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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 man, 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 life 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 that—it had 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 citizen.

"Hello, Tom!" said Perkins. "Have a good meeting?"

"Great!" Meade answered.

"There's talk down in Indianapolis that Cleveland may come back," the rich man said.

"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 eagerly.

"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 going 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! It's a big opportunity, Jenny."

"They're beginning to appreciate you at last. I've known all the time."

"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 woman's magazine.

"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 one—Mrs. Doctor Clark

"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 Somebody, I believe."

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. Let's go up-stairs, and if you don't mind I'll stop in my den and have a try at it."

"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 Christmas.

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 she 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 don't 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 both.

"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 had said.

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 a letter 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 hoped.

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 friend.

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 David's birth.

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 Jenny. 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 railway.

"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 same you can indicate by answering this without delay—I'll promise to do better in the future.

"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 older 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 to-night—"

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 news—real news.

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 good 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 attorney— "

"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 prosperous city."

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 branches of 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 owner.

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 pity!

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 chair.

"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 anyhow."

"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 his father.

"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 tardily, "you, too, Clara."

"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 fine day."

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 night.

"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 too 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 there."

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 said.

"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 middle-aged.

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 remember?—just 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 Center Avenue."

"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 Mayfield, 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 Australia."

He paused, conscious of his guilt. He knew that Jenny's eyes were on him reprovingly.

"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 beginning."

"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 we 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 laid the 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 the fire.

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 repeated. "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 dear."

"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 from your 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 the time."

"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 devil 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 needed money so badly. And then he told me he couldn't pay me—gave me those five 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 things 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 so 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."

He paused.

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 course—it never happened."

"No," answered Jenny gently, "it never happened." She got up from her chair. "Father, you've waited long enough. You must write to Dan to-night."

"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 good-by.

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 father.

"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 against my will. I don't care if I never hear a note of music again as long as I live!"

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 old Frenchman.

"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 music."

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 was still sharp in Tom Meade's heart—David was expelled from school. A boyish 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 grandchild.

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 write Dan to-night, but Jenny was right—it was his duty. Besides, he had promised he would.

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, 1910.

"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 and achievements, the story of his investments, his financial rise, the high position he held in his profession—lecturer at the law school in the city, president of the State Bar Association, editor of The Bench and Bar of Indiana, in three volumes. He omitted nothing, it made an impressive history.

"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 mighty 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 different town.

"God bless us both, you said. God bless you, too, old friend, and write me soon. As ever,

"Tom."

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 Street"—but that 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 his desk.

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 over.

"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 him."

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 bath robe.

"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 up."

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 not 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, as all golfers will recognize—winter greens were abandoned at the Mayfield Country 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 off.

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 now.

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 again.

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 him.

"Used to go swimming in this brook when I was a boy," he told the caddie.

"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 it."

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 September."

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 paper 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 find it that way, too—every day the memory of those middle years grows fainter and fainter, and the old times, the days of my youth, seem more distinct and nearer.

"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 out on 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 frozen on your face and the red muffler round your neck, just as plain as though it was yesterday.

"I've got a colored man named Cuffy—he's over ninety, I 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 come back.

"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 bad 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 mighty kind. 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 enough.

"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 too."

"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 all well.

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 wrote to-day."

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 Mayfield."

"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 door.

"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 hear—"

"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 stopped in 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 side.

"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 fine.

To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow! Looking forward still!

 
 
 

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