Made taller and younger by his interest she poured out, "Oh my yes. It was a wonderful trip. So many points of interest through Massachusetts — historical. There's Lexington where we turned back the redcoats, and Longfellow's home at Cambridge, and Cape Cod — just everything — fishermen and whale-ships and sand-dunes and everything."
She wished that she had a little cane to carry. He broke off a willow branch.
"My, you're strong!" she said.
"No, not very. I wish there was a Y. M. C. A. here, so I could take up regular exercise. I used to think I could do pretty good acrobatics, if I had a chance."
"I'm sure you could. You're unusually lithe, for a large man."
"Oh no, not so very. But I wish we had a Y. M. It would be dandy to have lectures and everything, and I'd like to take a class in improving the memory — I believe a fellow ought to go on educating himself and improving his mind even if he is in business, don't you, Vida — I guess I'm kind of fresh to call you 'Vida'!"
"I've been calling you 'Ray' for weeks!"
He wondered why she sounded tart.
He helped her down the bank to the edge of the lake but dropped her hand abruptly, and as they sat on a willow log and he brushed her sleeve, he delicately moved over and murmured, "Oh, excuse me — accident."
She stared at the mud-browned chilly water, the floating gray reeds.
"You look so thoughtful," he said.
She threw out her hands. "I am! Will you kindly tell me what's the use of — anything! Oh, don't mind me. I'm a moody old hen. Tell me about your plan for getting a partnership in the Bon Ton. I do think you're right: Harry Haydock and that mean old Simons ought to give you one."
He hymned the old unhappy wars in which he had been Achilles and the mellifluous Nestor, yet gone his righteous ways unheeded by the cruel kings. . . . "Why, if I've told 'em once, I've told 'em a dozen times to get in a side-line of light-weight pants for gents' summer wear, and of course here they go and let a cheap kike like Rifkin beat them to it and grab the trade right off 'em, and then Harry said — you know how Harry is, maybe he don't mean to be grouchy, but he's such a sore-head — — "
He gave her a hand to rise. "If you don't MIND. I think a fellow is awful if a lady goes on a walk with him and she can't trust him and he tries to flirt with her and all."
"I'm sure you're highly trustworthy!" she snapped, and she sprang up without his aid. Then, smiling excessively, "Uh — don't you think Carol sometimes fails to appreciate Dr. Will's ability?"
Ray habitually asked her about his window-trimming, the display of the new shoes, the best music for the entertainment at the Eastern Star, and (though he was recognized as a professional authority on what the town called "gents' furnishings") about his own clothes. She persuaded him not to wear the small bow ties which made him look like an elongated Sunday School scholar. Once she burst out:
"Ray, I could shake you! Do you know you're too apologetic? You always appreciate other people too much. You fuss over Carol Kennicott when she has some crazy theory that we all ought to turn anarchists or live on figs and nuts or something. And you listen when Harry Haydock tries to show off and talk about turnovers and credits and things you know lots better than he does. Look folks in the eye! Glare at 'em! Talk deep! You're the smartest man in town, if you only knew it. You ARE!"
He could not believe it. He kept coming back to her for confirmation. He practised glaring and talking deep, but he circuitously hinted to Vida that when he had tried to look Harry Haydock in the eye, Harry had inquired, "What's the matter with you, Raymie? Got a pain?" But afterward Harry had asked about Kantbeatum socks in a manner which, Ray felt, was somehow different from his former condescension.
They were sitting on the squat yellow satin settee in the boarding-house parlor. As Ray reannounced that he simply wouldn't stand it many more years if Harry didn't give him a partnership, his gesticulating hand touched Vida's shoulders.
"Oh, excuse me!" he pleaded.
"It's all right. Well, I think I must be running up to my room. Headache," she said briefly.
Ray and she had stopped in at Dyer's for a hot chocolate on their way home from the movies, that March evening. Vida speculated, "Do you know that I may not be here next year?"
"What do you mean?"
With her fragile narrow nails she smoothed the glass slab which formed the top of the round table at which they sat. She peeped through the glass at the perfume-boxes of black and gold and citron in the hollow table. She looked about at shelves of red rubber water-bottles, pale yellow sponges, wash-rags with blue borders, hair-brushes of polished cherry backs. She shook her head like a nervous medium coming out of a trance, stared at him unhappily, demanded:
"Why should I stay here? And I must make up my mind. Now. Time to renew our teaching-contracts for next year. I think I'll go teach in some other town. Everybody here is tired of me. I might as well go. Before folks come out and SAY they're tired of me. I have to decide tonight. I might as well — — Oh, no matter. Come. Let's skip. It's late."
She sprang up, ignoring his wail of "Vida! Wait! Sit down! Gosh! I'm flabbergasted! Gee! Vida!" She marched out. While he was paying his check she got ahead. He ran after her, blubbering, "Vida! Wait!" In the shade of the lilacs in front of the Gougerling house he came up with her, stayed her flight by a hand on her shoulder.
"Oh, don't! Don't! What does it matter?" she begged. She was sobbing, her soft wrinkly lids soaked with tears. "Who cares for my affection or help? I might as well drift on, forgotten. O Ray, please don't hold me. Let me go. I'll just decide not to renew my contract here, and — and drift — way off — — "
His hand was steady on her shoulder. She dropped her head, rubbed the back of his hand with her cheek.
They were married in June.
They took the Ole Jenson house. "It's small," said Vida, "but it's got the dearest vegetable garden, and I love having time to get near to Nature for once."
Though she became Vida Wutherspoon technically, and though she certainly had no ideals about the independence of keeping her name, she continued to be known as Vida Sherwin.
She had resigned from the school, but she kept up one class in English. She bustled about on every committee of the Thanatopsis; she was always popping into the rest-room to make Mrs. Nodelquist sweep the floor; she was appointed to the library-board to succeed Carol; she taught the Senior Girls' Class in the Episcopal Sunday School, and tried to revive the King's Daughters. She exploded into self-confidence and happiness; her draining thoughts were by marriage turned into energy. She became daily and visibly more plump, and though she chattered as eagerly, she was less obviously admiring of marital bliss, less sentimental about babies, sharper in demanding that the entire town share her reforms — the purchase of a park, the compulsory cleaning of back-yards.
She penned Harry Haydock at his desk in the Bon Ton; she interrupted his joking; she told him that it was Ray who had built up the shoe-department and men's department; she demanded that he be made a partner. Before Harry could answer she threatened that Ray and she would start a rival shop. "I'll clerk behind the counter myself, and a Certain Party is all ready to put up the money."
She rather wondered who the Certain Party was.
Ray was made a one-sixth partner.
He became a glorified floor-walker, greeting the men with new poise, no longer coyly subservient to pretty women. When he was not affectionately coercing people into buying things they did not need, he stood at the back of the store, glowing, abstracted, feeling masculine as he recalled the tempestuous surprises of love revealed by Vida.
The only remnant of Vida's identification of herself with Carol was a jealousy when she saw Kennicott and Ray together, and reflected that some people might suppose that Kennicott was his superior. She was sure that Carol thought so, and she wanted to shriek, "You needn't try to gloat! I wouldn't have your pokey old husband. He hasn't one single bit of Ray's spiritual nobility."