Some Hands Hold Tight
The love story of a girl who learned that real love isn’t the handcuff kind
LENORA MATTINGLY WEBER
THIS RAINY evening in May, Melanie Dodd was late getting home from her day at college. She pushed in the easy-to-open front door. Misty rain clung to her fuzzy
sweater and curling ends of dark hair like a sprinkling of glass beads. From the kitchen came thumping sounds and the brown, tantalizing smell of pot roast. Her brother Bill was extricating a salad bowl from a low cupboard. Bill was in his last year at Medical.
Melanie never knew just what she'd find her mother doing; she might be cleaning the soot from the kitchen range, or planning a lecture course on Sixteenth-century England with the Dean of Literature, or giving solace to some homesick student.
But this rainy evening Mrs. Dodd was pecking at an old and high-busted typewriter in the living room. At sight of Melanie she guiltily shoved a jar of something behind her typewriter.
“More silver polish, or moth preventive or eucalyptus balm?” accused Melanie.
‘ Beauty day,” admitted her mother. “The poor woman that came to the door said she’d get a steady job with the firm if she sold twenty-five.” “And it gives the skin an inner-petal glow—and you’ll never use it,” Melanie supplemented. Then: “Mums, have you still got your class-day dress?” Her mother took seven seconds to look back twenty-five years.
“No. No; I kept it a while and then—you remember the ]x>or Hawser girl that stayed with us when you and Bill were tiny?—and when she was getting married—”
“—she didn’t have a thing to wear and so you made it over for her. Woman, you’re the givingest soul!” But Melanie grinned as she poked into place one of her mother’s hairpins. Theirs was such an open-handed, happy home. She explained: “Harriet Parthison suggested that our class wear our mothers’ class-day dresses because the library is celebrating its twenty-fifth year. Harriet has her mother’s dress— and the petticoat, and gloves and slippers.”
“Heavens, yes,” her mother agreed. “Harriet could even take her grandmother’s christening robe and pinning blanket out of mothballs. They’re great ones for holding on to things.”
HARRIET PARTI IISON’S home was two
blocks from the Dodd home. It was still called the Ingley house. Harriet’s mother had been Harriet Ingley before she married Dr. Parthison. She was still often called Harriet Ingley. Those first-settler Ingleys had been possessive, tightfisted. Harriet Parthison and her daughter, Harriet, were up to the minute in cigarette smok" ing, discussions of psychology, landscaping, bul they had that same tight grip on possessions. Around the Ingley home ran an iron-palinged fence; each paling topped by a neat but sharp iron spearhead.
Melanie asked: “Mother, why doesn’t Harriet
Parthison like me? We go in the same set, she’s halfway nice on the surface but she’s diggy and mean underneath.” Just today Harriet had made a point of telling Melanie of graduation gifts already received-a coral satin tea gown, a Chesapeake pup registered as “Son of Gunar,” a fireproof marmite for Sunday-night suppers. “A marmite.” Harriet had explained patronizingly, "is a piece of French pottery.”
It had sounded like a fur-bearing animal to Melanie.
Her mother answered: “I don’t know. Mel. I’ve often wondered the same thing about her mother. Your father and Dr. Parthison were chums all through Medical. They planned together to go to Servia with a Red Cross unit.” Dr. Parthison hadn’t gone. Everyone knew that it was his wife who prevented him. Dr. Dodd had gone; had served in a hospital on the river Sava and then, just when he was ordered back, had died suddenly of typhus . . . "We get under their Ingley skin lor some reason or other. They quite nicely hate us.”
A rainy gust swept through her mother’s papers. Bill called in from the kitchen: “You already wet, Sis?”
“You might as well be wet. I’m a dry little homebody, but my salad lacks soul without an onion. And not one in the house. You’ll go to the store after onions, won't you?” Bill insisted.
Melanie went. It was dusk now. Past the ironfenced Ingley home she trudged, whistling. The windows were lighted in the big. square brick house, the blinds drawn so as gloatingly to reveal a little of the yellow warmth within.
Melanie left the store with the bag of onions. She had not gone half a block in the wet darkness when a whining, crawling lump of puppyhood brushed against her. Such a wet, tongue-licking, wriggling fellow he was. He must have followed her; perhaps heard her whistling, for he was panting harshly. She said. “Well, come on. then!” But he staggered pitifully. She scooped him up in her arms, gasped: “Why, the ]xx)r puppy dog!” For his breast was bleeding.
Unmindful of gloves or twin sweater suit of green and brown, she cradled the muddy-footed dog close. But he was a heavy, squirming armful of dog. And he kept reaching up to lick her ear.
An onion poked through the wet sack and thumped to the ground. With an effort, she stoojxxl to retrieve it, but another onion, then all the onions, left the puckered sack and bumped splashily about. She looked hopelessly at the sack which was more hole than sack now, at the onions gleaming whitely on the wet pavement, then down at the dog still whimpering out his tale of woe.
A young man came along just then. He wasn’t one of the young medics, though his wet suit emanated a mediciny smell. He didn’t lose time wisecracking as
most young men would have done, but asked: “Which shall I carry—onions or dog?”
‘A ou concentrate on the onions,” she said. “The dog has to be carried easy.”
He rounded up every onion and stuffed them in his Pockets. But then his shabby, big-pocketed tweed wasn’t the kind to feel above onions bulging it here and there. 1 le steadied her arm as they went on with a big and bony but strangely gentle hand. He was so nice! Melanie chided herself: "1 mustn’t get maudlin about a fellow just because he carries home my onions for me.”
“I'm Dr. Roberts,” he said.
Melanie’s intuition added: “And so fresh out of interneship you haven’t earned a new suit yet.”
“We can take the pup to my office and—”
I hanks a lot, but we have medical talent in our own family. My brother is a good patcher-up."
He helped her up the steps of the Dodd home. For a minute they stlt;xgt;d on the porch, his hand still cupping her elbow. Melanie blinked rain off her eyelashes, looked at him. Yes, his tallness and leanness and serious-eyedness checked with her first measurement.
Water, dripping off the porch eaves, hemmed them in.
I le smiled at lier, eyes whimsical in his strained young face.
I hat smile drew Melanie into his inner remoteness where he kept his dreams. Unbidden thoughts squirmed about in her heart just as the dog squirmed about in her arms . . . His love would be honest . . He ought to drink half cream and half milk to “thicken out” his frame . He’d wear Christmas ties whether they were terrible or not . . . And he'd be stubborn . . .
He was wiping muddy smudges of dog paws off her chin Aon re darned sweet to lug home that hound”—and Melanie was waiting till the thudding in her throat subsided a little to say—oh, maybe to ask him in . But the dog gave a beseeching whine of pain. It brought. Melanie back to the world of Bill waiting for onions, of a pup needing patching up - why, she'd only known this tense and skinny and bony-handed young man ten minutes. “Pile the onions on top of him. And thanks!”
She pushed open the door with her knee, hurried in. And the tall doctor went down the steps, not even dodging the leaky gutter.
Pill patched up the pup, while the pot roast and soullacking salad waited. They named him Snorter because, while Bill fastened the skin together with small clips, he gave snorting little grunts which barely missed being groans, and licked any part of Melanie he could reach.
Bill washed the supper dishes while Melanie rocked the dog; he wouldn’t stay in the bed they made him. Bill had masterfully shooed mother from the kitchen—“Back to the typewriter,” he ordered. Mother had received an order lor other articles like those she had written on “Breadliners.” The editor had even added that, inasmuch as her articles clicked, he hoped she’d contribute regularly.
Bill stopped scraping the Dutch oven, shook at Melanie a bit of wirey mesh known as a Magic Mitt. “So don’t let me catch you sidetracking her thoughts. Not another word about an antique class-day dress or she’ll sit up nights making one. Wasn’t she muttering to herself, ‘The yoke was narrow insertion whipped together?’ You know how she is.”
AÆELANIE did know. Her thoughts slid back through -LYl the years. Her mother, like Friday's child, had always been the giving kind. She hadn’t kept her young doctor husband here when his heart was all for going to Servia. She had covered her heartbreak when he hadn’t returned . . .
And work! All those stay-at-home, poorly-paid things a widow with children does. Melanie remembered a Christmas when the house reeked ot turpentine from oilcloth bibs her mother painted—rabbit shapes with big ears to fasten around the neck. Again the house would be knee-deep with puffy-limbed dolls—pink dolls, white dolls, black dolls— each miraculously fashioned from a man’s sock. She had helped on elections—anything from counting ballots to speech-making.
Their house was always full of students who paid only nx)m rent but received everything from mustard-plasters to Sunday-night suppers. And always a weaving background of the noisy, high-busted typewriter. Stories and articles— not the kind that paid much, though lately those Breadliner articles had brought much correspondence and requests for speech-making at clubs. Melanie’s literature prof had told the class that Mrs. Dodd was a person of shining beliefs in life. And Bill insisted that it was Opportunity, instead of the familiar wolf, rattling now at the front door.
Bill asked: “Sis, did you stop to see Elizabeth this
“Um-hmm, that’s why I was late getting home.” Old Elizabeth had been a friend of their grandmother, now dead. .She was a sharp-tongued, sharp-eyed old lady. Yet she was frail, so very lonely living to herself, and so very, very old that the Dodd family stopped often to see her. “She wants you to stop by. Bill. I think she's low on scandal.”
“I’ve got some for her.” said Bill. “The well known Dr. Parthison has taken unto himself an assistant—a young doctor who got some of his training at Edinburgh.”
“Why go so far afield,” Melanie asked, “when there’re all sorts of brilliant young medics right here?”
Bill said sorrowfully: “From such a brilliant, family, and her so dumb! Harriet, the mother, and Harriet, the daughter, picked out the assistant. Just as the Harriets have always done the picking for old Parthison—except—”
Melanie knew that this exception was the deep-eyed drama teacher at the university who went in for Indian earrings and squash-blossom necklaces. Dr. Parthison’s certain evenings spent with her was such common knowledge that it wasn’t even spicy any more. When patients couldn’t reach him at home or office, they called her number.
“And they picked out one jxxgt;r as a Government steer,” went on Bill, “because the poor ones handle easier. This young Scotsman may not know it, but he’s already being folded down in mothballs for Harriet.”
"What’s he like?” Melanie asked uneasily.
"My psychoanalysis,” said Bill, “is that he was brought up to believe in sin and conscience, that he’ll grey early, that lie could be reduced to a pulp by a woman’s tears. The Harriets even jacked one with a name that’ll look first-family on calling cards—
Melanie stopped her rhythm of rocking.
"Oh gosh, Bill, lie brought home your onions—and I almost dragg d him in to supper and offered to s. w the buttons on his vest. I le's a lamb.”
She added catchily: “I’m the leg of a triangle.”
“Little cabbage,” said Bill impressively, “the leg of a triangle where an Ingley is the hyjxitenuse, is ill-fated at the start.”
Mrs. Dodd apjxiared in the doorway, a far-away tiredness on her face.
"How do you spell ecstasy? I can’t even guess close enough to find it in the dictionary.”
r"PIIE HUBBUB of graduation was over. Sure enough, Melanie had worn a class-day dress whose foulard fullness was gathered on to an insertion yoke. And Melanie’s mother wore a tired, radiant smile.
Melanie was working at the Summer School registration desk. The skin clips had been removed from Snorter’s incision. “A beautiful job,” bragged Bill. Snorter’s love for Melanie pulsed through him, poured out of brown velvet eyes. Melanie ran a hand down his shaggy, caracullike coat, and guessed: “Sort of a
cross between a St. Bernard and an Irish wolfhound.”
“We’ve always needed a wolfhound,” Bill said.
And then a tragic thing happened. On Saturday morning Melanie, with Snorter at her heels, was walking through town on her way to old Elizabeth’s. Melanie’s green sweater, which had seen much wear and weather, was the color of dusty apple leaves, and it made Melanie’s eyes the shade of apple leaves—only not dusty ones. The same wind which flattened her collar against the back of her neck and caused Snorter to lose his puppy balance now and then, had brought out from under her boyish tan a deep coral.
A sport coupé stopped with the sudden efficiency of good brakes at the curb beside her. Harriet Parthison in a boucle suit of Eleanor blue with matching costume jewellery even to bracelets, climbed out, exclaiming: "Why, Me! Dodd, what are you doing with my Chesapeake pup? We’ve looked and looked for him.” “Your—Chesapeake—pup! Why
—I found him in the rain—that is. he found me—with a cut on his chest—” “Here, Son of Cunar! I never supposed he’d be fool enough to jump the fence. He hasn't been disciplined.” She swooped down upon the cringing dog. with sheer force shunted him into her car. She climbed in. slammed the door tight, and drove off with him. leaving Melanie with a helpless anger and unhappiness.
Her brother Bill overtook her trudging down the street, and loaded her into the Dodd car. She choked out explanation of Snorter’s absence.
Bill’s snort suggested held-back profanity rather than groans.
“Her Chesapeake ! SonofGunar! She picked him out of a catalogue because she thought he’d add that certain air to the top of their steps.”
Melanie answered around the lump in the region of her esophagus:
“Let me off at Elizabeth’s.”
Bill stopped, patted her gruffly.
“Listen, rutabaga, the pooch will always love you. But Harriet owns him, and a little thing like a heart eating itself out doesn’t matter—as witness old Parthison himself. We’ll have to look elsewhere for a dog.”
Old Elizabeth, an Ingley by marriage, was called Aunt Ingley by everyone except the Dodds. She was aunt by marriage to Harriet Parthison, who had been Harriet Ingley, a great-aunt to young Harriet Parthison. This
contrary old lady had long outlived her husband, her inheritance, and the patience of Mrs. Parthison and Harriet, who always sighingly mentioned her, “She’s grown so childish.” How else could they explain a relation who quite frankly wore men’s shoes, cooked pigs’ feet, and occasionally used coarse words.
Although old Elizabeth took a certain glee in keeping Harriet Parthison waiting so long for two valuable Ingley oil portraits, she was ungrateful to Dr. Parthison and his heart tonics for keeping together her frayed life thread; “I’d have died three times if he’d have let me,” she complained to Melanie Dodd.
The wind had a spiteful edge to it this Saturday morning in early June. "There’s been hail in the mountains,” Elizabeth said. Her old face was drawn like a withered turnip. She refused to light her coal-oil heater. “Hattie Parthison sent it to me,” she said, “because it stank so she wouldn’t have it in her own house.”
Melanie had chopjx'd kindling. She lighted a lire for her in a dumpy, short-legged stove. Melanie asked: "Elizabeth,
why do Harriet Parthison
why do Harriet Parthison and her mother hate us?” One did not mince words with Elizabeth.
“Because you’ve got more than they have. Because they envy you. The Hatties can’t figure out how anyone can give things away and still keep them. Old Hattie hates your mother because she kept her husband and Hattie lost hers.” “Elizabeth, you’re all mixed up! It was my father who died in Servia. Dr. Parthison didn’t go/’
“No, I’m not mixed up, chick . . . She wouldn’t let him go, Hattie wouldn’t. She held on like a leech. And when finally she was afraid he’d go anyway, she got with child. You’d have thought it was these quintuplets she was carrying from all her ailing. That kept her Dr. Parthison here. Ah, they hold tight, the Ingleys ”
Elizabeth reached out a griffinlike hand to Melanie.
“I asked Hattie to have my radio fixed, but she thinks I’ll die most any time, and she won’t waste the money. It’s been better’n a week now since I’ve heard Myrt and Marge.” “It might be your aerial,” said Melanie.
Melanie climbed a ladderlike trellis to the sloping roof. She did find two dangling wires just over the gutter. She was reaching out, twisting them together, when Dr. MacLeod Roberts appeared to make a professional call on Elizabeth.
"V/TELANIE hunkered back J-vi. on her heels, told herself it was being on the roof that sent that sudden rush of blood to her head.
But again he proved himself a lamb. He said, “I’ll go inside and see if it’s on.” He came back, reported, “It’sO.K.” He steadied the trellis for her descent in the whipping wind. He caught her in strong arms when it swayed tipsily. Melanie righted herself, said:
“I imagine the teakettle’s boiling. I always make Elizabeth tea.”
An organ recital was on the air. Elizabeth sipped her tea, a drowsy content nodding her head. Dr. Roberts laid his bony, gentle hand on the worn dark percale over her heart.
“She will not lie down,” Melanie murmured. “She says she’ll be on her back long enough.”
He smiled at Melanie, and there she was again drawn into
that inner circle of his where dreams and lonelinesses were all piled together. Melanie ached to straighten out the dreams and brush them off, to fill in the lonely gaps. She caught herself reaching out to smooth the tightness away from his eyes.
She got up. She must shake off this foolish spell of dying fire, and music, and his nearness; this feeling that a world of their own had spread itsell about them. She mustn’t let herself become an ill-fated leg of a triangle, with Harriet Parthison and a partnership with Dr. Parthison the hypotenuse. She said :
“I’m Melanie Dodd.”
He, too, stood up. I Iis look came straight from his heart. “I wondered that rainy night if you could be. Because— well, have you ever had a little tag-end of melody haunt you always and always, and then you come across the whole song?”
Melanie said shakily:
“How you talk ! And I thought the Scotch were reserved.” “Because I knew the kind of a mother you have. I wondered if you’d be like that. Do you remember the letters your father wrote your mother from Servia? They were published in a magazine.”
“Yes,” Melanie said. “The editor liked about Lady Paget’s hospital behind the lines, and the soldier going crazy and gibbering about airplanes being sparrows.”
“It was the other part I’ve always remembered,” he said. “That feeling about them —of a man writing to a woman who had given him his freedom, his dreams, ungrudgingly. There was nothing of the |x>or little woman left behind. It did something to me. Because most of us feel fettered, tied, to the people we love. Most love wants to own.”
Melanie answered from her Dodd heritage: “Real love isn’t the handcuff kind.”
Outside, her brother Bill tooted his horn for her. Melanie squirmed into the green sweater the color of dusty apple leaves, closed the stove damjx'r wit h her foot.
Dr. Roberts said: “My name is MacLeod Roberts—but you’re to call me Mac.”
MacLeod Roberts! The nice calling-card name. And Ingley hands didn't relinquish easily. Melanie felt again the rankling yet helpless bitterness of having a big-pawed pup snatched from her.
“When can I come to your house?” he asked.
An insubordinate ecstasy pushed aside all that.
“We’re having a new kind of sandwich Sunday evening— tomorrow evening. Everyone’s allowed three guesses as to what’s in it.”
Dr. MacLeod Roberts stopped in the crowded Dodd home the next evening. But before he could hazard even two guesses on the sandwich filling which he helped Melanie spread over perhaps an acre of bread slices, the telephone rang for him. Mrs. Parthison said a call had come for Dr. Parthison but his head was aching badly. He’d like Dr. Roberts to answer it.
'"THE following Saturday they met again at Elizabeth’s.
No fire was needed this day. for summer pushed in every window and door. The patches of sunlight on faded carpet, the fragrance of yellow roses, became theirs . . . Elizabeth dozed in the plush chair.
Melanie said: “You’re driving a car now?”
“Yes. Dr. Parthison turned over his country practice to me.”
Melanie didn’t look at him. She knew that Dr. Roberts was now living at the Ingley home so as to answer any night calls. “One foot of the fly is already in the spider’s very nice parlor,” Bill had said. Ño doubt Harriet Parthison served him tea there in the very nice parlor. Harriet in her coral satin tea gown. Maybe she served hot Sunday-night supjxir from the marmite—that sounded to Melanie like a furbearing animal—instead of guess-it-if-you-can sandwiches.
Melanie asked abruptly: “Does Elizabeth seem about the same?”
“Just a little frailer.” He gently tilted the plush chair at a more relaxing angle.
“I’ve brushed her hair,” she said. “And washed her woollen stockings and pickled the pigs’ feet she cooked. There’s nothing more to do. Mrs. Parthison and Harriet will probably stop in after they’ve seen if the church is ready for service tomorrow. I’m going on. ”
She walked home fast, swallowing hard, muttering thickly: “He’s so darn nice—all the way through . . . But he’s partly folded down in mothballs already. For Harriet . . . Lord only knows what would happen to him if he tried to get outside the Ingley fence now.”
Melanie walked on the other side of the street from the iron-fenced Ingley yard. Because Snorter was securely tied, and it hurt her to see him straining at his leash at sight of her, to hear his whimpers of entreaty strangled in his throat.
The following Saturday morning Melanie went running down Elizabeth’s driveway to meet Dr. Roberts.
“Oh, Mac, Mac, hurry!” she panted. “Elizabeth is bad ...”
Elizabeth was in the back-tilted plush chair. Melanie said brokenly:
“She seemed about the same when I came—all talky,
only so tired. And then I noticed how awful fluttery she
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Dr. Roberts measured out a stimulant, held it to Elizabeth’s lax lips. But she shook her head, endeavored to lift a weighted hand. “No no -why can’t a body go -when it’s time ...”
Melanie telephoned the Ingley house. Both Mrs. Parthison and her daughter, Harriet, were decorating the church for Sunday. The yard man would go down and tell them their Aunt Ingley was going fast.
Quite easily Elizabeth’s lrayed life-thread broke. Melanie found herself sobbing and Dr. Roberts put his arm around her, said:
"Death is as natural as life. Melanie.”
“I know.” she said. “I always thought that death would be so awful—but it isn’t. She knew she was going to die and I asked her if she had any message for anyone, but she just said, like she always did: ‘Keep on giving, chick.’ ”
He said huskily: “You’ve given me so much. Melanie.”
She answered honestly, for here in this room life and death and love were honest things.
“Mac, you need so much. You need to be loved' hard—not just halfway. It's you I love; I wouldn’t change you.”
He sandwiched her two hands between his gentle, bony ones.
“Melanie, I’ve been afraid of life. It ties strings around you. It was a struggle for me to get through Medical. There’s a big family of us. I’ve felt the obligation I owe the folks for helping me through. I’ve been afraid of poverty and not being a success; not being able to pay back. So when Parthison offered to take me in with him, I couldn’t get here quick enough . . . But that isn’t my dream. It’s bone-setting, straightening legs and arms, bodies, for little tikes of kids . . . And you’re so unafraid of life. Melanie, we could get a start in some little town. Could you stand struggling along, maybe without conveniences?”
“I’d love it,” she said. “I know how to clean coal-oil lamps; you save all your siglis and blow in them and polish them with a catalogue page.”
“That’s the wonder of you. I feel so unfettered with you; as though I could walk down the road with you, swinging hands, and whistling-—”
The Ingley yard man knocked softly at the door, gave this message: Mrs. Parthison and her daughter would be there just as soon as they finished at the church.
MELANIE expected Dr. Roberts to stop in for the usual open-house Sunday evening. He didn’t. Elizabeth was buried Tuesday. Melanie looked for him Wednesday, but lie didn’t come. Thursday afternoon was stickily hot. Melanie, returning from punching lecture tickets for summerschool students, found a note for her.
My father has suffered a light paralytic stroke. So I feel it’s up to me to get my two younger brothers through college. The Parthisons have offered to let them live in Elizabeth’s cottage— and I can manage the rest. But I can’t make any plans, except to stay on with Dr. Parthison. Mac.”
Melanie read it twice, trying not to see the pictures that kept pushing in between the words. First, that iron fence of the Inglevs. And Bill saying, “He doesn’t know it but he’s being folded away in mothballs 'for Harriet.” And the drama prof with that ironic hate in her eyes.
Her mother said: “Anything special?”
Melanie could feel the wings of her mother’s love widening out to enfold her.
“Oh, so so.” Melanie’s lips felt white and numb. “Mac’s going to take over college for his two brothers.” She thought her next remark would sound quite matter-of-fact, but a mother’s ears could detect the forlorn sob underneath. “So lie won’t be able to leave Dr. Parthison like—like he thought.”
Her mother was murmuring planninglv: “One brother wants to go to Medical and one to Engineering, lie told me once.”
Melanie carried up to her room the sultry heat of the July day. What did people do when their hearts were like a wadded-up, twisted empty sack? One had to keep on making motions of living. She’d put on the clay that gave the skin an inner-petal glow. As though it mattered! Her knuckles had no push to them . . . Bill had said, “The kind who’d be reduced to a pulp by a woman’s tear.” Maybe she could blame her own tears the morning old Elizabeth died for his talk of walking down the road to her . . . The clay that was chalking on her face cracked as her face contorted with a sob. “I didn't think that life could be so awful.”
Long days, aching days, passed. Everyone said, “My, isn’t it hot?” and everyone answered back, “The hottest July we’ve had.” Melanie’s eyes now had the look of dusty apple leaves—as though dry dust had sifted over her happiness.
She tried co reach Dr. Roberts by telephone. But she could never catch him at the office. Finally on Sunday morning she took down the receiver with clammy fingers and called the Ingley house.
“Who is it calling, jilease?” she was asked.
“Melanie Dodd.” She wondered if the drama teacher gave her name just so brightly casual while heljiless hate thudded through her.
Melanie planned to say something light and foamy, maybe, “You still have one guess left on the sandwich.” But at sound of his voice she couldn’t say anything for a few seconds—then sofdy: “Mac, I want you.”
He answered instantly: “I’ll be over this evening. We’ve been so rushed with this typhoid scare.”
She was still leaning tremblingly against the wall when the telephone rang. Dr. Roberts said regretfully: “Melanie, Harriet tells me I have a country call to make this evening that I can’t postpone. Some other time.”
What could one say? One couldn’t sniffle out, “I’m sick with wanting you, Mac.” One could only say, in a voice thin with trying to sound casual: “Yes; some other time then.”
ANOTHER WEEK passed. Each day 4* was so many clock ticks of disappointment. Helping summer-school students corral courses for needed credits. Each night was so many hours of unleaven dreams. And not even old Elizabeth to visit on Saturday.
Saturday afternoon Melanie’s mother brought home a dress so summery it fairly mocked at hot days; yes, and so jiert and happy it mocked at sick hearts. Melanie had seen il once in a store window when she was with her mother and had said, “It’d have to be pressed every time you sac down, but gosh, it’s party-ish.”
Melanie’s mother said now as she held it up to Melanie’s limp slimness: “I’ll take it up a little under the arm, so you can wear it tomorrow evening.’’
Melanie had to rattle about among shoes and cleaning fluid on the bottom closet shelf to keep from sobbing out, “You think he'll come—but he won’t. He’s on a leash . . . ”
But the next evening she put on the dress. A dress with deep blue daisies in it—and her eyes had no choice but to be blue. Melanie thought, “It’s such a happy dress . . . Our’s is such a happy house.” Perhaps it was the very smiling confidence of a dress with a sash of changeable taffeta, but Melanie felt her happiness shaking off that coating of dry dust. “Surely he’ll come tonight.”
Surprising how many steps could come to ¡ the Dodd porch on Sunday evening without being the step—Bill’s young medic friends, college profs, one-time roomers with new jobs or babies to talk about.
It grew late and Melanie’s hojies were as crushed and bedraggled as the dress that
needed pressing every time you sat down, when her listening ears heard a thump on the front porch, then an indefinite thumping at the door. Melanie hurried to it, her heart doing some very definite thumping.
It was Snorter a longer-legged, thinner Snorter with a bit of leather leash dragging from his collar. Snorter twisting himself into paroxysms of delight. His ecstasy gave no thought to Melanie’s dress or hair or white slippers. Melanie dropped down on the step and fought off his uninhibited love, while she crooned over him : “It was our old sweet Snorter, and so thin. lie didn’t forget his Melanie, did he?”
And then when they were both spent and j sobered she sat with her arms about him and j said: “I’ll have to take you back, Snorter.” Part of the tears were for that, part were the ones she had barely managed to keep under their puckering string this whole week.
She had just got to her feet with the dog in her arms, when Harriet Parthison’s coupé stopped in front. Harriet climbed out. And I)r. MacLeod Roberts climbed out. Melanie had only time to wipe away her tears on the soft ear of the dog. She felt rather than saw the smoothness of Harriet’s uncrushable white silk, the harassed and driven look of Dr. Roberts . . Oh, Dr. Parthison had worn that same look until it became a dry, what-the-devil-do-I-care one !
Harriet said accusingly: “I thought we’d find (lunar here.” She took him from Melanie’s arms, put him on the ground, her hand gripping tightly the broken strap. “We’ll have to put him on a stronger leash. He’s a valuable dog. No wonder you'd like to have him.”
“I wanted him before I knew lie was anything but a lonely pup,” Melanie said. “I don’t care about his pedigree.”
The dog was still straining toward I Melanie. Harriet gave a possessive tug at the leash, said with a smile that was only a j parting of the lips: “Come, (lunar, you must come home.” But he had to be dragged every inch of the way.
Dr. Roberts said: “Harriet, I shouldn’t think you’d want a dog you had to keep chained. Why don’t you let Melanie have him?”
Harriet laughed indulgently. “Oh, he’ll settle down when he finds out he can't get away.” She gave Dr. Roberts’s arm a possessive tug; her smile was that same parting of the lips. “Come on, MacLeod, we must be getting back.”
MELANIE felt a queer tenseness as they stood there in the summer night. She saw in Dr. Roberts’s eyes a far-seeing light, almost a radiance.
“I’m not going, Harriet. I’m going to stay here. With Melanie. I’ve broken my leash, too.” He came over to Melanie, and, even as he had that first night, wiped the smudges of a puppy’s paws from her chin; his dabbing even included the wet trace of tears.
Harriet said: “You don’t know what
you’re saying, MacLeod, or doing. Father’s expecting you to take care of two of his sick calls tonight.”
“I know well what I’m saying and doing,” he answered.
Harriet’s voice was placating. “Father’s included you in all his plans.”
Melanie said swiftly: “Don’t decide
because of me, Mac. Don’t feel sorry for me because I’m all messy and sobby. You have to think about getting your brothers through school. Please, Mac, I don’t want to hold you; you might get to hate me.”
But Dr. Roberts’s Scotch jaw was set stubbornly. “I’ve decided,” he said quietly.
Harriet drove off with one hand on the wheel, the other gripping tightly the strap of a dog whose head was stretched wistfully out toward the Dodd home.
Melanie said: “Mac—if you should ever be sorry ...”
He folded his steady hands over her
trembling ones. “I couldn’t be......ever,” he
Melanie’s mother came out the front door, called from the porch’s edge.
“Dr. Roberts. I’ve been trying to get you all day. Can one of your brothers swim?”
“Swim?” he repeated bewilderedly. “Yes. We could never keep the one next to me out of the river.”
Mrs. Dodd sighed relievedlv.
“Oh, then it’s all right. Bilí and I hustled him a job lifeguarding at the university pool next term. It'll pay tuition for both boys and buy books. The two of them can stay at our house. We’ll never notice two more plates at the table, and they can sleep together in the room over the porch.”
Melanie said around the lump in her throat: “No, mother, no; you’re not going to do that for me for us.” In that instant she saw a lifetime’s gifts her mother making valentines for Melanie to give her friends; her mother bringing home a canary for her when she had the measles: her mother never able to afford a vacuum cleaner but always managing a dress for the formais. “You’ve got to think of yourself and your writing.”
Dr. Roberts, who needed half milk and half cream to thicken out. looked up at the woman, as she stood on the top step, with reverence in his eyes.
“We can’t let you sacrifice so much forus.”
She said: “Hush, you foolish things. I’m a [lenurious old woman and I can’t change. I’m grabbv for happiness for my own. That’s the one thing I hold tight.”