by Olive W. Burt
Synopsis: Carol Wilson, an artist on the staff of a magazine edited by Brent Gibson, went to a ranch in Wyoming to attend the funeral of her sister Elizabeth. She felt a deep sympathy for the motherless children, and later, after her return to her work, she decided to return to the children. However, she found them well cared for. Fred, Carol’s brother-in-law, had become interested in a kindly neighbor, Dolly Graham, and Dolly’s brother Tony declared his love for Carol. Brent Gibson telephoned, asking Carol to return to the city to make the illustrations for a serial story. After this work was completed, Carol went back to Wyoming for a vacation.
“Oh, how good it is to be back!” Carol cried ecstatically, throwing her arms wide and lifting her face to the serene majesty of the Tetons.
Tony Muir’s bright, clear young laughter rang out happily. “This is where you belong, Carol. Those who love the mountains should never leave them.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Tony!” Carol expostulated. “I love my city, too. I come here and am renewed, but if I lived here always, then where would I go for that renewal?”
“You wouldn’t need it, then, believe me!” Tony assured her.
Carol felt argumentative. “The ideal life – for me at any rate – would be to live both places.” A sudden light broke across her face. “That’s it, Tony! I never thought it out before – never even planned to say it. It just came – but it’s just right.”
“I don’t agree,” Tony said doggedly. “You let me manage your days for a while – really show you these mountains as I know them. You’ll never want to leave – you’ll never want to let those pretty little feet touch hot city pavement again.”
He manipulated the big convertible deftly into Fred’s yard, and the children came whooping.
“Aunt Carol! Aunt Carol!”
The little girls flung their arms about her and held up their faces for kisses. Steve stood back a little, but his face was bright with happiness.
Carol felt the warmth of their love. She gathered them close. “Are you glad to see me?” she whispered.
“Oh, yes, Aunt Carol! We’ve got so many things to show you!”
They went across the porch and into the big living room, a close little knot, laughing gaily. Dolly Graham was waiting in the open door, smiling a welcome.
“Fred had to go down to the lower field, Carol. Something happened to one of the horses. But he’ll be back soon.”
Carol smiled. “It’s so good to be here!” She crossed to Mrs. Trent and bent over the invalid. “You look wonderful, Mrs. Trent, and Tony tells me you’re much better.”
“I am, Carol. Since Dolly’s been here I’ve seemed to pick up wonderfully. Oh, I can’t get about yet, but I don’t suffer so much.”
“That’s what happiness does! And you are happier now, aren’t you?”
“I think we all are,” Mrs. Trent said, and sent a grateful smile toward Dolly Graham.
“Come, Aunt Carol,” Kathy tugged at her aunt’s arm. “Let me show you! We’ve fixed up the guest room special.”
“Let me show! Let me show!” Trudy shouted, scrambling ahead.
“Of course! And you, too, Becky. And Steve!” Carol laughed. “All of you come and show me. I’ll bet each one can find something special.”
They went gaily up the stairs and into the narrow room Carol remembered so well. But it was different now. The small dormer window at the end, by which she had crouched to get a peek at her beloved mountains, was gone. Now the whole end of the room was one big window, framing the Grand Teton and its satellites. She caught her hand to her heart and a little cry of delight escaped her lips.
“Do you like it, Carol?”
Tony Muir had come upstairs behind them, and now he stood looking over Carol’s shoulder at the magnificent view.
“I love it! Oh, Tony!” She put her arm around Kathy, standing beside her, and gave the little girl a quick squeeze. “Kathy, darling! It’s wonderful! And you did it for me?”
Kathy turned a shining face up to her aunt’s. “Tony told Daddy to do it. Tony said you ought to have a good view of the mountains and not just a little peek at them out of that old window.”
Carol turned to the man. “You and your sister think of the loveliest things!”
Tony grinned. “I think so, too,” he said complacently, and then chuckled.
“Roses on your bedspread, Aunt Carol,” Trudy chanted.
“Yes, darling. Lovely!”
“I painted the picture, Aunt Carol,” Becky announced proudly.
“But I painted the chair!” Steve bragged.
“It’s all perfect – absolutely perfect!” Carol cried.
“Tony said if everything was just right you might stay a long, long time,” Kathy volunteered.
Carol’s smile was tremulous. How had she ever doubted their deep and abiding love for her? But welcome as she was, loved as she was, she was a guest in this house and could not stay a long, long time.
“We’ll see, darling. I’ll stay as long as I possibly can.”
Carol didn’t have to wait for Fred’s return to know how things had progressed between him and Dolly Graham. She didn’t need to see how his look softened whenever his eyes fell on the woman. She didn’t have to hear how his voice grew tender when he spoke to her. No, before Fred came back to the house, Carol knew. For Dolly Graham was right at home in Fred’s house; she knew where everything was; and Mrs. Cartwright came to her for orders. Even Mrs. Trent and the children turned to Dolly Graham for the answer to every question from what petticoat should Trudy wear to what Grandma Trent should eat.
After supper that evening, after Carol had tucked the children in bed and told them a story, Tony suggested that she go for a ride with him.
“The moon should be gorgeous tonight, Carol. I want you to see it come up over Signal Mountain.”
As they drove along toward the vantage point Tony had selected, he began, casually enough, “You’ve seen how it is between Fred and Dolly, Carol. I don’t know whether he’s formally asked her to marry him – I think not, or she would have told me. But he soon will. and it’s going to be wonderful for both of them – and for the children, too. The kids adore Dolly and she adores them. It will give their home a permanence Fred could never achieve alone – even with the help of his mother and that excellent housekeeper.”
Carol smiled at her companion. “You don’t need to beat the drums, Tony. I’m as glad as can be. If there’s one thing I want for Elizabeth’s children, it is a real home, with a mother and father in it to give them that emotional security that children need. I couldn’t hope for anyone better than your sister.”
“I’m glad, Carol. Sometimes relatives – especially when they are as close as you are to the children – well, you know, they can be jealous of the love and authority bestowed on another.”
“Jealous?” Carol picked up the word. “Oh, Tony, I’d be wicked to be jealous of the good life your sister can give them.”
“Well, I’m glad,” he repeated lamely. Then, “Here we are – and just in time.”
He swung the car around so they were facing east, facing the low dome of Signal Mountain, silhouetted against a sky bright with the pale radiance of the rising moon behind it. As they watched, the great yellow disc came slowly, majestically into sight.
Carol was speechless with enchantment as she watched the moon sail free of the mountain top, to shed its light across the narrow valley. Instinctively she turned to look westward toward the craggy peak of the Grand Teton, a soft gray under the moon, its hollows filled with snow that seemed to be a muted blue-white. It was a breathtaking sight, and Carol’s artist-soul was hushed in reverent awe.
After a while, when the moon was sailing high above the valley, Tony turned the car homeward. Carol was still held in the spell of what she had just witnessed, and Tony seemed to understand her mood. He drove back in silence. But as he bade her goodnight, he said gently, “This is just a beginning, Carol. I have many other beautiful sights to show you. We’ll enjoy them together, you and I!”
Tony was as good as his word. He was forever planning something special, something to amuse and delight Carol. There were boating and fishing on the lake; there were horseback excursions into the mountains; there were picnics along the wooded river bank; and there were gay trips into the village for Church, or for a show.
They did not often go alone together. Nearly always there were the children and frequently Fred and Dolly, and sometimes Mrs. Trent. For it was summertime, a time for family picnics, and it would have been unthinkable to ride away and leave the others sitting at home. But somehow, in spite of the jolly crowd around them, Tony managed always to make it seem that the adventure was planned for her, alone, and that she and Tony were enjoying it in a togetherness that no companions could invade.
Carol was conscious of this effect and felt that she should be proud and happy that Tony was making such an effort to captivate her. But for some obstinate, yet scarcely realized reason, Carol was not quite captivated. It was as if Tony was host at a perpetual picnic. You can’t build a permanent relationship on a holiday base – you can’t judge what life is like from a picnic, she told herself. Maybe, if Tony would just forget about me and go home and tend to his sister’s ranch, and give me a chance to look at this thing objectively, it might be different!
But he can’t! she admitted ruefully. He is too young, too eager! And she remembered what Brent Gibson had said about a young man’s ardor.
The next time Tony came to round them all up for a picnic, Carol said firmly, “Come here, Tony. I want to show you something.”
She led him to the end of the porch and pointed off across the valley to the Grand Teton. “Look at the light on my favorite mountain! I’ve never seen it quite like it is today, and I want to try to get that effect down while it’s there. So I’m not going to any picnic today. I’m going to stay here and paint.”
“But the kids!” Tony expostulated. “They’ve planned on this!”
His sister spoke up. “There’s no need to disappoint the children, Tony …”
“I’m not going to take them without Carol!” Tony said petulantly.
“I wasn’t thinking of that, but Fred has to see a man over at the Diamond G Ranch, and I was going with him. We can take the station wagon and the children, and have our picnic out at Brooks Lake – they’ve never been there. They’ll enjoy it, I’m sure.”
“Well, I guess I might as well go home and do some work, then,” Tony’s grumbling was softened by his cheerful voice. “If Carol would rather paint than have a picnic with me …”
“You know it’s my life, Tony!”
“But I’ve been trying so hard to change your life! But I suppose I have been selfish – never giving you a moment to yourself. Listen, Sis,” he turned to Dolly, “if you and Fred will take the children, I’ll get back to the ranch and see if Luke can find something for me to boss.”
“We’ll take the children, Tony.”
Carol was aware that Dolly had made the decision without even consulting Fred. Even Elizabeth wouldn’t have done that, but it was none of Carol’s affair.
Dolly called to the children, “Get your things, children! Your father will be here any minute now.”
Becky, the quiet one, the one who painted a picture for Carol’s room, came and stood hesitatingly beside her aunt. Carol bent and put an arm about the child.
“What is it, Becky?”
“Could I stay with you, Aunt Carol? Maybe I could paint the mountain, too.”
“Of course, darling, I’d love to have you with me. Come along, I’ll fix you up a little easel and we’ll take your little camp stool – you and I, honey, are going to have ourselves a real day of it!”
An hour later, Carol and Becky were sitting side by side, facing the Grand Teton, both silent and intent on their work. sometimes Carol cast an eye on the little girl’s work, but she offered no suggestions. Not at this time, when the child was actually creating. Later, she’d have to give Becky some instruction – she seemed to have talent. And Carol looked with new fondness and appreciation at this child who was so often almost lost between her older sister and the adorable Trudy.
They were so intent on their work, the two of them, that they did not hear someone approaching. It was only when a shadow fell across Carol’s easel that she looked up.
An involuntary cry of happiness escaped her. “Brent!”
Instinctively she rose, and he came close, taking her shoulders between his hands as he did in the office when he wanted to stress some instructions.
“Hello, Carol! Yes, I decided to take your advice and come up here for my vacation.” Then he went on soberly, “I might as well tell the whole truth. I got to thinking that I was a mighty poor sort to leave the field to that handsome youngster, without even a struggle!”
Carol felt a wild desire to laugh and clap her hands. Instead she said, “Well, I’d about decided that you didn’t care much if you did lose your chief artist.”
“But now you see that I do care. And I’m here to fight for her.” His voice was light, but his eyes were serious. Then he turned to Becky, smiling down at the child’s splashed painting. “But I see that even up here, you have competition.”
“This is Becky, Elizabeth’s third – and a budding artist as you’ve seen. Becky, this is Mr. Gibson.”
“Uncle Brent to you, honey,” he said, and squinted at her work. Becky watched him, waiting for his verdict.
“Will you give me a job when I am as big as Aunt Carol?” she asked.
“If you want it, I certainly will. But maybe we won’t have to wait that long. How much are you asking for that portrait of the Grand Teton?”
Becky’s eyes flew wide. “Would you buy it?” she gasped.
“I’d like to, if it’s for sale. I’ll frame it and hang it in my office where I can look at it every day and think of Miss Becky Trent, the artist. Would you consider five dollars?”
Becky’s clear brown eyes went from the man to her aunt, eager, questioning. Carol nodded, smiling.
“Oh, yes!” Becky cried ecstatically. “Oh, yes, Uncle Brent. But it isn’t quite finished yet.”
“Well, I’ll pay you now because I don’t want to lose it. And you can finish it before you deliver it to me.”
He took his wallet from his pocket, extracted a five dollar bill, and handed the money to the little girl.
She turned it over and over in her fingers, a happy, reflective smile on her lips. Then she lifted her face. “Oh, thank you, Heavenly Father!” she cried.