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Chapter 13

THE FLY-BY-NIGHTS

Mae planned telling Mabel immediately after graduation about their leaving but kept putting it off in superstitious fear that something might delay them. Since May she and Lucy had observed a fanatical economy. Lucy thought a day especially profitable if she could cheat the streetcar conductor by pretending she already had paid. Never, even when poor, had they deprived themselves of a luxury in preference to a necessity, and this new penury was hailed by Aunt Mabel as a sign of belated virtue.

Thus Mabel's shock was doubly great on learning she had been housing Satan's spawn when sneaky Mae told her the beginning of July that they were leaving for Babylon. The ensuing stormy session, Mabel threatening to throw Lucy and Mae into the gutter where they belonged, ended only when Mae, rallying 104 pounds, reminded her sister the house was half hers. Defeated by this shameless effrontery, Mabel sulked in her bedroom refusing to eat with her ungrateful relatives. When the coast was clear of the sinners she padded downstairs to scurry together sustenance to bear her cross of travail. "And to think of all I've done for those—two," she complained to a commiserating Mrs. Bertrand.

Vida heard the crushing news at supper when Mrs. Bertrand told tooth-sucking Mr. Bertrand. "And," added Mrs. Bertrand, "good riddance! That girl was a bad influence on Twelfth Street."

"Don't say was, she isn't gone yet," stormed Vida in a futile attempt to hold Lucy to the present.

To think she had to hear about it like this. A fine best friend not to tell her first. She never had visualized an actual parting when Lucy had spoken of going to New York someday. All girls talk about going places but that didn't mean they really were going. It's more like a game, but a game that can't be won unless you have a mother like Mrs. Claudel. I'll run away. I'll cut my hair, put on makeup and scrub floors or wait on table from town to town until I reach New York too.

"Eat your rice pudding.'

"I don't want it—it's loathsome."

Mrs. Bertrand stared at her daughter. "Loathsome! What kind of a language is that about good rice pudding your father works hard to give you and I slave to cook for you? Shame on you."

Mr. Bertrand, still sucking his teeth, regarded his family coldly. Jabber, jabber, jabber. Grub was grub. Sometimes he wondered why he had married; sure tied a man down. You could get a woman for a few dollars once in a while when you felt like it. Then you're free all the time. It ought to be his right to travel as he pleased instead of those two next door. The U.S. was in a bad way when a woman and a girl could get away with things like that.

"And let me tell you not to use such damned language around here or I'll slap your mouth," he growled, waggling a grubby finger.

For days thereafter Vida mooned about pretending to be engrossed in a pile of library books and stacks of writing paper whenever Lucy came out. Lucy found this pretended lack of interest tiresome. She was discovering, and it puzzled her, that news of their coming journey did not inspire the friendly interest the hepaticas had aroused. Twelfth Street was resentful that the two fly-by-nights had not been permanently caged and that it was to be deprived of its principal item of excitement, gossip and tsk-tsking.

All of Twelfth Street, that is, but old Mrs. Winters in the second last house from the corner, who declared Mae and Lucy showed spunk and then painted her door and windows turkey-red "to make them look cheerful." But then everyone on Twelfth Street knew Mrs. Winters was crazy.