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
"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
"It was her pluck that kept you in Paris—while she was dying."
"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
"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."
"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
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
"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."
I glanced back as I turned down the hall and saw him staring after me.
What was it he was thinking?[Pg 101]