Part 5 out of 6
front of the house, turned back, and withdrew. Evidently Isabel had
gone to the door. Then a murmur was heard, and George Amberson's
voice, quick and serious: "I want to talk to you, Isabel" . . . and
another murmur; then Isabel and her brother passed the foot of the
broad, dark stairway, but did not look up, and remained unconscious of
the watchful presence above them. Isabel still carried her cloak upon
her arm, but Amberson had taken her hand, and retained it; and as he
led her silently into the library there was something about her
attitude, and the pose of her slightly bent head, that was both
startled and meek. Thus they quickly disappeared from George's sight,
hand in hand; and Amberson at once closed the massive double doors of
For a time all that George could hear was the indistinct sound of his
uncle's voice: what he was saying could not be surmised, though the
troubled brotherliness of his tone was evident. He seemed to be
explaining something at considerable length, and there were moments
when he paused, and George guessed that his mother was speaking, but
her voice must have been very low, for it was entirely inaudible to
Suddenly he did hear her. Through the heavy doors her outcry came,
clear and loud:
It was a cry of protest, as if something her brother told her must be
untrue, or, if it were true, the fact he stated must be undone; and it
was a sound of sheer pain.
Another sound of pain, close to George, followed it; this was a
vehement sniffling which broke out just above him, and, looking up, he
saw Fanny Minafer on the landing, leaning over the banisters and
applying her handkerchief to her eyes and nose.
"I can guess what that was about," she whispered huskily. "He's just
told her what you did to Eugene!"
George gave her a dark look over his shoulder. "You go on back to
your room!" he said; and he began to descend the stairs; but Fanny,
guessing his purpose, rushed down and caught his arm, detaining him.
"You're not going in there?", she whispered huskily. "You don't--"
"Let go of me!"
But she clung to him savagely. "No, you don't, Georgie Minafer!
You'll keep away from there! You will!"
"You let go of--"
"I won't! You come back here! You'll come upstairs and let them
alone; that's what you'll do!" And with such passionate determination
did she clutch and tug, never losing a grip of him somewhere, though
George tried as much as he could, without hurting her, to wrench away
--with such utter forgetfulness of her maiden dignity did she assault
him, that she forced him, stumbling upward, to the landing.
"Of all the ridiculous--" he began furiously; but she spared one hand
from its grasp of his sleeve and clapped it over his mouth.
"Hush up!" Never for an instant in this grotesque struggle did Fanny
raise her voice above a husky whisper. "Hush up! It's indecent--like
squabbling outside the door of an operating-room! Go on to the top of
the stairs--go on!"
And when George had most unwillingly obeyed, she planted herself in
his way, on the top step. "There!" she said. "The idea of your going
in there now! I never heard of such a thing!" And with the sudden
departure of the nervous vigour she had shown so amazingly, she began
to cry again. "I was an awful fool! I thought you knew what was
going on or I never, never would have done it. Do you suppose I
dreamed you'd go making everything into such a tragedy? Do you?"
"I don't care what you dreamed," George muttered.
But Fanny went on, always taking care to keep her voice from getting
too loud, in spite of her most grievous agitation. "Do you dream I
thought you'd go making such a fool of yourself at Mrs. Johnson's?
Oh, I saw her this morning! She wouldn't talk to me, but I met George
Amberson on my way back, and he told me what you'd done over there!
And do you dream I thought you'd do what you've done here this
afternoon to Eugene? Oh, I knew that, too! I was looking out of the
front bedroom window, and I saw him drive up, and then go away again,
and I knew you'd been to the door. Of course he went to George
Amberson about it, and that's why George is here. He's got to tell
Isabel the whole thing now, and you wanted to go in there interfering
--God knows what! You stay here and let her brother tell her; he's got
some consideration for her!"
"I suppose you think I haven't!" George said, challenging her, and at
that Fanny laughed witheringly.
"You! Considerate of anybody!"
"I'm considerate of her good name!" he said hotly. "It seems to me
that's about the first thing to be considerate of, in being
considerate of a person! And look here: it strikes me you're taking a
pretty different tack from what you did yesterday afternoon!"
Fanny wrung her hands. "I did a terrible thing!" she lamented. "Now
that it's done and too late I know what it was! I didn't have sense
enough just to let things go on. I didn't have any business to
interfere, and I didn't mean to interfere--I only wanted to talk, and
let out a little! I did think you already knew everything I told you.
I did! And I'd rather have cut my hand off than stir you up to doing
what you have done! I was just suffering so that I wanted to let out
a little--I didn't mean any real harm. But now I see what's happened
--oh, I was a fool! I hadn't any business interfering. Eugene never
would have looked at me, anyhow, and, oh, why couldn't I have seen
that before! He never came here a single time in his life except on
her account, never! and I might have let them alone, because he
wouldn't have looked at me even if he'd never seen Isabel. And they
haven't done any harm: she made Wilbur happy, and she was a true wife
to him as long as he lived. It wasn't a crime for her to care for
Eugene all the time; she certainly never told him she did--and she
gave me every chance in the world! She left us alone together every
time she could--even since Wilbur died--but what was the use? And
here I go, not doing myself a bit of good by it, and just"--Fanny
wrung her hands again--"just ruining them!"
"I suppose you mean I'm doing that," George said bitterly.
"Yes, I do!" she sobbed, and drooped upon the stairway railing,
"On the contrary, I mean to save my mother from a calamity."
Fanny looked at him wanly, in a tired despair; then she stepped by him
and went slowly to her own door, where she paused and beckoned to him.
"What do you want?"
"Just come here a minute."
"What for?" he asked impatiently.
"I just wanted to say something to you."
"Well, for heaven's sake, say it! There's nobody to hear."
Nevertheless, after a moment, as she beckoned him again, he went to
her, profoundly annoyed. "Well, what is it?"
"George," she said in a low voice, "I think you ought to be told
something. If I were you, I'd let my mother alone."
"Oh, my Lord!" he groaned. "I'm doing these things for her, not
A mildness had come upon Fanny, and she had controlled her weeping.
She shook her head gently. "No, I'd let her alone if I were you. I
don't think she's very well, George."
"She! I never saw a healthier person in my life."
"No. She doesn't let anybody know, but she goes to the doctor
"Women are always going to doctors regularly."
"No. He told her to."
George was not impressed. "It's nothing at all; she spoke of it to me
years ago--some kind of family failing. She said grandfather had it,
too; and look at him! Hasn't proved very serious with him! You act
as if I'd done something wrong in sending that man about his business,
and as if I were going to persecute my mother, instead of protecting
her. By Jove, it's sickening! You told me how all the riffraff in
town were busy with her name, and then the minute I lift my hand to
protect her, you begin to attack me and--"
"Sh!" Fanny checked him, laying her hand on his arm. "Your uncle is
The library doors were heard opening, and a moment later there came
the sound of the front door closing.
George moved toward the head of the stairs, then stood listening; but
the house was silent.
Fanny made a slight noise with her lips to attract his attention, and,
when he glanced toward her, shook her head at him urgently. "Let her
alone," she whispered. "She's down there by herself. Don't go down.
Let her alone."
She moved a few steps toward him and halted, her face pallid and
awestruck, and then both stood listening for anything that might break
the silence downstairs. No sound came to them; that poignant silence
was continued throughout long, long minutes, while the two listeners
stood there under its mysterious spell; and in its plaintive
eloquence--speaking, as it did, of the figure alone in the big, dark
library, where dead Wilbur's new silver frame gleamed in the dimness--
there was something that checked even George.
Above the aunt and nephew, as they kept this strange vigil, there was
a triple window of stained glass, to illumine the landing and upper
reaches of the stairway. Figures in blue and amber garments posed
gracefully in panels, conceived by some craftsman of the Eighties to
represent Love and Purity and Beauty, and these figures, leaded to
unalterable attitudes, were little more motionless than the two human
beings upon whom fell the mottled faint light of the window. The
colours were growing dull; evening was coming on.
Fanny Minafer broke the long silence with a sound from her throat, a
stilled gasp; and with that great companion of hers, her handkerchief,
retired softly to the loneliness of her own chamber. After she had
gone George looked about him bleakly, then on tiptoe crossed the hall
and went into his own room, which was filled with twilight. Still
tiptoeing, though he could not have said why, he-went across the room
and sat down heavily in a chair facing the window. Outside there was
nothing but the darkening air and the wall of the nearest of the new
houses. He had not slept at all, the night before, and he had eaten
nothing since the preceding day at lunch, but he felt neither
drowsiness nor hunger. His set determination filled him, kept him but
too wide awake, and his gaze at the grayness beyond the window was
wide--eyed and bitter.
Darkness had closed in when there was a step in the room behind him.
Then someone knelt beside the chair, two arms went round him with
infinite compassion, a gentle head rested against his shoulder, and
there came the faint scent as of apple-blossoms far away.
"You mustn't be troubled, darling," his mother whispered.
George choked. For an instant he was on the point of breaking down,
but he commanded himself, bravely dismissing the self-pity roused by
her compassion. "How can I help but be?" he said.
"No, no." She soothed him. "You mustn't. You mustn't be troubled,
no matter what happens."
"That's easy enough to say!" he protested; and he moved as if to rise.
"Just let's stay like this a little while, dear. Just a minute or
two. I want to tell you: brother George has been here, and he told me
everything about--about how unhappy you'd been--and how you went so
gallantly to that old woman with the operaglasses." Isabel gave a sad
little laugh. "What a terrible old woman she is! What a really
terrible thing a vulgar old woman can be!"
"Mother, I--" And again he moved to rise.
"Must you? It seemed to me such a comfortable way to talk. Well--"
She yielded; he rose, helped her to her feet, and pressed the light
As the room took life from the sudden lines of fire within the bulbs
Isabel made a deprecatory gesture, and, with a faint laugh of
apologetic protest, turned quickly away from George. What she meant
was: "You mustn't see my face until I've made it nicer for you."
Then she turned again to him, her eyes downcast, but no sign of tears
in them, and she contrived to show him that there was the semblance of
a smile upon her lips. She still wore her hat, and in her unsteady
fingers she held a white envelope, somewhat crumpled.
"Wait, dearest," she said; and though he stood stone cold, she lifted
her arms, put them round him again, and pressed her cheek lightly to
his. "Oh, you do look so troubled, poor dear! One thing you couldn't
doubt, beloved boy: you know I could never care for anything in the
world as I care for you--never, never!"
She released him, and stepped back. "Just a moment more, dearest. I
want you to read this first. We can get at things better." She
pressed into his hand the envelope she had brought with her, and as he
opened it, and began to read the long enclosure, she walked slowly to
the other end of the room; then stood there, with her back to him, and
her head drooping a little, until he had finished.
The sheets of paper were covered with Eugene's handwriting.
George Amberson will bring you this, dear Isabel. He is waiting while
I write. He and I have talked things over, and before he gives this
to you he will tell you what has happened. Of course I'm rather
confused, and haven't had time to think matters out very definitely,
and yet I believe I should have been better prepared for what took
place to-day--I ought to have known it was coming, because I have
understood for quite a long time that young George was getting to
dislike me more and more. Somehow, I've never been able to get his
friendship; he's always had a latent distrust of me--or something like
distrust--and perhaps that's made me sometimes a little awkward and
diffident with him. I think it may be he felt from the first that I
cared a great deal about you, and he naturally resented it. I think
perhaps he felt this even during all the time when I was so careful--
at least I thought I was--not to show, even to you, how immensely I
did care. And he may have feared that you were thinking too much
about me--even when you weren't and only liked me as an old friend.
It's perfectly comprehensible to me, also, that at his age one gets
excited about gossip. Dear Isabel, what I'm trying to get at, in my
confused way, is that you and I don't care about this nonsensical
gossip, ourselves, at all. Yesterday I thought the time had come when
I could ask you to marry me, and you were dear enough to tell me
"sometime it might come to that." Well, you and I, left to ourselves,
and knowing what we have been and what we are, we'd pay as much
attention to "talk" as we would to any other kind of old cats' mewing!
We'd not be very apt to let such things keep us from the plenty of
life we have left to us for making up to ourselves for old
unhappinesses and mistakes. But now we're faced with--not the slander
and not our own fear of it, because we haven't any, but someone else's
fear of it--your son's. And, oh, dearest woman in the world, I know
what your son is to you, and it frightens me! Let me explain a
little: I don't think he'll change--at twenty-one or twenty-two so
many things appear solid and permanent and terrible which forty sees
are nothing but disappearing miasma. Forty can't tell twenty about
this; that's the pity of it! Twenty can find out only by getting to
be forty. And so we come to this, dear: Will you live your own life
your way, or George's way? I'm going a little further, because it
would be fatal not to be wholly frank now. George will act toward you
only as your long worship of him, your sacrifices--all the unseen
little ones every day since he was born--will make him act. Dear, it
breaks my heart for you, but what you have to oppose now is the
history of your own selfless and perfect motherhood. I remember
saying once that what you worshipped in your son was the angel you saw
in him--and I still believe that is true of every mother. But in a
mother's worship she may not see that the Will in her son should not
always be offered incense along with the angel. I grow sick with fear
for you--for both you and me--when I think how the Will against us two
has grown strong through the love you have given the angel--and how
long your own sweet Will has served that other. Are you strong
enough, Isabel? Can you make the fight? I promise you that if you
will take heart for it, you will find so quickly that it has all
amounted to nothing. You shall have happiness, and, in a little
while, only happiness. You need only to write me a line--I can't come
to your house--and tell me where you will meet me. We will come back
in a month, and the angel in your son will bring him to you; I promise
it. What is good in him will grow so fine, once you have beaten the
turbulent Will--but it must be beaten!
Your brother, that good friend, is waiting with such patience; I
should not keep him longer--and I am saying too much for wisdom, I
fear. But, oh, my dear, won't you be strong--such a little short
strength it would need! Don't strike my lifedown twice, dear--this
time I've not deserved it.
Concluding this missive, George tossed it abruptly from him so that
one sheet fell upon his bed and the others upon the floor; and at the
faint noise of their falling Isabel came, and, kneeling, began to
gather them up.
"Did you read it, dear?"
George's face was pale no longer, but pink with fury. "Yes, I did."
"All of it?" she asked gently, as she rose.
She did not look at him, but kept her eyes downcast upon the letter in
her hands, tremulously rearranging the sheets in order as she spoke--
and though she smiled, her smile was as tremulous as her hands.
Nervousness and an irresistible timidity possessed her. "I--I wanted
to say, George," she faltered. "I felt that if--if some day it should
happen--I mean, if you came to feel differently about it, and Eugene
and I--that is if we found that it seemed the most sensible thing to
do--I was afraid you might think it would be a little queer about--
Lucy, I mean if--if she were your step-sister. Of course, she'd not
be even legally related to you, and if you--if you cared for her--"
Thus far she got stumblingly with what she wanted to say, while George
watched her with a gaze that grew harder and hotter; but here he cut
her off. "I have already given up all idea of Lucy," he said.
"Naturally, I couldn't have treated her father as I deliberately did
treat him--I could hardly have done that and expected his daughter
ever to speak to me again."
Isabel gave a quick cry of compassion, but he allowed her no
opportunity to speak. "You needn't think I'm making any particular
sacrifice," he said sharply, "though I would, quickly enough, if I
thought it necessary in a matter of honour like this. I was
interested in her, and I could even say I did care for her; but she
proved pretty satisfactorily that she cared little enough about me!
She went away right in the midst of a--of a difference of opinion we
were having; she didn't even let me know she was going, and never
wrote a line to me, and then came back telling everybody she'd had 'a
perfectly gorgeous time!' That's quite enough for me. I'm not
precisely the sort to arrange for that kind of thing to be done to me
more than once! The truth is, we're not congenial and we'd found that
much out, at least, before she left. We should never have been happy;
she was 'superior' all the time, and critical of me--not very
pleasant, that! I was disappointed in her, and I might as well say
it. I don't think she has the very deepest nature in the world, and--"
But Isabel put her hand timidly on his arm. "Georgie, dear, this is
only a quarrel: all young people have them before they get adjusted,
and you mustn't let--"
"If you please!" he said emphatically, moving back from her. "This
isn't that kind. It's all over, and I don't care to speak of it
again. It's settled. Don't you understand?"
"No. I want to talk to you about this letter of her father's."
"Yes, dear, that's why--"
"It's simply the most offensive piece of writing that I've ever held
in my hands!"
She stepped back from him, startled. "But, dear, I thought--"
"I can't understand your even showing me such a thing!" he cried.
"How did you happen to bring it to me?"
"Your uncle thought I'd better. He thought it was the simplest thing
to do, and he said that he'd suggested it to Eugene, and Eugene had
agreed. They thought--"
"Yes!" George said bitterly. "I should like to hear what they
"They thought it would be the most straightforward thing."
George drew a long breath. "Well, what do you think, mother?"
"I thought it would be the simplest and most straightforward thing; I
thought they were right."
"Very well! We'll agree it was simple and straightforward. Now, what
do you think of that letter itself?"
She hesitated, looking away. "I--of course I don't agree with him in
the way he speaks of you, dear--except about the angel! I don't agree
with some of the things he implies. You've always been unselfish--
nobody knows that better than your mother. When Fanny was left with
nothing, you were so quick and generous to give up what really should
have come to you, and--"
"And yet," George broke in, "you see what he implies about me. Don't
you think, really, that this was a pretty insulting letter for that
man to be asking you to hand your son?"
"Oh, no!" she cried. "You can see how fair he means to be, and he
didn't ask for me to give it to you. It was brother George who--"
"Never mind that, now! You say he tries to be fair, and yet do you
suppose it ever occurs to him that I'm doing my simple duty? That I'm
doing what my father would do if he were alive? That I'm doing what
my father would ask me to do if he could speak from his grave out
yonder? Do you suppose it ever occurs to that man for one minute that
I'm protecting my mother?" George raised his voice, advancing upon
the helpless lady fiercely; and she could only bend her head before
him. "He talks about my 'Will'--how it must be beaten down; yes, and
he asks my mother to do that little thing to please him! What for?
Why does he want me 'beaten' by my mother? Because I'm trying to
protect her name! He's got my mother's name bandied up and down the
streets of this town till I can't step in those streets without
wondering what every soul I meet is thinking of me and of my family,
and now he wants you to marry him so that every gossip in town will
say 'There! What did I tell you? I guess that proves it's true!'
You can't get away from it; that's exactly what they'd say, and this
man pretends he cares for you, and yet asks you to marry him and give
them the right to say it. He says he and you don't care what they
say, but I know better! He may not care-probably he's that kind--but
you do. There never was an Amberson yet that would let the Amberson
name go trailing in the dust like that! It's the proudest name in
this town and it's going to stay the proudest; and I tell you that's
the deepest thing in my nature-not that I'd expect Eugene Morgan to
understand--the very deepest thing in my nature is to protect that
name, and to fight for it to the last breath when danger threatens it,
as it does now--through my mother!" He turned from her, striding up
and down and tossing his arms about, in a tumult of gesture. "I can't
believe it of you, that you'd think of such a sacrilege! That's what
it would be--sacrilege! When he talks about your unselfishness toward
me, he's right--you have been unselfish and you have been a perfect
mother. But what about him? Is it unselfish of him to want you to
throw away your good name just to please him? That's all he asks of
you--and to quit being my mother! Do you think I can believe you
really care for him? I don't! You are my mother and you're an
Amberson--and I believe you're too proud! You're too proud to care
for a man who could write such a letter as that!" He stopped, faced
her, and spoke with more self-control: "Well, what are you going to
do about it, mother?
George was right about his mother's being proud. And even when she
laughed with a negro gardener, or even those few times in her life
when people saw her weep, Isabel had a proud look--something that was
independent and graceful and strong. But she did not have it now: she
leaned against the wall, beside his dressing-table, and seemed beset
with humility and with weakness. Her head drooped.
"What answer are you going to make to such a letter?" George
demanded, like a judge on the bench.
"I--I don't quite know, dear," she murmured.
"Wait," she begged him. "I'm so--confused."
"I want to know what you're going to write him. Do you think if you
did what be wants you to I could bear to stay another day in this
town, mother? Do you think I could ever bear even to see you again if
you married him? I'd want to, but you surely know I just--couldn't!"
She made a futile gesture, and seemed to breathe with difficulty.
"I--I wasn't--quite sure," she faltered, "about--about it's being wise
for us to be married--even before knowing how you feel about it. I
wasn't even sure it was quite fair to--to Eugene. I have--I seem to
have that family trouble--like father's--that I spoke to you about
once." She managed a deprecatory little dry laugh. "Not that it
amounts to much, but I wasn't at all sure that it would be fair to
him. Marrying doesn't mean so much, after all--not at my age. It's
enough to know that--that people think of you--and to see them. I
thought we were all--oh, pretty happy the way things were, and I don't
think it would mean giving up a great deal for him or me, either, if
we just went on as we have been. I--I see him almost every day, and--"
"Mother!" George's voice was loud and stern. "Do you think you could
go on seeing him after this!"
She had been talking helplessly enough before; her tone was little
more broken now. "Not--not even--see him?"
"How could you?" George cried. "Mother, it seems to me that if he
ever set foot in this house again--oh! I can't speak of it! Could
you see him, knowing what talk it makes every time he turns into this
street, and knowing what that means to me? Oh, I don't understand all
this--I don't! If you'd told me, a year ago, that such things were
going to happen, I'd have thought you were insane--and now I believe I
Then, after a preliminary gesture of despair, as though he meant harm
to the ceiling, he flung himself heavily, face downward, upon the bed.
his anguish was none the less real for its vehemence; and the stricken
lady came to him instantly and bent over him, once more enfolding him
in her arms. She said nothing, but suddenly her tears fell upon his
head; she saw them, and seemed to be startled.
"Oh, this won't do!" she said. "I've never let you see me cry before,
except when your father died. I mustn't!"
And she ran from the room.
. . .A little while after she had gone, George rose and began solemnly
to dress for dinner. At one stage of these conscientious proceedings
he put on, temporarily, his long black velvet dressing-gown, and,
happening to catch sight in his pier glass of the picturesque and
medieval figure thus presented, he paused to regard it; and something
profoundly theatrical in his nature came to the surface.
His lips moved; he whispered, half-aloud, some famous fragments:
"Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black . . ."
For, in truth, the mirrored princely image, with hair dishevelled on
the white brow, and the long tragic fall of black velvet from the
shoulders, had brought about (in his thought at least) some
comparisons of his own times, so out of joint, with those of that
other gentle prince and heir whose widowed mother was minded to marry
"But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of Woe."
Not less like Hamlet did be feel and look as he sat gauntly at the
dinner table with Fanny to partake of a meal throughout which neither
spoke. Isabel had sent word "not to wait" for her, an injunction it
was as well they obeyed, for she did not come at all. But with the
renewal of sustenance furnished to his system, some relaxation must
have occurred within the high-strung George. Dinner was not quite
finished when, without warning, sleep hit him hard. His burning eyes
could no longer restrain the lids above them; his head sagged beyond
control; and he got to his feet, and went lurching upstairs, yawning
with exhaustion. From the door of his room, which he closed
mechanically, with his eyes shut, he went blindly to his bed, fell
upon it soddenly, and slept--with his face full upturned to the light.
It was after midnight when he woke, and the room was dark. He had not
dreamed, but he woke with the sense that somebody or something had
been with him while he slept--somebody or something infinitely
compassionate; somebody or something infinitely protective, that would
let him come to no harm and to no grief.
He got up, and pressed the light on. Pinned to the cover of his
dressing-table was a square envelope, with the words, "For you, dear,"
written in pencil upon it. But the message inside was in ink, a
little smudged here and there.
I have been out to the mail-box, darling, with a letter I've written
to Eugene, and he'll have it in the morning. It would be unfair not
to let him know at once, and my decision could not change if I waited.
It would always be the same. I think it, is a little better for me to
write to you, like this, instead of waiting till you wake up and then
telling you, because I'm foolish and might cry again, and I took a vow
once, long ago, that you should never see me cry. Not that I'll feel
like crying when we talk things over tomorrow. I'll be "all right and
fine" (as you say so often) by that time--don't fear. I think what
makes me most ready to cry now is the thought of the terrible
suffering in your poor face, and the unhappy knowledge that it is I,
your mother who put it there. It shall never come again! I love you
better than anything and everything else on earth. God gave you to
me--and oh! how thankful I have been every day of my life for that
sacred gift--and nothing can ever come between me and God's gift. I
cannot hurt you, and I cannot let you stay hurt as you have been--not
another instant after you wake up, my darling boy! It is beyond my
power. And Eugene was right--I know you couldn't change about this.
Your suffering shows how deep-seated the feeling is within you. So
I've written him just about what I think you would like me to--though
I told him I would always be fond of him and always his best friend,
and I hoped his dearest friend. He'll understand about not seeing
him. He'll understand that, though I didn't say it in so many words.
You mustn't trouble about that--he'll understand. Good-night, my
darling, my beloved, my beloved! You mustn't be troubled. I think I
shouldn't mind anything very much so long as I have you "all to
myself"--as people say--to make up for your long years away from me at
college. We'll talk of what's best to do in the morning, shan't we?
And for all this pain you'll forgive your loving and devoted mother.
Having finished some errands downtown, the next afternoon, George
Amberson Minafer was walking up National Avenue on his homeward way
when he saw in the distance, coming toward him, upon the same side of
the street, the figure of a young lady--a figure just under the middle
height, comely indeed, and to be mistaken for none other in the world
--even at two hundred yards. To his sharp discomfiture his heart
immediately forced upon him the consciousness of its acceleration; a
sudden warmth about his neck made him aware that he had turned red,
and then, departing, left him pale. For a panicky moment he thought
of facing about in actual flight; he had little doubt that Lucy would
meet him with no token of recognition, and all at once this
probability struck him as unendurable. And if she did not speak, was
it the proper part of chivalry to lift his hat and take the cut
bareheaded? Or should the finer gentleman acquiesce in the lady's
desire for no further acquaintance, and pass her with stony mien and
eyes constrained forward? George was a young man badly flustered.
But the girl approaching him was unaware of his trepidation, being
perhaps somewhat preoccupied with her own. She saw only that he was
pale, and that his eyes were darkly circled. But here he was
advantaged with her, for the finest touch to his good looks was given
by this toning down; neither pallor nor dark circles detracting from
them, but rather adding to them a melancholy favour of distinction.
George had retained his mourning, a tribute completed down to the
final details of black gloves and a polished ebony cane (which he
would have been pained to name otherwise than as a "walking-stick")
and in the aura of this sombre elegance his straight figure and drawn
face were not without a tristful and appealing dignity.
In everything outward he was cause enough for a girl's cheek to flush,
her heart to beat faster, and her eyes to warm with the soft light
that came into Lucy's now, whether she would or no. If his spirit had
been what his looks proclaimed it, she would have rejoiced to let the
light glow forth which now shone in spite of her. For a long time,
thinking of that spirit of his, and what she felt it should be, she
had a persistent sense: "It must be there!" but she had determined to
believe this folly no longer. Nevertheless, when she met him at the
Sharons', she had been far less calm than she seemed.
People speaking casually of Lucy were apt to define her as "a little
beauty," a definition short of the mark. She was "a little beauty,"
but an independent, masterful, sell-reliant little American, of whom
her father's earlier gipsyings and her own sturdiness had made a woman
ever since she was fifteen. But though she was the mistress of her
own ways and no slave to any lamp save that of her own conscience, she
had a weakness: she had fallen in love with George Amberson Minafer at
first sight, and no matter how she disciplined herself, she had never
been able to climb out. The thing had happened to her; that was all.
George had looked just the way she had always wanted someone to look--
the riskiest of all the moonshine ambushes wherein tricky romance
snares credulous young love. But what was fatal to Lucy was that this
thing having happened to her, she could not change it. No matter what
she discovered in George's nature she was unable to take away what she
had given him; and though she could think differently about him, she
could not feel differently about him, for she was one of those too
faithful victims of glamour. When she managed to keep the picture of
George away from her mind's eye, she did well enough; but when she let
him become visible, she could not choose but love what she disdained.
She was a little angel who had fallen in love with high-handed
Lucifer; quite an experience, and not apt to be soon succeeded by any
falling in love with a tamer party--and the unhappy truth was that
George did make better men seem tame. But though she was a victim,
she was a heroic one, anything but helpless.
As they drew nearer, George tried to prepare himself to meet her with
some remnants of aplomb. He decided that he would keep on looking
straight ahead, and lift his hand toward his hat at the very last
moment when it would be possible for her to see him out of the corner
of her eye: then when she thought it over later, she would not be sure
whether he had saluted her or merely rubbed his forehead. And there
was the added benefit that any third person who might chance to look
from a window, or from a passing carriage, would not think that he was
receiving a snub, because he did not intend to lift his hat, but,
timing the gesture properly, would in fact actually rub his forehead.
These were the hasty plans which occupied his thoughts until he was
within about fifty feet of her--when he ceased to have either plans or
thoughts, he had kept his eyes from looking full at her until then,
and as he saw her, thus close at hand, and coming nearer, a regret
that was dumfounding took possession of him. For the first time he
had the sense of having lost something of overwhelming importance.
Lucy did not keep to the right, but came straight to meet him,
smiling, and with her hand offered to him.
"Why--you--" he stammered, as he took it. "Haven't you--" What he
meant to say was, "Haven't you heard?"
"Haven't I what?" she asked; and he saw that Eugene had not yet told
"Nothing!" he gasped. "May I--may I turn and walk with you a little
"Yes, indeed!" she said cordially.
He would not have altered what had been done: he was satisfied with all
that--satisfied that it was right, and that his own course was right.
But he began to perceive a striking inaccuracy in some remarks he had
made to his mother. Now when he had put matters in such shape that
even by the relinquishment of his "ideals of life" he could not have
Lucy, knew that he could never have her, and knew that when Eugene
told her the history of yesterday he could not have a glance or word
even friendly from her--now when he must in good truth "give up all
idea of Lucy," he was amazed that he could have used such words as "no
particular sacrifice," and believed them when he said them! She had
looked never in his life so bewitchingly pretty as she did today; and
as he walked beside her he was sure that she was the most exquisite
thing in the world.
"Lucy," he said huskily, "I want to tell you something. Something
"I hope it's a lively something then," she said; and laughed. "Papa's
been so glum to-day he's scarcely spoken to me. Your Uncle George
Amberson came to see him an hour ago and they shut themselves up in
the library, and your uncle looked as glum as papa. I'd be glad if
you'll tell me a funny story, George."
"Well, it may seem one to you," he said bitterly, "Just to begin with:
when you went away you didn't let me know; not even a word--not a
Her manner persisted in being inconsequent. "Why, no," she said. "I
just trotted off for some visits."
"Well, at least you might have--"
"Why, no," she said again briskly. "Don't you remember, George? We'd
had a grand quarrel, and didn't speak to each other all the way home
from a long, long drive! So, as we couldn't play together like good
children, of course it was plain that we oughtn't to play at all."
"Play!" he cried.
"Yes. What I mean is that we'd come to the point where it was time to
quit playing--well, what we were playing."
"At being lovers, you mean, don't you?"
"Something like that," she said lightly. "For us two, playing at
being lovers was just the same as playing at cross-purposes. I had
all the purposes, and that gave you all the crossness: things weren't
getting along at all. It was absurd!"
"Well, have it your own way," he said. "It needn't have been absurd."
"No, it couldn't help but be!" she informed him cheerfully. "The way
I am and the way you are, it couldn't ever be anything else. So what
was the use?"
"I don't know," he sighed, and his sigh was abysmal. "But what I wanted
to tell you is this: when you went away, you didn't let me know and didn't
care how or when I heard it, but I'm not like that with you. This time,
I'm going away. That's what I wanted to tell you. I'm going away
She nodded sunnily. "That's nice for you. I hope you'll have ever so
jolly a time, George."
"I don't expect to have a particularly jolly time."
"Well, then," she laughed, "if I were you I don't think I'd go."
It seemed impossible to impress this distracting creature, to make her
serious. "Lucy," he said desperately, "this is our last walk
"Evidently!" she said, "if you're going away tomorrow night."
"Lucy--this may be the last time I'll see you--ever--ever in my life."
At that she looked at him quickly, across her shoulder, but she smiled
as brightly as before, and with the same cordial inconsequence: "Oh, I
can hardly think that!" she said. "And of course I'd be awfully sorry
to think it. You're not moving away, are you, to live?"
"And even if you were, of course you'd be coming back to visit your
relatives every now and then."
"I don't know when I'm coming back. Mother and I are starting to-
morrow night for a trip around the world."
At this she did look thoughtful. "Your mother is going with you?"
"Good heavens!" he groaned. "Lucy, doesn't it make any difference to
you that I am going?"
At this her cordial smile instantly appeared again. "Yes, of course,"
she said. "I'm sure I'll miss you ever so much. Are you to be gone
He stared at her wanly. "I told you indefinitely," he said. "We've
made no plans--at all--for coming back."
"That does sound like a long trip!" she exclaimed admiringly. "Do you
plan to be travelling all the time, or will you stay in some one place
the greater part of it? I think it would be lovely to--"
He halted; and she stopped with him. They had come to a corner at the
edge of the "business section" of the city, and people were everywhere
about them, brushing against them, sometimes, in passing.
"I can't stand this," George said, in a low voice. "I'm just about
ready to go in this drug-store here, and ask the clerk for something
to keep me from dying in my tracks! It's quite a shock, you see,
"To find out certainly, at last, how deeply you've cared for me! To
see how much difference this makes to you! By Jove, I have mattered
Her cordial smile was tempered now with good-nature. "George!" She
laughed indulgently. "Surely you don't want me to do pathos on a
"You wouldn't 'do pathos' anywhere!"
"Well--don't you think pathos is generally rather fooling?"
"I can't stand this any longer," he said. "I can't! Good-bye, Lucy!"
He took her hand. "It's good-bye--I think it's good-bye for good,
"Good-bye! I do hope you'll have the most splendid trip." She gave
his hand a cordial little grip, then released it lightly. "Give my
love to your mother. Good-bye!"
He turned heavily away, and a moment later glanced back over his
shoulder. She had not gone on, but stood watching him, that same
casual, cordial smile on her face to the very last; and now, as he
looked back, she emphasized her friendly unconcern by waving her small
hand to him cheerily, though perhaps with the slightest hint of
preoccupation, as if she had begun to think of the errand that brought
In his mind, George had already explained her to his own poignant
dissatisfaction--some blond pup, probably, whom she had met during
that "perfectly gorgeous time!" And he strode savagely onward, not
looking back again.
But Lucy remained where she was until he was out of sight. Then she
went slowly into the drugstore which had struck George as a possible
source of stimulant for himself.
"Please let me have a few drops of aromatic spirits of ammonia in a
glass of water," she said, with the utmost composure.
"Yes, ma'am!" said the impressionable clerk, who had been looking at
her through the display window as she stood on the corner.
But a moment later, as he turned from the shelves of glass jars
against the wall, with the potion she had asked for in his hand, he
uttered an exclamation: "For goshes' sake, Miss!" And, describing
this adventure to his fellow-boarders, that evening, "Sagged pretty
near to the counter, she was," he said. "If I hadn't been a bright,
quick, ready-for-anything young fella she'd 'a' flummixed plum! I was
watchin' her out the window--talkin' to some young s'iety fella, and
she was all right then. She was all right when she come in the store,
too. Yes, sir; the prettiest girl that ever walked in our place and
took one good look at me. I reckon it must be the truth what some you
town wags say about my face!"
At that hour the heroine of the susceptible clerk's romance was
engaged in brightening the rosy little coal fire under the white
mantelpiece in her pretty white-and-blue boudoir. Four photographs
all framed in decorous plain silver went to the anthracite's fierce
destruction--frames and all--and three packets of letters and notes in
a charming Florentine treasure-box of painted wood; nor was the box,
any more than the silver frames, spared this rousing finish. Thrown
heartily upon live coal, the fine wood sparkled forth in stars, then
burst into an alarming blaze which scorched the white mantelpiece, but
Lucy stood and looked on without moving.
It was not Eugene who told her what had happened at Isabel's door.
When she got home, she found Fanny Minafer waiting for her--a secret
excursion of Fanny's for the purpose, presumably, of "letting out"
again; because that was what she did. She told Lucy everything
(except her own lamentable part in the production of the recent
miseries) and concluded with a tribute to George: "The worst of it
is, he thinks he's been such a hero, and Isabel does, too, and that
makes him more than twice as awful. It's been the same all his life:
everything he did was noble and perfect. He had a domineering nature
to begin with, and she let it go on, and fostered it till it
absolutely ruled her. I never saw a plainer case of a person's fault
making them pay for having it! She goes about, overseeing the packing
and praising George and pretending to be perfectly cheerful about what
he's making her do and about the dreadful things he's done. She
pretends he did such a fine thing--so manly and protective--going to
Mrs. Johnson. And so heroic--doing what his 'principles' made him--
even though he knew what it would cost him with you! And all the
while it's almost killing her--what he said to your father! She's
always been lofty enough, so to speak, and had the greatest idea of
the Ambersons being superior to the rest of the world, and all that,
but rudeness, or anything like a 'scene,' or any bad manners--they
always just made her sick! But she could never see what George's
manners were--oh, it's been a terrible adulation! . . . It's going to
be a task for me, living in that big house, all alone: you must come
and see me--I mean after they've gone, of course. I'll go crazy if I
don't see something of people. I'm sure you'll come as often as you
can. I know you too well to think you'll be sensitive about coming
there, or being reminded of George. Thank heaven you're too well-
balanced," Miss Fanny concluded, with a profound fervour, "you're too
well-balanced to let anything affect you deeply about that--that
The four photographs and the painted Florentine box went to their
cremation within the same hour that Miss Fanny spoke; and a little
later Lucy called her father in, as he passed her door, and pointed to
the blackened area on the underside of the mantelpiece, and to the
burnt heap upon the coal, where some metallic shapes still retained
outline. She flung her arms about his neck in passionate sympathy,
telling him that she knew what had happened to him; and presently he
began to comfort her and managed an embarrassed laugh.
"Well, well--" he said. "I was too old for such foolishness to be
getting into my head, anyhow."
"No, no!" she sobbed. "And if you knew how I despise myself for--for
ever having thought one instant about--oh, Miss Fanny called him the
right name: that monkey! He is!"
"There, I think I agree with you," Eugene said grimly, and in his eyes
there was a steady light of anger that was to last. "Yes, I think I
agree with you about that!"
"There's only one thing to do with such a person," she said
vehemently. "That's to put him out of our thoughts forever--forever!"
And yet, the next day, at six o'clock, which was the hour, Fanny had
told her, when George and his mother were to leave upon their long
journey, Lucy touched that scorched place on her mantel with her hand
just as the little clock above it struck. Then, after this odd,
unconscious gesture, she went to a window and stood between the
curtains, looking out into the cold November dusk; and in spite of
every reasoning and reasonable power within her, a pain of loneliness
struck through her heart. The dim street below her window, the dark
houses across the way, the vague air itself--all looked empty, and
cold and (most of all) uninteresting. Something more sombre than
November dusk took the colour from them and gave them that air of
The light of her fire, flickering up behind her showed suddenly a
flying group of tiny snowflakes nearing the window-pane; and for an
instant she felt the sensation of being dragged through a snows drift
under a broken cutter, with a boy's arms about her--an arrogant,
handsome, too-conquering boy, who nevertheless did his best to get
hurt himself, keeping her from any possible harm.
She shook the picture out of her eyes indignantly, then came and sat
before her fire, and looked long and long at the blackened
mantelpiece. She did not have the mantelpiece repainted--and, since
she did not, might as well have kept his photographs. One forgets
what made the scar upon his hand but not what made the scar upon his
She played no marche funebre upon her piano, even though Chopin's
romantic lamentation was then at the top of nine-tenths of the music-
racks in the country, American youth having recently discovered the
distinguished congeniality between itself and this deathless bit of
deathly gloom. She did not even play "Robin Adair"; she played
"Bedelia" and all the new cake-walks, for she was her father's
housekeeper, and rightly looked upon the office as being the same as
that of his heart-keeper. Therefore it was her affair to keep both
house and heart in what state of cheerfulness might be contrived. She
made him "go out" more than ever; made him take her to all the
gayeties of that winter, declining to go herself unless he took her,
and, though Eugene danced no more, and quoted Shakespeare to prove all
lightfoot caperings beneath the dignity of his age, she broke his
resolution for him at the New Year's Eve "Assembly" and half coaxed,
half dragged him forth upon the floor, and made him dance the New Year
in with her.
New faces appeared at the dances of the winter; new faces had been
appearing everywhere, for that matter, and familiar ones were
disappearing, merged in the increasing crowd, or gone forever and
missed a little and not long; for the town was growing and changing as
it never had grown and changed before.
It was heaving up in the middle incredibly; it was spreading
incredibly; and as it heaved and spread, it befouled itself and
darkened its sky. Its boundary was mere shapelessness on the run; a
raw, new house would appear on a country road; four or five others
would presently be built at intervals between it and the outskirts of
the town; the country road would turn into an asphalt street with a
brick-faced drugstore and a frame grocery at a corner; then bungalows
and six-room cottages would swiftly speckle the open green spaces--and
a farm had become a suburb which would immediately shoot out other
suburbs into the country, on one side, and, on the other, join itself
solidly to the city. You drove between pleasant fields and woodland
groves one spring day; and in the autumn, passing over the same
ground, you were warned off the tracks by an interurban trolley-car's
gonging, and beheld, beyond cement sidewalks just dry, new house-
owners busy "moving in." Gasoline and electricity were performing the
miracles Eugene had predicted.
But the great change was in the citizenry itself. What was left of
the patriotic old-stock generation that had fought the Civil War, and
subsequently controlled politics, had become venerable and was little
heeded. The descendants of the pioneers and early settlers were
merging into the new crowd, becoming part of it, little to be
distinguished from it. What happened to Boston and to Broadway
happened in degree to the Midland city; the old stock became less and
less typical, and of the grown people who called the place home, less
than a third had been born in it. There was a German quarter; there
was a Jewish quarter; there was a negro quarter--square miles of it--
called "Bucktown"; there were many Irish neighbourhoods; and there
were large settlements of Italians, and of Hungarians, and of
Rumanians, and of Serbians and other Balkan peoples. But not the
emigrants, themselves, were the almost dominant type on the streets
downtown. That type was the emigrant's prosperous offspring:
descendant of the emigrations of the Seventies and Eighties and
Nineties, those great folk-journeyings in search not so directly of
freedom and democracy as of more money for the same labour. A new
Midlander--in fact, a new American--was beginning dimly to emerge.
A new spirit of citizenship had already sharply defined itself. It
was idealistic, and its ideals were expressed in the new kind of young
men in business downtown. They were optimists--optimists to the point
of belligerence--their motto being "Boost! Don't Knock!" And they
were hustlers, believing in hustling and in honesty because both paid.
They loved their city and worked for it with a plutonic energy which
was always ardently vocal. They were viciously governed, but they
sometimes went so far to struggle for better government on account of
the helpful effect of good government on the price of real estate and
"betterment" generally; the politicians could not go too far with
them, and knew it. The idealists planned and strove and shouted that
their city should become a better, better, and better city--and what
they meant, when they used the word "better," was "more prosperous,"
and the core of their idealism was this: "The more prosperous my
beloved city, the more prosperous beloved I!" They had one supreme
theory: that the perfect beauty and happiness of cities and of human
life was to be brought about by more factories; they had a mania for
factories; there was nothing they would not do to cajole a factory
away from another city; and they were never more piteously embittered
than when another city cajoled one away from them.
What they meant by Prosperity was credit at the bank; but in exchange
for this credit they got nothing that was not dirty, and, therefore,
to a sane mind, valueless; since whatever was cleaned was dirty again
before the cleaning was half done. For, as the town grew, it grew
dirty with an incredible completeness. The idealists put up
magnificent business buildings and boasted of them, but the buildings
were begrimed before they were finished. They boasted of their
libraries, of their monuments and statues; and poured soot on them.
They boasted of their schools, but the schools were dirty, like the
children within them. This was not the fault of the children or their
mothers. It was the fault of the idealists, who said: "The more
dirt, the more prosperity." They drew patriotic, optimistic breaths
of the flying powdered filth of the streets, and took the foul and
heavy smoke with gusto into the profundities of their lungs. "Boost!
Don't knock!" they said. And every year or so they boomed a great
Clean-up Week, when everybody was supposed to get rid of the tin cans
in his backyard.
They were happiest when the tearing down and building up were most
riotous, and when new factory districts were thundering into life. In
truth, the city came to be like the body of a great dirty man,
skinned, to show his busy works, yet wearing a few barbaric ornaments;
and such a figure carved, coloured, and discoloured, and set up in the
market-place, would have done well enough as the god of the new
people. Such a god they had indeed made in their own image, as all
peoples make the god they truly serve; though of course certain of the
idealists went to church on Sunday, and there knelt to Another,
considered to be impractical in business. But while the Growing went
on, this god of their market-place was their true god, their familiar
and spirit-control. They did not know that they were his helplessly
obedient slaves, nor could they ever hope to realize their serfdom (as
the first step toward becoming free men) until they should make the
strange and hard discovery that matter should serve man's spirit.
"Prosperity" meant good credit at the bank, black lungs, and
housewives' Purgatory. The women fought the dirt all they could; but
if they let the air into their houses they let in the dirt. It
shortened their lives, and kept them from the happiness of ewer seeing
anything white. And thus, as the city grew, the time came when Lucy,
after a hard struggle, had to give up her blue-and-white curtains and
her white walls. Indoors, she put everything into dull gray and
brown, and outside had the little house painted the dark green nearest
to black. Then she knew, of course, that everything was as dirty as
ever, but was a little less distressed because it no longer looked so
dirty as it was.
These were bad times for Amberson Addition. This quarter, already
old, lay within a mile of the centre of the town, but business moved
in other directions; and the Addition's share of Prosperity was only
the smoke and dirt, with the bank credit left out. The owners of the
original big houses sold them, or rented them to boarding-house
keepers, and the tenants of the multitude of small houses moved
"farther out" (where the smoke was thinner) or into apartment houses,
which were built by dozens now. Cheaper tenants took their places,
and the rents were lower and lower, and the houses shabbier and
shabbier--for all these shabby houses, burning soft coal, did their
best to help in the destruction of their own value. They helped to
make the quarter so dingy and the air so foul to breathe that no one
would live there who had money enough to get "farther out" where there
were glimpses of ungrayed sky and breaths of cleaner winds. And with
the coming of the new speed, "farther out" was now as close to
business as the Addition had been in the days of its prosperity.
Distances had ceased to matter.
The five new houses, built so closely where had been the fine lawn of
the Amberson Mansion, did not look new. When they were a year old
they looked as old as they would ever look; and two of them were
vacant, having never been rented, for the Major's mistake about
apartment houses had been a disastrous one. "He guessed wrong,"
George Amberson said.. "He guessed wrong at just the wrong time!
Housekeeping in a house is harder than in an apartment; and where the
smoke and dirt are as thick as they are in the Addition, women can't
stand it. People were crazy for apartments--too bad he couldn't have
seen it in time. Poor man! he digs away at his ledgers by his old gas
drop-light lamp almost every night--he still refuses to let the
Mansion be torn up for wiring, you know. But he had one painful
satisfaction this spring: he got his taxes lowered!"
Amberson laughed ruefully, and Fanny Minafer asked how the Major could
have managed such an economy. They were sitting upon the veranda at
Isabel's one evening during the third summer of the absence of their
nephew and his mother; and the conversation had turned toward Amberson
"I said it was a 'painful satisfaction,' Fanny," he explained. "The
property has gone down in value, and they assessed it lower than they
did fifteen years ago."
"But farther out--"
"Oh, yes, 'farther out!' Prices are magnificent 'farther out,' and
farther in, too! We just happen to be the wrong spot, that's all.
Not that I don't think something could be done if father would let me
have a hand; but he won't. He can't, I suppose I ought to say. He's
'always done his own figuring,' he says; and it's his lifelong habit
to keep his affairs: and even his books, to himself, and just hand us
out the money. Heaven knows he's done enough of that!"
He sighed; and both were silent, looking out at the long flares of the
constantly passing automobile headlights, shifting in vast geometric
demonstrations against the darkness. Now and then a bicycle wound
its nervous way among these portents, or, at long intervals, a surrey
or buggy plodded forlornly by.
"There seem to be so many ways of making money nowadays," Fanny said
thoughtfully. "Every day I hear of a new fortune some person has got
hold of, one way or another--nearly always it's somebody you never
heard of. It doesn't seem all to be in just making motor cars; I hear
there's a great deal in manufacturing these things that motor cars
use--new inventions particularly. I met dear old Frank Bronson the
other day, and he told me--"
"Oh, yes, even dear old Frank's got the fever," Amberson laughed.
"He's as wild as any of them. He told me about this invention he's
gone into, too. 'Millions in it!' Some new electric headlight better
than anything yet--'every car in America can't help but have 'em,' and
all that. He's putting half he's laid by into it, and the fact is, he
almost talked me into getting father to 'finance me' enough for me to
go into it. Poor father! he's financed me before! I suppose he would
again if I had the heart to ask him; and this seems to be a good
thing, though probably old Frank is a little too sanguine. At any
rate, I've been thinking it over."
"So have I," Fanny admitted. "He seemed to be certain it would pay
twenty-five per cent. the first year, and enormously more after that;
and I'm only getting four on my little principal. People are making
such enormous fortunes out of everything to do with motor cars, it
does seem as if--" She paused. "Well, I told him I'd think it over
"We may turn out to be partners and millionaires then," Amberson
laughed. "I thought I'd ask Eugene's advice."
"I wish you would," said Fanny. "He probably knows exactly how much
profit there would be in this."
Eugene's advice was to "go slow": he thought electric lights for
automobiles were "coming--someday but probably not until certain
difficulties could be overcome." Altogether, he was discouraging, but
by this time his two friends "had the fever" as thoroughly as old
Frank Bronson himself had it; for they had been with Bronson to see
the light working beautifully in a machine shop. They were already
enthusiastic, and after asking Eugene's opinion they argued with him,
telling him how they had seen with their own eyes that the
difficulties he mentioned had been overcome. "Perfectly!" Fanny
cried. "And if it worked in the shop it's bound to work any place
else, isn't it?"
He would not agree that it was "bound to"--yet, being pressed, was
driven to admit that "it might," and, retiring from what was
developing into an oratorical contest, repeated a warning about not
"putting too much into it."
George Amberson also laid stress on this caution later, though the
Major had "financed him" again, and he was "going in." "You must be
careful to leave yourself a 'margin of safety,' Fanny," he said. "I'm
confident that is a pretty conservative investment of its kind, and
all the chances are with us, but you must be careful to leave yourself
enough to fall back on, in case anything should go wrong."
Fanny deceived him. In the impossible event of "anything going wrong"
she would have enough left to "live on," she declared, and laughed
excitedly, for she was having the best time that had come to her since
Wilbur's death. Like so many women for whom money has always been
provided without their understanding how, she was prepared to be a
thorough and irresponsible plunger.
Amberson, in his wearier way, shared her excitement, and in the
winter, when the exploiting company had been formed, and he brought
Fanny, her importantly engraved shares of stock, he reverted to his
prediction of possibilities, made when they first spoke of the new
"We seem to be partners, all right," he laughed. "Now let's go ahead
and be millionaires before Isabel and young George come home."
"When they come home!" she echoed sorrowfully--and it was a phrase
which found an evasive echo in Isabel's letters. In these letters
Isabel was always planning pleasant things that she and Fanny and the
Major and George and "brother George" would do--when she and her son
came home. "They'll find things pretty changed, I'm afraid," Fanny
said. "If they ever do come home!"
Amberson went over, the next summer, and joined his sister and nephew
in Paris, where they were living. "Isabel does want to come home," he
told Fanny gravely, on the day of his return, in October. "She's
wanted to for a long while--and she ought to come while she can stand
the journey--" And he amplified this statement, leaving Fanny looking
startled and solemn when Lucy came by to drive him out to dinner at
the new house Eugene had just completed.
This was no white-and-blue cottage, but a great Georgian picture in
brick, five miles north of Amberson Addition, with four acres of its
own hedged land between it and its next neighbour; and Amberson
laughed wistfully as they turned in between the stone and brick gate
pillars, and rolled up the crushed stone driveway. "I wonder, Lucy,
if history's going on forever repeating itself," he said. "I wonder
if this town's going on building up things and rolling over them, as
poor father once said it was rolling over his poor old heart. It
looks like it: here's the Amberson Mansion again, only it's Georgian
instead of nondescript Romanesque; but it's just the same Amberson
Mansion that my father built long before you were born. The only
difference is that it's your father who's built this one now. It's
all the same, in the long run."
Lucy did not quite understand, but she laughed as a friend should,
and, taking his arm, showed him through vast rooms where ivory-
panelled walls and trim window hangings were reflected dimly in dark,
rugless floors, and the sparse furniture showed that Lucy had been
"collecting" with a long purse. "By Jove!" he said. "You have been
going it! Fanny tells me you had a great 'house-warming' dance, and
you keep right on being the belle of the ball, not any softer-hearted
than you used to be. Fred Kinney's father says you've refused Fred so
often that he got engaged to Janie Sharon just to prove that someone
would have him in spite of his hair. Well, the material world do
move, and you've got the new kind of house it moves into nowadays--if
it has the new price! And even the grand old expanses of plate glass
we used to be so proud of at the other Amberson Mansion--they've gone,
too, with the crowded heavy gold and red stuff. Curious! We've still
got the plate glass windows, though all we can see out of 'em is the
smoke and the old Johnson house, which is a counter-jumper's
boardinghouse now, while you've got a view, and you cut it all up into
little panes. Well, you're pretty refreshingly out of the smoke up
"Yes, for a while," Lucy laughed. "Until it comes and we have to move
"No, you'll stay here," he assured her. "It will be somebody else
who'll move out farther."
He continued to talk of the house after Eugene arrived, and gave them
no account of his journey until they had retired from the dinner table
to Eugene's library, a gray and shadowy room, where their coffee was
brought. Then, equipped with a cigar, which seemed to occupy his
attention, Amberson spoke in a casual tone of his sister and her son.
"I found Isabel as well as usual," he said, "only I'm afraid 'as
usual' isn't particularly well. Sydney and Amelia had been up to
Paris in the spring, but she hadn't seen them. Somebody told her they
were there, it seems. They'd left Florence and were living in Rome;
Amelia's become a Catholic and is said to give great sums to charity
and to go about with the gentry in consequence, but Sydney's ailing
and lives in a wheel-chair most of the time. It struck me Isabel
ought to be doing the same thing."
He paused, bestowing minute care upon the removal of the little band
from his cigar; and as he seemed to have concluded his narrative,
Eugene spoke out of the shadow beyond a heavily shaded lamp: "What do
you mean by that?" he asked quietly.
"Oh, she's cheerful enough," said Amberson, still not looking at
either his young hostess or her father. "At least," he added, "she
manages to seem so. I'm afraid she hasn't been really well for
several years. She isn't stout you know--she hasn't changed in looks
much--and she seems rather alarmingly short of breath for a slender
person. Father's been that way for years, of course; but never nearly
so much as Isabel is now. Of course she makes nothing of it, but it
seemed rather serious to me when I noticed she had to stop and rest
twice to get up the one short flight of stairs in their two-floor
apartment. I told her I thought she ought to make George let her come
"Let her?" Eugene repeated, in a low voice. "Does she want to?"
"She doesn't urge it. George seems to like the life there-in his
grand, gloomy, and peculiar way; and of course she'll never change
about being proud of him and all that--he's quite a swell. But in
spite of anything she said, rather than because, I know she does
indeed want to come. She'd like to be with father, of course; and I
think she's--well, she intimated one day that she feared it might even
happen that she wouldn't get to see him again. At the time I thought
she referred to his age and feebleness, but on the boat, coming home,
I remembered the little look of wistfulness, yet of resignation, with
which she said it, and it struck me all at once that I'd been
mistaken: I saw she was really thinking of her own state of health."
"I see," Eugene said, his voice even lower than it had been before.
"And you say he won't 'let' her come home?"
Amberson laughed, but still continued to be interested in his cigar.
"Oh, I don't think he uses force! He's very gentle with her. I doubt
if the subject is mentioned between them, and yet--and yet, knowing my
interesting nephew as you do, wouldn't you think that was about the
way to put it?"
"Knowing him as I do-yes," said Eugene slowly. "Yes, I should think
that was about the way to put it."
A murmur out of the shadows beyond him--a faint sound, musical and
feminine, yet expressive of a notable intensity--seemed to indicate
that Lucy was of the same opinion.
"Let her" was correct; but the time came--and it came in the spring of
the next year when it was no longer a question of George's letting his
mother come home. He had to bring her, and to bring her quickly if
she was to see her father again; and Amberson had been right: her
danger of never seeing him again lay not in the Major's feebleness of
heart but in her own. As it was, George telegraphed his uncle to have
a wheeled chair at the station, for the journey had been disasterous,
and to this hybrid vehicle, placed close to the platform, her son
carried her in his arms when she arrived. She was unable to speak,
but patted her brother's and Fanny's hands and looked "very sweet,"
Fanny found the desperate courage to tell her. She was lifted from
the chair into a carriage, and seemed a little stronger as they drove
home; for once she took her hand from George's, and waved it feebly
toward the carriage window.
"Changed," she whispered. "So changed."
"You mean the town," Amberson said. "You mean the old place is
changed, don't you, dear?"
She smiled and moved her lips: "Yes."
"It'll change to a happier place, old dear," he said, "now that you're
back in it, and going to get well again."
But she only looked at him wistfully, her eyes a little frightened.
When the carriage stopped, her son carried her into the house, and up
the stairs to her own room, where a nurse was waiting; and he came out
a moment later, as the doctor went in. At the end of the hall a
stricken group was clustered: Amberson, and Fanny, and the Major.
George, deathly pale and speechless, took his grandfather's hand, but
the old gentleman did not seem to notice his action.
"When are they going to let me see my daughter?" he asked querulously.
"They told me to keep out of the way while they carried her in,
because it might upset her. I wish they'd let me go in and speak to
my daughter. I think she wants to see me."
He was right--presently the doctor came out and beckoned to him; and
the Major shuffled forward, leaning on a shaking cane; his figure,
after all its Years of proud soldierliness, had grown stooping at
last, and his untrimmed white hair straggled over the back of his
collar. He looked old--old and divested of the world--as he crept
toward his daughter's room. Her voice was stronger, for the waiting
group heard a low cry of tenderness and welcome as the old man reached
the open doorway. Then the door was closed.
Fanny touched her nephew's arm. "George, you must need something to
eat--I know she'd want you to. I've had things ready: I knew she'd
want me to. You'd better go down to the dining room: there's plenty
on the table, waiting for you. She'd want you to eat something."
He turned a ghastly face to her, it was so panic-stricken. "I don't
want anything to eat !" he said savagely. And he began to pace the
floor, taking care not to go near Isabel's door, and that his
footsteps were muffled by the long, thick hall rug. After a while he
went to where Amberson, with folded arms and bowed head, had seated
himself near the front window. "Uncle George," he said hoarsely. "I
"Oh, my God, I didn't think this thing the matter with her could ever
be serious! I--" He gasped. "When that doctor I had meet us at the
boat--" He could not go on.
Amberson only nodded his head, and did not otherwise change his
Isabel lived through the night. At eleven O'clock Fanny came timidly
to George in his room. "Eugene is here," she whispered. "He's
downstairs. He wants--" She gulped. "He wants to know if he can't
see her. I didn't know what to say. I said I'd see. I didn't know--
the doctor said--"
"The doctor said we 'must keep her peaceful,'" George said sharply.
"Do you think that man's coming would be very soothing? My God! if it
hadn't been for him this mightn't have happened: we could have gone on
living here quietly, and--why, it would be like taking a stranger into
her room! She hasn't even spoken of him more than twice in all the
time we've been away. Doesn't he know how sick she is? You tell him
the doctor said she had to be quiet and peaceful. That's what he did
say, isn't it?"
Fanny acquiesced tearfully. "I'll tell him. I'll tell him the doctor
said she was to be kept very quiet. I--I didn't know--" And she
An hour later the nurse appeared in George's doorway; she came
noiselessly, and his back was toward her; but he jumped as if he had
been shot, and his jaw fell, he so feared what she was going to say.
"She wants to see you."
The terrified mouth shut with a click; and he nodded and followed her;
but she remained outside his mother's room while he went in.
Isabel's eyes were closed, and she did not open them or move her head,
but she smiled and edged her hand toward him as he sat on a stool
beside the bed. He took that slender, cold hand, and put it to his
"Darling, did you--get something to eat?" She could only whisper,
slowly and with difficulty. It was as if Isabel herself were far
away, and only able to signal what she wanted to say.
She did not speak again for a time; then, "Are you sure you didn't--
didn't catch cold coming home?"
"I'm all right, mother."
"That's good. It's sweet--it's sweet--"
"What is, mother darling?"
"To feel--my hand on your cheek. I--I can feel it."
But this frightened him horribly--that she seemed so glad she could
feel it, like a child proud of some miraculous seeming thing
accomplished. It frightened him so that he could not speak, and he
feared that she would know how he trembled; but she was unaware, and
again was silent. Finally she spoke again:
"I wonder if--if Eugene and Lucy know that we've come--home."
"I'm sure they do."
"Has he--asked about me?"
"Yes, he was here."
She sighed faintly. "I'd like--"
"I'd like to have--seen him." It was just audible, this little
regretful murmur. Several minutes passed before there was another.
"Just--just once," she whispered, and then was still.
She seemed to have fallen asleep, and George moved to go, but a faint
pressure upon his fingers detained him, and he remained, with her hand
still pressed against his cheek. After a while he made sure she was
asleep, and moved again, to let the nurse come in, and this time there
was no pressure of the fingers to keep him. She was not asleep, but
thinking that if he went he might get some rest, and be better
prepared for what she knew was coming, she commanded those longing
fingers of hers--and let him go.
He found the doctor standing with the nurse in the hall; and, telling
them that his mother was drowsing now, George went back to his own
room, where he was startled to find his grandfather lying on the bed,
and his uncle leaning against the wall. They had gone home two hours
before, and he did not know they had returned.
"The doctor thought we'd better come over," Amberson said, then was
silent, and George, shaking violently, sat down on the edge of the
bed. His shaking continued, and from time to time he wiped heavy
sweat from his forehead.
The hours passed, and sometimes the old man upon the bed would snore a
little, stop suddenly, and move as if to rise, but George Amberson
would set a hand upon his shoulder, and murmur a reassuring word or
two. Now and then, either uncle or nephew would tiptoe into the hall
and look toward Isabel's room, then come tiptoeing back, the other
watching him haggardly.
Once George gasped defiantly: "That doctor in New York said she might
get better! Don't you know he did? Don't you know he said she
Amberson made no answer.
Dawn had been murking through the smoky windows, growing stronger for
half an hour, when both men started violently at a sound in the hall;
and the Major sat up on the bed, unchecked. It was the voice of the
nurse speaking to Fanny Minafer, and the next moment, Fanny appeared
in the doorway, making contorted efforts to speak.
Amberson said weakly: "Does she want us--to come in?"
But Fanny found her voice, and uttered a long, loud cry. She threw
her arms about George, and sobbed in an agony of loss and compassion:
"She loved you!" she wailed. "She loved you! She loved you! Oh, how
she did love you!"
Isabel had just left them.
Major Amberson remained dry-eyed through the time that followed: he
knew that this separation from his daughter would be short, that the
separation which had preceded it was the long one. He worked at his
ledgers no more under his old gas drop-light, but would sit all
evening staring into the fire, in his bedroom, and not speaking unless
someone asked him a question. He seemed almost unaware of what went
on around him, and those who were with him thought him dazed by
Isabel's death, guessing that he was lost in reminiscences and vague
dreams. "Probably his mind is full of pictures of his youth, or the
Civil War, and the days when he and mother were young married people
and all of us children were jolly little things--and the city was a
small town with one cobbled street and the others just dirt roads with
board sidewalks." This was George Amberson's conjecture, and the
others agreed; but they were mistaken. The Major was engaged in the
profoundest thinking of his life. No business plans which had ever
absorbed him could compare in momentousness with the plans that
absorbed him now, for he had to plan how to enter the unknown country
where he was not even sure of being recognized as an Amberson--not
sure of anything, except that Isabel would help him if she could. His
absorption produced the outward effect of reverie, but of course it
was not. The Major was occupied with the first really important
matter that had taken his attention since he came home invalided,
after the Gettysburg campaign, and went into business; and he realized
that everything which had worried him or delighted him during this
lifetime between then and to-day--all his buying and building and
trading and banking--that it all was trifling and waste beside what
concerned him now.
He seldom went out of his room, and often left untouched the meals
they brought to him there; and this neglect caused them to shake their
heads mournfully, again mistaking for dazedness the profound
concentration of his mind. Meanwhile, the life of the little bereft
group still forlornly centering upon him began to pick up again, as
life will, and to emerge from its own period of dazedness. It was not
Isabel's father but her son who was really dazed.
A month after her death he walked abruptly into Fanny's room, one
night, and found her at her desk, eagerly adding columns of figures
with which she had covered several sheets of paper. This mathematical
computation was concerned with her future income to be produced by the
electric headlight, now just placed on the general market; but Fanny
was ashamed to be discovered doing anything except mourning, and
hastily pushed the sheets aside, even as she looked over her shoulder
to greet her hollow-eyed visitor.
"George! You startled me."
"I beg your pardon for not knocking," he said huskily. "I didn't
She turned in her chair and looked at him solicitously. "Sit down,
George, won't you?"
"No. I just wanted--"
"I could hear you walking up and down in your room," said Fanny. "You
were doing it ever since dinner, and it seems to me you're at it
almost every evening. I don't believe it's good for you--and I know
it would worry your mother terribly if she--" Fanny hesitated.
"See here," George said, breathing fast, "I want to tell you once more
that what I did was right. How could I have done anything else but
what I did do?"
"About what, George?"
"About everything!" he exclaimed; and he became vehement. "I did the
right thing, I tell you! In heaven's name, I'd like to know what else
there was for anybody in my position to do! It would have been a
dreadful thing for me to just let matters go on and not interfere--it
would have been terrible! What else on earth was there for me to do?
I had to stop that talk, didn't I? Could a son do less than I did?
Didn't it cost me something to do it? Lucy and I'd had a quarrel, but
that would have come round in time--and it meant the end forever when
I turned her father back from our door. I knew what it meant, yet I
went ahead and did it because knew it had to be done if the talk was
to be stopped. I took mother away for the same reason. I knew that
would help to stop it. And she was happy over there--she was
perfectly happy. I tell you, I think she had a happy life, and that's
my only consolation. She didn't live to be old; she was still
beautiful and young looking, and I feel she'd rather have gone before
she got old. She'd had a good husband, and all the comfort and luxury
that anybody could have--and how could it be called anything but a
happy life? She was always cheerful, and when I think of her I can
always see her laughing--I can always hear that pretty laugh of hers.
When I can keep my mind off of the trip home, and that last night, I
always think of her gay and laughing. So how on earth could she have
had anything but a happy life? People that aren't happy don't look
cheerful all the time, do they? They look unhappy if they are
unhappy; that's how they look! See here"--he faced her challengingly
--"do you deny that I did the right thing?"
"Oh, I don't pretend to judge," Fanny said soothingly, for his voice
and gesture both partook of wildness. "I know you think you did,
"Think I did!" he echoed violently. "My God in heaven!" And he began
to walk up and down the floor. "What else was there to do? What,
choice did I have? Was there any other way of stopping the talk?" He
stopped, close in front of her, gesticulating, his voice harsh and
loud: "Don't you hear me? I'm asking you: Was there any other way on
earth of protecting her from the talk?"
Miss Fanny looked away. "It died down before long, I think," she said
"That shows I was right, doesn't it?" he cried. "If I hadn't acted as
I did, that slanderous old Johnson woman would have kept on with her
slanders--she'd still be--"
"No," Fanny interrupted. "She's dead. She dropped dead with apoplexy
one day about six weeks after you left. I didn't mention it in my
letters because I didn't want--I thought--"
"Well, the other people would have kept on, then. They'd have--"
"I don't know," said Fanny, still averting her troubled eyes. "Things
are so changed here, George. The other people you speak of--one
hardly knows what's become of them. Of course not a great many were
doing the talking, and they--well, some of them are dead, and some
might as well be--you never see them any more--and the rest, whoever
they were, are probably so mixed in with the crowds of new people that
seem never even to have heard of us--and I'm sure we certainly never
heard of them--and people seem to forget things so soon--they seem to
forget anything. You can't imagine how things have changed here!"
George gulped painfully before he could speak. "You--you mean to sit
there and tell me that if I'd just let things go on--Oh!" He swung
away, walking the floor again. "I tell you I did the only right
thing! If you don't think so, why in the name of heaven can't you say
what else I should have done? It's easy enough to criticize, but the
person who criticizes a man ought at least to tell him what else he
should have done! You think I was wrong!"
"I'm not saying so," she said.
"You did at the time!" he cried. "You said enough then, I think!
Well, what have you to say now, if you're so sure I was wrong?"
"It's only because you're afraid to!" he said, and he went on with a
sudden bitter divination: "You're reproaching yourself with what you
had to do with all that; and you're trying to make up for it by doing
and saying what you think mother would want you to, and you think I
couldn't stand it if I got to thinking I might have done differently.
Oh, I know! That's exactly what's in your mind: you do think I was
wrong! So does Uncle George. I challenged him about it the other day,
and he answered just as you're answering--evaded, and tried to be
gentler I don't care to be handled with gloves! I tell you I was
right, and I don't need any coddling by people that think I wasn't!
And I suppose you believe I was wrong not to let Morgan see her that
last night when he came here, and she--she was dying. If you do, why
in the name of God did you come and ask me? You could have taken him
in! She did want to see him. She--"
Miss Fanny looked startled. "You think--"
"She told me so!" And the tortured young man choked. "She said--
'just once.' She said 'I'd like to have seen him--just once!' She
meant--to tell him good-bye! That's what she meant! And you put this
on me, too; you put this responsibility on me! But I tell you, and I
told Uncle George, that the responsibility isn't all mine! If you
were so sure I was wrong all the time--when I took her away, and when
I turned Morgan out--if you were so sure, what did you let me do it
for? You and Uncle George were grown people, both of you, weren't
you? You were older than I, and if you were so sure you were wiser
than I, why did you just stand around with your hands hanging down,
and let me go ahead? You could have stopped it if it was wrong,
Fanny shook her head. "No, George," she said slowly. "Nobody could
have stopped you. You were too strong, and--"
"And what?" he demanded loudly.
"And she loved you--too well."
George stared at her hard, then his lower lip began to move
convulsively, and he set his teeth upon it but could not check its
He ran out of the room.
She sat still, listening. He had plunged into his mother's room, but
no sound came to Fanny's ears after the sharp closing of the door; and
presently she rose and stepped out into the hall--but could hear
nothing. The heavy black walnut door of Isabel's room, as Fanny's
troubled eyes remained fixed upon it, seemed to become darker and
vaguer; the polished wood took the distant ceiling light, at the end
of the hall, in dim reflections which became mysterious; and to
Fanny's disturbed mind the single sharp point of light on the bronze
door-knob was like a continuous sharp cry in the stillness of night.
What interview was sealed away from human eye and ear within the
lonely darkness on the other side of that door--in that darkness where
Isabel's own special chairs were, and her own special books, and the
two great walnut wardrobes filled with her dresses and wraps? What
tragic argument might be there vainly striving to confute the gentle
dead? "In God's name, what else could I have done?" For his mother's
immutable silence was surely answering him as Isabel in life would
never have answered him, and he was beginning to understand how
eloquent the dead can be. They cannot stop their eloquence, no matter
how they have loved the living: they cannot choose. And so, no matter
in what agony George should cry out, "What else could I have done?"
and to the end of his life no matter how often he made that wild
appeal, Isabel was doomed to answer him with the wistful, faint
"I'd like to have-seen him. Just--just once."
A cheerful darkey went by the house, loudly and tunelessly whistling
some broken thoughts upon women, fried food and gin; then a group of
high school boys, returning homeward after important initiations, were
heard skylarking along the sidewalk, rattling sticks on the fences,
squawking hoarsely, and even attempting to sing in the shocking new
voices of uncompleted adolescence. For no reason, and just as a
poultry yard falls into causeless agitation, they stopped in front of
the house, and for half an hour produced the effect of a noisy
multitude in full riot.
To the woman standing upstairs in the hall, this was almost
unbearable; and she felt that she would have to go down and call to
them to stop; but she was too timid, and after a time went back to her
room, and sat at her desk again. She left the door open, and
frequently glanced out into the hall, but gradually became once more
absorbed in the figures which represented her prospective income from
her great plunge in electric lights for automobiles. She did not hear
George return to his own room.
A superstitious person might have thought it unfortunate that her
partner in this speculative industry (as in Wilbur's disastrous
rolling-mills) was that charming but too haphazardous man of the world,
George Amberson. He was one of those optimists who believe that if
you put money into a great many enterprises one of them is sure to
turn out a fortune, and therefore, in order to find the lucky one, it
is only necessary to go into a large enough number of them.
Altogether gallant in spirit, and beautifully game under catastrophe,
he had gone into a great many, and the unanimity of their "bad luck,"
as he called it, gave him one claim to be a distinguished person, if
he had no other. In business he was ill fated with a consistency
which made him, in that alone, a remarkable man; and he declared, with
some earnestness, that there was no accounting for it except by the
fact that there had been so much good luck in his family before he was
born that something had to balance it.
"You ought to have thought of my record and stayed out," he told
Fanny, one day the next spring, when the affairs of the headlight
company had begun to look discouraging. "I feel the old familiar
sinking that's attended all my previous efforts to prove myself a
business genius. I think it must be something like the feeling an
aeronaut has when his balloon bursts, and, looking down, he sees below
him the old home farm where he used to live--I mean the feeling he'd
have just before he flattened out in that same old clay barnyard.
Things do look bleak, and I'm only glad you didn't go into this
confounded thing to the extent I did."
Miss Fanny grew pink. "But it must go right!" she protested. "We saw
with our own eyes how perfectly it worked in the shop. The light was
so bright no one could face it, and so there can't be any reason for
it not to work. It simply--"
"Oh, you're right about that," Amberson said. "It certainly was a
perfect thing--in the shop! The only thing we didn't know was how
fast an automobile had to go to keep the light going. It appears that
this was a matter of some importance."
"Well, how fast does one have to--"
"To keep the light from going entirely out," he informed her with
elaborate deliberation, "it is computed by those enthusiasts who have
bought our product--and subsequently returned it to us and got their
money back--they compute that a motor car must maintain a speed of
twenty-five miles an hour, or else there won't be any light at all.
To make the illumination bright enough to be noticed by an approaching
automobile, they state the speed must be more than thirty miles an
hour. At thirty-five, objects in the path of the light begin to
become visible; at forty they are revealed distinctly; and at fifty
and above we have a real headlight. Unfortunately many people don't
care to drive that fast at all times after dusk, especially in the
traffic, or where policemen are likely to become objectionable."
"But think of that test on the road when we--"
"That test was lovely," he admitted. "The inventor made us happy with
his oratory, and you and Frank Bronson and I went whirling through the
night at a speed that thrilled us. It was an intoxicating sensation:
we were intoxicated by the lights, the lights and the music. We must
never forget that drive, with the cool wind kissing our cheeks and the
road lit up for miles ahead. We must never forget it and we never
shall. It cost--
"But something's got to be done."
"It has, indeed! My something would seem to be leaving my watch at my
uncle's. Luckily, you--"
The pink of Fanny's cheeks became deeper. "But isn't that man going
to do anything to remedy it? can't he try to--"
"He can try," said Amberson. "He is trying, in fact. I've sat in the
shop watching him try for several beautiful afternoons, while outside
the windows all Nature was fragrant with spring and smoke. He hums
ragtime to himself as he tries, and I think his mind is wandering to
something else less tedious--to some new invention in which he'd take
"But you mustn't let him," she cried. "You must make him keep on
"Oh, yes. He understands that's what I sit there for. I'll keep
However, in spite of the time he spent sitting in the shop, worrying
the inventor of the fractious light, Amberson found opportunity to
worry himself about another matter of business. This was the
settlement of Isabel's estate.
"It's curious about the deed to her house," he said to his nephew.
"You're absolutely sure it wasn't among her papers?"
"Mother didn't have any papers," George told him. "None at all. All
she ever had to do with business was to deposit the cheques
grandfather gave her and then write her own cheques against them."
"The deed to the house was never recorded," Amberson said
thoughtfully. "I've been over to the courthouse to see. I asked
father if he never gave her one, and he didn't seem able to understand
me at first. Then he finally said he thought he must have given her a
deed long ago; but he wasn't sure. I rather think he never did. I
think it would be just as well to get him to execute one now in your
favour. I'll speak to him about it."
George sighed. "I don't think I'd bother him about it: the house is
mine, and you and I understand that it is. That's enough for me, and
there isn't likely to be much trouble between you and me when we come
to settling poor grandfather's estate. I've just been with him, and I
think it would only confuse him for you to speak to him about it
again. I notice he seems distressed if anybody tries to get his
attention--he's a long way off, somewhere, and be likes to stay that
way. I think--I think mother wouldn't want us to bother him about it;
I'm sure she'd tell us to let him alone. He looks so white and
Amberson shook his head. "Not much whiter and queerer than you do,
young fellow! You'd better begin to get some air and exercise and
quit hanging about in the house all day. I won't bother him any more
than I can help; but I'll have the deed made out ready for his
"I wouldn't bother him at all. I don't see--"
"You might see," said his uncle uneasily. "The estate is just about
as involved and mixed-up as an estate can well get, to the best of my
knowledge; and I haven't helped it any by what he let me have for this
infernal headlight scheme which has finally gone trolloping forever to
where the woodbine twineth. Leaves me flat, and poor old Frank
Bronson just half flat, and Fanny--well, thank heaven! I kept her
from going in so deep that it would leave her flat. It's rough on her
as it is, I suspect. You ought to have that deed."
"No. Don't bother him."
"I'll bother him as little as possible. I'll wait till some day when
he seems to brighten up a little."
But Amberson waited too long. The Major had already taken eleven
months since his daughter's death to think important things out. He
had got as far with them as he could, and there was nothing to detain
him longer in the world. One evening his grandson sat with him--the
Major seemed to like best to have young George with him, so far as
they were able to guess his preferences--and the old gentleman made a
queer gesture: he slapped his knee as if he had made a sudden
discovery, or else remembered that he had forgotten something.
George looked at him with an air of inquiry, but said nothing. He had
grown to be almost as silent as his grandfather. However, the Major
spoke without being questioned.
"It must be in the sun," he said. "There wasn't anything here but the
sun in the first place, and the earth came out of the sun, and we came
out of the earth. So, whatever we are, we must have been in the sun.
We go back to the earth we came out of, so the earth will go back to
the sun that it came out of. And time means nothing--nothing at all--
so in a little while we'll all be back in the sun together. I wish--"
He moved his hand uncertainly as if reaching for something, and George
jumped up. "Did you want anything, grandfather?"
"Would you like a glass of water?"
"No--no. No; I don't want anything." The reaching hand dropped back
upon the arm of his chair, and he relapsed into silence; but a few
minutes later he finished the sentence he had begun:
"I wish--somebody could tell me!"
The next day he had a slight cold, but he seemed annoyed when his son
suggested calling the doctor, and Amberson let him have his own way so
far, in fact, that after he had got up and dressed, the following
morning, he was all alone when he went away to find out what he hadn't
been able to think out--all those things he had wished "somebody"
would tell him.
Old Sam, shuffling in with the breakfast tray, found the Major in his
accustomed easy-chair by the fireplace--and yet even the old darkey
could see instantly that the Major was not there.
When the great Amberson Estate went into court for settlement, "there
wasn't any," George Amberson said--that is, when the settlement was
concluded there was no estate. "I guessed it," Amberson went on. "As
an expert on prosperity, my career is disreputable, but as a prophet
of calamity I deserve a testimonial banquet." He reproached himself