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Lib
by [?]

A young woman sat on the veranda of a small redwood cabin, putting her baby to sleep. The infant displayed that aggressive wide-awakeness which seems to characterize babies on the verge of somnolence. Now and then it plunged its dimpled fists into the young mother’s bare white breast, stiffened its tiny form rebelliously, raised its head, and sent gleams of defiance from beneath its drooping eyelids.

It was late in March, and the ground about the cabin was yellow with low-growing compositae. The air was honey-sweet and dripping with bird-song. Inside the house a woman and a girl were talking.

“Oh, he’s not worrying,” said the latter. “What’s he got to worry about? He lets us do all that. Lib’s got the baby and we’ve got to bear all the disgrace. I”–

“Myrtie,” called a clear voice from the veranda, “shut up! You may say what you please about me, and you may say what you please about him, but nobody’s going to call this baby a disgrace.”

She caught the child up and kissed the back of its neck with passionate vehemence. The baby struggled in her embrace and gave a little cry of outraged dignity.

Indoors the girl looked at her mother and bit her lip in astonished dismay.

“I didn’t know she could hear,” she whispered.

A tall young woman came up the walk, trailing her tawdry ruffles over the fragrant alfileria.

“Is Miss Sunderland”–She colored a dull pink and glanced at the baby.

“I’m Lib Sunderland. Won’t you come in?” said Lib.

The newcomer sank down on the upper step and leaned against the post of the veranda.

“No. I don’t want to see any one but you. I guess we can talk here.”

The baby sat up at the sound of the stranger’s voice and stared at her with round, blinking eyes. She drew off her cotton gloves and whipped her knee with them in awkward embarrassment. She had small, regular features of the kind that remain the same from childhood to old age, and her liver-colored hair rolled in a billow almost to her eyes.

“Maybe you’ll think it strange for me to come,” she began, “but I didn’t know what else to do. I’m Ruby Adair.”

She waited a little, but her statement awoke no response in Lib’s noncommittal face.

“I don’t know whether you know what they’re saying over at the store or not,” the visitor went on haltingly.

“No,” said Lib, with dry indifference; “there ain’t any men in our family to do the loafin’ and gossipin’ for us.”

“Since you moved over here from Bunch Grass Valley, they’re saying that Thad Farnham is the–is–you know he was in the tile works over there a year or more ago.”

“Yes, I know.” Lib’s voice was like the crackling of dead leaves under foot.

“I think it’s pretty hard,” continued Miss Adair, gathering courage, and glancing from under the surf of her hair at her listener’s impassive face; “him and me’s engaged!”

Lib’s eyes narrowed, and the velvety down on her lip showed black against the whiteness around her mouth.

“What does he say?” she asked.

“What can he say?” Thad’s fiancee broke out nervously, “except that it ain’t so. But that doesn’t shut people’s mouths. Nobody can do that but you. I think”–she raised her chin virtuously and twisted her gloves tight in her trembling hands–“that you ought to come out plain and tell who the man is–I mean the–you know what I mean!”

“Yes,” said Lib dully, “I know what you mean.”

There was a little silence, broken only by the mad twitter of nesting linnets in the passion-vine overhead.

“Of course,” resumed the stranger, “I wouldn’t want you to think but what I’m sorry for you. You’ve been treated awful mean by somebody.”

A surprised look grew in the eyes Lib fixed upon her visitor. The baby stirred in its sleep, and she bent down and rubbed her cheek against its hair.

“You needn’t waste any time being sorry for me,” she said.