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. Kathy applies to a neighbor, Phineas Fenton, for employment; however, Aunt Em suffers a partial stroke, and Kathy gives up the promised position. Using her aunt’s illness as an excuse, Kathy postpones marriage to Jim Parker. A stranger, Marc Hale, asks to rent the China house, and Aunt Em agrees.
Once back in the garden, Kathy found that the exuberance she’d felt earlier had left her. She sat facing the hills, her back against the rough exterior of the China house. She ought to like the new tenant of the China house, she told herself. The money was a life-saver. But she didn’t. For one thing he wasn’t young enough to interest her. He looked all of thirty-five. And his highhandedness! No, she did not like the tenant of the China house.
As she sat thus brooding, Marta’s son, who delivered papers about the countryside, whistled from the road. “Hey, want a paper?” he called. “I’ve got an extra one today. Mom likes to read the society page.” He tossed the paper in Kathy’s direction, and was off on his bike again. A daily paper was a luxury the Tracy household could not afford.
Kathy picked it up, and began brushing the loose dirt from it. A small headline at the bottom of the folded paper darted out at her. “Art Contest.” She read the item carefully, excitement and interest rising in her. “Art Scholarship. One thousand dollars, or a year in a chosen school,” it began.
Excitedly Kathy ran into the kitchen and thrust the paper at Marta. “Hank left it,” she cried. She started dancing around Marta in a circle. “I’m going to enter it. I’m going to enter it and win,” she sang.
“For goodness sake, sit down,” Marta cried, “you’re making me dizzy.”
Apparently not having paid any attention to what Kathy was saying, Marta spread the paper out on the kitchen table and started reading aloud.
But Kathy wasn’t listening. The picture she would send in to the contest was already taking shape in her mind. It would be hauntingly life-like, a ship materializing out of the fog, yet no ghost ship. Sturdy as the freighter Grandfather Tracy had piloted for the Fenton line. How often Kathy and Aunt Em had stood on the cupola at the top of the house watching – listening for Jon Tracy’s signal as his ship rounded into the Golden Gate. The signal that meant happy days ahead until the time came for him to sail out again. She’d take the thousand dollars she would win and give Aunt Em a chance to be free from worry.
Then another thought intruded on her mind – a few more months to be free herself – how wonderful that would be – she needn’t marry Jim just yet. And suddenly she realized that now that Jim had been ordained an elder, there was something else that was holding her back.
Firmly Kathy smothered this thought. No one could be better to me than Jim has been – he’s so dependable. We’ll be happy together, surely we will, she told herself. If only he weren’t so stubborn.
The Pacific Ocean had long been Kathy’s friend. Whenever she was troubled she’d walk down to the China house, sit on its miniature veranda, listen to the rush of the waves, and think things out. She knew the ocean’s moods and what they foretold. At times calm and blue as a summer sky, other times sullen and brooding under fog or rain, or rising in angry green waves, the white caps breaking almost under her feet.
But now the China house was occupied by this highhanded young man. Kathy needed solitude desperately. She’d have to begin work on her contest picture immediately. The old-fashioned cupola at the top of the house offered the only haven. She selected materials, found a folding stool, and started the climb up to the third floor of the old house. She placed her stool so that the afternoon sun would warm her back, settled her easel and looked out over the wide blue expanse of the Pacific. Finally her gaze came to rest on the China house.
Stretched in his deck chair, the long length of him almost completely covering the small space of the veranda, was Mr. Marc Hale, week-long tenant of the cabin.
Kathy had decided it was foolish to go on resenting him, since there was nothing to be gained. He had nodded to her on several occasions, and had made a few inquiries as to their source of fresh eggs, vegetables, and butter. This had been her only contact with him. She tried never to think of him.
Often, after having been absent for a few hours she had come home to find his laughter coming from Miss Em’s room, her aunt pink-cheeked and almost gay looking. Aunt Em had smiled at Kathy’s indignation after he’d gone. “He’s good for me,” she’d managed to say, almost her first complete sentence since her illness.
Kathy found herself laughing at Marta’s version of these visits. “What’s-his-name,” Marta was no good at remembering names – “the ex-prowler was here. Looking sour as crab apples – till he come out of Miss Em’s room, all smiles, he was then.” Or, “‘His Happiness’ of the China house,” as she had finally dubbed him, “paid us a visit today. Got to laughing with Miss Em. Say, I’d like to know what their secret is.”
Whatever it was, Kathy had decided, they could keep it, although she was grateful to know that Aunt Em was finding a few moments of pleasure now and then.
She shook her head impatiently. This would never do. She turned her stool away from the view of the China house and started to paint.
She must have been working for hours, too absorbed in what she was doing to notice that it had begun to grow chilly. She felt a shiver go through her, relaxed her hold on the paintbrush, and looked up just in time to see the fiery red sun begin its plunge into the Pacific.
Gracious, she told herself, I must have been sitting here for ages, and I promised Aunt Em fresh peas from the garden for her supper.
Kathy hurriedly folded her camp stool and started down the steep stairs that led directly to the garden, the picture in hand. Luckily for her, she thought, “His Happiness” had abandoned his post on the veranda. At least she’d be spared the dubious pleasure of his company.
She put her picture down in a safe place and started pulling the plump green pods off the vines. Both hands were full before she realized that she had nothing to put them in. She looked around.
“Here, put them in this,” a voice behind her said – a voice so bland and soft she failed to recognize it until she looked into the face of Mr. Marc Hale himself. He was holding out a small, shiny saucepan to her.
“You look as if you’d never seen me before,” he stated, grinning.
“I haven’t,” she blurted out truthfully, and realized for the first time that her imagination had been playing tricks on her. He looked almost boyish and good-natured, with his hair slightly rumpled and a faint brush of sun-tan on his face.
“Hmm,” he mused, “I wonder.” Then went on, “I saw you working on the cupola. Your aunt tells me you’re an artist.”
“That’s for the future to decide,” Kathy murmured. “I do want to enter this contest, the one for the scholarship or the thousand dollars in cash.” She so desperately needed someone to talk to she forgot for a moment that this arrogant man was her enemy.
“A contest, is it?” he said, and thrust the pan at her. There was nothing for Kathy to do but take it with a murmured thanks. He reached down, and without so much as a “by your leave,” picked up the picture she had been working on and started studying it.
“Not bad – not bad at all,” he conceded after a few moments, and Kathy felt her cheeks coloring under this faint praise. “But contests are a disappointment. I understand they’re strictly for the professional.”
“Maybe not,” Kathy retorted sharply. “Anyway, I’m going to try it. It’s a way of finding out if I’m any good.” A way of making expenses, if I win, she thought.
“Atta girl. I like a person with spunk.” He laughed a little, as though ashamed of his confession, and Kathy noticed he was looking at her curiously. He must have suddenly realized he was staring, as he turned hastily back to studying the picture.
“Say,” he exclaimed after a moment, “this might go places in a contest at that. You’ve got a good beginning.”
Kathy sparkled. “Oh, you really think I might have a chance?” she asked, and realized all of a sudden that she was thoroughly enjoying this conversation. “Well, I shall certainly try. I’d never get any place just sitting around.”
Hale’s laugh was short and mirthless. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. I must say, however, that you’ve chosen a hard role. Artists and writers are a dime a dozen. Better forget contests and get married. Don’t tell me that fellow with the scrubbed look about him comes to see auntie.”
Kathy was angry again. She clutched the pan of peas in one hand, and with the other gingerly accepted the picture Marc handed her, and started up through the berry patch, the red-gold of her hair flashing in the last rays of the sun. At least, she thought, “that fellow with the scrubbed look” has something you don’t have, Mr. Marc Hale, as she thought of him now being an elder.
Her anger had softened a little by the time she reached the house. I wonder what church he does belong to? she asked herself. Since Aunt Em’s illness, Kathy hadn’t been able to get to church as often as she liked. She missed the peaceful, secure feeling she got from attending services in the little ward chapel in San Rafael, the warmth of her many friends.