That night Ella wept for a long time before she fell asleep. She lay and stroked her plait, which she had drawn on to her bosom. She had often thought of cutting it off, but it was still there.
In the course of the two first years of her marriage she had two children. Whenever she was alone, she divided her time between them and her teaching. Her husband hardly contributed anything to the household, except during the brief periods that he passed at home, and then the money was squandered in the extravagant life which he led with his companions. During these visits the “young ones” were sent off to their aunt. “One could not take four steps without going through the walls of this wretched little house,” he said. At these times she also gave up the lessons; she had no time for anything except to wait on him.
Every one realised that she could not be happy, but no one suspected that her whole life was one of dread—dread of the telegram which would announce his coming, if only for a few days, dread of what might happen when he came. When he was there she never attempted to oppose him, but displayed to him, and every one else, those frank eyes and quick, but quiet, ways which enabled her to come and go without being noticed. When he was gone, she would suddenly collapse, and, worn out with the strain of days and nights, be obliged to take to her bed.
Each time that he came home he kept less guard over himself, and was more careless as regarded others. Had she known that men who have expended their strength as he had done are as a rule worn out at forty—and many such are to be found in the coast-towns—she would have understood that these very things were signs of failure. He had advanced far along the road. To her he only appeared more and more disgusting. He was but little at home, which helped her. She had determined that she and her boys should live in the best manner, and this again was a help to her; but more than all was her constant employment and the regard which every one felt for her. After five years of marriage she looked as charming as ever, and appeared as cheerful and lively; she was accustomed to conceal her feelings.
Her children were now—the elder four, the second three years old. They were rarely seen anywhere but in the market-place, on the snow-heaps in winter and on the sand-heaps in summer, or else they were in the country with their aunt whom they had adopted as “grandmother.”
Next to the care of the little boys, flowers were Ella’s greatest delight. She had a great many, which made the house appear smaller than it really was. She could play with the boys, but she could share her thoughts with the flowers. When she watered them, she felt acutely how much she suffered. When she dried their leaves, she longed for pleasant words and kindly eyes. When she removed dead twigs and superfluous shoots, when she re-potted them, she often cried with longing; the thought that there was no one to care for her overcame her.