It looked exactly like a dollhouse. I had passed it each day when commuting to and from Southern Mississippi during my senior year, and the other three riders in the car with me and I often speculated on the kind of people that inhabited it. If it were lived in at all, that is. The color was dark brown and there was lots of gingerbread on it. There were yellow shutters on the windows, with tulips cut out of the side panels. I always thought like something out of "Hansel and Gretel". Not once, in all of the times we came and went, had we seen a single sign of life in the little house. Yet we all felt there were real people living there, because there always seemed to be fresh looking curtains hanging in tiny windows; the lawn freshly manicured; and often, that winter, there was a spiral of smoke coming out of the dainty chimney, on the side that we could see.
And now. I stood there, upon the front porch, having just rung the doorbell. Its little ping-ping sounded like an oriental percussion instrument of some sort. I listened intently. There was no sound, other than the lingering echo of its two notes. Should I ring again? While I was trying to decide this, the door was opened soundlessly, and there stood the cutest little doll-like lady I had ever seen, looking me squarely in the face.
"Good morning," I said, hoping I sounded cheerily, and gave my name. I told her that I had passed the house many times and had always longed to see the inside.
She responded as though my request were the most ordinary thing in the world, and I was suddenly aware that mine was certainly not likely to have been the first curiosity pricked by the unusual domicile.
"My name is Anne Angle," she told me. "We've lived here for seventeen years now."
"Where did you live before coming to Hattiesburg?" Her attitude was such that I did not think she would resent my questions.
"Oh, all over the place, really- but do come in, and get comfortable/"
I moved into the living room, and took in each article of furniture with great care. The neat couch and matching chairs; the ottomans; a spinet piano in one corner of the room; the fireplace with its andirons, and the mantle above, with ample space for pictures of little people, in frames. She motioned me to a chair, as she continued answering my question.
"I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and my husband is from, San Francisco, originally."
"How did you happen to wind up in Mississippi?"
"We met when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer put out a call for all midgets with performing abilities to come to Hollywood to audition for the movie, The Wizard of Oz. We were to play the parts of the Munchkins. All expenses were paid by MGM, so we both traveled all that distance. Well, for my husband, it wasn't very far at all---but it was for me!" And her laugh was like silvery music.
"It turned out that we both had a few bookings with the Orpheum Circuit in the last days of vaudeville. Strictly song and dance stuff. But we were very good. It was the old clichéd 'Love at First Sight' story. We were married right there in Culver City, and after the film was finished (it took only a few weeks for our parts) we took all of that money (it paid us quite a tidy sum) and began looking for a nice, quiet place to settle down. One of the other Munchkins in the cast was from right here in Hattiesburg, and sold us on the place. We came here, fell in love with the whole area, bought this lot, built this house, had three children, and here we are!"
"Your children: are they at home now?" I asked eagerly.
"Oh, no: not right now. They're all in school. Scalene goes to high school and Isosoles and Pi attend the Demonstration School out at the college. But my husband is at home- and here he is!"
The little gentleman smiled broadly, as he introduced himself: "Hi! I'm Art Angle." And he held out his small hand for me to shake. I took it gingerly, afraid that I might hurt him otherwise.
"You're no doubt thinking 'What unusual names!'" and he laughed.
I didn't want to admit it, but that was exactly my reaction. I smiled instead of saying anything
Anne explained now. "My maiden name was Wright, and when I heard Art's last name, I just about dies laughing, Wright Angle!"
"Then when we decided to tie the knot, we said if the good Lord ever blessed us with children, we would give them appropriate geometric titles. And so far we have three," Art had continued the narrative.
I was bursting to know more about their children. Were they midgets, too?"
As if anticipating this question, Anne said, "Scalene is the eldest. She is full sized. She's getting so tall that we are getting a little concerned because we made the ceilings just six feet high."
Indeed my head had almost brushed against the ceiling when I entered the room.
"But, Isoceles and Pi are like us- midgets. And Pi is so little that even for a midget, he is very small."
"But wouldn't you like to see the rest of the house?" Art asked.
They both walked with me. There were three bedrooms, a kitchen (which enchanted me with all of its toy-like appliances) two baths, and a rather formal dining room. The amazing thing was that once inside, except for the low ceilings, there was no feeling of cramped quarters.
I felt that I had imposed upon them long enough, and made my preparations for departing.
"Why don't you stay and have a cup of coffee with us?" Anne asked me.
I have never cared for coffee, once breakfast is over and done with, but my curiosity got the better of me. "That would be great!"
We trouped back into the kitchen, with its blue and white chintz curtains, and its dinette set painted baby blue. I sat carefully on one of the chairs, while Anne busied herself filling the coffee pot at the sink. I noticed that Art was helping her at every step of the task and began to wonder what he did to support them.
"What kind of work are you doing now, Mr. Wright?"
"Please call me Art. Mr. Wright makes me feel so much older than I am. I'm retired," he added cryptically.
"But you're not that old," I protested. Indeed, he could have been almost any age. I placed him between forty and fifty.
Anne laughed her little silvery laugh again. "We were not so lucky." Then she went on, "After we built the house most of our savings were gone. It cost a good bit more than we had planned on., so we thought of going back on stage. But there was no longer any vaudeville: that phase of show business was totally dead. All that would have been left for us to do was work with the sideshows at fairs and carnivals. We had both done some of that work, but it is so demeaning to have audiences stare at you as if you were some sort of freak. And they can ask so many personal questions!"
My face burned at this remark.
"Oh, no," she quickly said, "you have not asked any personal or embarrassing or personal questions. She hurried on, "Well, anyway, then I found out that I was going to have a baby, Very awkward. Now, you tell what happened next, Art."
"An uncle that I didn't even know existed, died and left mea small fortune. It's enough to live comfo0rtably for the rest of our lives."
"So the only thing we're lacking is friends. The neighbors still think of us as sideshow freaks, I'm afraid."
I realized then that this must be the reason they were both so eager to show me their charming little home, and their reluctance to let us go so soon. Anne handed me a blue willow pattern cup and saucer, and began pouring hot coffee, steaming into the cup.
"Cream and sugar?" Art held the matching pieces of China in his hands.
"Yes, please," and I helped myself to both. Even the cloth napkins were blue and white checked gingham, as was the tablecloth.
As soon as I had finished my coffee, I made my excuses and left them, promising to return soon for another visit.
My second visit was not unannounced. I phoned them before driving down to ascertain that they would be at home and not otherwise occupied. Their genuine and sincere delight in hearing from me, was all the assurance I needed. I had purposely chosen Saturday, being determined to meet the children.
As I drove the familiar highway to Hattiesburg, and then following Fourth Street towards the college, I was filled with a sense of déjà vu. How many times had I ridden this same route as a student?
I walked up the little winding walkway to the beautiful front door. The oriental ping-ping of the doorball was answered this time by a great hulk of a girl. She almost totally filled the doorway.
"Hello! I'm Scalene." Her voice was deep, resonant and musical. She was not a pretty girl at all, and her size seemed absurd in the tiny frame of the doorway. Her eyes were too far apart, and her mouth was wide, with a distinct downward slant. Her auburn hair was almost exactly like her mother's, but somehow, on her, it seemed all wrong. I tried not to let her see my disappointment. After all, not many people are as nearly perfect as every feature of her parents' were.
I told her my name.
"Oh, I know all about you," she said. "Come on in; Mother's expecting you."
The little parlor was a scene of domestic tranquility, and the pretty picture that met my eyes will remains with me always. The two most exquisitely beautiful children that I had ever seen, sat on the floor before an open fire, playing at a board game. Anne sat doing needlepoint in her chair. The aroma of something delicious wafted in from the kitchen.
Many midgets have the appearance of ill-fitting arms and legs; their torsos are too long or short for the other parts of their bodies; but the Angles were beautifully proportioned (Scalene being the exception).
"Ah. My friend; how good it is to see you again!" Anne's greeting was warm and happy.
"And the very same to you!" I said, meaning each word.
"And these are our children: our pride and joys. You've met Scalene already, and this is Isocolies- and Pi." She pointed to each child, who stood up immediately and shook my hand, solemnly. The little girl was beautiful, as I have said, but Pi was an absolute vision of loveliness. His hair was so shiny black that it seemed to be made of wet glass. Hers was blond. But both were absolutely flawless. They had great brown eyes, dainty little mouths, and the tiniest hands and feet I had ever seen, except on babies. Their tiny shoes reminded me of those you see on Barbie dolls.
We sat and chatted a while, then Anne excused herself saying that she had to put the finishing touches on lunch, and of course I was to stay for that. I had not asked where Art was, but was now told that he was downtown at the Court House, taking care of some taxes and would be home in time for lunch.
Scalene went into the kitchen to help her mother with the lunch, I felt the two small children gazing at me with something like wonder.
"Would you like to play Pollyanna?: Isocoles asked now.
:"I love Pollyanna!" I said, trying to sound enthusiastic. Memories of my own childhood, trying to find somebody- - anybody to play the board game with me, flooded my memory banks.
"Come on, then and play with us. You can be red."
"I much prefer yellow," I said, seeing that they had chosen blue and green as their "Men".
Pi found this amusing, and covered his mouth, trying to conceal a beguiling grin.
"Does either of you play the piano?" I asked.
"Not yet," Isocoles answered. I had yet to hear Pi say anything, and began to wonder if he were mute. "Scalene does, though."
"I take lessons from Mrs. Davis, out at the college," Scalene said from the doorway.
"Well, you're certainly in good hands," I said, not feeling the assurance I offered her. "Perhaps you'll play something for me after a while."
"I'd love to. Mother tells me you're a pianist."
I acknowledged that this was true. "What compositions are you working one now"
"A Bach two-part Invention, Fur Elise, and parts of The Children's Corner, by Debussy."
I was impressed by the repertoire, but reserved judgment until I heard her play. "Those are all excellent choices," I assured her.
Our Pollyanna game continued. They were adept at it,, and I had little difficulty allowing one and then the other of them to win.
The front door opened and Art walked cheerfully in. We shook hands and made small talk until Anne announced that lunch was served.
"I hope you haven't gone to a lot of trouble on my account," I said.
"Not at all,: she assured me. "We're just having soup, a sandwich and some pie."
"That sounds wonderful!"
The soup was a clear consommé, and was delicious; there was a hearty beef sandwich and a tray of olives, pickles, tomato slices and other relishes. We ate with gusto.
"It's so good to have you here again," Art said, as we ate.
"And I am enchanted to be here." That was the exact word: Enchantment. It was all rather like something out of a fairy tale, I couldn't help noticing.
When the time came for Anne to bring her steaming hot apple pie from the kitchen, Art stood up to do the honors. He cut the pie in six equally huge slices,
"Would you prefer ice cream or cheese with your pie?" Anne asked.
"Aw, come on. I'm going to have ice cream, and so are the kids." Art said. :My wife, being an old Midwesterner, likes the cheese on hers."
Anne laughed good naturedly,
"Well, you twisted my arm," I said. "I'd like the ice cream, too. I'm just a kid at heart."
When the meal was finished, and Scalene and her mother had cleared the table, they returned to the living room, where we had moved. Scalene asked me point blank if I would like for her to play for me,
"Most assuredly!" I said enthusiastically, How unlike my brother, George, and me," I thought somewhat grimly, We would never volunteer to play for company when we were children.
"I'll play the Back Invention first,: she announced.
I expected the F Major, or the first one, in C, but instead, she played the seldom-played E Major two-part Invention. In my estimation, it is the most difficult of all. It was beautifully performed, with sensitivity, accuracy and musicianship. Her touch was lovely, and the piano fairly "sang".
"Thank you. That was truly beautiful," I told her when she had finished. "Would you play something else for me?"
"I could try the Beethoven," she said modestly.
I was prepared for the usual changes of tempo, and the too-rapid beginning, and was again surprised with her maturity and expertise. I never remember having heard this charming little masterpiece more delightfully played, and told her so when she was done.
Anne was thrilled with my assessment of their daughter's playing.
"Do you really think she has talent?"
"There's no question about it," I assured her.
It was getting late, and I felt I had been there long enough. I was reluctant to leave, however. The entire family was so charming that it was hard to leave their company. They seemed equally reluctant to have me go, but I promised, once again, that I should very soon return.
Over the next several months I was a frequent visitor at the little gingerbread cottage. Our relationship grew ever stronger and more affectionate. It was with a great deal of sadness that I had decided to pursue my postgraduate degree. I hated to leave home, my family and my wonderful new small friends.
When, in September, I called on the Angles to say goodbye, they were all there. Anne had, as usual, insisted on cooking a meal for me. The children clung to me for dear life. As I started to go, little Pi threw his arms around my neck and kissed me warmly on my lips. It was, without doubt, the sweetest kiss I ever received. As I drove away, the entire little family stood in the front yard, waving sadly to me. It was to be the last time I would ever see them.
It was early in October, and there was a definite touch Of autumn in the air. Scalene, Isosoles and Pi kissed their mother goodbye and were off to school. Their father had met with a tragic accident just a few days earlier, and none of them had really accepted the fact that he was dead. Art had been out taking his usual morning walk, and when returning, by way of the railroad tracks that ran below their little house, had failed to hear an oncoming freight train, He never knew what hit him.
Pi, who rarely spoke anyway, was totally silenced by his grief; Isosoles , whose usual talkativeness had been reduced to monosyllables only; and even Scalene had shed not a tear at the funeral. Even Anne seemed beyond caring, but their grief was deep and real.
The children entered the Demonstration School and walked silently to their separate classrooms. Pi arrived in his classroom to find a fever pf activity. Miss Donald was standing, and the class was listening intently to every word she said, for a change.
"Oh, Pi," she greeted him, "You're just in time. We're about to go outside for today's science project."
As was customary, he made no reply. He waited silently for further instructions.
"Now, class, get your note books and a sharpened pencil. Luther, you can help me carry the equipment."
The "equipment" seemed to consist of a can of Red Devil Lye, a Coca-Cola bottle and what looked like a clean pickle bottle filled with water. Miss Donald had her hands full with a mysterious white shoebox, her own textbook, and her usual assortment of pencils and erasers for those students who never seemed to have any.
The students trooped noisily out of the building, as their teacher struggled to maintain some semblance of order. They were told to assemble at the rear, and Miss Donald came forward and exhibited a small silver coin with a square hole in the center.
"This, Class, is a sales tax token. It was Mississippi's answer to a ten percent tax on everything that was bought. This was just a few years ago. For every dollar a person spent in a store, he had to pay one of these tokens. Louisiana and Alabama had similar tokens, but the shape of the center hole is what distinguished one's token from the others'. Note the square hole in the center. There were one mill and five mill tokens. The five-mill token was made of copper, and were used with purchases of five dollars or more." She held up one of each of these tokens, pointing to the square holes in the centers. "The one-mill tokens were made of aluminum, and that is why we will be using them today. Billy, please bend this token for me, so it will fit through the neck of this Coke bottle."
Billy was more than willing to oblige, and felt that he was exhibiting almost superhuman strength and impressing every little girl in the class as he grunted and bent the light weight token in two. Pi watched this with little interest as the experiment commenced. The bent token was placed in the bottle; then several more were bent and placed with that first one. When Miss Donald felt that enough aluminum was collected for the experiment, she instructed Billy, "Now, carefully pour some of the inlye into the bottle with the aluminum. But be very careful: don't let it get on your skin!"
The class tittered nervously, as Billy very carefully removed the lid from the can and began to pour the lye, a few crystals at a time into the bottle. As soon as she felt that enough lye had been added for her experiment, Miss Donald said, "Now, let's add a little water to the mixture-- again going very slowly and cautiously." She handed Billy the pickle jar of water, watching like a mother hen as he added drop by drop about a tablespoon of liquid. "Now, put one of these over the top of the bottle." She had opened the mysterious white shoebox, and extracted a red balloon. Billy looked as serious as his teacher had ever seen him, as he stretched the balloon open and slipped it over the top of the Coke bottle
The lye had begun to eat at the aluminum tokens and there resulted a gas that filled the balloon ever so slowly at first. The class gasped in recognition of a new experience. When the balloon was filled to capacity, Miss Donald stepped forward and tied a long piece of string around its neck. Then she handed her 'assistant" a blue one to put over the bottle opening. The red balloon looked as if it had a life of its own, as it strained at the string and tried to rise.
"Why 'zit tryin' t'raise up, Miss Donald?" Charlie Wilson asked.
"Good question, Charles. We have created a gas known as Helium with this simple procedure. It is lighter than air, and that is why it rises so easily. They used to use hydrogen to fill the old time dirigibles, until the Hindenburg burned. After that they had to find something that was safer. That's when helium was created." She walked with the inflated balloon among the students. "Who would like to be the official keeper of the inflated balloons?" she asked. Every single hand shot up save one.
"Pi. Wouldn't you like to hold the balloons as they are filed?"
He looked solemnly at her with his great brown eyes, and silently nodded his head, "Yes."
"Teacher's Pet-Teacheer's Pet," the class sang in a chant. Pi was, indeed, a great favorite ofry ev teacher he ever had. He was a model student: intelligent' easy to handle; clean; never a discipline problem. His size and beauty made every adult want to hold him and smother him with kisses, He had just the opposite effect on most of his peers, They resented his smallness and his beauty, and made no end of fun of him.
When the blue balloon was filled and tied, and a yellow one was placed over the bottle's top, then another colored one was filled and handed ceremoniously to Pi. He took his duty very seriously,
"Why does he het to hold all of th' balloons?" Jenny Sumrall demanded.
"Don't worry, class, you're all going to get a balloon. And your choice of color, too!" Miss Donald laughed.
Nobody noticed that Pi was beginning to have difficulty keeping his feet ob the ground. He was too intent on doing exactly what Miss Donald had instructed him to do to complain. He was soon fighting gravity's pull for all he was worth, when his beloved teacher handed him still another balloon: this one, too, was red. It was one too many. Miss Donald turned back to discuss the experiment with the class as Pi rose from the ground completely. It was not until he was almost four feet from the ground that a classmate called out, "Look!: and pointed to him.
The strange thing is that nobody made a move to stop it. They were all completely spellbound; incredulous! Even Miss Donald showed no sign of distress. She stood as though rooted to the spot, as little Pi rose higher and higher into the autumn air.
His face had a look of supreme calm. Indeed, he had never appeared happier! It was as if his natural habitat were finally being approached and his natural destiny fulfilled. This was the first time he had smiled since his father's death.
By now, his tiny body floated high above the trees surrounding the school, as he continued to hold onto balloons' strings. Up, up and ever upwards until there was just a dot on the horizon.
The entire class and teacher had stood as though transfixed through the entire tragedy. But now, they came alive with shock.
"He's gone!" one child said.
"Where's he do to?" they all asked at once.
"Oh, my God! What have I done?" Miss Donald suddenly realized the gravity of the situation.
On the very spot where Pi had stood with the balloons, his little notebook and a pair of patent leather "Barbi Doll" shoes were all that remained of him.
The family took the news with the calm and silence that was usually associated with them. But Anne had had enough. She packed their possessions, closed the little house forever, and they left as quietly as they had come.
All that remains of the Angles is the tiny house near the railroad tracks on Fourth Street. This and two lonely little graves in the cemetery nearby.
There used to be a dark and foreboding house on the corner of a street that we always had to pass along to get from Richton to Laurel, Mississippi back in the 1930's. Unlike most of the houses of that area, it was not white, but rather it was painted a darker color, either yellow or tan Since it was always called to my attention after dark, it seems, I was never sure just what color it was. I remember well that the very first time I became aware of this house as having any significance, was the first time I was taken to the South Mississippi Fair, near Laurel,
We were all packed like so many sardines into our green 1936 Chevrolet, but we didn't mind this in the least. Not only were we used to it, but we were all looking forward to the fair, including Mama.
"Mama, iddn' th' ole Keaton house somewhere around here?" George asked as Sammy drove under the railroad tracks that lead into Laurel.
"Yes. I believe it is. Slow down, Sammy," to my oldest brother.
"Mama." Sammy said peering into the darkening evening, "I think it's that house right up yonder on the left."
"You mean that one, with that spooky orange on the porch?" George asked.
"By George, I think you're right, Sammy," Mama peered as she said this. :Seems to me that is where that ole she-devil lived," wheb Mama spoke, we all perked up our eats.
:What's th' ole Keaton house?" I asked, about to burst wit curiosity.
"Oow," George intoned in a sepulchral voice, "that's where ol' Ouida Keaton killed her mother and cut her up in little pieces!"
The long hair on the back of my neck fairly stood on end as I tried to digest this story. "Sure does look spooky!" my voice was trembling.
` "And then, Si," Sammy added, not to be outdone, "they tried t'burn her in th' fireplace!"
:I wanna hear about the murder, Tell me what happened in that ole Keaton House," I pleaded now.
"Well, it's just like George says," Mama said softly. "She killed her mother an' was sent to prison for life. But they tell me she played crazy and got off with being sent to Whitfield instead."
I shuddered momentarily, but soon the lights of the fairground were sparkling in the distance and Anna pointed them out to me. The rest of the family had all seen these lights several times, but I had never seen anything like it! Those brilliant multicolored and wonderful lights of the Midway erased all thought of Ouida Keaton from my mind for many yeats to come.
Ellisville, December 1933
Margaret Eppsworth climbed the stairs and took one last look at the dance floor before going into her bedroom to change for her party. Her brand-new RCA Victrola had veen polished until it shone like diamonds, and the stack of the very latest recordings were on the table nearby. She had also remembered to get a brand new package of phonograph needles. There was going to be fifteen couples at the party, plus that odd Keaton girl with the weird name. Only she had no dance partner.
She smiled at herself as she realized that she had thought of Ouida as not only female with no escort, but also as an eccentric individual. True, she was extremely pretty, but there was always something about her that bothered Margaret. Those eyes! They seemed to look right through one.
Now, as she stepped out of her shower and dried herself with one of the luxurious huge towels, she made a mental note to check of everything to make certain all was in readiness when the guests began arriving. She wanted tonight to be truly a night that would always be remembered in Ellisville. And she had made sure that one of her guests was on the staff of Laurel's newspaper, The Laurel Leader Call.
Before going downstairs to reveive her guests, she showed the young colored man where to set up his bar, and told him to go easy with the booze. After all, Prohibition was in full swing, and had to pay Ike Harris, the local bootlegger, an arm and a leg for those fifths of Bourbon and gin.
The maid had placed the food all on the tables, under Margaret's close supervision. There was "Welsh Rarebit", kept piping hot in a sterling chafing dish; tiny little marshmallow-nut sandwiches, as well as Chicken salad sandwiches; Deviled Eggs' and "Butterfly" sandwiches on dainty crystal plates. For this delicacy, she had Roy (he was really a handyman at her husband's bank, but she kept him working in her beautiful gardens in a fenced-in back yard most of the time) crush a large chunk of ice and place the pretty little salads, on their plates, around in this. Margaret had taught her cook how to make these eye-pleasing salads by cutting slices of canned pineapple in two, and placing the two halves back-to-back at the smaller half, on a crisp lettuce leaf. This formed a remarkably attractively approximation of the wings. A halved date was used as the body. Then she added slices of pimento, cut very fine, for the antennae, and sliced stuffed olives (three slices per wing) to decorate the butterfly/s wings. Margaret congratulated the girl for doing such beautiful work, and told her to be sure to make enough mayonnaise for all thirty-six of the salads. She simply would not used store-bought mayonnaise for her beautiful salads!
The dessert table held all manner of sweets; dozens of Christmas cookies, in shapes appropriate for the season; individual pecan pies; lemon and chocolate petit-fours. Here she also had them place her crystal punch bowl and ladle as well as the cups. This was basically for those who did not want anything alcoholic. She had tried three different tables before she was satisfied that this one was just the right size: nothing must look crowded, nor should there be large empty spaces.
Later, dressed in her new gold lame gown from Maison-Blanche, in New Orleans, she stood with her husband, whose bank was the only one still in business. The other one had gone out of business within a few weeks of the crash of twenty-nine. They were ready to receive their guests.
The first two couples arrived at the same time. Roy Carter, the handyman-gardener now stood in the regalia of a true butler, and he opened the door admitting Fred and Juanita Bigelow, the vice-president of the bank and his pretty wife; and at the same time, Jesse Maynard and his wife, Anne, affectionately known as "Bitsy".
"How's that precious new baby girl?" Margaret asked Juanita.
Before his wife could make a response, Fred spoke up proudly, "Margaret, she has to be the prettiest baby in the entire world!"
"I can vouch for that," Eppsworth spoke up, "Fred brought a picture of her to the bank yesterday, and he has every right to be crowing: she is a real beauty!"
"And remind me again, what did you name her?" Margaret asked.
"Jean. You know we lost our first child-a boy. We had named him Gene, with a G. I was determined to have a child named Jean." Juanita smiled.
Jesse and "Bitsy" had stood smiling blandly throughout this exchange, and now they walked into the hallway, and at Margaret;s suggestion, proceeded up the stairs to the dance floor. The Bigelows followed them and when they were about halfway up the stairs, the doorbell rang again. Roy opened the door.
"Oh, Daisy! Y'all come on in."
Daisy Keaton entered the hallway, followed by her escort, Bill Carter, and her daughter, Ouida,
"Ouida, I'll swannee I'goodness, you just get prettier every day!" Bill Eppensworth said effusively,
"Why, thank you, Mr. Eppinsworth, Ouida said, blushing attractively.
"Call me Bill, please."
"My goodness, that makes two handsome men who have asked me to call them 'Bill' already tonight!.
:Not only is she beautiful, but she's the best danged secretary in Jones County, Bill Carter added, beaming at his employee.
"Hi, Carter," Eppinsworth said belatedly.
The phone and the doorbell now rang simultaneously. I'll get the phone- Roy, see who that is." And Margaret walked away.
She picked up the receiver and put it to her ear, after removing the large jeweled earring from her right ear. It was Helen Kolb saying that she and her husband would not be able to come, after all, because he had a miserable cold. Margaret was livid. How dare she wait until the party was in progress to call in her "regrets"? She said something appropriately sympathetic (she hoped, but did not really care one way or another) and then gave all of her attention to the guests who had just been admitted. It was Robert Brownley and that pretty blonde Jernegan girl. Was her first name Elain, Elsie, or Eloise? She could not for the life of her remember. My goodness, though, that Bob Brownley was just about the most handsome man she had seen in eons! "Good evening, Bob," she greeted him, and looked expectantly towards his date.
"Eve-nin, Miz Eppinsworth, "do you know Eloise Jernigan?"
"Why, certainly I do!" she lied, placing an arm across the young girl's shoulder. She propelled her to the base of the stairs, with Bob following them. "Y'all go on up. They're awready dancin'. If you care to join 'em. The bartender'll fix you a drink."
Well, it didn't really matter that the Kolbs were not coming, the dance floor would be awfully crowded with over thirty people trying to dance at the same time. But it would be a cold day in hell when she invited them to anything at her house! She was the perfect small-town hostess.
Upon reaching the second floor, Margaret was approached by Daisy Keaton, who seemed bent on talking with her.
"Margaret," she began, "What do you think of him?"
Daisy nodded vigorously. Margaret instinctively felt that she might even be in love with him.
"Why, Daisy, I've known Bill for years, and I've always thought him to be one of the finest men I ever met. Handsome, too."
Daisy simpered like a schoolgirl. It was obvious that she was completely smitten with her escort. "He is wonderful, isn't he? You know, Margaret. I think we're going to get married soon."
"No! Daisy, that's perfectly marvelous! Where is he now?"
"He's dancing with Ouida right now."
Margaret glanced at the two of them, dancing cheek to cheek, while seemingly lost in each other's company. "Well, I don't think I'd allow too much of that," she said, laughing and walking away to chat with some of her other guests.
Ouida was whispering in Bill's ear, even as Margaret Eppsworth glanced at them. "Let's get out of here and take mother home."
"Dearest, we can't. We just got here."
Ouida pouted. But on her, it looked good.
Eloise Gordon thought she just might be in love with Bob Townsend. Her mother, Ora Gordon said she probably was just falling for a pretty face, and that she'd best find out what kind of Christian he was first of all. Ora, whose husband had died just a year ago, had given herself entirely over to church work and charity causes. She had become a Seventh Day Adventist, and was completely absorbed in the faith. Robert seemed to be in love with Eloise, too. But he had not yet proposed marriage, and she had refused to go "all the way", as he kept urging and begging her to do.
"We been goin' together for nearly two years now," he pleaded with her even now as they danced, If you loved me even the least little bit---"
"I do love you, Robert," she whispered in his ear, "but I am not going to do anything that we both will regret later on."
Bob suddenly broke into a grin that covered his face from ear to ear. "Well, I reckon if I'm ever gonna get you t'bed, I'll just have t'marry you!"
She almost swooned, but she managed to look calm, cool and collected, as she said softly, "Yes, I guess you will."
"OK, now let's get over and get some of that great looking food. I am suddenly as hungry as a bear!"
They had just filled their plates and were about to sample the refreshments when Margaret walked over to them.
"Are you young folks havin' a good time?"
"We sure are!" Eloise said joyfully. "Bob just asked me to marry him!"
"Why, Honey, that's marvelous. Let me announce it now!"
Robert blushed furiously. "No, m'am, Miz Eppsworth, I'd just as soon you didn't do that."
" I don't know. I'd just rather you let us tell our folks first."
"Oh, all right, then," she said pleasantly, "But if I let a few people know on the sly, don't get mad at me."
"Oh, we won't. But, please let us tell Mama, first," Eloise implored her.
"It's a promise." Then she said, "Try the butterfly salad" to Claide Billings, who was walking past with his plate heaped high with food. But why did he have only fruit punch to drink? Oh, well, it was a lot cheaper than booze,
"I intend to," he said.
"It's a brand new recipe."
Someone had put "I'll see you in my dreams" on the phonograph and she looked around for her husband. It was "Their Song" and both of them loved to dance to it. She suddenly felt very romantic, Those young people! So much in love and so happy! And Ouida and Carter! She felt herself pitying Daisy Keaton. But she was not going to let anything spoil her mood tonight.
Her husband was standing to one side of the huge room, engrossed in conversation with Bill Carter. She walked over to them and said gaily, "Which one of you handsome devils will dance with a poor old forlorn woman?"
Her husband said gallantly, "Nobody had better try to take you away from me!" and swept her into his arms. He looked back at Carter and signaled that they would continue their discussion later on.
As they seemed to float above the dance floor to the strains of their favorite tune, Margaret whispered in his ear, "You're still the best looking fellow here. Or anywhere else, for that matter."
"Why, thank you, Maggie," he said, smiling. "And you're quite a dish, too."
"What was Bill Carter asking you just now?"
"Oh, just the usual thingsabout the Depression, mainly. And did I think it would go on much longer."
'Is he all right? I mean, financially?"
'Oh, sure. Carter's as solid as a rock. But business is terrible everywhere, He says some days they do well to take in ten dollars."
"Well, he just may be able to marry into a great deal of money," Margaret said.
"You mean Daisy Keaton?" he leaned back and looked at his wife. She smiled as she nodded "Yes".
"No kidding! I never dreamed she'd marry again. Nor that Bill wound, either, for that matter. But Bill's a fine man. They'll make a splendid couple."
"There's just one hitch."
"You should have seen them dancing together. If ever I saw two people who are hot for each other, it's them."
"She's a mighty attractive girl," he said/
"Girl, my foot! She's thirty if she's a day!"
"Oh, I can't believe she's that old. She looks more like sixteen or seventeen at the most!"
"Let me remind you, she was out of college two or three years before she took that business course and became Carter's secretary: and how long has she been there?"
"Time does fly. It seems like only yesterday that I heard Daisy had another daughter."
They danced on in silence. The record came to an end and Margaret spied Celeste Beamer, with whom she had not spoken all evening. She pulled her husband along with her as she approached the Beamers.
"Celeste, how in the world are you doing?"she greeted the other socialite. Celeste was dressed in a stunning red gown that was heavily encrusted with rhinestones. That must have set the good doctor, who was her husband back a few shekels, Margaret thought.
"Oh, Margaret, I tell you the truth, those two boys of mine just wear me to an absolute frazzle!:
"And what about you, Tom," Margaret asked. "Do they wear you out, too?"
Dr. Beamer laughed. "No. I could stand four or five more just like them."
"Well, Freddy and the twins are quite enough for me, thank you" very much", Celeste said leaving little doubt in their minds exactly what she meant.
"You folks have a good time. If you want anything you don't see, just ask Roy. He'll get it for you." Margaret continued to circulate among her guests, spreading her own particular brand of Southern charm and elegance.
Friday, January 11, 1930
Daisy got slowly out of her chair and walked slowly over to turn the radio off. She was getting so tired of hearing those same old phonograph records played over and over, every day- all day long. Her mood was one of almost complete depression. She had more or less resigned herself to the notion that Ouida was not going to come home to take her to the grocery store, and the sudden appearance of her unpredictable offspring filled her with dread until she saw that she was apparently in a wonderful humor. Her life lately had been full of mercurial mood shifts, usually very suddenly and over nothing in particular.
"Mother," she said breathlessly after almost running into the house. 'I've just met the man that I'm going to marry!"
Daisy blinked slowly, twice, "Really?---Where did you meet this man?---And who is he?
"His name is Bill Grace, and he was at the store when I got there this morning. He's a drummer out of Chicago,"
"You just met him and he's already proposed?"
"No. Of course not. He doesn't even know he's going to marry me, Not yet, at least. But we have a date tonight. I'm going to his hotel room."
"Now, Mother, you know Bill Carter and I have been carrying on for a long time, and you never seemed to object to that."
"I like Bill Carter. I've never even heard of this fellow you're talkingabout marrying."
"Well, dear heart, we both know that Carter is not going to divorce his wife and marry me. And she's not about to die of any thing. I'm just wasting my time there."
"But I thought you loved him so much."
"I do! But what's the use? I'm not getting any younger. I want my own home and children."
Daisy could read the warning signs. Her daughter was getting riled with her again.
"Well, Darling, you know your own heart. Doc whatever you think is the right thing to do."
"I fully intend to." Her voice had a cold edge to it. "Do you still want me to drive you to the A&P?"
"Yes, if you don't mind too much. Just let me grab a coat and hat."
If she didn't absolutely have to get groceries today, she would not trouble Ouida. Happily her daughter's mood had again brightened by the time Daisy got out at the store.
"Oh, Mother, he really is a terribly nice man! He's smart and has so much polish and styleand class!"
"Then, I am happy for you, if it works out."
When she cane home from work, Ouida was carrying a dress box from Fine Brothers, Madison and a new pair of shoes from Eismann's. Daisy
looked up and smiled at her daughter. "You got some new duds, I see."
"That's right. I want to look sensational tonight."
"You always do, dear."
"Mother, I could be wrong, but I truly feel that this morning was providential. And I'm sorry that I flared up at you, but when Bill Grace was there, it just seemed so right. We had instant attraction for each other. I could feel it and I'm sure he felt it too."
"Ouida. At the risk of making you angry, I must say that attraction is often nothing more than lust. Marriages based on that never seem to work out. There has to be mutual love and respect."
"You don't make me angry, I'm way too happy to get mad. Just let me get him any way I can. The rest will come easily. I'd bet my life on it."
She whirled into the bathroom, where she had a lengthy shower. When she emerged, dressed in her new forest green dress and matching pumps, she looked so beautiful that Daisy could scarcely believe that she was her own daughter.
"Ouida, you look lovely!"
"Thanks, Mother. May I borrow your cameo tonight, The plain dress needs some little something just to set it off perfectly."
"Of course you may, dear."
"We'll eat at the Pinehurst, so you want need to cook any supper for me tonight."
"Then, I'll just have something simplea ham sandwich, most likely,"
"And if you don't mind, I want to use your car again. I'll come back here before going to work in the morning. Of course, I'll need to change my clothes, too."
"That will be fine, Ouida," Daisy said with a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She didn't like the fact that Ouida was throwing Bill Carter over for a stranger about whom she knew absolutely nothing at all. And she didn't like the fact that she was trying to ensnare this poor unsuspecting victim. But what could she do about it?"
3. Saturday, January 12, 1930
"Well, did he pop the question?" Daisy asked when Ouida came dancing into the living room, the next morning around six thirty.
"Not yet, But he's absolutely crazy about me. I can tell."
"Well, he's invited me to meet him in Hot Springs in two weeks for a little vacation, and then he wants me to come to Chicago and enroll in the school for hotel and restaurant management when the next term begins."
"And when will that be?"
"The first of May."
"Restaurant and Hotel Management!" Daisy didn't even pretend to disguise her amazement. "When did you become interested in running a hotel?"
"Not a hotel, Mother; the restaurant part of it. You know I'm a good cook, and with the course I can become a great one, qualified to work in the best hotels in the country, or abroad,"
"Boy, it sounds like he's really feeding you a line!"
"I just knew you'd take that attitude, Mother! I am not going to stay here in Laurel, Mississippi the rest of my life, working for a two-bit hardware company and the old married man who runs it!"
With that, Ouida flounced out of the room and into the bathroom, where she ran a tub of hot water, this time. She needed to relax for a few minutes before getting ready for work.
A half hour later, when she emerged dressed for work, she said, "I'll need to take the car again, because I'm already late. Will you need me to drive you anywhere this morning?"
"No thank you," Daisy intoned coolly.
"I'll be home for lunch today."
"Mother, he left town this morning. I know you think I'm being hasty and acting unwisely, but I feel that I really know what is best for me this time."
"I pray to God that you do," her mother answered solemnly.
Bill Carter was devastated when Ouida informed him that she was quitting her job. He had some to depend on her for so many things; and he was absolutely mad about her. She had often asked him why he didn't divorce his wife and marry her, but he had tried to convince her that with his children and position in the town, it was just not practical. Also, he was very fond of his wife; not in the same way he was in love with Ouida. She was so young and vibrant. She made him feel he was a young man again, every time they were together.
"You've really given this a lot of thought, then?" he asked her when she told him of the school in chicago.
"I have, Bill. I've got to get away from Mothrt---she's becoming more and more dependent on me, and I have practically no life of my own any more. AndI need to get away from this---this situation---here" she made a sweeping gesture with her right arm.
"But I thought you were so happy here," Bill said miserably.
"I was. I could be. But, Bill, I just can't go on being your mistress any longer. Let's face facts; that's what I am. That's all I am. I feel as though everywhere I go and everybody I see knows what's going on. Even Mary."
"My wife suspects nothing."
"Then she's an even bigger fool than I've been. What makes you think that?"
He was silent.
"And your children, They must have heard gossip. After all, they're adults now."
"They'd have said something to me if they suspected anything. No, Ouida, they all love you and think of you almost like a member of our family."
"But, I never can be, can I? Not as long as Mary is alive."
He shook his head sadly. "I can see your point. I realize I've been selfish, But I do love you. You know that, don't you?"
"Yes, Bill, I do know that. And you know how much I truly love you. But we're at am impasse. I'm not getting any younger. I want a home of my own and children of my own."
He was silent for a long interval.
"So, when will you go to Chicago?" he asked finally.
"The next term doesn't start until May."
"Then how about helping me out here until then?"
"No. I've made up my mind. This phase of my life is over. Besides, I need a little vacation. I thought I might go to Hot Springs for the baths."
"OK. Take a vacation. With pay, Take a week, Take two weeks."
She considered this proposition, but briefly. "No, Bill, I want to stop working as of Saturday night."
"You're not even going to let me have two weeks' notice?"
"Oh, very well. But you're leaving me in a hell of a mess here."