Booth Tarkington (18381918). The Magnificent Ambersons. 1918.
IN the matter of coolness, George met Lucy upon her own predetermined ground; in fact, he was there first, and, at their next encounter, proved loftier and more formal than she did. Their estrangement lasted three weeks, and then disappeared without any preliminary treaty: it had worn itself out, and they forgot it.
At times, however, George found other disturbances to the friendship. Lucy was too much the village belle, he complained; and took a satiric attitude toward his competitors, referring to them as her local swains and bumpkins, sulking for an afternoon when she reminded him that he, too, was at least local. She was a belle with older people as well; Isabel and Fanny were continually taking her driving, bringing her home with them to lunch or dinner and making a hundred little engagements with her, and the Major had taken a great fancy to her, insisting upon her presence and her fathers at the Amberson family dinner at the Mansion every Sunday evening. She knew how to flirt with old people, he said, as she sat next him at the table on one of these Sunday occasions; and he had always liked her father, even when Eugene was a terror long ago. Oh, yes, he was! the Major laughed, when she remonstrated. He came up here with my son George and some others for a serenade one night, and Eugene stepped into a bass fiddle, and the poor musicians just gave up! I had a pretty half-hour getting my son George upstairs. I remember! It was the last time Eugene ever touched a dropbut hed touched plenty before that, young lady, and he darent deny it! Well, well; theres another thing thats changed: hardly anybody drinks nowadays. Perhaps its just as well, but things used to be livelier. That serenade was just before Isabel was marriedand dont you fret, Miss Lucy: your father remembers it well enough! The old gentleman burst into laughter, and shook his finger at Eugene across the table. The fact is, the Major went on hilariously, I believe if Eugene hadnt broken that bass fiddle and given himself away, Isabel would never have taken Wilbur! I shouldnt be surprised if that was about all the reason that Wilbur got her! What do you think. Wilbur?
Eugene was as pink as Isabel, but he laughed without any sign of embarrassment other than his heightened colour. Theres another important thingthat is, for me, he said. Its the only thing that makes me forgive that bass viol for getting in my way.
George was not one of those who joined in this applause. He considered his grandfathers nonsense indelicate, even for second childhood, and he thought that the sooner the subject was dropped the better. However, he had only a slight recurrence of the resentment which had assailed him during the winter at every sign of his mothers interest in Morgan; though he was still ashamed of his aunt sometimes, when it seemed to him that Fanny was almost publicly throwing herself at the widowers head. Fanny and he had one or two arguments in which her fierceness again astonished and amused him.
You drop your criticisms of your relatives, she bade him, hotly, one day, and begin thinking a little about your own behaviour! You say people will talk about myabout my merely being pleasant to an old friend! What do I care how they talk? I guess if people are talking about anybody in this family theyre talking about the impertinent little snippet that hasnt any respect for anything, and doesnt even know enough to attend to his own affairs!
These were but roughish spots in a summer that glided by evenly and quickly enough, for the most part, and, at the end, seemed to fly. On the last night before George went back to be a Junior, his mother asked him confidently if it had not been a happy summer.
No, she said. And I suppose I feel about as young as you do, inside, but it wont be many years before I must begin to look old. It does come! She sighed, still smiling. Its seemed to me that it must have been a happy summer for youa real summer of roses and winewithout the wine, perhaps. Gather ye roses while ye mayor was it primroses? Time does really fly, or perhaps its more like the skyand smoke
I mean the things that we have and that we think are so solidtheyre like smoke, and time is like the sky that the smoke disappears into. You know how a wreath of smoke goes up from a chimney, and seems all thick and black and busy against the sky, as if it were going to do such important things and last for ever, and you see it getting thinner and thinnerand then, in such a little while, it isnt there at all; nothing is left but the sky, and the sky keeps on being just the same forever.
It strikes me youre getting mixed up, said George cheerfully. I dont see much resemblance between time and the sky, or between things and smoke-wreaths; but I do see one reason you like Lucy Morgan so much. She talks that same kind of wistful, moony way sometimesI dont mean to say I mind it in either of you, because I rather like to listen to it, and youve got a very good voice, mother. Its nice to listen to, no matter how much smoke and sky, and so on, you talk. So.s Lucys, for that matter; and I see why youre congenial. She talks that way to her father, too; and hes right there with the same kind of guff. Well, its all right with me! He laughed, teasingly, and allowed her to retain his hand, which she had fondly seized. Ive got plenty to think about when people drool along!
No, Isabel smiled. The automobile concern is all Eugenes, and its so small I understand its taken hardly anything. No; your father has always prided himself on making only the most absolutely safe investments, but two or three years ago he and your Uncle George both put a great dealpretty much everything they could get together. I thinkinto the stock of rolling-mills some friends of theirs owned, and Im afraid the mills havent been doing well.
Pshaw! He neednt worry! You tell him well look after him: well build him a little stone bank in the backyard, if he busts up, and he can go and put his pennies in it every morning. Thatll keep him just as happy as he ever was! He kissed her. Good-night, Im going to tell Lucy good-bye. Dont sit up for me.