The Harbor


My mother had been buried several days before I reached home.

I found Sue waiting on the dock, and I saw with a little shock of surprise that my young sister was grown up. I had never noticed her much before. Sue and I had never got on from the start. She had been my father's chum and I had been my mother's. I had always felt her mocking smile toward me and all my solemn thoughts. And after that small catastrophe which I had had with Eleanore, I had more than ever avoided Sue and her girl friends. Then I had gone to college, and each time that I came home she had seemed to me all arms and legs, fool secrets and fool giggles—a most uninteresting kid. I remember being distinctly surprised when I brought Joe home for Christmas to find that he thought her quite a girl. But now she was all different. She had grown tall and graceful, lithe, and in her suit of mourning she looked so much older, her face thin and worn, subdued and softened by all she'd been through. For the weight of all those weary weeks had been upon her shoulders. There was something pitiful about her. I came up and kissed her awkwardly, then found myself suddenly holding her close. She clung to me and trembled a little. I found it hard to speak.

"I wish I'd been here, too," I said gruffly.

"I wish you had, Billy—it's been a long time."

All at once Sue and I had become close friends.[Pg 98]

We had a long talk, at home that day, and she told me how our parents had drawn together in the last years, of how my poor mother had wanted my father close by her side and of how he had responded, neglecting his business and spending his last dollar on doctors, consultations and trips to sanitariums, anything to keep up her strength. He had even read "Pendennis" aloud. How changed he must have been to do that. I knew why she had wanted to hear it again. It had been our favorite book. I remembered how I had read it to her just before I went abroad, and how I had caught her watching me with that hungry despairing look in her eyes. What a young brute I had been to go!... For a time Sue's voice seemed far away. Then I heard her telling how over that story of a young author my mother had talked to my father of me.

"He's going to try to know you, Billy, and help you," said Sue. "He promised her that before she died. And I hope you're going to help him, too. He needs you very badly. You never understood father, you know. I don't believe you have any idea of what he has gone through in his business."

"What do you mean? Have things gone wrong?"

"I don't understand it very well. He hardly ever speaks of it. I think he'd better tell you himself."

That evening in his library, from my seat by the table, I furtively watched my father's face. He sat in a huge chair against the wall, with a smaller chair in front for his feet, his vest unbuttoned, his short heavy body settled low as he grimly kept his eyes on his book. The strong overhead light which shone on his face showed me the deeper lines, all the wrinkles, the broad loose pouch of skin on the throat, the gray color, the pain, the weakness and the age in his motionless eyes. What was going on in there? Sometimes it would seem an hour before he turned another page. All afternoon he had been at her grave.[Pg 99]

He had given her no happy life. Was it of that he was thinking? I felt ashamed to be wondering, for he seemed so weak and old in his grief. Two years ago his hair had been gray, but he had still looked strong and hale. I could hardly feel now that he was the same man. I felt drawn to him now, I wished he would put down his book and talk and tell me everything about her.

But what an embarrassing job it is to get acquainted with one's father. When Sue had left us after dinner, there had been a few brief remarks and then this long tense silence. I, too, pretended to be reading.

"Your mother thought a lot of you, boy." He spoke at last so abruptly that I looked up at him with a start, and saw him watching me anxiously.

"Yes, sir." I looked quickly down, and our eyes did not meet again after that.

"It was her pluck that kept you in Paris—while she was dying."

I choked:

"I know."

"You don't know—not how she wanted you back—you'll never know. I wanted to write you to come home."

"I wish you had!"

"She wouldn't hear of it!"

"I see." Another silence. Why couldn't I think of something to say?

"She kept every letter you wrote her. They're up there in her bureau drawer. She was always reading 'em—over and over. She thought a lot of your writing, boy—of what you would do when—when she was dead." The last came out almost fiercely. I waited a moment, got hold of myself.

"Yes, sir," I brought out at last.

"I hope you'll make it all worth while."

"I will. I'll try. I'll do my best." I did not look up, for I could still feel his anxious eyes upon my face.

"Do you want to go back to Paris?"[Pg 100]

"No, sir! I want to stay right here!" What was the matter with my fool voice?

"Have you got any plans for your writing here? How are you going about it to start?"

"Well, sir, to begin with—I've got some stuff I did abroad."


"Not exactly——"

"Poems?" My father's look was tragic.


And I tried to explain what I had been doing. But my attempts to tell him of my work in Paris were as forced and as pathetic as his efforts to attend. More and more halting grew our talk, and it ended in a silence that seemed to have no end. Then I went to the fireplace, knocked the ashes out of my pipe, refilled it and relit it. When I returned he was reading his book, and with deep relief I took up mine. That much of it was over.

But again I found myself watching him. What was in my father's mind? Why this anxious almost humble tone? It made me wince, it made me ashamed. I sat there all evening pretending to read and feeling that he was doing the same.

"Good night, dad—I think I'll go to bed." Even this little came clumsily. I had never called him "dad" before.

"Good night, my boy. See you at breakfast."

"Yes, sir."

I glanced back as I turned down the hall and saw him staring after me.

What was it he was thinking?[Pg 101]

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