Their Second Marriage
|Their Second Marriage
|From McClure's Magazine/Volume 14, December 1899, pp. 183-188. Note the frequent occurrence of the expression "Oh, Henry!" in this story which was published in the same issue of the magazine that included the very first of O. Henry's stories.|
A STORY OF DOMESTIC LIFE.By Mary Stewart Cutting,
"HENRY, do you know what day Thursday will be?"
"Thursday? The twenty-first."
"Yes, and what will the twenty-first be?"
"Oh, Henry!" Pretty Mrs. Waring looked tragically across the breakfast-table at her husband, or rather at the newspaper that screened him completely from her view. "Do put down that paper for a moment. I never get a chance to speak to you any more in the morning, and I have to spend the whole day alone. Do you really mean to say that you don't know what the twenty-first is?"
"The twenty-first?" Mr. Waring met his wife's gaze blankly as he hurriedly swallowed his coffee, and then furtively observed the hands of the watch that lay open on the table before him. "What do you mean, Doll? Say it quickly, for I've got to go."
"Henry, have you forgotten that it is the anniversary of our wedding?"
"Oh—oh!" said Mr. Waring, a light dawning on him, and a suspicious note of relief perceptible in his voice. He rose from his chair as he spoke. "Forgotten that? Why, of course not; the day I was married to the sweetest girl in the world! How lovely you did look, to be sure, and what a lucky fellow I was to get you! Can you just help me on with my overcoat, dear? The lining of this sleeve— Yes, I know you haven't had time to mend it yet. Now, Doll, I would like to stand here and kiss you all day, but the train is whistling across the bridge. By, by, dear; take good care of yourself and the babies!"
His wife watched him fondly as he walked down the path to the gate, strong, alert, and masculine, and waved her hand as he looked back and took off his hat to her with a smile before joining another man hurrying for the train. She could see him almost visibly shut out the little cottage from his mind as he turned away from it, and set his shoulders squarely, as if to brace himself for entering the strenuous whirl of business life that makes up the larger, waking half of a man's life, and in which wife and children have but a sub-existence. But this morning Mrs. Waring did not feel the chill depression that sometimes stole over her as she saw him disappear; her mind was too occupied with his words, which, few and perfunctory as they might sound to the uninitiated, carried deepest meaning to her ears. Her ardent mind conjured up the picture of the girl in bridal attire who had stood beside her lover on their marriage-day, and credited him with the same wealth of imagining and all the tender sentiment connected with it. She fell into a delightful dream of the romantic past, from which she was only aroused by the patter of little feet above and the reminder that she was needed in the nursery.
Mrs. Waring had, unknown to her husband, set her mind for some months past on a celebration of her wedding anniversary, the observance of which had lapsed, for one reason or another, for a couple of years: but she had said to herself firmly that Henry must propose it, and not leave it all to her. If she had to plan it out as she had their moving into the country, or their trip to the seashore last summer, or the Christmas party for the babies—nay, if she even had to suggest it to him, it would be valueless to her. If he did not love her enough, if he did not have her happiness enough at heart to think of pleasing her without being reminded of it—why, she would have no celebration. It was entirely against her resolution that she had spoken of it this morning, but she knew in her soul that he never would remember if she did not, and she could only think that, the date once recalled, the rest must follow.
She herself thought of nothing else all day. She told little Henry all about mamma' s pretty wedding "once upon a time," when mamma wore a beautiful white dress with a long white veil, and walked up the aisle in church when the organ played, and the chancel was full of roses and palms; and although the child only asked innocently if there were any bears or lions there, her small nursemaid, Beesy, was deeply though respectfully interested, and Mrs. Waring could not help being secretly conscious that, while apparently engaged with her infant audience, she was in reality playing to the gallery. She even got out her wedding jewels to hang around baby Marjorie's neck, to provoke Beesy's awestricken admiration.
It would have taken close study of the influences of the past year to determine why this particular wedding anniversary should have assumed such prominence in young Mrs. Waring's mind. Both she and her husband had been surprised to find that, in face of all preconceived opinions, they had not settled down into the cool, platonic friendship held up to them as the ultimate good of all wedded .pairs, but were still honestly and sincerely in love with each other. Yet, in spite of this fact, there had lately been a certain strain. After all the first things are over—the first year, which is seldom the crucial one in spite of its conventional aspect in that light; after the first boy, and the first girl and the first venture at housekeeping in the suburbs—there comes a long course of secondary living that tugs with its chain at character and sometimes pulls it sharply from its stanchions.
Mrs. Waring greeted her husband that night with a countenance of soulful meaning, and eyes that were uplifted to his in a fervid solemnity that ought to have warned any man of peril ahead. She had a delightful sensation that their most commonplace utterances were fraught with repressed feeling, and when he finally said to her, after dinner, as they sat by the little wood-fire together, "I've a surprise for you, Doll," her heart gave a joyous bound, and she felt how truly he had justified her thought of him.
"What is it, Henry?"
"Mother and Aunt Eliza and Mary Appleton and Nan are coming here to lunch day after to-morrow—Thursday. Of course I said you'd be delighted. It's all right, isn't it?"
"Coming on Thursday!"
"Yes. That isn't a washing day or a cleaning day, is it?"
Mr. Waring looked confounded.
"You've spoken so many times of their not coming out in the whole year we've lived here, I thought you'd be glad, Doll."
"Henry, why do you never call me Ethel any more ? You used to say it was the most beautiful name in the world, and now you seem to forget that I have any name. Oh, if you knew how sick I get of always being called Doll! Such a horrid, common-sounding thing !"
"There it is again!"
"Ethel, my dear girl, don't cry.. If I had had the dimmest idea—I seem always fated to do the wrong thing lately. Why. can't you tell me sometimes what you're driving at? If you don't want my mother and the girls, just say so. I can send them word to-morrow, and—"
"If you do!" Mrs. Waring stood up tragically with one hand on her husband's shoulder. "I wouldn't have such a thing happen for worlds." She gave a little gasp of horror at the thought. "But, oh, Henry, you nearly kill me sometimes! No, if you don't know why this time, I shall not tell you again." She leaned her head against her husband as if exhausted, and submitted to be drawn down beside him once more. "You never think of me any more."
"But I do think of you, sweetheart." He patted her head persuasively. "Lots of times, when you don't know it. If you'd only tell me what you want, dear. I'm such a bad guesser. And I know you really do wish to see my mother and show her the children."
"It's the fourth time she has sent word that she was coming," said his wife pensively. She was already forecasting the plan of action to be pursued in making ready for the expected guests.
When you are a young housekeeper with infants and only a nurse-maid beside the cook, a day's company means the revolutionizing of the entire domestic machinery. In the city people carelessly come and go, and the household of the entertainer is put to no special preparation for them, but it is an unwritten law in the country that before the advent of the seldom guest "to spend' the day" the entire domicile must be swept and garnished from top to bottom.
As Ethel Waring rubbed and polished and dusted she could but remember that she had gone through the process of cleaning three times before for Henry's mother, who had always hitherto disappointed her. She prided herself on being really fond of her mother-in-law, and his sister Nan had been her particular friend, but Aunt Eliza and Mary Appleton were the kind of people—well, the kind of people that belonged to her husband's family, and they always saw everything around the house. She cleaned now for the fourth time magnanimously. Since she had moved into the country, and went to and from the city two or three times a week, it had seemed odd to have her friends and relatives look upon the half-hour's journey in train and ferry-boat as a mighty undertaking, to be planned for weeks ahead; and although she had been in her cottage over a year, she had not yet become used to this point of view, and still expected people to come after they had promised to.
There was something grimly sacrificial in her preparations now that upheld her in her disappointment; her husband could not remember her pleasure, but she was working her fingers off for his.people. Yes, she had nothing to look forward to but neglect—and the worst of it was that he would not even know that he was neglecting her.
Perhaps, however, he did remember after all. She watched every word and gesture of his up to the very morning of their anniversary. He was so happy and merry and affectionate in his efforts to win her to smiles that she could hardly withstand the infectiousness of it. But she felt after his cheerful good-by as if the tragedy of her future years had begun.
There was, indeed, no time for the luxury of quiet wretchedness. The two children had to be bathed and put to bed for the morning nap, which both she and Beesy prayed might be a long one, so that the last clearing up might be done, and the table set, and the salad-dressing made, and the cream whipped for the jelly, and she herself dressed and in the drawing-room before twelve o'clock.
There was the usual panic when the butcher was late with the chickens, and the discovery was made that the greengrocer had not brought what was ordered, and the usual hurried sending forth of Beesy to the village at the last moment for the missing lettuce, only to be told that "there was none in town this day"—a fact that smites the suburban housekeeper like a blow. But finally everything was ready, the table set to perfection, the drawing-room curtains drawn at their most effective angle, the logs burning on the andirons, the chairs set most cozily, and the vase of crocuses with their long green stalks showing through the clear gIass, giving a lovely brightness to the room in their hint of approaching spring. The babies, sweet and fresh, in their whitest of frocks, and hair curled in little damp rings, ran up and down and prattled beside the charmingly dressed, pretty mother, who sat with her embroidery in hand, and who could not help feeling somewhat of a glow of satisfaction through her sadness. But after Harry had peeped out from the curtains some twenty times to see if grandmamma was coming, and little Marjorie had fallen down and raised a large bump on her forehead, and the one-o'clock train had come in, there was a certain change in the situation. The cook sent up word should she put. on the oysters, and Mrs. Waring answered no, to wait until the next train, although that did not arrive until two o'clock. She pretended that her guests had missed the earlier train, but in her soul she felt the cold chill of certainty that they would not come.
As she sat eating her luncheon afterward in solitary state, and wishing that she knew any of her neighbors well enough to ask them to join her, she received a belated telegram from her husband: "Nan says party postponed; Aunt Eliza has headache." She read it, and cast it from her scornfully.
And this was her wedding-day, passed in unnecessary work, futile preparation for people who didn't care a scrap for her! Oh, if she had only been going in town that afternoon, as she had dreamed of doing, to have a little dinner with Henry at the Waldorf, or Sherry's, or the St. Denis even—and go to a play afterward—she didn't care where—and have just their own little happy foolish time over it all! She had hardly been anywhere since little Marjorie was born.
She was surprised to have a caller in the afternoon, a Mrs. Livermore. The visitor was a large, stout woman with very blond hair, who lived on the opposite corner. She was dressed in a magnificently florid style, and sat in the little drawing-room a large mass of purple cloth and fur and gleaming jet spangles, surmounted by curving plumes, that quite dwarfed Mrs. Waring's slender elegance. She apologized profusely for not having called before, as illness had prevented her doing so, and sailed at once smoothly off into a sea of medical terms, giving such an intimate and minute account of the many diseases that had ravaged her that poor Mrs. Waring paled. The one bright spot in her existence seemed to have been her husband, whom she described as the most untiring of nurses.
"I really didn't know whether I'd find you at home this afternoon or not," she said. "Your nurse-girl, Beesy, told my cook that this was the anniversary of your wedding. Willie and I always used to go off somewhere for a little treat, but since I've been such an invalid I've had to stay at home. But he never forgets. What' do you think, Mrs. Waring, every Saturday since our marriage, fourteen years ago, he has brought me home a box of flowers! He always says, 'Here are your roses, Baby'—that's his pet name for me. I don't know what l'd do if Willie wasn't so attentive."
"Indeed," said Mrs. Waring.
On her return to the nursery she took occasion to reprove Beesy for gossiping. Beesy was loud in extenuation. In a cottage one is thrown in rather close companionship with one's nurse-maid.
"Ah, I never said but two words to Ellen; but Mrs. Livermore—there's .nothing she doesn't find out. And the way she and Mr. Livermore quar'ls!"
"Why, she says he is so devoted to her," said Mrs. Waring incautiously. "He brings her flowers every week." She sighed as she thought of the husband who did not bring them once a year.
"Him! Ah, ma'am, Ellen says they fights like cat and dog, and 'twas only a week ago a-Monday the plates was flyin' that thick in the dinin'-room, Ellen she dassent put her head in at the door to take away the meat. Ellen says 'twould have curdled. y'r blood to hear 'em. The neighbors have complained of 'em in the court. He drinks terrible!"
"You must not tell me these things, Beesy," said Mrs. Waring with dignity. "I do not wish to hear them. Come, Marjorie, sweetest, play pat-a-cake with mamma—this way, baby darling. Oh, Beesy, there's the bell again!"
This time it was a neighbor whom Mrs. Waring had met before and rather liked, a gentle, faded, sympathetic woman who had admired the children. Mrs. Waring confided some of the household perplexities to her, and they talked of the village markets and compared notes on prices, gradually reaching even more personal ground. Mrs. Waring finally divulged the fact that this was the anniversary of her wedding, and received her guest's congratulations.
"I had hoped to have celebrated the day in town," she added impulsively, "but Mr. Waring's business arrangements have prevented."
"It must be a real disappointment to you," commented her visitor feelingly. "I often think how lonely you must be, knowing so few people. A man so seldom realizes what a woman's life is! He goes off into the busy world every morning, little thinking of all she must endure throughout the day. I often watch you look after your husband when he has left you in the morning.; you look so longingly, dear. I said to Mr. Morris just the other day, 'I do wish Mr. Waring would look back just once at that sweet young wife of his.' Mr. Morris always turns at the corner and waves his hand to me; perhaps you've seen him:—dear fellow!"
Mrs. Waring cooled suddenly toward this too sympathetic visitor, who soon left, but the words had left a secret sting. Her voice had a tragic sound when she told Beesy that she would order her meat henceforth from Einstein, as Mrs. Morris said that his prices were lower than O'Reilly's.
"Mrs. Morris, ma'am!" caroled Beesy. "Ah, ma'am, you wouldn't be after eatin' the kind of stuff she does. It's not a roast of beef that does be going in at that house from one week's end to another—nothin' but little weenty scraps that wouldn't keep a dog alive Mr. Morris, poor man, he's that thin and wake. Oh, 'tis she has all the money, and she keeps him that close! Ellen says 'tis only a quart of milk goes to them for five days, and nobbut one shovelful of coal allowed to be put on the furnace at a time, and him with the cough that's tearing the heart out of him! Ellen says——
"That will do, Beesy," said Mrs. Waring severely. The gossip of servants, the trivial conversation and fulsome pity of vulgar neighbors, was this all that was left to her?
She went downstairs again, and sat in the drawing-room, inside of the window curtains, and wept. The gathering dusk seemed to prefigure the gloom that was to encompass her future years. If people only wouldn't pity her she might be able to live; the children would love her at any rate. Six years ago how happy she was, how dear his eyes looked when he gave her that first married kiss! She could smell even now the fragrance of the bride roses that she held. She heard the patter of the children's feet overhead, and tried to wipe away the blinding tears.
A quick footstep on the walk outside startled her, and the gate slammed to with a loud noise. Could it be possible? Her husband was running up the piazza steps with something white in his hand—an enormous bunch of white roses. Another moment and he was by her side, beaming down at her. Oh, how handsome he was!
"How soon can you get on your things, Doll? I've tickets for the opera to-night—'Romeo and Juliet'—Emma Eames and Jean de Reszke—does that suit you?"
"I've brought some flowers, and we'll make a lark of it. I've ordered a cab from the station to be here in twenty minutes, and we'll have to dress and get a bite, too, if we can. I wanted to come out earlier, but I wasn't certain about the tickets until the last moment. We'll have a little supper after the opera, and take the. one-ten out. What do you say to that?"
"Oh, Henry! I thought you had forgotten, I thought—" But there was no time to talk.
Could she ever forget that delightful, bewildering, hurried twenty minutes? She spent five of them in trimming over a hat, to the masculine creature's amazement, her deft fingers pulling off bows and feathers and sticking them on again with lightning rapidity. She ate a sandwich in the intervals of dressing and giving directions to Beesy about the babies.
When they finally whirled off in the stuffy little cab to the railway station they were like a couple of children in their happy abandonment to the expected pleasure.
The opera—had they ever gone to any opera before? How inconceivably beautiful and brilliant the house, the lights, the gay assembIage to the erstwhile dwellers of the suburbs! Together they scanned the emblazoned women in the boxes, and pointed out to each other those whom they recognized. And when Gounod's, delicious music stole into their hearts, and Mrs. Waring sat with her bride roses in one hand, and the other tucked secretly into Henry's under cover of her wrap, was ever any woman happier? Had ever any girl a lover more devoted or more bubbling over with fun? Romeo and Juliet—what were they to a real married couple of to-day? Then the supper afterward with the gay throng at the Waldorf—the reckless disregard of the midnight train—could there be dizzier heights of revelry?
It was when they stood outside on the ferry-boat coming home that Mrs. Waring spoke at last the thought that had lain nearest her heart all the evening. They were out alone in front, the cold night wind blew refreshingly, the dark water plashed around them, and across its black expanse the colored lights gleamed faintly from the New Jersey shore. Mrs. Waring leaned a little closer to her husband as they stood there in the night and the darkness.
"Dear," she murmured, "I can't tell you how lovely the evening has been; but you know what has made it so to me, that has been making me so very happy? The opera and the supper would have been nothing without it. Darling, it's because you thought of it all yourself."
A sudden tension in the arm on which she leaned startled Mrs. Waring. She bent forward to look up into her husband's face, with a swift suspicion.
"Well, Doll." "Didn't you think of it yourself?"
"Nobody could have enjoyed our little fun together more than I have, you know that, Doll; and nobody could want to make you any happier than I do. What's the use of picking the whole thing to pieces now and spoiling it all?"
"Henry Waring, you haven't answered me. Did you remember that this was our wedding-day, or did you not? Who was it told you to take me out to-night?"
"If you will not tell me these things yourself, Ethel—it's mean of you, dear; it puts me at a disadvantage when you remember and I don't. Heaven knows that I oughtn't to forget anything that would give pleasure to you—that's true; but I'm not mean on purpose, and you are. You know— But don't let's quarrel to-night."
"Quarrel!" Mrs. Waring lifted her head indignantly. "As if I wanted to quarrel! Who was it told you, Henry?"
"Well, Ethel, if you must know, Nan was in the office to-day to say they couldn't come, and she——"
"Nan—your sister Nan!"
Like a flash Mrs. Waring saw it all. She knew Nan's impetuous, whole-souled way; but— One of Henry's family! Life could have no further joy for her.
She looked at him furtively as he stood beside her gazing ruefully out across the water. Were they quarreling—would they get to throwing plates after a while? His attitude was ludicrously dejected. In spite of herself and the tears that had been ready to well up in her eyes the moment before, a suddeh sense of the absurdity of it all came over her, and she broke into a refreshingly unexpected peal of laughter. Her husband stared, and then laughed, too, in delighted relief. "Ah," she murmured, with her cheek against his coat sleeve, "I suppose I'll just have to love you as you are!"
"If you only would, dear," he assented humbly.
The lights on the New Jersey shore shone brighter and brighter now, yellow and red and green, casting their reflection on the black lapping water below. The boat was nearing the dock. All unbidden with the last words had come a deep joy, a thrill from heart to heart, wonderful in its illuminating power. The warm silence that followed was an instant benediction to unrecorded vows.
The chains clanked in the dock. As they stepped across the gangplank toward the dark, waiting lines of cars beyond, he pressed her hand in his as he bent over her, and whispered in tender playfulness, "Shall we take the train for Washington or Philadelphia?"