FAITH IS A HERITAGE
Christie Lund Coles
Synopsis: Enid and Tom Drage, a young married couple, are very happy in their humble furnished apartment in a small town until Tom is brought home dead from a factory accident. Enid is frightened by the future she must make for her small daughter, but she feels Tom’s influence still with her.
Enid lay in the tall grass in the back yard. The leaves of the lilac bush above her moved ever so slightly in the hot July breeze. Sharon was playing near by, putting sand into a little bucket, then emptying it again on the sand pile. The child’s face was tranquil, full of peace and instinctive contentment. Enid thought of the words, “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” She wondered vaguely if that was what it meant – that we must accept life simply, accept each day as a good gift, without doubt or sorrow or apprehension. But acceptance was hard when one could see such a little way ahead in the great scheme of things.
Already her problems were beginning to loom large and frightening. The grocer who had been so kind when Tom was alive was becoming cool, more hesitant about filling her orders. Her rent would soon be due and the money for it was not there. She knew the moment was near when she must go and talk to Miss Nobbitt. That was difficult, for, though the woman had been kind enough in her way, Enid felt somewhat afraid of her, of her set mouth and her sternness.
But money was not her only problem. She was lonely. The hopes she had had of a happy social life were gone. Everyone was very kind when she went to her meetings, but it ended there. The other women went home to busy households, to husbands coming home, to parties, perhaps, where there would be so many couples. There was no place for an extra woman, especially one with a small child.
She closed her eyes for a moment, then forced herself to smile a little wryly. She wasn’t going to feel sorry for herself. Not any more. It was a beautiful day; the sun was warm upon her face, upon her bare arms. It seemed to hold healing in its warmth, and peace, and a calm reassurance. She looked up at the wide blue sky, endless, incomprehensible. Her world seemed to grow small, her troubles seemed to become insignificant before its vastness. What was one life, one problem, in the face of the great, wonderful universe. Every bird singing above her head was cared for, every wind was guided in its direction; surely the God who kept all things in order, who made all things, would be mindful of her, also.
Her muscles relaxed and stretched. Her child laughed in complete happiness. Enid sat up, feeling suddenly that this moment when she had found new courage, new hope, temporary though it might be, was the time to go and talk to Miss Nobbitt. She stood up, ran her hand over her skirt, straightening it. Then she reached a hand to Sharon, saying, “Come here, darling. We must go into the house.”
The child shook her head, looking crestfallen. “We will come back,” her mother assured her, wiping the sand from her small chubby fingers and putting an unruly curl in place. Miss Nobbitt liked the child. It was wise, as well as necessary, to take her with her when she made the call.
As she waited on the porch for her landlady to answer the door, she could see through the screen the part of the house which the woman occupied. It was beautifully, almost lavishly, furnished with substantial, rather old furniture. It looked cool and comfortable after the warm sun. Evidently her family had been well off, enough so, at least, that she had a home for the rest of her life and an apartment to rent. A home of one’s own, a place where no one could say, “Now you must move,” seemed a wonderful possession to Enid. Something sure, something good, more than a shelter, more than most people seemed to realize. She would have felt so much better if Tom and she had owned a home, if it had been their own, if they had put hours into it, painting, planting, furnishing. It would have been an extra bond between them. It would have been an extra safeguard for their child, for she had noticed that the children whose parents owned their homes, who were settled and part of a street or a community, were less likely to go astray, to look far afield for pleasure and happiness.
Miss Nobbitt was coming toward her, dressed in her perpetual afternoon black.
“Oh,” she greeted Enid, almost in surprise, “come in.”
Enid smiled up at her in friendliness and a little shyness. “I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“Of course not. Come into the sitting room. It is cooler there.”
They passed into the large parlor, across a hall with heavy oak paneling into another comfortable room with chintz-covered chairs, with hand-carved tables, with a shiny, new Victrola in one corner. Enid couldn’t resist saying, “How nice. How very nice.”
Again there was a look of surprise in Miss Nobbitt’s eyes as she looked about the room. “It’s comfortable,” was all she said, sitting down rather stiffly, motioning her guest to do likewise.
Enid lifted Sharon to her knee as she gave herself a moment more of time before she approached the subject about which she must speak.
Miss Nobbitt waited in silence. Ominous silence, Enid felt, as she cried within herself, “Oh, why don’t you say something, make it a little easier. Aren’t you human?”
Yet, her voice was controlled and soft as she finally spoke. She said, “I thought I would speak to you about the rent. I know you could rent your rooms to someone who would be more dependable than we are. I haven’t much money left, but I am going to try to find something to do … I’ll make it all up … if you’ll let us stay …”
She hadn’t meant to have her voice break, to have tears come to her eyes. But it was too late now, it didn’t matter.
She wiped her eyes, murmuring, “I’m sorry,” as she started to rise, afraid to wait for an answer, wondering what had made her belief this austere woman could be touched, could be human.
But Miss Nobbitt was telling her to sit down and she was obeying. She looked at her questioningly and was amazed to see tears in the older woman’s eyes.
“Listen to me, my child,” she was saying. “I know you think me unkind and heartless. I’m not. When you first came here with your handsome husband, I used to watch you laughing together. I would see him kiss your hair and I felt I couldn’t bear it. I thought I disliked you. When your child was born my dislike seemed to grow. I know now it was jealousy. You had the things I have been denied. Even when your husband died I was still jealous because you had this beautiful little girl. Somehow, today, as you talked I felt almost as if you were my own daughter … you could be, you know. I’m so ashamed.”
She pressed her hand hard against her eyes and her body shook with harsh sobs. She wept as one who has long forgotten the relief of tears.
Enid came over to her, admonishing, “You mustn’t cry, it’s all right.”
For the first time, Enid saw Miss Nobbitt smile, a tremulous, gentle smile as she dried her eyes and reached out her arms to Sharon who was standing beside her, looking incredulously sad.
“Come here,” she whispered, “come here and let me hold you.” The next moment she was pressing the child to her in great love and gentleness.
“You see,” she was saying, “I know what it means to be in love. I loved someone once … very, very much. My family objected and I sent him away. Of course, I kept hoping he would come back. But I learned later that he married a girl in California. Some said it was done for spite, I don’t know. Right now … and for the first time … I hope not. There’s so little happiness, I hope he found it with her. I hope she was happy, too.” She added simply, “He’s dead now.”
Enid looked at her with great compassion. She tried to imagine her as she must have looked twenty-five years ago, tall and slender and pretty … in love and happy. It seemed to her now that everyone had a cross to bear sooner or later. It helped a little to think that.
Miss Nobbit told her, “I want you to stay on here as long as you want. Make it your home, forget about the rent.”
“I couldn’t do that,” protested the girl, her blue eyes wide. “I’ll pay you when I get to working.”
“What do you intend to do?”
“I suppose I’ll have to just do anything. I was studying to be a teacher. I wish I had finished … though I wouldn’t have missed these beautiful years … with Tom.”
“Perhaps, if you work, you can save enough to go back to school. You’ll have quite a while to support Sharon if you don’t marry again.”
Enid looked at her as if the thought were incongruous. “Oh, I’ll never do that,” she assured her.
“You’re young. You’re very pretty. Don’t let bitterness spoil your life, as I did. But to get back to the work, there are several women in town who need help in their homes. I’m sure you could keep quite busy.”
Enid recoiled from the thought of going into other women’s homes as a servant, doing menial work. Miss Nobbitt seemed to know her thoughts for she told her, “Don’t be too proud. Any work that is honest is honorable. As long as you have the strength to work and a clear conscience, you have practically everything.”
“Thank you,” Enid said. “You’ve been more than kind. You don’t know how it helps.”
“Yes, I do. I should have done all of this much, much sooner. I was too selfish. Now, the two of you come over here a little later for supper. I have a new phonograph and some records. We’ll have a pleasant time.”
They did have a pleasant time. Enid was more happy and more ready for sleep than she had been for many days. Just as she had tucked the child in for the night and dimmed the light, there was a knock on the door. She opened it, looking out into the lavender evening, gathering upon the world. She saw a tall man in a dark suit standing in the doorway. For a moment, she was sure he had the wrong door. But he reassured her, asking her name and adding, “I’d like to talk to you about your husband’s death.”