The yellow wallpaper and.., p.11
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, p.11Charlotte Perkins Gilman
“Oh, no,” said Ellen. “That’s no criterion! Maude is in society, you see. Mother wouldn’t dream of having so much.”
James looked at her gratefully. “Board—and clothes—all told; what should you say, Ellen?”
Ellen scrabbled in her small black handbag for a piece of paper, and found none. James handed her an envelope and a fountain pen.
“Food—just plain food materials—costs all of four dollars a week now—for one person,” said she. “And heat—and light—and extra service. I should think six a week would be the least, James. And for clothes and carfare and small expenses—I should say—well, three hundred dollars!”
“That would make over six hundred a year,” said James slowly. “How about Oswald sharing that, Adelaide?”
Adelaide flushed. “I do not think he would be willing, James. Of course, if it were absolutely necessary—”
“He has money enough,” said her brother.
“Yes, but he never seems to have any outside of his business—and he has his own parents to carry now. No—I can give her a home, but that’s all.”
“You see, you’d have none of the care and trouble, James,” said Ellen. “We—the girls—are each willing to have her with us, while perhaps Maude wouldn’t care to, but if you could just pay the money—”
“Maybe there’s some left, after all,” suggested Adelaide. “And this place ought to sell for something.”
“This place” was a piece of rolling land within ten miles of Denver. It had a bit of river bottom, and ran up towards the foothills. From the house the view ran north and south along the precipitous ranks of the “Big Rockies” to westward. To the east lay the vast stretches of sloping plain.
“There ought to be at least six or eight thousand dollars from it, I should say,” he concluded.
“Speaking of clothes,” Adelaide rather irrelevantly suggested, “I see Mother didn’t get any new black. She’s always worn it as long as I can remember.”
“Mother’s a long time,” said Ellen. “I wonder if she wants anything. I’ll go up and see.”
“No,” said Adelaide. “She said she wanted to be let alone—and rest. She said she’d be down by the time Mr. Frankland got here.”
“She’s bearing it pretty well,” Ellen suggested, after a little silence.
“It’s not like a broken heart,” Adelaide explained. “Of course Father meant well—”
“He was a man who always did his duty,” admitted Ellen. “But we none of us—loved him—very much.”
“He is dead and buried,” said James. “We can at least respect his memory.”
“We’ve hardly seen Mother—under that black veil,” Ellen went on. “It must have aged her. This long nursing.”
“She had help toward the last—a man nurse,” said Adelaide.
“Yes, but a long illness is an awful strain—and Mother never was good at nursing. She has surely done her duty,” pursued Ellen.
“And now she’s entitled to a rest,” said James, rising and walking about the room. “I wonder how soon we can close up affairs here—and get rid of this place. There might be enough in it to give her almost a living—properly invested.”
Ellen looked out across the dusty stretches of land.
“How I did hate to live here!” she said.
“So did I,” said Adelaide.
“So did I,” said James.
And they all smiled rather grimly.
“We don’t any of us seem to be very—affectionate, about Mother,” Adelaide presently admitted. “I don’t know why it is—we never were an affectionate family, I guess.”
“Nobody could be affectionate with Father,” Ellen suggested timidly.
“And Mother—poor Mother! She’s had an awful life.”
“Mother has always done her duty,” said James in a determined voice, “and so did Father, as he saw it. Now we’ll do ours.”
“Ah,” exclaimed Ellen, jumping to her feet, “here comes the lawyer. I’ll call Mother.”
She ran quickly upstairs and tapped at her mother’s door.
“Mother, oh Mother,” she cried. “Mr. Frankland’s come.”
“I know it,” came back a voice from within. “Tell him to go ahead and read the will. I know what’s in it. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
Ellen went slowly back downstairs with the fine crisscross of wrinkles showing on her pale forehead again, and delivered her mother’s message.
The other two glanced at each other hesitatingly, but Mr. Frankland spoke up briskly.
“Quite natural, of course, under the circumstances. Sorry I couldn’t get to the funeral. A case on this morning.”
The will was short. The estate was left to be divided among the children in four equal parts, two to the son and one each to the daughters after the mother’s legal share had been deducted, if she were still living. In such case they were furthermore directed to provide for their mother while she lived. The estate, as described, consisted of the ranch, the large, rambling house on it, with all the furniture, stock, and implements, and some five thousand dollars in mining stocks.
“That is less than I had supposed,” said James.
“This will was made ten years ago,” Mr. Frankland explained. “I have done business for your father since that time. He kept his faculties to the end, and I think that you will find that the property has appreciated. Mrs. McPherson has taken excellent care of the ranch, I understand—and has had some boarders.”
Both the sisters exchanged pained glances.
“There’s an end to all that now,” said James.
At this moment, the door opened and a tall black figure, cloaked and veiled, came into the room.
“I’m glad to hear you say that Mr. McPherson kept his faculties to the last, Mr. Frankland,” said the widow. “It’s true. I didn’t come down to hear that old will. It’s no good now.”
They all turned in their chairs.
“Is there a later will, madam?” inquired the lawyer.
“Not that I know of. Mr. McPherson had no property when he died.”
“No property! My dear lady—four years ago he certainly had some.”
“Yes, but three years and a half ago he gave it all to me. Here are the deeds.”
There they were, in very truth—formal and correct, and quite simple and clear—for deeds. James R. McPherson, Sr., had assuredly given to his wife the whole estate.
“You remember that was the panic year,” she continued. “There was pressure from some of Mr. McPherson’s creditors; he thought it would be safer so.”
“Why—yes,” remarked Mr. Frankland. “I do remember now his advising with me about it. But I thought the step unnecessary.”
James cleared his throat.
“Well, Mother, this does complicate matters a little. We were hoping that we could settle up all the business this afternoon—with Mr. Frankland’s help—and take you back with us.”
“We can’t be spared any longer, you see, Mother,” said Ellen.
“Can’t you deed it back again, Mother,” Adelaide suggested, “to James, or to—all of us, so we can get away?”
“Why should I?”
“Now, Mother,” Ellen put in persuasively, “we know how badly you feel, and you are nervous and tired, but I told you this morning when we came, that we expected to take you back with us. You know you’ve been packing—”
“Yes, I’ve been packing,” replied the voice behind the veil.
“I dare say it was safer—to have the property in your name—technically,” James admitted, “but now I think it would be the simplest way for you to make it over to me in a lump, and I will see that Father’s wishes are carried out to the letter.”
“Your father is dead,” remarked the voice.
“Yes, Mother, we know—we know how you feel,” Ellen ventured.
“I am alive,” said Mrs. McPherson.
“Dear Mother, it’s very trying to talk business to you at such a time.
“And the business has to be settled,” James added conclusively.
“It is settled.”
“Perhaps Mr. Frankland can make it clear to you,” went on James with forced patience.
“I do not doubt that your mother understands perfectly,” murmured the lawyer. “I have always found her a woman of remarkable intelligence.”
“Thank you, Mr. Frankland. Possibly you may be able to make my children understand that this property—such as it is—is mine now.”
“Why assuredly, assuredly, Mrs. McPherson. We all see that. But we assume, as a matter of course, that you will consider Mr. McPherson’s wishes in regard to the disposition of the estate.”
“I have considered Mr. McPherson’s wishes for thirty years,” she replied. “Now, I’ll consider mine. I have done my duty since the day I married him. It is eleven thousand days—today.” The last with sudden intensity.
“But madam, your children—”
“I have no children, Mr. Frankland. I have two daughters and a son. These three grown persons here, grown up, married, having children of their own—or ought to have—were my children. I did my duty by them, and they did their duty by me—and would yet, no doubt.” The tone changed suddenly. “But they don’t have to. I’m tired of duty.”
The little group of listeners looked up, startled.
“You don’t know how things have been going on here,” the voice went on. “I didn’t trouble you with my affairs. But I’ll tell you now. When your father saw fit to make over the property to me—to save it—and when he knew that he hadn’t many years to live, I took hold of things. I had to have a nurse for your father—and a doctor coming; the house was a sort of hospital, so I made it a little more so. I had half a dozen patients and nurses here—and made money by it. I ran the garden—kept cows—raised my own chickens—worked out-of-doors—slept out-of-doors. I’m a stronger woman today than I ever was in my life!”
She stood up, tall, strong, and straight, and drew a deep breath.
“Your father’s property amounted to about eight thousand dollars when he died,” she continued. “That would be two thousand dollars to James and one thousand dollars to each of the girls. That I’m willing to give you now—each of you—in your own name. But if my daughters will take my advice, they’d better let me send them the yearly income—in cash—to spend as they like. It is good for a woman to have some money of her own.”
“I think you are right, Mother,” said Adelaide.
“Yes indeed,” murmured Ellen.
“Don’t you need it yourself, Mother?” asked James, with a sudden feeling of tenderness for the stiff figure in black.
“No, James, I shall keep the ranch, you see. I have good reliable help. I’ve made two thousand dollars a year—clear—off it so far, and now I’ve rented it for that to a doctor friend of mine—woman doctor.”
“I think you have done remarkably well, Mrs. McPherson—wonderfully well,” said Mr. Frankland.
“And you’ll have an income of two thousand dollars a year,” said Adelaide incredulously.
“You’ll come and live with me, won’t you?” ventured Ellen.
“Thank you, my dear, I will not.”
“You’re more than welcome in my big house,” said Adelaide.
“No thank you, my dear.”
“I don’t doubt Maude will be glad to have you,” James rather hesitatingly offered.
“I do. I doubt it very much. No thank you, my dear.”
“But what are you going to do?”
Ellen seemed genuinely concerned.
“I’m going to do what I never did before. I’m going to live!”
With a firm swift step, the tall figure moved to the windows and pulled up the lowered shades. The brilliant Colorado sunshine poured into the room. She threw off the long black veil.
“That’s borrowed,” she said. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings at the funeral.”
She unbuttoned the long black cloak and dropped it at her feet, standing there in the full sunlight, a little flushed and smiling, dressed in a well-made traveling suit of dull mixed colors.
“If you want to know my plans, I’ll tell you. I’ve got six thousand dollars of my own. I earned it in three years—off my little rancho-sanitarium. One thousand I have put in the savings bank—to bring me back from anywhere on earth, and to put me in an old lady’s home if it is necessary. Here is an agreement with a cremation company. They’ll import me, if necessary, and have me duly—expurgated—or they don’t get the money. But I’ve got five thousand dollars to play with, and I’m going to play.”
Her daughters looked shocked.
“At your age—”
James drew down his upper lip and looked like his father.
“I knew you wouldn’t any of you understand,” she continued more quietly. “But it doesn’t matter any more. Thirty years I’ve given you—and your father. Now I’ll have thirty years of my own.”
“Are you—are you sure you’re—well, Mother?” Ellen urged with real anxiety.
Her mother laughed outright.
“Well, really well, never was better, have been doing business up to today—good medical testimony that. No question of my sanity, my dears! I want you to grasp the fact that your mother is a Real Person with some interests of her own and half a lifetime yet. The first twenty didn’t count for much—I was growing up and couldn’t help myself. The last thirty have been—hard. James perhaps realizes that more than you girls, but you all know it. Now, I’m free.”
“Where do you mean to go, Mother?” James asked.
She looked around the little circle with a serene air of decision and replied.
“To New Zealand. I’ve always wanted to go there,” she pursued. “Now I’m going. And to Australia—and Tasmania—and Madagascar—and Tierra del Fuego. I shall be gone some time.”
They separated that night—three going east, one west.
A UNIQUE HISTORY
YOU SEE, their country was as neat as a Dutch kitchen, and as to sanitation—but I might as well start in now with as much as I can remember of the history of this amazing country before further description.
And I’ll summarize here a bit as to our opportunities for learning it. I will not try to repeat the careful, detailed account I lost; I’ll just say that we were kept in that fortress a good six months all told, and after that, three in a pleasant enough city where—to Terry’s infinite disgust—there were only “Colonels” and little children—no young women whatever. Then we were under surveillance for three more—always with a tutor or a guard or both. But those months were pleasant because we were really getting acquainted with the girls. That was a chapter!—or will be—I will try to do justice to it.
We learned their language pretty thoroughly—had to; and they learned ours much more quickly and used it to hasten our own studies.
Jeff, who was never without reading matter of some sort, had two little books with him, a novel and a little anthology of verse; and I had one of those pocket encyclopedias—a fat little thing, bursting with facts. These were used in our education—and theirs. Then as soon as we were up to it, they furnished us with plenty of their own books, and I went in for the history part—I wanted to understand the genesis of this miracle of theirs.
And this is what happened, according to their records:
As to geography—at about the time of the Christian era this land had a free passage to the sea. I’m not saying where, for good reasons. But there was a fairly easy pass through that wall of mountains behind us, and there is no doubt in my mind that these people were of Aryan stock, and were once in contact with the best civilization of the old world. They were “white,” but somewhat da
The country was far larger then, including much land beyond the pass, and a strip of coast. They had ships, commerce, an army, a king—for at that time they were what they so calmly called us—a bi-sexual race.
What happened to them first was merely a succession of historic misfortunes such as have befallen other nations often enough. They were decimated by war, driven up from their coastline till finally the reduced population, with many of the men killed in battle, occupied this hinterland, and defended it for years, in the mountain passes. Where it was open to any possible attack from below they strengthened the natural defenses so that it became unscalably secure, as we found it.
They were a polygamous people, and a slave-holding people, like all of their time; and during the generation or two of this struggle to defend their mountain home they built the fortresses, such as the one we were held in, and other of their oldest buildings, some still in use. Nothing but earthquakes could destroy such architecture—huge solid blocks, holding by their own weight. They must have had efficient workmen and enough of them in those days.
They made a brave fight for their existence, but no nation can stand up against what the steamship companies call “an act of God.” While the whole fighting force was doing its best to defend their mountain pathway, there occurred a volcanic outburst, with some local tremors, and the result was the complete filling up of the pass—their only outlet. Instead of a passage, a new ridge, sheer and high, stood between them and the sea; they were walled in, and beneath that wall lay their whole little army. Very few men were left alive, save the slaves; and these now seized their opportunity, rose in revolt, killed their remaining masters even to the youngest boy, killed the old women too, and the mothers, intending to take possession of the country with the remaining young women and girls.
But this succession of misfortunes was too much for those infuriated virgins. There were many of them, and but few of these would-be masters, so the young women, instead of submitting, rose in sheer desperation and slew their brutal conquerors.
This sounds like Titus Andronicus, I know, but that is their account. I suppose they were about crazy—can you blame them?
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