Jean Craig In New York
BY KAY LYTTLETON
When lovely Jean Craig moved with her family to Woodhow farm in Connecticut, she thought she was giving up her art lessons forever. And then suddenly the opportunity came to go to New York to study, and she went to live with her cousin Beth in the suburbs of New York. These months were an exciting interlude in her life. She loved seeing her old friends again, going to parties, and meeting new people, among them Aldo Thomas, an artist from Italy.
Jean Craig in New York tells of Jean’s adventures in the city, but it is also the story of the Craigs who meet life’s adventures with gaiety and courage.
Other FALCON BOOKS for Girls:
JEAN CRAIG GROWS UP
JEAN CRAIG FINDS ROMANCE
PATTY AND JO, DETECTIVES
IN NEW YORK
by KAY LYTTLETON
THE WORLD PUBLISHING COMPANY
CLEVELAND AND NEW YORK
are published by THE WORLD PUBLISHING COMPANY
2231 West 110th Street · Cleveland 2 · Ohio
COPYRIGHT 1948 BY THE WORLD PUBLISHING COMPANY
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
|1.||Jean Finds a Stranger||9|
|2.||New York Cousins||23|
|4.||Christmas at the Ellis Place||52|
|5.||New York Dreams Come True||61|
|7.||Aldo from Italy||82|
|8.||Jean Meets a Contessa||94|
|9.||Letters from Home||109|
|10.||At the Art Academy||122|
|11.||The Sculptured Head||136|
|12.||From Out of the West||148|
JEAN CRAIG IN NEW YORK
It was just five days before Christmas when a pink express card arrived in the noon mail. The Craigs knew there must be something unusual in the mail, for Mr. Ricketts, the rural free delivery carrier, had lingered at the end of the drive.
Jean, the oldest of the four children, slipped into a coat and stadium boots and ran down the drive to see what he wanted.
“There’s something for you folks at the express office, I guess. If it’s anything heavy I suggest you go down and get it today. Looks like we’d have some snow before nightfall.”10 He waited while Jean glanced at the card. “Know what it is?”
“Why, no, I don’t believe I do,” she answered. “We’ve gotten all our Christmas packages. Maybe they’re books for Dad.”
“Like enough,” said Mr. Ricketts. “I didn’t know. I always feel a little bit interested, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” laughed Jean, as he started his truck. She hurried back to the house, her head down against the wind. The front door banged as Kit, fifteen and two years younger than Jean, let her in, her hands floury from baking.
“For Pete’s sake, why do you stand talking all day to that old gossip? Any mail from the West?”
The previous spring, the Craig family had moved to Elmhurst, Connecticut, because of Mr. Craig’s health. Due to a war injury, he11 had required a complete rest. At the suggestion of his cousin Rebecca, the family had left Long Island to live on a farm. Rural living was far different from anything Jean, Kit, thirteen-year-old Doris, and eleven-year-old Tommy were used to, but they grew to love it more and more as they made new friends and discovered the never-ending surprises that the country held for them.
As told in Jean Craig Grows Up, the family met their landlord, Ralph McRae, a young good-looking boy of twenty-four, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who was immediately attracted to Jean. When he returned to his western ranch, he took Buzzy Hancock, his cousin and Kit’s best friend, back with him. Now, Jean was finding it hard to wait for the summer to come when Ralph and Buzzy would return.
With a letter from Ralph in her hand, Jean12 answered Kit’s questions hurriedly. “Mr. Ricketts only wanted to know about an express package, whether it was heavy or light, where it came from, and if we expected it.” She piled the rest of the mail on the dining room table. “There is no mail from Saskatoon for you, Kit, only for me.”
“Oh, I thought maybe Buzzy might have written to me. The mug, he promised to send me a silver fox skin for Christmas, if he could find one. I’m going to give up waiting for it. With Christmas five days away, he surely would have sent it by now.”
Kit’s face was perfectly serious. Buzzy had asked her before he left Elmhurst what she would like best, and she had told him. The others laughed at her, but she held firmly to the idea that if it were possible, Buzzy would get it for her.
Jean was engrossed in a five-page letter13 from Ralph and had paid no attention to Kit’s remarks. She finished reading the letter, full of Christmas wishes and regret for having to be away from her, especially during the holiday season, and opened another from one of the students at the Academy back in New York. The previous winter, Jean had studied art there and had been sorry to give it up.
“Peg Moffat is taking up impressionism.” Jean turned back to the first page of the letter she had been reading. “She says she never fully realized before that art is only the highest form of expressing your ideals to the world at large.”
“Tell her she’s all wrong.” Kit looked up from her seed catalogues. “Becky told me the other day she believes schools were first invented for the relief of distressed parents just to give them a breathing spell, and not for kids at all.”
14“Still, if Peg’s hit a new trail of interest, it will make her think she’s really working. Things have come to her so easily, she doesn’t appreciate them. Perhaps she can express herself now.”
“Express herself? For gosh sakes, Jeannie, tell her to come up here, and we’ll let her express herself all over the place. Gee! Just smell my mince pies this minute. Isn’t cooking an expression of individual art too?” And Kit made a beeline for the oven in time to rescue four mince pies.
“Who’s going to drive down after the package?” asked Mrs. Craig from the doorway. “I want to send an order for groceries too and you’ll want to be back before dark.”
“I’m terribly sorry, Mom,” called Kit from the kitchen, “but Lucy and some of the girls are coming over and I promised them I’d go after evergreen and Princess pine. We’re 15getting it for wreaths and stars to decorate the church.”
“Tommy and I’ll go. I love the drive.” Jean handed Peg’s letter over to Kit to read, and gave just a bit of a sigh. Nobody could possibly have sustained any inward melancholy at Woodhow. There was too much to be done every minute of the day. Still, Peg’s letter did bring back vividly memories of last winter at the Art Academy. Perhaps the students did take themselves and their aims too seriously, yet it had all been wonderful and interesting. Even in the peaceful countryside, Jean missed the companionship of girls her own age, with the same tastes and interests as herself.
She called to Tommy, who was down in the basement making a model airplane, and told him to come with her to the express office. He came upstairs under protest, his face smeared with dirt.
16 “Gosh, Tommy, you look a sight. If you’re going to come with me, you’ll have to wash first. Look at your hands.”
“Gee, whiz,” he grumbled, “what’s the use in washing all the time. A guy only gets dirty again, anyway.” But he leisurely went upstairs and came down again after what seemed to Jean an unnecessarily long time.
“What took you so long, anyway? Hurry up. I don’t want to be driving after dark.”
“OK, OK, I’m coming.” And the two went out the back door to the garage.
It was only a drive of seven miles to Nantic, but the children never tired of the ride. It was so still and dreamlike with the early winter silence on the land. At the mill house, Lucy Peckham waved to them. Along the riverside meadows they saw the two little Peckham boys driving sheep with Shep, their black and white dog, barking madly at the foot of a tall hickory tree.
17 “Look, Tommy, see those red berries in that thicket overhanging the rail fence? Will you get out and pick me some?” Jean stopped the car and Tommy jumped out. A car passed going the other way while Jean was waiting, and she recognized the driver as the stationmaster’s son.
“Somebody is coming home for Christmas, I guess,” she remarked to Tommy when he came back.
Jean drove on with her chin up, cheeks rosy and eyes alert. When they drove up in front of the express office, Tommy didn’t want to wait in the car, so they walked up the steps of the office together. Just as they opened the door, they caught the voice of Mr. Briggs, the agent, not pleasant and sociable as it usually was, but sharp and high-pitched.
“Well, you can’t loaf around here, son, I tell you that right now. The minute I spied you hiding behind that stack of ties down the18 track, I knew you’d run away from some place, and I’m going to find out all about you and let your family know you’re caught.”
“I ain’t got any family,” came back a boy’s voice hopefully. “I’m my own boss and can go where I please.”
“Did you hear that, Jean?” exclaimed Mr. Briggs, turning around at the opening of the door. “Just size him up, will you. He says he’s his own boss, and he’s no bigger than a pint of cider. Where did you come from?”
“Off a freight train.”
Mr. Briggs leaned his hands on his knees and bent down to get his face on a level with the boy’s.
“Isn’t he slick, though? Can’t get a bit of real information out of him except that he liked the looks of Nantic and dropped off the slow freight when she was shunting back and forth up yonder. What’s your name?”
“Jack. Jack Davis.” He didn’t look at Mr.19 Briggs, but off at the hills, windswept and bare except for their patches of green pines. There was a curious expression in his eyes, Jean thought, not loneliness, but a dumb fatalism. As Becky might have said, it was as if he had known nothing but trouble and didn’t expect anything better.
“How old are you?”
“’Bout nine or ten.”
“What made you drop off that freight here?”
Jack was silent and seemed embarrassed. Tommy, who had been eyeing him curiously, responded instantly.
“Because you like it best, isn’t that why?” he suggested eagerly. Jack’s face brightened up at that.
“I liked the looks of the hills, but when I saw all them mills, I—I thought I’d get some work maybe.”
“You’re too little,” Mr. Briggs cut in. “I’m20 going to hand you right over to the proper authorities, and you’ll land up in the State Home for Boys if you haven’t got any folks of your own.”
Jack met the shrewd gray eyes doubtfully. His own filled with tears that rose slowly and dropped on his worn short coat. He put his hand up to his shirt collar and held on to it tightly as if he would have kept back the ache there, and Jean’s heart could stand it no longer.
“I think he belongs up at Woodhow, please, Mr. Briggs,” she said quickly. “I know Mother and Dad will take him up there if he hasn’t any place to go, and we’ll look after him. I’m sure of it. He can drive back with us.”
“But you don’t know where he came from nor anything about him, Jean. I tell you he’s just a little tramp. You can see that, or he wouldn’t be hitching on to freight trains.21 That’s no way to do if you’re decent God-fearing folks, riding freights and dodging trainmen.”
“Let me take him home with me now, anyway,” pleaded Jean. “We can find out about him, later. It’s Christmas Friday, remember, Mr. Briggs.”
There was no resisting the appeal that underlay her words, and Mr. Briggs relented gracefully, although he maintained the county school was the proper receptacle for all such human rubbish.
Jean laughed at him happily, as he stood with his feet wide apart, his hands thrust into his coat pockets.
“It’s your own affair, Jean,” he returned dubiously. “I wouldn’t stand in your way so long as you see fit to take him along. But he’s just human rubbish. Want to go, Jack?”
And Jack rose, wiping his eyes with his coat22 sleeve, and glared resentfully back at Mr. Briggs. He took the smaller package, Tommy the other, and the three left the office.
“Guess we can all squeeze into the front seat,” Jean said. “We’re going down to the store, and then home.”
Doris caught the sound of the squeaking snow under the tires of the car as it came up the drive about four o’clock. It was nearly dark. She was standing in the living room lighting the Christmas candles in the windows, and she ran to the front door.
“Hi,” called Jean when she saw Doris in the doorway, “we’re back.”
Tommy jumped out of the car at the back door and took Jack by the hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. He was shivering, but Tommy pulled him into the kitchen where Kit was getting supper. Over in a corner lay the24 pile of evergreens and pine that she and the other girls had gathered that afternoon.
“Look, Kit,” Tommy cried, quite as if Jack had been some wonderful gift instead of a dusty, tired, limp little derelict of fate and circumstance. “This is Jack and he’s come to stay with us. Where’s Mom?”
One quick look at Jack’s face checked all mirthfulness in Kit. There were times when it was better to say nothing. She was always intuitive, quick to catch moods in others and understand. This case needed her mother. Jack was fairly blue from the cold, and there was a pinched, hungry look around his mouth and nose that made Kit leave her currant biscuits.
“Upstairs with Dad. Beat it up there fast and call her, Tommy.” She smiled at Jack, a radiant, comradely smile that endeared Kit to all she met. “We’re so glad you’ve come home,” she said, drawing him over to the25 stove. “You sit up on that stool and get warm.” She slipped into the pantry and dipped out a mug of rich, creamy milk, then cut a wide slice of warm gingerbread. “There now. See how that tastes. You know, it’s the funniest thing how wishes come true. I was just longing for somebody to sample my cake and tell me if it was good. Is it?”
Jack drank nearly the whole glass of milk before he spoke, looking over the rim at her with very sleepy eyes.
“It’s awful good,” he said. “I ain’t had anything to eat since yesterday morning.”
“Oh, dear,” cried Kit. This was beyond her. She turned with relief at Mrs. Craig’s quick light step in the hall.
“Yes, dear, I know. Jeannie told me.” She went straight over to the stool. And she did just the one right thing. That was the marvel of Mrs. Craig, she always seemed to know naturally26 what a person needed most and gave it to them. She took Jack in her arms, his head on her shoulder, patting him while he began to cry chokingly.
“Never mind, child, now,” she told him. “You’re home.” She lifted him to her lap and started to untie his worn sodden shoes. “Tommy, get your slippers, dear, and a pair of wool socks. Warm the milk, Kit, it’s better that way. And you cuddle down on the couch by the living room fire, Jack, and rest.”
Mrs. Craig had gone into the living room and found a gray woolen blanket in the wall closet off the little side hall. From the chest of drawers she took some of Tommy’s outgrown winter underwear. Supper was nearly ready, but Jack was to have a warm bath and be clad in clean fresh clothing. Tucking him under one wing, as Kit said, she left the kitchen, and Jean told the rest how she had27 rescued him from Mr. Briggs’s righteous indignation and charitable intentions.
“Got a good face and looks you square in the eye,” said Doris. “I’d take a chance on him any day, and he can help around the place a lot, splitting kindlings and shifting stall bedding and what not. He and Tommy seem to be good friends already.”
The telephone bell rang and Jean answered. Rambling up through the hills from Norwich was the party line, two lone wires stretching from telephone pole to telephone pole. Its tingling call was a welcome sound. This time it was Rebecca at the other end. After her marriage to Judge Ellis, they had taken the long-deferred wedding trip up to Boston, visiting relatives there, and returning in time for a splendid old-fashioned Thanksgiving celebration at the Ellis home. Maple Grove, Becky’s former home, was closed for the winter but28 Matt, the hired man, decided to stay on there indefinitely and work the farm on shares for Miss Becky, as he still called her.
“And like enough,” Becky said comfortably, when she heard of his intentions, “he’s going to marry somebody himself. I wouldn’t put it past him a bit. I wish he’d choose Cindy Anson. There she is living alone down in that little bit of a house, running a home bakery when she’s born to fuss over a man. I told Matt when I left, if I were he I’d buy all my pies and cake from Cindy, and then when I drove by Cindy’s I just dropped a passing word about how badly I felt at leaving such a fine man as Matt to shift for himself up at the house, so she said she’d keep an eye on him.”
Over the telephone now came her voice, vibrant and cheery, and Jean answered the call.
“Hello, yes, this is Jean. Mother’s right in29 the living room. Who? Oh, wait till I tell the kids.” She turned her head, her brown eyes sparkling. “New York cousins over at the Judge’s. Who did you say they are, Becky? Yes? Beth and Elliott Newell. I’ll tell Dad right away. Tomorrow morning early? That’s swell. ’Bye.”
Before the others could stop her, she was on her way upstairs. The largest, sunniest room had been given over to her father. The months of relaxation and rest up in the hills had worked wonders in Mr. Craig’s health. As old Dr. Gallup was apt to say when Kit rebelled at the slowness of recovery, “Can’t expect to do everything in a minute. Even the Lord took six days to fix things the way he liked them.”
Instead of spending two-thirds of his time in bed or on the couch now, he would sit up for hours and could walk around the wide porch, or even along the garden paths before the cold30 weather set in. But there still swept over him without warning the great fatigue and weakness, the dizziness and exhaustion which had followed as one of the lesser ills in his nervous breakdown.
He sat before the open fire now, reading from one of his favorite news magazines, with Miss Tilly purring on his knees. Tommy had found Miss Tilly one day late in October, loafing along the barren stretch of road going over to Gayhead school. She was a yellow kitten with white nose and paws. Tommy, forever adopting stray animals, had tucked her up in his arms and taken her home. Becky had looked at the yellow kitten with instant recognition.
“That’s a Scarborough kitten. Sally Scarborough’s raised yellow kittens with white paws ever since I can remember.”
“Had I better take it back?” asked Tommy anxiously.
31 “Land, no, child. It’s a barn-cat. You can tell that, it’s so frisky. Ain’t got a bit of repose or common sense. Like enough Mrs. Scarborough’d be real glad if it had a good home. Give it a name, and feed it well, and it’ll slick right up.”
So Miss Tilly had remained, but not out in the barn. Somehow she had found her way up to Mr. Craig’s room and its peace must have appealed to her, for she would stay there for hours, dozing with half-closed jade-green eyes and incurved paws.
“Dad!” Jean exclaimed, entering the quiet room like an autumn flurry of wind. “What do you think? Becky just phoned, and she wants me to tell you two New York cousins are there. Beth and Elliott Newell. Do you remember them?”
“Of course,” smiled Mr. Craig. “It must be little Cousin Beth and her boy. I used to visit at her old home when I was a little boy.32 She wanted to be an artist, I know.”
“Oh, Dad, an artist? And did she study and succeed?”
“I think so. I remember she lived abroad for some time and married there. Her maiden name was Lowell, Beth Lowell.”
“Did she marry an artist too?” Jean leaned forward from her low chair facing him, her eyes bright with romance, but Mr. Craig laughed.
“No, indeed, she married a schoolmate from New York. He went after her, for I suppose he tired of waiting for Beth’s career to come true. They had a very happy life together and I think Beth misses him very much since he died about two years ago. Listen a minute.”
Up from the lower part of the house floated strains of music. Surely there had never issued such music from a mouth organ. The tune was a mournful blues that had a haunting melody.
33 “It must be Jack,” Jean said, smiling mischievously up at her father, for he had not yet met Jack. She ran out to the head of the stairs.
“Can Jack come up, Mom?”
Up he came, fresh from a tubbing, wearing a shirt and a pair of overalls that belonged to Tommy. His straight blond hair fairly glistened from its recent brushing and his face shone, but it was Jack’s eyes that won him friends at the start. Mixed in color they were, like a moss agate, with long dark lashes, and just now they were filled with contentment.
“They wanted me to play for them downstairs,” he said gravely, stopping beside Mr. Craig’s chair. “I can play lots of tunes. My mother gave me this last Christmas.”
This was the first time he had mentioned his mother and Jean followed up the clue gently.
He looked down at the floor, shifting his34 weight from one foot to the other. “Over in Providence. She got sick and they took her to the hospital and she never came back.”
“Not at all?”
He shook his head. “Then afterwards—” much was comprised in that one word and Jack’s tone, “afterwards we started off together, my Dad and me. He said he’d try and get a job on some farm with me, but nobody wanted him this time of year, and with me too. And he said one morning he wished he didn’t have me bothering around. When I woke up on the freight yesterday morning, he wasn’t there. Guess he must have dropped off. Maybe he can get a job now.”
So it slipped out, Jack’s personal history, and the father and daughter wondered at his sturdy acceptance of life’s discipline. Only nine, but already he faced the world as his own master, fearless and optimistic. All through35 that first evening he sat in the kitchen on the high stool, playing tunes he had learned from his father. Tommy was entranced and begged him to teach him how to play.
After supper the girls and Tommy drew up their chairs around the dining room table as usual. Here every night the three younger ones prepared their lessons for the next day. Jean generally read or sat with her father awhile, but tonight she answered Peg Moffat’s letter. It was read over twice, the letter that blended in so curiously with the coming of the cousins from New York.
Ever since Jean could remember she had drawn pictures. No one guessed how she loved the paintings in New York’s art galleries. They had seemed so real to her, the face of a Millet peasant lad crossing a stubble field at dawn; a Breton girl knitting as she walked homeward behind some straying sheep; one of36 Frans Hals’ Flemish boys, his chin pressed close to his violin, his deep eyes looking at you from under the brim of his hat.
Once she had read of Albrecht Dürer, painting his masterpieces while he starved. How the people whispered after his death that he had used his heart’s blood to mix with his wonderful pigments. Of course it was only a story, but Jean remembered it. When she saw a picture that seemed to hold one and speak its message of beauty, she would say to herself, “There is Dürer’s secret.”
And some day, if she ever could put on canvas the dreams that came to her, she meant to use the same secret.
“I do think Socrates was an old bore,” said Kit, yawning and stretching her arms, after a struggle with her homework. “Always mixing in and contradicting everybody and starting something. No wonder his wife was cranky.”
37 “He died beautifully,” Doris replied. “Something about a sunset and all his friends around him.”
“If you’ve finished your homework, why don’t you go to bed?” Jean told them. She finished her letter alone. It was not easy to write it. Peg wanted her to come down for the spring term. She could board with her if she liked. Expenses were very light.
Any expense would be heavy if piled on the monthly budget of Woodhow. Jean knew that. So she wrote back with a heartache behind the plucky refusal, and stepped out on the moonlit porch for a minute. It was clear and cold after the light snowfall. The stars were very faint. From the river came the sound of the waterfall.
“You stand steady, Jean Craig,” she said, between her teeth. “Don’t you dare be a quitter. You’ve got to see this winter straight through.”
After her marriage to Judge Ellis, Becky had taken Ella Lou, her big collie dog, from Maple Grove over to the large white house behind its towering elms.
“I’ve had that dog for ten years and never saw another one like her for intelligence,” she would say, her head held a little bit high, her glasses halfway down her nose. “I told the Judge if he wanted me he’d have to take Ella Lou too.”
So it was Ella Lou’s familiar black nose that poked around the door the following morning when the New York cousins came over to get acquainted.
39 Jean never forgot her introduction to Beth Newell. She was about forty-seven then, with her son Elliott fully five inches taller than herself, but she looked about twenty-seven. Her feathery brown hair, her wide gray eyes, and quick, sweet laughter, endeared her to Jean right away.
Elliott was about fifteen, not one single bit like his mother, but broad-shouldered and blond and sturdy. It was so much fun, Kit said, to watch him take care of his mother.
“Where’s your high school out here?” he asked. “I’m at prep school specializing in math.”
“And how any son of mine can adore mathematics is beyond me,” Beth laughed. “I suppose it’s reaction. Do you like math, Jean?” She put her arm around the slender figure nearest her.
“I should say not,” Jean answered immediately, and then all at once, out popped her40 heart’s desire before she could check the words. Anybody’s heart’s desire would pop out with Beth’s eyes coaxing it. “I—I want to be an artist.”
“Keep on wishing and working then, dear, and as Becky says, if it is to be it will be.”
While the others talked of New England farms, these two sat together on the couch, Jean listening eagerly and wistfully while her cousin told of her own girlhood aims and how she carried them out.
“We didn’t have much money, so I knew I had to win out for myself. There were two boys to help bring up, and Mother was not well, but I used to sketch every spare moment I could, and I read everything on art I could find, even articles from old magazines in the attic. But most of all I sketched anything and everything, studying form and composition. When I was eighteen, I taught school for two41 terms in the country. Dad had said if I earned the money myself, I could go abroad, and how I worked to get that first nest egg.”
“How much did you get a week?”
“Twelve dollars, but my board was only three and a half in the country, and I saved all I could. Of course, at that time, it was cheaper to go abroad—and easier, too. I wouldn’t recommend your trying to go to Europe right now, but there are plenty of good schools and teachers in this country. If you really do want work and kind of hunt a groove you’re fitted for, you’ll always find something to do.”
Jean was leaning forward, her chin propped on her hands. “Yes, I know,” she said. “Do go on, please.”
“Ellen Brainerd, the teacher I studied under in Boston at one time, was one of New England’s marvelous spinsters with the far vision and cash enough to make a few of her42 dreams come true. Every year she used to take a group of art students to Europe, and with her encouragement I went the third year, helping her with a few of the younger ones, and paying part of my tuition that way. And oh,” Beth’s eyes were sparkling as she recalled her student days, “we set up our easels in the fountain square in Barcelona and hunted Dante types in Florence. We trailed through Flanders and Holland and lived for a time in Paris.”
“And you painted all those places?” exclaimed Jean. “I’ve wanted so much to go.”
“Well, I tried to,” Beth looked ruefully into the open fire. “Yes, I tried to paint like all the old masters and new masters, from Rembrandt to Degas. I did everything except try to develop a technique of my own.”
“But isn’t it important to study the techniques of the masters?”
43 “Yes, of course it is, but it was long after I came back home that I realized this. After David came over and stopped my career by marrying me I came back home. We lived out near New Rochelle and I began painting things of everyday life just as I saw them, the things I loved. It was our old apple tree out by the well, steeped in full May bloom, that brought me my first prize.”
“Gee, after Paris and all the rest!”
“Yes. And the next year they accepted our red barn in a snowstorm. I painted it from our kitchen window. Another was a water color of our Jersey calves standing knee deep in the brook in June. That is the kind of picture I have succeeded with. I think because, as I say, they are part of the home life and scenes I love best and so I have put a part of myself into them.”
Dürer’s heart’s blood, Jean thought to herself.44 “You’ve helped me so much, Beth,” she said aloud. “I was just longing to go back to the art school right now, and throw up everything here that I ought to do.”
“Keep on sketching every spare moment you can. Learn form and color and composition. Things are only beautiful according to the measure of our own minds. I’d like you to come to New York and study there. You could stay with me and share my studio when you weren’t in classes.”
“I’d love to come when Mother can spare me.” Jean’s eyes sparkled at this prospect.
“Well, do so, my dear,” Becky’s hands were laid on her shoulders from behind. “It’s a poor family that can’t support one genius.” She laughed in her full-hearted, joyous way. “Now, listen, all of you. I’ve come to invite you to have Christmas dinner with us.”
“But, Becky,” began Mrs. Craig, “there are so many of us—”
45 “Not half enough to fill the big old house. Some day after all the children are married and there are plenty of grandchildren, then we can talk about there being too many, though I doubt it. There’s always as much house room as there is heart room, if you only think so. Bring along the little one too.” She smiled over her shoulder at Jack, sitting in his favorite corner in the kitchen working industriously on one of Tommy’s model airplanes, and he gave a funny little one-sided grin back in shy return. “Billie’s going away to school after New Year’s, did I tell you?”
“Oh, golly,” cried Doris, so abruptly that everyone laughed at her. “Doesn’t it seem as if boys get all of the adventures of life just naturally.” Billie was the Judge’s grandson and Doris’s pal. He was two years older than Doris but they liked the same things and had been great friends ever since Doris first found his secret hide-out.
46 “He’s had adventures enough, but he does need the friendship of boys his own age. I don’t want him to be tied down with a couple of old folks like the Judge and myself. You’re never young but once. Besides, I always did want to go to these college football games and have a boy of mine in the huddle.”
“Gol—lee!” Doris exclaimed after the front door had closed on the last glimpse of Ella Lou’s plumed tail going out to the car. “Doesn’t it seem as if Becky leaves behind her a big sort of glow? She can say more nice things in a few minutes than anybody I ever heard. Except about Billie’s going away. I wonder why he didn’t come down and tell me himself.”
“Well, you know, Doris,” Kit remarked, “you haven’t a mortgage on Billie.”
“Oh, I don’t care if he goes away. It isn’t that,” Doris answered easily. “I wouldn’t like47 a boy that couldn’t hold his own with the other guys. Jean, did you realize the full significance of Becky’s invitation? No baking or cooking. No working our fingers to the bone for dinner on Christmas Day. I think she’s simply wonderful.”
Jean laughed and slipped up the back stairs to her own room. She felt around in her desk until she found her folio of sketches. The dining room was deserted excepting for Doris watering the rows of geraniums in the bay window, so Jean sat down to look over her old art work. Doris went upstairs to see her father, and Kit appeared with a frown on her face, puzzling over a knitting book.
“I hate the last days before Christmas,” she said savagely. “What on earth can we concoct at this last minute for Beth? I think I’ll knit her a pair of white cable-stitch gloves. If I can’t finish them in time I’ll give her one with48 the promise of the other. What can I give to Judge Ellis?”
“Something useful,” Jean answered.
“I can’t bear useful things for Christmas presents. Abby Tucker says she never gets any winter clothes till Christmas and then all the family unload useful things on her. I’m going to send her a bottle of perfume in a green leather case. I’ve had it for months and never touched it and she’ll adore it. I wish I could think of something for Billie too, something he’s never had and always wanted.”
“He’s going away,” Jean mused. “Why don’t you fix up a book of snapshots taken all around here. We took some marvelous ones this summer.”
“A boy wouldn’t like that.”
“He will when he’s homesick.” Jean opened her folio and began turning over her art school studies, mostly conventionalized designs49 from her beginnings in textile design. After her talk with Beth they only dissatisfied her. Suddenly she glanced up at the figure across the table, Kit with rumpled short curls, her bangs in disarray, and an utterly relaxed posture, elbows on the table, her feet sprawled in front of her. Jean’s pencil began to move over the back of her drawing pad. She was pleased to see how easy it was to catch Kit’s expression. It wasn’t so hard, the ruffled hair, the half-averted face. Kit’s face was such an odd mixture of whimsicality and determination. The rough sketch grew and all at once Kit glanced up and caught on to what was going on.
“Oh, it’s me, isn’t it, Jean? I wish you’d conventionalized me and embellished me. I’d like to look glamorous and sophisticated. That’s lovely, specially with the nose screwed up that way and my forehead wrinkled. I like50 that, it’s so subtle. Anyone getting one good look at the helpless frenzy in that downcast gaze—”
“Oh, Kit, be good,” laughed Jean. She held the sketch away from her critically. “Looks just like you.”
“OK, hang it up as ‘Exhibit A.’ I don’t mind. There’s a look of genius to it at that.”
“Naturally, I had to include that too,” replied Jean teasingly. Just then Mrs. Craig came into the room.
“Mom, look what my sister has done to me,” Kit cried tragically. Jean said nothing, only the color rose slowly in her cheeks as her mother stood looking at it.
“It’s the first since I left school,” she said, half-ashamed of the effort and all it implied.
“Finish it up, dear, and let me have it.”
“Oh, would you really like it, Mom?”
“Love it,” answered her mother promptly.51 “And don’t give up hope. Perhaps we may be able to squeeze in the spring term after all.”
It took two trips in the car to transport the Christmas guests and gifts from Woodhow over to the Ellis place. It was one of the few pretentious houses in Elmhurst. For seven generations it had been in the Ellis family. The old house sat far back from the road with a double drive curving like a big U around it. Huge elms stood protectingly before it, and behind lay a succession of buildings from the old forge, no longer used, to the smokehouse. One barn stood across the road and another at the top of the lane.
Doris and Tommy were the first to run up53 the steps and into the center hall, almost bumping into Billie as he ran to meet them. Behind him came Mrs. Ellis in a soft gray suit. Her white blouse was fastened at the throat with a cameo pin. “Come right in, all of you,” she called happily. “Do stop jumping up and down, Tommy, you make me nervous. Merry Christmas.”
Up the long colonial staircase she led the way into the big guest room. Down in the library, Beth was playing softly on the big square piano, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. The air was filled with the scent of pine and hemlock, and enticing odors of things cooking stole up the back stairs.
Doris and Billie retreated to a corner with the latter’s book supply, with Tommy and Jack peering over Billie’s shoulder to get a look too. It was hard to realize that this was really Billie, the Huckleberry Finn of the54 summer before. All of the old self-consciousness and shy abstraction had gone. Even the easy comradely manner in which he leaned over the Judge’s chair showed the good understanding and sure confidence between the two.
“Yes, he does show up real proud,” Becky agreed warmly with Mrs. Craig when they were all downstairs before the glowing fire. “Of course, we’re going to miss him when he goes away to school, but he’s getting along splendidly. I want him to go where he’ll associate with plenty of other boys. He’s lived alone with the ants and bees and rabbits long enough.”
As the others went in to dinner Jean lingered behind a minute to glance about the pleasant room. The fire crackled down in the deep old rock hearth. In each of the windows a white candle was burning brightly. Festoons of ground pine and evergreen draped the mantelpiece.55 Jean gazed out at the somber, frost-touched garden. There wasn’t one bit of peace in her heart, even while she fairly ached with the longing to be like the others.
“You’re a coward, Jean Craig, a deliberate coward,” she told herself. “You don’t like the country one bit. You love the city where everybody’s doing something, and it’s just a rat race for all. You’re longing for everything you can’t have, and you’re afraid to face the winter up here. You might just as well tell yourself the truth. You hate to be poor.”
There came a burst of laughter from the dining room and Kit calling to her to hurry up. It appeared that Doris, the tender-hearted, had said pathetically when Mrs. Gorham, the housekeeper, brought in the great roast turkey, “Poor old General Putnam!”
“That isn’t the General,” Billie called from his place. “The General ran away yesterday.56 First off, he lit up in the apple trees. Then as soon as he saw Ben was high enough, off he flopped and made for the corncrib. Just as he caught up with him there, he chose the wagon sheds and perched on the rafters, and when he’d almost got hold of his tail feathers, if he didn’t try the barn and all his flock after him, mind you. So he thought he’d let him roost till dark, and when he stole in after supper, the old codger had gone, bag and baggage. He’ll come back as soon as he knows our minds aren’t set on wishbones.”
“Then who is this?” asked Kit, quite as if it were some personage who rested in state on the big willow platter.
“That is some unnamed patriot who died for his country’s good,” said the Judge solemnly. “Who says white meat and who says dark?”
“For pity’s sake, child, what are you crying57 about?” exclaimed Becky after dinner while they were all sitting around the table talking leisurely.
Jack sobbed sleepily, “I—I don’t know.”
“He’s lonely for his own family,” Doris spoke up.
“I ain’t neither,” groaned Jack, “it’s too much mince pie.”
So under Becky’s directions, Billie took him up to his room, and administered “good hot water and soda.”
“Too bad, ’cause he missed seeing all the things taken off the tree,” said Becky, laying aside Jack’s presents for him, a long warm knit muffler from herself, a fine knife from the Judge with a pocket chain on it, a package of Billie’s books that he had had as a child, and ice skates from the Craigs. After much figuring over the balance left from their Christmas money they had gone together on the58 skates for him, knowing he would have more fun and exercise out of them than anything, and he needed something to bring back the sparkle to his eyes and the color to his cheeks.
“Put them all up on the bed beside him, and he’ll find them in the morning,” Billie suggested. “If you’ll let him stay, Mrs. Craig, I’ll bring him over.”
Tommy was the most excited over his Christmas presents. Kit and Jean had given him a hockey stick and puck to use on the river when it was frozen over, his mother and father a ping pong set that he was bursting to set up in the basement, a model airplane kit from Doris, and a pair of argyle socks and Norwegian sweater from the Judge and Becky. But Billie had given him his most coveted present, his own tame crow, Moki. “Where’d you get the name from, Billie?” he asked.
Billie stroked the smooth glossy back of the crow fondly. “I found him one day over in the59 pine woods on the hill. He was just a little thing then. The nest was in a dead pine, and somebody’d shot it all to pieces. The rest of the family had gone, but I found him fluttering around on the ground, scared to death with a broken wing. Ben helped me fix it, and he told me to call him Moki. You know he’s read everything, and he can talk some Indian, Pequod mostly, he says. He isn’t sure but what there may be some Pequod in him way back, he can talk it so well, and Moki means ‘watch out’ in Pequod. I call him that because I used to put him on my shoulder and he’d go anywhere with me through the woods, and call out when he thought I was in danger.”
“How do you know what he thought?”
“After you get acquainted with him, you’ll know what he thinks too,” answered Billie.
Always living in a little world of make-believe all her own, Doris received mostly fairy tales and what Kit called “princess stories.”60 Saved from the old home at Sandy Cove, her mother and father gave her two glass lamps for her bureau and Jean had made the shades herself, out of starched white dotted swiss. Becky had knit each of the girls soft angora socks and mittens in matching pastels, and Beth gave them old silver spoons that had been part of their great great-grandmother Peabody’s wedding silver.
“When you come to New York,” she told Jean, “I’ll show you many of her things.”
Jean nodded, remembering her longing to go away earlier in the evening. But the look in her father’s face made her realize more than anything that had happened in the long months of trial in the country, how worthwhile was the sacrifice that had brought him back into his home country for healing and happiness.
Christmas week had already passed when the surprise came. As Kit said the charm of the unexpected was always catching you unaware when you lived on the edge of nowhere.
Beth and Elliott had departed two days after Christmas for New York. Somehow even Tommy could not get really acquainted with this new boy cousin. Billie, once won, was a friend forever, but Elliott was a smiling, confident boy, quiet and resourceful, with little to say.
By this time, Jean had settled down contentedly to the winter regime. She was giving62 Doris piano lessons, and taking over more of the household duties with Kit back at school. School had been one of the problems to be solved that first year. Doris and Tommy went to the District schoolhouse at the crossroads, a one-story, red frame building. Doris had despised it thoroughly until she heard that her father had gone there in his boyhood, and she had found his old desk with his initials carved on it.
Kit was in high school, and the nearest one was over the hills six miles away. Every morning, she caught the school bus at the end of the drive. Mrs. Craig would often stand out on the wide porch in the early morning and watch the three go off.
“I think they’re wonderfully plucky,” she said one morning to Jean. “If they had been country girls, born and bred, it would be different, but stepping right out of Long Island63 shore life into these hills, you have all managed splendidly.”
“We’d have been a fine lot of quitters if we hadn’t,” Jean answered. “I think it’s been much harder for you than for us, Mom.”
And then the oddest, most unexpected thing had happened, something that strengthened the bond between them and made Jean’s way easier. Her mother had turned and had met Jean’s glance with a telltale flush on her cheeks and a certain whimsical glint in her eyes.
“Jean, do you never suspect me?” she had asked, half laughingly. “I know just exactly what a struggle you have gone through, and how you miss all that lies back in New York. I do too. If we could just divide up the time, and live part of the year here and the other part back at the Cove. I wouldn’t dare tell Becky that I had ever regretted, but there are days64 when the silence and the loneliness up here seem to crush so strongly in on one.”
“Oh, Mom! I never knew you felt like that.” Jean leaned her head against her shoulder. “I’ve been horribly selfish, just thinking of myself. But now that Dad’s getting strong again, you can go away, can’t you, for a little visit anyway?”
“Not without him,” Mrs. Craig said decidedly. “Perhaps by next summer we can, I don’t know. I don’t want to suggest it until he feels the need of a change too. But I’ve been thinking about you, Jean, and I want you to go to school in New York for a little while anyway. Beth and I had a talk together before she left, and I felt proud of you, when I heard her speak of your work. She says the greatest worry on her mind is that Elliott has no definite ambition, no aim. He has always had everything that they could give him, and she begins now to realize it was all wrong.”
65 “But, Mother, how can I go and leave you?”
“I want you to, Jean. You have been a great help to me. Don’t think I haven’t noticed everything you have done to save me worry, because I have.”
“Well, you had Dad to care for—”
“I know, and he’s so much better now that I haven’t any dread left.”
Peg Moffat wrote after receiving her Christmas box from Jean. Jean had gathered pine cones, ground pine, sprays of red berries, and little winter ferns. It was one of several she had sent to friends in the city for whom she felt she could not afford expensive presents.
Peg had caught the real spirit of it, and had written back urgently. “You must run down if only for a few days, Jean. I put the pines and other greens around the studio for decorations at Christmas and they just talk at me about you66 all the time. Never mind about new clothes. Come along.”
It was these same new clothes that secretly worried Jean all the same, but with some new ribbon for two of her formals, her brown wool suit cleaned, and a new feather for her hat, she felt she could make the trip if it were only possible.
It was the letter that arrived the following day that really caused a stir in the family. Beth wrote to Jean that there was a special course beginning the following week at the Academy in textile designing. It was only a two-months’ course so it wouldn’t be very expensive and Jean could stay with her, eliminating the problem of board. “I really think if you can possibly be spared from home at this time, it would be a wise thing for you to enroll in the course. It is in the field you’re interested in and you will learn both valuable and practical67 things from it. Please write me immediately and say you’ll come.”
When Jean showed the letter to her mother, her answer was swift and decisive. “An opportunity such as this cannot be ignored. Of course you will go.”
The winter sunshine had barely clambered to the crests of the hills the following morning when Becky drove up with Ella Lou.
“Thought I’d get an early start so I could sit awhile with you,” she called breezily. “The Judge had to go to court at Putnam. Real sad case, too. Some of our neighborhood boys in trouble. I told him not to dare send them up to any State homes or reformatories, but to put them on probation and make their families pay the fines.”
Kit was just putting on her stadium boots. “Oh, what is it, Becky?” she called from the kitchen. “What’s the news?”
68 “Well, I guess it’s pretty exciting for the poor mothers.” Mrs. Ellis put her feet up on the stool. “There’s been considerable things stolen lately, just odds and ends of harness and bicycle supplies from the store, and three hams from Miss Bugbee’s cellar, and so on; a little here and a little there, hardly no more’n a real smart magpie could make away with. But the men set out to catch whoever it might be, and if they didn’t land three of our own boys. It makes every mother in town shiver.”
“None that we know, are there?” asked Doris, with wide eyes.
“I guess not, unless maybe Abby Tucker’s brother Martin. There his poor mother scrimped and saved for weeks to buy him a bicycle out of her butter-and-egg money, and it just landed him in mischief. Off he kited, first here and then there with the two Lonergan boys, and they had a camp up toward Cynthy69 Allan’s place, where they played they were cave robbers or something. I had the Judge up and promise he’d let them off on probation. There isn’t one of them over fifteen, and Elmhurst can’t afford to let her boys go to prison. And I shall drive over this afternoon and give their mothers some good advice.”
“Why not the fathers too?” asked Jean. “Seems as if mothers get all the blame when boys go wrong.”
“No, it isn’t that exactly. I knew the two fathers when they were youngsters too. Fred Lonergan was as nice and obliging a lad as ever you did see, but he always liked cider too well, and that made him lax. I used to tell him when he couldn’t get it any other way, he’d squeeze the dried winter apples hanging still on the wild trees. He’ll have to pay the money damage, but the real sorrow of the heart will fall on Emily, his wife. She used to be our70 minister’s daughter, and she knows what’s right. And the Tucker boy never did have any sense or his father before him, but his mother’s the best quilter we’ve got. If I’d been in her shoes I’d have put Philemon Tucker right straight out of the house just as soon as he began to squander and hang around the grocery store swapping stories with men just like him. It’s her house from her father, and I shall put her right up to making Philemon walk a chalk line after this, and do his duty as a father.”
“Oh, you’re a glorious peacemaker,” exclaimed Mrs. Craig. “Hurry, children, you’ll be late for school.” She hurriedly put the last touches to three hearty lunches, and followed them out to the front porch and watched them out of sight.
“Lovely morning,” said Becky, fervently. “The ice on the trees makes the country look like fairyland.”
71 “And here I’ve been shivering ever since I got out of bed,” Jean cried, laughingly. “It seemed so bleak and cheerless. You find something beautiful in everything, Becky.”
“Well, happiness is a sort of habit, I guess, Jeannie. Come tell me, now, how you are fixed about going away? That’s why I came down.”
“I mean in clothes. Don’t mind my speaking right out, because I know that Beth will want to take you places, and you must look right. And don’t you say one word against it, Margaret,” as Mrs. Craig started to speak. “The child must have her chance. Makes me think, Jean, of my first silk dress. Nobody knew how much I wanted one, and I was about fourteen, skinny and overgrown, with pigtails down my back. A well-to-do aunt in Boston sent a silk dress to my little sister Susan who died. I can see it now, just as plain as can be, a sort of dark bottle-green with a little spray of violets here72 and there. Susan was sort of pining anyway, and green made her look too pale, so the dress was set aside for me. Mother said she’d let the hem down and face it when she had time. But there was a picnic and my heart hungered for that silk dress to wear. I managed somehow to squeeze into it, and slip away with the other girls before Mother noticed me.”
“But did it fit you?” asked Jean.
“Fit me?” Becky laughed. “Fit me like an acorn cap would a bullfrog. I let the hem down as far as I could, but didn’t stop to hem it or face it, and there it hung, six inches below my petticoat, with the sun shining through as nice as could be. My Sunday School teacher took me to one side and said severely, ‘Rebecca Craig, does your mother know that you’ve let that hem down without fixing it properly?’ Well, it did take away my hankering for a silk dress. Now, run along upstairs and get out all your wardrobe so we can look it over.”
73 Jean obeyed for somehow Becky swept away objections before her airily. And the wardrobe was at a low ebb.
Becky dragged her chair over beside the couch now, and took inventory of the pile of clothing Jean laid there.
“You’ll want a good knockabout sport coat like the other girls are wearing. Then a couple of new sweaters and skirts for school. Now, what about date dresses?”
Here Jean felt quite proud as she laid out her assortment. She and Kit had always gone out a good deal at the Cove, and she had a number of well-chosen, expensive dresses.
“They look all right to me, but I guess Beth will know what to do to them, with a touch here and there. Well, if I were you, I’d just bundle all I wanted to take along in the way of pretty things into the trunk and let Beth tell you what to do with them. I’ll give you the money to buy the other things you’ll need in74 New York. Their stores have more selection than what we’ve got around here. Good heavens, child, you’ll squeeze the breath out of me,” as Jean gave her a hug of thanks. “I must be going along.”
Thursday of that week was set for Jean’s departure. This gave very little time for preparations, and Kit plunged into them with a zest and vigor that made Jean laugh.
“Well, so little ever happens up here we just have to make the most of goings and comings,” said Kit exuberantly. “And besides, I’m rather fond of you, in an offhand sort of way.”
“Of course, we’re all glad for you,” Doris put in seriously. “It’s an opportunity, Mom says, and I suppose we’ll all get one in time.”
Jean glanced up as they sat around the last evening, planning and talking. Out in the76 side hall stood her trunk, packed, locked, and strapped, ready for the early trip in the morning. Tommy was trying his best to nurse a frost-bitten chicken back to life out by the kitchen stove, where Jack was mending Doris’s skates. Kit and Doris were freely giving her advice.
“Enjoy yourself all you can, but think of us left at home and don’t stay too long,” advised Doris.
“Yes, and learn all about designing things for people. Personally I don’t want to make things for people,” Kit said emphatically. “I want to soar alone. I’m going with Sally to live on the top of a mountain. But, gosh, I do envy you, Jean, after all. You must write and tell us every single thing that happens, for we’ll love to hear it all. Don’t be afraid it won’t be interesting. I wish you’d even keep a diary. Buzzy told me once that his grandmother did,77 every day from the time she was fourteen, and they had a perfectly awful time getting rid of them when she died. Imagine burning barrels full of diaries.”
Tommy came out of the kitchen to tell them to be quiet. “I’ve just this minute got that chicken to sleep. They’re such light sleepers, but I think it will get well. It only had its poor toes frostbitten. Jack found it on the ground this morning, crowded off the perch. Chickens look so civilized, and they’re not. They’re regular savages.”
There flashed across Jean’s mind a picture of the evenings ahead without the home circle, without the familiar living room, and the other room upstairs where at this time her mother would be brushing out her soft hair, and listening to some choice bit of reading Mr. Craig had run across during the day and saved for her.
78 “I just wish I had a chance to go West like Sally,” Kit said suddenly. “When I’m old enough, I’m going to take up a homestead claim and live on it with a wonderful horse and some dogs, wolf dogs. I wish Sally’d wait till we were both old enough, and had finished school. She could be a forest ranger and I’d raise—”
“Ginseng,” Jean suggested mischievously. “Dopey. It takes far more courage than that just to stick it out on one of these old barren farms, all run-down and fairly begging for somebody to take them in hand. What do you want to hunt a western claim for? Besides, I don’t think there are any left anymore.”
“Space,” Kit answered with feeling. “I don’t want to see my neighbors’ chimney pots sticking up all around me through the trees. I want to gaze off at a hundred hilltops, and not see somebody’s scarecrow waggling empty79 sleeves at me. Sally and I have the spirits of eagles.”
“Isn’t that nice,” said Doris pleasantly. “It’ll make such a good place to spend our vacations, kids. While Sally and Kit are out soaring, we can fish and ride and have really swell times.”
“Cut it out,” Jean whispered, as Kit’s ire started to rise. “It’s getting late, really, and I have to get up while it is still night, you know. Good night all.”
The start next morning was made at seven, before the sun was up. The tears were wet on Jean’s cheeks as she climbed into the seat beside Kit, and turned to wave goodbye to the group on the porch. She had not realized before what this first trip away from home meant.
“Write us everything,” called Doris, waving both hands to her.
80 “Come back soon,” yelled Tommy.
But her mother went back into the house in silence, away from the living room into the study where Jean had kept her own bookcase, desk, and a few choice pictures. A few old paintbrushes lay beside Jean’s worn pigskin gloves on the table. Mrs. Craig picked up both, laid her cheek against the gloves and closed her eyes. The years were racing by so fast, so fast, she thought, and mothers must be wide-eyed and generous and fearless, when the children suddenly begin to top heads with one, and feel impatient to be out on their own.
Ready to try it alone, she thought. If it had been Kit now, she would not have felt this curious little pang. Kit was self-sufficient and full of buoyancy that was bound to carry her over obstacles, but Jean was sensitive and dependent on her environment for spur and stimulation. She heard a step behind her and turned81 eagerly as Mr. Craig came into the room, looking for her. He saw the brushes and the gloves in her hand, and the look in her eyes uplifted to his own. Very gently he folded his arms around her, his cheek pressed close to her brown hair.
“She’s only seventeen,” whispered Mrs. Craig.
“Eighteen in April,” he answered, “and dear, she isn’t trusting to her own strength for the flight. Don’t you know this quiet little girl of ours is mounted on Pegasus, and riding him handily in her upward trend?”
But there was no winged horse or genius in view to Jean’s blurred sight as she watched the road unroll before her, and looking back, saw only the curling smoke from Woodhow’s white chimneys.
“This is truly beautiful,” Jean said, in breathless admiration, as she laid aside her coat and hat, and stood in the big living room in Hastings. The beautiful home not far from New York had been a revelation to her. Overlooking the Hudson River, the view, although totally different, reminded her a little of her former home at Sandy Cove.
The center hall had a blazing fire in the big old rock fireplace, and Victoria, a prize-winning Angora, opened her wide blue eyes at the newcomer but did not stir. In the living room was another open fire. Influence of an artist’s83 hand was quite evident in the details of the room. There were flowering plants at the windows, and fresh roses on the table in gracefully studied arrangements.
“You know, or maybe you don’t know,” said Beth, “that we have one hobby here, raising flowers, and especially roses. We exhibit every year, and you’ll grow to know them and love the special varieties just as I do. You have no idea, Jean, of the thrill when you find a new bloom different from all the rest.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised to find out anything new and wonderful about this place.” Jean laughed, leaning back in the deep-seated chair. Like the rest of the room’s furniture it was slipcovered in chintz, deep cream, cross-barred in dull green, with splashy pink roses scattered here and there. Two large white Polar rugs lay on the polished floor.
“If those were not members of the Peabody84 family, old and venerated, they never would be allowed to bask before my fire,” Beth said. “But way back there was an Abner Peabody who sailed the northern seas, and used to bring back trophies and bestow them on members of his family as future heirlooms. Consequently, we fall over these bears in the dark, and bless Abner’s precious memory.”
After she was thoroughly warmed up and had drunk a cup of scalding tea, Jean found her way up to the room that was to be hers during her visit. It was the sunniest kind of a retreat in daffodil yellow and rich brown. The furniture was all in warm, deep-toned ivory, and there were springlike bouquets of daffodils everywhere.
“Gee, I think this is just darling,” Jean gasped, standing in the middle of the floor and gazing around happily. “It’s just as if spring were already here.”
85 “I put a drawing board here for you too,” Beth told her. “Of course you’ll use my studio any time you like, but it’s handy to have a corner all your own at odd times. I forgot to mention it before, but we’re going to have a guest for the weekend. A boy whose parents I knew in Sorrento years ago. His name is Aldo Thomas. His father was an American sculptor who married an Italian Contessa. Aldo is also studying art here in New York this winter and lives with his aunt. He has inherited his father’s artistic talent so I know you will find much in common. And I also think you’ll do each other a world of good.”
“Well, you’re thoroughly an American girl, Jean, and Aldo is half Italian. You’ll understand what I mean when you see him. He is high-strung and temperamental, and you are so steady-nerved and well-balanced.”
86 Jean thought over this last when she was alone, and smiled to herself. Why on earth did one have to give outward signs of temperament, she wondered, before people believed one had sensitive feelings or responsive emotions? Must she wear her heart on her sleeve for a sort of personal barometer? Peg Moffat was high-strung and temperamental too. So was Kit. They both indulged now and then in mental fireworks, but nobody took them seriously, or considered it a mark of genius. She felt just a shade of half-amused tolerance toward this Aldo person who was to get any balance or poise out of her own nature.
“If Beth knew for one minute,” she told the face in the oval mirror of the dressing table, “what kind of a person you really are, she’d never trust you to balance anybody’s temperament.”
But the following day brought a trim car87 to the door, and out stepped Aldo. And Jean, coming down the wide center staircase, saw Beth before the fire with a tall, thin figure, whose clothes seemed to hang on him carelessly as if he wore them as a concession to convention.
“This is my cousin Jean,” said Mrs. Newell in her pleasant way. Aldo extended his hand diffidently. “I want you two to be very good friends.”
“But I know, surely, we shall be,” Aldo said easily. And at the sound of his voice Jean’s prejudices melted. He had very dark eyes with lids that drooped slightly at the outer corners. His thin face emphasized his prominent cheekbones and his skin was fair in spite of his Italian heritage.
“Now, you won’t be treated one bit as guests,” Beth told them. “You must come and go as you like, and have the freedom of the88 house. I keep my own study hours and like to be alone then. Do as you like and be happy. Run along, both of you.”
“She is wonderful, isn’t she?” Aldo said as they walked out to the cliff above the river. “She makes me feel always as if I were a ship waiting with loose sails, and all at once—a breeze—and I am on my way again. You have not been to Sorrento, have you? You can see the little fisher boats from our terraces. It is all so beautiful, but now the villa is quite shabby and parts of it are gone. It was bombed during the war and there are no materials to rebuild it. But it is still beautiful.”
Jean was strangely charmed by him. He was so different from anyone she had ever known. None of the boys she knew would have talked so poetically, even if they had known the right words and phrases to use. That would be sissy stuff.
“I wonder if you ever knew Peg Moffat.89 She’s a Long Island girl from the Cove where I used to live, and she lived abroad every year until the war came, for two or three months with her mother. She is an artist.”
“I don’t know her,” Aldo shook his head doubtfully. “You see over there, while we entertained a great deal, I was away at school in Milan or Rome and scarcely met anyone excepting in the summertime, and then we went to my aunt’s villa up on Lake Maggiore. Ah, but that is the most beautiful spot of all. There is one island there called Isola Bella. I wish I could carry it right over here with me and set it down for you to see. It is all terraces and splendid old statuary, and when you see it at sunrise it is like a jewel, it glows so with color.”
Jean stood looking down at the river, listening. There was always a lingering love in her heart for the beauty and romance of Europe, and especially of Italy. “I’d love to go there,” she said, with a little sigh.
90 “And that is what I was always saying when I was there, and my father told me of this country. I wanted to see it so. He would tell me of the great gray hills that climb to the north, and the craggy broken shoreline up through Maine, and the little handful of amethyst isles that lie all along it. He was born in New Hampshire, at Portsmouth. We are going up to see the house some day, but I know just what it looks like. It stands close down by the water’s edge in the old part of the town, and there is a big rambling garden with flagged walks. His grandfather was a shipbuilder and sent his ships out all over the world. And he had just one daughter. There was an artist who came up from the south in one of his ships, and he was taken very ill. So they took him in as a guest, and the daughter cared for him. And when he was well, what do you think?”
91 “But more than that,” he said warmly. “He carved the most wonderful figureheads for my great grandfather’s ships. All over the world they were famous. His son was my father.”
It was indescribable, the tone in which he said the last. It told more than anything else how much he admired this sculptor father of his. That night Jean wrote to Ralph.
I know you’ll want to know all about my trip. Beth met me at Grand Central Station and we drove out here to Hastings. Honestly, Ralph, when I saw the house, I had to blink my eyes. It looks as if it belonged right out on the North Shore at the Cove. The lawn sweeps down at the back to the cliffs where you can look right down at the Hudson. And inside the house it is summertime even now. They have flowers everywhere you look, because they raise their92 own. Beth says she’ll give me slips from her rosebushes and I can start a sunken rose garden.
A most interesting artist friend of Beth’s has come out to spend the weekend here. His name is Aldo Thomas—the Aldo because his mother is an Italian countess and the Thomas because his father is an American sculptor. He has been telling me all about Italy and his father’s statues.
Monday I begin my course at the Academy and I am so excited, although it seems as though I have forgotten all I have learned. I have to keep reminding myself that all of this is really happening to me. I woke up this morning completely bewildered for I thought I was still back in Elmhurst.
I hope to see Peg Moffat while I am here. Of course I shall probably see her at93 school, but I won’t have much opportunity to really talk to her there. She has a studio in Greenwich Village that I am simply dying to see.
Even with all these new things to do and see and learn I still miss you terribly. And June seems such a long way off. I wish it were tomorrow that you were coming back so that you could enjoy this with me. But since that is impossible I shall write you everything that happens while I’m here.
All my love,
“I’ve just had a telephone call from your aunt, the Contessa,” Beth said to Aldo at breakfast Saturday morning. “She sends an invitation to us for this afternoon, a private view of paintings and sculpture at Henri Morel’s studio. She knew him in Italy and France, and he leaves for the west coast on Monday. There will be a small reception and tea, nothing too formal, Jean, so dress well, hold up your chin and turn out your toes, and behave with credit to your chaperon. It is your debut.”
Aldo looked at her quite seriously, but Jean caught the flutter of fun in her eyes, and knew95 it would not be as ceremonious as it sounded. When she was ready that afternoon she slipped into Beth’s own bedroom, at the south end of the house. Here were three rooms, all so different, and each showing a distinct phase of character. One was her winter studio. This was a large sunny room, paneled in soft-toned pine, with a wood-brown rug on the floor, and all the treasures accumulated abroad during her years there of study and travel. In this room Jean used to find the girl Beth, who had ventured forth after the laurels of genius, and found success awaiting her with love back in Hastings.
The second room was a private sitting room, comfortable furniture, and window boxes filled with blooming hyacinths. Here were framed photographs of family and friends, a portrait of Elliott over the desk, his class colors on the wall, and intimate snapshots he96 had sent her. This was the mother’s and wife’s room. And the last was her bedroom. Here Jean found her dressing. All in black, with a bunch of violets pinned to her waist. She turned and looked at Jean critically.
“I only had this new green suit,” said Jean. “I thought with a sort of feminine blouse it would look all right.”
The blouse was white handkerchief linen with folded-back cuffs that were edged with Irish crochet lace. Above it Jean’s eager face framed in brown hair, her brown eyes, small imperative chin with its deep cleft, and look of interest that Kit called “questioning curiosity,” all seemed accentuated.
“It’s just right, dear,” said Beth. “Go get a yellow jonquil to wear.”
There was a clean smell of fresh snow in the air as they drove along the highway to New York that afternoon. Once Aldo called97 out in surprise. A pair of sparrows teetered on a fence rail, bickering with each other.
“Ah, there they are,” he cried. “And in Italy now there would be no snow. My father told me of the sparrows here. He said they were such quarrelsome and saucy birds that he really didn’t like them when he lived here. But now, not seeing them, he misses their chirping.”
“How queer it is,” Jean said, “I mean the way one remembers and loves all the little things about one’s own country.”
“Not so much all the country. Just the spot of earth you spring from. He loves New England.”
“And I love Long Island. I was born there, not at the Cove, but farther down the coast near Montauk Point, and the smell of salt water and the marshes always stirs me. I love the long green rolling stretches, and the little98 low hills in the background like you see in paintings of the Channel Islands and some of the ones along the Scotch coast. Just a few straggly scrub pines, you know, and the willows and wild cherry trees and beach plums.”
“Somewhere I’ve read about that—the earth’s hold upon her people. I’m afraid I only respond to New York’s rolling country, too. I’ve been so homesick abroad just to look at a crooked apple tree in bloom that I didn’t know what to do. Where were you born, Aldo?”
“At the Villa Marina. Ah, but you should see it.” Aldo’s dark eyes glowed with pride. “It is dull terra cotta color, and then dull green too, the mold of ages, I think, like the under side of an olive leaf, and flowers everywhere, and poplars in long avenues. My father laughs at our love for it, and says it is just a moldy old ruin, but every summer we used to spend there. Some day perhaps you could come to see99 us, Jean. Would they lend her to us for a while, do you think, Mrs. Newell?”
“I should love to. Isn’t it fun dreaming of impossible things like this?”
“Sometimes they turn out to be very possible,” Beth returned, whimsically. “Hopes to me are so tangible. We just set ahead of us the big hope, and the very thought gives us incentive and endeavor and punch. Plan from now on, Jean, for one spring in Italy. Then, maybe, some spring you’ll find yourself there.”
They arrived just a little late at the Morel studio. Jean had expected it to be more of the usual workshop, where canvases heaped against the walls seemed to have collected the dust of ages, and a broom would have been a desecration. Here, you ascended in an elevator, from an entrance hall that Beth declared always made her think of an Egyptian tomb.
When they reached the ninth floor, they100 found themselves in the long foyer of the Morel studio. Jean had rather a confused idea of what followed. There was the meeting with Morel himself, stoop-shouldered and thin, with his vivid foreign face, half-closed eyes, and sparse gray hair. Near him stood Madame Morel, with a wealth of auburn hair and big dark eyes. Aldo said to Jean just before they were separated, “He loves to paint red hair, and Aunt Signa says she has the most wonderful hair you ever saw.”
Beth had been taken possession of by a stout smiling young man with horn-rimmed glasses and was already the center of a little group. Jean heard his name, and recognized it as that of a famous illustrator. Aldo introduced her to a tall girl in brown whom he had met in Italy, and then somehow, Jean could not have told how it happened, they drifted apart. Not but what she was glad of a breathing spell, just101 a chance to get her bearings. Morel was showing some recent canvases, still unframed, at the end of the studio, and everyone seemed to gravitate that way.
Jean found a quiet corner just as someone handed her fragrant tea in a little red and gold cup, and she was free to look around her. A beautiful woman had just arrived. She was tall and past first youth, but Jean leaned forward expectantly. This must be the Contessa. Her gown seemed as indefinite and elusive in detail as a cloud. It was dull blue violet in color, with a gleam of gold here and there as she moved slowly toward Morel’s group. Under a wide-brimmed felt hat, the same shade of blue violet, Jean saw the lifted face, with tired lovely eyes, and close waves of pale golden hair. And this was not all. If only Doris could have seen her, thought Jean. She had wanted a princess from real life, or a countess, anything that was102 tangibly romantic and noble, and here was the very pattern of a princess, even to a splendid white Russian wolfhound that followed her with docile eyes and drooping long nose.
“My dear, would you mind coaxing that absent-minded girl at the tea table to part with some lemon for my tea? And the Roquefort sandwiches are excellent too.”
Jean turned at the sound of the new voice beside her. There on the same settee sat a robust, middle-aged latecomer. Her black coat was worn and frayed, her hat altogether too youthful with its pink and purple roses veiled in net. Jean saw, too, that there was a button missing from her dress, and her collar was pinned at a slightly crooked angle. But the collar was real lace and the pin was of old pearls and amethysts. It was her face that charmed. Framed in an indistinct mass of fluffy hair, mixed gray and blonde, with a turned-up, winning103 mouth, and delightfully expressive eyes, it was impossible not to feel immediately interested and acquainted.
Before long, Jean found herself indulging in all sorts of confidences. They seemed united by a common feeling of, not isolation exactly, but newness to this circle.
“I enjoy it so much more sitting over here and looking on,” Jean said. “Beth, my cousin, knows everyone, of course, but it is like a painting. You close one eye, and get the group effect. And I must remember everything to write home to the girls and Tommy.”
“Tell me about them. Who are they that you love them so?” asked her new friend. “I, too, like the bird’s-eye view best. I told Morel I did not come to see anything but his pictures, and now I am ready for tea and talk.”
So Jean told all about Woodhow and the family there and before she knew it, she had104 disclosed too, her own hopes and ambitions, and perhaps a glimpse of what it might mean to the others at home, if she, the first to leave, could only make good. And her companion told her, in return, of how sure one must be that the career decided upon was what one really wanted before one gives up all to it.
“Over in France, and in Italy, too, but mostly in France,” she said, “I have found girls like you who before the war were living on little but hopes, wasting their time and what money could be spared them from some home over here, following false hopes, and sometimes starving. It is but a will-o’-the-wisp, this success in art, a sort of pitiful madness that takes possession of our brains and hearts and makes us forget the commonplace things in life that lie before us.”
“But how can you tell for sure?” asked Jean, leaning forward anxiously.
105 “Who can answer that? I have only pitied the ones who could not see that they had no genius. Ah, my dear, when you meet real genius, then you know the difference instantly. It is like the real gems and the paste. There is consecration and no thought of gain. The work is done irresistibly, spontaneously, because they cannot help it. They do not think of so-called success, it is only the fulfillment of their own visions that they love. You like to draw and paint, you say, and you have studied some in New York. What then?”
Jean pushed back her hair impulsively.
“Do you know, I think you are a little bit wrong. You won’t mind my saying that, will you, please? It is only this. Suppose we are not geniuses, we who see pictures in our minds and long to paint them. I think that is the gift too, quite as much as the other, as the power to execute. Think how many go through life with106 eyes blind to all beauty and color! Surely it must be something to have the power of seeing it all, and of knowing what you want to paint. My cousin Becky back home says it’s better to aim at the stars and hit the fence post, than to aim at the fence post and hit the ground.”
“Ah, so, and one of your English poets says too, ‘A man’s aim should outreach his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’ Maybe, you are quite right. The vision is the gift.” She turned and laid her hand on Jean’s shoulder, her eyes beaming with enjoyment of their talk. “I shall remember you, Brown Eyes.”
And just at this point Beth and Aldo came toward them, the former smiling at Jean. “Don’t you think you’ve monopolized the Contessa long enough?” she asked. Jean could not answer. The Contessa? This whimsical, oddly-dressed woman who had sat and talked with her over their tea in the friendliest sort of107 way, all the time that Jean had thought the Contessa was the tall lady in the ethereal dress with the Russian wolfhound at her heels.
“But this is delightful,” exclaimed the Contessa, happily. “We have met incognito. I thought she was some demure little art student who knew no one here, and she has been so kind to me, who also seemed lonely. Come now, we will meet with the celebrities.”
With her arm around Jean’s waist, she led her over to the group around Morel, and told them in her charming way of how they had discovered each other.
“And she has taught me a lesson that you, Morel, with all your art, do not know, I am sure. It is not the execution that is the crown of ambition and aspiration, it is the vision itself. For the vision is divine inspiration, but the execution is the groping of the human hand.”
108 “Oh, but I never could say it so beautifully,” exclaimed Jean, pink-cheeked and embarrassed, as Morel laid his hand over hers.
“Nevertheless,” he said, gently, “success to thy fingertips, Mademoiselle.”
Jean confessed her mistake to Beth after they had returned home. There were just a few minutes to spare before bedtime, after wishing Aldo good night, and she sat on a little stool before the fire in the sitting room.
“I hadn’t the least idea she was the Contessa. You know that tall woman with the wolfhound, Beth—”
Mrs. Newell laughed softly. “That was Betty Goodwin. Betty loves to dress up. She plays little parts for herself all the time. I think today she was an Austrian princess perhaps. The next time she will be a tailor-made English girl. Betty indulges her whims, and110 she has just had her portrait done by Morel as a sort of dream maiden, I believe. I caught a glimpse of it on exhibition last week. Looks as little like Betty as I do. Jean, paint if you must, but paint the thing as you see it, and do choose apple trees and red barns rather than dream maidens who aren’t real.”
“I don’t know what I shall paint,” Jean answered with a little quick sigh. “She rather frightened me, I mean the Contessa. I don’t think she has much use for my kind of art. She thinks only real geniuses should paint.”
“Nonsense. Paint all you like. It will train you in form and color and that you can apply later to your designing. You’re seventeen, aren’t you, Jean?”
Jean nodded. “Eighteen in April.”
“You seem younger than that. If I could, I’d swamp you in paint and study for the next two years. By that time you would have either found out that you were tired to death of it,111 and wanted real life, or you would be doing something worthwhile in the art line. But in any event you would have no regrets. I mean you could live the rest of your life contentedly, without feeling there was something you had missed. It was odd your meeting the Contessa as you did. She likes you very much. Now run along and good night, dear.”
When Jean reached her own room, she found a surprise. On the desk lay a letter from home that Mathilda had laid there. Mathilda was Beth’s standby, as she said. She was tall and spare and middle-aged, with a broad serene face, and sandy-red hair worn parted in the middle. It was just like her, Jean thought, to lay the letter from home where it would catch her eye and make her happy before she went to sleep.
One joy of a letter from home was that it turned out to be several as soon as you got it out of the envelope. The one on top was from112 her mother, written just before the mail truck came up the hill.
You have been much on my mind, but I haven’t time for a long letter, since Mr. Ricketts may chug up over the hill any minute, and he won’t wait. I am ever so glad for you that you have had this opportunity to study again. Dad is really quite himself these days, and Becky has lent me Mrs. Gorham, so the work has been very easy for me, even without you.
Becky says it looks like an early spring this year, although how she can tell when it still so bleak and barren is beyond me. The roads are still piled with snow and the river is frozen over. The girls, Tommy, and Jack have been skating almost every day.
Have you everything you need? Let me know otherwise. You know, I can always find some way out. Write often to us, my113 dear. I feel very near you these days in love and thought. Your character is developing so fast and I want to watch so carefully. There is always a curious bond between the firstborn and a mother, to the mother especially, for you taught me motherhood, my darling. Some day you will understand what I mean, when you look down into the face of your own. I must stop, for I am getting altogether homesick for you.
Jean sat for a few minutes after reading this, without unfolding the other letters. Mothers were wonderful persons, she thought. Their loving arms stretched so far over one, and gave forth a love and protectiveness such as nothing else in the world could do.
The next was from Doris, quite like her too. Brief and beautifully penned on her very own pink notepaper.
114 Dear Jeannie,
I do hope you are having a wonderful time. Have you met any glamorous people yet? If you have, I hope you write us all about them. I want to know everything.
School is very uninteresting just now and it is cold walking to school. But I do have that one teacher that I’m crazy about, you know, Miss Simmons. She wears such nice clothes and her voice is so beautiful. I can’t bear people with loud voices. When I see her in the morning, it just wipes out all the cold walk and everything that’s gone wrong.
I wish I could have gone away to school like you and Billie, or at least I wish Billie was back home. Kit says it’s time to go to bed.
Your loving sister,
115 “Oh, Doris, you crazy kid,” Jean laughed to herself. The letter was entirely typical of Doris and her vagaries.
Tommy’s letter was hurried.
We miss you awfully. Jack got hurt yesterday. His foot was jammed when a tree fell on it. He is better now because I helped to take care of his foot. He wasn’t hurt badly.
We go skating every day for the river is frozen over. Jack and I and some of the other boys have been playing hockey with my new puck that you gave me for Christmas.
Mrs. Gorham made caramel filling today the way you do and it all ran out in the oven. She said the funniest thing. “Thunder and lightning.” Just like that. And when I laughed, she told me not to because she116 ought not to say such things, but when cooking went wrong, she just lost her head completely. Isn’t that funny? Bring me home a puppy. I’d love it.
The letter from her father was gay and cheerful and full of advice. He did sound better, just as her mother had said.
Although we all miss you, we seem to be getting along pretty well. With Mrs. Gorham to help, your mother does not have too much to do.
The Judge dropped in last evening for a visit. He says that Billie is getting along splendidly at school. He has many new friends and seems to like the work. Becky and the Judge, of course, miss him as we do you, my dear.
117 I am in the middle of an interesting new book on world economics. I wish you were here so that I could read parts of it to you. Even though your art work is very important, it is equally valuable to be well-informed on the affairs of the world in which you live. I hope you will keep this bit of advice in mind, for in order to be fully successful, you must keep abreast of the times and not be so completely engrossed in your work, that you fail to recognize what goes on around you.
But I didn’t mean to start preaching. You shall learn all this as you study and grow older, I am sure. I expect to see great changes in you when you return. But do not change too much so that we won’t know you. We love you as you are, darling.
With all my love,
118 Jean was quite moved by this letter, for her father was making her responsible for her own future. It made her feel quite different somehow, as though she was entrusted with the power to make or break her own career.
Last of all was Kit’s letter, two sheets of penciled scribbling, crowded together on both sides.
I’m writing this the last thing at night when my brain is getting calm. Any old time the poet starts singing carelessly of the joys and beauties of the country in the wintertime, I hope he lands on this waste spot during a January blizzard. He’d change his mind in a hurry.
If you get your hands on any of the current fashion magazines, be sure to send them home to us. Even if we can’t indulge, we can dream, can’t we? I’m getting awfully tired of skirts and sweaters. It’s high119 time I was allowed to burst forth in something really stunning that would knock everybody cold.
I have a new friend, a dog. Jack says he’s just a stray, but he isn’t. He’s a shepherd dog, and very intelligent. I’ve named him Mac. He fights with Tommy, which is strange for that brother of ours usually has a way with animals. I guess he’s just a one-man dog, for he likes me alone.
I miss you in the evenings an awful lot. Doris goes around in a sort of moon ring of romance nowadays, so it’s no fun talking to her, and Tommy spends most of his time fooling around with those blasted airplanes of his. His attitude toward Jack is really wonderful, it’s almost fatherly. Did you ever wish we had another boy in the family? I do now and then. I’d like one about sixteen, just between us two, that I could be pals with. Tommy’s too little. Buzzy comes120 the nearest to being a big brother that I’ve ever had. That guy really had a marvelous sense of fairness, Jean, do you realize that? I hope being out West hasn’t changed him too much. I liked him the way he was. I am impatient for his return. Do you feel the same way about Ralph?
Well, my dear artistic close relative and beloved sister, it is almost ten, so it’s time for Kathleen to turn into her lonely cot. Give my love to Beth, and write to me personally. We can’t bear your inclusive family letters.
If it hadn’t been so late, Jean felt she could have sat down then and there, and answered every one of them. They took her straight back to Woodhow and all the daily round of fun there. In the morning she read parts of them to Aldo.
121 “Ah, but you are lucky,” Aldo said quietly when she had finished. “I am just myself, and it’s so monotonous. I wish I could meet your family and know them all.”
“They are a wonderful family, although I rather envy you in a way. Sometimes it seems as if one loses individuality in a large family.”
“You shouldn’t feel that way,” replied Aldo. “Why, look, here you are in New York about to start studying again. Isn’t that proof enough that there is room for individuality even in a big family?”
Jean thought of this later when she was getting ready for the next day at school and decided that Aldo was probably right. “I’ll work so hard these next two months, that the family will be convinced that the time was well spent. I’ll make them proud of me, or at least I’ll try.”
The next morning Jean took the commuter’s train into New York and found her way to the Art Academy. The first person she ran into after she had enrolled was Peg Moffat.
“Gosh, it’s good to see you again, Jean. I was so excited when you wrote to say you were coming back. How long will you be here?”
“Just a couple of months, Peg. I’m taking that special course in textile designing.”
It was now nearly a year since Jean had been a student at the art school. She had gone into the work enthusiastically when they had lived at the Cove on Long Island, making the123 trip back and forth every day. It thrilled her to be back again for it represented so much to her, all the aims and ambitions of a year before.
As they walked upstairs to Jean’s classroom, some of the girls recognized her and called out. Jean waved her hand to them, but did not stop. She was too busy looking at the sketches along the walls, listening to the familiar sounds through open doors, Pop Higgins’ deep laugh, Miss Weston’s clear voice calling to one of the girls, Pierre the Frenchman, standing with his arm resting on a boy’s shoulders, pointing out to him mistakes in underlay of shadows. Even the familiar smell of turpentine and paint made her unbearably happy to be there.
Margaret Weston was the girls’ favorite instructor. The daughter of an artist herself, she had been born in Florence, Italy, and124 brought up there, later living in London and then Boston. Jean remembered how delightful her talks with the girls had been when she had described her father’s intimate circle of friends back in Italy. It had seemed so interesting to link the past and present with one who could remember, as a little girl, visits to all the art shrines. Jean had always been a favorite with her. The quiet, imaginative girl had appealed to Margaret Weston perhaps because she had the gift of visualizing the past and its great dreamers. She took both her hands now in a firm clasp, smiling down at her.
“Back again, Jean?”
“Only for this special course, Miss Weston,” Jean smiled a little wistfully. “I wish it were for longer. It seems awfully good to be here and see you all.”
“Have you done any work at all in the country?”
125 Had she done any work? A swift memory of the real work of Woodhow swept over Jean, and she could have laughed.
“Not much.” She shook her head. “I sort of lost my way for a while, there was so much else that had to be done, but I’m going to study now.”
So for two months, Jean could make believe that she was back as a “regular.” Every morning she went to class, getting inspiration and courage even from the teamwork. Later that first month, she was surprised to see Aldo waiting for her at the main entrance.
“I’ve come to take you away. It is not good to bury yourself completely in your work. It is time that you thought of something besides paint and warp and woof.”
Jean suddenly remembered the words of her father’s first letter to her. How he had warned her of forgetting everything but her work. “Where are we going?” she asked.
126 “I have tickets to the latest Broadway play. It’s a musical and very good, from all I hear and have read about it. But first we are going to lunch at the Waldorf.”
Jean never forgot that afternoon with Aldo. She forgot the art school completely while she listened to the gay tunes and witty dialogue coming from the stage. When she returned to Elmhurst, she often remembered that day and it made it easier for her to work at home at everyday chores.
Later, while they were having dinner in a small Italian restaurant that Aldo frequented often, she told him of her work. How her designs were progressing and how she was learning to weave and how wonderful it was to see her own designs come to life in the threads of the material on her loom.
In return, Aldo told her of his own work. He was now working in clay and hoped to do127 some real sculpture before he was through. “I want to work in marbles, the way my father does,” he said simply. In those few words his own ambitions were exposed.
They parted at Grand Central, Jean to go back to Beth’s in Hastings and Aldo to take the subway uptown to his aunt’s apartment.
A few days later, Jean went home with Peg Moffat to spend the weekend with her in her Greenwich Village studio. “Yet you can hardly call it a studio now, since Mom came and took possession,” Peg said. “We girls had it all nice and messy, and she keeps it in order, I tell you.”
“Somebody was needed to keep it in order,” Mrs. Moffat put in. They were all sitting around the table after dinner that evening.
“Eloise and Janet and I kept house,” Peg put in significantly. “And, really, talk about128 temperament! We had no regular meals at all, and Eloise says if you show her crackers and pimento cheese again for a year, she’ll simply die in her tracks. Mom has fed us up beautifully since she came back from Miami. Real substantial food.”
“Yes and they didn’t think they needed me at all, Jean. Somehow a mother doesn’t go with studio equipment, but this one does, and now everyone in the block comes down to visit us. They all need mothering now.”
Jean found the studio delightfully attractive. The ceiling was beamed in dark oak, and a wide fireplace with a crackling wood fire made Jean almost feel as if she were back home. There were wide shelves lined with books on painting all around the room. At the windows hung shrimp-colored draperies that could be pulled across on transverse rods to shut out the night. A small spinet piano took129 up one corner of the room and now Peg walked over to it and sat down to play. In the middle of a Mozart sonata, Jean sighed heavily.
Peg stopped playing, turned around, and asked, “What is it? Tired?”
Jean’s lashes were wet with unshed tears.
“I was wishing Mother were here too,” she answered. “She loves all this so—just as I do. It’s awfully lonesome up there sometimes without any of this. I love the hills and the freedom, but, oh, it is so lonely. Why, I even love to hear the horns of the cabs blowing impatiently and the sound of the busses releasing their air brakes.”
Jean slept late the next morning, late for her at least. It was nearly ten when Mrs. Moffat came into the large room to pull back the curtains and say that breakfast was nearly ready.
“Did you close the big house at the Cove?”130 Jean asked while they were dressing.
“Rented it furnished. With Brock away at college and me sharing this studio with Eloise and Janet, Mother thought she’d let it go, and stay with me when she came back from Florida. She’s over at Aunt Win’s while I’m at classes. They’ve got an apartment overlooking Central Park because Uncle Frank can’t bear commuting in the winter. We’ll go over there tomorrow afternoon. Aunt Win’s up to her eyebrows in hospital work.”
“Know something, Peg?” Jean said suddenly, “I do believe that’s what ails Elmhurst. Nobody up there is doing anything different this winter from what they have every winter for the last fifty years. Down here there’s always something new and interesting going on.”
“Sure, but is that good? After a while you expect something new all the time, and you131 can’t settle down to any one thing steadily. Coming, Mom, right away.”
“Good morning, lazy things,” said Mrs. Moffat as she poured the coffee. “I’ve had my breakfast. I’ve got two appointments this morning and must rush.”
“Mother always mortgages tomorrow. I’ll bet anything she’s got appointments lined up for a month ahead. What’s on for today?”
“Dentist and shopping with your Aunt Win. I’m going to have lunch with her, so you girls will be alone. There are seats for a recital at Carnegie Hall if you’d enjoy it. I think Jean would. It’s a Chamber Music group. Peg only likes orchestral concerts, but if you go to this, you might drop in later at Signa’s. It’s not far, you know, Peg, and not a bit out of your way. Aunt Win and I will join you there.”
“Isn’t she the dearest, bustling Mother?”132 Peg said placidly, when they were alone. “Sometimes I feel ages older than she is. She has as much fun dashing around to everything as if New York were a steady sideshow. Do you want to go?”
“I’d love to,” Jean answered frankly. “Who’s Signa?”
“A girl Aunt Win’s interested in. She plays the violin. Jean Craig, do you realize the world is just jammed full of people who can do things, I mean unusual things like painting and playing and singing, better than the average person, and yet there are only a few of them who are really great. It’s such a tragedy because they all keep on working and hoping and thinking they’re going to be great. Aunt Win has about a dozen tucked under her wing that she encourages, and I think it’s perfectly deadly.”
Peg planted both elbows on the table and held her cup of coffee in the air.
133 “Because they won’t be great geniuses, you mean?”
“Sure. They’re just half-way. All they’ve got is the longing, the urge forward.”
“But it’s something to have the aims and the ambitions, don’t you think?”
“Maybe so,” Peg said briskly. “Maybe I can’t see them myself, and it’s just a waste of time keeping me at the Academy. I’m not a genius, and I’ll never paint great pictures, but I am going to be an illustrator, and while I’m learning I can imagine myself all the geniuses that ever lived. We were told, not long ago, to paint a typical city scene. Most of the class went in for the regulation things, Washington Arch and Grant’s Tomb, Madison Square and the opera crowd at the Met. Do you know what I did?” She pushed back her hair from her eager face, and smiled. “I went down on the East Side and you know how they’re always digging up the streets here after the gas134 mains or something that’s gone wrong? Well, I found some workmen resting, sitting on the edge of the trench eating lunch in the sunlight, and some kids playing in the dirt as if it were sand. Golly, it was wonderful, Jean, the color and composition and I managed to get it all in lovely splashes. I just called it Noon. Does it sound good?”
“Splendid,” said Jean.
Peg nodded happily. “Miss Weston said it was the best thing I had done, the best in the class. You can find beauty anywhere if you look for it.”
“Oh, gee, it’s good to be down talking to you again,” Jean exclaimed. “It spurs me along so to be where others are working and thinking.”
“Think so?” Peg turned her head with her funny quizzical smile. “You ought to hear Pop Higgins talk on that. He runs away to135 a little shack somewhere up on the Hudson when he wants to paint. He says Emerson and Thoreau were right when they wrote about the still places where you rest and invite your soul. Let’s get dressed. It’s after eleven already and if we want to do any shopping before that concert we ought to be going.”
That evening a few of Peg’s artist friends came in to talk shop, and Jean found her old-time favorite teacher, Pop Higgins, among them. He was about seventy, but erect and quick of step as any of the boys, with iron-gray hair, close-cut and curly, and keen brown eyes. He was really splendid looking, Jean thought.
“You know, Jeannie,” he began, slipping comfortably down a trifle in his chair, “you’re looking fine. I think your studies here have done something to you. How is it going?”
“It’s going beautifully, but much too fast.137 I’ll have to be going home soon, I’m afraid. There are only a few weeks left in the course.”
“That’s all right. Anything that tempers character while you’re young is good for the whole system. I was born out west in Kansas, when the West was still pretty wild. I used to ride cattle for my father when I was only about ten. And, Lord above, those nights on the plains taught my heart the song of life. I wouldn’t take back one single hour of them.”
“Did you paint then?”
He laughed, a deep, hearty laugh that made Mrs. Moffat smile at them. “Never touched a brush until after I was thirty. I loved color and could see it. I knew that shadows were purple or blue, and I used to squint one eye to get the tint of the earth after we’d plowed, dull rusty-red like old wounds, it was. First sketch I ever drew was one of my138 sister Polly. She stood on the edge of a gully hunting some stray turkeys. I’ve got the painting I made later from that sketch. It was exhibited, too, called Sundown.”
“Oh, I’ve seen it,” Jean said. “The land is all in deep blues and hyacinth tones and the sky is amber and the queerest green, and her skirt is just a dash of red.”
“The red that shows under an oriole’s wing when he flies. She was seventeen then. About your age, isn’t it, Jeannie?”
He glanced at her sideways. Jean nodded.
“I thought so, although she looked younger.”
“I—I hope she didn’t die,” said Jean anxiously.
“Die? Bless your heart,” he laughed again. “She’s living up in Colebrook. Went back over the same route her mother had traveled, and married in the old home town. Pioneer people live to be pretty old.”
139 “It must have been wonderful,” Jean said. “Mother’s from the West too, only way out West, from California. Her brother has the big ranch there where she was born, but she never knew any hardships at all. Everything was comfortable and there was always plenty of money, she says, and it never seemed like the real West to us, when she’d tell of it.”
“Oh, but it is, the real West of the last sixty years, as it has grown up to success and prosperity. If I keep you here talking any longer to an old fellow like myself, the boys won’t be responsible for their actions. You’re a novelty, you know. Bruce is glaring at me.”
He rose leisurely and went over beside Mrs. Moffat’s chair, and Bruce Pearson hurried to take his place.
“I thought he’d keep you talking here all night. And you sat there drinking it all in as if you liked it.”
“I did,” said Jean flatly. “I loved it. I140 haven’t been here at all. I’ve been way out on a Kansas prairie.”
“Stuff,” said Bruce calmly. “Say, got any good dogs up at your place?”
“No. Kit wrote me she picked up a stray shepherd dog, but I haven’t seen him yet. Why?” Jean looked at him with sudden curiosity.
“Nothing, only you remember when you were moving from the Cove, Tommy sold me his Cocker pup?”
“Yes, I remember.”
“We’ve got some swell puppies. I was wondering whether you’d take one home to Tommy from me if I brought it in.”
“I’d love to. Tommy had his twelfth birthday the other day and I couldn’t think of anything to get him so I just sent a birthday telegram. The puppy will make a perfect belated gift,” said Jean, her face aglow. It was just like Bruce to think of that, and how Tommy141 would love it. “I think we’ll name him Bruce, if you don’t mind.”
Bruce didn’t mind in the least. In fact, he felt it would be a sign of remembrance, he said. And he would bring in the puppy as soon as Jean was ready to go home.
“But you needn’t hurry her,” Peg warned, coming to sit with them. “She hasn’t been here long, and I’m hoping if I can just stretch it along rather unconsciously, she’ll stay right through the term, the way she should.”
Jean felt almost guilty, as her own heart echoed the wish. How she would study, if only it could happen.
On the following Saturday afternoon, Jean left Beth to go browsing through the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She had little time left in New York, and wanted to revisit some of her favorites before she had to go back to Elmhurst.
Beth drove her up to the station and waved142 to her as she boarded the local. “Call me before you leave, and I’ll pick you up,” she called as the train started to move. Jean nodded, walked back into the car, and found a seat.
After settling herself comfortably, she opened her bag, and found a letter from Ralph that had been in the day’s mail. She had not had time to read it before she left. She opened it now and read.
Your last letter sounded so enthusiastic about your work, that I know you must be having a marvelous time. It’s too bad you can’t stay there longer.
But who’s this Aldo guy that’s been squiring you thither and yon, all over New York? You needn’t be so nice to him just because he’s a friend of your cousin Beth’s. Too bad that I’m not there to look after things. You better not go falling for him143 with all his foreign airs and old-world charm. I know that type of smooth operator, for I saw a bunch of them when I served with the army overseas.
You’ll say I’m jealous. Well, what if I am? After all, I saw you first.
Write me, my darling, immediately and say these fears of mine are completely unfounded. I’ll be waiting anxiously for your sweet words of comfort and encouragement. If I don’t receive them, I’ll hop the next train and see for myself what the score is.
Buzzy and I are working hard as usual and life goes on in its unaltered and unalterable course. We will probably leave here in April, instead of waiting until June. I want to be in Elmhurst in the spring with you.
144 Jean was greatly amused by his letter and laughed to herself over the “villainous character” who was taking her away from Ralph. Of course Aldo had been very nice to her, taking her to lunch and all that. But he was only a good friend.
She spent a pleasant afternoon wandering through the art galleries of the museum. She revisited many of her old favorites—paintings she had stood before many times when the family had lived on Long Island. Then she found a special exhibition of paintings by modern American artists.
Jean spent a long time looking at these. Some of the artists’ names were familiar to her, others were new. In one corner of the gallery she came upon the sculptured head of a woman. Her face looked old and the lines in it were the lines of extreme hardship and pain. The forehead was high, the nose long and145 sharp, but the mouth was quite different. It was smiling, “in spite of everything,” Jean thought to herself. Although everything else about the head characterized utter disillusionment, the mouth looked gay and carefree.
A step behind her made Jean turn suddenly and there stood Aldo.
“Like it?” he asked briefly.
“Why, yes—no—I don’t know.” Jean hesitated, confused. “It’s so strange. I can’t reconcile the mouth to the rest of the head—”
“I’ll tell you about her, then maybe you’ll understand. She is an old Italian woman. Her husband and three sons were killed in the first World War, but undaunted, she raised her youngest son alone, although she was very poor and it was hard. Her son married and had two sons of his own. He became a successful lawyer. Then the second war came. Her home was demolished, her son’s entire family146 was killed, and yet, in spite of everything she has been through, she manages to smile that way, the smile of a young girl. I think it’s the best thing my father ever did.”
“Your father? I didn’t know—I mean—I never looked at the nameplate.”
“Yes. You see, I brought it with me when I came. Then, when I heard they were having this exhibition here, I entered it in his name. I think he’ll be pleased when he hears. He never exhibited anything in this country.”
The two stood and gazed at the head awhile in silence. It was Aldo who spoke first. “Look, are you doing anything now, could we go somewhere and have supper?”
“I think I could. If you’ll wait until I call Beth, so she won’t worry.”
They went back to the small Italian restaurant where Aldo had taken Jean before. It was almost empty when they walked in for it147 was still quite early. After they had eaten, Aldo said suddenly, “I’m going back to Italy next week.”
“Oh, I’m sorry you’re going so soon,” replied Jean. “But we wouldn’t have seen much more of each other anyway, I’m going home too.”
“Perhaps we will meet again someday, in Italy. Then I will show you all the beautiful places I love that I have told you about.”
“Perhaps,” said Jean doubtfully. It seemed so far away, like having a star for a goal and she was bound to hit the fence post.
All too soon, the course was over for Jean and now she was going home. It was hard for her to say goodbye to her friends at school, especially Peg Moffat. She would always be indebted to Beth for giving her this opportunity. They had many long talks about art and Beth offered to criticize Jean’s work if she would send it to her.
Jean had had a letter from Ralph just before she left New York and he said he was leaving then for Elmhurst. He and Buzzy had decided to return earlier than they had previously planned so they could be at Woodhow149 in time to celebrate Jean’s eighteenth birthday. He would arrive about the same time she did. That was almost the only reason she could think of for returning home and leaving the glamor and breathlessness of New York behind her, although she had to admit to herself she missed her family. It was the day before her birthday when she arrived.
Jean looked around eagerly as she jumped to the platform, wondering which of the family would drive down to meet her, but instead of Kit or her mother, Ralph stepped up to her with outstretched arms. All the way from Saskatoon, she thought, and just the same as he was a year before. Kit said later, in describing him, “He doesn’t look as if he could be the hero, but he’d always be the hero’s best friend, like Mercutio was to Romeo.” But Jean felt differently. This was the one she had waited for all those months to150 come back to her. Her exciting stay in New York, the course at the art school, all faded into insignificance by comparison with her feeling about Ralph.
Mr. Briggs waved a welcome as he trundled the express truck past them down the platform. “Looks a bit like rain. Good for the planters,” he called.
Ralph took Jean by the hand and led her over to the car. They drove up the long curved hill from the station and Jean lifted her head to it all, the long overlapping hill range that unfolded as they came to the first stretch of level road, the rich green of the pines gracing their slopes, and most of all the beautiful haze of young green that lay like a veil over the land from the first bursting leaf buds.
“Oh, it’s swell to be home,” she exclaimed. “Over at Beth’s the land seems so level, and I guess I really like the hills.”
151 “What on earth have you got in the basket, Jean?”
Jean had forgotten all about the puppy. Bruce had kept his word and met her at the train with a sleepy, diminutive cocker pup all curled up comfortably in a basket. He had started to show signs of personal interest, scratching and whining as soon as Jean had set the basket down at her feet in the car.
“It’s for Tommy. Bruce Pearson sent it up to him to remember Jiggers by.”
“It’s the dog Tommy had back at the Cove. He sold him to Bruce, a neighbor of ours, before we moved away. Now, Bruce is sending one of the pups back for Tommy.”
“How nice. I hear he and his friend Jack have been pleading for a puppy. This will be a pleasant surprise. The girls were sorry they couldn’t drive down,” Ralph said. “They were having some sort of Easter doings at152 school. Buzzy and I arrived two days ago and I asked for the privilege of coming down. Your mother’s up at the Judge’s today. Billie’s pretty sick, I think.”
“Billie?” cried Jean. “Not Billie?”
Even to think of Billie’s being ill was absurd. It was like saying a raindrop had the measles. He had never been sick all the years he had lived up there, bare-headed in the winter, free as the birds and animals he loved. All the way home she felt subdued.
“He came back from school Monday for Easter vacation and they are afraid of pneumonia. I don’t understand how he could have gotten it, but I’m sure if anybody could pull him through it would be Mrs. Ellis,” said Ralph.
But even with the best nursing and care, things looked bad for Billie. It was supper time before Mrs. Craig returned. The reunion between mother and daughter was indeed153 a happy one. “I can’t tell you how I feel to have you back again, darling.”
“And it’s wonderful to be back. I missed you all so.”
Doris was indignant and stunned at the blow that had fallen on her friend, Billie. She sputtered, “The idea that Billie should have to be sick during vacation. How long will he be in bed, Mother?”
“I don’t know, dear,” Mrs. Craig said. “He’s strong and husky, but it will be some time, I’m afraid, before he’ll be well again. Dr. Gallup came right over.”
“That’s good,” Kit put in. “He’ll get him well in no time. I don’t think there ever was a doctor so set on making people well. I’d rather see him come in the door, no matter what was wrong with me, sit down and tell me I had just a little distemper, open his black case, and mix me up that everlasting154 mess that tastes like cinnamon and sugar, than have a whole line of city specialists tapping me.”
Doris and Tommy clung closely to Jean, taking her and Ralph around the place to show her all the new chicks, orphans and otherwise. Woodhow really was showing signs of full return this year for the care and love spent on its rehabilitation. The fruit trees, after Buzzy’s pruning and fertilizing, and general treatment that made them look like swaddled babies, were blossoming profusely, and on the south slope of the field along the river, rows and rows of young peach trees had been set out. The garden too, had come in for its share of attention. Doris loved flowers, and had worked there more diligently than she usually could be coaxed to on any sort of real labor. She had cleared away the old dead plants first, and with Tommy’s help had155 plowed up the central plot, taking care to save all the perennials.
“You know what I wish, Mom,” said Doris, standing with earth-stained fingers in the midst of the tangle of old vines and bushes. “I wish we could lay out paths and put stones down on them, flat stones, I mean, like flags. And have flower beds with borders. Could we, do you think?”
Her earnestness made Mrs. Craig smile, but she agreed to the plan, and Becky helped out with slips from her flower store, so that the prospect for a garden was very good. And later Buzzy Hancock came up with Sally to advise and help too. The year out West had turned the country boy into a stalwart, independent individual whom even Sally regarded with some respect. He was taller than before, broad-shouldered, and sure of himself.
“I think Ralph has done wonders for156 him,” Sally said. “Mother thinks so too. He talks so enthusiastically about the West that she doesn’t seem to mind going out there any more, after seeing what it’s made of Buzzy. And Ralph says we’ll always keep the home here so that when we want to come back, we can. I think he likes Elmhurst. He says it never seems like home way out West. You need to walk on the earth where your fathers and grandfathers have trod, and even to breathe the same air. Mom says the only place she hates to leave behind is our little family burial plot over in the woods.”
Although the Craig family had planned a birthday party and Kit had baked a beautiful cake, it was at Jean’s own request that they decided not to have the party since Billie was sick. Instead they had a family picnic dinner in the back yard. Of course, Ralph and Buzzy were there.
157 Jean was thrilled with all her lovely gifts, especially with the rough turquoise that Ralph had brought from Saskatoon. When he gave it to her, he said, “I knew you would like to design your own setting for this stone.” Jean was very pleased with his thoughtfulness.
Even Jack had a present for her, a picture that he had made by collecting leaves and flowers from the woods and glueing them to a piece of plywood. Tommy had helped him to make the birchwood frame, and Jean was touched by their efforts to make her birthday such a happy one.
In the days following Easter, while Mrs. Craig was over at the Ellis place helping care for Billie who was still very sick, the girls and Tommy managed the house alone. When Tommy came in from the barn one morning, he found Jean getting breakfast in the kitchen. “Seen anything of Jack?” he asked. “I haven’t seen him this morning, and he was going to help me and Ralph plow. I’ll bet a cookie he’s taken to his heels. He’s been acting funny for several days ever since that peddler went along here.”
“Oh, not really, Tommy,” said Jean anxiously.159 She had overlooked Jack completely in the excitement of Billie’s illness. “What could happen to him?”
“Nothing special,” answered Tommy dryly, “maybe he was tired of staying here and working all the time.”
“You can’t expect a little kid only nine to work very hard, can you?”
“No—o. But he’s got to do something. He keeps asking me when somebody’s going down to Nantic. Looks suspicious to me!”
“Nantic? Do you suppose—” Jean stopped short. Tommy failed to notice her hesitancy, but went on outdoors. Perhaps the boy was wondering if he could get any trace of his father down at Nantic, she thought. There was a great deal of her mother’s nature in Jean’s sympathy and swift, sure understanding of another’s need. She kept an eye out for Jack all day, but the afternoon passed and supper160 was on the table without any sign of their Christmas waif. And finally, when Ralph came in from the barn with Tommy, he said he was pretty sure Jack had run away.
“Do you think it’s because he didn’t want to stay with us while Mother was away?” asked Doris.
“No, I don’t,” Tommy put in. “I think he’s just born restless and he had to take to the road when the call came to him.”
But Jean felt the responsibility of Jack’s loss, and set a lamp burning all night in the living room window as a sign to light his way back home. It was such a long walk down to Nantic, and when he got there, Mr. Briggs would be sure to see him, and make trouble for him. And perhaps he had just wandered out into the hills on a regular hike and had gotten lost.
But neither the next day, nor the day after,161 did any news come to them of Jack. Mr. Briggs was sure he hadn’t been around the station or the freight trains. Saturday Kit and Doris drove around through the wood roads, looking for some sign of him, and Jean telephoned to all the points she could think of, giving a description of him, and asking them to send the wanderer back if they found him. But the days passed, and it looked as if Jack had really gone.
One afternoon Jean and Ralph were sitting on the back steps when Buzzy and Kit hailed them from the hill. Kit was wearing a pair of slacks and a red blouse hanging outside of them. On her head she had jammed one of Tommy’s caps, and on the side she had stuck a quail’s feather.
“Hi,” called Kit, “we’ve been for a hike, clear over to the village. Mother phoned she needed some things from the drugstore, so we162 thought we’d walk over and get them. Billie’s just the same. He doesn’t know a soul, and all he talks about is making his math exams. I think it’s perfectly shameful to take a boy like that who loves reading and nature and natural things, and grind him down to regular stuff.”
She flopped down on the grass in front of them with Buzzy at her side. “I love a good long hike,” Kit went on. “Especially when I feel bothered or indignant. We’ve kept up the hiking club ever since the roads opened up, Jean. It’s more fun than anything out here. I never realized there was so much to know about just woods and fields until Sally taught me where to hunt for things. Do you like to hike, Ralph?”
“I don’t know. Not too long. I think I’d rather ride.”
“Me, too,” Doris said flatly. She had been working in the garden and had come up when she heard Kit and Buzzy’s voices. “I don’t see163 a bit of fun dragging around like Kit does, through the woods and over swamps, climbing hills, and always wanting to get to the top of the next one.”
“Oh, but I love to,” Kit replied. “Maybe I’ll be a mountain climber yet. Kids, you don’t grasp that there is something strange and interesting in my own special temperament. The longing to attain, the—the insatiable desire to seize adventure and follow her fleeing footsteps, the longing to tap the stars on their foreheads and let them know I’m here.”
Ralph laughed at her. “Well, even if I don’t share such desires with you, Kit, how about all of us going for a picnic one of these days. It seems to me that the ground isn’t too wet for one, and it would do us all good to stop worrying about Billie since there is nothing we can do to hasten his recovery. Do you agree, Buzzy?”
“That’s a swell idea, Ralph,” he replied,164 chewing on a blade of grass. “Why not make it tomorrow. I’ll ask Mom to pack us up some food.”
“No, leave that to us, Buzzy,” Jean interrupted. “We’ve got some steaks in the house that are just asking to be broiled outdoors over a charcoal fire. With those and some fruit and coffee, we should have enough. Let’s plan to leave here around five and make an evening of it.”
“What good times a large family can have,” Ralph said as he slipped his arm through Jean’s on a walk through the garden later. “Sometimes I wish I had been lucky enough to have had brothers and sisters. You feel so odd when you are all the family yourself.”
The next evening Kit, Buzzy, Jean, and Ralph hiked down the river to a small beach that seemed to all of them ideal for a picnic.165 It was Buzzy who had suggested the spot. He said he and the other boys used to go there a lot in the summer to fish and swim. While the boys built the fire, Kit and Jean walked on down the river a little way.
Not far off, the girls found some violets and picked some to take home. Looking across the river, Jean saw an old house nestled among the trees. “Who lives there, do you know, Kit? I never saw it before.”
“It’s Cynthy Allen’s place. People say she’s queer, but I don’t think so. She’s real old, over seventy. But she thinks she is only about seventeen, and she’s always doing flighty things. She’s lived out in the woods ever since she ran away from her family years ago. Once she started to make doughnuts and they found her hanging them on nails all over the kitchen. So people have been afraid of her ever since. Isn’t that silly?”
166 “Let’s go over to see her some day. Want to?”
“Sure. I’ll bet she gets lonely there, all by herself. Say, we’d better start back. That fire ought to be started by now.”
And it was. The boys were lying lazily on their backs in front of it when Kit and Jean came up. “Hey, you lazy guys, why aren’t you cooking the steaks instead of lying there doing nothing?” Kit called.
“We’re waiting for you to do it,” retorted Buzzy. “It’s women’s work to do the cooking. Besides, you have to wait until the wood’s burned down to coals before you can start broiling.”
“We’ve got news for you,” put in Ralph, “we did put in the potatoes to bake. So you see, you’ve jumped to conclusions as usual, Kit, and we weren’t as lazy as you thought.”
“I’m so hungry from that trek down the167 hillside, I could eat those steaks raw,” said Jean. “Shall I put them on now? When did you start the potatoes?”
“Quite a while ago. They should be done soon. Here, I’ll test them.” Ralph groaned as he struggled to his feet. “This is the life for me. Flat on my back beside a nice warm fire.”
Going back up the hill after the picnic was much harder, they found, than it had been to go down. “Why did you let me eat so much,” mourned Buzzy. “I’ll never make it to the top.”
“Come on, I’ll race you,” cried Kit, and pulling him along she began to run. Laughing and shouting, they soon were out of earshot and Jean and Ralph walked leisurely on behind.
“Nothing could make me run after a supper like that,” Ralph commented. The moon had risen and it shone down on Jean’s hair168 making it look silvery in the pale light. Ralph kissed her lightly. “You’re awfully sweet, Jeannie. Do you know that? I wish I could make you mine forever.”
“Maybe it could be arranged sometime,” Jean said lightly.
“Won’t you be serious?”
“No. I can’t be now. I’m too young. Besides they need me at home.”
Ralph felt slightly discouraged by her answer, but he knew she was right. True, she was young, but he was young, too. And he would wait for her until she was ready, he thought to himself. He could tell by the radiant look in her face that she, too, was in love.
Before she went upstairs to bed that night, Jean went out in the kitchen to make sure the back door was locked. She glanced out of the window and caught her breath. Dodging out of sight behind a pile of wood that was waiting169 to be split, was a familiar figure. Without waiting to call anyone, she slipped quietly around the house and there, sure enough, backed up against the woodshed, was Jack.
“Oh, Jack,” Jean exclaimed happily. “Come here this minute. Nobody’s going to hurt you, don’t you know that? Aren’t you hungry?”
Jack nodded mutely. He didn’t look one bit ashamed, just eager and glad to be back home. Jean put her arm around him, patting him as her mother would have done, and leading him to the kitchen.
After he had finished a huge sandwich, several glasses of milk, and a piece of cake, the truth finally came out. “I went hunting my dad down around Norwich,” he said.
“Did you find him?” cried Jean.
Jack nodded happily.
“Braced him up too. He says he won’t170 drink any more ’cause it’ll disgrace me. He’s gone to work up there in the lockshop steady. He wanted me to stay with him, but as soon as I got him braced up, I came back here. You didn’t get my letter, did you? I left it stuck in the clock.”
Stuck in the clock? Jean looked up at the old eight-day Seth Thomas on the kitchen shelf that Kit had bought from old Mr. Weaver as a joke. It was made of black walnut, with green vines painted on it and morning glories rambling in wreaths around its borders. She opened the little glass door and felt inside. Sure enough, tucked far back was Jack’s farewell letter, put carefully where nobody would ever think of finding it. It was written laboriously in pencil, and Jean read it to herself.
I hered from a pedlar my dad is sick up171 in norwich. goodbye and thanks i am coming back sumday.
yurs with luv,
Jack looked at her with his old confident smile.
“See?” he said. “I told you I was coming back.”
“And you’re going to stay too,” replied Jean thankfully. “I’m so glad you weren’t lost forever, Jack. Now you’d better run along to bed.”
Billie failed to rally from the pneumonia as soon as everyone had hoped. Doris was restless and uneasy over her pal’s plight. She would saddle Princess and ride over on her twice a day to see what the bulletins were, and sometimes sit out in the garden watching the windows of the room where Becky kept vigil. She almost resented the joyous activity of the bees and birds in their spring delirium when she thought of Billie, lying there fighting pneumonia.
Jean never forgot the final night. She had a phone call from her mother about nine, to173 leave Mrs. Gorham in charge and come to her.
“I’d like you to be here, dear. It’s the crisis, and we can’t be sure what may happen. Billie’s in a heavy sleep now, and the old doctor says we can just wait. Becky is with him.”
Jean took off her coat when she arrived, and went in where old Dr. Gallup sat. It always seemed foolish to call him old, although he was over sixty. His hair was gray and straggled boyishly as some football hero’s, his eyes were brown and bright, and his smile something so much better than medicine that one just naturally revived at the sight of him, Becky said. He sat now by the table, looking out of the window, one hand tapping the edge, the other deep in his pocket. One could not have said what his thoughts were as he sat looking out into the shadowy spring night.
“Hello, Jeannie,” he said cheerily. “Going174 to keep me company, are you? Did you come up alone?”
“Kit drove me over. Doctor, Billie is all right, isn’t he?”
“We hope so,” answered the old doctor. “But what is it to be all right? If the boy’s race is run, it has been a good one, and he goes out fearlessly, and if not, then he is all right too, and we hope to hold him with us. But when this time comes and it’s the last sleep before dawn, there’s nothing to do but watch and wait.”
“But do you think—”
Jean hesitated. She could not help feeling he must know what the hope was.
“He’s got a fine fighting chance,” said the doctor. “Now, I’m going in with Mrs. Ellis, and you comfort the Judge and brace him up. He’s in the study there.”
It was dark in the study. Jean opened the175 door gently and looked in. The old Judge sat in his deep, old leather chair by the desk, and his head was bent forward. She did not say a word, but tiptoed over and knelt beside him, her cheek against his sleeve. And the Judge laid his arm around her shoulders in silence, patting her absent-mindedly. So they sat until out of the windows the garden took on a lighter aspect, and there came the faint twittering of birds wakening in their nests.
Jean, watching the beautiful miracle of the dawn, marveled. The dew lent a silvery radiance to every blade of grass, every leaf and twig. There was an unearthly, mystic beauty to the whole landscape and the garden.
And just then the old doctor put his head in the door and sang out cheerily, “It’s all right. Billie’s awake.”
Jean called Kit later to tell her the good news and Kit drove over shortly. “That’s a relief,”176 Kit exclaimed. “I hardly slept a wink all night, I was so worried. You don’t look as if you slept.”
“I didn’t and I’m practically dead on my feet. But I’m so glad that Billie is going to pull through.”
Now that Billie’s recovery was assured everybody’s spirits seemed to become lighter. After two weeks of almost daily showers there had come a spell of close warm weather that dried up the fields and woods, and left them, so Becky said, dry as tinder and twice as dangerous.
Kit and Doris were preparing the garden for planting.
“Oh, dear!” Kit leaned back against the side of the barn and looked lazily off at the widening valley before her. “I’m so afraid that Dad will get too interested in chicken raising and crops and soils and things, so that177 we’ll stay on here forever. Somehow I didn’t mind it half as much all through the winter, but now that spring is here, it’s just simply awful to have to pitch in and work from the rising of the sun until it goes down. I want to be a lady of leisure.”
Overhead the great fleecy, white clouds sailed up from the south in a squadron of splendor. A new family of bluebirds lately hatched was calling hungrily from a nest in the old cherry tree nearby, and being scolded lustily by a catbird for lack of patience. There was a delicate haze lingering still over the woods and distant fields. The new foliage was out, but hardly enough to make any difference in the landscape’s coloring.
“How’s Billie?” asked Doris suddenly. “I’ll be awfully glad when he’s out again.”
“They’ve got him on the porch bundled up like a mummy. He’s so topply that you can178 push him over with one finger and Becky treats him as if she had him wadded up in pink cotton. I think if they just stopped treating him like a half-sick person, and just let him do as he pleased he’d get well twice as fast.”
Doris had been gazing up at the sky dreamily. All at once she said, “What a funny cloud that is over there, Kit.”
It hung over a big patch of woods toward the village, a low motionless, pearl-colored cloud, very peculiar looking, and very suspicious, and the odd part about it was that it seemed balanced on a base of cloud, like a huge mushroom or a waterspout in shape.
“What on earth is that?” exclaimed Kit, springing to her feet. “That’s never a cloud, and it’s right over the old Ames place. Do you suppose they’re out burning brush with the woods so dry?”
“There’s nobody home today. Don’t you179 know it’s Saturday, and Astrid said they were all going to the auction at Woodchuck Hill?”
Kit did not wait to hear any more. She sped to the house like a young deer and, with eyes quite as startled, she burst into the kitchen and called up the stairs.
“Mother, do you see that smoke over the Ames’s woods?”
“Smoke,” echoed Mrs. Craig’s voice. “Why, no, dear, I haven’t noticed any. Wait a minute, and I’ll see.”
But Kit was by nature a joyous alarmist. She loved a new thrill, and in the daily monotony that smothered one in Elmhurst anything that promised an adventure came as a heaven-sent relief. She flew up the stairs, stopping to call to Jean who was in her room. Her father and mother were standing at the open window when she entered their room, and Mr. Craig had his field glasses.
“It is a fire, isn’t it, Dad?” Kit asked eagerly,180 and even as she spoke there came the long, shrill blast of alarm on the Peckham mill whistle. There was no fire department of any kind for fourteen miles around. Nothing seemed to unite the little outlying communities of the hill country so much as the fire peril, but on this Saturday it happened that nearly all the available men had leisurely jaunted over to the Woodchuck Hill auction. This was one of the characteristics of Elmhurst, shunting its daily tasks when any diversion offered.
“Oh, listen,” exclaimed Doris who had followed Kit from the barn. “There’s the alarm bell ringing up at the church, too. It must be a big one.”
Even as she spoke the telephone bell rang downstairs, while Tommy called from the front garden. “Awful big fire just broke out between here and Ames’s. I’m going over with the mill boys to help fight it.”
181 “Be careful, son,” called Mr. Craig.
“Can I go too, Tommy?” cried Jack eagerly. “I won’t be in the way, honest, I won’t.”
“Naw, you’d better stay here. You might get hurt and I won’t be able to take care of you. Besides you should be here to milk the cow in case I don’t get back on time.” Tommy started off up the road with a shovel over one shoulder and a heavy mop over the other. Jean was at the telephone. It was Judge Ellis calling.
“He’s worried about Becky, Mother,” Jean called up the stairs. “Cynthy Allen wanted her to come over to her place today to get some carpet rags, and Becky drove over there about an hour ago. He says her place lies right in the path of the fire. Mrs. Gorham has gone away for the day to the auction with Ben, and the Judge will have to stay with Billie. He’s terribly anxious.”
“Oh, Dad,” exclaimed Kit, “couldn’t I182 please, please, go over and stay with Billie, and let the Judge come up to the fire, if he wants to. I’m sure he’s just dying to. Not but what I’m sure Becky can take care of herself. May I? Oh, you dear. Tell him I’m coming, Jean.”
Jean had left the telephone and was putting on her coat. “Mother,” she asked, “do you mind if Doris and I just walk up the wood road a little way? We won’t go near the fighting line where the men are at all, and I’d love to see it. Besides I thought perhaps we might work our way around through that big back wood lot to Cynthy’s place and see if Becky is there. Then, we could drive back with them.”
“Why, yes, Jean, I think it’s safe for you both to go. Don’t you, Tom?”
Mr. Craig smiled at Jean’s flushed, excited face. It was so seldom that she lost her presence of mind and really became excited. “I183 don’t think it will hurt them a bit,” he said.
Doris grabbed her coat and the two girls started up the hill road for about three-quarters of a mile. The church bell over at the Plains kept ringing steadily. At the top of the hill they came to the old wood road that formed a short cut over to the old Ames place. Here where the trees met overhead in an arcade the road was heavy with black mud, and they had to keep to the side up near the old rock walls. As they advanced farther there came a sound of driving wheels, and all at once Hedda’s mother appeared in her car. She sat hunched over the wheel, a man’s old felt hat jammed down over her heavy, blonde hair, and an old overcoat with the collar upturned, thrown about her. Leaning forward with eager eyes, she seemed to be thoroughly enthusiastic over this new excitement in Elmhurst.
“Looks like it’s going to be some fire,184 girls,” she said as she stopped the car momentarily to speak to them. “I’m giving the alarm along the road.” And off she went.
“Isn’t that something?” declared Jean. “And to think that she runs a ninety-acre farm with the help of Hedda, thirteen years old, and two hired men. She gets right out into the fields with them and manages everything herself.”
A farm truck coming the opposite way held Mr. Rudemeir and his son August. An array of mops, axes, and shovels hung out over the rear of the truck. Mr. Rudemeir was smoking his clay pipe placidly, and merely waved one hand at the girls in salutation, but August called, “It has broken out on the other side of the road, farther down.”
“It must be going toward the Allan place, then,” said Jean anxiously. She hesitated. The smoke was thickening in the air, but they penetrated farther into the woods. Up on the hill185 to one side, she saw the Ames place, half obscured already by the blue haze. It lay directly in the path of the fire, unless the wind happened to change, and if it should change it would surely catch Doris and herself if they tried to reach Cynthy’s house down near the river bank. Still she felt that she must take the chance. There was an old road used by the lumber men, and she knew every step of the way.
“Come on,” she said to Doris. “I’m sure we can make it.”
They turned now from the main road into an old overgrown byway. Along its sides rambled ground pine, and wintergreen grew thickly in the shade of the old oaks. Jean took the lead, hurrying on ahead. When they came out on the river road, the little gray house was in sight, and sure enough Becky’s car was out in front.
Jean didn’t even stop to rap at the door. It186 stood wide open, and the girls went through the door into the kitchen. It was empty.
“Becky,” called Jean loudly. “Becky, are you here?”
From somewhere upstairs there came an answer.
“For pity’s sakes, child!” exclaimed Becky, appearing at the top of the stairs with her arms full of carpet rags. “What are you doing down here? Cynthy and I are just sorting out some things she wanted to take over to my place.”
“Haven’t you seen the smoke? All the woods are on fire up around the Ames place. The Judge was worried, and telephoned for us to warn you.”
“Land!” laughed Mrs. Ellis. “Won’t he ever learn that I’m big enough and old enough to take care of myself. I never saw an Elmhurst fire yet that put me in any danger.”
She stepped out of the doorway, pushed her glasses up on her forehead and sniffed the air.
187 “’Tis kind of smoky, ain’t it,” she said. “And the wind’s beginning to shift.” She looked up over the rise of the hill in front of the house. Above it poured great belching masses of lurid smoke. Even as she looked, the huge winglike mass veered and swayed in the sky like vast shapes of strange animals. Jean caught her breath as she gazed.
Becky started out to the car with Doris. “Jean, you go and get Cynthy quick as you can!” she called.
Jean ran to the house and met Cynthy groping her way nervously downstairs. She was old and frail and her scrawny hands clutching the banister were knotted and the veins were large.
“What on earth is it?” she faltered. “Land, I ain’t had such a set-to with my heart in years. Is the fire coming this way? Where’s Becky?”
“She says for you to come right away. Please, please hurry up, Miss Allan.”
But Cynthy sat down in a forlorn heap on188 the step, rocking her arms, and crying, piteously.
“Oh, I never, never can leave them, my poor, precious darlings. Can’t you get them for me? There’s General Washington and Ethan Allen, Betsey Ross and Pocahontas, and there’s three new kittens in my yarn basket in the old garret over the ell.”
Jean surmised that she meant her pet cats, dearer to her probably than any human being in the world. Supporting her gently, she got her out of the house, promising her she would find the cats. For the next five minutes, just at the most crucial moment, she hunted for the cats, and finally succeeded in coaxing all of them into meal bags. Every scurrying breeze brought down fluttering wisps of half-burned leaves from the burning woods. The shouts of the men could be plainly heard calling to each other as they worked to keep the189 fire back from the valuable timber along the river front.
“I think we’ve just about time to get by before the fire breaks through,” said Mrs. Ellis calmly. Jean was on the back seat, one arm supporting old Cynthy, her other hand pacifying the rebellious captives in the bags.
Not a word was said as Becky turned the car toward home, but they had not gone far before the wind changed suddenly. The full force of the smoke from the fire-swept area poured over them suffocatingly. Cynthy half-rose to her feet in terror, Jean’s arm around her waist trying to hold her down as she screamed.
“For land’s sakes, Cynthy, keep your head,” called Mrs. Ellis. “If it’s the Lord’s will that we should all go up in a chariot of fire, don’t squeal out like a stuck pig. Hold her close, Jean. I’m going to drive into the river.”
At the bend of the road the land sloped suddenly straight for the river brink. A quarter of a mile below was the dam, above Mr. Rudemeir’s red sawmill. Little River widened at this point, and swept in curves around a little island. There were no buildings on it, only broad low lush meadows that provided a home for muskrats and waterfowl. Late in the fall fat otters could be seen circling around the still waters, and wild geese and ducks made it a port of call in their flights north and south.
As Becky started to drive the car into the water, Jean asked just one question.
191 “Do you know how deep it is here?”
“No, it varies in spots,” answered Becky cheerfully. Her chin was up, her firm lips set in an unswerving smile. She was holding the steering wheel tightly. To Jean she had never seemed more resourceful or fearless. “There’s some pretty deep holes, here and there, but we’ll trust that we don’t hit them.”
Becky edged the car along slowly and inch by inch they moved across the river. Out in midstream, the car stalled once and for a minute or two, danger seemed imminent. By a stroke of luck, the car started again and Becky gave a quick look over her shoulder.
Jean was hanging on grimly to the cats and Cynthy. It was hard saying which of the two was proving the more difficult to manage. The car lurched perilously, but Becky held steady, and suddenly they felt the rise of the shore line again. Overhead, there had flown a192 vanguard of frightened birds, flying ahead of the smothering clouds of smoke that poured now in blinding masses down from the burning woods. The faint cries and calls of the men working along the back fire line reached the little group on the far shore.
As the car jolted up the bank, Doris glanced back over her shoulder at the way they had come. Cynthy gave one look too, and covered her face with her hands. The flames had swept straight down over her little home, and she cried out in anguish.
“Pity’s sakes, Cynthy, praise God that the two of us aren’t burning up this minute with those old shingles and rafters,” cried Mrs. Ellis, joyfully.
“Oh, and Miss Allan, not one of the cats got wet even,” Doris exclaimed, laughing almost hysterically. “You should be thankful for that.”
193 The flames had reached the opposite shore, but while the smoke billowed across, Little River left them high and dry in the safety zone.
“I guess we’d better be making for home as quick as we can,” said Becky. Except for a little pallor around her lips, and an extra brightness to her eyes, no one could have told that she had just fought a winning battle with death. She stepped on the starter and headed toward home.
The Judge was watching anxiously, pacing up and down the long porch with Billie sitting in his chair bolstered up with pillows beside him. He had telephoned repeatedly down to Woodhow, but they were all quite as anxious now as himself. It was Billie who first caught sight of the car and its occupants.
Kit had gone out to the kitchen to start lunch going. She had refused to believe that194 any harm could come to Becky or anyone under her care, and at the sound of Billie’s voice, she glanced from the window and caught sight of Jean’s coat.
“Land alive, don’t hug me to death, all of you,” exclaimed Becky. “Jean, you go and telephone your mother right away and relieve her anxiety. Like enough, she thinks we’re all burned to cinders by this time, and tell her she’d better have plenty of coffee and sandwiches made up to send over to the men in the woods. All us women will have our night’s work cut out for us.”
It was the Craigs’ first experience with a country forest fire. All through the afternoon fresh relays of men kept arriving from the nearby villages, and outlying farms, ready to relieve those who had been working through the morning.
There was but little sleep for any members195 of the family that night. Jean never forgot the thrill of watching the fire from the upstairs windows, and when she wasn’t preparing food with the others, she spent most of the time up there until daybreak. There was a fascination in seeing that battle from afar, and realizing how the little puny efforts of a handful of men could hold in check such a devastating force. Only country dwellers could appreciate the peril of having all one owned in the world, all that was dear and precious, and comprised the word “home,” swept away in the path of the flames.
“Poor old Cynthy,” said Jean. “I’m so glad she has her cats. I shall never forget her face when she looked back. Just think of losing all the little keepsakes of a lifetime.”
It was nearly five o’clock when Tommy returned. Even though he was only twelve, he had certainly done a man-sized job that day.196 He was grimy and smoky, but exuberant.
“By golly, we’ve got her under control,” he cried. “Got some milk and doughnuts for a guy? Who do you suppose worked better than anybody? Gave us all pointers on how to manage a fire. He says this is just a little fire compared with the ones he has up home. He says he’s seen a forest fire twenty miles wide, sweeping over the mountains.”
“Who do you mean, Tommy?” asked Jean. “For gosh sakes, quit elaborating and come to the point.”
“Who do you suppose I mean?” asked Tommy reproachfully. “Buzzy Hancock’s cousin, your Ralph McRae from Saskatoon.”
Jean blushed prettily, as she always did when Ralph’s name was mentioned. She hadn’t spent as much time with Ralph since his arrival as she had wanted to owing to Billie’s illness. Still, oddly enough, even Tommy’s197 high praise of him made her feel shyly happy.
The fire burned fitfully for three days, breaking out unexpectedly in new spots and keeping everyone excited and busy. The old Ames barn went up in smoke, and Mr. Rudemeir’s sawmill caught fire three times.
“Whew!” he said, jubilantly, “I guess I sat out on that roof all night long, slapping sparks with a wet mop, but it didn’t get ahead of me.”
Lucy Peckham and Kit ran a sort of pony express, riding horseback from house to house, carrying food and coffee over to the men who were scattered nearly four miles around the fire-swept area. Ralph and Sally ran their own rescue work at the north end of town. Buzzy had been put on the mail truck with Mr. Rickett’s eldest boy, while the former gave his services on the volunteer fire corps. The end of the198 third day Jean was driving back from Nantic after a load of groceries when she noticed Ralph turning on to the main road ahead of her. She stopped the car beside him and asked him to get in.
“The fire’s all out,” he said. “We have left some of the boys on guard yet, in case it may be smouldering in the underbrush. I have just been telling Rudemeir and the other men, if they’d learn to pile their brush the way we do up home, they would be able to control these little fires in no time. You girls must be awfully tired out. You did splendid work.”
“Kit and Lucy did, you mean,” answered Jean. “All I did was to help cook.” She laughed. “I never dreamed that men and boys could eat so many doughnuts and cupcakes. Becky says she sent over twenty-two loaves of gingerbread, not counting all the other stuff. Was anyone hurt, at all?”
199 “You mean eating too much?” asked Ralph teasingly. Then more seriously, he added, “A few of the men were burnt a little bit, but nothing to speak of. How beautiful your springtime is down here in New England. It makes me want to take off my coat and go to work right here, reclaiming some of these old worked-out acres, and making them show the good that still lies in them if they are plowed deep enough.”
Jean sighed quickly. “Do you really think one could ever make any money here?” she asked. “Sometimes I get awfully discouraged, Ralph. Of course, we didn’t come up here with the idea of being farmers. It was Dad’s health that brought us, but once we were here, we couldn’t help but see the chance of making Woodhow pay our way a little. Becky has told us we’re in awfully good luck to even get our vegetables and fruit out of it this last year, and200 it isn’t the past year I’m thinking of. It’s the next year, and the next one and the next. One of the most appalling things about Elmhurst is, that you get absolutely contented up here, and you go around singing blissfully. Old Pop Higgins who taught our art class down in New York always said that contentment was fatal to progress, and I believe it. Dad is really a brilliant man, and he’s getting his full strength back. And while I have a full sense of gratitude toward the healing powers of these old green hills, still I have a horror of Dad stagnating here.”
Ralph turned his head to watch her face. “Has he said anything himself about wanting to go back to his work?” he asked.
“Not yet. I suppose that is what we really must wait for. His own confidence returning. You see, what I’m afraid of is this. Dad was born and brought up right here, and the granite of these old hills is in his system. He loves201 every square foot of land around here. Just supposing he should be contented to settle down, like old Judge Ellis, and turn into a sort of Connecticut country squire.”
“There are worse things than that in the world,” Ralph replied. “Too many of our best men forget the land that gave them birth, and pour the full strength of their powers and capabilities into the city market. You speak of Judge Ellis. Look at what that old man’s mind has done for his home community. He has literally brought modern improvements into Elmhurst. He has represented her up at Hartford off and on for years, when he was not sitting in judgment here.”
“You mean, that you think Dad ought not to go back?” asked Jean, almost resentfully. “That just because he happened to have been born here, he owes it to Elmhurst to stay here now, and give it the best he has?”
Ralph laughed good-naturedly. “We’re202 getting into rather deep water, Jeannie,” he answered. “I can see that you don’t like the country, and I do. I love it down east here where all of my family came from originally, and I’m very fond of the West.”
“Oh, I’m sure I’d like that too,” broke in Jean eagerly. “Mother’s from the West, California, and I’d love to go out there. I would love the scope and freedom. What bothers me here are all those rock walls, for instance.” She pointed at the old one along the road, uneven, half tumbling down, and overgrown with gray moss—the standing symbol of the infinite patience and labor of a bygone generation. “Just think of all the people who spent their lives carrying those stones, and cutting up all this beautiful land into these little shut-in pastures.”
“Yes, but those rocks represent the clearing of fields for tillage. If they hadn’t dug them out of the ground, they wouldn’t have had any203 cause for Thanksgiving dinners. I’m extremely proud of my New England blood, and I want to tell you right now, if it wasn’t for the New England blood that went out to conquer the West, where would the West be today?”
“That’s OK,” said Jean, a little crossly, “but if they had pioneered a little bit right around here, there wouldn’t be so many run-down farms. What I would like to do, now that Dad is getting well, is make Woodhow our playground in summertime, and go back home in the winter.”
“Home,” he repeated, curiously.
“Yes, we were all born down in New York,” answered Jean, looking south over the country landscape as though she could see Manhattan’s panoramic skyline rising like a mirage of beckoning promises. “I’m afraid that is home to me.”
Ralph was quiet while Jean was lost in her204 memories of her wonderful visit with Beth in New York. Suddenly she turned to Ralph.
“I’m very confused,” she said. “I really don’t know what I want. The only thing I am sure of is that I like you better than any boy I’ve ever met.” Jean hesitated a little over this admission. “When I’m here I long to be in New York, and when I was in New York I missed everybody and everything in the country very much.”
“You’re still very young, Jean, but with your level head I’m sure you’ll be able to make a decision soon. I, for one, am willing to wait,” said Ralph.
“It always seems to me,” said Becky, the first time she drove down with Billie to spend the day, “as if Maytime is a sort of fulfilled promise to us, after the winter and spring. When I was a girl, spring up here behaved itself. It was sweet and balmy and gentle, and now it’s turned into an uncertain young tomboy. The weather doesn’t really begin to settle until the middle of May, but when it does—” She drew in a deep breath and smiled. “Just look around you at the beauty it gives us.”
She sat out on the tree seat in the garden that sloped from the south side of the house.206 The terraces were a riot of spring bloom; tall gold and purple flags grew side by side with dainty columbine and narcissus. Along the stone walls white and purple lilacs flung their delicious perfume to every passing breeze. The old apple trees that straggled in uneven rows up through the hill pasture behind the barn had been transformed into gorgeous splashy masses of pink bloom against the tender green of young foliage.
“What’s Jean doing over there in the orchard?” Kit rose from her knees, her fingers grimy with the soil, her face flushed and warm from her labors, and answered her own question. “Why, she’s painting.”
Jean was out of their hearing. Frowning slightly, with compressed lips, she bent over her work. She was sitting on the ground, her knees supporting her drawing board. The week before she had sent off five studies to Beth, and two of her very best ones down to207 Mr. Higgins. Answers had come back from both, full of criticism, but with plenty of encouragement, too. Mrs. Craig had read the two letters and given her eldest the quick impulsive embrace which ever since her childhood had been to Jean her highest reward of merit. But it was from her father, perhaps, that she derived the greatest happiness. He laid one arm around her shoulders, smiling at her with a certain whimsical speculation in his keen eyes.
“Well, my dear, if you will persist in developing such talent, we can’t afford to hide this light under a bushel. You should have more training.”
“But when?” interrupted Jean. “It isn’t that I want to know for my own pleasure, but you don’t know how fearfully precious these last years in my teens seem to me. There’s such a terrible lot of things to learn before I can really say I’ve finished.”
“And one of the first things you have to208 learn is just that you never stop learning. That you never really start to learn until you know your own limitations. Somewhere over there lies New York,” he said, looking down the valley. “Often through the past year, I have stood looking in that direction. I’ve got a job back there waiting—”
Jean interrupted, her face alight with gladness. “Oh, Dad, Dad, you do want to go back. You don’t know how afraid I’ve been that you’d take root up here and stay forever. I know it’s perfectly splendid, and it has been a place of refuge for us all, but now that you are getting to be just like your old self—”
Her father’s hand checked her.
“Steady there,” he warned. “Not quite so fast. I am still a little bit uncertain when I try to speed up. We’ve got to be patient a little while longer.”
Jean pressed his hand in hers and understood.209 If it had been hard for them to be patient, it had been doubly so for him, groping his way back slowly, the past year, on the upgrade to health.
Jean was thinking of their talk as she sat out in the orchard today, trying to catch some of the fleeting beauty of its blossom-laden trees.
“How are you getting along, dear?” asked a well-known voice behind her.
“I don’t know, Dad,” said Jean, leaning back with her head on one side, looking for all the world like a meditative brown thrush. “I can’t seem to get that queer silver-gray effect. You take a day like this, just before a rain, and it seems to underlie everything. I’ve tried dark green and gray and sienna, and it doesn’t do a bit of good.”
“Mix a little Chinese black with every color you use,” said her father, closing one eye to look at her painting. “It’s the old master’s210 trick. You’ll find it in the Flemish school, and the Veronese. It gives you the atmospheric gray quality in everything. Here come Ralph and Sally.”
Sally waved her hand, but joined Kit, Doris and Billie in the lower garden at their grubbing for cutworms.
“If you put plenty of salt in the water when you sprinkle those, it’ll help a lot,” she told them.
“Oh, we’ve salted them. We each took a bag of salt and went out sprinkling one night, and then it rained, and I honestly believe it was a tonic to the cutworm colony. The only thing to do, is go after them and annihilate them.”
Ralph nodded to the group on the terrace, but went on up to the orchard. Kit watched him with speculative eyes and spoke in her usual impulsive fashion.
“Do you suppose he’s come here with the211 idea of taking Jean away? Because if he has any such notions at all, I’d like to tell him she’s not for him. If he thinks for one moment he’s going to throw her across his saddle and carry her off to Saskatoon, he’s very much mistaken.”
Sally glanced up at the figures in the orchard, before she answered in her slow, deliberate fashion. “I’m sure I don’t know, but Ralph said he was coming back here every spring, so he can’t expect to take her away this year.”
Ralph threw himself down in the grass beside Jean. She smiled at him, then bent over her board, absently touching in some shadows on the trunks of the trees. Her thoughts had wandered from the old orchard, as they did so often these days. It was the future that seemed more real to her, with its hopes and ambitions, than the present.
212 “Oh, Jean,” called Kit, “Becky’s going now.”
Ralph rose and caught her hand as she started to leave. “I hope your ambitions carry you far, Jean,” he said earnestly. “Sally, Buzzy, Mrs. Hancock and I are leaving for Saskatoon Monday morning and I’ll hardly get over again since Buzzy and I are doing all the packing and crating, but you’ll see me again next spring, won’t you?”
Jean looked up at him startled.
“Why, I didn’t know you were going so soon. Of course, I’ll see you when you come back,” she said with a heavy heart. Heavier than she would have wanted Ralph to see.
“I’ll come,” Ralph promised, and he stood where she left him, under the blossoming apple trees, watching her as she joined her family circle. Ralph had deliberately planned this abrupt goodbye. With his usual thoughtfulness213 he did not want to influence Jean’s thinking.
As Jean walked back across the path to the lower terrace, her thoughts were sad. Perhaps she would never see him again, perhaps she would decide never to marry and to continue her art career, yet if she could have known, many changes would take place in the next year that are told in Jean Craig Finds Romance.
She shook off these unhappy thoughts and came up to the others smiling and saying to Becky, “You’ll be over again to see us soon, won’t you?”
Becky gave her an understanding smile that seemed to say, “I’m always here and you belong here too.”
Punctuation has been standardised. Hyphenation has been retained as it appears in the original publication. The following change was made: