From The Uncollected Stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman (University Press of Mississippi: 1992)
Originally published in The Century; a popular quarterly. Volume 41, Issue 4. February 1891
“I don't see how you can stand this awful wind.”
“Oh, you get used to it. After you'd lived here forty year, an' seen ev'rythin' slantendicular in the wind the whole 'durin' time, you'd get so you wouldn't think much about it. You'd feel slantendicular yourself.”
“I do b'lieve you have grown kind of sideways, Lucy Ann. Don't you think she has, Emmeline?”
Mrs. Elkins asked the question of her sister, Mrs. Emmeline Cares. Mrs. Cares kept her fair, large face intent upon her sewing. “I've said she had, time an' time again; but you ain't paid no attention to it,” she replied, scarcely opening her fine lips.
“Well, I dunno but you have,” Mrs. Elkins said apologetically; “but I ain't realized it till just now. Can't you stand up straighter, Lucy Ann? You hadn't ought to get to loppin' over so.”
Mrs. Sands stood at the kitchen table rolling out biscuits for tea. She smiled the shrewdly reflective smile of a philosopher. “Well, mebbe I hadn't ought to,” said she; “but I dunno as it makes much difference. I ain't so young as I was once, an' mebbe if I don't lay out any extry strength in holdin' of myself up straight I'll last the longer for 't.”
“I should think you'd have a little more regard for your own looks,” said Mrs. Cares in a calm, indignant voice. She took strong, even stitches in her white seam.
“Land! I dunno as I'd know myself if I met myself out a-walkin' on the bluff,” returned Mrs. Sands; “I don't think five minutes a day about how I look.”
“If you jest tried to think of it, an' stood up straight, an' didn't allow yourself to lean over so, it wouldn't take long,” said Mrs. Elkins.
“If folks won't listen to what folks say, an' don't have no regard to how they look, there ain't no use talkin'. I'll give it up,” said Mrs. Cares.
Mrs. Sands said no more; she put the pans of biscuit into the oven with a sober air. Her two sisters sat sewing with their nice, voluminous black skirts gathered carefully up from contact with the kitchen floor. They had followed Mrs. Sands into the kitchen when she went out to prepare tea. They came from a town ten miles inland, and were spending the day with her. Their horse and buggy were out in the shed behind the house. The two visiting sisters were trussed up tightly in their fine black gowns, there were gleams of jet upon their high bosoms, there were nice ruffles in their necks and sleeves, their faded light hair was arranged in snugly braided little coronals, and their front locks were crimped.
Mrs. Sands, beside them, showed plainly the marks of the sea upon her; since she had been exposed to the buffetings of its strong salt winds she had changed as much as the coast. Her complexion had been similar to her sisters', fair, although not blonde; now all the fresh tints were gone out of it, and it could well assimilate with the grays and browns of the rocks and seaweeds down on the shore. She was tall and lean, and leaned sideways, as her sister claimed; she wore a loose, limp, brown dress, and her hair had a rough stringiness over her temples.
After she had put the biscuits into the stove oven she sat down for a minute. She could not fry the fish until Emmy returned; she had gone down to the store after some salt pork. The kitchen had a small, dark interior; it was plastered, and the plaster and unpainted woodwork were brown with smoke. All the color in the room was in a row of tomatoes ripening on the window-sill. The one window looked upon a stretch of wind-swept yard. The edge of the bluff and the sea were upon the other side of the house. The wind was from landward: it beat upon the house in great gusts; now and then a window rattled. The visiting sisters sewed: Mrs. Elkins was using red worsted in some fancy work; Mrs. Cares took nice stitches in some fine white cloth and embroidery. Her daughter was getting ready to be married, and she was doing some needlework for her.
Mrs. Sands kept her eyes fixed upon the work of her sister Mrs. Cares; finally she spoke. “I s'pose you an' Susy have got about all you want to do, with her sewin'?” she said.
“I guess we have,” Mrs. Cares assented; “all we can spring to. Susy's about wore out.”
“It's a good deal of a strain on a girl, gettin' ready to be married. I dunno how Emmy'd stand it.” Mrs. Sands fixed her sober eyes upon the wild sky visible through the window, the corners of her thin mouth curved in a sly smile, but her sisters did not notice it.
Mrs. Cares shook out her work, and took a dainty stitch with a jerk. “I ruther guess it's a strain.”
“I guess it would come pretty hard on Emmy.”
“It ain't the sewin' alone, neither. She's up pretty late two nights a week, too, an' that tells on her.”
“Yes; I dunno of anythin' that tells on anybody's looks quicker than bein' up late nights. Emmy's been up considerable late along back, an' I can see that she shows it.”
“Don't you think this is handsome edging on this skirt?” inquired Mrs. Cares.
“Yes, it is real handsome. How much do you get for Susy's skirts, Emmeline? I s'pose I've got to buy some for Emmy before long, most likely.”
“Well, that's about what I thought. Emmy's got to have some new skirts, I s'pose, by an' by.”
“Susy's havin' six made,” said Mrs. Cares with subdued loftiness, “an' they is all trimmed to death. I tell her it's kind of silly.”
“Let me see, how much of that gray cashmere did you say you got for Susy's dress? I s'pose Emmy'll be wantin' one by an' by.”
“I b'lieve I got twelve yards.”
“I s'pose Emmy'd take about the same.”
“I guess she would. Susy's is most done.”
“It's one of the handsomest dresses for a bride to come out in that I ever see,” Mrs. Elkins chimed in enthusiastically.
Mrs. Sands took her eyes from the window. She turned them towards her sisters, a dark blush crept over her face, her smile dispersed.
“I don't s'pose you've heard about Emmy,” said she.
The sisters stared at her. “Why, no,” said Mrs. Cares. “What is it about her?”
“Well — I — expect she's got — somebody waitin' on her.”
“Why, you don't say so, Lucy Ann!” cried Mrs. Elkins.
“Well, I must say I never thought Emmy 'd get anybody,” said Mrs. Cares. “Not that she ain't a real good girl, but she ain't never seemed to me like one that would get married. Who is it, Lucy Ann?”
“He's a real likely young man. He owns a boat; got in yesterday. I s'pose he'll be up to-night.”
“Got anythin' laid by?”
“I shouldn't wonder if he had. He's done pretty well, they say, an' he's stiddy as a clock.”
“What's his name?” Mrs. Cares asked the question with a frown between her eyes. Mrs. Elkins bent forward, smiling curiously.
“One of Sam Parsons's boys?”
“Yes; the others are dead, you know. He's all the one left of the family. He sold the house last year; now he boards over to Capen's.”
“How much did he sell the house for?”
“About nine hundred.”
“I s'pose he's got that laid up.”
“I rather guess he has.”
“Well, that'll set 'em up housekeepin'. When are they goin' to be married?”
Mrs. Sands's face twitched a little. “Well, I dunno,” she said. “I dunno as they've got quite so fur as that yet.”
“Then it ain't settled?”
“Well, no — I guess not. I guess they ain't quite settled it betwixt 'em yet.”
Mrs. Cares's eyes, fastened upon her sister's, grew sharper. “How long has he been comin' here?”
“Well, I dunno. He's been away a spell now. He come here awhile before he went.”
“No, I guess it wasn't — hardly three.”
“No; I guess not quite.”
“Well, he must have been comin' a month if he's been courtin' at all — if he meant anythin' serious.”
“Well, I dunno but 'twas about a month in all; he's been comin' an' goin' with his boat. It's kinder hard to reckon,” said Mrs. Sands, feebly.
“Has he ever took her anywhere?”
“He took her ridin' over to Denbury.”
Mrs. Sands shook her head.
“Has he give her anythin'?”
“No — not as I know of. He's brought mack'ral an' perch in sev'ral times.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Cares, “you take my advice, Lucy Ann, an' don't you be too sure. You can't tell about these young fellers. They're more'n likely not to mean anythin', an' Emmy's a real good girl; but she ain't one of the kind that young fellers take to, I shouldn't think. Who's comin'?”
“Emmy,” said Mrs. Sands, with an attempt at dignity.
The door opened then, and Emmy entered. She had a brown paper parcel, and she handed it at once to her mother.
“Here's the pork, mother,” said she.
“I'd like to know where you have been all this time.”
“I had to wait. I couldn't help it. The store was full of folks.”
Emmy was not as tall as her mother; she was very thin, and there was a little stoop in her slight shoulders. Her young face looked darkly and gravely from under her wind-beaten hat; a draggled plume trailed over the brim, two loops of ribbon stood up grotesquely.
“Do look at Emmy's hat!” said Mrs. Elkins, laughing.
“It's all blown to pieces in this wind,” remarked Mrs. Sands. She was slicing the pork.
Emmy removed her hat soberly, and straightened the plume and the ribbon. She had a complexion like her mother's, and the winds had beaten all the brightness out of it. Her blue eyes looked as strange in her sallow face as blue violets would have looked in sand. She had tried to curl her front hair, but the wind had taken out all the curls, and the straight locks hung over her temples. She wore a cheap, blue gingham dress; she and her mother had tried to fashion it after the style of some of the cottagers' costumes. There were plaitings and drapery, but it was poor and homely, and beginning to fade.
Emmy's aunts surveyed her sharply; finally Mrs. Elkins spoke with a titter: “Well, Emmy, is he comin' up to-night?”
Emmy gave a great start. She looked scared and pitiful, but she answered rather shortly, “I don't know of anybody that's comin'.” Then she went quickly into the sitting-room. Presently her mother followed, and found her smoothing her hair before the looking-glass.
Mrs. Sands walked around, and looked at her with a kind of sharp tenderness. “What is it?” she asked; “what's the matter with you?”
“Yes, there is, too. You needn't tell me. I saw the minute you come in somethin' had come across you. What is it?”
“Nothin' has come across me. I wish you wouldn't act so silly, mother.”
“Did you see anything of him?” Mrs. Sands's voice dropped to a whisper. Emmy nodded as if she were forced to.
“In the road. Don't, mother!”
“Anybody with him?”
Mrs. Sands stood looking at Emmy. “He'd ought to be ashamed of himself,” said she. “Don't you mind nothin' about it, Emmy. He ain't worth it.”
Emmy strained back her straggling front hair and pinned it tightly; her full forehead showed, and her face, no longer shaded by the straying locks, had a severe cast.
“I don't know why he ain't worth it,” said she. “I don't know why he'd ought to be ashamed of himself goin' to ride with Flora Marsh. I can't hold a candle to her.”
“Well, I should think after the way he's been comin' here —”
“He ain't been here long. He ain't never asked me to have him. He ain't beholden to go with me if he don't want to.”
“Emmy Sands, ain't he set up with you?”
“That don't make it out he's got to marry me.”
“Well, you can stick up for him if you want to. I ruther guess —”
“Somebody's comin',” said Emmy; and Mrs. Cares opened the door.
“The pork's burnin',” said she, “an' I guess you'll have to turn it over, Lucy Ann; I'm afraid of its spatterin' on my dress if I try it. What's the matter?”
“Nothin',” answered Mrs. Sands; and she went out and turned the pork and fried the fish. Emmy set the table; her aunts questioned her about her “beau,” but got little satisfaction.
“I ain't got any beau,” she said; and that was all she would say.
Pretty soon her father came, a large man lumbering wearily across the yard with a wheel-barrow load of potatoes. He was a small farmer. He had a nervous face although it was so fleshy, and he looked at his wife and Emmy with an anxious frown between his eyes. He did not say much to his sisters-in-law: he had been as cordial to them as he was able at noon; company disturbed him.
As soon as he could he beckoned his wife into the sitting-room. “Come in here a minute, Lucy Ann,” said he. When he had shut the door he looked at her impressively. “What do ye think I see?” he whispered mysteriously; “young Parsons out ridin' with the Marsh girl.”
Mrs. Sands held the knife with which she turned the fish. “I know it,” said she, impatiently. “Emmy see 'em.”
“Yes; she met 'em when she was comin' home from the store. I've got to go an' turn the fish; I can smell 'em burnin' now.”
“Did she act as if she minded it much?”
“I couldn't see as she did. She acted kind of touchy. I can't stan' here, or them fish will be burnt to a cinder. You'd better get you out a clean pocket-handkerchief before you come to the table.”
Supper, with its company-fare of fried fish, hot biscuits, and a frosted cake, was quite late. The guests had to take their leave directly afterward, as they had a long drive. Mr. Sands brought the horse and buggy around, and Mrs. Sands got out her sisters' bonnets and wraps. She watched them as they put on their little flower-topped bonnets and adjusted their lace veils over their crimps. She had not had a bonnet so fine for years, but she felt no envy. She seldom looked in the glass, and never except to see if she were tidy. The sea had seemed to cultivate a certain objectiveness in her since she had lived near it. It was as if the relative smallness of her personality beside the infinite had come home to her.
When the sisters were in the buggy they walked the horse across the yard to the road, and Mrs. Sands walked at the side, talking. When she reached the road Mrs. Cares, who was driving, reined in the horse. A young man and woman were passing in a buggy.
“Who's that?” called Mrs. Elkins, after they had passed.
Mrs. Cares turned sharply on her sister: “Ain't that Jim Parsons?”
“Yes, I ruther think 'twas him.”
“Who was that with him?”
“I guess 'twas the Marsh girl.”
Mrs. Cares tightened the reins. “Well,” said she, “I guess you'll find out there's somethin' in what I told you, Lucy Ann. It ain't best to be too sure. Well, mebbe she'll find somebody else, now that the ice is broke. Good-by.”
Mrs. Sands stood beside a great wild rose bush and watched her sisters drive down the wood. The twilight was coming fast, but the full moon was rising, and it would be light in spite of the clouds, so there would be no difficulty about the two women driving home.
Mrs. Sands returned to the house, the sweep of the wind strong at her back. Emmy was washing the dishes. “Ain't you goin' to change your dress?” asked her mother.
“No, I guess not.”
“Hadn't you better? We might have somebody in, an' that don't look hardly fit.”
“I guess we sha'n't have anybody in.”
“Well, it ain't best to be too sure.”
Emmy said nothing more. She kept on washing and wiping the tea-things. The corners of her mouth dropped, but nerve and resolution were in the motion of her elbows. After the dishes were put away she sat down with some sewing. Her mother sat opposite with her knitting-work. Mrs. Sands knitted fast, pursing her lips tightly and wrinkling her forehead. She and Emmy scarcely spoke during the evening. At nine o'clock there was a step at the door, and a sudden red flamed over Emmy's face; her mother started. “There, I told you to change your dress,” she whispered. But the door opened and it was only Isaac Sands. He stepped in cautiously, looked anxiously around the room, and then sat down.
“Well, how are you gettin' along?” he said.
“Pretty well,” replied Emmy.
“Anybody been in?” he inquired in a casual voice.
Mrs. Sands shook her head. Pretty soon Emmy laid aside her work and went upstairs to bed in her plain little room. After she was in bed she lay listening to the murmur of her parents' voices in the room below. She knew they were talking about her. She felt intense shame that they should be discussing her love matters. It seemed sometimes to this little soul, setting forth for the first time out of her harbor of youth, as if the friendly watchers on the pier caused her more discomfort than the roughness of the voyage. It seemed to Emmy that her parents talked all night; she was not conscious of any cessation.
When she went down in the morning her mother looked sharply at her. “You don't look as if you'd slept a wink; great hollers under your eyes,” said she.
“I've slept enough,” replied Emmy.
That morning she went about as usual helping her mother; she was always very quiet. When her father came home at noon he had the news that Jim Parsons was going to stay in town a week. Whether Emmy watched or not, her father and mother watched every day for her recreant lover to come, but he did not. He was seen walking and riding with the other girl. Isaac kept a sharp watch upon him, then came home and reported to his wife. They said little about it to Emmy. Emmy, meek and small and quiet, had little dignity about her, but there was a certain reserve which produced the same effect. Her parents were somewhat shy of imposing upon it.
In the mean time Jim Parsons, a young fellow with eyes as blue and bold as the sea, with a rough, hard grace in his sinewy figure, and a rude, merry way, had troubled himself about Emmy more than people knew. Once or twice he had met her on the bluff, his brown face had blushed darkly, and he had stammered forth some greeting. But Emmy had looked quite soberly and calmly at him and returned his greeting, and he had said to himself that she did not care. If he had been charged with offense he would have believed in his own freedom from guilt; left to himself he was not quite sure, and disliked to meet Emmy on the bluff. He was a strange person to have thought twice of Emmy Sands, but she had had her attraction for him, and she had it now. Many a night Jim Parsons was upon the verge of forsaking his new love and returning to his old, but the beauty and the imperious ways of the new one held him. If Flora Marsh had not been in the village within sight and hearing, Emmy would at any time have regained her lover. Simple and uncritical as she was, she had an intuition of the fact herself.
“It's because Flora came in his way, and she's pretty; if he were only away from her he wouldn't think so much more of her,” she used to think to herself when she sat sewing so busily and nobody could tell that she was thinking at all. Emmy had even discovered how Jim's first deflection came about. When he came in from his cruise Flora and some other girls had been down at the landing. There had been joking, and she had as good as asked him in her way, whose prettiness disguised its boldness, to take her to ride. Thus it had gone on.
Jim was to leave on a Thursday, sailing over to Rockland for some stores and a part of his crew, then off the next morning on his fishing cruise. The night before Emmy said to herself, “This is the last night she'll have him.”
On Thursday all the sky was red at sunset, the northeast wind blew, and the sea looked beaten flat beneath it; outside the surf it had a metallic calmness. Gulls were flying over a long rock that jutted out into the water a little distance down the coast. Isaac Sands, out early bringing a pail of water over the bluff from a neighbor's well, stopped and looked out to sea.
“Guess we're goin' to have a gale,” he remarked when he entered the house. Emmy, helping her mother get breakfast, thought to herself that Jim was going out that afternoon. All that morning she watched the sky. There was a strange, wild glow in it, and the wind increased. There were patches of ghastly green light, like rafts on the sea. At noon when Isaac came home to dinner he had the weather gossip from the store where he had been.
“They say down to Capen's,” he reported, “that there's goin' to be the biggest blow of the season. Old Cap'n Lawrence says he ain't never see it look much worse in this part of the world. If he was in the West Indies, he says, he'd be certain there'd be a hurricane. They say Jim Parsons's goin' over to Rockland this afternoon anyhow, an' they think he's crazy to do it. He ain't got no sense to start out a day like this, nor his crew neither. They're all young fellers as careless as he is. Three on 'em's over to Rockland anyhow. I guess if the rest had any folks here, there'd be a time about their startin'.”
“Well, I don't want nobody to get drownded,” said Mrs. Sands, “but I must say I wouldn't care if Jim Parsons got pretty well scared.”
“I guess there ain't much scare in him; he's a crazy-headed young feller,” responded Isaac, grimly.
Emmy said nothing. She did not eat much dinner. Afterward she watched the sky again. Her mother kept watching her with a severe and impatient air. “Emmy Sands, what ails you this afternoon?” she said once, harshly.
“Nothin',” replied Emmy. Then she sewed faster.
About five o'clock her father came in. “Jim Parsons ain't gone yet, an' if he goes to-night he an' his crew will go to the bottom before they ever get to Rockland,” said he. “'T ain't far there, but it's one of the roughest little cruises on the coast. He'd ought to have gone in the daytime if he was goin' at all. He's gone to carry that Marsh girl out to ride, and he ain't got home yet. It'll be dark as a pocket before he gets started. Old Cap'n Lawrence says he's been out in about as rough water as anybody, but he'd be hanged if he'd sail that boat over to Rockland to-night. An' there won't none of them other fellers say nothin'; they're hangin' round waitin', an' they look as uneasy as fish out of water, but they ain't goin' to hang back. Young Blake he's the oldest on 'em, an' he ain't over twenty-five. I guess if they had any folks here they wouldn't start out; but they ain't.”
“If Jim Parsons don't know no better than to start out to-night he'd ought to be taken up,” said Mrs. Sands. “If he wants to go get drownded himself I dunno as anybody'd care much, but when it comes to drowndin' other folks it's a different thing.”
“They're all a crazy set,” said Isaac. He was not working that afternoon, he was too nervous with the approaching storm. He went back and forth between the house and the store on ostensible errands, but in reality for the gratification of his restless spirit. Pretty soon he arose again. “Well, I s'pose I've got to go down to Capen's again,” said he. “I forgot to ask him if he wanted any of them turnips.”
After her father had gone Emmy went too, slipping out the front way; her mother was in the kitchen. She pulled her hat down over her ears to keep it on, and went down the little footpath over the crest of the bluff. She had not put on any shawl or sack; her meager little figure, wavering in the blast, stood out darkly against the wild sky. Everything on the bluff looked gigantic in the wind, which seemed to widen and lengthen everything. The fringe of coarse grass on the edge of the bluff looked like a weedy forest. Emmy passed by the row of summer cottages all shut up and deserted now; and the great festoons of spiders' webs on the piazza, oscillating in the wind, held spiders which looked like tropical ones. Emmy went on. There were some sails in the harbor. There was one in the west which she eyed intently. Anchored opposite it lay a dory; there were some men on the beach near it. Jim was not among them. Emmy, swaying in the wind, stood on the bluff behind them and made sure of that. She turned and ran back along the bluff. She passed her own house and went on to the store. The rough weather had driven the row of lounging men inside. There was scarcely a clear space between the visitors perched upon boxes and barrels and propped against counters and walls. Emmy's father was sitting on a barrel. She pushed up to him. “Is he goin' to-night, father?” she whispered.
He stared at her. “What?”
“Is he goin' to-night?”
“Who goin' — Jim?”
“Course he's goin'. He's just come in, an' gone upstairs to pack his things.”
Nobody had overheard Emmy's and her father's whispered conversation, but one of the men took it up. It was the topic of the day, coming uppermost in intervals like waves.
“I wouldn't give that for his chances,” he exclaimed. “That boat will go to the bottom with all on board afore they heave in sight of Rockland.”
Then a chorus arose like the crying of a flock of ominous birds.
Emmy hurried out of the store without another word. Her father called after her, but she did not hear him. She ran along the bluff again. The sun was low in a red glare of sky and ragged violet and orange clouds. The sky and clouds appeared as close to the sea as the coast; it was as if the sun was passing to some infernal shore. Emmy went nearly to her own house, then she struck across lots to the highway. She hurried down the road until she came to the house where Flora Marsh lived. It was a fine house for this little coast village. It had green blinds, and a bay window at one side. Emmy knocked at the front door, and Flora opened it.
“Why, hullo, Emmy!” said she. Then she stood staring at her. There was a soft pink glow all over Flora's delicate blonde face that showed she had just been out in the wind. She was prettily dressed.
“Can't you stop his goin'?” Emmy said in a quick, dry voice.
“Can't you stop his goin'?”
“I don't know what you mean, Emmy Sands.” Flora's manner was at once pert and confused.
“Can't you stop Jim Parsons's goin' out to-night?”
“Stop his going?”
“Yes; can't you? They say it's awful dangerous. There's a terrible gale comin'. He'll be drowned.”
“Oh, I guess there won't be much of a gale. He says it's safe enough.”
“It ain't. They all say it ain't. He's terrible careless. He'll be drowned. Can't you stop him?”
Flora looked at her; her sweet, full brows contracted. The wind blew so that the girls could hardly stand against it; their very words seemed to be tossed about passing from one to the other. “Come in a minute,” said Flora; “we can't talk here.”
“There ain't any time to lose.”
“It won't take any longer in the house than it will here. Somebody'll hear us if we talk here, we have to holler so.”
Emmy followed Flora into the house, into the parlor. Flora shut the door. “I wish you'd tell me now what you mean — what you want me to do?” said she.
“Stop his goin' out to-night.”
“How can I stop him, I'd like to know?”
“Go down to the shore where his dory is, and when he comes ask him not to go.”
Flora hesitated. She fingered a tidy on the back of a chair. “To tell the truth,” said she, “I've told him once I didn't think he ought to go; but it didn't do any good. You can't keep him back an inch if you tell him it ain't safe. He ain't afraid of anything. If I ask him to stay because it's dangerous to go it'll just make him all the fiercer for going.”
“I know that. Don't ask him not to go because it's dangerous.”
“How shall I ask him then, I'd like to know?”
“Tell him you want him to come up and see you to-night.”
Flora looked at Emmy. She drew a long breath. “I don't know what to make of you, Emmy Sands.”
“He'll be gone if — you don't go quick,” Emmy almost gasped.
“Emmy Sands, how you act! I ain't engaged to him. I can't make him stay any more'n you can.”
“Yes, you can; he likes you. Oh, go quick!”
“Why don't you go yourself and ask him not to go?”
“I ain't no reason to.”
There came an odd look into Flora's face. “Look here,” said she; “do you know what you're doing? I ain't engaged to him. Jim Parsons is an awful flirt. He's going off to be gone quite awhile. Maybe when he comes back he'll come to see you again. I've bid him good-by, and we ain't engaged. It would be a good deal safer for you if you let him go. There, I like him well enough, but I'm going to tell you the truth about it, anyhow. It would be a good deal safer for you if he didn't come to see me again before he goes. You know what I mean.”
Emmy threw her head back; her voice rang out sharply. “What do you suppose I care about that?” said she. “Do you suppose I'm comin' here because I want to marry him? Do you suppose, if he wants you and you want him, I'd lift my finger to get him back? Get him back — there ain't any gettin' him back; he ain't never said he thought of marryin' me. Marryin'! What's marryin'? It ain't marryin'; it's life an' death that's to be thought of! What difference do you suppose it makes to me who he marries, if he ain't drowned in that awful sea to-night? Why don't you go if you care anythin' about him? What are you stoppin' for? He'll be gone before you get there.”
“You are the strangest girl I ever saw,” said Flora.
She went out into the entry and put on her hat and jacket. Emmy opened the outer door and stood waiting. “I don't imagine it'll do any good,” Flora said when she came out.
The two girls hurried across to the bluff. Emmy kept looking at Flora. “Tuck up your hair a little under your hat; it's comin' down,” she said once as they ran along.
When they reached the bluff Emmy turned towards her own house.
“You're going home?” said Flora.
“Well, I'll do the best I can. If I get him, I'll come up the other steps and go by your house. You watch.”
Flora sank from sight directly, going down some steps over the face of the bluff, and Emmy went home. It was time to get supper, but she stole upstairs to her own room and sat down at the window that overlooked the sea. The breakers gleamed out in the dusk like white fire. It was not long before two figures, a man and a woman, passed below her window. The woman uplifted her face and looked at the house.
Mrs. Sands called at the foot of the stairs: “Emmy, where be you? Supper's all ready.”
“I'm comin',” answered Emmy. She went down into the lamp-lighted room, and her father and mother looked at her, then at each other. She appeared almost pretty. There was quite a red flush on her sallow cheeks, and her eyes shone like blue stars.
After supper Isaac Sands went down to the store again. Emmy and her mother sat by the kitchen fire and sewed. The gale increased; they could hear the breakers on this side of the house with all the windows closed. “I ruther guess Jim Parsons will wish he'd staid on shore,” remarked Mrs. Sands. “Well, if folks will be so headstrong and foolhardy, they've got to take the consequences.” There was a grim satisfaction in her tone.
Emmy said nothing.
When Isaac came home he was dripping with rain. “It's an awful night,” he burst forth when he opened the door. “Guess it's lucky Jim Parsons didn't go out.”
“Didn't he go?” asked Mrs. Sands.
“No. Young Blake was down to Capen's; he said Jim backed out. The Marsh girl come down an' talked to him, an' he guessed she persuaded him not to go. Guessed it would have been his last cruise if he had.”
“Served him right if it had been,” said Mrs. Sands, severely.
Emmy lighted her lamp and went to bed.
That night the gale was terrific; the rain, driven before it, rattled upon the windows like bullets. The house rocked like a tree. Nobody could sleep much. In the morning it rained still, the spray from the ocean dashed over the footpath on the bluff, the front windows were obscured by a salt mist. Jim Parsons with all his recklessness could not put out to sea that day. It was three days before he could go. Then the sun shone, the sea was calmer, although still laboring with the old swell of the storm, and he went out in the afternoon, steering down the coast to Rockland.
The day after he went Emmy met Flora Marsh on the bluff. She was going by with only a greeting, but Flora stopped her.
“He did stay; you knew, didn't you?” said she.
Emmy nodded. “Yes; I saw you go by with him.”
Flora stood before her as if wanting to say something. She blushed and looked confused. Emmy made a motion to pass her.
“I guess he'd run considerable risk if he had gone that night,” Flora remarked flutteringly.
“He'd been lost if he had,” returned Emmy. Then she passed on. Flora stood aside for her. Suddenly Emmy turned. “You didn't say anythin' to him about me, did you?” said she.
“No, I didn't.”
“You won't, will you?”
“No, I won't.”
Then the two girls went their ways. It was not long before the news of Flora Marsh's engagement to Jim Parsons was all over the village.
Emmy's father and mother heard it, but they said nothing about it to her; they wondered if she knew. It was said that the couple were to be married when Jim returned from his cruise.
If Emmy knew it, it did not apparently affect her at all. She kept faithfully on in her homely little course. She was interested in all that she had been; there was no indication that any sharp, unsatisfied, new taste had dulled the old ones. Her mother felt quite easy about her, although her pride and indignation rallied whenever she thought of Jim Parsons. When he returned from his cruise, and the wedding was appointed the week after, she was unable not to speak of it to Emmy. The day but one before the wedding she began suddenly in a harsh voice, “I s'pose you've heard the news.”
“Yes, I heard it,” replied Emmy.
“Well, I hope he'll stick to his wife.”
“I don't see why he shouldn't.”
“Don't see why he shouldn't after the way he treated you?”
Emmy faced her mother. “Mother, once for all, he didn't treat me bad. I guess I know more about it than you do. There ain't any reason for you to say such things about him.”
“Well, if you want to stick up for him, you can. I'm sure it ain't nothin' to me who he marries, if it ain't to you. If you don't feel bad, I'm sure I don't.”
“Well, I'm glad of it,” said her mother.
It was just after dinner. Emmy went to the door to shake the tablecloth and saw her aunts driving into the yard. They had come to make a visit; they were going to spend the night, and drive home the next morning.
The aunts had not been seated very long before the subject of the wedding was opened. Flora Marsh had been to their town to buy her wedding clothes, the dressmaker there had made her dress, and they had seen it. They knew all about the matter, how it was to be only a family wedding, and how Jim and Flora were going to Boston. Emmy sat and listened quite calmly. Once, when she had gone out of the room for a minute, Mrs. Elkins turned to her sister.
“I forgot he used to go with her once,” she whispered. “She don't mind hearin' it, does she?”
“Land, no,” replied Mrs. Sands. “She didn't care nothin' about him. Emmy ain't one of the kind to set her heart much on any feller. I'm thankful enough she didn't have him. He ain't got no stability, an' never will have. He wouldn't have made no kind of a husband for her.”
The morning of the wedding the Sands family arose early. The aunts wished to start for home in good season. The sun was only a little way above the horizon when Emmy opened her window and looked out. It was a beautiful morning. Over in the east the sun stood; behind him lay what looked like a golden land of glory. The sea was calm, the ripples in the forward path of the sun shone like sapphires and rubies and emeralds.
Emmy's small, plain face looked upon it all from her window. Her cheeks were dull and blue with the chilly air; there was no reflection of the splendid morning in her face. But beneath it, in the heart of this simple, humble young woman of the seaboard, with a monotone of life behind her and one stretching before, was love of the kind, in the world of eternity, that is better than marriage.