Commentary Magazine


A Condition of Servitude-A Story

Had Lena been transformed overnight into the lady of the house, as they used to be called, would anyone but Lena herself have seen much difference in it? In those days, certainly, when Lena was young, the housewives of that neighborhood had no nonsense of leisure about them. They had their husbands and their children to look after, they had their houses to keep up; and so it was as simple as that, they stayed home and they kept things up.

Nor did young housewives in those days have costumes to set them apart, as today their daughters have, out in the developments. They had no more notion of that than they did of martinis, politics, barbecues, foreign automobiles, or any of that light manner of college days their daughters—granddaughters, some of them!—seem to be preserving as they dash about in their Bermuda shorts or tartan slacks, keeping things up for their own young husbands and their own children. No, they all looked quite like Lena then. When in those days a peddler beat his way from door to door in that neighborhood, his ring of the bell was answered by someone in felt house slippers, a long colorless apron over the house dress, a colorless cloth or dustcap over the hair; and he'd say, “Good morning, Ma'am. Am I speaking to the lady of the house?”

Those streets on the eastern edge of town were bright and unshaded then. Here and there survived a great dark elm or an oak from the old deciduous forest, here and there in the back yards were the memorials of a vanished orchard, an apple tree or a sour cherry tree gone knobby and arthritic, harvested only by boys and by the birds; but most of the trees and nearly all the houses were about of one age, then, with the oldest pack in the droves of neighborhood children. The husbands, by this time, had found their modest ways in the world, in business downtown. Six days a week they were gone from dawn until evening. In the long summer daylight evenings and on summer Sundays after church and after Sunday dinner, they worked in their yards. They put in rock gardens and rose trellises; they trimmed the shrubs, the snow-ball bushes and bayberry and spirea they'd set out along the fence lines and around the big front porches. They did not, on Sundays, in those times, mow the lawn.

It was a life very much to Lena's liking, and she had made a place there for herself. There were few days when one of the wives in the neighborhood didn't call her in, with some task too heavy for one person alone. Where the family was large and the lady not very strong, it might be only the regular wash day. It could be the weekly mopping, sweeping, and polishing. Or it might be spring or fall cleaning, when everything except the piano came out of the house like a moving day. But Lena really preferred living-in where she worked, and this she did whenever the opportunity offered. There in the East End she felt at home.

Lena's own family's place was down on Baxter Street past Fuller, in the close blocks of spindly little houses where the Dutch lived. The kitchen was no more than a match-box, really, but it was the largest room. There in the morning after her brothers had clomped off to work, or had clomped back into the hall if some of them happened to be laid off, Lena would scrape the bowls and plates. This was as much as she could do, there; her mother was up even earlier than Lena was, and didn't want anyone bothering her until breakfast was over. Then, as Lena had her chance at last, her mother might sit down for one more cup of coffee. Another thing about Lena that seemed to set her apart, she was no coffee drinker. Lena would take a cup of tea. All the rest of her family were confirmed coffee-slaves. The big gray enamel pot stood on the stove all day, as it does in any proper Dutch house; and Lena could remember the jokes about her father, who had been the biggest coffee-drinker of all. “Vinkemulder: one nail, one cup of coffee,” the other carpenters used to say. Lena's mother poured milk in her coffee, and plenty of sugar. Then she sat down and watched as Lena cleaned up the dishes.

“Should you stay there, Leentje, bij een weduwnaar inwonen? That is right?”

For some time this had been a great subject of conversation between them, in those broken two-minutes-worth conversations of theirs. Should Lena stay on at the Alfords? They covered pretty much the same ground every time. Mrs. Vinkemulder's voice moved slowly, resting here and there, lingering in places she liked. Lena was always snapping along in a hurry to get it over with.

“Why Momma. You know I've lived-in there off and on for five years.”

“That's something else. No wife the man has now. That's something else.”

Lena's mother was short and well-nourished. Lena herself rather favored her father, who had been a tall man with a long thin rambling face and big teeth.

“Those kiddies have got to have help, Momma.”

Ja. And a grandma he should get, Leentje. A grandma. Not a girl. A girl sleeping there, it is not right.”

She would never be able to persuade her mother what life was like on those streets in the East End, what it meant to take care of a house there, where the men dressed every day as if it were Sunday. How could she not stay there? How could Lena feel there was even a question about it? So many mornings she had awakened at the Alfords. So many times at the crack of dawn—no alarm clock need summon Lena—she was on her feet, ready to pitch in, all the day before her clear and free for driving and bustling. She'd pull on her slip and her shoes as if she were going to a fire, she'd bunch her pillow into shape and jerk and slap the sheets and covers and bedspread so they were tight on the iron bed. There was no yawning and stretching and shuffling around in the morning for her.

Down over her head she would drag her sleeveless dress of no particular color, no particular shape. Raising her long arms, as thin and as strong as hickory slats, she'd beat with her hair brush at her stiff square-cut fuzz of bobbed hair, harrow it with a few cuts of her comb, and in two minutes she was in and out of the bathroom and on her way downstairs to the kitchen to get things going before the man of the house had to be off on his way downtown.

She buttoned the little girl's buttons, tied her shoes, she chased the boy outside, out of the way. Often, in those days before, there had been the wife to see to, as well. Lena had helped her in the kitchen, or, on the other kind of day, she'd gone running upstairs with the tray of tea and rusk in hopes the poor woman would eat. Sister was a good girl, and tried to help, when she wasn't in one of her sulks or tantrums. As for the boy, he could make a mess of anything in two minutes, and didn't listen to a word that was said to him. The little girl was no bother to anyone except that she did have to be looked after, as any child does. Lena had tried always to keep them as straight as she'd have done had they been her own.

_____________

Yes, she had found more than enough to do in that house. Not many people would have taken it on, but Lena had always been ready to sit with Mrs. Alford and somehow do the work too and keep the children out of mischief all at the same time. Naturally, on bad days in those last bad years, everything had come at the worst possible moment. Perhaps on a Monday, just as she was getting the wash out of the machine, Lena would sense that something was wrong again. Even in the basement, she would hear, or truly just sense, that she had better get upstairs and sit with the poor thing for a while. Then what move should she make, if Dick or Dottie were hanging around in the hall, whining and rattling the doorknob of their mother's bedroom? And more than once she'd had to wash their mouths out with soap for what they said to her, for what they gave her as thanks for the care she took of them. No, it was true, nobody in the world could have expected Lena to do more than she'd done in that last year. The women in the neighborhood, wives and mothers, often told her so.

The Tuesday ironing was about as near as Lena came to hours of ease. Summers, she stood in the cool damp basement, with the cord dangling down from the light socket between the low beams and the wrapped pipes, while under her hands the damp shapeless wash was smoothed into the order and fresh edges of clothing and folded linens. Nevertheless, although she liked ironing and could do beautifully all kinds of pleating and lace, she wasted no time. She went at it as if she were sawing the clothes or smashing them. She couldn't bear taking things easy. When she had been doing wash for Mrs. Linz, and Mrs. Linz had bought the new mangle, how restive Lena had grown, sitting there scarcely moving as the machine stolidly accepted the linens into its scorched unhurried rollers.

If ever Lena felt weary, nobody knew it. On her nights off she was up and away. She would put on a bright dress and, carrying her high white roller-skate shoes, she'd take the street car down to the Coliseum to meet her girl-friend Henrietta. There as the band played they whirled tirelessly around and around the rink, hand in hand or arm crossed over arm. They would see what sort of fellows would turn up. It's true that Lena never seemed to take any of them very seriously. They were, most of them, good-for-nothing young clerks or factory hands, out of work about half the time. They certainly were not much like the businessmen in the families she worked for. But they were cheerful fellows. They would come spinning by, whirl, and swoop along ahead of the two girls, speeding backwards, bent over and grinning, with their long hair falling into their eyes. Some of them had automobiles and sometimes they would give the girls a ride around, and so on, and take them home. As one might expect from these young fools, there was always a great scurrying and tussling in the cars, a teasing, laughing, greedy kind of exercise. The young men would call out to one another from front seat to back, in the same rough way they called out to one another at the skating rink, or at the diamond as they cracked a baseball back and forth into their mitts. The girls didn't much mind all this, even though they felt sometimes that they were little more than articles of athletic equipment themselves. After all, these were really no more than boys. Who would expect them to be serious or responsible? They had no idea of what it meant—boys like that, Dutchmen and Polacks, they would never in their lives have a real idea of what it meant—to be serious heads of families, to have businesses, to have other things to think about that are more important than tumbling around with girls in the back seats of cars. Still, for the time being, it was something for Lena to do; and on those nights the hour might be very late before Lena was home. That was another reason she liked sleeping-in where she worked. She did not have to go home to her mother. But even after those nights, Lena was up and out of bed by six-thirty.

_____________

All summer, Lena went in and cleaned for Mr. Alford on Mondays and Thursdays. Not that there was really so much to do, with the children away; in August, when she had all the rugs beat clean, all the curtains washed and stretched and hung again, upstairs and down, and the linens rearranged, by a Thursday noon likely as not she was finished. A little cleaning, a little ironing—a sheet, a few towels, a few shirts, two BVD's, a pajama suit, some odds and ends—and she would let one of her other places have her for a half-day. There was always someone who wanted Lena's work. Everybody in the neighborhood knew her, for blocks around. Naturally, she knew a lot about the neighborhood too. People still asked her about the Alfords, for no one knew their story better than Lena. Everybody wondered what Richard Alford would do now. Raising a family was no job for a man alone.

On Mondays toward the end of summer, Lena would arrive at the house on Greenwood Avenue very early, often before Mr. Alford had gone driving down to work. If she came straight on from her mother's house, without breakfast, walking fast along the empty streets under the cool young maple trees, she would probably find him at the kitchen table reading the Herald, with his coffee and his sugar cookies. These Mondays the two coffee pots would be on the drainboard from Friday and Saturday along with the dishes and the saucepan he had used for coffee on Sunday. That morning's saucepan of coffee would be on the stove, boiled over, more than likely. Lena would scour out a pot and make fresh coffee. He would take a cup to dip his last cooky in, behind the Herald. From time to time, hoisted above the dishes, the paper flapped and spread and came down again, folded.

Lena could take coffee perfectly well now and then when she felt like it. She sat on the kitchen stool with her cup in her hand. She could sit there for two minutes, she supposed. It wasn't as if she didn't always eat at the table with the family; that she always did, with all her families wherever she worked.

“Hear from Aunt Marquita?” she might say. She threw the words like a handful of pebbles at the back page of the Herald. There seemed to be no name she could call him by. To the children she spoke of him, of course, as “Daddy.” The neighbors knew what she meant when she said “he” and “him.” What name he had in her own mind she could not have said; certainly not Richard, but not exactly Mr. Alford either.

After she spoke, he would lower the Herald. He had started wearing eye-glasses. This gave him quite a different appearance, as if he were younger or in disguise. They were horn-rimmed glasses, and quite distinguished, Lena thought. He looked like a doctor or a lawyer. Before he spoke, he raised the Herald again.

“Oh yes. Sure. Well. Marquita says they're all fine. Dick's shot up like a weed. Sister's a big help to her she says.”

“How's little Dottie? She all right?”

“Oh that little girl. She's fine I guess. She's always had a sweet nature, from a baby. But I don't know. It's. What.”

Mr. Alford might fold his paper then and let Lena give him still another cup of coffee. He might go on to say how he worried about Sister. It seemed to him that Mother had spoiled her. It never did any harm, he said, to have a little spanking when they acted up; but Mother had denied that to him, with her views on child welfare and all those things. The books she had read had taught her to put her trust in what she had called “moral suasion.” So he worried about Sister, especially now she was growing up. All kinds of things could happen to girls. All kinds of things. As he said this, he had a way of looking past Lena to the window and then back at her again.

And Sister would flare out so, he said, if she were crossed, and would lose control of her temper. This was a great worry to him.

It was very difficult that summer, too, because the bills piled up and piled up on him. The doctors had done no good at all, and yet a thousand dollars was nothing to them. Then there was the undertaker and the cemetery. Most of all he suffered from the hospital, from their insistence and from their scorn. The cashier had finally agreed to take two typewriters in payment and the rest on time. But he could hardly see his way out. Sometimes, he thought, if Mother hadn't made him promise to keep them all together—he often began a statement like that. Lena sat there and listened. This, she knew, was the way men always talked, men with responsibilities.

Then he would get up. He stood by the table in his gray suit, buttoned in the smooth gray vest from just below his starched collar to below his waist.

“Well,” he said, and he set off with those stiff broken steps of his, and turned back to the closet for his straw hat, and then, at least once before he reached the door, stood frozen in his tracks for a silent baffled instant, and set off again. Lena might stop him once more, asking if she could get something for him at the corner. She had to go anyway for Fels-Naphtha or blueing.

“Oh no.” He sidestepped toward the back door. “Don't bother about me, Lena. I'll just.” And he was gone.

Lena pitched into the dishes of three days. The Ford coughed and roared in the back yard, then loomed past the pantry window. Lena scraped at the cemented egg yolk and the petrified oatmeal. She ran down the cellar and lighted the hot water heater, so that when she finished upstairs she could get after the wash. She hung out the throw rugs to sun before she beat them.

Upstairs, the rooms at the front of the house were closed and quiet. In Mrs. Alford's big bedroom all the shades were drawn. Here in the East End, it was not unheard-of for the man of the house to sleep apart in his own bedroom. Mr. Bowles slept in his den, Mr. Zeemulder on the sleeping porch. Lena raised the shades in the back bedroom where Mr. Alford had slept since long before little Dottie had come.

She stripped the big brass bed. Under her hands the mattress folded, turned, rolled out obediently and lay flat. The hollow in the center would not appear again until he lay there. She flapped the clean sheets over, and the summer blanket and the spread. She held the two pillows, one after the other, in her teeth by the seam of the dry blue-and-white ticking that tasted like flour, and she shook the clean pillow cases up over them. She tucked his starched seersucker bedspread over his pillows. As she pushed the last fold of the spread under the pillow with her left hand, with her right she picked up his flimsy cast socks and a crumpled handkerchief. His bed was made in two minutes.

She scoured out the Saturday ring of his tub, and the film of his shaving in the wash-bowl. She put out fresh towels and a washcloth. On her knees she scrubbed the linoleum in the bathroom. The other bedroom and the two little rooms needed only dusting. The house was very empty. One Thursday late in August, she took Mother's clothes from the dresser and cupboard and closet, folded them on the bed, and packed them away in mothballs in the big hump-backed, ribbed steamer trunk in the closet under the eaves.

They were perfectly good clothes, too. Her gray coat with the big shell buttons looked warm and as good as new. Lena put everything away, but she overlooked the big knit woolly white cardigan with the rolling collar that Mother had used to wear around the house on chilly days. Lena filled the pockets with mothballs, but the sweater remained hanging on the hook in the closet. Someone could use it, cold days in the fall.

_____________

When she told Mr. Alford what she had done, he looked at the empty closet and then opened the lid of the big steamer trunk. He looked at Mother's big feather hat she had bought only the year before.

“Those're real ostrich feathers,” he said. “I paid ten dollars for that hat. She had her heart set on those feathers. I don't think she hardly wore it.”

Then a few weeks before the children were due home, Lena began to rearrange things upstairs. Dick slept in the back bedroom with his father, and that was all right. Sister could sleep in Mother's bed now, in the front bedroom. She could use Mother's dressing table and the big mahogany chest of drawers. Lena put Sister's iron bed into the little alcove for Dottie. She set up the big white cast-iron bed in the little room off the front bedroom, for herself; and then, anyway, it is always handy to have a spare bed. Who knows, one of the children could sleep there if need be. There was a dresser there that Mother had enamelled white and decorated with pink roses painted between the pulls. In the days when she had been stronger, Mother herself had nailed up the beaver-board over the bare laths in that small room. She had even covered the beams of the slanting ceiling with it, standing on the step ladder while Sister and Lena had helped her as best they could. Richard Alford had said again and again that he was going to do it, but he was always too busy. Either he had to get back to the office, or his garden needed his attention. In some ways he was very like Lena. He could scarcely sit still for two minutes from morning till night.

So Mother had put up the wall-board and then she had papered it, with a pink floral pattern. Before Dottie came, she had used it as her sewing room. It needed new curtains now, on its one window, and in the corners the wallpaper had puckered and split. But Lena thought it would be proper to get the room ready.

Poor Ellen Alford had had nothing like Lena's strength, after the little girl was born. But she had known how to do everything. Lena had come to work for her as a girl of fifteen, just an ignorant girl. Lena's mother had old-country ways, and she had seemed no more eager to pass them on to her daughter than Lena had been to learn them. Mrs. Alford had taught Lena to sew every kind of fine seam, to iron, to cook; when the Alfords could not keep her on, at one time or another, it was easy for her to find a place as housekeeper or cook, with all she had learned. Whenever the Alfords needed her, Lena went back. Mrs. Alford had been very like a mother to her, the gentlest, sweetest mother you could imagine. But in the last year, everything had changed very much. Then it had been Lena who did the mothering. Lena had sat through the long night with Mrs. Alford more than once, as the poor little thing wept and wept and wanted to run away. She said over and over that she was a disgrace and a burden to her husband. He could not afford to have a sick woman on his hands forever. She had been certain that she would never be able to take care of the house and the children again, no matter what Dr. Loeker said. What could Lena do, but appear to listen to her, paying no attention to the wild words she spoke and couldn't possibly mean. Sometimes Mrs. Alford believed, poor thing, that she was angry with Lena, and flashed out at her; but Lena would only hold those poor wasted arms and wait for her to doze off at last. Then Lena would try to get an hour's rest before she was up with the children and their father.

Mr. Alford blamed himself for all of it, freely. He didn't know what he had done wrong, he said. Sometimes he said that it almost seemed he wanted to wash his hands of the whole business. It had happened more than once that he and Lena had found themselves together at some exhausted hour when the children and their mother had cried themselves to sleep and all was quiet upstairs. There was a stillness then like the stillness after a battle, and they shared the guilt of sole survivors. “Lena,” he'd say, walking up and down with his quick jerky step, holding one hand in the other, “I just don't know how it's all going to, to.”

When Mrs. Alford had been in the rest home, or in the hospital, Lena had moved into the house and had taken care of everything. Then, when she had come home again, Lena had her hands full. The doctor had taken Lena aside and had told her that since they weren't going to send Mrs. Alford away, as he wanted them to do, it would be necessary to keep the children apart from their mother for a while. Well, of course that was easier said than done, in such a little house, and the kiddies couldn't understand it at all. Lena had kept them all going, somehow; she had fixed the meals and kept the house up, nursed Mother and watched her, and had seen to it that Daddy had his breakfast early so he could get downtown; the neighbors said they didn't know what he would have done without Lena. They said this to Lena herself, and clearly they meant every word of it. Now they said they didn't know what Mr. Alford was going to do.

Lena could not say what he was going to do, either; at any rate, whether she knew or not, she said nothing. Nor if he himself knew did he say anything about his plans. He spoke seldom to the neighbors, seldom even to Lena. Early every evening, she knew, he was home. There he would change into his old clothes and work in the flower garden, trimming the bushes, mowing the lawn. In the dusk he sat on the front porch, smoking his cigar. Sometimes, Lena knew, one of the neighbors would wander over, climb the steps to the porch, and sit with him a moment; he had little to say and the neighbors were not much good at questions. Who could guess what he might be thinking? For two or three weeks after the children had left, he had gone every night to the movies. He went to the Wealthy or the Cherry or the East End or the Bijou, as the programs changed. Then he had stopped going to the movies. A few times, Mrs. Schenck had him over to hear the radio. But aside from that, he was alone, alone. Was this the life he planned to live?

_____________

Along toward September, as well as coming early in the morning on Mondays and Thursdays, Lena took to staying later in the evenings to fix supper for Mr. Alford. She told him he must be tired of stopping off to eat at Chinnick's or the Cherie Inn every night. She would get a few pork chops and fix those with scalloped potatoes, or she would make a meat loaf, or veal patties. She baked a sour-cherry pie or some kind of cake every Monday, so he would have something to pick at during the week. At first she left these things for him, but then after two weeks she found it simpler to stay a little longer, have everything fresh and hot, and stay on to supper herself. It was no concern of her mother's; Lena's work kept her away half the evenings anyway. Her girl-friend Henrietta used to say she wondered what Lena thought she was getting for all those long hours. She could make more in a shop any day. Lena would ask what Henrietta thought she was getting by doing nothing all day and staying out half the night with some unemployed sheik. Lately Lena had given up the roller-skating nights. Besides, it was none of Henrietta's business.

Lena had the feeling it was best to get absolutely everything in order before the kiddies returned. Things had to be settled. She knew there would be a hard time coming soon. After running wild on that farm all summer, they were going to be hard to handle for a while. Their Daddy wouldn't like having them out of order.

She was talking to him about that one night, just the day before he was to go out to Iowa to bring them back. He would be taking the train to Chicago. Lena's friend Henrietta had been to Chicago, and had told her about the Loop and the Field Museum and the Chinese restaurant.

“Sister and Dick are going to need some new clothes before they start school,” Lena said. “They'll be busting their buttons.”

“Oh yes.”

“I could take them down to Herp's. And charge some things.”

“Well. Dora said maybe she'd give Sister something.”

“Oh you know her. She'll give some fancy dress not fit to wear to school. It's everyday things that count. Like those patent leather shoes she gave her last year. You wear them once and they're all apart. They don't need a lot of fancy things any more than I do.”

“Well. I don't know. They're hard on their clothes all right.”

“You'd better let me take them down to Herp's.”

“Well. I guess. It's.”

“How's your stomach?” Lena always spoke very rapidly. As Mr. Alford's speech became slower and more hesitant, her own took on more and more finality until each word was like a shot.

“We'll just get by some way,” he said. “I promised Mother to keep them together. The Lord knows.”

“Well,” Lena said. “It's sure Marquita and Anders can't keep them out there on that farm forever. The poor things need to be in their own house and looked after.”

They were eating vegetable soup with large pieces of boiled beef in it. Lena had set the table in the dining room.

“Now those kiddies will be all right,” Lena said. “There's no need for a lot of fancy things like some people. There's plenty good things in this world aren't fancy.”

“That nothing goes wrong with them,” Mr. Alford said. “With a girl. I only hope they don't go wrong.”

After dinner, Mr. Alford looked at the paper and smoked a cigar while Lena washed and dried the dishes. Then she went in and spoke to him. She took off her apron and dried her hands on it. Her hands were red.

“I thought I'd better stay over tonight so I can get things fixed up in the morning,” she said. “I put up the little bed. I ought to air out all their clothes tomorrow and the beds before I make them up. Besides that I'm all ready for them.”

Mr. Alford took out his railroad tickets and looked them over. He had four or five long strips of colored paper.

“I better pack my grip,” he said. “I don't want to be all in a rush in the morning.”

He put out his cigar and stood up. He walked over and closed the front door and put on the night latch. It was dark outside. Then he started to walk back toward the kitchen.

“I'll lock it up,” Lena said.

“Oh.”

_____________

He went upstairs. Lena stood in the living room for a minute and then she went to the foot of the stairs.

“I ironed up your white shirts today,” she said. “I'll get them for you.”

She went upstairs. He was in the back bedroom. The glare of the fluted glass lamp on the ceiling lighted the room like a box. He had taken off his coat and stood there in his shirt sleeves and the two flaps of his unbuttoned vest. His suitcase was open on the brass bed.

“I ironed up your white shirts,” she said. Next she said, “Mother says I can't stay here.”

Then she found that his arms were around her waist. They were pinching the bones of her elbow into her ribs. His face was pushed into the thickest part of her fuzzy bobbed hair. When he spoke, his voice was loud and rushing in her ear and she could not really understand what he said.

“Show you where to stay,” he seemed to be saying. “I'll show you right where. I'll show you where to stay, all right, don't you worry about.”

The chain on the ceiling light clanked. The bedroom was dark. There was a terrible thump when he set the suitcase on the floor, and then the brass bed rattled and squealed as he pushed her down. Some of her clothes were off and some were on. Through the windows she glimpsed the black upper boughs of the old box-elder tree in the back yard looming and moving against the sky. It was all over in two minutes.

When he came back upstairs from turning out the lights, he walked very slowly. Lena had turned on the light. She had straightened out the bed, and now sat on the edge of it. She had straightened out her clothes, too, and had picked up his suitcase and his necktie.

In that small bright box of a bedroom there was very little space to move around, between his bed and Dick's bed and the two dressers, but he moved from one place to another. He did not look at her. The light was very bright.

“I don't know, Lena,” he said. “I didn't mean. It's. I told you, business is bad this summer. I don't know if it will pick up in the fall.”

He kept sliding his hands under his suspenders, getting dressed or undressed.

“People don't know what I'm faced with,” he said. “If she hadn't made me promise to keep them all together, sometimes I think I'd put them out somewhere. It is a tough proposition.”

“Those kiddies are going to be all right,” Lena said.

“I don't know, sometimes I just don't know what to say,” he said. “People don't know what I'm faced with. This summer the way the bills come in.”

He put two clean shirts into his suitcase.

“If I can just hang on and pay the bills till winter comes,” he said, “I think business will pick up.”

“But what am I going to do?” Lena said.

“I have. I don't know what would happen. Lena,” he said. “Now don't get worked up. What comes over me. I'll be able to pay you come what will. Then maybe things will pick up this winter. That's.”

Lena said to herself, Well, what did I expect. She stood and then quickly bending, reaching out in her darting manner, she straightened the small limp rag rug that had been scuffed around.

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