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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMother - Chapter 7
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Mother - Chapter 7 Post by :jsypolt Category :Long Stories Author :Kathleen Thompson Norris Date :May 2012 Read :1482

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Mother - Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

It seemed but a few moments before the blazing Sunday was precipitated upon them, and everybody was late for everything.

The kitchen was filled with the smoke from hot griddles blue in the sunshine, when Margaret went downstairs; and in the dining-room the same merciless light fell upon the sticky syrup pitcher, and upon the stains on the tablecloth. Cream had been brought in in the bottle, the bread tray was heaped with orange skins, and the rolls piled on the tablecloth. Bruce, who had already been to church with Mother, and was off for a day's sail, was dividing his attention between Robert and his watch. Rebecca, daintily busy with the special cup and plate that were one of her little affectations, was all ready for the day, except as to dress, wearing a thin little kimono over her blue ribbons and starched embroideries. Mother was putting up a little lunch for Bruce. Confusion reigned. The younger boys were urged to hurry, if they wanted to make the "nine." Rebecca was going to wait for the "half past ten," because the "kids sang at nine, and it was fierce." Mr. Paget and his sons departed together, and the girls went upstairs for a hot, tiring tussle with beds and dusting before starting for church. They left their mother busy with the cream freezer in the kitchen. It was very hot even then.

But it was still hotter, walking home in the burning midday stillness. A group of young people waited lazily for letters, under the trees outside the post-office door. Otherwise the main street was deserted. A languid little breeze brought the far echoes of pianos and phonographs from this direction and that.

"Who's that on the porch?" said Rebecca, suddenly, as they neared home, instantly finding the stranger among her father and the boys. Margaret, glancing up sharply, saw, almost with a sensation of sickness, the big, ungainly figure, the beaming smile, and the shock of dark hair that belonged to nobody else in the world but John Tenison, A stony chill settled about her heart as she went up the steps and gave him her hand.

Oh, if he only couldn't stay to dinner, she prayed. Oh, if only he could spare them time for no more than a flying visit! With a sinking heart she smiled her greetings.

"Doctor Tenison,--this is very nice of you!" Margaret said. "Have you met my father--my small brothers?"

"We have been having a great talk," said John Tenison, genially, "and this young man--" he indicated Robert, "has been showing me the colored supplement of the paper. I didn't have any word from you, Miss Paget," he went on, "so I took the chance of finding you. And your mother has assured me that I will not put her out by staying to have luncheon with you."

"Oh, that's nice!" Margaret said mechanically, trying to dislodge Robert from the most comfortable chair by a significant touch of her fingers on his small shoulder. Robert perfectly understood that she wanted the chair, but continued in absorbed study of the comic supplement, merely wriggling resentfully at Margaret's touch. Margaret, at the moment, would have been glad to use violence on the stubborn, serene little figure. When he was finally dislodged, she sat down, still flushed from her walk and the nervousness Doctor Tenison's arrival caused her, and tried to bring the conversation into a normal channel. But an interruption occurred in the arrival of Harry and Julie in the runabout; the little boys swarmed down to examine it. Julie, very pretty, with a perceptible little new air of dignity, went upstairs to freshen hair and gown, and Harry, pushing his straw hat back the better to mop his forehead, immediately engaged Doctor Tenison's attention with the details of what sounded to Margaret like a particularly uninteresting operation, which he had witnessed the day before.

Utterly discouraged, and acutely wretched, Margaret presently slipped away, and went into the kitchen, to lend a hand with the dinner reparations if help was needed. The room presented a scene if possible a little more confused than that of the day before, and was certainly hotter. Her mother, flushed and hurried, in a fresh but rather unbecoming gingham, was putting up a cold supper for the younger boys, who, having duly attended to their religious duties, were to take a long afternoon tramp, with a possible interval of fishing. She buttered each slice of the great loaf before she cut it, and lifted it carefully on the knife before beginning the next slice. An opened pot of jam stood at her elbow. A tin cup and the boys' fishing-gear lay on a chair. Theodore and Duncan themselves hung over these preparations; never apparently helping themselves to food, yet never with empty mouths. Blanche, moaning "The Palms" with the insistence of one who wishes to show her entire familiarity with a melody, was at the range.

Roast veal, instead of the smothered chickens her mother had so often, and cooked so deliciously, a mountain of mashed potato--corn on the cob, and an enormous heavy salad mantled with mayonnaise--Margaret could have wept over the hopelessly plebeian dinner!

"Mother, mayn't I get down the finger-bowls," she asked; "and mayn't we have black coffee in the silver pot, afterwards?"

Mrs. Paget looked absently at her for a dubious second. "I don't like to ask Blanche to wash all that extra glass," she said, in an undertone, adding briskly to Theodore, "No, no, Ted! You can't have all that cake. Half that!" and to Blanche herself, "Don't leave the door open when you go in, Blanche; I just drove all the flies out of the dining-room." Then she returned to Margaret with a cordial: "Why, certainly, dear! Any one who wants coffee, after tea, can have it! Dad always wants his cup of tea."

"Nobody but us ever serves tea with dinner!" Margaret muttered; but her mother did not hear it. She buckled the strap of the lunch-box, straightened her back with an air of relief, and pushed down her rolled-up sleeves.

"Don't lose that napkin, Ted," said she, and receiving the boy's grateful kiss haphazard between her hair and forehead, she added affectionately: "You're more than welcome, dear! We're all ready, Mark,--go and tell them, dear! All right, Blanche."

Ruffled and angry, Margaret went to summon the others to dinner. Maudie had joined them on the porch now, and had been urged to stay, and was already trying her youthful wiles on the professor.

"Well, he'll have to leave on the five o'clock!" Margaret reflected, steeled to bitter endurance until that time. For everything went wrong, and dinner was one long nightmare for her. Professor Tenison's napkin turned out to be a traycloth. Blanche, asked for another, disappeared for several minutes, and returned without it, to whisper in Mrs. Paget's ear. Mrs. Paget immediately sent her own fresh napkin to the guest. The incident, or something in their murmured conversation, gave Rebecca and Maudie "the giggles." There seemed an exhausting amount of passing and repassing of plates. The room was hot, the supply of ice insufficient. Mr. Paget dwelt on his favorite grievance--"the old man isn't needed, these days. They're getting all young fellows into the bank. They put young college fellows in there who are getting pretty near the money I am--after twenty-five years!" In any pause, Mrs. Paget could be heard, patiently dissuading little Robert from his fixed intention of accompanying the older boys on their walk, whether invited or uninvited.

John Tenison behaved charmingly, eating his dinner with enjoyment, looking interestedly from one face to the other, sympathetic, alert, and amused. But Margaret writhed in spirit at what he must be thinking.

Finally the ice cream, in a melting condition, and the chocolate cake, very sticky, made their appearance; and although these were regular Sunday treats, the boys felt called upon to cheer. Julie asked her mother in an audible undertone if she "ought" to eat cake. Doctor Tenison produced an enormous box of chocolates, and Margaret was disgusted with the frantic scramble her brothers made to secure them.

"If you're going for a walk, dear," her mother said, when the meal was over, "you'd better go. It's almost three now."

"I don't know whether we will, it's so hot," Margaret said, in an indifferent tone, but she could easily have broken into disheartened tears.

"Oh, go," Julie urged, "it's much cooler out." They were up in Margaret's old room, Mrs. Paget tying a big apron about Julie's ruffled frock, preparatory to an attack upon the demoralized kitchen. "We think he's lovely," the little matron went on approvingly. "Don't fall in love with him, Mark."

"Why not?" Margaret said carelessly, pinning on her hat.

"Well, I don't imagine he's a marrying man," said the young authority, wisely. Margaret flushed, and was angry at herself for flushing. But when Mrs. Paget had gone downstairs, Julie came very simply and charmingly over to her sister, and standing close beside her with embarrassed eyes on her own hand,--very youthful in its plain ring,--as she played with the bureau furnishing, she said:

"Mother tell you?"

Margaret looked down at the flushed face.

"Are you sorry, Ju?"

"Sorry!" The conscious eyes flashed into view. "Sorry!" Julie echoed in astonishment. "Why, Mark," she said dreamily,--there was no affectation of maturity in her manner now, and it was all the more impressive for that. "Why, Mark," said she, "it's--it's the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me! I think and think,"--her voice dropped very low,--"of holding it in my arms,--mine and Harry's, you know--and of its little face!"

Margaret, stirred, kissed the wet lashes.

"Ju, but you're so young--you're such a baby yourself!" she said.

"And, Mark," Julie said, unheeding, "you know what Harry and I are going to call her, if it's a girl? Not for Mother, for it's so confusing to have two Julias, but for you! Because," her arms went about her sister, "you've always been such a darling to me, Mark!"

Margaret went downstairs very thoughtfully, and out into the silent Sunday streets. Where they walked, or what they talked of, she did not know. She knew that her head ached, and that the village looked very commonplace, and that the day was very hot. She found it more painful than sweet to be strolling along beside the big, loose-jointed figure, and to send an occasional side glance to John Tenison's earnest face, which wore its pleasantest expression now. Ah, well, it would be all over at five o'clock, she said wearily to herself, and she could go home and lie down with her aching head in a darkened room, and try not to think what to-day might have been. Try not to think of the dainty little luncheon Annie would have given them at Mrs. Carr-Boldt's, of the luxurious choice of amusements afterward: motoring over the lovely country roads, rowing on the wide still water, watching the tennis courts, or simply resting in deep chairs on the sweep of velvet lawn above the river.

She came out of a reverie to find Doctor Tenison glancing calmly up from his watch.

"The train was five o'clock, was it?" he said. "I've missed it!"

"Missed it!" Margaret echoed blankly. Then, as the horrible possibility dawned upon her, "Oh, no!"

"Oh, yes,--as bad as that!" he said, laughing at her.

Poor Margaret, fighting despair, struggled to recover herself.

"Well, I thought it might have been important to you!" she said, laughing quite naturally. "There's a seven-six, but it stops everywhere, and a ten-thirty. The ten-thirty is best, because supper's apt to be a little late."

"The ten-thirty," Doctor Tenison echoed contentedly. Margaret's heart sank,--five more hours of the struggle! "But perhaps that's an imposition," he said. "Isn't there a tea-room--isn't there an inn here where we could have a bite?"

"We aren't in Berlin," Margaret reminded him cheerfully. "There's a hotel,--but Mother would never forgive me for leading any one there! No, we'll take that little walk I told you of, and Mother will give us something to eat later.--Perhaps if we're late enough," she added to herself, "we can have just tea and bread and jam alone, after the others."

Suddenly, unreasonably, she felt philosophical and gay. The little episode of missing the train had given her the old dear feeling of adventure and comradeship again. Things couldn't be any worse than they had been at noon, anyway. The experience had been thoroughly disenchanting. What did a few hours, more or less, matter! Let him be disgusted if he wanted to, she couldn't help it!

It was cooler now, the level late shadows were making even Weston pretty. They went up a steep shady lane to the old graveyard, and wandered, peacefully, contentedly, among the old graves. Margaret gathered her thin gown from contact with the tangled, uncut grass; they had to disturb a flock of nibbling sheep to cross to the crumbling wall. Leaning on the uneven stones that formed it, they looked down at the roofs of the village, half lost in tree-tops; and listened to the barking of dogs, and the shrill voices of children. The sun sank lower, lower. There was a feeling of dew in the air as they went slowly home.

When, at seven o'clock, they opened the gate, they found on the side porch only Rebecca, enchanting in something pink and dotted, Mother, and Dad.

"Lucky we waited!" said Rebecca, rising, and signaling some wordless message to Margaret that required dimples, widened eyes, compressed lips, and an expression of utter secrecy. "Supper's all ready," she added casually.

"Where are the others'" Margaret said, experiencing the most pleasant sensation she had had in twenty-four hours.

"Ju and Harry went home, Rob's at George's, boys walking," said Rebecca, briefly, still dimpling mysteriously with additional information. She gave Margaret an eloquent side glance as she led the way into the dining-room. At the doorway Margaret stopped, astounded.

The room was hardly recognizable now. It was cool and delightful, with the diminished table daintily set for five, The old silver candlesticks and silver teapot presided over blue bowls of berries, and the choicest of Mother's preserved fruits. Some one had found time to put fresh parsley about the Canton platter of cold meats, some one had made a special trip to Mrs. O'Brien's for the cream that filled the Wedgwood pitcher. Margaret felt tears press suddenly against her eyes.

"Oh, Beck!" she could only stammer, when the sisters went into the kitchen for hot water and tea biscuit.

"Mother did it," said Rebecca, returning her hug with fervor. "She gave us all an awful talking to, after you left! She said here was dear old Mark, who always worked herself to death for us, trying to make a nice impression, and to have things go smoothly, and we were all acting like Indians, and everything so confused at dinner, and hot and noisy! So, later, when Paul and I and the others were walking, we saw you and Doctor Tenison going up toward the graveyard, and I tore home and told Mother he'd missed the five and would be back; it was after five then, and we just flew!"

It was all like a pleasant awakening after a troubled dream. As Margaret took her place at the little feast, she felt an exquisite sensation of peace and content sink into her heart. Mother was so gracious and charming, behind the urn; Rebecca irresistible in her admiration of the famous professor. Her father was his sweetest self, delightfully reminiscent of his boyhood, and his visit to the White House in Lincoln's day, with "my uncle, the judge." But it was to her mother's face that Margaret's eyes returned most often, she wanted--she was vaguely conscious that she wanted--to get away from the voices and laughter, and think about Mother. How sweet she was, just sweet, and after all, how few people were that in this world! They were clever, and witty, and rich,--plenty of them, but how little sweetness there was! How few faces, like her mother's, did not show a line that was not all tenderness and goodness.

They laughed over their teacups like old friends; the professor and Rebecca shouting joyously together, Mr. Paget one broad twinkle, Mrs. Paget radiantly reflecting, as she always did react, the others' mood. It was a memorably happy hour.

And after tea they sat on the porch, and the stars came out, and presently the moon sent silver shafts through the dark foliage of the trees. Little Rob came home, and climbed silently, contentedly, into his father's lap.

"Sing something, Mark," said Dad, then; and Margaret, sitting on the steps with her head against her mother's knee, found it very simple to begin in the darkness one of the old songs he loved:--


"Don't you cry, ma honey,
Don't you weep no more."


Rebecca, sitting on the rail, one slender arm flung above her head about the pillar, joined her own young voice to Margaret's sweet and steady one. The others hummed a little. John Tenison, sitting watching them, his locked hands hanging between his knees, saw in the moonlight a sudden glitter on the mother's cheek.

Presently Bruce, tired and happy and sunburned, came through the splashed silver-and-black of the street to sit by Margaret, and put his arm about her; and the younger boys, returning full of the day's great deeds, spread themselves comfortably over the lower steps. Before long all their happy voices rose together, on "Believe me," and "Working on the Railroad," and "Seeing Nellie Home," and a dozen more of the old songs that young people have sung for half a century in the summer moonlight.

And then it was time to say good-night to Professor Tenison. "Come again, sir!" said Mr. Paget, heartily; the boys slid their hands, still faintly suggestive of fish, cordially into his; Rebecca promised to mail him a certain discussed variety of fern the very next day; Bruce's voice sounded all hearty good-will as he hoped that he wouldn't miss Doctor Tenison's next visit. Mrs. Paget, her hand in his, raised keen, almost anxious eyes to his face.

"But surely you'll be down our way again?" said she, unsmilingly.

"Oh, surely." The professor was unable to keep his eyes from moving toward Margaret, and the mother saw it.

"Good-bye for the present, then," she said, still very gravely.

"Good-bye, Mrs. Paget," said Doctor Tenison. "It's been an inestimable privilege to meet you all. I haven't ever had a happier day."

Margaret, used to the extravagant speeches of another world, thought this merely very charming politeness. But her heart sang, as they walked away together. He liked them--he had had a nice time!

"Now I know what makes you so different from other women," said John Tenison, when he and Margaret were alone. "It's having that wonderful mother! She--she--well, she's one woman in a million; I don't have to tell you that! It's something to thank God for, a mother like that; it's a privilege to know her. I've been watching her all day, and I've been wondering what she gets out of it,--that was what puzzled me; but now, just now, I've found out! This morning, thinking what her life is, I couldn't see what repaid her, do you see? What made up to her for the unending, unending effort, and sacrifice, the pouring out of love and sympathy and help--year after year after year...."

He hesitated, but Margaret did not speak.

"You know," he went on musingly, "in these days, when women just serenely ignore the question of children, or at most, as a special concession, bring up one or two,--just the one or two whose expenses can be comfortably met!--there's something magnificent in a woman like your mother, who begins eight destinies instead of one! She doesn't strain and chafe to express herself through the medium of poetry or music or the stage, but she puts her whole splendid philosophy into her nursery--launches sound little bodies and minds that have their first growth cleanly and purely about her knees. Responsibility,--that's what these other women say they are afraid of! But it seems to me there's no responsibility like that of decreeing that young lives simply shall not be. Why, what good is learning, or elegance of manner, or painfully acquired fineness of speech, and taste and point of view, if you are not going to distil it into the growing plants, the only real hope we have in the world! You know, Miss Paget," his smile was very sweet, in the half darkness, "there's a higher tribunal than the social tribunal of this world, after all; and it seems to me that a woman who stands there, as your mother will, with a forest of new lives about her, and a record like hers, will--will find she has a Friend at court!" he finished whimsically.

They were at a lonely corner, and a garden fence offering Margaret a convenient support, she laid her arms suddenly upon the rosevine that covered it, and her face upon her arms, and cried as if her heart was broken.

"Why, why--my dear girl!" the professor said, aghast. He laid his hand on the shaking shoulders, but Margaret shook it off.

"I'm not what you think I am!" she sobbed out, incoherently. "I'm not different from other women; I'm just as selfish and bad and mean as the worst of them! And I'm not worthy to t-tie my m-mother's shoes!"

"Margaret!" John Tenison said unsteadily. And in a flash her drooping bright head was close to his lips, and both his big arms were about her. "You know I love you, don't you Margaret?" he said hoarsely, over and over, with a sort of fierce intensity. "You know that, don't you? Don't you, Margaret?"

Margaret could not speak. Emotion swept her like a rising tide from all her familiar moorings; her heart thundered, there was a roaring in her ears. She was conscious of a wild desire to answer him, to say one hundredth part of all she felt; but she could only rest, breathless, against him, her frightened eyes held by the eyes so near, his arms about her.

"You do, don't you, Margaret?" he said more gently. "You love me, don't you? Don't you?"

And after a long time, or what seemed a long time, while they stood motionless in the summer night, with the great branches of the trees moving a little overhead, and garden scents creeping out on the damp air, Margaret said, with a sort of breathless catch in her voice:--

"You know I do!" And with the words the fright left her eyes, and happy tears filled them, and she raised her face to his.

Coming back from the train half an hour later, she walked between a new heaven and a new earth! The friendly stars seemed just overhead; a thousand delicious odors came from garden beds and recently watered lawns. She moved through the confusion that always attended the settling down of the Pagets for the night, like one in a dream, and was glad to find herself at last lying in the darkness beside the sleeping Rebecca again. Now, now, she could think!

But it was all too wonderful for reasonable thought. Margaret clasped both her hands against her rising heart. He loved her. She could think of the very words he had used in telling her, over and over again. She need no longer wonder and dream and despair: he had said it. He loved her, had loved her from the very first. His old aunt suspected it, and his chum suspected it, and he had thought Margaret knew it. And beside him in that brilliant career that she had followed so wistfully in her dreams, Margaret saw herself, his wife. Young and clever and good to look upon,--yes, she was free to-night to admit herself all these good things for his sake!--and his wife, mounting as he mounted beside the one man in the world she had elected to admire and love. "Doctor and Mrs. John Tenison "--so it would be written. "Doctor Tenison's wife"--"This is Mrs. Tenison"--she seemed already to hear the magical sound of it!

Love--what a wonderful thing it was! How good God was to send this best of all gifts to her! She thought how it belittled the other good things of the world. She asked no more of life, now; she was loved by a good man, and a great man, and she was to be his wife. Ah, the happy years together that would date from to-night,--Margaret was thrilling already to their delights. "For better or worse," the old words came to her with a new meaning. There would be no worse, she said to herself with sudden conviction,--how could there be? Poverty, privation, sickness might come,--but to bear them with John,--to comfort and sustain him, to be shut away with him from all the world but the world of their own four walls,--why, that would be the greatest happiness of all! What hardship could be hard that knitted their two hearts closer together; what road too steep if they essayed it hand in hand?

And that--her confused thoughts ran on--that was what had changed all life for Julie. She had forgotten Europe, forgotten all the idle ambitions of her girlhood, because she loved her husband; and now the new miracle was to come to her,--the miracle of a child, the little perfect promise of the days to come. How marvellous--how marvellous it was! The little imperative, helpless third person, bringing to radiant youth and irresponsibility the terrors of danger and anguish, and the great final joy, to share together. That was life. Julie was living; and although Margaret's own heart was not yet a wife's, and she could not yet find room for the love beyond that, still she was strangely, deeply stirred now by a longing for all the experiences that life held.

How she loved everything and everybody to-night,--how she loved just being alive--just being Margaret Paget, lying here in the dark dreaming and thinking. There was no one in the world with whom she would change places to-night! Margaret found herself thinking of one woman of her acquaintance after another,--and her own future, opening all color of rose before her, seemed to her the one enviable path through the world.

In just one day, she realized with vague wonder, her slowly formed theories had been set at naught, her whole philosophy turned upside down. Had these years of protest and rebellion done no more than lead her in a wide circle, past empty gain, and joyless mirth, and the dead sea fruit of riches and idleness, back to her mother's knees again? She had met brilliant women, rich women, courted women--but where among them was one whose face had ever shone as her mother's shone to-day? The overdressed, idle dowagers; the matrons, with their too-gay frocks, their too-full days, their too-rich food; the girls, all crudeness, artifice, all scheming openly for their own advantage,--where among them all was happiness? Where among them was one whom Margaret had heard say--as she had heard her mother say so many, many times,--"Children, this is a happy day,"--"Thank God for another lovely Sunday all together,"--"Isn't it lovely to get up and find the sun shining?"--"Isn't it good to come home hungry to such a nice dinner!"

And what a share of happiness her mother had given the world! How she had planned and worked for them all,--Margaret let her arm fall across the sudden ache in her eyes as she thought of the Christmas mornings, and the stuffed stockings at the fireplace that proved every childish wish remembered, every little hidden hope guessed! Darling Mother--she hadn't had much money for those Christmas stockings, they must have been carefully planned, down to the last candy cane. And how her face would beam, as she sat at the breakfast-table, enjoying her belated coffee, after the cold walk to church, and responding warmly to the onslaught of kisses and bugs that added fresh color to her cold, rosy cheeks! What a mother she was,--Margaret remembered her making them all help her clear up the Christmas disorder of tissue paper and ribbons; then came the inevitable bed making, then tippets and overshoes, for a long walk with Dad. They would come back to find the dining-room warm, the long table set, the house deliciously fragrant from the immense turkey that their mother, a fresh apron over her holiday gown, was basting at the oven. Then came the feast, and then games until twilight, and more table-setting; and the baby, whoever he was, was tucked away upstairs before tea, and the evening ended with singing, gathered about Mother at the piano.

"How happy we all were!" Margaret said; "and how she worked for us!"

And suddenly theories and speculation ended, and she knew. She knew that faithful, self-forgetting service, and the love that spends itself over and over, only to be renewed again and again, are the secret of happiness. For another world, perhaps, leisure and beauty and luxury--but in this one, "Who loses his life shall gain it." Margaret knew now that her mother was not only the truest, the finest, the most generous woman she had ever known, but the happiest as well.

She thought of other women like her mother; she suddenly saw what made their lives beautiful. She could understand now why Emily Porter, her old brave little associate of school-teaching days, was always bright, why Mary Page, plodding home from the long day at the library desk to her little cottage and crippled sister, at night, always made one feel the better and happier for meeting her.

Mrs. Carr-Boldt's days were crowded to the last instant, it was true; but what a farce it was, after all, Margaret said to herself in all honesty, to humor her in her little favorite belief that she was a busy woman! Milliner, manicure, butler, chef, club, card-table, tea table,--these and a thousand things like them filled her day, and they might all be swept away in an hour, and leave no one the worse. Suppose her own summons came; there would be a little flurry throughout the great establishment, legal matters to settle, notes of thanks to be written for flowers. Margaret could imagine Victoria and Harriet, awed but otherwise unaffected, home from school in midweek, and to be sent back before the next Monday. Their lives would go on unchanged, their mother had never buttered bread for them, never schemed for their boots and hats, never watched their work and play, and called them to her knees for praise and blame. Mr. Carr-Boldt would have his club, his business, his yacht, his motor-cars,--he was well accustomed to living in cheerful independence of family claims.

But life without Mother--! In a sick moment of revelation, Margaret saw it. She saw them gathering in the horrible emptiness and silence of the house Mother had kept so warm and bright, she saw her father's stooped shoulders and trembling hands, she saw Julie and Beck, red eyed, white-cheeked, in fresh black,--she seemed to hear the low-toned voices that would break over and over again so cruelly into sobs. What could they do--who could take up the work she laid down,--who would watch and plan and work for them all, now? Margaret thought of the empty place at the table, of the room that, after all these years, was no longer "Mother's room--"

Oh, no--no--no!--She began to cry bitterly in the dark. No, please God, they would hold her safe with them for many years. Mother should live to see some of the fruits of the long labor of love. She should know that with every fresh step in life, with every deepening experience, her children grew to love her better, turned to her more and more! There would be Christmases as sweet as the old ones, if not so gay; there would come a day--Margaret's whole being thrilled to the thought--when little forms would run ahead of John and herself up the worn path, and when their children would be gathered in Mother's experienced arms! Did life hold a more exquisite moment, she wondered, than that in which she would hear her mother praise them!

All her old castles in the air seemed cheap and tinselled to-night, beside these tender dreams that had their roots in the real truths of life. Travel and position, gowns and motor-cars, yachts and country houses, these things were to be bought in all their perfection by the highest bidder, and always would be. But love and character and service, home and the wonderful charge of little lives,--the "pure religion breathing household laws" that guided and perfected the whole,--these were not to be bought, they were only to be prayed for, worked for, bravely won.

"God has been very good to me," Margaret said to herself very seriously; and in her old childish fashion she made some new resolves. From now on, she thought, with a fervor that made it seem half accomplished, she would be a very different woman. If joy came, she would share it as far as she could; if sorrow, she would show her mother that her daughter was not all unworthy of her. To-morrow, she thought, she would go and see Julie. Dear old Ju, whose heart was so full of the little Margaret! Margaret had a sudden tender memory of the days when Theodore and Duncan and Rob were all babies in turn. Her mother would gather the little daily supply of fresh clothes from bureau and chest every morning, and carry the little bath-tub into the sunny nursery window, and sit there with only a bobbing downy head and waving pink angers visible from the great warm bundle of bath apron.... Ju would be doing that now.

And she had sometimes wished, or half formed the wish, that she and Bruce bad been the only ones--! Yes, came the sudden thought, but it wouldn't have been Bruce and Margaret, after all, it would have been Bruce and Charlie.

Good God! That was what women did, then, when they denied the right of life to the distant, unwanted, possible little person! Calmly, constantly, in all placid philosophy and self-justification, they kept from the world--not only the troublesome new baby, with his tears and his illnesses, his merciless exactions, his endless claim on mind and body and spirit--but perhaps the glowing beauty of a Rebecca, the buoyant indomitable spirit of a Ted, the sturdy charm of a small Robert, whose grip on life, whose energy and ambition were as strong as Margaret's own!

Margaret stirred uneasily, frowned in the dark. It seemed perfectly incredible, it seemed perfectly impossible that if Mother had had only the two--and how many thousands of women didn't have that!--she, Margaret, a pronounced and separate entity, travelled, ambitious, and to be the wife of one of the world's great men, might not have been lying here in the summer night, rich in love and youth and beauty and her dreams!

It was all puzzling, all too big for her to understand. But she could do what Mother did, just take the nearest duty and fulfil it, and sleep well, and rise joyfully to fresh effort.

Margaret felt as if she would never sleep again. The summer night was cool, she was cramped and chilly; but still her thoughts raced on, and she could not shut her eyes. She turned and pressed her face resolutely into the pillow, and with a great sigh renounced the joys and sorrows, the lessons and the awakening that the long day had held.

A second later there was a gentle rustle at the door.

"Mark--" a voice whispered. "Can't you sleep?"

Margaret locked her arms tight about her mother, as the older woman knelt beside her.

"Why, how cold you are, sweetheart!" her mother protested, tucking covers about her. "I thought I heard you sigh! I got up to lock the stairway door; Baby's gotten a trick of walking in his sleep when he's overtired. It's nearly one o'clock, Mark! What have you been doing?"

"Thinking." Margaret put her lips close to her mother's ear. "Mother-" she stammered and stopped. Mrs. Paget kissed her.

"Daddy and I thought so," she said simply; and further announcement was not needed. "My darling little girl!" she added tenderly; and then, after a silence, "He is very fine, Mark, so unaffected, so gentle and nice with the boys. I--I think I'm glad, Mark. I lose my girl but there's no happiness like a happy marriage, dear."

"No, you won't lose me, Mother," Margaret said, clinging very close. "We hadn't much time to talk, but this much we did decide. You see, John--John goes to Germany for a year, next July. So we thought--in June or July, Mother, just as Julie's was! Just a little wedding like Ju's. You see, that's better than interrupting the term, or trying to settle down, when we'd have to move in July. And, Mother, I'm going to write Mrs. Carr-Boldt,--she can get a thousand girls to take my place, her niece is dying to do it!--and I'm going to take my old school here for the term. Mr. Forbes spoke to me about it after church this morning; they want me back. I want this year at home; I want to see more of Bruce and Ju, and sort of stand by darling little Beck! But it's for you, most of all, Mother," said Margaret, with difficulty. "I've always loved you, Mother, but you don't know how wonderful I think you are--" She broke off pitifully, "Ah, Mother!"

For her mother's arms had tightened convulsively about her, and the face against her own was wet.

"Are you talking?" said Rebecca, rearing herself up suddenly, with a web of bright hair falling over her shoulder. "You said your prayers on Mark last night--" said she, reproachfully, "come over and say them on me to-night, Mother."


(THE END)
Kathleen Thompson Norris's Book: Mother

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CHAPTER VIArcherton, a blur of flying trees and houses, bright in the late sunlight, Pottsville, with children wading and shouting, under the bridge, Hunt's Crossing, then the next would be Weston--and home. Margaret, beginning to gather wraps and small possessions together, sighed. She sighed partly because her head ached, partly because the hot trip had mussed her usual fresh trimness, largely because she was going home. This was August; her last trip home had been between Christmas and the New Year. She had sent a box from Germany at Easter, ties for the boys, silk scarves for Rebecca, books for Dad;
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