Teresina

Teresina has gone to school. I watched her round black hat, snug blue sweater, scarlet dress, white legs and brown feet, twinkling away up the path in the frosty morning dew, safely escorted by an older black-hatted, blue-sweatered edition of schoolgirlncss, very patronizing and sweet in her rôle of friendly protector.

Teresina will come racing home at noon, full of wisdom: French words shyly attempted, crayoned chefs-d’œuvres, ‘writings’ of incalculable value.

And I shall be so glad — oh, so glad! — to have her back again; to hug her and wash her and feed her, and listen to her complex tales of the big boy who cried and the light-haired boy who pushed her head off his desk when she leaned harmlessly upon it, and the girls who whispered and had to go out and sit on the stairs, and the dog who looked in the window. Teresina has given me five years of gladness; for she is curly and crinkly in body and mind, stubborn and sweet, amazingly good and appallingly naughty. Truly, to send her to school has been my adventure almost more than hers, such adventures being of the privileges of parenthood.

But to-day, after two weeks of school, my own private adventure begins. Today, for the first time in all her five darling demanding years, I am all alone in the house — and the clock just striking ten! For Jennie, the beneficent tyrant of our domestic past, has gone to command another kitchen, and to begin loving another baby just come from the Blue Children, as she has so loyally loved our Teresina.

Even though her departure means baking and brewing and sweeping for me, and many moments of regret for lost comfortings and cossettings — I am all alone in the house!

This morning my new green dishes danced perilously from their suds; the steel wool scratched without pity over pans and kettles; the kitchen floor got a lick and a promise of further sweeping. I sprinkled a basket of clothes against the ironing, and rolled them hard and swiftly in fat bundles; I made beds and dusted one table and two chairs (no more, on my life); and all the time I was hurry-scurrying, joyfully, breathlessly, with my spirit on flightiest tippy-toes, even like a very young person with a wonderful picnic or a wonderful party before her.

For, when all those most necessary good works were done, I would have to myself two hours — two fat morning hours; not the tired contented time after supper, when X and I sit happily by the fire, and find our heads nodding over our books, and a strange need of sleep before the clock strikes nine; but the clear-shining, brisk, notable forenoon!

No dear but insatiable calls for drinks of water, graham crackers, dress-up scarves, pencils, paper, mud-pie spoons; no need to arbitrate between tearful claims, provide ‘tea-parties,’ and deal out rubbers and reproofs. And from the kitchen no urgent or comic problems; explosive announcements that the potatoes are all out, or the ice-man did n’t stop; not even (a thing to be missed afterward, but not to-day in the first flush of adventure) any friendly coaxing at eleven o’clock: ‘I’m almost, dead for the lack of a cup of tea; and if you ’ll come and sit in the kitchen with me, I’ll make you some cinnamon toast.’

Two hours! — And half an hour has already fled while I write this, for sheer comfort in telling how strange and fresh is freedom. — To-night shall I ask X how to disconnect the telephone for those two precious hours? Or shall I trust, as I do to-day, that in some miraculous fashion a thick black mark will strike through our name and number in every telephone book in town, so that all my friends and foes shall turn away from some ominous approach to me, muttering, ‘That’s queer. That’s very queer!’ and I shall go unscathed.

For if people only knew how wonderful it is to be free, surely they would not need me for just two hours!

It would seem easy to say to the people whom I love much and those whom I love even a little, — those who would understand and those who would not, — ‘I am going to keep two hours of five days in the week quite free. I — am — going — to — try — to — write.’

But I can’t say it. The fatal word up there printed itself slowly, shyly, as if I said, ‘I’m going to get very drunk,’ or, ‘I’m going to smuggle diamonds,’ or, ‘I’m going olf with Mrs. Smith’s husband.’

It is very strange. Ever since my little-girlhood , ‘ writing ’ has been my most intimate and easy escape from the persistences of life. And lately, when I have been so happy that often the wings of my joy seem ready to burst some inward fetter and flash out living and shining, ‘writing’ has been my only way of setting free a thousandth part of that pulsing joy. The public worth of what I write is of no such matter as the doing of it. It is not needful that a private art should make repayment in cash or fame, for its possessor to love it and to require its practice.

But it is strange, as I said, that with all these years of certainty about, my desire to ‘write,’ I have never felt that anybody else, or many other bodies, would truly understand the place it holds in my life. I could say, ‘I must clean house,’ or ‘I must go to a committee meeting’; but to say, save to those very few who know me better than I know myself, ‘ I must write, has seemed foolish and vain.

It is as if my assumption of needing time to write would strike my hearers as an ill-judged remark of my older brother’s struck us long ago. He, scribbling at some great, work destined for a St. Nicholas contest, put us younger roisterers into a mood of derisiveness with his reproof. ‘Hush, children! Don’t make such a row! I’m writing for the Press!’

Will not my announcement of a literary retreat bring me under the same condemnation? Will people not, even while they applaud my worthy purpose, wonder a little: ‘But will she leave all her housework till afternoon? Will her family get enough to eat? Will she give up the committees and things she used to belong to? Can’t we ever call her up between ten and twelve?’ And, worst of all, stealthily, won’t they say, ‘I do wonder if the kind of thing she writes is worth all that fuss’?

No, I really think they would not say any of those things. Most of them would understand, if I dared to pursue my course of innocent folly.

But the fact remains that only to the Contributors’ Club can I speak with perfect frankness. For I know that there must be hundreds of Atlantic-reading women who feel as I do about some pet art or handicraft; who steal time for it, sneakingly, apologetically; who will not love their fathers and husbands and children and neighbors any the less for a restrained practice of it.

They will understand without ever needing to measure up any personal knowledge of me against any possible failure or achievement.

They will know how I feel this October morning, when Teresina has gone dancing to school, and the house sits quiet by its sunny meadow, and the autumn crickets purr in the yellow garden.

They will know why I shall not cut off my telephone or turn the key in my door, and yet, why I must needs run so precipitately to my desk, sweep aside bills and letters, and scratch off all this folly of confession.

It is half-past eleven: three quarters of an hour more before the white legs and brown feet trot up the brick walk, and the curly head rubs against my chin in greeting. Perhaps there is even time to copy some of this on the typewriter.

What do I care whether the Atlantic will accept this or not? Have I not had an hour and a half of perfect, undisturbed, secret, old-fashioned scribbling?

And when X reads it to-night, I thank the Lord that he will only chuckle, and will announce in no uncertain voice, —

‘I’ll attend to that telephone business to-morrow morning, first thing.’

I shall not let him do it, of course. But, just the same, thank the Lord!