CHAPTER III

THE BUTTON

Morning sun and morning shadow
In the green valley that dips to the meadow,
A cry of delight from the hidden pool --
A splash in those clear depths mountain cool,
Someone laughing, and between the trees
The dancing glimmer of white knees:
Startled and fearless, a girl at play.
Let the swift hours their flight delay!
Her lips are cool as a dewy blossom.
Who shall stir the peace of that unstirred bosom?
Cool hands and laughing mouth,
Gifts of her unconscious youth --
A prize for him who gayly dares:
And what's to come, who knows, who cares?

    Barbara Locke had been what every one called a high-spirited girl.  Even as a child, she had quarreled -- over nothing at all -- with her dearest friend and playmate of years, and never made up with him.  The nothing at all over which they quarreled was as to whose yard they should play in that afternoon, his or hers.
    In the co-educational college she attended , she was the first girl to be elected editor of the college paper.  Her graduating essay was on "Woman's Place in the World."
    She wanted to go to New York and get a job on a magazine.  And when her parents objected she borrowed the money from a sympathetic old-maid aunt and went anyway.  She was not quite twenty-one years old.
    On the train from the Middle West to New York she became acquainted with a big, helpless-looking black-haired youth.  They told each other their names.  He was Henry Riggs.  He too was on his way to New York ro make his fame and fortune.  The excitement of their common adventure drew them together, and they were good friends by the time they had reached the end of their journey.
    He was concerned about her safety in the great strange city, and wanted her to go to a YWCA.  But she laughed at him.  She was going first to the Brevoort Hotel, and then look for a room in Greenwich Village.  She intended to become acquainted with the writers and artists there.
    He was wistfully impressed by her daring ambitions.  He himself had no such romantic hopes.  He thought he would make a good salesman.  He had sold one thing and another in his summer vacations to pay his way through college.  And he wanted to be in New York, because that was where big things were going on.  He was twenty-two years old.
    After she had left him at the subway entrance -- for she firmly refused his well-meant offer to see her to her hotel -- she wondered what she liked about him.  His bigness, his helplessness, and his black hair had somehow appealed to her.  But he was in all other respects like thousands of other young men.  There was nothing extraordinary about him.  He would have a harder time getting along in New York than she would.  She was a little sorry for him.
    Perhaps that was why she had agreed to have dinner with him on Thursday.  He was to call for her at the hotel at seven.
    By the time he came, she had found a furnished room into which she would move tomorrow.  She had also discovered a nice little restaurant in the Village, and she proposed that they go there for dinner.
    "Why not here at the Brevoort?" he asked.  She knew that he didn't have much money, and she suspected that he had eaten in armchair lunch rooms in the intervals of his search for a job; and she smiled at the folly of masculine pride.
    "Wait till we've landed some work," she said.  And she insisted on sharing the check between them.  He demurred at that, but at last gave in, explaining shamefacedly that he had had his pocket picked the day before, so that he had lost about half of his small store of money.  Inwardly she remembered with some malicious satisfaction his anxiety as to her ability to take care of herself in this great strange city.  She said nothing of that, however, but offered to lend him some money.  He flatly refused the offer, and even seemed a little hurt and angry.  So that she had to agree, for the sake of his pride, to another dinner engagement the following evening.
    They continued to dine together frequently during the next weeks and months, and because he suffered so in letting her pay half the check she let him pay it all, when they went out to a restaurant; but she could manage a little cooking in her room, and so she invited him there most of the time.
    One evening he came to her place glowing with triumph.  He had a job with an automobile company.  He was so happy that she did not tell him that she, too, had a job in prospect.  She felt that that would dim his triumph.
    When he drew his commission on his first month's work, he insisted on taking her to that dinner at the Brevoort.  Then she did mention casually that she had begun to work for a magazine.
    Through dinner she wondered why she should like this helpless boy.  And it was with no forewarning at all, later in the evening, that she found herself profoundly disturbed by the question of whether she would marry him.  It began, simply enough, with a kiss in Central Park; and then he proposed to her while she was still shaken by that kiss.  She had kissed boys before, but those kisses had meant nothing.  This one melted her, it seemed, as a rock is melted; but still she was only astonished at this sudden weakness, until he asked her to marry him.  She was dismayed; for that question interpreted her emotions to her, and some newly awakened wish in her mind wanted to reply yes.  She shut her lips against that word.  "Oh, I don't knw!" she said tormentedly.  "Wait, dear -- don't ask me now!" . . . Then, with that respite gained, there seemd to be no reason why she should not let him kiss her again.
    Afterward, she remembered saying she loved him.  But now, safely away from him, she desperately hoped not.  She evaded him for a week.  And during that week she thought of nothing, day and night, except him -- his bigness and helplessness and his black hair, and his arms around her, and his kisses on her mouth.  Nothing else seemed to matter. . . .
    Within a month they were married.
    She had always liked her name -- Barbara Locke.  In imaginiation she had seen it featured on the covers of magazines.  She had intended to make that name famous.  But now, without a demur, she became Mrs. Riggs.  She felt secretly proud of being Mrs. Riggs.  And that was odd, because the name Riggs meant nothing -- yet.  Of course, he wouldn't be doing this kind of work for long; it was just an opening for him.  Meanwhile she went on woking; they needed the money she earned, even if it was only a little, and she enjoyed being really his helpmate.  But when he was called to New Jersy, of course she had to go along, and she left the magazine.
    He had worked up rapidly, and in a little more than three years he was given the position of assistant manager of the New Jersey branch.  It was a wonderful opportunity, and she was very happy about it.  They lived in a pretty New Jersey suburb, and had a car.  Every morning she drove him to the station to catch his train and every evening she went down to the station to drive him home.
    Another year passed.

    And then one morning when Henry had just put on a shirt he took it off again, and threw it violently on the floor.
    "What's the matter dear?" she asked anxiously.  "That shirt just came from the laundry yesterday -- I put it in your bureau drawer myself."
    "The damn thing has a button off the front," he said fretfully.  "I don't see why I can't have my buttons sewed on!  It isn't as though you had anything else to do."
    Barbara sat still, looking at the pattern on the wall paper.  She did not answer Henry's contrite "Good bye!"  She sat there until she heard the front gate click; and then she rose and went into her own room.  From a closet she rummaged out an old suitcase with the initials "B.L." on it, and from the garret her portable typewriter, long disused.  Then she began packing her clothes, choosing carefully.  When she had finished, and dressed herself in an old tailored suit, she took her suitcase in one hand and her portable typewriter in the other and went out.
    "I'm through," she said to herself, and caught the car for the station, where she bought a ticket for New York.
    She went to the Brevoort, registered as Barbara Locke, and went out to look for a furnished room in Greenwich Village.

    She had looked at and decided against several places to live, when she turned a corner and found  herself a few steps from the house she had lived nearly five years ago.  There was a "room for rent" sign out, and she smiled, wondering if her old room were empty.  She ran, and a young woman answered the bell.  "Is Mrs. Casey here?" Barbara asked.  It would be good to see her old landlady again.
    "Mrs. Casey's out," said the girl.  "But I'm her daughter."
    Mrs Casey, Barbara knew, had a daughter; but this was the first time Barbara had ever seen her.  She had heard Mrs. Casey tell more than once of Sarah Ellen and her troubles with her husband Jim.  So this was Sarah Ellen!  She had seemed, five years ago, in Barbara's mind, to constitute a good argument against marriage -- an argument, however, which Barbara had forgotten all about just at the time when it might have done some good to remember it.
    "I'm Barbara Locke," she said, uttering the name as proudly as in the days when she had intended to make it famous; "and I used to have the back room on the second floor.  Is it by any chance for rent?"
    "Yes," said the girl, "it is that.  Do you want it again?"
    "I think I do," said Barbara, and followed up the stairs.
    The room was as she had left it; the old couch, the battered chairs, the little iron bedstead, the table; only, as when she had first come here, five years ago, the table had a plush covering and a simpering plaster statuette of Cupid on it.
    And, as she had done five years before, she took up the plaster statuette in one hand, pulled off the cloth with the other and handed them over--  "Take these away; I want this table to write on."
    She paid her rent for a week.  "But what's that?" she asked, pointing to a small parcel on the floor.
    "Oh, that belongs to the fellow that was in here," said the girl.  "He'll be back after it, and I'll leave it outside the door here for him." and she went away.
    Barbara unpacked her clothes and hung them on the wall behind the curtain that served for a closet.  She put her little typewriter on the table, unlocked it from its case and raised the keys.  There was still in the roller a faded sheet of paper.  She took it out, bent the creases from it, and inserted it again carefully.
    She had to write something.  And, because nothing else came into her mind to write, she made what looked like a poem by one of the Younger School:

                                                            The quick brown
                                                            fox
                                                            jumped
                                                                over
                                                                    the
                                                                        lazy
                                                            dog.

    Then she reached over to where the cigarettes and matches lay on the table, lighted up, and sent a cool cloud of smoke across the room.
    "Barbara Locke's herself again," she whispered.
    It didn't need any effort of the imagination to transport herself back through those five years to the romantic past which this room so vividly symbolized.  She was back there -- at the happy age of almost twenty-one, just arrived from New York, and facing the world with courage and curiosity and the will to success.  Life lay before her.  She could make of it what she chose.
    When a girl married, she became -- a wife.  She ceased to be a person.  And what was worse, by some terrible alchemy which marriage brought, she didn't care.  She was happy in just being that man's wife.  She gave up her ambitions.  She gave up her name.  She lived in and through him.  She had no life of her own; she existed to love him, and comfort him, and sew his buttons on.  That was all a man wanted of a woman.  Well, she wouldn't be a wife.  That was settled.  She was going to write.
    She turned again to her typewriter.
    And then Mrs. Casey spoiled it all.  First there was a discreet tap at the door, and then Mrs. Casey, looking very sympathetic, entered.  The same Mrs. Casey unchanged by the years.
    "Oh, Mrs. Riggs!" she said.
    "I'm not Mrs. Riggs, said Barbara defiantly, springing up.
    "You poor darling child!" said Mrs. Casey advancing with outstretched arms.  "Well do I know the troubles that women have to bear!  Tell me about it!"
    "There's nothing to tell," said Barbara sternly.
    "Of course there isn't," said Mrs. Casey heartily.  "Don't say a word.  Just put your little head right here," and she indicated her broad bosom, "and cry your heart out."
    Barbara's first emotion was of disgust at this ridiculous invitation; and her next emotion was of surprise, as she found herself unreservedly accepting it.

    She had got rid of Mrs. Casey at last.  She was ashamed of that outburst of emotion.  But, after all, it had served to clear her mind.  She had stopped crying and said to Mrs. Casey, bitterly:
    "Oh, you're right, I'm just a woman after all!  And what foolish creatures women are!"
    "They're as the Lord made them," said Mrs. Casey tolerantly.  "It's not for me to be criticizing them.  But I will say that it does seem queer sometimes, the way we have to take on about some poor stick of a man.  But there's no getting around it.  That's the way we are."
    "But you don't behave that way, Mrs. Casey -- do you?" asked Barbara.
    "To tell you God's own truth, I don't -- not any more.  But you shouldn't judge by me.  Bless your heart, I'm an old repropate; easy come, easy go, is my motto.  I've my house to bother about.  But I was as foolish as any woman in the world when I had a husband of my own."
    "Mrs. Casey," said Barbara earnestly, "what is there about marriage that does this to us?  I'd like to know!"
    But Mrs. Casey had expressed all her wisdom already; for the rest of her stay she was vague and repetitious; and when she found that Mr. Riggs neither got drunk and beat her, nor gambled away all his money, nor ran after other women, she was inclined to be indignant at Barbara.  "You don't know what a prince among men you've got!" she said.  "That's the trouble with women -- when they're lucky, they don't know it!"
    So Barbara, left at last alone, had to think out things for herself.  She was a little shaken by the memory of Mrs. Casey's reproaches.  For Mrs. Casey represented, as she realized, the world.  Nobody would understand, any better than Mrs. Casey.  But she held her head defiantly erect, and thought:
    "I've got a right to be myself.  That comes first of all.  And if marriage prevents that, it's wrong.  People can think what they like.  They're all under the matrimonial illusion.  I've been, for nearly five years.  Now I've got over it; and I'm going to stay over it.  I can't help it if Henry's heart breaks.  Mine will break, too, I expect.  It won't be easy.  But I'm going to go through with it.  Only -- how did it happen?"
    She tried to puzzle that out.  "It wasn't his fault, any more than it was mine.  We drifted into it.  I stopped being myself, just to please him."  And then she paused to wonder: "Why didn't he stop being himself -- just to please me?"  And the answer came: "Men just don't, that's all."
    She thought again: "I gave up my job and moved with him to that horrible little New Jersey suburb.  Why?  Because we were married, and married people want to live together.  But my job was in New York.  Why didn't he give up his job and the chance of promotion, and stay with me?"  And the answer came: "I'd have despised him if he had!"
    Yes, it was true; he cared about his work more than about love; and that was why she loved him.  But she had cared about him more than about her work; and that was why she despised herself.  But he hadn't despised her for being that way.  He hadn't minded her changing from what she had been to just a woman who sewed on his buttons.  No, he licked it.  And that was why she hated him.
    But, after all, it was her own lookout.  It was too easy to blame some one else for what happened to one's self.  He had kept on doing what he wanted to do; and she had stopped.  She had stopped to help him.  Because she loved him.  Doubtless that was the reason.  But why had she loved him?  Perhaps because he needed her help!  That was so absurd that it might well be the truth, she reflected.
    And she grew angry.  Must women be like that?  Must they care so little for their work and so much for some man?  If it was splendid in a man to care greatly for his work, why shouldn't it be splendid in a woman?
    She turned again to her typewriter, fiercely....  But she had nothing to write.
    She looked about for a stray newspaper.  But there was none, and she opened the door to go out to a news stand.  In the hall, her foot struck against something on the floor.  She picked it up, and then remembered that it was the parcel she had seen in her room.  It was loosely wrapped, and felt like a book.  She took it back into her room and unwrapped it.  A pink-covered book -- "The Concise Oxford Dictionary."
    "Words!" she said.  "Just what I want!" And she sat down and copied out: a, an, aard-vark, Aaron's beard, Aaron's rod, aback, abacus, Abaddon, abaft ... until both sides of her sheet of paper were covered with words.  And then feeling hungry, and discovering from her watch that it was halfway through the afternoon, she went out to get something to eat.
    As she went out, a man came in; and she particularly noted him, because he looked as though he might be a younger brother to Henry....  She realized that she had not thought of Henry for a whole hour, while she was copying those silly, lovely words on paper.
    She did not want to go to one of the Village restaurants, because she might meet some one she knew; and she did not want to have to explain -- yet.  She would have a delicatessen lunch in her own room.
    She bought slices of meat and bread, butter, pickles, coffee, sugar, cream, and a cheap alcohol cooking outfit to make the coffee on.
    When she opened her door, she thought it was Henry sitting there waiting for her.  But no, it wasn't Henry -- it was that boy who might have been his younger brother, whom she had seen entering the house.
    "Oh!" she said, clinging tight to the big bag of food she had almost dropped.
    He turned from where he was sitting at the table, thumbing the leaves of the little dictionary -- and then jumped up.  "I'm sorry!"
    And then, as he said nothing else, she told him severly, "This is my room."
    "I suppose so," he said.  "You see, it was mine."
    She said again, "Oh!"  And she added, "Then that is your dictionary."  His presence being thus satisfactorily accounted for, she put down her bundle of food.
    "Yes," he said.  "I thought--"
    "Well?"
    "I saw somebody had been using my dictionary--"
    "Yes -- I was."
    "I didn't know, of course.  And I thought -- I was waiting here for that person to come back.  I thought he might possibly need a dictionary.  And I was hoping I could sell it to -- him.  "That," he concluded painfully, "is how I came to be in your room."
    "I do need a dictionary," she said.  "We'll talk about it in just a moment.  I'm making myself some lunch now.  Won't you join me?  Please do.  My name is Barbara Locke.  What's yours?  She smiled and held out her hand.
    "Hugh Lorimer," he said.  "I don't think that I can--"
    "Sit down," she said firmly.
    He sat down.
    "You're a writer?" she asked, presently, when she had put the coffee on.
    "Yes -- sort of."
    "What?"
    "Well -- a poet," he admitted uncomfortably.
    "Here," she said, giving him a plate with a big sandwich and a pickle, "start on this.  The coffee will be ready in a minute."
    He was hungry.  But it was the coffee that thawed him out.  He began to talk, and without much difficulty she had his whole story.  It was simple enough.  He had told it all when he said he was a poet....  But there was a girl mixed up in it.  With a little more difficulty, she got that out of him, too.  They had been engaged back at home in the South, he said.  He had come to New York to look for a newspaper job; and had so far failed to find one.  Then she had written to him, urging him to come home; her father would give him a job as a salesman, she wrote, and they could be married.  That was what hurt -- that she didn't believe in him....
    "Don't you care!" said Barbara softly.
    And meeting some look of tenderness in her eyes, the boy melted, and flung himself at her feet, with his head in her lap, crying.
    Barbara caressed the soft black hair of his head, and felt a fierce contempt for that girl....  He lifted his face, and looked at her, hungry for a woman's devotion.  And she stooped and kissed him -- a fierce, tender, shy, passionate, impersonal kiss, womankind's tribute to the mankind that needs it and will stumble and fail in a dark world without it.
    And holding him in her arms, she talked to him.  "Don't you care," she whispered.  "She isn't worth it.  You will show her.  And she will be sorry.  And you'll find plenty of nicer girls who will believe in you...."
    Do you -- believe in me?" she asked.
    "Yes," she said, and kissed him again.
    He stood up, ashamed of his childness.  "I don't know what's been the matter with me," he said.
    She knew; the matter with him was that he was a man.  But she didn't tell him so.
    "You're all right now, aren't you?"
    "Yes," he said.
    And she knew he was.
    He looked around for his hat.
    "You were going to let me buy your dictionary," she reminded him.
    He flushed.  "Oh, I couldn't let you buy it," he said.
    She knew it was useless to argue the matter.  Besides, what was a little money to him now?  He had what was really necessary -- the renewed belief in himself that only a woman can give.
    "Won't you take it -- for remembrance?" he said.
    "For remembrance -- yes."
    They shook hands and he strode out.  At the door he turned and said, "You've been wonderful!"
    "Well," she thought to herself, "I'd call it something else.  But if I just can't help being wonderful--"
    Laughing softly, she packed up and went home, and sewed the button on Henry's shirt.

    She had just finished with the button when Henry came in.  He was contrite and she forgave him graciously.
    "But what's that?" he asked, seeing a pink covered dictionary on her work table.
    "Oh, just a dictionary," she told him.
    That night before she went to bed she turned the leaves of the dictionary and said to it:
    "Little book, you belong to me, now.  All your silly, lovely words are mine.  And they will help me to remember all the silly, lovely thoughts I had before I became just a woman.  For hours at a time I shall be my woman-self again, for a man's sake.  He shall have his wife, to love him and comfort him, and even perhaps sew his buttons on.  But there shall be a Barbara Locke, too -- by Heaven!" she ended fiercely.
    "Aren't you coming to bed, Babs?" her husband called.
    "Yes, darling," she said.


THE TIGRESS

Tigress, tigress, burning bright
In the forests of the night--
(Professor, pray forgive the ways
Of irreverant paraphase;
And go find something else to do--
This song is not addressed to you!).
Lovely tigress, full of fright
In the forests of the night,
In the jungles of delight--
Looking left and looking right,
Ready to take sudden fright--
Don't be so afraid, poor beastie!
I won't touch you; or at least I
Won't until you've well got over
These first temblings, and discover
There's no need to run to cover!
I won't hurt you: why so scary,
Timid-bold, alert and airy--
Pretty creature, why so wary?
Perhaps you think I mean to catch you,
Take you home, and keep and watch you,
Hold and chain you, bind and tame you,
Clip your claws, and feed and name you!
Well -- am I so much to blame, you
Lovely darling, if I do
All those terrible things to you?
You are here beneath my hand--
You are mine, do you understand?
If you don't want to be netted,
Why did you come here to be petted?

**************************************

But who would have thought, a while ago,
That you would lie here, purring so,
Against my knee, beneath my hand?
Chained to me with an iron band--
Or a silken leash, it's all the same!--
Claws well clipped, knowing your name,
Ready to follow my beck and call--
Why, you're just a kitten, after all!




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