“They ought to put some gravel on that stretch,” Joe Garner said. The wagon went along the road through the woods. Joe and Mrs. Garner sat close together on the front seat. Nick sat between the two boys. The road came out into a clearing.
“Right here was where Pa ran over the skunk.”
“It was further on.”
“It don’t make no difference where it was,” Joe said without turning his head. “One place is just as good as another to run over a skunk.”
“I saw two skunks last night,” Nick said.
“Down by the lake. They were looking for dead fish along the beach.”
“They were coons probably,” Carl said.
“They were skunks. I guess I know skunks.”
“You ought to,” Carl said. “You got an Indian girl.”
“Stop talking that way, Carl,” said Mrs. Garner.
“Well, they smell about the same.”
Joe Garner laughed.
“You stop laughing, Joe,” Mrs. Garner said. “I won’t have Carl talk that way.”
“Have you got an Indian girl, Nickie?” Joe asked.
“He has too, Pa,” Frank said. “Prudence Mitchell’s his girl.”
“He goes to see her every day.”
“I don’t.” Nick, sitting between the two boys in the dark, felt hollow and happy inside himself to be teased about Prudence Mitchell. “She ain’t my girl,” he said.
“Listen to him,” said Carl. “I see them together every day.”
“Carl can’t get a girl,” his mother said, “not even a squaw.”
Carl was quiet.
“Carl ain’t no good with girls,” Frank said.
“You shut up.”
“You’re all right, Carl,” Joe Garner said. “Girls never got a man anywhere. Look at your pa.”
“Yes, that’s what you would say,” Mrs. Garner moved close to Joe as the wagon jolted. “Well, you had plenty of girls in your time.”
“I’ll bet Pa wouldn’t ever have had a squaw for a girl.”
“Don’t you think it,” Joe said. “You better watch out to keep Prudie, Nick.”
His wife whispered to him and Joe laughed.
“What you laughing at?” asked Frank.
“Don’t you say it, Garner,” his wife warned. Joe laughed again.
“Nickie can have Prudence,” Joe Garner said. “I got a good girl.”
“That’s the way to talk,” Mrs. Garner said.
The horses were pulling heavily in the sand. Joe reached out in the dark with the whip.
“Come on, pull into it. You’ll have to pull harder than this tomorrow.”
They trotted down the long hill, the wagon jolting. At the farmhouse everybody got down. Mrs. Garner unlocked the door, went inside, and came out with a lamp in her hand. Carl and Nick unloaded the things from the back of the wagon. Frank sat on the front seat to drive to the barn and put up the horses. Nick went up the steps and opened the kitchen door. Mrs. Garner was building a fire in the stove. She turned from pouring kerosene on the wood.
“Good-by, Mrs. Garner,” Nick said. “Thanks for taking me.”
“Oh, shucks, Nickie.”
“I had a wonderful time.”
“We like to have you. Won’t you stay and eat some supper?”
“I better go. I think Dad probably waited for me.”
“Well, get along then. Send Carl up to the house, will you?”
“Good night, Nickie.”
“Good night, Mrs. Garner.”
Nick went out the farmyard and down to the barn. Joe and Frank were milking.
“Good night,” Nick said. “I had a swell time.”
“Good night, Nick,” Joe Garner called. “Aren’t you going to stay and eat?”
“No, I can’t. Will you tell Carl his mother wants him?”
“All right. Good night, Nickie.”
Nick walked barefoot along the path through the meadow below the barn. The path was smooth and the dew was cool on his bare feet. He climbed a fence at the end of the meadow, went down through a ravine, his feet wet in the swamp mud, and then climbed up through the dry beech woods until he saw the lights of the cottage. He climbed over the fence and walked around to the front porch. Through the window He saw his father sitting by the table, reading in the light from the big lamp. Nick opened the door and went in.