Pop by Rupert Hughes
They made a handsome family group, with just the one necessary
element of contrast.
Father was the contrast.
They were convened within and about the big three-walled divan
which, according to the fashion, was backed up against a long
library-table in what they now called the living-room. It had once been
the sitting-room and had contained a what-isn't-it and a sofa like an
enormous bald caterpillar, crowded against the wall so that you could
fall off only one side of it.
It was a family reunion and unexpected. Father was not convened with
the rest, but sat off in the shadow and counted the feet sticking out
from the divan and protruding from the chairs. He counted fourteen
feet, including his wife's and excluding his own. All the feet were
expensively shod except his own.
Three of the children had come home for a visit, and father, glad as
he was to see them, had a vague feeling that they had been brought in
by some other motive than their loudly proclaimed homesickness. He was
willing to wait until they disclosed it, for he had an idea what it was
and he was always glad to postpone a payment. It meant so much less
interest to lose. Father was a business man.
Father was also dismally computing the addition to the grocery
bills, the butchery bills, and livery bills, and the others. He was
figuring out the added expense of the dinner, with roast beef now
costing as much as peacocks' tongues. He had raised a large family and
there was not a dyspeptic in the lotnot even a banter.
They had been photographed together the day before and the proof had
just come home. Father was not in the picture. It was a handsome
picture. They admitted it themselves. They had urged father to come
along, but he had pleaded his business, as usual. As they studied the
picture they would glance across at father and realize how little the
picture lost by his absence. It lost nothing but the contrast.
While they were engaged each in that most fascinating of
employmentsstudying one's own photographthey were all waiting for
the dining-room maid to appear like a black-and-white sketch and
crisply announce that dinner was served. They had not arrived yet at
having a man. Indeed, that room could still remember when a frowsy,
blowsy hired girl was wont to stick her head in and groan, Supper's
In fact, mother had never been able to live down a memory of the
time when she used to put her own head in at a humbler dining-room door
and call with all the anger that cooks up in a cook: Come on! What we
got's on the table! But mother had entirely forgotten the first few
months of her married life, when she would sing out to father: Oh,
honey, help me set the table, will you? I've a surprise for
yousomething you like!
This family had evolved along the cycles so many families go
throughfrom pin feathers to paradise plumesonly, the male bird had
failed to improve his feathers or his song, though he never failed to
bring up the food and keep the nest thatched.
The history of an American family can often be traced by its
monuments in the names the children call the mother. Mrs. Grout had
begun asjust one Ma. Eventually they doubled that and progressed from
the accent on the first to the accent on the second ma. Years later one
of the inarticulate brats had come home as a collegian in a funny hat,
and Mama had become Mater. This had lasted until one of the brattines
came home as a collegienne with a swagger and a funny sweater. And then
her Latin title was Frenchified to Mèrewhich always gave
father a shock; for father had been raised on a farm, where only
horses' wives were called by that name.
Father had been dubbed Pop at an early date. Efforts to change this
title had been as futile as the terrific endeavors to keep him from
propping his knife against his plate. He had been browbeaten out of
using the blade for transportation purposes, but at that point he had
simply ceased to develop.
Names like Pappah, Pater, and Père would not cling to him;
they fell off at once. Pop he was always called to his face, whether he
were referred to abroad as the old man, the governor, or our dear
The evolution of the Grout family could be traced still more clearly
in the names the parents had given the children. The eldest was a
daughter, though when she grew up she dropped back in the line and
became ever so much younger than her next younger brothers. She might
have fallen still farther to the rear if she had not run up against
another daughter who had her own age to keep down.
The eldest daughter, born in the grim days of early penury, had been
grimly entitled Julia. The following child, a son, was soberly called
by his father's given and his mother's maiden namesJohn Pennock
Grout, or Jno. P., as his father wrote it.
A year or two later there appeared another hostage. Labeling him was
a matter of deep concern. John urged his own father's name, William;
but the mother wafted this away with a gesture of airy disgust. There
was a hired girl in the kitchen now and mother was reading a good many
novels between stitches. She debated long and hard while the child
waited anonymous. At length she ventured on Gerald. She changed that
two or three times and the boy had a narrow escape from Sylvester. He
came perilously near to carrying Abélard through an amused world; but
she harked back to Geraldwhich he spelled Jerrold at times.
Then two daughters entered the family in succession and were stamped
Beatricepronounced Bay-ah-treat-she by those who had the time and the
energyand Consuelo, which Pop would call Counser-eller.
By this time Julia had grown up and was beginning at
finishing-school. She soon saw that Julia would never donever! She
had started with a handicap, but she caught up with the rest and passed
them gracefully by ingeniously altering the final a to an e, and pronouncing it Zheelee.
Her father never could get within hailing distance of the French
j and u, and teetered awkwardly between Jilly and Jelly. He
was apt to relax sickeningly into plain Juliaespecially before folks,
when he was nervous anyway. Only they did not say before folks now;
the Grouts never said before folks nowthey said, In the presence
By the time the next son came the mother was shamelessly literary
enough to name him Ethelwolf, which his school companions joyously
abbreviated to Ethel, overlooking the wolf.
Ethelwolf was the last of the visitors. For by this time Mère
had accumulated so many absolutely unforgivable grievances against her
absolutely impossible husband that she felt qualified for that crown of
comfortable martyrhood, that womanly ideal, a wife in name onlyand
only that for the sake of the children.
By this time the children, too, had acquired grievances against Pop.
The more refined they grew the coarser-grained he seemed. They could
not pulverize him in the coffee-mill of criticism. He was as hopeless
in ideas as in language. It was impossible to make him realize that the
best is always the cheapest; that fine clothes make fine people; that
petty economies are death to the larger flights of the soul; and that
parents have no right to have children unless they can give them what
other people's children have.
If John Grout complained that he was not a millionaire the younger
Grouts retorted that this was not their fault, but their misfortune;
and it was up to Pop to do the best he could during what Mère
was now calling their formative years. The children had liberal
ideas, artistic and refined ideals; but Pop was forever talking poor,
always splitting pennies, always dolefully reiterating, I don't know
where the money is coming from!
It was so foolish of him, toofor it always came from somewhere.
The children went to the best schools, traveled in Europe, wore as good
clothes as anybodythough they did not admit this, of course, within
father's hearing, lest it put false notions into his head; and the sons
made investments that had not yet begun to turn out right.
Parents cannot fool their children long, and the Grout youngsters
had learned at an early date that Pop always forked over when he was
nagged into it. Any of the children in trouble could always write or
telegraph home a must have, and it was always forthcoming. There
usually followed a querulous note about Sorry you have to have so
much, but I suppose it costs a lot where you are. Make it go as far as
you can, for I'm a little pinched just now. But this was taken as a
mere detailan unfortunate paternal habit.
That was Pop's vicehis only one and about the least attractive of
vices. It was harrowing to be the children of a miserfor he must have
a lot hoarded away. His poor talk, his allusions to notes at the bank
and mortgages and drafts to meet, were just bogies to frighten them
with and to keep them down.
It was most humiliating for high-spirited children to be so
misunderstood. Pop lacked refined tastes. It was a harsh thing to say
of one's parent, but when you came right down to it Pop was a hopeless
Pop noticed the difference himself. He would have doubted that these
magnificent youngsters could be his own if that had not implied a
criticism of his unimpeachable wife. So he gave her all the credit. For
Mère was different. She was well read; she entertained charmingly;
she loved good clothes, up-to-the-minute hats; she knew who was who and
what was what. She was ambitious, progressive. She nearly took up
But Pop was shabby. Pop always wore a suit until it glistened and
his children ridiculed him into a new one. As for wearing evening
dress, in the words of Gerald they had to blindfold him and back him
into his soup-and-fish, even on the night the Italian Opera Company
came to town.
Pop never could take them anywhere. A vacation was a thing of horror
to him. It was almost impossible to drag him to a lake or the sea, and
it was quite impossible to keep him there more than a few days. His
business always called him home.
And such a business! Dry-goods!and in a small town.
And such a town, with such a name! To the children who knew their
Paris and their London, their New York and their Washington, a visit
home was like a sentence to jail. It was humiliating to make a good
impression on acquaintances of importance and then have to confess to a
home town named Waupoos.
People either said, I beg your pardon! as if they had not heard it
right, or they laughed and said, Honestly?
The children had tried again and again to pry Pop out of Waupoos,
but he clung to it like a limpet. He had had opportunities, too, to
move his business to big cities, but he was afraid to venture. He was
fairly sure of sustenance in Waupoos so long as he nursed every penny;
but he could never find the courage to transplant himself to another
The worst of his cowardice was that he blamed the childrenat
least, he said he dared not face a year or two of possible loss lest
they might need something. So he stayed in Waupoos and managed somehow
to keep the family afloat and the store open.
When Mère revolted and longed for a glimpse of the outer
world he always advised her to take a trip and have a good time. He
always said he could afford that much, and he took an interest in
seeing that she had funds to buy some city clothes with; but he never
had funds enough to go along.
That was one of mother's grievances. Pop bored her to death at home
and she wanted to scream every time he mentioned his businessit was
so selfish of him to talk of that at night when she had so much to tell
him of the misbehavior of the servants. But, greatly as he annoyed her
round the house, she cherished an illusion that she would like him in a
She had tried to get him to read a certain novela wonderful book
mercilessly exposing the curse of modern America; which is the men's
habit of sticking to their business so closely that they give their
poor wives no companionship. They leave their poor wives to languish at
home or to go shopping or gossiping, while they indulge themselves in
the luxuries of vibration between creditor and debtor.
In this novel, and in several others she could have named, the poor
wife naturally fell a prey to the fascinations of a handsome devil with
dark eyes, a motor or two, and no office hours.
Mère often wondered why she herself had not taken up with
some handsome devil fully equipped for the entertainment of neglected
If she had not been a member of that stanch American womanhood to
which the glory of the country and its progress are really due, she
might have startled her husband into realizing too late, as the
too-late husbands in the novels realized, that a man's business is a
side issue and that the perpetuation of romance is the main task. Her
self-respect was all that held Mère to the home; that
andwhisper!the fact that no handsome devil with any kind of eyes
ever tried to lure her away.
When she reproached Pop and threatened him he refused to be scared.
He paid his wife that most odious of tributesa monotonous trust in
her loyalty and an insulting immunity to jealousy. Almost worse was his
monotonous loyalty to her and his failure to give her jealousy any
They quarreled incessantly, but the wrangles were not gorgeously
dramatic charges of intrigue with handsome men or painted women,
followed by rapturous make-ups. They were quarrels over expenditures,
extravagances, and voyages.
Mère charged Pop with parsimony and he charged her with
recklessness. She accused him of trying to tie them down to a village;
he accused her of trying to drive him to bankruptcy. She demanded to
know whether he wanted his children to be like children of their
neighborsclerks in small stores, starveling tradespeople and wives of
little merchants. He answered that she was breeding a pack of snobs
that despised their father and had no mercy on himand no use for him
except as a lemon to squeeze dry. She answered with a laugh of scorn
that lemon was a good word; and he threw up his hands and returned to
the shop if the war broke out at noon, or slunk up to bed if it
This was the pattern of their daily life. Every night there was a
new theme, but the duet they built on it ran along the same formulas.
The children sided with Mère, of course. In the first place,
she was a poor, downtrodden woman; in the second, she was their broker.
Her job was to get them things. They gave her the credit for what she
got them. They gave Pop no praise for yieldingno credit for
extracting somehow from the dry-soil of an arid town the money they
extracted from him. They knew nothing of the myriad little agonies, the
ingenuity, the tireless attention to detail, the exquisite finesse that
make success possible in the mêlée of competition. Their souls were
above trade and its petty nigglings.
Jno. P., who was now known as J. Pennock, was aiming at a million
dollars in New York, and his mother was sure that he would get it next
time if Pop would only raise him a little more money to meet an
irritating obligation or seize a glittering opportunity. Pop always
raised the money and J. Pennock always lost it. Yet Pennock was a
financier and Pop was a village merchant. And now Pen had come home
unexpectedly. He was showing a great interest in Pop's affairs.
Gerald was home also unexpectedly. He was an artist of the most
wonderful promise. None of his promises was more wonderful than those
he made his father to repay just one more loanto tide him over until
he sold his next picture; but it never sold, or it sold for a mere
song. Gerald solaced himself and Mère solaced him for being
ahead of his time, unappreciated, too good for the public. She thanked
Heaven that Gerald was a genius, not a salesman. One salesman in the
family was enough!
And Gerald had beaten Pen home by one train. He had greeted Pen
somewhat coldlyas if Pen were a trespasser on his side of the street.
And when it was learned that Julie had telegraphed that she would
arrive the next day, both the brothers had frowned.
Pop had sighed. He was glad to see his wonderful offspring, but he
had already put off the grocer and the butcherand even his
life-insurance premiumbecause he had an opportunity by a quick use of
cash to obtain the bankrupt stock of a rival dealer who had not nursed
his pennies as Pop had. It was by such purchases that Pop had managed
to keep his store alive and his brilliant children in funds.
He had temporarily drawn his bank account down to the irreducible
minimum and borrowed on his securities up to the insurmountable
maximum. It was a bad time for his children to tap him. But here they
wereJno. P., Jerry, and Juliaall very unctuous over the
home-coming, and yet all of them evidently cherishing an ulterior idea.
He watched them lounging in fashionable awkwardness. They were
brilliant children. And he was as proud of them as he was afraid of
themand for them.
If the children looked brilliant to Pop he did not reflect their
refulgence. As they glanced from the photographer's proof to Pop they
were not impressed. They were not afraid of him or for him.
His bodily arrangement was pitifully gawky; he neither sat erect nor
loungedhe slumped spineless. Big spectacles were in style now, but
Pop's big spectacles were just out of it. His face was like a parchment
that had been left out in the rain and had dried carelessly in deep,
stiff wrinkleswith the writing washed off.
Ethelwolf, the last born, had no ulterior idea. He always spent his
monthly allowance by the second Tuesday after the first Monday, and
sulked through a period of famine and debt until the next month. It was
now the third Tuesday and he was disposed to sarcasm.
Look at Pop! he muttered. He looks just like the old boy they put
in the cartoons to represent The Common People.
He's the Beau Brummel of Waupoos, all right! said Bayahtreatshe,
who was soon returning to Wellesley. And Consuelo, who was preparing
for Vassar, added under her breath, Mère, can't you steal up on him
and swipe that already-tied tie?
Had Pop overheard, he would have made no complaint. He had known the
time when they had thrown things at him. The reverence of American
children for their fathers is almost as famous as the meekness of
American wives before their husbands. Yet it might have hurt Pop a
little to see Mother shake her head and hear her sigh:
He's hopeless, children! Do take warning from my misfortune and be
careful what you marry.
Poor Mère had absolutely forgotten how proud she had been
when Johnnie Grout came courting her, and how she had extracted a
proposal before he knew what he was about, and had him at the altar
before he was ready to support a wife in the style she had been
accustomed to hope for. She remembered only the dreams he had not
brought true, the harsh realities of their struggle upward. She had
worked and skimped with him then. Now she was like a lolling passenger
in a jinrikisha, who berates the shabby coolie because he stumbles
where the roads are rough and sweats where they are steep.
Julie spoke up in answer to her mother's word of caution:
There's one thing better than being careful what you marryand
that's not marrying at all!
The rest of them were used to Julie's views; but Pop, who had paid
little heed to them, almost collapsed from his chair. Julie went on:
Men are all alike, Mère. They're very soft-spoken when they come to
make love; but it's only a bluff to make us give up our freedom. Before
we know it they drag us up before another man, a preacher, and make us
swear to love, honor, and obey. They kill the love, make the honor
impossible, and the obey ridiculous. Then they coop us up at home and
expect us to let them run the world to suit themselves. They've been
running it for thousands of yearsand look at the botch they've made
of it! It's time for us to take the helm.
Go to it, sis, said Ethelwolf. I care not who makes the laws so
long as I can break them.
Let your sister alone! said Mère. Go on, Julie!
I've put it all in the address I read before the Federation last
week, said Julie. It was reported at length in one of the papers.
I've got a clipping in my handbag here somewhere.
She began to rummage through a little condensed chaos of
handkerchiefs, gloves, powder-puff, powdery dollar bills, powdery
coins, loose bits of paper, samples, thread, pins,
J. Pennock laughed. Pipe what's going to run the world! Better get
a few pockets first.
Don't be a brute, Pen! said Mère.
At last Julie found the clipping she sought and, shaking the powder
from it, handed it to her mother.
It's on the strength of this speech that I was elected delegate to
the international convention at San Francisco, she said.
You were! Mère gasped, and Beatrice and Consuelo exclaimed,
Are you going? said Mère when she recovered from her awe.
Well, it's a pretty expensive trip. That's why I came hometo see
ifWell, we can take that up later. Tell me how you like the speech.
Mère mumbled the report aloud to the delighted audience. Pop
heard little of it. He was having a chill. It was very like plain ague,
but he credited it to the terror of Julie's mission home. All she
wanted him to do was to send her on a little jaunt to San Francisco!
The tyrant, as usual, was expected to finance the rebellion.
When Mère had finished reading everybody applauded Julie
except Pop. Mère overheard his silence and rounded on him across
the aristocratic reading-glass she wielded.
Did you hear that?
Pop was so startled that he answered, Uh-huh!
Didn't you think it was splendid? Mère demanded.
Uh-huh! said Pop.
What didn't you like about it?
I liked it all first-rate. Julie is a smart girl, I tell you.
Mère scented his evasion, and she would never tolerate
evasions. She repeated:
What didn't you like about it?
I liked all I could understand.
Understand! snapped Mère, who rarely wasted her culture on
Pop. What didn't you understand? Could anything be clearer than this?
Listen! She read in an oratorical voice:
'Woman has been for ages man's mere beast of burden, his household
drudge. Being a wife has meant being a slavethe only servant without
wages or holiday. But the woman of to-day at last demands that the
shackles be stricken off; she demands freedom to live her life her own
wayto express her selfhood without the hampering restrictions imposed
on her by the barbaric customs inherited from the time of the
Mère folded up the clipping and glared defiance at the
cave-man slumped in the uneasy chair.
What's clearer than that? she reiterated.
Pop was at bay. He was like a desperate rabbit. He answered:
It's clear enough, I guess; but it's more than I can take in. Seems
to me the women folks are hollering at the men folks to give 'em what
the men folks have never been able to get for themselves.
It was peevish. Coming from Pop, it amounted to an outburst, a riot,
a mutiny. Such a tendency was dangerous. He must be sharply repressed
at onceas a new servant must be taught her place. Mère
administered the necessary rebuke, aided and abetted by the daughters.
The sons did not rally to their father's defense. He was soon reduced
to submission, but his apology was further irritation:
I'm kind of rattled like. I ain't feeling as chipper as usual.
Chipper was bad enough, but ain't was unendurable! They rebuked him
for that and he put in another irrelevant plea: I had a kind of sick
spell at the store. I had to lay down.
Lie down! Beatrice corrected.
Lie down, he accepted. But as soon as I laid down
Lay downI had chills and shootin' pains; and I
It's the weather, Mère interrupted, impatiently. I've had
a headache all daysuch a headache as never was known! It seemed as if
hammers were beating upon my very brain. It was
I'm not feeling at all well myself, said Consuelo.
There was almost a tournament of rivalry in describing sufferings.
Pop felt as if he had wakened a sleeping hospital. He sank back
ashamed of his own outburst. He rarely spoke of the few ailments he
could afford. When he did it was like one of his new clerks pulling a
bolt of goods from the shelf and bringing down a silken avalanche.
The clinic was interrupted by the crisp voice of Nora: Dinner is
Everybody rose and moved to the door with quiet determination. Pop
alone failed to rise. Mère glowered at him. He pleaded: I don't
feel very good. I guess I'd better leave my stummick rest.
The children protested politely, but he refused to be moved and
Mère decided to humor him.
Let him alone, children. It won't hurt him to skip a meal.
They said: Too bad, Pop!You'll be all right soon, and went out
and forgot him.
Pop heard them chattering briskly. It was polite talk. If slang were
used it was the very newest. He gleaned that Pen and Gerald were
opposing Julie's mission to San Francisco on the ground of the expense.
He smiled bitterly to hear that word from them. He heard Julie's
I suppose you boys want the money yourselves! Well, I've got first
havers at Pop. I saw him first!
At about this point the conversation lost its coherence in Pop's
ears. It was mingled with a curious buzzing and a dizziness that made
him grip his chair lest it pitch him to the floor. Chills, in which his
bones were a mere rattlebox, alternated with little rushes of prairie
fire across his skin. Throes of pain wrung him.
Also, he was a little afraidhe was afraid he might not be able to
get to the store in the morning. And important people were coming! He
had to make the first payment on the invoice of that bankrupt stock. A
semiannual premium was overdue on his life insurance. The month of
grace had nearly expired, and if he failed to pay the policy would
lapsenow of all times! He had kept it up all these years; it must not
lapse now, for he was going to be right sick. He wanted somebody to
nurse him: his motheror that long-lost girl he had married in the far
His shoes irked him; his vestwhat they wanted called his
waistcoatwas as tight as a corset. He felt that he would be safer in
bed. He'd better go up to his own room and stretch out. He rose with
extraordinary difficulty and negotiated a swimming floor on swaying
The laughter from the dining-room irritated him. He would be better
off up-stairs, where he could not hear it. The noise in his ears was
all he could stand. He attained the foot of the stairs and the flight
of steps seemed as long and as misty as Jacob's Ladder. And he was no
The Grouts lingered at dinner and over their black coffee and
tobacco until it was time to dress for the reception at Mrs. Alvin
Mitnick's, at which Waupoos society would pass itself in review. The
later you got there the smarter you were, and most people put off
dressing until the last possible minute in order to keep themselves
from falling asleep before it was time to start.
The Grouts, however, were eager to go early and get it over with.
They loved to trample on Waupoos traditions. As they drifted into the
hall they found it dark. They shook their heads in dismal recognition
of a familiar phenomenon, and Ethelwolf groaned:
Pop has gone up-stairs. You can always trace Pop. Wherever he has
passed by the lights are out.
He has figured out that by darkening the halls while we are at
dinner he saves nearly a cent a day, Mère groaned.
If Pop were dying he'd turn out a light somewhere because he
wouldn't need it. And Ethelwolf laughed.
But Mère groaned again: Can you wonder that I get depressed?
Now, children, I ask you
Poor old Mère! It's awful!Ghastly!Maddening!
They gathered round her lovingly, echoing her moans. They started up
the dark stairway, Consuelo first and turning back to say to Beatrice:
Pop can cut a penny into more slices than Then she screamed and
Her agitation went down the stairway through the climbing Grouts
like a cold breeze. What was it? She looked close. A hand was just
visible on the floor at the head of the stairs. She had stepped on it.
Pop had evidently reached the upper hall, when the ruling passion
burning even through his fever had led him to grope about for the
electric switch. His last remaining energy had been expended for an
economy and he had collapsed.
They switched the light on again; they were always switching on
currents that he switched offand paid for. They found him lying in a
crumpled sprawl that was awkward, even for Pop.
They stared at him in bewilderment. They would have said he was
drunk; but Pop never dranknor smokednor played cards. Perhaps he
This thought was like a thunderbolt. There was a great thumping in
the breasts of the Grouts.
Suddenly Mère strode forward, dropped to her knees and put
her hand on Pop's heart. It was not stillfar from that. She placed
her cold palm on his forehead. His brow was clammy, hot and cold and
He has a high fever! she said.
Then, with a curious emotion, she brushed back the scant wet hair;
closed her eyes and felt in her bosom a sudden ache like the turning of
a rusty iron. She felt young and afraida young wife who finds her man
She looked up and saw standing about her a number of tall ladies and
gentlemenimportant-looking strangers. Then she remembered that they
had once been nobodies. She felt ashamed before them and she said,
He's going to be ill. Telephone for the doctor to come right away.
And you girls get his bed ready. No, you'd better put him in my
roomit gets the sunlight. And you boys fill the ice-capand the
hot-water bag andhurry! Hurry!
The specters vanished. She was alone with her lover. She was drying
his forehead with her best lace handkerchief and murmuring:
John honey, what's the matter! Why, honeywhy didn't you tell me?
Then a tall gentleman or two returned and one of them said:
Better let us get him off the floor, Mère.
And the big sons of the frail little man picked him up and carried
him into the room and pulled off his elastic congress gaiters, and his
coat and vest, and his detached cuffs, and his permanently tied tie,
and his ridiculous collar.
Then Mère put them out, and when the doctor arrived Pop was
in bed in his best nightshirt.
The doctor made his way up through the little mob of terrified
children. He found Mrs. Grout vastly agitated and much ashamed of
herself. She did not wish to look sentimental. She had reached the
Indian-summer modesty of old married couples.
The doctor went through the usual ritual of pulse-feeling and
tongue-examining and question-asking, while Pop lay inert, with a
little thermometer protruding from his mouth like a most inappropriate
The doctor was uncertain yet whether it were one of the big fevers
or pneumonia or just a bilious attack. Blood-tests would show; and he
scraped the lobe of the ear of the unresisting, indifferent old man,
and took a drop of thin pink fluid on a bit of glass. The doctor tried
to reassure the panicky family, but his voice was low and important.
The brilliant receptions and displays that Mère and the
children had planned were abandoned without regret. All minor regrets
were lost in the one big regret for the poor old, worn-out man
There was a dignity about Pop now. The lowliest peasant takes on
majesty when he is battling for his life and his home.
There was dismay in all the hearts nowdismay at the things they
had said and the thoughts and sneers; dismay at the future without this
shabby but unfailing provider.
The proofs of the family photograph lay scattered about the
living-room. Pop was not there. They had smiled about it before. Now it
looked ominous! What would become of this family if Pop were not there?
The house was filled with a thick sense of hush like a heavy fog;
but thoughts seemed to be all the louder in the silencejumbled
thoughts of selfish alarm; filial terror; remorse; tenderness; mutual
rebuke; dread of death, of the future, of the past.
The day nurse and the night nurse were in command of the house. The
only events were the arrivals of the doctor, his long stops, his
whispered conferences with the nurses, and the unsatisfactory, evasive
answers he gave as the family ambushed him at the foot of the stairs on
his way out.
Meanwhile they could not help Pop in his long wrestle. They had
drained his strength and bruised his heart while he had his power, and
now that he needed their help and their youth they could not lend him
anything; they could not pay a single instalment on the mortgages they
They could only stand at the door now and then and look in at him.
They could not beat off one of the invisible vultures of fever and pain
that hovered over him, swooped, and tore him.
They could not even get word to himnot a message of love or of
repentance or of hope. His brain was in a turmoil of its own. His white
lips were muttering delirious nonsense; his soul was fluttering from
scene to scene and year to year, like a restless dragon-fly. He was
young; he was old; he was married; he was a bachelor; he was at home;
he was in his store; he was pondering campaigns of business, slicing
pennies or making daring purchases; he was retrenching; he was
advertising; but he was afraid always that he might sink in the bog of
competition with rival merchants, with creditors, debtors, bankers,
with his wife, his children, his neighbors, his ideals, his business
Ain't the moon pirty to-night, honey! Gee! I'm scared of that
preacher! What do I say when he says, 'Do you take this woman for
your'The pay-roll? I can't meet it Saturday. How am I going to meet
the pay-roll? I don't see how we can sell those goods any cheaper, but
we got to get rid of 'em. My premium! My premium! I haven't paid my
premium! What'll become of the children? Three cents a yardit's
robbery! Eight cents a yardthat's givin' it away! Don't misunderstand
me, Sally. It's my way of making love. I can't say pirty things like
some folks can, but I can think 'em. My premiumthe pay-rollso many
children! Couldn't they do without that? I ain't a millionaire, you
know. Every time I begin to get ahead a little seems like one of the
children gets sick or in troublethe pay-roll! Three cents a yardthe
new invoiceI can't buy myself a noo soot. The doctor's bills! I ain't
complaining of 'em; but I've got to pay 'em! Let me stay homeI'd
rather. I've had a hard day. My premium! Don't put false notions in
their heads! The pay-roll! Don't scold me, honey! I got feelings, too.
You haven't said a word of love to me in years! I'll raise the money
somehow. I know I'm close; but somebody's got to bethe pay-rollso
many people depending on me. So many mouths to feedthe childrenall
the clerksthe delivery-wagon driversthe advertising billsthe
pay-rollthe children! I ain't as young as I washoney, don't scold
The ceaseless babbling grew intolerable. Then it ceased; and the
stupor that succeeded was worse, for it meant exhaustion. The doctor
grew more grave. He ceased to talk of hope. He looked ashamed. He tried
to throw the blame from himself.
And one dreadful day he called the family together in the
living-room. Once more they were all thereall those expensively shod
feet; those well-clothed, well-fed bodies. In the chair where Pop had
slumped the doctor sat upright. He was saying:
Of course there's always hope. While there's life there's always
hope. The fever is pretty well gone, but so is the patient. The crisis
left him drained. You see he has lived this American business man's
lifeno exercise, no vacations, no change. The worst of it is that he
seems to have given up the fight. You know we doctors can only stand
guard outside. The patient has to fight it out inside himself. It's a
very serious sign when the sick man loses interest in the battle. Mr.
Grout does not rally. His powerful mind has given up.
In spite of themselves there was a general lifting of the brows of
surprise at the allusion to Pop's poor little footling brain as a
powerful mind. Perhaps the doctor saw it. He said:
For it was a powerful mind! Mr. Grout has carried that store of his
from a little shop to a big institution; he has kept it afloat in a
dull town through hard times. He has kept his credit good and he has
given his family wonderful advantages. Look where he has placed you
all! He was a great man.
When the doctor had gone they began to understand that the town had
looked upon Pop as a giant of industry, a prodigal of vicarious
extravagance. They began to feel more keenly still how good a man he
was. While they were flourishing like orchids in the sun and air, he
had grubbed in the earth, sinking roots everywhere in search of
moisture and of sustenance. Through him, things that were lowly and
ugly and cheap were gathered and transformed and sent aloft as sap to
make flowers of and color them and give them velvet petals and
They gathered silently in his room to watch him. He was white and
still, hardly breathing, already the overdue chattel of the grave.
They talked of him in whispers, for he did not answer when they
praised him. He did not move when they caressed him. He was very far
away and drifting farther.
They spoke of how much they missed him, of how perfect a father he
had been, competing with one another in regrets and in praise. Back of
all this belated tribute there was a silent dismay they did not give
voice tothe keen, immediately personal reasons for regret.
What will become of us? they were thinking, each in his or her own
I can't go back to school!
This means no college for me!
I'll have to stay in this awful town the rest of my life!
I can't go to San Francisco! The greatest honor of my life is taken
from me just as I grasped it.
I had a commission to paint the portrait of an ambassador at
Washingtonit would have been the making of me! It meant a lot of
money, too. I came home to ask Pop to stake me to money enough to live
on until it was finished.
My business will go to smash! I'll be saddled with debts for the
rest of my life. If I could have hung on a little longer I'd have
reached the shore; but the bank wouldn't lend me a cent. Nobody would.
I came home to ask Pop to raise me some cash. I counted on him. He
never failed me before.
What will become of us all?
There was a stir on the pillow. The still head began to rock, the
throat to swell, the lips to twitch.
Mère ran to the bedside and knelt by it, laying her hand on
the forehead. A miracle had been wrought in the very texture of his
brow. He was whispering something. She put her ear to his lips.
Yes, honey. What is it? I'm here.
She caught the faint rustling of words. It was as if his hovering
soul had been eavesdropping on their thoughts. Perhaps it was merely
that he had learned so well in all these years just what each of them
would be thinking. For he murmured:
I've been figuring outhow much thefuneral will costyou know
they're awful expensivefunerals areof course I wouldn't want
anything fancybutwellbesidesand I've been thinking the children
have got to have so many thingsI can't afford tobe away from the
store any longer. I ain't got time to die! I've had vacation enough!
Where's my clothes at?
They held him back. But not for long. He was the most irritatingly
impatient of convalescents. In due course of time the family was
redistributed about the face of the earth. Ethelwolf was at preparatory
school; Beatrice and Consuelo were acquiring and lending luster at
Wellesley and Vassar; Gerald was painting a portrait at Washington; and
J. Pennock was like a returned Napoleon in Wall Street.
Pop was at his desk in the store. All his employees had gone home.
He was fretfully twiddling a telegram from San Francisco:
Julie's address sublime please telegraph two hundred more love
Pop was remembering the words of the address: Woman has been for
ages man's mere beast of burden.... Being a wife has meant being a
Pop could not understand it yet. But he told everybody he met about
the first three words of the telegram, and added:
I got the smartest children that ever was and they owe it all to
their mother, every bit.