Blueprint for Christmas
MARGARET NYREN HOFFMAN
EVER SINCE the amazing thing happened, Rufus had gone over it again and again in his mind. It began yesterday morning with a telephone call, He lifted the receiver and automatically poised his pencil over the pad, thinking it was another order for holly it was only November but already the orders were coming in but instead it was Kirby Dawes, whom he hadn’t seen since college days, booming in his ear.
“That you, Rufus? What you doing?”
“Watching my holly grow.”
“Well, can you stop long enough to come to the city and be lx*st man at my wedding?”
Five minutes later Rufus hung up the receiver in a daze. Kirby Dawes, just off the boat from China, was snatching a honeymoon between press assignments. Coralie, his fiancée, had come from another province to meet him. And because Kirby was sick of foreign smells, and Coralie. a nurse, was sick of hospital smells, they were being married in a florist shop. The shop, it seemed, belonged to Gail somebody-or-other. Coralie’s cousin, who was going to be maid of honor.
It was a crazy idea, thought Rufus, but changed his mind when he saw the place. The walls of the flower shop were mirrors, and their shining depths reflected great shaggy yellow chrysanthemums in a way that made it seem as if there were a thousand blooms. The only drawback was that they smelled like dandelions. But it didn’t matter to Kirby and Coralie because they were too preoccupied with each other to notice anything or anybody.
And after he had met Gail Arden, it didn’t matter to him either. In fact, had anyone remarked that the chrysanthemums smelled like roses he would have fervently agreed with them.
Later, over grilled crab and champagne in a bright noisy
place. Kirby said fondly. “Just look at the funny face I picked out to decorate my breakfast table.”
And Coralie said. "Rufus Day, why haven’t you ever married? Why don’t you get yourself a funnv face to look at?”
And he had said, as quick as that, “This wedding of yours has put ideas into my head.” And when he said it, he looked at Gail, hard.
Still later, when rice had been thrown and a southbound plane was lifting its silver wings into the sky, he turned to find Gail studying him with profound concentration.
“I've always prided myself on taking everything in my stride.” she said slowly, “but this wedding got under my skin. It's made my life seem all one-sided somehow.”
I íe had kissed her in the taxicab, going back to town, and the experience had left them both a little shaken. But when lie suggested a plan to finish the evening, she shook her head.
"Sorry, but l have corsages to make. Remember all those chrysanthemums you saw in the shop? Well, they’re going to a football game tomorrow. But I tell you what I will do. Rufus Day. Tomorrow afternoon late, or Sunday, 1 '11 drive out to your holly farm. I '11 come the first minute I’m free.”
AND NOW it was tomorrow afternoon. The football - game was half over when Rufus turned off the radio and wandered down to the inlet. Straight ahead, the sun was riding down the sky. In a little while it would disappear behind the far hills. Squinting against the sun. his brown eyes searched the inlet for a white speck that would be the ferry. There it was, headed for the village a couple of miles down the road.
He faced the other way. From where he stexxi. stepping stones led across the lawn to his log house, which was low
and rambling, its windows burnished into a coppery sheen by the setting sun. A long time ago his grandfather had cleared the surrounding land and planted hundreds of young holly trees. Now grandfather was gone and the trees, marching in red-berried glory up the shallow slope to the road, were fully grown. They belonged to him.
He gazed upon the scene with a vast deep pride. This was his kingdom. Graduating from college into a jobless world, these twenty acres had been a godsend, the thing that had saved him from futility and despair. Holly Acres had meant food and shelter, and work for his hands to do. It had given him peace and self-respect, leisure for books and friends. Having these things, he had envied no man. Indeed he had pitied the men out in the mad world whose ambition for accumulating dollars had cost them their capacity to savor life. He had thought that Holly Acres was all he would ever want or need, but yesterday, at Kirby’s wedding, he had learned differently.
A moving spot of color far up the lane suddenly caught his roving glance. That would be Penninah coming from her house across the road. Walking up to meet her, Rufus raised his arm.
“Hi, there. Penny.”
“Hi, yourself.” cried Penninah, grinning at him.
Even.' time he saw her he was struck anew by the impression that she looked more like a small wiry boy than a girl. It was the crazy habit she had of wearing pants, no doubt. If it wasn’t slacks and striped sweater, it was dungarees or jodhpurs or just plain overalls. She had freckles on her tiptilted nose. And her eyes were too big for her face. And what appeared to be a tattered orange silk cap on her head was actually her hair. It was her hair that made people look at her twice.
“I made a pie for your supper,” said Penninah when he reached her.
“Pumpkin, as I live and breathe.” Rufus bent his lean height to sniff at it hungrily.
“With pecans in it.” boasted Penninah.
“It sounds like a very" superlative pie.” said Rufus, pushing open the back door. “And it’s going to come in mighty handy. Threats and bribes couldn't induce my Filipino houseboy to give up his week-end in town. And I may have a guest for supper. I’m afraid you’ve spoiled me. Penny, always bringing over pies and tilings. I’ve sort of come to depend upon them.”
Penninah’s face glowed as she set the pie on the kitchen table.
Rufus’ kitchen was as neat and compact as a galley, and the large room beyond it was a man’s room. Books crowded the built-in shelves, great deep chairs stood on colorful hand-woven rugs. The knotted pine walls were bare and shining, the only pictures being the scenes framed by the large windows. Rufus poked at the fire, threw on another log. Penninah sat down on the lloor in front of the lire and drew her knees up to her chin.
“The pie was only half my errand,” she said. “I want to hear all about the wedding. Was it nice?”
“Very'nice.” Leaning back against the smooth stones of the great fireplace, Rufus told her all about the flower shop, the gay supper and the airplane.
“Was the bride pretty?”
“I guess so. She was small and blond.”
“What did she wear?”
“Heavens, child, how do I know?” Rufus cocked a quizzical eyebrow at her. “I never notice women—or what they wear.”
“What did the maid of honoi look like?” persisted Penninah, her bright head tipped back like a flower on its stem.
Rufus’ eyes took on a faraway look. “Gail was talloh, about to here—and slender. She had silver nails. I don’t care for that sort of thing, but on her they were—-well, different. She wore a funny little black hat with a veil. I kept wanting to tear away the veil so that I could really see her face. Her hair was black, like silk, and her eyes were the silvery grey of pussy willows.” Rufus stirred as the log shifted, sending up a shower of sparks. “Darn it, Penny, I’m no good at that sort of thing. Wait until you see her. She’s coming here—this afternoon, maybe.”
Penninah sat very still, staring at the fire. Her hands, clasped about her slim hunched knees, were tense. Suddenly she unclasped her hands and got to her feet.
She said, not looking at him, “I just remembered—I’ve got things cooking. Your Kirby and Coralie sound nice.
I hope they’ll be terribly happy.” A moment later the back door slammed.
Rufus wandered over to the windows. The sun was only a faint pencilling of gold above the purpling hills now. And the ferry was in the middle of the inlet, city bound. Gail probably wouldn’t take the ferry anyway, she’d drive around. It was only a matter of twenty-five miles or so.
But Gail didn’t come, and when Rufus went into the kitchen to make supper he found the pumpkin pie lying face down on the floor. The dogs! But the dogs had been outside all afternoon. Rufus stared at the ruined pie in honest bewilderment.
It rained during the night, but when Gail finally arrived, early Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining and the holly trees looked as if each separate leaf and red-hued berry had had a special scrub and polish.
The story of Rufus Day and Gail and Penninah and the Christmas which brought love to the two who deserved it
Waiting for her, Rufus had begun to have misgivings. How would she react to his log house, to the simplicity of life here at Holly Acres? She had seemed such a vital part of the modern urban scene. But he needn’t have worried, he told himself the minute she stepped out of her small coupé. Wearing a vagabond hat, a bright scarf tucked smartly into the V of her wool suit, she seemed younger and much less sophisticated than the Gail he had met on Friday. And she could hardly take her eyes off his house long enough to look at anything else.
“Why, Rufus Day, it’s completely charming. Who on earth designed it?”
“I did,” admitted Rufus. “You see, I studied architecture and was all set to do big things when the depression upset everything. There were no jobs and people had a difficult time hanging onto their old houses, let alone building new ones. But 1 was luckier than most. 1 had Holly Acres. I came out here, and when grandfather’s old house burned down I built this one. Since then 1 ’ve designed a house or two for friends, but I never let it interfere with my real job of growing holly.”
Gail was incredulous. “But maybe you ought to let it interfere. After all. anybody can be a holly farmer but you have a real flair for design. And there’s money in it. A clever architect can practically write his own ticket.” “Maybe. But money isn’t everything. And a city office would stifle me after five, six years of this.” His wide gesture included hills and sky and sea.
Gail insisted on seeing everything. She asked a million questions. She was even curious about the fire smoldering in a clearing near the fence, and ix)ked at a charred holly leaf with her f(x>t.
“I did a bit of pruning this morning,” explained Rufus.
“Does much of your holly go to waste?”
“Not a great deal. Of course, only the best sprays are cut for shipment, and made into wreaths—the finest quality being our lowest standard, so to speak. The seconds are dumped into a hamper and put by the gate at Christmas time so that passers-by can help themselves. Some people may call that waste. The inferior cuttings are destroyed.”
“How interesting.” Gail’s face was thoughtful. “There’s really more to this holly business than you’d think.” When the tour of inspection was concluded, Rufus took her across the road to call on Penninah and her father.
“What an odd name! And who is Penninah?” Gail wanted to know", as they walked along the path to a small house at the far end of a gnailed old apple orchard.
“Just the kid sister I never had. She keeps house for her father. Pender Little. He writes mystery yarns. A year ago he leased this place and went into seclusion to write a serious novel.
I think it’s going places—hi, Penny, so there you are!”
T)ENNINAH, wearing riding breeches, was sitting atop a fence, eating an apple. She ltx»ked through Gail as if she weren’t there at all. And her response to the introduction was so cool and offhand that Rufus hastened to make conversation to cover up her rudeness.
“You’ve been riding, 1 take it.” he said.
“Nope!” said Penninah flatly and resumed eating her apple.
Rufus was overcome by a sudden overwhelming desire to shake her until her teeth rattled. It was the most violent emotion he had ever experienced where Penninah was concerned. and when he had time to think about it later he was astounded. Now two things struck him simultaneously. Penninah’s eyes, faintly rimmed with red as if she had been crying. And the faint, unmistakable tap-tap of typewriter keys.
Suddenly he thought he knew what the trouble was. Penninah was feeling hurt and lonely and left out. Every Sunday for months the two of them, accompanied by her big genial father, had gone riding, boating or fishing. Today, he, Rufus hadn’t come at all. And her father, nearing the completion of his novel, had evidently decided to get in an extra day’s work.
"I thought we’d walk back through the woods.” said Rufus gently. “Why don’t you come along, Penninah?” “No, thanks,” she said shortly. “Dad is right in the middle of an Indian massacre, so I had better stick around and see that he doesn’t get himself scalped in the excitement.”
Rufus tried to shame her by staring her down. There wasn’t an Indian in the book and she knew it. But Penninah stared right back at him without batting an eyelash.
“What amazing hair,” observed Gail when they were out of earshot. “Her head looks as if it were covered with orange marigolds. How old is she anyway?”
“Maybe nineteen, maybe twelve, I wouldn’t know. Heaven knows she acts twelve. I f you ask me, she’s a sulky, nasty-tempered brat.”
Gail smiled. “Only jealous, I think. I’m really terribly flattered.”
Rufus looked at her, startled. Then he threw back his head and laughed so hard that a tiny sunburst of wrinkles apjx'ared about his eyes. “Jealous? Nonsense! Why, Penny's only a kid !”
When they got back to his house Gail had her hands full of cedar, salai and huckleberry greens. And instead of relaxing in a chair before the fire to enjoy the hot coffee he had made, she kept arranging and rearranging the sprays, cocking her head on one side to get the effect.
Watching her, Rufus grew slightly impatient. This was the hour he had lx)ked forward to all day. That intimate hour when the dark sifts slowly down outside the windows, and the fire grows brighter upon the hearth, when a man and a woman can forget for a little the exigencies of life and be absorbed only with each other. It was the one time each day when a vague, nameless nostalgia assailed him. Of course, Penninah had often wandered in to sit on the fixr by his fire, but this was different. Having Gail here was completion.
The leaping firelight gave Gail's hair the liquid sheen of black water, accented the lovely clear line from chin to ear. dramatized the suppleness of her white hands. Staring at Gail’s hands, Rufus visualized them in the act of pouring his after-dinner coffee; of brushing lier hair, the wide sleeves of her negligee slipping back to reveal softly rounded arms.
Rufus set down his cup so hard that Gail lifted startled eyes to his. Leaning toward her he said, half-angrily:
“I'm in a mellow mood, woman. 1 want to ask you a thousand questions about yourself. 1 want to make love to you. Will you please tell me what t hose greens have that I haven’t got?”
“Christmas appeal.” Gail laughed brightly. “In other words, they're potential Christmas novelties, and if you only knew how I’ve lain awake nights trying to think up something clever to stimulate holiday trade you’d be as excited as I am. Of course, the greens will have to be treated in some way so that they 'll keep. Silvered, maybe, or lacquered. I'd have to experiment a bit.”
Rufus made a wry face. “Sounds horrible. Whoever would buy such still-life atrocities?”
“Lots of people. They’ll make sw"eet hostess gifts, and w'hen I get through with them they'll have glamour, plus: Rufus” Gail leaned toward him, her face earnest “I haven't any space at the shop for a job like this. But that old shed of yours would be just the thing. How about it? I’ll make it decidedly worth your while to help me. And I’d like to buy all your scrap holly. Made up into wreaths and silvered or gilded, they’d be just the thing for nxxJernistic interiors.”
Rufus got to his feet and stood, with nis back against the fireplace, looking down at her. A little muscle raced in his cheek.
“I’ll help you with the table whatnots.” he said slowly, “but the silvered wreaths are out. I’d rather leave the holly on the trees than be guilty of such—such tawdriness.”
Gail hx)ked at him in astonishment. ‘Why, 1 believe you honestly mean that.” she said.
Rufus did mean it. and was sorry later that he had allowed himself to become involved in the business of making novelties. Putting the fresh woodsy greens through a chemical preparation to remove their color, and then spraying them with green or red or silver, seemed a horrible travesty and he was wholeheartedly ashamed of his part in it. But there was nothing to do but see Cail through the enterprise, and then steer clear of such entanglements in the future.
T_TE WAS spraying cedar branches in the •L -T shed one morning when Penninah wandered in.
“Brought you a bottle of grape shrub,” she sang out. "Just finished a batch.”
“Yeah?” Rufus eyed her with mock ferocity. "If you ask me. the batch has just about finished you. There’s a splotch o! it on your nose. A couple of dabs on y tur shirt. And why, you dirty brat, will you look at your slacks.”
Penninah grinned. “If you must know, 1 spilled some of the stuff on the floor. Muffin got her paws into it and then she began pawing me.”
Rufus sighed helplessly, “Let me know when you grow up, will you. kid? Or, better still, stick around someone like Gail for a while. She can give you some pointers on
“On charm. 1 suppose.” Penninah thumped the purple-tinted bottle down on the table.
Glancing along the table, her eyes grew wide and round. For a long moment she stared at the row of candle holders fashioned of huckleberry greens, pine cones, acorns and feathery grasses cunningly arranged around a wooden base set on salai leaves, a tall red candle stuck in the middle of each. Slowly she lifted reproachful eyes.
“But I thought you hated silvered greens and pine cones.” she stormed. “A dozen times you’ve told me so.”
“Don't he dumb.” cut in Rufus coldly. “IVm’t you know that silvered whatnots s|X'll glamour to some people? That they mean money in the bank?”
“But you’ve always said they were artificial cheap. And that money wasn’t that important.”
"Well, what if I did?” shouted Rufus, a dull red creeping up his weather-browned face. “A man can change his mind, can’t he? And Cail and 1 can experiment a bit if we want to, can’t we?”
Penninah drew in a deep breath and released it slowly.
“You —and Cail?”
“Yes. We're partners. I spray the greens and make the wooden bases for the candles. Cail does the rest. She made all these gimcracks last Sunday. I expect we’ll be busy making gimcracks every Sunday until Christmas.”
Penninah’s face took on a stricken look.
“Oh. not every Sunday, Rufus. Dad's novel is almost finished. He’s planning to go Fast right after Christmas to see his publishers.”
“That ought to be a thrill. This last year must have been pretty dull for a kid like you.”
“Dull!" echoed Penninah in soft astonishment. “It’s been —heaven.”
“Then you’d better persuade your father to do another serious novel.” said Rufus, intent upon the spraying, “so that you can live on here indefinitely. But a holiday will do you both good. And I’ll be seeing you. I'll be over so many times you’ll have to rub the welcome off the doormat.”
DUT HF didn’t go over. Overnight, life switched from Slow to Fast and Faster. Last year he and half a dozen helpers had managed between them to cut and ship the tons of holly. There had been leisure for long evenings by the fire with his books, and for Sunday tramps in the woods.
This year a dozen helpers chattered in the long shed, their nimble brown fingers busily fashioning wreaths and novelty decorations. Daily, orders for holly came in ¡-and the novelties having caught the fancy of jaded shoppers, Cail enthusiastically telephoned again and again for more. Rufus himself worked day and night. He ate his meals on the run. slept where sleep overtook him. On Sundays Cail usually came out and spent the day making centrepiece baskets. Once or twice he took her
to dinner in town, and later slept through a movie like an exhausted farm hand, which made Cail say things to him in a voice that curled slightly around the edges.
Last year Penninah had helped him stick labels on the huge pasteboard boxes containing the wreaths. They had visioned them being unpacked in snowy prairie cities and snug little eastern towns, an enormous country-wide chain of wreaths. It had made them feel a little like Saint Nicholas himself. This year Penninah didn’t come around, and Rufus wondered why he had ever thought that pasting labels was fun.
Last year, this year. Rufus scowled. Always he seemed to be comparing the two. W ell. last year was gone and this year was almost done. But next year was a brandnew year, and then things were going to be different. There would be no novelty decorations, for one thing. He would concentrate simply on growing the best holly in the country, a task worthy of any man's brain and brawn. And life, uncluttered by silvered whatnots, would be again a splendid thing of soul-satisfying peace, orderliness and simplicity.
As for Cailbeginning Christmas Day he hoped she would be his again in the special way she had been his at Kirby’s wedding. It was something to look forward to. something to dream about.
TT WAS past noon, the day of Christmas
Eve, when Rufus drove his car slowly up the lane. A green fir tree was lashed to the running board, the front seat was piled high with holly wreaths. He was going into town to do his Christmas shopping and would stop in to see Cail for a moment. The tree and wreaths were for her, a bit of living green woods for her city apartment.
The maddening hustle of the past few weeks was definitely over. Every order had been filled, the last novelty disposed of. the helpers paid off. Under the greyskies the shorn holly trees looked bleak and forlorn.
Slowing the car at the main road. Rufus stared in astonishment at the holly-filled hamper standing outside his gate. It had just occurred to him that he had forgotten all about the hamper this year. But there it stood in its usual place, a sign tacked to the post above it. Help Yourself To A Bit Of Merry Christmas, read the sign.
This was Penninah's doings. She had helped him fill the hamper last year. She had remembered his telling her that this gift of holly was important because there were poor people and lonely j>eople in the world.
With a strong feeling of compunction, Rufus stopped the car beside the path that led to Penninah’s house. He hadn’t seen her really to talk to for weeks—only the bright torch of her head bobbing about in the distance—nor had he seen her father. Now he realized that he had missed them. Funny, how the exigencies of life could take such a stranglehold upon one’s time and attention.
Rufus knocked. When there was no response he ojxmed Penninah’s dtxir with easy familiarity and walked in, sniffing the air with a sharp nostalgia. Penny’s house smelled the way his grandmother’s house had always smelled. Warm and spicy, with a hint of good things baking. Firelight danced on polished wood and made a ruby pool of brightness upon the floor. But the deep chintz-covered chairs were empty, the typewriter covered. The long room with its low-beamed ceiling was completely deserted.
Suddenly Rufus felt oddly bereft and lonely.
“Hi, there,” he shouted, “where’s everybody?”
“Hi, yourself,” called Penninah, opening a door at the far end of the room. “Dad’s in town. I’m getting cleaned up. Got all over flour baking cookies.”
“I’m catching the next ferry, Penny. Just stopped in to say thanks for filling the hamper.”
“Oh, that’s all right. I knew you were too busy to think of everything.” There was a moment’s silence, then Penninah asked in a curiously restrained voice, “Spending Christmas in town?”
“Yes, with Gail.”
“Then I'd better give you your present now. I knitted something for you and for dad too. He’ll find his in his Christmas stocking.”
Rufus turned away from the windows as Penninah entered the room. She was carrying a tiny green tree, its base anchored to a gaily wrapped gift box, but instead of tinsel and shining baubles its branch.es were hung with cookies and homemade candies wrapped in Cellophane that gleamed red and blue and gold.
Rufus stared as Penninah set the tree on a table. Suddenly she turned to him, laughter trembling in her throat.
“You never concentrated on me like that before, Rufus. It must be my new dress. Dad said he didn’t mind my wearing slacks on the train, but that perhaps more conventional-minded persons would. Like it?”
The dress was of thin green wool, mellowing the orange of her hair into warm gold. It clung to her small figure, softly, revealingly. Rufus blinked. Maybe it was just a trick of the firelight that made her
seem, so suddenly and disturbingly, a woman.
“Penninah. how old are you anyway?” he asked abruptly.
Her low answer was lost as a log settled with a noisy crackle. Rufus put rough hands upon her shoulders and twisted her around, but before he could take a really good look at her, in the upblaze of flame, Penninah slid her arms around his neck.
“The ferry whistle just blew, Rufus. So this is—good-by. Dad and I are leaving for the East the day after tomorrow.”
He had a confused impression of soft warm lips pressing his lips, of something glistening on averted long lashes. Then she was putting the tree into his arms, opening the door.
“You’ll have to dash for it. Rufus.” She was rubbing her eyes furiously with the back of her hand, a small-girl gesture, oddly forlorn. “Merry Christmas to you — gnd Gail.”
Dazed, Rufus plunged along the path. He had left Penninah standing in the warm firelit room, but somehow she was here beside him, getting into the car, driving madly down the road, pacing the upper deck of the ferry as it plowed through wrinkled grey silk water on its way to the city.
RUFUS drove directly to Gail’s small - uptown flower shop. But Gail was nowhere to be seen in its jewel-box interior.
“Maybe she’s in her apartment,” one of the busy clerks finally informed him.
Rufus walked around the building and through an entrance that led into a small grassy court where a leafless willow tree shivered by an empty pool. The quaint little shops, facing the street, ran back to the court, and above them were apartments. He climbed a flight of winding stairs, knocked upon a blue door. After an interval it was opened by Gail.
“Rufus, how nice!” she cried. “I didn't expect to see you until tomorrow morning. But, what on earth . . .” Her eyes fastened upon his burden of greens.
“I came to town to do some belated shopping,” explained Rufus, “and to unload a bit of Christmas atmosphere upon you. Shall I put them here in the hall or in the living room?”
Gail, biting her lip, did not answer at once. Rufus strode confidently toward the living room, a formal all-white room, oddly suggestive of Gail herself. He stopped on the threshold, transfixed.
Gilded holly wreaths hung in all the windows. The mantelshelf, above the cold empty hearth, held a studied arrangement of silver baubles. Against a wide floorlength mirror stcxxl a silver tree dripping golden balls. A box and tissue papers littered the davenport. Evidently Gail had just been unpacking the dress carelessly draped over a chair. A white lace dress with crystal stars buttoning the blouse to the chin.
“Darling, I'm terribly sorry, but you can see that red and green will simply spoil the whole effect,” said Gail.
“Yes, I see,” said Rufus quietly. “I'll just dump them in the hall then. You can dispose of them as you like.”
“I wanted you to see for yourself how really smart gilded holly wreaths can be.” continued Gail, when he re-entered the living room. “So that you’d think about doing them next year along with the novelties. There’s a great demand for them.” Gilded holly wreaths—novelties next year . . . The words went round and round in Rufus’ head until he felt slightly groggy.
“In business one has to be foresigh ted," said Gail. “Oh. do take off your topcoat and sit down fora minute, Rufus.” Swiftly she cleared the davenport. “I’ve been so busy the last few weeks that I haven't had time really to talk to you, but I've done a lot of thinking. Rufus, you’re in a rut.” Rufus looked surprised. He sat down, still wearing his overcoat.
“Yes, you are. Rufus. As I told you before, just anybody can be a holly farmer. Why, with a little training, your Filipino houseboy can look after your holly trees until the rush season begins. Then you can hire a competent manager. And all the business incident to selling your holly and the novelties can easily be taken care : of through my shop here—and the new shop that I’m opening downtown in the hotel.”
“And just where does that leave me?” asked Rufus quietly.
“Here in town. Busily re-establishing yourself as an architect. That’s your real job, Rufus. You selected it yourself. You trained yourself for it. Why, it would be a crime to waste all that expensive buildup, now that the depression is over. I know a lot of people, Rufus, wealthy i people. They own city houses and country ! houses. In time, I think they can be perj suaded to remodel them—or build new ones. So I’ve invited the most promising to come in for eggnogs tomorrow afternoon. I want them to meet you—-to know what you can do.”
“Just an aggressive career woman, aren’t you. Gail?” Rufus’ voice was light, casual, but his eyes were bleak. “And speaking of architects, you’re rather clever at drawing blueprints yourself, do you j know that?”
“Blueprints?” Gail looked at him blankly.
“Yes. You’ve just drawn a very neat conventional blueprint for my life. And this room with its glittering trappings, the I eggnog party tomorrow, is your blueprint
for Christmas. But I saw another blueprint for Christmas today. It was a girl.” Rufus sat forward a little, the deep lines that had etched themselves about his mouth gradually smoothing out. “She was wearing a green dress and her hair was like a flame. It made her look like a candle. Her eyes were blue stars. And her mouth a soft red-ribbon bow. And she stood in a shabby old room that smelled of cookies.” Gail’s white hands tensed upon the chair arms. “Just what are you trying to tell me?” she asked.
Rufus got to his feet, stood looking down at her. “I’m trying to tell you that you can find a hundred men better qualified than I to conform to your blueprint. The only blueprint for me is Holly Acres—and Penninah.”
Outside again, Rufus made for the nearest telephone booth. Fie put in a long distance call for his own number, and when his houseboy answered, directed him to call Miss Little at once. And now for the first time he began to feel shy and tonguetied in the anticipated presence of Miss Little. But it was all right. The voice that finally answered was the breathless small voice of his playmate, his pal, his companion.
“You’ve never telephoned me before. Is anything wrong, Rufus?”
“I love you. I think it’s been going on for a long time, but I just found it out. Penny, how old did you say you were?” “Old enough,” said Penninah softly.