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Joseph C. Lincoln bibliography
posted Feb 2006

from MARRIAGE: Short Stories of Married Life by American Writers

The American edition is:

Marriage; short stories of married life by American writers, Tarkington, Cutting, Hergersheimer, Miller, Street, Delano, Norris, Gale, Harrison, Kelland, Hopper, Adams, Webster, Lincoln.   
Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, Page & company, 1923.

This posting was scanned from the British edition, by Hodder & Stoughton, London, which seems undated and has 6 more authors represented:
Tarkington, Cutting, Hergesheimer, Miller, Street, Delano, Norris, Gale, Harrison, Kelland, Hopper, Adams, Butler, Foster, Hughes, Dreiser, Cooper, Turner, Webster, Lincoln


pages 314-325

The Pie and the Past

BY JOSEPH C. LINCOLN

MRS. LURELIA ELLIS took the cranberry pie from the oven and set it on the back of the stove. It was a successful pie, if she said it as shouldn't; crisp, flaky brown crust; crimson, juicy filling; a very good pie indeed. But, good as it was, it was not too good for Obed. Nothing was too good for a husband like Obed Ellis.

    They had been married but a month. She had come from Cape Ann to Cape Cod to act as housekeeper and companion for old Mrs. Bailey at Trumet. On the first of September she had taken a day's holiday and, in common with at least one half of Trumet's population, excursioned to the county fair at Ostable. There, lonely in all the great crowd, she had stopped before the booth where one might, for the small sum of five cents, toss three rings at a rack of pegs. These pegs were numbered. If one were fortunate enough—or skilful enough—to ring a peg, one received a prize. The prizes were more or less valuable—principally less. A red-faced person with pink and white shirtsleeves made strenuous announcement.

    "Here y' are, ladies and gents!" he bawled. "Here y' are! Toss 'em in and ring 'em out. A genuwme guaranteed prize for each and every ringer. Look at 'em, ladies and gents, LOOK at 'em! Australian solid nickel-silver scarf pins! Genuwine New Jersey ivory napkin holders! Alaska diamond-studded hair combs for the ladies! Three chances for a nickel, half a dime, five cents! Toss 'em in and ring 'em out!"

    Lurelia noticed that while many tossed them in, but few succeeded in ringing them out. Then a newcomer laid down a nickel and prepared to try his luck. He was, she thought, a striking looking man, thick set, broad-shouldered, sunburned, wearing a blue uniform with brass buttons and a blue yachting cap. Like her, and therefore unlike the majority of the people on the fair grounds, he seemed to be quite alone. She had been on the point of moving on; now she stayed to watch him make the trial.

    Two rings he tossed and each shot, although close, was a miss. The third, however, fairly encircled a peg. The red-faced person lifted both pink and white shirtsleeves in the air.

    "Look at that!" he bellowed. "LOOK at it! The gent rings number thirty-two, winnin' the genuwine Alaska studded di'mond lady's hair comb! He lays down five cents and he takes away a hundred dollars—more or less. There you are, sir! There's the genuwine Alaska. Shall I hand it to you or will your wife put it on now and give the congregation a treat?"

    Lurelia was standing beside the winner of the prize. The red-faced person was dramatically offering her the comb. She blushed furiously. The lookers-on, divining the mistake, cheered and laughed. She hurried away. A moment later she felt a touch on her elbow. The broad-shouldered man in the blue uniform had followed her. His embarrassment seemed to be as great as hers.

    "Ma'am," he stammered, "I—I wish you'd take it. I—I'd like you to have it first rate. I'm all alone, and—and it ain't a bit of use to me, honest."

    She drew herself up. Lurelia was nothing if not proper. She had never flirted in all the thirty-five years of her life. Having read a great deal, she knew exactly what and how to reply.

    "Sir!!" she exclaimed.

    "Yes 'm," said the man, removing the yachting cap. "I wish you would take it. That—that feller was a fool and if you say so I'll punch his nose. Shall I?"

    She was momentarily startled out of her propriety.

    "Oh, no!" she exclaimed.

    "I will if you say so. He's a smart alick and he'd ought to be licked. But—but, honest, I do wish you'd take this thing. 'Twould look nice on you, and—and I ain't got nobody of my own to give it to.

    I'm a stranger here. Won't you take it, please? I—I don't mean it fresh nor nothin'."

    Lurelia looked at him. He was about her age or a little older. He had an honest face, if she ever saw one. He was blushing and did not at all resemble the bold, bad lady-killers of whom she had read in her favourite romances.

    She hesitated. Then . . . well, then her own romance began.

    Before she returned to Trumet that evening she had learned much concerning the man in the blue uniform. His name was Obed Ellis. He was a bachelor, had been to sea in his younger days, had since worked hard at various employments on shore, and was now acting as watchman and caretaker in charge of the property of the big hotel at Orham. During the summer he was in command of the hotel pier and boats, but now, as the season was over, had more leisure. His wages, he informed her with satisfaction, "went on just the same, summer or winter." He was a Methodist, a Republican, and his life was insured for two thousand dollars. He was alone in the world, just as she was.

    Together they inspected the poultry and live-stock exhibits. He treated her to salt-water taffy, ice cream soda, and a "shore dinner" in the refreshment tent. They saw the trotting races and the balloon ascension. Before bidding her good-bye at the railway station he informed her that he owned an automobile, and, if she "hadn't no objection," he would kind of like to drive over one of these days and take her to ride.

    The following Saturday afternoon he did drive over. The ride was delightful; the little car rattled and "skipped" but kept going. A week later he came again, and twice during the week following. A month later he proposed marriage. It was then that she told him of her other love affair. When she was eighteen she had been engaged to a man who kept a billiard saloon at Pigeon Cove. Later she broke the engagement.

    "I found out," she said, with a shudder, "that he was dissipated. He never told me, but once I saw him drunk—intoxicated, I mean. He had been drinkin' whiskey then, but when he couldn't get that he drank Jamaica ginger. He'd been arrested and in the lock-up two or three times. If he'd told me I might have forgiven him; I was a girl and I probably should have forgiven him and been sorry afterward. But he'd never told me and I couldn't forgive that. That's why I'm tellin' you this now, Obed. The time to tell such things is before marriage, not afterward. There mustn't be secrets between husband and wife. I've read too many stories in books about folks with a past gettin' married, and nothin' but misery ever came of it. If you've got anything in your past life now is the time to tell me of it, Obed."

    "Sure thing!" agreed Obed promptly. " What do you say, Lurelia? Will you marry me?"

    She said yes, and six weeks later they were married and she came to Orham to live with him in the little cottage at the rear of the hotel property. Now, a very happy wife, she was making him a cranberry pie because he liked it better than any other kind.

    The pie baked, and the table in the dining room set for dinner, she stepped to the kitchen door to see if he was in sight. He was not, but someone else was, a disreputable male, who was sauntering toward her across the backyard. His clothes, his hat, his unshaven face, classified him in her judgment as a tramp. She was not afraid of tramps and asked him what he wanted.

    "Ma'am," he said, "does anybody name of Ellis live here?"

    "Mr. Obed Ellis lives here," she replied; "but he's out. I'm Mrs. Ellis."

    The tramp nodded. "They told me this was his hang-out," he observed. "I thought I'd just stop in and see him. So you're his wife, eh? I didn't know he was married."

    She looked him over, and closer inspection did not make her estimate more favourable.

    "Did you wish to see him particularly?" she asked. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

    He grinned. "I shouldn't wonder," he said. " 'Course I'd like to see Obe all right enough, but you'll do. I'm out of luck, down and out, as you might say, and I ain't had a square meal for a week. If there's any grub around loose I could use it. I know Obe would give me a hand-out if he was here, for old time's sake."

    She hesitated. This man did not look like the kind of friend her husband would be likely to have, but misfortune might come to any one.

    "Come in and sit down," she said. He came into the spotless kitchen and sat down upon one of her freshly scrubbed chairs. He looked about the room, crossed his dingy, ragged-trousered legs, and sniffed.

    "Say," he observed cheerfully, "that pie over there smells good to me."

    She did not take the hint. "I can give you some cold meat and bread and butter," she said coldly. "Will that do?"

    He grinned. "And a slab of that pie, eh?" he queried.

    "I should say not! That pie is for my husband. If the meat and bread and a cup of tea won't satisfy you, then------"

    "Oh, they'll satisfy me all right, if there's enough of 'em. Just watch what I do to 'em. Trot 'em out."

    She filled a plate and put it and the cup of tea on the kitchen table. "So you used to know Mr. Ellis?" she observed. "What is your name?"

    He grinned again, as well as one can grin with a mouth full.

    "My name is Dugan," he said; "Mike Dugan, but they don't generally call me that. Got any more tea?"

    She refilled the cup. "Where did you and my husband know each other?" she asked.

    "Oh, over in the pen—the jail, I mean."

    The teapot did not fall from her hand, but it came very near it.

    "The jail!" she exclaimed. "Why—why, what jail?"

    "The Ostable jail, of course. There ain't no other in these diggin's. Obe and me were in there at the same time."

    She placed the teapot very carefully upon the stove. Then she stepped to the window and pretended to look out. The man at the table did not look at her, he was too busy with the eatables, but she remained at the window for several minutes, her back toward him. When she spoke she did not turn, being fearful that he might notice how pale she had become, but she tried hard to keep the trouble from her voice.

    "When was this?" she asked.

    "Eh? Oh, I dunno. Four years ago, maybe. How about comin' acrost with the butter?"

    She put the butter plate beside him.

    "You and—and my husband were in—in the jail together four years ago?" she asked.

    "Sure, Mike!"

    "What—why was he there?"

    "Eh? Oh, same thing that gets 'em all. Needed the coin, I guess. Didn't he never tell you?"

    She wanted to cry, but instead she tried to laugh.

    "Of course he told me," she affirmed bravely. "He—he always tells me everything."

    "Does, eh? Say—now! Haw, haw! Tells you everything! That's good, that is. Did he tell you about me?"

    "No. Why should he?"

    "Why not? Forgot it, most likely. He hadn't ought to forgot me, though. We seen a whole lot of each other them two weeks."

    "Was—was you in there for—for stealin'?"

    " Me! Not on your life! Rum was my ruin, same as it's been a whole lot of others. Eh? Haw, haw!"

    "How long was—was Mr. Ellis there?"

    "I dunno. Year or so, maybe. I ain't seen him since. He got his discharge a week afore they let me loose."

    A familiar step sounded on the walk by the side door. Lurelia started.

    "You—you stay right here," she commanded. "Don't you go away. And don't you speak or—or move. My husband is comin'. We—we'll surprise him."

    She hurried into the dining room, closing the kitchen door behind her. The familiar step came nearer. The side door, that from the walk to the dining room, opened. Obed came in.

    "Ship ahoy, old lady!" he hailed jovially. "Dinner ready? Ain't late, I hope, am I? Why, what's the matter?"

    She faced him, white and trembling, but firm.

    "Obed," she said, "sit down. Dinner'll be ready in a minute. Sit down. I want to—to speak to you about somethin'."

    He sat down, regarding her wonderingly.

    "To speak to me?" he repeated. "For the land sakes, what's happened? Is the cow dead?"

    "No. . . . Oh, don't laugh! ... I don't feel funny just now. . . . Obed, do you remember that time when you asked me to marry you?"

    "Eh? . . . Well, say! do you think I'd be liable to forget it? Luckiest day in my life that was. Why——"

    "Hush! Obed, I asked you then if—if you had a past."

    "A which?"

    "A past. Some secret in your life you hadn't told me. You said no. I ask you again. Have you?"

    He stared at her. "Have you?" she repeated.

    "What—?" Say—! No, of course I ain't."

    "Obed—oh, don't lie to me! I couldn't ever forgive your lyin' to me."

    "Lie? To you? Who said I'd ever lied to you? I'll break the swab's everlastin' neck!"

    "Hush! Sit right down again in that chair. Obed, was you ever in the Ostable jail?"

    He hesitated. Then he coloured.

    "Why—why, yes," he admitted. "But I didn't think——"

    "Oh, hush! Be still! You were there and—and you never told me?"

    "Why—well, no, I didn't. You see, I was kind of ashamed, and—it didn't amount to nothin' much, anyhow."

    "Didn't amount to anything! Oh, my soul, how can you talk so? Did you know a man there named —what was it—Dugan?"

    "Dugan? Yes, certain. Tough-lookin' critter, reg'lar tramp. In there for bein' drunk and smashin' windows and raisin' hob generally. Yes, I knew him. He was the only one I had to look after for one spell. We got to be kind of—well, chummy, as you might say. 'Twas lonesome bein' janitor and keeper and everything else in a place like that one-horse Ostable jail, and a feller has to talk to somebody. The sheriff, he only come around once in a while,so—

    "Wait! Oh, wait! You were—a keeper there—in the jail?"

    "Sure! I suppose likely I had ought to have told you about it, Lurelia; but, you see, I was kind of ashamed, same as I said. 'Twan't much of a job, but I took it 'cause Mother was sick—'twas just afore she died—and the boat shop where I'd been workin' had shut down and I needed money. Then, another thing made me ashamed of it, was on account of bein' fired. Politics 'twas. Jim Leghorn, he was sheriff, and he give me my walkin' papers to make room for another Democrat, same as him. Only job I ever was discharged from, that jail job was. I'm sorry I never told you, Lurelia, but . . . Eh? How did you come to know about it and—and that Dugan tramp ?''

    She did not answer. Instead she hurried out into the kitchen, closing the door. The kitchen was empty, so were the plates and the tea cup on the table. So was the chair where her recent visitor had been sitting. So, too, was the rack on the back of the stove where the cranberry pie had been put to keep it warm.

    A moment later she entered the dining room. She leaned over her husband and put her arms about his neck.

    "Obed," she said, laughing and sobbing together, "I—I'm awfully sorry, but you won't have any cranberry pie this noon. I——"

Obed interrupted. "Cranberry pie!" he repeated. "Who's' talkin' about cranberry pie? I want to know why you——"

    "Yes, yes, dear. Of course you do. And I'm goin' to tell you. But first I want to tell you how bad I feel about that pie. I—I'll make two for supper, and you can eat them both, all of 'em, if you want to."

    THE END


Thanks to Richard Curry for finding this story.