The Breaking Point
The Wheeler house was good, modern and commonplace. Walter Wheeler and
his wife were like the house. Just as here and there among the furniture there
was a fine thing, an antique highboy, a Sheraton sideboard or some old cut
glass, so they had, with a certain mediocrity their own outstanding virtues. They
liked music, believed in the home as the unit of the nation, put happiness before
undue ambition, and had devoted their lives to their children.
For many years their lives had centered about the children. For years they had
held anxious conclave about whooping cough, about small early disobediences,
later about Sunday tennis. They stood united to protect the children against
disease, trouble and eternity.
Now that the children were no longer children, they were sometimes lonely and
still apprehensive. They feared motor car accidents, and Walter Wheeler had
withstood the appeals of Jim for a half dozen years. They feared trains for them,
and journeys, and unhappy marriages, and hid their fears from each other. Their
nightly prayers were "to keep them safe and happy."
But they saw life reaching out and taking them, one by one. They saw them still
as children, but as children determined to bear their own burdens. Jim stayed out
late sometimes, and considered his manhood in question if interrogated. Nina
was married and out of the home, but there loomed before them the possibility of
maternity and its dangers for her. There remained only Elizabeth, and on her
they lavished the care formerly divided among the three.
It was their intention and determination that she should never know trouble. She
was tenderer than the others, more docile and gentle. They saw her, not as a
healthy, normal girl, but as something fragile and very precious.
Nina was different. They had always worried a little about Nina, although they
had never put their anxiety to each other. Nina had always overrun her dress
allowance, although she had never failed to be sweetly penitent about it, and
Nina had always placed an undue emphasis on things. Her bedroom before her
marriage was cluttered with odds and ends, cotillion favors and photographs,
college pennants and small unwise purchases - trophies of the gayety and
conquest which were her life.
And Nina had "come out." It had cost a great deal, and it was not so much to
introduce her to society as to put a family recognition on a fact already
accomplished, for Nina had brought herself out unofficially at sixteen. There had
been the club ballroom, and a great many flowers which withered before they
could be got to the hospital; and new clothing for all the family, and a caterer and
orchestra. After that, for a cold and tumultuous winter Mrs. Wheeler had sat up
with the dowagers night after night until all hours, and the next morning had let