Friendship Village
by Zona Gale
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"Well, the poorhouse burnt clear to the ground, an' the inmates hed to be quartered 'round in Friendship anyhow that night, an' nex' day I never see Friendship so upset. I never see the village roust itself so sudden, either. Timothy an' the managers was up an' doin' before breakfast next mornin', an' no wonder. Timothy Toplady, he had three old women to his farm. Silas Sykes, he'd took in Foolish Henzie an' another old man for his. An' Eppleby Holcomb, in his frenzy he'd took in five, an' Mame was near a lunatic with havin' 'em to do for. An' all three men bein' at the head o' the burned buildin', they danced 'round lively makin' provision, an' they sent telegrams, wild an' reckless, without countin' the words. An' before noon it was settled't the poorhouse in Alice County, nearest us, should take in the inmates temporary. We was eatin' dinner when Timothy an' Silas come in to tell Elspie. I wished Eppleby had come to tell her. Eppleby does everything like he was company, an' not like he owned it.

"Eb was hevin' dinner with us too. He'd been scallopin' in an' out o' the house all the forenoon, an' I'd ask' him to set down an' hev a bite. But when he done even that, he done it kind of alien. Peleg Bemus, playin' his flute walkin' along the streets nights, like he does, seems more a rill citizen than Eb use' to, eatin' his dinner. Elspie, she'd got the whol' dinner—she was a rill good cook, an' that su'prised me as much as her dressin' my wrist the night before. She'd pampered me shameful all that mornin' too, an' I'd let her—when you've lived alone so long, it's kind o' nice to hev a person fussin' here an' there, an' Elspie seemed to love takin' care o' somebody. I declare, it seemed as if she done some things for me just for the sake o' doin' 'em—she was that kind. Timothy an' Silas wouldn't hev any dinner,—it was a boiled piece, too,—bein' as dinners o' their own was gettin' cold. But they set up against the edge o' the room so's we could be eatin' on.

"'Elspie,' says Timothy, 'you must be ready to go sharp seven o'clock Friday mornin'.'

"'Go where?' says Elspie. She hed on a black-an'-white stripe o' mine, an' her cheeks were some pink from standin' over the cook stove, an' she looked rill pretty.

"Timothy, he hesitated. But,—

"'To the Alice County poorhouse,' says Silas, blunt. Silas Sykes is a man that always says 'bloody' an' 'devil' an' 'coffin' right out instead o' 'bandaged' an' 'the Evil One,' an' 'casket.'

"'Oh!' says Elspie. 'Oh, ...' an' sort o' sunk down an' covered her mouth with her wrist an' looked at us over it.

"'The twenty o' you'll take the Dick Dasher,' says Timothy, then, 'an' it'll be a nice train ride for ye,' he says, some like an undertaker makin' small talk. But he see how Elspie took it, an' so he slid off the subjec' an' turned to Eb.

"'Little too early to know who's goin' to take the Merriman store, ain't it?' s'he, cheerful. Timothy ain't so everlastin' cheerful, either, but he always hearties himself all over when he talks, like he was a bell or a whistle an' he hed it to do.

"Eb, he dropped his knife on the floor.

"'Yes, yes,' he says flurried, 'yes, it is—' like he was rushin' to cover an' a 'yes' to agree was his best protection.

"'Oh, well, it ain't so early either,' Silas cuts in, noddin' crafty.

"'No, no,' Eb agrees immediate, 'I donno's 'tis so very early, after all.'

"'I'm thinkin' o' takin' the store over myself,' says Silas Sykes, tippin' his head back an' rubbin' thoughtful under his whiskers. 'It'd be a good idee to buy it in, an' no mistake,'

"'Yes,' says Eb, noddin', 'yes. Yes, so't would be.'

"'I donno's I'd do it, Silas, if I was you,' says Timothy, frownin' judicial. 'Ain't you gettin' some stiff to take up with a new business?' But Timothy is one o' them little pink men, an' you can't take his frowns much to heart.

"'No,' says Eb, shakin' his head. 'No. No, I donno's I would take it either, Mr. Sykes.'

"I was goin' to say somethin' about the wind blowin' now east, now west, an' the human spine makin' a bad weathercock, but I held on, an' pretty soon Timothy an' Silas went out.

"'Seven o'clock Friday A.M., now!' says Silas, playful, over his shoulder to Elspie. But Elspie didn't answer. She was just sittin' there, still an' quiet, an' she didn't eat another thing.

"That afternoon she slipped out o' the house somewheres. She didn't hev a hat—what few things she did hev hed been burnt. She went off without any hat an' stayed most all the afternoon. I didn't worry, though, because I thought I knew where she'd gone. But I wouldn't 'a' asked her,—I'd as soon slap anybody as quiz 'em,—an' besides I knew't somebody'd tell me if I kep' still. Friendship'll tell you everything you want to know, if you lay low long enough. An' sure as the world, 'bout five o'clock in come Mis' Postmaster Sykes, lookin' troubled. Folks always looks that way when they come to interfere. Seems't she'd just walked past the poorhouse ruins, an' she'd see Elspie settin' there side of 'em, all alone—

"'—singin',' says Mis' Sykes, impressive,—like the evil was in the music,—'sittin' there singin', like she was all possessed. An' I come up behind her an' plumped out at her to know what she was a-doin'. An' she says: "I'm makin' a call,"—just like that; "I'm makin' a call," s'she, smilin', an' not another word to be got out of her. 'An',' says Mis' Sykes, 'let me tell you, I scud down that hill, one goose pimple.'

"'Let her alone,' says I, philosophic. 'Leave her be.'

"But inside I ached like the toothache for the poor thing—for Elspie. An' I says to her, when she come home:—

"'Elspie,' I says, 'why don't you go out 'round some an' see folks here in the village? The minister's wife'd be rill glad to hev you come,' I says.

"'Oh, I hate to hev 'em sit thinkin' about me in behind their eyes,' s'she, ready.

"'What?' says I, blank.

"'It comes out through their eyes,' she says. 'They keep thinkin': Poor, poor, poor Elspie. If they was somebody dead't I could go to see,' she told me, smilin', 'I'd do that. A grave can't poor you,' she told me, 'an' everybody that's company to you does.'

"'Well!' says I, an' couldn't, in logic, say no more.

"That evenin' Eb come in an' set down on the edge of a chair, experimental, like he was testin' the cane.

"'Miss Cally,' s'e, when Elspie was out o' the room, 'you goin' t' let her go with them folks to the Alice County poorhouse?'

"I guess I dissembulated some under my eyelids—bein' I see t' Eb's mind was givin' itself little lurches.

"'Well,' s'I, 'I don't see what that's wise I can do besides.'

"He mulled that rill thorough, seein' to the back o' one hand with the other.

"'Would you take her to board an' me pay for her board?' s'e, like he'd sneezed the i-dea an' couldn't help it comin'.

"'Goodness!' s'I, neutral.

"Eb sighed, like he'd got my refusal—Eb was one o' the kind that always thinks, if it clouds up, 't the sun is down on 'em personally.

"'Oh,' s'I, bold an' swift, 'you great big ridiculous man!'

"An' I'm blest if he didn't agree to that.

"'I know I'm ridiculous,' s'he, noddin', sad. 'I know I'm that, Miss Cally.'

"'Well, I didn't mean it that way,' s'I, reticent—an' said no more, with the exception of what I'd rilly meant.

"'Why under the canopy,' I ask' him, for a hint, 'don't you take the Sum Merriman store, an' run it, an' live on your feet? I ain't any patience with a man,' s'I, 'that lives on his toes. Stomp some, why don't you, an' buy that store?'

"An' his answer su'prised me.

"'I did ask Mis' Fire Chief fer the refusal of it,' he said. 'I ask' her when I took my flowers to Sum, to-day—they was wild flowers I'd picked myself,' he threw in, so's I wouldn't think spendthrift of him. 'An' I'm to let her know this week, for sure.'

"'Glory, glory, glory,' s'I, under my breath—like I'd seen a rill live soul, standin' far off on a hill somewheres, drawin' cuts to see whether it should come an' belong to Eb, or whether it shouldn't.



"All that evenin' Eb an' Elspie an' I set by the cook stove, talkin', an' they seemed to be plenty to talk about, an' the air in the room was easy to get through with what you hed to say—it was that kind of an evenin'. Eb was pretty quiet, though, excep' when he piped up to agree. 'Gettin' little too hot here, ain't it?' I know I said once; an' Eb see right off he was roasted an' he spried 'round the draughts like mad. An' a little bit afterwards I says, with malice the fourth thought: 'I can feel my shoulders some chilly,' I says—an' he acted fair chatterin'-toothed himself, an' went off headfirst for the woodpile. I noticed that, an' laughed to myself, kind o' pityin'. But Elspie, she never noticed. An' when it come time to lock up, I 'tended to my wrist an' let them two do the lockin'. They seemed to like to—I could tell that. An' Elspie, she let Eb out the front door herself, like they was rill folks.

"Nex' day I was gettin' ready for Sum Merriman's funeral,—it was to be at one o'clock,—when Elspie come in my room, sort o' shyin' up to me gentle.

"'Miss Cally,' 's'she, 'do you think the mourners'd take it wrong if I's to go to the funeral?'

"'Why, no, Elspie,' I says, su'prised; 'only what do you want to go for?' I ask' her.

"'Oh, I donno,' s'she. 'I'd like to go an' I'd like to ride to the graveyard. I've watched the funerals through the poorhouse fence. An' I'd kind o' like to be one o' the followers, for once—all lookin' friendly an' together so, in a line.'

"'Go with me then, child,' I says. An' she done so.

"Bein' summer, the funeral flowers was perfectly beautiful. They was a rill hothouse box from the Proudfits; an' a anchor an' two crosses an' a red geranium lantern; an' a fruit piece made o' straw flowers from the other merchants; an' seven pillows, good-sized, an' with all different wordin', an' so on. The mound at the side o' the grave was piled knee-high, an' Mis' Fire Chief Merriman, I heard, said it seemed like Sum was less dead than almost anybody 't'd died in Friendship, bein' the grave kind o' spoke up, friendly, when you see the flowers. She went home rill cheerful from the funeral an' was able to help get the supper for the out-o'-town relations, a thing no widow ever thinks of, anyway till the next day—though Sum was her second husband, so it was a little different than most.

"Well, a few of us waited 'round the cemetery afterwards to fix the flowers on the top o' the sod, an' Elspie, she waited with me—fussin' quiet with one thing an' another. Eb, he waited too, standin' 'round. An' when it come time for us women to lay the set pieces on, I see Elspie an' Eb walkin' off toward the top o' the cemetery hill. It's a pretty view from there, lookin' down the slope toward the Old Part, where nobody remembered much who was buried, an' it's a rill popular walk. I liked seein' 'em go 'long together—some way, lookin' at 'em, Elspie so pretty an' Eb so kind o' gentle, you could 'a' thought they was rill folks, her sane an' him with a spine. I slipped off an' left 'em, the cemetery bein' so near my house, an' Eb walked home with her. 'Poor things,' I thought, 'if he does go back to peddlin' an' she has to go to the Alice County poorhouse, I'll give 'em this funeral afternoon for a bright spot, anyhow.'

"But I'd just about decided that Elspie wa'n't to go to Alice County. I hadn't looked the i-dee in the face an' thought about it, very financial. But I ain't sure you get your best lights when you do that. I'd just sort o' decided on it out o' pure shame for the shabby trick o' not doin' so. I hadn't said anything about it to Timothy or Silas or any o' the rest, because I didn't hev the strength to go through the arguin' agony. When the Dick Dasher had pulled out without her, final, I judged they'd be easier to manage. An' that evenin' I told Elspie—just to sort o' clamp myself to myself; an' I fair never see anybody so happy as she was. It made me ashamed o' myself for not doin' different everything I done.

"I was up early that Friday mornin', because I judged't when Elspie wasn't to the train some o' them in charge'd come tearin' to my house to find out why. I hadn't called Elspie, an' I s'posed she was asleep in the other bedroom. I was washin' up my breakfast dishes quiet, so's not to disturb her, when I heard somebody come on to the front stoop like they'd been sent for.

"'There,' thinks I, 'just as I expected. It's one o' the managers.'

"But it wa'n't a manager. When I'd got to the front door, lo an' the hold! there standin' on the steps, wild an' white, was the widow o' the day before's funeral—Mis' Fire Chief Merriman, lookin' like the grave hed spoke up. She'd got up early to go alone to the cemetery, an', my house bein' the nearest, she'd come rushin' back to me with her news.

"'Cally!' s'she, from almost before she laid eyes on me, 'Cally! Somebody's stole every last one o' the flowers off'n Sum's grave. An' the ribbins.'

"She was fair beside herself, bein' as the loss hed piled up on a long sickness o' Sum's, an' a big doctor's bill consequent, an' she nervous anyhow, an' a good deal o' the ribbin tyin' the stems was silk, both sides.

"'I'll hev out the marshal,' s'she, wild. 'I'll send for Timothy. They can't hev got far with 'em. I'll know,' s'she, defiant, 'whether they's anything to the law or whether they ain't.'

"I hed her take some strong coffee from breakfast, an' I got her, after some more fumin's an' fustin's, to walk back to the cemetery with me, till we give a look around. I do as many quick-moved things as some, but I allus try, first, to give a look around.

"'An' another thing,' s'I to her, as we set out, 'are you sure, Mis' Fire Chief, that you got to the right grave? The first visit, so,' I says, 'an' not bein' accustomed to bein' a widow, lately, an' all, you might 'a' got mixed in the lots.'

"While she was disclaimin' this I looked up an' see, hangin' round the road, was Eb. He seemed some sheepish when he see me, an' he said, hasty, that he'd just got there, an' it come over me like a flash't he'd come to see Elspie off. An' I marched a-past him without hardly a word.

"We wasn't mor'n out o' the house when we heard a shout, an' there come Silas an' Timothy, tearin' along full tilt in the store delivery wagon, wavin' their arms.

"'It's Elspie—Elspie!' they yelled, when they was in hearin'. 'She ain't to the depot. She'll be left. Where is she?'

"I hadn't counted on their comin' before the train left, but I thought I see my way clear. An' when they come up to us, I spoke to 'em, quiet.

"'She's in the house, asleep,' s'I, 'an' what's more, in that house she's goin' to stay as long as she wants. But,' s'I, without waitin' for 'em to bu'st out, 'there's more important business than that afoot for the marshal;' an' then I told 'em about Sum Merriman's flowers. 'An',' s'I, 'you'd better come an' see about that now—an' let Eppleby an' the others take down the inmates, an' you go after 'em on the 8.05. It ain't often,' s'I, crafty, 'that we get a thief in Friendship.'

"I hed Timothy Toplady there, an' he knew it. He's rill sensitive about the small number o' arrests he's made in the village in his term. He excited up about it in a minute.

"'Blisterin' Benson!' he says, 'ain't this what they call vandalism? Look at it right here in our midst like a city!' says he, fierce—an' showin' through some gleeful.

"'Why, sir,' says Silas Sykes, 'mebbe it's them human goals. Mebbe they've dug Sum up,' he says, 'an mebbe—' But I hushed him up. Silas Sykes always grabs on to his thoughts an' throws 'em out, dressed or undressed. He ain't a bit o' reserve. Not a thought of his head that he don't part with. If he had hands on his forehead, you could tell what time he is—I think you could, anyway.

"Well, it was rill easy to manage 'em, they bein' men an' susceptible to fascinations o' lawin' it over somethin'. An' we all got into the delivery wagon, an' Eb, he come too, sittin' in back, listenin' an' noddin', his feet hangin' over the box informal.

"I allus remember how the cemetery looked that mornin'. It was the tag end o' June—an' in June cemeteries seems like somewheres else. The Sodality hed been tryin' to get a new iron fence, but they hadn't made out then, an' they ain't made out now—an' the old whitewashed fence an' the field stone wall was fair pink with wild roses, an' the mulberry tree was alive with birds, an' the grass layin' down with dew, an' the white gravestones set around, placid an' quiet, like other kind o' folks that we don't know about. Mis' Fire Chief Merriman, she went right through the wet grass, cross lots an' round graves, holdin' up her mournin' an' showin' blue beneath—kind o' secular, like her thinkin' about the all-silk ribbin at such a time. Sure enough, she knew her way to the lot all right. An' there was the new grave, all sodered green, an' not a sprig nor a stitch to honour it.

"'Now!' says Mis' Merriman, rill triumphant.

"'Land, land!' s'I, seein' how it rilly was.

"Timothy an' Silas, they both pitched in an' talked at once an' bent down, technical, lookin' for tracks. But Eb, he just begun seemin' peculiar—an' then he slipped off somewheres, though we never missed him, till, in a minute, he come runnin' back.

"'Come here!' he says. 'Come on over here a little ways,' he told us, an' not knowin' anything better to do we turned an' went after him, wonderin' what on the earth was the matter with him an' ready to believe 'most anything.

"Eb led us past the vault where Obe Toplady, Timothy's father, lays in a stone box you can see through the grating tiptoe; an' round by the sample cement coffin that sets where the drives meet for advertisin' purposes, an' you go by wonderin' whose it'll be, an' so on over toward the Old Part o' the cemetery, down the slope of the hill where everybody's forgot who's who or where they rest, an' no names, so. But it's always blue with violets in May—like Somebody remembered, anyhow.

"When we got to the top o' the hill, we all looked down the slope, shinin' with dew an' sunniness, an' little flowers runnin' in the grass, thick as thick, till at the foot o' the hill they fair made a garden,—a garden about the size of a grave, knee-deep with flowers. From where we stood we could see 'em—hothouse roses an' straw flowers, an' set pieces, an' a lot o' pillows, an' ribbins layin' out on the grass. An' there, side of 'em, broodin' over 'em lovin', set Elspie, that I'd thought was in my house asleep.

"Mis' Fire Chief, she wasn't one to hesitate. She was over the hill in a minute, the blue edge o' petticoat bannerin' behind.

"'Up-un my word,' s'she, like a cut, 'if this ain't a pretty note. What under the sun are you doin' sittin' there, Elspie, with my flowers?'

"Elspie looked up an' see her, an' see us streamin' toward her over the hill.

"'They ain't your flowers, are they?' s'she, quiet. 'They're the dead's. I was a-goin' to take 'em back in a minute or two, anyway, an' I'll take 'em back now.'

"She got up, simple an' natural, an' picked up the fruit piece an' one o' the pillows, an' started up the hill.

"'Well, I nev-er,' says Mis' Merriman; 'the very bare brazenness. Ain't you goin' to tell me what you're doin' here with the flowers you say is the dead's, an' I'm sure what was Sum's is mine an' the dead's the same—'

"She begun to cry a little, an' with that Elspie looks up at her, troubled.

"'I didn't mean to make you cry,' she says. 'I didn't mean you should know anything about it. I come early to do it—I thought you wouldn't know.'

"'Do what?' says Mis' Merriman, rill snappish.

"Elspie looks around at us then as if she first rilly took us in. An' when she sees Eb an' me standin' together, she give us a little smile—an' she sort o' answered to us two.

"'Why,' she says, 'I ain't got anybody, anywheres here, dead or alive, that belongs. The dead is all other folks's dead, an' the livin' is all other folks's folks. An' when I see all the graves down here that they don't nobody know who's they are, I thought mebbe one of 'em wouldn't care—if I kind of—adopted it.'

"At that she sort o' searched into Mis' Merriman's face, an' then Elspie's head went down, like she hed to excuse herself.

"'I thought,' she said, 'they must be so dead—an' no names on 'em an' all—an' their live folks all dead too by now—nobody'd care much. I thought of it yesterday when we was walkin' down here,' she said, 'an' I picked out the grave—it's the littlest one here. An' then when we come back past where the funeral was, an' I see them flowers—seemed like I hed to see how 'twould be to put 'em on my grave, that I'd took over. So I come early an' done it. But I was goin' to lay 'em right back where they belong—I truly was.'

"I guess none of us hed the least i-dea what to say. We just stood there plain tuckered in the part of us that senses things. All, that is, but one of us. An' that one was Eb Goodnight.

"I can see Eb now, how he just walked out o' the line of us standin' there, starin', an' he goes right up to Elspie an' he looks her in the face.

"'You're lonesome,' s'he, kind o' wonderin'. 'You're lonesome. Like—other folks.'

"An' all to once Eb took a-hold o' her elbow—not loose an' temporary like he shook hands, but firm an' four-cornered; an' when he spoke it was like his voice hed been starched an' ironed.

"'Mis' Fire Chief,' s'he, lookin' round at her, 'I's to let you know this week whether I'd take over the store. Well, yes,' he says, 'if you'll give me the time on it we mentioned, I'll take it over. An' if Elspie'll marry me an' let me belong to her, an' her to me.'

"'Marry you?' says Elspie, understandin' how he'd rilly spoke to her. 'Me?'

"Eb straightened himself up, an' his eyes was bright an' keen as the edge o' somethin'.

"'Yes, you,' he says gentle. 'An' me.'

"An' then she looked at him like he was lookin' at her. An' it come to me how it'd been with them two since the night they'd locked up my house together. An' I felt all hushed up, like the weddin' was beginnin'.

"But Timothy an' Silas, they wa'n't feelin' so hushed.

'Look a-here!' says Timothy Toplady, all pent up. 'She ain't discharged from the county house yet.'

"'I don't care a dum,' says Eb, an' I must say I respected him for the 'dum'—that once.

"'Look a-here,' says Silas, without a bit o' delicacy. 'She ain't responsible. She ain't—'

"'She is too,' Eb cut him short. 'She's just as responsible as anybody can be when they're lonesome enough to die. I ought 'a' know that. Shut up, Silas Sykes,' says Eb, all het up. 'You've just et a hot breakfast your wife hed ready for you. You don't know what you're talkin' about.'

"An' then Eb sort o' swep' us all up in the dust-pan.

"'No more words about it,' s'he, 'an' I don't care what any one o' you says—Mis' Cally nor none o' you. So you might just as well say less. Tell 'em, Elspie!'

"She looked up at him, smilin' a little, an' he turned toward her, like we wasn't there. An' I nudged Mis' Merriman an' made a move, an' she turns right away, like she'd fair forgot the funeral flowers. An' Timothy an' Silas actually followed us, but talkin' away a good deal—like men will.

"None of us looked back from the top o' the hill, though I will own I would 'a' loved to. An' about up there I heard Silas say:—

"'Oh, well. I am gettin' kind o' old an' some stiff to take a new business on myself.'

"An' Timothy, he adds absent: 'I don't s'pose, when you come right down to it, as Alice County'll rilly care a whoop.'

"An' Mis' Fire Chief Merriman, she wipes up her eyes, an', 'It does seem like courtin' with Sum's flowers,' she says, sighin', 'but I'm rill glad for Eb.'

"An' Eb not bein' there to agree with her, I says to myself, lookin' at the mornin' sun on the cemetery an' thinkin' o' them two back there among the baskets an' set pieces—I says, low to myself:—

"'Oh, glory, glory, glory.'

"For I tell you, when you see a livin' soul born in somebody's eyes, it makes you feel pretty sure you can hev one o' your own, if you try."



When the Friendship Married Ladies' Cemetery Improvement Sodality had its Evening Benefit at my house, Delia More came to help in the kitchen. She steadfastly refused to be a guest. "I'd love bein' 'round there," she said, "over the stove, or that way. But I can't—can't be company—yet. When I think of it, it's like a high swing."

So she stayed in the kitchen, and it was characteristic of Friendship that when its women learned that she was there, they all went—either deliberately or for a drink of water—to speak with her. And they all did learn that she was there. "Who you got in the kitchen?" was a part of the small talk from guest to hostess. The men stayed "in the other part of the house," Doctor June and Eppleby Holcomb sending by me some cordial word to Delia. I think that they cannot do these things anywhere else with such beautiful delicacy.

When my other guests had taken leave, Calliope stayed to help in the search for Mis' Postmaster Sykes's pickle fork and two of Mis' Helman's napkins (the latter marked with L because the store had been out of papier-mache H's, and it didn't matter what letter so long as you knew it meant you) and all the other borrowed articles whose mislaying made any Sodality gathering a kind of panic. Moreover, Calliope had been helping and we, and Delia, had been far too busy to taste supper.

We would have said that the true life of the evening was done instead of just beginning. But when we entered the kitchen, we found Delia More serving the supper on an end of the baking table, while warming his hands at the range stood Abel Halsey.

"I came in across the track, from the hills," Abel explained to me. "I didn't know you had doings till I tied and blanketed—an' I came on in anyhow, back way. I'm in luck too. I haven't had supper."

We four sat down in that homely cheer, and before us was the Sodality's exquisite cookery. It was good to have Abel there. Since my coming to Friendship I had seen him often, and my wonder at him had deepened. He was alive to the finger-tips and by nature equipped to conquer through sheer mentality, but he seemed deliberately to have fore-gone the prizes for the tasks of the lower places. Not only so, but he who understood all fine things seemed to regard his tastes as naivete, and to have won away from them, as if he had set "above all wisdom and subtlety" the unquenchable spirit which he knew. And withal he was so merry, so human, so big, and so good-looking. "Handsome as Calvert Oldmoxon," the older ones in Friendship were accustomed to say,—save Calliope, whom I had never heard say that,—but I myself, if I had not had my simile already selected, would have said "as Abel Halsey." If a god were human, I think that Abel would have been very like a god. And to this opinion his experiences were continually bearing witness.

That night, for example, he was in the merriest humour, and told us a tale of how, that day, the sky had fallen. There had been down on the Pump pasture, deep fog, white and thick and folded in, and above him blue sky, when he had emerged on the Hill Road and driven on with his eyes shut. ("When I need an adventure," he said, "I just trot old Major Mary with my eyes shut. Courting death isn't half as costly as they think it is.") And when he had opened his eyes, the sky was gone, and everything was white and thick and folded in and fabulous. Obviously, as he convinced us, the sky had fallen. But he had driven on through it and in it, and had found it, as I recall his account, to be made of inextinguishable dreams. These, Abel ran on, are on the other side of the sky for anybody who claims them, and our sandwiches were, above all sandwiches, delicious. He was so merry that Calliope and I, by a nod or a smile of understanding, played our role of merely, so to say, proving that the films were right—for you may have an inspired conversational photographer, but unless you are properly prepared chemically he can get no pictures. As Calliope had said of her evening with Eb and Elspie, "the air in the room was easy to get through with what you had to say—it was that kind of evening." Sometimes I wonder if an hour like that is real time; or is it, instead, a kind of chronometrical fairy, having no real existence on the dial, but only in essence.

As I think of it now the hour, if it was an hour, was simply a background for Delia More. For it was not only Calliope and I who responded to Abel's light-hearted talk, but, little by little, it was Delia too. Perhaps it was that faint spark in her—fanned to life on the night of her coming home, so that she "took stock"—which we now divined faintly quickening to Abel's humour, his wisdom, even his fancies. Save in her bitterness, on that first night, I had not heard her laugh; and it was as if something were set free. I could not help looking at her, but that did not matter, for she did not see me. She was listening to Abel with an almost childish delight in her face; and in her eyes was the look of one in a place before unvisited.

Some while after we had moved away from the table and sat together about the cooking range, we heard the questioning horn of a motor. We knew that it would belong to the Proudfits, since for us in Friendship there exists no other motor, and moreover this one was standing at my gate. Abel went out there and came back to tell us that the car had been in town to fetch the Proudfits' lawyer, and that Madame Proudfit had kindly sent it for Delia "and spoilt everything," he added frankly. As he said that, Abel looked at her, and I saw that a dream may persist through personality itself. As I have said, if a god were human, Abel would have been like a god; and in nothing more so than in this understanding of the immortalities.

Calliope stood up and caught, and held, my eyes in passing.

"Let's you and Abel and I take Delia home in the automobile," she said; "there ain't anything so good for folks as fresh air."

I brought a warm wrap for Delia, a crimson cloak of mine which, so to say, drew a line about her, defining her prettiness; and in the starlight we set off along the snowless Plank Road, Delia and Abel and I in the tonneau of the machine, and I silent. It had befallen strangely that over this road Delia More and I should be faring in the Proudfits' car, and beside her Abel Halsey as if, for such as he and she, a dream may, just possibly, come back.

"See," she said to Abel, "the sky has gone back up again."

"Yes," Abel assented, "one of the things even the sky can't do is to change the way things are."

"Oh, I know, I know ..." said Delia More.

"I want you to feel that," said Abel, gently. "Things are the way things are, and no use trying to leave them out of it. Besides, you need them. They're foundation. Then you build, and build better. That's all there is to it, Delia."

She was silent, and Abel sat looking up at the stars.

"All there is to it except what I said about the other side of the sky," he said. "And then me. I'll help."

From my thought of these two I remember that I drifted on to some consideration of myself, for their presence opened old paths where were in durance things that did their best to escape, and were disquieting. I thought also of Calliope, of whose story I had heard a little from one and another. And it seemed to me that possibly Delia More's laughter and her wistfulness summed us all up.

When we drew up at the entrance to Proudfit House we all alighted, Calliope and Abel and I to walk home. But while we were saying good night to Delia, the door opened and Clementina Proudfit stood against the light. The car was to wait, she said, to take Mr. Baring, the lawyer, to the midnight train. And then, as she saw her:—

"Calliope!" she cried, "I never wanted anybody so much. Come in and make Mr. Baring a cup of your good coffee—you will, Calliope? Mother and I will be with him for half an hour yet. Come, all of you, and help her."

We went in, lingering for a moment by the drawing-room fire while Miss Clementina went below stairs; and I noted how, in that room colourful and of fair proportion, Abel Halsey in his shabby clothes moved as simply as if the splendour were not there. He stood looking down at Delia, in her white dress, the crimson cloak catching the firelight; while Calliope and I, before a length of Beauvais tapestry, talked with spirit about both tapestry and coffee-making. ("My grandmother use' to crochet faces an' figgers in her afaghans, too," Calliope commented, "an' when I looked at 'em they use' to make me feel kind o' mad. But with these, I don't care at all.") And when Miss Clementina returned,—

"Now," Calliope said to me, "you come with me an' help about the coffee, will you? An' Delia, you an' Abel stay here. Nothin' will put me out o' my head so quick—nothin'—as too many flyin' 'round the kitchen when I'm tryin' to do work."

We went downstairs, and Miss Clementina rejoined her mother and the lawyer in the library, and Delia and Abel were left alone together in the firelight. If I had been a dream, and had been intending to come back at all, I think that I must have come then.

"Pray, why don't you?" said Calliope to me almost savagely on the kitchen stairs.

The coffee-making was a slow process and a silent one. Calliope and I were both absorbed in what had so wonderfully come about: That Delia More, who was dead, was alive again; or rather, that her spirit, patient within her through all the years of its loneliness, was coming forth at the sound of Abel's voice. We were alone in the kitchen, and when the coffee was over the flame, we stood at the window looking out on the black kitchen gardens. There lay the yellow reflection of the room, with that unreality of all window-mirrored rooms, so that if one might walk within them one would almost certainly wear one's self with a difference.

"Ain't it like somethin' bright was in the inside o' the garden," Calliope put it, "just the way I told you Abel feels about everything? That they's something inside, hid, kind of secret an' holy—like the dreams he said was in the sky. I guess mebbe he's believed that about Delia all these years. An' now he's bringin' it out. Oh," she said, "the kitchen is where you can tell about things best. Seems to me you'd ought to know somethin' about Delia an' Abel."

And I wanted to hear.

"Abel see Delia first," Calliope told me then, "to the Rummage Sale that the Cemetery Auxiliary, that the Sodality use' to be, give. That is to say, they didn't give it, as it turned out—they just had it, you might say. Abel was twenty-five or so, an' he'd just come here fresh ordained a minister. We found he wa'n't the kind to stop short on, Be good yourself an' then a crown. No, but he just went after the folks that was livin' along, moral an' step-pickin', an' he says to us, 'What you sittin' down here for, enjoyin' yourselves bein' moral? Get out an' help the rest o' the world,' he says. But everybody liked him in spite o' that, an' he was goin' to be installed minister in our church.

"Then the Rummage Sale come on an' he met Delia. Delia was eighteen an' just back from visitin' in the City, with her veil a new way, an' I never see prettier. She was goin' to take charge o' the odd waists table, an' Abel was runnin' 'round helpin'—Abel wa'n't the white-cuff kind, like some, but he always pitched in an' stirred up whatever was a-stewin'. He come bringin' in an armful o' old shoes somebody'd fetched down, an' just as she was beginnin' on the odd waists, sortin' 'em over, he met Delia. I remember she looks up at him from under that veil an' from over a red basque she'd picked off the pile, an', 'Mr. Halsey,' she says, 'I've a notion to buy this myself an' be savin'.' That took Abel—Delia was so pretty an' fluffy that hearin' her talk savin' was about like seein' a butterfly washin' out its own wings. 'Do,' says he, 'the red is beautiful on you,' s'e, shovin' the blame off on to the red. An' when he got done with the shoes he come over to help on the waists too—I was lookin' over the child sizes, next table, an' I see the whole business.

"I will say their talk was wonderful pretty. It run on sort o' easy, slippin' along over little laughs an' no hard work to keep it goin'. Abel had a nice way o' cuttin' his words out sharp—like they was made o' somethin' with sizin' on the back an' stayed where he put 'em. An' his laugh would sort o' clamp down soft on a joke an' make it double funny. An' Delia, she was right back at him, give for take, an' though she was rill genial, she was shy. An' come to think of it, Abel was just as full o' his fancyin's then as he is now.

"'Old clothes,' he says to her, 'always seems to me sort o' haunted.'

"'Haunted?' I know she asks him, wonderin'.

"'All steeped in what folks have been when they've wore 'em,' s'e, 'an' givin' it out again.'

"'Oh ...' Delia says, 'I never thought o' that before.'

"An' she see what he meant, too. Delia wa'n't one to get up little wavy notions like that, but she could see 'em when told. An' neither was she one to do one way instead of another by just her own willin' it, but if somebody pointed things out to her, then she'd see how, an' do the right. An' I think Abel understood that about her—that her soul was sort o' packed down in her an' would hev to be loosened gentle, before it could speak. Like Peleg Bemus says about his flute," Calliope said, smiling, "that they's something packed deep down in it that can't say things it knows."

"'Clothes folks wear, rooms they live in, things they use—they all get like the folks that use 'em,' Abel says, layin' black with black an' white with white, on to the waist table. 'It makes us want to step careful, don't it?' s'e. 'I think,' s'e, simple, 'your dresses—an' ribbins—an' your veil—must go about doin' pleasant things without you.'

"'Oh, no,' says Delia, demure, 'I ain't near good enough, Mr. Halsey; you mustn't think that,' she says—an' right while he was lookin' gentle an' clerical an' ready to help her, she dimples out all over her face. 'Besides,' she says, 'I ain't enough dresses to spare away from me for that. I ain't but about two!' s'she. An' when a girl is all rose pink and sky blue and dainty neat, a man loves to hear her brag how few dresses she's got, an' Abel wa'n't the exception.

"'Same as a lily,' says he; 'they only have one dress. Now, what else shall I do?'

"Well, at sharp nine the Cemetery Auxiliary come to order, Mis' Sykes presidin', like she always does when it's time for a hush. The doors was to open to the general public at ten o'clock, an' the i-dee was to hev the Auxiliary get the pick o' the goods first, payin' the reg'lar, set, marked price. An' just as they was ready to begin pickin', up arrove the Proudfit pony cart with a great big box o' stuff, sent to the sale. Land, land, Mis' Sykes from the chair an' the others the same, they just makes one swoop—an' begun selectin'; an' in less than a jiffy if they hadn't selected up every one o' the Proudfit articles themselves. It was natural enough. The things was worth havin'—pretty curtains, an' trimmin's not much wore, an' some millinery an' dresses with the new hardly off. An' the Auxiliary paid the price they would 'a' asked anybody else. They was anxious, but they was square.

"That just seemed to get their hand in. Next, they fell to on the other tables an' begun buyin' from them. They was lots o' things that most anybody would 'a' been glad to hev that the owners had sent down sheer through bein' sick o' seein' 'em around—like you will—an' couldn't be thrown away 'count o' conscience, but could be give to a cause an' conscience not notice. We had quite fun buyin', too—knowin' they was each other's, an' no hard feelin'—only good spirits an' pleased with each other's taste. Everybody knew who'd sent what, an' everybody hed bought it for some not so high-minded use as it hed hed before, an' kep' their dignity that way. Front-stair carpet was bought to go down on back stairs, sittin' room lamp for chamber lamp, kitchen stove-pipe for wash room stove-pipe, an' so on, an' the clothes to make rag rugs—so they give out. The things kep' on an' on bein' snapped up hot-cake quick, an' the crowd beginnin' to gather outside, waitin' to get in, made 'em sort o' lose their heads an' begin buyin' sole because things was cheap—bird-cages, a machine cover, odd table-leaves, an' like that. The Society was rill large then, an' what happened might 'a' been expected. When ten o'clock come an' it was time to open the door, the Rummage Sale was over, an' the Auxiliary hed bought the whole thing themselves.

"We never thought folks might be anyways mad about it—but I tell you, they was. They hed been seein' us through the glass, like they was caged in front o' bargain day. An' when Mis' Toplady, fair beamin', unlocks the door an' tells 'em the sale was through with an' a rill success, they acted some het up. But Mis' Toplady, she bristles back at 'em. 'I'm sure,' s'she, 'nobody wants you to die an' be buried in a nice, neat, up-to-date, kep'-up cemet'ry if you don't want to.' An' o' course she hed 'em there.

"Well, it was that performance o' the Auxiliary's that rilly brought Delia an' Abel together. It seemed to strike Abel awful funny, an' Delia, lookin' at it with him, she see the funny too. They laughed a good deal, an' they seemed to sort o' understand each other through laughin', like you will. Delia bought the red waist, an' Abel walked home with her—an' by that time Abel, with his half-scriptural, half-boy, half-lover way that he couldn't help, was just on the craggy edge o' fallin' in love with her. But I b'lieve it wa'n't love, just ordinary. It was more like Abel, in his zeal for reddin' up the world, see that he could do for Delia what nobody else could do—an' her for him. An' that both of 'em workin' together could do more through knowin' each other was near. That's the way,' Calliope said shyly, 'lovin' always ought to be, my notion. An' when it ain't, things is likely to get all wrong. Sometime—sometime,' she said, 'you'll hear about me—an' how things with me went all wrong. An' I want you to remember, no matter how much it don't seem my fault—that that's why they did go wrong—an' no other. I was too crude selfish to sense what love is. I didn't know—I didn't know. An' so with lots o' folks.

"I've often thought that Delia an' Abel meetin' at a Rummage Sale was like all the rest of it. There was just a lot o' rubbish lumberin' up the whole situation. Things wasn't happy for Delia to home—her mother, Mis' Crapwell, had married again to a man that kep' throwin' out about hevin' to be support to Delia; an' her stepsister, Jennie Crapwell, was sickly an' self-seekin' an' engaged all to once. An' the young carpenter that Jennie was goin' to marry, he was the black-eyed, hither-an'-yon kind, an' crazier over Delia from the first than he ever was over Jennie. Delia, she was shy about not havin' much education—Mis' Proudfit hed wanted to send her off to school, an' Mis' Crapwell wouldn't hear to it—an' Abel kep' talkin' that he was goin' to hev a big church in the City some day, an' I guess that scairt Delia some, an' Jennie kep' frettin' an' houndin' her, one way an' another, an' a-callin' her 'parson's wife'—ain't it awful the power them pin-pricky things has if we let 'em? An' Delia wa'n't the kind to know how to do right by her own willin'. An' so all to once we woke up one mornin', an' she'd done what she'd done, an' no help for it.

"It was only a month after Delia an' Abel had met that Delia went away, an' Abel hadn't been installed yet. An' when Delia done that, Abel just settled into bein' somebody else. He seemed to want to go off in the hills an' be by himself, an' most o' the time he done so. But there was grace for him even in that: Abel see the hill folks, how they didn't hev any churches nor not anything else much, an' he just set to work on 'em, quiet an' still. He'd wanted to go away an' travel, but the chance never come. An' it seemed, then on, he didn't want even to hear o' the City, an' when his chances there come, he never took 'em. An' Abel's been 'round here with the hill folks the fourteen years since, an' never pastor of any church—but he got the blessedness, after all, an' I guess the chance to do better service than any other way. You can see how he's broad an' gentle an' tender an' strong, but you don't know what he does for folks—an' that's the best. An' yet—his soul must be sort o' packed away too, to what it would 'a' been if things had 'a' gone differ'nt ... packed away an' tryin' to say somethin'. An' now Delia's come back I b'lieve Abel knows that, an' I b'lieve he sees the soul in her needin' him too, just like it did all that time—waitin' to be loosened, gentle, before it can speak; an' meanin' things it can't say, like Peleg's flute. Oh, don't it seem like the dreams Abel said he found up in the sky had ought to be let come true?"

It did seem as if, for the two up there in the drawing-room, this dream might, just possibly, come back.

"But then you never can tell for sure about the sky, can you?" said Calliope, sighing.

* * * * *

Coffee was served in the library where Madame Proudfit and Miss Clementina had been in consultation with their lawyer. We were all rather silent as Madame Proudfit sat at the urn and the lawyer handed our cups down some long avenue of his abstraction. And now everything seemed to me a kind of setting for Delia and Abel, and Calliope kept looking at them as if, before her eyes, things might come right. So, I own, did I, though in the Proudfit library it was usually difficult to fix my attention on what passed; for it was in that room that Linda Proudfit's portrait hung, and the beautiful eyes seemed always trying to tell one what the weary absence meant. But I thought again that this daughter of the house had won a kind of presence there, because of Madame Proudfit's tender mother-care of Delia More.

Yet it was to this care that Calliope and I owed a present defeat; for when we were leave-taking,—

"We shall sail, then, the moment we can get passage," Madame Proudfit observed to her lawyer, "providing that Clementina can arrange. Delia," she added, "Clementina and I find to-night that we must sail immediately for Europe, for six months or so. And we want to carry you off with us."

Madame Proudfit and Miss Clementina and Delia were standing with us outside the threshold, where the outdoors had met us like something that had been waiting. There, with the light from the hall falling but dimly, I saw in Abel's face only the glow of his simple joy that this good thing had come to Delia—though, indeed, that very joy told much besides. And it was in his face when he bade Delia good night and, since he was expected somewhere among the hills for days to come, gave her God-speed. But we four fell momentarily silent, as if we meant things which we might not speak. It was almost a relief to hear tapping on the sidewalk the wooden leg of Peleg Bemus, while a familiar, thin little stream of melody from his flute made its way about.

"Doesn't it seem as if Peleg were trying to tell one something?" said Madame Proudfit, lightly, as we went away.

And down on the gravel of the drive Calliope demanded passionately of Abel and me:—

"Oh, don't some things make you want to pull the sky down an' wrap up in it!"

But at this Abel laughed a little.

"It's easier to pull down just the dreams," he said.



One morning a few weeks after the Proudfits had left, I was sitting beside Calliope's cooking range, watching her at her baking, when the wooden leg of Peleg Bemus thumped across the threshold, and without ceremony he came in from the shed and stood by the fire, warming his axe handle. But Peleg's intrusions were never imputed to him. As I have said, his gifts and experiences had given him a certain authority. Perhaps, too, he reflected a kind of institutional dignity from his sign, which read:—

P. Bemus: Retail Saw Miller

At the moment of his entrance Calliope was talking of Emerel Kitton, now Mrs. Abe Daniel:

"There's them two," she said, "seems to hev married because they both use a good deal o' salt—'t least they ain't much else they're alike in. An' Emerel is just one-half workin' her head off for him. Little nervous thing she is—when I heard she was down with nervous prostration two years ago, I says, 'Land, land,' I says, 'but ain't she always had it?' They's a strain o' good blood in that girl,—Al Kitton was New England,—but they don't none of it flow up through her head. She's great on sacrificin', but she don't sacrifice judicious. If folks is goin' to sacrifice, I think they'd ought to do it conscientious, the kind in the Bible, same as Abraham an' like that."

Peleg Bemus rubbed one hand up and down his axe handle.

"I reckon you can't always tell, Miss Marsh," he said meditatively. "I once knowed a man that done some sacrificin' that ain't called by that name when it gets into the newspapers." He turned to me, with a manner of pointing at me with his head, "You been in New York," he said; "ain't you ever heard o' Mr. Loneway—Mr. John Loneway?"

I was sorry that I could not answer "yes." He was so expectant that I had the sensation of having failed him.

"Him an' I lived in the same building in East Fourteenth Street there," he said. "That is to say, he lived top floor back and I was janitor. That was a good many years ago, but whenever I get an introduction to anybody that's been in New York, I allus take an interest. I'd like to know whatever become of him."

He scrupulously waited for our question, and then sat down beside the oven door and laid his axe across his knees.

"It was that hard winter," he told us, "about a dozen years ago. I'd hev to figger out just what year, but most anybody on the East Side can tell you. Coal was clear up an' soarin', an' vittles was too—everybody howlin' hard times, an' the Winter just commenced. Make things worse, some philanthropist had put up two model tenements in the block we was in, an' property alongside had shot up in value accordin' an' lugged rents with it. Everybody in my buildin' 'most was rowin' about it.

"But John Loneway, he wasn't rowin'. I met him on the stairs one mornin' early an' I says, 'Beg pardon, sir,' I says, 'but you ain't meanin' to make no change?' I ask him. He looks at me kind o' dazed—he was a wonderful clean-muscled little chap, with a crisscross o' veins on each temple an' big brown eyes back in his head. 'No,' he says. 'Change? I can't move. My wife's sick,' he says. That was news to me. I'd met her a couple o' times in the hall—pale little mite, hardly big as a baby, but pleasant-spoken, an' with a way o' dressin' herself in shabby clo'es that made the other women in the house look like bundles tied up careless. But she didn't go out much—they had only been in the house a couple o' weeks or so. 'Sick, is she?' I says. 'Too bad,' I says. 'Anything I can do?' I ask him. He stopped on the nex' step an' looked back at me. 'Got a wife?' he says. 'No,' says I, 'I ain't, sir. But they ain't never challenged my vote on 'count o' that, sir—no offence,' I says to him respectful. 'All right,' he says, noddin' at me. 'I just thought mebbe she'd look in now and then. I'm gone all day,' he added, an' went off like he'd forgot me.

"I thought about the little thing all that mornin'—layin' all alone up there in that room that wa'n't no bigger'n a coal-bin. It's bad enough to be sick anywheres, but it's like havin' both legs in a trap to be sick in New York. Towards noon I went into one o' the flats—first floor front it was—with the kindlin' barrel, an' I give the woman to understand they was somebody sick in the house. She was a great big creatur' that I'd never see excep' in red calico, an' I always thought she looked some like a tomato ketchup bottle, with her apron for the label. She says, when I told her, 'You see if she wants anything,' she says. 'I can't climb all them stairs,' she answers me.

"Well, that afternoon I went down an' hunted up a rusty sleigh-bell I'd seen in the basement, an' I rubbed it up an' tied a string to it, an' 'long in the evenin' I went upstairs an' rapped at Mr. Loneway's door.

"'I called,' I says, 'to ask after your wife, if I might.'

"'If you might,' he says after me. 'I thank the Lord you're somebody that will. Come in,' he told me.

"They had two rooms. In one he was cookin' somethin' on a smelly oil-stove. In the other was his wife; but that room was all neat an' nice—curtains looped back, carpet an' all that. She was half up on pillows, an' she had a black waist on, an' her hair pushed straight back, an' she was burnin' up with the fever.

"'Set down an' talk to her,' he says to me, 'while I get the dinner, will you? I've got to go out for the milk.'

"I did set down, feelin' some like a sawhorse in church. If she hadn't been so durn little, seems though I could 'a' talked with her, but I ketched sight of her hand on the quilt, an'—law! it wa'n't no bigger'n a butternut. She done the best thing she could do an' set me to work.

"'Mr. Bemus,' she says, first off—everybody else called me Peleg—'Mr. Bemus,' she says, 'I wonder if you'd mind takin' an old newspaper—there's one somewheres around—an' stuffin' in the cracks of this window an' stop its rattlin'?'

"I laid my sleigh-bell down an' done as she says; an' while I fussed with the window, that seems though all Printin' House Square couldn't stuff up, she talked on, chipper as a squirrel, all about the buildin', an' who lived where, an' how many kids they was, an' wouldn't it be nice if they had an elevator like the model tenement we was payin' rent for, an' so on. I'd never 'a' dreamt she was sick if I hadn't looked 'round a time or two at her poor, burnin'-up face. Then bime-by he brought the supper in, an' when he went to lift her up, she just naturally laid back an' fainted. But she was all right again in a minute, brave as two, an' she was like a child when she see what he'd brought her—a big platter for a tray, with milk-toast an' an apple an' five cents' worth o' dates. She done her best to eat, too, and praised him up, an' the poor soul hung over her, watchin' every mouthful, feedin' her, coaxin' her, lookin' like nothin' more'n a boy himself. When I couldn't stand it no longer, I took an' jingled the sleigh-bell.

"'I'm a-goin',' I says, 'to hang this outside the door here, an' run this nice long string through the transom. An' to-morrow,' I says, 'when you want anything, just you pull the string a time or two, an' I'll be somewheres around.'

"She clapped her hands, her eyes shinin'.

"'Oh, goodey!' she says. 'Now I won't be alone. Ain't it nice,' she says, 'that there ain't no glass in the transom? If we lived in the model tenement, we couldn't do that,' she says, laughin' some.

"An' that young fellow, he followed me to the door an' just naturally shook hands with me, same's though I'd been his kind. Then he followed me on out into the hall.

"'We had a little boy,' he says to me low, 'an' it died four months ago yesterday, when it was six days old. She ain't ever been well since,' he says, kind of as if he wanted to tell somebody. But I didn't know what to say, an' so I found fault with the kerosene lamp in the hall, an' went on down.

"Nex' day I knew the doctor come again. An' 'way 'long in the afternoon I was a-tinkerin' with the stair rail when I heard the sleigh-bell ring. I run up, an' she was settin' up, in the black waist—but I thought her eyes was shiney with somethin' that wasn't the fever—sort of a scared excitement.

"'Mr. Bemus,' she says, 'I want you to do somethin' for me,' she says, 'an' not tell anybody. Will you?'

"'Why, yes,' I says, 'I will, Mis' Loneway,' I says. 'What is it?' I ask' her.

"'There's a baby somewheres downstairs,' she says. 'I hear it cryin' sometimes. An' I want you to get it an' bring it up here.'

"That was a queer thing to ask, because kids isn't soothin' to the sick. But I went off downstairs to the first floor front. The kid she meant belonged to the Tomato Ketchup woman. I knew they had one because it howled different times an', I judge, pounded its head on the floor some when it was maddest. It was the only real little one in the buildin'—the others was all the tonguey age. I told what I wanted.

"'For the land!' says Tomato Ketchup, 'I never see such nerve. Take my baby into a sick room? Not if I know it. I s'pose you just come out o' there? Well, don't you stay here, bringin' diseases. A hospital's the true place fer the sick,' she says.

"I went back to Mis' Loneway, an' I guess I lied some. I said the kid was sick—had the croup, I thought, an' she'd hev to wait. Her face fell, but she said 'all right an' please not to say nothin',' an' then I went out an' done my best to borrow a kid for her. I ask' all over the neighbourhood, an' not a woman but looked on me for a cradle snatcher—thought I wanted to abduct her child away from her. Bime-by I even told one woman what I wanted it for.

"'My!' she says, 'if she ain't got one, she's got one less mouth to feed. Tell her to thank her stars.'

"After that I used to look into Mis' Loneway's frequent. The women on the same floor was quite decent to her, but they worked all day, an' mostly didn't get home till after her husband did. I found out somethin' about him, too. He was clerk in a big commission house 'way down-town, an' his salary, as near as I could make out, was about what mine was, an' they wa'n't no estimatin' that by the cord at all. But I never heard a word out'n him about their not havin' much. He kep' on makin' milk toast an' bringin' in one piece o' fruit at a time an' once in a while a little meat. An' all the time anybody could see she wa'n't gettin' no better. I knew she wa'n't gettin' enough to eat, an' I knew he knew it, too. An' one night the doctor he outs with the truth.

"Mr. Loneway an' I was sittin' in the kitchen while the doctor was in the other room with her. I went there evenin's all the time by then—the young fellow seemed to like to hev me. We was keepin' warm over the oil-stove because the real stove was in her room, an' the doctor come in an' stood over him.

"'My lad,' he says gentle, 'there ain't half as much use o' my comin' here as there is o' her gettin' strengthenin' food. She's got to hev beef broth—cer'als—fresh this an' fresh that'—he went on to tell him, 'an' plenty of it,' he says. 'An' if we can make her strength hold out, I think,' he wound up, 'that we can save her. But she's gettin' weaker every day for lack o' food. Can you do anything more?' he ask' him.

"I expected to see young Mr. Loneway go all to pieces at this, because I knew as it was he didn't ride in the street-car, he was pinchin' so to pay the doctor. But he sorter set up sudden an' squared his shoulders, an' he looked up an' says:—

"'Yes!' he says. 'I've been thinkin' that to-night,' he says. 'An' I've hed a way to some good luck, you might call it—an' now I guess she can hev everything she wants,' he told him; an' he laughed some when he said it.

"That sort o' amazed me. I hadn't heard him sayin' anything about any excruciatin' luck, an' his face hadn't been the face of a man on the brink of a bonanza. I wondered why he hadn't told her about this luck o' his, but I kep' quiet an' watched to see if he was bluffin'.

"I was cleanin' the walk off when he come home nex' night. Sure enough, there was his arms laid full o' bundles. An' his face—it done me good to see it.

"'Come on up an' help get dinner,' he yelled out, like a kid, an' I thought I actually seen him smilin'.

"Soon's I could I went upstairs, an' they wa'n't nothin' that man hadn't brought. They was everything the doctor had said, an' green things, an' a whol' basket o' fruit an' two bottles o' port, an' more things besides. They was lots o' fixin's, too, that there wa'n't a mite o' nourishment in—for he wa'n't no more practical nor medicinal'n a wood-tick. But I knew how he felt.

"'Don't tell her,' he says. 'Don't tell her,' he says to me, hoppin' 'round the kitchen like a buzz-saw. 'I want to surprise her.'

"You can bet he did, too—if you'll overlook the liberty. When he was all ready, he made me go in ahead.

"'To-ot!' says I, genial-like—they treated me jus' like one of 'em. 'To-ot! Lookey-at!'

"He set the big white platter down on the bed, an' when she see all the stuff,—white grapes, mind you, an' fresh tomatoes, an' a glass for the wine,—she just grabs his hand an' holds it up to her throat, an' says:—

"'Jack! Oh, Jack!' she says,—she called him that when she was pleased,—'how did you? How did you?'

"'Never you mind,' he says, kissin' her an' lookin' as though he was goin' to bu'st out himself, 'never you ask. It's time I had some luck, ain't it? Like other men?'

"She was touchin' things here an' there, liftin' up the grapes an' lookin' at 'em—poor little soul had lived on milk toast an' dates an' a apple now an' then for two weeks to my knowledge. But when he said that, she stopped an' looked at him, scared.

"'John!' she says, 'you ain't—'

"He laughed at that.

"'Gamblin'?' he says. 'No—never you fear.' I had thought o' that myself, only I didn't quite see when he'd had the chance since night before when the doctor told him. 'It's all owin' to the office,' he says to her, 'an' now you eat—lemme see you eat, Linda,' he says, an' that seemed to be food enough for him. He didn't half touch a thing. 'Eat all you want,' he says, 'an', Peleg, poke up the fire. There's half a ton o' coal comin' to-morrow. An' we're goin' to have this every day,' he told her.

"Land o' love! how happy she was! She made me eat some grapes, an' she sent a bunch to the woman on the same floor, because she'd brought her an orange six weeks before; an' then she begs Mr. Loneway to get an extry candle out of the top dresser draw'. An' when that was lit up she whispers to him, and he goes out an' fetches from somewheres a guitar with more'n half the strings left on; an' she set up an' picked away on 'em, an' we all three sung, though I can't carry a tune no more'n what I can carry a white oak tree trunk.

"'Oh,' she says, 'I'm a-goin' to get well now. Oh,' she says, 'ain't it heaven to be rich again?'

"No—you can say she'd ought to 'a' made him tell her where he got the money. But she trusted him, an' she'd been a-livin' on milk toast an' dates for so long that I can pretty well see how she took it all as what's-his-name took the wild honey, without askin' the Lord whose make it was. Besides, she was sick. An' milk toast an' dates'd reconcile me to 'most any change for the better.

"It got so then that I went upstairs every noon an' fixed up her lunch for her, an' one day she done what I'd been dreadin'. 'Mr. Bemus,' she says, 'that baby must be over the croup now. Won't you—won't you take it down this orange an' see if you can't bring it up here awhile?'

"I went down, but, law!—where was the use? The Ketchup woman grabs up her kid an' fair threw the orange at me. 'You don't know what disease you're bringin' in here,' she says—she had a voice like them gasoline wood-cutters. I see she'd took to heart some o' the model-tenement social-evenin' lectures on bugs an' worms in diseases. I carried the orange out and give it to a kid in the ar'y, so's Mis' Loneway'd be makin' somebody some pleasure, anyhow. An' then I went back upstairs an' told her the kid was worse. Seems the croup had turned into cholery infantum.

"'Why,' she says, 'I mus' send it down somethin' nice an' hot to-night,' an' so she did, and I slips it back in the Loneway kitchen unbeknownst. She wa'n't so very medicinal, either, bless her heart!

"'Tell me about that baby,' she says to me one noon. 'What's its name? Does it like to hev its mother love it?' she ask me.

"I knew the truth to be that it didn't let anybody do anything day or night within sight or sound of it, an' it looked to me like an imp o' the dark. But I fixed up a tol'able description, an' left out the freckles an' the temper, an' told her it was fat an' well an' a boy. That seemed to satisfy her. Its name, though, sort o' stumped me. The Tomato Ketchup called it mostly 'you-come-back-here-you-little-ape.' I heard that every day. So I said, just to piece out my information, that I thought its name might be April. That seemed to take her fancy, an' after that she was always askin' me how little April was—but not when Mr. Loneway was in hearin'. I see well enough she didn't want he should know that she was grievin' none.

"All the time kep' comin', every night, another armful o' good things. Land! that man he bought everything. Seems though he couldn't buy enough. Every night the big platter was heaped up an' runnin' over with everything under the sun, an' she was like another girl. I s'pose the things give her strength, but I reck'n the cheer helped most. She had the surprise to look forward to all day, an' there was plenty o' light, evenin's; an' the stove, that was drove red-hot. The doctor kep' sayin' she was better, too, an' everything seemed lookin' right up.

"Seems queer I didn't suspect from the first something was wrong. Seems though I ought to 'a' known money didn't grow out o' green wood the way he was pretendin'. It wasn't two weeks before he takes me down to the basement one night when he comes home, an' he owns up.

"'Peleg,' he says, 'I've got to tell somebody, an' God knows maybe it'll be you that'll hev to tell her. I've stole fifty-four dollars out o' the tray in the retail department,' says he, 'an' to-day they found me out. They wasn't no fuss made. Lovett, the assistant cashier, is the only one that knows. He took me aside quiet,' Mr. Loneway says, 'an' I made a clean breast. I said what I took it for. He's a married man himself, an' he told me if I'd make it up in three days, he'd fix it so's nobody should know. The cashier's off for a week. In three days he's comin' back. But they might as well ask me to make up fifty-four hundred. I've got enough to keep on these three days so's she won't know,' he says, 'an' after that—'

"He hunched out his arms, an' I'll never forget his face.

"I says, 'Mr. Loneway, sir,' I says, 'chuck it. Tell her the whole thing an' give 'em back what you got left, an' do your best.'

"He turned on me like a crazy man.

"'Don't talk to me like that,' he says fierce. 'You don't know what you're sayin',' he says. 'No man does till he has this happen to him. The judge on the bench that'll send me to jail for it, he won't know what he's judgin'. My God—my God!' he says, leanin' up against the door o' the furnace room, 'to see her sick like this—an' needin' things—when she give herself to me to take care of!'

"Course there wa'n't no talkin' to him. An' the nex' night an' the nex' he come home bringin' her truck just the same. Once he even hed her a bunch o' pinks. Seems though he was doin' the worst he could.

"The pinks come at the end of the second day of the three days the assistant cashier had give him to pay the money back in. An' two things happened that night. I was in the kitchen helpin' him wash up the dishes while the doctor was in the room with Mis' Loneway. An' when the doctor come out o' there into the kitchen, he shuts the door. I see right off somethin' was the matter. He took Mr. Loneway off to the back window, an' I rattled 'round with the dishes an' took on not to notice. Up until when the doctor goes out—an' then I felt Mr. Loneway's grip on my arm. I looked at him, an' I knew. She wasn't goin' to get well. He just lopped down on the chair like so much sawdust, an' put his face down in his arm, the way a schoolboy does—an' I swan he wa'n't much more'n a schoolboy, either. I s'pose if ever hell is in a man's heart,—an' we mostly all see it there sometime, even if we don't feel it,—why, there was hell in his then.

"All of a sudden there was a rap on the hall door. He never moved, an' so I went. I whistled, I rec'lect, so's she shouldn't suspect nothin' from our not goin' in where she was right off. An' a messenger-boy was out there in the passage with a letter for Mr. Loneway.

"I took it in to him. He turned himself around an' opened it, though I don't believe he knew half what he was doin'. An' what do you guess come tumblin' out o' that envelope? Fifty-four dollars in bills. Not a word with 'em.

"Then he broke down. 'It's Lovett,' he says, 'it's Lovett's done this—the assistant cashier. Maybe he's told some o' the other fellows at the desks next, an' they helped. They knew about her bein' sick. An' they can't none of 'em afford it,' he says, an' that seemed to cut him up worst of all. 'I'll give it back to him,' he says resolute. 'I can't take it from 'em, Peleg.'

"I says, 'Hush up, Mr. Loneway, sir,' I says. 'You got to think o' her. Take it,' I told him, 'an' thank God it ain't as bad as it was. Who knows,' I ask' him, 'but what the doctor might turn out wrong?'

"Pretty soon I got him to pull himself together some, an' I shoved him into the other room, an' I went with him, an' talked on like an idiot so nobody'd suspect—I didn't hev no idea what.

"She was settin' up in the same black waist, with a newspaper hung acrost the head o' the iron bed to keep the draught out. All of a sudden,—

"'John!' says she.

"He went close by the bed.

"'Is everything goin' on good?' she ask' him.

"'Everything,' he told her right off.

"'Splendid, John?' she ask' him, pullin' his hand up by her cheek.

"'Splendid, Linda,' he says after her.

"'We got a little money ahead?' she goes on.

"'Bless me, if he didn't do just what I had time to be afraid of. He hauls out them fifty-four dollars an' showed her.

"She claps her hands like a child.

"'Oh, goodey!' she says; 'I'm so glad. I'm so glad. Now I can tell you,' she says to him.

"He took her in his arms an' kneeled down by the bed, an' I tried to slip out, but she called me back. So I stayed, like an' axe in the parlour.

"'John,' she says to him, 'do you know what Aunt Nita told me before I was married? "You must always look the prettiest you know how," Aunt Nita says,' she tells him, '"for your husband. Because you must always be prettier for him than anybody else is." An', oh, dearest,' she says, 'you know I'd 'a' looked my best for you if I could—but I never had—an' it wasn't your fault!' she cries out, 'but things didn't go right. It wasn't anybody's fault. Only—I wanted to look nice for you. An' since I've been sick,' she says, 'it's made me wretched, wretched to think I didn't hev nothin' to put on but this black waist—this homely old black waist. You never liked me to wear black,' I rec'lect she says to him, 'an' it killed me to think—if anything should happen—you'd be rememberin' me like this. You think you'd remember me the way I was when I was well—but you wouldn't,' she says earnest; 'people never, never do. You'd remember me here like I look now. Oh—an' so I thought—if there was ever so little money we could spare—won't you get me somethin'—somethin' so's you could remember me better? Somethin' to wear these few days,' she says.

"He breaks down then an' cries, with his face in her pillow.

"'Don't—why, don't!' she says to him; 'if there wasn't any money, you might cry—only then I wouldn't never hev told you. But now—to-morrow—you can go an' buy me a little dressing-sacque—the kind they have in the windows on Broadway. Oh, Jack!' she says, 'is it wicked an' foolish for me to want you to remember me as nice as you can? It ain't—it ain't!' she says.

"Then I give out. I felt like a handful o' wet sawdust that's been squeezed. I slid out an' downstairs, an' I guess I chopped wood near all night. The Tomato Ketchup's husband he pounded the floor for me to shut up, an' I told him—though I never was what you might call a impudent janitor—that if he thought he could chop it up any more soft, he'd better engage in it. But then the kid woke up, too, an' yelled some, an' I's afraid she'd hear it an' remember, an' so I quit.

"Nex' mornin' I laid for Mr. Loneway in the hall.

"'Sir,' I says to him when he come down to go out, 'you won't do nothin' foolish?' I ask' him.

"'Mind your business,' he says, his face like a patch o' poplar ashes.

"I was in an' out o' their flat all day, an' I could see't Mis' Loneway she's happy as a lark. But I knew pretty well what was comin'. Mind you, this was the third day.

"That night I hed things goin' in the kitchen an' the kettle on, an' I's hesitatin' whether to put two eggs in the omelet or three, when he comes home. He laid a eternal lot o' stuff on the kitchen table, without one word, an' went in where she was. I heard paper rustlin', an' then I heard her voice—an' it wasn't no cryin', lemme say. An' so I says to myself, 'Well,' I says, 'she might as well hev a four-egg omelet, because it'll be the last.' I knew if they's to arrest him she wouldn't never live the day out. So I goes on with the omelet, an' when he come out where I was, I just told him if he'd cut open the grapefruit I hed ever'thing else ready. An' then he quit lookin' defiant, an' he calmed down some; an' pretty soon we took in the dinner.

"She was sittin' up in front of her two pillows, pretty as a picture. An' she was in one o' the things I ain't ever see outside a store window. Lord! it was all the colour o' roses, with craped-up stuff like the bark on a tree, an' rows an' rows o' lace, an' long, flappy ribbon. She was allus pretty, but she looked like an angel in that. An' I says to myself then, I says: 'If a woman knows she looks like that in them things, an' if she loves somebody an', livin' or dead, wants to look like that for him, I want to know who's to blame her? I ain't—Peleg Bemus, he ain't.' Mis' Loneway was as pretty as I ever see, not barrin' the stage. An' she was laughin', an' her cheeks was pink-like, an' she says,—

"'Oh, Mr. Bemus,' she says, 'I feel like a queen,' she says, 'an' you must stay for dinner.'

"I never seen Mr. Loneway gayer. He was full o' fun an' funny sayin's, an' his face had even lost its chalky look an' he'd got some colour, an' he laughed with her an' he made love to her—durned if it wasn't enough to keep a woman out o' the grave to be worshipped the way that man worshipped her. An' when she ask' for the guitar, I carried out the platter, an' I stayed an' straightened things some in the kitchen. An' all the while I could hear 'em singin' soft an' laughin' together ... an' all the while I knew what was double sure to come.

"Well, in about an hour it did come. I was waitin' for it. Fact, I had filled up the coffee-pot expectin' it. An' when I heard the men comin' up the stairs I takes the coffee an' what rolls there was left an' I meets 'em in the hall, on the landing. They was two of 'em—constables, or somethin'—with a warrant for his arrest.

"'Gentlemen,' says I, openin' the coffee-pot careless so's the smell could get out an' circ'late—'gentlemen, he's up there in that room. There's only these one stairs, an' the only manhole's right here over your heads, so's you can watch that. You rec'lect that there ain't a roof on that side o' the house. Now, I'm a lonely beggar, an' I wish't you'd let me invite you to a cup o' hot coffee an' a hot buttered roll or two, right over there in that hall window. You can keep your eye peeled towards that door all the while,' I reminds 'em.

"Well, it was a bitter night, an' them two was flesh an' blood. They 'lowed that if he hadn't been there they'd 'a' had to wait for him, anyway, so they finally set down. An' I doled 'em out the coffee. I 'lowed I could keep 'em an hour if I knew myself. Nobody could 'a' done any different, with her an' him settin' up there singin' an' no manner o' doubt but what it was for the last time.

"I'd be'n 'round consid'able in my time an' I knew quite a batch o' stories. I let 'em have 'em all, an' poured the coffee down 'em. They was willin' enough—it wa'n't cold in the halls to what it was outside, an' the coffee was boilin' hot. An' if anybody wants to blame me, they'd hev to see her first, all fluffed up same as a kitten in that pink jacket-thing, afore I'd give 'em a word o' hearin'.

"In the midst of it all I heard the Tomato Ketchup's kid yell. I remembered that this'd be my last chanst fer her to see the kid when she could get any happiness out of it. I didn't think twice—I just filled up the cups o' them two, an' then I sails downstairs, two at a time, an' opened the door o' first floor front without rappin'. The kid was there in its little nightgown, howlin' fer fair because it had be'n left alone with its boy brother. The Tomato Ketchup an' her husband was to a wake. I picked up the kid, rolled it in a blanket, grabbed brother by the arm, an' started up the stairs.

"'Is the house on f-f-fire?' says the boy brother.

"'Yes,' says I, 'it is. An' we're goin' upstairs to hunt up a fire-escape,' I told him.

"At the top o' the stairs I sets him down on the floor an' promises him an orange, an' then I opens the door, with the kid on my arm. It had stopped yellin' by then, an' it was settin' up straight, with its eyes all round an' its cheeks all pinked-up with havin' just woke up, an' it looked awful cute, in spite of its mother. Mis' Loneway was leanin' back, laughin', an' tellin' him what they was goin' to do the minute she got well; but when she see the baby she drops her husband's hand and sorter screams out, weak, an' holds out her arms. Mr. Loneway, he hardly heard me go in, I reckon—leastwise, he looks at me clean through me without seein' I was there. An' she hugs the kiddie up in her arms an' looks at me over the top of its head as much as to say she understood an' thanked me.

"'Its ma is went off,' I told 'em apologetic, 'an' I thought maybe you'd look after it awhile,' I told 'em.

"Then I went out an' put oranges all around the boy brother on the hall floor, an' I hustled back downstairs.

"'Gentlemen,' says I, brisk, 'I've got two dollars too much,' says I—an' I reck'n the cracks in them walls must 'a' winked at the notion. 'What do you say to a game o' dice on the bread-plate?' I ask' 'em.

"Well, one way an' another I kep' them two there for two hours. An' then, when the game was out, I knew I couldn't do nothin' else. So I stood up an' told 'em I'd go up an' let Mr. Loneway know they was there—along o' his wife bein' sick an' hadn't ought to be scared.

"I started up the stairs, feelin' like lead. Little more'n halfway up I heard a little noise. I looked up, an' I see the boy brother a-comin', leakin' orange-peel, with the kid slung over his shoulder, sleepin'. I looked on past him, an' the door o' Mr. Loneway's sittin' room was open, an' I see Mr. Loneway standin' in the middle o' the floor. I must 'a' stopped still, because something stumbled up against me from the back, an' the two constables was there, comin' close behind me. I could hear one of 'em breathin'.

"Then I went on up, an' somehow I knew there wasn't nothin' more to wait for. When we got to the top I see inside the room, an' she was layin' back on her pillow, all still an' quiet. An' the little new pink jacket never moved nor stirred, for there wa'n't no breath.

"Mr. Loneway, he come acrost the floor towards us.

"'Come in,' he says. 'Come right in,' he told us—an' I see him smilin' some."



When Peleg had gone back to the woodshed, Calliope slipped away too. I sat beside the fire, listening to the fine, measured fall of Peleg's axe—so much more vital with the spirit of music than his flute; looking at Calliope's brown earthen baking dishes—so much purer in line than the village bric-a-brac; thinking of Peleg's story and of the life that beat within it as life does not beat in the unaided letter of the law. But chiefly I thought of Linda Loneway. Linda Loneway. I made a picture of her name.

So, Calliope having come from above stairs where I had heard her moving about as if in some search, I think that I recognized, even before I lifted my eyes to it, the photograph which she gave me. It was as if the name had heard me, and had come.

"It's Linda," Calliope said. "It's Linda Proudfit. An' I'm certain, certain sure it's the Linda that Peleg knew."

"Surely not, Calliope," I said—obedient to some law.

Calliope nodded, with closed eyes, in simple certainty.

"I know it was her that Peleg meant about," she said. "I thought of it first when he said about her looks—an' her husband a clerk—an' he said he called her Linda. An' then when he got to where she mentioned Aunt Nita—that's what her an' Clementina always calls Mis' Ordway, though she ain't by rights—oh, it is—it is...."

Calliope sat down on the floor before me, cherishing the picture. And all natural doubts of the possibility, all apparent denial in the real name of Linda Proudfit's poor young husband were for us both presently overborne by something which seemed viewlessly witnessing to the truth.

"But little Linda," Calliope said, "to think o' her. To think o' her—like Peleg said. Why, I hardly ever see her excep' in all silk, or imported kinds. None of us did. I hardly ever 'see her walk—it was horses and carriages and dance in a ballroom till I wonder she remembered how to walk at all. Everything with her was cut good, an' kid, an' handwork, an' like that—the same way the Proudfits is now. But yet she wasn't a bit like Mis' Proudfit an' Clementina. They're both sweet an' rule-lovin' an' ladies born, but—" Calliope hesitated, "they's somethin' they ain't. An' Linda was."

Calliope looked about the room, seeking a way to tell me. And her eyes fell on the flame on her cooking-stove hearth.

"Linda had a little somethin' in her that lit her up," she said. "She didn't say much of anything that other folks don't say, but somehow she meant the words farther in. In where the light was, an' words mean differ'nt an' better. I use' to think I didn't believe that what she saw or heard or read was exactly like what her mother an' Clementina an' most folks see an' hear an' read. Somehow, she got the inside out o' things, an' drew it in like breathin', an' lit it up, an' lived it more. I donno's you know what I'm talkin' about. But Mis' Proudfit an' Clementina don't do that way. They're dear an' good an' generous, an' lots gentler than they was before Linda left 'em—an' yet they just wear things' an' invite folks in an' see Europe an' keep up their French an' serve God, an' never get any of it rill lit up. But Linda, she knew. An' she use' to be lonesome. I know she did—I know she did.

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