea. They were barely
seated, when a tall man in white flannels came smilingly toward them.
"Mrs. Honeywell!" he said, delightedly, and Mary saw her mother
give him a cordial greeting before she said:
"And now, George, I want you to know my little girl, Ma'y,—Miss
Bannister. Ma'y, this is my Southe'n boy I was telling you about!"
Mary, turning unsmiling eyes, was quite sure the man would be
nearer forty than thirty, as indeed he was, grizzled and rather solid
into the bargain. Mamma's "boys" were rarely less; had he really been
at all youthful, Mamma would have introduced him as "that
extr'ornarily intrusting man I've been telling you about, Ma'y, dear!"
But he was a nice-looking man, and a nice seeming man, except for
his evidently having flirted with Mamma, which proceeding Mary always
held slightly in contempt. Not that he seemed flirtatiously inclined
at this particular moment, but Mary could tell from her mother's
manner that their friendship had been one of those frothy surface
affairs into which Mamma seemed able to draw the soberest of men.
Mr. Venable sat down next to Mary, and they talked of the sea, in
which a few belated bathers were splashing, and of the hot and
distant city, and finally of Mary's work. These topics did not
interest Mamma, who carried on a few gay, restless conversations with
various acquaintances on the porch meanwhile, and retied her parasol
bow several times.
Mamma, with her prettily arranged and only slightly retouched hair,
her dashing big hat and smart little gown, her red lips and black
eyes, was an extremely handsome woman, but Mr. Venable even now could
not seem to move his eyes from Mary's nondescript gray eyes, and
rather colorless fair skin, and indefinite, pleasant mouth. Mamma's
lines were all compact and trim. Mary was rather long of limb, even a
little GAUCHE in an attractive, unself-conscious sort of way. But
something fine and high, something fresh and young and earnest about
her, made its instant appeal to the man beside her.
"Isn't she just the biggest thing!" Mamma said finally, with a
little affectionate slap for Mary's hand. "Makes me feel so old,
having a great, big girl of twenty-three!"
This was three years short of the fact, but Mary never betrayed her
mother in these little weaknesses. Mr. Venable said, not very
spontaneously, that they could pass for sisters.
"Just hear him, will you!" said Mamma, in gay scorn. "Why there's
seventeen whole years between us! Ma'y was born on the day I was
seventeen. My first husband—dearest fellow ever WAS—used to say he
had two babies and no wife. I never shall forget," Mamma went on
youthfully, "one day when Ma'y was about two months old, and I had
her out in the garden. I always had a nurse,—smartest looking thing
you ever saw, in caps and ribbons!—but she was out, I forget where.
Anyway our old Doctor Wallis came in, and he saw me, with my hair all
hanging in curls, and a little blue dress on, and he called out, 'Look
here, Ma'y Lou Duval, ain't you too old to be playin' with dolls?'"
Mary had often heard this, but she laughed, and Mr. Venable
laughed, too, although he cut short an indication of further
reminiscence on Mamma's part by entering briskly upon the subject of
dinner. Would Mrs. Honeywell and Miss Bannister dine with him, in the
piazza, dining-room, that wasn't too near the music, and was always
cool, and then afterward he'd have the car brought about—? Mary's
first smiling shake of the head subsided before these tempting
details. It did sound so cool and restful and attractive! And after
all, why shouldn't one dine with the big, responsible person who was
one of New York's biggest construction engineers, with whom one's
mother was on such friendly terms?
That was the first of many delightful times. George Venable fell in
love with Mary and grew serious for the first time in his life. And
Mary fell in love with George, and grew frivolous for the first time
in hers. And in the breathless joy that attended their discovery of
each other, they rather forgot Mamma.
"Stealing my beau!" said the little lady, accusatively, one night,
when mother and daughter were dressing. Mary turned an uncomfortable
"Oh, don't be such a little goosie!" Mrs. Honeywell said, with a
great hug. And she artlessly added, "My goodness, Mary, I've got all
the beaux I want! I'm only too tickled to have you have one at last!"
By the time the engagement, with proper formality, was announced,
George's attitude toward his prospective mother-in-law had shifted
completely. He was no longer Mamma's gallant squire, but had assumed
something of Mary's tolerant, protective manner toward her. Later,
when they were married, this change went still further, and George
became rather scornful of the giddy little butterfly, casually
critical of her in conversations with Mary.
Mrs. Honeywell enjoyed the wedding as if she had been the bride's
younger sister now allowed a first peep at real romance.
"But I'm going to give you one piece of advice, dearie," said she,
the night before the ceremony. Mary, wrapped in all the mysterious
thoughts of that unreal time, winced inwardly. This was all so new,
so sacred, so inexpressible to her that she felt Mamma couldn't
understand it. Of course she had been married twice herself, but then
she was so different.
"It's this," said Mrs. Honeywell, cheerfully, after a pause.
"There'll come a time when you'll simply hate him—"
"Oh, Mamma!" Mary said, with distaste.
"Yes, there will," her mother went on placidly, "and then you just
say to yourself that the best of 'em's only a big boy, and treat him
as you'd treat a boy!"
"All right, darling!" Mary laughed, kissing her. But she thought to
herself that the men Mamma had married were of very different caliber
Parenthood developed new gravities in George, all life became
purer, sweeter, more simple, with Mary beside him. Through the stress
of their first married years they became more and more closely
devoted, marvelled more and more at the miracle that had brought them
together. But Mamma suffered to this. The atmosphere of gay
irresponsibility and gossip that she brought with her on her frequent
visitations became very trying to George. He resented her shallowness,
her youthful gowns, her extravagances. Mary found herself eternally
defending Mamma, in an unobtrusive sort of way, inventing and assuming
congenialities between her and George. It had been an unmitigated
blessing to have the little lady start gayly off for Cousin Will's,
only a month ago—And now here she was again!
Mary sighed, pushed her letters aside, and stared thoughtfully out
of the window. The first of New York's blazing summer days hung
heavily over the gay Drive and the sluggish river. The Jersey hills
were blurred with heat. Dull, brief whistles of river-craft came to
her; under the full leafage of trees on the Drive green omnibuses
lumbered; baby carriages, each with its attendant, were motionless in
the shade. Mary drew her desk telephone toward her, pushed it away
again, hesitated over a note. Then she sent for her cook and discussed
the day's meals.
Alone again, she reached a second time for the telephone, waited
for a number, and asked for Mr. Venable.
"George, this is Mary," said Mary, a moment later. Silence.
"George, darling," said Mary, in a rush, "I am so sorry about Mamma,
and I realize how trying it is for you, and I'm so sorry I took what
you said at breakfast that way. Don't worry, dear, we'll settle her
somehow. And I'll spare you all I can! George, would you like me to
come down to the office at six, and have dinner somewhere? She won't
be here until tomorrow. And my new hat has come, and I want to wear
it—?" She paused; there was a moment's silence before George's warm,
big voice answered:
"You are absolutely the most adorable angel that ever breathed,
Mary. You make me ashamed of myself. I've been sitting here as BLUE
as indigo. Everything going wrong! Those confounded Carter people got
the order for the Whitely building—you remember I told you about it?
It was a three-million dollar contract.
"Oh, George!" Mary lamented.
"Oh, well, it's not serious, dear. Only I thought we 'had it
nailed.' I'd give a good deal to know how Carter does it. Sometimes I
have the profoundest contempt for that fellow's methods—then he lands
something like this. I don't believe he can handle it, either."
"I hate that man!" said Mary, calmly. George laughed boyishly.
"Well, you were an angel to telephone," he said. "Come early,
sweetheart, and we'll go up to Macbeth's,—they say it's quite an
extraordinary collection. And don't worry—I'll be nice to Mamma. And
wear your blessed little pink hat—"
Mary went upstairs ten minutes later with a singing heart. Let
Mamma and her attendant problems arrive tomorrow if she must. Today
would be all their own! She began to dress at three o'clock, as
pleasantly excited as a girl. She laid her prettiest white linen gown
beside the pink hat on the bed, selected an especially frilled
petticoat, was fastidious over white shoes and silken stockings.
The big house was very still. Lizzie, hitherto un-compromisingly a
cook, had so far unbent this summer as to offer to fill the place of
waitress as well as her own. Today she had joyously accepted Mary's
offer of a whole unexpected free afternoon and evening. Mary was
alone, and rather enjoying it. She walked, trailing her ruffled
wrapper, to one of the windows, and looked down on the Drive. It was
While she stood there idle and smiling, a taxicab veered to the
curb, hesitated, came to a full stop. Out of it came a small gloved
hand with a parasol clasped in it, a small struggling foot in a gray
suede shoe, a small doubled-up form clad in gray-blue silk, a hat
covered with corn-flowers.
Mamma had arrived, as Mamma always did, unexpectedly.
Mary stared at the apparition with a sudden rebellious surge at her
heart. She knew what this meant, but for a moment the full
significance of it seemed too exasperating to be true. Oh, how could
she!—spoil their last day together, upset their plans, madden George
afresh, when he was only this moment pacified! Mary uttered an
impatient little sigh as she went down to open the door; but it was
the anticipation of George's vexation—not her own—that stirred her,
and the sight of Mamma was really unwelcome to Mary only because of
George's lack of welcome.
"No Lizzie?" asked Mamma, blithely, when her first greetings were
over, and the case of Cousin Will had been dismissed with a few
"I let her go this afternoon instead of to-morrow, Muddie, dear.
We're going down town to dinner."
"Oh; that's nice,—but I look a perfect fright!" said Mrs.
Honeywell, following Mary upstairs. "Nasty trip! I don't want a thing
but a cup of tea for supper anyway—bit of toast. I'll be glad to get
my things off for a while."
"If you LIKE, Mamma, why don't you just turn in?" Mary suggested.
"It's nearly four now. I'll bring you up some cold meat and tea and
"Sounds awfully nice," her mother said, getting a thin little silk
wrapper out of her suit-case. "But we'll see,—there's no hurry. What
time are you meeting Georgie?"
"Well, we were going to Macbeth's,—but that's not important,—we
needn't meet him until nearly seven, I suppose," Mary said patiently,
"only I ought to telephone him what we are going to do."
"Oh, telephone that I'll come too, I'll feel fine in half an hour,"
Mrs. Honeywell said decidedly.
Mary, unsatisfied with this message, temporized by sitting down in
a deep chair. The room, which had all been made ready for Mamma, was
cool and pleasant. Awnings shaded the open windows; the rugs, the
wall-paper, the chintzes were all in gay and roseate tints. Mrs.
Honeywell stretched herself luxuriously on the bed, both pillows
under her head.
"I'm sure she'd be much more comfortable here than tearing about
town this stuffy night!" the daughter reflected, while listening to
an account of Cousin Will's dreadful house, and dreadful children.
It was so easy when Mamma was away to think generously,
affectionately of her, to laugh kindly at the memory of her trying
moods. But it was very different to have Mamma actually about, to
humor her whims, listen to her ceaseless chatter, silently sacrifice
to her comfort a thousand comforts of one's own.
After a half hour of playing listener she went down to telephone
"Oh, damn!" said George, heartily. "And here I've been hustling
through things thinking any minute that you'd come in. Well, this
spoils it all. I'll come home."
"Oh, dearest,—it'll be just a 'pick-up' dinner, then. I don't know
what's in the house. Lizzie's gone," Mary submitted hesitatingly.
"Oh, damn!" George said forcibly, again.
"What does your mother propose to do?" he asked Mary some hours
later, when the rather unsuccessful dinner was over, Mamma had
retired, and he and his wife were in their own rooms. Mary felt
impending unpleasantness in his tone, and battled with a rising sense
of antagonism. She tucked her pink hat into its flowered box, folded
the silky tissue paper about it, tied the strings.
"Why, I don't know, dear!" she said pleasantly, carrying the box to
"Does she plan to stay here?" George asked, with a reasonable air,
carefully transferring letters, pocket-book, and watch-case from one
vest to another.
"George, when does Mamma ever plan ANYTHING!" Mary reminded him,
with elaborate gentleness.
There was a short silence. The night was very sultry, and no air
stirred the thin window-curtains. The room, with its rich litter of
glass and silver, its dark wood and bright hangings, seemed somehow
hot and crowded. Mary flung her dark cloud of hair impatiently back,
as she sat at her dressing table. Brushing was too hot a business
"I confess I think I have a right to ask what your mother proposes
to do," George said presently, with marked politeness.
"Oh, Georgie! DON'T be so ridiculous!" Mary protested impatiently.
"You know what Mamma is!"
"I may be ridiculous," George conceded, magnificently, "but I fail
"I don't mean that," Mary said hastily. "But need we decide
tonight?" she added with laudable calm. "It's so HOT, dearest, and I
am so sleepy. Mamma could go to Beach Meadow, I suppose?" she
This was a wrong move. George was disappearing into his dressing-
room at the moment, and did not turn back. Mary put out all the
lights but one, turned down the beds, settled on her pillows with a
great sigh of relief. But George, returning in a trailing wrapper,
was mighty with resolution.
"I mean to make just one final remark on this subject, Mary," said
George, flashing on three lights with one turn of the wrist, "but you
may as well understand me. I mean it! I don't propose to have your
mother at Beach Meadow, not for a single night—not for a day! She
demoralizes the boys, she has a very bad effect on the nurse. I
sympathize with Miss Fox, and I refuse to allow my children to be
given candy, and things injurious to their constitutions, and to be
kept up until late hours, and to have their first perceptions of
honor and truth misled—"
"Well,' said George, after a brief pause, more mildly, "I won't
"Then—but she can't stay here, George. It will spoil our whole
"Exactly," George assented. There was another pause.
"I'll talk to Mamma—she may have some plan," Mary said at last,
with a long sigh.
Mamma had no plan to unfold on the following day, and a week and
then ten days went by without any suggestion of change on her part.
The weather was very hot, and Lizzie complained more than once that
Mrs. Honeywell must have her iced coffee and sandwiches at four and
that breakfast, luncheon, and dinner regularly for three was not at
all like getting two meals for two every day, and besides, there was
another bedroom to care for, and the kitchen was never in order! Mary
applied an unfailing remedy to Lizzie's case, and sent for a charwoman
besides. Less easily solved were other difficulties.
George, for example, liked to take long motoring trips out of the
city, on warm summer evenings. He ran his own car, and was never so
happy as when Mary was on the driver's seat beside him, where he
could amuse her with the little news of the day, or repeat to her
long and, to Mary, unintelligible business conversations in which he
had borne a part.
But Mamma's return spoiled all this. Obviously, the little lady
couldn't be left to bounce about alone in the tonneau. If Mary joined
her there, George would sit silently, immovably, in the front seat,
chewing his cigar, his eyes on the road. Only when they had a friend
or two with them did Mary enjoy these drives.
Mamma had an unlucky habit of scattering George's valuable books
carelessly about the house, and George was fussy about his books. And
she would sometimes amuse herself by trying roll after roll on the
piano-player, until George, perhaps trying to read in the adjoining
library, was almost frantic. And she mislaid his telephone directory,
and took telephone messages for him that she forgot to deliver, and
insisted upon knowing why he was late for dinner, in spite of Mary's
warning, "Let him change and get his breath Mamma, dear,—he's
exhausted. What does it matter, anyway?"
Sometimes Mary's heart would ache for the little, resourceless
lady, drifting aimlessly through her same and stupid days. Mamma had
always been spoiled, loved, amused,—it was too much to expect
strength and unselfishness of her now. And at other times, when she
saw the tired droop to George's big shoulders, and the gallant effort
he made to be sweet to Mamma, George who was so good, and so generous,
and who only asked to have his wife and home quietly to himself after
the long day, Mary's heart would burn with longing to put her arms
about him, and go off alone with him somewhere, and smooth the
wrinkles from. his forehead, and let him rest.
One warm Sunday in mid-July they all went down to Long Island to
see the rosy, noisy babies. It was a happy day for Mary. George was
very gracious, Mamma charming and complaisant. The weather was
perfection, and the children angelic. They shared the noonday dinner
with little George and Richard and Mary, and motored home through the
level light of late afternoon. Slowly passing through a certain
charming colony of summer homes, they were suddenly hailed.
Out from a shingled bungalow, and across a velvet lawn streamed
three old friends of Mamma's, Mrs. Law'nce Arch'bald, and her
daughter, 'Lizabeth Sarah, who was almost Mamma's age, and 'Lizabeth
Sarah's husband, Harry Fairfax. These three were rapturously
presented to the Venables by Mrs. Honeywell, and presently they all
went up to the porch for tea.
Mary thought, and she could see George thought, that it was very
pleasant to discuss the delicious Oolong and Maryland biscuit, and
Southern white fruit-cake, while listening to Mamma's happy chatter
with her old friends. The old negress who served tea called Mamma
"chile," and Mrs. Archibald, an aristocratic, elderly woman, treated
her as if she were no more than a girl. Mary thought she had never
seen her mother so charming.
"I wonder if the's any reason, Mary Lou'siana, why you can't just
come down here and stay with me this summah?" said Mrs. Archibald,
suddenly. "'Lizabeth Sarah and Harry Fairfax, they're always coming
and going, and Lord knows it would be like havin' one of my own girls
back, to me. We've room, and there's a lot of nice people down
A chorus arose, Mrs. Honey well protesting joyously that that was
too much imp'sition for any use, 'Lizabeth Sarah and Harry Fairfax
violently favorable to the idea, Mrs. Archibald magnificently
overriding objections, Mary and George trying with laughter to
separate jest from earnest. Mrs. Honeywell, overborne, was dragged
upstairs to inspect "her room," old Aunt Curry, the colored maid and
cook, adding her deep-noted welcome to "Miss Mar' Lou." It was
arranged that Mamma should at least spend the night, and George and
Mary left her there, and came happily home together, laughing, over
their little downtown dinner, with an almost parental indulgence, at
In the end, Mamma did go down to the Archibald's for an indefinite
stay. Mary quite overwhelmed her with generous contributions to her
wardrobe, and George presented her with a long-coveted chain. The
parting took place with great affection and regret expressed on both
sides. But this timely relief was clouded for Mary when Mamma flitted
in to see her a day or two later. Mamma wondered if Ma'y dearest could
possibly let her have two hundred dollars.
"Muddie, you've overdrawn again!" Mary accused her. For Mamma had
an income of a thousand a year.
"No, dear, it's not that. I am a little overdrawn, but it's not
that. But you see Richie Carter lives right next do' to the
Arch'balds,"—Mamma's natural Southern accent was gaining strength
every day now,—"and it might be awkward, meetin' him, don't you
"Awkward?" Mary echoed, frowning.
"Well, you see, Ma'y, love, some years ago I was intimate with his
wife," her mother proceeded with some little embarrassment, "and so
when I met him at the Springs last year, I confided in him about—
laws! I forget what it was exactly, some bills I didn't want to
bother Georgie about, anyway. And he was perfectly charmin' about it
"Oh, Mamma!" Mary said in distress, "not Richard Carter of the
Carter Construction Company? Oh, Mamma, you know how George hates
that whole crowd! You didn't borrow money of him!"
"Not that he'd ever speak of it—he'd die first!" Mrs. Honeywell
"I'll have to ask George for it," Mary said after a long pause,
"and he'll be furious." To which Mamma, who was on the point of
departure, agreed, adding thoughtfully, "I'm always glad not to be
here if Georgie's going to fly into a rage."
George did fly into a rage at this piece of news, and said some
scathing things of Mamma, even while he wrote out a check for two
"Here, you send it to her," he said bitterly to Mary, folding the
paper with a frown. "I don't feel as if I ever wanted to see her
again. I tell you, Mary, I warn you, my dear, that things can't go on
this way much longer. I never refused her money that I know of, and
yet she turns to this fellow Carter!" He interrupted himself with an
exasperated shrug, and began to walk about the room. "She turns to
Carter," he burst out again angrily, "a man who could hurt me
irreparably by letting it get about that my mother-in-law had to ask
him for a petty loan!"
Mary, with a troubled face, was slowly, silently setting up a game
of chess. She took the check, feeling like Becky Sharp, and tucked it
into her blouse.
"Come on, George, dear," she said, after an uneasy silence. She
pushed a white pawn forward. George somewhat unwillingly took his
seat opposite her, but could not easily capture the spirit of the
game. He made a hasty move or two, scowled up at the lights, scowled
at the windows that were already wide open to the sultry night,
loosened his collar with two impatient fingers.
"I'd give a good deal to understand your mother, Mary," he burst
out suddenly. "I'd give a GREAT deal! Her love of pleasure I can
understand—her utter lack of any possible vestige of business sense
I can understand, although my own mother was a woman who conducted an
immense business with absolute scrupulousness and integrity—"
"Georgie, dear! What has your mother's business ability to do with
poor Mamma!" Mary said patiently, screwing the separated halves of a
knight firmly together.
"It has this to do with it," George said with sudden heat, "that my
mother's principles gave me a pretty clear idea of what a lady does
and does not do! And my mother would have starved before she turned
to a comparative stranger for a personal loan."
"But neither one of her sons could bear to live with her, she was
so cold-blooded," Mary thought, but with heroic self-control she kept
silent. She answered only by the masterly advance of a bishop.
"Queen," she said calmly.
"Queen nothing!" George said, suddenly attentive.
"Give me a piece then," Mary chanted. George gave a fully aroused
attention to the game, and saving it, saved the evening for Mary.
"But please keep Mamma quiet now for a while!" she prayed fervently
in her evening devotions a few hours later. "I can't keep this up—
we'll have serious trouble here. Please make her stay where she is
for a year at least."
Two weeks, three weeks, went peaceably by. The Venables spent a
happy week-end or two with their children. Between these visits they
were as light-hearted as children themselves, in the quiet roominess
of the New York home. Mamma's letters were regular and cheerful, she
showed no inclination to return, and Mary, relieved for the first
time since her childhood of pressing responsibility, bloomed like a
Sometimes she reflected uneasily that Mamma's affairs were only
temporarily settled, after all, and sometimes George made her heart
sink with uncompromising statements regarding the future, but for the
most part Mary's natural sunniness kept her cheerful and
Almost unexpectedly, therefore, the crash came. It came on a very
hot day, which, following a week of delightfully cool weather, was
like a last flaming hand-clasp from the departing summer. It was a
Monday, and had started wrong with a burned omelette at breakfast,
and unripe melons. And the one suit George had particularly asked to
have cleaned and pressed had somehow escaped Mary's vigilance, and
still hung creased and limp in the closet. So George went off,
feeling a little abused, and Mary, feeling cross, too, went slowly
about her morning tasks. Another annoyance was when the telephones
had been cut off; a man with a small black bag mysteriously appearing
to disconnect them, and as mysteriously vanishing when once their
separated parts lay useless on the floor. Mary, idly reading, and
comfortably stretched on a couch in her own room at eleven o'clock,
was disturbed by the frantic and incessant ringing of the front
"Lizzie went in to Broadway, I suppose," she reflected uneasily.
"But I oughtn't to go down this way! Let him try again."
"He"—whoever he was—did try again so forcibly and so many times
that Mary, after going to the head of the kitchen stairs to call
Lizzie, with no result, finally ran down the main stairway herself,
and gathering the loose frills of her morning wrapper about her,
warily unbolted the door.
She admitted George, whose face was dark with heat, and whose voice
"Where's Lizzie?" he asked, eying Mary's negligee.
"Oh, dearie—and I've been keeping you waiting!" Mary lamented.
"Come into the dining-room, it's cooler. She's marketing."
George dropped into a chair and mopped his forehead.
"No one to answer the telephone?" he pursued, frowning.
"It's disconnected, dear. Georgie, what is it?—you look sick."
"Well, I am, just about!" George said sternly. Then, irrelevantly,
he demanded: "Mary, did you know your mother had disposed of her
"Sold her copper stock!" Mary ejaculated, aghast For Mamma's entire
income was drawn from this eminently safe and sane investment, and
Mary and George had never ceased to congratulate themselves upon her
good fortune in getting it at all.
"Two months ago," said George, with a shrewdly observant eye.
Mary interpreted his expression.
"Certainly I didn't know it!" she said with spirit.
"Didn't, eh? She SAYS you did," George said.
"Mamma does?" Mary was astounded.
"Read that!" Her husband flung a letter on the table.
Mary caught it up, ran through it hastily. It was from Mamma: She
was ending her visit at Rock Bar, the Archibalds were going South
rather early, they had begged her to go, but she didn't want to, and
Mary could look for her any day now. And she was writing to Georgie
because she was afraid she'd have to tell him that she had done an
awfully silly thing: she had sold her Sunbright shares to an awfully
attractive young fellow whom Mr. Pierce had sent to her—and so on
and so on. Mary's eye leaped several lines to her own name. "Mary
agreed with me that the Potter electric light stock was just as safe
and they offered seven per cent," wrote Mamma.
"I DO remember now her saying something about the Potter," Mary
said, raising honest, distressed eyes from the letter, "but with no
possible idea that she meditated anything like this!"
George had been walking up and down the room.
"She's lost every cent!" he said savagely. And he flung both hands
out with an air of frenzy before beginning his angry march again.
Mary sat in stony despair.
"Have you heard from her today?" he flung out.
His wife shook her head.
"Well, she's in town," George presently resumed, "because Bates
told me she telephoned the office while I was out this morning. Now,
listen, Mary. I've done all I'm going to do for your mother! And
she's not to enter this house again—do you understand?"
"George!" said Mary.
"She is not going to ENTER MY HOUSE," reiterated George. "I have
often wondered what led to estrangements in families, but by the
Lord, I think there's some excuse in this case! She lies to me, she
sets my judgment at naught, she does the things with my children that
I've expressly asked her not to do, she cultivates the people I
loathe, she works you into a state of nervous collapse—it's too
much! Now she's thrown her income away,—thrown it away! Now I tell
you, Mary, I'll support her, if that's what she expects—"
"Really, George, you are—you are—Be careful!" Mary exclaimed,
roused in her turn. "You forget to whom you are speaking. I admit
that Mamma is annoying, I admit that you have some cause for
complaint,—but you forget to whom you are speaking! I love my
mother," said Mary, her feeling rising with every word. "I won't have
her so spoken of! Not have her enter the house again? Why, do you
suppose I am going to meet her in the street, and send her clothes
after her as if she were a discharged servant?"
"She may come here for her clothes," George conceded, "but she
shall not spend another night under my roof. Let her try taking care
of herself for a change!"
There was a silence.
"George, DON'T you see how unreasonable you are?" Mary said, after
a bitter struggle for calm.
"That's final," George said briefly.
"I don't know what you mean by final," his wife answered with
warmth. "If you really think—"
"I won't argue it, my dear. And I won't have my life ruined by your
mother, as thousands of men's lives have been ruined, by just such
unscrupulous irresponsible women!"
"George," said Mary, very white, "I won't turn against my mother!"
"Then you turn against me," George said in a deadly calm.
"Do you expect her to board, George, in the same city that I have
my home?" Mary demanded, after a pause.
"Plenty of women do it," George said inflexibly.
"But, George, you know Mamma! She'd simply be here all the time; it
would come to exactly the same thing. She'd come after breakfast, and
you'd have to take her home after dinner. She'd have her clothes made
here, and laundered here, and she'd do all her telephoning..."
"That is exactly what has got to stop," said George. "I will pay
her board at some good place. But I'll pay it... she won't touch the
money. Besides that, she can have an allowance. But she must
understand that she is NOT to come here except when she is especially
invited, at certain intervals."
"George, DEAR, that is absolutely absurd!"
"Very well," George said, flushing, "but if she is here to-night, I
will not come home. I'll dine at the club. When she has gone, I'll
come home again."
Mary's head was awhirl. She scarcely knew where the conversation
was leading then, or what the reckless things they said involved. She
was merely feeling blindly now for the arguments that should give her
"You needn't stay at the club, George," she said, "for Mamma and I
will go down to Beach Meadow. When you have come to your senses, I'll
come back. I'll let Miss Fox go, and Mamma and I will look out for the
"I warn you," George interrupted her coldly, "that if you take any
such step, you will have a long time to think it over before you hear
from me! I warn you that it has taken much less than this to ruin the
happiness of many a man and woman!"
Mary faced him, breathing hard. This was their first real quarrel.
Brief times of impatience, unsympathy, differences of opinion there
had been, but this—this Mary felt even now—was gravely different.
With a feeling curiously alien and cold, almost hostile, she eyed the
face opposite her own; the strange face that had been so familiar and
dear only at breakfast time.
"I WILL go," she said quietly. "I think it will do us both good."
"Nonsense!" George said. "I won't permit it."
"What will you do, make a public affair of it?"
"No, you know I won't do that. But don't talk like a child, Mary.
Remember, I mean what I say about your mother, and tell her so when
After that, he went away. A long time passed, while Mary sat very
still in the big leather chair at the head of the table. The sunlight
shifted, fell lower,—shone ruby red through a decanter of claret on
the sideboard. The house was very still.
After a while she went slowly upstairs. She dragged a little trunk
from a hall closet, and began quietly, methodically, to pack it with
her own clothes. Now and then her breast rose with a great sob, but
she controlled herself instantly.
"This can't go on," she said aloud to herself. "It's not
today—it's not to-morrow—but it's for all time. I can't keep this
up. I can't worry and apologize, and neglect George, and hurt Mamma's
feelings for the rest of my life. Mamma has always done her best for
me, and I never saw George until five years ago—
"It's not," she went on presently, "as if I were a woman who takes
marriage lightly. I have tried. But I won't desert Mamma. And I
won't—I will NOT!—endure having George talk to me as he did today!"
She would go down to the children, she would rest, she would read
again during the quiet evenings. Days would go by, weeks. But finally
George would write her—would come to her. He must. What else could he
Something like terror shook her. Was this the way serious, endless
separations began between men and their wives? Her mind flitted
sickly to other people's troubles: the Waynes, who had separated
because Rose liked gayety and Fred liked domestic peace; the
Gardiners, who—well, there never did seem to be any reason there.
Frances and the baby just went to her mother's home, and stayed home,
and after a while people said she and Sid had separated, though
Frances said she would always like Sid as a friend—not very serious
reasons, these! Yet they had proved enough.
Mary paused. Was she playing with fire? Ah, no, she told herself,
it was very different in her case. This was no imaginary case of
"neglect" or "incompatibility." There was the living trouble,—
Mamma. And even if tonight she conceded this point to George, and
Mamma was banished, sooner or later resentment, bitter and
uncontrollable, would rise again, she knew, in her heart. No. She
would go. George might do the yielding.
Once or twice tears threatened her calm. But it was only necessary
to remind herself of what George had said to dry her eyes into angry
brilliance again. Too late now for tears.
At five o'clock the trunk was packed, but Mamma had not yet
arrived. There remained merely to wait for her, and to start with her
for Beach Meadow. Mary's heart was beating fast now, but it was less
with regret than with a nervous fear that something would delay her
now. She turned the key in the trunk lock and straightened up with
the sudden realization that her back was aching.
For a moment she stood, undecided, in the centre of her room.
Should she leave a little note for George, "on his pincushion," or
simply ask Lizzie to say that she had gone to Beach Meadow? He would
not follow her there, she knew; George understood her. He knew of how
little use bullying or coaxing would be. There would be no scenes.
She would be allowed to settle down to an existence that would be
happy for Mamma, good for the children, restful—free from
distressing strain—for Mary herself.
With a curious freedom from emotion of any sort, she selected a
hat, and laid her gloves beside it on the bed. Just then the front
door, below her, opened to admit the noise of hurried feet and of
joyous laughter. Several voices were talking at once. Mary, to whom
the group was still invisible, recognized one of these as belonging to
Mamma. As she went downstairs, she had only time for one apprehensive
thrill, before Mamma herself ran about the curve of the stairway, and
flung herself into Mary's arms.
Mamma was dressed in corn-colored silk, over which an exquisite
wrap of the same shade fell in rich folds. Her hat was a creation of
pale yellow plumes and hydrangeas, her silk stockings and little boots
corn-colored. She dragged the bewildered Mary down the stairway, and
Mary, pausing at the landing, looked dazedly at her husband, who
stood in the hall below with a dark, middle-aged man whom she had
never seen before.
"Here she is!" Mamma cried joyously. "Richie, come kiss her right
this minute! Ma'y, darling, this is your new papa!"
"WHAT!" said Mary, faintly. But before she knew it the strange man
did indeed kiss her, and then George kissed her, and Mamma kissed her
again, and all three shouted with laughter as they went over and over
the story. Mary, in all the surprise and confusion, still found time
to marvel at the sight of George's radiant face.
"Carter—of all people!" said George, with a slap on the groom's
shoulder. "I loved his dea' wife like a sister!" Mamma threw in
parenthetically, displaying to Mary's eyes her little curled-up fist
with a diamond on it quite the width of the finger it adorned.
"Strangely enough," said Mr. Carter, in a deep, dignified boom, "your
husband and I had never met until to-day, Mrs.—ah, Mary— when-" his
proud eye travelled to the corn-colored figure, "when this young lady
of mine introduced us!"
"Though we've exchanged letters, eh?" George grinned, cutting the
wires of a champagne bottle. For they were about the dining-room
table now, and the bride's health was to be drunk.
Mary, managing with some effort to appear calm, outwardly
congratulatory, interested, and sympathetic; and already feeling
somewhere far down in her consciousness an exhilarated sense of
amusement and relief at this latest performance of Mamma's,—was
nevertheless chiefly conscious of a deep and swelling indignation
George! Oh, he could laugh now; he could kiss, compliment, rejoice
with Mamma now, he could welcome and flatter Richard Carter now,
although he had repudiated and insulted the one but a few hours ago,
and had for years found nothing good to say of the other! He could
delightedly involve Mary in his congratulations and happy prophecies
now, when but today he had half broken her heart!
"Lovely!" she said, smiling automatically and rising with the
others when the bridegroom laughingly proposed a toast to the firm
that might some day be "Venable and Carter," and George insisted upon
drinking it standing, and, "Oh, of course, I understand how sudden it
all was, darling!" "Oh, Mamma, won't that be heavenly!" she responded
with apparent rapture to the excited outpourings of the bride. But at
her heart was a cold, dull weight, and her sober eyes went again and
again to her husband's face.
"Oh, no!" she would say to herself, watching him, "you can't do
that, George! You can't change about like a weathercock, and expect
me to change, too, and forget everything that went before! You've
chosen to dig the gulf between us—I'm not like Mamma, I'm not a
child—my dignity and my rights can't be ignored in this fashion!"
No, the matter involved more than Mamma now. George should be
punished; he should have his scare. Things must be all cleared up,
explained, made right between them. A few weeks of absence, a little
realization of what he had done would start their marriage off again
on a new footing.
She kissed her mother affectionately at the door, gave the new
relative a cordial clasp with both hands.
"We'll let you know in a week or two where we are," said Mamma, all
girlish confusion and happiness. "You have my suit-case, Rich'?
That's right, dea'. Good-by, you nice things!"
"Good-by, darling!" Mary said. She walked back into the empty
library, seated herself in a great chair, and waited for George.
The front door slammed. George reappeared, chuckling, and rubbing
his hands together. He walked over to a window, held back the heavy
curtain, and watched the departing carriage out of sight.
"There they go!" he said. "Carter and your mother—married, by
Jove! Well, Mary, this is about the best day's work for me that's come
along for some time. Carter was speaking in the carriage only an hour
ago about the possibility of our handling the New Nassau Bridge
contract together. I don't know why not." George mused a moment,
"I thought you had an utter contempt for him as a business man,"
Mary said stingingly—involuntarily, too, for she had not meant to be
diverted from her original plan of a mere dignified farewell.
"Never for him," George said promptly. "I don't like some of his
people. Burns, his chief construction engineer, for instance. But
I've the greatest respect for him! And your mother!" said George,
laughing again. "And how pretty she looked, too! Well, sir, they
walked in on me this afternoon. I never was so surprised in my life!
You know, Mary," said George, taking his own big leather chair,
stretching his legs out luxuriously, and eying the tip of a cigar
critically, "you know that your mother is an extremely fascinating
woman! You'll see now how she'll blossom out, with a home of her own
again—he's got a big house over on the Avenue somewhere, beside the
Bar Kock place—and he runs three or four cars. Just what your mother
Mary continued to regard her husband steadily, silently. One look
at the fixed expression of contempt on her face would have enlightened
him, but George was lighting his cigar now, and did not glance at
"I'll tell you another thing, Mary," said George, after a match-
scratching-and-puffing interlude, "I'll tell you another thing, my
dear. You're an angel, and you don't notice these things as I do,
but, by Jove, your mother was reaching the point where she pretty
nearly made trouble between us! Fact!" he pursued, with a serious
nod. "I get tired, you know, and nervous, and unreasonable—you must
have had it pretty hard sometimes this month between your mother and
me! I get hot—you know I don't mean anything! If you hadn't the
disposition of a saint, things would have come to a head long ago.
Now this very morning I talked to you like a regular kid. Mary, the
minute I got back to the office I was ashamed of myself. Why,
ninety-nine women out of a hundred would have raised the very deuce
with me for that! But, by Jove—" his voice dropped to a pause.
"By Jove," George went on, "you are an angel! Now tell me the
honest truth, old girl, didn't you resent what I said to-day, just for
"I certainly did," Mary responded promptly and quietly, but with an
uncomfortable sense of lessened wrath. "What you said was absolutely
unwarrantable and insulting!"
"I'll BET you did!" said George, giving her a glance that was a
little troubled, and a little wistful, too. "It was insulting, it was
unwarrantable. But, my Lord, Mary, you know how I love your mother!"
he continued eagerly. "She and I are the best of friends. We rasp each
other now and then, but we both love you too much ever to come to real
trouble. I'm no angel, Mary," said George, looking down his cigar
thoughtfully, "but as men go, I'm a pretty decent man. You know how
much time I've spent at the club since we were married. You know the
fellows can't rope me into poker games or booze parties. I love my
wife and my kids and my home. But when I think of you, and realize how
unworthy I am of you, by Heaven—!" He choked, shook his head, finding
further speech for a moment difficult. "There's no man alive who's
worthy of you!" he finished. "The Lord's been very good to me."
Mary's eyes had filled, too. She sat for a minute, trying to steady
her suddenly quivering lips. She looked at George sitting there in
the twilight, and said to herself it was all true. He WAS good, he
WAS steady, he was indeed devoted to her and to the children. But—
but he had insulted her, he had broken her heart, she couldn't let
him off without some rebuke.
"You should have thought of these things before you—" she began,
with a very fair imitation of scorn in her voice. But George
interrupted her. His hands were clasped loosely between his knees,
his head hanging dejectedly.
"I know," he said despondently, "I know!"
Mary paused. What she had still to say seemed suddenly flat. And in
the pause her mother's one piece of advice came to her mind. After
all it only mattered that he was unhappy, and he was hers, and she
could make him happy again.
She left her chair, went with a few quick steps to her husband's
side, and knelt, and put her cheek against his shoulder. He gave a
great boyish laugh of relief and pleasure and put his arms about her.
"How old are you, George?" she said.
"How old am I? What on earth—why, I'm forty," he said.
"I was just thinking that the best of you men is only a little boy,
and should be treated as such!" said Mary, kissing him.
"You can treat me as you like," he assured her, joyously. "And I'm
starving. And unless you think there is any likelihood of Mamma
dropping in and spoiling our plan, I would like to take you out to
"Well, she might," Mary agreed with a happy laugh, "so I'll simply
run for my hat. You never can be sure, with Mamma!"