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. During her illness, Aunt Em mentions some money in a chest which is kept in Grandfather Tracy’s China house. Kathy, using her aunt’s illness as an excuse, postpones her marriage to Jim Parker. A stranger, Marc Hale, rents the China house, and Kathy begins to work on a painting to enter in an art scholarship contest. Marc tells her that he thinks the painting is very good.
Kathy worked furiously at her household tasks during the next few weeks to allow time for her painting. She was determined not to think about Mr. Marc Hale and his exasperating manners, but he kept slipping into her mind, regardless. About eleven o’clock one morning she heard the chug-chug of Jim’s old coupe coming down the hill. Hurrah, she thought, Aunt Em can have fresh eggs for lunch. Jim was a dear to leave his work and come over two or three times weekly to bring them fresh eggs, especially since he refused to accept a single penny in payment.
She dropped her dustcloth on the elaborately carved old grand piano she had been polishing and dashed out onto the side veranda. She hoped “His Happiness” would be draped in his deck chair, and observe with what enthusiasm she greeted the visitor.
Kathy ran down the veranda steps, the morning sun so bright in her eyes that for a moment she didn’t see the figure seated beside Jim. He stopped his car with a jerk. All of his movements were decisive and quick. It wasn’t until then that she saw a buxom young lady.
Without getting out of the car, Jim handed Kathy three cartons of eggs, then he surprised her by saying, “That’ll be ninety cents. I’ll give you wholesale prices.” Then, after a poke in the ribs from the elbow of his companion, he turned and introduced her to Kathy.
“This is my new neighbor, Lina Carlson,” he said. “We’re on our way into town for a poultry-raisers’ convention. Lina has bought the place next to mine, the one that belonged to Lars Swenson.”
“Hello,” said Kathy, thinking that interest in this new neighbor might explain Jim’s absence from the Tracy place the past few days.
“Pleased to meet you,” the girl replied, looking at Kathy curiously.
“I’ll get the money for you,” Kathy said, slightly embarrassed, and wondering what Jim could have told the girl to make her stare so openly.
“No, I’ll drop back tonight. You can give it to me then,” he answered, and Kathy saw the surprise and hurt in the eyes of the girl beside him.
“I do believe she’s in love with him,” she thought. She was amazed that she felt no sense of loss.
As soon as they had driven away, Kathy turned to go back to her cleaning, but not before she saw the tall figure of Marc Hale coming toward the house.
Her first impulse was to turn him away – tell him Aunt Em was resting, but no, she told herself firmly, he’s good for Aunt Em. And besides, Kathy discovered, Marta had already seen the visitor approaching the house, and was on her way to bid him come in. Here was a young man with a problem on his mind, Kathy had decided.
She was in the hall dusting the banisters a few minutes later, when the voices of her aunt and Marc Hale came clearly to her. They were apparently discussing the art contest.
“She’ll win,” Aunt Em was saying.
“She might,” the young man said, doubtfully.
“I don’t know why not,” Aunt Em’s voice held a note of defiance. “I had artistic ability, and she’s my niece, isn’t she?”
Kathy fled up the stairs to the privacy of her own bedroom.
She’d win all right. She’d have to. She couldn’t bear to let Aunt Em down. She’d finish the picture this very day, then go into the village and see if there was some part-time job she could get. Perhaps at that little souvenir shop. The proprietor was a Mr. rickson, whom Kathy knew slightly. A job such as this would give her time for the housework, and to care for Aunt Em, too.
She gathered her materials and almost flew up the stairs to the cupola. The ocean was calm, shimmering under the autumn sun. She turned her back to it, away from the golden brilliance, and could see that Marc Hale was just nosing his coupe into Pine Road, headed toward the bridge and San Francisco, no doubt.
She reluctantly turned back to her picture, thinking there’d be no pleasure trips for Miss Kathy Tracy from this day on.
She worked furiously for some time, then tilted her head back and surveyed her work. Satisfied that the picture was at last as good as she could make it, she put down her paint brush.
She could hear the crash of the waves against the cliffs below the Fenton place, and she suddenly realized that a brisk wind had sprung up. The mother-of-pearl sea had turned to an angry green.
It’s certainly lucky, she thought, that the waves pound out their fury before they reach our China house. She remembered then that Aunt Em had told her to clear out one of the chests in the China house. She had a buyer for it, and since Marc Hale had given permission for her to enter his domain, she’d hurry and clear it now.
Kathy had not entered the China house since Marc Hale had moved in. The place was orderly and clean. She tiptoed reverently about, almost able to feel grandfather Tracy’s presence here, almost able to hear his voice as he told his fascinating tales of the sea.
It had grown quite chilly, but even on the warmer days Marc built a fire in the tiny fireplace. Kathy could often see the smoke curling comfortably up over the little cabin. The embers were still aglow. She couldn’t resist tossing a small log on them from the store in the miniature woodbox. She stood watching as the flames built up, grew taller, lit up the ceiling and the corners of the little room.
She took off her sweater and threw it on a nearby chest. Dear Aunt Em, she thought, it’s like parting with a friend for her to have to give up one of her treasures, but she never complains. Well, this will be the last one, she vowed.
As her sweater skimmed over the top of the chest, she heard a small crash, and looked down to see one of the smaller chests on its side on the floor – the one Aunt Em had told her never to touch. its contents tumbled out in a musty assortment of trinkets. Aunt Em’s most cherished childhood mementoes, Kathy knew. Some tiny carved animals, bits of Indian beadwork, an old doll with a china head, an elaborate pink satin skirt, and staring black eyes.
Nothing of any real value, Kathy found herself thinking. Then she picked up a small parcel. Carefully wrapped in yellowed tissue paper tied with ribbon, its diamond encrusted star shape plainly visible through the thin covering, was Aunt Em’s “bright star,” surely the one she had muttered about in her illness.
Kathy sat down shakily on the larger chest, the points of the star digging into her palm, as she pressed it in her hand. She had had the feeling from the first time her aunt had mentioned it that the bright star concerned her own destiny. Had she the courage to unwrap it?
She finally bent down and replaced the contents of the chest. She was much too excited to delve through the larger chest now. The flames had died down to a glow again as Kathy gathered up her belongings and closed the door of the China house. Like a burning ember from the tiny fireplace the star lay in her hand. She would take it straight to Aunt Em.
Her aunt was sitting in the kitchen in the light mobile chair Dr. Ransome had provided for her – for although she had some use of her limbs now, the doctor thought it best for her to reserve her strength. A bright spot showed in each of her cheeks, and her eyes sparkled – a sure sign that she was excited.
“Now, Aunt Em,” Kathy said immediately, “you know the doctor said positively no excitement, so whatever it is just …”
But evidently Aunt Em had no intention of calming down until she had gotten this matter off her mind.
“I’ve been calling you, Kathy,” she said. “Marc was here! He’s gone into town!” she paused for breath, and watched Kathy closely.
“Yes, yes, I saw him leave,” the girl replied. “Is that what you’re so excited about? Remember …”
“You don’t understand,” Aunt Em went on. “You’ve got to stop him.”
“Stop him from what, darling?”
But she wasn’t to find out that evening, for at that moment the bell rang. It was Marta, and she took one look at the bright spots in Miss Em’s cheeks, and wheeled her into the bedroom, after giving her a glass of warm milk. She put her to bed, then declared, “Now you go straight to sleep,” and sat down by the bedside to see that her orders were obeyed.
Aunt Em evidently knew Marta too well to protest, Kathy found herself thinking.