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would not go home to dinner or supper, but would bring their lunches and
cook coffee over a little gas heater in the corner. Julia Gold,
especially, drank quantities of coffee. Aunt Sophy had hired her from
Chicago. She had been with her for five years. She said Julia was the
best trimmer she had ever had. Aunt Sophy often took her to New York or
Chicago on her buying trips. Julia had not much genius for original
design, or she would never have been content to be head milliner in a
small-town shop. But she could copy a fifty-dollar model from memory
down to the last detail of crown and brim. It was a gift that made her

The boy, Eugene, used to like to look at Julia Gold. Her hair was very
black and her face was very white, and her eyebrows met in a thick, dark
line. Her face, as she bent over her work, was sullen and brooding, but
when she lifted her head suddenly, in conversation, you were startled by
a vivid flash of teeth, and eyes, and smile. Her voice was deep and low.
She made you a little uncomfortable. Her eyes seemed always to be asking
something. Around the work table, mornings she used to relate the dream
she had had the night before. In these dreams she was always being
pursued by a lover. "And then I woke up, screaming." Neither she nor the
sewing girls knew what she was revealing in these confidences of hers.
But Aunt Sophy, the shrewd, somehow sensed it.

"You're alone too much, evenings. That's what comes of living in a
boarding house. You come over to me for a week. The change will do you
good, and it'll be nice for me, too, having somebody to keep me

Julia often came for a week or ten days at a time. Julia, about the
house after supper, was given to those vivid splashy kimonos with big
flowers embroidered on them. They made her hair look blacker and her
skin whiter by contrast. Sometimes Eugene or Adele or both would drop in
and the four would play bridge. Aunt Sophy played a shrewd and canny
game, Adele a rather brilliant one, Julia a wild and disastrous hand,
always, and Eugene so badly that only Julia would take him on as a
partner. Mrs. Baldwin never knew about these evenings.

It was on one of these occasions that Aunt Sophy, coming unexpectedly
into the living room from the kitchen where she and Adele were foraging
for refreshments after the game, beheld Julia Gold and Eugene, arms
clasped about each other, cheek to cheek. They started up as she came
in and faced her, the woman defiantly, the boy bravely. Julia Gold was
thirty (with reservations) at that time, and the boy not quite

"How long?" said Aunt Sophy, quietly. She had a mayonnaise spoon and a
leaf of lettuce in her hand at the time, and still she did not look

"I'm crazy about her," said Eugene. "We're crazy about each other. We're
going to be married."

Aunt Sophy listened for the reassuring sound of Adele's spoons and
plates in the kitchen. She came forward. "Now, listen - " she began.

"I love him," said Julia Gold, dramatically. "I love him!"

Except that it was very white and, somehow, old looking, Aunt Sophy's
face was as benign as always. "Now, look here, Julia, my girl. That
isn't love and you know it. I'm an old maid, but I know what love is
when I see it. I'm ashamed of you, Julia. Sensible woman like you.
Hugging and kissing a boy like that, and old enough to be his mother,
pretty near."

"Now, look here, Aunt Soph! I'm fond of you but if you're going to talk
that way - Why, she's wonderful. She's taught me what it means to
really - "

"Oh, my land!" Aunt Sophy sat down, looking, suddenly, very sick and

And then, from the kitchen, Adele's clear young voice: "Heh! What's the
idea! I'm not going to do all the work. Where's everybody?"

Aunt Sophy started up again. She came up to them and put a hand - a
capable, firm, steadying hand on the arm of each. The woman drew back
but the boy did not.

"Will you promise me not to do anything for a week? Just a week! Will
you promise me? Will you?"

"Are you going to tell Father?"

"Not for a week if you'll promise not to see each other in that week.
No, I don't want to send you away, Julia, I don't want to - You're not a
bad girl. It's just - he's never had - at home they never gave him a
chance. Just a week, Julia. Just a week, Eugene. We can talk things over

Adele's footsteps coming from the kitchen.


"I promise," said Eugene. Julia said nothing.

"Well, really," said Adele, from the doorway, "you're a nervy lot,
sitting around while I slave in the kitchen. 'Gene, see if you can open
the olives with this fool can opener. I tried."

There is no knowing what she expected to do in that week, Aunt Sophy;
what miracle she meant to perform. She had no plan in her mind. Just
hope. She looked strangely shrunken and old, suddenly. But when, three
days later, the news came that America was to go into the war she knew
that her prayers were answered.

Flora was beside herself. "Eugene won't have to go. He isn't quite
twenty-one, thank God! And by the time he is it will be over. Surely."
She was almost hysterical.

Eugene was in the room. Aunt Sophy looked at him and he looked at Aunt
Sophy. In her eyes was a question. In his was the answer. They said
nothing. The next day Eugene enlisted. In three days he was gone. Flora
took to her bed. Next day Adele, a faint, unwonted colour marking her
cheeks, walked into her mother's bedroom and stood at the side of the
recumbent figure. Her father, his hands clasped behind him, was pacing
up and down, now and then kicking a cushion that had fallen to the
floor. He was chewing a dead cigar, one side of his face twisted
curiously over the cylinder in his mouth so that he had a sinister and
crafty look.

"Charnsworth, won't you please stop ramping up and down like that! My
nerves are killing me. I can't help it if the war has done something or
other to your business. I'm sure no wife could have been more
economical than I have. Nothing matters but Eugene, anyway. How could he
do such a thing! I've given my whole life to my children - "

H. Charnsworth kicked the cushion again so that it struck the wall at
the opposite side of the room. Flora drew her breath in between her
teeth as though a knife had entered her heart.

Adele still stood at the side of the bed, looking at her mother. Her
hands were clasped behind her, too. In that moment, as she stood there,
she resembled her mother and her father so startlingly and
simultaneously that the two, had they been less absorbed in their own
affairs, must have marked it.

The girl's head came up, stiffly. "Listen. I'm going to marry Daniel

Daniel Oakley was fifty, and a friend of her father's. For years he had
been coming to the house and for years she had ridiculed him. She and
Eugene had called him Sturdy Oak because he was always talking about his
strength and endurance, his walks, his golf, his rugged health; pounding
his chest meanwhile and planting his feet far apart. He and Baldwin had
had business relations as well as friendly ones.

At this announcement Flora screamed and sat up in bed. H. Charnsworth
stopped short in his pacing and regarded his daughter with a queer
look; a concentrated look, as though what she had said had set in motion
a whole maze of mental machinery within his brain.

"When did he ask you?"

"He's asked me a dozen times. But it's different now. All the men will
be going to war. There won't be any left. Look at England and France.
I'm not going to be left." She turned squarely toward her father, her
young face set and hard. "You know what I mean. You know what I mean."

Flora, sitting up in bed, was sobbing. "I think you might have told your
mother, Adele. What are children coming to! You stand there and say,
'I'm going to marry Daniel Oakley.' Oh, I _am_ so faint ... all of a
sudden ... get the spirits of ammonia...."

Adele turned and walked out of the room. She was married six weeks
later. They had a regular pre-war wedding - veil, flowers, dinner, and
all. Aunt Sophy arranged the folds of her gown and draped her veil. The
girl stood looking at herself in the mirror, a curious half-smile
twisting her lips. She seemed slighter and darker than ever.

"In all this white, and my veil, I look just like a fly in a quart of
milk," she said, with a laugh. Then, suddenly, she turned to her aunt
who stood behind her and clung to her, holding her tight, tight. "I
can't!" she gasped. "I can't! I can't!"

Aunt Sophy held her off and looked at her, her eyes searching the girl.

"What do you mean, Della? Are you just nervous or do you mean you don't
want to marry him? Do you mean that? Then what are you marrying for?
Tell me! Tell your Aunt Sophy."

But Adele was straightening herself and pulling out the crushed folds of
her veil. "To pay the mortgage on the old homestead, of course. Just
like the girl in the play." She laughed a little. But Aunt Sophy did not

"Now look here, Delia. If you're - "

But there was a knock at the door. Adele caught up her flowers. "It's
all right," she said.

Aunt Sophy stood with her back against the door. "If it's money," she
said. "It is! It is, isn't it! Listen. I've got money saved. It was for
you children. I've always been afraid. I knew he was sailing pretty
close, with his speculations and all, since the war. He can have it all.
It isn't too late yet. Adele! Della, my baby."

"Don't, Aunt Sophy. It wouldn't be enough, anyway. Daniel has been
wonderful, really. Don't look like that. I'd have hated being poor,
anyway. Never could have got used to it. It is ridiculous, though, isn't
it? Like one of those melodramas, or a cheap movie. I don't mind. I'm
lucky, really, when you come to think of it. A plain little black thing
like me."

"But your mother - "

"Mother doesn't know a thing."

Flora wept mistily all through the ceremony but Adele was composed
enough for two.

When, scarcely a month later, Baldwin came to Sophy Decker, his face
drawn and queer, Sophy knew.

"How much?" she said.

"Thirty thousand will cover it. If you've got more than that - "

"I thought Oakley - Adele said - "

"He did, but he won't any more, and this thing's got to be met. It's
this damned war that's done it. I'd have been all right. People got
scared. They wanted their money. They wanted it in cash."

"Speculating with it, were you?"

"Oh, well, a woman doesn't understand these business deals."

"No, naturally," said Aunt Sophy, "a butterfly like me."

"Sophy, for God's sake don't joke now. I tell you this will cover it,
and everything will be all right. If I had anybody else to go to for the
money I wouldn't ask you. But you'll get it back. You know that."

Aunt Sophy got up, heavily, and went over to her desk. "It was for the
children, anyway. They won't need it now."

He looked up at that. Something in her voice. "Who won't? Why won't

"I don't know what made me say that. I had a dream."



"Oh, well, we're all nervous. Flora has dreams every night and
presentiments every fifteen minutes. Now, look here, Sophy. About this
money. You'll never know how grateful I am. Flora doesn't understand
these things but I can talk to you. It's like this - "

"I might as well be honest about it," Sophy interrupted. "I'm doing it,
not for you, but for Flora, and Delia - and Eugene. Flora has lived such
a sheltered life. I sometimes wonder if she ever really knew any of you.
Her husband, or her children. I sometimes have the feeling that Delia
and Eugene are my children - were my children."

When he came home that night Baldwin told his wife that old Soph was
getting queer. "She talks about the children being hers," he said.

"Oh, well, she's awfully fond of them," Flora explained. "And she's
lived her little narrow life, with nothing to bother her but her hats
and her house. She doesn't know what it means to suffer as a mother
suffers - poor Sophy."

"Um," Baldwin grunted.

When the official notification of Eugene's death came from the War
Department Aunt Sophy was so calm that it might have appeared that Flora
had been right. She took to her bed now in earnest, did Flora, and they
thought that her grief would end in madness. Sophy neglected everything
to give comfort to the stricken two.

"How can you sit there like that!" Flora would rail. "How can you sit
there like that! Even if you weren't his mother surely you must feel

"It's the way he died that comforts me," said Aunt Sophy.

"What difference does that make! What difference does that make!"

This is the letter that made a difference to Aunt Sophy. You will have
to read it to understand, though you are likely to skip letters on the
printed page. You must not skip this.



I am sure you must have been officially notified, by now, by
the U.S. War Dept. of the death of your son Lieut. Eugene H.
Baldwin. But I want to write you what I can of his last
hours. I was with him much of that time as his nurse. I'm
sure it must mean much to a mother to hear from a woman who
was privileged to be with her boy at the last.

Your son was brought to our hospital one night badly gassed
from the fighting in the Argonne Forest. Ordinarily we do not
receive gassed patients, as they are sent to a special
hospital near here. But two nights before the Germans wrecked
this hospital, so many gassed patients have come to us.

Your son was put in the officers' ward where the doctors who
examined him told me there was absolutely no hope for him, as
he had inhaled the gas so much that it was only a matter of a
few hours. I could scarcely believe that a man so big and
strong as he was could not pull through.

The first bad attack he had, losing his breath and nearly
choking, rather frightened him, although the doctor and I were
both with him. He held my hand tightly in his, begging me not
to leave him, and repeating, over and over, that it was good
to have a woman near. He was propped high in bed and put his
head on my shoulder while I fanned him until he breathed more
easily. I stayed with him all that night, though I was not on
duty. You see, his eyes also were badly burned. But before he
died he was able to see very well. I stayed with him every
minute of that night and have never seen a finer character
than he showed during all that dreadful fight for life. He had
several bad sinking attacks that night and came through each
one simply because of his great will power and fighting
spirit. After each attack he would grip my hand and say,
"Well, we made it that time, didn't we, nurse? And if you'll
only stay with me we'll win this fight." At intervals during
the night I gave him sips of black coffee which was all he
could swallow. Each time I gave it to him he would ask me if I
had had some. That was only one instance of his thoughtfulness
even in his suffering. Toward morning he asked me if he was
going to die. I could not tell him the truth. He needed all
his strength. I told him he had one chance in a thousand. He
seemed to become very strong then, and sitting bolt upright in
bed and shaking his fist, he said: "Then by the Lord I'll
fight for it!" We kept him alive for three days, and actually
thought we had won when on the third day....

But even in your sorrow you must be very proud to have been
the mother of such a son....

I am a Wisconsin girl - Madison. When this is over and I come
home will you let me see you so that I may tell you more than
I can possibly write?


It was in March, six months later, that Marian King came. They had hoped
for it, but never expected it. And she came. Four people were waiting in
the living room of the big Baldwin house overlooking the river. Flora
and her husband, Adele and Aunt Sophy. They sat, waiting. Now and then
Adele would rise, nervously, and go to the window that faced the street.
Flora was weeping with audible sniffs. Baldwin sat in his chair frowning
a little, a dead cigar in one corner of his mouth. Only Aunt Sophy sat
quietly, waiting.

There was little conversation. None in the last five minutes. Flora
broke the silence, dabbing at her face with her handkerchief as she

"Sophy, how can you sit there like that? Not that I don't envy you. I
do. I remember I used to feel sorry for you. I used to say, 'Poor
Sophy.' But you unmarried ones are the happiest, after all. It's the
married woman who drinks the cup to the last bitter drop. There you sit,
Sophy, fifty years old, and life hasn't even touched you. You don't know
how cruel life is."

Suddenly, "There!" said Adele. The other three in the room stood up and
faced the door. The sound of a motor stopping outside. Daniel Oakley's
hearty voice: "Well, it only took us five minutes from the station.
Pretty good."

Footsteps down the hall. Marian King stood in the doorway. They faced
her, the four - Baldwin and Adele and Flora and Sophy. Marian King stood
a moment, uncertainly, her eyes upon them. She looked at the two older
women with swift, appraising glance. Then she came into the room,
quickly, and put her two hands on Aunt Sophy's shoulders and looked into
her eyes straight and sure.

"You must be a very proud woman," she said. "You ought to be a very
proud woman."


Mrs. Hosea C. Brewster always cleaned house in September and April. She
started with the attic and worked her purifying path down to the cellar
in strict accordance with Article I, Section 1, Unwritten Rules for
House Cleaning. For twenty-five years she had done it. For twenty-five
years she had hated it - being an intelligent woman. For twenty-five
years, towel swathed about her head, skirt pinned back, sleeves rolled
up - the costume dedicated to house cleaning since the days of
What's-Her-Name mother of Lemuel (see Proverbs) - Mrs. Brewster had gone
through the ceremony twice a year.

Furniture on the porch, woollens on the line, mattresses in the
yard - everything that could be pounded, beaten, whisked, rubbed,
flapped, shaken, or aired was dragged out and subjected to one or all of
these indignities. After which, completely cowed, they were dragged in
again and set in their places. Year after year, in attic and in cellar,
things had piled up higher and higher - useless things, sentimental
things; things in trunks; things in chests; shelves full of things
wrapped up in brown-paper parcels.

And boxes - oh, above all, boxes: pasteboard boxes, long and flat, square
and oblong, each bearing weird and cryptic pencillings on one end;
cryptic, that is, to any one except Mrs. Brewster and you who have owned
an attic. Thus "H's Fshg Tckl" jabberwocked one long, slim box. Another
stunned you with "Cur Ted Slpg Pch." A cabalistic third hid its contents
under "Sip Cov Pinky Rm." To say nothing of such curt yet intriguing
fragments as "Blk Nt Drs" and "Sun Par Val." Once you had the code key
they translated themselves simply enough into such homely items as
Hosey's fishing tackle, canvas curtains for Ted's sleeping porch, slip
covers for Pinky's room, black net dress, sun-parlour valance.

The contents of those boxes formed a commentary on normal American
household life as lived by Mr. and Mrs. Hosea C. Brewster, of Winnebago,
Wisconsin. Hosey's rheumatism had prohibited trout fishing these ten
years; Ted wrote from Arizona that "the li'l' ol' sky" was his
sleeping-porch roof and you didn't have to worry out there about the
neighbours seeing you in your pyjamas; Pinky's rose-cretonne room had
lacked an occupant since Pinky left the Winnebago High School for the
Chicago Art Institute, thence to New York and those amazingly successful
magazine covers that stare up at you from your table - young lady, hollow
chested (she'd need to be with that dêcolletage), carrying feather fan.
You could tell a Brewster cover at sight, without the fan. That leaves
the black net dress and the sun-parlour valance. The first had grown too
tight under the arms (Mrs. Brewster's arms); the second had faded.

Now, don't gather from this that Mrs. Brewster was an ample, pie-baking,
ginghamed old soul who wore black silk and a crushed-looking hat with a
palsied rose atop it. Nor that Hosea C. Brewster was spectacled and
slippered. Not at all. The Hosea C. Brewsters, of Winnebago, Wisconsin,
were the people you've met on the veranda of the Moana Hotel at
Honolulu, or at the top of Pike's Peak, or peering into the restless
heart of Vesuvius. They were the prosperous Middle-Western type of
citizen who runs down to Chicago to see the new plays and buy a hat, and
to order a dozen Wedgwood salad plates at Field's.

Mrs. Brewster knew about Dunsany and georgette and alligator pears; and
Hosea Brewster was in the habit of dropping around to the Elks' Club, up
above Schirmer's furniture store on Elm Street, at about five in the
afternoon on his way home from the cold-storage plant. The Brewster
place was honeycombed with sleeping porches and sun parlours and linen
closets, and laundry chutes and vegetable bins and electric surprises,
as your well-to-do Middle-Western house is likely to be.

That house had long ago grown too large for the two of them - physically,
that is. But as the big frame house had expanded, so had they - in
tolerance and understanding and humanness - until now, as you talked with
them, you felt that here was room and to spare of sun-filled mental
chambers, and shelves well stored with experience; and pantries and bins
and closets for all your worries and confidences.

But the attic! And the cellar! The attic was the kind of attic every
woman longs for who hasn't one and every woman loathes who has. "If I
only had some place to put things in!" wails the first. And, "If it
weren't for the attic I'd have thrown this stuff away long ago,"
complains the second. Mrs. Brewster herself had helped plan it. Hardwood
floored, spacious, light, the Brewster attic revealed to you the social,
æsthetic, educational, and spiritual progress of the entire family as
clearly as if a sociologist had charted it.

* * * * *

Take, for example (before we run down to the cellar for a minute), the
crayon portraits of Gran'ma and Gran'pa Brewster. When Ted had been a
junior and Pinky a freshman at the Winnebago High School the crayon
portraits had beamed down upon them from the living-room wall. To each
of these worthy old people the artist had given a pair of hectic pink
cheeks. Gran'ma Brewster especially, simpering down at you from the
labyrinthian scrolls of her sextuple gold frame, was rouged like a
soubrette and further embellished with a pair of gentian-blue eyes
behind steel-bowed specs. Pinky - and in fact the entire Brewster
household - had thought these massive atrocities the last word in
artistic ornament. By the time she reached her sophomore year, Pinky had
prevailed upon her mother to banish them to the dining room. Then, two
years later, when the Chicago decorator did over the living room and the
dining room, the crayons were relegated to the upstairs hall.

Ted and Pinky, away at school, began to bring their friends back with
them for the vacations. Pinky's room had been done over in cream enamel
and rose-flowered cretonne. She said the chromos in the hall spoiled the
entire second floor. So the gold frames, glittering undimmed, the cheeks
as rosily glowing as ever, found temporary resting place in a
nondescript back chamber known as the sewing room. Then the new sleeping
porch was built for Ted, and the portraits ended their journeying in
the attic.

One paragraph will cover the cellar. Stationary tubs, laundry stove.
Behind that, bin for potatoes, bin for carrots, bins for onions, apples,
cabbages. Boxed shelves for preserves. And behind that Hosea C.
Brewster's _bête noir_ and plaything, tyrant and slave - the furnace.
"She's eating up coal this winter," Hosea Brewster would complain. Or:
"Give her a little more draft, Fred." Fred, of the furnace and lawn
mower, would shake a doleful head. "She ain't drawin' good. I do' know
what's got into her."

By noon of this particular September day - a blue-and-gold Wisconsin
September day - Mrs. Brewster had reached that stage in the cleaning of
the attic when it looked as if it would never be clean and orderly
again. Taking into consideration Miz' Merz (Miz' Merz by-the-day, you

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