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A Poor Wise Man

She went on, her steps lagging. She hated going home. When she reached the
little house she did not go in at once. The March night was not cold, and she sat
the step, hoping to see her mother's light go out in the second-story front
windows. But it continued to burn steadily, and at last, with a gesture of despair,
she rose and unlocked the door.
Almost at once she heard footsteps above, and a peevish voice.
"That you, Edie?"
"Yes."
"D'you mind bringing up the chloroform liniment and rubbing my back?"
"I'll bring it, mother."
She found it on the wainscoting in the untidy kitchen. She could hear the faint
scurrying of water beetles over the oilcloth-covered floor, and then silence. She
fancied myriads of tiny, watchful eyes on her, and something crunched under her
foot. She felt like screaming. That new clerk at the store was always talking about
homes. What did he know of squalid city houses, with their insects and rats, their
damp, moldy cellars, their hateful plumbing? A thought struck her. She lighted
the gas and stared around. It was as she had expected. The dishes had not been
washed. They were piled in the sink, and a soiled dish-towel had been thrown
over them.
She lowered the gas and went upstairs. The hardness had, somehow, gone out
of her when she thought of Willy Cameron.
"Back bad again, is it?" she asked.
"It's always bad. But I've got a pain in my left shoulder and down my arm that's
driving me crazy. I couldn't wash the dishes."
"Never mind the dishes. I'm not tired. Now crawl into bed and let me rub you."
Mrs. Boyd complied. She was a small, thin woman in her early fifties, who had
set out to conquer life and had been conquered by it. The hopeless drab of her
days stretched behind her, broken only by the incident of her widowhood, and
stretched ahead hopelessly. She had accepted Dan's going to France resignedly,
with neither protest nor undue anxiety. She had never been very close to Dan,
although she loved him more than she did Edith. She was the sort of woman who
has no fundamental knowledge of men. They had to be fed and mended for, and
they had strange physical wants that made a great deal of trouble in the world.
But mostly they ate and slept and went to work in the morning, and came home
at night smelling of sweat and beer.
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