The New Day
by Hazel K. Todd
Synopsis: Lynn Marlow, a dress designer, who lives in Chicago and is engaged to David Talbot, returns to Springdale, her home town, to visit her Aunt Polly. She recalls the love she used to feel for Johnny Spencer.
When Lynn reached the stream deep in the willows, without even remembering what Mr. Jensen had said, she seated herself on a smooth white rock and pulled off her high-heeled pumps and her nylons and dipped her toes into the gurgling water. It was sharply cold, telling of melting snow somewhere up the mountainside. But after a few minutes her feet became accustomed to the cold and she was lost to the tingling sensation, lost because hundreds of memories floated to life among the willow trees and whispered to her from the cobblestones.
She and Johnny were pounding the bark off a willow limb for spring whistles. She and Johnny were racing up the stream in their bare feet, slipping on the rocks, falling in the water, chasing water skaters. It was so much fun to chase water skaters. She remembered, with a little embarrassment, how Johnny had caught her when she was quite a young lady, chasing water skaters, because, in a moment of reverie, a big long one had looked so inviting.
But now the years sped away, and she and Johnny walked along the path on their graduation night. It was after the exercises, after the dance, and the moon spread white light through the willow branches. She thought, How handsome he is with his dark hair and the white boutonniere. Her graduation frock was lovely. She had designed it all herself. Aunt Polly had spent days on the ruffles. It was pink and white, and Johnny had told her it was the most elegant thing he had ever seen. “Of course,” he had qualified, “because it’s for you.”
Johnny had plucked some of the violets to put in her hair. And with his arms about her, he had said, “They are purple like your eyes, Lindy. I hope our children all have purple eyes. And all the little girls we will name Lindy.”
And she had laughed at his foolishness.
But then had come the shadow. He had held her hands tightly in his. “Oh, Lindy, you can’t go away clear to Chicago. It’s too far. You don’t need to be a dress designer. Let Uncle Merideth, or whoever he is, give it to some other girl. Haven’t we always said we belong together since we’re both orphans, you with Aunt Polly, and me with my grandmother? Stay and let’s plan our house by the mill.”
But it had sounded so thrilling to go all the way to Chicago and learn to be a dress designer. Since she was a little girl she had drawn pictures for Aunt Polly to follow to make her dresses.
Anyway, with Johnny’s arms about her, the future seemed like a bright promise as she assured him, “There will only be a year, and then I will come back, and we will build the house by the mill and live happily ever after.”
But the year stretched longer and longer. Each time she mentioned going home Uncle Merideth put her off with lavish praise for her work and bright promises for the future. And Lynn loved her work. She would sit by the hour fascinated with the creations that came from her pencil. Johnny’s letters begged her to come back. His pleas became more urgent, until one day in early spring, Lynn, remembering the path through the willows, the long walks and all the things they had done together, knew that she must go home to the house by the mill. Suddenly she could hardly wait to tell Uncle Merideth that this time she was really going.
Then came the shocking news from Aunt Polly. Johnny’s grandmother had died, and Johnny had joined the Marines. Next she knew he had married a Southern girl with dark hair. Aunt Polly had sent her a picture clipped from the town paper.
At first it had been hard for her to realize that she had lost Johnny. She would wake suddenly from a sleep where she and Johnny were chasing water skaters or she would sit up in bed to find that she was not dancing with Johnny, not sipping sodas in Mr. Jensen’s drug store.
Uncle Merideth had been very good to her. He patted her shoulder, praised her work, and gave her another promotion. So she threw herself into her work with such zeal that twice Uncle Merideth suggested she take a trip to Springdale for a rest. But she never went. And since time has a way of mending heartaches, she began to put her sorrow away. Until the letter from Aunt Polly saying that Johnny had brought his wife and two babies home, a boy and a girl, and he was building a house. That night Lynn cried in her pillow for the house by the mill that should have been hers.
Twice Aunt Polly came to Chicago to visit Lynn, but she didn’t like the long rides, and she was not used to the crowds of people. It all made her so nervous that she told Lynn, on the last visit, that she would never make the trip again. “Oh, Lynn,” she said, “Why don’t you come home! I can never get used to your absence. You have been gone so long.”
But not until Aunt Polly’s letters began worrying Lynn, could she bring herself to go back to the scenes of her childhood.
But now there was David Talbot. He had walked into her life one day when she sat on a green sloping hillside. She had been riding alone through the forest preserve. It was a warm day in spring, and the green hillside had looked inviting, stretching away to the edge of the trees. So she had stopped the car and accepted the invitation of the rich green carpet. The grass was soft and cool and the air fresh and sweet with only the faintest hint of a breeze. Sitting there, leaning on her arms with her hands anchored in the grass, she was oblivious to all else save the pleasantness of the surroundings. And then she heard the click of the camera.
She looked up at David standing there with his camera. He was tall and lean, with a thatch of blond hair, and he was smiling in a captivating sort of way.
“‘Forgive me, for taking your picture, Miss Meadow Nymph,” he said with perfect ease. “But you see, I have been tramping about looking for something to shoot. And when I saw you sitting there with your hair blowing like that I knew I could never find anything half so lovely again.”
“Oh,” Lynn said, a little embarrassed, and started to scramble to her feet.
“Oh, please don’t get up,” he said. “It looks so pleasant there in the grass. Would you mind if I sat down a minute beside you?”
It was so easy to sit there and talk with him. As they talked they learned they had mutual friends, and their wards were quite close to each other. And it was so natural to go on seeing him, and even to promise to marry him. Except, that night she couldn’t sleep for remembering the path through the willows, and the house by the mill.
David was already a successful architect and he planned for her a lovely home on a hillside that they both loved. He wanted to begin at once, but, somehow, Lynn kept waiting.
Then one night David was very quiet. She walked with him to the door to say goodnight. He looked at her with his calm sincerity. “Lynn,” he said, “more than anything else in all the world I want to make you my wife. But I cannot share you with a ghost from the past. If you can’t forget this – Johnny, then I want to free you from your promise and go out of your life.”
As she looked into his face and felt his quiet strength, a warm security possessed her. “David,” she said, “let’s make it an autumn wedding.”
And so they planned.
Aunt Polly wrote she hoped Lynn would be happy, but wouldn’t she please come home for a visit before the wedding?
Still Lynn had not quite been able to make up her mind.
And then she realized there was something wrong in Aunt Polly’s letters, little hints about letting the garden go, about not doing any sewing, about phoning for groceries, instead of driving the car. Lynn knew then she must go to Aunt Polly.
She chose a time to tell David when they were sitting on the grassy slope of the countryside. For a while he didn’t say anything. And Lynn hurried to explain that it was Aunt Polly, that she was sure Aunt Polly was ill or something.
David put his hand under her chin and looked into her face. “Please, my dear Meadow Nymph,” he said with his easy smile, “I do not want you to think I disapprove of your going home. By all means go to Aunt Polly.”
“But I want you to take me.”
He looked at her as though there was something hidden in the purple depths of her eyes that he longed to find. “No, Lynn, I want you to go alone, back to the scenes of your childhood, back to the things you used to do. Live with them, and then, one day when you want me to come, I will be waiting.”
And then she knew she had never quite promised her whole self, not because she didn’t want to, but because she was not sure that part of her was not back on the willow path, back in the house by the mill.
The quick, sharp cry of a child suddenly obliterated past visions. With a start, Lynn pulled her feet from the water and realized that they were quite numb with cold. At the same time, she caught sight of the tousled head of a child struggling about in the grass and leaves by the trail.
Barefoot, she ran to it, a little girl, with a mass of red-gold curls tangled about her head. Quickly she picked the tot up in her arms to find her knee scratched and bleeding. the little girl looked up at Lynn with fright-filled eyes.
With a tissue, Lynn wiped the blood and leaves from the little knee and found it was not more than a scratch. She sat down with the child in her lap, on an old stump that she had sat on many times before to pull slivers from her feet or to wipe the water from them.
“Look,” she said, wrapping her handkerchief around the injured knee, “we will fix it all up like new.”
The little girl looked up from the bandage into the face of her benefactor. And then she squirmed out of her lap to the ground. “Peter,” she called in a frightened little voice, “Peter, come get me.”
And then she saw a pair of eyes in a freckle-sprinkled face, peeking furtively through the willow clump.
“Is that Peter?” Lynn asked, catching hold of the little girl’s hand.
But the child quickly withdrew her hand and ran half crying toward the place where the face had so suddenly disappeared.
Lynn snatched her shoes, and slipped them onto her feet, as she ran after the child. And in a few minutes she had caught up with the two of them making a fast getaway down the trail.
The boy stopped, undecided, on the path with the small girl clinging frantically onto his hand. The wrong words might send them scurrying away into the bushes. She looked about her quickly. A willow branch swaying gently near, caught her eye.
“Did you ever have a willow whistle?” she asked, thankful to the willow.
“Course we did,” the boy said. “Our Dad makes us whistles.”
“Does he?” Lynn kept watching the boy’s face. There was something familiar about the way the hair fell over his forehead. “If we had a knife, we’d make a whistle.”
She pulled down the willow limb and broke it from the tree. A long piece of bark twisted loose, leaving a naked slippery strip. “Just right if we had a knife.”
For a minute the boy stood quite aloof. then he said, eyeing her keenly, “I got one.” He dug into his pocket and brought out a battered pocketknife.
Again he stood, half undecided, and then he handed it to her.
As she pounded the bark from the willow with the handle of the knife, the two children watched, the little girl hanging to her brother’s shirt.
A strange thing to be doing, Lynn thought. Her eyes went again to the boy’s face. His hair – and his eyes. Somewhere in the past there were dark gray eyes, fringed with heavy lashes. She laid the whistle down a minute and looked into their inky depths. And as she did, a chill froze her, for, with sudden recognition, she knew those eyes. She knew them without a doubt. And they fit perfectly into the surroundings, the creek, the willows, the whistle lying on the grass, everything! They were Johnny’s eyes!
These, then were Johnny’s children – children who might have been hers. She looked at them standing there, and a wave of longing swept over her. But all that was long ago. There was no need to be disturbed. Yet her hands shook so that she was unable to replace the bark on the willow limb. This is silly, she thought, but I can’t stay here now. I have to think.
She laid the whistle down hurriedly again beside the knife. Her mind was working frantically as though she were a culprit trying to escape capture.
“I’m sorry,” she said in confusion. “I must go. Get your father to make a whistle.”
She got hurriedly to her feet, avoiding their eyes. And with her heart thudding dully with an old familiar ache, she went down the willow path to Aunt Polly’s.