Not Bread Alone
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
For months the dark shadow of misunderstanding and suspicion had lain between Henry and Linda Bowers, threatening always to rear its devastating form and wreck their lives. Since that night of Eddie’s homecoming when Kathie had drawn Thad’s attention to the way Melville was looking at Linda, and Henry had heard – and seen, Linda had known only wretchedness.
Henry had stirred in his chair and had looked at Linda; but when she had smiled at him, he only stared as though he had never seen her before. She was impatient for their guests to leave and for the children to get to bed. It would be a relief to have that ugly situation out in the open, now, once and for all. She had no doubt that Henry would be upset, but that he would fail to understand or believe her, never entered her mind. She had tried to spare him because Mel was his once idolized brother. In no way was she prepared for what happened.
When she had finished the last little household duty preparatory for the next morning, she had gone to their room, expecting that as usual he would be preparing for bed. But he was not in the room. She went back to the living room. Perhaps he had gone to glance through the paper. But the room was dark and empty. Then she saw him through the window in the moonlight, standing under the Russian olive tree.
She hurried out to him.
“I thought you had gone to bed.” Her own voice sounded unnatural. She slipped her hand through his arm and laid her cheek against his sleeve. But he did not respond with his usual caress. He stood cold and still, and she knew he was suffering.
“Henry, what is the matter?” she found it hard to bring the subject into the open without his help.
He said nothing, but stood looking over her head into the night. Then she could bear it no longer. She threw her arms around him and spoke rapidly, tears choking her.
“It’s what Kathie whispered to Thad, isn’t it? Oh, Henry, I’ve wanted to tell you – for years. It has almost killed me not to. But I was afraid – you –” He cut her short, his voice so cold and hard she would not have known it.
“Then you admit it’s true! You’ve been looking at each other like that before us all – for years – and me such a blind fool I didn’t know. And it hasn’t been just looks – God! how far? – the money he’s been letting us have – that for Eddie — His staying here after he sold – His never marrying – My God, I can’t bear it!” He had flung her arms from him and was pacing up and down the lawn. At first Linda was so stunned she could not speak. She could not move. Henry thought she loved Mel – that she was untrue to him. She felt that her whole world was crashing about her.
Then she went to him and poured out the whole story from that first bold glance his brother had given her. She tried to explain that somehow Mel’s feelings were different now, and that she felt pity instead of her old loathing. She tried to make him understand why she hadn’t told him before, and begged him to understand and believe her.
But the man to whom she talked was no longer the Henry she knew.
He berated himself for an idiot not to have known he could never compete with Mel even in the love of a woman. Of course she wanted a successful man, one who could give her the things she craved. He told her she could have her freedom and marry Mel. He would not stand in the way.
Not until she begged him to think of the children did he even seem to hear a word she said. Then he stopped talking for a moment and finally said,
“Go in the house. I can’t bear any more. I’ve got to think.”
Linda had crept into her room, wondering that she could still breathe and move after what she had suffered. There she had lain through the hours until dawn, sometimes weeping, sometimes staring helplessly into the darkness.
When she heard the children stirring she changed her clothes, went out and bathed her face, and began to prepare breakfast. Just before the meal was ready she saw Henry coming from the direction of the store. He came in and spoke to the children as though nothing had happened. Linda didn’t look into his eyes, but she saw that his face was as haggard as her own.
They sat down to the table and the meal began. The children were so busy with their own chatter that it was not until the meal was nearly over that Mark looked at Linda and said,
“Are you sick, Mommy? You look so white and you’re not eating.”
“No, dear. I’m all right,” she answered, lifting her glass of milk to her lips to hide their quivering.
That meal set the trend their lives were to follow in the weeks afterward. Linda understood that Henry wanted to shield the children from knowing what he thought was true. He never looked directly at her, and spoke to her only when necessary. But from the outside, their relations were as usual.
The first night after the others had gone to bed, Linda hoped, she could now make him listen to her and believe the truth.
But the moment they were left alone he said quite casually,
“I’ll sleep on the couch down in the book nook. It will be safer to have someone there now the store is so far away, and then someone might come by needing gas or oil.”
“Oh, Henry –” she had started to plead, but he had gone out and quietly closed the door.
And so they had gone on, no one realizing the tragedy they were living.
Eddie and Grace went away. Jenny left for her geological trip.
When the children learned that their father was sleeping at the store, Mark had protested.
“Why, I’ll do that, Dad. It would be fun.”
“No, I’ll keep on,” Henry had said with finality and had quickly diverted the boy’s attention.
Linda went on with her regular routines – supervising the store, giving music lessons, playing in the church for the regular services and for funerals – and trying to keep up the old free happy atmosphere of the home. but the strain was too much. She was losing weight. The children were constantly asking if she were well. She knew things couldn’t go on as they were. But she didn’t know what to do. She had thought of going to Mel and begging him to talk to Henry. But she feared this might only result in some unspeakable tragedy. In dark moods such as Henry was suffering now, she didn’t know what he might do.
One day in July a letter came informing Richard that he had won second prize in the music contest. The first prize was five hundred dollars in cash. The second, a scholarship to the Julliard School of Music in New York City.
Linda was surprised over the little elation she felt. She had ceased to feel anything keenly but her own wretchedness. Ordinarily she would have begun at once to make it possible for the boy to take advantage of the unusual opportunity. But she only said,
“It’s wonderful, son. It shows what you can do and should be an incentive for you to keep working even though you can’t go.”
“Can’t go?” Richard hadn’t doubted that some way would be provided for him to accept the scholarship.
“I don’t see how you can, dear. This scholarship is just for tuition in the school. There’d be your trip to New York, your living expenses.” They were eating the mid-day meal. Linda lowered her eyes to her plate to keep from seeing her son’s disappointment.
“Why don’t you ask Uncle Mel to let you have the money?” Bonny asked. “He’s rich, if we aren’t, and he let us have the money to build the store and fix up the house, and he’s going to let Jenny have some to go to school some more.”
Both Henry and Linda opened their lips to speak. Then without looking at each other, they both closed them again.
“That’s what I’ll do.” Richard was gone from the table like a flash, his letter in his hand.
He was back just as the others were getting up from the table.
“I’m going, Mommy! I’m going, Daddy! He says I don’t even need to pay the money back. Good old Uncle Mel!”
“And I used to think he was an old grouch,” said Mark. “Bonny, what can we think of to ask him for some money for?”
Henry went quickly from the room. Linda saw him later sitting on a bench beside the gas tank, his shoulders slumped and his head down.
A few days before Richard was to leave, Linda was awakened early one morning by someone calling at her bedroom window.
“Henry! Linda!” It was Mel’s voice.
“What’s the matter?”
“It’s mother. You’d better hurry. She’s about gone.” Mel was running back up the street.
Linda dressed hurriedly and went to the store to call Henry. The old lady had been failing fast for weeks; but even so, Mel’s news was a shock.
She started to tell Henry that she would go on ahead, but checked herself and said,
“I’ll have to leave some instructions for the children, but will come in a few minutes.”
When she arrived it was almost over. Effie had gone sobbing from the room. Mel and Henry stood on opposite sides of the bed. Thad and Kathie were not yet there.
Linda stood watching the last struggles of the faded, wasted little form of the woman she had tried to love. She thought of the peace that is thought to come with death. Suddenly she envied Mrs. Bowers that peace. She wished that she too could be lying with the heartaches of life all over. As she stood at the foot of the bed, letting such thoughts flow through her mind, she felt herself growing dizzy, and the room becoming dark. She made no effort to cling to consciousness. Perhaps if she let herself go, she, too, could die.
She felt herself swaying. She heard Mel cry, “She’s fainting!” She realized vaguely that both men started toward her; then that they both drew back, as she fell to the floor, striking her head on the corner of the dresser. Then everything went black.
Linda opened her eyes and lay staring at the white ceiling. She had a queer sense that she had been a long way off and hadn’t yet got back. She wasn’t sure where she was, nor how she got there, nor what that was on her head. She stirred a little and a strange figure in white bent over her.
“What’s happened? Where am I?” Linda’s voice sounded strange and far away. She could see sunlight streaming through yellow curtains and could smell flowers.
“You have been ill,” the white person said. “You are better now but you mustn’t talk until you are stronger.”
A door opened and someone who looked like Henry but was different came and knelt by her bed. He was kissing her hands and she could feel warm tears falling over them. Something like that had happened once before – long – long ago when Eddie was born. She tried to think how long ago it was, but the effort was too great; so she closed her eyes and let herself float away on the perfume coming somewhere from flowers.
The next time she opened her eyes she knew it was morning and that she was in her own room. She thought she must get up and begin the day’s work. But when she stirred that white figure was bending over her again. Now she knew it was a nurse.
“You’re much, much better today. See if you can take a little of this broth.” A glass tube was placed between Linda’s lips and she sipped slowly.
Presently Henry was there beside her again, and Jenny Lind and Eddie.
“What is the matter?” she asked. “I thought you had gone.” They looked so serious, as if they wanted to cry.
“You’ve been sick, sweetheart,” Henry said. “But now you’ll soon be well again – thank – God.” He turned away and walked to the window. Linda knew he was wiping his eyes and she wanted to comfort him. but she was so tired.
The other children came in. Bonny reached out and patted her hair and Mark brought a rose from a vase on the dresser and laid it on her pillow. She smiled at them, but she was too tired to talk.
At last she awoke with her mind clear and she began to piece together the things that had puzzled her. She remembered standing at the foot of the bed watching Henry’s mother die. she remembered wishing that she herself might die, and thinking that perhaps if she tried she might.
Why had she wanted to die? Her mind groped for a moment, then it all came back. Henry thought she loved Mel. She uttered a little moan as she recalled what she had suffered.
Henry bent over her. She looked searchingly into his face to make sure the old light of love was in his eyes. Perhaps the other had all been a horrible dream.
“Darling,” she whispered and he kissed her lips.
Gradually she grew stronger and learned that she had been in bed for weeks with a raging fever. The gash in her head was healed and a little color was coming back to he face. She learned that the day Mrs. Bowers was buried, the doctor from Mendon had said there was no hope for Linda, and the children who had come for their grandmother’s funeral had stayed. For days she had barely held her own, and then gradually she had begun to come back.
Jenny Lind had given up her trip. Eddie had arranged for a substitute. Richard had postponed his going to New York. Effie had taken over the management of the house. Everyone in Cedar Basin had come to offer help and had kept her room filled with the flowers she had taught them to love. Linda was overwhelmed with all this devotion. And to think, she reproved herself, that she had wanted, had tried to die.
It was not until she was able to be up a little while each day and sit in the sun by the window, that Henry told her what he knew she was wanting to know.
He sat on the low chair beside her and held her wasted, blue-veined hands.
“Linda, I know you have forgiven me, but I want to hear you say it.”
She lifted his hand to her cheek.
“Henry, I love you, and there is no question of forgiveness between people who love. But I’d like you to tell me, if you can, how you came to know the truth.”
A spasm of suffering crossed his face.
“You told it to me over and over, sweetheart, during those awful days of your fever. I can’t forgive myself for what you suffered. But before that Mel made me understand. After we let you fall there between us and thought perhaps we had killed you with that ghastly wound in your temple, he turned on me and showed me what a blind brute I’d been. He told me the whole story just as you had done, not sparing himself one bit – and glorifying you, darling, for he revealed how love for a good woman can transform mere physical passion to something holy. He will always love you, Linda, but his love is clean and sanctified now. It has made a big man of him, a bigger man than I can ever hope to be.”
“Where is he, Henry?”
“He has gone away to travel. We may never see him again, but if we do there will need be no fear. You said you were sorry for him. So am I, and I’m proud of a brother so much bigger than I could be in the same situation. He might have fought for you, Linda, and he should have won. After all I made you suffer, it wouldn’t have been strange if you had turned from me.”
“Silly boy.” She leaned against him and sighed contentedly.
“I hope Mel finds life – and I hope like us, that he finds more than the bread of life.”