FAITH IS A HERITAGE
Christie Lund Coles
Synopsis: Enid Drage, young, attractive wife of tom Drage, finds herself a widow following his death in a factory accident. She finished normal school and teaches in the small town, renting from Miss Nobbit. Rearing her daughter, Sharon, presents problems. She has been to a party with the wealthy young people of the town, and complains that she will never be able to entertain them in their own two-room apartment.
Enid had deliberately delayed coming home from school on several days when Mr. Fletcher, the portly and distinguished looking banker, had suggested that he might meet her on Main Street after school. That was his alternative when she had refused to go with him riding or to the movies. At times, when she had started home and had seen him in the distance standing in the bank doorway, she had changed her course, pretending to herself or whoever might be with her that she needed to go to the library.
The day after Sharon’s first party, Enid closed her desk up early, powdered her nose carefully, put lipstick on sparingly to bring out her own good color, and loosened her hair somewhat about her face. Then she started down Main Street. She wanted to see Mr. Fletcher today. She wanted him to see her, to ask her to go out with him. Her answer would not be “No” today.
And she was not disappointed. He was standing in the doorway of the bank. She walked slowly, pretending not to notice him, yet giving him time to speak.
He said, “We–ll, I haven’t seen you in a long time. School teaching must be keeping you pretty busy.”
She lifted her eyes to his in simulated surprise and pleasure. “Oh, how do you do?” she greeted him, smiling, stopping until he came over to her. “It’s so nice seeing you.”
He literally beamed beneath her pleasantry. He fingered his solid gold watch fob, as he suggested, “Wouldn’t you like to have an ice cream soda?”
“I believe I would,” she agreed, still smiling.
“Wait just one moment until I get my hat. We’ll walk over to the drugstore.”
She waited, remembering the gay, casual way in which Tom used to go without a hat, even in the coldest weather, the way his dark hair used to lift in the wind. But she must not remember Tom now. That was in the past. She would put it behind her once and for all. Yes, she would forget … she would go forward, make a good life for Sharon, the kind of life the girl wanted, with a house where she could entertain … maybe her own car later on. All the things the other girls had.
There was not another house in town to compare with the Fletcher three-story brick one in the south part of town, with its beautifully landscaped grounds and weeping willow trees that almost concealed the white pillared porch.
She was more animated than ever when Mr. Fletcher joined her; and they walked laughingly to the corner drugstore.
When they parted, he asked her to the military ball the next night, and she accepted with outward pleasure and enthusiasm.
“You’re a lovely thing,” he assured her, holding his hat properly in his hand, bending slightly from the waist.
“Thank you,” she murmured, playing the game, going through the motions, forcing her lips into the smile of gentleness and sweetness that he seemed to admire so much.
By the time he called for her the next night, she was actually in a state of excitement, due partly to Sharon’s happiness and Miss Nobbit’s sage approval. Her parting words, “You could do much worse,” kept going through Enid’s mind. And, leaving out the question of love, she couldn’t do any better, she decided.
She even enjoyed the dance more than she had dreamed she could, for she had forgotten how good it was to move to soft music in rhythm and motion, to see the happy couples about her, all suddenly more than friendly.
Mr. Fletcher noticed the glow on her face, told her, “You’ve needed to go out more for a long time. You are too young to give up life and fun. I felt the same when my wife died. But life has to go on. I hope now that you’ve made the break we’ll see more of you. I hope …”
His words stopped on a wistful note as he looked into her eyes. She felt herself flush, and she changed the subject, quickly, gaily. It was too soon to let anything be said. However, the orchestra was playing a sentimental waltz, and she did not feel any disapproval as his arm tightened just a little about her waist.
True, he was twenty years older than she, he was bald and heavy. But on the other side of the ledger there were many things: his standing in the community, his graciousness, and, of course, his imposing and beautiful home. She didn’t quite know what she would do with such a house if it ever should happen that he asked her to marry him. But there was time enough to think of that later. He might never ask her. Yet, her woman’s intuition – and his eyes – told her differently.
It seemed to Enid that even the children at school treated her with a new respect and courtesy, for news traveled fast in the town. Or perhaps it was only her imagination, she decided, only the sense she felt within herself of being more than just a hireling, of knowing she could be more than that, much more. But she noted a new glow on Sharon’s face – as though she knew a wonderful secret.
Enid had been so engrossed in her own thoughts that she had not particularly noticed that Miss Nobbit was looking more pale, and that she was quite a bit weaker, until one morning when she went to the door, as usual, with her breakfast. Enid found that Miss Nobbit was not up in her chair, but was still lying in her bed.
“I’m just tired this morning. I’ll be as right as rain after I eat a bite. You run along to school.”
“I’ll run down at noon to see how you feel,” Enid assured her. “You rest comfortably. I’ll put your pills here where you can reach them.”
“You needn’t come at noon, child. I tell you I feel perfectly all right. Can’t a body take an hour’s extra rest without all this commotion?”
“But what if I want to come home at noon? I suppose a body might have a right to do that.”
The older woman did not answer with her usual spritely comeback. She ate listlessly and in silence. Enid hated to leave her, and, when she did leave, she called at the home of the next-door neighbor and asked her to look in occasionally during the day.
The hours at school seemed to go slowly. When the day was finally done, and Enid was putting away her papers, she looked up to see a tall, rather gangling, shy-looking young man standing by the door. For a moment, her heart seemed to turn a somersault. The blood left her face and she was glad she was sitting down, as she felt faint.
When she looked at the man closer, she wondered why she should have thought his resemblance to Tom so pronounced. Still, there was some intangible likeness – the wistfulness in his eyes, his one-sided smile – but, outside of that, there was no resemblance except his height. It was her mind doing tricks.
“Hello,” she said pleasantly, and he came in, nodding, repeating, “Hello.”
After a moment of looking at her, he asked, “Are you Mrs. Drage?”
“Yes, I am. Was there something?”
“I’m Billy Richards’ father. He’s having quite a hard time with his English. I thought perhaps you could tell me what I could do to help him at home. His mother’s dead, you know.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she told him, kindly, “I didn’t know. He’s such a nice child.”
She proceeded to tell him whatever she thought might be of help. When she was through, he lingered as though loath to leave. “Maybe I’ll see you again sometime?” he said, and his words were a question.
“I hope so,” she assured him. And she meant it. She wanted to see him again. He was as young as she, and there was naturalness and simplicity in his manner and his face. She recognized them because she was a natural and simple person herself. She knew, suddenly, that she had never really wanted anything in life that was ornate or beyond her means. She wanted a good, simple life, a life rich in the true joys, the quiet, inner joys that neither money nor fame can buy.
And, as she watched Mr. Richards go, she felt she could never marry Mr. Fletcher. She would manage somehow to give Sharon a home, although she might never be able to afford anything but a humble one.
She picked up her bag, put on her hat, and stared for just a moment out of the window, lost in thought. Bleakness was in the air, a last crisp leaf scurried across the ground as though looking for a place to hide from the relentless wind.
She was not alarmed when she saw Sharon running up the walk to the building. Yet, when she saw Sharon’s face as she entered the room, her own loneliness disappeared and she was all alertness and concern.
“Sharon, darling … What?”
The girl cried, “Hurry, Mother, hurry! Miss Nobbit … she’s dying!”