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Title:      Mother Mason (1924)
Author:     Bess Streeter Aldrich, 1881-1954
eBook No.:  0500531.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          June 2005
Date most recently updated: June 2005

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Title:      Mother Mason (1924)
Author:     Bess Streeter Aldrich, 1881-1954



Mother sat in front of her Circassian walnut dressing table, her f--,
no, PLUMP form enveloped in a lavender and green, chrysanthemum-
covered, stork-bordered kimono, and surveyed herself in the glass.

Mother was Mrs. Henry Y. Mason, and in Springtown, Nebraska, when
one says "Henry Y." it conveys, proportionately, the same
significance that it carries when the rest of the world says "John

It was eleven o'clock at night, which is late for Springtown.
Mother had set her bread before climbing, rather pantingly, the
wide mahogany stairs.  There is something symbolical in that
statement, illustrative of Mother's life.  She had been promoted to
a mahogany stairway, but she had clung to her own bread making.

Three diamond rings just removed from Mother's plump hand lay on
the Cluny-edged cover of the dressing table.  These represented
epochs in the family life.  The modest little diamond stood for the
day that Henry left bookkeeping behind and became assistant
cashier.  The middle-sized diamond belonged to his cashier days.
The big, bold diamond was Henry Y. as president of the First
National Bank of Springtown.

Mother was tired and nervous to-night.  She felt irritable, old,
and grieved--all of which was utterly foreign to her usual sunny

She took off the glasses that covered her blue eyes.  It was just
her luck, she thought crossly, that she couldn't even wear
eyeglasses.  They simply would not stay on her nose.  Deprecatingly
she wrinkled that fat, broad member.  Then she removed and laid on
the table a thick, grayish braid of silky hair that had formed her
very good-looking coiffure, and let down a limited, not to say
scant, amount of locks that were fastened on as Nature--then
evidently in parsimonious mood--had intended.

With apparent disgust she leaned forward under the lights that
glowed rosily from their Dresden holders and scanned the features
which looked back at her from the clear, oh, VERY clear, beveled
glass.  She might have seen that her skin was as fair and soft and
pink as a girl's, that her mouth and eyes showed deep-seated humor,
that her face radiated character.  But in her unusual mood of
introspection she could find nothing but flaws.  The eyes looked
weak and nearsighted without their glasses.  The chin--like a two-
part story, that chin gave every evidence of stopping, and then to
one's surprise went merrily on.  She leaned closer to the glass.

"Well," Mother said dryly, reaching for manicure scissors, "that is
THE LIMIT!"  Living with a houseful of young people as she did,
Mother's English had in no way been neglected.

Then, as though to let Fate do its worst, and looking cautiously
around--for she was very sensitive about it--Mother took from her
mouth a lower plate of artificial teeth.  Immediately, out of
obedience to nature's law that there shall be no vacuum, her soft
lower lip rushed in to fill the void.

"Pretty creature, am I not?" she grumbled.

Just at this point, we opine, every one will say, "Ah!  No doubt
the president of the First National Bank is showing symptoms of
being attracted elsewhere!"  Not so.  Mother had only to turn her
plump self around to see the long figure of that highly efficient
financier stretched out in its black-and-white-checked tennis-
flannel nightgown, sleeping the sleep of the model citizen and

No, Mother had only reached one of those occasional signboards in
life that say "Fagged!  Relax!  Let up!  Nothing doing!"  She was
suffering from a slight attack of mental and spiritual ennui, which
is a polite way of saying that her digestion was getting sluggish.
She was fifty-two, not exactly senile, but certainly not as gay as,
say, TWENTY-two.

Just then the connoisseur of mortgages rolled over heavily like a
sleepy porpoise and muttered something that sounded like "Ain oo
cum bed?"

Fifty-two! she went on thinking, and she had never had a day to
herself to do just as she liked.  From that day, twenty-five years
ago, when the nurse laid the red and colicky Bob in her arms, her
time had belonged to others.  In memory she could see Henry's
white, drawn face as he knelt by her bed and said:

"Molly, you'll never, NEVER have to go through this again."

But she had!  Oh land, yes!  Bob was twenty-five, Katherine was
twenty-two, Marcia twenty-one, Eleanor sixteen, and Junior eleven--
all healthy, good-looking, fun-loving, and thoughtless.  She had
been a slave to them, of course.  She ought to know it by this
time, every one had told her so.

But it wasn't just the family.  There was the church--and the club--
and the Library Board.  Oh, she was hemmed in on all sides!
Always, every one thought, Mrs. Mason would do this and that and
the other thing.  Why did people think she could attend to so many
duties?  She was just an EASY MARK!  This week, for instance: this
was Monday night; to-morrow afternoon she was to lead the
missionary meeting; to-morrow night the Marstons were coming to
play Somerset.  They came every Tuesday night.  She and John
Marston would bid wildly against Sarah Marston's and Henry's slower
playing, and Henry and Sarah would probably win.  Henry's bidding
was like his banking--calm, studied, conservative.  Then she would
serve sandwiches and fruit salad and coffee.  Why did she rack her
brain to think of dainty new things to feed them every Tuesday
night, just to hear them say, "Lordy, Molly, your things melt in
the mouth!"

Wednesday, the Woman's Club was to meet with her, and besides
entertaining she had to get her paper into better shape to read.
It had been Mrs. Hayes's date, but she couldn't have them--or
didn't want them--and of course they had asked to come to Mrs.
Mason's.  Well, being an easy mark, SHE could put all the chairs
away afterward and pick up the ballots strewn around.

Wednesday night was the church supper.  Why had SHE baked the beans
and made the coffee for YEARS?  Thursday afternoon the Library
Board must meet, and Thursday night Junior's Sunday school class
was to have a party in the basement of the church.  She must go
whether she felt like it or not, and help with the refreshments and
play "Going to Jerusalem" until she was all out of breath and--oh,
WHY did she have to keep on doing so many things for others?  It
was as though she had no personality.  Never a day to herself to do
just as she liked!

Tired and cross, she brushed her hair spitefully.  Then her eyes
fell upon a motto-calendar, silver framed, on the dresser.  In gay
red letters it flaunted itself:

     . . . Know ye not
     Who would be free themselves must strike the blow?

                                         Byron, "Childe Harold."

Could message be more personal?  Underneath the calendar the
detested lower plate of teeth reposed in a little Japanese dish
which was their nightly bed.  She picked them up and held them
distastefully in her hand, so uncannily human, so blatantly
artificial.  And suddenly, born of rebellious mood and childish
desire, was brought forth a plan.

She rose from her chair and undressed.  Then she knelt by the side
of the bed and said her prayer, a little rambling, vague complaint:
"Oh, Lord; I'm so tired of the same things--and everybody expects
so much of me--and there are so many things to do--and it won't be
just a lie--if You know all about it--and why I did it--Amen."

And maybe, to the Good One who heard her, she seemed only a very
fat little girl with a thin little pigtail hanging down her back.

Mother rose stiffly from her knees, snapped out the lights, and lay
down beside the president of the First National Bank, who mumbled
drowsily, "Hut time ist?"

At the breakfast table, Mother casually announced, as though she
were accustomed to these gay little jaunts, that she was taking the
nine-twenty train for Capitol City.  It was like a hand grenade in
their midst.

"YOU, Mother?" . . . "Why" . . . "What for?" . . . "You can't!
It's Missionary Day!" came the shrapnel return.

"She's going to see Doctor Reeve about her plate."  Father had been
previously informed, it seemed.

"Her plate?" . . . "What plate?" . . . "Card plate?" . . .
"Haviland plate?" . . . "Home plate?"  Every one giggled.  The
Great American Family thoroughly appreciates its own wit.

"Sh!"  Marcia tapped her own pretty mouth.

     "The hours I've spent with Doctor Reeve
     Are but a china set to me--
     I count them over, every one apart,
     My crockery!  My crockery!"

They all laughed hilariously, all but Mother.  They were not cruel,
not even impertinent.  But they were intensely fun-loving, a trait
inherited from Mother herself.  Strangely enough, humor, Mother's
faithful partner for fifty-two years, had suddenly turned tail and
fled, leaving only its lifeless mask which she surveyed in tragic
dignity.  Very well, let them make fun of her if they so wished.

There was some discussion as to which one should take Mother to the
train.  She settled it herself; there was a reason why she chose to
walk.  On analysis, she would have discovered that this reason was
not to interrupt the new sensation of feeling sorry for herself.

She would have liked to make the trip to the station in mournful
solitude, but Henry must have been watching for her, for he grabbed
his hat and came running down the bank steps as she passed.

"Have you got plenty of blank checks?" he wanted to know.

All the way down Main Street Henry chatted sociably.  When the
train whistled in he said, "Well, Mother, we'll meet you to-night
on the five-fifty"--and kissed her.  In ordinary times a tender
kiss from any member of her family had the effect of melting Mother
into a substance resembling putty; but to-day she had no more
feeling for her tribe than the cement platform on which she stood.

As she settled herself in the car, Henry came to the window and
said something.  The train was starting and she couldn't hear.  So
he shouted it:  "You sure you got plenty of blank checks?"

"Yes, yes!"

She nodded irritably as though he had said something insulting.

At Capitol City Mother went immediately to the Delevan--rather
timidly, to be sure, for Father had always been with her when they

"Single rooms, three, four and five dollars," said the jaunty

"Five dollars," said Mother boldly, as befitted the wife of Henry
Y. Mason.

There was a little time to shop before lunch, so she walked over to
Sterling's and bought one nightgown, one kimono, and one pair of
soft slippers.  After lunch she sent a telegram to Henry:

          Find lots to be done.  Home Friday night.

Well, she had cut loose, burned her bridges!  For three days she
would escape that long list of energy-killing things.  She would
think of no one but herself, do nothing but what she wished to do.

In the afternoon she sauntered past the movie theaters, reading the
billboards.  To the hurrying passer-by she was only a heavily-
built, motherly-looking person in a gray voile dress and small gray
and black hat.  In reality she was Freedom-from-Her-Mountain-

In the theater, as she took nibbles from a box of candy and
listened to the orchestra, if any thought of the missionary meeting
with its lesson on "Our Work Among the Burmese Women" came to her,
it was in pity for the feminine population of Burma who knew not
the rapture of complete liberty.

She laughed delightedly and wept frankly over the joys and sorrows
of the popular star, who whisked energetically through seven reels.

Out of the theater again, she loitered by the plate glass windows
of the big stores, went in and out as fancy dictated, and bought a
few things--always for herself.

When she returned to the Delevan there was a long-distance call for
her.  It was Henry:  "This you, Mother?  Say, I could just as well
come down on the night train and stay with you until you're all
through your work."

"Oh, no, no," she assured him.  "I'm perfectly all right.  I'm
FINE.  I wouldn't THINK of it."

"You got plenty of blank checks?"

"Yes, YES!"  Mother was smiling into the transmitter.  Her grouch
was as much a thing of the past as the battle of Gettysburg.

At dinner she ordered food for the first time in her life without
running her finger up and down the price column.  After resting a
while in complete comfort, she sallied forth again.  A famous tenor
was singing at the Auditorium.  His "Mother Machree" gave her a
momentary twinge of conscience-itis, but she quickly recovered.
Even the Mother Machree of the song may have had one wild fling
some time in her life.

There were two more whole days of complete emancipation.  Club
afternoon, when she should have read her paper on "Pottery--Ancient
and Modern," she was attending "The Vampire."  She had always
wondered just what that particular blood-sucking animal was like,
and she was finding out.

When she left the theater it was sprinkling, and by dinner time
there was a downpour.  But after dining she went through the storm
to a theater where a merry troupe demonstrated how one may
effectively kick and sing at the same time.  NOW, Mother thought,
as she watched the twinkling heels, the women were clearing up that
awful mess of church-supper dishes and wondering how it happened
they had fallen short of chicken and had three times as many
noodles as they needed.  Thank her stars, SHE had escaped it!

On Thursday she took a long street car ride, read comfortably in
her room, went to two movies, and attended an art exhibit.  The
Library Board was meeting at home, of course, and listening half
the afternoon to the Reverend Mr. Patterson tell how he started a
library at Beaver Junction forty years ago.  Then Junior's class
was cavorting through those never-ending games of "Tin-Tin-Come-In"
and "Beast-Bird-Fish-or-Fowl."  Well, thank fortune, some other
mother was getting a dose of assisting Miss Jenkins with her

Friday morning Mother went up to Doctor Reeve's office.  Friday
afternoon she went home.  On the train she reviewed her pleasurable
three days.  She had solved the problem.  Life need never again
become too strenuous.  How simple it all was.  The foolish part was
that she had never thought of the plan before.  She had only to
slip away in peace and solitude whenever a week piled up with
duties as the past one had.  Good sense told her that she would not
do it often, but it would always lie there before her--the way of
beatific escape.

The train was rumbling through the cut in the Bluffs now, where lay
the ghosts of many dead picnics, rounding the curve toward the
water tank, slowing at the familiar station.  There they were,
Henry and Marcia and Eleanor--assembled as if they were about to
greet the President of the United States.  Junior, hanging by one
arm and leg from a telephone pole, was waving his cap like a
friendly orang-outang.

They kissed her rapturously--the girls and Junior.  Henry's kiss,
while resembling less a combustion, was frankly tender.

"Your dental work hurt you, Mother?"

"Oh, not a great deal."  She was cheerfully brave.

They hung about her, all talking at once as they moved in a tight
little bunch toward the car.

"Kathie's got two girls home from the University for over Sunday,"
they were telling her.  "We had Tillie bake a cake and make
mayonnaise and dress chickens for dinner tonight, but Papa wouldn't
let her fry 'em--wants you to do it.  And, Mamma, you've got to
lead Missionary Meeting next Tuesday, Mrs. Fat Perkins said to tell
you.  They didn't have it last Tuesday."

"And to-night's paper said in the club notes that Mrs. Mason would
read her paper on dishes, or kettles, or something like that next

"Oh, Muz!"  It was Junior jumping backward in front of them and
shouting.  "We didn't have our party--Miss Jenkins said you'd be
back to help next Thursday.  Ain't that dandy?"

"They put off the library meeting till you got home, too."

"Did they?"  A tidal wave of chuckles was forming somewhere in
Mother's stout interior.  "Did they by any possible chance have the
church supper?"

"No, they never," they were all answering.  "It was so rainy, and
they 'phoned around, and they said anyway you weren't here to do
the beans and coffee.  It's next Wednesday."

"Oh, I guess you didn't miss much, Molly."  Henry gave her
substantial arm a friendly squeeze and beamed down at her.  "The
Marstons are coming to-night."

The tidal wave rolled in--or up.  Mother was laughing hysterically.
Humor, her faithful partner for fifty-two years, had returned from
his mysterious vacation, and with the rest of the family had met
Mother at the station.

Mother sat in front of her Circassian walnut dressing table.  It
was eleven o'clock.  She had just come upstairs after setting the
bread.  She removed the heavy gray braid, laid it on the dresser
and let down her scant hair.  Then she took from her mouth the
detested thing--so luridly red, so ghastly white--and surveyed it
critically to see whether there remained a visible trace of the
minute defect that Doctor Reeve's assistant in four minutes had
ground down in his laboratory.

As she laid the plate in its Japanese dish, her eyes fell upon the
silver-framed calendar.  The old date was now ancient history.
Mother removed the card and slipped the new page into place.  In
black and gilt it grinned impishly at her:

Freedom is only in the Land of Dreams.


Mother got into her nightgown and knelt by the bed to say her
prayer.  It was neither vague and wandering, nor was it a
complaint.  It was a concise little expression of gratitude, direct
and sincere:  "Dear Lord:  I always felt that You must have a
humorous side and now I am sure of it.  The joke's on me.  And,
Lord, I'll be good and never be cross again about doing all the
little everyday things for the folks about me.  Amen."

Then she rose, snapped off the lights and lay down beside the
president of the First National Bank, who mumbled sleepily, "Hut
time ist?"



Mother having been introduced, it would be well to get a glimpse of
the other members of the Mason household--a "close-up" of each, as
it were.

Mother herself, standing on that plateau of life where one looks
both hopefully forward and longingly back, felt that life had been
very gracious to her.  It had brought her health, happiness, and
Henry--and sometimes, in a spasm of loyal devotion, she decided
that the greatest of these was Henry.

For thirty-five years Henry Mason had given his time, his thought,
his every waking moment to building up the First National Bank of
Springtown.  He was not only a part of the bank, he WAS the bank.
He knew every man in the community, his financial rating, his
capabilities, his shortcomings, his life history.

The country banker is an entirely different species from your city
banker.  The city banker may hold his hand on the pulse of the
nation's financial ebb and flow, but your country banker lives
close to the hearts of the people.  He is the financial pastor of
his flock.  "Better slow up, Jim," he will say; "you're running
bigger grocery bills than a family of your size ought to have."
And sometimes Jim doesn't like it, says the old man better mind his
own business; but it is noticeable that he takes the advice to

The country banker is also lawyer, judge, physician.  In his little
back office, thick with smoke, spattered with gaudy calendars and
farm-sale bills, he advises his patrons when to sell hogs and when
to marry, when to buy bunches of yearlings and when to have their
appendixes removed.  He carries a burden of confidences that is far
from being merely financial, a burden of greater proportions than
the minister's.

Father was not a great church worker.  His voice was never raised
in the congregation; but not every one who saith Lord, Lord, shall
enter into the kingdom.  His religion was a very simple thing.  He
made no public demonstration of it, but he did a great many things
unto the "least of these."  He saw that more than one load of wood
and sack of potatoes found their way to tumble-down back doors.  He
sent lame Annie Bassert to business school.  When Lizzie Beadle
came into the bank and wanted a loan to take her old mother to the
sanitarium, Father refused the loan at the bank window because
there was no security; but he called Lizzie into the back office
and made out his personal check to her.  Business was business at
the grated window, but the back office was his own.

Once the influential members of the community wanted to send Father
to the legislature.  It pleased him immensely, but he would have
given his right hand rather than let on how gratified was his
pride.  He thought it all over and then, "Thank you, boys," he
said; "guess I'd better just stay here and saw wood."  He was a son
of the soil, was Henry Mason.  He had come from good old farmer
stock.  One of his earliest recollections was lying flat on the
bottom of a prairie schooner and watching the coarse wild grass
billow away from the big wooden wheels.

That very characteristic, love of the soil, was his greatest asset
as a country banker.  The members of the bank force had a joke
among themselves concerning this.  It was about farm sales.  That
is another phase of country banking of which your city banker lives
in dark and fathomless ignorance.  In the country communities of
the great Mid-West, the winter and early spring dispersion sales
draw vast crowds of buyers to the various farms.  To each sale goes
the farmer's banker to set up a miniature place in which to do
banking business for the day.  It is usually the cashier or an
assistant who is listed for the work, seldom the older president,
for the work is dirty, the whole day hard.

Father, however, reveled in the earth smells, the tramping stock,
the call of the auctioneer, the noon-day lunch in the farmyard.  On
the morning of a sale day he talked of nothing else.  He asked each
customer as soon as he stepped inside the bank if he intended
going.  He walked around restlessly, looking out of the big windows
at the sky, wondering what the weather would be.

D. T. Smith, the cashier, and Bob Mason, and the other two boys
would all wink at each other.  Bob might say, "Gee, I certainly
hate to go out in this wind."  Father always fell for it.  "Wind?
My golly, Son, that's just a little breeze."

"Don't feel like going yourself, do you, Father?"

And Father, trying not to answer too hastily that he'd just as soon
go if Bob didn't want to, could scarcely get away fast enough to
the locker, where he kept an old moth-eaten Galloway coat, an
equally dilapidated cap, and a pair of hip boots.  He would leave
for the sale as happy as a little boy going on a fishing trip, and
the minute the door closed the force would laugh and chuckle at the
joke before settling down to the cleaner indoor work of the day.

To Mother a farm sale was always a trial.  In addition to the mud-
spattered condition in which Father often returned, he always
bought something, some outlandish worn-out thing for which they had
no possible use.

"Nobody bid on it," Father would explain apologetically, as though
the statement vindicated him.

As some men collect Sir Joshua Reynolds and Corots, so Father
collected odds and ends from the farm sales.  Once he bought a
broken grindstone, and one time a sickly calf, and once a pair of
collapsible bedsprings that collapsed perfectly but failed to have
any other virtue.

"He's missed his calling," Marcia would say pertly before him.
"He's really by nature and inclination a junk dealer, you know."

"He can't help it, poor dear!" Katherine would add.  "Some men
can't resist gambling, but Father can't resist bidding on old

"I'm saving them for your wedding presents, Kathie," Father would
retort good-naturedly, which lately had the effect of bringing a
shell-pink ripple of color to Katherine's smooth cheek.

Katherine was the eldest Mason daughter, serious-eyed, lithe and
lovely--and just graduated from the State University.  In the bosom
of her family Katherine held the self-appointed office of Head
Critic.  With zeal and finesse she engaged in constant attempts to
manage the activities of the other Masons.  Their manners, their
grammar, their very opinions on art, literature, and music were
supervised by the eldest daughter and sister.  To be sure, results
were far from satisfactory to the ardent critic; the Masons,
individually and collectively being of a too independent
disposition to follow dictation, sheeplike.  At Katherine's
unceasing efforts to bring them all up to certain standards of
propriety, they merely shrugged their shoulders and went blithely
on their respective ways.  They loved her, but they did not obey

Marcia, the second daughter, was only a year younger than Katherine
and had completed her Junior year at the University.  There is in
this world an occasional gay, care-free person who seems to be
wafted not only to the skies but through life itself on flowery
beds of ease.  Such a rara avis was Marcia.  While Katherine's
nature was of a sweet seriousness and given to earnest study,
Marcia's was neither of these.

If she was serious, she concealed it admirably.  Her studying was
usually a very hasty procedure, conducted on the way down a
corridor to her recitation room.  She had a flour-sieve mind,
warranted to hold a great deal of information for at least twenty

"I always volunteer during the first part of the recitation while
the going's good," she brazenly told at home, "then my silence
isn't so conspicuous when the road gets rough."

Things seemed to come Marcia's way.

"I was born under a lucky star," she often told the family.  And
the family almost believed it.

In appearance she was undeniably lovely, and, as one of her aunts
said, "as likable as she was lookable."  No one could say she was
lazy about the house.  She simply made a wise and far-sighted
choice of household tasks.  Soon after she had enthusiastically
offered to shell the peas, it became apparent to the other girls
that the pea-shelling operation carried on under the breeze-swept
grape arbor was greatly preferable to doing the dishes in the hot
kitchen or making countless beds.

"Marcia certainly has the happy faculty of slipping through life
easily," Mother would sometimes say in exasperation to Father.

"Well, Mother, I don't know any one in the family that makes more
friends," Father would remind her.

Which brings us to Father and Mother Mason's attitude toward and
about their children.  For twenty-six years they had argued over
them, but always when they were alone.  Toward the children they
presented a solid front.  If Mother chose to reprove, Father either
assisted at the ceremony or kept silent.  And vice versa.  It is a
fine old policy.  It has been effective since the days of Abraham
and Sarah.

When they were alone, however, they argued it out.  And the strange
part is that neither one always took the same side.  If Mother
found fault with some characteristic of her offspring, Father
immediately made excuses for it.  If Father offered the complaint,
Mother flew to her child's defense like a mother bear.

In this instance Father was right about Marcia's friends.
Everybody liked her, the teachers and old people and children, and
Hod Beeson, who brought the coal, and Lizzie Beadle, the town

When Marcia went away to school, it was as though a great deal of
the sunshine of the Mason home had gone with her.  When she
returned for vacations, everything and every one, from the piano to
Tillie, seemed to brighten at her coming.  After all, the old world
needs more of them--these people who turn to joyousness as the
tides run to meet the moon.

Each time Marcia came home she had new tales to tell.  And Father
and Mother, who came to reprove, remained to laugh.

"Say, folks," she would begin, "I had to write a thesis on some
form of lower animal life for old Prof. Briggs in zology class,
and what I know about zology you could put in a SPOON.  So I wrote
about a starfish--sort of from the fiction standpoint--and they
told me old Prof. Briggs laughed till he nearly cried over the joys
and sorrows of that little echinoderm--I GUESS it's an echinoderm.
I got a grade of excellent, and all I know about a starfish to this
DAY is that it has five points and WIGGLES."

"You can't go through life side-stepping that way, my girl," Father
sermonized after he had suppressed a chuckle.  "One of these days
you'll bump up against something mighty serious and wish you'd
applied yourself."

"Don't preach, Father!"  Marcia rubbed a pink and white cheek
against Father's graying hair.  "When that time comes I'll be like
Sentimental Tommy--I'll find a way."  And softhearted old Father
hoped it was true.

No one ever spoke of Eleanor, the sixteen-year-old daughter, as
being pretty.  By the side of Katherine's Madonnalike sweetness and
Marcia's loveliness, Eleanor was rather plain, but she was merry
hearted, and a merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance.

Instead of being the possessor of large, luminous eyes like the
other girls, she had smaller, twinkling ones, like Mother's.  Most
people laugh first with their mouths, but when anything pleased
Eleanor, which was about four hundred times a day, there came a
little crinkling at the corner of her lids so that her eyes seemed
to laugh before their mirth communicated itself to her generous

Of the three girls she had always been the most hoydenish.  Many an
old lady in Springtown could testify to having been nearly
frightened out of her wits at the diabolical speed with which
Eleanor Mason rode a bicycle.  She could hold her own in baseball,
and she was the star guard of the high school basketball team.

Clothes she considered mere articles of apparel, worn from the
necessity of being decently covered.  It was sometimes recalled in
the family that once, to give Eleanor more pride in her clothes,
Mother had sent her to Lizzie Beadle, with two nice pieces of serge
and the instructions to plan both dresses herself.  On the way
Eleanor had encountered Junior and a crowd of neighborhood boys,
who wanted her to pitch for them.  She had rushed up to the house
of the Beadle lady, thrust the bundle in the door and called out,
"Make 'em just alike, Miss Beadle," and taken herself off to the
more glowing pleasures of the Mason cow pasture.

Boys she looked upon simply as the male of the species, somewhat to
be envied for having been endowed by the gods with stronger right
arms and an apparent aptitude for mathematics, denied to Eleanor

To be sure, there was a Land of Romance, but it was peopled with no
one she had really ever seen.  The Prince and the Sleeping Beauty
were there, and Laurie and Amy from the pages of Little Women, and
Babbie and the little minister.  If there occasionally walked some
one in the shadowy forest that seemed to belong to her, alone, he
was too far away and vague to take on any semblance of reality.

Junior was eleven.  The statement is significant.

There are a few peevish people in the world who believe that all
eleven-year-old boys ought to be hung.  Others, less irritable,
think that gently chloroforming them would seem more humane.  A
great many good-natured folks contend that incarceration for a
couple of years would prove the best way to dispose of them.

Just how Springtown was divided in regard to Junior and his crowd
of cronies depended largely upon the amiability of its citizens.
But practically every one looked upon that crowd as he looked upon
other pests: rust, sparrows, moth millers, and potato bugs.  As the
boys came out of school tearing wildly down the street with Apache
yells, more than one staid citizen had been seen to cross the road
hurriedly as one would get out of the way of fire engines, or
molten lava rolling down from Vesuvius.

There were a dozen or more boys in the crowd, but the ringleaders
were Runt Perkins, Shorty Marston, and Junior Mason, and the only
similarity between charity and Junior was that the greatest of
these was Junior.

At home, by the united efforts of the other members of the Mason
family, he was kept subdued into something resembling civilized
man.  Mother ruled him with a firm hand but an understanding heart.
The girls made strenuous efforts to assist in his upbringing, but
their gratuitous services were not kindly looked upon by the young
man, who believed it constituted mere butting-in.

Katherine it was who took upon herself the complete charge of his
speech.  Not an insignificant "have went" nor an infinitesimal "I
seen" ever escaped the keen ears of his eldest sister, who
immediately corrected him.  Mother sometimes thought Katherine a
little severe when, in the interest of proper speaking, she would
stop him in the midst of an exciting account of a home-run.  There
were times, thought Mother, when the spirit of the thing was so
much more important than the flesh in which it was clothed.

For arithmetic Junior showed such an aptitude that Father was wont
to say encouragingly, "You'll be working in the bank one of these
days, Son."  At which "Son" would glow with a legitimate pride that
quickly faded before the sight of a certain dull red book entitled
Working Lessons in English Grammar.  Katherine labored patiently
many an evening to assist in bringing Junior and the contents of
this particular volume somewhere within hailing distance of each
other.  Painstakingly she would go over the ground with him in
preparation for his lessons, to be met with a situation something
like this:

"Now we're ready.  Read the first sentence, Junior."

And Junior would earnestly and enthusiastically sing-song:  "'He
TOOK his COAT down FROM the NAIL withOUT a word of WARNing.'"

"What's the subject, Junior?  Now think!"

"Coat," Junior would answer promptly.  Then, seeing Katherine's
grieved look, he would change quickly to "Nail."  And when the look
deepened to disgust he would grow wild and begin guessing
frantically:  "Warning?  Took?  From?"

Of the three girls Eleanor was his best friend.  Rather boyish
herself, she was still not so far removed from the glamour of ball
games in the back pasture, the trapping of gophers, and circuses in
the barn, but that the two held many things in common.

It was Marcia who was his arch enemy.  Not that she committed any
serious offenses.  It was her attitude that exasperated him.  She
had a trick of perpetrating a lazy little smile on his every act, a
smile that was of a surpassing superiority.  And she had a way of
always jumping at the conclusion that he was dirty.  "Go WASH your
HANDS!" was her sisterly greeting whenever he approached.  She used
it as consistently toward him as she used "How do you do?" to other
people.  Junior would jump into a heated argument over his perfect
cleanliness, a discussion that consumed more time than an entire
bath would have taken.

With catalogue-like completeness this finishes the list of the
Mason family members who were still at home, for Bob and his young
wife, Mabel, and the new baby girl who had recently arrived, lived
two blocks away.  Like a supplement to the register, however, there
still remains Tillie who was as much a part of the household as
Father or the kitchen sink.

Tillie Horn--her church letter and bank book said Matilda Horn--had
lived in the Mason household for eighteen years.  Accordingly to
present-day standards her position there was hard to define.
Guest?  No.  Mother silently put a check on the kitchen clock shelf
every Saturday morning, and Tillie as surreptitiously removed it
sometime during the day.  It was one of Tillie's forty odd
characteristics that she disliked to speak of her wages.  Several
times in the eighteen years, as the H. C. of L. thrust itself with
nightmare ferocity on an unwary world, the amount on the check had
been voluntarily raised by Mother, to which Tillie had made
grateful and appreciative response, "Wha'd you do that silly thing

Domestic servant?  The day the new doctor's wife returned Mother's
call, she asked affably, "Do you find your servant satisfactory?"
As smooth as lubricating oil, Mother answered, "I have none.  My
old friend Miss Horn lives with us and helps me."  Then she called
pleasantly, "Come in, Tillie, and meet Mrs. Cummings."  Which of
course was not at all according to Hoyle.  But then Mother did not
do things by footrules and yardsticks.  She did them by friendly
instinct.  And when you stop to think about it, that is a fairly
good definition of a lady and a Christian.

No, Tillie was not a servant.  For those eighteen years she had
alternately worked like a Trojan or "slicked up" and gone
comfortably to Mite Societies and Missionary Meetings with Mother.

The two had known each other years before in the more or less
pleasant intimacy of a cross-roads schoolhouse, where Tillie's
education had abruptly ceased.  Mother had gone away to school,
taught, been married, and was in the midst of the triple-ringed
circus act of trying to raise three babies at once when Tillie
dropped in one day between trains to call upon her.  That call had
lasted eighteen years, broken only by two intervals.

In appearance Tillie was all that any enterprising movie director
could desire.  She was tall, angular, homely.  Her long neck,
rising from the habitually worn, dull gray kitchen dress, was
slightly crooked, like a Hubbard squash's.  Hair, to Tillie, meant
nothing by way of being a woman's crowning glory.  It was merely,
as the dictionary so ably states, small horny, fibrous tubes with
bulbous roots, growing out of the skins of mammals; and it was
meant to be combed down as flat as possible and held in place with
countless wire hairpins.  Her eyes were small and nondescript in
color, her mouth and nose large, and her teeth of a glaring china-
white falseness.  Altogether, it was a lucky thing for Tillie that
while man looketh on the outward appearance the Lord looketh on the
heart.  For Tillie's heart was as good as gold, and was buried
under just about the same proportion of crusty exterior as the
yellow metal under the earth.

Tillie's sense of humor, or lack of it, was not an understandable
thing to the fun-loving Masons.  The ancient author who copyrighted
most of the wise sayings of the world once stated that there was a
time to weep and a time to laugh.  Tillie seemed never to know when
that time was.  Over things that the whole family shouted about,
she maintained a dignified and critical silence.  On the other
hand, she would occasionally break out into a high, weird, hen-like
cackle over the most trivial thing imaginable.  If the Masons
laughed then, it was not at the trifling joke but because Tillie
herself was so odd.

"My stars!  Listen to Tillie!" one of the girls would say.  "I'll
bet a nickel she's just found out it's Thursday morning instead of

"Or picked up the egg beater instead of the potato masher," another
would guess.

No, in spite of the long association with a family whose chief
delight in life was the foolish little fun extracted by the way,
Tillie's sense of humor was almost negligible.  And it is easier
for the keeper of five cinnamon bears to control his charges
without chains and a prodding pole, than it is for any member of a
household that contains five hilarious young people to exist
comfortably with them, minus a highly developed sense of humor.

A buffer being any contrivance that serves to deaden the concussion
caused by the impact of two bodies, it became apparent, when the
children were growing up, that such an apparatus was needed between
them and Tillie.  And with that clear perception with which some
people see their duty, Mother very early discovered that she,
herself, must be that device.  During all these years she had stood
between her noisy, merry brood and this old friend, whose ideas of
life were invoiced in terms of sweeping and scrubbing.

With that capacity for sinking herself in another's personality,
Mother could clearly see both sides of a situation, and as for the
diplomatic handling of it, she was an able ambassador to the Court
of the Kitchen.  So she had tactfully handled each affaire
d'honneur from the days when Bob's kites littered up the back
porch, through the period of the girls messing around with dough,
down to Junior's high jinks.  Firmly had she made a stand for
Tillie's right to have certain hours in the day to herself, and
stanchly had she defended the children's legitimate desires for
picnic lunches and other childish necessities.  Yes, Mother
certainly deadened the concussion caused by the impact of two

The two intervals in which Tillie had not worked for the Masons
were occasions when she had become vaguely dissatisfied and gone
away to live permanently with her own relatives.  The first time,
after being gone two months, she wrote Mother and asked if she
might come back, that she couldn't abide her sister's husband and
would die happy if she could only put him in her mop stick and
scrub the kitchen floor with him.

The other time she had gone to a cousin's, returning in three weeks
with the information that her cousin's daughters both had beaus,
and they made her sick with what she chose to call their "lally-
gagging" around.  Aversion to the display of sentiment being
another of Tillie's characteristics, no one was surprised.

If she ever had a romance of her own, no one knew of it.  It was
often recalled in the family that Hod Beeson, erstwhile a drayman
by profession and a widower by Providence, had once come to the
back door on a Sunday night, dressed in his best.  To the
unsuspecting Tillie who opened the door this smiling Lochinvar had
ventured jauntily, "It's a nice evening, Miss Horn."  But, unlike
Ellen of Netherby Hall, Tillie had snapped out, "Maybe so.  I ain't
noticed it," and peremptorily shut the door.

With this intimate view of the Mason family whose members form the
cast of characters--the stage the comfortable, commodious home of a
middle-west country banker--the little plays are ready.  And let
only those of you who can sense the fun and tragedy in the everyday
ups-and-down of the ordinary American family, the kind of folks
that live next door to you and me--read on.



In the week that followed Mother's return from Capitol City, she
slipped back into the old routine with doubled energy, attending
cheerfully all the meetings which she so gullibly believed she had
missed in her dash for liberty.  But through it all one great event
stood out with arc light brilliancy: that on Sunday the family was
to entertain company.

Entertaining company in itself was nothing unusual, the Sundays in
which it occurred probably outnumbering those in which the family
ate alone.  But on this coming June Sunday it was the guest-to-be,
himself, who was out of the ordinary.

Specifically, he was to be Katherine's company, but the family had
been cautioned by Mother that they were by no manner of means to
refer to him as Katherine's individual acquisition.

The coming guest, Keith Baldridge, was assistant professor of
history in Katherine's Alma Mater.  He was thirty-two and
unmarried.  No, he was not Katherine's fianc--Katherine's manner
dared any one to suggest it.  As a matter of fact, their friendship
was at that very delicate stage where the least breath might
shrivel the emerging chrysalis, or blow it into a gorgeous-winged
creature of Love.

In the meantime, it was going to be an awful strain on the family
to have him come.  Mother was already feeling the effects of
Katherine's attempts to make over the entire family in the four
days intervening before his arrival.

"How long's Bald Head goin' to stay?" Junior wanted to know at the
supper table in the middle of the week.

"There he goes, Mamma," Katherine said plaintively.  "Can't you
keep him from saying those horrid things?"

"My son," Father addressed him from the head of the table, "have
you ever heard of the children in the Bible who were eaten by bears
when they said, 'Go up, thou bald head'?"  Junior grinned
appreciatively, realizing he was not being very violently reproved.

"If you could just know, Mamma, how different the Baldridge home is
from ours!"  Katherine was in the kitchen now, assisting Mother and
Tillie.  "Our family is so talkative and noisy, and laughs over
every little silly thing, and there is so much CONFUSION.  Why, at
their dinners--beside Professor Baldridge there's just his father
and an aunt, both SO aristocratic--at their dinners it's so quiet
and the conversation is so ENLIGHTENING--about Rodin, and--and
Wagner--and, oh, maybe Milton's 'Il Penseroso'--you know what I
mean--so much more REFINED."

At that word, Mother had an unholy desire to recall to the
polished, critical girl before her the days when she used to hang,
head downward, from the apple tree, her abbreviated skirts
obediently following the direction of her head.  But she forbore.
Mothers are like that.

"And I wish you could SEE their house.  It's not as big as ours,
and really no nicer, but, oh! the ATMOSPHERE!  The hangings are
gray or mauve or dark purple--and they keep the shades down so much
lower than ours--so it's peaceful, you know, like twilight all the

"My stars!  Ain't that a gloomy way to live, and unhealthy, too, I
must say."  It was Tillie speaking acridly with the familiarity
which comes from having braided a little girl's hair and officiated
at the coming out party of her first tooth.

"And pictures!" Katherine went on, ignoring Tillie's disgusted
remark.  "Why, folks, in one room there's just ONE, a dull dim, old
wood scene, and so ARTISTIC.  You can imagine how Papa's bank
calendar in our dining room just makes me SICK.  And they have a
Japanese servant.  You never hear him coming, but suddenly he's
right there at your elbow, so quiet and--"

"My good land!  How spooky!"

"Oh, Tillie, NO!  It's the most exquisite service you ever saw--to
have him gliding in and out and anticipating your every wish."

"Well, Kathie, I'll wait table for you, and glad to, but I ain't
goin' to do no slippin' around like that heathen, as if I was at a
spiritual sance, I can promise you that."

"Thank you, Tillie, and, Tillie, when you pass things to him,
please don't say anything to him, he's so used to that unobtrusive
kind of being waited on--and he's so quiet and reserved himself."

"Well, if I had a glum man like that, I'd mop the floor with him."
Tillie was always going to mop the floor with some one.

At that, Katherine left the kitchen with dignity, which gave Tillie
a chance to say, "Ain't she the beatenest!  I declare, she riles me
so this week!"  To which Mother replied, "Don't be too hard on her,
Tillie.  It's exasperating, I know; but she's nervous.  Sakes
alive!  Don't I remember to this day just how I felt sitting around
in a new lavender lawn dress thinking Henry might come.  He had a
pair of spotted ponies, and went driving furiously past our farm
for three different evenings before he had the courage to stop."
And Mother laughed at the recollection.

It was a characteristic of Mother's--this being able to project
herself into another's personality.  In the days that followed she
seemed to live a Jekyll-Hyde existence.  She was her own
exasperated self because of Katherine's constant haranguing about
the way things ought to be, and she was Katherine, sensitive,
easily affected, standing quiveringly in the wings of the stage at
the Great Play--waiting for her cue.

Because of this trait, Mother had known, to her finger tips, the
griefs and joys of each member of her family--how Father felt the
year bank deposits dropped forty-five per cent, how Junior felt
when he made the grammar Nine.  Some call it sympathy.  Others call
it discernment.  In reality, it is the concentrated essence of all
the mother wisdom of the ages.

Mother was worried, too.  She had never seen Keith Baldridge, and
numerous questions of doubt filled her mind.  What manner of man
was this that lived in a house of perpetual twilight?

The family managed to live through Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
The word SUNDAY seemed to have a portentous meaning, as though it
were the day set apart for a cyclone, or something dreadful was to
happen to the sun.

Professor Baldridge was coming in his car sometime in the morning.
He had to leave in the afternoon, as he was to go around by Miles
City to get his aunt, who was visiting there, and take her home.
In truth, that had been his excuse for coming at all.

It came--SUNDAY.  To the Mason family it was "Der Tag."  It proved
to be a still, hot morning, full of humidity and the buzzing and
bumbling of insects.

At the breakfast table Katherine gave the last of her multitudinous
directions.  "Mamma, I wish you'd MUZZLE Junior.  Make him promise
not to OPEN his head."

"My child"--Mother's tone signified that it was making its last
patient stand--"Junior shall be the pink of propriety, I assure
you; but not for the President of the United States would I
frighten one of my children into silence."

Simultaneously, Marcia and Eleanor hooted.  "Imagine anybody being
able to frighten Junior into silence!" was their combined

After breakfast, Katherine, like General Pershing, reviewed her
troops, the house and the grounds.  From vestibule to back porch,
through the big reception hall, library, living-room, sun-parlor,
everything was immaculate.  There was not a flicker of dust in the
house.  There was not a stick or dead leaf on the lawn.

Marcia, Eleanor, and Junior all trooped off to Sunday school and
Father followed later to church, but Mother and Tillie stood by the
guns, preparing ammunition in the form of salad and chicken.
Katherine, who by this time was in such a palpitating state of
heart that she could not assist intelligently at anything, went
upstairs to dress.

When she had finished--she decided on white after having had on a
pink and a pale green--she sat down on her cedar chest, with eyes
glued on the driveway.  For some time she sat there, starting up at
the sound of every car.  Then she saw some one turning in at the
front walk.  He was short and slightly stooped.  He carried a cane,
but seemed to hobble along without using it.  He wore store clothes
too large for him and a black, wide-brimmed felt hat over his white
hair.  IT WAS GRANDPA, Grandpa Warner, who lived with another
daughter on his old home farm, and had evidently come to surprise
Mother's family.

Katherine started up with a cry.  Not that!  Oh, not Grandpa TO-
DAY!  It was too cruel!  Why, Grandpa monopolized conversation with
his reminiscences, and at the table he did unspeakable things with
his knife.

The good fairy which is called Memory reminded Katherine of the
days when she had slipped her hand into Grandpa's and gone skipping
along with him through dewy, honey-sweet clover to drive the cows
down to the lower pasture; days when she had snuggled down by him
in the old homemade sleigh and been whirled through an elfland of
snow-covered trees and ice-locked rivulets; days that seemed then
to embody to her all the happiness that time could hold.  But she
turned coldly away from the wistful fairy, and looked bitterly out
upon a day that was unconditionally spoiled.

Carrying herself reluctantly downstairs, she perfunctorily greeted
the old man.  Mother, the happy moisture in her eyes, was making a
great fuss over him.  Temporarily she had forgotten that such a
personage as Keith Baldridge existed.

Back in a few moments to her room, Katherine continued her watchful

A car turned in at the driveway, a long, low, gray car and Keith
Baldridge, in ulster and auto cap, stepped out.  At the sight of
the figure that was almost never out of her mind, she dropped on
her knees by the cedar chest and covered her face with her hands,
as though the vision blinded her.  And those who think her only
ridiculously sentimental do not understand how the heart of a girl
goes timidly down the Great White Road to meet its mate.

As for Mother, when Keith Baldridge grasped her hand, her own heart
dropped from something like ninety beats to its normal seventy-two.
He was big and athletic-looking, and under well-modeled brows shone
gray-blue eyes that were unmistakably frank and kind.  With that
God-given intuition of Mother's she knew that he was CLEAN--clean
in mind and soul and body.  And quite suddenly she wanted him for
her girl, wanted him as ardently as Katherine herself.  Well, SHE
would do everything in her power to make his stay pleasant and to
follow out Katherine's desires.

So she hurried to the kitchen to see that everything was just as
she knew Katherine wanted it.  She saw that the crushed fruit was
chilled, that the salad was crisp, that the fried chicken was
piping hot.  The long table looked lovely, she admitted.  Just
before she called them in, Mother pulled the shades down part way,
so that the room seemed "peaceful--you know, like twilight."

They all came trooping in, Father continuing what he had evidently
begun on the porch, a cheerful monologue on the income tax law.
Bob and Mabel, who had arrived with the new baby in the reed cab
that Father had given them, held a prolonged discussion as to where
the cab and its wonderful contents could most safely stand during

With that old-fashioned notion that "men-folks like to talk
together," Mother placed Keith Baldridge and Bob and Grandpa up at
the end of the table by Father.

As they were being seated, Father said in that sprightly way which
always came to him when a royal repast confronted him, "What's the
matter with the curtains?"  Then walking over to the windows with
the highly original remark, "Let's have more light on the subject,"
he snapped the shades up to the limit.  The June sun laughed
fiendishly at Mother as it flashed across the cut glass and china
and the huge low bowl of golden nasturtiums.  Mother felt like
shaking Father, but of course she couldn't get up and jerk the
shades down again, like Xanthippe or Mrs. Caudle.

Tillie, with an exaggerated tiptoeing around the table, began
passing the plates as Father served them.  Previously, there had
been a little tilt between Mother and Katherine over the coffee,
the latter wanting it served at the close of the meal, "like real
people," but Mother had won with, "Father would just ask for it,
Kathie, so what's the use?"  And now Tillie was saying hospitably,
"Will you have coffee, Mr. Bald--Bald--?"  At which Junior snorted
in his glass of water, and received the look of a lieutenant-
colonel from Mother.

There was a little interval of silence as the dinner started, then
Grandpa looked down the table toward Katherine and said in his old,
cracked voice, "Well, Tattern!"  It was her childish nickname, put
away on the shelf with her dolls and dishes.  It sounded
particularly silly to-day.  "What you goin' to do with yourself now
you've graduated?"

"I'm going to teach in the Miles City High School, Grandfather."
She had never said Grandfather before; he'd always been "Grandpa"
to her, but the exigencies of the occasion seemed to call for the
more dignified term.

"What you goin' to teach?"

"History," she said briefly, and flushed to the roots of her hair.
Marcia and Eleanor exchanged knowing grins.

"Then git married, I s'pose, and hev no more use fer your history?
That makes me think of somethin' that happened back in Illynois.
It was a pretty big thing fer anybody from our neck of the woods to
go to college, but Abner Hoskins went, and when he was 'most
through he got drowned.  At the funeral Old Lady Stearns walked
round the casket and looked down at the corpse 'n' shook her head
'n' said:  'My!  My!  What a lot o' good larnin' gone to waste.'"

Every one laughed.  Katherine's own contribution to the general
fund was of a sickly, artificial variety.

"You came here from Illinois at an early date, I suppose, Mr.
Warner?" Keith Baldridge asked.

It was like a match to dynamite--no, like a match to a straw stack,
a damp straw stack that would burn all afternoon.  Grandpa looked
as pleased as a little boy.

"YES, sir--it was 1865.  I fought with the old Illynois boys first,
'n' then I loaded up and come, with teams of course.  That was a
great trip, that was.  Yes, SIR!  I mind, fer instance, how we
crossed a crick with a steep bank, and the wagon tipped over, 'n'
our flour--there was eight sacks--spilled in the water.  Well, sir,
would you believe them sacks of flour wasn't harmed, we got 'em out
so quick?  The water 'n' flour made a thin paste on the outside 'n'
the rest wasn't hurt.  I rec'lect the youngsters runnin' barelegged
down the crick after Ma's good goosefeather pillows that was
floating away."

Two scarlet spots burned on Katherine's cheeks.  She raised
miserable eyes that had been fixed steadily upon her plate to see
Keith Baldridge looking at Grandpa in amazement.  What was he
thinking?  Comparing Grandpa with his own father, dignified and

On and on went Grandpa.  "Yes, sir--the year I'm tellin' you about
now was the year the grasshoppers come, 1874."

Marcia kicked Katherine under the table.  "Same old flock has
arrived," she whispered.

"They come in the fall, you know, 'n' et the corn, 'n' then the gol-
durn things had the gall to stay all winter 'n' hatch in the
spring.  Why, there wasn't nothin' raised that summer but broom-
corn 'n' sorghum-cane.  You'd be surprised to know they left them
two things."  There was a great deal more information about the
grasshoppers, and then:  "Yes, sir, me'n Ma had the first sod house
in Cass County.  'N' poor!  Why, Job's turkey belonged in
Rockefeller's flock by the side o' us.  I had one coat, 'n' Ma one
dress, fer I don't know how long, 'n' Molly over there"--he pointed
with his knife to Mother, who smiled placidly back--"Molly had a
little dress made outen flour sacks.  The brand of flour had been
called 'Hellas,' like some foreign country--Eyetalian or somethin'.
Ma got the words all outen the dress but the first four letters of
the brand, 'n' there it was right across Molly's back 'H-E-L-L,'
'n' Ma had to make some kind o' knittin' trimmin' to cover it up."

Every one laughed hilariously, Mother most of all.  Junior shouted
as though he were in a grandstand.  Katherine gave a very good
imitation of a lady laughing while taking a tablespoonful of castor

"Well, Grandpa!"  It was Father, when he could speak again.  "She's
had several dresses of later years that cost like that, but I never
saw the word actually printed out on them."

Oh, it was awful!  What would he think?  He was laughing--but of
course he would laugh!  He was the personification of courtesy and
tact.  Talk about Wagner--"Il Penseroso"--Rodin!  To Katherine's
sensitive mind there stood behind Keith Baldridge's chair a
ghostly, sarcastically-smiling group of college professors,
ministers, lawyers, men in purple knickers and white wigs and
plumed hats--gentlemen--aristocrats--patricians.

Behind her own chair stood sweaty farmers with scythes, white-
floured millers, woodsmen with axes over their shoulders, rough old
sea-captains--common folks--PLEBEIANS.

Her heart was an icicle within her.  All the old longing for Keith
Baldridge, all the desire to be near him, died out.  With a
sickening feeling that she was living in a nightmare, she only
wanted the day to be over, so that he would go home, so that she
could go to the cool dimness of her own room and be alone.

The dinner was over.  Father, with the same nonchalance that he
would have displayed had he been dining the Cabinet members, walked
coolly into the library, and with the automobile section of the
paper over his face prepared to take his Sunday nap.

Katherine, unceremoniously leaving Mr. Baldridge to the rest of the
family, slipped out to the kitchen to wipe dishes for Mother and

"Why, Kathie, you go right back!" Mother insisted.

"Let me be," she said irritably.  "I know what I want to do."

Mother, giving her eldest daughter a swift look, had a savage
desire to take her across her knee and spank her, even as in days
of yore.

The work done, Katherine walked slowly up the back stairs, bathed
and powdered her flushed face, and with a feeling that life held
nothing worth while went down to join the family.  As she stopped
in the vestibule and surveyed the scene it seemed to her that it
could not have been worse.

The porch seemed as crowded with people as a street fair.  Father
had finished his nap, and was yawning behind his paper.  Eleanor's
entire crowd of high school girls had stopped for her to take the
Sunday afternoon walk which took place whether the thermometer
stood at zero or 102 in the shade.  They were all sitting along on
top of the stone railing like a row of magpies.

Bob was wheeling the baby up and down, Mabel watching him, hawk-
eyed, as though she suspected him of harboring intentions of
tipping the cab over.  Mother, red faced from the dinner work, was
calling cheerily to a neighbor woman, "You've lots of grit to get
out in this hot sun."  Marcia, in the living-room, had just
finished "The Mill on the Cliff" record, and was starting "The
Sextette from Lucia," the fanfare of the trumpets literally tearing
the air.

Grandpa, for Keith Baldridge's benefit, was dilating on the never-
ending subject of grasshoppers.  As he paused, Tillie, in her best
black silk, came around the corner of the porch and sat down near
the guest with "Be you any relation to the Baldridges down in East
Suffolk, Connecticut?"  (Oh, WHAT would he think of Tillie, who had
waited on him, doing that?)  Junior, on the other side of Mr.
Baldridge, was making frantic attempts to show him a disgusting eel
in an old fish globe that was half full of slimy green water.  Even
the Maltese cat was croqueting herself in and out through Professor
Baldridge's legs.  To Katherine's hypersensitive state of mind the
confusion was as though all Chinatown had broken out.

With a feeling of numb indifference, she stepped out on the porch.
Keith Baldridge rose nimbly to his feet.  "Now, good people," he
said pleasantly, apparently unabashed, "I'm going to take Miss
Katherine away for a while in the car.  You'll all be here, will
you, when I get back?"

Katherine went down the steps with him, no joy in her heart--
nothing but a sense of playing her part callously in a scene that
would soon end.

It was outrageously hot in the car.  "How about going where it's
cooler.  Is there some woodsy place around here?" he wanted to

So Katherine obediently directed him to Springtown's prettiest
picnic spot and, almost without conversation, they made a run for
its beatific shade.  As they walked over to the bank of the river,
the man said, "I'm certainly elated over the find I made to-day."

"Find?" Katherine questioned politely.

"Yes--your grandfather.  He's a wonderful man.  He's promised to
come to my home next week and stay several days with me.  He's just
what I've been looking for, an intelligent man who has lived
through the early history of the state and whose memory is so keen
that he can recall hundreds of anecdotes.  I am working on a
history of the state, and my plan is to have it contain stories of
vividness and color, little dramatic events which are so often
omitted from the state's dull archives.  From the moment he began
to talk I realized what a gold mine I had struck.  I could scarcely
refrain from having a pad and pencil in my hand all the time I was
listening to him.  Why, he's a GREAT character--one of the typical
pathfinders--sturdy, honorable, and lovable.  You must be very
proud of him."

"I--am," said Katherine feebly.

"Take, for instance, my chapter on the early political life of the
state.  Do you know he told me that one election day, when it came
time for the polls to close, every one in the locality had voted
but himself.  He was miles away, hauling merchandise home from the
river.  A man got on a horse, rode over into the next county to
meet him, then they exchanged places, your grandfather hurrying
home on horseback while they held open the polls for him.  It so
happened that when the votes were counted, there had been a tie
and, of course, his vote had decided the issue.  Now, isn't that

Miss Mason acknowledged that it was.

"I'm a little cracked on the subject of these old pioneers," he
went on.  "To me they were the bravest, the most wonderful people
in the world.  Look at it!"  He threw out his arm to the scene
beyond the river.  Before them, like a checkerboard, stretched the
rolling farmland of the great Mid-West: brown squares of newly
plowed ground; vivid green squares of corn; dull green squares
where alfalfa was growing!  Snuggled in the cozy nests of orchards
were fine homes and huge barns.  The spires of three country
churches pointed their guiding fingers to the blue sky.

"Think of it!  To have changed an immense area of Indian-inhabited
wild land into this!  Visualize to yourself, in place of what you
see, a far-reaching stretch of prairie land on every side of us,
with only the wild grass rippling over it.  Now imagine this: you
and I are standing here alone in the midst of it, with nothing but
a prairie schooner containing a few meager necessities by our side.
We're here to stay.  From this same prairie we must build our home
with our own hands, wrest our food, adequately clothe ourselves.
It is to be a battle.  We must conquer or be conquered.  Would you
have courage to do it?"  He turned to her with his fine, frank
smile.  And into Katherine Mason's heart came the swift, bitter-
sweet knowledge that she could make sod houses and delve in the
earth for food and kill wild animals for clothing--with Keith

"And this," he went on again, indicating the landscape, "this is
our heritage from the pioneers.  From sod houses to such beautiful
homes as yours!  I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed being in
your family to-day.  It's the typical happy American family.  When
I think of my own gloomy boyhood, I could fight some one--a
lonesome, motherless little tad studying manners and 'Thanatopsis'
under a tutor.  Yours is the kind of home I've always wanted.  It's
the kind of home I mean to have when--if--I marry--all sunshine--
and laughter--and little children--"

He turned to her suddenly and caught her hands.  "It was to talk
about that home that I brought you out here.  With my whole heart--
I love you--Katherine--"

It was late afternoon when the long gray car turned into the Mason
driveway and stopped at the side lawn.  In fact, it was so much
later than Keith Baldridge had planned to leave that he only took
time to run up to the porch to say good-by to them all.  If he
expected the Masons to sit calmly on the porch when he should drive
away, he did not yet know the Masons.  One and all, excepting
Grandpa, who stayed in his rocker, they followed him down the
steps, flocking across the green sloping lawn to where his car
stood.  The cat, seeing the entire family trooping in one
direction, came bounding across the yard, tail in air, and rubbed
herself coquettishly against the departing guest's trousers.  She
may have been of a curious disposition, that cat; but she was the
soul of hospitality.

Tillie came running from the back of the house with a shoebox tied
with a string.  "It's some chicken sandwiches and cake," she
explained.  "Come again.  I'll fry chicken for you any day."

Keith Baldridge beamed at her, and shook her rough hand vigorously.
"I'm mighty glad to hear you say that, for you're going to have a
chance to do that very thing next Sunday."

They all shook hands with him a second time.  He got into the car
and pressed the button that gave life to the monster.  The wheels
seemed quivering to turn.  Just then Grandpa rose from his chair on
the porch and excitedly waved his cane.  "Say!" he called.  He came
hobbling over the grass, the late summer sun touching his scraggly
gray hair.  "Wait a minute, Mr. Baldridge!"

They all turned to watch him apprehensively, he seemed so hurried
and anxious.  He was close to the family group now.  "Say!  Mr.
Baldridge!  I jes' happened to think of somethin' else about them
darned grasshoppers!"

They all shouted with laughter--all but Katherine, for she was not
there.  She had slipped into the front door and up to her room.
There she dropped on her knees by the side of her bed and made a
fervent little prayer to the God of Families.  And her prayer was
this: that some day--if she lived humbly for the rest of her life--
she might be purged from the sin of having been, even in thought,
disloyal to Her Own.

Then, hearing the family back on the porch, she rose from her knees
and went into the hall.  There she leaned over the banisters and
called:  "Mother!  Come up here.  I want you."



After Keith Baldridge's visit, the days slipped into that type of
hot summer known to the Mid-West as "cracking good corn weather."
As one after another of the torrid days passed Tillie began giving
evidence of that same ingrowing restlessness that had characterized
those other periods prior to her decision to leave the Masons and
make her home with relatives.

"One of these days I'm goin' to cut loose," she would hint with
deep mystery.

Mother smiled, but seldom encouraged her.  On one of those other
occasions, years before, Mother had agreed with Tillie and
encouraged her to try a change for awhile.  At which Tillie had
suddenly broken out into a wild and distressed sniveling.  "I can
see right through you," she had cried into her gingham apron.
"You're sick of me livin' here."

"You certainly have to handle Tillie with gloves," Mother had said
wearily to Father then, and she had said it many times since.

"By cricky!  They'd be boxing-gloves if I had it to do," Father
would return.  Men are like that.  If only they had the management
of the hired help, you understand, all they would need to do would
be to go into the kitchen and rant around and settle things once
for all.  It follows that things certainly would be settled.

This summer, Tillie seemed to Mother's keen eyes to be changing.
From an almost fierce loyalty--in spite of frequent arguments--
Tillie seemed to have acquired a frank disdain for many of Mother's
ideas.  She began going away several evenings in the week with no
comment as to her destination, hitherto an unheard-of thing.
Mother said nothing, but felt that something unusual must be
possessing Tillie's mind.  She obtained an inkling of what it was
when Bob and Mabel, coming in for the evening, asked what Tillie
was doing so much over at the Perkinses'.

She was sure of the reason later on a rainy afternoon, when she
went into Tillie's room to close the windows.  On Tillie's dresser
lay an accumulation of reading material of the latest cult in which
Mrs. Perkins had become interested.

Mrs. Perkins had lived in Springtown all her married life, but she
had never taken root.  She had always been poised for flight, as it
were, although a quarter of a century had gone by and two of the
four children (who had miraculously brought themselves up) were
married.  She still maintained an air of fluttering condescension
toward the town.  Periodically she told her fellow citizens that
the family would be moving to Capitol City soon now, and she
confided to strangers that she was not really of Springtown, that
she was but temporarily quartered there, and that her real life was
lived in the outside world, to which she flew when the narrow
limits of the town seemed choking her.  As an opiate to soothe her
in the winter of her discontent, she delved into the study of
various creeds.  And as one cannot thoroughly detect the origin of
cults and cobwebs at the same time, Mrs. Perkins's house contained
as many of the one as the other.

With characteristic forbearance Mother maintained the friendliest
of attitudes toward her, but admitted to a teasing family that she
was "a little odd."

"Odd!  Your grandmother!" the girls would say.  "She's got bats in
her belfry."

And now Tillie was apparently absorbed in the study of one of this
peculiar woman's peculiar cults.  Mother sighed as she went
downstairs.  It was difficult for her to understand how any one
could need an addition to or an amplification of her own simple
creed:  "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do--"

Tillie spoke about it herself in a few days.  She and Mother were
canning blackberries in a steaming hot kitchen that was full of the
sickish-sweet odor of the fruit.

With characteristic shortness Tillie blurted out, "Molly, I might's
well tell you first as last--I've decided to go away for good."

Mother, of course, was partially prepared for the news, but she did
not say so.  She only asked calmly, "What are your plans, Tillie?"

"Well--I ain't sure yet, but I'm goin' to do something for myself.
I got some money, and there's things a-plenty that women can do
these days.  It's the age of woman.  She's come into her own."

Mother could scarcely suppress a smile.  Tillie's voice had that
formal, stilted sound of quoting.

"I've lived here for eighteen years, Molly," she went on, "and in
the next eighteen I'm goin' to do somethin' more broadenin'.  You
know yourself the town's little, and everybody here is livin'
little cramped lives.  I'm goin' to get out where things are bigger
and"--she paused and then took the unfamiliar, icy plunge--"where I
can stretch my soul."

The saying was so distinctly Perkinesque that Mother had to turn
abruptly to the sink to hide the unholy mirth on her face.

"Take yourself, for instance, Molly," the rasping, monotonous voice
went on.  "Mis' Perkins--she's certainly the broadest-minded woman
I ever knew--she was talkin' about you to me, and she says just to
look at Mis' Mason; you was bright and smart, and yet you'd just
let yourself be tied down to the family all these years and never
hardly traveled, like she had, to broaden out--and that you'd made
a big mistake to let the children take all your time--and she says
the very fact that you LIKE Springtown showed that it had kept you
too narrow to know different."

Two bright pink spots, neither of heat nor blackberry juice, burned
on Mother's cheeks.

"Well, my studyin' these things with her--and I honestly wish you'd
study them, too, Molly, you ain't rightly understood what this
bein' cramped down means to you--it's made me decide to break away
and get out.  As I said, I got some money and I ain't called on to
be nobody's under dog."

Mother silently clamped on a refractory jar cover.  Not until she
felt herself well enough in hand to speak calmly, did she ask
quietly, "Where will you go, Tillie?"

"I'm plannin' first to go to Capitol City to get me some new
clothes--Mis' Perkins has good ideas on that, too--then I'm goin'
up to Big Moon Lake with her.  We're goin' to live at the Inn a
week or two and meet some ladies there that Mis' Perkins has been
correspondin' with.  She's never met them, but they've all been
studyin' this new thought, it's called cosmic philosophy, and
course that makes us all friends to start with.  After that, I'll
decide just what I am goin' to do; I may go on to Chicago.  But one
thing's certain, Molly, Mis' Perkins has been the means of me
seein' Springtown like it really is--and the narrow way we all live

Mother's part of the work was over.  She slipped silently out of
the kitchen, climbed the wide, curving stairway, and went into her
room.  Then she turned the lock and sat down in a low rocking-chair
by the window.  She was resentfully, flamingly angry, as good, high-
minded people sometimes become angry.  She was deeply, quiveringly
hurt, as sensible, sunshiny people, who do not go about looking for
slights, are sometimes hurt.

If Mrs. Perkins had said it directly to her, she would have made
light of it and put it aside.  If Tillie, by some miraculous mental
exertion, had thought it up herself, Mother could even have laughed
at it.  But to undermine Tillie's regard for her in that subtle
way, turn her old friend and helper from her, after all these years
of working side by side!

"Keep calm, now," Mother said mentally.  "Look at this thing
fairly.  Mrs. Perkins has traveled about a great deal.  Maybe there
is some truth in what she says."  That same calm hold upon her
other self, who was both impulsive and tempery, had seen Mother
safely through many a trial.

Was she narrow?

It is a very big question, that deciding who is narrow and who
broad-minded.  Broad-mindedness knows no financial standing nor
rank of station.  Bigotry is limited neither to rural communities
nor cities.  There are narrow-minded poor people and broad-minded
millionairies, just as there are liberal-minded country
storekeepers and smug, provincial-minded Congressmen.

In retrospect, Mother began looking back over the years of her
married life.  How she had endeavored to keep her mind fresh and
open!  Even in the days when they had lived across town in the
first tiny cottage that seemed full of tumbling babies, she had
never allowed a day to pass without a few hurriedly snatched
moments of good reading.  Though clothes were mended and turned and
made over, yet there were always good books and magazines on the

Sudden, hot tears rushed to her eyes at the recollection of the
children piling into bed, and the thought of herself, tired to the
depths with the work and confusion, wandering with them through all
the dear old childhood tales.

With that alacrity with which the mind leaps from one memory to
another, she thought of the set of travel books for which she had
paid the sum of forty-five dollars in the days when that sum was a
huge one.  Whimsically she remembered the shabby old gray coat and
velvet toque she had worn a winter longer than they seemed even
passably decent, because of the books.  She wondered if in Mrs.
Perkins's long trips, born of discontent and unwillingness to keep
a home sweet and lovely, there had been half the satisfaction that
she herself had obtained from those precious volumes.

Travel?  No, Mother had not traveled.  A few short trips limited to
the mid-west states themselves, and the one long journey she and
Father had taken to the western coast completed the meager list.
Washington!  New York!  Boston!  It was with a distinct shock that
she realized she had never seen them.  It seemed almost
unbelievable, for New York's famous sky line, the interesting old
places in Boston, her country's capital, all seemed as pleasantly
familiar to her as the streets of Springtown.

Mother had that peculiar God-given gift of imagination so keen that
the printed word became to her a vivid, living reality.  It was as
though, while her body stayed at home and cared for the children,
her spirit had climbed far mountain peaks and sailed into strange

Because of Barrie and Kipling and scores of others she had been
intimately, sensitively in touch with the places and peoples of the
world.  She had stood on wind-swept, heather-grown Scottish moors,
and broken bread in the little gray homes of the Thrums weavers.
She had watched, fascinated, the slow-moving, red-lacquered bullock
carts, veiled and curtained, creep over the yellow-brown sands of
India.  She had walked under brilliant stars down long, long trails
in clear, cold, silent places, and she had strolled through groves
of feathery flowering loong-yen trees of China.  She had sensed to
the finger tips the beauty of the witching, seductive moon-filled
nights of Hawaii, and with strained eyes and chilling heart she had
watched for the return of the fishing fleet on the wild-wind banks
of Labrador.

Yes, the warp of Mother's life had been restricted to keeping the
home for Henry and the children.  But the woof of the texture had
been fashioned from the wind clouds and star drifts of the heavens.

As she had touched her life with all the lives of these peoples of
the earth, for the time being sunk her own personality in theirs,
she had come to the conviction that, fundamentally, there was
nothing in life that could not be found in this little inland town.

Narrow?  She looked out of her windows over the pleasant maple-
edged, elm-bordered streets, where the warm afternoon sun cast
little quivering glints of gold.  In that bungalow over there she
had assisted when a child was born.  In the big house across the
street she had helped manage the wedding supper for a glowing
bride.  Down in that old-fashioned wing-and-ell she had closed the
eyes of an old man in his last long sleep.  Narrow?  Was birth
narrow?  Or marriage?  Or death?

For a long time she sat rocking, thinking of the twenty-six years
spent in the tiny town which, after all, was a cross-section of
life.  And if she made a little prayer:  "O, Lord, keep me clean of
heart--clear of mind--sweet of soul--gentle of speech" it was
because she had tested the Source of her strength many times

She rose, bathed, dressed in fresh linens, as though to leave in
the laundry basket all the disturbing thoughts of the past hour.
She combed her graying hair carefully, put on a beautifully
laundered blue house dress and little ruffled apron, and then,
calm, placid, serene, came out of her room.  And there was about
her a little of the spirit of the Man who, long ago, came out of a

In the evening, Tillie, with the literature that was guaranteed to
give such breadth of mind, left the house for Mrs. Perkins's.

The entire Mason family was congregated in the library, Bob and
Mabel having come in with the baby.  There was the usual diversity
of occupations with the usual resultant confusion.  Mother, who was
deftly inclosing a large space of air in the knee of Junior's
stocking, looked up to say quite casually:

"Folks, Tillie is going to leave us."

"Leave!  What for?  Why?"  The chorus was in perfect unison, as
though the family had been drilled.

"She wants," said Mother soberly, but with her eyes twinkling, "to
stretch her soul."

Every one surveyed her in blank astonishment.

"Stretch her soul!" Eleanor repeated, "what in the WORLD is that?"

"I don't know," Mother said demurely; "but she wants to do it."

"Oh, I know," Katherine volunteered, "it's some of that slush Mrs.
Fat Perkins has been telling her.  We might be in the wrong sphere,
you know, and be mentally confined and never know it.  It's only by
getting out into--er--cosmic spaces or something like that--that we
find out whether we've really been contented or not."

"Imagine Tillie rattling around in a cosmic space," Marcia

"What's a cosmetic space?" Junior wanted to know, which was the
signal for a lusty shout from every one.

"She told me," Mother explained, "that she's cramped here in
Springtown, and she wants to get out and do something for herself."

Father looked over the top of his paper.  Father was one of those
men who have apartment-house brains, the party that lives on the
lower floor being able to read and digest all the international
news while the one on the upper floor constantly sticks his head
out of the window and hears all the household gossip.

"Well," he said cheerfully, "as one of our presidents said, 'Every
nation is entitled to self-determination.'  And if nations, why not

"Sure!" Bob put in.  "Tillie is just up to date, looking for her
place in the sun."

Marcia chuckled.  "Believe ME, she'd make a bigger hit if it was in
the DARK 'o the MOON."

The young folks all laughed.

"Children!  Children!" Mother admonished them.  Then she sighed.
Never could she stay the inrolling tide of comments when the Masons
with unity attacked a subject.

One week later Tillie left.  Her last words were the suggestion
that Mother hire the Dority girl to help her, and added, by way of
reference, "Though land knows, she don't know beans when the bag's

Mother missed Tillie as the late summer days passed.  The girls
made elaborate promises to take her place so that Mother would not
feel the lack of help.  But any one who has raised three pretty,
popular daughters will know that the sum of the combined tasks done
by them was not equal to the faithful service of Tillie, who was
neither pretty nor popular.

At the end of the second week the Masons were at the supper table
when they heard some one coming up the front steps, and through the
wide front hall.  In the dining room doorway stood Tillie, the
Prodigal.  She had on a new navy blue suit of the latest cut.  A
chic little hat with scarlet cockade, that would have becomingly
adorned the head of a movie star, was slipping about rakishly on
Tillie's flat hair.

"Here I be," she said bluntly, sourly.

There was a chorus of welcoming voices that brought a dull red to
the wanderer's high-boned cheeks.  Mother rose from her chair, and
with outstretched hands went swiftly toward her.

"Good land, Molly!"--Tillie seemed genuinely distressed--"I hope
you ain't goin' to kiss me."

Mother laughed girlishly.  "No, I wouldn't dare, Tillie; but you
can rest assured I FEEL like it."

"Did you hire that silly little Dority girl?" was Tillie's next

"No," said Mother, "we didn't even try to get her.  The girls have
helped me."  Somewhere the god of Tact gave Mother credit for the
reservation of the words "a little."  "I HOPE you're going to

"I be," she answered curtly.

They could get no more out of her until she was through supper.
Then she pushed back her chair and said, "Now, I'm agoin' to tell
you somethin'.  I could keep it to myself I s'pose, and I'll
prob'ly wish I had--but I ain't goin' to, for I want to get it off
my chest.  Only I don't want one o' you to ever throw it up to me
again as long as I live.  I went to Capitol City, and I got me some
new clothes, and I ain't begrudgin' the money, for I felt tonier
than I ever did in my life before.  I had my face manicured, too."

Several of the Masons simultaneously dropped their napkins and
dived under the table for them.

"That was a powerful fussy job, and it's the first and last time
I'll ever let anybody hit me in the face with a fly-slapper.  I
wouldn't a-cared if I'd looked any different when they got through
with me; but it's the Lord's truth, girls, I didn't look one mite
changed, and that face-manicurin' business is all a hold-up."

"Well, of course, Tillie, it IS a SKIN game," Marcia put in, which
gave every one a chance to let off some laughter.  Tillie did not
crack a smile.

"Then I met Mis' Perkins at Big Moon Lake, and I don't mind sayin'
I felt about as good as any one with my new clothes.  The first
morning after we got there we was sittin' on a seat by a big tree,
and some eight or nine ladies and girls came along and stopped near
us.  They were nice-dressed, nice-lookin' women, and we guessed
right away that they was the ladies from the philosophy school, and
so we talked to the one nearest us.  She said she was expectin' us.
The others had started on ahead by that time, and she told us to
come along as they was out sight-seein', goin' to look at the
rapids and climb one of the hills.  So we walked along with her and
all this time she and Mis' Perkins talked, but lots deeper and
queerer than anything I'd read yet, and I got kinda sick of so much
of it at a stretch.  But Mis' Perkins seemed to be just in her

"We walked around lookin' at the places of interest and about noon
got back to the Inn lawn.  Then one of the ladies who had been
pointin' out all the places to us come to Mis' Perkins and me and
pulled us aside and said she hadn't noticed us joinin' the crowd in
the rear in the mornin' until we got part way up the hill.  Then
she said she hadn't wanted to embarrass us when she did see us, so
she waited till we got back to tell us that these ladies was all
from the sanitarium near by, and though they was harmless they
wasn't any of 'em right in their minds.  I can't see nothin' very
funny about it myself, but I know all of you well enough to know
it's the kind of thing you laugh your heads off over.  So, laugh!"
she said shortly, crabbedly.

Tillie's supposition was entirely correct.  The Mason family
laughed until it wept.

When they were in shape to hear her again, she finished with:  "I
made up my mind right then and there, if I couldn't tell crazy
folks from the students of the philosophy I was studyin', I'd come
back to Springtown, where we know Grandma McCabe and Silly Johnson
are the only loony ones in town, unless," she added acridly, "you
count Mis' Perkins, too."

The next morning, Tillie in her stiffly starched gingham dress
stopped by the kitchen clock shelf.

"What's these?"  She picked up some oblong slips of paper and
glared at Mother.

"Oh," Mother responded timidly, "those are your checks."  Then she
added navely, "They've sort of accumulated up there, haven't

"What have I got checks for?"

"Why, I put one up there every Saturday you were gone."

"You thought I'd come back?"

"I KNEW it."  Mother was growing braver.  "Don't you suppose I know
that you need me just as much as I need you?  I'm in hopes you'll
make your home here with us the rest of your life, and when the
children are all gone, and you and I are two decrepit old ladies,
you can wait on me part of the time and I can wait on you the other
part.  In the meantime, I can pay your regular salary to your body--
can't I?--while your soul takes a little vacation."

For the second time in the eighteen years Tillie surprisingly threw
her gingham apron over her head and burst into a loud and
distressed sniveling.  "Molly Mason," she wailed, "you're the very
best woman that ever walked on the top of the Lord's green earth."

Tender-hearted Mother, who had been hunting for a handkerchief and
couldn't locate one, wiped her eyes on a tennis-flannel kettle
holder.  "Oh, no, Tillie," she said tremulously, "not that--just
ordinarily decent."

Suddenly Tillie pulled the apron off her head, raised her distorted
face and broke forth into a high, weird, henlike cackle.  "Oh, my
land-a-Goshen!" she chortled, "stretchin' my soul!  AIN'T I A FOOL?"

"I'm certainly glad Tillie's back," Mother said complacently to
Father that night in their room.

Father finished a yawn.  Then he dropped a large heavy shoe that
made a large heavy thud.  He, too, was glad Tillie was back, for
Mother's sake.  As for himself, he had fared quite comfortably
while Tillie was gone.

"Well, how about her soul?" he asked.  "Has it been stretched?"

"Yes," Mother answered, smilingly emphatic, "it has.  It has been
stretched enough to let in a faint glimmering of genuine humor."

"By golly!  She needed some," Father returned.  Then he yawned and
dropped the other shoe.



Just a few weeks later, when the golden-rod was spreading its
yellow lace to trim the edges of the cornfield, and the blue of the
gentians was vying for brilliancy with the scarlet of the sumac,
Katherine left for her first year of teaching in Miles City, Marcia
for her senior year at college, and Eleanor and Junior returned to
their studies in the home school.

Father and Mother held the sensible view that each of the girls
should take up some practical training, so Marcia had chosen a
course in primary teaching.

"How'd you happen to choose primary?" Katherine had asked her.

"Oh, primary hours are shortest of all, and who wants to stay in a
schoolroom any longer than he has to?" had been Marcia's cheerful
reply.  And when you come to think about it--who does?

Not until the Thanksgiving vacation did the entire family get
together again.  There were a great many experiences related in
those few days.  Katherine's report was one of intense seriousness
over the young history students who sat in her classes.  Marcia's
account of her work was not of such a solemnity.

"In October we taught those little Comanches about squirrels and
Columbus and other adventurous gentlemen," she announced blithely
to the family, and added with bland unconcern:  "Primary teachers
are awful liars.  Imagine this!  The whole month has been rainy,
and we've had to smile our mail-order smiles and make those
youngsters sing 'Pit-a-pat, see the LOVELY raindrops,' just because
it was supposed to have mutual relation to the disgusting

Eleanor, in the meantime, had been deep in one of those sticky,
quagmire attachments for a teacher into which a high school girl
often slips.  It was a barnaclelike adherence that continued after
Thanksgiving.  The teacher's name was Buckwalter--Miss Genevieve
Buckwalter, and her mind contained a great many convolutions that
had been made by romantic experiences.  Her life, so far, had been
divided, like all Gaul, into three parts, which centered
respectively about the following characters:

1.  The man she had wanted to marry.

2.  The man who had wanted to marry her.

3.  The man she was going to marry.

Miss Buckwalter taught the English Literature class.  And because
she was capable of making an extra credit, Eleanor Mason, sixteen
and a junior, was scheduled to take English Literature with the
seniors.  From this class Miss Buckwalter organized the Shakespeare
Club, and so cleverly did she manipulate matters that when the
members signed the constitution--which document was nearly as long
and serious looking at the Constitution of the U. S.--it was
discovered that there were just fourteen members, evenly divided as
to sex.

"That will give them more interest in the club," said Miss
Buckwalter.  Which deduction showed amazing wisdom.

The Shakespeare Club met every other Friday night in Miss
Buckwalter's pretty suite of rooms.  And, to make the club more
attractive to the young people, she served refreshments.  On the
way home after the first meeting, tall, lanky Frank Marston said,
gosh, he wished she'd speed up a little on the eats, that the part
of his wafer that didn't stick in his teeth flew down the front of
his coat.  But, take it all in all, the club flourished like the
cedars of Lebanon.

Thereafter, Eleanor Mason's language was not the language of her
forbears.  From morning until night she dropped sayings of the
immortal bard.  She answered every innocent question with a
flippant Stratford-on-Avon answer.  The family accepted it as they
had the measles, an epidemic that, heaven willing, would be over
some day.

After school hours, immediately following the banging of the front
door, they would hear, "'Oh, Jupiter, how weary are my spirits!'"

To Father's grumbling about Old Man Smith not tending the furnace
to suit him, Eleanor said:

       "Fret till your proud heart break.
     Go, show your slaves how choleric you are,
       And make your bondsmen tremble."

A piece of gossip from Junior brought forth "'Peace!  Fool!  Where
learned you that'?"

When Tillie came in to say that she believed on her soul when she
lifted that wash water she had strained her back, Eleanor told her
jauntily that the quality of mercy was not strained, that it
droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the earth beneath.

Tillie was disgruntled.  "Can't that girl talk sense lately?" she
wanted to know.

"Never mind her, Tillie," Father said.  "She's only with us in the
flesh--her spirit is living with the great international poet who
cornered the market."

"Well, couldn't he a-wrote so white folks could have a chance to
understand him?" Tillie retorted acridly.

Aside from these poetic flights, Eleanor was apparently unchanged.
Mother watched her covertly to ascertain whether the boy question
had presented itself.  But, gay and carefree, after every club
meeting Eleanor would bring in the half-dozen young people who
lived nearest, and together they would eat large quantities of
sandwiches in the Mason kitchen.  But, "Better a lot of eating in
the kitchen than a little sweethearting on the porch," was Mother's

Then came great expectations.  The club was to give a play in the
spring.  Miss Buckwalter evolved the idea that it would make a
great hit, be good training for the students, and bring in a mint
of money for the school library.  Thereupon she chose "Romeo and
Juliet."  And because of Eleanor Mason's keen intelligence, and the
fact that her father was president of the school board and would
appreciate the honor, Miss Buckwalter selected her for Juliet.  She
might have spared herself any pains on account of the latter
reason, for a duck's back was not more impervious to water than
Father to the fact that he had been highly honored.

Mother was disgusted.  "I'm provoked through and through," she told
Father.  For twenty-six years Father had been her exhaust pipe.
"'Romeo and Juliet!'  How PERFECTLY silly!  I talked to Miss
Jenkins--she's so sensible--she didn't approve either, said she
suggested 'Merchant of Venice,' or 'As You Like It,' as lesser
evils; but a road company gave the 'Merchant' here not long ago,
and Miss Buckwalter said she couldn't fix a good forest of Arden
when the trees were cut bare.  She claims she will cut the play a
great deal--but think of that balcony scene!"  Mother threw up her
hands despairingly.  "Well, I'll not interfere; but you mark my
word, Henry, Eleanor will get foolish notions in her head.  Why,
Father, she's only SIXTEEN."

"Well, haven't I heard somewhere that the original Miss Capulet was

Seeing that Mother was too much perturbed to answer him, Father
said cheerfully, "Oh, I wouldn't worry, Mother.  Eleanor's the most
sensible girl we've got, and the teacher will be there with
them."  Father was one of those old-fashioned souls who think,
optimistically, that the teacher, like the king, can do no wrong.
But Mother, having taught school herself, well knew that teachers
were of the earth earthy.

Comes now Andrew Christensen.  Andy had arrived with his parents at
Ellis Island from a small country noted for dairy products, some
fifteen years before.  And now, at nineteen, to prove that he was a
genuine American, he dressed in the most faddish clothes and
specialized in slang.  In fact he was so much a man of the world
that, so far as girls were concerned, he seldom deigned to waste
his fragrance on the desert air of Springtown, preferring, at ball
games, to flaunt various out-of-town girls before his classmates.
Mornings before school and on Saturdays he worked in Thompson's
combined grocery and meat market.  He was big and blond and good-
looking.  And he was Romeo.

Rehearsals began.  To Miss Buckwalter's disappointment, Eleanor
Mason was not getting as much out of her part as she had
anticipated.  Words?  Eleanor could reel them all off at the first
rehearsal.  But when she said, "Wherefore art thou Romeo?  What's
Montague?  Is it nor hand nor foot?  What's in a name?" she might
as well, for all the heart she put in it, have said, "Do you like
onions?  Or prunes?  Can you stand the sight of carrots?"

So, with much coaching on Miss Buckwalter's part and much faithful
endeavor on Eleanor's, the practice went on.  And then--quite
suddenly--Eleanor needed no more coaching.  They were on the drafty
stage of the old opera house, Eleanor standing on a dry-goods box
in lieu of a balcony.  Andy reached up and took her hand for the
first time.  A little shiver, as delicious as it was strange, went
through her.

"'Wouldst thou withdraw thy vow?'" said Andy.  "'For what purpose,

And Eleanor, her honest little heart beating suffocatingly, leaned
over the old box and answered softly:

     "My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
     My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
     The more I have, for both are infinite."


After that rehearsal Mother noted a subtle change in Eleanor.  She
seemed very subdued.  She slipped up to her room a great deal to
read.  She became fussy about her clothes.  She seemed (and Mother
knew this to be the most genuine symptom) to have lost her sense of

When Bob dropped in on his way home and wanted to know how Romiet
and Julio were coming on, there was no merry crinkle around
Eleanor's eyelids, only a very dignified answer from her.

Junior and the crowd of boys with whom she had occasionally been
wont to hobnob were as the dust beneath her feet.  The Saturday
before the play, they came into the house and entreated her long
and noisily to come to the pasture and help them make up a nine.
But their supplication was met with such withering scorn that when
they left Junior stuck his head back in the door to deliver this
cutting farewell:  "All right for you, Lady Juliet De Snub Nose!
You can put this in your pipe and smoke it--this is the last time
us boys'll ever ask YOU to do a DARN THING!"

As for Eleanor, she was living in the rarefied atmosphere which the
new thing in her life had created.  She walked daily in the land of
Romance; but where she had hitherto only caught rare glimpses of a
faraway shadowy creature, now he had come closer to her through the
forest and, behold--it was Andy!

The night of the play, Springtown turned out as small towns always
do for home talent and packed the old barnlike opera house to the

The program opened with a piano solo by Marybelle Perkins.
Probably Paderewski or Josef Hofmann could have done as well, but
the Perkinses wouldn't have admitted it.  Then the high school
boys' Glee Club sang "Anchored," and when they ended with "Safe,
safe at last, the harbor passed," people were so relieved that the
boys were quite reasonably safe at last from their perilous musical
journey that they applauded vigorously.

There was a short farce and then--The Play.

There was a great deal of loud and boisterous enmity displayed
between the followers and retainers of the respective houses of
Capulet and Montague.  There was a scene, somewhat hilarious,
showing the ball given by Lord Capulet.  There was the balcony
scene, and the grand finale of the poison and the dark tombs.

Springtown liked it.  True, there were a few discrepancies.  One
might have been carried back to a long-gone generation on fleeter
wings of imagination had he not, through the foliage on the side of
the balcony, caught glimpses of "Mr. Tobias S. Thompson, Dealer in
Meats and Fancy Groceries."  One recognized the portly Mrs. John
Marston's old purple velvet coat on her lanky son Frank, and Lord
Montague displayed a startling combination of dress-suit coat and
sixteenth-century legs.  The tomb where lay the bones of the dead
Capulets looked like a cross between an automobile hood and a dog
kennel.  But, taken as a whole, it was a very creditable

Father and Mother Mason sat in the center aisle, sixth row.  Across
from them sat Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Christensen, Sr., with so many
little Christensens that it had taken nearly a day's wages to get
tickets and reserved seats.  Mr. Christensen was not yet far enough
removed from kings and things but that he glowed with pride because
Andy was playing opposite the banker's girl.

People whispered to each other that they never knew Eleanor Mason
was so pretty.  Lithe and lovely in her white costume, Juliet
leaned over the balcony.  In after years she was never to smell the
pungent odor of rose geranium without seeing Andy's face, pale, a
little tremulous, turned up to her.

Liquid-like, dulcet-toned, dripped Juliet's:

     Good night, good night.  Parting is such sweet sorrow,
     That I could say good night until the morrow.

The audience clapped and clapped.  Miss Buckwalter, in the wings,
was elated.  "Eleanor never did so well," she said to Miss Jenkins.
Only Mother, sixth row, center, moaned over and over in her heart,
"Oh, WHAT have they done to my little girl?"

The play was over.  The audience breathed a long sigh, rose, began
laughing and talking.  Mother felt a fierce intuitive resentment
against Andy.  She did not want him to go home alone with her girl.
So she used the only weapon of defense she knew, a sandwich.  With
a hasty mental calculation as to how many buns there would be left
for the next day after dividing four dozen into fourteen boys and
girls, she invited them all up to the house.

It was an incongruous sight--Romeo and Tybalt and the old nurse and
Friar Lawrence, en costume, perched on the kitchen sink and table
cabinet, devouring sandwiches.  As they were leaving the kitchen,
Mother made a casual survey of the trays, and discovered that the
answer to her problem in mathematics was "Not any."

The Capulets and the Montagues all flocked out into the big hall.
Andy hung back a moment to speak to Eleanor.

"Say, kid, I wanta see you in the morning when I bring the meat.  I
wanta ask you something when the mob ain't around."

There was only one thing it could mean, Eleanor told herself when
she was alone in her room.  It was a date for Sunday.  She had
never had a real "date," the boys just happened in at times.  In an
ecstasy of emotion she went to bed.  For a long time she lay
imagining what she would say to the girls when they came for her to
go walking Sunday afternoon.  She would answer carelessly, "I
can't, girls.  I'm sorry.  Andy's coming."

When she woke with a start the sun was shining in her windows.  All
about her were evidences of the Great Event--her costume, a
crumpled program, her roses in a jar in the hall.  She dressed
carefully in a softly frilled blue dress and sat down by the window
to wait.  She didn't want any breakfast.  Eating?  How commonplace!

There was a sound of the rattly cart that Andy drove.  She wished
Andy had a nicer job; he was intending to be a traveling man.  She
heard him go around the house and then, whistling cheerfully,
coming back.  She went to the window and raised it.

"'But soft!  What light through yonder window breaks?'" he called.
"'It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!'"

They both laughed.  How easy it was to laugh with Andy.

"Come on down!" he called.  "I want to ask you that."

On winged feet of hope, she sped down the front stairs.  Andy
perched on the stone railing of the big porch, his cap on the back
of his blond, curly head.

"Well, Juliet, we're some little actors--what?"

At Eleanor's answering smile, he said:  "Say, kiddo, I wanta ask
you to help me think of something for my girl's birthday.  It's
tomorrow and I'm going to see her.  She lives over at Greenwood,
and she's some swell dame, believe me.  There's nobody in this town
that's got a look-in with her.  I thought maybe you could think of
some nifty stunt."

Eleanor bent to her slipper for a moment, so that when she lifted
her head it was quite natural that she looked flushed.  Her heart
was pounding terribly.  She felt sick, but she forced a little
crooked smile.  There was sturdy pioneer blood in Eleanor, the
strain that meets crises clear-eyed and bravely.  So she said
sturdily, "Why, Andy, flowers or books are nice."

"Nix on the flowers.  You won't see little Andy loping up with a
bunch of posies.  And books--she likes sweller things than

"You wouldn't want to get anything as expensive as a kodak, would

"Sure thing, just the dope.  You're some kid.  I thought you'd know
something right-o.  Much obliged.  Well, so long, kiddo.  See you
at the algebra funeral Monday morning."

The little wings of hope were bruised and bleeding when she dragged
them back up the stairs.  She closed her door and threw herself
down on the floor by the window, a little crumpled heap.  So this
was the end!  Andy hadn't meant any of those things he had said.
He had sounded so honest and truthful.  The beautiful new thing in
her life was gone.  The hot gushing tears of youth came.  Sobs
shook her.

Ah, well!  At sixteen a broken dream is as cruel as a broken
reality, for there is no one to tell you which is reality and which
is dream.

As she sat battling with emotions that would not be laid low, she
turned in desperation to the long shelf of books near by.
Mechanically she reached for a fat little volume and turned the
leaves.  Here was one called "The Saddest Hour."  With a vague hope
that the eminently appropriate title would put her own painful
thoughts into words, she began:

     The saddest hour of anguish and of loss
     Is not that moment of supreme despair
     When we can find no least light anywhere--

Surely it couldn't be that life held sadder moments than this.  She
read hurriedly, avidly.  What, then, was the saddest hour?  It
seemed it was not when we sup on salt of tears, nor even when we
drink the gall of memories of days that have passed.  Here it was:

     But when with eyes that are no longer wet
     We look out on the great wide world of men,
       And, smiling, lean toward a bright to-morrow--
     To find that we are learning to forget--
       Ah! then we face the saddest hour of sorrow.

Then the saddest hour of all would never come to her, for of course
she would never, never forget.  For a long time she sat by the
window looking mournfully out on the bleak landscape.  There was
some solace in the thought of dying and being buried in her Juliet
costume, with a sprig of rose geranium in her hand.  Andy would
come and when he saw her, dead, in her little white Juliet dress,
he'd think how rosemary was for remembrance. . . .

Junior and Runt Perkins and several of the boys of that crowd were
coming up the back walk.  They came close and stopped under the
clothesline.  There were eight of them.  They were motioning to
her.  What did they want?  She put up her window.

"Oh, EL-ner, come on down and make up the nine.  Shorty Marston had
to go to Miles City with his mother.  Come on, please.  PLEASE do,
El-ner."  Different voices were taking up the refrain.

Eleanor leaned out.  The air was mild and damp as though somewhere
there had been a gentle rain.  There was a faint smell of mellow
loam everywhere.  Down behind the garage the hens were cackling
noisily.  The trunks of the maple trees were moist with sap.  There
was a faint tinge of green on the hill beyond the pasture.

"You can pitch, El-ner, er bat," Runt Perkins called enticingly,
"er any old thing."

"Well," she said suddenly, "wait till I change my dress and get a
bite to eat."

At noon Father came up the walk proudly carrying the new broom that
Mother had told him to get two weeks before.  At the back porch he
stopped and looked across the alley to the half block of pasture
land where in summer he kept his cow.  For a few moments he stood
watching, then a grin came slowly over his face and he turned and
went into the house.

"Mother," he said, "for once in your life you were good and
mistaken about one of your offspring."

"Who's that?"  Mother withdrew her rumpled head from a coat closet.

"Eleanor.  All that Juliet stuff never fazed her.  I told you she
was the most sensible kid we had.  She's out there in the pasture
with Junior's bunch, and she's just made a home run.  She took it
like a sand-hill crane, her hair flying, and the boys cheering her
like little Comanches."

"Well, thank the Lord," said Mother devoutly.

Out in the old pasture lot, the Jilted One was looking out on the
great wide world of men, and smiling, and leaning toward a bright



It was only a few weeks after the Shakespeare thriller that
Katherine and Marcia came home for the spring vacation.  To Mother
the few days of their stay were very precious.  Life was never the
same with part of the family away.

Characteristically the two girls gave divergent reports of their
work.  After Katherine had given the family a comprehensive and
earnest dissertation on the work she had accomplished, Marcia
summed up her own strenuous mental labors with:

"We had a perfect orgy of cherry trees and hatchets and valentines
in February--and I wish you could have seen the training school in
March.  We simply fell over seed boxes and kites, and we fairly ATE
pussywillows.  This month we've painted millions of wild-looking
robins.  You'd die to see them--their beaks all run down and mix up
sociably with their wings.  It's a great life," she added blithely.

It was during this spring vacation that she began talking about
Capitol City.  "I'm just LIVING to teach there next year.  They
send some member of the board every spring to the training school
to choose the best teachers, and I MUST be one.  I don't want to go
to any little two-by-four burg.  Capitol City for ME!  I ask an
interest in your prayers."

So short was the brief week that the girls were gone again before
Mother could realize the distressing fact.  Part of Mother went
with them.  It is an acrobatic feat that only mothers can
understand, this ability to be with every child.

To do Marcia justice, she really applied herself that spring when
the stakes were worth working for.  On the last Friday morning in
April she had gone from the college to town on one of her numerous
unimportant errands, and was waiting by the downtown station for
the college car.  As it stopped, a sorority sister came down
the steps.  "He's in there," she whispered.  "Capitol City
superintendent--come for teachers."


"There--halfway down--right-hand side."

He looked just as Marcia would have expected him to look--heavy,
distinguished, gray-haired, with a Van Dyke beard.  She sat down
behind him and whispered to his broad back a foolish little jargon:

     "Eeny meeny miny mo,
     Please, kind sir, choose me to go."

Across the aisle from the great man sat Mrs. Hastings, the college
doctor's wife.  A strange young man was with her.  From occasional
glimpses of his good-looking profile, Marcia decided that he bore a
faint resemblance to Mrs. Hastings.  There was something about him
she liked, his square jaw and alert manner and a distinct air of
sophistication that none of the college boys had yet acquired.

The car stopped at the entrance to the campus and let out its load.
As Marcia was about to pass Mrs. Hastings and the strange man, the
former said, "Oh, Miss Mason, are you in a hurry?"  As there was
merely a small matter of an English Literature class due then, Miss
Mason assured Mrs. Hastings she was not at all in haste.

"Could you show my brother around a little?  My brother, Mr.
Wheeler, Miss Mason. . . .  I would go with him myself, but I told
Hannah if the baby needed me, to put a red cloth in the window, and
there it is!"  She pointed excitedly to her home across from the
campus.  She was breathless, and anxious to get away.

"Maybe the baby has only joined the Bolsheviki," her brother

Marcia laughed.  She liked him, his keen brown eyes and the sudden
humorous lift to the mouth that she had thought so stern.

"You can see for yourself he's not married or he wouldn't be so
flippant over a serious matter," Mrs. Hastings called to Marcia.
"Show him the new amphitheater--and Science Hall"--she was already
halfway across the street--"and the new dormitory and the training

"My sister," Mr. Wheeler said, "missed her calling.  She would have
made an excellent major general or park policeman."

Marcia laughed again.  She still liked him.  Mr. Wheeler looked
down at his appointed guardian.  She wore an immaculate white skirt
with an audaciously green silk sweater and cap.  The V-shaped neck
of her blouse set off the lovely contour of her face.  By way of
completing a very satisfactory picture there was a bunch of dewy-
sweet violets in her belt.

"Do you happen by any chance," Mr. Wheeler asked, "to be the Miss
Mason who is Keith Baldridge's fiance?"

"No, indeed," Miss Mason said, more emphatically than was
necessary, for it wasn't at all disgraceful to be engaged to Keith
Baldridge.  "That's my sister Katherine.  I'm Marcia.  And you know

"Like David knew Jonathan."

They crossed the green sloping campus, sweet-smelling from its
recent mowing.  There was some conversation relative to their
mutual interest in Keith Baldridge, and then Marcia said glibly:

"You see before you the new Science Hall.  It is thirty-seven
stories high, a mile square and cost seventy million dollars.  The
roof of the new dormitory may be seen through the trees.  Out
beyond the Domestic Science building is the amphitheater and beyond
the amphitheater--lies Italy."

They had come to a little rustic bridge across a miniature creek.
Neither one made a move to walk on.  In fact, to be explicit, they
sat down on the low railing.

"As for the training school," Marcia continued, "I wouldn't
voluntarily take you there.  It's the place where you abandon hope
all ye who enter here."

"You teach there?"

"I do."  She looked at her wrist watch.  "And in fifty minutes I'm
to teach before the new superintendent of the Capitol City schools,
if I haven't died of fright.  He was on the car.  Did you see him--
a big husky Vandyker?"  Mr. Wheeler had noticed him.

"I want to make a professional hit with him," Marcia went on
confidentially.  "I've simply got to teach in Capitol City next
year.  I LOVE a city.  I want to walk in the crowds and eat at tea-
rooms.  I want to go to the theater and sit in a box."

Mr. Wheeler looked judicially, appraisingly, at her.  "I don't
believe," he said soberly, "it would injure the looks of the box."

They both laughed.  Marcia was enjoying herself immensely.  He was
like that for the whole hour they were together, keen, clever,
interesting.  In comparison with him all the home boys and college
boys of her numerous friendships faded quietly into a blurred
masculine background.  In the light of his clever repartee Marcia
reveled.  To his questioning she told him a great deal about
herself.  She described faculty members to the last comic detail.
Mr. Wheeler enjoyed it, apparently, so she made fun of the training
school for his benefit.  She spared no one.  She mocked the
artificial manners of the student teachers and imitated the head of
the department.  His hearty, virile laugh was ample payment for her

It lacked seven minutes of the hour.  Marcia slipped down from the
bridge rail with "I go, like the quarry slave at night scourged to
his dungeon."  Suddenly she clapped her hand to her throat in a
characteristic gesture.  "Oh, my GOODNESS!--I forgot--I have to get
a whole violet plant with the roots on for my class.  Oh, HELP me
look, will you?"

Mr. Wheeler sprang nimbly to his feet and together they searched
over that particular part of the campus.  Not a violet showed
itself above the close-cropped lawn, nothing but bold-faced

"Can't you--cut that part out!" he suggested.

"You don't know Miss Rarick," Marcia was genuinely distressed.  "If
you haven't everything your lesson plan calls for, she just looks
at you--and you shrink--and shrivel--"

The wrist watch said three minutes of the hour.  "I'll have to take
a dandelion root," she announced, "and pass it off for a violet.
They won't know the difference."  Already her unquenchable spirits
were rising.  She borrowed Mr. Wheeler's knife and hastily dug up a
dandelion.  "See!  I'll take two or three violet blossoms and
leaves"--she took them out of her belt--"attach them to the
dandelion root, and wrap my handkerchief around the center as
though it were muddy and damp--and there you are!"

"But, see here, they're nothing alike," he protested.

"Oh, we should worry!" said the blithe Miss Mason.  "Thank you for
helping me.  You can come along if you want to, and see me teach.
I'm frightened senseless, anyway, at the Vandyker, so one or two
more able-bodied men won't matter."

Mr. Wheeler said he would be delighted to see the dandelion
masquerading before the great man.  So they hurried up the gravel
driveway to the huge training-school building.  Marcia pointed out
the door where he was to go.  "I have to go in another way," she
explained; "the righteous from the wicked, you know."

The model primary room was an awe-inspiring place.  Eleven student
teachers, notebooks in hand, sat by the side walls.  Two critic
teachers, notebooks in hand, sat by the rear walls.  The head
supervisor, notebook in hand, walked through the room as though to
remind one of the day of judgment.  The Capitol City superintendent
was there, and two or three lesser lights.  Marcia and nine small
pupils held the center of the arena after the manner of the early
Christian martyrs.  Her heart was beating suffocatingly, but she
conducted a very creditable little reading class whose lesson was
based on a violet plant that was much less modest than it should
have been, owing to the fact that its pedal extremities, so to
speak, had been grafted from a member of a family noted for its
brazen forwardness.

Marcia was a model of the sweet young instructor.  Only once did
she throw a fleeting glance of rougishness at Mr. Wheeler, to see
his mouth lift at the corners in the characteristic way she had

The lesson was over.  Every one breathed more naturally.  The
student teachers and visitors rose to go to chapel exercises.
Marcia looked around for Mr. Wheeler, but she did not see him.  In
the doorway, she turned to look at the Capitol City superintendent,
in the hope that he was discussing her with Miss Rarick.  He was
not so engaged.  He was picking up from the floor a dandelion root
alias a violet.

The sight disturbed her somewhat, but she put the thought of it
aside and went on to chapel.  Near the Auditorium she came upon a
group of senior girls waiting for her.  Some days at chapel
exercises these girls sat on the front seat and acted virtuously.
Some days they sat on the back seat and acted villainously.  To-day
was apparently one of their pious days, for they filed decorously
down the center aisle to the front seat and sang the opening hymn,
"Holy, Holy, Holy," as lustily as though they were the original
vestal virgins.

The superintendent of the Capitol City schools, in all his dignity,
sat upon the platform with the faculty.  After the prayer and
announcements, President Wells arose and said, "We have with us to-
day the new superintendent of the largest school system in the
state."  Marcia looked at him, sitting there so calmly.  How nice
it would be, she thought, to be so undisturbed when you were about
to address an audience.  President Wells had ceased introducing
him, but he did not stir from his chair.  Instead, from the
semigloom of the back row there was stepping out a tall, clean-cut,
alert young man, with keen brown eyes and a strong chin.

All eyes were upon him.  Marcia's own, fascinated, alarmed, watched
him.  The color dropped away from her face, and then surged back
like a scarlet tide.  From the chaotic jumble of her mind one
naked, leering truth stood out.  HE was the superintendent of the
Capitol City schools.

Like a kaleidoscope, things she had said to him tumbled about in
her brain, forming a nightmare of combinations.  With dry lips she
whispered to the girl next to her, "Who's the big man--in gray?"

"Supe at Mapleville--only has eight teachers under him--acts like
he was Supe of New York City."

The man on the platform was speaking, easily, forcefully.
"Earnestness and sincerity form the keystone of the teaching
profession."  He said a great deal more than that.  He said it with
fire and enthusiasm.  He said he was there to choose teachers, high-
grade teachers who had been faithful in their work.  Carefulness,
attention to details, were things that would be considered.  But
over and above these was the great fundamental question:  What was
the spirit of the teacher?  What gifts of heart and soul as well as
of mind did she come bearing to her task?

Marcia felt stunned, sick.  She sat with miserable hot eyes fixed
upon her lap.  It was over at last.  Chapel was out.  President
Wells and other faculty members had surrounded the speaker.  Marcia
slipped away from the girls.  She attended two classes and got
through a noisy boarding-house dinner.  She wanted to go home.  She
wanted to see the family, especially Mother, comfortable and
comforting Mother.  Katherine would be home for the week-end.  She
had written to that effect and also that Keith was coming for

Marcia did not go to her afternoon classes and she hung a frank
"Busy--Keep Out" sign on her door.  Then she packed her bag and
slipped down to the afternoon train.

At home the family was all excitement over the unexpected arrival.
Mother bustled about with happy moisture in her eyes even while she
took in the fact that Marcia had something on her mind.  When they
had finished supper it came out, just as Mother knew it would.
They were still sitting about the table--all but Junior, whose
urgent business with Runt Perkins and Shorty Marston always found
him swallowing his last bites while on the way to the door.

Marcia told them all about it.  She spared herself not at all.  She
had made a fool of herself, she said, and they might as well know
it.  "The thing that makes me maddest," she informed them,
tearfully, "is that I stretched things just to hear him laugh.  I
made myself out lots worse than I am.  He was the sternest-looking
man you ever saw, and I LOVED to see the corners of his mouth pull
up.  It seemed to me he laughed an awful lot," she finished

Every one looked sympathetic.  Katherine's consolation was,
"Marcia, I just can't IMAGINE myself talking so glibly to a strange

Marcia's contrition was complete.  "I can't either, Kathie.  I envy
you being so cool and sweet and courteous to everybody.  Only it
SEEMED as though I'd known him a thousand years," she added.

Eleanor's contribution was, "Myself, I think it was terribly

Marcia's scorn was withering.  "Romantic?  TRAGIC, you mean."

Father began a dry, "Well, Marcia, I've always told you you'd run
up against--"  But as Marcia dabbed a moist roll of handkerchief
into her eyes, he finished lamely, "Never mind, honey, I think you
can have the third grade here."

Tillie was on the warpath.  "There's a law about false pretenses.
He ought to be sued.  If I was a man I'd trounce the middle of the
road with him."

Mother was furtively wiping away a tear or two herself.  "Marcia,
there's something about you that makes me think of myself when I
was a girl."  Verily the poet was an inspired philosopher who

     Where can we better be
     Than in the bosom of our fam-i-lee?

On Saturday it developed that there were enough young people home
for the week-end to get up a fair-sized picnic crowd.  Cars were
prohibited.  Tommie Hickson was to bring in a hayrack so they could
all go together.

Mother thought it a fine plan and began bustling preparations for a
basket supper.  Tillie, whose emotion over Marcia had worn off, was
disgruntled to have the Saturday work upset.

"You do spoil them girls, Molly," she volunteered.  "Here's Kathie
engaged to that Baldridge, and Marcia a grown woman, and even
Eleanor getting along.  Accordin' to my lights they ought to be
hemmin' sheets and piecin' comforts instead a-galavantin' round to

"Tillie," Mother said calmly, "a very wise poet once wrote about a
rich old man who was robbed of all his wealth.  The poem ends:

     They robbed him not of a golden shred
     Of the childish dreams in his wise old head,
     And, 'They're welcome to all things, else,' he said,
     When the robbers came to rob him.

I figure you can buy sheets and comforts in any department store,
but you can't buy dreams and memories of youth."

"PFS!"  Tillie had a special snort that denoted scorn.  "You can't
eat dreams nor cover your nakedness with memories."

"No," said Mother placidly, "you can't.  And when the girls are
old, old ladies, the most palatable food won't feed their minds,
nor the thickest comforts bring warmth to their hearts."

So they went on working together, side by side, two good old
friends who would do anything for each other, but as far apart as
the earth and the stars, as far apart as Martha and Mary--a Piecer
of Quilts and a Weaver of Dreams.

Tommie Hickson came with the hayrack and two horses, which seemed
to share Tillie's scorn for the festivities.

Marcia apparently brightened under the witching spell of the green
woods, the pungent, wild smell of the crab-apple blossoms, the
sweet, weird call of the mourning doves and the sheen of the silver
river.  Mother was right.  No matter what Fate held in the hollow
of her hand, the girls would always have memories left to them.

On the way home, after the manner of youth, the crowd sang.  Marcia
did not sing.  She sat in the end of the hayrack and tried to
reason it all out.  Since yesterday she felt changed, subdued,
unreal.  She looked up at the clear, calm face of the yellow-white
moon.  Why did that hour on the campus seem so set apart from other
hours?  It was like a little house in the woods.  She had come upon
it, rested in it for one hour--and gone on again.  Must she forever
be looking back at the little house by the side of the road?

The crowd was unloaded at the various homes with merry good nights.
The Mason girls found that the rest of the family had gone upstairs
for the night.  There was a letter on the dining-room mantel.
Father had brought it home from the five-o'clock mail.  The letter
was for Marcia.  With fingers that trembled she tore it open and
read it.  Then she ran upstairs and called "Folks!  Everybody!
Come here!"

Father and Mother, fully dressed, came to their door.  Tillie
opened her door cautiously and put out her head; a striped kimono
falling away from her long neck gave her the appearance of a
curious giraffe.  Junior, hearing the noise, came stumbling out of
his room.

"Listen!  It's from HIM."  She read aloud:

DEAR MISS MASON:  I tried to see you yesterday afternoon but your
landlady said you had gone home for over Sunday.  I hope you are
not taking my talk to heart.  Most probably you are not, as your
disposition seems to be of a marvelously cheerful and elastic type.
And, anyway, what's a dandelion or two between friends?

Have just come from board meeting and have the pleasure of
reporting your election.  I have placed you in the Lafayette School
for next year, the grounds of that building being somewhat overrun
with certain yellow weeds.  You will no doubt take pleasure in
assisting the janitor to eradicate them.

I have just been talking with Keith by 'phone, and if I do not hear
from you that it would be inconvenient, I will drop in with him on
Sunday and congratulate you in person on the "professional hit" you
made with the Capitol City superintendent.


                                                 JOHN R. WHEELER.

Marcia threw out her arms to them all.  "Folks!" she said in a
little, tense, awe-struck voice, "I WAS born under a lucky star."

"By golly, I believe it!" Father said.

They were all talking at once, after the manner of Masons.

Katherine laughed, "You old fraud, you don't deserve it."

Eleanor's contribution was, "Oh, Marcia, I ADORE a good profile."

Tillie was saying, "My good LAND, you do beat the Dutch!"

Junior, at the close of a prodigious yawn, asked unintelligibly,
"Wh'd 'e mean, dandelions?"

Only Mother said nothing.  She was looking at the lovely flushed
face of her starry-eyed girl and making a little incoherent prayer,
"Dear Lord--keep her happy--like that."

The excitement over, they all went back to their rooms.

"I can't help but be glad she got it."  Father was pulling off his
socks and tenderly regarding his favorite corn.  "But it wasn't a
very good lesson for her to have it turn out this way."

Mother was immediately on the other side of the argument.  "Oh,
she's had punishment enough, Father--that scare."  Mother brushed
her hair for a few moments, and then added, "I must say though, I
don't like that dandelion deal; it's too much like deceiving."

Father, with alacrity, veered to the opposite side.  "Oh, I don't
know," he said cheerfully; "that's what I call good old-fashioned
Yankee shrewdness."  So they went to bed, arguing amiably,
quarreling peaceably as they had done for twenty-six years.

Across the hall, Marcia finished brushing her hair, turned out the
light and snapped up the shades.  Pale, silvery, golden-white, the
moon flooded her slim, youthful figure in its soft, clinging gown.
Surreptitiously, deftly, she slipped a large, square envelope under
her pillow.  Then she said, "Kathie, something tells me I'm going
to enjoy teaching with John."



On Sunday Keith Baldridge and John Wheeler came.  Like that other
Sunday when Keith had first stepped into the family circle, Mother
engineered a fine dinner to its palatable end.  In the afternoon
she and Tillie (the latter protesting that all this foolishness
made her sick) put up lunch for the four young people and they took
it in Keith's car to the woods.

It was a day of wondrous spring sunshine, the green of new leaves
and the song of birds.  Every moment was joyous to Marcia and no
wood sprite was gayer than she . . . or lovelier.  Just before
their return home she and John Wheeler sat alone for a few moments
on the river bank.  The conversation turned on Keith and Katherine.

"He's to be envied," John Wheeler said and added suddenly and
seriously.  "Until this spring I had about come to the conclusion
that the type of love I have dreamed about was going to pass me by.
I had almost committed the sin of putting aside that dream and
asking a girl I have known a long time to marry me . . . a girl I
had merely been fond of as a friend."

"Until this spring!"  Marcia thrilled at the magic significance of
the words.  She was so unspeakably happy that, at home again in the
evening, when several of the Springtown young people came in, she
veiled her joyousness from any spying eyes by spending most of the
evening at the far end of the porch with Nicky Marston.  It has
been the way of femininity since the world began.

After that Sunday came a box of flowers, with a friendly courteous
note . . . and that was apparently the end.

All the spring term Marcia went about trying desperately to conceal
that vague little soreness in her heart, a hurt for which she could
find no explanation.  He sent no other word, made no effort to come
back . . . and he had seemed so . . . well, interested in her,
Marcia admitted to herself.  For the first time in her life a
little of the song of joy had gone out of living.  It was true,
then, there was to be nothing of the little house by the side of
the road but a memory.

Mother was unaware that anything was wrong in the scheme of things.
In fact she was thinking more about herself than any of the
children just then, a most remarkable circumstance.  She and
Tillie, swathed in mummy-like uniforms, had done the spring house-
cleaning.  On the evening of the conclusion to this annual orgy of
the furniture, Mother accosted Father as he was sitting down by the
library table and unfolding the Journal.

"Henry, you wait a minute.  I want to talk to you about something
that has been on my mind all day."

Henry looked up politely, but hung on to his paper.

"This morning I was cleaning out the drawers of that old bureau in
the attic and I began reading scraps of letters and looking at the
pictures of my old college classmates, and I just got hungry to see
them all.  I kept thinking about my girlhood with those old chums,
and I was so homesick to see them I could TASTE it.  Why, if I
could hear Nettie Fisher laugh and see Julie Todd's shining, happy

She dropped her mending and turned to her husband.

"Henry, I've a good, big NOTION to plan to go back to Mount Carroll
for commencement."

"Why, sure!  Why don't you, Mother?"

Henry prepared to plunge into the paper as though the matter were
settled, but it seemed Mother had more to say.  For twenty-six
years Father had been a patient, silent bowlder in the middle of
the stream of Mother's chatter.  "I want to go back to Mount
Carroll and be a girl again.  If I could just get with that old
crowd it would bring my youth all back, I know.  I'd just live it
over.  Why, Henry, I'd give the price of the trip to have FIVE
minutes of real girlish thrill--"

"All right, Mother."  Father boldly dismissed the subject.  "You
just plan to go and get your thrill."

In the busy weeks that followed Mother moved in an exalted state of
mind, thinking of nothing but plans to leave the family comfortable
and the exquisite pleasure before her.  She wrote reams of messages
to Julie Todd and Nettie Fisher and Myra Breckenridge and a dozen
others.  To be sure, they had all possessed other names for a
quarter of a century, but for old time's sake Mother deigned to use
them only on the outside of the envelopes.

There were clothes to be planned.  Mother thought Lizzie Beadle
could make her something suitable, but Eleanor protested.

"You're not going back there looking DINKY, Mamma, that's sure."

And Henry added his voice, "That's right, Mother; you doll up."

So Eleanor and Mother journeyed to Capitol City and chose a navy
blue tailored suit, and a stunning black and white silk, and a soft
gray chiffon gown, "in which she looks PERFECTLY Astorbiltish,"
Eleanor afterward told the assembled family.  These, with hat and
gloves and a pair of expensive gray suede shoes that hurt her feet,
but made them look like a girl's, came to a ghastly sum in three
figures, so that Mother felt almost ill when she wrote on the
check, "Henry Y. Mason, per Mrs. H. Y. M."

On the evening before the wonderful journey back to the land of
youth, Father made his startling announcement.  He had been reading
quietly in his accustomed place by the library table.  Mother, who
had just completed her packing by putting pictures of all the
family and views of the new house into her bag, came into the

"Mother"--Henry put down his magazine--"I've decided to go with you
to-morrow and on to Midwestern while you are at Mount Carroll."
Father's university was in a state farther east than Mother's Alma
Mater.  "When you get off at Oxford to change, I'll go right on,
and then next Thursday, after commencement, I'll be on the train
coming back, and meet you there."

Mother was delighted, reproaching herself severely, in her tender-
hearted way, for not having thought of the same thing.  Father had
attended to business so strictly all these years that this
arrangement had not once occurred to her.

"I've been thinking what you said about seeing your old chums, and,
by George!  I'd enjoy it, too," Henry went on.  "I can't think of
anything more pleasurable than meeting Slim Reed and the Benson
boys, and old Jim Baker."

So Father got his hat and went back to the bank to attend to some
business; for with that nonchalant way a man has of throwing a
clean collar into a grip preparatory to a long journey there was
nothing for him to do at home.

Kind-hearted Mother's cup of joy was bubbling over.  Happy moisture
stood in her eyes as she got out Father's things.  How well he
deserved the trip!

Hurrying back into the library to get a late magazine for him to
take along, her eyes fell upon the one he had just been reading.
It was the Midwestern University Alumnus.  Smiling, Mother picked
it up.  Under the news from Father's class there were a couple of
commonplace items.  Her eyes wandered on.  Under it there was a
clever call for a reunion of the next class signed by the
secretary, Laura Drew Westerman.  Mother sat down heavily, and the
Thing, after a long hibernating period, awoke and raised its scaly

Now, there is in the life of every married woman a faint, far-away,
ghostly personage known as the Old Girl.  Just how much they had
meant to each other, Mother had never known.  She did know that
every spring and fall for twenty-six years she had cleaned out a
box which contained, among other trinkets, an autograph album and a
copy of Lucile and a picture of a dark-eyed girl in a ridiculously
big-sleeved dress, all marked "To Henry from Laura."  Laura Drew
was Henry's old girl.

So from this lack of knowledge and the instinct inherited from
primal woman had been hatched a little slimy creature, so unworthy
of Mother that she had refused to call it by its real name.  That
had been years ago.  With the coming of children and the passing of
years, the Thing had shriveled up, both from lack of nourishment
and because Mother laughed at it.  A Thing like that cannot live in
the white light of humor.  But now, quite stunned by the sudden
surprise that the Thing was alive, she could only listen passively
to what it was saying:

"So! even though he has been kind and loving and good and true to
you," It said tragically, for It loves to be tragic, "ACROSS THE

On the train the next day, Mother steeled herself to venture, quite
casually:  "I saw by your Alumnus last night that Laura Drew is to
be there."

"Yes, I saw that, too," Father said simply, and the subject was

On the station platform at Oxford, Mother clung to Father's arm for
just a second, he seemed so boyish and enthusiastic.  She stood for
several minutes by the side of her bags watching the train curve
around the bend of the bluff, carrying Father down the road to
youth--and Laura Drew.

Then, with characteristic good sense, she determined to put the
thought completely out of her mind and devote herself to the
resurrection of her own youth.  So she walked energetically into
the station, spread a paper on the dusty bench, and sat down.  Her
feet hurt her, but the trim girlish appearance of the gray suede
shoes peeping out from under the smart suit was full compensation
for all earthly ills.

A little gray-haired, washed-out woman in an out-of-date, limpsy
suit was wandering aimlessly around the room.  In the course of her
ramblings she confronted Mother with a question concerning the
train to Mount Carroll.  Mother, in turn, interrogated the woman.
IT WAS JULIE!  Julie Todd, whose round, happy face Mother had
crossed two states to see.  Poor Mother!

After the first shock, she drew Julie down beside her on the bench
and the two visited until their train came.  Julie had no permanent
home.  Her husband, it seemed, had been unfortunate, first in
losing the money his father had left him, and then in having his
ability underestimated by a dozen or so employers.  He was working
just now for a dairyman--it was very hard on him, though--out in
all sorts of weather.

There were seven children, unusually smart, too, but their father's
bad luck seemed to shadow them.  Joe, now, had been in the army,
and had left camp for a little while--he had fully intended to go
back; but the officers were very disagreeable and unjust about it.
And on and on through an endless tale of grievances.

It was late afternoon when the train arrived at Mount Carroll.  The
station was a mass of moving students, class colors, arriving
parents and old grads.  Mother's spirits were high.

Em met them and took them to her pretty bungalow on College Hill.
Em had never married.  She was Miss Emmeline Livingston, head of
the English Department, and she talked with the same pure diction
to be found in Boswell's Life of Johnson.  Also, she was an ardent
follower of a new cult which had for its main idea, as nearly as
Mother could ascertain, the conviction that if you lost your money
or your appetite or your reputation, you had a perfect right to
make yourself believe that there had been chaos where there should
have been cosmos.

Nettie Fisher and Myra Breckenridge had arrived that morning, and
were there to greet Mother and Julie Todd.  Nettie Fisher was a
widow, beautifully gowned in black.  She had enormous wealth; but
the broken body of her only boy lay under the poppies in a Flanders
field, and she had come to meet these girlhood friends to try and
find surcease for the ache that never stopped.

Myra Breckenridge had no children, dead or living.  Her sole claims
to distinction seemed to be that she was the champion woman bridge-
player of her city, and that her bulldog had taken the blue ribbon
for two consecutive years.  She wore a slim, flame-colored dress
cut on sixteen-year-old lines.  Her fight with Time had been
persistent, as shown by the array of weapons on her dressing table.
But Time was beginning to fight with his back to the wall.

They made an incongruous little group, as far apart now as the
stars and the seas; but it had not evidenced itself to Mother, who,
with blind loyalty, told herself during dinner that a noticeable
stiffness among them would soon wear off.

After dinner, Mother unpacked her bags and hung the pretty gowns in
a cedar closet.  But the photographs that had been packed with
happy anticipation she left in the bag.  It would be poor taste to
display the views of her cherished sun-parlor and fireplace and
mahogany stairway to poor Julie, who had no home.  It would be
cruel to flaunt the photographs of all those lovely daughters and
sturdy sons before Nettie, whose only boy had thrown down the
flaming torch.  So Mother closed the bag and went downstairs to
meet the three boys of the old class who had come to call.

One of the boys was a fat judge, with a shining, bald head and a
shining, round face behind shining, round tortoise-shell glasses.
One was a small, wrinkled, dapper dry-goods merchant.  And one was
a tall doctor with a Van Dyke beard.  This completed the reunion of
the class.

There were numberless seats and chairs on the roomy porch of the
bungalow, and it was there that they all sat down.  The hour that
followed was not an unqualified success.  The reunion appeared not
to be living up to its expectations.  The old crowd was nothing but
a group of middle-aged people who were politely discussing
orthopedic hospitals and the reconstruction of Rheims.  Occasionally,
some one referred with forced jocularity to a crowd of jolly young
folks they had once known.  Ah, well! after all, you can't recapture
youth by trying to throw salt on its tail.

Sensing that things were lagging, Mother proposed that they walk up
to the old school, with Em to show them around.  They found a dozen
unfamiliar buildings, an elaborate new home for the president, and
a strange campanile pointing its finger, obelisk like, to the blue
sky.  Only the green-sloping campus smiled gently at them like a
kind old mother whose sweet face welcomed them home.

On Monday they attended the literary society's pageant.  As the
slowly moving lines of brilliantly costumed girls came into view,
Mother's heart was throbbing in time to the notes of the bugle.
With shining eyes she turned to the little widow.

"Nettie," she said solemnly, "we girls STARTED this parade day."

"I know it.  We all had big white tissue paper hats with pink roses
on them--"

"And we stole the Beta's stuffed monkey so they wouldn't have a

"And got up at four o'clock to pick clovers for the chain."

They had made the first chain, and now, gray haired, they were
standing on tiptoe at the edge of the crowd trying to catch a
glimpse of the lithe, radiant, marching girls--eternal youth
forever winding in and out under the shimmering leaves of the old

It was like that for three days.  They seemed always to be on the
outskirts of things, looking on.  For three days they went
everywhere together--class plays, receptions, ball games, musicals--
this little lost flock of sheep.  For three days Mother exerted
herself to the utmost to catch one glimpse of the lost youth of
these men and women.  Apparently they saw everything with mature
vision, measured everything by the standard of a half-century's

On the evening of the last day Mother gave up.  She was through,
she thought, as they all sat together on the porch.  There was to
be a concert by the united musical organizations, and the old crowd
was ready to go and sit sedately through the last session.  Very
well, thought Mother, as she chatted and rocked, she would try no
more.  They were hopelessly, irrevocably middle-aged.  She was
convinced at last, disillusioned, she told herself.  You can never,
never recapture youth.

Then, quite gradually, so that no one knew just how it began, there
came a change.  Some one said, "Remember, Myra, the night that red-
headed Philomathian came to call on you, and we girls tied a
picture of your home beau on a string and let it down through the
stovepipe hole into his lap?"

And some one else said, "Remember, Em, the time you had to read
Hamlet's part in 'Shake' class and Professor Browning criticized
you so severely, and then said, 'Now you may continue,' and you
read in a loud voice, 'Well said, you old mole'?"

And the doctor said, "Remember, Jim, the note you pinned on your
laundry to the wash-lady:

     If all the socks I've sent to thee
     Should be delivered home to me,
     Ah, well! the bureau would not hold
     So many socks as there would be,
     If all my socks came home to me?"

And before they were aware, they were going off into gales of

It came time for the concert, but no one suggested starting.  Each
succeeding anecdote heightened the merriment so that the under-
grads streaming by said patronizingly, "Pipe the old duffers!"

"Remember, boys, the Hallowe'en we girls hid from you, and you had
to furnish the supper because you didn't find us by nine o'clock?"

They all began talking at once about it, the men protesting that
the girls had come out from the hiding place before nine.

"If you girls hadn't nigged on the time, we'd have found you," the
men were arguing.  There was a perfect bedlam of voices.  Youth,
which up to this time had eluded them, had slipped, slyly,
unbidden, into their midst.  Mother was thrilling to her finger

"It was a night almost as warm as this," the judge said, "and the
moon was as gorgeous as it is to-night."

Mother, in the stunning black and white silk, jumped to her feet.

"Let's do it again!" she cried with an impulsive sweep of her
hands.  "To-night!  It's the nearest to youth we'll ever come in
our whole lives."  She turned to the men on the steps.  "The rules
are the same, boys.  Give us fifteen minutes' start, and if you
can't find us by nine, we'll come back here, and you'll buy the
supper.  If you find us, we'll buy it.  Come on, girls."

As Joan of Arc may have led her armies, so Mother's power over the
others seemed to hold.  In a wave of excitement, they rose to her
bidding.  Light of foot, laughing, the five women hurried across
one corner of the campus.  In the shadow of the oaks Mother stopped

"Is the same house still standing?" she asked breathlessly of Em.

"Yes, but others are built up around it now."

"Come on, then!"  With unerring feet, down to the same house where
they had hidden twenty-nine years before, Mother led them.

"What if some one sees us?" giggled Nettie.

"We should worry!" said the head of the English Department, which
was really the most remarkable thing that happened that night.

There it was--a house no longer new--but still standing, and as
dark as the others near it.  Evidently the occupants had gone to
the concert.  By the light of the moon they could see its high
cellar windows, still yawning foolishly open, waiting for them,
just as it had waited before.

Against the window they placed a sloping board and climbed slowly
up, one by one.  Em went first, then Myra, and Nettie, and Julie,
and, last, Mother.  At least, Mother's intentions were good.  The
window was about eighteen by twenty; and Mother, quite eighteen by
twenty herself, stuck halfway in and halfway out.  Up the street
they could hear the old whistle--the boys calling to each other.
Laughing hysterically, tugging desperately at her, the other four,
after strenuous labor, pulled Mother down into the cellar, where,
groping around in the dark, she found the cellar stairs and sat
down.  They were all shaking with laughter spasms, that kind of
digestion-aiding laughter which comes less often in the ratio of
the number of years you are away from youth.

For some time, whispering and giggling nervously and saying "Sh!"
constantly to each other, they sat in the black cellar.

Suddenly, an electric light snapped on over Mother's head and the
door above her opened.  "What are you doing in my cellar?" snarled
a voice as gruff as the biggest bear's in "Goldilocks."

The giggling died as suddenly as though it had been chloroformed.

Cold as ice, Mother rose and faced the darkness above her.  Then
she said with all her Woman's Club dignity--which is a special de
luxe brand of dignity--"If you will allow us to come up there, I
think we can make a very satisfactory explanation."

"You can explain to the town marshal," answered the sour voice, and
the owner of it slammed the door.

They sat down dismally and waited.  They heard the telephone ring
and then the wooden shutter of the cellar window was banged down
and fastened.

"He needn't have done THAT," Mother said stiffly.  It is claimed
that housebreakers are often sensitive about their honor.

During the long wait every fiber of Mother's brain concentrated on
one word--DISGRACE.  If the papers got hold of it!  Even if they
wrote it up as a joke!  Imagine--to be written up as a joke at

There were footsteps overhead, and then the gruff voice, "Come up
out of there now!"

Slowly they filed up the narrow dark stairs.  Mother went first.
As she had led them into this sickening dilemma, so would she be
the first to face the music.

"May we have some lights?" she asked frigidly.


Lights were turned on.  Three men stood there:  A fat one with
tortoise-shell glasses; a little, wrinkled, dapper one, and a tall
one with a Van Dyke beard--all fiery red from silent convulsions
brought on by ingrowing laughter.  As the women filed in, the pent-
up laughter rolled forth from the men in shrieks and howls.  Then
the shouting and the tumult died, for Nettie and Julie were
smothering the fat one with some one's sofa pillows, Myra and Em
were taking care of the bearded one, and Mother was shaking the
little one, while he motioned feebly with his hands that he was
ready for peace.

"Kamarad!" gasped the fat judge when he could get his breath.
"Anyway, you'll admit we were speaking the truth when we said we
could have found you."

"Now let's dig out," said the doctor, whose respiratory organs were
again working, "before the folks that own this house come home from
the concert and send us all up."

Breaking out into hilarious laughter at intervals, they walked down
to the store at the foot of the hill, and there the girls bought a
lunch to make angels weep.  It consisted of buns, bananas, wienies,
chocolate candy, and dill pickles.

Across pastures, crawling under barb-wire fences, went the
cavalcade, to build a bonfire down by old Salt Creek.  Gone were
the years and the family ties.  Forgotten were the hours of failure
and the hours of triumph.  They were the old crowd singing,
"Solomon Levi."  Youth was in their midst.  And the moon, bored to
the point of ennui, at the countless hordes of students it had seen
roasting wienies in that identical spot, brightened at the novel
sight of the old duffers taking hold of hands while they sang and
danced around the huge fire.

As chimes from the campanile striking twelve came faintly through
the night, youth suddenly dropped her festive garments and fled, a
Cinderella that could not stay.

The little straggling procession started soberly back across the
meadow.  Julie's rheumatism was beginning to manifest itself.  The
head of the English Department was painfully aware that in the
place where she had stowed that awful collection of indigestibles
there was chaos where there should have been cosmos.  Far, far
behind the others came the judge and Mother; not from any
sentimental memory of their past friendship, but because, being the
possessors of too, too solid flesh, they were frankly puffed-out.

Father swung off the steps of the train at Oxford and took Mother's

"Well, did you get your thrill, Mother?"

"I most certainly did."  Mother was smiling to herself.

They walked down the Pullman to Father's section, which he had
chosen with careful regard to Mother's comfort.

"And you--did you have a good time?" Mother questioned when they
were seating themselves.

"Fine--just fine!"  Father was enthusiasm personified.

A quick little tug at Mother's heart reminded her that the Thing
was still alive.

"Were there many of your old classmates back?" she parried, giving
herself time to bring out the real question.

"Two, just two."  Father was glowing at the happy memory of some
unuttered thing.  "Just old Jim Baker and I.  Jim's kind of down
and out--works around the University Cafeteria."

"Was--?"  It was coming.  Mother braced herself.  "Was Laura Drew

"Yes."  Father's face shone with the light of unspoken pleasure.
"Yes, she was there."

The Thing seemed to bite at Mother's throat and wrap a strangling
tail around her heart.  With the pleasure with which we turn the
knife in our wounds, she asked in a tense little voice:

"Is she--does she seem the same?"

Father drew his rapt gaze from some faraway vision to look at

"The same?" he repeated, a trifle dazed.  Then he said cheerfully,
"Why--maybe--I don't know.  I didn't see her."

"Didn't SEE her?"

"No.  I didn't see much of anybody."  Father grew confidential.
"The fact is, old Jim Baker and I played checkers 'most all the
time for the three days.  He got off every morning at eleven and
we'd go around to his room.  By George!  It was nip and tuck for
two days.  But the last day--I BEAT HIM."

"CHECKERS!"  Mother breathed but the one word, but the ingredients
of which it was composed were incredulity, disgust and merriment.

Then she laughed, a bubbling, deliciously girlish laugh, and the
Thing relaxed its hold on her heart, turned up its toes, and died.

Surreptitiously, Mother reached down and pulled off the expensive
suede shoes.  "Now," she announced, "there's one grateful pair of
feet in the world."

Then she fixed herself for the long ride to the West.  "Henry," she
laid a plump hand on Father's arm, "you are SUCH a comfort to me.
Won't it be nice to get home and settle down to being middle-aged



After Mother's return from Mount Carroll the family slipped into
the routine occasioned by the hot days of the summer.  Katherine,
in that domestic way of hers, took up the daily work easily.
Eleanor, sunburned almost beyond repair by tennis, was as active as
a swallow.  Junior, with all of the inventive genius of an
imitation Edison and the energy of a tractor engine, made the days
dangerous to the neighborhood.  Marcia--!  With her all-seeing eye
Mother had detected that vague little soreness that her gayest
daughter was harboring, and in that sympathetic way which was a
part of her, she felt as hurt as Marcia.  Wisely she said nothing.
In September Marcia would be going to Capitol City.  She would see
John Wheeler there.  If it was to be, thought Mother, the
friendship would pick up again.

And two blocks away from the Masons' there was a little tragedy
going on.

It seems almost cruel to take advantage of the fact that in the
household of Bob and Mabel domestic affairs were at their lowest
ebb.  But on this hot summer day, the sweltering sun at high noon,
the tide had gone out.  The magic waves that made of the little
house an enchanting fairy castle with towers and turrets of
arabesque had felt the urge of some vagrant moon and receded.  And
behold!  On the sands stood only a bungalow, very tiny, rather
dirty, and wholly upset.

For the woman who does her own work, there is something about noon,
high noon in summer, to try the patience of a saint.  That
particular time of day may mean nothing to the proportion of
femininity that steps out of limousines and walks nonchalantly into
palm-bordered, electric-cooled tea-rooms for luncheon.  But for
that vast proportion that does its own work there is no time so
trying: the scorching sun, the warm kitchen, the cooking dinner,
the crying baby, the hungry man coming home.  It takes the courage
of an Amazon and the sweetness of St. Cecilia to go unscathed
through high noon of a hot summer day.

And Mabel seemed to have lost both of these requisites.  It was
Thursday and she had been trying to finish an ironing that, having
hung over from Tuesday, seemed endless.  Betty had needed an
unusual amount of attention.  Dirty dishes stood gloomily in the
sink.  There were little rolling, feathery wisps of dust on the
hard-wood floors.  A bunch of faded sweet peas stood in a cut-glass
vase like a withered old woman in a satin dress.  The whole house
had that forlorn, untidy look it acquires when the director drops
her baton and all the instruments go wrong.

Mabel was tired, with a tiredness that seemed of the spirit as well
as the body.  The work that once she had so joyed in the doing,
seemed, during the last few weeks, to have taken upon itself the
form of a Machiavellian monster, a horn-and-claw nightmare that
leered at her and would not give her peace.

It was time for Bob to come.  She put her ironing board away and
listlessly set the table.  She did not want anything to eat, but
she laid a plate for herself.

Bob came in, glanced at the tumbled-looking house and, in silence,
went out to take water to the chickens.  When he returned, Mabel
put on the boiled potatoes, unmashed, the stewed tomatoes, some
inferior dried beef, and bread that plainly said, "Darling, I am
growing old."  Then, hastily, she opened a can of cherries.  To
open canned fruit when there were fresh raspberries out on the
bushes!  But she had not had time to pick them.

It was not a nice meal.  No one knew it better than Mabel.

It was not a successful affair from any standpoint--edible,
artistic, or conversational.  Bob was not unpleasant.  Nor was he
pleasant.  He was merely a silent, stolid fixture, a human machine
that sat and automatically worked its jaws.

Betty pounded her mug on the shelf of her high chair and, with that
delicate choice of opportune moments displayed by our offspring,
began to bawl vigorously for apparently no reason at all,
stiffening and straining her fat little stomach against the shelf
until it nearly gave way.

"What ails that kid?"  Bob's speech broke quarantine.  "Can't you
do anything with her?"  There is nothing so aggravating to tired
nerves as the implication from a paternal parent that "a kid"
belongs only to its mother.

Mabel rose stiffly and took the offending culprit, who lunged up
and down in her arms with all the agility of an animated pump
handle.  Nor did she go back to the table.  She stayed in the
bedroom, trying to subdue the human hurricane.  She heard Bob push
back his chair.  Then he called briefly, "Won't be home to supper.
After the bank closes, I'm going over to Greenwood with Jim
Hartzell and Nicky Marston."

Mabel's answer was an indistinguishable monosyllable.  Then the
front door slammed.

There was a street fair at Greenwood, a horrid, common thing with
merry-go-rounds and confetti and dancing girls.  A wave of disgust
went over her that Bob should care to go.  Jim and Nicky were not
married.  If they chose to spend their time that way, no one was
especially concerned.  But Bob!

Mabel came out of the bedroom with Betty, who, with the
changeableness of a summer squall, had turned into an angelic
little creature, and was voluntarily bestowing damp kisses on her
mother's cheek.

Mabel looked mechanically at the clock.  It was only twelve-thirty-
five, and Bob was not due at the bank until one-fifteen.  He had
gone because home was not pleasant.  She did not blame him.  She
blamed only herself.  But she was so fagged!

She started to clear off the table, but a nausea seized her, a
sickening lassitude that seemed both mental and physical.

She went back into her bedroom and dropped down on the bed, the bed
that was not made.  So this was the way Destiny was going to treat
them?  Squeeze them mercilessly in the hollow of its hand?  Make of
their family life a flat, monotonous thing, unlovely and bitter?

Betty, who had pulled herself up by the cedar chest on fat, wobbly
legs, sat back again so hard that she cried.  Under like
circumstances Mabel had always run to her with little endearing
words of comfort.  Now she only lay watching the little thing's
tears in a curious, detached sort of way.

The hot sun shone in through the windows.  From the bed she could
see the dining-room table with the dirty dishes and the remains of
the untempting meal.  The room looked strange to her, and hostile,
like an alienated friend with malice on his face.  It was hard to
realize that it was the same room that had sheltered love, when
love was a throbbing, pulsing thing.  Memories of old incidents,
things Bob had said and done, came to her with poignant contrast to
the dragging days of this miserable summer.  It is the saddest
thing of all when the tide goes out, that on the dreary beach lie
the broken, bleaching bones of all the dear things-that-have-been.

If this were a photoplay, there would now be flashed on the screen:
"In the meantime--" and you would behold Mother in a light
afternoon dress with a parasol in her hand, coming down the front
steps of the Mason home.  A close-up would show the kind face that
no one in the audience would call handsome, and the graying hair,
and the dainty white surplice of her dress.

You would be told that she was on her way to attend a Foreign
Missionary meeting, and very soon afterward you would see her going
down the basement steps of a dignified but benignant-looking

What you would not be told, however, is the fact that the parasol
was brand-new, for of course all movie parasols are new.  On such a
slight detail hung the change in Mother's afternoon plans, for she
did not at any time go down the steps of the benignant-looking
church.  Which is the difference between a flesh-and-blood mother
and a celluloid one.

On the corner she stopped, realizing that she was early, a very
unusual circumstance, for she usually went rushing in breathless to
everything.  With as childish a reason for going around to Mabel's
as the showing of her new black-and-white-silk parasol to her
daughter-in-law, Mother turned up the side street.

There were two ways to go to Mabel's.  The morning way was up
through the alley, across a street and down Mabel's alley.  The
afternoon way was up Washington Street one block and down Locust
another block.  Seeing it was afternoon and Mother had on her
lavender pinstripe and an amethyst brooch, to say nothing of the
new parasol, she naturally took the way of the sidewalk.

Partly because she felt well dressed and partly because she was
entirely at peace with the world, Mother's thoughts were very
pleasant ones.  They dwelt on nothing very long or very definitely,
but jumped about like a little girl with a skipping rope.  She
thought of her part in the missionary lesson, to report the recent
high-caste conversions in Mesopotamia.  Mother was a little vague
as to where Mesopotamia was, but, as the other good ladies would be
equally as vague, it did not worry her.  She thought of the way a
slight breeze had unexpectedly sprung up, and how pretty Mrs.
Marston's geranium boxes were, and how nice it was that the chicken
pox sign was gone from the Thompson house, and how attractive Bob's
and Mabel's bungalow looked down the street.

Before Mother arrives there, it might be well to insert something
of Bob's and Mabel's romance which, paradoxically, had not seemed
romantic to any one but themselves.  It was only the outrageously
frank Marcia, however, who had said it out loud:  "Believe ME, if I
ever have a serious affair, I pray the gods it won't be with some
one I've played 'run-sheep-run' and 'steal-sticks' with all my
life."  This, of course, had been several years before.

"Well, they certainly ought to know each other," Father had
remarked cheerfully.

"I should say SO," Marcia had agreed.  "Bob was present when Mabel
knocked out her first loose tooth, and Mabel has seen Bob with
dirty rags tied on his stubbed toes, and ISN'T that romantic?"

No, there had been nothing highly exciting about Bob's courtship.
Mabel had played "ante-over" in the neighborhood crowd, a quiet
little girl with thick, ashy-light hair and a sprinkle of freckles
across a nose that followed literally the motto "Look up--not

She was an only child, fatherless at ten.  Her mother, with that
tigerlike ferocity with which a delicate woman will sometimes get
up and attack life for the sake of her offspring, had worked at
sewing early and late that her daughter might have schooling.

Mabel had grown from a quiet little girl into a demure young lady,
her ashy hair wound round her head in thick braids, her nose still
uptilted, although the freckles, ashamed of their existence, had
miraculously vanished into the background.  No one could call her
pretty, but she was gentle mannered, sweet of face, and the
possessor of a certain shy drollness that was very attractive to
those who knew her well.  "And she certainly does know how to keep
house," Mother would always say.

Bob, finishing high school, had gone away to college.  There had
been great things expected of him in the Mason household, for he
was the apple of Mother's eye.  From the moment he was placed, red
and colicky, in her arms, and she noted the wonderful shape of his
head, Mother had had visions of him jauntily upholstering the
Presidential chair.

Here's to the mothers who hang above cradles and foresee the
wonderful destinies of the little mites of humanity who lie there
sleeping!  May they continue, down the ages, to believe with
roseate confidence that they have given birth to the brilliant
leaders of the world's thought, instead of blundering draymen,
mediocre clerks, and grumbling icemen.

Yes, Bob was to do wonderful things.  He was first to finish his
collegiate work, and then, because there are many footprints made
by lawyers' boots in the dust of the Presidential road, he was to
study the late Mr. Blackstone.  Mother used to dream how he would
come back to Springtown, his every move noted by a group of anxious
reporters, back to eat some of Mother's cooking.  To be sure, it
had turned out that he came back for Mother's cooking, but it was
from only two blocks away.

During Bob's college course, Mabel's mother had died, quite
unexpectedly, fighting to the last, but partially resigned because
her girl was going to marry as good a boy as Bob Mason.  Bob had
come home and stated definitely that he was through school; that he
was going in the bank with Father and earn a home for Mabel.
Father and Mother had talked with him, attempting to dissuade him,
and trying to think of some satisfactory arrangement for Mabel
while he went on to school, but he had been obstinate.  Mother had
even gone so far as to suggest that he was young and perhaps there
would some time be another girl--?  Bob had given her a penetrating
look, and said quietly, "You know that isn't so, Mother!"  And
Mother, remembering the tenacity with which he had always clung to
his boyhood decisions, had known it was not true.

So Bob had gone in the bank, and he and his only sweetheart were
married.  Mother had sighed and put away her dreams along with
Bob's baby shoes, over which she shed a few sentimental tears every
spring and fall when she cleaned the attic bureau.  Then, mother-
like, she had figuratively dusted the Presidential chair for

Mother arrived at the bungalow and went up the front steps,
placing, as she passed, an investigating finger in the fern box.
Dry as a bone, she thought!

The porch was dusty, the front door locked.  Through the small-
paned glass she could see Betty creeping hurriedly toward her like
a little dog with its head in the air.

"Where's Mamma?" Mother called.

"Da-ja-schpee!" Betty blubbered, putting a soiled little fist out
to Grandma.

Mabel came to the front door and let Mother in.  She smiled, but it
was a soulless, shadowy ghost of a smile.  "Come in, Mother, I'm
ashamed of the way I look.  I haven't even cleared off my--I ought
to have swept the--I--"  She was making futile little lunges toward
spools and wooly animals on the floor.

With that instinct that would have made of her an able Pinkerton or
Burns assistant, Mother knew that something was radically wrong.
It was in the atmosphere.  Almost she could smell it.

But she only said cheerfully, "Oh, don't mind ME!  I guess you
can't tell ME how hard it is to keep things up with a baby."

Mabel sat down on the davenport, the dusty davenport, a taut little
figure with clenched fists.  "I was ironing--and things piled up so--
and Betty seemed to take so much care--and--"  It went swiftly
through her mind that she couldn't even TALK about anything but
that work.

"Then just sit still and rest a few minutes before I go on," Mother
said comfortably.  She unearthed from somewhere about her ample
person a crochet needle and thread, and settled back in her chair.

"It's awful hot weather to do all your work and take care of the
baby.  I know just how you feel."  Mother had meant to say
something soothing, but it had the effect of bringing swift tears
to Mabel's eyes.

"I'd get along better if I could ever catch up," she said in a
quavery voice.  "I'm not well--I--I'll be all right after a while--
"  She turned her head from Mother.  She was not crying but her
voice was at the breaking point.

Mother looked keenly at her for a moment, and then asked her a
gentle question, to which Mabel nodded her head and burst weakly
into a flood of tears.

"Why, Mabel dear, you should have told me before."

"I didn't want to--I--Oh, Mother, Betty is SO little yet, but even
then I wouldn't care if--if Bob was all right about it."

"Bob?" Mother questioned.

"Yes."  The little figure on the big davenport was trying to
control its sobs.  "He's never even mentioned it . . . since the
day I told him . . . and all he said that time was just--'Oh, my
g-good gosh!'"

Mother's sense of humor, like the poor, she always had with her.
It did sound funny, but she would as soon have thought of laughing
at a blind man's affliction as at Mabel.

"I think about it so much," the younger mother went on.  "I can't
tell you how I feel that he doesn't like it . . . sort of DEGRADED!
And the worst part of it is I'll make the little thing moody and
cross by my attitude."

"Oh, SHOOT!"  Mother was definitely concise.  "There's not the
slightest thing in THAT.  If ever I was gloomy and down-at-the-
mouth in my life, it was before Marcia was born.  Just think,
Mabel, she was my third, all mere babies, and I supposed, of
course, Marcia would be a cross, moody child, and, instead, you
know yourself that if Marcia were lost in an African jungle, she'd
manage to have fun with the parrots and orang-outangs."

Mabel gave a faint, wan smile.  Mother Mason was certainly a
comforting confessor.

"I've tried to keep pleasant," Mabel went on.  "You don't know HOW
I've tried.  I have that verse pinned up on my dresser, about

     The man worth while is the man who can smile,
     When everything goes dead wrong."

"Take it down," Mother said cheerfully.  "If there's a verse in the
world that has been worked overtime, it's that one.  I can't think
of anything more inane than to smile when everything goes dead
wrong, unless it is to cry when everything is passably right.  That
verse always seemed to me to be a surface sort of affair.  Take it
down and substitute 'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from
whence cometh my help.'  THAT goes to the heart of things--when you
feel THAT strength, then the dead-wrong things begin to
miraculously right themselves."

Mother paused to pick out a crochet stitch and then went on:
"About Bob, I must say that doesn't seem real nice of him, but he's
like his father.  He's all Mason.  And Henry can keep still about
things the longest of any one I ever knew.  _I_ want to say
everything right out and get it over.  Marcia is like me, and so's
Junior.  Katherine and Eleanor are partially like their father, but
Bob's just ALL Mason.  Henry used to worry me terribly when we were
first married.  I've had him come home to dinner and sit and eat--
and say nothing much--until I wanted to scream.  I thought he was
brooding about something, or that the dinner was disgusting him, or
that he was wishing he had married his old girl."  Mother gave a
chuckle.  "And I had spells of being downright miserable, until I
came to the conclusion that he would never change, and that I
couldn't make him talk freely about things any more than he could
stop my continual chatter."

Mother looked up with a deprecatory smile.  "Far be it from me,
Mabel, to preach.  I never could stand some old woman coming in and
handing out free advice.  We all have to work out our own
salvation.  As my Scotch mother used to say, 'Every Jennie has a-
muckle to do wi' her own Jockie.'  But I want you to know that I've
been through all this.  We're all inclined to think we have a
monopoly on each new sensation that comes to us, that it's our own
particular little grievance.  But every feeling and every thought
you may have now has probably been felt and thought by mothers from
the time the world began.  Fundamentally, you and Bob are no
different from Isaac and Rebekah.  Just keep as cheerful as you
consistently can, and hang onto your faith that these minor ups and
downs make not a whit of difference with the great love you bear
each other."

Mother rolled up her crochet work.

"There!  I usually charge fifty cents for this lecture, but seeing
it's YOU it will only be a quarter."  She went off into such a gay
little laugh that Mabel gave a watery imitation of it.

Mother turned up the sheer lavender skirt around her waist and
pinned it with a capable looking safety-pin.  So far as Mother was
concerned, every member of the Springtown missionary auxiliary
could die in total ignorance of there ever having been a high-caste
convert in Mesopotamia.

"Now, I have a little plan.  It popped into my head ready to spring
out full-sized, like Minerva or Diana, or whoever it was that did
that little acrobatic stunt."  Having raised a household of young
folks, Mother sometimes used shocking language.  "Anyway, it's a
good plan.  What YOU need is a change.  You're coming to my house
to visit me, until--let's see--next Tuesday evening.  That will be
five days in which you are not to turn your hand, either to work or
look after Betty.  You pack everything you need, for if you forget
anything you can't come back after it any more than if you had gone
on a trip a hundred miles from here."

"Oh, Mother, there are the chickens!" Mabel protested.

"We'll tell the little McCabe boy he can have the eggs for looking
after them."

"And eggs are SO high!"

"Not as high as nerves," Mother retorted.  She was pinning one of
Mabel's bungalow aprons around her ample waist, using the sleeves
for strings.

Mabel protested vehemently, but Mother was firm.  "You go take a
hot bath," she told her.  "There's nothing like a bath for

"But I can't leave the house like this."

"Oh, yes, you can."  Mother was pleasantly certain of that.  "I'll
wash the dishes, and then we'll just close the door on everything;
and next Wednesday morning you can go to work again to your heart's

Mother picked up Betty and put her in the high chair, and from
three potatoes and some toothpicks made her a fat horse and a
crooked-necked cow.

In the late afternoon Mother and Mabel strolled toward the Mason
home with Betty in the cab, a clean Betty, hugging a crooked-necked
potato cow to her bosom.

When Father came home from the bank Mother told him to take the car
and go after Betty's crib.  Father went off as he was told.  He was
one of those men who have learned to have implicit faith in their
wives' management.  If Mother had said, "Henry, take this pail and
bring me some milk from the Milky Way," he would have unthinkingly
reached for the bucket.

It seemed nice to be with Bob's fun-loving family.  And better
still, it seemed heavenly not to have anything to do.  They were
all out on the big porch when Bob came from Greenwood, came with
the information that he had had a bum supper and been to a punk
show.  When the five-day visit was explained to him, he said, "Good
enough!  We've been living on short rations for three weeks."

Mabel, who would have had to fight to keep back the tears at such a
statement earlier in the day, fortified now by Mother's talk,
laughed surprisingly with the others when Mother said, "It has
probably been a heap sight better than you deserved, son."

After all, there are only about seventy waking hours in five days,
so the time was not long.  Under Mother's stern edict, Mabel did
not so much as see the kitchen.  With shameless regularity Mother
surreptitiously hired Eleanor and Junior to take turns in caring
for Betty.  There were good meals, of which Mabel partook with
growing appetite, and there were company and music, and a great
deal of nonsensical conversation.

On Tuesday afternoon, just before the supper hour, Bob and Mabel
went home, accompanied by a market basket in which Mother had
packed some things for their supper.

Mabel got out of the car and carried Betty up the front walk.  The
fern boxes dripped cool moisture.  The porch was clean.  The
windows were shining.  Bob unlocked the door, and he and his father
carried Betty's little white enameled bed into the house.

Mabel stepped into the living room and looked about her.  There was
not a flicker of dust in sight.  Everything shone.  "Tillie!" she
thought.  Mother had sent Tillie to help her "catch up."  She
recalled Mother's vague, "Oh, Tillie went away for the day."

She could not know, of course, that when Mother explained matters
to Tillie, and asked her to go over and do up the work for Mabel,
Tillie had sniffed and remarked in her usual agreeable manner,
"Huh!  I guess this gettin' married ain't what it's cracked up to
be.  There's thorns a-plenty in it, I'm thinkin'."

"Yes, Tillie," Mother had said placidly, "there are."  And then she
had smiled a little as she finished the quotation to herself, "'But
ain't the roses sweet?'"

Mabel passed on to the dining room.  Yes, there was the ultimate
proof that Tillie had been there.  The cut-glass wedding vase stood
on the table.  In it was one of Tillie's hodgepodge bouquets,
consisting of a large yellow marigold, two scarlet poppies, some
stiff zinnias of a dull magenta color and a handful of variegated
verbenas.  A more inartistic combination could scarcely be
conceived, but to Mabel it was the gift WITH the giver, and it was
not bare.

Father, with a final tousling of Betty, went away.

Now is the time, if this were a model story and not just the
simple, unadorned chronicles of an ordinary American family, that
Bob would take Mabel in his arms and say, "Home again, dear heart."

He did nothing of the kind.  He said, "I'll bet there are enough
raspberries to make a mess for supper."

So he took a pan and went whistling out to the back yard and Mabel
took off her hat and hung it in the closet.  Then she went into the
kitchen, her shining, sweet-smelling, fascinating kitchen, and
unpacked the basket that Mother had sent.  She got out fresh linen
and set the dining table.  She was glad to be home again in her
sweet, clean home, where everything was her own.  She touched the
dishes lovingly as she placed the buns and the cold sliced meat and
the sponge cake on the table.  Betty, who had found an old battered
doll, was sitting quietly in the corner and industriously
endeavoring to pick its one eye out.

After a while Bob came in with the berries.  "There's enough for a
pie, too, Mabel," he called to her.

"Good!  I'll make one to-morrow.  I'm just ACHING to bake something
again.  I believe I'll make cookies, too, cream ones or oatmeal."

They ate supper.  The late afternoon sun flickered in through the
small-paned windows.  The white ruffled curtains swayed in and out.
Betty pounded her mug and spoon on the shelf of her high chair and
said, "Der-scher-scher," and a great many other moist, blubbery
things.  There was peace in the little dining room like the
tranquillity of still waters, like the calm of the forest primeval,
like the dulcet, melting tones of the voice that breathed o'er

Betty grew quiet, and her head rolled and jerked about from side to
side.  The two watched her in amused silence until she slept.  Then
they waited a few minutes to make sure she was all gone.  It was
Bob who picked her up.  "Poor little tad!" he murmured in tender
tones.  "Papa's own little tired girl!"  There is nothing so
soothing to rested nerves as the implication from a paternal parent
that the dear baby belongs only to its father.

Together they peeled off her clothes, stopping suddenly at the
slightest show of animation on her part.  By dint of much twisting
and turning of plump little arms and legs they succeeded in getting
her into her nightgown.  Bob carried her into the bedroom and Mabel
tiptoed behind him.  Together they pulled the sheet over her and
adjusted the shades.  Together they hung over her bed and looked at
each other rapturously as she gave one of those sudden fleeting
smiles in her sleep that sentimental parents say are caused by the
kisses of the guardian angel in its vigil, and practical physicians
say are caused by kinks from a slight inflammation in the

Mabel went out to clear off the table.  She had an exquisite, warm
sensation that everything in the universe was right.  A poet has
called it "the lift of the heart."

She washed the few dishes.  Never again, she thought, would she let
the work get so far behind.  She would, of course; but housekeepers'
resolutions, like hope, spring eternal in the human heart.

When the dishes were finished, it occurred to her that Bob had not
come out of the bedroom.  So she went to the door and looked in.
He had a yardstick in his hand with which he seemed to be
measuring.  Mabel watched him curiously.  He cautiously moved the
big bed out and then Betty's bed, measuring them both and the wall
space between.

"WHAT are you doing?" she whispered.

Bob wrote something down, then stuck his pencil behind his ear and
said, "By George!  I'm going to make the new little bed myself.
I've been examining Betty's--twenty dollars for it is a frost.
I'll bet I can make one and enamel it, and you can't tell the two

A glow like sunshine on opals came into Mabel's face.  There is a
look like it on the face of Maillart's "Madonna of the Waves."

Earnest, businesslike, Bob went on.  "He'll have to have one, you
know.  He'll have to have a bed of his own."

The madonna glow gave place to a roguishly mischievous expression:
"That's so.  She can't sleep with Betty, can she?"

Bob caught the inference immediately and sent back, "I should say
he won't want to sleep with his sister."

Being a woman, Mabel had the last of the dialogue, "Well, she'll
like her new bed, anyway.  Daddy."

Bob tossed the yardstick on the bed, came up to Mabel and put his
arm around her.  "Gee, Mabel!  It's nice to be home again alone--
just you and I and Betty."  He cupped his hand under the girl's
chin and turned her sweet face up to him.  His own dark head bent
to her.  "I kind of enjoyed being at the folks' again for a day or
two--but after that I sure wanted to come back home.  They're the
NOISIEST BUNCH!"  Bob was saying this, Bob who was "all Mason."
"Marcia clatters like the bell at a railroad crossing, and Eleanor--
did you ever see much a whirling dervish in your life?  I like my
sisters all right, but, for everyday living, I'd rather have
you . . . and this cozy home . . . and Betty . . . and--" he grinned
boyishly down at her, he was only a grown-up boy after all--"and
Betty's little BROTHER."  It ended in a kiss, a kiss straight from
the heart of a man who loved.

The tide had come in, the magic tide that made of the little home
an enchanted castle with towers and turrets of arabesque.  Ah,
well!  Because of dreary winter, the robin's song seems more blithe
and gay and lilting.  And it is worth years of exile just to have
the blissful rapture of coming home again.

Two blocks away, a plump lady with graying hair was saying to a
tall man, apropos of nothing, "Henry, to be real honest with
ourselves, don't you think, in these twenty-seven years, you and I
have managed to get along remarkably well?"

Henry, who was used to being disturbed when he was reading, did not
even look up.

He only said, "Well, I HAVE got an unusually good disposition."

At which the plump lady made a face and said, "OH, YOU GET OUT!"



It was during the middle of this summer that Junior's natural
dislike for Isabelle Thompson developed, possibly because of the
extreme hot weather like any other epidemic among carnivora, into a
sort of boyish hydrophobia.

The Thompsons were the Masons' nearest neighbors, the two yards
being separated by a low hedge.  The family consisted of Mr. and
Mrs. Tobias Thompson, and two daughters: Blanche, who was a little
older than Eleanor Mason, and Isabelle, aged eleven.

Mrs. Thompson was a little thin woman who reveled in the reputation
of being the neatest housekeeper in Springtown.  Why do those
characteristics so often go together?  Does the thin, wiry
condition of a woman's body beget neatness!  Or does she keep
herself worn thin by her energetic scrubbing?  Is it a physiological
or a psychological problem?

However that may be, Mrs. Thompson continued to lay strips of rag
carpet over her best rugs to keep them clean, and then a layer of
newspapers over the rag carpet to save that, too.  Andy Christensen
declared that she came clear out to the gate to meet him whenever
he brought up the groceries on a muddy day.

Her neatness extended to the other members of her household.
Tobias was proprietor of a combined grocery and meat market; and no
pig, dizzily hanging head downward from its peg in the back room,
looked more pink or slick or skinned than he.

"It is certainly nice to think our meat comes from such a clean
place," Mother often said.

"Yes," the frank Marcia agreed, "if you don't mind a little thing
like underweight."

"Believe me!" Eleanor added.  "Tobias would pinch a wienie in two
if he dared."

Mrs. Thompson's mind was as neat as the rest of her.  It, too, was
a prim, tidy place with symmetrical shelves on which were stored a
few meager but immaculate items, such as cleanliness being next to
godliness, dancing a device of the devil, and that the only route
to heaven was via the particular church to which she belonged.
Yes, everything in her mind and heart was small and neat and
necessary.  Those organs were not all cluttered up with a lot of
unessential rubbish like Mother Mason's.  There were no tag ends of
emotion over the moon swinging out from behind a swirl of silver
clouds, nor messy scraps of thrills because a thrush was singing in
a rain-drenched lilac bush at twilight.  Mother's was the soul of a
poet.  Mrs. Thompson's was the soul of a polyp.

She was one of the few people who riled Mother through and through.
She would say, "_I_ won't quarrel with any of my neighbors," as
though the others ran around seeking trouble.  Or, "I'VE always
said honesty was the best policy."   It was as though she felt she
had invented honesty.

The Masons, among themselves, always spoke of the elder Thompson
daughter as "Blonche," in imitation of the broad and stilted
pronunciation her mother used.  As for Isabelle, Junior's crowd of
boys had a pet name for her also.  There is a portion of the human
anatomy that is never mentioned in a drawing-room.  The said
section is bounded on the north by the lungs, on the south by the
hip-bone socket and on the east and west by the ribs.  Although it
is never spoken aloud in polite society, far be it from any one to
accuse Junior and Runt Perkins and Shorty Marston of constituting
polite society.  So in the privacy of their own crowd they always
spoke of the younger Thompson girl as Is-A-Belly.  It was not
gallant nor was it kind, but twelve-year-old boys are quite often
neither gallant nor kind.

As a consequence of their mother's narrow attitude, the two
Thompson girls were self-consciously engrossed in their own
attainments.  Their mother believed that her daughters, like the
king, could do no wrong, a view that was thoroughly shared by the
girls themselves.  They were perfect in their manners, immaculate
as to their persons, flawless in their conduct.  But, lacking a
sense of humor which would otherwise have been their redeeming
quality, they were excellent specimens of that despicable creature--
a prig.

The fun-loving Mason girls spoke always of "Blonche" as The Perfect
One, and Junior continued to use that nameless, ungallant
appellation for Isabelle whenever his boyish disgust of her pure,
faultless record grew too deep.

Boys of this age live on the border between childhood and
adolescence.  It is a sort of No Man's Land in which they seem not
to know just where they belong.  In this they are not unlike the
maiden with reluctant feet.  They are such a queer mixture of youth
and childhood that one hour, with developing mind, they seem to be
reaching out into the future to wrestle with man-sized problems,
while the next hour, with no conscious understanding of the change,
they abandon that mood to drop back into the trifling plays of

This was an hour, this particular warm summer evening, when Junior
had slipped back into babyhood.  With all the inanity of which he
was capable, he had pried off a loose slat in the trellis-work
under the back porch, and with much grunting and wiggling, had
managed to crawl through.  His reason for doing it?  Ask the wind
or the stars or the morning dew.  No, the motives of a twelve-year-
old boy are not always governed by a rational cause.  He just did

Scrounging under the porch, he looked around in the semi-darkness.
His eye lighted on an old battered, rusted, tin street car, a relic
of younger, if not happier, days.  He succeeded in pulling off one
of the tin wheels.  There was a hole in the center of the wheel
left by the withdrawing of the hub.  He held it to his mouth and
blew.  It gave forth a weird, plaintive sound like the mewing of a
cat.  Immediately, with that ability to become all things to all
men, Junior felt himself taking on the characteristics of a cat.
Fur seemed, in some miraculous way, to spring out on his body.
With the erstwhile street car wheel between his teeth and emitting
continuous purring sounds, he pad-padded out from under the porch.
With that capacity for sinking himself in an imaginary character,
he felt in his heart all the sly, treacherous attributes of a cat.
Nay, more, he WAS a cat.

Out on the lawn he crawled through the grass of the side yard to
the hedge, stopped to rub a pair of invisible whiskers against a
weed, nibbled daintily at a stalk of catnip, and settling back on
his haunches, laid the street car wheel aside to lap a presumably
clean tongue over a slightly soiled paw.  Then, with half-human,
half-feline promptings, he cogitated plans for the rest of the

Across the hedge at the Thompson home, some one was sitting in the
hammock behind the vine-covered lattice work of the porch.  Junior
could hear the steady squeak-squeak of the swaying ropes.  It would
be Isabelly, curled and beribboned, daintily holding her big doll,
likewise curled and beribboned.  Just what there is in the
contemplation of an immaculately clean, piously good little girl to
rouse the ire of a semi-soiled, ungodly, little boy, is one with
the mysteries of the Sphinx and the Mona Lisa smile.  Junior, at
thought of Isabelle sitting placidly in the hammock, was seized
with an uncontrollable desire to startle her out of that state of
calmness into one of sudden agitation.

So he crept through an opening in the hedge into the Thompson yard,
pausing with an imaginary distended tail, to crouch and spring at a
robin in the grass.  Failing to capture his prey, he crawled
noiselessly toward the porch, placed his forepaws on the lattice-
work and emitting a low whining purr, peered through the vines.

It was not Isabelle.  It was Blanche.  In the hammock with her sat
Frank Marston, his arm casually thrown across the back of the
hammock, his face in close proximity to hers.

The cat did not purr again.  Open-mouthed, he took in the little
scene before him, which spectacle included the placing of a hasty,
boyish kiss on Blanche's cheek.  Then the leading man and lady both
giggled rather foolishly.  They were very young.

Once again in the annals of history had curiosity killed a cat, for
all feline characteristics immediately left the onlooker, and he
became a normal twelve-year-old masculine biped.

He slipped noiselessly away, waiting until he had turned the corner
of the Thompson house before he allowed the pent-up laughter within
him to trickle forth.  It was too rich for words that he had
witnessed it.  Wouldn't every one laugh when he told them!  He ran
down the Thompson's side terrace, walked nonchalantly across the
street and around the next block.  On the way, he told the joke to
three people, Runt Perkins and Hod Beeson and Lizzie Beadle.  The
reason that he told no one else was the very simple one that those
were all the people he met.

Reaching home by this circuitous route, he burst in upon the family
with the tale.

"With my own eyes I seen 'em," he finished breathlessly.

"Saw them," corrected Katherine, didactically.

"Saw 'em," Junior repeated.

If Katherine was concerned with Junior's manner of speaking, Mother
was immediately concerned with the moral aspect of his spying, but
Marcia and Eleanor thought only of the news.

"WHAT do you know about that?"  It was Marcia.

     "Blonche, the fair, Blonche, the lovable,
     Blonche, the lily maid of Astolot!"

"Mrs. Thompson would have a fit and fall in it."  Katherine, too,
was growing interested.

"I wonder if Frankie was all scrubbed and sterilized," Eleanor put

"Girls!  Girls!" Mother remonstrated.

"Young folks are 'most all fools," was Tillie's affable
contribution.  At which Marcia and Eleanor wrung their hands and
pretended to weep.

"Junior!"  It was Mother who spoke severely.  "You probably meant
no harm, but let this be a lesson to you about sneaking up on any
one.  Promise me you'll not ever tell a soul."

"I promise," Junior said glibly.  But even as he spoke he cast a
guilty thought at the gossip he had left behind him like the long
tail of a Chinese kite.

The next night, the Mason family had just finished supper, for in
Springtown one eats dinner as the sun crosses the meridian and
supper as it sinks down behind the elms that line the distant banks
of old Coon Creek.

Chairs were pushed back.  Tillie had begun to pick up the dishes.
Father was opening the evening paper.  The white ruffled curtains
swayed in and out.  The girls were humming in concert "Somewhere a
Voice is Calling."  It was as peaceful a scene as the Arcadian
village of Grand Pr.

Just then the voice called, but it was neither tender nor true.  It
came in clicking, indignant tones from Mrs. Thompson at the dining
room door.  She came in like a hawk in a chicken yard.  In angry
tones she told them that Blonche had just heard what Junior had
been telling around town about her, that there was not one word of
truth in it, and that she wanted something done about it.  On and
on she went, delivering vindictive verbal upper-cuts to Junior,
making a self-righteous speech on the excellent quality of her
girls' upbringing, and finished with "Neither one of MY girls would
allow a thing like that."

For one brief, fleeting moment, Mother had an unholy desire to
retort, "Oh, of course, I've TAUGHT MY girls to spoon."

During the onslaught the members of the family had remained rooted
to their respective places like the king's family during the curse
on the Sleeping Beauty.  When she had finished, the spell broke.
Father was the first to stir.  He stirred himself so thoroughly
that he slipped quietly out of the dining room into the kitchen.
He could have diplomatically refused a loan to the governor.  He
could have argued violently with the members of the state banking
board.  He might even have unflinchingly faced a masked bank
robber.  But he could not face his little angry neighbor.  Mother,
in exasperation, sometimes wondered how so successful a business
man could be so helpless in domestic crises.

So it was Mother who took the stage.  She questioned Junior.  The
latter, fiery red and visibly embarrassed, wanted nothing in the
world so much as that the painful scene should end, even as that
older masculine member of the family.  So he did what almost any
little boy would have done, what George Washington might have done,
had there been twelve feminine eyes gazing at him in grief or anger
or concern.  He lied.

"I was just--" he mumbled, "just jokin'."

"You mean," Mother asked coldly, "that you made it up?"

Junior nodded his head.  And his guardian angel, in sorrow,
probably made a long black mark in The Book.

"Then," said Mother calmly, "you will go to every person you told
and try to make right your VERY POOR joke."  She assured Mrs.
Thompson that they would do all in their power to rectify matters,
and that Junior would apologize to Blanche.  Mrs. Thompson was
mollified.  She simpered a little.  "You know ME, Mrs. Mason.  _I_
don't like neighborhood quarrels."

"Neither do I," said Mother dryly.

Mrs. Thompson, in a state of mental satisfaction, wrapped her
mantle of self-complacency about her and left.

"The old polecat!" Tillie remarked sweetly when the door closed.
Although Tillie found plenty of fault with the Mason children,
herself, let some outsider do it and she was immediately on the

Every one was perturbed.  "Who did you tell?" Katherine demanded,
and the fact that she did not say "whom" was proof positive that
she was upset.

"I happened to tell Lizzie Beadle," Junior whimpered.

"Good NIGHT!"  Eleanor threw up her hands.  "You might just as well
have put it on the front page of the Springtown Headlight."

They all talked to him at once.  Katherine gave a hurried rsum of
the poem that concerns shooting arrows and words into the air.  It
was all very hard on his nerves.  So he got his cap and started to
the door.  Action, even if it were attempting to pick up spent and
scattered arrows, seemed highly preferable to the society of the
super-critical women of his household.

Strangely enough it was Marcia who followed him out onto the porch.
There were tears in her eyes.  Careless, tender-hearted Marcia had
impulsively erred so often herself that she felt more sympathy for
her little brother than any one else did.

"Junie!"  She threw an arm around his shoulder.  "You're like a
knight of old--why, Junie, you're Sir Galahad.  You're going on
your white horse in search of the Holy Grail, only this time the
Grail is Truth."

It pleased Junior's fancy.  His drooping head lifted a little.  He
ran down the steps and by the time he had unhitched an invisible
white charger with gold trappings, mounted him and started down the
street, he was quite impressed with the nobility of his journey.

Sustained by the thought of the character he was impersonating, he
stopped at Thompson's and mumbled a hasty apology to the red-eyed
Blanche.  It was noticeable that neither the maker of the apology
nor the recipient looked directly at the other.

He went next to Hod Beeson's.  It was rather trying to explain his
errand to him, Hod not knowing what Junior was talking about as he
had let the scandal go in one coal-grimed ear and out the other.
Eventually, Hod closed the rambling confession with "All right,
sonny.  That's all right."

So Junior rode next to the Beadles' little weather-beaten house and
told fat, untidy Lizzie his message.  Lizzie looked disappointed
over the news.  Perhaps she was thinking of a few arrows about it
she, herself, had shot into the air.  But she said, "You're some
kid, Junie, to take all that trouble for a smartie like Blanche
Thompson.  Have a cookie."

Junior, further impressed with his praiseworthy conduct, rode on to
the Perkins' where he made known his errand to Runt and his mother.

"Now, look at that," Mrs. Perkins turned to her own offspring.
"What a gentlemanly thing for Junior to do!"

After this Junior hated to give up his holy mission.  It seemed
uninteresting to turn around and go home after so few visits.  So
he began telling other people what he was doing.  He told several
of the boys of his crowd and Mrs. Hayes and the Winters' hired
girl.  He stopped Grandpa McCabe on the street and explained his
self-abasement to that deaf old man.  Grandpa couldn't sense it,
but gathering that something was wrong at the Thompsons', he
stopped in front of their home and leaned a long time on his cane,
looking anxiously toward the house.

After that, with sudden inspiration, it struck Junior that no one
had mentioned his apologizing to Frank.  Surely that was an
oversight on his mother's part.  Did not one owe an apology to the
kisser just as much as to the kissee?

So he rode up to the Marstons' colonial home, dismounted and went
in.  The Marstons were eating dinner as Springtown people do when
they have company from the city.  There was a rich uncle there and
his pretty daughter, to say nothing of a charming friend she had
brought with her.  Nicky and Frank and Shorty all sat at the table
clothed in their best suits and manners.

Junior, standing humbly just inside the dining room door, cap in
hand, felt that here before so appreciative an audience, was
opportunity for the grand climax of his self-humiliation.  So, in
the polite tones of a well-bred boy, he respectfully apologized to
Frank.  It could not have been done with more deference or
Chesterfieldian grace.  Junior had a swift desire that his parents
and sisters might have witnessed it.

A dull, brick red color surged over Frank's long, lean face.  "What
you talkin' about, kid?"

Junior dropped the rather formal, stilted tones of his former
speech and dropped into his own familiar boyish ones.  He seemed
deadly in earnest.  Any one hearing him could not help but be
impressed with his sincerity.  "You know, Frank, last night when
you kissed Blanche Thompson--didn't you hear a cat mew?  Why,
Frank, it wasn't a cat.  It was me.  I'm going around to all the
neighbors apologizin' for sayin' I seen you."

Amid smiles from the guests, an embarrassed laugh from his mother,
and unrestrained shouts from his dearly loved brothers, Frank got
up.  Junior sensed the fact that he was to pass out with Frank,
also.  Not every one is gifted with as delicate and acute

Out in the hall Frank grabbed his caller's shoulders in a crab-like
pinch.  Words hissed through his clenched teeth.  These were the
words:  "I'd like to make YOU into MINCEMEAT.  You hike out of here
and keep your mouth shut.  Ja understand?  Now, SCOOT!"

It was trying to Sir Galahad to have his high mission so
misunderstood.  He started home a little wearily, trying to forget
Frank's baneful attitude and remember only those who had praised
him.  Of such is the kingdom of optimists.

The entire Mason family was ensconced on the front porch.  They
greeted him rather effusively.  Every one seemed in a softened mood
toward him.  The truth was, the brave way in which he had faced the
results of his ill-advised joke appealed to them all.

He sat down in the hammock by Katherine, who put her arm around
him.  It made him hot and uncomfortable but he stood it.  Marcia
threw him a smile and Eleanor gave him a stick of gum.  He
preferred the latter.  Smiles are fleeting, but gum, with proper
hoarding, lasts a week.  Mother spoke to him cheerfully.  Even
Tillie neglected to look for dirt on his shoes.  Father, his feet
on the porch railing, gave a long rambling speech about veracity, a
sort of truth-crushed-to-earth-Abraham-Lincoln monologue.

The family went to bed with that light-hearted feeling which comes
after a painful domestic crisis has been passed.  It was apparent
to all, that Junior, in spite of the poor taste of his joke, had
vindicated himself.

And the evening and the morning were the third day.

The members of the family straggled into breakfast one by one.
Mother sighed as she saw them.  She knew that the ideal way was for
all the chairs to be pushed back from the table simultaneously.
But she could remember just once when it had happened: the Sunday
morning the bishop had been there.

Junior was the last to arrive.  Several drops of water, creeping
lingeringly down the side of his face, proclaimed to all who were
inclined to be pessimistic that he had washed.  He sat down with
great gusto.

"Well, I hope old lady Thompson feels better now.  Ya, I sure hope
she does."  He chuckled, spreading eleven cents' worth of butter on
a griddle cake.  "The old lady was purty excited, she was.  'N so
was Blonchie, 'til I fixed it all up fine about her'n Frankie.  Ya,
I fixed 'em.  But don't you fergit it, no matter what I said last
night, just the same, I SEEN 'em."

There was silence in the Mason dining room.  Every one looked at
Mother.  Mother looked across at Father, sitting there in all his
financial capableness and his domestic inability.  Father looked
helplessly back.  Mother knew that she was expected, as usual, to
take the steering wheel, but she felt like a skipper on an
uncharted sea.

A son of hers had spied upon his neighbors, gossiped, and then lied
about the truth.  Was the falsehood of last evening a double-dyed
sin?  Or was it the spirit of knighthood--that gallant thing that
has been handed down through the ages--the traditional honor with
which a gentleman protects a lady's name?  Mother gave it up.  For
the life of her, she did not know.

Junior, conscious of the impressive silence, decided that he was
making a hit.  And as it was not often given to him to create that
kind of stir in this particular circle, he waxed visibly in pleased
importance and genially reiterated:  "Ya, no matter what I said,
you can put this in your pipe--I seen 'em."

"Saw them," corrected Katherine mechanically, from pure force of

"Saw'm," repeated Junior, also from force of habit, and again a
pregnant silence descended upon the breakfast table.

It was broken by Father.  The assembled Masons looked at him
expectantly as he cleared his throat, preliminary to speech.  It
was a desperate situation that could rouse Father to grip the
domestic steering wheel.  In Mother's expression, relief struggled
with anxiety as to just what he was going to do.  If he was going
to thrash Junior--She half opened her lips, as Father gave another
preliminary cough.  Then he spoke.

"Looks a little like rain," he said.  "Hope we don't have a wetting
before the haying's over."



Once more summer dropped subtle hints to the Mid-West that she was
about to slip away, insinuated it with cooler nights, a day or two
of flurrying leaves and gay little taunts of wild asters thrown
along the banks of old Coon Creek.

This meant bringing down the trunks again from the storage room
that Katherine might go back to her second year of conscientious
teaching in Miles City, and Marcia might try her wings in Capitol
City.  Keith Baldridge was anxious to be married, but Katherine
wanted one more year of teaching.  This love of hers was so
wonderful that she wanted to hold it close a little longer as one
gloats over a rare jewel before wearing it.  Hesitatingly she tried
to explain this to Marcia.

"Silly!" was Marcia's frank comment.  "If I loved a man like that,
believe me, I can see myself continuing to eat chalk and perspire
over the causes of the Civil War."  Yes, Marcia was different from
Katherine.  Never would she be afraid to face life.

And she could not quite forget that day in the spring.  It had
stood out cameolike, would always stand out, unbelievably lovely to
her.  It was the first time in her life she had ever kept anything
from Mother.  But she, who was usually so voluble, could not bring
herself to discuss the fragile thing which had scarcely lived
before it died.  When she said good-by to the family, if she clung
a little longer to Mother than usual, it was because she felt that
Mother, with no definite information, still understood.

Arrived at Capitol City, Marcia went immediately to the room she
had engaged at the Preston boarding house where several of her old
sorority friends lived.  There, too, lived Miss Hill, an old
teacher in the Springtown schools who was now the principal of the
Lafayette School in which Marcia was to teach.  None of these knew
that she had even met the new superintendent.

She found the girls had gone to a general teachers' meeting at the
high school auditorium and so in her eleventh-hour way of doing
things, she managed to breeze into the assembly room just as the
final electric bell sounded.  She had only time to wave her hand
across the room to her old friends and to give Miss Hill an
impetuous hug.

"Hilly, I'm gladder'n anything to see you.  Sit in front of me and
let some of your intellectual rays shine on me, and the new supe
will think I'm a handy volume of the encyclopedia."

As the electric bell ceased jangling, the new superintendent opened
the door of his office suite and came briskly onto the platform.
To Marcia's mortification she could feel the color drop away from
her face and then return with interest on the principal.

He was speaking.  "We want the keynote of the year's work to be
coperation.  Coperation among pupils, teachers, parents and

Marcia only half heard.  She was thinking about a river and a bank
of moss, a few early May-blossoms and a lavender-and-gold sunset.
Stray phrases occasionally penetrated her dreaming:  "developing
the child's initiative" or "mental, moral, and physical growth."
They were as the tinkling of far-off raindrops.  It was only at the
close of his professional talk when announcements were made, that
she roused herself.

"There are three late changes," his familiar voice was saying:
"Miss Short of the third grade, Lowell, is transferred to the third
grade, Whittier.  Miss Miner of third grade, Whittier, is
transferred to fourth at Lowell.  Miss Mason of first grade,
Lafayette, is transferred to first grade, Longfellow."

All other things were suddenly forgotten in the fact that she was
to go to the Longfellow School, to leave Miss Hill.  Why, he had
PROMISED her the Lafayette grade.  She had counted on Miss Hill's
guiding hand.

"Oh, Hilly," she moaned, "why has he done that?"

"I don't know, dear.  Go up and talk to him.  Perhaps he would
arrange it some other way."

Marcia's eyes snapped.  "Not in four hundred years!"

"Then I'll go."  And Miss Hill shouldered her portly self through
the maze of chattering teachers.

Marcia looked about wildly for a chance to escape without passing
that tall figure ensconced by the door.  But after all she might as
well walk up and face the music.  It was impossible to keep out of
his way for any length of time.  "He will probably say 'I've met
Miss Mason' and some of the girls will hear him, so I'll have to
make some sort of an explanation," she thought.

Several of her friends stopped her for greetings.  They were still
with her when she went on to speak to the superintendent.  As she
came up to him he was holding out his hand as he had held it out to
dozens of other teachers before her.

"THIS is Miss Mason," said dear Miss Hill in her kind, cordial way.

Marcia raised eyes that were meant to be indifferently pleasant but
which only succeeded in being carefully miserable.  There was an
awful moment--it seemed fully a quarter of an hour long.

And then--"Miss Mason?" he repeated interestedly.  "Then you are
one of those transferred, are you not?"

"I believe so," she said stiffly--and it was over!

She slipped away to her boarding house as quickly as she could and
threw herself in a crumpled heap on the bed.  "How COULD he?" she
moaned.  "How could he act that way after last spring?"  It was
horrible that she was here.  If she could only get a job a thousand
miles away!  But school positions do not hand on gooseberry bushes
as late as September.

Suddenly she thought of something.  It brought her bolt upright,
clutching the spread.  Of course--the GIRL--the girl he had been
fond of as a friend!  He had decided to marry her--was engaged to
her now.  But even so, why couldn't he have referred to their short
acquaintance like a human being?  She wouldn't have mooned around
and talked to him about it, just a casual reference to it and they
could have dropped it.  She hoped she knew her place.

The door opened below and she heard the gay voice of Inez Walker,
the sorority sister who was to be her roommate.  She was busily
unpacking when Inez breezed in.

"Oh, Marcia, you dear thing!  If you knew how like Connie Talmadge
you look in that suit!  Isn't he the GORGEOUS man?  I'm simply
overcome.  Did you ever see a grander profile and WHAT do you know
about his not being married?"

Marcia slammed a dresser drawer.  "Inez, I might as well tell you
on the start--I hate him."

"Oh, Marcia, just because he transferred you?  But that's nothing
against HIM.  What are you to HIM?  Just a cog in the machinery--
just a checker on his checkerboard.  Now, ME--I'd do anything he
asked.  If he smiled at me in that wonderful way and said:  'Miss
Walker, I'm asking you to be janitor of Whittier,' I'd say:  'I'd
love it!  I'd rather sweep for you than teach any day!'"

And so on through the dinner time it went, the praises of the new
superintendent.  "He has splendid executive ability," said Miss

"He has the best looking clothes," was Rose Raymond's verdict.

"ABSOLUTELY the most heavenly smile and ALSO a magnificent jaw,"
contributed Inez Walker.

"Slush and ALSO piffle!" said Miss Marcia Mason dryly.

Miss Hill's interview with the head of the school had availed
naught.  Miss Mason was to be transferred, he had told her, with
his "heavenly smile."  So Monday morning saw the very unusual sight
of a semi-sulky Marcia, trudging with her schoolroom gods, over to
the Longfellow.  She had said good-by to Miss Hill, whose tears had
run down her plump cheeks, and she was being met at the Longfellow
by Miss Neiderhauser with the grim statement--"I hope you
understand that I require my teachers to keep their plan books
strictly up to date."  There are principals and principals.

In the hall she saw the new superintendent.  She tossed him an airy
little nod to which he responded pleasantly:  "Getting settled,
Miss Mason?"

"Yes, thank you," said Miss Mason coolly.

So, the moving finger having writ the seasons of the year, moved
on.  The year was not unpleasant, for Marcia was the kind that
would dig happiness out of the ruins of any catastrophe, but for
some reason, life seemed to have lost its exquisite flavor.  Nicky
Marston dropped in occasionally on Sunday, coming over from Miles
City where he was working, and was welcomed like a message from
home.  On the professional side Marcia nursed her pupils through
Columbus chills, Thanksgiving and Christmas fevers, and a siege of
Eskimo life.  She brought them safely out of the valentineitis into
a convalescent period of robin redbreasts and bursting lilac buds.
Her relations with the superintendent remained very businesslike,
very courteous, and very cool.

"I wish I could get a position next year in Honolulu or Honduras or
Hongkong," she said one evening to the other girls in the boarding

"You'll have to decide right away tomorrow whether you'll stay or
not," Rose Raymond informed her.  "For the cat was on the mat to-
day with the paper for next year's signatures."

It is well to insert here for the uninitiated that in all well
managed schools there is some statement by which it becomes known
to the teachers that the superintendent has arrived in the
building.  The teacher who first sees him descending like a wolf on
the fold, passes the delicate and somewhat upsetting information on
to the others.  So, if you are a superintendent and chance to meet
a small boy tiptoeing about from room to room, carrying a scrap of
paper on which is scrawled "Scotland's burning," the chances are
that there is no conflagration whatever, but that the expression
has reference to your untimely arrival in the building.  The
particular sentence by which the Capitol City, Nebraska, teachers
knew that the superintendent had hung his hat in the principal's
office, was the time-honored and concise statement "The cat is on
the mat."  So when Rose Raymond said the cat was on the mat that
day with the paper for next year's signatures, Marcia knew that the
time had come for her to pass in her resignation.

"All right, let the cat come," she said tartly to the others.  "I'm
ready for him, and when I tell him I'm not signing, I shall proceed
to relieve my mind of a few other things too."

"Still peeved over your transfer, aren't you, Marcia?" Inez Walker
asked sympathetically.  "Now, ME--I'd wash the Whittier windows for
Mr. Wheeler if he asked me to."

"Oh, YOU," said Marcia acridly, "YOU'D eat oats out of his hand."

Spring arrived, bag and baggage, the next day.  She opened the
schoolroom windows and blew warm breaths of mellow earth and
opening buds into the room.  Marcia wore immaculate white in honor
of the arrival.

The kindergartners had just started home, each carrying the smudgy
portrait of a distraught blue jay, when one little girl returned to
knock on Marcia's door and say:  "Mith Thmith thent me back to thay
the cat ith on the mat."  She shrilled it out just as Mr. John
Wheeler, close behind her, came briskly up to the door.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Oh, nothing--they've found Mamie Jones's kitty," Marcia fibbed
hastily and had the grace to blush.

"I'll be back to see you a little later, Miss Mason," "the cat"
said in his businesslike way as he started upstairs.

Marcia's pupils had gone when he returned.  Marcia, herself, was at
the blackboard in the far corner of the room coloring a mass of
lavender and green lilac sprays.  Although he stepped firmly down
the length of the room she seemed not to hear him until he came
quite close.

"Well, Miss Mason," he was tapping the folded paper for signatures
against his hand, "are you signing with us for another year?"

Marcia filled in a green leaf carefully.  "No," she said coolly,
"I'm not."

John Wheeler stood a moment looking down at her.  Then "Why are you
resigning?" he asked pointedly.

She looked up at him for a fleeting, miserable glance.  "If you
MUST know," she said, half frightened, "and want me to tell you
truthfully, it's because the year hasn't been any too pleasant.
You've not--" she was attempting to speak indifferently and was not
succeeding very well, "You've been--you've picked on me," she
finished lamely in a little tragic voice for the tears were very
near the surface.

"'Picked on you'?  I?  'Picked on you'?"  He repeated the childish
phrase in supreme astonishment.

"Yes," she affirmed stoutly.  "You seem to have found it necessary
to transfer me against my wishes . . . and to haunt this building
to criticize me . . . and to require me to hand in lesson plans
when no one else did . . . and . . ."  Her voice trailed off to

"So, I've haunted this building, have I?  I transferred you, did I?
I've criticized you, have I?  I've asked you an unnecessary number
of times for plans, have I?"

"What IS this?" Marcia asked with the first trace of her old
mischievousness.  "That psychology exam you were going to give us?"

"No," he said hotly, "it isn't.  But I'll take pains to make it
clear to you what it is.  Good heavens!  I've haunted this building
because you were in it.  I transferred you so I could see you every
day.  Every morning this year at eight-fifteen I've locked my
office door and tiptoed to the window like a High School boy and
watched you go by.  If I've criticized you, it was to keep the
others from seeing what I supposed was written all over me.  I've
asked you to hand in lesson plans just to see your handwriting.
I've been loony enough to think you might write something in them
or on the margin to me.  I've walked past your boarding house
evenings. . . ."  He gave a short, dry laugh.  "When that first
teachers' meeting was over last fall I couldn't think of anything
but that you were there in the crowd.  Then you came up like a
small iceberg, and not only wouldn't mention ever having known me,
but made it so apparent that I was not to mention it either--and
all year--"  He walked over to the window and stood looking out.

Marcia stole a surreptitious glance at his back but hastily resumed
her task when he turned.

He came back to her.  "I suppose there's only one thing it means.
You're going to marry that Marston chap, are you?"

Marcia raised big, astonished eyes.  "NICKY?" she asked
incredulously.  One corner of her mouth dimpled in as she bent to
fill in another green leaf.  "Oh, no," she said quite casually.
"I'd no more think of marrying Nicky than I would think of marrying
Santa Claus."

"But Junior told me you were going to!"

"Junior said THAT?"  There were only three words in the short
sentence, but there was compressed into it all the big-sister
exasperation that had accumulated in twelve years.  Wide-eyed,
unspeaking, she stood looking up at John Wheeler.  Then abruptly
she turned to color another leaf.

"DON'T do another one of those things," said John Wheeler
irritably.  He took the green chalk from her hand and fired it into
the chalk-tray.

"It develops the child's aesthetic nature," Marcia informed him
cheerfully, reaching for the color.  But the man caught her hand.
"Marcia, didn't that day--that wonderful, unforgettable day by the
river--mean anything to you?"

"Did it?" she repeated.  "Well, at least enough so that when YOU
didn't mention it, made it so very apparent that _I_ was not to,
and acted like a--a cold-storage plant all winter--I was quite

"You care!" he challenged her, tilting her face upward, but she
would not look at him.

"I--don't think so."

"You do care, Marcia.  You care--like I care."

For a fleeting moment she lifted mischievous eyes.  "Well--of
course, if it's coperation--you want--"

He drew her to him for three wild sweet seconds.

"Oh, goodness!" she whispered, pulling herself away.  "I forgot--
Herbie Folsom--watering the plants."

In truth, Herbie was at that moment standing quite near, a look of
deep and intense curiosity on his large fat face, the watering pot
tipping perilously and spilling a steady stream down his trousers'

"Herbie, you go out in the yard, and water something," Herbie's
superintendent suggested.

When they were alone he took her hands again.

"Marcia . . ."

The door opened and the janitor deposited a pail, two brooms and a

"Jim," said his superior officer, "I'll be busy in here for a half-
hour or so.  Suppose you do all the other rooms first."

"Yes, sir."  Jim withdrew.

"You dear . . ."

The door was opened, and Herbie, having hastily dashed a gallon of
water against the nearest tree trunk, was back ready for further
exciting events.

"Herbie," said the head of the school system, "you take that
watering pot, and GO HOME.  Water your yard until bedtime, if you
want to, but DON'T COME BACK HERE."

It was nearly time for dinner to be served at Mrs. Preston's
boarding house.  Inez Walker, lounging in the window seat
announced:  "Here comes Marcia, and . . . oh, my stars and stripes
forever, girls . . . HE'S walking up this way with her!"

They were all at the top of the stairs to meet her, crowding about
to ask questions.

"Did you sign, Marcia?"


"Does he know why?"


"What did he say?  Was he peeved?  Does he know what you're going
to do next year?"

"Oh yes, he knows."  Marcia bent to her slipper to get herself in

"What did he walk up this way for?"

"Oh, I don't know.  I guess he was trying to find out who started
that cat-on-the-mat idea."

"Does he know about THAT?" came in a chorus.

"Yes . . . I told him."

"Marcia, you NEVER!"

"I did, and how Hilly worships the ground he trods, and how Rose
adores his chin, and how Inez keeps a newspaper picture of him
pinned on her mirror."

"Marcia!"  It was Miss Hill with her most principal-y air.  "Stop
making up things and tell us just WHAT he said to you."

Marcia faced her tormentors.  "Well, if you insist upon knowing--he
thinks I'm a PUNK teacher.  He's advised me to get clear out of the
profession, and try something else next year."

Then she went into her room, banged the door and locked it.



Events moved rapidly in the Mason household, as they always do when
the children reach womanhood and manhood.  It is the young
themselves who welcome the changes.  Only the parents reach out
impotent hands that would fain hold the little ones back from their
journeying.  One day all seems shouting and confusion and hurrying
of little feet to and fro.  Almost the next there is silence and
peace--a silence that is stifling, a peace that is painful.  It is
an age-old tragedy--the Passing of the Children.

There was a double wedding of the sisters, Katherine to Keith
Baldridge, Marcia to John Wheeler.  "Mother," Marcia said on the
wedding day, "it took Kathie over a year to know for sure she cared
for Keith; but--don't you be shocked and don't you DARE tell a soul--
I could have married John ELEVEN minutes after I met him."

Mother looked up, laughing.  "Kathie's conservative, like Father;
and you're impulsive, like me."  Then she flushed to the roots of
her graying hair and added, "Don't YOU be shocked, and don't YOU
dare tell a soul: I knew I wanted Father long before he knew he
liked me."  But this is Father's chapter, neither Marcia's nor

The wedding of the two girls was a particularly distressing event
to Father.  He could not think of the girls as anything but little
tots.  "Seems like they ought to be wearing pinafores yet," he said
to Mother.  He wandered aimlessly, lonesomely, around the big house
on the eventful day.  Only his position of host made him attempt
any cheerfulness.  He had nothing to do, was in the road, in fact.
"Isn't there something I can help with?" he asked.  "I'll do
anything but wear a dress suit."  There was nothing; but he stayed
on doggedly, as one clings to a sinking ship.

Mother was all smiles and bustling energy.  Father watched her in
amazement.  Was it possible she didn't care as deeply as he?  Ah,
Father, little you knew!

There were palms and flowers and a caterer from Capitol City.  To
be sure, Mother and Tillie could have baked things that tasted
better; but every woman wants a caterer once in her life.  The time
for the ceremony came.  Katherine, sweet, womanly, Madonnalike--
Marcia, flushed, starry-eyed, lovely--both visions in their white
gowns and flowing veils.  But something was the matter with
Father's vision.  He couldn't seem to see them as they appeared to
the rest of the company.  Katherine persisted in skipping along
down the street to meet him, her smooth braids bobbing out behind
her.  Marcia kept pelting him with twigs and leaves, peering down
roguishly from the old apple tree through a tangle of curls.  There
was a lump in Father's throat all evening as big as a china egg.
King and banker, and ancient arrow maker, all utter the same thing:
"Thus it is our daughters leave us!"

But after the girls were gone Father slipped comfortably back into
the old routine, and Mother was the one who seemed to grow
restless.  She was tired, she said: she wished they could go away

"Why don't you let up a little, Father?" she would ask.  "You've
been tied to that bank all these years, and how many vacations have
you ever taken?"

"The few times I did take them," Father returned, "I was like a
fish out of water."

"But it's different now," Mother protested.  "You're getting old,
and if any one is entitled to take things easy, you surely are."

Mother kept at him so persistently that it gradually began to seem
an alluring picture to Father: not to be tied down, not to have to
work any more.  When Satan took the Man of Galilee up into a high
mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world it is not
recorded that he held out the delightful promise that no work would
ever have to be done, but it is quite possible that this was part
of the temptation.

So Father commenced to think about getting out of his harness.  He
was where he could take things easy if he chose.  Surreptitiously
he began filling the backs of old envelopes with figures,
estimating what he could get from his bank stock if he sold.  Other
scraps of paper bore the figures of investments he would make, what
his income would be.  Yes, he could retire and live quite
comfortably.  He wouldn't sell the hundred and sixty.  Like a great
many men in whose veins runs the blood of pioneers, he felt more
secure with a little farm land he could always fall back on.

Evenings when the two were alone he began to speak quite casually
to Mother about what they could do IF they sold.  He was very
conservative, was Father.  It had never been his way to go off half-
cocked.  Mother, who was by nature an enthusiast, less level headed
than Father, fairly bubbled with plans.  Would they be fixed so
they could afford a year of travel?  It would be better for Eleanor
than college, a great experience for Junior, they could close the
house.  Tillie could work for Bob and Mabel.  And Father, figuring
and figuring, said he guessed they could manage it all right.  By
common consent they said nothing before Eleanor and Junior.  The
children couldn't quite be trusted with such astounding plans until
they were perfected.

So Mother got out books of travel and maps.  She sent for
information on personally conducted tours and found herself
promptly deluged with literature.  She spoke magic names glibly,
names that hitherto had seemed as far removed from their lives as
scenes from Arabian Nights--the Mediterranean, Venice, the Alps.

"I've dreamed of it all my life!  Think of it, Father, to set out
to sea--with the coast lights growing fainter--and the spray--and
the sky meeting the water!"

"Yes, I'd like it too," said Father.

So Father listed the Springtown First National Bank at a topnotch
price with the Van Orden Company at Miles City.  And in a short
time one of the Van Ordens swung around the bank corner in a big
touring car with two men, a short, red-faced man and a younger one,
whom he introduced as the Coles.  They talked long and seriously in
the little back office.  Father had Bob bring in files from the
various cases.  Together they went over bunches of notes and
mortgages.  Father, in reserved, dignified pride, showed them
everything.  There was nothing to conceal, for there was not a five-
dollar loan that was poor paper.  Father's house was in order.

"It's a h-- of a price," said Cole, Senior.

"It's a good bank," said Father simply.

And thereafter at any threat on Cole's part not to consider the big
price, Father would reiterate:  "That's the price.  Take it or
leave it."  Father was nobody's fool.

But the whole thing began to get on his nerves.  Partly from the
dislike of the ranting, stamping Cole, and partly from a natural
indignation at seeing a stranger assume an air of ownership in his
old office, he grew tired of the deal.  It irritated him whenever
that big touring car swung around the corner and the men came
bustling in.  For they came many times.  It takes longer to buy
even a country bank than it does a kitchen range.

After one long session of discussion, suddenly, like a violin
string snaps, Cole said he would take it.  After which he swaggered
about Father's office, swore a little, and spoke of changes he
would make in the working policy, changes in the force, changes in
the fixtures.  Then, with the agreement that Father was to come to
Miles City on the following Wednesday to sign the contracts, he

In the intervening days the transaction began to prey upon Father's
mind.  It was as though there yawned at his feet a deep and wide
fissure in the good old earth.  He did not sleep well.  He minced
his food--Father, who had partaken of three hearty meals a day for
years.  The memory of Old Man Hanson persistently haunted him--the
old man in Cedar County who had sold his home farm and then
committed suicide.

Mother tried several times to arouse his enthusiasm over their
coming year, but, sensing his preoccupied mind, she, too, grew

He began to brood over the thing, to think of it as a colossal
mistake.  What would he do, he asked himself, when he returned from
that year's trip?  He looked across the street to where a dozen men
were sitting on boxes and kegs in front of Sol Simon's store,
talking, chewing, whittling.  There were farmers among them who
were retired and town men who were merely tired.  Some were real
old men.  Some were--fifty-nine.  Father shuddered.

Wednesday loomed before him, big and black and fiendish like the
end of everything.  The gates that he had persuaded himself were to
swing open to Freedom seemed now to his obsessed mind to clang in
upon him, prison-like.  The only way that he could get out of the
deal was to pay the big commission.  Also, he had given his word,
and the occasion had yet to occur when a man could say Henry Y.
Mason had broken his word.

Tuesday afternoon, as he waited upon a few old-time patrons, he
felt like a traitor to be turning these good old men over to that
hot-headed, tempery Cole.  The deal no longer seemed even
legitimate.  Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot had made like

When they closed up, Father lingered in his office.  He felt dazed,
a little sick.  He couldn't just place his illness.  It might be
his stomach, he wasn't sure.

Bob was outside waiting for him.

"Better have a good lawyer with you, Dad," he suggested.  "Judge
Gumming or J. T. Neftt."

"No," said Father shortly; "I can hold my own."

Most of the night he lay awake, turning and turning.  To Mother's
solicitous inquiry he said irritably, "It's my corn.  The one on my
left foot," he added specifically.

They were both up by daylight.  Mother got breakfast--buckwheat
cakes and country sausage and coffee.  Father was none of your
grapefruit, French toast people.  But he did not eat much.

"You'll come home to-night without any ball and chain," Mother
said.  "You'll be a free man."

"Yes," he agreed in a thin voice, and then added cheerfully for
Mother's sake, "Yes, sure!"

On the way to the early morning train he stopped at the bank.  As
he unlocked and went in to get his little black grip with its
important papers, he looked neither to the right nor the left,
getting out hurriedly as one steps out from the room where the dead
lie sleeping.  He had an uncanny feeling that the old brick
building was staring reproachfully after him.  A block away he
yielded to a childish desire and looked behind him.  It was true.
He had never noticed before how much the two big plate-glass
windows looked like eyes.

On the train he dropped into a seat and stared mechanically out at
the familiar water tank and lumber yard.  Across the aisle two men
were having a friendly argument over some minor point in the
policies of National and State banks.  One of them turned.  "Here's
Mason of Springtown," he said.  "Ask him.  He knows the subject
like a kid's primer."  Father made a half-hearted remark or two,
excused himself and went into the smoker.  He felt hurt, out of it.

"Mason isn't looking very fit," one of them volunteered.

"Probably breaking," the other returned.  "It gets us all after a

At Miles City he went immediately to the Van Ordens'.  In their
private office were the two Van Ordens, the two Coles, two
attorneys, and a stenographer.  That made seven.  And Father!

"Now, gentlemen, let's get right down to business."  It was one of
the Coles.

Father's hands and feet were as cold as ice, but his head felt
clear and his mind singularly active.

The contract was being written.  "We want," said Cole, "a clause
whereby Mason will be required to take over any paper that we
decide we want to throw out in the first six months."

"No," said Father firmly.  "I won't agree to that."

"It's a legitimate proposition," said Cole snappishly.

"Rather customary," agreed one of the Van Ordens.

"A mighty small matter," put in the other Cole; "if the paper's all

"No," said Father doggedly.  He was sighting a hole, a very small
hole through which the sun was shining.  If he could only get them
to drop it of their own accord.

Cole was getting mad.  "I insist on the clause."  He thumped the
table.  He was used to having his way, could not bear to be

Like a bulldog Father hung on grimly; "No," he repeated quietly.

The Van Ordens worked like Chinese go-betweens.  They worked until
they sweat.  Finally Cole swore a long hyphenated oath.  He stood
up, red and hot.  "The deal's off," he said loudly.

"All right," said Father quietly.  "Deal's off."

The Van Ordens came to Father.  They were sorry, apologetic.  They
did not blame him by any means, and they would be glad to make
another deal.

"No," Father told them; "it isn't for sale now."

Father was down in the bustling street, his little weather-beaten
grip held tightly in his hand.  Street cars were clanging by.  Boys
were calling the noon edition.  The sun was struggling to shine
through the fog and the smoke.  The old First National was still
his.  Only a few times in his life had he experienced this same
sensation of relief from catastrophe: the time the panic so near
caught him; the straightening out of an unfounded rumor that Bob
had been mixed up in a disgraceful college scrape; the time Eleanor
passed the crisis in pneumonia.  He looked up through the murky
haze, past the tops of the tall office buildings.  "Good Lord!" he
ejaculated aloud.  It was the nearest to a public prayer Father had
ever come.  He felt young.  He was only fifty-nine, and he had
thought of retiring!  He, who had health and strength and energy,
had been about to commit himself voluntarily to the rubbish pile!
A dull red spread over his face.  He was ashamed of himself.  Ten,
fifteen, twenty years from now he could quit.

He turned and with long steady strides walked down the street, out
of the business section, through a park, past lovely homes, out
where the houses were scattering.  At the very edge of the last
suburb he stopped and looked out across the wide stretch of fields
and meadows, asleep now under a powdery quilt of snow.  A verse of
Coleridge's lying dormant in his mind, long forgotten, came
suddenly to him.

     And winter slumbering in the open air
     Wears on his smiling face a dream of spring
     I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
     Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

"Work is good," he said to himself.  "Work is healthful and right.
It keeps men sane and well balanced.  No one with health and
strength should step out of the ranks.  He should be, as Emerson
says, 'Too busy with the crowded hour to fear to live or die.'"

For a few moments longer he stood wrapped in thought.  Then hunger
seized him, a good, healthy, ravenous hunger, the first he had felt
in weeks.  He walked rapidly back to the car line and rode

It was nearly midnight when Father got into Springtown on Number
Nine.  To city dwellers a train is a means of locomotion.  To small-
town people it is an individual.  They call it "she," and speak
pridefully of her when she is on time and vindictively when she is
late.  Father got off the Number Nine, which was only a few minutes
late, and swung away up Main Street.  He looked up at the stars
keeping their unchanging vigil over the sleeping town.  His heart
was tender and he felt a yearning over all the dark old houses.  He
must do something for Springtown, something useful.

By the bank door he paused and then, at the risk of being mistaken
for a burglar by old Sandy Wright, the night watchman, he unlocked
and went in.  Back in his private office he sat down at his desk
and looked about him.  Everything was his; the business, the
fixtures, the furnishings, the very calendars.  Nothing belonged to
Cole--nothing.  It was like the relief after nightmare.  For some
time he sat there, making new plans.  The boys all ought to have
their salaries raised.  They were good boys.  With a little
figuring it could be done.  His eyes fell upon a huge bill above
the desk.  It told of Henry Schnormeir's dispersion sale, scheduled
for the next day.  He'd clerk at that sale, himself, thought
Father.  He'd tell D. T. he wanted to do it.

It was not until he had locked the door and started toward home
that he gave a definite thought to Mother's attitude.  It struck
him forcibly that Mother's disappointment would probably be keen.
She had wanted to take a trip like that all her life.  Well, she
and the children should go, anyway.  He could stay at Bob's.

Mother was still up.  It was an old trick of Mother's.  "Seems like
I can't go to sleep comfortably until every one is in," she would
say.  She put up her book now and looked questioningly at Father.
"Well?"  She was placid, serene.  "How did everything go?  Did you
have a hard day?"

"Oh, no, not very."  Father put it off a moment longer.  Then he
plunged bravely in with "Well, Mother, the deal's off.  Fallen

"Fallen through?" she repeated wonderingly.  "I didn't know it
COULD fall through now."

"Yes, we stuck on a clause in the contract.  The old bank's still
ours, and there'll be no long trip for me this year."

Suddenly, surprisingly, Mother burst into tears.  Of all people to
go off like that!  Mother, who was not the crying kind!  She was
disappointed, then, to the very core.  Father opened his mouth to
tell her that she and the children should take the trip anyway, but
Mother spoke first.  "Oh, Henry," she wailed, "I never meant to b-
bawl like this--but you don't know how GLAD I am.  I've been just
SICK about it the last two weeks, but I never let on to you.  I got
to wondering if you'd be contented with nothing to do--and I got to
thinking about going in a b-boat that might leak--and the family
all being separated--and CHRISTMAS and BIRTHDAYS--oh, I just
couldn't STAND it.  A whole year!  Why, ANYTHING might happen,
Henry.  Katherine or Marcia might even have a B-BABY and their own
MOTHER far away.  Home NEVER looked so good to me."

Astonished, Father sat down limply in his big leather chair.  "Can
you BEAT it?" he asked faintly.

Father clerked at the Schnormeir sale.  All day long, in his old
moth-eaten Galloway coat, dilapidated cap, and hip boots, he stood
ankle-deep in soft mud and took the farmers' notes.  In unoccupied
moments he would lift his head and inhale long deep breaths of the
wind that swept over the prairie, the wind that was laden with
earth-odors, the good old smells of loam and clod and subsoil.  It
caressed his cheeks and nostrils, and whispered of the coming of
purple-flowered alfalfa, and rustling corn and shimmering, swaying
wheat heads.  It is to the son of the prairie what the clear cold
breeze from the snow-capped peaks is to the mountaineer, what the
wet, salt-filled wind is to the sailor.

At night, tired, dirty, contented, Father rode home in a little mud-
spattered rattling auto with two farmers, a stockman, and a
railroad section hand.  He was very democratic, was the president
of the First National Bank of Springtown.

As he got out at home and passed around to the rear of the house,
he saw Mother in the cob-house.  Nearly every small-town home in
the corn-bearing district possesses such a building.  It is
ostensibly for cobs, but also serves splendidly for a catch-all.
At the sight of Mother in the doorway, Father tried desperately to
conceal something down at his side.  But the thing was too large.
Mother glared coldly, inhospitably at it.  It was a bird cage.  The
seed dishes were cracked.  The perches were broken.  A crow could
have escaped through the rusty bent bars.

"Nobody bid on it," said Father sheepishly.

"Most PRESUMABLY not," returned Mother with dry sarcasm.  Then she
threw back her head and laughed, a gay bubbling laugh, so that
Father felt immensely relieved, and grinned too.  "Never mind,
Father," she spoke with mock sympathy, "I've got one old hen that
wants to set.  It'll be just the thing to put her in."

They were back in the old comfortable rut, the dear old routine of
living.  Let the discontented sail the salt seas looking for high
adventure!  Let the dissatisfied climb the highest peak searching
for the nesting place of the bluebird of happiness!  To Father and
Mother Mason, adventure beckoned alluringly with every sun that
rose over the far distant hooded hills and rolling prairie land.
Contentment lay in the place they had made for each other and for
the children.  They were good folks, kind folks, simple-hearted
folks--and God give us more!--to whom it would not have mattered
greatly if, instead of the big comfortable house with its ample
rooms and sunny porches, there had been but a poor wee hut tucked
away somewhere out of the wind and rain, for with willing hands and
loving hearts, they would have made of it--HOME.

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