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"I thought that was what Benny said. Well, as I was saying, I hope you'll excuse this apron." Her fingers were fumbling with the knot at the back. "I take it off, mostly, when the bell rings, evenings or afternoons; but I heard Benny, and I didn't suppose 't was anybody but him. There, that's better!" With a jerk she switched off the dark blue apron, hung it over her arm, and smoothed down the spotless white apron which had been beneath the blue. The next instant she hurried after Benny with a warning cry. "Careful, child, careful! Oh, Benny, you're always in such a hurry!"

Benny, with a cheery "Come on!" had already banged open the door before him, and was reaching for the gas burner.

A moment later the feeble spark above had become a flaring sputter of flame.

"There, child, what did I tell you?" With a frown Mrs. Blaisdell reduced the flaring light to a moderate flame, and motioned Mr. Smith to a chair. Before she seated herself, however, she went back into the hall to lower the gas there.

During her momentary absence the man, Smith, looked about him, and as he looked he pulled at his collar. He felt suddenly a choking, suffocating sensation. He still had the curious feeling of trying to catch his breath when the woman came back and took the chair facing him. In a moment he knew why he felt so suffocated—it was because that nowhere could he see an object that was not wholly or partially covered with some other object, or that was not serving as a cover itself.

The floor bore innumerable small rugs, one before each chair, each door, and the fireplace. The chairs themselves, and the sofa, were covered with gray linen slips, which, in turn, were protected by numerous squares of lace and worsted of generous size. The green silk spread on the piano was nearly hidden beneath a linen cover, and the table showed a succession of layers of silk, worsted, and linen, topped by crocheted mats, on which rested several books with paper-enveloped covers. The chandelier, mirror, and picture frames gleamed dully from behind the mesh of pink mosquito netting. Even through the doorway into the hall might be seen the long, red-bordered white linen path that carried protection to the carpet beneath.

"I don't like gas myself." (With a start the man pulled himself together to listen to what the woman was saying.) "I think it's a foolish extravagance, when kerosene is so good and so cheap; but my husband will have it, and Mellicent, too, in spite of anything I say—Mellicent's my daughter. I tell 'em if we were rich, it would be different, of course. But this is neither here nor there, nor what you came to talk about! Now just what is it that you want, sir?"

"I want to board here, if I may."

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"How long?"

"A year—two years, perhaps, if we are mutually satisfied."

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"What do you do for a living?"

Smith coughed suddenly. Before he could catch his breath to answer

Benny had jumped into the breach.

"He sounds something like a Congregationalist, only he ain't that, Aunt