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- Their Yesterdays - 3/34 -
from his seat on the gate post, the boy was watching the big wagons, loaded with household goods, as they turned into the neighboring yard. On the high seat of one of the wagons was the little girl. A big man lifted her down and the boy, watching, saw her run gaily into the house. For some time he held his place, swinging his bare legs impatiently, but he did not see the little girl come out into the yard again. Then, dropping to the ground, the boy slipped along the garden fence under the currant bushes to a small opening in the hedge that separated the two places. Very cautiously, at first, he peered through the branches. Then, upon finding all quiet, he grew bolder, and on hands and knees crept part way through the little green tunnel to find himself, all suddenly, face to face with her.
That was the beginning. The end had come several years later when the family had moved again.
The parting, too, he remembered well enough. A boy and girl parting it was. And the promises--boy and girl promises they were. At first many poorly written, awkwardly expressed, laboriously compiled, but warmly interesting letters were exchanged. Then the letters became shorter and shorter; the intervals between grew longer and longer; until, even as childhood itself goes, she had slipped out of his life. Even as the brave dreams of his boyhood she had gone--even as his Yesterdays.
The bobo-link had long ago left his swinging bush. The meadow lark had gone to find his mate in a distant field. The twittering bluebirds had finished their tasks. The woodpecker had ceased from his labor. The sunshine was failing fast. Faint and far away, through the still twilight air, came the long, clear, whistle of another train that was following swiftly the iron ways to the world of men.
The man on the hill came back from his Yesterdays--came back to wonder: "where is the little girl now? Has she changed much? Her eyes would be the same and her hair--only a little darker perhaps. And does she ever go back into the Yesterdays? It is not likely," he thought, "no doubt she is far too busy caring for her children and attending to her household duties to think of her childhood days and her childhood playmate. And what would her husband be like?" he wondered.
There was no woman in the dreams of the man who that afternoon, for the first time, realized his manhood and began his manhood life. He dreamed only of the deeds that he would do; of the work he would accomplish; of the place he would win; and of the honors he would receive. The little girl lived for him only in his Yesterdays. She did not belong to his manhood years. She had no place in his manhood dreams.
Slowly he climbed the rail fence again and, through the orchard, went down the hill toward the house. But he did not again enter the house. He went on past the kitchen porch to the garden gate where he stood, for some minutes, looking toward the hedge that separated the two places and toward the cherry tree that grew in the corner of the garden next door.
At the big front gate he paused again and turned lingeringly as one reluctant to go. The old home in the twilight seemed so lonely, so deserted by all to whom it had been most kind.
At last, with a movement suggestive of a determination that could not have belonged to his boyhood, he set his face toward the world. Down the little hill in the dusk of the evening he went, walking quickly; past the house where the little girl had lived; across the creek at the foot of the hill; and on up the easy rise beyond. And, as he went, there was on his face the look of a man. There was in his eyes a new light--the light of a man's dream. Nor did he once look back.
To-morrow he would leave the friends of his boyhood; he would leave the scenes of his Yesterdays; he would go to work out his dreams--even as in his Yesterdays, he would play them out--for the works of men are as the plays of children but dreams in action, after all.
Would he, _could_ he, play out his manhood dreams alone?
And the woman also, for the first time, was face to face with Life and, for the first time, knew that she was a woman.
For a long while she had seen her womanhood approaching. Little by little, as her skirts had been lengthened, as her dolls had been put away, as her hair had been put up, she had seen her womanhood drawing near. But she had always said to herself: "when I do not play with dolls, when I can dress like mother, and fix my hair like mother, I will be a woman." She did not know, then, that womanhood is a matter of things very different from these. Until that night she did not know. But that night she knew.
I cannot tell you the woman's name, nor where she lived, nor any of those things that are commonly told about women in stories. But, as my story is not that kind of a story, it will not matter that I cannot tell. What really matters to my story is this: the woman, that night, when, for the first time, she knew herself to be a woman, began her woman life in dreams. Because the dreams of life are of the greatest importance--because Dreams are of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life--this is my story: that the woman life of this woman, when first she knew herself to be a woman, began in dreams.
It was the time of the first roses. For a week or more she had been very busy with a loving, tender, joyous, occupation that left her no time to think of herself. Her dearest friend--her girlhood's most intimate companion, and, save for herself, the last of their little circle--was to be married and she was to be bridesmaid.
They had been glad days--those days of preparation--for she rejoiced greatly in the happiness of her friend and had shared, as fully as it was possible for another to share, the sweet sacredness, the holy mysteriousness, and the proud triumph of it all. But with the gladness of those days, there had come into her heart a strange quietness like the quietness of an empty room that is furnished and ready but without a tenant.
At the wedding that evening she had been all that a bridesmaid should be, even to the last white ribbon and the last handful of rice, for she would that no shadow of a cloud should come over the happiness of her friend. But when the new-made husband and wife had been put safely aboard the Pullman, and, with the group on the depot platform frantically waving hats and handkerchiefs and shouting good lucks and farewells, the train had pulled away, the loneliness in her heart had become too great to hide. Her escort had made smart jokes about her tears, alleging disappointment and envy. He was a poor, shallow, witless, fool who could not understand; and that he could not understand mattered, to her, not at all. She had commanded him to take her home and at her front door had thanked him and sent him away.
And then it was--in the blessed privacy of her own room, with the door locked and the shades drawn close, with her wedding finery thrown aside and the need of self-repression no longer imperative--that, as she sat in a low chair before the fire, she looked, for the first time, boldly at Life and, for the first time, knew that she was a woman--knew that womanhood was not a matter of long skirts, of hair dressing, and the putting away of dolls.
She was tired, very tired, from the responsibilities and excitement of the day but she did not feel that she could sleep. From the fire, she looked up to the clock that ticked away so industriously on the mantle. It was a little clock with a fat, golden, cupid grasping the dial in his chubby arms as though striving to do away with time when he might better have been busy with his bow and arrows. The hands of the clock pointed nearly midnight. The young woman looked into the fire again.
Already her girl friend had been a wife several hours--a wife. Already the train was miles away bearing the newly wedded ones to their future home--their home. The hours would go swiftly into days, the days into weeks and months and years, and there would be boys and girls--their children. And the years would go swiftly as the days and there would be the weddings of their sons and daughters and then--the children of their children.
And the woman who that night knew that she was a woman--the woman whose heart, as she sat alone before the fire, was even as an empty room--a room that is furnished and ready but without a tenant--what, this woman asked herself, would the years bring her? The years of her childhood and girlhood were past. What of her womanhood years that were to come?
There are many doors in the life of these modern days at which a woman may knock with hope of being admitted; and this woman, as she sat alone before her fire that night, paused before them all--all save two. Two doors she saw but did not pause before; and _one_ of them was idleness and pleasure. And one other door there is that stands open wide so that there is no need to knock for admittance. Before this wide open door the woman paused a long time. It is older than the other doors. It is very, very, old. Since the beginning it has never been closed. But though it stood open so wide and there was no need to knock for admittance, still the woman could not enter for she was alone. No woman may enter that old, old, open door, alone.
Three times before she had stood before that ancient door and had been urged to cross the threshold; but always she had hesitated, had held back, and turned away. She wondered if always she would hesitate, if always she would turn away; or would some one come with whom she could gladly, joyously, confidently, cross the threshold. She could not say. She could only wait. And while she waited she would knock at one of the other doors. She would knock because she must. The custom of the age, necessity, circumstances, forced her to knock at one of those doors that, in the life of these modern days, opens to women who seek admittance alone.
I cannot tell just what the circumstances of the woman's life were nor why it was necessary. Nor does it in the least matter that I cannot tell. The necessity, the circumstances, have nothing to do with my story save this: that, whatever they were, I am quite sure they ought not to have been. I am quite sure that _any_ circumstance, or necessity, or custom, that forces a woman who knows herself to be a woman to seek admittance at any one of those doors through which she must enter alone is not right. This it is that belongs to my story: the woman did not wish to enter the life that lies on the other side of those doors through which she must go alone.
Alone in her room that night, with the shades drawn close and the only light the light of the dancing fire, this woman who, for the first time, knew herself to be a woman, did not dream of a life on the other side of those doors at which she must ask admittance. She dreamed of a future beyond the old, old, door that has stood open wide since the beginning.
And it was no shame to her that she so dreamed. It was no shame that she called before her, one by one, those who had asked her to cross with them the threshold and those who might still ask her. It was no shame that, while her heart said always, "no," she still waited--waited for one whom she knew not but only knew that she would
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