Read This Proud Heart Online

Authors: Pearl S. Buck

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Family Life, #Historical, #Cultural Heritage, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Domestic Life, #Contemporary Fiction, #Historical Fiction, #Literary

This Proud Heart (2 page)

BOOK: This Proud Heart
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“I want so to be married,” she repeated to herself, passionately.

She lay in Mark’s arms, in the moonlight, under the shadowy oak tree by the porch. They had spread down a rug and watched the moon come up at the end of the road. The house was full of light. Her mother was in the kitchen, her father in the living room correcting papers. They could hear him groaning over and over, “Oh, God—oh, good God!” She knew that he would lean back and close his eyes, motionless for a few seconds before he could go on, tortured by love of a perfection he never found. Now Mary was in the parlor practicing again. She sat up and listened for a quivering instant.

“Ah, thank God!” she cried and laughed.

“Amen, but why?” Mark asked.

“Mary played it right that time,” she said. He wouldn’t understand what she meant, but never mind. Mary was playing with stammering fingers, carefully right, and Susan lay back, full of a delicious ease which had nothing to do with Mark. Oh, rightness was so comforting and so comfortable! To see a thing in its proportion, whatever it was, to draw its outlines true and sure and simple—that was bottomless content, which lightened all the world. Mark did not answer. He was looking at her and now she could see he did not know what she meant. She could not tell him, because it had nothing to do with him, because it was an instinct she could not put into words at all, and so she was compelled to speak quickly of something else.

“I have my wedding gown half done!” she whispered.

“Sweetheart!” he whispered back. “There’s nobody like you! I don’t know another girl in this town who’d do it!”

“It’s such fun to make things,” she said.

“But you do everything so well,” he said, half troubled. “You play and sing, you paint and cook and model.” He waited, and then he said, humbly, “I’m not good enough for you.”

She hated his humility. It made him faintly repulsive to her. She did not want to marry a man who felt himself small beside her. She must speak of something else again to drive it away from her. She said, “I want to do your head, Mark. You’ve a beautiful head. Let me see it!”

She sat up and turned his head against the moon. She passed her hands delicately, feelingly, over its outlines. She could see just how it must be begun, a firm strong pressure upon the clay to make this profound and plastic curve at the base of the brain, strong thumbs inward to make the wide hollows of the eye sockets. A familiar deep ache rose in her. Moonlight and oak tree slipped from her. Even he became dim. There was only this grave rugged head in her hands. She thought with longing of the mass of wet clay under a damp cloth in the little alcove off her room. She stirred, then quieted herself again. How ridiculous to want to leave her lover on a moonlight night to make his head in clay! She drew his head forward against her breast. This was better, infinitely better, this warm real head against her breast. She must be sure that she did not miss the warm reality of anything, letting that escape her while she made its image.

One by one the lights went out in the house. The piano stopped and the kitchen grew dark. For a moment her father and mother came out on the porch.

“Ha, you two dew-drenched mortals!” her father called into the darkness of the shadow where they sat. In the moonlight his silvery hair shone softly and his beautiful face was clear. The discontent of his mouth and eyes was lost for the moonlit moment.

“Good night, good night!” she called softly.

“Good night, sir!” Mark’s voice echoed hers.

“I’m being put to bed,” her father complained. “It’s the way of the young generation!”

They laughed, and her father lingered a moment.

“At that, I guess there’s nothing else to do,” he murmured, and yawned.

“You could find yourself another oak tree,” Susan called.

“Susan, it’s not too damp, is it?” her mother cried. “You can sit in the living room!”

“Oh, pshaw, come to bed, Jenny!” her father said and pulled her away.

So the house grew still and dark. She lay with her head on Mark’s shoulder, dreaming.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked at last.

“Everything,” she said. “No, not thinking—feeling and seeing.”

“What do you see?”

She caught her brain still for a moment and looked at it to tell him what she saw. There were a hundred pictures—the little house they would live in, blue curtains, a table set with a perfect meal she had made, healthy little children with her eyes and Mark’s mouth, Mark’s head in clay, finished and exactly as she wanted it, herself giving a party, her friends gay with ease in her home, and beyond that, and beyond that, like bright piling clouds lit with sunshine, the years of the future.

She said, “I want to be the best wife in the world, the best mother. I want to make a lot of lovely things in stone and bronze, perpetual things. I want to see the world and people—there isn’t anything I don’t want to do.”

He was silent a moment. “If it weren’t you,” he said, “I’d think you were crazy. But you’re not like anybody else.” He added after a moment: “You’ll always do what you want. I wish I were half as sure I could.”

She felt the slight shadow of a cloud over the moon. “What I want is you,” she whispered quickly. In the darkness she moved her hand to his head and moved it slowly over his hair, his ears, his throat and chin, and forgot … Tomorrow morning she’d get up early and begin Mark’s head …

“Darling!” he whispered, and turned his lips to meet her hand.

“Darling!” she answered, and touched his lips with fingers as sentient as the fingers of the blind. There, let her remember the curves of the lips for tomorrow morning. Thinking of it, she sat up restlessly.

“What’s the matter?” Mark asked, surprised. Without knowing it she had been scrambling to her feet. She checked herself, shocked.

“I don’t know—nothing!” she faltered, and sank back against him.

“You’re a funny girl!” he said. “Just as I was making love to you, you start to go off somewhere!”

She remembered now that he had been talking to her. She was ashamed and a little frightened.

“Oh, I love you, I love you!” she whispered, forcing herself by her own voice.

But he was chilled. His arms about her were doubtful. “Sometimes you seem to be someone I don’t know,” he said.

“Oh no, Mark!” she protested. What was this cloud in the glorious night? “Love me forever!” she besought him, and pressed his head down until his lips were on hers.

“Of course I will,” he promised stoutly.

“Love me, love me!” she insisted. “I belong to you—only to you!” She pressed herself upon him. She would be his above all else. No other need in her was so deep as this. “Let’s be married soon!” she whispered. “Next month, instead of June!”

He seized her and held her, confused by her changefulness, stirred by wish.

“Why not?” he said. “I’ll ask for a raise tomorrow!”

They clung together, alone in the night, the earth warm beneath them, the oak tree dark above them. It was he who sprang to his feet first.

“I’d better go,” he muttered. “It’s late.”

“Yes,” she said unsteadily. She lay a moment, looking at him.

“Susan, get up!” he whispered, and she rose and put back her hair. She had wanted to know, to be sure, she could forget everything but Mark. And now she was sure.

They walked to the gate. The moon was high and the light was so bright they kissed each other quickly, lest they be seen from other houses along the street, from windows and from late rockers on front porches. He leaped over the gate and smiled at her. “Tomorrow!” he said. “Tomorrow!” she answered. She stood in a sort of triumph, watching him go, watching his figure grow smaller. She wanted him more than anything.

… And then, as she watched, she felt a will tugging at her. She waited a moment more until at the bend of the road he turned and waved and was gone. Like a dart flung out she flew into the house and up the stairs to her own room. It was not so late, scarcely midnight. She shut the door softly and went at once to the mass of soft clay in the alcove and turned on a drop light and slipped into her work smock. She was trembling with happiness. Now, now, she could make it. She lifted a ball of the clay, and then a little more. That would be enough. She began to shape it exactly as she had seen it in her mind, roughly at first, in broad generous lines. She worked for hours, singing under her breath once or twice, “Oh, that will be—glory for me! Glory for me, glory for me!” But she did not know what she was singing. She was perfectly happy alone in this house, alone in the world. She was getting it right. It looked like him already. She set it firmly on the wooden block she used for a base, and stood back.

Now, so outlined, she could let it wait until morning. No, wait—she would do the lips finely now, while her fingers remembered them so vividly. She touched and shaped, absorbed in his lips. Now—now—this was how they were. Oh, the lovely content of making something right! She stepped back and held the light low. It was Mark’s mouth—she had made his mouth! She sighed as one sighs after fulfillment. Mark had broken their moment together, but she had come straight into this deeper and lonely fulfillment. She could sleep now. She was released. She stumbled into the bathroom and washed, half asleep. In ten minutes she was sleeping, dreamlessly, in utter rest.

“But I don’t see why you’re hurrying the wedding so!” her mother was saying at the breakfast table, bewildered. Susan was used to seeing that cloud of bewilderment on her mother’s faded pretty face, but until she saw it she always forgot it in some ardor of her own. She had come dancing into the dining room to sing like a song, “Mark and I are going to be married next month!” And instantly the cloud was on her mother’s face.

“Married life lasts long enough anyway,” her mother said.

“Hear, hear!” her father murmured, digging at his grapefruit.

“Don’t you agree with me, Father?” her mother went on.

“I do indeed, but this time it’s none of my business,” he replied.

“You’re a young girl such a little, little while,” her mother complained, “and then your freedom’s gone!”

“Mark and I think we’ll be more free after we’re married than before,” she said. “I’ll get the eggs.”

“Well, you’ll do what you want,” her mother sighed, “though, dear me, how we can finish everything!”

“I can do it,” Susan said.

Mary, her large black eyes solemn, looked from one face to the other in her accustomed stillness. Alone with her mother she chattered freely of small personal things, but not before her father and Susan. She was to be Susan’s only bridesmaid, and to Susan she seemed both reluctant and pleased. Catching the look in her eyes, Susan paused at the kitchen door. “Your dress next, Mabs!” she said gaily. “Oh, I can just see it, a fluff of peach ruffles under a big hat!” Mary smiled painfully, as though she could not at all see her own small dark face above peach-colored ruffles under a big hat. Left to herself she chose dolorously the straightest and stiffest of garments, feeling desperation at her own ugliness. Peach-colored ruffles, she had said, would make her look like a prune. “Silly!” Susan had cried, laughing. “With your eyes!” Mary said nothing now, but sniffled a little.

“Where’s your handkerchief?” her father shot at her over his paper.

She jumped. He could be hearing nothing at all, and then suddenly leap out at you. Besides, she had no handkerchief. Susan, bringing in the eggs, tucked a fresh little handkerchief in her neck as she passed, and smiled.

“Use your handkerchief, dear,” her mother said absently. She was looking out of the window. “There’s Mark!” she said suddenly. “I wonder if something’s wrong so early?”

But Susan had already seen him. She was at the front door.

“I’ve started your head!” she cried, breathlessly. “Want to see it?”

“I have to hurry,” he answered. “Here—kiss me. Sue, I got thinking over getting married. Suppose I don’t get a raise?”

“Oh, let’s go on and do what we want,” she said robustly. “I tell you what—don’t ask for a raise! I’ve an idea. Mrs. Fontane wants a Cupid for her garden, and I told her I could make it for her. I’ll ask her a hundred and fifty for it.”

“A hundred and fifty!” he said. “That’s a lot of money! I don’t earn that in a month. It’s more than a raise would bring me from now until June.”

“So we’ll be married!” she coaxed him.

He hesitated, gazing into her bright, dark eyes. “I don’t like to take your money,” he said.

“Oh, silly!” she cried scornfully. “We’re sharing everything else, aren’t we?”

“You’re so darned pretty!” he whispered. He lifted her in a quick embrace. “There! I’ve got to run.”

He was gone, and then she remembered he had forgotten to look at the head. But it did not matter. She could work on it a little more, and it would be better. She went dancing back to the dining room.

“It’s all settled!” she said, helping herself largely to eggs.

“Poetry comes slow these days,” her father said mournfully. He was reading the advertisements for positions. “‘Male help wanted. A man to tend stable, drive car, tend furnace, help with gardening.’ Now—there’s a job for a dried-up poet. ‘Couple wanted. Wife to cook, mend, help in general housework.’ Jenny, my dear?” He lifted heavy handsome black eyebrows at his wife.

But she paid no attention to him. Years ago she had been alarmed at his seriousness over advertisements, but now she knew his seriousness meant nothing, not any more than his jokes. She could not tell the difference between them, and she ignored both.

“You needn’t work your poetry for me,” Susan said calmly. “We’re all arranged.” After breakfast, as soon as she had washed the dishes, she would go over to Mrs. Fontane’s and see if she still wanted the Cupid.

Her father leaped from his chair. “Then on with the wedding!” he cried, and pulled Susan to her feet.

They danced madly for a moment in the large solemnity of Mary’s gaze as she bit into her toast. Mrs. Gaylord poured herself a third cup of coffee, her lips moving in abstraction. She began to whisper something. Susan stopped.

“What did you say, Mums?” she demanded.

Mrs. Gaylord looked up, startled.

“I was just saying over the spool silk we’re out of,” she said. “We ought to have two spools of the white.”

BOOK: This Proud Heart
6.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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