“As you like.”
Once in her own room, Nora found it hard to keep back her angry tears. Only the thought that her reddened eyes would betray her to Gertie at dinner kept her from having a good cry.
That one morning was a fair sample of all the other days. Each suspected the other, neither would make allowances or concessions. As a consequence, day by day the breach widened. Even Eddie, who was more unobserving than most men, felt vaguely uncomfortable in the surcharged atmosphere. From the first Nora realized that it was an unequal contest; Gertie was too strongly intrenched in her position. But it was not in her nature to refrain from administering those little thrusts, which women know so well how to deal one another, from any motive of policy. The question of what she should do once her brother’s house became intolerable she never permitted herself to ask.
In the needle-pricking mode of warfare she was, of course, far more expert than her rival. But if Gertie’s hand was clumsy it was also heavy. And always in the back of her mind was the consciousness that she, so to speak, had at least one piece of heavy artillery which she could bring up once the enemy’s fire became unendurable.
During the day, the men being out of the house except at meal time, there was to a certain degree, a cessation of hostilities. Nora gradually acquired some knowledge of housework. She learned to cook fairly well and always helped with the washing, rarely complaining of her aching arms and back. The only indication she had that she was making progress was that Gertie complained less. Praise, of course, was not to be expected.
At dinner the men were usually too anxious to get back to work—always with the exception of Hornby, who according to his own highly colored account, had been assigned the herculean task of splitting all the wood required by the Province of Manitoba for the ensuing winter—to linger longer than the time required for smoking a hurried pipe, so that it was only during the long evenings that hostilities were resumed. And then, more or less under cover.
There was one person upon whom Nora could openly vent her nervous irritation after a long day in Gertie’s society, and that was Frank Taylor. They quarreled constantly, to the great amusement of the others. But with him, too, she felt hopelessly at a disadvantage. He was maddeningly sure of himself, and while he sometimes gave back thrust for thrust, he never lost his temper. Seemingly, nothing could penetrate his armor of good nature, nor make him comprehend that she really meant her bitter words. Slow of movement and speech, his mind was alert enough, and Nora had to admit to herself, although she always openly denied it, that he had humor. To lose one’s own temper in a wordy passage at arms and find one’s opponent still smiling and serene is not a soothing experience.