Stella Dallas (Prouty, 1923, Houghton Mifflin)/Chapter 1

STELLA DALLAS

CHAPTER I

1

Laurel was thirteen years old. Her hair was the color of ripe horse-chestnuts, and had the same gloss. She wore it in a long smooth bang in front, which reached nearly to her eyebrows, and in long smooth curls behind, which reached nearly to her waist. Laurel's mother always placed one of the curls over each shoulder after she had made them perfect by much brushing and smoothing over a dexterous forefinger. Laurel always, with a quiet, almost imperceptible, little motion of her head, placed them behind as soon as her mother turned away.

Laurel's clothes were consistent with the extreme bang and the long curls. There was never anything casual or careless about her costumes. When she appeared for breakfast in the big hotel dining-room dressed in one of her violet ginghams, smocked in seal-brown, with seal-brown stockings, and seal-brown shoes, and a seal-brown hat, she was like an Elsie DeWolfe room in the perfection of her color scheme.

She always changed for luncheon, as did her mother and most of the other smartly dressed women in the hotel, and again for dinner; and always the shoes and stockings, ribbons, hats, sweaters, and what-not harmonized with her various linens, pastel-shaded Japanese crêpes, organdies, or hand-embroidered serges for cool days.

"That Dallas woman must spend about all her time over that child's clothes," Laurel had one day overheard from behind the high back of one of the hotel-piazza rocking-chairs.

Laurel was sitting by an open window in an empty cardroom just behind the chairs. Laurel liked to sit and listen to what the women talked about on the other side of that high cane wall of chair-backs. Sometimes, however, she heard things that made her grave, contemplative eyes still graver and still more contemplative. There had been scorn in the voice which had referred to her mother.

"I wonder," she thought, "if we didn't dress quite so well, people mightn't be nicer."

She waited for more enlightening remarks from behind the chair-backs, but none were forthcoming, so she rose, sauntered out of the cardroom, wandered down a long deserted corridor, and drifted into the hotel foyer.

She was tall for thirteen, with long slim legs, long slim arms, and a long slim body. "Nice eyes, kiddie, but you'd make mighty poor eating," one of the habitués of the poolroom had said to Laurel one day, as she stood staring at the clicking balls on the bright green felt, and he had pinched one of Laurel's pipestem arms—bare from the elbow down, and brown now to her finger-tips.

Laurel did have nice eyes. They were gray eyes, set well apart. They had long, well-defined brows—level, almost parallel to the straight bang above which nearly touched them. There was in Laurel's eyes a look of wistful inquiry, an almost spiritual expression sometimes. They were more than nice eyes. They were beautiful eyes. In contemplating them, one forgot her freckles. For Laurel had freckles. In spite of lemon-juice every night—in spite of various concoctions, which so far had not disturbed the fine texture of her dark smooth skin, still she had freckles. But beneath the freckles there was a glow, like the glow beneath the flecked tan of a russet apple. This, and the freckles, and the spiritual something in her eyes gave her a sort of woodsy charm, which no amount of garnishing could conceal. She was seldom seen on the floor of the hotel ballroom dancing with the other children. Usually she could be found standing somewhere by herself, quiet and composed; or sitting in a chair with a book. Yet there was something about Laurel, standing or sitting, or walking slowly down the long length of the dining-room behind her mother to their table in a far corner, that recalled certain pictures of young girls dancing in the woods—Isadora Duncan pupils, perhaps—slim, sleek, sylvan creatures in Greek draperies.

Laurel leaned up against one of the pillars in the hotel foyer and gazed about her. The place was wrapped in its usual mid-afternoon lifelessness—a few idle bellboys on the bench at the foot of the broad staircase; a couple of idle elevators; a solitary clerk behind the brass grill over the mahogany desk; dozen upon dozens of empty armchairs; in one of them an old man, with a King Orange nose, sound asleep; in a far corner four women playing silent bridge.

As Laurel gazed at the women, her eyes took on their peculiar contemplative expression. She knew who they were. Three of the players were prominent social leaders in the hotel-world; and the fourth, the poor, pinched-looking, unattractive little creature in black, was Mrs. Tom Lawrence, who had arrived two days ago. Laurel had learned all about Mrs. Tom Lawrence from behind the chair-backs. As she stared, her eyes narrowed. "They're being nice to Mrs. Lawrence," she thought, "and Mrs. Lawrence is divorced, while mother is only 'separated.'"

She slid into the deep-seated lap of an enormous leather armchair near by. Through the big front doors she could catch a glimpse of a group of girls about her own age, seated on the piazza railing, swinging their legs, and eating candy. One of the girls was the daughter of the pretty Mrs. Cameron, now playing bridge in the far corner. Laurel did not join the girls. She didn't give mothers at a summer hotel a second opportunity to call, "Come, dear, I think you'd better come in now," to their children when she became one of a group; nor the children themselves to link arms and move away from her.

This year she had scarcely given them a first opportunity. Somehow things had been worse this year than ever before, and right from the start, too.

She looked up at the loud-ticking clock. It was only quarter after four. Her mother had told her that she must amuse herself this afternoon. She had to do that, whenever her mother was going to be busy in the bedroom they shared, "washing out a few things." There wasn't room for two, when there was laundering going on.

2

Laurel sighed, rose from the big chair and wandered over to the glass-covered case of candies; stared at them for a minute or two; turned away; listlessly observed a rack of picture postcards. Finally she meandered down a long corridor past a series of cardrooms to a little pink parlor at the end. From behind a cushion on a sofa, she drew forth a book, and tucking it under her arm returned to the big chair. She curled herself up in it, child-fashion, and opened the book well towards the middle. She began to read.

The old man woke up and left his chair. The game of bridge came to an end. The four players disappeared. The group of girls on the railing outside drifted apart. But Laurel didn't once glance up. She hardly moved for a whole hour and a half except to turn the pages of the book. The hotel had suddenly ceased to exist for Laurel Dallas. Her heart was bleeding for David Copperfield.

Laurel never read "David Copperfield" when her mother was with her. To-day the book, as usual, would be returned to its hiding-place behind the cushion in the little parlor when she had finished with it. Laurel never carried it with her upstairs for her mother to catch a glimpse of, and make remarks upon. Of course her mother had had to know that she had tucked it, with several other books, into a corner of the bottom of her trunk when they had last packed. But there was no need in flaunting it before her mother's eyes. On the fly-leaf of Laurel's "David Copperfield" was written: "To Laurel, from her father," with Christmas and a date below. There had been a whole boxful of them.

"Books!" her mother had said with an exclamation of disappointment when they had been received the preceding December, "a whole pile of old-fashioned books!"

Laurel knew her mother preferred something more modern, when it came to printed matter—informing literature that kept one up-to-date as to what was going on in the world of clothes, and fashion, and society; photo-play magazines, with some theater-talk in them, and a few snappy short stories. The table in the bedroom which Laurel shared with her mother was always littered with a dog-eared collection of such periodicals.

Laurel took the elevator up to that bedroom now. It was after six o'clock, and by this time, she calculated, the ironing-sheet and forbidden electric-iron would be safely tucked out of sight in the bottom of her mother's trunk.

3

It wasn't an attractive bedroom. It was tucked way up under the eaves, had slanting walls, and a single curtainless window. Its furniture was much too big for it—made it look sick and shrunken, like a child in cast-off clothes many sizes too large. The iron bed, white enamel once but nicked and battered now, extended halfway across the window-pane; and there was a perfectly tremendous stuffed armchair in the room, discarded from some parlor below evidently, a shabby affair which, shut up in this little coop, was like some big ugly animal crammed into a circus cage—a rhinoceros Laurel decided, for it was the same dingy color, and its back and arms were worn bare and napless.

The walls of the room were covered with unpleasant reminders of former occupants—long brown streaks made by the striking of sulphur matches, oil-stains, ink-spots, splotches where flies and mosquitoes had met bloody deaths, and bruises here and there exuding dry plaster. Behind the commode the faded, jaundiced-colored paper bore the whitish, pocked appearance of a face once swept by smallpox; and where the bed was shoved close against the wall the paper was rubbed shiny and amber-colored. Laurel thought it was the worst "cheapest room" that she and her mother had ever occupied for a whole season.

Laurel was experienced in cheapest rooms. They were all more or less alike. That is, there was always something chronic and incurable the matter with them. They were either up very high beneath the eaves, possibly a floor above where the elevator ran, or down very low beside a noisy service-room, or groaning elevator-shaft. Some of them had queer smells. Some developed queer smells. Most of them were furnished with discards, and all of them were equipped with the everlasting commode, bowl-and-pitcher, and unlovely slop-basin.

Laurel used to dread her first glimpse of the latest "cheapest room" her mother had engaged, trailing with a sinking heart after the scornful bellboy who guided them along endless halls and corridors, farther and farther away from the luxury of the office downstairs, to the door of the undesirable little apartment, flinging it open, it seemed to Laurel, with a gesture of disgust. But Laurel's mother told her she ought to be thankful that such things as "cheapest rooms" existed. "It is only by occupying the cheapest room in the house, that you and I can go to nice hotels, where nice people go," Mrs. Dallas explained to her daughter.

The hotels which Mrs. Dallas patronized were always elaborate affairs with expensive, porte-cochèred entrances, big impressive foyers lit by enormous inverted alabaster bowls, and dining-rooms of ballroom dimensions filled with round tables, and mahogany chairs, and during the crowded dinner hour, an army of waiters with huge oval trays rushing about like darting water-bugs.

To Laurel there was something magic in the fact that it was possible under the same roof to eat and sleep in such different surroundings. She used to pretend that, like Cinderella, a wand was waved over her, too, when she emerged from the shabbiness of some "cheapest rooms" and approached the splendor of some ground-floors with their bright lights, bright music, long stretches of soft carpet springy as moss, with women trailing over it on their way to the dining-room for dinner—pretty, rich-looking women with bare necks, and shoulders powdered as white as gardenias.

But their necks and shoulders weren't any barer nor any whiter than Laurel's mother's, nor their cheeks any rosier, nor were they any prettier! Laurel thought that her mother was the very prettiest lady that she had ever seen in any hotel!

4

One morning in late August Laurel woke up very early in the slant-ceilinged bedroom under the eaves. She knew it was early, not because the traveling-clock in its worn leather case on the bureau across the room told her so (the clock was turned so she couldn't see its face), but because it was so still, and because she always woke early on the morning of the day set for her yearly visit to her father.

She wished she knew how early it was. A summer hotel, even the service wing, slept so late. The sun could tell Laurel nothing. The sun rose from out the ocean, and of course the "cheapest room" hadn't a glimpse of the ocean.

Laurel didn't dare risk getting up and looking at the clock, for, not for anything, would she have disturbed her mother asleep beside her. Her mother had probably been up until nearly morning to finish her packing. No. She would simply have to wait for the alarm-clocks in the servants' quarters across the alley-way. They usually began to go off about six to six-thirty. In the meanwhile she must lie very quietly and not joggle the bed. Cautiously she folded her hands beneath her head, and proceeded to content herself as best she could, gazing about with slow-moving, wide-awake eyes.

There, opposite her, hanging from the electric-light fixture on the wall, was her traveling-suit carefully arranged upon a stretcher. It was the first real suit with separate coat and skirt that Laurel had ever had! Would her father like it, she wondered? Would he like the close little black velvet hat that went with it, with the bunch of red berries on the side? Her mother had copied the hat from a thirty-dollar model, which she had priced in a shop in Boston. It made her look very grown up. Would her father like to have her look grown up?

Beside the suit stood Laurel's trunk. It was a wardrobe trunk—a beautiful trunk, Laurel thought. Brand-new. It was all ready to be closed. Her dresses, freshly pressed and hanging in order, simply had to be pushed back into the empty space behind. The little drawers beside the dresses were already shut snug and tight. The drawers were filled, Laurel well knew, with various-colored ribbons, bows, and sashes, to match the dresses; shoes and stockings; and piles of soft white underclothes in perfect repair. Her mother had been busy for a fortnight with white thread and darning-cotton. For a missing button or a tiny hole used to disturb Laurel's father years ago.

The beautiful trunk, and its beautiful contents, clashed with its present surroundings. Laurel was aware of it. It flashed over her, with a little stab of joy, that to-morrow morning when she woke up and glanced across the room at her trunk, it would be harmonizing with mahogany and plate-glass and a soft velvet carpet, and a glimpse through an open door of tiles and shining white porcelain. Too bad, oh, too bad, it flashed over her, with another stab that wasn't joy, that to-morrow morning her mother couldn't be waking up with her and glancing across at the trunk. Her mother did love grand rooms so! Her mother did love New York so! To-morrow when Laurel woke up there would be the rumble of New York outside her window hundreds of feet below.

Very carefully Laurel turned her head upon her folded hands and looked at her mother. She wasn't pretty in the early morning in a battered old iron bed, of course. No lady can be pretty with her mouth hanging open, and her hair all mussy and tousled. Laurel's mother's hair looked like straw, now—dry and dead. But when she did it up and put the magic net on it, it seemed to come alive. It was the same with the early-morning ashen look of her skin. It disappeared completely, along with the shadows, and queer greenish hollow places, and tiny wrinkles, when she was ready to step out of the mean little room. It was wonderful what Laurel's mother could do with a little powder and a little rouge, and a bit of chamois skin. It seemed to Laurel there was real magic there—no pretence, as in her Cinderella game.

She turned away from her mother. It wasn't fair to look at a picture till it was finished.

5

It was fully half an hour later when Laurel gazing at the ceiling became aware that her mother was no longer breathing out loud. She knew even without looking that her mother's blue eyes were wide open. She could feel them staring at her!

She turned her head towards her. Her mother was indeed staring at her!

"Hello," said Laurel, smiling tenderly.

"Hello," said her mother, still staring.

"What's the matter? What are you thinking of?" softly Laurel inquired.

"I was thinking what a burning shame you haven't naturally curly hair!" her mother exclaimed. "It makes me about sick to think of you down there for a whole month, with your hair hanging down as straight as a stick."

"Oh, it looks all right."

"I wish now I had had you have a Permanent. Some children are having it, and I don't believe for a minute that it would do good strong hair like yours a mite of harm, the way it's done way down at the ends for long curls, so I'm told. One reason I can keep your hair long like some of the most distinguished children, instead of bobbing it off like an errand girl's in a department store, is because I'm always Johnny-on-the-spot with the curling rags. There's nothing worse than long, straight, Indian hair these days. Oh, I do wish I had had the Permanent, but I simply couldn't afford it and your new trunk, too. It would be pleasant if your father gave you a few things you need once in a while. For goodness' sakes," she broke off, "if your father asks you when you're down there this time, what books you want for Christmas, tell him you can get books for nothing from the Public Library, but there's no public institution where you can get fur coats for nothing, or a wrist-watch, and all the girls you know—or ought to know—have fur coats now, and wrist-watches of their own."

"I'll tell him," Laurel said. "Shan't we get up pretty soon?"

"Terribly anxious to get started, aren't you?"

"Oh, no, I'm not anxious a bit," Laurel denied, and she stuck her hands back again under her head as proof; "I'm in no hurry. But it's only three hours to train-time, and I thought——"

"Never mind. That's all right. I don't blame you, kiddie," her mother said, and her eyes suddenly filled with tears. "Funny," she remarked, with her eyes still upon Laurel, "how I can't seem to remember what you look like once you get away." She sniffed. "I'm going to just about die without you, Lollie!" she exclaimed.

"I know it," said Laurel calmly, staring up at the ceiling, but with not a sign of tears herself.

Her mother sniffed again. "And to think," she said, "I didn't want you once. I didn't want you a bit before you were born." Then with a sudden determination she threw back the bedclothes. "Come," she ejaculated, "let's do get up!" and she swung her feet around onto the bare floor.

6

She was a fat, shapeless little ball of a woman in her nightgown. A plain unattractive nightgown it was, made of a crinkly material that didn't require ironing, with a soiled blue ribbon straggling halfway round the neck. She pulled on a cheap cotton-crêpe kimono over the nightgown. The kimono had been lavender once, but it had faded to somewhat the same ashen color as her face now. She slipped her feet into some bedroom slippers very much out of repair.

She was the sort of woman whose exterior was never slack or hasty. She was never guilty of substituting a pin for a stitch where it showed, but her negligées and night-clothes were always in a state of neglect and shabbiness. Even Laurel had begun to observe that. The first time Laurel had exclaimed, shocked, "Why, mother, there's the same hole in the toe of your stocking that was there yesterday!" Mrs. Dallas had smiled. How like her father it was! Stephen had had the same foolish blind dislike for a hole, or a rip, or a missing button, which nobody was ever going to see.

Wrapped round in her unlovely draperies, Mrs. Dallas now skuffed across the little room to the cheap oak bureau.

"Darn this thing!" she murmured, as she fumbled with the backboneless mirror, which always needed a wad of paper or a hairbrush stuck in its side, to hold it in position. "My! what a sight I am!" she exclaimed, when finally the contrary thing consented to give her back her reflection. "I certainly am some beauty at seven o'clock in the morning," she laughed, and she put both her hands to her head, pushing down the stiff towlike material, sticking out in a wild ungainly fashion about her face. Then, raising her chin, and frowning a little, she stroked her throat once or twice, where there hung, flabby and inert this morning, an unmistakable double chin.

It was a fitful sort of double chin. Showed much more at times than at others. Seemed to have periods of being sulky and stubborn. Mrs. Dallas was always in a state of indecision as to whether the thing showed less with a low, loose collar, or a high, tight one. This indecision was felt only in connection with daytime costumes, however, for at night in evening-dress she had long ago concluded that the lower the gown the less noticeable the superfluous chin. Once you got below the Dutch neck-line, Mrs. Dallas's skin was as white and firm as a young girl's. She had always had beautiful neck and shoulders, and they didn't grow old and sallow along with her face.

Mrs. Dallas believed that if a woman was clever, and made enough of that feature of hers which chanced to have remained young, whether it was hair, or figure, or complexion, or neck-and-shoulders, defects and blemishes would become less obvious. Unfortunate, of course, that convention deemed that her "young" feature could be exhibited only at night. Still, she told herself, she should be thankful that such inventions as powder and paint existed, corsets, and curling-irons, electric massages, and electric needles. For she had a horror of growing old and unattractive—a horror connected with the memories of her own mother.

She could recall that twenty years ago her mother had been gray and shapeless, her face covered with light brown moth-spots, wrinkles, and long hairs here and there—a spiritless creature, who wore loose, mouse-colored wrappers and flat men's shoes. Stella Dallas (Stella Martin she was then) was ashamed to have her young men friends catch a glimpse of her mother when they came to call in the red cottage house in Cataract Village outside the city of Milhampton. Laurel should never be ashamed of her mother like that, before her young-men friends, Mrs. Dallas decided, not if a little thought and effort could prevent it. Besides, there was another reason for keeping up a young appearance.

Not for eight years had she laid eyes upon her husband, nor he upon her, as far as she knew. It hardly seemed possible, for she had been to New York often, and the hotels where she and Laurel summered were very likely places for automobile parties to spend a day and night. Stephen might walk right into the office or dining-room or parlor any day where she chanced to be seated. If he should, he simply mustn't find her too changed. He mustn't find an old woman in place of the unquestionable belle she had been in their set the fall his business took him to New York.

The elaborate process of her mother's dressing had great interest for Laurel. Sometimes she would watch it from the bed, and other times from a chair near by, sitting, bare-necked and bare-armed in her underclothes with the comb and brush in her hand, waiting for her mother to unroll the eight tight wads around her head, and make them into long loose curls.

She had a long while to wait, for it took her mother a long while to dress. Laurel would pop into her clothes in no time, her slim pipe-stem arms and legs simply flashing into the right places, and her quick fingers buttoning and fastening with lightning speed. Laurel worked like a machine, when she dressed. Her mother worked like an artist, whose effects are accomplished by many fine and careful strokes, and many stops, standing away frequently from her work to observe it with a critical and often a dissatisfied eye.

She would not be ready to apply her skill to Laurel until she was complete herself, except for just the finishing touch of her dress. When she would be ready for Laurel, the flabby fleshiness under the nightgown would have become all beautiful firm curves inside the flower-brocaded pink corsets; and the shapeless mop of tow would have become all beautiful firm curves too, like the hair on the wax busts in the show-windows of fashionable hair-dressing shops. Her eyes would have become ever so blue, and ever so large beneath transforming eyebrows that arched. The centers of her cheeks would be pink, and her lips red, and her neck and shoulders, bare of course without her dress, would be milky white, with lovely little lavender veins showing faintly here and there, like the guiding lines Laurel used sometimes when she wrote a letter, showing faintly through thick white note-paper.

When Laurel moved over before the mirror and stood in front of her mother for her hair to be done, and caught the reflection of her own freckled face and sunburned neck and arms, bony and hard, and her dark hair with the forbidding bang, it seemed to her that the pink and whiteness above her was like an angel's in comparison.

"When shall you begin to put rouge and powder on me, mother?" one day Laurel had asked.

"Not until nice girls your age begin to put it on," her mother replied briefly, with the practicalness that guided all her decisions in regard to Laurel as to what was proper or improper, appropriate or inappropriate.

It was because Mrs. Dallas adhered to models so scrupulously that Laurel's clothes were never cheap or flashy in appearance. Mrs. Dallas was like certain dressmakers, who know how to impart elegance and refinement to the clothes they make for others, while their own costumes are often extreme and unpleasantly conspicuous. Mrs. Dallas wore a good deal of imitation jewelry herself—large imitation pearls around her neck, large imitation pearls in her ears. But Laurel never wore jewelry at all, except a string of tiny gold beads.

The little Holland girl never wore jewelry at all, except a string of tiny gold beads. The little Holland girl was one of Mrs. Dallas's models. In Milhampton the Henry Hollands were one of "the four hundred"—one of the first ten of "the four hundred," in Mrs. Dallas's opinion. Laurel did not attend the same dancing-class which Stephanie Holland attended, but Mrs. Dallas often attended it, looking down from her balcony seat (to occupy which no ticket of admission was required) onto the polished floor below, studying, scrutinizing, and recording in as thorough and business-like a way as a dressmaker at a fashion-show in New York.

7

When Mrs. Dallas and Laurel sat down at their table in the big hotel dining-room an hour later, Laurel was all ready for her long journey to New York, and Mrs. Dallas all ready for her shorter one to Boston, where at the appointed meeting-place in the South Station she was to pass Laurel over as usual to the spectacled Miss Simpson.

The hotel guests seated near Laurel and her mother observed their traveling clothes. One of them later, in the hotel lobby, approached Laurel as she sat, half-hidden in a high-backed armchair, waiting for her mother. Her neat black-enameled suit case stood beside her, and her silver-handled umbrella lay across her knees.

"Are you and your mammar leaving us to-day?" asked the lady.

"I am," Laurel replied.

"But not your mammar?"

Laurel wished she wouldn't say "mammar."

"No. Mother isn't."

"Oh, so that's it! You're going alone! And where are you going?"

"To New York."

"To New York! How nice! To visit, I suppose?"

Laurel nodded.

"Let's see. I believe I've heard your pappar lives in New York," remarked the lady. Any reference to her father always put Laurel on the defensive. "Doesn't your pappar live there?" the lady persisted.

"I call him father," said Laurel, flushing.

"You funny child! Well, doesn't your father live in New York?"

"My father has business in New York which takes him there frequently," Laurel replied as she had heard her mother reply dozens of times before.

"Oh, I see! And you're going to New York to visit your father. Is that it?" purred the lady.

There were sharp claws behind that purr, Laurel knew. Also she knew that it was not customary for little girls to visit their fathers alone. So now she replied, "No, I'm going to visit a hotel."

"But you'll see your father, of course?"

It appeared quite legitimate, Laurel had long ago discovered, for grown-up people to ask questions of a child which they'd never think of asking each other. Therefore, she decided, it was legitimate for children to remain silent when they chose. Of course she wasn't a little child who might refuse to speak and not mean to be rude, but if people would keep on asking questions as if she were only six, she would keep on being silent. She was silent now. She closed her lips firmly, and from beneath her long bang stared blankly across the lobby. The lady repeated her question.

"You'll see your father, won't you?"

Laurel continued her blank stare. Her eyes took on a vacant, far-away expression, as if she had suddenly fallen to day-dreaming, and was thousands of miles away from the hotel lobby and the lady. In reality she was keenly conscious of the moment and the place, and was keenly suffering, too. Laurel didn't like being rude. She would like to answer every question ever asked her. Only she couldn't always. People nudged, and smiled, and raised their eyebrows sometimes.

"Well," said the lady, less sweetly now, "I'm sure your mother will miss you, whomever you're going to see, for she doesn't seem to have made many intimate friends in the hotel."

How unkind! How cruel! It swept over Laurel that she would like to make up a face at this woman—this hateful, ugly woman. (She was ugly. She had a complexion like dough. Beside her mother's rose-petal cheeks, hers were like toadstools. Beside her mother's bright hair, hers was like dull pewter.) Laurel glowered at the lady's retreating back. She had perfectly enormous hips!

"What was Mrs. Lamson saying, kiddie?" asked Laurel's mother a moment later bustling up to her.

"Nothing much."

"Being nice?"

"Oh, yes," said Laurel brightly. Her mother was terribly anxious for people to be "nice," and Laurel almost as anxious that she should believe them so. "She thought my new hat was ever so pretty," she prevaricated smoothly.

"I bet she didn't guess how little it cost," shrugged Mrs. Dallas.

"Well, I didn't tell her," said Laurel.

When Laurel kissed her mother good-bye on the platform at the station, there wasn't a tear in her eyes, although her mother's pretty cheeks were all smeared with them underneath the concealing big-meshed white veil. The arms she put around her mother's neck didn't cling nor clutch, like the arms that held her so tightly, and her kiss was cool and brief. But in her throat there was a big lump, and about her mouth there was a drawn, set look that meant she was clenching her teeth together hard, as she stood by the car window, and waved and waved to the lovely pink-and-white figure left behind in the smoke.