Part 2 out of 3
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.
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
"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
"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.
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and Dwight was entering, hair wetly brushed, she had withdrawn from the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.
"Mother, come and have some supper."
"Looks to me like your muffins was just about the best ever."
"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
"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."
"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,
"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
"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
The gate opened, and some one came up the walk. They looked, and it was
* * * * *
"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'
"Ain't Lulu Deacon!" Ina's voice rose and swelled richly. "What you
"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.
"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."
She went, kissing them all good-night and taking her time about it.
Everything was suspended while she kissed them and departed, walking
"Married?" said Mrs. Bett with tardy apprehension. "Lulie, was your
"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
"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
"Yes. Well! Why indeed?" Dwight Herbert brought out these words with a
"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
"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
"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,
"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
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."
"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
"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
"Yes. Did he give you any 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
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
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
"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
"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
"Dwight. It's a funny thing, but I haven't Ninian's Oregon address."
"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
"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."
"I do. And I'd be ashamed to think anything else. I'd like to tell
"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
"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."
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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,
"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
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
"Bobby," Di was saying within that murmur, "Bobby, you don't kiss me as
if you really wanted to kiss me, to-night."
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
"_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
"What if I brought that Neil Cornish up for supper, one of these
"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,"
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
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
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
"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
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
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 role 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
"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
"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
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
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
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
And before they left Lulu said: "Dwight--you can't tell how long you'll
"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--"
"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
"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
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
"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
Cornish savoured his steaming beef pie, with sage. "Oh, well!" he said
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"I don't hear any more playin' and singin'," she remarked. "It sounded
"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
"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
"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."
"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
Lulu threw out her hands.
"There!" she cried triumphantly. "He _was_ married to her, just like he
* * * * *
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
"What is it, Lulu?" Mr. Plow asked, and he was bright and quiet too,
"Well," said Lulu, "it's not much. But I wanted Jenny to tell me about
"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
"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
"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.
"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."
"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
"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
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
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.