From the Relief Society Magazine, 1935-36 –
Not Bread Alone
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
“Linda, must I wait until you have seen your uncle?” Henry Bowers’ serious dark eyes looked pleadingly across the cafeteria table, and his hand closed over the girl’s slim fingers toying nervously with a paper napkin.
Linda Borchard nodded, but she couldn’t quite bring her blue eyes to look into Henry’s. She was afraid of yielding to their appeal.
“But you love me, and you’ve said that you’d rather get married than to finish college or go on with your music. What else matters?”
“Henry, when you’ve met Uncle Peter, I believe you’ll understand why I have to talk it over with him. You see, darling, he’s been my father and my mother both for a long time, and things I do mean everything to him.”
“Of course. I can understand that. But from all I gather about him, his one big concern is your happiness. We love each other and want to be married. So why can’t we be engaged – now, before I have to leave?”
“I’m sorry to make things harder for you, dear, at a time like this. But I believe Uncle Peter will be here before your train leaves. I told him I had to see him. I know it seems strange to you that it matters so much, but I must talk to him first. I – I – Henry, I don’t quite understand myself. I’m sure he can help me to see – things straight.”
“But what if he shouldn’t get here? And what if Dad – doesn’t get better? if anything – happens, I can’t come back to school, you know.”
Linda patted Henry’s hand and bent nearer to him across the table.
“I’m so sorry about your father, dear. Would it – change everything – if – ”
“Everything. Dad was the only one who could understand at all my wanting to come to college. Mother’s not very well, and she – well, she’s sort of lost her grip on things. Troubles she’s had – I told you about Effie. She’s never got over that. And I’ve told you what a sap my brother Melville thinks I am even to want to go to school.”
A waitress came to clear the table. The two got up and walked through the outer hall of the Commons to the quad.
Linda’s blond curly head lacked a foot of coming to the top of Henry’s shoulder, and the slenderness of her straight little figure was emphasized by the breadth and thickness of his well-formed body. She put her hand through his arm as they walked toward Perkins Hall, the girls’ dormitory, and he pressed it close against his side.
“How far is it to your Uncle’s place?” he asked.
“Only eighty miles. But it’s a real country place – part of the way is by bus. When you come back you must go out with me for a weekend. It’s strange how Uncle Peter hates the city when he loves so much the things that are usually found in cities – music, painting, books. But I don’t blame him for loving The Hutch. He gave the place that name when he took it after he came from the War – shell-shocked – and we’ve always called it that.”
“What if he doesn’t get here, Linda?” Henry was looking at his watch. “It’s after one and my train leaves at three twenty.”
“I told him it was very important, and I know he’ll come.”
“What if he doesn’t like me? what if he won’t give his consent?”
“He’ll like you, darling. I’m not afraid of that. But – ”
Henry looked down at her puzzled at what was troubling her.
“He’ll have a lot of things to ask us,” she went on slowly, “and maybe – his questions will help me to see some things straight that I – can’t be right sure about now.”
“Linda, what? Don’t you know for sure that you love me?”
“Silly! I was never so sure of anything else in my whole life.”
“Then what else is there to worry about?”
As they walked up the steps to the dormitory hall, a girl with a tennis racquet under her arm passed them and said,
“Linda, your uncle is waiting for you in the lounge.”
Linda pulled Henry after her and threw herself into the arms of the slender old gentleman whose worried grey eyes peered up at Henry over her shoulders.
“Uncle Peter, this is Henry. Come on over here, both of you, where we can be by ourselves.” The two men shook hands and followed her to the alcove by the window.
When they were seated, Linda reached for a hand of each and bent toward them.
“Henry’s father is very ill, Uncle Peter. He had a stroke last night and they’re afraid – he won’t get – well. Henry has to leave on the three-twenty. That’s why I had to see you at once.”
Peter Marks’ penetrating grey eyes looked understandingly from one to the other. He smoothed his thin mustache. “I’m sorry,” he said to Henry. “But sometimes strokes are not as fatal as they seem at first.” Then he waited, looking at Linda.
Henry cleared his throat.
“You see, Mr. Marks, Linda and I love each other. We want to be married. At least I do, as soon as possible; but she wants to talk things over with you before we – really become engaged.”
The old man swallowed quickly and his fingers closed gently over the girl’s hand. He searched her face for affirmation.
“We do love each other, Uncle Peter, – very much. But I – I – don’t know what I ought – what I want to do. You’ve been so good to me, giving me all my music and this chance to go through college. And Professor Dione has been encouraging me a lot about my work. He wants me to apply for one of the Julliard music scholarships and go to New York for a year. He really says that he thinks I’ll make good at teaching. So you see, Uncle Peter, I can’t tell what to do.” Linda paused, looking uncertainly from one to the other.
Peter Marks transferred his gaze from Linda’s face to Henry’s. For a few seconds he deliberated, then he spoke slowly:
“Must a question so important to – all of us be decided at once?”
“You see, sir,” Henry quickly explained, “if my father – doesn’t get well, I won’t be back to college, and it would mean – well, just everything to me to know that we could be married soon; or at least to know that we’re engaged.”
Linda’s eyes were bright with love for Henry, but her fingers clung to her uncle’s.
“Is it just that you feel that you should go on with your education and your music because we’ve talked about it so long and worked so hard for it that you can’t decide, Linnie? Is it because you imagine you are obligated in some way to me – and to your mother – to go on?”
“Oh, Uncle Peter, I don’t know. That’s what I can’t tell. I love my music and want to go on. and I love Henry and want to be married.” She took her handkerchief from her bag and dabbed at the tears in her eyes.
“Then the question can’t be settled now,” Peter Marks said with finality. He turned to Henry and put his hand sympathetically on his knee.
“I’m sorry, my boy, but you’ll have to give Linnie more time. This is something you can’t settle by flipping up a coin and saying ‘heads I marry and tails I finish school!’ It means the happiness or the unhappiness of too many lives.”
Henry was disappointed, but he said nothing.
“If you must leave soon for the train, I’ll walk to the station with you while Linda arranges to go home with me for the night. There are a lot of things to be considered in a question as important as this; even an old bachelor like myself realizes that.”
They all stood up.
“I left my bag in the administration building across the quad. We can pass that way,” Henry said.
Peter Marks walked toward the door leaving the young people for their goodbye.
“Linda, does it have to be this way?” Henry’s arms were around her and she was weeping against his sleeve. “When we know that we care like we do, is anything else important? I can’t understand your not being sure if you really love me as I love you.”
“I do, Henry. You must believe that. and I’ll never love anyone else in the world. But I must have a little time.” She clung to him and his arms tightened. Their lips met. Linda continued to sob as they moved toward the door.
That evening Linda sat with her uncle under the pear tree near the vine-covered cottage he called The Hutch. It was a moonlit evening and the spring breezes sifted showers of petals over the rustic bench upon which they sat. Neither during their journey home nor while they had prepared and eaten their supper, had they mentioned the problem about which they were both thinking and which had brought them together. After the dishes were washed and Linda had hung her apron behind the door, they had come as by habit to the pear tree.
It was here that Linda had been comforted after her mother’s death and made to feel certain that death was not the final, tragic thing it seemed. It was here, also, that she had learned from the man beside her the things she needed to know when she was changing from girlhood to womanhood and there was no mother to perform the office. It was here they had spent long hours reading together, enjoying sunsets and moonrises, and planning her future.
For a little time they sat without words, enjoying the bond which held them so close together. They watched the moon rising higher over Blue Hill and felt the waxen pear petals falling upon them. Peter Marks touched the girl’s soft curls with his long fingers and looked down at her pointed chin.
“The first question, Linnie,” he began slowly, and she knew by the look, in his eyes how much her going away with Henry was going to mean to him, “and of course the biggest question is, are you sure you love this boy?”
Linda reached for his hand and held it in both of hers. How precious he had always been to her.
“I do love him, Uncle Peter. I love him so much it hurts. I love him as much as I do you and Mommy – only it’s different.”
“I understand that, honey. It’s natural and right that this different kind of love should come to you. Our problem is to find out if it is the genuine article and also to look into a few other things – that might stand in the way of your happiness.”
“Henry is wonderful, Uncle Peter. I wish you knew him. He’s not just big and strong and good to look at; he’s ambitious and clean and fine in every way. I know you’ll like him when you get to know him.”
“I like him already. That isn’t the problem. What worries me, Linnie, if you really love him, and I think you do, is whether or not the handicaps of his – well, I suppose I may call it background, have robbed him of some of the things that will be very necessary for the complete happiness of a girl like you.”
“I don’t know what you mean, Uncle Peter.”
“And I’m not sure that I can explain.” He searched for words. It was several seconds before he spoke, then he said impressively,
“It is not by bread alone that man lives. There must be something else for full living – beauty, I suppose it is – beauty in some form – to feed the soul as bread feeds the body.”
“You mustn’t think, Uncle Peter, that just because Henry was raised on a farm that he can’t appreciate – other things. He does. I’ve seen his eyes fill with tears when he’s been listening to me play.”
“I don’t want to seem hard, honey. But were you sure he was listening to your playing, or watching you play? Two kinds of beauty would be involved there, and I have no doubt in the world that he could sense the one to the fullest.”
Linda looked at him wondering if she understood. Her uncle continued:
“You were born with a good deal more idealism than the average girl. I am not saying it is the best thing in an age like this. At least, it’s not the most comfortable inheritance one might receive. But you have it – just as much a part of you as your blue eyes and your pointed chin and your impulse to stamp your feet when things don’t go right. It’s a part of your Grandmother Marks who was the talk of this whole part of the country in pioneer days because she refused to leave her organ when she crossed the plains, and because she went barefoot for two years so she could buy a set of Shakespeare’s plays. Your mother had it, and it made her give up a life of luxury and ease and come back to poverty and hard work so that she might be more sure of giving you the things she thought were more precious than the bread of life.”
“But I know about my father, Uncle Peter – that he wasn’t the kind of man Mommy could go on with. You don’t think Henry – ”
“No, no, honey! Not that. I’m sure Henry is good and straight-forward and clean and fine as you say. He’ll never be rich, perhaps, but I think he’ll always be able to supply his wife and children with shelter and clothing and food – with the bread of life. But those are not all of the essentials to living; they are not even the main things for people like your Grandmother Marks and your mother, and – you and me, Linnie.”
“I know what you mean, darling. Music, poetry – just sitting quiet under a pear tree and thrilling over the kiss of cool petals against our cheeks and the lights and shadows the moon is making on Blue Hill. But can’t people have such things, if they want them, even out in Cedar Basin?”
“I suppose if people want such things badly enough, they can have them anywhere. Your Grandmother Marks proved that. But it’s much harder in some environments than in others and among people who do not consider such things essential. Henry told me that there isn’t a public library within three hundred miles of his home, and that the nearest high school is thirty miles away. People do not have lawns and flower gardens around their homes – they’re too busy with their fields and the water is scarce. And, Linnie, there isn’t a piano in the entire community.” He paused and looked down at her bent head.
“I know all those things. That’s why I had to talk to you before I answered Henry. I couldn’t be sure whether such things were important. But people don’t have to live like that; you’ve just said so yourself. Henry and I wouldn’t have to. We could have our books and music – and there are glorious sunsets and moonlights and streams of water everywhere. We could find or make those things, couldn’t we, Uncle Peter?”
“To an extent, yes, if they mean enough to you, and – if there aren’t too many other forces against you.”
“I know I’ll have to give up some things. I can’t go on with my music and there won’t be lectures and concerts. And worst of all, I’ll be miles and miles away from you. But there would be other things – I love Henry. I can’t think of going on without him. I guess you don’t know how – feeling that way about someone is.”
The old man’s fingers tightened over hers.
“Yes, I think I do, Linnie. But sometimes – we have to go on – even while thinking we can’t.”
Impulsively her arms went around him. she remembered the photograph of a young girl which had always stood on his dresser.
“I’m so sorry. Forgive me, darling.”
He patted her shoulders.
“That’s all right, honey. It wasn’t so hard after you came. and if you are sure you feel like that, the other things don’t matter so much. If you feel that you can’t go on without your Henry, go and write and tell him so, and we’ll hope for the best.”
“Thank you, darling. Thank you.” She sprang up and kissed him, then ran toward the house, leaving Peter Marks in the moonlight praying that she would find through her love much more than the bread of life.