The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
Herb ’n’ Lorna (A Love Story) by Eric Kraft, as Peter Leroy
Chapter 5: 
In Which Herb and Lorna Meet but Are Separated by War

THEIR MEETING almost didn’t occur, because Herb met Tessie Norris first.  He met her at a gas station.  He was stopped at a pump, leafing through his appointment book while he was having his tank filled and his oil and water and tires checked.  An antiquated touring car pulled up on the opposite side of the pumps, its arrival heralded by a flourish of rattles, pings, and wheezes that made Herb look up from his book.  In the passenger’s seat, he saw Tessie.  She looked like a pastel portrait.  That she was picking distractedly at the hem of her dress Herb couldn’t see; that her eyes darted about like those of a frightened bird he didn’t notice; that she was biting her lower lip he overlooked.  He was smitten by her pale, perfect face.
    Herb had had little experience with girls or women.  In school he’d had his share of crushes but little opportunity to do much about them.  Now, sitting in his own car, with some money in his pocket, wearing a new suit, he not only noticed but felt in a position to act.
    He got out of his car and walked around the pumps.  He seemed to be on his way inside the station, perhaps to inspect the inner tubes displayed in the tiny office, but then a sudden determination seemed to come over him.  He looked at the car and at its driver, and he seemed to waver in his course.  The driver had by now noticed Herb, and Herb grinned sheepishly, shrugged his shoulders, and stepped briskly to the driver’s side of the car.
    “Excuse me,” he said.  “I’ve noticed that your machine is—well, heck, it needs some repair, doesn’t it?  I hope you won’t mind my giving you some advice that may save you considerable frustration and unnecessary expense.”
    “Huh?” said the driver.
    “Hello,” said Herb, leaning to his left so that he could see past the large driver to the young woman beside him.  He touched the brim of his hat.
    “You selling something?” asked the driver.
    Herb chuckled.  “As a matter of fact, I am,” he said, “but that isn’t my reason for stopping to talk with you.  I wanted to tell you that my machine, when I bought it, was, well—”
    “As bad as this?” asked the driver.
    “Yes,” said Herb, grinning.  “I’m glad you said it.  Would you like to know something?  I made all the repairs myself.”  He leaned toward the man and spoke in a low voice.  “Who’s willing to pay what a professional mechanic asks today?  I know I’m not.  Even if I were, you and I both know that workmanship today is not what it once was.”  Involuntarily, Herb reached for his pocket watch.  He stopped himself.
    “You’re a mechanic?” asked the driver.
    “No, no,” said Herb.  “I learned everything I know about the automobile from a book!  A remarkable book by a fellow named Robert Sloss.  I keep it in my machine all the time now.  I’d be quite willing to lend you a copy, and I’m sure that by following Mr. Sloss’s advice you could achieve remarkable results.  Why, one chapter alone—I’m thinking of the chapter called ‘How to Find the Motor Trouble’—would make the book worth its price.”
    The man at the wheel of the car was Arthur Norris.  Herb lent him a copy of The Automobile: Its Care and Use and got his name and address, insisting that it was no trouble at all for him to stop by in a week or two to pick the book up.  Herb drove away, humming, planning that, in a week, he would drop by, during the day, in the hope that Arthur Norris would not be at home, but that the young woman, whom he supposed to be Arthur Norris’s daughter, would be.
 She was not Norris’s daughter.  She was his wife.  She was distracted, nervous, and unhappy.  Marriage had been a terrible disappointment to her, a disappointment that had metastasized, and now affected every aspect of her life.  She wandered through her days picking at her clothes, biting her lips, mumbling to herself, discovering new disappointments.  All days seemed gray, all music seemed monotonous, all birds resembled pigeons, all food tasted like lima beans.  Had Herb ever gone to the Norrises’ house, as he had planned, Tessie would have grabbed him, clung to him, would have poured out everything to him in the incoherent volubility of the disappointed, the drunken, the mad.  Herb wouldn’t have been able to take his eyes off her.  Arthur might have returned while Herb was still there, and he might well have been pleased to have found Herb there, since Arthur couldn’t have been getting much more fun out of married life than Tessie was.  Herb wouldn’t have been able to prevent himself from selling books to Arthur even if he tried.  Arthur would have signed up for Professor Clapp’s entire five-foot shelf.  He might even have bought one of Herb’s five-foot shelves.
    In the months that followed, Herb might have become a frequent visitor at the Norrises’.  Arthur would have liked Herb, and he would have liked the effect Herb had on Tessie.  Arthur would have been quite willing to have them spend time alone together because Herb’s lively, hopeful manner would have brought the light back to her eyes, and in a clumsy, uncertain way, Arthur would have tried to push them into becoming lovers, thinking that perhaps Tessie might then bring to lovemaking with him at least an echo, some tremor or ripple, of whatever pleasure she took from Herb.  Had Herb become Tessie’s lover, his sense of honor, of loyalty, of shame would certainly have pushed him closer and closer to the Norrises, and the trio would have wrapped itself more and more tightly, snugly, closer and closer in its own misery and desperation as time passed.  Herb would never have extricated himself, he would never have gone to Chacallit, he would never even have met Lorna.
    Luckily, Herb was drafted.

WHEN HE GOT the news, he ran to his Uncle Ben’s and burst into the apartment shouting, “Uncle Ben, I’ve been drafted!”
    “Oh, Herb!” cried his Aunt Louise.  “Oh, your poor mother.”
    “I know,” said Herb.  “That’s what I’m worried about.  But I’ve got it all worked out, Uncle Ben.”
    Ben put his fork down and looked at Herb thoughtfully.  He assumed that Herb was going to try to get him to support Lester and Millie while he was in the army, or even—God forbid—try to make him agree to support them forever if Herb were killed.  “Now, Herb,” said Ben, “you know I’d like to be in a position to take on the burden of seeing that your mother and father are cared for—”
    Herb laughed.  “Relax, Uncle Ben,” he said.  “I’m not going to ask you to support them.  Go back to eating.  I’ve got a plan that will enable me to keep right on selling.”
    “Oh?” said Ben, brightening.
    “That’s right,” said Herb.  “Listen.  I’m going to be in a camp with a thousand, ten thousand, I-don’t-know-how-many thousand men.  What better place for me to sell—”
    He stopped himself, glanced at his aunt and at his young cousins.  They were more attentive than ever before, the new imminence of death or dismemberment lending to Herb’s words a gravity and fascination they’d never had before.
    “Sell books,” said Herb.
    “Books?” asked Ben. He wore a look of surprise and incredulity.
    “That’s right!” said Herb.  “Those men are going to be lonely, isn’t that right, Uncle Ben?”
    “Oh yes,” said Ben.  “I’m certain they will be lonely.  Frightened, too, I guess.  Lonely and frightened.  Mostly frightened.”
    “I see what Herb’s getting at,” said Louise.  “All those lonely, frightened men. What would they want most?”
    “Um, that’s exactly right,” said Herb.  He turned toward Ben and risked a wink.  “What is it that a man turns to to alleviate his loneliness and fear?  What fire drives away the chill of fear and lights even the darkest and loneliest corners?”
    “Literature!” shouted Ben.  “By God, you’re right, Herb!  It’s a brilliant stroke.”
    “Well, uh, yes, I’m glad you think so, Uncle Ben,” said Herb.  He looked at his aunt and his cousins.  Their eyes had filled with tears inspired by Herb’s selflessness, his thinking of the fear and loneliness of his fellow doughboys, even as he must have anticipated his own loneliness, his own fear.
    “I don’t see how we can miss,” said Ben.  He threw his arm across Herb’s shoulders and drew him close.  “I don’t want you telling anyone else about this, Herb,” he said.  “We can do this all on our own.  Who needs Professor Clapp?  Besides, we’re going to want to pick our books especially for the young man in the trenches or on his way to the trenches, the young man about to look death in the teeth.  Oh, sorry, Herb.  You know what I mean.  Those doughboys aren’t going to want to waste their time on Practical Poultry Keeping.  They’re going to want stuff like, well, the Aeneid and Julius Caesar and Gulliver’s Travels.  Twelve books, twelve great books.  The Doughboy’s Dozen.  We’ll sell subscriptions to the folks at home and ship the books to their boys on the front lines.  The same one-book-every-month idea!”
    Later, when they managed to speak alone, Ben said, “I know what you have in mind, Herb, but I’m not sure we can ship something like that to France.  I think the army checks packages and letters.  The goods would never reach the boys.”
    “I know, Uncle Ben,” said Herb.  “That’s why I’ve got to take a supply with me, a large supply.  I’m sure I can sell everything I can take, but I imagine that I’ll be moving around a lot, so I probably won’t be able to take much.  I don’t know how much I can afford to buy all at once, though.  I’ll bet I could get a better price if I could get some pieces without buying through the Professor Clapp people.  Can I go right to the people who make the goods?”
    “Of course you can!” said Ben.  “They’re in New York somewhere, not too far from Albany, I think.  What’s it called, now?  Chack??  Check??  Chacallit.  That’s it.  I’ll go with you!  It should be quite an adventure.”



THE TRIP TO CHACALLIT was an adventure. Any motor trip of that time that went much beyond the streets of a fair-sized town was something of an adventure, one that was likely to include among its highlights plenty of dust and mud, flat tires, running out of gas, leaving the road to avoid surprise obstacles, discovering roads not indicated on any map, and failing to find roads clearly indicated on every map.  Herb and Ben’s trip included all of these, but it also included long stretches of pleasant rural scenery and some dazzling early-autumn days.  They spent nights in farmhouses, in barns, and in fields, and when they reached Chacallit at last, muddy and tired, Ben was prepared to spring for the cost of a room in a hotel.
    They took a room at the Chacallit House, Chacallit’s only hotel, more a rooming house, really, which stood right on River Road, not far from the building in which Lorna worked.  The dining room of the Chacallit House was one of those spots that Henrietta Drechsler, director of the Society for the Preservation of Small-Town Values, had in mind when she wrote:
    There is, in every small town, one place, most often a coffee shop, sometimes a bar, where the movers and shakers gather, where the town officials, businessmen, and shopkeepers eat breakfast or lunch and exchange bits of gossip, rumor, speculation, innuendo, ideas, and hunches.  It would be an exaggeration to claim that the town is actually run from this spot—let’s call it the luncheonette—but it is certainly true that many a policy has its origin there, that many careers begin and end there, and that the luncheonette is the forum within which new arrivals, people and ideas alike, are subjected to a terrifying, inquisitorial scrutiny, usually in absentia.
    Ben knew, from the ripple of attention that he and Herb occasioned when they passed the entrance to the dining room on their way to the desk, that the Chacallit House dining room was such a place.  After he and Herb had registered, settled in their room, bathed and changed, he said to Herb, “Now I don’t know who exactly we should see about buying coarse goods, so I want to let him find us.”
    “How are you going to do that?” asked Herb.
    “Well,” said Ben, “I’m going to start by spending a considerable amount of time drinking coffee and eating sandwiches in the dining room downstairs.  That’s the place to get to know people in this town.”
    “How do you know that?” asked Herb.
    “Oh,” said Ben, “I can tell by the look of those fellows who were sitting there when we came in.  Those are the fellows whose pants have shiny seats.  They do most of their day’s work right there in that dining room, keeping track of what’s what and making sure that what’s what is what they want to be what.  Do you follow me?”
    “Well—” said Herb.
    “You can bet,” said Ben, without offering any further explanation, “that they spent a half hour or so engaged in speculation about us after we came in, and you can bet that by now they know from the register where we’re from, and you can also bet that the dining room will be quite full this noon in the expectation that we’ll take our lunch there.”
    “And will we?” asked Herb.
    “I will,” said Ben.  “I think it might be best if I handled this part of the business myself.  You’re—well—you’re a little young, Herb.”  He grabbed Herb by the scruff of the neck and shook him as he used to when Herb was a boy.  “I’m a little better acquainted with the ways of the world than you are, for one thing, and for another a lot of men in business don’t think of a young fellow as being—well—ready.”
    “Ready for what?” asked Herb.
    “Well, ready to do business,” said Ben.
    Herb shrugged and said, “All right. What do you want me to do?”
    “I want you to set out to sell books,” said Ben.  “It will keep you busy, keep you out of the way, and show that we’ve got a good cover for selling coarse goods.  You’ll probably make some money for the trip home, too.”
    While Ben spent time in the Chacallit House dining room, drinking coffee, eating stew and sausages and potato salad, and chewing the fat, Herb sold Professor Clapp’s Five-Foot Shelf from door to door.  It took Ben a day to establish himself as a pleasant fellow traveling with his nephew to teach the boy the book business, to help him find his feet.  In the afternoon of the second day, a Chacallitan, Axel Schweib, shot his cuffs during a conversation with Ben, as if gesticulating to emphasize a point, displayed in so doing a really remarkable pair of erotic links, and then went on to deliver a pitch for Ben’s taking erotic links and studs on as a sure-to-be-profitable sideline.  Ben expressed interest, with reservations.  A meeting was arranged with Luther Huber for the next day.
    In the meantime, Herb had found Chacallit fertile ground for book sales.  So successful had he been that he kept selling nonstop, knowing that everything he made would buy more coarse goods.  On the second evening, he worked right through dinner, stopping at houses along the road that wound upward from the town.  Rain began to fall.  He thought of quitting for the day, but he was doing so well that he said to himself, “I’ll make one more stop, at that house just ahead, the one with its windows glowing.”
    It was the narrow house on Ackerman hill, where Lorna sat in the parlor with her parents.
THE MOMENT when Lorna opened the door was not one of those moments in which her elusive beauty shone, so Herb wasn’t dumbfounded at the sight of her.  He didn’t stand there on the porch transfixed, with his hand to his hat, his mouth hanging open.  It wasn’t love at first sight.  When Lorna opened the door, Herb saw a young woman with a nice-enough figure, a pleasant smile, and dark hair.  She looked to him like a good prospect for books.  Lorna saw a neat young man with a salesman’s case.  He looked to her like a good prospect for a little diversion on a rainy night.
    “Good evening,” Herb said.  He removed his hat and smiled.
 Lorna put on a look of exaggerated surprise.  “You must be fond of rain,” she said, “if you think this is a good evening.”  She returned his smile.  She was looking forward to watching this neat young man try to persuade her father to buy whatever he was selling.
    “I guess you’re right,” said Herb.  “Not only rain, but wind and cold, too.”  He chuckled.  He liked her.  He liked the pert and sassy way she spoke to him.  He put his hat back on, stood again as he’d been standing when she opened the door, took his hat off again as he’d taken it off before, gave a shiver, and said, frowning, “Nasty evening.”
    “What are you selling?” Lorna asked.  She leaned against the door frame, and that’s when it happened: her beauty shone, and it intoxicated Herb, befuddled and delighted him.
    “What are you selling?” Lorna asked again.
    Flabbergasted, Herb looked at his case.  It was on the porch, at his feet.  He remembered that he was selling something, and that he had samples of it in that case, but he couldn’t for the life of him remember what it was.
    “I—you—you’re,” he said, and stopped.  He couldn’t make himself say, “You’re beautiful,” and he felt foolish for having begun.
    “Yes?” asked Lorna.  She knew what had happened.  She had seen it happen before.  She always enjoyed it.  She was enjoying this young man, too.  She liked the way he looked.  She suspected that he was as straightforward and friendly as he appeared, that he wasn’t just putting on a salesman’s front.  She also liked the way she could rattle him with a quick question.
    Herb stooped to open the case at his feet and find out what he was selling.  With the act of stooping, when he was bent over, with his eyes off Lorna, his memory returned.  He took a deep breath, got a grip on himself.  He grasped the handle of the case, straightened up, and, to his surprise, laughed at himself for having been so rattled.  He said, smiling broadly: “Books.”  He risked looking at Lorna again.  He was surprised, puzzled, disappointed, and—so unsettling had the experience been—a little relieved to find that the befuddling beauty he’d seen before had disappeared.  Had he fooled himself into thinking he’d seen it?  Had it been only a trick of the gray light, a soft shadow that fell on her face in a certain way that would never be duplicated?
    “Do you have Ben-Hur?” asked Lorna. She’d been wanting to read Ben-Hur for some time.  One of the girls at the mill had promised to trade her copy for Lorna’s copy of The Life Everlasting, but the girl was an extraordinarily slow reader, and Lorna had begun to despair of her ever finishing the book.
    “Well, no,” said Herb.  “I don’t think I do have that one.”
    “I saw the moving picture,” said Lorna.  “Did you?”
    “No,” said Herb. “I—”
    “Lorna,” my great-grandfather Huber called from the living room, “who is that you’re talking to?”
    Lorna leaned toward Herb, put her hand on his arm, and dropped her voice.  “What’s your name?” she asked.  She was inviting him to join her in a conspiracy, a conspiracy of the young, of children against parents.  Herb would have told her his name at once, but he saw again the beauty that he’d seen a moment earlier, and again he was befuddled by it.
    Lorna poked him. “What does your mother say when she wants you to come to dinner?” she asked.
    “She says, ‘Supper’s ready, Herb.’ ”
    “That’s nice,” said Lorna.  She smiled.  “ ‘Supper’s ready, Herb.’  You know what?”
    “What?” asked Herb.
    “I’ll bet your name is Herb,” said Lorna.
    “Yes,” said Herb.  “Herb. Herb Piper.”
    “It’s Herb Piper, Father,” called Lorna.  She spoke as if Herb Piper were someone her father had known for years, perhaps a boy she had gone to school with, and so convincing was her tone that Richard Huber reacted as if Herb Piper’s being there were an expected occurrence.
    “Well, tell him to come in, then,” he called.  “And close that door.  The damp air is getting into the house.”
    “Goodness!” said Lorna.  She looked this way and that in mock terror.  “Hurry inside, Herb Piper,” she said, “before the damn bear gets you.”  She took Herb’s hand and tugged at him.  “And try to calm yourself,” she added, in a whisper.  “You’re going to do a fine job.  You mustn’t let yourself be so nervous.  Is this your first try at selling books?”
    “No,” said Herb, a little offended.  “It certainly is not.”
    Lorna gave him a doubtful look.  “It’s no disgrace,” she said.  “You have to start somewhere.”  She liked his nervousness, and she liked his face, his open, no-tricks-up-my-sleeve face.
    “I’m not pretending,” said Herb.  He couldn’t help chuckling when he said it.  “I really am experienced, and in fact I’m very good at selling books.”  Lorna liked this too, this pride in his ability.  She also liked the way that, for all his apparent seriousness, he seemed always to be laughing, chuckling, grinning.  She couldn’t have known that he wasn’t ordinarily much of a laugher, chuckler, or grinner, that it was she who made him feel like chuckling.
    Lorna took his hat and umbrella from him.  “I can’t wait to see you sell some books to my father,” she said.  She turned and led the way into the parlor.

WHEN MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER Richard looked up from his newspaper, he was surprised to find that Herb Piper was someone he didn’t know.  My great-grandmother Lena wasn’t at all certain whether she knew the boy or not.  Lorna had seemed to know him when she’d called out his name, and her manner now suggested that he was someone Lena ought to remember, but she simply couldn’t place him.  Richard glanced at Lena to see whether he could find on her face any hint of their connection with the Pipers.  He saw there a pleasant smile.  It was that thin smile we all employ when we attempt to hide our ignorance, but either Lena was too accomplished at employing that smile or the light in the Huber parlor was too dim for Richard to see it for what it was.  To him, the smile on Lena’s face looked like evidence of recognition, and the idea began to form in his mind that Herb Piper was the son of a fellow named Henry, called Hank, a terrible drinker, notorious for it, who had fallen face-down in a pool at the Whatsit’s edge one moonless night about four years ago and drowned in three inches of water.  “A terrible thing, terrible,” Richard reflected.  He recalled that it had happened during a drought, making it one of the bitter ironies of life.
    The sight of Herb, neatly dressed and apparently prosperous, gladdened Richard’s heart, but, at the same time, made him feel that he might have done, really ought to have done, more for Hank’s widow, and for poor Herb too, for that matter.  He was glad to see Herb looking so hale, but he would be gladder still when the boy was gone.  Given the pathetic circumstances, Richard thought it appropriate to stand, and he did.
    “How’s your mother, young fellow?” he asked, taking Herb’s hand in a firm grip, grabbing Herb’s elbow with his other hand, composing his features in a look of grave concern.
    “She’s fine, sir,” said Herb, smiling, humoring this stocky burgher, who, through this sudden question, impressed him as certainly mad and possibly dangerous.
    “Wonderful!” exclaimed Lena, delighted to find that Richard, at least, not only recognized this Herb Piper but knew enough about the boy to ask after his mother.  Then, in the manner of many a person who, relieved to find that his ignorance has apparently gone undetected, throws to the winds his former caution, his wise reticence, and boldly, recklessly, with a certain jaunty sangfroid, puts his foot straight into his mouth, she added: “I’m so glad to hear that.  We were concerned, weren’t we, Richard?”
    Richard, his notion of the boy’s past now apparently confirmed by Lena, nodded gravely, guiltily, and looked at his shoes.  “Yes,” he muttered. “I’m sorry we haven’t seen you before this, Herb.  The door was always open, you know.  Still,” he said, brightening, “I’m glad you’ve come to see us now, and I’m pleased to see you looking so well.  You seem to be making quite a success of yourself.”  He pounded Herb on the shoulder.  Herb stood his ground, and he maintained the smile on his face, since he had learned from his years of street-corner rat-pie selling that a calm manner and ready agreement worked best with lunatics.
    “Yes, sir,” he said, still smiling.  “Thank you, sir.”
    “Herb’s selling books now,” said Lorna, taking a spot at the end of the sofa.  Her eyes twinkled.  This was going to be even more fun than she’d imagined.  “He’d like to sell you some books, Father.”
    “Oh?” said Richard Huber.  “Books?”  He was entirely ready to buy a book or two at once, to salve his conscience, and then to send Herb on his way.  “We could use some books, couldn’t we, Lena?”
    “Why, I’m sure we could,” said Lena, eager to surrender any further dealings with the mystifying Herb Piper to her husband, now that she’d established incontrovertibly the strength and vividness of her recollection of Herb and Herb’s mother, even after what she supposed had been so long a lapse of time.
    “What books have you got, Herb?” asked Richard.
    “He hasn’t got Ben-Hur,” said Lorna.  “I’ve already asked him about that.”
    “No, I’m afraid I don’t have Ben-Hur,” said Herb.  “The books I’m offering are more of the useful than the entertaining kind.”  He bent to his sample case.
    “Now there’s a distinction I’ve never understood,” said Lorna.
    “Quiet, now, Lorna,” said Richard.  He was embarrassed for Herb, having to go into the homes of people who had known his father, to trade on their sympathy as a way of inducing them to buy his books.  He considered it little more than a way of putting a respectable front on asking for charity.  However, he wasn’t offended by Herb’s exploiting his acquaintances in this way—in fact, he was impressed by the resourcefulness the idea showed—but he was sorry that poor Herb had been brought to it.  “Let Herb show us what he’s got,” he said, “and don’t you interrupt him, Lorna.”
    “What I have, sir,” said Herb, “is something no home should be without.”  He gave everyone his smile, and when he turned to Lorna he allowed himself to add a wink.  “The books that I’m about to offer for your consideration have been chosen by Professor Alonzo Clapp, late of Harvard College, as books that are essential to the health, wealth, and savoir-faire of today’s man, woman, or child.  This,” he said, flinging open the clever case he had designed and built, “is Professor Clapp’s Five-Foot Shelf of Indispensable Information for Modern Times.”
    An hour later, Great-Grandfather Huber had subscribed to Professor Clapp’s entire five-foot shelf of books and bought one of Herb’s expandable five-foot shelves, and he had also written a letter of introduction for Herb and given him the names of half a dozen friends and business associates whom he considered likely prospects.
    When Lorna and Herb were standing alone at the door again, Lorna said, “Well, Herb Piper, you really can sell books.”
    Herb laughed.  “Thanks,” he said.  “I didn’t need your help, you know.”
    “Oh, I’m sure of that,” said Lorna.  She raised her eyebrows.
    “I didn’t,” insisted Herb.  He laughed again.  “It didn’t hurt, though.  Who do you suppose your mother and father thought I was?”
    Lorna couldn’t keep from giggling.  “I haven’t any idea,” she said.  “They were sure they ought to know you, and so I suppose they made themselves remember you.”
    “They seemed sorry for me,” said Herb.  “I—I think I took advantage of them.”
    “Oh, no,” said Lorna.  “You didn’t.  You just—let them think what they wanted to think.  You were really only being polite.  They would have been terribly embarrassed if you had told them that they were wrong about you.”
    “You don’t think there’s a chance that they really do know me, do you?” asked Herb.  The thought had occurred to him that they might have been investors in his father’s cork furniture business.
    “No,” said Lorna.  She pursed her lips.  She shook her head.  “They couldn’t, not unless you had lived in Chacallit.  My mother and father have been here forever and ever.”
    “Well, thanks for giving them the impression that they ought to know me,” said Herb.  He grinned, and he offered her his hand to shake.  She shook it.  She stepped onto the porch and closed the door behind her.
    “It’s stopped raining,” she said.  She walked to the railing, leaned on it, and looked up at the sky, where a bit of moon lit the thinning clouds from behind.
    “Yes,” said Herb.  “It has.”  He put his hat on, stood straight, and said, “Good evening.”
    “You’re quite right,” said Lorna.
    “May I call you Lorna?” asked Herb.
    Lorna was surprised to find that the thought that he was going to leave in a minute or two made her feel colder suddenly, as if a breeze had come up, though the air was still.  Something told her to hide the feeling from Herb.  That something, that damned something, was the sense of personal dignity that is one of our most civilized attributes, the source of so many of our discontents, the cause of so many missed opportunities.  I make that judgment nearly seventy years after the fact, but I have support for it from May Castle:

 Oh, you know it’s just the damnedest thing, isn’t it, the way we hold ourselves back!  Of course, in the long run it’s probably for the best that we do, or we’d be throwing ourselves at half the people we meet and throwing stones at the others.  But how many times have I said to myself, “Oh, damn! Why didn’t I let myself go and try dancing the tango?”  Well, that may not be the best example—I always do try dancing the tango whenever the opportunity presents itself, and I’ve gotten quite good at it over the years—which is just my point, isn’t it?  But I’ve never gone into one of those saunas, you see.  There I’ve held myself back, because I’ve thought I’d look foolish.  Well, that’s just the way Lorna felt, I’m sure.
It’s a negative desire: not to lose one’s dignity, not to look foolish.  It may be love’s worst enemy.  It made Lorna let Herb leave for the war without giving herself a chance to fall in love with him.  She didn’t want to look foolish, to look like an infatuated girl, so she continued to behave as if she were only playing with Herb.  She said, “You can call me Cinderella if you like—that’s what my sisters call me.”
    “Hmm,” said Herb.  “Cinderella.”  He was disappointed.  He liked Lorna, and he knew that he was going to see her face when he closed his eyes that night, and perhaps for many nights to come.  He knew that for days he was going to be concocting, too late, clever answers to her questions, parries for her taunts.  He had had, when she stepped onto the porch with him, the crazy idea that he might ask her to write to him while he was away, and that she just might agree to do so.  It seemed to him now that she had only been playing with him, that there was nothing underlying her playfulness but the boredom of a rainy evening.  He put his hat on.  “Good night, Cinderella,” he said.
    “I’ll see you in a month, I suppose,” said Lorna.  “I’m sure I can’t wait for you to bring us our copy of One Hundred Lessons in Business.
    “You won’t see me,” said Herb.  He was a little annoyed now, and he let it show.  “I don’t live around here.  Besides, I’ve been called up for service.”
    “Oh,” said Lorna, surprised at how much this news startled her.
    “I’ll have to find someone here in Chacallit who can deliver the books for me.”
    “Oh,” said Lorna.  She couldn’t think of anything to add.
    “I’d better be on my way,” said Herb, in a tentative way, without moving any closer to the steps.  “My uncle Ben must be wondering what I’ve been up to all this time.”
    “Well, I’m sure he’ll be pleased when he learns what a fine job you did selling books to the Hubers,” said Lorna.  The pert tone was back in her voice, but she had the sickening feeling that Herb and his uncle might laugh at her parents, laugh at her too.
    “Good-bye, Cinderella,” said Herb.  He turned and walked down the steps, down the walk, to his car.  He got in, started it, and drove away.  Lorna felt the chill, but she hugged herself and watched from the porch until the taillights disappeared.
    “A shame about that boy,” said Lena when Lorna returned to the living room.  Lorna stood with her back to the fire, but the chill she felt came from within her.
    “Yes,” she said, abstractedly.
    “He’s got gumption, that boy,” said Richard.  “He’s going to go places, I’d say.  He’s a pusher, you can see that.  Doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for himself.  Runs right at a thing.  Probably a real scrapper when he was little.  He’ll be a scrapper in business too.  He’s going to go places.”
    “He’s going to France,” said Lorna.
    “France?” asked her mother.
    “He’s been drafted,” said Lorna, still abstracted, still attending to her own thoughts.
    “Oh,” said Richard. “Well, good for him, and I wish him luck.”  He raised his paper in front of his face.
    “He’ll probably do just as well in the war as in business, don’t you think, Richard?” asked Lena, partly just to say something, to contribute her share to the conversation, and partly because, still grateful to her husband for steering them through their interview with Herb Piper, she wanted to show him that she was paying careful attention to everything he said.
    “Hmmm,” said Richard.  “Not necessarily. He may be a little too plucky, if you know what I mean, a little too eager.  That kind is apt to get himself killed.”
    Lorna brought her hand to her face, tried to speak, but found that only a strangled cry came from her.  She looked at her father in terror.  She ran from the room and up the stairs to her bed, which she found so cold that she shivered under her quilt.  The clouds had dispersed, and moonlight fell across Lorna’s bed.  She lay awake, thinking of Herb—mostly of that smile of his, that honest smile.  She smiled herself when she recalled his surprise when he’d seen her in the right light, the way he’d paused in folding his umbrella, the way he’d held his hat, the way he’d lost his tongue.  She was also thinking of herself, mostly of things she might have said, might have done.
    I could have stayed out on the porch with him, talking.  Just talking about this and that.  The moon even came out from behind the clouds.  The perfect setting.  Why didn’t I?  Why didn’t I?
    “Where are you from, Herb?  Albany, I’ll bet.  How did you ever find your way to Chacallit?  Are you afraid to go to the war?”
    No, no.  That wouldn’t be the thing to ask.  He might be killed.  He’s got gumption, and that can be dangerous in a war.  I could have touched his hand, could have made him promise to write to me, to come back to me.  That’s a ridiculous idea.  When he comes home from France, he won’t be coming to Chacallit.  He might not come home at all.  He might be killed.
    Father liked him, even if he had no idea who he was.  “He’s got gumption.”  He liked me, liked me even when I was teasing him, liked me even when I told him to call me Cinderella.  Cinderella.  Damn.  I might as well have told him to go away and leave me alone.  Well, he has.  I wish something would bring him back.
    “Do you like selling books?”
    That would have been better than nothing.
    “You must have stories to tell about traveling, don’t you, Herb?  I’ll bet you have stories you wouldn’t want to tell me.”
    Teasing again.  He probably does have stories he wouldn’t want to tell.  There may be girls lying awake from here to Albany or wherever he came from.  All of us lying awake, with the moonlight falling across our beds, thinking of things we might have said to keep Herb from going on to the next girl.  Are the others thinking that, that there are others, that we’re all thinking the same things?  Maybe not.  Maybe there are no others.  Maybe I’m the only one who’s made him feel awkward; maybe I’m the only one he’s wanted to talk to.  But maybe not.  Maybe I’m different.  Maybe each of us thinks she’s different, that she’s the only one he’s really noticed, that he’ll be back.  Maybe each of us is wishing that something would bring him back.

HERB STOOD at a window in the Chacallit House, smoking, looking at the moon, thinking of Lorna, trying to remember everything she had said and done, every move she’d made, the way she’d looked in every slant of light, especially the way she’d looked when she’d made him lose track of what he’d meant to say.
    How does she do that?  It’s some trick she has with the way she turns her head, or the way she tilts her chin.  Something.  I don’t know.  And quick-witted?  You’ve got to hand it to her.  That business with her parents.  She had her mother and father thinking I was somebody else.  What did she say?  “They were sure they should know you, so they decided they did know you.”  Something like that.  I’m not sure how she did it.  Maybe they had been expecting someone else, but I don’t think so.  It was the way she conducted herself, as if they ought to know who I was, and she confused them.  She does that to many people, I imagine.  She must have the fellows in Chacallit following her in a line.  How many, I wonder?  Too many for her to bother with me, I guess.  Why not me, though?  There’s nothing wrong with me.  Mr. Huber liked me; I’m sure of that.  He seemed sorry for me somehow.  He made me wonder whether my coat was torn or something.  Still, I could tell he liked me.  The mother, too.  Why shouldn’t she, then?  I’ve got good prospects.  I probably make more money than most fellows my age in this town.  Oh, don’t be foolish.  She doesn’t know anything about me.  I can call her Cinderella.  Cinderella.  Why did I let her get away with that?  Aaaah, because it wasn’t worth pursuing.  I’ll be gone tomorrow, and there isn’t much chance that I’ll ever be back.  Good God, I didn’t mean that.  I’ll be back.  Knock on wood.  You look out for yourself, you keep your eyes open, and you do just what you have to do, chances are good you’ll get through all right.  I might get killed.  I might get hurt, lose something, lose a leg, a hand, fingers.  Suppose I do get killed.  Suppose I do?  I might.  Here I am about to get killed, and I don’t have the courage to go back and talk to her, ask her to write to me.  I will go back, first thing in the morning.

THE NEXT MORNING, Herb left Ben at a table in the Chacallit House dining room, bent over eggs and sausage and kartoffelpuffers, the potato pancakes that would forever be Ben’s second-fondest memory of Chacallit.  His fondest would be the deal he had made with Luther Huber for dozens of pieces of coarse goods, a deal of that satisfying kind in which each party feels that he’s getting the better of the other.  Ben was pleased because he’d been able to get a price spectacularly lower than what he’d been paying to the Clapp people.  Luther was pleased because Ben had paid a good bit more than Clapp paid.  Both men looked forward to doing more business together in the future.
    While Ben ate, Herb drove up the steep and winding road to the Hubers’.  Lorna heard a car stop in front of the house, but she was rushing to leave for work and didn’t give it much thought.  Herb bounded from the car, strode up the walk, mounted the steps, and stopped in front of the door, uncertain whether to turn the knurled knob to ring the bell or not.  He had no idea what he’d say when the door opened.  Ever since he had decided, in the moonlight, to return to the Hubers’, he’d assumed that inspiration would come to him at the last moment, that as soon as he had to speak, he would know what to say.  He’d slept well, eaten heartily, and driven the winding road with a song in his heart, all because he expected inspiration to come to him.  Now he found himself at the door, still uninspired; he felt a damp chill in his chest and a dryness in his mouth.
    For Lorna’s part, once she had decided, in the moonlight, that Herb would never return, the things that she would say to him if only he would return had come to her easily.  In the morning, she stayed in bed longer than she should have, and then she had to rush to leave for the mill in time.  She bounded down the stairs, dashed into the kitchen, drank the milk her mother had poured for her, and started for the door, licking her upper lip.
    Well, here it comes at last, the moment that would have occurred the night before, had everything gone as these things ought to go.  Lorna opened the door and found Herb, staring into her face.  Her beauty flared and transfixed Herb with his hand to his hat, his mouth hanging open.
    “Good morning, Herb Piper,” she said without a moment’s hesitation.  “Did you find anybody to deliver those books for you while you’re in France?”  She had said exactly the right thing, and she knew it.  She beamed.
    Herb was astonished, ecstatic, euphoric, drunk on love, and he was, all at once, inspired.  He beamed right back.  “No,” he said.  “I didn’t.  In fact, I came here this morning hoping that I might persuade you to take the work on.”
    “I’ll do it,” said Lorna.  “I don’t care about the terms.  I think it’s important for you to know that your business in Chacallit is being looked after while you’re in the—in the trenches.”  Her voice threatened to fail her, but she swallowed hard and went on.  “You can’t afford to be distracted by business worries at a time like that,” she said, pressing right on with the argument she had prepared without reading in Herb’s expression the fact that none of it was necessary.
    “You’re right,” he said, speaking straight from the center of his thoughts, without any face-saving deviation.  “I could get killed if I’m not careful, but they say if you look out for yourself, if you keep your eyes open, chances are good you’ll get through all right.”
    They didn’t speak for a moment, just looked at each other across the possibility of death.
    “I have to go to work,” Lorna said at last.  She frowned.
    “Let me drive you,” said Herb.  “I’ve got my own car.”
    “I see you do,” said Lorna.  She walked beside him to the car, and he opened the door for her, and when, to steady herself, she reached for the edge of the door that he held open, her hand touched his.
    “Of course, I’ll write to you often,” she said, “to keep you informed about the progress of—things.”
    “Oh, yes,” said Herb.  “I hope so.  Once a week, at least.”
    “At least,” she agreed.  “There are so many things for us to discuss,” she said suddenly, noting with alarm how quickly they were approaching River Road. “I wonder if you could come by this evening to explain it all to me.  You might come for dinner—if you like.”
    “I’d like to,” said Herb, “but my uncle Ben and I have to get back to Boston, and we were going to leave right after breakfast.”
    “Boston?” Lorna asked.  “Is that where you’re from?”
    “Sure,” said Herb, grinning.  “Can’t you tell?”
    “Tell?” she asked.
    “From the way I talk?”
    “I never knew anyone from Boston before,” said Lorna.  “I thought you were from Albany.”
    They made a couple of selections from the catalog of little giggles, titters, chuckles, and chortles that timid would-be lovers use when they don’t know how to say, or can’t bring themselves to say, what they want to say.  They approached the center of town, and Lorna was reminded of work.  She thought with horror that a young man from Boston wasn’t likely to approve of a girl who carved improper subjects on men’s jewelry.  She didn’t want him to see where she worked.  She had Herb stop when he reached River Road.  They shook hands.  Lorna said, “Good luck, Herb.  I hope you don’t—have a hard time.”
    Herb grinned.  “I hope I don’t get killed,” he said.  Lorna got out.  Herb put the car in gear.  “So long, Lorna,” he said.

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Herb ’n’Lorna is published in paperback by Picador, a division of St. Martin's Press, at $13.00.

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Copyright © 1994 by Eric Kraft

Herb ’n’Lorna  is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. 

First published by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group. 

Now available in paperback from Picador USA, a division of St. Martin's Press.