Read CHAPTER X - TOGETHER? of The Tinder-Box, free online book, by Maria Thompson Daviess, on ReadCentral.com.

When business and love crowd each other on a man’s desk he calmly puts love in a pigeon-hole to wait for a convenient time and attends strictly to business, while a woman takes up and coddles the tender passion and stands business over in the corner with its face to the wall to keep it from intruding.

Dickie has been here a whole week since the barbecue-rally, ostensibly trying to get me down to making a few preliminary sketches for the gardens to his C. & G. railroad stations, and, of course, I am going to do them.  I’m interested in them and I’m sensible of the honor it is to get the chance of making them:  but the moon didn’t rise until after ten o’clock last night and I’m getting nervous about that scene of sentiment I’m planning.  I can’t think of gardens!

Still, I am glad he stayed and that everybody has been giving him a party and that Nell is always there, for he hasn’t had time to notice how I’m treating business and coddling

Jane and Polk and Nell and Caroline and Lee and everybody else, including Sallie and the Dominie, have been all over my house all day and into the scandalous hours of the night, which in Glendale begin at eleven o’clock and pass the limit at twelve, and I don’t see how they stand so much of not being alone with each other.  It is wearing me out.

I had positively decided on my own side steps for the scene of my proposal to the Crag, under the honeysuckle vine that still has a few brave and hearty blossoms to encourage me, with the harvest moon looking on, but moons and honeysuckle blossoms wait for no man and no woman especially.  They are both fading, and I’ve never got the spot to myself more than a minute at a time yet.  The Crag, with absolutely no knowledge of my intentions, except it may be a psychic one, sits there every night and smokes and looks out at Old Harpeth and maddens me, while some one of the others walks in and out and around and about and sits down beside him, where I want to be.

And as for the day time, I am so busy all day long, providing for this perpetual house-party, that I am dead to even friendship by night.  Jane is doing over Glendale from city limits to the river, and I have to spend my time keeping the dear town from finding out what is being done to it.

She is hunting out everybody’s pet idea or ideal for some sort of change or improvement to his, especially his, native town, and then leading him gently up to accomplishing it so that he will think he has done it entirely by himself, but will tell the next man he meets that there is nothing in the world like a tine energetic woman with good horse sense.  In fact, Jane is courting the entire male population in a most scandalous fashion, and they’ll be won before they know it.

“Now, that Confederate monument ought to have been built long ago out of that boulder from the river instead of hauling in a slicked-up granite slab that would er made the Glendale volunteers of ’61 feel uncomfortable like they would do in the beds in the city hotels.  Great idea of mine and that Yankee girl’s great idea hey?” sputtered Uncle Peter, after Jane had spent the evening down with him and Aunt Augusta.

“It is a fine idea, Uncle Peter,” I agreed with a concealed giggle.

“I’ve subscribed the first five dollars of the fifty for hauling, setting up and inscribing it, and we are going to let the women give half of it out of the egg-money they have got in that Equality Quilting Society some kind of horse sense epidemic has broken out in this town, horse sense, Evelina, hey?” And he went on down the street perfectly delighted at having at last accomplished his pet scheme.  He thought of it as exclusively his own by now, of course.

And the monument is just the beginning of what is going to begin in Glendale.  Jane says so.

“There could be no better place than this rural community to try out a number of theories I have had in political economy as related to the activities of women, Evelina,” she said to me to-day, looking at me in a benign and slightly confused way from behind her glasses.  “Mr. Hayes and I were just talking some of them over to-night, and he seems so interested in seeing me institute some of the most important ones.  How could you have ever thought such a man as he is lacking in seriousness of purpose, dear?”

“I feel sure that it was just my own frivolous streak that called out the frivolous in Polk, Jane dear,” I answered with trepidation, hoping and praying that the inquisition would not go much further, and trying to remember just what I had written her about Polk.

“It may have been that,” Jane answered, in a most naively relieved tone of voice.  “But you don’t know how happy I am, dear, to see that that streak is only an occasional charming vein that shows in you, but that you are now settling down steadily to your profession.  I feel sure that when these garden drawings are done, you and Mr. Hall will have found your correct places in each other’s lives and it will be just a glorious example of how superbly a man and woman can work together at the same profession.  Mr. Hardin and I were talking about it just last night out on the side porch, and though he said very little I could see how gratified he was at the honors that had come to you and how much he likes Mr. Hall.”

That settled it, and I made up my mind that when the Harvest Lady left us to-night to sink behind Old Harpeth, she wasn’t going to leave me weakly lonesome.  She doesn’t set until two o’clock, and I’m going to take all the time I need.

And as serious and solemn as I feel over taking such a step for two as I am deciding on, I can’t help looking forward to scribbling a terse and impersonal account of my having proposed to the man of my choice in this strong-minded book, adding a few words of sage advice for the Five, locking it and handing it, key and all, to Jane with a dramatic demand that she put her hundred thousand dollars in the Trust Company and begin to choose the Five from those she has had in mind.

Then before she has had time to read it, I am going to sneakily get it back and blot or tear out some of the things I have written.  I can decide later what will be data and what will be dangerous to the cause.

“And you will be glad to have me come and live for a time in your home life, dear?” Jane recalled me to the question in hand by saying wistfully.  “I feel that I have never had such good friends before, anywhere, as these of yours are to me, Evelina,” she added.

That’s one time I got Jane completely in my arms and showed her what a really good hugging means south of Mason and Dixon’s line.  From later developments I am glad she had that slight initiation.  It must have been serviceable to her New England disposition.

Then just as I was going to ask some of the plans she and Polk had made, over came Cousin Jasmine, with Cousin Annie and Mary, with Mrs. Hargrove puffing along behind them.  They had come to see Jane, but I was allowed to stay and have my breath knocked out by their mission.

It seems Jane had got a great big book from some firm in New York that tells alt about herb-growing, and how difficult it is to get the ones needed for condiments and perfumes, and offering to buy first-class lavender and thyme and bergamot and sweet fern and things of that kind in any quantities at a good price.  She had shown it to the little old ladies who had been secretly grieving at the separation from their garden out on their poorly rented farm, and the leaven had worked on Mrs. Hargrove also.  They go back to the farm and she with them!  She had decided on raising mint to both dry and ship fresh, because he of the gay pajamas always liked to have it strong and fresh for the julep of his ancestors.  I hope she won’t forget to take that pattern of Japanese extraction with her and make some for the Crag now and then, for it will save my time.  Horrors!

“We have fully decided on our course of action, Jane, and Evelina, dears,” said Cousin Jasmine in a positive little manner that she would have been as incapable of a month ago, as is a pet kitten of barking at the family dog, “but we do so dread to break it to dear James, because we feel that he may think we are not happy under his roof and be distressed.  Do you believe we shall be able to make him see that we must pursue our independent life, though always needing the support of his affection and interest?”

“I believe you will, Cousin Jasmine,” I said, wanting to both laugh and cry to see the Crag’s burdens begin to roll off his shoulders like this.  And the tears that didn’t rise would have been real ones, too, for I found that, down in the corner of my heart, I had adored the picture of my oak with the tender little old vines clinging around him.  It was the producing gourd I had most objected to and I couldn’t see but she would be there until I unclasped her tendrils.

But I was forgetting that, in the modern theory of thought-waves, it is the simplest minds that get the ripples first and hardest.  Sallie came over just as soon as the other delegation had got home to take the twins off her hands.  Jane had gone upstairs to make more calculations on our reconstruction, and I was trying to get a large deep breath.

“Evelina.” she said, as she sank in a chair near me and fastened her large, very young-in-soul, eyes on mine, “were you just joking Nell, or did you mean it, when you said the other day that you thought it would be cowardly of a woman not to show a man that she loved him, if he for any reason was not willing to make the first advances to her?” Sallie is perfectly lovely in the faint lavender and pink things that Jane made her decide to get in one conversation, whereas while Nell and Caroline and I had been looking up and bringing her surreptitious samples of all colors from the store all summer.

“Well, I don’t know that I exactly meant Nell to take it all to heart,” I answered without the slightest suspicion of what was coming.  “But I do think, Sallie, it would be no more than honest, fearless, and within a woman’s own greater rights.”

“Mr. Haley was saying the other evening that a woman’s sweet dependence was a man’s most precious heritage,” Sallie gently mused out on the atmosphere that was beginning to be pretty highly charged.

“Doesn’t a woman have to depend on her husband’s tenderness and care all of the time time she is bearing a child, Sallie, even up to the asafoetida spoon crisis?” I asked with my cheeks in a flame but determined to stand my ground.  “It does seem to me that nature puts her in a position to demand so much support from him in those times that she ought to rely on herself when she can.  Especially as she is likely to bring an indefinite number of such crises into their joint existence.”

Sallie laughed, for she remembered the high horse I had mounted on the subject of Mamie and Ned Hall the day after the Assembly dance.

And as I laughed suddenly a picture I had seen down at the Hall’s flashed across my mind.  I had gone down to tell Mamie something Aunt Augusta wanted her to propose next day at a meeting of the Equality League about drinking water in the public school building.  Mamie has learned to make, with pink cheeks and shining eyes, the quaintest little speeches that always carry the house and even made one at a public meeting when we invited the men to hand over our fifty dollars for the monument.  Ned’s face was a picture as he held a ruffle of her muslin gown between his fingers while she stood up to do it.

But the picture that flashed through my mind was dearer than that and I put it away in that jewel-box that I am going to open some day for my own man.

Both Mamie’s nurse and cook had gone to the third funeral of the season and Mamie was feeding the entire family in the back yard.  The kiddies were sitting in a row along the top of the back steps, eating cookies and milk, with bibs around their necks, from the twelve year old Jennie, who had tied on hers for fun, down to the chubby-kins next to the baby, and Mamie was sitting flat on the grass in front of them nursing little Ned, with big Ned sitting beside her with his arm around both her and the baby.  He was looking first down into her face, and then at the industrious kiddie getting his supper from the maternal fount, and then at the handsome bunch on the steps, as he alternately munched a bite of his cookie and fed Mamie one, to the delight of the children.  The expression on his face as he looked at them, and her, and ate and laughed, is what is back of all that goes to make the American nation the greatest on earth.  Amen!

“Sallie,” I said, as I reached out and took her plump white hand in mine, “our men are the most wonderful in the world and they are ours any way we get them.  They don’t care how it is done, and neither do we, just so we belong in the right way.”

“Then you don’t think it would be any harm for me to tell Mr. Haley I think I could live on eighteen hundred dollars a year, until he gets sent to a larger church?” was the bomb that, thus encouraged, Sallie exploded in my face.

I’m awfully glad that I didn’t get a chance to answer, for I don’t want to be responsible for the future failure or success of Mr. Haley’s ministry.  Just then Henrietta burst into the room with the Kitten in her arms.

“Keep her for me, Evelina, please, ma’am,” she said, with the dearest little chuckle, but not forgetting the polite “please,” which Jane had had to suggest to her just once.  What you’ve done for that wayward unmanageable genius of a child, Jane dear, makes you deserve ten of your own.  That is help!

“Cousin Augusta and Nell and Dickie and me is a going out to watch the man put the dyn’mite in the hole to blow the creek right up and Glendale, too, so they can see if they is enough clean water to put in the waterworks,” she continued to explain.  “Nell is a-going to take Dickie in her car, and Cousin Augusta is a-going to take me and Uncle Peter in her buggy.  Dilsie have got the Kit and Cousin Marfy is a-watching to see she don’t do nothing wrong with her.  Oh, may I go, Sallie?  Jane said I must always ask you.”

“Yes, dearest,” answered Sallie, immensely flattered by the deference thus paid her.

“How wonderful an influence the little talks Mr. Haley has had with Henrietta have had on her,” she said, with such a happy glow on her face as the reformed one departed that I succeeded in suppressing the laugh that rose in me at the memory of Henrietta’s account of the first one of the series.

Men need not fear that the time will ever come when they will cease to get the credit for making Earth’s wheels go around, from the female inhabitants thereof.  So I smiled to myself and buried my face in the fragrance under the bubbly Puppy girl’s chin and coaxed her arms to clasp around my neck.

They are the holy throb of a woman’s life babies.  Less than ten wouldn’t satisfy me unless well scattered in ages, Jane.  On some questions I am not modern.

“Still I do feel so miserable leaving Cousin James so alone all winter,” Sallie continued with the most beautiful sympathy in her voice, as she looked out of the window towards Widegables.  “I wonder if I ought to make up my mind to stay with him?  He loves the children so, and you know the plans of Cousin Jasmine and the others to go back to their farm.”

“But he’ll have his mother left,” I said quietly but very encouragingly.  I seemed to see the little green tendril that had unclasped from the oak turning on its stem and winding tight again.

“Miss Mathers was encouraging Cousin Martha to go to Colorado to see Elizabeth and her family for a long visit this winter.  She hasn’t seen Elizabeth since her mother died and she was so much interested in the easy way of traveling these days, as Miss Mathers described it, that she asked her to write for a time-table and what a ticket costs, just this morning.  I really ought not to desert Cousin James.”

“But think how lonely Mr. Haley is down in the parsonage and of his influence on Henrietta,” I urged.

“Yes, I do feel drawn in both ways,” sighed the poor tender gourd.  “And then you will be here by yourself, so you can watch over Cousin James, as much as your work will allow you, can’t you, Evelina?”

“Yes, I’ll try to keep him from being too much alone,” I answered with the most deceitful unconcern.

“I see him coming to supper and I must go, for I want to be with him all I can, if I am to leave him so soon.  I may not make up my mind to it,” with which threat Sallie departed and left me alone in the gloaming, a situation which seems to be becoming chronic with me now.

If I had it, I’d give another hundred thousand dollars to the cause, to hear that interview between Sallie and the Dominie.  I wager he’ll never know what happened and would swear it didn’t, if confronted with a witness.

And also I felt so nervous with all this asking-in-marriage surging in the atmosphere that it was with difficulty that I sat through supper and listened to Jane and Polk, who had come in with her, plan town sewerage.  To-morrow night I knew the moon wouldn’t rise until eleven o’clock, and how did I know anyway that Sallie’s emancipation might not get started on the wrong track and run into my Crag?  His chivalry would never let him refuse a woman who proposed to him and he’ll be in danger until I can do it and tell the town about it.

Jane and Polk had promised Dickie and Nell to motor down Providence Road as far as Cloverbend in the moonlight, and I think Caroline and Lee were going too.  Polk looked positively agonized with embarrassed sorrow at leaving me all alone, and it was with difficulty that I got them off.  I pleaded the greatest fatigue and my impatience amounted to crossness.

After they had gone I dismissed Jasper and Petunia and locked the back doors, put out all the lights in the house and retired to the side steps, determined to be invisible no matter who called and wait!

And for one mortal hour there I sat alone in that waning old moonlight, that grew colder and paler by the minute, while the stiff breeze that poured down from Old Harpeth began to be vicious and icy as it nipped my ears and hands and nose and sent a chill down to my very toes.

Nobody came and there I sat!

Finally, with the tears tangling icily in my lashes, I got up and went into the house and lighted the fat pine under the logs in the hall.  They had lain all ready for the torch for a whole year, just as I had lain for a lifetime until a few weeks ago.  Then suddenly they blazed as I had done.

My condition was pitiable.  I felt that all nature had deserted me, the climate, Indian summer, the harvest moon and my own charm, but my head was up and I was going to crackle pluckily along to my blaze, so I turned towards the door to go across the road and put my fate to the test, even if I took pneumonia standing begging at his front door.  I hoped I would find him in the lodge and

“Evelina,” he exclaimed as he burst open my door, flung himself into the firelight and seized my arm like a robber baron of the Twelfth Century, making a grab for his lady-love in the midst of her hostile kindred, “I thought I would never get here!  I ran all the way up from the office.  Here’s a telegram from Mr. Hall that says that the two roads have merged and will take the bluff route past Glendale, and give us the shops, and wants to appoint me the General Attorney for the Southern Section.  They want me to come on to New York by the first train.  Can you marry me in the morning so we can take the noon express from Bolivar?  I won’t go without you.  Please, dear, please,” and as he stood and looked at me in the firelight, all the relief and excitement over his news died out of his lovely eyes and just the want of me filled them from their very depths.

For several interminable centuries of time I stood perfectly still and looked into them daringly, drinking my fill for the first time and offering him a like cup in my own.

“Eve,” he said so softly that I doubt if he really spoke the word.

“Adam!” I let myself go, and at last pressed my answer against his lips as he folded me tight and safe.

It must have been some time after, I am sure I don’t know how long, but I was most beautifully adjusted against his shoulder and he had my hand pressed to his cheek, when the awfulness of what had happened brought me straight up on my own feet and almost out of his arms.

“Oh, how could you have done it!” I fairly wailed, as I thought of what this awful complication was going to lose for the Five to whom I felt more tender in that second than I had ever felt before.

“Done what?” he demanded in alarm, pressing both my hands against his breast and drawing me towards him again.

“Asked me to marry you when I ”

“I have been fighting desperately to see some way to offer myself and all my impedimenta to you all this time, and this has made it all right, don’t you see, dear?” he interrupted me to say, as he took possession of me again and held me with a tender fierceness, which had more of suffering in it than passion.  “I have always wanted you, Eve, since before you went away, but it didn’t seem right to ask you to come into a life so encumbered as mine was.  Poverty made it seem impossible, but now, if you will be just a little patient with them all, I can arrange ”

“I was going to arrange all that my own self, and now just see what you have done to me and a whole lot of other women, besides making me miserable all summer,” and crowded so close under his chin that he couldn’t see my face, I told him all about the tinder-box Jane had loaded and then set me on the lid to see that it exploded.

I had just worked myself up to the point of how my incendiary mission was about to touch off all the other love affairs in town, when he began to shake so with disrespectful laughter that I felt that my dignity was about to demand that I withdraw coldly from his arms, where I had just got so warm and comfortable and at home; but with the first slight intimation of my intention, which was conveyed by a very feeble indeed loosening of my arms from around his Henry Clay collar, he held me firmly against him and controlled his unseemly mirth, only I could still feel it convulsing his left lung, though as I had no business being near enough to notice it, I felt it only fair not to.

“Please don’t worry about those other Five dear women,” he begged, in the nicest and most considerate voice possible so that I tightened my arms again as I listened.  “If Miss Mathers doesn’t feel justified in giving up the dowries by your your failure to prove the proposition, we can just invite them all down here and in Glendale and Bolivar and Hillsboro and Providence, to say nothing of the countryside, we can plant them all cozily.  I can delicately explain to their choices exactly how to let them manage circumstances like ” he illustrated his scheme just here until it took time for me to get breath to listen to the rest of his apology “this and there is no telling, with such a start as the cult has got in the Harpeth Valley already, how far ft will spread.  Please forgive me, dear!”

“Yes,” I answered doubtfully.  Then I raised my head and looked him full in the face as I made my declaration calmly but with the perfect conviction that I still have and always will have, world without end.  “Yes, but don’t you think for one minute I don’t know that what Jane and I and all the most advanced women in the world are trying for is the right and just and the only way for men and women to come logically into the kind of heritage you and I have stumbled into.  Absolute freedom and equality between all human beings is going to be the price of Kingdom Come.  I shall always be humiliated that I got scared out in the graveyard and didn’t do it to you.  It is going to be the regret of my life.”

“Truly, I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he answered most contritely.  “If I were to take my hat and go back to the gate and come in again properly and let you do it, would that make you feel any better?”

“No, it wouldn’t,” I answered quickly because why should I be separated from him all the two and a half minutes it would take to play out that farce, when I have been separated from him all the twenty-five years that stretch from now back until the day of my birth?  “I am going to bear it bravely and hold up my head and tell Jane ”

“I wouldn’t bother to hold up my head to tell her, Evelina,” came from the doorway in Polk’s delighted drawl as he and Jane stepped into the room.  “Pretty comfortably placed, that head, I should say.”

“Oh, Jane!” I positively wailed as I extracted myself from the Crag’s gray arms and buried myself in Jane’s white serge ones that opened to receive me.  And the seconds that I rested silently there Polk spent in shaking both of the Crag’s hands and pounding him on the back so that I grew alarmed.

“I didn’t do it, Jane, I didn’t do it,” I almost sobbed with fear of what her disappointment was going to be.  “He beat me to it!”

“Truly.  I’m sorry,” Cousin James added to my apology as he stood with his arm on Polk’s shoulder.

“I dare you, dare, you to tell ’em, Jane,” Polk suddenly said, coming over and putting a hand on one of my shoulders and one on Jane’s.

“Evelina and Mr. Hardin,” Jane answered gallantly with her head assuming its lovely independent pose, but with the most wonderful blush spreading the beauty that always ought to have been hers all over her one-time plain face, “the wager stands as won by Evelina Shelby.  She had properly prepared the ground and sowed the seed of justice and right thinking that I I harvested to-night.  I had the honor of offering marriage to Mr. Hayes just about fifteen minutes ago.  I consider that mode of procedure proved as feasible and as soon as I have received my answer, whatever it is, I shall immediately proceed with making the endowment and choosing the five young women according to the agreement.”

“Polk!” I exclaimed, turning to him in a perfect panic of alarm.  Could he be trifling with Jane?

“Evelina,” answered Polk, giving me a shake and a shove over in the direction of the Crag, “you ought to know me better than to think I would answer such a question as Jane put to me, while driving a cranky car in waning moonlight.  If you and James will just mercifully betake yourselves out there on the porch in the cold for a few minutes I will try and add my data to this equality experiment with due dignity.  Go!”

We went!

“Love-woman,” whispered the Crag, after I had broken it to him that we were going to be a Governor of Tennessee, and not a railroad attorney, and he had crooned his “Swing Low” over me and rocked me against his breast for a century of seconds, down on my old front gate, “you are right about the whole question.  I see that, and I want to help but if I’m stupid about life, will you hold my hand in the dark?”

“Yes,” I answered with both generosity and courage.

And truly if the world is in the dusk of the dawn of a new day, what can men and women do but cling tight and feel their way together?