A Letter To Australia by Earl Derr Biggers
First published in The Saturday Evening Post, Feb 11, 1922
TOM MEADE was walking home under the bare branches of the
trees on Center Avenue. High in the heavens shone a chill October moon,
tracing a weird network of shadows along his pathway. His step sounded
briskly on the wooden sidewalks, his head was thrown back, the events of the
evening had set him dreaming of great things.
Over Center Avenue, over all Mayfield, hovered a somnolent calm. The hour
was late, well past nine, and Mayfield was always a nine-o'clock town. At
that hour came regularly the sound of the imperfectly stifled yawn, the click
of the back door following closely on the exit of the cat, the rasp of
timepieces being wound, the voice of parental authority—"Come, young
put up that book and get to bed!" Then silence. By ten o'clock revelers
straying home from Mike Forrester's Happy Hour Pool and Billiard Parlor saw
only at rare intervals a lighted window, and spoke loudly of emigrating to
Indianapolis, where, it was understood, were laughter and music—night
to meet all tastes.
Nights were for sleeping in Mayfield then; and, indeed, in those early
'nineties the days were not much more exciting. Life was simple and wholesome
and placid, and the good people of the town aimed to keep it so. Meeting
casually under the maples that lined the streets they had time for prolonged
social chats, for kindly inquiries as to one another's health and welfare.
And if there was one with graying hair amid the group you were fairly sure to
hear a complaint about the restless hurry of the new generation, a longing
sigh for the amiable 'eighties, the gracious 'seventies.
Tom Meade quickened his step, for the clock in the tower of the new
courthouse had struck the half-hour, and he had much to tell Jenny before
they went to bed. The Republican rally had been a huge success, the opera
house was crowded to the doors. Such rousing enthusiasm—but this was
Indiana, where political argument was, to most men, food and drink. As for
his own speech—and Jenny would first of all want to know about
been enthusiastically received. He had done well, he knew it; with persuasive
eloquence he had pleaded for the reelection of Mr. Harrison. Not an easy
task, either, for there was little in the personality of the President to
inspire an orator. However, the crowd had been with him, they had welcomed
his sallies against Mr. Cleveland with loud approval.
Behind him, on the new brick pavement of the avenue, rang the rhythmic
beat of a horse's hoofs. Turning, he saw old Bill Love's hack outlined in the
moonlight. The nine-twenty was in from Indianapolis; some plutocratic citizen
of Center Avenue was riding home in state.
The hack passed him and came to a stop in front of an ornate house, the
finest in town, and the fare alighted just as Tom Meade came abreast. He
recognized Jackson Perkins, president of the First National, leading
"Hello, Tom!" said Perkins. "Have a good meeting?"
"Great!" Meade answered.
"There's talk down in Indianapolis that Cleveland may come back," the rich
"Don't you believe it," Tom reassured him. "You should have been in that
opera house to-night. Looks to me like a Republican landslide."
"I hope so, I'm sure," replied Perkins fervently. "Good night."
As Tom Meade passed on he saw the banker carelessly bestow a coin on old
Bill. Evidently Jackson Perkins thought nothing of two bits for a hack when
he was tired. Oh, well! Tom reflected, he was only thirty-three himself. Lots
of things could and would happen. Some day he, too, would be a power in
May-field, have a great house on the avenue, come rolling home through the
moonlight in Bill Love's hack.
He turned off the thoroughfare of the big bugs into his own street,
Monroe. There, some distance down, stood the simple little frame house for
which he was struggling to pay. Jenny-must have heard him coming, for the
door opened and she stood there, sharply outlined against the yellow glow of
the lamp within. Her figure was alert and slim, and the light at her back
emphasized the rather alarming smallness of her waist, laced almost to
nothing in the fashion of the period.
"Tom, I've been worried. It's nearly ten o'clock," she said.
"Never worry about me," he laughed, and kissed her. "I can take care of
myself, I guess."
She caught the note of elation in his voice. She looked up at him
"How did the speech go, Tom?" she asked.
"Like a house afire," he told her, putting modesty aside in the sanctity
of his home. He tossed his overcoat on to a chair. "The best I ever made,
Jenny, and that's a fact. I'll tell you how well they liked it—they're
to nominate me for prosecutor when the party convention meets next June."
"No! Oh, Tom!"
"It's the truth. Judge Marvin told me it's practically settled. Of course,
I'll have to give up the street-railway job. But—county prosecutor!
big opportunity, Jenny."
"They're beginning to appreciate you at last. I've known all the
"Have you? Yes, I guess you have. Well, it takes a young lawyer a long
time to get going, but once I've started—"
He followed her into the tiny parlor, a room of green-plush furniture,
enlarged crayon portraits, hand-painted china, innumerable tidies. On the
center table a large oil lamp was lighted, and close beside it sat his
daughter, a fair, spindling girl of nine, spelling out an article in a
"What? Clara, you still up?" he cried, surprise in his voice.
"I told her she could wait until you came," the mother explained. "I never
dreamed it would be so late. Come, dear, kiss father and run to bed."
Clara rose and came to him. He took the magazine.
"What's this you're reading? 'The Girl with the Voice'."
"It's by a great opera singer," said Clara shyly. "Advice to girls who
want to do like her."
"Oh, yes. Come on now. Up-stairs you go."
"I wish you'd go up and see if David's still awake," Jenny said. "You
didn't kiss him when you left after supper, and he told me he was going to
sit up in bed until you came. It would be just like him to do it too."
Tom Meade accompanied Clara up the short flight of stairs. In the little
room sacred to his six-year-old son a night light was burning. He tiptoed in
and bent over the bed. Evidently David was asleep. But as he was turning away
the child stirred and opened his eyes.
"Hello, Daddy," he said-drowsily. "Want to have a boxing?"
"No, no boxing to-night. Too late," Meade told him.
But David would not be denied his nightly drama.
"I'm Corbett," he announced, for the recent bout in New Orleans had made a
deep impression on the small boys of the town. Meade assumed his usual role
of John L. Sullivan, and after a brief exchange of easy blows permitted
himself to be laid low by the diminutive Gentleman Jim. Too sleepy to enjoy
his triumph, David fell back on the pillow, his little fists clenched above
his head. For a moment his father stood looking down at him; he wondered if
David was getting a wrong idea of how battles may be won. Then, smiling
gently, he kissed the boy and went down-stairs to Jenny.
Jenny had resumed her sewing. She was mending a rent in the lining of her
sealskin coat, getting it ready for the winter. It was the pride of her life,
that coat; so fashionable—the gift of Tom in one of his reckless moods.
There were very few such coats in town. Mrs. Jackson Perkins had
"Well, Jenny," said Meade.
"Oh, Tom, I was just thinking. Prosecutor! That will be wonderful!"
"Yes, won't it?" He sat down and smiled at her pretty, flushed face. The
future, with its infinite possibilities, opened again before him. "I tell
you, my dear, it's something to look forward to!"
She sewed on.
"Who was at the meeting, Tom?"
"Everybody in town, I guess. I had quite a talk with Charley Nelson."
"How was he looking?"
"Not very well. Awfully thin, and—sort of transparent, almost."
"Mary is so worried about him. She was telling me the other day. She says
he isn't feeling right. She's afraid he won't be here long."
"Too bad," said Tom. "By the way, he told me about Dan. It seems there was
a big strike in Australia two years ago, and everything looked black for a
time. But now, Charley says, Dan's doing mighty well again. Expects to be
taken into that firm he's with. I forget the name—Holding and
Jenny was looking at him accusingly.
"Tom, you've never written to Dan," she said.
"No, I haven't," he admitted.
"Really, it's too bad. And Dan your very best friend."
"I know—I agree with you. I was thinking about it coming home.
up-stairs, and if you don't mind I'll stop in my den and have a try at
"Oh, Tom, I wish you would," said Jenny. "I always liked Dan so much."
Ten minutes later he was seated at a cheap oak desk in the room known as
his den. On the walls hung pennants handed down from his college days, a
group picture of his class at the law school, a crude copy of one of Mr.
Gibson's drawings, done by Clara and presented with her love the preceding
He lighted a pipe and took from the top drawer of his desk a small bundle
of papers. On the top was an envelope somewhat yellowed by the passage of
time. He removed it from the package and drew out the sheet of letter paper
it contained. Although he knew almost by heart what was written there, he
read it again:
"Holbrook & Bunting, Ltd.
Direct Buyers Sheepskins, Rabbit Skins, Wool, Hides and Tallow
189 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, Victoria
"Dear Tom: Your letter with the news of your engagement to
Jenny Fairbanks came in on the last boat, and I hasten to send my sincere
congratulations. I always thought Jenny the prettiest cleverest girl in
Mayfield, and you're mighty lucky to get her. As for you—well, I guess
knows what I think of you. May you have the long happy life together I'm
wishing for you to- day.
"You asked for news of me. I'm still plodding along.
Australia isn't so bad, even if we are a long ways from anything. I've never
regretted coming out, though of course there are times when I get homesick as
the devil for the old town, the old friends—you most of all. I guess I
need to tell you what a letter from you means to me.
"I'm rushing this to catch the boat. Some time later I'll
write at length about my life out here. This is meant to be nothing more than
a friendly hail from this far outpost. Good luck, old man, and God bless you
"Your old friend, Dan Nelson."
The date on the letter was August 26, 1880.
Tom Meade got up and paced the floor of that tiny room. Eighteen-
eighty—why, that was twelve years ago! For twelve years he had put off
writing to his friend. In heaven's name, why? He who in his daily life was so
punctilious, so prompt; he who never vacillated.
"I guess I don't need to tell you what a letter from you means to me," Dan
Good old Dan, the boy with whom he had roamed the woods and fields about
Mayfield, the inseparable pal of his youth. He had loved Dan like a brother,
and yet he had let twelve years drift by.
He dropped again into his squeaky little desk chair and began an
examination of the papers that had been tied up with Dan's letter. He never
threw anything away. Here were the false starts he had made at a letter to
Australia during those twelve years; the first one, written a year after he
received Dan's congratulations :
"Dear Dan: I owe you a thousand apologies; but, as a matter
of fact, I was so pressed for time, what with the excitement of—"
Why hadn't he sent that? As he recalled it now, Australia had seemed so
far away. One really should have news—important news—to put into
that would be anywhere from forty to seventy days on its journey. And,
wonderful as his marriage had seemed to him, there was no news in it for Dan;
Dan had known he contemplated marriage. However, something else was
impending, something of vital importance. He had been admitted to the bar,
was shortly to go into Henry Brackett's law office. His name would be on the
stationery. He would wait and write then.
His next attempt was, indeed, on the Brackett stationery.
"Dear Dan: I'm sure you will understand, but what with all
the anxiety I have gone through owing to Jenny's illness—"
What illness was that? He tried to remember. Nothing serious, evidently.
Like the first, this letter had never been finished and sent. Before its
completion there was something new to look forward to. A baby—a son, he
The baby came—Clara. He loved Clara with all his heart, thought her
wonderful, proposed writing Dan about her. He was only waiting to include in
the letter another bit of news.
Old Judge Marvin had come to him and offered to take him into partnership
as soon as he could break away from Brackett. Dan would remember Judge
Marvin, would realize what a big step up this was, would rejoice with his old
But Dan had never got the news. By the time Tom Meade had settled himself
in the Marvin office and remembered his project of a letter to Dan another
baby was imminent. A son this time, he hoped. To his great joy, David
appeared, answering his dearest wish. He proposed to take Jenny, as soon as
she was able, on a pleasure trip to Washington. A lively description of
Washington, he reflected, would round off nicely his letter to Dan telling of
The Washington trip followed, but for some reason now forgotten he held
off writing to Dan.
Running through these incomplete records with their abject apologies,
their ever-changing narrative, he perceived that there was always something
in the air, something for which he was eagerly waiting—a nomination for
mayor, which had finally eluded him; the winning of a big case; his
appointment as attorney for the new street-railway company.
Well, he reflected, the waiting must stop. All nonsense anyhow. He would
write to Dan without any more delay; to Dan, in Melbourne, Australia. And
with the feeling of a man who sits down to write a history of the civilized
world he drew toward him a blank sheet of paper.
"67 Monroe Street, Mayfield, Indiana, October 25, 1892.
"Dear Dan: I don't know what you'll think of me, I'm sure.
Believe it or not, I've sat down a score of times to answer that letter you
wrote me so long ago—the one congratulating me on my engagement to
Yes, Dan, time after time, and always something held me up, sidetracked me.
The truth of it is, of course, that I'm tremendously busy. My practise is
growing all the while; and then, too, I'm attorney for the new street
"But look here, I'm not going to bore you with a lot of
stupid apologies. All I can say is that if you'll forgive me—which
can indicate by answering this without delay—I'll promise to do better
"It was seeing your Cousin Charley at the opera house
to-night that got me started on this. I had a little talk with him, and he
told me how well you're doing. I want to assure you right here; Dan, before
I go any further, that your kind wishes on our engagement were deeply
appreciated at the time. Jenny and I have now been married eleven years, and
all the happiness you bespoke for us has so far been ours. Jenny is still the
prettiest girl in town—and the cleverest. What's more, she's not a day
than when you saw her last. Our daughter Clara is nine and David is six.
"As for my work, I've kept plugging along. Nothing very
exciting has happened as yet, but I have hopes. As a matter of fact, only
He stopped suddenly and read over what he had written. Stale stuff, every
line of it. It seemed to him that in all these twelve years he had never had
so little to put into a letter.
Once more his acutely materialistic sense of space asserted itself.
Australia—the end of the world! Twelve thousand miles stretched between
Mayfield and Melbourne, Monroe Street and Little Bourke. Thirty-two days of
actual travel for this letter, provided it just caught one of the Oceanic
Steamship Company's boats at San Francisco. If it missed it might lie over
for twenty-eight days. There was a possibility that his letter might be sixty
days on the way! A letter that traveled sixty days ought to carry
And was he not, after all, right on the brink of something well worth
writing to Dan? Prosecuting attorney—that was no trifling office. As
settled, too, the judge had said. He visualized a new letter:
"Dear Dan: At last I've got something to tell you. I've
just been elected county prosecutor by an overwhelming majority—"
Folding up the sheet of paper on which he had been writing, he added it to
the package that had the yellow envelope on top. He restored the package to
its old place in the drawer.
The little house was cold when he went out into the upper hall. He
wondered if he had locked the back door. All the lamps were out, but the
autumn moonlight shone faintly through the rooms. He felt his way cautiously
to the kitchen, found the rear door securely fastened. Opening it, he stood
on the stoop. The moon shone brightly on the modest garden where he had
worked through the long summer evenings. Over the houses of his neighbors,
over all Mayfield brooded peace and content.
He loved his neighbors, such simple, kindly, understanding people. He
loved his town. In it, he told himself, he would climb high, become a power,
make Jenny proud of him, give his children the best life could offer. He
looked forward to big things.
When he entered the bedroom Jenny lifted her head from the pillow.
"Did you write to Dan?" she asked sleepily.
"No, not exactly. When I came right down to it, there was no news worth
sending all that distance. And I thought if I'm to be prosecuting
"That will be something to write Dan about," she agreed.
"Yes," said Tom Meade. "I thought I'd wait until that comes along."
His intentions were of the best. But it was eighteen years before he began
another letter to Australia.
* * * * *
ON thanksgiving night, in the year 1910, the first snow of
the winter fell in Mayfield. "The beautiful," as next day's Evening
Enterprise described it, "cloaking in its mantle of white our fair and
Accuracy was the self-confessed aim of the Enterprise, and it was accurate
here. The snow was beautiful. It was of the wet, clinging variety that lay
where it fell—on telegraph wires, on picket fences, on the bare
the trees that lined Center Avenue, and on the cornices and window-sills of a
house that stood on the avenue not far from the corner of Monroe, a great
brick mansion of many rooms that advertised the wealth and dignity of its
Tom Meade sat before the fire in the library of this house, with his
family about him. That slender young lawyer who spoke for Harrison in the
opera house in 'ninety-two was gone for ever; probably only Jenny remembered
him. For the years had added weight to Tom Meade's figure, grayed his hair.
But they had not dimmed the twinkle in his eyes.
It had been an old-fashioned Thanksgiving, and he had enjoyed it
thoroughly. The snow outside added the final happy touch; all his folks about
him in this comfortable room. On his right sat Jenny, fragile, birdlike,
pretty, still. On his left were David and Jean, David's wife. Behind him at
the grand piano, Clara sat, singing, at his request, Kathleen Mavourneen. He
listened, enthralled. There was in Clara's voice a soft beauty that always
thrilled him, that exalted yet saddened him. He remembered what the great
teacher in New York had said of Clara's voice.
Poor Clara, thin and faded and wasted—at twenty-seven! What a
The last notes of the song died away through the silent house, and
reaching out Tom Meade patted Jenny's hand where it lay on the arm of her
"Don't be silly, Tom," she said, and they laughed softly together.
"What next?" demanded Clara, turning the pages of the ancient song book
before her. "You choose, Father. This is your party, you know."
He moved his head in time to catch a look he was not intended to see, a
questioning look from Jean to David which said more plainly than words,
"Can't we break away now? Haven't we been here long enough?"
Tom Meade stood up.
"Guess we'd better let these children off, Mother," he said. "It'll be a
hard drive back to Indianapolis through the snow. I think it was mighty good
of them to come up here and spend Thanksgiving with us old folks."
"Speak for yourself," said Jenny quickly. "You know, David, ever since he
passed fifty your father's perfectly absurd. You'd think he was a hundred.
For my part, I'm never going to grow old. Never going to admit it
"That's the talk, Mother," said David. "You stick to it." He got up and
tossed his cigarette into the fireplace. He was a stout, rather florid-faced
young man, decked out in clothes that were the despair of all the would-be
snappy dressers in Indianapolis. "Come on, Jean, I guess we had better be
drifting along. My carbureter acted sort of funny on the way up," he added to
"Well, if we must," said Jean. She rose with seeming reluctance, a slim
pretty girl, but like David a bit overdressed, a bit flashy. "You must come
and see us soon—both of you. And—oh, yes," she remembered
"Thanks," said Clara, without turning her head.
They went into the big oak-paneled hall, where the visitors donned their
coats with more animation than had been theirs all day.
Tom and Jenny accompanied them to the side door. Under the porte-cochère
stood David's car, a smart, blood-red racer, the sportiest model the year
1910 had to offer. Jenny was the recipient of two hasty kisses, after which
Tom helped Jean to her place and even lent a hand to David, who had now taken
on the look of a large fur-bearing animal.
"Well, folks " David began, his hands on the wheel. He
fumbled round in his mind for some kindly words of farewell, but words
were never his specialty. He gave it up and turned his attention to starting
the motor, which whirred instantly. "Listen to that!" he cried with
enthusiasm. "It's a lalapalooser, this car! Well—well—we had a
The automobile began to move. Tom Meade, standing bareheaded in the
shelter of the porte-cochère, heard "fine day" flung over Jean's
shoulder. He watched them creep down the long drive, gaining speed as they
went, then swing out through the great gate into Center Avenue. Bill Love's
hack was not abroad on Center Avenue to-night, nor any other hack. At
intervals a motor horn sounded shrilly through the storm and the lights of a
passing car flashed momentarily over the snow.
"Come in, Father, you'll catch your death," Jenny said from the door.
He returned to the hall. Clara, half-way up the stairs, called her good
"It's early yet," Meade said. "You're not turning in, Jenny?"
"Of course not," she answered. He followed her into the library.
"Where's Cuffy?" he asked, referring to his aged colored butler.
"I told him to go to bed," Jenny said. "He wasn't feeling well—ate
much, I guess. You'd think he'd know better—at his age."
Meade laughed and began to pile logs on the fire.
"Well, it's been a happy Thanksgiving," Jenny went on. "I don't know as I
recall many happier. I do hope they get back to Indianapolis safe and sound."
She went over to the bay window and stood staring out. "It's dangerous
driving in a storm like this. I wish I'd told David to call up when they get
Her husband came over and put his arm about her shoulders.
"Now, Mother, none of your worrying." He stood staring out across his
lawn. It was a broad lawn, three hundred feet or more to the old Jackson
Perkins place on the south, five hundred feet to the river in the rear. On it
lay the Thanksgiving snow. "It's beautiful, isn't it, Mother?" Tom Meade
"Yes," she answered, "if only it would stay that way."
She was thinking, he knew, of what would happen to the snow to-morrow. For
Mayfield was no longer the leisurely town of old, clean and calm. There were
blast furnaces to the south, the west and the north, a hundred factories
whose chimneys would in the morning belch forth smoke and soot. On the
streets where Tom Meade had once known everybody many strangers walked, some
of whom conversed loudly in the tongues of far countries overseas.
"The livest manufacturing city in Indiana," boasted the Enterprise.
He had kept his word; he had risen to power in Mayfield; but it was no
longer his town; his town lived only in the loving memory of the
A cold wind swept in on them through the cracks round the window, and they
returned to their places by the fire. For a long moment Tom Meade sat smiling
at his wife.
"Well, Father?" she said.
"I was just thinking—that was a gallant thing you said, about never
growing old. I believe you meant it too."
"Of course I did!"
"It's odd, Jenny, but to me you don't look a day older than you did
when—when we were engaged. That Thanksgiving in 1880—do you
before we were married. The snow was three feet deep on the level, and when I
went up to your house to Thanksgiving dinner they were racing cutters on
"I remember. You were wearing a new stock. It was your ambition to look
like Henry Clay."
"It was my ambition to look worthy of you—the prettiest girl in
and the cleverest." He stopped. " T always thought Jenny the prettiest,
cleverest girl in Mayfield,'" he repeated. "Who was it said that—in a
letter, somewhere?" His mind groped back through the years. "Oh, I remember
now! Dan Nelson said it in that old letter—that letter from
He paused, conscious of his guilt. He knew that Jenny's eyes were on him
"The letter you never answered," she said. "Oh, Father—"
"I know, I know. I'm ashamed of myself. It's been years since I even sat
down to have a try at it. Though I've thought of it now and then, times when
I've had a glimpse of Charley or seen a dispatch from Australia in the paper
or—or something like that. I've even lain awake at nights and planned a
"But Dan doesn't know that."
"No, of course not. However, it salves my conscience. Why, only the other
day I thought of writing him—that is, it was about two years ago, when
were on our way home from David's wedding. 'That letter from Dan Nelson
congratulating us on our engagement,' I said to myself. 'I'll answer it when
our first grandchild arrives.' It struck me that would be amusing."
"Father, Jean doesn't want any children," said Jenny softly. "I've known
it for some time."
"I suspected it. Jenny, what's come over this new generation? I tell you,
the world will go on the rocks."
"Don't try to change the subject," Jenny broke in. "We're talking about
Dan Nelson's letter." She got up and went to his big mahogany desk, opened a
drawer, took out a little package of papers. "I was cleaning out your desk
the other day—you know you said I could—and I found this." She
package on top. "Come on, Father. No time like the present."
He walked over and took up the package.
He saw a letter postmarked Australia—faded ink on yellow paper.
"By gad," he said, "I supposed this was lost long ago!"
He sat down and began to read, while Jenny returned to her place before
Finally he looked up.
"Here's my last attempt," he smiled. "October 25, 1892. In the little
house on Monroe Street." Into his mind flashed a picture of the room known as
his den, the strip of rag carpet on the floor, the cheap oak desk, the creaky
chair, the pennants and the Gibson drawing. He stared about him at the room
in which he sat to-night, his big comfortable library with its lofty ceiling,
its Persian rug on the floor, its soft, inviting chairs, its warm, rich,
prosperous air. "We've traveled a long way since 1892," he said with a sort
of awe in his voice.
"So we have," Jenny answered softly.
He read aloud the final lines of the letter in his hand: "'Nothing very
exciting has happened as yet, but I have hopes. As a matter of fact, only
to-night—'" He looked up and smiled at Jenny. "Only to-night!" he
"Do you remember how thrilled we were, Jenny? County prosecutor! I was about
to become county prosecutor!"
"It seemed almost too wonderful to be true," she smiled.
"It was true, though," he reminded her. He laid down the letter, a
reminiscent mood seized him. "It all comes back so clearly. That night in
June when the party convention adjourned, and I raced up the avenue to tell
you I'd been nominated. You were waiting on the porch—happy times, my
"Yet you didn't write to Dan."
"No. It was such a busy summer—remember? The summer of the World's
Fair—and the panic. How big a dollar grew to look! I had to borrow
father to make my campaign, and after election I was busier still; busy night
and day, trying to pay back that loan, to meet the payments on the little
house. We were pretty hard up, weren't we, Jenny? We might be hard up still
if it hadn't been for Jim Wakefield and his horseless carriage."
"Yes," she admitted, "that was the turning point, and we never guessed at
"I should say not! I was pretty discouraged, as I recall. It was in
'ninety- six, wasn't it?—yes, a July night in 'ninety-six. Hot as the
in my little office above the Bon-Ton Store. And there was Jim Wakefield, all
excited over his invention. I'd just drawn up the papers of incorporation for
his factory, and I was hoping for a hundred dollars—fifty anyway. We
money so badly. And then he told me he couldn't pay me—gave me those
hundred shares of stock instead. Jenny, I was pretty bitter when he left,
though I didn't let him see. I'd have sold those shares for twenty-five
dollars then—spot cash."
"Yes, and I'd have let you."
"Yet to-night David's riding back to Indianapolis in a Wakefield car, and
those shares are worth more money than you and I can ever spend. Funny how
things turn out."
"What came next, Father? The circuit court, wasn't it?"
"Yes. I was planning to write Dan about that. But by that time Jim
Wakefield was paying me dividends; I was getting in on the ground floor in a
dozen factories—I was on the make. Something seemed to say 'Bigger
coming—go on, go on!' And when I got to Congress—"
"You should have written Dan then—from Washington."
"I did think of it, but I was waiting for something definite, some
brilliant speech, some impressive victory. And the first thing I knew my term
was over and I was back here. Things here looked better than ever. In another
year I had my first hundred thousand. I thought of writing Dan, but I held
off. We were building this house—I decided to wait and write him about
that." He rose and walked back and forth over the soft rug. "That was a happy
night, Jenny—when they gave us the housewarming here. Everybody seemed
glad we were getting on. Not an envious word or look. And how proud we were
of Clara when she sang Home, Sweet Home. That was when I began looking
forward to great things for Clara."
Jenny said nothing, but continued to stare into the fire.
"I wanted a big success for Clara," he went on. "I counted so much on
writing Dan about her. A concert tour abroad—opera, maybe. But of
"No," answered Jenny gently, "it never happened." She got up from her
chair. "Father, you've waited long enough. You must write to Dan
"But it's so late."
"Nonsense! It's early. You said so yourself. No time like the present,
Tom—for my sake."
"All right," he said amiably, "I'll do it."
She kissed him and moved toward the door.
"I'll leave you alone," she said, pausing there. "Don't you dare to come
up- stairs until the letter's finished."
When she had gone he sat again at his desk. He was still thinking of
Clara; Clara in New York, studying under the best teacher in the country;
letters coming in from Clara's teacher, speaking sincerely, earnestly, in
praise of her voice, urging that she be sent abroad; passage engaged, plans
settled, himself and Jenny in New York to put her on the boat and say
He recalled now with something of the old surprise and pain that scene in
the bare little parlor of the New York hotel suite. Clara had been rather
apathetic, rather gloomy, ever since they met her. She was due to sail at
three the next day. Suddenly she got up from her chair and came over to her
"I've got something to say," she began. "I think you ought to know. I'll
sail to-morrow if you wish—I'll go on with my music—but it's
will. I don't care if I never hear a note of music again as long as I
He gasped. It fell upon him out of a clear sky. He had thought her devoted
to her career, wrapped up in it.
Jenny and he questioned the girl gently. It seemed she was in love; in
love with a young man named Harry Parker, who worked in a store at home, an
utterly commonplace boy whose reputation was not of the best. Tom Meade was
appalled. He had been barely aware such a person existed; yet here he was,
entering his life, wrecking one of his fondest dreams. Though the hour was
late, he went to the studio of Clara's teacher, asked the advice of that wise
"No use to force her," the teacher said. "I have noticed. The heart is
gone from her singing. We can not shape the lives of our children, wise
though we may be. Let her follow her heart, which is no longer in the
So Clara followed her heart back to Mayfield, and they went with her. The
day for her wedding was set, the trousseau bought, when suddenly, pale and
tragic, she broke her engagement. The man for whom she had given up
everything was not worth it, though just what act of his it was that
enlightened Clara her father never knew. For months she walked about the big
house like a ghost. Jenny and he hoped she could again take up her career,
but as time went on they saw that Clara was finished with song.
The force of the blow was mercifully broken for Tom Meade—his son was
left. David was in his first year at law school, struggling hard. Eagerly his
father looked forward to the moment when David would come into his office,
share his burdens, carry on the torch. "Meade and Meade, Attorneys at Law."
He closed his eyes and saw the letterhead.
And then—it had happened only three years ago, and the sting of it
still sharp in Tom Meade's heart—David was expelled from school. A
prank, his father liked to call it. But it was the culmination of too many
pranks, too long a list of failures, too little interest in the work.
"I'm sorry," wrote the dean of the school a bit brutally, "but I can see
in your son no mental capacity whatever for the calling of the law."
In this very room David and his father had met, David alternately
shamefaced and defiant. His father studied the boy. He was a bit florid for
his years, a bit heavy. Could it be—a bit dissipated? Fiercely Tom Meade
asked himself, was it his fault? Had he given David too much money to spend
in college? He had had more than other boys—yes. But his father had only
meant to be kind. Had he been too kind—ruined him with his kindness?
But David wasn't precisely ruined; he turned into an average, rather
chuckle- headed citizen of the republic. He ate and drank a little too much,
and his brain power did not carry him far past the sporting page. But he got
along. He went to Indianapolis, secured the agency for the Wakefield car and
was soon able to support himself. In another year he married Jean, spoiled
daughter of a wealthy family, and Tom Meade began to dream of a
Well, that was no use, either, it seemed. He glanced at the
clock—eleven—he must get down to it. He felt no real urge to
to-night, but Jenny was right—it was his duty. Besides, he had
But what a job! After all these years! He arranged a blank sheet of paper
before him and took up his pen.
"39 Center Avenue, Mayfield, Indiana. November 24,
"Dear Dan: I hold in my hand to-night a letter you wrote me
in August, 1880, congratulating me on my engagement to Jenny Fairbanks. No
doubt you have long ago forgotten it; perhaps you have forgotten me. If so,
here's a line to remind you. Your old friend Tom Meade is still alive, and
he's been planning to answer for a long, long time. By the Lord Harry, he's
been planning for thirty years!
"Thirty years! Honestly, Dan, I can't find words. What can
I say in apology? My silence constitutes a record, I suppose; yet it was only
the silence of a man who was not content to scribble off anything and send it
on its way. It was the silence of a man who, knowing how deeply you believed
in him and his talents, wanted some big bit of news, some notable achievement
to put into his letter to Australia.
"The odd thing is that as I look back that big thing seemed
always just ahead, around the next corner. And so I'd go on. Sometimes when I
turned the corner the thing was gone, sometimes it was there, but looking so
much smaller, so much less important than I'd imagined it. And whether it was
there or not, always there was another corner looming up, a bigger, better
thing waiting there. And a voice that said, 'Go on! Go on!'
"I suppose that's life, Dan; always something to look
forward to, to keep us moving on. It was life for me, a lawyer, and no doubt
for you, a business man, and for all men everywhere.
"I've had a busy time of it. I've been pretty lucky and
successful, as things go. After I was admitted to the bar Henry Brackett took
me into his office— "
He set down his Odyssey—a page or more. The long list of his honors
achievements, the story of his investments, his financial rise, the high
position he held in his profession—lecturer at the law school in the
president of the State Bar Association, editor of The Bench and Bar of
Indiana, in three volumes. He omitted nothing, it made an impressive
"Well, Dan, that's my record. I won't try to conceal the
fact that I'm mighty proud of it. And now I want to hear about you. How have
you got on? Write and tell me all about yourself.
"You wished Jenny and me happiness in that letter long ago.
We've had it, Dan, thirty years of it, a pleasant life together. Two
children—fine kids, both of them; nothing brilliant, of course, but
satisfactory as children go these days. How about you? Did you marry? It
seems to me Charley said you did.
"Can you ever forgive me, Dan? Thirty years to answer your
friendly hail! I can explain it to myself, but somehow when I try to explain
it to you the words won't come. However, I believe you will understand.
Thirty years, but all that time thinking of you again and again as I walked
this town where we were boys together! A different town, Dan, a very
"God bless us both, you said. God bless you, too, old
friend, and write me soon. As ever,
He put the letter into an envelope and sealed the flap. On the outside he
wrote Dan Nelson's name, then paused—"189 Little Bourke
was thirty years ago. Dan had probably moved since then—several times,
perhaps. He would have to save this letter until morning, when he would drop
into Charley Nelson's hardware store and learn Dan's latest address.
For a moment he held the letter in his hand, thinking. It was not quite
satisfactory somehow. None of the news it contained was recent enough to be
interesting. After all these years of waiting it was an anticlimax. It had a
sort of everything's-all-over, this-is-the-end tone to it. No, it wasn't
quite what he would like to send, but still He put it in the top drawer of
The fire on the hearth was out, the room icy cold. He was shivering when
he rose from his desk and went up-stairs. Jenny was sleeping soundly. He was
careful not to wake her. He crept into bed, chilled through. In the morning
he was too ill to rise. His old friend, Doctor Clark, came in and looked him
"How's your general health, Tom?" he asked. "You don't look well. I'm
going to get you out on the golf course next spring."
"Nonsense!" snorted Tom Meade. "Chase a little white ball all over
creation? No, sir; not me!"
"We'll fight that out in the spring," smiled the doctor. "For the present
you do as I tell you. Stick close to bed. Jenny, I rely on you to manage
A week later he sat, a convalescent, in his library in the early evening.
Cuffy announced a visitor—Mr. Fred Perkins, from next door. Perkins had
taken his father's place in the bank and as a leading citizen. He rushed in,
a short, bald, puffy little man.
"Hello!" he cried. "Glad to see you up. Just stopped a minute on my way
home to dinner. I was down to Indianapolis to-day and had a chat with the
governor. I've got news for you."
"Yes?" Tom Meade questioned.
"You know, of course, that there's a vacancy on the supreme-court bench in
this state. Has been ever since Marvin died. Well, the governor was telling
me he's thinking of appointing you. He wanted me to sound you out."
"Appoint me? The supreme court?" Tom Meade's voice was trembling.
"Yes. You could serve Marvin's unexpired term and then run for it. You'd
be elected. You're the best lawyer in the state and everybody knows it. I
expect to see the governor again in a few days. What shall I tell him?"
"Why, tell him I shall be honored. It's a great responsibility, and I'd
give it my best."
"Fine! Must run along now. Helen's waiting dinner."
Five minutes later Jenny entered the library to find that he had thrown
aside the covers in which she had wrapped him and was pacing the floor in his
"Now, Father " she began.
"Jenny!" he cried. "Big news! Fred Perkins was just here. The governor is
going to appoint me to the supreme court."
"Is he really? Well, that's nice, I'm sure. Now come back here and cover
He permitted her to restore him to the chair.
"Jenny, I'm a proud man," he told her. "I won't try to conceal it. The
crowning honor of my life. The thing every lawyer secretly longs for, and
just when I thought I was about finished. But I'm not. I tell you, my dear,
I've got years of usefulness ahead of me."
"Of course you have, Father," Jenny answered. "Would you like another
glass of milk?"
Before she sent him off to bed she allowed him a moment at his desk. In
the top drawer he found a sealed envelope with the name Daniel Nelson, Esq.,
written on it. Ah, yes, his letter to Dan—the letter with which he was
quite satisfied. Sort of anticlimax. But now—the supreme-court bench
"It's a matter of only a few weeks," thought the Honorable Thomas Meade.
"Yes, I'll wait until that comes along."
It came along three weeks later, but it looked trivial and unimportant
when it came, for Jenny was lying desperately ill in the big front room
up-stairs and a dreadful fear was gripping Tom Meade's heart.
* * * * *
WINTER, as the Mayfield Enterprise remarked, had not
seen fit to linger in the lap of spring. This was in the year 1921. He had
been a timid, impotent fellow, anyhow, and he vanished, terrified, when April
arrived with the earliest consignment of warm breezes from the South. By the
first of May summer, too prompt to be entirely welcome, held the stage.
On the fifteenth of the month—early enough to constitute a record,
golfers will recognize—winter greens were abandoned at the Mayfield
Club. Three days later, just as the noon whistles were blowing in the smoky
town, Tom Meade stood on the tee of the eighteenth hole ready to drive
Solemnly, as befits such occasions, he took a practise swing. He seemed,
if anything, younger than he had been on that Thanksgiving when he had last
attempted a letter to Australia. True, his hair was now almost entirely
white, but his figure had improved greatly and his cheeks glowed with health.
Golf is a grand institution.
He approached the ball as one who has received that inner message that the
hour is ripe to strike.
"Don't forget the brook," said his caddie suddenly. He glared at the boy
with an expression of acute disfavor. Surely the child should have known that
the brook was the one thing in all the world he had no wish to remember
He drew his club back slowly and drove straight and far. The ball bounded
on toward the water hazard that traversed the fairway about a hundred and
seventy- five yards away.
"In the brook!" shouted the boy, with no attempt to conceal his
satisfaction. He had the caddie temperament.
"Nonsense!" said Tom Meade. "Something wrong with your eyes, Son. It
stopped this side."
An unwonted excitement shone in his face, for he was on the verge of a big
moment. In the ten years during which he had been devoted to golf he had
never gone round the course in less than a hundred strokes. But this morning,
counting his drive in the final hole, his score was a beautiful ninety-six.
If he made the cup in three his record would be smashed. He said a golfer's
prayer as he went toward his drive.
The prayer was answered—his ball lay a good two feet from the brook.
Pointing out to his caddie the error of going through this world a pessimist,
he took his mashie and accomplished a magnificent shot to the green. His
heart sang; it was his morning, beyond dispute his morning of glory. He would
have something to tell his fellow judges when the supreme court met
The brook being safely out of his way, he stood for a moment regarding it
kindly. His eyes followed it as it crept out of bounds under a rail fence,
across a field and disappeared amid a clump of trees. Old memories assailed
"Used to go swimming in this brook when I was a boy," he told the
"Tha's so?" said the caddie.
"Yes, sir. Over there under those trees—only cool place round here in
July and August. We used to come tearing up from town, running across the
fields, undressing as we ran."
"Get arrested fer that," the boy warned him.
"Yes, I guess we would nowadays. There were five fellows in my
gang—Spider Griffiths, Mike Forrester, Dan Nelson—"
He walked on for a moment in silence. "Remember once Dan Nelson thought
he'd be smart. Hid my clothes, and I had to hang round those woods until
dark. Anybody ever hide your clothes, Son?"
"Naw," responded the bored younger generation. "Here's yer ball."
It was ticklish business, those last two strokes. His heart almost stopped
beating, but he managed them safely.
"Ninety-nine!" he cried. "Not bad for a man my age, eh, boy?"
"I seen the professional " began the boy.
"Yes, but I'm no professional. Here, give me the bag. I'm just happy
enough to mark you 'excellent,' though you know mighty well you don't deserve
He went exultantly into the locker-room. Passing cronies heard the news.
The club steward heard it and was properly impressed. His chauffeur, waiting
to take him back to Center Avenue, also heard it.
"Under a hundred—the first time in my life!"
He rolled away from the club, over the bridge that spanned the brook. The
boards rattled beneath his heavy limousine. Back into the sprawling city,
down Center Avenue, through the big gates and up to his house. Somewhat old-
fashioned now, his house, but still imposing and dignified.
Clara was waiting for him in the big hall. She managed his house, now that
Jenny was gone. Thirty-eight and unmarried, Clara. Once she would have been
that creature scorned in Mayfield, an old maid. But the world was changing,
even May-field, and the unmarried woman was no longer looked down upon. Clara
was finding life not so bad, after all.
"Hello," she said. "Lunch is ready if you are. Have a good time?"
"Did I?" her father cried. "Clara, went round in ninety-nine! What do you
think of that?"
"Splendid!" she answered. "I'm so happy for your sake. I know it's been
your great ambition."
"It was," he corrected. "Got a new one now—ninety-five or better by
After lunch he went into his library. The efficient Clara had a cheerful
fire crackling on the hearth. He lighted a cigar and sat for a time in his
favorite chair, at peace with the world. The cigar finished, he went over to
his desk. Great piles of legal-looking documents awaited him. Ignoring them,
he sat for a long moment staring into space. Then he began to rummage through
the drawers of his desk. For about ten minutes he continued to search, then
he abandoned the project—whatever it was. He laid out a blank sheet of
and took up his fountain pen. He wrote:
"Dear Dan: [Pity he couldn't find that old letter of Dan's,
but no matter, he didn't need it.] Well, Dan, here I am again after all these
years. Thought I'd dropped of? the earth, didn't you? And no wonder. I
certainly have been a failure as a correspondent, haven't I, old man?
"However, I know it's all right with you. I've been busy,
Dan, busy as the devil with a lot of little things that, as I look back on
them now, didn't matter much after all. Every day now—I wonder if you
it that way, too—every day the memory of those middle years grows
and fainter, and the old times, the days of my youth, seem more distinct and
"I was out playing golf this morning, Dan. Oh, yes, we have
a golf links here now—you wouldn't know the old town. As I say, I was
the links. They're north of town, on what you may recall as the old Marvin
tract. Across the fairway of the eighteenth hole runs a brook the sight of
which would stir memories in you, Dan, as it always does in me. It's the
brook where we went swimming together as boys.
"Remember, Dan, that time you hid my clothes in the crotch
of a tree and left me shivering half the evening in the woods? Pretty mean
trick, my lad. I always swore I'd get even with you, but I don't know that I
ever did. Remember the time we held Spider Griffiths' head under water
because he said Republicans were skunks, and he almost strangled and scared
us half to death? And the night Mike Forrester's mother came for him with a
switch, and got hold of you by mistake in the dark and caned you good? And
said, when she discovered her error, that she wasn't sorry, as she guessed
you needed it. Maybe you did, eh, Dan?
"It's the truth, Dan, you wouldn't know Mayfield. It's big
and dirty and prosperous; full of strangers too. There's a tire factory on
the field where we played ball. Green Hill, where you and I went coasting, is
now our most exclusive suburb, dotted with Italian villas and handsome
colonial mansions somewhat the worse for soft-coal smoke. I was out there the
other day and it reminded me of the time you broke your sled—your new
one—and I could see you standing there in the snow with the tears
your face and the red muffler round your neck, just as plain as though it was
"I've got a colored man named Cuffy—he's over
guess. He was in here the other day complaining about the weather. 'We don't
have weather like it was in the olden times,' he said. A nd he added, in a
voice that brought a lump into my throat, 'Oh, jedge, I'se sholy longin' fo'
olden times to come back.'
"I'm like Cuffy, Dan. I'm sholy longin' fo' olden times to
"Why not come home for a visit, Dan? Nothing would delight
me more. We'd tear down this town as it is to-day and build it up as it used
to be. I'd take you over our golf course. It's a mighty sporty little
eighteen-hole affair of more than six thousand yards. People tell us there's
nothing in Chicago can beat it. I go round in just under a hundred—not
for an old fellow, eh, Dan?
"Dan, I'd love to see you. Jenny would have liked it, too,
but she's no longer here. She thought a lot of you, old man. She was always
after me to answer that letter you wrote congratulating us on our engagement.
I may be a little late now, but I want to tell you that we appreciated your
good wishes. I guess your letter brought us luck and happiness. Certainly we
had both. Thirty years together, Jenny and I—two children—life
That's about all there is to tell.
"Well, Dan, excuse the delay, and write me all about
yourself. Do you play golf? Got a course in Melbourne, I suppose. What do you
make it in? Don't forget to tell me. Are you under a hundred too?
"Don't wait as long as I did. And, if you can possibly
arrange it, come home, Dan, come on home. You've been wandering long
"Your old pal, Tom Meade."
He was smiling softly to himself as he put the letter into an envelope and
wrote Dan's name on the outside. A keen satisfaction filled his heart. Here
was a matter that had long demanded his attention; it was attended to at
last. Pretty good letter, too. Covered the ground thoroughly. Only dimly was
he conscious of the forty-one years he had delayed; it didn't seem so long.
Why, it seemed only yesterday that Dan was here!
He put the letter into his pocket, went into the hall and donned his
overcoat. This time he would not delay an instant. He would go at once to
Charley Nelson's hardware store and find out Dan's latest address.
"Mr. Nelson's out, Judge," said Phil Barclay, the clerk. "Be back in a
minute, I expect."
"I'll wait," said Tom Meade. He sat down on a keg of nails.
"Say, Judge, have you seen these new golf balls?" inquired the
enterprising Phil. Charley carried a side-line of sporting-goods. He came
over with a box of balls. "The Green Flyer. Liveliest ball made. Guaranteed
to carry ten yards farther than any other. Permitted by the golf authorities
"You don't tell me!" Tom Meade replied. He took up one of the balls and
examined it critically.
"Better buy a box, Judge," Phil went on. "Cut ten strokes from your score
as sure as fate."
Tom Meade restored the ball to its place.
"No, I guess not, Phil," he smiled. "I'm doing pretty well as it is. Went
round in ninety-nine this morning. Not so bad for a man my age, eh?"
"Not bad at all," answered Phil, his enthusiasm tempered by his failure to
make a sale.
The front door slammed. Tom Meade saw Charley Nelson coming toward him. A
thin wraith of a man, Charley; transparent, almost, a man who seemed not at
How many years had it been, Meade wondered, since Jenny told him how
worried Mary was about her husband. Long, long ago. Now Mary was gone, and
Jenny, too, and Charley was still abroad amid his hardware.
"Want to see me, Judge?" he inquired.
"Just a minute," Meade answered.
"Come into the office," Charley said.
He led the way into a little cubby-hole at the rear, just big enough to
accommodate an aged roll-top desk and a fat tipsy stove. Mild as the day was,
the latter held a rousing fire. Charley Nelson had always found the world a
mighty chilly place.
"What can I do for you, Judge?" he asked.
Tom Meade took the letter to Australia from his pocket.
"I've written to Dan, Charley," he said. "I've written that letter at
last. Here it is, sealed and stamped. I didn't have his address, though, so I
thought I'd drop in and ask you—"
He stopped. Charley was staring at him solemnly.
"You can't send that letter, Judge," he said.
"Can't send it? Why not? What's happened? Dan isn't—"
"Dan's left Australia," Charley said. "He's somewhere in California now. I
expect him here in about two weeks."
"Here? In Mayfield? Say, that'll be great!" Tom Meade's face was beaming.
"Funny too. I was telling him he'd better come home—in this letter I
Charley stared owlishly at the envelope.
"Well, you was a little late," he said. "Dan sailed from Melbourne last
October. He's been spending the winter on the Coast."
"A little late," Tom Meade smiled. "Forty-one years. Yes, Charley, I guess
I was a little late."
"I ain't sure that Dan won't settle down here," Charley went on. "He's
alone in the world—wife gone, children married. He sold out all his
interests over there. Yes, he spoke as if he might end his days right here in
"Where he belongs," answered Tom Meade. He sat staring dubiously at the
letter in his hand. "Well, Charley, I guess I haven't any use for this, after
all. Forty-one years to get it finished, and now—"
He opened the door of the fat old stove. Live coals glowed within. Slowly
he tore the letter across and laid the pieces on the fire. He closed the
"Judge," Charley was saying, "you'll be glad to know that Dan has done
real well out there. I guess he's worth a million or more. From what I
"There's just one thing I want to know," Meade said. "This is important,
Charley, try to remember. Does he play golf?"
"I don't recollect," Charley answered. "He's a wool merchant, you
know—the biggest in Australia—"
"You don't recollect! Think, man, think!"
"Well, I guess he did say something in one letter—oh, yes, he
California to play golf. I remember now. Of course Dan never says much about
the big success he's made. But in a roundabout way—"
"I wonder what he goes round in?" Tom Meade cut in on him again.
"Round what?" asked Charley, who was no golfer.
"Round the golf course—his score."
"Oh, his score. Land sakes, I wouldn't know that, Judge! But I guess
anything Dan does he does well. He built that business of his up out of
nothing. On the day he left Australia they gave him a dinner in Melbourne,
and the leading men of the place—"
"Well, he ought to be good," said Tom Meade. "He's been at it all winter."
He stood up. "You let me know when he's due, Charley, and I'll be at the
station to meet him. I'll have him up at the club before he gets his breath."
He smiled gently. "Dan and me playing round the old Marvin place once more,"
he added. "Life sort of moves in a circle, doesn't it, Charley?"
"I guess it does," said Charley Nelson.
Tom Meade returned to the front of the store and summoned the clerk to his
"What was the name of that ball?" he asked.
"The Green Flyer," said Phil. "Do you want—"
"Wrap me up a box of 'em," he ordered.
Phil smiled as he handed them over.
"Not quite satisfied with your score, after all?" he ventured.
"Not yet," said the Honorable Thomas Meade.
He had a number of errands in the town, and dusk was falling when at last
he swung up Center Avenue on his way home. The box of golf balls was clutched
firmly under his arm, his heels clicked a youthful tattoo on the stone
sidewalk, his shoulders were thrown back, there was fire in his eye. Now and
then he glanced up at the soft spring sky; he hoped to-morrow would be
To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow! Looking forward still!