Orchids in the Snow
By Rosa Lee Lloyd
Synopsis: Sharon and Sam Wynter, newlyweds from Utah, make many friends in Fairbanks, Alaska, including Angus McFarland, a widower, and his daughter Marie, and Susan Elge from Bristol Bay who has brought her husband Herman to the hospital for an operation. Sharon also meets Sister Jensen, President of the branch Relief Society, who rents the couple a log cabin. Sister Jensen takes Sharon to visit Mary Billings, who is blind. Sam, an engineer, goes on a trip to the North, Sister Jensen goes to visit her daughter in Nome, and Sharon is left alone in the cabin.
Sharry stood near the door clenching her small, firm fists. She could hear two dogs barking, then a girl’s voice saying: “Shush, you two! Don’t act so important!”
Marie! It was Marie McFarland!
Sharry swung the door wide open, encircling Marie in her eager arms.
“You’ll never know,” she said, “how scared I was!”
“Are you alone?” Marie asked.
“Sam’s on a trip,” Sharry said. She felt something push against her legs. She looked down into Nuzzle’s appealing eyes.
“Oh, you darling!”
She picked him up and he cuddled close to her with a contented whine.
“He’s yours!” Marie said. “Daddy warned me not to fall in love with him because he had chosen you. Anyway, I have this good old husky Fudge. He’s my lead dog when I drive sled in Bristol.”
“Are they hungry?” Sharry questioned.
“Let’s not spoil them,” Marie answered. “Leave them on the porch.”
She surveyed the inside of the cabin from the doorway. “Really great! I love it, Sharry. It’s no place for these dogs.”
“We have a doghouse,” Sharry said, “But we’ve been too busy to clean it.”
“The porch is all right,” Marie said, following her inside. “Where did you get this gorgeous quilt?”
She took off her parka and gloves. “Hang these up – I don’t want to put them on it.”
Sharry laughed. “Don’t be silly. It’s to be used, Mama told me. She thinks the time to keep things for relics is after they have served practically. Relics should be old and worn, she says.”
Marie pursed her lips. “I never thought of it that way before,” she said. “But it would be funny to have a museum full of things that had never been used. So here goes!”
She flopped on the lounge, stuffing a pillow under her head.
“Solid comfort,” she sighed. “That’s what I crave. Beauty, too. But comfort is what men like, Sharry. I’ve noticed that my dad has everything in our house in Bristol arranged for comfort.”
“Yes, Sam’s that way, too,” Sharry agreed. “I’m different. I’ll sacrifice comfort for beauty lots of times. Tell me, how is your father?”
“He’s fine – only worried.” Marie’s voice gentled. “About Uncle Herman, I mean. Doctors don’t have much hope since his operation. About three months, they said. Daddy is still in Anchorage with them. They’ll go home as soon as Uncle Herman can travel. They are as close as brothers, Sharry. They were young boys together working here in Alaska. Everything they have they earned themselves, fighting the sea and the weather. Uncle Herman is not quite as tall as Daddy, but he’s broad and sturdy, with blond hair and fair skin and the dearest smile. He looks like a Viking but he is a music man at heart, a poet kind of man. He would work all day on the icy waters of Bristol Bay, then come home at night and read Walt Whitman or play his old violin that belonged to his father. He has a guitar, too. He taught the villages to square dance – and now …” her voice faltered, “we can’t bear to lose him, Sharry.”
“I know,” she said. “How can we help them?”
“With our love and prayers,” Marie said. “And we must write them about everything. Mama Sue loves to get letters. When she’s in Bristol she meets the plane that brings the mail and the newspapers. Swen sends the New York papers. Uncle Herman loves music so …”
Marie sat up, her eyes brightening.
“I saw something I want in the wish-book yesterday. A guitar. And they’ll send you weekly lessons. You can pay by the month. Let’s do it, Sharry.”
“Sounds like fun,” Sharry said. “I play the organ at Church. A guitar might be easy for me. I’ll ask Sam.”
“Then it’s a deal!” Marie said. “We need music in faraway places like Bristol, where there’s no radio or television. We have radios in the schoolhouses to send messages and receive them, but we need music in our homes. I want to play something, so if I have to live in a faraway place when I get married I can take my music with me.”
Sharry’s eyes widened. “Marie, are you going to be married? Right away, I mean?”
“I wish I were! I’ve set my heart on a certain boy ever since I was a little girl. But that’s the trouble. He still thinks of me as a little girl. Maybe he has a girl, by now.”
She got to her feet, walking back and forth. “Let’s not talk about it,” she said. “It breaks me up.”
Sharry changed the subject. “We appreciated your apartment,” she said. “It was so kind of you.”
“I was glad to have you there. We like you and Sam. How long will he be gone?”
Sharry shook her head. “I don’t know. And I don’t know where he is. They have found an important metal somewhere – it’s a secret.”
“Would you like me to stay with you until he comes home?” Marie asked.
“I’d love it! There’s a potluck dinner at the branch tonight. We can go. What shall we take?”
“How about fried wild rabbit? I’ve been craving some. It’s perfect now.”
“Not for me!” Sharry said. “But I’ll fry it for you. Then I’ll make Sam’s favorite chocolate cake, just in case he gets home in time.”
Marie gave her a quizzical smile. “You won’t even taste our favorite dishes, so you don’t know whether you like them or not,” she said. “Anyway – let’s get busy. First, we should write those letters for the guitars – they come collect. Then we can go up to my apartment. I want you to see a new sweater I’m knitting. You can make one just like it, if you like mine.”
They were busy all afternoon, but by six o’clock everything was ready for the potluck dinner. Sharry had fried the rabbit the same way as chicken, and when she heaped the casserole with the golden brown pieces she thought how Sam would enjoy it. No doubt she would enjoy it, too, if she didn’t know it was wild rabbit instead of chicken. She must quit being so squeamish, she scolded herself. Even now, the thought of all the strange food there would be at the dinner almost nauseated her. She swallowed hard and took a drink of water.
When they arrived at the party, Oscar Jensen hurried through the crowd to meet them. Oscar was always happy as a cricket, Sharry thought. When he looked at Marie, he seemed ready to burst into song. He helped them carry their food to the serving table, then they took their places at the long line of people waiting to help themselves.
“I’m starved,” Marie whispered. “Look, at that gorgeous food. Creamed clams and wild celery. And that big tray of smoked salmon. That’s our specialty in Bristol. Salmon cooked every way imaginable! You’ll love it, Sharry.”
Sharry nodded. “Yes – I’ll like the salmon. It looks good.”
Marie took a spoonful of everything. Her plate was such a conglomeration of food that Sharry wondered if it would make her sick. She even went back to the table for more, and Oscar went with her.
“Here, try this creamed clam,” she coaxed. “Just a spoonful.”
Sharry tasted it. It was really delicious. She wanted terribly to be a good sport about the food up here. Sam would be so pleased if she could tell him she had enjoyed it.
“Now take a taste of this one,” Oscar said. “If you like it, I’ll tell you what it is – and if you don’t, you’ll never know.”
Oscar was eating as heartily as Marie. They would make a nice couple, Sharry thought, as she watched them laughing together. But Marie had told her she was already in love.
An hour later when Sharry was dancing with Oscar, she felt she could not endure another whirl around the room. Her head was dizzy, her eyes blurred, and she was sick all over.
“Oscar – I’m sorry,” she said weakly. “Let me sit down. I ate – too much.”
He danced her over to an open window and pushed her gently into a chair.
“I’ll get Marie,” he said. “You look awful! don’t faint. Please!”
“Gee whiz!” Marie said a minute later. “You must be allergic to something you ate.”
“Take me home,” Sharry begged. “please hurry …”
Oscar went for his car, and Marie tucked a warm blanket around Sharry.
“You’ll be all right,” she said. “Tell me you’re feeling better.”
Sharry was too sick to answer her.
It was nearly five o’clock in the morning before Sharry went to sleep. Hours later, when she awakened, she could hear Sam’s voice in the living room. Sam was home!
She struggled to her feet and hurried to the doorway.
“Darling,” she called. The dizzy sickness came over her again.
Sam rushed to her, holding her gently in his warm, strong arms. “Take it easy,” he whispered.
“I ate – something,” she whispered against his shoulder. “Oh, Sam – I’m sorry – I’m such a sissy!”
“You’re no sissy,” he laughed. “You’re just a brave little darling. But if you’re not better soon, I’ll call a doctor.”
“A doctor! Sam – no. Doctors in Alaska charge a lot of money. They’re sort of special or something.”
“And you’re sort of special,” he said, lifting her and carrying her to the big chair by the fireplace. Huge chunks of coal were burning brightly.
“I took a chance on this old chimney,” he told her. “There’s a good fire going in the kitchen range, too. Marie is fixing breakfast.”
The thought of breakfast made her sick again. Terribly sick.
Dr. Fillmore came at one o’clock. He was a big, gray-haired, middle-aged man, with penetrating dark eyes and warm, comforting hands.
“So you think it was our clams and celery that upset you?” he asked Sharry, after looking her over. “Maybe it was that pickled bear tongue that Oscar asked you to eat – they are terribly worried about what they did to you.”
“Pickled bear tongue!” Sharry gasped. “No wonder!”
Dr. Fillmore winked at Sam standing close by.
“No – it isn’t anything you ate,” he said, his wise eyes crinkling. “This kind of sickness is as old as time. It’s worse with some women than others. My dear,” his voice was tender, “you and your fine husband can expect a baby in the late spring, about April, I think.”
Sharry turned her face to look at Sam. Their eyes caught and held in the bright glory of the moment. She felt a strange new beat in her heart. They were going to have a baby in the spring!
Tears of wonderment glistened in her eyes. She didn’t know when Dr. Fillmore left the room. She wasn’t sure of anything but Sam kneeling beside her, holding her as though he had the whole world in his arms!
* * *
A week later, Sharry was still too ill to sit up. Sam told her that Dr. Fillmore insisted that she go to the hospital or have a nurse here at home.
“I can’t leave you alone,” he said. “Marie is in school most of the day – Sister Jensen is still in Nome. I have to leave again soon – another important job to do.”
“When?” She tried to keep her voice steady.
“Today is Wednesday,” she murmured. “Sam – if we have to have somebody professional, there is only one person I want – my aunt Jewel.”
He snapped his fingers. “Of course! Why didn’t I think of Jewel. I’ll telephone at once. She can fly up here.”
Sharry struggled to sit up.
“Telephone McFarland, too,” she said. “Ask him to meet her when she lands in Anchorage. Sometimes there’s a long wait between planes.”
“I’ll do it, dear,” he said, as he pushed her gently back on the pillow. “Be a good little girl and don’t get excited. Dr. Fillmore said you are to stay flat on your back for a while. Leave everything to me, honey.”
Sharry closed her eyes, dreamily. Aunt Jewel would come to her, she thought confidently. As soon as she knew how much Sharry needed her, she would come.
On Sunday morning Sam drove to the airport to meet Aunt Jewel, whose plane from Anchorage was due at ten o’clock. Marie stayed with Sharry.
It was pansy-color dark, Sharry thought – like evening at home. What would Aunt Jewel think of the constant darkness?
“Marie,” Sharry said, “how do you endure it month in and month out?”
“Endure what?” Marie demanded as she leaned over the dressing table peering at her face in the mirror. “You mean my freckles?”
“Heavens no!” Sharry gasped. “Your freckles are cute. I mean the twilight. I’m so homesick …”
“I know,” Marie nodded. “You’re homesick for your mother. I’ve been homesick all my life for my mother. I didn’t know her – she died when I was a baby – still I think of her often. It’s a yearning I can’t explain. That’s why I’m so crazy about my father. He’s been both father and mother to me.”
Marie got to her feet.
“Try to sleep while I brush up the living room. We want everything very cosy when your aunt Jewel arrives.”
Sharry looked at the clock.
“She should be arriving now,” she said. “The ride out here will take about a half hour. I can hardly wait, Marie.”
At eleven o’clock, there were footsteps on the porch. then voices and a man’s hearty laugh. McFarland’s laugh!
“That’s my Dad!” Marie squealed. “He’s with them. Hurray!”
Sharry listened to their cheery greetings. Marie told them to take off their heavy boots outside so they wouldn’t track the floor.
“Here she is!” Sam ushered Aunt Jewel into the bedroom. “McFarland brought her in his own plane!”
Jewel stooped and gathered Sharon in her arms, pressing her cheek against hers.
“We’ll have you up in no time,” she said in her confident, reassuring way. “I’m so glad you sent for me, honey.”
McFarland loomed in the doorway. There was a glow in his dark eyes Sharry hadn’t noticed before.
Everyone talked at once. The plane ride from Anchorage had been a real adventure, Aunt Jewel told them. McFarland said they hadn’t stopped to eat because he wanted to cook a big dinner for everyone when they got here.
“We’ll live it up,” he laughed, “steak and baked potatoes and salad – a real outside meal. I won’t try to give Jewel Alaskan food right away. I remember that Sharry didn’t like it. Marie, baby, will you put the potatoes in the oven while we go across the river to the market? I want Jewel to go with me. Can you spare her that long, Sharry?”
“Why, certainly,” Sharry said. “That’s fine.”
“Shall I drive you?” Sam offered.
McFarland smiled. “We’ll walk,” he said.
They went out laughing as though they had suddenly found something wonderful together. Marie followed them to the doorway, then she walked back to Sharry’s room and leaned against the window peering out. A little smile tipped the corners of her mouth, but her eyes were deeply serious.
“My father is already in love with Jewel,” she said in her straightforward way. “I know he is. I have seen many women try to attract him, but this is the first time I have seen him go overboard – for anybody.”
“But he hardly knows her!” Sharry exclaimed. “He’s just being friendly.”
“Let’s face it,” Marie answered. “They’ve been together since six o’clock this morning when her plane arrived from Seattle. He could have sent her to Fairbanks on the regular plane. But no – he comes along. Fairbanks is a long way from Anchorage.”
Sam said, “Maybe he came to see you, Marie. After all, you are his favorite daughter.”
Marie was quiet for a moment. “Yes – I’m his favorite daughter, and he’s a very special daddy. But I’m not selfish about him. I want him to marry again. I really do. But I hope she is a woman who loves Alaska the way he does, one who realizes what it’s like to live in a place like Bristol. It takes a real woman to make a home there ten months out of the year. I couldn’t bear to have – anybody – break his heart.”
The words were a drumbeat in Sharry’s brain. Marie was afraid Aunt Jewel was not the kind of woman for McFarland.
She looked at Sam. What was he thinking, she wondered? He never spoke impulsively. He always figured everything carefully with an engineer’s mind.
Marie looked at him, too.
Suddenly his face broke into a boyish grin. He shrugged his wide shoulders.
“Let’s not jump the gun,” he said. “Maybe Jewel will have something to say about all this. After all, she’s mighty important, too. I’ll bet she has a mind of her own. Shall we wait and see?”