Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/240

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



Isaiah Brewster at the Cove—men who fetched Kennebec ice-cakes to Calcutta and brought new China tea up the Thames in the Sea Glory and the A. J. Stowell two weeks ahead of London’s own East-Indiamen in the days that were days.

In those days the Cape bred women, too. Look at Molly, Andy Brewster’s wife, that’s dead and gone. Then look at the Molly Brewster of to-day. She keeps house for her great-grandfather Andy and his brother Isaiah at the Cove, and what house she keeps! Well, it’s not the way the other Molly did it sixty years ago. Bread baked in Boston, beans baked in Chicago, cake in cardboard from goodness-knows-where! She hasn’t the time, she says.

Hasn’t the time! Those two old men fathom the sad, deep, literal truth of that. She hasn’t the time. She came too late, the sands too nearly run. After her the deluge; so why take pains? What’s the use of forethought, with nothing to come? What’s the use of character, never to be handed down? What’s the use even of appearances? Studying her secretly from beneath their watery lids, they comprehend. That is why, then, she speaks a language of strange, daring, slipshod words; why her gestures are all immoderate and her songs out of tune; why she goes about unabashed in skirts as short and lips as red as a California harlot in the days of gold. That is why she is never at home evenings, darning or quilting under the sitting-room lamp, but off as soon as ever the supper dishes are stacked, with a pat and a fling and a mouth of rebellion, flitting the devil alone knows where in the dark of the country of the old.

“Let us eat, drink, and be merry——” Poor girl!

She hasn’t the time even to care about the company she keeps. This strikes deepest into the hearts of Andy and Isaiah. Their pride is bitter. To think of these two blond vikings of the republic who carried the Stars and Stripes around a wondering world, who came home to fetch good, honest Indies rum ashore under the dark of the Cove like the free men they were, and went up to the meeting-house in their Sabbath beavers to worship the God of Massachusetts as only free men may—to think of them having to sit, shackled to their rockers by the weight of their proud years,