FICTION

TURN AGAIN HOME

Des meant it to be just a chicken coop. How could he know it would become his father’s personal backto-peace beacon?

ELIZABETH FOSTER August 1 1945
FICTION

TURN AGAIN HOME

Des meant it to be just a chicken coop. How could he know it would become his father’s personal backto-peace beacon?

ELIZABETH FOSTER August 1 1945

TURN AGAIN HOME

Des meant it to be just a chicken coop. How could he know it would become his father’s personal backto-peace beacon?

ELIZABETH FOSTER

AS HIS contribution to the war effort, Des was building a chicken coop. It was to be a surprise for Mum, who did not suspect that he was entertaining the idea of becoming a serious chicken farmer. But a few Sundays ago Mum had complained that the price of chickens was getting exorbitant, and that she could no longer afford broilers for Sunday lunch. He had worried about that until he had been shown a way to solve the problem. He had chanced upon a mail-order catalogue which offered baby chicks at eleven and a half cents, and a brooder around three dollars. Chick few! was expensive, but if he turned in some of bis war savings certificates he could afford to buy the chickens and the brooder and the feed. He didn’t feel badly about turning in bis certificates, because the Government was asking everybody to grow their own food.

Des hammered another nail into the framework of 1 he coop and looked at it with a frown. He wished dad were here to help him, because the coop looked sadly lopsided. Dad had been an architect before he joined the Navy, and he understood about planes and angles, and what made a thing stand up or fall down. Des was afraid he needed a spirit level and a slide rule to build a really good coop, but be didn’t dare spend the money. Everything he had in the way of certificates and available cash must go into baby chicks and growing mash. He wanted to do a good job on the coop so that Mum would realize he was in earnest— that be wasn’t just a kid any more playing around wit h an idea. He was really serious about this chicken business, and he was afraid that if the coop looked lopsided and amateurish Mum would discourage the whole project . He was sure she had no idea what he was doing, although the sound of hammering must have penetrated the house by now. She did not have an especially inquisitive nature, and never came out. behind the garage anyway, for the grass there was long and full of nettles.

Jeanie trotted around the corner of the garage in search of him. She poked her long brown muzzle into his hand and he patted her affectionately. But Jeanie was unhappy these days because she missed dad— she was really his dog and no one could take his place. Something was out of balance in Jeanie’s life, too something more important than a mere chicken coop. She looked away toward the curtain of woods beyond the sloping fields, and Des stroked her ears. He knew what she was thinking; it was time to go hunting, and there was no one to take her.

“Never mind, old girl,” said Des. “The war’ll be over someday—we’ve just got to grin and bear it.”

Des began to ply his hammer again. The slope of the roof was defeating him, and he longed

passionately for his father, who would have set the thing to rights at once. With a feeling of dejection he decided to lay off carpentry for a while and have a drink of something long and cool. He could hear the tinkle of ice coming from the terrace where his mother was talking with Mr. George Perry. He put his hammer and nails in the garage and walked toward the house, followed by Jeanie. Mum and Mr. Perry broke off in the middle of their conversation and looked at him in surprise for a moment, as though they hadn’t expected him to appear like that without warning.

“What was all that hammering for?” exclaimed Mum, for the noise had disturbed the rather upsetting conversation she had been having.

“I was making a boat,” lied Des virtuously. “I was making a destroyer.”

Mum laughed, but there was a catch in her voice. “Always boats!” she murmured to George Perry.

“I think I’d better go,” said George.

Mum made a curious little gesture, half of dismissal and half of remonstrance. They seemed to have forgotten Des. George rose to his feet and looked down at her and murmured something Des couldn’t catch. Then he went away, while Mum sat there in the garden, looking into space.

“Mum!”

“Yes, Des, what is it?” she replied.

“May I have a ginger ale?”

“Yes—there’s a bottle over there in the ice bucket.” She didn’t say anything more until he was almost through his drink. It wasn’t like her to be so quiet, and Des felt her silence with growing alarm. Perhaps she had found out that he was planning to keep chickens—perhaps she was going to scold him for lying, and tell him to tear down the coop and put the lumber back on the woodpile where it belonged. After what seemed an eternity she drew her eyes away from the cloudless autumn sky overhead and looked at him.

“Des,” she said in a queer voice, “I’ve had a letter from your father.”

“Gosh!” exclaimed Des, overcome with surprise and joy, for they hadn’t heard from him in weeks. “What did he say? Is he going to get leave?”

“He’s coming home on Saturday,” replied Mum. She turned her eyes away so that he couldn’t see the expression in them.

“Gee, that’s swell, Mum!” exclaimed Des. “Now he’ll be home in time to help me—”

He was about to say, “with the chicken coop,” but he stopped himself in time, and Mum didn’t notice anything. “Just think,” he went on, “he’ll be home in time for the shooting!—Do you hear that, Jeanie? Dad got leave in time to take you partridge shooting!” Jeanie ambled over to Des, contentedly waving her tail, as though she knew what he was saying. Mum’s face grew very pale, but Des was stroking the dog’s ears and thinking about his father, and he didn’t see bow full of pain her eyes were. When he had finished his drink he rose.

“Wher J are you going?” asked his mother.

“I want to finish my boat,” he replied evasively. Mum stretched out her hand. “Come here, Des!” She pulled him gently toward her, and he wondered why. She knew he didn’t like to be kissed except when she put him to bed, but something in her eyes made him realize he had better not pull away.

“Des,” she began, “this leave isn’t going to be like the others—” Then her courage failed her. George Perry had urged her to be brave and tell the little boy everything before his father came home, but she couldn’t; she simply couldn’t do it now, with the dog looking up at her with limpid eyes and Des’ face flushed with excitement at the thought of seeing his father again—it was too much to ask of any woman. With a spasmodic gesture she held him close.

“What’s the matter, Mum?” Des was a little frightened.

“Nothing, darling,” she said. Her voice was clear and steady; calm with a terrible effort. Des looked at her questioningly. “I just mean, darling,” she said, “that—-this leave—might be a little longer than usual.”

His eyes brightened. “That’s swell!” he exclaimed. “Maybe dad’ll be here long enough to get some duck shooting. Maybe we could go out to the marsh.” “Yes,” she forced a smile, “maybe you could.”

She knew she was being cowardly, but she had faced so much lately that she couldn’t face anything more, especially not a small boy with trust and hope and excitement in his eyes, and a dog waiting to go out after birds.

“Run along, Des,” she said gently, “and take Jeanie with you.”

Des went away, and after a while she heard the sound of hammering again. She closed her eyes and lay back in the rattan chaise longue while the autumn

twilight deepened around her and a chill crept out of the ground.

MUM,” said Des at breakfast on Saturday, “could you give me next week’s allowance too? You owe me fifty cents, but I’d like a dollar if I could have it.”

“What for?” asked Mum, only half hearing what he had said. After breakfast they were going into town to meet Tom—the moment she had dreaded for weeks was at hand. She poured herself another cup of black coffee and drank it nervously. It was her third, but it had no stimulating effect on her.

“I need to buy some more nails,” replied Des. This was partly true, but he also needed some money to buy wood shavings. It seemed that you had to have shavings or sawdust for the floor of a chicken coop. He didn’t like to ask his father for a loan on his first day home, so he was taking a chance on getting it out of Mum, although he wasn’t too hopeful.

“All right, I’ll lend you a dollar,” replied Mum unexpectedly.

“Oh, thanks!” he exclaimed, his face alight with relief, “thanks a lot!”

“Hurry, /Des,” she said. “Finish your breakfast— it’s almost time to leave.”

“May we stop at a hardware store in town?”

“Yes, darling,” she replied, her eyes vacant over the rim of her coffee cup.

“Mum, let’s take Jeanie to the train.”

“No!”

The word came out with extraordinary vigor, which she regretted instantly because Des looked surprised and puzzled.

“But, Mum—” he protested, “—Jeanie doesn’t get carsick any more!”

“I know,” she said hastily, “but she’ll be in the way—your father’ll have a lot of bags—there won’t be room.”

On their way into town they passed the Perry factory and she thought of George Perry’s advice: “Tell him, Cynthia ... It isn’t fair to keep it from him.” They were already nearing the station and she must tell Des now or not at all. She braced herself and tried to think of some way of making the truth sound casual, as though it wasn’t going to change their lives, as though there was nothing tragic in it. But just then she heard the whistle of the mainliner and she put her foot on the accelerator in a panic. Tom mustn’t get off the train alone, he must find them waiting there! She hadn’t time to tell Des—not unless she did it quickly and brutally . . . Again she felt weak and cowardly.

The station was crowded with soldiers and sailors and airmen; wives and children to greet husbands and fathers; and she half ran toward the platform, followed by Des and bumping into people in her frantic haste. Through a haze she saw the train come to a stop, and she clutched Des’ hand.

“Come, Des,” she heard herself saying, “he’ll need help.”

People were getting off the train. She strained her eyes through the gloom of the shed, trying to find Tom. Fear and dread gripped her—the fear that she might break down mingled with the dread of seeing him.

Des’ voice rose joyfully above the hiss of steam. “There he is, Mum—he’s down there!”

And then the boy’s steps faltered, and he hung back. “Come along, Des!” urged his mother. “He doesn’t see us yet—he’s wondering where we are.”

Des’ eyes were on his father’s empty sleeve. He grew very white and clutched at his mother's hand, holding her back. His eyes were smarting with tears, and he didn’t want his father to know he was crying.

“Oh, Mum—!” he faltered. “His right arm’s gone —he won’t be able to shoot again! Oh. Mum !”

“I know,” she said desperately. “He sees us now. Run to him, Des!’

He stumbled down the platform, trying to make his legs run. Through the troubling mist in his eyes he could see his father’s face, and it was thin and tired and lined with suffering. He looked much older, and his hair was turning grey. Des flung himself upon him, and dad held him close. It was a funny feeling being held that way with only one arm. He heard Mum saying, in a gay, natural voice which made him ashamed of the way he felt, “Tom, darling—Oh, Tom, how glad I am to see you !”

Dad didn’t say anything, but put his left arm around her and held her close as though he never wanted to let her go. Up till now he hadn’t said a word, and his silence disturbed Des almost more than his empty sleeve. He and Mum walked along the platform together toward the car, and Des followed them, thinking desperately of Jeanie who was waiting for Dad at hopie.

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DES WOKE up at six o’clock the following Saturday, roused by Jeanie’s plaintive whimpering outside his door. He got up and let her in, and she lay down on t he rug with her muzzle between her paws while he returned to bed. He was worried about Jeanie because she couldn’t understand why dad didn’t take her shooting, and she was restless and unhappy. Des leaned out. of bed and stroked her. Ordinarily she would have licked his fingers wit h some show of affection, but this morning she lay there staring at him mournfully.

After a while Des thought he would get up and do some work on the chicken coop before breakfast. The roof was still lopsided, and he longed to ask his father to help him, but dad hadn’t stirred out of the garden since he came home. He lay there in the rattan chair on the lawn, hour after hour, reading or staring up at the sky. Whenever Mr. Perry came over he talked to him, but never about the war. He didn’t seem especially interested in the fact that Mr. Perry was making something so important and secret for the new destroyers. Alum asked plenty of questions about the factory, some of which Mr. Perry wouldn’t answer, but it was queer how dad had lost all interest in the Navy . . . Mum asked him once about the Government’s rehabilitation plan for returned men, and he just made a snorting noise.

He had lost interest in everything. Yesterday Des had found him in his old workroom, idly turning over some unfinished drawings of a house he had been building before he w'ent to war. Des asked him if he was going to finish it now, and his father had crumpled the drawings into a ball and thrown them

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aeros« the room. As it wasn’t like him to be either bored or violent, Des had been frightened. He had also known that he mustn’t ask him for help with the chicken coop.

Des got up and dressed and went out to the coop. He drove a desultory nail into the roof, and the sound brought Jeanie after him. She sat a little way off from the coop, with her tongue lolling, gazing patiently at the distant woods. He was so concerned with Jeanie that he hit his thumb, and then after a while he began to be very hungry. He laid down his hammer and went indoors. His mother was in the kitchen, frying thin slices of ham. They hadn’t eaten ham for breakfast since the last time dad was home on leave. Dad came into the dining room and sat down behind a newspaper, and Mum brought in the ham. She gave him a generous portion and placed a poached egg on top of it.

Dad looked silently at the ham, and then handed Mum his plate. She cut the meat for him, and he said, “Why do you have Wrings for breakfast I can’t cut? You have enough trouble with me at dinner.”

“I thought you loved ham,” she replied.

“I do, but cutting it up is a nuisance. I’m enough of a burden as it is without giving me things I can’t cut.”

“Tom, please—not now!”

She made a gesture toward Des, but dad paid no attention. “I can’t gó on this way,” he muttered. “I’m as helpless as a child. You have to drive the car, and cut my meat, and help me on with clothes.”

Mum’s face was white and unhappy, hut she said nothing. Dad lifted his eyes and looked at her heavily.

“You’ll have to face it, Cynthia—ƒ have. We can’t go on this way. It’s too much to ask of you. I refuse to be a burden like this.”

“Have I said you were?” she returned quietly.

“No, but I know that I am.”

Mum started to say something, but the telephone interrupted her. The color flooded back into her face, and she said, “Des, go and see who it is.”

Des came hack with the announcement that Mr. Perry wanted to speak to her.

“Well, go on!” exclaimed dad coldly as she hesitated. “What are you waiting for?”

Mum rose slowly and went out of the room, Des ate his ham and eggs, feeling lost and uncomfortable. His father had forgotten his existence again. .There were dark circles under his eyes, and his face was a funny color. The ham lay on his plate untouched. He shoved it away from him and rose and went into the library and closed the door. Mum came hack into the room and sat down. “Where’s your father?” she asked.

“He’s in the library,” replied Des.

She was very quiet and didn’t say anything more until Jeanie came into the dining room, and then she exclaimed irritably, “You know that dog’s not allowed in here take her out at once!”

“Oh, Mum—!” faltered Des. Mum, who never went hunting, couldn’t understand why Jeanie was upset and restless. Des grabbed the dog by the collar and put her out of the room. She came back immediately, and Mum cried, “What’s the matter with her this morning? I’ve never seen her so disobedient!”

Des mumbled something in reply and took Jeanie by the collar again. “Come on, Jeanie, old girl!” he said soothingly. "We’ll go outside. Attagirl, Jeanie!”

He dragged her along the hall, but at the library door she sat down. She

whined and he knew he couldn’t make her go any farther. She wanted him to open the door and let her in, but he hesitated because dad had been so queer with her lately—it was almost as though he didn’t like having her around. He never made a fuss over her any more. She whined again, and Des knocked softly on the door. His father answered him in a muffled voice, and Des thought he said, “Come in!”

The moment he opened the door he saw he had made a mistake. His father looked at them angrily.

“It’s—it’s Jeanie,” stammered Des. “I’m sorry to bother you, dad, but she’s unhappy.”

“What’s the matter with her?” asked his father sharply. He was sitting on the sofa, and there was a box of shells lying beside him as though he’d been counting them. He had also opened the glass case where he kept his guns and rifles and had taken out his favorite, an old Purdy. Apparently it was awkward for him to hold a gun with only one arm, because the Purdy was resting on the floor with the muzzle pointing upward at a careless angle. Dad’s face was white and drawn and his hair looked unkempt. “What’s the matter with Jeanie?” he asked again.

Something was very wrong with him if he didn’t know what was the matter with Jeanie! A hot tide of color went over Des’ face, and he turned his eyes away from the awkwardly held gun and his father’s empty sleeve. “She wants to go shooting,” he mumbled.

A stark look came into his father’s eyes, but Des held his ground.

“Couldn’t you take her out into the big field and let her find a couple of birds?” he pleaded.

“What good would it do?” replied his father. “I can’t shoot any more.”

Des was silent, turning something over in his mind. Finally he said, “I could bring my gun along.”

“You mean that old air rifle of yours?”

“No, I don’t mean my old beebee—I mean the .22 Mr. Perry gave me for my birthday last summer.”

“Oh!” said dad, “Mr. Perry . . .” His eyes went blank again and he looked into space. Jeanie called attention to herself by pawing his knee. He looked down at her in his strange, absent way and she pawed him again insistently.

“Poor old Jeanie!” he said, “—poor old ‘Jeanie with the light brown hair.’ ” “Please, dad, let’s take her out!” “Won’t she think it’s rather funny if you do the shooting instead of me?” Des blushed crimson. He had given away something. “We’ve been out shooting together before,” he muttered.

“You have!” exclaimed his father in dismay, rousing suddenly from his apathy.

“Yes,” admitted Des uncomfortably, “but please don’t tell Mum! She doesn’t think I’m old enough to go out shooting alone with Jeanie.”

“Neither do I!” said his father severely. Then his expression changed and softened. “What were you shooting, Des?” he asked curiously.

“Oh, nothing but rabbits,” replied the boy.

Dad was silent, while Des waited nervously for a scolding. He knew that bird dogs should not be encouraged to show an interest in rabbits. But the scolding never came. Instead his father looked at him writh dawning interest as though he were groping for something in the hazy reaches of his mind.

“Do you really know how to handle a gun?” he asked broodingly.

“I don’t know, dad. I don’t think so, but I had to teach myself because you weren’t here.”

The dog gave another low whine and dad stroked her gently.

“I suppose if I were decent I’d take you both out,” he murmured half to himself. “Strange, how human Jeanie is . . . Poor old Jeanie!”

Des sensed the change in his father’s voice. “My .22 is upstairs,” he exclaimed quickly. “I’ll go get it— we can get some rabbits.”

“All right,” said his father limply.

THEY left the house and walked down the lane toward the wild pasture. Jeanie trotted ahead of them, her slim body quivering with emotion. Des knew that most of the rabbits were in the fields, but he guilefully edged toward the bordering woods. His father didn’t seem to care; he also knew where the rabbits were, but his feet led him automatically down the familiar path through the birch trees. They came to a fork, and Des took the path to the left, but dad exclaimed, “No, not there! That leads to the alder spinney where the woodcock are—we’ll try for a partridge.”

Des shivered with pleasure. His father had completely forgotten the rabbits. The path crossed a gully and began to climb a ridge. Leaves were falling around them like á rain of yellow coins, and dad said that if they flushed a bird it would be a difficult shot because there were still so many leaves on the trees and in the air. He didn’t seem to realize that shooting partridges with a .22 is not only difficult but practically impossible. Des looked at his gun and wished that dad would let him use a shotgun. That would be sweet, if dad would let him use his 20-gauge. But, of course, he’d say he was too young. Maybe next year . . .

“Wait a minute!” whispered his father suddenly. Jeanie was tense, one paw lifted, waiting ... In the deep silence around them Des could hear the leaves dropping softly from the yellow trees. There was a bird up there somewhere. Des cocked his gun, and like Jeanie he waited. Then his father moved slowly forward, and suddenly with a thunder of wings a bird rose in the air, making Des’ heart stop with shock and excitement. But he kept his head. He raised the little .22 and swiftly aimed for the partridge. It was a clean shot and the bird fell like a plummet into the undergrowth.

“Good heavens!” exclaimed his father softly under his breath, “with a .22!”

After the echo of the shot had died away there was a deep silence, and then dad said, “Go get it, Jeanie,” and the j dog disappeared into the undergrowth. ; She came back with the bird in her ¡ mouth and Des looked at it with a ! stunned expression.

“What’s the matter?” asked his | father, stifling the welter of emotions j in his own breast.

“Gee, dad!” stammered Des, “it—it was just an accident! I never thought I’d hit it!”

“Neither did I.—But it wasn’t an accident, Des,” added his father in an unsteady voice. “It was almost a miracle—in more ways than you know, son.”

Dad reached blindly for the bird in j Jeanie’s mouth, but she stood there without dropping it. He was about to reprimand her when he saw that he had reached for it with his right hand —the hand that wasn’t there.

He looked at the blank space where the hand should have been, and then with a deep expression he looked at his son. Then he turned away so that the boy wouldn’t see the emotion in his eyes and began to walk blindly home.

Des was disappointed—he wanted to go on flushing partridge—but he

silently took the bird from Jeanie and trotted after his father. They came out of the woods into the sunlit fields and dad made his way toward the house. The path led past the garage, and suddenly he paused. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing to the chicken coop.

Des knew he must have made a very had job of it if dad couldn’t see it was a chicken coop. “Just something I was making,” he replied diffidently.

“Looks like a rabbit hutch,” said his father. “Were you planning to keep rabbits?”

Des did not reply at once. He was thinking of his chickens, how seriously he had planned to help the war effort; but now, because of his clumsy ways with a hammer and his lack of knowledge about planes and angles, the whole thing was a failure. This not only hurt his pride but he was bitterly disappointed.

His father was upset by his expression. “What’s the matter, Des?”

“Oh, nothing,” mumbled the boy. After an uncomfortable pause he added, “Only—it isn’t a rabbit hutch.” “Is it a playhouse?”

“No,” said Des miserably, “I was trying to build a chicken coop. I wanted it to be a surprise for Mum. She said eggs and broilers were getting expensive, so I thought. . . maybe ...” His voice trailed away.

“Well,” said his father, “why don’t you finish it?”

“I don’t know how,” Des replied. “I can’tmakethe thing stand up straight.” He looked up at his father, full of misery, and blurted out, “I thought maybe when you came home—you could help me with it—but—”

“I can’t use a hammer any more,” his father reminded him quickly.

“I didn’t mean that way. You understand all about planes and angles—you could have told me how to make it stand up.”

“Well, why didn’t you ask me?”

Des flushed. He turned his eyes away from his father and scuffed the grass at his feet. “You were always so tired,” he muttered. “I didn’t like to bother you.”

“I wasn’t always tired,” said his father unsteadily, “it was something else.”

His eyes weren’t vacant any more. They were alive and troubled.

“Des, you should have asked me,” he exclaimed. He knew in the tortured recesses of his mind that there was something more than a chicken coop involved in this. “Come on, get your hammer and nails,” he said abruptly.

If I could only draw, he thought, to himself. I could show him so easily. I could teach him what makes it stand up. But he didn’t say so out loud. He sat down on an old bench beside the garage for he was suddenly very tired. Des reappeared with the hammer, and asked for advice. “The floor needs shoring,” he replied. “That’s why the roof is crooked. Go get some studding out of the lumber pile and shove it under that corner. No, don’t put the studding under it that way—turn it around.”

A car came in the drive. Des was intent upon his hammering, but his father heard it and exclaimed, “There’s a ear. I suppose I ought to go and see who it is.”

“It’s Mr. Perry,” said Des. “He usually stops in on his way home to lunch.”

Des paused a moment in his hammering to collect some more nails, and they could hear Mum’s voice talking to Mr. Perry. He was telling her something funny, and her laughter floated out behind the garage. Des went back to his hammering, but dad was silent and did not give him any mo-’vice

for a few minutes. He looked at the distant woods, and the dead bird lying beside him on the bench, and Jeanie; and then he looked at Des and the chicken coop. The roof was straight now, and the little structure was beginning to seem more like a real coop. He could almost imagine chickens in it. A few more hours work on Des’ part, and some more advice on his, and they could send for the chickens . . . He rose with a sudden motion, a subconscious lifting of his head and shoulders. Jeanie looked at him enquiringly and wagged her tail. His face as he started toward the house was grim with resolution, and he was carrying the partridge.

“Hello!” exclaimed George Perry, pointing to the bird. “Where did you get that?” ,

“Des shot it,” he replied briefly. “George, I want to talk to my wife about something.”

“George wants to talk to you,” said Mum quickly.

“Well, what is it?” he asked. His manner toward George was colder than usual.

George looked at him without rancor, as though these humors were to be expected in a man who’d lost an arm. “I came over here to offer you a job,” he replied. “We need a man at the factory to handle the personnel.”

“Thanks very much, but I don’t want it.”

He paused, indicating that it was time for George to leave. With the same mild expression George rose and went out to his car.

Mum was silent, hiding her dismay. She wanted to exclaim: “You mustn’t take it so hard, Tom!” but the right moment hadn’t come for that. He was still too raw and too unhappy, and his face looked harassed.

“Cynthia,” he exclaimed, “I want to talk to you about Des.”

“What’s the matter with him?”

“Nothing’s the matter with him . . That’s just the point.”

“What’s he building?” she asked.

“A chicken coop.”

He sat down and put his head in his hand, while she waited patiently, knowing that she mustn’t urge him to tell her what was on his mind. The coop had something to do with his present mood, but not everything. The partridge lying on the grass might also be part of it.

He tried to collect his thoughts. He wasn’t going to tell her about the box of shells he’d found in the library—she mustn’t know how black his mood had been at breakfast time—he was going to tell her about Des and Jeanie. He mentioned the dog first, in halting sentences—how he’d felt consciencestricken about her, because she’d given him so many happy hours in the woods.

“It was the first time,” he said ruefully, “that I’d thought about anything hut myself for weeks. I still didn’t

want to go shooting, but Des ran up and brought down his gun.”

Mum said nothing, twisting her hands.

“We went out into the woods,” he continued slowly, choosing his words with care, “and something happened ... I forgot everything, even my arm ... I got as much of a kick watching Des handle a gun as I used to get whenI myself was out shooting ... I can’t tell you how I felt when he hit that bird ! It just did something to me . . .” Mum hardly dared say anything. She gazed up at the sky because she was afraid if she looked at him she would cry from happiness and relief.

Then he mentioned the chicken coop. He described how terribly lopsided it had been until, by remote control, he had been able to make it stand up. The information was all there in his head, even though he couldn’t draw any more. He’d have stayed out there and helped Des finish it if it hadn’t been for George Perry. He thought he’d, better break that up right away.

She looked up at him in surprise and said, “You don’t think there’s anything between me and George Perry!”

“No—but there could have been,” he added grimly, “if I’d kept on being moody and rotten to you. I couldn’t think of anything but myself. After a while you’d have wanted someone around who was normal.”

She knew the moment had come— the moment for which she had been waiting—and she said to him quietly, “You’ve been taking life too hard, Tom. We both have. I was such a coward about what had happened that I couldn’t tell Des.”

Des’ father murmured something, and she got up and knelt beside him on the grass. “Dearest,” she exclaimed, “you’ve only lost an arm—-so many worse things could have happened to you.”

“I know,” he said humbly. “I saw the other men. I know what can happen.”

The sound of hammering rose in the air. This made him think of something else, and he added, “Funny that George waited until this morning to offer me that job—almost as if fate had a hand in this. If he’d offered it to me yesterday I might have said yes.”

“What are you going to do?” she asked timidly, because all week he’d been telling her he’d have to give up architecture because he couldn’t draw. She waited anxiously for the reply.

“I’m going to reopen my office—all the dope’s there in my head, and somebody else can do the drawings.” “What made you decide that?” asked Mum when she could find her voice.

“The chicken coop,” he said with a broken laugh.

She put her arms around him and held him silently, while at the edge of the lawn Jeanie put her muzzle between her paws and relaxed into sleep.