One Was Dutiful
CAROL FARRAGUT came home to Linhurst as flamboyantly as everyone expected. She drove Joe’s “taxi” from the station herself,
with old Joe muttering on the seat beside her and Joe’s middle-aged mare, Hepzibah, galloping like a young filly under Carol’s encouragement. Carol’s beautiful dark-red hair sailed out on the wind and her cheeks were bright with the autumn cold and her eyes—the famous Farragut eyes—shone with joyous devilment.
She drove down Oak Street, yipping like a broncobuster, waving to the heads that popped out of all the windows, pulling up at last with a jerk that almost set poor Hep back on her haunches. You would have thought she was some wild, roughneck high school girl instead of a woman who had been everywhere and seen everything. Except for her clothes, which were nonchalantly simple, and her face, which was unforgettable, you would never have believed that this was the actress, Carol Farragut.
Mrs. Hayden, a comparative newcomer to Linhurst, said as much, stretching her short neck to call across the driveway that separated her house from the Marsden’s.
“It’s Carol Farragut, all right,” Mrs. Marsden replied grimly. “Disturbing the peace like she always did—calling attention to herself. And look at her! While her sister, Lucy, stays here doing her duty, making a home for their young good-fornothing brother, who’s just like Carol, if you ask me, that one gallivants around the country, bothering about nothing and nobody but herself. Is it any wonder she’s still fresh as a daisy?”
Mrs. Hayden thought that daisy was the wrong flower. The girl who swung down from Joe’s rickety old carriage and bounced up the steps of the big house down the street was nothing so commonplace or colorless as a daisy. Fier sister, Lucy, now . . .
Yet before Mrs. Hayden had seen Carol, she would never have compared Lucy to a daisy either. It was only the contrast that made the younger sister seem pale and quiet. Actually they looked much alike, with those odd slanting eyes and reddish hair and translucent white skin. But Lucy’s hair was short and neat instead of cascading showily down her back. She accented her mouth only slightly, not making it a flaming focus of attention. And the oblique F’arragut eyes, which in Carol were vivid, restless, and sherry-colored, in Lucy were soft and calm and a commonplace brown.
The contrast was strong when you saw the sisters together, as they were now in the Farragut living room. Carol took off a little knitted cap and threw it across the room. She shook her beautiful tweed topcoat off her shoulders, not looking to see where it fell. In three long, graceful strides she crossed from the door to the sofa where her sister sat, kissed Lucy’s cheek, and flung herself beside her.
“Great Jupiter, it’s good to be home,” she said, stretching a lovely length of leg along the floor and tossing her arms wide. “Where’s Bob?”
“He’s at school.” Lucy spoke quietly. Her voice lacked the faint huskiness that made Carol’s distinctive. Her hands, resting on the turned-down book in her lap, were composed. “Why did you come home, Carol?”
Carol turned her head against the back of the sofa and looked sharply at Lucy, her lids narrowing. After a moment she said, “Because I’m tired, for one thing—I need a rest before I make my long trip . . . ”
“You don’t look tired.” Lucy stared at her sister’s smooth, unlined, unshadowed face. Her own face was a little drawn. Fine lines were
Carol advertised her bad points; Lucy displayed her good ones. All very confusing to Gil who loved one but was marrying the other
beginning to form around her eyes. She appeared several years older than Carol, rather than two years younger. “You look unbelievably young and rested —and happy,” Lucy said.
“I have to.” Carol shrugged. “That’s my stock in trade.” She moved her hands restlessly, not looking at Lucy. “How are you and Gil?”
Lucy turned the book over in her lap and rested her fingers on the printed pages. It was some time before she answered.
“Fine,” she said then, without any emphasis at all. “Gil and I are fine.”
Carol got up and paced across the room with her long, swinging stride. She picked up an ash tray and looked at it and then set it down. She lit a cigarette and held it in her hand without smoking it.
“Look, Lucy,” she said finally, “I’m worried about Bob. I don’t like the tone of his letters. There’s something ...” She stopped walking and stood in front of her sister. “What does he do when he’s not in school? Who are his friends?”
“Bob’s all right. I’ve always looked after him and 1 always will.” She smiled faintly, her eyes on the book in her lap. “You needn’t pretend to me, Carol. I know what you really came back for. I know it wasn’t because of Bob.”
Carol stiffened, staring silently down at her sister. “So you think that,” she said finally. “You think I’m after Gil.”
“Aren’t you?” Lucy glanced up, still smiling. “I haven’t forgotten that Sunday afternoon, you know.”
“But I went away the next day. If I’d wanted. .
“Going away was the smartest thing you could have done.” Lucy stood up suddenly, facing Carol. The smile was gone. “He’s hardly been near me since. You left lum in midair. You . . You’ve always been the smart one, Carol. You’ve always been the one to get what you wanted.” Her soft, gentle face hardened, but she spoke very quietly. “You won’t get Gil,” she said.
MRS. MARSDEN was setting out pansies in her front flower bed when Gil Rossiter passed on his way to the Farraguts’. She acknowledged his greeting and then became immediately absorbed in her flowers. But the moment he was out of sight she hurried across the driveway on her short legs and called to Mrs. Hayden.
“It’s Gilbert Rossiter,” she said, excitement wrestling with indignation in her voice. “He hasn’t been to see poor Lucy in goodness knows when, and now, not two hours after Carol arrives, there he goes.” She paused to catch her breath, pushing the damp greying hair back from her forehead. “It makes me mad,” she went on. “If Lucy had any gumption she wouldn’t let that fast sister of hers get the best of everything, even to taking her man away from her. Carol has her eye on the Rossiter money, all right, and Lucy ought to do something about it before it’s too late.”
“I guess she don’t know how,” suggested Mrs. Hayden. “That meek type, just around home all the time, wouldn’t know the way to face up to anybody like Carol.” She looked over the hedges to the big Farragut house down the street. “How long is it since the father died?”
“Two years now. Left them plenty, they say, to keep the house going between them, but Carol put it up for sale seven or eight months ago. Wouldn’t pay her share, I expect, and Lucy can’t keep it up alone. The old man must be turning in his grave, with the family home on the market. But that’s how Carol is— no responsibility for her! Why, her father was hardly cold before she went off, leaving Lucy to look out for the boy—and he not appreciating it either. Before anybody realized it, she was in Broadway shows and touring all over the country, while Lucy just stayed on
here keeping house, not ever having fun at all the way a young girl should.” She stopped for breath and went on more slowly, shaking her large head. “When Gil Rossiter came to town and was so attentive to Lucy, everybody figured they’d be married and take over the old house, but now I don’t know . . . It’s a shame and a disgrace that the wild, selfish one should get everything and the good, dutiful one nothing.”
GIL HAD started his walk toward Oak Street some time before Mrs. Marsden saw him. He was a lean, sharp-boned young man with a plain face in which fine, intense black eyes gave an illusion of handsomeness. He had walked slowly because he wanted to think. Not that thinking helped. This had nothing to do with his mind — his good, clear mechanic’s mind that could devise superior wing designs but was not at all equipped for this tussle with his blood.
Because that’s where Carol Farragut was—in his blood. Like a disease he couldn’t get rid of, a disease he knew was eating him up but for which he had no medicine.
From the minute he saw her, it; had been like that. Six months ago. He was almost engaged to Lucy at the time, in love with her—because this wasn’t love, this sick madness for something you knew was no good for you—and Carol had come home from one of her tours.
He’d heard all about her before she came—the successful actress, the wild, selfish sister who had everything and had left Lucy to shoulder alone the burden of bringing up a 16-year-old brother. He disliked her intensely before he met lier. He had no use for these cold, hard career women who lived their own lives, caring for nothing on earth but themselves.
And then one evening he went to see Lucy, and Carol was there. She held out her hand when they
were introduced and looked at him with her strange, slanting eyes—so much like Lucy’s, yet so vividly different.
She said “Hello” in her husky voice, smiling at him. And from then on it was all up with him.
That whole evening he had found it impossible to keep his eyes from her.
He would determine not to look at her again, but sooner or later, to his disgust, he would find himself staring, following the quick motions of her long slender hands, watching the changing expressions of her mobile face. Several times their eyes met and he felt the meeting like a physical impact—as though they had kissed.
She was home for two weeks that time and they were alone together only once. He had gone on Sunday to take Lucy for a drive and found Carol in the living room, listening to records. She looked up without speaking and motioned him to a chair. He would always remember the music—a Bach
concerto, involved and difficult for an amateur ear. It had struck him as odd, out of character, that Carol should be listening to it with such quiet absorption. When the concerto was over he mentioned this.
“I’m surprised you like that music.”
“Yes?” She had a way of raising one eyebrow that gave her a piquantly Satanic look. “Why should you be?”
“I can’t imagine your ever having time long enough, often enough, to sit and listen to it—to get to know and enjoy it.”
For a moment she seemed about to answer him. Then she closed the cover of the radio-phonograph.
“Lucy will be back any minute,” she said. “She went down to the village for something.” Abruptly she turned around to him, with one of her swift, unpredictable movements. “Why do you dislike me?” she demanded.
He looked at her with his heart thumping crazily. Tension brought him to his feet, close to her. But his voice, when he spoke, was cool, and one corner of his mouth lifted in a slight smile.
“Surely it can’t really matter,” he said. Because he hated what she was doing to him he was deliberately cruel. “Or does it disturb you to lose even one possible victim?”
There was no change in her expression, only a faint coloring of the translucent whiteness of her skin. “You haven’t answered my question,” she said, and repeated it. “Why do you dislike me?”
“I detest what you’ve done to poor Lucy,” he said, “leaving her to bear the whole brunt of your brother’s upbringing rather than give a moment of your time, an atom of yourself letting her give everything. And then putting this house up for sale the home she’s made for Bob and herself—because you're too selfish to contribute ...”
“You don’t know anything about it.” Her eyes were angry now. “You’re just assuming ...” She broke off and began again, a little more quietly. “A mansion isn’t necessary for comfort. In these times I don’t think it’s even decent. The money it costs to keep it up can be used to better advantage.”
She spoke with such indignation that for a moment he almost believed she was sincere. But then the front door banged and instantly her flushed face resumed its normal color and her hands relaxed. Of course, Gil thought. She’s an actress. I mustn’t forget she’s an actress.
A boy came swiftly into the room. He was small for 16, pale, with eyes like Carol’s and lier quick vitality
translated into a highstrung energy. He nodded briefly, sullenly at Gil, but when he looked at Carol his face changed and warmed and his grin gave it the natural boyishness it had lacked the moment before.
“Hello, Car. I thought it was Lucy.”
She smiled at him, a feminine version of his grin. “She’s gone shopping, Bob. She’ll be back soon. Want something special?”
“I . . . No, I guess not.” His eyes slid away from her face. “I’ve gotta go meet a fellow.”
She stopped him at the door, one hand on his thin shoulder, the other reaching to his pocket.
“Don’t he bashful with
your sister, kid.” Gil saw the glint of silver. “I know what it’s like to be 16 . . .” She lowered her voice . . . “and broke.”
“How did you . . .?” The boy’s grin flashed again. He whispered, “You’re tops, Car,” and was gone.
She turned back to Gil, her eyes glowing, her smile at Bob still lingering on her lips. As if hypnotized, Gil moved toward her and put his hands on her shoulders, wanting to draw her to him, wanting to kiss her more than he had ever wanted anything in his life.
At that moment, before he could take her in his arms, Lucy came in. She stood in the doorway of the living room, holding a brown paper bag in the crook of
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her elbow. The little black cocker spaniel that Gil had given her for Christmas followed her, shaking himself, wriggling happily, sniffing with deep contentment at all thefamiliar objects of home. The puppy’s serene indifference to the melodrama in the room reached a corner of Gil’s mind and struck it with amusement, even while all the rest of him writhed in confusion and self-disgust.
It was Carol who recovered herself first— in only a moment, though it seemed so long. She moved away from him and sat on the sofa.
“Hello,” she said, looking down at the puppy who had come scampering to her, scratching his absurdly flowing ears. “Bob went out a while ago. All he said was that he had to meet a fellow.” She glanced at Lucy, still standing in the doorway with the bag under her arm. “He’s changing, Lucy. He doesn’t look straight at you any more. There’s something sort of— surreptitious about him.”
Lucy came into the room then and put her things down gently.
“Possibly the dread of losing his home has shaken his security.” She gave Gil a quick look. “But let’s talk about it another time, Carol. I don’t think this is the moment to discuss family affairs.”
Gil pretended not to be listening. He thought of Carol’s slipping the coins into her brother’s pocket and of the expression on his face when he’d said, “You’re tops.” He thought of Carol’s eyes and her smile when she had turned away from the door to Gil, looking so lovely that he had felt he had to kiss her.
“A mansion isn’t necessary for comfort,” she had said. “In these times I don’t think it’s even decent.”
But, of course, she was an actress. She could make a man believe anything she wanted him to believe. She could make a 16-year-old boy think she was a goddess—far more wonderful than the less glamorous sister who was with him and watched over him every day. She was even clever enough, in a difficult, tense moment, to divert Lucy’s attention to Bob. Undoubtedly, Gil told himself, she was accustomed to handling such situations adroitly.
Later, alone with Lucy, he felt that he should speak of what she must have seen—Carol and himself so close, so intent, in the pulsating second before a kiss. He knew she would never mention it. She might wonder and be hurt and perhaps in the end draw away from him without ever bringing it out into words. He had found that kind of deep reserve in her before in connection with Carol. It was months after he had come to work at the plant near Linhurst and met Lucy before he even knew she had a sister, and it was only recently that she had reluctantly begun telling him about Carol. Now, when he started what was bound to be a clumsy explanation, she stopped him. She looked up at him with her eyes that were not vivid and sherry-colored, but calm and brown, and smiled gently.
“You needn’t say anything, Gil. I understand. Even my dog won’t come to me when she’s . . . ” She paused, as though her voice were going to break, and then went on quietly. “That kind of magnetism is something you can’t escape or help. I understand.”
He took her hands and kissed them, feeling a deep, protective welling of tenderness for her. “I love you, Lucy,” he murmured. “You’re good and sweet. I love you.”
And all the time he was speaking, all the time he was kissing her, he kept seeing Carol’s white face, that strange
look in her vivid eyes. He kept thinking, with a fierce shamed longing, of her kiss that he had almost had and of what it would have been like.
GIL APPROACHED the Farragut house with his feelings no less confused than they had been at the start of his walk. It was two weeks since he had been here, and he had considered not coming again. He couldn’t keep on seeing a girl like Lucy, to whom he’d heen practically engaged for over a year, without making the engagement a definite thing. She never spoke of it—she was sweet and gentle, as always—but even this was a reproach. Yet how could he ask her to marry him when he could not look at her without the ghost of her sister coming between? He hadn’t seen Carol since that Sunday afternoon—she had left the next day—but he couldn’t forget her.
He was here now, he told himself, to dispel the ghost once and for all. A man couldn’t go on being a fool over a woman like Carol Farragut, making a mess of everything because of her. He was going to see her again and convince himself that for the past year he’d been merely the victim of his own fevered imagination. He was going to . . .
But as he rang the bell he knew he was here because he couldn’t stay away; because ever since that Sunday when she had spoken of the house, when she had slipped some coins into her brother’s pocket and then turned around with that look on her face, he had been waiting for her to come back.
Lucy opened the door. She stood looking at him for a moment as though she weren’t going to let him in. Then she said, “Hello, Gil,” in her sweet, quiet voice and led him into the living room.
Carol was sitting on the sofa and Spade, the cocker spaniel, was lying contentedly across her feet. She smiled at Gil and gave him her slim hand, and immediately he felt it had been a mistake to come.
For she was lovelier than he remembered. Her eyes were more vivid, her quick movements more vibrant, her warm, husky voice more appealing. He hadn’t dreamed up her power over him. It was there in the room between them, like something alive.
Presently he became aware of Lucy watching him intently, and he wondered with confusion how long he had been staring at Carol. He walked across the room, away from her, to a cigarette box on the table near the window, murmuring some polite inanities. As he lit the cigarette, his hand shook so that the flame made little guttering spurts.
When he turned around again he saw that Lucy was standing stiffly in the middle of the room. Her face was white and still, with a peculiar stillness that was not calm. She looked at no one as she spoke, and her voice was pitched a half-tone higher than usual.
“I was just telling Carol,” she said, “that I’ve finally decided to name the day. It’s not right to keep you waiting any longer, Gil. June 2 would be nice, don’t you think? That’s just a month from today. June’s réally the only time for a wedding, don’t you think?” Gil stabbed his freshly lit cigarette down into the ash-tray and went to her. He put his arms around her. “Lucy,” he said softly. “Lucy, I’m so glad you’ve decided.” He felt her rigid muscles relax under his hands. “June 2 will be wonderful.”
Of course, he thought. This is how it must be. Lucy knows. She understands. Once we’re married this madness will leave me—slowly, maybe, but it will. Lucy’s love, her sweet gentleness, will cure me.
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He kissed her and it was as though a part of him went through this physical action while the rest of him stood aside and looked at Carol, who still sat on the sofa with the dog at her feet. He felt that she knew what he was thinking— knew the heaviness that lay upon his heart— and was, no doubt, triumphant.
He released Lucy and she turned at once to her sister.
“Aren’t you going to give us your good wishes?” she said, still in that unnaturally high voice. “You’ll be maid of honor of course, and ...”
“I’m afraid not,” Carol broke in. She rose and came over to them, and Gil saw that she was as pale as Lucy. “I’m sailing before June.” Then she smiled and went on with warmth, “But I do wish you both the best of everything.”
“Sailing?” The word exploded from Gil’s lips before he was aware of it. “Where the devil to, in these times?” “Italy, probably,” she said casually. “To entertain the troops.”
Italy. He stood staring at her, forgetting there was anyone else in the room, and her eyes met his. For an instant it was like that Sunday afternoon six months before, when they had almost kissed.
Then Lucy spoke, her voice level.
“I’ll go to school and meet Bob,” she said. “I’d like to tell him about our engagement before he gets home.”
WHEN she had gone Carol said, “I came back expecting to find you and Lucy already engaged. Why did you wait until she forced the issue?”
He still stared at her. “I think you know.”
She turned her back to him and walked over to the window. One of her slim hands held the curtain aside, and he could see her white knuckles under the taut skin.
“You never loved her,” she said, her husky voice low. “If you had ever really loved her—”
“I loved her,” he broke in harshly, “until you came. Even then . . . This other isn’t love. I’ll get over it.”
She let go of the curtain and whirled around to him, and her eyes were a deeper color, with huge pupils.
“I went away, didn’t I? The minute I knew, I went away.” Her flexible voice was full of pain. “I thought it would be all right then, and that you two would marry. 1 thought you’d be awfully good for Bob; he needs a man’s understanding. But this . . . What kind of marriage can this be for Lucy, when she loves you and you ...”
“Lucy and I will be all right,” he said stiffly.
“Will you?” She went a step toward him and searched his face. “And will you look out for Bob? He’s . . . you can’t be too harsh with him. He’s just a boy, but he ought to be treated like a man. He’s at that age.”
Gil said nothing for a moment, looking down at her. Then he spoke slowly. “Lucy has never talked to me about Bob. She never ...”
Again, as on that Sunday, they were interrupted by the banging of the door. Bob’s thin face was flushed as he came into the room, his eyes red-rimmed.
“Listen,” he said without preliminary. “Listen, Carol, I won’t live with them. I’ll go away. I’ve got plans. I’ve had plans for a long time, even before this.”
“Bob . . . what are you talking
about? Quiet down, dear.”
“She says she’s going to marry him.” His glance grazed the tip of Gil’s ear. “She says we won’t have to sell the house now, because she’s going to marry him.”
“But that’s—isn’t that fine, Bob?
You can stay right here the same as always. It will be nice to know that when I’m overseas.”
“I’m going to do a little singing for the troops. Didn’t Lucy tell you?”
“No, she didn’t tell me,” he said slowly. He thought a minute. “You won’t be making any money doing that, will you?” he asked her then. “That’s why you wanted to sell the house, isn’t it? Not because ...”
Gil crossed to the boy and put a casual hand on his arm. “Look here, Bob,” he said, “I’m pretty muddled up. First, why are you so dead set against living with me? You might even come to like me after a while.”
It was a moment before Bob spoke. Then he said, “You don’t get it. I like you all right. It’s just ... I don’t want anybody else that I’m supposed to be grateful to, that’s all. I’m sick of being grateful.” His mouth shook. “I want .to get out of this place where everybody’s always telling me I don’t appreciate what’s being done for me.” His voice lifted to a mimicking falsetto. “Poor Lucy, giving up everything to make a home for her no-good kid brother . . . poor Lucy ...” Histone dropped with sudden fierceness. “Why doesn’t anybody say ‘poor Carol?’ She’s been paying for the whole business, working like the devil, while Lucy just took it easy here —”
“Bob!” gasped Carol.
He whirled around to her. “All right, I’ll tell you how I found out. I don’t care,” he shouted defensively. “I was going to get away from here. I was going to beat it with another fellow and maybe join the Army, if they’d believe we were old enough. I was looking for money to get me away, that’s what I was doing, and I found a lot of old cheques. You’ve been paying for everything.” Abruptly his shoulders hunched, his voice faded. “So I stayed. I couldn’t let you down. But now it’s different again. She’s marrying him for my sake, so I’ll always have a home, and she’ll keep harping on it. Everybody in this town will say I don’t deserve ...”
“That’s silly, Bob,” Carol interrupted softly. “Lucy is marrying Gil because she loves him. You’re all confused about this. We’ve just shared you in a way, Lucy and I. Dad didn’t leave much money and we wanted you to have a good home while you were growing up, so Lucy stayed and made the home and I went out and worked to pay for it. There’s no question of gratitude.”
He only shrugged his thin shoulders and went out of the room, without looking at either of them.
“He isn’t confused,” Gil said, the moment he had gone. “It’s I who have been confused.”
“Lucy loves you,” Carol said again, speaking hurriedly. “You mustn’t listen to Bob. He’s at a queer age. He imagines things.”
Gil shook his head. “He hasn’t imagined that you’ve never mentioned what you were doing for him—to him or anyone else—and that Lucy has never let anyone forget her sacrifices. He hasn’t imagined the effect it’s had on him, poor kid.” He smiled grimly. “A dutiful woman can be pretty cruel to live with.”
Carol’s voice was a whisper. “What are you going to do, Gil?”
“What I’ve always meant to do since the day I first saw you. What I’ve been fighting against like a fool, because I thought a man must be mad not to love a good woman like Lucy ...”
Their eyes met and that look passed between them—that look that precedes the moment of a kiss. And this time the moment came.