BY ELIZABETH ASHE
In Southern Ohio a girl’s wedding chest is her Glory-Box. If, like Mabel Bennet, you are the daughter of a successful druggist, the box is of cedarwood, delivered free of charge by the Dayton department stores; but if, like Eunice Day, you are the daughter of an unsuccessful bookkeeper who has left a life insurance inadequate even when supplemented by the salary you earn teaching primary children, then the box is just a box, covered with gay cretonne, and serving the purpose very nicely.
When Eunice Day’s engagement became known, Mabel, remembering the scalloped guest-towels which Eunice had given her some months before, brought over one afternoon an offering wrapped in tissue paper.
‘I hope you’ll like this, Eunice,’ she said. ‘It’s just a sack,—what they call a matinée. I’ve found them very useful.’
Mabel spoke with the slightly complacent air of the three months’ bride.
‘Why, it’s ever so dear of you to go to so much trouble,’ said Eunice, taking the package into her hands. She was a tall, slender girl, with dark eyes and a pretty dignity of bearing. ‘I’ll have to open it right now, I guess. You aren’t in a hurry, are you?’
‘Oh, no, not especially. Harry doesn’t get home until quarter past six, and I’ve fixed the vegetables. Just you go ahead.’
Eunice untied the white ribbon. ‘Why, Mabel, it’s beautiful, and such a delicate shade of pink!’
She held the sack at arm’s length.
‘I’m glad you like it. It’s nothing wonderful, of course.’
‘It couldn’t be more pretty, and Stephen loves pink. I wrote him the other day that I had made a pink kimono and I hoped he would like it. He wrote back that pink was—was the color of dawn and apple-blossoms.’
Mabel laughed. ‘Stephen has a funny way of saying things, hasn’t he?’
‘Why, I don’t know,’ said Eunice, flushing.
‘Oh, well,’ went on Mabel good-naturedly, ‘I do think you look nice in pink with your dark hair. Harry always tells me to stick to blue. It’s the color for blondes. Don’t you want to show me your things? I won’t mind if the ribbons aren’t all run in yet.’
‘I’d like to show them to you, of course. Come upstairs. They’ll look nicer though when they are all pressed out,’ said Eunice, laying the sack carefully back in its paper wrappings. She carried it on outstretched palms.
‘Do you know when you’re going to be married?’ asked Mabel as she reached the top of the narrow stairs.
‘We haven’t made plans yet. Probably Stephen won’t want to for another year. It depends on so many things.’
‘I suppose so,’ said Mabel, following Eunice into her bedroom. It was a small room but pretty. Eunice had recently put four coats of white paint on her oak set. ‘Lawyers,’ continued Mabel sympathetically, ‘have to wait so much longer. Now Harry knew to a cent what salary he was getting when he proposed to me, and he knew what his raise would probably be for the next two years. The Wire Company is a square concern. There’s your Glory-Box! It looks awfully nice. You made it, didn’t you?’
‘Stephen made it when he was on for his vacation last summer. We happened to have the cretonne in the house. Mother wanted me to buy a cedar chest but I thought this would do.’
‘Oh, one doesn’t really need a cedar chest,’ said Mabel cheerfully, ‘and they’re terribly expensive, you know.’
‘Yes, I do know.’ Eunice’s face twinkled. ‘I’ll lay this sack on the bed so it won’t get mussed while I’m showing you the things.’
She raised the lid of the Glory-Box, then glanced shyly at the other girl. ‘You’re the first person I’ve shown them to. I hope you’ll think they’re dainty. There isn’t much lace on them, but mother put in a lot of handwork—feather-stitching.’
‘Lace is a bother to do up,’ Mabel said amiably. ‘I’ve been almost distracted doing up mine.’
‘Your things were beautiful, though.’ Eunice was laying piles of carefully folded garments on the edge of the box.
‘There, I’ve got it now,’ she said, getting up from the floor. ‘This is my prettiest set. I’ve kept it wrapped in dark blue paper. Mother said it would keep white longer.’
‘Why, they are sweet, Eunice!’ Mabel touched the soft white stuff with appraising fingers. ‘And all made by hand. My, what a lot of work! Your mother must have spent hours on them.’
‘She did. She said she wanted to do it, though. The other things are plainer.’ Eunice took them up one by one and showed them. ‘I won’t let you see the table linen to-day. I’ve done a lot of initialing, but they don’t look really well until they have been washed.’
‘No, they don’t. Anyway I have to be going. You certainly have nice things, Eunice. That kimono is awfully pretty.’
‘I like it,’ said Eunice simply.
‘Well, I can’t stay another minute. Don’t you come down to the door now. You have to put away everything. I’ll just run along. Come and see me. I’ve got the flat all settled.’
‘I shall love to, Mabel. Just a moment! You must let me go to the door with you. The Glory-Box can wait.’
Eunice found her mother standing by the bed when she came back. She was a meagre-looking woman with a thin mouth. Her eyes had once been soft and dark like Eunice’s, but the glow had gone out of them, leaving them a little hard.
‘I’ve been looking at the sack Mabel brought you. It’s a nice pattern. That sort of lace looks almost like real val. What did she say to your things?’
‘She said they were sweet, mother.’
‘Well, I suppose they are as nice as any one could have without spending money. You didn’t show her the tablecloth I gave you?’
‘No, I thought I’d wait to show the linen until it was all done up.’
Her mother fingered the lace on the sack.
‘I don’t believe she has a much better tablecloth than that one, Eunice. Do you suppose so?’
‘No,’ answered Eunice, ‘probably not. It’s very beautiful.’ She laid down the garment she was folding and looked up, troubled, into her mother’s face. ‘Oh, it seems so selfish for me to have it all. You’ve always wanted nice fine linen, mother.’
‘I’ve given up wanting, I guess. I don’t care as long as you have them. You had better lay tissue paper in that sleeve, Eunice, the way I showed you. I’ll start supper so that you can put these things away. They won’t look like anything if you leave them about.’
When her mother was gone, Eunice took up the pink kimono and spread it out on the bed. She could fold it more carefully that way. She touched it with caressing fingers. ‘Dawn and apple-blossoms,’ she repeated softly. Then she smiled, remembering Mabel’s remark: ‘Stephen has a funny way of saying things.’
Stephen was different somehow from Harry, from any of the men whom her friends had married. They were nice young men, of course, all of them. One was superintendent of the Sunday School, besides getting a good salary in the Cash Register Company; another had gone to college, had been in Stephen’s class at the Ohio State University in fact, and was now doing well as part owner of the garage on Main Street; still another was paying-teller in the bank next to the garage; he wore very ‘good-looking’ suits, usually with a tiny line of white at the edge of the waistcoat. Still Stephen was different.
When he had got his B.A. degree at Ohio, he decided that he wanted to be a lawyer, and that he would go to one of the best schools in the country. He chose Columbia. He had worked his way through college, but he considered that it would not pay to work his way through Law School. He wanted the time to get something out of New York. His father was unable to advance the money, so Stephen went to a friend of his father’s, a prosperous coal-dealer in the town, and asked that he lend him enough to put him through economically, but not, he plainly said, too economically. He would give the coal-dealer notes, payable with interest four years after he was admitted to the bar.
The coal-dealer, taking into consideration the fact that the young man had broken every record at the university in scholarship, and two other facts, the young man’s forehead and mouth, lent him the money. He said that the interest need not begin until he was admitted.
Stephen thanked him and went to Columbia. One of the professors there took a great fancy to him. He introduced him to his sister, a maiden lady living in Washington Square, who, finding him very likable, introduced him to other people living in the Square.
Stephen was very happy. He wrote to Eunice,—he had been engaged to her since the end of his second year at the Law School,—’Washington Square is rather terrifying from the outside, but once inside you feel beautifully at home. I think it’s the perfect breeding you find there. I’ve met women more intellectual, greater perhaps, than Professor Lansing’s sister, but never one who gives such an impression of completion. There are no loose ends. You will like her, Eunice.’
In another letter he said, ‘We won’t have much money to start with, of course, but if we put a little dignity into our kitchenette apartment, it will be a home that people will love to come to. It’s partly the dignity of their living that makes these Washington Square people so worth while to be with.’
And last week he had written, ‘You won’t find New York lonely. They will love you, dear. You belong. You have not only charm but the dignity that belongs. I wonder if I’m foolish to care so much for that word dignity. Perhaps it’s because I associate it with you, or perhaps—I love you because you have it.’
And Eunice too was happy and proud: happy that Stephen was coming into his own, and proud that he should think her equal to the occasion. It would not be an easy task, being equal to Stephen. Stephen was a great man, or would be a great man. She knew it and Stephen knew it. ‘We are going to be great, you and I,’ he had said more than once. And yet one day when she had answered, ‘You and I, Stephen?’ his eyes, which had been alight with the glorious vision of the future, softened, and he had come and knelt beside her and had laid his head down. ‘Oh, Eunice,’ he had whispered, ‘I’ve got brains; I’m pretty sure to be successful; but if I’m worth while, it will be because of you. You are a great woman, dear.’
And Eunice had mothered him and had hoped—so fervently that the hope was a prayer—that she would really be great enough to meet his needs.
Sometimes she doubted. She had dignity; Stephen had said so; but inside she was deprecating and shy. People like Mabel Ashley made her shy, and most of the people she knew were like Mabel. They thought Stephen’s way of saying and thinking things ‘funny.’ There was only one woman whom she could talk with, a High-School teacher who had come to board next door. She and the High-School teacher took long walks together.
The High-School teacher had been to Europe twice. She knew how people lived outside of this little Ohio town—outside of the United States even. She was full of shrewd comment. Eunice talked to her about the books that she and Stephen were reading, and sometimes about Stephen himself. Several times the High-School teacher had said, ‘He is splendid, Eunice.’
Eunice thought about her this afternoon as she put the last things away in the Glory-Box. She hoped that, if the Washington Square people were like this teacher, she would get along. And there came another encouraging thought. The people in the Square were sure of themselves of course, but perhaps they were sure because they had things and had always had things. She would one day have the things in her Glory-Box, and she would have Stephen. After she was quite used to having them and to having a person like Stephen, she would be sure of herself too.
‘Supper will be ready in five minutes, Eunice.’
‘I’m coming in a moment.’
The room had grown quite dark. Eunice lighted two candles standing on her bureau. They were in common glass candlesticks which she had bought at the Ten Cent store: she had wanted to have brass; but then, Stephen and she were going to have brass candlesticks in every room of their house. They both loved candle-light.
Eunice smoothed her dark hair. Then she washed her hands very carefully. Stephen had said once that they were not wonderfully pretty hands, but that they had distinction. He had kissed them.
‘I guess I’m all right now,’ said Eunice, glancing into the mirror. She picked up a photograph of Stephen from the bureau and laid her face against it. Then she blew out the candles and went downstairs.
Stephen’s letter that awaited her when she came home from school the next afternoon was a one-page scrawl. ‘My head is ringing so with the quinine I’ve taken that I can’t write to-night. By to-morrow I shall probably be rid of this beastly cold. I want to tell you about a book I’ve just read. It’s great stuff.’ He added a postscript: ‘Don’t ask me, dear, if I wore my rubbers day before yesterday. You know I didn’t.’
In Eunice’s eyes was a smile of amused tenderness as she put the letter back in its envelope. If the cold were ‘beastly,’ perhaps he might remember next time. She was afraid though that only married men wore rubbers.
No letter came the next day, or the next.
‘If I don’t hear to-morrow, I’ll telegraph.’
‘He’s probably busy,’ said her mother.
‘I’m afraid he’s sick.’
Eunice waited for the postman on Saturday morning, but he brought her no letter. She put on her hat and coat.
‘I’ll be back in a half hour, mother.’
As she went down the steps a boy riding a bicycle stopped at the curb. He handed her a telegram. It was from Stephen’s landlady. Stephen had died that morning at two o’clock—of pneumonia.
Eunice was conscious of being very collected and calm as she went back into the house; quite wonderfully calm. Her mother was in the kitchen. Eunice went to her and told her—very gently. She had the feeling that it was her mother’s sorrow. Her mother’s dry, hard sobs and bowed figure brought the tears to her eyes. She laid her hand on the thin convulsed shoulders. ‘Mother, don’t—don’t, dear, it’s all right, you know.’ She stood by her chair until the sobs ceased.
‘I’m going around to—to Stephen’s, mother. I’ll not be gone long.’
Mrs. Day followed her to the steps; her face was pitifully pinched, almost old. At the gate Eunice turned and saw her.
‘Poor mother!’ She wanted to go back and kiss her but she dared not.
Stephen’s home was on the other side of the town. It was a small frame house painted light gray, with a gable back and front, and a narrow porch running across it. This morning the shades in the parlor were drawn down.
Eunice had to wait some moments before the door was opened by Stephen’s young sister—a slip of a thing but a capable housekeeper. Her eyes were swollen with crying. ‘She’s so little,’ thought Eunice, and took her in her arms.
When the girl was able to speak, she told Eunice that her father had gone to New York, and that he would bring Stephen home. Eunice stayed an hour, comforting, talking, planning. Then she left her.
‘I’m so quiet. I didn’t know it could be like this.’
The March wind blew the dust into her face. The grit irritated her. She wished there were snow on the ground and then wondered that she should care. That was how it was the next two days: she went on thinking and acting, with every now and then this strange awareness of being alive.
But on Monday afternoon when they came home from the cemetery, Eunice went upstairs to her room.
‘I’m going to lie down a while, mother.’
Her mother made no answer as she turned into the kitchen.
Eunice lay down on the bed. A pale yellow sunset gleamed through the branches of the tree outside her window. She had seen the yellow streak in the sky as they had left the cemetery. She closed her eyes to shut it out. Her heart was no longer numb. It was waking to its misery. She lay very still with clenched hands. She had learned to bear physical pain that way. She thought perhaps she could bear this if she lay very still.
‘I want to tell you about a book I’ve just read. It’s great stuff.’
‘O Stephen, Stephen, laddie!’
The tears came, and great sobs that shook and twisted her rigid body. Once she thought her mother came up the stairs and stopped outside her door. She buried her face in the pillow. Her mother must not hear. By and by,—she had been quiet for an hour,—her mother came in with a tray.
‘I’ve made you some toast and tea, Eunice. You must keep up your strength.’
Her tone was flat and emotionless. She set the tray down by her in the darkness. Then she lighted the gas.
Eunice swallowed the tea obediently, she was so very tired. As she put the cup down her eyes fell on the cretonne-covered box in the window.
‘Mother, my Glory-Box! Don’t let me see it! Oh, don’t let me see my Glory-Box!’
Mrs. Day came up to the bed. ‘I’ll take it out to-morrow while you are at school. I meant to do that.’ Her face worked as she left the room.
When the door closed, Eunice sat up and pushed her tumbled hair back from her face. She wanted to look at the Glory-Box. To-morrow her mother was going to take it away. She clasped her hands tightly about her drawn-up knees and stared at the box with hot, miserable eyes. Of course it would have to be taken away, but she wanted to look at it now because it was her Glory-Box and because it was Stephen’s. Stephen had made it.
‘That’s a decent job for just a lawyer,’ he had said, when the last nail was driven in and they were taking a critical survey of it.
Stephen had laughed when she regretted that the roses in the cretonne were yellow, because the things to go into the box very likely would be pink. He had laughed and kissed her and told her she had better get a pair of pink specs, then the roses would be pink enough.
And Stephen had taken such an interest in what she had written about the things she was embroidering for household use. When she had reported a whole dozen napkins hemmed and initialed, he had thought it would be jolly to have nice linen. They would probably be short on silver at first, but good linen made you feel respectable. He remembered his mother taking so much pride in what had been left of hers. For a moment the words of that letter were so vividly recalled that she forgot that Stephen was dead. For quite a moment she was happy. Then she remembered, but the realization brought no tears, only a swelling wave of misery.
‘I can’t bear it, oh, I can’t!’
But even as she moaned she knew that she would bear it, that she would go on living for years and years and years. Other girls she had known or heard about—in her own town—had gone on living: little Sadie Smith whose lover had been killed three days before her wedding, and even Milly Petersen, who had been engaged for five years when the man asked to be released because he wanted to marry the girl who had recently moved to Milly’s street. These girls had lived; they had grown pale and faded, or hard. People felt very sorry for them: they were spoken of as ‘poor Milly,’ or ‘Sadie Smith, poor child’; but they had lived. Eunice saw herself moving among her little circle, brave and sad-eyed like these girls.
Suddenly—she never remembered just how it came about—suddenly her humor flashed a white light over the vision. This sad-eyed Self seemed something not to pity but to scorn. It was grotesque standing in your friend’s parlor with clenched hands, as it were, and compressed lips, saying, ‘Don’t mind me, please. I’m bearing it.’ If one were going to live one must live happily. Stephen was such a happy person. He was happy when he was working or playing or just loving. Even hurdy-gurdys made him happy.
‘When I hear one grinding away in the morning,’ he had written, ‘I have to kick a few Law Journals about just to keep in tune with the darn thing.’
It had been a delightful surprise to her, his overflowing happiness, for Stephen’s face in repose was very grave. She herself only occasionally had his joy in mere living, but she had always thought that Stephen’s joyfulness would prove infectious. Suppose, now, without Stephen she should make the experiment of being happy. It would be a wonderful experiment to see,—she spoke the words aloud, deliberately,—to see if she could kill this terrible thing, Sorrow, and keep Stephen to love and to remember.
Eunice was still staring at the Glory-Box, but it was more than her Glory-Box. It was part of the problem that she was trying to think out clearly. For perhaps sorrow was a problem that you could work out like other problems, if only you could see it, not as one solid, opaque mass, but as something made up of pieces that you could deal with one at a time. The Glory-Box was a piece. She had wanted it taken away because it was a thing so filled with pain that she could not bear to have it about. If—Eunice got up in her excitement and walked up and down the room—if the Glory-Box could become a box again, just a box covered with cretonne, and the things in it become things, then a great piece of misery would disappear. Love, a girl’s love, was like—she groped a moment for words—like a vine that puts forth little shoots and tendrils; love even went into things. When Death trampled on the vine, the shoots and tendrils were crushed with it. But if you cut them off, these poor bruised pieces of the vine, the vine itself would perhaps have a chance to become strong and beautiful.
Eunice played with the idea, her cheeks flushed, her eyes very bright. She felt as she did sometimes when talking on paper with Stephen.
She went over to the Glory-Box and raised the cover. On top lay the matinée that Mabel had brought on that day not quite a week ago. She unfolded it and touched it. ‘This isn’t—Stephen,’ she said aloud, quite firmly. ‘It’s cotton voile and val lace. It’s cotton voile.’
She took out garment after garment. When she came to the pink kimono her eyes blinded with tears. ‘It’s a lovely shade. Pink is pretty with dark hair.’ Her quivering lips could scarcely frame the words. ‘It’s not Stephen. It’s—it’s just a kimono.’
She put the things back and closed the box. ‘I’ll look at the rest in a day or two. I’ll keep looking at them. Probably I shall never be able to use them, but I’ll keep looking until I get accustomed to seeing them. Mother will get used to seeing the box here. If she put it in the storeroom she would always dread going in.’
Mrs. Day was getting breakfast the next morning when Eunice came down. She went on mechanically with her preparation, avoiding looking at her. At the table she glanced up. Eunice’s face was white and haggard, but her eyes, strangely big, were shining. Eunice’s mother watched her furtively throughout the meal. As they left the table Eunice put her arms about her.
‘Don’t take the box out, mother. It’s better to get used to it. I’m trying to get used to things. Don’t you worry about me. You’ll see.’
She kissed her and hurried to school. In her exalted mood the sympathetic attentions of the other teachers seemed almost surprising. They were dear and kind, but why should they be so kind? She was going to be happy. At the end of the day, however, Eunice let herself softly into the house, too wretched to want to meet her mother. She carried to her room the letters of condolence that were on the dining-room table. She read them impassively, even the kindly one from Miss Lansing, wondering why they did not touch her. ‘It’s because I’m tired,’ she concluded, and knelt down by the Glory-Box, bowing her head on her outstretched arms.
‘Stephen, dear,’ she prayed, ‘I can’t look at the things to-night. I’m too tired.’
But the next day she took them all out. And on a Saturday afternoon three weeks later she startled her mother by coming into her room dressed in the suit and hat that were her ‘best.’ Her mother laid down the skirt on which she was putting a new braid.
‘Why, where are you going, Eunice?’
‘I thought I’d call on Mabel. I’ve never been to see her since she started housekeeping. I promised to, long ago.’
Mrs. Day looked at her keenly, her mouth tightening. ‘You’re foolish to go and see all her wedding presents about the house. You won’t be able to stand it.’
‘I shall, mother. That’s why I’m going to stand it. I shan’t mind calling there after I’ve been this once. I’ve thought it out.’
‘You’re a queer girl, Eunice. I don’t understand you. But I suppose you know your—your own business best,’ she ended, taking up her work again.
Eunice felt quite sure that she did, and yet there were days when the experiment seemed a failure, or at least only just begun: days when she would read in a paper of brilliant social events in New York, in Stephen’s New York. Stephen might have been there at that dinner, his eyes, which looked so gravely from his picture, lighted with the joyfulness of the occasion, his splendid head towering above the other men as he joined in the toasts—Stephen had told her they always made toasts at these dinners; she could hear his laugh, his hearty boyish laugh. And those other days in early spring, when a hurdy-gurdy would play ‘Turkey in the Straw,’ and she could see Stephen pitching his Law Journals about, exulting in the glorious fact that he was alive. Oh, how she longed for him, wanted him these days—with a passionate yearning that for moments maddened her. But as the months went by the times of overwhelming wanting came less and less frequently. ‘I shall soon be happy,’ Eunice told herself. And on a morning of June loveliness, a morning of very blue sky, white clouds, and butter-cups, Eunice knew that she was happy.
‘I’m glad to-day, Stephen, I’m glad, just because it’s all so beautiful.’
She wondered now and again why, since she herself was so surely leaving the sorrow behind her, her mother should still droop under its weight. They seldom talked about Stephen. They had agreed at the beginning not to do that often, but there was bitterness in her mother’s face and bitterness on occasion in her words. ‘I’ve got used to seeing your box around, but don’t ever ask me to look inside.’ It occurred to Eunice that perhaps it was because to her mother had come only the grief. She was not having Stephen to love.
One afternoon late in February, Eunice was met in the hall by her mother. ‘A letter came for you this morning. It’s from New York.’ She stood watching her as Eunice opened it with unsteady fingers.
Eunice looked up in a few moments, very white. ‘It’s from Professor Lansing’s sister,’ she faltered. ‘Miss Lansing is coming on to Chicago this week. She says she would like to see me. She’ll stop off in Dayton over night, Saturday probably, and will come out for lunch if it’s convenient for us to have her. She can make connections by doing that. Oh, mother, it’s beautiful of her to want to come.’
‘I don’t know that it will do you much good to see her. You’ll probably get upset.’
‘No, I won’t be upset because I’ll be so glad. Stephen said she was a wonderful woman, and—we can talk about him. He was at her house only a few days before he—caught cold.’
‘Well, I don’t know,’ said her mother. ‘You had better come into the kitchen where it’s warm. You look like a ghost, Eunice. I’ll give you a cup of soup to drink. It’s on the stove now.’ She laid nervous compelling fingers on Eunice’s arm. ‘I suppose,’ Mrs. Day was pouring out the soup as she spoke, ‘I suppose that Miss Lansing hasn’t any idea of the way we live. Even the front stoop looks a sight. It’s needed a coat of paint for years.’
‘I know,’ Eunice answered, her face clouding. ‘I wish things were different for Stephen’s sake. But we can’t help it.’
‘No,’ said her mother harshly, ‘we can’t help it. But I wish she wasn’t coming for a meal. The last decent tablecloth was cut up into napkins a month ago. I was ashamed of the one we set Mabel Bennet down to the other night.’
Eunice walked to the window. She looked out upon the backyard, upon the snow that was reflecting the sunset, a sentence of one of Stephen’s letters in her mind. ‘It’s the dignity of their living that makes these Washington Square people so worth while.’ And then she recalled that other letter. ‘It will be jolly to have nice linen. Good linen makes you feel respectable.’
It pained her that they must offer this friend of Stephen’s what they had been ashamed to offer Mabel Bennet. Stephen’s pride would be hurt, Stephen who had loved that word ‘dignity’; and Stephen’s pride was her own pride just as much as if she were his wife, as if he were living.
Eunice stood a long time looking out upon the snow, until the rose of the sunset had gone from it, leaving it blue and cold. She turned from the window.
‘Mother,’—she was glad that in the darkening kitchen she could not see her mother’s face distinctly,—’mother, don’t you think we had better use that very fine cloth you gave me, and the napkins, to make the table look nice? Hadn’t we better use them?’
‘Use your things out of your Glory-Box, Eunice!’
‘Yes, they are just pretty things, now, mother. All the pain is out of them. I’m going to wear the best set you made me. I think if I have on those nice clothes under my dress I won’t be so shy with Miss Lansing. I want—O, mother, I want Stephen to—to feel proud of me.’
Mrs. Day bent to rake the fire, then straightened up. ‘If you can stand wearing that set, I’ve nothing to say. You have a right to your own notions. But I don’t see how I can bear to look at the cloth.’
‘After it’s been done up and on the table once, you’ll forget there was anything sad connected with it. I know you will,’ said Eunice, with her brave, pleading eyes fixed on her mother’s set face.
‘I don’t know; maybe I could forget. But I don’t see how I could bring myself to use something out of your own Glory-Box. It seems almost indelicate. They’re all your things.’
Eunice crossed the room and laid her face down on her mother’s shoulder. ‘You gave me the things, mother, and you’ve had so little of what you’ve always wanted. Can’t it be our Glory-Box, for us both to use on special occasions—like this?’ Her arms tightened about her mother’s neck. ‘Can’t we use them this time for Stephen’s sake?’
After a moment’s silence Mrs. Day pushed her gently away.
‘If they are to be washed you’ll have to bring them down to-morrow. I’ll want to get them on the line while this good weather lasts. Saturday is only four days off.’
Saturday evening Eunice lighted the candles on her bureau; lighting the candles seemed like another ceremony of this perfect day. She had got up early so as to put her room and the rest of the house in order. While her mother was finishing in the kitchen she had set the table. It had been a joy to do that, to spread the cloth so that the creases would come in just the right place, and the large initial ‘D’ show without being too conspicuous, and to fold the napkins prettily and arrange the dishes. At the last moment she had decided that it would not be too extravagant to buy a little plant of some sort for a centrepiece. So there was just time for her to slip into the clothes that had been spread out on the bed, and do over her hair, before Miss Lansing arrived.
Stephen had said, ‘You will like her, Eunice.’ Like her!—she was the most wonderful woman she had ever met. She was elderly, but strangely enough you did not wonder whether she had been pretty or beautiful when she was young. She was wonderful just as she was now. You could not think of her as being different. She was tall, a little taller than Eunice herself. Her face was finely cut, the sort of face you saw in engravings of old portraits; there were not many lines in it. Her eyes were dark and young too, though she had quite gray hair and evidently didn’t care to be in the fashion, for her black silk fell all around in ample lengths. Eunice had watched her hands. They were not small, but long and slender and very white; the two rings she wore seemed made for them.
And Eunice had not felt shy. At first she had thought she was going to; Miss Lansing had seemed at first so like a personage; but the thought of Stephen, and of the featherstitched best set she was wearing made her forget that Washington Square was, as Stephen had said, rather terrifying on the outside. It was Stephen’s friend whom they were entertaining, and Stephen’s friend was not a personage really, but a wonderful woman who had loved Stephen too.
After lunch they talked together in the parlor while her mother was clearing things away. Miss Lansing said that she had seen a great deal of Stephen that last year. He had seemed to enjoy coming to the house. He had come to dinner sometimes, but more often he had dropped in on Saturday or Sunday afternoons for tea. One afternoon he had not been quite himself. She had questioned him a little and he had confessed with a laugh that he was homesick for Ohio.
‘That was the time he talked for two hours about you, my dear,’ Miss Lansing said, smiling. ‘Fortunately no one else came in, so he was uninterrupted. I liked to listen to his talk; he had charm.’ But Eunice saw her eyes kindle. ‘He was more than charming. He was great.’
‘Yes,’ Eunice answered very low. ‘He would have been a great man, Miss Lansing. I always knew he would.’
At that Miss Lansing put out both hands and covered Eunice’s that were clasped tightly in her lap. ‘He would have been a great man,’ she repeated, ‘and you, my dear, would have made him a great wife.’
Eunice felt that never, unless she should hear Stephen’s voice again, should she listen to such wonderful words as those. Ever since Miss Lansing had gone they had sung themselves in her heart like a sacred refrain. She was glad that it was night now so that she could fall asleep repeating them.
‘Getting ready for bed, Eunice?’
‘I’m beginning to.’ Eunice opened the door to her mother, who stood outside winding the clock.
‘Do you know,’ said Mrs. Day as she set the alarm, ‘I’ve been thinking again what a good idea it was to open that can of peas. They did make the chops look so tasty, and they were almost as tender as the French. I helped Miss Lansing twice.’
Eunice kissed her as she turned away.
‘It was a nice dinner throughout, mother, and the table looked lovely.’
‘Well, I saw Miss Lansing look at the cloth. She was too much of a lady to say anything, of course, but I could tell she noticed it.’
‘Yes,’ said Eunice, ‘I think she did.’
Mrs. Day was closing her door.
‘Put out the light in the hall before you go to bed, Eunice.’
‘Yes, mother,’ said Eunice, softly closing her own door.
She stood still a moment in the centre of the candle-lighted room. Then she went over to the Glory-Box and took out the kimono and laid it over the footboard so that the pink folds could catch the light. When she had undressed, she put it on. ‘It will be a beautiful ending to the day,’ she said, as she stood before the mirror braiding her hair.
Her eyes rested on Stephen’s picture.
‘I think you would have been proud to-day, dear, and I think you would have liked this.’
She turned to the mirror, and looked at the girl reflected there, at the dark eyes and hair and at the kimono draping her soft white gown.
‘Dawn and apple-blossoms,’ she whispered and then stretched out her arms.
‘Stephen, my dear! O Stephen.’