Not Bread Alone
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
As the mail truck chugged to the top of the ridge overlooking Cedar Basin, Linda recalled that September day more than six months ago when she had caught her first glimpse of her new home. Her emotions were almost as mixed today as they had been upon that occasion. She seemed almost a different person now – older, wiser – and a little sadder. She was returning to Cedar Basin after an absence of nearly two months. She had been called to Uncle Peter who had been desperately ill and was even now on his way to a sanatorium in Arizona where he hoped to regain his vitality.
She would never forget his happiness and his tenderness when he learned she was going to be a mother. She had not written him about it for she knew he would worry about her being so far from medical care. He had discovered her condition after he was getting better, when she reached up one day to adjust a window shade. She saw the light of happiness shining in his grey eyes as he reached for her hands.
“Linnie, why didn’t you tell me, honey?”
She had put her cheek down against his thin cool hands and had cried a little.
“Are you happy?” he had asked, stroking her hair.
“Very, very happy,” she had whispered.
How thankful she was she could say those words to him, for there had been days after that terrible moment on Christmas Eve when Henry had cried, “No, no, we can’t have that happen now,” when she had felt that she could never be entirely happy again. Even though Henry had taken back his words the instant they were uttered and had held her in his arms and called her all the endearing names of their courtship and had repeated over and over that he was glad and that everything was going to be all right, still his look and those words had done something to her which had left a little scar. Henry had been so sweet and tender afterwards, trying in every way he could to atone for her suffering that she tried to forget. She realized later when she thought of the strain and exposure he had been under for days, and how the attitude of his mother would affect him, that his first sudden reaction was a natural one. She was recompensed, too, in his added sweetness and consideration during the days that followed when they grew nearer to each other than they had ever been before. She no longer felt that she was alone, an outsider in the family, and that Henry stood neither with her nor with the others. Now she knew that no matter what crisis might arise, he would be with her. But that experience had revealed to her what close companions suffering and love can be. Before, she had always associated love with happiness.
Uncle Peter had given her money and told her to buy things she would need. She had accepted without revealing what it meant not to depend upon Mrs. Bowers and Mel for such things. She carefully guarded the most unpleasant features of her life in Cedar Basin from him. During the days when the old man was gradually becoming strong enough to travel, he and Linda had enjoyed their old companionship, reading, listening to symphonies on the phonograph and from the radio, and talking quietly or sitting silent, happy in the nearness of each other while Linda sewed on dainty little garments for her coming child.
As the mail truck drew nearer to the village, Linda’s heart-beat quickened. She was glad she could feel happy to be coming back. In a few moments she would see Henry and would be in his arms. When she realized how much she loved him, she wondered how she could ever think that other things mattered while they had each other and their future.
“Everybody is goin’ to be mighty glad to have you back, Mrs. Henry,” the mail driver said again after a silence of several miles. Lon Macklin was usually a silent man; perhaps because he spent so much time on the desert road. His words warmed Linda and made her realize she had an affection for the people of the little town.
“I heard Ike Lacy sayin’ the other night before they moved away, that you givin’ his Emmie them music lessons was makin’ a new girl out of her. And Marthy Kirk thinks the same way about her Hetty. And I heard that the minister preached a hull sermon about you the other day – what a fine thing it was, you startin’ a choir and leavin’ your pianny there at the church the way you have. Folks says Phoebe Larson’s done purty good with the choir while you been gone, and she sets there all day guardin’ the pianny while the kids practice. I ‘spect she’d skin anyone alive who as much as scratched it.”
Linda laughed appreciatively. She was sure Phoebe would do something almost as literal as that. The girl couldn’t do enough to show her gratitude for what Linda had given to her starved soul.
Henry was at the post office to meet her, Dicky waiting in the car. In Henry’s arms and with his kisses on her lips, Linda realized that if Cedar Basin were twice as ugly, which she thought was impossible, and if Henry’s family were much more irritating, she would still be happy to come back.
“Aunt Linnie,” Dicky shouted happily at sight of her. He hugged her tight when she opened the car door and leaned in to kiss him.
“You stayed a long time,” he said as Henry adjusted her bags. “I had two bad spells and I wished you was here to tell me stories and sing.”
“I wish I could have been, darling. I’m glad you are better now – and you can’t guess what I’ve brought for you.”
Linda thought he looked thinner and more pinched than when she had gone away. Her heart ached for the little fellow, handicapped for life in so many ways.
“Hurry, Uncle Hen, aunt Linnie has brought me a surprise,” he called.
Henry smiled at both of them as he got into the car. He leaned toward Linda and said,
“And I have a surprise for a little girl I know.”
“Oh, darling, what?”
“You’ll have to wait too.”
In a few moments they were home.
Mrs. Bowers was sitting as usual in her arm chair by the kitchen window. Linda bent and kissed her cheek. She would never get over feeling sad that she could not love Henry’s mother.
“How are you?” she asked.
“I’m not a bit well,” the old lady complained. “My rheumatiz is worse than it’s ever been in the spring. And there’s so much to worry about all the time– never gettin’ caught up with the interest on the mortgage, and back taxes. If Pa only knew all the troubles he’s left me with. And now Henry goin’ ahead an’ –”
“Please, Ma – ” Henry remonstrated.
Melville and Thad came in from the barn with the milk. Effie got up to take care of it and Linda went to speak to the boys. Thad grinned and blushed. Linda knew he was glad she was back. Mel turned from the wash bench and extended a damp hand.
“A bad penny always comes back,” he said laughing. Suddenly as she put her hand into his, he drew her to him.
“Surely you’ve got a kiss for your big brother,” he said, and before Linda knew what was happening his hot lips were pressing hers. She turned her frightened, indignant look to Henry, but he was smiling, evidently pleased that Mel was becoming reconciled to his marriage, and Linda realized that she could never tell him of that dreadful fear she had when Mel looked at her.
“Aunt Linnie,” begged Dicky taking her hand, “can I see my surprise?”
“You certainly can,” she answered, glad of an excuse to bend over her bags and wipe her lips. She felt strangely contaminated. She had tried to make herself think she had misunderstood Mel’s glances, and his holding her the night she fainted. But there was no misunderstanding the passion of his kiss.
“See! Looky, everybody! Look!” cried Dicky with joy. “See my airplane.”
Henry came and took Linda’s arm and led her into the front room.
“Do you want to see your surprise?” he asked. “There it is down the street two blocks and through the lot.” He pointed with his hand.
“What? I don’t understand.”
“it’s Ike Lacy’s house; can’t you see it? Ike and his folks have gone to Mendon for a year to try their luck and he wants us to live in their house.”
“But – the rent.”
“You’ve already paid most of the rent, he says, giving Emmie music lessons. We can have it for five dollars a month. He says that will pay the taxes.”
“Oh, Henry, darling – I – ” Linda burst into tears.
Henry put his arms around her and kissed her hair.
“I didn’t know it would mean so much to you, sweetheart, or I would have tried some way to manage something like this sooner.”
“But what – how does your mother feel about it – and Mel? Even the five dollars is something. And how can we furnish it?” It seemed too good to be true.
“Ike left their furniture, such as it is. Of course Mother and Mel can’t understand why we can’t be satisfied staying here; but we’re not going to worry too much about that. Sometime, you know, we’re going to break clear away and they might as well be getting used to it.”
The baby came on the third of August, three weeks before Linda’s time. Henry had arranged to take her to a maternity home in Mendon; but labor came upon her suddenly one morning a half hour after he had gone with Melville and Thad to the fields three miles south of town. As soon as she had been certain of the truth, Linda had called a child from the street and sent for Effie. Effie’s quiet efficiency and devotion during the days that followed cemented the bond which had been growing between the two women.
Granny Williams, who had brought most of the babies in Cedar Basin during the past thirty years, was summoned, and a messenger was sent to the fields for Henry.
But when he got home, his son was born, and Linda, white as death and almost too weak to smile, was lying in the darkened bedroom. Henry was terribly shaken. He knelt beside her and kissed her hands and let his tears pour over them.
“To think of your going through it here – like this, alone – I can’t forgive myself.”
“It’s all right, dear,” Linda whispered. She gave a tired little sigh and closed her eyes.
After a little Henry went into the other room. Granny Williams was chafing the baby’s limbs. She kept peering anxiously at the little face. Effie was warming blankets at the stove.
“Is something wrong?” Henry asked.
“It’s his circulation,” Effie said. “He keeps going purple.”
“God!” Henry sank into a chair. Why hadn’t he taken Linda to the city weeks before? To think of her going through all that and – have something happen to the baby.
“Isn’t there something we could do – someone we could get?” He asked desperately, getting again to his feet.
“Granny is doing all she can,” his sister reminded him.
“But a doctor. There’s a baby specialist in Mendon, isn’t there? That Dr. Grieg who came out when Minnie Bancroft’s baby had diphtheria.”
“He wouldn’t budget form his office until Jim Bancroft gave him five hundred dollars,” Granny said, still working the tiny limbs. “I don’t know anyone else in town but Jim who could a done that.”
“Good Lord, he ought to be made to come in a time like this. I’m going to send for him.” Henry grabbed his hat and started for the door. Linda called from the next room. He went to her.
“Henry, what is it? Is something wrong with the baby? They didn’t tell me.”
“Maybe it isn’t serious, sweetheart, but his circulation doesn’t seem right. I’m going to send for Dr. Grieg.”
“I heard what Granny said about the money. There’s the piano, Henry. You know the Bancrofts told Mel they’d give six hundred dollars for it when they were trying to collect on the mortgage.”
“Oh, Linda, I can’t bear –”
“Hurry, darling!” she pleaded and he rushed from the house.
A month later Linda sat in an arm chair by the window holding her small son to her breast. The baby was entirely normal now and in the last two weeks had added ounces to his weight. Linda was still weak, and could be up but a small part of each day.
They had named the baby Edwin Peter for Henry’s father and Linda’s uncle. Uncle Peter, who was still in the sanitarium, had written a wonderful letter. Linda had not told him how nearly the little life had slipped away almost as soon as it had come. She tried not to think of that terrible experience. The few days of anxiety had been terrible. Then there was the realization that she no longer had her piano. She realized that all the pianos in the world would not have been enough to pay for anything so precious as her baby’s life, and even if Granny Williams was right that they had been unduly excited and that everything would have been all right without Dr. Grieg, she would never regret what they did. Still, life wouldn’t be the same without her music.
Always when she faced that fact, she turned to her baby and tried to forget that anything mattered now that she had him safe and well in her arms.
She saw Henry coming along the street. Effie came to the door.
“There’s Henry coming now, so I guess I’ll go. ma’s not feeling so well, and Dicky had a bad spell again last night.”
“Effie, darling, what would we all do without you?” Linda reached for the other’s hand and pressed it lovingly. Effie’s fingers tightened and she bent quickly and kissed Linda’s cheek.
“It’s me that don’t know what I’d do without you,” she said and a sob filled the room.
Henry opened the outside door and Effie hurried from the room, leaving Linda with tears upon her cheeks. That was as near as Effie ever came to opening the door of her inner life to anyone.
“What’s the matter?” Henry asked as he saw Linda’s face.
“I’m just happy, darling. You know I always cry when I’m happy. I’ve just been realizing what a precious treasure Effie is. We must do everything we can to make life up to her.”
“Sure,” he agreed. He sat down with his elbow on the arm of her chair, staring from the window.
“Linda, I just heard that Jim and Minnie Bancroft are moving to Mendon. They’re going to take the piano.”
“Oh,” breathed Linda. She closed her eyes and clung to Henry’s hand.