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Authors: Emily Hahn

Francie Comes Home

BOOK: Francie Comes Home
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Francie Comes Home

One Last Adventure

Emily Hahn

To Wendy

CHAPTER 1

Francie put down her suitcase when she came out of the telephone booth and, without worrying, left it where it sat. Nobody was likely to steal it, and no passenger but herself was in the waiting room anyway. She looked again at the clock, then strolled over to the glassed-in doors to stare with dismay at the vacant lot across the street from where she was, Jefferson Union Station. There was nothing in the view calculated to sadden a heart. It was a good enough lot, lately increased in value because of the bright new filling-station its owner was putting up next door, fronting Station Street. But Francie Nelson wasn't interested in real-estate values. It irritated her that she saw no beauty in this glimpse of Jefferson or even prettiness. She was looking at the town with the critical, anxious affection of a native daughter. It looked raw, she decided, and added sweepingly that that was the trouble with the whole town—the whole state—the entire Middle West. And this was where she was going to live, for all she knew, forever more!

She turned away, almost overwhelmed at the thought, and drifted over to the newspaper stand. A glimpse into the mirror helped her to control herself, as it often did. There was no doubt that the smart new English-tailored suit was attractive, and pleasant little wisps of curly brown hair framed her face under the trim beret. In spite of her twenty-two years she looked almost childish, struggling as she was against emotion.

So far it wasn't a happy homecoming. Of course it would be different when she saw Pop and Aunt Norah—not different in her heart, she thought gloomily, but anyway on the surface. They'd all have to be bright and cheerful then. Alone, though, she could be honest about it. Just now she simply loathed Jefferson, and yet in her time, when she was far away, she'd often been homesick—terribly homesick.

Francie was widely traveled. She had been to school in England for several terms, had spent a year in Portugal, and was now fresh from New York, where she had been studying at Barnard. The college part had been as good as the rest of it—even better, she now thought ruefully—and she'd had every reason to believe she could go ahead and finish the course. But now—oh well, what was the use of moping? If she went on like this, her eyes would be red and Pop would guess how miserable she was … he'd be along any minute.

“He'll be a little late, I'm afraid, darling,” Aunt Norah had just said on the phone. “I asked him to stop in at the store on his way over and get the marketing done so you wouldn't have to sit outside and wait on the way back. You used to hate that, I remember.”

Dear Aunt Norah, remembering those little things, thought Francie. It was queer to think of Pop, Pop of all people, shopping with one of those wire baskets on wheels. During all of Francie's childhood life her father had seemed grandly mysterious, busy with matters of high finance, pausing to dabble now and then in advisory bureaus in Washington as one of the country's experts on oil and its by-products. He had dropped in on Jefferson only on special occasions, to see how his motherless daughter was getting along. Francie had loved him, of course, but she hadn't known him, really, until they went abroad together and spent a revelatory year in England. After that they had been better friends.

He's such a sweet guy, thought Francie, and he's taking this trouble so well! I ought to be ashamed of myself.

For Pop had run into trouble, what he himself called a streak of bad luck, and though he always spoke as if it were bound to be temporary, Francie suspected that the blow was worse than he admitted. Some of his old strength and ebullience seemed to have vanished. She had realized that as soon as he began talking seriously, sitting in Francie's cheerful little apartment.

“Francie, you've always had everything I could give you,” he had said, “and I guess that makes it worse, now, that I've got to admit I'm sunk. The worst part of it is having to tell you how smart I wasn't.”

He went on to explain as simply as possible what had happened. There were several partners in the combine. One of them had involved himself in a discreditable deal, the news had leaked out, and the partner had absconded, leaving the others to discover the full effect of his misdoings and face the world with the story. “It was my fault as well as his, because I should have kept more of an eye on him. But it wasn't my department, and I've been abroad a lot; anyhow, I had no reason not to trust him. I'm not excusing myself,” he added quickly. “I'm just explaining how it happened. We'll have to wait for the results of the investigation before I make more business plans. It may take only a few months, but it may drag on for more than a year, and that's more likely. Even when it's settled, I'm afraid this might mean starting all over again. Though that's taking the worst possible view.”

He paused, and stared down at the carpet. This was a long speech for Pop. “I could, I suppose,” he went on rather doubtfully, “get a job for the time being. But jobs I can do best usually take a long time to get.”

Francie had broken in here. “Oh Pop, I don't think that would make sense, would it? You can't tell how long this affair will take, you say, and you've been working awfully hard lately. Wouldn't a rest do you good?”

“Well, it might, though I can think of better reasons for taking a vacation,” he said slowly. “There's another angle I haven't gone into yet, though. The practical one. I've always made plenty of money and lived well. So did you live well. A long time ago before your mother died, I thought it would be a good idea to play safe and get her some shares of Sears, Roebuck and Standard Oil stock. They looked good then and they're good now. So I transferred my holdings in these to your mother, as a sort of ace in the hole in case we had another depression: anyway, I figured it was a good thing for her to own some property in her own name. When she realized she wasn't going to get well and that your Aunt Norah was going to bring you up, she left the stuff in her will to Norah. She knew I'd be providing your support—and Norah's naturally—but she had it in mind that Norah ought to have a backlog, just the way she'd had it, and I was agreeable. Well, of course Norah tried to hand it all back to me when the will was read, but I wouldn't take it and then I sort of forgot all about it. I actually did forget until Norah told me over the phone last night that the money was all there and she'd never had occasion to use it, and believe me that made good hearing. Now I'm in a real squeeze, with everything I've got tied up in this lawsuit. We're bound to win out, but it can take a long time, and thanks to Norah's good management there's enough accumulated in Jefferson to take care of us for as much as three years if we keep close to the belt.”

“We won't starve, then,” said Francie.

“Oh no, we won't starve,” said Pop. “But there's still the question, What about you? I can't keep up the allowance you've been getting.”

“Of course not! I wouldn't expect it, Pop. Are you staying on here, or what?”

“No,” said Pop. “That entered into my calculations, of course. The way I see it, I'd better go out to Jefferson and do my waiting there, sublet my expensive apartment and so on: not only does good sense point that way, but it will look better when the whole thing comes to court. Norah says she'd be delighted to have me, and I think she means it. She's lonely since you went away.”

“Sounds a good idea,” said Francie. “And anyway, you'd
like
staying in Jefferson. You know you would. You've often said how you envy people who can be there the year round, using the country club and all. I know Aunt Norah means it;
she's
often said how she'd welcome the time when you could retire.… Oh, I know the time hasn't come yet!” she added tactfully, remorseful at the spasm that crossed his face. “I only told you so you'd know how Aunt Norah feels. You did say you'd come?”

“Yes,” said Pop. “I did. And Francie—about you—”

Here it comes, she said to herself. Her first thoughts when Pop opened the subject had not been for her own future, but there was a little apprehension at the back of her mind nevertheless.
What
about her?

She was still Pop's dependent. She knew there were girls who worked their way through college, but it was rather late in the day to begin to look for a job for next term, and anyway, what was she aiming to do with her college education, exactly? Though she drew and designed pretty well, and loved painting, Francie wasn't one of those girls whose life work is evident from the very beginning.

“What's Aunt Norah going to do about running the house?” she asked suddenly. “Last time I heard, she was having this business about Ada leaving.” Ada was Aunt Norah's domestic stand-by, an old, old woman who had just retired to live with her married daughter. “Has she got anybody else? Now she's having trouble about cataract, she'll just have to get somebody, Pop. She can't manage for herself, let alone you. And help's hard to get in Jefferson, with the new veterans' hospital so near by. Besides, the expense!”

“Well, all that was bothering her some,” he admitted. “It's a hard thing to settle.”

They had both sat there in silence for a moment in the pleasant little room. There were books on the desk, and lamplight shone on the curtains she had been so proud of. Francie had known perfectly well what she must say, but her tongue for a moment refused to form the words. Still she got it out.

“Pop, I'll come too. I'll come to Jefferson.”

Of course he'd put up an argument, but it was obvious that Aunt Norah had already made the same suggestion, and it was too evident a solution to reject. Francie had replied to him with as much spirit as if she weren't arguing against herself at the same time. Her career? Bosh. It wasn't any definite career, was it? She could paint anywhere. Anyway, what else did he propose that she do? How could they afford to look around now at the last minute and find her a cheaper room than her share in this apartment, and pay for it and for her tuition and keep? Aunt Norah's resources wouldn't stretch that far and shouldn't be called on to do so, and now Pop didn't have any in his own name.

“It's the only thing for us both to do,” said Francie firmly. “Jefferson. Thank goodness for Aunt Norah!”

But in her heart she found it very hard to be thankful, She felt that it would be unbearably painful—or anyway, almost unbearably—to leave New York. The town was just beginning to open up to her in all its chrrm. She had made a lot of amusing friends. She had learned her way around the concerts and plays and the museums; she had learned the joy of saving her allowance and then indulging in a very occasional special treat. She had learned to window-shop. She was picking up the gay new language of her circle. At the thought of dropping it all indefinitely, her determination nearly wavered. But …

“It's obvious,” she said firmly. “If you go alone, how's Aunt Norah going to manage with the extra housekeeping? You know how she goes into a flutter over little things now that she's getting on. I'd feel it was imposing, Pop. No, I'll have to come, that's all there is to it. I'll write to her right now, shall I?”

Pop's reply was slow. Francie reflected with sorrow that he showed genuine signs of shock. In the past he had been crisp and decisive, but now he seemed willing to let her make the decisions.

“Well … if you're quite sure,” he had said at last, with a sigh. “I might as well go on out pretty soon. There's nothing going on here to keep me until the case comes up. I'll call up your aunt tonight; what shall I say about you?”

Francie said, “Tell her I'm coming as soon as I round off a couple of things here and arrange to sublet my part of the apartment. That won't be hard, anyway; Cynthia Harlow's dying to move in. See, Pop, it's all arranged!”

Now in the station she battled with a sense of desolation. It had been even more of a wrench than she had feared, packing up and saying good-by to everybody. They'd been so funny about it. Teasing her about going back to the grass roots and all that—well, of course they'd meant to be kind, to tide over the agony. It is never pleasure to feel that people are being sorry for you, and so they laughed. But she knew how sorry they were. She was so awfully sorry for herself.

“Just think!” she'd said. “Jefferson, my dear!
Jefferson!
But grim!”

Really, it did feel like the end of the world. She remembered Jefferson—no theater, no art galleries, no music; nothing but the movies and the country club, and bridge games and canasta and parties. Tea parties at that, thought Francie … as if she'd have
time
for parties, drudging in the house!

She saw herself in a dirty apron, burning the Sunday chicken probably, or trying awkwardly to give the house a good spring cleaning. Francie realized she'd been spoiled. She'd never cared for domestic matters and so she had been spared learning about them. Aunt Norah had always looked after the housekeeping with Ada to help; she'd meant to teach Francie to cook and order food when she was older. Then, before the moment came, Pop had whisked her away to England. You don't learn about marketing at school, nor in foreign hotels.

BOOK: Francie Comes Home
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