Booth Tarkington (18381918). The Magnificent Ambersons. 1918.
AT least, it may be claimed for George that his last night in the house where he had been born was not occupied with his own disheartening future, but with sorrow for what sacrifices his pride and youth had demanded of others. And early in the morning he came downstairs and tried to help Fanny make coffee on the kitchen range.
There was something I wanted to say to you last night, Aunt Fanny, he said, as she finally discovered that an amber fluid, more like tea than coffee, was as near ready to be taken into the human system as it would ever be. I think Id better do it now.
She set the coffee-pot back upon the stove with a little crash, and, looking at him in a desperate anxiety, began to twist her dainty apron between her fingers without any consciousness of what she was doing.
Whywhy she stammered; but she knew what he was going to say, and that was why she had been more and more nervous. Hadntperhapsperhaps wed better get thethe things moved to the little new home first, George. Lets
He interrupted quietly, though at her phrase, the little new home, his pungent impulse was to utter one loud shout and run. It was about this new place that I wanted to speak. Ive been thinking it over, and Ive decided. I want you to take all the things from mothers room and use them and keep them for me, and Im sure the little apartment will be just what you like; and with the extra bedroom probably you could find some woman friend to come and live there, and share the expense with you. But Ive decided on another arrangement for myself, and so Im not going with you. I dont suppose youll mind much, and I dont see why you should mindparticularly, that is. Im not very lively company these days, or any days, for that matter. I cant imagine you, or any one else, being much attached to me, so
I cant. Im too weak. Let me alone, George! And as he released the wrist he had seized to help her, she repeated the dismal prophecy which for days she had been matching against her hopes: Youre going to leave mein the lurch!
Why no, Aunt Fanny! he protested. At first Id have been something of a burden on you. Im to get eight dollars a week; about thirty-two a month. The rents thirty-six dollars a month, and the table-dhôte dinner runs up to over twenty-two dollars apiece, so with my half of the renteighteen dollarsId have less than nothing left out of my salary to pay my share of the groceries for all the breakfasts and luncheons. You see youd not only be doing all the housework and cooking, but, youd be paying more of the expenses than I would.
Then it was Uncle George. He told me you had enough to fall back on. Thats just what he said: to fall back on. He said youd lost more than you should, in the headlight company, but hed insisted that you should hold out enough to live on, and youd very wisely followed his advice.
I know, she said weakly. I told him so. He didnt know, or else hed forgotten, how much Wilburs insurance amounted to, and Ioh, it seemed such a sure way to make a real fortune out of a littleand I thought I could do something for you, George, if you ever came to need itand it all looked so bright I just thought Id put it all in. I didevery cent except my last interest paymentand its gone.
I couldnt tell till I had to, she said piteously. I couldnt till George Amberson went away. He couldnt do anything to help, anyhow, and I just didnt want him to talk to me about ithes been at me so much about not putting more in than I could afford to lose, and said he considered he had mymy word I wasnt putting more than that in it. So I thought: What was the use? What was the use of going over it all with him and having him reproach me, and probably reproach himself? It wouldnt do any goodnot any good on earth. She got out her lace handkerchief and began to cry. Nothing does any good, I guess, in this old world! Oh, how tired of this old world I am! I didnt know what to do. I just tried to go ahead and be as practical as I could, and arrange some way for us to live. Oh, I knew you didnt want me, George! You always teased me and berated me whenever you had a chance from the time you were a little boyyou did so! Later, youve tried to be kinder to me, but you dont want me aroundoh, I can see that much! You dont suppose I want to thrust myself on you, do you? It isnt very pleasant to be thrusting yourself on a person you know doesnt want youbut I knew you oughtnt to be left all alone in the world; it isnt good. I knew your mothers want me to watch over you and try to have something like a home for youI know shed want me to do what I tried to do! Fannys tears were bitter now, and her voice, hoarse and wet, was tragically sincere. I triedI tried to be practicalto look after your intereststo make things as nice for you as I couldI walked my heels down looking for a place for us to liveI walked and walked over this townI didnt ride one block on a street-carI wouldnt use five cents no matter how tired I Oh! She sobbed uncontrollably. Oh! and nowyou dont wantyou wantyou want to leave me in the lurch! You
George stopped walking. In Gods name, Aunt Fanny, he said, quit spreading out your handkerchief and drying it and then getting it all wet again! I mean stop crying! Do! And for heavens sake, get up. Dont sit there with your back against the boiler and
He got her to her feet; she leaned upon him, already somewhat comforted, and, with his arm about her, he conducted her to the dining room and seated her in one of the two kitchen chairs which had been placed at the rough table. There! he said, get over it! Then he brought the coffee-pot, some lumps of sugar in a tin pan, and, finding that all the coffee-cups were broken, set water glasses upon the table, and poured some of the pale coffee into them. By this time Fannys spirits had revived appreciably: she looked up with a plaintive eagerness. I had bought all my fall clothes, George, she said; and I paid every bill I owed. I dont owe a cent for clothes, George.
Thats good, he said wanly, and he had a moment of physical dizziness that decided him to sit down quickly. For an instant it seemed to him that he was not Fannys nephew, but married to her. He passed his pale hand over his paler forehead. Well, lets see where we stand, he said feebly. Lets see if we can afford this place youve selected.
Fanny continued to brighten. Im sure its the most practical plan we could possibly have worked out, Georgeand it is a comfort to be among nice people. I think well both enjoy it, because the truth is weve been keeping too much to ourselves for a long while. It isnt good for people.
Im sure we can manage it, she interrupted quickly. There really isnt a cheaper place in town that we could actually live in and be Here she interrupted herself. Oh! Theres one great economy I forgot to tell you, and its especially an economy for you, because youre always too generous about such things: they dont allow any tipping. They have signs that prohibit it.
Thats good, he said grimly. But the rent is thirty-six dollars a month; the dinner is twenty-two and a half for each of us, and weve got to have some provision for other food. We wont need any clothes for a year, perhaps
...It was early, and old Frank, just established at his big, flat-topped desk, was surprised when his prospective assistant and pupil walked in. He was pleased, as well as surprised, however, and rose, offering a cordial old hand. The real flare! he said. The real flare for the law. Thats right! Couldnt wait till afternoon to begin! Im delighted that you
Wait just a minute, my boy. Ive prepared a little speech of welcome, and even though youre five hours ahead of time, I mean to deliver it. First of all, your grandfather was my old war-comrade and my best client; for years I prospered through my connection with his business, and his grandson is welcome in my office and to my best efforts in his behalf. But I want to confess, Georgie, that during your earlier youth I may have had some slight feeling ofwell, prejudice, not altogether in your favour; but whatever slight feeling it was, it began to vanish on that afternoon, a good while ago, when you stood up to your Aunt Amelia Amberson as you did in the Majors library, and talked to her as a man and a gentleman should. I saw then what good stuff was in youand I always wanted to mention it. If my prejudice hadnt altogether vanished after that, the last vestiges disappeared during these trying times that have come upon you this past year, when I have been a witness to the depth of feeling youve shown and your quiet consideration for your grandfather and for everyone else around you. I just want to add that I think youll find an honest pleasure now in industry and frugality that wouldnt have come to you in a more frivolous career. The law is a jealous mistress and a stern mistress, but a
You see shes set her mind on this apartment, George explained. Shes got some old cronies there, and I guess shes been looking forward to the games of bridge and the kind of harmless gossip that goes on in such places. Really, its a life shed like better than anything elsebetter than that shes lived at home, I really believe. It struck me shes just about got to have it, and after all she could hardly have anything less.
This comes pretty heavily upon me, you know, said old Frank. I got her into that headlight company, and she fooled me about her resources as much as she did your Uncle George. I was never your fathers adviser, if you remember, and when the insurance was turned over to her some other lawyer arranged itprobably your fathers. But it comes pretty heavily on me, and I feel a certain responsibility.
No, George agreed. But I havent begun my career at the law so it cant be said Im making any considerable sacrifice. Ill tell you how it is, sir. He flushed, and, looking out of the streaked and smoky window beside which he was sitting, spoke with difficulty. I feel as ifas if perhaps I had one or two pretty important things in my life to make up for. Well, I cant. I cant make them up toto whom I would. Its struck me that, as I couldnt, I might be a little decent to somebody else, perhapsif I could manage it! I never have been particularly decent to poor old Aunt Fanny.
Oh, I dont know: I shouldnt say that. A little youthful teasingI doubt if shes minded so much. She felt your fathers death terrifically, of course, but it seems to me shes had a fairly comfortable lifeup to nowif she was disposed to take it that way.
But up to now is the important thing, George said. Now is nowand you see I cant wait two years to be admitted to the bar and begin to practice. Ive got to start in at something else that pays from the start, and thats what Ive come to you about. I have an idea, you see.
George flushed again, but managed to laugh at his own embarrassment. I suppose Im about as ignorant of business as anybody in the world, he said. But Ive heard they pay very high wages to people in dangerous trades; Ive always heard they did, and Im sure it must be true. I mean people that handle touchy chemicals or high explosivesmen in dynamite factories, or who take things of that sort about the country in wagons, and shoot oil wells. I thought Id see if you couldnt tell me something more about it, or else introduce me to someone who could, and then I thought Id see if I couldnt get something of the kind to do as soon as possible. My nerves are good; Im muscular, and Ive got a steady hand; it seemed to me that this was about the only line of work in the world that Im fitted for. I wanted to get started to-day if I could.
Old Frank gave him a long stare. At first this scrutiny was sharply incredulous; then it was grave; finally it developed into a threat of overwhelming laughter; a forked vein in his forehead became more visible and his eyes seemed about to protrude.
But he controlled his impulse; and, rising, took up his hat and overcoat. All right, he said. If youll promise not to get blown up, Ill go with you to see if we can find the job. Then, meaning what he said, but amazed that he did mean it, he added: You certainly are the most practical young man I ever met!