CROQUET ground rules that have been kept by the Hubers fill a small book
generations old, maintained and expanded by successive occupants of the
narrow house and passed along with the house itself. It makes an
interesting historical document. Of the following samples from this
book, the entry made in 1910 is of particular interest, because it was
added to the rules by Lorna, in her hand, when she was nine.
No player may drive the ball of another player in a downhill
direction. [1856—just three years before Lieutenant Amédée
Mannheim, of the French artillery, developed the form of slide rule that
endured until the development of the electronic calculator]
No player may drive the ball of another player on a course so close
to the contour of Ackerman Hill that the net effect will be the same as
if the ball had been driven on a downward course. 
No player may drive the ball of another player into the new drainage
ditch along the upward border of the front lawn, since a ball so driven
is certain to roll through the new culvert and continue on an accelerating
downward path. 
Driving the ball of a player who is injured or who does not have the
full use of his fingers is not fair play. 
Any player who causes any ball to roll downward and be lost, whether
by direct or indirect means or by accident, must pay for it or replace
When the ball of another player is driven, it must be driven uphill
only, and if an uphill ball starts rolling downhill it MUST be caught before
it rolls off the property. 
It would be more fun for everybody if no player drove the ball of another
player in any direction whatsoever, because it’s really the pleasure of
the game that we ought to be interested in and not the whole competitive
All croquet balls and mallets used on this court shall be made exclusively
of wood. The use of mallets made of carbon fibre compounds or of aluminum
alloys is expressly forbidden. In fact, those damned aluminum baseball
bats that make a sound like “pwong” are not to be used within earshot of
this court either. 
Lorna had a specific person in mind
when she protested against driving the ball of a player “who does not have
the full use of his fingers.” It was her Uncle Luther. Uncle
Luther was tall and quiet and dark. He had a pointed chin and deep-set
eyes; those would have been his most prominent features if his right hand
had not been so terrifying a curiosity. The forefinger was normal,
but the other three fingers ended at the first knuckle. They had
been sliced off by the machine that cut the clamps for suspenders from
thin sheets of brass, while Luther was demonstrating the speed at which
he wanted the machine run. “As neat an amputation as any surgeon
could have done,” Luther enjoyed saying.
The chain of events that led to Luther’s
losing his fingers began in 1902, when Luther bought a Studebaker Brothers
Gentleman’s Road Cart. In fact, he bought two. In the spring
he bought a standard cart, and he enjoyed driving it so much that in the
fall he bought another and had it fitted with runners as a sleigh, for
the winter. The Gentleman’s Road Cart was a lean, handsome, jaunty,
bachelor-uncle’s sort of vehicle. Both of Luther’s were beautifully
painted in red Chinese lacquer, with gold pinstriping. He kept them
polished and gleaming. “I would never drive a dirty cart or sleigh,”
said Luther, in the way that bachelor uncles make pronouncements about
the principles that underlie the life they make for themselves. Bachelor
uncles tend to accumulate such words to live by and, as time goes by, tend
increasingly to live by them. I suppose that this happens to all
of us, but there is something about bachelor uncles, perhaps the fear that
if they fall there will be no one to catch them, that makes them behave
like umpires over their own behavior, interpreters of an ever-lengthening
rule book, like the Hubers’ rule book for croquet.
The rules in Luther’s book became increasingly
bizarre after he bought the cart and sleigh. His rules about cleanliness
became stricter and stricter: his mustache was always clipped, the lacquer
on his cart and sleigh always gleamed, his shoes were always shined, and
so on. At the same time, however, his rules governing and defining
acceptable behavior for a man of his age and station became laxer and laxer,
especially those governing his conduct with young girls. Before he
bought the Gentleman’s Road Carts, Luther’s work at Cole & Lord’s Gent’s
Accessories had been marked by a simple Huber conscientiousness and lack
of imagination that had earned him a series of small promotions and an
office that overlooked the rushing Whatsit.
He drove, at that time, a sensible and
unremarkable carriage, and he drove it in a brisk but sensible fashion.
He smiled at the young girls of Chacallit but kept his distance.
The Gentleman’s Road Carts did something
to him. He drove the sleigh along outlying roads and through fields
like a madman in the winter, and he was nearly as wild when he drove the
cart through the streets. His daredevil driving earned him the spoken
condemnation and unspoken admiration of most of the other men in Chacallit,
and it earned him the attention of young girls. Increasingly often
he took one of the mill girls riding with him, and increasingly often he
brought the girls—flushed, giggling, exhilarated—home with him after their
He brought to his work the reckless
daring that he had discovered in his driving. This new daring led
to the accident in which he lost his fingers, but it also led him, for
the first time, to give his talent its head. He produced some striking
designs for cuff links and shirt studs, and eventually he created the profitable
industry that lurked in the shadows and dark recesses of the gentlemen’s
jewelry business, the branch that came to be known as “the coarse-goods
trade,” not for the quality of materials and workmanship that went into
the goods, for they far surpassed that found in most other jewelry produced
in Chacallit, but for their erotic content.
Luther created the coarse-goods trade
almost by accident. He was sitting at his desk one morning, day-dreaming
about one of the girls in the workroom, a new one, who was working in sight
of his office. While he thought about the new girl, he sketched her,
on a sheet of the drawing paper that he kept handy on his desk, at his
right hand, for recording ideas for new jewelry whenever they came to him.
He recorded the girl not as he saw her in the workroom, but as he hoped
soon to see her, in his bedroom. When he studied the sketches he
had made, he discovered a curious thing: his sketches of her aroused him,
whetted his appetite for her, better than imagination alone had, and far
better than actually observing the girl had. In the sketches, he
had given her a mix of coyness, shyness, fear, and lasciviousness that
he sought in all the girls he pursued but that none ever quite provided.
There was a knock on the glass of his office door. Luther looked
up, waved his “typewriter” in, and slipped the page of sketches into the
drawer in which he habitually put the sketches he made for new jewelry
ideas. You can guess the rest. That page went, in a stack of
other pages of sketches, to the man who conducted “outlet studies” for
Cole & Lord’s, work that today would be called market research.
He was, it happened, another Huber, one so devoted to the family policy
of unblinking dullness that he prepared a straightforward report on the
marketing potential of jewelry based on Luther’s sexual fantasies and submitted
it with his reports on all the other sketches Luther had sent him.
“I presume that these would be made into cuff links and shirt studs,” he
wrote. “They would be a specialty item and not likely ever to sell
well to the broad middle. They are, however, likely to sell well
among men of a certain degree of sophistication, in larger cities, and
abroad. I predict few buyers in the towns, and none at all in the
rural areas. The likely buyer may consider these goods works of art
and be, therefore, willing to pay considerably more for them than for similar
goods that depict, to give the first example that comes to mind, dogs.
It might be best to buttress this perception of the goods by offering them
only in the most expensive materials. Finding outlets will be difficult.
None of the stores that currently sell our links and studs, to extrapolate
from the inquiries I have made, will carry them. This need not be
an insuperable difficulty, however. Might not drummers sell them
directly to the customer?”
Luther was no fool. He had unwittingly
created a new product with great potential, and he had been handed an innovative
marketing strategy. In Albany, he found an organization that could
put that strategy into effect: “Professor” Alonzo Clapp’s bookselling business.
Clapp already had an army of door-to-door salesmen selling books.
Luther reasoned that there was likely to be a good overlap between the
audience for books and the audience for erotic jewelry. He struck
a deal with Clapp, enlisted a few of the very best artisans at Cole &
Lord’s, and the coarse-goods industry was launched.
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UNCLE LUTHER came to visit, Lorna couldn’t stop herself from looking at
his damaged hand; it was terribly fascinating. Clara thought the
hand was horrible, and she prayed, after her other prayers, silently, when
she was in bed, with her hands together in the dark, that Uncle Luther’s
hand would be made normal or that he would wear a glove always. She
felt her stomach fill with cold when she looked at the hand, just as it
filled with cold when she sat behind Bertha on their toboggan at the top
of Ackerman Hill, and she too couldn’t keep herself from looking, just
couldn’t keep herself from looking, no matter how many times she told herself
to look only at Uncle Luther’s eyes or only at his chin. Bertha,
who was eight years older than Lorna, felt that Uncle Luther’s hand was
one of the things that made him better than other people. She made
a point of taking his hand whenever he arrived for a visit, and making
a little curtsy while she held it, because she wanted him to know, wanted
everyone to know, that his hand didn’t frighten her, that she didn’t mind
the way it was.
IT WAS LUTHER who occasioned the first manifestation of Lorna’s interest
in, and talent for, sculpture. For Lorna’s fourth birthday, Luther
made her a papier-mâché duck. He painted the duck in
lurid colors, colors that have never been seen on a real duck, colors that
Luther supposed would please a four-year-old girl. It was a large
duck, large for Lorna, who had to use both her chubby hands to hold it.
After dinner, while Lorna’s parents and her Uncle Luther were still sitting
at the dinner table, Lorna sat in the parlor, on the davenport, holding
“That’s an ugly duck,” said Bertha.
She had come into the parlor silently, and she stood in front of Lorna,
looking down at her and her duck. Bertha had in the past year or
so begun to think of the affections of Uncle Luther as hers, rightfully
hers, only hers, in part because Luther had begun to call her “Little Lady”
or “My Little Lady,” but also because she had determined, secretly, that
she would marry Luther when she grew up. Now he had given Lorna a
papier-mâché duck that he had made himself. Bertha snatched
the duck from Lorna to look at it more closely.
“This is an extremely ugly duck,” she
said. She looked at Lorna to see what effect she was having on her,
and Lorna, who had been looking into her lap, lifted her head and looked
up at Bertha, and it was one of those moments when Lorna’s elusive beauty
shone. Bertha wanted to hurt her then, wanted to hurt Lorna immediately;
the urge to hurt was so pressing that she couldn’t allow herself the time
to design an injury, could only strike with the crudest sort of blow.
“Uncle Luther,” she said, slowly, leaning
closer and closer as she spoke, “wouldn’t give you an ugly duck like this
if he liked you. He made this duck for you so you’d know that he
doesn’t like you.”
Lorna watched Bertha turn the duck over
in her hands. Lorna still thought the duck was beautiful. What
Bertha had said hadn’t changed that. But what Bertha had said, and
the way she had leaned toward Lorna when she said it, had changed the way
Lorna thought about Bertha. It had shown Lorna that Bertha hated
“It’s mine!” Lorna cried. She
reached out and tore the duck from Bertha’s hands. It seemed to hang
in the air for a moment, that heartbreaking moment when we realize we’ve
made a terrible error and imagine that if we act quickly enough we can
reverse it, and then fell to the floor. A crack opened along the
neck, and the feathers in the tail were bent upward crazily.
“And you’re welcome to it,” said Bertha.
She turned on her heel and walked out of the parlor, up the stairs, and
into her room.
Crying, Lorna carried the duck into
the dining room and asked Luther to fix it for her. She told him,
when he asked, that she had dropped it. She never told him how it
had happened. She watched while Luther made some papier-mâché
and patched the broken parts. When he had finished, Lorna asked him
to teach her how to make a duck like it, and Luther agreed. Over
the next several weeks, he showed her how to make papier-mâché
and how to work with it. She made a series of ducks in imitation
of the one that Luther had made for her, and her ability to work in the
medium improved with each. Luther was surprised and pleased.
She had a talent for imitation, and she had a good eye. He provided
more complex models, and he helped her refine her technique. She
continued to progress.
Bertha watched with a jealous eye.
She felt that Lorna was taking from her something that was hers: the affections
of her Uncle Luther, which she valued far more than the affections of her
parents, whom she considered hopelessly enthralled by the magic beauty
of the little interloper anyway.
LUTHER ALSO PROVIDED the occasion for Lorna’s introduction to the acrobatics
of sex. It happened a few years later, one winter, on the day of
Luther’s first sleigh ride of the season.
The first sleigh ride of the winter
was an event that Luther began to anticipate in the fall. He needed
the infusion of daring that he got from that first ride of the winter,
and his need increased throughout the fall. He lived in two rooms,
down in the valley, near the mills, but he kept his sleigh in his brother’s
barn, behind his brother’s house, beside his brother’s boxy farm wagon,
where it stood idle until the winter. In the winter of the year in
which Bertha turned sixteen, after the first good snowfall, when Uncle
Luther arrived to take the sleigh out for the first run of the season,
he found Bertha sitting in the sleigh, waiting for him, shivering.
She begged him to take her with him on the first ride, though she knew
that he always made the first run alone.
“You know that I always make the first
run alone, Bertha,” said Luther.
“I know you do,” said Bertha.
“But this year I want you to take me with you.”
“I’m inclined to drive like a madman
on the first run, Bertha. I don’t want to put you in danger.
You’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
“I want to feel the danger,” said Bertha.
“I want you to take me with you, Uncle Luther.”
He insisted that she get out.
She insisted that he take her with him. He tried to lift her from
the seat. She threw her arms around his neck, and said, “Oh, please,
Uncle Luther, I won’t be afraid. I want to go with you so much.
I’ve always wanted to go with you on the first mad run of the winter.
Take me, please, just this once.” He lifted her in his arms, lifting
her out of the sleigh, with the intention of setting her on her feet and
telling her firmly that she could not go, but she kissed him, awkwardly,
eagerly. Luther changed his mind.
“Run to the house and see if your mother
will let you go,” he said, slowly, looking into her eyes while he spoke.
“Tell her that I’m willing to have you come with me.” He set Bertha
on her feet. She turned and ran at once for the house. Lorna,
who had been watching through the barn door, turned and ran around the
corner of the barn before she was seen.
When Luther and Bertha returned from
the ride, Lorna was waiting in the hay loft. May Castle was able
to give me a good idea of what Lorna saw:
Oh, she thought it was
a hilarious scene. Well, she was half frozen by the time they
came back, and she was just terribly frightened too, because she
could tell that something was up that shouldn’t be up.
Well, and she was just exhilarated too, of course, since she knew
she was likely to see something worth seeing.
So there she was, up above them, in
this hay thing, terrified that she would be discovered, but she could hardly
keep herself from laughing. It seemed to her that they were doing
the most outlandish things. Of course, she hardly saw a thing
in the flesh, so to speak. It was winter, of course, and her uncle
and sister were bundled up because of the cold. This was—well—around
1910, I would think. People used to wear much more clothing then
than they do now, at any time of year. Well, her uncle Luther had
all but disappeared under her sister’s skirts, and Lorna thought she would
surely burst out laughing. Then they were turned this way, and then
that way, but the blankets and clothing kept her from seeing exactly what
was going on.
Lorna was not—well—innocent.
No, I didn’t mean to say that. Snip that out. Snip! I
meant to say that she was innocent, but she was not ignorant.
This was country living! The Hubers had some chickens and goats and
dogs and such. Lorna had seen plenty of rutting, and she was quite
sure—in a little girl’s way—that rutting was what her sister and uncle
were up to, but she couldn’t tell exactly how they were going about it.
She put together an idea—a very complicated and rather kinky idea, from
what she knew about the farm animals and what she knew about—well, about
herself. Oh, she told this story once so very well, when she
got a little tipsy. That was rare for Lorna, but whenever she and
Herb and Garth and I got together, well, Garth would always do his best
to get her a little looped. And now and then he succeeded.
He always had a new drink for her to try, something exotic, with fruit
juice and rum. She never knew how much rum she was getting with all
of that juice and—oh, I don’t know what else—an orange slice, and
a cherry, and so on. Well, she would get quite giddy after
a while. She always became giddy when she drank. Herb became
serious. Garth became flirtatious. Well, he was always
flirtatious—more than flirtatious. If he hadn’t been so charming,
he would have gotten himself slapped many a time. And punched many
another. As it was, well—oops, I’m straying. Well, that’s when
she told the story about Bertha and Luther. Oh, but the best
part of it was that she mimicked their expressions, and it was just the
most lascivious performance. She never behaved like that at
any other time. And don’t think that Garth didn’t try to get her
to tell the story again and again.
Lorna thought that Uncle Luther’s
affections had been parceled out quite satisfactorily. What Bertha
had received Lorna didn’t want, and what Lorna had received Bertha must
certainly, she supposed, be willing to let her have. For the most
part, Bertha was willing to let Lorna have what now seemed to her nothing
more than an indulgent uncle’s fondness for a talented child. She
didn’t mind his praising Lorna’s talents; she had discovered talents of
her own. She did, however, mind the time that Luther spent with Lorna.
Time spent with Lorna was time that might have been spent with her.
It was hard enough for Bertha to find times and places to be alone with
Luther without arousing her parents’ suspicions, though it was certainly
easier now that Bertha was working in the mill and had developed friendships
with young women who had no one but themselves to whom they had to account
for the way they spent their time. Bertha began demanding more and
more of the time that Luther would have spent with Lorna.
After a while, though, Lorna didn’t
miss Luther’s teaching. She had already surpassed him in modeling
ability, and she could see that she was learning more from her own work
than he could have taught her. She was working in other materials now—clay
and plaster—and she had begun to make a little money doing jewelry work
at home, doing piecework on links and studs, mounting glass in cheap settings
of tin or pinchbeck, work that was far below her abilities.
As soon as she persuaded her parents
to let her work for an hour or two each day in the mill, she was able to
work with much better stuff, mounting mother-of-pearl and garnet and onyx
in silver and gold. In a very short time, she had gone beyond mere
mounting to fabrication, fabricating link swivels, the interlinked projecting
wires that join the two parts of old-fashioned cuff links and shirt studs.
The ends of the wires are turned into loops and joined in the manner of
the Chinese puzzles that so frustrated me when I was a boy, puzzles that
I have taken care to avoid ever since I learned, as an adult, that there
are some things I do not have to be able to do. Making these link
swivels was skilled work, work that lay on the border between the mechanical
operations—setting the stones and other ornaments, cutting, stamping, and
buffing—and the artisanship of those who actually made the gold and silver
settings or those who carved figures in ivory.
One could become good at making swivels
in a way that one never could at gluing or buffing. There was room
for style and grace here. The pliers could be manipulated in an individual
manner. The loops could vary slightly. A swivel maker could
vary the styles of loops from oval to round, could even introduce triangularity
or, if very adept—and Lorna was—attempt squarish loops now and then.
Any variation had to be accomplished within formal constraints. There
was the constraint of time, indirectly applied through the piecework method
of payment. There was the constraint of length, since the managers
of the link-and-stud works railed against the women who used too much of
the wire that formed the swivels.
When I examined the link-and-stud collection
at the Chacallit Historical Society, my first reaction was that fabricating
link swivels must have been boring work, but I’ve come to understand that
there were elements of dance (in the movements of the fabricator’s hands),
of sculpture (in the shaping of the swivels themselves), and of mathematics
(in the geometry of the loops and in using just the right length of wire).
I can see how it led to Lorna’s exacting work in the slide-rule factory
later on, to her affection for logic and for recreational mathematics,
and, of course, to the making of erotic jewelry.
DID LUTHER PLAN Lorna’s entire career as soon as he saw that she had
talent, or did he improvise as he saw her talent and interest grow?
No one can say with certainty, but I think he improvised. I suspect
that Luther was too cautious about his coarse-goods work and too concerned
about his standing in the family to have permitted himself even to imagine
his brother’s daughter as an apprentice in coarse-goods making when he
first recognized her talent at the age of four. On the other hand,
he was too calculating a sort not to have considered from the start what
an asset she could become, with the right training. In any event,
Luther saw that she got that training. He moved her through every
aspect of jewelry making at a quick pace, always in the direction of the
more skilled, the more aesthetically demanding.
By the time she was sixteen, Lorna had
become one of the best ivory carvers in Chacallit, which made her one of
the best in the men’s jewelry business. The work required all the
skills that Uncle Luther had taught her. The carvers sat around a
circular table at the center of which was the archetype of the product
that was currently required—a rampant lion, say—constructed by Luther,
in papier-mâché, several times larger than what the carvers
would produce. The ivory carvers would duplicate the archetype as
precisely as they could in the form of, for example, insets for a set of
One afternoon, Uncle Luther came to
the carving room and stood behind Lorna while she worked. He said
nothing until the day’s work was done, and then he asked her to wait until
the others had left. When they had, he picked up one of the pieces
she had carved, looked at it closely, and sighed. “Lorna,” he said,
“you are an astounding copyist. Do you know that?”
“I have a good eye,” she said.
“A good eye, a good hand, a good imagination.
You seem to understand how to adjust the proportions in a miniature so
that the apparent proportions of the original are preserved.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Lorna,” he asked, looking into her
eyes, “how would you like to carve human figures?”
Luther was taking a great risk in leading
Lorna into the shadowy underworld of the men’s furnishings industry, but
Lorna’s talent led him to believe that the rewards would be worth the risk.
Events were to prove him correct. Lorna became as good at copying
the human figure in ivory as she had been at copying lions and horses and
such. Lorna’s work had more than precision; it had a warmth that
came from the pleasure she found in the work itself. This pleasure
had had its origin in Lorna’s desire to please Luther, to win his approval,
to do work that was worthy of his approval, and some of that impulse remained,
but far stronger now was the desire to please herself, to do difficult
work and do it better than she had done it before, to do work that was
worthy of her approval.
Luther had two reasons for thinking
that Lorna was likely to be, and to remain, circumspect about the new work
he gave her to do. First, he recognized the pleasure she took in
the work itself, and he knew that she wouldn’t want to lose the opportunity
to work at this level of her craft, the most challenging. Second,
he knew that the Lorna who sat at home of an evening, in front of the fire,
playing anagrams with her sisters and her mother, would be embarrassed
by the subject of, the content of, the purpose of the work she did in the
small room behind an unmarked door, where she and two other carvers sat
at a circular table at the center of which was one of Luther’s oversized
papier-mâché models of a naked woman and a naked man, intriguingly
entangled. Luther thought that he had a third reason for trusting
Lorna to be circumspect, but in this one he was wrong. He thought
that he detected in Lorna signs of the awakening of a desire for him of
the sort that Bertha felt.
HAD LUTHER HAD all his fingers, he would probably have been Lorna’s
first lover. It nearly happened one moonlit spring night, when Lorna
was eighteen. Luther took her for a ride in a rowboat, on Lake Serenity,
not far from Chacallit, where there was a large ballroom that extended
out over the lake. The night was one of those warm, hazy ones in
spring that anticipate summer and lift the spirit.
When Luther helped Lorna into the boat
and pushed off, Bertha and Clara were standing on the dock with several
of the young men who hung around the Huber girls because they were enchanted
by Lorna’s elusive beauty. Each stroke Luther took, each set of circular
ripples the blades left in the wake, made Bertha feel more furious, more
horribly betrayed, more determined to get even, at least to show Luther
that he wasn’t the only object of her desire. She thrust her hip
against the hip of the young man beside her, Richard Reuter. Richard
was surprised; Richard was pleased. He was a frequenter of the Serenity
Ballroom, a poor dancer, a young man too shy to approach young women alone.
He usually stayed in the company of other young men who were too shy to
approach young women alone and so stood on the fringes of the flirting
and dancing and gaiety, making remarks about the others and trying to appear,
instead of shy, bored. This evening, he had wandered outside with
Bertha and Clara because many others had. He didn’t consider Bertha
one of the more attractive young women, but she was a young woman, and
that was what he wanted. He glanced at Bertha, and he almost put
his arm around her. He caught himself, however, and kept his hands
to himself, remembering the startled reactions he’d occasioned in the past
by that sort of impulsive grabbing. When Bertha repeated the pressure
of her hip, however, he was emboldened to return the pressure, tentatively.
He felt, unmistakably, an increase in pressure, and—there could be no doubt
about it—he felt Bertha turn so that she rubbed herself against him, just
enough so that the gesture could be understood as intentional before she
pulled away. By the time Bertha had grown angry enough to link her
arm with Richard’s and lead him off into the shadows, Richard had decided
that he was in love.
Clara watched her sister walk off with
Richard Reuter and felt much as she had felt when she had watched Bertha
heaping her plate with potato salad so many years before. She was
frightened and impressed. She intended to show Bertha that what Bertha
could do, she could do. And she did, with Harold Russell, a much
Luther pulled at the oars with steady,
sure strokes. Lorna was careful not to look at the hand with the
missing fingers, and she was careful not to praise Luther’s rowing ability
because she was afraid that if she did, Luther would think that the unspoken
qualification to whatever she said was “for a man who has only seven fingers.”
So careful was she not to praise his rowing ability that Luther had to
do it himself. He said, at a lull in Lorna’s talk about the stars
twinkling through the haze, the mild weather, the breeze that drifted through
the tiny, pale, spring-green leaves, the bright half-moon, the light and
the shadows and the reflections, “I’m not doing bad for a fellow with only
seventy percent of his fingers, am I?”
Lorna laughed and turned away.
“What do you say we just drift for a
while?” asked Luther.
“Oh, yes,” said Lorna at once, glad
to relieve Uncle Luther of what she felt certain must be a difficult and
painful labor. “I’d like that—just to drift and look at the stars.”
“Do you know the constellations?” asked
“I know some,” said Lorna. “Let’s
see. There’s Orion.” She pointed, and Luther turned his head
to look at the sky.
“That’s right,” he said. “Do you
It all happened so quickly, was accomplished
with such fluidity of movement, that the boat never rocked in the water
and Lorna didn’t even have time to be surprised. Truly before she
knew it, Uncle Luther was by her side, they were reclining against the
cushion in the stern of the boat, Uncle Luther was pointing to Cassiopeia
with one hand, and the other lay idly, just resting on her dress, as if
it had fallen there of its own accord and Luther had no idea where it had
gone to, along the inside of her thigh.
Lorna’s heart began to pound.
A number of emotions and sensations raced crazily through her, dashing
this way and that, like clowns at a circus. She was curious, certainly.
What Luther might be on the way toward doing did intrigue her, after what
she had seen in the barn and had elaborated so often in her imagination,
at night, lying awake in her bed. The rosiness she saw in Bertha’s
cheeks after she’d spent some time with Luther, and the smiles Luther put
on the faces of his papier-mâché couples, suggested that what
Uncle Luther seemed to be proposing was sure to be a pleasure.
She let her hand drop onto Luther’s
leg, and she allowed it to slip a couple of inches downward along the inside
of his thigh. Luther was surprised. He looked at Lorna.
The color was high in her cheeks. He kissed the blush along her cheekbone.
She couldn’t trust herself to say or do anything, so she just kept looking
upward, at the stars. Luther talked on, but his voice had become
merely a low mumble, a part of the evening sounds on Lake Serenity: whispering
breeze, lapping wavelets, chirping crickets, mumbling Luther. Lorna
was paying no attention to what he was saying. All her attention
was on her hand and his. When his hand moved, her heart leaped, and
she moved her hand. When his hand stopped, she drew a breath and
stopped hers. When his hand flexed, her whole body stiffened, and
she squeezed Luther’s leg, so slightly that he may not even have noticed
Lorna was thrilled. She felt the
anticipatory thrill that she felt before anything that she expected to
be pleasant, but more intensely than ever before. There was the nervousness
she knew, the burning tremulousness in the muscles of her hands and arms
and face and belly. The coldness in her chest. The flutter
in her heart. There was the familiar sense of floating, intensified
by the fact that she was floating.
Luther was fussing with his trousers,
she realized, and then quite suddenly he had taken her hand with his other
and pushed it into his trousers and folded her fingers around his erect
penis. This was so surprising and welcome a development that Lorna
smiled unthinkingly in her delight. Her curiosity, always great,
had become enormous since Luther had added couples to the cuff link line.
So tightly were the couples coupled that Lorna couldn’t see much of the
man, though she examined the papier-mâché models thoroughly,
and she carved faithful representations of what she saw, something like
an inverted mushroom, its button top between the man’s legs, a bit of stem,
and dark mystery where it disappeared in the woman. Lorna seized
the opportunity Luther had given her and began a thorough exploration,
running her fingers along and around his penis, feeling for details with
a sculptor’s touch. She drifted into an abstracted exploration, an
exercise in genital cartography. It was as if the rest of Luther
had disappeared, and she were alone with his penis and the lake and the
night and the stars, and she hardly noticed that he had pulled her skirt
up and brought his hand between her legs.
Luther was ecstatic. He hadn’t
hoped for this eagerness. He began poking and probing with his forefinger,
and a rush of pleasure ran through Lorna, and she drew a sharp breath and
raised her hips almost involuntarily, rubbing herself against Luther’s
hand, Luther’s forefinger, and that’s when things began to go wrong.
It was that hand. The one good
finger was in her, the thumb was poking around, hunting for her clitoris,
and the three stumps were tickling her. A wave of revulsion ran through
her, but the tickling made her want to giggle. She seemed to see
the whole thing, as fully and clearly as if she had to carve it, and she
imagined carving the thumb, and the forefinger, and the stumps, and herself.
She turned toward Luther with terror in her eyes, her mouth in a twisted
grin. He misinterpreted her look. “Now, Lorna,” he began, “don’t
be frightened. Don’t cry out. I won’t hurt—”
And then she was ashamed. She
shouldn’t be revolted by his hand, she told herself. Even if she
were, she shouldn’t have let him see it. “Oh, Uncle Luther,” she
said. “I’m so ashamed—”
“There’s nothing for you to feel ashamed
about, Lorna,” said Luther. He began pulling his trousers down, and
then he was on top of Lorna, pulling at her clothes. “Just relax
yourself,” he said. “Look at the stars, and think lovely thoughts,
and it won’t hurt. I promise—”
But the feeling of abstraction, of detachment,
had vanished, and Lorna was suddenly aware of everything and full of doubts
and fears, like a person awakened by a thunderclap, frantic, sure that
everything is about to fall apart. Out of all the questions she was
asking herself, one of the unlikeliest came through loudest: What about
“What about Bertha?” she said. “Bertha
loves you, Uncle Luther. I know she does.” To her surprise, Lorna
found that she felt horribly disloyal. Poor Bertha, she thought.
She’s homely, and she’s in love with Uncle Luther. She must have
been afraid of me for years—
“Bertha! Bertha is nothing.
Lorna was pushing him away, struggling
to get free of him, reaching for the oars, calling out, “No, no.
Stop it! Get away from me!”
BERTHA AND CLARA were married to Richard Reuter and Harold Russell in
the summer, in a dual wedding. Richard Huber grumbled publicly over
the expense but savored a secret satisfaction, since the expense of a dual
wedding had been much less than the expense of two would have been.
The following year Bertha and Clara each gave birth to a boy, conceived
that warm spring night when Luther took Lorna for a row on Lake Serenity.
Lorna built a wall between herself and
Luther. She spoke with him at the mill or in her parents’ house—he
was a rare visitor now—but she had no more to say to him than what was
necessary to keep people from suspecting that something was wrong.
He had spoiled everything she had felt for him. Her memories of his
kindnesses to her, of the way that he had taught her to model in papier-mâché
and to carve ivory, were pleasant ones, but they were difficult to recall
when he was present. She knew all the gossip about him now; she heard
it from other workers at the link-and-stud mill. She knew that he
took girls riding in his new automobile, a Studebaker Big Six, and she
knew—or guessed—that many of the papier-mâché models that
Luther made for the ivory carvers to copy in the room behind the unmarked
door recorded his own amorous experiments. Worst of all, she knew
that what he had felt for Bertha—and for her—was nothing more than what
the rooster felt for the chickens or the boar for the sows.
ON A COLD AND RAINY NIGHT the next September, Richard and Lena and Lorna
were sitting in their living room, in front of a fire in the stone fireplace
that was set into the north wall. The air was still heavy with the
aromas of dinner—fresh ham, sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, turnips, and rye
bread. Richard Huber was dozing in his chair; Lena was darning socks.
Lorna was playing anagrams alone.
From outside came the sound of a car
on the steep road beside the house. The car stopped, and from its
sound Lorna decided that it must have stopped at the bend, in front of
the house. It might be Uncle Luther. Lorna decided that she
would go up to her room if it was.
She went to the window. There
was a car outside, but it wasn’t Luther’s. Footsteps on the porch.
A knock at the door. Lena looked up. Richard snorted.
“I’ll go,” said Lorna.
She pulled the curtain aside and looked
out through the glass before she opened the door. A young man was
on the porch, collapsing his umbrella. He was wearing a wool suit,
and he seemed nervous. It was Herb.