Read CHAPTER V - DEEPER THAN SHOULDERS AND RIBS of The Tinder-Box, free online book, by Maria Thompson Daviess, on ReadCentral.com.

There are many fundamental differences between men and women which strike deeper than breadth of shoulders and number of ribs on the right side.

Men deliberately unearth matters of importance and women stumble on the same things in the dark.  It is then a question of the individual as to the complications that result.  One thing can be always counted on.  A woman likes to tangle life into a large mass and then straighten out the threads at her leisure and the man’s leisure too.

Glendale affairs interest me more every day.

This has been a remarkable afternoon and I wish Jane had been in Glendale to witness it.

“Say, Evelina, all the folks over at our house have gone crazy, and I wish you would come over and help Cousin James with ’em,” Henrietta demanded, as I sat on my side porch, calmly hemming a ruffle on a dress for the Kitten.  Everybody sews for the twins and, as much as I hate it, I can’t help doing it.

“Why, Henrietta, what is the matter?” I demanded, as I hurried down the front walk and across the road at her bare little heels.  By the time I got to the front gate I could hear sounds of lamentation.

“A railroad train wants to run right through the middle of all their dead people and Sallie started the crying.  Dead’s dead, and if Cousin James wants ’em run over.  I wants ’em run over too.”  She answered over her shoulder as we hurried through the wide front hall.

And a scene that beggars description met my eyes, as I stood in the living-room door.  I hope this account I am going to try and write will get petrified by some kind of new element they will suddenly discover some day and the manuscript be dug up from the ruins of Glendale to interest the natives of the Argon age about 2800 A. D.

Sallie sat in the large armchair in the middle of the room weeping in the slow, regular way a woman has of starting out with tears, when she means to let them flow for hours, maybe days, and there were just five echoes to her grief, all done in different keys and characters.

Cousin Martha knelt beside the chair and held Sallie’s head on her ample bosom, but I must say that the expression on her face was one of bewilderment, as well as of grief.

The three little Horton cousins sat close together in the middle of the old hair-cloth sofa by the window and were weeping as modestly and helplessly as they did everything else in life, while Mrs. Hargrove, in her chair under her son’s portrait, was just plainly out and out howling.

And on the hearth-rug, before the tiny fire of oak chips that the old ladies liked to keep burning all summer, stood the master of the house and, for once in my life, I have seen the personification of masculine helplessness.  He was a tragedy and I flew straight to him with arms wide open, which clasped both his shoulders as I gave him a good shake to arouse him from his paralyzation.

“What’s the matter?” I demanded, with the second shake.

“I’m a brute, Evelina,” he answered, and a sudden discouragement lined every feature of his beautiful biblical face.  I couldn’t stand that and I hugged him tight to my breast for an instant and then administered another earthquake shake.

“Tell me exactly what has happened,” I demanded, looking straight into his tragic eyes and letting my hands slip from his shoulders down his arms until they held both of his hands tight and warm in mine.

Jane, I was glad that I had offered the cup of my eyes to him full of this curious inter-sex elixir of life that you have induced me to seek so blindly, for he responded to the dose immediately and the color came back into his face as he answered me just as sensibly as he would another man.

“The men who are surveying the new railroad from Cincinnati to the Gulf have laid their experimental lines across the corner of Greenwood Cemetery and they say it will have to run that way or go across the river and parallel the lines of the other road.  If they come on this side of the river they will force the other road to come across, too, and in that case we will get the shops.  It just happens that such a line will make necessary the removal of of poor Henry’s remains to another lot.  Sallie’s is the only lot in the cemetery that is that high on the bluff.  Henry didn’t like the situation when he bought it himself, and I thought that, as there is another lot right next to her mother’s for sale, she would not but, of course, I was brutal to mention it to her.  I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me, Sallie.”  And as he spoke he extracted himself from me and walked over and laid his hand on Sallie’s head.

“It was such a shock to her poor Henry,” sobbed little Cousin Jasmine, and the other two little sisters sniffed in chorus.

“To have railroad trains running by Greenwood at all will be disturbing to the peace of the dead,” snorted Mrs. Hargrove.  “We need no railroad in Glendale.  We have never had one, and that is my last word no!”

“Four miles to the railroad station across the river is just a pleasant drive in good weather,” said Cousin Martha, plaintively, as she cuddled Sallie’s sobs more comfortably down on her shoulder.

“I feel that Henry would doubt my faithfulness to his memory, if I consented to such a desecration,” came in smothered tones from the pillowing shoulder.

And not one of all those six women had stopped to think for one minute that the minor fact of the disturbing of the ashes of Henry Carruthers would be followed by the major one of the restoration of the widow’s fortune and the lifting of a huge financial burden off the strong shoulders they were all separately and collectively leaning upon.

I exploded, but I am glad I drew the Crag out on the porch and did it to him alone.

“Evelina, you are refreshing if strenuous,” he laughed, after I had spent five minutes in stating my opinions of women in general and a few in particular.  “But I ought not to have hurt Sallie by telling her about the lines until they are a certainty.  It is so far only a possibility.  They may go across the river anyway.”

“And as for seeing Sallie swaddled in your consideration, and fed yourself as a sacrifice from a spoon, I am tired of it,” I flamed up again.  “It’s not good for her.  Feed and clothe her and her progeny, men in general have brought just such burdens as that upon you in particular by their attitude towards us, but do let her begin to exert just a small area of her brain on the subject of the survival of the fit to live.  You don’t swaddle or feed me!”

“Eve,” he said, softly under his breath as his wonderful gentle eyes sank down way below the indignation and explosiveness to the quiet pool that lies at the very bottom of my heart.

Nobody ever found it before and I didn’t know it was there myself, but I felt as if it were being drained up into Heaven.

“Eve!” He said again, and it is a wonder that I didn’t answer: 

“Adam!”

I don’t know just what would have happened if Uncle Peter hadn’t broken in on the interview with his crustiest chips on both shoulders and so much excitement bottled up that he had to let it fly like a double reporter.

“Dodson is down at the Hotel looking for you, James,” he began as he hurried up the steps.  “Big scheme this got him in a corner if the C. & G. comes along this side of Old Harpeth make him squeal hey?”

“Who’s Dodson?” I asked with the greatest excitement.  I was for the first time getting a whiff of the schemes of the masculine mighty, but I was squelched promptly by Uncle Peter.

“We’ve no time for questions, Evelina, now go back to your tatting hey?” He answered me as he began to buttonhole the Crag and lead him down the steps.

“Dodson is the man who is laying down and contracting for the line across the river, Evelina,” answered Cousin James without taking any notice whatever of Uncle Peter’s squelching of me.  “If this other line can just be secured he will have to come to our terms and the situation will be saved.”  As he spoke he took my hand in his and led me at his side, down the front walk to the gate, talking as he went, for Uncle Peter was chuckling on ahead like a steam tug in a hurry.

“And the shades of Henry will again assume the maintenance of his family,” I hazarded with lack of respect of the dead, impudence to Cousin James about his own affairs, and unkindness by implication to Sallie, who loves me better than almost anybody in the world does.  And I got my just punishment by seeing a lovely look of tender concern rise in Cousin James’s eyes as he stopped short in the middle of the walk.

“I want to go back a minute to speak to Sallie before I go on down town,” he said, quickly, and before Uncle Peter’s remonstrances had exploded, he had taken the steps two at a bound and disappeared in the front door.

“Sooner he marries that lazy lollypop the better,” fumed Uncle Peter, as he waited at the gate.  “The way for a man to quench his thirst for woman-sweets is to marry a pot of honey like that, and then come right on back to the bread and butter game.  Here’s a letter Jasper gave me to bring along for you from town.  Go on and read it and do not disturb the workings of my brain while I wait for James workings of a great brain hey?”

I took the letter and hurried across the street because I wanted anyway to get to some place by myself and think.  There was no earthly reason for it but I felt like an animal that has been hurt and wants to go off and lick its wounds.  A womanly woman that lives a lovely appealing life right in a man’s own home has a perfect right to gain his love, especially if she is beautifully unconscious of her appeal.  Besides, why should a man want to take an independent, explosive, impudent firebrand with all sorts of dreadful plots in her mind to his heart?  He wouldn’t and doesn’t!

There is no better sedative for a woman’s disturbed and wounded emotions than a little stiff brain work.  Richard’s letter braced my viny drooping of mind at once and from thinking into the Crag’s affairs of sentiment, I turned with masculine vigor to begin to mix into his affairs of finance.  However, I wish that the first big business letter I ever got in my life hadn’t had to have a strain of love interest running through it!  Still Dickie is a trump card in the man pack.

It seems that as his father is one of the most influential directors and largest stockholders in this new branch of the Cincinnati and Gulf railroad he has got the commission for making the plans for all the stations along the road, and he wants to give me the commission for drawing all the gardens for all the station-yards.  It will be tremendous for both of us so young in life, and I never dared hope for such a thing.  I had only hoped to get a few private gardens of some of my friends to laze and pose over, but this is startling.  My mind is beginning to work on in terms of hedges and fountains already and Dickie may be coming South any minute.

And besides the hedges and gravel paths I have a feeling that Dickie’s father and the Crag and Sallie’s girl-babies are fomenting around in my mind getting ready to pop the cork of an idea soon.  The combination feels like some kind of a hunch I sat still for a long time and let it seethe, while I took stock of the situation.

There is a strange, mysterious kind of peace that begins to creep across the Harpeth Valley, just as soon as the sun sinks low enough to throw the red glow over the head of Old Harpeth.  I suppose it happens in other hill-rimmed valleys in other parts of the Universe, but it does seem as if God himself is looking down to brood over us, and that the valley is the hollow of His hand into which he is gathering us to rest in the darkness of His night.  I felt buffeted and in need of Him as I sank down under the rose-vine over the porch and looked out across my garden to the blue and rose hills beyond.

I have been in Glendale a whole month now, and I can’t see that my influence has revolutionized the town as yet.  I don’t seem to be of half the importance that I thought I was going to be.  I have tried, and I have offered that bucket of love that I thought up to everybody, but whether they have drunk of it to profit I am sure I can’t say.  In fact, my loneliness has liquefied my gaseous affection into what almost looks like officiousness.

Still, I know Uncle Peter is happier than he ever was before, because he has got me to come to as a refuge from Aunt Augusta, a confidante for his views of life that he is not allowed to express at home, and also the certainty of one of Jasper’s juleps.

Sallie has grown so dependent on me that my shoulders are assuming a masculine squareness to support her weight.  I am understudying Cousin James to such an extent over at Widegables that I feel like the heir to his house.  Cousin Martha sends for me when the chimney smokes and the cows get sick.  I have twice changed five dollars for little Cousin Jasmine, and sternly told the man from out on their farm on Providence Road that he must not root up the lavender bushes to plant turnip-greens in their places.  I afterwards rented the patch from him to grow the lavender because he said he couldn’t lose the price that the greens would bring him “for crotchets.”

Mrs. Hargrove has given me her will to keep for her, and the sealed instructions for her burial.  I hope when the time comes the two behests will strike a balance, but I doubt it.

Her ideas of a proper funeral seem to coincide with those of Queen Victoria, whom she has admired through life and mourns sincerely.

Henrietta has not been heard to indulge in profane language since I had a long talk with her last week out in the garden, that ended in stubby tears and the gift of a very lovely locket which I impressed upon her was as chaste in design as I wished her speech to become.

The twins have been provided with several very lovely pieces of wearing apparel from my rapidly skill-acquiring needle.  That’s on the credit side of my balance.  But that is all and it doesn’t sound revolutionary, does it, Jane?

Petunia married Jasper according to his word of promise, and I have taught her to cook about five French dishes that he couldn’t concoct to save his life, and which help her to keep him in his place.  His pomposity grows daily but he eyes me with suspicion when he sees me in secret conclave with Petunia.

“We needs a man around this place,” I heard him mutter the other day as I left the kitchen.

I wonder!

The garden has been weeded, replanted, trained, clipped and garnished, and my arms are as husky and strong as a boy’s and my nose badly sunburned from my strenuosity with hoe and trimming scissors.

All of which I have done and done well.  But when I think of all those five girls that are waiting for me to solve the emotional formula by which they can work out and establish the fact that man equals woman, I get weak in the knees.

Jane’s letters are just prods.

Your highly cultivated artistic nature ought to be a very beautiful revelation to the spiritual character of the young Methodist divine you wrote me of in your last letter.  Encourage him in every way with affectionate interest in his work, especially in the Epworth League on his country circuit.  I am enclosing fifty dollars’ subscription to the work and I hope you will give as much You have not mentioned Mr. Hayes for several letters.  I fear you are prejudiced against him.  Seek to know and weigh his character before you judge him as unfit for your love.

The highly spiritual Mr. Haley glared at Polk for an hour out here on my porch, when he interrupted us in one of our Epworth League talks, in such an unspiritual manner that Polk said he felt as if he had been introduced to the Apostle Paul while he was still Saul of Tarsus.  I had to pet the Dominie decorously for a week before he regained his benign manner.  Of course, however, it was trying to even a highly spiritual nature like his to have Polk insist on pinning a rose in my hair right before his eyes.

About Polk I feel that I am in the midst of one of those great calm, oily stretches of ocean that a ship is rocked gently in for a few hours before the storm tosses it first to Heaven and then to hell.  He is so psychic, and in a way attuned to me, that he partly understands my purpose in declaring my love for him to put him at a disadvantage in his love-making to me, and he hasn’t let me do it yet, while his tacit suit goes on.  It is a drawn battle between us and is going to be fought to the death.  In the meantime Nell

And while I was on the porch sitting with Richard Hall’s letter in my hand, still unread, Nell herself came down the front walk and sat down beside me.

“Why, I thought you had gone fishing with Polk,” I said as I cuddled her up to me a second.  She laid her head on my shoulder and heaved such a sigh that it shook us both.

“I didn’t quite like to go with him alone and Henrietta wouldn’t go because a bee had stung the red-headed twin, and she wanted to stay to scold Sallie,” she answered with both hesitation and depression in her voice.

“Polk is is strenuous for a whole day’s companionship,” I answered, experimentally, for I saw the time had come to exercise some of the biceps in Nell’s femininity in preparation for just what I knew she was to get from Polk.  My heart ached for what I knew she was suffering.  I had had exactly those growing pains for months following that experience with him on the front porch after the dance four years ago.  And I had had change of scene and occupation to help.

“I don’t understand him at all,” faltered Nell, and she raised her eyes as she bared her wound to me.

“Nell,” I said with trepidation, as I began on this my first disciple, “you aren’t a bit ashamed or embarrassed or humiliated in showing me that you love me, are you?”

“You know I’ve adored you ever since I could toddle at your heels, Evelina,” she answered, and the love-message her great brown eyes flashed into mine was as sweet as anything that ever happened to me.

“Then, why should you wonder and suffer and restrain and be humiliated at your love for Polk?” I asked, firing point blank at all of Nell’s traditions.  “Why not tell him about it and ask him if he loves you?”

The shot landed with such force that Nell gasped, but answered as straight out from the shoulder as I had aimed.

“I would rather die than have Polk Hayes know how he he affects me,” she answered with her head held high.

“Then, what you feel for him is not worthy love, but something entirely unworthy,” I answered loftily, with a very poor imitation of Jane’s impressiveness of speech.

“I know it,” she faltered into my shoulder, “if it were Mr. James Hardin I loved, I wouldn’t mind anybody’s knowing it, but something must be wrong with Polk or me or the way I feel.  What is it?”

For a moment I got so stiff all over that Nell raised her head from my shoulder in surprise.  Do all women feel about the Crag as I do?

“I don’t know,” I answered weakly.

And I don’t know!  Oh, Jane, your simple experiment proposition is about to become compound quadratics.

Then I got a still further surprise.

“I wouldn’t in the least mind telling Mr. James how I like him if you think it is all right,” Nell mused, looking pensively at the first pale star that was rising over Old Harpeth.  “I would enjoy it, because I have always adored him, and it would be so interesting to see what he’d say.”

“Nell,” I said suddenly with determination, “do it!  Tell any man you like how much you like him and see what happens.”

“I feel as if as if” Nell faltered and I don’t blame her; I wouldn’t have said as much to her “I feel that to tell Mr. James I love him would ease the pain, the pain that I feel about Polk.  It would be so interesting to tell a man a thing like that.”

“Do it!” I gasped, and went foot in the class in romantics.

If any jungle explorer thinks he has mapped and charted a woman’s heart he had better pack up his instruments of warfare and recorders and come down to Glendale, Tennessee.

Nell and I must have talked further along the same lines, but I don’t remember what we said.  I have recorded the high lights on the conversation, but long after I lost her I kept my whirlwind feeling of amazement.  It was like trying to balance calmly on the lid of the tinder-box when you didn’t know whether or not you had touched off the fuse.

Has honeysuckle-garbed Old Harpeth been seeing things like this go on for centuries and not interrupted?  I think I would have been sitting there questioning him until now, if Lee and Caroline hadn’t stopped at the gate and called to me.

I think Lee was giving Caroline this stroll home from the post-office in the twilight as an extra treat in her week’s allowance of him, and she was so soft and glowing and sweet and pale that I wonder the Cherokee roses on my hedge didn’t droop their heads with humility before her.

“What’s a lovely lady doing sitting all by herself in the gloaming?” Lee asked in his rich, warm voice.

I hate him!

“Come take a walk with us, Evelina, dear,” Caroline begged softly, though I knew what it would mean to her if I should intrude on this precious hour with her near-lover.

Please, God if I seem to be calling You into a profane situation I can’t help it; I must have help! show me some way to assist Caroline to make Lee into a real man and then get him for herself.  She must have him and he needs her.  And show me a way quick!  Amen!

Jane, I hope you will be able to pick the data out of this jumble, but I doubt it.  Anyway I’m grateful for the lock and key on this book.

As I stood at the gate and watched Lee and Caroline saunter down the moon-flecked street a mocking bird in the tallest of the oak twins that are my roof shelter called wooingly from one of the top boughs and got his answer from about the same place on the same limb.

If a woman starts out to be a trained nurse to an epidemic of love-making, she is in great danger of doing something foolish her own self.  I am even glad it is prayer-meeting night for Mr. Haley; he is safe in performing his rituals.  He might misunderstand this mood.

I wonder if I ever was really over in sunny France being wooed and happy!

Of course, I decided the first night I was here that, as circumstances over which I had no control had decreed that Cousin James should stand in the position of enforced protector to me, decent, communistic femino-masculine honor demands that I refrain from any manoeuvers in his direction to attract his thoughts and attention to the feminine me.  I can only meet him on the ordinary grounds of fellowship.  And I suppose the glad-to-see him coming up the street was of the neuter gender, but it was very interesting.

“What did Dodson have to say is he coming across?” I demanded of him before he got quite to my gate.

“Not if he can help it,” he answered as he came close and leaned against one of the tall stone posts, so that his grandly shaped head with its ante-bellum squirls of hair was silhouetted against the white-starred wistaria vine in a way that made me frantic for several buckets of monochrome water-colors and a couple of brushes as big as those used for white-washing.  In about ten great splotches I could have done a masterpiece of him that would have drawn artistic fits from the public of gay Paris.  I never see him that I don’t long for a box of pastels or get the ghost of the odor of oil-paint in my nose.

“The whole thing will be settled in a month,” he continued, with a sigh that had a hint of depression in it and an astral shape of Sallie manifested itself hanging on his shoulder.  However, I controlled myself and listened to him.  “There is to be a meeting of the directors of both roads over in Bolivar in a few weeks and they are to come to some understanding.  The line across the river is unquestionably the cheapest and best grade and there is no chance of getting them to run along our bluff unless we can show them some advantage in doing so, and I can’t see what that will be.”

“What makes it of advantage for a railroad to run through any given point in a rural community like this, Cousin James?” I asked, with a glow of intellect mounting to my head, the like of which I hadn’t felt since I delivered my Junior thesis in Political Economy with Jane looking on, consumed with pride.

“Towns that have good stock or grain districts around them with good roads for hauling do what is called ‘feeding’ a railroad,” he answered.  “Bolivar can feed both roads with the whole of the Harpeth Valley on that side of the river.  They’ll get the roads, I’m thinking.  Poor old Glendale!”

“Isn’t there anything to feed the monsters this side of the river?” I demanded, indignant at the barrenness of the south side of the valley of Old Harpeth.

“Very little unless it’s the scenery along the bluff,” he replied, with the depression sounding still more clearly in his voice and his shoulders drooped against the unsympathetic old stone post in a way that sent a pang to my heart.

“Jamie, is all you’ve got tied up in the venture?” I asked softly, using the name that a very small I had given him in a long ago when the world was young and not full of problems.

“That’s not the worst, Evelina,” he answered in a voice that was positively haggard.  “But what belongs to the rest of the family is all in the same leaky craft.  Carruthers put Sallie’s in himself, but I invested the mites belonging to the others.  Of course, as far as the old folks are concerned, I can more than take care of them, and if anything happens there’s enough life insurance and to spare for them.  I don’t feel exactly responsible for Sallie’s situation, but I do feel the responsibility of their helplessness.  Sallie is not fitted to cope with the world and she ought to be well provided for.  I feel that more and more every day.  Her helplessness is very beautiful and tender, but in a way tragic, don’t you think?”

I wish I had dared tell him for the second time that day what I did think on the subject but I denied myself such frankness.

Anyway, men are just stupid, faithful children some of them faithful, I mean.

I felt that if I stood there talking with the Crag any longer, I might grow pedagogical and teach him a few things so I sent him home across the road.  I knew all six women would stay awake until they heard him lock them in, come down to the lodge and lock his own door.

It is very unworthy of me to enjoy his playing a watch-dog of tradition across the road to an emancipated woman like myself.  The situation both keeps me awake and puts me to sleep and it is sweet, though I don’t know why.

God never made anything more wonderful than a good man, even a stupid one.  Lights out!