Part 3 out of 6
with the general harmony of things--George saw with dismay that she
was prettier than ever, and naturally he missed the reassurance he
might have felt had he been able to guess that Lucy, on her part, was
finding him better looking than ever. For, however unusual the scope
of George's pride, vanity of beauty was not included; he did not think
about his looks.
"What's wrong, George?" she asked softly.
"What do you mean: 'What's wrong?"
"You're awfully upset about something. Didn't you get though your
examination all right?"
"Certainly I did. What makes you think anything's 'wrong' with me?"
"You do look pale, as papa said, and it seemed to me that the way you
talked sounded--well, a little confused."
"Confused'! I said I didn't care to smoke. What in the world is
confused about that?"
"See here!" George stepped close to her. "Are you glad to see me?"
"You needn't be so fierce about it!" Lucy protested, laughing at his
dramatic intensity. "Of course I am! How long have I been looking
forward to it?"
"I don't know," he said sharply, abating nothing of his fierceness.
"How long have you?"
"Why--ever since you went away!"
"Is that true? Lucy, is that true?"
"You are funny!" she said. "Of course it's true. Do tell me what's
the matter with you, George!"
"I will!" he exclaimed. "I was a boy when I saw you last. I see that
now, though I didn't then. Well, I'm not a boy any longer. I'm a
man, and a man has a right to demand a totally different treatment."
"Why has he?"
"I don't seem to be able to understand you at all, George. Why
shouldn't a boy be treated just as well as a man?"
George seemed to find himself at a loss. "Why shouldn't--Well, he
shouldn't, because a man has a right to certain explanations."
"Whether he's been made a toy of!" George almost shouted. "That's
what I want to know!"
Lucy shook her head despairingly. "You are the queerest person! You
say you're a man now, but you talk more like a boy than ever. What
does make you so excited?"
"'Excited!'" he stormed. "Do you dare to stand there and call me
'excited'? I tell you, I never have been more calm or calmer in my
life! I don't know that a person needs to be called 'excited' because
he demands explanations that are his simple due!"
"What in the world do you want me to explain?"
"Your conduct with Fred Kinney!" George shouted.
Lucy uttered a sudden cry of laughter; she was delighted. "It's been
awful!" she said. "I don't know that I ever heard of worse
misbehaviour! Papa and I have been twice to dinner with his family,
and I've been three times to church with Fred--and once to the circus!
I don't know when they'll be here to arrest me!"
"Stop that!" George commanded fiercely. "I want to know just one
thing, and I mean to know it, too!"
"Whether I enjoyed the circus?"
"I want to know if you're engaged to him!"
"No!" she cried and lifting her face close to his for the shortest
instant possible, she gave him a look half merry, half defiant, but
all fond. It was an adorable look.
"Lucy!" he said huskily.
But she turned quickly from him, and ran to the other end of the room.
He followed awkwardly, stammering:
"Lucy, I want--I want to ask you. Will you--will you--will you be
engaged to me?"
She stood at a window, seeming to look out into the summer darkness,
her back to him.
"Will you, Lucy?"
"No," she murmured, just audibly.
"I'm older than you."
"You're too young."
"Is that--" he said, gulping--"is that the only reason you won't?"
She did not answer.
As she stood, persistently staring out of the window, with her back to
him, she did not see how humble his attitude had become; but his voice
was low, and it shook so that she could have no doubt of his emotion.
"Lucy, please forgive me for making such a row," he said, thus gently.
"I've been--I've been terribly upset--terribly! You know how I feel
about you, and always have felt about you. I've shown it in every
single thing I've done since the first time I met you, and I know you
know it. Don't you?"
Still she did not move or speak.
"Is the only reason you won't be engaged to me you think I'm too
"It's--it's reason enough," she said faintly.
At that he caught one of her hands, and she turned to him: there were
tears in her eyes, tears which he did not understand at all.
"Lucy, you little dear!" he cried. "I knew you--"
"No, no!" she said, and she pushed him away, withdrawing her hand.
"George, let's not talk of solemn things."
"Solemn things!' Like what?"
But George had become altogether jubilant, and he laughed
triumphantly. "Good gracious, that isn't solemn!"
"It is, too!" she said, wiping her eyes. "It's too solemn for us."
"No, it isn't! I--"
"Let's sit down and be sensible, dear," she said. "You sit over
"I will if you'll call me, 'dear' again."
"No," she said. "I'll only call you that once again this summer--the
night before you go away."
"That will have to do, then," he laughed, 'so long as I know we're
"But we're not!" she protested. "And we never will be, if you don't
promise not to speak of it again until--until I tell you to!"
"I won't promise that," said the happy George. "I'll only promise not
to speak of it till the next time you call me 'dear'; and you've
promised to call me that the night before I leave for my senior year."
"Oh, but I didn't!" she said earnestly, then hesitated. "Did I?"
"I don't think I meant it," she murmured, her wet lashes flickering
above troubled eyes.
"I know one thing about you," he said gayly, his triumph increasing.
"You never went back on anything you said, yet, and I'm not afraid of
this being the first time!"
"But we mustn't let--" she faltered; then went on tremulously,
"George, we've got on so well together, we won't let this make a
difference between us, will we? And she joined in his laughter.
"It will all depend on what you tell me the night before I go away.
You agree we're going to settle things then, don't you, Lucy?"
"I don't promise."
"Yes, you do! Don't you?"
Tonight George began a jubilant warfare upon his Aunt Fanny, opening
the campaign upon his return home at about eleven o'clock. Fanny had
retired, and was presumably asleep, but George, on the way to his own
room, paused before her door, and serenaded her in a full baritone:
As I walk along the Boy de Balong
With my independent air,
The people all declare,
'He must be a millionaire!'
Oh, you hear them sigh, and wish to die,
And see them wink the other eye.
At the man that broke the bank at Monte Carlo!"
Isabel came from George's room, where she had been reading, waiting
for him. "I'm afraid you'll disturb your father, dear. I wish you'd
sing more, though--in the daytime! You have a splendid voice."
"Good-night, old lady!"
"I thought perhaps I--Didn't you want me to come in with you and
talk a little?"
"Not to-night. You go to bed. Good-night, old lady!"
He kissed her hilariously, entered his room with a skip, closed his
door noisily; and then he could be heard tossing things about, loudly
humming "The Man that Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo."
Smiling, his mother knelt outside his door to pray; then, with her
"Amen," pressed her lips to the bronze door-knob; and went silently to
her own apartment.
After breakfasting in bed, George spent the next morning at his
grandfather's and did not encounter his Aunt Fanny until lunch, when
she seemed to be ready for him.
"Thank you so much for the serenade, George!" she said. "Your poor
father tells me he'd just got to sleep for the first time in two
nights, but after your kind attentions he lay awake the rest of last
"Perfectly true," Mr. Minafer said grimly.
"Of course, I didn't know, sir," George hastened to assure him. "I'm
awfully sorry. But Aunt Fanny was so gloomy and excited before I went
out, last evening, I thought she needed cheering up."
"I!" Fanny jeered. "I was gloomy? I was excited? You mean about
"Yes. Weren't you? I thought I heard you worrying over somebody's
being engaged. Didn't I hear you say you'd heard Mr. Eugene Morgan
was engaged to marry some pretty little seventeen-year-old girl?"
Fanny was stung, but she made a brave effort. "Did you ask Lucy?" she
said, her voice almost refusing the teasing laugh she tried to make it
utter. "Did you ask her when Fred Kinney and she--"
"Yes. That story wasn't true. But the other one--" Here he stared at
Fanny, and then affected dismay. "Why, what's the matter with your
face, Aunt Fanny? It seems agitated!"
"Agitated!" Fanny said disdainfully, but her voice undeniably lacked
"Oh, come!" Mr. Minafer interposed. "Let's have a little peace!"
"I'm willing," said George. "I don't want to see poor Aunt Fanny all
stirred up over a rumour I just this minute invented myself. She's so
excitable--about certain subjects--it's hard to control her." He
turned to his mother. "What's the matter with grandfather?"
"Didn't you see him this morning?" Isabel asked.
"Yes. He was glad to see me, and all that, but he seemed pretty
fidgety. Has he been having trouble with his heart again?"
"Not lately. No."
"Well, he's not himself. I tried to talk to him about the estate; it's
disgraceful--it really is--the way things are looking. He wouldn't
listen, and he seemed upset. What's he upset over?"
Isabel looked serious; however, it was her husband who suggested
gloomily, "I suppose the Major's bothered about this Sydney and Amelia
business, most likely."
"What Sydney and Amelia business?" George asked.
"Your mother can tell you, if she wants to," Minafer said. "It's not
my side of the family, so I keep off."
"It's rather disagreeable for all of us, Georgie," Isabel began. "You
see, your Uncle Sydney wanted a diplomatic position, and he thought
brother George, being in Congress, could arrange it. George did get
him the offer of a South American ministry, but Sydney wanted a
European ambassadorship, and he got quite indignant with poor George
for thinking he'd take anything smaller--and he believes George didn't
work hard enough for him. George had done his best, of course, and
now he's out of Congress, and won't run again--so there's Sydney's
idea of a big diplomatic position gone for good. Well, Sydney and
your Aunt Amelia are terribly disappointed, and they say they've been
thinking for years that this town isn't really fit to live in--'for a
gentleman,' Sydney says--and it is getting rather big and dirty. So
they've sold their house and decided to go abroad to live permanently;
there's a villa near Florence they've often talked of buying. And they
want father to let them have their share of the estate now, instead of
waiting for him to leave it to them in his will."
"Well, I suppose that's fair enough," George said. "That is, in case
he intended to leave them a certain amount in his will."
"Of course that's understood, Georgie. Father explained his will to
us long ago; a third to them, and a third to brother George, and a
third to us."
Her son made a simple calculation in his mind. Uncle George was a
bachelor, and probably would never marry; Sydney and Amelia were
childless. The Major's only grandchild appeared to remain the
eventual heir of the entire property, no matter if the Major did turn
over to Sydney a third of it now. And George had a fragmentary vision
of himself, in mourning, arriving to take possession of a historic
Florentine villa--he saw himself walking up a cypress-bordered path,
with ancient carven stone balustrades in the distance, and servants in
mourning livery greeting the new signore. "Well, I suppose it's
grandfather's own affair. He can do it or not, just as he likes. I
don't see why he'd mind much."
"He seemed rather confused and pained about it," Isabel said. "I
think they oughtn't to urge it. George says that the estate won't
stand taking out the third that Sydney wants, and that Sydney and
Amelia are behaving like a couple of pigs." She laughed, continuing,
"Of course I don't know whether they are or not: I never have
understood any more about business myself than a little pig would!
But I'm on George's side, whether he's right or wrong; I always was
from the time we were children: and Sydney and Amelia are hurt with me
about it, I'm afraid. They've stopped speaking to George entirely.
Poor father Family rows at his time of life."
George became thoughtful. If Sydney and Amelia were behaving like
pigs, things might not be so simple as at first they seemed to be.
Uncle Sydney and Aunt Amelia might live an awful long while, he
thought; and besides, people didn't always leave their fortunes to
relatives. Sydney might die first, leaving everything to his widow,
and some curly-haired Italian adventurer might get round her, over
there in Florence; she might be fool enough to marry again--or even
He became more and more thoughtful, forgetting entirely a plan he had
formed for the continued teasing of his Aunt Fanny; and, an hour after
lunch, he strolled over to his grandfather's, intending to apply for
further information, as a party rightfully interested.
He did not carry out this intention, however. Going into the big
house by a side entrance, he was informed that the Major was upstairs
in his bedroom, that his sons Sydney and George were both with him,
and that a serious argument was in progress. "You kin stan' right in
de middle dat big, sta'y-way," said Old Sam, the ancient negro, who
was his informant, "an' you kin heah all you a-mind to wivout goin' on
up no fudda. Mist' Sydney an' Mist' Jawge talkin' louduh'n I evuh
heah nobody ca'y on in nish heah house! Quollin', honey, big
"All right," said George shortly. "You go on back to your own part of
the house, and don't make any talk. Hear me?"
"Yessuh, yessuh," Sam chuckled, as he shuffled away. "Plenty talkin'
wivout Sam! Yessuh!"
George went to the foot of the great stairway. He could hear angry
voices overhead--those of his two uncles--and a plaintive murmur, as
if the Major. tried to keep the peace. Such sounds were far from
encouraging to callers, and George decided not to go upstairs until
this interview was over. His decision was the result of no timidity,
nor of a too sensitive delicacy. What he felt was, that if he
interrupted the scene in his grandfather's room, just at this time,
one of the three gentlemen engaging in it might speak to him in a
peremptory manner (in the heat of the moment) and George saw no reason
for exposing his dignity to such mischances. Therefore he turned from
the stairway, and going quietly into the library, picked up a
magazine--but he did not open it, for his attention was instantly
arrested by his Aunt Amelia's voice, speaking in the next room. The
door was open and George heard her distinctly.
"Isabel does? Isabel!" she exclaimed, her tone high and shrewish.
"You needn't tell me anything about Isabel Minafer, I guess, my dear
old Frank Bronson! I know her a little better than you do, don't you
George heard the voice of Mr. Bronson replying--a voice familiar to
him as that of his grandfather's attorney-in-chief and chief intimate
as well. He was a contemporary of the Major's, being over seventy,
and they had been through three years of the War in the same regiment.
Amelia addressed him now, with an effect of angry mockery, as "my dear
old Frank Bronson"; but that (without the mockery) was how the
Amberson family almost always spoke of him: "dear old Frank Bronson."
He was a hale, thin old man, six feet three inches tall, and without a
"I doubt your knowing Isabel," he said stiffly. "You speak of her as
you do because she sides with her brother George, instead of with you
"Pooh!" Aunt Amelia was evidently in a passion. "You know what's
been going on over there, well enough, Frank Bronson!"
"I don't even know what you're talking about."
"Oh, you don't? You don't know that Isabel takes George's side simply
because he's Eugene Morgan's best friend?"
"It seems to me you're talking pure nonsense," said Bronson sharply.
"Not impure nonsense, I hope!"
Amelia became shrill. "I thought you were a man of the world: don't
tell me you're blind! For nearly two years Isabel's been pretending
to chaperone Fanny Minafer with Eugene, and all the time she's been
dragging that poor fool Fanny around to chaperone her and Eugene!
Under the circumstances, she knows people will get to thinking Fanny's
a pretty slim kind of chaperone, and Isabel wants to please George
because she thinks there'll be less talk if she can keep her own
brother around, seeming to approve. 'Talk!' She'd better look out!
The whole town will be talking, the first thing she knows! She--"
Amelia stopped, and stared at the doorway in a panic, for her nephew
She kept her eyes upon his white face for a few strained moments,
then, regaining her nerve, looked away and shrugged her shoulders.
"You weren't intended to hear what I've been saying, George," she
said quietly. "But since you seem to--"
"Yes, I did."
"So!" She shrugged her shoulders again. "After all, I don't know but
it's just as well, in the long run."
He walked up to where she sat. "You--you--" he said thickly. "It
seems--it seems to me you're--you're pretty common!"
Amelia tried to give the impression of an unconcerned person laughing
with complete indifference, but the sounds she produced were
disjointed and uneasy. She fanned herself, looking out of the open
window near her. "Of course, if you want to make more trouble in the
family than we've already got, George, with your eavesdropping, you
can go and repeat--"
Old Bronson had risen from his chair in great distress. "Your aunt
was talking nonsense because she's piqued over a business matter,
George," he said. "She doesn't mean what she said, and neither she
nor any one else gives the slightest credit to such foolishness--no
one in the world!"
George gulped, and wet lines shone suddenly along his lower eyelids.
"They--they'd better not!" he said, then stalked out of the room, and
out of the house. He stamped fiercely across the stone slabs of the
front porch, descended the steps, and halted abruptly, blinking in the
In front of his own gate, beyond the Major's broad lawn, his mother
was just getting into her victoria, where sat already his Aunt Fanny
and Lucy Morgan. It was a summer fashion-picture: the three ladies
charmingly dressed, delicate parasols aloft; the lines of the victoria
graceful as those of a violin; the trim pair of bays in glistening
harness picked out with silver, and the serious black driver whom
Isabel, being an Amberson, dared even in that town to put into a black
livery coat, boots, white breeches, and cockaded hat. They jingled
smartly away, and, seeing George standing on the Major's lawn, Lucy
waved, and Isabel threw him a kiss.
But George shuddered, pretending not to see them, and stooped as if
searching for something lost in the grass, protracting that posture
until the victoria was out of hearing. And ten minutes later, George
Amberson, somewhat in the semblance of an angry person plunging out of
the Mansion, found a pale nephew waiting to accost him.
"I haven't time to talk, Georgie."
"Yes, you have. You'd better!"
"What's the matter, then?"
His namesake drew him away from the vicinity of the house. "I want to
tell you something I just heard Aunt Amelia say, in there."
"I don't want to hear it," said Amberson. "I've been hearing entirely
too much of what 'Aunt Amelia, says, lately."
"She says my mother's on your side about this division of the property
because you're Eugene Morgan's best friend."
"What in the name of heaven has that got to do with your mother's
being on my side?"
"She said--" George paused to swallow. "She said--" He faltered.
"You look sick," said his uncle; and laughed shortly. "If it's
because of anything Amelia's been saying, I don't blame you! What
else did she say?"
George swallowed again, as with nausea, but under his uncle's
encouragement he was able to be explicit. "She said my mother wanted
you to be friendly to her about Eugene Morgan. She said my mother had
been using Aunt Fanny as a chaperone."
Amberson emitted a laugh of disgust. "It's wonderful what tommy-rot a
woman in a state of spite can think of! I suppose you don't doubt
that Amelia Amberson created this specimen of tommy-rot herself?"
"I know she did."
"Then what's the matter?"
"She said--" George faltered again. "She said--she implied people
were--were talking about it."
"Of all the damn nonsense!" his uncle exclaimed. George looked at him
haggardly. "You're sure they're not?"
"Rubbish! Your mother's on my side about this division because she
knows Sydney's a pig and always has been a pig, and so has his
spiteful wife. I'm trying to keep them from getting the better of
your mother as well as from getting the better of me, don't you
suppose? Well, they're in a rage because Sydney always could do what
he liked with father unless your mother interfered, and they know I
got Isabel to ask him not to do what they wanted. They're keeping up
the fight and they're sore--and Amelia's a woman who always says any
damn thing that comes into her head! That's all there is to it."
"But she said," George persisted wretchedly; "she said there was talk.
"Look here, young fellow!" Amberson laughed good-naturedly. "There
probably is some harmless talk about the way your Aunt Fanny goes
after poor Eugene, and I've no doubt I've abetted it myself. People
can't help being amused by a thing like that. Fanny was always
languishing at him, twenty-odd years ago, before he left here. Well,
we can't blame the poor thing if she's got her hopes up again, and I
don't know that I blame her, myself, for using your mother the way she
"How do you mean?"
Amberson put his hand on George's shoulder. "You like to tease
Fanny," he said, "but I wouldn't tease her about this, if I were you.
Fanny hasn't got much in her life. You know, Georgie, just being an
aunt isn't really the great career it may sometimes appear to you! In
fact, I don't know of anything much that Fanny has got, except her
feeling about Eugene. She's always had it--and what's funny to us is
pretty much life-and-death to her, I suspect. Now, I'll not deny that
Eugene Morgan is attracted to your mother. He is; and that's another
case of 'always was'; but I know him, and he's a knight, George--a
crazy one, perhaps, if you've read 'Don Quixote.' And I think your
mother likes him better than she likes any man outside her own family,
and that he interests her more than anybody else--and 'always has.'
And that's all there is to it, except--"
"Except what?" George asked quickly, as he paused.
"Except that I suspect--" Amberson chuckled, and began over: "I'll
tell you in confidence. I think Fanny's a fairly tricky customer, for
such an innocent old girl! There isn't any real harm in her, but
she's a great diplomatist--lots of cards up her lace sleeves, Georgie!
By the way, did you ever notice how proud she is of her arms? Always
flashing 'em at poor Eugene!" And he stopped to laugh again.
"I don't see anything confidential about that," George complained. "I
"Wait a minute! My idea is--don't forget it's a confidential one, but
I'm devilish right about it, young Georgie!--it's this: Fanny uses
your mother for a decoy duck. She does everything in the world she
can to keep your mother's friendship with Eugene going, because she
thinks that's what keeps Eugene about the place, so to speak. Fanny's
always with your mother, you see; and whenever he sees Isabel he sees
Fanny. Fanny thinks he'll get used to the idea of her being around,
and some day her chance may come! You see, she's probably afraid--
perhaps she even knows, poor thing!--that she wouldn't get to see much
of Eugene if it weren't for Isabel's being such a friend of his.
There! D'you see?"
"Well--I suppose so." George's brow was still dark, however. "If
you're sure whatever talk there is, is about Aunt Fanny. If that's
"Don't be an ass," his uncle advised him lightly, moving away. "I'm
off for a week's fishing to forget that woman in there, and her pig of
a husband." (His gesture toward the Mansion indicated Mr. and Mrs.
Sydney Amberson.) "I recommend a like course to you, if you're silly
enough to pay any attention to such rubbishings! Good-bye!"
George was partially reassured, but still troubled: a word haunted
him like the recollection of a nightmare. "Talk!"
He stood looking at the houses across the street from the Mansion; and
though the sunshine was bright upon them, they seemed mysteriously
threatening. He had always despised them, except the largest of them,
which was the home of his henchman, Charlie Johnson. The Johnsons had
originally owned a lot three hundred feet wide, but they had sold all
of it except the meager frontage before the house itself, and five
houses were now crowded into the space where one used to squire it so
spaciously. Up and down the street, the same transformation bad taken
place: every big, comfortable old brick house now had two or three
smaller frame neighbours crowding up to it on each side, cheap-looking
neighbours, most of them needing paint and not clean--and yet, though
they were cheap looking, they had cost as much to build as the big
brick houses, whose former ample yards they occupied. Only where
George stood was there left a sward as of yore; the great, level,
green lawn that served for both the Major's house and his daughter's.
This serene domain--unbroken, except for the two gravelled carriage-
drives--alone remained as it had been during the early glories of the
George stared at the ugly houses opposite, and hated them more than
ever; but he shivered. Perhaps the riffraff living in those houses
sat at the windows to watch their betters; perhaps they dared to
He uttered an exclamation, and walked rapidly toward his own front
gate. The victoria had re turned with Miss Fanny alone; she jumped
out briskly and the victoria waited.
"Where's mother?" George asked sharply, as he met her.
"At Lucy's. I only came back to get some embroidery, because we found
the sun too hot for driving. I'm in a hurry."
But, going into the house with her, he detained her when she would
have hastened upstairs.
"I haven't time to talk now, Georgie; I'm going right back. I
promised your mother--"
"You listen!" said George.
"What on earth--"
He repeated what Amelia had said. This time, however, he spoke
coldly, and without the emotion he had exhibited during the recital to
his uncle: Fanny was the one who showed agitation during this
interview, for she grew fiery red, and her eyes dilated. "What on
earth do you want to bring such trash to me for?" she demanded,
"I merely wished to know two things: whether it is your duty or mine
to speak to father of what Aunt Amelia--"
Fanny stamped her foot. "You little fool!" she cried. "You awful
"Decline, my hat! Your father's a sick man, and you--"
"He doesn't seem so to me."
"Well, he does to me! And you want to go troubling him with an
Amberson family row! It's just what that cat would love you to do!"
"Tell your father if you like! It will only make him a little sicker
to think he's got a son silly enough to listen to such craziness!"
"Then you're sure there isn't any talk?" Fanny disdained a reply in
words. She made a hissing sound of utter contempt and snapped her
fingers. Then she asked scornfully: "What's the other thing you
wanted to know?"
George's pallor increased. "Whether it mightn't be better, under the
circumstances," he said, "if this family were not so intimate with the
Morgan family--at least for a time. It might be better--"
Fanny stared at him incredulously. "You mean you'd quit seeing Lucy?"
"I hadn't thought of that side of it, but if such a thing were
necessary on account of talk about my mother, I--I--" He hesitated
unhappily. "I suggested that if all of us--for a time--perhaps only
for a time--it might be better if--"
"See here," she interrupted. "We'll settle this nonsense right now.
If Eugene Morgan comes to this house, for instance, to see me, your
mother can't get up and leave the place the minute he gets here, can
she? What do you want her to do: insult him? Or perhaps you'd prefer
she'd insult Lucy? That would do just as well. What is it you're up
to, anyhow? Do you really love your Aunt Amelia so much that you want
to please her? Or do you really hate your Aunt Fanny so much that you
want to--that you want to--"
She choked and sought for her handkerchief; suddenly she began to cry.
"Oh, see here," George said. "I don't hate you," Aunt Fanny. That's
silly. I don't--"
"You do! You do! You want to--you want to destroy the only thing--
that I--that I ever--" And, unable to continue, she became inaudible
in her handkerchief.
George felt remorseful, and his own troubles were lightened: all at
once it became clear to him that he had been worrying about nothing.
He perceived that his Aunt Amelia was indeed an old cat, and that to
give her scandalous meanderings another thought would be the height of
folly. By no means unsusceptible to such pathos as that now exposed
before him, he did not lack pity for Fanny, whose almost spoken
confession was lamentable; and he was granted the vision to understand
that his mother also pitied Fanny infinitely more than he did. This
seemed to explain everything.
He patted the unhappy lady awkwardly upon her shoulder. "There,
there!" he said. "I didn't mean anything. Of course the only thing
to do about Aunt Amelia is to pay no attention to her. It's all
right, Aunt Fanny. Don't cry. I feel a lot better now, myself. Come
on; I'll drive back there with you. It's all over, and nothing's the
matter. Can't you cheer up?"
Fanny cheered up; and presently the customarily hostile aunt and
nephew were driving out Amberson Boulevard amiably together in the hot
"Almost" was Lucy's last word on the last night of George's vacation--
that vital evening which she had half consented to agree upon for
"settling things" between them. "Almost engaged," she meant. And
George, discontented with the "almost," but contented that she seemed
glad to wear a sapphire locket with a tiny photograph of George
Amberson Minafer inside it, found himself wonderful in a new world at
the final instant of their parting. For, after declining to let him
kiss her "good-bye," as if his desire for such a ceremony were the
most preposterous absurdity in the world, she had leaned suddenly
close to him and left upon his cheek the veriest feather from a
She wrote him a month later:
No. It must keep on being almost.
Isn't almost pretty pleasant? You know well enough that I care for
you. I did from the first minute I saw you, and I'm pretty sure you
knew it--I'm afraid you did. I'm afraid you always knew it. I'm not
conventional and cautious about being engaged, as you say I am, dear.
(I always read over the "dears" in your letters a time or two, as you
say you do in mine--only I read all of your letters a time or two!)
But it's such a solemn thing it scares me. It means a good deal to a
lot of people besides you and me, and that scares me, too. You write
that I take your feeling for me "too lightly" and that I "take the
whole affair too lightly." Isn't that odd! Because to myself I seem
to take it as something so much more solemn than you do. I shouldn't
be a bit surprised to find myself an old lady, some day, still
thinking of you--while you'd be away and away with somebody else
perhaps, and me forgotten ages ago! "Lucy Morgan," you'd say, when
you saw my obituary. "Lucy Morgan? Let me see: I seem to remember the
name. Didn't I know some Lucy Morgan or other, once upon a time?"
Then you'd shake your big white head and stroke your long white beard
--you'd have such a distinguished long white beard! and you'd say,
'No. I don't seem to remember any Lucy Morgan; I wonder what made me
think I did?' And poor me! I'd be deep in the ground, wondering if
you'd heard about it and what you were saying! Good-bye for to-day.
Don't work too hard--dear!
George immediately seized pen and paper, plaintively but vigorously
requesting Lucy not to imagine him with a beard, distinguished or
otherwise, even in the extremities of age. Then, after inscribing his
protest in the matter of this visioned beard, he concluded his missive
in a tone mollified to tenderness, and proceeded to read a letter from
his mother which had reached him simultaneously with Lucy's. Isabel
wrote from Asheville, where she had just arrived with her husband.
I think your father looks better already, darling, though we've been
here only a few hours It may be we've found just the place to build
him up. The doctors said they hoped it would prove to be, and if it
is, it would be worth the long struggle we had with him to get him to
give up and come. Poor dear man, he was so blue, not about his health
but about giving up the worries down at his office and forgetting them
for a time--if he only will forget them! It took the pressure of the
family and all his best friends, to get him to come--but father and
brother George and Fanny and Eugene Morgan all kept at him so
constantly that he just had to give in. I'm afraid that in my anxiety
to get him to do what the doctors wanted him to, I wasn't able to back
up brother George as I should in his difficulty with Sydney and
Amelia. I'm so sorry! George is more upset than I've ever seen him--
they've got what they wanted, and they're sailing before long, I
hear, to live in Florence. Father said he couldn't stand the constant
persuading--I'm afraid the word he used was "nagging." I can't
understand people behaving like that. George says they may be
Ambersons, but they're vulgar! I'm afraid I almost agree with him.
At least, I think they were inconsiderate. But I don't see why I'm
unburdening myself of all this to you, poor darling! We'll have
forgotten all about it long before you come home for the holidays, and
it should mean little or nothing to you, anyway. Forget that I've
been so foolish!
Your father is waiting for me to take a walk with him--that's a
splendid sign, because he hasn't felt he could walk much, at home,
lately. I mustn't keep him waiting. Be careful to wear your
mackintosh and rubbers in rainy weather, and, as soon as it begins to
get colder, your ulster. Wish you could see your father now. Looks so
much better! We plan to stay six weeks if the place agrees with him.
It does really seem to already! He's just called in the door to say
he's waiting. Don't smoke too much, darling boy.
Devotedly, your mother
But she did not keep her husband there for the six weeks she
anticipated. She did not keep him anywhere that long. Three weeks
after writing this letter, she telegraphed suddenly to George that
they were leaving for home at once; and four days later, when he and a
friend came whistling into his study, from lunch at the club, he found
another telegram upon his desk.
He read it twice before he comprehended its import.
Papa left us at ten this morning, dearest.
The friend saw the change in his face. "Not bad news?"
George lifted utterly dumfounded eyes from the yellow paper.
"My father," he said weakly. "She says--she says he's dead. I've got
to go home."
His Uncle George and the Major met him at the station when he arrived
--the first time the Major had ever come to meet his grandson. The old
gentleman sat in his closed carriage (which still needed paint) at the
entrance to the station, but he got out and advanced to grasp George's
hand tremulously, when the latter appeared. "Poor fellow!" he said,
and patted him repeatedly upon the shoulder. "Poor fellow! Poor
George had not yet come to a full realization of his loss: so far, his
condition was merely dazed; and as the Major continued to pat him,
murmuring "Poor fellow!" over and over, George was seized by an almost
irresistible impulse to tell his grandfather that he was not a poodle.
But he said "Thanks," in a low voice, and got into the carriage, his
two relatives following with deferential sympathy. He noticed that
the Major's tremulousness did not disappear, as they drove up the
street, and that he seemed much feebler than during the summer.
Principally, however, George was concerned with his own emotion, or
rather, with his lack of emotion; and the anxious sympathy of his
grandfather and his uncle made him feel hypocritical. He was not
grief-stricken; but he felt that he ought to be, and, with a secret
shame, concealed his callousness beneath an affectation of solemnity.
But when he was taken into the room where lay what was left of Wilbur
Minafer, George had no longer to pretend; his grief was sufficient.
It needed only the sight of that forever inert semblance of the quiet
man who had been always so quiet a part of his son's life--so quiet a
part that George had seldom been consciously aware that his father was
indeed a. part of his life. As the figure lay there, its very
quietness was what was most lifelike; and suddenly it struck George
hard. And in that unexpected, racking grief of his son, Wilbur
Minafer became more vividly George's father than he had ever been in
When George left the room, his arm was about his black-robed mother,
his shoulders were still shaken with sobs. He leaned upon his mother;
she gently comforted him; and presently he recovered his composure and
became self-conscious enough to wonder if he had not been making an
unmanly display of himself. "I'm all right again, mother," he said
awkwardly. "Don't worry about me: you'd better go lie down, or
something; you look pretty pale."
Isabel did look pretty pale, but not ghastly pale, as Fanny did.
Fanny's grief was overwhelming; she stayed in her room, and George did
not see her until the next day, a few minutes before the funeral, when
her haggard face appalled him. But by this time he was quite himself
again, and during the short service in the cemetery his thoughts even
wandered so far as to permit him a feeling of regret not directly
connected with his father. Beyond the open flower-walled grave was a
mound where new grass grew; and here lay his great-uncle, old John
Minafer, who had died the previous autumn; and beyond this were the
graves of George's grandfather and grandmother Minafer, and of his
grandfather Minafer's second wife, and her three sons, George's half-
uncles, who had been drowned together in a canoe accident when George
was a child--Fanny was the last of the family. Next beyond was the
Amberson family lot, where lay the Major's wife and their sons Henry
and Milton, uncles whom George dimly remembered; and beside them lay
Isabel's older sister, his Aunt Estelle, who had died, in her
girlhood, long before George was born. The Minafer monument was a
granite block, with the name chiseled upon its one polished side, and
the Amberson monument was a white marble shaft taller than any other
in that neighbourhood. But farther on there was a newer section of
the cemetery, an addition which had been thrown open to occupancy only
a few years before, after dexterous modern treatment by a landscape
specialist. There were some large new mausoleums here, and shafts
taller than the Ambersons', as well as a number of monuments of some
sculptural pretentiousness; and altogether the new section appeared to
be a more fashionable and important quarter than that older one which
contained the Amberson and Minafer lots. This was what caused
George's regret, during the moment or two when his mind strayed from
his father and the reading of the service.
On the train, going back to college, ten days later, this regret
(though it was as much an annoyance as a regret) recurred to his mind,
and a feeling developed within him that the new quarter of the
cemetery was in bad taste--not architecturally or sculpturally
perhaps, but in presumption: it seemed to flaunt a kind of parvenu
ignorance, as if it were actually pleased to be unaware that all the
aristocratic and really important families were buried in the old
The annoyance gave way before a recollection of the sweet mournfulness
of his mother's face, as she had said good-bye to him at the station,
and of how lovely she looked in her mourning. He thought of Lucy,
whom he had seen only twice, and he could not help feeling that in
these quiet interviews he had appeared to her as tinged with heroism--
she had shown, rather than said, how brave she thought him in his
sorrow. But what came most vividly to George's mind, during these
retrospections, was the despairing face of his Aunt Fanny. Again and
again he thought of it; he could not avoid its haunting. And for
days, after he got back to college, the stricken likeness of Fanny
would appear before him unexpectedly, and without a cause that he
could trace in his immediately previous thoughts. Her grief had been
so silent, yet it had so amazed him.
George felt more and more compassion for this ancient antagonist of
his, and he wrote to his mother about her:
I'm afraid poor Aunt Fanny might think now father's gone we won't want
her to live with us any longer and because I always teased her so much
she might think I'd be for turning her out. I don't know where on
earth she'd go or what she could live on if we did do something like
this, and of course we never would do such a thing, but I'm pretty
sure she had something of the kind on her mind. She didn't say
anything, but the way she looked is what makes me think so. Honestly,
to me she looked just scared sick. You tell her there isn't any
danger in the world of my treating her like that. Tell her everything
is to go on just as it always has. Tell her to cheer up!
Isabel did more for Fanny than telling her to cheer up. Everything
that Fanny inherited from her father, old Aleck Minafer, had been
invested in Wilbur's business; and Wilbur's business, after a period
of illness corresponding in dates to the illness of Wilbur's body, had
died just before Wilbur did. George Amberson and Fanny were both
"wiped out to a miracle of precision," as Amberson said. They "owned
not a penny and owed not a penny," he continued, explaining his
phrase. "It's like the moment just before drowning: you're not under
water and you're not out of it. All you know is that you're not dead
He spoke philosophically, having his "prospects" from his father to
fall back upon; but Fanny had neither "prospects" nor philosophy.
However, a legal survey of Wilbur's estate revealed the fact that his
life insurance was left clear of the wreck; and Isabel, with the
cheerful consent of her son, promptly turned this salvage over to her
sister-in-law. Invested, it would yield something better than nine
hundred dollars a year, and thus she was assured of becoming neither a
pauper nor a dependent, but proved to be, as Amberson said, adding his
efforts to the cheering up of Fanny, "an heiress, after all, in spite
of rolling mills and the devil." She was unable to smile, and he
continued his humane gayeties. "See what a wonderfully desirable
income nine hundred dollars is, Fanny: a bachelor, to be in your
class, must have exactly forty-nine thousand one hundred a year.
Then, you see, all you need to do, in order to have fifty thousand a
year, is to be a little encouraging when some bachelor in your class
begins to show by his haberdashery what he wants you to think about
She looked at him wanly, murmured a desolate response--she had "sewing
to do"--and left the room; while Amberson shook his head ruefully at
his sister. "I've often thought that humor was not my forte," he
sighed. "Lord! She doesn't 'cheer up' much!"
The collegian did not return to his home for the holidays. Instead,
Isabel joined him, and they went South for the two weeks. She was
proud of her stalwart, good-looking son at the hotel where they
stayed, and it was meat and drink to her when she saw how people
stared at him in the lobby and on the big verandas--indeed, her vanity
in him was so dominant that she was unaware of their staring at her
with more interest and an admiration friendlier than George evoked.
Happy to have him to herself for this fortnight, she loved to walk
with him, leaning upon his arm, to read with him, to watch the sea
with him--perhaps most of all she liked to enter the big dining room
Yet both of them felt constantly the difference between this
Christmastime and other Christmas-times of theirs--in all, it was a
sorrowful holiday. But when Isabel came East for George's
commencement, in June, she brought Lucy with her--and things began to
seem different, especially when George Amberson arrived with Lucy's
father on Class Day. Eugene had been in New York, on business;
Amberson easily persuaded him to this outing; and they made a cheerful
party of it, with the new graduate of course the hero and center of it
His uncle was a fellow alumnus. "Yonder was where I roomed when I was
here," he said, pointing out one of the university buildings to
Eugene. "I don't know whether George would let my admirers place a
tablet to mark the spot, or not. He owns all these buildings now, you
"Didn't you, when you were here? Like uncle, like nephew."
"Don't tell George you think he's like me. Just at this time we
should be careful of the young gentleman's feelings."
"Yes," said Eugene. "If we weren't he mightn't let us exist at all."
"I'm sure I didn't have it so badly at his age," Amberson said
reflectively, as they strolled on through the commencement crowd.
"For one thing, I had brothers and sisters, and my mother didn't just
sit at my feet as George's does; and I wasn't an only grandchild,
either. Father's always spoiled Georgie a lot more than he did any of
his own' children."
Eugene laughed. "You need only three things to explain all that's
good and bad about Georgie."
"He's Isabel's only child. He's an Amberson. He's a boy."
"Well, Mister Bones, of these three things which are the good ones and
which are the bad ones?"
"All of them," said Eugene.
It happened that just then they came in sight of the subject of their
discourse. George was walking under the elms with Lucy, swinging a
stick and pointing out to her various objects and localities which had
attained historical value during the last four years. The two older
men marked his gestures, careless and graceful; they observed his
attitude, unconsciously noble, his easy proprietorship of the ground
beneath his feet and round about, of the branches overhead, of the old
buildings beyond, and of Lucy.
"I don't know," Eugene said, smiling whimsically. "I don't know.
When I spoke of his being a human being--I don't know. Perhaps it's
more like deity."
"I wonder if I was like that!" 'Amberson groaned.' "You don't
suppose every Amberson has had to go through it, do you?"
"Don't worry! At least half of it is a combination of youth, good
looks, and college; and even the noblest Ambersons get over their
nobility and come to, be people in time. It takes more than time,
"I should say it did take more than time!" his friend agreed, shaking
a rueful head.
Then they walked over to join the loveliest Amberson, whom neither
time nor trouble seemed to have touched. She stood alone, thoughtful
under the great trees, chaperoning George and Lucy at a distance; but,
seeing the two friends approaching, she came to meet them.
"It's charming, isn't it!" she said, moving her black-gloved hand to
indicate the summery dressed crowd strolling about them, or clustering
in groups, each with its own hero. "They seem so eager and so
confident, all these boys--it's touching. But of course youth doesn't
know it's touching."
Amberson coughed. "No, it doesn't seem to take itself as pathetic,
precisely! Eugene and I were just speaking of something like that.
Do you know what I think whenever I see these smooth, triumphal young
faces? I always think: 'Oh, how you're going to catch it'!"
"Oh, yes," he said. "Life's most ingenious: it's got a special
walloping for every mother's son of 'em!"
"Maybe," said Isabel, troubled--"maybe some of the mothers can take
the walloping for them."
"Not one!" her brother assured her, with emphasis. "Not any more than
she can take on her own face the lines that are bound to come on her
son's. I suppose you know that all these young faces have got to get
lines on 'em?"
"Maybe they won't," she said, smiling wistfully. "Maybe times will
change, and nobody will have to wear lines."
"Times have changed like that for only one person that I know," Eugene
said. And as Isabel looked inquiring, he laughed, and she saw that
she was the "only one person." His implication was justified,
moreover, and she knew it. She blushed charmingly.
"Which is it puts the lines on the faces?" Amberson asked. "Is it
age or trouble? Of course we can't decide that wisdom does it--we
must be polite to Isabel."
"I'll tell you what puts the lines there," Eugene said. "Age puts
some, and trouble puts some, and work puts some, but the deepest are
carved by lack of faith. The serenest brow is the one that believes
"In what?" Isabel asked gently.
She looked at him inquiringly, and he laughed as he had a moment
before, when she looked at him that way. "Oh, yes, you do!" he said.
She continued to look at him inquiringly a moment or two longer, and
there was an unconscious earnestness in her glance, something trustful
as well as inquiring, as if she knew that whatever he meant it was all
right. Then her eyes drooped thoughtfully, and she seemed to address
some inquiries to herself. She looked up suddenly. "Why, I believe,"
she said, in a tone of surprise, "I believe I do!"
And at that both men laughed. "Isabel!" her brother exclaimed.
"You're a foolish person! There are times when you look exactly
fourteen years old!"
But this reminded her of her real affair in that part of the world.
"Good gracious!" she said. "Where have the children got to? We must
take Lucy pretty soon, so that George can go and sit with the Class.
We must catch up with them."
She took her brother's arm, and the three moved on, looking about them
in the crowd.
"Curious," Amberson remarked, as they did not immediately discover the
young people they sought. "Even in such a concourse one would think
we couldn't fail to see the proprietor."
"Several hundred proprietors today," Eugene suggested.
"No; they're only proprietors of the university," said George's uncle.
"We're looking for the proprietor of the universe."
"There he is!" cried Isabel fondly, not minding this satire at all.
"And doesn't he look it!"
Her escorts were still laughing at her when they joined the proprietor
of the universe and his pretty friend, and though both Amberson and
Eugene declined to explain the cause of their mirth, even upon Lucy's
urgent request, the portents of the day were amiable, and the five
made a happy party--that is to say, four of them made a happy audience
for the fifth, and the mood of this fifth was gracious and cheerful.
George took no conspicuous part in either the academic or the social
celebrations of his class; he seemed to regard both sets of exercises
with a tolerant amusement, his own "crowd" "not going in much for
either of those sorts of things," as he explained to Lucy. What his
crowd had gone in for remained ambiguous; some negligent testimony
indicating that, except for an astonishing reliability which they all
seemed to have attained in matters relating to musical comedy, they
had not gone in for anything. Certainly the question one of them put
to Lucy, in response to investigations of hers, seemed to point that
way: "Don't you think," he said, "really, don't you think that being
things is rather better than doing things?"
He said "rahthuh bettuh" for "rather better," and seemed to do it
deliberately, with perfect knowledge of what he was doing. Later,
Lucy mocked him to George, and George refused to smile: he somewhat
inclined to such pronunciations, himself. This inclination was one of
the things that he had acquired in the four years.
What else he had acquired, it might have puzzled him to state, had
anybody asked him and required a direct reply within a reasonable
space of time. He had learned how to pass examinations by "cramming";
that is, in three or four days and nights he could get into his head
enough of a selected fragment of some scientific or philosophical or
literary or linguistic subject to reply plausibly to six questions out
of ten. He could retain the information necessary for such a feat
just long enough to give a successful performance; then it would
evaporate utterly from his brain, and leave him undisturbed. George,
like his "crowd," not only preferred "being things" to "doing things,"
but had contented himself with four years of "being things" as a
preparation for going on "being things." And when Lucy rather shyly
pressed him for his friend's probable definition of the "things" it
seemed so superior and beautiful to be, George raised his eyebrows
slightly, meaning that she should have understood without explanation;
but he did explain: "Oh, family and all that--being a gentleman, I
Lucy gave the horizon a long look, but offered no comment.
"Aunt Fanny doesn't look much better," George said to his mother, a few
minutes after their arrival, on the night they got home. He stood
with a towel in her doorway, concluding some sketchy ablutions before
going downstairs to a supper which Fanny was hastily preparing for
them. Isabel had not telegraphed; Fanny was taken by surprise when
they drove up in a station cab at eleven o'clock; and George instantly
demanded "a little decent food." (Some criticisms of his had publicly
disturbed the composure of the dining-car steward four hours
previously.) "I never saw anybody take things so hard as she seems
to," he observed, his voice muffled by the towel. "Doesn't she get
over it at all? I thought she'd feel better when we turned over the
insurance to her--gave it to her absolutely, without any strings to
it. She looks about a thousand years old!"
"She looks quite girlish, sometimes, though," his mother said.
"Has she looked that way much since father--"
"Not so much," Isabel said thoughtfully. "But she will, as times goes
"Time'll have to hurry, then, it seems to me," George observed,
returning to his own room.
When they went down to the dining room, he pronounced acceptable the
salmon salad, cold beef, cheese, and cake which Fanny made ready for
them without disturbing the servants. The journey had fatigued
Isabel, she ate nothing, but sat to observe with tired pleasure the
manifestations of her son's appetite, meanwhile giving her sister-in-
law a brief summary of the events of commencement. But presently she
kissed them both good-night--taking care to kiss George lightly upon
the side of his head, so as not to disturb his eating--and left aunt
and nephew alone together.
"It never was becoming to her to look pale," Fanny said absently, a
few moments after Isabel's departure.
"Wha'd you say, Aunt Fanny?"
"Nothing. I suppose your mother's been being pretty gay? Going a
"How could she?" George asked cheerfully. "In mourning, of course all
she could do was just sit around and look on. That's all Lucy could
do either, for the matter of that."
"I suppose so," his aunt assented. "How did Lucy get home?"
George regarded her with astonishment. "Why, on the train with the
rest of us, of course."
"I didn't mean that," Fanny explained. "I meant from the station.
Did you drive out to their house with her before you came here?"
"No. She drove home with her father, of course."
"Oh, I see. So Eugene came to the station to meet you."
"To meet us?" George echoed, renewing his attack upon the salmon
salad. "How could he?"
"I don't know what you mean," Fanny said drearily, in the desolate
voice that had become her habit. "I haven't seen him while your
mother's been away."
"Naturally," said George. "He's been East himself."
At this Fanny's drooping eyelids opened wide.
"Did you see him?"
"Well, naturally, since he made the trip home with us!"
"He did?" she said sharply. "He's been with you all the time?"
"No; only on the train and the last three days before we left. Uncle
George got him to come."
Fanny's eyelids drooped again, and she sat silent until George pushed
back his chair and lit a cigarette, declaring his satisfaction with
what she had provided. "You're a fine housekeeper," he said
benevolently. "You know how to make things look dainty as well as
taste the right way. I don't believe you'd stay single very long if
some of the bachelors and widowers around town could just once see--"
She did not hear him. "It's a little odd," she said.
"Your mother's not mentioning that Mr. Morgan had been with you."
"Didn't think of it, I suppose," said George carelessly; and, his
benevolent mood increasing, he conceived the idea that a little
harmless rallying might serve to elevate his aunt's drooping spirits.
"I'll tell. you something, in confidence," he said solemnly.
She looked up, startled. "What?"
"Well, it struck me that Mr. Morgan was looking pretty absent-minded,
most of the time; and he certainly is dressing better than he used to.
Uncle George told me he heard that the automobile factory had been
doing quite well--won a race, too! I shouldn't be a bit surprised if
all the young fellow had been waiting for was to know he had an
assured income before he proposed."
"What 'young fellow'?"
"This young fellow Morgan," laughed George; "Honestly, Aunt Fanny, I
shouldn't be a bit surprised to have him request an interview with me
any day, and declare that his intentions are honourable, and ask my
permission to pay his addresses to you. What had I better tell him?"
Fanny burst into tears.
"Good heavens!" George cried. "I was only teasing. I didn't mean--"
"Let me alone," she said lifelessly; and, continuing to weep, rose and
began to clear away the dishes.
"Please, Aunt Fanny--"
"Just let me alone."
George was distressed. "I didn't mean anything, Aunt Fanny! I didn't
know you'd got so sensitive as all that."
"You'd better go up to bed," she said desolately, going on with her
work and her weeping.
"Anyhow," he insisted, "do let these things wait. Let the servants
'tend to the table in the morning."
"But, why not?"
"Just let me alone."
"Oh, Lord!" George groaned, going to the door. There he turned.
"See here, Aunt Fanny, there's not a bit of use your bothering about
those dishes tonight. What's the use of a butler and three maids if--"
"Just let me alone."
He obeyed, and could still hear a pathetic sniffing from the dining
room as he went up the stairs.
"By George!" he grunted, as he reached his own room; and his thought
was that living with a person so sensitive to kindly raillery might
prove lugubrious. He whistled, long and low, then went to the window
and looked through the darkness to the great silhouette of his
grandfather's house. Lights were burning over there, upstairs;
probably his newly arrived uncle was engaged in talk with the Major.
George's glance lowered, resting casually upon the indistinct ground,
and he beheld some vague shapes, unfamiliar to him. Formless heaps,
they seemed; but, without much curiosity, he supposed that sewer
connections or water pipes might be out of order, making necessary
some excavations. He hoped the work would not take long; he hated to
see that sweep of lawn made unsightly by trenches and lines of dirt,
even temporarily. Not greatly disturbed, however, he pulled down the
shade, yawned, and began to, undress, leaving further investigation
for the morning.
But in the morning he had forgotten all about it, and raised his
shade, to let in the light, without even glancing toward the ground.
Not until he had finished dressing did he look forth from his window,
and then his glance was casual. The next instant his attitude became
electric, and he gave utterance to a bellow of dismay. He ran from
his room, plunged down the stairs, out of the front door, and, upon a
nearer view of the destroyed lawn, began to release profanity upon the
breezeless summer air, which remained unaffected. Between his
mother's house and his grandfather's, excavations for the cellars of
five new houses were in process, each within a few feet of its
neighbour. Foundations of brick were being laid; everywhere were
piles of brick and stacked lumber, and sand heaps and mortar' beds.
It was Sunday, and so the workmen implicated in these defacings were
denied what unquestionably; they would have considered a treat; but as
the fanatic orator continued the monologue, a gentleman in flannels
emerged upward from one of the excavations, and regarded him
"Obtaining any relief, nephew?" he inquired with some interest. "You
must have learned quite a number of those expressions in childhood--
it's so long since I'd heard them I fancied they were obsolete."
"Who wouldn't swear?" George demanded hotly. "In the name of God,
what does grandfather mean, doing such things?"
"My private opinion is," said Amberson gravely, "he desires to
increase his income by building these houses to rent."
"Well, in the name of God, can't he increase his income any other way
"In the name of God, it would appear he couldn't."
"It's beastly! It's a damn degradation! It's a crime!"
"I don't know about its being a crime," said his uncle, stepping over
some planks to join him. "It might be a mistake, though. Your mother
said not to tell you until we got home, so as not to spoil
commencement for you. She rather feared you'd be upset."
"Upset! Oh, my Lord, I should think I would be upset! He's in his
second childhood. What did you let him do it for, in the name of--"
"Make it in the name of heaven this time, George; it's Sunday. Well,
I thought, myself, it was a mistake."
"I should say so!"
"Yes," said Amberson. "I wanted him to put up an apartment building
instead of these houses."
"An apartment building! Here?"
"Yes; that was my idea."
George struck his hands together despairingly. "An apartment house!
Oh, my Lord!"
"Don't worry! Your grandfather wouldn't listen to me, but he'll wish
he had, some day. He says that people aren't going to live in
miserable little flats when they can get a whole house with some grass
in front and plenty of backyard behind. He sticks it out that
apartment houses will never do in a town of this type, and when I
pointed out to him that a dozen or so of em already are doing, he
claimed it was just the novelty, and that they'd all be empty as soon
as people got used to 'em. So he's putting up these houses."
"Is he getting miserly in his old age?"
"Hardly! Look what he gave Sydney and Amelia!"
"I don't mean he's a miser, of course," said George. "Heaven knows
he's liberal enough with mother and me; but why on earth didn't he
sell something or other rather than do a thing like this?"
"As a matter of fact," Amberson returned coolly, "I believe he has
sold something or other, from time to time."
"Well, in heaven's name," George cried, "what did he do it for?"
"To get money," his uncle mildly replied. "That's my deduction."
"I suppose you're joking--or trying to!"
"That's the best way to look at it," Amberson said amiably. "Take the
whole thing as a joke--and in the meantime, if you haven't had your
"Then if I were you I'd go in and gets some. And"--he paused,
becoming serious--"and if I were you I wouldn't say anything to your
grandfather about this."
"I don't think I could trust myself to speak to him about it," said
George. "I want to treat him respectfully, because he is my
grandfather, but I don't believe I could if I talked to him about such
a thing as this!"
And with a gesture of despair, plainly signifying that all too soon
after leaving bright college years behind him he had entered into the
full tragedy of life, George turned bitterly upon his heel and went
into the house for his breakfast.
His uncle, with his head whimsically upon one side, gazed after him
not altogether unsympathetically, then descended again into the
excavation whence he had lately emerged. Being a philosopher he was
not surprised, that afternoon, in the course of a drive he took in the
old carriage with the Major, when, George was encountered upon the
highway, flashing along in his runabout with Lucy beside him and
Pendennis doing better than three minutes.
"He seems to have recovered," Amberson remarked: "Looks in the
highest good spirits."
"I beg your pardon."
"Your grandson," Amberson explained. "He was inclined to melancholy
this morning, but seemed jolly enough just now when they passed us."
"What was he melancholy about? Not getting remorseful about all the
money he's spent at college, was he?" The Major chuckled feebly, but
with sufficient grimness. "I wonder what he thinks I'm made of," he
"Gold," his son suggested, adding gently, "And he's right about part
of you, father."
The Major laughed ruefully. "I suppose that may account for how heavy
it feels, sometimes, nowadays. This town seems to be rolling right
over that old heart you mentioned, George--rolling over it and burying
it under! When I think of those devilish workmen digging up my lawn,
yelling around my house--"
"Never mind, father. Don't think of it. When things are a nuisance
it's a good idea not to keep remembering 'em."
"I try not to," the old gentleman murmured. "I try to keep
remembering that I won't be remembering anything very long." And,
somehow convinced that this thought was a mirthful one, he laughed
loudly, and slapped his knee. "Not so very long now, my boy!" he
chuckled, continuing to echo his own amusement. "Not so very long.
Not so very long!"
Young George paid his respects to his grandfather the following
morning, having been occupied with various affairs and engagements on
Sunday until after the Major's bedtime; and topics concerned with
building or excavations were not introduced into the conversation,
which was a cheerful one until George lightly mentioned some new plans
of his. He was a skillful driver, as the Major knew, and he spoke of
his desire to extend his proficiency in this art: in fact, be
entertained the ambition to drive a four-in-hand. However, as the
Major said nothing, and merely sat still, looking surprised, George
went on to say that he did not propose to "go in for coaching just at
the start"; he thought it would be better to begin with a tandem. He
was sure Pendennis could be trained to work as a leader; and all that
one needed to buy at present, he said, would be "comparatively
inexpensive--a new trap, and the harness, of course, and a good bay to
match Pendennis." He did not care for a special groom; one of the
stablemen would do.
At this point the Major decided to speak. "You say one of the
stablemen would do?" he inquired, his widened eyes remaining fixed
upon his grandson. "That's lucky, because one's all there is, just at
present, George. Old fat Tom does it all. Didn't you notice, when
you took Pendennis out, yesterday?"
"Oh, that will be all right, sir. My mother can lend me her man."
"Can she?" The old gentleman smiled faintly. "I wonder--" He
"Whether you mightn't care to go to law-school somewhere perhaps. I'd
be glad to set aside a sum that would see you through."
This senile divergence from the topic in hand surprised George
painfully. "I have no interest whatever in the law," he said. "I
don't care for it, and the idea of being a professional man has never
appealed to me. None of the family has ever gone in for that sort of
thing, to my knowledge, and I don't care to be the first. I was
speaking of driving a tandem--"
"I know you were," the Major said quietly.
George looked hurt. "I beg your pardon. Of course if the idea
doesn't appeal to you--" And he rose to go.
The Major ran a tremulous hand through his hair, sighing deeply. "I--
I don't like to refuse you anything, Georgie," he said. "I don't know
that I often have refused you whatever you wanted--in reason--"
"You've always been more than generous, sir," George interrupted
quickly. "And if the idea of a tandem doesn't appeal to you, why--of
course--" And he waved his hand, heroically dismissing the tandem.
The Major's distress became obvious. "Georgie, I'd like to, but--but
I've an idea tandems are dangerous to drive, and your mother might be
"No, sir; I think not. She felt it would be rather a good thing--help
to keep me out in the open air. But if perhaps your finances--"
"Oh, it isn't that so much," the old gentleman said hurriedly. "I
wasn't thinking of that altogether." He laughed uncomfortably. "I
guess we could still afford a new horse or two, if need be--"
"I thought you said--"
The Major waved his hand airily. "Oh, a few retrenchments where
things were useless; nothing gained by a raft of idle darkies in the
stable--nor by a lot of extra land that might as well be put to work
for us in rentals. And if you want this thing so very much--"
"It's not important enough to bother about, really, of course."
"Well, let's wait till autumn then," said the Major in a tone of
relief. "We'll see about it in the autumn, if you're still in the
mind for it then. That will be a great deal better. You remind me of
it, along in September--or October. We'll see what can be done." He
rubbed his hands cheerfully. "We'll see what can be done about it
then, Georgie. We'll see."
And George, in reporting this conversation to his mother, was ruefully
humorous. "In fact, the old boy cheered up so much," he told her,
"you'd have thought he'd got a real load off his mind. He seemed to
think he'd fixed me up perfectly, and that I was just as good as
driving a tandem around his library right that minute! Of course I
know he's anything but miserly; still I can't help thinking he must be
salting a lot of money away. I know prices are higher than they used
to b, but he doesn't spend within thousands of what he used to, and we
certainly can't be spending more than we always have spent. Where
does it all go to? Uncle George told me grandfather had sold some
pieces of property, and it looks a little queer. If he's really
'property poor,' of course we ought to be more saving than we are, and
help him out. I don't mind giving up a tandem if it seems a little
too expensive just now. I'm perfectly willing to live quietly till he
gets his bank balance where he wants it. But I have a faint
suspicion, not that he's getting miserly--not that at all--but that
old age has begun to make him timid about money. There's no doubt
about it, he's getting a little queer: he can't keep his mind on a
subject long. Right in the middle of talking about one thing he'll
wander off to something else; and I shouldn't be surprised if he
turned out to be a lot better off than any of us guess. It's entirely
possible that whatever he's sold just went into government bonds, or
even his safety deposit box. There was a friend of mine in college
had an old uncle like that: made the whole family think he was poor as
dirt--and then left seven millions. People get terribly queer as they
get old, sometimes, and grandfather certainly doesn't act the way he
used to. He seems to be a totally different man. For instance, he
said he thought tandem driving might be dangerous--'
"Did he?" Isabel asked quickly. "Then I'm glad he doesn't want you to
have one. I didn't dream--"
"But it's not. There isn't the slightest--"
Isabel had a bright idea. "Georgie! Instead of a tandem wouldn't it
interest you to get one of Eugene's automobiles?"
"I don't think so. They're fast enough, of course. In fact, running
one of those things is getting to be quite on the cards for sport, and
people go all over the country in 'em. But they're dirty things, and
they keep getting out of order, so that you're always lying down on
your back in the mud, and--"
"Oh, no," she interrupted eagerly. "Haven't you noticed? You don't
see nearly so many people doing that nowadays as you did two or three
years ago, and, when you do, Eugene says it's apt to be one of the
older patterns. The way they make them now, you can get at most of
the machinery from the top. I do think you'd be interested, dear."
George remained indifferent. "Possibly--but I hardly think so. I
know a lot of good people are really taking them up, but still--"
"But still' what?" she said as he paused.
"But still--well, I suppose I'm a little old-fashioned and fastidious,
but I'm afraid being a sort of engine driver never will appeal to me,
mother. It's exciting, and I'd like that part of it, but still it
doesn't seem to me precisely the thing a gentleman ought to do. Too
much overalls and monkey-wrenches and grease!"
"But Eugene says people are hiring mechanics to do all that sort of
thing for them. They're beginning to have them just the way they have
coachmen; and he says it's developing into quite a profession."
"I know that, mother, of course; but I've seen some of these
mechanics, and they're not very satisfactory. For one thing, most of
them only pretend to understand the machinery and they let people
break down a hundred miles from nowhere, so that about all these
fellows are good for is to hunt up a farmer and hire a horse to pull
the automobile. And friends of mine at college that've had a good
deal of experience tell me the mechanics who do understand the engines
have no training at all as servants. They're awful! They say
anything they like, and usually speak to members of the family as
'Say!' No, I believe I'd rather wait for September and a tandem,
Nevertheless, George sometimes consented to sit in an automobile,
while waiting for September, and he frequently went driving in one of
Eugene's cars with Lucy and her father. He even allowed himself to be
escorted with his mother and Fanny through the growing factory, which
was now, as the foreman of the paint shop informed the visitors,
"turning out a car and a quarter a day." George had seldom been more
excessively bored, but his mother showed a lively interest in
everything, wishing to have all the machinery explained to her. It
was Lucy who did most of the explaining, while her father looked on
and laughed at the mistakes she made, and Fanny remained in the
background with George, exhibiting a bleakness that overmatched his
From the factory Eugene took them to lunch at a new restaurant, just
opened in the town, a place which surprised Isabel with its
metropolitan air, and, though George made fun of it to her, in a
whisper, she offered everything the tribute of pleased exclamations;
and her gayety helped Eugene's to make the little occasion almost a
George's ennui disappeared in spite of himself, and he laughed to see
his mother in such spirits. "I didn't know mineral waters could go to
a person's head," he said. "Or perhaps it's this place. It might pay
to have a new restaurant opened somewhere in town every time you get
Fanny turned to him with a wan smile. "Oh, she doesn't 'get the
blues,' George!" Then she added, as if fearing her remark might be
thought unpleasantly significant, "I never knew a person of a more
even disposition. I wish I could be like that!" And though the tone
of this afterthought was not so enthusiastic as she tried to make it,
she succeeded in producing a fairly amiable effect.
"No," Isabel said, reverting to George's remark, and overlooking
Fanny's. "What makes me laugh so much at nothing is Eugene's factory.
Wouldn't anybody be delighted to see an old friend take an idea out of
the air like that--an idea that most people laughed at him for--
wouldn't any old friend of his be happy to see how he'd made his idea
into such a splendid, humming thing as that factory--all shiny steel,
clicking and buzzing away, and with all those workmen, such muscled
looking men and yet so intelligent looking?"
"Hear! Hear!" George applauded. "We seem to have a lady orator among
us. I hope the waiters won't mind."
Isabel laughed, not discouraged. "It's beautiful to see such a
thing," she said. "It makes us all happy, dear old Eugene!"
And with a brave gesture she stretched out her hand to him across the
small table. He took it quickly, giving her a look in which his
laughter tried to remain, but vanished before a gratitude threatening
to become emotional in spite of him. Isabel, however, turned
instantly to Fanny. "Give him your hand, Fanny," she said gayly; and,
as Fanny mechanically obeyed, "There!" Isabel cried. "If brother
George were here, Eugene would have his three oldest and best friends
congratulating him all at once. We know what brother George thinks
about it, though. It's just beautiful, Eugene!"
Probably if her brother George had been with them at the little table,
he would have made known what he thought about herself, for it must
inevitably have struck him that she was in the midst of one of those
"times" when she looked "exactly fourteen years old." Lucy served as
a proxy for Amberson, perhaps, when she leaned toward George and
whispered: "Did you ever see anything so lovely?"
"As what?" George inquired, not because he misunderstood, but because
he wished to prolong the pleasant neighbourliness of whispering.
"As your mother! Think of her doing that! She's a darling! And
papa"--here she imperfectly repressed a tendency to laugh--"papa
looks as if he were either going to explode or utter loud sobs!"
Eugene commanded his features, however, and they resumed their
customary apprehensiveness. "I used to write verse," he said--"if you
"Yes," Isabel interrupted gently. "I remember."
"I don't recall that I've written any for twenty years or so," he
continued. "But I'm almost thinking I could do it again, to thank
you for making a factory visit into such a kind celebration."
"Gracious!" Lucy whispered, giggling. "Aren't they sentimental"
"People that age always are," George returned. "They get sentimental
over anything at all. Factories or restaurants, it doesn't matter
And both of them were seized with fits of laughter which they managed
to cover under the general movement of departure, as Isabel had risen
Outside, upon the crowded street, George helped Lucy into his
runabout, and drove off, waving triumphantly, and laughing at Eugene
who was struggling with the engine of his car, in the tonneau of which
Isabel and Fanny had established themselves. "Looks like a hand-organ
man grinding away for pennies," said George, as the runabout turned
the corner and into National Avenue. "I'll still take a horse, any
He was not so cocksure, half an hour later, on an open road, when a
siren whistle wailed behind him, and before the sound had died away,
Eugene's car, coming from behind with what seemed fairly like one long
leap, went by the runabout and dwindled almost instantaneously in
perspective, with a lace handkerchief in a black-gloved hand
fluttering sweet derision as it was swept onward into minuteness--a
mere white speck--and then out of sight.
George was undoubtedly impressed. "Your Father does know how to drive
some," the dashing exhibition forced him to admit. "Of course
Pendennis isn't as young as he was, and I don't care to push him too
hard. I wouldn't mind handling one of those machines on the road like
that, myself, if that was all there was to it--no cranking to do, or
fooling with the engine. Well, I enjoyed part of that lunch quite a
"No. Your whispering to me."
George made no response, but checked Pendennis to a walk. Whereupon
Lucy protested quickly: "Oh, don't!"
"Why? Do you want him to trot his legs off?"
She spoke with apparent gravity: "I know when you make him walk it's
so you can give all your attention to--to proposing to me again!"
And as she turned a face of exaggerated color to him, "By the Lord,
but you're a little witch!" George cried.
"George, do let Pendennis trot again!"
She clucked to the horse. "Get up, Pendennis! Trot! Go on!
Pendennis paid no attention; she meant nothing to him, and George
laughed at her fondly. "You are the prettiest thing in this world,
Lucy!" he exclaimed. "When I see you in winter, in furs, with your
cheeks red, I think you're prettiest then, but when I see you in
summer, in a straw hat and a shirtwaist and a duck skirt and white
gloves and those little silver buckled slippers, and your rose-
coloured parasol, and your cheeks not red but with a kind of pinky
glow about them, then I see I must have been wrong about the winter!
When are you going to drop the 'almost' and say we're really engaged?"
"Oh, not for years! So there's the answer, and Let's trot again."
But George was persistent; moreover, he had become serious during the
last minute or two. "I want to know," he said. "I really mean it."
"Let's don't be serious, George," she begged him hopefully. "Let's
talk of something pleasant."
He was a little offended. "Then it isn't pleasant for you to know
that I want to marry you?"
At this she became as serious as he could have asked; she looked down,
and her lip quivered like that of a child about to cry. Suddenly she
put her hand upon one of his for just an instant, and then withdrew
"Lucy!" he said huskily. "Dear, what's the matter? You look as if
you were going to cry. You always do that," he went on plaintively,
"whenever I can get you to talk about marrying me."
"I know it," she murmured.
"Well, why do you?"
Her eyelids flickered, and then she looked up at him with a sad
gravity, tears seeming just at the poise. "One reason's because I
have a feeling that it's never going to be."
"It's just a feeling."
"You haven't any reason or--"
"It's just a feeling."
"Well, if that's all," George said, reassured, and laughing
confidently, "I guess I won't be very much troubled!" But at once he
became serious again, adopting the tone of argument. "Lucy, how is
anything ever going to get a chance to come of it, so long as you keep
sticking to 'almost'? Doesn't it strike you as unreasonable to have a
'feeling' that we'll never be married, when what principally stands
between us is the fact that you won't be really engaged to me? That
does seem pretty absurd! Don't you care enough about me to marry me?"
She looked down again, pathetically troubled. "Yes."
"Won't you always care that much about me?"
"I'm--yes--I'm afraid so, George. I never do change much about
"Well, then, why in the world won't you drop the 'almost'?"
Her distress increased. "Everything is--everything--"
"What about 'everything'?"
"Everything is so--so unsettled."
And at that he uttered an exclamation of impatience. "If you aren't
the queerest girl! What is 'unsettled'?"
"Well, for one thing," she said, able to smile at his vehemence, "you
haven't settled on anything to do. At least, if you have you've never
spoken of it."
As she spoke, she gave him the quickest possible side glance of
hopeful scrutiny; then looked away, not happily. Surprise and
displeasure were intentionally visible upon the countenance of her
companion; and he permitted a significant period of silence to elapse
before making any response. "Lucy," he said, finally, with cold
dignity, "I should like to ask you a few questions."
"The first is: Haven't you perfectly well understood that I don't mean
to go into business or adopt a profession?"
"I wasn't quite sure," she said gently. "I really didn't know--
"Then of course it's time I did tell you. I never have been able to
see any occasion for a man's going into trade, or being a lawyer, or
any of those things if his position and family were such that he
didn't need to. You know, yourself, there are a lot of people in the
East--in the South, too, for that matter--that don't think we've got
any particular family or position or culture in this part of the
country. I've met plenty of that kind of provincial snobs myself, and
they're pretty galling. There were one or two men in my crowd at
college, their families had lived on their income for three
generations, and they never dreamed there was anybody in their class
out here. I had to show them a thing or two, right at the start, and
I guess they won't forget it! Well, I think it's time all their sort
found out that three generations can mean just as much out here as
anywhere else. That's the way I feel about it, and let me tell you I
feel it pretty deeply!"
"But what are you going to do, George?" she cried.
George's earnestness surpassed hers; he had become flushed and his
breathing was emotional. As he confessed, with simple genuineness, he
did feel what he was saying "pretty deeply"; and in truth his state
approached the tremulous. "I expect to live an honourable life," he
said. "I expect to contribute my share to charities, and to take part
"Whatever appeals to me," he said.
Lucy looked at him with grieved wonder. "But you really don't mean to
have any regular business or profession at all?"
"I certainly do not!" George returned promptly and emphatically.
"I was afraid so," she said in a low voice.
George continued to breathe deeply throughout another protracted
interval of silence. Then he said, "I should like to revert to the
questions I was asking you, if you don't mind."
"No, George. I think we'd better--"
"Your father is a business man--"
"He's a mechanical genius," Lucy interrupted quickly. "Of course he's
both. And he was a lawyer once--he's done all sorts of things."
"Very well. I merely wished to ask if it's his influence that makes
you think I ought to 'do' something?"
Lucy frowned slightly. "Why, I suppose almost everything I think or
say must be owing to his influence in one way or another. We haven't
had anybody but each other for so many years, and we always think
about alike, so of course--"
"I see!" And George's brow darkened with resentment. "So that's it,
is it? It's your father's idea that I ought to go into business and
that you oughtn't to be engaged to me until I do."
Lucy gave a start, her denial was so quick. "No! I've never once
spoken to him about it. Never!"
George looked at her keenly, and he jumped to a conclusion not far
from the truth. "But you know without talking to him that it's the
way he does feel about it? I see."
She nodded gravely. "Yes."
George's brow grew darker still. "Do you think I'd be much of a man,"
he said, slowly, "if I let any other man dictate to me my own way of
"George! Who's 'dictating' your--"
"It seems to me it amounts to that!" he returned.
"Oh, no! I only know how papa thinks about things. He's never, never
spoken unkindly, or 'dictatingly' of you." She lifted her hand in
protest, and her face was so touching in its distress that for the
moment George forgot his anger. He seized that small, troubled hand.
"Lucy," he said huskily. "Don't you know that I love you?"
"Don't you love me?"
"Then what does it matter what your father thinks about my doing
something or not doing anything? He has his way, and I have mine. I
don't believe in the whole world scrubbing dishes and selling potatoes
and trying law cases. Why, look at your father's best friend, my
Uncle George Amberson--he's never done anything in his life, and--"
"Oh, yes, he has," she interrupted. "He was in politics."