A Rebellious Grandmother
A Rebellious Grandmother
BY TEMPLE BAILEY
MRS. CISSY BEALE and her daughter Cecily sat together in the latter's bedroom—a bewitching apartment, in which pale-gray paper and pale-gray draperies formed an effective background for the rosewood furniture and the French mirrors and tapestried screens.
Between the two women was a bassinet and a baby.
"You act," said Cecily, "as if you were sorry about—the baby."
Her mother, who lay stretched at ease on a pillowed couch, shook her head.
"I'm not sorry about the baby—she's a darling—but you needn't think I'm going to be called 'grandmother,' Cecily. A grandmother is a person who settles down. I don't expect to settle down. My life has been hard. I struggled and strove through all those awful years after your father—left me. I educated you and Bob. And now you've both married well, and I've a bit of money ahead from my little book. For the first time in my life I can have leisure and pretty clothes; for the first time in my life I feel young; and then, absolutely without warning, you come back from Europe with your beautiful Surprise, and expect me to live up to it—"
"Oh no!" Cecily protested.
"Yes, you do," insisted little Mrs. Beale. She sat up and gazed at her daughter accusingly. With the lace of her boudoir cap framing her small, fair face, she looked really young—as young almost as the demure Cecily, who, in less coquettish garb, was taking her new motherhood very seriously.
"Yes, you do," Mrs. Beale repeated. "I know just what you expect of me. You expect me to put on black velvet and old lace and diamonds. I sha'n't dare to show you my new afternoon frock—it's red, Cecily, geranium red; I sha'n't dare to wear even the tiniest slit in my skirts; I sha'n't dare to wear a Bulgarian sash or a Russian blouse, or a low neck—without expecting to hear some one say, disapprovingly, 'And she's a grandmother!' " She paused, and Cecily broke in tumultuously:
"I should think you'd be proud of—the baby."
"No, I'm not proud." Mrs. Beale thrust her toes into a pair of silver-embroidered Turkish slippers and stood up. "I'm not proud just at this moment, Cecily. You see—there's Valentine Landry."
"Now please don't say it that way, Cecily. He's half in love with me, and I'm beginning to like him awfully. I've never had a bit of romance in my life. I married your father when I was too young to know my own mind, and he was much older than I. Then came the years of struggle after he went away.... I was a good wife and a good mother. I worshiped you and Bob, and I gave my youth for you. I never thought of any other man while your father lived, even though he did not belong to me. And now he is dead. You'll never know—I hope you may never know—what drudgery means as I have known it. I've written my poor little screeds when I was half-dead with fatigue; I've been out in cold and rain to get news; I've interviewed all sorts of people when I've hated them and hated the work. And if now I want to have my little fling, why not? Everybody effervesces some time. This is my moment—and you can't expect me to spoil it by playing the devoted grandmother.
The baby was wailing, a little hungry call, which made her mother take her up and say, hastily: "It's time to feed her. You won't mind, mother?"
"Yes, I do mind," said the little lady. "I don't like that Madonna effect, with the baby in your arms. It makes me feel horribly frivolous and worldly, Cecily. But it doesn't change my mind a bit."
After a pause, the Madonna-creature asked, "Who is Valentine Landry?"
Mrs. Beale had her saucy little cap off, and was brushing out her thin, light locks in which the gray showed slightly. But she stopped long enough to explain. "He isn't half as sentimental as his name. I met him in Chicago at the Warburtons', just before I made a success of my book. I was very tired, and he cheered me a lot. He's from Denver, and he made his money in mines. He hasn't married, because he hasn't had time. We're awfully good friends, but he doesn't know my age. He knows that I have a daughter, but not a grand-daughter. He thinks of me as a young woman—not as a grandmother-creature in black silk and mitts—"
"Mother! nobody expects you to wear black silk and mitts—"
"Well, you expect me to have a black-silk-and-mitt mind. You know you are thinking this very minute that there is no idiot like an old one—Cecily—"
The girl flushed. "I don't think you are quite kind, mother."
Mrs. Beale laughed and forgot to be cynical. "I know what you'd like to have me, dearie, but this is my moment of emancipation." She crossed the room and looked down at the tiny bit of humanity curled like a kitten in the curve of her daughter's arm. "I'm not going to be your grandmother, yet, midget," she announced, with decision. Then, "Cecily, I think when she's old enough I shall have her call me—Cupid—"
And laughing in the face of her daughter's horrified protest, the mutinous grandparent retired precipitately to her own room.
Three hours later, Mrs. Cissy Beale went forth to conquer, gowned in a restaurant frock of shadow lace topped by a black tulle hat.
Valentine Landry, greeting her in Cecily's white-and-gold drawing-room, was breezy and radiant. "You're as lovely as ever," he said, as he took her hand; "perhaps a bit lovelier because you are glad to see me."
"I am glad," she assured him; "and it is so nice to have you come before the summer is at an end. We can have a ride out into Westchester, and come back by daylight to dinner."
"And no chaperons?"
"No." She was looking up at him a little wistfully. "We know each other too well to have to drag in a lot of people, don't we? It is the men whom women trust with whom they go alone."
He met her glance gravely. "Do you know," he said, "that you have the sweetest way of putting things? A man simply has to come up to your expectations. He'd as soon think of disappointing a baby as of disappointing you."
His selection of a simile was unfortunate. Mrs. Beale's eyes became fixed upon a refractory button of her glove.
"Please help me," she said; "your fingers are stronger," and as he bent above her hand she forgot the baby, forgot her new estate, forgot everything except the joy she felt at having his smooth gray head so close to her own. When he had her safely beside him in his big car he asked, "What made you run away from me in Chicago?"
"My daughter came home from Europe."
"I can't quite think of you with a grown daughter."
"Cecily's a darling." Mrs. Beale's voice held no enthusiasm.
Landry, noting her tone, looked faintly surprised. "You and she must have great good times together."
Mrs. Beale wished that he wouldn't talk about Cecily. Cecily had married before good times were possible. They had never played together—she and the little daughter for whom she had toiled and sacrificed.
Landry's voice broke in upon her meditations: "I should like to meet Cecily."
Mrs. Beale switched him away from the topic expeditiously. He should not see her as yet in the bosom of her family. He should not. He should not see Cecily with her air of mature motherliness. He should not see Victor, Cecily's husband, who was ten years older than Cecily and only ten years younger than herself. He should not hear her big son Bob call her "Grandma." He should not gaze upon the pretty deference of Bob's little wife toward the queen-dowager!
Dining later opposite Landry in a great golden palace, Cissy seemed like some gay tropical bird. In her new and lovely clothes she was very pretty, very witty, almost girlishly charming. Yet Landry was conscious of a vague feeling of disappointment. She had been more serenely satisfying in Chicago—not so brilliantly hard, not so persistently vivacious. How could he know that the change was one of desperation? Cissy, as grandmother, felt that she must prove, even to herself, that she was not yet a back number.
With this rift in the lute of their budding romance, they ate and drank and went to the play and had what might otherwise have been an enchanted ride home in the moonlight. But when Landry said "Good night" Cissy felt the loss of something in his manner. His greeting that afternoon had had in it something almost of tenderness; his farewell was commonplace and slightly constrained.
As Mrs. Beale went through the dimly lighted hall to her room, she met Cecily in a flowing garment, pacing back and forth with the baby in her arms. "She isn't well," Cecily whispered, as the little lady in the lace frock questioned her. "I don't know whether I ought to call a doctor or not."
Mrs. Beale poked the tiny mite with an expert finger. "I'll give her a drink of hot water with a drop of peppermint in it," she said, "as soon as I get my hat off, and you'd better go back to bed, Cecily; you aren't well enough to worry with her."
Cecily looked relieved. "I was worried," she confessed. "It's nurse's night out and Victor had to go to a board meeting unexpectedly—and with you away—I lost my nerve. It seemed dreadful to be alone, mother."
Mrs. Beale knew how dreadful it was. She had carried the wailing Cecily in her arms night after night in the weeks which followed the crushing knowledge of her husband's infidelity. But she had carried a heavier burden than the child—the burden of poverty, of desertion, of an unknown future.
But these things were not to be voiced. "You go to bed, Cecily," she said. "I'll look after her."
Walking the floor later with the baby in her arms, Mrs. Beale's mind was on Landry. "Heavens! if he could see me now!" was her shocked thought, as she stopped in front of a mirror to survey the picture she made.
Her hair was down and the grayest lock of all showed plainly. She had discarded frills and furbelows and wore a warm gray wrapper. She looked nice and middle-aged, yet carried, withal, a subtile air of girlishness—would carry it, in spite of storm or stress, until the end, as the sign and seal of her undaunted spirit.
The baby stirred in her arms, and again Mrs. Beale went back and forth, crooning the lullaby with which she had once put her own babies to bed. In the morning the baby was much better, but Mrs. Beale was haggard. She stayed in bed until eleven o'clock, however. Cecily, coming in at twelve, found her ready to go out. In response to an inquiry, Mrs. Beale spoke of a luncheon engagement, with Valentine Landry.
"Mother—are you going to marry him?"
Cissy, studying the adjustment of her veil, confessed, "He hasn't asked me."
"But he will—"
Mrs. Beale shrugged her shoulders. "Who knows?"
In the weeks which followed, the little lady was conscious that things were not drawing to a comfortable climax. By all the rules of the game, Landry should long ago have declared himself. But he seemed to be slipping more and more into the fatal rôle of good friend and comrade.
Cissy's pride would not let her admit, even to herself, that she had failed to attract at the final moment. But there was something deeper than her pride inolved, and she found her days restless and her nights sleepless. One night in the dense darkness she faced the truth relentlessly. "You're in love, Cissy Beale," she told herself, scornfully. "You're in love for the first time in your life—and you a— grandmother!"
Then she turned over on her pillow, hid her face in its white warmth, and cried as if her heart would break.
In the mean time the baby drooped. Cecily, worried, consulted her mother continually. Thus it came about that Mrs. Beale lived a double life. From noon until midnight she was of to-day—smartly gowned, girlish; from midnight until dawn she was of yesterday—waking from her fitful slumbers at the first wailing note, presiding in gray gown and slippers over strange brews of catnip and of elderflower.
Cecily's doctor, being up-to-date, remonstrated at this return to the primitive, but was forced to admit, after the baby had come triumphantly through a half-dozen critical attacks, that Cissy's back-to-grandma methods were effective.
It was on a morning following one of these struggles that Cissy said to her daughter, wearily, "I can't escape it—"
"Escape what?" demanded Cecily, who, in the pale-gray bedroom was endeavoring to observe the doctor's injunction to let the wailing baby stay in her bassinet, instead of walking the floor with her.
"The black-silk-and-mitt destiny," said the depressed lady.
"What has happened?" Cecily demanded.
"Nothing has happened," responded her weary little mother, and refused to discuss the matter further.
But to herself she was beginning to admit that she had lost Landry. An hour later she had a telephone message from him.
"I want you to go with me for a last ride together," he said. "I leave to-morrow."
"To-morrow!" Her voice showed her dismay. "But why this sudden decision—"
"I have played long enough," he said; "business calls—"
As Mrs. Beale made ready for the ride she purveyed herself wistfully in her mirror. There were shadows under her eyes, and faint little lines toward the corners of her lips—it even seemed to her that her chin sagged. She had a sudden sense of revolt. "If I were young, really young," she thought, "he would not be going away—"
With this idea firmly fixed in her mind, she exerted herself to please him; and her little laugh made artificial music in his ears, her fixed smile wore upon his nerves, her staccato questions irritated him.
Again they had dinner together, and as she sat opposite him, gorgeous and gay in her gown of geranium red, he began to talk with her of her daughter. "I've never met her. It has seemed to me that you might have let me see her—"
Cissy flushed. "She's such a great grown-up," she said. "Somehow when I'm with her I feel—old—"
"You will never seem old," he said, with the nearest approach to tenderness that had softened his voice for days. "You have in you the spirit of eternal youth—"
Then he floundered on. "But a mother and a daughter—when you used to speak of her in Chicago, it seemed to me that I could see you together, and I liked the sweetness and womanliness of the thought; but I have never seen you together."
With a sense of recklessness upon her, Cissy suddenly determined to tell him the truth. "Cecily hasn't been going out much. You see there's the baby—"
He stared. "The baby—?"
"Then you're a grandmother?"
It seemed to Cissy that the whole restaurant rang with the emphasis of the words. Yet he had not spoken loudly; not a head was turned in their direction; even the waiter stood unmoved.
When she came to herself Landry was laughing softly. "When are you going to let me see—the baby—?"
Cissy went on to her doom. "Because you'll want to put me on the shelf like all the rest of them. You'll want to see me with—my hair—parted—and spectacles. And my eyes are perfectly good—and my hair is my own—"
She stopped. Landry was surveying her with hard eyes.
"Don't you love—the baby—?"
Cissy shrugged. "Perhaps. I don't know yet. Some day I may when I haven't anything to do but sit in a chimney-corner."
Thus spoke Cissy Beale, making of herself a heartless creature, flinging back into the face of Valentine Landry his most cherished ideals.
But what did it matter? She had known from the moment of her confession that he would be repelled. What man could stand up in the face of the world and marry a grandmother!—the idea was preposterous.
She finished dinner with her head in the air; she was hypocritically lively during the drive home; she said "Good night" and "Good-by" without feeling, and went up-stairs with her heart like lead to find the nurse weeping wildly on the first landing.
The baby, it appeared, was very ill. And the baby's father and mother, having left the little cherub sleeping peacefully, were motoring somewhere in the wide spaces of the world. The family doctor was out. She had called up another doctor, and he would come as soon as he could. But in the mean time the baby was dying—
"Nonsense, Kate," said Cissy Beale, and pulling off her gloves as she ran, she made for the pale-gray room.
Now, as it happened, Valentine Landry, driving away in a priggish state of mind, was suddenly overwhelmed by miserable remorse. Reviewing the evening, he seemed to see, for the first time, the unhappiness in the eyes of the little woman who had borne herself so bravely. In a sudden moment of illumination he realized all that she must have been feeling. Perhaps it had not been heartlessness; perhaps it had been—heart hunger.
Leaning forward, he spoke to his chauffeur. They stopped at the first drugstore, and Landry called up Cissy. Her voice from the other end answered, sharply, then broke as he gave his name.
"I thought it was the doctor," she said. "Can you come back, please. The baby, oh, the baby is very ill!"
Five minutes later the nurse let him into the house. He followed her up the stairs and into the nursery. Cissy sat with the baby in her arms. The baby was in a blanket and Cissy was in her gray wrapper. She had donned it while the nurse held the baby in the hot bath which saved its life. Cissy's hair was out of curl and the color was out of her cheeks. But to Valentine Landry she was beautiful.
"It was a convulsion," she told him, simply. "I am afraid she will have another. We haven't been able to get a doctor—will you get one for us?"
Out he went on his mission for the lady of his heart, and the lady of his heart, sitting wet and worried in the pale-gray bedroom, was saying to herself, monotonously, "It's all over now—no man could see me like this and love me—"
Cecily and her husband and the doctor and Landry came in out of the darkness together. They went up-stairs together, then stopped on the threshold as Cissy held up a warning hand.
She continued to croon softly the lullaby which had belonged to her own babies: "Hushaby, sweet, my own—"
It was Cecily and the doctor who went in to her, and Landry, standing back in the shadows, waited. He spoke to Cissy as she came out.
"I am going so early in the morning," he said, "will you give me just one little minute now?"
In that minute he told her that he loved her.
And Cissy, standing in the library in all the disorder of uncurled locks and gray kimono, demanded, after a rapturous pause, "But why didn't you tell me before?"
He found it hard to explain. "I didn't quite realize it—until I saw you there so tender and sweet, with the baby in your arms—"
"A Madonna-creature," murmured Cissy Beale.
But he did not understand. "It isn't because I want you to sit in a chimney-corner—it wasn't fair of you to say that—"
Then in just one short speech Cissy Beale showed him her heart. She told of the years of devotion, always unrewarded by the affection she craved. "And here was the baby," she finished, "to grow up—and find somebody else, and forget me—"
As he gathered her into his protecting embrace, his big laugh comforted her.
"I'm yours till the end of the world, little grandmother," he whispered. "I shall never find any one else—and I shall never forget."