Early in the fall Mother had an accident. She wasn’t well at the time and, in the night, started for the bathroom without turning on the light. The bathroom was at the end of the hall but there as a slight turn in the passage and, mistaking it for the bath, she walked into the open back stairway.
When we picked her up, badly shaken and confused, we found that her wrist was broken. It took some time to get to a doctor and her suffering was intense. Worst of all, she kept repeating between groans “I’m so glad it was I and not you girls.”
When anything happened to Mama, the entire household was plunged into gloom and it was weeks before we were able to do much. The nearest had proven unequal to surgical demands so that the bone was set badly and caused her unnecessary suffering. Fortunately, a joyous turn of circumstances bounced us all out of our depressed state.
Ordinarily when we girls collected our salaries we converted them into cash and turned the currency over to Mother and she tucked the bills away in original hiding places. The previous spring, when some merchandise had been delivered C.O.D. [Cash on Delivery], Mother had discovered that some of our earnings were absent without leave [AWOL] and had put on quite a domestic little scene. We had finally arrived at the conclusion that we had been more profligate than usual and gone our several ways with remorse gnawing at our vitals. After Mother’s accident, in making up her bed one day, she decided to shift the mattress and there – lying on the bedsprings – nested one hundred dollars in soiled greenbacks. How spirits can rise over money! We were all feeling like a million and in a jiffy and Mother (in terpsichorean lingo) practically cut a pigeon wing.
For the past five years Brother had kept well engrossed with his bouquet of office workers and from time to time he entertained us with stories of his live beauties. Once in a great while he would pick one and enjoy her for a few hours, but most of his evenings were spent at the family fireside.
One night at dinner he boiled over and confessed that one of his lady helpers, a thin, homely old maid in poor health, had been following him when he left the store at night. Not only that, but when she handed him her regards, he would slip her a note – “hoot-owl gizzard” he said sheepishly.
After being trapped he had been on guard to prevent a repetition. As he read over the yellow sheets he would extract her contribution and hand it back to her with a “This I believe is yours, Miss Jackson.” For a brief period he had enjoyed a respite, only to discover that she was stalking him to the station, dolled up in her best finery.
Mayne was so soft-hearted that he could never be rude to a woman. His only alternative was too run away and live to fight another day.
His description of himself ducking behind people, dodging behind buildings and finally taking to his heels to escape his siren was comic and we never knew how much of it was true. The dénouement came when he was obliged to tell her that if she did not cease to annoy him he would be obliged to transfer her to another division. She realized that it was over and she wrote him a letter that had us all in tears. The poor thing had been married to a man who abused her. She gave a sordid account of drunkenness, cruelty and the like. She hadn’t intended to fall in love with Maynard, she said, but she just couldn’t help herself.
Being older, Mother was more touched than the rest of us. We thought it might have had a pleasanter ending if she had been pretty and goodness knew that he would have to be ensnared, for he was already thirty-four. Then one night he failed to come home. Mother waited dinner. We had no telephones, and finally we gave up and went to bed. By morning she was in a dither. She was sure that in crossing the bridge to the depot Mayne had been waylaid by thugs, robbed, drawn and quartered, and his body thrown into the Chicago River. Nothing less than that could have happened.
Her face, lined with worry wrinkles, helped to convince Mary and me and it was finally decided that as soon as I had eaten breakfast I should go to Chicago and start a search for him. Just how this was to be done had not been made clear. The morgue had not been mentioned and neither had the police. Then a glimmer of light appeared on the horizon. Brother had, it seems, taken a brown-eyed Juno out on a date. Mother had heard about it and she had the fair damsel’s address. She gave it to me now with instructions to locate the girl. The prospect of stalking a good man to his sweetheart’s domicile was far from pleasing to me but if foul play had overtaken Brother we certainly had to know it.
When the train reached Chicago, I took a North Side Streetcar and traced the number. I shall never forget the amused look on the face of the girl I interviewed. I told her with genuine histrionic fervour that Brother had not been home all night, that Mother was sure that disaster had overtaken him and then asked her if she knew anything of his whereabouts.
She most certainly had her suspicions and she joyously described him as in good health and spirits, at the moment driving with his lady in Lincoln Park.
I left immediately. Now that I knew Mayne’s body was not floating in the river I began to feel better. At the same time, I knew that it would be natural for any man under similar circumstances to be sore. I felt more sheepish every minute.
I arrived one train ahead of him and Mama had quieted down before he opened the door and walked into the living room. She looked decidedly worn and Mayne took one look and, with a tender smile, he kissed her and said, “Mommy, I guess I’ve never stayed out enough nights to train you,” and that was all except that his behaviour pattern made a few slight changes. There were more dates with the brown-eyed lass, though we were all too engrossed in our own affairs to notice.