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A Short Trip Home
by [?]

Author’s Note: In a moment of hasty misjudgment a whole paragraph of description was lifted out of this tale where it originated, and properly belongs, and applied to quite a different character in a novel of mine. I have ventured nonetheless to leave it here, even at the risk of seeming to serve warmed-over fare.

I was near her, for I had lingered behind in order to get the short walk with her from the living room to the front door. That was a lot, for she had flowered suddenly and I, being a man and only a year older, hadn’t flowered at all, had scarcely dared to come near her in the week we’d been home. Nor was I going to say anything in that walk of ten feet, or touch her; but I had a vague hope she’d do something, give a gay little performance of some sort, personal only in so far as we were alone together.

She had bewitchment suddenly in the twinkle of short hairs on her neck, in the sure, clear confidence that at about eighteen begins to deepen and sing in attractive American girls. The lamp light shopped in the yellow strands of her hair.

Already she was sliding into another world–the world of Joe Jelke and Jim Cathcart waiting for us now in the car. In another year she would pass beyond me forever.

As I waited, feeling the others outside in the snowy night, feeling the excitement of Christmas week and the excitement of Ellen here, blooming away, filling the room with “sex appeal”–a wretched phrase to express a quality that isn’t like that at all–a maid came in from the dining room, spoke to Ellen quietly and handed her a note. Ellen read it and her eyes faded down, as when the current grows weak on rural circuits, and smouldered off into space. Then she gave me an odd look–in which I probably didn’t show–and without a word, followed the maid into the dining room and beyond. I sat turning over the pages of a magazine for a quarter of an hour.

Joe Jelke came in, red-faced from the cold, his white silk muffler gleaming at the neck of his fur coat. He was a senior at New Haven, I was a sophomore. He was prominent, a member of Scroll and Keys, and, in my eyes, very distinguished and handsome.

“Isn’t Ellen coming?”

“I don’t know,” I answered discreetly.”She was all ready.”

“Ellen!” he called.”Ellen!”

He had left the front door open behind him and a great cloud of frosty air rolled in from outside. He went halfway up the stairs–he was a familiar in the house–and called again, till Mrs. Baker came to the banister and said that Ellen was below. Then the maid, a little excited, appeared in the dining-room door.

“Mr. Jelke,” she called in a low voice.

Joe’s face fell as he turned toward her, sensing bad news.

“Miss Ellen says for you to go on to the party. She’ll come later.”

“What’s the matter?”

“She can’t come now. She’ll come later.”

He hesitated, confused. It was the last big dance of vacation, and he was mad about Ellen. He had tried to give her a ring for Christmas, and failing that, got her to accept a gold mesh bag that must have cost two hundred dollars. He wasn’t the only one–there were three or four in the same wild condition, and all in the ten days she’d been home–but his chance came first, for he was rich and gracious and at that moment the “desirable” boy of St. Paul. To me it seemed impossible that she could prefer another, but the rumor was she’d described Joe as much too perfect. I suppose he lacked mystery for her, and when a man is up against that with a young girl who isn’t thinking of the practical side of marriage yet–well–.

“She’s in the kitchen,” Joe said angrily.

“No, she’s not.” The maid was defiant and a little scared.

“She is.”

“She went out the back way, Mr. Jelke.”

“I’m going to see.”

I followed him. The Swedish servants washing dishes looked up sideways at our approach and an interested crashing of pans marked our passage through. The storm door, unbolted, was flapping in the wind and as we walked out into the snowy yard we saw the tail light of a car turn the corner at the end of the back alley.