Originally published on March 3, 1928
“What,” asked Lillian James, “are you going to do with poor Ella’s things?”
“What things do you mean?” asked Mr. Mallett. He looked very worn, his thin mouth sagged, his eyes were dully pathetic. The funeral, which had been large and elaborate — poor Ella had always liked fancy funerals — had tired him to the bone. He had meant to lie down awhile when he got back to the house, but here were Mrs. James and her sister, Eva McChord, poor Ella’s best friends, who had stayed to keep him, they said, from feeling his loneliness. Incidentally, they had rummaged through the closets, the dressers, the linen and china cupboards, even the bookshelves, choosing objects they would enjoy owning in case Herbert Mallett felt he couldn’t bear to see poor Ella’s possessions about.
At his question Lillian realized that she couldn’t say “The hemstitched sheets and the down quilt, and the set of Spode and the copper percolator” — these were what she had her eye on. No, it would be too crude; it wouldn’t sound right.
Instead she said” Why, her clothes, of course.” And Eva looked at her sister admiringly. Eva wanted the Italian cutwork scarf, the green-glass finger bowls, the brass jardinière with the aspidistra, and the teak taboret it sat upon. And she would accept the after-dinner coffee cups if urged, and the dessert forks, even though they were plated.
“Why do I have to do anything with her clothes?” asked Herbert Mallett stupidly.
“But, Herbert,” said Eva, who was thinking hard, “surely you don’t want them to hang up in the closet and get dusty and out of style and probably moth-eaten. It’s so wasteful. They should be looked over carefully and given to the social-service department at the hospital for worthy persons.”
“Eva and I will gladly undertake to do it for you,” chimed in Lillian.
Herbert Mallett looked from one to the other of the gaunt black-robed vulgar creatures who had been in and out of his house every day for more years than he cared to remember, and who had never ceased to stir a futile hate in his heart. Poor Ella’s most intimate! He wished they would leave him alone. He did not know what to do, and it seemed strange that no thin peevish voice called down the stairs to direct him. He actually waited for that voice; it had so long dominated his every act in his own house. With a strange shock it came to him that he would never hear that voice again, and he must make up his own mind.
For the moment he was incapable. His head throbbed, his eyes ached, and his back and his legs. He was sure he was coming down with grippe.
“I tell you,” he said, “I’ll think it over and let you know what I decide. Thank you both, very much. I hope you’ll excuse me now. I’m not feeling well. Goodbye.”
Whereupon he mounted the stairs and got away. Lillian and Eva were resentful. They held their tongues until they got out on the street, but no longer.
“Can you imagine!” said Lillian.
“And after all we did while she was sick!”
“He simply, you might say, snubbed us. No wonder poor Ella used to be so out of patience with him.”
Eva was mindful of the desired loot. “Well, I always say you’ve got to make allowances for anybody who’s just had a great loss. They’re not themselves.”
“That’s true. We’d better see him again in a day or so. I shall say, right out, that I’d value a keepsake of my dearest friend.”
“That’s the way to do it. He’d certainly ask us to choose.”
They walked on thoughtfully. “You know,” said Lillian at last, “that’s a nice house, and he’s done very well with the store, and he’s got no bad habits, and he’s not exactly homely, though he isn’t handsome. He’s used to giving in. Poor Ella had her own way in everything.”
Eva understood. She was to try to hook Herbert Mallett, and Lillian was pledged to aid. A good idea. Far better to be Mrs. Mallett than a woman alone, with a tiny income and too much pride to work. Lillian had good ideas.
“We’ll do what we can to make him feel that we’re just as much attached to him as we were to poor Ella,” Eva said presently, and the sisters went on their way in content.
Herbert Mallett, now safely upstairs, felt rather better from having checkmated his two poison mushrooms, Eva and Lillian. He did not now want to lie down and rest. He went into poor Ella’s bedroom and looked about him.
It was a gloomy room, filled with knobby massive furniture sitting at spaced intervals on a dark un-wear-out-able carpet. Sash curtains, long curtains, and overdraperies of a dreary tan barred light through the windows. By tugging these away and setting a chair to hold them back, Herbert Mallett managed to see what was in the closet. He had been made curious by Lillian’s remark about the clothes.
There they hung, not very many of them, but all on plain wooden hangers. As in her furnishings, so in her personal garments, Ella Mallett had leaned to the durable and drab. She had a passion for the more malevolent purples, the dunner duns, the blacks with an undertone of morbid green, and the most ferrous iron grays, all in hard and wiry stuffs. Herbert Mallett put out a cautious forefinger and touched a satin gown, the last worldly gaud Ella had bought, and solely at her husband’s request. “Get a blue,” he had urged — “a real pretty blue. You wore a blue ribbon once when you were a girl.”
And Ella had got a blue — probably the only blue of its kind in the world — a lugubrious slaty blue instantly suggestive of desolation and disaster. It had been made up like everything else she had — very plain, very stiff, designed to conceal and distort all softer femininity. Herbert Mallett shuddered and drew back his finger.
“I didn’t know how awful it was,” he said aloud.
Now his eyes were caught by a garment which was his greatest detestation — a dingy black-and-gray négligé, a sort of blanket robe with a black twisted cord for belt. Ella had taken a robe like that on their honeymoon; it had, as it were, struck the keynote of their marriage. When the first one wore out she had replaced it with another exactly like it. They had become a series, a continued story, an endless dreariness. Memories of poor Ella in this robe and black crocheted bedroom slippers with purple edges, padding downstairs to let him in on nights when he had to stay late at the store — she would not let him have a latchkey; memories of poor Ella in this robe sitting before the mirror doing up her front hair on kid curlers; memories of poor Ella presiding over breakfast in the same robe, the same curlers; memories of poor Ella’s last illness, and many other illnesses, when she either had the robe on or kept it draped on the foot of the bed!
“Oh,” cried Herbert Mallett, banged to the closet door and fled. He had hardly gained the haven of his own room when Janie Terrace, the maid, called him.
“Supper’s ready, Mr. Mallett.”
As he entered the dining room he was immediately aware of a taboo violated — at the end of the table was a steaming coffeepot. Ella had never allowed him to have coffee for supper; she thought it unhealthful. Cocoa and an imitation coffee were her standbys. And here was Janie Terrace dashing in with a plate of hot biscuit — another taboo.
She answered his unspoken surprise: “Nothing like a cuppa good coffee to hearten you up after such a day. And my biscuit don’t set heavy. Go ahead. No reason why you shouldn’t.”
The words made a refrain in his head: “Go ahead. No reason why you shouldn’t. Go ahead, no reason why you shouldn’t.” Until this moment everyone had treated him as a griefstricken, bereaved husband, drowned in sorrow, inconsolable for the loss of the best of women. But Janie Terrace, who for years had been thrall, like him, to Ella Mallett’s implacable will, knew better. Janie was pointing out to him that he was free of all the petty restrictions, limitations, barriers and denials which his wife, with the terrible strength and obstinacy of the meek, had placed upon him.
Go ahead, no reason why you shouldn’t. Hot coffee with two — yes, two lumps of sugar. Hot biscuit, oozing butter, laden with strawberry preperves. Go ahead, no reason why you shouldn’t. No pale accusing eyes, no whining voice to say “Herbert, you mustn’t. It’s so bad for you.”
Presently Janie Terrace came in on the pretext of bringing fresh biscuit. She lingered; she had something to say. “Mrs. James and Miss McChord was here today snooping through every land’s living thing in the house, Mr. Mallett. I make no insinuations, but if you find anything missing you can look to them for it and not to me. They was all through the bureau drawers and the sideboard and Mrs. Mallett’s bureau, prying and peering and fingering — such a nerve! I laid out to tell you soon’s I got the chance. I know what’s on their minds, Mr. Mallett. They think maybe you’ll quit housekeeping and maybe go to board at the hotel or at Mrs. Toohey’s Select, and they want to pick up what they can outa the house. They think you’re easy. They think all they’ve got to do is to hint strong enough that they’re perishing to have something of Mrs. Mallett’s to remember her by, and you’ll hand over whatever they want. Excuse me, Mr. Mallett, for speaking out so plain, but those two nosey old devils certainly did get my goat today — not that they haven’t done so before, Lord knows.”
Janie put her hands on her wide hips and looked at Mr. Mallett kindly.
“You’re the salt of the earth, Mr. Mallett, and don’t I know it! And I won’t see you done by anybody, if I can help it. Of course if you do intend to give up housekeeping and go board somewhere, I’d be glad if you’d say so, because I’d have to look out for another place. But if you want me to stay on and keep house and do the ordering, I’ll be pleased to. And I’d like to see them McChord-Jameses get so much as a common pin off you while I’m on deck. No, sir.”
This was the longest speech Herbert Mallett had ever heard Janie make. Usually she was as silent as if her mouth were sewed up. It occurred to him, hearing her, that perhaps she, too, was experiencing freedom.
But here he was with more things to decide. “I hadn’t thought where I’d live, exactly, nor how,” he said at last. “I hadn’t made any plan. But for the time being I’m going to live here, and I’d like to have you stay on and take charge. I guess we can get along all right.”
“Like a house afire!”
“I think you’re too severe on Mrs. James and Miss McChord, Janie. They very kindly offered to- to” — he thought of that horrible dressing gown and could hardly go on — “to look through Mrs. Mallett’s clothes and dispose of them through the social service department of the hospital. They pointed out, very rightly, that good, durable clothing should not be allowed to go to waste, or be eaten up by moths.”
Janie gave a militant sniff. “They’d say something like that to take you in. Don’t you pay them no mind, Mr. Mallett, the interfering snoops. You can just as well call up the social service at the hospital yourself and ask do they want the clothes, and no trouble to anybody, and no fuss, and no old meddlesome Matties prancing up and down the stairs and opening closets and bureaus and all. Ain’t it the truth?”
Herbert Mallett realized his freedom anew. He had suffered so much from the close friendship of Ella for her Lillian and her Eva — suffered without protest or palpable wincing, but the suffering had not been less because ingrowing and hidden. But now, if he desired, he could banish them from his life forever. And, in this case, make the plea that he was actually saving them bother!
“Yes, it is so, Janie,” he said, “and that’s what I’ll do.”
“Very good, Mr. Mallett, and I wish to say that you’ve only to tell me what you want and I’ll see to it instanter, and I’ll serve you as honest and as faithful as I did you and Mrs. Mallett. And now maybe you’d fancy a piece of pie for dessert.”
This was revolutionary. “Pie for dessert!” exclaimed Herbert Mallett, not believing his ears. Ella had always had sanitary desserts — watery junket, sour baked apples, thin custard, pallid gelatins. Pie, she was fond of saying, is a deadly compound of fruit, fat and fire.
“As fine a lemon meringue as you ever swung a tonsil over,” declared Janie Terrace. “Don’t you be afraid of my pastry, Mr. Mallett. I may not have had much practice at it, but it’s light as a feather and will set no heavier on your stomick than do my biscuits.”
She put before him a segment of pale gold topped with a snowdrift, and Herbert Mallett ate it to the last exquisite morsel. This was indeed freedom.
He was no longer weary; some of the lightness of the meringue had apparently entered his spirit. He complimented Janie.
“That was a fine pie,” he said. “I enjoyed it. I’ll write a note to Mrs. James tonight about the clothes. And I’ll call up the hospital or write them too.”
Janie beamed. “And would you like something tasty for breakfast, sir?” she asked. “Hot cakes, maybe, and a dash of crisp sausages?”
Go ahead, no reason why you shouldn’t. “Yes, Janie, please, and order some cream for my coffee. I don’t care so much for hot milk.”
She dashed into the living room ahead of him and turned on the lights, twitched down the blinds, unfolded the evening paper and, before he could stop her, put a match to the fire which was always laid but never lighted, save for important guests.
“A new-made widower’s got a right to his comfort,” she said quickly, and dashed out again before he could think of an appropriate reply.
He pulled the easiest chair from its place at the far end of the room, tipped the shade of the nearest lamp so that he could read, and sat down, for the first time since his wedding day, relaxed, replete and at ease in body and mind.
He held the newspaper before his eyes, but he could not read. His mind raced on in a jumble of imaginings, rememberings. Poor Ella! Poor, poor Ella! Had he done everything he could to make her truly happy? Yes, he could think of nothing she had asked him to do that he had refused. She had required that he be Presbyterian and Republican, whereas his inclination was Baptist and Democrat. She had chosen his friends, his opinions, his beliefs, inexorably; all by her own narrow pattern. He spoke when and what she wished to hear; he was silent if she desired it.
After the first few weeks of marriage he had submitted to her yoke without rebellion, even without deception, save in one place — the store. He had kept to himself or had deliberately misrepresented many items about the store, because he knew her interference there would be ruinous. Of course she questioned him; she went over each hour of his day with the fine-tooth comb of a tyrannous inquisitor. It occurred to Herbert Mallett that possibly Ella’s spirit might now be aware of the lies he had told the living Ella. “In that case,” he thought, “she knows I did it for the best. And” — oh, this was a cheerful gleam — “she can’t do anything about it now.” No, she couldn’t sit up in bed and sniffle and whine and nag and pick and chip at him until from sheer fatigue he gave in to whatever whim she wanted gratified at the moment. Never again!
“Poor Ella,” he sighed, “I surely did everything I could to make her happy. But yet she wasn’t happy. At least she didn’t act so. Maybe that was her way of being happy.”
Then all the long-latent romance in him flared up, and there came to him a sudden bright beatific vision of what his home might have been with a wife who sang, a wife who giggled, who was pink and plump and cuddlish, whose mouth curled up at the corners, who wore pink ruffles here and there, and silk stockings, and sprayed a little fresh violet perfume on herself. Who liked to go to shows and was fond of candy, who didn’t feel that a friendly game of cards damned you, who didn’t whine or sniffle or nag or pick or chip, but who looked up to him and thought he was wonderful! He had seen in the store, more than once, a wife look up at her husband with round admiring eyes and say “George” — or “Walter” or “Harry,” as the case might be — “you’re won-der-ful!” And he had never heard it without getting a lump in his throat and yearning all over with a wistful, hopeless envy and desire. “Herbert, you’re won-derful !” No, poor Ella had never said it to him. She hadn’t thought it, either.
And then, quite as suddenly as this vision had appeared to him, a thought leaped high in his mind — a thought daring and revolutionary. It was this: Being a widower and only thirty-seven, there wasn’t the least reason why he shouldn’t, in the decent course of time, look about him and pick himself a wife according to specifications, won-der-ful and all! Not the least reason in the world.
“Well, by Gemini,” said Herbert Mallett to himself severely, “I ought to be ashamed to think of anything like that the day of poor Ella’s funeral. I ought to be ashamed. I must be nutty or something. I’ll just write those notes to Lillian and the hospital, get Janie to mail them, and pop off to bed. The fatigue and the strain of the day have weakened my common sense. I’ll be more myself after a good night’s rest.”
He went to the desk and wrote the note to poor Ella’s rapacious friend, and then paused. “I’ll stop by the hospital in the morning on my way to the store. I can tell them better than I can write it. There’s something very unfeeling about a man writing an offer to give away his wife’s clothes on the day of her funeral. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for those two ghouls.”
So the next morning he stopped at the hospital and was directed down a corridor to the social-service department. There he found a room half filled with sad-eyed children, women with shawls over their heads, and huddled, hopeless men, and a faint tinct of carbolic and iodoform mingled with the odors of dirt, poverty and disease.
The sight, the smell, gave Herbert Mallett a distinct shock. He was feeling well this morning. His breakfast of hot cakes and sausages and coffee with cream had been good, and the eating of it had confirmed his state of freedom and well-being. Coffee with milk and no sugar, the most tasteless and flabbiest cereals, stewed prunes and dry toast were the menu which poor Ella had prescribed for him. It occurred to Herbert Mallett that all these social-service applicants looked as though they had been eating poor Ella’s choice of breakfast. It made him very sorry for them.
“Did you wish to see someone?” asked a voice at his side — a pleasant voice, feminine, kind, but with a gentle briskness about it that intimated the speaker had no time to waste. Herbert Mallett turned and looked into a pair of blue eyes slightly below the level of his own — eyes that were as feminine, as kind, but as impersonal as the voice. “I’m Miss Greeley, in charge here,” went on the voice.
He explained his errand, observing as he did so that Miss Greeley had, besides the pleasant eyes and voice, a close brown bob, white teeth and rosy lips, a jolly little turned-up nose, a general outline of rounded slenderness and a general air of great capability.
“You’re more than kind to think of others in your bereavement,” said Miss Greeley. “I’ll be thankful to have the clothes; there are so many sick and half sick and convalescent who need warm things — you’ve no idea. You say the maid will pack them? Now, Mr. Mallett, would you have any objection if I went to your house and helped her do it? In that way I could select exactly what we can use, and you can dispose of anything that is not suitable for our people in some other way.”
That seemed reasonable to Herbert Mallett. “When can you come?” he asked.
“Not today, nor tomorrow. I’m frightfully busy until very late. But Friday afternoon, between three and three-thirty, if that is all right. You’ll tell your maid to expect me, please?”
Yes, he would tell Janie Terrace. And Miss Greeley smiled, shook hands and made it plain that the matter was settled. But it was the smile that unsettled it. Miss Greeley had a warming and ingratiating smile — a magic smile, that turned her from a wholesome clever young woman into a fascinating and lovely girl, the sort of girl who lingers in your consciousness and can’t be dislodged. She bloomed and softened and charmed when she smiled.
It had the most marvelous effect on Herbert Mallett, unused as he was to feminine smiles and feminine charm. He almost staggered out of the room, and couldn’t forbear to look back when he got to the door. But it did him no good, for Miss Greeley had gone to her desk and was very busy.
He went on to the store, where there was much to do, as he had been away from it for a week, save for an hour or so each day. The two clerks, the bookkeeper and the porter who made his staff were waiting for him, their demeanor tuned to proper seriousness and gravity, and for an instant — Miss Greeley’s smile still dizzying him — he wondered what they were looking so solemn about. Then he remembered, and thanked them for the beautiful wreath they had sent to poor Ella’s funeral. From his hesitant manner they understood how deeply he suffered, and that it was hard for him to talk about it, and so they tactfully began to recall him to business matters. For as Eddie Paine, chief clerk, said to Bob Taylor, second clerk, “Mrs. Mallett always seemed to me like a terrible lemon, quince and hunk of cheese, but the boss was so nice to her I dare say he must have liked her.”
And Bob had replied wisely, “He sure did. She was, maybe, better in the home.”
Mr. Mallett looked about his store critically, yet appreciatively. It was a beautifully arranged, beautifully managed stationery store, not large, but with a carefully chosen stock and a rigorous policy of the-customer-be-pleased. Into this store Mr. Mallett poured all his suppressed æsthetic instincts, all his need for something to cherish, adorn and love. The shelves, the counters, the lighting, the display were matters of his constant concern. Poor Ella had complained that he spent half his profits each year in redecorating, and that he fussed in the most ridiculous manner over details which were of no importance. Mr. Mallet never defended himself against her charges, nor did he change his ways. Ella’s whine and sniffle got her nowhere when she used them against the store.
Today he moved some yellow second sheets slightly nearer some blue filing boxes, that the colors might enhance each other, put a collection of red pencils out of sight, changed a stiff showing of fine gray French papeteries into a tricky half circle which lured the eye, and corrected an error in the placing, by size, of a popular series of school tablets. He did all this almost mechanically, so accustomed was he to observing and repairing flaws in the perfection of his pet and pride. Then in his little office he looked over the reports of sales, bank balance, stock needs, orders, and tried to put his thoughts on them. But somehow that smile of Miss Greeley’s kept coming through the figures in the most extraordinary way, and instead of grappling with reorders of loose-leaf notebooks, fountain pens and children’s letter paper, he was wondering whether or not he might appear on Friday afternoon at his own home between the hours of three and three-thirty, to receive Miss Greeley in person.
“It would be only polite. I can hardly leave her to Janie Terrace. But if I am there she may think I didn’t trust her about the clothes. Oh, pshaw, she won’t think that. She can’t. If those two snakes, Eva and Lillian, discover that I went home to meet her, they’ll blazon it over town and make it very uncomfortable for the girl. But Janie Terrace’ll be there — and anyway I could chance their not finding it out. She was certainly an extremely attractive girl — extremely attractive. Well, I suppose I ought not to have noticed that.” He argued pro and con, and was still doing it when Eddie Paine came in and said that Mrs. James and Miss McChord were in the store and wanted to speak to him.
Eva and Lillian were grieved and worried. His note had upset their plans.
“Oh, Herbert,” began Lillian, “you couldn’t let a stranger or servant go through poor Ella’s clothes and pack them up. You don’t realize how unfeeling it seems. We’ll gladly do it, Eva and I; we want to help you; we don’t mind the bother a bit, really.”
“No, not a bit, Herbert,” chimed in Eva affectionately.
Perhaps it was the combination of sausages and smile that helped him to stand out against them — that, and a quick disgust at Eva’s tone and languishing manner.
“I appreciate your offer more than I can tell you,” he said, “but it’s — it’s impossible to change my arrangements.”
“Impossible — why?”
Mr. Mallett was caught. He looked embarrassed and mysterious, and he squirmed inside. “I really can’t tell you why. It’s — well, it’s confidential.”
His manner woke dire suspicions in Lillian James’ mind, always active in inventing the worst of motives.
“Why, surely, Herbert,” she said, “Ella didn’t say anything against us, and we her best friends for so long — ”
In her false conclusion Herbert Mallett saw his deliverance.
“Lillian, please don’t urge me to tell you. It will be better for all of us if I don’t. I can only say that I feel bound to let the matter rest as it is.”
Lillian and Eva stalked out, crushed — or at least partly crushed, for though they were balked in one direction, it didn’t mean that they were balked in another. Herbert still remained desirable.
“To think that we never even suspected Ella of being insincere! Sweet to our faces and pretending to like us, and mistrusting us in her heart. It makes me feel terrible.”
“But it must be so. You saw how much it hurt Herbert to tell us. He’s the most truthful man in the world.”
“Too good for her, I say. Look at what he’s had to put up with in her.”
“And he such a good provider, and kind and generous. He was a splendid husband to her and she didn’t deserve him.”
“We ought to keep in touch with him and let him feel that we appreciate him. I’ll ask him to supper Sunday night,” concluded Lillian. “Just family — us and the children and you, Eva. He’ll take you home, of course.”
“I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me, Lillian.”
And just as clearly as though they had put on sandwich boards proclaiming it, so was it silently agreed between the sisters that when Eva acquired poor Ella’s household goods, not by gift but by marrying poor Ella’s husband, she was to remember her sister’s desire for the hemstitched sheets, the down quilt, the set of Spode and the copper percolator. But in her own mind Eva determined to hold on to the Spode. Spode is valuable.
Herbert Mallett, unaware of these fell designs, congratulated himself on getting out of a tight place. He had said nothing which was not true, but he couldn’t be responsible for what they might infer from his words.
He went on with the store routine but his subconscious mind was busy with Miss Greeley. Eddie Paine and Bob Taylor agreed that the boss was being mighty brave and bearing up better than they expected. And back at the house Janie Terrace inaugurated a mighty cleaning, airing, scrubbing, dusting and polishing, while she planned a series of meals designed to make Mr. Mallett keep her on as a housekeeper forever and ever.
All through Wednesday and Thursday Mr. Mallett wabbled back and forth as to whether he should show up at the house when Miss Greeley called. First he thought he would, then he thought he wouldn’t. He could not decide. It seemed almost a pity that poor Ella wasn’t there to make up his mind for him; only she wouldn’t have allowed him to go. He had so little initiative, save about the store; it had been so ground out of him that he was pitiable. But somehow, the matter settled itself. On Friday morning he refused Lillian’s invitation to Sunday supper on the plea that he didn’t feel up to it. Strengthened by this deed, in the afternoon at three he heard himself saying to Eddie Paine that he had an errand up at the house and would be gone maybe an hour, and then he put on his hat and walked out. He was filled with a queer deep hankering to see that smile again.
Janie Terrace had put on a white apron to receive Miss Greeley, and was prepared for a delightful visit in which she would tell what she thought of her late mistress to someone who had never known her. So Janie was not pleased when Mr. Mallett appeared. It meant goodbye gossip, goodbye all the tasty little bites in the back which she had prepared. However, here he was and she must lump it.
Miss Greeley was prompt and very businesslike. If she was surprised at Mr. Mallett’s presence she didn’t show it, but she didn’t smile at him — not at first. But when they went upstairs and she saw the gloomy bedroom, the stiff ugly dresses, the plain thick muslin underwear, the round-toed flat-heeled shoes and cotton stockings, she became very gentle with Mr. Mallett. For though Miss Greeley wore the dark and simple uniform and hat required by the hospital for her hours on duty, they were by no means her personal taste in dress. Poor Ella’s furniture and garments repelled her.
Moreover, Miss Greeley was not a believer in giving the very poor only useful clothing. She felt that beauty was often more desirable than warmth and durability. If she could have done so with good grace, she would have turned down Mr. Mallett’s donation flat. “It’s enough to make the ones that are getting well have a relapse to hand them such awful things,” she thought. When she saw the black and gray négligé she couldn’t repress a little shudder of horror. But she concealed it.
“That’s splendidly warm,” she said. She ran through the rest of the clothing hastily, without comment. At the end she said, “I have my little car here and I’ll take them with me, if you don’t mind. You’ll receive a formal letter of thanks from the hospital, of course, but I want to express my own appreciation of your kindness. So few people realize the suffering and need right here in our own city. We have to beg almost on our knees to get our annual endowment, and it’s never enough. I tell you, a gift like this heartens us all and makes us feel that there are still kind and thoughtful people, even at moments when they might be expected to think only of themselves.”
She laid it on thick because she felt so sorry for Mr. Mallett. Miss Greeley’s work required much knowledge of human nature. He interested her. She divined the truth — that he had been oppressed and ruled by a woman without desire for or knowledge of grace and beauty, while he himself loved them. So she said more than she meant, and at last she turned her delicious smile on him.
But Mr. Mallett was not a student of human nature; he could not guess people’s inner selves, their hidden character. In spite of Miss Greeley’s smile he was disappointed. That severe hat and dress of hers did not look to him very different from the clothes he had just given her for her poor, and when she seemed entirely pleased with the gift, he felt that she didn’t see its devastating ugliness. If she had said “Mr. Mallett, I wouldn’t insult any decent, self-respecting woman, however needy, by asking her to put on such unspeakable atrocities,” he would have been glad and thankful.
Every word of praise Miss Greeley said, and especially her approbation of the black and gray négligé, drove him away from her. True, her eyes and her voice were still there — and that last lovely winning smile. If she had not smiled Mr. Mallett would never have thought of her again, save as one of life’s dear gazelles who had gladdened him for a moment and passed on.
But the smile caused him to say more than he meant. “If you will let me know of any special case where I could be of aid, I’ll be glad to do what I can. Though I’m not much good at that sort of thing,” he added, leaving himself a loophole of escape.
Again Miss Greeley displayed her knowledge of human nature, having heard such vague promises many thousands of times, and knowing well how little they meant.
“Thank you,” she said warmly “thank you very much. You’re so kind.” Whereupon she picked up a bundle of clothing and carried it out to the car, while Mr. Mallett and Janie Terrace carried out the others. One more smile — a small one — and she had rolled away.
Mr. Mallett went his way back to the store considering Miss Greeley far more calmly than when he had gone to meet her. A pleasant capable young woman, with an agreeable manner, but that was all. And, he reminded himself severely, he mustn’t be thinking of such things.
Nevertheless, as time went on he could not help thinking. Life flowed along so pleasantly, full of small comforts, little luxuries, ease of mind and body. There was a fire in the living room every night after supper. The easy-chair, the lamp and the evening paper were always ready for him there. His meals were no longer meager and invalidish, they were cunningly prepared to please and pamper his appetite.
And having loosed an orgy of speech immediately after the passing of poor Ella, Janie Terrace went back to her former taciturnity and bothered her employer no more with long tales of this and that and nothing at all. So Mr. Mallett reveled in silence. He came home from his day in the busy chattering store to a quiet orderly house. No more did he dress, eat, smoke and read to an obbligato of petty commands and corrections administered by a thin peevish voice. It was marvelously peaceful.
Yes, it was peaceful, very peaceful, save for one thing — the attentions pressed upon him by Miss Eva McChord and Mrs. Lillian James. These good ladies were, like the world, too much with him. Late and soon they pursued him. They offered him endless invitations. They lay in wait for him as he passed, leaped out at him and walked with him wherever he was going, talking to him with persistent sympathy and a cloying sweetness. They invented errands to the store — errands which did not involve any purchases. They sent him large plates of muffins, cookies, cakes, puddings, jellies, sillabubs — infuriating to Janie Terrace.
“What’ll I do with this here?” she would demand balefully of. Mr. Mallett.
At first Mr. Mallett told her to hand out the stuff to any passing beggar, but there were too few of these. Then he recalled his promise to aid Miss Greeley’s poor people.
“Take ‘em all over to the social service department of the hospital, Janie; let the young lady who was here give ‘em away” a command Janie faithfully followed.
This action had the result of keeping Mr. Mallett alive in Miss Greeley’s thoughts. He must be a very odd person, she supposed — very odd indeed — but rather nice. There were many undernourished children to whom the cakes and cookies were an enormous treat, and there were plenty of convalescents who needed custards and sillabubs and jellies, so she used the McChord-James offerings very well.
She always told Janie to thank Mr. Mallett for her, and she made a memo on her calendar to write him a note at the end of the year and let him know that his unusual donations had been appreciated and put to good use. She did that every year to everyone who sent gifts to her department.
In the calm serenity of his present life Mr. Mallett had very nearly forgotten Miss Greeley and her smile; at least they had lost all special significance for him. He had his store, more scrupulously and charmingly adorned than ever before, and he had his still, well-ordered home, and even the pursuit of Eva and Lillian could not spoil his existence. He had learned to disconnect the telephone in the evening, and Janie had orders to tell them he was out on the occasions when they came to call on him, and though they were sure Janie was lying and tricking them, they couldn’t prove it. When they came into the store, Eddie or Bob headed them away from him. Only when they caught him on the street was he at their mercy. But he kept a sharp lookout and grew very adept in dodging into doorways and up alleys, and when they did actually corner him and press on him invitations to supper and dinner, he always said “I’m sorry, but I’ve another engagement.” Eva and Lillian were more than ever certain that poor Ella had been a false friend to them and had poisoned his mind against them. Still, they felt it was their due that they should keep on trying to make him see them as their own sweet and kind and guileless selves, teeming with consolation and tenderness for him.
As the uneventful easy weeks rolled along, enlivened by nothing more than dodging Eva and Lillian, Mr. Mallett felt a certain dissatisfaction within. Several things irked him. His home’s appearance was one of these. After a day spent in the store, so lively and smart in color, so well arranged, the dark hangings, the bleak misshapen furniture, the dismal ornaments of the house struck hard on his æsthetic sensitiveness. Several of the old friends of his bachelor days — men whom poor Ella had not allowed him to visit — had looked him up and invited him to their homes, and he had gazed into new vistas of comfort which made him, when he came home again, dislike his own surroundings even more. Janie Terrace was a good cook and cleaner, but there she stopped. She could not change things about and brighten them up. So Mr. Mallett began to do it himself. Go ahead. No reason why you shouldn’t.
He began with the dining room, and when it was done in cream and orange, with a new set of blue china and a gold-framed mirror over the mantel, it was, said Janie Terrace, as nice as a dining room in the movies! Certainly it was cheerful and gay, and its appearance added gusto to Mr. Mallett’s excellent meals.
From the dining room he went to the living room, then to the hall, then upstairs. Paint, paper, new curtains, new rugs, new furniture — everything light, bright, joyous. Mr. Mallett had a very good time playing with it all. Oh, it took time, but he didn’t mind that. He matched colors and fussed with samples, and tried this shade and that stuff, and had pieces of furniture sent home on trial, and shipped them back when they didn’t quite suit. It was fun!
It drove Lillian James and Eva McChord to desperation when they learned what he was doing. It could portend but one thing, that he was looking about. And looking about meant that presently some woman was to rule in poor Ella’s place. But who? Try as they would, they could not find that Mr. Mallett was paying attention to anyone. They pried and peered and spied, with all the energy and resource of tried and trusty priers and peerers and spiers, but it did them no good. They were forced to conclude that it was either a free-for-all or else that he was very, very sly! It was frightfully hard on them to be unable to decide which. But they redoubled their gifts of edibles, and Janie Terrace declared that she was wearing out good shoe leather running to the hospital with pies and cakes.
But as Mr. Mallett’s house became transformed and regenerated and he knew that in a short time he’d have nothing more to do with it, a great loneliness came upon him. All the romance and sentiment in him had been thwarted and nipped and stunted and stifled as much as possible by poor Ella, but his heart and his spirit still contained sparks; and these sparks now brightened and burned. The vision that had come to him the night after the funeral, which he had resolutely put away, returned and haunted him. This house, now so charming, needed a woman in it — a woman dressed in pretty frocks, frivolous, who would run up and down stairs and hum lively tunes, shake up the chintz pillows, put vases of flowers about, drop the regular two lumps of sugar in his coffee with short dimpled fingers, and be always ready to join him in whatever slight diversion and pleasure came to his mind. If he wanted to tell her about the store she would listen attentively; if he wanted to talk to her about himself she would listen even more attentively, and would understand and appreciate all the little fancies and whimseys and jollities he’d never dared shape into words. She would think and say he was won-der-ful. More and more Mr. Mallett felt the need of someone like this. He was, in very truth, ripe for picking.
He was finding the constant pursuit of Eva and Lillian a nuisance, an abomination. Eddie Paine and Bob Taylor did not always hide their snickers when the two women came into the store and, like all normal human beings, Herbert Mallett could not endure being made ridiculous. He was as rude to Eva and Lillian as he knew how to be, but that didn’t stop them. Mr. Mallett felt certain that Eva, aided and abetted by her sister, was bound to marry him. And presently he began to be secretly afraid. They were large, strong, determined — oh, how determined. He didn’t know but they’d trap him and make him commit matrimony no matter how he struggled. He remembered Mr. Kipling’s sapient words about the female of the species, and he was distinctly alarmed and nervous. He lost his appetite and became still more nervous.
Finally he went to see a doctor. He didn’t tell him about Lillian and Eva, only about his nerves.
“You need a change of air, a trip,” said the doctor. “You’ve had a hard year, and you stay too steadily in your store. Go off for a week or so, make some new contacts, see some new sights. It’ll do you a world of good. You don’t need any pills or powders; you only need a change.”
Mr. Mallett thought this over and went to a travel bureau, but the man in charge tried to send him to Egypt, Algiers, the Riviera, Bermuda, and finally Florida. He terrified Herbert Mallett with his talk of three-month voyages, deluxe hotels and tropical oceans, so the travel bureau man had the chagrin of seeing Herbert Mallett ooze out without taking any.
“He never meant to go anywhere anyway, the poor sap,” thought the travel bureau man scornfully.
But there he wronged his would-be client. Herbert Mallett went right down to the station and bought a ticket for the big city.
“I’ll look at the new lines of stationery and the city shops, and I’ll go to the shows and get myself all pepped up,” he resolved. “Eddie and Bob can run the store perfectly well for a little while, and if they can’t it’s time I knew it.”
When he told Janie Terrace he was going away, she exclaimed: “Don’t tell me how long you’ll stay, for if I don’t know I can’t tell the two old snoops. You can send me a telegram the day you’re due. I’ll be here, don’t worry.”
And this seemed to him such a good idea that he told Eddie and Bob also that his stay would be indefinite. Let Eva and Lillian chew on that!
And no sooner was he on the train than his cares and worries and nervousness all slid away from him and were replaced by a buoyant expectancy! He’d never made a trip like this before, free and untrammeled. Poor Ella had either gone with him or had fixed his time of return forty-eight hours after his departure, and excuses for staying longer were not the least use. So mostly he bought his stock from salesmen who came to him. It created less friction.
He went to a good hotel and took a room with private bath — a quiet, comfortable, sunny room, high up, with a stirring vista of skyscrapers dramatically large as compared to himself, dramatically small as compared to the mighty sweep of sky above. Gazing out at them, Herbert Mallett felt like a maggot, but a rather jolly maggot. He might be no more than a maggot, an atom, an ort — a word he’d culled from crossword puzzles — but he had a world of emotions to release, desires to be fulfilled, senses to be gratified. He was powerful and complex to himself — a grateful sensation.
For the first day or so he pattered in and out of art galleries, mostly, quite neglecting business, and he saw much that was thrilling and much that was puzzling and much that was revolting. All of it he enjoyed, lapping up color and pattern as a thirsty dog laps at a clear stream.
And he passed a great hall, and seeing a concert advertised, he went in on chance and had his ears and soul ravished by a feast of Brahms and Beethoven, done by one of the finest of musicians before an audience that sat dead still, not coughing or sniffling or even so much as rattling its programs! Herbert Mallett had never even dreamed of such music, and he came away exalted to the heights.
But after so much that was sublime he felt the need of something lighter. He bought a new necktie, not at all like those poor Ella had chosen for him, and called on two dealers in wholesale stationery. In one of them he found a salesman he knew — a certain Giles Brody who had cherished Mr. Mallett as a good customer who didn’t need time on his bills. Giles Brody hailed him with glee and proposed to entertain him with, inevitably, dinner and a show.
Brody led Mr. Mallett to a restaurant where both food and orchestra were above the average, and ordered a trick meal — a hot hors d’oeuvre prepared on the table before them, a sole matelote followed by guinea hen breast with Prague ham and mushrooms, an alligator pear dashed with lime juice for salad, and a chocolate soufflé for dessert. From his pocket came a small flask of excellent Scotch. Mr. Mallett ate and drank and looked about him with great appreciation. Soon he found he was telling Brody all about his finished house and his loneliness, even about Eva and Lillian. Brody listened and, like Miss Greeley, comprehended much more than Mr. Mallett uttered. He found himself liking Mr. Mallett as more than a good customer.
“Poor chap,” he thought. “He’s never had any fun in his life. It’s a shame!”
He had bought tickets for a musical comedy of the average sort, full of catchy tunes, expert dancing, pretty girls not too nude but nude enough, wise cracks that varied from plain foolery to subtle lewdness, a comic lead and a sweet soubrette, a high baritone with slick hair for the love songs, and so on, and so on. Mr. Brody chose this show as suiting any taste, and because Teresa Lance, his wife’s cousin, was in it and he had found that such acquaintance impressed out-of-town customers and made him seem the perfect sophisticate. His wife’s cousin was not young, her part was merely the chaperon of the soubrette, but she had one song which she put over pretty well. And she liked to have Giles bring his friends around and take her to supper.
So after the intermission, Brody, who had been waiting to spring it, said, “The woman who’s playing Mrs. Passedall is a relative of mine. What say we send her a note and ask if she’d care to go out for a bite to eat after the show?”
Mr. Mallett thought it would be great. He was enjoying himself hugely, the singing and dancing entranced him, the pretty girls dazzled him. Brody’s remark centered his interest on Teresa Lance, who now came out for her song — done before the drop curtain while the scenery was being changed for the garden-flower scene.
Mr. Mallett saw a fair-haired and blue-eyed woman whose legs still looked very young but whose face had lost the facile promise of youth and whose figure was somewhat overcurved. She had on a white dress spangled in lavish silver, and she carried an enormous scarlet ostrich fan. Her song was a plaintive moron ballad to the effect that Somebody Wants Somebody, But Nobody Wants Me, one of the “I sit at home, all, all alone waiting for the ring of the telephone” sort of things. It so fitted Mr. Mallett’s own state of mind — except that he certainly didn’t wait for the ring of the telephone — that he was infinitely touched. Tears sprang to his eyes.
“Your cousin is a true artist,” he whispered to Mr. Brody.
“Tess isn’t bad. She’s a very nice woman off the stage, too — not tough and gay like a lot of these theatrical wrens.”
Mr. Mallett felt sure of it. He applauded the song violently, and Miss Lance came back and sang the chorus again.
“She sees us,” said Mr. Brody, and Mr. Mallett’s blood rushed to his head as he saw her smile directly toward them.
After the show the two men hurried around to the stage door, and presently Miss Lance came down that bleak and whiffy alley and they went to supper. She looked older without her stage make-up, harder and more worn, but she had a dashing green-feather toque and a coat with fur which gave her quite an air. She ate a rarebit, drank what was left of Mr. Brody’s Scotch, and carried the conversation along without a pause. Mr. Mallett had never seen a woman who could laugh and joke and tease the way Tessie Lance did. He tingled all over with the joy of it. He, Herbert Mallett, actually out at supper with an actress! If Eva and Lillian, Eddie and Bob could but have seen him! He threw back his shoulders and told the only funny story he knew, and Tessie Lance rocked with laughter. She was really laughing to think that anyone would have the nerve to spring such an ancient bewhiskered wheeze, but Mr. Mallett thought she was enjoying it.
After the supper Brody suggested that Mr. Mallett take Tessie home, because there was only one more train before three o’clock out to the suburban town where he lived. And he gave Tessie a meaningful look which meant “He’s a good sort.”
Tessie got the look and accordingly joked and jollied Mr. Mallett all the way to her apartment, and without the least difficulty extracted a luncheon engagement out of him for the next day. Then she shook hands cordially and told him good night.
Mr. Mallett went off in a whirl. Tessie did not look old and hard to him. He only saw her yellow hair, her blue eyes, the dimple in her chin, her plump shoulders. He did not catch the professional gayety of her voice; he only thought what fine company she was, how merry, how kind. He liked her green toque, her light green dress with its rhinestone straps. He hoped she would wear the toque at lunch tomorrow. For a long time that night he lay awake thinking of her. Her arm had touched his in the taxi — it was soft and round and warm! He patted his own arm where that touch had been. Poor Ella had been very angular.
Tessie, on her side, had felt a genuine liking for him. Though she had made him ask her to luncheon, that was merely part of her plan never to pay for her own meals if anyone else would. Tessie’s looks and voice were waning and she knew it. The time was drawing near when she would not be able to get any sort of engagement, and she saved desperately every penny she could spare from “putting up a front.” Enough clothes to look prosperous she must have. Beyond that she scrimped and pinched and squeezed. She lived in two tiny rooms, and cooked most of her meals on a gas ring. The house was old, run-down, and there was no elevator, so rent was cheap; and the two rooms were not an extravagance, for they permitted her to refer grandly to her apartment — that was part of her front.
The Brodys were kind to her and it was understood that she was to help Giles entertain visiting customers whenever he wished it. Usually she got nothing from it but a meal or so, and an hour of boredom. But Herbert Mallett, even with his ancient funny story, did not bore her. And she started out to lunch with him in agreeable anticipation.
The luncheon was very pleasant, and afterward they took a walk up the Avenue and through the Park. Tessie did most of the talking, and she put on a lot of dog. She told of the splendid parts she’d had, the hit she’d made with this song and that, how rival managers fought for her, the great stage people she knew, of course very intimately, until Mr. Mallett was more in a whirl than ever. Too marvelous to think that such a popular figure, a star almost, a beautiful and sophisticated woman, should be his companion! He couldn’t believe his good luck.
For the next few days Herbert Mallett lunched with Tessie Lance, tea-ed with her, went to hear her sing her song each night, and took her to supper afterward. She arranged all that, though he thought he was doing it. She seemed to him exactly what he had dreamed of — a materialization of his fondest hopes. He was treading an enchanted way.
Tessie was so pretty, so animated, so smart, so droll, so appealing. And so kind to him! It all made him bewilderingly happy. This was the way to fall in love, this was idyllic. He was having such a delicious bask and gloat that he was more than content to drift along. He did not move to make it permanent. That could wait a little– it would surely come later. He had never had a beautiful romantic love affair before, and he wanted to drain every second of it. That Tessie cared for him he did not doubt. It was a glorious intoxicating situation, and so he dallied and delayed, finding it sublimely sweet after his pinched and acid past.
But to Tessie his behavior was disappointing. Mr. Mallett was, she thought, hanging back and, not knowing why, she fretted. Tessie wanted the matter clinched. Her show would soon end its run and go out on the road, and Tessie dreaded the road. Mr. Mallett looked the perfect meal ticket to Tessie. Giles Brody had told her that he was a widower with a paying business, a house of his own, no children. She could ask for no better refuge, no better guaranty against a desolate old age. Yet he didn’t come on!
She racked her brains to understand his reluctance. He was too dazzled, she decided at last. He couldn’t imagine that a great sought-after artist, as she’d made herself out to be, would give up a magnificent career for him. Doubtless he also feared that she’d find domesticity flat and tame, that she was too much the actress, too little the woman. Perhaps he considered her extravagant and felt he could not afford a wife deluxe. Well, then, she determined to reveal her real self to him, to throw down her pretentious front and show him the plain hard truth of her life. That would get him, if anything would.
She made a plan and gave it a push. “We’ll go up to my apartment and have a bite there instead of going to a restaurant tonight. You’ve never seen my apartment.” She had, in fact, firmly kept him out of it.
Mr. Mallett’s heart beat faster at the invitation. He, too, made a plan. Tonight, in her own apartment, he would tell her that he loved her, adored her, and wanted her for his wife. The moment had come when he could delay no longer. Over the intimacy of a little supper for two, in the charming environment which he was sure must be hers, he would reveal his affection, they would pledge their solemn troth.
They walked over from the theater after the show, for the apartment was only a few blocks away. Mr. Mallett was silent, absorbed, intent. And so was Tessie. He followed her up many flights of dark stuffy stairs, but at last she said “Here we are” and put her latchkey in the door.
“Sit down and make yourself at home,” she said, switching on the lights, “while I get things going.” She went on into the bedroom, took off her hat and coat and came back with a big apron, which she put on over her dress. The apron caught Mr. Mallett’s attention — brought him out of his trance. It was an ample gingham, not too clean, and it was for all the world exactly like the aprons with which poor Ella used to protect her frocks when she was housekeeping bent. Mr. Mallett looked and looked at the apron. It made him feel very queer. It covered all of Tessie except her head and arms, so that it seemed as if poor Ella was once more before him, only turned oddly blond and fattish.
Tessie was talking gayly as she set out a few mismatched dishes on the bare table. “We’ll have something very plain and nourishing — a cup of cocoa, some arrowroot crackers. We’ve been eating a lot of rich things every night lately, and they’re not good for the digestion. I don’t want you to think that I’m like the chorus girls in the comic papers, who’re supposed to live on lobster and champagne.”
Cocoa! Cocoa and arrowroot! Plain and nourishing! The words fell on Mr. Mallett’s ears with the accent of doom. If there were any two things in the dietary which poor Ella doted on, they were cocoa and arrowroot, and she was always saying that food must be plain and nourishing. That, and then — the apron! Mr. Mallett grew numb all over. He could scarcely breathe.
Tessie went on speaking about health and the need of a quiet sane life, and the awful strain of a stage career and why she felt that those who had, like herself, won to the pinnacle, ought to retire in their heyday and give place to the younger generation. Mr. Mallett did not hear her. He had torn his eyes from the apron and was gazing at the rigid bareness, the ugliness of the room. The furniture, thriftily bought by Tessie at secondhand shops, reminded him in every knobby contour of the bedroom where poor Ella — yes, it might have come from there! His numbness increased.
“Just a second now and everything’ll be ready,” said Tessie. “I keep the sugar locked in my trunk — the maid steals it. Excuse me.”
She went into the bedroom, leaving the door open. Mr. Mallett’s stare followed her and he saw — he saw — no, it could not be — yes, it was — it was — a black and gray blanket négligé hanging on the foot of the bed. Dingy, doleful, draped with its attenuated rope girdle, it was a twin to the négligé which had been the bane of his wedded life. And this was hers — Tessie’s. With a horrible constriction all over his body, Mr. Mallett felt sure that there were kid curlers lying on Tessie’s dresser.
That thought stampeded him. He got silently to his feet, picked up his coat and hat, opened the door with a noiseless hand, stepped like a cat into the hall. Down the flights of stairs he fled, down, down, to the open street. He jumped panting into the first taxicab. Arrived at his hotel, he packed his bag and paid his bill almost as one gesture. As he left his room the telephone rang, but he did not pause.
On the midnight express, bound for home, he lay sleepless, torn by his sensibilities. How close capture had been! How nearly had he been sold down the river into a slavery like to his first. He thought bitterly of Tessie. She had deceived him with her green toque, her jingling bracelets, her appetite for Welsh rarebits — deceived and well-nigh trapped him. He remembered how poor Ella, when he was courting her, had worn the blue ribbon in her hair. Women were all the same!
It was a sad and disheveled Mr. Mallett who arrived at his own home in time for a breakfast from Janie Terrace’s skilled hands — a breakfast that contained nothing hygienic but ramped and reveled in hot indigestibles. As he ate he looked over his accumulated letters, and presently found a note from Miss Greeley thanking him for the supplies sent to the hospital from time to time.
“Miss Greeley’s written to thank me for the things you carried over to her, Janie,” he said, as the maid bounced in with a relay of griddlecakes.
“Oh, that nice young lady!” exclaimed Janie. “What do you think but that she’s had an accident, Mr. Mallett. Somebody run into that little car of hers and she got a busted ankle. I told her she was lucky it wasn’t the spine of her backbone.”
“Why, did you go to see her?” asked Mr. Mallett in surprise.
“I should think I did, what with being in and out of her office for the whole year, as you might say, like an inmate. And a treat it was to look at her out of them dark work duds, all dolled up in a cutie pink silk jacket with ribbons and lace, pretty enough to eat with a spoon.”
“What!” cried Mr. Mallett, suddenly alert and attentive. “Pink silk?”
“Sure, I’m telling you. Some days pink silk, some days blue silk with little teeny rosebuds, just as cutie as the pink ones.”
Mr. Mallett looked at the clear handwriting of the note; he lifted the paper to his nose and detected a faint fresh odor of violets. He remembered Miss Greeley’s smile. This must be investigated.
“I’m sorry to hear she was hurt, Janie. I wonder if she’d think it was odd if I stopped in to see her, with a few flowers.”
“She’d like it, Mr. Mallett. She’s crazy about flowers. She asked for you. She thinks you’re won-der-ful!”
The blood sang in his head, his pulses leaped. She’d asked for him! Pink and blue négligés! Violet scent! Won-der-ful!
“The longest way round, Janie,” he said, with happy irrelevance, “is sometimes the shortest way home.”
“Ain’t it the truth,” agreed Janie. “Wait, I’m going to bring more griddlecakes.”
“No,” said Mr. Mallett, “I’ve waited long enough.”