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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHis Second Wife - Chapter 9
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His Second Wife - Chapter 9 Post by :bizmom Category :Long Stories Author :Ernest Poole Date :May 2012 Read :1090

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His Second Wife - Chapter 9


They 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 begged Joe to let her be married in church, and Joe gave in good-naturedly. He did not go to the minister who had buried Amy a year before, but to one who had a small Presbyterian church on the next street. There he soon arranged to be married. But then, in his ignorance of such matters, Joe said, in his blunt, off-hand way:

"I like to settle these things ahead. So if you'll just name the amount--" he stopped. For the clergyman straightened up as though at an insult. Joe reddened. "Look here," he blurted, "I didn't mean--"

"Oh, that's all right." The other man was smiling queerly. "How long have you been in New York?" he asked.

"Nine years."

"Ever been inside of a church?"

"No, I can't say that I have."

"Then why do you want to get married here?"

Joe smiled frankly. "The bride's idea."

"I thought so," said the preacher. A glint of humour came into his eyes. "You asked me what it would cost to get married. If you'll go down to City Hall, it will cost you exactly two dollars. But if you care to be married here--well, there's an old scrub-woman I know who for nine years every Sunday has come to this church and put a quarter in the plate to keep this institution going for you. And if you care to use it now it will cost you just what it has cost her. Figure it out and send me a check, or else go down to City Hall."

"I'll pay up," was the prompt reply.

At home he told Ethel about it with keen relish at the joke on himself. And Ethel smiled rather tensely and said:

"Don't let's make a joke of it, dear. Let's make it as much of a one as we can."

But there was little or nothing to do. And the next afternoon in church it felt so queer and unreal to her as she stood with Joe in front of the pulpit. Behind her in the shadowy place were only Susette and Emily and the building superintendent's wife. No long rows of faces--caring. Only the hard murmur of the busy street outside. No excited whispers here, no music and no flowers, no bridesmaids and no wedding gown.

"I pronounce you man and wife."

Then what?

She took Susette tight in her arms for a moment. Then Emily--thank God for her!--was whispering fiercely in her ear:

"It's going to be all right, my dear! In a minute you're going to laugh or cry! Laugh! It's better! Laugh! . . . That's right!"

Joe had his small car waiting outside; and waving good-bye to Emily, who was taking Susette to the park, they sped away to the river and off into the country. Soon they were talking excitedly.

It was after dark when they returned, and as had been already planned they went to a cafe to dine, a gay place crowded full of people, music throbbing, voices humming. Ethel wanted it like that. She wanted to be lifted through. Joe alarmed her now. "Oh, don't--don't be so considerate!" she wanted to exclaim to him. "What good does it do?" As they smiled at each other, again and again she had to fight down an impulse to cry--or shiver. She would bite her lips and turn away and watch people, then turn quickly back and start talking rapidly.

At home, alone in Amy's room, she sat at the dressing table there, her movements swift and feverish. She had often looked at herself of late in her mirror in the nursery, but now she did not look into the glass. Her hands were cold. In a very few minutes she called to Joe.

And a little later, on her old bed by the cradle in the nursery, she lay violently trembling and staring intently up at the ceiling.

"What has happened?" she asked. "Whose fault was it? Mine?" With a strange thrill of fear and repulsion, she clenched her teeth and held herself until the fit of trembling passed. "Is this real, Ethel Knight? Do you mean to say this is what love is--just this, just this?" She shook her head and bit her lips. She asked, "Am I tied to this man for life? I am not! I can't be! This isn't real--it isn't me!"

The night was a blur, like a bad dream. Once she remembered jumping up and quickly locking the nursery door. But that was the beginning of a return to her senses. "I needn't have done that," she thought. "It wasn't fair. It was even rather insulting." This thought made her quieter. And later, as the night wore on, a feeling of having been unjust and foolish little by little emerged from the chaos and began to steady her. But again the old dismay and dread and loathing would come back with a rush. All at once her body from head to foot would grow cold and rigid. And the power which a year ago with her sister she had excitedly sensed as the driving force of this whole town, now loomed brutal, savage! The thought rose suddenly in her mind, "Amy. She was his wife! Five years!" And then in a revealing flash, "Her love was like that! She taught him!"

With a bound that feeling of intimacy with her sister leaped to a climax--burned!

It was long till she could quiet herself. She had to do it by walking the floor. . . . Thank heaven for the daylight and the small, round face of Susette peering over the edge of the crib. Soon she had the child in her bed and they were looking at pictures.

Later she went back to her husband. It cost her no slight effort of will, and it was a relief to find him gone. On her dresser he had left a note:

"I am sorry, dear--it was all my fault. I was a fool--a clumsy fool. But remember there is plenty of time--and be certain absolutely that everything will be all right."

She read it more than once that day, and it helped her prepare for the evening. When Joe came home and took her in his arms, she knew at once that he meant her to feel there was nothing to be afraid of.

"I've got to be down at the office tonight," was all he said. But in his voice, low, kind and reassuring, like that of a big brother, there was a promise which gave her a thrill of gratitude and deep relief. With it came some self-reproach, which caused her again to struggle, alone, and then go to Amy's room to sleep. She lay listening there for hours, carefully holding herself in check. When she heard his key in the hall door, she sharply stiffened, held her breath. . . . She heard him go into the small guest room which had been hers a year before. . . . And then she cried softly to herself. With the blessed relief of it, her love for Joe was coming back.

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His Second Wife - Chapter 10 His Second Wife - Chapter 10

His Second Wife - Chapter 10
CHAPTER XOne evening about two months later Ethel was dressing for dinner. As usual they were dining alone, but long ago she had taken the habit of dressing each night as though there were people coming. Amy had taught her to do that; and after the death of her sister she had always made a point of "keeping up" for Joe's sake, although often it had been an effort. But it was no effort now. She had been here for nearly an hour, absorbed in this pleasant, leisurely art that had such a new meaning and delight. To keep being different,

His Second Wife - Chapter 8 His Second Wife - Chapter 8

His Second Wife - Chapter 8
CHAPTER VIIIFor 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