Thea Kronborg is the daughter of the Swedish Methodist pastor in the small town of Moonstone, Colorado. She is a tall, fair girl with grave, candid eyes, and her shy awkwardness hides restless depths of thought and feeling. Although she grows up in a lively household of brothers and sisters, she has no real friends among children her own age. Of her family, only her aunt, Tilly Kronborg, seems to understand her; but Tilly is so ridiculous in her speech and in her actions that neighbors only laugh when she tells them that the day is coming when Thea will make Moonstone sit up and take notice.
One of her few friends is Dr. Howard Archie, the town physician, who, when she was eleven, saved Thea’s life during an attack of pneumonia. He is unhappily married to a mean-spirited woman who wants only three things in life: to have her cigar-smoking husband away from home as much as possible, to keep her house closed against dust, and to live on food from cans. Having no children of his own, Dr. Archie loves Thea in a fatherly way, and he often wonders what will become of a girl so passionate and determined.
Another friend of her childhood is gruff, disreputable old Professor Wunsch, her music teacher. A drunkard, but at one time a talented pianist, he drifted casually into Moonstone, and Fritz Kohler, the German tailor, pitied him and gave him a home. The two old men, both with memories of their younger years in Europe, become cronies. Fiercely resenting demands of family and school upon her time, he gives Thea her first glimpse of artistic endeavor, just as the Kohler house gives her a knowledge of true Old World simplicity and friendliness. Wunsch, unable to understand Thea’s stubborn reserve, compares her to the yellow prickly pear blossoms of the desert.
Through these friends, she also knows Spanish Johnny from the Mexican settlement on the outskirts of town. He is another wanderer and drunkard, who always comes back to Moonstone and his patient wife to recover from his debauches. The neighbors are scandalized when the minister’s daughter goes with the doctor and Wunsch to hear Spanish Johnny sing Mexican folk songs. Mrs. Kronborg, wiser than her husband, quietly allows Thea to go her own way. Still another man who takes great interest in Thea is Ray Kennedy, a railroad conductor on the Denver run. He is waiting until she grows up; then he intends to marry her. In his own way, he is the most protective of all.
Thea is fifteen years old when old Wunsch, in a drunken frenzy, smashes the furniture in the Kohler house and leaves town. After his departure, Thea takes over his pupils. A year later, Ray, injured in a wreck, dies, leaving Thea six...
(The entire section is 1098 words.)