But he still stayed on the farm, and dreamed in his studio and tried to teach his little, inartistic Edith to draw, and mourned. As for business, he said, “Go to the devil!”—except as he looked after Maurice Curtis’s affairs; this because the boy’s father had been his friend. But it was the consciousness of the bartered birthright and the dead pictures in his studio which kept him from “whistling” very often. However, on this June morning, plodding along between blossoming fields, climbing wooded hills, and clattering through dusky covered bridges, he was not thinking of his pictures; so, naturally enough, he whistled; a very different whistling from that which Maurice, lying in the grass beside his wife of fifty-four minutes, had foreseen for him—when the mail should be distributed! Once, just from sheer content, he stopped his:
“Did you ever ever ever
In your life life life
See the devil devil devil
Or his wife wife wife—”
and turned and looked at his Mary.
“Nice day, Kit?” he said; and she said, “Lovely!” Then she brushed her elderly rosy cheek against his shabby coat and kissed it. They had been married for thirty years, and she had held up his hands as he placed upon the altar of a repugnant duty, the offering of a great renunciation. She had hoped that the birth of their last, and only living, child, Edith, would reconcile him to the material results of the renunciation; but he was as indifferent to money for his girl as he had been for himself.... So there they were, now, living rather carefully, in an old stone farmhouse on one of the green foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. The thing that came nearest to soothing the bruises on his mind was the possibilities he saw in Maurice.
“The inconsequence of the scamp amounts to genius!” he used to tell his Mary with admiring displeasure at one or another of Maurice’s scrapes. “Heaven knows what he’ll do before he gets to the top of Fool Hill, and begins to run on the State Road! Look at this mid-year performance. He ought to be kicked for flunking. He simply dropped everything except his music! Apparently he can’t study. Even spelling is a matter of private judgment with Maurice! Oh, of course, I know I ought to have scalped him; his father would have scalped him. But somehow the scoundrel gets round me! I suppose its because, though he is provoking, he is never irritating. And he’s as much of a fool as I was at his age! That keeps me fair to him. Well, he has stuff in him, that boy. He’s as truthful as Edith; an appalling tribute, I know—but you like it in a cub. And there’s no flapdoodle about him; and he never cried baby in his life. And he has imagination and music and poetry! Edith is a nice little clod compared to him.”
The affection of these two people for Maurice could hardly have been greater if he had been their son. “Mother loves Maurice better ’an she loves me,” Edith used to reflect; “I guess it’s because he never gets muddy the way I do, and tracks dirt into the house. He wipes his feet.”