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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portion Of Labor - Chapter 30
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The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 30 Post by :sarojeni Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :2428

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The Portion Of Labor - Chapter 30

Chapter XXX

Ellen looked at the other girl in a kind of rage of maidenly shame. "Why have I got to get married, anyway?" she demanded. "Isn't there anything in this world besides getting married? Why do you all talk so about me? You don't seem so bent on getting married yourself. If you think so much of marriage, why don't you get married yourself, and let me alone?"

"Nobody wants to marry me that I know of," replied Abby, quite simply. Then she, too, blazed out. "Get married!" she cried. "Do you really think I would get married to the kind of man who would marry me? Do you think I could if I loved him?" A great wave of red surged over the girl's thin face, her voice trembled with tenderness. Ellen knew at once, with a throb of sympathy and shame, that Abby did love some one.

"Do you think I would marry him if I loved him?" demanded Abby, stiffening herself into a soldier-like straightness. "Do you think? I tell you what it is," she said, "I was lookin' only to-day at David Mendon at the cutting-bench, cutting away with his poor little knife. I'd like to know how many handles he's worn out since he began. There he was, putting the pattern on the leather, and cuttin' around it, standin' at his window, that's a hot place in summer and a cold one in winter, and there's where he's stood for I don't know how many years since before I was born. He's one of the few that Lloyd's has hung on to when he's got older, and I thought to myself, good Lord, how that poor man must have loved his wife, and how he must love his children, to be willin' to turn himself into a machine like that for them. He never takes a holiday unless he's forced into it; there he stands and cuts and cuts. If I were his wife, I would die of shame and pity that I ever led him into it. Do you think I would ever let a man turn himself into a machine for me, if I loved him? I guess I wouldn't! And that's why, when I see a man of another sort that you won't have to break your own heart over, whether you marry him or not, payin' attention to you, I am glad. It's a different thing, marriage with a man like Robert Lloyd, and a man like that would never think of me. I'm right in the ranks, and you ain't."

"I am," said Ellen, stoutly.

"No, you ain't; you don't belong there, and when I see a chance for you to get out where you belong--"

"I don't intend to make marriage a stepping-stone," said Ellen. "Sometimes--" She hesitated.

"What?" asked the other girl.

"Sometimes I think I would rather not go to college, after all."

"Ellen Brewster, are you crazy? Of course, you will go to college unless you marry Robert Lloyd. Perhaps he won't want to wait." Then Abby, dauntless as she was, shrank a little before Ellen's wrathful retort.

"Abby Atkins, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" she cried. "There he's been to see me just twice, the first time on an errand, and the next with his aunt, and he's walked home with me once because he couldn't help it; his aunt told him to!"

"But here he is again to-night," said Abby, apologetically.

"What of that? I suppose he has come on another errand."

"Then what made you run away?"

"Because you have all made me ashamed of my life to look at him," said Ellen, hotly.

Then down went her head on the bed again, and Abby was leaning over her, caressing her, whispering fond things to her like a lover.

"There, there, Ellen," she whispered. "Don't be mad, don't feel bad. I didn't mean any harm. You are such a beauty--there's nobody like you in the world--that everybody thinks that any man who sees you must want you."

"Robert Lloyd doesn't, and if he did I wouldn't have him," sobbed Ellen.

"You sha'n't if you don't want him," said Abby, consolingly.

After a while the two girls bathed their eyes with cold water, and went down-stairs into the sitting-room. Maria was making herself a blue muslin dress, and her mother was hemming the ruffles. There was a cheap blue shade on the lamp, and Maria herself was clad in a blue gingham. All the blue color and the shade on the lamp gave a curious pallor and unreality to the homely room and the two women. Mrs. Atkins's hair was strained back from her hollow temples, which had noble outlines.

"I'm going to walk a little way with Ellen, she's going home," said Abby.

"Very well," said her mother. Maria looked wistfully at them as they went out. She went on sewing on her blue muslin, rather sadly. She coughed a little.

"Why don't you put up your sewing for to-night and go to bed, child?" said her mother.

"I might as well sit here and sew as go to bed and lie there. I shouldn't sleep," replied Maria, with the gentlest sadness conceivable. There was in it no shadow of complaining. Of late years all the fire of resistance had seemed to die out in the girl. She was unfailingly sweet, but nerveless. Often when she raised a hand it seemed as if she could not even let it fall, as if it must remain poised by some curious inertia. Still, she went to the shop every day and did her work faithfully. She pasted linings in shoes, and her slender little fingers used to fly as if they were driven by some more subtle machine than any in the factory. Often Maria felt vaguely as if she were in the grasp of some mighty machine worked by a mighty operator; she felt, as she pasted the linings, as if she herself were also a part of some monstrous scheme of work under greater hands than hers, and there was never any getting back of it. And always with it all there was that ceaseless, helpless, bewildered longing for something, she was afraid to think what, which often saps the strength and life of a young girl. Maria had never had a lover in her life; she had not even good comrades among young men, as her sister had. No man at that time would have ever looked twice at her, unless he had fallen in love with her, and had been disposed to pick her up and carry her along on the hard road upon which they fared together. Maria was half fed in every sense; she had not enough nourishing food for her body, nor love for her heart, nor exercise for her brain. She had no time to read, as she was forced to sew when out of the shop if she would have anything to wear. When at last she went up-stairs to bed, before Abby returned, she sat down by her window, and leaned her little, peaked chin on the sill and looked out. The stars were unusually bright for a summer night; the whole sky seemed filled with a constantly augmenting host of them. The scent of tobacco came to her from below. To the lonely girl the stars and the scent of the tobacco served as stimulants; she formed a forcible wish. "I wish," she muttered to herself, "that I was either an angel or a man." Then the next minute she chided herself for her wickedness. A great wave of love for God, and remorse for impatience and melancholy in her earthly lot, swept over her. She knelt down beside her bed and prayed. An exultation half-physical, half-spiritual, filled her. When she rose, her little, thin face was radiant. She seemed to measure the shortness of the work and woe of the world as between her thumb and finger. The joy of the divine filled all her longing. When Abby came home, who shared her chamber, she felt no jealousy. She only inquired whether she had gone quite home with Ellen. "Yes, I did," replied Abby. "I don't think it is safe for her to go past that lonely place below the Smiths'."

"I'm glad you did," said Maria, with an angelic inflection in her voice.

"Robert Lloyd came to see Ellen, and she ran away over here, and wouldn't see him, because they had all been plaguing her about him," said Abby. "I wish she wouldn't do so. It would be a splendid thing for her to marry him, and I know he likes her, and his aunt is going to send her to college."

"That won't make any difference to Ellen, and everything will be all right anyway, if only she loved God," said Maria, still with that rapt, angelic voice.

"Shucks!" said Abby. Then she leaned over her sister, caught her by her little, thin shoulders and shook her tenderly. "There, I didn't mean to speak so," said she. "You're awful good, Maria. I'm glad you've got religion if it's so much comfort to you. I don't mean to make light of it, but I'm afraid you ain't well. I'm goin' to get you some more of that tonic to-morrow."

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Chapter XXXIWhen Ellen reached home that night she found no one there except her father, who was sitting on the door-step in the north yard. Her mother had gone to see her aunt Eva as soon as the dressmaker had left. "Who was that with you?" Andrew asked, as she drew near."Abby," replied Ellen."So you went over there?"Ellen sat down on a lower step in front of her father. "Yes," said she. She half laughed up in his face, like a child who knows she has been naughty, yet knows she will not be blamed since she can count so surely
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Chapter XXIXEllen rose without a word, and fled out of the room and out of the house. It seemed to her, after what had happened, after what her mother and grandmother had said and insinuated, after what she herself had thought and felt, that she must. She longed to see Robert Lloyd, to hear him speak, as she had never longed for anything in the world, and yet she ran away as if she were driven to obey some law which was coeval with the first woman and beyond all volition of her individual self.When she reached the head of the
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