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Chapter 6

Verrian said nothing, but he reflected with a sort of gloomy amusement how impossible it was for any woman, even a woman so wide-minded and high-principled as his mother, to escape the personal view of all things and all persons which women take. He tacitly noted the fact, as the novelist notes whatever happens or appears to him, but he let the occasion drop out of his mind as soon as he could after it had dropped out of his talk.

The night when the last number of his story came to them in the magazine, and was already announced as a book, he sat up with his mother celebrating, as he said, and exulting in the future as well as the past. They had a little supper, which she cooked for him in a chafing-dish, in the dining-room of the tiny apartment where they lived together, and she made some coffee afterwards, to carry off the effect of the Newburg lobster. Perhaps because there was nothing to carry off the effect of the coffee, he heard her, through the partition of their rooms, stirring restlessly after he had gone to bed, and a little later she came to his door, which she set ajar, to ask, "Are you awake, Philip?"

"You seem to be, mother," he answered, with an amusement at her question which seemed not to have imparted itself to her when she came in and stood beside his bed in her dressing-gown.

"You don't think we have judged her too harshly, Philip?"

"Do you, mother?"

"No, I think we couldn't be too severe in a thing like that. She probably thought you were like some of the other story-writers; she couldn't feel differences, shades. She pretended to be taken with the circumstances of your work, but she had to do that if she wanted to fool you. Well, she has got her come-uppings, as she would probably say."

Verrian replied, thoughtfully, "She didn't strike me as a country person—at least, in her first letter."

"Then you still think she didn't write both?"

"If she did, she was trying her hand in a personality she had invented."

"Girls are very strange," his mother sighed. "They like excitement, adventure. It's very dull in those little places. I shouldn't wish you to think any harm of the poor thing."

"Poor thing? Why this magnanimous compassion, mother?"

"Oh, nothing. But I know how I was myself when I was a girl. I used almost to die of hunger for something to happen. Can you remember just what you said in your letter?"

Verrian laughed. "NO, I can't. But I don't believe I said half enough. You're nervous, mother."

"Yes, I am. But don't you get to worrying. I merely got to thinking how I should hate to have anybody's unhappiness mixed up with this happiness of ours. I do so want your pleasure in your success to be pure, not tainted with the pain of any human creature."

Verrian answered with light cynicism: "It will be tainted with the pain of the fellows who don't like me, or who haven't succeeded, and they'll take care to let me share their pain if ever they can. But if you mean that merry maiden up country, she's probably thinking, if she thinks about it at all, that she's the luckiest girl in the United States to have got out of an awful scrape so easily. At the worst, I only had fun with her in my letter. Probably she sees that she has nothing to grieve for but her own break."

"No, and you did just as you should have done; and I am glad you don't feel bitterly about it. You don't, do you?"

"Not the least."

His mother stooped over and kissed him where he lay smiling. "Well, that's good. After all, it's you I cared for. Now I can say good-night." But she lingered to tuck him in a little, from the persistence of the mother habit. "I wish you may never do anything that you will be sorry for."

"Well, I won't—if it's a good action."

They laughed together, and she left the room, still looking back to see if there was anything more she could do for him, while he lay smiling, intelligently for what she was thinking, and patiently for what she was doing.

William Dean Howells

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