The Magnificent Ambersons
In the matter of coolness, George met Lucy upon her own predetermined ground; in fact, he was there first, and, at their next encounter, proved loftier and more formal than she did. Their estrangement lasted three weeks, and then disappeared without any preliminary treaty: it had worn itself out, and they forgot it.
At times, however, George found other disturbances to the friendship. Lucy was "too much the village belle," he complained; and took a satiric attitude toward his competitors, referring to them as her "local swains and bumpkins," sulking for an afternoon when she reminded him that he, too, was at least "local." She was a belle with older people as well; Isabel and Fanny were continually taking her driving, bringing her home with them to lunch or dinner, and making a hundred little engagements with her, and the Major had taken a great fancy to her, insisting upon her presence and her father's at the Amberson family dinner at the Mansion every Sunday evening. She knew how to flirt with old people, he said, as she sat next him at the table on one of these Sunday occasions; and he had always liked her father, even when Eugene was a "terror" long ago. "Oh, yes, he was!" the Major laughed, when she remonstrated. "He came up here with my son George and some others for a serenade one night, and Eugene stepped into a bass fiddle, and the poor musicians just gave up! I had a pretty half-hour getting my son George upstairs. I remember! It was the last time Eugene ever touched a drop--but he'd touched plenty before that, young lady, and he daren't deny it! Well, well; there's another thing that's changed: hardly anybody drinks nowadays. Perhaps it's just as well, but things used to be livelier. That serenade was just before Isabel was married--and don't you fret, Miss Lucy: your father remembers it well enough!" The old gentleman burst into laughter, and shook his finger at Eugene across the table. "The fact is," the Major went on hilariously, "I believe if Eugene hadn't broken that bass fiddle and given himself away, Isabel would never have taken Wilbur! I shouldn't be surprised if that was about all the reason that Wilbur got her! What do you think. Wilbur?"
"I shouldn't be surprised," said Wilbur placidly. "If your notion is right, I'm glad 'Gene broke the fiddle. He was giving me a hard run!"
The Major always drank three glasses of champagne at his Sunday dinner, and he was finishing the third. "What do you say about it, Isabel? By Jove!" he cried, pounding the table. "She's blushing!"
Isabel did blush, but she laughed. "Who wouldn't blush!" she cried, and her sister-in-law came to her assistance.
"The important thing," said Fanny jovially, "is that Wilbur did get her, and not only got her, but kept her!"
Eugene was as pink as Isabel, but he laughed without any sign of embarrassment other than his heightened colour. "There's another important thing--that is, for me," he said. "It's the only thing that makes me forgive that bass viol for getting in my way."
"What is it?" the Major asked.
"Lucy," said Morgan gently.
Isabel gave him a quick glance, all warm approval, and there was a murmur of friendliness round the table.
George was not one of those who joined in this applause. He considered his grandfather's nonsense indelicate, even for second childhood, and he thought that the sooner the subject was dropped the better. However, he had only a slight recurrence of the resentment which had assailed him during the winter at every sign of his mother's interest in Morgan; though he was still ashamed of his aunt sometimes, when it seemed to him that Fanny was almost publicly throwing herself at the widower's head. Fanny and he had one or two arguments in which her fierceness again astonished and amused him.
"You drop your criticisms of your relatives," she bade him, hotly, one day, "and begin thinking a little about your own behaviour! You say people will 'talk' about my--about my merely being pleasant to an old friend! What do I care how they talk? I guess if people are talking about anybody in this family they're talking about the impertinent little snippet that hasn't any respect for anything, and doesn't even know enough to attend to his own affairs!"
"Snippet,' Aunt Fanny!" George laughed. "How elegant! And 'little snippet'--when I'm over five-feet-eleven?"
"I said it!" she snapped, departing. "I don't see how Lucy can stand you!"
"You'd make an amiable stepmother-in-law!" he called after her. "I'll be careful about proposing to Lucy!"
These were but roughish spots in a summer that glided by evenly and quickly enough, for the most part, and, at the end, seemed to fly. On the last night before George went back to be a Junior, his mother asked him confidently if it had not been a happy summer.
He hadn't thought about it, he answered. "Oh,' I suppose so. Why?"
"I just thought it would be: nice to hear you say so," she said, smiling. "I mean, it's pleasant for people of my age to know that people of your age realize that they're happy."
"People of your age!" he repeated. "You know you don't look precisely like an old woman, mother. Not precisely!"
"No," she said. "And I suppose I feel about as young as you do, inside, but it won't be many years before I must begin to look old. It does come!" She sighed, still smiling. "It's seemed to me that, it must have been a happy summer for you--a real 'summer of roses and wine'--without the wine, perhaps. 'Gather ye roses while ye may'--or was it primroses? Time does really fly, or perhaps it's more like the sky--and smoke--"
George was puzzled. "What do you mean: time being like the sky and smoke?"
"I mean the things that we have and that we think are so solid-- they're like smoke, and time is like the sky that the smoke disappears into. You know how wreath of smoke goes up from a chimney, and seems all thick and black and busy against the sky, as if it were going to do such important things and last forever, and you see it getting thinner and thinner--and then, in such a little while, it isn't there at all; nothing is left but the sky, and the sky keeps on being just the same forever."
"It strikes me you're getting mixed up," said George cheerfully. "I don't see much resemblance between time and the sky, or between things and smoke-wreaths; but I do see one reason you like 'Lucy Morgan so much. She talks that same kind of wistful, moony way sometimes--I don't mean to say I mind it in either of you, because I rather like to listen to it, and you've got a very good voice, mother. It's nice to listen to, no matter how much smoke and sky, and so on, you talk. So's Lucy's for that matter; and I see why you're congenial. She talks that way to her father, too; and he's right there with the same kind of guff. Well, it's all right with me!" He laughed, teasingly, and allowed her to retain his hand, which she had fondly seized. "I've got plenty to think about when people drool along!"
She pressed his hand to her cheek, and a tear made a tiny warm streak across one of his knuckles.
"For heaven's sake!" he said. "What's the matter? Isn't everything all right?"
"You're going away!"
"Well, I'm coming back, don't you suppose? Is that all that worries you?"
She cheered up, and smiled again, but shook her head. "I never can bear to see you go--that's the most of it. I'm a little bothered about your father, too."
"It seems to me he looks so badly. Everybody thinks so."
"What nonsense!" George laughed. "He's been looking that way all summer. He isn't much different from the way he's looked all his life, that I can see. What's the matter with him?"
"He never talks much about his business to me but I think he's been worrying about some investments he made last year. I think his worry has affected his health."
"What investments?" George demanded. "He hasn't gone into Mr. Morgan's automobile concern, has he?"
"No," Isabel smiled. "The 'automobile concern' is all Eugene's, and it's so small I understand it's taken hardly anything. No; your father has always prided himself on making only the most absolutely safe investments, but two or three years ago he and your Uncle George both put a great deal--pretty much everything they could get together, I think--into the stock of rolling-mills some friends of theirs owned, and I'm afraid the mills haven't been doing well."
"What of that? Father needn't worry. You and I could take care of him the rest of his life on what grandfather--"
"Of course," she agreed. "But your father's always lived so for his business and taken such pride in his sound investments; it's a passion with him. I--"
"Pshaw! He needn't worry! You tell him we'll look after him: we'll build him a little stone bank in the backyard, if he busts up, and he can go and put his pennies in it every morning. That'll keep him just as happy as he ever was!" He kissed her. "Good-night, I'm going to tell Lucy good-bye. Don't sit up for me."
She walked to the front gate with him, still holding his hand, and he told her again not to "sit up" for him.
"Yes, I will," she laughed. "You won't be very late."
"Well--it's my last night."
"But I know Lucy, and she knows I want to see you, too, your last night. You'll see: she'll send you home promptly at eleven!"
But she was mistaken: Lucy sent him home promptly at ten.