FICTION

Today My Son Will Wed

"Suddenly, seeing Chad standing there, waiting, I—his mother— knew I was giving his bride a greater gift than any other"

DORIS HUME August 1 1941
FICTION

Today My Son Will Wed

"Suddenly, seeing Chad standing there, waiting, I—his mother— knew I was giving his bride a greater gift than any other"

DORIS HUME August 1 1941

Today My Son Will Wed

FICTION

"Suddenly, seeing Chad standing there, waiting, I—his mother— knew I was giving his bride a greater gift than any other"

DORIS HUME

JUST FOR an instant on reaching the church door I paused because of the breathlessness that unsteadied me. Then, “I’m Chad’s mother,” I told the tall young usher, accepting gratefully the staunch support of his arm as he led me down the aisle to the ribbon-guarded pew reserved for the family of the groom.

There were faint whispers as I took my seat, a little rustle of interest. I knew people were looking. Friends of the bride—the friends Lucinda Willman had known all her life. Friends of the groomthose friends Chad had made since coming to the city.

Strangers, all of them, to meyet familiar as a design once fixed ujxjn the mind can be familiar. An overtone of perfume and of furs muted the cool fragrance of the massed white lilies which filled the church.

I glanced down at my blue crepe spread across my knees. I had wanted to look so nice for Chad. Miss Richie, the dressmaker back in Clivehill, had done her best. Her eyes had been bright behind their heavy glasses. “Oh, Mrs. Mendyke, you look just lovely. Chad will be so proud.” But I didn’t look lovely, not as these other women looked, with their skillfully tended faces, their unworked hands, their furs, their jewels. Not even Chad’s orchids on my shoulder could change things - the first orchids I had ever touched. Simpler flowers would have suited me better, but Chad had wanted it this way. “Orchids to you. Mom.” So I had worn them.

But I knew just how I appeared to these people—a small unpretentious woman with grey hair, whose face had known wind and rain and sun too intimately for cosmetics to change it much.

I should not have come. Since yesterday when the train had pulled into the station and I’d met Lucinda, I’d known

I should not have come. I was shaming Chad and all he had achieved, by my plainness.

But having him marry and not be there to see ... It would have been unbearable. The miles from Clivehill had seemed long because of my eagerness.

Oh, the relief of seeing him there in the crowd at the station, so tall, so dear, his thin fine face lit with expectancy; his grey eyes, so unbelievably Joel’s, searching for me. My throat had tightened preventing speech. I could say nothing, just go into his arms and feel them hold me fast.

“Mom,” he said, and kissed me hard. “Mom.” And then in a voice I’d never heard from Chad, “Mom, this is Lucinda.” Oh, the pride of it.

The silly mist cleared from my eyes enough that I could see the girl beside him, slim and lovely, gold of hair, golden tan of skin, with a gay red mouth and eyes as blue as the larkspur I grow in that special corner of the garden. Chad’s choice, Chad’s girl. “My dear,” I said to lier. No other words would come just then.

“I’ve wanted to meet Chad’s mother.” Her voice had richness, warmth; I liked her smile and the hard quick clasp of her hand. I liked her--it wasn’t that. But she was different from girls I’d known. The very set of the pert hat back of her blond pompadour, the casual swing of the soft fur cajxi from her shoulders, even the way she tucked beneath one arm the enormous handbag with the bold LAV. sprawled across one corner, made me feel commonplace. It was nothing she did; it was everything she was. She seemed to tvpify how far Chad had come from Clivehill.

“Isn’t ’Cinda just like I told you?” Chad was saying. “Eyes as blue as yours; didn’t I tell you?” Exultation in

his voice, then his quick smile for me. “Gee, Mom, it’s good to see you.” I clung to his arm gratefully. Chad was the same; Chad hadn’t changed.

“I’m taking you over to my hotel, Mom,” Chad said.

Lucinda broke in, “We’re simply crammed to the attic with bridesmaids and aunts and things. Mother feels so badly. I mean ...”

“I want Mom where I can keep an eye on her,” Chad said, laughing as he led the way to the car. “We’ll take her things over.”

“And then you’re coming home to lunch with me,” Lucinda said. “Mother is expecting you.”

The car was long and low and beautiful. “ ’Cinda’s,” Chad explained. “She wanted to do you proud. After tomorrow she’s riding in mineand liking it.”

They looked at each other and something leaped between them, something swift as light yet tenuous as the grip of clasped hands. I thought, she loves him; there is no need for doubt there.

r-piIE SWIFT pace of the car through traffic pressed my heart up against my throat. We paused at the hotel while Chad sent up my things, then dropped him at his office and Lucinda and I were off again, pulling up at last before a white-pillared house crowning a low knoll amid an uprushing green tide of lawn.

A nervous unease seized me; I felt as on the awful day when, as a child, I’d spoken my first piece at school and wanted to run away and hide rather than face the battery of watching eyes. Then my fear had been compounded of the knowledge that my dress was a cut-down one of my sister’s and that there was a careful but maybe recognizable dam in my blue sock.

Now it was intuitive and I understood when I met the poised coolly-beautiful woman who was Lucinda’s mother. “Mrs. Mendyke, how delightful.” But when you live close to the earth and to simple people you know the hallmark of sincerity as infallibly as the face of a loved one. Candace WilOman’s smile was as meaningless as her words, and her eyes the same blue of Lucinda’s only sharp and bright were taking in everything at one glance and pigeonholing it with swift dismaying accuracy.

I didn’t belong. Chad had gone beyond me, or the need of me, beyond the narrow little world of Clivehill. I shouldn’t have come. Oh, I shouldn’t have come.

Luncheon was a confusion of silverware, the aching scent of hyacinths, food gone tasteless in my mouth, and the soft yet somehow brittle voice of Airs. Willman tossing conversation like a bright bubble from one to the other, yet always adroitly guiding it back to herself again.

. . the time flies by so. First they’re babies and you feel so competent to do for them; then, before you know it, grown up —wanting their own way in everything.” Resignation in the odd flattening of her lips. ‘‘Oh, I’m afrzid we’ve always spoiled ’Cinda, never denied her anything she’s wanted.”

“Like Chad, you mean,” something inside me wanted to cry out, but the bright bubble of talk was tossed to Lucinda.

‘Shouldn’t Sharon and Alec be here by now? So silly, waiting until the last minute. What time did Sharon say, ’Cinda, when she phoned?” Including me then witli a casual graciousness. “My daughter Sharon—Airs. Alec Drury. You know Alec’s amazing portraits, of course.”

I didn’t, as she well knew. “You have two girls.” Alaking words come out of my dry throat, wanting most of all to keep my hands beneath the concealing edge of the dekcate lace cloth.

‘Oh no, three. Hasn’t Chad told you? A1v eldest daughter, Clio, is doing war work in England and won’t be with us.” She sighed. “Girls do such strange things nowadays. ”

The meal ended at last. Mrs. Willman excused herself. “These million last-minute details,” she deplored charmingly. “You’ll forgive me if I rush away? ’Cinda, show Mrs. Alendvke the wedding gifts; I’m sure she’d enjoy seeing them.”

“Thank you for yours,” Lucinda said as we went toward an adjoining room. “It was so sweet of you.”

Warmth kindled in me. I’d hoped she’d like the sheets. They were of the finest material I could get in Clivehill. I had drawn threads for the hemstitching, crocheted yards of narrow insertion in a bud design, whipped it in by hand. There were six of them and to me they seemed beautiful.

I know how happy I should have been having them, had I been a bride.

And then I saw Lucinda’s gifts, a room full of them. Silver and crystal, rare carved woods, damasks, linens and laces. Beautiful things, expensive things, beyond my means and all my hope of giving. And the sheets I had thought so fine seemed coarse and heavy, as out of place in the company they kept as I in this house. Shame crept up in me, a knotting of the throat, a fierce burning behind my eyelids. I was Chad’s mother and how poor a gift I’d given to his bride. She would not see the labor, or know the well-wishing I had stitched into them; she would see only the result, so commonplace, so inadequate.

“Everything is beautiful.” I .said and could not bear to look again at the laden tables.

AS WE turned to go I saw on a small lacquered chest • the silver-framed picture of a girl; it might have been Lucinda except for something blank and lifeless in the eyes. She noticed my looking. “That’s Clio. We’re alike, aren’t we?” She straightened the picture a little. “Sort of a dirty trick parking her here to guard the wedding presents.” She gave an odd short laugh.

“It is too bad your sister can’t be with you.”

“Clio? It was a run out. She’d prefer bombs any day to watching the satin and white orchids go up the aisle. It’s five months now since her divorce from Ridgley Barret. She was mad about him, but even so two years was all she could take. I íe was all the bad of all the bad Barrets rolled into one - and all the charm of the handsomest of them to boot. That’s a tough combination. NoClio won’t be here.” Something hard in her voice at that instant.

Chad had promised to call for me at three and I could see it was time. I told Lucinda, “I’d like to be ready so he won’t have to wait. Today is a busy day for both of you.” “A madhouse,” Lucinda agreed. She shrugged. “A send-off like this is Mother’s idea of all that is proper and becoming. First Clio, then Sharon, now me. I wonder she hasn’t given it up as a bad job.”

Somehow I did not resent her flippancy. There was an uneasiness in her blue eyes that lay deep back but now seemed to move forward to shadow their happiness. She turned to me almost abruptly. “You practically brought Chad up singlehanded, didn’t you?”

I smiled. “Well, Chad and I had to get on together since he was nine.”

She said soberly, "He isn’t like anybody else I know, Chad isn’t.” I thought she would have said more but just then a car came storming up the drive. “That’ll be Chad

now.” she cried and we went toward the steps. “No,” Lucinda said quickly. “No, it’s Sharon and Alec.” She rushed ahead swiftly. “Sharon -—oh, Sharon ...”

But a man climbed from the car first, a big man, a little gross in spite of good looks and lacking the lean hardness that should go with the early thirties. "Hi, little sis,” he cried and took Lucinda in his arms. He kissed her, a long deliberate kiss. I saw her involuntary stiffening and then I saw the face of the girl getting from the car. Her gaze never left the two and hurt and fear were plain in the great dark eyes before she forced a smile to her lips.

“Now don’t demoralize the bride, Alec,” she called gaily, but the gaiety was wooden.

Lucinda pulled away, flushed, embarrassed, and the man laughed. “Giving old Chad something to shoot at,” he said.

Sharon came forward and kissed Lucinda, hugging her hard. "Darling, it’s so good to see you.” Her smile was very bright. She was beautiful, more beautiful than Lucinda. But I thought I should hate a daughter of mine to hide that fear in her eyes, that guarded watchfulness.

“And this is Chad’s mother,” Lucinda said. She turned to me. “A1y sister Sharon, and my brother-inlaw Alec Drury.”

Sharon’s glance took me in swiftly as she smiled in greeting; the man bowed with scant politeness and immediately transferred his attention to Lucinda.

Then another car approached. This time it was Chad. He was with us in an instant, quite at ease, greeting the newcomers. He chatted a moment, then said, “Well, A1om, ready to come along?”

I said my good-by and as I turned to go I saw an odd questioning glance pass from Sharon to her sister. So that’s Chad’s mother, the glance said, and again the knowledge of how little I belonged swept over me. Oh, for his sake I wished I were all the things I would never be. But Chad helped me into the car as if I had been a queen.

I didn’t sleep much that night, so many emotions conflicted within me. I thought once I’d get up and slip away very quietly, leaving explanation that crowds made me too nervous. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I slept toward morning, dreaming troubled tangled dreams of a girl’s bitter questioning face, of the clear blue of Lucinda’s eyes, of sheets elaborately gift wrapped that showed themselves coarse and unbleached upon opening.

THERE WAS a lovely window of stained glass in the church and the light came through it to lay little mosaics of color upon the

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white flowers that banked the altar. Music, an opening and closing fan of melody, came from the unseen organ. In a few moments now Candace Willman would be ushered to the seat across the aisle and the wedding ceremony would begin. Chad would take Lucinda as his wife.

And my mind, in this quiet hush of waiting, went winging back over the years, singling out days that had been the milestones in Chad’s growing up, in his march toward manhood, and the coming of this hour.

The day that Joel died when Chad was nine, fear had been a more terrible knife in my heart than sorrow. Sorrow—the soul-shaking force of it—came later after the anaesthesia of shock had worn off. But fear was like a living thing in my consciousness. An unpaid-for ranch, a boy to support, no one to whom I could turn. Dreams, hopes and plans shattered into fragments in that moment when Joel lost his footing on the roof.

I left the house blindly when it was over, when in spite of my prayers, my clinging hands, Joel had slipped away from life. No one tried to stop me. I turned toward the orchards, pale with bloom, snatching fresh air in great breaths, fighting back faintness, shivering with fear.

Chad had followed me. I heard him calling and stopped unwillingly, watching his small hurrying figure floundering over the furrows as he came toward me. He was not watching his feet, he was watching me, his grey eyes so wide, so piteous that I wanted to clutch him to me and cry over him and let our two hearts break together. But in that moment that I watched him coming, stumbling over the uneven ground, something happened to me. It must have been the strength of despair that enabled me to face him with a quiet stillness that brought him up short in front of me, his glance probing mine with the terrible searching of a child. His mouth trembled and he swallowed; it helped to steady my own lips. He whimpered a little. “Mom— Mom ...”

I told him, “It’s the two of us now, Chad, you and me. We’ve got to do the things we’d hoped—three of us would do.”

He said shakily, “I’m scared.”

I told him, and wondered where I got the words, “You’re not going to be scared, because you’re going to help take care of me; I’m not going to be scared because I’m going to think about you. And both of us

are going to try to do what your daddy would have expected of us.”

He said, almost a whisper, “I heard them talking in there. The doctor said to Mrs. Trainor, ‘I don’t know what’ll become of the two of them.’” Ilis voice shook. “ ‘She’ll lose the place, of course; she’ll have to try for some sort of a job.’ ” “This is our place. Chad,” I told him. “This is our job, yours and mine. We aren’t going to run away from it; we’re going to lick it.” (And oh God how? my sick heart was asking.)

“You mean we can stay here, just like always? This’ll go on being—home?”

“I mean that, Chad. If we fight hard enough we can do it.”

Seeing his little shoulders come straight, his grey eyes level to mine with the directness that was Joel’s mark upon him, hearing him say, “You bet, Mom,” and knowing he believed ... I held my arms tight, tight at my sides lest they slide around him and I break down, for all my fine words, and tether him to my weakness and my grief.

“I’ll make him a man, Joel,” I promised, there on that windy April day. Perhaps Joel had not yet gone far enough but that he heard my unspoken pledge; I know that as Chad and I walked at last back toward the house I felt somehow comforted.

Oh, it wasn’t easy. Apricots are a precarious crop and the young walnut orchard Joel had planted to compensate through the unfruitful years had not yet come to bearing. Men take lightly the orders of a woman boss, especially if that woman is young and slight and not accustomed to command. Carelessness and inefficiency cost me much, but with Chad depending on me I dared not fail. Somehow I got enough that year to hold on until the next.

But the next year there was an unseasonable warmth to bring up the sap and swell the buds, then a swift plunge back to winter. Not a fruit was allowed to go to waste, but 1 lost ground badly. “What do you ’spose daddy’d a done?” Chad asked. That was our measuring stick in all endeavor.

Next spring there was again the evidence of a slim crop. It looked like we couldn’t go on.

r"PHAT was the time Garret Hornby offered the way out. A big man with good acres and the wherewith?) to care

for a wife generously. “Martha, I love j you,’’ he told me. “Why keep on breaking your heart over this?” And oh, there was one side of me, the weary lonely side, that wanted to turn to him, to the security and the haven that he offered. And the other side knowing with honesty I could never put anyone in Joel’s place, that I would be compromising with Life. But think of all he can do for Chad, I told myself.

And Chad watching me, knowing with the sureness with which children know things just what was going on.

1 talked to him straight out one night after Garret had been insistent. “Mr. Hornby wants me to marry him, Chad.”

“I—I know, Mom.” He swallowed, said no more, but his eyes were bright and i fiercely questioning.

“You could have things easier, Chad; he could send you to school, do for you things I may never be able to do.”

His grey eyes coming into such intent focus. “Are you—Mom? I mean—are you going to?”

1 suppose 1 didn’t really know myself until then. I sort of felt for the words, testing the truth of them as I spoke. “When you say you love someone, Chad, it’s got to be real, the realest thing that’s in you; not because of what you hope to get, but because of what you want to give. Your father and I had that sort of love; I haven’t it for anyone else. Anything less wouldn’t be fair. We'll get along, Chad.”

lie didn’t say anything; I knew he couldn’t, but relief softened his tense young face and a fire leaped up in his eyes. I knew then I had gained more than I could possibly have lost. Keeping faith with an ideal. Because of his knowing that he could feel pride in his heart when he remembered today.

j He said at last, a suppressed excitement i in his voice. “Mom, I’m going into town j for a while.” He wanted to stop there but j the news would come out. “There’s a guy I know who’s giving up his paper route . . . Mom . . . We aren’t licked, Mom, are we?”

After he had gone I felt limp and shaken, realizing how I might have failed him, weakly thinking I was doing what was best for both of us. I knew now it was well I had not compromised.

Boarders saw us through that year. Chad and I moved to the screened porch to sleep; we raised rabbits and chickens for food, and a vegetable garden that could be tended evenings. We made our payments with hardly a dollar left over. The next year the walnuts yielded their first crop.

The years ran swiftly. Chad lived up to the promise of the hands and feet that seemed always too big for any indoor space in which he had to use them. The look of Joel about him grew with his growing.

At eighteen he was through high school and ready to go on to college. That had been Joel’s dream for his son; I wanted to see it come true. He had told me once, “I love the land, Martha, but it may be different with him. I wouldn’t want to bind him to it if he has other leanings. I want him to develop his way.”

A boy big as a man, handsome, fullblooded, alert. Aware of girls, of their charms and their enticements. Grown surly at times, given to long deep silences.

I knew it was the way with him just now; I knew it would pass with his emergence into full manhood. But it made me lonely a little, knowing that we could never again be as close as we had been.

Chad said once, “Mom, you never hound a fellow, do you?” He gave me a rough hug in passing and went on out. I stood with my hands in biscuit dough, savoring the words as the sweetest compliment ever paid me.

That was the year Chad met the Pryor boy. He was older, with ample spending money and a reputation for wildness that I do not doubt lent him glamour in Chad’s eyes after the leaness of his own existence. He was flattered at Clint’s notice and spent all his spare time with him, neglect-

ing things now and then, defiance at restraint ready to crop out in him at an instant’s notice. There were times I felt he had become a stranger to me.

“Joel,” I used to ask. conscious then of my need of him, of his man’s viewpoint and his man’s logic, “Joel, what should I do?” I was looking at a picture of him, an old picture, and the eyes gazed back at me so level, so understanding. My heart was sick that Chad had had so little time to know the fineness of his father. I polished the little walnut frame with my apron, blew on the glass and rubbed it until it shone. Then I put the picture in Chad’s room on his dresser. Maybe he’d like to have it. He never mentioned it; neither did I.

I íe telephoned me one night after he had gone into town. “Mom, Clint Pryor is going up to their cabin on Baldy. I’m going along. Be back first thing in the morning.”

I couldn’t have said why my heart felt heavy when I put up the receiver.

It seemed strange without Chad in the house; I realized how much he’d done to keep away the emptiness. It was a long time before I fell asleep.

rT"'IIE SOUND of a car wakened me, then footsteps on the porch and voices, low-pitched. I got up reaching for robe and slippers, my skin prickling. Had something happened to Chad?

The front door had never seemed so heavy before to drag open. Chad stood there; with him a girl-a young slip of a thing with a weak pretty little face, much over-rouged. I could see she had been crying.

Chad’s face had a queer grim look and the eyes he turned to mine held a desperate plea for understanding. He said, “Mom, this is Leta Carrie. Her—her folks are away. I’ve told her she can stay here tonight.”

The girl’s glance darted toward Chad and back to me, apprehensive, uneasy.

I told her, “Of course. Chad’s friends are always welcome.” I hoped they could not hear the pounding of my heart.

They followed me in, ill at ease both of them. I said, “Wouldn’t you like some cookies and milk before you go to bed? I baked a batch today, black walnut and pecan—both.” I led them to the kitchen, set out the milk, got the cookies from the big blue can. “You and Chad go ahead and eat and I’ll fix your room,” I told the girl. I went away; I felt for just a moment I had to be alone.

When I returned the girl followed me upstairs without a word. “I hope you’ll sleep well,” I told her. “And take your time about getting up in the morning.”

“Thank you—and good night.” She looked as if she wanted to say more. Then, “Good night,” she said again awkwardly.

I went downstairs to clear the things from the kitchen table. Chad was there waiting for me. Something like a load lifted from my heart; I’d been afraid he’d not be there.

I put away things, rinsed the few dishes. Still he did not go. At last he spoke, the words coming out slowly, hard to say.

“I went with Pryor, Mom; we—we picked up some girls; Leta and a girl Clint knows. Leta’s folks were away and she left word, if they should come back, that she was with Clint’s girl. We—we went up to the cabin.”

There was a long silence. I wanted to cry out, “Tell me, Chad, tell me— quickly.” I dried and redried the glass I was holding; hands don’t shake so if you keep them busy.

He said, his boy’s voice roughened, almost savage. “Aw, she was just a dumb kid, trying to act hard-boiled—didn’t know what she was letting herself in for. I—I couldn’t have looked that picture of dad in the face if . . . ” He thrust his hands deep into his pockets, took a nervous stride or two. Then he stopped in front of me, his grey eyes unhappy, yet meeting mine levelly. “I didn’t know where else to take her, except here. She

was afraid to go home at this hour for fear her folks’d get wise.”

So many things I wanted to say and must not. Perhaps I need not. His eyes were honest and open again as they had not been in months. They held the look of the old Chad. “I’m glad you brought her here,” I said. I smiled at him. “We haven’t had a guest for a long time.”

“Gee, Mom,” he said. “Gee ...” No more than I, could he say the things he wanted to.

The rest of the night I lay awake; happiness can be as much a stealer of sleep as sorrow.

In the morning before I was fairly up a car came racing up the lane. The man who flung himself from it was hollow eyed and grim. He took no time for civility. He said, “Wheie’s your son, Chad?” and his hands were clenched to fists.

“He’s out doing some chores,” I said. “He’ll be in presently.”

He said, “You’re not covering up. I’ll kill him when I get my hands on him. He and that Pryor ... I know the whole thing. He and my girl, Leta . . .”

An apron is a helpful thing; you can tuck your hands under it and hold them tightly and no one can see. I said, “Oh, you’re Lcta’s father. Chad told me when he brought her out that her folks wouldn’t be home until today. You’re just in time for breakfast, Mr. Carrie. The child isn’t up yet; I told her to sleep late as she’d like to, but when she smells my home-cured bacon frying ...”

His tense furrowed face seemed to crumple up. He said unsteadily, “You mean —you mean, she’s here? Safe?”

I smiled. If you stretch your mouth a certain way it makes a smile. “She was sleeping like a baby when I looked in while I dressed; her room opens right off mine.”

He said after a while, “Mina Biggs’ father has sworn out a warrant for Clint Pryor’s arrest. She’d told her folks she was staying with Leta. They were seen with Clint—and your boy—heading up Baldy road.”

I spoke as levelly as I could, almost sick with the relief that surged through me. “Young ones like to feel they’re being daring; it’s all show mostly. They’re right and sound enough underneath.” “Yes,” he said, “yes, I guess so. I—I don’t know what to say, Mrs. Mendyke . . . Mind if I use your phone and let her mother know ...” Something pathetic in his face, with hope come back into it.

The next year Chad went to college; lean years for both of us, but he got a parttime job and I sent him what I could. Joel must have foreseen; the land was not Chad’s love. Law was the field he chose. From the first he showed unusual aptitude toward it. Upon graduation with honors he found an opening in the offices of Whitlock and Kent. The rest has been growth, steady unremitting progress. I know there will be a day not too far distant when the name of the firm will read: Whitlock, Kent and Mendyke . . .

SHARON, Lucinda’s sister, and Alec Drury took their seats. By turning just the littlest bit I could see the lovely line of Sharon’s profile. But there was a tightness about her mouth and a tenseness in the arrogant set of her young head.

Now, at last, Mrs. Willman was being escorted down the aisle. She nodded to me, a little condescending nod. Then I saw her seat herself, serene and proud in soft lace and pale furs, green orchids at her shoulder. Mother of the bride.

Chad had come out now and was waiting, his best man beside him. He was facing the congregation and the stirringly beautiful strains of the wedding march filled the church, bearing up one’s spirit as on great wings. The bridesmaids were approaching in a rustle of taffeta, vivid as flowers, and Alec Drury was straining forward to see.

A wedding of a daughter of the rich. Chad had come a long way from the little ranch in Clivehill, from the paper routes

and the labor in the orchards. Proof of it was in this gathering about me; further proof in those laden tables that held the gifts in the Willman house.

But suddenly, seeing Chad’s face, the clean fine manliness of it, seeing him standing there waiting, I knew that I was giving Lucinda a gift greater than anyone, something money could not buy for her, or wealth insure for her. Security —because of the fineness of the man she was about to marry. Insurance against Clio’s bitter disillusionment, against the shut-up hurt that gnawed so deeply at Sharon’s valiant spirit.

Blundering and stumbling it is true, yet I had taught Chad something of honesty, of decency, of reverence for a woman. Out of the boy had come a man whom a woman might love with sureness and with faith.

Mine was the right to be proud. I sat straighter. For somehow the clothes no longer mattered, or that my hands were work worn, or that I had so long been ix;>or in material things.

Joel and I because of the steadfastness

of our own love had given Lucinda a gift —the gift of that spirit which his memory and my devotion had forged in Chad.

I had never thought of it before, yet it bore the sound of truth. I wanted to lean toward Candace Willman, there in her platina fox and her arrogance, I wanted to say to her, “Today is a day on which you may feel grateful, because your Lucinda will be safe with Chad, all the sweetness and fire and youth of her; their love can be a beautiful thing, a richly-growing thing, because on that day I dared not let a nine-year-old-boy say he was afraid was laid the foundation for the courage and the goodness she has found in him.

And now I saw Chad’s face transfigured. The music rose to a note of triumph and down the aisle on her father’s arm moved Lucinda in a shimmer of white, her blue eyes glowing, radiant, their look running ahead to Chad, loving him, claiming him.

I felt an emotion too deep for tears, a happiness beyond expressing. I uttered a prayer that would never lind words—for both of them, and for a dream come true.