By Beatrice R. Parsons
Synopsis: Lorna Ashton, an orphan, marries Dr. Matthew Wire and goes to live in Westfield, Nevada. She is afraid that Matthew’s relatives and friends, and even his patients, will continue to mean so much to him that he will never belong wholly to her. Soon, however, Lorna finds that she is making a place for herself in the affections of Uncle John, Nurse Hallie, and Carole, a little neighbor girl. One night she goes with her husband and Nurse Hallie to the Honson home and takes care of the older children during the birth of twins, and this experiences impresses her so that she feels that there is much for her to do in Westfield, and that by making herself useful she may increase her own happiness.
After the night when the Honson twins were born, Lorna strove valiantly to rid herself of her childish terror of being left alone. She wanted to make Matt happy. She wanted to make him a good wife. But there was so much for her to learn!
He took her with him on long drives about the valley. He introduced her to his friends. She met Carole’s parents, the Wilsons, who lived across the street.
Anne Clayton, a pretty girl with sparkling blue eyes and shining blond hair, and Jeanne Beatty, a school teacher with brown hair and blue eyes, were friends of Matt. They invited Lorna to shop with them, but her innate shyness compelled her to refuse, although Matt urged her lightly to accompany them.
“I will, one of these days,” she promised vaguely, and saw that Anne and Jeanne considered her a little standoffish. She had also promised Matt that she would call on Margaret, but somehow she never got around to doing so.
When she and Matt met old Jim Nason in the hardware store, the old man stared at her curiously, and with his usual bluntness, he exclaimed: “Pretty gal! Hope she’s got brains as well as looks.”
After he had gone, Lorna was flushed and a little angry. Her voice was crisp. “He’s quite a character, Matt! I certainly don’t like him …”
But Matt said gently: “Jim’s my oldest friend. He used to carry me pickaback when I was two. He took me fishing when I was six …”
Lorna’s laughter interrupted him. “I didn’t think he was a human being! Well, if he was kind to you when you were little, he’s certainly outgrown it!”
Matt laughed, too, but kept denying that Jim was as bad as he seemed on the surface. But Lorna squashed all his arguments, by declaring that Jim couldn’t have much milk-of-human-kindness, since he wouldn’t give that hospital to the valley.
“A statue of himself in the middle of Sky Valley,” she cried scathingly. “Who would care what happened to such a grouchy, ugly old man?”
“I would,” said Matt firmly, opening the door, and Lorna was curiously surprised that he meant it. She brushed the matter aside and said she wanted to buy some blue thread. She was going to dress a doll for Matt’s little polio patient, Patty Hamilton. She was going to use the scraps of blue net from her party frock.
The frock still hung carefully in her clothes closet, waiting the night when she and Matt would go dancing. But, she sighed, remembering how little time Matt ever had to himself.
The sign on his office said: “10 to 5.” More often than not he worked from eight to nine, or even midnight. Many times, Lorna’s dinner, neatly arranged in her shining little pots and pans, grew cold and unappetizing on her gas range. Then her gray eyes would meet Matt’s accusingly when he came in.
Once she said exasperatedly, “Matt, I’m sure I’ll never get used to it! Dinner’s spoiled. I did want it to be nice.” She put a pink bowl of shriveled potatoes on the table, and exclaimed, “Matt, if you were at Doctors’ Center you’d always be home on time!”
He sighed tiredly as he washed his hands. “I had to drive over to John Barker’s. He crushed his foot with his plow …”
She was immediately sympathetic. “Matt, is he going to be all right?”
He patted her arm as he sat down. “Darling, you’ve got to get over the idea that everyone who gets hurt is going to die!” His voice was teasing, and reassuring at the same time. “He’ll be laid up for a while. And Helen will be scolding and impatient about it, probably feel that she’s terribly hard-done-by! But John will be all right. Hallie can drop over and dress his foot.” He stopped talking suddenly, as she began filling his plate, then jumped up, saying: “I forgot! There’s something I must tell Uncle John …”
“Matt!” Her cry stopped him with his hand on the doorknob. She had been so happy to have him home. Now he was running off again. Her disappointment showed in her face. But she set his plate in the oven, as she saw him looking at her, and said, “All right, darling. I guess I’ll never really make a good doctor’s wife.”
His dark eyes caressed her, though he did not touch her. His voice was gentle, tender. “There’s nothing so very special in being a doctor’s wife, Lorna. But there is something very special about being understanding, kind. You’re growing that way, my dear. Just what this doctor ordered! He loves you very much. It’s nice for him to come home and find you here.”
Her heart was stirred so that she wanted to go to him, put her arms about him, hold him close. Yet she seemed to know that this was not the time. She laughed teasingly. “You’re sure the doctor isn’t sorry that he doesn’t find a Westfield girl waiting for him. Anne, perhaps? Or Jeanne, maybe? Or …” with an intenseness she didn’t realize, “or Margaret?”
“They’re my friends. I think a lot of them. But I love you. And you’re getting to be a wonderful person. You’re learning not to neglect my telephone calls, or messages from my patients. You’re learning …”
He didn’t finish. His eyes had caught sight of the two little china kittens on her dressing table, through the opened door, and his mouth closed firmly. It became a little stern as he opened the door, promising to come back in a few minutes.
Lorna forgot her little pots and pans as she stared at the kittens. She knew what Matt had not said. So far, she hadn’t been able to bring herself to give Carole the kittens. Her face was set. She needed her cats. Times like this, she needed them so badly. They comforted her, reminding her that she couldn’t be thoroughly lonely and alone while she had them.
While she waited for Matt to come back, she picked up the doll dress she was making for Patty Hamilton’s doll.
When Matt came back, his shoulders were damp with the first, sudden drops of desert rain. Lorna had never known that a storm could come up so suddenly. Just a moment before she had sat down to sew, the thunderheads in the west had seemed distant and far away. But now, as Matt opened the door, they were overhead, and splashing rain over the garden in a burst of water that amazed her.
As they ate their late dinner, she watched the storm, and teased Matt a little.
“When we came here, darling, you said it seldom rained. You sounded like the Chamber of Commerce, telling me that cabin and motel owners always gave the tourists back their money when the sun didn’t shine, or it rained. So …” she smiled, teasingly, “they’ll return all rents tonight.”
Matt laughed and helped her wash up the dishes while the rain thundered and pounded at the roof, and beat the swaying fronds of tamarisk low against the white picket fence. Flashes of lightning made Lorna wince, and she was glad Matt was there beside her.
“I’m scared, Matt,” she whispered, as she leaned in the circle of his arm, watching the storm. Though she could not see the river, nor the steel bridge across it, which she had wondered about when they first came, she was sure the river must be a rushing torrent and all travelers glad of the firm, strong bridge.
Matt was worried about some of the farms along the river’s edge. Once he spoke uncertainly about Jim Nason. Lorna frowned.
“Quit worrying about that awful old man, Matt. He’s lived by the river all his life.”
“But he hasn’t been past eighty all his life,” objected Matt a little curtly. “And goodness knows what he’ll take into his mind to do during this storm. If he goes down to the river to fix his sand bags, he might …” The worry in his eyes deepened, and almost before Lorna realized it, he was getting into his long, tan raincoat, finding his hat, shading it over his eyes.
“Matt!” She was shocked to know he was going to leave her, going out into a terrible storm to look after an unimportant old man. “Matt, be sensible! Of course the old man won’t go out into the storm. He’s probably snug and warm inside his house. I’ve seen his house. It’s even more firm and strong than this one. He can’t possibly come to any harm.” With relief, she pointed to the telephone. “Ring him up, Matt, and as a physician, demand that he stay inside.”
Matt, bending the brim of his gray felt hat more directly over his eyes, shook his head briefly.
“Can’t phone. Jim never did take lightly to Bell’s invention.” He was trying to be quiet, casual, trying to make her smile. Yet she knew that his lightness was only a cover-up. He was actually worried about Jim Nason.
Lorna tugged at his arm as a flash of lightning brightened the room, blotting out the paleness of the electricity with its eerie whiteness. She blinked her eyes to see, and found them filled with frightened tears.
“Matt, you can’t leave me. I’m frightened. I’ll die if you leave me alone …”
He cut into her cries with an abrupt anger. “Come along, then. You’ll be safer in the car than anywhere. And you’ll be with me!” His voice held cutting sarcasm, and little tenderness. He was annoyed with her childishness and didn’t care if she realized it. He paused, saying shortly: “Are you coming?”
She was frightened to stay alone, yet she knew that Matt would be angry if she insisted on going. It really was ridiculous for her to want to go. Hallie and Uncle John weren’t far away. she managed to speak calmly.
“I’ll stay … I’ll call Hallie if I get too frightened.” She tried to make her voice calm. “Be careful, Matt. And don’t catch cold.”
Her lips felt a little stiff as she kissed him and let them go. But the look he gave her was reward enough to warm her as she waited for him to come back.
He was gone an hour, and came back to report that Jim had been tucked inside his house, unworried about the storm or his sandbags.
After her two-hour vigil, Lorna could laugh a little. The storm had long since died down, and only the eaves dripped quietly after the pelting rain. Her eyes smiled into Matt’s.
“And of course Jim thanked you, darling!”
Matt smiled wryly. “Of course he didn’t! He called me an interfering young busybody, and told me frankly that when he wanted anyone to look after him he’d call Uncle John.” He was hanging up his raincoat as he talked, and when he faced her his forehead was flushed. “He seemed to think I came because I was trying to make an impression. About the hospital, I mean. He grumped about and said that he didn’t approve of my motives …”
“You had no motives, Matt,” cried Lorna indignantly. “You were simply worried about him.” Her eyes flashed. “How can anyone be so … so … impossible! I’d like to give him a piece of my mind!
Matt shook the dampness from his battered hat, and smiled at her, fondly. “Such a loyal little wife! But I don’t believe giving Jim a piece of anyone’s mind would help.” His lips twisted into a rueful little grin. “I like Jim. I’m sure he likes me. He’s got his faults. So have I. I guess I used to give him a bad time when I was a kid. So he’s a sort of child, now, and he’s giving me a bad time! But I can’t stop liking or worrying about him. Even though I’d like to spank him as hard as he used to spank me when I climbed his apple tree!”
He finished laughingly, and Lorna looked at him, wondering how he could still be so fond of the old man. Matt had said he had faults, but she couldn’t find them.
However, she did find something in Matt’s little speech to make her think a lot. Perhaps that was the way with all people. They crossed off other people’s faults, and tried to see good in them, just as Matt crossed off her faults of selfishness and possessiveness.
She had those faults, she knew, and she was trying hard to change them. She had proved that to herself by remaining behind when Matt went to Jim’s. She had been terribly frightened. Yet she hadn’t gone. She marked that down as a small credit on the proper side of her fight to forget how lonely she had been as a small girl. She’d been lonely, waiting for Matt to come back. But she hadn’t let him know. The storm that had beaten outside the window had been as fearful as the one which had beaten inside her heart. But it was over. And she hoped that she had won a little strength for the next time.
She had almost forgotten the storm by the time she met Jim Nason again. She was shopping in the supermarket when she saw him pushing a little cart and selecting meager wares from the shelves.
He glanced at her huge basket of provisions, and gave her a wrinkled smile. “The Doc says you’re a good cook, Mrs. Wire. He’s always braggin’ about you. Sometimes I wonder if you’re as …”
“Sensible as I am fair-looking?” finished Lorna crisply. Then she was ashamed, and her face flushed hotly as she opened her lips to apologize.
Jim brushed the matter aside with a brief wave of his hand, and said curtly, “You’re pretty as a picture! On the outside. But I do hear tell that you’re … well, a mite dissatisfied with Westfield and the people here. You’d like to go back to Utah and take Matt with you.”
Lorna hadn’t dreamed that people knew how she felt. Or that they had discussed it with others. She felt herself burning with sudden rage. That’s the way it always was in a small town like Westfield. The people all knew each other too well. Why, they even seemed to know what a person thought.
Lorna spoke sharply. “It’s true, Mr. Nason! And why shouldn’t I want to take Matt away from here? He’s giving so much. And people don’t thank him. Just look at yourself. The other night in the storm he was worried about you. And what did you say when he came to see you?”
“I said he was a young busybody, that I could take care of myself,” said Jim flatly. “And I can. I don’t need no young whippersnapper looking out for me.”
“Yes, you do,” said Lorna just as flatly. “You need a friend as much as anyone. And Matt will be your friend, if you’ll only let him. Not …” she said hotly, “just because he wants a hospital in Sky Valley, and knows that you could build one if you liked. But because Matt’s a wonderful person. A fine doctor.”
“And the man you love,” finished Jim, very softly, as she stopped talking, knowing that she had raised her voice so that people were listening. Suddenly he touched her hand with his gnarled, old one. His old face smiled into hers. “Yep, you love him! People been wonderin’ about that. But I can tell ‘em …”
“You needn’t,” said Lorna quickly, but Jim paid no attention.
“I can tell ‘em, too, that you’d stay on here in Westfield, if your husband could get himself a hospital. But …”
“But, he can’t,” said Lorna harshly, and pushed her basket towards the check stand. She saw Jim staring after her. She knew she’d ruined Matt’s last chance to ever get the hospital he dreamed about!
(To be continued)