Michael Malone’s Girl
In which love comes to the cobbler’s cottage and a Malone risks happiness in a sacrificial gamble
MARTHA BANNING THOMAS
The Story: Toya Malone is the motherless daughter of Michael Malone, the village cobbler. Judge Salters, the local mill owner, is Michael's friend, the two having been chums in boyhood. Aggie Salters, widow of the judge’s dead brother, has a handsome son, Jarvis, who, on a visit home from college, is attracted by Toya. Toya, confused by suddenly meeting him and his mother, drops some parcels which Jarvis picks up; and when, in the confusion, Mrs. Salters drops a folded piece of paper Toya retrieves it after the woman has driven away and gives it to her father without reading it. Michael reads it with a gasp and hides it.
Toya is taking a business course in a nearby city, and Jarvis seizes an opportunity to drive her there. Aggie Salters, who appears to have some hold on the judge, demands a job for Jarvis in the mill office, and the judge reluctantly agrees to let him have it.
Passing her examination, Toya is offered a city job but declines it. Jarvis makes love to her in an abandoned mill. Toya responds at first but breaks away because she thinks Jarvis is playing with her. Afterward at home she is angry with herself.
“I’ll give that bozo a crack he’ll never forget,” she resolves. “ He’s nothing to me—nothing but a collector of kisses.”
FROM this moment Toya became a different person. She was full of a gorgeous nonsense. She bought some new clothes which accentuated her blithe piquancy to a disturbing degree.
Michael pondered to himself over this change but, said nothing. His deep eyes glowed with happiness.
Once more the pleasant life of home and shop assume their rightful importance.
But there had been one bad quarter of an hour. It happened when he had accidentally found the letter which informed Toya of her new position in the city. On the day of rushing home from the mill it had fallen out of her pocket to the porch floor. Michael found it as he came up the steps to supper. Noticing the business letterhead and thinking it might be for him, his eye quickly scanned the typewritten paragraphs.
“Can offer you the excellent salary of twenty-three dollars a week . must know at once your decision your abilities highly commended by your teachers in the business school . . .”
Michael looked stricken. “Has the girl—me own daughter been deceiving me, now?” he said aloud.
He stepped into the kitchen. Toÿ^ was singing and dancing a few exuberant steps as she stood by the sink. “See here, girl. What doas'this mean?”
She turned, smiled at him, saw the paper in his hand and grew instantly white.
“Where did you find it?” she asked in a tight little voice.
“I never thought you’d be playing a mean trick on your father like this. I didn’t think it was in you.”
Toya set down the dish she was holding and came to him in a little rush of penitence.
“I was planning to show it to you tonight after supper. It only came this morning after you left. I had some thinking to do by myself.”
“So you’ve been trying to get away from home, trying slylike and all by yourself.”
Toya took the letter from his hand.
“See,” she coaxed, “I’ll tear the darn thing up right now before your eyes. I’ll burn it. I don’t even remember the address. I’m not going, father. I decided against it, just half an hour ago.”
But this hardly pacified the troubled heart of the big man.
“I’d hate to be seeing the back of you going down the me, not to come home again. But I’d hate worse the thought that you wanted to go—and had to be planning it like an escape from prison.”
“Don’t, father, don’t! It isn’t fair! You knew I was taking the business course. You knew I wanted to do something with it. There was nothing underhanded about that. You’ll have to believe me. I knew nothing of all this until this morning.”
“And you’ve decided not to go, eh?” He looked at her unsmilingly. “Why have you decided that?”
“Because I’d rather stay here.”
“With nothing to do but cook and keep house for an old man?”
“Now, father, lay off the heavy parental stuff and don’t glower at me another minute. We’ll talk it over later.”
But the man was sombre and silent during the entire meal.
When it was over Toya drew a low stool near him on the little porch. She leaned her head against his knee.
“Men are so darned dumb,” she sighed. “Dumb and childish. They belong in the nursery school; advanced to kindergarten in exceptional cases.”
Michael could not know that this harangue was three-fourths directed at a young man in a blue tie, and one-fourth at himself. He stroked her hair.
“I believe you, lass. I can’t follow all the quick turns of your thinking, but I believe you’re fair and square, and couldn’t do a sneaky thing to anyone.”
“So,” laughed Toya, “the tempest having abated, we’ll now live peacefully ever after.” She reached up one arm and drew her father’s head down and kissed
him affectionately. “You’re—well, you’re a swell guy,” she murmured.
By the faint light of stars the man saw that her eyes were shining under tears.
ANOTHER week passed. School was almost over. 1 Toya skimmed around on the wings of a swallow. Mr. Purvin marked her happiness, and stroked a fat hand over an equally fat chin. The judge twinkled at her and became almost pompous with ceremony whenever she appeared. She shed the last vestige of awe in his presence and treated him with as much careless gusto as she did her father. Sometimes the meetings in the shop grew to a great hilarity. Michael could be very amusing when he set his tongue to the task. The judge roared with laughter.
Toya established the fine custom of serving tea there on those afternoons when she came home in time. And the judge no more thought of missing this social engagement than forgetting to go to his office.
One afternoon, when they were enjoying a particularly festive time, Mrs. Salters passed by. She glanced in, and her surprise was so genuine at seeing the judge that she paused. Toya could not suppress a little snort of triumph. The woman’s face grew very red. Then the color swittly drained away, leaving it a frightening white. She moved her lips lout no sound came. Toya sprang up, leaving a tinkle of silver spoons behind her, and ran out to the sidewalk. She caught Mr. Salters just as she crumpled up and slid to the ground.
“Quick!” she called back into the shop. “Somebody help me get her in.”
Michael cleared the cobbler’s bench with one sweep of his hand. He grabbed a pillow out of the rocker and laid it at the head. The judge drew a dipper of cold water from the faucet, and, setting it by the bench, scuttled out to help Toya.
The woman lay supported by Toya and an iron
railing. Her smart hat had fallen off. Her clothes had strangely lost their linas of elegance. One slim foot seemed to lie in a curiously twisted manner.
“I’m afraid she broke her ankle,” gasped the girl. “Let’s get her in.”
They carried her as gently as they could and laid her on the bench.
“And how she’ll hate it when she comes to and finds where she is,” thought Toya to herself.
They chafed her wrists. They pressed cold cloths on her head. “Call the doctor,” Toya ordered the judge. “I don’t like her color.”
The judge thundered a number through the telephone and returned to the side of the bench. The two men stood looking down at the quiet figure. The expression on the face of the judge was inscrutable, a frown mixed with astonishment and unbelief. But the look on Michael’s face, had the girl observed it, would have tugged at her sympathy. Sorrow was there, and compassion, and a brief ache of adoration which passed like a thin light over his mouth.
The judge gave him a scarcely perceptible signal. “Spying on us?” he said behind his hand.
Michael glanced up with a dazed, far-away vacancy. Then he nodded his head. “Maybe. I hadn’t thought about it.”
After a while the woman’s eyes fluttered open. They darted here and there about the shop in nervous bewilderment. Then remembrance came.
“Forgive me,” she whispered, “for interrupting your tea party.” Even in her exhaustion she was successful in conveying a cool amusement. Fier eyes lingered on the judge, on Michael, and then rested on Toya. “Thank you for your kindness. You were very prompt. \ ou look,” she smiled strangely, “just like your mother, Mary Kincaid.”
“Oh!” exclaimed the girl.
Almost at once the doctor arrived and removed the blue-lipped woman from the shop, taking her home in his car.
/'"CURIOUSLY, none of the three left behind sf.oke ^ of the incident. Toya would have made some light comment to ease the tension of a queer situation but she was immediately aware of the reserve of the two men. The sociable rattle of teacups suddenly stopped that afternoon. The judge said he must hurry along. Michael reached for some work which must be finished “before sundown.”
“Whenever she appears she strangles the naturalness out of any situation,” thought Toya as she washed the few dishes under the faucet. “Guess the old girl has a rickety heart, all right. That’s not put on to affect the public.”
In another week Toya went no more to Bayou. She finished her course. She received a diploma—with words of approbation—and she buried the crackling roll in her lower bureau drawer. She did not even show it to her father, feeling that the sight of the silly thing might make him solemn again.
Several items appearing a few days apart in the local paper stated that Mrs. Geo. Salters had unfortunately broken her ankle and would have to be in bed a number of weeks, wearing a heavy plaster cast. Jarvis was sent for. Toya saw him several times from a distance. He looked worried, even a block away.
Toya thought of him constantly. She said that she was thinking of new ways to give him a fine jolt. This was her excuse when she realized that she was remembering his eyes, the feel of his shoulder under her head, the strength in his fingers when they had held hers.
Toya had not been without suitors of some sort or another ever since she was sixteen. But none of them had scratched the smooth surface of her laughter, her humor, which made them feel sometimes very uncomfort-
able indeed. She removed the spikes of their importance with deft sentences, and they were never quite able to decide what she had meant. Jarvis was another matter.
One afternoon, some time after the affair of Mrs. Salters’ fainting, the judge invited Toya to take a short walk with him.
“I have a little matter to discuss with you,” he explained. "It won’t take but a few minutes.”
So they walked along the street together in full view of the town. Toya’s skirts moved briskly beside the stilted marching of the judge.
Mr. Purvin observed them, and his eyebrows shot up to such a height that his cap actually tumbled off the back of his head, unable to cope with such an emergency. Hat, out on household errands, saw them. She waggled a free hand and grinned, thinking her own thoughts. They would have amazed the judge by their close approximation to his, had he been able to lift her scalp and peer into her brain. Hat knew pretty well what went on in the judge’s head. She had observed his reactions for a matter of a generation or so; even before that, when her assistance had been well-nigh invaluable.
Mrs. Salters saw the judge and his companion from an upstairs window', beside which she reclined gracefully on a chaise longue, looking, in spite of a mammoth white cast on her leg, quite as faultlessly groomed as usual. She twitched the curtain ever so slyly; and her lips pressed together in quick surprise.
“This is the idea,” began the judge as they rounded the corner which led to his house. “I do need a secretary. Haven’t admitted it before. Never would admit it to Aggie—Mrs. Salters. But Pm not so young as I was. I have a lot of correspondence. So my speaking about it wasn’t all fooling, though I saw you thought nothing of it.”
Toya gave an inw'ard hysterical whoop.
“You’re quick and smart. For reasons which I won’t go into, I must take that fool Jarvis for a little while. He won’t amount to a bunch of parsley on a platter. As soon as he peters out, I’ll send for you to fill in temporarily. You see? Then naturally you’ll work into the thing and stay. Providing, of course, that you want to do it. I can offer you, well”—the judge made frowning calculation—“say, nineteen dollars a week as a start-off.”
Toya could scarcely believe her ears. She’d show ’em; the snooty Salters! Here was the prize fallen into her hands like an apple shaken from a tree. No effort of her own; just w'aiting. She raised an anthem of praise for having rejected that other offer of a position.
“I liked the quick way you saw that Aggie needed help,” continued her companion. “You don’t move exactly as if flower pots were hung to each foot. You’re capable and intelligent, and not”he gave her a sharp sideways glance—“afraid, I take it, of anything. Courage, my dear young lady, is invaluable. It takes you far. I happen to know. I was afraid once at the wrong time and I lost”—he whisked off the head of a dandelion with his cane—“a very great happiness. Well, well!” He cleared his throat. “That’s neither here nor there. Think over the proposition and let me know. I’ll kind of dust out the office a little before you come.”
She gave him a quick smile. “Have you a good typewriter?” she asked.
“Well,” he hesitated, “not this year’s model. Been bumping around the office quite a spell now.”
“I can’t do snappy work without a good machine. But I’ll let you know in two days, judge. It’s awfully good of you to ask me. I hardly know how to thank you.”
“Don’t thank me, but come! And crowd out that useless nephew of mine. Golly!” He shook his head. “How I’d like to see Aggie’s face when she knows you have taken her son’s place in my mill.” He laughed, a harsh guffaw like the splitting of wood.
Toya looked a shade thoughtful. “Do you really want me because you think I can fill the job or as backhand service to Mrs. Salters?”
The judge frowned. “If I don’t watch out you’ll be too smart even to have in the office, girl. I want you because I need an assistant. Jarvis could never assist, being just excess baggage.”
“And I suppose in time I’ll work up to a better salary?” she asked earnestly.
“Eh?” the man barked. “Better salary! In my day I thought seven dollars a wreek was enough to start a bank account on.”
Toya glanced down at her sandals. “I have been offered twenty-three,” she remarked gently.
"Look here, Toya Malone, don’t you stand there, pretty as a picture, and try extortion on an old fox like me. Run along home and cook your father’s potatoes.”
If ever a young woman was caught up to invisible peaks of joy, that young woman was Toya. If she had been pretty before, she now glimmered as if dipped in the dust of a million stars. She made her father groan pleasantly over the delight of her cooking.
“I just live from one meal to another. I can’t do me
cobblin’ for wonderin’ what we’ll be havin’ for supper. Whatever is the matter, darlin’, to make you look as if ye’d been born a princess, of rich and noble parents?”
“The noble parents are all right,” she would retort, “and rich we may be yet.” But she would tell nothing of her plans until she had decided. Michael did not press her. He had learned his lesson from the other experience of finding the letter.
Work to do at last, she exulted. Work about which she had bragged to Mr. Purvin, simply for the fun of making him gasp. Work which would make Jarvis squirm and his mother writhe. She would tell the judge as soon as she saw him that she would accept the position.
But the dance in the town hall changed everything. The prim pattern of her days whirled off into a kaleidoscopic vortex. She did not report any such decision. In fact she did just the opposite. And life for Toya was something else again.
A towm youth had prevailed upon her to go to the dance with him. She accepted merely because here was an excuse to set her feet to the tune of her own happiness. She wore a yellow dress, much beruffled, which became her flashing radiance to an extraordinary degree. Once, as she swung across the end of the room, she saw a man standing in the open doors of the hall. This man looked at her attentively. As she later came toward him, on her partner’s arm, he spoke to her. “Toya, I want to see you. Please come.”
Jarvis Salters, for once in his life, spoke sincerely. The girl knew this. With scarcely an excuse she left her astounded partner, whirled up her light wrap, and went out to the porch.
“I have my car,” said Jarvis.
She ran down the steps and, for the second time in a few weeks, she sank back in the comfort of an expensive roadster. She did not even ask herself why she did it. Jarvis needed her for something. That seemed to put an end to argument.
With no more words, they ran swiftly through the town and out to the winding road through the woods. Jarvis said nothing. Toya let the night wind sweep across her hair. She felt happy and sure about something.
“Perhaps you don’t know it, perhaps it won’t interest you,” finally spoke the figure at the wheel, “but I love you, Toya. Frightfully!”
His words came to her on the soft rush of fragrant air. She said nothing. And the car sped on with noiseless rhythm of flight. A small bell seemed to set up a mad sweet ringing in a tower far away. The silver chiming of that fairy angelus called Toya to secret prayer. “Thank you, God,” she said, “for letting Jarvis love me!”
Five, ten, fifteen miles in the rushing night air. Toya wished they could go on forever like this, never shattering the perfection of the moment. Everything trembling to be said. Their new world whirling in nebulous drifts of creation. She was as ready for it as if her whole life had been spent in preparation. It did not occur to her that her behavior was in the least preposterous. In fact she was not thinking, merely floating on upper currents of the air.
Finally the car slowed down and stopped beside a field. Jarvis got out and came around to her side. He opened the door and lifted up his arms. Just for an instant he held her so that she looked down at him, so that he looked up at her. Then slowly he let her down so that her lips were level with his mouth.
“Kiss me,” he said.
The caress was light and swift.
So, in her yellow dress with the ruffles swirling in soft, melting eddies, in her high-heeled, gold slippers—how her father had roared when she brought them home from a sophisticated shop in Bayou!—Toya walked across the field with Jarvis.
There was a strange, heady quality about the night, as if the very ground they trod were of another planet. Nothing seemed real. The last of June. Dew on the grass. The leaves hushing one another in soft whispers. An old moon rising in slow splendor back of the hill. They found a flat stone under a tree.
“You’ll be cold, Toya. Here, sit on my coat.” He spread it out carefully and sat beside her. “I had to come to you, dear,” he said quietly. “Something took me by the collar and yanked me right out of the door. First I went to your house. Your father was lying down on a couch in the kitchen. He seemed to be asleep. But I woke him up, and he told me where you were.”
The girl moved uneasily. “Lying on a couch? Why wasn’t he in bed? He never waits up for me. I won’t let him.”
“I don’t know' anything about that. He acted a little short with me, but said you had gone to the dance.”
Toya looked faintly troubled, but almost immediately she surrendered herself to the delicious mood of the moment.
“I watched you dancing a long time,” continued her
companion, “before you saw me. I could have broken their necks!”
“Whose necks, darlin’?”
“Those smart town Alecs—touching you!”
“Never caused a riot before,” she laughed, “and I suppose those smart town Alecs have had the same hands quite a while—and brought them to every dance too.”
“Don’t be that way,” he begged. “I’m half madcrazy as a pinwheel—but I mean every word I say.” “Yes,” answered the girl. “Yes, I know.”
Still he did not touch her. She felt the magnetic power of his presence pulling her toward him. She even w'ondered—in a distant, detached part of her brain — if perhaps she weren’t moving unconsciously.
Jarvis came closer. She waited, vibrant as a candleflame posed on a wick.
“Everything’s been crazy,” he said. “Haven’t you noticed it these last few weeks? As if somebody had pied the whole works. Sort of gets you. Makes you wonder ...”
“What do you mean?”
He took her hand, holding it with fingers spread to match his own. “Gosh, how do I know what I mean?” “Jarvis, what’s the matter? You sound bothered.” “Bothered! Lord, what a dumb show it all is. I’m sick of it. Once in a while you lose your blinders and look around.”
Toya touched his hair with her free hand. Nothing more than a moth’s winging, but it carried fire. She was in his arms. He held her with a passionate tenderness. He kissed her hair.
“Such darn cute little curls,” he murmured. “They got me first.” He held her apart from him and looked down at her out of his deep, brilliant eyes. Then he put his hand on her throat. “A little white column from Greece. And the moon shining on it. The moon, darling. Somehow, that’s enough mystery for me. To think of your little throat, with its lovely voice, touched by the light of something shining millions of miles away!” “And your eyes, Jarvis. Gorgeous eyes, holding that light for me.”
And thus the foolish words sang between them. It was heaven. It was paradise. It was anywhere, where the gods walk in buoyant happiness. In one brief gesture the girl shed all her suspicions against this man. She believed Jarvis. And she was generous enough to welcome joy with arms wide open;
“It’s love, Toya.”
“Yes—love.” She whispered it, and it fluttered out on the night air and ascended to the branches above them, and sent a soft rustling through their moonlit leaves. Then said Toya suddenly: “But you haven’t explained anything!”
TAO I have to?” Jarvis asked. “This is all so—well, so -‘-''perfect.”
“But I thought I could help you, maybe, if you told me what was the matter.”
“You’re such a decent little kid. Not hard like Ann Dunster, for instance.”
“Oh, yes; Ann. I really don’t care, but I suppose you’ve kissed her a good many times, Jarvis? It’s none of my business and you needn’t answer, because I’d rather you didn’t lie to me tonight. Besides, how silly; as if it made any difference.”
“Yes, I’ve kissed Ann. She’s—well, she’s that kind. Fun and all that. Jazzes up a party and makes you feel as if you were bringing along a row of cocktails. But I don’t care much for her, as a person. She’s going home soon, anyhow. I may not see her again.”
“Well, let’s get going on the explanations.” Her tone was flippant because she felt the knife edge of jealousy pricking her heart and knew that she was foolish.
“I’ll probably say things I’ve never mentioned before, even to myself. But I’ve got to talk and get it out of my system.” He waited a minute. “I’m trusting you to understand the thing impartially. To begin with, mother is far from well. Bad heart. Nerves all shot. Seems all right for a while, then explodes with a sort of cold fury.”'
“Yes, Jarvis,” said Toya.
“I feel sure there is some queer thing back of all this situation. I can’t quite get it, but I imagine something happened years ago to make her a little bitter. Anyhow, mother is strange. I’m sorry for her. She must have a rotten time of it. She rather seems to have it in for so many people—the judge, Hat Hubble, your father, even Mr. Purvin.”
Toya flecked a finger at a moonbeam trembling on a yellow flounce. She was very quiet.
“This makes her all the more keen about me, I suppose. I’m always right, the other side is wrong. But”—the girl saw his fingers interlock with sudden tenseness—“she got a whale of a jolt the other day when I had to confess I flunked out on several exams. I did not think she’d take it quite so hard. She’s always been easy on me, too easy. But this time she went goofy.
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Michael Malone’s Girl
Continued from page 24
She’s mad. Mad in an icy sort of rage that freezes my tongue right in my head.
“It’s all about the judge, my uncle,” added Jarvis.
“Yes. She made me go there to lunch one day. I hated it. Uncle Jack has never liked me. I’ve always known it, and stayed away except for sneaking into the kitchen for doughnuts from Hat. But mother is nuts on my having some sort of a position in the mills. She says it’s been more or less in the Salters’ family for years. She’s been twittering and chirping about it ever since I could remember.
“Well, we went to the confounded lunch, the very day I drove you to Bayou.
“We had a vile time, at the lunch, I mean. The judge was as pleasant as a cinnamon bear. Mother was putting on the Ritz, and Hat and I just sort of boosted each other along by a wink or two when she passed me the biscuits. I left early, the judge barking insults at me clear to the door. I felt rotten about it all. Why couldn’t she have let me go alone if she was all set to see the thing through? Well, that night at dinner mother told me that Uncle Jack had offered me a position as secretary in his office. I know mother wrung the promise out of him somehow. I despise the whole business i”
The moon had now risen halfway up the sky. It was rich and golden. An owl tobogganed down his scale of lonely notes.
“And now,” continued Jarvis, “I present the crashing climax. It seems she must have intimated to the judge that I was getting high marks at college, that I was unusually keen, that I would be indispensable to him around the mills. So, when I broke the news about missing out on the exams.—well, the storm descended.”
Toya was fighting a fierce and valiant struggle. Her face grew pale with it. She looked away across the field. Everywhere the narrow, triumphant eyes of Mrs. George Salters followed her. She saw them in the shadows under the trees; they gleamed at the far end of the meadow. Again the woman had conquered, through her son. “But Jarvis loves me, Jarvis loves me!” she thought. “Nothing else matters. Everything will be all right.”
She knew that everything would not be all right. But she’d take on the glory of the gamble. Color swept back into her cheeks.
“Jarvis,” she said in a low, reasonable voice, “I don’t know anything of the back history of the town or our parents.
I think your mother may have been disappointed about something when she was young. She must make you successful in order to justify some early frustration. I’m disappointed too,” she continued, “that you flunked out at college. I r’ared up one day on my hind legs and told the judge that you wouldn’t; that you were keen and would come off with flying colors.”
“You did!” His voice was full of pleased surprise. “How did the old boy take it?”
“He just scattered a lot of hmmm-s around.”
“He would. But that was darned cute of you, Toya.”
“Oh, there’s something nice about you.
I think I’ve always liked you,” she added.
“Well I’m here to say you’ve taken strange ways of showing it. Only a little while ago you kicked notches in my shins when I tried to kiss you.”
“You know very well, Jarvis Salters, that you were just giving me a whirl that day in the mill. You’re good at the game. You’ve got a gift. Don’t flatter yourself that I reel with surprise every time a
man tries to kiss me. I didn’t kick the blankets off my bassinet yesterday.”
He laughed. “May I enquire, then, why you came so promptly tonight? Looking for another whirl?”
“No. This was different. I knew.” “How?”
“Oh—the way a swallow knows the way home from South America.” This threatened a serious break in the calm flow of argument, but Toya was firm. “You said talk, Jarvis. Now let’s get through with it. In the first place, I think you show good sense when you say you’ll go to the judge and tell him you’ve flunked out but would awfully like a job just the same. He’d have to admire your nerve anyhow. If you fail—it’s the world for you and a fat bank account of hope. If I were you, I’d get that job. Show ’em. Both of ’em. Your mother and the judge.”
rT'HE emotional chemistry which permitted Toya thus to express herself was nothing short of astounding. Jarvis loved her. That fact seemed to guard and encompass her with the glittering safety of crossed swords.
“And I’ll help you,” she added. “Help?”
“Help you get the job, dear.”
He stared at her. “Help me—with the judge?”
“Yes, why not?”
“How can you? What could you say or do?”
“Plenty, young man; plenty!”
“Can you really make a dent in his hide? Why haven’t I known of this pal business before?”
“Stick around, boy, and maybe you’ll be able to pick up a little news.”
“Well, darling, when I run up to the grand total of forty a week we’ll make him marry us. He can, you know. Justice of the Peace.” . . .
“We must go now,” she said finally. The clattering noise of an approaching car battered against their exquisite farewell.
“Who the blazes—” began Jarvis.
The machine stopped directly opposite them. A man of enormous girth climbed slowly out and began to waddle over the uneven ground.
“Mr. Purvin!” gasped the girl, “Why. what—” Swift dread swooped down on her.
“That you, Miss Toya?” asked a wheezy voice.
“Yes, yes,” she cried. “Has anything happened? Father—?”
Mr. Purvin took her arm. “I jest came along kinda huntin’ for you. They said at the dance that you’d gone with young Salters some time ago. I took a chance on your bein’ in his car and followed along this road.
“Yes, but what—?”
“Why, Hat Hubble called up the house. She sez to go get you. Your pa ain’t feelin’—”
Toya was terribly frightened. “I knew something must be wrong when Jarvis told me he was lying on the couch. Sick— oh, the poor darlin’. And me here forgetting him. Come Jarvis—quick! Take me home!”
In half an hour Toya was at the little house in the lane. She found Hat Hubble in the kitchen rocker. Somehow the presence of that indomitable woman put new strength in her.
Her father lay on the couch, covered by a bright knitted afghan. His white hair melted into the whiteness of the pillow, giving his features a sharp clarity. His eyes were closed. One big hand lay on the outside of the cover, relaxed and helpless looking. It was sight of that hand which was Toya’s undoing.
All in a spreading swirl of yellow ruffles,
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she knelt by the couch, laying her cheek against the huge hand. Michael opened his eyes and looked at her.
“Where have you been, lass?” he asked in his ordinary voice. “Jarvis was here asking for you.”
“He found me, father. We took a drive together. I’m sorry. You should have told me at supper you weren’t feeling well.”
He smiled. “Nothing to fuss about, child. Just one of me dumb, blitherin’ stomach attacks. I did not want to be spoilin’ your fun for you.”
She stroked his hair. “Better now?”
“Much.” But his eyelids drooped with sudden weariness.
Hat rose from her chair and beckoned Toya into the pantry and shut the door. Here, among long-handled saucepans and pie tins, she related what she knew of Michael’s distress.
“The judge was over here makin’ a call this evenin’. Likely they smoked and talked a while, but when he come home he says to me, ‘Been over to Michael’s, Hat? He didn’t look real well, somehow. Didn’t have much to say for himself. Awful quiet. And he had a funny color around his mouth. I asked him if he was well and he said, yes. I told him he’d better go to bed, and he says he would as soon as I left.’
“The judge kinda took comfort in that and trotted off to bed. I was puttin’ things to rights before goin’ upstairs myself. But the more I thought about what he told me, the more I felt like cornin’ here and seein’ for myself. Your pa, Toya, is a mighty fine man. I once took a grand fancy to him in my younger days, and I ain’t never quite got over it. In a manner of speakin’, you understand. Well, I slipped into my wraps and come right down here. I gave one look at him and then called the doctor. He come in five minutes, and fixed your pa up with some medicine that eased the pain right away.”
Toya’s eyes were dark with trouble.
“Sure, dearie, don’t look so knocked all of a heap,” smiled Hat. “No need to worry now, as I see.”
“Then why did you get Mr. Purvin out of bed to come for me?” the girl challenged.
“Your father wanted to know where you was. He seemed worried. He said Jarvis had come here calling for you quite a spell ago. So, jest to quiet him, I asked Mr. Purvin to hunt you up.”
Even in her apprehension Toya found humor in Hat’s mild description of snatching Mr. Purvin from his slumbers.
“Jarvis asked me to go for a ride and I went. I don’t know why—but, oh, Hat!” Again the wild flush of her happiness spread over her cheeks. “Don’t tell father just yet, but Jarvis and I—”
The woman moved a step nearer. “Yes, Toya?”
“Jarvis and I, we love each other. It’s so staggering, so wonderful!” With a cry of joy Toya flung herself on the woman’s broad bosom.
Hat patted her shoulder, making maternal noises in her throat. But her eyes gazed over the yellow chiffon draperies with something of dismay.
“If that don’t beat the Dutch,” she ejaculated to herself. “My gorry, diamonds! We’re in for a spell of dirty weather now, all right. Aggie Salters will be about as pleased to hear of this as a hen that’s hatched out a mess of goslings! I hope to the Lord Jarvis ain’t doin’ no fancy foolin’. I’ll lift him proper if he is! ’Twon’t be the first time I’ve spanked that young one.”
’’"TOYA saw Hat to the gate and then L came back to the house to stand beside the couch smiling down at Michael with wistful tenderness. “I could be shakin’ you well, darlin’, for givin’ me such a scare,” she said.
“’Twas me that was scared about you, girl. ’Tis a late time to be cornin’ from a
dance, I'm thinkin’. And ye had to be sent for, at that.”
Tears and happiness welled up in her breast so that she could not answer him. It would be madness to tell him about Jarvis and herself tonight. So she continued to stroke his hair with a light touch and winked back the moisture in her eyes.
“Were you and Jarvis gone on a long ride, lass?”
“Not very long. About twenty miles out by the Great Hill Woods.”
“He came here about eleven,” added her father significantly.
“And it was nearly two before I got home,” supplied Toya. “I know what you’re thinking, but don’t. Jarvis stood a long time watching the dance before he spoke to me. Then we had the ride.”
The man eyed her quietly. “I have no right, nor would I take any, to say when you should be cornin’ and leavin’ nor who ye’re goin’ with. I count on your own good sense, Toya. But I’ll just say this. Jarvis is a decent enough lad. Goodlookin’ and peculiarly fascinatin’, like his uncle was in the old days. But don’t put too much faith in the charmin’ promises of him. I was a devil of a lad once meself, and a pretty girl makes ye say anything— to be forgotten next day.”
Toya kept her fingers in his hair.
“I haven’t forgotten, old as»you think me, of the muddle-headed fun of makin’ love by moonlight; nor how quickly the whole thing vanishes next day like dew cobwebs on the grass. And I could see by the shining eyes of you when ye first came in that a new happiness had fallen about you.”
“Sometime, father,” she said softly, “we’ll talk this out. But not now.”
He patted her hand.
“You know I trust you, girl.” His voice was resonant with feeling. “So sometime, as you say, is all right with me.” Then in a changed tone: “The judge was here most of the evenin’. He was tellin’ me how anxious he is for the time when you can come to work in his office. I sort of suspected it by the way you two have been hobnobbing together like a pair of crooks. And I knew you would tell me as soon as you decided. I know, too, there will be no answer but one and that a yes. You were right, lass, in taking that course at Bayou. I had no idea there’d be a fine job waitin’ for ye in the village. Nothing could be better allround. I’m that happy !”
Toya's heart stood still with a sickening jolt. Her father’s eyes were alight with a pleased content. So now there would be another tangle to unravel without explanations. Jarvis must not know, of course, that the judge insisted on having her in preference to him; that she planned to give up her chance that he might prove himself seriously worthy of his uncle’s respect. For a moment she felt appalled. Could she go through with it?
“We’ll settle all this as soon as you feel better,” she soothed her father. “Don’t fret yourself. Come, let me help you to bed.”
They walked slowly to the downstairs bedroom where Michael slept.
“You’ll be besting a Salters, girl, right on his own battleground. But don’t flaunt your feather too jauntily or Aggie will be pluckin’ it out for you.”
“Do you think it’s respectful,” she asked with sudden laughter, “to refer to that elegant icicle as Aggie?”
Michael looked chagrined. “Well, lass, ye see I’ve known her off and on ever since—oh, well—long, long days ago. My tongue forgets occasionally how grand she feels since she married a Salters.” “Father,” began the girl, pausing on the threshold of his bedroom, “why won’t you—” Then she checked herself. The man looked ill. Some day she’d pin him down and try to find out just what had happened those long years ago. She had a right to the knowledge now.
“Maybe,” she said slyly, “I’ll be need-
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Continued from page 50
ing that slip of paper you took so fiercely out of my hand the day I found it on the street. If it’s as potent as you say I’ll squash the lady with it, and see what happens.”
“That’s as maybe,” replied Michael with noncommittal finality. “Now get me purple-and-gold pyjamas out of the closet, lass, and turn down the silken sheets. This old accident is going to sleep!” He wavered from her grasp and half slid on to the bed. “A bit tired,” he admitted.
rT'HE judge called next morning to enquire after the health of Michael. But Toya was exceedingly occupied upstairs with a broom. She could hear the conversation below. After the judge had made gruff, solicitous enquiries about her father he said that he must hurry on to the office.
“That young nephew of mine called me up on the telephone before I’d finished my breakfast this morning. Didn’t know the lazy dog ever saw seven o’clock except at night. He wanted to know il he could come to my office to see me on business. Probably wants to touch me up for five hundred. Anyhow I promised him I’d be right along. Have to encourage even these feeble signs of growing up. So I’ll be seeing you later, Michael. You’re lucky to be having Toya lor a nurse. Some guys get all the breaks.” He spat out this bit of modern speech with relish.
Toya sang out a good-by from an upstairs window half-screened by the honeysuckle. The judge waved his cane and smiled.
“Oh, what will he do to me,” she wailed into the dustpan, “when he finds out I will not take the job?” She could feel her knees bend under the crackling scorn of his probable retort. “But courage—and he charged me himself with it—will take you anywhere.”
At eleven of that same morning Jarvis stepped down into the cobbler’s shop. He came over to her at once and kissed her on each eye.
“All set, darling,” he grinned. “Just breezing home from a business conference with old Donner and Blitzen. He gave me a tough hour, though. Grilled me like a murderer until I fairly sizzled. Swore like forty seamen when I revealed the true facts of my college rating. But at least he treated me with two-fisted directness. I think he liked my coming straight to him, just as you said he would. I’m to begin tomorrow, I believe. The Lord knows I loathe it, but mother will howl for joy, and peace will be once more with us. And what are you doing this time of day here in the shop? And how is your father?”
“I’m minding the shop for father,” said Toya. “He’s over his attack all right, but not really well. He may be away for a week or so.”
“Darn sorry to hear that, dear; about your father, I mean. So you’re impersonating a lady cobbler. Taking orders, or anything?”
“Certainly. Shoe surgery of all kinds.”
“I’ve got a favorite pair of Oxfords, frightfully shabby. I think they need expert attention. Mother has thrown them away five times, but you’ll find enough outlines left to work on. I’ll bring them in next time I pass.” Jarvis, in grey flannels and blue tie, laughed down at her. “I never thought you could look cuter than you did last night in that ruffly gowm of yellow, but this morning you’re jolly as a hollyhock.” He lowered his voice. "Sweet dreams last night?” he asked.
She nipped off a yellowing leaf from a geranium plant. “How well these have bloomed all spring,” she murmured.
Jarvis bent over her. “The public be damned,” he said and lifted her up in his arms and kissed her. “Let’s give ’em an eyeful, sweetheart.”
She pounded his chest in exasperated despair until he set her down again.
A large shadow lay on a patch of sunlight near the door. Hat Hubble blinked very rapidly and said aloud to a red hydrant, “That pie don’t need no finger in it to make a mess of itself—give ’em time and enough rope.” She went on, a shade sober, about her marketing, planning what she would say to Jarvis if Toya ever complained of neglect.
“I'm so glad yod and the judge had it out right on the carpet, dear,” smiled Toya. “I knew you’d win out. Good salary?”
“Never asked him.”
“You’d make a fine business man!” she taunted him. “Do run along. Don’t loiter in the place during office hours. Send in the Oxford patient any time, Mr. Salters.” “Oh, by the wray, mother wants you to come to tea next Thursday. She asked me to speak to you.”
Toya wras caught in an unguarded moment. A slow' flush spread over her face and neck. “I can’t Jarvis, really. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be a silly goose! Of course you can. She said she’d never properly thanked you for helping her that day she fell.”
“No. It wouldn’t work, dear. I’m not stupid.”
“Stupid; what do you mean?”
“It will be ghastly.”
“Oh, be a sport. Everything’s different now. Can’t you see that it is?”
“Not different. Only more so.”
“Why? Mother doesn’t know about us yet.”
“She will as soon as she sees us together.” “Nonsense. You’re hipped on the thing. Besides I’m not going to be there. Just you two gals alone. I’ve got to run over to Bayou on business.”
Toya thought to herself, “She wouldn’t ask me herself but through Jarvis. And now she’s sending him away on some pretext or other to have a clear field for battle.”
"Please, dear. Don’t be stuffy about it. I know mother’s been, well, peculiar to you. But I feel sure it won’t be hard as you think. Give her a chance, dear, to be decent. Won’t you, for my sake?”
His eyes pleaded with her. He seemed young and boyish, and she loved him for this genuine appeal to her generosity.
"I’ll make a fine mess of it, I know I shall. My Irish temper blazes on a hairtrigger, and she’s snubbed me so many times, Jarvis, it’s got me (ja-ga. With all the trying in the world, we couldn’t be friendly. Now I’ve given it straight to you. I’m sorry as I can be.”
Yet in the end he prevailed. This mood of his, eager and untarnished by his usual bored amusement, broke down all her defenses. For Jarvis, she could go through with it. She’d sit like a stone if necessary and allow Mrs. Salters to pelt her with the hail of her sharp words.
Jarvis kissed her softly and said she was a corking little sport. Then he strode out of the door, leaving the shop singularly colorless and empty.
AT NOON Toya locked the shop and ^ went home. She found her father reading on the porch. He was bending over a very large book which lay open on his lap. As she came up the path he closed it and put it on the floor.
“What in the world is that ancient tome?” she asked, laughing.
“The family Bible, girl. Just looking over some old records.”
“Where was it?” she enquired with ominous calm.
“In the attic, lass. I shut it up in your
mother’s trunk with her things after she died. It seemed to belong to her more than it did to me.”
“And you had the bad sense, after all my scolding, to climb those rickety stairs and go rummaging around in trunks, the very minute I left you alone?”
“Yes, me darlin’ daughter. And what will ye be doin’ about it, now?”
“There’s nothing left but contempt for the underhanded ways of you!”
But Michael beamed at her with unruffled good humor, and ate with voluble appreciation the careful lunch she prepared for him.
Afterward she persuaded him to lie down on the couch. He protested but fell asleep almost at once. Toya tiptoed about her work. Later she went out to the porch to pile up the scattered books and arrange them on the table for his afternoon reading. As she bent over to pick them up, her hand touched the bulky volume which had lain on Michael’s lap. It was an ornate thing with heavy brass clasps. With no thought of spying, she sat down in the rocking-chair and slowly turned the stiff pages.
The front part of the book was devoted to family records. Michael’s meticulous hand had inscribed many a name, most of them from older generations. Toya ran her finger down the list until she reached the date of her mother’s marriage. She paused over this a few minutes, elbow on the wide leaves, chin in hand, thinking her own wistful thoughts. Then glancing down again she noticed two names under the heading of “Children.”
“Two?” she frowned. “Two? There must be some mistake.” She looked more closely.
Born to Michael Malone and Mary Kincaid Malone
A son, John S. Malone.
Born May 6, 1910 Died May 20, 1910 A daughter, Toya Malone.
Born . . .
She looked no farther but shut the book and gazed off over the meadow with wide unseeing eyes. “How queer! I never knew. How awfully, awfully queer !” Her heart climbed into her throat, then broke into a tumult of beating. She felt as if she had unintentionally stumbled into a forbidden room. “I’ll ask father,” she said aloud.
She sat there a long time, the two names jangling a strange tune together through her head.
She must have been lost in this new mystery longer than she realized for, hearing a sound, she glanced up to see her father standing in the door. His hair was ruffled from his nap. His eyes were on the open book she held. He looked very grave. They stared at each other in silence, then Toya faltered:
“Father, I was straightening things up —and I found this book and looked inside. Not thinking there was anything wrong—”
“Nothing wrong, surely,” echoed Michael.
“Father.” She set the book down and came to him, taking him impulsively by the arm. “I saw a boy’s name in it above mine. A brother. I don’t understand.”
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you about him wrhen you were a little girl?”
“It was a great grief to her, his dying when a baby. She hated to speak of it. Still she must have told you and you are forgetting, being so young at the time.”
“But his name, father. Why wasn’t he named after you?”
“Your mother wanted it so.”
“John S. What was the S. for, father?” He hesitated a minute looking down at her out of his deep eyes. “We’ll speak no more of it, Toya, if you please. Some other time.”
rT"'OYA was busy in the shop every day.
And every day she expected the judge. She would not court disaster but she was ready to meet it. She saw him pass several times but he did not drop in. She worried over the tea on Thursday, planning what clothes to wear, what she would say. “It will last only an hour or so,” she encouraged herself. “I can bear it that long, surely.”
Thursday came, a particularly clear and sparkling day. Toya woke with the weight of a sentence of execution on her. “Don’t be such a cowardly fool,” she admonished herself. “She can’t kill you.” She went early to the shop. Once there, she became feverishly busy over nothing, doing the same things over and over. A dark premonition hovered over her that after tea with Mrs. Salters life would veer off in another direction.
At eleven o’clock Jarvis came with his battered and favorite shoes. They had a hilarious time talking over the “case” and were at the height of their nonsense when Toya spied the short military figure of the judge standing on the sidewalk. “It’s come now,” she told herself. “I must get Jarvis out of here. It will wreck the whole thing if he hears us.” She took the shoes out of Jarvis’ hand and said in a businesslike tone: “These will be ready for you in a few days.”
Jarvis looked puzzled at her changed manner, then, glancing up, he too saw the judge. Taking her cue, he gave her a secret smile and left.
“I’ve come on business to you,” barked the judge at once. “Have you a moment?” Jarvis was scarcely out of hearing. What would he think?
“Please sit down, judge.” She offered the rocker by the window. Jarvis was gone. They could have it out with no interruption.
“I’ve ordered a new typewriter, Toya. A humdinger. Just your style. The old one is good enough for Jarvis. He shan’t put finger to this one. He’d ruin it. And a chair. You’ll be comfortable as can be.” The man beamed at her and got out a cigar. He sat in the rocker looking pleased as a child.
“Don’t you think Jarvis will make a good assistant?” she asked. “Really better than you thought?”
“No, I don’t! Worse, if anything. He came to me straight enough and told me he’d failed in his examinations at college and wanted the job to please his mother.
I liked that in him and said he could have it until he muddled things up. Which”— the judge bit off the end of his cigar and settled back in the chair—“will be in about a couple of weeks or I’m no judge of horseflesh.” -
Toya steadied her hands by picking up a bit of work. She bent over it so the judge could see little of her face.
“Gone into the shoe trade?” chuckled her caller.
“Why, ye3. I have. Father isn’t a bit well. He needs a long rest.”
“Well, we’ll have to rustle him back on his feet again before long. I’m not going to let him cut in on my assistant.”
Toya swallowed once or twice. Her lips were dry. “Now,” she told herself. “Now is the time to tell him.” She set down the shoe. She looked the judge straight in the eye.
“I can’t accept the position you offered me, Judge Salters,” she said aloud. “I’m sorry.” Her tongue refused to go on. She felt an excited sort of trembling pass over her body. She braced herself for the shock of his answer.
“What’s this? What’s this? Can’t accept? What the blazes do you mean?”
To be Continued