The Bright Star
By Dorothy S. Romney
Synopsis: Kathy Tracy, an orphan, who wishes to become an artist, lives with her Aunt Emerald Jewel Tracy in an old-fashioned house overlooking San Francisco Bay. In order to help with household expenses, Kathy applies to Phineas Fenton, a neighbor and owner of a shipping line, for employment. He offers her the position of switchboard operator in his office building in San Francisco. When Kathy returns home from the Fenton house, she finds that her aunt has gone out, and her friend Jim Parker is there waiting for their evening date.
A misty rain had begun to fall when the lights of Jim Parker’s small car started back over the hill along Pine Road. Kathy Tracy sat silently in the seat beside him.
“Can’t carry on much of a conversation by myself,” Jim complained.
Kathy smiled. “I was thinking of the picture. Imagine that girl giving up her wonderful career to marry and live way out on that farm. She must have loved him deeply.”
“Hmm,” said Jim, “getting married’s fine. I just hope he had his farm where it was paying. Folks have to eat, you know.”
“Dear, practical Jim,” Kathy laughed. “Don’t be so down-to-earth, and with the moon just rising, too. After all, it was only a movie.”
“Say,” he said suddenly, stopping the car with a lurch, “what’s that?” He backed the car a few feet and stopped beside a clump of bushes.
Sitting on the ground, leaning against a fallen log was a woman. Kathy sprang from the car and ran to the crumpled figure. The pale moonlight fell across the woman’s face.
“Jim! Jim!” the girl cried in a stricken voice, “it’s Aunt Em! She’s hurt!”
Frantically, the girl grasped her aunt’s cold wrist and felt for her pulse. “Oh, thank goodness, she isn’t – I mean … Oh, Jim! … We’ll get her home in bed, then I’ll call Bishop Henderson in San Rafael and see if he can send someone to help us, and I’ll get a doctor.”
Miss Em opened her eyes and looked at her niece and murmured dazedly, “Oh, it’s you, Kathy. I just sat down to do some sewing, and sort of dozed, I guess … why … I …” She lifted her hand helplessly to her head.
“She must have tripped and hit her head on this log,” Kathy explained to Jim.
He bent down and picked the frail figure up and put her in the car. It was then that Kathy noticed a brown paper parcel on the ground. Must be the hemming Aunt Em had promised to do for Nan Pressman’s trousseau.
“Oh, Aunt Em,” she cried brokenly, “you walked all the way to the Pressman place!”
She must have been lying here on the ground for several hours! A sick feeling of guilt swept over Kathy. How could she have gone away, not knowing where her aunt was, or when she’d return home?’
As Kathy got in the car beside her, Miss Em opened her eyes again. “I sat down by the fire, it was so cold,” she muttered. Then she burst out, suddenly rational, “Did Phineas give you that job in the city, honey?”
“Yes, Aunt Em,” the girl answered.
Jim stepped on the gas, hard. “You didn’t tell me about any job,” he said. “A girl like you ought to be getting married, not running off to the city to work,” he added emphatically.
“Let’s not talk about it now,” said Kathy, with a warning look at Jim, “and please hurry.” She was rubbing her Aunt’s hands, as she talked, trying to bring some warmth back into them.
“All right,” he answered.
The car swung rapidly around the curves of Pine Road, the trees and shrubbery making grotesque patterns in the quick flash of the headlights.
“I’ll see you in the morning, Jim,” Kathy whispered to the young man as they helped Miss Em from the car to a chair in the kitchen. “I’ll have to put Aunt Em to bed.”
Jim walked to the old-fashioned kitchen range, lifted the lid and started shoving in lengths of split pine, then turned to Kathy.
“Better phone the doctor before she gets any worse,” he suggested.
“She’ll be all right as soon as she gets warmed up,” Kathy replied softly. “I doubt if I’ll need to disturb anyone at this late hour after all. Aunt Em needs rest. Good night, Jim, and thanks for the movie.”
“Good night, Kathy,” he said and closed the kitchen door quietly.
Kathy removed Miss Em’s damp shoes and thrust her feet into some warm slippers, then taking off the shoddy coat, she wrapped her in a heavy robe. “I’ll have a cup of chocolate for you in a jiffy,” she promised, “that will warm you up.”
With a great effort, Miss Em roused herself. “You go to the city, Kathy, take that job – study hard. The money – the Chinese chest – find the bright star …” Her voice trailed off.
“Yes, yes, I know we have money in the chest,” Kathy murmured. “The bright star,” she repeated, puzzled. What on earth could Aunt Em mean by that? It must be some figment of her imagination. For the first time a cold fear swept over Kathy. aunt Em’s illness was more than a bump on the head.
“Remember – money – treasure – Chinese ch …” the older woman muttered again. She shuddered and fell back in her chair, unconscious, and the frightened girl ran for the telephone to summon the doctor.
The next morning Kathy picked her way over the beach boulders to where Jim sat waiting for her, hand up to shade her weary eyes from the bright morning sunlight. She had sent him there to get him out of the way of the doctor, and now that Sister Swenson, a Relief Society sister from Sausalito, had arrived to take over the nursing duties for the day, she was free to follow him for a moment’s breathing spell.
Good, old dependable Jim, she thought, what would I do without his broad shoulders to lean on now? As he sat, solidly competent, upon his rock, he visibly embodied all the commoner virtues. Kathy knew this. Jim would never change in this changing world. He had gone competently to Agricultural College at Davis just long enough to learn to be a good poultry man – no longer. He always put just the right amount of effort into each of his projects – no more. With the same forthrightness he was planning to marry Kathy. Just how and why she had agreed, Kathy was sometimes at a loss to explain, but she was engaged to him, nonetheless, even though she wouldn’t seriously consider marriage until he advanced in the Priesthood, so they could be married in the temple.
Kathy sat down on the boulder next to Jim with a sigh of relief. It was good to be near so safe and reassuring a person on this uncertain day. The earnest set of his square jaw, his blunt nose, and clear, deep blue eyes looked steady and safe as the rock on which he sat. If only he didn’t look so determined!
“Well,” he asked with characteristic bluntness, “how is she?”
“Better, I suppose, although it’s hard to tell. She doesn’t talk, just looks at you, Kathy sighed. “It’s a stroke, you know,” she admitted. “We sat up with her all night. The doctor said she had probably had one before.”
“She’ll be a helpless invalid,” Jim said reluctantly.
“Oh, no!” cried Kathy, balling her hands up into tight little fists. “No, that mustn’t happen.” But Jim might be right. She shivered.
The shining vision of San Francisco, of the art school wavered, crashed like a bright Christmas tree ornament falling to the floor without warning. Then she remembered the words of Brother Woods as he had administered to Aunt Em last night. He had promised that she would be restored to her normal state of health – but that could be a long, long time, she thought.
Jim’s hand closed over her warm fingers. Gently, he said, “Marry me now, Kathy, I’ll help you take care of her.”
She looked up to meet Jim’s eyes. Oh, why must there always be a problem to solve? she thought. For a moment she was tempted to throw her burden on his competent shoulders. But, no, although Aunt Em had always respected Jim, she had urged Kathy to be very sure before accepting him and the responsibilities of marriage, and, above all, not to marry until they could be married in the temple.
“That’s very thoughtful of you, Jim,” she said as gently as she could, “but not now. It would excite Aunt Em too much. There’s the doctor coming out now.”
She scrambled up hurriedly and ran up the rough path to the drive, Jim following.
Dr. Ransome put his hand kindly upon Kathy’s shoulder. “She’ll live a long time yet, with good care,” he told her, then added, “but you can’t take care of her alone. I’ll send my best practical nurse tomorrow. Sister Swenson will stay the day out.”
Kathy choked a little. “We have some money in the Chinese chest – enough to pay for a nurse,” she told him, “if you think we need one,” she added reluctantly. Yes, money saved, penny by penny, she thought bitterly.
“Now don’t you go worrying about that,” said the doctor. He climbed into his car. “I’ll look in on you later,” he called out, against the chugging of the motor.
Kathy nodded mutely and fled along the grass-grown drive, beyond the house to the log cabin down by the water, Jim close at her heels. She felt she had to have a minute to compose herself before going back to the house.
They stepped up onto the miniature veranda of the China house and sat down.
“Well,” he said, with his familiar opening.
“I stay here, of course, San Francisco’s out,” she said dully, and looked up in time to catch a satisfied look on Jim’s face.
“Sensible thing for us to do is get married,” he repeated. “We can start work on the new house on Elm Hill and stay here until it’s finished. Then sell this place and use the money for Aunt Em’s expenses. We can go to the temple later,” he finished.
A cold little fear shadowed Kathy’s mind. Without stopping to think things out, she knew that, except for the temple, Jim was right. How on earth could she manage the doctor bills, medicines, the extra dainties, to say nothing of the nurse’s pay? But instinctively she shook her head, nibbling hard on a piece of grass she’d plucked.
“Why not?” Jim demanded.
Dear, dependable Jim. She could not tell him – not now – that there were many reasons why she refused – that Miss Em would surely die if she left the gray house, or how she would feel if her niece should marry outside the temple. That as fond as Kathy was of Jim, the dream of the art school was dearer to her than he was.
“It wouldn’t be fair to dump all our worries on you,” she said quietly.
“I only want to help. You know I’d do anything for you, Kathy,” he insisted.
“I’m sorry, Jim,” Kathy said, “but we’ll just have to wait.”
* * * * *
That evening, after she’d told Sister Swenson goodbye, and assured her they’d be all right until the nurse arrived, Kathy tiptoed into her aunt’s bedroom and sat down in the old rocking chair. She felt a little shock go through her as she looked at the hands, lying still and waxen looking on the coverlet. Hands that had never been idle before.
It seemed to Kathy that an eternity had gone by, when the old lady’s lips started moving. Kathy jumped up and leaned over her, her heart beating fast. She waited, but no words came.
“Please, Aunt Em, just try to rest,” she finally said. “There is nothing for you to worry about. I know we have some money in the chest, and it’s all safe. I’ll look for the bright star tomorrow.”
Kathy still had no idea what Miss Em had meant last night. Something the confusion of her mind had brought forth, perhaps.
Miss Em frowned, and Kathy thought, she’s not satisfied. She’ll never be satisfied just to lie there. She got up presently and came back with the brown paper package, which she had completely forgotten. Miss Em watched closely, while she untied the string and took out the lacy froth that was to be the bridal veil for Nan Pressman.
Kathy’s fingers flew along, doing this work that she despised with all her heart, but gradually Miss Em’s eyelids closed and Kathy knew that she was asleep and at peace for a time, at least.
Yesterday, old Phineas Fenton, the richest man on the hill, had given her a job in one of his San Francisco office buildings, tomorrow he would get it back. In the meantime Kathy meant to dream a little about what it would have been like if Aunt Em hadn’t gotten sick, and she could have gone to work in the fascinating city across the bay.