Copyright © 1998 Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.,. All rights reserved.
Lily Daw and the Three Ladies
Mrs Watts and Mrs Carson were both in the post officein Victory when the letter came from the Ellisville Institutefor the Feeble Minded of Mississippi. Aimee Slocum,with her hand still full of mail, ran out in front and handed itstraight to Mrs Watts, and they all three read it together.Mrs Watts held it taut between her pink hands, and MrsCarson underscored each line slowly with her thimbled finger.Everybody else in the post office wondered what was upnow.
"What will Lily say," beamed Mrs Carson at last, "whenwe tell her we're sending her to Ellisville!"
"She'll be tickled to death," said Mrs Watts, and added ina guttural voice to a deaf lady, "Lily Daw's getting in atEllisville!"
"Don't you all dare go off and tell Lily without me!" calledAimee Slocum, trotting back to finish putting up the mail.
"Do you suppose they'll look after her down there?" MrsCarson began to carry on a conversation with a group of Baptistladies waiting in the post office. She was the Baptistpreacher's wife.
"I've always heard it was lovely down there, but crowded,"said one.
"Lily lets people walk over her so," said another.
"Last night at the tent show----" said another, and thenpopped her hand over her mouth.
"Don't mind me, I know there are such things in theworld," said Mrs Carson, looking down and fingering the tapemeasure which hung over her bosom.
"Oh, Mrs Carson. Well, anyway, last night at the tent show,why, the man was just before making Lily buy a ticket to getin."
"Till my husband went up and explained she wasn't bright,and so did everybody else."
The ladies all clucked their tongues.
"Oh, it was a very nice show," said the lady who had gone."And Lily acted so nice. She was a perfect lady--just set inher seat and stared."
"Oh, she can be a lady--she can be," said Mrs Carson,shaking her head and turning her eyes up. "That's just whatbreaks your heart."
"Yes'm, she kept her eyes on--what's that thing makes allthe commotion?--the xylophone," said the lady. "Didn't turnher head to the right or to the left the whole time. Set infront of me."
"The point is, what did she do after the show?" asked MrsWatts practically. "Lily has gotten so she is very mature forher age."
"Oh, Etta!" protested Mrs Carson, looking at her wildlyfor a moment.
"And that's how come we are sending her to Ellisville,"finished Mrs Watts.
"I'm ready, you all," said Aimee Slocum, running out withwhite powder all over her face. "Mail's up. I don't know howgood it's up."
"Well, of course, I do hope it's for the best," said severalof the other ladies. They did not go at once to take their mailout of their boxes; they felt a little left out.
The three women stood at the foot of the water tank.
"To find Lily is a different thing," said Aimee Slocum.
"Where in the wide world do you suppose she'd be?" Itwas Mrs Watts who was carrying the letter.
"I don't see a sign of her either on this side of the streetor on the other side," Mrs Carson declared as they walkedalong.
Ed Newton was stringing Redbird school tablets on thewire across the store.
"If you're after Lily, she come in here while ago and toleme she was fixin' to git married," he said.
"Ed Newton!" cried the ladies all together, clutching oneanother. Mrs Watts began to fan herself at once with the letterfrom Ellisville. She wore widow's black, and the least thingmade her hot.
"Why she is not. She's going to Ellisville, Ed," said MrsCarson gently. "Mrs Watts and I and Aimee Slocum are payingher way out of our own pockets. Besides, the boys of Victoryare on their honor. Lily's not going to get married, that's justan idea she's got in her head."
"More power to you, ladies," said Ed Newton, spankinghimself with a tablet.
When they came to the bridge over the railroad tracks, therewas Estelle Mabers, sitting on a rail. She was slowly drinkingan orange Ne-Hi.
"Have you seen Lily?" they asked her.
"I'm supposed to be out here watching for her now," saidthe Mabers girl, as though she weren't there yet. "But forJewel--Jewel says Lily come in the store while ago and pickedout a two-ninety-eight hat and wore it off. Jewel wants toswap her something else for it."
"Oh, Estelle, Lily says she's going to get married!" criedAimee Slocum.
"Well I declare," said Estelle; she never understood anything.
Loralee Adkins came riding by in her Willys-Knight, tootingthe horn to find out what they were talking about.
Aimee threw up her hands and ran out into the street."Loralee, Loralee, you got to ride us up to Lily Daws'. She'sup yonder fixing to get married!"
"Hop in, my land!"
"Well, that just goes to show you right now," said MrsWatts, groaning as she was helped into the back seat. "Whatwe've got to do is persuade Lily it will be nicer to go toEllisville."
"Just to think!"
While they rode around the corner Mrs Carson was goingon in her sad voice, sad as the soft noises in the hen house attwilight. "We buried Lily's poor defenseless mother. We gaveLily all her food and kindling and every stitch she had on.Sent her to Sunday school to learn the Lord's teachings, hadher baptized a Baptist. And when her old father commencedbeating her and tried to cut her head off with the butcherknife, why, we went and took her away from him and gaveher a place to stay."
The paintless frame house with all the weather vanes wasthree stories high in places and had yellow and violetstained-glass windows in front and gingerbread around theporch. It leaned steeply to one side, toward the railroad, andthe front steps were gone. The car full of ladies drew up underthe cedar tree.
"Now Lily's almost grown up," Mrs Carson continued. "Infact, she's grown," she concluded, getting out.
"Talking about getting married," said Mrs Watts disgustedly."Thanks, Loralee, you run on home."
They climbed over the dusty zinnias onto the porch andwalked through the open door without knocking.
"There certainly is always a funny smell in this house. I sayit every time I come," said Aimee Slocum.
Lily was there, in the dark of the hall, kneeling on the floorby a small open trunk.
When she saw them she put a zinnia in her mouth, andheld still.
"Hello, Lily," said Mrs Carson reproachfully.
"Hello," said Lily. In a minute she gave a suck on the zinniastem that sounded exactly like a jay bird. There she sat, wearinga petticoat for a dress, one of the things Mrs Carson keptafter her about. Her milky-yellow hair streamed freely downfrom under a new hat. You could see the wavy scar on herthroat if you knew it was there.
Mrs Carson and Mrs Watts, the two fattest, sat in the doublerocker. Aimee Slocum sat on the wire chair donated fromthe drugstore that burned.
"Well, what are you doing, Lily?" asked Mrs Watts, wholed the rocking.
The trunk was old and lined with yellow and brown paper,with an asterisk pattern showing in darker circles and rings.Mutely the ladies indicated to each other that they did notknow where in the world it had come from. It was emptyexcept for two bars of soap and a green washcloth, which Lilywas now trying to arrange in the bottom.
"Go on and tell us what you're doing, Lily," said AimeeSlocum.
"Packing, silly," said Lily.
"Where are you going?"
"Going to get married, and I bet you wish you was menow," said Lily. But shyness overcame her suddenly, and shepopped the zinnia back into her mouth.
"Talk to me, dear," said Mrs Carson. "Tell old Mrs Carsonwhy you want to get married."
"No," said Lily, after a moment's hesitation.
"Well, we've thought of something that will be somuch nicer," said Mrs Carson. "Why don't you go to Ellisville!"
"Won't that be lovely?" said Mrs Watts. "Goodness, yes."
"It's a lovely place," said Aimee Slocum uncertainly.
"You've got bumps on your face," said Lily.
"Aimee, dear, you stay out of this, if you don't mind," saidMrs Carson anxiously. "I don't know what it is comes overLily when you come around her."
Lily stared at Aimee Slocum meditatively.
"There! Wouldn't you like to go to Ellisville now?" askedMrs Carson.
"No'm," said Lily.
"Why not?" All the ladies leaned down toward her in impressiveastonishment.
"'Cause I'm goin' to get married," said Lily.
"Well, and who are you going to marry, dear?" asked MrsWatts. She knew how to pin people down and make themdeny what they'd already said.
Lily bit her lip and began to smile. She reached into thetrunk and held up both cakes of soap and wagged them.
"Tell us," challenged Mrs Watts. "Who you're going tomarry, now."
"A man last night."
There was a gasp from each lady. The possible reality of alover descended suddenly like a summer hail over their heads.Mrs Watts stood up and balanced herself.
"One of those show fellows! A musician!" she cried.
Lily looked up in admiration.
"Did he--did he do anything to you?" In the long run, itwas still only Mrs Watts who could take charge.
"Oh, yes'm," said Lily. She patted the cakes of soap fastidiouslywith the tips of her small fingers and tucked them inwith the washcloth.
"What?" demanded Aimee Slocum, rising up and totteringbefore her scream. "What?" she called out in the hall.
"Don't ask her what," said Mrs Carson, coming up behind."Tell me, Lily--just yes or no--are you the same as youwere?"
"He had a red coat," said Lily graciously. "He took littlesticks and went ping-pong! ding-gong!"
"Oh, I think I'm going to faint," said Aimee Slocum, butthey said, "No, you're not."
"The xylophone!" cried Mrs Watts. "The xylophone player!Why, the coward, he ought to be run out of town on a rail!"
"Out of town? He is out of town, by now," cried Aimee."Can't you read?--the sign in the cafe--Victory on the ninth,Como on the tenth? He's in Como. Como!"
"All right! We'll bring him back!" cried Mrs Watts. "Hecan't get away from me!"
"Hush," said Mrs Carson. "I don't think it's any use followingthat line of reasoning at all. It's better in the long runfor him to be gone out of our lives for good and all. Thatkind of a man. He was after Lily's body alone and he wouldn'tever in this world make the poor little thing happy, even if wewent out and forced him to marry her like he ought--at thepoint of a gun."
"Still----" began Aimee, her eyes widening.
"Shut up," said Mrs Watts. "Mrs Carson, you're right, Iexpect."
"This is my hope chest--see?" said Lily politely in the pausethat followed. "You haven't even looked at it. I've already gotsoap and a washrag. And I have my hat--on. What are youall going to give me?"
"Lily," said Mrs Watts, starting over, "we'll give you lotsof gorgeous things if you'll only go to Ellisville instead ofgetting married."
"What will you give me?" asked Lily.
"I'll give you a pair of hemstitched pillowcases," said MrsCarson.
"I'll give you a big caramel cake," said Mrs Watts.
"I'll give you a souvenir from Jackson--a little toy bank,"said Aimee Slocum. "Now will you go?"
"No," said Lily.
"I'll give you a pretty little Bible with your name on it inreal gold," said Mrs Carson.
"What if I was to give you a pink crape de chine brassierewith adjustable shoulder straps?" asked Mrs Watts grimly.
"Well, she needs it," said Mrs Watts. "What would theythink if she ran all over Ellisville in a petticoat looking like aFiji?"
"I wish I could go to Ellisville," said Aimee Slocum luringly.
"What will they have for me down there?" asked Lily softly.
"Oh! lots of things. You'll have baskets to weave, I expect. ..." MrsCarson looked vaguely at the others.
"Oh, yes indeed, they will let you make all sorts of baskets,"said Mrs Watts; then her voice too trailed off.
"No'm, I'd rather get married," said Lily.
"Lily Daw! Now that's just plain stubbornness!" cried MrsWatts. "You almost said you'd go and then you took it back!"
"We've all asked God, Lily," said Mrs Carson finally, "andGod seemed to tell us--Mr Carson, too--that the place whereyou ought to be, so as to be happy, was Ellisville."
Lily looked reverent, but still stubborn.
"We've really just got to get her there--now!" screamedAimee Slocum all at once. "Suppose----! She can't stayhere!"
"Oh no, no, no," said Mrs Carson hurriedly. "We mustn'tthink that."
They sat sunken in despair.
"Could I take my hope chest--to go to Ellisville?" askedLily shyly, looking at them sidewise.
"Why, yes," said Mrs Carson blankly.
Silently they rose once more to their feet.
"Oh, if I could just take my hope chest!"
"All the time it was just her hope chest," Aimee whispered.
Mrs Watts struck her palms together. "It's settled!"
"Praise the fathers," murmured Mrs Carson.
Lily looked up at them, and her eyes gleamed. She cockedher head and spoke out in a proud imitation of someone--someoneutterly unknown.
The ladies had been nodding and smiling and backing awaytoward the door.
"I think I'd better stay," said Mrs Carson, stopping in hertracks. "Where--where could she have learned that terribleexpression?"
"Pack up," said Mrs Watts. "Lily Daw is leaving for Ellisvilleon Number One."
In the station the train was puffing. Nearly everyone in Victorywas hanging around waiting for it to leave. The VictoryCivic Band had assembled without any orders and was scatteredthrough the crowd. Ed Newton gave false signals tostart on his bass horn. A crate full of baby chickens got looseon the platform. Everybody wanted to see Lily all dressed up,but Mrs Carson and Mrs Watts had sneaked her into the trainfrom the other side of the tracks.
The two ladies were going to travel as far as Jackson to helpLily change trains and be sure she went in the right direction.
Lily sat between them on the plush seat with her haircombed and pinned up into a knot under a small blue hatwhich was Jewel's exchange for the pretty one. She wore atraveling dress made out of part of Mrs Watts's last summer'smourning. Pink straps glowed through. She had a purse anda Bible and a warm cake in a box, all in her lap.
Aimee Slocum had been getting the outgoing mail stampedand bundled. She stood in the aisle of the coach now, tearsshaking from her eyes.
"Good-by, Lily," she said. She was the one who felt things.
"Good-by, silly," said Lily.
"Oh, dear, I hope they get our telegram to meet her inEllisville!" Aimee cried sorrowfully, as she thought how faraway it was. "And it was so hard to get it all in ten words,too."
"Get off, Aimee, before the train starts and you break yourneck," said Mrs Watts, all settled and waving her dressy fangaily. "I declare, it's so hot, as soon as we get a few miles outof town I'm going to slip my corset down."
"Oh, Lily, don't cry down there. Just be good, and do whatthey tell you--it's all because they love you." Aimee drew hermouth down. She was backing away, down the aisle.
Lily laughed. She pointed across Mrs Carson's bosom outthe window toward a man. He had stepped off the train andjust stood there, by himself. He was a stranger and wore acap.
"Look," she said, laughing softly through her fingers.
"Don't--look," said Mrs Carson very distinctly, as if, outof all she had ever spoken, she would impress these two solemnwords upon Lily's soft little brain. She added, "Don'tlook at anything till you get to Ellisville."
Outside, Aimee Slocum was crying so hard she almost raninto the stranger. He wore a cap and was short and seemedto have on perfume, if such a thing could be.
"Could you tell me, madam," he said, "where a little ladylives in this burg name of Miss Lily Daw?" He lifted hiscap--and he had red hair.
"What do you want to know for?" Aimee asked before sheknew it.
"Talk louder," said the stranger. He almost whispered, himself.
"She's gone away--she's gone to Ellisville!"
"Gone to Ellisville!"
"Well, I like that!" The man stuck out his bottom lip andpuffed till his hair jumped.
"What business did you have with Lily?" cried Aimee suddenly.
"We was only going to get married, that's all," said theman.
Aimee Slocum started to scream in front of all those people.She almost pointed to the long black box she saw lying onthe ground at the man's feet. Then she jumped back in fright.
"The xylophone! The xylophone!" she cried, looking backand forth from the man to the hissing train. Which was moreterrible? The bell began to ring hollowly, and the man wastalking.
"Did you say Ellisville? That in the state of Mississippi?"Like lightning he had pulled out a red notebook entitled,"Permanent Facts & Data." He wrote down something. "Idon't hear well."
Aimee nodded her head up and down, and circled aroundhim.
Under "Ellis-Ville Miss" he was drawing a line; now he wasflicking it with two little marks. "Maybe she didn't say shewould. Maybe she said she wouldn't." He suddenly laughedvery loudly, after the way he had whispered. Aimee jumpedback. "Women!--Well, if we play anywheres near Ellisville,Miss., in the future I may look her up and I may not," hesaid.
The bass horn sounded the true signal for the band to begin.White steam rushed out of the engine. Usually the trainstopped for only a minute in Victory, but the engineer knewLily from waving at her, and he knew this was her big day.
"Wait!" Aimee Slocum did scream. "Wait, mister! I can gether for you. Wait, Mister Engineer! Don't go!"
Then there she was back on the train, screaming in MrsCarson's and Mrs Watts's faces.
"The xylophone player! The xylophone player to marry her!Yonder he is!"
"Nonsense," murmured Mrs Watts, peering over the othersto look where Aimee pointed. "If he's there I don't see him.Where is he? You're looking at One-Eye Beasley."
"The little man with the cap--no, with the red hair!Hurry!"
"Is that really him?" Mrs Carson asked Mrs Watts in wonder."Mercy! He's small, isn't he?"
"Never saw him before in my life!" cried Mrs Watts. Butsuddenly she shut up her fan.
"Come on! This is a train we're on!" cried Aimee Slocum.Her nerves were all unstrung.
"All right, don't have a conniption fit, girl," said Mrs Watts."Come on," she said thickly to Mrs Carson.
"Where are we going now?" asked Lily as they struggleddown the aisle.
"We're taking you to get married," said Mrs. Watts. "MrsCarson, you'd better phone up your husband right there inthe station."
"But I don't want to git married," said Lily, beginning towhimper. "I'm going to Ellisville."
"Hush, and we'll all have some ice-cream cones later,"whispered Mrs Carson.
Just as they climbed down the steps at the back end of thetrain, the band went into "Independence March."
The xylophone player was still there, patting his foot. Hecame up and said, "Hello, Toots. What's up--tricks?" andkissed Lily with a smack, after which she hung her head.
"So you're the young man we've heard so much about,"said Mrs Watts. Her smile was brilliant. "Here's your' littleLily."
"What say?" asked the xylophone player.
"My husband happens to be the Baptist preacher of Victory,"said Mrs Carson in a loud, clear voice. "Isn't that lucky?I can get him here in five minutes: I know exactly where heis."
They were in a circle around the xylophone player, all goinginto the white waiting room.
"Oh, I feel just like crying, at a time like this," said AimeeSlocum. She looked back and saw the train moving slowlyaway, going under the bridge at Main Street. Then it disappearedaround the curve.
"Oh, the hope chest!" Aimee cried in a stricken voice.
"And whom have we the pleasure of addressing?" MrsWatts was shouting, while Mrs Carson was ringing up thetelephone.
The band went on playing. Some of the people thoughtLily was on the train, and some swore she wasn't. Everybodycheered, though, and a straw hat was thrown into the telephonewires.