The Desert and The Sown by Mary Hallock Foote
Mothers and sons are rarely very personal in their intimacy after the son has taken to himself a wife. Apart from certain moments not appropriate to piazza teas, Paul and his mother were perhaps as comfortable together as the relation averages. It was much that they never talked emotionally. Private judgments which we have refrained from putting into words may die unfruitful and many a bitter crop be spared.
"This is Paul's apology for being happy in spite of himself--and of us!" Moya teased, as she admired the beautifully drawn plans for the quarrymen's club-house.
"It doesn't need any apology; it's a very good thing," said Mrs. Bogardus, ignoring double meanings. No caps that were flying around ever fitted her head. Paul's dreams and his mother's practical experience had met once more on a common ground of philanthropy. This time it was a workingmen's club in which the interests of social and mental improvement were conjoined with facilities for outdoor sport. Up to date philanthropy is an expensive toy. Paul, though now a landowner, was far from rich in his own right. His mother financed this as she had many another scheme for him. She was more openhanded than heretofore, but all was done with that ennuyed air which she ever wore as of an older child who has outgrown the game. It was in Moya and Moya's prospective maternity that her pride reinstated itself. Her own history and generation she trod underfoot. Mistakes, humiliations, whichever way she turned. Paul had never satisfied her entirely in anything he did until he chose this girl for the mother of his children. Now their house might come to something. Moya moved before her eyes crowned in the light of the future. And that this noble and innocent girl, with her perfect intuitions, should turn to her now with such impetuous affection was perhaps the sweetest pain the blighted woman had ever known. She lay awake many a night thinking mute blessings on the mother and the child to be. Yet she resisted that generous initiative so dear to herself, aware with a subtle agony of the pain it gave her son.
One day she said to Paul (they were driving home together through a bit of woodland, the horses stepping softly on the mould of fallen leaves)--"I don't expect you to account for every dollar of mine you spend in helping those who can be helped that way. You have a free hand."
"I understand," said Paul. "I have used your money freely--for a purpose that I never have accounted for."
"Don't you need more?"
"No; there is no need now."
"Why is there not?"
Paul was silent. "I cannot go into particulars. It is a long story."
"Does the purpose still exist?" his mother asked sharply.
"It does; but not as a claim--for that sort of help."
"Let me know if such a claim should ever return."
"I will, mother," said Paul.
* * * * *
There came a day when mother and son reaped the reward of their mutual forbearance. There was a night and a day when Paul became a boy again in his mother's hands, and she took the place that was hers in Nature. She was the priestess acquainted with mysteries. He followed her, and hung upon her words. The expression of her face meant life and death to him. The dreadful consciousness passed out of his eyes; tears washed it out as he rose from his knees by Moya's bed, and his mother kissed him, and laid his son in his arms.
The following summer saw the club-house and all its affiliations in working order. The beneficiaries took to it most kindly, but were disposed to manage it in their own way: not in all respects the way of the founder's intention.
"To make a gift complete, you must keep yourself out of it," Mrs. Bogardus advised. "You have done your part; now let them have it and run it themselves."
Paul was not hungry for leadership, but he had hoped that his interest in the men's amusements would bring him closer to them and equalize the difference between the Hill and the quarry.
"You have never worked with them; how can you expect to play with them?" was another of his mother's cool aphorisms. Alas! Paul, the son of the poor man, had no work, and hence no play.
It was time to be making winter plans again. Mrs. Bogardus knew that her son's young family was now complete without her presence. Moya had gained confidence in the care of her child; she no longer brought every new symptom to the grandmother. Yet Mrs. Bogardus put off discussing the change, dreading to expose her own isolation, a point on which she was as sensitive as if it were a crime. Paul was never entirely frank with her: she knew he would not be frank in this. They never expressed their wills or their won'ts to each other with the careless rudeness of a sound family faith, and always she felt the burden of his unrelenting pity. She began to take long drives alone, coming in late and excusing herself for dinner. At such times she would send for her grandson in his nurse's arms to bid him good-night. The mother would put off her own good-night, not to intrude at these sessions. One evening, going up later to kiss her little son, she found his crib empty, the nurse gone to her dinner. He was fast asleep in his grandmother's arms, where she had held him for an hour in front of the open fire in her bedroom. She looked up guiltily. "He was so comfortable! And his crib is cold. Will he take cold when Ellen puts him back?"
"I am sure he won't," Moya whispered, gathering up the rosy sleeper. But she was disturbed by the breach of bedtime rules.
In the drawing-room a few nights later she said energetically to Paul.
"One might as well be dead as to live with a grudge."
"A good grudge?"
"There are no good grudges."
"There are some honest ones--honestly come by."
"I don't care how they are come by. Grudges 'is p'ison.'" She laughed, but her cheeks were hot.
"Do you know that Christine has been at death's door? Your mother heard of it--through Mrs. Bowen! Was that why you didn't show me her letter?"
"It was not in my letter from Mrs. Bowen."
"I think she has known it some time," said Moya, "and kept it to herself."
"Your mother. Isn't it terrible? Think how Chrissy must have needed her. They need each other so! Christine was her constant thought. How can all that change in one year! But she cannot go to Banks Bowen's house without an invitation. We must go to New York and make her come with us--we must open the way."
"Yes," said Paul, "I have seen it was coming. In the end we always do the thing we have forsworn."
"I was the one. I take it back. Your work is there. I know it calls you. Was not Mrs. Bowen's letter an appeal?"
Paul was silent.
"She must think you a deserter. And there is bigger work for you, too! Here is a great political fight on, and my husband is not in it. Every man must slay his dragon. There is a whole city of dragons!"
"Yes," smiled Paul; "I see. You want me to put my legs under the same cloth with Banks and ask him about his golf score."
"If you want to fight him, have it out on public grounds; fight him in politics."
"We are on the same side!"
Moya laughed, but she looked a little dashed.
"Banks comes of gentlemen. He inherited his opinions," said Paul.
"He may have inherited a few other things, if we could have patience with him."
"Are you sorry for Banks?"
"I shall be sorry for him--when he meets you. He has been spared that too long."
"Dispenser of destinies, I bow as I always do!"
"You will speak to your mother at once?"
"And do it beautifully?"
"As well as I know how."
"Ah, you have had such practice! How good it would be if we could only dare to quarrel in this family! You and I--of course!"
"We quarrel, of course!" laughed Paul.
"I love to quarrel with you!"
"You do it beautifully. You have had such practice!"
"I am so happy! It is clear to me now that we shall live down this misery. Christine will love to see me again; I know she will. A wife is a very different thing from a girl--a haughty girl!"
"I should think the wife of Banks Bowen might be."
"And we'll part with our ancient and honorable grudge! We are getting too big for it. We are parents!"
Paul made the proposition to his mother and she agreed to it in every particular save the one. She would remain at Stone Ridge. It was impossible to move her. Moya was in despair. She had cultivated an overweening conscience in her relations with Mrs. Bogardus. It turned upon her now and showed her the true state of her own mind at the thought of being Two once more and alone with the child God had given them. Mrs. Bogardus appeared to see nothing but her own interests in the matter. She had made up her mind. And in spite of the conscientious scruples on all sides, the hedging and pleading and explaining, all were happier in the end for her decision. She herself was softened by it, and she yielded one point in return. Paul had steadily opposed his mother's plan of housekeeping, alone with one maid and a man who slept at the stables. The Dunlops, as it happened, were childless for the winter, young Chauncey attending a "commercial college" in a neighboring town. After many interviews and a good deal of self-importance on Cerissa's part, the pair were persuaded to close the old house and occupy the servants' wing on the Hill, as a distinct family, yet at hand in case of need. It was late autumn before all these arrangements could be made. Paul and Moya, leaving the young scion aged nineteen months in the care of his nurse and his grandmother, went down the river to open the New York house.