By Margery S. Stewart
Synopsis: Joanna, who had married David Niels against the wishes of her family, is left a widow with four children to support and care for. Courageously, she takes inventory of her meager resources. A neighbor gives her a sack of navy beans and Joanna decides to make Boston-baked beans for sale. Another neighbor, Abigail Smith, offers to help with ideas and transportation. From a slow and unpromising beginning, they build a profitable business. Joanna decides that she must have a better home. Kent Taylor, acting temporarily as a salesman, shows her a house on a hill, which Joanna cannot afford to buy. Unexpectedly, however, she is offered $5,000 for her recipe for Boston-baked beans, and she buys the roomy, comfortable house. In order to attend a P.T.A. meeting where her son is going to sing a solo, Joanna breaks a date with Kent Taylor just before he leaves town. Joanna and Abigail open a new store and Joanna finds her life enriched with many news friends and the abiding love of her children.
Joanna went on to the party for a famous young pianist, feeling richer than Croesus in gold and love. Her partner for the evening was Jordan Palmer, a teacher of English at the University. He was a solemn man who wore horn-rimmed glasses and talked a good deal about the war in Europe. The conquest of Norway had filled him with a hot impatience. The group around him grew larger, their arguments warmer.
Joanna listened, a chill creeping around her heart when he said, “We cannot stand aside and see small nations devoured. This is our world. What good is it, if we are strong or rich when the rest of the world is hungry and exhausted? What men are we, if, being free, we stand quietly in our strength while weaker men are enslaved?’
“Oh, it’s all very well for you to talk,” Joanna said hotly. “But our sons are the ones who must do the fighting. My David is eighteen …”
He bent his gaze on her. “That is the tragedy of this day.”
Joanna looked impatiently away from him and into a pair of eyes that smiled into hers in delight and welcome.
“Kent!” she said, and her heart began a thick thudding in her breast. “Why, Kent!”
“Joanna!’ He stepped forward and took her hands. “I never dreamed of such luck, just running into you, my first night home.” He smiled easily at Jordan Palmer. “You don’t mind if I walk off with her? Joanna and I are very old friends.” He drew her out of the group, smiling his easy, arrogant smile, to which people responded so quickly.
She had forgotten how red his hair was, how very tall he was, but the golden peace that flooded her was familiar and beautiful. “You were away for a long time.”
“Europe. Finally found a place where I really fitted.” He found two chairs in an alcove and held one for her. “I’m a newspaper man now.”
“I know. I read about it in the evening paper. They had a picture of you. It wasn’t very good, or is it that only your hair is … beautiful?”
He laughed with her. “I saw your new shop when I drove into night. Neon lights and everything. You are doing well.”
Jordan Palmer, not so easily vanquished, had followed them. He said shortly, “We’re very proud of Joanna’s progress. I never pass her shop but I think of the courage that made it possible.”
“Courage?” Kent said. “Nothing but sheer obstinacy. Heaven help us, if Joanna should want to be president.”
Palmer flushed angrily, but Joanna’s heart quickened. Her mind was a whirl of questions. How long would he stay? How did she look to him? Was the garnet velvet as becoming as she had thought it in the shop?
Jordan Palmer and Kent talked of world conditions. Joanna listened. She wished, helplessly, that Jordan would take himself off to Cheyenne or India. But he stayed doggedly until Kent himself, rose, bowed, and said to Joanna, “A Taylor is like a boy scout, resourceful, did you know?”
Joanna laughed with him, not knowing why. “Goodbye, Kent, it’s been good to see you.” She watched him thread his way through the groups of people. She felt a sense of loss and desolation.
Jordan Palmer took a quick breath of victory. “These people who are in the thick of things don’t seem to get the overall picture… Now, my idea is…”
Joanna nodded and smiled and heard not a word, impatient for the evening to be ended, so she could be alone and remember every instant.
But it was past eleven when she persuaded Jordan that she was tired. She listened politely while he told of his work, refused a luncheon engagement, and finally made her escape.
She opened the front door with a sigh of relief and went into the living room.
Kent Taylor looked up from the deep-blue chair by the fireplace. He was holding a skein of red yarn for Abigail who was winding it into a ball and regaling him with all the important events of the Niels family.
“This is what I learned in scout class … if you can’t fight a man, think of another way out. I came to take you for a ride.”
The completely dazzled Abigail lifted the yarn from his hands. “I could have done it by myself all along, only it always does me good to see a man doing chores.” She smiled at Joanna. “I’ll stay here all night, so stay as late as you like.”
“We won’t belong.” Helplessly Joanna wondered at the excitement hammering at her throat.
She tried to look dispassionately at Kent’s red hair. There were gray threads in it, she saw. She tried to examine his face as lightly as if he had been just any man. But there was something special to her in every feature, the blunt lines of his nose and chin, the crooked, sandy brows, the lines in his forehead.
“I’m a homely beast,” he said, and took her arm. “Let’s go.”
She bit her lip. “I’m sorry I stared. I just wanted to know what the years had done to you. Years are so much kinder to men.”
He led her down to the car, seated her, and went around and slid under the wheel. “You will always be lovely, Joanna, good bones, and then you don’t busy yourself.”
“So many women look busy, hair, gewgaws, make-up, like a crowded what-not shelf.”
Joanna chuckled, “And Mr. Palmer was saying on the way down that he loathed ‘plain women,’ who never wore a trinket to soften their austerity. You see, it’s a wonderful thing that different men like different women.”
He drove swiftly away from the house and up to the highway that hugged the mountains.
“It’s strange, Joanna, I didn’t feel that I was home, until I saw you. I walked the streets I’ve walked a thousand times, and I felt a complete stranger. Then I went to the party and saw your face … and suddenly I was home and at peace.” He took her hand from her lap and held it palm up in his own.
“Tell me about the places you’ve been.” She listened to him, the sound of his voice like waves washing over her heart. It’s absurd, she thought, that this should happen to me. But it’s been here all the time, this feeling for Kent … ever since the first time I saw him. I never knew before that such things were. This is what musicians strive to put in their songs and poets into their writing. I’m thirty-seven. It’s absurd. She struggled to release her hand.
“Don’t, Joanna. This is right … familiar. As if I had come home to a well-loved hearth.”
It was late when Kent turned the car in the direction of town. “Are you hungry? I’m starved.”
“I’m famished.” Joanna peered out at the highway signs. “Let’s stop here, ‘The Green Lady.’ It’s a new place. I’ve been wondering what it’s like. They use my products exclusively.”
“They seem to be doing a land-office business.” He eased into the parking area and after a search found a place for the car. Music spilled out of the building. They opened the door to its joyous beating, and to the quick laughter of young throats. The place was blue with tobacco smoke and acrid with the smell of beer. Joanna wrinkled her nose. “I don’t think I’d like to eat here, after all.”
Kent nodded. “It is a dive. I’m sure we can find something better.”
Joanna took a quick look at the dancers before she turned to go. The girls seemed incredibly young. They wore sweaters and skirts. Their hair shone silkily in the soft lights.
Kent opened the door for her. A young boy, seventeen or eighteen, staggered in.
He surveyed them blindly, stumbling into them. “Scuse me. But you ought not to get in people’s way. Can’t you see? I’ve something terribly important to do. Terribly important …if I can jus’ remember what it is.”
Joanna’s heart reached out to him. He was so young, so appealing with his thick shock of brown, curly hair, and his thickly lashed blue eyes and his white, square teeth. She wanted to shake him and send him home to a hot tub and a glass of milk and a good scolding.
“Tom?” Kent’s voice was sharp. “What are you doing here?”
The boy peered at him. “Why, if it isn’t Kent Taylor.” He shook his finger. “What are you doing, gallivanting around? I ought to take care of Dad’s bosom friend.”
Kent took the boy’s arm.”Better let me take you home.”
The boy shook him off. “Home, he says, home! Why, why it’s just the shank of the evening. You’ve been old too long, you and Dad. Nowadays the young folks stay up all hours.”
The boy flung himself away. “Sure I’m stinko, but I’ve got a date ‘n’ everything. I’m a grown laddie, look at me.” He floundered into the dancers and was lost.
Kent shook his head. “Brother! They seem to be starting younger every year.” He held the door open for Joanna.
She took deep breaths of the dark, star-flung night. “Let’s just go home, Kent. I don’t want people tonight. I don’t want anything about this evening to be spoiled.”
He caught her hand and drew her close against his side. “You’re different, Joanna, clean as wind and starlight and swift water.” In the dark shadow of the parked car he held her face in his hands. “I’ve wanted this moment since the first time I saw you.”
Joanna stood very still, waiting for his kiss. The wind ruffled her hair. She felt as though the whole night closed around her in beauty, as though stars were wound in her hair and clouds were scarves for her shoulders.
“I love you,” Kent Taylor said. “I should have told you before. Think of me running second to a P.T.A. meeting.”
“I still go to them,” she warned, but breathlessly, because his kiss was still sweet on her lips.
He helped her into the car and went around and slid under the wheel. Joanna watched the light glow in his hair when he turned on the ignition.
When they were once again on the highway he turned to her. “I’ll have six months in this country, before I have to go back. But I’m due in New York next Wednesday. Will you go back with me, Joanna … as Mrs. Kent Taylor?”
Six months with Kent! Quickly Joanna thought of her children, the shops. Abigail would take care of the children, see that they were fed and clothed and washed behind their ears. There was a young girl in the shops, Betsy Flanders. She was a born executive. She would look after things. Joanna leaned her head against the seat. She smiled up at Kent’s anxious face. “Six months is such a little while.”
He took a deep breath of relief. “It isn’t much, but it’s ever so much more than I dared dream I would have.” He smiled down at her. “We’re going to have a wonderful life together … you wait and see.”
Joanna hid her face against his sleeve. Life had given her so much more than she had dreamed of having … and now this.