List Of Contents | Contents of The Treasure, by Kathleen Norris
< < Previous Page    

veiled and gloved, staring fixedly ahead of her for some moments.
Then she said aloud, in a firm but quiet voice: "Well, this
positively ENDS it!"

A delicate film of dust obscured the shining surface of the writing
table. Mrs. Salisbury's mouth curved into a cold smile when she saw
it; and again she spoke aloud.

"Thirty-seven dollars and fifty cents, indeed!" she said. "Ha!"

Nearly two hours later Alexandra rushed in. Alexandra looked her
prettiest; she was wearing new furs for the first time; her face was
radiantly fresh, under the sweep of her velvet hat. She found her
mother stretched comfortably on the library couch with a book. Mrs.
Salisbury smiled, and there was a certain placid triumph in her

"Here you are, Mother!" Alexandra burst out joyously. "Mother, I've
just had the most extraordinary experience of my life!" She sat down
beside the couch, her eyes dancing, her cheeks two roses, and pushed
back her furs, and flung her gloves aside. "My dear," said
Alexandra, catching up the bunch of violets she held for an ecstatic
sniff, and then dropping it in her lap again, "wait until I tell
you--I'm engaged!"

"My darling girl--" Mrs. Salisbury said, rapturously, faintly.

"To Owen, of course," Alexandra rushed on radiantly. "But wait until
I tell you! It's the most awful thing I ever did in my life, in a
WAY," she interrupted herself to say more soberly. Her voice died
away, and her eyes grew dreamy.

Mrs. Salisbury's heart, rising giddily to heaven on a swift rush of
thanks, felt a cold check.

"How do you mean awful, dear?" she said apprehensively.

"Well, wait, and I'll tell you," Alexandra said, recalled and
dimpling again. "I met Jim Vance and Owen this morning at about
twelve, and Jim simply got red as a beet, and vanished--poor Jim!"
The girl paid the tribute of a little sigh to the discarded suitor.
"So then Owen asked me to lunch with him--right there in the Women's
exchange, so it was quite comme il faut, Mother," she pursued, "and,
my dear! he told me, as calmly as THAT!--that he might go to New
York when Jim goes--Jim's going to visit a lot of Eastern
relatives!--so that he, Owen I mean, could study some Eastern
settlement houses and get some ideas--"

"I think the country is going mad on this subject of settlement
houses, and reforms, and hygiene!" Mrs. Salisbury said, with some
sharpness. "However, go on!"

"Well, Owen spoke to me a little about--about Jim's liking me, you
know," Alexandra continued. "You know Owen can get awfully red and
choky over a thing like that," she broke off to say animatedly. "But
to-day he wasn't--he was just brotherly and sweet. And, Mother, he
got so confidential, you know, that I simply PULLED my courage
together, and I determined to talk honestly to him. I clasped my
hands--I could see in one of the mirrors that I looked awfully nice,
and that helped!--I clasped my hands, and I looked right into his
eyes, and I said, quietly, you know, 'Owen,' I said 'I'm going to
tell you the truth. You ask me why I don't care for Jim; this is the
reason. I like you too much to care for any other man that way. I
don't want you to say anything now, Owen,' I said, 'or to think I
expect you to tell me that you have always cared for me. That'd be
too FLAT. And I'm not going to say that I'll never care for anyone
else, for I'm only twenty, and I don't know. But I couldn't see so
much of you, Owen,' I said, 'and not care for you, and it seems as
natural to tell you so as it would for me to tell another girl. You
worry sometimes because you can't remember your father,' I said,
'and because your mother is so undemonstrative with you; but I want
you to think, the next time you feel sort of out of it, that there
is a woman who really and truly thinks that you are the best man in
the world--'"

Mrs. Salisbury had risen to a sitting position; her eyes, fixed upon
her daughter's face, were filled with utter horror.

"You are not serious, my child!" she gasped. "Alexandra, tell me
that this is some monstrous joke--"

"Serious! I never was more serious in my life," the girl said
stoutly. "I said just that. It was easy enough, after I once got
started. And I thought to myself, even then, that if he didn't care
he'd be decent enough to say so honestly--"

"But, my child--my CHILD!" the mother said, beside herself with
outraged pride. "You cannot mean that you so far forgot a woman's
natural delicacy--her natural shrinking--her dignity--Why, what must
Owen think of you! Can't you SEE what a dreadful thing you've done,
dear!" Her mind, working desperately for an escape from the
unbearable situation, seized upon a possible explanation. "My
darling," she said, "you must try at once to convince him that you
were only joking--you can say half-laughingly--"

"But wait!" Alexandra interrupted, unruffled. "He put his hand over
mine, and he turned as red as a beet--I wish you could have seen his
face, Mother!--and he said--But," and the happy color flooded her
face, "I honestly can't tell you what he said, Mother," Alexandra
confessed. "Only it was DARLING, and he is honestly the best man I
ever saw in my life!"

"But, dearest, dearest," her mother said, with desperate appeal.
"Don't you see that you can't possibly allow things to remain this
way? Your dignity, dear, the most precious thing a girl has, you've
simply thrown it to the winds! Do you want Owen to remind you some
day that YOU were the one to speak first?" Her voice sank
distressfully, a shamed red burned in her cheeks. "Do you want Owen
to be able to say that you cared, and admitted that you cared,
before he did?"

Alexandra, staring blankly at her mother, now burst into a gay

"Oh, Mother, aren't you DARLING--but you're so funny!" she said.
"Don't you suppose I know Owen well enough to know whether he cares
for me or not? He doesn't know it himself, that's the whole point,
or rather he DIDN'T, for he does now! And he'll go on caring more
and more every minute, you'll see! He might have been months finding
it out, even if he didn't go off to New York with Jim, and marry
some little designing dolly-mop of an actress, or some girl he met
on the train. Owen's the sort of dear, big, old, blundering fellow
that you have to PROTECT, Mother. And it came up so naturally--if
you'd been there--"

"I thank Heaven I was not there!" Mrs. Salisbury said feelingly.
"Came up naturally! Alexandra, what are you MADE of? Where are your
natural feelings? Why, do you realize that your Grandmother Porter
kept your grandfather waiting three months for an answer, even? She
lived to be an old, old lady, and she used to say that a woman ought
never let her husband know how much she cared for him, and
Grandfather Porter RESPECTED and ADMIRED your grandmother until the
day of her death!"

"A dear, cold-blooded old lady she must have been!" said Alexandra,

"On the contrary," Mrs. Salisbury said quickly. "She was a beautiful
and dignified woman. And when your father first began to call upon
me," she went on impressively, "and Mattie teased me about him, I
was so furious--my feelings were so outraged!--that I went upstairs
and cried a whole evening, and wouldn't see him for DAYS!"

"Well, dearest," Alexandra said cheerfully, "You may have been a
perfect little lady, but it's painfully evident that I take after
the other side of the house! As for Owen ever having the nerve to
suggest that I gave him a pretty broad hint--" the girl's voice was
carried away on a gale of cheerful laughter. "He'd get no dessert
for weeks to come!" she threatened gaily. "You know I'm convinced,
Mother," Sandy went on more seriously, "that this business
of a man's doing all the asking is going out. When women have their
own industrial freedom, and their own well-paid work, it'll be a
great compliment to suggest to a man that one's willing to give
everything up, and keep his house and raise his children for him.
And if, for any reason, he SHOULDN'T care for that girl, she'll not
be embarrassed--"

Mrs. Salisbury shut her eyes, her face and form rigid, one hand
spasmodically clutching the couch.

"Alexandra, I BEG--" she said faintly, "I ENTREAT that you will not
expect me to listen to such outrageous and indelicate and COARSE--
yes, coarse!--theories! Think what you will, but don't ask your

"Now, listen, darling," Alexandra said soothingly, kneeling down and
gathering her mother affectionately in her arms, "Owen did every bit
of this except the very first second and, if you'll just FORGET IT,
in a few months he'll be thinking he did it all! Wait until you see
him; he's walking on air! He's dazed. My dear"--the strain of happy
confidence was running smoothly again--"my dear, we lunched
together, and then we went out in the car to Burning Woods, and sat
there on the porch, and talked and TALKED. It was perfectly
wonderful! Now, he's gone to tell his mother, but he's coming back
to take us all to dinner. Is that all right? And, Mother, that
reminds me, we are going to live in the new Settlement House, and
have a girl like Justine!"

"WHAT!" Mrs. Salisbury said, smitten sick with disappointment.

"Or Justine herself, if you'll let us have her," Sandy went on. "You
see, living in that big Sargent house--"

"Do you mean that Owen's mother doesn't want to give up that house?"
Mrs. Salisbury asked coldly. "I thought it was Owen's?"

"It IS Owen's, Mother, but fancy living there!" Sandy said
vivaciously. "Why, I'd have to keep seven or eight maids, and do
nothing but manage them, and do just as everyone else does!"

"You'd be the richest young matron in town," her mother said

"Oh, I know, Mother, but that seems sort of mean to the other girls!
Anyway, we'd much rather live in the ducky little Settlement house,
and entertain our friends at the Club, do you see? And Justine is to
run a little cooking school, do you see? For everyone says that
management of food and money is the most important thing to teach
the poorer class. Won't that be great?"

"I personally can't agree with you," the mother said lifelessly.
"Here I spend all my life since your babyhood trying to make friends
for you among the nicest people, trying to establish our family upon
an equal basis with much richer people, and you, instead of living
as you should, with beautiful things about you, choose to go down to
River Street, and drudge among the slums!"

"Oh, come, Mother; River Street is the breeziest, prettiest part of
town, with the river and those fields opposite. Wait until we clean
it up, and get some gardens going--"

"As for Justine, I am DONE with her," continued the older woman
dispassionately. "All this has rather put it out of my head, but I
meant to tell you at once, she goes out of my house THIS WEEK!
Against my express wish, she was the guest of the Forum Club to-day.
'Miss J. C. Harrison,' the program said, and I could hardly believe
my eyes when I saw Justine! She had on a black charmeuse gown, black
velvet about her hair--and I was supposed to sit there and listen to
my own maid! I slipped out; it was too much. To-morrow morning,"
Mrs. Salisbury ended dramatically, "I dismiss her!"

"Mother!" said Alexandra, aghast. "What reason will you give her?"

"I shall give her no reason," Mrs. Salisbury said sternly. "I am
through with apologies to servants! To-morrow I shall apply at
Crosby's for a good, old-fashioned maid, who doesn't have to have
her daily bath, and doesn't expect to be entertained at my club!"

"But, listen, darling," Alexandra pleaded. "DON'T make a fuss now.
Justine was my darling belle-mere's guest to-day, don't you see?
It'll be so awkward, scrapping right in the face of Owen's news.
Couldn't you sort of shelve the Justine question for a while?"

"Dearie, be advised," Mrs. Salisbury said, with solemn warning. "You
DON'T want a girl like that, dear. You will be a SOMEBODY, Sandy.
You can't do just what any other girl would do, as Owen Sargent's
wife! Don't live with Mrs. Sargent if you don't want to, but take a
pretty house, dear. Have two or three little maids, in nice caps and
aprons. Why, Alice Snow, whose husband is merely an automobile
salesman, has a LOVELY home! It's small, of course, but you could
have your choice!"

"Well, nothing's settled!" Alexandra rose to go upstairs, gathered
her furs about her. "Only promise me to let Justine's question
stand," she begged.

"Well," Mrs. Salisbury consented unwillingly.

"Ah, there's Dad!" Alexandra cried suddenly, as the front door
opened and shut. With a joyous rush, she flew to meet him, and Mrs.
Salisbury could imagine, from the sounds she heard, exactly how
Sandy and her great news and her furs and her father's kisses were
all mixed up together. "What--what--what--why, what am I going to do
for a girl?" "Oh, Dad, darling, say that you're glad!" "Luckiest
fellow this side of the Rocky Mountains, and I'll tell him so!" "And
you and Mother to dine with us every week, promise that, Dad!"

She heard them settle down on the lowest step, Sandy obviously in
her father's lap; heard the steady murmur of confidence and advice.

"Wise girl, wise girl," she heard the man's voice say. "That keeps
you in touch with life, Sandy; that's real. And then, if some day
you have reasons for wanting a bigger house and a more quiet
neighborhood--" Several frantic kisses interrupted the speaker here,
but he presently went on: "Why, you can always move! Meantime, you
and Owen are helping less fortunate people, you're building up a lot
of wonderful associations--"

Well, it was all probably for the best; it would turn out quite
satisfactorily for everyone, thought the mother, sitting in the
darkening library, and staring rather drearily before her. Sandy
would have children, and children must have big rooms and sunshine,
if it can be managed possibly. The young Sargents would fall nicely
into line, as householders, as parents, as hospitable members of

But it was all so different from her dreams, of a giddy, spoiled
Sandy, the petted wife of an adoring rich man; a Sandy despotically
and yet generously ruling servants, not consulting Justine as an
equal, in a world of working women--

And she was not even to have the satisfaction of discharging
Justine! The maid had her rights, her place in the scheme of things,
her pride.

"I declare, times have changed!" Mrs. Salisbury said to herself
involuntarily. She mused over the well-worn phrase; she had never
used it herself before; its truth struck her forcibly for the first

"I remember my mother saying that," thought she, "and how old-
fashioned and conventional we thought her! I remember she said it
when Mat and I went to dances, after we were married; it seemed
almost wrong to her! Dear me! And I remember Ma's horror when Mat
went to a hospital for her first baby. 'If there is a thing that
belongs at home,' Ma said, 'it does seem to me it's a baby!' And my
asking people to dinner by telephone, and the Fosters having two
bathrooms in their house--Ma thought that such a ridiculous
affectation! But what WOULD she say now? For those things were only
trifles, after all," Mrs. Salisbury sighed, in all honesty. "But
NOW, why, the world is simply being turned upside down with these
crazy new notions!" And again she paused, surprised to hear herself
using another old, familiar phrase. "Ma used to say that very thing,
too," said Mrs. Salisbury to herself. "Poor Ma!"


< < Previous Page    

Other sites: