« AnkstesnisTęsti »
By ELEANOR MERCEIN KELLY Author of "Toya the Unlike," "Temperament," "The Privateer," etc.
Illustrations by Alonzo Kimball
HE drew the crape over her face, staggering a little as she turned away from the grave to the carriage. A sonin-law took her by the elbow, exchanging a quick glance with the others.
"Father won't lie alone here long," murmured one of her daughters, with an hysterical sob.
She was glad that the veil was heavy. True, her face was quite sodden with weeping, she wept easily, but she feared that it might not wear the proper expression for a woman just widowed after forty years of marriage. She was hungry. She could not help thinking of things to eat. It was from sheer faintness that she had staggered.
"As soon as the children have gone, I shall have Susy broil me a chop-two chops," she thought. "I do hope they won't feel that they ought to stay long."
For three days she had eaten virtually nothing. How could she eat, with the judge lying there dead? Her daughters, taking it for granted that she would not care to leave her room, had themselves brought trays to her, sitting beside her and urging her tenderly to make an effort. She did not like trays; the tea was usually chilled, and the eggs were overdone. Moreover, she saw that they would have been surprised and a trifle shocked if she had eaten. All her life she had been the victim of a fatal facility for doing the thing expected of her.
The night before, while the judge still lay in his half-lit drawing-room, with flowers all about him and one of the sons
in-law dozing on guard, the fancy had come to her to take one last look at this stranger who had been the father of her children. She tiptoed down-stairs without waking her daughters.
It was a long time since she had really looked at her husband. She felt a little apologetic now, more than a little nervous, as if at any moment he might lift those heavy lids with a testy, "Well, well, my dear, what are you staring at?"
But if the judge was aware of her scrutiny, he did not seem to resent it.
"Is this the man I married?" she asked herself at last, wondering.
In those chill, handsome features, already wearing the look of faintly yellowed marble; the proud nose, indefinably coarsened; the bushy, gray eyebrows with the irritable line between them not quite erased; the close-shaven mouth, oddly pursed and sunken since the acquisition of false teeth, she found no trace of the knight of her dreams, the fairy prince. who had once come riding into her girlhood. Bleak desolation came over her. All done now, those dreams; the knight had ridden by.
For the first time her mourning seemed no mockery. She wore it not for the judge lying there in his coffin, but for the lover she had married and lost forty years ago.
Just beyond the coffin, so near that there was barely room for her to pass between them, stood the closed piano. She looked at it with sudden yearning. In all the crises of her life she had hungered
for music, even her own music, which was not very good. The piano was a thing of mystery to her, of beautiful promise. Consolation, memory, forgetfulness, hope -all of them lay there waiting, hidden in the harmonies her fingers might evoke. True, they often failed her, those stiffening, ill-taught fingers of hers. It required imagination to transmute her patient efforts into music. The judge had lacked imagination. Of late years the thing that he called her "mooning" had touched his nerves upon the raw. Only on the rare occasions when he was out of the house had she dared to grope in search of those locked harmonies.
"But surely it would not disturb him now," she thought, and moved past the coffin.
Then behind her the son-in-law snored. She stopped short, aghast at the narrowness of her escape. What would they all have thought, awakened at midnight to find their bereaved mother seated within a foot of her husband's coffin, playing tunes! To the judge's children all music was, or was not, "a tune." At the picture of their dismay she laughed.
The son-in-law awoke. He led her back to bed, pityingly, and gave her valerian to quiet her nerves, and she wept herself to sleep.
But now, driving home from the funeral, her mind went again eagerly to the piano.
"As soon as they 've all gone," she thought, "I'll shut the doors and windows, and I'll play. I don't care what the servants think; I 'm going to play."
A hand-organ passed, grinding out a gay little tune that went dancing merrily through her head. Pleasant thoughts came with it which would not be denied, ashamed as she was of them.
She might eat in the garden sometimes now, like a picnic. The judge had not approved of eating out of doors.
"It is not the place to eat," he had pronounced, with finality.
She might lie down and read when she ought to be doing all sorts of thingsread anything that pleased her, poetry,
novels, silly love-stories; not the dry articles and essays to which the judge liked to listen while he dozed after dinner, waking whenever her voice paused with a testy, "Well, well, my dear, what's the matter now?"
A little smile curved. her lips. What a house-cleaning she would have! Not the surreptitious, bit-at-a-time affair conceded to the judge's hatred of disturbance, but a perfect orgy of cleanliness. Everything out in the sun at once; empty, scrubbed shelves smelling of new oil-cloth; fresh paint everywhere; fresh papers on the walls; frivolous, light papers instead of the dreary grays and browns the judge had pronounced practical for a soft-coal city. She need never, never be practical
And those dear, noisy babies from next door should come and play menagerie in the garden whenever they liked. Nobody to disturb now. It was her house. The girls would not want to live with her. They had homes of their own; besides, they had long ago outgrown the shabby old street, with its trolley-cars and small shops. Her house, and she alone in it!
"Except for poor Solomon," she reminded herself, with a pang of compunction.
Solomon was the judge's one weakness, a morose, elderly canine who at will slept in the judge's chair, ate from his plate, took him out upon forced marches in pursuit of rabbits which did not exist. She had little love for Solomon, but she respected him. He had won the thing she failed of her husband's tenderness.
"I suppose the dog will miss Henry," she thought. "I'll have to give him plenty of exercise."
Except for the duty of exercising Solomon, however, life loomed before her free of fetters, one long, glorious holiday-or not long, perhaps, for she was not many years from seventy. But it was freedom
-freedom at last, after forty years of living the life of others, subservient to the dominant personalities of the judge and the judge's children.
The carriage stopped. She turned to
"There, queerly out of place in its new surroundings, stood the furniture she had left not an hour ago in the room that had been hers and the judge's"
her house as to an old friend, eager for the first glimpse of its weather-worn brick behind the elms. The servants would be at the door to greet her, respectfully tearful, perhaps, but glad in their secret hearts that the reign of tyranny was over. She must be very good to these faithful servants, who had seen so much that she kept loyally hidden from her daughters.
But the carriage had stopped before the house recently built by the most capable of her daughters, Caroline. Possibly an architect and workmen, and even her husband, may have been of some assistance in the matter, but the house was customarily referred to as having been built by Caroline.
"Welcome home, Mother!" said Caroline, with a little break in her voice.
It was quite a dramatic moment. Dazed, the widow allowed herself to be led up the steps and into the handsome hall, where her eyes fell upon a new piano, quite the latest thing in self-playing instruments, whose harmonies were by no means locked; were, in fact, at the command of any person with sufficiently muscular legs.
"We got it for you, Mother," murmured somebody.
"But, Carrie, I really must go home. There there are so many things to be done."
"What things, dear? I believe I 've attended to everything." "Well, the servants
"I've found them both good homes already. You're not to worry."
"But-but Solomon!" urged the widow, desperately. "He 'll have to be exercised-"
Caroline opened a door and called:
"Here, Solly! Here, Solly! You see, I had him brought over with the other things while we were gone."
The old dog entered, and sniffed distrustfully at his mistress's new crape. It was evidently not the smell for which his soul yearned. He went to the front door and whined.
"He wants f-father!" said Caroline, and wept.
"He wants to go home," thought the widow, dully; but she did not say so.
In fact, she did not say anything. She knew that she ought to speak, knew that if she did not take a firm stand now, she would never again be able to hold her own with this child of hers who was so appallingly like the judge. But she was not a strong woman. She had never formed the habit of holding her own and taking firm stands.
They led her up-stairs to the room they called hers, and paused at the door to enjoy her surprise. It was indeed a surprise. There, queerly out of place in its new surroundings, stood the furniture she had left not an hour ago in the room that had been hers and the judge's: the blackwalnut bureau she had always disliked, the monumental chest of drawers, even the catafalque of a bed in which, very suitably, the judge had been born and had died. It had been one of her secret dreams to exchange this solemn suite of furniture for a little white set she had seen in one of the shops, painted in rosebuds. There was also the judge's own chair, its leather somewhat worn and hairy because of the slumbers of Solomon. She sat down in it rather suddenly.
"I wanted you to feel at home at once," beamed the capable Caroline through tears. "It was quite a job getting it all moved so quickly without letting you know; but I knew how it would please you, dear. Don't you think you might manage to eat a little something now if I bring you a tray myself? Do try—just for my sake!"
She promised that she would try.
Presently the old dog nosed his way to her, and sat staring up at her with a commanding eye. She gently put a hand on his head.
"What are we going to do, Solomon? What are we going to do?" she whispered.
He removed his head with dignity. It was not she whom he sought, but the chair she occupied, the judge's chair; in fact, his chair.
She yielded it to him.
The tray came, personally conducted. by Caroline. There was tea, a trifle chilled, and a very solid egg. There was also a rose laid across the napkin.
Alas! for the two broiled chops of her dreams! But she did not miss them.
IN Caroline's well-ordered household there were no children, nor in her neighborhood. A stately calm prevailed. No trolley-cars ventured near that sacred precinct; the widow often lay awake at night missing the familiar whir and clangor of them. Only limousines slid elegantly by; or if an automobile of the lower order chanced to intrude, it had at least the good taste never to honk. The judge himself could not have been quieter in his new surroundings than the judge's widow.
"Such a wonderfully restful atmosphere for your poor mother!" said Caroline's friends to her. "But what a responsibility, my dear! It seems a little hard on you."
"Hard on me-my own mother?" Caroline murmured in gentle reproof. "Naturally somebody must look after her; somebody always has. One is glad to make a few sacrifices. I only want her
last days to be spent in peace and comfort."
Over the house that had been the judge's woodbine clambered thickly, and sparrows made the early morning vocal with their chatter. Of late years the judge had grown a trifle deaf, so that the sparrows were spared to increase and multiply and vociferate, after the vulgar fashion of the lower classes. Unfortunately, his human neighbors, also vulgar in these respects, had voices even more penetrating; and life had been one perpetual warfare between the judge and the neighborhood young to maintain the state which he called "privacy" and his wife called "loneliness."
But there were no longer any drawbacks for the neighborhood young about the judge's garden: no gardener with mistaken ideas of order; no fierce old voice threatening to sick the dog on them; only a little lady in black who began to seem a part of the landscape, and a dog whose attention was not to be distracted from rabbits no longer imaginary. Taller and thicker grew the weeds. The place became a jungle, inhabited, doubtless, by other wild animals than rabbits; tigers, possibly elephants. One sometimes heard them roaring. There were also bumblebees.
The hours passed so quickly there, so drowsily, what with the voices of birds and children and the drone of the passing trolley-cars, that the little lady in black had sometimes almost to run the long blocks back to Caroline's house to be in time for luncheon, the old dog puffing angrily behind her. Caroline shared her father's dislike for tardiness at meals.
Once she asked curiously:
"Where do you spend your mornings, Mother? The servants tell me you are up and off before the rest of us are stirring."
"I take Solomon walking," said her mother.
"For hours at a time, at your age?" Caroline eyed her solicitously. "No wonder you 're getting so thin! Remember, you are not very strong, dear. Hereafter