Old Mortality. Miranda and her sister Maria, age eight and twelve years, respectively, live after the death of their mother with their father and grandmother. Legends of the family’s past surround them in the house, especially tales of their dead Aunt Amy, whose melancholy photograph hangs on the wall.
According to the story, Amy had toyed with the affections of her fiancé Gabriel by appearing scantily dressed at the Mardi Gras with another man. Harry, Amy’s father, defended her honor by shooting the man. Amy and Gabriel married, and six weeks later, Amy died of consumption (tuberculosis). Although the two young sisters understand now that some details are untrue, they continue to believe the story.
Two years later, after their grandmother dies, the girls are sent to a convent school where, to relieve the sedate life, they read romantic novels. Except for Saturday afternoons, when their father sometimes appears, they are cut off from life. One Saturday, their father takes them to the racetrack, where their Uncle Gabriel’s beautiful horse is entered in a race. Instead of the romantic figure of the family’s legends, Miranda sees that Gabriel is an alcoholic who lives in a slum hotel with his second wife. The horse, rather than winning elegantly, ends the race trembling and bleeding at the nose.
Eight years later, Miranda, now married, returns to Texas to attend Gabriel’s funeral. On the train, she meets her cousin, Eva, who tells her about Gabriel and Amy. Eva refutes every romantic family legend with realistic details of Amy’s scandalous behavior and death from tuberculosis. When they arrive, Miranda finds herself distanced from her father. When Eva and he begin to speak of the past, Miranda vows she will face the truth and leave her fictions behind.
Noon Wine. As Royal Earle Thompson churns milk on the porch one day, a stranger arrives and, in an English unfamiliar to the Texas farmland, asks for work. Thinking the man will work cheaply and do all the nasty chores on the small dairy farm, Thompson hires him. Olaf Helton speaks almost not at all, even at dinner with Thompson, his wife, and two sons. All he reveals is that he is a Swede from North Dakota and that he knows how to make butter and cheese. He also plays the harmonica, the same tune over and over.
After a while, the farmhand’s strangeness ceases to bother the Thompsons, especially Mr. Thompson, who sees his farm prosper with Helton’s work. The cows and chickens are cared for, the yards are cleaned up, and the income from dairy products increases. He and his wife try repeatedly to make conversation with...
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