from the Relief Society Magazine, September 1938 –
by Minnie I. Hodapp
White winter had come overnight to Riverbend, transforming the scattered village into a landscape of sky and snow. All the wayside hedges were arrayed in dainty plumage. Even the brown farmhouse at the curve of the highway seemed taller in its cap of downy softness. The house was surrounded by an orchard in immaculate robing. Fairy arches led from the gate to the front door.
Soon a glossy blue roadster halted by the gate. Through the car window a pair of lovers – an engaged couple – were peering toward the brown house and conjecturing upon it as their possible home.
“Nice place,” whispered Christy, her eyes beaming with gladness.
“Yours and mine,” answered Hap. “My heritage from Grandmother Worth. Do you see that lilac tree by the corner of the porch? Grandma worth planted it years and years ago.”
Christy was perfectly aware that she couldn’t match Hap’s worldly possessions, but in accord with Aunt Heartha’s guidance, she had gradually acquired a chest of durable household goods including table linen, sheets, pillow cases – even a couple of fluffy satin quilts – the workmanship of her own hands.
Long ago she had resolved that Aunt Heartha’s many little sacrifices for her chest of pretty things should not go unrewarded. Christy meant to take the dear soul into her future home – not as a housekeeper or caretaker – but as the beloved and loving angel of the hearth. Often had she mused and reflected upon this possibility until it had come to seem natural and plausible. She told herself that if Hap should leave Aunt Heartha out of their mutual plans, Christy herself would soon manage to fade out of the picture, too. Her method would be self-effacing and quiet and void of bitterness or acrimony. This was a foregone conclusion. She recalled it now as she gazed upon Hap’s hospitable house this snow-clad winter morning.
“Look, Christy,” said Hap, “that rambler along the front porch will be a bower of roses next June. And you know what this coming June means to you and me.” At this the little house seemed to beckon.
“It’s a charming place,” said Christy. “Shall we look inside?”
“That’s just what we’ve driven out here for, darling,” and his arm went round her in an endearing embrace.
Hap helped Christy out of the car and his gentleness expressed more than words how very precious she was to him. Christy skipped blithely up the long path a few steps ahead of Hap. He walked steadily erect carrying Christy’s very heavy case of art equipment, including brushes and color boxes and sheets of paper.
Christy paused by the porch and glanced up into Hap’s face. His features were suffused with joy and pride as he stepped up and unlocked the door, flinging it wide. A wave of warm air like a summer breeze enveloped them.
“You’ve set up a new stoker, Hap! And I dare say you did it for this visit,” beamed Christy.
“I want you to feel comfortable while you’re looking through the place.”
The spacious east window had a wide, long, roomy sill. Christy at once envisioned a window of geraniums with Aunt Heartha coaxing them into bud and bloom. Hap, meanwhile, was thinking only of Christy. His Christy!
She glanced up at him with an ingratiating smile. “I had no idea you had so thoroughly remodeled,” said she.
Hap opened an adjoining door. “This room is rather small,” said he, “but will be convenient for an occasional guest.” Christy’s face was radiant and sunny as she stepped inside the cozy little sanctum. Inaudibly her heart exclaimed, “Heartha’s own little room!”
Closing the door, Hap remarked, “This is an old-fashioned stairway with worn steps, Christy, but none of them creak.” Hap grasped her outstretched hand and slowly led her up the narrow passage. with the opening of the loft door came a blue-bending arch of sky.
“A roof garden!” exclaimed Christy. “Whoever would have dreamed of such a luxury!” Turning to Hap she whispered, “Dearest, you did this all for me!” He smiled a slow, meditative smile and gave answer:
“To tell you fact, Christy, I’ve stayed awake nights thinking this out – a place for you to steal away by yourself, to sketch the summer landscape. Here you’ll be at liberty to apply yourself to your beloved art unmolested.”
Christy’s eyes were resting on the fields of snow, and beyond the willow-lined creek and little groups of young oak trees. She seemed dumb with happiness and surprise.
“In early spring,” continued Hap, “when the green begins to creep back into the trees and the spaces between show the bonny blue sky –”
A loud, clamorous knock at the front door called them below at once.
A hearty old Scotchman stood on the front porch. He was smiting his mittened hands together and stamping the snow from his overshoes. His cheeks were ruddy and his breath came like white vapor.
“It appears to me the homestead’s come alive this mornin’ – smoke curlin’ from the chimney. Are you young folks movin’ in?”
“Not today. Won’t you take this rocker, Uncle Alec?”
“Don’t want to sit down. I’d rather go below and have a good long look at your stoker. I might watch it half an hour, if you don’t mind.”
“Go right ahead, Uncle Alec,” said Hap as he turned good-naturedly back to his conversation with Christy.
“Maybe you’ll want a fireplace in this room. Sort of friendly, wouldn’t it be, having a fireplace?”
Christy could see dear old Heartha in the glow of a cheery yule log and her heart exulted at the picture. Deftly she hid it from Hap, who suddenly burst out: “Your presence here seems to brighten the very air, Christy, and just think, this home is ours alone – yours and mine. Sometimes it seems as if this whole, big world holds but you and me.”
Christy, who ordinarily would have resounded to these warm, glowing words, seemed actually to shiver. Hap perceived it.
“You aren’t cold, dear. What’s the matter?” he asked with a penetrating look as if trying to probe her inner conscience.
“I’ve changed my mind, Hap. That’s all. This house isn’t for me.”
Hap drew his lips into a thin, straight line. “What’s wrong with you, Christy?”
Her voice lowered to a whisper. “I can’t go on.”
Hap eyed her closely. Her face looked drained and bleak – utterly colorless – but there was burning pain in her eyes. Never before had he seen Christy like this – his clear-eyed, trusty pal – the one girl in all the world who had no skill in evasion or lies.
“Is it something I’ve done, Christy?”
“No.” In spite of her outward calm, Christy’s throat cramped and her voice was near suffocation. “I can’t marry you, Hap. That’s all.”
Hap’s face looked haggard. He cleared his throat roughly. It seemed to him in this emotional crisis that Christy wasn’t Christy at all. Another girl stood in her place before him. And this girl was unfeeling, hardened, acutely cruel! Worst of all, there was nothing he could do about it. The silent rage that seized him was grueling to his nerves.
“I’ll take the interurban car back to Cedarville,” announced Christy.
Mechanically the two of them made their way back to the little blue roadster by the gate. with chill hands, Hap clutched the wheel and they were off.
At the depot Christy forced back unshed tears and nodded goodbye. Hap replied with a fixed, unseeing stare and a frigid bow.
The train pulled out of Riverbend with its customary stutter of start and stop. Soon it gained its usual rhythm. Hap stood watching until it had disappeared behind “Queen’s Bluff” – a cliff of colored stone near the turn of the track.
“Queen’s Bluff,” he ejaculated ironically as he leaped into his car and banged the door. His reckless driving might have cost him a heavy fine had there been a rush of traffic.
Upon entering the door he stumbled over Christy’s valise filled with art material. This gave him pause. He reached down and unlocked it. There was every needful tool and brush in perfect order and readiness for a day of sketching.
“She even denied herself that special treat,” said Hap aloud. He was certain that their suffering at parting had been mutual. He sat down and examined the contents of her art folio. There he found sketches on various themes – a face, a bust, a tree, a distant hill, even a placard bearing a printed quotation, “When half-gods go, the gods arrive.”
Someone was stirring in the basement tinkering with the stoker. Hap listened to big footsteps, and presently Uncle Alec stalked into the room. Uncle Alec could see trouble on Hap’s brow and blurted out, “It couldn’t by any chance have been a lover’s quarrel between you and Christy?”
“We’ve never quarreled in our lives and we’ve been seeing each other more than three years,” explained Hap.
“Then how come she’s gone?”
“As to the reason, Uncle Alec, I’m safe in saying you know as much about it as I do.”
Uncle Alec sniffed in a droll, bewildered way as if he might accidentally scent the hidden clue.
“Is it something you might have done, Hap, or is it something you’ve failed to do?”
“I didn’t ask. Is there anything I’ve left undone, Uncle Alec?”
Uncle Alec pondered, cleared his throat as if to speak, then remained silent.
“Out with it! Come on!” urged Hap.
“Well – there’s Heartha. Did you have a good heart-to-heart chat with Christy concernin’ Heartha?”
“I never mentioned her name. Not even once.”
“I thought maybe you would-a mentioned how nice to have a visit from Heartha once in a while. It would have been handy-like to have said so when you and Christy were lookin’ over these rooms together.”
At these words there dawned a mysterious awareness in Hap’s eyes as he gazed confidently into Uncle Alec’s kindly face.
“What do you know about Heartha, Uncle Alec?”
“I only know what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my ears. Wasn’t I in the funeral twenty years ago – the double funeral for Christy’s parents? Her mother and daddy died within twenty-four hours of one another. I was present at the services.
“Heartha took Christy Clemens, a motherless infant only three weeks old, and did a mother’s part by her. You know what my meanin’ is when I say she went the second mile. There’s a bit of scripture that exhorts one to travel the second mile, do more than’s asked. Well, Heartha Wylie went the second mile as a mother. Christy had schoolin’, sewin’, cookin’, music lessons, parties. I bet my bottom dollar she has had more fine clothes in her young life than Heartha’s ever owned in all these years.”
Hap seemed profoundly touched, meditative, and gravely silent.
“Well, my boy, I guess you’ve heard enough. It’s just another story of Ruth cleavin’ to Naomi. Christy can’t tear away from Heartha, at least not in one sudden jerk. It’s like this, Hap, you’re young. You’re not a mind-reader. It takes the mellowin’ touch of time to be able to discern the inside workin’s of a woman’s mind. Comes like a gift to some few men.”
Hap’s eyes were aglow with a strange illumination. He grabbed up his hat and said, “I’m off, Uncle Alec. I’m going to beat that interurban car into Cedarville.”
“It’s goin’ to be a race, Hap. The train has half an hour the start.”
So the glossy, blue roadster went zooming down the lane. It was already eleven o’clock and Hap sped along as if trying to overtake ten thirty a.m.
The train was due in Cedarville at noon. Hap managed to reach the station a minute and a half before it pulled in. His alert eyes soon caught a glimpse of Christy as she falteringly descended the platform steps.
“Christy!” She looked up and they stood face to face. He grasped her hands and said in low, clear tones, “The sun didn’t go into a total eclipse, girlie.”
She glanced up into his sparkling blue eyes with a dazed, wondering smile. Gently and quickly he ushered her into the glossy, blue roadster and they soon reached the wee, gray cottage of Heartha Wylie. Here they found the snow-path swept to the door.
Aunt Heartha was seemingly unsurprised to see them. She was accustomed to their various quirks and whims. At the same time they were totally unaware that Uncle Alec had interceded for Hap in a telephone conversation with Heartha – the most lengthy indulgence of the kind he had ever allowed himself.
“Aunt Heartha, will you ride over to Riverbend with Christy and me?” importuned Hap. “We want to show you some improvements on Grandma Worth’s old home.”
Gallantly, almost tenderly, Hap escorted Aunt Heartha into the little blue roadster. She seemed as bright-eyed as a snowbird ensconced between the two. The white fields were a-glitter stretching to right and left on the highway.
It didn’t seem long until they were back at the little homestead. Uncle Alec was still there. He stretched out warm, welcome hands to Heartha, and kissed Christy’s forehead.
Christy hurriedly gathered up the sketches Hap had scattered here and there in the room.
“You’ll excuse us, Aunt Heartha, while we carry this case of art material upstairs,” said Hap.
“Go right ahead, you two,” said Uncle Alec. “I’ll take care of Heartha.”
“I wonder what’s on Uncle Alec’s mind?” queried Hap of Christy when they reached the landing.
“Oh,” said she, “they’re old pals and neighbors. Just glad to see one another. That’s all!”
“Aunt Heartha’s a dear soul,” said Hap warmly. Christy sought his arms and he enfolded her for one long, blissful moment.
“Aunt Heartha will want to see the house,” reminded Christy.
They found her and Uncle Alec in the kitchen pouring chocolate and spreading sandwiches,. “Oh, I just tucked a whole wheat loaf and a pat of butter into my satchel,” explained Aunt Heartha. “Folks are sure to get hungry.”
“Aunt Heartha’s a knowin’ soul,” spoke up Uncle Alec. “And we may as well tell you youngsters out and out –”
“Come now, what’s all the hurry?” asked Heartha, looking up quickly into Uncle Alec’s face.
“Can’t they stand a bit of a shock?” asked Uncle Alec.
“What do you mean?” asked Christy.
“Just one thing. Your Aunt Heartha and I have agreed to set up our own housekeepin’ back in my old home in Cedarville.”
“You’ve made up your minds in a hurry!” gasped Christy.
“I’ll say so!” rejoined Hap.
“It’s all on natural principles,” explained good old compromising Uncle Alec. “You young folk need to climb the stairs step by step while we of the older generation find it a heap handier to take the elevator.”