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Excerpt from “Forbidden Stranger”

Published in Post, December 26, 1959. Originally titled “Scarlet Ribbons” or “The Extraordinary Man”

It all happened a long time ago, but they still talk about it in our town. My mother, who told me the story, admits ruefully that it could not have happened today; our tastes and our sins are more jaded now, and the forbidden passions that once seemed so shocking have become the merest commonplace. But small towns have long memories, and old scandals, like old clothes, are often more cherished for being familiar and well-worn.

She was not my mother then, of course. Her name was Laurie Taylor, and she was one day short of being nineteen when it began, simply enough, when Papa explicitly forbade her to speak with the man camped down by the creek.

“He only wants to protect you,” her cousin Cissy said. “He doesn’t think you’re very sensible about people.”

Laurie looked rebellious. “We’ve been too protected. When we’re married we’ll be expected to do good works and improve our minds, and how can we unless we’ve seen the seamier side of life for ourselves?”

They sat in the porch swing that afternoon, pushing idly back and forth in the warm sun of early autumn, both dressed in white dimity tucked from neck to hem and sashed with taffeta.

“You’ll never be married,” Cissy said reasonably, “if you don’t soon make up your mind between Howard Grant and John Barton.”

“I will not marry a dry-goods store,” Laurie said, “and John has a mouth like a wet fish.”

“That’s no reason.”

“Reason enough,” said Laurie, “for me.”

Cissy Taylor looked at her cousin and sighed. Cissy was small and pink and plump, with a sensible outlook on life that endeared her to her mother, a maidenly aunt or two, and the Methodist minister.

But Laurie was different. She was not beautiful, in the truest sense of the word, but her eyes, large and oddly slanted, were the same drenched blue of certain violets, and her hair and skin glowed with a warm golden sheen. She laughed often, her mouth slanting like her eyes, and had any of her family or kin been asked to describe her they would have said affectionately that Laurie was young, gay, pretty and not very sensible.

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