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. She had planned to accept an office position offered her by a neighbor and friend of the family, Phineas Fenton, but her Aunt Em suffers a partial stroke, and Kathy remains at home to care for her. During her illness Aunt Em mentions something about a sea chest in the China house and a Bright Star, which Kathy believes may hold the secret of her parentage. Her romance with Jim Parker finally comes to an end when Jim becomes interested in Lina Carlson, a neighbor, and decides to marry her. In the meantime, Marc Hale, a stranger, rents the China house and gives Kathy encouragement in the painting of a picture which she intends to enter in an art scholarship contest. One day, during Marc’s absence from the China house, Kathy finds the Bright Star, an intricately embossed locket which contains the pictures of Marie and Phineas Fenton, Jr., whom Kathy decides are her parents.
Kathy found Aunt Em sitting exactly where she had left her. She hung her slightly damp jacket over the back of a chair to dry.
“Well,” she said, “I go back to work at twelve o’clock tomorrow morning.”
Aunt Em made no reply to this, but instead she looked at Kathy closely, then said, “Sit down, my dear, I must tell you something. Something I should have told you years ago.”
She took a deep breath and went on. “I had dreamed such wonderful dreams for my girl – college, a career, a good marriage. I’ve failed you dreadfully.” She paused, then began again, “But you’ll have your chance,” she said with apparent tremendous effort. “Phineas is rich … When I tell him …”
The girl was on her knees in front of her aunt, her arms about her. “I know, Aunt Em,” she said quietly. “I know I’m Phineas Fenton’s granddaughter. Imagine … all that money, just sitting there … and the way you’ve struggled to support me! But why? Doesn’t he like me?”
Aunt Em squeezed Kathy’s shoulders, and then withdrew her hand to search in her pocket for a handkerchief. “He doesn’t know,” she said, almost inaudibly. “He doesn’t even know he had a grandchild. Oh, darling, I’m so sorry I’ve deprived you of all the privileges you should have had!”
Kathy drew back and looked up at her aunt, wide-eyed. “Deprived me!” she repeated. “Why, Aunt Em, I wouldn’t exchange one minute of the love you’ve given me for all the money in the world. But it just doesn’t seem right for you to have worked so hard for me when I don’t even belong to you … really.”
“You do belong, dear, you’ve been my whole life1 I don’t know how much of the story you’ve heard, but your parents made Grandfather Tracy … my father, promise to take care of you in case anything should ever happen to them. They wanted to be sure you were brought up in the Church. You see, Grandfather Tracy converted your father, and your mother was already a member. Phineas would never talk religion with Father,” she added regretfully.
“But now … you’re grown up, and I know nothing could shake your faith, and it’s time you had some of the material advantages you’re entitled to. Besides, maybe time has softened Phineas a little …”
Kathy got up and walked around for a minute to restore the circulation to her cramped legs. “You don’t mean you want me to go to live with the Fentons?” she asked.
Aunt Em wiped her eyes. “I’m afraid Phineas will insist, when he knows who you are, and it wouldn’t be right not to tell him, now. But it was right, in the beginning!”
“Yes, of course,” agreed Kathy. “‘Better that one man perish …’ Not that you could exactly say Phineas has perished for not knowing I was his granddaughter, but it’s sort of the same idea. It seems incredible – here I’ve lived all my life within shouting distance of him, and neither of us knew we were related! From the picture, I’d say I resemble my mother.”
“The very image!” Aunt Em said. “Except the chin … you do have the Fenton chin.”
There was so much to assimilate … so many new ideas to consider, that Kathy felt that her brain was reeling. She shuddered to think how different, how empty her life would have been without the gospel, and how much more alone she would have felt, if she hadn’t known her parents had been married in the temple, and that some day they would all be together again. The Fentons were fine people, but they had no religion at all.
“As long as our chins match … mine and Grandpa Fenton’s,” Kathy said, smiling, “I guess I can insist just as hard that I won’t go. I’ll never leave you, darling. Now you really should get some rest.”
“I am a little tired,” Miss Em agreed, trying to cover a yawn. “But there’s one more thing I must tell you … did you know Marc is a member of the Church? That’s how he happened to learn about the China house … when he first came here he asked Bishop Henderson if he knew of an inexpensive cabin he could get for a few months. I had a long talk with the bishop the other night by telephone. He told me Marc had filled a very outstanding mission in New Zealand,” she ended on a note of satisfaction.
Kathy’s breath caught in her throat. “I guess I’m not really surprised, though,” she said. “I always thought he looked and acted like a Latter-day Saint, in spite of the fact that he was a bit difficult at first.” Her heart was pounding delightfully. “We’ll talk about him later … you must lie down right this minute!”
Aunt Em had scarcely gone to sleep when Marc arrived with the late afternoon edition of the paper. He was jubilant. “Congratulations, Kathy, you’ve won the art contest!” he exclaimed. he indicated a column at the bottom of the page. “Third prize.”
She read the item slowly. By the time she finished, the tears were rolling down her cheeks unashamedly.
Marc looked at her, amazement written on his face. “I thought you’d be overjoyed, but these can’t be tears of joy, they’re too real looking. See here,” he said, “dry those tears. You’re a big girl now, you must be all of eighteen.”
“Nineteen,” corrected Kathy, through her tears, “yesterday.” She suddenly realized that for the first time both she and Aunt Em had completely forgotten her birthday.
“Why didn’t someone tell me?” cried Marc. “Birthdays are my specialty. Anyway, there’s no use mourning. We’ll go into town tonight and have dinner and see a show. Take Aunt Em with us. How does that strike you?”
“Fine,” agreed Kathy, her eyes sparkling again. “Aunt Em will love it. She hasn’t been out for months. But it’s the prize I’m disappointed in – it’s a year’s schooling instead of cash, and now I won’t be able to take Aunt Em on that trip I’d planned.”
Marc looked down at her. “But you won’t need the contest money. You’re Phineas Fenton’s granddaughter, and he has plenty of money. Surely you’ve made your decision by now.” His voice was tense.
Kathy took stock of this fact soberly. She had never before stopped to analyze her feelings clearly. Her heart seemed to be opening, more and more surely each moment, toward a new meaning in life. And that transformation in her heart wasn’t taking place by itself, she was sure. It had been brought on by Marc Hale. She knew now where her place in life was intended to be. Besides, she thought, I’m not good enough to become an artist, not dedicated enough. I’ll never be good enough. Aloud she said, “My place right now is with Aunt Em – right now, and always. It’s what I want.”
Marc smiled at her, satisfaction in his eyes.
“What will you do?” she asked suddenly.
He flushed, apparently caught off guard. “I … why … I’ve just been choking over a large piece of humble pie. Your earnest little soul will be delighted to know that I’m going into Dad’s business in San Francisco, now that I’m fully recovered. He’s going to let me start at the bottom and work up, which is far better than I deserve since he offered me the chance once before, and I turned it down. Now aren’t you satisfied?”
Satisfied? she asked herself, and suddenly knew that her heart had been longing to know what his dreams or plans might hold in the way of including her.
“Aren’t you satisfied?” he repeated.
“No, I’m not,” she said. She turned away to hide the trembling of her chin. “I’m not at all satisfied.”
“Kathy, darling,” he said, as he gently turned her around and lifted her face so he could look into her eyes. “Kathy, do you love me?”
“Of course I do,” she whispered.
She felt his arms around her. “I was stupid enough to think you’d choose to live in the house on the hill, darling, where you could have anything you wanted, and then you wouldn’t have been my girl at all. The Kathy I love is right here in the old gray house, and will remain here, if she can make room in her heart and home for a husband.”
“Marc, Marc,” she murmured.
They wandered hand in hand from the shelter of the house down toward the beach. There was a lifetime of each other’s thoughts and feelings to learn about.
It seemed hours later that Kathy said, “We’re being selfish. Let’s hurry and tell Aunt Em about us.”
The stars had come out, and the night was fresh-washed and beautiful. They walked up the path to the old gray house, where the lights were already challenging the lowering night.