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Title: Miss Lulu Bett
Author: Gale, Zona, 1874-1938
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Miss Lulu Bett" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



MISS LULU BETT


By ZONA GALE


1921



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

  I. APRIL

 II. MAY

III. JUNE

 IV. JULY

  V. AUGUST

 VI. SEPTEMBER



I


APRIL

The Deacons were at supper. In the middle of the table was a small,
appealing tulip plant, looking as anything would look whose sun was a
gas jet. This gas jet was high above the table and flared, with a sound.

"Better turn down the gas jest a little," Mr. Deacon said, and stretched
up to do so. He made this joke almost every night. He seldom spoke as a
man speaks who has something to say, but as a man who makes something to
say.

"Well, what have we on the festive board to-night?" he questioned,
eyeing it. "Festive" was his favourite adjective. "Beautiful," too. In
October he might be heard asking: "Where's my beautiful fall coat?"

"We have creamed salmon," replied Mrs. Deacon gently. "On toast," she
added, with a scrupulous regard for the whole truth. Why she should say
this so gently no one can tell. She says everything gently. Her "Could
you leave me another bottle of milk this morning?" would wring a
milkman's heart.

"Well, now, let us see," said Mr. Deacon, and attacked the principal
dish benignly. "_Let_ us see," he added, as he served.

"I don't want any," said Monona.

The child Monona was seated upon a book and a cushion, so that her
little triangle of nose rose adultly above her plate. Her remark
produced precisely the effect for which she had passionately hoped.

"_What's_ this?" cried Mr. Deacon. "_No_ salmon?"

"No," said Monona, inflected up, chin pertly pointed. She felt her
power, discarded her "sir."

"Oh now, Pet!" from Mrs. Deacon, on three notes. "You liked it before."

"I don't want any," said Monona, in precisely her original tone.

"Just a little? A very little?" Mr. Deacon persuaded, spoon dripping;

The child Monona made her lips thin and straight and shook her head
until her straight hair flapped in her eyes on either side. Mr. Deacon's
eyes anxiously consulted his wife's eyes. What is this? Their progeny
will not eat? What can be supplied?

"Some bread and milk!" cried Mrs. Deacon brightly, exploding on "bread."
One wondered how she thought of it.

"No," said Monona, inflection up, chin the same. She was affecting
indifference to, this scene, in which her soul delighted. She twisted
her head, bit her lips unconcernedly, and turned her eyes to the remote.

There emerged from the fringe of things, where she perpetually hovered,
Mrs. Deacon's older sister, Lulu Bett, who was "making her home with
us." And that was precisely the case. _They_ were not making her a
home, goodness knows. Lulu was the family beast of burden.

"Can't I make her a little milk toast?" she asked Mrs. Deacon.

Mrs. Deacon hesitated, not with compunction at accepting Lulu's offer,
not diplomatically to lure Monona. But she hesitated habitually, by
nature, as another is by nature vivacious or brunette.

"Yes!" shouted the child Monona.

The tension relaxed. Mrs. Deacon assented. Lulu went to the kitchen. Mr.
Deacon served on. Something of this scene was enacted every day. For
Monona the drama never lost its zest. It never occurred to the others to
let her sit without eating, once, as a cure-all. The Deacons were
devoted parents and the child Monona was delicate. She had a white,
grave face, white hair, white eyebrows, white lashes. She was sullen,
anaemic. They let her wear rings. She "toed in." The poor child was the
late birth of a late marriage and the principal joy which she had
provided them thus far was the pleased reflection that they had produced
her at all.

"Where's your mother, Ina?" Mr. Deacon inquired. "Isn't she coming to
her supper?"

"Tantrim," said Mrs. Deacon, softly.

"Oh, ho," said he, and said no more.

The temper of Mrs. Bett, who also lived with them, had days of high
vibration when she absented herself from the table as a kind of
self-indulgence, and no one could persuade her to food. "Tantrims," they
called these occasions.

"Baked potatoes," said Mr. Deacon. "That's good--that's good. The baked
potato contains more nourishment than potatoes prepared in any other
way. The nourishment is next to the skin. Roasting retains it."

"That's what I always think," said his wife pleasantly.

For fifteen years they had agreed about this.

They ate, in the indecent silence of first savouring food. A delicate
crunching of crust, an odour of baked-potato shells, the slip and touch
of the silver.

"Num, num, nummy-num!" sang the child Monona loudly, and was hushed by
both parents in simultaneous exclamation which rivalled this lyric
outburst. They were alone at table. Di, daughter of a wife early lost to
Mr. Deacon, was not there. Di was hardly ever there. She was at that
age. That age, in Warbleton.

A clock struck the half hour.

"It's curious," Mr. Deacon observed, "how that clock loses. It must be
fully quarter to." He consulted his watch. "It is quarter to!" he
exclaimed with satisfaction. "I'm pretty good at guessing time."

"I've noticed that!" cried his Ina.

"Last night, it was only twenty-three to, when the half hour struck," he
reminded her.

"Twenty-one, I thought." She was tentative, regarded him with arched
eyebrows, mastication suspended.

This point was never to be settled. The colloquy was interrupted by the
child Monona, whining for her toast. And the doorbell rang.

"Dear me!" said Mr. Deacon. "What can anybody be thinking of to call
just at meal-time?"

He trod the hall, flung open the street door. Mrs. Deacon listened.
Lulu, coming in with the toast, was warned to silence by an uplifted
finger. She deposited the toast, tiptoed to her chair. A withered baked
potato and cold creamed salmon were on her plate. The child Monona ate
with shocking appreciation. Nothing could be made of the voices in the
hall. But Mrs. Bett's door was heard softly to unlatch. She, too, was
listening.

A ripple of excitement was caused in the dining-room when Mr. Deacon was
divined to usher some one to the parlour. Mr. Deacon would speak with
this visitor in a few moments, and now returned to his table. It was
notable how slight a thing would give him a sense of self-importance.
Now he felt himself a man of affairs, could not even have a quiet supper
with his family without the outside world demanding him. He waved his
hand to indicate it was nothing which they would know anything about,
resumed his seat, served himself to a second spoon of salmon and
remarked, "More roast duck, anybody?" in a loud voice and with a slow
wink at his wife. That lady at first looked blank, as she always did in
the presence of any humour couched with the least indirection, and then
drew back her chin and caught her lower lip in her gold-filled teeth.
This was her conjugal rebuking.

Swedenborg always uses "conjugial." And really this sounds more married.
It should be used with reference to the Deacons. No one was ever more
married than they--at least than Mr. Deacon. He made little conjugal
jokes in the presence of Lulu who, now completely unnerved by the habit,
suspected them where they did not exist, feared lurking _entendre_ in
the most innocent comments, and became more tense every hour of her
life.

And now the eye of the master of the house fell for the first time upon
the yellow tulip in the centre of his table.

"Well, _well_!" he said. "What's this?"

Ina Deacon produced, fleetly, an unlooked-for dimple.

"Have you been buying flowers?" the master inquired.

"Ask Lulu," said Mrs. Deacon.

He turned his attention full upon Lulu.

"Suitors?" he inquired, and his lips left their places to form a sort of
ruff about the word.

Lulu flushed, and her eyes and their very brows appealed.

"It was a quarter," she said. "There'll be five flowers."

"You _bought_ it?"

"Yes. There'll be five--that's a nickel apiece."

His tone was as methodical as if he had been talking about the bread.

"Yet we give you a home on the supposition that you have no money to
spend, even for the necessities."

His voice, without resonance, cleft air, thought, spirit, and even
flesh.

Mrs. Deacon, indeterminately feeling her guilt in having let loose the
dogs of her husband upon Lulu, interposed: "Well, but, Herbert--Lulu
isn't strong enough to work. What's the use...."

She dwindled. For years the fiction had been sustained that Lulu, the
family beast of burden, was not strong enough to work anywhere else.

"The justice business--" said Dwight Herbert Deacon--he was a justice of
the peace--"and the dental profession--" he was also a dentist--"do not
warrant the purchase of spring flowers in my home."

"Well, but, Herbert--" It was his wife again.

"No more," he cried briefly, with a slight bend of his head. "Lulu
meant no harm," he added, and smiled at Lulu.

There was a moment's silence into which Monona injected a loud "Num,
num, num-my-num," as if she were the burden of an Elizabethan lyric. She
seemed to close the incident. But the burden was cut off untimely. There
was, her father reminded her portentously, company in the parlour.

"When the bell rang, I was so afraid something had happened to Di," said
Ina sighing.

"Let's see," said Di's father. "Where is little daughter to-night?"

He must have known that she was at Jenny Plow's at a tea party, for at
noon they had talked of nothing else; but this was his way. And Ina
played his game, always. She informed him, dutifully.

"Oh, _ho_," said he, absently. How could he be expected to keep his mind
on these domestic trifles.

"We told you that this noon," said Lulu.

He frowned, disregarded her. Lulu had no delicacy.

"How much is salmon the can now?" he inquired abruptly--this was one of
his forms of speech, the can, the pound, the cord.

His partner supplied this information with admirable promptness. Large
size, small size, present price, former price--she had them all.

"Dear me," said Mr. Deacon. "That is very nearly salmoney, isn't it?"

"Herbert!" his Ina admonished, in gentle, gentle reproach. Mr. Deacon
punned, organically. In talk he often fell silent and then asked some
question, schemed to permit his vice to flourish. Mrs. Deacon's return
was always automatic: "_Her_bert!"

"Whose Bert?" he said to this. "I thought I was your Bert."

She shook her little head. "You are a case," she told him. He beamed
upon her. It was his intention to be a case.

Lulu ventured in upon this pleasantry, and cleared her throat. She was
not hoarse, but she was always clearing her throat.

"The butter is about all gone," she observed. "Shall I wait for the
butter-woman or get some creamery?"

Mr. Deacon now felt his little jocularities lost before a wall of the
matter of fact. He was not pleased. He saw himself as the light of his
home, bringer of brightness, lightener of dull hours. It was a pretty
rôle. He insisted upon it. To maintain it intact, it was necessary to
turn upon their sister with concentrated irritation.

"Kindly settle these matters without bringing them to my attention at
meal-time," he said icily.

Lulu flushed and was silent. She was an olive woman, once handsome, now
with flat, bluish shadows under her wistful eyes. And if only she would
look at her brother Herbert and say something. But she looked in her
plate.

"I want some honey," shouted the child, Monona.

"There isn't any, Pet," said Lulu.

"I want some," said Monona, eyeing her stonily. But she found that her
hair-ribbon could be pulled forward to meet her lips, and she embarked
on the biting of an end. Lulu departed for some sauce and cake. It was
apple sauce. Mr. Deacon remarked that the apples were almost as good as
if he had stolen them. He was giving the impression that he was an
irrepressible fellow. He was eating very slowly. It added pleasantly to
his sense of importance to feel that some one, there in the parlour, was
waiting his motion.

At length they rose. Monona flung herself upon her father. He put her
aside firmly, every inch the father. No, no. Father was occupied now.
Mrs. Deacon coaxed her away. Monona encircled her mother's waist, lifted
her own feet from the floor and hung upon her. "She's such an active
child," Lulu ventured brightly.

"Not unduly active, I think," her brother-in-law observed.

He turned upon Lulu his bright smile, lifted his eyebrows, dropped his
lids, stood for a moment contemplating the yellow tulip, and so left the
room.

Lulu cleared the table. Mrs. Deacon essayed to wind the clock. Well now.
Did Herbert say it was twenty-three to-night when it struck the half
hour and twenty-one last night, or twenty-one to-night and last night
twenty-three? She talked of it as they cleared the table, but Lulu did
not talk.

"Can't you remember?" Mrs. Deacon said at last. "I should think you
might be useful."

Lulu was lifting the yellow tulip to set it on the sill. She changed her
mind. She took the plant to the wood-shed and tumbled it with force upon
the chip-pile.

The dining-room table was laid for breakfast. The two women brought
their work and sat there. The child Monona hung miserably about,
watching the clock. Right or wrong, she was put to bed by it. She had
eight minutes more--seven--six--five--

Lulu laid down her sewing and left the room. She went to the wood-shed,
groped about in the dark, found the stalk of the one tulip flower in its
heap on the chip-pile. The tulip she fastened in her gown on her flat
chest.

Outside were to be seen the early stars. It is said that if our sun were
as near to Arcturus as we are near to our sun, the great Arcturus would
burn our sun to nothingness.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the Deacons' parlour sat Bobby Larkin, eighteen. He was in pain all
over. He was come on an errand which civilisation has contrived to make
an ordeal.

Before him on the table stood a photograph of Diana Deacon, also
eighteen. He hated her with passion. At school she mocked him, aped
him, whispered about him, tortured him. For two years he had hated her.
Nights he fell asleep planning to build a great house and engage her as
its servant.

Yet, as he waited, he could not keep his eyes from this photograph. It
was Di at her curliest, at her fluffiest, Di conscious of her bracelet,
Di smiling. Bobby gazed, his basic aversion to her hard-pressed by a
most reluctant pleasure. He hoped that he would not see her, and he
listened for her voice.

Mr. Deacon descended upon him with an air carried from his supper hour,
bland, dispensing. Well! Let us have it. "What did you wish to see me
about?"--with a use of the past tense as connoting something of
indirection and hence of delicacy--a nicety customary, yet unconscious.
Bobby had arrived in his best clothes and with an air of such formality
that Mr. Deacon had instinctively suspected him of wanting to join the
church, and, to treat the time with due solemnity, had put him in the
parlour until he could attend at leisure.

Confronted thus by Di's father, the speech which Bobby had planned
deserted him.

"I thought if you would give me a job," he said defencelessly.

"So that's it!" Mr. Deacon, who always awaited but a touch to be either
irritable or facetious, inclined now to be facetious. "Filling teeth?"
he would know. "Marrying folks, then?" Assistant justice or assistant
dentist--which?

Bobby blushed. No, no, but in that big building of Mr. Deacon's where
his office was, wasn't there something ... It faded from him, sounded
ridiculous. Of course there was nothing. He saw it now.

There was nothing. Mr. Deacon confirmed him. But Mr. Deacon had an idea.
Hold on, he said--hold on. The grass. Would Bobby consider taking charge
of the grass? Though Mr. Deacon was of the type which cuts its own
grass and glories in its vigour and its energy, yet in the time after
that which he called "dental hours" Mr. Deacon wished to work in his
garden. His grass, growing in late April rains, would need attention
early next month ... he owned two lots--"of course property _is_ a
burden." If Bobby would care to keep the grass down and raked ... Bobby
would care, accepted this business opportunity, figures and all, thanked
Mr. Deacon with earnestness. Bobby's aversion to Di, it seemed, should
not stand in the way of his advancement.

"Then that is checked off," said Mr. Deacon heartily.

Bobby wavered toward the door, emerged on the porch, and ran almost upon
Di returning from her tea-party at Jenny Plow's.

"Oh, Bobby! You came to see me?"

She was as fluffy, as curly, as smiling as her picture. She was carrying
pink, gauzy favours and a spear of flowers. Undeniably in her voice
there was pleasure. Her glance was startled but already complacent. She
paused on the steps, a lovely figure.

But one would say that nothing but the truth dwelt in Bobby.

"Oh, hullo," said he. "No. I came to see your father."

He marched by her. His hair stuck up at the back. His coat was hunched
about his shoulders. His insufficient nose, abundant, loose-lipped mouth
and brown eyes were completely expressionless. He marched by her without
a glance.

She flushed with vexation. Mr. Deacon, as one would expect, laughed
loudly, took the situation in his elephantine grasp and pawed at it.

"Mamma! Mamma! What do you s'pose? Di thought she had a beau----"

"Oh, papa!" said Di. "Why, I just hate Bobby Larkin and the whole
_school_ knows it."

Mr. Deacon returned to the dining-room, humming in his throat. He
entered upon a pretty scene.

His Ina was darning. Four minutes of grace remaining to the child
Monona, she was spinning on one toe with some Bacchanalian idea of
making the most of the present. Di dominated, her ruffles, her blue
hose, her bracelet, her ring.

"Oh, and mamma," she said, "the sweetest party and the dearest supper
and the darlingest decorations and the gorgeousest----"

"Grammar, grammar," spoke Dwight Herbert Deacon. He was not sure what he
meant, but the good fellow felt some violence done somewhere or other.

"Well," said Di positively, "they _were_. Papa, see my favour."

She showed him a sugar dove, and he clucked at it.

Ina glanced at them fondly, her face assuming its loveliest light. She
was often ridiculous, but always she was the happy wife and mother, and
her rôle reduced her individual absurdities at least to its own.

The door to the bedroom now opened and Mrs. Bett appeared.

"Well, mother!" cried Herbert, the "well" curving like an arm, the
"mother" descending like a brisk slap. "Hungry _now?_"

Mrs. Bett was hungry now. She had emerged intending to pass through the
room without speaking and find food in the pantry. By obscure processes
her son-in-law's tone inhibited all this.

"No," she said. "I'm not hungry."

Now that she was there, she seemed uncertain what to do. She looked from
one to another a bit hopelessly, somehow foiled in her dignity. She
brushed at her skirt, the veins of her long, wrinkled hands catching an
intenser blue from the dark cloth. She put her hair behind her ears.

"We put a potato in the oven for you," said Ina. She had never learned
quite how to treat these periodic refusals of her mother to eat, but
she never had ceased to resent them.

"No, thank you," said Mrs. Bett. Evidently she rather enjoyed the
situation, creating for herself a spot-light much in the manner of
Monona.

"Mother," said Lulu, "let me make you some toast and tea."

Mrs. Bett turned her gentle, bloodless face toward her daughter, and her
eyes warmed.

"After a little, maybe," she said. "I think I'll run over to see Grandma
Gates now," she added, and went toward the door.

"Tell her," cried Dwight, "tell her she's my best girl."

Grandma Gates was a rheumatic cripple who lived next door, and whenever
the Deacons or Mrs. Bett were angry or hurt or wished to escape the
house for some reason, they stalked over to Grandma Gates--in lieu of,
say, slamming a door. These visits radiated an almost daily friendliness
which lifted and tempered the old invalid's lot and life.

Di flashed out at the door again, on some trivial permission.

"A good many of mamma's stitches in that dress to keep clean," Ina
called after.

"Early, darling, early!" her father reminded her. A faint regurgitation
of his was somehow invested with the paternal.

"What's this?" cried Dwight Herbert Deacon abruptly.

On the clock shelf lay a letter.

"Oh, Dwight!" Ina was all compunction. "It came this morning. I forgot."

"I forgot it too! And I laid it up there." Lulu was eager for her share
of the blame.

"Isn't it understood that my mail can't wait like this?"

Dwight's sense of importance was now being fed in gulps.

"I know. I'm awfully sorry," Lulu said, "but you hardly ever get a
letter----"

This might have made things worse, but it provided Dwight with a
greater importance.

"Of course, pressing matter goes to my office," he admitted it. "Still,
my mail should have more careful----"

He read, frowning. He replaced the letter, and they hung upon his
motions as he tapped the envelope and regarded them.

"Now!" said he. "What do you think I have to tell you?"

"Something nice," Ina was sure.

"Something surprising," Dwight said portentously.

"But, Dwight--is it _nice?_" from his Ina.

"That depends. I like it. So'll Lulu." He leered at her. "It's company."

"Oh, Dwight," said Ina. "Who?"

"From Oregon," he said, toying with his suspense.

"Your brother!" cried Ina. "Is he coming?"

"Yes. Ninian's coming, so he says."

"Ninian!" cried Ina again. She was excited, round-eyed, her moist lips
parted. Dwight's brother Ninian. How long was it? Nineteen years. South
America, Central America, Mexico, Panama "and all." When was he coming
and what was he coming for?

"To see me," said Dwight. "To meet you. Some day next week. He don't
know what a charmer Lulu is, or he'd come quicker."

Lulu flushed terribly. Not from the implication. But from the knowledge
that she was not a charmer.

The clock struck. The child Monona uttered a cutting shriek. Herbert's
eyes flew not only to the child but to his wife. What was this, was
their progeny hurt?

"Bedtime," his wife elucidated, and added: "Lulu, will you take her to
bed? I'm pretty tired."

Lulu rose and took Monona by the hand, the child hanging back and
shaking her straight hair in an unconvincing negative.

As they crossed the room, Dwight Herbert Deacon, strolling about and
snapping his fingers, halted and cried out sharply:

"Lulu. One moment!"

He approached her. A finger was extended, his lips were parted, on his
forehead was a frown.

"You _picked_ the flower on the plant?" he asked incredulously.

Lulu made no reply. But the child Monona felt herself lifted and borne
to the stairway and the door was shut with violence. On the dark
stairway Lulu's arms closed about her in an embrace which left her
breathless and squeaking. And yet Lulu was not really fond of the child
Monona, either. This was a discharge of emotion akin, say, to slamming
the door.



II


MAY

Lulu was dusting the parlour. The parlour was rarely used, but every
morning it was dusted. By Lulu.

She dusted the black walnut centre table which was of Ina's choosing,
and looked like Ina, shining, complacent, abundantly curved. The leather
rocker, too, looked like Ina, brown, plumply upholstered, tipping back a
bit. Really, the davenport looked like Ina, for its chintz pattern
seemed to bear a design of lifted eyebrows and arch, reproachful eyes.

Lulu dusted the upright piano, and that was like Dwight--in a perpetual
attitude of rearing back, with paws out, playful, but capable, too, of
roaring a ready bass.

And the black fireplace--there was Mrs. Bett to the life. Colourless,
fireless, and with a dust of ashes.

In the midst of all was Lulu herself reflected in the narrow pier
glass, bodiless-looking in her blue gingham gown, but somehow alive.
Natural.

This pier glass Lulu approached with expectation, not because of herself
but because of the photograph on its low marble shelf. A large
photograph on a little shelf-easel. A photograph of a man with evident
eyes, evident lips, evident cheeks--and each of the six were rounded and
convex. You could construct the rest of him. Down there under the glass
you could imagine him extending, rounded and convex, with plump hands
and curly thumbs and snug clothes. It was Ninian Deacon, Dwight's
brother.

Every day since his coming had been announced Lulu, dusting the parlour,
had seen the photograph looking at her with its eyes somehow new. Or
were her own eyes new? She dusted this photograph with a difference,
lifted, dusted, set it back, less as a process than as an experience. As
she dusted the mirror and saw his trim semblance over against her own
bodiless reflection, she hurried away. But the eyes of the picture
followed her, and she liked it.

She dusted the south window-sill and saw Bobby Larkin come round the
house and go to the wood-shed for the lawn mower. She heard the smooth
blur of the cutter. Not six times had Bobby traversed the lawn when Lulu
saw Di emerge from the house. Di had been caring for her canary and she
carried her bird-bath and went to the well, and Lulu divined that Di had
deliberately disregarded the handy kitchen taps. Lulu dusted the south
window and watched, and in her watching was no quality of spying or of
criticism. Nor did she watch wistfully. Rather, she looked out on
something in which she had never shared, could not by any chance imagine
herself sharing.

The south windows were open. Airs of May bore the soft talking.

"Oh, Bobby, will you pump while I hold this?" And again: "Now wait till
I rinse." And again: "You needn't be so glum"--the village salutation
signifying kindly attention.

Bobby now first spoke: "Who's glum?" he countered gloomily.

The iron of those days when she had laughed at him was deep within him,
and this she now divined, and said absently:

"I used to think you were pretty nice. But I don't like you any more."

"Yes, you used to!" Bobby repeated derisively. "Is that why you made fun
of me all the time?"

At this Di coloured and tapped her foot on the well-curb. He seemed to
have her now, and enjoyed his triumph. But Di looked up at him shyly and
looked down. "I had to," she admitted. "They were all teasing me about
you."

"They were?" This was a new thought to him. Teasing her about him, were
they? He straightened. "Huh!" he said, in magnificent evasion.

"I had to make them stop, so I teased you. I--I never wanted to." Again
the upward look.

"Well!" Bobby stared at her. "I never thought it was anything like
that."

"Of course you didn't." She tossed back her bright hair, met his eyes
full. "And you never came where I could tell you. I wanted to tell you."

She ran into the house.

Lulu lowered her eyes. It was as if she had witnessed the exercise of
some secret gift, had seen a cocoon open or an egg hatch. She was
thinking:

"How easy she done it. Got him right over. But _how_ did she do that?"

Dusting the Dwight-like piano, Lulu looked over-shoulder, with a manner
of speculation, at the photograph of Ninian.

Bobby mowed and pondered. The magnificent conceit of the male in his
understanding of the female character was sufficiently developed to
cause him to welcome the improvisation which he had just heard. Perhaps
that was the way it had been. Of course that was the way it had been.
What a fool he had been not to understand. He cast his eyes repeatedly
toward the house. He managed to make the job last over so that he could
return in the afternoon. He was not conscious of planning this, but it
was in some manner contrived for him by forces of his own with which he
seemed to be coöperating without his conscious will. Continually he
glanced toward the house.

These glances Lulu saw. She was a woman of thirty-four and Di and Bobby
were eighteen, but Lulu felt for them no adult indulgence. She felt that
sweetness of attention which we bestow upon May robins. She felt more.

She cut a fresh cake, filled a plate, called to Di, saying: "Take some
out to that Bobby Larkin, why don't you?"

It was Lulu's way of participating. It was her vicarious thrill.

After supper Dwight and Ina took their books and departed to the
Chautauqua Circle. To these meetings Lulu never went. The reason seemed
to be that she never went anywhere.

When they were gone Lulu felt an instant liberation. She turned
aimlessly to the garden and dug round things with her finger. And she
thought about the brightness of that Chautauqua scene to which Ina and
Dwight had gone. Lulu thought about such gatherings in somewhat the way
that a futurist receives the subjects of his art--forms not vague, but
heightened to intolerable definiteness, acute colour, and always
motion--motion as an integral part of the desirable. But a factor of all
was that Lulu herself was the participant, not the onlooker. The
perfection of her dream was not impaired by any longing. She had her
dream as a saint her sense of heaven.

"Lulie!" her mother called. "You come out of that damp."

She obeyed, as she had obeyed that voice all her life. But she took one
last look down the dim street. She had not known it, but superimposed on
her Chautauqua thoughts had been her faint hope that it would be
to-night, while she was in the garden alone, that Ninian Deacon would
arrive. And she had on her wool chally, her coral beads, her cameo
pin....

She went into the lighted dining-room. Monona was in bed. Di was not
there. Mrs. Bett was in Dwight Herbert's leather chair and she lolled at
her ease. It was strange to see this woman, usually so erect and tense,
now actually lolling, as if lolling were the positive, the vital, and
her ordinary rigidity a negation of her. In some corresponding orgy of
leisure and liberation, Lulu sat down with no needle.

"Inie ought to make over her delaine," Mrs. Bett comfortably began. They
talked of this, devised a mode, recalled other delaines. "Dear, dear,"
said Mrs. Bett, "I had on a delaine when I met your father." She
described it. Both women talked freely, with animation. They were
individuals and alive. To the two pallid beings accessory to the
Deacons' presence, Mrs. Bett and her daughter Lulu now bore no
relationship. They emerged, had opinions, contradicted, their eyes were
bright.

Toward nine o'clock Mrs. Bett announced that she thought she should have
a lunch. This was debauchery. She brought in bread-and-butter, and a
dish of cold canned peas. She was committing all the excesses that she
knew--offering opinions, laughing, eating. It was to be seen that this
woman had an immense store of vitality, perpetually submerged.

When she had eaten she grew sleepy--rather cross at the last and
inclined to hold up her sister's excellencies to Lulu; and, at Lulu's
defence, lifted an ancient weapon.

"What's the use of finding fault with Inie? Where'd you been if she
hadn't married?"

Lulu said nothing.

"What say?" Mrs. Bett demanded shrilly. She was enjoying it.

Lulu said no more. After a long time:

"You always was jealous of Inie," said Mrs. Bett, and went to her bed.

As soon as her mother's door had closed, Lulu took the lamp from its
bracket, stretching up her long body and her long arms until her skirt
lifted to show her really slim and pretty feet. Lulu's feet gave news of
some other Lulu, but slightly incarnate. Perhaps, so far, incarnate only
in her feet and her long hair.

She took the lamp to the parlour and stood before the photograph of
Ninian Deacon, and looked her fill. She did not admire the photograph,
but she wanted to look at it. The house was still, there was no
possibility of interruption. The occasion became sensation, which she
made no effort to quench. She held a rendezvous with she knew not what.

In the early hours of the next afternoon with the sun shining across
the threshold, Lulu was paring something at the kitchen table. Mrs. Bett
was asleep. ("I don't blame you a bit, mother," Lulu had said, as her
mother named the intention.) Ina was asleep. (But Ina always took off
the curse by calling it her "si-esta," long _i_.) Monona was playing
with a neighbour's child--you heard their shrill yet lovely laughter as
they obeyed the adult law that motion is pleasure. Di was not there.

A man came round the house and stood tying a puppy to the porch post. A
long shadow fell through the west doorway, the puppy whined.

"Oh," said this man. "I didn't mean to arrive at the back door, but
since I'm here--"

He lifted a suitcase to the porch, entered, and filled the kitchen.

"It's Ina, isn't it?" he said.

"I'm her sister," said Lulu, and understood that he was here at last.

"Well, I'm Bert's brother," said Ninian. "So I can come in, can't I?"

He did so, turned round like a dog before his chair and sat down
heavily, forcing his fingers through heavy, upspringing brown hair.

"Oh, yes," said Lulu. "I'll call Ina. She's asleep."

"Don't call her, then," said Ninian. "Let's you and I get acquainted."

He said it absently, hardly looking at her.

"I'll get the pup a drink if you can spare me a basin," he added.

Lulu brought the basin, and while he went to the dog she ran tiptoeing
to the dining-room china closet and brought a cut-glass tumbler, as
heavy, as ungainly as a stone crock. This she filled with milk.

"I thought maybe ..." said she, and offered it.

"Thank _you_!" said Ninian, and drained it. "Making pies, as I live," he
observed, and brought his chair nearer to the table. "I didn't know Ina
had a sister," he went on. "I remember now Bert said he had two of her
relatives----"

Lulu flushed and glanced at him pitifully.

"He has," she said. "It's my mother and me. But we do quite a good deal
of the work."

"I'll bet you do," said Ninian, and did not perceive that anything had
been violated. "What's your name?" he bethought.

She was in an immense and obscure excitement. Her manner was serene, her
hands as they went on with the peeling did not tremble; her replies were
given with sufficient quiet. But she told him her name as one tells
something of another and more remote creature. She felt as one may feel
in catastrophe--no sharp understanding but merely the sense that the
thing cannot possibly be happening.

"You folks expect me?" he went on.

"Oh, yes," she cried, almost with vehemence. "Why, we've looked for you
every day."

"'See," he said, "how long have they been married?"

Lulu flushed as she answered: "Fifteen years."

"And a year before that the first one died--and two years they were
married," he computed. "I never met that one. Then it's close to twenty
years since Bert and I have seen each other."

"How awful," Lulu said, and flushed again.

"Why?"

"To be that long away from your folks."

Suddenly she found herself facing this honestly, as if the immensity of
her present experience were clarifying her understanding: Would it be so
awful to be away from Bert and Monona and Di--yes, and Ina, for twenty
years?

"You think that?" he laughed. "A man don't know what he's like till he's
roamed around on his own." He liked the sound of it. "Roamed around on
his own," he repeated, and laughed again. "Course a woman don't know
that."

"Why don't she?" asked Lulu. She balanced a pie on her hand and carved
the crust. She was stupefied to hear her own question. "Why don't she?"

"Maybe she does. Do you?"

"Yes," said Lulu.

"Good enough!" He applauded noiselessly, with fat hands. His diamond
ring sparkled, his even white teeth flashed. "I've had twenty years of
galloping about," he informed her, unable, after all, to transfer his
interests from himself to her.

"Where?" she asked, although she knew.

"South America. Central America. Mexico. Panama." He searched his
memory. "Colombo," he superadded.

"My!" said Lulu. She had probably never in her life had the least desire
to see any of these places. She did not want to see them now. But she
wanted passionately to meet her companion's mind.

"It's the life," he informed her.

"Must be," Lulu breathed. "I----" she tried, and gave it up.

"Where you been mostly?" he asked at last.

By this unprecedented interest in her doings she was thrown into a
passion of excitement.

"Here," she said. "I've always been here. Fifteen years with Ina. Before
that we lived in the country."

He listened sympathetically now, his head well on one side. He watched
her veined hands pinch at the pies. "Poor old girl," he was thinking.

"Is it Miss Lulu Bett?" he abruptly inquired. "Or Mrs.?"

Lulu flushed in anguish.

"Miss," she said low, as one who confesses the extremity of failure.
Then from unplumbed depths another Lulu abruptly spoke up. "From
choice," she said.

He shouted with laughter.

"You bet! Oh, you bet!" he cried. "Never doubted it." He made his palms
taut and drummed on the table. "Say!" he said.

Lulu glowed, quickened, smiled. Her face was another face.

"Which kind of a Mr. are you?" she heard herself ask, and his shoutings
redoubled. Well! Who would have thought it of her?

"Never give myself away," he assured her. "Say, by George, I never
thought of that before! There's no telling whether a man's married or
not, by his name!"

"It don't matter," said Lulu.

"Why not?"

"Not so many people want to know."

Again he laughed. This laughter was intoxicating to Lulu. No one ever
laughed at what she said save Herbert, who laughed at _her_. "Go it, old
girl!" Ninian was thinking, but this did not appear.

The child Monona now arrived, banging the front gate and hurling herself
round the house on the board walk, catching the toe of one foot in the
heel of the other and blundering forward, head down, her short, straight
hair flapping over her face. She landed flat-footed on the porch. She
began to speak, using a ridiculous perversion of words, scarcely
articulate, then in vogue in her group. And,

"Whose dog?" she shrieked.

Ninian looked over his shoulder, held out his hand, finished something
that he was saying to Lulu. Monona came to him readily enough, staring,
loose-lipped.

"I'll bet I'm your uncle," said Ninian.

Relationship being her highest known form of romance, Monona was
thrilled by this intelligence.

"Give us a kiss," said Ninian, finding in the plural some vague
mitigation for some vague offence.

Monona, looking silly, complied. And her uncle said my stars, such a
great big tall girl--they would have to put a board on her head.

"What's that?" inquired Monona. She had spied his great diamond ring.

"This," said her uncle, "was brought to me by Santa Claus, who keeps a
jewellery shop in heaven."

The precision and speed of his improvisation revealed him. He had twenty
other diamonds like this one. He kept them for those Sundays when the
sun comes up in the west. Of course--often! Some day he was going to
melt a diamond and eat it. Then you sparkled all over in the dark, ever
after. Another diamond he was going to plant. They say----He did it all
gravely, absorbedly. About it he was as conscienceless as a savage. This
was no fancy spun to pleasure a child. This was like lying, for its own
sake.

He went on talking with Lulu, and now again he was the tease, the
braggart, the unbridled, unmodified male.

Monona stood in the circle of his arm. The little being was attentive,
softened, subdued. Some pretty, faint light visited her. In her
listening look, she showed herself a charming child.

"It strikes me," said Ninian to Lulu, "that you're going to do something
mighty interesting before you die."

It was the clear conversational impulse, born of the need to keep
something going, but Lulu was all faith.

She closed the oven door on her pies and stood brushing flour from her
fingers. He was looking away from her, and she looked at him. He was
completely like his picture. She felt as if she were looking at his
picture and she was abashed and turned away.

"Well, I hope so," she said, which had certainly never been true, for
her old formless dreams were no intention--nothing but a mush of
discontent. "I hope I can do something that's nice before I quit," she
said. Nor was this hope now independently true, but only this surprising
longing to appear interesting in his eyes. To dance before him. "What
would the folks think of me, going on so?" she suddenly said. Her mild
sense of disloyalty was delicious. So was his understanding glance.

"You're the stuff," he remarked absently.

She laughed happily.

The door opened. Ina appeared.

"Well!" said Ina. It was her remotest tone. She took this man to be a
pedlar, beheld her child in his clasp, made a quick, forward step, chin
lifted. She had time for a very javelin of a look at Lulu.

"Hello!" said Ninian. He had the one formula. "I believe I'm your
husband's brother. Ain't this Ina?"

It had not crossed the mind of Lulu to present him.

Beautiful it was to see Ina relax, soften, warm, transform, humanise. It
gave one hope for the whole species.

"Ninian!" she cried. She lent a faint impression of the double _e_ to
the initial vowel. She slurred the rest, until the _y_ sound squinted
in. Not Neenyun, but nearly Neenyun.

He kissed her.

"Since Dwight isn't here!" she cried, and shook her finger at him. Ina's
conception of hostess-ship was definite: A volley of questions--was his
train on time? He had found the house all right? Of course! Any one
could direct him, she should hope. And he hadn't seen Dwight? She must
telephone him. But then she arrested herself with a sharp, curved fling
of her starched skirts. No! They would surprise him at tea--she stood
taut, lips compressed. Oh, the Plows were coming to tea. How
unfortunate, she thought. How fortunate, she said.

The child Monona made her knees and elbows stiff and danced up and down.
She must, she must participate.

"Aunt Lulu made three pies!" she screamed, and shook her straight hair.

"Gracious sakes," said Ninian. "I brought her a pup, and if I didn't
forget to give it to her."

They adjourned to the porch--Ninian, Ina, Monona. The puppy was
presented, and yawned. The party kept on about "the place." Ina
delightedly exhibited the tomatoes, the two apple trees, the new shed,
the bird bath. Ninian said the un-spellable "m--m," rising inflection,
and the "I see," prolonging the verb as was expected of him. Ina said
that they meant to build a summer-house, only, dear me, when you have a
family--but there, he didn't know anything about that. Ina was using her
eyes, she was arch, she was coquettish, she was flirtatious, and she
believed herself to be merely matronly, sisterly, womanly ...

She screamed. Dwight was at the gate. Now the meeting, exclamation,
banality, guffaw ... good will.

And Lulu, peeping through the blind.

When "tea" had been experienced that evening, it was found that a light
rain was falling and the Deacons and their guests, the Plows, were
constrained to remain in the parlour. The Plows were gentle, faintly
lustrous folk, sketched into life rather lightly, as if they were, say,
looking in from some other level.

"The only thing," said Dwight Herbert, "that reconciles me to rain is
that I'm let off croquet." He rolled his r's, a favourite device of his
to induce humour. He called it "croquette." He had never been more
irrepressible. The advent of his brother was partly accountable, the
need to show himself a fine family man and host in a prosperous little
home--simple and pathetic desire.

"Tell you what we'll do!" said Dwight. "Nin and I'll reminisce a
little."

"Do!" cried Mr. Plow. This gentle fellow was always excited by life, so
faintly excited by him, and enjoyed its presentation in any real form.

Ninian had unerringly selected a dwarf rocker, and he was overflowing it
and rocking.

"Take this chair, do!" Ina begged. "A big chair for a big man." She
spoke as if he were about the age of Monona.

Ninian refused, insisted on his refusal. A few years more, and human
relationships would have spread sanity even to Ina's estate and she
would have told him why he should exchange chairs. As it was she
forbore, and kept glancing anxiously at the over-burdened little beast
beneath him.

The child Monona entered the room. She had been driven down by Di and
Jenny Plow, who had vanished upstairs and, through the ventilator, might
be heard in a lift and fall of giggling. Monona had also been driven
from the kitchen where Lulu was, for some reason, hurrying through the
dishes. Monona now ran to Mrs. Bett, stood beside her and stared about
resentfully. Mrs. Bett was in best black and ruches, and she seized upon
Monona and patted her, as her own form of social expression; and Monona
wriggled like a puppy, as hers.

"Quiet, pettie," said Ina, eyebrows up. She caught her lower lip in her
teeth.

"Well, sir," said Dwight, "you wouldn't think it to look at us, but
mother had her hands pretty full, bringing us up."

Into Dwight's face came another look. It was always so, when he spoke of
this foster-mother who had taken these two boys and seen them through
the graded schools. This woman Dwight adored, and when he spoke of her
he became his inner self.

"We must run up-state and see her while you're here, Nin," he said.

To this Ninian gave a casual assent, lacking his brother's really tender
ardour.

"Little," Dwight pursued, "little did she think I'd settle down into a
nice, quiet, married dentist and magistrate in my town. And Nin
into--say, Nin, what are you, anyway?"

They laughed.

"That's the question," said Ninian.

They laughed.

"Maybe," Ina ventured, "maybe Ninian will tell us something about his
travels. He is quite a traveller, you know," she said to the Plows. "A
regular Gulliver."

They laughed respectfully.

"How we should love it, Mr. Deacon," Mrs. Plow said. "You know we've
never seen _very_ much."

Goaded on, Ninian launched upon his foreign countries as he had seen
them: Population, exports, imports, soil, irrigation, business. For the
populations Ninian had no respect. Crops could not touch ours. Soil
mighty poor pickings. And the business--say! Those fellows don't
know--and, say, the hotels! Don't say foreign hotel to Ninian.

He regarded all the alien earth as barbarian, and he stoned it. He was
equipped for absolutely no intensive observation. His contacts were
negligible. Mrs. Plow was more excited by the Deacons' party than Ninian
had been wrought upon by all his voyaging.

"Tell you," said Dwight. "When we ran away that time and went to the
state fair, little did we think--" He told about running away to the
state fair. "I thought," he wound up, irrelevantly, "Ina and I might get
over to the other side this year, but I guess not. I guess not."

The words give no conception of their effect, spoken thus. For there in
Warbleton these words are not commonplace. In Warbleton, Europe is never
so casually spoken. "Take a trip abroad" is the phrase, or "Go to
Europe" at the very least, and both with empressement. Dwight had
somewhere noted and deliberately picked up that "other side" effect, and
his Ina knew this, and was proud. Her covert glance about pensively
covered her soft triumph.

Mrs. Bett, her arm still circling the child Monona, now made her first
observation.

"Pity not to have went while the going was good," she said, and said no
more.

Nobody knew quite what she meant, and everybody hoped for the best. But
Ina frowned. Mamma did these things occasionally when there was
company, and she dared. She never sauced Dwight in private.

And it wasn't fair, it wasn't _fair_--

Abruptly Ninian rose and left the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

The dishes were washed. Lulu had washed them at break-neck speed--she
could not, or would not, have told why. But no sooner were they finished
and set away than Lulu had been attacked by an unconquerable inhibition.
And instead of going to the parlour, she sat down by the kitchen window.
She was in her chally gown, with her cameo pin and her string of coral.

Laughter from the parlour mingled with the laughter of Di and Jenny
upstairs. Lulu was now rather shy of Di. A night or two before, coming
home with "extra" cream, she had gone round to the side-door and had
come full upon Di and Bobby, seated on the steps. And Di was saying:

"Well, if I marry you, you've simply got to be a great man. I could
never marry just anybody. I'd _smother_."

Lulu had heard, stricken. She passed them by, responding only faintly to
their greeting. Di was far less taken aback than Lulu.

Later Di had said to Lulu: "I s'pose you heard what we were saying."

Lulu, much shaken, had withdrawn from the whole matter by a flat "no."
"Because," she said to herself, "I couldn't have heard right."

But since then she had looked at Di as if Di were some one else. Had not
Lulu taught her to make buttonholes and to hem--oh, no I Lulu could not
have heard properly.

"Everybody's got somebody to be nice to them," she thought now, sitting
by the kitchen window, adult yet Cinderella.

She thought that some one would come for her. Her mother or even Ina.
Perhaps they would send Monona. She waited at first hopefully, then
resentfully. The grey rain wrapped the air.

"Nobody cares what becomes of me after they're fed," she thought, and
derived an obscure satisfaction from her phrasing, and thought it again.

Ninian Deacon came into the kitchen.

Her first impression was that he had come to see whether the dog had
been fed.

"I fed him," she said, and wished that she had been busy when Ninian
entered.

"Who, me?" he asked. "You did that all right. Say, why in time don't you
come in the other room?"

"Oh, I don't know."

"Well, neither do I. I've kept thinking, 'Why don't she come along.'
Then I remembered the dishes." He glanced about. "I come to help wipe
dishes."

"Oh!" she laughed so delicately, so delightfully, one wondered where she
got it. "They're washed----" she caught herself at "long ago."

"Well then, what are you doing here?"

"Resting."

"Rest in there." He bowed, crooked his arm. "Señora," he said,--his
Spanish matched his other assimilations of travel--

"Señora. Allow me."

Lulu rose. On his arm she entered the parlour. Dwight was narrating and
did not observe that entrance. To the Plows it was sufficiently normal.
But Ina looked up and said:

"Well!"--in two notes, descending, curving.

Lulu did not look at her. Lulu sat in a low rocker. Her starched white
skirt, throwing her chally in ugly lines, revealed a peeping rim of
white embroidery. Her lace front wrinkled when she sat, and perpetually
she adjusted it. She curled her feet sidewise beneath her chair, her
long wrists and veined hands lay along her lap in no relation to her.
She was tense. She rocked.

When Dwight had finished his narration, there was a pause, broken at
last by Mrs. Bett:

"You tell that better than you used to when you started in telling it,"
she observed. "You got in some things I guess you used to clean forget
about. Monona, get off my rocker."

Monona made a little whimpering sound, in pretence to tears. Ina said
"Darling--quiet!"--chin a little lifted, lower lip revealing lower
teeth for the word's completion; and she held it.

The Plows were asking something about Mexico. Dwight was wondering if it
would let up raining _at all_. Di and Jenny came whispering into the
room. But all these distractions Ninian Deacon swept aside.

"Miss Lulu," he said, "I wanted you to hear about my trip up the Amazon,
because I knew how interested you are in travels."

He talked, according to his lights, about the Amazon. But the person who
most enjoyed the recital could not afterward have told two words that
he said. Lulu kept the position which she had taken at first, and she
dare not change. She saw the blood in the veins of her hands and wanted
to hide them. She wondered if she might fold her arms, or have one hand
to support her chin, gave it all up and sat motionless, save for the
rocking.

Then she forgot everything. For the first time in years some one was
talking and looking not only at Ina and Dwight and their guests, but at
her.



III


JUNE

On a June morning Dwight Herbert Deacon looked at the sky, and said with
his manner of originating it: "How about a picnic this afternoon?"

Ina, with her blank, upward look, exclaimed: "To-_day?_"

"First class day, it looks like to me."

Come to think of it, Ina didn't know that there was anything to prevent,
but mercy, Herbert was so sudden. Lulu began to recite the resources of
the house for a lunch. Meanwhile, since the first mention of picnic, the
child Monona had been dancing stiffly about the room, knees stiff,
elbows stiff, shoulders immovable, her straight hair flapping about her
face. The sad dance of the child who cannot dance because she never has
danced. Di gave a conservative assent--she was at that age--and then
took advantage of the family softness incident to a guest and demanded
that Bobby go too. Ina hesitated, partly because she always hesitated,
partly because she was tribal in the extreme. "Just our little family
and Uncle Ninian would have been so nice," she sighed, with her consent.

When, at six o'clock, Ina and Dwight and Ninian assembled on the porch
and Lulu came out with the basket, it was seen that she was in a
blue-cotton house-gown.

"Look here," said Ninian, "aren't you going?"

"Me?" said Lulu. "Oh, no."

"Why not?"

"Oh, I haven't been to a picnic since I can remember."

"But why not?"

"Oh, I never think of such a thing."

Ninian waited for the family to speak. They did speak. Dwight said:

"Lulu's a regular home body."

And Ina advanced kindly with: "Come with us, Lulu, if you like."

"No," said Lulu, and flushed. "Thank you," she added, formally.

Mrs. Bett's voice shrilled from within the house, startlingly
close--just beyond the blind, in fact:

"Go on, Lulie. It'll do you good. You mind me and go on."

"Well," said Ninian, "that's what I say. You hustle for your hat and you
come along."

For the first time this course presented itself to Lulu as a
possibility. She stared up at Ninian.

"You can slip on my linen duster, over," Ina said graciously.

"Your new one?" Dwight incredulously wished to know.

"Oh, no!" Ina laughed at the idea. "The old one."

They were having to wait for Di in any case--they always had to wait for
Di--and at last, hardly believing in her own motions, Lulu was running
to make ready. Mrs. Bett hurried to help her, but she took down the
wrong things and they were both irritated. Lulu reappeared in the linen
duster and a wide hat. There had been no time to "tighten up" her hair;
she was flushed at the adventure; she had never looked so well.

They started. Lulu, falling in with Monona, heard for the first time in
her life, the step of the pursuing male, choosing to walk beside her and
the little girl. Oh, would Ina like that? And what did Lulu care what
Ina liked? Monona, making a silly, semi-articulate observation, was
enchanted to have Lulu burst into laughter and squeeze her hand.

Di contributed her bright presence, and Bobby Larkin appeared from
nowhere, running, with a gigantic bag of fruit.

"Bullylujah!" he shouted, and Lulu could have shouted with him.

She sought for some utterance. She wanted to talk with Ninian.

"I do hope we've brought sandwiches enough," was all that she could get
to say.

They chose a spot, that is to say Dwight Herbert chose a spot, across
the river and up the shore where there was at that season a strip of
warm beach. Dwight Herbert declared himself the builder of incomparable
fires, and made a bad smudge. Ninian, who was a camper neither by birth
nor by adoption, kept offering brightly to help, could think of nothing
to do, and presently, bethinking himself of skipping stones, went and
tried to skip them on the flowing river. Ina cut her hand opening the
condensed milk and was obliged to sit under a tree and nurse the wound.
Monona spilled all the salt and sought diligently to recover it. So Lulu
did all the work. As for Di and Bobby, they had taken the pail and gone
for water, discouraging Monona from accompanying them, discouraging her
to the point of tears. But the two were gone for so long that on their
return Dwight was hungry and cross and majestic.

"Those who disregard the comfort of other people," he enunciated, "can
not expect consideration for themselves in the future."

He did not say on what ethical tenet this dictum was based, but he
delivered it with extreme authority. Ina caught her lower lip with her
teeth, dipped her head, and looked at Di. And Monona laughed like a
little demon.

As soon as Lulu had all in readiness, and cold corned beef and salad had
begun their orderly progression, Dwight became the immemorial dweller in
green fastnesses. He began:

"This is ideal. I tell you, people don't half know life if they don't
get out and eat in the open. It's better than any tonic at a dollar the
bottle. Nature's tonic--eh? Free as the air. Look at that sky. See that
water. Could anything be more pleasant?"

He smiled at his wife. This man's face was glowing with simple pleasure.
He loved the out-of-doors with a love which could not explain itself.
But he now lost a definite climax when his wife's comment was heard to
be:

"Monona! Now it's all over both ruffles. And mamma does try so hard...."

After supper some boys arrived with a boat which they beached, and
Dwight, with enthusiasm, gave the boys ten cents for a half hour's use
of that boat and invited to the waters his wife, his brother and his
younger daughter. Ina was timid----not because she was afraid but because
she was congenitally timid--with her this was not a belief or an
emotion, it was a disease.

"Dwight darling, are you sure there's no danger?"

Why, none. None in the world. Whoever heard of drowning in a river.

"But you're not so very used----"

Oh, wasn't he? Who was it that had lived in a boat throughout youth if
not he?

Ninian refused out-of-hand, lighted a cigar, and sat on a log in a
permanent fashion. Ina's plump figure was fitted in the stern, the
child Monona affixed, and the boat put off, bow well out of water. On
this pleasure ride the face of the wife was as the face of the damned.
It was true that she revered her husband's opinions above those of all
other men. In politics, in science, in religion, in dentistry she looked
up to his dicta as to revelation. And was he not a magistrate? But let
him take oars in hand, or shake lines or a whip above the back of any
horse, and this woman would trust any other woman's husband by
preference. It was a phenomenon.

Lulu was making the work last, so that she should be out of everybody's
way. When the boat put off without Ninian, she felt a kind of terror and
wished that he had gone. He had sat down near her, and she pretended not
to see. At last Lulu understood that Ninian was deliberately choosing to
remain with her. The languor of his bulk after the evening meal made no
explanation for Lulu. She asked for no explanation. He had stayed.

And they were alone. For Di, on a pretext of examining the flocks and
herds, was leading Bobby away to the pastures, a little at a time.

The sun, now fallen, had left an even, waxen sky. Leaves and ferns
appeared drenched with the light just withdrawn. The hush, the warmth,
the colour, were charged with some influence. The air of the time
communicated itself to Lulu as intense and quiet happiness. She had not
yet felt quiet with Ninian. For the first time her blind excitement in
his presence ceased, and she felt curiously accustomed to him. To him
the air of the time imparted itself in a deepening of his facile
sympathy.

"Do you know something?" he began. "I think you have it pretty hard
around here."

"I?" Lulu was genuinely astonished.

"Yes, sir. Do you have to work like this all the time? I guess you
won't mind my asking."

"Well, I ought to work. I have a home with them. Mother too."

"Yes, but glory. You ought to have some kind of a life of your own. You
want it, too. You told me you did--that first day."

She was silent. Again he was investing her with a longing which she had
never really had, until he had planted that longing. She had wanted she
knew not what. Now she accepted the dim, the romantic interest of this
rôle.

"I guess you don't see how it seems," he said, "to me, coming along--a
stranger so. I don't like it."

He frowned, regarded the river, flicked away ashes, his diamond
obediently shining. Lulu's look, her head drooping, had the liquid air
of the look of a young girl. For the first time in her life she was
feeling her helplessness. It intoxicated her.

"They're very good to me," she said.

He turned. "Do you know why you think that? Because you've never had
anybody really good to you. That's why."

"But they treat me good."

"They make a slave of you. Regular slave." He puffed, frowning. "Damned
shame, _I_ call it," he said.

Her loyalty stirred Lulu. "We have our whole living----"

"And you earn it. I been watching you since I been here. Don't you ever
go anywheres?"

She said: "This is the first place in--in years."

"Lord. Don't you want to? Of course you do!"

"Not so much places like this----"

"I see. What you want is to get away--like you'd ought to." He regarded
her. "You've been a blamed fine-looking woman," he said.

She did not flush, but that faint, unsuspected Lulu spoke for her:

"You must have been a good-looking man once yourself."

His laugh went ringing across the water. "You're pretty good," he said.
He regarded her approvingly. "I don't see how you do it," he mused,
"blamed if I do."

"How I do what?"

"Why come back, quick like that, with what you say."

Lulu's heart was beating painfully. The effort to hold her own in talk
like this was terrifying. She had never talked in this fashion to any
one. It was as if some matter of life or death hung on her ability to
speak an alien tongue. And yet, when she was most at loss, that other
Lulu, whom she had never known anything about, seemed suddenly to speak
for her. As now:

"It's my grand education," she said.

She sat humped on the log, her beautiful hair shining in the light of
the warm sky. She had thrown off her hat and the linen duster, and was
in her blue gingham gown against the sky and leaves. But she sat
stiffly, her feet carefully covered, her hands ill at ease, her eyes
rather piteous in their hope somehow to hold her vague own. Yet from her
came these sufficient, insouciant replies.

"Education," he said laughing heartily. "That's mine, too." He spoke a
creed. "I ain't never had it and I ain't never missed it."

"Most folks are happy without an education," said Lulu.

"You're not very happy, though."

"Oh, no," she said.

"Well, sir," said Ninian, "I'll tell you what we'll do. While I'm here
I'm going to take you and Ina and Dwight up to the city."

"To the city?"

"To a show. Dinner and a show. I'll give you _one_ good time."

"Oh!" Lulu leaned forward. "Ina and Dwight go sometimes. I never been."

"Well, just you come with me. I'll look up what's good. You tell me
just what you like to eat, and we'll get it----"

She said: "I haven't had anything to eat in years that I haven't cooked
myself."

He planned for that time to come, and Lulu listened as one intensely
experiencing every word that he uttered. Yet it was not in that future
merry-making that she found her joy, but in the consciousness that
he--some one--any one--was planning like this for her.

Meanwhile Di and Bobby had rounded the corner by an old hop-house and
kept on down the levee. Now that the presence of the others was
withdrawn, the two looked about them differently and began themselves to
give off an influence instead of being pressed upon by overpowering
personalities. Frogs were chorusing in the near swamp, and Bobby wanted
one. He was off after it. But Di eventually drew him back, reluctant,
frogless. He entered upon an exhaustive account of the use of frogs for
bait, and as he talked he constantly flung stones. Di grew restless.
There was, she had found, a certain amount of this to be gone through
before Bobby would focus on the personal. At length she was obliged to
say, "Like me to-day?" And then he entered upon personal talk with the
same zest with which he had discussed bait.

"Bobby," said Di, "sometimes I think we might be married, and not wait
for any old money."

They had now come that far. It was partly an authentic attraction, grown
from out the old repulsion, and partly it was that they both--and
especially Di--so much wanted the experiences of attraction that they
assumed its ways. And then each cared enough to assume the pretty rôle
required by the other, and by the occasion, and by the air of the time.

"Would you?" asked Bobby--but in the subjunctive.

She said: "Yes. I will."

"It would mean running away, wouldn't it?" said Bobby, still
subjunctive.

"I suppose so. Mamma and papa are so unreasonable."

"Di," said Bobby, "I don't believe you could ever be happy with me."

"The idea! I can too. You're going to be a great man--you know you are."

Bobby was silent. Of course he knew it--but he passed it over.

"Wouldn't it be fun to elope and surprise the whole school?" said Di,
sparkling.

Bobby grinned appreciatively. He was good to look at, with his big
frame, his head of rough dark hair, the sky warm upon his clear skin and
full mouth. Di suddenly announced that she would be willing to elope
_now_.

"I've planned eloping lots of times," she said ambiguously.

It flashed across the mind of Bobby that in these plans of hers he may
not always have been the principal, and he could not be sure ... But
she talked in nothings, and he answered her so.

Soft cries sounded in the centre of the stream. The boat, well out of
the strong current, was seen to have its oars shipped; and there sat
Dwight Herbert gently rocking the boat. Dwight Herbert would.

"Bertie, Bertie--please!" you heard his Ina say.

Monona began to cry, and her father was irritated, felt that it would be
ignominious to desist, and did not know that he felt this. But he knew
that he was annoyed, and he took refuge in this, and picked up the oars
with: "Some folks never can enjoy anything without spoiling it."

"That's what I was thinking," said Ina, with a flash of anger.

They glided toward the shore in a huff. Monona found that she enjoyed
crying across the water and kept it up. It was almost as good as an
echo. Ina, stepping safe to the sands, cried ungratefully that this was
the last time that she would ever, ever go with her husband anywhere.
Ever. Dwight Herbert, recovering, gauged the moment to require of him
humour, and observed that his wedded wife was as skittish as a colt. Ina
kept silence, head poised so that her full little chin showed double.
Monona, who had previously hidden a cooky in her frock, now remembered
it and crunched sidewise, the eyes ruminant.

Moving toward them, with Di, Bobby was suddenly overtaken by the sense
of disliking them all. He never had liked Dwight Herbert, his employer.
Mrs. Deacon seemed to him so overwhelmingly mature that he had no idea
how to treat her. And the child Monona he would like to roll in the
river. Even Di ... He fell silent, was silent on the walk home which was
the signal for Di to tease him steadily. The little being was afraid of
silence. It was too vast for her. She was like a butterfly in a dome.

But against that background of ruined occasion, Lulu walked homeward
beside Ninian. And all that night, beside her mother who groaned in her
sleep, Lulu lay tense and awake. He had walked home with her. He had
told Ina and Herbert about going to the city. What did it mean?
Suppose ... oh no; oh no!

"Either lay still or get up and set up," Mrs. Bett directed her at
length.



IV


JULY

When, on a warm evening a fortnight later, Lulu descended the stairs
dressed for her incredible trip to the city, she wore the white waist
which she had often thought they would "use" for her if she died. And
really, the waist looked as if it had been planned for the purpose, and
its wide, upstanding plaited lace at throat and wrist made her neck look
thinner, her forearm sharp and veined. Her hair she had "crimped" and
parted in the middle, puffed high--it was so that hair had been worn in
Lulu's girlhood.

"_Well_!" said Ina, when she saw this coiffure, and frankly examined it,
head well back, tongue meditatively teasing at her lower lip.

For travel Lulu was again wearing Ina's linen duster--the old one.

Ninian appeared, in a sack coat--and his diamond. His distinctly convex
face, its thick, rosy flesh, thick mouth and cleft chin gave Lulu once
more that bold sense of looking--not at him, for then she was shy and
averted her eyes--but at his photograph at which she could gaze as much
as she would. She looked up at him openly, fell in step beside him. Was
he not taking her to the city? Ina and Dwight themselves were going
because she, Lulu, had brought about this party.

"Act as good as you look, Lulie," Mrs. Bett called after them. She gave
no instructions to Ina who was married and able to shine in her conduct,
it seemed.

Dwight was cross. On the way to the station he might have been heard to
take it up again, whatever it was, and his Ina unmistakably said: "Well,
now don't keep it going all the way there"; and turned back to the
others with some elaborate comment about the dust, thus cutting off her
so-called lord from his legitimate retort. A mean advantage.

The city was two hours' distant, and they were to spend the night. On
the train, in the double seat, Ninian beside her among the bags, Lulu
sat in the simple consciousness that the people all knew that she too
had been chosen. A man and a woman were opposite, with their little boy
between them. Lulu felt this woman's superiority of experience over her
own, and smiled at her from a world of fellowship. But the woman lifted
her eyebrows and stared and turned away, with slow and insolent winking.

Ninian had a boyish pride in his knowledge of places to eat in many
cities--as if he were leading certain of the tribe to a deer-run in a
strange wood. Ninian took his party to a downtown café, then popular
among business and newspaper men. The place was below the sidewalk, was
reached by a dozen marble steps, and the odour of its griddle-cakes took
the air of the street. Ninian made a great show of selecting a table,
changed once, called the waiter "my man" and rubbed soft hands on "What
do you say? Shall it be lobster?" He ordered the dinner, instructing the
waiter with painstaking gruffness.

"Not that they can touch _your_ cooking here, Miss Lulu," he said,
settling himself to wait, and crumbling a crust.

Dwight, expanding a bit in the aura of the food, observed that Lulu was
a regular chef, that was what Lulu was. He still would not look at his
wife, who now remarked:

"Sheff, Dwightie. Not cheff."

This was a mean advantage, which he pretended not to hear--another mean
advantage.

"Ina," said Lulu, "your hat's just a little mite--no, over the other
way."

"Was there anything to prevent your speaking of that before?" Ina
inquired acidly.

"I started to and then somebody always said something," said Lulu
humbly.

Nothing could so much as cloud Lulu's hour. She was proof against any
shadow.

"Say, but you look tremendous to-night," Dwight observed to her.

Understanding perfectly that this was said to tease his wife, Lulu yet
flushed with pleasure. She saw two women watching, and she thought:
"They're feeling sorry for Ina--nobody talking to her." She laughed at
everything that the men said. She passionately wanted to talk herself.
"How many folks keep going past," she said, many times.

At length, having noted the details of all the clothes in range, Ina's
isolation palled upon her and she set herself to take Ninian's
attention. She therefore talked with him about himself.

"Curious you've never married, Nin," she said.

"Don't say it like that," he begged. "I might yet."

Ina laughed enjoyably. "Yes, you might!" she met this.

"She wants everybody to get married, but she wishes I hadn't," Dwight
threw in with exceeding rancour.

They developed this theme exhaustively, Dwight usually speaking in the
third person and always with his shoulder turned a bit from his wife. It
was inconceivable, the gusto with which they proceeded. Ina had assumed
for the purpose an air distrait, casual, attentive to the scene about
them. But gradually her cheeks began to burn.

"She'll cry," Lulu thought in alarm, and said at random: "Ina, that hat
is so pretty--ever so much prettier than the old one." But Ina said
frostily that she never saw anything the matter with the old one.

"Let us talk," said Ninian low, to Lulu. "Then they'll simmer down."

He went on, in an undertone, about nothing in particular. Lulu hardly
heard what he said, it was so pleasant to have him talking to her in
this confidential fashion; and she was pleasantly aware that his manner
was open to misinterpretation.

In the nick of time, the lobster was served.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dinner and the play--the show, as Ninian called it. This show was "Peter
Pan," chosen by Ninian because the seats cost the most of those at any
theatre. It was almost indecent to see how Dwight Herbert, the immortal
soul, had warmed and melted at these contacts. By the time that all was
over, and they were at the hotel for supper, such was his pleasurable
excitation that he was once more playful, teasing, once more the
irrepressible. But now his Ina was to be won back, made it evident that
she was not one lightly to overlook, and a fine firmness sat upon the
little doubling chin.

They discussed the play. Not one of them had understood the story. The
dog-kennel part--wasn't that the queerest thing? Nothing to do with the
rest of the play.

"I was for the pirates. The one with the hook--he was my style," said
Dwight.

"Well, there it is again," Ina cried. "They didn't belong to the real
play, either."

"Oh, well," Ninian said, "they have to put in parts, I suppose, to catch
everybody. Instead of a song and dance, they do that."

"And I didn't understand," said Ina, "why they all clapped when the
principal character ran down front and said something to the audience
that time. But they all did."

Ninian thought this might have been out of compliment. Ina wished that
Monona might have seen, confessed that the last part was so pretty that
she herself would not look; and into Ina's eyes came their loveliest
light.

Lulu sat there, hearing the talk about the play. "Why couldn't I have
said that?" she thought as the others spoke. All that they said seemed
to her apropos, but she could think of nothing to add. The evening had
been to her a light from heaven--how could she find anything to say? She
sat in a daze of happiness, her mind hardly operative, her look moving
from one to another. At last Ninian looked at her.

"Sure you liked it, Miss Lulu?"

"Oh, yes! I think they all took their parts real well."

It was not enough. She looked at them appealingly, knowing that she had
not said enough.

"You could hear everything they said," she added. "It was--" she
dwindled to silence.

Dwight Herbert savoured his rarebit with a great show of long wrinkled
dimples.

"Excellent sauces they make here--excellent," he said, with the frown of
an epicure. "A tiny wee bit more Athabasca," he added, and they all
laughed and told him that Athabasca was a lake, of course. Of course he
meant tobasco, Ina said. Their entertainment and their talk was of this
sort, for an hour.

"Well, now," said Dwight Herbert when it was finished, "somebody dance
on the table."

"Dwightie!"

"Got to amuse ourselves somehow. Come, liven up. They'll begin to read
the funeral service over us."

"Why not say the wedding service?" asked Ninian.

In the mention of wedlock there was always something stimulating to
Dwight, something of overwhelming humour. He shouted a derisive
endorsement of this proposal.

"I shouldn't object," said Ninian. "Should you, Miss Lulu?"

Lulu now burned the slow red of her torture. They were all looking at
her. She made an anguished effort to defend herself.

"I don't know it," she said, "so I can't say it."

Ninian leaned toward her.

"I, Ninian, take thee, Lulu, to be my wedded wife," he pronounced.
"That's the way it goes!"

"Lulu daren't say it!" cried Dwight. He laughed so loudly that those at
the near tables turned. And, from the fastness of her wifehood and
motherhood, Ina laughed. Really, it was ridiculous to think of Lulu that
way....

Ninian laughed too. "Course she don't dare say it," he challenged.

From within Lulu, that strange Lulu, that other Lulu who sometimes
fought her battles, suddenly spoke out:

"I, Lulu, take thee, Ninian, to be my wedded husband."

"You will?" Ninian cried.

"I will," she said, laughing tremulously, to prove that she too could
join in, could be as merry as the rest.

"And I will. There, by Jove, now have we entertained you, or haven't
we?" Ninian laughed and pounded his soft fist on the table.

"Oh, say, honestly!" Ina was shocked. "I don't think you ought to--holy
things----what's the _matter_, Dwightie?"

Dwight Herbert Deacon's eyes were staring and his face was scarlet.

"Say, by George," he said, "a civil wedding is binding in this state."

"A civil wedding? Oh, well--" Ninian dismissed it.

"But I," said Dwight, "happen to be a magistrate."

They looked at one another foolishly. Dwight sprang up with the
indeterminate idea of inquiring something of some one, circled about and
returned. Ina had taken his chair and sat clasping Lulu's hand. Ninian
continued to laugh.

"I never saw one done so offhand," said Dwight. "But what you've said is
all you have to say according to law. And there don't have to be
witnesses ... say!" he said, and sat down again.

Above that shroud-like plaited lace, the veins of Lulu's throat showed
dark as she Swallowed, cleared her throat, swallowed again.

"Don't you let Dwight scare you," she besought Ninian.

"Scare me!" cried Ninian. "Why, I think it's a good job done, if you ask
me."

Lulu's eyes flew to his face. As he laughed, he was looking at her, and
now he nodded and shut and opened his eyes several times very fast.
Their points of light flickered. With a pang of wonder which pierced her
and left her shaken, Lulu looked. His eyes continued to meet her own. It
was exactly like looking at his photograph.

Dwight had recovered his authentic air.

"Oh, well," he said, "we can inquire at our leisure. If it is necessary,
I should say we can have it set aside quietly up here in the city--no
one'll be the wiser."

"Set aside nothing!" said Ninian. "I'd like to see it stand."

"Are you serious, Nin?"

"Sure I'm serious."

Ina jerked gently at her sister's arm.

"Lulu! You hear him? What you going to say to that?"

Lulu shook her head. "He isn't in earnest," she said.

"I am in earnest--hope to die," Ninian declared. He was on two legs of
his chair and was slightly tilting, so that the effect of his
earnestness was impaired. But he was obviously in earnest.

They were looking at Lulu again. And now she looked at Ninian, and there
was something terrible in that look which tried to ask him, alone, about
this thing.

Dwight exploded. "There was a fellow I know there in the theatre," he
cried. "I'll get him on the line. He could tell me if there's any way--"
and was off.

Ina inexplicably began touching away tears. "Oh," she said, "what will
mamma say?"

Lulu hardly heard her. Mrs. Bett was incalculably distant.

"You sure?" Lulu said low to Ninian.

For the first time, something in her exceeding isolation really touched
him.

"Say," he said, "you come on with me. We'll have it done over again
somewhere, if you say so."

"Oh," said Lulu, "if I thought--"

He leaned and patted her hand.

"Good girl," he said.

They sat silent, Ninian padding on the cloth with the flat of his plump
hands.

Dwight returned. "It's a go all right," he said. He sat down, laughed
weakly, rubbed at his face. "You two are tied as tight as the church
could tie you."

"Good enough," said Ninian. "Eh, Lulu?"

"It's--it's all right, I guess," Lulu said.

"Well, I'll be dished," said Dwight.

"Sister!" said Ina.

Ninian meditated, his lips set tight and high. It is impossible to trace
the processes of this man. Perhaps they were all compact of the
devil-may-care attitude engendered in any persistent traveller. Perhaps
the incomparable cookery of Lulu played its part.

"I was going to make a trip south this month," he said, "on my way home
from here. Suppose we get married again by somebody or other, and start
right off. You'd like that, wouldn't you--going South?"

"Yes," said Lulu only.

"It's July," said Ina, with her sense of fitness, but no one heard.

It was arranged that their trunks should follow them--Ina would see to
that, though she was scandalised that they were not first to return to
Warbleton for the blessing of Mrs. Bett.

"Mamma won't mind," said Lulu. "Mamma can't stand a fuss any more."

They left the table. The men and women still sitting at the other tables
saw nothing unusual about these four, indifferently dressed,
indifferently conditioned. The hotel orchestra, playing ragtime in
deafening concord, made Lulu's wedding march.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was still early next day--a hot Sunday--when Ina and Dwight reached
home. Mrs. Bett was standing on the porch.

"Where's Lulie?" asked Mrs. Bett.

They told.

Mrs. Bett took it in, a bit at a time. Her pale eyes searched their
faces, she shook her head, heard it again, grasped it. Her first
question was:

"Who's going to do your work?"

Ina had thought of that, and this was manifest.

"Oh," she said, "you and I'll have to manage."

Mrs. Bett meditated, frowning.

"I left the bacon for her to cook for your breakfasts," she said. "I
can't cook bacon fit to eat. Neither can you."

"We've had our breakfasts," Ina escaped from this dilemma.

"Had it up in the city, on expense?"

"Well, we didn't have much."

In Mrs. Bett's eyes tears gathered, but they were not for Lulu.

"I should think," she said, "I should think Lulie might have had a
little more gratitude to her than this."

On their way to church Ina and Dwight encountered Di, who had left the
house some time earlier, stepping sedately to church in company with
Bobby Larkin. Di was in white, and her face was the face of an angel, so
young, so questioning, so utterly devoid of her sophistication.

"That child," said Ina, "_must_ not see so much of that Larkin boy.
She's just a little, little girl."

"Of course she mustn't," said Dwight sharply, "and if _I_ was her
mother--"

"Oh stop that!" said Ina, sotto voce, at the church steps.

To every one with whom they spoke in the aisle after church, Ina
announced their news: Had they heard? Lulu married Dwight's brother
Ninian in the city yesterday. Oh, sudden, yes! And ro_man_tic ... spoken
with that upward inflection to which Ina was a prey.



V


AUGUST

Mrs. Bett had been having a "tantrim," brought on by nothing definable.
Abruptly as she and Ina were getting supper, Mrs. Bett had fallen
silent, had in fact refused to reply when addressed. When all was ready
and Dwight was entering, hair wetly brushed, she had withdrawn from the
room and closed her bedroom door until it echoed.

"She's got one again," said Ina, grieving; "Dwight, you go."

He went, showing no sign of annoyance, and stood outside his
mother-in-law's door and knocked.

No answer.

"Mother, come and have some supper."

No answer.

"Looks to me like your muffins was just about the best ever."

No answer.

"Come on--I had something funny to tell you and Ina."

He retreated, knowing nothing of the admirable control exercised by this
woman for her own passionate satisfaction in sliding him away
unsatisfied. He showed nothing but anxious concern, touched with regret,
at his failure. Ina, too, returned from that door discomfited. Dwight
made a gallant effort to retrieve the fallen fortunes of their evening
meal, and turned upon Di, who had just entered, and with exceeding
facetiousness inquired how Bobby was.

Di looked hunted. She could never tell whether her parents were going to
tease her about Bobby, or rebuke her for being seen with him. It
depended on mood, and this mood Di had not the experience to gauge. She
now groped for some neutral fact, and mentioned that he was going to
take her and Jenny for ice cream that night.

Ina's irritation found just expression in office of motherhood.

"I won't have you downtown in the evening," she said.

"But you let me go last night."

"All the better reason why you should not go to-night."

"I tell you," cried Dwight. "Why not all walk down? Why not all have ice
cream...." He was all gentleness and propitiation, the reconciling
element in his home.

"Me too?" Monona's ardent hope, her terrible fear were in her eyebrows,
her parted lips.

"You too, certainly." Dwight could not do enough for every one.

Monona clapped her hands. "Goody! goody! Last time you wouldn't let me
go."

"That's why papa's going to take you this time," Ina said.

These ethical balances having been nicely struck, Ina proposed another:

"But," she said, "but, you must eat more supper or you can _not_ go."

"I don't want any more." Monona's look was honest and piteous.

"Makes no difference. You must eat or you'll get sick."

"No!"

"Very well, then. No ice cream soda for such a little girl."

Monona began to cry quietly. But she passed her plate. She ate, chewing
high, and slowly.

"See? She can eat if she will eat," Ina said to Dwight. "The only
trouble is, she will _not_ take the time."

"She don't put her mind on her meals," Dwight Herbert diagnosed it. "Oh,
bigger bites than that!" he encouraged his little daughter.

Di's mind had been proceeding along its own paths.

"Are you going to take Jenny and Bobby too?" she inquired.

"Certainly. The whole party."

"Bobby'll want to pay for Jenny and I."

"Me, darling," said Ina patiently, punctiliously--and less punctiliously
added: "Nonsense. This is going to be papa's little party."

"But we had the engagement with Bobby. It was an engagement."

"Well," said Ina, "I think we'll just set that aside--that important
engagement. I think we just will."

"Papa! Bobby'll want to be the one to pay for Jenny and I--"

"Di!" Ina's voice dominated all. "Will you be more careful of your
grammar or shall I speak to you again?"

"Well, I'd rather use bad grammar than--than--than--" she looked
resentfully at her mother, her father. Their moral defection was evident
to her, but it was indefinable. They told her that she ought to be
ashamed when papa wanted to give them all a treat. She sat silent,
frowning, put-upon.

"Look, mamma!" cried Monona, swallowing a third of an egg at one
impulse. Ina saw only the empty plate.

"Mamma's nice little girl!" cried she, shining upon her child.

The rules of the ordinary sports of the playground, scrupulously
applied, would have clarified the ethical atmosphere of this little
family. But there was no one to apply them.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Di and Monona had been excused, Dwight asked:

"Nothing new from the bride and groom?"

"No. And, Dwight, it's been a week since the last."

"See--where were they then?"

He knew perfectly well that they were in Savannah, Georgia, but Ina
played his game, told him, and retold bits that the letter had said.

"I don't understand," she added, "why they should go straight to Oregon
without coming here first."

Dwight hazarded that Nin probably had to get back, and shone pleasantly
in the reflected importance of a brother filled with affairs.

"I don't know what to make of Lulu's letters," Ina proceeded. "They're
so--so--"

"You haven't had but two, have you?"

"That's all--well, of course it's only been a month. But both letters
have been so--"

Ina was never really articulate. Whatever corner of her brain had the
blood in it at the moment seemed to be operative, and she let the matter
go at that.

"I don't think it's fair to mamma--going off that way. Leaving her own
mother. Why, she may never see mamma again--" Ina's breath caught. Into
her face came something of the lovely tenderness with which she
sometimes looked at Monona and Di. She sprang up. She had forgotten to
put some supper to warm for mamma. The lovely light was still in her
face as she bustled about against the time of mamma's recovery from her
tantrim. Dwight's face was like this when he spoke of his foster-mother.
In both these beings there was something which functioned as pure love.

Mamma had recovered and was eating cold scrambled eggs on the corner of
the kitchen table when the ice cream soda party was ready to set out.
Dwight threw her a casual "Better come, too, Mother Bett," but she shook
her head. She wished to go, wished it with violence, but she contrived
to give to her arbitrary refusal a quality of contempt. When Jenny
arrived with Bobby, she had brought a sheaf of gladioli for Mrs. Bett,
and took them to her in the kitchen, and as she laid the flowers beside
her, the young girl stopped and kissed her. "You little darling!" cried
Mrs. Bett, and clung to her, her lifted eyes lit by something intense
and living. But when the ice cream party had set off at last, Mrs. Bett
left her supper, gathered up the flowers, and crossed the lawn to the
old cripple, Grandma Gates.

"Inie sha'n't have 'em," the old woman thought.

And then it was quite beautiful to watch her with Grandma Gates, whom
she tended and petted, to whose complainings she listened, and to whom
she tried to tell the small events of her day. When her neighbour had
gone, Grandma Gates said that it was as good as a dose of medicine to
have her come in.

Mrs. Bett sat on the porch restored and pleasant when the family
returned. Di and Bobby had walked home with Jenny.

"Look here," said Dwight Herbert, "who is it sits home and has _ice_
cream put in her lap, like a queen?"

"Vanilly or chocolate?" Mrs. Bett demanded.

"Chocolate, mammal" Ina cried, with the breeze in her voice.

"Vanilly sets better," Mrs. Bett said.

They sat with her on the porch while she ate. Ina rocked on a creaking
board. Dwight swung a leg over the railing. Monona sat pulling her skirt
over her feet, and humming all on one note. There was no moon, but the
warm dusk had a quality of transparency as if it were lit in all its
particles.

The gate opened, and some one came up the walk. They looked, and it was
Lulu.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, if it ain't Miss Lulu Bett!" Dwight cried involuntarily, and Ina
cried out something.

"How did you know?" Lulu asked.

"Know! Know what?"

"That it ain't Lulu Deacon. Hello, mamma."

She passed the others, and kissed her mother.

"Say," said Mrs. Bett placidly. "And I just ate up the last spoonful o'
cream."

"Ain't Lulu Deacon!" Ina's voice rose and swelled richly. "What you
talking?"

"Didn't he write to you?" Lulu asked.

"Not a word." Dwight answered this. "All we've had we had from you--the
last from Savannah, Georgia."

"Savannah, Georgia," said Lulu, and laughed.

They could see that she was dressed well, in dark red cloth, with a
little tilting hat and a drooping veil. She did not seem in any wise
upset, nor, save for that nervous laughter, did she show her excitement.

"Well, but he's here with you, isn't he?" Dwight demanded. "Isn't he
here? Where is he?"

"Must be 'most to Oregon by this time," Lulu said.

"Oregon!"

"You see," said Lulu, "he had another wife."

"Why, he had not!" exclaimed Dwight absurdly.

"Yes. He hasn't seen her for fifteen years and he thinks she's dead.
But he isn't sure."

"Nonsense," said Dwight. "Why, of course she's dead if he thinks so."

"I had to be sure," said Lulu.

At first dumb before this, Ina now cried out: "Monona! Go upstairs to
bed at once."

"It's only quarter to," said Monona, with assurance.

"Do as mamma tells you."

"But--"

"Monona!"

She went, kissing them all good-night and taking her time about it.
Everything was suspended while she kissed them and departed, walking
slowly backward.

"Married?" said Mrs. Bett with tardy apprehension. "Lulie, was your
husband married?"

"Yes," Lulu said, "my husband was married, mother."

"Mercy," said Ina. "Think of anything like that in our family."

"Well, go on--go on!" Dwight cried. "Tell us about it."

Lulu spoke in a monotone, with her old manner of hesitation:

"We were going to Oregon. First down to New Orleans and then out to
California and up the coast." On this she paused and sighed. "Well, then
at Savannah, Georgia, he said he thought I better know, first. So he
told me."

"Yes--well, what did he _say_?" Dwight demanded irritably.

"Cora Waters," said Lulu. "Cora Waters. She married him down in San
Diego, eighteen years ago. She went to South America with him."

"Well, he never let us know of it, if she did," said Dwight.

"No. She married him just before he went. Then in South America, after
two years, she ran away again. That's all he knows."

"That's a pretty story," said Dwight contemptuously.

"He says if she'd been alive, she'd been after him for a divorce. And
she never has been, so he thinks she must be dead. The trouble is," Lulu
said again, "he wasn't sure. And I had to be sure."

"Well, but mercy," said Ina, "couldn't he find out now?"

"It might take a long time," said Lulu simply, "and I didn't want to
stay and not know."

"Well, then, why didn't he say so here?" Ina's indignation mounted.

"He would have. But you know how sudden everything was. He said he
thought about telling us right there in the restaurant, but of course
that'd been hard--wouldn't it? And then he felt so sure she was dead."

"Why did he tell you at all, then?" demanded Ina, whose processes were
simple.

"Yes. Well! Why indeed?" Dwight Herbert brought out these words with a
curious emphasis.

"I thought that, just at first," Lulu said, "but only just at first. Of
course that wouldn't have been right. And then, you see, he gave me my
choice."

"Gave you your choice?" Dwight echoed.

"Yes. About going on and taking the chances. He gave me my choice when
he told me, there in Savannah, Georgia."

"What made him conclude, by then, that you ought to be told?" Dwight
asked.

"Why, he'd got to thinking about it," she answered.

A silence fell. Lulu sat looking out toward the street.

"The only thing," she said, "as long as it happened, I kind of wish he
hadn't told me till we got to Oregon."

"Lulu!" said Ina. Ina began to cry. "You poor thing!" she said.

Her tears were a signal to Mrs. Bett, who had been striving to
understand all. Now she too wept, tossing up her hands and rocking her
body. Her saucer and spoon clattered on her knee.

"He felt bad too," Lulu said.

"He!" said Dwight. "He must have."

"It's you," Ina sobbed. "It's you. _My_ sister!"

"Well," said Lulu, "but I never thought of it making you both feel bad,
or I wouldn't have come home. I knew," she added, "it'd make Dwight feel
bad. I mean, it was his brother--"

"Thank goodness," Ina broke in, "nobody need know about it."

Lulu regarded her, without change.

"Oh, yes," she said in her monotone. "People will have to know."

"I do not see the necessity." Dwight's voice was an edge. Then too he
said "do not," always with Dwight betokening the finalities.

"Why, what would they think?" Lulu asked, troubled.

"What difference does it make what they think?".

"Why," said Lulu slowly, "I shouldn't like--you see they might--why,
Dwight, I think we'll have to tell them."

"You do! You think the disgrace of bigamy in this family is something
the whole town will have to know about?"

Lulu looked at him with parted lips.

"Say," she said, "I never thought about it being that."

Dwight laughed. "What did you think it was? And whose disgrace is it,
pray?"

"Ninian's," said Lulu.

"Ninian's! Well, he's gone. But you're here. And I'm here. Folks'll feel
sorry for you. But the disgrace--that'd reflect on me. See?"

"But if we don't tell, what'll they think then?"

Said Dwight: "They'll think what they always think when a wife leaves
her husband. They'll think you couldn't get along. That's all."

"I should hate that," said Lulu.

"Well, I should hate the other, let me tell you."

"Dwight, Dwight," said Ina. "Let's go in the house. I'm afraid they'll
hear--"

As they rose, Mrs. Bett plucked at her returned daughter's sleeve.

"Lulie," she said, "was his other wife--was she _there_?"

"No, no, mother. She wasn't there."

Mrs. Bett's lips moved, repeating the words. "Then that ain't so bad,"
she said. "I was afraid maybe she turned you out."

"No," Lulu said, "it wasn't that bad, mother."

Mrs. Bett brightened. In little matters, she quarrelled and resented,
but the large issues left her blank.

Through some indeterminate sense of the importance due this crisis, the
Deacons entered their parlour. Dwight lighted that high, central burner
and faced about, saying:

"In fact, I simply will not have it, Lulu! You expect, I take it, to
make your home with us in the future, on the old terms."

"Well--"

"I mean, did Ninian give you any money?"

"No. He didn't give me any money--only enough to get home on. And I
kept my suit--why!" she flung her head back, "I wouldn't have taken any
money!"

"That means," said Dwight, "that you will have to continue to live
here--on the old terms, and of course I'm quite willing that you should.
Let me tell you, however, that this is on condition--on condition that
this disgraceful business is kept to ourselves."

She made no attempt to combat him now. She looked back at him,
quivering, and in a great surprise, but she said nothing.

"Truly, Lulu," said Ina, "wouldn't that be best? They'll talk anyway.
But this way they'll only talk about you, and the other way it'd be
about all of us."

Lulu said only: "But the other way would be the truth."

Dwight's eyes narrowed: "My dear Lulu," he said, "are you _sure_ of
that?"

"Sure?"

"Yes. Did he give you any proofs?"

"Proofs?"

"Letters--documents of any sort? Any sort of assurance that he was
speaking the truth?"

"Why, no," said Lulu. "Proofs--no. He told me."

"He told you!"

"Why, that was hard enough to have to do. It was terrible for him to
have to do. What proofs--" She stopped, puzzled.

"Didn't it occur to you," said Dwight, "that he might have told you that
because he didn't want to have to go on with it?"

As she met his look, some power seemed to go from Lulu. She sat down,
looked weakly at them, and within her closed lips her jaw was slightly
fallen. She said nothing. And seeing on her skirt a spot of dust she
began to rub at that.

"Why, Dwight!" Ina cried, and moved to her sister's side.

"I may as well tell you," he said, "that I myself have no idea that
Ninian told you the truth. He was always imagining things--you saw
that. I know him pretty well--have been more or less in touch with him
the whole time. In short, I haven't the least idea he was ever married
before."

Lulu continued to rub at her skirt.

"I never thought of that," she said.

"Look here," Dwight went on persuasively, "hadn't you and he had some
little tiff when he told you?"

"No--no! Why, not once. Why, we weren't a bit like you and Ina."

She spoke simply and from her heart and without guile.

"Evidently not," Dwight said drily.

Lulu went on: "He was very good to me. This dress--and my shoes--and my
hat. And another dress, too." She found the pins and took off her hat.
"He liked the red wing," she said. "I wanted black--oh, Dwight! He did
tell me the truth!" It was as if the red wing had abruptly borne mute
witness.

Dwight's tone now mounted. His manner, it mounted too.

"Even if it is true," said he, "I desire that you should keep silent
and protect my family from this scandal. I merely mention my doubts to
you for your own profit."

"My own profit!"

She said no more, but rose and moved to the door.

"Lulu--you see! With Di and all!" Ina begged. "We just couldn't have
this known--even if it was so."

"You have it in your hands," said Dwight, "to repay me, Lulu, for
anything that you feel I may have done for you in the past. You also
have it in your hands to decide whether your home here continues. That
is not a pleasant position for me to find myself in. It is distinctly
unpleasant, I may say. But you see for yourself."

Lulu went on, into the passage.

"Wasn't she married when she thought she was?" Mrs. Bett cried shrilly.

"Mamma," said Ina. "Do, please, remember Monona. Yes--Dwight thinks
she's married all right now--and that it's all right, all the time."

"Well, I hope so, for pity sakes," said Mrs. Bett, and left the room
with her daughter.

Hearing the stir, Monona upstairs lifted her voice:

"Mamma! Come on and hear my prayers, why don't you?"

       *       *       *       *       *

When they came downstairs next morning, Lulu had breakfast ready.

"Well!" cried Ina in her curving tone, "if this isn't like old times."

Lulu said yes, that it was like old times, and brought the bacon to the
table.

"Lulu's the only one in _this_ house can cook the bacon so's it'll
chew," Mrs. Bett volunteered. She was wholly affable, and held
contentedly to Ina's last word that Dwight thought now it was all right.

"Ho!" said Dwight. "The happy family, once more about the festive
toaster." He gauged the moment to call for good cheer. Ina, too, became
breezy, blithe. Monona caught their spirit and laughed, head thrown well
back and gently shaken.

Di came in. She had been told that Auntie Lulu was at home, and that
she, Di, wasn't to say anything to her about anything, nor anything to
anybody else about Auntie Lulu being back. Under these prohibitions,
which loosed a thousand speculations, Di was very nearly paralysed. She
stared at her Aunt Lulu incessantly.

Not one of them had even a talent for the casual, save Lulu herself.
Lulu was amazingly herself. She took her old place, assumed her old
offices. When Monona declared against bacon, it was Lulu who suggested
milk toast and went to make it.

"Mamma," Di whispered then, like escaping steam, "isn't Uncle Ninian
coming too?"

"Hush. No. Now don't ask any more questions."

"Well, can't I tell Bobby and Jenny she's here?"

"_No_. Don't say anything at all about her."

"But, mamma. What has she done?"

"Di! Do as mamma tells you. Don't you think mamma knows best?"

Di of course did not think so, had not thought so for a long time. But
now Dwight said:

"Daughter! Are you a little girl or are you our grown-up young lady?"

"I don't know," said Di reasonably, "but I think you're treating me like
a little girl now."

"Shame, Di," said Ina, unabashed by the accident of reason being on the
side of Di.

"I'm eighteen," Di reminded them forlornly, "and through high school."

"Then act so," boomed her father.

Baffled, thwarted, bewildered, Di went over to Jenny Plow's and there
imparted understanding by the simple process of letting Jenny guess, to
questions skilfully shaped.

When Dwight said, "Look at my beautiful handkerchief," displayed a
hole, sent his Ina for a better, Lulu, with a manner of haste, addressed
him:

"Dwight. It's a funny thing, but I haven't Ninian's Oregon address."

"Well?"

"Well, I wish you'd give it to me."

Dwight tightened and lifted his lips. "It would seem," he said, "that
you have no real use for that particular address, Lulu."

"Yes, I have. I want it. You have it, haven't you, Dwight?"

"Certainly I have it."

"Won't you please write it down for me?" She had ready a bit of paper
and a pencil stump.

"My dear Lulu, now why revive anything? Why not he sensible and leave
this alone? No good can come by--"

"But why shouldn't I have his address?"

"If everything is over between you, why should you?"

"But you say he's still my husband."

Dwight flushed. "If my brother has shown his inclination as plainly as
I judge that he has, it is certainly not my place to put you in touch
with him again."

"You won't give it to me?"

"My dear Lulu, in all kindness--no."

His Ina came running back, bearing handkerchiefs with different coloured
borders for him to choose from. He chose the initial that she had
embroidered, and had not the good taste not to kiss her.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were all on the porch that evening, when Lulu came downstairs.

"_Where_ are you going?" Ina demanded, sisterly. And on hearing that
Lulu had an errand, added still more sisterly; "Well, but mercy, what
you so dressed up for?"

Lulu was in a thin black and white gown which they had never seen, and
wore the tilting hat with the red wing.

"Ninian bought me this," said Lulu only.

"But, Lulu, don't you think it might be better to keep, well--out of
sight for a few days?" Ina's lifted look besought her.

"Why?" Lulu asked.

"Why set people wondering till we have to?"

"They don't have to wonder, far as I'm concerned," said Lulu, and went
down the walk.

Ina looked at Dwight. "She never spoke to me like that in her life
before," she said.

She watched her sister's black and white figure going erectly down the
street.

"That gives me the funniest feeling," said Ina, "as if Lulu had on
clothes bought for her by some one that wasn't--that was--"

"By her husband who has left her," said Dwight sadly.

"Is that what it is, papa?" Di asked alertly. For a wonder, she was
there; had been there the greater part of the day--most of the time
staring, fascinated, at her Aunt Lulu.

"That's what it is, my little girl," said Dwight, and shook his head.

"Well, I think it's a shame," said Di stoutly. "And I think Uncle Ninian
is a slunge."

"Di!"

"I do. And I'd be ashamed to think anything else. I'd like to tell
everybody."

"There is," said Dwight, "no need for secrecy--now."

"Dwight!" said Ina--Ina's eyes always remained expressionless, but it
must have been her lashes that looked so startled.

"No need whatever for secrecy," he repeated with firmness. "The truth
is, Lulu's husband has tired of her and sent her home. We must face it."

"But, Dwight--how awful for Lulu...."

"Lulu," said Dwight, "has us to stand by her."

Lulu, walking down the main street, thought:

"Now Mis' Chambers is seeing me. Now Mis' Curtis. There's somebody
behind the vines at Mis' Martin's. Here comes Mis' Grove and I've got
to speak to her...."

One and another and another met her, and every one cried out at her some
version of:

"Lulu Bett!" Or, "W-well, it _isn't_ Lulu Bett any more, is it? Well,
what are you doing here? I thought...."

"I'm back to stay," she said.

"The idea! Well, where you hiding that handsome husband of yours? Say,
but we were surprised! You're the sly one--"

"My--Mr. Deacon isn't here."

"Oh."

"No. He's West."

"Oh, I see."

Having no arts, she must needs let the conversation die like this, could
invent nothing concealing or gracious on which to move away.

She went to the post-office. It was early, there were few at the
post-office--with only one or two there had she to go through her
examination. Then she went to the general delivery window, tense for a
new ordeal.

To her relief, the face which was shown there was one strange to her, a
slim youth, reading a letter of his own, and smiling.

"Excuse me," said Lulu faintly.

The youth looked up, with eyes warmed by the words on the pink paper
which he held.

"Could you give me the address of Mr. Ninian Deacon?"

"Let's see--you mean Dwight Deacon, I guess?"

"No. It's his brother. He's been here. From Oregon. I thought he might
have given you his address--" she dwindled away.

"Wait a minute," said the youth. "Nope. No address here. Say, why don't
you send it to his brother? He'd know. Dwight Deacon, the dentist."

"I'll do that," Lulu said absurdly, and turned away.

She went back up the street, walking fast now to get away from them
all. Once or twice she pretended not to see a familiar face. But when
she passed the mirror in an insurance office window, she saw her
reflection and at its appearance she felt surprise and pleasure.

"Well!" she thought, almost in Ina's own manner.

Abruptly her confidence rose.

Something of this confidence was still upon her when she returned. They
were in the dining-room now, all save Di, who was on the porch with
Bobby, and Monona, who was in bed and might be heard extravagantly
singing.

Lulu sat down with her hat on. When Dwight inquired playfully, "Don't we
look like company?" she did not reply. He looked at her speculatively.
Where had she gone, with whom had she talked, what had she told? Ina
looked at her rather fearfully. But Mrs. Bett rocked contentedly and ate
cardamom seeds.

"Whom did you see?" Ina asked.

Lulu named them.

"See them to talk to?" from Dwight.

Oh, yes. They had all stopped.

"What did they say?" Ina burst out.

They had inquired for Ninian, Lulu said; and said no more.

Dwight mulled this. Lulu might have told every one of these women that
cock-and-bull story with which she had come home. It might be all over
town. Of course, in that case he could turn Lulu out--should do so, in
fact. Still the story would be all over town.

"Dwight," said Lulu, "I want Ninian's address."

"Going to write to him!" Ina cried incredulously.

"I want to ask him for the proofs that Dwight wanted."

"My dear Lulu," Dwight said impatiently, "you are not the one to write.
Have you no delicacy?"

Lulu smiled--a strange smile, originating and dying in one corner of
her mouth.

"Yes," she said. "So much delicacy that I want to be sure whether I'm
married or not."

Dwight cleared his throat with a movement which seemed to use his
shoulders for the purpose.

"I myself will take this up with my brother," he said. "I will write to
him about it."

Lulu sprang to her feet. "Write to him _now_!" she cried.

"Really," said Dwight, lifting his brows.

"Now--now!" Lulu said. She moved about, collecting writing materials
from their casual lodgments on shelf and table. She set all before him
and stood by him. "Write to him now," she said again.

"My dear Lulu, don't be absurd."

She said: "Ina. Help me. If it was Dwight--and they didn't know whether
he had another wife, or not, and you wanted to ask him--oh, don't you
see? Help me."

Ina was not yet the woman to cry for justice for its own sake, nor even
to stand by another woman. She was primitive, and her instinct was to
look to her own male merely.

"Well," she said, "of course. But why not let Dwight do it in his own
way? Wouldn't that be better?"

She put it to her sister fairly: Now, no matter what Dwight's way was,
wouldn't that be better?

"Mother!" said Lulu. She looked irresolutely toward her mother. But Mrs.
Bett was eating cardamom seeds with exceeding gusto, and Lulu looked
away. Caught by the gesture, Mrs. Bett voiced her grievance.

"Lulie," she said, "Set down. Take off your hat, why don't you?"

Lulu turned upon Dwight a quiet face which he had never seen before.

"You write that letter to Ninian," she said, "and you make him tell you
so you'll understand. _I_ know he spoke the truth. But I want you to
know."

"M--m," said Dwight. "And then I suppose you're going to tell it all
over town--as soon as you have the proofs."

"I'm going to tell it all over town," said Lulu, "just as it is--unless
you write to him now."

"Lulu!" cried Ina. "Oh, you wouldn't."

"I would," said Lulu. "I will."

Dwight was sobered. This unimagined Lulu looked capable of it. But then
he sneered.

"And get turned out of this house, as you would be?"

"Dwight!" cried his Ina. "Oh, you wouldn't!"

"I would," said Dwight. "I will. Lulu knows it."

"I shall tell what I know and then leave your house anyway," said Lulu,
"unless you get Ninian's word. And I want you should write him now."

"Leave your mother? And Ina?" he asked.

"Leave everything," said Lulu.

"Oh, Dwight," said Ina, "we can't get along without Lulu." She did not
say in what particulars, but Dwight knew.

Dwight looked at Lulu, an upward, sidewise look, with a manner of
peering out to see if she meant it. And he saw.

He shrugged, pursed his lips crookedly, rolled his head to signify the
inexpressible. "Isn't that like a woman?" he demanded. He rose. "Rather
than let you in for a show of temper," he said grandly, "I'd do
anything."

He wrote the letter, addressed it, his hand elaborately curved in
secrecy about the envelope, pocketed it.

"Ina and I'll walk down with you to mail it," said Lulu.

Dwight hesitated, frowned. His Ina watched him with consulting brows.

"I was going," said Dwight, "to propose a little stroll before bedtime."
He roved about the room. "Where's my beautiful straw hat? There's
nothing like a brisk walk to induce sound, restful sleep," he told them.
He hummed a bar.

"You'll be all right, mother?" Lulu asked.

Mrs. Bett did not look up. "These cardamon hev got a little mite too
dry," she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

In their room, Ina and Dwight discussed the incredible actions of Lulu.

"I saw," said Dwight, "I saw she wasn't herself. I'd do anything to
avoid having a scene--you know that." His glance swept a little
anxiously his Ina. "You know that, don't you?" he sharply inquired.

"But I really think you ought to have written to Ninian about it," she
now dared to say. "It's--it's not a nice position for Lulu."

"Nice? Well, but whom has she got to blame for it?"

"Why, Ninian," said Ina.

Dwight threw out his hands. "Herself," he said. "To tell you the truth,
I was perfectly amazed at the way she snapped him up there in that
restaurant."

"Why, but, Dwight--"

"Brazen," he said. "Oh, it was brazen."

"It was just fun, in the first place."

"But no really nice woman--" he shook his head.

"Dwight! Lulu _is_ nice. The idea!"

He regarded her. "Would you have done that?" he would know.

Under his fond look, she softened, took his homage, accepted everything,
was silent.

"Certainly not," he said. "Lulu's tastes are not fine like yours. I
should never think of you as sisters."

"She's awfully good," Ina said feebly. Fifteen years of married life
behind her--but this was sweet and she could not resist.

"She has excellent qualities." He admitted it. "But look at the position
she's in--married to a man who tells her he has another wife in order
to get free. Now, no really nice woman--"

"No really nice man--" Ina did say that much.

"Ah," said Dwight, "but _you_ could never be in such a position. No, no.
Lulu is sadly lacking somewhere."

Ina sighed, threw back her head, caught her lower lip with her upper, as
might be in a hem. "What if it was Di?" she supposed.

"Di!" Dwight's look rebuked his wife. "Di," he said, "was born with
ladylike feelings."

It was not yet ten o'clock. Bobby Larkin was permitted to stay until
ten. From the veranda came the indistinguishable murmur of those young
voices.

"Bobby," Di was saying within that murmur, "Bobby, you don't kiss me as
if you really wanted to kiss me, to-night."



VI


SEPTEMBER

The office of Dwight Herbert Deacon, Dentist, Gold Work a Speciality
(sic) in black lettering, and Justice of the Peace in gold, was above a
store which had been occupied by one unlucky tenant after another, and
had suffered long periods of vacancy when ladies' aid societies served
lunches there, under great white signs, badly lettered. Some months of
disuse were now broken by the news that the store had been let to a
music man. A music man, what on earth was that, Warbleton inquired.

The music man arrived, installed three pianos, and filled his window
with sheet music, as sung by many ladies who swung in hammocks or kissed
their hands on the music covers. While he was still moving in, Dwight
Herbert Deacon wandered downstairs and stood informally in the door of
the new store. The music man, a pleasant-faced chap of thirty-odd, was
rubbing at the face of a piano.

"Hello, there!" he said. "Can I sell you an upright?"

"If I can take it out in pulling your teeth, you can," Dwight replied.
"Or," said he, "I might marry you free, either one."

On this their friendship began. Thenceforth, when business was dull, the
idle hours of both men were beguiled with idle gossip.

"How the dickens did you think of pianos for a line?" Dwight asked him
once. "Now, my father was a dentist, so I came by it natural--never
entered my head to be anything else. But _pianos_--"

The music man--his name was Neil Cornish--threw up his chin in a boyish
fashion, and said he'd be jiggered if he knew. All up and down the
Warbleton main street, the chances are that the answer would sound the
same. "I'm studying law when I get the chance," said Cornish, as one who
makes a bid to be thought of more highly.

"I see," said Dwight, respectfully dwelling on the verb.

Later on Cornish confided more to Dwight: He was to come by a little
inheritance some day--not much, but something. Yes, it made a man feel a
certain confidence....

"_Don't_ it?" said Dwight heartily, as if he knew.

Every one liked Cornish. He told funny stories, and he never compared
Warbleton save to its advantage. So at last Dwight said tentatively at
lunch:

"What if I brought that Neil Cornish up for supper, one of these
nights?"

"Oh, Dwightie, do," said Ina. "If there's a man in town, let's know it."

"What if I brought him up to-night?"

Up went Ina's eyebrows. _To-night_?

"'Scalloped potatoes and meat loaf and sauce and bread and butter,"
Lulu contributed.

Cornish came to supper. He was what is known in Warbleton as dapper.
This Ina saw as she emerged on the veranda in response to Dwight's
informal halloo on his way upstairs. She herself was in white muslin,
now much too snug, and a blue ribbon. To her greeting their guest
replied in that engaging shyness which is not awkwardness. He moved in
some pleasant web of gentleness and friendliness.

They asked him the usual questions, and he replied, rocking all the time
with a faint undulating motion of head and shoulders: Warbleton was one
of the prettiest little towns that he had ever seen. He liked the
people--they seemed different. He was sure to like the place, already
liked it. Lulu came to the door in Ninian's thin black-and-white gown.
She shook hands with the stranger, not looking at him, and said, "Come
to supper, all." Monona was already in her place, singing under-breath.
Mrs. Bett, after hovering in the kitchen door, entered; but they forgot
to introduce her.

"Where's Di?" asked Ina. "I declare that daughter of mine is never
anywhere."

A brief silence ensued as they were seated. There being a guest, grace
was to come, and Dwight said unintelligibly and like lightning a generic
appeal to bless this food, forgive all our sins and finally save us. And
there was something tremendous, in this ancient form whereby all stages
of men bow in some now unrecognized recognition of the ceremonial of
taking food to nourish life--and more.

At "Amen" Di flashed in, her offices at the mirror fresh upon
her--perfect hair, silk dress turned up at the hem. She met Cornish,
crimsoned, fluttered to her seat, joggled the table and, "Oh, dear," she
said audibly to her mother, "I forgot my ring."

The talk was saved alive by a frank effort. Dwight served, making jests
about everybody coming back for more. They went on with Warbleton
happenings, improvements and openings; and the runaway. Cornish tried
hard to make himself agreeable, not ingratiatingly but good-naturedly.
He wished profoundly that before coming he had looked up some more
stories in the back of the Musical Gazettes. Lulu surreptitiously
pinched off an ant that was running at large upon the cloth and
thereafter kept her eyes steadfastly on the sugar-bowl to see if it
could be from _that_. Dwight pretended that those whom he was helping a
second time were getting more than their share and facetiously landed on
Di about eating so much that she would grow up and be married, first
thing she knew. At the word "married" Di turned scarlet, laughed
heartily and lifted her glass of water.

"And what instruments do you play?" Ina asked Cornish, in an unrelated
effort to lift the talk to musical levels.

"Well, do you know," said the music man, "I can't play a thing. Don't
know a black note from a white one."

"You don't? Why, Di plays very prettily," said Di's mother. "But then
how can you tell what songs to order?" Ina cried.

"Oh, by the music houses. You go by the sales." For the first time it
occurred to Cornish that this was ridiculous. "You know, I'm really
studying law," he said, shyly and proudly. Law! How very interesting,
from Ina. Oh, but won't he bring up some songs some evening, for them to
try over? Her and Di? At this Di laughed and said that she was out of
practice and lifted her glass of water. In the presence of adults Di
made one weep, she was so slender, so young, so without defences, so
intolerably sensitive to every contact, so in agony lest she be found
wanting. It was amazing how unlike was this Di to the Di who had
ensnared Bobby Larkin. What was one to think?

Cornish paid very little attention to her. To Lulu he said kindly,
"Don't you play, Miss--?" He had not caught her name--no stranger ever
did catch it. But Dwight now supplied it: "Miss Lulu Bett," he explained
with loud emphasis, and Lulu burned her slow red. This question Lulu had
usually answered by telling how a felon had interrupted her lessons and
she had stopped "taking"--a participle sacred to music, in Warbleton.
This vignette had been a kind of epitome of Lulu's biography. But now
Lulu was heard to say serenely:

"No, but I'm quite fond of it. I went to a lovely concert--two weeks
ago."

They all listened. Strange indeed to think of Lulu as having had
experiences of which they did not know.

"Yes," she said. "It was in Savannah, Georgia." She flushed, and lifted
her eyes in a manner of faint defiance. "Of course," she said, "I don't
know the names of all the different instruments they played, but there
were a good many." She laughed pleasantly as a part of her sentence.
"They had some lovely tunes," she said. She knew that the subject was
not exhausted and she hurried on. "The hall was real large," she
superadded, "and there were quite a good many people there. And it was
too warm."

"I see," said Cornish, and said what he had been waiting to say: That he
too had been in Savannah, Georgia.

Lulu lit with pleasure. "Well!" she said. And her mind worked and she
caught at the moment before it had escaped. "Isn't it a pretty city?"
she asked. And Cornish assented with the intense heartiness of the
provincial. He, too, it seemed, had a conversational appearance to
maintain by its own effort. He said that he had enjoyed being in that
town and that he was there for two hours.

"I was there for a week." Lulu's superiority was really pretty.

"Have good weather?" Cornish selected next.

Oh, yes. And they saw all the different buildings--but at her "we" she
flushed and was silenced. She was colouring and breathing quickly. This
was the first bit of conversation of this sort of Lulu's life.

After supper Ina inevitably proposed croquet, Dwight pretended to try to
escape and, with his irrepressible mien, talked about Ina, elaborate in
his insistence on the third person--"She loves it, we have to humour
her, you know how it is. Or no! You don't know! But you will"--and more
of the same sort, everybody laughing heartily, save Lulu, who looked
uncomfortable and wished that Dwight wouldn't, and Mrs. Bett, who paid
no attention to anybody that night, not because she had not been
introduced, an omission, which she had not even noticed, but merely as
another form of "tantrim." A self-indulgence.

They emerged for croquet. And there on the porch sat Jenny Plow and
Bobby, waiting for Di to keep an old engagement, which Di pretended to
have forgotten, and to be frightfully annoyed to have to keep. She met
the objections of her parents with all the batteries of her coquetry,
set for both Bobby and Cornish and, bold in the presence of "company,"
at last went laughing away. And in the minute areas of her consciousness
she said to herself that Bobby would be more in love with her than ever
because she had risked all to go with him; and that Cornish ought to be
distinctly attracted to her because she had not stayed. She was as
primitive as pollen.

Ina was vexed. She said so, pouting in a fashion which she should have
outgrown with white muslin and blue ribbons, and she had outgrown none
of these things.

"That just spoils croquet," she said. "I'm vexed. Now we can't have a
real game."

From the side-door, where she must have been lingering among the
waterproofs, Lulu stepped forth.

"I'll play a game," she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Cornish actually proposed to bring some music to the Deacons', Ina
turned toward Dwight Herbert all the facets of her responsibility. And
Ina's sense of responsibility toward Di was enormous, oppressive,
primitive, amounting, in fact, toward this daughter of Dwight Herbert's
late wife, to an ability to compress the offices of stepmotherhood into
the functions of the lecture platform. Ina was a fountain of admonition.
Her idea of a daughter, step or not, was that of a manufactured product,
strictly, which you constantly pinched and moulded. She thought that a
moral preceptor had the right to secrete precepts. Di got them all. But
of course the crest of Ina's responsibility was to marry Di. This verb
should be transitive only when lovers are speaking of each other, or the
minister or magistrate is speaking of lovers. It should never be
transitive when predicated of parents or any other third party. But it
is. Ina was quite agitated by its transitiveness as she took to her
husband her incredible responsibility.

"You know, Herbert," said Ina, "if this Mr. Cornish comes here _very_
much, what we may expect."

"What may we expect?" demanded Dwight Herbert, crisply.

Ina always played his games, answered what he expected her to answer,
pretended to be intuitive when she was not so, said "I know" when she
didn't know at all. Dwight Herbert, on the other hand, did not even play
her games when he knew perfectly what she meant, but pretended not to
understand, made her repeat, made her explain. It was as if Ina _had_ to
please him for, say, a living; but as for that dentist, he had to please
nobody. In the conversations of Dwight and Ina you saw the historical
home forming in clots in the fluid wash of the community.

"He'll fall in love with Di," said Ina.

"And what of that? Little daughter will have many a man fall in love
with her, _I_ should say."

"Yes, but, Dwight, what do you think of him?"

"What do I think of him? My dear Ina, I have other things to think of."

"But we don't know anything about him, Dwight--a stranger so."

"On the other hand," said Dwight with dignity, "I know a good deal about
him."

With a great air of having done the fatherly and found out about this
stranger before bringing him into the home, Dwight now related a number
of stray circumstances dropped by Cornish in their chance talks.

"He has a little inheritance coming to him--shortly," Dwight wound up.

"An inheritance--really? How much, Dwight?"

"Now isn't that like a woman. Isn't it?"

"I _thought_ he was from a good family," said Ina.

"My mercenary little pussy!"

"Well," she said with a sigh, "I shouldn't be surprised if Di did really
accept him. A young girl is awfully flattered when a good-looking older
man pays her attention. Haven't you noticed that?"

Dwight informed her, with an air of immense abstraction, that he left
all such matters to her. Being married to Dwight was like a perpetual
rehearsal, with Dwight's self-importance for audience.

A few evenings later, Cornish brought up the music. There was something
overpowering in this brown-haired chap against the background of his
negligible little shop, his whole capital in his few pianos. For he
looked hopefully ahead, woke with plans, regarded the children in the
street as if, conceivably, children might come within the confines of
his life as he imagined it. A preposterous little man. And a
preposterous store, empty, echoing, bare of wall, the three pianos near
the front, the remainder of the floor stretching away like the corridors
of the lost. He was going to get a dark curtain, he explained, and
furnish the back part of the store as his own room. What dignity in
phrasing, but how mean that little room would look--cot bed, washbowl
and pitcher, and little mirror--almost certainly a mirror with a wavy
surface, almost certainly that.

"And then, you know," he always added, "I'm reading law."

The Plows had been asked in that evening. Bobby was there. They were,
Dwight Herbert said, going to have a sing.

Di was to play. And Di was now embarked on the most difficult feat of
her emotional life, the feat of remaining to Bobby Larkin the lure, the
beloved lure, the while to Cornish she instinctively played the rôle of
womanly little girl.

"Up by the festive lamp, everybody!" Dwight Herbert cried.

As they gathered about the upright piano, that startled, Dwightish
instrument, standing in its attitude of unrest, Lulu came in with
another lamp.

"Do you need this?" she asked.

They did not need it, there was, in fact, no place to set it, and this
Lulu must have known. But Dwight found a place. He swept Ninian's
photograph from the marble shelf of the mirror, and when Lulu had placed
the lamp there, Dwight thrust the photograph into her hands.

"You take care of that," he said, with a droop of lid discernible only
to those who--presumably--loved him. His old attitude toward Lulu had
shown a terrible sharpening in these ten days since her return.

She stood uncertainly, in the thin black and white gown which Ninian had
bought for her, and held Ninian's photograph and looked helplessly
about. She was moving toward the door when Cornish called:

"See here! Aren't _you_ going to sing?"

"What?" Dwight used the falsetto. "Lulu sing? _Lulu_?"

She stood awkwardly. She had a piteous recrudescence of her old agony at
being spoken to in the presence of others. But Di had opened the "Album
of Old Favourites," which Cornish had elected to bring, and now she
struck the opening chords of "Bonny Eloise." Lulu stood still, looking
rather piteously at Cornish. Dwight offered his arm, absurdly crooked.
The Plows and Ina and Di began to sing. Lulu moved forward, and stood a
little away from them, and sang, too. She was still holding Ninian's
picture. Dwight did not sing. He lifted his shoulders and his eyebrows
and watched Lulu.

When they had finished, "Lulu the mocking bird!" Dwight cried. He said
"ba-ird."

"Fine!" cried Cornish. "Why, Miss Lulu, you have a good voice!"

"Miss Lulu Bett, the mocking ba-ird!" Dwight insisted.

Lulu was excited, and in some accession of faint power. She turned to
him now, quietly, and with a look of appraisal.

"Lulu the dove," she then surprisingly said, "to put up with you."

It was her first bit of conscious repartee to her brother-in-law.

Cornish was bending over Di.

"What next do you say?" he asked.

She lifted her eyes, met his own, held them. "There's such a lovely,
lovely sacred song here," she suggested, and looked down.

"You like sacred music?"

She turned to him her pure profile, her eyelids fluttering up, and said:
"I love it."

"That's it. So do I. Nothing like a nice sacred piece," Cornish
declared.

Bobby Larkin, at the end of the piano, looked directly into Di's face.

"Give _me_ ragtime," he said now, with the effect of bursting out of
somewhere. "Don't you like ragtime?" he put it to her directly.

Di's eyes danced into his, they sparkled for him, her smile was a smile
for him alone, all their store of common memories was in their look.

"Let's try 'My Rock, My Refuge,'" Cornish suggested. "That's got up real
attractive."

Di's profile again, and her pleased voice saying that this was the very
one she had been hoping to hear him sing.

They gathered for "My Rock, My Refuge."

"Oh," cried Ina, at the conclusion of this number, "I'm having such a
perfectly beautiful time. Isn't everybody?" everybody's hostess put it.

"Lulu is," said Dwight, and added softly to Lulu: "She don't have to
hear herself sing."

It was incredible. He was like a bad boy with a frog. About that
photograph of Ninian he found a dozen ways to torture her, called
attention to it, showed it to Cornish, set it on the piano facing them
all. Everybody must have understood--excepting the Plows. These two
gentle souls sang placidly through the Album of Old Favourites, and at
the melodies smiled happily upon each other with an air from another
world. Always it was as if the Plows walked some fair, inter-penetrating
plane, from which they looked out as do other things not quite of
earth, say, flowers and fire and music.

Strolling home that night, the Plows were overtaken by some one who ran
badly, and as if she were unaccustomed to running.

"Mis' Plow, Mis' Plow!" this one called, and Lulu stood beside them.

"Say!" she said. "Do you know of any job that I could get me? I mean
that I'd know how to do? A job for money.... I mean a job...."

She burst into passionate crying. They drew her home with them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lying awake sometime after midnight, Lulu heard the telephone ring. She
heard Dwight's concerned "Is that so?" And his cheerful "Be right
there."

Grandma Gates was sick, she heard him tell Ina. In a few moments he ran
down the stairs. Next day they told how Dwight had sat for hours that
night, holding Grandma Gates so that her back would rest easily and she
could fight for her faint breath. The kind fellow had only about two
hours of sleep the whole night long.

Next day there came a message from that woman who had brought up
Dwight--"made him what he was," he often complacently accused her. It
was a note on a postal card--she had often written a few lines on a
postal card to say that she had sent the maple sugar, or could Ina get
her some samples. Now she wrote a few lines on a postal card to say that
she was going to die with cancer. Could Dwight and Ina come to her while
she was still able to visit? If he was not too busy....

Nobody saw the pity and the terror of that postal card. They stuck it up
by the kitchen clock to read over from time to time, and before they
left, Dwight lifted the griddle of the cooking-stove and burned the
postal card.

And before they left Lulu said: "Dwight--you can't tell how long you'll
be gone?"

"Of course not. How should I tell?"

"No. And that letter might come while you're away."

"Conceivably. Letters do come while a man's away!"

"Dwight--I thought if you wouldn't mind if I opened it--"

"Opened it?"

"Yes. You see, it'll be about me mostly--"

"I should have said that it'll be about my brother mostly."

"But you know what I mean. You wouldn't mind if I did open it?"

"But you say you know what'll be in it."

"So I did know--till you--I've got to see that letter, Dwight."

"And so you shall. But not till I show it to you. My dear Lulu, you know
how I hate having my mail interfered with."

She might have said: "Small souls always make a point of that." She said
nothing. She watched them set off, and kept her mind on Ina's thousand
injunctions.

"Don't let Di see much of Bobby Larkin. And, Lulu--if it occurs to her
to have Mr. Cornish come up to sing, of course you ask him. You might
ask him to supper. And don't let mother overdo. And, Lulu, now do watch
Monona's handkerchief--the child will never take a clean one if I'm not
here to tell her...."

She breathed injunctions to the very step of the 'bus.

In the 'bus Dwight leaned forward:

"See that you play post-office squarely, Lulu!" he called, and threw
back his head and lifted his eyebrows.

In the train he turned tragic eyes to his wife.

"Ina," he said. "It's _ma_. And she's going to die. It can't be...."

Ina said: "But you're going to help her, Dwight, just being there with
her."

It was true that the mere presence of the man would bring a kind of
fresh life to that worn frame. Tact and wisdom and love would speak
through him and minister.

Toward the end of their week's absence the letter from Ninian came.

Lulu took it from the post-office when she went for the mail that
evening, dressed in her dark red gown. There was no other letter, and
she carried that one letter in her hand all through the streets. She
passed those who were surmising what her story might be, who were
telling one another what they had heard. But she knew hardly more than
they. She passed Cornish in the doorway of his little music shop, and
spoke with him; and there was the letter. It was so that Dwight's foster
mother's postal card might have looked on its way to be mailed.

Cornish stepped down and overtook her.

"Oh, Miss Lulu. I've got a new song or two--"

She said abstractedly: "Do. Any night. To-morrow night--could you--" It
was as if Lulu were too preoccupied to remember to be ill at ease.

Cornish flushed with pleasure, said that he could indeed.

"Come for supper," Lulu said.

Oh, could he? Wouldn't that be.... Well, say! Such was his acceptance.

He came for supper. And Di was not at home. She had gone off in the
country with Jenny and Bobby, and they merely did not return.

Mrs. Bett and Lulu and Cornish and Monona supped alone. All were at
ease, now that they were alone. Especially Mrs. Bett was at ease. It
became one of her young nights, her alive and lucid nights. She was
_there_. She sat in Dwight's chair and Lulu sat in Ina's chair. Lulu had
picked flowers for the table--a task coveted by her but usually
performed by Ina. Lulu had now picked Sweet William and had filled a
vase of silver gilt taken from the parlour. Also, Lulu had made
ice-cream.

"I don't see what Di can be thinking of," Lulu said. "It seems like
asking you under false--" She was afraid of "pretences" and ended
without it.

Cornish savoured his steaming beef pie, with sage. "Oh, well!" he said
contentedly.

"Kind of a relief, _I_ think, to have her gone," said Mrs. Bett, from
the fulness of something or other.

"Mother!" Lulu said, twisting her smile.

"Why, my land, I love her," Mrs. Bett explained, "but she wiggles and
chitters."

Cornish never made the slightest effort, at any time, to keep a straight
face. The honest fellow now laughed loudly.

"Well!" Lulu thought. "He can't be so _very_ much in love." And again
she thought: "He doesn't know anything about the letter. He thinks
Ninian got tired of me." Deep in her heart there abode her certainty
that this was not so.

By some etiquette of consent, Mrs. Bett cleared the table and Lulu and
Cornish went into the parlour. There lay the letter on the drop-leaf
side-table, among the shells. Lulu had carried it there, where she need
not see it at her work. The letter looked no more than the advertisement
of dental office furniture beneath it. Monona stood indifferently
fingering both.

"Monona," Lulu said sharply, "leave them be!"

Cornish was displaying his music. "Got up quite attractive," he said--it
was his formula of praise for his music.

"But we can't try it over," Lulu said, "if Di doesn't come."

"Well, say," said Cornish shyly, "you know I left that Album of Old
Favourites here. Some of them we know by heart."

Lulu looked. "I'll tell you something," she said, "there's some of these
I can play with one hand--by ear. Maybe--"

"Why sure!" said Cornish.

Lulu sat at the piano. She had on the wool chally, long sacred to the
nights when she must combine her servant's estate with the quality of
being Ina's sister. She wore her coral beads and her cameo cross. In
her absence she had caught the trick of dressing her hair so that it
looked even more abundant--but she had not dared to try it so until
to-night, when Dwight was gone. Her long wrist was curved high, her thin
hand pressed and fingered awkwardly, and at her mistakes her head dipped
and strove to make all right. Her foot continuously touched the loud
pedal--the blurred sound seemed to accomplish more. So she played "How
Can I Leave Thee," and they managed to sing it. So she played "Long,
Long Ago," and "Little Nell of Narragansett Bay." Beyond open doors,
Mrs. Bett listened, sang, it may be, with them; for when the singers
ceased, her voice might be heard still humming a loud closing bar.

"Well!" Cornish cried to Lulu; and then, in the formal village phrase:
"You're quite a musician."

"Oh, no!" Lulu disclaimed it. She looked up, flushed, smiling. "I've
never done this in front of anybody," she owned. "I don't know what
Dwight and Ina'd say...." She drooped.

They rested, and, miraculously, the air of the place had stirred and
quickened, as if the crippled, halting melody had some power of its own,
and poured this forth, even thus trampled.

"I guess you could do 'most anything you set your hand to," said
Cornish.

"Oh, no," Lulu said again.

"Sing and play and cook--"

"But I can't earn anything. I'd like to earn something." But this she
had not meant to say. She stopped, rather frightened.

"You would! Why, you have it fine here, I thought."

"Oh, fine, yes. Dwight gives me what I have. And I do their work."

"I see," said Cornish. "I never thought of that," he added. She caught
his speculative look--he had heard a tale or two concerning her return,
as who in Warbleton had not heard?

"You're wondering why I didn't stay with him!" Lulu said recklessly.
This was no less than wrung from her, but its utterance occasioned in
her an unspeakable relief.

"Oh, no," Cornish disclaimed, and coloured and rocked.

"Yes, you are," she swept on. "The whole town's wondering. Well, I'd
like 'em to know, but Dwight won't let me tell."

Cornish frowned, trying to understand.

"'Won't let you!'" he repeated. "I should say that was your own affair."

"No. Not when Dwight gives me all I have."

"Oh, that--" said Cornish. "That's not right."

"No. But there it is. It puts me--you see what it does to me. They
think--they all think my--husband left me."

It was curious to hear her bring out that word--tentatively,
deprecatingly, like some one daring a foreign phrase without warrant.

Cornish said feebly: "Oh, well...."

Before she willed it, she was telling him:

"He didn't. He didn't leave me," she cried with passion. "He had another
wife." Incredibly it was as if she were defending both him and herself.

"Lord sakes!" said Cornish.

She poured it out, in her passion to tell some one, to share her news of
her state where there would be neither hardness nor censure.

"We were in Savannah, Georgia," she said. "We were going to leave for
Oregon--going to go through California. We were in the hotel, and he was
going out to get the tickets. He started to go. Then he came back. I was
sitting the same as there. He opened the door again--the same as here. I
saw he looked different--and he said quick: 'There's something you'd
ought to know before we go.' And of course I said, 'What?' And he said
it right out--how he was married eighteen years ago and in two years she
ran away and she must be dead but he wasn't sure. He hadn't the proofs.
So of course I came home. But it wasn't him left me."

"No, no. Of course he didn't," Cornish said earnestly. "But Lord
sakes--" he said again. He rose to walk about, found it impracticable
and sat down.

"That's what Dwight don't want me to tell--he thinks it isn't true. He
thinks--he didn't have any other wife. He thinks he wanted--" Lulu
looked up at him.

"You see," she said, "Dwight thinks he didn't want me."

"But why don't you make your--husband--I mean, why doesn't he write to
Mr. Deacon here, and tell him the truth--" Cornish burst out.

Under this implied belief, she relaxed and into her face came its rare
sweetness.

"He has written," she said. "The letter's there."

He followed her look, scowled at the two letters.

"What'd he say?"

"Dwight don't like me to touch his mail. I'll have to wait till he
comes back."

"Lord sakes!" said Cornish.

This time he did rise and walk about. He wanted to say something, wanted
it with passion. He paused beside Lulu and stammered: "You--you--you're
too nice a girl to get a deal like this. Darned if you aren't."

To her own complete surprise Lulu's eyes filled with tears, and she
could not speak. She was by no means above self-sympathy.

"And there ain't," said Cornish sorrowfully, "there ain't a thing I can
do."

And yet he was doing much. He was gentle, he was listening, and on his
face a frown of concern. His face continually surprised her, it was so
fine and alive and near, by comparison with Ninian's loose-lipped,
ruddy, impersonal look and Dwight's thin, high-boned hardness. All the
time Cornish gave her something, instead of drawing upon her. Above all,
he was there, and she could talk to him.

"It's--it's funny," Lulu said. "I'd be awful glad if I just _could_
know for sure that the other woman was alive--if I couldn't know she's
dead."

This surprising admission Cornish seemed to understand.

"Sure you would," he said briefly.

"Cora Waters," Lulu said. "Cora Waters, of San Diego, California. And
she never heard of me."

"No," Cornish admitted. They stared at each other as across some abyss.

In the doorway Mrs. Bett appeared.

"I scraped up everything," she remarked, "and left the dishes set."

"That's right, mamma," Lulu said. "Come and sit down."

Mrs. Bett entered with a leisurely air of doing the thing next expected
of her.

"I don't hear any more playin' and singin'," she remarked. "It sounded
real nice."

"We--we sung all I knew how to play, I guess, mamma."

"I use' to play on the melodeon," Mrs. Bett volunteered, and spread and
examined her right hand.

"Well!" said Cornish.

She now told them about her log-house in a New England clearing, when
she was a bride. All her store of drama and life came from her. She
rehearsed it with far eyes. She laughed at old delights, drooped at old
fears. She told about her little daughter who had died at sixteen--a
tragedy such as once would have been renewed in a vital ballad. At the
end she yawned frankly as if, in some terrible sophistication, she had
been telling the story of some one else.

"Give us one more piece," she said.

"Can we?" Cornish asked.

"I can play 'I Think When I Read That Sweet Story of Old,'" Lulu said.

"That's the ticket!" cried Cornish.

They sang it, to Lulu's right hand.

"That's the one you picked out when you was a little girl, Lulie,"
cried, Mrs. Bett.

Lulu had played it now as she must have played it then.

Half after nine and Di had not returned. But nobody thought of Di.
Cornish rose to go.

"What's them?" Mrs. Bett demanded.

"Dwight's letters, mamma. You mustn't touch them!" Lulu's voice was
sharp.

"Say!" Cornish, at the door, dropped his voice. "If there was anything I
could do at any time, you'd let me know, wouldn't you?"

That past tense, those subjunctives, unconsciously called upon her to
feel no intrusion.

"Oh, thank you," she said. "You don't know how good it is to feel--"

"Of course it is," said Cornish heartily.

They stood for a moment on the porch. The night was one of low clamour
from the grass, tiny voices, insisting.

"Of course," said Lulu, "of course you won't--you wouldn't--"

"Say anything?" he divined. "Not for dollars. Not," he repeated, "for
dollars."

"But I knew you wouldn't," she told him.

He took her hand. "Good-night," he said. "I've had an awful nice time
singing and listening to you talk--well, of course--I mean," he cried,
"the supper was just fine. And so was the music."

"Oh, no," she said.

Mrs. Bett came into the hall.

"Lulie," she said, "I guess you didn't notice--this one's from Ninian."

"Mother--"

"I opened it--why, of course I did. It's from Ninian."

Mrs. Bett held out the opened envelope, the unfolded letter, and a
yellowed newspaper clipping.

"See," said the old woman, "says, 'Corie Waters, music hall
singer--married last night to Ninian Deacon--' Say, Lulie, that must be
her...."

Lulu threw out her hands.

"There!" she cried triumphantly. "He _was_ married to her, just like he
said!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Plows were at breakfast next morning when Lulu came in casually at
the side-door. Yes, she said, she had had breakfast. She merely wanted
to see them about something. Then she said nothing, but sat looking with
a troubled frown at Jenny. Jenny's hair was about her neck, like the
hair of a little girl, a south window poured light upon her, the fruit
and honey upon the table seemed her only possible food.

"You look troubled, Lulu," Mrs. Plow said. "Is it about getting work?"

"No," said Lulu, "no. I've been places to ask--quite a lot of places. I
guess the bakery is going to let me make cake."

"I knew it would come to you," Mrs. Plow said, and Lulu thought that
this was a strange way to speak, when she herself had gone after the
cakes. But she kept on looking about the room. It was so bright and
quiet. As she came in, Mr. Plow had been reading from a book. Dwight
never read from a book at table.

"I wish----" said Lulu, as she looked at them. But she did not know what
she wished. Certainly it was for no moral excellence, for she perceived
none.

"What is it, Lulu?" Mr. Plow asked, and he was bright and quiet too,
Lulu thought.

"Well," said Lulu, "it's not much. But I wanted Jenny to tell me about
last night."

"Last night?"

"Yes. Would you----" Hesitation was her only way of apology. "Where did
you go?" She turned to Jenny.

Jenny looked up in her clear and ardent fashion: "We went across the
river and carried supper and then we came home."

"What time did you get home?"

"Oh, it was still light. Long before eight, it was."

Lulu hesitated and flushed, asked how long Di and Bobby had stayed there
at Jenny's; whereupon she heard that Di had to be home early on account
of Mr. Cornish, so that she and Bobby had not stayed at all. To which
Lulu said an "of course," but first she stared at Jenny and so impaired
the strength of her assent. Almost at once she rose to go.

"Nothing else?" said Mrs. Plow, catching that look of hers.

Lulu wanted to say: "My husband _was_ married before, just as he said he
was." But she said nothing more, and went home. There she put it to Di,
and with her terrible bluntness reviewed to Di the testimony.

"You were not with Jenny after eight o'clock. Where were you?" Lulu
spoke formally and her rehearsals were evident.

Di said: "When mamma comes home, I'll tell her."

With this Lulu had no idea how to deal, and merely looked at her
helplessly. Mrs. Bett, who was lacing her shoes, now said casually:

"No need to wait till then. Her and Bobby were out in the side yard
sitting in the hammock till all hours."

Di had no answer save her furious flush, and Mrs. Bett went on:

"Didn't I tell you? I knew it before the company left, but I didn't say
a word. Thinks I, 'She's wiggles and chitters.' So I left her stay where
she was."

"But, mother!" Lulu cried. "You didn't even tell me after he'd gone."

"I forgot it," Mrs. Bett said, "finding Ninian's letter and all--" She
talked of Ninian's letter.

Di was bright and alert and firm of flesh and erect before Lulu's
softness and laxness.

"I don't know what your mother'll say," said Lulu, "and I don't know
what people'll think."

"They won't think Bobby and I are tired of each other, anyway," said Di,
and left the room.

Through the day Lulu tried to think what she must do. About Di she was
anxious and felt without power. She thought of the indignation of Dwight
and Ina that Di had not been more scrupulously guarded. She thought of
Di's girlish folly, her irritating independence--"and there," Lulu
thought, "just the other day I was teaching her to sew." Her mind dwelt
too on Dwight's furious anger at the opening of Ninian's letter. But
when all this had spent itself, what was she herself to do? She must
leave his house before he ordered her to do so, when she told him that
she had confided in Cornish, as tell she must. But what was she to _do_?
The bakery cake-making would not give her a roof.

Stepping about the kitchen in her blue cotton gown, her hair tight and
flat as seemed proper when one was not dressed, she thought about these
things. And it was strange: Lulu bore no physical appearance of one in
distress or any anxiety. Her head was erect, her movements were strong
and swift, her eyes were interested. She was no drooping Lulu with
dragging step. She was more intent, she was somehow more operative than
she had ever been.

Mrs. Bett was working contentedly beside her, and now and then humming
an air of that music of the night before. The sun surged through the
kitchen door and east window, a returned oriole swung and fluted on the
elm above the gable. Wagons clattered by over the rattling wooden block
pavement.

"Ain't it nice with nobody home?" Mrs. Bett remarked at intervals, like
the burden of a comic song.

"Hush, mother," Lulu said, troubled, her ethical refinements conflicting
with her honesty.

"Speak the truth and shame the devil," Mrs. Bett contended.

When dinner was ready at noon, Di did not appear. A little earlier Lulu
had heard her moving about her room, and she served her in expectation
that she would join them.

"Di must be having the 'tantrim' this time," she thought, and for a time
said nothing. But at length she did say: "Why doesn't Di come? I'd
better put her plate in the oven."

Rising to do so, she was arrested by her mother. Mrs. Bett was eating a
baked potato, holding her fork close to the tines, and presenting a
profile of passionate absorption.

"Why, Di went off," she said.

"Went off!"

"Down the walk. Down the sidewalk."

"She must have gone to Jenny's," said Lulu. "I wish she wouldn't do that
without telling me."

Monona laughed out and shook her straight hair. "She'll catch it!" she
cried in sisterly enjoyment.

It was when Lulu had come back from the kitchen and was seated at the
table that Mrs. Bett observed:

"I didn't think Inie'd want her to take her nice new satchel."

"Her satchel?"

"Yes. Inie wouldn't take it north herself, but Di had it."

"Mother," said Lulu, "when Di went away just now, was she carrying a
satchel?"

"Didn't I just tell you?" Mrs. Bett demanded, aggrieved. "I said I
didn't think Inie--"

"Mother! Which way did she go?"

Monona pointed with her spoon. "She went that way," she said. "I seen
her."

Lulu looked at the clock. For Monona had pointed toward the railway
station. The twelve-thirty train, which every one took to the city for
shopping, would be just about leaving.

"Monona," said Lulu, "don't you go out of the yard while I'm gone.
Mother, you keep her--"

Lulu ran from the house and up the street. She was in her blue cotton
dress, her old shoes, she was hatless and without money. When she was
still two or three blocks from the station, she heard the twelve-thirty
"pulling out."

She ran badly, her ankles in their low, loose shoes continually turning,
her arms held taut at her sides. So she came down the platform, and to
the ticket window. The contained ticket man, wonted to lost trains and
perturbed faces, yet actually ceased counting when he saw her:

"Lenny! Did Di Deacon take that train?"

"Sure she did," said Lenny.

"And Bobby Larkin?" Lulu cared nothing for appearances now.

"He went in on the Local," said Lenny, and his eyes widened.

"Where?"

"See." Lenny thought it through. "Millton," he said. "Yes, sure.
Millton. Both of 'em."

"How long till another train?"

"Well, sir," said the ticket man, "you're in luck, if you was goin' too.
Seventeen was late this morning--she'll be along, jerk of a lamb's
tail."

"Then," said Lulu, "you got to give me a ticket to Millton, without me
paying till after--and you got to lend me two dollars."

"Sure thing," said Lenny, with a manner of laying the entire railway
system at her feet.

"Seventeen" would rather not have stopped at Warbleton, but Lenny's
signal was law on the time card, and the magnificent yellow express
slowed down for Lulu. Hatless and in her blue cotton gown, she climbed
aboard.

Then her old inefficiency seized upon her. What was she going to do?
Millton! She had been there but once, years ago--how could she ever
find anybody? Why had she not stayed in Warbleton and asked the sheriff
or somebody--no, not the sheriff. Cornish, perhaps. Oh, and Dwight and
Ina were going to be angry now! And Di--little Di. As Lulu thought of
her she began to cry. She said to herself that she had taught Di to
sew.

In sight of Millton, Lulu was seized with trembling and physical nausea.
She had never been alone in any unfamiliar town. She put her hands to
her hair and for the first time realized her rolled-up sleeves. She was
pulling down these sleeves when the conductor came through the train.

"Could you tell me," she said timidly, "the name of the principal hotel
in Millton?"

Ninian had asked this as they neared Savannah, Georgia.

The conductor looked curiously at her.

"Why, the Hess House," he said. "Wasn't you expecting anybody to meet
you?" he asked, kindly.

"No," said Lulu, "but I'm going to find my folks--" Her voice trailed
away.

"Beats all," thought the conductor, using his utility formula for the
universe.

In Millton Lulu's inquiry for the Hess House produced no consternation.
Nobody paid any attention to her. She was almost certainly taken to be a
new servant there.

"You stop feeling so!" she said to herself angrily at the lobby
entrance. "Ain't you been to that big hotel in Savannah, Georgia?"

The Hess House, Millton, had a tradition of its own to maintain, it
seemed, and they sent her to the rear basement door. She obeyed meekly,
but she lost a good deal of time before she found herself at the end of
the office desk. It was still longer before any one attended her.

"Please, sir!" she burst out. "See if Di Deacon has put her name on your
book."

Her appeal was tremendous, compelling. The young clerk listened to her,
showed her where to look in the register. When only strange names and
strange writing presented themselves there, he said:

"Tried the parlour?"

And directed her kindly and with his thumb, and in the other hand a pen
divorced from his ear for the express purpose.

In crossing the lobby in the hotel at Savannah, Georgia, Lulu's most
pressing problem had been to know where to look. But now the idlers in
the Hess House lobby did not exist. In time she found the door of the
intensely rose-coloured reception room. There, in a fat, rose-coloured
chair, beside a cataract of lace curtain, sat Di, alone.

Lulu entered. She had no idea what to say. When Di looked up, started
up, frowned, Lulu felt as if she herself were the culprit. She said the
first thing that occurred to her:

"I don't believe mamma'll like your taking her nice satchel."

"Well!" said Di, exactly as if she had been at home. And superadded: "My
goodness!" And then cried rudely: "What are you here for?"

"For you," said Lulu. "You--you--you'd ought not to be here, Di."

"What's that to you?" Di cried.

"Why, Di, you're just a little girl----"

Lulu saw that this was all wrong, and stopped miserably. How was she to
go on? "Di," she said, "if you and Bobby want to get married, why not
let us get you up a nice wedding at home?" And she saw that this sounded
as if she were talking about a tea-party.

"Who said we wanted to be married?"

"Well, he's here."

"Who said he's here?"

"Isn't he?"

Di sprang up. "Aunt Lulu," she said, "you're a funny person to be
telling _me_ what to do."

Lulu said, flushing: "I love you just the same as if I was married
happy, in a home."

"Well, you aren't!" cried Di cruelly, "and I'm going to do just as I
think best."

Lulu thought this over, her look grave and sad. She tried to find
something to say. "What do people say to people," she wondered, "when
it's like this?"

"Getting married is for your whole life," was all that came to her.

"Yours wasn't," Di flashed at her.

Lulu's colour deepened, but there seemed to be no resentment in her. She
must deal with this right--that was what her manner seemed to say. And
how should she deal?

"Di," she cried, "come back with me--and wait till mamma and papa get
home."

"That's likely. They say I'm not to be married till I'm twenty-one."

"Well, but how young that is!"

"It is to you."

"Di! This is wrong--it _is_ wrong."

"There's nothing wrong about getting married--if you stay married."

"Well, then it can't be wrong to let them know."

"It isn't. But they'd treat me wrong. They'd make me stay at home. And I
won't stay at home--I won't stay there. They act as if I was ten years
old."

Abruptly in Lulu's face there came a light of understanding.

"Why, Di," she said, "do you feel that way too?"

Di missed this. She went on:

"I'm grown up. I feel just as grown up as they do. And I'm not allowed
to do a thing I feel. I want to be away--I will be away!"

"I know about that part," Lulu said.

She now looked at Di with attention. Was it possible that Di was
suffering in the air of that home as she herself suffered? She had not
thought of that. There Di had seemed so young, so dependent,
so--asquirm. Here, by herself, waiting for Bobby, in the Hess House at
Millton, she was curiously adult. Would she be adult if she were let
alone?

"You don't know what it's like," Di cried, "to be hushed up and laughed
at and paid no attention to, everything you say."

"Don't I?" said Lulu. "Don't I?"

She was breathing quickly and looking at Di. If _this_ was why Di was
leaving home....

"But, Di," she cried, "do you love Bobby Larkin?"

By this Di was embarrassed. "I've got to marry somebody," she said, "and
it might as well be him."

"But is it him?"

"Yes, it is," said Di. "But," she added, "I know I could love almost
anybody real nice that was nice to me." And this she said, not in her
own right, but either she had picked it up somewhere and adopted it, or
else the terrible modernity and honesty of her day somehow spoke through
her, for its own. But to Lulu it was as if something familiar turned its
face to be recognised.

"Di!" she cried.

"It's true. You ought to know that." She waited for a moment. "You did
it," she added. "Mamma said so."

At this onslaught Lulu was stupefied. For she began to perceive its
truth.

"I know what I want to do, I guess," Di muttered, as if to try to cover
what she had said.

Up to that moment, Lulu had been feeling intensely that she understood
Di, but that Di did not know this. Now Lulu felt that she and Di
actually shared some unsuspected sisterhood. It was not only that they
were both badgered by Dwight. It was more than that. They were two
women. And she must make Di know that she understood her.

"Di," Lulu said, breathing hard, "what you just said is true, I guess.
Don't you think I don't know. And now I'm going to tell you--"

She might have poured it all out, claimed her kinship with Di by virtue
of that which had happened in Savannah, Georgia. But Di said:

"Here come some ladies. And goodness, look at the way you look!"

Lulu glanced down. "I know," she said, "but I guess you'll have to put
up with me."

The two women entered, looked about with the complaisance of those who
examine a hotel property, find criticism incumbent, and have no errand.
These two women had outdressed their occasion. In their presence Di kept
silence, turned away her head, gave them to know that she had nothing to
do with this blue cotton person beside her. When they had gone on, "What
do you mean by my having to put up with you?" Di asked sharply.

"I mean I'm going to stay with you."

Di laughed scornfully--she was again the rebellious child. "I guess
Bobby'll have something to say about that," she said insolently.

"They left you in my charge."

"But I'm not a baby--the idea, Aunt Lulu!"

"I'm going to stay right with you," said Lulu. She wondered what she
should do if Di suddenly marched away from her, through that bright
lobby and into the street. She thought miserably that she must follow.
And then her whole concern for the ethics of Di's course was lost in her
agonised memory of her terrible, broken shoes.

Di did not march away. She turned her back squarely upon Lulu, and
looked out of the window. For her life Lulu could think of nothing more
to say. She was now feeling miserably on the defensive.

They were sitting in silence when Bobby Larkin came into the room.

Four Bobby Larkins there were, in immediate succession.

The Bobby who had just come down the street was distinctly perturbed,
came hurrying, now and then turned to the left when he met folk, glanced
sidewise here and there, was altogether anxious and ill at ease.

The Bobby who came through the hotel was a Bobby who had on an
importance assumed for the crisis of threading the lobby--a Bobby who
wished it to be understood that here he was, a man among men, in the
Hess House at Millton.

The Bobby who entered the little rose room was the Bobby who was no less
than overwhelmed with the stupendous character of the adventure upon
which he found himself.

The Bobby who incredibly came face to face with Lulu was the real Bobby
into whose eyes leaped instant, unmistakable relief.

Di flew to meet him. She assumed all the pretty agitations of her rôle,
ignored Lulu.

"Bobby! Is it all right?"

Bobby looked over her head.

"Miss Lulu," he said fatuously. "If it ain't Miss Lulu."

He looked from her to Di, and did not take in Di's resigned shrug.

"Bobby," said Di, "she's come to stop us getting married, but she
can't. I've told her so."

"She don't have to stop us," quoth Bobby gloomily, "we're stopped."

"What do you mean?" Di laid one hand flatly along her cheek, instinctive
in her melodrama.

Bobby drew down his brows, set his hand on his leg, elbow out.

"We're minors," said he.

"Well, gracious, you didn't have to tell them that."

"No. They knew _I_ was."

"But, Silly! Why didn't you tell them you're not?"

"But I am."

Di stared. "For pity sakes," she said, "don't you know how to do
anything?"

"What would you have me do?" he inquired indignantly, with his head held
very stiff, and with a boyish, admirable lift of chin.

"Why, tell them we're both twenty-one. We look it. We know we're
responsible--that's all they care for. Well, you are a funny...."

"You wanted me to lie?" he said.

"Oh, don't make out you never told a fib."

"Well, but this--" he stared at her.

"I never heard of such a thing," Di cried accusingly.

"Anyhow," he said, "there's nothing to do now. The cat's out. I've told
our ages. We've got to have our folks in on it."

"Is that all you can think of?" she demanded.

"What else?"

"Why, come on to Bainbridge or Holt, and tell them we're of age, and be
married there."

"Di," said Bobby, "why, that'd be a rotten go."

Di said, oh very well, if he didn't want to marry her. He replied
stonily that of course he wanted to marry her. Di stuck out her little
hand. She was at a disadvantage. She could use no arts, with Lulu
sitting there, looking on. "Well, then, come on to Bainbridge," Di
cried, and rose.

Lulu was thinking: "What shall I say? I don't know what to say. I don't
know what I can say." Now she also rose, and laughed awkwardly. "I've
told Di," she said to Bobby, "that wherever you two go, I'm going too.
Di's folks left her in my care, you know. So you'll have to take me
along, I guess." She spoke in a manner of distinct apology.

At this Bobby had no idea what to reply. He looked down miserably at the
carpet. His whole manner was a mute testimony to his participation in
the eternal query: How did I get into it?

"Bobby," said Di, "are you going to let her lead you home?"

This of course nettled him, but not in the manner on which Di had
counted. He said loudly:

"I'm not going to Bainbridge or Holt or any town and lie, to get you or
any other girl."

Di's head lifted, tossed, turned from him. "You're about as much like a
man in a story," she said, "as--as papa is."

The two idly inspecting women again entered the rose room, this time to
stay. They inspected Lulu too. And Lulu rose and stood between the
lovers.

"Hadn't we all better get the four-thirty to Warbleton?" she said, and
swallowed.

"Oh, if Bobby wants to back out--" said Di.

"I don't want to back out," Bobby contended furiously, "b-b-but I
won't--"

"Come on, Aunt Lulu," said Di grandly.

Bobby led the way through the lobby, Di followed, and Lulu brought up
the rear. She walked awkwardly, eyes down, her hands stiffly held. Heads
turned to look at her. They passed into the street.

"You two go ahead," said Lulu, "so they won't think--"

They did so, and she followed, and did not know where to look, and
thought of her broken shoes.

At the station, Bobby put them on the train and stepped back. He had, he
said, something to see to there in Millton. Di did not look at him. And
Lulu's good-bye spoke her genuine regret for all.

"Aunt Lulu," said Di, "you needn't think I'm going to sit with you. You
look as if you were crazy. I'll sit back here."

"All right, Di," said Lulu humbly.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was nearly six o'clock when they arrived at the Deacons'. Mrs. Bett
stood on the porch, her hands rolled in her apron.

"Surprise for you!" she called brightly.

Before they had reached the door, Ina bounded from the hall.

"Darling!"

She seized upon Di, kissed her loudly, drew back from her, saw the
travelling bag.

"My new bag!" she cried. "Di! What have you got that for?"

In any embarrassment Di's instinctive defence was hearty laughter. She
now laughed heartily, kissed her mother again, and ran up the stairs.

Lulu slipped by her sister, and into the kitchen.

"Well, where have _you_, been?" cried Ina. "I declare, I never saw such
a family. Mamma don't know anything and neither of you will tell
anything."

"Mamma knows a-plenty," snapped Mrs. Bett.

Monona, who was eating a sticky gift, jumped stiffly up and down.

"You'll catch it--you'll catch it!" she sent out her shrill general
warning.

Mrs. Bett followed Lulu to the kitchen; "I didn't tell Inie about her
bag and now she says I don't know nothing," she complained. "There I
knew about the bag the hull time, but I wasn't going to tell her and
spoil her gettin' home." She banged the stove-griddle. "I've a good
notion not to eat a mouthful o' supper," she announced.

"Mother, please!" said Lulu passionately. "Stay here. Help me. I've got
enough to get through to-night."

Dwight had come home. Lulu could hear Ina pouring out to him the
mysterious circumstance of the hag, could hear the exaggerated air of
the casual with which he always received the excitement of another, and
especially of his Ina. Then she heard Ina's feet padding up the stairs,
and after that Di's shrill, nervous laughter. Lulu felt a pang of pity
for Di, as if she herself were about to face them.

There was not time both to prepare supper and to change the blue cotton
dress. In that dress Lulu was pouring water when Dwight entered the
dining-room.

"Ah!" said he. "Our festive ball-gown."

She gave him her hand, with her peculiar sweetness of expression--almost
as if she were sorry for him or were bidding him good-bye.

"_That_ shows who you dress for!" he cried. "You dress for me; Ina,
aren't you jealous? Lulu dresses for me!"

Ina had come in with Di, and both were excited, and Ina's head was
moving stiffly, as in all her indignations. Mrs. Bett had thought better
of it and had given her presence. Already Monona was singing.

"Lulu," said Dwight, "really? Can't you run up and slip on another
dress?"

Lulu sat down in her place. "No," she said. "I'm too tired. I'm sorry,
Dwight."

"It seems to me--" he began.

"I don't want any," said Monona.

But no one noticed Monona, and Ina did not defer even to Dwight. She,
who measured delicate, troy occasions by avoirdupois, said brightly:

"Now, Di. You must tell us all about it. Where had you and Aunt Lulu
been with mamma's new bag?"

"Aunt Lulu!" cried Dwight. "A-ha! So Aunt Lulu was along. Well now, that
alters it."

"How does it?" asked his Ina crossly.

"Why, when Aunt Lulu goes on a jaunt," said Dwight Herbert, "events
begin to event."

"Come, Di, let's hear," said Ina.

"Ina," said Lulu, "first can't we hear something about your visit? How
is----"

Her eyes consulted Dwight. His features dropped, the lines of his face
dropped, its muscles seemed to sag. A look of suffering was in his eyes.

"She'll never be any better," he said. "I know we've said good-bye to
her for the last time."

"Oh, Dwight!" said Lulu.

"She knew it too," he said. "It--it put me out of business, I can tell
you. She gave me my start--she took all the care of me--taught me to
read--she's the only mother I ever knew----" He stopped, and opened his
eyes wide on account of their dimness.

"They said she was like another person while Dwight was there," said
Ina, and entered upon a length of particulars, and details of the
journey. These details Dwight interrupted: Couldn't Lulu remember that
he liked sage on the chops? He could hardly taste it. He had, he said,
told her this thirty-seven times. And when she said that she was sorry,
"Perhaps you think I'm sage enough," said the witty fellow.

"Dwightie!" said Ina. "Mercy." She shook her head at him. "Now, Di," she
went on, keeping the thread all this time. "Tell us your story. About
the bag."

"Oh, mamma," said Di, "let me eat my supper."

"And so you shall, darling. Tell it in your own way. Tell us first what
you've done since we've been away. Did Mr. Cornish come to see you?"

"Yes," said Di, and flashed a look at Lulu.

But eventually they were back again before that new black bag. And Di
would say nothing. She laughed, squirmed, grew irritable, laughed again.

"Lulu!" Ina demanded. "You were with her--where in the world had you
been? Why, but you couldn't have been with her--in that dress. And yet
I saw you come in the gate together."

"What!" cried Dwight Herbert, drawing down his brows. "You certainly did
not so far forget us, Lulu, as to go on the street in that dress?"

"It's a good dress," Mrs. Bett now said positively. "Of course it's a
good dress. Lulie wore it on the street--of course she did. She was gone
a long time. I made me a cup o' tea, and _then_ she hadn't come."

"Well," said Ina, "I never heard anything like this before. Where were
you both?"

One would say that Ina had entered into the family and been born again,
identified with each one. Nothing escaped her. Dwight, too, his intimacy
was incredible.

"Put an end to this, Lulu," he commanded. "Where were you two--since you
make such a mystery?"

Di's look at Lulu was piteous, terrified. Di's fear of her father was
now clear to Lulu. And Lulu feared him too. Abruptly she heard herself
temporising, for the moment making common cause with Di.

"Oh," she said, "we have a little secret. Can't we have a secret if we
want one?"

"Upon my word," Dwight commented, "she has a beautiful secret. I don't
know about your secrets, Lulu."

Every time that he did this, that fleet, lifted look of Lulu's seemed to
bleed.

"I'm glad for my dinner," remarked Monona at last. "Please excuse me."
On that they all rose. Lulu stayed in the kitchen and did her best to
make her tasks indefinitely last. She had nearly finished when Di burst
in.

"Aunt Lulu, Aunt Lulu!" she cried. "Come in there--come. I can't stand
it. What am I going to do?"

"Di, dear," said Lulu. "Tell your mother--you must tell her."

"She'll cry," Di sobbed. "Then she'll tell papa--and he'll never stop
talking about it. I know him--every day he'll keep it going. After he
scolds me it'll be a joke for months. I'll die--I'll die, Aunt Lulu."

Ina's voice sounded in the kitchen. "What are you two whispering about?
I declare, mamma's hurt, Di, at the way you're acting...."

"Let's go out on the porch," said Lulu, and when Di would have escaped,
Ina drew her with them, and handled the situation in the only way that
she knew how to handle it, by complaining: Well, but what in this
world....

Lulu threw a white shawl about her blue cotton dress.

"A bridal robe," said Dwight. "How's that, Lulu--what are _you_ wearing
a bridal robe for--eh?"

She smiled dutifully. There was no need to make him angry, she
reflected, before she must. He had not yet gone into the parlour--had
not yet asked for his mail.

It was a warm dusk, moonless, windless. The sounds of the village
street came in--laughter, a touch at a piano, a chiming clock. Bights
starred and quickened in the blurred houses. Footsteps echoed on the
board walks. The gate opened. The gloom yielded up Cornish.

Lulu was inordinately glad to see him. To have the strain of the time
broken by him was like hearing, on a lonely whiter wakening, the clock
strike reassuring dawn.

"Lulu," said Dwight low, "your dress. Do go!"

Lulu laughed. "The bridal shawl takes off the curse," she said.

Cornish, in his gentle way, asked about the journey, about the sick
woman--and Dwight talked of her again, and this time his voice broke. Di
was curiously silent. When Cornish addressed her, she replied simply and
directly--the rarest of Di's manners, hi fact not Di's manner at all.
Lulu spoke not at all--it was enough to have this respite.

After a little the gate opened again. It was Bobby. In the besetting
fear that he was leaving Di to face something alone, Bobby had arrived.

And now Di's spirits rose. To her his presence meant repentance,
recapitulation. Her laugh rang out, her replies came archly. But Bobby
was plainly not playing up. Bobby was, in fact, hardly less than glum.
It was Dwight, the irrepressible fellow, who kept the talk going. And it
was no less than deft, his continuously displayed ability playfully to
pierce Lulu. Some one had "married at the drop of the hat. You know the
kind of girl?" And some one "made up a likely story to soothe her own
pride--you know how they do that?"

"Well," said Ina, "my part, I think _the_ most awful thing is to have
somebody one loves keep secrets from one. No wonder folks get crabbed
and spiteful with such treatment."

"Mamma!" Monona shouted from her room. "Come and hear me say my
prayers!"

Monona entered this request with precision on Ina's nastiest moments,
but she always rose, unabashed, and went, motherly and dutiful, to hear
devotions, as if that function and the process of living ran their two
divided channels.

She had dispatched this errand and was returning when Mrs. Bett crossed
the lawn from Grandma Gates's, where the old lady had taken comfort in
Mrs. Bett's ministrations for an hour.

"Don't you help me," Mrs. Bett warned them away sharply. "I guess I can
help myself yet awhile."

She gained her chair. And still in her momentary rule of attention, she
said clearly:

"I got a joke. Grandma Gates says it's all over town Di and Bobby Larkin
eloped off together to-day. _He_!" The last was a single note of
laughter, high and brief.

The silence fell.

"What nonsense!" Dwight Herbert said angrily.

But Ina said tensely: "_Is_ it nonsense? Haven't I been trying and
trying to find out where the black satchel went? Di!"

Di's laughter rose, but it sounded thin and false.

"Listen to that, Bobby," she said. "Listen!"

"That won't do, Di," said Ina. "You can't deceive mamma and don't you
try!" Her voice trembled, she was frantic with loving and authentic
anxiety, but she was without power, she overshadowed the real gravity of
the moment by her indignation.

"Mrs. Deacon----" began Bobby, and stood up, very straight and manly
before them all.

But Dwight intervened, Dwight, the father, the master of his house. Here
was something requiring him to act. So the father set his face like a
mask and brought down his hand on the rail of the porch. It was as if
the sound shattered a thousand filaments--where?

"Diana!" his voice was terrible, demanded a response, ravened among
them.

"Yes, papa," said Di, very small.

"Answer your mother. Answer _me_. Is there anything to this absurd
tale?"

"No, papa," said Di, trembling.

"Nothing whatever?"

"Nothing whatever."

"Can you imagine how such a ridiculous report started?"

"No, papa."

"Very well. Now we know where we are. If anyone hears this report
repeated, send them to _me_."

"Well, but that satchel--" said Ina, to whom an idea manifested less as
a function than as a leech.

"One moment," said Dwight. "Lulu will of course verify what the child
has said."

There had never been an adult moment until that day when Lulu had not
instinctively taken the part of the parents, of all parents. Now she saw
Dwight's cruelty to her as his cruelty to Di; she saw Ina, herself a
child in maternity, as ignorant of how to deal with the moment as was
Dwight. She saw Di's falseness partly parented by these parents. She
burned at the enormity of Dwight's appeal to her for verification. She
threw up her head and no one had ever seen Lulu look like this.

"If you cannot settle this with Di," said Lulu, "you cannot settle it
with me."

"A shifty answer," said Dwight. "You have a genius at misrepresenting
facts, you know, Lulu."

"Bobby wanted to say something," said Ina, still troubled.

"No, Mrs. Deacon," said Bobby, low. "I have nothing--more to say."

In a little while, when Bobby went away, Di walked with him to the gate.
It was as if, the worst having happened to her, she dared everything
now.

"Bobby," she said, "you hate a lie. But what else could I do?"

He could not see her, could see only the little moon of her face,
blurring.

"And anyhow," said Di, "it wasn't a lie. We _didn't_ elope, did we?"

"What do you think I came for to-night?" asked Bobby.

The day had aged him; he spoke like a man. His very voice came gruffly.
But she saw nothing, softened to him, yielded, was ready to take his
regret that they had not gone on.

"Well, I came for one thing," said Bobby, "to tell you that I couldn't
stand for your wanting me to lie to-day. Why, Di--I hate a lie. And now
to-night--" He spoke his code almost beautifully. "I'd rather," he said,
"they had never let us see each other again than to lose you the way
I've lost you now."

"Bobby!"

"It's true. We mustn't talk about it."

"Bobby! I'll go back and tell them all."

"You can't go back," said Bobby. "Not out of a thing like that."

She stood staring after him. She heard some one coming and she turned
toward the house, and met Cornish leaving.

"Miss Di," he cried, "if you're going to elope with anybody, remember
it's with me!"

Her defence was ready--her laughter rang out so that the departing Bobby
might hear.

She came back to the steps and mounted slowly in the lamplight, a little
white thing with whom birth had taken exquisite pains.

"If," she said, "if you have any fear that I may ever elope with Bobby
Larkin, let it rest. I shall never marry him if he asks me fifty times a
day."

"Really, darling?" cried Ina.

"Really and truly," said Di, "and he knows it, too."

Lulu listened and read all.

"I wondered," said Ina pensively, "I wondered if you wouldn't see that
Bobby isn't much beside that nice Mr. Cornish!"

When Di had gone upstairs, Ina said to Lulu in a manner of cajoling
confidence:

"Sister----" she rarely called her that, "_why_ did you and Di have the
black bag?"

So that after all it was a relief to Lulu to hear Dwight ask casually:
"By the way, Lulu, haven't I got some mail somewhere about?"

"There are two letters on the parlour table," Lulu answered. To Ina she
added: "Let's go in the parlour."

As they passed through the hall, Mrs. Bett was going up the stairs to
bed--when she mounted stairs she stooped her shoulders, bunched her
extremities, and bent her head. Lulu looked after her, as if she were
half minded to claim the protection so long lost.

Dwight lighted the gas. "Better turn down the gas jest a little," said
he, tirelessly.

Lulu handed him the two letters. He saw Ninian's writing and looked up,
said "A-ha!" and held it while he leisurely read the advertisement of
dental furniture, his Ina reading over his shoulder. "A-ha!" he said
again, and with designed deliberation turned to Ninian's letter. "An
epistle from my dear brother Ninian." The words failed, as he saw the
unsealed flap.

"You opened the letter?" he inquired incredulously. Fortunately he had
no climaxes of furious calm for high occasions. All had been used on
small occasions. "You opened the letter" came in a tone of no deeper
horror than "You picked the flower"--once put to Lulu.

She said nothing. As it is impossible to continue looking indignantly at
some one who is not looking at you, Dwight turned to Ina, who was horror
and sympathy, a nice half and half.

"Your sister has been opening my mail," he said.

"But, Dwight, if it's from Ninian--"

"It is _my_ mail," he reminded her. "She had asked me if she might open
it. Of course I told her no."

"Well," said Ina practically, "what does he say?"

"I shall open the letter in my own time. My present concern is this
disregard of my wishes." His self-control was perfect, ridiculous,
devilish. He was self-controlled because thus he could be more
effectively cruel than in temper. "What excuse have you to offer?"

Lulu was not looking at him. "None," she said--not defiantly, or
ingratiatingly, or fearfully. Merely, "None."

"Why did you do it?"

She smiled faintly and shook her head.

"Dwight," said Ina, reasonably, "she knows what's in it and we don't.
Hurry up."

"She is," said Dwight, after a pause, "an ungrateful woman."

He opened the letter, saw the clipping, the avowal, with its facts.

"A-ha!" said he. "So after having been absent with my brother for a
month, you find that you were _not_ married to him."

Lulu spoke her exceeding triumph.

"You see, Dwight," she said, "he told the truth. He had another wife. He
didn't just leave me."

Dwight instantly cried: "But this seems to me to make you considerably
worse off than if he had."

"Oh, no," Lulu said serenely. "No. Why," she said, "you know how it all
came about. He--he was used to thinking of his wife as dead. If he
hadn't--hadn't liked me, he wouldn't have told me. You see that, don't
you?"

Dwight laughed. "That your apology?" he asked.

She said nothing.

"Look here, Lulu," he went on, "this is a bad business. The less you say
about it the better, for all our sakes--_you_ see that, don't you?"

"See that? Why, no. I wanted you to write to him so I could tell the
truth. You said I mustn't tell the truth till I had the proofs ..."

"Tell who?"

"Tell everybody. I want them to know."

"Then you care nothing for our feelings in this matter?"

She looked at him now. "Your feeling?"

"It's nothing to you that we have a brother who's a bigamist?"

"But it's me--it's me."

"You! You're completely out of it. Just let it rest as it is and it'll
drop."

"I want the people to know the truth," Lulu said.

"But it's nobody's business but our business! I take it you don't intend
to sue Ninian?"

"Sue him? Oh no!"

"Then, for all our sakes, let's drop the matter."

Lulu had fallen in one of her old attitudes, tense, awkward, her hands
awkwardly placed, her feet twisted. She kept putting a lock back of her
ear, she kept swallowing.

"Tell you, Lulu," said Dwight. "Here are three of us. Our interests are
the same in this thing--only Ninian is our relative and he's nothing to
you now. Is he?"

"Why, no," said Lulu in surprise.

"Very well. Let's have a vote. Your snap judgment is to tell this
disgraceful fact broadcast. Mine is, least said, soonest mended. What do
you say, Ina--considering Di and all?"

"Oh, goodness," said Ina, "if we get mixed up with bigamy, we'll never
get away from it. Why, I wouldn't have it told for worlds."

Still in that twisted position, Lulu looked up at her. Her straying
hair, her parted lips, her lifted eyes were singularly pathetic.

"My poor, poor sister!" Ina said. She struck together her little plump
hands. "Oh, Dwight--when I think of it: What have I done--what have _we_
done that I should have a good, kind, loving husband--be so protected,
so loved, when other women.... Darling!" she sobbed, and drew near to
Lulu. "You _know_ how sorry I am--we all are...."

Lulu stood up. The white shawl slipped to the floor. Her hands were
stiffly joined.

"Then," she said, "give me the only thing I've got--that's my pride. My
pride--that he didn't want to get rid of me."

They stared at her. "What about _my_ pride?" Dwight called to her, as
across great distances. "Do you think I want everybody to know my
brother did a thing like that?"

"You can't help that," said Lulu.

"But I want you to help it. I want you to promise me that you won't
shame us like this before all our friends."

"You want me to promise what?"

"I want you--I ask you," Dwight said with an effort, "to promise me that
you will keep this, with us--a family secret."

"No!" Lulu cried. "No. I won't do it! I won't do it! I won't do it!"

It was like some crude chant, knowing only two tones. She threw out her
hands, her wrists long and dark on her blue skirt. "Can't you
understand anything?" she asked. "I've lived here all my life--on your
money. I've not been strong enough to work, they say--well, but I've
been strong enough to be a hired girl in your house--and I've been glad
to pay for my keep.... But there wasn't anything about it I liked.
Nothing about being here that I liked.... Well, then I got a little
something, same as other folks. I thought I was married and I went off
on the train and he bought me things and I saw the different towns. And
then it was all a mistake. I didn't have any of it. I came back here and
went into your kitchen again--I don't know why I came back. I s'pose
because I'm most thirty-four and new things ain't so easy any more--but
what have I got or what'll I ever have? And now you want to put on to me
having folks look at me and think he run off and left me, and having 'em
all wonder.... I can't stand it. I can't stand it. I can't...."

"You'd rather they'd know he fooled you, when he had another wife?"
Dwight sneered.

"Yes! Because he wanted me. How do I know--maybe he wanted me only just
because he was lonesome, the way I was. I don't care why! And I won't
have folks think he went and left me."

"That," said Dwight, "is a wicked vanity."

"That's the truth. Well, why can't they know the truth?"

"And bring disgrace on us all."

"It's me--it's me----" Lulu's individualism strove against that terrible
tribal sense, was shattered by it.

"It's all of us!" Dwight boomed. "It's Di."

"_Di?_" He had Lulu's eyes now.

"Why, it's chiefly on Di's account that I'm talking," said Dwight.

"How would it hurt Di?"

"To have a thing like that in the family? Well, can't you see how it'd
hurt her?"

"Would it, Ina? Would it hurt Di?"

"Why, it would shame her--embarrass her--make people wonder what kind of
stock she came from--oh," Ina sobbed, "my pure little girl!"

"Hurt her prospects, of course," said Dwight. "Anybody could see that."

"I s'pose it would," said Lulu.

She clasped her arms tightly, awkwardly, and stepped about the floor,
her broken shoes showing beneath her cotton skirt.

"When a family once gets talked about for any reason----" said Ina and
shuddered.

"I'm talked about now!"

"But nothing that you could help. If he got tired of you, you couldn't
help that." This misstep was Dwight's.

"No," Lulu said, "I couldn't help that. And I couldn't help his other
wife, either."

"Bigamy," said Dwight, "that's a crime."

"I've done no crime," said Lulu.

"Bigamy," said Dwight, "disgraces everybody it touches."

"Even Di," Lulu said.

"Lulu," said Dwight, "on Di's account will you promise us to let this
thing rest with us three?"

"I s'pose so," said Lulu quietly.

"You will?"

"I s'pose so."

Ina sobbed: "Thank you, thank you, Lulu. This makes up for everything."

Lulu was thinking: "Di has a hard enough time as it is." Aloud she said:
"I told Mr. Cornish, but he won't tell."

"I'll see to that," Dwight graciously offered.

"Goodness," Ina said, "so he knows. Well, that settles----" She said no
more.

"You'll be happy to think you've done this for us, Lulu," said Dwight.

"I s'pose so," said Lulu.

Ina, pink from her little gust of sobbing, went to her, kissed her, her
trim tan tailor suit against Lulu's blue cotton.

"My sweet, self-sacrificing sister," she murmured.

"Oh stop that!" Lulu said.

Dwight took her hand, lying limply in his. "I can now," he said,
"overlook the matter of the letter."

Lulu drew back. She put her hair behind her ears, swallowed, and cried
out.

"Don't you go around pitying me! I'll have you know I'm glad the whole
thing happened!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Cornish had ordered six new copies of a popular song. He knew that it
was popular because it was called so in a Chicago paper. When the six
copies arrived with a danseuse on the covers he read the "words," looked
wistfully at the symbols which shut him out, and felt well pleased.

"Got up quite attractive," he thought, and fastened the six copies in
the window of his music store.

It was not yet nine o'clock of a vivid morning. Cornish had his floor
and sidewalk sprinkled, his red and blue plush piano spreads dusted.
He sat at a folding table well back in the store, and opened a law book.

For half an hour he read. Then he found himself looking off the page,
stabbed by a reflection which always stabbed him anew: Was he really
getting anywhere with his law? And where did he really hope to get? Of
late when he awoke at night this question had stood by the cot, waiting.

The cot had appeared there in the back of the music-store, behind a dark
sateen curtain with too few rings on the wire. How little else was in
there, nobody knew. But those passing in the late evening saw the blur
of his kerosene lamp behind that curtain and were smitten by a realistic
illusion of personal loneliness.

It was behind that curtain that these unreasoning questions usually
attacked him, when his giant, wavering shadow had died upon the wall and
the faint smell of the extinguished lamp went with him to his bed; or
when he waked before any sign of dawn. In the mornings all was cheerful
and wonted--the question had not before attacked him among his red and
blue plush spreads, his golden oak and ebony cases, of a sunshiny
morning.

A step at his door set him flying. He wanted passionately to sell a
piano.

"Well!" he cried, when he saw his visitor.

It was Lulu, in her dark red suit and her tilted hat.

"Well!" she also said, and seemed to have no idea of saying anything
else. Her excitement was so obscure that he did not discern it.

"You're out early," said he, participating in the village chorus of this
bright challenge at this hour.

"Oh, no," said Lulu.

He looked out the window, pretending to be caught by something passing,
leaned to see it the better.

"Oh, how'd you get along last night?" he asked, and wondered why he had
not thought to say it before.

"All right, thank you," said Lulu.

"Was he--about the letter, you know?"

"Yes," she said, "but that didn't matter. You'll be sure," she added,
"not to say anything about what was in the letter?"

"Why, not till you tell me I can," said Cornish, "but won't everybody
know now?"

"No," Lulu said.

At this he had no more to say, and feeling his speculation in his eyes,
dropped them to a piano scarf from which he began flicking invisible
specks.

"I came to tell you good-bye," Lulu said.

"_Good-bye!_"

"Yes. I'm going off--for a while. My satchel's in the bakery--I had my
breakfast in the bakery."

"Say!" Cornish cried warmly, "then everything _wasn't_ all right last
night?"

"As right as it can ever be with me," she told him. "Oh, yes. Dwight
forgave me."

"Forgave you!"

She smiled, and trembled.

"Look here," said Cornish, "you come here and sit down and tell me about
this."

He led her to the folding table, as the only social spot in that vast
area of his, seated her in the one chair, and for himself brought up a
piano stool. But after all she told him nothing. She merely took the
comfort of his kindly indignation.

"It came out all right," she said only. "But I won't stay there any
more. I can't do that."

"Then what are you going to do?"

"In Millton yesterday," she said, "I saw an advertisement in the
hotel--they wanted a chambermaid."

"Oh, Miss Bett!" he cried. At that name she flushed. "Why," said
Cornish, "you must have been coming from Millton yesterday when I saw
you. I noticed Miss Di had her bag--" He stopped, stared.

"You brought her back!" he deduced everything.

"Oh!" said Lulu. "Oh, no--I mean--"

"I heard about the eloping again this morning," he said. "That's just
what you did--you brought her back."

"You mustn't tell that! You won't? You won't!"

"No. 'Course not." He mulled it. "You tell me this: Do they know? I mean
about your going after her?"

"No."

"You never told!"

"They don't know she went."

"That's a funny thing," he blurted out, "for you not to tell her
folks--I mean, right off. Before last night...."

"You don't know them. Dwight'd never let up on that--he'd _joke_ her
about it after a while."

"But it seems--"

"Ina'd talk about disgracing _her_. They wouldn't know what to do.
There's no sense in telling them. They aren't a mother and father," Lulu
said.

Cornish was not accustomed to deal with so much reality. But Lulu's
reality he could grasp.

"You're a trump anyhow," he affirmed.

"Oh, no," said Lulu modestly.

Yes, she was. He insisted upon it.

"By George," he exclaimed, "you don't find very many _married_ women
with as good sense as you've got."

At this, just as he was agonising because he had seemed to refer to the
truth that she was, after all, not married, at this Lulu laughed in some
amusement, and said nothing.

"You've been a jewel in their home all right," said Cornish. "I bet
they'll miss you if you do go."

"They'll miss my cooking," Lulu said without bitterness.

"They'll miss more than that, I know. I've often watched you there--"

"You have?" It was not so much pleasure as passionate gratitude which
lighted her eyes.

"You made the whole place," said Cornish.

"You don't mean just the cooking?"

"No, no. I mean--well, that first night when you played croquet. I felt
at home when you came out."

That look of hers, rarely seen, which was no less than a look of
loveliness, came now to Lulu's face. After a pause she said: "I never
had but one compliment before that wasn't for my cooking." She seemed to
feel that she must confess to that one. "He told me I done my hair up
nice." She added conscientiously: "That was after I took notice how the
ladies in Savannah, Georgia, done up theirs."

"Well, well," said Cornish only.

"Well," said Lulu, "I must be going now. I wanted to say good-bye to
you--and there's one or two other places...."

"I hate to have you go," said Cornish, and tried to add something. "I
hate to have you go," was all that he could find to add.

Lulu rose. "Oh, well," was all that she could find.

They shook hands, Lulu laughing a little. Cornish followed her to the
door. He had begun on "Look here, I wish ..." when Lulu said
"good-bye," and paused, wishing intensely to know what he would have
said. But all that he said was: "Good-bye. I wish you weren't going."

"So do I," said Lulu, and went, still laughing.

Cornish saw her red dress vanish from his door, flash by his window, her
head averted. And there settled upon him a depression out of all
proportion to the slow depression of his days. This was more--it
assailed him, absorbed him.

He stood staring out the window. Some one passed with a greeting of
which he was conscious too late to return. He wandered back down the
store and his pianos looked back at him like strangers. Down there was
the green curtain which screened his home life. He suddenly hated that
green curtain. He hated this whole place. For the first time it
occurred to him that he hated Warbleton.

He came back to his table, and sat down before his lawbook. But he sat,
chin on chest, regarding it. No ... no escape that way....

A step at the door and he sprang up. It was Lulu, coming toward him, her
face unsmiling but somehow quite lighted. In her hand was a letter.

"See," she said. "At the office was this...."

She thrust in his hand the single sheet. He read:

" ... Just wanted you to know you're actually rid of me. I've heard from
her, in Brazil. She ran out of money and thought of me, and her lawyer
wrote to me.... I've never been any good--Dwight would tell you that if
his pride would let him tell the truth once in a while. But there ain't
anything in my life makes me feel as bad as this.... I s'pose you
couldn't understand and I don't myself.... Only the sixteen years
keeping still made me think she was gone sure ... but you were so
downright good, that's what was the worst ... do you see what I want to
say ..."


Cornish read it all and looked at Lulu. She was grave and in her eyes
there was a look of dignity such as he had never seen them wear.
Incredible dignity.

"He didn't lie to get rid of me--and she was alive, just as he thought
she might be," she said.

"I'm glad," said Cornish.

"Yes," said Lulu. "He isn't quite so bad as Dwight tried to make him
out."

It was not of this that Cornish had been thinking.

"Now you're free," he said.

"Oh, that ..." said Lulu.

She replaced her letter in its envelope.

"Now I'm really going," she said. "Good-bye for sure this time...."

Her words trailed away. Cornish had laid his hand on her arm.

"Don't say good-bye," he said.

"It's late," she said, "I--"

"Don't you go," said Cornish.

She looked at him mutely.

"Do you think you could possibly stay here with me?"

"Oh!" said Lulu, like no word.

He went on, not looking at her. "I haven't got anything. I guess maybe
you've heard something about a little something I'm supposed to inherit.
Well, it's only five hundred dollars."

His look searched her face, but she hardly heard what he was saying.

"That little Warden house--it don't cost much--you'd be surprised. Rent,
I mean. I can get it now. I went and looked at it the other day, but
then I didn't think--" he caught himself on that. "It don't cost near
as much as this store. We could furnish up the parlour with pianos--"

He was startled by that "we," and began again:

"That is, if you could ever think of such a thing as marrying me."

"But," said Lulu. "You _know_! Why, don't the disgrace--"

"What disgrace?" asked Cornish.

"Oh," she said, "you--you----"

"There's only this about that," said he. "Of course, if you loved him
very much, then I'd ought not to be talking this way to you. But I
didn't think--"

"You didn't think what?"

"That you did care so very much--about him. I don't know why."

She said: "I wanted somebody of my own. That's the reason I done what I
done. I know that now."

"I figured that way," said Cornish.

They dismissed it. But now he brought to bear something which he saw
that she should know.

"Look here," he said, "I'd ought to tell you. I'm--I'm awful lonesome
myself. This is no place to live. And I guess living so is one reason
why I want to get married. I want some kind of a home."

He said it as a confession. She accepted it as a reason.

"Of course," she said.

"I ain't never lived what you might say private," said Cornish.

"I've lived too private," Lulu said.

"Then there's another thing." This was harder to tell her. "I--I don't
believe I'm ever going to be able to do a thing with law."

"I don't see," said Lulu, "how anybody does."

"I'm not much good in a business way," he owned, with a faint laugh.
"Sometimes I think," he drew down his brows, "that I may never be able
to make any money."

She said: "Lots of men don't."

"Could you risk it with me?" Cornish asked her. "There's nobody I've
seen," he went on gently, "that I like as much as I do you. I--I was
engaged to a girl once, but we didn't get along. I guess if you'd be
willing to try me, we would get along."

Lulu said: "I thought it was Di that you--"

"Miss Di? Why," said Cornish, "she's a little kid. And," he added,
"she's a little liar."

"But I'm going on thirty-four."

"So am I!"

"Isn't there somebody--"

"Look here. Do you like me?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Well enough--"

"It's you I was thinking of," said Lulu. "I'd be all right."

"Then!" Cornish cried, and he kissed her.

       *       *       *       *       *

"And now," said Dwight, "nobody must mind if I hurry a little wee bit.
I've got something on."

He and Ina and Monona were at dinner. Mrs. Bett was in her room. Di was
not there.

"Anything about Lulu?" Ina asked.

"Lulu?" Dwight stared. "Why should I have anything to do about Lulu?"

"Well, but, Dwight--we've got to do something."

"As I told you this morning," he observed, "we shall do nothing. Your
sister is of age--I don't know about the sound mind, but she is
certainly of age. If she chooses to go away, she is free to go where she
will."

"Yes, but, Dwight, where has she gone? Where could she go? Where--"

"You are a question-box," said Dwight playfully. "A question-box."

Ina had burned her plump wrist on the oven. She lifted her arm and
nursed it.

"I'm certainly going to miss her if she stays away very long," she
remarked.

"You should be sufficient unto your little self," said Dwight.

"That's all right," said Ina, "except when you're getting dinner."

"I want some crust coffee," announced Monona firmly.

"You'll have nothing of the sort," said Ina. "Drink your milk."

"As I remarked," Dwight went on, "I'm in a tiny wee bit of a hurry."

"Well, why don't you say what for?" his Ina asked.

She knew that he wanted to be asked, and she was sufficiently willing to
play his games, and besides she wanted to know. But she _was_ hot.

"I am going," said Dwight, "to take Grandma Gates out in a wheel-chair,
for an hour."

"Where did you get a wheel-chair, for mercy sakes?"

"Borrowed it from the railroad company," said Dwight, with the triumph
peculiar to the resourceful man. "Why I never did it before, I can't
imagine. There that chair's been in the depot ever since I can
remember--saw it every time I took the train--and yet I never once
thought of grandma."

"My, Dwight," said Ina, "how good you are!"

"Nonsense!" said he.

"Well, you are. Why don't I send her over a baked apple? Monona, you
take Grandma Gates a baked apple--no. You shan't go till you drink your
milk."

"I don't want it."

"Drink it or mamma won't let you go."

Monona drank it, made a piteous face, took the baked apple, ran.

"The apple isn't very good," said Ina, "but it shows my good will."

"Also," said Dwight, "it teaches Monona a life of thoughtfulness for
others."

"That's what I always think," his Ina said.

"Can't you get mother to come out?" Dwight inquired.

"I had so much to do getting dinner onto the table, I didn't try," Ina
confessed.

"You didn't have to try," Mrs. Bett's voice sounded. "I was coming when
I got rested up."

She entered, looking vaguely about. "I want Lulie," she said, and the
corners of her mouth drew down. She ate her dinner cold, appeased in
vague areas by such martyrdom. They were still at table when the front
door opened.

"Monona hadn't ought to use the front door so common," Mrs. Bett
complained.

But it was not Monona. It was Lulu and Cornish.

"Well!" said Dwight, tone curving downward.

"Well!" said Ina, in replica.

"Lulie!" said Mrs. Bett, and left her dinner, and went to her daughter
and put her hands upon her.

"We wanted to tell you first," Cornish said. "We've just got married."

"For _ever_ more!" said Ina.

"What's this?" Dwight sprang to his feet. "You're joking!" he cried with
hope.

"No," Cornish said soberly. "We're married--just now. Methodist
parsonage. We've had our dinner," he added hastily.

"Where'd you have it?" Ina demanded, for no known reason.

"The bakery," Cornish replied, and flushed.

"In the dining-room part," Lulu added.

Dwight's sole emotion was his indignation.

"What on earth did you do it for?" he put it to them. "Married in a
bakery--"

No, no. They explained it again. Neither of them, they said, wanted the
fuss of a wedding.

Dwight recovered himself in a measure. "I'm not surprised, after all,"
he said. "Lulu usually marries in this way."

Mrs. Bett patted her daughter's arm. "Lulie," she said, "why, Lulie. You
ain't been and got married twice, have you? After waitin' so long?"

"Don't be disturbed, Mother Bett," Dwight cried. "She wasn't married
that first time, if you remember. No marriage about it!"

Ina's little shriek sounded.

"Dwight!" she cried. "Now everybody'll have to know that. You'll have to
tell about Ninian now--and his other wife!"

Standing between her mother and Cornish, an arm of each about her, Lulu
looked across at Ina and Dwight, and they all saw in her face a
horrified realisation.

"Ina!" she said. "Dwight! You _will_ have to tell now, won't you? Why I
never thought of that."

At this Dwight sneered, was sneering still as he went to give Grandma
Gates her ride in the wheel-chair and as he stooped with patient
kindness to tuck her in.

The street door was closed. If Mrs. Bett was peeping through the blind,
no one saw her. In the pleasant mid-day light under the maples, Mr. and
Mrs. Neil Cornish were hurrying toward the railway station.





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