From the Relief Society Magazine, March 1944 –
The Pink Angel
By Mabel Harmer
As Nan walked along the busy street, crowded with Christmas shoppers, a slight feeling of guilt edged the exhilaration of her spirits. Nobody really had any right to be so outrageously happy in this troubled world. But, on the other hand, how could she help being so utterly gay in this or any other kind of a world? She was the new Mrs. Roger Maitland, she knew that she looked very smart in her three-piece tweed outfit and, for the first time in her life, she was doing Christmas shopping for her own family.
She had bought her main gifts long ago before the Christmas rush had started – a stunning desk set for Roger, and a string of really nice pearls for Merrilyn. Now she wanted some “stocking” presents and some more things for the tree. She did hope that Merrilyn wouldn’t think it silly to hang up stockings. So far, she hadn’t learned in the least how to approach this fourteen-year-old stepdaughter. Roger, she was sure, would understand that, even at twenty-nine, when one has never really had Christmas, one must – but then, what had age to do with Christmas, anyway?
She turned into Brown’s and pushed her way through to the counter, wondering how many of the pretty baubles she could reasonably buy. And then she forgot all the rest as her eyes caught sight of a beautiful pink and tinsel angel for the top of the tree. It was the answer to one of the most fervent of her childhood dreams, and when the clerk had packed it and handed her the box, she held on to it almost reverently. Twelve o’clock already, she thought, with a quick glance at her watch. She would have to hurry because Roger didn’t know that she was calling for him for lunch.
It was still exciting, after three months, to walk into the office and hear the office girl say, “Good morning, Mrs. Maitland. Mr. Maitland is busy for a few minutes. Shall I tell him that you are here?”
“No, don’t bother,” Nan smiled. “I’ll just unload and wait.”
She sat down in one of the big easy chairs and threw back her coat. She didn’t mind waiting for Roger. She had waited for Roger for twenty-nine years, only of course she hadn’t known it until he had walked into Mrs. Warner’s boarding house last fall. There had been quite an air of excitement about the place when Mrs. Warner had announced that “a big lawyer from Rockport is coming up to do something about that Norton land trial, and is going to stay here on account of the hotel burning down last summer.”
She couldn’t know, of course, that he would be a widower in the interesting middle thirties, nor in her wildest dreams could she have imagined that on the second night after his arrival he would stop her after dinner and say, “it’s a beautiful evening, Miss Adams. Would you mind walking out with me for a few minutes and showing me the town?”
Would she mind! Would she mind walking on soft clouds with mystical perfume drifting about, only of course, it was really the pungent odors of late September!
Later, when she had said good-night and she had gone up to her room, she hugged her pillow and said, “Thanks, God, for one perfect evening. It makes up for everything – almost.”
But it didn’t make up. Having seen a glimpse of Heaven she knew that she would never again be contented with the humdrum existence in Eagle Grove, and each night after they had chatted in the parlor or walked about in the countryside, she tried to steel herself to face the time when he would be gone and the brightest experience of her life ended.
She had known that it was his last night and still it came as a shock when he said at the dinner table, “Well, I finished my work here today, so I’m afraid that I shan’t be seeing you good folk any more.”
There had been polite murmurs of regret from all but Nan who felt too numb to say anything. Afterward he had said, “You promised to show me the old mill, remember? Is it too far to walk out there tonight?”
It was not half far enough, but Nan didn’t say so, and when they stood on the bridge at the mill stream with the harvest moon shining down on them, and Roger had put one arm around her and whispered, “Little Nan, lovely little Nan, will you come home with me?” she had buried her face in his shoulder and cried softly, “Oh, yes, Roger. tomorrow, if you like.”
And tomorrow it was. They were married in Mrs. Warner’s parlor, much to the delight of that lady and her other boarders.
“I really should have prepared you for Merrilyn before I asked you to marry me,” Roger had laughed a bit ruefully on the train as they were going home. “Since her mother died there has been a succession of housekeepers and Merrilyn has always had the upper hand. I hope you know how to manage that kind.”
“She sounds fun,” said Nan glowing. “Imagine having a daughter all ready made.”
They arrived unannounced and so, of course, they couldn’t have expected Merrilyn to be on hand, and Nan waited in high expectancy until just before dinner when she blew in and cried noisily from the hallway. “Oh, hello, Dad. I’m glad you’re back. You won’t mind if I go roller skating tonight, will you?”
“Well, I’d rather you wouldn’t tonight,” Roger had answered smiling. “You see, I have a wonderful surprise for you. Come in, dear,” and as she entered the living room and her eyes lighted on Nan, he said, “This lovely lady is Nan, dear, your new mother.”
“Oh,” said Merrilyn, stopping short.
Nan went forward with outstretched arms, saying, “We’ve given you an awful shock, haven’t we, Merrilyn, but I’m sure that you and I are going to have a grand time together?”
She had intended to put her arms around the girl, but Merrilyn quickly forestalled that by offering her hand, which Nan took warmly, trying not to show that she had felt the rebuff.
Dinner turned out to be a strained affair with Nan trying her best to draw Merrilyn out and the girl answering in the shortest possible sentences. As soon as the meal was ended, she said, “Well, I’ll be going. See you later,” and made her getaway with obvious relief.
“Little scamp,” laughed Roger. “She’s needed you for a long time. Almost as long as I have,” he finished, taking Nan in his arms.
And now it was Christmas, and Nan did so want everything to be lovely. She had never known a truly beautiful Christmas. The aunts, who had reared her, had tried after a fashion, but the gifts had always been so practical – stockings, mittens, and handkerchiefs, and there had never been a tree. She felt that she would gladly have given up galoshes or woolen underwear for a glittering tree. She would have given up more than that for a beguiling pink angel to hang on the top, such as the one that reposed in her lap right now.
The door opened and Roger ushered his client out, his face lighting up when he saw Nan. As he closed the office door behind them he said, “Now I’m sure that it’s really Christmas. Is there by any chance a sprig of mistletoe in your hair?”
“Always,” Nan smiled, lifting her face for his kiss and then, with both hands on his shoulders, she asked, “Couldn’t you go shopping with me? It’s such fun, with Christmas everywhere.”
“I’ve always thought it was a bore,” he grinned, “but maybe I’ve never gone at it the right way. Sure you don’t want me merely to carry your parcels?” he teased.
“That’s the main idea,” she laughed, “but I do sort of like your company.” They lunched and then went shopping. There were the various family gifts and then the real fun of the day, the search for little special gifts for Merrilyn.
“You’ll spoil her to death,” said Roger when Nan had picked out an evening bag, a set of cologne bottles that formed the towers of a castle, and three gay “sloppy Joe” sweaters.
“No, she won’t let me,” said Nan, thinking of all the times she had tried to do things for Merrilyn and been repulsed, and then, lest he should detect a note of bitterness, she added jokingly, “Anyway, you’ve already taken care of that.”
Later on that evening when they were unwrapping some of the parcels, Merrilyn happened on to the box containing the pink angel, and, holding it up, said with a laugh, “What a funny, old-0fashioned thing! What in the world is it for?”
“For the top of the tree,” replied Nan, trying to smile as if she, too, found it amusing. “I suppose it is twenty years behind the times. I always wanted one when I was a little girl, so I couldn’t resist buying this one today. We needn’t use it, of course, if you’d rather not.”
“We have a silver star, with a light in it, for the top of the tree,” Merrilyn answered. “You’ll find it with the other stuff.”
“Thanks. I’ll look for it tomorrow,” Nan answered, lowering her eyes to the business in hand.
She made huge, red calico stockings with their names embroidered on white bands, and hung them on the mantelpiece. She put holly wreaths in the windows and trimmed the tree until it glittered like something out of Arabian Nights. On the top of the tree, she placed the gorgeous silver star.
Merrilyn looked on all preparations with total indifference and, much to Nan’s disappointment, didn’t even stay home on the night they trimmed the tree. If only she could find some way to break through the girl’s reserve, Nan thought a dozen times a day. She was so like her father in appearance – the same shining dark hair, gray eyes, and high forehead. Only the expression in their eyes was different when they looked at her. So different that at times, under Merrilyn’s gaze, she felt like an interloper.
Up until three days before Christmas, Nan had thought that while Merrilyn had not entered into her preparations, she would surely succumb eventually to the spirit of festivity that pervaded the house, so that it was with a distinct shock that she heard the girl announce, with an air that smacked of defiance, “I’ve just had a letter from Shauna Selfridge, an old friend of Daddy’s, inviting me to spend Christmas with her. I’m going to call Dad right away and ask if I may go.”
She pranced to the telephone and the minute she had him on the line, cried, “Oh, Daddy, the most marvelous thing has happened! Shauna has asked me to spend Christmas with her. May I go?”
At his answer, her face clouded and she began coaxing, “But Dad, she has tickets for a classy show tonight and a lot of ducky things planned. You promised that I could go and see her sometime.” Then after a pause, she added, “No, she won’t care. I’m just sure that she won’t.”
For the moment Nan’s pride got the better of her judgment and, taking the phone from Merrilyn’s hand, she said, “Let her go, Roger, if that’s what she really wants most.”
“Nonsense,” he answered shortly. “After all the work you’ve gone to in order to give her a nice Christmas, it’s ridiculous. She can go some other time.”
“She needn’t stay home just to make me happy,” argued Nan. “She can take most of her gifts along.”
“All right, then,” said Roger grudgingly, after a pause, “but I still think it’s absurd.”
“He says you can go,” said Nan in a tight voice, as she turned away from the phone. It was the greatest defeat she had yet suffered. To think that Merrilyn would prefer the company of another woman to herself at Christmas time! She felt as if her battle was definitely lost.
Merrilyn danced about in high glee getting ready to go. “Shauna has one of those swanky, modernistic apartments,” she chattered with a new volubility. “I was in it just once but it would sure knock you dizzy. The living room has white and gold furniture and a blue carpet. It’s the ritziest place I was ever in.”
Pausing near the end of her packing, she ran to the telephone and then, turning back, said with a scowl, “The trains run a beastly schedule and the agent says they’re so crowded with holiday traffic that he can’t vouch for a thing. I do hope that I can get there in time for the play tonight.”
“How far is it?” asked Nan thoughtfully. “Perhaps I can drive you over. We have a few extra gallons of gas that we’ve been saving for some emergency and maybe this is it.”
“Oh, would you really?” cried Merrilyn. “It’s only about thirty miles. You could easily get there and back by dinner time if we started right now.”
“All right, then, we’ll go.” She piled the Christmas packages in the rear seat, put on a warm coat, and they started out.
The road was entirely new to Nan, and halfway to Hastings, Merrilyn suggested, “There’s a short cut through these hills that takes off about ten miles. That’s the way Daddy and I used to go.”
“Very well, then, that’s the way we’ll go now,” Nan answered cheerfully.
Five miles through the low canyon they came to another fork in the road, and here Merrilyn was clearly puzzled. Finally, pointing to the right-hand road she said, not too convincingly, “It’s that way – I’m almost sure. And it isn’t much further now.”
There were few signs of travel either way and Nan wished that she had been more sure, but she couldn’t do less than accept the girl’s choice, so they took the right-hand road. After three miles it came to an abrupt stop at a summer home, now quite deserted, with its windows boarded securely against intruders and winter storms.
“Well, we seem to have taken the wrong road,” said Nan with an attempt at cheerfulness.
“I’m dreadfully sorry,” Merrilyn answered. “I was quite sure it was this way.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s only three miles back to the road. We’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Only three miles, but those miles stretched terrifyingly long when, as she tried to turn the car, the wheels sank into a snow bank and she found it impossible to get the car on the road again.
“But there are tracks in the road. I can’t understand that,” said Nan as she sank back wearied and discouraged into the car seat.
“I can,” Merrilyn answered slowly. “Winter sports. People were probably up over the week end for some skiing.”
“And won’t be back until next week end, I suppose.”
The clouds, which had been gathering all afternoon, were much darker now. It was only three o’clock, so there must be a storm on the way. Nan tried once more with all her might to start the car, but the wheels only spun around and sank deeper than ever into the snow.
She finally broke the painful silence by saying, “Well, there’s no other way out of it, I’ll just have to walk back to the road for help. You stay in the car and wrap the robe around you.”
“Let me go, too,” said Merrilyn quickly. “I’d much rather than stay here alone.”
“No, honey, I wouldn’t think of it. I’m a good hiker. I can reach the other road in an hour and I’ll nab the first car that’s going through. Keep warm and don’t leave the car.”
“Nan, I’m awfully sorry,” said Merrilyn, her cheeks flushing with color and her eyes apologetic. “It was horrid of me to get you into this mess.”
“It wasn’t your fault, my dear, think nothing of it,” returned Nan lightly, but her heart was profoundly stirred. It was the first time in three months that they had seemed really close.
For the first ten minutes, Nan swung along at a good pace and with her spirits still fairly high. Then, as light flakes began to fall and she started to tire, her spirits drooped. What had possessed her anyway, to almost insist that Merrilyn go, against Roger’s wishes? It was nothing but pride, a foolish, hurt pride that Merrilyn should prefer Shauna’s company to hers.
The flakes thickened in intensity and the snow rapidly became deeper. Now, at times, she lost the road completely and the soft snow came above her galoshes wetting her thin hose.
“I could so easily lose my way entirely,” she thought in sudden panic, “and then what would become of both of us?”
In a short time, the snow became so deep that she could no longer distinguish the road at all, and she floundered almost hopelessly, making so little progress that she became almost desperate with the thought that night would find her still on the road.
Her legs and feet were so numb now that she could hardly push them ahead, and once, when she fell down in the snow, she lay there for minutes wishing that she might stay for a long time and rest her weary limbs. That was dangerous thinking, she well knew, and, with a tremendous effort, she roused herself and moved on again.
Once she looked at her wrist watch, brushing the heavy snow away from the crystal. Five o’clock – two hours on the way. Soon, it would be really dark. She had been merely creeping along or else she was off the road altogether. She struggled on almost in a lethargy, so tired and chilled that it mattered less and less every minute whether or not she reached the highway. If not, she could sink down and rest in that soft snow.
She was startled out of that idea by the sound of a car, and with renewed energy she ran forward, calling with all her might. The sound passed and this time, in her disappointment, she did sink down into the snow. But she stayed there only a few minutes. The thought that she had at last reached the road spurred her on to a last effort and dragging herself forward, she stood on what she thought must be the edge of the road.
She beat her hands together in dull anxiety. She began imagining that she heard other cars coming, but they never did. It was only a trick of her tired brain. When, finally, another car did pass, she made no effort to stop it and it had whisked by before she knew that this time it was a reality.
It was strange how little she cared that the chance for rescue had passed. She was too weary and cold to care for anything. This was probably the last chance on this little traveled road, and now she could really sink down and rest. There was no need of struggling any more. She was down on her knees when the car backed up and a voice said, “By George, I was right. It is a woman,” and strong arms were lifting her into the car.
With a mighty effort she roused herself and said, “My little girl is up on that road. Please go get her.” Then she lapsed into rest.
She wondered vaguely why she was in bed, and why Roger was sitting there dressed; but she was too tired to think, and it was too much of an effort to hold her eyes open. Later on, it was easier to open her eyes, and this time the doctor was sitting in the chair and Roger was standing by the foot of the bed looking very serious until the doctor said, “That’s the girl. She’s the fighting kind. She’s going to be all right now. Perfectly all right.” She smiled at Roger and he smiled back at her, and she closed her eyes again.
Yes, she remembered now. She and Merrilyn were out in the snow. Merrilyn wasn’t here now. She wondered if they had found her. Without opening her eyes again she asked, “Merrilyn? Did you find her?”
Roger was bending over her now and reaching for her hand as he said, “She’s all right, my brave sweetheart. It’s just you that has to get well now.”
She smiled back at him. One felt so sure and safe holding on to Roger’s hand.
The next morning, she felt entirely awake and started to get up, but after the first try, was content to lie back on the soft pillows. When Roger came in and said, “Merry Christmas, Darling,” she almost beamed at him.
Merrilyn was right behind him and cried, “You really are better, aren’t you? May we bring our presents in here?”
“Of course,” she answered smiling, “I’d love it. I’m fit as a fiddle. Bring in everything.”
“Everything,” echoed Merrilyn. “Why, of course we will. We’ll have Christmas right in here. Can’t we bring in the tree, Daddy? There’s plenty of room.”
“I think so,” answered Roger somewhat doubtfully. “Although we may have to take off some of the trimmings.”
“That’s no trouble,” she said, starting off. “Let’s get at it right away.”
“No trouble” was a slight exaggeration, for it required considerable pushing and pulling on the part of both of them before the rather large tree was brought through the door and set up in a corner of the bedroom.
“It won’t take me long to tie this stuff back on again,” said Merrilyn, hopping about, and when the last shining ornament had been replaced, she came over to Nan’s bed and said shyly, “You had a pink angel. I’d like to put it on.”
“It’s over there on the dressing table,” said Nan, her eyes filling with quick tears. She kept them closed for a moment, and when she opened them again, Merrilyn, standing on a chair, had just finished tying the pink angel into place on the top of the tree.
Then jumping down, she ran over to the bed and looking down at Nan with shining eyes, said, “it looks simply perfect, doesn’t it?”
“Simply perfect,” Nan repeated, raising her face to meet Merrilyn’s kiss.