The Will and the Won't

The sad saga of a humorous lover whose wit ran away with his wisdom


The Will and the Won't

The sad saga of a humorous lover whose wit ran away with his wisdom


The Will and the Won't

The sad saga of a humorous lover whose wit ran away with his wisdom


THE FIRST time Hank met her family, they all had a grand time. But, of course, that was only a sort of dress rehearsal for the real event.

As soon as you heard her name you knew about her family, a household word, a billboard embellisher, a dividend bestower from ’way back. Even Hank, who knew so little about the ornamental side of living, was acquainted with her name, because he had rustled around when he was twelve, delivering grocery orders and admiring the gold-sealed cartons of Brandell’s Biscuits and Cookies. He had munched his way through lean months of college on them, and now at the beginning of his career, when nobody could possibly doubt that he was going somewhere with a salary of thirty-two dollars a week (and extra for Sunday features), he had tangled again with a Brandell product.

This time, it was Bunny Brandell, the sweetest cookie of the whole line, done up in a very fancy carton like the tea biscuits he used to admire whenever he met them in his delivery7 baskets. He knew then that he would probably never have any dealings with tea biscuits; good substantial soda crackers would be his meat. But he couldn’t help

admiring. And now with his thirty-two dollars bulging in his pockets, he was still at it.

“If I’d heard your name the first time, I would've run like I should,’’ he said with ungrammatical earnestness. “If it hadn’t been too dark to see that that little jacket wasn’t really a bunny skin, I would’ve run.”

“You’re a snob,” Bunny said. “The poor are always more snobbish than the rich.”

“We have to be. We have to snub first.”

“So you would have snubbed me first,” she said with malicious glee in her gingersnap eyes. “But you never had a chance, Hank Mattigan of the Evening Post.”

“Not a chance,” he said, thoughtfully turning the words over and looking at their grimmer meaning. He crossed his fingers in his pocket so he would remember that “Not a chance” was the theme of this episode.

Every time she called him up, every time he came plunging out of the newspaper office and found her sitting at the curb in that long, sassy roadster of hers, he said to himself hard-boiledly, “There’s your little friend, ‘Not-achance-Bunny’ . . . It’s just that you’re a novelty to her.”

But she kept right on happening to him, and he kept on being less and less snobbish, until finally, quite alarmingly, he had entirely overlooked the fact that her grandpapa was the man who had hung a wreath of biscuits around the world.

After that first conversation about her family, they mutually avoided the subject. It was about the only thing they never talked about. But, of course, that couldn’t go on forever; you couldn’t venture into the future tense, however tentatively, without encountering Bunny’s family looming there like their own billboards.

“No use letting any inhibitions grow up in your mind about my family,” Bunny said boldly after the first mad month. “I think you ought to be broad-minded.”

“I will be. Some other time.”

“They’re liable to like you. After all, I did.”

“That puts one strike on me.” Hank said glumly. “We'll go over and call on ’em. some day. Wait until I get a new suit.”

“You’re still a snob!”

“Worse even. On account of being a little fringier around

the cuffs.” A month fringier, in fact, because the suit he’d intended buying just after he’d felt the first impact of Bunny, had dissolved into tables d’hôte, and dancing and things. No presents of course; that would have been grotesque. But just time to spend with a girl eats up the money. It looked now like the well-known vicious circle. The more time he spent with Bunny, the more lie needed a decent suit, and the farther away it retreated because, big as the thirty-two dollars once had been, now it bought barely enough hours and telephone calls.

But one afternoon, Bunny t;x>k matters into her own hands, and when she had him slumped down beside her in that sassy roadster, site said without daring to glance out from under the tangled stamens of her eyelashes: “Open your mouth ana shut your eyes! I’m taking you out to see my family.”

“Not tcxlay,” he said. "I put in a terrible morning. Hadda explain why the Star beat us on the McCracken story. Hadda keep from getting sent out of town on that forgery tale one thing and another besides, it’s t;x> nice a day now.”

“No. I’ve made up my mind.” she said. "You leave it in my hands. Lately I’ve detected a certain tenseness. We’re going to get it over with.”

“I don’t advise it.” he said. “Everything’s been swell just as it is. Bunny.”

“You just leave it to me.”

He closed his eyes and leaned his head back, and began thinking of this in the past tense, as if it were all over. He knew exactly how he would be. Tripping over rugs, and getting haughtier and more stuffed-shirt every minute. More proletarian and bad mannered, because it infuriated him not to be sure he was gixxl mannered.

"DUNNY WAS humming as she drove, but it sounded like the kind of humming one does in lonely dark. He opened one eye and looked at her out of the crack of it, and he felt a surge of anger because her mother hadn’t been a seamstress and her father a paper hanger. As things were, she’d amuse herself for a few months, and when she’d exhausted the last novelty of his shabbiness, she’d go on back where she belonged. And hehe’d be a little poorer all his life.

They were skimming along country roads now, and suddenly she turned through gigantic iron gates, and up a drive broad as a street bet ween acres and acres of lawns

more like a public park than an estate. Dizzily he saw twenty denim-clad gardeners transplanting some kind of a tropical tree; in the distance other corps were working; three motor mowers were speeding across the sea of grass, noisy as launches, with a spray of green motes in their wake.

“My stars.” said Hank. “It’s a hundred times worse than I thought.”

They came into a little plaza in front of an old-fashioned brick building, and beyond that. Hank could see other buildings wandering up and down the clipped hills.

“We'll go in and meet the uncles first,” Bunny said, as she ran up the front stej>s and tugged at the heavy green d«x>r.

A sickening smell of fish and sawdust, a bright stab of sunlight, and a wolfish lost wail came out of the place, assailing all senses at once. Then with a swab of relief. Hank realized where they were. It was the seal house of a z;x).

“The fat one with the hiccoughs is Uncle Oscar.” Bunny said. “He used to have charge of distribution. Now he just has charge of his dyspepsia."

Perspiration and grins broke out on Hank. “You ought to lx ashamed,” he said. “You ought to have your little sit-down paddled. But at that, the second time won't wring me out as much as this one did.”

“That’s what I thought,” Bunny said earnestly. “We’ll just sort of get used to them gradually.”

Uncle Oscar, a ripple of double chins from mustache to

instep, gazed at Hank with cross-eyed disapproval. Hank went over to the bars and greeted him. sadly gentle.

"I’ve come to warn you that my intentions toward your niece are strictly honorable. Under the circumstances, that’s definitely bad news, Mr. Brandell.”

“Don’t tell him that unless you mean it,” Bunny said uncertainly. Each was afraid to trust a look at the other’s face, for fear it was only a jest. So Bunny rushed on w ith tottering matter-of-factness: “Uncle Oscar never forgets. His life has been made up of slights he’s never overlooked. He does so want people to like him as much as he likes himself.”

“We all do,” I lank said. "That ought to give us a sort of bond when I see him. Who are Uncle Oscar's friends the one balancing fish, and the one with the spats?”

“Uncle Leonard. In life, he balances three balls, of one kind and another. He’s always been the yawning hole where the family fortune leaked out.”

“The trouble with him he means well. He suspects the best of everybody. I can see that.”

“And that’s Jarvis, our butler. We’ve had him twentytwo years.”

“That’s the stuff that gets me down,” Hank admitted. “It needn’t. Uncle Leonard plays pinochle with him, when Aunt Sylvia isn’t home.”

One by one, they met them all, to blunt Hank’s first fright with the caricature sight of them: Aunt Carolyn, an imperious, frowsy parrot; a batch of giggling, gossiping cousins in the monkey house; and a smooth, shrewd-eyed lynx who was quite obviously Uncle Harmon, the present president of Brandell Biscuits.

“And that’s everybody. Except my grandfather,” Bunny said. “I ain’t make any jokes about him. Hank. You’ve got to like him, no matter what he says to you. Even if he shouts at you, you’ve got to stand there, knowing that down underneath, he’s just the grandest person in the world.”

‘'I'll try,” Hank said, “I certainly will try'.”

“Other things fail me once in a while,” Bunny said softly, “but never Grampa. He just couldn’t do anything shabby or petty. He’s got to like you, Hank.”

Now he knew, suddenly, that he had the situation laid quite bare before him. There would be a lot of other jxople making a great deal of noise and comments. But. in the end, it would be just Bunny and her grandfather and himself.

“I don’t know why I go through all this stuff,” he said angrily. “Who said I wanted to get into anything like this? And if 1 did, there ought to be plenty of little half-soled orphans going around, pining to darn socks and try out recipes. Why don’t I pick something my own size?” "Because something your size picked you first. The trouble with you is you don’t know what size you are. Besides, all this doesn’t compromise you.”

“Doesn’t it?” Hank said, and then quite gruffly, "Who said it did?” But he knew that, wild and unsuitable as it all was, he was pledged in himself to break his neck and his heart trying to scramble up to where he could look Bunny’s family in the eye and tell ’em she loved him.

“It’s just all in fun,” he said. “Besides, your family might help me in my work.

Maybe that’s why I got acquainted with you.”

“I like that,” Bunny said grimly. “I had to be the shameless hussy. I had to call you twelve times on the phone before you called me once.”

"Yes, that’s right.” he said blissfully to himself. “That’s the stuff for me to remember when I get low about it all. But she probably only made a Ixt with herself.

If I’d called her right back, she’d probably have been bored and snubbed me stiff.”

“Tomorrow is the day,” Bunny w’as saying in a rush. "And it won’t give you any time to worry about it. There’s a big family dinner tomorrow night for Aunt Carolyn’s birthday. It couldn’t lx better. They’ll lx so busy, they’ll only half notice you. You can kind of creep up on them, like old age, or rising prices, or bald-headedness.”

DUT THAT w-as very wishful predicting, as it turned out. U For, after a whole day in which Hank was distinctly no gixxl to anybody, he fitted into the party about as inconspicuously as a pebble baked in a pie. Everybody bit down on him, and everybody broke a tooth.

They all looked so harmless and friendly in the high, ugly dining room dappled by candlelight and the twinkling of silver. Aunt Fran had out all her litter of diamonds, jowly as bull pups in their old-fashioned gold-fanged settings. Aunt Carolyn, as usual, was smothered in coq feathers and dripping untidily with jet. Bunny’s contemporaries in the family seemed definitely out to get Hank, the girl cousins in one sense, the boy cousins in the other.

But Hank, obliviously doomed, was wielding a hideous intuition for saying the one wrong thing to each of the elders. His amiability became more and more an affront propelled by his own cheerful unawareness. His eagerness to be liked ran around the room like a frisky little mongrel, whisking everyhxxly’s best vase to the floor and not even noticing the pieces.

He told a very funny story about astrology, then, inspired by the nervous laughter which was slyly flicking salt into Aunt Fran’s indignation, he leaped over the precipice with another about socialism which happened to lx Uncle Leonard’s easily bruised passion. Everyone seemed in a conspiracy; everyone squared his own indignity by making Hank an instrument to inflict other outrage, and a good time was had by all at one time or another, throughout the nightmarish massacre.

Bunny, aching and praying, sat in her demure white dress, seeing how impossible everything was, and powerless to stop it. For every trembling little hand she stretched out to help him only pushed him farther into the arena.

Like the lion which would have represented him, if Bunny hadn’t loved him too much to make even fond fun of him in a zoo, Cramps sat at the head of the table, shaggy and majestic and a little frightening. His eyes were the points of icicles, and his voice was a cold blast that blew across the table and withered the buds of facetiousness wherever they appeared. He tœk no more notice of Hank than if he had been a spot on the tablecloth. He didn’t do him the honor of ignoring him; he simply didn’t see him.

At last the meal was over, and Aunt Carolyn, by tin

glitter in her parroty eye. was ready to receive her birthday tributes. Nothing so trifling and childish as a cake, of course; a few dignified sputtering good wishes, and then the real business of the day.

Gramps rose and cleared his massive voice with a few whiskbroom coughs. “Carrie, my dear, in looking over what I might suitably give you to celebrate this day, I decided to turn over to you one hundred sharesof Brandell.” There was an autumnal flutter of excitement, like withered leaves stirring in gutters. Aunt Carolyn seized the shabby envelope and peeped within, her eye methodically counting the several certificates, while she squealed with avid pleasure. From the disgruntled faces of the rest, even Hank knew that this was a handsomer gift than they felt Carrie deserved.

When all this subsided. Uncle Oscar rose and said: “Carrie, I felt pretty generous about my gift to you, but now I see it isn’t much. But I want you to have my ten shares of Alleghany Copper.” Again mimicking herself Aunt Carolyn went through the receiving with a flutter of coq feathers and a jangle of jet. Uncle Leonard, a little wobbly from too much port, had intended to present his five shares of fairly worthless Blackstone Oil, with a pun, but under the circumstances, he gruffly thrust the fresh envelope at his sister and sat down.

The documents piled up around her, one by one, as some silent roll was called, and everyone made his unromantic contribution. Bunny, who had seen this all gone through year after year, and many times a year, back and forth among the family like sailors’ gambled wages on a long voyage, found none of it amusing. But Hank. ? little too exhilarated by the strain of the evening, was practically in hysterics. He folded his napkin into an envelope, and bent toward her chair, in the protection of the noise around them.

“My darling, as a portrait of my esteem, I want to give you six shares of Consolidated Mud-in-your-eye,” he said jovially; and Bunny seized the make-believe envelope and was about to reply, when both of them realized that the terrible words had screamed out into one of those unaccountable vacuums of silence which sometimes occur in a room full of talking people. 11 had been at first only a snowflake of silence, but it spread to a glaring sheet of ice, and Hank’s w’ords stcxxl out black against it.

He scrambled to his feet. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “I didn’t realize how rude that would sound.”

GRAMPS scorched the w’hole focus of his indignation on Hank’s pink face, like a sunglass centring harmless light and burning into an auger of heat.

“It sounded only as rude as it was,” he said. “What do you mean by being here in the first place?”

“I brought him. Gramps. He’s somebody I’m fond of.

I told you about him this aftemœn, and you fell asleep,” Bunny said in a miniature voice.

“Get him out of here.” Gramps said, with quiet finality. “He’s a bad-mannered tramp, and I won’t have him in my house.”

Hank said, “I’ve apologized, sir. That’s about all I can do.”

“You can get out.”

“He’s my guest. Grampa. He’s somebody I like."

“He’s some young scoundrel who likes my money, likely,” Gramps said.

The ring of eyes were jumping up and down in their faces like small boys watching a fist fight. Mouths were jumping up and down in the faces, gloatingly chewing nuts. But Hank saw none of it; only this fine old tyrant who was thinking the worst of him, and Bunny, suddenly very still and ready to cry. All the indignation of being a tired-armed little boy delivering other people’s groceries, of being a big boy munching hungrily on Brandell’s soda crackers when his appetite yawned for manly meat, burned in him suddenly. and he was white with anger and injustice against this man who thought because he was fringy around the cuffs, that he must be looking for somebody else’s money.

“I'll tell you how much I like your money, sir,” Hank said in a very quiet voice. “If there’s any of your money hanging to Bunny, I wouldn’t touch her with a ten-foot pole.”

“Hush, Hank,” Bunny said. “I think you’d better go.”

"You're durned right. I'd better go.” Hank said. "But I'd like your grandfather to know that the only thing I don't like about you is his money.”

"Likely.” Gramps said. “Very likely, indeed.”

"I've earned my own money since I was twelve.” Hank said. “And I expect to go on doing it the rest of my life. And anybody who belongs to me is going to have to understand that. We’ll never need your money, sir.” “We?" Gramps said scornfully, and the single syllable s|X)ke more than weeks of polite dialogue. “Weindeed! You’ll see how far you get with that project, my young friend." And, quintessence of insult, Gramps sat down, and turning gently, spoke benignly to Aunt Fran on his left.

Before he quite knew how it had come about. Hank found himself in the big, cold hall, with Jarvis sadly helping him into his overcoat, and Bunny tearfully whispering something about going back and smoothing things over.

“I’ll call you tomorrow, darling," she said. "But you were terrible, Hank. You couldn’t have been worse. Suppose I can’t fix it?”

“Fix what?” Hank said stubbornly. “I just said what I meant. 1 don’t need him. or his durned money or any of his durned relations.” But his angry repent ant eyes begged her to read that last for what it meant, not what it said. But that’s asking quite a lot of any girl, and Bunny was hurt and ashamed, ashamed of them both whom she loved.

By morning, Hank was a little less confident about it all. He saw now just where he'd gone wrong. He balanced

Continued on page 43

The Will and the Won’t

Continued from page 9

tipsily between the two trapezes of shame and anger, apology and defiance.

“I’ll tell her outright if she’s going to string along with me, it’s thirty-two dollars a week,” he said. “Oh, lord, I ought to go around and tell that old boy I was a chump. Wrong as he was, there was something pretty magnificent about his telling me off. We could be friends, the two of us. Even without any Bunny between us, we’ve got what each other likes in a man.”

But in the middle of the morning, he saw that it wasn’t a battle of words between them. For Eustace Brandell had reached out the long sword of finance, and decapitated him. It took just five minutes, down in the managing editor’s office.

“Sorry, Mattigan, you’re washed up ”

“What about?”

“Orders from the advertising office. The agency that handles the Brandell account requests your absence.”

“They can’t do that. I’m a reporter.”

“Yep. That’s what you and I think, Mattigan. But to the office, you’re just $1,800 a year out and they’re $25,000 in. Sorry.”

Preposterous as it seemed, that’s the way it was. That’s the way it was, in dizzy discovery, on every paper in town. Brandell’s Biscuit ads. on the pages, or Hank Mattigan on the staff; just a simple choice to make.

“Why, people can’t do this,” Hank said. “Nobody human could do a thing like that.”

BUT IT seemed that people could. The more Hank thought about it, the more furious he became, as any fair person would.

By nightfall, he realized that the full crash of the fact had shattered his entire world.

“Allright,” he said to himself. “If that’s the kind of a fight it is! All holds allowed, apparently. I’ll go right up there to that ossified prison the Brandells call their home, and I’ll tell the whole lot of ’em what I think of it. The ‘grandest person on earth!’ Bunny’ll be through with him when she hears this. Bunny, who’s so fair

about things . . . He’ll look fine to her when I get through.”

When he got home to his rooming house, there sat her sassy roadster at his shabby curb.

“Darling, I looked everywhere for you.

I waited and waited. They said at the office they didn’t know when you’d be back.”

Hank laughed.

She said: “Darling, I told grandfather last night that if you’d have me, I wanted to marry you.”

“Oh, Bunny ...”

“I said I’d live on your seventy-five dollars a week, or whatever measly sum it is you make.”

“I’m not making—that measly sum— any more,” Hank said. “I got fired today.” He saw a quick flicker of fear in her eyes, and in the next moment, he realized that on the leather seat beside her in the roadster were two initialled travelling bags, a hat box, and a rather mangy teddy bear. Her bridges burned behind her, and nothing at all ahead.

“Why, Hank, I thought you were good. You just couldn’t be fired.”

“Couldn’t I? Well, I guess I’m not so good.” Much better she think he was just a boasting middle-class reporter than that she know what Gramps, her “finest person on earth,” had done. With Bunny’s trusting, bewildered eyes upon him, and her pathetic little possessions waiting on the seat, Hank saw why Gramps had thought it worth while decapitating him. Quickly then he made his chivalrous decision. Bunny mustn’t find out anything; either how much he loved her with all his presumptuous optimism, or what Gramps had done. She’d be happier not knowing. If Hank was any sort of a man, he’d make sure that she didn’t find out.

“So you told ’em you wanted to marry me,” he said. “How come you never got around to telling me?”

“Oh, Hank, you knew it; I thought you knew it.” He kept his eyes mercifully from her shamed, proud little face.

“You better go on back, honey,” he said. “We’ve had fun, of course. I tried to tell you yesterday—you’ll forget all about it

! in a day or so. I’m just something unexI peeted to you. You'd find out there's a j million guys like me. I just wouldn't let us get into that kind of grief, Bunny.” “You’ll get another job tomorrow,” she said. “I'd even ask Gramps to speak for you. Don’t newspapers kind of pay attention to the jieople who buy advertising from them?”

"Naw,” Hank said. “That’s one place where Gramps couldn’t blow out a match. Besides, it’s not the job. Bunny. It’s just well, you’d have seen it yourself in a few days. We just don’t belong together —for anything but fun.”

She sat there in the twilight and lcxjked at him. A tear slid down her cheek and splashed into the darkness.

“Oh, lord, just let me stand here as if I didn’t see it.” Hank said. “She needs that old guy, and I’d never be much gcxxl to her -as things are.”

Without another word, she turned her head slowly, and stepped on the gas, and lier two red lights went winking down the street. He stcxxl there long after they had gone, convicted by his own unaccountable gallantry.

TNURING the next weeks, the terrible weeks, when he had to go back to eating soda biscuits (but not Brandell’s), he kept thinking from day to day that something would break. He went around to the newspapers, but it was still no use.

“Don’t know what kind of murder you committed,” his old chief said, “but the ban’s on you for life. We’d just be cutting our own throats, Hank.”

“I suppose I’ve just got to die and be born again.”

“Or else get yourself born into some other racket. You went to college. Whyn’t you try selling something?”

“I am.” Hank said. "I’m selling myself short. And I'm about sold out.”

But at last he got a job, driving an allnight truck at a salary that just couldn’t imagine calling up a girl like Bunny, even for a cup of tea. But it did give him time in the daylight to keep kxtking for something better, and to begin the novel all newspaper men intend to write. It got to be not tcx) terrible a life. Except that it just didn’t mean a thing because it didn’t mean Bunny.

Then, after a dreary procession of weeks dragged past, came the summons in a long, fine bond envelope, engraved with the signature of a three-named law firm.

“Please appear in our office at two o’clock tomorrow afternoon,” the letter said in suitably starched phraseology.

“Guess that guy who ran into me wants to get tough after all.” Hank said glumly to himself as he went up in the elevator. "So now I’ll be out of another job.”

But when he opened the hushed dcxir of the hushed mahogany-panelled suite of Thorndike, Mullens and Kincaid’s offices, there sat all the characters of the last dinner party he’d attended. But not in red satin or diamonds now. No middle-aged boisterousness; no pleasant, genteel shrieks of surprise* over Consolidated This and That. For here they all sat shrouded in black and muffled with suspense. Hank erased them all with one swath of his eye, leaving only his own little Bunny, adorable as ever, but heartbreakingly sad, in the sincerity of her sport clothes among the self-conscious blacks.

“Hank, I’m terribly sorry about this,” she said in a little murmur.

He held her hands tight against his chest, saying nothing at all while he took inventory of her preciousness. “It doesn’t matter, darling,” he said at last. “Whatever it is, it’ll be all right.”

"You got to be a kind of obsession with him.” she said. “He kept thinking and talking about you. He thought you were going to try to turn mè against him. or tell me something about him. or something. I telephoned and telephoned to beg you to come and see him just because he was ill I knew you’d be willing to do that much,

Hank. But your landlady always said you were out.”

"I was out,” he said. “I was out looking for a job. Bunny.”

"He’s made one last gesture of insult,” she said. “But you've got to realize that he was ill. Whatever it is, you mustn’t mind. Underneath he was a gcxxl, kind person, who wouldn’t hurt anyone, really.”

“Yes, darling, I’m sure he was.”

Mr. Thorndike, Mullens or Kincaid, was putting on his spectacles and scraping his throat ; the Brandells, with their greediness decently out of sight, were waiting expectantly for the reading of the will.

“They’re a little family, when Gramps is gone,” Hank said to himself. “He was what made them seem big and bursting with life.” He knew that whatever feeble flipping of insult Bunny’s grandfather left for the law to administer, he’d always see him the way Bunny said he was—kind and big underneath, a man who would have been his friend if things had been a little different. After all, if a man loved his grandchild, he wouldn’t want her to be mixed up with a down-at-the-heel newspaper reporter. Not a little girl like Bunny. She was naturally his first consideration, and that was just as it should be.

nPHE LAWYER was cackling through Jthe bequests; Aunt Carolyn was trying not to sit tcx) eagerly on the edge of her chair; Uncle Oscar was hiccoughing with nervousness. Deep in his own thinking about this dynamic, tyrannical man whose absence had brought this family here Hank hardly listened to the will, but he could see, as if a little spotlight were turned on each in turn, just whose paragraph was being read. There was considerable consternation and excitement, but he didn't try to unravel it, for all the sums, disappointing as they seemed to the family, sounded large to him.

Then he heard his own name, and everyone in the room rustled hopefully, anticipating one of Gramps’ magnificently potent chastisements.

“To Henry Melville Mattigan, I do will and bequeath one most humble request,” the old legal voice was intoning. “Said request to be presented to him in the presence of my family. To wit, that he marry my granddaughter, Bernice Brandell. and humble his spirit by sharing with her the full residue of my estate, both real and personal. I do further will and bequeath to the said Henry Mattigan, my full apology and admiration because he did not cause or allow the one thoroughly dishonorable act of my lifetime to injure or be known to my beloved granddaughter.”

The whole room was stunned, and then in a moment a terrible sniffing and protest set up from the aunts and uncles. Hank himself sat there like a man who’s expected a grim practical joke, and found only simple, noble earnestness.

Bunny, her hands still tight against his chest, was looking up into his face and weeping. “I don’t understand it, Hank. I don’t understand what any of it means— except that one word marry. And you don’t want that. Do you?”

Once again, as it had the fateful night of the birthday dinner, the room hushed to a pinpoint of silence as Hank said: “Yes, I want it. Even if I didn’t love you the way l do. I’d want it. because it was given to me by the grandest person on earth.”

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