A Daughter of Martha
By Ivy Williams Stone
As soon as she realized what she held in her hand, Gloria jumped from bed, dressed and swept the floor with meticulous care. She sifted the dirt through the flour sieve. As a reward, she held twelve diamonds in her hand. Diamonds that had a history which they could not relate; that had traveled ten thousand miles; that represented toil and struggle, privation and death. Gloria laughed and wept as she thought of the cunning of her father in outwitting the uncertain modes of travel. Letters containing a paltry sum of money had been rifled, but the crate of insignificant gourds had never been molested. Upon closer examination she found a round mark in the elaborate carving of each gourd. On one it was the squash, where the grinning monkey could not hold out his hand. Another, it was the center of the Kafir’s shield; another a wagon wheel, another a round stone at the river’s edge, where the natives washed. Each little round circle had been removed, the diamonds dropped in and the circle carefully replaced with glue. With the blinds drawn, trembling with excitement, Gloria and Claire opened the other eleven gourds with a sharp knife. Each gourd held exactly twelve diamonds. One hundred and forty-four stones lay before them on a piece of old black velvet. It seemed incredible. Gloria thought of the years of poverty, of the last slice of bread she had given to her mother, of the dandelions sweetened with a tallow candle. She thought of Peter’s leaky shoes; of her own, soleless; of the time they could not afford a pane of glass for Aunt Catherine’s window. How their fortunes would have been altered if the gourd had broken when Peter threw it in Aunt Catherine’s face!
“We’re rich!” she whispered the startling words to Claire. The new rich Americans, the war-rich middle class people, had money to burn. They could not spend it fast enough. Money for autos, for radios, for elaborate homes, for jewelry. They were having their fling, flaunting their money at the world. Diamonds were selling at a premium — she could almost name her price.
“O Aunty Glory, I’m glad I broke the Kafir warrior!” cried Claire, shivering in her excitement. “Now you can close your bakery, and buy beautiful clothes and never work again!”
The two women spent the remainder of the night in happy, glorious planning, and it was well, for the day brought its grief.
Soldiers leaving, bands playing martial music, women crying hysterically. Gas masks to fight the poison fumes which were a part of this dreadful conflict. Caterpillar tanks — smoke screens — air raids — submarines, these terms became common between rich and poor. Boys in the mud and desolation of the trenches. Women doing men’s work in shops, mills and factories. Men penetrating the forests for choice wood; ship yards almost over night. Comfort bags for the soldiers, containing everything but the ability to sew. Knitting circles. Rich women driving to Gloria’s little shop, to take lessons in purling.
How could she do it? When had she learned? How did she keep from dropping stitches? How did she manage to feed her yarn evenly? Gloria smiled remembering the sock a day which had been her allotted task in her youth, as she herded the cows and sang to imaginary audiences. The needles flew in her fingers, the balls of yarn became miraculously smaller, the sweaters assumed proper proportions. Mrs. Judge Conrad tearfully displayed a note which had come back to her from a soldier, who had received her laboriously made sweater.
“I like my sweater — it is sure some fit — Perhaps you can sing, but you sure can’t knit!”
“I know one sleeve was two inches longer than the other, and the neck wasn’t just right, but I did the best I knew,” her voice was shaky. “You see I never had to do such things when I was young.”
“Never mind,” comforted Gloria, “It will keep him warm, and he was only having some fun. You see, when men get so close to death they have to joke, or they would die. I know. It was that way with the twins in their nurse training. A doctor could be doing his very best with life hanging in the balance, but still they would joke. They have to — the strain is too terrible.”
Nancy and Francis had a son who wrote to his grandmother dutifully once a month, in a queer foreign language which she could not decipher. It seemed strange to have a grandson speaking the native tongue of a South American country better than his own. Francis Conrad had received recognition for his research work on a very rare moth. They were close to the jungle. The boy had a native teacher, a native nurse.
The food commission and rations. Sugar substitutes. Karo — corn syrup — molasses — honey. Substitutes for the good old fashioned flour. Corn flour — rye flour — oatmeal. The Parker House rolls were replaced with an oatmeal honey cookie which won instant popularity. No more all white flour bread, but at that her customers increased. She seemed able to disguise the substitutes into palatable foods. Women were too busy to cook. Gloria baked longer hours, used second hand sacks, saved every bit of twine. White was creeping into the red curls, turning it to burnished gold.
One diamond was saved for each of her brothers. There was no Margaret Kirkman to share in the general happiness over the fortune, but her brothers would feel a sentiment over those stones. Each of her four children should have one too, to keep. Perhaps Florence would have toleration for the queer, old-fashioned gourds when she learned what they contained. Then Gloria held the largest of the remaining one hundred thirty-six stones against her misshapen, toiled hardened hand and smiled at the effect.
“Too late, Claire,” she laughed. “Somehow, my hands look better in a pan of dough than adorned with jewels,. I don’t want to be a ewe in lamb’s clothing. I can never be a Jenny Lind.”
The “Gloria Diamonds,” as the jeweler called them became instantly popular. Newly rich people clamored to buy the diamonds with such a romantic history. The story of their history got into the papers. Photographers came to take Gloria’s picture, with the diamonds spread out before her, the empty gourds arranged at the side.
“She was born in a chicken coop and they found the diamonds under the bed,” one purchaser displayed her diamonds with keen delight. “Think of it. For over forty years those gourds decorated the parlor, or lay about, and she and her children were cold and hungry and starving.” The story grew fabulously. Her father had lain, dying of thirst, with the diamonds in a sack around his waist. He had been tied to an ant hill. He had been killed by Kafirs. Indians had passed up the gourds in disgust, to steal a bolt of red calico.
Young Doctor Peter Whitman, snatching a brief rest in a Red Cross canteen station, picked up an old American newspaper and saw his mother’s picture and read the story of her riches. The face that had been grim from a contact with horror and death, relaxed into a smile. He forgot he was hungry – forgot he was cold. His memory flashed back to a parlor in a country farm house and a big piano and an old lady who was industriously singing: “God save the Queen!” And a boy who picked up one of those precious gourds and struck her in the face. What would have happened had the gourd broken then? Would he have been here in a trench – a doctor saving humanity, learning, first hand, that marvelous new science of plastic surgery. Would he have struggled to attain an education and training if riches had been at his beck and call? Without sacrifice, without personal effort, nothing was ever attained that was worth while. He was glad the diamonds had not come until now. Now Mother could be idly rich for the remainder of her life.
Within a month after Claire dropped the gourd, the last diamond had been sold and Gloria looked at her bank account in amazement. What in the world should she do with so much money? To a woman who had once been hungry for bread, who had hidden egg money in a crock on the cellar floor, the sudden possession of thirty thousand dollars seemed a munificent sum. What should she do with it? There were no children with leaky shoes – no little girls to educate, no hungry mouths needing properly balanced diets. Claire already had the best glass eye she could buy – her simple wants were satisfied, there was no longer a mortgage on the lot. Riches which she did not need – she smiled ironically.
Under the pressure of war time shipment, the Union Pacific railroad found need to double track their grade through the canyon. At a convenient point a long narrow neck of suitable gravel seemed to beckon them. This gravel point belonged to the foster son of old Jonas Whitman, and many men still worked on that railroad who remembered Jonas and his vision, and who had scoffed at his purchase. Even Rodney was moved to deeper respect for the father who had had such vision. Even at the nominal price of “a dollar a dump” money began to pile up for Bruce Knight.
Long dormant energy and ambition began to pulse within him. He felt an urge to clean up the premises, to rebuild the barns. He found that a bass engine was more effective at cutting wood than human energy; that water running into a house and out of a house was not such an unattainable luxury as it had once seemed. And behind his every idea, urging him, encouraging him, praising him, came Lulu. She asked his opinion, yielded to his decisions, studied his likes, until a physical peace and comfort crept into his every day life. He no longer had to wear the old army coat. He did not have to use an old felt hat, or ask for money for shoes. He stood straighter, looked his neighbors in the face, took his place in the community. The cloak of assurance and self respect and self confidence that had belonged to Jonas Whitman was slowly showing itself to fit the shoulders of Bruce. But a dull queer ache was ever present. Although the library was never locked now, there was no little girl to wander stealthily in to read. So far, Claire had expressed no desire to return to the mother who had deserted her in her hour of need – she continued to refuse the hospitality of a father who had cowed her youth. Only two places at a bounteous table, where there might have been three. “Vengeance is Mine,” said the Lord.
Gold stars began to appear in windows. White faced women and grim visaged men came into the bakery, made their purchases, left in silence. A sorrow too deep for sympathy. Would it never end? Gloria rose early to mix her breads and baked all day long in the hot, stuffy kitchen. “Work, please God, give me work and more work, so I cannot think!”
Then at noon on November tenth, when the hills were wrapped in a hazy blue, whistles began to blow. people stopped their work – sirens – auto horns – shop whistles – anything capable of producing sound added its bit. the Kaiser had abdicated; Gloria stood at her door, handing out cookies to the hilarious children who ran past. She thought of her grand parents and the Napoleonic wars. The Kaiser had run away. Napoleon had run away. A hundred years apart two men had had dreams of world supremacy. Three hundred men in one well at Waterloo. The old roman road – the German blockade. Napoleon at Elba, spending his days to write a queer, reversible line:
“Able was I ere I saw Elba,.”
What would the Kaiser write?
The eleventh month – the eleventh day – the eleventh hour. The Armistice and pandemonium broke loose! No telephone service – no deliveries – everybody celebrating. A nation crazed with joy and relief. Across the street from the bakery Mrs. Goldberg was not celebrating. A message and a gold star were hers.
Peter wrote a brief letter. His work was just beginning. Plastic surgery – facial surgery – reconstructive bone work – restorative surgery. Grafting of bone and tissue from one part of the body to another. Making over the men who had been partially shot to pieces. A fascinating, marvelous work. He was able to take a battle-scarred, disfigured soldier and remake his face. The only drawback was expense. It took time and money and patience. New jaws — new noses, restored faces. As Gloria folded the letter Claire, with her twisted face passed into the bakery.
The girls were not coming home yet. There was still work for nurses.
“As soon as the children are home, I am going to take a trip back to Africa,” declared Gloria to Claire. “I am going to go by airplane and fast boat. I shall see the painted Kafirs, all ready for war, and the slow, plodding women as they wash by the river. I shall see the old trekking wagons, loaded for the interior. I shall buy the chicken coop where I was born. I am going to see the place where my father was killed.”
“My, that will cost a lot of money,” mused Claire.
“Well, who is there to use the money?” Gloria spoke even quicker than she had intended. “I can use this money now, as I see fit. No one needs shoes. No one is hungry. No one needs education. I’ve been thinking and planning on how to spend my fortune. I’m going back to old Africa — back where I was born. I shall see Elba again — perhaps by the time I get there, they will have put the Kaiser there to end his days.” Claire turned toward her Aunty Glory. Her attempt to smile twisted her face more markedly. “I’ll be so glad to tend the bakery while you’re gone. I can’t bake as nice as you can, but I’ll try.” As she watched the pathetic face, thoughts far from Africa and chirping monkeys crowded into Gloria’s mind. Peter’s words kept up an insistent rhythm: “New jaws — new noses — restored faces — money — time — and patience.” Why limit the operation to soldiers? Did it make any difference how the accident occurred? Why did Claire’s ear persist in twisting downward to her mouth? Why did her cheek pull upward toward the ear?
Airplanes and Africa — Claire and operations.
Peter was coming home. He who had gone away just a big boy was coming home a war-wise surgeon. Plastic surgery. His name was creeping into dispatches. Many boys were returning to their families so remade and repaired that the horror of their disfigurement need never be told. Gloria looked at Claire again and put the steamship folders and the “personally conducted tours” into the stove — she telegraphed Peter to wait for her in Rochester.
“Claire, how would you like to go to Rochester with me and meet Peter and have him remake your face? How you would like to go to sleep on an operating table and wake up with a piece of new bone in your jaw, so your face would be smooth and even and lovely?”
“But it takes money, Aunty Glory, for things like that.”
“Money? What did we get out of the gourds? What is Africa after all? A missionary has been telling me that the Kafirs are all farmers now. They never think of warpaint and shields. The native women have machines to do their washings now. There is a mine hundreds of feet deep, where the chicken coop stood that I was born in. The spot where my father was killed long ago became a part of another mine. Progress — Claire. Life, moving in its irrevocable circle.”
Could it be that this tall uniformed man, with thinning hair, whose eyes told volumes that his lips would not utter, was the boy who had struggled against tears at the loss of his first money? Would he do his scientific best to serve the daughter of the man who had taken that money — “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Peter took the disfigured face of Claire in his hands and turned her to the light. He studied her long and earnestly. “It will take a piece of your tibia, that’s your shin bone. It will take months. It will take patience and money. What I know is yours to command.”
They journeyed back home, the man in civilian clothes, wearing a smile of achievement. The girl with an ear where God had intended it to be and a lip that only moved when she spoke, and a marvelous new glass eye that was so perfect none could detect it. The woman did not see the wide, prosperous fields of the plains, nor the fine bridges over rivers. She was unconscious of the cushioned chair she occupied in the Pullman. She saw only a long immigrant train, drawn by oxen, moving at snail pace over the unchartered roads, fording the unbridged rivers. She saw sand lllies by ant hills, buffalo chip fires, prowling Indians, prayers and taps at night.
By the second Christmas after the war they gathered for a family reunion. Florence was nursing a shell shocked husband back to health. Flora had a brief vacation from a supervisorship in a large hospital. Peter had given his diamond away — he said it was only a loan — that it would eventually return to the family. Nancy bronzed, but happy, Francis wearing his honors modestly. Young Jonas, Nancy’s boy, speaking in slow, meticulous English, gazing wide-eyed at his relations. The overly large, plump old lady, who was always looking for a footstool, was much like his nurse.
“There is a roof garden on the house where we live,” he announced gravely to his grandmother.
“I had a roof garden too, when I was your age, Jonas,” smiled Gloria. “A roof garden of necessity. Sunflowers. The grass hoppers ate it up.”
“I follow a carefully balanced diet,” continued the serious faced boy whom Gloria wished could lose his reserve and be a carefree child. “I eat whole wheat bread and lots of green stuff.”
“I ate whole wheat too, Jonas. Sometimes I can still hear it crack. I ate greens too. Dandelion greens were all I had to eat. The grasshoppers ate everything else.”
“When I am older — when I am of age, I am not going to hunt specimens like my father does,” announced young Jonas in clear, penetrating tones. “I am coming back to this country. I am going to buy my grandfather’s farm. I love to dig, and plant seeds, and pour water and pull weeds, and let things grow. I am going to be a farmer.” Gloria smiled. It was like the bronze turkey that hatched a white turkey. Throw backs. Heredity.
After dinner Aunt Catherine picked out the softest rocker and sighed contentedly. It had been a wonderful dinner — with plenty of hot biscuits and cream.
“I’m certainly glad those war rations are over,” she smiled contentedly.
“I knew England would win the war,” she added. “It took her a long time, and it was a terrible conflict, but she was finally victorious. If only Queen Victoria could have lived, I am sure victory would have come sooner.”
“You are going to close your bakery now, Mother,” Peter spoke with the authority befitting a successful surgeon. “We are going to put you in a nice, modern apartment. You won’t have to bother with coal and ashes. You won’t have to be concerned over ice deliveries. Your apartment will be heated. You’ll have a little electric refrigerator. You and Claire are to live there in comfort and peace and contentment for the rest of your lives.”
“Idle contentment?” bantered Gloria.
“Well, you’ll have time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do,” urged Florence. “You can learn to paint — you can take piano lessons — you can learn to sing.”
“Spend your money on yourself while you’re here to enjoy it,” added Flora. “Your children don’t need it.”
“You may lie abed mornings until you feel like getting up. Then you can push a button, and a maid will bring your breakfast tray.”
“With a rose in a cut glass vase,” smiled Peter. “Then you’ll phone your chauffeur and he’ll take you for a ride.”
“In the evening you can dine out, and take in a show,” added Flora.
“Come to live with us,” smiled Nancy. “You and Jonas could have wonderful times. He’s too lonesome — I’m so busy helping Francis.”
“Ah,” sighed Aunt Catherine, “if I had a lovely bakery like this, with cream always in the ice box, I’d never ask for a change.”
“I have to work, my children,” Gloria knew the inevitable confession could no longer be postponed. “I have spent my money.”
“That operation on Claire’s face was expensive, I’ll admit,” said Peter, “but it didn’t take thirty thousand dollars. I know that much, Mother.”
“I repeat,” continued Gloria, “I have to work. Late breakfasts, and roses and maids and cars and chauffeurs don’t come just for the asking. Outside of this bakery and the service station, I don’t own anything in the world.”
They looked at her in amazement. Had she fallen prey to some unprincipled investor? Had she kept the money in her store and been robbed? Had she given it away to one of the countless war relief movements?
“You tell, them, Claire,” urged Gloria. “Perhaps if you tell it, they may see the purpose for what we did.”
“Well,” began Claire diffidently, “in the hills behind the Whitman ranch there were lots of sections of land which nobody cared to homestead, because they couldn’t be watered. That was at first, when land was plentiful. But when the nicer pieces of land were all taken and people still kept coming there developed “dry farmers.” They are still there. Their name is legion. They live there, eking out a pitiful existence, because they have no other place to go. Their children are far from good schools. The roads are poor. Their lives are cramped, poverty-stricken and shut off from the world. They don’t have autos, nor radios, nor good foods. Aunty Glory is building a school for them — right there in their own hills.”
“They won’t have to walk two miles to school through slush like you did, Peter,” interrupted Gloria before the children could protest. “What better use could I make of my money than to build a school where books can be had for the asking; where they will teach dancing and music, where a child can develop his talents, under the guidance of a capable, sympathetic teacher?” She looked about the little group and Peter made a quick answer.
“That is all very well on paper, Mother, but the modern teacher would not go up there and bury herself. You can’t find a girl nowadays who would be willing to follow such a colossal task. That means a life work. Teachers have become globe trotters.”
“I have found my teacher,” Gloria smiled and all eyes followed hers. She was looking at Claire, blushing prettily. “While the building is being constructed, she will take special training. I will build a little house for her own use, next to the school. I will erect a little chapel. There will be radio and autos. I even think there should be an airplane! It’s no use, Florence. A woman of sixty-five cannot learn to sing. My hands would never master a piano. My fingers will never hold a paint brush. It is too late. It is the march of life. Better that I give to those other children while they are still young enough to profit from the gift. They can reap the benefits which I was denied.”
Their arguments were without avail. Gloria had already made her arrangements. The “Whitman Endowment Fund” was already established. The plans were drawn. Judge Conrad had made everything legal.
They went back to their homes and their work. Florence took her invalid husband south; Flora returned to her hospital. Peter had a real position awaiting him in the East, also the “loaned diamond,” could not be left alone too long. Nancy and Francis and young Jonas returned to South America. The march of science had to go on. Peter sent a radio, the latest he could find. It stood in the store room, next to the glass show case. Aunt Catherine gazed at it in wonderment and delight. When programs began coming from England she hid the little bell that announced customers. Florence sent an electric refrigerator. Gloria sold the old one with a sigh of regret, remembering the countless nights she had stooped to empty the pan. Flora sent an electric stove. Gloria crowded it into the kitchen, between the six hole range and the sink. It was nice, but it did not brown bread enough on the bottom. Also, these modern things were made on too small a scale. It would only hold two pies.
Claire went in training, gloriously happy. Here was a life work for one whose youth had held no promise.” “I wonder,” she mused on a short visit to the two old ladies, “just what my mother is like. I can dimly remember a book with a yellow cover and a red ribbon around her neck.”
“I imagine,” smiled Gloria, “that I know where you could get a splendid place to board when you go to the school, if you take a fancy not to live alone. I know two people who live alone. I know two people who live alone, who might be glad to take a good looking young lady to board — just for the company. What do you think about it Claire?”
“I’ve been thinking of it a lot,” replied Claire. “I guess everybody makes mistakes. I guess mother must be changed a lot. I guess two people could be dreadfully lonely in a big house.”
Day in and day out Gloria ran the bakery. Bread and rolls and cakes and pies and cookies. Aunt Catherine came to live — it was so much nicer than at Victoria’s. She loved the rustle of the paper bags and the click of the small coins as they fell into the cash box. Customers were regular. Gloria could still work.
She had never had a doctor.
She had never lost a tooth. She had given her children education. Taught them self reliance — attainment through sacrifice. Like all things for which we sacrifice, their educations were priceless.
Short dresses — short hair — short marriages. The world was getting readjusted from the war.
The “Dawn-to-Dusk” flight from New York to San Francisco. Less than thirty hours. And a Utah boy doing it. Gloria hoped his mother could see the gray bird winging westward. She thought of the three months it had taken her people to trek westward from Omaha.
Lindbergh flying to France. It didn’t seem possible that a young man, alone, with a few sandwiches, could dare to set out over the vast expanse of water. It had taken the old sail boat Henrietta sixty days to come from Africa to New York. Life pushing, crowding, demanding. Irrevocable circle.
Every night Gloria made yeast and got her kitchen ready for the morning. Every morning she rose at five to mix her breads and rolls and cakes. Every night, just before going to bed, Aunt Catherine padded into the bakery room. She could not let a cream puff spoil.
Every waking hour Gloria worked. She had always worked. She would always work. She was a daughter of Martha.