Through This Door
By Margery S. Stewart
Synopsis: Mary Ruth Grayson tries to care for her father and her motherless brothers and sisters. Rachel Marriott, who had once been wealthy, comes to live in the shabby old house across the street, and with much effort manages to make the place homelike and attractive for her husband and daughter Lora. Mrs. Marriott takes an interest in Mary Ruth and teaches her some of the arts of housekeeping, as well as giving her love and companionship. Mrs. Marriott, very much worried over her financial situation, begins to make dresses for children. Mary Ruth falls in love with Tom Mack, and, later, becomes acquainted with Chris Jordan, Mrs. Marriott’s nephew.
“I’m going to be a nurse,” I said to Tom. “Now I know that’s what I want to be.”
“Yeah,” Tom growled, “in Chris’ office, I suppose.”
“Oh, Tom!” I was filled with a love for him that was almost maternal at this moment, not the adoring, blind love of the past months. “You’re jealous. You needn’t be. I’ll be a nurse and come back here and help … oh, everybody that needs me. They don’t have any nurse at all around here, except old Mrs. Jensen, and she’s nearly sixty.”
Tom was silent for a moment, then he smiled and wiggled my nose with the tip of his finger. “You win, Mary Ruth. I think that would be swell. I sort of thought up some plans myself …”
“Like what, Tom?”
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and kicked at a clump of snow beside the gate. “Playgrounds. There isn’t anything here, except the two swings over at school. Kids ought to have a big playground with someone to teach them things. Oh, you know what I mean, Mary Ruth.”
Our hands met and clung. All the unsaid words floated around us in the dark, all the forming plans, too big to be voiced now. I looked over at the Marriott house, where only the upstairs lights were burning now, blurring through my tears.
When I turned in at our street the next afternoon, there was Chris Jordan waiting for me, the lazy snowflakes circling his dark head.
“Aunt Rachel said this was about the time you arrived home. Can you go for a walk, or do you have to start taking care of all your children?”
He was laughing at me, but in a warm, friendly fashion.
“You make me sound like the old woman in the shoe,” I said.
“Impossible. There never was anyone as young as you, Mary Ruth.”
I caught my breath and said primly, “I want to thank you, Mr. Jordan, for all the things you talked about last night. They will change my whole life.”
“Is that so?” He guided my arm, and we turned the next corner and were at once in the country. “How?”
“Well … it’s just that l.. that …” I looked at him helplessly. “Everything got deeper and higher and wider. I’m going to be a nurse.”
“Why, Mary Ruth … I think … I think that’s very fine.”
“And Tom’s life is all changed, too?”
“Is he going to be a nurse?”
“No,” I said coldly, angry at his laughter. “He’s going to build playgrounds here, for the children. We don’t have any. I’ll come back here and be the nurse … and Tom will be a teacher. Doesn’t it sound wonderful?”
Chris Jordan was silent so long I had to prod him. “Well, don’t you think it is?”
His voice sounded flat and heavy. “I suppose so. We’d better get back, Mary Ruth, it’s getting dark.”
It was June, at last, and our graduations were over and done. The one road that had been before me branched out into several roads, but the one road I wanted more than anything else in the world to take, seemed blocked. That was the nurse road. That road led to college and then to the hospital and then back home to my people. I longed to travel it so intensely that sometimes I could almost feel the crisp, starched cap upon my head. I wasn’t leaving the family, alone, that was the obstacle. Aunt Mercedes’ husband had died, and she was more than willing to come and keep house for Dad, who was her brother, and for my fast-growing brothers and sisters. It was the money to go to college, and a place to stay while I went. I had neither.
“It will come,” Mrs. Marriott insisted, “just be on the watch for the opportunity when it does come.”
“It would have to be as small as a microbe to elude me,” I promised her grimly.
Then one day I met Mr. Jones, the high school principal. I was in the drugstore buying vitamin pills for the boys, who were looking scrawny.
“Mary Ruth,” he said, “I believe I have the answer to your problem.”
I danced on my toes. “You have? Really, Mr. Jones?”
He nodded solemnly. “Mrs. Williams is moving back to the city, her husband has been made branch manager of the bank. She asked me the other day if I knew of a good country girl to go back with her, work for her room and board and a small salary. I mentioned you. She seemed very pleased.”
My dancing feet stood still. The bright sunlight dimmed into the face of a thin, quiet girl, reading to Connie in the car. A girl who had gone away thirsty because there wasn’t time for her to have a drink. The maid. I backed away from Mr. Jones. “Thank you very much, Sir, but I couldn’t work for Mrs. Williams. I just couldn’t. I’d rather never go to school.”
“Very well, Mary Ruth.” Mr. Jones was stern and displeased. “You understand this is a rare opportunity?”
“Oh, yes, Sir. But I can’t.” Out of the drugstore, I ran toward Mrs. Marriott’s house, which had become my unfailing sanctuary.
She met me at the door, her face alight, and drew me in. “Oh, Mary Ruth, the nicest thing has happened to me. Just wait until you her.”
I listened dully to her news. A store in town had asked her to supply them with dresses for little girls, as many as she could make. She was getting a power machine, and Mrs. Callister was coming in to help.
I tried to match her enthusiasm, but my throat was thick with tears.
“What is it, Mary Ruth?” The instant, unfailing tenderness enfolded me.
I told her about the job. “I said I wouldn’t do it, and I won’t. I wouldn’t work for her if she was the last person in the world!”
She stroked my shoulder. “But school starts very soon. You haven’t much longer to make up your mind, Mary Ruth.”
“But I can’t, Mrs. Marriott. Not there …”
She bit her lip. “If blessings would just come to us, labeled, we wouldn’t have such a hard time making up our minds to take them.”
I stopped crying at once. “You don’t,” I demanded, “think Mrs. Williams is a blessing?”
Mrs. Marriott looked far away. “When we came here I was so utterly cast down that I was ready to run away. I never dreamed that losing our money would prove the greatest blessing I had known.” She laughed and patted my cheek. “And the day I met Thelma Williams, I had just a few dollars left. Like you, I never would have placed a golden label on her.”
I stood up. “You win. I’ll go, if only to prove that in this case you are just as wrong as you can be.”
Tom was going to the University of California, at Los Angeles. He was beside himself with his own dreams and plans. But he stayed in town until the day I left for the city and my job.
He drove me to the station in the battered car that was as familiar and dear as his own dark head and his dark blue eyes. He said, “Any time you can’t take it, Mary Ruth, just send me a wire and I’ll come running. We’ll get married and I’ll get a job. You don’t have to take anything from anyone.”
So there it was, a high, good wall all around me. No one could hurt me now, or frighten me. I had Tom.
He pulled my hair. “You’re going to look very cute with a cap on those curls.”
Then we were silent, with all the last year’s sweetness circling around us, and all the unknown tomorrows beckoning imperiously with the shrill train whistle.
Only time for the briefest kiss, the shortest touch of our hands, before I was on the train and away. I saw Tom standing beside his little car until we reached the curve by the water tower.
I leaned back and gathered all that day’s pictures in my mind. Dad, so pleased and proud of my ambition, giving me his own battered billfold to hold my precious supply of money. The youngsters crowding around me, crying because they hated to see me go, and Aunt Mercedes comforting them and coaxing them into laughter. Mrs. Marriott coming to place in my hands her gift of a lovely robe and absurd, knitted slippers.
“We’re going to be so proud of you,” she whispered. “Mary Ruth, remember always how we love you.” I was glad she had said that in the days that came and went, because it was hard at Mrs. Williams’ house.
Even the first day, she drove around the beautiful grounds and the imposing front door to leave me at the back door. She led me downstairs, past the polished and colorful rumpus room, to the bleak little corner that was my room.
“Put your bags down here, Mary Ruth,” she said. “I’ll explain to you your duties in each room as we come to it.”
The rooms were like none I had ever seen. Beautiful and modern and sharply new.
The kitchen was painted pink, pink walls, blue shining floors, little shelves that held the loveliest bric-a-brac, and a long row of gleaming electrical appliances. I looked with dismay at the array of buttons and lights. Would I ever learn how to use them all?