“I am getting old,” said
Mariana. She was sitting before the mirror, and
as she spoke she rose and leaned forward in closer
inspection. “This line,” she added,
dolefully, rubbing her forehead, “is caused by
the laundress, this by the departure of the nurse,
and this by the curdling of the baby’s milk.”
Anthony crossed over and stood behind
her. “I would give my right arm to smooth
them away,” he said.
Mariana fastened the collar of her
breakfast sacque and looked back at him from the glass.
She did not reply. Not that she would not have
liked to say something affectionate, but that she
felt the effort to be pleasant to be physically beyond
her. Her life of the last few weeks had taught
her that demonstrative expressions are an unnecessary
waste of energy.
There was a rap at the door, and she
opened it and took the milk-bottle from the dairy-man.
After setting a cupful upon the little gas-stove,
she raised the window and placed the remainder upon
the fire-escape. “I am afraid,” she
remarked, “that I will have to try one of those
innumerable infant foods. One can never be sure
that the milk is quite fresh.”
Anthony tied a cravat which was particularly
worn, put on a coat which was particularly shiny across
the shoulders, and went into the adjoining room to
set the table. He boiled the coffee, took in the
baker’s rolls from a tray on the threshold,
and put on a couple of eggs. Then he called Mariana.
She came, sat down at the table, and
lifted the coffee-pot. She looked hollow-eyed
and haggard, and her hand shook slightly. “I
am so weak,” she said, fretfully. “I
can’t get my strength. I just go dragging
Anthony looked at her in sudden pain.
“If there were a speculating devil around who
took stock in souls,” he said, “I am sure
we might offer him an investment. People are
fools to think there is any happiness without money.”
“Or any decency,” added
Mariana. Then the baby cried, and she took it
up and brought it to the table, holding it upon her
knee as she ate. Her appetite failed, and she
pushed her plate away.
“The egg is so white,”
she said, pettishly, “I can’t eat it.”
Then her voice choked. “I I
sometimes wish I were dead,” she added, and went
to pour the baby’s milk into its bottle.
Mariana’s strength did not return.
As the months passed she grew more listless, her pallor
deepened, and the shadows under her eyes darkened
to a purplish cast. The incessant round of minor
cares clouded her accustomed sunniness of temper,
and her buoyant step gave place to a languid tread.
It was as if the inexorable hand of poverty had crushed
her beneath its weight.
Algarcife, coming in from his more
systematic employment, would marvel vaguely at her
unresponsiveness. His tenderness would recoil
in pained surprise as he felt her indifference to
his caress, and her long silences while he sat beside
her. “Mariana,” he would begin, “won’t
you talk to me?” and Mariana would rouse herself
with a start. “But what is there to say?”
she would ask, and sink back into stillness. It
was, perhaps, impossible for him to understand that
at such times she was but undergoing the inevitable
reaction from long months of physical and mental suffering that
the energy which she had expended in supplying the
drains upon her nature had left her incapable of further
effort. He did not know that emotion with a woman
is so largely regulated by nervous conditions, that
complete exhaustion of body and mind is apt to repress,
not the fund of affection, but its outward manifestations.
In his passionate desire to shield Mariana, he had
kept from her knowledge the financial stress into
which her prolonged illness had plunged him.
He had watched his growing indebtedness silently, and
had reduced his personal expenses to a minimum while
he sought to supply her with comforts. But from
the immediate needs and anxieties of her own life he
had not been able to guard her. The gnawing fears
for the child, the nights when she awoke from needed
sleep to lean over its crib and soothe it with lullabies,
the weary hours in the day when she walked with aching
head back and forth, he could not prevent, nor could
he restore to her the health which she had lost.
That the vein of iron which lay beneath the surface
lightness of her nature had developed through responsibility,
he saw clearly, but he also saw that she lived her
life in apparent unrepining, not because of a rational
acceptance of the order of things, but because illness
and toil had for the time overthrown her aesthetic
intuitions. To recall her as she had been during
the first months of their marriage, white, fresh, and
exquisite in attire, and then to look at her in a
faded wrapper, her heavy hair disordered, her lips
compressed, was to know that Mariana as she was to-day
was not Mariana in a normal state. That it could
not last, he knew. That with the first wave of
returning vigor her longing for dramatic effects and
the small requirements of existence would reawaken,
he admitted unhesitatingly. She would grow vital
again, she would demand with passionate desire the
satisfaction of her senses she would crave
music, color, light, all the sensuous fulness of life.
And where would she find it?
One day, as he came in to luncheon,
he found her playing with the baby, a flash of brightness
upon her face.
He looked at her and smiled.
“It is company for you, isn’t it, dearest?”
Mariana’s smile passed.
“I don’t have time to
think about that part,” she returned. “I
am always working. When I’ve got her all
nice and fresh, and laid her on the bed, she begins
to cry for her bottle. Then, while I am heating
the milk, she cries to be walked, and, by the time
the bottle is ready, she is so red in the face she
can’t drink it, and she spills it all over herself.
Then I begin and go through it all again.”
“What a little beast she is,”
said Algarcife, surveying the baby with parental displeasure.
“What a pity she isn’t a Japanese!
Japanese babies never cry.” Then he grew
serious. “I sometimes wonder how you stand
it,” he added. “Here, give me the
Mariana rescued the baby’s rattle
from its throat and laid it in the crib. It screamed,
and she took it up again.
“There is a good deal in having to,” she
Algarcife walked to the window and
stood looking down into the street. His brow
was gloomy. Suddenly he faced her. “Are
you sorry that you married me, Mariana?”
Mariana did not impulsively negative
the question, as he had half expected. She even
appeared to consider it. Then she slowly shook
“I should have been more unhappy
if I hadn’t,” she answered.
“It would have been a confounded
sight better if you had never seen me.”
But Mariana put the child down and
fell into his outstretched arms.
“No, no,” she said; “but I am tired so
Anthony picked her up and laid her
on the bed. Then he threw a shawl over her.
“I am going to take an hour off and discipline
your tyrant,” he said. “Go to sleep.”
He lifted the baby and went towards the door.
“You aren’t such a black-hearted chap,
after all, are you, Isolde?”
The baby cuddled against his shoulder,
and he passed into the next room, closing the door
Mariana lay upon the bed and thought.
Her eyes were wide open, and she stared fixedly at
the ceiling, watching the fluctuations of light that
chased across its plastered surface. It was a
relief to be absolutely alone, to be freed from the
restraint which the presence of another thinking entity
necessitated. She drew the shawl closer about
her and pressed her cheek upon the pillow. The
contact of the cotton was exciting to her fevered
flesh. In the dim train of association it brought
back to her an illness in her childhood, and she recalled
her first sensations of headache and fatigue.
They had come upon her as she was playing in an open
meadow, and, before toiling to the house, she had
stopped beside the reedy brook and knelt to drink,
while the cool, fresh notes of the bobolinks sounded
about her. She remembered it all now as she lay
amid the noise of the city. The roar of the elevated
road was silenced, and she heard the bobolinks again.
She saw the emerald sweep of the wheat fields, undulating
in golden lights and olive shadows. She saw the
stagnant ice pond, with the overhanging branches of
willows and the whir of the parti-colored insects.
She smelt the pungent sweetness of the wild rose and
the subtle odor of the trumpet-flower, glowing amid
its luxuriant foliage like a heart of fire.
Then she raised her head and surveyed
the room in which she lay. She saw the garish
daylight streaming in a flood of dust and sunshine
through the narrow window. She saw the lack of
grace that surrounded her, emphasized by a crowd of
trivial details. She saw the tall, painted wardrobe
with its bulging doors and the bandboxes upon the top,
the cheap bureau with its gaping drawers, and the
assortment of shoes half-hidden under it. She
saw her work-basket, overflowing with stockings to
be darned and small slips to be mended.
With a stifled sob she turned from
it all, pressing her face against the pillow.
The heritage of yearning for vivid beauty and sharp,
sweet odors surged upon her. “I can’t
be poor!” she cried, passionately. “I
can’t be poor!”
But as the spring came, Mariana regained
something of her old vigor, and it was in April of
that year that Mr. Nevins painted the portrait which
was exhibited some six months later, and with which
began his rising fortunes. It represented her
in the blue wrapper, holding the sleeping Isolde upon
her knee, that soft and pensive stillness in her eyes.
Within a couple of months after its appearance, Mr.
Nevins had received orders for similar portraits from
a dozen mothers, and had taken his position in the
art world as the popular baby specialist.
Mariana had enjoyed the portrait and
the sittings. They diverted her thoughts from
the groove of the ordinary and gratified to a small
extent her social instinct. When it was finished,
and Mr. Nevins no longer came, she relapsed into listlessness.
It was the friction of the outside world she needed.
Hers was not the nature to develop through stagnation.
In barren soil she wilted and grew colorless, while
at the touch of sunshine she expanded and put forth
her old radiance.
Anthony, watching her, would become
oppressed at times with the thought that this thin
and fragile woman, dragging through her irksome round
of duties, anæmic and hollow-eyed, might by the magic
of wealth and ease mature into a passionate, lithe,
and gracious creature, of which she was now the wraith and
yet which even now she suggested. For the furnace
through which she had passed, in robbing her of freshness
and bloom, had been unable to destroy her vague and
“She is a woman ruined,”
he said, bitterly, and he said it with a dull aching
in his heart. To him Mariana, emaciated and unresponsive,
was still the Mariana to be possessed and held with
burning desire. The small clashes of temper,
the long silences, the apparent indifference, had
been powerless to weaken the force of his love.
It was still indomitable.
One night, upon going to his room,
he found her in her night-gown kneeling on the hearth-rug.
From her breathing he knew that she was asleep, and
it was a moment before he aroused her. In the
dim light she resembled a marble figure of prayer,
her cheek resting upon her hand, the lashes fallen
over the violet circles beneath her eyes.
Beside the bed, the baby lay in its
little crib, the restless fists lying upon its breast,
a fine moisture shining like dew upon the infantile
face. He stood looking at it, a thrill shooting
into his heart. For the first time he realized
with acuteness a positive feeling for the child realized
that it was his as well as Mariana’s, that it
had a claim upon him other than the claim of Mariana,
that he was not only the husband of a woman, but the
father of a child.
Bending over the crib, he touched
with one finger the crumpled rose-leaf hands, with
the soft indentation around the wrist as if left by
a tightly drawn cord.
He smiled slightly. Then he crossed
over and kissed Mariana. She opened her eyes,
yawned, stretched her arms above her head, and rose.
“I have really been asleep,” she said.
“You were so tired,” answered
Algarcife, and his voice was limpid with tenderness.
“It kills me that you should work so, Mariana.”
Mariana rested against him for an
instant. Then she went to the crib, and, raising
the baby’s head, smoothed its pillow. As
she laid it down again she pressed the cover carefully
over its arms; then, throwing herself into bed, she
fell asleep with a sigh.