Moreover, they felt that just as the house had been attained with effort, self-denial, and careful calculations, yet still without incurring debt, so their social position had been secured by unremitting diligence and care, but with no loss of self-respect or even of dignity. They were honestly proud of both their house and of their list of acquaintances and saw no reason to regard them as less worthy achievements of an industrious life than their four creditable grown-up children or Judge Emery’s honorable reputation at the bar.
The two older children, George and Marietta, could remember those early struggling days with as fresh an emotion as that of their parents. Indeed, Marietta, now a competent, sharp-eyed matron of thirty-two, could not see the most innocuous colored lithograph without an uncontrollable wave of bitterness, so present to her mind was the period when they painfully groped their way out of chromos.
The particular Mrs. Hollister who, at the time the Emerys began to pierce the upper crust, was the leader of Endbury society, had discarded chromos as much as five years before. Mrs. Emery and Marietta, newly admitted to the honor of her acquaintance, wondered to themselves at the cold monotony of her black and white engravings. The artlessness of this wonder struck shame to their hearts when they chanced to learn that the lady had repaid it with a worldly-wise amusement at their own highly-colored waterfalls and snow-capped mountain-peaks. Marietta could recall as piercingly as if it were yesterday, in how crestfallen a chagrin she and her mother had gazed at their parlor after this incident, their disillusioned eyes open for the first time to the futility of its claim to sophistication. As for the incident that had led to the permanent retiring from their table of the monumental salt-and-pepper ‘caster’ which had been one of their most prized wedding presents, the Emerys refused to allow themselves to remember it, so intolerably did it spell humiliation.
In these quotations the reader has the key to the situation—worry to become as good as one’s neighbors, if not better. This is the worry of the squirrel cage.
Lydia is Mrs. Emery’s baby girl, her pet, her passionate delight. She has been away to a fine school. She knows nothing of the ancient struggles to attain position and a high place in society. Those struggles were practically over before she appeared on the scene.
On the occasion of her final home-coming her mother makes great preparations to please her, yet the worry and the anxiety, are revealed in her conversation with her older daughter: