Clarissa’s Own Child was published in Comer’s collection, The Preliminaries and Other Stories in 1912.
It was half-past three o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon in April when Associate Professor Charleroy (of the Midwest University at Powelton) learned that he was to lose his wife and home.
For April, the day was excessively hot. The mercury stood at eighty-nine degrees on the stuffy little east porch of the Charleroy home. There was no ice in the refrigerator, the house-cleaning was not finished, and the screens were not in. The discomfort of the untimely heat was very great.
Clarissa Charleroy, tired, busy, and flushed of face, knew that she was nervous to the point of hysteria. This condition always gave her a certain added clearness of vision and fluency of speech which her husband, with justice, had learned to dread. Indeed, she dreaded it herself. In such moods she often created for herself situations which she afterwards found irksome. She quite sincerely wished herself one of the women whom fatigue makes quiet and sodden, instead of unduly eloquent.
Paul Charleroy, coming from a classroom, found his wife in the dining-room, ironing a shirt-waist. The door was open into the little kitchen beyond, where the range fire was burning industriously, and the heat poured steadily in.
“I thought it would be cooler in here,” Clarissa explained wearily, “but it is n’t. I have to get these waists ready to wear, and a gingham dress ironed for Marvel. The child is simply roasted in that woolen thing. But the starch will stick to the irons!”
Professor Charleroy shut the door into the kitchen. He frowned at the ironing-board, balanced on two chairs in front of the window. Small changes in the household arrangements were likely to discompose him. In his own house he was vaguely conscious always of seeking a calm which did not exist there.
“Can’t the washerwoman do that ironing?” he inquired.
Clarissa dropped her iron and confronted him dramatically.
“Doubtless–if I could afford to pay her,” she responded. “As you are already aware, the salary of associate professors in the Midwest University is fourteen hundred dollars a year. When steak was a shilling a pound and eggs fifteen cents a dozen and the washerwoman asked a dollar a day, one could afford to have her help longer. Now it is different.”
Professor Charleroy moved quietly over to the ironing-board and put the flatiron, which was still hot enough to scorch, upon its stand. Then he arranged, in a glass, the handful of daffodils he was carrying, and set them where the April sunshine fell across them.
“Yes, I know it is different,” he said gloomily. “But it may be different again if I can place my text-book. When we married, Clarissa, I thought your own little income would be sufficient to protect you from such economies as I knew would be most distasteful to you–but, somehow, it–it does n’t seem to do it.”
“It goes,” returned Clarissa. “I don’t know how it goes, but it does. I dare say I’m not a good manager. It is n’t as if I dressed well, for I don’t. But I would n’t mind, if we could go to Chicago for a week of music and theatres in the spring. But we can’t do anything but live–and that is n’t living! Something is wrong with the whole system of woman’s work in the world. I don’t know what it is, but I mean to find out. Somebody has got to do something about it.”
She threw back her small blonde head as she spoke, and it was as if she gave the universe and all its powers warning that she did not purpose to live indefinitely under such an ill-arranged order of things as they were maintaining. Let the universe look to itself!
“I met Baumgarten of the Midwest Ice Company on the campus. He says if this weather holds, he will start his ice-wagons to-morrow,” suggested her husband anxiously. He had very definite reasons for wishing to divert Clarissa from consideration of all the things that are out of joint in the world.
“Ice is a detail. Sometimes details do help,” admitted Clarissa, fanning her blazing cheeks.
“We will have Jacob come and wash the windows and put on the screens in the morning,” he continued very gently. “And I will uncover the roses and rake the beds this afternoon. I should have done it last week, but no one could forsee this weather.”
“I’m not ready for Jacob until I have been through the closets. They must be cleaned first.–I hate to clean closets! I hate to cook, to sew, to iron, to dust, to scrub! There are women who like these occupations. Let such people assume them!”
“I can hear you, Clarissa, if you speak less oratorically. We are not in an audience-room,” suggested her husband.
Clarissa was slender, fair, and dramatic. If she was in the room you looked at her. Her Norman nose was delicately cut, her manner fastidious, but her collars were carelessly put on, and her neckties had a vaguely one-sided effect. She just escaped being pretty and precise and reliable-looking by a narrow margin, but escape she did. She was, instead, disturbing, distracting, decidedly lovable, not a little pathetic. Her face was dreamy, yet acute–the face of an enthusiast. The line of her jaw was firmly and beautifully drawn; her intellectual activity was undeniable, but philistines mistrusted her conclusions at sight–and justly.
“This is not a good day on which to hold an argument,” she went on with dignity, ignoring her husband’s sub-acid comment. “It is too easy to be uncivil when one is so uncomfortable. But I have been thinking about these matters for a long time. I have been forming my resolutions. They are not lightly taken. I was almost ready, in any event, to tell you that I had decided to renounce the domestic life.”
“To renounce the domestic life,” repeated Clarissa with emphasis. “Homes are an anachronism at the end of the nineteenth century, anyhow. It is time women had the courage of their convictions and sloughed off an anti-social form of habitat that dates from the Stone Age.”
“Do you mean you would rather board?”
Clarissa stared. “What has boarding to do with it?” she inquired rather haughtily. “I am talking about the universal problem of woman’s work. One’s own individual makeshifts do not affect that. But if it is ever to be solved, some woman must solve it. Men never will. Sacrifices will have to be made for it, as for other causes. There are women who are ready to make them–and I have discovered that I am one of the women.”
Professor Charleroy received this statement in absolute silence.
“As a temporary alleviation,” Clarissa went on meditatively, “families might be associated upon some group-system. The operating expenses of the individual establishments would be greatly reduced, and the surplus could be applied to developing the higher life of the members of the group. It would be quite practicable, even in our present crude civilization, to arrange such groups. But of course that would be a temporary expedient. In the redeemed form of social life, it will not be necessary.”
“What ails you, Clarissa? Did that lecture you delivered before the Saturday Afternoon Club go to your head?”
Clarissa flushed. Her club paper on “After the Home–What?” was a sensitive subject. She already had been chaffed a good deal about it.
“Of course I know,” she said with dignity, “that I am not a genius. I can’t organize. I can’t write. I’m not pretending to be in the class with Ibsen or Olive Schreiner or Sonia Kovalevsky! No, nor with the American women who are going to work out their ideas. I don’t believe I’d make a good social worker, either. I have n’t enough patience and tenderness. But I can talk. You know I can talk, Paul.”
Yes, he knew it. To his cost, he knew it. She had the gift of fluent, winning speech, speech with an atmosphere, a charm. Uncouth theories acquired grace on her lips, and plausible theories seemed stronger than they were. She ironed shirt-waists badly, and the starch stuck to the irons, but she could make the worse appear the better reason with deftness and dispatch. Somewhere, somehow, a coal from the sacred fire had touched her lips. You might be indignant, outraged, at her theories, but you never refused to listen while she set them forth.
“I figure it this way,” she continued. “In all great causes, the people who can think and write need the help of the people who can talk, to disseminate their ideas, to popularize them, to get them brought home to the people who don’t think and don’t read, and yet have influence. That shall be my métier. I can do it. I can do it well. I will do it for a living wage and put my heart and soul into doing it. Without going outside a very narrow field,–say, that of parlor talks,–I can yet be a promoter of great causes. I will be a walking-delegate from the Union of the Elect! I will fight the good fight for Utopia! Why, Paul, I can make it glorious!”
Her face shone with a wonderful light. Her slender, delicately rounded figure vibrated with enthusiasm. She did not see the expression on her husband’s face. When great thoughts were astir in Clarissa s brain, her high imperturbability, her bright serenity, were maddening. To assail them, logic was as useless as passion. She was simply in another world from this.
Her husband sat down heavily. He felt an unacademic desire to box her ears. Perhaps, had he done so, there would have been no story, for like most women with erratic nerves Clarissa Charleroy had the elemental liking for a masterful man.
However, her husband’s Huguenot blood and scholastic training did not help him to carry out such primitive impulses toward domestic discipline. He was a man of sturdy build, with a fine head and brown eyes of the gentle, faithful kind. Conscientious, persistent, upright, he perfectly fitted that old-fashioned description our fathers loved, “a scholar and a gentleman.” It cannot be denied that this type is out of place in our modern life; it is especially at a disadvantage when confronted with such a modern wife as his.
“Do you mean to–to leave Marvel and me?” he inquired in a voice that was not as even as he could have wished.
His back was toward the window. His wife could not see that he had turned white, but she did notice that he looked steadily down into the palms of his hands.
She faced him with a fine composure.
“I don’t see that I’m much good here and I, myself, am certainly very miserable,” she said. “There is so much antagonism between you and me, Paul. We think alike about so few things!”
“Do you think the antagonism lies between you and me–or between you and our circumstances?” inquired the professor. His voice was controlled now, but cutting. “Also, do you feel any special antagonism to Marvel? She is rather like yourself, you know.”
Clarissa nodded brightly. He was stunned to see that she approved this.
“That’s better! Do fight me, Paul! It clarifies my ideas, and I see more definitely what I want. I wish you were a good fighter. I like hard knocks!”
“Good Lord! little girl, you don’t mean all this nonsense–you can’t. Why, it’s impossible. You’re my wife. I’ve done my best. Some day I shall do better. We shall win to peace and comfort yet–if you stand by. My text-book–“
Clarissa waved a disdainful hand. Her blue eyes were liquid, wonderful.
“You don’t seem to think of the cause, Paul! Don’t you realize that I can do good work for humanity? Everybody can’t do that. Everybody is n’t called to it. I am.”
Paul Charleroy let this statement pass. It hung in the air between them, unchallenged, undenounced. Possibly it was true. But, the man was wondering dumbly, what became of other men to whom this thing really happened? Did it crush them all like this? How did they keep up hope, decency, honor? How did they preserve their interest in the game and make life worth living afterward? Already he felt heavy upon his heart a presentiment of airless days, of tortured nights. The loneliness of it! No tenderness anywhere in life for him? No love? Then, what use to live? Humanity? Wasn’t he humanity?
Nevertheless, when he spoke, he only said, “And Marvel? Is Marvel called to be motherless?”
Clarissa’s serene face clouded faintly. The question of Marvel did, indeed, puzzle even her facility. And yet she had light on that problem also.
“If I really prove to be any good,–and I think I shall be a helper in a movement that is going to revolutionize the earth,”–Clarissa said gravely, “there are others to consider besides Marvel. It–why, it may be, Paul that my duty is to the race! I’m not an especially good mother for Marvel at her present age–the young-animal stage of her development. All a child under twelve years needs is to be properly fed, and clothed, and taught the elementary things. It has all been standardized, and is a matter for experts, anyhow. Your sister Josephine would be a better mother for her for the next few years than I. Why should I do what others can do better? When Marvel begins to think, it will be different. Then she will need my influence. I should like to let you have her for the next few years, and have her come to me when she is fifteen or sixteen. How would that suit you, Paul?”
Her husband moved his shoulders imperceptibly, but said nothing. The thing had passed the point where rational speech, as he conceived it, was in place. If Clarissa did not see the shallowness, the sheer indecency, of discarding one’s human relations as if they were old clothes, he could not make her see it. Was it only half an hour ago that he had come down the street in the spring sunshine, under the budding elms, bringing Clarissa a bunch of daffodils and thinking of making a garden, and of all the dear, homely April tasks?
Clarissa assumed that his silence was one of acquiescence. Sooner or later people always acquiesced.
“It is really sweet of you to take it like this, Paul,” she said warmly. “I never have understood why people should n’t be thoroughly rational about these matters. There’s no occasion for bitterness. I should like to have people say we had remained ideal friends. I shall always be as much interested in your welfare as in my own.–Yes, more. I should never dream of marrying again, myself, but in time I think it might be well for you to divorce me and do so.” Her mobile face became introspective, absorbed. “Ruth Lawrence is rather too sentimental, not energetic enough for a professor’s wife. And Nora Mills is heartless. I think she would marry you for a home, but you must n’t let her do it. There is Evelyn Ames. I think Evelyn would do. She is so gentle and reliable!”
She was actually absorbed in this problem, her husband perceived to his utter amazement. He shivered with distaste. This was too grotesque. It could not be true.
His wife looked at him for approval. She noted that the look of fear was gone from his dark eyes. Something unwonted, ironic, flashed there in its stead. It was neither mirth nor malice, yet approached both. He set his boyish-looking mouth firmly, and shook off his silence as one throws off a nightmare. He would meet her on her own ground, and be as indifferent as she.
“Really, Clarissa, that is the first sensible thing you have said this afternoon,” he forced himself to say.–“Why, what’s this?”
It was the small daughter of the house who chose this moment to emerge from under the table, clutching fast a jaded-looking doll and a handful of its belongings. Her round eyes were fear-struck and her quick glance curiously hostile, but she slipped silently from the room. Her presence there was soon forgotten by her parents– but children do not forget. Of all the incomprehensible words tossed to and fro above her head, Marvel remembered every one.
Marvel Charleroy found the letter in the box at the gate where the postman had left it. There was other mail; she glanced at the covers light-heartedly as she went toward the house. She was not very familiar with her mother’s handwriting and, for the moment, did not recognize it.
The house was low, gray-shingled, and inviting. It had a kindly, human aspect, and though it was a modern structure built at the time of Professor Charleroy’s second marriage, eleven years before, there was about it some thing of that quiet dignity we associate with age. The branches of a wide-spreading old elm swept one of its chimneys; the lawn was broad, the lilacs and syringas tall; ranks of high hollyhocks in shades of rose and wine, rising against gray lattice, shut off the kitchen gardens at the rear. The beds that bordered the paths were planted to a tangle of old-fashioned flowers, gorgeous in the July sunshine. There was a subdued gayety about the whole aspect of the sheltered, sunny place, a look of warmth and home and joy, that was especially dear to Marvel Charleroy. It satisfied in her some elemental need.
She preserved a vivid memory, of which she never spoke, of the box-like little house on Spring Street, her early home. She recalled that house as disorderly and uncomfortable during her mother’s regime; as frigid and uncomfortable during the reign of her Aunt Josephine. She figured herself as always holding her breath, as always waiting for something, while she lived there. It was not until she was twelve (four years after Clarissa Charleroy left her husband), that Marvel, to her own childish apprehension, began to fill her lungs, began, indeed, to live.
It will be inferred that the catastrophe, so clearly outlined on that April afternoon fifteen years earlier, did, in fact, occur. For various reasons, it did not take place immediately. For one thing, it required time for Clarissa to put herself into touch with causes that desired to be “promoted” by her silver tongue and wistful, winning ways. Then, too, there were moments when she wavered. So long as Paul could maintain that pose, achieved with great effort, of good-natured, sarcastic scoffing at their tragedy, Clarissa herself did not believe in it wholly. Sometimes they drew very near together. A debonair, indifferent Paul who jested about her “calling” attracted her. A Paul who could demand cheerfully as he took his second cup of coffee, “Well, Clarissa, am I the Tyrant Man this morning?” was not unlikely to elicit the answer, “No, not to-day, Paul. You’re just own folks to-day.” But a Paul who had heard the wolf howling at the door of his heart, who looked at her with eyes in which she saw fear and the shadow of a broken life, repelled her utterly. Women are reputed to be soft-hearted. Paul Charleroy, musing upon his own predicament in those days, remembered this age-long superstition with wonder.
In spite of various respites, a catastrophe which is latent in a temperament will, some day, come to pass unless, of course, the owner of the temperament decides to be absolute master of himself. Nothing was further from Clarissa’s thought than to recapture her married happiness by an assault on her own disposition.
It is not good to linger over this portion of their story. Clarissa did, finally, take over the task of reforming as much of humanity as she could persuade to see the need of it, and she laid aside the business of looking after her husband and her child. Miss Josephine Charleroy, ten years her brother’s senior, and competent rather than sympathetic, assumed these discarded responsibilities.
By slow degrees, Paul Charleroy’s circumstances became less straitened. He did place his text-book well, and derived a considerable income therefrom; on the death of old Dr. Lettarby he succeeded to the full professorship, with the munificent salary of twenty-five hundred a year. Last of all, some time after Clarissa and he were made free of each other by legal means, he did actually marry Evelyn Ames.
Thus, it will be seen, Clarissa’s forecasts were fulfilled. Her notions were absolutely practicable; they really, all of them, worked, and worked well. In the long run they even worked beneficently, but one prefers to attribute this to the mercy of Providence rather than to the foresight of Clarissa.
Marvel Charleroy was twelve years old when her father married again, and life began for her. The little girl noted, dimly at first, then with growing wonder and appreciation, how interesting the commonplace things became under the new rule. Though her frocks were simple as ever, their adaptation to her self made it a pleasure to wear them; she seemed suddenly to have acquired a definite place in the family life, a position with duties and with compensating pleasures. Her friendships were considered, her friends noticed and welcomed. For the first time she felt herself an individual. Somebody was interested in what she did and said and thought. Her own shy young consciousness of personality was reflected back to her, strengthened, and adorned. She perceived with something like awe that the girl named “Marvel” did not live only in her breast. Her father and his wife knew a Marvel whom they believed to be industrious and clever, loving and helpful. These qualities were multiplied tenfold by her perception that they were looked for from that Marvel whom the heads of the house seemed so happy to own and to cherish.
The child throve. She who had wondered vaguely at the stress laid by her books upon the satisfactions of home, now tasted thirstily of that delight. And she repaid the miracle of Evelyn’s tenderness with the whole of an ardent heart.
To her elders, the years went fast. Suddenly, as it seemed, Marvel was a young woman with more than her fair share of gifts and graces. She was exquisitely pretty, with an effective little style of her own; she made a brilliant record as a student; she had the rich endowment of easy popularity. Further, she seemed to possess, so far as slight experiments could demonstrate, that rare thing, the genuine teacher’s gift. Something of her father’s passion for scholarship, something of her mother’s silver-lipped persuasiveness, met in the girl and mingled with certain deep convictions of her own.
The practical outcome of all this was the suggestion that her Alma Mater, Midwest, would be glad to attach her to its teaching force without insisting upon an additional degree. She had spent one year abroad since her graduation, part of which was occupied in study. But, like many young Americans, she found her own reflections on the Old World more stimulating than any instruction offered her there.
Now she was at home, ready to begin work in September, enthusiastic, almost effervescent, with her satisfaction in the arrangement of her own little world.
Coming into the shaded house, out of the blaze of the July sunshine, she dropped her father’s letters on the desk in his study, and ran upstairs to read her own. It was quite an hour before she heard him calling at the foot of the stair,–
“Marvel! Come down, daughter, I want you.”
Something in his voice–she did not know what–gave her a thrill of apprehension. She had never heard just that tone from him before.
She found Professor and Mrs. Charleroy waiting for her in the living-room. Their faces were grave and troubled. Marvel’s apprehensive pang mingled with a curious little resentment that her nearest and dearest could allow themselves to look thus, all on a summer morning, in this highly satisfactory world.
“Daughter, I have a letter here,” her father began at once, “a letter from your mother. It concerns you more than any one. The question it involves is one for you to decide. I ought not to conceal from you my belief that you will need to consider the matter very carefully.”
Marvel took the letter with gravity, hoping that this portentous seriousness was misplaced. This is what she read:–
MY DEAR PAUL,–You remember, of course, that when we separated, it was with the understanding that Marvel was to come to me when she was fifteen or sixteen. But, as you urged, when I brought the matter up at that time, she was then just completing her preparation for college. Since she desired college training, it was certainly easier and simpler for her to have it at Midwest than elsewhere. I put aside my own preferences, because the arguments in favor of her remaining with you were weighty. But it does not seem to me just or right that I should be deprived of my daughter’s society entirely, because I waived my preference as to her education. I feel that she has been deprived of my influence, and I of her companionship, already too long.
As I understand it, she graduated a year ago, and has since been abroad. It seems to me this winter will be an excellent time for her to come to me. I shall have an apartment in Chicago, and she will find it easy to arrange for post-graduate work if she desires. I shall be less busy than usual, for my health has given way a little under the strain of my work, and the doctor has warned me to rest as much as possible. I am looking forward with pleasure to introducing her to my friends, my life, my ideas.
When will it be most convenient for her to come? I should say about the first of October.
As ever, my dear Paul, Your sincere friend, CLARISSA CHARLEROY.
Marvel dropped the letter on the floor and turned to face her family with more than a suggestion of belligerence. Her cheeks were flushed, her blue eyes burning, and her head held high with a little air that reminded her auditors swiftly and inevitably of Clarissa Charleroy’s self.
“Dear people, what do you look so frightened for?” she demanded. “I call it very cheeky of my mother to make such a demand of me. Does n’t she realize that I’m a person with a career of my own–and that when I’m not busy with that, I have to keep my eye on you two! I have n’t the slightest intention of leaving home–so you need n’t look like that!”
Marvel’s little harangues usually met with instant response from her family. They were wont to brighten and become argumentative, even when they disagreed. But neither of them answered this pronouncement.
Her father sat by an open window, looking out upon the garden’s gayety with unseeing eyes. His wife sat at an other window watching him wistfully, while Marvel faced them both from the hearth, offering her cheerful young defiance for their approval.
Their silence, their gravity, startled the girl. She looked from one face to the other in quick scrutiny. What did this mean? For perhaps the first time in her life, it flashed through her mind that, after all, she knew nothing of the inner attitude of these two people, whom she greatly loved, toward the two facts which had made them all one household–her mother’s divorce, namely, and her father’s remarriage. The whole structure of three united, happy lives was built upon these cataclysmal facts–yet she had never asked what thought they held of them! Dignified, delicate, scrupulous, she knew them both to be. Through what anguish and uncertainty might they not have passed before they clasped hands at last, making of their two hearts a shelter for her robbed, defenseless one?
Her manner changed on the instant.
“Dear family, you don’t want me to go? Surely–why–you can’t want me to go?”
“No,” said Evelyn in a low voice, “dearest, no. Certainly we don’t want you to go. Only–“
“But my work!” cried Marvel, passionately, answering their faces, not their words. “I want to do it so much! How can I possibly leave my work? And you, and my life here–everything!”
Her father turned his face farther toward the window, looking out blindly, but Marvel caught his expression–the look of one who tastes again an ancient bitterness. She did not know its full meaning, but her sympathy leaped to meet it. Evelyn Charleroy, watching her, felt a sudden stirring of pride in the girl’s swift response to another’s need, her quick tenderness. It was thus that Evelyn saw the life of woman–as one long opportunity for the exercise of these qualities.
“Darlingest father, of course I’m not going to leave you. Still, if I were–what is mother like? What does she expect? What am I to do if I go to her?”
“She is a brilliant woman,” answered Professor Charleroy. “In many ways you are not unlike her, Marvel, in mental alertness and all that. As for what she expects–God knows!”
The girl pursued her point. “It is n’t an occupation–to be a brilliant woman. I’m not quite sure, even, what she does. She lectures? She is philanthropic, or humanitarian, or something like that? Does she write?”
“No,” answered the professor, choosing his words with evident and conscientious care. “That is not her gift. She has the endowment of convincing speech. She has used it admirably for many admirable causes– and quite as ably for other causes that I esteem less. But that, you understand, is my personal point of view. Her chief interest, however, has been the so-called advancement of women, and you might describe her as one of the many inconspicuous promoters of that movement. Chiefly, at present, she is holding classes, giving parlor-talks, what-not, in which she paraphrases and popularizes the ideas of her leaders. Her personality, though winning, does not carry far, and she is only effective before a handful of people. Her–her conversation is possibly more convincing because it is less susceptible of close examination than the written word. But I do not wish to be unjust.”
“Then I take it mother is not scholarly?” asked the girl of academic training.
“She is not taken seriously–by the serious,” the professor admitted. “You know, Marvel, there are women who are–who are dearly enthusiastic about the future of the race, who really are not in a position to do advanced thinking about it. Of course there are others of whom I would not venture to make such an assertion, but in my judgment your mother belongs to the former class. You will form your own opinion upon the subject. Do not go to her with any bias in your mind. She is sincere. Her passion for humanity is doubtless real, but it seems to me that her erratic spirit has turned it into a channel where it is ineffective. In any case she is an attractive woman. A winter with her should be interesting.”
His daughter eyed him gravely. There were depths of reserve in her face and voice. She had felt much, and said little, about this mother whom they were discussing thus dispassionately. Perhaps it gratified her young dignity that she was able to consider with apparent detachment the woman of whom she had thought long in secret with bitter, blinding tears.
“It is, as you say, a thing to consider,” she observed gently. “I may be mistaken in deciding offhand that I will not go. I’ll think it over, father dear.”
Professor Charleroy rose, visibly pulling himself together. Crossing the room, he picked up the letter Marvel had dropped and handed it to her.
“I also may be mistaken,” he said, “in my first feeling about the matter. Yet I think not. But we will not decide hastily.”
When he left the room, Marvel partly closed the door and turned to her stepmother.
“Now, Evelyn, you darling, you know all this is perfectly ridiculous. Apparently I can’t tell father so,–I could see I was hurting him,–but it simply is ridiculous!”
“I do not feel so, Marvel,” Mrs. Charleroy answered steadily.
“What right has she?” the girl stormed. “What right, I wish to know? To summon me like this! Didn’t she throw us away, father and me, once and for all? You can’t recall a thing like that! Why should she think she could take me back any more than father? Influence me, indeed! She does n’t know the A B C of influence! I am made–done–finished. Such as I am, she has had no hand in me. If the outcome is creditable, thanks are due to you and father and the Herr Gott. Oh, I know the things that have gone to my making! I don’t talk about them much, perhaps, but I know!”
Mrs. Charleroy sat very still, regarding her stepdaughter anxiously. She was a woman of the most benignant of all the elder types: slight, but strong; her brown hair parted smoothly, and brought back from a high full forehead; she had a firm chin, with a tense, sweet mouth, and large, thoughtful, gray-blue eyes.
“Are you quite sure you are completely finished, dear? I would n’t dare affirm that of myself.”
“If there were no other reasons–why, even if I wanted to go,” Marvel went on, “there is my work. I have accepted a position in the English department. They are depending upon me. I am ready, and there is no one to take my place.”
“You are mistaken there. Miss Anderson would be glad to retain the position for a year. Something has happened to her arrangements for foreign study, and I heard it intimated the other day that she regretted resigning when she did. She would be delighted to stay on. You could, I think, come back to the position next year. I believe you could arrange with Professor Axtell.”
“O Evelyn! Why do you wish to make my going easy? Don’t you see I can’t bear it?”
“I don’t know how to say what I wish,” said the elder woman wistfully. “If I remind you that after all she is your mother, I am afraid it will not mean to you what it does to me.”
“Certainly I think that, as between us two, the fact no longer carries obligation from me to her!” said Marvel steadily.
“O Marvel! You are hard!”
“No! I am just.”
“Justice is never so simple as that,” returned Evelyn Charleroy. “But even if it were, your father–I–would rather see you merciful. It would be more like you, Marvel!”
Marvel set the line of her red lips. “I do not wish to go, not even to live up to your idea of me!”
“Marvel, listen to me a moment. I may not be able to make you understand–but I must try. This is the thing I must make you know. The reactions upon the spirit of the ties of the flesh are, simply, the most miraculous things in all this miraculous world. I am not preaching. I am just telling you what I know. This business of being a child, a parent, a husband, a wife,–no creature can escape that net of human relationships wholly. It is there, right there, that we are knotted fast to the whole unseen order of things. What we make of those ties determines what we substantially are. Oh, if you could see it as I see it! This is the real reason, the strongest one of all, for our wishing you to go. You must not throw away the chance it is–the chance of finding out what you are to each other. You must concede something for the sake of learning that!”
“It is n’t the mother after the flesh, but the mother after the spirit, to whom are due the great concessions!” cried the girl, “and, Evelyn, that is you!”
“Marvel–there is still another reason. It may appeal to you more.”
Evelyn Charleroy’s agitated face, the tumult of her eyes, startled her stepdaughter. She could not bear disturbance of that dear serenity.
“Child!–Do you suppose it was an easy thing for me to come into your father’s life and take your mother’s place while she still lived? There were months of doubt. There was hesitation that was agony to us both–but in the end–I came. Thus far the thing has seemed to justify itself. It has seemed to work for peace, for blessedness, to us all. I have felt no wrong, have been refused no inner sanction. And yet, I tell you, I am still uncertain of my right to all that your mother threw away, and I do not, even yet, entirely defend my action in taking it! You have been our comfort, our greatest blessing, because it has seemed to be well for you. But, don’t you see, if you fail us now; if we have made you selfish; if, through us, you have come to ignore that elemental tie; if you lose out of life whatever it may hold for you, we–we shall doubt our right–we shall be less sure–” The woman’s voice fluttered and fell on silence suddenly.
“O Evelyn!” the girl cried out in sharp distress, “don’t, don’t look like that! Dearest, don’t dare to feel like that! There is no need! I won’t be horrid! I’ll do anything on earth that you and father really wish!”
CHICAGO, November fifth.
PRECIOUS FATHER AND EVELYN:–
I know all my letters thus far have been rather no-account. They were just to let you know that I was well, and interested, and getting used to things. I loath the city so that I think I must be a country mouse. Every time I go down in the Elevated, past all the grimy, slimy, hideous back buildings, something in me turns over and revolts. I want to be within reach of red leaves, and wheat-stubble, and fat quail running in the roadside grass. Did the little red and yellow chrysanthemums do well this year? How about that marigold border I planted in the kitchen garden?
However, I am going to have a most instructive winter. It was crude of me to think it, but because mother’s friends are mostly different kinds of reformers, I expected to find them dubs and scrubs. It seems droll for people who can’t live the normal human life successfully to set themselves up to say that therefore it’s all wrong, and they will show us a better way to play the game. But only a few of these are that kind of reformers, and they’re not dubby and scrubby at all! Some of them are just reformers from the teeth out. They’re merely amusing themselves.
Mother is n’t playing, however. She’s tremendously in earnest. Being a reformer is n’t fattening. She keeps back no pound of flesh. She is so thin and tense and nervous, so obsessed with her own ideas, that it worries me some times. I feel as if I lived perpetually in the room with an electric fan. I have been to her classes several times. She has a certain eager eloquence, a real appeal, that will always gain her a hearing. I wish she could keep her neckties straight, but that is a trifle.
Do you remember old Mrs. Knowles saying that she loved to sit at the window and “see the people going pro and con in the street?” That is my present occupation! These people do a tremendous amount of “going pro and con” in the world of the mind. I have been hearing a vast deal of feminist discussion, owing to the appearance of some new books in that line. Can you see why, if nature has spent some thousands of years making women “anabolic, or conservers of energy,” they should try to reverse the process in a decade and become even as men, who are “katabolic, or dispensers of energy,” just because a stray thinker supposes it would make them more interesting if they all had a business life and dispensed that energy downtown? It seems to me ill-advised to defy nature wholesale. I am willing to work for bread, or for the love of work–but not to oblige illogical theorists!
I’m glad I don’t have to reconcile all the different views I hear! One person will argue that woman’s work in the home is so complicated and taxing that it all ought to be done for her by specialists, while she goes downtown and becomes some other kind of specialist herself. This is the school of thought to which mother belongs. One or two of its leaders are terribly clever–and mother is rapturously sure that wisdom was born with them! She is so happy to be advocating and expounding their ideas! I find this discipleship pathetic. One does n’t deny that they have visions,–mother has them also,–but to me their visions are not divine or beautiful.
The next person will be a reactionary, and say that we are going straight to destruction because some women are thrown into industrial competition with men.
A third will be sure that, because modern life with all its industrial developments outside the home has drawn many women away from home life, therefore all women ought to be thrown out of their homes in a bunch and hustle for themselves in the market-place. There’s no longer anything to do at home, and if they stay there they will get fat and lazy and parasitic. I argued about this half the evening with an apple-faced youth of twenty-five who is still supported by his mother. You would have supposed, to hear him, that feminine hands and feet were going to atrophy and fall off from disuse, and that we should turn into some kind of chubby white grub with mouths perpetually demanding to be fed.
I don’t deny that there are indolent women in the world, but I certainly never saw any parasites in the college set at Powelton. Somebody will have to “show me” before I can get up any heat of conviction on the subject!
No longer anything to do at home! It has kept me so busy putting one attenuated little reformer-lady’s flat to rights and training a cook for her that I have n’t had a minute, yet, to see about those courses I meant to take at the University! I shall get around to them presently, I hope.
Mother took the flat before I arrived, and the packers brought her furniture from storage and unpacked it, and set it about according to their fancy, and cleaned up the mess and departed. We moved our trunks out the next morning. Mother went up and down and to and fro, as unsettled as the Cat that Walked. Finally she demanded of me, “Marvel, what ails this flat?” and I said, “Why, mother, the colors are all wrong and it is n’t cozy.”
She threw up her hands in despair. “Is coziness to be the end of our living?” she demanded; and I said, “It is.”
You see, she can explain adorably about beauty in the home, but she had n’t known any better than to leave the tinting to the kalsominer.–“Kalsomine is his business. He ought to know better than I,” she said. She has such blind faith in specialists.–There resulted a red dining-room, a terrible green living-room, and dark lavender bedrooms! No wonder poor little mother was miserable!
Getting it put right was messy, deplorable, and expensive beyond words; but it is all nice tans now, with charming chintz draperies and chair-covers. I did the upholstering myself, and it is n’t half bad.
Mother does n’t like ugly things, nor get them of her own free will, but she is obsessed to accept the advice of everybody who pretends to be a specialist, and they “do” her frightfully. It is one of the penalties of being a Superwoman.
Getting a cook required diplomacy. It is a point of honor with mother to take meals in restaurants or buy delicatessen stuff. She was in the hospital two months with inflammation of the liver last winter, and dyspepsia makes half her days hideous. If people will live on indigestible ideas, instead of home cooking, I’m afraid it’s what they must expect! I freely admit that I can’t combat mother’s ideas, as ideas,–I’m not clever enough,–but she does n’t know how to be comfortable, which is to be efficient. She is rabidly against kitchens, but arithmetic demonstrates that here, in Chicago, this winter, it will cost less, and be more healthful to have a maid for the season instead of dragging ourselves out in the snow to eat thirty-cent breakfasts and fifty-cent luncheons and seventy-five cent dinners, and pay a woman for coming to clean. I argue that, so long as the Redeemed Form of Society has n’t arrived, we are n’t disloyal to it by doing this!
Myra Ann has learned to make Evelyn’s beef-tea and mutton-broth. Mother needs them badly. Then I discovered that eggs have always disagreed with her, but she went right on eating them because she thought them an “ideal food,” and that if her stomach was n’t sufficiently standardized to appreciate them, it ought to be! I call that heroic, if it is droll. Idiosyncrasy is something for which mother’s creed makes no allowance. We now have an attractive set of eggless breakfasts.–Does all this sound like a model house keeper writing to a domestic journal? Evelyn knows I have a little right to throw bouquets at myself, for I was n’t born a housekeeper–but housekeepers can be made!
Seems to me, if you ought to standardize an individual’s diet, as mother thinks, similar arguments apply to his clothes, his features, his body, his mind, his soul. There’s no logical place to stop. Yet we know that diversity, not similarity, is the end nature is always seeking in evolution. Of course, if you are going to buck all the natural laws, that’s different!
My country brain gets tired in such a menagerie of ideas. In our own life at home, there is comfort, peace, sufficient stimulus, development; this life is exciting, but barren of something that I will call soil to grow in, because I don’t know any better word. Of course it is great fun for me to come in contact with so many different kinds of minds and hear them emit their theories. Only, somehow, the theorists lack reality to me. Do I make myself clear?
I hope this will give you a notion of what I’m doing and thinking, and that you’ll know I’m really having a beautiful time. I miss you both horribly, though. I will tell about some of the people in my next letter. I’m acting as mother’s secretary just now. She really needs one, and it’s interesting work.
Ever and always,
Your loving child,
It was eleven o’clock on a mid-April morning–she never in after-life forgot the day or the hour–that Clarissa Charleroy saw to the depths of her daughter’s mind.
Clarissa awoke that morning with a severe neuralgia. She had given two parlor-talks the day before, and was now paying the penalty of overexertion. To lie flat was sickening, yet to rise was impossible.
Marvel promptly took the case in hand. The pillows were piled high; one hot-water bag was slipped under that aching spot at the back of her neck, and another placed at her chilly feet. Marvel knew that a hot bag must be covered with linen; Marvel knew that an alcohol rub changes even a neuralgic’s outlook. Marvel was perfectly familiar with the latest non-depressant remedy for neuralgia, hunted up the empty box, telephoned the druggist, and had the prescription filled and ready to administer in half an hour; when she left the room it was only to reappear with a cretonne-and-mahogany tray, fresh toast, and weak tea, at the very psychological moment when the thought of food ceased to be a horror.
Under these ministrations, what had promised to be an all-day siege gave way so satisfactorily that by eleven o’clock Clarissa, arrayed in Marvel’s blue negligée, was temporarily reposing on the lounge in the living-room, while her own room was airing. She was in that delicious, drowsy, yet stimulated, state which follows the cessation of suffering.
For April, the day was unusually warm. The windows were open; the sun was pouring happily in, contending in gayety with a great jar of daffodils covering the low table at Clarissa’s side. Marvel in a dull-blue house dress, white-braided, sat across the room darning a stocking, with an expression of severity. Mending was one of the domestic duties for which she had little taste. Owing to her constant activities as housekeeper and secretary for Clarissa, she had not yet begun to attend lectures at the University. Her mother, I fear, was serenely blind to the implications of this fact.
Clarissa, lying high among pillows, in the peace that follows pain, regarded her daughter with a profound pleasure. There was something about her–was it the length of curling lashes veiling her eyes? or the tendrils of fair hair the warm wind lifted on her forehead? or the exquisite color that came and went in her cheeks? or the slender roundness of her erect young body?–there was a something, at all events, a dearness, an interest, a charm, unlike all other girls of twenty-three! Not for the first or the second, but for the hundreth time, that winter, Clarissa was conscious of an unutterable hunger for the years she had foregone. She seldom looked at Marvel’s bloom without remembering that she had no mental picture of her girlish charm, her maiden magic. How was it possible to grow old without such memories to feed her withering heart upon?
She must not think that the locust had eaten these years! The thought pierced her like a knife, and she put it away from her with all her might. Had she not chosen the better, though more barren, part? Had she not fought a good fight? And for this hour, at least, she was happy.
Leaving Marvel’s face, her gaze traveled round the room. The actual alterations were not many, yet they had produced harmony. The apartment was restful now. The very walls seemed to encompass and caress her. Perhaps it was only just, Clarissa reflected, that a woman who had poured out her years and her strength in working and planning for an obdurate world, should have, when her energy was spent, some such warm and tender shelter, some equable spot all flowers and sunshine, wherein she might be tended as Marvel was tending her, so that she might gather strength to go forth to other battles.
She turned her eyes again upon her daughter. Marvel, feeling the long look, glanced up.
“Are you comfy? Is there anything more you want, mother?” the girl inquired.
Clarissa shook her head. “No, nothing. Really, child, you are an excellent nurse. Quite a–quite a Marvel! Were you born so? Where did you get it? Not from Paul or me!”
Marvel smiled faintly to herself.
“Where did I get that name?” she parried. “I have often wondered about that. Father could n’t, or would n’t, tell me.”
The slow, difficult color came to Clarissa’s cheeks. How many years since she had recalled the naming of her daughter!
“There is no secret about it,” she said. “When the nurse first laid you on my arm, I saw what seemed to me such a wonder-child that I said, Every baby in the world ought to be named Marvel. Mine shall be.– That’s all. It was just a fancy. Your father wanted to name you Clarissa Josephine. Where did those daffodils come from? Did the Herr Professor send them?”
Marvel nodded carelessly. This was so common a matter as to be undeserving of comment.
Clarissa resumed her train of thought. What tact the girl had shown! She had slipped into her mother’s life easily. At the beginning she had taken her little stand, assumed her pose. “I am not a believer in your panaceas,” her manner always, and her lips once or twice, had said, “but nothing human is alien to me. Pray shatter society to bits and remould it nearer to the heart’s desire–if you can.”
Clarissa saw no reason why Marvel should not remain with her. A couple of legacies had increased her small income to the point where she might have dispensed with her irregular and uncertain earnings, had these not represented an effort that was the essence of life to her. She could even afford, for a time, the inconsistent luxury of an idle daughter; but if Marvel desired to exercise her teacher’s gift, why not do so in Chicago?
“How comfortable we are!” said Clarissa, drowsily and happily. “That blue dress is very becoming to you, child. I believe we can’t do better than to keep this flat for next winter. I wonder if we could n’t arrange with Myra Ann to come back in the fall? We could pay her half-wages while we were out of town. Her cooking seems to agree with my stomach better than I dared suppose any home cooking could!”
“Why, mother! You forget I am still an instructor-elect at Midwest. I must go to my work in September.”
Clarissa started up against her pillows and spoke with her usual vehemence and directness.
“I do not wish you to go back to Midwest, Marvel. I want you to stay with me. I have had too little of my daughter’s society in my life.”
The girl dropped her work and faced her mother. “That, mother, is hardly my fault.”
Their glances met and crossed, rapier-like, with the words. Apprehension seized Clarissa. She did not fathom the meaning of Marvel’s gaze.
“Do you mean it is my fault, Marvel?”
Her daughter kept silence. For almost the first time in her life, the older woman felt herself compelled to valiant self-defense.
“My work has justified itself, Marvel. I am not boasting when I say that I truthfully believe the good day of release from servitude is nearer for all women because I had the courage to leave my home and go into the wilderness, preaching the coming of the Woman’s Age and furthering, even though feebly, all the good causes that will help it on.”
Marvel still kept silence. She knew so many things to say! Was it not better to utter none of them?
“I wanted,” continued Clarissa, “to give my mite toward making this a better world for girl-babies like you to be born into.”
Her face wore the deep, wistful look that marked her highest moments; this was the reason upon which in her secret soul she relied for justification–but her daughter was not touched by it at all!
“Really, mother,” said the girl crisply, driven to make answer, “don’t you realize that you would never have gone in for Humanity if you had n’t hated cooking?”
“Why cook when I hated it?” Clarissa, up-in-arms, flashed back.
“Why, indeed?–but why drag in Humanity? And why should I give up my work to stay here? I felt I ought to come–for a while–when you asked it. I could see that father and Evelyn thought I ought. But now that I have put the flat in shape and trained Myra Ann,–she wants to stay with you, by the way,–things will run smoothly. I can come up occasionally to see how it goes.”
At this assumption that her need of her child was purely practical, something, some tangible, iron thing, seemed to strike Clarissa’s heart. She could feel its impact, feel the distressful shudder along all her nerves, the explosion in her palms. She looked down at them curiously. It almost seemed to her that she would behold them shattered by the pain!
She turned her eyes away and they fell upon the bowl of daffodils. Daffodils burning in an April sun. In what long-forgotten hour of stress had she once seen the flame of daffodils burn bright against an April sun? Slowly her brain made the association. Ah, yes! That day she told Paul she would leave him, he had brought her daffodils.–Had Paul felt like this?
Clarissa–Clarissa who had never before either asked or given quarter–heard her own voice, tense with feeling, say, “Marvel, I can’t let you go, not yet!”
“Why, mother! I can’t stay longer than June. Of all people in the world, you ought to admit that I must do my work! Of course I know you need a home as much as any one, though you never own it. That’s why you have liked to have me here this winter because I could help you make one. You none of you know, you reformers! You are just air-plants. You have no roots.”
“It is part of the profession. ‘Foxes have holes–” Clarissa retorted, driven to her last defense.
Marvel lifted her head, shocked at the implication.
“I don’t believe it is wrong to tell you what I think,” she said abruptly. “You ought to know the other side, my side. Of course I’m only a girl still. I dare say there is a great deal I do not understand. But I do know about homes. The attitude of these people you admire and quote does seem to me so ridiculous! They all admit that the race lives for the child. But they say–and you follow them–that the child can be best cared for by specialists, and the house can be left to itself, while the mothers can, and should, go out and hunt up some other specialty. It is the idea of a shirk! Loving a child is a profession in itself. You have to give your mind and soul to it. I tell you I know. I know because I was motherless! Can’t you see that everything your specialists can do for the child is useless if you don’t give it what it wants and needs the very most of all? Oh, I think some grown-ups were born grown-up. They don’t seem to remember!”
“Remember–remember what?” Clarissa interjected sharply.
“I don’t know that I can make you understand. It is such a simple, elemental thing. You either know it, or you don’t. You may mother chickens in a brooder, but you must mother children in your arms. After you left, mother, for four mortal years I was the most miserable scrap on earth. I was fed and clothed and taught and cared for. I was petted, too, but it was never right. All the while I felt myself alone. Aunt Josephine did n’t count; even father did n’t, then. I could not sleep for loneliness, and I used to wake far in the night, my eyes all wet with tears. I had been crying in my sleep. The universe felt desolate and vacant. Just one little girl alone in it! There was such a weight at my heart! I would cry and cry. It was an awful, constant hunger for the mother that I did n’t have. So I know how it is with all children. Their hearts must be fed!”
Clarissa listened, astounded.
The girl stood now at the open window, breathing in the soft spring air in long-drawn, tremulous breaths. The excitement of speech was upon her. Her eyes were liquid, wonderful. And never, in all her life, had she looked so like the woman who watched her breathlessly.
“These are such big things,” she went on, “I hardly know how to talk about them. But I have thought a great deal. I know the world must be made better, and every one must do his share. But, mother, you can’t save the world in platoons. Even Christ had but twelve disciples. I’m not denying that thousands of women must work outside the home; I’m not denying that hundreds may be specially called to do work in and for the world. But the mothers are not called. They must not go, unless want drives. They have the homes to make–the part of the homes that is atmosphere. Oh, don’t you know what I mean? The women who understand can make a home in a boarding-house or in foreign lodgings; in a camp on the desert or in an eyrie in the mountains. It’s the feel of it! Don’t you understand it at all,–the warm, comforted, easeful feeling that encompasses you when you come in the door, or raise the tent-flap? Home is the thing that nourishes, that cherishes, that puts its arms about you and says, Rest here!
“I know–for father and Evelyn made a home for me. Father is like me. He is lost, shipwrecked, ruined, if his heart is n’t sheltered. I don’t know what I think about divorces and re-marriages. It is all so perplexing. I do not know at all. But I know you broke up a home, and Evelyn made one. Whatever people do, if they can do that for a child as father and Evelyn did it for me, I should n’t wonder if they are justified before gods and men!”
The rapid sentences fell like hammer-strokes upon Clarissa’s naked heart. She felt that she ought to be defending her beliefs, but she could not take her eyes from Marvel’s glowing face, and the girl went swiftly on:–
“The people that you follow–they admit the race lives for the child, that the mother must risk her life to give it life. Then, they seem to think, the sacrifice can cease. But if you know about homes, you know better. As she gives her body to be the matrix of another body, so she must give her spirit to make a shelter that shall be the matrix of another spirit. If she refuses to do this, she fails, and all her labor is in vain. It is very simple. As I see the world, the mothers must die daily all their lives. There is no other way. It is a part of life, just as bearing and birth are parts of life. No one denies that they are hard–hard–hard. But that is the glory of it! Nothing is worth while that lacks the labor and the danger, the pain and the difficulty!”
For once in her life Clarissa was speechless. Words would not come. The inherited weapon of her own fluency had been turned against herself. For as other women had been shaken from their old faiths and allegiances by Clarissa’s gift of tongues, even so had she been shaken by her child. The girl’s young cogency had struck her dumb.
In the long minutes of silence that followed, Clarissa was, perhaps, more truly a mother than she had been since Marvel first lay in the circle of her arm. She saw a daughter’s point of view at last. She knew which proclaimed the deeper doctrine, which was the truer prophet of humanity, her child or she.
Yet when she spoke at last, it was not to discourse of Humanity. Humanity was forgotten; she and her child were all. Her lips shaped, unbidden, that old, old demand of the hungry heart.
“Marvel–don’t you love me at all?”
Marvel hesitated. Her air of detachment was complete.
“You never tried to make me love you, mother. Even love goes by a kind of logic. Domestic life gives you one kind of reward; public life another kind. You get the kind you choose, I take it, and no other. If you want love, you must choose the love-bringing kind,” said this austere young judge. “And I’ve found out another thing by myself. You love ten times as much when you have served with hands and feet as well as brain. I do not know why. I only know you do. If–if I love you at all, mother, it is because of the work I have done for you here–in making it like home!”
Clarissa bowed her head on her hands, in a bitterness made absolute. This child of hers was her own child. What right, indeed, had she to expect self-sacrifice, tenderness, cherishing, from the flesh of her flesh? That which she had given was rendered unto her again in overflowing measure, and beholding she saw that it was just.
Marvel, standing at the window in the sunshine, a little excited by her own eloquence and wondering at it still, had no conception of the havoc she had worked. Indeed, she was innocent of the knowledge that any one, least of all herself, had the power to move her mother greatly. She assumed, after the careless fashion of youth, that her elders were indifferent and unemotional. Suddenly, she heard an unfamiliar and terrifying sound. Her mother was sobbing with harsh, rending sobs, tearless and terrible.
Marvel turned in quick alarm and stood confused before this anguish of her own inflicting. Clarissa’s very soul seemed sobbing, and her daughter did not know how to bear the sound.
The girl wrung her hands helplessly. Something struck her heart and quivered down her nerves. Then, as she watched this woman, so like, yet so unlike herself, all at once–she understood! She was suffering with every painful breath her mother drew. In the heart of her heart she felt them. They two were bound together there. It was even as Evelyn had told her,–Evelyn, the beloved, whose truth had never failed her yet! The primal tie that draws God to his worlds still holds the woman and her child. It was a wonder and a miracle unspeakable–but it was true. Throbbing and palpable, she felt the tie.
It was as if her eyelids were anointed, and all the deep and secret things of life lay clear. Ah, she had not known the half before! How shallow and complacent she must have seemed! She dropped on her knees beside the lounge. No eloquence now! She stammered commonplace words eagerly, pitifully.
“Mother dear! Mother, I didn’t mean to hurt you so! I didn’t know. I did n’t know! Don’t cry! O mother dear, don’t cry!”
Clarissa lifted a drawn, woeful face, and looked straight into her daughter’s eyes. I cannot tell you what she saw there of wonder and newborn tenderness. But she drank of that look thirstily, as might one who had found springs of living water after a desert drought.
Her own child’s hand had struck her down. Yet, in her overthrow, she read in Marvel’s face the sign all mothers seek. Ungentle and unmerciful the girl had been, yet gentler and more merciful than she! And by that token she knew her life not wasted utterly. For she had given to this world–this piteous world for which she had labored clumsily and ineffectually in alien ways–the best thing that the woman has to give. Offspring a little better than herself she gave to it. This child of hers, just now so hard, yet now become so pitiful, was her own child and more. Of her flesh and of her spirit had been wrought a finer thing than she.