Booth Tarkington (18381918). The Magnificent Ambersons. 1918.
GEORGE went driving the next afternoon alone, and, encountering Lucy and her father on the road, in one of Morgans cars, lifted his hat, but nowise relaxed his formal countenance as they passed. Eugene waved a cordial hand quickly returned to the steering-wheel; but Lucy only nodded gravely and smiled no more than George did. Nor did she accompany Eugene to the Majors for dinner, the following Sunday evening, though both were bidden to attend that feast, which was already reduced in numbers and gayety by the absence of George Amberson. Eugene explained to his host that Lucy had gone away to visit a school-friend.
The information, delivered in the library, just before old Sams appearance to announce dinner, set Miss Minafer in quite a flutter. Why, George! she said, turning to her nephew. How does it happen you didnt tell us? And with both hands opening, as if to express her innocence of some conspiracy, she exclaimed to the others, Hes never said one word to us about Lucys planning to go away!
Georgie made no reply, but he was red enough to justify the Majors developing a chuckle into laughter; though Miss Fanny, observing her nephew keenly, got an impression that this fiery blush was in truth more fiery than tender. She caught a glint in his eye less like confusion than resentment, and saw a dilation of his nostrils which might have indicated not so much a sweet agitation as an inaudible snort. Fanny had never been lacking in curiosity, and, since her brothers death, this quality was more than ever alert. The fact that George had spent all the evenings of the past week at home had not been lost upon her, nor had she failed to ascertain, by diplomatic inquiries, that since the day of the visit to Eugenes shops George had gone driving alone.
At the dinner-table she continued to observe him, sidelong; and toward the conclusion of the meal she was not startled by an episode which brought discomfort to the others. After the arrival of coffee the Major was rallying Eugene upon some rival automobile shops lately built in a suburb, and already promising to flourish.
It isnt the distance from the centre of a town that counts, said Eugene; its the time it takes to get there. This towns already spreading; bicycles and trolleys have been doing their share, but the automobile is going to carry city streets clear out to the county line.
The Major was skeptical. Dream on, fair son! he said. Its lucky for us that youre only dreaming; because if people go to moving that far, real estate values in the old residence part of town are going to be stretched pretty thin.
They arent, Eugene replied quickly. Theres no hope of it, and already the boarding-house is marching up National Avenue. There are two in the next block below here, and there are a dozen in the half-mile below that. My relatives, the Sharons, have sold their house and are building in the countryat least, they call it the country. It will be city in two or three years.
Well, well! the Major laughed. You have enough faith in miracles, Eugenegranting that trolleys and bicycles and automobiles are miracles. So you think theyre to change the face of the land, do you?
At this point he was interrupted. George was the interrupter. He had said nothing since entering the dining room, but now he spoke in a loud and peremptory voice, using the tone of one in authority who checks idle prattle and settles a matter forever.
Isabel gazed incredulously at George, colour slowly heightening upon her cheeks and temples, while Fanny watched him with a quick eagerness, her eyes alert and bright. But Eugene seemed merely quizzical, as if not taking this brusquerie to himself. The Major was seriously disturbed.
I said all automobiles were a nuisance, George answered, repeating not only the words but the tone in which he had uttered them. And he added, Theyll never amount to anything but a nuisance. They had no business to be invented.
Im not sure hes wrong about automobiles, he said. With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilizationthat is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of mens souls. I am not sure. But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us expect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace. I think mens minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; Just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you cant have the immense outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones, and it may be that George is right, and that the spiritual alteration will be bad for us. Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldnt be able to defend the gasoline engine, but would have to agree with him that automobiles had no business to be invented. He laughed good-naturedly, and looking at his watch, apologized for having an engagement which made his departure necessary when he would so much prefer to linger. Then he shook hands with the Major, and bade Isabel, George, and Fanny a cheerful good-nighta collective farewell cordially addressed to all three of them togetherand left them at the table.
The Major stared hard at George from under his white eyebrows. You didnt mean him, you say, George? I suppose if we had a clergyman as a guest here youd expect him not to be offended, and to understand that your remarks were neither personal nor untactful, if you said the church was a nuisance and ought never to have been invented. By Jove, but youre a puzzle!
We seem to have a new kind of young people these days, the old gentleman returned, shaking his head. Its a new style of courting a pretty girl, certainly, for a young fellow to go deliberately out of his way to try and make an enemy of her father by attacking his business! By Jove! Thats a new way to win a woman!
George flushed angrily and seemed about to offer a retort, but held his breath for a moment; and then held his peace. It was Isabel who responded to the Major. Oh, no! she said. Eugene would never be anybodys enemyhe couldnt!and last of all Georgies. Im afraid he was hurt, but I dont fear his not having understood that George spoke without thinking of what he was sayingI mean, without realizing its bearing on Eugene.
George did not move, and Fanny, following the other two, came round the table, and paused close beside his chair; but George remained posed in his great imperturbability, cigar between teeth, eyes upon ceiling, and paid no attention to her. Fanny waited until the sound of Isabels and the Majors voices became inaudible in the hall. Then she said quickly, and in a low voice so eager that it was unsteady:
She hurried out, scurrying after the others with a faint rustling of her black skirts, leaving George mystified but incurious. He did not understand why she should bestow her approbation upon him in the matter, and cared so little whether she did or not that he spared himself even the trouble of being puzzled about it.
In truth, however, he was neither so comfortable nor so imperturbable as he appeared. He felt some gratification: he had done a little to put the man in his placethat man whose influence upon his daughter was precisely the same thing as a contemptuous criticism of George Amberson Minafer, and of George Amberson Minafers ideals of life. Lucys going away without a word was intended, he supposed, as a bit of punishment. Well, he wasnt the sort of man that people were allowed to punish: he could demonstrate that to themsince they started it!
It appeared to him as almost a kind of insolence, this abrupt departurenot even telephoning! Probably she wondered how he would take it; she even might have supposed he would show some betraying chagrin when he heard of it.
He had no idea that this was just what he had shown; and he was satisfied with his evenings performance. Nevertheless, he was not comfortable in his mind; though he could not have explained his inward perturbations, for he was convinced, without any confirmation from his Aunt Fanny, that he had done just the right thing.