From the Relief Society Magazine, April 1932 –
The Door Mat
By Ivy Williams Stone
It was nine-thirty on Saturday night before Olive Campbell had a chance to drop into a living room rocker. Even then, she could not reach for the new magazine which, still unopened, lay enticingly near. Instead she shoved her hand into the mending basket. Socks, socks, socks! Nothing but darning when one rested. She plied her needle savagely, straining one ear for hints on the progress of the twins’ bath; straining the other to learn if Ardea was really getting the baby to sleep.
Ned, lounging comfortably in the big upholstered chair, threw the evening paper aside and reached for the coveted magazine.
“Should have thought you’d have read this when it first came,” he commented, tearing the wrapper which Olive’s fingers itched to remove. “It’s the one you like best. Full of good stories, too.” He settled back comfortably and was immediately engrossed in the first enticing page.
Olive continued to darn. Baby Helen’s white silks for Sunday needed especial care. A tiny run showed on one. Ardea’s oxfords must be defective – her heels were woefully ragged. And the twins’ stockings were kneeless. Olive dug farther into the basket for the heavy, thick thread – the cotton which worked up faster.
Echoes of moist conflict came from the bathroom.
“I dare you!” Harold’s shrill treble floated out. “I just dare you.” And Ken’s deeper, superior tones. “Well, supposin’ I darst to? What’ll you do? I’m strongest!”
Olive puckered her brow. Would they never learn their English? Why did they quarrel and argue? Quick to rise to each other’s defense where others were concerned, they battled endlessly in private. From the adjoining room Ardea’s voice came petulantly irritated. Too irritated, too high strung, Olive knew, for a girl of thirteen.
“Mama, she just won’t go to sleep. She’s fed and bathed and warm, and her eyelids are too heavy for words. She knows I want to finish my book, that’s why!”
“Say, Mother,” Ned looked up casually, keeping a finger to mark his place, “I’m thinking of building a service station to lease. That corner lot’s stood vacant long enough. A new company’s coming here, and they’ve made me an offer.”
“For how long?” Olive’s quick brain had a business turn which Ned liked to humor.
“Oh, about seventy-five dollars per month for five years. How’s that – some velvet, eh?”
A sound of splashing water interrupted further financial discussion. A defiant laugh, a slammed door, quickly followed by wails from baby Helen and angry protests from Ardea.
“Mama, how do you expect me to coax a baby to sleep while those two boisterous, obstreperous, ill-mannered, noisy, turbulent boys persist in quarreling? I was just slipping out and now she’s wide awake again! They’re just a pair of boisterous, tumultuous, refractory boys, that’s all they are!”
Ned grinned and rubbed his head. “Seems as though Ardea’s vocabulary is sort of enlarging,” he muttered.
“He dared me!” defended Ken.
“And I threw water back!” retorted Harold.
Two grinning, dripping boys, shining from recent soap, tiptoed into the living room. Ned surveyed them with fatherly pride. “It’s a pleasure to see you spotlessly clean, if only on Saturday night,” he added. “Better run along to bed now, so as you’ll be up early for Sunday School. Ardea, I’ll manage that baby. Here Mother, put up your darning and read this article about a woman seeing New York City in seven days.”
“I can’t put it up! I have to finish!” flashed Olive in much the same tone Ardea had admonished the boys. “They need these stockings for tomorrow. And the heels in your gray silks are threadbare.”
“Aw, shucks,” replied Ned, who was ever unruffled, “there’ll be socks to darn when you’re gone. This is a good article. A married woman – mother of a family, too – took time off to do New York City. She saw everything wroth looking at, and did it in seven days, too. I’ll bet she got enough for her story to pay for her trip. Maybe you’d better try something like that.”
Olive laughed harshly as she rolled up the last pair of re-kneed stockings and reached for the weakening silks.
“Small chance for me to go anywhere,” she retorted, “I’m only a door mat. All I do is wash and iron, cook and scrub, clean and mend. My life is just an endless circle of home tasks. I’ve always wanted to travel, but my journeys are limited to the meat market and the grocery store, with trips to the dentist for diversion.” She gave her needle a vicious jab into the innocent sock.
Ned looked concerned. Olive’s tight lips and drawn features revealed taught nerves. Perhaps she was near a breakdown. Sometimes women got that way from staying too close with their babies.
“If I build this station maybe we can save the rent and go somewhere next summer,” he suggested. Olive’s derisive laugh told all too plainly that perhaps next summer would be too late. “I have to re-mop that bathroom, and lay out their Sunday clothes, and set the oatmeal to soak and fix Helen’s midnight bottle, and then I’ll come to bed!”
When Ned came home Monday evening he carried a shiny new suitcase and traveling bag. These he set in the middle of the parlor floor, drew a long pink railroad ticket from his pocket, and spread it over the bags. Then he added a folder of traveler’s checks and stepping backwards, announced to the assembled, curious family:
“These are the humble servants that will assist Mrs. Ned Campbell to see New York City in ten days!”
“What do you mean, Papa?” cried Ardea, her thin little face animated with expectancy. “Are you really sending our beloved, adored, respected, charming Mama away?”
“I think Mrs. N.R. Campbell would look better on the tag,” added Ned. “More dignified,” he made an exaggerated bow. “Before noon on Friday you will be eating on the diner, somewhere near Council Bluffs, Iowa! Your Aunt Henrietta will be your traveling companion – she’s been aching to go, but dared not venture alone!”
“O, you lovable, impractical man,” gasped Olive. “I can’ go!”
“But you nervous, overworked, stay-at-home, domestic, harassed, door-mat of a lady, you are going,” retorted Ned Campbell, “in spite of all the objections you can think of. Your Aunt Henrietta is packing her bags right this minute.”
“But the babies – your food – ”
“My cousin Blanche Horton is coming to keep house while you’re gone. Having reared ten children, she knows two and one-half times as much as you do about all things domestic.”
“But I have no traveling clothes.”
“Buy ‘em there,” smiled Ned. “Then you’ll be an object of envy in this town for a year. Take your bags empty and bring ‘em back full.”
“My grape jelly –”
“Cousin Blanche’s grape jelly took the prize last year.”
“I haven’t washed the blankets.”
“I’ll send them to the laundry. They do them nicer, anyhow.”
“The boys need sleepers and Ardea’s serge is only half finished.”
“Send things home to them. They say the things in the second basements of those big department stores are lots cheaper than the same stuff on the upper floors. Bargains galore!”
“O, Mother,” Ardea’s peaked little features became almost beautiful, “I’ll help. I’ll tend Helen after school and iron at night. It will be wonderful! You can climb the Statue of Liberty and gaze out over the vast, tranquil expanse of water like Balboa –”
“He was looking at the Pacific, Sis. Where’s your geography?” scoffed Harold.
“Well, water is water, and oceans are oceans,” answered Ardea in a superior tone.
“The children might get sick,” Olive was weakening, but reluctant. “A boy in Ken’s room had a fever the other day.”
“There’s a doctor on this very block.” Ned seemed primed to refute all her protests. “Your ticket is bought. That folder represents three hundred dollars. Your sleeper is reserved and paid for. If you think you are so important that your family can’t live without you for a while – it’s time you learned something.”
“But the money –”
“Oh, I decided not to build that station right now. Times are uncertain,” answered Ned easily. “Cousin Blanche is coming in the morning to sort of get the ropes. She’ll straighten these kids out while you’re gone. Train leaves Wednesday at two. That’s that.”
“Mother,” Ken came and stood before her and pointed a grimy finger for emphasis, “Mother, I want you to be able to tell me about the color of the big horse in that picture called ‘The Horse Fair.’ Some say it’s pure white – some say it’s dapple grey. You make sure.”
“And I want to know the size of the ear and the eye in that Goddess of Liberty,” added Harold. “Our geography book says her nose is four feet long and her waist thirty-five feet thick. I’d call her some lady!”
“I’d love to go with you to Tiffany’s,” sighed Ardea. “They have the loveliest chased gold, and wrought silver and first water diamonds; and every other person is a policeman!”
“Me go – me go!” added baby Helen and Olive, glad for this timely diversion, clutched her baby and carried her off to bed.
There followed two days of hectic, whirlwind preparation. Cousin Blanche, lean and rather dyspeptic, looked askance at the electric stove and frankly stated that they ate queerly. She insisted that the children go to bed earlier, speak only when spoken to, and commented on the absence of “Yesmams” and “Nomams” in the vocabulary of modern children. Olive, alternately packing her bags and issuing instructions and explanations, moved as if in a trance. She showed Cousin Blanche where to find the woolens if it turned cold; where to find the syrup of ipecac if one of them got croup; where to find patching material for the boys’ trousers. She admonished the boys to wear knee pads when playing marbles; to wash their ears with soap; to clean their teeth at night. Ned smiled and agreed to do all the multitudinous things she requested. Yes, he would not forget his pills; he would cover the chrysanthemums if a frost threatened; he would not buy candy; he would sweeten their cereals with honey instead of sugar; he would see that Harold ate his vegetables before his dessert.
At last she was off, looking tiny and slender beside Aunt Henrietta’s plumpness. Baby Helen, uncomprehending, clutched her father’s neck as the train whistled; the boys were voluntarily neat and clean; Ardea held a handkerchief over her quivering lips.
“Stay until your money is gone,” whispered Ned, giving her a final squeeze, “and telegraph for more if you need it.” The train whistled again; the wheels creaked in that pleasant suggestion of motion, and Olive Campbell breathed deeply of the cinder laden air. The four people on the platform waved vehemently. Olive, leaning from the window called frantically, “Ned, O, Ned, be sure to give Helen lime water twice a week!” A last glimpse of blurred hands and she was off; a door-mat no longer!
“My gracious, Olive,” commented Aunt Henrietta, “you’re some thin. Sleeping with you will be like having the berth to myself. And only half the price, too. If nobody takes the upper, we can have the section to ourselves – good as a state room. I’ll be glad when they call dinner!” She rambled on, expecting no answer. She hoped they could remove the cinder screen at night; hoped the porter was good natured; hoped no cross baby came to their car. She recalled her honeymoon to Niagara with New York reserved for a later trip.
“But we never got there,” she mused. “Henry died so sudden like. And when the war came and my boy went to France, I wanted to go with him as far as New York, but they didn’t want mothers along. Now he’s in South America, and maybe you and I can run over to France and see them battlefields where he fought.”
Olive heard the droning, patient voice, but did not register the thought. “Click – click – click – free – free – free!” was the song she gathered from the car wheels. Over the flat cornfields of Nebraska, with the drab, unlovely houses, into Omaha; the roily waters of the Missouri, through pleasant, undulating farms of Iowa; through Illinois and Ohio, replete with Civil War monuments; glimpses of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie; through the steel and coal districts of Pennsylvania, and then on to the goal of her dreams, New York!
Its waterfront skyline; its conglomerate races; its extremes of rich and poor were revelations to this woman of the free, democratic west. The nights were too long, the days too short to satisfy her avid eagerness. From Washington Square to Grant’s Tomb, atop the Fifth Avenue buses was a daily ride; the smart little shops were a morning delight. Brooklyn Bridge, now condemned to autos, represented a pioneering feat in engineering; her alert mind tried to figure how the price of President Grant’s elaborate tomb would improve conditions for the ragged, neglected children of the Bowery. The over-old scheming faces of the tenement children, the searching, restless eyes of the street venders, the struggle for existence, the inexorable law that each member of a household contribute to its upkeep, regardless of age or youth, all were revelations of astonishment to Olive, who had never known want. The Bowery, with its teeming humanity; Central Park, with its idle, surfeited rich. Tiffany’s with exclusiveness stamped on the faces of its liveried doormen; the five and ten cent stores with their jostling crowds. The Metropolitan Art Institute with its treasures of art, and certain proof of the color of the Bonheur horses. The Hall of Fame, whose first requirement for recognition was death ten years previous. The towering buildings which made Wall Street a veritable canyon; the church where George Washington had worshipped; the Little-Church-Around-the-Corner; the Statue of Liberty; the Aquarium; the old tombstones around Trinity Church; the Grand Central, all fed her insatiable desire to crowd knowledge into a brief space of time. At first Aunt Henrietta, perspiring and red of face, followed docilely. Then she gently complained of blistered feet, of unsatisfactory food, of bodily weariness. But Olive surged on. She ate of necessity, begrudging the wasted time. She slept only to start afresh another day. From subways to the elevated, from Battery to the north of the island, she hurried, listened and looked. She watched customs inspectors; saw ships dump their immigrants at Ellis Island; penetrated to the second basements of the department stores, and learned to a certainty that the Statue of Liberty’s mouth was three feet wide and her index finger eight feet long.
“That Hall of Fame is a queer place,” complained Aunt Henrietta. “You have to be dead ten years before they’ll hang your picture – ”
“Tablet, Aunt,” contradicted Olive. “A bronze tablet with your name.”
“Well, tablet, then. What’s that, when you’re dead? I’d rather have a square meal and a cool bed and some quiet, and clean air to breathe.”
“Think of the honor – ”
“Think of the comfort,” expostulated Aunt Henrietta, slipping off her shoes. “My feet are blistered so badly I don’t care who painted ‘The Noble Slav,’ or whether the tomb of Perneb is genuine or not. Let’s get some steamship folders and plan a run over to France. We could rest a whole week on the boat.”
“We’re going back to the Statue of Liberty in the morning,” explained Olive. “I really forgot to make a notation of the size of the eye. I promised Harold.”
Aunt Henrietta raised her swollen feet to the bed and looked her severest. “Olive Campbell,” she retorted, “you can wear yourself out chasing this town into a condensed encyclopedia, but you leave me out. That elevator was broken three days ago, and I won’t climb to the top of that brass woman again. Her eyes are big enough to look through and that’s enough. I’m going to get ship circulars and rest while I read them. I’d just as soon run over to the battlefields of France. Henry fought at Ypres and the Argonne. I want to see that old French peasant woman who was so good to him when he was wounded.”
“I haven’t seen Cleopatra’s Needle yet, nor the Bronx Park, nor taken the boat trip around the island,” Olive consulted her guide book while Aunt Henrietta rubbed witch hazel on her protesting feet. “We have to reserve one night for Grand Opera. And I have to go back to St. Paul’s Church again. I can’t remember the color of the kneeling cushions in Washington’s pew.”
“Too bad they tore down the Hippodrome,” mused Aunt Henrietta. “Henry said it was wonderful. They had a lake on the stage, and five balconies. He said the building trembled when the audiences sang.”
“Another day on the bus, the Woolworth Tower and a day at Governor’s Island. There’s the Museum of Natural History, and I still have all my shopping. O, dear, Aunt Henrietta, hurry up with your feet. Soak them in good hot water and use lots of powder. We simply can’t waste time being sick in New York. I’ll get the mail and you be ready when I return.”
The “C” lines of the general delivery post office was long, and Olive fretted inwardly over the delay. A woman stood behind her carrying a child near Helen’s age. A persistent, chokey lump rose in her throat as the baby pounded her shoulder and demanded attention. The forced leisure gave her time to think of home. Was Cousin Blanche really patient, did that boy in Ken’s room have contagion? Perhaps Helen would cut molars? Was it cold out home? Ardea might drop the flat-iron, or worse still, leave it on and burn up the house. Perhaps Cousin Blanche’s boasted grape jelly wouldn’t jell – perhaps – perhaps –
“Name,” reminded the brisk tones of the postal clerk, and Olive’s hand clutched over a bulky letter from home.
From Ned’s optimistic account the family was doing better without her vigilant care. Everyone was well; kiddies in school, Helen eating and sleeping fine. “Everything Jake,” concluded Ned slangily and a trifle too optimistic; but he failed to mention Cousin Blanche.
“She’s just a door mat like I was,” thought Olive, and opened Ken’s letter – a literary masterpiece of ink on newsprint. “I got ‘A’ in arithmetic but ‘C’ in personal hygiene,” he admitted honestly. “Seems like I can’t get my ears clean. How about that horse? I hope you measured that goddess,” her persisted. “I hope you have lots of pie to eat. I like pie. Cousin Blanche did not make pie.” At the last came an outline of baby Helen’s hand, plump and chubby with the little finger blurred where she had wiggled. Dim eyed but smiling, Olive hurried out. Poor old Aunt Henrietta. Olive felt a sudden compassion for this older, lonely woman, trying to get solace from visiting the places where her son had gone before. No letter for her from the far distant Henry. No baby awaiting her at home. Only sore feet and memories.
Hurrying along Broadway, clutching her letter, planning the next day’s visits, Olive came to a news stand. Nothing extraordinary about news stands. But this one displayed a large sign which read:
“If your home town publishes a newspaper, we have it.”
A sudden wave of home sickness swept over Olive, who had desired to be free. More than grand opera or seeing Cleopatra’s Needle, she wanted news from home. She didn’t care a particle about the color of St. Paul’s cushions nor the dimensions of the Goddess of Liberty. She wanted news from Nyton. She wanted to know if there had been a frost; who won the prize at the local fair; if an epidemic had broken out in the schools, and the price of butter in Forrester’s market. Paying several times its original price, unmindful that the date was five days past, Olive tucked this additional treasure under her arm and hurried on to Aunt Henrietta.
“I’ve a home letter and a home paper,” and shrank from the look of hope that had lighted the old eyes. Why didn’t Henry write to his aged Mother? “Hurry with your feet, Auntie, and I’ll read to you while you get ready. We’re doing grand opera tonight if I can get the tickets.
Aunt Henrietta’s feet reposed in a huge basin of hot water, while various packages of cures stood on a nearby chair. The bed was littered with the alluring, picturesque folders of steamship companies.
“I’ve got boric acid, epsom salts and witch hazel, and I put ‘em all in together. I ought to get results. Smells so, anyway. I don’t know whether to go to France by way of London and cross the Channel, or to order our passage straight to Bordeaux. I’d like to see the Tower of London. A long time ago they smothered two little princes there with a feather bed.”
“They’re putting the whole town on water meters.” From the depth of the paper Olive issued terse items of interest. “Cousin Blanche’s grape jelly only got second prize.”
“I’d like to see Monte Carlo,” mused Aunt Henrietta. “They have what they call “Suicidal Gardens” there. For the benefit of people who lose all they had and want to die.”
“There’s been a hoar frost. It caught the late tomatoes. I hope Ned remembered to cover the chrysanthemums.”
Aunt Henrietta added more powders and reached for more folders. “We could go by way of Scotland for sixty dollars extra. I’d sort of like to see the home of Bobby Burns.”
Suddenly Olive gasped and uttered a little cry – sharp, indrawn, like one of pain.
”There’s diphtheria in Nyton! The sanitary office fears an epidemic. They might close the schools. I knew I had no business to come! That boy in Ken’s room had a fever when I left. Do you know what diphtheria is? Do you know what it does? It makes a white membrane on the palate and chokes innocent, helpless children to death!” Olive stood before Aunt Henrietta accusingly, her thin, nervous body in sharp contrast to the older woman’s ample proportions. “You can go to Monte Carlo, or the battlefields of France, all you please. I’m going home!”
“Now, now then; Ned would wire if there was any trouble,” began Aunt Henrietta soothingly. “I can’t go anywhere except on a boat to rest!”
“They’re sick, I tell you!” cried Olive, almost hysterical. “Ken always catches everything. He brought home measles, mumps, and chicken pox and whooping cough, and now this terrible malady. I’m going home on the first and fastest train I can catch!”
She rushed to the phone, learned train departures, ordered a berth, called the clerk to get her a taxi, and to send her bill. With a haste and precision that made Aunt Henrietta gasp in astonishment she packed her accumulated wardrobe and gifts into the bags that had fortunately come light.
“Now, Olive, we have to go to France. It will cost so little,” began Aunt Henrietta feebly. “You’ll never have another such chance. I can’t go home with you right now. My feet –”
“Stay as long as you like,” Olive spoke in sweet, icy tones. “If we were on the boat I’d swim back. Goodbye, Auntie. I hope your feet get better. I’m due at the Grand Central in fifteen minutes!”
“Click-click-click — diph-th-eria! Click–click–click — white membrane!” Olive’s distorted brain beat a rhythm to the car wheels. She did not try to see Lake Michigan. The rolling hills of Iowa seemed endless; the flats of Nebraska seemed to mock her with dismal fields of frozen cornstalks. She did not feel the spirit of the wide, open spaces of Wyoming. She was oblivious to the clear, cool air of the mountains. In silent necessity she ate the food set before her. While she looked at her fellow passengers, she did not really see them. Beyond them she saw four fevered, restless children, with Ned distractedly dividing his time between them. One kind old lady whispered, “She must have a loved one back in the baggage car, she looks so sad.”
When the train finally reached Nyton at six in the morning Olive rushed out, as if expecting to battle her way to a taxi. How quiet and still the town seemed. How wide and deserted the streets. No elevated trains, no traffic jams, no sharp whistles, no hurrying crowds made of tense, impersonal faces. Only old Asa Keyes with his green taxi, waiting for a chance salesman.
“Well, Mis’ Campbell! If we ain’t surprised! Ned wasn’t expecting you so soon. Saw him last night in the drugstore. How’s New York? You’ll be puttin’ on airs now, I reckon. Sure, I’ll take you home. You can cook their breakfast if you ain’t too high toned!”
“How are all the people?” Olive did hope her voice was not over-anxious. What had taken Ned to the drug store? Anti-toxin?
“Everybody in this town is one hundred per cent well,” boasted Asa, assuming the prepared speech he used on tourists. “No sickness. Fine air. Perfect water. Happy children; contented parents. Clean natural milk –”
“No epidemics?” Olive fancied there was a quiver in her voice.
Asa laughed comfortably and refused to pull out for a honking milk truck. “There’s a new kid on The Chronicle, and he tried to make a hit, telling about diphtheria out among them migratory Italians that pick tomatoes. One of their children’s throats got all swelled over, and folks thought it was diphtheria. Proved to be a piece of toothpick that stuck in his tonsil. No, you don’t pay me, Mis’ Campbell. I’ll drop in some night and hear ‘bout New York.”
Olive felt faint with relief. No choking, terrible malady to blot out the lives of her beloved.
Seven o’clock. They would just be getting up. How dear the home seemed. A lawn for the children, a luxury unknown to most New York children. A back field, where the boys could play football in safety. No constant, nerve-wracking noises; clean, unpolluted air. Burlap sacks proclaimed that Ned had looked after the chrysanthemums. On the porch were the four bottles of milk, but a terse note told a story:
“If you don’t have bottles out tomorrow you don’t get no milk.”
Olive tiptoed in through the unlatched door. The living room held a faint, odorous smoke. The dining table held a litter of withered flowers, books, newspapers, a half emptied bottle of milk, the baby’s doll and the beloved football in a state of collapse. From the kitchen came the sound of voices and confused haste and the mother, who had felt herself abused, looked in upon a scene that remained in her memory forever.
Ned was frying pancakes, and even the batter that dripped from the pan and onto his clothes, looked greasy. Baby Helen, her bare feet extended to the fire, was devouring a huge wedge of the undercooked dough. The sink was so overcrowded with unwashed dishes that a dishpan held the overflow. The table did not even boast a cloth. The boys were clad in black satine shirts and striped overalls – institutional garb. Where were their neat trousers which had filled her with pride, and their white blouses? Ardea was packing her lunch – bakery doughnuts and a hard apple – and rolling them in newspaper. No oiled paper. No neat paper bag. No little surprise of appetizing food – how many thousand germs could cling to one square inch of newsprint? They all looked older and more self-reliant, but woefully neglected and forlorn. Ardea was not wearing any serge dress which Cousin Blanche had promised to finish, and the baby’s feet seemed to be bare because no shoes were visible. Ned looked like a door mat that had been in use for a century.
Baby Helen saw her mother and screamed in fright. It hurt Olive like a sharp knife to have her baby shrink away from her. Then with one concerted cry, they were upon her. The look of baffled worry left Ned’s face – Ardea abandoned her doughnuts and apple, and they rolled under the table. Harold dropped the milk bottle, from which he had been drinking in lieu of a glass, and Ken tipped over his chair. Ned poured all the remaining batter into the griddle from where it overflowed and burned to a crisp, unheeded. They took her hat and gloves and purse; they all talked at once; they asked questions and more questions, without waiting for replies. From the security of her father’s shoulder Baby Helen peeked cautiously at this new stranger.
“Ken, are you sure your throat is not sore?” “Mamma was that horse really white?” “Where is Cousin Blanche?” “Has that Goddess got four foot ears?” “Ned, why are you wearing one tan sock and one blue one?” “Mama, do Tiffany’s have their name on their windows?” “Papa can’t cook anything but pancakes, so we have ice cream twice a day!” “We don’t bother to wash clothes – when they get dirty we buy new ones.” “Cousin Blanche went home because we forgot to say ‘Yes, Mam,’ and ‘cause we didn’t like onions.”
Suddenly Olive understood what it means to be a mother. Needed. Necessary for their very life. Essential for their health. She had only been gone seventeen days and already the home and their clothes and their food looked like they had been motherless for a small eternity.
“Cousin Blanche said our modern method of rearing children was just too disrespectful for words,” grinned Ned, “so I’ve played double parent ever since.”
“And you’ve been alone? Who washed and ironed and cooked and sewed?” Even as she spoke she realized that these questions answered themselves. There had been no washing, no ironing, no cooking, and no sewing. Not even socks had been darned, as Ned’s exposed heels plainly indicated.
“If you had wired I’d have come instantly. I read in The Chronicle that there was an epidemic of diphtheria so I came.”
“That fool reporter,” grinned Ned. “Guess I’ll have to treat him for getting you home. I know what it means to be a door mat myself. Gosh, but growing kiddies sure can eat!”
Olive felt a surging thrill of necessity pass over her. Here was her place. She wanted to clean that sink more than to motor through the new Hudson Tube. It would be more pleasure to feed cereal to Helen than to study the sculpture of Rodin in the art gallery.
For two days she worked at top speed. The refrigerator held samples of every dish they had eaten until its doors refused to close. Dabs of butter were making friends with the remnants of Cousin Blanche’s onions. Milk bottles had overflowed until a granite tub on the porch held a small dairy. The clothes hamper was invisible. Pancakes and ice cream. How had they lived! Ken’s ears plainly showed that he deserved his grade in personal hygiene. The overalls had been provided to conceal the entire absence of knees in their hose. Small dabs of the prize jelly still clung to the kitchen floor. What a privilege to have a family to work for. How glorious to live in the free, kindly west and own your own home and have a constant sense of security and peace.
On the second day Ned came home smiling like a boy.
“Guess I’ll build that gas station after all. They’ve offered ninety dollars a month rent now. They sure want a corner location. So you see your going increased the rental considerably. It was a good thing I waited. Gosh, it seems good to have you home.” He glanced apprehensively toward the sink and a little pucker cleared from his brow at its shiny emptiness. “I could buy new clothes and ice cream, but somehow, I never seemed to get ahead on the dishes. That soup smells good.”
“Vegetable soup, spinach and baked apples!” chanted Olive happily. “And while we eat I’ll show Ken the picture of the ‘Horse Fair’ in colors and I have one of the Goddess for Harold. But the whole of New York, from the Hall of Fame to the Battery and from the Hudson Tube to Brooklyn isn’t worth one square inch of Nyton!”
With much screeching of brakes Asa Keyes stopped his green taxi at the front gate. He climbed down and carefully helped a plump lady to the curb and followed her limping gait with her numerous bags.
“Why, Aunt Henrietta,” cried Olive in amazement. “I thought you had gone on to London and Scotland and France!”
“Ned,” ordered Aunt Henrietta, “get me a chair and a basin of hot water. And Olive, if you’ll open that smallest suit case, you can find my boric acid and witch hazel and epsom salts. It took me a day to pack, and a day to get a berth, and it’ll take a month to get my feet well. Ned, she almost called your bluff about running over to France. For a while I thought she was really going to drag me over there!”
“It’s not so bad, being a door mat,” added Olive.