A Long-Distance Call From Jim And how it shook up Centerville By Bess Streeter Aldrich

“Miss-sAndrews, can you make white cookies out of brown dough?”

“No, dear.”

Then there had followed Jim’s high-school years, in which he had meant nothing to her, and she had been as unnoticed by Jim as the stilts or velocipede he had discarded. He had gone away to college, and later she to a teachers’ training-school, and one unforgettable summer they had accidentally discovered that they held more in common than with anyone else in dull old Centerville. Then Mother died, and from teaching in Capitol City, where she was meeting new people and having new experiences, she had come back home to keep house for Father, and to teach in the same old dingy building where she herself had studied.

“Miss-sAndrews, my birthday’s next July, or April–I forget which.”

“That’s nice, dear.”

BUT Jim, after a few months on the Centerville “Enterprise,” had gone out into the world, the journalistic world, and pushed rapidly ahead. Several important commissions had been his. He had written her once from Cuba, and once from Japan. A sudden bitterness seized her, that it could be so–Jim to go where he would and she to stay in stagnant old Centerville.

“Miss-sAndrews, do skunks live in this town?”

“Oh, no, dear!”

This last year the whole country had read Jim’s war reports, and at rare intervals she had received a letter from him, interesting and friendly. In the last one he had said he had something to tell her when he got back. Well, this was it! And she had wondered–had let herself think that it might mean– A wave of fury, a sense of the loss of her self-respect, swept over her, that she should have allowed her heart to go philandering.

They were at the schoolhouse now. Ella took off her wide blue hat and hung it in the little closet. Then she went over to the corner blackboard and wrote the memory verse for the day:

Goldenrod, what have I learned from you? To be cheerful and loving, gentle and true. “Hypocrite!” she said savagely.

THE other four women were at Mrs. Tom Tuttle’s when Ella arrived. The Tuttle house was very new and displayed a great deal of yellow pine with a varnish smell. Some of the details of the new furnishings, including several lurid fruit pieces in oil, jumped at Ella as she sat down in the shining depths of a golden-oak rocker. Among other bric-à-brac, a painted celluloid collar box of Tom Tuttle’s, that had evidently been thought too artistic to be relegated to a mere bedroom, held an advantageous place on the glossy colonnade. No better-hearted people than Centerville held were to be found in the whole world admitted Ella to herself as she gazed, fascinated, at the receptacle which had wandered out of Tom Tuttle’s boudoir. But why did so many of them have such atrocious taste?

There was immediate discussion as to what form of social event Jim’s entertainment should take. Mrs. Tom Tuttle wanted an evening party, with all the men, women and children in town.

“I just feel like we couldn’t do enough for Jim Sheldon and his bride,” she wheezed, her chin trembling and her eyes filling with tears. Emotion of any description–joy, pathos, surprise, sorrow, it made no difference–always set her tear ducts to working.

Mrs. Meeker wanted a real supper with long tables and everybody sitting down at once. To Mrs. Meeker, earth held no sorrow that food could not heal, and life’s sweetest moment was the one in which some neighbor said, “I just know this is Mis’ Meeker’s salad.”

“It will be late afternoon when they get here,” she argued, “and I’ll bet supper would taste mighty good to ’em.”

“Supper!” Minnie Adams was witheringly scornful. “Jim Sheldon eats dinner at night now.”

“Well, I don’t care if he does! I can remember the time when he et a good old-fashioned supper. And it’s awful silly to call it dinner. ‘Breakfast, dinner and supper, created He them.’ I believe I could find them very words in the Bible if I set out to hunt.”

“What would we serve if we had–an evening meal?” Addie Smith asked hurriedly. Addie was little and pretty and, like many another ultra-pacifist, was mentally a nonentity, the echo of an echo. But she was the doctor’s wife and she had more cut glass and china than anyone else in town.

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