Their Girl Josie

When Paul Morgan, a rising young lawyer with justifiable political
aspirations, married Elinor Ashton, leading woman at the Green Square
Theatre, his old schoolmates and neighbours back in Spring Valley held
up their hands in horror, and his father and mother up in the
weather-grey Morgan homestead were crushed in the depths of
humiliation. They had been too proud of Paul … their only son and
such a clever fellow … and this was their punishment! He had married
an actress! To Cyrus and Deborah Morgan, brought up and nourished all
their lives on the strictest and straightest of old-fashioned beliefs
both as regards this world and that which is to come, this was a
tragedy.

They could not be brought to see it in any other light. As their
neighbours said, “Cy Morgan never hilt up his head again after Paul
married the play-acting woman.” But perhaps it was less his
humiliation than his sorrow which bowed down his erect form and
sprinkled grey in his thick black hair that fifty years had hitherto
spared. For Paul, forgetting the sacrifices his mother and father had
made for him, had bitterly resented the letter of protest his father
had written concerning his marriage. He wrote one angry, unfilial
letter back and then came silence. Between grief and shame Cyrus and
Deborah Morgan grew old rapidly in the year that followed.

At the end of that time Elinor Morgan, the mother of an hour, died;
three months later Paul Morgan was killed in a railroad collision.
After the funeral Cyrus Morgan brought home to his wife their son’s
little daughter, Joscelyn Morgan.

Her aunt, Annice Ashton, had wanted the baby. Cyrus Morgan had been
almost rude in his refusal. His son’s daughter should never be brought
up by an actress; it was bad enough that her mother had been one and
had doubtless transmitted the taint to her child. But in Spring
Valley, if anywhere, it might be eradicated.

At first neither Cyrus nor Deborah cared much for Joscelyn. They
resented her parentage, her strange, un-Morgan-like name, and the
pronounced resemblance she bore to the dark-haired, dark-eyed mother
they had never seen. All the Morgans had been fair. If Joscelyn had
had Paul’s blue eyes and golden curls her grandfather and grandmother
would have loved her sooner.

But the love came … it had to. No living mortal could have resisted
Joscelyn. She was the most winsome and lovable little mite of babyhood
that ever toddled. Her big dark eyes overflowed with laughter before
she could speak, her puckered red mouth broke constantly into dimples
and cooing sounds. She had ways that no orthodox Spring Valley baby
ever thought of having. Every smile was a caress, every gurgle of
attempted speech a song. Her grandparents came to worship her and were
stricter than ever with her by reason of their love. Because she was
so dear to them she must be saved from her mother’s blood.

Joscelyn shot up through a roly-poly childhood into slim, bewitching
girlhood in a chill repressive atmosphere. Cyrus and Deborah were
nothing if not thorough. The name of Joscelyn’s mother was never
mentioned to her; she was never called anything but Josie, which
sounded more “Christian-like” than Joscelyn; and all the flowering out
of her alien beauty was repressed as far as might be in the plainest
and dullest of dresses and the primmest arrangement possible to
riotous ripe-brown curls.

The girl was never allowed to visit her Aunt Annice, although
frequently invited. Miss Ashton, however, wrote to her occasionally,
and every Christmas sent a box of presents which even Cyrus and
Deborah Morgan could not forbid her to accept, although they looked
with disapproving eyes and ominously set lips at the dainty, frivolous
trifles the actress woman sent. They would have liked to cast those
painted fans and lace frills and beflounced lingerie into the fire as
if they had been infected rags from a pest-house.

The path thus set for Joscelyn’s dancing feet to walk in was indeed
sedate and narrow. She was seldom allowed to mingle with the young
people of even quiet, harmless Spring Valley; she was never allowed to
attend local concerts, much less take part in them; she was forbidden
to read novels, and Cyrus Morgan burned an old copy of Shakespeare
which Paul had given him years ago and which he had himself read and
treasured, lest its perusal should awaken unlawful instincts in
Joscelyn’s heart. The girl’s passion for reading was so marked that
her grandparents felt that it was their duty to repress it as far as
lay in their power.

But Joscelyn’s vitality was such that all her bonds and bands served
but little to check or retard the growth of her rich nature. Do what
they might they could not make a Morgan of her. Her every step was a
dance, her every word and gesture full of a grace and virility that
filled the old folks with uneasy wonder. She seemed to them charged
with dangerous tendencies all the more potent from repression. She was
sweet-tempered and sunny, truthful and modest, but she was as little
like the trim, simple Spring Valley girls as a crimson rose is like a
field daisy, and her unlikeness bore heavily on her grandparents.

Yet they loved her and were proud of her. “Our girl Josie,” as they
called her, was more to them than they would have admitted even to
themselves, and in the main they were satisfied with her, although the
grandmother grumbled because Josie did not take kindly to patchwork
and rug-making and the grandfather would fain have toned down that
exuberance of beauty and vivacity into the meeker pattern of
maidenhood he had been accustomed to.

When Joscelyn was seventeen Deborah Morgan noticed a change in her.
The girl became quieter and more brooding, falling at times into
strange, idle reveries, with her hands clasped over her knee and her
big eyes fixed unseeingly on space; or she would creep away for
solitary rambles in the beech wood, going away droopingly and
returning with dusky glowing cheeks and a nameless radiance, as of
some newly discovered power, shining through every muscle and motion.
Mrs. Morgan thought the child needed a tonic and gave her sulphur and
molasses.

One day the revelation came. Cyrus and Deborah had driven across the
valley to visit their married daughter. Not finding her at home they
returned. Mrs. Morgan went into the house while her husband went to
the stable. Joscelyn was not in the kitchen, but the grandmother heard
the sound of voices and laughter in the sitting room across the hall.

“What company has Josie got?” she wondered, as she opened the hall
door and paused for a moment on the threshold to listen. As she
listened her old face grew grey and pinched; she turned noiselessly
and left the house, and flew to her husband as one distracted.

“Cyrus, Josie is play-acting in the room … laughing and reciting and
going on. I heard her. Oh, I’ve always feared it would break out in
her and it has! Come you and listen to her.”

The old couple crept through the kitchen and across the hall to the
open parlour door as if they were stalking a thief. Joscelyn’s laugh
rang out as they did so … a mocking, triumphant peal. Cyrus and
Deborah shivered as if they had heard sacrilege.

Joscelyn had put on a trailing, clinging black skirt which her aunt
had sent her a year ago and which she had never been permitted to
wear. It transformed her into a woman. She had cast aside her waist of
dark plum-coloured homespun and wrapped a silken shawl about herself
until only her beautiful arms and shoulders were left bare. Her hair,
glossy and brown, with burnished red lights where the rays of the dull
autumn sun struck on it through the window, was heaped high on her
head and held in place by a fillet of pearl beads. Her cheeks were
crimson, her whole body from head to foot instinct and alive with a
beauty that to Cyrus and Deborah, as they stood mute with horror in
the open doorway, seemed akin to some devilish enchantment.

Joscelyn, rapt away from her surroundings, did not perceive her
grandparents. Her face was turned from them and she was addressing an
unseen auditor in passionate denunciation. She spoke, moved, posed,
gesticulated, with an inborn genius shining through every motion and
tone like an illuminating lamp.

“Josie, what are you doing?”

It was Cyrus who spoke, advancing into the room like a stern, hard
impersonation of judgment. Joscelyn’s outstretched arm fell to her
side and she turned sharply around; fear came into her face and the
light went out of it. A moment before she had been a woman, splendid,
unafraid; now she was again the schoolgirl, too confused and shamed to
speak.

“What are you doing, Josie?” asked her grandfather again, “dressed up
in that indecent manner and talking and twisting to yourself?”

Joscelyn’s face, that had grown pale, flamed scarlet again. She lifted
her head proudly.

“I was trying Aunt Annice’s part in her new play,” she answered. “I
have not been doing anything wrong, Grandfather.”

“Wrong! It’s your mother’s blood coming out in you, girl, in spite of
all our care! Where did you get that play?”

“Aunt Annice sent it to me,” answered Joscelyn, casting a quick glance
at the book on the table. Then, when her grandfather picked it up
gingerly, as if he feared contamination, she added quickly, “Oh, give
it to me, please, Grandfather. Don’t take it away.”

“I am going to burn it,” said Cyrus Morgan sternly.

“Oh, don’t, Grandfather,” cried Joscelyn, with a sob in her voice.
“Don’t burn it, please. I … I … won’t practise out of it any more.
I’m sorry I’ve displeased you. Please give me my book.”

“No,” was the stern reply. “Go to your room, girl, and take off that
rig. There is to be no more play-acting in my house, remember that.”

He flung the book into the fire that was burning in the grate. For the
first time in her life Joscelyn flamed out into passionate defiance.

“You are cruel and unjust, Grandfather. I have done no wrong … it is
not doing wrong to develop the one gift I have. It’s the only thing I
can do … and I am going to do it. My mother was an actress and a
good woman. So is Aunt Annice. So I mean to be.”

“Oh, Josie, Josie,” said her grandmother in a scared voice. Her
grandfather only repeated sternly, “Go, take that rig off, girl, and
let us hear no more of this.”

Joscelyn went but she left consternation behind her. Cyrus and Deborah
could not have been more shocked if they had discovered the girl
robbing her grandfather’s desk. They talked the matter over bitterly
at the kitchen hearth that night.

“We haven’t been strict enough with the girl, Mother,” said Cyrus
angrily. “We’ll have to be stricter if we don’t want to have her
disgracing us. Did you hear how she defied me? ‘So I mean to be,’ she
says. Mother, we’ll have trouble with that girl yet.”

“Don’t be too harsh with her, Pa … it’ll maybe only drive her to
worse,” sobbed Deborah.

“I ain’t going to be harsh. What I do is for her own good, you know
that, Mother. Josie is as dear to me as she is to you, but we’ve got
to be stricter with her.”

They were. From that day Josie was watched and distrusted. She was
never permitted to be alone. There were no more solitary walks. She
felt herself under the surveillance of cold, unsympathetic eyes every
moment and her very soul writhed. Joscelyn Morgan, the high-spirited
daughter of high-spirited parents, could not long submit to such
treatment. It might have passed with a child; to a woman, thrilling
with life and conscious power to her very fingertips, it was galling
beyond measure. Joscelyn rebelled, but she did nothing secretly …
that was not her nature. She wrote to her Aunt Annice, and when she
received her reply she went straight and fearlessly to her
grandparents with it.

“Grandfather, this letter is from my aunt. She wishes me to go and
live with her and prepare for the stage. I told her I wished to do so.
I am going.”

Cyrus and Deborah looked at her in mute dismay.

“I know you despise the profession of an actress,” the girl went on
with heightened colour. “I am sorry you think so about it because it
is the only one open to me. I must go … I must.”

“Yes, you must,” said Cyrus cruelly. “It’s in your blood … your bad
blood, girl.”

“My blood isn’t bad,” cried Joscelyn proudly. “My mother was a sweet,
true, good woman. You are unjust, Grandfather. But I don’t want you to
be angry with me. I love you both and I am very grateful indeed for
all your kindness to me. I wish that you could understand what….”

“We understand enough,” interrupted Cyrus harshly. “This is all I have
to say. Go to your play-acting aunt if you want to. Your grandmother
and me won’t hinder you. But you’ll come back here no more. We’ll have
nothing further to do with you. You can choose your own way and walk
in it.”

With this dictum Joscelyn went from Spring Valley. She clung to
Deborah and wept at parting, but Cyrus did not even say goodbye to
her. On the morning of her departure he went away on business and did
not return until evening.

* * * * *

Joscelyn went on the stage. Her aunt’s influence and her mother’s fame
helped her much. She missed the hard experiences that come to the
unassisted beginner. But her own genius must have won in any case. She
had all her mother’s gifts, deepened by her inheritance of Morgan
intensity and sincerity … much, too, of the Morgan firmness of will.
When Joscelyn Morgan was twenty-two she was famous over two
continents.




When Cyrus Morgan returned home on the evening after his
granddaughter’s departure he told his wife that she was never to
mention the girl’s name in his hearing again. Deborah obeyed. She
thought her husband was right, albeit she might in her own heart
deplore the necessity of such a decree. Joscelyn had disgraced them;
could that be forgiven?

Nevertheless both the old people missed her terribly. The house seemed
to have lost its soul with that vivid, ripely tinted young life. They
got their married daughter’s oldest girl, Pauline, to come and stay
with them. Pauline was a quiet, docile maiden, industrious and
commonplace–just such a girl as they had vainly striven to make of
Joscelyn, to whom Pauline had always been held up as a model. Yet
neither Cyrus nor Deborah took to her, and they let her go
unregretfully when they found that she wished to return home.

“She hasn’t any of Josie’s gimp,” was old Cyrus’s unspoken fault.
Deborah spoke, but all she said was, “Polly’s a good girl, Father,
only she hasn’t any snap.”

Joscelyn wrote to Deborah occasionally, telling her freely of her
plans and doings. If it hurt the girl that no notice was ever taken of
her letters she still wrote them. Deborah read the letters grimly and
then left them in Cyrus’s way. Cyrus would not read them at first;
later on he read them stealthily when Deborah was out of the house.

When Joscelyn began to succeed she sent to the old farmhouse papers
and magazines containing her photographs and criticisms of her plays
and acting. Deborah cut them out and kept them in her upper bureau
drawer with Joscelyn’s letters. Once she overlooked one and Cyrus
found it when he was kindling the fire. He got the scissors and cut it
out carefully. A month later Deborah discovered it between the leaves
of the family Bible.

But Joscelyn’s name was never mentioned between them, and when other
people asked them concerning her their replies were cold and
ungracious. In a way they had relented towards her, but their shame of
her remained. They could never forget that she was an actress.

Once, six years after Joscelyn had left Spring Valley, Cyrus, who was
reading a paper by the table, got up with an angry exclamation and
stuffed it into the stove, thumping the lid on over it with grim
malignity.

“That fool dunno what he’s talking about,” was all he would say.
Deborah had her share of curiosity. The paper was the _National
Gazette_ and she knew that their next-door neighbour, James Pennan,
took it. She went over that evening and borrowed it, saying that their
own had been burned before she had had time to read the serial in it.
With one exception she read all its columns carefully without finding
anything to explain her husband’s anger. Then she doubtfully plunged
into the exception … a column of “Stage Notes.” Halfway down she
came upon an adverse criticism of Joscelyn Morgan and her new play. It
was malicious and vituperative. Deborah Morgan’s old eyes sparkled
dangerously as she read it.

“I guess somebody is pretty jealous of Josie,” she muttered. “I don’t
wonder Pa was riled up. But I guess she can hold her own. She’s a
Morgan.”

No long time after this Cyrus took a notion he’d like a trip to the
city. He’d like to see the Horse Fair and look up Cousin Hiram
Morgan’s folks.

“Hiram and me used to be great chums, Mother. And we’re getting kind
of mossy, I guess, never stirring out of Spring Valley. Let’s go and
dissipate for a week–what say?”

Deborah agreed readily, albeit of late years she had been much averse
to going far from home and had never at any time been very fond of
Cousin Hiram’s wife. Cyrus was as pleased as a child over their trip.
On the second day of their sojourn in the city he slipped away when
Deborah had gone shopping with Mrs. Hiram and hurried through the
streets to the Green Square Theatre with a hang-dog look. He bought a
ticket apologetically and sneaked in to his seat. It was a matinee
performance, and Joscelyn Morgan was starring in her famous new play.

Cyrus waited for the curtain to rise, feeling as if every one of his
Spring Valley neighbours must know where he was and revile him for it.
If Deborah were ever to find out … but Deborah must never find out!
For the first time in their married life the old man deliberately
plotted to deceive his old wife. He must see his girl Josie just once;
it was a terrible thing that she was an actress, but she was a
successful one, nobody could deny that, except fools who yapped in the
_National Gazette_.

The curtain went up and Cyrus rubbed his eyes. He had certainly braced
his nerves to behold some mystery of iniquity; instead he saw an old
kitchen so like his own at home that it bewildered him; and there,
sitting by the cheery wood stove, in homespun gown, with primly
braided hair, was Joscelyn–his girl Josie, as he had seen her a
thousand times by his own ingle-side. The building rang with applause;
one old man pulled out a red bandanna and wiped tears of joy and pride
from his eyes. She hadn’t changed–Josie hadn’t changed. Play-acting
hadn’t spoiled her–couldn’t spoil her. Wasn’t she Paul’s daughter!
And all this applause was for her–for Josie.

Joscelyn’s new play was a homely, pleasant production with rollicking
comedy and heart-moving pathos skilfully commingled. Joscelyn pervaded
it all with a convincing simplicity that was really the triumph of
art. Cyrus Morgan listened and exulted in her; at every burst of
applause his eyes gleamed with pride. He wanted to go on the stage and
box the ears of the villain who plotted against her; he wanted to
shake hands with the good woman who stood by her; he wanted to pay off
the mortgage and make Josie happy. He wiped tears from his eyes in the
third act when Josie was turned out of doors and, when the fourth left
her a happy, blushing bride, hand in hand with her farmer lover, he
could have wept again for joy.

Cyrus Morgan went out into the daylight feeling as if he had awakened
from a dream. At the outer door he came upon Mrs. Hiram and Deborah.
Deborah’s face was stained with tears, and she caught at his hand.

“Oh, Pa, wasn’t it splendid–wasn’t our girl Josie splendid! I’m so
proud of her. Oh, I was bound to hear her. I was afraid you’d be mad,
so I didn’t let on and when I saw you in the seat down there I
couldn’t believe my eyes. Oh, I’ve just been crying the whole time.
Wasn’t it splendid! Wasn’t our girl Josie splendid?”

The crowd around looked at the old pair with amused, indulgent
curiosity, but they were quite oblivious to their surroundings, even
to Mrs. Hiram’s anxiety to decoy them away. Cyrus Morgan cleared his
throat and said, “It was great, Mother, great. She took the shine off
the other play-actors all right. I knew that _National Gazette_ man
didn’t know what he was talking about. Mother, let us go and see Josie
right off. She’s stopping with her aunt at the Maberly Hotel–I saw it
in the paper this morning. I’m going to tell her she was right and we
were wrong. Josie’s beat them all, and I’m going to tell her so!”