|Newspaper Title||The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||His Son|
AV5TPAI A AN
BY M. FORREST.
Tlie man of science pushed his books away, and looked lovingly up at his tall son. The boy was 19, and the one person he lived for, since the paralytic stroke which had seated him for the residue of his days in the wide leather chair by the window, looking on to the jmountain garden. The boy had come, from the city to-day to see him. He was like a vivid piece of youth, flashing in and out of the man of science's rooms, whenever he could get away ror a day. He had just been telling his father how hard he was working, and of
an incentive tnat liaa come into nis careiess days. He was looking extremely serious about it, and that somehow amused the man, who was an indulgent parent, and^as such, prone to treat him as a dear child. 'Ah, the inevitable woman.' .'Don't rot,' Governor.' The boy blushed delightfully. 'I only wish j'ou knew her. She——' The elder man's eyes softened. He stretch ed out a long, delicate hand, and laid it on the young man's shoulder. 'You're ower young to marry yet., Kid — but If she makes you get a grip of yourself and your career — well, a chap must have a woman's society, mustn't he? If she's a nice girl ? ' 'She isn't exactly a girl, Dad. I don't like flappers.' He dug his hands deep into the pockets of his light grey morning coat. He wore an elaborate waistcoat, and was evidently parti cular about his ties, and he was wideshoul dered, with the loose, bony look of a lad who will fill out into a big fellow. 'Not a gay young widow, I hope.' The father's clean, fine-lipped mouth still smiled. — they had always been such chums, these two — but his eyes were the keen eyes of the man of science again. The boy looked out of the window. The red japonica was in bloom, ruddy favours on stiff, prickly stems. There was a stubborn shadow in his soft i eyps. His face, was -shorter and weaker than ' the elder man's, but there was a strong re semblance, though his eyes were round and gentle, like his mother's; and she had been a southern beauty. 'She is a widow— I think,' he said, 'but I never asked her— one doesn't ask women like her— things — somehow. It's quite enough that she is, at all.' The father's eyes yearned over the boy, but his mouth was not smiling now. - He had preached the clean life to his boy; he had sent him from schooi to college well equipped. He had no fault to find with him. Probably tho woman was a motherly sort of soul, who took an interest in boys — but he remembered. 'Who is she?' He lifted the silverJiandl ed blotter up, and pressed it over a letter, upon which the ink was dry. 'What is her name?' . 'Mrs. Carthage.' 'Mrs. Carthage!' Sybil Carthage. The bees had found the japonica; they gathered heavily to their blos som-loving. The open gate creaked on its hinges: white acacia hung across it, and be yond were hiilB,- but the man in the leathern chair saw none of this. The years had gone like a flash — he remembered a night of stars, and a stone balcony that looked over a great blue harbour. He remembered the scent of wattle from distant ranges, through the thick breathing of the city. He remembered a mouth that the gods had made for kissing — and kisses such as he ha'd found on 110 other lips. He remembered the. shame a man feels when he goes home to a trusting wife — lie re membered the feel of school-boy arms that seemed to burn reproach into his very soul — but, above all, he recalled the woman the gods had made' for loving. He looked at the boy. The boy frowned, staring at a spot of sun on the carpet. The boy was already up In arms in defence of the i woman, though the father had not spoken. I There was combat in the air. The older man arranged the. blotter and a pen at right angles, drew a book to him, then pushed it away again. He seemed to have grown more feeble suddenly. 'She is twice your age,' he said quietly. He knew he carried a forlorn hope. His voice lacked enthusiasm. Why can't the sins of our youth rest comfortably, instead of dragging round indecent cerecloths. 'You would not say so if you saw her,' said the boy. 'Besides,' with a transparent affectation of indifference, 'that doesn't mat ter, does it, as we are only friends. She says an older woman is a help to a ? ' 'Did she tell you she knew me?' He wheeled, startled. 'No, really — does she, Governor? She must have forgotten the name.' Tbe father smiled swiftly, a touch of his old cynicism made him laugh through his anxiety. 'Quite possible.' But was it? Perhaps. It was 12 years ago — a full 12 — and yet — only 12. But this boy was his son — his white -souled darling. Great God! Had he ever realised how he loved his boy. 'I will ask her when I go back,' said the boy; he seemed already impatient to be gone. The lather wondered what she was like now. She must be 38. How old was Circe on the island. Sometimes these brown-haired, por celain-skinned women kept absurdly young. ''Does she make up?' His voice was sharp and cold. The boy had never seen him like this. He resented the attitude. 'No; she is a lady.' As fresh-looking as mother was five years' ago— — '
'But your mother was a beauty.' 'Yes.' The boy had all the proper feeling for his mother; but she had never been what his father had 'to him.' Perhaps she was all too splendidly null. But she was a good woman. The father remembered this now, and the old scar burned. Why had he ever found those lip-3 that were a snare to a man's hon our; he had always meant to run straight after he married. He had — he had. What devilish chance. brought the tripping before him again, just when life seemed to be slipping into the grey, calm years. He had made money by his profession; he was wrapped up in his boy. He wanted him to achieve the Sir Galahad he had himself failed in being. Sybil Carthage. But Sybil was nearly 40, and no longer a syren. The old lure might have passed. Probably she remembered, and had been kind to the boy without arriere pensee. He was wroilginjg her; but his own face looked out of the boy's, and he remembered. Besides, no matter how innocent the friendship re mained, was hers the hand he willed to guide his son? 'She has been such a help to me; she is so interesting, and she makes a fellow f6el he ought to whack into things, and try and pass his exams. — and — and do something to justify his being.' Yes. The father remembered that Sybil liked men who 'did things.' She had never had patience with carpet knights or idlers — the same — the same. He turned tired eyes to the boy's flushed face. 'You are not going back,' he said. 'Dad! 'in the middle of the term. Good life, why not?' 'Well, don't see any more of this Mrs. Carthage than you can help. It is better not, boy; better not.' Sybil's dark eyes, rose laugh ing at him: there was a little snake of fire running through them. Sybil's mouth curved as of old. 'Why?' It was such a little word, yet it was so hard to answer. The soft young eyes would decipher the lie behind every excuse. The man was silent. Should he tell his son the naked truth? See the shamed evading of his own by the clear eyes — the boy who had thought no one in the Avorld was like Dad — till this woman came. Should he tell? Which counted most, pre cept or example? True the tale would effec tually debar further parleying with tho enemy. The lad would fling away, disgusted, from Sybil, perhaps, but perhaps not only from Sybil. And then, the disillusion complete, the example gone, there might— later there would — be other women; 'Like; father, like son.' Oh, hang these old proverbs. Why had not the boy more of his mother , in him. Nothing of the poet, and no thing of the dangerous idealist — just .the jog trot virtue that had come through generations of narrow, law-abiding folk, who knew no.t temptation. 'Because I say.,so, boy.' The gate swung to. with a bang; the wind rioted among some fallen Leaves on the path, and sent a shiver through the thorny acacias. The boy did not speak. Then, swiftly he crossed to the leathern chair, placing his hands on his father's shoulders, laughed into his set face. 'Dear old dad. You're as jealous as a girl over any fresh friends who seem to absorb me. Don't, old chap, for I always count you and Mrs. Carthage together; the perfect man and the ideal woman. Only, of course, I'm so indebted to you, I hate to go against you. She was introduced to me by all right people,' coaxingly. The man caressed the boy's hands with his own. He had nothing to say. But the boy had. 'Has anyone said anything against her? I punched that bully of a Freer for bringing her name up at a smoke concert the fellows gave — and I've half a mind to punch your silly old head, old chap.' The boy's lips, so clean-cut, so like his father's, smiled determinedly. Then, gravely, 'Have you really anything to say against her, Dad?' Now was the elder's chance. But he did not take it. He temporised fatally. 'I do' not think she is .the. sort of woman your mother would have liked.' The other laughed irresistibly. 'Did you and I ever like the sort of people mother did, Dad?' This was unanswerable. 'You mustn't treat me like a baby, Dad; give me a man's reasons.' The boy- coloured. His feelings were wounded. Now was the time for the lie. It would have been easy to speak of himself as some 'other fellow.' To tell the story; to fit it elsewhere. But would the boy believe? He remembered his own youth. How like the boy was to what he had been, before — before — — . 'I'll have to get,' said the boy. 'I only ran up. for a few hours. I've got whips to do; so ;I must catch the 4.30 back. I'll come and see you again, Dad, soon as ever I can, and ? ' Presently he strode away through Ihe creak ing gate, and up the white road; he whistled as he went; he seemed. anxious to get back to the city. For neither the lie nor the truth had been . told. . . . „ 'You asked me to come to you?' 'Yes, because I could not very well go to you,' with an outward curve of his hands to indicate his helplessness. 'I could scarcely arrive at your door in a bath chair, could I, madame?' There was ready sympathy in her glance, but she said nothing to indicate it. 'Your, son has told me about you.' She looked, at him curiously. He could see the gold thread serpentining through her brown eyes, and the scarlet snare of her lips. Be cause of the past his heart softened a moment; because, of the present it hardened again. Twelve years ago — and she looked like a girl to-day, in her travelling hat and cloak. 'Oh, you remembered the name, then; you knew he was my son?' 'Isn't it written all over him? I should be blind indeed.' She sat very still; He re called that as one of her many charms — she never fldgetted. 'Then, and because he is my boy, will you carryyourexperimentingelse where?' He 'had not meant to' frame 'his fears in
words, but it slipped out. She looked so care-: less, so insouciant, and he loved his son. 'Experimenting? You do me much honour. I have been kind to your lad.' 'Yes, yes.' He reddened. He wished she would not make him feel at a disadvantage. 'But you know what my son is, Mrs. Carth age, and ? ' 'And you know what I am. Don't spare me, pray. You always amuse me, you men who fling at the class you take such pains to re cruit.' He thought her brutally direct, and she looked so soft and womanly. There had been a rare woman spoiled in Sybil. But he was very tired, and he still had a battle to fight. , 'We won't go back to things,' he said gent ly. 'Recriminations are idle. It is a lifetime gone, measured by suffering for me at any rate. The world is full of men and foolish boys. Leave my boy alone.' 'So I cannot even respect innocence; no fit companion for your son — your son.' There was 110 irony; her voice was low and tender. The devil's arts were in this woman. Behind her the japonica burned in a noon-day sun, and a cloud of tiny yellow moths danced over the grass spears on the lawn. He said nothing. She stood, and she looked down at him, much as the boy had done. 'Listen to me, now,' she said. 'This is not a defcnce, it is merely a statement. I have always given my unspoken contempt to the man who sins for his pleasure, and when the sin ceases to please develops religious scruples about sinning, breaks the butterfly on the wheel of his whims, and points the finger of scorn at its draggled wings. To ask you if you remember is unnecessary. It is be cause you remember that you called me here to-day. You are afraid for your son, be cause he laves his hands in waters you con taminated. His young life must be protected at all costs from the wash of evil. Well and good. Has nobody but yourself a clean heart? When you spoiled a woman's life of its best, did you imagine in your vanity that you had necessarily killed all her soul, too? You never touched it. Women are men's play things, are they not?' Till men think better of it and seek repentance. You suffered not at all. You wanted to 'break it off' (as though it was an undesirable business con nection). Your experience told you X should take it quietly; you were 'sorry, and there's an end to it.' That was my epitaph, wasn't it? You really might, with your experience, have managed something prettier. You failed lamentably. I might have been a misfit from the tailors, or a carpet that did not match your room. I did not go back to my husband. He never knew of you; but the change has been wrought, and nothing Could wholly wash away, I \veeji . The marks of that which once hath been. 'You were a lesson to me. I took no other man seriously.' Oh, yes; there were other men, and I skimmed through life my way. I've kept amazingly young, haven't I? Women do who let their hearts trouble them not at all. That is like one of your old cynicisms. When you repented yourself, and returned to your duty, you never counted me, did you? There was no duty to the woman whose peace you had kissed away. 'I am not preaching my virtue nor my ex cuse for sin — but black as you believe me to be, I tell you your son was safer with me than he would have been with his own mother. If he imagined himself in love with me, it was a chivalrous passion, that will keep him from worse women. Yes, though I say it, I am equipped to defend him. You must get a pilot who knows the rocks to guide the young craft. I never had a child. Your son has been a joy to me such as you can not guess at.' She caught her breath an instant. The man watched her. There was nothing of the mother woman in her appearance. Her eyes were honest as the boy's as they met his now. Then he straightened himself and shook his head slowly. 'You cannot help it, Sybil. God knows I sometimes believe there are women who are deliberately planned for men's undoing, and the question as to how much they can help it remains. -However, I anl no saint. Death has already gripped part of me, and you are still full of life. The boy is mine.' She paled, standing by the window, the grace of her head outlined against the blue beyond. 'And hers; and if we had had a child, would you have been ashamed of me — his mother?' Then, with a sudden laughing change: ! 'Don't attempt to answer. An angel from Heaven could not make you believe but one thing of me. Do you recall the night you spoke of the poison-lily? But you were only jesting then. Do you remember the moon flower at the corner of the balcony? What a , white face it had, peering from its dusky leaves! What a white, white flower! ? You would not let me pick it. You brought some scarlet poinsiana bloom; do you remember? How the liarbour was full of star reflections, chasing each other in and out of the wave ripple. Contrast that with . the wild, wet day you came to tell me that the glamour had gone; that the hour of sackcloth and ashes had c~me. How infinitely shocked you' were that I refused anything . so unbecoming I as sackcloth, and thought ashes dirty. I laughed at you, but, when you went away, —well, I am not over forgiving. I swore that if ever the day came when I could make you feel, I should not hold my hand.' 'But hold it now,' he said. He was lean ing forward, looking at her strangely. Then he closed his fingers over tier little wrists. 'You are the sort of woman who get into newspaper tragedies,' he said roughly. 'Feeble as I am, I could find a way now, and you could not do harm when you were dead Ma Mie.' She looked fearlessly into his eyes. 'That is -how I like you best,' she answered coolly 'And now I am going. Trains must be caught, you know, in spite of sentiment. Don't worry about your boy; it is only good women who are pretty, after all. Next week I 'shall be in Melbourne) en route for England. I fehall probably not return to Australia. Then,
1 if ever' I do, I shall be too old to fear.1 I often laugh when I think of you,' she said, 'You were so self-righteous; I have, tried it all, and it's a mistake. But you woultf 'have bjeen sorry not to have tried, wouldn't you? I never pretend anything to you. I am a very bad sort of person, am I not? But I do not hang my head on that account. I look life and God — even your just God — in the eyes, having paid my price; having lost iriy birthright; for the gift I brought was the gift God gave me for a good man — it was ail I had. I beggared myself for you, and you were a thing of straw. Listen, while I whisper to you! Do you know what my dreams as a young wife was? A house in the country, and a baby, and fowls. That doesn't sound like a syren, does it? But it wasn't to be. And now I think I should find the fowls and the baby a horrid bore. But I didn't start so badly, did I?' 'Sybil! Sybil!' His eyes were dark with tears. But he remembered the boy. 'Good-bye!' she said. The little snake of gold leapt mischievously. It seemed she laugh ed at him even now. 'It's not much use,' she said, 'you know. Your boy is bound to fall in love desperately, and often. It's in his face. And I don't know that he will find his broken butterflies so easy to cast away. He has a. great deal of tenderness, which is all the worse for him. However, that may be, I shall not see him again for I am going on the long trail. Good bye! Good-bye!' 'Sybil!' . She did not heed liim, she had passed down the leaf-strewn path, and beyond the acacias. The faint, sweet smell of white heliotrope that always hung about her remained in the room. The man gripped his hands hard on each side of his leathern chair. 'The green leaf; and the dry,' he said. 'The green leaf; and the dry.' The swish of the trees was like the waves that sang in Sydney Harbour, tho white of the acacia blooms was as the purity of moon flowers. He had won his battle with flying colours. Won! And he sat alone — with a memory.