“She looks well, I admit she looks well. She seems to have got a kind of style in Philadelphia.”
“I don’t mean fashionable style—a style of her own; and according to the professors, neither the time nor the money has been wasted. But she’s been a long year away, Maggie. It’s been considerably dull without her for you and me. I hope she won’t take it into her head to want to leave home again.”
“If it should be necessary to her plan of life—”
“It won’t be necessary. She’s nineteen now, and I’d like to see her settle down here in Sparta, and the sooner the better. Her painting will be an interest for her all her life, and if ever she should be badly off she can teach. That was my idea in giving her the training.”
“Settle down in Sparta!” Mrs. Bell repeated, with a significant curve of her superior lip. “Why, who is there—”
“Lots of people, though it isn’t for me to name them, nor for you either, my dear. But speaking generally, there isn’t a town of its size in the Union with a finer crop of go-ahead young men in it than Sparta.”
Mrs. Bell was leaning against the inside shutter of their bedroom window, looking out, while she waited for her husband. As she looked, one of Sparta’s go-ahead young men, glancing up as he passed in the street below and seeing her there behind the panes, raised his hat.
“Heavens, no!” said Mrs. Bell. “You don’t understand, Leslie.”
“Perhaps not,” Mr. Bell returned. “We must get that packing-case opened after dinner. I’m anxious to see the pictures.” Mr. Bell put the finishing touches to his little finger-nail and briskly pocketed his penknife. “Shall we go downstairs now?” he suggested. “Fix your brooch, mother; it’s just on the drop.”
Elfrida Bell had been a long year away—a year that seemed longer to her than it possibly could to anybody in Sparta, as she privately reflected when her father made this observation for the second and the third time. Sparta accounted for its days chiefly in ledgers, the girl thought; there was a rising and a going down of the sun, a little eating and drinking and speedy sleeping, a little discussion of the newspapers. Sparta got over its days by strides and stretches, and the strides and stretches seemed afterward to have been made over gaps and gulfs full of emptiness. The year divided itself and got its painted leaves, its white silences, its rounding buds, and its warm fragrances from the winds of heaven, and so there were four seasons in Sparta, and people talked of an early spring or a late fall; but Elfrida told herself that time had no other division, and the days no other color. Elfrida seemed to be unaware of the opening of the new South Ward Episcopal Methodist Church. She overlooked the municipal elections too, the plan for overhauling the town waterworks, and the reorganization of the public library. She even forgot the Browning Club.