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. Herbert Vetterly, after a successful operation performed by Dr. Rutherford, is able to walk about the house, and he begins to take more interest in his children and in his architectural work. “Grandie” and the Vetterly family decide to turn Hillhigh House into the “Amelia Museum.”
The idea of the Amelia Museum caught like wildfire at the hearts of the people of Fivelakes. LaRue was amazed – yet delighted – at the enthusiasm which welcomed the idea.
People came to the house to talk to Herb, almost the minute he came out of the hospital. Dr. Alan said it was all right, as long as Herb didn’t get overtired. He was still in his wheelchair, but each day he did a little walking about the house.
He was so changed that LaRue felt the happy tears on her lashes every time she looked at him. He had no reluctance to meet his friends.
Several times he had gone riding with Dr. Alan and Gladys while the doctor visited other patients. On one occasion, when Gladys had an appointment at the beauty salon, LaRue went with Dr. Alan while he called on Mrs. Lawson. Mrs. Lawson, a pretty middle-aged woman in a flowered smock, shook hands cordially with LaRue.
While they were there, the other children insisted on opening their piggy-banks to donate to the building of the Amelia Museum. LaRue took the pennies from their hands, and smiled.
“We’re keeping a list of names.” She took them down in a little notebook. “I’ll give this Erma. She’s taking care of everything.”
Erma was a sort of self-appointed secretary. Later, when the money was in, there would be a committee. Until that time, Erma worked with her father, consulting with him for hours at a time.
Joel and Eddie – constantly grease-stained and dirty now – were working hard on the engine of the old car. They were polishing lamps, sanding fenders, sparking the motor. The first time it gave a small cough, Joel and Eddie beamed excitedly.
“If we get it fixed,” promised Joel, “we’re going to enter it in the old cars division of the parade at the Founding Festival.”
The Festival was drawing near. There were banners across the downtown streets, and the windows in the shopping district blossomed with dazzling play clothes and authentic Indian, Mexican, and prospectors’ clothing.
Erma, who was going to wear a frock designed from a Mexican Senorita’s costume, with glittering pink and silver sequins on the huge roses on the skirt, looked a little guilty because it was so becoming.
“Am I vain,” she asked, “wanting to look nice for Bob?”
LaRue shook her head. “Not vain, darling. Just proud. It’s natural for a girl to want to be pretty for her best beau. Perhaps if I had a young and handsome escort, I’d be thinking about a pink or blue frock for the occasion.” She paused, remembering that Gladys would be wearing blue. She said gaily: “But I’m sure Grandie won’t mind that my yellow dress is three years old.”
Erma nodded: “I’m sure he won’t. He likes you, Aunt LaRue, very much. He says that you’re a lot like Mother – like your sister – thought you don’t look much like her.” She hesitated, “I heard Dr. Alan say, a long time ago, that yellow was his favorite color.”
LaRue was annoyed to find herself blushing a little. But she was glad to know that Dr. Alan liked yellow. She didn’t mind wearing the dress so much, knowing that!
Erma, staring at the glowing roses on her dress, said simply, “Bob won’t be cutting the tops off carrots much longer, LaRue. When he begins his classes at the U, they’re going to let him work in the office. It will be good training, you know. He’s taking business management.” Her eyes were bright. “Bob’s very brilliant. He is going to amount to something, one of these days.” Pride beamed in her face.
She looked like a pink rosebud, as she slipped into the frock. LaRue helped pin it here and there, and after it was stitched, Erma hung it away, ready for the square dancing.
The morning of the Founding Festival found the huge, golden sun laced with cotton clouds which kept the day from being too warm. They all went to the parade and sat on the curb to watch “The Sons of Cochise,” in weirdly feathered costumes, do the “Dance to the Sun.”
Other Indians – Pueblo and Hopi – came in undulating procession carrying their gifts to their Indian gods. Some of their faces were garishly painted, but every Indian carried himself with the pride of his tribe.
There were magnificent, flowered floats, with beautiful girls. There were little gray burrows, and stream-lined palomino horses. The history of Fivelakes unraveled before LaRue’s eyes, and everywhere she found that history laced with the name Harding.
After the parade they rode out to Blue Lake, carrying their picnic baskets. Herb in his chair was happiest of all. He could walk a little, but he must not get overtired. Now that his chair was no longer a necessity, he did not mind having Joel or Eddie push him around.
Connie and Janet rode the lavender, green, and white horses on the merry-go-round as they had promised. But Grandie, under his grandson’s insistence, had to be content to watch Bob and Erma sail high into the sky in the Ferris wheel.
Joel and Eddie – in plaid shirts with cowboy boots tucked into brand new Levis – tried out the Earth Satellite, the Atomic Buster, and several other devices which were frighteningly realistic.
Gladys, very pretty in her new blue frock, clung possessively to Dr. Alan’s arm until she sighted Earl Meeghan in the crowd. She hailed him, and finding that he was alone, invited him to join them.
“Alan won’t mind,” she cried flirtatiously, widening her large, green eyes questioningly in his direction. “Besides, we brought enough picnic for half the people at the carnival.”
Without the slightest anger, or jealousy, Dr. Alan seconded the invitation, and they all ate under shady trees at a table which groaned with goodies.
Herb, sitting in his chair at the end of the long table, spoke in a happy whisper to his sister-in-law. “I’m a most fortunate man, LaRue, to have such a family. Erma is very like her mother.” Herb had learned to speak about Amelia, without apparent emotion. He added softly: “I feel very close to Amelia each time Erma enters the room.”
LaRue smiled happily as she helped Grandie to another sandwich. He wore his Sunday best suit, and his concession to the festivities was a perky string tie. He had tucked a tiny red rosebud in the lapel of his coat and explained it, saying, “Since my date is the prettiest lady in Fivelakes, I want her to be proud of her escort.”
LaRue thanked Grandie with a kiss against his wrinkled cheek. She was proud of the old man. She felt as if she had known him since childhood.
After lunch, they strolled about, Gladys with her hands linked in Dr. Alan’s and Earl’s arms. Her high-heeled sandals picked up rocks, and she waited helplessly while one or the other of her escorts shook the rocks out of her small, slim shoes.
Blue Lakes was a mirror for the suds-white clouds above. The beach, edged with colorful booths, swarmed with people. Most of them stopped to smile or speak to their doctor. Gladys waited impatiently until they were through, or strolled casually away with Earl Meeghan.
Once, Grandie meeting LaRue’s eyes with his shrewd dark eyes, said mysteriously, “Sometimes doctors need a little of that nasty medicine. I thought I might have to administer it, myself. But now I’m not so sure.” His voice was drowned out by the tinny calliope of the merry-go-round which blended with the cacophony of the “Dodge-em.” LaRue wasn’t quite sure she had heard him right. She was still puzzled over his meaning.
One moment he was like a thoughtless young school boy, riding a green horse beside Connie and Janet. The next he was eating hot dogs with Joel and Eddie.
Gladys, scandalized, said sharply, “Grandie, you’re making a spectacle of yourself!”
He answered serenely, “I’m old enough to do whatever I please. Young enough to enjoy it.” He linked arms with Connie and Janice and marched defiantly towards the “Cotton Candy” booth.
Alan’s fond glance went after him. “He’s having the time of his life, Gladys. He used to be pretty lonely.” They saw Mrs. Lawson and her family waiting to ride the “Showboat.” Alan’s eyes showed sudden worry. “She shouldn’t have come.”
Gladys tapped a blue sandal. “Oh, darling, can’t you stop being a doctor for just an hour!” She was entirely unconscious of the flush that swept over Dr. Alan’s face. She linked her hand into his elbow, and called to Earl, “Let’s go buy a panda bear for Connie. She’ll love it.”
LaRue looked after them as they strolled away, and her heart ached slightly for Alan.
The day passed merrily. Erma, in her pink frock, danced with Bob, dressed in matching pink shirt and dark trousers tucked into tooled boots. They made one of the handsomest couples in the square dance, and Herb smiled proudly as he watched them.
“He’s a very fine young man,” he told LaRue. “Good, steady.” It was plain that he liked Bob Powers.
The day seemed to pass like lightning. All at once the sun disappeared behind the cliffs, and night came to blanket the carnival grounds. Neon lights were dimmed, and only the millions of stars were left to sparkle over the little islands before the fireworks began.
With the first shower of man-made fiery stars, there were sighs of admiration. Sky rockets dazzled the eyes with emerald and ruby sparks. Fountains dashed their gleaming sprays upwards, and cascades of brilliance fell to the ground. There were set-pieces authentically recalling moments in the history of the town. There were glowing red, white, and blue flags, and the outlined faces of past and present Presidents. When the last glowing outline died, there was dancing in the open-air pavilion.
Erma and Bob were almost the first couple on the floor when the strains of a waltz floated musically over the lake. Joel and Eddie, and some of the other boys who had joined them, stood in the stag line and looked anxiously at a group of pretty young girls nearby.
Herb had insisted that Connie and Janice go home, and Grandie went, too, driving home in a friend’s car. Gladys fastened a proprietary hand on Dr. Alan’s arm and urged him to dance. Earl cast them a jealous little glance as they glided out upon the floor, and said, “We might as well join them, LaRue.” As they swept out into the crowded dance floor, Earl said frankly, “I guess you know I’m crazy about that girl! But what man has a chance against a handsome young doctor like Alan?”
LaRue said evenly: “I don’t think it matters whether or not a man is handsome. As long as two people love each other. That’s what truly counts, Earl.”
She did hope that she didn’t sound too old-maidish. She’d had very little experience with being in love. Perhaps the nearest she had ever come to it was her admiration and liking for Alan. But she was honest as she added, “Any girl should be proud to marry Alan.” She knew she was blushing a little, but she wasn’t ashamed to praise him.
When the music ended, they stood waiting for Gladys and Alan to cross the floor. LaRue saw one of the older Lawson boys hurrying into the pavilion. He came quickly to Alan’s side, his face pale, his eyes worried.
“Daddy said for you to come, Dr. Rutherford. Mom’s sick. He took her home …”
Almost immediately Dr. Rutherford’s professional manner and anxiety made him turn to leave. He touched Gladys’s arm.
“Come with me, Gladys. I’ll need someone to help. This is an emergency.”
Gladys pulled her arm away, and her face was filled with distress. Her voice was close to hysteria.”Oh, Alan, I can’t! I’m no good with sick people. Please don’t ask me …”
“But I need you,” insisted Dr. Alan bluntly. “It’s too late to get Mrs. Lawson to the hospital. Too late to reach a nurse in time. Later, perhaps, but not in time.”
Gladys was shaking her head, pouting angrily. “You’re spoiling things for me, Alan. Surely you can’t expect me to leave the dance. I’ve planned on it for a long time.” Her eyes lifted to Earl Meeghan’s face, and she cried, “You go, Alan. Earl will see me home, later.”
For an instant Alan’s face was pale with something like scorn. Then he turned to LaRue and asked sharply, “Are you afraid, too?”
She said, haltingly, “Not afraid, Alan. It’s just that I may not know just what to do.”
“I’ll tell you,” he said.
Without another word, he led her to his car, started it, and drove away. He gave concise instructions as he turned into the Lawson yard, telling her exactly what to expect. His face was pale, and his jaw was forbidding. She pitied him, but she knew he did not want pity.
Mr. Lawson came out as they parked the car. His face was strained, frightened. “I sent the children to their grandmother. I’ll phone Herb, LaRue, to tell him where you are.”
He took them into the neat house, showed them where they could scrub, then led them into the bedroom. Mrs. Lawson was very ill. Dr. Rutherford’s movements were kindly, soothing as he gave her a hypodermic. He issued quiet instructions to LaRue, and she brought the things he mentioned, finding them with Frank Lawson’s assistance.
They worked speedily together, with few words between them. With a singleness of purpose that was destined to bring a new life into the world, Dr. Alan went about his task.
At last Mrs. Lawson’s tiny son was born. “I can never repay you.” Mr. Lawson had difficulty in keeping back the tears.
Alan and LaRue went into the kitchen. He stood there digging his strong fingers into the tight muscles at the back of his neck. “Thanks, LaRue,” he said simply.
Her face glowed, but she said, “I only did what any woman could have done, Alan.”
He shook his head, and his eyes were clouded. “Not any woman,” he denied.
She came to his side, laid her hand against his. “I’m sorry, Alan.”
His eyes met hers without flinching. “It had to be this way, LaRue. I guess I’ve known almost from the first that Gladys …” He did not finish, but LaRue saw hurt and disillusionment going out of his face.
LaRue went to the window and raised the blind. A soft pale dawn came into the room, fresh and clean as a new world. He came to stand beside her, not touching her, yet very close.
“Everything is waking,” he said softly.
For a moment she felt a swift happiness within. Then she told herself that she was reading more into his words than he had meant. But she could not still the sudden glory in her breast, as they went out into the morning together.
The cool desert breeze pressed LaRue’s rumpled yellow dress closely about her tired body as Alan helped her into his car. He smiled down at her, wordlessly.
The sun was just a slice of golden thread behind the pink mountains as the car thrust forward into the promise of a brand new day …