“Well, I was talking to Mrs. Hikes after the fun’r’l,” said Mrs. Libby, still devouring the dough. “He boarded to the Hikeses’, you see, ‘n’ she had it as pat as her own,” and then Mrs. Libby mentioned calmly a name that now you can hardly pass a book-stall without reading, a name that of late is a synonym for marvellous and unprecedented success in the literary world. I had met this great man at a reception the winter before; let me rather say, I had stood reverently on the outskirts of a crowd of adorers that flocked around him. I looked so fixedly at Mrs. Libby that her smile broadened.
“Don’t know him, do you?” she queried.
“I think I have met him,” I replied. “Was he engaged to Agnes Rayne?”
Mrs. Libby waited to pierce a loaf of cake with a broom splint. She ran her thick fingers carefully along the splint and then turned the brown loaf on to a sieve.
“Mrs. Hikes says she don’t believe a word of it. Folks think he just courted her one spell that summer, not real serious, just to pass the time away, you might say, like many another young man. Mrs. Hikes says, she never heard of him writin’ to her, or anything, ‘n’ if he had, old Hawkins that brings the mail couldn’t have kep’ it, any more’n he could keep the news he reads off postal cards. They talked enough first about her being love-cracked, but there wa’n’t any signs of it I could hear, excep’ her trailin’ ’round the beach, ‘n’ looking wimbly, ‘n’ not doin’ jus’ like other folks. She never said a word to anybody. Might ‘a’ been it turned her some,” said Mrs. Libby, thoughtfully, rolling the flour in white scales from her heavy wrists. “Might ‘a’ been she was queer any way—sending off to the city for white silk gowns, ‘n’ things to wear in that old rack of boards, jus’ because she was bein’ courted. Most would ‘a’ kep’ the money ‘gainst their fittin’ out. I guess that was all there was, jus’ a little triflin’, ‘n’ she took it in earnest. Well, it don’t make any difference now,” she concluded coolly, as she turned to her sink of baking-dishes.
I sat listening stupidly to her heavy tread, to the cheery clash of the tins as she washed and put them in place. To never know any more! Yet after all, I knew all that could be known, strangely enough. Then, with a long shiver, I remembered the small closet beside the chimney with its empty, dusty shelves.
“Mrs. Libby,” said I, rising, “I think I will go back to the city to-morrow.”
The landlord called it an apartment-house, the tenants called their three or four little closets of rooms, flats, and perhaps if you or I had chanced to be in West —— Street, near the river, and had glanced up at the ugly red brick structure, with the impracticable fire-escape crawling up its front, like an ugly spider, we should have said it was a common tenement house.