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By Grace Livingston Hill
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Grace Livingston Hill
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At half past ten on Wednesday morning young Jason Whitney came out of the bank and walked down Main Street in the opposite direction from his home with a hard set look upon his face.
By eleven fifteen through some mysterious grapevine every boy on Main Street knew that Jason Whitney had lost his job in the bank and had disappeared down the highway toward the east.
When the noon whistle blew at the sawmill Charles Parsons drove up to the bank, got out of his old-fashioned car, and went into the bank to cash a check; when he drove home his brows were puckered thoughtfully. He parked his car in the garage and went into the kitchen. His wife Hannah was preparing a nice lunch, ham and fried potatoes and a big thin slice of a mild raw onion on a lettuce leaf with slivers of green peppers and a pleasant tangy dressing.
He washed his hands at the sink in the kitchen, though they had a bathroom on the first floor as well as the second. He had always done that, and somehow the bathrooms had not been able to change his habits. Hannah never bothered him about it. She liked to see him contented, and she enjoyed her two bathrooms in a sweet content herself and kept them fit for kings and queens.
"Where is Rowan?" asked the young man's father as he sat down at the table.
"He went over to Bainbridge to see about exchanging his car for one he's heard of over there. He thinks this one is going to be an expense to him pretty soon," explained Rowan's mother.
"Anybody go with him?" asked the father sharply.
Hannah shook her head.
"No, he said he wanted to go alone. I suggested that Mrs. Morton might like to go to see her daughter, but he said no, he didn't want to be bothered. He wanted to be alone when he decided about the car."
Charles looked at his wife thoughtfully.
"You're sure he didn't pick up Jason Whitney somewhere?"
"Why, of course not, Charles. Jason Whitney works in the bank and would be at work in the morning."
"Jason Whitney doesn't work in the bank anymore!"
"Charles! You don't mean he's quit?"
"No, he was fired!"
"What for?" said Hannah, aghast.
"I don't know. I didn't ask, but nobody seems to know or I'm sure I would have been told. Everybody downtown is agog to tell everything they can, and make up the rest, but they didn't have any reason to offer. Of course there'll be plenty of hearsay by night. But anyway, even if Jason Whitney hadn't been fired, I wouldn't put it past him to take a day off if he wanted to. What time did Rowan leave?"
"Half past eight. But it isn't like you, Charles, to be so hard on Jason. He's only a boy you know, younger by two years than Rowan."
"He's old enough to know better than most of the things he does," said Charles shutting his lips together with a snap. "And I don't like to see our Rowan traveling with him continually."
"Now, Charles, you don't think a mere boy like that can hurt our Rowan!"
"Nobody's beyond hurting. Those things are subtle! Unconscious influence is sometimes the worst influence of all. It undermines faith! And, Hannah, I don't see Rowan going to church quite as regularly as he used to. Last Sunday morning, do you know where he was?"
"No," said Hannah with an undisturbed look in her eyes.
"Well, I do," said Charles sharply. "He was walking east on the highway with Jason Whitney, down toward that disreputable Rowley joint, and if our son has taken to playing pool and drinking on Sunday morning with that worthless Jason Whitney instead of going to church I'll find a way to stop it or I'll disown him!"
"Charles! You know you wouldn't do that! Even God doesn't do that! Not to His real own children!"
Charles' face softened almost imperceptibly.
"Well, I don't expect it'll come to that, of course," he said firmly. "I expect to be able to stop this nonsense without any such strenuous methods. But I've got my eyes open and I'm not letting anything like that go by again!"
"Charles, remember he's over twenty-one! You wouldn't have stood any such high-handedness when you were his age. He's a lot like you, you know."
"I'll remember, Hannah, but I intend to stop his tagging around with Jason Whitney!"
Hannah was still for a minute, watching the firm set of her husband's lips, then she spoke again, this time very gently.
"I guess you know why he does it, don't you?"
Charles looked up sharply.
"Goes around with Jason Whitney. You know why he does it, don't you?"
"Well, why?" His tone bore a hint of impatience.
"For Jason's sister's sake."
"Well, that's no reason at all! If Rowan isn't man enough to win a girl without tagging around with her spoiled baby-brother he'd better lose her. Joyce Whitney is all right. She's a sweet girl, and I'd like to see our boy marry her, if she'll have him, when he gets a little more stable, but I don't see his companioning with Jason. Joyce can't help what her brother is, I suppose, but a man doesn't have to marry all a girl's relations."
"You married mine!" said Hannah quietly. "Look at Cousin Ephraim, how you've been patient with him, and helped him out of the very gutter, time and again."
"Oh, well —!" said Charles impatiently, "that was different!"
"How was it different? And Charles, you must remember Joyce loves her brother. Her mother left him in her care when she died."
"Well, why didn't she bring him up right then?" snorted Charles.
"Now, Charles, you know she was barely a child herself, and after the second Mrs. Whitney came she hadn't a chance. She packed them both off to school. And you know what Jason's father is, Charles. Hard! That's what he is. Jason hasn't ever had any love nor trust such as we've given Rowan. Jason hasn't had half a chance!"
"Well, that may all be true," said Charles looking a bit ashamed, "but that's no reason why our boy should go wrong in consequence."
"I don't believe he did!" said Hannah determinedly. "I don't believe he was playing pool nor drinking on Sunday morning! I don't believe he even went into that Rowley place unless it was to drag Jason out!"
"Well, mebbe I don't either," owned Charles, "but I mean to do more than just believe. I mean to know! It's my business as a father to know."
"Well — I know!" said Hannah firmly.
Charles looked at her with understanding in his eyes. Then he came over and stooped his tall height to kiss her forehead.
"Good little mother!" he murmured, like a benediction.
The news reached the Whitney home, a big old-fashioned white farmhouse on the outskirts of town, about half past twelve, when the grocery boy delivered some orders that had been telephoned.
"Seen Jason anywhere? It's high time he was here ta lunch!" asked Aunt Libby, an elderly white woman whom the second Mrs. Whitney had rescued from the poorhouse and put to work in her kitchen. Some of the neighbors wondered if it might not have been easier for Aunt Libby if she had stayed in the poorhouse.
"Yeah. I seen him 'bout two hours ago walkin' down the pike toward Rowley's"
"Aw, he wouldn't a ben walkin' down thetaway in the middle of the mornin'," said Aunt Libby proudly. "Jason works in the bank now."
"No, he don't! Not no more!" imparted the grocery boy. "He got fired this mornin'. Didn't ya know?"
"Aw, get away with yer kiddin'!" snapped Aunt Libby loftily, and vanished down to the cellar with her arms full of fruit jars.
Nevertheless her eyes were anxious as she came in to place the hot dishes on the table and ring the lunch bell.
"Where's Jason?" asked his stepmother grimly turning her small sharp eyes to the window and looking down the road. "Are they keeping him again at the bank? I'll have to phone them. I can't have my meal hours upset this way. It gives me indigestion." She walked heavily over to the telephone.
Aunt Libby gave a frightened glance toward Joyce who was just coming in the room and tried to speak so that she would not hear, but Joyce's ears were sharp, and she heard every word.
"Sammy Rounds from the grocery says he got fired this morning!"
Jason's stepmother set the phone down hard on the table where it lived and whirled around as if the matter were some fault of Aunt Libby's.
"Exactly what I thought would happen!" she charged, fixing the cringing woman with a cold steel eye. "But you should never allow the help from the grocery to gossip to you about the family for which you work."
"I didn't — I just ast him ef he'd seen Jason —!" quavered Aunt Libby.
"Exactly what I say. Gossiping with the help from the grocery!" thundered Mrs. Whitney. "Don't do it again! That'll do! We'll server ourselves today. You may go to the kitchen."
Aunt Libby went meekly out with anxious tears slipping weakly down her withered cheeks. She was fond of Jason. She slipped him cookies on the sly when he was late to meals and would have lost out on food according to his stepmother. Sometimes she even dared to make chocolate cake when it wasn't ordered, always revealing her wickedness when the senior Mr. Whitney was present because she knew he liked chocolate cake, and Mrs. Whitney wouldn't dare reprove her for it in front of him.
When the kitchen door was shut Mrs. Whitney turned toward Jason's sister:
"Well," she said ominously, "the fully expected has come to pass! Your darling brother has been dismissed from the bank! I was sure it would happen!"
"Don't you think we had better wait until we hear Jason's version? The grocery boy may not know anything about it. It may not be true!" said Joyce trying to appear unconcerned, although her face was white with anxiety.
"Jason's version!" laughed the stepmother contemptuously, "that's it! That's always it! Listen to Jason's version! And of course Jason's version is perfectly smooth. Well, you know what your father will say to Jason when he comes home."
"Perhaps," said Joyce, a wild fear in her eyes, and a quaver in her voice, "perhaps he won't come home!"
"Ha!" sneered Mrs. Whitney contemptuously. "Not he! He'll come home all right. He loves his ease too much to leave home. Where would he get his bread and butter? I declare if I had my way your father would send him packing. It's high time he did something to prove he is a man. You've spoiled him outrageously, Joyce. Always helping him to hide things from his father, always using your own pocket money to pay his debts. If you keep that up I'm going to advise your father not to let you have spending money. You'll have to learn that your brother isn't a little darling child any longer for you to moon over. He's a wild irresponsible young man, trailing off with all sorts, gambling away what little money his father dares give him, and drinking with a lot of lowdown gangsters. I declare I'm ashamed to go among my friends any more, the things they find to tell me about my stepson."
"Do you discuss Jason with your friends?" asked Joyce in a stricken voice.
"How can I help it?" declared the woman in a raucous voice. "They force it upon me, pitying me, and laughing about his sins, trying to make light of them!"
Joyce was very white, and was gripping her hands together to keep them from shaking.
"But — I thought — !" large tears came into her eyes and she struggled to keep them back. She turned away quickly to hide them before they should fall.
"Well, you thought what?"
"You — were just reproving Aunt Libby for even hearing something she couldn't help hearing."
"She's a servant! That's not at all the same thing. Besides, are you presuming to dictate to me? To criticize me? Sit down and eat your lunch. There's no need in stretching out the meal to last the day. I want Aunt Libby to clean the silver this afternoon. And if Jason doesn't come till after we're done he goes lunchless till supper! Do you understand? No slipping him choice morsels on the side. I'm not going to have Jason upset everything for me any longer. I've stood enough from him, and if he's determined to be a disgrace to the family, very well, let him stand a few things himself! Sit down!"
Joyce struggled with her anger and her tears and sat down. It seemed a physical impossibility to eat, but there was no advantage in openly flouting her stepmother. She had tried it before and only made matters worse.
Mrs. Whitney, unhindered by responses from Joyce, went back to her favorite theme, which today she was pleased to call "Jason's Version," and harped on it. She rehashed everything that Jason had done, good or bad, and scourged them equally, until at last poor Joyce rose from the table in desperation:
"If you had only tried to make Jason a little happy sometimes," she protested with a sob, "perhaps he might not have been so unsatisfactory."
"Happy!" snorted Mrs. Whitney. "Happy! Make that young scapegrace happy? I wonder how you would have me go about it. Set up a pool table in my parlor, and invite a lot of gangsters here? Let them slop beer all over my furniture and call in a mob of girls from the street to dance with him? That's his idea of happiness, and I'm sure I —"
But Joyce had hurried up to her own room, shut the door, and flung herself upon her knees beside her bed, sobbing as if her heart would break.
About that time Rose Allison, shy pretty daughter of the minister, received a telephone call from Jason Whitney.
They had been classmates together in high school, though never very close. Just the day before, however, they had met on the street, Rose in a new pink dress that gave her a willowy grace, and threw a soft glow upon her rounded cheeks. Jason had paused to lift his hat on his way to the bank. He had always liked Rose. She looked up shyly, and then because there seemed nothing more to say beyond good morning, Jason made as if to move on. Suddenly Rose lifted her earnest blue eyes and spoke hurriedly:
"Oh, Jason, I wish you'd do something for me!" There was something so wistful about her eyes, and she seemed so young and sweet, Jason was touched.
"Sure, I will, kid, what is it?" he answered without hesitation, thrilled in spite of himself that she should ask him.
"Why, you see we have a meeting at our church tomorrow night, and each of us pledged to get ten people to come. I've tried as hard as I can and I can only get nine. Would you be my tenth?"
"Great Caesar's ghost, Rose! Church? Me? I never go to church! It isn't my line."
"I know," she said a little sadly, "I wish you did. I often wonder why you don't. We have pleasant times in church. But couldn't you come this once? I don't know another soul to ask."
"What is it?" he asked, hedging, trying to think of some good excuse. "Just prayer meeting?"
"No," said Rose eagerly, "it's in the church, not the prayer meeting room, and they've got a wonderful speaker from the city. He sings, too. My cousin heard him and she says he's wonderful. Says he's a man's man. I think you would like him."
Jason stood there in the sunshine looking down at her beautiful face and something melted in his heart. He had an impulse to try and keep that smile on her face and that light in her eyes, and before he realized what he was going to do he had said:
"Sure, kid, I'll do it! If you want it so much, I'll be there! What time? Eight? I'll be there!" and the great light that blazed in her face thrilled his heart again and made him wonder as he went his way. Rose Allison! Who knew she was like that? And a faint wistfulness passed over his own soul. Suppose he had been different. Suppose he had gone to Sunday school and church and grown up in the society of the young people of the church, and been a companion of a girl like that! Suppose he had a right to take her places, and send her flowers and candy! Would that in any way satisfy the great restlessness and craving that stirred his soul from day to day, prodding him to first one depredation or transgression and then another, without so far any adequate return?
Well, this once he would keep his word to her and go, even if it was dry as dust. Of course he wouldn't find anything interesting in church. But he would go and watch her from afar and try to figure out why she had asked him. Was it just what she had said, that she wanted so many scalps to hang at her belt when the prayer meeting reckoning came, or had there been some faint personal interest in himself?
Excerpted from Sunrise by Grace Livingston Hill. Copyright © 2015 Grace Livingston Hill. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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