Chapter 4 -- Dr. Cloudee Gives an Opinion
This response burst from the lips of both Dr. Cloudee and Constance Waight, upon hearing, in their separate homes, the rumor of Juanita Jones’s hope of ascendancy.
Although Rev. Shepherd’s concerns kept him from delivering a sermon as fine as his usual standard on the day following his clerical conversation in chapter three, Mr. Heeler was so unbothered by the new rumor that he failed to tell his employer of it until they were sitting over the Sunday roast beef at noon, dabbing gravy on Mrs. Cloudee’s Lennox ware.
“Preposterous!” Dr. Cloudee repeated, in case he was not believed.
Mr. Heeler informed the man of his agreement, and that he’d assured Rev. Shepherd there was no need to worry about such an upset at the college. Dr. Cloudee glowered at him as he passed his assistant the rolls. Mrs. Cloudee hummed “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship” lightly to herself and minced her carrots. Mr. Heeler winked at his peas.
“You do not know the lady in question,” Dr. Cloudee told him. “You should not underestimate her influence.”
Mr. Heeler clinked his ice in his tea, and Mrs.Cloudee switched to “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.”
“You see, Associate Heeler,” as Dr. Cloudee commonly called his assistant, “Rev. Shepherd has inadvertently hit upon an eventuality which, although it cannot come to fruition, could in its attempt prove rather irksome.” He picked his teeth. “He is most astute.”
“Asparagus, Mr. Heeler?” the lady asked, to the tune of “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.” He winked, and accepted.
Connie Waight was pushing hot dogs into their buns and passing out paper plates. Three other seminary couples and their babies of various sizes had come for Sunday lunch. Since the Waights were renting the old Mt. Moriah manse, they generally had more space for hospitality than the poor students and their families, cramped together in Strong’s apartments at the rear of the campus. Sunday lunch in their yard, around their picnic table, had become a friendly custom.
Our hostess dropped a hotdog on her foot when she heard her husband telling his classmate of Miss Jones’s hopes for the presidency.
“Preposterous!” she burst out.
Both men stopped in mid-sentence and stared at her. Frank Waight was surprised at his wife’s apparent conviction on the matter.
“But Connie, it’s all over campus. Harold Bloomer is dating one of those college girls and she says that’s all anybody is talking about over at Hezekiah too. Some students think it’s a done deal. Even the librarians were whispering about it last night.” Her husband stooped and retrieved the hotdog. “I’ll give this to Zeke.” Zeke was their black Lab.
Connie took the hotdog, wiped it with a napkin, and put it in a bun. “Sam Shepherd told me about Juanita Jones’s coming. Told me himself. He never said anything about her being president.”
“Well, she’s arriving this evening. The funeral’s on Tuesday. It’ll all hit the fan this week.”
The buzz continued spreading, and by the time classes were over the next day, all of Greenfield knew for a certainty that Juanita Jones was to be appointed the new president of Hezekiah College, and Dr. Cloudee was resigning his post at Leach Street in protest. Some even asserted that she had begun replacing her brother’s extensive collection of B.B. Warfield’s sermons with her videotapes of the Holy Land and commentaries on the Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, but this bold-faced lie is beyond our ability to countenance, dear readers. Although we have not officially met Miss Jones yet, I assure you she is no demon, no infidel, no grasping usurper. She is no Jacob. She cannot help the rumors that the Greenfielders delight to cook up, and delight even more to consume.
The rumors could not be stopped, and to be frank, James Cloudee didn’t want them stopped. In his mind, everything was proceeding nicely. No appointment would come from the committee, he would see to that. With that security pacifying his mind, he could turn his thoughts to the real effect of Miss Jones’s visit to Greenfield. Without her presence, he knew that the schools’ demise might be laid squarely at his feet, and this accusation worried him. Others in his denomination might kill off the schools without a qualm. But he must live in this town, and if its inhabitants blamed him for the death of two schools of ancient and revered reputation in their midst – he squirmed under such censure. Here, however, was a blessed opportunity, the arrival of a scapegoat. Perhaps, just perhaps, Juanita Jones would obligingly serve his purposes. With her temperament, she could hardly do otherwise.
Dr. Cloudee rose from his high wingback chair in the solitude of his home office on Monday evening, and padded in his slippers to the den, where his wife Lily sat embroidering roses on a baby blanket. James Cloudee is a slight man, careful in his dress and dignified in his demeanor. His face wears the studied look of a man who has learned always to think before he speaks. His one handsome trait, even at 64, is the beautiful wave of snow white hair that graces his head and tucks neatly along his collar. Not for him the mortifying comb-over of the Baptist clergyman across the street. Even in his maroon bathrobe, he was handsome in an elderly sort of way, and his wife smiled up at him as he slippered across the Dhurrie rug. Behind her, a large bay window looked over their back yard, filled with scores of rose bushes in oval beds. The setting sun shone on her head. Mrs. Cloudee had not one hair that was gray.
“For the little Shepherd baby. Isn’t it adorable?” She held up a white square with blue roses running around its edge. Her blond hair, always worn in a loose bun, slipped a little to one side as she tilted her head. Quiet strains of “Jesus Loves the Little Children” were floating through her mind.
“Fine, dear, fine. We will be calling on Miss Juanita Jones tomorrow, Lily. She arrived yesterday for the funeral.”
“Yes, James, I know. I saw her today. She ran past with her jump rope. I waved at her.”
Dr. Cloudee was momentarily ruffled. “Her jump rope?” The image of a woman of Miss Jones’s stature, size and age, jumping rope down his sidewalk, was disturbing. “I think at 10:00. A private visitation with the family.”
“Oh, James, you know she isn’t staying with the Hipps this time. She’s staying in her brother’s house. On the college campus. From what I heard on the grapevine today, she’s nearly moved in.” Lily Cloudee shifted her lopsided hair, jabbed the embroidery needle into the center of a blue rose, and hummed “One Bright Morning” in a minor key.
Copyrighted by M.K. Christiansen
Copyrighted by M.K. Christiansen