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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOne Woman's Life - Part Five. The Cake Shop - Chapter 8. The Sunshine Special
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One Woman's Life - Part Five. The Cake Shop - Chapter 8. The Sunshine Special Post by :endbay Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :May 2012 Read :2641

Click below to download : One Woman's Life - Part Five. The Cake Shop - Chapter 8. The Sunshine Special (Format : PDF)

One Woman's Life - Part Five. The Cake Shop - Chapter 8. The Sunshine Special

PART FIVE. THE CAKE SHOP
CHAPTER VIII. THE SUNSHINE SPECIAL

A few weeks later a little party gathered in the murky railroad station from which the California trains depart from Chicago. As they approached the waiting train, which bore on its observation platform the brass sign, "Sunshine Special," the negro porters showed their gleaming teeth and the conductor muttered with an appropriate smile,--"Another of them bridal parties!" At the head of the little procession the Ranchman walked, conversing with Walter Kemp. Duncan had an air of apparent detachment, but one eye usually rested on Milly, who was walking with her father and was followed by a laughing group. Eleanor Kemp was not among them. Somehow since the last evolution of Milly's affairs there had been a coolness between these two old friends, and Mrs. Kemp had not taken the trouble to leave her summer home "to see Milly off" again. She had sent her instead a very pretty dressing-case with real gold-stoppered bottles, which the new husband now handed over to the porter.

Milly's arm was caressingly placed on her father's. Horatio was older, more wizened, than when we first met him, but he was genial and happy, with a boyish light in his eyes.

"You'll be sure to come, papa!" Milly said, squeezing his arm.

"I won't miss it this time, daughter," Horatio replied slyly,--"my long-delayed trip to California." He chuckled reminiscently.

"You must bring Josephine with you, of course," Milly added hastily.

Mrs. Horatio, still stern behind her spectacles, even in the midst of a merry bridal party, relented sufficiently to say,--

"I ain't much on travelling about in cars myself."

Milly, with the amiability of one who has at last "made good," remarked patronizingly,--

"You'll get used to the cars in three days, my dear."

Horatio meanwhile was playing with little Virginia, teasing her about her "new Papa." The little girl smiled rather dubiously. She had the animal-like loyalty of childhood, and glanced suspiciously at the "New Papa." However, she had already learned from the constant mutations of her brief life to accept the New and the Unexpected without complaint. At last perceiving Ernestine, who was hurrying breathlessly down the long platform in search of the party, a huge bunch of long-stemmed roses hugged close in her arms, Virginia ran to meet her old friend and clung tight to the Laundryman.

"Take 'em!" Ernestine said, breathing hard and thrusting the prickly flowers into Milly's arms. "My! I thought I'd miss the train."

"Oh, Ernestine! why did you do that, dear?" Milly exclaimed in a pleased voice.

"It's the last of the Cake Shop!" Ernestine replied with a grim smile. And the roses were almost literally the sole remains of that defunct enterprise, having taken the last of Ernestine's dollars.

"They're perfectly gorgeous--it was lovely of you to think of bringing them for me. I'll cut the stems and put them in water and they will keep all the way to the Coast--and remind me of you," Milly said, who had formed the habit of receiving floral offerings.

She handed the awkward bunch over to "Husband," who hastened dutifully to place them in their compartment.

"He's on his job," Ernestine grinned. The banker laughed.

"That's what we men are made for, isn't it, Milly?"

"Of course!"

She was in her right element once more, the centre of the picture,--becomingly dressed in a gray travelling suit, "younger than ever," about to start on a wonderful three days' journey to a strange new land, with her faithful and adoring knight. What more was there in life?

* * * * *

"All aboard!" the conductor droned.

Exclamations and final embraces. Milly came to Ernestine Geyer last.

"Good-by, dear! You've been awfully good to me--I can never forget it!"

"Yes, you will--that's all right," Ernestine replied gruffly, not knowing exactly what she was saying.

"I hope you'll make a fortune in your new business--"

"Him and me," Ernestine interrupted, nodding jocularly towards the banker, "are going into the laundry business together."

"You must write me all about it!"

"I will."

In a last confidential whisper Milly said,--"And some day marry a good man, dear!"

"Marry!!" Ernestine hooted, so that all could hear. "Me, marry! Not much--I'll leave the matrimony business to you."

Then they kissed.

There were tears in Ernestine's eyes as she stood waving a pocket-handkerchief after the receding train. Milly was at the rail of the observation platform, leaning on the brass sign and waving both hands to her old friends, Chicago, her past. Little Virginia at her side waved an inch or two of white also, while the smiling ranchman stood over them benignantly, protectingly, one hand on his wife's shoulder to keep her from falling over the rail.

* * * * *

When the train had swept out into the yards, the little party broke up. Horatio, who was choky, turned to his wife. Mrs. Horatio was already studying through her spectacles a suburban time-card to ascertain the next "local" for Elm Park. Ernestine and Walter Kemp slowly strolled up the train-shed together. The banker was the first to break the silence:--

"Guess they'll have a comfortable journey, not too dusty.... He seems to be a good fellow, and he must have a fine place out there."

Ernestine said nothing.

"Well," the banker remarked, "Milly is settled now anyway--hope she'll be happy! She wasn't much of a business woman, eh?" He looked at Ernestine, who smiled grimly, but made no reply. "She's better off married, I expect--most women are," he philosophized, "whether they like it or not.... That's what a woman like Milly is meant for.... She's the kind that men have run after from the beginning of the world, I guess--the woman with beauty and charm, you know."

Ernestine nodded. She knew better than the banker.

"She'll never do much anywhere, but she'll always find some man crazy to do for her," and he added something in German about the eternal feminine, which Ernestine failed to get.

There was a steady drizzle from a lowering, greasy sky outside of the train-shed, and the two paused at the door. With a long sigh Ernestine emitted,--

"I only hope she'll be happy now!"

As if he had not heard this heartfelt prayer, the banker mused aloud,--

"She's Woman,--the old-fashioned kind,--just Woman!"

Ernestine looked steadily into the drizzle. Neither commented on what both understood to be the banker's meaning,--that Milly was the type of what men through the ages, in their paramount desire for exclusive sex possession, had made of women, what civilization had made of her, and society still encouraged her to become when she could,--an adventuress,--in the banker's more sophisticated phrase,--a fortuitous, somewhat parasitic creature. In Ernestine's more vulgar idiom, if she had permitted herself to express her conviction, "Milly was a little grafter." But Ernestine would not have let hot iron force the words through her lips....

"And I suppose," the banker concluded, "that's the kind of women men will always desire and want to work for."

"I guess so," Ernestine mumbled.

Had she not worked for Milly? She would have slaved for her cheerfully all her life and felt it a privilege. Milly had stripped her to the bone, and wounded her heart in addition,--but Ernestine loved her still.

* * * * *

"Can I put you down anywhere?" Kemp asked, as his car came up to the curb.

"No, thanks--I'll walk."

"Remember when you want some money for your new business to come and see me!"

"I owe you too much now."

"Oh," he said good-naturedly, "that account is wiped off. The partnership's been dissolved."

"That ain't the way I do business."

"I wish more of my men customers felt like _you_," the banker laughed as the car drove away.

Ernestine plunged into the drizzle, and while the Sunshine Special was hurrying the old-fashioned woman westward to the golden slopes of California, with her pretty

"face that burned the topless towers of Ilium,"

the new woman plodded sturdily through the mucky Chicago streets on her way to the eternal Job.

Milly was settled at last, and, let us assume, "lived happily ever after."


(THE END)
Robert Herrick's Novel: One Woman's Life

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