Not Bread Alone
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
It was another September day nineteen years after Linda Bowers first came to Cedar Basin. And she was still there. Today her two oldest children, Edwin Peter and Jenny Lind, were leaving home for the first time to go to school in Mendon. Eddie was ready for college and Jenny would be a junior in high school.
It had been hard for Linda and Henry to decide what to do about sending the children away – and hard, too, to raise the money to do so. For ten years Henry had been running part of the farm himself, paying his share of the interest on the mortgage and helping to keep up the taxes and other expenses. When the division had been made, Melville had kept the larger share and the best portion of the land – explaining he had his mother and Effie to keep. Thad and Henry worked the north fields and co-operated much in their work, though each ran his business independently.
Thad and Kathie lived in part of her mother’s home and had two daughters now. Henry and Linda had another boy, named for Dicky who died the year before the baby was born, and a little girl, Bonnie, now five.
Linda sometimes thought that she should feel terribly old with five sons and daughters, two of them taller than herself. And sometimes she was surprised by remarks from the children which indicated that she was old to them. But she didn’t feel old to herself, not even when she realized that she would be forty her next birthday, or when one of the children or Henry found a gray hair among her blond waves. She was sure that to herself she would never seem old, because she was still looking ahead to life, always expecting things – things she was now quite sure in many cases she would never realize, but still always expecting and planning and working as if she knew her dreams would all come true.
And some of them had come true. This very day was seeing one fulfillment – the children going away to school.
It had been a long struggle. Linda had substituted in the school the winter Molly Wheeler had a nervous breakdown, and she had taught special high school courses several years for young people who were beyond school age and didn’t want to go in the bus every day to the county high school in Bear Valley thirty miles away. And after her Uncle Peter’s death seven years ago, she had started a little store in her front room with the small legacy he had left her, carrying a stock of things Sam Mercer refused to carry in his store, but which she knew would sell. She had continued to give music lessons, too. There were a number of pianos in the town now, and some of her students paid her money. The parents of some others sent her a quarter of a mutton or a sack of flour occasionally. Some still accepted lessons free, and she was glad to give them if a child was interested, for to her music was still a big part of her life.
She had gone to Arizona to see her uncle the winter before he died and had taken Effie with her for a trip. Her uncle had lamented at that time that his years in the sanatorium were eating up the money he had hoped to leave her for the education of the children. He hadn’t left her much money, but there had been almost a truck load of books and magazines and music and pictures. These were more precious than money to her. She also had a free title to The Hutch. She couldn’t bear to sell it for the little such a place would bring, and there was no opportunity to rent it; so she permitted one of her uncle’s friends to live there for taking care of the place.
Peter Marks’ books were carefully covered and stamped and arranged in one corner of Linda’s store as a library. She hadn’t realized before how hungry people could become for something to read.
“I wish Uncle Peter could know how his influence is going on and on in the good his books are doing,” she once said to Henry. “They are giving these people that something more than bread he was always so interested in.”
“And your music and your love for flowers and other forms of beauty are doing the same thing,” he told her. “We used to think we couldn’t stay here because the place lacked everything we wanted most. But it’s changed a lot in the last nineteen years – largely through the things you’ve given.”
“But we still have to send the children away for school. That’s hard when they’re so young.”
“You must not worry. They’ll be all right,” he assured her. “Nothing else I ever did in my life did me as much good as going away from home to school. Why, that’s how I found you.”
“But there are so many temptations now. And perhaps you were – stronger in some ways than Eddie is.”
Both Eddie and Jenny were overjoyed at the prospects of going away. To them it was a glorious adventure. They were to keep house in a small apartment near school. Linda wished they could afford to have them live in dormitories. There would be a certain supervision by older people there. But it had been all they could do to save enough money for tuition and books and rent and other bare necessities. Most of their food would be sent from home.
Henry was going to take the children in the farm truck. He would bring back a new plow for the fall plowing and some supplies for the store.
When it was time to say goodbye, Eddie put his arms around his mother and kissed her. He was tall, handsome, Linda thought, and had a personality that quickly won him friends. But his mother was much more worried over him than over his pretty, quiet sister a year younger. Eddie still had a tendency toward – Linda didn’t know whether it was exactly selfishness or just an unnatural greed for money – but it had always worried her. Perhaps if they had had more money it would have been different, she sometimes thought.
“Don’t you worry about us, Mom,” Eddie told her. “We’re going to get along keen. I’ll just show you and Dad what a good business man I am. It’ll be great managing my own affairs and handling more than a quarter.”
Linda’s throat tightened. There it was, even now. And she had worked so hard to subordinate that feeling and build up other qualities in him. Sometimes she would feel that she had succeeded. Then some little phrase, apparently as innocent as the words he had just uttered, would fill her with apprehension.
“Ed’s right, Mommy. You mustn’t worry,” Jenny had added, her soft young arms holding Linda close. “Everything’s going to be grand. We know how hard you and Daddy have worked so we can go, and we’re going to study and study and study and make you as proud as anything of us.”
A moment later the children were both in the seat with Henry, waving goodbye to the group about the door as the truck started down the road. Linda wiped her eyes and held Bonny’s hand tight as she went in to begin the work of the day.
“Will we go off to school like this when we get big?” Linda heard Bonny asking her brothers a little later.
“Sure we will,” Mark answered, digging about the potted plants with a small trowel, “if we want to. But I’d just as soon stay home, myself.”
Linda looked at the children thoughtfully, trying to realize their futures. That speech was characteristic of Mark. He loved home and the soil – watching things grow.
“Well, when I go off to school,” said Richard, “I don’t want it to be just a regular school where they make you take problems and spelling and old stuff like that. I want to go where they have just music and I want to have a violin like those fellows that play over the radio, and I want to make up tunes all myself.”
Linda stood still; her heart was pounding. She turned the face of her youngest son up to her, so she could look into his eyes.
“Richard, is that the kind of school you want to go to?”
He nodded vigorously.
“Are there schools like that?”
“I think there are, son. But of course we have to learn the problems and the spelling, too. But there is a violin you can have. It was Uncle Peter’s. Mother will get it this minute and maybe you can begin right now – making up tunes.” She was excited. She had given the older children music lessons, from the time they were infants, but none of them had shown any unusual talent. In fact Jenny Lind and Mark had found practicing such drudgery that she had ceased to trouble them with it. But she had been so busy since Richard was born and he had seemed more frail than the others, so she had never taken the trouble to teach him, always thinking she would start a little later. Now she remembered that he had always liked to amuse himself at the piano, and that he loved her Uncle Peter’s phonograph records. She wondered how she could have been blind to the spark of genius which she now believed he had, and which she had been searching for in vain in the other children.
She spent all her spare time that day with Richard and his music and found that he did have little tunes of his own running through his head. This new happiness helped her over the loneliness the going of the other children had left.
But that night after she had tucked Bonnie and Richard in bed and Mark had gone across the street to play with one of his pals, she sensed the emptiness of the house with Eddie and Jenny gone, and wished that Henry were home.
She sat trying to read, but found her thoughts flitting far form the printed page, and was glad when she heard the kitchen door open.
She thought it was Mark and called, “I’m glad you didn’t stay, son. I’m lonesome.”
“Then maybe you’ll let me come to see you.” She started to her feet as Melville came to the middle door.
‘I thought it was Mark,” she said. “Come and sit down, Mel.” She tried to act natural, but she always avoided being alone with Mel, and she wondered why he had come tonight when he knew Henry was away.
“How are your mother and Effie?”
“Oh, they’re as usual. Not much company for a fellow. Ma always complaining and Effie never saying anything.”
“You ought to get married, Mel.” She regretted the words as soon as they were spoken, for she knew Mel’s attitude of martyrdom.
“Small chance for me to get married, having a family left for me to look after. That’s what comes of being the oldest. The others didn’t feel any responsibility. They could get married and have their pleasure while I was worrying about holding on to the farm and making a living.”
“I don’t think you should take it that way, Mel. Things probably would have gone just as well if you had married. Maybe even better. At least you would have been happier, and that would mean something.”
“How do you mean, happier? I’d still have had the whole responsibility on my shoulders, and maybe a lot of others. You and Hen worry your heads off about your kids all the time.”
“But we’re getting a lot of happiness from them, too.”
She wished he would go. She couldn’t help thinking of the unpleasant experiences she had had with him looking at her in a way she couldn’t endure. And there had been the night she had fainted and he had held her close in his arms; and the time he had kissed her, in anything but a brotherly fashion, when she had come back from a visit to her uncle.
“But I have had some good luck at last,” he said, moving to a chair nearer the couch where she sat.
‘Oh, I’m glad. What is it?” She was relieved to have the subject changed.
“There’s oil on my land.”
“There is? Oil on our farms? How wonderful!”
“It’s just on my part. I’ve had a man testing all over the basin by the latest methods of discovering oil, and there are only two places where there are any evidences – that’s on Jim Bancroft’s place and my forty.”
“That’s splendid, Mel.” Linda had caught his implication that it was his land, even though the farm had never been permanently divided. “That means you’ll be rich. You can marry now and live as you’d like to.”
He got up and stood looking down at her.
“Yes, I’ll be rich. That oil expert offered me $40,000 for my land, and I didn’t take it because I think it’s worth a lot more. but I don’t want to marry. I’ve had all the looking after a family I can stand. I’m a man, though, and I have a man’s natural impulses. You’ve guessed that, Linda. That’s why you’ll never stay in a room with me. You’re afraid, aren’t you? Is it just me, or are you afraid of yourself, too?”
“Mel, you don’t know what you’re saying,” she cried, springing to her feet, her face white and her hands clenched.
“Oh, yes, I do. Listen, Linda, you want money to give your kids a chance. You’re working your head off to send them to school and give them what you call advantages. Why won’t you let me help you? Nobody would ever know. Hen’s as blind as a bat. He’d think I was giving him the money. And you’d have it easy the rest of your lives. What do you say, Linda?”
He moved nearer, his eyes with that look, searing her soul. She cringed back. the room began to sway.
“God in heaven,” she prayed, “don’t let me faint.”
He reached out his hands toward her; but the kitchen door opened.
“Mommy,” Mark’s voice called.