And then, surprisingly, Tessie began to talk. “I wouldn’t never have gone with this fella, only Chuck, he was gone. All the boys’re gone. It’s fierce. You get scared, sittin’ home, waitin’, and they’re in France and everywheres, learnin’ French and everything, and meetin’ grand people and havin’ a fuss made over ’em. So I got mad and said I didn’t care, I wasn’t goin’ to squat home all my life, waitin’....”
Angie Hatton had stopped knitting now. Old Man Hatton was looking down at her very kindly. And so Tessie went on. The pent-up emotions and thoughts of these past months were finding an outlet at last. These things which she had never been able to discuss with her mother she now was laying bare to Angie Hatton and Old Man Hatton! They asked no questions. They seemed to understand. Once Old Man Hatton interrupted with: “So that’s the kind of fellow they’ve got as escapement-room foreman, eh?”
Tessie, whose mind was working very clearly now, put out a quick hand. “Say, it wasn’t his fault. He’s a bum, all right, but I knew it, didn’t I? It was me. I didn’t care. Seemed to me it didn’t make no difference who I went with, but it does.” She looked down at her hands clasped so tightly in her lap.
“Yes, it makes a whole lot of difference,” Angie agreed, and looked up at her father.
At that Tessie blurted her last desperate problem: “He’s learnin’ all kind of new things. Me, I ain’t learnin’ anything. When Chuck comes home he’ll just think I’m dumb, that’s all. He....”
“What kind of thing would you like to learn, Tessie, so that when Chuck comes home....”
Tessie looked up then, her wide mouth quivering with eagerness. “I’d like to learn to swim—and row a boat—and play ball—like the rich girls—like the girls that’s makin’ such a fuss over the soldiers.”
Angie Hatton was not laughing. So, after a moment’s hesitation, Tessie brought out the worst of it. “And French. I’d like to learn to talk French.”
Old Man Hatton had been surveying his shoes, his mouth grim. He looked at Angie now and smiled a little. “Well, Angie, it looks as if you’d found your job right here at home, doesn’t it? This young lady’s just one of hundreds, I suppose. Hundreds. You can have the whole house for them, if you want it, Angie, and the grounds, and all the money you need. I guess we’ve kind of overlooked the girls. H’m, Angie. What d’you say?”
But Tessie was not listening. She had scarcely heard. Her face was white with earnestness.
“C’n you speak French?”
“Yes,” Angie answered.
“Well,” said Tessie, and gulped once, “well, how do you say in French: ‘Give me a piece of bread’? That’s what I want to learn first.”
Angie Hatton said it correctly.
“That’s it! Wait a minute! Say it again, will you?”
Angie said it again.
Tessie wet her lips. Her cheeks were smeared with tears and dirt. Her hair was wild and her blouse awry. “Donnay-ma-un-morso-doo-pang,” she articulated, painfully. And in that moment, as she put her hand in that of Chuck Mory, across the ocean, her face was very beautiful to see.