The Grandmothers/Chapter 15

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The Grandmothers by Glenway Wescott

MEANWHILE his grandmother Tower was looking forward to a short but momentous journey; making ready, not in secret, but before her children and grandchildren, telling them again and again where she was going and that she was willing to go. To the least known of the lands over which, like a lantern, the new moon hung. . . . She sorted and packed her few belongings, not to take with her, but to leave behind; and wrote on the backs of daguerreotypes, on the flyleaf of the hair album, and on slips of paper attached to the most precious keepsakes, the little scattered clauses of her last will and testament: "This is to be for Alwyn, Grandma," or, "To be sent to my son Evan, R. Tower. also searched her memory to see if there were any stories of the early days which she had not told; and of those which the family knew by heart, repeated the ones which she thought it most important to have remembered, though it made her heart palpitate now to talk long at a time.

But she liked best to be alone under the sugar maples or before an open door, and to gaze at the lanes which still seemed new to her though fenced before her grandchildren were born, the tall trees which were younger than she, the stubble land covered with stones, the weedy summer hay. Apparently it was going to cost her more to leave the farm, its particular horizon, its portion of sky overhead, than to leave her surviving relatives or to part with life itself.

At the same time the Towers, her son and his family, were also preparing for a journey, another of the migrations which had scattered such families over America: less heroic and shorter than in former times, because the continent had been tamed, and there was no reason to go far now—it was more or less alike from coast to coast. John Craig and James Tower having, at the former's suggestion, given Ralph their shares of the farm, he and his mother had sold it to buy a smaller, more profitable one, without marsh or hills, about fifty miles away on the outskirts of the college town of Brighton.

The old woman had given her consent to this transaction because of her firm belief that the old should not be a burden to the young, above all when the latter were poor. And she had always maintained that people should be willing to leave the world after a certain age; now she would prove that she was willing, by going without a murmur away from the one valley which was all of it that she loved or knew. She would not be obliged nor even able to stay with them long, wherever they should go.

Ralph was glad to move. The four walls of the new home (in which no one of his blood had died, or been angry, frightened, or disappointed, or felt the pinch of poverty) seemed to promise to hold for him. new prosperity, enthusiasm, rest. . . . The silver poplars standing all around it, like tall women dressed in leaves, seemed to beckon to him. His brothers' generosity had put an end to his resentment at not having had a chance as a boy; and now it seemed that by merely moving fifty miles away he was to come, first of his family, into a promised land of prolific livestock, abundant crops, and soft, level furrows without stones.

The farm which Henry Tower, with his farsighted eyes, his ax and divining rod, had picked out in the wilderness, had not kept many of the promises which on those early mornings it had made, or seemed to make. Royally vast and fertile in large part, the Northwest Territory had been spread out for the newcomers to take what they pleased. To Henry Tower, unwisely aristocratic, beauty and prosperity had looked alike. Misled, perhaps, by the spirits of ancestors homesick for European meadows and hunting highlands, he had chosen merely the loveliest piece of land he had ever seen, and upon it had built his hopes.

It would not have been unworthy of a pleasure pavilion or manor house. In one corner in a tiny forest wild roses, wild grapes and strawberries, mandrake and belladonna, were heaped on the sweet, moldy soil under the trees. In front of it low fields were flooded in spring with water full of frogs, where wild birds of every sort gathered to paddle and flutter, to stalk and doze, hunching their shoulders. Beyond those fields there lay a swamp over which the horizon was draped with melancholy tamaracks. In another direction there was a brighter vista: interwoven slopes, white roads, dwelling places, and far away a lake, glittering in the daytime as a lighthouse glitters at night. The house and barns were protected by small, high hills standing in a half circle. The tallest of those six hills arm in arm wore a hawthorn on whose wiry boughs every spring a few blossoms shone like bits of pink crystal and every summer a few lumpy thorn apples hung—a small tree shaped like a coronet. But it was the only emblem of wealth and power which that property could have enabled its owners to afford, except their intangible crowns in heaven.

For half of the farm lay on those hilltops, and there half of the earth was stone. The slopes were so steep that the wagons carrying home the poor harvest had to have their wheels chained and be brought down like sledges. The rains descended in torrents, rolling down bowlders, digging in the good fields gullies deeper than a man is tall, washing the top soil off into the swamp. The only valuable piece was twenty acres which Rose Hamilton had brought into the family as her dowry; even it was covered with deep-rooted, perennial weeds and thistles to choke the corn and corrupt the grain. Perhaps the very instincts which had impelled Henry Tower to settle there had prevented him and his sons from working the farm as effectively as might have been done, though to the end of time it would be an ungrateful tract of land.

The sale of it to a German farmer for his newly-married, middle-aged son took place in midsummer. After harvest an auction of farm machinery, some of the livestock, worn furniture, and household goods, was held. All afternoon the neighbors drifted about the place, bidding indifferently on this or that, and their wives handled and carried off bit by bit the intimate miscellany. Alwyn's grandmother wept at the abandonment of certain insignificant objects, the small children at the loss of others. Alwyn spent the night with his grandmother in the nearly empty rooms; she sat up in bed, her lips never at rest, and he could not be sure whether she was praying or whether people not actually there were keeping her company as well. The family slept in various neighboring houses.

The next day at dawn Alwyn and a hired man named Karl set out with two teams, the draft horses drawing a manure spreader loaded with crates, implements, tools, and small machinery, with a buggy and a corn planter hitched behind it; the driving horses a lumber wagon full of cages of poultry, cats and dogs in boxes, barrels of dishes and kitchen utensils, and trunks of clothes, behind which trailed the three-seated carriage that his grandmother cherished. Cattle and hogs had gone in a box car several days before. His father was to accompany the family and the old woman in an automobile. Thus, rather sadly, with less extravagant hopes, without canal boats or oxen or weapons, without cause for fear or singing—their modern migration was accomplished.

The east was covered with tiny clouds like the torn bits of paper which a newcomer finds in a dismantled house; the sun entered the sky like such a newcomer. Frost-bitten maples and ash covered the land with blotches of blood and rust; the debris of harvest lay in the fields. By the middle of the morning Alwyn and the hired man crossed the Iron Ridge and came to a new sort of countryside.

They ate dinner at the back of a dirty store in a town called Eden. Alwyn's companion, a huge man of thirty who was like an adolescent, had had to work so hard as a child that he was stoop-shouldered. When he was not using his hands, which he did with difficulty on account of their size, they hung slightly in front of him. Long after he had been spoken to, a scarcely perceptible movement of understanding would pass upward across his brick-red face, from the heavy mouth to the heavy blue eyes. Alwyn was fond of this Karl because, as a giant, he was mysterious, because he was warm-hearted and happier than other people.

It occurred to Alwyn then that his had been the last of the pioneer families in the community from which he and the hired man were driving their belongings away, and that Karl was like the men who were left. The early settlers had lived and done their work for others, not quite as they had meant to; because of their blood in his veins, Alwyn thought of them with pity and of the others with resentment.

Most of the new people, Saxons and Bavarians, had come there without a penny. Then they had hired out to the settlers and put by more of their earnings than any Anglo-Saxons could. Steadily they had bought fields, farms, and at last groups of farms. These determined fathers made their women and children work like serfs—the healthy young ones hurried into the fields. the unhealthy allowed to die, and more begotten. Their sons were not permitted to marry until their late twenties, or later still; then, broken to harness, they were put upon adjoining farms. There was no talk among them of letting the young go their own way.

Meanwhile the original families seemed to be dying out; at any rate, they were being scattered. Delicate health, without any particular illness to cause it, began to be common among them; vague desires for an easier, less monotonous life arose. Money was spent on the education of children, thus lost to the family. Very few of the cleverer sons were willing to stay on the land; the daughters preferred not to marry farmers. Besides youngsters, certain fathers of families went further west; still more retired in middle life, discouraged and dependent on others, or content with just enough to live on.

The immigrants were glad to see them go. They believed that children should be envious of no one but their own elders; now there would be an end of the bad example of discontented Yankees going off to school or to town. And for their own comfort, no more interference with their primitive habits, such as beating their wives, animals and children, or their amusements, such as Sunday dancing and drinking. . . .

That morning before Alwyn had left the farm he had seen, standing in a row on the cellar door, about a dozen of the Duffy's whisky bottles which his grandfather had emptied while he was dying; during the auction someone must have gone into the cellar in search of just such traces of their private lives; and since all his family were eager prohibitionists, Alwyn supposed there had been complaints of their hypocrisy, and bad-tempered laughter.

At nightfall the two young men and the string of vehicles were far from their destination. They turned off the highway to make a short cut by a number of diagonal roads. These led through a forest in which there were dogs howling (probably about a carcass or a pile of bones) across a sour-smelling marsh, past only very small, dark houses, through no villages. They began to believe that they had lost their way. The hungry horses hung back, pushed each other out of the road, and tried to turn up every lane; they at least could not go on much longer. His father, used to finding his way in the North like an Indian, had described the turnings for him, with a schoolhouse, a tree, a hill, by which to recognize each one; and Alwyn looked forward miserably to his criticism, if they did not arrive when they were expected. But for a few hours not himself but what looked in the dark like an utter wilderness, was in control of him and of what he could do: he was willing and in awe of it; he was stubbornly hopeful, resentfully proud. . . . Then it occurred to him that such must have been the emotions with which the first journeys there had been accomplished, of which, probably, every heart in the early days had been full.

Those days were at an end; they were dead. For a few hours, for him (for other hours, perhaps, for others) they were imitated by accident, or in imagination roused from the dead. . . . Mornings encircled with drab forest as if by a great hair wreath. Afternoons in which wild bouquets arranged according to the language of flowers were passed from one innocent, calloused hand to another—Alwyn, in that sense, did not have innocent hands. Evenings whose hilltop sunsets faded as funeral wreaths fade, on the mounds in which rest those who died in the heat of the day-of the heat of the day. Nights like that night. . . .

"Hey!" Alwyn's companion called back from the seat of the manure spreader, "my horses is balkin' on me. What d'ya think?" The soft German voice. . . .

Day after day, in which there had been only the dry voices of Americans continually expressing hope and disappointment, praying, bargaining, bearing witness to facts and to the Lord. Days linked at daybreak by the sun rolling over the horizon like a great ball over the boundary line of a game (that game had been played, everyone had played and everyone had lost, or perhaps everyone had won—in heaven at least). Linked at noon by the things which happened every day: the watering of badly fed horses (the younger of Alwyn's team whinnied fiercely but was not answered); the feeding of cattle whose bags were black with muck from the swamps (his grandmother had told him how, during certain winters when the cattle had nothing to eat but the strawstack and were sick, his grandfather had slit open their tails and put in pepper and salt); hurried meals of salt pork, bread, and potatoes; horns of traveling venders of medicine and fish, drawing up before the door; childbirth; the return of hunters from the woods.

Suddenly, as if an instinct of his hunting ancestors had been waked in him, Alwyn thought he recognized a lightning-scarred tree of which his father had spoken, and shouted to Karl that there was a crossroads, and to turn to the right. He began to have hope and to dare to admit his fatigue.

Hope, hunting, quarrels with fathers, need, fatigue, and self-control—in those days there had been nothing but these emotions. He was determined that there should be other things for him at least. . . . Other things than mere body and soul kept together with determination, held together by hand, by inhuman-looking hands stained with sores. . . . No one had ever got enough sleep; night after night had been troubled by worry over the weather and the crops, by misunderstandings between husband and wife which there had not been time enough to settle, by the breakdown of women who had borne too much, some falling ill and welcoming death, some going mad and waking their distracted menfolk to talk nonsense.

Then Alwyn realized that his instinct about the road had been mistaken; they had taken a wrong turning. His heart sank. What were they going to do? He put off telling the hired man.

Perhaps if he had paid more attention, instead of thinking about things which did not matter in the least that night. . . . Nevertheless, hypnotized by the jolting of the wagon, he could not stop. His thought was like the sort of nightmare in which terrors do not frighten, nor pains hurt—they were not his terrors and pains, except the one of having lost the way. Dreamy composite pictures which could serve no purpose. Then his memory, working ingeniously against his will, suggested to him instead this or that about his relatives, details of which they were made up.

His grandmother Tower called his grandfather Duff "a snake in the grass"; there was a negro song which began, "The devil is a snake in the grass."

He wondered if his father would go on doing taxidermy in the new home—killing, skinning, stuffing birds and animals.

His great-aunt Mary had driven like this all the way from Missouri to Wisconsin. A sort of migratory bird, with three husbands, beside her journeys which were like love affairs with various parts of the world.

Indeed, Alwyn thought, roads were to the Mississippi Valley what seas, wars, religions, had been to other places in history. Coming and going of men sick at their stomachs from the motion of their own feet, or saddle horses, or vehicles (as he was). In the beginning his hard boy-grandfather marking a trail on tree trunks with an ax—as if the thread through a labyrinth had slightly worn away its pillars here and there. Roads with no particular beginning or end had been the shifting foundations of life in the West—had been and still were. They gave a wretched monotony to one's thought about it, and one could not speak of its inhabitants without repeating the word. That night Alwyn thought of this common fact with wonder, with sickness of heart, with rather selfish pity for the pioneers—race of religious, childish, energetic tramps that they were because he himself had gone astray on a road that he did not know. He thought, It must be midnight, but did not dare ask the hired man, who had a watch.

Pathetically ambitious at that period of his life, he wondered if he could make any use of the scanty knowledge of such matters which he possessed. Did modern men and women in cities have any curiosity about old times, any interest in the way people lived or had lived in the country? Probably little or none. He knew that very soon he would be living in some city or another—not where his relatives had passed their uneasy lives and died, or got ready to die. He might try to write something about them.

It occurred to him discouragingly that he would then be doing no more than his father did with birds and animals: spreading out and cleaning the bones (the drier, the better they would keep); choosing a single attitude for each one and wiring it as firmly as possible; arranging them in groups as lifelike as groups of lifeless bodies could be. His father also gave them glass eyes, and painted their mouths and claws; the paint faded. But then, so did living colors—on beak and claw, and human face as well.

The biography which his grandfather Tower had sat down to write had turned out to be nothing but an account of the settlement of Wisconsin in his boyhood. Had he not dared to lift the reticence, like a winding sheet, which then hid or at any rate disguised the pity of his life? Perhaps, though he had been eighty years old at the time, to do so would have waked the pain of a man of twenty or thirty; probably it would have seemed to him a sacrilege beside. The name of Serena Cannon was not to be found on the pages which Alwyn had seen—she who had woven all the wreaths; "the whitest hands of anybody in those days," according to Alwyn's grandmother. He had heard his grandfather say, with a look of cruel exasperation, "She was too good for this world, and went straight to the Holy City." Alwyn determined that his life should not be tragic, so that he should be able to tell about it if he wanted to.

Suddenly across the vacant fields he saw the lights of a town. Karl shouted. It was Brighton. That meant that his instinct about the crossroads had not been wrong; though of the third generation, a better pathfinder than he knew. . . . Lights, as in the Holy City to which all his people had wanted to go, soft and yellow. The tears came to his eyes and were gone at once. With a certain vanity, which meant that he was not so tired as he might have been, he told himself that he had never been so tired before. Miseries such as the jolting over the stony road, to which he had been trying not to pay attention for hours, took on a final intensity; the darkness, like a large animal, seeming to shake him, a small animal, between its teeth. He wondered if his long revery about the early days had not also been a sort of delirium. The last house before the entrance to the town was the new home.

He fell out of the high wagon as if asleep. There was a great excitement of the dogs barking in crates, of lanterns and his little sisters. His mother gave him a kiss. It was only a little past ten o'clock. He scarcely woke up until the next morning.

He was pleased at their having a new though ugly house to live in, but as he passed his grandmother's bedroom door he realized that it was to have other uses than those of life. At breakfast he asked his mother if his grandmother had wept upon leaving the old home. She had not, and had been heard to say to herself with strange determination, "Not for long, I tell you." Just before the start she had put her head out of the automobile, but her eyes had not seemed to be focused on anything in particular. Until nearly noon she had not said a word, her mouth, hands, and great body trembling a little from time to time.

Alwyn went in to see her in her new bedroom. Two of his sisters were there working for her. Sitting in an armchair, wrapped up in a red-and-white bedspread (quilted by her husband's first wife), she was supervising the arrangement of her photographs and keepsakes in a chest of drawers. Then she said: "Get my bed ready so I can lie down. Make it up with the head toward the window. For I declare, it makes me tired to look out at this flat country."

During the day she sent for her daughter-in-law. "Marianne," she said, "I'm not going to be able to do for myself from now on. I'll probably be sick most all the time until I die. You'll have to call in a doctor—or the relatives will complain. But I won't have a trained nurse. I want you to promise not to get one. It will make a lot of work for you and your children. Take it as easy as you can. I hope and pray it won't be for long. I am ready to go, and I want you to let nature take its course. That's all I have to say. Just let nature take its course."

A few days later Alwyn went away to school in Chicago. When he returned the following year in June she was evidently dying, and someone would have to sit up with her regularly. Alwyn had been ill; there was no question of his working on the farm; so he did the work of a night nurse all summer, until his grandmother died. She was glad that it was he, and glad that his father and mother could get their sleep, lest they be unfitted for the more important work in the busy season. "I can't tell any more stories," she said to Alwyn. "I'm not good for much these days, and it tires me to be talked to—you were always a great talker. So you'll just have to sit there."

During the winter she had grown emaciated; her pure white skin had relaxed; her cheeks had fallen; the large and regular bones made up a new face without much expression. She was dying of heart failure, with a variety of consequent sufferings: cold and fever, fitful nervous pain, partial starvation. During the worst attacks her heart began to stop beating as soon as she fell asleep; but though she had said months before that she was ready to die, she could not permit it to stop. She would shake herself, summon up her strength of character, gasp resolutely, begin again—before she knew what she was doing. Furthermore, she did not want to die in her sleep—apparently the only way she could—but upright in her bed, in full possession of her faculties, even, if she had dared to demand it, with her children and grandchildren about her, as she had lived.

Thus her illness was a bitter struggle between the oldest habit of her will, life, and the comparatively recent decision to die. She was a creature of habit, and had never been governed by her intellect; so it was not to be wondered at that the accomplishment of her purpose took the greater part of a year.

Alwyn sat in the doorway, the light of a lamp shaded in such a way as to shine directly on his book and softly over her bed—for she wanted to be able to see and watched the struggle night after night. He had been ill enough himself to have thought, with genuine if somewhat theoretical fear, of death; here was an object lesson in reality. At first he was surprised that he did not suffer at the sight of her suffering, nor feel the simple emotions which such an event called for. His active mind was quicker to examine than to be impressed, and he habitually fancied that everything and everyone resembled himself in some respect; so, full of a childish eagerness to be in awe, he was fascinated instead. It was as if he were writing his own experience (speculations and confused, self-conscious emotions) on one side of a page, now helped, now hindered by the half-legible characters on the other side, the side of death. Too soon, in any case, the page would have to be turned. Meanwhile his grandmother Duff was also dying, her mind first. After her husband's funeral, Marianne and her brother had arranged with their cousin Clara to care for the aged widow. Clara Peters, otherwise Mrs. Rudolph, a rough, poor woman, also lived in Aaronsville. The people who rented the little house down the street had complained because the old woman had kept coming there and trying the door. She would call over the hedge, "I-ra! I-ra!" and in a matter-of-fact way tell passers-by that her husband had locked her out; this had given rise to gossip. She would go up to mocking girls in the street and offer to rearrange their low-necked dresses with pins. Then her excursions had begun to be dangerous as well as embarrassing, for she would stop in the middle of the street to think, giving no heed to automobiles. Clara Peters's husband was good for nothing, and she had to support the family by taking in boarders and doing washing; so at last, unable to keep watch over the old woman, who would not do as she was told, she had had to lock her in a room during the day. There, remembering and singing those Protestant hymns which most put the fear of God in one's heart, she had not been unhappy—at least she had never wept; but she had been as headstrong as ever. Indeed, on certain occasions Clara Peters—exasperated by her obstinacy, tried beyond endurance by her own affairs—had been unable to keep from striking her, as lightly as possible of course; no one could altogether blame her.

This situation had not been unendurable to Alwyn's mother only because there had been no help for it. Her mother-in-law had required all her care that winter. They could not have afforded to hire help. There were also her younger children to think of; she had not dared to put before their wondering eyes the spectacle of two aged women dying one of them, the dearest, out of her mind. Fortunately her mother was not suffering in any ordinary way: invulnerable in her second childhood, forgetting her punishments the moment after, singing like a child. . . . So with her usual fortitude and peace of mind, Marianne had done her duty among the Towers. But not a day passed on which she did not weep at the thought of abandoning her own mother for her mother-in-law's sake, and she had seemed to be growing older in honor of the former's old age.

Now in the summer the end was not far off for them both. Alwyn's mother waited most impatiently for her mother to be taken away. She went to see her nearly every afternoon; but the old woman called Clara Peters Marianne, taking pains, as courteously as ever, to hide her inability to remember who Marianne was.

Watching beside his grandmother Tower's death-bed, Alwyn thought how his grandmother Duff would sometimes call him by the name of her eldest son, Andrew, and the next moment call him her sweetheart. His mother told him that throughout the winter, never realizing whose son he was, she had asked with young, fitful tenderness: "How is my sweetheart? Now, tell me the news of my young man. Is he getting on well out in the world?"

No one else had ever said that; no one, alive or dead, had thus made a place for him in the story. The avowal of old woman's love was shameless because it was old. Her mind, wandering, darkened; and suddenly a few words, very clear and somehow in tune, though even less reasonable than the rest. Like the saying of an oracle, to be interpreted two ways; in a play on words, a menace or a promise. Alwyn felt that he ought to determine which it was, and take it into account in whatever he did. A sibyl on a tripod, though it was a far cry to Greece. Up had come once more a sort of intoxicating smoke of death, of the bitter hearths of its residence, and he himself, her grandson, spoken of as her only surviving son and sweetheart. . . . According to the habit of his mind, he began to read meanings into what she had said, hour after empty hour in the doorway of his other grandmother's bedroom.

A law in the hearts of the savagest men forbidding them to love passionately their mothers, grandmothers. (It seemed that now the law usually forbade civilized or over-civilized men to love them in any way at all. . . .) And Alwyn had heard at school of an obscure belief, indefinitely old and held by many races in common, that by the breaking of that particular law, heroes, men accorded divine honors, had been made of common men. A distorted, unacknowledged set of traditions, being by nature both sacrosanct and shameful. . . . The sea is our mother. The furrow, a womb for the harvest, and Adonis (the word Adonis means the Lord); the garden and the tomb in the garden; initiation nights; caves, foun-tainheads, and retreats, like what gives birth to men, giving birth to them anew. Baptism: "ye must be born again of water and the Spirit." Twice-born, and the second time with a certain invulnerability and radiance, with certain unearthly abilities, or abnormal knowledge of what was coming. . . . There were a great many facts to interpret in this way which, sitting there to watch one of his grandmothers die, Alwyn could not remember.

Had this actually been believed, or was it merely a theory of professors with nothing better to do? It did not seem to matter. As soon as Alwyn thought of it, this tradition which rites and legends were supposed to represent, became in its turn a symbol of something else.

The word mother meant that which had produced one; therefore, not only a woman—wilderness, squalor, ideals, manias, regrets, sensuality, what con-solations there had been. . . . Curiosity was a child's love, a half-grown boy's, even his own, not long before—excited, needy, ignorant, and afraid of what was going to happen. The desire to understand was, after all, desire.

So some of these feverish, reactionary ones (he himself, for example) went back, in imagination, to what had produced them; their hope, anxiety, and interest went back. Against the law. The weak stayed; the strong returned—returned once more to the place from which they had gone back, from which then they would have to go forward. Backward and forward, two continual motions of the imagination making up that of their lives. Forward finally—but with as definite a purpose as could be added to what men have in common, habits of blundering. "Fumble and success," the rat in a cage of the psychology textbooks—the last and greatest success must be death. . . .

His grandmother began to reach for her handkerchief with a great hand which could not find its way. He gave it to her and smoothed the sheets under her chin.

At any rate, to proceed (if only toward death) on the basis of a little more experience than one had had time to acquire. Able to anticipate and control the next moment, perhaps infinitely little, by some understanding of what would make it what it would be- for was not each moment the child of those which had gone before? Able to build one's continual bridge from the past, across a sort of abyss in the dark, to the future, with a certain knowledge of at least one side of the abyss (the side from which one came) and a certain knowledge of other bridges: what they had been made of; how they had broken, with the hearts of their builders; why they had fallen again and again into the dark. Knowledge gained by breaking the law. . . . Alwyn thought with rather unreasonable pride that he had become a man in as nearly as possible the way that men had become heroes or gods.

His grandmother Tower was tossing very feebly, very slowly, from side to side of her pillow. He saw that the lock of gray hair on her forehead was like a dead star, ashes of a star. It was beginning to rain.

He had loved them indeed, and tried to see them clearly and at close hand, the old mothers who lay side. by side in the past as she lay in the dim lamplight, as many as there were locks of hair in Serena Cannon's album—loved them with the fever of inquisitiveness of an adolescent about love. Now he was a man, he supposed. His heart was heavy and the innocence of his mind darkened with what he had found out, or fancied he had found out—with theories like this one about incest and knowledge of the past.

His grandmother was talking to herself, but she no longer had breath enough for those who overheard to be able to understand. Alwyn fancied that he could understand without being able to hear.

It had all been like that, his understanding. Of Wisconsin, for example, in the flower of its age, the wild flower of its age. His sweetheart among the parts of the world. . . . When he was born it was already a mother, even a grandmother. Actually he was innocent and ignorant of its love, its resistance, its abandon and spiteful changes of heart. He had not been in time to go out to meet it with oxen and teams of hungry, hurried horses. He had not handled a rifle, an ax, a hammer, or a plow, on its great and tedious body. Nor had he eaten in a sort of habitual starvation the turnips which according to his grandfather had tasted like "Paradise apples." He had not feared God, nor begotten children, nor lived by the sweat of his brow. And perhaps he never would. . . .

But it had been true love, and not altogether sterile, illusory as the relation had been. In imagination, as adolescent boys, night after night and one indoor afternoon after another, suffer the enjoyment of those whom they have never touched or never even seen—he also had exhausted his boyhood to master an abstraction, a wilderness in the abstract, and to wring from its hypocritically rich body—what? Just enough knowledge to live on. . . . And it was the mother of the weak, incalculable manhood which, within and protected by his immature arms, lay like a newborn child.

His grandmother had slipped down in her bed, which made it hard for her to breathe; so he lifted her up, with his arms under hers. Her shoulders, which slipped out of her nightgown, looked as if the skin had been polished. He remembered how she had used to bathe late in the afternoon, with water heated in a great copper kettle which the Towers had brought from York State, and how, when he was a small boy, she had sometimes asked him to wash her back with a red-flannel cloth. As he worked he had studied the twisted, bluish veins, and wondered dreamily why the heart took such devious paths; and she had said, "Rub hard. Get on with it, or I shall take cold! . . ." For the first time since she had been dying, the tears came to Alwyn's eyes.

He sat down again in his chair amid the books lying on the floor, under the lamp, and tried to stop his futile tears by forcing himself to go on thinking. Would he, having brooded feverishly upon the past, the particular long series of energies and passions. which had in the end produced himself, himself to be the part they would play together in the future—would he then be a little more capable of a good life than the others had been? The use of their common, unlucky abilities blessed at last, for him? "Bless unto our use this day our daily bread. . . ." And his daily life well constructed like a bridge from one day to another? Would he be able to see to it that his heart did not break—not, at least, until he was ready to die? He asked for no more supernatural powers than these. . . .

Indeed his birthright, that of the son of one of the poorest pioneer families, was wealth and power enough, of a kind. A patrimony, an unearned inheritance, of knowledge of life, of skeletons in the closet, of precepts which had led infallibly to resignation or disappointment, handed down to him in his turn. Everything that he knew about his family had been told by someone to someone else, fact by fact, and at last he had been told. So he resembled a young man whose fortune, bequeathed by numerous relatives, is so vast that he does not know what to do with it; and he thought of the usual disorder of such a life. . . .

A disorder like that of his grandmother Duff's unbalanced mind: memories, inverted ideas, many-voiced wandering symmetrical discords, the entire material of three-quarters of a century's experience rewoven more briefly in a deafening fugue—out of which at last had come, like the phrase at the end of a fugue, "You know, you are my only sweetheart." These words sounded again and again in Alwyn's mind, the bitter end of a tune broken off, and echoing after it a special sadness, unconsoled, but satisfied. Life then was like what was in the mind of a bitter woman in her second childhood, like a fugue. But apart from the sterile passion of an old woman for her grandson, the passion of the past and present for the time to come, of adolescents for what had gone before, various kinds of madness of the imagination for various reasons uncontrolled—apart from these things, was there any final phrase?

He ought to have known, if his passion of curiosity had done its work well. He had been so proud of being able to see a certain distance into the past. Was it a false perspective of his own invention? Seemingly he had increased his knowledge of life by adding to brief memories of his own, others' interminable recollections; but was it merely an adolescent's poor substitute for experience, before experience has had time to begin? He could not tell, but some day he would be able to.

For his life, scarcely begun, would repeat theirs; the materials more closely and differently combined, in closer harmony or perhaps with harsher discord—a restatement nevertheless. The materials determined in advance: certain human limitations, American characteristics, family traits. All the surprises there would be would result from the combinations (one interrupting another, one melting into another), the rhythm and order of the combinations. Otherwise, in so far as he was surprised by himself, he would know that he had made a mistake in his estimate of what he had to work with. Just as by the second generation he had revised his notions of the first, errors in his judgment of their lives in general would be corrected by the particular instance of his own. And his own, if he did his work well, ought to resemble a fugue, without a break (that is, without disaster) from beginning to end, without violent emphasis, each element in perfect relief, played without loss of memory or unsteadiness in either hand: counterpoint of their appetites, their frugality, cunning, vanity, idealism, and homesickness. . . . And the phrase at the end?

That night, between three and four o'clock, Alwyn thought that his grandmother was sinking rapidly. He had forgotten: death, of course, was the phrase at the end. But she got better before dawn.

What then was it going to be like, his life? (His mind, as if he were a maniac, went over and over the same ground; he could not stop it.) He knew that he would perpetuate in himself the immortal disagreement, the so-called warfare, between the sexes. At worst, for example, the struggle between his great-aunt Nancy and her husband Jesse Davis; at best the mysterious balance of his parents. That damage to his simplicity was done; he had thought too much of women with sympathy, of men with wonder.

Over the house (in which everyone but himself and his grandmother slept) the long, soft lightning and thunder interlaced with clouds and being drawn away in one direction or another, made a mass of voices in too close harmony.

He knew further that he would unite in himself two races of men, the characteristics of two men: his grandfather Tower the aristocrat, painstakingly upright about a few unprofitable actions controlled by conscience, never changing his faithful and secretive mind; his grandfather Duff, a sort of Proteus, a hypocrite, a liar or rhetorician, profiting by everything. He would have to make some sort of peace between the fruitless pride of the one and the creative vanity of the other.

There would also have to be a compromise between his talent for poverty and his love of wealth; not, he hoped, the one his uncle Jim had made. He wondered at the fact that he was most deeply indebted to that one of his relatives who conformed to his standards, appealed to his imagination, the least. He felt for his uncle at once a vaguely disdainful pity and that admiration which, even against one's better judgment, often follows gratitude. Thanks to him, to his family by marriage, to a Chicago education and the leisure of going to school, there had been opened uncertainly to Alwyn a way of life which was neither his way nor that of their common blood relatives—less desperate than theirs, possibly less futile than his. Alwyn realized that he would not have had the courage to appreciate the comfortless glory which the pioneers and (his uncle excepted) the first generation of their children, deserved, but for this personal emancipation from their destiny, this more agreeable prospect. . . .

The morning came. His father woke, sent the dogs after the cattle, and came in to hear how the dying woman had passed the night. She was lying quietly, her head thrown back on the pillow; the breath of her nostrils alone seemed alive, like a small, rising and falling, colorless flame at one end of a burned-out log.

The next day his grandmother's condition seemed to improve, and his uncle Jim came. He brought the news that Mrs. Fielding as well was not expected to live more than a few months, and that after her death he and his sister-in-law, Miss Anne, were to be married. His mother told him that she wanted him to preach her funeral sermon, and he seemed exceedingly proud.

Alwyn had sometimes called Mrs. Fielding his third grandmother: the least loved, least pitiable, and perhaps most tragic of the three—representatively tragic. An old, pampered heroine of a great period in the nation's history, that of the birth and infancy of wealth; proud of herself as a proof that it had been a success. . . . Alwyn believed that it had not been. She and her, house had given him a history lesson.

Whenever he had come back from Chicago to the country he had looked about him with a half-willing, almost bitter enthusiasm. Neither Chicago nor Wisconsin had justified its existence. The city had surpassed all reasonable expectations, and no one who did not have something to gain by optimism was pleased with the result. It seemed able to do, more and more powerfully, only two things: grow rich, and complain. The country lives had been no more than self-supporting; in his mother's words, no worthy gifts to the world had been made. What then had the heroic efforts in the country come to? Shabby and gloomy farms, unserviceable virtues, broken hearts, large family reunions, grievances of those (like Alwyn himself) with ideas above their station, other grievances and old-time religion. . . . Where literal wilderness had been conquered, a wilderness still, overrun by peasant immigrants, but still ineffectually governed by the early settlers' wistful young, by their habits of poverty-stricken conquerors. There was this difference between Chicago and Wisconsin: in the country the avidity had never been assuaged. There were blank spaces between the badly cultivated fields; there were areas of craving and brute force which poverty had been too God-fearing, prosperity not eager enough, to lay hands upon. Across the Mississippi Valley the barbed-wire fences lay like the staves of music paper on which as yet there were scarcely any notes. . . . It had not kept its promise, so it was still the promised land.

Represented by Mrs. Fielding, in great towns like her town, the West had taken its first step toward a civilization; it had been a step in the wrong direction. Already moribund prosperity, abortive progress; men like Alwyn's uncle kept as close to the women as drones in a beehive, little or no posterity nevertheless. . . . Between them and the most brutish immigrants, the future, for its purposes, whatever they were, would find little to choose. Would it not have to fall back upon the past, upon the poor God of poverty and His remnant of pioneers, unchanged though dying out? Those who are best prepared for the second lap of a race are those who did not even get a start in the first.

Avid company of failures, out of date, behind the times, perhaps timeless. Ethically, socially, above all financially, they had made little progress; in modern methods of pretending to be happy, of pretending to have satisfied on earth their hearts' desire, they had made none at all. Pioneers because their unhappy dispositions unfitted them for everything else. . . . Imaginative but disillusioned; therefore talented for the sake of God, religious in hope of heaven. Amid the national opinionatedness, factitious gayety, cruelty by accident, grace and candor, ignorance, imagination, ugly opulence with or without wealth, a sense of poverty with or without actual need—theirs was the only glory, such as it was.

The Middle Ages of America (not middle age, but youth) were coming to an end, leaving behind countless denominations of Protestantism instead of cathedrals. Foo soon, the holiness was going out of the land. There were modern inventions for warming the heart, and certain fires with too bitter smoke had been allowed to go out—except upon old-fashioned, unattractive hearths. And perhaps, if America was to justify its existence, to be justified for the massacre of redskins, the broken white hearts, the destruction of the city called Tenochtitlan or something of the sort—the children of those hearths, reared in, embittered and half-intoxicated by the smoke, would have to do the work. And they might well be ready for any outlawry; ready to betray, for the work's sake, those whom they would continue to love even more than they ought; to betray the West to the East in the warfare between the two in order to gain for the former the advantages of defeat as well as victory; to betray their native land as a whole for love of some characteristically native land of their imagination. With the recklessness, the scruples, the vainglory, which characterize the sons of men who thought they had failed. . . . Stronger than their fathers, because they would have less fear of God; more desperate because, lacking a God of resignation and forgiveness, failure would be even more intolerable. The future of America, if it was to be worth troubling about, depended on them.

Flattering and terrifying himself by his thought, according to his family's habit of mind, Alwyn shrank from this responsibility of being the hope of his native land. And those original beginnings which, as he had persuaded himself, were unchangeable among his relatives, perverted among his countrymen, unchanged in him—just what had they been? He would probably need to know. His thought ran superficially and not impartially over the history of the country.

Invariably at the end of these exercises of his imagination, another day beginning monotonously. . . . His grandmother had rested well, as well as could be expected. A little hue of life appeared in her face, which seemed made of candle drippings and stone; once more her fallen lips began to resemble, as they did. during the day, one dried rosebud laid on another (the meager cinnamon roses of her youth). What were like dim recollections of bright colors began to haunt the room and the flat country around Brighton, where they had brought her to die. Her illness seemed interminable.

The following day Alwyn could not sleep because of the heat. So he began to write a historical essay, summarizing in part what he had recently been thinking with so much assurance. Three or four days later, he read it to his mother, who said she was not quite sure she understood what it meant. He hoped that when he went back to school in the fall one or another of his teachers would praise it. He himself was uneasily proud of what he had done.

Then suddenly his grandmother Duff died. Alwyn had to stay with his other grandmother the day of the funeral, because his father had to go with his mother to drive the few mourners to and from the cemetery. But he went by train to Aaronsville the day before, in order to see the little woman again. She was scarcely recognizable: in a coffin which was too large, amid the glued ruffles and pleats of tulle, lay a bit of natural elegance that was all. Her face had lost its vigilant look, its aged vanity, indeed all resemblance to herself; it was like that of a young girl in a fairy tale who had withered overnight. Alwyn went back to Brighton. Only the spectacle of his grandmother Tower's anguish saved him from the extreme sorrow of wishing, for a few days, to follow his grandmother Duff through that transformation, whatever it led to. Upon her return, his mother said bitterly that beside the grave the Aaronsville preacher had spoken with a sort of cold embarrassment, apparently under the impression that she had not been a good woman.

Meanwhile Alwyn's satisfaction at having written an essay led him to try to keep a diary in the daytime of what he thought when his responsibility and his grandmother's suffering, like a mixture of stimulating drugs, kept him wide awake all night. But the choking sound of her breathing and ceasing to breathe—which, from the room above, he could not hear but imagined he heard—made it impossible. So he slept or waited unhappily for the sleepless vigils in which duty took the place of ineffectual ambition. A watchdog's duty, though death was a housebreaker, a robber, who would be welcomed by everyone.

The nights came and went. Now there was less theorizing with which to pass the time. He had lost his courage, the courage of his convictions, and could no longer pretend to be clever and more farsighted than others, than the rest of his family. Too long, like a sort of detective, he had spied upon them, studied to convict them—of their everlasting glory, he thought resolutely but without much enthusiasm. Futile unweaving and reweaving of the evidence, vain praise, generalizations of what was passing away before his eyes (he himself was such a generalization). . . . He was glad that the rapidly approaching end put a stop to it. He had a sense of having gone too far, and felt the peculiar shame of an outlaw who has not even done a dangerous thing.

Indeed, it was an instinctive law for Americans, the one he had broken. Never be infatuated with nor try to interpret as an omen the poverty, the desperation, of the past; whoever remembers it will be punished, or punish himself; never remember. Upon pain of loneliness, upon pain of a sort of expatriation though at home. At home in a land of the future where all wish to be young; a land of duties well done, irresponsibly, of evil done without immorality, and good without virtue. Maturity, responsibility, immorality, virtue are offspring of memory; try not to remember. America had as yet nothing worth remembering—no palaces, no enchanting antiquity, even the plunder of Tenochtitlan or whatever the city was called, had been taken away. The past was by nature tragic. No tragic arts ought to flourish; tragedy was treason, the betrayal of state secrets to the enemy, even the enemy in one's self. Memory was incest. . . .

The fact that Alwyn had thought so fanatically about the past of others during those summer months, always and only in relation to his own future, meant, he supposed, that he had lost interest in it, temporarily at least. There was a tide in such matters; now it ran the other way. And in that direction waited an insufferable event, at least one—one more death.

He felt also a sickly anxiety about his own—life or death, he scarcely knew which; and was ashamed of it. For he understood that fear is the most impious of the emotions: disdain and suspicion of God, or the gods, no matter which. He remembered that in the most frightened period of his childhood, his sixth or seventh year, there had been a pen like a cave inside the strawstack where the old sows crawled away to have their litters, with a hole through the straw a little higher than his head, to pour in their corn and swill. One day he had happened to be standing near it when he heard from somewhere inside, a soft, sickening sound. Beat by beat, deep in the pitch-black hole, like those of a fatal drum. When he held hist breath, it had grown louder. Stiff with fright, half-hypnotized, he had got away; and when far enough. away, had cried. Thereafter, the thought having been almost as painful as the experience, he had returned from time to time, hoping the sound would have ceased; it had never ceased. More than a year had passed before he had learned what it was: his own heart beating. . . .

Then the days in the new home near Brighton began to resemble the night watches—both strained as one's throat is strained by thirst, sorrow, or fright. A sort of poor, concrete poetry took the place of Alwyn's prosaic analysis and judgments; at last even it failed. He had no longer anything to think about, and wondered why. Suddenly, sitting as usual in the doorway of his grandmother's room, he realized that death had come. Scarcely invisible, it entered the room, and apparently in haste, approached his grandmother's bed.

Her sickness rose off and on in a crisis lasting half an hour or an hour, so violent that it could not have been endured longer at a time, and now increasingly frequent. The doctor had prescribed certain drugs for these attacks. Speaking severely, she had asked what their effect would be; she was willing to have her sufferings lessened, but wanted no attempt made to lengthen her life. The doctor had been obliged to admit that her condition could not be improved and these medicines might even hasten the end, with which answer she had been content.

Now she never lay flat in her bed and scarcely ever slept. The heat was intense, and on her cheeks and forehead a cold sweat mingled with that of the breathless chamber and the season. Her head would fall, her heart stop, and be started again with an effort of her whole body, throughout which this rhythm of convulsion was constantly accompanied by a heavy trembling. Sometimes she could not keep her mouth closed; then Alwyn would tie a cloth under her chin and over her head, which she disliked, as if that particular weakness were moral. She seemed to suffer pain but never made a sound, except that, loud and hideous, of continuing to breathe by sheer will power, though against her will.

At other times she was at peace. She never lost consciousness in the slightest degree; and Alwyn was certain that whenever she could sit quietly with her eyes closed, her mind was clear and patiently occupied with what had gone before, or what according to her simple faith was still to come. Sometimes, usually during the day, she was able to speak with a certain ease, in her rough, still beautiful voice; then she would ask, "What are the men doing in the fields now?" or ask one of her grandchildren if he remembered some- thing she had told him long before.

During the periods of respite, death seemed to keep watch with Alwyn, and covered him with its abstraction and ignorance, and obliterated his pretentiousness, his good memory, his hopeless ambitions. Suddenly it would turn its attention from him to the old woman on whose account it was there. Then like one of those spectators who, because of love or some other preoccupation, go to the same theater night after night, heartsick and tired, Alwyn watched the struggle, on the pillows and among the folds of bedclothes, with the invisible actor angel; the print of its rough touch pitting her cheeks and throat here and there, hollowing out her temples, twisting her great hands which lay loosely open; and he imagined he could hear its breath as well as hers, blowing back and forth upon her mouth and nostrils.

Then Alwyn's impassibility came to an end; he suffered an agony of excitement. One night he burst into tears in front of the gasping, uncomplaining old woman. It was not heartbreak because she was soon to die—he hoped it would be soon—he was crying for futilities, futilities of affection, pleasure, talk, no matter what. Anything to relieve the useless pain, his pain, to relax his useless ardor, his miserable concentration. Useless because she was going to die, anyway. His grandmother's eyes were wide open, and she gazed at him attentively without a sign of disapproval or compassion.

The following afternoon his uncle John Craig arrived, a few days earlier than he had been expected. Alwyn went to the station. "Hello. If you're not a grown man!" he said by way of greeting. "But I might have known it. My young Orfeo will soon be as old as his father."

He himself looked worn and was turning gray, but had a younger expression than before, that of a man with plans to carry out, or perhaps only risks to run. "My boy will be here day after to-morrow. He's coming on from that school he goes to in the East. You'll probably get on well together. It's a family tradition that cousins and so on should be friendly. That is, if they get a chance. I was sort of left out of it."

He seemed to dread going into his mother's room, following his brother's and sister-in-law's eyes to her door from the threshold of the house, and finally stepping forward alone with a strange, formal humility, as if he feared that his presence would remind her of tragic things and imagined, mistakenly, that she was now not strong enough to bear them all with composure.

The very news of his coming, as if it were a medicine (the last which would take effect), had given her new strength. Lying back against the mass of pillows, she had breathed easily, and looked able to wait another lifetime, though her great bones now wore a mere veil of flesh. It was as if the struggle had been altogether within herself, rather than between herself and death; her desire to live a few days more to see her son was stronger than for almost a year her desire to die had been.

That night John Craig wished to take his nephew's place; but Alwyn stayed up with them a few hours, pretending to be uncertain whether she would need the emergency drugs before morning, and offering to give his uncle the necessary instructions.

John Craig sat closer to her bed than she had ever permitted Alwyn to sit, and she asked him to talk to her: "You know, mother," he said, "the last time I was in Oklahoma, I looked up the place where uncle. Leander was buried. I suppose I was his favorite, of your children. I sometimes think I loved him too much-I mean, on account of father." He glanced up at her face, as if to see whether he should be embarrassed by what he had said.

But she replied, "I loved him best."

"They buried him in a very pleasant place, not too crowded. I finally got hold of the little old fellow who took care of him, a Catholic priest. I don't know if you ever heard. . . . The cemetery is Catholic. The priest seemed to think that made him die one, more or less. I don't suppose uncle Leander paid much attention to what he said. I thought it was funny. You see, I got to be a Catholic too, when I married. He kept asking for a lot of us, uncle Hilary and Tim Davis and you. The little priest had it all written down; kind of him, I thought. Well, I put up a big monument, granite. I couldn't remember when he was born, so I left that blank, and they promised to put it in afterward. And I thought if there was anything else you wanted written on it, a verse or something. . . .

Alwyn heard his grandmother say with some difficulty, "You always were a good boy, Evan."

John Craig's voice broke slightly. "You never said that before, mother."

"Well, I meant to. I guess the war and all that was harder on you than it was on us. Your pa minded. But you might have got killed or died. That would have been hard on me. That was what I said to myself about Leander, after the Civil War." There was a long pause while she took breath. "Your children'll have a better chance," she went on. "Yours and Ralph's. I try to think of them when it seems hard. I wasn't able to do much for mine, I guess. Try not ever to blame me for anything, when I'm gone."

John Craig, when not at his mother's bedside, seemed to prefer to talk to his nephew than to his brother or sister-in-law, and to have, in doing so, a mysterious purpose which amused him. "See here," he asked, "haven't you had about enough of Wisconsin? Does Chicago and Jim's house suit you? I thought it was a woman's town, when I was there. You'd better come along with us, West. Or come soon, anyway. I spoke to your mother, and she's willing to try to spare you for a while," he added with a suggestion of affectionate mockery. "Mothers usually have to, whether they're willing or not, more's the pity."

Alwyn's grandmother lost ground during the day; the periodical failing of her heart began again, but much less extremely. Her body had no longer the force either to produce or to endure the former sufferings. The doctor thought that most of her suffering and nearly all of her life were over.

The following morning Orfeo Craig arrived. Alwyn was astonished and pleased. He was not like a member of the family nor even like an American; he had no appearance either of the country or the sort of city Alwyn knew. He was exceedingly dark, with strange variations of the same dark, burned rose without pinkness in his mouth and skin. His eyes were heavy-lidded, dark, and bright. He seemed never to have a sharp or clever look under any circumstances. Alwyn was glad, feeling a greater humility than he had previously known, the measure of which was his pride in his own mere intelligence, for example. If his cousin compared him with himself in that respect alone, he might find that he merited affection. . . . Such ideas revealed even to himself his desire for their friendship. John Craig looked as happy as if for him, who had known in his day too little either of friendship or family affection, something more important than good relations between the sons of the family were at stake.

Alwyn had never seen his grandmother's face so radiant, even in the days of her strength, as when her unknown grandson was taken into her room. Even Alwyn's youngest sisters had realized that something ceremonial and happy was about to take place, and slipped inside the doorway. She lifted her trembling, open hands to the level of her breast in the gesture of reverence or good tidings, and gazed a long time at the strange boy.

At last she remembered herself. She called him by his first name, Leander, and said, "You do not see me as I once was. Children, get out the photographs."

The little girls, enchanted to have a part in the formalities, fluttered across the room to the chest of drawers and took them out—three daguerreotypes in cases, some tintypes in an album, two yellow photographs mounted on worn pieces of cardboard: a girl, a young wife, a woman aging but not less strong. . . . She told the girls to spread them out on her bed where she could see them as well. They looked at them together.

Then with her greatest dignity, as if a duty had been done, she said: "Now you'd better go out. I can't have you here any longer. I am an old sick woman now."

A few more days passed. She said that she was glad that her son and grandson who lived so far away were staying until the end. John Craig watched with her during the night. The boys sat by the door during the afternoon, often talking to each other in whispers, beckoning to the children, as they came and went, to hush.

Late one afternoon Orfeo thought that Alwyn looked pale, and sent him out in the fresh air. Alwyn wished that it were the Hope's Corner countryside which lay about the new house, in which, however, the lives of those he loved throbbed and failed as much like a single hollow heart of joy and sorrow, as ever in the old home. And over the distant marshes, amid the harvest, under the loaded fruit trees, the dusk beginning to mingle with the sunshine was the same: that dusk peculiar to Wisconsin, tossed by hunting night- hawks, rocked by the motion of flocks coming home. . . . And there were ghosts there as much as anywhere, worthy of being loved, the same, in fact, as everywhere else: spirits so great, vain, and tender as to resemble gods. Ghosts of the little local history, of misunderstood friends and lovers, of members of the family; a legion of them in straggling procession. For years, Alwyn remembered, he had not been able to take his eyes off their shadowy ceremony, their disorder like that of the strong farm hands and their sweethearts under the trees on summer nights such as this which was falling. For years his mind had been troubled by their faint instruments in concert, just as in his childhood by those to which ghostly soldiers (his grandfather and his brothers and friends) had marched on the warm, blood-spattered rock in the South during the war. Distracting flutes; and little drums in the air about his birthplace, even about the new, unsympathetic house where his grandmother had been brought to die, beating a dead march; and beating like his own heart as he grew to manhood and got ready to leave these things—glad to go and leave them behind. But he felt that he would have need of them all, gods or pioneers or whatever they were, to lead an entire life; and if there were any he had not called upon, those would probably take him by surprise; certain of them, those of the passions and disasters, would spring on him when he was lonely, have their way with him, and leave him hurt for a while by the side of the road—the last one would leave him dead. Out of pride he wanted to be able to love and praise them all, even the last one.

His daydream was interrupted by Orfeo calling from the porch, calling him to come in at once, because their grandmother seemed to have stopped breathing, and perhaps it was an ordinary occurrence, and he might be mistaken, but he was not sure what it meant.

She was dead. They called their two fathers, who suddenly grew unfamiliar and pale. They were preoccupied with many things of which Alwyn had not thought in connection with the long-anticipated event, and it seemed that the young who had had an important part to play while she had been dying, had nothing to do with the burial of the dead. Alwyn and Orfeo were told merely to go to the town and send a message to their uncle Jim; but they were glad to be free.

So they set out through the garden and the melon patch, over a fence, and up a hill. Orfeo thought they should buy as many flowers as possible. Alwyn looked back at the small house, seeing another in its place, indeed several others, one of which, the earliest, had stood in a melon patch. And as they went on in the dusk, he whispered to himself good-by to them, those who were dead: his great, gaunt grandmother, and the other little one as well, who had called him her sweetheart in the madness of her old age.

Paris, February 1925- Villefranche-sur-Mer, November 1926.