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The Breadwinner
by [?]

“He has never understood me,” sighs the wife. Her satisfaction in being able to pronounce these damning words is so great, that it drowns the memory of a reply which her husband has given her again and again:

“Do you imagine that your thoughts are so profound that I, a man with a subtle brain, am unable to fathom them? Has it never occurred to you that it may be your shallowness which prevents you from understanding me?”

He sits down in his room, alone. He suffers from remorse, as if he had struck his mother. But she struck the first blow; she has struck him blow after blow, for many years, and never once before has he retaliated.

This coarse, heartless, cynical woman, in whose keeping he confided his whole soul with all its thoughts and emotions, was conscious of his superiority, and therefore she humiliated him, dragged him down, pulled him by the hair, covered him with abuse. Was it a crime that he struck back when she publicly taunted him? Yes–he felt as guilty as if he had murdered his dearest friend.

The twilight of the warm summer night deepens and the moon rises.

The sound of music from the drawing-room floats through his window. He goes into the garden and sits down under a walnut tree. Alone! The chords of the piano blend with the words of the song:

When the veil of night was drawn
And crowded earth, mysterious sea
Became one sweet, enchanted ground
For us, until the starless dawn
Dissolved the failing moon–then we
In one long ecstasy were bound.
Now, I, alone in silence and in pain
Weep for the ache of well-remembered bliss,
For you who never can return again,
For you, my spring time, for your love, your kiss.

He strolls through the garden and looks through the window. There she sits, his living poem, which he has composed for his own delight. She sings with tears in her voice. The ladies on the sofas look at one another significantly.

But behind the laurel bushes on a garden seat two men are sitting, smoking, and chatting. He can hear what they say.

“Nothing but the effect of the cognac.”

“Yes, they say that she drinks.”

“And blame the husband for it.”

“That’s a shame! She took to drinking in Julian’s studio. She was going to be an artist, you know, but she didn’t succeed. When they rejected her picture at the exhibition, she threw herself at the head of this poor devil and married him to hide her defeat.”

“Yes, I know, and made his life a burden until he is but the shadow of his former self. They started with a home of their own in Paris, and he kept two maids for her; still she called herself his servant. Although she was mistress over everything, she insisted that she was but his slave She neglected the house, the servants robbed them right and left, and he saw their home threatened with ruin without being able to move a finger to avert it. She opposed every suggestion he made; if he wanted black, she wanted white. In this way she broke his will and shattered, his nerves. He broke up his home and took her to a boarding-house to save her the trouble of housekeeping and enable her to devote herself entirely to her art. But she won’t touch a brush and goes out all day long with her friend. She has tried to come between him and his work, too, and drive him to drink, but she has not managed it; therefore she hates him, for he is the better of the two.”

“But the husband must be a fool,” remarks the other man.

“He is a fool wherever his wife is concerned, but he is no exception to the rule. They have been married for twelve years and he is still in love with her. The worst of it is that he is a strong man, who commanded the respect of Parliament and Press, is breaking up. I talked to him this morning; he is ill, to say the least.”