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, and to find out if she has really forgotten her early love for Johnny Spencer. He had married a Southern girl and she had died, leaving two children. On her way to her aunt’s home, Lynn meets Johnny’s children, but she delays going to see Johnny.
It was quite natural that her feet should turn to the willow path. Long ago, when the path was new, she had gone there to think. If she had done something wrong and Aunt Polly had reprimanded her, if she had quarreled with Johnny, or if anything had happened that wasn’t right, she had come here in the willows and found her Balm of Gilead. Now she walked in the ferns and willow leaves until she came to the stump lying like a hound dog by the path. And she sat down on it and took off her shoes and dipped her feet into the cool water.
In the leaves near something caught her eye. It was the pocket knife, the open blade shining up at her through the leaves. Her heart began a peculiar thumping. That knife belonged to Johnny’s boy. He had given it to her to make the whistle that she had never finished. She picked it up thoughtfully. Then, reaching up, she snipped off the willow branch hanging low over her head. The blade slid quite easily through the tender limb, and in a short time she was pounding the bark from her whistle.
It was funny how she could remember just the right things to do after so many years. Just how deep to make the groove, just where to cut the slit, and then the taste of the sap as she wet the bare whistle in her mouth to make the bark slide on easily. She was eager as a child as she put the whistle to her lips. It had always been fun to try a new whistle. There were so many pitches. It blew a high shrill note that made her start a little so that she looked squarely into the pair of eyes peeking furtively through the willow clump. She knew those eyes, too. She would never question them again. They were Johnny’s eyes, in Johnny’s son’s face.
He knew immediately that she had seen him, but he stayed defiantly in the willows. “I want my knife,” he said.
Lynn had regained her composure now. “Of course you may have it,” she said, “but you must come and get it.”
He came a few steps out of the willows, and Lynn looked behind him, expecting to see the little girl. “Where is your sister?”
“None of your business,” he said, without offering to come further.
She raised her eyebrows. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you angry.”
“What’d you run away for when you promised to make us a whistle?”
Oh, so that was it!
“I’m sorry,” she said again. “It was very foolish of me to run away. Would you believe me if I told you I was afraid of something when I ran away?”
“There’s nothing in these willows to get you,” he said. He was still eying her up and down.
“Oh, I’m sure of that,” Lynn said very seriously. “But – well, if you had something that made you very, very unhappy and you lost it, and then suddenly found it, do you think you might run away before it hurt you all over again?”
He puckered his forehead into a scowl. “You don’t talk plain,” he said.
She laughed then. “I suppose I don’t.” She looked down into her hand at the whistle. “Did you hear my whistle?”
“Sure, I heard it. I was standing right there. I watched you make it.”
“Oh, did you! I thought you just came out of nowhere.”
“That’s silly. Nobody comes out of nowhere.”
She laughed again. “I guess they don’t.”
He still stood in the same place.
“Would you like the whistle?”
He thought a minute. “I’ll give it to Lindy,” he said and came forward.
Lindy! Johnny had named his little girl Lindy! Like a fast moving drama, there rushed before her a night along the willow path, with Johnny’s arms around her. She could see vividly the flower in his buttonhole. She could even smell the violets in her hair. And sharp and clear a voice tender, sweet, “All our little girls we will name Lindy.”
She sat stupefied while he took the whistle she held in her hand.
“I want my knife, too,” he said.
“Oh, of course. Excuse me.” She reached for the knife that was lying on the stump beside her. “Does Lindy like whistles?”
“Course she does.”
Lynn was quite calm now. “I suppose all boys and girls like whistles.”
“Lindy is asleep,” Peter volunteered now, as though to make up for his rudeness a while ago.
“Who … who stays with her when she’s asleep?” Lynn was unconsciously twisting the leaves from a willow branch.
“Sometimes I do. Sometimes she gets up and plays by herself.”
A slight frown knit her forehead. “How old is Lindy?” she asked.
“She’s four, and she knows a lot,” he announced nonchalantly.
Lynn looked at the boy thoughtfully. He talked like a grown-up. “How old are you, Peter?” she asked.
“Nearly six. I’ll soon be as big as my dad,” he said.
“Do you and Lindy live alone, with your father?”
“Course we do,” Peter answered, “‘cause our mother died.”
He looked at her then as though there was a decision forming in his mind. “You can see our house from here,” he said, pointing to it across the meadow.
“Yes, I see,” she said, following his finger.
“Why don’t you come and see it?”
She caught her breath.
And then David’s words – “Promise me you will see Johnny,” he had said. Lynn sighed. If she must see Johnny, perhaps she must also see his house. The house by the mill – wasn’t that part of it too?
“I – I think I would like to.”
They stood looking at each other.
“Now?” she asked.
It was some far-fetched dream – walking down the path through the clover meadow with a boy whose eyes belonged to a lost love, to a house that by rights was hers, where a little girl who might have been her baby lay asleep, whose leading footsteps brought her nearer and nearer to some knot of confused circumstances she could not face; and yet could not avoid. It was all crazy – some silly hallucination from which she must presently awaken. She didn’t belong here anyway. She belonged with David on a warm green hillside. Her mind rambled wildly, inventing and entangling. The breeze was soft and sweet with scented clover bloom, or lilac or pussy willow or birds’ songs, or chirping crickets or – on and on it went, manufacturing incoherent phrases of nonsense, like a jumbled picture puzzle where you searched endlessly without ever finding a piece that would fit. And all the times she had cried in the night, all the walks in the willow path, all the dress designs she had fashioned, all the rides with David through the forest preserves were all mixed together.
“That’s the monkey tree.”
Lynn came back form her confused mental soliloquy. Peter was pointing to a gnarled old juniper tree standing like a half-naked giant with fingers and toes stretching in all directions.
“Monkey tree?” she repeated, hardly knowing what she said.
“Sure. My Dad calls it that because it would be such a good tree for monkeys. I play I’m a monkey when I climb it.”
Lynn laughed then, a little. “Does Lindy climb the tree, too?” It was a silly thing to ask. But everything was unreal anyway.
“Aw, gee, no. Girls can’t climb trees. Anyway, she’s too little. She’d fall and break something.”
“Yes, of course,” Lynn agreed.
“The turkey nest is over that way on the other side of the strawberries. I’ll show it to you after we see the house.”
Lynn looked at the house then that sat at the top of the slope which ran down and lost itself in the millpond. It was a small white house with a sun porch and a path that curled round the hill like an invitation. There was a chimney, too, a rock chimney with stones laid just so in rows of red mortar. The roof, cool and green, spread wide eaves far enough to shade a summer afternoon to tranquility. And there was a window with a pink ruffled curtain.
Lynn had an unquenchable desire to see inside the house. She wanted to know if there was a pink cupboard with blue teacups and a planter box where you could put bright geraniums. She hurried her footsteps toward the door, and stopped as suddenly. What will I do if Johnny is there? Even if I have promised that I must see him, would he want to see me? And anyway, this house belonged to a girl with dark hair from the South.
The door opened slowly, and she looked down into the frightened eyes of the little girl. The tot started as if she might run and then she caught sight of Peter behind Lynn and ran crying to him and hanging on to his shirt.
“Aw, shucks, Lindy, you don’t have to be afraid. I asked her to come and see where we live.”
The child turned her head sideways and peered at Lynn through tear-filled eyes, and then she hid her face in the plaid shirt.
“Look, Lindy,” Peter said with big brother superiority, “she made you a whistle.”
Lindy unburied her face. In a second or two she reached her chubby hand forward for the whistle, which she held silently.
“Blow it, dear,” Lynn said smiling.
Hesitantly Lindy put the whistle to her lips, but she didn’t blow it. She just looked from Peter to Lynn and back again.
“Aw, why don’t you blow it?” Peter said.
Then she blew, weakly at first and then loudly.
“See, I told you it’d blow,” Peter said.
Lynn looked from the little girl into the room. And it was filled with Johnny from the trophy on the mantel that he had won when he was captain of the basketball team to his slippers sitting by the fireplace. There was a planter box, too. But it had no geraniums in it. That would have to be from a woman.
“I want a drink,” Lindy said. “I’m thoisty.”
Lynn brought herself back to the children. “I’ll get you a drink.”
In the kitchen she found the pink cupboard and a row of blue plates and a shelf of spices and a line of blue teacups hanging on hooks. She took one down and filled it with water from the sink.
“Here, Lindy,” she said.
Lindy took the cup and drank heartily. “Fank you,” she said, and Lynn tried to swallow the lump in her throat.
Impulsively she leaned down and lifted the little girl in her arms.
“You are a darling,” she said.
“I am a buttonhook.”
“That’s what Dad calls her,” Peter explained.
Lynn laughed and hugged the child. As she did so her eyes fond the rocking chair by the fireplace, and a strange urge tugged at her.
This is unreal, she thought, as she sat in the chair with the child in her lap. But everything is unreal. She began rocking back and forth while the little girl cuddled in her arms.
The chair was turned toward the door, and she could see down the path that wound away into the junipers. And up the hill she could see Aunt Polly’s. Aunt Polly was there making rhubarb pies. She looked at the child lying quietly in her arms. Then some faint sound or intuition broke the spell and she looked up.
Johnny was staring at her. Johnny, with his wide gray eyes, one lock of his dark hair falling over his forehead. Even in the first split second she saw him, she knew the years had hung a weariness about him. He was standing there in the door, and she thought she could never forget his face.