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Chapter II--Good-byes
 The next few weeks were so crowded that the events which came in them have a kaleidoscopic flavour. Everyone called on me, and everyone gave me advice. The calls, the advice, the shrill of the locusts, the way the sunlight looked in the garden, and the braid which Mrs. Bradly insisted must be put on my new dresses, all tangled. I can’t think of one thing without having something else, that came in that time, creep in. I suppose it was because I was so hurried that nothing was sorted. It all simply sunk in my mind together as I rushed; and, of course, there was no calm between, in which one’s consciousness builds fences, or tethers a thought in its proper pasture. My going away acted like a big egg-beater on everything that happened then; everything was too well mixed and--flavoured with tears. Mrs. Bradly wept over everything, including my favourite things to eat, which she cooked for every meal.
“Corn fritters,” she’d say, and then begin to catch her breath. “Won’t be so long now that I can make ’em for you. . . . Thought you’d relish ’em. . . .” And then she’d go out in the wood-shed, pretending that she needed a little kindling to hurry the fire. But I knew she didn’t. And it made me feel awfully. I think I was never quite so unhappy as then, when everyone was so kind to me. But I didn’t cry, because that isn’t the way I show unhappiness. Hurts make a hard, heavy load which roosts on my heart and does something to my lungs. They want to take long breaths, but feel squeezed. Sometimes I think this sort of misery is really more uncomfortable than tears, but at least no one can see whether your heart has a red nose, and of course outside tears leave traces. There are advantages.
Willy Jepson seemed to understand how I felt, more than anyone else, which was surprising. He sat with me a good deal in the garden, while I sewed on braid. I was not interested in the braid, nor sewing it on, but Mrs. Bradly made me put yards on everything. She said: “Yuh gotta look swell in New York. Take this here and put three rows above the hem.” And--for the first time in my life, I sewed. We put narrow ribbon velvet on my thin things, and lace wherever it could be attached. When I had to rip it off, I did almost cry; and not because of the work, but because dear Bradly thought it was so fine. I can’t quite explain, and I haven’t time here. But when people whom you love think things are beautiful, you don’t like to destroy them.
“Whatcha doing that for?” Willy asked one afternoon. We were sitting in the arbour. I told him Mrs. Bradly thought you had to be trimmed a lot in New York.
“Well, it is,” he said, looking at my skirt a little doubtfully, “and it doesn’t look like you.”
That annoyed me because I’d pricked my fingers a lot.
“It’s got to,” I said. “I’m going to wear it.”
“You’ll have it ripped off in two days,” he replied. “I know you. You’ll shin up something, or slide down something, and that stuff’ll trail behind you for blocks.”
“What’ll I slide down in New York?” I asked resentfully.
“Oh,” he answered, “there are fire-escapes.” I sniffed at that. I never dreamed I ever would--but of course that time I didn’t know what was coming. After that we were quiet. I sewed hard, and Willy looked at me. I felt him, as you do, and wondered whether I was losing my petticoat or anything. When he spoke he did something noble, which I shall never forget.
“Look here, Nat,” he said, after a cough.
“I can’t,” I answered. “I have nine more yards of this stuff to lam on. It goes around the sleeves too.”
“Well,” he said, and his voice was very gruff, “it’s this way; if you get too darned homesick you can always come back and marry me.”
I appreciated that. I really did, although it was not my idea of a romantic proposal. My reading taste most closely embraces Alger, but I have read a few love stories, and Willy didn’t act at all like the man in “The Rosary.” But Evelyn says that men never do act like books. She has had several proposals. She says they look sort of scared, and as if they wished they hadn’t begun it, and usually stutter a little, beside gulping. But, as I said, before criticizing Willy’s technique, I was grateful, for I thought if nothing else turned up I could marry Willy before I became an old maid. No woman really wants to be one; she only says so after SHE IS.
“Don’t you tell any of the fellows!” said Willy, after a few moments.
I said I wouldn’t. Then I thanked him and said I might call his bluff when I was about twenty-two or so. . . . That memory is closely wrapped in braid and a blue-and-pink plaid dress. Aunt Penelope gave that one to the janitor’s daughter.
Willy’s offer was a help, for Uncle Frank had told me that I must try to stay in New York with Aunt Penelope for the three years, anyway. He explained about the locusts and how they went through stages, and he thought it would take about three years for my country shell to slip off and be replaced by the new one, which New York would grow underneath. It seemed Aunt Penelope has a country place, but uncle was afraid it was not very wild (it is at Southampton), and she wants me to go there with her. When I heard that I wasn’t to come home at all, I almost expired.
“But anyone needs a vacation,” I said, sort of shakily. “If I can’t climb trees or go bare-foot at least once a summer, I shall die. . . .” But Uncle Frank had forgotten me, and got up to hunt a picture of a variety of the praying mantis, which he found climbing a tree. It did not cheer me.
I said: “I wish I was one!”
And he said, “Rare specimen, rare specimen, ho hum!” and again went to poring over his books.
Those weeks passed. In them I found that I cared a lot about many people whom I had almost avoided before I knew I was to go away. Even old Mr. Diggs, who growls and used to complain of me so often (I occasionally broke a window in his house; it stands near the diamond which is nearest school), stopped me and gave me a mouth-organ he had had when he was a boy. I appreciated it, for I knew it meant lots to him, if it wasn’t exactly useful to me. When I showed it to Mrs. Bradly, she said, “Swell thing to play on in New York!” and really laughed. . . . But afterward she went to the wood-shed--to get kindling, and I knew she was thinking of the New York part of her joke. Aunt Hetty James knitted me a bridge jacket, and she used to come regularly to talk with uncle about my ways. And five other women, whom I hadn’t thought liked me much, made me bridge jackets too, but they were all different colours--I mean the jackets, not the women. I had seventeen pin-cushions given me, and nine boudoir caps. Jim Hooker, who is the town disgrace (but with whom I often fished, meeting him a little way out, on the Chanceford Pike; he can cast better than anyone I ever saw), gave me a collection of flies that were wonderful. And Willy Jepson gave me a box of lavender correspondence cards, which I thought beautiful before I had become acclimatized to New York. They had pink edges and gold N’s on them.
To be brief, everyone was kind to me, and it made my throat feel stuffy. It was honestly a relief to go, for I knew it had to come, and the feeling of its coming was like that pressure that going to the dentist’s to-morrow lays on your spirit. And at last the day did come, and I went.
The morning of that day, I went out in the garden and looked at it carefully. I thought that perhaps I could pack the way it looked in my heart, as I had Uncle Frank’s face, and Bradly-dear’s fat figure, just dimly indented at the waistline with her starchy, blue-checked apron. . . . And so I walked around a little while. August had made it sag, but it was lovely; grass was sprouting between the red bricks of the walk, the picket fence was leaning and, being grayed from sun and the rain, made a lovely background for the late flowers and the dusty foliage.
Across the fence was the spot where Willy Jepson taught me to pitch, and on the small platform outside the back door was the hook where they used to tie me when I was a tiny girl and ran away so much. . . . Everything was familiar, and because of that very dear. . . . And because I knew it and had lived in that house, loved, and been loved by the people of that house, it was home.
Willy Jepson got up early that morning. He came out in the back yard carrying a cruller in one hand and four plums in the other.
“Heavy rain last night,” he said. “Breakfast isn’t ready yet. Thought I’d take a bite to carry me on till Liza gets up. Got packed?”
I said I had.
“Send me a line sometimes,” he said, between bites. “And what I said about marrying me goes. I’ll let you, if you can’t stand it in New York, although a woman hampers a man.”
I didn’t think that was a happy manner of putting it, and said so.
“Oh, shucks!” he replied. “Don’t expect slush from me. I’m not anxious to get married. I say so frankly. A woman hurts a man’s career, but considering your drop curves and sense, I’m willing to help you out if you need, really need, helping.” Then he went on eating his plums. “I like you,” he continued after several chews; “it isn’t as if I didn’t.” And he didn’t look at me, so I knew he wasn’t as averse to marrying me as he seemed. I’ve known Willy for a long time and so I understood quite a lot he didn’t say.
“I don’t think I shall trouble you,” I said, “although I am grateful, and it is nice to think that there is somewhere where you can go, if your family won’t receive you before your education is finished.”
Willy nodded and went on chewing.
And then Bradly-dear called, and I knew that breakfast was ready.
“Good-bye, Willy,” I said.
“Coming down to the station,” he said, and very gruffly.
I said, “All right,” and went toward the house. When I reached the porch I looked back, and I knew that Willy felt badly, for Willy wasn’t chewing.

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