FAITH IS A HERITAGE
Christie Lund Coles
Synopsis: Enid Drage, young, attractive widow of Tom Drage, is teaching in the small town where she lives. She is trying to make a good life for her daughter, Sharon, and is deeply hurt when the girl complains that they have no place where she can entertain, and they probably never will have. Enid considers a solution.
As they came out of the school building, Enid was surprised to see Mr. Fletcher’s long, black car waiting for them. Mr. Fletcher was standing beside it. He motioned to them.
“I met him on the way up,” Sharon whispered to her mother. “He must have gone to get his car.”
“How nice,” Enid murmured, half to her daughter, half to him, as she approached the automobile.,
“I knew you would want to hurry,” he said, as he helped her into the car. “I understand you and Miss Nobbit have been close friends.”
“Oh, we have. We have, indeed,” Enid assured him, feeling a sob break in her throat. “She has been so very kind.”
He took his free hand and covered hers with it, almost possessively. She saw Sharon watching, and drew her hand away self-consciously. He tried to meet her eyes when they reached the house. She knew he wanted to ask to see her, but she pretended more confusion than she felt, as she said, “Thank you. I must hurry …”
“Perhaps I could be of help,” he suggested.
“No. No, please don’t bother. Sharon says the doctor is already here …”
“If you need me in any way, call me.”
“Yes, I will,” she called over her shoulder, hurrying into the house.
The blinds were drawn in the bedroom, and the doctor was listening to Miss Nobbit’s heartbeats with his stethoscope, bending over the incredibly pale woman. The neighbor, Mrs. Willis, was standing near the bed. The doctor looked up as Enid came in and shook his head gravely.
“You mean, there is no hope?” she asked him, trembling, conscious of her own heart thudding painfully in her chest.
“I’m afraid not,” he replied. “She’s unconscious now.”
Yet Miss Nobbit opened her eyes as Enid dropped on her knees beside her, and smiled feebly. “I’m all right,” she murmured weakly.
Enid smiled. “Of course you’re all right. Don’t try to talk.”
“I want to change my will,” the woman whispered, laboring hard for breath.
Quickly Mrs. Willis asked, “Shall I call the attorney?”
The doctor nodded. “He can be here in a moment, call him.”
By the time the attorney had come, Enid was so distraught she could not stay in the room. She went out, paced the floor of the living room, alternately rubbing her icy cold hands. Sharon, pale and frightened, sat crying in one corner of the room. “Is … is Auntie really going to die?” she asked tremulously.
“I’m afraid so, dear,” Enid admitted, “but she isn’t young, you know. She is tired.”
Facing death, facing the great, silent chasm that separates the living from those gone on, is an awesome thing. Enid saw things straight for the first time in a long while. She realized what was of worth and what was not, what was eternal and what was temporal and superficial.
She looked at her hand, she could feel Mr. Fletcher’s touch upon it … too soft, too flabby … It would be hard to have Sharon go on without a home such as her friends possessed, but she would have to understand. There were greater things that she could be given. God helping her, Enid vowed, she would give her those things.
The attorney came out. Mrs. Willis came to the door with him and beckoned to the mother and daughter. Miss Nobbit wanted to see them.
Later, when all the details had been attended to, Sharon and Enid sat on each side of their small kitchen table and toyed with the untouched food upon their plates. Sharon questioned, “Mom, are you going to marry Mr. Fletcher?”
Enid felt herself flush. She wished they might have waited until some other time to discuss it, and she hedged for time. “I suppose I’ll consider that when he asks me.”
“Oh, he’ll ask you all right. Everyone can see it in his eyes, people are talking about it. The girls treat me differently.”
“I suppose you would like it … if I did?” Enid’s voice was even, yet anxious, each word weighted with expectancy.
The girl looked at her for a moment. “I’d like that house … I’d like my own car, all the things money can buy. I’d like it for your sake, so that you wouldn’t have to work, wouldn’t have to be so tired when night comes. Yes, I’d like it …” The girl paused and would have gone on, after a second, but there was a knock on the door.
Enid arose to answer it. She saw Mr. Watts, the attorney, standing before her. Her heart sank. Perhaps already, because of the will, it would be necessary to dispose of this property. Where would they live? There were no available houses in town.
“How do you do?” Enid greeted him, somewhat resentful that whatever he had to say could not have waited at least until the morning. She was tired. She had had about all the emotional strain she could bear for one day.
“May I speak to you … alone, Mrs. Drage?” he asked her, coming in, looking about him in evident surprise at their meager quarters.
“Of course,” she replied, turning to Sharon. “Run over to Sue’s for a few moments, will you, dear?”
When Sharon had gone, Mr. Watts sat down and, as another attorney had done a long time ago, he took out his brief case and proceeded to unfold some papers.
Enid wondered idly what this procedure would have to do with her. She thought, perhaps, having lived here with Miss Nobbit, she would be expected to know certain things about her property, and might be needed as a witness for something or other. But Miss Nobbit had never discussed business with her. Her property had been her own affair.
Actually, she was still thinking about Sharon’s words, was still wondering how to tell the child her decision about Mr. Fletcher so that Sharon would understand.
“It may come as a complete surprise to you, Mrs. Drage,” Mr. Watts was saying, “but Miss Nobbit left her entire estate to you … this house, a small piece of land west of town, and a few hundred dollars. It was her dying request that you be made sole heir.”
Enid’s thoughts came to the present moment with a start. “You mean, really … this house is mine … Why, I was afraid you had come to tell me we would have to move at once because your client wanted the house. Oh, how kind of her … how very kind!”
The wracking tears that she had not shed, suddenly fell from her eyes; sobs shook her slender body.
He cleared his throat as he said, “Yes, I don’t suppose you need fear having to move … ever … unless you want to … And in that case, this property could easily be disposed of. In fact, I might say I would be glad to handle it for you at any time.”
His eyes had a knowing look. He was trying to find out her plans, he was curious as everyone else was curious. It made her a little sick. She stood up straight. “I am very grateful to Miss Nobbit. For the present I have no plans. Goodnight, Mr. Watts.”
He bowed, smiled, prepared for his departure. “Goodnight, Mrs. Drage. Good luck to you.”
When the door had closed upon him, she stood for a moment before the mirror on the wall. Her hair was disheveled about her face, there were dark circles under her eyes, yet she had the look of a child who is very tired.
She had started to the phone to call Sharon, when she heard another knock upon the door. Opening it, she saw Mr. Fletcher standing before her, newly shaven, immaculately dressed.
“Why, Mr. Fletcher,” she stammered in surprise, “I didn’t expect …”
He came into the room apologizing, “I know I shouldn’t have come without telephoning, but I did want to see you.” Coming closer to her, he went on, “And please, my dear, don’t call me ‘Mister Fletcher.’ Won’t you call me Carl?”
She moved a step from him, yet there was something rather pitiful in the way he asked the question. She replied, “Perhaps, if you wish …”
Now it was his turn to look about the room, to see the place where she and Sharon had spent the past fifteen years. The simplicity of it struck her as though she, too, were seeing it for the first time. It had become dear to her. It was home, and she accepted it, but she could understand how another would feel about it, seeing it for the first time.
He was moved to sudden, unexpected words. “My dear child, and you’ve lived here all this time … alone! I hadn’t meant to force your answer, but you must know how I feel. Tell me, won’t you let me take care of you from now on? Give you all the things you’ve missed?”
She closed her eyes for just a moment, stumbled a little toward him in her great weariness, and he, mistaking it for acquiescence, slipped his arm about her waist. He was about to kiss her when the door opened and Sharon stood there, looking at them.
Enid drew back, looked at her daughter. She could not read what was in the girl’s face. Sharon spoke to them and went on into the kitchen without revealing either pleasure or displeasure.
Enid pulled herself together. “I’m really sorry you spoke, Mr. Fletcher. We’ll just forget that the words were said … for the time being. And I hope you’ll forgive me if I tell you I am extremely weary tonight …”
“Of course … of course …” he assured her, affronted a little, nevertheless. After all, he was a man whose word was never given lightly, whose requests were not usually disregarded. “Forgive me for coming. Perhaps I can tell you tomorrow?”
“Yes, do.” she answered, almost mechanically, aware only that she must be alone.
As the door closed again, Sharon came in from the kitchen, her eyes bright. “Mommie,” she cried, “I hope you didn’t tell him you’d marry him. I thought it would be nice, but what I was going to say when that lawyer came in was that when I saw him hold your hand today I didn’t like it, it didn’t seem right … you so young and everything. We don’t need a house that much … or money, or anything. when I saw him with his arm around you, I knew it wouldn’t be right for you ever to marry him. You won’t, will you, Mom?”
Enid, for some unknown reason, began to laugh almost uncontrollably, in relief, in joy. She reached out her arms to her daughter, who was taller than she was, and drew her close. “You silly little goose,” she said, “of course I won’t. I was afraid, though, that you wanted me to say ‘yes.’”
As she kissed the soft cheek, she knew that now she could tell her about the house Miss Nobbit had left them, now, when she knew that it wasn’t as important to Sharon as she had feared.