The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
Herb ’n’ Lorna (A Love Story) by Eric Kraft, as Peter Leroy
Chapter 7: 
In Which Herb and Lorna Ignite the Flame of Passion

HERB’S 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.

HERB 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.



WHEN 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.

I 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 shoulder.
    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 a fright.”
    “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 Chacallit.
    “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 with Lorna.

  I 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 to go.” 
    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 nice boy.”
    “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 pleasure.
    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. 

THE 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.  “I do.”
    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.”

WHEN 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?  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 him.
    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, did you?”
    “No.  I would have told you so if I had.”
    “You would?”
    “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.  No complaints.”
    “Good.  Good.”
    For a moment, they just stood and smiled at each other.
    “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.

LORNA 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?” Lorna suggested.
    “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 Luther.
    “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 think so?”
    “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.”

IT’S 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 the time.”
    “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 with me.”
    “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 hands?”
    “Oh boy.”
    “—and he usually has a circle of admirers around him.”
    “I should have worn a brown tie.”

WHEN 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 smile.
    “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 Bump.
    “Hello there,” said Bump.  He gave Herb a nod.  No smile.
    “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 along.”
    “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 around Herb.
    “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 other.”
    “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 at all.”
    “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 on rowing.
    “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 I’m going.”
    Airy laughter, almost giggles; silvery, moonlit laughter.
    “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 Herb.
    Lorna sat up suddenly.  “Are we engaged?” she asked.
    “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, do you?”


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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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Libros en Español: Herb ’n’Lorna is also available in Spanish from Ediciones Destino.





Herb ’n’Lorna  copyright © 1988 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.

The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.