There is no knowing why they confided these things to Sophy instead of to each other, these wedded sisters of hers. Perhaps they held for each other an unuttered distrust or jealousy. Perhaps, in making a confidante of Sophy, there was something of the satisfaction that comes of dropping a surreptitious stone down a deep well and hearing it plunk, safe in the knowledge that it has struck no one and that it cannot rebound, lying there in the soft darkness. Sometimes they would end by saying, “But you don’t know what it is, Sophy. You can’t. I’m sure I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.”
But when Sophy answered, sagely, “I know; I know”—they paid little heed, once having unburdened themselves. The curious part of it is that she did know. She knew as a woman of fifty must know who, all her life, has given and given and in return has received nothing. Sophy Decker had never used the word inhibition in her life. I doubt if she knew what it meant. When you are busy copying French models for the fall trade you have little time or taste for Freud. She only knew (without in the least knowing she knew) that in giving of her goods, of her affections, of her time, of her energy, she found a certain relief. Her own people would have been shocked if you had told them that there was about this old maid aunt something rather splendidly Rabelaisian. Without being at all what is known as a masculine woman she had, somehow, acquired the man’s viewpoint, his shrewd value sense. She ate a good deal, and enjoyed her food. She did not care for those queer little stories that married women sometimes tell, with narrowed eyes, but she was strangely tolerant of what is known as sin. So simple and direct she was that you wondered how she prospered in a line so subtle as the millinery business.
You might have got a fairly true characterization of Sophy Decker from one of fifty people: from a dapper salesman in a New York or Chicago wholesale millinery house; from Otis Cowan, cashier of the First National Bank of Chippewa; from Julia Gold, her head milliner and trimmer; from almost any one, in fact, except a member of her own family. They knew her least of all, as is often true of one’s own people. Her three married sisters—Grace in Seattle, Ella in Chicago, and Flora in Chippewa—regarded her with a rather affectionate disapproval from the snug safety of their own conjugal ingle-nooks.
“I don’t know. There’s something—well—common about Sophy,” Flora confided to Ella. Flora, on shopping bent and Sophy, seeking hats, had made the five-hour run from Chippewa to Chicago together. “She talks to everybody. You should have heard her with the porter on our train. Chums! And when the conductor took our tickets it was a social occasion. You know how packed the seven fifty-two is. Every seat in the parlour car taken. And Sophy asking the coloured porter about how his wife was getting along—she called him William—and if they were going to send her west, and all about her. I wish she wouldn’t.”