Not long afterward, a rumpled, gray-haired man strolled into the Citizen office so casually I thought it was one o f my boss’s Rotary cronies, and didn’t look up until I heard Mr. Flynt’s cry of recognition, followed by a round of glad-handing and reminiscing.
I was sure Mr. Flynt would get my story, and very likely he would have, but for Mr. Velie.
“I was to see a Miss Susan Todd,” he said presently, glancing in my direction.
My boss looked startled, then pleased. He admires enterprise; I had won my job by bringing in unsolicited news items and “personals” while still in high school.
Mr. Flynt introduced Mr. Velie, who rendered a slight bow and charming smile, and who then sat down and proceeded to interview me.
“Are you Will and Lucille Todd’s girl?”
“How are your parents?”
“Mother is fine. My dad died three years ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t hear. Three years ago…must have been in Australia. I don’t keep up on Corinth so well, now Mother’s gone.”
I saw my opportunity and snatched it.
“How did you happen to hear about the fire?”
“Somebody sent me a copy of the Citizen.”
“I don’t know. Somebody who guessed I’d be interested…my best memories of Corinth are centered around that church. Used to sing in the choir. So did your mother and dad.”
“Mother still does.”
“You favor her, Miss Susan…You’re not going to college?”
“Working for Mr. Flynt is my college; I want to write for newspapers. My brother Jimmy will go. He gets good grades in everything, so he’s a cinch for a scholarship. I was a social promotion in math and science.”
I was led into a discussion of Jimmy, of our family life, and finally into a recital of my own dreams and ambitions…
“What, no young man?” wondered Mr. Velie. “All that Rapunzel hair, big gray eyes and dimples, and no young man?”
There had been a young man…Jeremy….
“Nobody in particular,” I said. To match his teasing air, I added: “I shall go out into the world and seek my fortune.”
“That’s what I said at your age,” Mr. Velie chuckled. “There was a young lady, though. I was the poorest boy in town, but I was going to make a fortune and then lay it at her feet.”
Here was something new. Mr. Velie was, by reputation, a sought-after but elusive bachelor.
“What happened?” I prompted.
“By the time I made my fortune, it was too late.”
“She didn’t wait!”
“Actually, she waited quite a while, bless her heart. I should have realized she wasn’t all that anxious for a fortune. She married the next-to-the-poorest boy in town.”
I tried to cast Mr. Velie in the role of broken-hearted suitor, keeping faith with a lost young love. The idea had appeal, but it didn’t fit the man who faced me. He looked much too pink and prosperous, taking his ease in the boss’s swivel chair, drawing pleasurably on his pipe and studying me with blue eyes that were both shrewd and merry under bristly gray brows. He was obviously a man who had found life good and expected more of the same.
Mr. Velie now came obligingly to the point.
“What do you think of our Corinthian Cathedral?” he asked.
He confirmed what I already knew, until I got to the bells.
“Wind, indeed,” snorted Mr. Velie. “DuBois has it all wrong. It has nothing to do with the wind. Those are miraculous bells.”
“Miraculous bells?” I reached for my pencil. A bit of fantasy would be fun.
“Miraculous bells,” Mr. Velie intoned solemnly. “They ring only when someone gives out of his abundance.”
I started to write, then stopped.
“But that’s not…I mean, isn’t giving out of abundance sort of opposite from the usual tradition?”
“Exactly. This is a Corinthian cathedral.”
“Well…this is Corinth. I don’t quite see…”
“Do your homework, young lady. First Corinthians, Chapter Thirteen.”
A group of local businessmen burst into the office; in my annoyance, I forgot Mr. Velie’s advice. Mayor Wilkes and the others buzzed around like flies at a honeypot. I wondered sourly whether Henry Velie had known he was leaving behind so many friends when he fled Coring a penniless youth…anyway, it ended my interview.
I arrived home to the usual heavenly cooking odors; my mother baked goodies on order. I reported to the kitchen, accepted hot cookies and told Mother about the miraculous bells which rang when someone gave out of his abundance.
“Sounds just like Henry Velie,” Mother said with an odd little smile.
“Well, it must be true. If they rang for the widow’s mite, we’d have heard them Sunday when I put in my collection envelope.”
“I guess it’s a good philosophy—from where he stands,” I said. “Only a rich man’s gift would count.”
“I doubt that’s what Henry meant,” Mother said mildly.
I went to my room to think, not of magic bells but of broken romances. Maybe Mr. Velie’s ladylove had given up the waiting because she thought it was no use. Like me. Perhaps I was giving up too easily. Still, a year of silence!
Jeremy’s long rangy form rose before me. A lovable clown’s face, big-toothed grin and stand-out ears…the mouth sweet and sensitive in repose. A rambling, loose-jointed gait, big feet and hands…beautiful hands. Why did I remember every foolish detail?
Jeremy Winter had come to Coringth when his father was made manager of our local branch plant, a rung of a mighty corporate ladder. Like all up-and-coming managers, Mr. Winter was soon promoted. The family moved East the summer after our high school graduation. Bad luck for me. But probably I’d have lost Jeremy anyway.
In retrospect, it seemed strange that he had singled me out. He was a swinger by any standards; I was considered square even in Corinth. Jerry thought so, too. He teased and cajoled and sometimes fought with me about it. But he kept coming back.
They had left behind one tenuous root. Mrs. Winter, greatly taken with Corinth’s shaded brick streets and American Gothic ways, had refused to sell their house. In a fit of rebellion against corporate nomadism, she rented it, and vowed to return.
Jeremy’s best friend, Pete Slade, attended the same college, and brought Jerry home the first summer. Things were the same for us: Jeremy amusing, appealing and annoying, constantly testing the limits of my conventionality.
“Hey, Susie Squaresville. You’re not going anywhere.”
“Yes, I am. It’s late…Jerry! Jeremy Winter, if you don’t turn me loose this instant, I’ll lean on the horn and make a scene.”
“Susan. Look, no hands.” Hands in the air, in surrender. Holding me with his eyes, warm brown eyes, now soft and serious. “Don’t ever change, Susan. I love you just as you are. And don’t go away. Wait for me.”
I suppose he meant it then; not everyone has my Old Dog Trey temperament. But I heard less and less from him. The second summer, Pete returned alone. He began dating me, carefully avoiding the subject of Jeremy. Plainly, it was time to stop waiting….
To Be Continued…