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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHis Second Wife - Chapter 8
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His Second Wife - Chapter 8 Post by :bizmom Category :Long Stories Author :Ernest Poole Date :May 2012 Read :1668

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His Second Wife - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

For a time she had seen little of Joe. She had been absorbed in her new work; and Joe, in his business troubles. But as he began to see light ahead, again he took notice of things at home; and rather to his own surprise he enjoyed the change that had been made. The simpler ways appealed to him. He and Emily got on famously. And he began to notice Susette, to come home early now and then, in time to see her take her bath or to sit on the floor and build houses of blocks, he knew about building houses, and he could do fascinating things which made his small daughter stare at him in grave admiration.

"How dear he is with her," Ethel thought. Although she was barely aware of the fact, her own new tenderness for the child had tightened the bonds between her and its father. His blunt, affectionate kindliness appealed to her often in a way that even brought little qualms of doubt. She would look at Joe occasionally in a thoughtful, questioning manner.

He stayed home again in the evenings now; and while she sat at her sewing, often he would look up from his paper or his work to make some brief remark to her; and the conversation thus begun would somehow ramble on and on while his work lay forgotten. But almost always, unknown to them both, the spirit of Amy was in the room, and the influence of her memory was shown in Joe's attitude toward his home. For in spite of his enjoyment of the simpler regime, he revealed a feeling of guiltiness at not being able to give to Ethel the easy lot he hind given his wife. As business improved he began to suggest getting back a nurse and a waitress. And it was all that Ethel could do to dissuade him.

"His idea of being nice to a woman," she told herself impatiently, "is to give her expensive things, and above all keep her idle." She did not add, "Amy taught him that." But it was in the back of her mind.

He often talked of his business, he tried to explain to her the details of speculative building, real estate values and the like. And listening and watching his face, she felt his force and vitality, his doggedness, the fight in him. She recalled Amy's eager faith in Joe as a man who was "simply bound to make money." And at times she said to herself, "What a pity." Still, it was all rather puzzling. For his talk of the growth of the city, his view of its mighty pulsing life, restless, heaving, leaping on, gripped her more than ever before. And moreover, now that Amy was dead, Ethel soon began to feel another Joe emerging out of some period long ago. With a new and curious eagerness to find in him what her sister had never known (an eagerness she would have disclaimed with the utmost indignation), she began to probe into Joe's past. And in answer to her questions he threw out hints of old ideals in which the making of money had played only a second part. He had meant to be an architect, a builder of another kind. Instead of putting up "junk in the Bronx," he had meant to do something big and new, something bold and very French, "to make these infernal New Yorkers sit up and open their cold grey eyes." At times he rather thrilled her with hints of his early bachelor life in New York and Paris, his student days.

About this time, one evening, he brought his partner home to dinner, but the experiment proved even more of a failure than it had in the past. Nourse made Ethel feel as before his surly, jealous dislike of her presence in Joe's home. And Ethel's hostility redoubled. She recalled what Amy had told her of his tiresome worship of work, its routine and its dull detail. No wonder Joe's ideals had died, with such a man in his office.

"What a pity you're his partner," her manner plainly said to him, for she was not good at hiding dislikes. And to that his gloomy eyes rejoined, "What a damned shame it you were his wife."

But Nourse did not come again. And with business dropped out of their talk, she and Joe turned to other things--small happenings of the household, amusing incidents of the day, and little problems to be solved. They were well into the summer by now, and Susette ought to go to the seashore. They began to discuss seaside hotels, and chose a place along the Sound. It was decided that Emily should stay here to look after Joe, and that he should run up for his week-ends. In the meantime, as his business improved, he began to bring Ethel little surprises, candy or spring flowers, and to take her out in his car at night. They went to the theatre several times. And everything which was said or done upon such occasions gave Ethel food for thinking.

At the seashore, with Susette on the beach, hour after hour, she thought about Joe and about herself. This thinking was long and curious. It was confused, barely conscious at times, all mingled with the long bright waves that came rolling in from the shining sea. The picture of her sister's face kept rising up before her there--of Amy in her bedroom good-humouredly talking and smiling, and teaching Ethel how to get on; of Amy with her husband, throwing swift, vigilant glances at him, kissing him, nestling in his arms. In her thinking Ethel grew hot and cold, with jealousy, swift self-reproach and a new, alarming tenderness. She thought of Joe, of his every look, his smile and the tones of his gruff voice; of Joe grief-stricken and half crazed, of Joe awakening, coming back. Again with a warm rush of feelings, not unmingled with dismay, she would go over in her mind their talks and the queer, almost guilty expression that had often come in his eyes. For Amy had always been in the room.

For this thinking, fresh fuel was given by Joe's weekly visits here. There was not much talk of Amy now, her name had subtly dropped away, but Ethel could feel it behind the talk. "It would always be there!" she would cry to herself. "Well, and why not?" she would demand. "Why be such a jealous cat? Would you let that hold you back?" It was all so involved, this Amy part, with Ethel's own earlier visions of happiness and a love of her own. Was this really love--this queer, leaping feeling, up and down, hot and cold, uncertain, tense, unhappy, hungry, undecided?

"Oh, if I could only make up my mind!"

When with Joe, she had many moods. In some she grew resentful toward him for forcing this upon her. But soon she would grow repentant. Her manner, from cool friendliness, would change in a few moments; and her eyes would grow absorbed, attentive, now to Joe and now to herself, grave, wistful, sad, and then suddenly gay--though they only talked of little things, of Susette, the beach, the city, the coming winter, household plans, his work, half spoken aspirations. Any one watching them in these talks might have thought she was his wife.

Again came that disturbing sense of intimate relationship to her sister who was dead. "I'm stepping into Amy's shoes." But this feeling began to be left behind. It was back in the past; she was looking on. One day, when Susette had bumped her head and her aunt was comforting her, suddenly in a revealing flash came the thought, "I love you, oh, so hard, my sweet! But I want another one all my own!"

When in September she and Susette went back to Joe in the city, all this grew more intense and clear. For he would not give her much longer now; she saw that he had made up his mind. She felt his strength and tenderness, his hunger for her growing. Sometimes it was frightening, the power he was gaining. A touch of his hand and she would grow cold. One evening when she had a headache, Joe bent over and kissed her.

"Good-night," he said, and left the room--left her burning, trembling. She pressed both hands tight to her cheeks, pressed the hot tears from her eyes.


At other times, she told herself, "Yes, I'm going to marry him. But there's nothing to be so excited about--or scared like this. I know him now, I know just what he is and what he is not. He is not a good many things I had dreamed of, but he's so dear and kind and safe. And I want to have children." Gravely wondering, she would look ahead. "You're no longer a child, my dear. Be strong and sensible. This is real. . . . It's getting rather cold tonight. I must run in and see if Susette is warm."

She still felt Amy's presence. Out of the various rooms certain pictures, chairs and vases forced themselves upon her attention. For some time past she had disliked them. It seemed to her at moments as though she could not have them here.

She knew what they were waiting for now. It was nearly the end of October, and the day which both dreaded was nearly at hand, the anniversary of her death. They spoke not a word to each other about it, except once when Joe said gruffly:

"There's a bad time coming for both of us. Let's try not to be morbid about it." As it drew nearer she felt, she must speak. She felt how this unspoken name of her sister would keep rising, rising, between them for the rest of their lives. It was uncanny, it was like a spell, the force of this unspoken name; and she thought, "I must break it!"

And yet she did not speak. She had little opportunity, for she saw very little of Joe that week. When the dreaded night arrived, he did not come home until very late. From her room she heard him come in, and presently by the silence she knew he had settled himself to work. She barely slept, rose early and dressed herself with a resolute air. But already Joe had gone.

It was a beautiful morning. With Susette she went to a florist's shop and had the child pick out some flowers. Then they went out to Amy's grave. And a moment came to Ethel there, an overwhelming moment, when something seemed bursting up in herself and crying passionately:

"I can't!"

But a little miracle happened. For Susette, who was only three years old and understood nothing of all this, took half the purple asters from Amy's grave, and turning back confidingly she put the rest in Ethel's hand--and then saw a sparrow and chased it, and laughed merrily as it flew away.

At night when Joe came home, although he did not speak of the flowers, she knew that he too had been at the grave. He appeared relieved, the tension gone.

"Now is the time to speak of her." And Ethel looked up with a resolute frown. . . . But once again she put it off. Soon they were talking naturally.

Weeks passed, and the memory of that day dropped swiftly back behind them. And there came a night when Joe, close by her side, had been talking slowly for some time, his voice husky, strained and low, and she had been sitting very still. She turned at last with a quick little smile, said:

"Yes, Joe, I'll--marry you--and--oh, I'm very happy! Please go now, dear! Please go--go!"

And when he had gone she still sat very still.

From that night the name of her sister was not spoken between them--was not spoken for nearly two years.


She grew used to being held in Joe's arms, to his kisses and to his voice that had changed, to the things he said and the way his eyes looked into hers. That hunger, it was always there, and growing, always growing! The feeling she'd never had before, that--"We're to be parts of one another!"--deepened, thrilled her with its depth, dazzled and confused her mind.

One day she went to Amy's room, and slowly began looking over the clothes. From the closet and the drawers, in a careful, tender way she took the shimmering little gowns and dainty hats and slippers, silk stockings, filmy night-gowns--and packed them into boxes. All were to be given away. "I couldn't!" Her throat contracting, she turned away with a sharp pang of pity and of jealousy and of a deep, deep tenderness.

She lavished her love upon Amy's child. What adorable little garments she bought for Susette, those autumn days. And at night, bending over her cradle, Ethel would whisper to her, "Oh, I'm dreaming, dreaming, dear!" And to Susette this was a huge joke, and they would laugh at it like mad. "Oh, my precious loved one! What a fine, happy life we'll lead!"

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CHAPTER IXThey were married early in December. There were no preparations to be made, for a wedding is nothing without friends, and they had none but Amy's and though Joe said nothing to Ethel about it, she knew he had not sent them word. "It's better," she thought. She herself wrote to a few girl friends, but they were scattered all over the country. No one of them would be coming East. And at times she felt very lonely. With memories of weddings at home and of her dreams for one of her own, which she had planned so often, she
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CHAPTER VIIJoe did not say, "I told you so." It was after eight that evening when he came home from his office, and she was annoyed at the delay, for she wanted to have her confession of failure over and done with. As she waited restlessly, she envied him his business life. How much simpler everything was for a man! Her nerves were on edge. Why didn't he come! At last she heard his key in the door and sharply pulled herself together. "How I detest him!" she thought to herself. "Hello, Ethel." His voice from the hallway had a gruff
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