Floyd Dell

Why Mona Smiled

Published: The Masses, June, 1914.
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org in 2000.

"I know what I'm talking about," said Sudberg. "I was married once. For a whole year. Then I busted it up."

I had met Sudberg in the restaurant at noon. Sudberg is a big blond Norwegian, and a painter. After luncheon he talked.

"If you're just an ordinary human male," he said, "it's all right for you to spend your time playing with women, working for them, taking care of them and their children. Somebody has got to do it! But the artist has something more important to do.

"The artist is different. Women ought to leave him alone, and pick out some ordinary human male to play with and to exploit. But they can't leave the artist alone. Any sort of distinction attracts women. So they capture the poor devil of an artist, and proceed to kill everything in him that attracted them.

"I used to hate my wife–I called her a vampire. I've got over that now. I realize that she was everything that was sweet and lovely. But she was a woman.... I couldn't be a lover and a husband and a permanent companion to a woman–and be an artist too.

"Not that I really blame a woman for being a vampire. I've got no use for the sort of women who try to be 'independent.' A woman simply must demand love and support and permanency, and everything else that it uses up a man's life to give." So said Sudberg; and that evening, in that same restaurant, at the same table, I sat at dinner with Paul Ferens. Ferens is a middle-aged young dramatic critic, and the author of a successful comedy.

"There's nothing like having a wife to make a man do his best," said Ferens. "You hear people talk about marriage spoiling an artist. All rot! I've seen young men with talent waste themselves in a lonely struggle. There's nothing to it. The only thing is for the artist to have a wife.

"I know what I am talking about"–that magic phrase! "If it hadn't been for my wife I should never have been where I am now. The fact is, an artist's job is too big for one person to tackle. It takes two.

"And a woman loves nothing so much as to help some man do what he wants to do. She will give up her own plans any time, to carry burdens for him. Why, a year ago, when typewriter's bills were a serious matter, my wife learned to use the machine, and copied my manuscripts–that in addition to running the house and making everything comfortable for me.

"The line in my play that got the biggest laugh–she fished that out of the waste-basket, where I had thrown it when I was so tired I didn't know what I was doing–she saved it and copied it out for me, along with a dozen other discarded scraps, on the chance that it might be of value.

"That's what women are like–real women. They are happiest in helping a man."

"The squaw theory ..." I suggested.

"Call it what you like," said Ferens, looking around for the waiter. "I don't care. My wife is a good squaw, and it makes her happy."

Presently it was time for Ferens to go to the theatre. His wife wasn't with him, he conscientiously explained, because it was the maid's evening off, and she had to stay at home and look after the baby. Did I want to come along?

No, I didn't. I had another idea, which I didn't explain to Ferens. It was an idea that pleased me. As soon as Ferens had left, I went to the telephone, and half an hour later I was calling on Mrs. Paul Ferens in her apartment uptown. She was glad to see me.

"This is the first time you've ever been here," she said reproachfully. "Just because you were once in love with me, is that any reason you should avoid me forever after?"

"Mona," I said, "I've just been talking to both your husbands to-day."

"What!" she said. "Did you see Olaf! What is he doing?"

"When I saw him, he was talking to me about you."

Did he say anything particularly nasty about me?"

"He said you were everything that was sweet and lovely."

"Didn't he say I was a vampire?"

"Yes, he did. But you mustn't mind that, Mona."

"Oh, I don't," said Mona. "I know his theory about women. I ought to! What else did he say?"

"You know what he would say. He warned me against women. But what I want to know is this: Mona, were you a vampire?"

Mona shrugged her shoulders. "He insisted on my making him very unhappy, if that's what you want to know. He wouldn't let me work with him, and so I suppose I took up more of his time than I ought in trying to get him to play with me. I did want to share some of his life. What's the use of being married if you don't?"

"And then there's another thing I want to know. Mona, are you a squaw?"

"A squaw ! ... Did Paul say I was a squaw?" Her eyes flashed.

"No, no! I supplied the word myself. Paul said you loved to help."

"Well, that's one way of having some fun together. I do like to help. But if Paul thinks I like to copy manuscript any more than he does, he's mistaken. But that's all there is....Yes, I suppose I am a squaw...."

"Ah !" I said. "Now there's just one thing more I would like to know. What would you have been if you had married me: a vampire? or a squaw?"

Mona sat silent for a moment. A smile, ambiguous, teasing, curiously reminiscent, deepened upon her lips. At last she spoke slowly:

"It would all have depended.... But there's one thing I wouldn't have had a chance to be, no matter whom I married...."

"And what," I asked, "wouldn't you have had a chance to be?"

"Myself," said Mona.