The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
Herb ’n’ Lorna (A Love Story) by Eric Kraft, as Peter Leroy
Chapter 8: 
In Which Herb and Lorna Move to Babbington, New York

THE FIRE at the Serenity Ballroom was caused, an investigation disclosed, not by Herb and Lorna’s ardor but by a kitchen accident.  According to May Castle, Lorna considered the burning of the ballroom the symbolic end of her girlhood, the end of her life as a child:
 Oh, yes, it was the burning point of her life.  Oh! I didn’t mean that, not at all.  I meant to say “turning point,” I honestly did.  Stop.  Rewind.  Start again. That night was the turning point of her life, you see.  And everything just happened all at once.  Here she was engaged, and she’d just made love to this wonderful man—the man she was destined to live her life with—and, oh, I don’t know, she may have had her first orgasm.  Well!  Then, to top it off, there was this perfectly spectacular fire!  It was quite a night.  It doesn’t surprise me a bit that she decided right then that she and Chacallit were fini.
“CLOSE YOUR EYES, Herb,” said Lorna, “and I’ll tell you about our future.”  She and Herb had driven to the top of Ackerman Hill, or as far as the road went, and they had stopped in the turnaround there.  Herb had his arm around Lorna’s shoulders, and she reclined against him.  He closed his eyes.
    “All right,” he said.
    “Now imagine this,” said Lorna.  “Six months have passed.  We’ve been married for four.  Four months ago, my father gave you a job in the sales department, and there was some talk, which you and he and I ignored as well as we could.  From your very first day on the job, though, you impressed everyone, and now even the people who resented you most when you arrived have to admit that you’re the best salesman they’ve ever seen.”
    Herb gave her a little squeeze.
    “They still talk about you behind your back, but now they usually say something like, ‘You know, I hate to admit it, but that Herb Piper is one heck of a salesman.’  My father is very proud of you.  So am I.  I’ve stopped working at the mill, because you don’t want my old friends to think that you can’t support me.  My father approves, since he never wanted me to work at the mill in the first place.  I spend all day at home.  My mother won’t let me cook, since that’s her job.  However, I am permitted to wash the dishes.  Every day my mother asks me if my marriage is happy and whether there’s anything I need to ask her about.
    “You and I are still living on the third floor, and we have to whisper when we talk in bed at night.  We eat dinner with my parents every evening, and after dinner we all sit together in the parlor, except on weekends, when you and I go out.  Every time we go out, we run into Andy Proctor.  You and Andy have become great pals.  Every time he greets you he pounds you on the back, and every time he greets me he winks.
    “My mother and father celebrate our six-month anniversary by opening a bottle of champagne.  My father announces that you’ve earned another promotion.  We’re all delighted.  Then he clears his throat and tells us how very happy he and my mother are about the way things have turned out.  He makes a joke about the misunderstanding when they first met you.  My mother laughs.  We all laugh.  He says something sentimental.  We all shed some tears.  We eat dinner.  We sit in the parlor.  The clock ticks.  My father nods in his chair.  You and I go upstairs.  We slip into bed.  We are very quiet.  In the dark, I whisper in your ear, ‘Herb, let’s get out of here.’ ”
    She sat upright, took Herb’s face in her hands, and said, “Herb, why wait? Let’s get out of here now.”
    “Okay,” said Herb.

“CHACALLIT is about one hundred seventy-eight and a half miles from Boston,” said Lorna, looking up from the map that she had spread out on the kitchen table.
    “ ‘About’?” said Herb.  He poked her.  She bumped him with her hip.
    “About,” she said.  “Here.  Let’s try something.”  From a drawer, she took a ball of string.  She stretched a length of it from Boston to Chacallit.  She held the Boston end in place, and with her pencil at the other end, she scribed an arc.  Then she held the Chacallit end in place, put her pencil at the Boston end, and scribed another arc.
    “What have we got?” asked Herb.
    Together, they bent over the map. 
    “Well, we’ve got West Burke, Vermont,” said Lorna, pointing out the northern intersection of the arcs, “or,” turning to the southern intersection, “Babbington, New York.  On Long Island.”
    She looked at Herb.  He looked at her.  “I like the ocean,” he said.
    “I’ve never seen it,” said Lorna, beaming.
    Separately, each of them knew that they’d need money to move, and, separately, each of them knew how to get it, and neither of them wanted the other to know how it would be gotten, so each of them concocted a lie, and the lies, like the arcs Lorna drew to find a place to go, overlapped and intersected, and they concealed truths that overlapped and intersected too.
    “I have some money—” Lorna began.
    “So do I,” said Herb.
    “But my uncle Luther is—holding it,” said Lorna.
    “My uncle Ben has mine,” said Herb.
    “I—I invested it—that is, he invested it for me,” said Lorna.
    “I lent it to Uncle Ben to help him out, but I’m sure he can pay me back now,” said Herb.
    “It will take a little while for me to get it,” said Lorna.
    “I’ll have to go home and explain to Uncle Ben,” said Herb.  “It could take—a while.”



IN BOSTON, Herb told his uncle Ben what he had in mind.  “Here’s what I have in mind, Uncle Ben,” he said.  “I’ll make eleven more prototypes.  That’ll give you a dozen models.  Okay?”
    “Okay,” said Ben.  “I’ll work out an arrangement with the people in Chacallit so that you get a certain percentage of the sales.”
    “I need money now, Uncle Ben.”
    “Maybe I can get them to advance you some money.  I’ll have to see.”
    “Why don’t I just sell you the designs, Uncle Ben?  Outright.  Then you make whatever deal you want with the manufacturer.  How about that?”  (Herb felt a little ashamed of himself for what he was doing, because he thought that he might be taking advantage of his uncle Ben.  An outright sale of the designs seemed to Herb the only prudent course to take.  It would have seemed so to his cautious mother, too.  A bird in the hand certainly seems to be worth two in the bush.  But, as it turned out, Herb was, at the very moment when he was feeling guilty about taking advantage of Ben, doing a foolish Piper thing.  He was convincing himself that the coarse-goods trade was a poor financial risk.  He was talking himself into taking sure money instead of the royalties that might have made him rich.)
    “Well, I’d be taking a risk,” said Ben.
    “Oh, right,” said Herb.  “You’re right.  I understand that—”
    “I wouldn’t be able to give you too much for them,” said Ben, “on account of the risk.”
    “I understand,” said Herb.  “I know you’re taking a risk.”
    “How much did you think you’d want?” asked Ben.
    “Three thousand dollars,” said Herb.
    “Oh,” said Ben.  He was genuinely disappointed.  He had hoped that he’d be able to let Herb have everything he wanted, that he would be able to be both generous uncle and good businessman.  “It’s more than I can put out,” he said.  “I’ve got an idea, though.  I can give you half of it in cash and half of it in goods.”
    “What kind of goods?”
    “Coarse goods.”
    “Aw, Uncle Ben,” said Herb.
    “It’s the best I can do, Herb,” said Ben.  “I mean it.”
    “All right,” said Herb.  He paused.  “Uncle Ben, you have to promise me something.  You have to promise me never to tell anyone about this.”
    “Hell, you shouldn’t be ashamed of this, Herb.  There’s lots of people who do worse things than—”
    “Uncle Ben, you have to promise.”
    “All right, I promise.”
    “And I mean never.”

WHEN LORNA arrived at Luther’s office, he greeted her with a thin smile.  “This is an unexpected pleasure,” he said.
    “Uncle Luther,” said Lorna, “I’ll do it.”
    “Do what?” asked Luther, smiling unctuously.
    “You know what,” said Lorna.
    “Why, you don’t mean—” said Luther, raising an eyebrow to complete his question.
    “Yes, I do, and you know it.”
    “Now must be never, then.”
    “I guess it must.”
    “What changed your mind, my dear?”
    “Herb and I are going to leave Chacallit, and we’ll need money to get ourselves settled.”
    “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
    “Uncle Luther, let’s talk about my terms.”
    “I’ll work for two months.”
    “Two months?”
    “That’s all.  I want your word that you’ll never tell anyone about this and that you’ll never ask me to work on coarse goods again.”
    “Does this mean that your young man doesn’t know about your craft?”
    “He doesn’t know anything at all about it, and I want you to promise that he’ll never know anything from you, directly or indirectly.  No accidental slips.  No hints.  No winks.  Nothing.”
    “He will never know from me, dear,” said Luther, raising his hand.  “I wonder, though, whether deception is a good beginning for a marriage.”
    Lorna went right on.  “I want twenty-five percent more than John Caldwell’s getting now,” she said.  “You can tell people I’m getting less, if you want, but that’s what you’re going to have to pay me.”
    “My, my, isn’t it amazing the way time changes people.  It seems as if it was only yesterday when you came into this office full of righteous indignation, waving a pamphlet from the Women’s Socialist League or something like that—”
    “The Women’s Trade Union League.”
    “Oh.  The Women’s Trade Union League.  You were quite taken with what they had to say back then.  Wasn’t it ‘equal pay for equal work’?”
    “It was.”
    “Well, what happened to that idea?”
    “Why, Uncle Luther,” said Lorna, “You know very well that John’s work was never the equal of mine.” 
    She turned and walked out of the office, leaving the door open behind her.  When she was halfway along the corridor, she heard its satisfying slam.

IT TOOK MORE than two months for Herb to dispose of the coarse goods Ben gave him, develop eleven new couples (and how he yearned for Lorna while he worked, how much his imagination was enlarged by thinking of her), sell his list of Five-Foot-Shelf customers, sell his old Studebaker Four, and buy a new-to-him Studebaker Series 19 “Light Six.”  Lorna carved coarse goods for Luther while she waited for Herb’s return, and together, though apart, they accumulated a nice little nest egg.

AT HERB AND LORNA’S WEDDING, Lester Piper appeared to have regained all of his old spark.  He so charmed Richard Huber that Richard spent hours trying to persuade Lester to leave what he supposed was a fairly good position in Boston and move to Chacallit, where the air was clear and the rushing waters of the Whatsit were mellifluous and pure, and to try breathing some life into his sales department.  To Richard Huber’s surprise (but much more to the surprise of Millie and Ben Piper), Lester accepted.
    There was some talk in Chacallit when Lester and Millie arrived and put up with the Hubers until they found a place of their own, and there was some resentment when Lester assumed his duties, but in a few months even the people who had resented him most when he arrived had to admit that Lester Piper was the best salesman they’d ever seen.

  HERB AND LORNA arrived in Babbington on a cold and rainy Sunday night.  The town looked deserted.  Main Street was nearly dark; the only light came from night lights in a few shops, from the streetlamps at the intersection of Bolotomy and Main, from the police station, and from a garage across the street from the police station.  Of these, the first that Lorna and Herb saw, coming into town from the west, were those at the police station and the garage.
    “Well,” said Herb, “it’s not quite what I’d imagined.”
    “How can you tell?” asked Lorna.  “I can’t see a thing.”
    “That’s what I mean.  I had imagined a clear night, a moon, moonlight on the ocean, something like that.”
    “Sounds like the night we burned the ballroom,” said Lorna.
    “There’s something,” said Herb.  “Looks like a police station up ahead.”
    “I’ll take your word for it,” said Lorna.
    “And a service station.  Speedy’s Reliable Service.”
    Herb pulled into Speedy’s and dashed through the rain into the station.  There, at an oak desk, bent over a copy of the Babbington Reporter, was Officer Dan Whitley, youngest son of the renowned scoundrel and noted angler Andy Whitley, the mayor of Babbington at that time.  After a moment or two spent standing, patiently, just inside the door, clearing his throat and shuffling his feet now and then, Herb decided that Dan was asleep.  He retreated soundlessly to the door, opened it, backed out into the rain, and reentered, this time with a heavy tread and loud exclamations.
    “Whoo!” he exclaimed.  “It’s not a fit night out for man or beast!”  He stamped his feet and shook the rainwater from his hat.
    Dan, startled, sat up straight, shook himself awake, and rubbed his eyes.
    “Say, I didn’t startle you, did I?” asked Herb.
    “Me?” asked Dan.  “Heck no.  You just kind of surprised me.  I was pretty intent on what I was reading here, that’s all.”
    “What’s that?” asked Herb.
    “Obits,” said Dan.
    “Uh-oh,” said Herb.  “Nobody close to you, I hope.”
    “Hm?  Oh, no.  Not anybody special.  Well, there is a cousin in here today, kind of a distant one, though.  Couple of other people I knew enough to say hello to.  I read ’em all, though.  Don’t matter to me who they are.  It’s kind of a study with me, a study of human nature.  You find out a lot about people this way.  ’Course, you have to know how to read between the lines sometimes, but it’s funny how much you don’t know about somebody till he’s dead.”
    Herb and Dan spent a moment in silent contemplation of that idea, and then Dan looked at Herb as if realizing for the first time that Herb was someone he didn’t know at all, not even to say hello to.
    “Say,” Dan said, “what’re you doing out on a night like this?  You in some kind of trouble?”
    “No,” said Herb, “no trouble.  My wife and I—”
    “No, I—”
    “Passing through?  Want some gas?” 
    A toilet flushed somewhere behind Dan, and he jerked his thumb in the direction of the sound. 
    “Speedy’ll be right out,” he said.  “I’d pump you some myself, but I’m on duty.”
    “That’s okay. I don’t need gas,” said Herb.  “Just directions.”
    “Said you weren’t lost,” Dan pointed out.  He narrowed his eyes.
    “No.  Yes.  That’s right, I’m not.  Lost.  I—we—we’re going to settle here.”
    “Here?  In Babbington?”
    “Yes, in Babbington.”
    Dan inspected Herb.  Behind Dan, a door opened, and a squat man in coveralls emerged from it.  Herb smiled and nodded at him.  “You related to the Feasters?” Dan asked.
    “No,” said Herb.  “The name’s Piper, Herb Piper.  I don’t have any relatives here—I don’t even know anyone here.”  He extended his hand.  Neither Dan nor Speedy made a move to shake it.
    “The wife?” asked Dan.
    “No, no.  We just came to Babbington because—”
    Herb had been about to describe the method that Lorna had used to choose Babbington as a place for them to live, but he thought better of it.  It would, he knew, seem ridiculous, and, worse than that, it might seem insulting.  After all, wouldn’t he be saying that he and Lorna had come to Babbington because they knew that they could be happy wherever they went, that their love, their benevolent giant, would follow them anywhere?  You can’t say that to a person, Herb thought, say that this place, the place where he lives, seems to you only as good as any other place—no better, no worse.
    “Because what?” asked Dan.  There was a new chill in his voice.
    “Well, because we heard nice things about it,” Herb lied.  He certainly didn’t want to begin his life in Babbington by offending the civic pride of, or arousing the suspicions of, the police.  “That is, my wife did,” he said, his mind racing.  “See, my wife is from Chacallit, upstate, not far from Albany, and—um—when she was a little girl some people from Babbington were passing through, and—”
    “That would be the Sutphens, I’ll bet,” said Speedy, folding his arms across his chest.
    “The Sutphens!” said Herb, eager to establish some link between Lorna and himself and the town.  “It probably was!  Yes, it probably was.  The Sutphens.”
    “Went to Canada,” said Speedy.  Herb nodded enthusiastically.
    “Fled to Canada,” said Dan.  “Probably passed through this place your wife’s from—Whatchamacallit—”
    “Right.  Wilfred and Elizabeth Sutphen.  Wilfred was accused of embezzling, went to trial, wasn’t convicted.”
    “Not guilty,” said Herb, nodding again.
    “Not convicted,” said Dan.
    “Uh-huh,” said Herb, who was beginning to wonder how long it would take to drive to West Burke, Vermont.
    “Nobody ever found the money,” said Speedy.
    “I read where Wilfred died just a few weeks ago,” said Dan.
    “Fell off a horse in front of a truck,” said Speedy.
    “I remember the headline on his obit,” said Dan.  He held his hands in front of him with his thumbs and index fingers spread and drew them apart to suggest a banner headline.  “ ‘Former Babbingtonian Dies in Wolf Snout, Manitoba,’ it said.  And then under that, smaller, it said, ‘Wilfred Sutphen, 58, Alleged Embezzler.’ ”
    “Well,” said Herb, “I’m sure it was somebody else, then, not the Sutphens, but whoever it was, these people made the town sound so wonderful that my wife fell in love with the place.”
    “She fell in love with it without even seeing it?” asked Speedy.  He didn’t look like a man convinced.  Herb asked himself why he hadn’t just told the truth.  He was backing farther and farther into a corner.  This was not getting off on the right foot.
    “She—” said Herb.  He sighed.  He didn’t know what to say next.  The door opened.  Lorna walked in.  “Lorna!” he said.  “Lorna. I—was just trying to explain to—um, Officer—um—and Mr. Speedy how it was that we decided to settle here in Babbington, why it had to be this town and no other.  Not as if we just picked out any old town on a map—and they were wondering how it was that you fell in love with the place without ever having seen it.”
    “I saw it in my mind’s eye,” said Lorna, “in my imagination.  The little seacoast town.  The neat houses.”  She stopped.  Dan and Speedy wore looks that said they expected more.
    “The—uh, church steeples,” offered Herb.  “The—red and yellow leaves on the trees in the fall.”
    “Schoolchildren on their way to—school,” said Lorna.
    “The glowing streetlamps,” said Herb.
    Lorna held her hands up as if calling for silence and half closed her eyes.  “The night, the glowing streetlamps, the people asleep in their cozy beds, in their neat houses, safe and warm, while trusty guardians keep watch through the night.”  She smiled.  She wore the look of an enchanted child, envisioning her Shangri-La.
    Dan and Speedy smiled back.  They looked enchanted themselves.  “And after all these years, here you are at last,” Dan said.
    Lorna smiled her answer.
    “Well, I hope you won’t be disappointed,” said Speedy.  “A lot of times, you find out that things aren’t everything you were hoping they’d be, you know?  You get an idea all worked up in your mind about how something is going to be and then, brother, are you in for a surprise.  Take right now, for instance.  I’ll bet you didn’t imagine that when you got to Babbington, you’d be caught in a rainstorm like this, did you?”
    Lorna couldn’t resist. “Oh, I did,” she said, breathless, her eyes shining.  “I imagined it just like this.”
    “What?” said Speedy, his eyes widening.  “Howling wind, driving rain, and you all wet and shivering—that’s the way you imagined it?”
    “Yes,” said Lorna, still the enchanted girl.
    “And you fell in love with it?”
    A nod full of charm, those bright eyes.
    “Boy, oh boy, love is a crazy thing,” said Dan, grinning and shaking his head.  “A woman can fall in love with the?”  He caught himself.  Confused, he looked at Lorna.  He found no help in her smile.  To change the subject, he asked, “Where—um—where did you imagine you two were going to stay?”
    Lorna closed her eyes.  “A small hotel—” she said.
    “Mm-hm,” said Dan.
    “Yeah,” said Speedy.
    “—where salesmen stay sometimes—”
    “—with a small dining room—”
    “—not far from here.”
    “That’s got to be the River Sound Hotel!” said Dan.  His eyes were wide.
    “Couldn’t be anyplace else,” said Speedy.  “That’s it, plain as day.”
    “Amazing,” said Dan.  He let his mouth hang open.

AFTER LORNA AND HERB were settled in their room at the River Sound, they went out for a walk.  Through the rain and the dark, they walked in the direction in which Lorna supposed the ocean to be.  They walked along River Sound Road, then along Bolotomy Road, until they reached the Municipal Dock.  Storm-driven waves pounded the dock, and spray washed over the bulkheads.  Lorna cried, “The ocean!”
    It was not—it was only Bolotomy Bay—but Lorna felt exactly the surge of excitement she had imagined she would feel when she first saw the ocean.  She ran to the edge of the dock.  Clinging to a piling, she leaned out over the dark water and let the spray splatter her.  She licked the water from her lips and tasted the salt.  She ran to Herb and hugged him.
    “Let’s go back to the hotel and see if we can burn it down,” she said.

AT THAT TIME, the economic foundation of Babbington still rested on the bottom of Bolotomy Bay, on the bay’s clam beds.  The clamming industry and related industries—boat building and repair, the manufacture of clamming equipment, clam processing, clam by-products, tartar sauce preparation and packaging, and so on—employed most of the men of Babbington and nearly all of the women who worked.  The Babbington Clam Council, an industry group, was a powerful force in local politics, and clamming-related fraternal orders—notably the Mercenarians, the Order of Littlenecks, and the Secret and Mystical Fraternity of Fun-Loving Baymen—were important in the social life of the town.  A casual stroll along Main Street, like the casual stroll that Lorna and Herb took on their first full day in town, provided ample evidence of the importance of the bay and the clam.
    At first glance, Main Street, Babbington, looked much like Main Street in any other small town of that time; the street was lined with banks, lunch counters, a hardware store, a five-and-ten, a movie house, groceries, shoe stores, clothing shops, and such, and above the shops were offices occupied by insurance companies, the Babbington Reporter, lawyers, dentists, a gypsy reader, and other professionals—the assortment of enterprises that one would expect on Main Street just about anywhere.  A closer look, however, discovered signs of the dominance of clam fishery: the clam-digging equipment displayed in the window of Babbington Diggers’ Gear, the “Stages in the Life of a Clam” exhibit in a window of the local office of Continental Clam, the “treading booties” offered in the window of the Superior Shoe Shop, the clam chowder, clam broth, clams casino, baked stuffed clams, clam fritters, clam cakes, fried clams, steamed clams, clams on the half shell, and “clamburger” on the menu at Louise’s Lunch, and so on.
    They walked the length of Main Street.  They stopped across the street from Continental Clam to watch some schoolchildren on a field trip make their way from panel to panel in the stages in the life of a clam.  The children seemed fascinated by one panel in particular.  Lorna took Herb by the arm and pulled him across the street.  They stood behind the children and looked over their heads.  Large blue letters at the top of the display announced:


A diorama depicted a submarine orgy.  Several female clams were discharging puffs that reminded Lorna of her father’s pipe smoke.


Several male clams were releasing thin whitish streams in random directions.


    The children were giggling.  One girl noticed Herb and Lorna’s reflection in the window.  She turned and looked at Lorna and blushed.  Lorna smiled and, quite aware of the implications of what she was doing, winked at the girl.  She squeezed Herb’s arm tighter, and when they walked away she stopped after a couple of steps, put both arms around Herb, hugged him, and kissed him.  She hoped the girl was watching, and she hoped she’d get the message Lorna meant to send: it’s a lot more fun than that.

IN THE DAYS that followed, Herb looked for work, and Lorna looked for a place to live.  As it happened, Lorna found a job, and Herb found an apartment.
    The job that Lorna found, through a conversation with a woman in a drug store, was a job for Herb.  It wasn’t much of a job.  It was a job as a culler in the Babbington Clam packing plant.  Cullers picked through the clams, sorting them by size and quality.  Cullers’ work was boring work.  It didn’t pay much.  The woman who suggested it to Lorna was a clammy’s wife; she had thought of culling as work for Lorna, work to bring in money until her husband got a job, work that would assure her that some money would always be coming in, even when her husband was out of work, work to help make ends meet, work to earn her some mad money, perhaps, but not a breadwinner’s work, not work for bringing home the bacon.
    Herb took the job at once.  He and Lorna didn’t need money right away; they had put together enough to keep them for a while.  Herb knew, though, from his selling experience, how important, persistent, and difficult to alter a first impression is, and for that reason he wanted to get to work right away, and the meaner the job, the more it suited him.  The first impression that people have of you, even when it is a mistaken one (and I’d be willing to bet that three first impressions out of four are mistaken), becomes a part of your past as perceived (or misperceived) by those who have formed the impression (or misimpression), a part of that past that pursues you forever, that dogged giant who’s always on your heels.  Bob Mintner, in his overpriced videocassette series You Could Make a Million If You Would Stop Acting Like a Jerk, says, on the subject of the first impression:
    You can NEVER overcome the first impression.  If you get off on the WRONG FOOT, you can NEVER get back in step.  You may think that tomorrow, if you wear a new jacket and tie, change your hairstyle, sprinkle your remarks with some of the latest “SNAPPY” expressions, and put a new SPRING in your step, people will see you in a NEW LIGHT, that they’ll say, “Say, I’ve been ALL WRONG about Fred!  Why, it’s as if I’m seeing him for the FIRST TIME.”  Well, FORGET it.  You’re WRONG.  They may look at you, but they won’t SEE you.  The man they are going to see is the man who matches the IDEA THEY FORMED OF YOU when they FIRST MET YOU.  Compared to you, that guy is a GIANT!  The only thing you can do if you’ve gotten off on the wrong foot is pack your bags, get out of town, change your name, and start ALL OVER AGAIN.
    “What I want to do, Lorna,” said Herb, “is make a good first impression.  I want to impress on people the idea that I’m ready to work.  I want them to think of me as a hard and willing worker.  Later on, I can find a good selling job, I’m sure of that.  When I do, I’ll have a reputation around town.  People won’t think of me as a guy who came into town as a salesman.  They’ll think of me as a guy who came to Babbington with nothing but ambition and a willingness to work and who, by God, worked himself up from a job culling in the clam plant to a good job as a salesman.  I’ll be a Babbington success story, a local hero, and people will be happy to buy from me.”
    Lorna wasn’t sure whether to laugh or not.  She saw that there was wisdom behind Herb’s idea, but even so it sounded like a laughable scheme.  “Where did you get those ideas?” she asked.
    “Well,” said Herb, “I thought of the details myself, but I got the basic idea from one of the books in Professor Clapp’s Five-Foot Shelf.”
    “What one was that?”
    “Sixty-six Steps up the Stairway to Success—Starting at the Bottom.”

THE APARTMENT.  Well, the apartment might not have seemed much better than the job.  Herb found it while he was walking along Bolotomy Road, on his way to the area in the southernmost part of Babbington, along the bay, where, he had learned, most of the messier work was done.  He intended to wander through the area and see what the businesses looked like, see whether there were any jobs to be had.  He had already fixed his mind on the notion of demonstrating to Babbington a rise from obscurity by dint of labor, so that he would be admired and trusted, and he had decided to take any small, mean job at the scruffiest of the plants.
    Bolotomy Road began at the heart of Babbington, the only intersection lit by streetlamps on the dark night when Lorna and Herb arrived in town: the intersection that Babbingtonians of long standing always referred to as “Bolotomy and Main,” though in fact only the northerly reach of the road that intersected Main Street there was officially called Bolotomy Road.  The part of it that ran to the south, toward the bay, had been renamed Bella Vista Boulevard, a name that the progressive faction of the town council had advocated as a step toward attracting touring motorists to Babbington.  Bella Vista Boulevard was one of the shibboleths that identified newcomers; it was ignored by all Babbingtonians whose residence in Babbington predated the change or who wished to appear to have been living in Babbington before the change.  Old-timers always referred to Bella Vista Boulevard as Lower Bolotomy and Bolotomy Road as Upper Bolotomy, or simply as Lower and Upper.
    Along Lower, as he walked south from Bolotomy and Main, Herb passed a couple of blocks of shops, shops that didn’t require the visibility of Main Street locations (or didn’t desire that visibility—it was in this stretch, about twenty-five years after Lorna and Herb came to Babbington, that Head Cheese, Babbington’s first psyche-delicatessen, opened, displacing a candy-and-tobacco store called Maxie’s).  Farther along, he passed large, handsome frame houses, most of them painted white, many the homes of professional people—doctors, lawyers, accountants—some of whom had offices in their homes and hung their shingles on metal brackets that projected from the sides of their front porches.  He continued walking, past blocks of smaller houses, into a stretch where the houses were very small, not much larger than cabins, and tumbled together, like sugar cubes spilled from a box.  The little houses were separated by narrow strips of sand in which, here and there, hardy patches of crabgrass grew, and in odd corners there was the happy surprise of a wild rose.
    In the window of one of these houses was a sign:


Herb couldn’t imagine where the apartment could be.  The house presented such a tiny, pinched face to the street that it seemed too small to house the landlord, let alone a tenant.  Curious, he knocked.
    In a moment, the door opened a few inches.  A gaunt, bent man with sunken eyes looked out.
    “Hello,” said Herb.  “I saw the sign.  ‘Apt to let.’ ”  He smiled.
    The eyes looked Herb up and down.  The man’s tongue popped out one side of his mouth, as if acting on its own initiative, and waggled.  The man’s mouth moved as if in speech, but no sound came from it other than something like “Dut, dut, dut.”  The man’s head nodded, and the door closed.  Herb wasn’t sure whether he’d been told to wait or to go away.  He waited.  In a moment the door opened again, fully this time.  Standing in the doorway was a short, scrawny woman.  She had wild hair; it looked as if she’d given each of the phrenological regions of her scalp a hairdo of its own.  She looked at Herb for a moment without saying anything or altering her blank expression.  Then, suddenly, she burst into a frenzy of welcome.
    “Come in! Come in!” she cried.  She reached out and grabbed Herb’s sleeve and began tugging at him.  She bared her few teeth in a smile.  “I’d be happy to show you the apartment.  Happy.”  Herb let himself be drawn inside, and she closed the door behind him at once.
    Herb followed her down a narrow hallway that ran along one side of the boxy little house.  On his left was an outer wall.  It was covered with wallpaper that must once have been bright and pretty, a pattern of wild roses, but was now so darkened and stained that the roses barely showed.  On his right were curtains, improvised from old bedspreads, worn and soiled, that provided the only separation between the hallway and the living quarters beyond.  These bedspreads didn’t quite meet.  Through the spaces between them, Herb saw a dark sitting room and a dingy kitchen.  In the kitchen, seated at a small table, was the man who had come to the door when he first knocked, now bent over a copy of the Babbington Reporter, straining to read in the dim light, rocking slightly while he read and repeating to himself, “Dut, dut, dut.”
    At the end of the makeshift hallway was a door, and beyond the door was another very narrow hallway, without any light at all, and at the end of that was another door.  The shrunken woman opened the second door, and the effect was as if she had opened a door to the sun.  Herb stepped inside a small room, almost a perfect cube, a box of yellow light.  It was a tiny room, but it had been scrubbed and polished and whitewashed, and there were windows all around it.  In one corner was a rudimentary kitchen; in another was a living room (two upholstered chairs arranged on either side of a wobbly table); in the third was a bed—crudely built, the honey color of old pine, enormous and inviting; in the fourth corner was a bathtub on ball-and-claw feet.
    “Is there—uh—?” asked Herb.
    “Uhh?” asked the white-haired woman.
    “Uhh—” said Herb.
    “Uhh?” she asked again.
    “Uh, that is—”
    “Ahhh!” said the woman.  “Ohhh, yes, yes, right out here.”  She opened a door beside the tub, and, to Herb’s relief, disclosed a flush toilet.

“REMEMBER,” said Herb, “you have to wear the blindfold.”
    “All right,” said Lorna. 
    Actually, she liked the idea of wearing a blindfold, liked the mystery, looked forward to the surprise, loved Herb’s obvious delight over the apartment he’d found, took pleasure from his pleasure, and took pleasure from the fact (and there was no doubt, could be no doubt, that it was a fact) that he wanted to please her, wanted her to be as happy with the place he’d found as he was.  She tied the blindfold, Herb’s scarf, around her head, and arranged it so that she couldn’t see.
    “You’re smiling,” said Herb.
    “I’m happy,” said Lorna.  “This reminds me of closing my eyes when we were out on the lake the night we burned the ballroom.”
    “Here we are,” said Herb.  He stopped the car, leaped out, ran around to Lorna’s door, and helped her out.  He led her to the door of the house.  He didn’t have to knock.  Mrs. Mixup—so she called herself, giving in to the inability or unwillingness of the people she met to pronounce Mikszath—had been watching for their arrival.  She opened the door silently, and silently Herb led Lorna along the hallway, through the first door, through the second, narrower, hallway, and through the second door, which he closed behind them.
    “And now,” he said, working at the knot Lorna had made in his scarf, “we can take the blindfold off.”  He pulled it away, and Lorna gasped.  For a terrible moment, Herb thought that he’d failed completely to see the place through Lorna’s eyes, thought that her gasp was a sign of revulsion, but that passed, passed as quickly as it had come.  She clapped her hands, she whirled around, she moved from one part of the room to another, drawing deep breaths, beaming.
    “It’s so bright!” she said.  “And it’s so—tiny.”
    “It is small,” said Herb, uncertain again.
    “Not small,” said Lorna.  “Tiny.  It’s wonderful.  It’s like playing house, just like playing house.  And look!  Roses outside the window!”
    “You like it,” said Herb.
    “I love it,” said Lorna.  She ran to him and threw her arms around his neck.
    “There is a drawback,” said Herb.
    “What?” asked Lorna.
    Herb reached behind him and opened the door.  In the dark, narrow hallway, Lorna saw a bony white-haired woman, wiping her hands on an apron, and, behind her, a bent man who bobbed slightly and moved his mouth but said nothing.  Herb grimaced and shifted his eyes from Lorna’s.  “I’d like you to meet the Mikszaths,” he said.
    “Why, hello,” said Lorna.
    “Such a lovely girl,” said Mrs. Mikszath.  She rushed forward and took Lorna’s hands.  “A lovely girl, isn’t she, Miklos?”
    “Dut, dut, dut,” said Miklos.
    “I think I should show you—um—the entrance,” said Herb.  He took Lorna by the hand and led her into the narrow hallway.  The Mikszaths retreated before them, backing toward the front door.
    “Lovely,” said Mrs. Mikszath, again and again.
    “Dut, dut, dut,” said Mr. Mikszath.

HERB AND LORNA moved in the next day, but, while they were unpacking, Herb began to feel that he’d been unfair, that he’d forced Lorna to share, or at least to try to share, his enthusiasm for the apartment.  He began to feel that he should have left the apartment hunting to her, that she should have been the one to choose the place where she would live, and that, if she had been the one to choose, she would never have chosen a place like this, would certainly never have chosen any place where she had to walk through her landlords’ home and home life to get to her own.
    “I know it isn’t as private as you’d like,” said Herb.
    “It doesn’t matter,” said Lorna.  “I love it here.”
    “It’s going to be awkward walking through their place every time we come and go,” said Herb.
    “I don’t mind,” said Lorna.
    “It isn’t too late to change our minds,” said Herb.  He came to her and took her face in his hands.  “I’ll tell them that we really have to have a larger place, and that I talked you into taking this place, and it wasn’t fair to you—”
    “Dut, dut, dut,” said Lorna.  She wrapped herself around Herb and kissed him quiet.  “Ignite me, please,” she whispered.
    When they got back to unpacking, Herb watched with amusement and surprise while Lorna unpacked with great care a lurid papier-mâché duck and tried placing it in several locations around the room before settling on a window sill in the kitchen as just the right spot for it.
    “Lorna,” said Herb, “where did you get—”
    “Don’t say anything nasty about it,” said Lorna.  “I know it’s not beautiful, but it’s important to me.”  She held the duck in front of her with both hands, elevated it, rotated it, examined it.  “I’ve had it since I was a little girl.”  She paused.  “A very little girl,” she added distractedly, struck by an appreciation of all the time, so much time, that had passed since she’d thought that the duck was beautiful and that it stood for Uncle Luther’s love.  How much more it meant now.  And yet, how much uglier and smaller it seemed, now, here, removed from childhood and Chacallit, distant in time, space, and understanding.  “This,” she said, meaning all that, “is a very old duck.”

THEIR STAY in the one-room apartment at the Mikszaths’ would, Herb and Lorna agreed, be temporary, and it would do just fine for a while, till they found something bigger, something better, while they were learning their way around Babbington, while Herb was establishing himself.  It would be just fine until they found someplace that they really liked.
    They stayed for five years.  During those five years, Mr. Mikszath, who had been the victim of a stroke, never said anything but “Dut, dut, dut.”  Herb and Lorna learned to interpret his pointing, his sketching in the air, his twisted facial expressions, and the various emphases he put on his “duts,” and they made his vocabulary of “duts,” grimaces, and gestures a part of theirs.  Mrs. Mikszath’s affection for them grew and grew, but she also developed a romantic interest in Herb.  She began wearing makeup, elaborate costume jewelry, and gauzy, nearly transparent, blouses.  Her remarks took on the style of double-entendres, even when they were not so intended, so warmly burned the fire in her heart.  Once a week, at least, she would come to their door in the evening, soon after Herb had returned home, with a tray on which she’d laid out dinner for two, insisting, always, that she’d made too much for Miklos and herself, or that this was a dish she’d eaten as girl—full of memories, they had to try it—or that Miklos couldn’t eat because his stomach was “stormy.”  Whatever she brought was provided in his-and-hers sizes: a large plate for Herb, almost a platter, and coffee in a mug; a small plate for Lorna, and coffee in a tiny cup, an heirloom, a precious cup of the thinnest, finest china, offered as an apology for the way she felt about Herb, an acknowledgment of Lorna’s femininity, and a reminder of her own.

HERB’S WORK at the clam-packing plant was noticed from the start; he seemed to have a talent for culling, and he was so dexterous that he came to be regarded with the kind of awe and envy that athletes inspire when they perform feats so far beyond the capabilities of the average person that they seem by performing them to be enlarging the aspirations of the species, to be outlining a new bulge along the frontier of human endeavor.  Herb enjoyed his growing reputation, and he was surprised to find how content he was to do this work, this work that required so little of him.  He hid his true ambitions well, so well that Lorna hardly saw any evidence of them herself.  She saw him reading the Reporter every day, but never looking at the help-wanted ads, and she wondered whether he really meant what he said when he told her that he’d been inspired by what Dan Whitley had told him that very first night when they arrived in Babbington: that it’s amazing how much you learn about a person from an obituary, amazing how much you didn’t know or didn’t notice when the person was alive.  From that, Herb had gone on to the realization that in a small town the key to selling, or any kind of advancement, was information, information that an outsider had to make a special effort to acquire.  Much later, when he and Lorna were retired in Punta Cachazuda, he put the idea this way: “You’ve heard people say, ‘It’s not what you know that counts; it’s who you know.’  Well, that’s not quite right.  I found that it’s what you know about who you know that counts.”  Herb was finding out a great deal about the people of Babbington, but the more he found out, the more he found there was to find out.  He began keeping notes, on cards.
    His affection for tinkering, for fixing things, improving things, served him as well in Babbington as it had in Quelquepart-sur-Marne; he was always ready to do anyone a favor of the tinkering type, and an unanticipated reward of his doing these little favors was that he obtained, incidentally, close-up glimpses into the lives of many Babbingtonians.  His very first repair job in Babbington was his work on the Mikszaths’ sagging front door.  When he had made the door as good as it once had been, he went on to make it better: he added a secret lock, a spring-loaded bolt, that could be opened by pushing an ordinary-looking nail that projected slightly from the door frame, just to the right of the doorknob.  This arrangement allowed Miklos, for whom the effects of his stroke and of arthritis made manipulating a key nearly impossible, to lock and unlock the door on his own.
    When Herb demonstrated his ingenious handiwork to the Mikszaths and Lorna, the women, moved by the generosity of thought that underlay Herb’s work, hugged him in turn.  Mrs. Mikszath blinked away her tears; Lorna let hers run down her cheeks.  Miklos locked and unlocked the door again and again.  He turned to Herb, and the strength of his emotion was clear on his gaunt face.  He clapped one gnarled hand on Herb’s shoulder and squeezed it as well as he could.  He swallowed hard.
    “Dut, dut, dut,” he said.
    “Aw, don’t say that, Miklos,” said Herb.  “It was fun for me.  I like doing this sort of thing.”
    Mrs. Mikszath could not be prevented from telling the story of Herb’s work on her front door.  She broadcast the news of Herb’s generosity and tinkering talent far and wide, and she described in precise detail just how the ingenious lock worked.  A welcome consequence of her advertising was Herb’s being called upon to fix and improve things all over town; an unwelcome one was the visit of a burglar, who, after overhearing Mrs. Mikszath’s precise description from the other side of the vegetable counter at the Main Street Market one morning, found himself irresistibly tempted to make use of the knowledge.  Several days later he crept into the house in the middle of the day, when it was empty, and made off with everything he could find that was of any value—some silverware and china and knickknacks of the Mikszaths’ and a sack full of Herb and Lorna’s wedding gifts.

LIKE AN ARTIST who finds, to his excitement and terror, that he’s come up with an idea so large and consuming that he may have to spend the rest of his life trying to realize it, who wakes in the night terrified and thrilled, having seen in his dreams a vision of his busy future, Herb saw how much work he was going to have to do before he made even the smallest of public steps in selling, because his move into selling would create the first impression of him as a salesman, an impression that had to be the right one if the enterprise was to prosper.  So he studied and listened and watched, and, in his mind, he practiced selling, while he was lying awake in bed or daydreaming at the culling table where most of his mind was free, while he was fixing or making some little thing, or while he was relaxing in the tub at night while Lorna read to him.  He practiced selling to the people he knew, using what he knew about them.  What he imagined himself selling—because it was the most difficult thing he could imagine selling, something the burglar hadn’t even disturbed—was Lorna’s duck.
    If Lorna suspected that perhaps Herb had lost interest in selling, lost his ambition or shifted the object of his ambition to some position in the clam-packing plant, she was nonetheless determined that he should follow his inclination, do whatever it was he thought best.  The future she had envisioned when she’d closed her eyes that night on Lake Serenity had been a future with Herb, not a future with Herb in a specific place or with Herb doing a specific kind of work or supporting a specific way, level, or style of living.  If she had to, she would provide the things that Herb’s clam-plant salary couldn’t.  After the burglary, without telling Herb, she approached Joseph the Jeweler, who had a shop downtown, about working on an as-needed basis, repairing ivory pieces, restoring cameos, and doing engraving.  She got a little work, and when her skill and talent became clear, she got a great deal more.  She was able to stay as busy as she wanted, and she brought in money that made a big difference in the way she and Herb were able to live.
    Herb noticed; he noticed every dollar she brought into the household (even the dollars that she tried to hide by spending them on meat of better quality or out-of-season vegetables, things she hoped Herb wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t think of as expenses), and he counted those dollars as debits against his future earnings.  Every now and then, however, when an Occasion was approaching, he’d feel that paying Lorna back in the future wasn’t good enough, that it wasn’t fair of him to make Lorna wait to have the things he wanted her to have or do the things he wanted her to be able to do, and at those times he would suggest a trip to Boston to visit his uncle Benjamin.


Wishing you could find a way to support this work?
Here's a swell idea from Eric Kraft's effervescent publicist, Candi Lee Manning:
Post reviews of the books.
Go to one of the online bookstores and contribute your own review of one of Kraft's books. The links below will take you directly to the individual book locations at and Barnes&  Once you're there, you'll see a button labeled "Write a Review" or something like that. Barnes&
Herb ’n’ Lorna
Herb ’n’ Lorna
Reservations Recommended
Reservations Recommended
Little Follies
Little Follies
Where Do You Stop?
Where Do You Stop?
What a Piece of Work I Am
What a Piece of Work I Am
At Home with the Glynns
At Home with the Glynns
Leaving Small's Hotel
Leaving Small's Hotel
You'll find more swell ideas from Candi Lee here.

A High-Spirited Romp
— R. D. Pohl, The Buffalo News

Graceful, Complicated, and Exhilarating
— Cathleen Schine, The New York Times Book Review (front page review)


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

You should be able to find Herb ’n’ Lornaat your local bookstore, but you can also order it by phone from:

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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.