Part 1 out of 6
THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS
By Booth Tarkington
Major Amberson had "made a fortune" in 1873, when other people were
losing fortunes, and the magnificence of the Ambersons began then.
Magnificence, like the size of a fortune, is always comparative, as
even Magnificent Lorenzo may now perceive, if he has happened to haunt
New York in 1916; and the Ambersons were magnificent in their day and
place. Their splendour lasted throughout all the years that saw their
Midland town spread and darken into a city, but reached its topmost
during the period when every prosperous family with children kept a
In that town, in those days, all the women who wore silk or velvet
knew all the other women who wore silk or velvet, and when there was a
new purchase of sealskin, sick people were got to windows to see it go
by. Trotters were out, in the winter afternoons, racing light sleighs
on National Avenue and Tennessee Street; everybody recognized both the
trotters and the drivers; and again knew them as well on summer
evenings, when slim buggies whizzed by in renewals of the snow-time
rivalry. For that matter, everybody knew everybody else's family
horse-and-carriage, could identify such a silhouette half a mile down
the street, and thereby was sure who was going to market, or to a
reception, or coming home from office or store to noon dinner or
During the earlier years of this period, elegance of personal
appearance was believed to rest more upon the texture of garments than
upon their shaping. A silk dress needed no remodelling when it was a
year or so old; it remained distinguished by merely remaining silk.
Old men and governors wore broadcloth; "full dress" was broadcloth
with "doeskin" trousers; and there were seen men of all ages to whom a
hat meant only that rigid, tall silk thing known to impudence as a
"stove-pipe." In town and country these men would wear no other hat,
and, without self-consciousness, they went rowing in such hats.
Shifting fashions of shape replaced aristocracy of texture:
dressmakers, shoemakers, hatmakers, and tailors, increasing in cunning
and in power, found means to make new clothes old. The long contagion
of the "Derby" hat arrived: one season the crown of this hat would be
a bucket; the next it would be a spoon. Every house still kept its
bootjack, but high-topped boots gave way to shoes and "congress
gaiters"; and these were played through fashions that shaped them now
with toes like box-ends and now with toes like the prows of racing
Trousers with a crease were considered plebeian; the crease proved
that the garment had lain upon a shelf, and hence was "ready-made";
these betraying trousers were called "hand-me-downs," in allusion to
the shelf. In the early 'eighties, while bangs and bustles were
having their way with women, that variation of dandy known as the
"dude" was invented: he wore trousers as tight as stockings, dagger-
pointed shoes, a spoon "Derby," a single-breasted coat called a
"Chesterfield," with short flaring skirts, a torturing cylindrical
collar, laundered to a polish and three inches high, while his other
neckgear might be a heavy, puffed cravat or a tiny bow fit for a
doll's braids. With evening dress he wore a tan overcoat so short
that his black coat-tails hung visible, five inches below the over-
coat; but after a season or two he lengthened his overcoat till it
touched his heels, and he passed out of his tight trousers into
trousers like great bags. Then, presently, he was seen no more,
though the word that had been coined for him remained in the
vocabularies of the impertinent.
It was a hairier day than this. Beards were to the wearers' fancy,
and things as strange as the Kaiserliche boar-tusk moustache were
commonplace. "Side-burns" found nourishment upon childlike profiles;
great Dundreary whiskers blew like tippets over young shoulders;
moustaches were trained as lambrequins over forgotten mouths; and it
was possible for a Senator of the United States to wear a mist of
white whisker upon his throat only, not a newspaper in the land
finding the ornament distinguished enough to warrant a lampoon.
Surely no more is needed to prove that so short a time ago we were
living in another age!
At the beginning of the Ambersons' great period most of the houses of
the Midland town were of a pleasant architecture. They lacked style,
but also lacked pretentiousness, and whatever does not pretend at all
has style enough. They stood in commodious yards, well shaded by
leftover forest trees, elm and walnut and beech, with here and there a
line of tall sycamores where the land had been made by filling bayous
from the creek. The house of a "prominent resident," facing Military
Square, or National Avenue, or Tennessee Street, was built of brick
upon a stone foundation, or of wood upon a brick foundation. Usually
it had a "front porch" and a "back porch"; often a "side porch," too.
There was a "front hall"; there was a "side hall"; and sometimes a
"back hall." From the "front hall" opened three rooms, the "parlour,"
the "sitting room," and the "library"; and the library could show
warrant to its title--for some reason these people bought books.
Commonly, the family sat more in the library than in the "sitting
room," while callers, when they came formally, were kept to the
"parlour," a place of formidable polish and discomfort. The
upholstery of the library furniture was a little shabby; but the
hostile chairs and sofa of the "parlour" always looked new. For all
the wear and tear they got they should have lasted a thousand years.
Upstairs were the bedrooms; "mother-and-father's room" the largest; a
smaller room for one or two sons another for one or two daughters;
each of these rooms containing a double bed, a "washstand," a
"bureau," a wardrobe, a little table, a rocking-chair, and often a
chair or two that had been slightly damaged downstairs, but not enough
to justify either the expense of repair or decisive abandonment in the
attic. And there was always a "spare-room," for visitors (where the
sewing-machine usually was kept), and during the 'seventies there
developed an appreciation of the necessity for a bathroom. Therefore
the architects placed bathrooms in the new houses, and the older
houses tore out a cupboard or two, set up a boiler beside the kitchen
stove, and sought a new godliness, each with its own bathroom. The
great American plumber joke, that many-branched evergreen, was planted
at this time.
At the rear of the house, upstairs was a bleak little chamber, called
"the girl's room," and in the stable there was another bedroom,
adjoining the hayloft, and called "the hired man's room." House and
stable cost seven or eight thousand dollars to build, and people with
that much money to invest in such comforts were classified as the
Rich. They paid the inhabitant of "the girl's room" two dollars a
week, and, in the latter part of this period, two dollars and a half,
and finally three dollars a week. She was Irish, ordinarily, or
German or it might be Scandinavian, but never native to the land
unless she happened to be a person of colour. The man or youth who
lived in the stable had like wages, and sometimes he, too, was lately
a steerage voyager, but much oftener he was coloured.
After sunrise, on pleasant mornings, the alleys behind the stables
were gay; laughter and shouting went up and down their dusty lengths,
with a lively accompaniment of curry-combs knocking against back
fences and stable walls, for the darkies loved to curry their horses
in the alley. Darkies always prefer to gossip in shouts instead of
whispers; and they feel that profanity, unless it be vociferous, is
almost worthless. Horrible phrases were caught by early rising
children and carried to older people for definition, sometimes at
inopportune moments; while less investigative children would often
merely repeat the phrases in some subsequent flurry of agitation, and
yet bring about consequences so emphatic as to be recalled with ease
in middle life.
They have passed, those darky hired-men of the Midland town; and the
introspective horses they curried and brushed and whacked and amiably
cursed--those good old horses switch their tails at flies no more.
For all their seeming permanence they might as well have been
buffaloes--or the buffalo laprobes that grew bald in patches and used
to slide from the careless drivers' knees and hang unconcerned, half
way to the ground. The stables have been transformed into other
likenesses, or swept away, like the woodsheds where were kept the
stove-wood and kindling that the "girl" and the "hired-man" always
quarrelled over: who should fetch it. Horse and stable and woodshed,
and the whole tribe of the "hired-man," all are gone. They went
quickly, yet so silently that we whom they served have not yet really
noticed that they are vanished.
So with other vanishings. There were the little bunty street-cars on
the long, single track that went its troubled way among the
cobblestones. At the rear door of the car there was no platform, but
a step where passengers clung in wet clumps when the weather was bad
and the car crowded. The patrons--if not too absent-minded--put their
fares into a slot; and no conductor paced the heaving floor, but the
driver would rap remindingly with his elbow upon the glass of the door
to his little open platform if the nickels and the passengers did not
appear to coincide in number. A lone mule drew the car, and sometimes
drew it off the track, when the passengers would get out and push it
on again. They really owed it courtesies like this, for the car was
genially accommodating: a lady could whistle to it from an upstairs
window, and the car would halt at once and wait for her while she shut
the window, put on her hat and cloak, went downstairs, found an
umbrella, told the "girl" what to have for dinner, and came forth from
The previous passengers made little objection to such gallantry on the
part of the car: they were wont to expect as much for themselves on
like occasion. In good weather the mule pulled the car a mile in a
little less than twenty minutes, unless the stops were too long; but
when the trolley-car came, doing its mile in five minutes and better,
it would wait for nobody. Nor could its passengers have endured such
a thing, because the faster they were carried the less time they had
to spare! In the days before deathly contrivances hustled them
through their lives, and when they had no telephones--another ancient
vacancy profoundly responsible for leisure--they had time for
everything: time to think, to talk, time to read, time to wait for a
They even had time to dance "square dances," quadrilles, and
"lancers"; they also danced the "racquette," and schottisches and
polkas, and such whims as the "Portland Fancy." They pushed back the
sliding doors between the "parlour" and the "sitting room," tacked
down crash over the carpets, hired a few palms in green tubs,
stationed three or four Italian musicians under the stairway in the
"front hall"--and had great nights!
But these people were gayest on New Year's Day; they made it a true
festival--something no longer known. The women gathered to "assist"
the hostesses who kept "Open House"; and the carefree men, dandified
and perfumed, went about in sleighs, or in carriages and ponderous
"hacks," going from Open House to Open House, leaving fantastic cards
in fancy baskets as they entered each doorway, and emerging a little
later, more carefree than ever, if the punch had been to their liking.
It always was, and, as the afternoon wore on, pedestrians saw great
gesturing and waving of skin-tight lemon gloves, while ruinous
fragments of song were dropped behind as the carriages rolled up and
down the streets.
"Keeping Open House" was a merry custom; it has gone, like the all-day
picnic in the woods, and like that prettiest of all vanished customs,
the serenade. When a lively girl visited the town she did not long go
unserenaded, though a visitor was not indeed needed to excuse a
serenade. Of a summer night, young men would bring an orchestra under
a pretty girl's window--or, it might be, her father's, or that of an
ailing maiden aunt--and flute, harp, fiddle, 'cello, cornet, and bass
viol would presently release to the dulcet stars such melodies as sing
through "You'll Remember Me," "I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls,"
"Silver Threads Among the Gold," "Kathleen Mavourneen," or "The
They had other music to offer, too, for these were the happy days of
"Olivette" and "The Macotte" and "The Chimes of Normandy" and
"Girofle-Girofla". and "Fra Diavola." Better than that, these were
the days of "Pinafore" and "The Pirates of Penzance" and of
"Patience." This last was needed in the Midland town, as elsewhere,
for the "aesthetic movement" had reached thus far from London, and
terrible things were being done to honest old furniture. Maidens
sawed what-nots in two, and gilded the remains. They took the rockers
from rocking-chairs and gilded the inadequate legs; they gilded the
easels that supported the crayon portraits of their deceased uncles.
In the new spirit of art they sold old clocks for new, and threw wax
flowers and wax fruit, and the protecting glass domes, out upon the
trash-heap. They filled vases with peacock feathers, or cattails, or
sumac, or sunflowers, and set the vases upon mantelpieces and marble-
topped tables. They embroidered daisies (which they called
"marguerites") and sunflowers and sumac and cat-tails and owls and
peacock feathers upon plush screens and upon heavy cushions, then
strewed these cushions upon floors where fathers fell over them in the
dark. In the teeth of sinful oratory, the daughters went on
embroidering: they embroidered daisies and sunflowers and sumac and
cat-tails and owls and peacock feathers upon "throws" which they had
the courage to drape upon horsehair sofas; they painted owls and
daisies and sunflowers and sumac and cat-tails and peacock feathers
upon tambourines. They hung Chinese umbrellas of paper to the
chandeliers; they nailed paper fans to the walls. They "studied"
painting on china, these girls; they sang Tosti's new songs; they
sometimes still practiced the old, genteel habit of lady-fainting, and
were most charming of all when they drove forth, three or four in a
basket phaeton, on a spring morning.
Croquet and the mildest archery ever known were the sports of people
still young and active enough for so much exertion; middle-age played
euchre. There was a theatre, next door to the Amberson Hotel, and
when Edwin Booth came for a night, everybody who could afford to buy a
ticket was there, and all the "hacks" in town were hired. "The Black
Crook" also filled the theatre, but the audience then was almost
entirely of men who looked uneasy as they left for home when the final
curtain fell upon the shocking girls dressed as fairies. But the
theatre did not often do so well; the people of the town were still
They were thrifty because they were the sons or grandsons of the
"early settlers," who had opened the wilderness and had reached it
from the East and the South with wagons and axes and guns, but with no
money at all. The pioneers were thrifty or they would have perished:
they had to store away food for the winter, or goods to trade for
food, and they often feared they had not stored enough--they left
traces of that fear in their sons and grandsons. In the minds of most
of these, indeed, their thrift was next to their religion: to save,
even for the sake of saving, was their earliest lesson and discipline.
No matter how prosperous they were, they could not spend money either
upon "art," or upon mere luxury and entertainment, without a sense of
Against so homespun a background the magnificence of the Ambersons was
as conspicuous as a brass band at a funeral. Major Amberson bought
two hundred acres of land at the end of National Avenue; and through
this tract he built broad streets and cross-streets; paved them with
cedar block, and curbed them with stone. He set up fountains, here
and there, where the streets intersected, and at symmetrical intervals
placed cast-iron statues, painted white, with their titles clear upon
the pedestals: Minerva, Mercury, Hercules, Venus, Gladiator, Emperor
Augustus, Fisher Boy, Stag-hound, Mastiff, Greyhound, Fawn, Antelope,
Wounded Doe, and Wounded Lion. Most of the forest trees had been left
to flourish still, and, at some distance, or by moonlight, the place
was in truth beautiful; but the ardent citizen, loving to see his city
grow, wanted neither distance nor moonlight. He had not seen
Versailles, but, standing before the Fountain of Neptune in Amberson
Addition, at bright noon, and quoting the favourite comparison of the
local newspapers, he declared Versailles outdone. All this Art showed
a profit from the start, for the lots sold well and there was
something like a rush to build in the new Addition. Its main
thoroughfare, an oblique continuation of National Avenue, was called
Amberson Boulevard, and here, at the juncture of the new Boulevard and
the Avenue, Major Amberson reserved four acres for himself, and built
his new house--the Amberson Mansion, of course.
This house was the pride of the town. Faced with stone as far back as
the dining-room windows, it was a house of arches and turrets and
girdling stone porches: it had the first porte-cochere seen in that
town. There was a central "front hall" with a great black walnut
stairway, and open to a green glass skylight called the "dome," three
stories above the ground floor. A ballroom occupied most of the third
story; and at one end of it was a carved walnut gallery for the
musicians. Citizens told strangers that the cost of all this black
walnut and wood-carving was sixty thousand dollars. "Sixty thousand
dollars for the wood-work alone! Yes, sir, and hardwood floors all
over the house! Turkish rugs and no carpets at all, except a Brussels
carpet in the front parlour--I hear they call it the 'reception-room.'
Hot and cold water upstairs and down, and stationary washstands in
every last bedroom in the place! Their sideboard's built right into
the house and goes all the way across one end of the dining room. It
isn't walnut, it's solid mahogany! Not veneering--solid mahogany!
Well, sir, I presume the President of the United States would be
tickled to swap the White House for the new Amberson Mansion, if the
Major'd give him the chance--but by the Almighty Dollar, you bet your
sweet life the Major wouldn't!"
The visitor to the town was certain to receive further enlightenment,
for there was one form of entertainment never omitted: he was always
patriotically taken for "a little drive around our city," even if his
host had to hire a hack, and the climax of the display was the
Amberson Mansion. "Look at that greenhouse they've put up there in
the side yard," the escort would continue. "And look at that brick
stable! Most folks would think that stable plenty big enough and good
enough to live in; it's got running water and four rooms upstairs for
two hired men and one of 'em's family to live in. They keep one hired
man loafin' in the house, and they got a married hired man out in the
stable, and his wife does the washing. They got box-stalls for four
horses, and they keep a coupay, and some new kinds of fancy rigs you
never saw the beat of! 'Carts' they call two of 'em--'way up in the
air they are--too high for me! I guess they got every new kind of
fancy rig in there that's been invented. And harness--well, everybody
in town can tell when Ambersons are out driving after dark, by the
jingle. This town never did see so much style as Ambersons are
putting on, these days; and I guess it's going to be expensive,
because a lot of other folks'll try to keep up with 'em. The Major's
wife and the daughter's been to Europe, and my wife tells me since
they got back they make tea there every afternoon about five o'clock,
and drink it. Seems to me it would go against a person's stomach,
just before supper like that, and anyway tea isn't fit for much--not
unless you're sick or something. My wife says Ambersons don't make
lettuce salad the way other people do; they don't chop it up with
sugar and vinegar at all. They pour olive oil on it with their
vinegar, and they have it separate--not along with the rest of the
meal. And they eat these olives, too: green things they are,
something like a hard plum, but a friend of mine told me they tasted a
good deal like a bad hickory-nut. My wife says she's going to buy
some; you got to eat nine and then you get to like 'em, she says.
Well, I wouldn't eat nine bad hickory-nuts to get to like them, and
I'm going to let these olives alone. Kind of a woman's dish, anyway,
I suspect, but most everybody'll be makin' a stagger to worm through
nine of 'em, now Ambersons brought 'em to town. Yes, sir, the rest'll
eat 'em, whether they get sick or not! Looks to me like some people
in this city'd be willing to go crazy if they thought that would help
'em to be as high-toned as Ambersons. Old Aleck Minafer--he's about
the closest old codger we got--he come in my office the other day, and
he pretty near had a stroke tellin' me about his daughter Fanny.
Seems Miss Isabel Amberson's got some kind of a dog--they call it a
Saint Bernard--and Fanny was bound to have one, too. Well, old Aleck
told her he didn't like dogs except rat-terriers, because a rat-
terrier cleans up the mice, but she kept on at him, and finally he
said all right she could have one. Then, by George! she says
Ambersons bought their dog, and you can't get one without paying for
it: they cost from fifty to a hundred dollars up! Old Aleck wanted to
know if I ever heard of anybody buyin' a dog before, because, of
course, even a Newfoundland or a setter you can usually get somebody
to give you one. He says he saw some sense in payin' a nigger a dime,
or even a quarter, to drown a dog for you, but to pay out fifty
dollars and maybe more--well, sir, he like to choked himself to death,
right there in my office! Of course everybody realizes that Major
Amberson is a fine business man, but what with throwin' money around
for dogs, and every which and what, some think all this style's bound
to break him up, if his family don't quit!"
One citizen, having thus discoursed to a visitor, came to a thoughtful
pause, and then added, "Does seem pretty much like squandering, yet
when you see that dog out walking with this Miss Isabel, he seems
worth the money."
"What's she look like?"
"Well, sir," said the citizen, "she's not more than just about
eighteen or maybe nineteen years old, and I don't know as I know just
how to put it--but she's kind of a delightful lookin' young lady!"
Another citizen said an eloquent thing about Miss Isabel Amberson's
looks. This was Mrs. Henry Franklin Foster, the foremost literary
authority and intellectual leader of the community---for both the
daily newspapers thus described Mrs. Foster when she founded the
Women's Tennyson Club; and her word upon art, letters, and the drama
was accepted more as law than as opinion. Naturally, when "Hazel
Kirke" finally reached the town, after its long triumph in larger
places, many people waited to hear what Mrs. Henry Franklin Foster
thought of it before they felt warranted in expressing any estimate of
the play. In fact, some of them waited in the lobby of the theatre,
as they came out, and formed an inquiring group about her.
"I didn't see the play," she informed them.
"What! Why, we saw you, right in the middle of the fourth row!"
"Yes," she said, smiling, "but I was sitting just behind Isabelle
Amberson. I couldn't look at anything except her wavy brown hair and
the wonderful back of her neck."
The ineligible young men of the town (they were all ineligible) were
unable to content themselves with the view that had so charmed Mrs.
Henry Franklin Foster: they spent their time struggling to keep Miss
Amberson's face turned toward them. She turned it most often,
observers said, toward two: one excelling in the general struggle by
his sparkle, and the other by that winning if not winsome old trait,
persistence. The sparkling gentleman "led germans" with her, and sent
sonnets to her with his bouquets--sonnets lacking neither music nor
wit. He was generous, poor, well-dressed, and his amazing
persuasiveness was one reason why he was always in debt. No one
doubted that he would be able to persuade Isabel, but he unfortunately
joined too merry a party one night, and, during a moonlight serenade
upon the lawn before the Amberson Mansion, was easily identified from
the windows as the person who stepped through the bass viol and had to
be assisted to a waiting carriage. One of Miss Amberson's brothers
was among the serenaders, and, when the party had dispersed, remained
propped against the front door in a state of helpless liveliness; the
Major going down in a dressing-gown and slippers to bring him in, and
scolding mildly, while imperfectly concealing strong impulses to
laughter. Miss Amberson also laughed at this brother, the next day,
but for the suitor it was a different matter: she refused to see him
when he called to apologize. "You seem to care a great deal about
bass viols!" he wrote her. "I promise never to break another." She
made no response to the note, unless it was an answer, two weeks
later, when her engagement was announced. She took the persistent
one, Wilbur Minafer, no breaker of bass viols or of hearts, no
serenader at all.
A few people, who always foresaw everything, claimed that they were
not surprised, because though Wilbur Minafer "might not be an Apollo,
as it were," he was "a steady young business man, and a good church-
goer," and Isabel Amberson was "pretty sensible--for such a showy
girl." But the engagement astounded the young people, and most of
their fathers and mothers, too; and as a topic it supplanted
literature at the next meeting of the "Women's Tennyson Club."
"Wilbur Minafer!" a member cried, her inflection seeming to imply that
Wilbur's crime was explained by his surname. "Wilbur Minafer! It's
the queerest thing I ever heard! To think of her taking Wilbur
Minafer, just because a man any woman would like a thousand times
better was a little wild one night at a serenade!"
"No," said Mrs. Henry Franklin Foster. "It isn't that. It isn't even
because she's afraid he'd be a dissipated husband and she wants to be
safe. It isn't because she's religious or hates wildness; it isn't
even because she hates wildness in him."
"Well, but look how she's thrown him over for it."
"No, that wasn't her reason," said the wise Mrs. Henry Franklin
Foster. "If men only knew it--and it's a good thing they don't--a
woman doesn't really care much about whether a man's wild or not, if
it doesn't affect herself, and Isabel Amberson doesn't care a thing!
"No, she doesn't. What she minds is his making a clown of himself in
her front yard! It made her think he didn't care much about her.
She's probably mistaken, but that's what she thinks, and it's too late
for her to think anything else now, because she's going to be married
right away--the invitations will be out next week. It'll be a big
Amberson-style thing, raw oysters floating in scooped-out blocks of
ice and a band from out-of-town--champagne, showy presents; a colossal
present from the Major. Then Wilbur will take Isabel on the
carefulest little wedding trip he can manage, and she'll be a good
wife to him, but they'll have the worst spoiled lot of children this
town will ever see."
"How on earth do you make that out, Mrs. Foster?"
"She couldn't love Wilbur, could she?" Mrs. Foster demanded, with no
challengers. "Well, it will all go to her children, and she'll ruin
The prophetess proved to be mistaken in a single detail merely: except
for that, her foresight was accurate. The wedding was of Ambersonian
magnificence, even to the floating oysters; and the Major's colossal
present was a set of architect's designs for a house almost as
elaborate and impressive as the Mansion, the house to be built in
Amberson Addition by the Major. The orchestra was certainly not that
local one which had suffered the loss of a bass viol; the musicians
came, according to the prophecy and next morning's paper, from afar;
and at midnight the bride was still being toasted in champagne, though
she had departed upon her wedding journey at ten. Four days later the
pair had returned to town, which promptness seemed fairly to
demonstrate that Wilbur had indeed taken Isabel upon the carefulest
little trip he could manage. According to every report, she was from
the start "a good wife to him," but here in a final detail the
prophecy proved inaccurate. Wilbur and Isabel did not have children;
they had only one.
"Only one," Mrs. Henry Franklin Foster admitted. "But I'd like to
know if he isn't spoiled enough for a whole carload!"
Again she found none to challenge her.
At the age of nine, George Amberson Minafer, the Major's one
grandchild, was a princely terror, dreaded not only in Amberson
Addition but in many other quarters through which he galloped on his
white pony. "By golly, I guess you think you own this town!" an
embittered labourer complained, one day, as Georgie rode the pony
straight through a pile of sand the man was sieving. "I will when I
grow up," the undisturbed child replied. "I guess my grandpa owns it
now, you bet!" And the baffled workman, having no means to controvert
what seemed a mere exaggeration of the facts could only mutter "Oh,
pull down your vest!
"Don't haf to! Doctor says it ain't healthy!" the boy returned
promptly. "But I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll pull down my vest if
you'll wipe off your chin!"
This was stock and stencil: the accustomed argot of street badinage of
the period; and in such matters Georgie was an expert. He had no vest
to pull down; the incongruous fact was that a fringed sash girdled the
juncture of his velvet blouse and breeches, for the Fauntleroy period
had set in, and Georgie's mother had so poor an eye for appropriate
things, where Georgie was concerned, that she dressed him according to
the doctrine of that school in boy decoration. Not only did he wear a
silk sash, and silk stockings, and a broad lace collar, with his
little black velvet suit: he had long brown curls, and often came home
with burrs in them.
Except upon the surface (which was not his own work, but his mother's)
Georgie bore no vivid resemblance to the fabulous little Cedric. The
storied boy's famous "Lean on me, grandfather," would have been
difficult to imagine upon the lips of Georgie. A month after his
ninth birthday anniversary, when the Major gave him his pony, he had
already become acquainted with the toughest boys in various distant
parts of the town, and had convinced them that the toughness of a rich
little boy with long curls might be considered in many respects
superior to their own. He fought them, learning how to go berserk at
a certain point in a fight, bursting into tears of anger, reaching for
rocks, uttering wailed threats of murder and attempting to fulfil
them. Fights often led to intimacies, and he acquired the art of
saying things more exciting than "Don't haf to!" and "Doctor says it
ain't healthy!' Thus, on a summer afternoon, a strange boy, sitting
bored upon the gate-post of the Reverend Malloch Smith, beheld George
Amberson Minafer rapidly approaching on his white pony, and was
impelled by bitterness to shout: "Shoot the ole jackass! Look at the
girly curls! Say, bub, where'd you steal your mother's ole sash!"
"Your sister stole it for me!" Georgie instantly replied, checking
the pony. "She stole it off our clo'es-line an' gave it to me."
"You go get your hair cut!" said the stranger hotly. "Yah! I haven't
got any sister!
"I know you haven't at home," Georgie responded. "I mean the one
that's in jail."
"I dare you to get down off that pony!"
Georgie jumped to the ground, and the other boy descended from the
Reverend Mr. Smith's gatepost--but he descended inside the gate. "I
dare you outside that gate," said Georgie.
"Yah! I dare you half way here. I dare you--"
But these were luckless challenges, for Georgie immediately vaulted
the fence--and four minutes later Mrs. Malloch Smith, hearing strange
noises, looked forth from a window; then screamed, and dashed for the
pastor's study. Mr. Malloch Smith, that grim-bearded Methodist, came
to the front yard and found his visiting nephew being rapidly prepared
by Master Minafer to serve as a principal figure in a pageant of
massacre. It was with great physical difficulty that Mr. Smith
managed to give his nephew a chance to escape into the house, for
Georgie was hard and quick, and, in such matters, remarkably intense;
but the minister, after a grotesque tussle, got him separated from his
opponent, and shook him.
"You stop that, you!" Georgie cried fiercely; and wrenched himself
away. "I guess you don't know who I am!"
"Yes, I do know!" the angered Mr. Smith retorted. "I know who you
are, and you're a disgrace to your mother! Your mother ought to be
ashamed of herself to allow--"
"Shut up about my mother bein' ashamed of herself!"
Mr. Smith, exasperated, was unable to close the dialogue with dignity.
"She ought to be ashamed," he repeated. "A woman that lets a bad boy
But Georgie had reached his pony and mounted. Before setting off at
his accustomed gallop, he paused to interrupt the Reverend Malloch
Smith again. "You pull down your vest, you ole Billygoat, you!" he
shouted, distinctly. "Pull down your vest, wipe off your chin--an' go
Such precocity is less unusual, even in children of the Rich, than
most grown people imagine. However, it was a new experience for the
Reverend Malloch Smith, and left him in a state of excitement. He at
once wrote a note to Georgie's mother, describing the crime according
to his nephew's testimony; and the note reached Mrs. Minafer before
Georgie did. When he got home she read it to him sorrowfully.
Your son has caused a painful distress in my household. He made an
unprovoked attack upon a little nephew of mine who is visiting in my
household, insulted him by calling him vicious names and falsehoods,
stating that ladies of his family were in jail. He then tried to make
his pony kick him, and when the child, who is only eleven years old,
while your son is much older and stronger, endeavoured to avoid his
indignities and withdraw quietly, he pursued him into the enclosure of
my property and brutally assaulted him. When I appeared upon this
scene he deliberately called insulting words to me, concluding with
profanity, such as "go to hell," which was heard not only by myself
but by my wife and the lady who lives next door. I trust such a state
of undisciplined behaviour may be remedied for the sake of the
reputation for propriety, if nothing higher, of the family to which
this unruly child belongs.
Georgie had muttered various interruptions, and as she concluded the
reading he said: "He's an ole liar!"
"Georgie, you mustn't say 'liar.' Isn't this letter the truth?"
"Well," said Georgie, "how old am I?"
"Well, look how he says I'm older than a boy eleven years old."
"That's true," said Isabel. "He does. But isn't some of it true,
Georgie felt himself to be in a difficulty here, and he was silent.
"Georgie, did you say what he says you did?
"Did you tell him to--to--Did you say, 'Go to hell?"
Georgie looked worried for a moment longer; then he brightened.
"Listen here, mamma; grandpa wouldn't wipe his shoe on that ole story-
teller, would he?"
"Georgie, you mustn't--"
"I mean: none of the Ambersons wouldn't have anything to do with him,
would they? He doesn't even know you, does he, mamma?"
"That hasn't anything to do with it."
"Yes, it has! I mean: none of the Amberson family go to see him, and
they never have him come in their house; they wouldn't ask him to, and
they prob'ly wouldn't even let him."
"That isn't what we're talking about."
"I bet," said Georgie emphatically, "I bet if he wanted to see any of
'em, he'd haf to go around to the side door!"
"No, dear, they--"
"Yes, they would, mamma! So what does it matter if I did say somep'm'
to him he didn't like? That kind o' people, I don't see why you can't
say anything you want to, to 'em!"
"No, Georgie. And you haven't answered me whether you said that
dreadful thing he says you did."
"Well--" said Georgie. "Anyway, he said somep'm' to me that made me
mad." And upon this point he offered no further details; he would not
explain to his mother that what had made him "mad" was Mr. Smith's
hasty condemnation of herself: "Your mother ought to be ashamed,"
and, "A woman that lets a bad boy like you--" Georgie did not even
consider excusing himself by quoting these insolences.
Isabel stroked his head. "They were terrible words for you to use,
dear. From his letter he doesn't seem a very tactful person, but--"
"He's just riffraff," said Georgie.
"You mustn't say so," his mother gently agreed "Where did you learn
those bad words he speaks of? Where did you hear any one use them?"
"Well, I've heard 'em several places. I guess Uncle George Amberson
was the first I ever heard say 'em. Uncle George Amberson said 'em to
papa once. Papa didn't like it, but Uncle George was just laughin' at
papa, an' then he said 'em while he was laughin'."
"That was wrong of him," she said, but almost instinctively he
detected the lack of conviction in her tone. It was Isabel's great
failing that whatever an Amberson did seemed right to her, especially
if the Amberson was either her brother George, or her son George. She
knew that she should be more severe with the latter now, but severity
with him was beyond her power; and the Reverend Malloch Smith had
succeeded only in rousing her resentment against himself. Georgie's
symmetrical face--altogether an Amberson face--had looked never more
beautiful to her. It always looked unusually beautiful when she tried
to be severe with him. "You must promise me," she said feebly, "never
to use those bad words again."
"I promise not to," he said promptly--and he whispered an immediate
codicil under his breath: "Unless I get mad at somebody !" This
satisfied a code according to which, in his own sincere belief, he
never told lies.
"That's a good boy," she said, and he ran out to the yard, his
punishment over. Some admiring friends were gathered there; they had
heard of his adventure, knew of the note, and were waiting to see what
was going to "happen" to him. They hoped for an account of things,
and also that he would allow them to "take turns" riding his pony to
the end of the alley and back.
They were really his henchmen: Georgie was a lord among boys. In
fact, he was a personage among certain sorts of grown people, and was
often fawned upon; the alley negroes delighted in him, chuckled over
him, flattered him slavishly. For that matter, he often heard well-
dressed people speaking of him admiringly: a group of ladies once
gathered about him on the pavement where he was spinning a top. "I
know this is Georgie!" one exclaimed, and turned to the others with
the impressiveness of a showman. "Major Amberson's only grandchild!"
The others said, "It is?" and made clicking sounds with their mouths;
two of them loudly whispering, "So handsome!"
Georgie, annoyed because they kept standing upon the circle he had
chalked for his top, looked at them coldly and offered a suggestion:
"Oh, go hire a hall!"
As an Amberson, he was already a public character, and the story of
his adventure in the Reverend Malloch Smith's front yard became a town
topic. Many people glanced at him with great distaste, thereafter,
when they chanced to encounter him, which meant nothing to Georgie,
because he innocently believed most grown people to be necessarily
cross-looking as a normal phenomenon resulting from the adult state;
and he failed to comprehend that the distasteful glances had any
personal bearing upon himself. If he had perceived such a bearing, he
would have been affected only so far, probably, as to mutter,
"Riffraff!" Possibly he would have shouted it; and, certainly, most
people believed a story that went round the town just after Mrs.
Amberson's funeral, when Georgie was eleven. Georgie was reported to
have differed with the undertaker about the seating of the family; his
indignant voice had become audible: "Well, who is the most important
person at my own grandmother's funeral?" And later he had projected
his head from the window of the foremost mourners' carriage, as the
undertaker happened to pass.
There were people--grown people they were--who expressed themselves
longingly: they did hope to live to see the day, they said, when that
boy would get his come-upance! (They used that honest word, so much
better than "deserts," and not until many years later to be more
clumsily rendered as "what is coming to him.") Something was bound to
take him down, some day, and they only wanted to be there! But
Georgie heard nothing of this, and the yearners for his taking down
went unsatisfied, while their yearning grew the greater as the happy
day of fulfilment was longer and longer postponed. His grandeur was
not diminished by the Malloch Smith story; the rather it was
increased, and among other children (especially among little girls)
there was added to the prestige of his gilded position that diabolical
glamour which must inevitably attend a boy who has told a minister to
go to hell.
Until he reached the age of twelve, Georgie's education was a domestic
process; tutors came to the house; and those citizens who yearned for
his taking down often said: "Just wait till he has to go to public
school; then he'll get it!" But at twelve Georgie was sent to a
private school in the town, and there came from this small and
dependent institution no report, or even rumour, of Georgie's getting
anything that he was thought to deserve; therefore the yearning still
persisted, though growing gaunt with feeding upon itself. For,
although Georgie's pomposities and impudence in the little school were
often almost unbearable, the teachers were fascinated by him. They
did not like him--he was too arrogant for that--but he kept them in
such a state of emotion that they thought more about him than they did
about all of the other ten pupils. The emotion he kept them in was
usually one resulting from injured self-respect, but sometimes it was
dazzled admiration. So far as their conscientious observation went,
he "studied" his lessons sparingly; but sometimes, in class, he
flashed an admirable answer, with a comprehension not often shown by
the pupils they taught; and he passed his examinations easily. In
all, without discernible effort, he acquired at this school some
rudiments of a liberal education and learned nothing whatever about
The yearners were still yearning when Georgie, at sixteen, was sent
away to a great "Prep School." "Now," they said brightly, "he'll get
it! He'll find himself among boys just as important in their home
towns as he is, and they'll knock the stuffing out of him when he puts
on his airs with them! Oh, but that would he worth something to see!"
They were mistaken, it appeared, for when Georgie returned, a few
months later, he still seemed to have the same stuffing. He had been
deported by the authorities, the offense being stated as "insolence
and profanity"; in fact, he had given the principal of the school
instructions almost identical with those formerly objected to by the
Reverend Malloch Smith.
But he had not got his come-upance, and those who counted upon it were
embittered by his appearance upon the down-town streets driving a dog-
cart at criminal speed, making pedestrians retreat from the crossings,
and behaving generally as if he "owned the earth." A disgusted
hardware dealer of middle age, one of those who hungered for Georgie's
downfall, was thus driven back upon the sidewalk to avoid being run
over, and so far forgot himself as to make use of the pet street
insult of the year: "Got 'ny sense! See here, bub, does your mother
know you're out?"
Georgie, without even seeming to look at him, flicked the long lash of
his whip dexterously, and a little spurt of dust came from the
hardware man's trousers, not far below the waist. He was not made of
hardware: he raved, looking for a missile; then, finding none,
commanded himself sufficiently to shout after the rapid dog-cart:
"Turn down your pants, you would-be dude! Raining in dear ole Lunnon!
Git off the earth!"
Georgie gave him no encouragement to think that he was heard. The
dog-cart turned the next corner, causing indignation there, likewise,
and, having proceeded some distance farther, halted in front of the
"Amberson Block"--an old-fashioned four-story brick warren of lawyers
offices, insurance and realestate offices, with a "drygoods store"
occupying the ground floor. Georgie tied his lathered trotter to a
telegraph pole, and stood for a moment looking at the building
critically: it seemed shabby, and he thought his grandfather ought to
replace it with a fourteen-story skyscraper, or even a higher one,
such as he had lately seen in New York--when he stopped there for a
few days of recreation and rest on his way home from the bereaved
school. About the entryway to the stairs were various tin signs,
announcing the occupation and location of upper-floor tenants, and
Georgie decided to take some of these with him if he should ever go to
college. However, he did not stop to collect them at this time, but
climbed the worn stairs--there was no elevator--to the fourth floor,
went down a dark corridor, and rapped three times upon a door. It was
a mysterious door, its upper half, of opaque glass, bearing no sign to
state the business or profession of the occupants within; but
overhead, upon the lintel, four letters had been smearingly inscribed,
partly with purple ink and partly with a soft lead pencil, "F. O. T.
A." and upon the plaster wall, above the lintel, there was a drawing
dear to male adolescence: a skull and crossbones.
Three raps, similar to Georgie's, sounded from within the room.
Georgie then rapped four times the rapper within the room rapped
twice, and Georgie rapped seven times. This ended precautionary
measures; and a well-dressed boy of sixteen opened the door; whereupon
Georgie entered quickly, and the door was closed behind him. Seven
boys of congenial age were seated in a semicircular row of damaged
office chairs, facing a platform whereon stood a solemn, red-haired
young personage with a table before him. At one end of the room there
was a battered sideboard, and upon it were some empty beer bottles, a
tobacco can about two-thirds full, with a web of mold over the surface
of the tobacco, a dusty cabinet photograph (not inscribed) of Miss
Lillian Russell, several withered old pickles, a caseknife, and a
half-petrified section of icing-cake on a sooty plate. At the other
end of the room were two rickety card-tables and a stand of
bookshelves where were displayed under dust four or five small volumes
of M. Guy de Maupassant's stories, "Robinson Crusoe," "Sappho," "Mr.
Barnes of New York," a work by Giovanni Boccaccio, a Bible, "The
Arabian Nights' Entertainment," "Studies of the Human Form Divine,"
"The Little Minister," and a clutter of monthly magazines and
illustrated weeklies of about that crispness one finds in such
articles upon a doctor's ante-room table. Upon the wall, above the
sideboard, was an old framed lithograph of Miss Della Fox in "Wang";
over the bookshelves there was another lithograph purporting to
represent Mr. John L. Sullivan in a boxing costume, and beside it a
halftone reproduction of "A Reading From Horner." The final
decoration consisted of damaged papiermache--a round shield with two
battle-axes and two cross-hilted swords, upon the wall over the little
platform where stood the red-haired presiding officer. He addressed
Georgie in a serious voice:
"Welcome, Friend of the Ace."
"Welcome, Friend of the Ace," Georgie responded, and all of the other
boys repeated the words, "Welcome, Friend of the Ace."
"Take your seat in the secret semicircle," said the presiding officer.
"We will now proceed to--"
But Georgie was disposed to be informal. He interrupted, turning to
the boy who had admitted him: "Look here, Charlie Johnson, what's
Fred Kinney doing in the president's chair? That's my place, isn't
it? What you men been up to here, anyhow? Didn't you all agree I was
to be president just the same, even if I was away at school?"
"Well--" said Charlie Johnson uneasily. "Listen! I didn't have much
to do with it. Some of the other members thought that long as you
weren't in town or anything, and Fred gave the sideboard, why--"
Mr. Kinney, presiding, held in his hand, in lieu of a gavel, and
considered much more impressive, a Civil War relic known as a "horse-
pistol." He rapped loudly for order. "All Friends of the Ace will
take their seats!" he said sharply. "I'm president of the F. O. T. A.
now, George Minafer, and don't you forget it! You and Charlie Johnson
sit down, because I was elected perfectly fair, and we're goin' to
hold a meeting here."
"Oh, you are, are you?" said George skeptically.
Charlie Johnson thought to mollify him. "Well, didn't we call this
meeting just especially because you told us to? You said yourself we
ought to have a kind of celebration because you've got back to town,
George, and that's what we're here for now, and everything. What do
you care about being president? All it amounts to is just calling the
The president de facto hammered the table. "This meeting will now
"No, it won't," said George, and he advanced to the desk, laughing
contemptuously. "Get off that platform."
"This meeting will come to order!" Mr. Kinney commanded fiercely.
"You put down that gavel," said George. "Whose is it, I'd like to
know? It belongs to my grandfather, and you quit hammering it that
way or you'll break it, and I'll have to knock your head off."
"This meeting will come to order! I was legally elected here, and I'm
not going to be bulldozed!"
"All right," said Georgie. "You're president. Now we'll hold another
"We will not!" Fred Kinney shouted. "We'll have our reg'lar meeting,
and then we'll play euchre & nickel a corner, what we're here for.
This meeting will now come to ord--"
Georgie addressed the members. "I'd like to know who got up this
thing in the first place," he said. "Who's the founder of the
F.O.T.A., if you please? Who got this room rent free? Who got the
janitor to let us have most of this furniture? You suppose you could
keep this clubroom a minute if I told my grandfather I didn't want it
for a literary club any more? I'd like to say a word on how you
members been acting, too! When I went away I said I didn't care if
you had a vice-president or something while I was gone, but here I
hardly turned my back and you had to go and elect Fred Kinney
president! Well, if that's what you want, you can have it. I was
going to have a little celebration down here some night pretty soon,
and bring some port wine, like we drink at school in our crowd there,
and I was going to get my grandfather to give the club an extra room
across the hall, and prob'ly I could get my Uncle George to give us
his old billiard table, because he's got a new one, and the club could
put it in the other room. Well, you got a new president now!" Here
Georgie moved toward the door and his tone became plaintive, though
undeniably there was disdain beneath his sorrow. "I guess all I
better do is--resign!"
And he opened the door, apparently intending to withdraw.
"All in favour of having a new election," Charlie Johnson shouted
hastily, "say, 'Aye'!"
"Aye" was said by everyone present except Mr. Kinney, who began a hot
protest, but it was immediately smothered.
"All in favour of me being president instead of Fred Kinney," shouted
Georgie, "say 'Aye.' The 'Ayes' have it!"
"I resign," said the red-headed boy, gulping as he descended from the
platform. "I resign from the club!"
Hot-eyed, he found his hat and departed, jeers echoing after him as he
plunged down the corridor. Georgie stepped upon the platform, and
took up the emblem of office.
"Ole red-head Fred'll be around next week," said the new chairman.
"He'll be around boot-lickin' to get us to take him back in again, but
I guess we don't want him: that fellow always was a trouble-maker. We
will now proceed with our meeting. Well, fellows, I suppose you want
to hear from your president. I don't know that I have much to say, as
I have already seen most of you a few times since I got back. I had a
good time at the old school, back East, but had a little trouble with
the faculty and came on home. My family stood by me as well as I
could ask, and I expect to stay right here in the old town until
whenever I decide to enter college. Now, I don't suppose there's any
more business before the meeting. I guess we might as well play
cards. Anybody that's game for a little quarter-limit poker or any
limit they say, why I'd like to have 'em sit at the president's card-
When the diversions of the Friends of the Ace were concluded for that
afternoon, Georgie invited his chief supporter, Mr. Charlie Johnson,
to drive home with him to dinner, and as they jingled up National
Avenue in the dog-cart, Charlie asked:
"What sort of men did you run up against at that school, George?"
"Best crowd there: finest set of men I ever met."
"How'd you get in with 'em?"
Georgie laughed. "I let them get in with me, Charlie," he said in a
tone of gentle explanation. "It's vulgar to do any other way. Did I
tell you the nickname they gave me--'King'? That was what they called
me at that school, 'King Minafer."
"How'd they happen to do that?" his friend asked innocently.
"Oh, different things," George answered lightly. "Of course, any of
'em that came from anywhere out in this part the country knew about
the family and all that, and so I suppose it was a good deal on
account of--oh, on account of the family and the way I do things, most
When Mr. George Amberson Minafer came home for the holidays at
Christmastide, in his sophomore year, probably no great change had
taken place inside him, but his exterior was visibly altered. Nothing
about him encouraged any hope that he had received his come-upance; on
the contrary, the yearners for that stroke of justice must yearn even
more itchingly: the gilded youth's manner had become polite, but his
politeness was of a kind which democratic people found hard to bear.
In a word, M. le Due had returned from the gay life of the capital to
show himself for a week among the loyal peasants belonging to the old
chateau, and their quaint habits and costumes afforded him a mild
Cards were out for a ball in his honour, and this pageant of the
tenantry was held in the ballroom of the Amberson Mansion the night
after his arrival. It was, as Mrs. Henry Franklin Foster said of
Isabel's wedding, "a big Amberson-style thing," though that wise Mrs.
Henry Franklin Foster had long ago gone the way of all wisdom, having
stepped out of the Midland town, unquestionably into heaven--a long
step, but not beyond her powers. She had successors, but no
successor; the town having grown too large to confess that it was
intellectually led and literarily authoritated by one person; and some
of these successors were not invited to the ball, for dimensions were
now so metropolitan that intellectual leaders and literary authorities
loomed in outlying regions unfamiliar to the Ambersons. However, all
"old citizens" recognizable as gentry received cards, and of course so
did their dancing descendants.
The orchestra and the caterer were brought from away, in the Amberson
manner, though this was really a gesture--perhaps one more of habit
than of ostentation--for servitors of gaiety as proficient as these
importations were nowadays to be found in the town. Even flowers and
plants and roped vines were brought from afar--not, however, until the
stock of the local florists proved insufficient to obliterate the
interior structure of the big house, in the Amberson way. It was the
last of the great, long remembered dances that "everybody talked
about"--there were getting to be so many people in town that no later
than the next year there were too many for "everybody" to hear of even
such a ball as the Ambersons'.
George, white-gloved, with a gardenia in his buttonhole, stood with
his mother and the Major, embowered in the big red and gold drawing
room downstairs, to "receive" the guests; and, standing thus together,
the trio offered a picturesque example of good looks persistent
through three generations. The Major, his daughter, and his grandson
were of a type all Amberson: tall, straight, and regular, with dark
eyes, short noses, good chins; and the grandfather's expression, no
less than the grandson's, was one of faintly amused condescension.
There was a difference, however. The grandson's unlined young face
had nothing to offer except this condescension; the grandfather's had
other things to say. It was a handsome, worldly old face, conscious
of its importance, but persuasive rather than arrogant, and not
without tokens of sufferings withstood. The Major's short white hair
was parted in the middle, like his grandson's, and in all he stood as
briskly equipped to the fashion as exquisite young George.
Isabel, standing between her father and her son caused a vague
amazement in the mind of the latter. Her age, just under forty, was
for George a thought of something as remote as the moons of Jupiter:
he could not possibly have conceived such an age ever coming to be
his own: five years was the limit of his thinking in time. Five years
ago he had been a child not yet fourteen; and those five years were an
abyss. Five years hence he would be almost twenty-four; what the
girls he knew called "one of the older men." He could imagine himself
at twenty-four, but beyond that, his powers staggered and refused the
task. He saw little essential difference between thirty-eight and
eighty-eight, and his mother was to him not a woman but wholly a
mother. He had no perception of her other than as an adjunct to
himself, his mother; nor could he imagine her thinking or doing
anything--falling in love, walking with a friend, or reading a book--
as a woman, and not as his mother. The woman, Isabel, was a stranger
to her son; as completely a stranger as if he had never in his life
seen her or heard her voice. And it was to-night, while he stood with
her, "receiving," that he caught a disquieting glimpse of this
stranger whom he thus fleetingly encountered for the first time.
Youth cannot imagine romance apart from youth. That is why the roles
of the heroes and heroines of plays are given by the managers to the
most youthful actors they can find among the competent. Both middle-
aged people and young people enjoy a play about young lovers; but only
middle-aged people will tolerate a play about middle-aged lovers;
young people will not come to see such a play, because, for them,
middle-aged lovers are a joke--not a very funny one. Therefore, to
bring both the middle-aged people and the young people into his house,
the manager makes his romance as young as he can. Youth will indeed
be served, and its profound instinct is to be not only scornfully
amused but vaguely angered by middle-age romance. So, standing beside
his mother, George was disturbed by a sudden impression, corning upon
him out of nowhere, so far as he could detect, that her eyes were
brilliant, that she was graceful and youthful--in a word, that she was
He had one of those curious moments that seem to have neither a cause
nor any connection with actual things. While it lasted, he was
disquieted not by thoughts--for he had no definite thoughts--but by a
slight emotion like that caused in a dream by the presence of
something invisible soundless, and yet fantastic. There was nothing
different or new about his mother, except her new black and silver
dress: she was standing there beside him, bending her head a little in
her greetings, smiling the same smile she had worn for the half-hour
that people had been passing the "receiving" group. Her face was
flushed, but the room was warm; and shaking hands with so many people
easily accounted for the pretty glow that was upon her. At any time
she could have "passed" for twenty-five or twenty-six--a man of fifty
would have honestly guessed her to be about thirty but possibly two or
three years younger--and though extraordinary in this, she had been
extraordinary in it for years. There was nothing in either her looks
or her manner to explain George's uncomfortable feeling; and yet it
increased, becoming suddenly a vague resentment, as if she had done
something unmotherly to him.
The fantastic moment passed; and even while it lasted, he was doing
his duty, greeting two pretty girls with whom he had grown up, as
people say, and warmly assuring them that he remembered them very
well--an assurance which might have surprised them "in anybody but
Georgie Minafer!" It seemed unnecessary, since he had spent many
hours with them no longer ago than the preceding August, They had
with them their parents and an uncle from out of town; and George
negligently gave the parents the same assurance he had given the
daughters, but murmured another form of greeting to the out-of-town
uncle, whom he had never seen before. This person George absently
took note of as a "queer-looking duck." Undergraduates had not yet
adopted "bird." It was a period previous to that in which a sophomore
would have thought of the Sharon girls' uncle as a "queer-looking
bird," or, perhaps a "funny-face bird." In George's time, every human
male was to be defined, at pleasure, as a "duck"; but "duck" was not
spoken with admiring affection, as in its former feminine use to
signify a "dear"--on the contrary, "duck" implied the speaker's
personal detachment and humorous superiority. An indifferent
amusement was what George felt when his mother, with a gentle
emphasis, interrupted his interchange of courtesies with the nieces to
present him to the queer-looking duck their uncle. This emphasis of
Isabel's, though slight, enabled George to perceive that she
considered the queer-looking duck a person of some importance; but it
was far from enabling him to understand why. The duck parted his
thick and longish black hair on the side; his tie was a forgetful
looking thing, and his coat, though it fitted a good enough middle-
aged figure, no product of this year, or of last year either. One of
his eyebrows was noticeably higher than the other; and there were
whimsical lines between them, which gave him an apprehensive
expression; but his apprehensions were evidently more humorous than
profound, for his prevailing look was that of a genial man of affairs,
not much afraid of anything whatever Nevertheless, observing only his
unfashionable hair, his eyebrows, his preoccupied tie and his old
coat, the olympic George set him down as a queer-looking duck, and
having thus completed his portrait, took no interest in him.
The Sharon girls passed on, taking the queer-looking duck with them,
and George became pink with mortification as his mother called his
attention to a white-bearded guest waiting to shake his hand. This
was George's great-uncle, old John Minafer: it was old John's boast
that in spite of his connection by marriage with the Ambersons, he
never had worn and never would wear a swaller-tail coat. Members of
his family had exerted their influence uselessly--at eighty-nine
conservative people seldom form radical new habits, and old John wore
his "Sunday suit" of black broadcloth to the Amberson ball. The coat
was square, with skirts to the knees; old John called it a "Prince
Albert" and was well enough pleased with it, but his great-nephew
considered it the next thing to an insult. George's purpose had been
to ignore the man, but he had to take his hand for a moment; whereupon
old John began to tell George that he was looking well, though there
had been a time, during his fourth month, when he was so puny that
nobody thought he would live. The great-nephew, in a fury of blushes,
dropped old John's hand with some vigour, and seized that of the next
person in the line. "Member you v'ry well 'ndeed!" he said fiercely.
The large room had filled, and so had the broad hall and the rooms on
the other side of the hall, where there were tables for whist. The
imported orchestra waited in the ballroom on the third floor, but a
local harp, 'cello, violin, and flute were playing airs from "The
Fencing Master" in the hall, and people were shouting over the music.
Old John Minafer's voice was louder and more penetrating than any
other, because he had been troubled with deafness for twenty-five
years, heard his own voice but faintly, and liked to hear it. "Smell
o' flowers like this always puts me in mind o' funerals," he kept
telling his niece, Fanny Minafer, who was with him; and he seemed to
get a great deal of satisfaction out of this reminder. His tremulous
yet strident voice cut through the voluminous sound that filled the
room, and he was heard everywhere: "Always got to think o' funerals
when I smell so many flowers!" And, as the pressure of people forced
Fanny and himself against the white marble mantelpiece, he pursued
this train of cheery thought, shouting, "Right here's where the
Major's wife was laid out at her funeral. They had her in a good
light from that big bow window." He paused to chuckle mournfully. "I
s'pose that's where they'll put the Major when his time comes."
Presently George's mortification was increased to hear this sawmill
droning harshly from the midst of the thickening crowd: "Ain't the
dancin' broke out yet, Fanny? Hoopla! Le's push through and go see the
young women-folks crack their heels! Start the circus! Hoopse-
daisy!" Miss Fanny Minafer, in charge of the lively veteran, was
almost as distressed as her nephew George, but she did her duty and
managed to get old John through the press and out to the broad
stairway, which numbers of young people were now ascending to the
ballroom. And here the sawmill voice still rose over all others:
"Solid black walnut every inch of it, balustrades and all. Sixty
thousand dollars' worth o' carved woodwork in the house! Like water!
Spent money like water! Always did! Still do! Like water! God
knows where it all comes from!"
He continued the ascent, barking and coughing among the gleaming young
heads, white shoulders, jewels, and chiffon, like an old dog slowly
swimming up the rapids of a sparkling river; while down below, in the
drawing room, George began to recover from the degradation into which
this relic of early settler days had dragged him. What restored him
completely was a dark-eyed little beauty of nineteen, very knowing in
lustrous blue and jet; at sight of this dashing advent in the line of
guests before him, George was fully an Amberson again.
"Remember you very well indeed!" he said, his graciousness more
earnest than any he had heretofore displayed. Isabel heard him and
"But you don't, George!" she said. "You don't remember her yet,
though of course you will! Miss Morgan is from out of town, and I'm
afraid this is the first time you've ever seen her. You might take
her up to the dancing; I think you've pretty well done your duty here."
"Be d'lighted," George responded formally, and offered his arm, not
with a flourish, certainly, but with an impressiveness inspired partly
by the appearance of the person to whom he offered it, partly by his
being the hero of this fete, and partly by his youthfulness--for when
manners are new they are apt to be elaborate. The little beauty
entrusted her gloved fingers to his coat-sleeve, and they moved away
Their progress was necessarily slow, and to George's mind it did not
lack stateliness. How could it? Musicians, hired especially for him,
were sitting in a grove of palms in the hall and now tenderly playing
"Oh, Promise Me" for his pleasuring; dozens and scores of flowers had
been brought to life and tended to this hour that they might sweeten
the air for him while they died; and the evanescent power that music
and floral scents hold over youth stirred his appreciation of strange,
beautiful qualities within his own bosom: he seemed to himself to be
mysteriously angelic, and about to do something which would overwhelm
the beautiful young stranger upon his arm.
Elderly people and middle-aged people moved away to let him pass with
his honoured fair beside him. Worthy middle-class creatures, they
seemed, leading dull lives but appreciative of better things when they
saw them--and George's bosom was fleetingly touched with a pitying
kindness. And since the primordial day when caste or heritage first
set one person, in his own esteem, above his fellow-beings, it is to
be doubted if anybody ever felt more illustrious, or more negligently
grand, than George Amberson Minafer felt at this party.
As he conducted Miss Morgan through the hall, toward the stairway,
they passed the open double doors of a card room, where some squadrons
of older people were preparing for action, and, leaning gracefully
upon the mantelpiece of this room, a tall man, handsome, high-
mannered, and sparklingly point-device, held laughing converse with
that queer-looking duck, the Sharon girls' uncle. The tall gentleman
waved a gracious salutation to George, and Miss Morgan's curiosity was
stirred. "Who is that?"
"I didn't catch his name when my mother presented him to me," said
George. "You mean the queer-looking duck."
"I mean the aristocratic duck."
"That's my Uncle George Honourable George Amberson. I thought
everybody knew him."
"He looks as though everybody ought to know him," she said. "It seems
to run in your family."
If she had any sly intention, it skipped over George harmlessly.
"Well, of course, I suppose most everybody does," he admitted--"out in
this part of the country especially. Besides, Uncle George is in
Congress; the family like to have someone there."
"Well, it's sort of a good thing in one way. For instance, my Uncle
Sydney Amberson and his wife, Aunt Amelia, they haven't got much of
anything to do with themselves--get bored to death around here, of
course. Well, probably Uncle George'll have Uncle Sydney appointed
minister or ambassador, or something like that, to Russia or Italy or
somewhere, and that'll make it pleasant when any of the rest of the
family go travelling, or things like that. I expect to do a good deal
of travelling myself when I get out of college."
On the stairway he pointed out this prospective ambassadorial couple,
Sydney and Amelia. They were coming down, fronting the ascending
tide, and as conspicuous over it as a king and queen in a play.
Moreover, as the clear-eyed Miss Morgan remarked, the very least they
looked was ambassadorial. Sydney was an Amberson exaggerated, more
pompous than gracious; too portly, flushed, starched to a shine, his
stately jowl furnished with an Edward the Seventh beard. Amelia,
likewise full-bodied, showed glittering blond hair exuberantly
dressed; a pink, fat face cold under a white-hot tiara; a solid, cold
bosom under a white-hot necklace; great, cold, gloved arms, and the
rest of her beautifully upholstered. Amelia was an Amberson born,
herself, Sydney's second-cousin: they had no children, and Sydney was
without a business or a profession; thus both found a great deal of
time to think about the appropriateness of their becoming
Excellencies. And as George ascended the broad stairway, they were
precisely the aunt and uncle he was most pleased to point out, to a
girl from out of town, as his appurtenances in the way of relatives.
At sight of them the grandeur of the Amberson family was instantly
conspicuous as a permanent thing: it was impossible to doubt that the
Ambersons were entrenched, in their nobility and riches, behind
polished and glittering barriers which were as solid as they were
brilliant, and would last.
The hero of the fete, with the dark-eyed little beauty upon his arm,
reached the top of the second flight of stairs; and here, beyond a
spacious landing, where two proud-like darkies tended a crystalline
punch bowl, four wide archways in a rose-vine lattice framed gliding
silhouettes of waltzers, already smoothly at it to the castanets of
"La Paloma." Old John Minafer, evidently surfeited, was in the act of
leaving these delights. "D'want 'ny more o' that!" he barked. "Just
slidin' around! Call that dancin'? Rather see a jig any day in the
world! They ain't very modest, some of 'em. I don't mind that,
though. Not me!"
Miss Fanny Minafer was no longer in charge of him: he emerged from the
ballroom escorted by a middle-aged man of commonplace appearance. The
escort had a dry, lined face upon which, not ornamentally but as a
matter of course, there grew a business man's short moustache; and his
thin neck showed an Adam's apple, but not conspicuously, for there was
nothing conspicuous about him. Baldish, dim, quiet, he was an
unnoticeable part of this festival, and although there were a dozen or
more middle-aged men present, not casually to be distinguished from
him in general aspect, he was probably the last person in the big
house at whom a stranger would have glanced twice. It did not enter
George's mind to mention to Miss Morgan that this was his father, or
to say anything whatever about him.
Mr. Minafer shook his son's hand unobtrusively in passing.
"I'll take Uncle John home," he said, in a low voice. "Then I guess
I'll go on home myself--I'm not a great hand at parties, you know.
George murmured a friendly enough good-night without pausing.
Ordinarily he was not ashamed of the Minafers; he seldom thought about
them at all, for he belonged, as most American children do, to the
mother's family--but he was anxious not to linger with Miss Morgan in
the vicinity of old John, whom he felt to be a disgrace.
He pushed brusquely through the fringe of calculating youths who were
gathered in the arches, watching for chances to dance only with girls
who would soon be taken off their hands, and led his stranger lady out
upon the floor. They caught the time instantly, and were away in the
George danced well, and Miss Morgan seemed to float as part of the
music, the very dove itself of "La Paloma." They said nothing as they
danced; her eyes were cast down all the while--the prettiest gesture
for a dancer--and there was left in the universe, for each, of them,
only their companionship in this waltz; while the faces of the other
dancers, swimming by, denoted not people but merely blurs of colour.
George became conscious of strange feelings within him: an exaltation
of soul, tender, but indefinite, and seemingly located in the upper
part of his diaphragm.
The stopping of the music came upon him like the waking to an alarm
clock; for instantly six or seven of the calculating persons about the
entry-ways bore down upon Miss Morgan to secure dances. George had to
do with one already established as a belle, it seemed.
"Give me the next and the one after that," he said hurriedly,
recovering some presence of mind, just as the nearest applicant
reached them. "And give me every third one the rest of the evening."
She laughed. "Are you asking?"
"What do you mean, 'asking'?"
"It sounded as though you were just telling me to give you all those
"Well, I want 'em!" George insisted.
"What about all the other girls it's your duty to dance with?"
"They'll have to go without," he said heartlessly; and then, with
surprising vehemence: "Here! I want to know: Are you going to give me
"Good gracious!" she laughed. "Yes!"
The applicants flocked round her, urging contracts for what remained,
but they did not dislodge George from her side, though he made it
evident that they succeeded in annoying him; and presently he
extricated her from an accumulating siege--she must have connived in
the extrication--and bore her off to sit beside him upon the stairway
that led to the musicians' gallery, where they were sufficiently
retired, yet had a view of the room.
"How'd all those ducks get to know you so quick?" George inquired,
with little enthusiasm.
"Oh, I've been here a week."
"Looks as if you'd been pretty busy!" he said. "Most of those ducks,
I don't know what my mother wanted to invite 'em here for."
"Oh, I used to see something of a few of 'em. I was president of a
club we had here, and some of 'em belonged to it, but I don't care
much for that sort of thing any more. I really don't see why my
mother invited 'em."
"Perhaps it was on account of their parents," Miss Morgan suggested
mildly. "Maybe she didn't want to offend their fathers and mothers."
"Oh, hardly! I don't think my mother need worry much about offending
anybody in this old town."
"It must be wonderful," said Miss Morgan. "It must be wonderful, Mr.
Amberson--Mr. Minafer, I mean."
"What must be wonderful?"
"To be so important as that!"
"That isn't 'important," George assured her. "Anybody that really is
anybody ought to be able to do about as they like in their own town, I
She looked at him critically from under her shading lashes--but her
eyes grew gentler almost at once. In truth, they became more
appreciative than critical. George's imperious good looks were
altogether manly, yet approached actual beauty as closely as a boy's
good looks should dare; and dance-music and flowers have some effect
upon nineteen-year-old girls as well as upon eighteen-year-old boys.
Miss Morgan turned her eyes slowly from George, and pressed her face
among the lilies-of-the-valley and violets of the pretty bouquet she
carried, while, from the gallery above, the music of the next dance
carolled out merrily in a new two-step. The musicians made the melody
gay for the Christmastime with chimes of sleighbells, and the entrance
to the shadowed stairway framed the passing flushed and lively
dancers, but neither George nor Miss Morgan suggested moving to join
The stairway was draughty: the steps were narrow and uncomfortable; no
older person would have remained in such a place. Moreover, these two
young people were strangers to each other; neither had said anything
in which the other had discovered the slightest intrinsic interest;
there had not arisen between them the beginnings of congeniality, or
even of friendliness--but stairways near ballrooms have more to answer
for than have moonlit lakes and mountain sunsets. Some day the laws
of glamour must be discovered, because they are so important that the
world would be wiser now if Sir Isaac Newton had been hit on the head,
not by an apple, but by a young lady.
Age, confused by its own long accumulation of follies, is
everlastingly inquiring, "What does she see in him?" as if young love
came about through thinking--or through conduct. Age wants to know:
"What on earth can they talk about?" as if talking had anything to do
with April rains! At seventy, one gets up in the morning, finds the
air sweet under a bright sun, feels lively; thinks, "I am hearty,
today," and plans to go for a drive. At eighteen, one goes to a
dance, sits with a stranger on a stairway, feels peculiar, thinks
nothing, and becomes incapable of any plan whatever. Miss Morgan and
George stayed where they were.
They had agreed to this in silence and without knowing it; certainly
without exchanging glances of intelligence--they had exchanged no
glances at all. Both sat staring vaguely out into the ballroom, and,
for a time, they did not speak. Over their heads the music reached a
climax of vivacity: drums, cymbals, triangle, and sleighbells,
beating, clashing, tinkling. Here and there were to be seen couples
so carried away that, ceasing to move at the decorous, even glide,
considered most knowing, they pranced and whirled through the throng,
from wall to wall, galloping bounteously in abandon. George suffered
a shock of vague surprise when he perceived that his aunt, Fanny
Minafer, was the lady-half of one of these wild couples.
Fanny Minafer, who rouged a little, was like fruit which in some
climates dries with the bloom on. Her features had remained prettily
childlike; so had her figure, and there were times when strangers,
seeing her across the street, took her to be about twenty; they were
other times when at the same distance they took her to be about sixty,
instead of forty, as she was. She had old days and young days; old
hours and young hours; old minutes and young minutes; for the change
might be that quick. An alteration in her expression, or a difference
in the attitude of her head, would cause astonishing indentations to
appear--and behold, Fanny was an old lady! But she had been never
more childlike than she was tonight as she flew over the floor in the
capable arms of the queer-looking duck; for this person was her
The queer-looking duck had been a real dancer in his day, it appeared;
and evidently his day was not yet over. In spite of the headlong, gay
rapidity with which he bore Miss Fanny about the big room, he danced
authoritatively, avoiding without effort the lightest collision with
other couples, maintaining sufficient grace throughout his wildest
moments, and all the while laughing and talking with his partner.
What was most remarkable to George, and a little irritating, this
stranger in the Amberson Mansion had no vestige of the air of
deference proper to a stranger in such a place: he seemed thoroughly
at home. He seemed offensively so, indeed, when, passing the entrance
to the gallery stairway, he disengaged his hand from Miss Fanny's for
an instant, and not pausing in the dance, waved a laughing salutation
more than cordial, then capered lightly out of sight.
George gazed stonily at this manifestation, responding neither by word
nor sign. "How's that for a bit of freshness?" he murmured.
"What was?" Miss Morgan asked.
"That queer-looking duck waving his hand at me like that. Except he's
the Sharon girls' uncle I don't know him from Adam."
"You don't need to," she said. "He wasn't waving his hand to you: he
"Oh, he did?" George was not mollified by the explanation.
"Everybody seems to mean you! You certainly do seem to've been pretty
busy this week you've been here!"
She pressed her bouquet to her face again, and laughed into it, not
displeased. She made no other comment, and for another period neither
spoke. Meanwhile the music stopped; loud applause insisted upon its
renewal; an encore was danced; there was an interlude of voices; and
the changing of partners began.
"Well," said George finally, "I must say you don't seem to be much of
a prattler. They say it's a great way to get a reputation for being
wise, never saying much. Don't you ever talk any?"
"When people can understand," she answered.
He had been looking moodily out at the ballroom but he turned to her
quickly, at this, saw that her eyes were sunny and content, over the
top of her bouquet; and he consented to smile.
"Girls are usually pretty fresh!" he said. "They ought to go to a
man's college about a year: they'd get taught a few things about
freshness! What you got to do after two o'clock to-morrow afternoon?"
"A whole lot of things. Every minute filled up."
"All right," said George. "The snow's fine for sleighing: I'll come
for you in a cutter at ten minutes after two."
"I can't possibly go."
"If you don't," he said, "I'm going to sit in the cutter in front of
the gate, wherever you're visiting, all afternoon, and if you try to
go out with anybody else he's got to whip me before he gets you." And
as she laughed--though she blushed a little, too--he continued,
seriously: "If you think I'm not in earnest you're at liberty to make
quite a big experiment!"
She laughed again. "I don't think I've often had so large a compliment
as that," she said, "especially on such short notice--and yet, I don't
think I'll go with you.
"You be ready at ten minutes after two."
"No, I won't."
"Yes, you will!"
"Yes," she said, "I will!" And her partner for the next dance
arrived, breathless with searching.
"Don't forget I've got the third from now," George called after her.
"And every third one after that."
"I know!" she called, over her partner's shoulder, and her voice was
When "the third from now" came, George presented himself before her
without any greeting, like a brother, or a mannerless old friend.
Neither did she greet him, but moved away with him, concluding, as she
went, an exchange of badinage with the preceding partner: she had been
talkative enough with him, it appeared. In fact, both George and Miss
Morgan talked much more to every one else that evening, than to each
other; and they said nothing at all at this time. Both looked
preoccupied, as they began to dance, and preserved a gravity, of
expression to the end of the number. And when "the third one after
that" came, they did not dance, but went back to the gallery stairway,
seeming to have reached an understanding without any verbal
consultation, that this suburb was again the place for them.
"Well," said George, coolly, when they were seated, "what did you say
your name was?"
"Everybody else's name always is."
"I didn't mean it was really funny," George explained. "That's just
one of my crowd's bits of horsing at college. We always say 'funny
name' no matter what it is. I guess we're pretty fresh sometimes; but
I knew your name was Morgan because my mother said so downstairs. I
meant: what's the rest of it?"
He was silent.
"Is 'Lucy' a funny name, too?" she inquired.
"No. Lucy's very much all right!" he said, and he went so far as to
smile. Even his Aunt Fanny admitted that when George smiled "in a
certain way" he was charming.
"Thanks about letting my name be Lucy," she said.
"How old are you?" George asked.
"I don't really know, myself."
"What do you mean: you don't really know yourself?"
"I mean I only know what they tell me. I believe them, of course, but
believing isn't really knowing. You believe some certain day is your
birthday--at least, I suppose you do--but you don't really know it is
because you can't remember."
"Look here!" said George. "Do you always talk like this?"
Miss Lucy Morgan laughed forgivingly, put her young head on one side,
like a bird, and responded cheerfully: "I'm willing to learn wisdom.
What are you studying in school?"
"At the university! Yes. What are you studying there?"
George laughed. "Lot o' useless guff!"
"Then why don't you study some useful guff?"
"What do you mean: 'useful'?"
"Something you'd use later, in your business or profession?"
George waved his hand impatiently. "I don't expect to go into any
'business or profession."
"Certainly not!" George was emphatic, being sincerely annoyed by a
suggestion which showed how utterly she failed to comprehend the kind
of person he was.
"Why not?" she asked mildly.
"Just look at 'em!" he said, almost with bitterness, and he made a
gesture presumably intended to indicate the business and professional
men now dancing within range of vision. "That's a fine career for a
man, isn't it! Lawyers, bankers, politicians! What do they get out
of life, I'd like to know! What do they ever know about real things?
Where do they ever get?"
He was so earnest that she was surprised and impressed. Evidently he
had deep-seated ambitions, for he seemed to speak with actual emotion
of these despised things which were so far beneath his planning for
the future. She had a vague, momentary vision of Pitt, at twenty-one,
prime minister of England; and she spoke, involuntarily in a lowered
voice, with deference:
"What do you want to be?" she asked.
George answered promptly.
"A yachtsman," he said.
Having thus, in a word, revealed his ambition for a career above
courts, marts, and polling booths, George breathed more deeply than
usual, and, turning his face from the lovely companion whom he had
just made his confidant, gazed out at the dancers with an expression
in which there was both sternness and a contempt for the squalid lives
of the unyachted Midlanders before him. However, among them, he
marked his mother; and his sombre grandeur relaxed momentarily; a more
genial light came into his eyes.
Isabel was dancing with the queer-looking duck; and it was to be noted
that the lively gentleman's gait was more sedate than it had been with
Miss Fanny Minafer, but not less dexterous and authoritative. He was
talking to Isabel as gaily as he had talked to Miss Fanny, though with
less laughter, and Isabel listened and answered eagerly: her colour
was high and her eyes had a look of delight. She saw George and the
beautiful Lucy on the stairway, and nodded to them. George waved his
hand vaguely: he had a momentary return of that inexplicable
uneasiness and resentment which had troubled him downstairs.
"How lovely your mother is!" Lucy said
"I think she is," he agreed gently.
"She's the gracefulest woman in that ballroom. She dances like a girl
"Most girls of sixteen," said George, "are bum dancers. Anyhow, I
wouldn't dance with one unless I had to."
"Well, you'd better dance with your mother! I never saw anybody
lovelier. How wonderfully they dance together!"
"Your mother and--and the queer-looking duck," said Lucy. "I'm going
to dance with him pretty soon."
"I don't care--so long as you don't give him one of the numbers that
belong to me."
"I'll try to remember," she said, and thoughtfully lifted to her face
the bouquet of violets and lilies, a gesture which George noted
"Look here! Who sent you those flowers you keep makin' such a fuss
"The queer-looking duck."
George feared no such rival; he laughed loudly. "I s'pose he's some
old widower!" he said, the object thus described seeming ignominious
enough to a person of eighteen, without additional characterization.
"Some old widower!"
Lucy became serious at once. "Yes, he is a widower," she said. "I
ought to have told you before; he's my father."
George stopped laughing abruptly. "Well, that's a horse on me. If
I'd known he was your father, of course I wouldn't have made fun of
him. I'm sorry."
"Nobody could make fun of him," she said quietly.
"Why couldn't they?"
"It wouldn't make him funny: it would only make themselves silly."
Upon this, George had a gleam of intelligence. "Well, I'm not going
to make myself silly any more, then; I don't want to take chances like
that with you. But I thought he was the Sharon girls' uncle. He came
"Yes," she said, "I'm always late to everything: I wouldn't let them
wait for me. We're visiting the Sharons."
"About time I knew that! You forget my being so fresh about your
father, will you? Of course he's a distinguished looking man, in a
Lucy was still serious. "In a way?'" she repeated. "You mean, not in
your way, don't you?"
George was perplexed. "How do you mean: not in my way?"
"People pretty often say 'in a way' and 'rather distinguished
looking,' or 'rather' so-and-so, or 'rather' anything, to show that
they're superior don't they? In New York last month I overheard a
climber sort of woman speaking of me as 'little Miss Morgan,' but she
didn't mean my height; she meant that she was important. Her husband
spoke of a friend of mine as 'little Mr. Pembroke' and 'little Mr.
Pembroke' is six-feet-three. This husband and wife were really so
terribly unimportant that the only way they knew to pretend to be
important was calling people 'little' Miss or Mister so-and-so. It's
a kind of snob slang, I think. Of course people don't always say
'rather' or 'in a way' to be superior."
"I should say not! I use both of 'em a great deal myself," said
George. "One thing I don't see though: What's the use of a man being
six-feet-three? Men that size can't handle themselves as well as a man
about five-feet-eleven and a half can. Those long, gangling men,
they're nearly always too kind of wormy to be any good in athletics,
and they're so awkward they keep falling over chairs or--"
"Mr. Pembroke is in the army," said Lucy primly. "He's
"In the army? Oh, I suppose he's some old friend of your father's."
"They got on very well," she said, "after I introduced them."
George was a straightforward soul, at least. "See here!" he said.
"Are you engaged to anybody?"
Not wholly mollified, he shrugged his shoulders. "You seem to know a
good many people! Do you live in New York?"
"No. We don't live anywhere."
"What you mean: you don't live anywhere?"
"We've lived all over," she answered. "Papa used to live here in this
town, but that was before I was born."
"What do you keep moving around so for? Is he a promoter?"
"No. He's an inventor."
"What's he invented?"
"Just lately," said Lucy, "he's been working on a new kind of
"Well, I'm sorry for him," George said, in no unkindly spirit. "Those
things are never going to amount to anything. People aren't going to
spend their lives lying on their backs in the road and letting grease
drip in their faces. Horseless carriages are pretty much a failure,
and your father better not waste his time on 'em."
"Papa'd be so grateful," she returned, "if he could have your advice."
Instantly George's face became flushed. "I don't know that I've done
anything to be insulted for!" he said. "I don't see that what I said
was particularly fresh."
"Then what do you--"
She laughed gaily. "I don't! And I don't mind your being such a
lofty person at all. I think it's ever so interesting--but papa's a
"Is he?" George decided to be good-natured "Well, let us hope so. I
hope so, I'm sure."
Looking at him keenly, she saw that the magnificent youth was
incredibly sincere in this bit of graciousness. He spoke as a
tolerant, elderly statesman might speak of a promising young
politician; and with her eyes still upon him, Lucy shook her head in
gentle wonder. "I'm just beginning to understand," she said.
"What it means to be a real Amberson in this town. Papa told me
something about it before we came, but I see he didn't say half
George superbly took this all for tribute. "Did your father say he
knew the family before he left here?"
"Yes. I believe he was particularly a friend of your Uncle George; and
he didn't say so, but I imagine he must have known your mother very
well, too. He wasn't an inventor then; he was a young lawyer. The
town was smaller in those days, and I believe he was quite well
"I dare say. I've no doubt the family are all very glad to see him
back, especially if they used to have him at the house a good deal, as
he told you."
"I don't think he meant to boast of it," she said: "He spoke of it
George stared at her for a moment in perplexity, then perceiving that
her intention was satirical, "Girls really ought to go to a man's
college," he said--"just a month or two, anyhow; It'd take some of the
freshness out of 'em!"
"I can't believe it," she retorted, as her partner for the next dance
arrived. "It would only make them a little politer on the surface--
they'd be really just as awful as ever, after you got to know them a
"What do you mean: 'after you got to know them a--'"
She was departing to the dance. "Janie and Mary Sharon told me all
about what sort of a little boy you were," she said, over her
shoulder. "You must think it out!" She took wing away on the breeze
of the waltz, and George, having stared gloomily after her for a few
moments, postponed filling an engagement, and strolled round the
fluctuating outskirts of the dance to where his uncle, George
Amberson, stood smilingly watching, under one of the rose-vine arches
at the entrance to the room.
"Hello, young namesake," said the uncle. "Why lingers the laggard
heel of the dancer? Haven't you got a partner?"
"She's sitting around waiting for me somewhere," said George. "See
here: Who is this fellow Morgan that Aunt Fanny Minafer was dancing
with a while?"
Amberson laughed. "He's a man with a pretty daughter, Georgie.
Meseemed you've been spending the evening noticing something of that
sort--or do I err?"
"Never mind! What sort is he?"
"I think we'll have to give him a character, Georgie. He's an old
friend; used to practice law here--perhaps be had more debts than
cases, but he paid 'em all up before he left town. Your question is
purely mercenary, I take it: you want to know his true worth before
proceeding further with the daughter. I cannot inform you, though I
notice signs of considerable prosperity in that becoming dress of
hers. However, you never can tell, it is an age when every sacrifice
is made for the young, and how your own poor mother managed to provide
those genuine pearl studs for you out of her allowance from father, I
"Oh, dry up!" said the nephew. "I understand this Morgan--"
"Mr. Eugene Morgan," his uncle suggested. "Politeness requires that
the young should--"
"I guess the 'young' didn't know much about politeness in your day,"
George interrupted. "I understand that Mr. Eugene Morgan used to be a
great friend of the family."
"Oh, the Minafers?" the uncle inquired, with apparent innocence. "No,
I seem to recall that he and your father were not--"
"I mean the Ambersons," George said impatiently. "I understand he was
a good deal around the house here."
"What is your objection to that, George?"
"What do you mean: my objection?"
"You seemed to speak with a certain crossness."
"Well," said George, "I meant he seems to feel awfully at home here.
The way he was dancing with Aunt Fanny--"
Amberson laughed. "I'm afraid your Aunt Fanny's heart was stirred by
ancient recollections, Georgie."
"You mean she used to be silly about him?"
"She wasn't considered singular," said the uncle "He was--he was
popular. Could you bear a question?"
"What do you mean: could I bear--"
"I only wanted to ask: Do you take this same passionate interest in
the parents of every girl you dance with? Perhaps it's a new fashion
we old bachelors ought to take up. Is it the thing this year to--"
"Oh, go on!" said George, moving away. "I only wanted to know--" He
left the sentence unfinished, and crossed the room to where a girl sat
waiting for his nobility to find time to fulfil his contract with her
for this dance.
"Pardon f' keep' wait," he muttered, as she rose brightly to meet him;
and she seemed pleased that he came at all--but George was used to
girls' looking radiant when he danced with them, and she had little
effect upon him. He danced with her perfunctorily, thinking the while
of Mr. Eugene Morgan and his daughter. Strangely enough, his thoughts
dwelt more upon the father than the daughter, though George could not
possibly have given a reason--even to himself--for this disturbing
By a coincidence, though not an odd one, the thoughts and conversation
of Mr. Eugene Morgan at this very time were concerned with George
Amberson Minafer, rather casually, it is true. Mr. Morgan had retired
to a room set apart for smoking, on the second floor, and had found a