FICTION

You Want Something Different

Jep Judson discovers that love is more than a brightness,whirling and flashing

ANNE WORMSER March 1 1938
FICTION

You Want Something Different

Jep Judson discovers that love is more than a brightness,whirling and flashing

ANNE WORMSER March 1 1938

You Want Something Different

Jep Judson discovers that love is more than a brightness,whirling and flashing

ANNE WORMSER

IT WAS a big barnlike place, with literally hundreds of little tables jammed around the dance Hoor. The colored orchestra was good, very loud. The other fellows pushed on ahead, but Jep stood and watched for a minute. Men and girls circled and hopped and dipped. Some of them just looked hot, but there were plenty who acted like they were enjoying themselves.

Henry Luce said, over his shoulder: “Think I’ll cut in and see what happens.”

“You’ll get a sock in the jaw, that’s what’ll happen.” You had to do something on Saturday night, specially when it was spring and the nights fiegan to whisper to you. when a little sliver of moon came up and winked at you through the row of maples beyond the barn. There had to be -oh, something, to give a radiance, a sharpness, to six days all alike. The picture show in town, with the kids whistling and throwing peanut shells, like they always did. Or play cards with some of the crowd, and Bill Bridge saying he had a hand like a flt;x»t. Like he always did.

So drive fifty miles, find a dump like this and no one to dance with Jep dropped down at a table. There were no girls here he knew.

He could have invited Janey to come with him. Janey was nice and she giggled frequently. She was pretty, like a daisy, maybe. Or a nice little Holstein heifer. Jep knew just what Janey would say, how her warm friendly lips would feel under his when he kissed her gcxxi night. He had been going with Janey since high schcxil. and sometimes she acted like she owned him.

The waiter paused briefly. Jep ordered.

Saturday night, and something waiting for you, and it drove you crazy because you couldn’t ever seem to catch up with it. And try to mention it to Henry or the others, and they’d think you’d jumped your trolley. Maybe you had.

He sipped at his drink. It was not very good. Nobody to dance with, and the next time he'd take vanilla.

The lights went dim Helcx>ked up. A master of ceremonies came out in front of the orchestra and spoke into a loud speaker. “Maralyn and Maurice are going to dance. You'll love them, folks,” he crooned confidentially. “Everybody loves Maralyn and Maurice."

Jep sank lowe&tti his chair. 1 bet, he thought. I love them already. If I'd stayed home, I could have gone to bed early.

, The spotlight got pinkish. The orchestra began to play, a fast, catchy tune; a tune that came in over the radio at least five times a night. A couple ran out onto the floor. Just two people moving, just two figures on the floor.

And then -they weren’t. The man was. the man was still just somelxxly flinging and skipping around. But the girl . . .

*. *•' - ,

JEP PUSHED his glass aside. He sat tip straighter.

She was tall. She had long slim legs and long pale hair. The legs tapped and kicked and wove. The shimmering hair and the sequins on her costume twinkled in brightness -that seemed to lx* on her alone. Her face was grave and smooth, telling nothing.

• Jep leaned forward. A brightness, whirling and flashing. Crowds and glitter and something that began to spin in yoiir head. Color and strange life from a placé where you had never'been.

He held his breath. They stopped dancing, ran off the floor He.followed them with his eyes, watching the little door by the orchestra through which they disappeared. The master of ceremonies* same back, and began to try to be funny"with a’ man in a red nose. Jep sat quiet. You would not know—what she would say—how her still lips fcould feel against your own . . .

Jep looked out onto the floor. The crowd was dancing again. Henry was dancing with a girl in a green dress. The skirt looked like it was too tight, and it wrinkled around her legs as she danced Go on home. There was something calling to you. but you could never catch it.

A chair scraped behind him. “Team up then,” said a man’s harsh voice, "with somebody else.”

Another voice sjxike. a girl’s voice. Low and deep, but clear. “I could try,” it said.

Jep’s head pulled around. Long pale hair under a slanted small hat. A smooth grave face, telling nothing. Now he could see her eyeS. Dark, with thick and shadowy lashes, seeming soft in the stillness of her face.

She took a cigarette from a glittering case, lit it deliberately. She drew a breath of smoke. “I guess.” she said. “I was doing the Dying Swan. Why didn't somebody tell me?” The man jerked forward. “Listen, baby. I’m givin’ you a chance.” He had an ageless yellowish face, and his eyes were blank and grey.

“An offer. Of marriage,” she said thoughtfully. “I guess I ought to give you credit, at that. Mr. Smoky McLean, you annoy me.”

The orchestra began to play again, louder than ever. Jep strained his ears. “Too good, huh,” the man was saying in a voice like a curse. “Too good for me. Okay. I’m tellin’ Chambliss tonight about the date being off.” He laughed. “You might see does he want a single.”

The girl took one more breath of smoke, then laid the cigarette on a plate. She opened her bag, poured the contents out on the table. “Look. Handkerchief, lipstick, compact. Three dollars. My trunk key. A quarter. The answer,” she said, “is no, like before.”

The man jumped to his feet, stared at her a minute, then turned and stalked away. Jep watched from the corner of his eye. The girl picked up her belongings and put them back in her bag. She glanced around the room, drawing her coat around her.

She would be gone. In a minute she would be gone. Jep’s legs lifted him from his chair, carried him the few steps to

the table. He heard his own voice. It sounded too loud, not like his own voice at all.

“What,” he said, “will you do now?”

HER HAIR was cloudy, holding feathers of light in the dimness. Around her face was a huge collar of bluish deep fur. Sleek she was, and quiet.

Her lips were red and insolent. You would not knowhow they would feel . . .

She was looking him in the eye. “And who,” she asked, “wants to know?”

“I heard.” Jep said, “everything. What he said, w-hat you said. You’re alone. Just those three dollars and the quarter. And you’re alone.” He was a little breathless, some big lightness inside him crowding his words.

“Well,” she said, “you may be right."

He drew a deep breath. He was mad. he was insane. It was wonderful. “I’ve got a farm.” he hurried on. “A good one. I work hard, all the time. I’m alone, too.”

She nodded absently. “Kind of a coincidence.”

He didn’t hear her. “Farmers are—are lonesome.” Now

his breath w'as gone entirely. He gulped desperately, trying to get it back. And it was then that he heard her laugh. Lovely pulsing sound—it w'ould be in his ears to the day his life ended. He closed his eyes.

I know now, he thought. I know. He opened his eyes and looked at her. His breath came back, he was strong. He could speak and say what he had to say.

Her eyes were suddenly sweet. “Mister,” she said through the sweetness of her laugh, “one of us is crazy. I think it’s you.”

“I’m asking you,” Jep said clearly, his eyes steady on her face, “to marry me. Right now.”

Slowly her smile faded. Slowly her eyes got dark again and the empty look came back inti) her face. She pulled her coat closer, got up from the table.

“Remember me to the cows and chickens.” she said. “Nice to have met you. You must be that gentleman of the old school I heard about once.” She picked up her bag. “I can wait on tables, I expect. I can get back to the city, maybe. There are jobs, other places. Good-by, mister.” She turned toward the door and walked quickly away.

A radiance, a sharpness to days all alike. Jep ran after her. It was a good thing he hadn’t invited Janey to come with him.

“Wait,” he said, and touched her on the arm. “I’ve got a lot more to tell you. I never asked anyone to marry me before. 1 ought to work up to it. In the first place, they aren’t cows and chickens, not to amount to anything. They’re pigs.”

CENTERVILLE was thrilled. Nothing like this had happened for years, in its history. Jeptha Judson’s wife had been a dancer, on the stage. She had been a model, she’d had her picture all over. Jep’s friends hurried to call on them, eager to see if she really was as fascinating as that kind of girls are supposed to be.

The young fry hoped secretly that she’d been an exiled noblewoman, or a gangster’s moll. Mrs. Burgess gasped that her hair was bleached and that no lady but she was quickly shushed. Centerville was up-to-date, onto the prerogatives of the professional ornament.

Janey 1‘rest on said: “She’s beautiful, isn’t she? I’m awfully glad for Jep.” She and Jep had always been such awfully good friends. Janey took Maralyn vigorously under her wing. .

Jep didn’t hear what they said. Jep was in a state. He1 watched Maralyn, bemused, as she moved about the house, in her black satin shorts and soft white long-sleeved blouses. He waited for her slow smile, lie held her in his arms like he thought she would break.

He couldn’t get used to her. She was cool, and somehow warm as flame. She never had much to say, but any room she was in got alive, somehow. She was May-apple blooms in thick green leaves, the glow from hickory logs, well-water when you’re thirsty. She was far ecstasy, high singing glory. She was his.

She wore long-skirted dinner gowns in town with him to the movies. The other girls wore sixgt;rt silks. She always wore stockings, no matter how hot it wasvery thin ones, which she threw away immediately they got a hole. Once in a while, she painted her fingernails Blackthey glistened like onyx.

She was so funny. He laughed to himself, remembering. She had said, right away: "Will 1 lxa g*xxl housekeejx-r, do you think?”

Maralyn! Picture Maralyn washing the separator, clt;x)king for threshers!

“You take it easy, honey." he had told her through his chuckles. “Pm keepin’ you for a |x-t

He showed her his pigs. “This is Elsie Standard Bearer II.”

“And she got a prize,” Maralyn murmured. She smiled her slow smile. “Of course. For beauty."

I íe tix)k her to the south twenty, in the Ixittom. “I got it drained finally," he explained. “And now I got the best alfalfa in the county.”

“Alfalfa.” she repeated thoughtfully. “Alfalfa.” lie couldn't stop buying her things, although she never asked him for so much as a pajx.*r of pins. A radio that could be a phonograph tlt;xgt;, a bracelet of shining gold and! green, a lace-trimmed nightgown, a set of china very thin and delicate, with tracings of silvery blue. Nothing was gfxxl enough. He dreamed of far-off shops, where diamonds would glitter against velvet, where satins would whisper and entice.

He bought her one of Harry Caleb’s Irish setter pups, and she flung her arms around his neck and hugged him like a lit tle girl. Mostly she was quieter.

He traded in the car. Maralyn made it llt;xgt;k shabby. He got a better make, more worthy of her. He urged her to take it out daytimes. He could always use the truck for errands. Maralyn said: “There isn’t any place I want to go. Without you.” It was unbelievable.

Mrs. Bill did all the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry. Bill was the hired hand. Mrs. Bill was glad to get the work. Jep thought constantly I must make it nice for Maralyn. So she'll be happy.

At first she seemed glad just to rest, but later she got into the way of dancing for him. in the evenings. She would turn on the radio until she found the right kind of a tune, and she would dance. Tap around the edge of the livingroom rug, then turns and acrobatic tricks in the middle of the flixir. It was as glt;xxj as having a theatre or a movie right in your own house.

He'd watch her over the edge of the paper. “Other fellows’ wives sew on things evenings,” he would say, teasing her. “or read in a magazine. What kind of wife have 1 got anyway?" And he’d laugh out loud, he was so happy.

Janey dropped in often, with a cake or a pie she had baked Mrs. Bill was a little heavy when it came to desserts with a hit of neighborhlt;xxl news, or an article on soil or animal husbandry she thought Jep would like to read. She was very friendly careful to include Maralyn in the conversation, to explain anything that Maralyn wouldn’t understand.

Jep worked like a madman, driving himself, driving Bill and the extra hand he hired for the planting. He set men to work, building a new hog barn. He wanted money, he

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Continued from page ll--Staris on page 10

wanted beauty and luxury for Maralyn. He wanted a new house. A nice one. with all the gadgets. The one his father had built had been good enough, but it wasn’t good enough now.

npiIEY HAD been married two months.

* Maralyn had a golden tan, even more beautiful than her whiteness. Jep hurried to the house nights, so tired he could drop, and he’d llt;xgt;k at her and feel rested. She’s so sweet, he’d think, so wonderful.

One day Janey came over to tell them about the bazaar. The Homemakers’ Club was raising money for the new community house.

“I'm on the committee,” Janey said. “We’ve done some gorgeous quilts. People love old-fashioned quilts. We’re finishing the last one tomorrow. Now about the entertainment — would you dance. Maralyn?”

'Tm sure I could quilt.” said Maralyn. “Couldn’t I quilt?”

Jep and Janey both laughed. “Now, honey,” Jep said, “the others can quilt, you can dance. Please?”

Maralyn folded her hands in her lap and looked at them a minute. “All right.” she said. “With pleasure. I’m not so hot, really, but I'll do the best I can.”

“The men’s quartet,” said Janey, “and the high-school seniors are going to do a one-act play. But you’ll be the liest. You'll be the only professional entertainer on the program.” She giggled. “I expect it’ll seem pretty funny to be dancing in the little bitty old Centerville Oliera I louse.”

“Not so very,” said Maralyn.

“Here's an angel fixxl’’ said Janey. getting up to go. “Our hens are molting awfully late. Jep. 1 think it’s that new mash. Angel food takes lots of eggs,” she told Maralyn, “and hens don’t lay when they’re molting.”

Maralyn took the cake from Janey’s hands. “Think of that,” she murmured. ‘Thank you. Janey.”

Jep kxiked up. There was an odd flicker of expression on Maralyn’s face. “Janey took something called home economics.” he put in with a grin. “Four years, it took her, at college. Got her out of studying anything hard.”

"Why. Jep.” protested Janey. “There’s lots to home economics. You learn how to save and to manage. Of course, if anyone doesn’t want to save ...”

"Money’s to spend.” said Jep quickly. “Isn’t that right, Maralyn?”

She looked into his eyes, she said with a smile. “To throw at birds, Jep. I’ll put the cake away.”

Maralyn danced at the entertainment, a long chiffon skirt attached to the sequins, on account of Mrs. Burgess. The audience clapped and Jep was proud.

And then, driving home in the new car afterward. Maralyn said: “Jep, there’s not anything for me to do here. ”

For a moment a tight hand seemed to grab Jep’8 throat. “Whywe’ll think of something,” he said, a little wildly. “Something nice that’ll be fun.”

“I don’t amount to much.” she said hesitantly. “I don't seem to belong.”

He took one hand from the wheel, clutched at hers. "Maralyn.” he said in a thick voice. “You’re so lovely.” He was cold with panic. “Be happywith me. Don’t change.”

She turned her hand in his, drew her own long cool fingers tighter. After a minute she said gently: "Okay. Jep . . . 1 love you. Jep.”

He drew a big sigh. She loved him. she said so and she told the truth. She was the truth. He was safe.

XJTE WAS safe then, but it didn’t last.

-IHer words kept coming back to him. It was the worry he'd pushed to the back of his mind, not letting him keep it there any longer. She was beginning to be tired of the farm, of the life he had given her. She was loyal, she was truebut she would soon be tired of him.

His worry followed him through the long driven days, dragged him awake, shivering in the midsummer heat, at night.

He had to do something. He drove the cultivator through the corn. Rows a mile long, it seemed, all alike. It got you down sometimes. It was getting her down, too— the farm. Same thing, over and over.

He searched his mind. A trip maybe. It was a bad time for him to leave, but he’d do it. Bill could find someone to make a hand. They'd jaunt off for a while. A week, even two. It would cost plenty. But he could do it. Harley Tipton was crazy for Elsie Standard Bearer II. Elsie was worth .money.

He unhitched the horses, gave them their oats. He stopped at the pump and washed his hands. They’d go on a trip. He set his face in a smile. “Maralyn.” he called.

She was sitting in the living room. She got to her feet as he came in, met him with a kiss. “You're tired," she said softly.

She had on some kind of a thin thing that actually trailed on the floor. She had heavy earrings in her ears. She smelled like some kind of a strange beautiful flower that would only live a day. He laid his head down, very gently, on her shoulder. Then he stood up straight.

“Tired? Certainly not. Look, Mrs. Judson. we’re going places.”

“Going places?”

“Sure. On a train, or maybe the car. if you’d rather.” He told her about it, watching her.

She looked puzzled, she looked disturbed . . Oh. Maralyn—smile, be glad.

“But, Jep.” she said. “But, honey. It would cost so much—for now. We could wait. I thought—I mean. I was going to help the threshers. I ought to help about the threshers.”

She was sweet, she was loyal. She wanted to help about the threshers . . . Table heaped high with steaming food. Two kinds of meat, three kinds of pie. Dishes, dishes, dishes, in stacks in the sink. The kitchen in a turmoil, and the rows of sweating men shovelling food in with their knives.

He got out a laugh, louder than he usually laughed. “Baby, you’re something. What are you trying to do. turn into a home-economics expert? Not a chance. We’re going places—a regular rip-snorting toot.”

Her eyes grew shadowed, thoughtful. He rushed on. “And when we come back we’re gonna build a house. A real one.”

She went and stood by the window, she looked out. then she turned. “A house— what’s the matter with this one? Why do you—how will you pay for it?”

“Don’t talk foolish, woman. I’ve got too much land—I can sell me a chunk— that south twenty maybe. Don’t you worry about money—for the trip, either. Elsie and I can take care of that. Just leave all that to me and Elsie.”

“Jep! Sell Elsie! You mustn’t.”

For just a moment he thought of the blue ribbon, the men who had spoken to him so respectfully there in the livestock pavilion. Then he said:

“I’m tired of that sow, Maralyn. You have no idea. Besides she eats all the time. Besides. I want to go places. I want to— oh, wear you, like a flower on my coat. You’re so lovely, Maralyn.”

He had to cough then, and wipe his face.

When he looked up, she had come close. She looked into his eyes a minute, then she leaned against him.

“Yes, Jep,” she whispered. “All right, Jep.”

r"PHE NEXT day was hot, a regular August scorcher. Jep raced around. There were a thousand and one things to do before he left. “Bill,” he said. “Get ahold of Harley Tipton about Elsie. Come back by Fenton’s, and see about that fellow’s been helping over there.”

Bill thought he was crazy. “Jep, you can’t go now. We’ve got that hay to put up. The threshers next week—”

“I’m going. Bill. I’m going. Look— hurry on over to Tipton’s, will you?”

At seven he dragged himself to the house. They planned to leave the following day. He dropped down on the porch. Well, he needed a rest all right. He thought he’d never been so tired in his life.

He leaned his head against the pillar. It was quiet here; the house w'as quiet too. Maralyn must be upstairs, packing. He pulled himself to his feet, went into the house. Mrs. Bill was to leave their cold supper on the table.

With an effort he made his voice light, carefree. "O-o-o-oh, Mrs. Judson,” he called.

There was no answer. Maybe she was asleep. He went softly up the stairs. He went into their room.

It looked different. Empty. He ran to the clothes closet. A couple of summer dresses—not new. Nothing else. In the bathroom her shelf was bare, the perfume bottles, the creams, and cosmetics, the strange complicated mess she put on her hair—all were gone.

Then he saw it. What he’d known he would see, some day. What he’d tried to fool himself into thinking he wouldn’t—

The note. On his shaving brush. Withi cold shaking hands, he picked it up. It was only a few lines, in Maralyn’s strong childish handwriting. “Jep, I can’t take it. It just won’t work. You’re a good man, Jep. but I’m not the wife for you. Took the twenty-dollar bill in the sideboard drawer. Please forgive me, and please forget me. Maralyn.”

There was a deep stabbed line of ink under the signature. A wave of strange weakness swept over him. He dropped into a chair, the note still in his hand. Inside him his heart began to jump and pound against his chest. He—ought to go after her. She couldn’t look out for herself

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Twenty dollars—she was crazy. What would become . . . She just couldn’t take it. After the trip they could only come back here. It was all too uninteresting. Time drags out so.

He pulled himself up by the chair. What was it he had intended to do? Go after Maralyn, bring her back. But she didn’t want to come. There was nothing for her here—nothing to do. She had told him so, and she was right.

With a soft sighing sound he dropped down to the floor. Bill, bringing a message ; from Tipton, found him there a little later. And still later, the doctor announced that in the middle of the summer, due to overexertion, a run-down condition and worry, Jeptha Judson had got himself a very nice case of pneumonia.

CENTERVILLE buzzed angrily. Who did she think she was, leaving a fine boy like Jep Judson? That’s what you get - do everything for someone, and they turn and do you dirt.

Jep’s friends were sympathetic—and professed no surprise. Somebody remarked that you couldn’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse, and was reproved for lightness. Mrs. Burgess said that she’d always thought Maralyn was that kind of woman, and this time she wasn’t shushed.

At Jep’s house, Janey took hold. Janey supervised the nurse and presided in the kitchen, an expression of intense selfi abnegation on her round pretty face. Mrs. j Bill went back to the restricted sphere of j cooking for Bill, and the doctor, for two I weeks, came out to Jep’s house twice a day.

Elsie Standard Bearer II remained i grandly in the new hog barn, the dowager ! whose calm nothing could shatter. Jep j didn’t know, or care. Jep didn’t care about anything.

But because he was young and tough, and because young tough people seldom die : of broken hearts, at the end of the third week he had begun to mend. He was a ¡ perfect patient. He never complained, never availed himself of the invalid’s privilege of irritability, but Janey wanted him to take more interest.

“Thank you, Janey,” he would say. Or, “Can’t the nurse do that? You shouldn’t spend so much time here.” Janey would scold him affably.

“I’ve got plenty of time,” she’d say.

There were wise looks around Centerville. Of course, Jep’s friends said, if he and Janey—in the first place. And had he heard from that blondined hussy at all? Did anyone even know where she was? Well—good riddance. People ought to stick with their own kind. That kind of girl was so out of place on a farm, it was simply ridiculous.

Someone said they thought she was in the city, dancing at some night club. Just like that. Jep at death’s door, and Maralyn going off and dancing like nothing had happened.

Jep didn’t mention her. Jep didn’t even ask if he had any mail. He just lay there. Janey said once, “Do you want me to write—that is . . . ” but she hadn’t had the nerve to finish the sentence, Jep had turned such a sudden glare at her.

And then, exactly one month later, while Janey was getting supper, the back door opened. Maralyn Judson walked in. Mrs. Jeptha Judson, back from wherever she had been. Janey set the pan of biscuits on the table. “Why—why, Maralyn!”

MARALYN carried her bag into the living room, took off her coat and hat. She came back. She looked at Janey levelly. “How,” she said, “is Jep?”

“Why—why—he’s better.”

Maralyn looked around the kitchen. She found a clean dish towel and pinned it j around her waist. She washed her hands at the sink. “Thank you,” she said to Janey. “for dropping in.” She stood quite still, her eyes bright in her still face. She waited.

Janey opened her mouth, then dosed it.

“He—has a special diet,” she offered at last in an undecided voice.

“I’ll fix it,” said Maralyn. She waited.

Janey tried to return Maralyn’s look, but she couldn’t. With a shrug, she turned toward the kitchen door. “The nurse can tell you, I suppose. She’ll be back in an hour. I don’t know what you’ll do,” she added, a little peevishly.

“It’s my kitchen,” said Maralyn. “My husband.” She didn’t watch as Janey left.

She opened the refrigerator. She got out milk, eggs. She mixed an eggnog. Cream and a dash of nutmeg. She poured it in a tall glass, and put it back in the refrigerator.

She regarded the coal-oil stove, then shook her head. With casual expertness, she laid a lire in the wood stove. She put a cake of yeast to melt in warm water. She looked out on the back porch. The separator had not been washed.

She went back into the house. She picked up the eggnog, and walked steadily upstairs. Her hair was flat and tousled from the train. Her face was tired and her lips drooped from sleeplessness. A farmer’s wife couldn't be all the time thinking about her looks.

She walked into the bedroom. Jep’s eyes were dosed. He was so thin. She stopped still, and a little of the eggnog slid over the edge of the glass. Jephe looked so weak. “Janey,” he said, his voice very weary, “I appreciate all the trouble you’re taking.”

“It’s not Janey,” said Maralyn.

HIS EYES flew open. He put out his hand, feeling the air before him. The hand was still brown, but it was thin. Very thin. “Maralyn, I’m dreaming.”

She walked toward him. “Drink this eggnog, Jep,” she said.

He reached out his hand again, touched her dress. “I’m dreaming.”

She set the eggnog on the table beside the bed. She didn’t want to spill it. “Henry Luce was in the city. He told me. You nearly died.” She stopped. “Jep, I had to come back. Even if . .

“You—came back,” he said. “You came back.”

She looked confused, she stammered. “Here. Jep, drink it. It will do you gpod. I —I made it—the eggnog, I mean.”

“A butterfly,” he whispered. “Breaking eggs. Oh, Maralyn—it was so awful—you were gone.”

She held the glass to his lips. After he had drunk a little she set it down. “Jep.” she said breathlessly. “Jep.” Bright color flooded her face, something he had never seen before. “I’ve got to tell you—I grew up on a farm. Until I was seventeen. That’s what I am, Jep, really.”

His eyes closed. He was very weak. “There wasn’t anything nice. I was alone —like before . . . You didn’t want to stay.” Two tears, born of his weakness and sorrowful remembrance, pushed under his lids, ran down his cheeks.

“No, Jep. Not that.” She choked. “But —I was wrecking you. You spent so much too. You didn’t need me, Jep. And—and you wouldn’t want me—if I was—if I was like—like I really am.”

He lay quite still. “Need you,” he said. “I’ve been lost. It’s you, honey, I want. Anyway . . . Oh, stay, Maralyn—anyway.” His eyes were open now, and he was begging her with them, pleading.

She bent down. She laid her cool cheek on his. She kissed his mouth . . One wouldn’t know how those still lips would feel against one’s own.

He put up his arms, trembling, and she knelt on the floor. She was home, there, her cheek on his breast, she was home.

“Don’t leave me,” he said against the shimmering hair. “I’ll die.”

Gently she moved out of his arms. “No,” she said. “I won’t. No matter what.” She stood up. “I'll be right back, my dearest.” she said. “Beside you. Here in our house, on our farm. From now on. I’ll be right back.”

She had to wash the separator and put her bread to rise.