The Silver Leash
by Beatrice Rordame Parsons
Synopsis: LaRue Harding, an orphan, who has lived since childhood in California with an aunt, goes to Fivelakes, Arizona, after the death of her sister Amelia. She tries to help and encourage her brother-in-law Herbert Vetterly, who is confined to a wheelchair. His children gradually come to accept LaRue as a friend and as a member of the family. She meets Dr. Alan Rutherford, a surgeon at the Jonas Harding Hospital, and his fiancee Gladys Drew. “Grandie,” Dr. Rutherford’s grandfather, takes a liking to LaRue.
Within three weeks after his operation, Herb had taken one or two shaky steps. Dr. Alan and Dr. Frame were pleased. Dr. Alan told LaRue: “Time, and Herb’s own desire to be on his feet, will complete the cure. The operation is a success.”
LaRue was grateful. She had not been as happy since she came to Fivelakes. The children insisted she go to the hospital with them at visiting hours. Watching them with Herb made her heart glow happily. they had grown so close to their father.
Each time they went, Dr. Alan came to the room for a chat. LaRue had seen him daily, and she had grown to like and admire him very much. He was a fine doctor, a fine man.
“I don’t have to ask how you feel, Herb,” he said teasingly. He stood there, tall, handsome, in spotless white, a stethoscope draped about his neck.
“Like a million!” cried Herb. “A million, million!” Herb had changed so much. His laughter came more easily. He made a place for Connie on the bed beside him.
Erma said in a grown-up voice, “We’re having a time keeping him in bed, Dr. Alan. If he had his way he’d be out there on the lawn, romping with Atlast!”
Herb’s grin was wide. “Why not? I have Atlast to thank for a lot of things.”
Connie, quick to defend her pet, cried soberly: “Daddy, Atlast didn’t mean it. He just didn’t behave very well, I guess.”
Herb patted her hand. “Of course he didn’t mean it, darling.”
“He did us all a good turn,” said Joel, and the glance he gave his father was man-to-man.
Connie looked serious. “We have Atlast to thank. And Dr. Alan. And Dr. Frame. And the nurses, and everyone!” she stared thoughtfully at the white bedspread, and added quietly: “LaRue, God did hear our prayers. He did give us what was best for us.”
A short while ago, LaRue knew, Erma and Joel would have scoffed at Connie’s childish thoughts. But now they only gathered closer to their father’s bed, and LaRue knew that unshed tears of thankfulness were burning close to their lashes.
Dr. Alan went to the door and spoke over his shoulder in a light, yet authoritative tone, “Mr. Vetterly, you listen to those children. They know what’s good for you. When they decide that you are well enough to romp with Atlast, they can ask my advice and maybe … just maybe, I’ll let you out on the lawn.” He added under his breath, so LaRue could hear: “They are pretty nice people.”
LaRue nodded, her eyes shamelessly damp. “I think so,” she whispered, knowing how much they had come to mean to her.
“They get their niceness from their mother,” said Dr. Alan very softly.
Herb, who caught the words, smiled tenderly. “Amelia was a wonderful person,” he said. It was the first time, laRue realized, that he had spoken his wife’s name without a painful pause. But they could all feel Amelia’s influence among them, warm, affectionate, real. She had given her love to Herb, and to her children, her sweet, enduring love. Now the children were sharing that love with their father. He had lost Amelia, but he had not lost her love.
LaRue knew, as they sat there listening to their father’s little jokes about his “plaster jacket,” that it was good for them to laugh. It would be a long time before Herb would be entirely well.
But the children faced that knowledge without fear. It was enough for them to know that their father had found the promise of a good, full, busy life. They were content.
When the nurse came to shoo them out because visiting hours were over, they left the hospital and strolled slowly home through the beautiful summer afternoon.
LaRue remarked about how many times she had walked by herself, frightened, lonely, very much alone.
Connie, skipping along at LaRue’s side, caught at her hand. “Poor Auntie LaRue!”
Erma said, shyly: “We didn’t treat you very well, did we?”
LaRue wouldn’t agree to that. “Perhaps some of it was my own fault. I felt awkward …”
“No,” said Erma decisively, “we were horrible to you.” She thought a moment, then said: “I’m sure neither Joel nor I understood just why we wanted to hurt you. Perhaps it was in retaliation for the way we’d been hurt in losing our mother. And our father!”
LaRue put her arm about Erma’s waist, and drew her close. “Let’s not think about that,” she suggested softly. She turned the conversation as they came to the knoll upon which Hillhigh House raised its fine, old head.
She knew that they all had a terrible mental picture of Herb’s chair racing down the slope. To dispel it, she cried, “I’m sure the old house is lonely. Shall we go up and pay a call?”
The children took her suggestion eagerly, laughing at the idea that a house could be lonely. They climbed quickly to the brick patio and looked across the valley to Blue Lake.
The opening of the Founding Festival was drawing near. The scene below them was one of excitement and gaiety. The peppermint-striped tents were gay with banners. The framework for the fireworks made the little island seem populated by odd little houses.
LaRue drew in her breath, remembering how she had promised herself that she would be back in San Francisco long before the fireworks scattered their fiery stars to the heavens. Yet she was reluctant to leave. She thought of herself as a queer, vacillating person. A person who could not make up her mind! Now that Herb was getting better, she was free to go. All she had to do was repack her suitcases and buy a ticket. Yet she couldn’t make up her mind.
As usual, Grandie was sitting on the front porch of the house, letting the cooling breeze drift through his snow-white hair. He was pleased to see them, and showed them a paper-wrapped packet which he had brought along.
“Now, maybe,” he declared as he unwrapped his bundle, “the old house will sell!” It was a large, shining black and gold sign with the letters FOR SALE printed plainly upon it.
LaRue looked approvingly around. Eddie and Joel had cut the weeds, mowed the lawn, and raked up the willow leaves which had carpeted Connie’s and Janice’s playhouse. It was certainly a vast improvement. When Joel took the hammer which Grandie had brought with him to remove the old sign and hang the new one, Erma spoke wistfully.
“It seems a shame to see the old place go to strangers. I wish Daddy was rich. Then I’d ask him to buy it and … well, maybe we could restore it, and … make it into a museum or something.”
Connie’s brown braids bounced excitedly as she cried: ‘Tourists would pay to see it, especially if it was fixed like the good old times!”
The old man beamed. “I’d like to see the old house as it was. Yes, Joel, it was a good way of life. Yet today is the good life. Tomorrow, too, will be good, if we keep on building.” His eyes were mellowed with memories as he looked at the old house. All at once, he took the sign from Joel’s hands and said: “This house belongs to Fivelakes!”
“Sort of community property,” agreed Joel smiling.
“Belongs to all of us,” added Connie brightly.
Joel’s face fell. “It will take a lot of fixing up.”
For the first time, LaRue found her voice, yet she was scarcely aware that she was saying, “I could help! I’ve got a little money in the bank. I’d like you to let me share in …”
“Why, Aunt LaRue!” Connie’s eyes were wide, astonished. “You’re going back to San Francisco!”
Before LaRue could speak, Erma put her arm about her aunt’s waist, and said: “No matter where Aunt LaRue lives, she’ll remember this old house. She loves it, now, just as Mother used to love it.” She was silent for a long moment, then she said: “Maybe others will want to contribute …”
Grandie interrupted: “I’ll see that there’s plenty of money.”
Joel shook his head. “People will want to have a part in this. They’ll want to preserve the history of Fivelakes.”
Grandie knew he was right. He said quietly: “I’ll do my part. at least, I can help with the humps and bumps.”
Connie, who was actually learning to be silent when others were speaking, waited until his words had died away. Then she said, “We could put up one of those … those …”
“Plaques!” interjected Erma informatively.
“One of those plaques,” finished Connie patiently, “with a name on it.”
“Hillhigh House!” said Joel, experimentally.
“The Harding Museum,” said LaRue thoughtfully.
Erma’s face was lighted with a lovely, inner glow. Her lips curved tenderly as she suggested: “The Amelia Museum.”
The name was what they had been seeking. They were delighted. LaRue whispered, almost to herself, “Amelia would be so proud.”
They stood there as the sun crept slowly over the edge of the knoll, bathing the old house in golden light. The dormer windows glowed like smiling eyes.
Erma, already busy with plans, said: “Grandie, you’ll have to tell us just how the old house looked when you were a little boy. Just what kind of wallpaper they used, just what …”
“I can do better than that,” stated the old man proudly. “I can show you pictures. Those trunks in the attic are filled with scrapbooks. There are bits of wallpaper, swatches of material. There are letters. Clothes. A thousand little things to tell the story of Hillhigh House.”
Connie clapped her hands and wanted to go immediately to the attic to look. But the sun was almost out of sight, and it was time for dinner. They walked Grandie to his red-brick cottage and then went on to the white bungalow with the maroon trim.
LaRue listened to the chattering that went on about her as they strolled along. She had never seen more enthusiastic people. Once Erma said: “Daddy can be the architect. I’m sure he’ll be glad to get back to his drawing board.”
“But,” said Joel, blankly, “we’re not going to rebuild the old house. Just restore it.”
Erma was not impatient. She spoke quietly, as they turned into their own walk.
“There have been a lot of changes in the old house during almost a hundred years, Joel. People tore out walls, put new ones in. But we want the house to look exactly as it did so long ago.”
Joel nodded and opened the door.
As LaRue followed the children inside, she felt a little sad. It would be a long time before the Amelia Museum would be ready.
She found herself wishing that she didn’t have to go back to San Francisco. Once she had thought of the neat apartment there as a refuge. But she had no need of hiding now. Her fears were gone. The apartment seemed as distant as the stars. Almost a part of another world.
I’d like to stay until the house is finished, she thought, wistfully. Then remembered her position in the bank. Her leave of absence was up shortly after the Founding Festival. She must go back to her job.
I don’t really belong here, she told herself. I’m no longer needed. Amelia’s family is all right. Their future is bright. As soon as Herb can get along without me, I’ll go back …
She had meant to finish the sentence with the word home. But she did not say it. It was hard to think of any place in the world, except Fivelakes, as home!