“Come on, Mother,” she said. “It’ll cool you off.”
But Ma Mandle shook her head. “I’m better off at home. You run along, you two.”
That was all. But the two standing there caught something in her tone. Something new, something gentle, something wise.
She went on down the hall to her room. She took off her clothes, and hung them away, neatly. But once in her nightgown she did not get into bed. She sat there, in the chair by the window. Old lady Mandle had lived to be seventy and had acquired much wisdom. One cannot live to be seventy without having experienced almost everything in life. But to crystallize that experience of a long lifetime into terms that would express the meaning of life—this she had never tried to do. She could not do it now, for that matter. But she groped around, painfully, in her mind. There had been herself and Hugo. And now Hugo’s wife and the child to be. They were the ones that counted, now. That was the law of life. She did not put it into words. But something of this she thought as she sat there in her plain white nightgown, her scant white locks pinned in a neat knob at the top of her head. Selfishness. That was it. They called it love, but it was selfishness. She must tell them about it to-morrow—Mrs. Lamb, Mrs. Brunswick, and Mrs. Wormser. Only yesterday Mrs. Brunswick had waxed bitter because her daughter-in-law had let a moth get into her husband’s winter suit.
“I never had a moth in my house!” Mrs. Brunswick had declared. “Never. But nowadays housekeeping is nothing. A suit is ruined. What does my son’s wife care! I never had a moth in my house.”
Ma Mandle chuckled to herself there in the darkness. “I bet she did. She forgets. We all forget.”
It was very hot to-night. Now and then there was a wisp of breeze from the lake, but not often.... How red Lil’s eyes had been ... poor girl. Moved by a sudden impulse Ma Mandle thudded down the hall in her bare feet, found a scrap of paper in the writing-desk drawer, scribbled a line on it, turned out the light, and went into the empty front room. With a pin from the tray on the dresser she fastened the note to Lil’s pillow, high up, where she must see it the instant she turned on the light. Then she scuttled down the hall to her room again.
She felt the heat terribly. She would sit by the window again. All the blood in her body seemed to be pounding in her head ... pounding in her head ... pounding....
At ten Hugo and Lil came in, softly. Hugo tiptoed down the hall, as was his wont, and listened. The room was in darkness. “Sleeping, Ma?” he whispered. He could not see the white-gowned figure sitting peacefully by the window, and there was no answer. He tiptoed with painful awkwardness up the hall again.
“She’s asleep, all right. I didn’t think she’d get to sleep so early on a scorcher like this.”
Lil turned on the light in her room. “It’s too hot to sleep,” she said. She began to disrobe languidly. Her eye fell on the scrap of paper pinned to her pillow. She went over to it, curiously, leaned over, read it.