By Beatrice R. Parsons
Synopsis: Lorna Ashton, an orphan, who has no home of her own and has lived with a cousin, 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 be wholly hers. However, she gradually finds a place for herself in the community and in the affections of Uncle John, Nurse Hallie, and Carole, a little neighbor girl. She becomes acquainted with Jim Nason, an eccentric man, who has been asked to help financially in building a much-needed hospital for Sky Valley. Two small china kittens which Lorna has treasured since childhood have become to her a symbol of possession, and she finally gives them to Carole, and feels that she is becoming more willing to share herself and her husband with others. When Lorna finally meets Margaret Benson, an invalid, and a dear friend of Matthew’s, she regrets her attitude of indifference and makes an effort to be friendly and helpful.
During the following month, Lorna and Margaret became fast friends. It was easy for Lorna to know just how Matt had grown so fond of Margaret. She was a fine person, intelligent, thoughtful, kind. She never complained, though there was a quiet, waiting look in her beautiful eyes that told Lorna that she knew how very ill she was. Lorna was glad that Hallie had showed her the truth about Matt and Margaret.
She was glad that Hallie had taken her to see Helen Barker. Lorna tried to feel different about Matt. She loved him deeply. But she tried to curb the possessiveness that tugged at her soul. She knew her husband well. He was the sort of man who must share himself with others.
Lorna was learning that her own share of Matt was something no one else could ever own, yet she still kept dreaming of going home. Uncle John was much better. He was gathering up his practice, becoming more and more able to attend the ill of Westfield. Lorna felt that soon – she hoped very soon – they’d be leaving Westfield. Uncle John had long ago told her that he would be glad to take the old stone house off their hands.
But Matt was still reluctant to part with it. It held so many memories for him. Often, when he and Lorna were alone, he would reminisce. The stories he told made her laugh, sometimes, and want to weep for the little boy who had gotten into so many scrapes. Lately, she’d been hoping for a little boy of her own. An active, blue-eyed child like Matt.
Ever since she had fainted over Carole’s cut, she had hoped stronger than ever. But she hadn’t said anything to Matt, wanting to be very, very sure before she awoke hopes and plans in his heart. As soon as she was sure, she would tell him. And Hallie, and Uncle John.
She had grown to love them almost as much as Matt did. They were growing to be more and more her own family, just as they were Matt’s. Yet she didn’t consciously tell herself this, or tell Matt. To her this knowledge was like a rose in bud. She was only partly conscious of how her life was twining itself into Hallie’s and Uncle John’s. It was only at rare intervals that the thought crossed her mind. Then she rejected it, knowing that her only hope was to go back, have Matt more and more to herself as his duties as a doctor lessened. Back home Matt would not have the responsibility which he had in Westfield. There would be plenty of doctors to consult with, and a big hospital where patients would have all the advantages of modern medicine and surgery.
Uncle John and Matt still dreamed of a hospital for Sky Valley. Once, speaking of old Jim Nason, Uncle John gave Lorna a merry glance.
“You made quite a hit with the old man, Lorna,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. “He told me the other day that you were the only female who ever stood up to him, spoke her mind. He hinted that if he had ever thought of giving a hospital, instead of a statue, to Westfield, he’d want to talk his plans over with you. He said you were, to quote him, ‘as pretty as a magazine cover, and twice as sensible.’” Uncle John sighed, and his eyes were dreamy. “I hope he does talk plans with you, someday.”
Lorna was astonished. “But we were at each other’s throats like a couple of wild cats,” she laughed, protestingly. “He let me know that he didn’t like me. And I certainly didn’t hide the fact that I thought he was being mean to Matt, and everyone else in Westfield.”
Uncle John laughed, and winked at Hallie, who, starched and stiff-shouldered, leaned over a microscope, closing one eye to see. Almost as though he were speaking for Hallie’s ears alone, he murmured, “Did you hear her, Hallie? That time she said Westfield, as though it, and the people in it, were important to her, too.”
He was teasing, of course, and Lorna flushed hotly. As she left the office, she told herself, impatiently, that she didn’t really care about Westfield. All she cared about was having Matt close to her side.
He came home for a late lunch, looking worn and wearied. Lorna felt, serving him a salad and crisp roll under the lavender sweetpea vines, that there was nothing in the world she wanted more than to rub away the worried, tired wrinkles in his brow. Another polio case had kept him busy all morning.
As he poked at the pale green lettuce in the brown salad bowl with his fork, and stared worriedly at nothing, he sighed deeply.
“We’re going to need an iron lung. I telephoned Reno. They’re sending it over immediately. Now if we only had our own lung, our own hospital …”
His hands dropped wearily down, and when he began eating, it was as though he didn’t quite know what Lorna had prepared. She wanted to make him forget, and spoke eagerly.
“Matt, have you forgotten! This is our wedding anniversary. We’ve been married seven months.” She looked across the top of her own brown salad bowl, and cried excitedly, “Matt, let’s celebrate. Let’s go dancing. I’ll wear my blue frock. We’ll forget everything – Westfield, sick people, everything! We’ll be together – just the two of us – recapturing some of the wonder of our wedding day.”
Matt’s eyes were shining as she finished, and his mouth was curved in a tender smile. He reached across the little rustic table and touched her hand. There was love in the touch, and gentleness, and a swift eagerness to know again those beautiful hours that made his worry and tiredness fly away.
“We’ll do it,” he declared smilingly. “Uncle John and Hallie can take over. We’ll go dancing. We’ll look into each other’s eyes. You’ll wear the blue frock. And for a few hours we’ll be glad, gay, and a little mad with happiness.”
He finished his salad hurriedly, and promised that he would quit early, so that they would have plenty of time to dress, and drive over to the lake. As he dropped a light kiss on her forehead, he added with a twinkling little grin, “There’s a full moon tonight, darling. Just for us.”
Lorna knew he was remembering what she had said about dancing under a brilliant platter of a moon, while desert breezes wafted desert perfumes all about them, and a wondrous desert night gave them back their lovely dreams.
Lorna was pressing the blue frock when Carole came to the screen and rapped eagerly. She had her little china kittens all tucked into a pink blanket, and she set them carefully on a chair as she perched on a hassock and talked to Lorna. Her face was clean-scrubbed, her cotton frock neat and clean, her brown braids smooth and tied with ribbons to match her dress. She let her eyes widen as she surveyed the billowy net skirt that Lorna was pressing.
“What a beautiful dress, Lorna. The prettiest I’ve ever seen. Are you wearing it to the party tonight?”
Lorna set the iron upright and asked with interest, “What party, Carole?”
“It’s one for Netty Stevens. She’s going to marry a soldier she met – one from Korea. He’s going back, and Netty’s going as far as California to wait till he comes back.” She smoothed her short skirt, and sighed. “The Stevenses are quite poor. There are six children besides Netty. Her mother can’t afford a pretty wedding dress for Netty. But Netty says she doesn’t care a lot. Just as long as she can marry Bill and go through the temple, and …” Carole broke off, adding shortly, “The party is to give Netty some wedding gifts. She won’t have many. But everyone will be there. Is that why you’re pressing your pretty dress?”
Lorna shook her head, her eyes misty with happiness. “Dr. Matt and I are going dancing, Carole. I’m going to wear this dress tonight.”
Carole sighed, relieved. “I was worrying that you were going to wear it to Netty’s party. And it wouldn’t do at all. It’s too fancy. The party’s a barn dance. In the new barn Mr. Stevens has almost finished. everyone will wear square-dance frocks, or blue jeans.”
Lorna smiled. “I do believe I could spare a few sheets and a pair or two of pillow cases from my own trousseau,” she said bright. “Do you think you and your mother could take them over to the barn dance for me?”
Carole looked terribly disappointed. “Aren’t you going, Lorna? Everyone will be expecting you. I’m sure Netty asked Dr. Matt to ask you. I heard her. Did he forget to tell you?”
Lorna laughed, forgiving Matt. “He did forget, Carole. But it doesn’t matter. It’s our seventh monthly wedding anniversary. We are going to our own party.”
When Carole was gone, Lorna hung the lovely, swirling frock on a hanger, and went to find the soft, new sheets she wanted to send to Netty. She wrapped them carefully in pale pink tissue paper, and made a great, fluffy ribbon knot on the top of the package. Matt told her it was kind of her to want to share her nice things with Netty, and kissed her lightly before he began to dress. Lorna dressed, too, slipping into her gay cotton housecoat while she brushed out her gleaming curls.
Carole ran across for the package, looking cute and old-fashioned in her long, gathered yellow cotton frock, a replica, she told them, of one her mother was to wear. She eyed Lorna eagerly.
“Have you changed your mind? Are you coming, too?”
Lorna shook her head. But Matt, adjusting his tie, spoke almost lazily. “Why not, darling? We can go dancing some other time. There will be a lot of people at the party who want to meet you.”
“Matt!” Lorna’s voice was sharp with disappointment. “You promised.”
He spoke soothingly. “I promised, and we’ll go dancing if you want to, darling. But we’ve all the rest of our lives to celebrate our own wedding anniversaries. We ought to help Netty celebrate hers first.” He added thoughtfully, “She’ll be so disappointed if we aren’t there. She told me she wanted us, especially, when she invited us.” He looked a little guilty, and finished quickly, “Lorna, I forgot to tell you. I’m ashamed.”
She told him it didn’t matter. She was disappointed that he wanted to go to Netty’s when he could have been alone with her. That old, possessive feeling swept over her, and she bit her lip to keep it from trembling.
Carole, the pretty package in her arms, started for the door, then turned and said casually to Matt, “Margaret won’t be there, either. Her aunt telephoned Netty. Margaret’s had another attack.”
Matt’s shoulders straightened, and deep worry tugged at his brows. “She’s been overdoing again. I told her she mustn’t give so much of herself to others. But she insisted she was all right, and went to see that new polio patient.”
He seemed to have forgotten the dance, Netty’s party, everything, as he picked up his bag. His voice was urgent, and apologetic all at once. “I’ll be right back, Lorna. We’ll go dancing. But there may be something I can do.”
The door slammed sharply behind Matt, and Lorna stood there, her face a little pale, her gray eyes strained, staring after him. The blue dress, on its hanger, stirred gently in the breeze that came through the opened window, and its rustling crept into Lorna’s mind.
She stared at it with hot, angry eyes. It seemed that every time she planned anything very special with Matt, something happened. Something intruded! If only she could speak loudly, as she had in the car, and send these instructions away as she had seemed to send the hawk away. Tears of anger and bitterness flowed down her cheeks. She didn’t care, now, whether she and Matt went dancing or not. The lovely evening she had planned was spoiled anyway. She glanced at the beautiful blue dress, and spoke heatedly.
“I’ll talk with Matt tomorrow! I’ll have it out with him. He’ll have to realize that we never have an instant for our very own selves. He’ll have to see that we can’t go on like this. I’ll make him know that we must leave here.”
Her hot little harangue was interrupted by a knock at the door. At first she thought it was Matt, then she saw Hallie, all dressed up in a long, green cotton square-dance frock, coming into the room. Hallie, who evidently had heard Lorna’s voice, looked about for Matt.
“Thought I heard you talking to him,” she said, glancing about, speaking in a curious tone when she found he wasn’t there.
Lorna flushed hotly and confessed, “Matty ran over to look in on Margaret. She’s not well. We were going dancing. I was going to wear my blue frock, and …”
Hallie was inspecting it with critical eyes. “It’s very lovely, Lorna. A frock for any young woman to wear. Now if only Netty had something like that …”
“She can have it,” said Lorna almost spitefully, jerking it off its hanger, and handing it to Hallie. Her voice was almost hysterical as she cried, “Let her have it. It doesn’t matter. Matt’s already forgotten what that frock means to me.”
“He hasn’t forgotten, Lorna.” Across the swirling folds of the blue net, Hallie’s faded eyes were stern and accusing. “It’s you who has forgotten, Lorna. Only you!” She put the dress hurriedly back on its hanger, saying firmly, “Wear it, Lorna. When Matt comes back. Wear it, yourself, and recapture all those hours that you had Matt all to yourself.”
As though she had said more, much more, than she had meant to say, Hallie went swiftly from the room, her long skirt flapping unaccustomedly about her ankles. Lorna heard her going towards the garage to get Uncle John’s car.
For a long time Lorna stood there staring at the dress, seeing it in all its sheer, filmy loveliness, thinking of everything it had meant to her when she wore it for Matt.
All at once – not pausing to pursue the matter to its conclusion – she picked the frock up in her arms and ran to intercept the backing car.
Uncle John, in cowboy boots and ten-gallon white Stetson, came haltingly across the lawn, using his cane lightly. He stared at her in astonishment, as she laid the frothy dress on the back seat of the car.
Her voice tumbled in an anxious torrent, as she explained, “I’m sorry, Hallie. And ashamed! Take this to Netty. She’ll love it just as I do. I won’t need it. When Matt comes back, we’ll come to the party. That is,” she concluded uncertainly, “if I can find Matt’s boots!”
Before Hallie could do more than smile, before Uncle John could even do that, Lorna rushed back into the house, spilling things from the hall closet in her eagerness to find Matt’s things.
As she worked, she smiled, thinking: “We don’t really need to go dancing at the lake to know that we’re still in love. We don’t need a blue dress to remind us. The moon will be just as big over the Stevens’s barn …”
She had found the boots. She held them triumphantly up as Matt came into the hall. She was in a hurry to tell him what she had done about the blue dress.
But his drawn, white face stopped the words in her throat. He came a little unsteadily to face her, and she didn’t need his words to tell her what had happened. His voice was deeply quiet, and his dark, steady eyes were filled with pain.
“She was gone, Lorna. Even before I got there …”
“Matt, Matt!” She touched his hand gently. Many of his patients had been called away. Always he had been concerned, grieved to have them go. But this was different. Looking at him, seeing the strained anguish in his face, she knew that something had gone out of Matt’s life that would never enter it again. In losing his best friend, he must close a page of life that had been lovely, beautiful.
Right now, Lorna knew, watching him drop into a chair and bury his dark head in his hands as a long shuddering sob tore through him, Matt must walk alone. Though she was there beside him, she could not call him back from his lonely vigil.
And she did not try, nor even want to do so. She knew that this was the door that had always been shut against her. Even if she had been able to open it, she would not have tried.
For the first time she was sharing her husband willingly, generously. A closed door would never be so cruel and harsh against her ever again. Her lips moved silently, as she followed Matt into the living room, knowing that he was not aware of her presence.
Deep in her heart her unspoken words cried out to Matt: “I am here, my darling. I’ll always be here! When you cone back to me, I’ll be waiting …”
And she knew that the waiting would be neither hard, nor so very, very long.