Monday, October 20, 2014

HER DREAM CAME TRUE; March 1919; part 4

Miss Cornelia read into this incident an interest on the part of the captain that made her happy.

“He must be just a little more than usual,” she thought. “And his picture tells the same. The mouth and chin are firm, and the eyes--they are fine.” Mary, the spare bedroom doesn’t seem just the thing. It doesn’t fit, somehow. How about the big, high north room? We have always used it for storing things but we can clean it and put everything in the attic.”

Mary agreed that the plan was an excellent one and was for buying new furnishings. But Miss Cornelia was the wiser of the two. Her’s was the real mother-heart, after all.

“Just a bed and chairs and dresser. We don’t know his tastes. He may have a fish net and a torn old flag and maybe some strange knives. Just a new coat of buff for the walls, and then let him arrange everything to suit himself--Oh Mary, Mary, it can’t be really truly true that he’s coming home!”

The short winter days slipped away and the soft spring skies brooded over the quickening earth and almost before one could catch a sharp breath April was in the land.

Then began a great bustling and baking and stewing, in and about the old white house. Hot, spicy smells floated up from the kitchen, and a soft, clear humming floated down from the big north room. Miss Cornelia patted the pillows and wondered with wistful eyes if anyone had ever sung him to sleep or kissed him good-night. It was all strange and unusual but full of heart-comforting possibilities.

When the great day arrived, she did not go to the station. She could not bring herself to face the idle, curious crowd. But she pressed her face against the rain washed pane and, with wildly beating heart, watched old Henley’s ancient “bus” toil through the mud.

Then, almost before she knew it, she had opened the door, and her face was down against a wet overcoat and a deep voice was saying, “Why--mother! You’re crying!”

“No, I’m not!” she denied. “Stand off and let me look at you.”

She took in every detail while the hazel eyes smiled at her, and a big hand held hers. He turned the hand over with a meditative pucker of his brow and then raised it and kissed it softly squarely in the palm. There was no embarrassment or self-consciousness after that.

“Seems like,” said old Mary, an hour later, smiling from the kitchen door at the gray head and the brown one bent together above an old album, “seems like you’ve been here before and belong.”

The hazel eyes smiled back at her. “And don’t I belong, Mary?”

The ceremony of unpacking a small, hide-covered trunk was the big event of the happy day. Mary smoothed and petted and exclaimed over her Bombay shawl and laid it carefully away.

“But,” protested the boy, “that shawl is for everyday use. You mustn’t put it away like that.”

“Ray,” was the spirited rejoinder, “that shawl is too good for everyday. I’ll wear it to the Sewing Circle on Wednesday afternoons and to church on Sundays. So there!

Ray retired from the encounter laughing and placed in Miss Cornelia’s hands a beautiful little, gem-studded Buddha.

“That was the thing,” he explained, “that I wouldn’t tell you about.”

“But Ray, it must be awfully expensive.”
“I imagine it is,” and his eyes sobered.

“Don’t you know?”

“No, Mother Cornelia.”

She looked at him quickly.

“It was given to me,” he explained slowly, “by a man in India who was grateful to me.”

“Why was he grateful, son?”

“I saved his life.”

She put out her hand quickly as if to draw him from some peril, and then laughed softly at herself.

“I must not be foolish. I have to remember day and night that you face danger or the possibility of danger--and not be foolish.

So they went through the happy hours together.

Continued...

Monday, October 13, 2014

HER DREAM CAME TRUE; March 1919; Part 3

“All must be fair and straight between you and me, my son. I always think of myself as a widow but I am not that in name. I am Miss Cornelia Baker. I will tell you about it, though it is not altogether easy because I never speak of these things to anyone but good Old Mary who has loved and tended me for many years.

“When I was a young woman of twenty-three I became engaged to a man named Ernest Gregory. He was second mate of a merchant ship and had every prospect of advancement. We decided to wait until he should have a captaincy, and then I was to live with him at sea. He got his ship in three years but one thing after another interfered to delay our marriage. One night in an awful storm, his ship, the Grayling, was driven upon the Hampstead reef, somewhere near Australia. Not one was saved.

"It was years before I could get hold of my life again. I could not bear the mention of the ocean or a ship.

"When I read about that good woman in Indiana I suddenly wanted a son who was on the sea. The thought seemed to bring me, somehow, nearer to him. Do you understand? All this was twenty-three years ago, five years before you were born. But I think some way, that you will understand.

"Don't forget to send me your picture. Do you have plenty of warm clothing these cold days?"

Miss Cornelia quite forgot that the Michigan was cruising in the southern Pacific; but the boy's next letter reminded her and she laughed merrily at herself.

"Dear Mother Cornelia:

I am going to call you that if you like it. I like it. It sounds sort of cozy.

"And now I am going to tell you something that will please you.

"We have been near Australia for two days now, and when I came on deck yesterday morning I saw the water foaming over the long line of rocks that lay just outside a stretch of sandy beach. I heard the captain talking to someone and I caught a word that made me stop and listen. The captain is over sixty and he knows all the history of these coasts.

"'Yes,' he was saying, 'that is Hampstead Reef, as ugly a little stretch as the eastern hemisphere can boast. I suppose it has done as much wickedness as any half dozen reefs.'

"'Tell us some of its crimes,' I heard someone ask.

"'Well, for one of its worst deeds, it sent the Grayling to her tomb with every man aboard, Captain Gregory commanding. That was twenty--no twenty-three years ago,'

"He looked over at the reef and his voice was softer than I ever heard it before.

"'Gregory was a fine chap. He was one of the most fearless and one of the best captains that ever docked in New York.'

"That was all I heard but it made me feel proud of the man my mother loved, and, as we passed the reef, I took off my cap to him who had faced his death there so long ago.

"I like your picture. You are a lot like I thought you would be. Here comes mine. It was taken a year ago and I am some heavier now. I'll have some others taken when I come home. Home! A real home with a fire place and a flower garden and a chicken yard. And you told me I could put rings and a punching bag in the big basement. Five more whole months!

"I have some little things for you, seashells and some little things made of bamboo and a little ivory lion and Something Else. I will not tell you what till I come. And there's a Bombay shawl for Mary and a piece of pottery from Algiers. You mustn't tell her though.

"There are heaps of thing to talk over together. We will talk together about everything, won't we? Some fellows don't seem to feel the need of someone to talk to but I do. My vacation begins in April, and I can spade up your flower beds. Won't it be fun?

"The other day the captain walked over to where I was working and whistling away (work seems to go so much faster these days) and he stood looking at me a while. It bothered me like the dickens and I guess I blushed and he laughed and said, "Have you adopted a mother, Durkan?"

"I guess I looked astonished and I stammered, "Yes, sir," and he laughed and walked away. Now how do you suppose he knew?"