FICTION

sentimental Journey

NELIA GARDNER WHITE October 1 1934
FICTION

sentimental Journey

NELIA GARDNER WHITE October 1 1934

sentimental Journey

NELIA GARDNER WHITE

FICTION

IN THREE WEEKS there had been no sun. In this city it is often so. The skies over the lake and the city hang heavy and grey, day in, day out, week in, week out. But now and again there comes a day when the yards

and roofs are rimed with frost and the sun comes out clear in a pale blue heaven; the sparrows twitter cheerfully in the eaves and gutters and the breath of schoolchildren is puffed out whitely on the still air. Then those who recall country childhoods remember their youth. When they were boys or girls, the fields often of a morning glistened with frost in the sun, and in just this way their breath would hang on the golden wintry air, while in the hedges winter birds kept up the same brisk and pleasant twittering.

Mr. Henry Padget stepped from his eighth floor apartment in the Darwin Aims and entered the elevator. He nodded to the boy wrho said: "Swell morning, Mr. Padget.” "Yes, very nice,” Mr. Padget said. The doorman said: “Fine day, Mr. Padget.” “Yes, very nice, Sam,” Mr. Padget said. Almost at once he was walking briskly down the wide, shallow steps and then his stick was tapping its even way along the avenue. Mr. Padget, along with a couple of judges and a banker or two, always walked downtown of a morning.

The frost now lay only in the shadowed areas, for the sun w'as out full and w'arm. But the air was crisp and people everywhere walked with a vigorous spring. Mr. Padget looked quite the elegant gentleman, w'hat with his stick, his Burberry, his upright way of walking and his bored but shrewd grey-mustached face. A man from the Continental Bank, one of the vice-presidents called Onderkirk, caught up with him.

“Good morning, Padget,” he said, falling into step with him. “This is the kind of day when you actually want to walk to work. You don’t have to keep reminding yourself that at any rate, it’s better than squash.”

Padget laughed briefly.

“1 doubt if I should ever have come to squash or handball, even if I’d developed a paunch or the gout,” he said. “I see by the morning’s paper that one of your men got in a jam.” “Yes. Young Aimable. Too bad. lie’s a likable boy.” “It was a name I was used to as a boy. I wonder where he’s from?” j

“Alberta, I think. He’s a nephew of one of the tellers. Hé just wasn't used to the city. He was handsome and the girls liked him too well. You’re not from the West, are you, Padget?”

“I? Oh, no. I was raised on a farm up in Wellington County. Not far from here.”

“That’s the country for you ! You can have all the ranches you want but give me a good old Ontario farm. Have you ever noticed how many of our prominent men come from up that way?”

“It wouldn’t be modest to say,” Padget said, laughing.

IN PADGET’S large and quiet office he looked again at the morning newspaper.

“Annable,” he said aloud, slowly. He put the paper down and walked to the window. The busy city lay spread out before him in the sun. Toward the east the sun was obscured by the grey pall of smoke, but all about this tall building the air was clear and bright and the people down below were all, though tiny, dear and alive, while pigeons rose and fell continuously all about in an iridescent though gentle splendor. Off lakeward was the different sweep of gulls.

Padget was standing there, hands in pockets, staring out, when Miss Fancher came in and said: “Mr. Hartley’s just phoned, Mr. Padget. He’d like to see you as soon as possible.”

For an instant he did not answer. On the very window sill before him, a pigeon—white, with pink eyes—settled dowm without fear. Mr. Padget turned.

“Please tell him I can’t see him today,” he said shortly.

She hesitated.

\»“He’s very insistent,” she ventured. “You told him, you Know, that you’d see him this morning.”

’ “I know, but he’ll have to wait. Will you get me the bus schedules for Fergus?”

“For Fergus?” She was obviously startled.

“Yes. Fergus.”

He sat down at the desk and began to look over the morning’s mail, as if he were dismissing her. After fifteen minutes he rang.

“Did you get the bus schedule?” he demanded.

“Yes, I did, Mr. Padget. There’s a bus at nine-thirty, one at one-fifteen and another at four-forty-five.”

“Get me Dunham, please.”

Lie went on looking at the mail though she stared at him exasperatedly before she went out.

“Hello, Dunham? Dunham, bring my bag down to the bus terminal, will you? Things for a couple of days. No, I don’t want the car. Be there at one.” He hung up.

“Well?”

“Mr. Padget, Mr. Hartley’s here and he says things can’t wait and that he must see you.”

Mr. Padget leaned back in his chair and eyed Miss Fancher coldly. “If he can’t wait, he may go elsewhere,” he said. “At any rate, 1 am not seeing him today. I thought I made that clear.”

“Yes, Mr. Padget. He came anyway.”

“He may go away again.”

She turned to leave the room and then said, standing half toward the door and trying to speak casually: “You are going to Fergus

today, Mr. Padget?”

He tapped an envelope on the desk.

“Yes, at one-fifteen,” he said shortly.

“Have you notified the McEwen people?” “No. You do it, please.”

He bent toward a letter, scribbling some note across it with pencil.

“They have had the patent attorney, Mr. Jamieson, from Ottawa.”

“Oh, yes—yes, I supposed they would. Well, they can show him the town for a day.”

He didn’t look up. For an instant she stood still as if searching for some protesting word. He looked up, then, irritated.

“Miss Fancher,” he said with sharpness, “when you get to be as old as I am you ought to be able to say whether you have conquered the city or the city has conquered you. If the Hartleys and the McEwens want to take their

business elsewhere, that’s their privilege. I am leaving on the one-fifteen bus.”

“Very well,” she murmured. Her trim shoulders with the wide, modish white collar, were stiff with her amazement and resistance.

r"PHE BUS WAS crowded. Padget sat dowm by a window

and a nervous-looking young man sat beside him. They were scarcely out of the city before the young man lifted a briefcase, pulled the straps impatiently and drew forth some reports, evidently of sales of flour, which he began to check from a small red notebook.

Padget watched him for some time. The level country stretched out on either hand, dull now with the grey of a snowless winter. As the young man flipped through some sheets, the papers escaped his hand and fluttered here and there over the floor. Padget bent and recovered some of them.

"Thanks. Thanks very much,” said the young man.

"Can’t escape business even when travelling, eh?” Padget said, though rather as if speaking to some unseen companion than to the young man. The young man grinned, though wearily.

“Especially when,” he said, putting a rubber band around his papers, “I depend on bus rides to get caught up on a lot of things.”

Padget gave a thinly polite smile and looked out of the wdndow. But presently he turned again and said : “I used to, myself. Now I begin to wonder what’s been the rush.”

The young man’s sandy brows went up and dowm twice before he made a little entry in the red book and said indulgently but still with nervous quickness: "Well, in our

business you’ve got to rush or you might as well look for another job.”

PRESENTLY SNOW began to show in the fields and there was a place where there were remains of big drifts along the road. Here the sunshine had a chance but it seemed to have thinned since morning, and though it was not quite four, the afternoon seemed already to have waned. The winter air was melancholy and every now and again mournful crows made heavy flight over the fields.

In Fergus he stood uncertainly on the pavement where he had stepped from the bus. A young boy said : “Take your bag into the hotel, mister?” “Thanks, yes,” Mr. Padget said, then contradicted himself. “No, never mind. Where can I get a taxi?”

The taxi driver said: “Yeah, I know where Annable

Comers is. About ten miles out, isn't it?”

"Yes. That’s right.”

Though there was still light, a vague, small half-moon shone in the sky.

“Any particular place you wanted?” the taxi driver called back, as they approached the outskirts of the village.

“I wanted to see the old Padget homestead and make some enquiries,” he said.

But after he had directed the man up the side road to the old place, he did not get out. In the twilight the old house looked forlorn and sad.

The yard, though not shrunken in its really noble sweep, was unkempt with dried weeds. The great elm tree near the well was cut down and a big mudbespattered car was standing in the driveway.

“This where you want to get out, mister?”

“No. You can turn around, go back to the main road and on to the Comers. I’ll stop at the store.”

At the store there was only an old man buying tobacco and someone stopping for gasoline.

“I wanted to enquire if any of the Annables live here yet?” he asked.

“Annables? Sure. Mary Annable lives in the old Annable place. Jim’s kids live with her. Know where the Annable place is?”

“Yes, I know. Thanks.”

He got himself and his stick and his elegance out of the store. “Just on three houses,” he said to the driver.

The Annable house was of brick, painted white and had bright green blinds. There were lights in the windows and a look of life about the place.

All was in order, and off to the left were the dim lines of an apple orchard.

Padget went to the door of the wing at one side, walking up to the step slowly, almost reluctantly, and yet with a halfshamed expectancy in his face. He looked at his stick once as if wishing, perhaps, that he had left it in the car.

The door opened almost at once and a woman stood there, a woman of a big frame, but without too much flesh. Her hair was

combed back plainly and she wore a plain blue cotton dress with an apron over it. Her face was strong yet kind, and her eyes were full of humor.

“Hello, Ma y,” Henry Padget said.

Her whole being seemed to expand and then relax in a sigh of welcome. She pulled open the door and held out her hands.

“Why, Hennie Padget!” she said. A boy with dark hair and lively eyes came into the room from the kitchen.

“For goodness sake, don’t stand outside. Come in ! Ben,

this is Henry Padget, who used to live neighbor to us. Is that a taxi out there? Tell him to run along. We’re just sitting down to supper. Oliver’ll drive you in later on. Hennie Padget, of all people !”

ALMOST AT ONCE he was sitting at the long dining• room table and there were young faces all about. There were the boy Ben and a tall grave boy, Oliver, and two dark boys, apparently twins, who had a sort of sign language of brows and ears and mouths, whose communications sent them into constant convulsions, and a big, fair girl who was the youth of Mary Annable, with a little addition of charm and a little less, perhaps, of natural forthrightness and earnestness.

"Well, Hennie,” Mary Annable said, "I was just thinking the other day of the time we took a turn against Miss Branson in school. How we made up our minds to send her crazy —and almost did !”

“How did you?” demanded a twin.

“I don’t recall everything. Only one thing. It lasted a week. We agreed to do everything in concert. If one person moved a book, everyone did. If one person coughed, every -

one did. We enjoyed it all then. Remember that, Hennie?” Henry Padget laughed aloud and the twins began mocking each other. When one lifted his fork, the other did also.

“Boys!” Mary Annable said. Then, with a twinkle: “Of course, some of us were past thirteen then, too. Poor Miss Branson!”

“What else’d you do?”

Henry Padget said: "We wrote her love letters—from an unknown admirer. Works of art, weren’t they, Mary? A little cruel, that. I’m afraid she took them too seriously.” "She took everything too seriously. One thing we liked to do was in singing class to open our mouths and not to utter a sound !”

Everyone was laughing. laughter warmed every face, every word.

There was an old secretary in the dining room.

"I remember that old secretary,” Henry Padget said suddenly. "Your father used to sit there evenings doing

his accounts.”

Mary Annable gave a warm smile toward the secretary. “Some of his account books are still in it,” she said. "There’s something about a person’s handwriting after he's gone that you hate to get rid of. And father made such square figures and letters, like printing. I used to think: ’If I could only write like father!’ ”

She rose and brought one of the brown books over and everyone looked at the neat, square letters.

There was currant jelly in a round glass dish with a

scalloped gilt edge, sliced tomato pickles in a long dish of greyish blue, and a cocoanut cake on a plate of Dresden china. The napkins were in carved rings of yellow-white

After the supper was finished they sat about the table telling of old days and laughing. At last Mary Annable rose and said: “At your les-

sons, boys. Everything all finished up at the bam, Oliver?”

The tall, sober boy nodded. The girl said: “Go sit down, Aunt Mary. I’ll do up the dishes.” Mary Annable and Padget walked toward the living room. Oliver sat down at the old desk and remained there at some business of his own.

The twins brought out books to the dining nx)m table. Only Ben went with Henry Padget and Mary Annable into the living room. He seemed to be waiting for more tidbits of reminiscence to fall. His merry eyes were wide with sus|X‘iise.

“Why don’t you stay the night, I lenry ? Is there anything calling you

back?”

“No. I’d like to stay if it wouldn't put you out."

"Of course it wouldn't. Just a pair of blankets on the front room bed, that’s all. Oh, did you ever know what became of Eddie Ordway? I’ve never known."

“Eddie? Heavens, no! What would become of Eddie?”

"He wanted to be a minister once.”

Henry Padget shook his head and laughed. “No, if he’d been a minister, we’d have heard echoes long before this,” he said.

Mary Annable brought out stockings and sat darning as they talked. Her hand, putting the darning egg in and out of stockings, holding the stocking taut for the weaving, was pleasant to

watch—firm and sure and strong. Ben sat on a stool with a needle-point cover and listened to all they said. After a while the dishes and lessons were done and the rest came in. The twins brought out a game board and they joined in a game of crokinole, all but Oliver who was still at the desk. Henry Padget's fingers were sore with many snappings when Mary said suddenly and cheerfully: “Well, that’s enough, boys. School tomorrow, you know.”

Continued on page 39

Continued from page 17—Starts on page 16

They went off to bed and could be heard laughing somewhere upstairs. The girl said: “I’ll fix the bed, Aunt Mary.” “Will you, Kate? And see if the register’s open in there. I know what cold rooms seem like to city folks.”

Oliver came and said good night. He looked a little tired, as if he’d been up since dawn. “Oliver drives a milk truck this winter,” Mary Annable said. “He’s ready for bed when night comes.” But before Oliver went upstairs he brought in a large round white bowl full of red apples.

HTHE QUICK RUSH of reminiscence died down. The old settee, with its needlepoint back; the old valueless yet infinitely valuable paintings of moon over snow, of deer in wood path, of the round-faced miller; the whiteness of the curtains; the tan of the old Brussels rug with its border of roses, all came comfortingly into sight. And here on the table was the white bowl with the juicy Spys, beside the pile of worn books. Mary Annable lifted her stockings again but only held the basket in her lap as she said : “Well, how is it with you, Hennie?” as if they had but now begun to talk.

He put out a hand in a gesture that pushed himself back, out of importance, and said: “I can see you’ve had your hands full,

“Well, yes. I suppose so. But I’ve got a fine family, Hennie.”

“I can see that, too.”

“They’re full of mischief and high spirits, but you wouldn’t give a fig for them if they weren’t. Kate’U be married in the spring.”

“Is that so? Isn’t she pretty young for that?”

"Kate? No, not especially. Kate’s twenty-four. Jim and Dora were killed in an automobile accident when the twins were babies.”

“Oh!”

Henry Padget leaned over and took an

“I didn’t suppose there was anyone left in the world who even remembered I was ever called Hennie,” he said.

Mary Annable laughed a little, then said gravely enough: “I’ve never thought about you as anything but Hennie. Well, it’s easy to see you’re prosperous.”

“Yes, I’m prosperous enough.”

“You were cut out to be, I guess.” “Perhaps I was. Does the farm pay anything any more?”

“A little. We keep going. Last year we did a little better and this year we’re hoping it will be better still. Oliver’s had to hold off on college. I’m sorry about that. But maybe we can manage it by fall. The rest are bom farmers, but Ollie wants to be a doctor.”

“He looks as if he’d make a good one.” “He will if he ever gets going. I suppose you’ve got a family, too?”

He shook his head.

“No. I’ve never married, Mary.”

“Why, Hennie Padget !”

“I’ve been too busy, it seemed—though that does sound silly to say, doesn’t it?” “Well, the years do flit by. No one knows that better than I do. I never thought to live out my days on this old place with some-

body else’s children. But here I am, and here I’ll stay now till it’s done.”

“I went into the store and asked if any Annables lived around here still. ‘Why, sure. Mary Annable lives in the old Annable place,’ they told me, as if surprised anyone’d think you’d ever moved. It was funny, though, Mary—I hadn’t thought so. I thought you’d be right here.”

“And here I was,” Mary said, picking up her stockings again.

“And here you were. Perhaps you would not understand out here how strange it seems to us to have something—someone —stay just the same.”

! There was a little pause before she said:

I "Well, you seem just the same, too, Hennie.”

T—TENRY PADGET stood up, cleared his throat a little, walked over to the window and parted the curtains.

“I’d like to walk down to the church and back,” he said suddenly.

Mary Annable set the basket aside and said, calmly enough: “I’d just as lief. It’s a nice night out.”

She brought a coat and a felt hat and they stepped out into the cold night. The pale moon of the afternoon was brighter now and the stars were clear and frosty. It was still. Out here there was a little snow on the fields, and the stars were friendly to the snow. It lay like a comforting coverlet. Henry Padget took her arm and they moved along briskly.

"There was an item in the paper about an Annable boy this morning. He wasn’t one of you, but I thought of you when I read it.” “And came right down, eh?” she said, a little ironically but not unpleasantly.

“And came right down,” he agreed gravely. “A man’s a fool, Mary. When he’s old enough to get some understanding, it’s too late for it to have any effect on his life.

I It's true that I’ve been very busy. I’m what j you’d call an important man . . . but this j morning as I walked downtown . . . well,

I there was a frost last night, and even in the city it made one think of country nights like this . . . and suddenly nothing was important but that I get back here and see you.” She laughed, though not at him.

“Let’s see, it’s twenty-nine years since I've seen you, isn’t it, Hennie?”

“Yes,” he said seriously. “Twenty-nine ! years. It’s queer, Mary, isn’t it, how hard it I is for us to hang on to ourselves? A lot of dead people walk the earth. They’ve lost themselves. They’ve gone into bonds or a house or a social position or fame. Did you ever think about it, Mary?”

"Well, I guess I may have some, Hennie.

I called it being genuine, though.”

“That’s the word for it. Genuine. When I look around at my friends, I don’t find very many that are genuine. You are. How have you managed it, Mary?”

“Me? I dunno as I have had much time to change, Hennie. I never gave any thought to it as far as I was concerned. I hope I’m genuine, though. Well, here’s the old church. Does it look the same to you?” “It’s not the same belfry, is it?”

“No. They had to put a new one up a few years back.”

"Do you still go here to church?”

“Do you still believe just as you were taught in old Miss Pierson’s class?”

“I don’t know as I can say that, Hennie. No, I guess I’ve changed some there. But I still come here, and the boys do, too—all but Oliver. Oliver doesn’t go much for churches—or religion. But he’s the best of us, Ollie is."

“The sermons I used to listen to here, so I could see you home, Mary!” he exclaimed, and laughed. They turned and began to walk back.

“Yes, we always had fun enough, you and I did," Mary Annable said.

"I’ve never had any fun since.”

“Nonsense, Hennie! You’re not one of these folks that’s always thinking of the good old days, are you? They were good, all right, but I can’t say but what I’ve had plenty of good ones since, too.”

“I’m sure you have.”

“Well, I guess if you’d be honest with yourself, Hennie, you'd admit to a few yourself.”

“I am being honest—or I think I am. What I can’t understand is, why I felt I must get away from here—and from you— and my folks. But I did feel that.”

“That’s only natural for young people.” "Natural, maybe. But why, then, is all one’s desire at the end to get back? I remember I was very tragic about leaving you, and yet so sure I must. Perhaps you weren't so sure, Mary. Were you?”

She was silent a moment, and their steps sounded clearly on the hard earth before she said: “I don’t know as I was, then. But I got so I could see it after a few years, Hennie. Boys like you—and Ollie—can’t be held to the land. They’ve got to go out into the world. I don’t suppose many of ’em ever come back I was hurt enough at the time, I guess.”

He dropped into a troubled silence and presently she said: “It’s nothing to worry about now, you know.”

“Isn’t it? I presume I shall spend the rest of my days at it, Mary.”

She laughed.

“I recall a valentine I sent myself from you, Hennie! That was long ago—even before Miss Branson taught us at the Comers. It was a very special, lacy one and it was a job buying it without any questions being asked. I showed it to all the girls, with your initials on it, but afterward I hid it in the attic and it’s been on my soul ever since.”

He didn’t laugh, only walked silently by her side. They were nearing the house again.

“I don't know why I didn’t send you a valentine,” he said at last. “Nor why I haven’t sent you one every Valentine’s Day since.” His voice was bewildered.

“Why should you have?”

“I don’t suppose you’d think me anything but a silly old man, Mary, if I said I’d like to stay on here—with you—and never go back? You wouldn’t, would you?”

They were going up the path again. They paused at the step.

“Why, no, I wouldn’t think that, Hennie,” she said. “But I would say it’s a little too late to be considering any such thing.”

“Why is it?”

She went on to the porch and opened the door. They stepped out of the starry country night into the warmth of the homelike room.

“Why is it?” he asked again.

She took off her coat.

“Well, I don’t know as I need to say, do I? We’re too old and too different, Hennie. It’s easy to see you’ve lived a very different life than we have here. You’d get tired of it quick enough. It’s quiet here and we have to make our own pleasures. You wouldn’t get used to that any more than I’d ever get used to the city now.”

“I’d like to try.”

He stood there, overcoat still on. His eyes were earnest, though his mouth kept to its habitual bored line.

“No, Hennie. I guess it’s made you sentimental, coming back to the old places . . . but I Ve got my job here still with the boys and the farm to run. A new groove’d be hard for me to ran in. And for you, too. But I’m human enough, I guess, to feel glad you asked me, anyhow, Hennie.”

'""THEY SAID little more. He went up to ■*bed. There was a soapstone, wrapped in flannel, between his blankets.

In the morning when he came down to breakfast Oliver had already come in from his trip to the milk station.

“So you’re going to be a doctor, your aunt tells me, Oliver?” Henry Padget said. “Yes, sir. I plan to be.”

“It’s a long pull.”

“Yes, I know. That doesn’t matter.”

He looked very slight for the long pull, but his eyes promised he would make it.

“How would you like to come in with me when you come up next fall? I have an extra room and I’d be glad to have you there. I could make you very useful if you feel squeamish about taking it for nothing.”

The boy’s face lost its gravity.

“Gee, that’s decent of you,” he said. “If Aunt Mary doesn't mind, perhaps I will. It takes a lot of money for medical school even if you eam a lot of your way.”

Mary Annable said good-by to him in the presence of the twins and Kate.

“It’s certainly been a treat,” she said, smiling at him. “Don’t wait twenty-nine years before you come again.”

TN MID-AFTERNOON he walked into -*• his office. Miss Fancher looked up, a little startled, as he came in.

“Mr. Hartley’s been on the phone all day,” she said at once. “And the McEwen people—they’ve someone waiting now, I think, though 1 told them you might not be back today.”

“Well, I’m back,” he said. “I’ll see them at once. McEwen first, please.”