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- The Whole Family - 10/38 -
She stood up very straight. "I think I ought to know," she said, gently.
"Yes, dear," Ada answered, "I think you ought."
I shall be sorry for Elizabeth Talbert if she has been making mischief.
IV. THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW
by Mary Stewart Cutting
I have never identified myself with my husband's family, and Charles Edward, who is the best sort ever, doesn't expect me to. Of course, I want to be decent to them, though I know they talk about me, but you can't make oil and water mix, and I don't see the use of pretending that you can. I know they never can understand how Charles Edward married me, and they never can get used to my being such a different type from theirs. The Talberts are all blue-eyed, fair-haired, and rosy, and I'm dark, thin, and pale, and Grandmother Evarts always thinks I can't be well, and wants me to take the medicine she takes.
But, really, I see very little of the family, except Alice and Billy, who don't count. Billy comes in at any time he feels like it to get a book and something to eat, though the others don't know it, and Alice has fits of stopping in every afternoon on her way from school, and then perhaps doesn't come near me for weeks. Alice is terribly discontented at home, and I think it's a very good thing that she is; anything is better than sinking to that dreadful dead level. She doesn't quite know whether to take up the artistic life or be a society queen, and she feels that nobody understands her at home. It makes her nearly wild when Aunt Elizabeth comes back from one of her grand visits and acts as if SHE wasn't anything. She came over right after the row, of course, and told me all about it--she had on her new white China silk and her hat with the feathers. She said she was so excited about everything that she couldn't stop to think about what she put on; she looked terribly dressed up, but she had come all through the village with her waist unfastened in the middle of the back--she said she couldn't reach the hooks. Aunt Elizabeth had gone away that morning for overnight, so nobody could get at her to find out about her actions with Mr. Goward, and the telegram she had sent to him, until the next day, and every one was nearly crazy. They talked about it for two hours before Maria went home. Then Peggy had locked herself in her room, and her mother had gone out, and her grandmother was sitting now on the piazza, rocking and sighing, with her eyes shut. Alice said each person had got dreadfully worked up, not only about Aunt Elizabeth, but about all the ways every other member of the family had hurt that person at some time. Maria said that Peggy never would take HER advice, and Peggy returned that Maria had hurt her more than any one by her attitude toward Harry Goward, that she was so suspicious of him that it had made him act unnaturally from the first--that nothing had hurt her so much since the time Maria took away Peggy's doll on purpose when she was a little girl--the doll she used to sleep with--and burned it; it was something she had NEVER got over.
Then her mother, who hadn't been talking very much, said that Peggy didn't realize the depth of Maria's affection for her, and what a good sister she had been, and how she had taken care of Peggy the winter that Peggy was ill--and then she couldn't help saying that, bad as was this affair about Harry Goward, it wasn't like the anxiety one felt about a sick child; there were times when she felt that she could bear anything if Charles Edward's health were only properly looked after. Of course Lorraine was young and inexperienced, but if she would only use her influence with him--
Alice broke off suddenly, and said she had to go--it was just as Dr. Denbigh's little auto was coming down the street. She dashed out of the door and bowed to him from the crossing, quite like a young lady, for all her short skirts--she really did look fetching! Dr. Denbigh smiled at her, but not the way he used to smile at Peggy. I really thought he cared for Peggy once, though he's so much older that nobody else seemed to dream of such a thing.
Of course, after Alice went, I just sat there in the chair all humped up, thinking of her last words.
The family are always harping on "Lorraine's influence." If they wanted their dear Charles Edward made different from the way he is, why on earth didn't they do it themselves, when they had the chance? That's what I want to know! I know they mean to be nice to me, but they take it for granted that every habit Charles Edward has or hasn't, and everything he does or doesn't, is because I didn't do something that I ought to have done, or condoned something that I ought not. They seem to think that a man is made of soft, kindergarten clay, and all a wife has to do is to sit down and mould him as she pleases. Well, some men may be like that, but Peter isn't. The family never really have forgiven me for calling their darling "Charles Edward" Peter. I perfectly loathe that long-winded Walter-Scotty name, and I don't care how many grandfathers it's descended from. I'm sorry, of course, if it hurts their feelings, but as long as _I_ don't object to their calling him what THEY like, I don't see why they mind. And as for my managing Peter, they know perfectly well that, though he's a darling, he's just mulishly obstinate. He's had his own way ever since he was born; the whole family simply adore him. His mother has always waited on him hand and foot, though she's sensible enough with the other children. If he looks sulky she is perfectly miserable. I am really very fond of my mother-in-law--that is, I am fond of her IN SPOTS. There are times when she understands how I feel about Peter better than any one else--like that dreadful spring when he had pneumonia and I was nearly wild. I know she is dreadfully unselfish and kind, but she WILL think--they all do--that they know what Peter needs better than I do, and whenever they see me alone it's to hint that I ought to keep him from smoking too much and being extravagant, and that I should make him wear his overcoat and go to bed early and take medicine when he has a cold. And through everything else they hark back to that everlasting, "If you'd only exert your influence, Lorraine dear, to make Charles Edward take more interest in the business--his father thinks so much of that."
If I were to tell them that Charles Edward perfectly detests the business, and will NEVER be interested in it and never make anything out of it, they'd all go straight off the handle; yet they all know it just as well as I do. That's the trouble--you simply can't tell them the truth about anything; they don't want to hear it. I never talk at all any more when I go over to the big house, for I can't seem to without horrifying somebody.
I thought I should die when I first came here; it was so different from the way it is at home, where you can say or do anything you please without caring what anybody thinks. Dad has always believed in not restricting individuality, and that girls have just as much right to live their own lives as boys--which is a fortunate thing, for, counting Momsey, there are four of us.
We never had any system about anything at home, thank goodness! We just had atmosphere. Dad was an artist, you know, and he does paint such lovely pictures; but he gave it up as a profession when we were little, and went into business, because, he said, he couldn't let his family starve--and we all think it was so perfectly noble of him! I couldn't give up being an artist for anybody, no matter WHO starved, and Peter feels that way, too. Of course we both realize that we're not LIVING here in this hole, we're simply existing, and nothing matters very much until we get out of it. In six months, when Charles Edward is twenty-five, there's a little money coming to him--three thousand dollars--and then we're going to Paris to live our own lives; but nobody knows anything about that. One day I said something, without thinking, to my mother-in-law about that money; I've forgotten what it was, but she looked so horrified and actually gasped:
"You wouldn't think of Charles Edward's using his PRINCIPAL, Lorraine?"
And I said: "Why not? It's his own principal."
Well, I just made up my mind afterward that I'd never open my mouth again, while I live here, about ANYTHING I was interested in, even about Peter!
His father might have let him go to Paris that year before we met, when he was in New York at the Art League, just as well as not, but the family all consulted about it, Peter says, and concluded it wasn't "necessary." That is the blight that is always put on everything we want to do--it isn't necessary. Oh, how Alice hates that word! She says she supposes it's never "necessary" to be happy.
Well, Peter heard that when the Paris scheme came up--he'd written home that he couldn't work without the art atmosphere--Grandmother Evarts said:
"Why, I'm sure he has the Metropolitan Museum to go to; and there's Wanamaker's picture-gallery, too. Has he been to Wanamaker's?"
I thought I should throw a fit when Peter told me that!
I know, of course, that the family pity Peter for living in a house that's all at sixes and sevens, and for not having everything the way he has been used to having it; and I know they think I keep him from going to see them all at home, when the truth is--although, as usual, I can't say it--sometimes I absolutely have to HOUND him to go there; though, of course, he's awfully fond of them all, and his mother especially; but he gets dreadfully lazy, and says they're his own people, anyway, and he can do as he pleases about it. It's their own fault, because they've always spoiled him. And if they only knew how he hates just that way of living he's been always used to, with its little, petty cast-iron rules and regulations, and the stupid family meals, where everybody is expected to be on time to the minute! My father-in-law pulls out his chair at the dinner-table exactly as the clock is striking one, and if any member of the family is a fraction late all the rest are solemn and strained and nervous until the culprit appears. Peter says the way he used to suffer--he was NEVER on time.
The menu for each day of the week is as fixed as fate, no matter what the season of the year: hot roast beef, Sunday; cold roast beef, Monday; beef-steak, Tuesday; roast mutton, Wednesday; mutton pot-pie, Thursday; corned beef, Friday; and beef-steak again on Saturday. My father-in-law never eats fish or poultry, so they only have either if there is state company. There's one sacred apple pudding that's been made every Wednesday for nineteen years, and if you can imagine anything more positively dreadful than that, _I_ can't.
Every time, as soon as we sit down to the table, Grandmother Evarts always begins, officially:
"Well, Charles Edward, my dear boy, we don't have you here very often nowadays. I said to your mother yesterday that it was two whole weeks since you had been to see her. What have you been doing with yourself lately?"
And when he says, as he always does, "Nothing, grandmother," I know she's disappointed, and then she starts in and tells what she has been doing, and Maria--Maria always manages to be there when we are--Maria tells what SHE has been doing, with little side digs at me because I
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