The Magnificent Ambersons

by Booth Tarkington

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Chapter XXXV

Eugene's feeling about George had not been altered by his talk with Kinney in the club window, though he was somewhat disturbed. He was not disturbed by Kinney's hint that Fanny Minafer might be left on the hands of her friends through her nephew's present dealings with nitroglycerin, but he was surprised that Kinney had “led up” with intentional tact to the suggestion that a position might be made for George in the Morgan factory. Eugene did not care to have any suggestions about Georgie Minafer made to him. Kinney had represented Georgie as a new Georgie—at least in spots—a Georgie who was proving that decent stuff had been hid in him; in fact, a Georgie who was doing rather a handsome thing in taking a risky job for the sake of his aunt, poor old silly Fanny Minafer! Eugene didn't care what risks Georgie took, or how much decent stuff he had in him: nothing that Georgie would ever do in this world or the next could change Eugene Morgan's feeling toward him.

If Eugene could possibly have brought himself to offer Georgie a position in the automobile business, he knew full well the proud devil wouldn't have taken it from him; though Georgie's proud reason would not have been the one attributed to him by Eugene. George would never reach the point where he could accept anything material from Eugene and preserve the self-respect he had begun to regain.

But if Eugene had wished, he could easily have taken George out of the nitroglycerin branch of the chemical works. Always interested in apparent impossibilities of invention, Eugene had encouraged many experiments in such gropings as those for the discovery of substitutes for gasoline and rubber; and, though his mood had withheld the information from Kinney, he had recently bought from the elder Akers a substantial quantity of stock on the condition that the chemical company should establish an experimental laboratory. He intended to buy more; Akers was anxious to please him; and a word from Eugene would have placed George almost anywhere in the chemical works. George need never have known it, for Eugene's purchases of stock were always quiet ones: the transaction remained, so far, between him and Akers, and could be kept between them.

The possibility just edged itself into Eugene's mind; that is, he let it become part of his perceptions long enough for it to prove to him that it was actually a possibility. Then he half started with disgust that he should be even idly considering such a thing over his last cigar for the night, in his library. “No!” And he threw the cigar into the empty fireplace and went to bed.

His bitterness for himself might have worn away, but never his bitterness for Isabel. He took that thought to bed with him—and it was true that nothing George could do would ever change this bitterness of Eugene. Only George's mother could have changed it.

And as Eugene fell asleep that night, thinking thus bitterly of Georgie, Georgie in the hospital was thinking of Eugene. He had come “out of ether” with no great nausea, and had fallen into a reverie, though now and then a white sailboat staggered foolishly into the small ward where he lay. After a time he discovered that this happened only when he tried to open his eyes and look about him; so he kept his eyes shut, and his thoughts were clearer.

He thought of Eugene Morgan and of the Major; they seemed to be the same person for awhile, but he managed to disentangle them and even to understand why he had confused them. Long ago his grandfather had been the most striking figure of success in the town: “As rich as Major Amberson!” they used to say. Now it was Eugene. “If I had Eugene Morgan's money,” he would hear the workmen day-dreaming at the chemical works; or, “If Eugene Morgan had hold of this place you'd see things hum!” And the boarders at the table d'hôte spoke of “the Morgan Place” as an eighteenth-century Frenchman spoke of Versailles. Like his uncle, George had perceived that the “Morgan Place” was the new Amberson Mansion. His reverie went back to the palatial days of the Mansion, in his boyhood, when he would gallop his pony up the driveway and order the darkey stable-men about, while they whooped and obeyed, and his grandfather, observing from a window, would laugh and call out to him, “That's right, Georgie. Make those lazy rascals jump!” He remembered his gay young uncles, and how the town was eager concerning everything about them, and about himself. What a clean, pretty town it had been! And in his reverie be saw like a pageant before him the magnificence of the Ambersons—its passing, and the passing of the Ambersons themselves. They had been slowly engulfed without knowing how to prevent it, and almost without knowing what was happening to them. The family lot, in the shabby older quarter, out at the cemetery, held most of them now; and the name was swept altogether from the new city. But the new great people who had taken their places—the Morgans and Akerses and Sheridans—they would go, too. George saw that. They would pass, as the Ambersons had passed, and though some of them might do better than the Major and leave the letters that spelled a name on a hospital or a street, it would be only a word and it would not stay forever. Nothing stays or holds or keeps where there is growth, he somehow perceived vaguely but truly. Great Caesar dead and turned to clay stopped no hole to keep the wind away. Dead Caesar was nothing but a tiresome bit of print in a book that schoolboys study for awhile and then forget. The Ambersons had passed, and the new people would pass, and the new people that came after them, and then the next new ones, and the next—and the next—

He had begun to murmur, and the man on duty as night nurse for the ward came and bent over him.

“Did you want something?”

“There's nothing in this family business,” George told him confidentially. “Even George Washington is only something in a book.”

Eugene read a report of the accident in the next morning's paper. He was on the train, having just left for New York, on business, and with less leisure would probably have overlooked the obscure item:


G. A. Minafer, an employee of the Akers Chemical Co., was run down by an automobile yesterday at the corner of Tennessee and Main and had both legs broken. Minafer was to blame for the accident according to patrolman F. A. Kax, who witnessed the affair. The automobile was a small one driven by Herbert Cottleman of 9173 Noble Avenue who stated that he was making less than 4 miles an hour. Minafer is said to belong to a family formerly of considerable prominence in the city. He was taken to the City Hospital where physicians stated later that he was suffering from internal injuries besides the fracture of his legs but might recover.

Eugene read the item twice, then tossed the paper upon the opposite seat of his compartment, and sat looking out of the window. His feeling toward Georgie was changed not a jot by his human pity for Georgie's human pain and injury. He thought of Georgie's tall and graceful figure, and he shivered, but his bitterness was untouched. He had never blamed Isabel for the weakness which had cost them the few years of happiness they might have had together; he had put the blame all on the son, and it stayed there.

He began to think poignantly of Isabel: he had seldom been able to “see” her more clearly than as he sat looking out of his compartment window, after reading the account of this accident. She might have been just on the other side of the glass, looking in at him—and then he thought of her as the pale figure of a woman, seen yet unseen, flying through the air, beside the train, over the fields of springtime green and through the woods that were just sprouting out their little leaves. He closed his eyes and saw her as she had been long ago. He saw the brown-eyed, brown-haired, proud, gentle, laughing girl he had known when first he came to town, a boy just out of the State College. He remembered—as he had remembered ten thousand times before—the look she gave him when her brother George introduced him to her at a picnic; it was “like hazel starlight” he had written her, in a poem, afterward. He remembered his first call at the Amberson Mansion, and what a great personage she seemed, at home in that magnificence; and yet so gay and friendly. He remembered the first time he had danced with her—and the old waltz song began to beat in his ears and in his heart. They laughed and sang it together as they danced to it:

“Oh, love for a year, a week, a day, But alas for the love that lasts always—”

Most plainly of all he could see her dancing; and he became articulate in the mourning whisper: “So graceful—oh, so graceful—”

All the way to New York it seemed to him that Isabel was near him, and he wrote of her to Lucy from his hotel the next night:

I saw an account of the accident to George Minafer. I'm sorry, though the paper states that it was plainly his own fault. I suppose it may have been as a result of my attention falling upon the item that I thought of his mother a great deal on the way here. It seemed to me that I had never seen her more distinctly or so constantly, but, as you know, thinking of his mother is not very apt to make me admire him! Of course, however, he has my best wishes for his recovery.

He posted the letter, and by the morning's mail he received one from Lucy written a few hours after his departure from home. She enclosed the item he had read on the train.

I thought you might not see it.

I have seen Miss Fanny and she has got him put into a room by himself. Oh, poor Rides-Down-Everything I have been thinking so constantly of his mother and it seemed to me that I have never seen her more distinctly. How lovely she was—and how she loved him!

If Lucy had not written this letter Eugene might not have done the odd thing he did that day. Nothing could have been more natural than that both he and Lucy should have thought intently of Isabel after reading the account of George's accident, but the fact that Lucy's letter had crossed his own made Eugene begin to wonder if a phenomenon of telepathy might not be in question, rather than a chance coincidence. The reference to Isabel in the two letters was almost identical: he and Lucy, it appeared, had been thinking of Isabel at the same time—both said “constantly” thinking of her—and neither had ever “seen her more distinctly.” He remembered these phrases in his own letter accurately.

Reflection upon the circumstance stirred a queer spot in Eugene's brain—he had one. He was an adventurer; if he had lived in the sixteenth century he would have sailed the unknown new seas, but having been born in the latter part of the nineteenth, when geography was a fairly well-settled matter, he had become an explorer in mechanics. But the fact that he was a “hard-headed business man” as well as an adventurer did not keep him from having a queer spot in his brain, because hard-headed business men are as susceptible to such spots as adventurers are. Some of them are secretly troubled when they do not see the new moon over the lucky shoulder; some of them have strange, secret incredulities—they do not believe in geology, for instance; and some of them think they have had supernatural experiences. “Of course there was nothing in it—still it was queer!” they say.

Two weeks after Isabel's death, Eugene had come to New York on urgent business and found that the delayed arrival of a steamer gave him a day with nothing to do. His room at the hotel had become intolerable; outdoors was intolerable; everything was intolerable. It seemed to him that he must see Isabel once more, hear her voice once more; that he must find some way to her, or lose his mind. Under this pressure he had gone, with complete scepticism, to a “trance-medium” of whom he had heard wild accounts from the wife of a business acquaintance. He thought despairingly that at least such an excursion would be “trying to do something!” He remembered the woman's name; found it in the telephone book, and made an appointment.

The experience had been grotesque, and he came away with an encouraging message from his father, who had failed to identify himself satisfactorily, but declared that everything was “on a higher plane” in his present state of being, and that all life was “continuous and progressive.” Mrs. Horner spoke of herself as a “psychic”; but otherwise she seemed oddly unpretentious and matter-of-fact; and Eugene had no doubt at all of her sincerity. He was sure that she was not an intentional fraud, and though he departed in a state of annoyance with himself, he came to the conclusion that if any credulity were played upon by Mrs. Horner's exhibitions, it was her own.

Nevertheless, his queer spot having been stimulated to action by the coincidence of the letters, he went to Mrs. Horner's after his directors' meeting today. He used the telephone booth in the directors' room to make the appointment; and he laughed feebly at himself, and wondered what the group of men in that mahogany apartment would think if they knew what he was doing. Mrs. Horner had changed her address, but he found the new one, and somebody purporting to be a niece of hers talked to him and made an appointment for a “sitting” at five o'clock. He was prompt, and the niece, a dull-faced fat girl with a magazine under her arm, admitted him to Mrs. Horner's apartment, which smelt of camphor; and showed him into a room with gray painted walls, no rug on the floor and no furniture except a table (with nothing on it) and two chairs: one a leather easy-chair and the other a stiff little brute with a wooden seat. There was one window with the shade pulled down to the sill, but the sun was bright outside, and the room had light enough.

Mrs. Horner appeared in the doorway, a wan and unenterprising looking woman in brown, with thin hair artificially waved—but not recently—and parted in the middle over a bluish forehead. Her eyes were small and seemed weak, but she recognized the visitor.

“Oh, you been here before,” she said, in a thin voice, not unmusical. “I recollect you. Quite a time ago, wa'n't it?”

“Yes, quite a long time.”

“I recollect because I recollect you was disappointed. Anyway, you was kind of cross.” She laughed faintly.

“I'm sorry if I seemed so,” Eugene said. “Do you happen to have found out my name?”

She looked surprised and a little reproachful. “Why, no. I never try to find out people's name. Why should I? I don't claim anything for the power; I only know I have it—and some ways it ain't always such a blessing, neither, I can tell you!”

Eugene did not press an investigation of her meaning, but said vaguely, “I suppose not. Shall we—”

“All right,” she assented, dropping into the leather chair, with her back to the shaded window. “You better set down, too, I reckon. I hope you'll get something this time so you won't feel cross, but I dunno. I can't never tell what they'll do. Well—”

She sighed, closed her eyes, and was silent, while Eugene, seated in the stiff chair across the table from her, watched her profile, thought himself an idiot, and called himself that and other names. And as the silence continued, and the impassive woman in the easy-chair remained impassive, he began to wonder what had led him to be such a fool. It became clear to him that the similarity of his letter and Lucy's needed no explanation involving telepathy, and was not even an extraordinary coincidence. What, then, had brought him back to this absurd place and caused him to be watching this absurd woman taking a nap in a chair? In brief: What the devil did he mean by it? He had not the slightest interest in Mrs. Horner's naps—or in her teeth, which were being slightly revealed by the unconscious parting of her lips, as her breathing became heavier. If the vagaries of his own mind had brought him into such a grotesquerie as this, into what did the vagaries of other men's minds take them? Confident that he was ordinarily saner than most people, he perceived that since he was capable of doing a thing like this, other men did even more idiotic things, in secret. And he had a fleeting vision of sober-looking bankers and manufacturers and lawyers, well-dressed church-going men, sound citizens—and all as queer as the deuce inside!

How long was he going to sit here presiding over this unknown woman's slumbers? It struck him that to make the picture complete he ought to be shooing flies away from her with a palm-leaf fan.

Mrs. Horner's parted lips closed again abruptly, and became compressed; her shoulders moved a little, then jerked repeatedly; her small chest heaved; she gasped, and the compressed lips relaxed to a slight contortion, then began to move, whispering and bringing forth indistinguishable mutterings.

Suddenly she spoke in a loud, husky voice:

“Lopa is here!”

“Yes,” Eugene said dryly. “That's what you said last time. I remember 'Lopa.' She's your 'control' I think you said.”

“I'm Lopa,” said the husky voice. “I'm Lopa herself.”

“You mean I'm to suppose you're not Mrs. Horner now?”

“Never was Mrs. Horner!” the voice declared, speaking undeniably from Mrs. Horner's lips—but with such conviction that Eugene, in spite of everything, began to feel himself in the presence of a third party, who was none the less an individual, even though she might be another edition of the apparently somnambulistic Mrs. Horner. “Never was Mrs. Horner or anybody but just Lopa. Guide.”

“You mean you're Mrs. Horner's guide?” he asked.

“Your guide now,” said the voice with emphasis, to which was incongruously added a low laugh. “You came here once before. Lopa remembers.”

“Yes—so did Mrs. Horner.”

Lopa overlooked his implication, and continued, quickly: “You build. Build things that go. You came here once and old gentleman on this side, he spoke to you. Same old gentleman here now. He tell Lopa he's your grandfather—no, he says 'father.' He's your father.”

“What's his appearance?”


“What does he look like?”

“Very fine! White beard, but not long beard. He says someone else wants to speak to you. See here. Lady. Not his wife, though. No. Very fine lady! Fine lady, fine lady!”

“Is it my sister?” Eugene asked.

“Sister? No. She is shaking her head. She has pretty brown hair. She is fond of you. She is someone who knows you very well but she is not your sister. She is very anxious to say something to you—very anxious. Very fond of you; very anxious to talk to you. Very glad you came here—oh, very, glad!”

“What is her name?”

“Name,” the voice repeated, and seemed to ruminate. “Name hard to get—always very hard for Lopa. Name. She wants to tell me her name to tell you. She wants you to understand names are hard to make. She says you must think of something that makes a sound.” Here the voice seemed to put a question to an invisible presence and to receive an answer. “A little sound or a big sound? She says it might be a little sound or a big sound. She says a ring—oh, Lopa knows! She means a bell! That's it, a bell.”

Eugene looked grave. “Does she mean her name is Belle?”

“Not quite. Her name is longer.”

“Perhaps,” he suggested, “she means that she was a belle.”

“No. She says she thinks you know what she means. She says you must think of a colour. What colour?” Again Lopa addressed the unknown, but this time seemed to wait for an answer.

“Perhaps she means the colour of her eyes,” said Eugene.

“No. She says her colour is light—it's a light colour and you can see through it.”

“Amber?” he said, and was startled, for Mrs. Horner, with her eyes still closed, clapped her hands, and the voice cried out in delight:

“Yes! She says you know who she is from amber. Amber! Amber! That's it! She says you understand what her name is from a bell and from amber. She is laughing and waving a lace handkerchief at me because she is pleased. She says I have made you know who it is.”

This was the strangest moment of Eugene's life, because, while it lasted, he believed that Isabel Amberson, who was dead, had found means to speak to him. Though within ten minutes he doubted it, he believed it then.

His elbows pressed hard upon the table, and, his head between his hands, he leaned forward, staring at the commonplace figure in the easy-chair. “What does she wish to say to me?”

“She is happy because you know her. No—she is troubled. Oh—a great trouble! Something she wants to tell you. She wants so much to tell you. She wants Lopa to tell you. This is a great trouble. She says—oh, yes, she wants you to be—to be kind! That's what she says. That's it. To be kind.”

“Does she—”

“She wants you to be kind,” said the voice. “She nods when I tell you this. Yes; it must be right. She is a very fine lady. Very pretty. She is so anxious for you to understand. She hopes and hopes you will. Someone else wants to speak to you. This is a man. He says—”

“I don't want to speak to any one else,” said Eugene quickly. “I want—”

“This man who has come says that he is a friend of yours. He says—”

Eugene struck the table with his fist. “I don't want to speak to any one else, I tell you!” he cried passionately. “If she is there I—” He caught his breath sharply, checked himself, and sat in amazement. Could his mind so easily accept so stupendous a thing as true? Evidently it could!

Mrs. Horner spoke languidly in her own voice: “Did you get anything satisfactory?” she asked. “I certainly hope it wasn't like that other time when you was cross because they couldn't get anything for you.”

“No, no,” he said hastily. “This was different It was very interesting.”

He paid her, went to his hotel, and thence to his train for home. Never did he so seem to move through a world of dream-stuff: for he knew that he was not more credulous than other men, and, if he could believe what he had believed, though he had believed it for no longer than a moment or two, what hold had he or any other human being on reality?

His credulity vanished (or so he thought) with his recollection that it was he, and not the alleged “Lopa,” who had suggested the word “amber.” Going over the mortifying, plain facts of his experience, he found that Mrs. Horner, or the subdivision of Mrs. Horner known as “Lopa,” had told him to think of a bell and of a colour, and that being furnished with these scientific data, he had leaped to the conclusion that he spoke with Isabel Amberson!

For a moment he had believed that Isabel was there, believed that she was close to him, entreating him—entreating him “to be kind.” But with this recollection a strange agitation came upon him. After all, had she not spoken to him? If his own unknown consciousness had told the “psychic's” unknown consciousness how to make the picture of the pretty brown-haired, brown-eyed lady, hadn't the picture been a true one? And hadn't the true Isabel—oh, indeed her very soul!—called to him out of his own true memory of her?

And as the train roared through the darkened evening he looked out beyond his window, and saw her as he had seen her on his journey, a few days ago—an ethereal figure flying beside the train, but now it seemed to him that she kept her face toward his window with an infinite wistfulness.

“To be kind!” If it had been Isabel, was that what she would have said? If she were anywhere, and could come to him through the invisible wall, what would be the first thing she would say to him?

Ah, well enough, and perhaps bitterly enough, he knew the answer to that question! “To be kind”—to Georgie!

A red-cap at the station, when he arrived, leaped for his bag, abandoning another which the Pullman porter had handed him. “Yessuh, Mist' Morgan. Yessuh. You' car waitin' front the station fer you, Mist' Morgan, suh!”

And people in the crowd about the gates turned to stare, as he passed through, whispering, “That's Morgan.”

Outside, the neat chauffeur stood at the door of the touring-car like a soldier in whip-cord.

“I'll not go home now, Harry,” said Eugene, when he had got in. “Drive to the City Hospital.”

“Yes, sir,” the man returned. “Miss Lucy's there. She said she expected you'd come there before you went home.”

“She did?”

“Yes, sir.”

Eugene stared. “I suppose Mr. Minafer must be pretty bad,” he said.

“Yes, sir. I understand he's liable to get well, though, sir.” He moved his lever into high speed, and the car went through the heavy traffic like some fast, faithful beast that knew its way about, and knew its master's need of haste. Eugene did not speak again until they reached the hospital.

Fanny met him in the upper corridor, and took him to an open door.

He stopped on the threshold, startled; for, from the waxen face on the pillow, almost it seemed the eyes of Isabel herself were looking at him: never before had the resemblance between mother and son been so strong—and Eugene knew that now he had once seen it thus startlingly, he need divest himself of no bitterness “to be kind” to Georgie.

George was startled, too. He lifted a white hand in a queer gesture, half forbidding, half imploring, and then let his arm fall back upon the coverlet. “You must have thought my mother wanted you to come,” he said, “so that I could ask you to—to forgive me.”

But Lucy, who sat beside him, lifted ineffable eyes from him to her father, and shook her head. “No, just to take his hand—gently!”

She was radiant.

But for Eugene another radiance filled the room. He knew that he had been true at last to his true love, and that through him she had brought her boy under shelter again. Her eyes would look wistful no more.

The End


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