UNCLE BEN met his train when Herb returned to Boston. Millie Piper
couldn’t trust herself to meet her son in public. She was determined
not to cry, absolutely determined, but she knew that she would cry,
and she didn’t want to cry over him with everyone watching—if she was going
to cry and make a fuss, and she was afraid that she was, she wanted to
do it at home, where she could do it without embarrassing Herb.
And cry she did, but not at all as she had supposed
she would. Silent tears began running down her cheeks when she heard
Herb’s rapid footsteps on the stairs. Herb meant to keep her from
crying. He intended to burst into the room and fill it with noise,
fling his cap against the wall, pick Millie up, and whirl her around the
room, but when he opened the door and saw her there, he couldn’t even say
hello. All he could do was clear his throat. His hands and
feet seemed suddenly so much heavier than normal, like the puffed and clumsy
hands and feet we sometimes find attached to us in dreams. He couldn’t
move. Millie had imagined herself running to him the moment he opened
the door, but her feet seemed to have undergone the same nightmarish transformation,
and for a minute she couldn’t move, either. They stood across the
room from each other without moving or speaking. Herb began to sniffle.
He held his arms out to Millie and began shuffling toward her. She
held her arms out and began shuffling toward him. Slumped in his
chair in the corner, Lester Piper watched. There wasn’t a sound in
the room but Millie and Herb’s sniffling and the shuffling of their feet.
Lester felt something unfamiliar. He had a sudden awareness of his
chair, the presence of it behind his back, under him, the worn spots on
the arms, the burnished, darkened cork in the places where he rested his
hands. He seemed to be able to feel every tiny fissure in the cork,
to feel the floor through his shoes. He seemed to be able to taste
the air he breathed, to hear the crunch of individual grains of grit beneath
the shoes of Herb and Millie as they shuffled toward each other.
What was this odd sensation? It was—it was—joy.
“Herb!” he shouted. He leaped up from his
chair. “Herb!” He swept Millie off her feet and carried her
in one arm to Herb, where he crushed them together and began whirling them
around the room, crying, “What a wonderful day, a wonderful day!”
Ben appeared in the doorway, red-faced and sweating.
“All right, all right, all right,” he said. “He’s home. You’re
out of your chair. It’s a wonderful day, but I’m holding the bags,
remember? How about a hand?”
Millie sat Herb at the table and made him eat.
While he ate, she stood behind him with both hands on his shoulders, crying
as quietly as she could manage, her tears running down her cheeks.
HAD PLANNED, as soon as things settled down, to go to the tobacco shop,
where there was a telephone, and call Lorna, but before he could get out,
Ben’s wife, Herb’s aunt Louise, arrived with his cousins and a friend of
his cousins’, Alice Mills. Alice was sixteen, a girl of striking
beauty, with wide eyes, a lively, laughing mouth, and waves of fine golden
hair that cascaded over her shoulders and caught and gilded even the poor
dim light in the Pipers’ apartment. She was a quick blusher.
She had voluptuous lips, and she kept them slightly parted in a look that
made her seem naïve and vulnerable. She couldn’t take her eyes
off Herb. She had fallen in love with him while he was in France.
Before she had fallen in love with Herb, Alice had
already developed a romantic attachment to the general idea that young
men were fighting in France, suffering unspeakable horrors, and pining
all the while for the girls they’d left behind, who pined in turn for them,
sighing through slightly parted lips in a way that made them seem naïve
and vulnerable. How Alice wished that she had been one of the girls
that the boys had left behind, so that the poignant ache she felt in her
heart might have some specific object, and so that, in his turn, the object
of her heartache, some doughboy lying cold and miserable in a trench somewhere
in France, might pine for her, specifically for her. Alas, the boys
she knew were all too young for war, so none of them was likely to be heading
over there with his heart full of her. She needed someone already
over there, and so she chose Herb, her best friend’s cousin. She’d
seen him before, but her memory of him was fuzzy enough not to interfere
with her fantasy. She wrote letters to him but found that they never
struck the note she had intended them to strike, and so never sent them.
She prayed for his safety. She promised herself that, once he returned
home, and they were firmly in love, she would always be faithful to him.
She sat in the window seat at home, looked wistful, and sighed for him
through her voluptuous lips. She stood in front of her mirror and
admired the way she was maturing, touched her lips with her fingertips
and tried to imagine what kissing her would be like for Herb, touched her
breasts and tried to isolate her fingertips, tried to make them Herb’s,
to feel her nipples tighten as he would, and, in bed, tried to remove herself
from herself, put herself beside herself, be Herb beside her, caress herself
as Herb would, beg herself to give herself to him as Herb would, tried
to imagine climbing atop herself as Herb would, and slowly, gratefully,
tenderly, reverently, augmenting her imagination with the handle on a darning
egg, penetrating herself as Herb would. She succeeded well enough
to convince herself that she was in love with Herb. She had never
had a serious doubt that, given the opportunity, he would love her.
When Herb saw Alice he was astonished. She
wasn’t at all the little girl he remembered. She was beautiful.
She was alluring. She seemed to adore him. What he felt for
her he immediately took for love. He put off telephoning Lorna.
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ANDREW PROCTOR returned to Chacallit, more than two thousand people were
waiting on the platform at the railroad station to greet him. He
was Chacallit’s hero. He had, single-handedly, taken a hill, saved
his captain, and captured a German officer, but his exploits were already
being exaggerated, so that in the conversation of Chacallit, he had, single-handedly,
taken a hill, a ridge, a bridge, and the bank of a river, saved his captain,
a trio of buddies, and a nurse, captured a German officer, a patrol, a
regiment. No one in Chacallit would have dared correct the exaggerations.
Nor would anyone have cared to correct them. Chacallit was proud
to have a hero, and the more heroic he was, the better. Andrew was
carried from the train on the shoulders of two stout men, and within an
hour a dozen men were claiming to have been one of them. The men
set Andrew down at the side of the mayor, who recounted the version of
Andrew’s deeds that he favored. No one was in any mood to quibble
about the accuracy of this version—certainly not Andrew, who was so overwhelmed
by the admiration of his townsfolk that he couldn’t trust himself to speak
and was happy just to smile and wave. Standing directly in front
of Andrew was Lorna. When Andrew looked at her, he caught her in
one of her moments. Lorna struck him as so beautiful a young woman
that he stepped away from the mayor, put his arm around her, and kissed
her. It was an extraordinary thing to do, but this was an extraordinary
occasion, and Andrew was being honored because he had done extraordinary
things. It seemed, once he had done it, like exactly the right thing
for an extraordinary young fellow to do. No one minded, not even
Lorna, who blushed but considered this a kiss inspired by nothing more
than exuberance. Andrew had hardly noticed Lorna before he left Chacallit,
but at just that moment he decided that he was in love.
Andrew was an immediate success with Richard and
Lena Huber, and Lorna was quite taken with him herself. He wasn’t
bad looking, after all, and he was the talk of the town.
Almost at once, Andrew and Lorna were considered
a couple. Andrew’s father was pleased by his son’s choice.
Mr. Proctor was wary of girls who were too pretty, since they were likely
to be as attractive to other men as to their husbands. Lorna seemed
just right to him. He considered her looks ordinary—pretty enough,
but ordinary. (True, he admitted to himself, every now and then she
struck him as positively dazzling, but that, he thought, was probably the
effect of certain desires of his own that ought to be suppressed.)
Mr. Proctor was a successful man, and his success enabled Andrew to employ
the courting arsenal of a successful man. He was able to give gifts
and arrange outings, surprises, and treats. Lorna enjoyed being courted
so lavishly, enjoyed being part of Chacallit’s favorite couple, and enjoyed
being the envy of the other girls in town, and she began to think that
she was in love with Andrew.
WANT YOU to tell me about the war,” said Alice. She was sitting beside
Herb on the sofa in the living room of the Millses’ apartment, over Alice’s
father’s saloon. The Millses’ place wasn’t much grander than the
Pipers’, but Alice and her mother put a lot of effort into making it “cozy,”
and Herb enjoyed the shabby clutter they had created.
“I don’t have much to tell,” said Herb. He
looked at Alice and shrugged.
“I know it must be hard to talk about it,” said
Alice. She brought her hand to Herb’s cheek and looked into his eyes
with great compassion. She had often imagined this time, when her
Herb would have come home at last, when they would be alone and he could
confide in her all the terrible things he had experienced and describe
for her how often he’d thought of her in the midst of the horror, how often
he’d dreamed of sitting beside her like this.
“It’s not that,” said Herb. “It’s just that
I don’t have many stories to tell. I didn’t do much of anything.”
Alice brushed a tear from her cheek. This
was even better than she’d hoped. Sitting alone with her was, apparently,
so intoxicating that Herb could hardly speak, couldn’t find the words to
tell her how much it had meant to him to know that she was waiting for
him. “I understand,” she said. She let her head rest on his
Prohibition might have deprived the Millses of their
livelihood if Mr. Mills hadn’t been as resourceful a man as he was.
He reasoned that many people came to his saloon for companionship rather
than, or as much as, for liquor, and that, if he kept the saloon open as
a gathering place, without liquor, he stood a good chance of hanging on
to some of his old customers and even drawing some new ones. He might
even get them to bring their families. If he sold food and soft drinks
and charged a membership fee, the place should make a small profit, he
decided, and it would be a dandy cover for a speakeasy in the cellar.
The idea worked brilliantly. He called the place “Mills’s Family
Club.” It was hailed as a model of what temperance might do for family
and community. The Millses prospered.
Herb put off visiting Chacallit, and put it off
again, and thought less and less about it. He began spending time
in the club, upstairs and down, not only because Alice often worked there,
but because Herb enjoyed the people who gathered there. He’d never
had much time to relax and talk before. He discovered how much he
liked being with people, listening to their stories, laughing at their
jokes. He noticed the way other young men looked at Alice, but he
didn’t notice how little he cared.
Before Alice had fallen in love with Herb, her mother
had worried that Alice would flirt away the years when her beauty was most
marketable. “Nothing’s sure, is it?” she said to Alice one day.
“Who’s to say you’ll get prettier? You might be as pretty right now
as you’ll ever be. You may even be on the way down.”
“Oh, Ma,” said Alice.
“ ‘Oh, Ma’ nothing,” said Mrs. Mills. “Look at your
friend Annie. We all thought she’d grow up gorgeous. Now she’s
“Oh, Ma,” said Alice.
“She is. She’s a fright. It could happen
to you. Then you’d have to settle for whatever men’re left.”
“Oh, Ma,” said Alice.
“Worse yet,” said Mrs. Mills, “you might never
marry. You might become a nuisance and a burden.”
Mrs. Mills had another worry, one that she kept
to herself. She worried that Alice’s beauty might go on improving
forever, while her own declined. At those times, she could imagine
herself spending the rest of her life in the shadow of her daughter.
It was this worry that most made Mrs. Mills like Herb. She liked
Herb’s prospects. He seemed ambitious to her. She liked the
idea that if he married Alice, his ambition might lead to his taking Alice
away somewhere, somewhere far enough away so that she wouldn’t visit too
often, so that she wouldn’t be a burden or cast a shadow.
To help move matters along, Mrs. Mills left Herb
and Alice alone whenever she could arrange it. After several evenings
of petting that ended with Alice’s whispering, “We mustn’t, my darling,
we mustn’t,” Alice apparently succumbed to the heat of passion. At
the point in their petting where (her blouse off, her bra undone, so much
smooth, pale skin glowing in the dark, Herb’s shirt open, his belt loosened,
Herb tugging at one of her nipples with his lips, she felt Herb’s hand
reach above the tops of her stockings, felt him rubbing her thighs) she
ordinarily pressed her legs together and whispered, “We mustn’t,” she sighed
instead and seemed to melt, let her body drop slowly backward on the sofa,
as if she were putting her head back to let herself float on a wave, and
whispered, “Take me, my darling, please take me.”
When Herb did, the little cry that escaped from
her and the expression on her face when she looked deep into his eyes (an
expression that she intended to say, “I feel pleasure, my darling, a new
and thrilling pleasure, but my deepest pleasure comes from giving to you
something wonderful and precious, something for which I know you must certainly
be very, very grateful”) had been rehearsed. In anticipation of this
grand moment, Alice had practiced often, in her bed, manipulating the darning
egg handle with one hand and sighing, panting, smiling, and grimacing into
the mirror that she held in the other. She had gotten rather good
with the darning egg handle and had developed a repertoire that pleased
her: ease in, eeeease out, sliiide in, sliiide out, thrust, retreat, thrust,
retreat, thrust, retreat, in, out, in, out, eeeease in, eeeease out, eeeease
in, eeeease out, thrust, thrust, thrust; repeat as needed. She was
a little disappointed to find that Herb didn’t follow this satisfying pattern,
but, still, this was the moment she’d been waiting for, and she was determined
to try to make the best of it.
“Oh, my darling, my darling Herb,” she said.
“My poor darling. How often you must have dreamed of loving me like
this, in the war.” She sighed and smiled. “Are you happy, Herb?
Are you happy right now?”
“Yes,” said Herb. “Yes, I’m happy.”
He was lying. He certainly wasn’t unhappy, but Alice didn’t make
him happy. At some time, after he had penetrated Alice, while he
was moving in her, he had felt a curious sensation come over him, a sense
of detachment, something like the disembodiment he had felt when he was
hit by that shell fragment in France. Then, his mind had taken him
aside, as a protector might, pulled him a step or two away from the place
where that poor body, which happened to be his, was being ripped and splayed.
His leg had suffered the pain; his self had stood apart. Now, his
mind had taken him a step or two away from pleasure. His penis was
having a wonderful time, the time of its life, slipping, sliding, slurping
back and forth in Alice, delicious, lubricious Alice, but his mind had
begun to wander, and in a vague sort of way it seemed to be headed for
“Oh, so am I, Herb,” said Alice. He heard
her, but he’d forgotten what she was talking about. Alice swallowed,
and her eyes grew misty. The truth is that her mind had begun to
roam around a little, too. She was puzzled and annoyed by the fact
that, although Herb was, certainly, enjoying her, he didn’t seem to be
enjoying her as much as he had enjoyed her when Alice had imagined herself
as him enjoying her. With a little inner sigh, she admitted to herself
that, therefore, Herb must not really be the right man for her after all.
She was going to have to let him go. A lump formed in her throat
when she thought about the pain she was going to cause him, the sadness
he was sure to feel. She resolved to be very kind. And for
now, she would make the best of things, not only for herself, but for Herb,
too. She owed it to him, after what he’d been through, for all the
time he’d yearned so for her, and—a surprise. A surging rush of sensation,
a thrust, another, thrust and thrust again, lively and—oh—lively and—hot-headed
compared to that darning egg handle, and a shudder ran through Herb, that
ecstatic shudder, and his thoughts came dashing back to join his penis
in its happy pop, its rip, its roar, its hip-hooray!
And then, slowly, quietly, while Herb lay with his
head on Alice’s breast and she ran her fingers through his hair and wondered
whom she might try next, Herb’s thoughts wandered off again, to Chacallit,
and brought him another ecstatic thrill, the thrill that comes when one
is surprised by a truth, in this case the truth that he would rather be
GUESS you want me to tell you some more about the war,” said Andrew.
He and Lorna were sitting on the sofa in the Hubers’ parlor, as they had
on many evenings since Andrew’s return. Richard was standing, filling
his pipe. Lena was sitting in her accustomed chair, knitting.
Before she quite realized what she was doing, Lena let a sigh escape from
her. When she discovered herself sighing, she tried to disguise the
sigh as a yawn. When she realized that a yawn was every bit as bad
as a sigh, she became confused about what to do next, and she burst out
giggling. She glanced up from her work and saw that she had become
the focus of attention.
Lorna rose from the couch and walked to her mother’s
chair, where she stood behind her and squeezed her shoulders.
“I’m sure we’d love to hear some more about the
war,” Lena said, with a hearty eagerness that made Richard wonder whether
she needed a long rest.
“You needn’t feel that you have to tell us everything,
my boy,” said Richard. “I’m sure that there are many things you’d
rather keep to yourself.”
“Oh, no,” said Andrew. “Not at all.
I’ve got a million stories to tell!”
“Ah,” said Lorna, barely audibly, “only half a million
Lena giggled again. Richard, who had heard
Lorna well enough, gave her a stern glance. Andrew, who told himself
that surely she could not have said what he thought he’d heard, gave her
a bewildered look.
“What was that, Lorna?” he asked.
“I said, ‘We really have to go,’ ” said Lorna.
She gave her mother another squeeze and smiled at her father, who applied
himself to the tamping of his pipe.
When Lorna and Andrew had left, Lena let her knitting
drop into her lap and said, looking straight ahead, “He really is a very
“Yes,” said Richard. “He’s a fine boy.
A brave fellow.” He puffed at his pipe.
Lena said, “I only wish—”
“Yes,” said Richard, “so do I.”
Lena went back to her knitting, and Richard stood
puffing on his pipe and looking at the newspaper. He reminded himself,
again, that Andrew was a good prospect. With the end of the war and
the return to normal production, a wonderful optimism had spread through
Chacallit. Hindsight allows us to see that this optimism was, insofar
as it was based on the expectation of growth in the gentlemen’s furnishings
industry, ill founded, but for the time being there seemed to be no reason
to doubt that the industry on which Chacallit depended would prosper or
that Andrew Proctor, who would one day ascend to the presidency of Proctor’s
Products for Men, was a good prospect. So it was difficult for Richard,
who wanted to see Lorna securely settled, to admit that he would really
rather not have her settled on Andrew Proctor.
It was even more difficult for Lena to admit.
She had seen the war take some of the best young men of Lorna’s age and
had watched Lorna pass what she considered her peak. She had watched
Lorna grow less and less interested in the men who might have been interested
in her. She felt that Lorna expected too much, and she was afraid
that if Lorna drove Andrew away, there might be no one left. So,
a little ashamed of what she was doing, she had begun to push Lorna toward
thinking seriously about marrying Andrew, even though, whenever Lena watched
them walk away from the house together, she admitted to herself that she
was glad not to be the one who would have to listen to Andrew for the rest
of the evening.
Lorna tried to convince herself that Andrew’s failings
didn’t matter, that she was imagining some and exaggerating others, that
he really was good enough, but the truth struck her on the night when Andrew
made love to her, on the back seat of his car, a Chevrolet. To be
fair, her expectations may have been too high. Lorna was a nineteen-year-old
virgin who in the last two years had spent approximately twenty-six hundred
hours scrutinizing sexual performances of great diversity and sophistication
and replicating them, in ivory, with painstaking exactitude. Though
she didn’t yet know what she liked, she knew much about the art.
When she decided that tonight might just as well be the night, her imagination
summoned all the couples she had carved, all their frozen moments of sex.
Lorna came at Andrew as a flame licks at tinder, and if Andrew had noticed
that Lorna’s eyes burned brighter than his, that her breathing was quicker,
her hands were hotter and bolder, and if, when she took his penis in her
hands and inched herself toward him so that just the tip touched her, he
had taken the time to notice her luscious concupiscence, then he would
have cried out, “Oh, Lorna, take command, burn me up, consume me.”
But Andrew didn’t notice any of that and wouldn’t have understood it if
he had, and so when she approached him he thought she meant, “Take me,
conquer me,” and he threw himself into the task with the cold-blooded single-mindedness
that had made him a hero. He wrapped his arms around her, pressed
her backward against the seat, and pushed himself, with one quick, grunting
effort, as far into her as he could. Lorna hadn’t anticipated that,
and she didn’t welcome it. Andrew began a steady humping progress
toward his satisfaction, something like a forced march. A thought
crossed Lorna’s mind: if there’s a medal for this, he’s determined to
get it. She started to snicker, but she covered it with what
she hoped sounded like a startled exclamation prompted by an unexpected
Andrew stopped moving in her. Just stopped.
He extended his arms and raised himself up so that they could look each
other in the face and said, “I’ll bet you’ve wondered what this would be
like. I know I have.” He grinned and winked and went back to
his huffing and puffing and fucking. Lorna looked at the mouse-colored
fabric lining the roof of the car and let her mind wander away from Andrew’s
fuss and hubbub, and on its own her mind wandered back to the rainy night
when Herb stood on her front porch shaking his umbrella, and just as Andrew
reached the end of the march, fired his salute, and collapsed in the shade,
a shiver ran through her and she realized that she wanted more than anything
else to be with Herb.
NEXT MORNING, Herb went to see his uncle Ben. “Uncle Ben,” he said,
“I want to go back to Chacallit.”
“Good!” said Ben. “So do I. I’ve got
an idea that is going to revolutionize the coarse-goods business.”
Herb looked at his uncle with the wariness he’d
inherited from his mother. “This isn’t going to lose you money, is
it, Uncle Ben?”
Benjamin colored, thrust his hands into his pockets,
and cleared his throat. “It’s not kind of you to ask a question like
that, Herb,” he said. “The Doughboy’s Dozen was a dandy idea, and
I should have made out all right with it.” He pressed his lips together
for a moment. “Commerce is a matter of subtleties, Herb,” he said,
shaking his head. “Subtleties and chances. And luck.
You’ve got to take chances if you’re going to get anywhere. You’ve
got to understand the subtleties. You’ve got to have luck.
I wasn’t lucky.”
“I don’t follow you, Uncle Ben,” said Herb.
“I made a little mistake, Herb,” said Ben.
He held his hand up, showing a small gap between his thumb and forefinger.
“A little mistake. I thought the war would last longer. I figured
we’d still be in it now. If it had lasted another five months, just
five months, we’d have come out all right on the Doughboy’s Dozen.
If it were still on now, we’d be comfortable, Herb, very comfortable.”
“Uncle Ben!” said Herb.
“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” said Ben. “I don’t mean
I wish it had lasted longer. I just mean that if it had, we’d be
comfortable.” He shook his head. “Very comfortable,”
he added. There was a silence between them for a while. Then
Ben said suddenly, “But never mind that! It’s all over and done with,
and I’ve got a terrific idea! Not only is it a good idea, but it
doesn’t take any of our money.”
“That sounds like a great idea,” said Herb.
“What is it?”
Ben grinned and reached into his pocket. He
brought out something that he quickly concealed with both hands.
He held his hands out, one cupped over the other, hiding and protecting
something precious, as he might have held a tiny bird. Slowly, he
opened his hands. There, cupped in Ben’s hands, was the world’s first
piece of animated coarse goods.
Herb burst out laughing. “Gosh!” he said.
“Will you look at that workmanship!”
Ben’s prototype was a crude piece of work.
The two wax figures were badly modeled, thickset, lumpy, graceless.
The mechanism was nothing more than a pair of heavy wire forms joined by
a loop (not unlike the link swivels that Lorna once fashioned) and kept
apart by a tiny coil spring. A crank turned a cam against the wire
on which the man, the upper figure, was molded, and the action of the cam
provided the jerky up-and-down motion that was all the animation of which
the couple was capable. The act they performed was crude and basic.
The woman just lay there; the man pounded away at her, up and down, in
and out, grimly, mechanically.
“It needs work,” said Ben. “I know that.
I don’t have the talent to do anything better than this. But you
do. You do, Herb. You’re mechanically inclined. This
kind of thing—much better than this, mind you, but this kind of thing—could
be very successful, Herb. It could fit into a little case, like a
pocket watch. It could go onto a chain just like a watch. Or
it could take the place of a fob. Or maybe it would just be something
a guy would carry in his pocket. The stem could make it work.
You’d turn the stem instead of this crank, and—well, you see what I’m getting
at, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Herb, his mind already occupied with
a set of interesting ideas prompted by the clumsy little couple.
Ben’s idea was a good one, and Herb saw that it
was immediately. Animated coarse goods could sell for much higher
prices, at a much greater margin of profit, than static carvings.
If Ben could get such things manufactured in Chacallit without risking
any money, he might recoup the losses he’d taken on the Doughboy’s Dozen.
Herb worked night and day for a week to produce a more successful prototype,
fabricated from two female figures that had been part of a shipment of
conventional, static coarse goods from Chacallit. First, he had to
make the tools his work would require. Then he had to transform one
of the figures into a male. He wasn’t entirely pleased with the success
of this operation, but he knew that he wasn’t likely to achieve anything
better, so he went on to the articulation of the figures.
Painstakingly, he cut the figures apart at the elbow,
shoulder, hip, and knee joints and across their abdomens, so that he could
achieve more versatile and fluid movement than Ben’s figures had been able
to manage. As far as it was possible to do so, he concealed the articulating
mechanism within the figures, which required him to drill through the arms
and legs and to carve cavities in the figures where his tiny wires, cables,
and pulleys could be concealed. The challenge to his ingenuity was
exhilarating, much more so than designing the expandable shelves or the
secret drawers or devising a repair for the mess-kit cup handles had been,
and Herb took great pleasure in the work. In a week, he had finished,
and, on the whole, he was pleased. Ben was overjoyed.
“Brilliant work, Herb!” he said. “Brilliant!
You’re a genius at this, my boy. You’ve got a great future!
Collectors are going to be after these, and they’re going to want different
positions, different ways of—well—moving, and so on. You’re going
to be able to name your price. You’ve got talent, Herb, real talent.”
Herb shook his head. “No, Uncle Ben,” he said. “I
did this for you, but I won’t do any more. I’m getting out of coarse
goods. I’m in love with Lorna Huber. She’s a wonderful girl,
and I’m sure she’d be ashamed of me if she knew about this.”
HERB AND BEN checked in at the Chacallit House, Ben, full of eagerness
and confidence, certain of success, sure of the value of what he had to
offer, went off to see Luther at once. Herb, who was not as confident,
not at all certain of success in his undertaking, hesitated.
He hadn’t told Lorna that he was coming. He’d tried to write, but
he hadn’t been able to find a way to say the things that he wanted to say.
He unpacked. He took a bath. He shaved.
He dressed, considered the effect in the mirror, didn’t like what he saw,
changed, and didn’t like what he saw any better than he had before.
Doubts breed rapidly, and they breed fastest in front of a mirror.
Herb sighed and let his shoulders fall. He went off to see Lorna
reluctantly. What he had to offer her seemed of little value.
He stopped his old Studebaker in front of the house,
and he sat for a moment, with both hands on the wheel, trying to think
of something to say to Lorna—no, not something—the thing, that remarkable
thing that would tell her everything he felt—the word, the phrase, the
sentence, the declaration that she would never forget, that she would,
years from now, tell their children, their grandchildren. “I’ll never
forget,” she would say, “the day that Herb came back to Chacallit.
I opened the door, and there he was. He smiled and said—” What?
By the time he reached the Hubers’ door, Herb had
begun to think that he should have stayed in Boston. He caught sight
of his reflection, and to himself he looked like a thin guy holding a battered
hat, wearing a shabby suit and scuffed shoes, with an old heap parked behind
Lorna was at home, since she was now unemployed.
When the war ended, Lorna had been among the first of the Chacallit women
Luther had let go from the main floor. Her parents were puzzled when
she didn’t return to ivory work, but at dinner one Sunday, Luther had provided
an explanation, one that was false when he offered it but became true in
time: he said that the market for expensive jewelry for men was declining,
and that he couldn’t very well keep Lorna at work when there were returning
veterans without jobs. “Perhaps,” he said, giving Lorna an unwelcome
pat on the arm, “things will change, and I’ll find a way to bring Lorna
back to work.” She was in the kitchen chopping cabbage when Herb
turned the doorbell. She started for the door in her apron, but the
thought that had come to her so often came to her again, the thought that
this might be Herb, and she quickly untied the apron and threw it onto
the kitchen table.
“Herb Piper,” she said when she opened the door,
not daring to add what her heart hoped: “You’ve come back to me!”
“I didn’t get killed,” said Herb. They were
the first words that came to him, and by them he meant, “I came to see
you because you’re always on my mind, even when I’m with someone else.
You’re always there. The idea of you comes flickering through, like
sunlight through the leaves on a tree.”
Lorna burst out laughing. “I know,” she said.
“You used to write to me, remember?” By it she meant, “When you stopped
writing, I was afraid I’d never see you again, and then I knew how much
I wanted to see you again.”
“I don’t know why I said that,” said Herb.
“It was the first thing that came to me.” He meant, “I didn’t have
the courage to say any of the things that I wanted to say. To tell
you the truth, I’m not even certain just what those things are. I
just said whatever popped into my head. Please, please, don’t think
I’m a fool.”
Lorna pushed the screen door open and stepped out
into the spring air. “I’m glad to see you,” she said, meaning, “I
think I love you, Herb.”
“And I’m glad to see you,” said Herb, looking down
at his hat in his hands, embarrassed, because he was sure she must be able
to tell that he meant to say, “I think I love you, Lorna.”
“How’s your leg?” Lorna asked, instead of saying,
“Gee, Herb, you look wonderful! I’m so happy to see you again that
I could cry.”
“It’s all right, thanks,” said Herb. “You
look well.” (Instead of, “You look beautiful.”)
“Oh, I’ve been fine.” (“I missed you.”)
“Good.” (“I missed you.”)
“You—um—didn’t get married or anything like that,
“No. I would have told you so if I had.”
“Well, I—I would have because, well, because you’re
my employer, and you might need to know.”
“The books,” said Lorna.
“The books,” said Herb. “Of course, the books.
How are the books going?”
“Fine. Just fine. Everyone’s pleased.
For a moment, they just stood and smiled at each
“So you didn’t get married, then?” Herb reached
for her hands.
“No.” Lorna put her hands in his.
Too quickly for fear to stop him, Herb leaned forward
and kissed her cheek. It was hardly a kiss at all. His lips
just brushed her cheek. As the years passed, Lorna would become less
and less sure about her memory of what Herb had said to her when he returned,
but she never forgot that wisp of a kiss. It was the unforgettable
statement Herb had hoped to make.
WAS SURPRISED and suspicious when, on the day after her reunion with Herb,
Luther asked her to come to his office at the mill, but her curiosity was
aroused by Luther’s conciliatory attitude. She agreed to go because
she wanted to find out what Luther wanted from her.
“Lorna!” said Luther, rising from his desk and rushing to greet
her. “How are you?” He took her hands in his and looked her
up and down. “No need to answer, my dear, I think you’ve never looked
prettier. You’re glowing! Positively glowing.”
Lorna turned away. She knew that what Luther
said was true, and she didn’t want him to begin speculating about why her
cheeks had that rosy glow, why she was so quick to smile. She didn’t
want him to have anything to do with Herb; if it could have been arranged,
she would have kept him from knowing anything about Herb at all.
“It’s the springtime, Uncle Luther,” she said.
She gave him a knowing look. “Surely you’ve noticed that girls glow
in the spring.”
“So I have,” said Luther. He set his jaw and
narrowed his eyes.
“Well, that’s enough of that, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes,” said Luther. “That is enough of that.
Sit down, Lorna. I want to show you something.” He waved her
toward the leather wing chair in front of his desk. He settled himself
in his own chair, paused for dramatic effect, and lifted the top from a
small box on his blotter. From the box he produced Herb’s animated
couple. He held the object out for Lorna to examine.
“Why, Uncle Luther!” she exclaimed.
“Spring seems to be advancing in your cheeks, Lorna,”
said Luther. “We’ll be in high summer in a moment.”
“Who made this?” Lorna asked. She took the
gadget from Luther.
“That’s not important,” he said. “Turn the
little wheel at the side.”
Lorna gave the wheel a turn. “Oh, my,” she
said. There was admiration in her voice, and Luther was encouraged.
“Who carved these figures?” she asked.
“Originally? Gerald Hirsch, I’d say,” said
“You’re probably right,” said Lorna. “They
look like his work. Who on earth performed the—ahhh, modifications?”
“To tell you the truth,” said Luther, “I don’t know.
Nobody with any talent in that line.” He smiled and brought the tips
of his thumbs and index fingers together. “Clumsy work,” he said,
“but a brilliant idea, and a fine, fine job mechanically. Don’t you
“Yes,” she said. She twisted the wheel again,
slowly, while she observed the little copulating couple from various angles.
They enchanted her. In part, they won her over with their fluid agility
and their cunning construction, but most of all, a small gesture won her:
a gesture that Herb had supplied by shaping one tiny pulley with an eccentricity,
the slightest little bump, like the lobe on a cam, so that at one point
in the performance the man brushed his lips against the woman’s cheek.
It was a tiny gesture, one that Lorna had to see several times before she
could be sure that it wasn’t accidental, that it wasn’t caused by the way
she held the figures or the way she turned the wheel. When she satisfied
herself that it happened every time, with the precision of all the other
gestures and exertions that composed the performance, when she was certain
that it was intentional, that whoever had made the little couple perform
had considered this sign of affection an essential part of the performance,
she was charmed.
“Interested?” asked Luther.
Lorna looked at him, but a moment passed before
what he had said registered. “In what?” she asked then, taken aback.
“In returning to carving,” Luther said. “None
of the others could do this kind of thing the way it should be done.
Trumbull, maybe. But not as well as you. Aren’t you intrigued?
Think what you could do with movable joints. Imagine—”
“No, Uncle Luther,” said Lorna. “I’m through
with all that. Forever.”
A WONDERFUL NIGHT, isn’t it?” said Lorna. “It’s one of those nights
when sweet scents are in the air.”
“That might be my hair tonic,” said Herb.
They were in Herb’s car, heading for the Serenity Ballroom. Herb
wound his window down. “I might’ve put too much on.”
“Herrrrrb—” said Lorna, drawing his name out in
a way that meant, “Don’t be silly!” (This “Herrrrrb—” would in years
to come become one of Lorna’s most frequently uttered remarks.)
“I wish I’d had time to get a new suit before I
left home,” said Herb. “Well, I had time, but I didn’t take
“I’m glad you didn’t,” said Lorna.
“You mean you like this suit? I got this before
the war, long before the war.” He was suddenly struck by the fact
that a great deal of time had passed during which ordinary things like
buying a new suit hadn’t even crossed his mind, and by the idea that his
suit and the new awareness he had of his suit, marked two points—the moment
when he’d chosen the suit and the moment just passed when he’d been reminded
of that moment—between which lay a huge bubble of time: all the time he’d
been in the war, all the time it had taken him to begin to recognize love,
all the time it had taken him to realize that he loved Lorna. “This
is a very old suit,” said Herb, meaning all that.
“I didn’t mean that I like the suit,” said Lorna.
“I meant that I’m glad you didn’t take the time to get a new one.
I’m glad I didn’t have to wait any longer for you to come back. That’s
what I meant.”
Herb looked at her and smiled, but the smile faded
quickly. “Does that mean you don’t like the suit?” he asked.
“No, it doesn’t,” said Lorna. “I think you
look just fine. Your suit is fine. Your shirt is fine.
Your tie is beautiful.”
“Beautiful?” said Herb. He looked at Lorna
with his face twisted in a worried grimace. “It’s wrong, isn’t it?
It’s too loud. Calls attention to itself. I should’ve worn
something different. Brown. A brown tie.”
Lorna burst out laughing. “Herb,” she said.
“It wouldn’t make any difference what you wore. All the girls I knew
in school, everyone I worked with in the mill, all the boys I’ve ever danced
with, everyone who knows my family, anybody who’s ever known me, would
have something to say about it anyway.”
“You mean they’ll be looking for something wrong
“I’m afraid so. They’ll all want to know what
it is about you that makes you more—well—”
“More interesting or more—”
“All right. More desirable.” She assumed
the air of an outraged matron, mother of one of the young men of Chacallit;
“I ask you,” she said, “what makes him more desirable than the young men
right here in Chacallit?”
“Uh-oh,” said Herb. “I have the feeling that
there’s one young man in particular.”
“I’m afraid there has been,” said Lorna.
“Will he be there tonight?”
“I suppose so.”
“How will I recognize him?”
“He’s tall and good-looking—”
“—with dark, wavy hair and a strong jaw and big
“—and he usually has a circle of admirers around
“I should have worn a brown tie.”
HERB AND LORNA walked into the ballroom, everyone fell silent, and everyone
turned to stare.
Herb had no difficulty identifying the particular
young man. Andy Proctor hopped up from the table where he was sitting
with a group of friends and admirers (a couple of whom were, to be accurate,
neither friends nor admirers but young men and women who were broke and
out of work and entertained hopes that Andy would get them work at Proctor’s
Products, lend them money, or at least pick up the tab for the evening).
He bounded to the door to greet Herb and Lorna, producing exactly the effect
he’d hoped for: a ripple of admiration for his big-heartedness ran around
the room, and Andrew was a hero for the second time. (Elsa Burch,
who had been inclined to think of him as an egotistical braggart, developed
a fondness for him on the spot. Four months later they were engaged;
they married the following spring. They lived together in Chacallit
all their lives. Their youngest son still lives in Chacallit today.
He owns the gay bar, 24-Karat Studs.)
“So you’re the better man,” Andy said when Lorna
introduced Herb. “What do you say we step outside?”
Outside, Andy leaned against the railing on the
open porch that reached out over Lake Serenity. Moonlight flickered
on the rippling water. He reached into his jacket pocket and produced
a small sterling flask manufactured by Proctor’s Products. The flask
was a little outside the usual catalog of the company, but it was doing
very well for them; Andy had suggested adding it to the line, and the suggestion
had confirmed for his father the wisdom of grooming the boy for a future
at the helm.
“Drink, Herb?” Andy asked. He smiled a cheerless
smile, a challenging, bellicose smile.
“I will. Yes. Thanks,” said Herb.
He wiped his palms on his jacket and accepted the flask.
Other young men began drifting out of the ballroom
and taking positions along the railing. Most made some attempt to
appear to be talking among themselves, but it was clear to Herb that they
had come outside not for a drink or a smoke, but to see what would happen
between him and Andy.
“Thanks,” Herb said, returning the flask and the
“Don’t mention it,” said Andy. The smile again.
He drank. “You enjoying yourself in Chacallit?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Herb. “Yes, I am. It’s a
nice place.” He leaned on the railing, looking out over the lake,
wishing he could think of something snappy to say.
“Hey, Bump,” Andy called out. “Come over here
and meet somebody.”
Herb turned from the lake and saw that the invitation
to “Bump” had drawn not only a large sandy-haired fellow—Bump, he supposed—but
all the other young men on the porch, who drifted in his direction behind
“Hello there,” said Bump. He gave Herb a nod.
“This is Herb Piper,” said Andy. He smiled
at Bump—the same humorless, antagonistic smile.
“Herb Piper,” said Bump, pronouncing the name as
if he thought it should be familiar to him. “Herb Piper,” he said
again. His expression (pursed lips, twisted mouth, eyebrows drawn
together) suggested that he was searching his memory for some information
about Herb Piper that ought to be there. “I think I must have known
a Herb Piper. You don’t look familiar, but the name sounds familiar.
Ever live in Albany?”
“No,” said Herb.
“Didn’t work for the B & O, did you?”
“No,” said Herb. “I’ve lived in Boston all
“Boston? Herb Piper. Herb Piper.
Were you in France?”
“Yes. I was in France.”
“Holy jumping Jesus!” exclaimed Bump. “Are
you the guy from Boston? The one who fixed the cup handles?”
“Yes,” said Herb. “That’s me.”
“This is an honor!” said Bump. He grabbed
Herb’s hand in both of his and began pumping it. “An honor!”
He raised Herb’s arm in the air and said, turning to the crowd, “This is
Herb Piper!” There wasn’t much of a reaction to this announcement:
puzzled looks, some mumbled speculation. “Herb Piper!” Bump said
again, a look of incredulity on his face. “The guy from Boston who
fixed those goddamned cup handles,” he said. He turned to Herb. “Boy,”
he said, in an apologetic tone, “sic transit gloria mundi, huh?”
But the others remembered, now, and they began to draw nearer in a circle
“Shake the hand that shook the hand of Black Jack
Pershing himself,” said Bump, waving Herb’s arm above the others, who pressed
in for the chance to do so.
“I—uh—knew you’d want to meet him,” said Andy, tugging
at Bump’s sleeve.
“I didn’t actually shake hands with—” Herb began.
Good sense made him stop. He shrugged and let the claim stand.
He reached for the hands extended toward him.
A couple of hours later, after they had chatted
with Lorna’s friends and danced and eaten pieces of lemon cake, Lorna whispered
to Herb the suggestion that they rent a boat and row around on the lake
in the moonlight for a while. They excused themselves, left the crowd
that had gathered at their table, skirted the dance floor, and left by
the door that led onto the porch.
Adelaide Hooper and her sister Priscilla watched
them go. When they were gone, Addy sighed and gave Priss a look that
Priss understood at once. It was a look they had exchanged often,
ever since they had become interested in boys.
“Don’t you wish—?” asked Addy.
“Oh, don’t I,” said Priss.
“Hey, wish what?” asked Zack Mitchell. He
gave Addy a squeeze. “You’re not wishing you were her, are you?”
“No, it isn’t that,” said Addy. “I just wish
we were more like them. They’re so—well—they kind of understand each
“We don’t?” asked Zack.
Addy sighed and frowned. “Did you see the
way he looked at her when he came back into the hall with Andy Proctor
and all those other guys? Just a little grin, but she knew what he
meant by it. Priss and I can do that, but you and I—well—I wish we—I
wish we—understood each other like that.”
“And the way they dance together,” said Priss.
“Come on,” said Zack. “They don’t dance well
“I know,” said Priss, “but they—oh, I know this
doesn’t seem to make sense, but they don’t dance well the same way—the
way they don’t dance well is just right for them.”
“I know just what you mean,” said Addy.
“Well, I don’t,” said Zack. He went
outside for a pull at his flask.
Arnold Abbot Adler, leader of the resident dance
band at the Serenity Ballroom, Arnold Abbot Adler’s Triple-A Orchestra,
stepped to the edge of the bandstand and said, “Now, folks, we’d like to
try something a little different, something that the boys and I have been
working on for a long time, something we call ‘Lake Serenity Serenade.’
Lorna, holding Herb’s hand to steady herself, stepped
into the rowboat. The first notes drifted out over the lake, just
as Herb pushed off from the dock, and—what luck!—“Lake Serenity Serenade”
turned out to be lilting and beautiful, and the sax section of the Triple-A
Orchestra outdid itself. It was a great stroke of luck, one of those
happy accidents we discredit when we hear an account of their happening
to someone else, although they figure so prominently in our dreams and
daydreams and are sometimes our only reason for hope.
In Time and Free Will, his essay on the immediate
data of consciousness, Henri Bergson remarked that joy and passion are
“very like a turning of our states of consciousness toward the future.
As if their weight were diminished by this attraction, our ideas and sensations
succeed one another with greater rapidity; our movements no longer cost
us the same effort.” That is precisely what Herb, in his joy and
passion, experienced, though he didn’t give it a thought. He just
found the rowing remarkably easy. The water seemed as insubstantial
as the moonlight that played upon it. Herb took long, languid strokes.
When he lifted the oars, silver droplets fell from the blades, leaving
silver circles on the surface, circles that widened in the wake of the
little boat. The boat glided on, as easily as if it were floating
above the lake, through the clear air of the Whatsit Valley. Lorna
reclined in the stern and looked at the stars. She let her fingers
brush the surface of the water on either side of the boat. They left
rippling wakes of their own. Herb couldn’t see where he was going.
He had his back to the bow; he saw only Lorna. He was quite content.
He saw her smiling, and he was delighted to see her smiling. This
was a smile of contentment, of serene joy.
“Lorna,” he whispered, “close your eyes.”
Still smiling, she closed her eyes. Herb went
“Imagine that you see your future,” said Herb.
“Tell me what you see.”
Lorna drew a breath, and the air she inhaled thrilled
her. For a moment, she could hardly believe that she was breathing
ordinary air, the effect was so intoxicating. She had imagined her
future so well that she seemed to have taken a breath from that time, and
her smile widened because she’d tasted her future and found that she liked
it. Herb was rowing toward the future; the past was in their wake.
“It must be good,” said Herb, watching her.
“It is,” said Lorna. “Close your eyes, and
I’ll tell you what I see.”
“If I close my eyes, I won’t be able to see where
Airy laughter, almost giggles; silvery, moonlit
“Of course I can’t see where I’m going,” said Herb.
He swallowed and dared to say, very softly, “But I can see my future.”
Then he closed his eyes. “I closed my eyes,” he said.
“I see you,” said Lorna.
Herb drew a long breath and found it so intoxicating
that he gripped the oars tighter to steady himself. “Does that mean
what I hope it means?” he asked.
“I hope so,” she said.
“Do you want to know about my plans?” Herb asked.
“Of course I do,” said Lorna. “But it won’t
make any difference what they are; it’s you I love, Herb, not your plans.
Do you want to know mine?”
“Wouldn’t make any difference to me either,” said
Lorna sat up suddenly. “Are we engaged?” she
“I hope so,” said Herb.
The crowd inside the ballroom called for an encore
of “Lake Serenity Serenade” and got it, and during the encore Herb and
Lorna made love. It was, compared to what either had tasted so far,
a feast. All the senses were invited, and there was no reason this
time to leave the mind, the heart, or the imagination out of the fun; there
was something for all of them—some rocking rowboat, rocking, rocking, beneath
their tentative caresses, balsam scenting the air, moaning saxophones,
Lorna leaning over Herb, running her hands over his chest, imagining modeling
him in clay, tugging, pushing, kneading at his skin as if it were
clay, pushing him backward and pulling his pants down, laughing, the rowboat
rocking, rocking, rocking, whooops, rocking, grabbing for the gunwales,
ouch, ooh, a splinter, thin sliver in the palm of Lorna’s hand, Herb’s
slow, cautious extraction, drawing the sliver out so slowly that the sweet
pain made Lorna run her hand between her legs, salty taste of Lorna’s blood,
fluttering tickle of Herb’s tongue in Lorna’s palm, Lorna stretching out,
her slow undressing, moonlight turning her to ivory, Herb imagining her
in ivory, articulated here, here, here, here, wavelets lapping the sides
of the boat, distant voices, laughter, a call, a shriek, stars twinkling
in the night sky and bouncing in the water, Lorna’s foot dangling in the
water, Lorna twisting around and settling onto Herb, wiggling to feel Herb
in her, the long curved edges of the gunwales pressed into Herb’s calves,
his feet dangling in the water, the wavelets tickling the soles of his
feet, and at the moment of his coming the tickling becoming too much to
bear, his laughing, laughing, laughing, their collapsing into the boat
like fish landed after a struggle, flopping over the seats, bruising themselves
on the edges and corners and oarlocks, and laughing, laughing, and subsiding,
and lying with their arms around each other, just looking out over the
water, the flickering water, silver with moonlight, but now, oddly, gold
here and there, and even red, and—
Lorna lifted herself on one elbow and looked back
toward the ballroom. It was in flames. They hurried into their
clothes and began rowing back, sitting side by side, pulling at the oars,
keeping their course by keeping their fire-formed shadows in the boat,
and Lorna, who was so giddy with the promise of the future they had tasted
that she couldn’t resist her happiness, even though she worried about the
fire, turned toward Herb and asked, “You don’t think we did it,