The yellow wallpaper and.., p.7
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories,
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I think Lois knew before I did.
We were old friends and trusted each other, and she had had experience too.
“Malda,” she said, “let us face this thing and be rational.” It was a strange thing that Lois should be so rational and yet so musical—but she was, and that was one reason I liked her so much.
“You are beginning to love Ford Mathews—do you know it?”
I said yes, I thought I was.
“Does he love you?”
That I couldn’t say. “It is early yet,” I told her. “He is a man, he is about thirty I believe, he has seen more of life and probably loved before—it may be nothing more than friendliness with him.”
“Do you think it would be a good marriage?” she asked. We had often talked of love and marriage, and Lois had helped me to form my views—hers were very clear and strong.
“Why yes—if he loves me,” I said. “He has told me quite a bit about his family, good Western farming people, real Americans. He is strong and well—you can read clean living in his eyes and mouth.” Ford’s eyes were as clear as a girl’s, the whites of them were clear. Most men’s eyes, when you look at them critically, are not like that. They may look at you very expressively, but when you look at them, just as features, they are not very nice.
I liked his looks, but I liked him better.
So I told her that as far as I knew, it would be a good marriage—if it was one.
“How much do you love him?” she asked.
That I couldn’t quite tell—it was a good deal—but I didn’t think it would kill me to lose him.
“Do you love him enough to do something to win him—to really put yourself out somewhat for that purpose?”
“Why—yes—I think I do. If it was something I approved of. What do you mean?”
Then Lois unfolded her plan. She had been married—unhappily married, in her youth; that was all over and done with years ago. She had told me about it long since, and she said she did not regret the pain and loss because it had given her experience. She had her maiden name again—and freedom. She was so fond of me she wanted to give me the benefit of her experience—without the pain.
“Men like music,” said Lois. “They like sensible talk; they like beauty, of course, and all that—”
“Then they ought to like you!” I interrupted, and, as a matter of fact, they did. I knew several who wanted to marry her, but she said “once was enough.” I don’t think they were “good marriages,” though.
“Don’t be foolish, child,” said Lois. “This is serious. What they care for most, after all, is domesticity. Of course they’ll fall in love with anything; but what they want to marry is a homemaker. Now we are living here in an idyllic sort of way, quite conducive to falling in love, but no temptation to marriage. If I were you—if I really loved this man and wished to marry him—I would make a home of this place.”
“Make a home? Why, it is a home. I never was so happy anywhere in my life. What on earth do you mean, Lois?”
“A person might be happy in a balloon, I suppose,” she replied, “but it wouldn’t be a home. He comes here and sits talking with us, and it’s quiet and feminine and attractive—and then we hear that big gong at the Calceolaria, and off we go slopping through the wet woods—and the spell is broken. Now you can cook.” I could cook. I could cook excellently. My esteemed Mama had rigorously taught me every branch of what is now called domestic science; and I had no objection to the work, except that it prevented my doing anything else. And one’s hands are not so nice when one cooks and washes dishes—I need nice hands for my needlework. But if it was a question of pleasing Ford Mathews—
Lois went on calmly. “Miss Caswell would put on a kitchen for us in a minute; she said she would, you know, when we took the cottage. Plenty of people keep house up here—we can if we want to.”
“But we don’t want to,” I said. “We never have wanted to. The very beauty of the place is that it never had any housekeeping about it. Still, as you say, it would be cosy on a wet night, we could have delicious little suppers, and have him stay—”
“He told me he had never known a home since he was eighteen,” said Lois.
That was how we came to install a kitchen in the Cottagette. The men put it up in a few days, just a lean-to with a window, sink, and two doors. I did the cooking. We had nice things, there is no denying that: good fresh milk and vegetables particularly. Fruit is hard to get in the country, and meat too—still we managed nicely; the less you have, the more you have to manage—it takes time and brains, that’s all.
Lois likes to do housework, but it spoils her hands for practicing, so she can’t and I was perfectly willing to do it—it was all in the interest of my own heart. Ford certainly enjoyed it. He dropped in often, and ate things with undeniable relish. So I was pleased, though it did interfere with my work a good deal. I always work best in the morning; but of course housework has to be done in the morning too; and it is astonishing how much work there is in the littlest kitchen. You go in for a minute, and you see this thing and that thing and the other thing to be done, and your minute is an hour before you know it.
When I was ready to sit down, the freshness of the morning was gone somehow. Before, when I woke up, there was only the clean wood smell of the house, and then the blessed out-of-doors; now I always felt the call of the kitchen as soon as I woke. An oil stove will smell a little, either in or out of the house; and soap, and—well, you know if you cook in a bedroom how it makes the room feel differently? Our house had been only bedroom and parlor before.
We baked too—the baker’s bread was really pretty poor, and Ford did enjoy my whole wheat, and brown, and especially hot rolls and gems. It was a pleasure to feed him, but it did heat up the house, and me. I never could work much—at my work—baking days. Then, when I did get to work, the people would come with things—milk or meat or vegetables, or children with berries; and what distressed me most was the wheelmarks on our meadow. They soon made quite a road—they had to, of course, but I hated it. I lost that lovely sense of being on the last edge and looking over—we were just a bead on a string like other houses. But it was quite true that I loved this man, and would do more than this to please him. We couldn’t go off so freely on excursions as we used, either; when meals are to be prepared, someone has to be there, and to take in things when they come. Sometimes Lois stayed in, she always asked to, but mostly I did. I couldn’t let her spoil her summer on my account. And Ford certainly liked it.
He came so often that Lois said she thought it would look better if we had an older person with us, and that her mother could come if I wanted her, and she could help with the work of course. That seemed reasonable, and she came. I wasn’t very fond of Lois’s mother, Mrs. Fowler, but it did seem a little conspicuous, Mr. Mathews eating with us more than he did at the Calceolaria. There were others of course, plenty of them dropping in, but I didn’t encourage it much, it made so much more work. They would come in to supper, and then we would have musical evenings. They offered to help me wash dishes, some of them, but a new hand in the kitchen is not much help. I preferred to do it myself; then I knew where the dishes were.
Ford never seemed to want to wipe dishes, though I often wished he would.
So Mrs. Fowler came. She and Lois had one room, they had to—and she really did a lot of the work; she was a very practical old lady.
Then the house began to be noisy. You hear another person in a kitchen more than you hear yourself, I think—and the walls were only boards. She swept more than we did too. I don’t think much sweeping is needed in a clean place like that; and she dusted all the time, which I know is unnecessary. I still did most of the cooking, but I could get off more to draw, out-of-doors, and to walk. Ford was in and out continually, and, it seemed to me, was really coming nearer. What was one summer of interrupted work, of noise and dirt and smell and constant meditation on what to eat next, compared to a lifetime of love? Besides—if he married me—I shou
Lois kept me contented, too, telling me nice things that Ford said about my cooking. “He does appreciate it so,” she said.
One day he came around early and asked me to go up Hugh’s Peak with him. It was a lovely climb and took all day. I demurred a little; it was Monday. Mrs. Fowler thought it was cheaper to have a woman come and wash, and we did, but it certainly made more work.
“Never mind,” he said. “What’s washing day or ironing day or any of that old foolishness to us? This is walking day—that’s what it is.” It was really, cool and sweet and fresh—it had rained in the night—and brilliantly clear.
“Come along!” he said. “We can see as far as Patch Mountain I’m sure. There’ll never be a better day.”
“Is anyone else going?” I asked.
“Not a soul. It’s just us. Come.”
I came gladly, only suggesting—“Wait, let me put up a lunch.”
“I’ll wait just long enough for you to put on knickers and a short skirt,” said he. “The lunch is all in the basket on my back. I know how long it takes for you women to ‘put up’ sandwiches and things.”
We were off in ten minutes, light-footed and happy; and the day was all that could be asked. He brought a perfect lunch, too, and had made it all himself. I confess it tasted better to me than my own cooking; but perhaps that was the climb.
When we were nearly down, we stopped by a spring on a broad ledge, and supped, making tea as he liked to do out-of-doors. We saw the round sun setting at one end of a world view, and the round moon rising at the other, calmly shining each on each.
And then he asked me to be his wife.
We were very happy.
“But there’s a condition!” said he, all at once, sitting up straight and looking very fierce. “You mustn’t cook!”
“What!” said I. “Mustn’t cook?”
“No,” said he, “you must give it up—for my sake.”
I stared at him dumbly.
“Yes, I know all about it,” he went on. “Lois told me. I’ve seen a good deal of Lois—since you’ve taken to cooking. And since I would talk about you, naturally I learned a lot. She told me how you were brought up, and how strong your domestic instincts were—but bless your artist soul, dear girl, you have some others!” Then he smiled rather queerly and murmured, “Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.
“I’ve watched you, dear, all summer,” he went on. “It doesn’t agree with you.
“Of course the things taste good—but so do my things! I’m a good cook myself. My father was a cook, for years—at good wages. I’m used to it, you see.
“One summer when I was hard up I cooked for a living—and saved money instead of starving.”
“Oh ho!” said I. “That accounts for the tea—and the lunch!”
“And lots of other things,” said he.
“But you haven’t done half as much of your lovely work since you started this kitchen business, and—you’ll forgive me, dear—it hasn’t been as good. Your work is quite too good to lose; it is a beautiful and distinctive art, and I don’t want you to let it go. What would you think of me if I gave up my hard long years of writing for the easy competence of a well-paid cook!”
I was still too happy to think very clearly. I just sat and looked at him. “But you want to marry me?” I said.
“I want to marry you, Malda—because I love you—because you are young and strong and beautiful—because you are wild and sweet and—fragrant, and—elusive, like the wildflowers you love. Because you are so truly an artist in your special way, seeing beauty and giving it to others. I love you because of all this, because you are rational and high-minded and capable of friendship—and in spite of your cooking!”
“But—how do you want to live?”
“As we did here—at first,” he said. “There was peace, exquisite silence. There was beauty—nothing but beauty. There were the clean wood odors and flowers and fragrances and sweet wild wind. And there was you—your fair self, always delicately dressed, with white firm fingers sure of touch in delicate true work. I loved you then. When you took to cooking, it jarred on me. I have been a cook, I tell you, and I know what it is. I hated it—to see my woodflower in a kitchen. But Lois told me about how you were brought up to it and loved it, and I said to myself, ‘I love this woman; I will wait and see if I love her even as a cook.’ And I do, darling: I withdraw the condition. I will love you always, even if you insist on being my cook for life!”
“Oh, I don’t insist!” I cried. “I don’t want to cook—I want to draw! But I thought—Lois said—How she has misunderstood you!”
“It is not true, always, my dear,” said he, “that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach; at least it’s not the only way. Lois doesn’t know everything; she is young yet! And perhaps for my sake you can give it up. Can you, sweet?”
Could I? Could I? Was there ever a man like this?
An Honest Woman
THERE’S AN honest woman if ever there was one!” said the young salesman to the old one, watching their landlady whisk inside the screen door and close it softly without letting in a single fly—those evergreen California flies not mentioned by real estate men.
“What makes you think so?” asked Mr. Burdock, commonly known as Old Burdock, wriggling forward, with alternate jerks, the two hind legs which supported his chair, until its backward tilt was positively dangerous.
“Think!” said young Abramson with extreme decision. “I happen to know. I’ve put up here for three years past, twice a year; and I know a lot of people in this town—sell to ’em right along.”
“Stands well in the town, does she?” inquired the other with no keen interest. He had put up at the Main House for eight years, and furthermore he knew Mrs. Main when she was a child; but he did not mention it. Mr. Burdock made no pretense of virtue, yet if he had one in especial it lay in the art of not saying things.
“I should say she does!” the plump young man replied, straightening his well-curved waistcoat. “None better. She hasn’t a bill standing—settles the day they come in. Pays cash for everything she can. She must make a handsome thing of this house; but it don’t go in finery—she’s as plain as a hen.”
“Why, I should call Mrs. Main rather a good-looking woman,” Burdock gently protested.
“Oh yes, good-looking enough; but I mean her style—no show—no expense—no dress. But she keeps up the house all right—everything first class, and reasonable prices. She’s got good money in the bank, they tell me. And there’s a daughter—away at school somewhere—won’t have her brought up in a hotel. She’s dead right, too.”
“I dunno why a girl couldn’t grow up in a hotel—with a nice mother like that,” urged Mr. Burdock.
“Oh come! You know better ’n that. Get talked about in any case—probably worse. No sir! You can’t be too careful about a girl, and her mother knows it.”
“Glad you’ve got a high opinion of women. I like to see it,” and Mr. Burdock tilted softly backward and forward in his chair, a balancing foot thrust forth. He wore large, square-toed, rather thin shoes with the visible outlines of feet in them.
The shoes of Mr. Abramson, on the other hand, had pronounced outlines of their own, and might have been stuffed with anything—that would go in.
“I’ve got a high opinion of good women,” he announced with finality. “As to bad ones, the less said the better!” and he puffed his strong cigar, looking darkly experienced.
“They’re doin’ a good deal towards reformin’ ’em, nowadays, ain’t they?” ventured Mr. Burdock.
The young man laughed disagreeably. “You can’t reform spilled milk,” said he. “But I do like to see an honest, hardworking woman succeed.”
“So do I, boy,” said his companion, “so do I,” and they smoked in silence.
The hotel bus drew up before the house, backed up creaki
Mr. Burdock looked him over and brought the front legs of his chair down with a thump.
“By heck!” said he softly.
The newcomer went in to register.
Mr. Burdock went in to buy another cigar.
Mrs. Main was at the desk alone, working at her books. Her smooth, dark hair curved away from a fine forehead, both broad and high; wide-set, steady gray eyes looked out from under level brows with a clear directness. Her mouth, at thirty-eight, was a little hard.
The tall man scarcely looked at her, as he reached for the register book; but she looked at him, and her color slowly heightened. He signed his name as one of considerable importance, “Mr. Alexander E. Main, Guthrie, Oklahoma.”
“I want a sunny room,” he said. “A south room, with a fire when I want it. I feel the cold in this climate very much.”
“You always did,” remarked Mrs. Main quietly.
Then he looked, the pen dropping from his fingers and rolling across the untouched page, making a dotted path of lessening blotches.
Mr. Burdock made himself as small as he could against the cigar stand, but she ruthlessly approached, sold him the cigar he selected, and waited calmly till he started out, the tall man still staring.
Then she turned to him.
“Here is your key,” she said. “Joe, take the gentleman’s grip.”
The boy moved off with the worn suitcase, but the tall man leaned over the counter towards her.
Mr. Burdock was carefully closing the screen door—so carefully that he could still hear.
“Why, Mary! Mary! I must see you,” the man whispered.
“You may see me at any time,” she answered quietly. “Here is my office.”
“This evening!” he said excitedly. “I’ll come down this evening when it’s quiet. I have so much to tell you, Mary.”
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman / History & Fiction / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes