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 (3 page)

BOOK: This Proud Heart
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“I’ll get them after breakfast,” said Susan.

“Well, got to go,” said her father. “There are fifty young poets waiting for me in Lit. 6—Oh, Lord! Some of ’em are even worse than Mark was—though I’ve not forgotten him. It gave me real pleasure to flunk that young man.”

“I know he tried,” Susan said indignantly. “Mark always does his best.”

“What’s that got to do with it?” her father inquired. He was feeling frantically in his pockets. “Where’s my red pencil?” he demanded excitedly. “There’s no use trying to teach that class if I’ve lost my red pencil!”

Susan rose and began searching his pockets.

“Mark can’t help it if he’s not good at poetry,” she said fiercely. “You’re not to hold it against him, Dad! Here’s your pencil, in your vest pocket.”

“Thank God!” her father said fervently. “Now I’m myself again! Of course I don’t hold it against him. Probably he’ll make you a better husband because he’s no poet. All I say is, doing your best has no relation to poetry. It’s a spring in you. It flows out if it’s there, and it doesn’t if it’s not there. G’bye, Sue.” He kissed her cheek and went off.

As soon as he was gone Mary rose slowly and reached for her bag of books and came and stood silently while her mother looked her over, straightening her narrow black hair ribbon. Susan, on her way with a heap of dishes, stopped and blew a kiss into her younger sister’s neck.

“I’ll have something for you to try on by tonight,” she promised.

“All right,” Mary said. Her voice was clear and toneless.

Over the kitchen sink, sousing the dishes in and out of hot foaming water at high speed, Susan thought tenderly of her little sister. Perhaps when Mary grew older, they could be friends. Girls of fifteen were always shy. She would make Mary’s dress lovely, and she could wear it to parties—a fall of tiny ruffles over the shoulders to hide the little skinny arms, a ruffle of lace shirred about the neck to soften the color too warm against her sallow skin. She planned heartily that she was going to see that Mary had prettier clothes now that she was growing up. She would make a little satin evening wrap for her after the wedding, when she had time. There were so many lovely things ahead to do, and she had so much time to be her own, a whole long life. Nobody died young in her family. Her ancestors promised her life, long as theirs had been long. She could do everything, and do it all with completeness and perfection. There was peace in her. “Oh, that will be—glory for me!” she sang under her breath as she wiped her hands dry.

She darted upstairs a moment to see Mark’s head. Putting aside the wet cloth, she stood before it, and she felt her hands go out to it. She modeled busily a few moments, half guiltily, and then covered it up again, and washed her hands and put on her hat and coat and went downstairs and put her head in at the sitting room where her mother was dusting.

“I’m going to buy the thread,” she said.

“Mercy!” cried Mrs. Gaylord. “Are you finished the dishes already?”

“You think you can do it?” Mrs. Fontane said doubtfully. “I shouldn’t like my garden spoiled.”

“You needn’t take it if you don’t like it,” Susan said, “but I know I can do it.”

“A hundred and fifty dollars is a lot of money for a girl,” Mrs. Fontane said, but she smiled.

“If you think it’s too much—only I wasn’t going to do a bare Cupid,” Susan answered in haste. “I had a plan to make him kneeling over the pool, to look at himself, his little wings fluttering, you know, and his bow and arrows slipping down. He’d be kneeling on an old stump, and there’d be a butterfly on his shoulder.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Fontane, “if I like it, I don’t really mind.”

Mrs. Fontane was one of the summer crowd, the rich, bright crowd who bought old houses and farms and spent fortunes on them for a summer month or two.

“Go ahead, you handsome child!” Mrs. Fontane smiled. “I suppose I’m crazy when I’m one of the few people who could get David Barnes to do me something really good. But it would be amusing if you made something I liked.”

“I wouldn’t want you to have it if you didn’t,” Susan said stoutly. She made her voice calm and held her knees firm, though she was inwardly trembling. “Goodbye, Mrs. Fontane.” She put out her hand. “Thank you very much.”

“Goodbye, child,” said Mrs. Fontane. “And you say a month?”

“In a month at most,” said Susan. “Then it has to be cast, you know. I’ll have to send it away.”

“I’d like it there while the irises are in bloom,” Mrs. Fontane said.

“It will be there,” said Susan. Of course she could do it. She had always done everything she wanted to do.

When the white-haired butler had closed the door behind her she ran down the road, humming under her breath, “Oh, that will be—glory for me!” …

How did a little naked boy look? She would go around by Lucile Palmer’s and look at Tommy. He’d be having his bath now, and she could just see again how a boy’s body stood, sturdily, and how the knees—

She walked swiftly toward the small bungalow where Lucile lived. She and Lucile had been schoolmates in high school, but she had gone to college and instead Lucile had married Hal Palmer who had been in their high school class, and Tommy was born the next year. Hal had a job in Baker’s shoe store. He was always very nice when she went in. “It’s a pleasure to sell you a pair of shoes,” he always said. “You take a good average last, and yet your foot has style. Most women have something wrong with their feet, anyway.” He held her strong shapely foot in the palm of his hand admiringly. “Grand arches you got,” he always murmured.

“Oh, Lucile!” she called at the open door of the little bungalow. The breakfast dishes were still on the table in the dining room.

“Ooo-hoo!” Lucile’s voice answered. “Bathroom!”

She went toward the bathroom and found Lucile, disheveled, her long blond hair falling down her back, fighting a wet and slippery Tommy.

“He’s just determined to get back in the tub,” she wailed. “And he’s so strong you can’t bend him!”

Tommy, in grim silence, escaped and began clambering back into the tub. Susan laughed and picked him up and held him high above her. He looked down at her gravely, like a flying cherub, and then smiled. A score of impressions were flowing into her brain from him—his head, his eyes, the flare of his yellow hair, his warm round firm body, his chubby shoulders and outspread starry hands, the flung outspread length of his strong little legs. She lowered him and set him on his feet. He had forgotten his tub and stood lamb-like, staring at her, while she dried and dressed him.

“Oh, Tommy beautiful!” she cried, laughing. “How do you do anything all day but play with him, Lucile? I want dozens of them.”

“It’s all very well when you see them only once in a while,” Lucile complained. “But when you have them all the time, Susan, you’ll find it’s a chore. They don’t mind you a bit.”

She listened smiling, gazing into Tommy’s wide blue eyes, not believing Lucile’s impatient voice. She could manage. She wouldn’t have any trouble with her children!

“Now I have to feed him,” Lucile said. “Then I hope to goodness he’ll sleep—but he probably won’t.”

“I just ran in,” said Susan. “I wanted to see him.”

“Coming to the bridge club this afternoon?” Lucile asked. “It’s at Trina’s today.”

Susan shook her head brightly. “I’m busy,” she said. “Mark and I are going to be married earlier.”

“You are!” cried Lucile. “Since when?”

“Last night,” Susan said.

“It’s the full moon,” Lucile cried with roguishness. “Goodness knows
I
know what the moon can do! Hal proposed to me on a moonlight night and I took him, though I hadn’t any idea I would two hours before. That’s how it happens, and you get caught.”

“I’m not caught,” Susan said. She laughed. “I want to be married.”

“You’ll get over it,” Lucile said, twisting up her hair.

“No, I won’t,” Susan called. She was on her way through the tiny hall. “Goodbye, Lucile!”

But passing through the little dining room she paused and looked at the table. The old ache to make beauty and order stirred in her. She’d just help Lucile a bit—besides, dirty dishes were so ugly. Quickly she gathered up the dishes and tiptoed into the kitchen and then turned on the water and washed them and set them away. There were so few it was absurd of Lucile not to get them out of the way. Tiptoeing again through the dining room she wiped the table, and set a little bowl of artificial flowers on it. Artificial flowers! Lucile ought to be ashamed. There were wild flowers at the end of the street, if nothing else, there where the wood began. She tiptoed out into the street and went swinging home, smiling, the shape of Tommy warm in her hands. She’d just run upstairs and block it out roughly this morning, and sew this afternoon.

Her mother was dusting the dining room.

“Back already?” she called.

“Yes,” Susan called. “Here’s the thread.”

Up in her room beside Mark’s head, she shaped out in rough posture the figure of a small fat kneeling boy. It would be fun to work on curls and dimples and small star-like hands—Mark’s head, too—she’d make this baby face look a bit like Mark—Mark’s little son in bronze, looking at himself in a pool. She’d make a pool in her own garden some day for her own little son to kneel and look into. She began to hum softly, “Oh, that will be—glory for me—glory for me—” She was going to be married.

They were being married. Walls that had stood between her and Mark were rolled away by words chanted and sung, by her own firm quivering assent, by Mark’s white-faced stern assent. She put out her hand for his ring, the air about them became music, and they turned and walked down the aisle. They were married.

“I was afraid you were going to faint,” she whispered outside the church door, in the moment before the people sighed and smiled and turned to go away. Why was it people tempered their joy in weddings with sighs?

“I felt in a daze,” he said. “It was as though I were someone else.”

They had been used so long to the walls that now that they were gone, now that they had rolled away like mists at morning, leaving them visible to each other, they built their own walls of shyness. They had been in a dream of unreality while the walls were being pulled away by words, by cries and shouts of laughter, by banter and good wishes. People said again and again, “I hope you will be happy!” Their voices were gay, but their eyes were doubting. “I am sure we shall be happy,” she said. Yes, as soon as she and Mark were alone, as soon as they could begin their life, they would be happy. She had her hand in Mark’s arm, but it was not her hand, not his arm. They were two dolls, standing dressed beautifully, smiling, while people passed before them. But they would not be real until this was over, until she and Mark were alone….

“Come and cut the cake,” her mother whispered.

She pressed Mark’s arm.

“We must cut the wedding cake,” she whispered, and then she turned and walked into the dining room and he stood beside her. There on the table was the great round white cake. She had made it herself, her mother hovering about, greasing the pans and testing the oven.

“Seems as if you shouldn’t make your own cake,” her mother had said.

“I like to make it,” she had answered.

Now she pressed the silver knife into the rich dark stuff. People were crowding into the tiny room. She could hear Lucile’s squealing voice, “Oh, how scrumptious, Susan!” and she smiled. But this moment was not so deep to live as had been the moment in the kitchen when she had put sugar into a bowl, and butter and the clear yellow of eggs. She had been aware every moment of that making, the stirring and sifting, the whipping of the frothy egg whites, the dark rich fruit—all of it had gone into the meticulous making of the brown and fragrant mound she drew at last out of the oven. She had been aware every instant, “I am making my own wedding cake—” Now cutting and dividing it, listening to jokes and talk of dreams, this cake was no more than any other. It had been precious only in the making.

Everyone was eating, drinking, talking. She caught Mark’s eyes. “Now?” his lips shaped. She nodded and slipped out. They had planned days before how they would slip out, and going separately, would meet at a certain spot where he had left his small rackety car.

She ran to her room, changed into a sweater and skirt, and ran down again through the kitchen and the backyard.

No one had seen her. Yes, someone—her father came hurrying out of the kitchen door, his coattails flying.

“Susan!” he called in a loud whisper. She stopped, and he came up panting. “I just wanted to—I had to tell you—you’re to count on me, of course, just the same.”

“I know,” she whispered.

They paused, looking at each other.

“Well,” he said, “I guess Mark’s waiting.”

“Yes,” she said. “I must go, Dad.”

“Yes,” he said, “of course. Well, goodbye.”

She kissed him and ran on. Once she looked back and he was still standing there. She waved to him, but he did not move, and she dared not stay and went hurrying to Mark. He was already in the car, and the engine was beating.

“Nobody see you?” he asked.

She shook her head and laughed. “Nobody but Dad.”

He bent his head and kissed her quickly and then the car started, jerking a little. She felt strange and excited. His kiss had still not brought him near. The car stalled.

“What’s wrong with this thing?” he exclaimed, and jerked at the gears.

She glanced down.

“Here,” she said, laughing, “the brake—”

He had forgotten the brake.

“You’ve married a stupid fellow, Sue,” he said ruefully.

She shook her head, smiling. “Dad does the same thing,” she said. “I’m used to it. He curses and swears because the car won’t move.”

“And you let the brakes go,” he said.

They were roaring along now, through the windy spring day. And she held in her mind Mark’s words. “You’ve married—you’ve married—a stupid fellow,” he had said, but he was wrong. She had married
him.

“I’m married,” she thought, and wondering, she looked ahead, not upon hills and trees and green meadows, but into bright uncertain years.

BOOK: This Proud Heart
3.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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