From the Relief Society Magazine, April 1940 –
By Beatrice Rordame Parsons
The white roses along the path to the great, white house on Madison Street were blooming again. Against a laughing sky they flaunted their pale stems of fragrant flowers. Hester Dean, standing in the doorway of her lovely home, had seen the roses bloom for twenty-five years, and always with a strange, poignant pain in her heart.
Hester was tiny, oddly old for her fifty years. Her hair, neat, carefully brushed, was snowy white. But it had been touched with copper that day, twenty-five years ago, when she had gathered a handful of white roses for her wedding bouquet.
Hester, the wealthiest girl in town, and David Landess, the poorest boy, were going to be married! David couldn’t buy her a fine bouquet from the florist’s, but she did not mind. She loved white roses. She laughed gaily as David pointed out the fairest blooms. David’s eyes were dark and deep and filled with pride and tenderness, and he laughed, too, and would have gathered her into his arms, then and there, and kissed her, if her cousin Elsie hadn’t come in at the gate. She looked from one flushed young face to the other and laughed sharply.
“So you’ve decided to get married,” she stated, rather than asked. There was a sly smile in her eyes as she added, “Has David got a job yet, Hester?”
It was David who answered, his dark head thrown back, his tone fearless. “I’m going on a mission, Elsie. When I come back, I’m going to work hard and give Hester the sort of home she’s been used to.” There was an almost fierce determination in his tone as he finished, “Someday, Elsie, you’ll see. I’ll be rich!”
“Rich!” Elsie’s voice was filled with withering scorn. She moved sharply so that the silken ruffles of her gown rustled luxuriously. Elsie was older than Hester, and her sarcasm dominated the garden, holding Hester tongue-tied before it. “You’ll throw away what little you have on a mission, then you’ll come back and be content to live as you’ve always lived.”
Her sharp, blue eyes swept down the block to where a small house nestled among unkempt trees. She came close to where Hester stood: “Look at David’s home! Will you be content to live there?” Her eyebrows shot up, and she added, “almost anyone would be ashamed to live as David lives. Tell me, Hester, will you be happy amid such squalor?”
A queer, frightened feeling came into Hester’s heart. Perhaps if David’s father and mother had lived, the house would not have been so shabby. But David was a man. He did not know how to fix it up.
She put back her head, and her eyes were shining as she faced Elsie. “I’ll fix David’s home up; I’ll be proud to. I’ll put clean, white curtains at the windows and plant daisies and marigolds along the walk. David will help me.” He would help her because he loved her. She gave him a tender glance, standing there beside her so tall, so proud, and cried: “When he comes back from England, I’ll be waiting – his wife. You’ll see, Elsie, we will be happy.”
Elsie’s ruffles rustled sharper than ever, and her eyes were bits of cold, blue glass. “You’ll never be happy,” she corrected, as she swept down the path and opened the gate. “You’ll be sorry you ever married him. Mark my words.”
When she was gone, a cold wind seemed to blow over the garden. Hester stood with her armload of white roses and stared after her. In spite of her desire not to let them, her eyes stopped at David’s home. Winter snows had streaked the brown paint with browner stains. The sun picked out every tin can shot by his careless hand from the back stoop toward the garbage pail and left where it had fallen.
Suddenly, not wanting to – not wanting to until it hurt – Hester let her eyes study David. His shirt was rumpled, his collar wilted, his shoes unpolished. She started. Never before had she seen David just that way. She didn’t want to see him so. But she did – clearly.
Thoughts which she tried vainly to turn away came into her mind. Was David really careless, shiftless? He was young. Perhaps that was what was the matter. He had never had anyone to tell him how to be neat. But she had been reared in cleanliness, orderliness. Wouldn’t that make a difference? There might be quarrels, sharp words. Love might die!
Tears were in her brown eyes, and the roses drooped in her hands. Her voice was hoarse, unrecognizable. She didn’t want to say the words that came to her lips, but she could not keep them back.
“Elsie’s right, David. It wouldn’t work out. I couldn’t stand it – you not having a job, the house being so poor and run down. I’m … I’m sorry …” Her voice broke, and she could not go on for the stricken look in David’s eyes.
Even now, after twenty-five years, she could see the swift draining of color from his cheeks. Words came from his pale, strained lips, but he faltered before he said them.
“All right, Hester,” he said at last, “if that’s the way you feel.” He choked, and to hide it, grinned tremulously. Then, setting his battered hat across his dark hair, he walked down the path. Though he tried to carry himself erect, his shoulders drooped hopelessly as he opened the gate.
Hester wanted to call him back. Through twenty-five years she recalled how fiercely she had wanted to call him back, how she had wanted to run after him, to tell him that nothing mattered except that she loved him.
But Elsie’s words held her back – held her back like a forbidding hand.
She had let the white roses trickle slowly from her fingers and had gone inside. Tears were dripping slowly, tortuously into her heart, but she kept her small, coppery head high, her lips tight as she faced her mother and father and told them that she and David would not be married. She never let them, nor the world, guess that when David left for his mission, her heart died.
Somehow she waited through the years that he was gone, somehow managed to smile. When she heard that he would soon be coming home, a new hope was born in her breast. Perhaps he would come back and ask her again. This time she would marry him gladly, willingly. She knew what it meant to be lonely, afraid, even though surrounded by family and friends.
But when David came back, he married Constance Manners and took his bride to his shabby, rundown house to live. Elsie called the next day, smiling smugly at Hester, and looking very handsome in her rich, fine clothes. She nodded as she peeped from behind the stiff, white curtains of Hester’s bedroom toward the small, brown house.
“I told you so, Hester,” she cried triumphantly. “David hasn’t even got a job, yet he up and marries a young girl like Connie without a thought for the future.” Hester tried to speak, to tell about the job some one had promised David, but Elsie laughed sharply and stopped her. “Oh, I know, but that doesn’t say that they are going to get along.”
“But they’ll be together,” cried Hester’s heart in a wild, tumultuous rush. But her pale lips only said, “Perhaps, Elsie.”
That was as much as Hester ever said to Elsie. She could not find it in her heart to blame Elsie. It was her own fault that she suffered as she did. The years had not dried the tears that tugged at her lashes every time she heard David’s name.
When she was alone in her narrow, white bed that night, she let bitter tears run freely. David, her David, married to silly, frivolous Connie Manners! How could she bear it? How would she ever be able to go on watching them together, watching David’s happiness? For he was happy with Connie, though he did not have a good job, nor very much money. David was content. He did not seem to care about material things – furniture, clothing. He went about whistling in worn-out overalls, his dark hair blowing in the breeze.
Hester saw him often at church. At times he wore an odd coat and trousers, but he still laughed his gay, boyish laugh and looked years younger than he really was. Hester saw, with a quick, painful intake of breath, that when he looked at Connie his eyes were dark and deep and tender.
She came to know, late that summer, that Connie would have a child – the baby that should have been hers! That was the hardest thing she had ever been called upon to bear. David’s child! When it came, Elsie, married now, and calmly, coldly proud of her wealthy husband, smiled at Hester and said, “I told you so.”
True to Elsie’s prophecy, the family did have a difficult time; a friendly, helping hand had to be extended to them. David accepted it with a full heart, and holding his child in his arms, his face glowed with pride.
Through the winter he cleared walks and shoveled snow while Connie hung small, white squares of flannel along the drooping clothesline. When the white roses bloomed again in the garden of the big, white house, the tiny boy played and crawled wobblingly about the rickety porch while David spread his long legs, threw back his dark head and laughed with pride and joy at his efforts.
When the roses bloomed five more times, the boy, small David, trudged off to school, a fine, chubby youngster in spite of plain food and clothing. He looked like big David – so like him that Hester, peeping from her window, wanted to cry.
She wished that her dear father and mother had lived to see him. They had never ceased to feel sad that David and Hester had not married, for they had known David and would have been content to see their daughter married to him. They seemed to know their only child was not truly happy, though she had more of material things than most young women and according to Elsie’s views should have been extremely content.
Hester, alone in the big, white house, felt very lonely. She wanted terribly to make friends with the small lad. She stood by the fence when school was out one day and gave him a cookie, fresh from her electric oven. He was shy at first, then friendly, flashing her his wide smile, laughing with his big, black eyes into her small, lined face.
One day to her joy she got him into her clean, white kitchen. He was filled with excitement at the huge, white refrigerator, the great, white stove. She let him wash his dirty little hands at her shining sink, and did not mind to see him splash the drain.
He wiped them on a pink towel, leaving queer, dark stains behind. But he did not see. His eyes were shining, and he spread his legs apart – so like his father – and asked in a voice filled with awe, if she was “… awful rich, like people said?”
She nodded, looking at the dark spatters against the drain. “I’ve lots of money, David,” she told him carefully, keeping her lips from crying the thought that was growing in her heart. “As people say, I’m rich – rich in gold. Father was a wealthy man. He left me enough for five people. Though I share as much as I can with those who need it, I still have more than I can use.”
His dark eyes turned toward the rich rugs, the fine furniture. “Gee!” he cried, “I’d like to be rich like you!” Then he lifted his childish head, put out his small chest, and bragged, “Some day I’m going to be rich!”
She smiled gently, and behind her smile she was planning. Some day he would have money. She’d see that he had enough to send him to college. He’d not miss schooling as his father had done. She wiped the dirty smudges from the sink, almost wishing that she might leave them there for company.
After that first day, she wasn’t lonesome for small David. He came often, tracking mud over her clean, waxed floors. As he grew bigger, he came in to shout how his team had won the ball game. She did not mind that he tracked crumbs over her living room floor as he followed her about telling her about that run Skinny Jones had made. “… two bases full and a home run!”
As long as she could share him with his father and his pale, sickly mother, Hester was happy. It was like having David back again – her David who was older now and slump-shouldered and careless of his gait, but still smiling, laughing, proud of his wife and son.
Hester still loved David – loved him deeply. Her one regret was that she had not snatched what happiness, what love she might have had with him. That – David’s love – she would have had through all her days. What else could have mattered – poverty, struggle? Even if she and David had sometimes quarreled, as she knew Connie and David sometimes did, could that have really made love die? Love did not die of such trivial matters. Love grew stronger and stronger with each unfriendly blow of Fate. If she had married David, her life would have been full. She would have lived. Lived! Known love! Borne David’s son – David’s tall, grown-up son!
He was almost twenty now and telling her his dream – the same dream his father had known. He was going on a mission. Then he was coming home and get a good job so that some day he could be as rich as she.
Hester wanted to put her hand across his mouth and stop his words – his father’s words coming back to her across the years. But he just sat there, eating a piece of the cake she had baked especially for him, twisting his rough shoes carelessly, thoughtlessly, into the rungs of her mahogany chair and smiled so confidently that she said nothing.
She still had her own dreams. But when she explained them very carefully to David’s father, he looked her straight and unflinchingly in the eye and said, “No, thank you, Hester. You are very kind, but David’s mother and I can not let you give David money. He does not need it. He’s ambitious. He’ll get along.” Very gently, he added, “His mission is assured. I can send him a little money each month. David is going to England …”
England! Again David’s eyes shone as they had shone twenty-five years before when he had left for England. And again Hester’s heart cried, “But England is so far away!” But she only smiled and said very gently, “I’m sure he’ll have a very successful mission, David.”
So it was that Hester stood in the doorway of her big, white house and watched young David striding away toward his destiny. His shoulders were straight, his eyes clear and bright and filled with a desire to carry the gospel to the farthest corner of the world – a world torn by grief and war and sadly in need of Christ’s teachings.
His hand went gaily up when he saw her, and he blew her a kiss. She wanted to run after him, to gather him close and kiss his young lips as his mother had just kissed them. But she only waved and smiled as he went out of sight.
Then her eyes, misted as they were with unshed tears, turned down the street toward the small, brown house nestled among the tall trees. Tin cans glistened about the garbage pail, and winter had left brown streaks against the brown paint. It was a poor house compared to the one where she stood.
But she knew suddenly, clearly, that it was not poor at all. There was love there, and laughter. There was sacrifice – a willingness to share with God the treasure He had given them. There were memories – memories of a small, cuddly baby; a sturdy lad; a growing man, a man glad and happy to do God’s work.
The fragrance of white roses swept around her like a soft, sweet cape. She reached out a small, fragile hand and gathered a perfect bud. Her small, white head was high as David and Connie passed going back to their drab, brown house. They spoke, gently, kindly, and though they smiled, Hester knew they were sorry for her.
She carried the rose inside and closed the door. There, standing suddenly very still and quiet in the midst of plenty and luxury, Hester Dean knew, with a poignant pain in her heart, how poor she really was.