On the train the next day, Mother steeled herself to venture, quite casually: “I saw by your Alumnus last night that Laura Drew is to be there.”
“Yes, I saw that, too,” Father said simply, and the subject was dropped.
On the station platform at Oxford, Mother clung to Father’s arm for just a second, he seemed so boyish and enthusiastic. She stood for several minutes by the side of her grips watching the train curve around the bend of the bluff, carrying Father down the road to youth–and Laura Drew.
THEN, with characteristic good sense, she determined to put the thought completely out of her mind and devote herself to the resurrection of her own youth. So she walked energetically into the station, spread a paper on the dusty bench, and sat down. Her feet hurt her, but the trim girlish appearance of the gray suede shoes peeping out from under the smart suit was full compensation for all earthly ills.
A little gray-haired, washed-out woman in an out-of-date, limpsy suit was wandering aimlessly around the room. In the course of her ramblings she confronted Mother with a question concerning the train to Mount Carroll. Mother, in turn, interrogated the woman. It was Julie! Julie Todd, whose round, happy face Mother had crossed two states to see. Poor Mother!
After the first shock, she drew Julie down beside her on the bench and the two visited until their train came. Julie had no permanent home. Her husband, it seemed, had been unfortunate, first in losing the money his father had left him, and then in having his ability underestimated by a dozen or so employers. He was working just now for a dairyman–it was very hard on him, though–out in all sorts of weather.
There were seven children, unusually smart, too, but their father’s bad luck seemed to shadow them. Joe, now, had been in the army, and had left camp for a little while–he had fully intended to go back; but the officers were very disagreeable
and unjust about it. And on and on through an endless tale of grievances.
It was late afternoon when the train arrived at Mount Carroll. The station was a mass of moving students, class colors, arriving parents and old grads. Mother’s spirits were high.
Em met them and took them to her pretty bungalow on College Hill. Em had never married. She was Miss Emmeline Livingston, head of the English Department, and she talked with the same pure diction to be found in “Boswell’s Life of Johnson.” Also, she was an ardent follower of a new cult which had for its main idea, as nearly as Mother could ascertain, the conviction that if you lost your money or your appetite or your reputation, you had a perfect right to believe that there had been chaos where there should have been cosmos.
Nettie Fisher and Myra Breckenridge had arrived that morning, and were there to greet Mother and Julie Todd. Nettie Fisher was a widow, beautifully gowned in black. She had enormous wealth; but the broken body of her only boy lay under the poppies in a Flanders’ field, and she had come to meet these girlhood friends to try and find surcease for the ache that never stopped.
MYRA BRECKENRIDGE had no children, dead or living. Her sole claims to distinction seemed to be that she was the champion woman bridge-player of her city, and that her bulldog had taken the blue ribbon for two consecutive years. She wore a slim, flame-colored dress cut on sixteen-year-old lines. Her fight with Time had been persistent, as shown by the array of weapons on her dressing table. But Time was beginning to fight with his back to the wall.
They made an incongruous little group, as far apart now as the stars and the seas; but it had not evidenced itself to Mother, who, with blind loyalty, told herself during dinner that a noticeable stiffness among them would soon wear off.
After dinner, Mother unpacked her grips and hung the pretty gowns in a cedar closet. But the photographs that had been packed with happy anticipation she left in the bag. It would be poor taste to display the views of her cherished sun-parlor and fire-place and mahogany stair-way to poor Julie, who had no home. It would be cruel to flaunt the photographs of all those lovely daughters and sturdy sons before Nettie, whose only boy had thrown down the flaming torch. So Mother closed the bag and went down-stairs to meet the three boys of the old class who had come to call.