Tarr knew Lissa was out to teach him a lesson. But how could a girl kiss like that if she didn’t mean it?
J. G. HOWE
MA SCOTT and Grampa, between them, would have liked to run the whole county. They might have done it, too, if Tarr hadn’t been so downright ornery about hitching up with the right girl. As it was, they spent all their time and energy trying to get Tarr married off. It was Grampa who finally thought up the idea of importing the nurses from Gilforth, figuring that sooner or later one would turn up who’d make the right wife for Tarr.
Six starchy white hopefuls in succession were tried and found wanting. None of them got to first base with Tarr, but Ma and Grampa were undismayed. At breakfast that morning Ma said: “We’re getting a new nurse for Grampa.”
“What’s the matter with the one he’s got now?” Pa asked.
Ma kicked him under the table and glanced sideways at Tarr. “She’s too old, for one thing.”
“Old!” Pa snorted, pretending he didn’t know what Ma was up to. “Anyway, Grampa ain’t sick enough to need a nurse.” Grampa certainly wasn’t right-down sick.
His rheumatism kept acting up, and that tied him pretty well to his room, but this business of nurses was pure fiddle-faddle, Pa figured.
Ma glared at him. “I guess I know what I’m doing.”
Tarr guessed she knew, too, but it sure wasn’t going to get her anywhere. If she hadn’t tried so blamed hard to fix up a match for him, Tarr figured he might have picked somebody by himself. Near scared him to death, sometimes, the way his mother kept throwing women at him.
“You drive over to the hospital and get the new nurse,” Ma said.
“Aw—” Tarr’s face burned.
It was bad enough being thrown to the lions, but when you had to lug the lions from one den to the other, that was the last straw.
“Get along now,” Ma ordered.
You ve just got time to go there and back before dinnertime.”
Tarr went. His mother had been ordering them all around
ever since he could remember, and they loved her in spite of it. Pa said he figured it was because Ma laughed so much that they put up with her bossy ways. When Ma laughed you could hear her clear over the other side of the rise, and she let out a good hefty bellow on an average of once an hour.
“And get yourself a haircut,” Ma shouted after him.
Waiting outside the Gilforth hospital, Tarr studied his overgrowth of yellow hair in the rear view mirror and fingered the day-old stubble on his chin. He’d be darned if he’d get a haircut, or shave either, until Ma stopped dragging these nurses out to the house to pester him. It was time she found out he had a mind of his own.
The new nurse came down the steps. She was pint-sized and dark-haired, with a sober face and pretty legs. Her chin was up, and she walked with quick, decisive steps. The queerest feeling came over Tarr when he saw her—as though somebody had pulled a string and let a flutter of feathers loose around his heart. But it was a pleasant feeling and he was completely indifferent to the knowledge that he was playing into his mother’s hand. Driving with the dark-haired nurse, back toward the farm, he was singing inside.
Her name was Lissa French. She was pretty, all right. Her shining hair reminded Tarr of the stubborn little black colt he’d brought in from pasture the day before with a badly scratched thigh. Just the color of her hair, that colt was. Her eyes were like sunlight shining down on the pebbles of the river shallows. Tarr sideswiped a chicken on
the way home, because he was looking at Lissa
instead of at the road.
She sat beside him, small and grave-faced. She didn’t try to make conversation, the way most of them did. Tarr figured it was up to him to say something.
“Nice weather,” he ventured.
“Lovely,” she agreed. Her voice, he thought, was like t he in-between notes on a fiddle.
“Good growing weather.”
“I’m sure it must be.”
“You ever live on a farm?”
“No,” she laughed, a short merry laugh. “But I’ve heard about yours. It’s quite a place, I understand.”
“It’s all right, I guess.” Tarr wanted to tell her about the farm, but there was something funny about the way she’d said that last. Supposing— gosh, supposing all those darned nurses who’d been at the farm went back and told about Ma scheming to get him married. But, darn it, he reasoned, they couldn’t have. Most of them had near broken their necks to hog-tie him. They wouldn’t talk about that.
When they reached home there was a commotion out near the barn. Ma was shouting orders. Mason, one of the field hands, was wrestling with the black colt. Mrs. Mason, the cook, was hollering directions too. All added up, it made a lot of noise.
“What’s going on?” Tarr demanded.
Mason straightened, and the colt shinnied around and tried to kick him.
“Orneriest thing I Continued on page 27
Continued from page 19
ever seen,” Mason grunted. “Been tryin’ to get him into the barn for the
last hour. This-critter’s just made
up his--mind he won’t go.” Mason
bit his tongue several times during each sentence, to keep from using words he would have used if Lissa had not been present.
The colt trembled and strained at the rope as Tarr approached. No wonder, he thought, dodging a couple of businesslike kicks. All that shouting and carrying on! “You got yourselves worked into such a lather neither of you know which way to go,” he told Mason. “Why don’t you leave him alone till he cools off?”
Mason snorted. “You take care of him,” he said disgustedly.
“Both of them too stubborn to give in,” Ma hooted at Lissa. Her laugh rolled out, and Lissa laughed too. They walked toward the house together.
Before they’d gone very far Lissa turned back. She said to Tarr, who was alone with the colt: “How are you
going to get him in?”
“Well,” Tarr told her, “I figure if he didn’t know we were trying to get him in, he’d go by himself. I’ll just leave him here for a spell, then along about suppertime he’ll find out that the feed’s in the barn.”
Ma nodded approvingly. “Tarr’s smart,” she told Lissa. “One time he rigged up a gadget for the sprayer and got a patent on it.” Tarr knew she’d spend the rest of the day telling about how smart he was. Usually that made him hopping mad, but this time he didn’t mind.
Before supper Tarr shaved, bathed, changed his clothes and scrubbed his hands with pumice until they were raw. He tried to slick his hair down. It looked like a lion’s mane, falling all over his face as soon as it dried. Doggone! he thought. If Ma hadn’t kept harping at him to get a haircut, maybe he’d have got one.
He kept saying over to himself how he’d ask Lissa to look over the farm with him, but dogged if Ma wasn’t ahead of him. At supper she said: “Tarr’d be real glad to show you over the place this evening. Wouldn’t you, Tarr?”
Tarr got red and said he guessed he would.
Lissa smiled at nobody in particular. “Thanks very much, but I’m afraid I
can’t go this evening. I have some— some things to do.”
“What things?” Ma asked. “Goodness, Grampa don’t need you tonight. He goes to bed with the hens.” She added guilefully, “It’s a nice night, and there’ll be a moon later on.”
Lissa’s chin stuck out. She looked straight at Ma. “Some other time,” she said amiably, but very, very firmly.
So there was Tarr, all dressed up and no place to go. He hung around the porch for an hour, hoping Lissa would come down. Then he went to the barn to make sure that the wound on the black colt’s thigh was healing properly. After dark he wandered down the river path and leaned against a big rock, with his chin in his hands. The full moon edged over the horizon and grinned at him.
“It’s no laughing matter,” he told it glumly.
A shadow 10 feet away moved. “It isn’t,” a voice agreed seriously. My gosh, it was her voice ! She came toward him, stepping into the moonlight. “'Why don’t youdosomethingabout it?” “I thought you had things to do.” “I have,” she looked up at him, bigeyed and sober. “I’m doing them now.” “My gosh,” he said. “Is that what you call a way to spend an evening?” She smiled. “It’s my way of spending it.”
The smile did it. It was a shadowy, intimate sort of smile, or maybe the moonlight made it that way. Tarr was lighthearted suddenly. He forgot that she had preferred her own company to his. He felt loquacious, which was something new for him. He told Lissa the moon was pretty, and she agreed. He mentioned how the beeches on the ridge made a dark scalloped pattern against the eastern sky. He told her things about the farm—how many pounds of field beans to plant to the acre, and what proportion of linseed meal and middlings to mix for mash. He told her his age, his weight, his likes and dislikes, and asked her if she could make apple pie.
Lissa said she could.
Then he wanted to know things about her, so she described the town where she grew up. She told about the time her little yellow dog died. She told him what kind of hats she liked, how to apply a tourniquet, and about her mom and dad and kid brother, and many other things.
Tarr said: “It’s nice down by the
She smiled and nodded. They
walked on down the path that led to the river, and sat on an upturned boat.
A lot of tiny night noises went on around them. Lissa moved just a trifle, and her head almost touched his shoulder. He moved a trifle, and then her head was on his shoulder. He put his arms around her. He kissed her.
It was the most beautiful night Tarr had ever seen. It made him want to make up poetry, or song, or something. He felt reckless and invincible, like a movie hero. He kissed Lissa again.
He figured he’d never get a better chance to ask her to marry him than right now. It was exactly the right kind of a night for such things. He asked her.
She took a long time answering. Her voice was so pretty it hurt him. “I’m sorry, Tarr,” she said. “I guess I forgot about—well—I guess the moon and all—”
“You mean—?” All the poetry and song feeling left him. “You mean you don’t want to?”
“Well, you see, I—” She put her hands to her face. “Oh, dear! 1 wish you hadn’t asked me.”
“My gosh, why?” Tarr demanded. “You kissed me, didn’t you?”
“Doesn’t that mean anything?” he insisted. “Doesn’t it?”
“Oh, yes.” She nodded quickly.
“Then we’ll get married,” Tarr said masterfully, and tried to kiss her again.
She pushed him away. “No, we won’t!”
“Because I don’t want to,” Lissa told him tartly.
“Is there—” he was almost afraid to ask—“is there another fellow?”
“No, of course not.” She bit her lip, as though she hadn’t intended to tell him that. “I just don’t want to get married, that’s all,” she said coldly.
TARR got mad clear through. Stubborn, that’s what she was. A stubborn little flirt. Going around kissing people, then telling them she didn’t want to get married. My gosh, every woman wanted to get married.
“Well, come on then,” he growled. “No sense sitting here all night. Let’s go home.”
Lissa giggled suddenly. “All right.” Her face was turned up to his, and, by golly, she was laughing right out loud at him. She was so doggone cute, standing there with moonlight all over her face, and that laugh rippling out, clear as water. “After all,” she said, “you only met me today.”
“I don’t believe in wasting time,” Tarr told her sternly.
“I can see you don’t,” she agreed, her mouth solemn, but the laugh still in her voice.
Gloom walked with Tarr all the way home. But in the morning he felt better. He’d only asked her once. There was a dance at the Gilforth golf club Saturday night and he could take her there. But he wouldn’t say anything more about getting married— maybe he’d been a mite hasty after all. Girls liked a lot of courting and stuff before they settled down, he guessed.
He didn’t see Lissa again until Saturday afternoon, when Grampa was taking his nap. She gave him a cool detached smile that held no remembrance of last night. “How’s the colt?” she asked pleasantly.
He took her into the barn and showed her the colt. “He looks like you a little,” he told her.
“Mercy!” That unexpected little giggle of hers was the cutest thing.
“His coat’s just like your hair. Sort of like a crow’s wing—I mean—it’s awfully pretty.” Tarr blushed like a 16-year-old.
He figured it was too early to ask her about the dance. She might think up
some excuse for not going. He’d wait until after supper—sort of sneak up on her.
But it seemed as though somebody was bound to get ahead of him, no matter which way he turned. Grampa came down to supper, which was something pretty unusual for him. Tarr should have known there was a reason for that. Right away, before they’d hardly sat down, Ma and Grampa teamed up.
Grampa said to Lissa: “I ever tell
you about Tarr getting written up in the Farmer’s Journal for his red clover mixture?”
Lissa smiled. “Once today,” she said, “and twice yesterday.”
Grampa choked over his beans. Ma came to his rescue. “Grampa’s so proud of Tarr,” she explained. “We all are. Tarr’s just about the best farmer around these parts. Pa and me are looking forward to turning this place over to him when he—” she paused tactfully. “When he settles down.”
That was only the beginning. They tossed Tarr’s proficiency back and forth between them for 20 minutes. It got so bad that Tarr, so accustomed to being the centre of discussion that he had, through the years, evolved an escape system of preoccupation, was forced to leave the table. But not before Ma said: “There’s a dance at the Gilforth golf club. Tarr’d be real glad to take you.”
Lissa made a little shaking movement with her head. “It’s awfully nice of you to ask me, but I’m afraid —”
“Tarr’d be real glad to take you,” Ma repeated.
Tarr blew up. “For gosh sakes,” he growled, “if I want to take the woman to the dance, I’ll ask her myself.” He strode from the room. At the door he turned. “You want to go?” he barked at Lissa.
She hesitated, her face serious as an owl’s, her eyes flashing.
Unexpectedly, she grinned. “Thanks. Yes, I’ll go.”
She wore a sort of greeny-blue dress that turned white in the moonlight. When they danced, the top of her head touched his chin. He put his lips against her hair. It was clean and piny. She was like a little dark wood bird, small and soft in his arms.
They danced onto the porch that ran all round the clubhouse. The porch lights had been turned off'. Moonlight made deep pools of shadow in the corners and sifted through the screen of honeysuckle.
Tarr meant to behave himself. He had it all worked out in his mind how he’d court Lissa for maybe a week before he got romantic again. But the porch was dark, and his arms were around her. He stopped in the darkest corner and kissed her. He kissed her so hard and so long that when he stopped they were both breathless.
Lissa stepped from his arms and walked into the clubhouse. She reappeared a moment later with her coat on. “Let’s go home,” she said. Just that, with her voice cool and crisp as ice. Then she started toward the car.
Well, my gosh, she didn’t need to get so mad! She didn’t have to let him kiss her if she was so touchy about it. And she had let him. Why, she’d even kissed him back!
Tarr strode after her. The breeze ruffled his hair into a shaggy fringe that obscured one eye. He caught Lissa’s arm, made her face him.
“Will you for Pete’s sake,” he demanded, “tell me what you’re so mad about? You didn’t have to kiss me if you didn’t want to.”
“I didn’t kiss you,” she retorted.
“You did,” he barked back. “And you kissed me last night.”
Continued on page 30
Continued from page 28 “I did not!” Her eyes flashed. “And you can tell your family they needn’t waste any more time telling me how wonderful you are, or what a good h-husband you’d make. Because I heard it all back at the h-hospital.”
She was crying! “Well, gee,” ’Farr said futilely, his face burning.
“And I wish to goodness you’d get a h-h-haircut,” she sobbed. She ran to the car and wrenched open the door.
He felt awful. He climbed in beside her and started the engine. They drove home, engulfed in dismal silence. Tarr let her out at the front door.
“Good night,” Lissa said stiffly. “What—what’d they tell you back at the hospital?” Tarr asked her, not even trying to hide his worry.
She sniffed. “Nothing. Except— except that your family’s been trying to marry you off to every girl in the county and none of them will have you.” She turned and ran, bumping into the door and slamming it after her.
TARR put the car away and sat on the back steps. The moon, lopsided now, grinned down at him, and tonight its grin seemed derisive. He’d made an awful fool of himself, Tarr thought. It was his fault for letting Ma and Grampa make him the laughing stock of the country.
He wandered out to the barn. The black colt was wide awake. Tarr leaned against the stall, hardly noticing the colt, engrossed as he was in his own misery. Then a soft nose butted his arm, and he felt a glow of pleasure. The half-wild little thing had never approached him willingly before. He stroked the small black face. “You wouldn’t know what makes women the way they are, would you?” he asked. The colt nipped his hand.
He couldn’t figure it out. The way she kissed him last night, and again tonight, and then got so mad about it afterward. Those kisses of hers were real. He couldn’t figure out how a girl could kiss like that and not mean it.
Absently, he moved his hand to pat the colt’s shoulder. The colt snorted, his eyes wide with suspicion, and bounded to the far side of the stall. “Hey, come back, fella,” Tarr coaxed. The black head shook disobediently and gave him a Bronx cheer.
He was absurdly disappointed. “You, too?” he asked.
Then suddenly, as he watched the defiant head, an idea almost knocked him over.“I’ll be dogged!” he said aloud. So that was it. Lissa and the little black colt were alike. Both were stubborn as sin, but both could be handled if you knew how to go about it. And he knew how to handle the colt.
Ma tackled him at Sunday evening supper. “Lost your razor?” she
“Nope.” Tarr eased into his chair and got down to the business of eating.
Grampa creaked downstairs, his rheumatic knees protesting, and teamed up with Ma again. Both were in fine spirits, apparently under the impression that Tarr and Lissa, having gone to the dance together, were as good as engaged. Grampa started off with
stories about Tarr’s childhood, and went right on up, Ma helping. Lissa smiled tolerantly, and Pa tried to steer the conversation into other channels. Ma and Grampa kept right on with the business in hand.
Then Tarr said: “You folks ever
stop to consider that you’re trying to sell the wrong horse?”
“Come again?” Grampa bristled. “How’s that?” Ma snapped, astonishment sticking out all over her.
Tarr dug his elbows into the table for support and waded into the speech he’d lain awake all night concocting.
It didn’t come out the way he’d expected it to. For one thing, his voice was too loud. “Now, listen,” he said. “You folks’ve been trying your darndest to get Lissa interested in me. You ever stop to figure maybe I’d like to pick a woman for myself and court her myself, in privacy?” His voice was getting louder. Inside him was the feeling of power that comes to a man when he finds himself in the middle of getting something off his chest. “You ever stop to realize it’s me that’s got to do the picking, and that I’ll do my picking when I’m good and ready and not before? Just because a fellow takes a girl out and maybe kisses her a couple of times—” this was thrown in for Lissa’s benefit — “doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means, especially if there’s a moon. And from now on,” he shouted, banging his fist on the table until the dishes rattled, “from now on I’ll thank you to quit throwing women at me. When I see one I like—and by ginger I haven’t seen one yet—I'll do the courting.”
He stamped from the house, and behind him there wasn’t a sound except a smothered gasp from Lissa.
He went to the barn and sat down, mopping his face. He’d overdone it! That wasn’t what he’d intended to say at all. He had meant to convey to Lissa, subtly yet convincingly, the idea that his pursuit of her had been an amusing joke, and that he could get along very well without her. But the darned speech had come out all wrong. It had felt so good to stand up there and tell them off that he’d gone berserk. Now the sense of power that the speech had lent was drained from him, and he just felt foolish.
He couldn’t stay in the house after insulting Lissa that way. Long after dark he sneaked up to his room and got a blanket. He bedded down in a pile of hay near the colt. “Darn you,” he told it. “It’s your fault for giving me bright ideas.”
He didn’t go near the house all Monday. In the evening he got so hungry he just had to pussyfoot into the dark kitchen for a bite. While he was eating his seventh slice of bread and jam the car drove around to the front door. He poked his head out to see what was going on. There was Lissa, her suitcase in her hand, saying good-by to Ma, and Pa was sitting behind the wheel, all ready to drive her back to town.
She was going now, and he would never see her again. There was an empty, sad feeling in him, and he could never remember a night that seemed so lonesome.
He had to do something—he couldn’t let her go like that. He marched out to the car, not looking at Lissa, and said to Pa: “I’ll drive.”
“Suits me,” Pa said, grinning all over his face.
He drove 10 miles without speaking. Finally he said: “Quitting?”
“Your mother decided her father didn’t need a nurse,” Lissa said.
“Never did need one,” Tarr said.
He stopped the car. It wasn’t just accident that they were right under a couple of old willow trees that hung green lace curtains around them.
“I—I guess I sort of flew off the handle last night,” Tarr began.
“You were wonderful,” Lissa’s voice softened to a whisper.
“Your mother and grandfather thought so too after they’d got over their surprise,” Lissa said, in the same whispery-soft voice. Her smile, dimly seen, was uncertain.
It just goes to show you, Tarr thought. You never can tell how a woman s going to act, especially a stubborn one! But he was learning. And it was true, then, that a wayward woman and a wayward
colt were one and the same thing when it came to figuring out how to handle them. He said with studied carelessness, out of his new wisdom: “Well, I guess I won’t be seeing you again.”
“I suppose not,’’ she said. “Unless—-”
“Well—” There was a warm tremor in her voice. “The hospital’s only 20 miles from the farm. If you - well—if you’d like—”
Delight rose in him like a tide, but he
said gruffly. “What’s that you say?” “If you happened to be in town any time, you—you could call at the hospital and let me know how Grampa is.” Tarr fingered his stubbly beard. “Sure,” he said. “Sure, I guess 1 could do that.”
The willow leaves moved and whispered, and a hidden night bird offered a sleepy snatch of song. After a time, Tarr said: “I have to go into town for a haircut tomorrow night. I could let you know how Grampa is then.”