From the Relief Society Magazine, April 1940 –
By Mr. and Mrs. A.H. Gibbons
Eileen hurried in out of the cold spring night, hung her worn fur coat on its own hanger in the far end of the clothes closet and stepped up to the warm fireplace where Don sat thinking.
In the high altitude of the Wasatch Mountains, evenings were cool in spite of the springtime, but Eileen didn’t mind the cold. She was glad they had a home here in this beautiful valley, and there was warmth in her heart for the calmness and peace and security she felt with Don.
He looked up steadily at his wife as she came in – one of those precise, highly ambitious little women who would have arranged the stars in rows and marched them up and down the heavens – and wondered what her reaction to his words would be.
“I’ve some good news for you, Eileen,” he greeted in his calm, tactful way. “We won’t have to do any more fixing about this place. The Doctor was here to tell us that he is bargaining with another party for cash.” Don stood up quickly and laid his hand across her shoulders. “I hope you won’t mind too much, dear.”
“What? Mind? Why, of all the sophisticated nerve! Just you wait till I get a chance to tell him whose place this is. I’ll tell him to go – to go –”
“To go climb a tree,” Don supplied. “Don’t get all fussed up, Eileen. After all –”
“Why, that deceitful, mean, old, mean, old –”
“Man,” said Don, a hint of an amused smile hesitating on his face. Don was always slopping over with generosity, because he believed that kindness and calmness would whittle any trouble down to man size and put a good deal more fun into living.
“The idea of his pulling a stunt like that. he can’t do it! Why, he promised us a year to make that down payment if we’d take this place, Don, and all the rent we’ve been paying was supposed to be going on the purchase price. Why didn’t you tell him what he promised us? That we believed him? Why didn’t you tell him what we’ve done to this place?’
“Eileen, listen. Put on the brakes. We can move again, we’ve done it before,” Don said with quiet confidence, that inevitable piece of paper and pencil coming from his pocket.
“You’re telling me?” Eileen snapped.
Don very thoughtfully made O’s and A’s on the eight-dollar-and-fifty-cent reminder from the M. & L. Coal Co. To relieve a tense atmosphere, Don always made O’s and A’s on pieces of folded paper or envelope backs. “I suppose if he can get a good cash price – well, if we were in his shoes maybe we’d want to do the same thing, Eileen.”
“You wouldn’t, Don Whiting, and you know it. If you promised you’d stick to it. What did he say anyway? Didn’t he –”
“Just said he’s trying to sell the old home place because he can get cash, and all we can do is make payments. Can’t blame him much, really.”
Eileen trembled with uncontrollable resentment. Don was altogether too patient and tolerant and understanding. And Dr. Pribble couldn’t do this to them. He had promised he would let them have the home. She wouldn’t move again. She liked this renovated old home with its place for a cow, chickens, garden and a lot of outdoors for three growing children.
“We can be glad we found out he wasn’t going to keep his agreement before we spent any more on the place, Eileen.”
Eileen said bitterly, ‘I don’t suppose you remember the new bathroom fixtures, that inlaid linoleum for the kitchen, all the painting and kalsomining? We only spent about four hundred good dollars for improvements and most of it will stay put while we go blissfully on making payments. No wonder he’s got a chance to sell it for cash.”
“Sh! Mrs. Dewey’ll think you’re beating me again, honey.”
Eileen lowered her voice, but with threatening earnestness she reminded him. “Remember this house that morning we came? Plaster and old wall-paper in great heaps all over the kitchen floor, everywhere woodwork that needed scrubbing and two coats of paint, a yard filled with bottles, cans, old straw and rusty stove pipes! I tell you, Don, I won’t do that again. I won’t move again! Junior and Jackie worked for weeks to get materials up in that big poplar for their tree hut. And for what? Don’t you care at all, Don?”
“Of course I care, honey. And I don’t feel exactly right about this deal, but I can see the Doctor’s point of view; and – well, let’s just calm down a bit, honey, and think it all over, and maybe we can decide what’s best to do about it.” Don was made that way, things just naturally kept calm inside, while Eileen blew off the steam for the family.
“To think you believed that righteous little gnat! You wouldn’t even take my warning and get something down in writing. Because he’s Dr. Pribble he thinks – he thinks – Well, he can’t make me move!”
“He can very easily, if he wants to. We don’t have a written contract, you know. There’s not a thing you can do, so you might as well –”
Eileen’s face brightened. “Did you give him the check for April’s rent?”
“No. I’ll send him a check.”
“Oh, no you won’t! We won’t pay him another penny. We’ll get something for all this work, and we’ll stay here till he drags us out. If he comes here after it, I’ll tell him to wait – and I mean wait1″
“Come on, Mom,” he said kindly, placing paper, pencil and alphabet back in his pocket. “I must hie to bed if my students are to gain that portion of their necessary education on the morrow. We won’t have to move until the last of April, we we’ve got more than a month to find a new place. Let’s sleep on it, huh?”
Suddenly Eileen was ashamed and disgusted with all this useless raving. she was sick inside. She had never been able to accomplish anything by it. All the atmosphere about her, electric with “push,” had never penetrated the peace that was with Don, the deep sense of contentment that was part of him. She had preached her acid sermons, which of course she hadn’t always entirely meant. They had added dramatic thrill to living, perhaps, but they hadn’t changed Don.
Closing her eyes did not shut out her thoughts. She felt almost bitter toward him, lying beside her. He could have had a good job, or a better one, if he hadn’t been so easy-going. He could have had that job in high school if he had put up a fight for it. Why, he could write, with all his background and common sense! he could make money at it if he would, instead of dilly-dallying along just for the fun of it, the big – the big fool.
She ought to get a divorce. She could, too. But well, she loved him. He was so good to her and the children. Don had a tenderness and thoughtfulness that was rare in men. “Why didn’t you let me do that, Eileen? You sit down and read, I’ll swish the supper dishes. Come on, kiddies, let’s do this for Mama.” That was Don – always as kind and good-natured and calm as a ewe lamb.
She swallowed a little resigned choke that struck in her throat. She had always had hopes that he would some day wake up and become enthusiastically alive, that he would find a way out of all this living on bare necessities. a grade school teacher just couldn’t make enough to keep a family in this day and age. She had always prayed that some day he would find the way to give their children more of the good things they deserved. But lying here in the night, her last dream-bubble burst, she knew that things would never be different with Don. And she knew down in her heart that in spite of all she had said about telling Dr. Pribble a thing or two, he would do nothing – nothing. And they would be moving again. Eileen reached beneath the pillow for her ‘kerchief.
Early next evening, Eileen glanced out of the window to see if Jackie was keeping the baby bundled. Dr. Pribble was coming up the path, coming for April’s rent that he had forgotten to ask about. When it had been a payment on the house, Eileen had been more than glad to have that much put away, but now – he couldn’t have it. It would be one way to get a little for those hours of work and backache, for fixing up the place so he could get a cash deal.
“Don, here comes Dr. Pribble. now get ready, and don’t you give him a penny or I’ll –”
He knocked twice, then Eileen opened the door. She did not smile a welcome but looked squarely and a little hard into his black eyes behind their bushy, black eyebrows.
“Mr. Whiting, may I have the check for April’s rent? it is a little past due, I believe.”
“Yes, it is,” said Don, “but you see, we are just a little surprised about your change of mind. We’[ve spent quite a bit of money here, thinking the place would be ours – and – well, we wondered if you could allow us something for what we’ve done?”
“I feel that I cannot. You did this of your own choice, Mr. Whiting.”
“But you get the benefit in increased value. We put in a lot of time and money on this place.”
“Nevertheless, I feel that I cannot allow you cash. I did not ask you to do it, Mr. Whiting. I wouldn’t like to put the matter in the hands of a lawyer, you know.”
“Very well, Dr. Pribble, if you’re sure that’s the way you want it. You’re a good business man and know what you can do.” don drew his check-book from his pocket and made out the check. Dr. Pribble glanced at Mrs. Whiting, and he could see bitter resentment rising within her firm little body like the quills of a porcupine. His overgrown adam’s apple jumped a cog, and he bowed himself out with, “Thank you, Mr. whiting. Perhaps I may be able to help you locate another place.”
Don worked steadily making letters on the back of his check-book, because he did not want to look into those darkening eyes and upset her further.
“Oh, you!” She flung anger in his face, while tears of humiliation and indignation filled her eyes. “You aren’t really going to let him get the best of you are you, Don? Won’t you stop payment on that check? You aren’t honestly –?”
“Guess we better, Eileen. We’ve got a long while to live in this old world with Dr. Pribble. We don’t want to have trouble, do we? Maybe yet –”
“Trouble, my foot1 We have all the trouble. let him have some for a change! I tell you, I won’t move again. He’ll have to drag me out. Isn’t there something you can do about it? She flung the door wide and stepped out into the early evening. “Oh, come on, Don. It’s getting late. I’ll go with you to milk Susanna. We might as well decide here and now, once and for all, about this Pribble proposition. A lawyer! Pooh!” She stomped ahead of him toward the pasture lying to the far side of the corral.
Somehow, out in the clean, crisp April springtime, neither could think of the right words to say. The cow was milked. Don got up and climbed through the fence; Eileen turned and started along the path. Don set down the milk pail and picked up a handful of rocks. “We’ll have to stand guard so that Susanna and not that other longhorn quadruped will receive the nourishment from this box of grain. The minute our backs are turned she’ll have Susanna on the run. Junior hunted this pile of rocks for me.”
Then his wife began to laugh. it was an odd kind of laugh, but she kept it up, even as the aggressive, old, red cow poked her pious face through the row of new-leaved poplars and stood ready to advance, one round eye on the grain box and the other on the man with the rocks.
“What’s so funny?”
But Eileen couldn’t quit laughing until Don said, “Tell us about it, so we can all laugh.”
Then she turned on him.
“I’ll tell you! Our cow runs! Our dog runs! Junior runs from the neighbors’ kids, and all you can do is run from Dr. Pribble! Oh, I’m so sick of living with a man without any backbone I could fly away. And I’m going to do it! You remember what the superintendent said when I quit school to marry you? Well, I can teach again. I’m not going to run with you much longer. I don’t have to!” Her words snapped and crackled in the early April twilight.
She whirled and marched wrathfully several yards ahead of him up the path, around the sheds and on to the house.
He didn’t call for her to stop.
In all the three weeks which had passed since her speech at the pasture, Don had not asked forgiveness. He had hardly been home long enough. Always the children had been put to bed. Three times the past week he had been away until midnight and then without one word of explanation. She wouldn’t ask. But oh, how her heart ached for two strong arms and Don’s light-hearted teasing.
A fresh gust of wind which had come with the late April rains whipped against the windows of the sturdy, old house and banged an upstairs shutter as Eileen closed the door and watched from the window while Dr. Pribble and his prospective customer, who had come to take one more look, ducked into their raincoats.
Trying to close his deal! She glanced up at the clock over the fireplace. 3:15. Well, right now was a good time to close any deal! “they will be moving in a week,” she had heard him say. Moving in a week! Well, she wasn’t moving in a week. She was moving right now! She could move again. She had done it before! Determinedly, she marched up the steps to the children’s rooms. She began folding undershirts and sox from Junior’s chest of drawers and placed them too neatly into a large suitcase.
She would go right home to Mother’s and see Superintendent Passey the minute she got there. He would give her a job next winter; she was sure of that. She would have the children with her and … What if Don objected? Well, he couldn’t have them. What if they cried for him? For one moment she wondered just how she would make out with the children alone, and without him. But he just couldn’t understand – he never would, he never had in all those years together, which he had made so rich and happy. He never could understand how Eileen’s pride was hurt to see her man take the easy-going way when she wanted him to stand up and fight for their destiny.
The children would soon be coming from schools. She would have to throw things together and dash back downstairs for hers and the baby’s things, and they would leave on the 5:30 bus. The children didn’t know yet, but, well, she wouldn’t need to tell them now. There were just a few more weeks of school, then vacation. They would be glad to be going to visit Grandma, and …
Don would come and find them gone.
She felt the air heavy with gloom and disaster. Another burst of April rain, carried by wind, marched around the south corner of the house and banged the loose shutter. Because Eileen’s heart was breaking and because her body, mind and soul all ached from long weariness, she sank to the floor and cried, her head resting on the open drawer of the chest.
Eileen shivered. It was cold sitting up here on the floor. The dampness seemed to come right through the shingles on the high roof. she would have to get up and hurry, hurry …
“Eileen, oh, Eileen. Where are you? Eileen. Eileen!”
Don’s excited calling was coming nearer. She blew her nose vigorously on one of Junior’s soiled shirts and stood up, stiffly.
He bounded up the steps.
“Eileen, guess what! Where are you?”
He found her there, threw his arms around her, raincoat and all, and kissed her just as he used to. “I found the place at last, Eileen – over on the west side.”
Her heart, which had been fluttering rapidly up the scales, lost its hold and dropped heavily again to the lowest octave. “Moving to the west side,” she sighed.
Placing another kiss on the top of her dark head and folding her, this time underneath his raincoat, he continued, “It looked so good to me that I thought it might to the other fellow, too – the one who was going to buy this place. I found him in Dr. Pribble’s office and coaxed him to take a look before he signed on Dr. Pribble’s dotted line. He liked it. it is about the same price and has more space for his chicken apartments. We went back to tell Pribble, and right away the good Doctor began renewing his covenants with me. He counted the rent we’ve paid the last six months, including that April’s rent, as down payment, and we drew up a contract that Solomon himself couldn’t improve on.”
His eyes sweeping the room, he thought he comprehended the meaning of the empty drawers and the bulging suitcases. “You weren’t really planning on us moving again were you, honey?”
Eileen snuggled more closely against him. The April rain which came down and washed the windows clean was so welcome and restoring.
“Listen, there’s something else, too. I’ve got my book finished – you know, the one about School Teachers in Bondage that I’ve been working on over at school while you’ve been mad at me. You must arrange to get real mad at me often, honey. Will you? Huh?”
She smiled and nodded at him through her tears, then pressed her cold face hard against the hollow of his shoulder. It was broad and warm. Yes, she would. She would get angry often. It was as inevitable as that her teakettle should boil over the hot fire. She was Eileen. And she knew that always her heart would be grateful for the calmness and peace and security that was Don.