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 ANDERSONVILLE. Twelve years later.  
Twelve years—yes. And I'm twenty-eight years old. Pretty old, little Mary Marie of the long ago would think. And, well, perhaps to-day I feel just as old as she would put it.
I came up into the attic1 this morning to pack away some things I shall no longer need, now that I am going to leave Jerry. (Jerry is my husband.) And in the bottom of my little trunk I found this manuscript. I had forgotten that such a thing existed; but with its laboriously2 written pages before me, it all came back to me; and I began to read; here a sentence; there a paragraph; somewhere else a page. Then, with a little half laugh and half sob3, I carried it to an old rocking-chair by the cobwebby dormer window, and settled myself to read it straight through.
And I have read it.
Poor little Mary Marie! Dear little Mary Marie! To meet you like this, to share with you your joys and sorrows, hopes and despairs, of those years long ago, is like sitting hand in hand on a sofa with a childhood's friend, each listening to an eager "And do you remember?" falling constantly from delighted lips that cannot seem to talk half fast enough.
But you have taught me much, little Mary Marie. I understand—oh, I understand so many things so much better, now, since reading this little story in your round childish hand. You see, I had almost forgotten that I was a Mary and a Marie—Jerry calls me Mollie—and I had wondered what were those contending forces within me. I know now. It is the Mary and the Marie trying to settle their old, old quarrel.
It was almost dark when I had finished the manuscript. The far corners of the attic were peopled with fantastic shadows, and the spiders in the window were swaying, lazy and full-stomached, in the midst of the day's spoils of gruesome wings and legs. I got up slowly, stiffly, shivering a little. I felt suddenly old and worn and ineffably4 weary. It is a long, long journey back to our childhood—sometimes, even though one may be only twenty-eight.
I looked down at the last page of the manuscript. It was written on the top sheet of a still thick pad of paper, and my fingers fairly tingled5 suddenly, to go on and cover those unused white sheets—tell what happened next—tell the rest of the story; not for the sake of the story—but for my sake. It might help me. It might make things clearer. It might help to justify6 myself in my own eyes. Not that I have any doubts, of course (about leaving Jerry, I mean), but that when I saw it in black and white I could be even more convinced that I was doing what was best for him and best for me.
So I brought the manuscript down to my own room, and this evening I have commenced to write. I can't finish it to-night, of course. But I have to-morrow, and still to-morrow. (I have so many to-morrows now! And what do they all amount to?) And so I'll just keep writing, as I have time, till I bring it to the end.
I'm sorry that it must be so sad and sorry an end. But there's no other way, of course. There can be but one ending, as I can see. I'm sorry. Mother'll be sorry, too. She doesn't know yet. I hate to tell her. Nobody knows—not even Jerry himself—yet. They all think I'm just making a visit to Mother—and I am—till I write that letter to Jerry. And then—
I believe now that I'll wait till I've finished writing this. I'll feel better then. My mind will be clearer. I'll know more what to say. Just the effort of writing it down—
Of course, if Jerry and I hadn't—
But this is no way to begin. Like the little Mary Marie of long ago I am in danger of starting my dinner with ice-cream instead of soup! And so I must begin where I left off, of course. And that was at the wedding.
I remember that wedding as if it were yesterday. I can see now, with Mary Marie's manuscript before me, why it made so great an impression upon me. It was a very quiet wedding, of course—just the members of the family present. But I shall never forget the fine, sweet loveliness of Mother's face, nor the splendid strength and tenderness of Father's. And the way he drew her into his arms and kissed her, after it was all over—well, I remember distinctly that even Aunt Hattie choked up and had to turn her back to wipe her eyes.
They went away at once, first to New York for a day or two, then to Andersonville, to prepare for the real wedding trip to the other side of the world. I stayed in Boston at school; and because nothing of consequence happened all those weeks and months is the reason, I suspect, why the manuscript got tossed into the bottom of my little trunk and stayed there.
In the spring, when Father and Mother returned, and we all went back to Andersonville, there followed another long period of just happy girlhood, and I suspect I was too satisfied and happy to think of writing. After all, I've noticed it's when we're sad or troubled over something that we have that tingling7 to cover perfectly8 good white paper with "confessions9" and "stories of my life." As witness right now what I'm doing.
And so it's not surprising, perhaps, that Mary Marie's manuscript still lay forgotten in the little old trunk after it was taken up to the attic. Mary Marie was happy.
And it was happy—that girlhood of mine, after we came back to Andersonville. I can see now, as I look back at it, that Father and Mother were doing everything in their power to blot10 out of my memory those unhappy years of my childhood. For that matter, they were also doing everything in their power to blot out of their own memories those same unhappy years. To me, as I look back at it, it seems that they must have succeeded wonderfully. They were very happy, I believe—Father and Mother.
Oh, it was not always easy—even I could see that. It took a lot of adjusting—a lot of rubbing off of square corners to keep the daily life running smoothly11. But when two persons are determined12 that it shall run smoothly—when each is steadfastly13 looking to the other's happiness, not at his own—why, things just can't help smoothing out then. But it takes them both. One can't do it alone. Now, if Jerry would only—
But it isn't time to speak of Jerry yet.
I'll go back to my girlhood.
It was a trying period—it must have been—for Father and Mother, in spite of their great love for me, and their efforts to create for me a happiness that would erase15 the past from my mind. I realize it now. For, after all, I was just a girl—a young girl, like other girls; high-strung, nervous, thoughtless, full of my whims16 and fancies; and, in addition, with enough of my mother and enough of my father within me to make me veritably a cross-current and a contradiction, as I had said that I was in the opening sentence of my childish autobiography18.
I had just passed my sixteenth birthday when we all came back to live in Andersonville. For the first few months I suspect that just the glory and the wonder and joy of living in the old home, with Father and Mother happy together, was enough to fill all my thoughts. Then, as school began in the fall, I came down to normal living again, and became a girl—just a growing girl in her teens.
How patient Mother was, and Father, too! I can see now how gently and tactfully they helped me over the stones and stumbling-blocks that strew19 the pathway of every sixteen-year-old girl who thinks, because she has turned down her dresses and turned up her hair, that she is grown up, and can do and think and talk as she pleases.
I well remember how hurt and grieved and superior I was at Mother's insistence20 upon more frequent rubbers and warm coats, and fewer ice-cream sodas21 and chocolate bonbons22. Why, surely I was old enough now to take care of myself! Wasn't I ever to be allowed to have my own opinions and exercise my own judgment23? It seemed not! Thus spoke24 superior sixteen.
As for clothes!—I remember distinctly the dreary25 November rainstorm of the morning I reproachfully accused Mother of wanting to make me back into a stupid little Mary, just because she so uncompromisingly disapproved26 of the beaded chains and bangles and jeweled combs and spangled party dresses that "every girl in school" was wearing. Why, the idea! Did she want me to dress like a little frump of a country girl? It seems she did.
Poor mother! Dear mother! I wonder how she kept her patience at all.
But she kept it. I remember that distinctly, too.
It was that winter that I went through the morbid27 period. Like our childhood's measles28 and whooping29 cough, it seems to come to most of us—us women children. I wonder why? Certainly it came to me. True to type I cried by the hour over fancied slights from my schoolmates, and brooded days at a time because Father or Mother "didn't understand," I questioned everything in the earth beneath and the heavens above; and in my dark despair over an averted30 glance from my most intimate friend, I meditated31 on whether life was, or was not, worth the living, with a preponderance toward the latter.
Being plunged32 into a state of settled gloom, I then became acutely anxious as to my soul's salvation33, and feverishly34 pursued every ism and ology that caught my roving eye's attention, until in one short month I had become, in despairing rotation35, an incipient36 agnostic, atheist37, pantheist, and monist. Meanwhile I read Ibsen, and wisely discussed the new school of domestic relationships.
Mother—dear mother!—looked on aghast. She feared, I think, for my life; certainly for my sanity38 and morals.
It was Father this time who came to the rescue. He pooh-poohed Mother's fears; said it was indigestion that ailed39 me, or that I was growing too fast; or perhaps I didn't get enough sleep, or needed, maybe, a good tonic40. He took me out of school, and made it a point to accompany me on long walks. He talked with me—not to me—about the birds and the trees and the sunsets, and then about the deeper things of life, until, before I realized it, I was sane41 and sensible once more, serene42 and happy in the simple faith of my childhood, with all the isms and ologies a mere43 bad dream in the dim past.
I was seventeen, if I remember rightly, when I became worried, not over my heavenly estate now, but my earthly one. I must have a career, of course. No namby-pamby everyday living of dishes and dusting and meals and babies for me. It was all very well, of course, for some people. Such things had to be. But for me—
I could write, of course; but I was not sure but that I preferred the stage. At the same time there was within me a deep stirring as of a call to go out and enlighten the world, especially that portion of it in darkest Africa or deadliest India. I would be a missionary44.
Before I was eighteen, however, I had abandoned all this. Father put his foot down hard on the missionary project, and Mother put hers down on the stage idea. I didn't mind so much, though, as I remember, for on further study and consideration, I found that flowers and applause were not all of an actor's life, and that Africa and India were not entirely45 desirable as a place of residence for a young woman alone. Besides, I had decided46 by then that I could enlighten the world just as effectually (and much more comfortably) by writing stories at home and getting them printed.
So I wrote stories—but I did not get any of them printed, in spite of my earnest efforts. In time, therefore, that idea, also, was abandoned; and with it, regretfully, the idea of enlightening the world at all.
Besides, I had just then (again if I remember rightfully) fallen in love.
Not that it was the first time. Oh, no, not at eighteen, when at thirteen I had begun confidently and happily to look for it! What a sentimental47 little piece I was! How could they have been so patient with me—Father, Mother, everybody!
I think the first real attack—the first that I consciously called love, myself—was the winter after we had all come back to Andersonville to live. I was sixteen and in the high school.
It was Paul Mayhew—yes, the same Paul Mayhew that had defied his mother and sister and walked home with me one night and invited me to go for an automobile48 ride, only to be sent sharply about his business by my stern, inexorable Aunt Jane. Paul was in the senior class now, and the handsomest, most admired boy in school. He didn't care for girls. That is, he said he didn't. He bore himself with a supreme49 indifference50 that was maddening, and that took (apparently51) no notice of the fact that every girl in school was a willing slave to the mere nodding of his head or the beckoning52 of his hand.
This was the condition of things when I entered school that fall, and perhaps for a week thereafter. Then one day, very suddenly, and without apparent reason, he awoke to the fact of my existence. Candy, flowers, books—some one of these he brought to me every morning. All during the school day he was my devoted53 gallant54, dancing attendance every possible minute outside of session hours, and walking home with me in the afternoon, proudly carrying my books. Did I say "home with me"? That is not strictly55 true—he always stopped just one block short of "home"—one block short of my gate. He evidently had not forgotten Aunt Jane, and did not intend to take any foolish risks! So he said good-bye to me always at a safe distance.
That this savored56 of deception57, or was in any way objectionable, did not seem to have occurred to me. Even if it had, I doubt very much if my course would have been altered, for I was bewitched and fascinated and thrilled with the excitement of it all. I was sixteen, remember, and this wonderful Adonis and woman-hater had chosen me, me!—and left all the other girls desolate58 and sighing, looking after us with longing59 eyes. Of course, I was thrilled!
This went on for perhaps a week. Then he asked me to attend a school sleigh-ride and supper with him.
I was wild with delight. At the same time I was wild with apprehension60. I awoke suddenly to the fact of the existence of Father and Mother, and that their permission must be gained. And I had my doubts—I had very grave doubts. Yet it seemed to me at that moment that I just had to go on that sleigh-ride. That it was the only thing in the whole wide world worth while.
I can remember now, as if it were yesterday, the way I debated in my mind as to whether I should ask Father, Mother, or both together; and if I should let it be seen how greatly I desired to go, and how much it meant to me; or if I should just mention it as in passing, and take their permission practically for granted.
I chose the latter course, and I took a time when they were both together. At the breakfast-table I mentioned casually61 that the school was to have a sleigh-ride and supper the next Friday afternoon and evening, and that Paul Mayhew had asked me to go with him, I said I hoped it would be a pleasant night, but that I should wear my sweater under my coat, anyway, and I'd wear my leggings, too, if they thought it necessary.
(Sweater and leggings! Two of Mother's hobbies. Artful child!)
But if I thought that a sweater and a pair of leggings could muffle62 their ears as to what had gone before, I soon found my mistake.
"A sleigh-ride, supper, and not come home until evening?" cried
Mother. "And with whom, did you say?"
"Paul Mayhew," I answered. I still tried to speak casually; at the same time I tried to indicate by voice and manner something of the great honor that had been bestowed63 upon their daughter.
Father was impressed—plainly impressed; but not at all in the way I had hoped he would be. He gave me a swift, sharp glance; then looked straight at Mother.
"Humph! Paul Mayhew! Yes, I know him," he said grimly. "And I'm dreading64 the time when he comes into college next year."
"You mean—" Mother hesitated and stopped.
"I mean I don't like the company he keeps—already," nodded Father.
"Then you don't think that Mary Marie—" Mother hesitated again, and glanced at me.
"Certainly not," said Father decidedly.
I knew then, of course, that he meant I couldn't go on the sleigh-ride, even though he hadn't said the words right out. I forgot all about being casual and indifferent and matter-of-course then. I thought only of showing them how absolutely necessary it was for them to let me go on that sleigh-ride, unless they wanted my life forever-more hopelessly blighted66.
I explained carefully how he was the handsomest, most popular boy in school, and how all the girls were just crazy to be asked to go anywhere with him; and I argued what if Father had seen him with boys he did not like—then that was all the more reason why nice girls like me, when he asked them, should go with him, so as to keep him away from the bad boys! And I told them, that this was the first and last, and only sleigh-ride of the school that year; and I said I'd be heart-broken, just heart-broken, if they did not let me go. And I reminded them again that he was the very handsomest, most popular boy in school; and that there wasn't a girl I knew who wouldn't be crazy to be in my shoes.
Then I stopped, all out of breath, and I can imagine just how pleading and palpitating I looked.
I thought Father was going to refuse right away, but I saw the glance that Mother threw him—the glance that said, "Let me attend to this, dear." I'd seen that glance before, several times, and I knew just what it meant; so I wasn't surprised to see Father shrug67 his shoulders and turn away as Mother said to me:
"Very well, dear. Ill think it over and let you know to-night."
But I was surprised that night to have Mother say I could go, for I'd about given up hope, after all that talk at the breakfast-table. And she said something else that surprised me, too. She said she'd like to know Paul Mayhew herself; that she always wanted to know the friends of her little girl. And she told me to ask him to call the next evening and play checkers or chess with me.
Happy? I could scarcely contain myself for joy. And when the next evening came bringing Paul, and Mother, all prettily68 dressed as if he were really truly company, came into the room and talked so beautifully to him, I was even more entranced. To be sure, it did bother me a little that Paul laughed so much, and so loudly, and that he couldn't seem to find anything to talk about only himself, and what he was doing, and what he was going to do. Some way, he had never seemed like that at school. And I was afraid Mother wouldn't like that.
All the evening I was watching and listening with her eyes and her ears everything he did, everything he said. I so wanted Mother to like him! I so wanted Mother to see how really fine and splendid and noble he was. But that evening—Why couldn't he stop talking about the prizes he'd won, and the big racing69 car he'd just ordered for next summer? There was nothing fine and splendid and noble about that. And were his finger nails always so dirty?
Why, Mother would think—
Mother did not stay in the room all the time; but she was in more or less often to watch the game; and at half-past nine she brought in some little cakes and lemonade as a surprise. I thought it was lovely; but I could have shaken Paul when he pretended to be afraid of it, and asked Mother if there was a stick in it.
The idea—Mother! A stick!
I just knew Mother wouldn't like that. But if she didn't, she never showed a thing in her face. She just smiled, and said no, there wasn't any stick in it; and passed the cakes.
When he had gone I remember I didn't like to meet Mother's eyes, and I didn't ask her how she liked Paul Mayhew. I kept right on talking fast about something else. Some way, I didn't want Mother to talk then, for fear of what she would say.
And Mother didn't say anything about Paul Mayhew—then. But only a few days later she told me to invite him again to the house (this time to a chafing-dish supper), and to ask Carrie Heywood and Fred Small, too.
We had a beautiful time, only again Paul Mayhew didn't "show off" at all in the way I wanted him to—though he most emphatically "showed off" in his way! It seemed to me that he bragged70 even more about himself and his belongings71 than he had before. And I didn't like at all the way he ate his food. Why, Father didn't eat like that—with such a noisy mouth, and such a rattling72 of the silverware!
And so it went—wise mother that she was! Far from prohibiting me to have anything to do with Paul Mayhew, she let me see all I wanted to of him, particularly in my own home. She let me go out with him, properly chaperoned, and she never, by word or manner, hinted that she didn't admire his conceit73 and braggadocio74.
And it all came out exactly as I suspect she had planned from the beginning. When Paul Mayhew asked to be my escort to the class reception in June, I declined with thanks, and immediately afterwards told Fred Small I would go with him. But even when I told Mother nonchalantly, and with carefully averted eyes, that I was going to the reception with Fred Small—even then her pleasant "Well, that's good!" conveyed only cheery mother interest; nor did a hasty glance into her face discover so much as a lifted eyebrow75 to hint, "I thought you'd come to your senses sometime!"
Wise little mother that she was!
In the days and weeks that followed (though nothing was said) I detected a subtle change in certain matters, however. And as I look back at it now, I am sure I can trace its origin to my "affair" with Paul Mayhew. Evidently Mother had no intention of running the risk of any more block-away courtships; also evidently she intended to know who my friends were. At all events, the old Anderson mansion76 soon became the rendezvous77 of all the boys and girls of my acquaintance. And such good times as we had, with Mother always one of us, and ever proposing something new and interesting!
And because boys—not a boy, but boys—were as free to come to the house as were girls, they soon seemed to me as commonplace and matter-of-course and free from sentimental interest as were the girls.
Again wise little mother!
But, of course, even this did not prevent my falling in love with some one older than myself, some one quite outside of my own circle of intimates. Almost every girl in her teens at some time falls violently in love with some remote being almost old enough to be her father—a being whom she endows with all the graces and perfections of her dream Adonis. For, after all, it isn't that she is in love with him, this man of flesh and blood before her; it is that she is in love with love. A very different matter.
My especial attack of this kind came to me when I was barely eighteen, the spring I was being graduated from the Andersonville High School. And the visible embodiment of my adoration78 was the head master, Mr. Harold Hartshorn, a handsome, clean-shaven, well-set-up man of (I should judge) thirty-five years of age, rather grave, a little stern, and very dignified79.
But how I adored him! How I hung upon his every word, his every glance! How I maneuvered80 to win from him a few minutes' conversation on a Latin verb or a French translation! How I thrilled if he bestowed upon me one of his infrequent smiles! How I grieved over his stern aloofness81!
By the end of a month I had evolved this: his stern aloofness meant that he had been disappointed in love; his melancholy82 was loneliness—his heart was breaking. How I longed to help, to heal, to cure! How I thrilled at the thought of the love and companionship I could give him somewhere in a rose-embowered cottage far from the madding crowd! (He boarded at the Andersonville Hotel alone now.) What nobler career could I have than the blotting83 out of his stricken heart the memory of that faithless woman who had so wounded him and blighted his youth? What, indeed? If only he could see it as I saw it. If only by some sign or token he could know of the warm love that was his but for the asking! Could he not see that no longer need he pine alone and unappreciated in the Andersonville Hotel? Why, in just a few weeks I was to be through school. And then—
On the night before commencement Mr. Harold Hartshorn ascended84 our front steps, rang the bell, and called for my father. I knew because I was upstairs in my room over the front door; and I saw him come up the walk and heard him ask for Father.
Oh, joy! Oh, happy day! He knew. He had seen it as I saw it. He had come to gain Father's permission, that he might be a duly accredited85 suitor for my hand!
During the next ecstatic ten minutes, with my hand pressed against my wildly beating heart, I planned my wedding dress, selected with care and discrimination my trousseau, furnished the rose-embowered cottage far from the madding crowd—and wondered why Father did not send for me. Then the slam of the screen door downstairs sent me to the window, a sickening terror within me,
Was he going—without seeing me, his future bride? Impossible!
Father and Mr. Harold Hartshorn stood on the front steps below, talking. In another minute Mr. Harold Hartshorn had walked away, and Father had turned back on to the piazza86.
As soon as I could control my shaking knees, I went downstairs.
Father was in his favorite rocking-chair. I advanced slowly. I did not sit down.
"Was that Mr. Hartshorn?" I asked, trying to keep the shake out of my voice.
"Mr. H-Hartshorn," I repeated stupidly.
"Yes. He came to see me about the Downer place," nodded Father. "He wants to rent it for next year."
"To rent it—the Downer place!" (The Downer place was no rose-embowered cottage far from the madding crowd! Why, it was big, and brick, and right next to the hotel! I didn't want to live there.)
"Yes—for his wife and family. He's going to bring them back with him next year," explained Father.
"His wife and family!&............
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