Dishes by Agnes
From The Pictorial Review
Well, I guess that's the last of that! Myra Bray said grimly, and
blinked at the smashed fragments of the cup.
It had been so fragile, that even the sound of its breaking was thin
and evanescent like a note blown, not struck. Now as it lay on the
floor, it seemed dwindled to nothing more than the fine gilt stem that
had been its handle, and irregular pinkish fragments like fallen
Myry Bray! Butterfingers! Myra apostrophized herself, and darted a
quick, sidelong glance in the direction of old Mrs. Bray, her
It had been old Mrs. Bray's cup. This was old Mrs. Bray's house.
When Myra married Marvin Bray it had been with the understanding that
they must make their home with his mother, now that Nellie was gone.
Old Mrs. Bray said nothing. The pink cup had belonged to Nellie;
Marvin's had been blue. They had been old-time Christmas gifts; and
they had never been used. They were too fine to use. All those years
they had stood side by side on an upper shelf of the safe, along with
the majolica pickle-dish, the cracker-jar that Abbie Carter had painted
in a design of wheat-heads, the lemonade-set that George's wife had
presented upon the occasion of a visit, and a collection of little
china souvenirstrays and miniature pitchers with Souvenir of the
Springs inscribed upon them.
At least the saucer's safe, ventured Myra, after a pause. She had
only just come to live with old Mrs. Bray. She wondered how she would
take it. Wellmight's well sweep up the muss!
Old Mrs. Bray spoke. Myra thought she detected a quiver in her
Pick 'em up, her mother-in-law directed, and put 'em here in my
apron. Myra obeyed. Old Mrs. Bray gathered up her apron and went away
to her room. She did not emerge till nearly supper-time.
Once Myra had gone to her door. It was inhospitably closed. Myra
thought she detected a faint chinking sound. Now I wonderthought
Myrais she agrievin' or asulkin'? I'd ruther it was asulkin'an old
pink chiny cup! I'd buy her another, only I s'pose it wouldn't make it
up to herNellie's and all. Mebbe if I hurried and put off my waist, I
could finish up her challis. She don't need the challis, and I do the
waist. But mebbe it might take her mind offlosin' Nellie and then
losin' the cup. I expect that come hard to Mother Bray.
Myra smoothed her hair and put on a fresh afternoon percale. To see
Myra with her thin brown face, her slicked-back black hair which showed
white threads like ravellings, in her afternoon house-dress of gray
percale, one would never have taken her for a bride. Yet Myra had a
very bridal feeling, sitting in her own home, with her own sewing,
instead of running the machine in the shop, as she had done before her
marriage. That it was, in reality, her husband's mother's home, and her
husband's mother's sewing, scarcely altered the case. It was home, not
shop. She had been married in August, when work fell slack. Now it was
October. She had not broken anything until to-day.
Myra sewed and rocked and looked up at the framed portraits of
Marvin and Nellie and Frank as childrenthe girl in queer plaid, and a
locket; the boys in gilt-braided suits. Old and crude as the drawing
was, it had a look of themthat steady, serious look of Marvin which
he had never lost, and Nellie'sbold and managerial. Frank had died.
Poor mother. She had known trouble.
At five, old Mrs. Bray came stiffly out. She had a curious,
secretive air, not in the least mournful nor accusative, as Myra had
feared. Myra held up the dressa soft, gray challis with lavender
pipings. Old Mrs. Bray's eyes widened like a pleased child's.
Want to try it on? suggested Myra.
It ain't done!
To the last hook. She began to assist her mother into the new
Mrs. Bray was a pretty old woman. There was about her an effect of
fragile bloom like that of her old cup. In her gray-and-lavender she
was like a quaint pastel.
There! cried Myra, standing off to view the effect.
I ain't agoin' to take it off! declared old Mrs. Bray suddenly;
and waited for the remonstrance.
Nellie had always said: Why, mother! Of course you'll take it off
right away! Wear your good clothes out at home!
To her surprise, Myra assented. Keep it on, and let Marvin see how
fine you look.
Wun't you need me about supper?
Now you just set and let me get supper alone to-night.
I'll set the table, decided old Mrs. Bray. I guess just laying
plates won't hurt it none.
Myra set about her biscuits. Marvin had to have his hot bread.
Suddenly she heard a little splintering crash, followed by a whimpering
wailMyry! Oh, Myry! I've broke the sasser! The last remnants of
Nellie's saucer, with their pink, fluted edges like ravished petals,
lay spread out at old Mrs. Bray's feet.
Now ain't that just too bad! (I s'pose she was touching it, for old
times' sakeand her trembly old fingers and all, she let it slip.)
Never mind, Mother; you got the blue one yet. And mebbe that saucer can
Her mother with a jealous sweep of old hands, gathered up the
fragments of the broken saucer. I don't want mended dishes, she said
resentfully, and went stiffly away to her room.
That night, when they were alone, Myra told Marvin about Nellie's
cup and saucer. And I just know she's akeeping of the pieces, and
amourning over them, she finished. Such things get to have
associations. I 'most wish it had been your cup that got broke. She's
got you, and Nellie's gone.
Gonewhat's a hundred miles!
I'm afraid she misses Nell.
Now don't you go getting notions in your head. Nell was a master
hand for work, but she didn't keep things up a mite better than
younot so good, to my notion. You're restfuller. Nell couldn't rest
herself nor let anybody else. Nell couldn't atouched them
I try to keep things up as much like Nell as I can. I'd ruther use
white table-cloths myself, but Nell always used the checkered. And my
own chiny set the folks gave mebut I know Mother'd feel strange
without her old white ones. There's lots of pretty chiny in the safe,
but Nell always used it so careful. I've never used a piece. And yet,
just adustin' that pink cup I had to go and drop it! I don't s'pose it
was ever drunk out of.
What's the good, argued Marvin, of having things too fine to
You and me, Marvin, think the same about them things. But Nell and
You're a good woman, Myry.
It pleased Myra to be told that she was good, and that her biscuits
surpassed those of the capable Nell. But such compliments, for all
their practicality and worth, sent no flush to her sallow cheek.
In her woman's magazine, which came to her monthly, lovers (and more
rarely, husbands) were always breathing into the heroine's ear, I love
you. How beautiful you are! or sentiments in that tenor. Marvin had
not told her he loved her. He had asked her seriously and respectfully
to marry him, when it became apparent that the efficient Nell was about
to wed. And he had never told her that she was beautiful. She could not
have believed him if he had.
Two days after the accident to the pink cup, the majolica
pickle-dish was found shattered in front of the safe, when Marvin came
out to start the kitchen fire. No one could account for its being
there. The safe doors were ajar, and they decided that the majolica
dish must have got pushed too near the edge of the shelf, and that a
sudden jar had dislodged it. The safe doors were never remembered to
have been left open before; the majolica dish had always sat well back;
and nothing more jarring than Marvin's step disturbed the habitual
quiet of the house. Still, how else account for it? Mebbe Tom leaped
up and done it, suggested old Mrs. Bray. The sleepy Tom, a handsome
Tiger-stripe, sunk in bodily comfort, seemed to eye her reproachfully.
He had not leaped in years.
Old Mrs. Bray carried away with her the fragments of the majolica
pickle-dish and that afternoon, and other afternoons, she passed in the
solitary privacy of her room.
Still her retirement seemed to work her no ill. From these solitary
vigils she always emerged dressed in her gray-and-lavender. Ordinarily
the ladies Bray wore percale on week day afternoonsfresh ones, but
prints for all that. That had been Nell's way. Although old Mrs. Bray
had a closet hung with good wool dresses, and even one festival silk.
Myra's trousseau had been so simple as scarcely to deserve the name.
She had been married in a neat, dark suit, turned out in the shop where
she had been employed for more than seven years. Myra had been on
skirts for most of the seven years; and her dress had been almost a
uniformskirt and blouse. But she had secretly sewed for herself
another sort of dresshouse-dresses for the afternoon, of inexpensive,
but delicate and light-colored fabrics, made a little fussy. These
she never wore. Old Mrs. Bray never wore fussy clothes; and it had not
been Nell's way. The gray-and-lavender challis had been in the nature
of an experiment. Old Mrs. Bray was plainly pleased; but she rarely
wore it. She said it would make it common.
So the Brays, as in Nellie's régime, continued to wear the common
gray percales, and to eat off the common white crockery. And with a
strange, bewitched pertinacity, the fine, decorative bits of china,
shut away on their upper shelf in the safe continued to get themselves
Once it was one of the glasses of George's wife's lemonade-set.
These glasses had ornate gilt bands about the brim, and painted flowers
upon the side. Taking down the set one day, to show George's wife's
gift to a caller (gifts were never gifts in fee simple in the Bray
household. Always part possession seemed vested in the donor) old Mrs.
Bray let slip one of the glasses. The fragments lay in a path of sun,
struck through and through with light, they seemed to possess a
strange, new iridescence.
Now ain't that too bad! sympathized the caller. Spoils the whole
set. You want to get every bit of that glass up and in the ash-can.
Glass is awful to grind in.
Old Mrs. Bray gathered up the pieces. They sent out strange gleams
like rude gems. Myra and the caller watched sympathetically the eager
abruptness of her departure.
Your mother-in-law is some shaky, observed the caller. She hadn't
ought to go to handle such delicate things.
I expect she won't come out again, Myra said. It always makes
Mother feel bad to break things.
Old Mrs. Bray did not come out again till after the caller had
departed. She had on her gray-and-lavender dress. Always when Mother
breaks a dish seems like she goes and puts on her gray-and-lavender,
thought Myra; but she only said, You look nice in that dress, Mother.
I know I do, returned old Mrs. Bray serenely, but I don't aim to
make it common, Myry.
At holiday time, Nell and her husband came for a visit. Nell
immediately proceeded to take the reins of government. She was a big,
good-looking woman, younger than Myra. She had a large, well-modeled
face with bloomy cheeks, golden brown eyes, fringed thick as daisies,
and crisply undulating waves of dark hair. She disposed of their
greetings in short order, retired to her old room to change into
serviceable work things, and issued her ultimatum.
Now don't go to any fuss, Myry. John and me ain't company. Treat us
like the family. You've changed the roaster, ain't you, Myry? This
ain't near so good a place for it. I've brought you one of my hens,
Motherall dressed and ready. We'll have it for dinner. Now Myry,
don't you go to getting out a white table-cloth. Get one of them
red-checkered ones. I s'pose those are your weddin' disheswell, leave
'em be, now you got them down. But we won't use 'em commonthe old
white ones is plenty good enough. Folks that use their best every day
has got no best. You might get the potatoes on now, Myry.
Let me finish settin' the table, Myry, pleaded old Mrs. Bray. A
moment later there was a crash, Oh, Nellie! Oh, Myry! I didn't go to
do it! My arm breshed it.
Marvin's souvenir pitcher his Aunt Mat give him one Fair time! It
must a' be'n fifteen year old!
I didn't go to do it! quavered old Mrs. Bray.
Who ever heard of such a thing? Of course you didn't do no such
crazy thing! But that don't save its being broke. Herelet me sweep it
Don't you sweep them pieces up! shrilled her mother.
This voice of high command on the part of her little old subservient
mother gave Nell pause. She stood, dust-pan in hand, looking down upon
that stiffly stooping figure garnering into her gathered apron a little
heap of splintered china.
Mother must be getting childish, Nell said to Myra, when old Mrs.
Bray had trotted stiffly away with her spoils.
Myra did not reply. She hoped Nell would not discover that ravished
shelf of prized old china.
WellNell got ye in hand? inquired Nell's husband, John Peebles,
at dinner. The good-natured wink which accompanied the words, the
hearty voice and friendly manner, robbed the words of offense. They
seemed rather a humorous gibe directed against Nell. These two got
along excellently well. There was about John Peebles an effect of
tender strength, re-assuring and at the same time
illuminatingresponsive to weakness, but adamant to imposition. Even
the managerial Nell had not succeeded in piercing that armored side of
himhis 'thus far and no further.'
Awyou! said Nell, adoringly.
I bet Nell's met her boss! grinned Marvin. He don't go so fur as
to beat ye, does he, Nell?
Smarty! returned Nell. Her eyes crinkled up at the corners. She
had met her match, and she knew it and gloried in it. But she didn't
want any sass from the family.
She had none. They submitted without demur. The dish-pan sunned in
the old place. The towels dried along a line of her own stretching.
John and me don't mean to make you any work, she assured them. They
made no work. It seemed there had never been so much leisure.
Myry, inquired Nell, where's that other glass that goes with
George's wife's lemonade-set?
Oh, it must be 'round som'ers, Myra returned vaguely.
Round som'ers! Why ain't they all together? Nell prodded in
Where's my pink gilt cup and saucer Aunt Em gimme one Christmas?
Ain't it there? ventured Myra, with a cowardly shrinking from
confession, not so much on her own account as for old Mrs. Bray. There
was the majolica pickle-dish, the gilt, beflowered lemonade-glass,
Abbie Carter's cracker-jar, certain of the fragile souvenir pin-trays
stacked in a corner of the shelf.
Here's Marvin's blue one. It's funny where them things can be. I
always kept them here together, on this shelf.
They're som'ers, Myra repeated vaguely.
Old Mrs. Bray had sat throughout this conversation, making
buttonholes in a new gray percale. Once, when Nell was back at the
sink, she reached out a wavering, fat old arm, and gave Myra's
apron-string a tug, as a bad child pulls a cat's tail in a sort of
impish humor. Her eyes, blue and shining as a child's saucer, looked
very wise. A little laugh clucked in her throat.
Motheryou feel chilly? You want to keep out of drafts, cautioned
Nellie from the sink.
Never felt more chipper! averred old Mrs. Bray.
She had not spent an afternoon in her room since Nell's arrival.
To-day, however, after dinner, she withdrew with an air of intending to
remain there for some time. She took her buttonholes with her. It was
likely that Nell could not content herself until she had searched every
cupboard and pantry for the missing treasure.
I declareit is the beatin'est thing! Whatever can have become of
them? she apprized Myra. You find much time to read, Myry?
Myra found time to read her woman's magazine from cover to cover, in
the course of the month. Some things she read more than oncethose
frankly impossible stories in which the heroines were always beautiful
and always loved. Myra had never known a heroine; the women of her
acquaintance were neither beautiful nor adored; and were probably quite
comfortably unaware of this lack.
I'm getting notional, Myra accused herself fearfully. The Family
Doctor Book, a learned and ancient tome, confirmed these suspicions. It
treated of this, and related matters, with a large assurance, like a
Funny how long Mother stays in her room! wondered Nell.
Mebbe she's fell asleep. Old people need all the sleep they can
get. It's mostly so broken.
I'm agoing to see! deposed Nell.
Myra had never invaded that withdrawn privacy. But Nell, with her
grenadier step, went swiftly and threw open the door.
What on earth! Mother!
Old Mrs. Bray's voice streamed quavering out, Oh, Nellie! Don't
scold me! Myry!
Somehow Myra was therepast the affronted Nell in the door. In the
instant silence they made a strange tableau.
Old Mrs. Bray in her fine gray-and-lavender gown was seated before
her little wash-hand-stand. The floral pitcher in its floral bowl had
been set to one side on the floor. What covered the towel-protected top
of the stand, was Nellie's looted treasure.
There were the fragments of the pink cup and saucer; the leaf-green
and brown majolica bits that had been the pickle-dish; the iridescent
curved sides of George's wife's lemonade-glass; Aunt Em's shattered
souvenir pitcher; Abbie Carter's cracker-jar with its smashed
wheat-heads. Myra only looked bewilderedly; but on Nell's gaping face
apprehension succeeded stupefaction and dissolved in its turn into a
great brimming tenderness.
Scold you, Mother? Oh, Motherwhat must you think me! (Oh, poor
Motherpoor Mothershe's gone daft!)
I always admired pretty broken bits of chiny, old Mrs. Bray
confessed. But the pitcher was a accidentreely it was, Nellie. I
never went to let that fall. My arm breshed it. But the sasser and the
pickle-dish and George's wife's lemonade-glass and Abbie Carter's
cracker-jarI done them apurpose. And I can't say I regret the
Yes, Mother! Yes, yes! It's all right; I understand. (Myry, don't
you leave her! I thought she was gettin' childish, but Ohto
thinkI'll have John go for Doc Bradley right away. Let 'er amuse
herselfbut don't you leave her alone a minute! Poor Mother! Poor old
Mother! Aplayin' with broken chiny dishes!)
What's Nell awhisperin' to ye? inquired old Mrs. Bray, sharply.
There's nothin' to whisper about as I know. Did ever you see anything
purtier than this pink chiny piece, Myry? It broke so clean, and curved
as a petal. And this here piece of George's wife's lemonade-glassit's
handsome as a brooch. See how the flower come out! Why, Myry, I've set
here and fairly eat off these dishes!
Yes, Mother. But sha'n't we put them up now! Some one might drop
inNell bein' here.
She could not bear that Marvin and John and the doctor should see
this pitiful child's play.
Old Mrs. Bray assented with the utmost good nature. She drew up a
box of lacquer and proceeded to lay her china service carefully and
dextrously away. She set the box quite openly along the shelf beside
her bonnet-box and the snug, little brown round pasteboard roll that
held her little old round muff. Presently they heard steps in the
sitting-room. Some one had dropped inbut it was only Marvin and John
and old Doc Bradley.
Marvin's face held a look of scared apprehension; John's withheld
judgment; Nell was frankly red-eyed. She had been walking fiercely back
and forth in the yard unable to face again that piteous picture.
The only unclouded faces there were Doc Bradley's and old Mrs.
Bray's. She gave him a shrewd look. He returned it in kind. Soo
said old Mrs. Bray, noting their various scrutiny. There was even an
effect of state about her as she settled herself in her special rocker.
But she said, quite simply and conversationally,
Do you want I should tell you about them dishes?
Wellit was thisaway. And understandI don't blame nobuddy. Folks
are different. I always loved pretty dishes, but I never got to use
'em. First on account of you being littleshe eyed Nellie and Marvin
with benignant allowanceand after that, because of Nell always bein'
agen' using things common. She's like her father. He was thataway. He
was a good man, but he 'lowed good things shouldn't be used common. And
then when Myry come with her purty weddin' dishes and all, I'd hoped
she'd be sort o' differentmore like me. But seem like she favored
Nell. But I'd never thought of breakin' them if it hadn't a be'n for
the pink cup. That give me the idee. That very night I broke the sasser
to it. I figured I'd get the use of them dishes some way.
Old Mrs. Bray clucked pleasantly, and resumed.
I'd always wanted to wear one o' my good dresses afternoons, too.
WellMyry made me one. And she was reel good about wantin' me to wear
it common. I had a good man. I've had good children. I've lived a long
life. But two things I wanted, I never hadpretty dishes to use, and
to be dressed up afternoons. Myry makin' me that dress turned my head,
I reckon. And the pink cup finished it.
I take the full blame. It was me done bothbroke the cup and sewed
the dressspoke up Myry. And it's you I favored all along, Mother.
If you knew how I've honed to set the table with my weddin' dishes. And
I could show youI've got some things you've never
Meanin' no offense, Nellieand Marvinyou can't help bein' like
your pa. I guess I'm just a foolish old woman.
We're all like we're made, sounded the oracular accents of Mr.
Peebles. Joke's on you all right, Nell.
I guess I'm it, she admitted cheerfully.
Doc Bradley looked sharply at Myra when she let him out. Perhaps he
noted the pathos of that thin face; those speaking eyes, that seemed to
confess a secret longing.
If you should feel the call, just break a few dishes on your own
account! he advised her. I like to see folks get what they want. If
they want it bad enough, they'll get it. He thought it might be a
dress, perhapssomething pretty. Women in Myry's case have odd
Myry had an odd notion. She wanted to be told that she was beautiful
You little black stringy thing! she told herself fiercely. He's
fond of you. And good to you. He's like his pa; he won't show it
common. And anywaysyou beautiful!
But every month she read, with a new and avid interest, those
far-fetched, extravagant tales of beautiful and beloved women.
During the remainder of Nell's stay, old Mrs. Bray and Myra felt a
certain delicacy about inaugurating the use of the white cloths, the
wedding china, and the pretty bits on the safe-shelf. But when the
Peebles's visit was over, the table achieved a patterned whiteness and
a general festive appearance. Old Mrs. Bray donned the
gray-and-lavender every afternoon, and Myra bloomed out in pink print.
She scarcely ever went abroad now, but for all that, her world was
infinitely widened. Once Marvin, dangling from two spread fingers a
tiny yoke, inquired doubtfully, Do you think it's big enough to go
round his neck?
He was always urging her to have help in, and not to tire herself
out. But curiously, he never noted the pink print any more than if it
had been dull slate. That had not been his pa's way; and it was not his
way. But he was good to her. What more could a woman ask?
After Nell came, he felt aggrievedquite useless and in the way.
The women were always displaying thingsdigging them out from the
bottoms of drawersclouds of soft, white things, with here and there a
rift of color in tassel or tufting.
There came a night when he sat alone. In the beginning, he had tried
to readhe picked up her woman's magazine, eyeing it curiously, that
these silly, floppy sheets should hold, as they did, women's eyes.
There were pictures in italways picturespictured embraces, with
words beneath. How beautiful you are! I love youI love you! How
beautiful you are! Always harping on the same thinglove and beauty.
As if life were a sentimental thing like that!
He flung it down. How could he stay his mind on such stuff, when
Nell, important and managerial, occasionally came out and elbowed
him about in some mysterious search. At such times, old Mrs. Bray, done
up for the night in a highly flowered and mantle-like garment, came
creeping inquiringly in.
Now, Nellyou know what Myry told yeif you was to fergit now
All right, Mother. I won't forget.
You know where to find 'em
Yes, I know where to find 'em.
Now, Nell, I promised Myry
What did you promise Myry? Marvin flared in sudden jealousy. Both
women eyed him, as from a great and unattainable height. Then Nell's
capable back disappeared beyond Myry's door; and his mother's little
old grotesque and woolly figure was swallowed up by the black hall.
Again he took up the magazine. Again looked at the picture. Again,
scarcely seeing them, he read the words. Again he sat; and again Nell
elbowed him importantly, and his mother in her snail-like wrappings,
came creeping in to remind Nell
When Doc Bradley came out, at first he thought the man, sprawled
loosely in the chair, must be asleeptill he lifted his eyes. They
were sleepless and inflamed like a watch-dog's.
Hold on! Wait a minute! Nell's boss now. You don't want to go in
looking that wayyou'd skeer 'im!
What'll I say? inquired Marvin hoarsely; Myry's a good womanshe
's been a good wife to metoo good
Tell 'er something she don't know! Say something fond-like and
You can come in now, granted the lofty Nell.
Somehow, old Mrs. Bray had preceded him. But he never saw her. He
never even saw the managerial Nell. He saw his wife's face, looking so
little and white from out a ruffled lace cap. There were circles of
ruffles about her thin wrists. There was a lace ruffle in the neck of
her gown. For these were Myry's coronation robes; it was about this
adorning that old Mrs. Bray had continuously cautioned Nell. Nell, in
that smug, proprietary manner of hers, had turned back a
blanketenough to show the tiny yoke which he had dangled, and the
neck which it encircled, and the red and wrinkly head on top of that-
Like a well-conned article of catechism, words came to Marvinwords
he could never have got from his pa.
Oh, MyryI love you! How beautiful you are!
A strange cosmetic glowed on Myra's white cheek. Happiness is the
surest beautifier. He might never say it again. It was not likely that
he would. He favored his pa. But she had had her great momenther
beautiful and beloved moment. She smiled drowsily up at old Mrs. Bray,
beaming beneficently above; and remembered, in an odd flash, the pink
china cup. This was her cupfull and running over.
Come on out now, and let her sleep, ordered the dictatorial Nell.
Who'd a' thought, now, Myry had her little vanities? That lace cap
now, and them rufflesfor Marvin! Some folks has the strangest
'Tain't notions! protested old Mrs. Bray.
Oh, yes, it is! And all right, if you feel that waylike you and
your dishes, now.
Myry and me both is powerful set on dishes, exulted old Mrs. Bray.