From The Uncollected Stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman (University Press of Mississippi: 1992)
Originally published in Harper's Monthly 144 (Dec. 1921)
Mrs. Bodley's two married daughters, Isabel and Clara were in Isabel's sitting room, sewing. The winter sunlight filtered through a window filled with beautiful potted plants.
“Mother,” said Isabel, “is exactly like a hen.”
“Goodness!” responded Clara.
“I mean about poor little Ann. She wasn't in the least like a hen about us. She didn't think your Sam and my John were quite good enough for her daughters, but she didn't take to scratching violently for better husbands. She just let us go and devoted her whole soul to Ann.”
“Why, Isabel, you can't say mother hasn't been good to us!”
“Oh yes, she has been a good, normal mother, all right. I am not finding any fault with poor mother, as far as we are concerned. But about Ann she is exactly like a hen. Do you know Ann is coming home to-night?”
“Does that mean she has failed in her kindergarten teaching?”
“Oh, I suppose so! Poor little dear! She has failed in everything, and not her fault, either. Ann is a darling little old-fashioned dove of a girl, and mother has been trying to make goodness knows what, peacocks and birds of paradise, out of her. Ann could not paint any more than a cat, and mother made her take all those lessons; and she could not sing, and mother made her study singing until she nearly cracked her poor little throat; and now the kindergarten. It has been awfully hard, and anybody might have known Ann couldn't teach. All Ann is fit for is to marry and settle down, but mother wanted her to be in the front rank of the advance woman movement, and she simply can't.”
Clara looked reflectively at her sister. “Do you think Ann has ever really had a chance to marry?” she almost whispered.
“Who is there in Barr-by-the-Sea for her to marry?”
“I must confess, after we had snapped up Sam and John (and mother wouldn't have been satisfied with them for her) I don't know.”
“She has met men outside, I suppose.”
“She must have. Oh, I don't know. Ann is pretty and a darling, but there never is any accounting for men.”
“I wish mother —”
“Hush!” whispered her sister. “Mother is coming.”
Mrs. Bodley immediately entered the room. She was a very erect little woman, well dressed, carrying her chin high. Her daughters stared, pale-faced, but not at her. They stared at the blue-eyed baby she was carrying.
“What in the world!” gasped Isabel.
“Mother, whose baby is that?” cried Clara.
Mrs. Bodley sat down and took the child in her lap, and loosened her little white coat and hood. “I left the carriage outside,” said she. “She is not quite old enough to walk. I am afraid of her little legs getting crooked if she tried. She can walk, though. Can't you, darling?”
The baby smiled deliciously at Mrs. Bodley, then at the other women. She was a lovely baby, curly-haired and pink-cheeked.
“What is her name?” asked Isabel, in a faint voice.
“Her name,” said Mrs. Bodley, in a stately manner, “is Bessie Wright.”
“Where did she come from?” asked Clara, as faintly as her sister.
“Ann is coming home to-night,” said Mrs. Bodley, by way of answer. She regarded her two daughters with an air of defiance.
“Poor little Ann! We are so sorry,” said Isabel. Clara nodded acquiescence.
“I don't know why you are so sorry.”
“Why, we are sorry because she has made another failure, teaching kindergarten.”
“Who said she had made a failure? There are other reasons why girls give up teaching and come home.” Mrs. Bodley cuddled the baby close to her. She looked rather pale.
“Mother, you don't mean —” said Isabel.
Mrs. Bodley was silent.
“You don't mean Ann is going to marry a widower, that baby's father?”
“Hush!” said Clara.
“She's too young to understand,” said Isabel. “Is she, mother, after all?”
“Ann,” said Mrs. Bodley, “is only twenty-seven. That, nowadays, is young to be married.”
Mrs. Bodley was silent.
“Why don't you speak, mother?” asked Isabel, in a subdued way. She felt a little frightened. She could not have told why.
Mrs. Bodley's daughters did not talk more about Ann. They petted the baby, and after a while Mrs. Bodley adjusted the warm little white wraps and took her leave.
The daughters, screened by folds of window curtains, watched her pushing the perambulator down the street.
“I feel stunned,” said Isabel.
“So do I,” said Clara.
While Mrs. Bodley was out Carry Munn, the middle-aged woman who worked for her, had gone over to Doctor Dickerson's, next door, and told her unmarried cousin Maria, who worked there, the news.
“Mrs. Bodley was away all day yesterday,” said she, “and when she came home she brought a baby.”
Maria, who was stout, gasped, “A baby!”
“I can't make out. Ann is coming home to-night, and I sort of guess, from something Mrs. Bodley said — no, she didn't say anything, but she looked funny when I asked her — that Ann Bodley is going to marry that baby's father.”
“Then he's a widower?”
“Of course he is. How could she marry him if he wasn't?” said Carry Munn. Carry Munn had a rasped, melancholy face, but she spoke with force.
Maria changed the subject. “I've got to get dinner,” said she. “Doctor Dickerson's nephew is coming to-night. He's going to be assistant doctor.”
Carry Munn went home. Mrs. Bodley was just entering the yard with the baby. In an hour Ann came. She seemed as astonished at the baby as her sisters had been.
“Where did you get her?” she cried.
Mrs. Bodley, with the baby cuddled against her shoulder, led Ann into the parlor where Carry Munn could not overhear. “I did not tell your sisters, but I am going to tell you, on one condition,” said she. “You must promise me solemnly not to tell.”
Ann stared at her mother. “Why, of course I will promise!” she said.
“Well, this is your poor second cousin Emma's tenth child. She wrote me about it. Her husband can't earn enough to half keep the others, and Emma is out of health. I took the baby. But Emma is proud. You know how proud Emma is.”
Ann nodded. She began to fondle the baby. “Precious little darling!” said she. “I am glad, mother. I'll do all I can to help with her, and I will never tell. Poor Emma! It must have been awful for her to give up such a beautiful baby.”
“She did seem to feel badly, but she has nine besides,” said Mrs. Bodley.
That was on Saturday. The next day Ann, coming out of church with her mother, was repeatedly stopped and congratulated. Ann was a sweet-faced young woman with a great mass of reddish-brown hair. Her eyes were brown, and her high-arched brows gave her an expression of wonder. It might have been because of those wondering brows that people did not notice her bewilderment when she was congratulated.
When she and her mother were walking home alone she looked very pale and grave. On one side of the road tossed the sea; on the other were the closed residences of the summer colony.
Ann did not speak until they had nearly reached their home in the all-year-round part of Barr-by-the-Sea. “What did they mean, mother?” she said then.
“What did who mean?”
“Why, all those people congratulating me! What were they congratulating me for? Because I had made another failure? I did not know the people here could be so cruel.”
“I guess they didn't mean to be cruel,” replied Mrs. Bodley, in a smothered voice.
“Clara and Isabel congratulated me, too. They did last night when I ran in there; and Brother-in-law Sam asked me who the happy man was. What happy man? What did he mean?”
“I guess he didn't mean much of anything,” replied her mother.
The next day was very pleasant, and Mrs. Bodley proposed to Ann that they drive over to Barr Center and do some shopping. “I've got to buy some napkins and a tablecloth or two,” said she. “Carry Munn can look out for the baby.”
Ann stared at her mother. “Why, mother, I thought you had more table linen than we could use!”
“That was two years ago,” said her mother, sharply. “You act as if tablecloths and napkins had entered into eternal life.”
“Why, mother!” Ann looked shocked.
Carry Munn, bringing some biscuit in for breakfast, stopped short. “I didn't know you swore, Mis' Bodley,” said she.
Mrs. Bodley colored.
“Mother wants some fine linen to sew on,” said Ann extenuatingly.
“Yes, your ma always did like to sew on nice fine linen,” said Carry Munn. She cast a look at Ann which the girl utterly failed to understand. Carry Munn flushed suddenly and giggled as she went out.
“What ails Carry Munn, mother?” asked Ann, wonderingly.
“Nothing, I guess,” said Mrs. Bodley. “You had better get ready.”
“Does Prince shy at automobiles as much as he used to?” asked Ann, rather wearily.
“No; he has almost stopped.”
Ann dressed herself reluctantly. She did not want to drive to Barr Center. She hated driving, anyway; horses made her nervous, and she did not anticipate any pleasure from the shopping. She looked very pretty as she came downstairs. Ann wore brown, with a touch of cherry velvet in her hat which brought out the color in her soft, fair cheeks. Her mother drove, and Ann sat beside her quietly, with rather apprehensive eyes on the horse. He was old, but capable of doing youthful mischief under provocation. They met three automobiles, one after another, immediately after they started, and Prince did not even prick up an ear.
“I told you so,” said Mrs. Bodley. But after driving several miles without seeing a car, one shot by with a warning toot from the klaxon, and then old Prince certainly shied. Mrs. Bodley clung to the lines.
“Don't you be scared, Ann,” said she. “It's only when one automobile all alone comes along that he notices at all.”
It happened very quickly. The lines snapped, and the buggy was tilted into the ditch, and Prince stood in an attitude of panicky, ready-to-do-more attention, perfectly still.
The car ahead stopped. The driver had seen the accident in his little mirror. A young man came running back along the road. He carried a small medicine-case. Ann and her mother were out of the buggy. Mrs. Bodley was at the horse's head, and Ann stood helplessly doing nothing at all.
The young man came alongside. “Anybody hurt?” said he, solicitously.
“No, we ain't hurt,” replied Mrs. Bodley, sharply, “but we might have been. You hadn't any right to go so fast.”
“I was running only about eighteen miles an hour,” said the young man. His voice was boyish and aggrieved. “I did not know your horse was afraid of cars,” he pleaded.
“He ain't,” said Mrs. Bodley.
“But he acted as if he were.”
“He ain't afraid of cars, but he's mortal scared of a car,” said Mrs. Bodley.
The young man looked bewildered. He glanced at Ann. She was pale and trembling, but she could not avoid smiling slightly. “My mother means that Prince, when there are a number of cars, doesn't shy, because he can't make up his mind which to shy at; but when there is one he does.”
“Oh!” said the young man. He continued to regard her. “You were frightened?” said he.
“Yes, I was.”
“Ann was always afraid of a horse,” said Mrs. Bodley. Her eyes upon the young man were suddenly very sharply speculative. “Ann is delicate,” said she, as if she were complimenting Ann.
Ann colored. “Nonsense, mother!” said she. “I am not delicate at all, and I realize I am a fool to be afraid of an old horse like Prince.”
“Some people can't help it,” said the young man. He surveyed Ann admiringly. “May I inquire where you were going, madam?” he said to Mrs. Bodley.
“To Barr Center, if I can ever get those reins mended,” said Mrs. Bodley. Her words were rather aggressive, but her tone was not. The young man hesitated.
“Why can't I tie your horse here and take you two ladies to Barr Center in my car?” he propounded, finally.
Ann started and flushed. “We have some shopping to do,” said she.
“That's all right. I have time enough. You can do your shopping while I make my calls. I am Doctor Dickerson's nephew, Frank Dickerson, and I am his assistant, and he sent me to Barr Center to make five calls.”
Mrs. Bodley looked at him with veiled eagerness, but she spoke hesitatingly. “Well, I don't know,” said she.
“Oh, mother, it is very kind of Doctor Dickerson, but we had better mend the reins and go on in the buggy,” said Ann.
“I don't see how the reins can be mended so as to be safe if Prince shies again,” said Mrs. Bodley. “I guess we had better give up going to Barr Center.”
The young man examined the reins and then whistled. “They are in rather bad shape,” said he. “I don't quite see, myself, how we can mend them enough to enable you even to drive back to Barr-by-the-Sea. But if you will only accept my invitation and get in my car, we can find something in Barr Center to mend the reins with when we come back.”
Ann looked distressed. “Mother, you wouldn't leave Prince and the buggy right here by the road, without a house in sight?” said she.
“I don't see how anybody can drive Prince off, with the reins broken, any better than we can,” said Mrs. Bodley, and Frank Dickerson recognized her as being distinctly on his side.
“They could hitch Prince and the buggy on behind another team,” said Ann. Frank wondered if she really did not wish to go in his car.
“Prince never would go hitched on behind anything,” said her mother, grimly. “I remember when Sam Johnson tried it, and Prince kicked in the back of Sam's new carryall.”
Frank Dickerson, in spite of himself, burst into a peal of laughter. The exploits of the defiant old sidewise-poised horse did seem incredible. Ann laughed, too, after a second. Mrs. Bodley did not laugh. She wished very much, for many reasons, to accept the young man's invitation; besides, she was always serious in her statements.
“It is true, even if Prince does look as if he wouldn't,” said she. “It is as safe to leave him hitched here as if he were a tiger. You know he always tries to bite strangers, too, Ann. You can't laugh at that.”
It ended in Prince being tied fast to a fence post, and Mrs. Bodley and Ann spinning off with young Doctor Dickerson in his shiny car. Frank Dickerson had wanted very much to ask Ann to sit in front beside him, but had not dared. He had, therefore, been surprised and delighted at Mrs. Bodley's suggestion, “You had better sit in front with Doctor Dickerson,” as Ann was following her into the tonneau. “Maybe you can get a little idea about driving a car,” she added.
Ann looked at her mother and gasped.
“I have been thinking for quite some time of selling Prince and the buggy and the carryall — Prince is so afraid of an automobile — and buying one,” declared Mrs. Bodley, coolly.
It almost seemed to poor Ann Bodley that her mother must be lying, the whole appeared so preposterous. She had never heard her mother speak of cars with anything but disapproval, and the idea of her, Ann, driving one, was fairly beyond imagination. She rolled a soft brown eye over her shoulder at her mother, who met her gaze defiantly. It actually occurred to Ann that her mother might be losing her wits. It was simply monstrous, the mere thought of herself, little Ann Bodley, driving an automobile. Ann realized that this ought not to be so. She felt herself quite evidently anachronistic. She lived in an era of automobile-driving girls, of golf and tennis girls, but unaccountably she had failed to make her title clear in her own age and generation. She was, nevertheless, rather keen-witted. She really sensed, as probably her mother did not, the reason for the older woman's ceaseless driving of her before her almost juggernaut wheels of ambition.
Poor Mrs. Bodley felt instinctively that her daughter was not keeping the pace of her day; she was mortified, and hence the tireless spur of the maternal will. Mrs. Bodley had advanced ideas. Her other daughters had married, as she considered, not to their great advantage. She wished her darling Ann to dance through life in a strictly modern fashion. The idea of her marrying a commonplace man had secretly antagonized her. Still, if there were nothing else — it was out of the question that her Ann should live the life of a spinster, with limited means, in her own home.
“I doubt if your daughter would like driving a car,” said Doctor Dickerson.
Ann regarded him gratefully. Her mother did not hear the remark.
“Driving a car is quite a strain on the nerves,” said Doctor Dickerson.
“I suppose it is,” agreed Ann. Then she added, apologetically, “I am ashamed if I am not equal to it, now women do drive cars so much.”
The young man laughed.
“And they do drive well,” said Ann, a little resentfully. After all, if she could not live up to the standards of her time, she was jealous of their admission. She fancied there was something a bit scornful in the young man's laugh.
“Oh yes, they drive all right, lots of them,” he said, “but, after all, there are survivals of the species, and I guess you are one.”
Ann colored a little. “I have always been ashamed that I could not do things as well as other women,” said she — “that is, the things all the women did not do years ago, and do now.”
Doctor Dickerson laughed again. “I don't even know your name,” said he, changing the subject abruptly.
Ann started. “I am Ann Bodley,” said she, “and my mother was driving when the horse shied. I forgot. I beg your pardon.”
“Oh, that's all right! I simply thought I ought to have some name in mind when I thought of you.”
Ann started again. She had never had anything like that said to her, at least not in that tone. She looked away at the sere fields past which they were flying. Her heart was beating fast.
“Must be a pretty country in the summer,” said Doctor Dickerson.
“Very pretty,” whispered Ann.
“It is pretty now, for that matter.” The young man eyed a field, and wondered if the girl saw that it was pink and gold and mauve.
“Really the colors are prettier than in midsummer,” said she, unexpectedly, and he beamed.
“You are right there,” he agreed.
Soon they were approaching Barr Center. Mrs. Bodley leaned forward.
“It is wonderful how fast you get to places,” said she. She was clutching her wayward bonnet fast; her gray hair stood out in stiff locks before the rush of the wind, but she looked positively gay.
“Then you find you like the car?” said Dickerson.
“I'd be a fool if I didn't,” said Mrs. Bodley.
“Most people feel that way after they have taken the plunge.”
“I, for one, don't mind the plunge after that old horse,” said Mrs. Bodley.
Ann cast an apprehensive glance at her. Was it possible that she would really try to have her drive a car? Dickerson relieved her inexpressibly.
“If you do get a car I advise you to drive it,” he shouted back at Mrs. Bodley. “Some women are born drivers, and you look to me like one. Your daughter might drive all right, but she is not one to take to machinery like you.”
Mrs. Bodley nodded. “You are right about that,” said she. “My daughter can't even manage the sewing-machine, but I should like to have her learn a little if I do buy a car. Suppose I were to have a fit, or anything.”
“Oh, mother!” gasped Ann.
“You are very wise,” shouted back the young man, and forthwith proceeded to explain carefully to Ann how to shut off the power. “That is really the most important thing for you to know,” said he.
Before they reached Barr Center, Ann had tremulously moved the emergency brake and been inwardly thankful that there was no explosion.
Dickerson left the two women in the principal shop in Barr Center, and Mrs. Bodley astounded her already astounded daughter by purchasing table linen in considerable quantity. She also bought other things which Ann did not consider were needed. She wondered at the purchase of nainsook, lace, and embroidery.
“Why, mother,” she ventured, when the saleswoman's back was turned, “we have so much underwear already.”
“I want a half dozen extra of everything,” said Mrs. Bodley.
Ann looked at her mother, and her eyes were almost wild. It occurred to her that Mrs. Bodley might be going to marry again. Ann was frightened. She said no more about the purchases, but she wondered painfully when Mrs. Bodley bought some delicate blue material and told the saleswoman she wished to use it for a negligée. The thought of her mother in a wedding negligée of that infantile blue was almost too much for the girl. She felt hysterical.
Ann was thankful when the shopping was over and the parcels were carried out to Doctor Dickerson's car. She obeyed meekly her mother's command to occupy the seat beside the young man.
“You get right in there, Ann, and learn how to work that thing when I have a fit,” said Mrs. Bodley, with grim humor.
Mrs. Bodley felt very grand, having her parcels deposited in the car, and sitting there in state.
That very night young Dr. Frank Dickerson, telling his uncle about the very pretty girl and her very amusing mother, whom he had rescued from an untoward combination with a buggy and a scared, sidewise, ancient horse with bad habits of kicking and biting in spite of age, was informed of the news which Maria had divulged after hearing it from Carry Munn.
Old Doctor Dickerson looked shrewdly at his nephew. “Mustn't poach on another man's preserves,” said he.
The young man was talking so fast that he paid no heed. “It was all true, too,” said he. “That old beast tried to take a nip at me when we got back to the place where he was hitched and I made an effort to reestablish the original traveling cortège. I had to get in my car and drive off, and leave the old lady to unhitch her remarkable steed. The girl was afraid of him. She looked up at me and I declare I hated to leave her. She is one of the gone-out-of-date young women who rather appeal to me.”
“No use, Frank; she has appealed to another man before you,” said the old doctor.
This time the nephew heard. He stared with a shamed, taken-aback expression at his uncle.
“You mean —?”
“You drove them over to Barr Center on a shopping expedition for the young woman's trousseau. She is going to marry a widower with one child, who is staying with her prospective ma now.”
“How do you know?”
“Surer information than telephone, mail, or cable. Servants. You don't mean to say you are so anacreontic as to fall in love at sight?”
Frank Dickerson colored absurdly. “What do you take me for?” he demanded. “Of course she is a pretty girl, and one somehow that makes you realize you are a man, and that is subtle flattery in these days. That girl could no more drive a car, and I know she never rode a bicycle; and she is charmingly afraid of a horse, and makes a fellow feel like a knight of old. But in love? Good Lord! She seemed just a variety which pleases because it is out of date. Hope she's got a good man. A widower with one child. How old?”
“Only a baby. I don't know who he is. I suppose he is somebody she met while she was away. I never heard of anybody here paying her the slightest attention. Guess the young men here like the prevailing mode in girls. I have noticed her. She is a nice little thing, and one of the sort who used to surprise me by being a darned sight smarter than they looked, in an emergency.”
“That is just the way I feel about a girl of that type.”
The result of that conversation was that young Doctor Dickerson did not call on Ann Bodley, although he had been cordially invited to do so by her mother. For several evenings Ann herself changed her gown for a blue one which was becoming, and took extra pains with her hair. Then she would have stopped, but her mother drove her on, and she continued with the docility which she had in all little things. She was not quite so docile in the large affairs of life, and her mother realized that, and endeavored very cleverly to present them as small ones.
“You are foolish not to wear that pretty blue dress while it is in style,” she said, and the girl continued to array herself in it. Had she once suspected — but she did not. She sewed obediently on the linen and cambric, too. She was rather fond of sewing — setting nice little stitches seemed to her like a sort of lady rhythm of life — but not one would she have set had she known. As it was, she finally became rather melancholy about the delicate work. She could not help associating it with the lot of other girls, a lot which she was confident would never be for her. However, the baby was a great resource. She could not be entirely unhappy with the baby.
She thought sometimes of the young man who had driven her and her mother over to Barr Center. She saw him every Sunday in church, and he always bowed politely. She was not foolish about him. There was in Ann Bodley a firm ground-work of common sense, but she realized, when she thought of him, a sense of something slipping away which might, if it remained, count. When he did not call, she made the best of it. Then he came. She was all alone that evening. Her mother had gone to prayer meeting, and Ann, who had a slight cold, had remained at home. She wore the blue dress, and sat sewing, after she had put the baby to bed, before the fire when the bell rang. Carry Munn had also gone to church, so Ann went to the door. She started a little when she saw Frank Dickerson.
“Oh, good evening!” she said, hoarsely.
“You have a cold. Go right away from the door,” ordered young Dickerson.
Ann fluttered before him like a blue flower, and the two sat down before the hearth fire.
Dickerson looked at her smilingly. “Not much of a cold, eh?” he asked.
Ann shook her head. “Nothing at all,” she said, quite clearly. “I am better than I was yesterday, but mother thought it rather damp for me to go out this evening. Mother has gone to meeting.”
“Yes, I was on the street and I saw her go into the church,” returned Dickerson, quite frankly. Then he colored, and Ann colored, too. She could not possibly avoid thinking, “He came because he thought I would be alone,” and he knew that she thought that, and also knew that it was true. The girl had, in reality, made more of an impression upon him than he owned to himself. He still believed she was to be married soon to another man, but he resented it.
After they had talked a little while he glanced at the pile of dainty white stuff in a work basket, and the resentment grew. Frank Dickerson knew that this delicate, reverting-to-type girl could not possibly be going to marry a man who was worthy of her. He knew men. He felt that he wanted to shake Ann by her blue shoulders and tell her brutally that she was a little fool to marry the fellow, whoever he was.
After a while, Ann, by sheer force of habit, because her fingers yearned for their accustomed task, took up her work. Frank Dickerson looked at her admiringly, even tenderly. He loved to see the pretty, feminine thing at her feminine employment. Then he set his mouth hard.
After a while Ann glanced up at him and wondered at his expression. His eyes met hers defiantly. “I suppose you are very happy?” he said, and his tone was unwarranted.
Ann looked bewildered. She did not dream what he meant. “I have a great deal to make me happy and thankful,” she said, tritely, after a pause.
“Of course,” said the young man, quite viciously. Ann was startled.
However, after a bit he began talking quite naturally again, and it was not until after he had gone that she thought of it all with wonder. When Mrs. Bodley came in she sniffed. She smelled cigar smoke.
“Who has been here?” said she.
“Young Doctor Dickerson,” replied Ann, flushing softly.
“Yes. He asked if he might.”
“How long did he stay?”
“You hadn't been gone long when he came, and he went away a few minutes ago. He had a call to make.”
“I suppose he was in his car.”
“I am thinking about getting a car in the spring,” said Mrs. Bodley.
“I guess you'll find you like a car when you have one,” said her mother, and smiled subtly.
The next week Mrs. Bodley went again to prayer meeting, and insisted that Ann was still not well enough to accompany her, although the girl was sure that her cold was cured. When Mrs. Bodley came home she smelled cigar smoke, but she said nothing. She was an astute woman. Finally it happened that two evenings of every week Mrs. Bodley was either away from home or out of the parlor of an evening, and smelled cigar smoke on her return, and poor little Ann began to sew with more zest.
It was nearly spring when the climax came. Frank Dickerson called, and it was too much for him. He did not stay as long as usual, but when he took his leave he clasped Ann's two hands in his and said, abruptly: “It is good-by, dear. I am not coming again.”
Ann turned white. “Are you going to leave town?”
“After a little. Begin to think I must. I can't leave just yet, on account of my uncle.”
“Why —?” began Ann, then stopped, for Frank bent and kissed her.
“Why do I stop coming?” he said, quite fiercely. “What do you take me for? How can I keep on coming?”
He kissed Ann again, and, before she got her breath, was out and she heard the whir of his car starter.
Ann went back and sat down. She felt faint. Presently her mother came in. She had made an errand over to her married daughter Isabel's. She smiled when she smelled the cigar smoke, then she noticed Ann's white face.
“What is the matter?” she asked.
“I don't know, mother,” replied Ann. Her voice sounded strange in her own ears. She left the room and ran upstairs. Mrs. Bodley sat down and thought.
The next afternoon Ann went over to her sister's and soon came flying home. She rushed into the room where her mother was hemming a tablecloth. She flung up a window, snatched the web of fine linen from her mother, and bundled it out into the dead garden; then she slammed the window down.
Mrs. Bodley gasped. For a moment she thought the girl had gone suddenly mad. This was no Ann whom she had ever known, this creature with angrily flaming cheeks, flashing blue eyes, and vociferous tongue.
“Now I know!” almost shouted Ann, in a high voice of indignation. “Now I know!”
“What do you know?” asked her mother, feebly.
Ann faced her mother, and her little, gentle countenance was fairly terrible. “Mother,” she said, almost solemnly, “you have — lied.”
Mrs. Bodley cowered before the look and tone. “You tell your own mother — that?” she said, but her voice was a mere whisper.
“Yes, I do. You have been making everybody think I was going to be married. They congratulated me, and I didn't know why. You made a fool of me. You have tried and tried to push me into everything else, and I have submitted. I have acted like a fool about the other things. I knew I couldn't sing or paint or teach kindergarten, but you talked so much, and finally I got not quite sure of myself. But to try to push me into marriage! To tell people such a shameful lie when all the time he has never said one word about marrying me! And the last time he bade me good-by and said he was never coming again.”
Mrs. Bodley started violently, and regarded her daughter with a queer expression. “Who do you mean by ‘he’?”
“Young Doctor Dickerson. He has seen right through it all. He knows how you have fairly flung me at his head, making me sit on the front seat of the car with him and pretending you were going to buy one. He knows all about it. He has even seen me sitting here — sewing things. He must think I am as bad as you are — telling everybody I was going to marry a man who has never asked me, shaming me so I never want to look anybody in the face again.”
Mrs. Bodley's countenance continued to wear a thoughtful, slightly relieved expression as the girl stormed on. Once she interrupted: “I never told anyone right out you were going to marry anybody,” she said. “I never mentioned young Doctor Dickerson's name.”
“You might just as well. Isabel has told me everything you said. It was a lie you told, mother, and you a church member! Oh, I don't see how you could! I must go right away from Barr-by-the-Sea and live somewhere else, where people don't know me, where I shall never run any chance of — seeing him again.”
Ann was rushing out of the room when her mother arrested her. “Stop right where you are, Ann Bodley,” she said, in a voice of mixed shame and triumph. “You accuse your own mother of lying when folks only jumped at their own conclusions, and you think yourself a lot brighter than you are. Young Doctor Dickerson never once thought I was talking about him. If you think a minute, instead of talking so much, you will remember that folks congratulated you coming out of church that Sunday, before he'd even come to town. He never thought for one minute I was telling people you were going to marry him. He thought it was a widower who was the baby's father. I own I didn't deny it, and if ever a man is dead in love with a girl, he is with you; and maybe he wouldn't be if he hadn't thought some other fellow had got ahead of him. Men are built that way, and you may have your mother, that tells lies, to thank for making you happy, after all, and — and …”
Mrs. Bodley stopped short, frightened. Ann's face had turned a dead white. She knew that what her mother said was true, but she grasped complexities of the situation which her mother did not.
“If — that is true,” she said, in a thick voice — “and — maybe it is, then — it is all over. He will have to go away from town thinking it is somebody else, for, however I tell you you have lied, I will not tell him my own mother as good as lied to get me a husband. It is — all over.”
“O my Lord!” said Mrs. Bodley.
She did not stop Ann when she left the room. She heard the girl sob as she went upstairs. “O Lord!” said Mrs. Bodley. She sat motionless a long while. Shrewd little woman, with will of iron for her own purposes, she knew it was a deadlock. She agreed with Ann that she could not possibly tell Frank Dickerson.
“Might think it runs in the family,” Mrs. Bodley said to herself, with grim humor.
Ann did not come down to supper. Mrs. Bodley herself made a special kind of toast which the girl liked, and fitted up a tray and set it outside Ann's chamber door. It was unlocked, but the mother did not dare open it. She called out: “Here is your supper. You had better eat it.” When she went to bed the tray was still on the floor and had not been touched.
“I don't blame her,” Mrs. Bodley said to herself in a harsh whisper. It did not occur to her to acknowledge her sense of her wrong-doing to Ann. It really seemed to her that she had acquiesced in the girl's judgment of her.
In her own room, Mrs. Bodley sat down beside a window and gazed out at the moonlit night. It was warm for the season, and the window was open, and a faint breath of returning spring came in. Mrs. Bodley talked to herself almost inaudibly. “I meant it all for her good,” she said. “Goodness knows I did. But I realize now I ought not to have let people go on thinking she was going to be married, when I didn't know for sure, and now I wish I hadn't. O Lord!”
“I don't blame her,” she said. “Poor child! I don't know what I would have done if my mother had acted the way hers has. I meant all right, but I got in the path of divine Providence, and now I'm paying for it, and I'm afraid she will have to.”
The next morning Ann came down to breakfast. She looked tired and wan, but she spoke as usual, and ate her breakfast. She was a good girl. It seemed to her that she had no course open to her but to treat her mother kindly, forgive her, and live her life as it was ordered. She tried not to think of Frank Dickerson.
After breakfast Mrs. Bodley announced her intention of driving over to Barr Center. She did not even ask Ann to go. Both mother and daughter were shy of each other.
Ann, after her mother had driven out of sight, took up the baby and petted her and played with her. She could not sew. It seemed to her that she could never touch needle and thread again. She had an east window open, it was so warm, and the sweet air came in. She noticed that the tree branches were faintly rose-flushed, and reflected that it was almost spring and that her life might be harder when it was come.
She did not see Carry Munn hustle across the yard to the Dickersons', leaving her dishes unwashed. Carry Munn fled with the spring wind, her calico skirts lashing, her straight-locked hair stiffly leaving her aggressive forehead. She was met by her cousin Maria at the Dickerson door.
“Anybody in there to hear?” demanded Carry Munn, breathlessly.
“Not a soul. Young Doctor Frank has gone out making calls, and the old doctor is down for the morning mail. For the land sakes, what is it?”
“Ann wa'n't goin' to be married, when I told you she was.”
The other woman gasped. “You said her ma told you so.”
“I didn't tell you no such thing. Mis' Bodley ain't given to tellin' lies, and she a professin' Christian. I understood from somethin' she said that Ann was goin' to be married, and told it from Dan to Beersheba, and there wa'n't one word of truth in it.”
“Then Ann ain't goin' to be married?”
“Not unless somethin' new has come up,” said Carry Munn.
“Young Doctor Frank said last night he was goin' to leave town,” said Maria.
“Hm!” said Carry Munn. Again they eyed each other.
“Whose baby is it?” demanded Maria.
“I know. I own I listened. It's all right about her.”
“You won't tell?”
“Never; but it's all right.”
They eyed each other again. Then Carry Munn flew home against the wind, and her hair stood out over her eyes like a thatched roof, and Maria went into the house. She started, for old Doctor Dickerson stood in the kitchen.
“What are you jumping so for?” said the old man, with a grin.
“I thought you was gone, Doctor Dickerson.”
“No, I was here. All a piece of gossip, was it?”
“Ann Bodley ain't goin' to get married. Carry Munn always did jump at things,” said Maria.
That same afternoon Ann, sitting alone with her book — she loathed her sewing — started at the sound of a motor car. She answered the doorbell, and Frank Dickerson stood there. He could not wait to come in before he spoke.
“See here. I thought you were going to marry somebody else,” he cried. “I heard so. I heard it came straight from your mother. Now I want to know, is it true?”
Ann stood before him, pale and trembling.
“Tell me, dear.”
Ann was silent.
Mrs. Bodley came down the stairs with a swoop of black silk, like a bird.
“She will never tell you!” she said, in a desperate voice. “She will never tell you her own mother as good as lied. She is not going to marry any other man. She never was. I adopted the baby. Her father is alive. You needn't have anything to do with me if you don't want to. Ann never told a lie in her life.”
Ann began to cry. “Don't, mother!” said she, pitifully.
Frank Dickerson took her in his arms. Then he looked over the bright head at Mrs. Bodley. He was blushing like a girl, and laughing.
“Strikes me the biggest truth-telling in creation is telling that you haven't told the truth,” he said.
Mrs. Bodley gasped. Her face became incredibly tender. “You look at it that way?”
“I certainly do.”
“My Lord!” She said it reverently, and she looked at the young man as if he were her own lover. Her face at that moment was wonderfully like Ann's, and a charming prophecy of her daughter's own future loveworthiness.