There were clothes to be planned. Mother thought the town dressmaker could make her something suitable, but the girls protested.
“You’re not going back there looking dinky, Mama, that’s sure.”
And Henry added his voice, “That’s right, Mother; you doll up.”
So Marcia and Mother journeyed to Capital City and chose a navy blue tailored suit, and a stunning black and white silk, and a soft gray chiffon gown, “in which she looks perfectly Astorbiltish,” Marcia afterward told the assembled family. These, with hat and gloves and a pair of expensive gray suede shoes that hurt her feet, but made them look like a girl’s, came to a ghastly sum in three figures, so that Mother felt almost ill when she wrote on the check, “Henry Y. Mason, per Mrs. H. Y. M.”
On the evening before the wonderful journey back to the Land of Youth, Father made his startling announcement. He had been reading quietly in his accustomed place by the library table. Mother, who had been putting pictures of all the family and views of the new house into her grip, came into the library.
“Mother”–Henry put down his magazine–“I’ve decided to go with you to-morrow and on to Midwestern while you are at Mount Carroll.” Father’s university was in a state farther east than Mother’s Alma Mater. “When you get off at Oxford to change, I’ll go right on, and then next Thursday, after Commencement, I’ll be on the train coming back, and meet you there.”
MOTHER was delighted, reproaching herself severely, in her tender-hearted way, for not having thought of the same thing. Father had attended to business so strictly all these years that this arrangement had not once occurred to her.
“I’ve been thinking what you said about seeing your old chums, and, by George! I’d enjoy it, too,” Henry went on. “I can’t think of anything more pleasurable than meeting Slim Reed and the Benson boys, and old Jim Baker.”
So Father got his hat and went back to the bank to attend to some business; for with that nonchalant way a man has of throwing a clean collar into a grip preparatory to a long journey there was nothing for him to do at home.
Kind-hearted Mother’s cup of joy was bubbling over. Happy moisture stood in her eyes as she got out Father’s things. How well he deserved the trip!
Hurrying back into the library to get a late magazine for him to take along, her eyes fell upon the one he had just been reading. It was the Midwestern University Alumnus. Smiling, Mother picked it up. Under the heading “Class of ’89”–that was Father’s–there were a couple of commonplace items. Her eyes wandered on. “Class of ’90.” There was a clever call for a reunion signed by the Class Secretary, Laura Drew Westerman. Mother sat down heavily, and The Thing, after a long hibernating period, awoke and raised its scaly head.
Now, there is in the life of every married woman a faint, far-away, ghostly personage known as The Old Girl. Just how much they had meant to each other, Mother had never known. She did know that every spring and fall for twenty-six years she had cleaned out a box which contained, among other trinkets, an autograph album and a copy of Lucile and a picture of a dark-eyed girl in a ridiculously big-sleeved dress, all marked “To Henry from Laura.” Laura Drew was Henry’s old girl.
So from this lack of knowledge and the instinct inherited from primal woman had been hatched a little slimy creature, so unworthy of Mother that she had refused to call it by its real name. That had been years ago. With the coming of children and the passing of years, The Thing had shriveled up, both from lack of nourishment and because Mother laughed at it. A Thing like that cannot live in the white light of Humor. But now, quite stunned by the sudden surprise that The Thing was alive, she could only listen passively to what it was saying:
“So! even though he has been kind and loving and good and true to you,” It said tragically, for it loves to be tragic, “across the years she has called to him.”