Lucy Allen was sitting in the window seat in the dining room, reading “Undine,” when she saw the car come through the gate and start slowly up the drive: a dark blue convertible, its top lowered; a big, red-headed man was bent over the wheel.
It was three o’clock in the afternoon. Lucy had that morning returned from a two-day visit to her friend, Evelyn Chase, who lived in the near-by town of Gloversville. They had gone to the movies on both Wednesday and Thursday afternoons and at the end of each matinee had gone to Grimstead’s Drug Store to eat banana splits. Evelyn’s sister, Margery, had been invited to a dance at the Country Club on Thursday night. They had stayed in her room to watch the long, ice-blue satin frock that her mother had just finished sewing slide over her blonde head, and after she departed for the dance had lain in her bed and talked far into the night. Evelyn thought that if a boy ever wanted to kiss her she would let him do it. Lucy said that there were boys in their class at school whom she would not allow to kiss her big toe. Evelyn maintained that Lucy was in reality of the same mind as she was and only pretended to think differently. That was because Lucy was “around grown people” so much, she observed. Her own mother had said that she was surprised that Lucy wasn’t queerer than she was. As for Lucy’s pretense of being reluctant to be kissed, it deceived nobody and only spoiled the fun. There was no use in “talking” unless you told everything. . . When Lucy came at noon into her own, cool, high-ceilinged brick house she had carried a book to the luncheon table and had read surreptitiously throughout the meal.
It was three o’clock now, and she was halfway through “Undine.” The sun blazed on the gravelled drive, the leaves on the maple trees hung furled. The cook, who was ordinarily her companion at this hour of the day, had gone to her cabin right after lunch, announcing that she had a tooth-ache and was going to sleep it off. In their bedroom on the second floor Lucy’s father and mother were asleep, too. “Time to take a nap. . . just time. . .” they had said as rose from the table. Her father, as usual, looked abstracted. Her mother had seemed excited. One of them had uttered the name of the guest who was expected—there had evidently been a long distance telephone call just before she arrived—but she had been busy concealing her book under the table cloth and had not listened to they were saying.
She frowned and shook her long, light hair back from her face before she put her book down and went out on to the front porch. The car had halted beside the crape myrtle bush. The red-headed man sat staring at the river.
The screen door creaked as it went shut behind her. He turned his head and gazed at her calmly for a second. A delighted smile came over his face. He sprang out of the car and up the step seizing her in his arms swung her high above his head.
A thin scream burst from Lucy. Horror-struck, she compressed her lips and looked down stoically into his upturned face. His brows were shaggy and rufous. His light brown eyes were flecked with green. She shut her own eyes and did not open them until she felt herself being set down gently on the floor.
He was kneeling on the floor beside her, putting out a big to give her shoulder a quick pressure. His green-brown eyes darted merry glances at her. He said:
“Two—weeks—ago—today—where do you suppose I was?”
She resisted the impulse to draw away. “I don’t know,” she said faintly.
“At Rumpelmeyer’s!” he said.
She did not answer.
“At Rumpelmeyer’s,” he repeated. “There was a fat man sitting at our table. A fat man in a fez. . . What do you suppose that old devil was eating?”
To look into his eyes long was like falling into tumbling water. She lowered her own gaze to the porch railings. “I don’t know,” she said again.
He released her shoulder and straightening himself to his full height, shook his head slowly from side to side. “A Monte Carlo,” he said, “I’m damned if he wasn’t eating a Monte Carlo! As I went past I just up-ended it. ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘do you mind if I turn down this empty glass?’ ”
There were hurried steps in the hall. Her father and mother came tumultuously through the front door. Her father was dressed, but her mother’s dark hair hung over her shoulders in two long braids and she wore only a thin green robe drawn over her nightgown. She shrieked and stood on tip-toe to throw her arms about the visitor’s neck. “It’s so divine you’ve come, Tubby,” she said, “so divine. . .” As she stepped aside to let the two men shake hands—only Tubby put his arm around Daddy’s neck and hugged him, too—Sarah Allen bent on Lucy the candid, radiant smile she usually reserved for adults. “Isn’t it wonderful Uncle Tubby’s here?” she asked.
Lucy did not answer. The four of them entered the hall, which at this time of day was darkened for the sake of coolness. The visitor carried his head high and took long steps. It seemed that he might stride right through the hall and off the hill before her father opened the east door and they walked out on to the river gallery.
He stood and gazed at the river, glinting green through the willows and then at the far meadow and the corn fields that stretched on to the bend in the river before he turned and gazed at Stephen Allen.
“You didn’t tell me you were in the money!” he said.
Stephen Allen’s lean face flushed. “Not exactly,” he said.
His wife went quickly up to him and hung on his arm, swaying a little and laughing. “We’re ‘way above our raising!” she said.
Uncle Tubby looked at Lucy. “That’s why she’s so cold to me! An heiress, hunh?” He again bent his shaggy head over her. “Je demande une lawleepawp” he uttered in a finicking tone. “You may laugh off Rumpelmeyer’s but what about that Tabac on the Place de l’Odeon? Heavens, Woman, I have witnesses! We were seen entering it practically every Thursday—when Madame Combet was at Confession. . . I suppose next thing you’ll be telling me that
you don’t remember her?”
“I don’t remember her very much,” Lucy muttered.
He made with his huge, outstretched hands a gesture that indicated that he had heard enough. “A regular belle dame sans merci!” he exclaimed.
Sarah Allen let go of her husband’s arm and slipping her arm around Lucy’s shoulder, drew her toward her. “The poor child’s been dragged around so, from pillar to post. . . And you know, they forget it on the boat. Really, they do.”
Uncle Tubby was looking at the columns made of rose-colored brick that supported the gallery. “Damn creditable pillars!” he said. ”And what a pleasure—to me, who was with you in the ships at Mylae!—to see you provided with an establishment suited to persons of your quality. . .” He broke off, shouting: “Pompey! You black rascal!”
“It was Steve’s rich brother,” Sarah said, “gave us the house and a hundred acres of land. Wasn’t it darling of him?”
“I long to know that fellow,” Uncle Tubby said. “I long to shake him by the hand. Everybody ought to have a brother like that.”
Her father laughed. “Well, you’ve got one now. Brother Warren B. Zaalberg.”
Uncle Tubby laughed, too, and threw his head back so sharply that a tendril of trumpet vine was jarred from its place on the pillar. The green spray, curving back upon itself, its first and last leaves actually intertwined, gave Lucy for a second the impression of a wrreath set upon the coarse, clotted curls that were the exact color and consistency of the hairs in the tail of her grandmother’s buggy horse. He was more the color of a horse than a man. All sorrel.
Wreaths were put upon horses’ necks when they won a race. You could imagine him winning all the races, the Derby, even. . . He was still laughing about Warren B. Zaalberg.
“I’ve given him of my blood and he’s given me a modicum of his’n. But I can’t look on him as a blood brother. Still, we’ll drink to him. . . . Brother Ben Allen! Brother Warren B. Zaalberg!” He batted his eyes and roared: “Pompey. . . Pompey!”
“We’ll get your bags in, first,” her father said and had started through the door when Uncle Tubby roared “Pompey!” again and, pushing past him, ran through the hall and down the front steps to where his car was parked.
“I’ve got to get something on,” Sarah Allen said and went into her bedroom and shut the door. She opened it immediately to say: “Lucy, will you tell Uncle Tubby where to go?”
“Well, where,” Lucy demanded.
“In the room across from you,” her mother said and shut her door.
Lucy stood in the hall and watched Uncle Tubby coming up the steps, carrying a big pigskin bag easily in each hand. He had disappeared down the steep flight of stairs that led to the lower floor. She could hear the refrigerator door slam and the sound of water running over the ice-cubes that her father would by have taken out of the refrigerator. Uncle Tubby came abreast of her. She motioned to him to ascend the stairs to the third floor, where there was a little guest room, across the hall from bedroom. He thanked her with a low bow, even while with a wave of his hand he dismissed his imaginary companion. “Be off, sir. To the quarters!”
Lucy could see the colored man—he was not more than eighteen years old and wore a red swallow-tailed coat over a pair of pink and white striped trousers—running down the stairs. Involuntarily she pressed back against the wall while a ripple of laughter went through her. Uncle Tubby, halfway up the stairs, heard the minute sound and turned and smiled at her.
“Where’d you get him?” she asked before she realized was doing.
He had come to the landing. He set both bags down and grasped the brown railing with both hands. For a moment he looked as if he might spring over it and land in the hall beside her, but he only leaned far over, to say in a hoarse whisper:
“In a poker game. From General Nathan Bedford Forrest.”
“General Forrest!” she said scornfully. “He don’t ever play no cards.”
He leaned still farther over, to look through the open door to where beyond the river, on the white highway, the cars kept spinning all day long.
“You never saw him in Paris?” he said. In the spring. . . You’d be surprised!”
Her mother came out of her room, in blue jeans, but with her face made up and her hair freshly braided. “Don’t you want to go downstairs and help Daddy?” she asked.
“No, I don’t,” Lucy said and walked out on the gallery and sat down in the swing. The dachshund who slept there in a nest of pillows groaned softly and rolled over on his back, all four paws extended in the air. She bent and laid her face against his warm muzzle, and said in the high, thin tone both she and her mother used when addressing him: “Borcke. . . Borcke. . .Borcke Dog!” thinking how, when she got her pony and rode him along the he could run beside them. . . But they couldn’t buy the pony till another check came in, Daddy said. . . If they bought it then. . . .Couldn’t you wait till next summer? You’ve got Borck and the cats. Couldn’t you just wait till next summer? You’ll be nine years old then. . . Yes, if I’m not dead with all y’all’s goings on. . .
Her father came through the door, holding a tray full of bottles and glasses. Her mother came after him, bearing a bowl full of ice-cubes. “Lucy,” she said crisply, “will you run downstairs me some limes—three limes—out of the refrigerator?”
When Lucy came back with the limes Sarah was lying in the hammock and Uncle Tubby was sitting in the swing beside Borcke, glass in his hand. He had taken off his coat. His shirt, which was almost the color of his hair, was open at the throat. He said to her father:
“Where’re you operating now?”
Her father smiled absently and looked off over the fields for a second before he answered:
“I’m still in the Wilderness. . . . Grant has just made his first move by the left flank. Toward Spotsylvania.”
“Then Longstreet has just rolled up his left flank,” Uncle Tubby said. “If Lee hadn’t waited to re-form his troops he might have routed Grant. I make something of that in the poem, you remember.”
“I don’t know . . .” Stephen Allen said, “There weren’t sufficient reserves, as a matter of fact. The half of Grant’s army that he had left was as big as Lee’s whole army. . . .”
Sarah Allen, swaying forward in the hammock, fixed the visitor’s face with her dark eyes. “But where would If It Takes All Summer be if Lee had won?. . . Honest, Tubby, did they really pay you sixty thousand dollars for that poem?”
“Did it really take you all summer to write it?” Lucy asked and bit her lip as she realized that she was speaking at the same time as her mother.
Sarah clapped her hand over her mouth. Lines in her cheek went taut, then smoothed out again as she let her hand fall into her lap. “It took him all winter, too,” she said severely. “You don’t just dash off a poem of five thousand lines, Lucy. . . . Tubby, how much was your take?”
“It was the damnedest thing you ever heard of,” Tubby “You know they’d already paid twenty thousand for the title?
“Yes,” Sarah said, “we read that in the Times”
“It was just after I’d got the NOW job,” Tubby said, “but I four weeks to kill. Wimscott has been out there three years, you know. He’d been so darned nice about the whole thing, I thought this was a good time to make him a visit. . . Of course after I got there he had to take me around some. . . .”
“So you met all the producers?”
“Hell, no. I met Zaalberg.” He threw his head back and emitted his raucous laugh. “But I was drunk as a coot. Have to Wimsy’s word for what happened.”
“Well, what did happen?”
“Zaalberg was coming to dinner. But I didn’t have any illusions about that. I knew they’d just bought the title because they scared to leave any Civil War stuff lying around loose, after
Gone with the Wind. So I didn’t think anything about Zaalberg. We going on to some gambling place after dinner—Wimscott has to lose a thousand dollars every night or so or he gets restless. But Zaalberg got to brooding and Wimsy didn’t seem to like to disturb him. We just sat in the patio while Zaalberg went on brooding. Seems he’s been low lately, on account of Gone. It is hard on the fellow. . .”
“Simply damnable,” Sarah said. “I don’t see how he stands it.”
Uncle Tubby made a sudden movement. Lucy felt that if he had got out of the swing he would have caught her mother up and swung her high over his head, the way he had swung her; but he sank back, saying only: “Oh, you. . . ! Want to hear what really happened?”
“That’s exactly what I want to hear,” Sarah said.
“Well, there was a pool in the patio. I went to sleep on the springboard. Seems I kept diving in, trying to sober up, but couldn’t make it. Zaalberg kept on brooding over how much money MGM was making and finally Wimsy told him he was the feeb of world, had a property worth just as much as Gone all the time and didn’t know it. . . Zaalberg comes out of his trance enough to ask Where and Wimscott—so he says—sat down and read him If It Takes. . . And there I was, snoring away on the spring-board and didn’t hear a word of it!”
“Figuerez-vous!” Sarah said. “I don’t suppose Zaalberg did, either.”
“He called me up at ten o’clock the next morning! Says, ‘Is this Mr. Madden, the poet?’ ‘Yes,’ I says. ‘Mr. Madden,’ says he, I very much admire your long poem, If It Takes All Summer. I particularly admire the fiftieth stanza. . .'” He had been looking at Sarah as he spoke but his gaze went now to Stephen Allen. “The fiftieth,” he said.
Stephen Allen’s head tilted slowly to one side. “Well, I’m damned,” he said. “That’s the best stanza.”
“That was what he told me. Then he said that their Mr. Form would like to talk to my agent some time during the week when I said I didn’t have an agent he laughed and said that in that case Mr. Forman would like to talk to me some time during the day and was six o’clock all right? And I said it was. And Forman came around at six. . . In addition to the twenty thousand they’d already paid for the title they paid another sixty thousand.”
“Eighty thousand dollars for a poem,” Stephen Allen said. “Yea, Bo! That calls for a drink.” He rose and went over to the table where he had set the tray.
“Don’t put any sugar in mine,” his wife said. “My God, Tubby! I just simply can’t take it all in. . . Then you went on to India and interviewed the Mahatma. . . What made you come back Paris so soon?”
“There was a damsel there in distress,” Uncle Tubby said. He glanced at Lucy and then back at her mother. “All General Forrest’s fault. You know how chivalrous he is. Nothing would him but we must go over and help her out.”
“Was it a damsel we know?” Sarah asked.
“Sure,” he said. “Isabel.”
“Isabel. . . ?”
“I don’t believe I know her,” Sarah said.
“Oh, yes, you do. She thinks Steve is the greatest poet ever lived. . . Isabel Shaw she was.”
“Isabel Shaw!” Sarah said. “The one who wrote ‘The Water Bearer’? Oh, come, Tubby!”
“She’s pretty good,” Tubby said, “at least she used to be. She hasn’t written anything for a long time now.”
“I suppose she has an unsympathetic husband. . . ” Sarah said “Well, it never was anything but watered down Millay.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Stephen Allen said, “more like Katherine Phillips.”
There was a silence till Sarah said, “Well, who is she married to now?”
“Same person. Dan Reardon.”
“Dan Reardon!” Sarah said. “We went to a party there once. The bar was full of tuberoses. There was a Papal countess made passes at Steve. . . And three or four of the Guinness girls.”
“I thought they were dead,” Stephen Allen said.
“The Guinness girls?”
“No. Isabel and Dan Reardon.”
“They were in the hospital for months. Isabel had to learn to walk all over again.”
“I remember,” Sarah Allen said, “they’d been at the Weavers’ and they all got drunk and drove up that mountain and it’s a one way road and they met a car. . . Weren’t there a lot of other people with them?”
“Two. A movie actor and his girl. They were both killed. . . Isabel and Dan lay out in the woods all night. . . ”
“What’s he like, really?” Sarah asked. “I can’t remember him that night, except just walking around and smiling at people. I suppose he was dreadfully drunk. I do remember now! He sat down in an old lady’s lap. Steve was frightfully annoyed. She was a cousin of the Duc de Guise and Steve was having a heavy conversation with her about her great uncle who was over here as an observer during the war. . . ”
“The Civil War, I take it?” Tubby said.
She smiled at him. “Your war,” she said.
“Touché!” Tubby said. “Well, he doesn’t drink now.”
“What’s the matter? Can’t he? I knew a man in Paris once had a silver plate in his head and every time he took a drink he . . .”
“I wouldn’t know what’s the matter with Dan Reardon,” Tubby said, “I can’t figure him. . . ”
“What does he do that’s so funny?” Sarah asked.
Tubby shook his head. “Art Pearce knew him at Harvard. Says he’s been a different fellow ever since he got hit on the head in that wreck. . . ”
“Like Hans’ father, in The Silver Skates,” Lucy said. “They thought he was loony and then they operated on him and he had just as much sense as anybody else, and Hans and his sister. . . ”
“They’ll probably have to lock him up,” Mama said and laughed. “Isabel can on to somebody else then.”
Uncle Tubby looked at Mama thoughtfully. “That’s what I tell her,” he said, “but life is fell strange, you know. There are complications.”
“What kind of complications?”
“Well, we needn’t go into them now.” He glanced at Lucy again. “How’s Lady Souse?” he asked. “How’s Stutts Watts, the poet?”
Lucy smothered a yawn. “I don’t know,” she said, “I don’t know anything about those old people,” and it was true that they were now nothing to her but names, imaginary companions, who, her father and mother told her, had traveled all over Europe with them. But she had been five years old then. Uncle Tubby was thirty-two and still had “that black rascal, Pompey” and General Forrest. Per haps it took boys longer to grow up than girls.
She leaned back in her deep chair and thought of all the far places Uncle Tubby had been in. To Hollywood, to see about his long poem that was being made into a movie and after that to India, to interview the Mahatma Gandhi for a magazine he worked on called NOW, and then from India he had gone to Paris. In an aeroplane.
He was talking now about what he and she had done in Paris. Every morning, he said, he had walked with her and her nurse, Madame Combet, to the Gardens. On their way they had stopped at the church of Saint Sulpice for Mass. He said that he still had callouses on his knees—he would show them to her as soon as he got into shorts—from kneeling on those cold, stone floors. He was surprised when she said that she did not remember Monsieur l’Abbé. He well remembered being presented to that worthy by Lucy herself, at the corner of Ferou and Vaugirard, right under the windows, it happened, of Monsieur l’Abbé’s parishioner, Monsieur Hemingway. After that, under Lucy’s direction, he had saved all his stamps for Monsieur l’Abbé—until Lucy bestowed her affections elsewhere, on one Ramon, the patron’s son, after which he had ceased saving stamps for Monsieur l’Abbé and had even given him the cut direct when they met in the formerly sacred purlieus.
“The purlieus” were the streets around the church of Saint Sulpice. Every time he said “Saint Sulpice” it was as if a great bell started tolling somewhere and she was moving, with many other people, into a vast, chill place where candlelight flickered on stone. But she could not really remember the church, or even call Madame Combet to mind, though she had been told often how much the old loved her and there was in her room at this moment a little New Testament in French, with a book mark, a picture showing one end of a crosscut saw, a little child on the other, with the motto: “Tout est facile quand Jesus aide,” that Madam had said she must keep always. She would look at it sometimes and say to herself: “Madame Combet. . . Madame Combe. . . ” but nothing came back, except running fast on the street to keep hold of a warm, dry hand, or stopping sometimes beside something black that was higher than her head, while a hand—paper-white now—disappeared into a black bag and came up holding something—the stamps, probably, for Monsieur l’Abbé. She thought all at once that if it had been winter and Uncle Tubby wearing a heavy woolen suit and she sitting beside him on a sofa she might have remembered him better. For she had sat on a sofa, in front of a fire, close up against somebody who bent over her, to read from a book that open on her knee:
So now you know why Henry sleeps
And why his mourning mother weeps
And why his weeping mother mourns
He was not kind to unicorns. . . .
A unicorn was an animal you read about in books, white, usually with a horn in the middle of its forehead. . . A little horse. . . If they would only quit talking—and drinking, for the drank the more they talked—there would still be time to drive out to Mr. Warfleet’s and look at the pony that he had said would do so nicely for her. . . “You got only one child? Then I’d advise a Shetland. Rather bite than eat. . . Now this pony is part Morgan and part Arabian. See the deer look to her head?”
Her father was trying to catch her eye. He wanted downstairs and get some more ice. She stared past him and fished three slim cubes out of the water and dropped them into Uncle Tubby’s third drink. Uncle Tubby pretended that Pompey had handed it to him and with a “Thank you, my lad,” began pacing up and down the gallery, talking on and on about people they had known in Paris.
. . .Thirteen hands high. Brown, with white spots. A star on the forehead, a white stocking and one white splotch on the barrel. The mane was half white, half brown, but the tail. . . the tail pure white and rippled. . .
She opened her mouth too suddenly. Air, rushing into her windpipe, made her gulp. Her mother started and set her glass down the floor beside the hammock. “Lucy,” she said vaguely, “Lucy, why don’t you go and comb your hair?”
“You’ve got to dress from the skin out,” Lucy said.
Her mother looked down at her jeans-clad legs. “Tubby,” said, “how would you like to drive out in the country and look a pony? We can’t buy it yet,” she added hastily, “but we could just look at it.”
Uncle Tubby brought up short in his pacing. “What’s the matter with it here?” he said. “Thish admirable porch!” He looked about him, at the far fields and then at her father’s and mother’s flushed faces, and suddenly let his hand drop on her father’s shoulder. “Why, it’s as good as Cassis!” he said.
It was at Cassis that Uncle Tubby had written the long poem that was going to be made into a movie. The poem was in a black book, on the top shelf by Daddy’s desk; gilt letters went in a column straight up one side of it: If It Takes All Summer. Her father had read out loud from the letter that said Uncle Tubby was g to get eighty thousand dollars for the poem. “That’s a hell of lot of money for a poem,” he had said. Her mother had frowned and looked out of the window. “Do you think he can take it?” she asked. “He can take it if anybody can” her father said but he was frowning when he got up from his desk. . .
They were talking now about a picnic they had gone to at Cassis. It had lasted three days. The man who made the bouillabaisse sang a different opera every day. Her father and Uncle Tubby had cited their own poems, and an old gentleman named Monsieur l’Ermite had recited Racine. He had walked over the mountains, bringing seven different vintages of wine in a hamper. Four of his hounds had come with him. She had been in Paris, then, with her nurse, but when they talked about how, after supper, they would go out in the bay and, wearing special glasses, dive to look at the flowers that grew on the bottom of the sea she could see the flowers, too: pink and blue and purple, star-shaped, some of them round, like little Banksia roses.
The town clock struck four. It was coming across all those fields and the water that made the sound so mellow. She got up and walked to the bannister. Patterson’s barn, which all afternoon had glowed silver in the sun, turned lavender as a ragged cloud drifted over it. The sumac bushes that fringed the lawn were shaking. Two heads appeared, surrounded by foliage of a lighter green than the sumac leaves.
“Mr. MacDonogh has got Mr. Lancaster to help him,” she said.
Uncle Tubby stopped pacing and came and stood beside her, looking down at the two men who walked slowly across the lawn, each bearing on his back a great, rope-tied bundle of fresh-cut boughs.
“What are they going to do with those branches?” he asked.
“It’s for the bush arbor meeting,” she told him.
Her father had come oyer and was standing beside them. “The Holy Roller meeting,” he said, “starts tonight.”
Uncle Tubby’s glass swung out in an arc so wide that a few bright drops fell in the wake of the men passing just then beneath the gallery. “Why do these holy men gather in your back yard?” he asked. “Is it your fame—or your impiety—that attracts them?”
“They set fire to Judge Rives’ woods last summer,” Stephen said. “Had to find a new place. . . You better attend, Tubby. You might get converted.”
Lucy stared at her father. His eyes were clear and as yet no little veins showed in his lean cheeks. It was when he spoke that you realized that he had had three Tom Collinses since lunch time. He was leaning over the rail, shouting, as if Mr. MacDonogh were a mile away and not right there under the porch. “Better hurry! You won’t get ’em up in time.”
One of the men gave no sign that he had heard. The other turned up a thin face, encircled by a ragged auburn beard. He laughed. “Yes sir,” he said and laughed again, revealing in the
wider rictus sharp, stunted teeth that might have been a child’s. “You better come on and help us,” he added and, ducking as if he were afraid of what the sally might bring forth, followed his companion around the corner of the house.
“That’s Mr. MacDonogh,” Lucy said. “He don’t eat mutton . . . or lamb.”
Uncle Tubby was looking at her father. “She’s kidding me.”
Stephen Allen shook his head. “Agnus Dei. . . qui tollis peccata mundi. . . His life is one long Eucharist.”
“Aren’t any of the children saved except Ruby,” Lucy said, “but Mr. and Mrs. MacDonogh are. . .”
“And Sanctified,” her mother said from the hammock.
Lucy turned around. Her voice sounded shrill in her own ears after its long disuse. “That’s what you think! Mrs. MacDonogh’s Sanctified, but Mr. MacDonogh isn’t.”
Sarah Allen sat up in the hammock. One of her dark braids had slipped from its pins and hung rakishly over her shoulder. She held her hairpins in her mouth and spoke through them quickly. “Lucy, Mr. MacDonogh is a great deal more religious than Mrs. MacDonogh. . . Mrs. MacDonogh chews tobacco.” She hesitated a moment and added, “And she had a child before she was married.”
“She’s seen Jesus flying through the air on wings!” Lucy said.
Her father and mother were looking at each other. Uncle Tubby’s eyes were bright on her face. “How do you know, Lucy?” he asked.
“Ruby told me, and so did Mary Magdalene.”
The hammock creaked as her mother lay back among the pillows. “If she said she saw Jesus flying through the air on wings, she saw him, as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “She wouldn’t steal a pin.”
Uncle Tubby laughed. “Why should she go around stealing pins?” Sarah Allen turned her head and looked at him reflectively. “I expect they’re hard put to it to find a safety pin sometimes. With all those babies.”
“Who’s the other fellow?” Madden asked, looking at her husband.
“Mr. Lancaster. He’s quite a worldly fellow. An agnostic, in fact.”
“But he’s got a magnificent tenor voice,” Sarah said.
“Do you go to the meetings?” Uncle Tubby asked Lucy.
“I am this time.” She looked at her mother who just then extended an empty glass to her husband. “That’s your third drink,” she said. “If you take three drinks you can’t drive. Can she, Daddy?”
But her father was looking past her into the hall.
“Somebody’s coming,” he said.
“Oh, God!” Sarah said. She got up hastily out of the hammock and standing on one foot shook down first one and then pants leg. “Go peep and see who it is,” she said to Lucy.
Lucy tiptoed through the hall and sliding behind the door peered out on to the circular driveway. A car had been parked on the other side of the lilac bush. Two women were coming up the brick walk. A young woman wore a green flowered and a big hat and walked slowly, supporting a smaller, older woman, dressed all in grey. Lucy ran back to the porch.
“It’s club women,” she said.
Stephen Allen picked up a tray from the table and beckoning to Madden, silently retreated through the hall and down the back stairs. Sarah, too, ran through the hall. Lucy was alone on the porch. She heard quick footsteps and then the sound of a dresser opening. Her mother would be putting on fresh lipstick or perhaps changing from the jeans to a dress. But she couldn’t do about the way she smelled. She looked down at the skirt of her dark blue gingham. There was a grass stain on the hem. She had wanted to change her dress right after lunch, but her mother had told her to wait until they went out to Mr. Warfleet’s. If these ladies stayed a long time it would be too late to go to Mr. Waterfleet’s. . .
The knocker sounded. Lucy advanced slowly to the door. Her mother was ushering two ladies into the hall. She hadn’t changed to a dress, after all, and she couldn’t have had time to braid her hair, either, but it was pinned up neatly and her sun-burned skin glowed smooth through fresh make-up.
The young lady had eyes as dark as Mama’s. The eye shadow she used made her lids shine. She looked about the square hall, with the Confederate flag draped over the mirror, and then at the river and the fields framed in the doorway. “I love this house,” she said. “Miss Grace, did you know that Jim and I almost bought this house?”
The old lady was smiling at Lucy. Sarah drew Lucy forward. The gin smell rose sharply above the mingled fresh odors of powder and the rose perfume Sarah had brought from France. She ought not to use that when she’s drinking, Lucy thought, and was about to curtsey—disregarding her mother’s commands, she did it only on impulse—when the young lady put out a hand and gave her a friendly jab on the shoulder. Lucy arrested the bending of her knee and muttering “How-do?” slipped ahead of them into the parlor and seated herself on the haircloth-covered sofa that occupied the center of the room, then, as they entered, was about to get to her feet when she realized that her mother, sitting forward on the chair, her hands clasped between her denim-clad legs, was giving her whole attention to the young lady, Mrs. Eglinton.
“. . . stopped the car there on the other side of the river to you, Jim said. He can make up his mind just like that. . .” Diamonds to the size of your thumb were clustered on Mrs. Eglinton’s ring finger; her wedding ring was platinum, inset with diamonds. “I said, Jim, you just bring me out here to torture me. . . No place to put another bedroom. . . Without spoiling it, I mean. And then Daddy gave us that lot in Englewood. . .” Her cheeks were as softly grained as rose petals. Her hat was of dark brown straw, looped with narrow black velvet ribbon. In the gloom of its brim her face took on a flowery pallor. Her lips opened wider until her whole face swayed at you, like a flower on its stalk. “I told Daddy he did it just for meanness. . .”
“. . . bathrooms, either,” Sarah said. “That one downstairs, they were using it for a henhouse. A hen roost going up to it from outside and a row of nests along the way. A setting of eggs in one of them. . .”
“Did you put one on this floor?”
“Eggs? . . . Oh! Bathrooms? No, you always have to go upstairs or downstairs when you want to go to the bathroom. It’s dreadful. . .” She was looking at the old lady. “You’re Mrs. Merritt she said. “You live in the house with the iron balconies.”
The old lady’s laugh ran through the room like a breeze. “They’ve fallen to ruin. I told Tom the other day that we ought to rip them off.”
Her hair had a deep, soft wave in it and shone like silver. Her skin was as fine as tissue paper that somebody had squeezed into a ball and then smoothed out again. She sat down slowly in the red armchair. There were long ruffles sewed to the sides of her grey voile dress. One of them fell to the floor. She lifted it and folded it carefully across her knee. “Out-moded elegance,” she said, “I don’t know why people in Gloversville had all that iron work shipped up here from New Orleans. It served no purpose whatsoever.”
The young lady, Mrs. Eglinton, still stood, looking first at yellow curtains and then at the white mantel, whose wide shelf and fluted columns had been carved, Lucy knew, “by slave labor.” She saw Lucy looking at her and winked. All the time she was talking she stood a little way off and looked at herself and every now and then she realized that you might not like what she was saying; it was then that she turned her prettiness off so you would have a chance to see what she was really like. Her hips were as trim as a quail’s under the green silk as she crossed the room to stand before a picture that hung on the west wall. Lucy turned her head and stared, too. There was something in the center of the canvas that was intended, she knew, for a patch-work quilt. A figure lay it, arms and legs wide spread, while around it other figures revolved: Daddy, in a big straw hat, mowing the lawn, she and Wigwam, the dog she had had before he was run over, skipping in front of Electra, the cook they had had before Jenny, standing, in a blue dress, before the block rolling out biscuits, a young poet swimming in the river, which, in the picture, was blue and not muddy, the way it was at this time of the year, her hens, Red Lily and Leaf Flower, with the red rooster Mammy had given her, the pony that she had only one night—he bit her leg so badly that they had to take him back to the man they had bought him from—some visitor going down the brick walk, with his wife, and she herself and the four MacDonogh children crouched beside one of the columns in the gallery. She wondered whether Mrs. Eglinton would know the rose-colored blob there beside the column was Lucy Allen. She hadn’t recognized herself till they told her who it was, but ever since she had liked to come in here from time to time and seem to see herself walking about in the picture.
Sarah had risen to stand beside the guest. “It’s called ‘Life at Benfolly,’ ” she said.
The old lady laughed. “It looks like a merry-go-round.”
“That’s what it’s intended for,” Sarah said.
Mrs. Eglinton winked at her. “Did you paint it?”
“Heavens, no! It’s a Biala. She visited here one summer. I suppose that’s the way life here impressed her. It was a hectic summer. . .” She sketched a circle in the air with a thin, nervous hand.
“Do you know Melvin Archambault?” Mrs. Eglinton asked.
Sarah shook her head.
“He’s from Chicago,” Mrs. Eglinton said, “but he had a show last year at Palm Beach. The most livid greens! Jim says, ‘Lou can’t possibly like that stuff,’ but I, said, ‘Jim, I really do. . .’ We bought one water color. . . Miss Grace, I’m going to hang it in little place between the dining room and the living room. . . Have you ever made any talks on art?”
“No,” Sarah said, “I don’t know anything about it.”
“She’s always painting, though,” Lucy said, “but they aren’t any good, and she has to tear ’em up.”
The old lady smiled at her, folding her hands. They were swollen at the knuckles, like Mammy’s. “When I was twelve years old I used to come out here to take china painting lessons from Miss Clara Swanton. . . Sarah, does this room still sway when you get people dancing in it?”
“We haven’t done much dancing,” Sarah said. “Really, we don’t have much company.”
“One night we danced so hard that old Mr. Swanton made us stop,” Mrs. Merritt said. “Around four o’clock in the morning, I must say, in justice to him. And the next day he had those iron bars driven through the walls. He said the house might last then till Belle got married. . . But poor Belle. . . ”
“She was the one went crazy, wasn’t she?” Mrs. Eglinton asked. “But Miss Grace, I’ve always heard that she was so attractive.”
“All the Swanton girls were attractive,” Mrs. Merritt said. “. . . Sarah, how does your grandmother like your house?”
“She never has seen it,” Sarah said. “She stays out there and sometimes six weeks goes by and she doesn’t see a white face.” She laughed. “But she sent one of her niggers over here the other day, with an old bed she was giving me, and when he got back she said, ‘Well, Morris, how do you like Miss Sally’s house?’ and he says, ‘Miss Sally, I sure do hate to think of Little Miss Sally living in a place like that.'”
“Why, it’s a perfectly beautiful house!” Mrs. Eglinton said.
“I know, but he didn’t look at the house, just saw how poor the land is. The hogs have rooted the foundation out from under Ma’s house, but he never has noticed that. . . ”
“It’s the roof’s the worst,” Lucy said. “She has to put spittoons on the stairs to catch the rain.”
“I haven’t been out there in years,” Mrs. Merritt said. “. . . Twenty years. . . ” She straightened her shoulders and looked first at Mrs. Eglinton and then at Sarah. “Sarah, Louise Eglinton here is just as smart as she can be. . . ”
“It’s modern poetry this year,” Mrs. Eglinton said. “We had T.S. Eliot the last meeting in April. . . ” Her beautiful eyes rolled sidewise in her head. “You ought to hear me read ‘Sweeney Agonistes’! . . . They want me to read Mr. Allen for the first meeting in the Fall. But I said, ‘Y’all are crazy,’ I said. ‘The man’s right out there on the hill. I’m going to make him come in and read them himself. . . . The first meeting is in September. Will the seventeenth be all right?”
“Steve’s just up to his ears,” Sarah said, moving her shoulders nervously.
“Well, he can spare one little old afternoon,” Mrs. Eglinton said. “Do either of you play Contract? . . . There are eight of us. Meet Friday night. But Marie Evans has got to go to Birmingham to live. . . ”
“. . . You wouldn’t play with me. . . ” Sarah said. “I tell you now he’s not going to do it! He’s one of the meanest white men ever lived.”
Mrs. Eglinton’s flower lips opened. She swayed forward on her green stalk. “Let me ask him.”
Sarah’s eyes dodged aside, like somebody coming around the corner of the house on something they mustn’t look at. She drove them back to the lady’s face. “He’s in Nashville,” she said. “I’ make him write you a letter. As soon as he gets back I’ll make him write you a letter.”
Mrs. Eglinton winked bravely. “Or call me up,” she said. “Tell him I’d at least like to hear his voice on the ‘phone.”
Mrs. Merritt stood up in a flutter of voile. “Louise, I told Tom I’d be back by four o’clock.” Sarah and Lucy both stood up. Mrs. Merritt laid her hand on Lucy’s shoulder. “This child isn’t a Fayerlee, and she doesn’t look like Professor Maury, either. Is she like her father’s people?”
“She’s got his coloring,” Sarah said, “but not his features, or mine, either, thank Heaven. She’s sort of a changeling. Aren’t you, darling?” Her hand, too, rested on Lucy’s shoulder. Lucy could feel the fingers trembling.
They were in the hall. Through the door which had been flung wide open when they came in you could see the willow tree. Under its drooping boughs Daddy and Uncle Tubby stood facing each other. Uncle Tubby had taken off his coat; his shirt sleeves were rolled up; he held a glass in his hand. Daddy still had on his checked shirt and those old blue fisherman’s pants that he had brought from Concarneau and on his bare feet sandals that were held on by two crossed leather thongs. The fisherman’s pants had two big patches on them that Lucy had never noticed before.
He heard them coming and turned so that his back was toward them. Uncle Tubby glanced up at the porch and went on talking. He was asking Daddy something. Little points suddenly showed in his eyes, he thrust his face closer to Daddy’s. Daddy’s back stayed stiff and still. Lucy knew what his eyes would be like if you were around there where you could see into them, the fair brows drawn straight across and the eyes a cold blue, like a pond frozen over in the night.
Uncle Tubby looked at Mrs. Eglinton and bowed as the ladies went past, but Daddy didn’t turn around or make any sign. They were past them and at the lilac bush. Mrs. Eglinton helped Mrs. Merritt into the car and then got in herself. She put on fawn colored gloves. Her face shone pink as a camellia as she tossed her head back under the big hat. Her hands took hold of the wheel. The car started moving. Mrs. Merritt sat hunched in the seat, looking straight ahead until it started, then she straightened up and smiled and waved her hand.
Sarah took two steps beside the car. “Goodbye . . . Goodbye . . . Miss Grace, I’m so glad y’all came.”
They stood there, watching, until the car had passed through the gate and was headed back toward town, then Mama drew a deep breath and started up the brick walk.
Lucy followed her. “You told a lie,” she said.
Mama didn’t answer. She went on around the corner of the house. Daddy and Uncle Tubby were on the lower gallery, Daddy sitting on the chicken feed box, Uncle Tubby standing in front of him, talking. Mama stood there and looked at them and then she fell down on her back on the ground and kicked her legs in the air.
“My God!” she said.
Daddy sat where he was on the feed-box, but Uncle Tubby came and stood over her. “That was quite a boner we pulled, wasn’t it?” he asked.
Mama stopped kicking and sat up. She put her hands up to her face, first, and then she clasped her stomach in, tight. “I make the supreme sacrifice,” she said, “and you two louts won’t even stay out of sight!”
Daddy looked sulky, the way he always did when anybody said there was anything wrong with him. “They thought I was Mr. Mac Donogh,” he said. “That was why I didn’t turn around.”
“Mr. MacDonogh wouldn’t be caught dead in those pants!” Mama shrieked.
Uncle Tubby was looking at Mama. “Did you know those ladies?” he asked.
“Oh God,” Mama said, “I don’t know them but I know who they are. And they know who I am. . . ”
“Who are you?” Uncle Tubby asked.
“I’m Professor Maury’s daughter fallen among thieves,” she said. “Oh God, you louts!”
“She had to go to school with the boys. That’s what makes her so peculiar,” Lucy said and was afraid Mama would be angry, but Mama said only: “One of the things. . . ” and looked at Daddy. “I didn’t care about that Lassiter girl, but Mrs. Merritt is a friend of my mother’s. . . ”
Daddy still looked sulky. “Old bitches” he said, “I’m not going to have them hounding me.”
“Mrs. Merritt is not a bitch,” Mama said. “She’s a lovely lady of the old school.”
“Was Mrs. Lassiter the one who served her face up to you on a platter?” Uncle Tubby asked. “I thought she had a lot of stuff.”
“She was born a Lassiter. Married Jim Eglinton. All those Lassiter girls are perfectly beautiful,” Mama said. She looked at Daddy. “She’s going to interpret your works for the Dilettante club—unless you do it yourself.”
“Why don’t you do it?” Uncle Tubby asked. “Tell ’em what’s what.”
“Did you tell her to go jump in the river?” Daddy asked.
“I told her a lie. Told her you were in Nashville.” She clasped her stomach again. “My God! Sometimes I feel like we’re criminals in hiding. Having to skulk through town, scared all the time run into somebody we know. . . ”
“You have committed a crime,” Uncle Tubby said. “Every time Steve sits down at his desk he challenges the existing order.”
Daddy grinned. “They’d ride you out of town on a rail,” he “if they knew that you didn’t believe in the existence of private property.”
“I haven’t got any immediate designs on their property,” Uncle Tubby said. “What do they think of you?”
“They think we’re nuts,” Lucy said and was a little taken aback to hear her voice sound so loud and clear.
“They think we’re Nudists!” Mama said. “When we bought the place word went around that we were going to found a Nudist camp. . . Poor things! I reckon they hoped we would.”
“Had you been guilty of any indecent exposures?” Uncle Tubby asked.
“Not any more than usual. . . Well, those sandals of Steve’s. I heard that Miss Minnie Wellfleet doesn’t like them.”
“He wears them to town,” Lucy said.
“Whereas I go dowdy,” Mama said, “and he can’t get it into his head where the center of town is. Made a U turn right by the bank the other day, with Mr. Tom Davis standing there looking at him.”
“Who’s Mr. Tom Davis?”
You would have thought from the way Mama looked at Uncle Tubby that he was the one she was angry with. She said in a rasping voice: “He’s a man that the Yankee newspapers are always writing up for being a benefactor of the Southern farmer. . . ”
“He’s the president of the bank,” Daddy said. He walked over and handed her a cigarette. He was still not in a good humor but he was afraid she would say something else about Yankees. She took it without thanking him and stood, holding it in her hand and looking off over the river. “He’s the great-grandson of our old slave trader,” she said.
Uncle Tubby slapped his thigh. “Gad, that’s symbolic!”
“It’s going to be mighty symbolic when we have to try to borrow money from him,” Mama said.
“Well, we’ve still got four hundred of the advance left,” Daddy said. “Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Lucy went over and stood beside Mama. “Shall I wear my blue linen?” she asked.
Mama started. “What?” she said. Lucy thought that she was talking to her and repeated, “Shall I wear my blue linen?” but Mama was looking past her at Uncle Tubby. “What did you say?” she asked again.
Uncle Tubby laughed and looked across the river to the long white road. “I said the Reardons ought to be rolling in pretty soon.”
“The Reardons?” Mama said.
Uncle Tubby looked at her and then he looked away quickly. “The Daniel B. Reardons,” he said, “of New York and Paris and the Villa Marthe. They were visiting in the neighborhood, so I told ‘em to come down here. I thought you wouldn’t mind. . . As long as they were this near. . . ”
“No,” Mama said, “of course not. . . ” She looked as if she were about to say something else but Daddy went over hold of her arm. “If you’re going out to Warfleet’s you’d better start,” he said. “It’s nearly five o’clock.”
Mama looked at him. “Warfleet’s?” she said.
Lucy felt the bottom drop out of her stomach. She cried out: “You said you’d go this afternoon. To look at the pony. You said. . .” but Mama was walking toward the house.
Daddy looked after her and then he looked at Uncle Tubby “Tubby, you want a drink?” he asked.
“I don’t mind,” Uncle Tubby said and they, too, went house.
Lucy stood there and looked down at the river. You could see the near bank only through the gaps in the willows but on the other bank, where it overflowed every year into Patterson’s bottoms, there was a long stretch where there weren’t any trees, just a shelf of yellow, blistered mud. Daddy said that copperheads sunned themselves there on the flat rocks. . . She had known all along, (she always knew when they weren’t going to do what they had said they would do), she had known when Uncle Tubby stepped out of his car that they would forget all about the pony, but all afternoon, sitting up there on the gallery, listening to them drinking and talking, she had kept hoping. It was no use now.
She walked slowly over the grass and, crossing the porch, stepped into the kitchen. Uncle Tubby must be drinking all by himself upstairs for Daddy was in there, with Mama. He was leaning against the sink. She stood in the middle of the floor, looking as wild as a buck.
As Lucy came in she put her hand to her forehead. “I could take some of that chicken and cream it,” she said. “And Mrs. MacDonogh would lend me some tomatoes. . . ”
“And there’s plenty of gin,” Daddy said. He laughed. “Old Tubby is sure in fine spirits.”
“He makes me nervous with all that schizoid talk,” Mama said.
“He’s not any worse than you are, talking for Borcke,” Lucy said. “Half the time that isn’t what he thinks, either.”
Mama glanced at her absent-mindedly. “That’s different, Lucy,” she said. “. . . I wish he wouldn’t get fat.”
“He’s not fat,” Daddy said.
“He’s lost that quattrocento look. One trouble with the fleshpots is they always make people fleshy. . . Come on, honey!”
“What do you want?” Daddy asked.
“We’ve got to get everything out of Tubby’s room and the beds all changed before they come.”
Daddy looked stubborn. “I don’t see any point in that.”
Mama flipped her cigarette, still burning, into the open garbage can, where, for a second, it hissed softly against a fresh-cut orange peel.
“I can’t put Isabel and her husband in the same room,” she said.
Mama shut her eyes for a second, the way you do when you think somebody else is the biggest fool in the world. “Honey, I couldn’t do that to Tubby.”
“Tubby!” Daddy said. “What in the hell has he got to do with it?”
Mama batted her eyes again. “Darling, didn’t you hear what he said about that damsel in distress?”
“You mean Isabel is the damsel?”
“Well, suppose he is having a flirtation with Isabel Shaw? That doesn’t mean that he’s got to sleep in the same room with her.”
“It’s none of my business, of course,” Mama said.
“It certainly isn’t.”
“That’s why I’m putting everybody in separate rooms,” Mama said.
“Without any consideration of how much trouble it makes.”
Mama screwed her face up. “Don’t worry me!” she said. “For God’s sake, don’t worry me now. . . Chicken. . . and salad. . . And we could have some black bean soup. . . .”
“Down in her house. With a tooth-ache. . . Wouldn’t you know that he’d go for a man-eating tigress?”
“She’s probably not any worse than any other lady poet,” Daddy said.
“Good God!” Mama said. “Why, the sands are white with bones!” Her eyes suddenly grew very bright. “And she thinks you’re the greatest poet ever lived. . . !”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Daddy said, “don’t start that!”
Lucy looked hard at Mama, hoping that Mama would know what she was thinking, but Mama didn’t seem to know that she was in the room. “I knew all along,” Lucy said slowly, “I knew all along we wouldn’t go.”
“Lucy!” Mama said, “I’ve got to get dinner for five people.”
“You needn’t get me no damn dinner,” Lucy said.
Mama shut her lips so tight for a second that none of the red showed. “Lucy,” she said, “Daddy and I have got to move Uncle Tubby. Now you take him for a walk or something.”
“I’m tired of him,” Lucy said.
Daddy set his glass down on the table. “Go on,” he said, “I’ll come out after a while and we’ll look at the stars.”
“My God!” Lucy said. “There won’t be any for hours.”
Daddy took a step toward her. “What did you say?”
“I said there wouldn’t be any for a long time yet.”
“Well, we’ll look at them when they do come out. . . Go on. . . You hear me?”
Lucy walked out of the kitchen and around to the front of the house. Borcke had come out and sat on the top step, slowly slanting his nose this way and that, to catch the wind. She sat down beside him. A faint smell of horse manure came up to her—he would roll in it. She pulled him up into her lap. He struggled for a second, then, when he found that she would not let him go, sank back but kept turning his head as the breeze shifted.
Uncle Tubby came down the steps. “Where are the slave quarters?” he asked.
Lucy pointed to a plantation of locusts on their right. “They used to be over there but they blew off the hill. A long time ago.”
He sat down on the step below her and took out his pipe. “All wreathed in trumpet vine,” he said, “just like the big house. . . I intend that Pompey shall sleep there tonight.”
“Does he sleep in the bed with you?” Lucy asked.
“God forbid! He sleeps on the floor. On a pallet on the floor. But he snores like the devil.”
“So does Borcke,” Lucy said.
Uncle Tubby turned around and bent his head to sniff Borcke’s back. “Horse. . .” he said. “You know, the minute I laid eyes on that dog I knew he slept in the bed with you.”
“Mama’s got to take more care of him when I get the pony,” Lucy said.
Uncle Tubby turned around again and clasped her ankle in his big, warm hand and shook it. “Ah, sweet melody of love!” he said. “The exercising, the currying, the deliberation as to whether it ought to be eight ears of corn or six. . .”
“Four is about right for a pony,” Lucy said, “unless they’re nubbins. . . But nubbins,” she added dreamily, “are often wormy. I wouldn’t give ’em to my horse.”
They were silent. Uncle Tubby sat hunched over, smoking. At the foot of the long slope the sun was setting behind the woods. In its red glow the beech trees stood out black, like twigs somebody had thrown into a giant grate. Lucy stopped thinking about the pony in order to savor her bitterness. The witch. . . the witch that lives in the woods. She will roast us in her great, red oven and tear us limb from limb. But what difference does it make? I am not anybody to save. I am just a changeling. My mother said I was a changeling. . .
Uncle Tubby stood up and knocked out his pipe and reached a hand to her. “How long will it be before dinner?” he asked.
“A long time,” she said, “Mama’s got to get it.”
“What say we take a short run in the woods, then?”
She rose and laid her hand in his for a moment before she let it drop at her side. They went through the garden gate and took the short cut down the hill, past the MacDonoghs’ cabin. Through the open window they could see the MacDonoghs still gathered around the table.
“What are they doing?” Uncle Tubby asked.
Lucy laughed. “They’re eating dinner.”
“Isn’t it rather early?”
“They eat breakfast at four o’clock in the morning,” Lucu said.
“And when do they eat lunch?”
“They don’t have any lunch.”
He shook his head. “Such odd hours they keep! Do you it’s to get an early start on their matins?”
“I don’t know,” Lucy said, “it’s just the way they do.”
“Strange country,” he said, “strange, magical country! his head back and laughed. “Why, I never saw such a country! But they do have some good ideas, those MacDonoghs. Now that bush arbor. . .” He walked closer to her and catching hold of her hand, swung it between them as they walked. “Il y avait un viel ermite qui s’appellait St. Brendan. Il quitta son pays et traversa l’ocean jusqu’en Bretagne. Lorsqu’il y arriva il traina son bateau sur la plage et il était si fatigue qu’il partit dans les bois et s’étendit par terre. Mais avant de s’endormir il regarda le ciel et il lui sembla qu’il pourrait pleuvoir avant le jour. Il prit donc deux arbustes et les lia l’un á l’autre avec un rameau de saule. Alors il considéra son ouvrage et il pensa que la pluie pourrait pénétrer; il inclina deux arbustes de plus, les lia l’un a l’autre. . .”
Borcke was digging in the loose dirt between two spreading roots. Lucy stopped and picked him up and shook him and set on the path.
Uncle Tubby had stopped, too, and was drawing two in arcs in the dirt with a stick. “Et lorsqu’il se réveilla le lendemain matin, il avait une église. Comprends-tu?”
“I don’t speak it,” Lucy said.
“Tu le parlais le temps lorsque tu étais en France. Pourquoi ne veux tu pas le parler maintenant?”
“I forgot it coming over on the boat,” Lucy said.
They had passed through the plum thicket and were in the woods. The crimson glow was just sunlight washing the trunks of the trees now. Uncle Tubby was still looking at her. “Je pense que tu es la plus belle petite fille que j’ai vu depuis longtemps,” he said.
“Magadalene MacDonogh is a heap prettier’n I am,” Lucy said.
“I bet she hasn’t got that look in her eye. . . What do you suppose gives it to you?”
“Tending to my own business,” Lucy said.
If he had had dark hair and long ears he would have looked like Borcke then, his head on one side, his eyes in the leafy light dark as soft and as sad as Borcke’s eyes. “All right, young lady,” he said after a little.
They walked on. It was the first time he had called her “young lady.” He wouldn’t have done it if she hadn’t spoken sharply to him. She told herself that she was not sorry. Grown people didn’t expect you to answer what they said to you. Half the time when they said anything they were not talking to you but to themselves. She had found that out long ago.
The path wound downhill, between beeches whose huge boles were roughened by carvings, initials, dates, the inscriptions often enclosed in hearts or winged with arrows. Uncle Tubby walked with his head thrown back, gazing up into the leaves which would not turn yellow for months. Suddenly he stopped, lifted his foot, examined the sole of his shoe and put his foot down again. He did not know that he was walking on top of a branch. Everywhere around here the earth was soggy because a branch flowed under it. It went underground a little below the waterfall and flowed under the cornfield to emerge again as a spring in a wild chasm on the river bank.
He stopped. “I’m damned if I don’t carve my name,” he said. “Yours, too.”
He took a pen-knife out of his pocket and wandered off among the trees. Lucy sat down on a rock. A clump of sweet fern came up beside it. She plucked a frond and crushed it in her fist and thought of the stream flowing secretly under the rock, under dead leaves, making even the pebbles in the path glisten under a light film of water. A little way off in the woods was the waterfall. She did not know whether she wanted to go there today. Some days she did not feel like going there. When you felt that way it didn’t make any difference whether you went or not. Sometimes you went and afterwards you couldn’t imagine how it would have been if you hadn’t gone. It made a difference, too, who went with you. She and her mother came here often. The stream flowed in a narrow channel up there on the bluff, then suddenly dived between two tall, leaning rocks and fell ten or fifteen feet to a flat ledge below. That was what made the waterfall. Her mother would stand, clasping the trunk of a tree and stare and stare until you were afraid she would forget who you were and you her and took her arm and said “Mama”. . . Her father had come here with them once. In the spring, soon after they bought the place. . . He said that he would come back again some time.
Uncle Tubby had found a young beech tree whose bark shone like grey satin. He was carving LA and EM, each in the center of its own heart, but with the hearts intertwined. . . The next time Evelyn came to visit her she would bring her here. She wouldn’t say how old he was or anything about him, just “a man from New York. . .”
He had begun another carving, a very small heart, pierced by an arrow and now he was carving tiny initials in the center. “Who’s that?” she asked.
He looked at her, smiling, like a person who knows a secret he isn’t going to tell. “Imogene,” he said, “Imogene. . . Marie. . . Louise . . . Lointaine. Don’t you think that’s a pretty name?”
“I think Lointaine’s a funny name,” Lucy said.
“It’s her mother’s family name,” he said absently.
“Whose?” she said and kicked her heels against the rocks. “Whose family name?”
“My little girl’s.”
“You haven’t got any little girl,” she said, “you’re not even mar. . .” She stopped abruptly, remembering what her father had said: Ripe for a disastrous marriage. “You haven’t got any little girl,” she repeated to cover her confusion.
“You’d think I had if you could see her bills. The things that girl buys!”
He had finished the last flourish on the L and was putting a period beside it. “What does she buy?” Lucy asked.
“Oh. . . mink. . . and vair. . . and samovair. . . and Lucite. Let her stroll through Saks Fifth Avenue and she will order a thousand Lucite bubbles, each one in its own filigree box. . .” He fell silent, absorbed in his carving.
“What does she do with them?” Lucy asked.
“Breaks them on people’s heads. Or sometimes she lets them float out of the window and then they fall down on the heads of the people passing by and break. The police are at the door, night and day. But we pay no attention to them.”
“Does she go to school?”
“She did, for a while, but she came home one day and said that Miss Plobscote was an old pelican. Naturally I couldn’t deny that.”
He shut his pen-knife up and put it in his pocket. “How does it happen that the MacDonoghs go to school in August?” he asked.
“They start then, after the crops are laid by. And then they get out early in the spring. . .”
“So they can put the crops in again? No wonder they get up at four o’clock in the morning. . . And where do you go to school?”
“In town. Daddy says I’m not learning a thing.”
“Well, are you?”
Lucy shook her head. “Not much,” she said. “Miss Simpson is the dumbest old thing you ever saw in your life. But Mama says it’s vulgar to complain about the teacher.”
He looked for a second as if he were about to laugh. He said: “Your mother is a wonderful woman. Fearfully and wonderfully made. . . I shouldn’t think she’d be much help in leading your so to speak own life.”
“She’s got more fool ideas than any white woman I ever knew,” Lucy said.
“Yes,” Uncle Tubby said absently. “What are some more of her ideas?”
“She just hates Yankees,” Lucy said. “She doesn’t think that anything Yankees do is right.”
“I’ve noticed that,” he said before she had time to be embarrassed.
“She won’t use cube sugar,” Lucy said, “and she thinks it’s vulgar to have your garage fastened on to your house. And Christmas wreaths! We can get ’em out of the woods but we can’t buy ’em. . . She don’t like electric lights on Christmas trees, even.”
They had started walking on again. “Lord, Lord!” he said. “Why, my little girl has the whole house wired for Christmas—pink and green.” He pointed to a big-bellied oak that thrust its trunk out into the path, like a pompous person demanding attention, Lucy had always thought. “What’s over there?” he asked.
“The waterfall,” she said.
“A waterfall!” he said. We’ll have to see that.”
They passed the pompous oak and were on a bluff overlooking the stream. The trees about them were tall and slim, second growth her father had said, but down in the gorge were more big beeches and, glimmering as white as the water that dashed beside it, a giant sycamore that was so old its trunk had split in two.
He stood and stared. “Good Lord!” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me you had this up your sleeve?”
Lucy laughed in delight. “It’s not in my sleeve, it’s in the woods.”
But he had grasped her hand and was dragging her with him down the path, slipping, sliding, sometimes falling to their knees, rising to keep on at the same pace until finally on the brink of the falls he caught hold of a low-hanging sycamore bough and, steadying himself, released her hand.
“There!” he said. “Look what I did for you!”
“Look what I did for you!” Lucy retorted.
They stood there and watched the water rushing down between the two leaning rocks to fall on the ledge below. It struck so hard that every drop of water that fell leaped off the rock straight into the air, to re-descend more gently, others bouncing off into spray. Lucy moved over and stood between him and the falls and felt the cold needles of spray beat against her skin. The rock showed darkest where the water was churned into the wildest froth. She put up her hand to feel how chill her cheek had grown and as she did so he raised his eyes from the water, his nostrils widening. “What’s that I smell?” he asked.
She looked at her hand, from which, somewhere on the way, the crushed frond had fallen. “Sweet fern,” she said and held her hand out so that he could see the green stain on her palm. He smiled and shook his head. “I told you,” he said.
“Told me what?”
“That you were a belle dame sans merci. Carrying sweet fern! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
“No,” Lucy said, and heard her own laughter tinkle, high and frail like the spray. “No,” she repeated, “I’m not a bit ashamed of myself,” and she ran over and stood before the sycamore tree, not looking back over her shoulder, for she knew that he would follow.
The tree was so old that its trunk was almost hollow. It had, perhaps, been struck by lightning many years ago. That was what her father said, though her great-uncle maintained that lightning never struck a sycamore. At any rate, it had received an injury which had resulted in a cleavage of its bark and outer fibers. But time had smoothed the edges of the wound and curled them back, scroll-wise, to show the dark, decaying heart.
It was dark red and damply pitted by millions of little holes, the homes and high-roads of insects. He stooped and gazed into the glistening cave, then straightened up, sighing. “You could slip in there,” he said. “Have you ever been in there?”
She nodded. She and Ruby—the most daring of the MacDonoghs, though she had become more sedate since she had turned thirteen—had squeezed in and had stood for a few seconds with their bare feet sunk in the moist, rotting stuff that was heaped high inside. But not for more than a few seconds before Ruby had turned to her and whispered “Snakes!” and they wriggled out to stand in the daylight, with only the feel of the wet, rotting stuff still on their ankles to keep them from forgetting that they had been inside. . . But it would be different to stand in there with a grown man beside you.
She stretched out her hand. He caught it and held it with a warm, even pressure. “This strange light,” he said, “and all these great trees. . . Everything so magical!” He looked down at her. He smiled. “You are a belle dame sans merci!” he said.
She smiled back at him. A few feet from where they stood a jewel weed, growing on the brink of the waterfall, trembled and bent toward the water, straightened up and trembling, bent again. The pressure of his hand on hers grew warmer, closer, then suddenly slackened. Their hands fell to their sides, as if struck apart. Mellow notes from some giant anvil were sounding through the wood. “. . . Six. . .” he said. “Good Lord!”
“Dinner won’t be ready for a long time yet,” Lucy said.
But he had already started up the path. “Shall we go back the way we came?” he was asking.
She looked about her vaguely and did not answer.
He took a few more steps. “This same path?” he asked.
She roused herself then. “No,” she said, “there’s a short cut.” She called Borcke and they walked along the stream until they came to a foot-log. It was the only foot-log she knew of in the whole country round. He did not notice it and she did not call his attention to it. He looked back once, toward the falls, after they had crossed on the footlog, but he did not say anything else about the falls and she did not tell him that they were passing within a few feet of where the stream sank underground.
They made their way to the top of the bluff. Up here where the ground was level there were no big trees, only third-growth oaks, hackberries, dogwoods, gums and a few hickories; they been able to get wagons and saws in here and had lumbered off the whole bluff.
They left the woods and entered the plum thicket. The path was one made by small game. He pushed the bushes to one side as he went, but did not stop to hold them back for her. Sometimes the green closed in over the path so thick that she could not see his orange-colored shirt. She stopped and looked about her. The woods still blazed in the setting sun. Ahead the eastern sky was still faintly rosy from the reflection. There were no lights on as yet. The house crouched on the hill like an old grey horse lain down to rest. This was the time of day she loved best, when the sun was down but the light had not yet left the hill, the time of evening when the MacDonoghs sometimes suddenly came up over the side of the hill and without a word they would all start running through the thin, cool air while the bats veered overhead. She broke a switch from a plum tree and peeled it. The dog came panting out of the bushes and lay down in the path. She bent and brushed the top of his head gently with her switch and walked on. The edges of all the plum trees were rimmed with light, like the dew that sparkled on them sometimes in the morning. . . Full beautiful. . . A fairy child. . . She walked more slowly, and as she went touched a leaf here and there with her wand.
. . . She would be tall, as tall as the knight if she stood up, but she would be sitting sidewise on the steed, leaning a little down. Her hair fell over her shoulder in one long wave. Her eyes were grey and shone always with the same light. . .
“Hey!” he cried suddenly and raised his hand high in the air. “Come on!” he cried and without looking around raced up the slope. Lucy ran, too. Under the willow tree her father and mother stood talking with a lady and gentleman who had just got out of a car.
“Where have you been?” her mother said. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
His eyes were fixed on the lady but he laid his hand for a second on Lucy’s shoulder. “She took me to her elfin grot,” he said.
The lady looked at Lucy before she looked at him. She was tall and thinner, even, than Mama. She shook her head and her hair fell farther back on her shoulders. It was the same color as Lucy’s and the same length. Her eyes were grey.
She said, “Tubby, don’t shut your wild, wild eyes!” but you couldn’t hear the rest of what she said for Uncle Tubby had put his arm around her and was kissing her. As Lucy gazed at them she would have wept but that all eyes were upon her.