What startled her was the sight of the green coupé turning into the driveway. Through the window she watched it lurch, down and up, across the ditch at the edge of the sidewalk, then roll smoothly along the gravel, past the forsythia and peonies, to the bare rectangle splotched with oil in front of the little garage at the rear of the house. She frowned; this was Thursday, wasn’t it? Was the man crazy? Manhattan must have exploded into fragments; or—she smiled to herself—was this a wild leap in pursuit of the extension of privileges? She stepped forward to get a better view through the dining-room window, and her amber-grey eyes filled with astonishment as she saw not one man, but two, descend from the coupé. Lewis Kane precisely and efficiently issued from the door on the left, from the driver’s side, while from the other tumbled out a hatless man with a bony white face and a tangled mass of brown hair. Lora’s head shot forward and her neck stretched out for a swift incredulous glance, then instantly she turned and made for the front hall and the door at the other side into the living room.
The three children in the room looked up indifferently as she entered; two small boys, five and seven, from a mountain of apparatus in the far corner, and a girl, a little older but scarcely larger, from the book under her chin as she lay on a long yellow cushion directly before the window. Their involuntary glances were indifferent, through ease of habituation and the absence of any petty chronic filial fear; but something in their mother’s face and her pose, as she stopped in the middle of the room, held their gaze and quickened it; the elder boy got to his feet and the girl turned over and half raised herself.
Lora looked at the girl. "Where’s Roy?"
"He went upstairs to get—"
"All right. Quick! Listen."
She spoke swiftly, three or four brief sentences, and the girl’s intelligent black eyes answered them as they were spoken. As she ended, "You understand?" Lora had already moved across to the other door, leading to the smaller room in the rear where books and toys were kept, and disappeared through it and closed it behind her before the girl’s nod was finished.
They would come in at the back, through the kitchen, she reflected; Lewis always did; doubtless it was more convenient, with the car parked in the yard, but his face would say plainly, as he entered the dining room through the swinging door, another triumph of prudence. At that rate he must average something like a dozen triumphs a day. But that could wait, time enough for that; it was not with amusement or resentment at Lewis’s psychological costume that she was quivering and standing, drawn tight, close to the door she had shut behind her. That the other man should appear at all was impossible; that after twelve years he should suddenly and unexpectedly emerge from Lewis Kane’s coupé was simply silly. He had been killed in the war; if not that, he had dissolved into some remote and alien atmosphere; at the very least, he had died lingeringly in a distant jungle. But there he was! What about Panther, who had not been trained to lie, except to people she knew? Would this gaunt ghost disconcert her? Poor child, her task would be complicated by the fact that Lewis would inevitably stop in the kitchen to ask Lillian, "Is your mistress in?" An hour earlier Lillian would have been upstairs....
She heard a low murmur of voices, then footsteps, then from the other side of the door Lewis’s unnaturally loud greeting to the children; even in her suspended expectation of another voice she permitted herself her accustomed smile at his careful loyalty to the theory that children like you in proportion to the amount of noise you make. The other voice was not heard. "How’s my boy?" came Lewis’s booming tones, with the usual unconscious emphasis on the pronoun, and then the sound of Julian’s little feet shuffling dutifully toward the paternal kiss. Then, "Where’s your mother?"
She strained her ears to catch Panther’s reply, but the door was too thick for those low quiet tones. The tone, though, was enough; she smiled at herself for having doubted.
An exclamation from Lewis; then, with a degree of concern remarkable for him, "When will she be back?"
An uneasy thought struck her: what if he decided to telephone; the instrument was in the room where she was standing, on the table not ten feet away. But no, he wouldn’t want the children to hear, nor would he send them off; and suddenly she was grateful to a standard which to her meant nothing, a standard which would also keep him from confronting Panther with a contradiction from the maid. She felt secure as to that, though the tone of Lewis’s questions, punctuated by the quiet murmur of Panther’s voice, sounded more and more irritated and harassed; indeed he almost shouted; at length she heard, "Well, I’ve got to see her tonight. Do you know Mrs. Seaver’s address? Out on Long Island, isn’t it? Funny she didn’t take the car."
Still the voice of the other man was not heard; perhaps he had remained outside? No, there had plainly been his footsteps. She needed to hear his voice, to make sure, as if the sight of that wild white face and that loose careless body was not enough! After all...the shock of that first glance had made her stupid. Why should she dodge? It was like her to make up her mind and act on it like a flash, only this time her mind had been made up wrong. Her shoulders straightened and her fingers touched the knob of the door—bah, ask him what he wants, maybe he forgot his suspenders—oh, only time is vulgar—but for Panther’s sake the knob did not turn. A moment later Lewis’s goodbyes were heard, and then his retreating steps, accompanied as before; the kitchen door opened and closed, after an interval—poor Lillian!—and the sound of the starting and roaring engine came through the window at the rear.
By the watch on her wrist it was ten minutes she waited before opening the door. She passed through. The boys were kneeling in their corner, fastening bits of iron together, not speaking; the girl sat cross-legged, looking straight at the door, her book face-down on the cushion at her side.
"They went right off," said Panther.
Lora nodded, moving across the room toward the hall door.
"I thought I could hear you breathing," the girl added.
"That man has legs like a wolf," exclaimed Morris from the corner, scrambling to his feet.
"He’s my papa," said little Julian gravely.
"Gee, I don’t mean your papa. Your papa’s ears stick out."
"Say Lewis," came from Panther.
Morris grinned. "Aw, well...Lewis’s ears stick out."
Lora, in the hall, was calling upstairs, "Roy! Oh, Roy!"
After a moment a door opened and closed, deliberately, somewhere above, there were footsteps, and at the head of the stairs appeared a boy, eleven or twelve, with a strong dark face, deep dark eyes, and bushy dark hair. He stood at the top, looking down.
"Come down here a minute."
As they entered the living room Morris was sing-songing, apparently to the mounted globe beside the table:
"Mister Kane, that’s his name, Mister Kane, that’s his name. Julian has to say Papa and I have to say Lewis. His ears stick out right out of his head." But he stopped as his mother began to speak to Roy, and stood staring at them with an impertinent speculative gaze.
"If the telephone rings you answer it," said Lora. "No matter who it is, I’m not here, I’m at Mrs. Seaver’s on Long Island to spend the night and you don’t know when I’ll be back. No matter if they’ve telephoned Anne, no matter what they say, that’s all you know."
Without replying, the boy kept his dark eyes on her face, taking in her words, then suddenly he said, "What if it’s Mrs. Seaver?"
"Say Anne," Panther corrected.
"Mister Kane, that’s his name," came softly from Morris.
"It won’t be," said Lora.
"It might be," he insisted.
"All right, if it is I’ll talk to her. There was a man I don’t want to see...Panther will tell you...I must ask Lillian...."
In the kitchen, Lillian, distressed, was also indignant. It was bad enough for Mr. Kane himself to come bursting in through the back door without hauling a stranger in too. And to have been thus finally trapped by him! "Is your mistress in?" She should at least be permitted time to go and make the inquiry and return with an answer, decently and properly, but no, barely pausing on his way to the dining room he would direct the swift question at her with a darting immediacy that brought a "Yes, sir" popping out of her like a cork out of a bottle. Lora had heard all this before; what she wanted to know now was what Mr. Kane had said on his way out. Nothing much, the maid reported; merely that when her mistress returned or telephoned she should be told that Mr. Kane wished to see her without delay.
"I’m sorry I didn’t know, ma’am," said Lillian.
"It doesn’t matter," said Lora. She started out, but turned at the door. "That other man, if he comes back tomorrow, either alone, or with Mr. Kane, I’ll see him," she added.
On her way to the stairs she paused in the dining room to draw the curtains and turn on the light. Outside was the early October dusk, and the brass knob at the end of the curtain-cord was warm from the steam radiator against which it hung. Her hands felt chilly and she closed one of them tightly around the warm knob and then released it again and turned to go. She loathed disquiet, particularly a suspended unreasonable disquiet such as now, unprecedented, filled her breast. With irritation she told herself that she had acted stupidly, but at the same time something within her was saying, oh, no you haven’t, no indeed, you know what you’re doing all right. Ridiculous. She would lie down; no, but she would go to her room and be alone, until dinner. After all, everyone has memories, god help them; given occasion to consider, she would have known that an unexpected sight of Pete Halliday would inevitably arouse an echo of the pain of that old disaster. Damn this silly uneasiness! She should have seen him and let him speak to her....
As she started up the stairs she heard little Julian’s thin voice from the living room, trying to speak slowly so as to get all the words in: "If you say my papa’s ears stick out your nose will fall off and I’ll walk on it with my iron shoes."
In her room she sat in the chair by the window, with no light turned on, her back straight and her head upright, her hands folded in her lap.
Copyright © 1930 by Rebecca Bradbury, Chris Maroc, and Liz Maroc, renewed 1958