The Lady and Sada San
ON THE HIGH SEAS. June, 1911.
You once told me, before you went to Italy, that after having been my intimate relative all these years, you had drawn a red line through the word surprise. Restore the abused thing to its own at once. You will need it when the end of this letter is reached. I have left Kentucky after nine years of stay-at-home happiness, and once again I am on my way to Japan—this time in wifely disobedience to Jack’s wishes.
What do you think that same Jack has “gone and done”! Of course he is right. That is the provoking part of Jack; it always turns out that he is in the right. Two months ago he went to some place in China which, from its ungodly name, should be in the furthermost parts of a wilderness. Perhaps you have snatched enough time from guarding the kiddies from a premature end in Como to read a headline or so in the home papers. If by some wonderful chance, between baby prattle, bumps and measles, they have given you a moment’s respite, then you know that the Government has grown decidedly restless for fear the energetic and enterprising bubonic or pneumonic germ might take passage on some of the ships from the Orient. So it is fortifying against invasion. The Government, knowing Jack’s indomitable determination to learn everything knowable about the private life and character of a given germ, asked him to join several other men it is sending out to get information, provided of course the germ doesn’t get them first.
Jack read me the official-looking document one night between puffs of his after-dinner pipe.
Another surprise awaits you. For once in my life I had nothing to say. Possibly it is just as well for the good of the cause that the honorable writer of the letter could not see how my thoughts looked.
I glanced about our little den, aglow with soft lights; everything in it seemed to smile. Well, as you know it, Mate, I do not believe even you realize the blissfulness of the hours of quiet comradeship we have spent there. With the great know-it-all old world shut out, for joyful years we have dwelt together in a home-made paradise. And yet it seemed just then as if I were dwelling in a home-made Other Place.
The difference in the speed of time depends on whether love is your guest or not.
The thought of the briefest interruption to my content made me feel like cold storage. A break in happiness is sometimes hard to mend. The blossom does not return to the tree after the storm, no matter how beautiful the sunshine; and the awful fear of the faintest echo of past sorrow made my heart as numb as a snowball. To the old terror of loneliness was added fear for Jack’s safety. But I did not do what you naturally would prophesy. After seeing the look on Jack’s face I changed my mind, and my protest was the silent kind that says so much. It was lost! Already Jack had gone into one of his trances, as he does whenever there is a possibility of bearding a brand-new microbe in its den, whether it is in his own country or one beyond the seas. In body he was in a padded chair with all the comforts of home and a charming wife within speaking distance. In spirit he was in dust-laden China, joyfully following the trail of the wandering germ. Later on, when Jack came to, we talked it over. I truly remembered your warnings on the danger of impetuosity; for I choked off every hasty word and gave my consent for Jack to go. Then I cried half the night because I had.
We both know that long ago Jack headed for the topmost rung of a very tall scientific ladder. Sometimes my enthusiasm as chief booster and encourager has failed, as when it meant absence and risk. Though I have known women who specialized in renunciation, till they were the only happy people in the neighborhood, its charms have never lured me into any violent sacrifice. Here was my chance and I firmly refused to be the millstone to ornament Jack’s neck.
You might know, Mate? I was hoping all the time that he would find it quite impossible to leave such a nice biddable wife at home. But I learn something new about Jack every day. After rather heated discussion it was decided that I should stay in the little home. That is, the heat and the discussion was all on my side. The decision lay in the set of Jack’s mouth, despite the tenderness in his eyes. He thought the risks of the journey too great for me; the hardships of the rough life too much. Dear me! Will men never learn that hardship and risk are double cousins to loneliness, and not even related to love by marriage?
But just as well paint on water as to argue with a scientist when he has reached a conclusion.
Besides, said Jack, the fatherly Government has no intention that petticoats, even hobbled ones, should be flitting around while the habits and the methods of the busy insect were being examined through a microscope or a telescope. The choice of instrument depending, of course, upon the activity of the bug.
Black Charity was to be my chief-of-police and comforter-in-general. Parties—house, card and otherwise—were to be my diversion, and I was to make any little trips I cared for. Well, that ‘s just what I am doing. Of course, there might be a difference of opinion as to whether a journey from Kentucky to Japan is a little trip.
I am held by a vague uneasiness today. Possibly it ‘s because I am not certain as to Jack’s attitude, when he learns through my letter, which is sailing along with me, that I am going to Japan to be as near him as possible. I hope he will appreciate my thoughtfulness in saving him all the bother of saying no. Or it might be that my slightly dampened spirits come from the discussion I am still having with myself whether it ‘s the part of a dutiful wife to present herself a wiggling sacrifice to science, or whether science should attend to its own business and lead not into temptation the scientifically inclined heads of peaceful households.
You ‘ll say the decision of what was best lay with Jack. Honey, there ‘s the error of your mortal mind! In a question like that my spouse is as one-sided as a Civil War veteran. Say germ-hunt to Jack and it ‘s like dangling a gaudy fly before a hungry carp.
I saw Jack off at the station, and went hack to the little house. Charity had sent the cook home and with her own hands served all the beloved dainties of my long-ago childhood, trying to coax me into forgetfulness. As you remember, Mate, dinner has always been the happiest hour of the day in our small domain. Now? Well, everything was just the same. The only difference was Jack. And the half circle of bare tablecloth opposite me was about as cheerful as a snowy afternoon at the North Pole. I wandered around the house for awhile, but every time I turned a corner there was a memory waiting to greet me. Now the merriest of them seemed to be covered with a chilly shadow, and every one was pale and ghostly. All night I lay awake, playing at the old game of mental solitaire and keeping tryst with the wind which seemed to tap with unseen fingers at my window and sigh,
“Then let come what come may
. . . . . .
I shall have had my day.”
Is it possible, Mate, that my glorious day, which I thought had barely tipped the hour of noon, is already lengthening into the still shadows of evening?
It was foolish but, for the small comfort I got out of it, I turned on the light and looked inside my wedding-ring. Time has worn it a bit but the letters which spell “My Lady of the Decoration,” spelled again the old-time thrill into my heart.
What ‘s the use of tying your heartstrings around a man, and then have ambition slip the knot and leave you all a-quiver?
Far be it from me to stand in Jack’s way if germ-stalking is necessary to his success. Just the same, I could have spent profitable moments reading the burial service over every microbe, home-grown and foreign.
Really, Mate, I ‘ve conscientiously tried every plan Jack proposed and a few of my own. It was no use. That day-after-Christmas feeling promptly suppressed any effort towards contentment.
At first there was a certain exhilaration in catching pace with the gay whirl which for so long had been passed by for homier things. You will remember there was a time when the pace of that same whirl was never swift enough for me; but my taste for it now was gone, and it was like trying to do a two-step to a funeral march. For once in my life I knew the real meaning of that poor old worn-to-a-frazzle call of the East, for now the’ dominant note was the call of love.
I heard it above the clink of the teacups. It was in the swish of every silk petticoat. If I went to the theater, church or concert, the call of that germ-ridden spot of the unholy name beat into my brain with the persistency of a tom-tom on a Chinese holiday.
Say what you will, Mate, it once took all my courage to leave those
I loved best and go to far-away Japan. Now it required more than I
could dig up to stay—with the best on the other side of the
The struggle was easy and swift. The tom-tom won and I am on my way to be next-door neighbor to Jack. Those whom it concerned here were away from home, so I told no one good-by, thus saving everybody so much wasted advice. If there were a tax on advice the necessities of life would not come so high. Charity followed me to the train, protesting to the last that “Marse Jack gwine doubt her velocity when she tell him de truf bout her lady going a-gaddin’ off by herse’f and payin’ no mind to her ole mammy’s prosterations.” I asked her to come with me as maid. She refused; said her church was to have an ice-cream sociable and she had “to fry de fish.” This letter will find you joyfully busy with the babies and the “only man.” Blest woman that you are.
But I know you. I have a feeling that you have a few remarks to make. So hurry up. Let us get it off our minds. Then I can better tell you what I am doing. Something is going to happen. It usually does when I am around. I have been asked to chaperone a young girl whose face and name spell romance. If I were seeking occupation here is the opportunity knocking my door into splinters.
Categories: English Literature