Sometimes, as she went through the morning routine, the baths, bottles, dishes, the picking up, the disheartening conferences over the ice box, she wondered what had become of the old southern belle, Nancy Barrett, who had laughed and flirted and only a few years ago, who had been such a strong and pretty and confident egotist? There was no egotism left in Nancy now, she was only a busy woman in a world of busy women. She knew backache and headache, and moods of weary irritation. The cut of her gowns, the little niceties of table-service or of children’s clothing no longer concerned her. She merely wanted her family comfortable, fed and housed and clothed, and well. Nancy could advise other women about the capable handling of children, before her firstborn was three years old.
They never went to “The Old Hill House” again, but they found a primitive but comfortable hotel in the Maine woods, for Ned’s second summer, and for several summers after that. Here Nancy slept and tramped and rested happily, welcoming Bert rapturously every week-end. In near-by cabins, young matrons like herself were likewise solving the children’s summer problem, she was never lonely, and the eight free, pine-scented weeks were cloudlessly happy. She told Bert that it was the only sensible solution for persons in moderate circumstances; old clothes, simple food, utter solitude.
“There are no comparisons to spoil things,” Nancy said, contentedly. “I know I’m small-minded, Bert. But seeing things I can’t have does upset me, somehow!”
Nevertheless, she accepted the invitation that came from Bert’s cousin Dorothy, one autumn, for a week-end visit. Dorothy had married now, and had a baby. She was living in a rented “place,” up near Rhinecliff, she wrote, and she wanted to see something of Cousin Bert.
Neither Bert nor Nancy could afterward remember exactly why they went. It was partly curiosity, perhaps; partly the strong lure exerted by Dorothy’s casual intimation that “the car” would come for them, and that this particular week-end was “the big dance, at the club.” Bert chanced to have a new suit, and Nancy had a charming blue taffeta that seemed to her good enough for any place or anybody.
The boys were asked, but they did not take them. Ned was almost two now, and Junior past three, and they behaved beautifully with Hannah, the quiet old Danish woman who had been with them since they came back from the woods, the year before. Nancy, full of excited anticipation, packed her suit-case daintily, and fluttered downstairs as happily as a girl, when a hundredth glance at the street showed the waiting motor at last.
Hawkes was the chauffeur. “To Mr. Bradley’s office please, Hawkes,” said Nancy. She could not think of anything friendly to say to him, as they wheeled through the streets. Bert kept them waiting, and once or twice she said “I can’t think what’s delaying Mr. Bradley.” But Hawkes did not answer.