FICTION

All Very Civilized

NORMA BICKNELL MANSFIELD February 15 1938
FICTION

All Very Civilized

NORMA BICKNELL MANSFIELD February 15 1938

All Very Civilized

FICTION

There's no place like a homemade home for wrecking the plans for a wedding

NORMA BICKNELL MANSFIELD

THIS,” Cecily said, “is our last fight.” And the next thing Si knew she was engaged to Tom Weatherby. It happened almost as fast as that, between the time Si hit Tom on the nose at the Yacht Club one night and the middle of the next afternoon when he called on Cecily.

He called expecting trouble, but Cecily was red-headed and he’d had trouble with her all his life; it was the kind of trouble he liked and he hoped to go on having it, even after they were married.

“Only.” Cecily said, leading him through the library and out on the back terrace, “we aren’t going to be married. Si. When you hit Tom last night and he started to bleed all over the place, I knew we were finished, washed up. You and I. That kind of thing, knocking people around, is juvenile. It’s—well, it isn’t civilized.”

“I don’t know what civilization has to do with it. Tom’s been needing a poke in the nose for a long, long time.” “Tom,” Cecily said, “is a gentleman. He believes in the things I believe in -chivalry, security. I don’t know the word for it. Compactness, perhaps. I want a compact life. I’ve never had it. With mother and dad both married again to other people. I’ve spent my life shuttling back and forth between them. You’ve never had it either, with a guardian to take the place of your parents. You need the quieting influence too. Si. This last idea of yours, giving up a ten-thousand-a-year job with my uncle to teach at a university, is plain silly.”

“Is it silly to live according to your own beliefs?”

“When those beliefs include smacking another man on the nose it is.” Cecily retorted sharply. She shook her shoulders. It was a recently developed habit and it indicated, Si knew, an impatience with her own temper. Her grey eyes, wide and shining as a child’s, turned to him thoughtfully.

“What you should do is marry some quiet, gentle person, someone like Tom. only female.”

“And have you panting after me for the rest of vour life?”

The ripe retort she had for that was quelled too, and Si began at last to be worried.

“My future is all settled,” Cecily said. “I’m going to marry Tom.”

Si stood up.

“I knew when I hit that guy,” he said, “I should have hit him harder.”

“You hit him because he said I was getting as crazy as you are, but Tom was right. I am. I was. Now. I’m not. Now I’ve found somebody as cool and sane as you aren’t, and I’m sticking to him.”

Si rat down again. He picked a rose and began, systematically, removing its spurs.

“You may think the whole thing is settled, Cecily, but it isn’t. You can’t throw off a lifetime habit overnight. Of course,” hi8 thoughts took a tangent, “Tom has a lot of

money, and after I’ve paid for the place I’m buying and have done a few things to the shack to make it livable, I ’ll have to eat grass until my pay cheques start coming in the fall. But for a person who’s had everything all her life, the things money will buy mean less to you than to any person I know’. Tell me the truth, Cecily, why did you do it?” “I’ve told you,” she said hotly. “I’m breaking a bad habit before it’s too late.”

“Y'ou don’t love Tom.”

He made it a statement.

“Of course I love Tom. Very much. Very, very much.” “If you love him that much, what am I doing here? Why did you let me come? I telephoned first and you could have turned me down.”

“Tom says we should all be friends,” Cecily told him, and Si had never seen her look smug before, nor complacent. “He isn’t angry with you because you hit him. He said it was done in the heat of the moment and that you’re really his friend too.”

“I see,” Si said bitterly, “all very civilized. Well, it won’t work. Not with me. Personally, I think Tom’s a stringy piece of meat, and what he needs is more pounding. Y'ou can tell him that, from me. I won’t be seeing him again if I can help it. So long.”

T_TE CARRIED his swagger back into the house out of -ICecily’s sight, out the front steps and into his roadster. It stayed with him until he had covered five miles of gravelled highway and was turning in at the rundown acre of land that was his now, to do with as he willed. There he got out of his roadster, sat dowm on a pile of new lumber and thought back to his childhood, to his youth, to his college days, to the way he’d felt last night just before he’d hit Tom. Until that moment everything in the world had been right; it had always been right. For as long as he could remember Cecily had been part of his life and Cecily had made it right.

He sat on the pile of lumber and looked at the one-room shack that was going to be a home when he’d finished with it, and recalled how eagerly he had passed money across a real-estate broker’s counter to get it because Cecily had told him once that she wanted to help build her own home. She wanted to drive some of the nails, do most of the planning and map out all of the interiors. Si had figured it was up to him to provide the opportunity.

He let his long face sink into his long hands, and sat there with his fingertips absently massaging the front of his scalp while he turned things over in his mind. But even then, numb as his brain felt, he knew he wouldn’t give Cecily up without a fight. He had from now until the day she planned to be married. It had to be time enough.

He was up the next morning at four o’clock, because he hadn’t been sleeping anyway. He had been thinking until his brain was no more than a dull headache chained to his head, but thinking had evolved no plan. By the end of the

following day he had himself rigidly under control. He no longer thought. Time flowed past him whether he was standing on a ladder taking batts off the east side of the house, or kneeling on the false floor at the back where he was adding a bathroom, a sleeping porch and two cubbyhole bedrooms, and he let it flow, grateful only for the problems that confronted him and kept him from feeling as sick as he knew he was in his heart.

On the fourth day he hit his thumb. He hit it a lovely wallop and he stood there knowing it didn’t hurt because it was numb and still it did hurt because it looked so messy, but he couldn’t swear. With Si emotion wasn’t emotion without a good swear to point it up, but swearing lost its potency without an audience, and there was no audience except the twittering birds flying past—and they had no thumbs.

Cecily had always been his audience before—a laughing Cecily with fiery cheeks and eyes that grew wider and wider as he went on, a Cecily who knew that swearing was awful, and loved it.

Now Cecily was gone.

“Or is she?” Si said slowly, and felt the jolt of his sudden thought shoot clear down through his heels, “or is she? We’re civilized. We’re friends. She said so herself. Why not?”

He was shaking hands with Tom Weatherby, an hour later, in the drawing-room of Cecily’s mother’s house, with Cecily standing beside them looking fourteen years old in a blue dress done up in ribbons.

Tom had a business date; he couldn’t stay, so Si had no trouble at all urging Cecily out to the'back terrace again, where it was cool and dark and she couldn’t see his face.

“I still don’t hold with this ‘all is serene’ attitude you like,” he said, speaking carefully, “but the fact is, I’m in a jam. With the house. I need your advice. Would Tom mind if you drove out tomorrow to look the place over? It wouldn’t take you more than an hour or two. and it might give you some practical ideas for your own home, later.”

Cecily got up from where she was sitting and came over to the bench where Si was sweating over his first attempt at diplomacy. She slipped her hand into his and discovered the bandaged thumb, and spent a few minutes being sympathetic about it before she answered his question. When she did speak, her voice had the low, happy chuckle he had been missing more than he knew until now.

“Of course Tom wouldn’t mind,” she said. “And I’d love to help, Si. As a matter of fact Tom has already consulted the architect about our new home, but he’s keeping it as a surprise to me. He says architects are paid to know how to build houses, and the smart thing is to let them do the whole thing. He’s right, of course.”

“It sounds to me,” Si said, “as though Tom were always right.” He was still proceeding warily. “I can’t afford an architect.”

Cecily wriggled her fingers in his hand.

“We don’t need an architect,” she comforted him. “You’re a very bright lad and I have some ideas. I’ll be over tomorrow.”

CHE CAME over tomorrow, and she was wearing slacks ^ and a washable blouse and a bright bandanna tied around her throat, and she’d brought a pair of gloves. She was as eager as a flame.

“You shouldn’t use a hammer for a few days,” she told Si, “until that thumb gets better. You might hit it again. Why, Si, I never saw so many mountains. You have the whole range, with a ravine dropping away right in front of you to leave the view unobstructed. How did you find this place? It’s exactly what Tom wanted. He’ll be sick.”

“Oh, no,” Si said, “he’ll just be glad that a good friend like me found it first.”

Cecily turned and gave him a long glance.

“Now these west windows,” Si said hastily, “need something.” After that he was careful.

“This whole side of the house needs something. It needs to be torn down and rebuilt.”

“Oh, no, it doesn’t,” Si corrected her, “and even if it does we’ll pretend it doesn’t. We can’t afford to tear out that wall.”

Cecily stooped and picked up a bag of nails. The nails she emptied carefully into an old tin can. The bag she tore open and spread flat on a pile of lumber.

“Give me a pencil,” she said. “Now, look here, this is what I mean.”

In her hand the pencil became a magic wand. The house took shapea long, low structure, odd and charming. Si sat on the ground beside her and watched his dream come true in shaded pencil strokes.

“Rustic.” Cecily said, and later, “individual.” She was absorbed. So absorbed that before he knew it she had run him into debt.

“Hut, Si.” she protested, “it’s got to be right, even if you have to borrow money. You won’t have to borrow much and you can borrow it from me.”

“And have you claiming a share in the house? Not on your life,” Si said.

Cecily tossed the red hair out of her eyes and sat back on her heels. The tiny freckles high on her cheeks stood out suddenly as though anger deepened their color. The curve of her stubborn chin took a neat little angle.

“You asked me to help you,” she said hotly, “and I bought a lot of clothes to look the part, and you gave me a pencil and let me spill my ideas, and now you’re through with me. Is that it? Well, you aren’t. This house is as much mine as it is yours, Silas Weaver, and I’ll prove it to you. I don’t like cracked windows.”

She picked up a rock and sailed it through a west window. The window had been cracked, Si admitted that, but he was so stunned he let her finish another before he got hold of her fingers, groping for a third rock.

“Listen,” he said, “there’s a new floor just inside of those windows. I laid it with my own hands and if you've put a nick in it. so help me I’ll wring your neck.”

They went inside and there was a nick in the floor, so Cecily spent the rest of the morning sanding that out before Si let his anger cool and made lunch. Then he had to show her how the floor had been laid, and in time it became almost a symbol to her, signifying their unity of purpose and achievement.

“It’s so smooth,” she said, speaking of the floor, “and dressy. Whenever I get discouraged. Si. I’ll come in and look at this floor and remember that hard work changed it from what it was to what it is.”

"DOT SHE never got discouraged, and before the week -C' was out she was turning into a carpenter, neat and thorough. When they ran up against the out-of-plumbness of the old house, it was Cecily who reached first for the level and next for the crowbar. And when Si hemmed and hawed and would have muffed the opportunity, it was Cecily who bought yards and yards of linoleum from a dark-eyed gentleman who came to the door and talked broken English and said his wife had pneumonia and he needed the mon’.

“Thirty dollars,” Si said grimly, “that means no new living-room furniture for the first five years.”

“Oh. keep still !" She had cut her finger on an edge of the linoleum, trying to fold it as the dark-eyed gentleman had, to show that it wouldn’t crack. “Anyway, there’s only one of you. And you have one easy chair. When you get married. Tom and I will make you a gift of another one. Don’t look so furious, Si. It’s good linoleum. Where’s the iodine?”

He found the iodine and winced with her when she applied it. and tried to keep from revealing the shock her mention of Tom had given him. He had forgotten Tom. In the naturalness of having her with him all day again, every day, he had forgotten everything but the immediate insistence with which she drove home her ideas, the reminiscent fury in her eyes when she was thwarted, the tender gentleness of her fingers bandaging a cut or a bruise, lie had forgotten how clever he had been to get even this much more of her with Tom in the offing.

“How’s your house coming?” he said.

“My house? This is my house. Oh, you mean Tom’s house. I forgot to ask him about it last night and there wasn’t time this morning."

“You see him night and mommg?”

“Of course. We’re engaged,* you know.” She said it

tartly, as though she were impatient at the time they were

Continued on page 36-

All Very Civilized

— Continued from page 11—Starts on page 10 —

wasting when there was so much left to be done. “Tom’s busy and so am I, daytimes.”

“What did you tell Tom about that finger you caught in the saw?” Si demanded.

Cecily looked at him from candid grey eyes.

"I told him the truth, of course. He’s coming out to see the place as soon as he gets the time. Tom isn’t little, Si, or mean. He’s glad I’ve found something to interest me.”

Si thought of a splendid retort. He kept it to himself. Cecily, halfway up the ladder, turned abruptly to look down at him.

“Tom,” she said further, “isn’t demanding. He wants me to live my own life, to be a separate entity. He says too many marriages consume the woman. She should be cherished, cared for, indulged, but never submerged.”

“So he lets you come out here and submerge me.”

“You asked for it,” she said neatly.

Sometimes he had the suspicion that it was he who was being cleverly handled. When that thought smote him he picked a fight with her, all but drove her off the place, and then for a couple of days he had the pleasure and agony of seeing the red curls on the back of her neck bob up and down angrily with every step she took. He had accomplished one end; he had caused her to fall in love with the house, but he hadn’t changed her plans. She was marrying Tom Weatherby on the first of September and that date was drawing very near.

Whenever the thought of Cecily’s wedding grew too much to bear, Si brought up the one subject that would raise an argument hot enough to make him forget everything but an immediate need to talk faster, louder and more furiously than Cecily, the question of knotty pine as a finish in the living room.

“Can’t afford it,” Si would say.

“Going to have it,” this from Cecily, “if I have to put it up myself and camp out in the living room to see that it stays!”

They were arguing about knotty pine the day Tom drove in. It was a clear, hot day, with the mountains standing out like marching pilgrims across the Sound.

TOM GOT out of his car and made his way carefully around the lumber and debris, a tall young man slightly overweight, with his face already set in the cheerful, hearty lines of a wholesale grocer’s.

“Well,” he said, “well, you’ve got a fine view here, Si. Some day you can tear this shack down and put up a real house. Hello, Cecily.” He put his arm around her and kissed her absently, letting his experienced eye rove over the premises. He didn’t have much time, he said, and looked at his watch. “You mean to say you’re living here while you’re building? Where do you sleep?”

Si had a hammer in his hand. He put it down.

“On the floor.”

“You do? You mean you sleep on the floor?” Tom poked his head inside the door and looked around. “Well,” he said, “primitive.”

He looked up at Si and then at Cecily. He coughed uneasily.

“What’s the matter?” he demanded. “Did I say something wrong?” His big, good-natured face was troubled.

“We rather like this place,” Cecily said, faintly hostile.

“You do? You mean you like this place? Say, sister, if you like this place, you’re going to be crazy about the one I’m building for you. You want to come over and see it.” He turned to Si. “You’ll get some ideas you can use when you tear this shack down.”

“It isn’t a shack,” Cecily said, tightly. Tom looked at her absently.

“You’ve got a smudge on your nose,” he said. “Say, you’ve got a view here, Si. How far does your land extend?”

“There’s an acre in the piece.”

“There is? There’s an acre? Say, what you ought to do is build a couple of houses here and hold ’em for a good price. By facing one this way and one this way you might even squeeze in three. As a matter of fact I know a man who’s looking for just this property. He’s got money to put into a little development. I’ll jot down his name.”

Cecily turned on her heel and left them. They found her later, sitting on the floor in the kitchen, her arms encircling her knees, her eyes on the blank wall opposite.

“Coming home with me, Cecily?” Tom was wholly himself again. He had been able to give Si some good advice. Cecily shook her head.

“I’ll be along,” she said, “later.”

And when Si returned from taking Tom out to his car, she was still sitting there, still staring at the blank wall. She looked up at him and Si looked down at her, and in that moment he knew there would be no point to the world if Cecily married Tom. Her full lips were trembling.

“He didn’t see any of the charm,” she said. “He didn’t see anything but the resale value.”

He sat down beside her and took her hand. And for a long time he said nothing at all because he wanted, too much, to drive home the wedge Tom’s attitude had provided, and he couldn’t do that. He wasn’t a skunk.

“Honey,” he said, “you’ve played around here so long you’ve lost your perspective. You’re as crazy as I am. Tom’s right. The house is a shack.”

Cecily stood up. Under the freckles high on her cheeks her face was pale.

“You mean you’ve let me come out here every day for three weeks, and all this time you’ve been hating it, and laughing at me?”

“I couldn’t laugh at you, Cecily, and I don’t hate it. But look at the place. Look at this room. The floor isn’t level, and the linoleum isn’t laid straight. The laundry tubs are right there in the open, naked as a jay. No woman could live in it happily, and darned few men.”

“I could live in it,” she was trembling with anger. “I could live in it, and love it.” “If you could,” Si said slowly, “you’re not really civilized. Not underneath. Not as civilized as you said you wanted to be.” She stood there as still as a stone, looking at him. After a long time she looked down at her rumpled slacks, at the tear in her

blouse from a nail Si had left unclinched, at her grimy hands. She didn’t say anything at all. She simply turned and left him.

SHE DIDN’T come back. Si waited a week, but she neither came nor sent a note. Si lost his appetite and his temper, and almost his courage but not quite. He went to see her. All the way out to her home he worked on a nonchalant grin and a hoity-toity manner, and when he got there and saw her, all cool and sweet and impersonal and civilized, his hopes turned into little white mice running away from him. A spurious anger remained and he started with that.

“You’ve got a nerve,” he said, “walking out on me after you dragged me into a lot of extra expense to make the house the way you wanted it to be. I’ve got the west wall out, and now what? If it rains, that floor I laid with prayer and five bloody knuckles will be ruined for keeps. What are you going to do about it?”

“I? What can I do?”

A new Cecily, patiently interested and vaguely disturbed.

“You can come out there and tell me how you planned to hang those windows. The five that aren’t smashed,” he finished bitterly. “You’ll remember you broke two.”

“That was childish of me,” she said gently, and he suspected a “tsk, tsk” behind her teeth. “I meant to replace them. I’ll bring out two new ones tomorrow. I’m sure I can find the time. Let me see, there’s a luncheon at one and a tea-shower at four, and a bridesmaids’ dinner at eight. I’ll break away from the tea.”

“You will, by golly, or else,” Si said, and left before the impulse to take her in his arms and kiss her senseless unhinged him.

He was hanging a door in the east wall when she arrived the next day. He had been hanging the door all day and when Cecily arrived he had just put his props in place for the sixth time.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to do,” she said behind him, “but it doesn’t look right.”

“It doesn’t? What’s wrong with it?” “That top board isn’t level.”

“Cats!” Si said. “Did that thing slip again?”

Cecily pulled off her hat.

“Look,” she said, “I’ll get up on this horse and hold it for you. Hand me that level. There, that’s straight. Go ahead.” When it got too dark for them to see, Si told her where to find the flashlight and she held it for him while he worked for another hour, and after that he had to reset the butts, so he turned on the lights of his car and worked in their glare. Cecily got a fire going in the cookstove and moved the kettle of soup up from the back of the stove to the front and set the table, sending out words of encouragement and advice from time to time.

“There’s cake in the breadbox,” Si called in to her.

The cake was stale, but the soup was good. They sat facing the open west wall where a full moon rode stubbornly through nest after nest of clouds.

“You’d better get a couple of carpenters to put in that wall,” Cecily said. “If it rains, the floor will be ruined.”

“I can’t afford a couple of carpenters,” Si said, “and even if I could they couldn’t do anything about getting the lumber here that I need to finish it. Every night, in my prayers,'I specify good weather.”

Cecily took a second piece of cake and looked thoughtfully at the floor.

“You’re not going to use paint, are you, Si? You’re going to varnish them.”

“Varnish costs too much. They’d have to be sanded and that costs a lot more.” “Couldn’t you sand them yourself?” “Take too much time.”

“Time? What’s time? Si!” She showed him a startled face. “What time is it?” “It’s one o’clock,” Si said. “Good morning.”

Cecily stood up and sat down and stood up again.

“My bridesmaids’ dinner,” she was babbling, “it’s all over.”

Suddenly she was furious.

“Every time I see you,” she cried, “I get into trouble. This is good-by.”

He tried to see her twice after that. She wasn’t at home. The second time he heard her voice calling out a summons to someone from some place inside the house. Through the open door her voice carried to him clearly, but the butler repeated she wasn’t at home and that, for Si, was that.

HE WOKE the morning of her wedding day with only one thought in his mind, to get rid of the house. It took him most of the morning to find the address Tom had jotted down for him, but once he found it he put it in his wallet and put the wallet in an inside pocket for safekeeping.

It wasn’t his fault the nose of his roadster pointed north instead of south when he set out. He had to see Cecily again. He had, at least, to try. And this time, an hour before the ceremony, he was admitted to Cecily’s room with her mother, a fluttery, pretty woman, grimly slender, and four of the bridesmaids to hear what he had to say.

Cecily was pale, so pale he scarcely knew her, and she looked at him as though he were someone only vaguely familiar out of her past.

“I can’t stay a minute,” he said, knowing as he said it that everyone in the room was hoping he would say what he had to say and get out in half that time. “I had to wish you,” he paused and went on again, speaking only to Cecily at last, seeing only Cecily, “all the happiness your heart will hold.”

“Thank you, Si.” Her hand in his was limp and cold. For a long moment she looked at him, really saw him. There was an (xld bewilderment in her eyes, and for the space of a breath it seemed to him she was clinging to him, to an old landmark. “You’re coming to the wedding?”

He shook his head.

“I have a little business to do the other side of town,” he said. There was a clap of thunder and he lifted his voice to make himself heard above it. “I’ve decided to sell the house.”

Cecily didn’t hear him. She turned half away toward the window and the spell that had lain, for half a moment, between them was broken.

“It’s going to rain,” she said.

Si slipped out of the room and out of the house, and the first stiff needles of the downpour shot down his neck as he climbed into his roadster. He didn’t care. He didn't care about anything and when he began to think again, when his mind came back to realities, he was eighty miles from home on the highway leading south. He swung the car around and headed back, driving through sheets of rain that blurred his windshield.

He remembered the address in his wallet, but it seemed, abruptly, an odd hour and an odd night to be selling real estate. He went home.

As he swung into the drive the lights from his car threw a queer reflection on the windows of the house, as though there were lights shining from within. He turned the switch, and the light in the windows was still there. Si reached into the car for a wrench, and tightened his grip on it as he pushed open the door.

“Who’s here?” he said.

It was Cecily. She was standing on a chair, a hammer in one hand, a nail and an end of tarpaulin in the other.

“Where,” she demanded furiously, “have you been? Do you know your floor is ruined?” Her wedding gown was a wet, bedraggled sheath.

“Cecily,” he began.

“Don’t stand there chattering like a monkey. Take this hammer. Get another tarpaulin. Listen, you go outside. I’ll hold it up while you put in the nails.”

He caught the hammer because there wasn’t anything else to do, and he went outside and put in nails for the same reason. Cecily was a dynamo, driving him

on. He hit his thumb twice and once, swinging the hammer back, he caught himself on the chin, but he knew nothing about the abrasions until the next day.

Inside the house again, with the tarpaulins up, he looked at Cecily. She was still standing on a chair, inspecting the job he’d done.

“Your wedding dress is soaked,” he said.

“Is it? Great heavens, it’s leaving puddles. And look at you. Your pants are dripping. Get off this floor!” She caught up her skirts and made an expert leap that carried her halfway across the dinette to the safety of kitchen linoleum.

“Take off your pants and wring them out and find something to mop up these puddles,” she said. “I’m going to get out of this.” This was the wedding dress.

A queer numbness came over Si. He did as Cecily directed, but the only rag he could find was the pants he’d wrung out. He started a fire in the fireplace and found his overcoat and put it on. By the time Cecily reappeared, wearing his dressing gown, he had the cookstove going and coffee on the make.

“There were ten thousand buttons on that dress, and all of them in back,” Cecily said. She sneezed.

“Go sit in front of the fire and get those shoes off. Cecily,” Si said, “this time you’ve done it. ” Cecily sneezed.

“Where were you?” she demanded.

Si took her by the shoulders. “Where’s Tom?”

“Tom? He’s—Si, he’s at the church! How awful! How awful!”

SI PICKED her up and carried her into the living room and set her down in a chair in front of the fireplace. He found a blanket to wrap around her. He pulled off her slippers.

“Get those stockings off,” he said. “I’ll get my bedroom slippers. Cecily,” he went on his knees beside her suddenly, and took her cold hands in his, “Tom’s going to find this hard to forgive.”

“I must have gone crazy,” she said, but she looked more defiant than scared. “But Tom will understand. He’s building a house himself. I thought you’d be here. Si, and I knew you couldn’t get those tarpaulins up alone. It wouldn’t have taken an hour if you’d been here.” Her voice trailed off to a murmur. Outside a pair of headlights swung into the drive.

“Here he is,” Si said, but Tom was at the back door and through it before Si got there to open it for him. His face was a white mask.

“Is she here?” he demanded.

“Yes,” Si said, “she’s here. Wait a minute.” Tom would have brushed past him, but he put up an arm to block the door. “She didn’t mean to strand you. And the wedding isn’t off. It started to rain, and she remembered my west wall was out, and she thought of the floor and she came out here to do something about it. To help me. It was a friendly thing to do—”

“Hello, Tom,” Cecily said from the doorway. She sneezed.

Tom stood there and looked at her.

“I’m sorry,” Cecily said simply, “to have put you out, but the rain came so fast and so hard.” She faltered and looked at Si, and again he saw in her eyes an odd bewilderment. She jerked her eyes away from Si and looked at Tom again. “It seemed terribly important to get here.” “So you stood me up at the church, made a monkey out of me because £ couple of floors in this hovel needed an umbrella. You expect me to believe that?”

“It’s true. Why, Tom, what’s come over you? You look wild.”

“Any girl who’d leave me standing at the church to play nursemaid to a shanty.”

“It isn’t a shanty!”

“It is a shanty, and you know it. You got mad because I wouldn’t let you make a mess out of my house, so you came out here where you couldn’t do any damage because the place is a mess anyway.”

Cecily stiffened. Si saw the freckles taking on color.

“Look here,” he broke in quietly,

“you’re talking about my home. It isn’t much, but it doesn’t deserve the names you’re giving it. And besides that, we’ve missed the point. Cecily still wants to marry you.”

“Tom,” Cecily said, “does this really look like a shanty to you? Don’t you see the artistry7 in it? The artistry of making something out of nothing?”

“It’s still nothing,” Tom said.

“We’ll leave the house out of it.” Si spaced his words. His temper began to give a little at the seams.

“House ! You call this a house? It’s a—”

Si doubled his fist and lifted his arm.

Cecily screamed.

“Take him into the kitchen,” she said. “If he bleeds he’ll splatter our new floor!”

Si’s arm went limp. Cecily’s hand flew to her mouth. The blood rushed back to Tom’s face and turned it purple.

“I was right the first time,” he said, his voice thick. “You’re both crazy. Good riddance.”

He opened the door and went out, and Si looked at Cecily.

She gave him a funny, crooked grin.

“We’ll have knotty pine in the living room,” she said.