NO ONE KNOWS:
FROM CHAPTER EIGHT:
(Robert has been Miranda’s bridegroom in a high school operetta, but has stood her up on a date afterward, revenging himself because she wouldn’t kiss him—except on stage.)
I would hate operettas the rest of my life, of course. And yet The Gypsy Girl turned out to be helpful after all. Con had watched me being kissed by somebody else two nights in a row. He'd had to imagine me dating his cousin.
Con couldn't stand it. "Marry me," Con begged the very next afternoon.
How heartless I was. "But I've only known you six weeks!" I told him, and rumpled his silk tie and his thick, nicely-combed hair--his hair was pretty.
I wouldn't do anything as stupid as answering Yes right away, of course, but I kissed him and kissed him, because he couldn't have said anything that was more comforting, and I couldn’t help but compare him with Robert. Con was... grown up. Yes. He was kind. And he was the marrying kind, too--not somebody who picked up and dropped girls as if he were a shopper at a sale. I went to school on Monday with Con's proposal like a suit of armor between me and the sight of Robert and Mary Hogan holding hands in the hall.
"Aren't you being awfully cold with Mr. Beale?" my aunt asked that week. I don't know how warm she thought I could get in a parlor with the door open, but she never caught us near each other when she came in, because the hall floor squeaked.
Four days seemed like a decent time to keep saying, "Maybe," and "We'll see," and "Let me think about it." How did I know how long I should treat Con like that? It seemed cruel. "It's just that I'm so young," I told him the fourth day. "If I marry, I can't work and make money enough to go to college."
"You want to go to college?" Con said, letting me go enough to look in my eyes. "You can go even if you're married. We've got a college right here in town. Will that do?"
"Oh, yes," I breathed, amazed and awed, and I gave Con such a smile that he batted his long eyelashes.
"I need you so much," he said.
"Do you?" I said. I was on his lap with my arms around his neck.
"More than anything in the world."
"I'm the most ordinary girl in Cedar Falls," I said. "You're such a kind person--"
"Ordinary!" Con cried. "I've never known anyone like you. You're beautiful, but it's more than that--you're so bright and warm--you light up everything wherever you are."
I hugged and kissed him. His brown eyes were so earnest, looking into mine.
"Conrad Raymond Beale," I said solemnly, because it was a solemn moment, "I'm nothing like an angel, and never will be, but if you can stand to marry ordinary Miranda Daisy Letty, she'll be very proud to marry you."
How Con's face lit up! He grabbed me and set me on my feet and hugged me and kissed me and looked dazed with happiness; I felt awed, seeing what I'd done. He wouldn't wait one minute--he'd seen my uncle pass by outside the parlor window and come in the house.
Con bent down to our little parlor mirror to comb his hair and check for lipstick and straighten his tie, and off he went to knock on my uncle's study door.
I put more lipstick on--my hands were trembling--and combed my hair, while the thought of dear Con filled my head, the parlor, the house, the years ahead--big and safe, and peaceful. I couldn't stay in the parlor: it seemed as tiny as a birdcage. I waited in the hall.
When Con came from the study, Aunt Gertrude was halfway downstairs, staring at us. "I've asked your uncle," Con said to me, and my aunt's mouth started to fall open before she caught it and shut it--I saw her. "I'd like you to be present, too."
So Con and I went into the study and shut the door behind us.
"Mr. Beale has told me that you've agreed to marry him," Uncle Boyd said to me, looking stern.
"Yes," I said, smiling up at Con.
"Well," my uncle said in a thoughtful voice.
My uncle said, "Hmm." He was a minister, but he knew how to discuss such things, since he'd gone through them himself, and was a businessman with a church to run.
"If I were volunteering for the war, sir, I'd ask Miranda to wait for me," Con said. "But my father can't run the Beale Company. If I enlist, there's no one to do it. We've got important war contracts already, and we'll have more. I'll just be another serviceman if I volunteer, but if I stay home I can keep the plant going so local people won't lose their jobs, and the armed forces will get years of our fighting materiel. And the draft board won't let me enlist, of course. I don't like it, but that's the way it is."
"Not going to war with your friends?" my uncle said, peering up at Con. "Not being able to say later that you fought? They might even call you a profiteer."
"Yes, sir," Con said. "Some people probably will."
I heard admiration in my uncle's voice. "You haven't had an easy choice to make. What does your father say?"
"He doesn't like it. He says people will look down on us if I'm a 'draft dodger.' He fought in the first world war. He thinks he can run the Beale Company if I volunteer."
"But he can't?"
"No, sir. He's in great pain--has been ever since his accident. He insists on going to the plant every day, but he hasn't been able to do the work for years."
The two men looked at each other for a moment in silence.
"I know I'm five years older than Miranda," Con said.
"You are indeed," Uncle Boyd said, and frowned as if five years were five feet of solid rock between Con and me.
"She won't want for a thing," Con said. "Though we will have to live with my father for a while. She plans to go to I.S.T.C., and I'll be glad to pay her college expenses. And I'll settle ten thousand dollars on her, too. In the bank. Under her own name."
My uncle's study suddenly wore that amazing look that surroundings have when a miracle occurs. I stared at Con's highly polished shoes as if they were the only thing that kept the house from blowing away.
"That's...fair," Uncle Boyd managed to say after a pause. You could buy a big house for ten thousand dollars. I felt dizzy. All I could think of was: College. Ten thousand dollars.
My uncle said a prayer for us, Con went home, and I came out of that parlor an absolutely new person, carrying my happiness as if it were a wild bird that might escape from me and spread its huge wings.
Aunt Gertrude was waiting in the hall. "Did Con ask?" she said, jiggling the baby in her arms so he wouldn't fuss.
"Of course he did. He's going to pay for my college too," I said, and opened the icebox door.
My aunt had been making little bitty tea sandwiches for the Ladies Relief Society that afternoon. Each quartet of crustless triangles was wrapped in waxed paper, and nobody--not even my uncle--would dare touch one. I took out a package, unwrapped it, and ate all four quarters.
I still remember the taste of that egg salad on white bread, and the expression on Aunt Gertrude's face. Have you ever seen a dog making for you across a yard, determined to chew your leg off, until he's suddenly yanked back by his chain?
That's the way Aunt Gertrude looked. She was stopped in her tracks. She couldn't save those sandwiches--she was vibrating all over, speechless. I had more amazing secrets--she could feel it--but I wasn't going to tell.
I licked egg salad off my finger. "Awfully salty," I said, and went upstairs without another word.