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Terry, Page 2

Charles Goff Thomson



  Christmas Eve, the large snowflakes drifted slowly down out of awindless sky. The dusk was cheerful with the sound of sleigh bellsthat announced the arrival or departure of last-hour shoppers.

  Terry, at his desk in the great living room, surveyed the finishedtrophy happily. It was an unusually black and lustrous pelt. He buriedhis face in the silky mat a moment, then drew out paper and pen, andwrote:


  Some three years ago a mother fox suffered that this one might be born: denied herself food that he might satisfy his urgent little appetite as he grew bigger and stronger. When he was big enough he left her and forgot her--she may have suffered then, too.

  He lived as foxes do. Things died that he might eat; rabbits, pheasants, chickens, field-mice. He stalked all things less strong and clever than himself. A cruel cycle, but it is the law of the wild, something that you and I cannot alter.

  He enjoyed the summers best, with their longer days, fuller larders, sweet wood odors, long naps in the cool shadows of the thicket. But winter came, with its hardships and its cold, a cold that little foxes feel the same as you and I. But it was this cold that stimulated and silkened his fur, made it this wondrous, prized thing.

  Then I came, and he ceased to be what he was--a hunter of smaller, weaker things--and became what you see here: a finer thing--a token. Your kind heart need find no cruelty in a merciful shot that spelled no pain and that by stopping him assured that gentler, weaker things will live on and on.

  _And he_ will be glad, too, as not _only_ is he forever freed from cold and hunger and stark fear, but his is to be a tender office.

  Will you lay it at your bedside, that each night it may cushion your last step at slumbertime, and each morning soften the first contact between the vistas of dreamland and the less yielding surfaces of life to which we wake.

  So even the things of the wild are made to serve. To serve--is that not the law of man?

  My part in it? But little: none other than I will have touched it till it reaches your dear hands. I shaped it, wrought to preserve its beauties that it might give you pleasure.

  To give pleasure--is that not the law of love?

  A very, very Merry Christmas!


  He sent his gift, at about nine o'clock. In gay mood, he wanderedabout the great house: entered the kitchen where Fanny was singeingthe Christmas turkey: returned to the living room to throw a fresh login the wide fireplace. His mood was too expansive for indoors. Hedonned short coat and thick cap, but as he passed out of the gate ascared little lad, a foreigner, rushed up breathlessly and begged himto come--trouble was brewing on the southside.

  His questions elicited meager information. Excited, the lad relapsedso often into his native tongue that Terry could make nothing of histale.

  Hand in hand they hurried through the village, crossed the dark bridgeand approached a ramshackle house from which a babble of voices rosein strident argument. The excited chorus abated at Terry's sharp knockand the door was thrown open to disclose the belligerent figure ofTony Ricorro, the leader of the Italian colony. Recognizing thereefered figure that smiled up at him through the falling flakes,Tony's dark scowl faded as he reached out his powerful hands and witha joyous shout fairly lifted Terry into the house.

  Terry laughed as the gaudily dressed occupants of the room crowdedaround him, and greeted most of the score of swarthy men and women byname. Tony masterfully stripped him of his overcoat and cap and placedthem in the kitchen from which emanated odors of strange thingscooking. The room was stifling with heat and with smells--beer,garlic, tobacco, perfumes, kerosene.

  Tony charged in from the kitchen with a bottle of beer but Terry shookhis head. Tony was hospitably insistent, "What! No beer?"

  "No thanks, Tony."

  "What's matt'? Bad stomach?"

  "Yes," smiled Terry, "call it that."

  He plunged into the business in hand. "Tony, what's the trouble hereto-night?"

  Tony's first word of explanation was instantly submerged beneath achorus of voices; the excited crowd surged around Terry, as voluble ofgesture as of tongue. Pandemonium descended.

  Terry finally silenced the din by standing on his chair andpantomiming his desire to be heard. "Now, listen to me," he began,after quiet was restored, "I'm going to ask you all to keep silent,and to promise me that no one will speak except those I call by name."They all promised--each one not once but in a series of lengthyassurances which he had to raise his hand to cut short.

  "Now, Tony, you first. What's the matter?"

  Tony's face registered his utter disgust. "What'sa matt'? What'samatt'? Evra teeng 'sa matt'! Tommor' we christen our bab' and evra'bod' want a name heem!" He glared at the restless circle which ringedthem.

  The odd wistful twist at the corner of Terry's mouth disappeared for amoment in his slow smile; this was so like these people, who bore bigtroubles stoically and reacted powerfully to inconsequentials.

  He called on several others. All were relatives of Tony or of hiswife; sisters, brothers, several "in-laws," Tony's father, two uncles.Each had his or her name for the child, and sound reasons for thechoice.

  "Tony, where is Felice?" he asked, noting that Tony's wife was not inthe crowded dining room.

  Tony took him into a dimly lighted room, where his wife lay in bed;the guiltless cause of all this dissension, obviously inured toclamor, was asleep in her arm. She smiled up at Terry as he sat downon the edge of the bed and took her hand.

  Tony stood looking down at Felice and their first-born, his heart inhis eyes.

  "Tony, what does Felice wish to name your son?" Terry asked suddenly.

  Receiving no answer, he looked up at Tony and read in the agonizedcontrition of Tony's dark face that she had not yet been consulted.Tears glistened in the forgiving eyes Felice turned on Tony, and as heflung himself down at the side of the bed and buried his face in herpillow, Terry tiptoed out of the room and softly closed the door.

  In a few minutes Tony flung the door open and strode into the room,unashamed of the tears that shone on his rough cheeks.

  "You all a go to hell-a with your a-names! Felice, she name-a our boyand to-morrow we go Padre Jenneeng. She a name heem"--he paused withtrue Latin sense of the value of suspense--"She a name heem--Reechar'Terree--Ricorro!"

  A moment of hesitation, of assimilation, and then a hubbub ofdelighted acceptance and acclaim. Terry stayed but a few minutes,realizing that much as they liked him, there would be more spontaneityat the fiesta if there were none but their own people at the table.

  He went in and thanked Felice gravely for the honor she had conferredupon him, wished for them all a merry Christmas, and passed out amid amedley of thanks and benedictions.

  The snowfall had ceased. He crossed to the North Side and hastened upMain Street, and though it lacked but an hour of midnight, he foundJudd's jewelry store still open. He went in and found young Judd aboutto close up.

  Judd, hollow eyed with the fatigue of the long day, studied his oldfriend's beaming face: "Hello, Sir Galahad!" he said.

  Terry eyed him scornfully: "Hello, Rut!" He drew himself up proudly."Behold in me a new dignity--I am now a god-father!"

  Having in mind the parents' love for the elaborate, he gayly selectedan ornate silver cup for the infant.

  "I'll engrave it for you after the holidays," Judd offered.

  "Good old boy, Judd! The initials will be R--T--R."

  He buttoned his coat and went to the door: Judd was musing over themonogram: "Richard--Terry--what's the 'R' stand for, Dick?"

  Terry grinned as he called back through the open door.

  "Why,--Romance, of course!"

  * * * * *

  He tramped far out
the north road through the new fallen snow, hiswhole being glowing. The stars sparkled through the clear cold air inmyriad chorus of the message of hope that one in the East had heraldedto a sadder world on another Christmas eve. The snow-flung star beamsilluminated the peaceful countryside: there was no moon, no lightsave the great glow of the heavens, no shadows under gaunt oaks orhuddled evergreens.

  He was in harmony with the night. He followed the sleigh-ruttedhighway for several miles, then swung back to town along awoodcutter's trail that edged the lakeshore, winding through the newgrowths of pine and balsam whose night-black branches were outlined bythe white fall.

  He loved the open: there was no loneliness here.... Magic-wrought,Deane's phantom figure kept apace, matched step with step along theshore trail through the hushed woods, across the white sheen of openspaces. Ever, when summoned thus, she came to share the hours and theplaces that he loved best.

  Love surged hot through his veins: love of friends, of living, ofyouth, love of a woman ... probably his gift lay at her bedside now,as she slept....

  Unconsciously he slowed his pace and lifted his fine, pale faceupward: his low, clear baritone flooded the broken woods, carried farout across the silent frozen lake, unechoed; it was vibrant with thevery spirit of yuletide--love of man and woman.

  Love, to share again those winged scented days, Those starry skies: To see once more your joyous face, Your tender eyes: Just to know that years so fair might come again, Awhile: Oh! To thrill again to your dear voice-- Your smile!

  It was long past midnight when he reached town, his mood chillingindefinably at sight of its dark houses.

  "You're a queer old town," he muttered. "You go to bed on this nightof nights--yes, and you batten your windows tight against thisglorious air--and all of the other glorious things."

  Passing the suspicious village constable, he penetrated even hiscallous heart with the most gladsome Christmas greeting he had heardin many a year.

  Home, he stirred the dying logs into flame and sank into a deepcushioned chair drawn up before the glowing embers. The long day hadtaken no toll of his lithe frame: sleepless, he sat long in pleasantretrospection of the day, which had brought him opportunities tocontribute to the sum of peace on earth and to give pleasure to thosewhom he loved.

  His gift to Deane had approached even his exacting criterion of whatwas fit for her. He envied the skin its rapturous reception, thesparkle of bright eyes its beauty would invoke. It was characteristicthat his vision did not carry him to the daily contact of pink toes hehad assigned as its function. And it was characteristic of him, too,that he did not think of the gifts which had come for him.

  He would see the elders, he mused, and apologize for what must haveseemed to them a deliberate flaunting of their standards ... he hadbeen a little careless, lately ... he would remedy that ... it was agood town--his failure to settle down had been a fault ... he wouldfind something to do, worth doing--and do it.... Deane's friendshipmight ripen into something mellower, and then....

  He reached into an inner pocket and withdrew a telegram, bendingnearer the fireplace to read it.

  Washington, D. C.

  Richard Terry, Crampville, Vermont.

  Wire will you accept commission second lieutenant Philippine Constabulary period immediate decision essential period if you accept wire date you will be able to sail from San Francisco

  Wilson Insular Bureau

  The glow from the fire which ruddied his face revealed the struggle ofthe minute before decision came. With an expression curiously mingledof renunciation and relief he tossed the paper among the glowingembers. He rose as the sheet took fire and in the brief flash of lightwhich marked the consumption of the telegram he saw a familiar-lookingpackage on the library table in the shadow cast by his big chair. Hecarried it to the now fainter glow of the hearth and saw that it wasaddressed to him in Deane's trim hand. He opened it eagerly, to seewhat form her remembrance had taken.

  It was the fox-skin, returned. Vague, trouble-eyed, he read theinclosed note.


  I am sending you back your present. Father insists, because you secured it on Sunday.

  It hurts me, Dick, dreadfully, but you know how he feels about such things.

  It is the loveliest present I ever received--and it makes me want to cry, sometimes, when I think of your doing such things for me and thinking about me as you do. I _AM_ crying, now, Dick.

  Though I can not have it, your present will always be mine--I can never forget that you were good enough to wish me to have it.

  And will you accept my very best wishes that your Christmas may be a very merry one.


  He sank back into the chair again, sickened.... "That your Christmasmay be a very merry one."

  * * * * *

  Susan, first down in the morning, raised the curtains to the brilliantChristmas morning, and turned to find him sitting in the chilled roombefore the dead fire. Shocked by the haggard face, she hurried to him.

  "Dick, are you sick?" As she sank by the side of his chair her handbrushed against the rich fur which lay across his knees, and sheunderstood. She placed a pitying arm about his shoulders.

  "I feared it, Dick--I feared it! You know how he is--her father. I'llnever speak to him again as long as--" She burst into tears.

  Gently he withdrew her arm and took her hand in his.

  "It's all right, Sue, it's--all--right."

  Through her tears she read the pain that lurked in his eyes, the agonythat betrayed the patient smile. She sobbed convulsively, heartsick inher helplessness to ease this young brother to whom she had been halfmother.

  "That's what you always say--about everything: 'it will be allright.' When you were a boy it was always the same--'it's all right.'"

  He comforted her with quiet words till the storm abated. Then, "I'mgoing to miss you, Sue-sister," he said.

  She stood up, comprehension dawning in her wide eyes.

  "You're going away!"

  He nodded gravely.

  Slowly, fearfully, she asked, "When?"


  "Way off to--those--Philippines?"

  He nodded, then unable to bear longer the hurt in her tremulous face,he sought refuge in the ridiculous; he struck an attitude.

  "I'm going in quest of adventure--riches--romance! I'm going to sailthe Spanish Main--seek golden doubloons--maids in distress--theFountain of Youth! I'm going to cross strange waters--traveluntraveled forest ... see unseen peoples ... know unknown hills...."

  An odd light flickered in his eyes, as if he half believed what hespoke. Fanny appeared at the kitchen door and with her cheery call of"Merry Christmas," the light faded from his face as he turned in quickresponse.

  He turned to his sister in mock reproof: "Shure and it's ye that hasnot yet wished me aven a dacent top o' the marnin', let alone thegratin's of the sason! Shame on ye--ye heartless, thoughtless,loveless--"

  He broke off, laughing at her bewilderment: she never could keep apacewith his quick moods. Noting a tear still glistening he took hercheeks between his hands and kissed the wet eyes, then asked her toget word to Deane that he would be over some time during the evening.

  Surprised and pleased that he should ask her to participate in hisaffair with Deane, she hurried to the desk set in a deep bay window.

  Ellis, sleepy-eyed, came down with his hearty greetings of the day,and was surprised to find Sue bent earnestly over her writing.

  "Say," he said, "can't you wait till after breakfast to thankeverybody for their presents? What's the rush? Say, Dick, did you hearyet what Bruce gave to the lady of his heart? No? Well, he out-BrucedBruce this time! He gave her a patented, electric foot-warmer!"

  Terry smile
d his appreciation of Ellis' chuckling loyalty and escapedupstairs to his room. Ellis wandered aimlessly over to the Christmastable and noted the number of unopened packages marked with Terry'sname, then called up from the foot of the stairs:

  "Come right down here, you ungrateful Non-christian, and see whatSanta Claus brought you! You got more than any of us and--"

  He desisted as he suddenly became aware of his wife's frantic signals,and reading the grievous trouble in her twitching face, he went toher.

  * * * * *

  Susan, entering Terry's room at dusk, found him standing at the windowstaring out into the evening, watching the shadows paint out one byone the landmarks he had known from boyhood. Two large leather bags,packed but still open, stood at the side of the bed. The two frameswhich had held the pictures of his father and mother lay upon thetable, empty, beside letters addressed to Father Jennings, DoctorMather, and Tony Ricorro.

  He did not hear her but continued at the window, his relaxed shouldersgiving an unwonted aspect of frailty to his body. She tiptoed out ofthe room, crept back again to look through brimming eyes at the lonelyfigure silhouetted against the darkening window, then stumbled intoher own room and closed the door.

  * * * * *

  Terry returned to Deane in the sitting room after bidding her fatherand mother a courteously friendly farewell. Mr. Hunter, vaguelydisturbed, had followed his wife upstairs reluctantly; he was notquite confident that his decision regarding the fox skin had beenjustified, and would have been glad had Terry given him opportunity todiscuss it. In a moment his voice sounded down to them as he defendedhimself against his irate spouse.

  "I don't care what you say, Marthy, he's got to settle down and--"

  Then their door closed.

  For a long time Deane and Terry stood voiceless, each leaden with adull misery. The shock of his announcement had paled her and shestared hopelessly at him out of wide blue eyes, her full red lipsaquiver at the hurt she read in the gray eyes and the queer wistfulmouth.

  She broke the pulsing silence: "I never understand you, Dick,--quite.Is it because of the fox skin?"

  He shook his head uncertainly, barely conscious of her words in a lastrapt gaze at her, vaguely aware that this was the picture of her thathe would carry in his mind through the years to come. Rounded, long oflines, apart from him she looked as tall as he, though there was a twoinch discrepancy; the wide eyes and generous, curved mouth indicatedher infinite capacity for affection. The shadow of a dimple flickeredhigh on her left cheek: the quickened beat of heart pulsed in thewhite column of her throat.

  "Is it because you hate the town, Dick?" she asked tremulously.

  Again he shook his head slowly: "No, Deane, it is not that. The townis all right--it is not that."

  He paused, brooding, then went on: "Last night I did notsleep--much--thinking about it. It's all my fault.... I do not fit. SoI am going away, going to try to find my own place, somehow."

  Tortured by his patient smile, she followed him out into the dim hall,half blinded by her burning tears. She sobbed unrestrainedly as heslipped into his overcoat.

  He came to her, his hand outstretched, his voice husky.

  "Good-by, Deane-girl," he said.

  Taking his hand she stepped close to him, misty-eyed, atremble.

  "Good-by, Di--Oh, Dick! Don't go! Don't go way over to those awfulIslands!"

  He steadied her with an arm about the shaking shoulders. She leanedfull against him and in the soft contact his pulses leaped. He foughtto resist the temptation to take advantage of her mood, knew that forthe moment she was his if he but pressed his claim.

  Suddenly she looked up at him, glorious in her grief and surrender.

  "Shall I--do you want me to--to--wait?"

  For a few moments it seemed that he had not heard the low voice.

  Then: "Don't wait, Deane-girl,--don't wait."

  Then the arm was gone from about her shoulder.

  "But I will, Dick, I will!" she sobbed, but as the words fell from herlips she heard the door close and felt the gust of cold air thatchilled the hall.

  * * * * *

  She was still awake when the midnight accommodation whistled itsimpending arrival from the north. She listened, tense, as the traincame to a stop in the town. A brief halt, then it sounded itsunderway, the pistons accelerated their chugging beat and it passedout of Crampville into the south.

  She stood, still-breathed, dry-eyed, till the last grinding rumbledied out of the frosty night, then as a full realization of her losscame home, she dropped to the side of the bed and buried her face inthe coverlid.

  The floor where she knelt seemed cold and hard.