From Edgewater People (Harper and Brothers; New York: 1918)
Julius Cæsar Whittemore married Nelly Dunn. Miss Sarah Edgewater's mother's maiden name had been Dunn, and Nelly was her niece, her brother's daughter. Nelly and Julius had been born in adjoining houses in South Barr, and had lived next door to each other all their lives. Their marriage had been a foregone conclusion when they were children and attended district school. There had been little romance connected with it. Nelly had simply been the only girl in South Barr whom a young man who esteemed himself as Julius Cæsar Whittemore esteemed himself could marry, and Nelly, who had not much imagination, and very seldom went away from home to meet young men, did not dream of the possibility of marrying another man. Julius's father had died when he was a child; since then his mother had run the farm, and in a masterly manner. Julius was well-to-do. Nelly's father and mother, who were not especially prosperous, although they had enough to live on, were calmly pleased that their only daughter was to marry well as far as this world's goods were concerned. The week before the marriage, Mrs. Oliver Dunn, Nelly's mother, had driven her old gray horse over to Barr Center, and called on Sarah Edgewater.
“I am glad Nelly is to marry Julius,” she said. “He is a likely young man, and there is considerable property. It will all come to Julius after his mother dies.”
“I am glad Nelly is doing so well,” said Sarah. She was very fond of Nelly, and had given her a goodly stock of linen for a wedding present.
“There is only one thing which troubles me at all,” said Nelly's mother. “The Whittemores, and Julius Cæsar especially, do have such a great idea of themselves — of the Whittemores — that I wonder, sometimes, if Nelly won't have considerable to put up with. Nelly has almost too good a disposition, if she is my daughter. I am afraid she will get real mushy and be afraid to say her soul is her own, before the Whittemores.”
Sarah Edgewater sat up majestically. “Who,” said she, “are the Whittemores, that they should put themselves up on a pinnacle above the Dunns? The Dunns are as good a family as ever lived in Barr. I don't except even the Leicesters, or the Edgewaters, or the Widners. What have the Whittemores done?”
“I really don't know, except be Whittemores,” admitted Mrs. Oliver Dunn. She was a mild little woman, and in reality was somewhat intimidated herself by the Whittemores.
“That,” declared Miss Sarah Edgewater, “is nonsense. I will admit that Mrs. Jane Whittemore has proved herself a smart business woman. The way she has run the farm and made a success of it since her husband died is a wonder; but we all know that Sam Whittemore, while he was a good, God-fearing man, was not one to set the river on fire; and as for her, she was a Quimby, from Barr-by-the-Sea, and her folks were poor, and her father used to keep a fish-market. He failed, too. Jane has shown herself smart, but she was only a Quimby, and the Quimbys were never thought so much of even before Barr-by-the-Sea was what it is now. Old Josh Quimby used to come over here every Tuesday and Friday, peddling fish. He was a good, honest man, but Jane has no reason to set herself up because of her own family, and as for the Whittemores — the Whittemores have just lived in South Barr ever since anybody can remember. Julius Cæsar's great-grandfather and his grandfather kept the grocery-store there.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Dunn, “I must say I am sorry that they do feel quite so much above other folks, because Nelly is easy put upon for a long while, then when she does get to asserting herself she is more set about it than a great many people who are flying out in a temper every other minute. But Nelly and Julius have grown up together, and they do think a lot of each other, and Julius is a good, steady young man, and of course I am glad he has some property.”
“Yes,” said Sarah, “love is all very well, and I have never believed in marriage without it, but property does keep love from getting into snarls sometimes.”
Mrs. Oliver Dunn rose to go. “Of course you will not repeat what I have said about the Whittemores, Sarah,” said she.
“I have never repeated anything except the multiplication table,” replied Sarah with dignity.
“Because I am really pleased about it. I am glad to have Nelly settled. Her father hasn't got much, and Nelly isn't the kind of girl to battle with the world. It is all right, and what we have expected all these years, and very likely Julius, although he does seem to hold his head pretty high, may be easy to get on with. He sets his eyes by Nelly, and as for Nelly, well, she thinks Julius is just about right; but —”
Mrs. Dunn looked puzzled before her own reflections. “I don't know,” said she, “but sometimes I wonder if it isn't safer for people to marry when they haven't known each other so long. I know they say it's just the other way around, but I don't know. Sometimes it seems to me that Julius and Nelly don't make any more of getting married than they used to of going to school together. Both of them are as calm as clocks about it. They have always ticked, and they go right on ticking. Nelly never gets all wrought up because Julius doesn't come over, or is late, and I don't think Julius would get jealous if she walked right off to meeting with another man before his eyes. There isn't one bit of romance about it.”
“I never did think much of romance.”
“You never got married.”
A queer expression came over Sarah Edgewater's handsome elderly face. She was thinking of her own life. “Maybe that is the reason,” she agreed. “I am glad the wedding-dress has turned out all right.”
“It is beautiful!” declared Nelly's mother with enthusiasm. “Of course Nelly and I thought it would be more sensible for her to be married either in a traveling costume or something simple that she could wear afterward, but Julius and his mother were set on the white satin and lace for the church wedding, and Nelly is young, and she looks lovely in it. It will be a pity to lay it away, that beautiful satin, for she can never wear it in South Barr.”
“No, she can't,” said Sarah. “She might as well think of wearing a crown and scepter. But I'll give a party in her honor, and she can wear it in Barr Center once, anyway.”
Nelly's mother beamed. “That is real good of you, Sarah,” she said.
When Mrs. Dunn told her daughter Nelly after her return, Nelly, who was sewing on some wedding finery, did not seem much elated.
“I think that white-satin dress is too much dress for Barr Center,” said she.
“Your aunt Sarah will have a large party, I think, dear.”
“I don't care. Not one girl has anything as fine as that white satin to wear, and I don't think I shall wear mine.”
“Oh, well, you can wear that pretty white net, with the blue sash,” said Mrs. Dunn.
“That will be much more suitable,” said Nelly.
Nelly was a lovely girl, very blonde, with a sweet expression. It was only very seldom that a sudden firm set of her mouth, and a steady look in her pretty blue eyes, hinted of possible resources of firmness in her character. When she alluded to the white-satin dress her mouth was set and her blue eyes were steady. She did not at all approve of the white satin. She had yielded because it was her time for yielding, but she had never approved.
“After the ceremony that white satin will be folded away,” said she, “and it will never be worn again; I have told Julius so.”
“What did he say?”
“Only laughed. He doesn't care. He has his way about it.” Nelly spoke half caressingly, half sarcastically.
“He is a man, and men are different,” said her mother. “And he wants you to look nice, and so does his mother.”
“His mother wants me to look nice because I am marrying her son,” declared Nelly. “I suppose Julius does want me to look nice because he is fond of me — but his mother!”
Mrs. Dunn looked anxiously at Nelly. She was sorry that the young married pair were to live with Julius's mother. She would have been equally sorry if they had been going to live with her. Much as she loved her daughter, she had a prejudice against such arrangements. However, there was no way out of it; Mrs. Jane Whittemore could not be banished from her own property, nor could Julius build another house.
Nelly was married in the church — the little white Congregational meeting-house in South Barr. She swept up the aisle in her white-satin dress to a jiggling wedding-march played on the little melodeon by one of her schoolmates, Etta Briggs. She heard people whisper. She was aware that she was ridiculous, but of course she was happy.
She was glad when the ceremony was over, and the reception, which Julius had insisted upon having in the large parlor of his mother's house, with a caterer and colored waiters from Leicester. Then she could slip out of her gorgeous wedding array into her blue-cloth traveling-suit, with a chiffon blouse.
After the wedding journey Sarah Edgewater gave the promised party for Nelly. It was then that Nelly was guilty of her first deception toward her husband. Not a word had been said about it, but she knew that he expected her to wear her white-satin wedding-dress. After supper she slipped across the yard; there was a narrow strip of yard between the Dunn and Whittemore places, and in the yard stood an old but prolific apple-tree. It was in full bloom when Nelly hurried under its spreading scented boughs. She had said that she wanted her mother to fasten her dress. Both Julius and his mother, Jane Whittemore, thought she referred to the white satin. But Nelly clad herself in the white net, with the pale-blue sash and girdle, and returned to her new home enveloped in her pongee motor-coat.
Julius was waiting for her. He wore a linen duster over his dress-suit, and sat at the wheel in his touring-car.
“You had better sit on the back seat on account of your white-satin dress,” said Julius. “There may be some oil in front.” Nelly said not a word. She got into the tonneau, and sat there waiting for her mother-in-law, who soon came out in her long black-silk coat over the black-lace gown she had worn at the wedding.
“Take care of your white satin, Nelly,” she said.
Nelly was saved the necessity of replying, for her own mother came hurrying across the yard and got in. Nelly's father was not well. Indeed, it was the beginning of the illness of which he died six months later, although then it was regarded as only a slight ailment. Nelly's mother, who had been a beauty, and was still charming, wore a lavender silk which dated back to her girlhood and had been made over for the wedding. She had no proper wrap to cover it, nothing except a plain little black coat. Mrs. Whittemore eyed her with veiled disdain.
“It is a pity you have to sit on the front seat, or else crush Nelly's white satin,” she said, “for there is always likely to be oil in the front of the car.”
Nelly made an involuntary movement, then checked herself. In her gentle fashion she was a fearless soul, but she was becoming intimidated before the situation. It would not injure her dress, not in the least; she preferred to sit beside Julius, but she lacked courage to say so.
Her mother bent her head, covered with an ancient white Brussels-lace scarf, and got on the front seat. She gathered up her lavender skirts carefully. “I don't think there is any oil on the seat,” she remarked with a gentle quaver. She also was becoming intimidated before the situation. What would Jane Whittemore say, what would Julius Whittemore say, when Nelly's coat was removed and it was discovered that she was not wearing the white satin? It was worse because the material had been given to Nelly by her prospective mother-in-law. What would be said?
Nelly and her mother were the first comers. When they removed their wraps in Sarah Edgewater's spare chamber Mrs. Dunn looked at Nelly, lovely in her delicate white net and blue, which brought out the blue of her eyes.
“What will they say?” she quavered.
Nelly smiled mildly. “I don't know,” she said.
“I almost wish you had worn the white satin.”
“I don't,” replied Nelly, firmly. “Nobody else who is coming will wear anything so elegant. Eva Dennison, who is a bride, too, has nothing except a light-blue muslin. The white satin is not suitable.”
“I don't know what they will say,” said Mrs. Dunn, uneasily.
Mrs. Dunn, who had lived near the Whittemores for years, had failed to understand them, or Jane Quimby, who had married a Whittemore. If she had understood them, she would not have wondered concerning what they would say. She would have known that they would say nothing. Silence was the weapon in the armory of the Whittemore family. It was subtle, powerful, almost deadly.
When Nelly and her mother went down-stairs, into the pretty old room where Sarah Edgewater, her niece Amy Dinsmore, with her husband, Dr. Dinsmore, Dr. Tom Ellerton, her nephew, and his young sisters, Margy, Violetta, and Imogen, were assembled with Nelly's husband and mother-in-law, Jane Whittemore, there occurred at once a curious thing, partaking of the nature of a full stop in a musical composition. Mrs. Dunn had been relieved that Jane Whittemore, who had a weak heart and did not like to climb stairs, had removed her wraps in the hall below, thereby postponing matters. Now she wished that the discovery had been made in the dressing-room, with only the three present.
There was something terrifying in this hushed and mysterious gathering. Mrs. Jane Whittemore merely looked at Nelly, slim and pretty and girlish in her simple white net and blue ribbons, but the look was formidable. Julius also looked, and from their expressions, which so exactly resembled each other, he and his mother might have been one soul. Neither said a word. Not at that time nor at any future time did Jane Whittemore say one word about Nelly's not wearing her white-satin dress, and not for years did Julius say one word. After that almost infinitesimal suspense, which was comprehended by only four people, there came a general greeting and conversation. The other guests arrived, and nothing ominous happened. Julius Whittemore's manner toward his young wife was quite what it should have been, so that people going home from the party that night said that Nelly Dunn had certainly married well, that she had a loving, handsome husband, and that his mother evidently welcomed her as her own daughter.
Nelly and her mother, going home with Julius and his mother in the car, talked of the party, of the people who had been present, of Sarah's kindness in giving it. Mrs. Dunn began to feel relieved. When she was in her own home she told her husband, Oliver Dunn, that she had felt a little anxious because Nelly had not worn her white satin when it was so evident that Julius and his mother had expected it, but she guessed it was all right.
“What did they say?” asked Oliver Dunn, hollow-eyed and flushed with the fever which had begun to sap his life.
Oliver frowned. “When Whittemores say nothing, look out,” he said.
His wife looked anxious. “You don't think —?”
“I think it will be a long time before something worth more than that white-satin dress is forgotten. Nelly had better have worn it.”
“She thought it looked too grand — as if she were putting on airs before people about marrying a rich man.”
“What Julius thinks and what his mother thinks is what Nelly has to consider now,” said her father. “I wish she had worn it.”
The next morning Nelly came over. Julius had gone to Barr-by-the-Sea, and his mother to Boston. Nelly was alone with her mother for quite a while. When she came down-stairs she kept her face averted so that her father should not see that she had been weeping. She hurried home. She said she had to see to the luncheon before Julius got home. Everybody in South Barr except the Whittemores had dinner at noon. They had luncheon. Poor Oliver Dunn had seen Nelly's tear-stained face, and the minute she was out of hearing asked:
“What is the matter — the white-satin dress?”
Mrs. Dunn sat down opposite her husband and returned his anxious look.
“I suppose it is,” she said. “Oh dear! How people do act over nothing!”
“You suppose? Don't you know? Doesn't Nelly know?”
“No, she doesn't. She thinks it is that, because there's nothing else. She says they went right on talking pleasant enough last night, but when she and Julius went up-stairs — you know Jane sleeps down on account of her heart — Julius just went into their room and began gathering together his brush and comb and business suit that he was going to wear this morning, and she said, ‘Why, Julius, what are you taking all those things away for?’ And Julius says, real pleasant: ‘Oh, I want them early in the morning. I must go over to Barr-by-the-Sea before nine.’ And Nelly says, sort of wondering, ‘But what has that got to do with moving your things?’ — she says she never dreamed anything, he and his mother had fooled her so, appearing so pleasant. Then Julius said, ‘Why, I want them in the north chamber, where I'm going to sleep to-night. I want to have them handy, of course.’
“Nelly said she just stood staring at him, and he kissed her and said good night, with his arms full of clothes, and went out and into the north chamber, and she heard him turn the key in the lock. She says she wouldn't have gone near that door to save her life, but his turning the key in the lock about broke her heart. She just cried all night, and fell asleep toward morning, and the automobile going out of the drive woke her up. She says his mother acted just the same as ever at breakfast, but all the time she had a feeling as if there was something underneath. Mrs. Whittemore came to her to see if her bonnet was on straight before the carriage came to take her to the train, and said good-by, and wanted to know if she had errands for her to do in Boston. You couldn't have told what it was, but there was something. Nelly says if they would only talk; if they would only scold her for not wearing that white satin, she wouldn't mind, but this is awful.”
“It is what I was afraid of all the time,” said Nelly's father. “The Whittemores have got for temper what corresponds to dumb ague.”
“It does seem as if a woman had a right to say what dress she would wear,” said Mrs. Dunn, pitifully.
“Of course she had a right, and the right to wear it, too. That isn't the question. The question is whether having your own way about such a little thing is worth what I'm afraid the poor child has got to suffer to pay for it.”
“Nelly has a will of her own, too,” declared Mrs. Dunn. “She will stand a lot, but there was always a limit with Nelly.”
“Yes, there was, but she'll be pretty fine ground down before she gets to it,” said Oliver Dunn. He looked pale, and his wife got some port wine for him.
“Don't you worry, father,” said she.
“If the worst comes to the worst, she can come home,” said Oliver, faintly, sipping the wine. “There isn't much, but there'll be enough for you two if you're prudent.”
Mrs. Dunn said nothing. She rose and went out of the room. In the kitchen she leaned against the wall and wept silently. She was much alarmed about Oliver's health, and with reason. He died in about six months' time. The last words he said to his wife were about Nelly.
“Don't let her put up with too much,” he whispered. “She is married, and she must put up with all she can, but don't let them smother all the life out of poor Nelly. Take her home.”
Nelly's mother promised, and wept. There was no need to conceal her tears then. Oliver and his wife had known the truth for months. After the funeral Mrs. Dunn told Nelly what her father had said.
“Father thought that, of course, you ought to put up with everything reasonable,” she said. “Your poor father and I — and I hope you feel the same way — always considered marriage vows very binding and sacred, but —”
“You know I do, mother,” interrupted Nelly.
“Listen, dear, to what I have to say. I think your father felt a little afraid that matters might go too far — that you might lose your spirit — and he told me, and I want to tell you, that he felt and I feel that in such a case your old home is open to you.”
“I married Julius,” said Nelly, “and I can't let such a silly thing as my wearing or not wearing a white-satin dress make a difference between us so far as I am concerned. Of course I can't help what Julius does, or his mother.”
“Is it just the same?”
Nelly nodded. She did not look particularly cast down. She had become accustomed to things, and, besides, she was a brave girl.
“They don't say anything?”
“Not one word. Julius just occupies the north chamber. He has moved all his clothes there, and as for his mother, she has gone back to her old place at the table.”
“You don't sit at the head opposite Julius?”
“No. I came down to breakfast weeks ago and found her in my place. I never told you. I didn't say anything. I sat down at the side. Everybody was pleasant, but I knew they were watching me. I knew Abby, waiting on table, was watching me. That is one of the worst things about it — the servants gossip and watch, but they hear nothing.” Nelly raised her head proudly. “I never say one word any more than the Whittemores do,” she said. “And I am perfectly pleasant. The worst of it is I know they don't like that. They want me to ask questions and complain and cry, and I am afraid that in the end this ridiculous playing at being enemies will come true. I am afraid Julius won't care so much for me, but I can't give up when I know I am not in the wrong.”
“You never said a word about the white-satin dress?”
Nelly flushed. “I did just once. One night when Julius was going into the north chamber I said — and I spoke loud, so anybody who was listening could hear — I said, ‘If I had dreamed that you felt so strongly about it, I would have worn that white-satin dress to the party.’ Then I just said, ‘Good night, Julius,’ and he said ‘Good night,’ and his voice sounded like ice slivering. Then he shut his door, and that was all.”
“I think you have said enough.”
“I do, too, and I did not put on mourning for poor father because I knew Julius and his mother don't approve of mourning. Here I am wearing bright colors.”
“Your father would think that was best.”
“Yes, I know he would,” half sobbed Nelly. Then she said, “I have more to mourn for than poor father, perhaps.”
“Perhaps you haven't. They always treat you pleasantly?”
“Yes, but the pleasantness has stings, and they make me feel it. Oh, mother, a girl is safer with her own father and mother. Nobody ever cares quite so much.”
“It isn't right for you to talk so; you are married.”
Nelly in her pale-pink muslin, sitting opposite her mother, looked suddenly old and stern. “Yes,” she said, “I am married; and I know that married love is sacred and marriage vows are sacred, but married love can be cruel in ways that other love would never dream of.” Suddenly Nelly's face relaxed. She smiled across at her mother. “After all, mother,” she said, “it might be so much worse. I really don't mind a bit not sitting at the head of the table, and I don't mind Julius's mother running the house as if I were visiting there, and I don't mind Julius's being so queer in little ways, as I did at first. I think it will all come right in the end, mother,” she said, and rose to go home.
When she entered the Whittemore house, however, she found a more active grievance. The Whittemores certainly had strange tempers. It was as if they had grown weary of subtle animosity, which had seemed to fail of its mark. Nelly found the house in disorder; the two maids, under the superintendence of Jane Whittemore, were moving her clothes and all her personal belongings from her chamber to another, a small one exposed to the western sun; and they all knew that Nelly, who was of a nervous temperament, dreaded the hot afternoons and nights of summer. Directly under the windows of this new chamber was a tin roof which reflected the sunlight. The heat would be almost intolerable at times. Nelly stood still, watching the maids carrying her clothes across the hall to this small room, from which emanated a close, hot smell. She was deadly pale.
“Abby and Susan are moving your clothes, my dear,” said Jane Whittemore, pleasantly.
“Why?” said Nelly, in a quiet voice.
“Your husband thinks it better for you to occupy the west room,” replied Jane Whittemore, and not a discord disturbed the even cadence of her voice. She was a large, handsome woman, with her rippling hair and her voluminous skirts so finely disposed that she gave the effect of a statue.
Julius came up-stairs, and stopped and stared.
“I am telling Nelly that you think the west chamber is a better room for her,” said his mother.
For one second Julius was man enough to flinch. Then he nodded, made an inarticulate noise in his throat, went into the north chamber, and slammed the door. Had Julius not slammed the door, Nelly would have gone home to her mother that night. Tossing, unable to sleep in her hot room, she said to herself:
“Poor Julius, he is sorry for me. He can't quarrel with his mother, and he can't give up because he is a Whittemore.”
She could not realize that her whole duty as a wife seemed to her husband and his mother to hang upon those shimmering satin draperies.
The next morning she looked forlorn as she sat at the breakfast-table. Julius cast a sly glance at her, and his face lengthened, but Nelly did not see it.
It was a very hot summer. Nelly's room was intolerable. During the days, whenever she could, she stole across the yard to her mother's and lay on the sofa in the cool north parlor. She did not tell her mother about her change of rooms. Julius's slamming the door had made her jealous of his honor with regard to that.
But as the hot days passed one after another, and the terrible close nights, and Nelly's room became as a furnace with the direct heat of the sun and the reflection of the tin roof; she grew noticeably thinner and her beauty waned. Her pretty face was blotched and discolored; her blue eyes were red-rimmed. One unusually hot night, as Nelly was passing into her room, Julius, who had gone up some time before, stood in the door of her old one. Nelly had lingered as long as she dared down on the front porch because she so dreaded entering her heated room.
“You sleep in your old room to-night, Nelly,” said Julius in a curious voice. It was more like the voice of a reluctantly relenting father than that of a husband — a father who feels that he should chide, yet yields through sheer pity.
Nelly looked piteously up in Julius's face. He stood aside to allow her to pass.
“I have taken your dressing-things in there myself,” he said, awkwardly, and went suddenly, with a muttered “Good night,” into his own room.
Nelly's old room was filled with a cool wind. She was so spent by the heat that she undressed quickly and got into bed, grateful for the release from her martyrdom in the roasting chamber opposite. She was almost asleep when she heard a quick step on the stairs — a quick, heavy step that seldom sounded there — that of her mother-in-law. She heard the door of the opposite room opened and shut, then the door of her husband's room. She heard quite distinctly Jane Whittemore say to Julius, as if he had been a little boy in knickerbockers:
“Julius Whittemore, get up and come down-stairs; I want to talk to you.”
She heard a growl of remonstrance, then again the insistent voice: “Julius Cæsar Whittemore, you get up at once and come down-stairs.”
Then Nelly heard Jane go down, and presently Julius following her. The windows were all open. Immediately a storm of tongues raged in the room below. For once the silent rage of the Whittemores was broken. Nelly could not distinguish anything except an occasional word, but she listened to a stormy nocturne of temper and obstinacy. Then, after a long time, she heard Julius come up-stairs and enter his room, and she fell asleep.
The Whittemores' man was dragging trunks down from the attic early the next morning. The maids left the housework after breakfast and assisted Jane Whittemore with her packing. Nelly, frightened, ran across the yard to her mother's house. Julius had hardly even said good morning to her, and looked deadly pale, as did his mother. Nelly sped under the great sweet-apple-tree, whose branches hung over both yards, and entered her mother's kitchen. Mrs. Dunn was making little sponge-cakes after an old recipe which Nelly loved. Nelly sat down and said nothing. She looked spent.
Her mother pulled a chair up beside her, sat down, and took her hands. “Now, Nelly Dunn,” she said, “you tell your own mother what is the matter.”
“I don't know,” Nelly replied in a listless voice.
“I don't know. That is the worst of it. I have always heard that when people thought other people acted crazy, they were crazy themselves.”
“What have they done now?” inquired Mrs. Dunn in a resigned voice.
“I don't know.”
“Why, you must know something.”
Nelly hesitated. She did not want to tell her mother about her being forced to sleep in the hot west chamber. She remembered that angry, sympathizing bang of Julius's door, and she felt disloyal.
“Julius was really not to blame,” said she.
“I never have thought he was the main one to blame,” said Mrs. Dunn. “Jane Whittemore can stir up as much mischief as the Evil One.”
“Well,” said Nelly, “Julius's mother moved my things into the west chamber.”
“Not that hot little room?” Mrs. Dunn's delicate old face flushed angrily. “When?”
“A few weeks ago.”
“And you have been sleeping in that stifling little room all through this terrible weather, when you have always felt the heat so much?”
Nelly nodded miserably. “Julius did not like my being there,” she said.
“Then why didn't he stop it?”
“I don't know.”
“I know. Everybody has always knuckled down to Jane Whittemore. But this about the room is nothing new, then. What is it now?”
“Last night it was so hot that Julius told me to go back to my old room, and she was terribly upset about it. They quarreled a long time. She called Julius down-stairs and had it out with him. And now, this morning, she is packing all her trunks. She is putting in everything she owns. I even saw her packing vases and books, and — I don't believe she will ever come back! I suppose she is going to live with her sister out West — her sister Clara, who lost her husband awhile ago.”
“I don't see why on earth you are upset, if Jane Whittemore is going away,” said Mrs. Dunn. “I should think you would feel as if now you had a little chance of living in peace with your husband.”
Nelly shook her head hopelessly.
“Julius is his mother's son. He is harder to me this morning than I have ever known him. He hasn't said a word, but he acts and looks hard. He will never forgive me for coming between him and his mother.”
“Coming between! Looks to me as if you had been taken by the shoulders and fairly pushed between. I don't see what you have done, Nelly. I think it is time for you to come home.”
Nelly shook her head. “Not yet. I must wait a little longer, mother; it is a dreadful step to take.”
“Well, maybe you are right,” agreed her mother.
When Nelly returned to the Whittemore house she heard voices; Abby and Susan, the maids, were talking. Nelly entered quickly, and the voices stopped. She was so comforted by the kind looks of the girls that she nearly lost her self-control.
As she went out of the room she heard Susan say, “Poor little thing,” and Abby reply, “For my part, I am glad the old lady has gone.”
Nelly was not sure whether she was glad or not. It was something to feel that she would not have to encounter that subtle smiling disapproval and antagonism, but she feared lest Julius, who, after all, was his mother's son, and must regret her leaving home, might not visit it all upon his wife. Soon she was to know that he did.
He never uttered a word of reproach. Nelly was reinstated in her own room; she became the mistress of the house; she sat at the head of her table; but she knew, as well as if Julius had shouted the words in her ears, that he felt he had made a mistake in marrying her. She had brought, according to his reasoning, dissension into his home. He went quietly about; he attended to his farm; he read the newspaper and books on gardening of an evening. He retired early to his north room, and his light shone out until late at night under the door-sill.
Julius read much in these days. He never spoke unkindly to Nelly. He never even gave her an unkind look; but cold politeness was worse than open unkindness.
Nelly bore with the situation a year; then when the summer had come again, and the apples on the tree in the yard were just forming, she spoke out. It was after dinner one hot night. She called Julius into the parlor, which was rather a magnificent room after Jane Whittemore's ideas. It was resplendent with red-silk damask, lace draperies; one or two really good oil-paintings, Royal Worcester vases, and a Parian marble statue in a corner. Nelly almost never entered it. She called Julius in there now because it was the most isolated room in the house. Thin and pale and pretty in her pale-blue muslin, she stood before her husband at the end of the faintly glowing room, and spoke.
“Julius,” she said, “I think the time has come for me to speak. I have been silent a long time.”
Julius stared at the wall over her head. The paper had large gold and silver arabesques. “Well?” he said.
“I think you had better send for your mother to come home, Julius.”
Julius lowered his eyes to her face. “Why?”
“Because I am going over to mother's to live.”
Then Julius spoke. His voice was terrible, although not raised above conversational pitch.
“Go,” he said. The room faced the yard, and the old apple-tree tossed its fruit-laden branches in the gathering dusk. Julius looked at it. “When that sweet-apple-tree has sour apples under it, then I will ask you to come back.”
“Yes, Julius,” said Nelly.
“I will allow you enough to live on.”
“My father left enough for mother and me to live on,” Nelly replied, with mild pride, and fluttered out of the room. She gathered a few belongings together and crossed the yard to her mother's.
“I have come home at last, mother,” she said. She was curiously calm, although her mother wept.
“I knew you couldn't stand it,” sobbed Mrs. Dunn.
“You must never think Julius said or did an unkind thing,” said Nelly.
“I don't know what you call unkind; I don't suppose he beat you.”
“I am going to live with you here, mother, and we shall be happy together, but we must never talk about Julius,” said Nelly.
Mrs. Dunn pursed her lips. “I suppose I can ask if Jane Whittemore is coming back?” she remarked in a slightly aggrieved tone.
“I suppose she is; I told Julius he had better send for her. He ought to have somebody to keep the house.”
“I should think Abby could do it.”
“I suppose she could, but it seems natural that Julius should want his mother back and would send for her.”
“I wonder if he will,” said Mrs. Dunn, with a queer expression.
For a while South Barr hummed with gossip. Then it was quiet. Julius did not send for his mother. At all events, she did not come.
Sometimes Nelly watched furtively when Julius moved about his yard. It seemed to her he grew thin, and that the elasticity went from his step. She herself looked better than she had. One day during the next winter, Julius in his car met her walking, with her cheeks glowing pink above her dark furs. He thought her lovelier than he had ever seen her.
Julius was wretchedly unhappy. His mother wrote, proposing that she return. He sent her a large check and advised her to remain with her sister. It seemed to him that he could not endure the mere sight of his mother's handsome, complacently triumphant face.
Winter passed, and spring and summer. The sweet-apple-tree in the yard was bent low with ripe fruit, and the ground was covered with windfalls before the end came. There was a moonlight night when Nelly could not sleep, and got up and put on a white wrapper and wandered about the upper part of her mother's house. She came into the spare chamber which faced the Whittemore house, and stood at the window, shrinking back behind a fold of the muslin curtain, staring. Down in the yard a man was working furiously beneath the old apple-tree. He was gathering up the windfalls in a basket, and wheeling them away in a barrow.
Nelly watched, wondering. She recognized Julius. He continued to work with a sort of frenzy. Finally the ground beneath the tree was quite clear on his side of the fence. Then, to Nelly's intense wonder, he came wheeling more apples, which he scattered on the ground. It was nearly dawn before he stopped and entered the house. Nelly put a dark cloak over her white wrapper and stole down-stairs softly. She crept along the fence, crouching low that she might not be seen. She caught up an apple from the ground, where Julius had strewn them, and fled back to her room. She locked herself in; she tested the apple. It was sour, with an intense sourness, but it seemed to Nelly to have the sweetness of the whole world, and life itself, typifying, as it did, the surrender of a human soul to love.
When morning came there was a hoar-frost over the earth; everything was as brilliant as if powdered with jewels. Nelly's mother remarked that she was glad that they had gathered the last flowers in the garden the night before and filled the vases.
“It is a perfectly beautiful morning,” said Nelly, and her voice sounded as if she were singing.
Her mother regarded her wonderingly. She thought Nelly was growing prettier and prettier — that now she could not be grieving for Julius Whittemore.
After the breakfast dishes were cleared away Nelly went up-stairs to her room. She stole into the spare chamber and peered out. She knew, without seeing, that Julius's eyes were on the house, watching. With the foolishness of a man, the childish foolishness which she loved, he was actually watching for her to go out and pick up one of those sour apples and taste it.
Presently Nelly came down, clad magnificently in her white wedding gown. Her mother stared and paled.
“Nelly Dunn, are you out of your senses?” she cried.
“Listen, mother,” said Nelly; and she related the incident of the apples.
“Well, I never!” said Mrs. Dunn.
Nelly emerged from the front door. At the same time the door in the next house opened, and Julius, pale and trembling and smiling, came out. Nelly moved to meet him under the apple branches, tall and stately and beautiful, shimmering in her white-satin wedding gown, her golden head gleaming, her face full of love.