By Margery S. Stewart
Synopsis: Joanna, widowed when her children were small, courageously works into a profitable business selling Boston-baked beans and bakery goods. Her neighbor, Abigail Smith, as a partner, gives much hard work and good advice. Joanna, placing the welfare of her children first, buys a comfortable home from Kent Taylor, a writer, acting temporarily as a real estate agent. In order to attend a P.T.A. meeting, Joanna breaks a date with Kent and he leaves town. Joanna and Abigail open a number of new shops and Joanna finds her life enriched with many new friends and the abiding love of her children. Kent Taylor returns from an assignment in Europe and asks Joanna to marry him. In order to become Kent’s wife, she plans to leave her children in Abigail’s care for six months while Kent will be stationed in New York. Just before the wedding, however, Joanna decides that she cannot leave her family, especially while Penny is going out with a young man of questionable character. She devotes herself to business and to the problems of her household, becoming especially interested in the ambitions of Michael, her youngest child.
More years went by and the war ended at last and David came home to pack away his medals and his uniform and to parry their questions about his sojourn overseas. He was taller and very brown, silent. But he came often to hug Joanna fiercely and mutter, “It’s good to be home.” They gave him a job in the Mutual, and between that and school, he was seldom home. Henry died, and Abigail came to live with them, her presence comforting as sunshine.
Joanna came home one February afternoon to find Abigail arranging a dozen red roses into a blue pottery vase. “For Penny?” Joanna asked.
Abigail nodded. “There’s another token in the refrigerator.”
Joanna opened the door and peered into the florist’s box. “Hmmm. More orchids. From whom?”
Abigail chuckled, “From the haves and the have-nots. The orchids are from Lance Kendall of the Kendall Motors, and the roses are from Mark Saunders … orphan … artist … and on good days I reckon he has two dimes to rub together.”
Joanna giggled. “You sound like a soap opera.” She put the orchids back in the refrigerator and closed the door. “Penny wearing them tonight?”
Abigail’s eyes twinkled. “No. It seems that Lance Kendall just took an awful lot for granted when he assumed Penny would go with him to some dinner or other at a moment’s notice.”
Joanna sat on the edge of the kitchen table. “Honestly, you know everything. I’d like to get in on my children’s love affairs once in a while.”
Abigail thrust the last rose into the vase and reached for a dishtowel. “You’ve been spending all your time at the office, trying to earn more money than we need. But I think you’ll be hearin’ from Mark and Penny one of these first days. They’ll be coming to ask your blessing.”
“No!” Joanna slid off the table. “It’s not gone that far!”
Abigail picked up the vase and sniffed the roses. “Penny is twenty. She’s in love. You married younger.”
“You know it’s not her age. But I won’t have her marrying Mark Saunders. I won’t let her. I won’t!” She stood still, looking at her trembling hands.
“You’re letting yourself get upset over something you can’t help.”
Joanna lifted her eyes. “You know what it’s like to be poor. You’ve been through the things I’ve been through. You love Penny. Do you want her to have the life we knew?”
Abigail put the roses back on the table. She faced Joanna. “Listen to me, Joanna. I’ve been poor and now, thanks to you, I’m a well-to-do woman, an’ I can’t see a speck of difference in my happiness. I was happy with Henry. I’ve been very happy with your children and you.” She came to Joanna and hugged her briefly. “Never will I forget what a perky little thing you were. Rememberin’ just this morning how you taught Primary when you were dead on your feet.”
Joanna kissed the soft, lined forehead. “I was grim and grave in those days … took religion seriously.”
Abigail hesitated. “Did you know that it was on account of you that I went to Church … that I started payin’ my tithes?”
“No?” Joanna laughed. “All these years and I didn’t know.”
Abigail nodded vigorously. “You were one of the shining ones, then, an’ I never stopped being grateful to you for opening a door to me. That’s why I’ve stayed here when times I was so mad I would have left you in a minute … like now.”
“Abigail! You couldn’t leave me. What have I done?”
Abigail sniffed. “You’re being perfectly pigheaded over Mark and Penny. Not taking into account how glad you ought to be that Penny’s found a man of her own faith.”
“There’s plenty of nice boys of all faiths.”
Abigail turned away. “I guess I should have known you would say that. Of course, there are nice boys of all faiths. But to think that Penny should be so blessed … Did you know Mark’s work is attracting attention back East?”
Joanna shrugged. “Abigail, once and for all, I don’t care what attention Mark’s work gets. I won’t have Penny marrying a hand-to-mouth artist, and I’m not in the mood to support one myself.”
Abigail turned heavily toward the kitchen table. She picked up the vase again and carried it into the dining room. Over her shoulder, she asked in last defiance, “How are you going to stop her from marrying him, if she chooses?”
Joanna swept off her smart fur hat and let the new fur coat slide from her shoulders. She sank wearily into a kitchen chair and stared out into the garden. The willow tree trailed its naked fingers in the snow and the rose bushes bowed under the white burden. Sparrows scolded by the tiny pond.
Sally came dancing in from school. Sixteen years old. Joanna marveled at the change that had come over the chubby-faced little girl. The blue eyes that had been so bland and wide were sparkling with a thousand secrets, dark with mystery.
“Hi!” She came over and kissed Joanna. “How’s everything?”
“Fine,” Joanna said tonelessly. “How is school?”
“Marvelous. Are you coming to see the play?”
“What play?” Sally rolled her eyes heavenward in despair. “The Mutual play. I’m the lead. I get kissed. Oh, Mother, I’m wonderful.” She stopped short. “Why did you turn Mrs. Williams down, when she asked you to take a Beehive class?”
Joanna ran her hand through her hair. “With my nerves, I’d probably bite off the heads of the little Beehives. I’m much … much too busy.”
Sally fished in the breadbox and brought out a loaf of bread. She looked for the bread knife. “You’re taking things too hard. You need a vacation. Remember when we were little and you used to tell us about the vacation we would take when we were terribly wealthy.” She waved the bread knife in a wide dramatic sweep… “Palm trees, beaches, the sea… we’d lie in the sun for weeks and weeks, we’d visit all the glamorous places and bow to the movie stars …” She sliced the bread vigorously. “Well, that’s one present you never gave us.”
Joanna sat up suddenly, “Sally! Would you like a trip like that? Not just California, but all over the United States … perhaps Canada?”
Sally pretended to swoon. “Would I? Does a little child love ice cream? Mother! You don’t mean …?”
Joanna smiled. “I do. You and Michael and … Penny.”
“Penny? She won’t go.”
“Oh, yes, she will.”
Sally held the sandwich up. “Penny is in love. Didn’t you know? With that simply terrific Mark Saunders. She wouldn’t go to Bountiful, if you gave her the town.”
Joanna smiled. “But she would go … to help her ailing mother.”
Sally put down her sandwich. “You’re not … is anything wrong?”
“Nothing except Mark Saunders. I won’t let Penny marry that impecunious artist, if I can do anything to prevent it.”
“Oh,” said Sally. She put the bread, untasted, on the table.
“Why do you look at me like that?” Joanna asked.
Sally turned away. “You … you just surprised me is all …” Her voice was low.
Joanna watched the straight young back for a moment. It did not turn. Sally picked up her coat and hat and went out of the kitchen.
Over her shoulder Joanna said, “We’ll leave next week.”
“The play is next week,” Sally insisted.
“Sorry, darling, but this is more important.”
Joanna went upstairs to her room and put the coat and hat carefully away. She had taken Penny’s old room when Penny had started to go out a great deal, so that she would not be disturbed. She went out on the little porch that was so delightful in the summertime with its wicker furniture. Now it was bleak. The town was hidden under a pall of smoke, but to the west the sun was setting in flaming splendor.
She watched David’s car come up the street. She smiled, seeing David’s hand thrust out when he turned into the driveway, the cautious slowing down, so like David, careful, conscientious. No trace in him at all of his gay and reckless father. She went back into her room and changed into a house coat and stretched wearily on the chaise longue. She heard David’s step on the stair and then he knocked at her door.
“Come in, David. I’ve been watching you come home.”
He opened the door and came in. He wore glasses now; they gave his face a scholarly look. But his blond hair was still as rumpled as when he was a little boy. He bent to kiss her and Joanna patted it into place. “What’s new?”
He pushed her over and sat beside her. “Mom, do you love me?”
She grinned at him. “Even though you are a pill … I love you still.” The old childhood rhyme brought the slow smile to his mouth.
“How would you like it if I ran out on you for a couple of years?”
“I wouldn’t.” Joanna sat up. “You’ve just come back.”
“I’ve been called on a mission … to Great Britain.”
Joanna sank back. She sighed in relief. “Oh, you frightened me for a moment. Of course, you can’t go.”
Something in his voice she had never heard before, a withdrawal, as though she had become a stranger. She took his hand. “I need you, David.”
“What is it?” Quick alarm and concern in his eyes, and instantly, the old adoring love.
“It’s Penny …”
“I know. Has Mark been around to sue for her hand? He told me he was trying to get up courage.”
Joanna leaned forward. “I won’t have her marry Mark. I won’t, I tell you, I won’t.
“But Mother, Mark’s a swell guy, none better.”
“He’s not good enough for Penny. After all the years I’ve worked and slaved to give her something better than I do … Do you think I’m going to throw her right back into poverty? No. No!” Suddenly she was crying, fiercely, bitterly, the hot tears burning her palms and running down her wrists.
“Mother … Mother, please!” He tried to take her hands away from her face.
“I want you to stay home and run the business. I’ll take Penny and Michael and Sally on a long … long trip. You’re the only one I can trust.”
“I see.” He dropped her hands.
She lifted her face to him. “You think I’m being cruel and unreasonable, but you don’t know what Penny has always meant to me. You know she’s not like other girls … she’s different … there is so much of loveliness in her.”
“I know.” David turned to face her. “Mother, don’t you see? Don’t you understand about Penny? She doesn’t need a lot of fancy gadgets around her. She doesn’t feed on things like clothes, or jewels, or cars. She is nourished from deeper springs.” He stared over Joanna’s head. “Once, in March it was, I found her in the garden, holding a twig of willow against her face. She looked at me with that shining in her. ‘I’m trying to listen to the life inside,’ she said, ‘the something in this willow that is already alive and racing toward spring, green life, David, coming up through the earth, running through the little green tunnels of this willow.’ I said to her, ‘Well, it sure looks dead on the outside.’ She smiled at me, you know that funny little secret smile of hers, and she said, ‘You just don’t know, David.’”
Joanna shook her head. “I know. It sounds just like her. Sounds like her poetry, too. Oh, David, I have such dreams for her. Such a future. I’ll take care of her, guard her from every sorrow. She will write things that will make the world sit up and take notice.”
David sighed heavily. “Oh, Mom, you don’t understand. You’re trying to keep Penny from life, from beauty. Work and struggle are beautiful … don’t you see?”
Joanna rose and walked over to her dressing table. “No. I don’t see. I can’t let my visionary children ruin their lives. I’ve given too much, sacrificed too much.”
David rose slowly. “We owe you a great deal, Mother. I’ve never forgotten the way you had to work when we were small. The winter mornings I would wake up to find you slaving over those ranges.”
Joanna turned to face him. “If you remember those things, David, you will do as I say. You will forget this missionary call for the time being, and you will stay home and watch over things while I take Penny on this trip.”
David was silent for a long time. Then he lifted his head; his face was quiet. “Something tells me that I am going to have the privilege of going on a mission. So, perhaps it is all right to stay home now … A year is not long … I can go when you get back.”
Joanna bent above the silver brushes on her table. “Plenty of time for missions … plenty of time.”
In the mirror she watched him leave the room. He closed the door quietly behind him. Joanna looked at her reflection. She looked unutterably tired. But still her face had not lost its beauty, the silver wings of hair above her temples were becoming, they made the rest of her dark hair seem richer and more shining. She had put on weight in the last year, but it had smoothed away the lines that used to run sharply from nose to mouth. She looked brisk, and attractive and competent. She looked as if she would be interesting to know … worldly, amusing.
I’ll need clothes, Joanna thought, and went to the closet to take inventory. Suddenly the thought of the people she would meet, the gay, witty, tolerant people, filled her with a frantic desire to be gone. Penny would meet someone devastating, and that would be the end of Mark Saunders.