martha had put henry in the crib for his nap and had only just finished filling the diaper pail with cold water and borax when she heard the bustle of girls approaching the front door. She struggled not to envy themtheir youth, their freedom, their endless choices. All of them would be freshmen this year, and though the freshmen were always more energetic than the sophomores, they also required more guidance.
Three of them stood in the doorway now, and Martha guessed theyd not come together. Two were conspicuously beautiful blondes and the third an agitated brunette in an ill-fitting boiled-wool jacket. Beatrice. Im Beatrice Marshall, she said as if reciting a line shed spent time rehearsing. Did they tell you I was to join your class?
I have your name right here, Martha said.
Beatrice attempted a relieved smile but revealed instead yellow teeth and anxious eyes. She removed her hat hastily, and her hair, which was fine and the color of brown sugar, flared up with static in a nervous halo. Inside, she took off her jacket, uncovering a dress that was clearly a hand-me-down special, or at least the veteran of one too many a harvest ball. By contrast, Grace Winslow, the taller of the two blondes, was perfectly done up in a camel-hair skirt, a white blouse, and a tidy French twist. The third girl, Constance Cummings, held a smart red purse in one hand and, in the other, the new bestselling paperback that Martha had already come to loathe, though she hadnt yet managed to read it: The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, by Dr. Benjamin Spock. Swinging her long, straight hair over her shoulder, Connie settled into an armchair and satgrave and expectantwith her bag at her side and her book in her lap, as if she was waiting for a sermon to start.
The fourth student to arrive was Ruby Allen, from West Virginia. Another farm girl, she was wearing a polka-dot dress and enormous Minnie Mouse shoes, and she greeted the others with an exuberant Hi, yall. She was followed quickly by Ethel Neuholzer, who walked in with an Argus camera around her neck and a Clark Bar in her hand. She was a slightly chubby brunette with a Veronica Lake swoop to her hair and a blue bow that completely extinguished the intended smoldering effect. Within the next five minutes, she had reached into her voluminous purse to offer her new classmates Lucky Strikes, Life Savers, and Doublemint gum.
Wheres the kid? she asked.
By noon, the only one absent was Betty Lodge, but Martha already knew her. Betty Lodgenée Gardnerwas the daughter of Dr. Nelson Gardner, the Wilton College president. Betty was a long-ago graduate of the Wilton Nursery School, which was still located just next door. Martha had known her since the day she turned two, because the staff and faculty had always been encouraged to attend her birthday parties.
At the moment, Betty had again become a much-clucked-over presence on campus, this time because her young husband, Fred, had been included in the War Departments final list of dead and missing. With every month that passed, the chance of his being found alive became more and more negligible. Yet Betty, or so the chatter went, clung to reports of captured pilots and amnesiac prisoners. The year before, a bomber pilot who had been listed as dead had been found alive in a Rangoon hospital, and most people saw Bettys enrollment in the home economics program as a testament to her faith that Fred had, like that pilot, survived the war.
She walked in nearly forty-five minutes late, a short, frail-boned eighteen-year-old with thatched blond hair and an almost storybook face. A sweetheart face, people called it. Slightly boyish, even more elfin, she would have made a perfect Peter Pan. She had pale skin, long, thin wrists, and oddly stubby hands. The lightness of her skin and the unusual brightness in her eyes made it look as if she might have just been beamed in from a neighboring star.
Excerpted from The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald Copyright © 2010 by Lisa Grunwald. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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