Good Sports/War Bride
I SAT in the town-hall and basted red tape round the edge of gray felt slippers.
They are to be worn by a wounded soldier somewhere in France.
I took the half-finished slippers home with me, when I went.
Also a roll of pink-and-white Canton flannel, cut up into pieces ready for me to put together.
I never sewed for any man before.
I live alone in a white house with green blinds on a New England hill-top with a maid-servant and a majestic female cat for company.
Sarah, the servant, might have told me how the pieces went together—she has a grown-up son—but I wouldn't ask her. No.
I closed the door against her. I went into my room and closed the door.
I laid all the pieces out upon my bed, even to the pocket, even to the little red cross that was to be sewed on last.
I was pinning my jacket together, excited to see it grow in my hands, when I heard Flora, the cat, wailing at my closed door.
And a moment after Sarah's flat-footed tread on the stairs, coming to see what was the trouble.
I hid the pieces in my bureau-drawer—'way back. After that I worked for my French soldier only at night—late.
I worked for him by hand—every stitch.
The machine was down-stairs in the sitting-room, and noisy.
It must have been because I was not used to sitting up late, that strange thoughts visited me.
When it's one o'clock, and all the proper town's asleep, one thinks weird things.
I got so I looked forward to those hours from ten to one,
Alone with the pink-and-white Canton flannel, the gray felt slippers, and my thoughts.
My soldier was a big man—long-armed, broad-shouldered, hairy-chested, I somehow liked to think.
Like the man who brings my coal every August, smeared with soot and sweat, deep-voiced, with raucous curses bellowing forth from time to time from out his blackened breast.
Somebody to be afraid of—yes, perhaps—in times of peace—brutish, boisterous. I liked him all the more for that.
(I am so tired of quiet hills, and peaceful streets, white picket fences, waiting gates—)
But wounded, hurt—a creature whom the labor of my hands might soothe, refresh.
To think my fine and careful stitches might some day touch a man like that,
The childish stripe of pink and white—a silly color—wrap itself about him, close and comforting, filled me with pride.
To gaze ahead and see his fumbling fingers feeling in the little pocket I put on last.
Made my cheeks burn, as if he'd found my hand there and held it to his feverish lips.
He could have had it, and more—my lips too—if I knew how.
When the last button was in place and there were no more stitches I could take,
I hung it in my closet. It was beautiful, I thought.
I had never sewed for any man before.
But there it was complete. I had triumphed. Instinct taught me possibly.
I hung it in my closet, among my things, carelessly, as if it was its natural place.
And on the floor beside my long, straight row of tidy shoes I put the gray felt slippers.
My man should not be wounded yet, if I could help it.
As long as I should keep the garment I had labored on through still midnights
Hid here within my closet—I locked the door——
So long my man escaped!
So long my man was hale, making rough jokes with comrades in the trenches, untouched by shells, shrapnel, fever, fire, or gas.
Or so I told myself.
Perhaps I might have lived for months like that, with my secret hidden,
If they hadn't asked me at headquarters if I had completed yet the work they gave me three weeks ago.
Three weeks! Had it been so long? And Sarah never guessed!
I cried over the pink-and-white Canton flannel that last night.
It might have been a real soldier I was sending forth next day.
I kissed the pocket that would lie so near my man's heart, I thought.
"Don't die," I said.
I was not good!
My name is Esther. My mother used to say it meant all things clean and pure and white.
Too bad. Until I sewed for the French soldiers I never knew what longings were.
I am thirty-three.
I left my bundle at headquarters. I took out no more work, though they asked me to.
I went back to my lonely house upon the hill with heavy steps, with heavier heart.
And no one in all that little humdrum town, spread over peaceful hills, a wide sea away from wars,
Guessed that in their midst there lay awake that night, restless, alert,
I put my name and address inside the pink Canton-flannel pocket.
Many of the women do that.
I didn't expect an answer.
And when it came last week, three months after I had left my bundle at headquarters, I wasn't prepared.
My cheeks flamed hot before the mailman, standing on my porch pretty in September with blossoming trumpet-vine.
I went up to my room. The letter was in French. I could not read it—only his name, sweetly written—Jean Beaupré.
I took it to the public library and there with grammar and French lexicon I worked it out, as I had done the flannel pieces.
I made it grow—hid behind a stack of books.
"Dear Lady," the letter said. "The suit is beautiful. I am informed I am to have the honor of entering heaven in it——
"If the good saint forgives my sins and lets me in——
"So, lady, I will thank you when I see you there.
"You will know me by the stripes, pink and white, and all the pretty hand-stitches, lady, and the slippers, a little too large.
"Till we meet in heaven then—good day."
I could feel the hot tears in my eyes, for underneath his name was a message in another hand:
"Monsieur Beaupré died the day this note was written," it told me.
And I longed for the shelter of my own room.
That night on a New England hill-top, a widowed war-bride leaned out of her window framed in flowering trumpet-vine and gazed at the stars.
She was communing with her dead warrior in heaven.