Not Bread Alone
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
Linda closed and locked the door of the little church. She drew the collar of her coat up closer about her face and pulled her hat more firmly about her curls. She should have brought an umbrella, she told herself, for it had looked like storm since morning. Now the ground was covered with snow and white swirls enveloped her as she walked to the front of the building and started up the street.
She had always loved winter, and a white world for Christmas had seemed an essential part of the great festal holiday. But snow as beginning to have disagreeable connotations for her. The house was never comfortably warm when it stormed, and there was the unpleasant dallying of the men before getting out tot heir chores on snowy nights and mornings. The constant tracking in of mud and wet onto the bare kitchen floor was irritating, and Mrs. Bowers’ rheumatism was always worse in bad weather.
Then day before yesterday, Henry and Thad had gone to Mendon, three hundred miles away, to try to sell some cattle to pay delinquent taxes. If it snowed hard they’d have trouble getting back over the ridge the other side of the basin.
Linda had felt that Mel, instead of Henry, should have gone on this trip. It seemed to her that Henry was always given the hardest end of the work. But when she had intimated as much to him, he had spoken sharply, upholding Mel and inferring that he himself should do more than his share since there were two of them sharing in the home and Melville was only one.
This had hurt Linda. She knew, too, that Mrs. Bowers resented the fact that she spent considerable time giving music lessons and being so much away from the house, particularly since most of the lessons were to children of parents who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for them.
Effie, however, who bore the burden of the housework, had repeatedly assured Linda that it was all right, and that she was not to worry. Linda had tried to do her share of the work, but she found it difficult to fit into ways so different to which she had been accustomed, and it was different.
She had the piano moved to the church a few weeks after it came. Mrs. Bowers had complained about the noise of it, and she didn’t like the children to whom Linda had volunteered to give lessons, coming to the house. So Linda had gone to the minister, Mr. Stone, and asked if he wouldn’t like to have the piano in the church. She had already started working to build up a choir for him. That gave her a good reason for wanting the piano where it could help. He was delighted, and gave her a key so she could go any time she chose to give lessons or to practice.
Henry had not liked her taking the piano away. He complained that she would never be at home. But she had laughed at him, and had tried to be at the church in the main while he was busy in the fields or at the barn. But more and more she was being torn by the conflict growing out of her love for her music and the attitude of Henry’s folks.
Sometimes she wondered if it would have been better not to have got the piano. But when she realized all that it meant to her and of what she was beginning to give to this starved little community, she knew she could not give it up – at least not unless conditions became much, much worse.
Today she had been practicing with the children in connection with Molly Wheeler, the young inexperienced school teacher, a cantata to be presented on Christmas Eve. She had been away from home all afternoon. It was almost dark now, but she dreaded to go back.
She hoped Henry would be home. If he didn’t come tonight she would lie awake worrying for fear something had happened, or that he and Thad were caught in a storm the other side of the ridge.
Linda loved Effie, but found little companionship with her. Effie’s misfortune had warped a beautiful personality. She had been made to feel that her sin had brought everlasting disgrace to her family, and that she was in a measure the cause of her mother’s unhappiness and ill-health. She had drawn within herself as within an impenetrable shell, and had more and more become the silent drudge in the household. Linda often wondered what was going on in Effie’s inner world, back of her dark, baffled, unrevealing eyes. She had tried to find a way to enter that world, but so far, Effie had kept her door locked.
In quiet little ways, however, Henry’s sister revealed her devotion to Linda, and did everything in her power to save her from the little wounds of her mother’s complaining tongue and Mel’s domineering ruthlessness.
Linda had never felt at ease with Mel. The way he looked at her at times made her afraid of something she never tried to analyze. But she avoided him as much as she could.
Little Dicky was her one source of absolute satisfaction. They were pals from her first day. He let her help him with the airplanes he was constantly making, and he loved music and practiced by the hour when his grandmother would let him go to the church. But his little twisted legs were so bad at times that he must be in bed for days. He was having one of his bed spells now. Linda crossed over to the store to buy a few pieces of candy to take home to him.
When she entered the kitchen (the kitchen was the living room in the Bowers home) she knew by the sudden hush in the group about the stove that she had been the subject of their conversation. This had often occurred before, but Linda, who had not been feeling quite herself for several days, now felt more than usual irritation. However, she tried to control her feelings. She took off her things and hung them in the hall, saying as casually as possible,
“I was hoping Henry and Thad would be here.” She stood by the stove, warming her hands before going to the cot where Dicky lay.
“They probably won’t be here for a day or two,” Mel said. “Ike Lacy says there’s three feet of snow on the ridge and it was still piling up when he came over about noon.” Mel was looking at Linda with that bold, intimate expression in his eyes which always caused the blood to rush to her face and made her turn from him with a strange fear.
“That’s terrible,” she said as she walked to the other side of the stove. “What will they do? They aren’t prepared with enough bedding and food.”
“It will be tough all right,” Mel agreed, shifting his chair so he could still look at her. She went to the cot and bent over Dicky to show him what she had brought.
“If they couldn’t sell the cattle,” Mrs. Bowers was saying in her high, plaintive drawl, “no tellin’ what will become of us. They’ll be sellin’ the house from over our heads for the taxes.” As was her habit at the close of nearly every sentence, she took out her handkerchief and wiped her eyes.
Effie sat in a corner near the cot, silently knitting, never lifting her eyes as the others talked.
The room was close and there were the mixed odors of food and manure from Mel’s boots. Linda suddenly felt sick and dizzy.
“Aunt Linnie, tell me a story,” Dicky pleaded, as she straightened and reached for the back of a chair.
“I want a drink,” she said and started toward the water bench. She had been troubled with dizzy feelings for several days, but now she was nauseated. An unbearable repulsion for the room and everybody in it swept over her. She felt that she couldn’t endure it another hour without Henry. She must get outside for a breath of air. But before she could reach the water or the door everything went black and she felt herself swaying toward the floor.
When her mind cleared she was in someone’s arms. At first she thought it was Henry holding her close against his body; then she looked up and saw Mel’s face above her, and that look she hated in his eyes. She freed herself, asking bewilderedly,
“You started to faint,” Mel answered. His voice was strange and husky. Effie brought her a drink and put a damp cloth to her head.
As Linda sat sipping the water she suddenly became aware that Mrs. Bowers was staring at her in a queer way.
Mel went outside, calling over his shoulder,
“I’ll walk up the road a ways and see if I can see them coming.”
There was a moment of silence, then Mrs. Boers spoke.
“So that’s what’s the matter, is it? I’ve been suspicionin’ as much for days. Well, I don’t know where we’re goin’ to git money for doctor bills – and another one to feed – ”
“Ma!” Effie cried in a voice Linda had never heard her use before. She was bending over Linda as if she would shield her from the other’s shafts.
“Let me help you up to your room. And I’ll fix you some warm gruel before the others eat.”
Linda was in bed all the next day. Every time she lifted her head she was dizzy and nauseated. Effie brought her broth and weak tea. She sent word to Molly Wheeler that she couldn’t come to practice, but for them to go on without her.
Henry and Thad did not come that day or the next. Lying there hour after hour Linda imagined all the things that might have happened to them. This kept her from sleeping when she did feel free from dizziness. About ten o’clock on the morning of the twenty-fourth, Effie came up to tell her that the mail driver had got over the ridge, (there had been no mail the two days before) and that he had camped with Henry and Thad the previous night. They were bringing part of the cattle back, but he thought they would be home that night.
This news made Linda so happy she immediately declared that she was all right and started to get up. She felt somewhat weak but her head was much clearer and she told Effie that she was going at two for the last practice with the children. The cantata was to be presente4d that night.
“Do you feel like you ought to go,” Effie asked with a concerned look in her eyes.
“I really must go. I’m all right now. You’ve been such a good nurse – I’m only a little weak.” She began putting on her clothes.
“But – but you know what is the matter with you, don’t you?” Effie asked without looking directly into her eyes.
Linda seized her sister-in-law’s hands and turned her about.
“Not what your mother said the other night?” It was strange how in all the unpleasant confusion of the night she had fainted, the implication of Mrs. Bowers’ words had not registered upon Linda’s mind until this moment.
Linda hugged her and laughed and cried in a new joy.
“Oh, I’m so glad, Effie! So glad!” Then suddenly she sat back on the bed, remembering Mrs. Bowers’ words. No money for doctor bills – another one to feed.
But even that did not kill her happiness. Henry would be glad, too, and perhaps they could find some little place to live by themselves.
She went on with her dressing.
“I really do feel fine,” she told Effie who still hovered, trying to help and plainly worried.
“If you do, then the fresh air and the change will be good for you. I’ll fix you a bite to eat and bring it up here. You’ll feel weak when you try to come down stairs.” She started from the room, then turned half way back and said hesitatingly,
“You mustn’t mind – what Ma says. She can’t help it.”
Linda reached over and lifted Effie’s rough hand to her lips.
“”Effie, you’re a darling. What would I do without you?” The other hurried from the room in confusion.
Henry and Thad still had not come when Linda returned from the practice. She disliked to be away when they did return, but now she knew they were safe, she felt that she couldn’t do any thing but go on with the cantata. There was no one else who could play the piano and conduct it. Molly had been able to help with the singing and the staging, but the performance could not be given without Linda.
The church was packed. This was the first musical program ever to be given in Cedar Basin and every one was excited, the children who were taking part not more than their parents who had come to see them. Reverend Stone had been wonderful in his encouragement and co-operation. He had helped with scenery, and had decorated the church with Christmas trees and bright red and green streamers, giving the place a genuine holiday air.
Linda sat at the piano and played the performance through, feeling somewhat as if she were in a dream, so mixed were her emotions. There was her concern about Henry; her happiness over her secret she had to tell him; and her thrills and amusement at the various things that happened as the program proceeded. As she watched the children and realized what this experience was meaning to them, and to their parents, she forgot the ugly kitchen in Henry’s home, and the complaining voice of his mother and all the petty irritations of each day. and she glimpsed a vision of what she might do for this starved community if she could only keep that idealism her uncle said she had inherited and not let the petty sordid things of life blur her view. As the curtain was about to be lowered on the finale, Linda found herself breathing a little prayer.
When it was all over, she was tired, but she knew there had been few moments of such complete happiness in her life as she had experienced tonight. She couldn’t wait to share it with Henry and to write it to Uncle Peter.
When she reached home Henry and Thad were there. They were eating supper, their damp coats and blankets draped on chairs about the stove. Henry got up as she opened the door and came to meet her. He had not shaved for days and his eyes were bloodshot from the snow. When he took her in his arms, the memory of that moment when she had found herself in Mel’s arms swept over her, and for an instant she shuddered and drew back.
“What’s the matter? Aren’t you glad to see me after all this time?”
Instantly she recovered herself and drew his face down to her lips.
“Of course I am, darling. I’ve been sick with worry about you.”
“Your sickness wasn’t all from worry about Henry,” Mrs. Bowers said significantly, looking from Linda to Thad. Linda was glad Mel was not in the room.
“Ma!” protested Effie from her corner near the cot.
“Have you been sick?” Henry asked with concern.
“Not very,” Linda answered, giving Effie a grateful look and clinging to Henry’s hand. “I’ll tell you about it later. Now I want to hear about your trip. It must have been terrible.
Later, after Henry had bathed and shaved and they were in their room preparing for bed, Linda reached for Henry’s hands and locked them about her neck.
“Now I’ll tell you what your mother was trying to tell you downstairs. We’re going to have a baby, darling.” She looked up at him, waiting for the gladness she knew would spring into his eyes. But it did not come. Instead his fingers unlocked and he stood staring at her.
“No – no! – we can’t have anything like that happen – not now!”