PORT OF CALL
Henry Warren could not understand the younger generation. He feared his son and daughter were headed straight for perdition. This story shows how they acted in a great emergency.
ANNE HAWLEY WOOD
WHEN the phrase drifted into his mind that hot July day Henry Warren was filling out a fire insurance policy with laborious painstaking. He looked up; but instead of the little one-room office with its wooden chairs, its golden-oak desk, and the iron safe with “Henry Warren” on it in gold letters, he saw wide crashing seas, stately ships, and on far distant shores, mysterious cities. Port of call. The words held him, they were alluring, magical, and breathed an air of romance and enchantment. Main Street baking in the hot sun sent its flat odors of gasoline, oil and dust, stale bananas and smoke, through the open window to mingle with the smell of new linoleum and a dead breath of stale tobacco, but these familiar scents assailed his nostrils unrecognized. Port of call! Cedar, spices, myrrh, sandalwood, ah, the strange, enticing scents of the far-away places! His face with its closely clipped grey mustache and the deep wrinkles about the temples relaxed and his eyes grew dreamy. Port of call!
For this prosaic, thrifty, Main Street insurance agent who had never been within a thousand miles of the shore, who had never smelled the salt tang in a sea breeze, never hung entranced over the laced jade and silver of deep water, never seen a ship lift its masts in beauty against the sky, loved the sea. He had a deep and passionate interest in aught that had to do with the water. With mid-western jocularity he often remarked that, so far as he knew, the only sea-going ancestor he had was a great uncle who ran away from home one summer to drive mules on a canal tow, but though he made light of his predilection he cherished it in secret.
And this phrase dropping down into his mind held him, allured him. Port of call. He saw them all over the world, the little cities, waiting by the edge of the sea for the vessels that would come and tarry but for a tide. They were not for them these stately ships appearing out of the dawn, or looming suddenly in the soft grey dusk.
They had no time to linger. “Give me what I need to furnish and sustain me and then I must away with the first tide to the far harbors that await me.”
'T'HE town clock striking five broke abruptly into his musings and he came back from his far wanderings to the present and bent once more over the policy. It was a big policy and quite the insurance ■plum of the year, covering as it did the new eight-storey building Judge Sanford had just built. He felt a comforting glow of satisfaction as he folded the paper carefully. The commission would lift the month’s income far above the average and goodness knew he needed it with expenses the way they were. He put the policy in its big envelope and placed it in his inside coat pocket. He would
leave it at the Judge’s house as he went by. Then a little fussily he went about closing the windows, locking the safe and making all secure for the night. This done he took up the telephone.
“That you, Mary? Did the steak come?”
“Nice piece? Want anything else?”
“Yes, I got it, head lettuce, dates, walnuts. All right. I’ll be right home now.”
He hung up the receiver and gave a searching look around the room. All serene. He closed the door and, locking it with meticulous care, started down the street. He made his purchases, left the policy at the Sanford house and turned up Fair
Avenue towards his home. Fair Avenue, once the finest residence street in town, now had an occasional shop and rooming-house or two and wore generally the dejected air of having been left behind in the race of progress. But to Henry Warren’s eyes it still wore its long-lost look of prosperity. As he came up the street with its worn brick pavement and over arching elms he looked up at his house with affection. It was home and dear accordingly, but in addition to his love he always regarded it with the startled amazement one ever feels at the realization of a dream. Twenty years before he and mother with their hearts in their mouths had plunged and built the home and he had never gotten over his wonder at their accomplishment. How they had worked and saved. They did not know that by the time the children were big the street would have lost its prestige and Oak Ridge which at that time was nothing but country would be the choice part of town. He clung sturdily to his affection for the house. Its red brick walls, narrow porches, and high ceilings did not get on his nerves if they did on Dode’s. How she did go for it. He could hear again her amused voice as she invited Joe Hudson, who dwelt with his parents in an Italian villa on the Oak Ridge road, to come in.
“Come in, Joe, into this mid-Victorian cave of ours. Sit down on one of those w;alnut atrocities we call chairs. Hope you don’t mind. I’ll be right down.”
THESE words rankled yet in Henry Warren’s mind, and as he went up the narrow brick walk to the door he felt a bitter resentment.
He entered the house and going down the long hall stepped into the kitchen. His wife, busy at the stove, turned with the smile her eyes ever held for him.
“My, how warm you are, Henry.”
He laid down his packages with a sigh of relief and she bent over the table to check them over. She looked up with dismay in her sweet blue eyes. “Why, father, where are the dates?”
His coat half off, Warren turned with a guilty look.
“Well, I stopped at Carter’s, but he hadn’t any and neither did Nickerson. I had to go around by Judge Sanford’s and I guess I just forgot them.” A little frown appeared on Mrs. Warren’s forehead. “I wanted them for the banana salad. Dode w'on’t eat it unless I put dates in it.” Her husband gave a rueful glance at the side porch. Its shady coolness beckoned. He liked to sit out there in the swing and cool off and smell the supper w'hile he looked over the afternoon paper. He turned and looked at his wife.
She was tired, too, and hot. Her fair face was flushed and the soft rings of dark hair lay on her brow. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped the sweat from her lips. She smiled at him even as her frown deepened. As he wiped his own face Henry smiled back.
“Where is Dode?”
“She took the car and went to play tennis. Ross was going out as soon as the store closed. I wanted to have a good dinner. They will be so tired and hungry. I wish you had gotten the dates. Dode is so fond of banana salad, but she won’t touch it unless there are dates in it.”
Her voice was full of affection but there was an inflexible edge to it. Hen y looked at her in helpless acceptance cf the compelling force of Dode’s likes and dislikes and, dropping his coat on a chair, put on his hat.
“Well, I’ll go over to Sixth Street and see if I can get some at Nick’s frcit stand.”
As he went out the alley gate and along the hot, unshaded side street to Sixth he felt with disapproval a little gust of irritation. There would be plenty of other things for dinner and the salad would be eatable without dates. But he dismissed the fleeting question of the relative value of his desire to sit on the porch and dates for Dode with the reflection that if Mary spoiled the children he was as deep in as she was. They had always put the children first. How infinitely selfish they would feel doing anything else. He found no dates at Nick’s but got some at a fruit stand three blocks farther up.
He had just gotten home when he heard the car speeding up the drive.
WATCHING the children cross the yard he could but wonder, as he had wondered many times before, how it was that he and Mary had such children. It was not that Dode was so pretty. Mary was even prettier, but Dode wore her clothes with an air that her mother could never attain. She was style and smartness from the top of her bobbed chestnut curls to her slim, well-shod feet. And Ross—where had the boy gotten his slim elegance, his ability to wear his good-looking clothes as though he were the son of old banker Ellis himself with Yale or Harvard back of him?
They came into the house wrangling as usual. Dode’s cheeks were flushed and her eyes bright. Henry as impotent here as elsewhere could never tell when their retorts were mere badinage or the acrimonious utterances of genuine and bitter anger. As they entered, the kitchen door opened and their mother, flushed and smiling, came into the diningroom, carrying the platter of steak.
“Well,” she said brightly, “you are just in time. Dinner is ready. Father got such a nice steak. Come and eat while it is hot.”
Dode turned with a frown. “Heavens, mother, why don’t you keep the kitchen door shut? If there is anything I hate it is the smell of cooking.”
Mrs. Warren set the platter down carefully. Her lip trembled but she answered sweetly. “Why, daughter, I have kept it shut all the time.”
“Can’t help it,” replied Dode brutally. “It smells like a Greek restaurant in here.”
“Oh, cut it, Dode,” commented Rcss as he lay down wearily on the living-room couch. “I am tired of your raving.”
“Now don’t butt in, buddy. Say, did my dress come?” “There is an express package in the hall.”
“Oh, joy.” Her irritation dropped from her as she ran toward the box and her father smiled to see her pleasure. Mrs. Warren, her eyes bright with affection, reminded her of dinner, but Dode, the box in her arms, was already mounting the stairs.
“Don’t say food to me,” she called back casually. “We had tea at the club and when we got to town we were all so starved we had ‘hot dogs’ at Tony’s. I couldn’t eat a bite. Haven’t time anyway.”
Silently they ate. The meal which had been prepared with such care in the hot kitchen, was flat and tasteless. Henry Warren watched the sliced bananas on his salad plate shrivel and turn dark beneath their rich dressing. He was old-fashioned enough not to care for salad. He saw Ross carefully pick out the dates and put them to one side, muttering, “Rotten things, how can anyone eat them?” He looked at his wife. No irritation ever lingered on her placid face. Just to love and serve was her highest joy.
Ross mincsd at his meal, then hurried upstairs. His parents listened tensely for what they knew would follow. Dode, when dressing, regarded the bathroom as her private property, and considered the rest of the family as interlopers wholly without right. There was an excited murmur then Ross’ voice came down the stairs in an exasperated roar.
“All right, all right. I’ll get out. But I’ve got to shave. What in thunder have you been doing all this time?”
His father smiled. He knew to what frenzy the sweettempered Ross had been driven. Dode, he reflected, as he rose and started helping to clear the table, would make an angel throw a fit. As the uproar above stairs continued, Mrs. Warren bending over the dishpan, murmured a despairing, “Oh, I wish they wouldn’t.”
Her husband, polishing plates with a man’s exaggerated thoroughness, when wiping dishes, remarked dryly: “Don’t listen to it. You couldn’t stop it unless you put in another bathroom.”
His wife straightened up and wiped her face with her sleeve.
“I was thinking yesterday, that we will never use that little room we planned for a maid and Dode does need more closet room so badly. Why couldn’t we take part of that little room for a closet and make her a bathroom out of the rest of it? It would be so nice for her to have her own bath.”
Henry Warren received this startling proposal in silence. The dishes done, he hung up the towels and went at last to his belated rest in the swing. But his paper lay untouched as he lighted his cigar. If Dode got hold of that bathroom notion, it was as good as done, cost or no cost. And the gutters to the roof needed painting and the kitchen chimney had to be rebuilt. But with two bathrooms, Ross and the rest of them could dress in decency instead of scurrying around like scared rabbits. He suddenly found himself figuring costs and realized with an amused start that he had virtually accepted the idea, although he knew he could not spare the money.
WITH his feet hooked together to clear the floor he swung back and forth, his reflections puzzled and bitter. What ailed the young folks nowadays? When he was young they had to behave, have a little courtesy
and commonsense. He wondered a little savagely if his own parents had had the same outraged feeling of dismay and protest. Surely not. He dismissed these uneasy meditations and took up his paper but it was now too dark to read and he went, blinking at the light, into the room, where his wife sat with a pile of Ross’ silk hose on her lap.
Ross, immaculate and handsome in his evening clothes, was just coming down the stairs. Ross was his mother’s boy and had her dark wavy hair, her deep bli¿e eyes and easy affectionate disposition. But now his face was darkened with a frown and he approached his father with an embarrassed impatience.
“Dad, let me have ten dollars. I simply can’t go out with that bunch to-night without more money. You never know when you start where they will go or what they will do.”
Henry took out his wallet and carefully extracted two five-dollar bills. Ross took them with a murmured word of thanks and tucked them nonchalantly into his vest pocket, as though ten dollars were mere change. It struck Henry suddenly, as he watched his son stroll over to the mantel mirror and smooth his shining hair, that that one act told the story of the difference between the generations. Money to him was something you earned with difficulty and kept with vigilance, but to Ross it seemed imperative to make the gesture of indifference. Indeed he could but recall that when he was earning as much as Ross received, he had a wife and two babies to care for and was figuring on the stupendous undertaking of buying the Fair Avenue lots. But Ross was continually out of funds.
Dode swept down and posed for approval. Her father gasped. She had gone upstairs a little girl in a short sport skirt and gay sweater, a bright hat crushed down on her chestnut curls. She stood now tall and slim, wrapped in a long close dress of green silk. Her hair, how she did it Henry could not imagine, but she had somehow subdued her curls and her smooth sleek head with its big fancy comb completed the effect.
Ross was all admiration, “Hi, look at the kid. Gee, Sis, you look like a million dollars.”
Mary Warren eyed her daughter in silence, but Dode confidently appealed to her.
“Don’t you like it, mother?”
Mrs. Warren in her modest dark-blue crepe de Chine, looked gravely at her daughter. “It’s a little extreme, isn’t it, Dode? Are you sure you want to wear it?”
“Extreme!” Dode shrieked with laughter. “Oh, mother, you don’t know anything about what they wear. Why, this dress is slow stuff compared with some of them. Isn’t it, Ross?”
Ross assented heartily. It was remarkable, Henry thought, how united the two of them were in their censure of their parents. They might war with one another on every other subject under the sun, but on that they were as one. Father and mother simply did not know.
T OOKING back on his own youth, he could see that he too had been arrogant. Youth, he supposed, always was. But he had never felt, or at least expressed, this wholesale condemnation, this complete scorn for everything his parents did. But then life, as he and Mary knew it had been amazingly simple compared to the complex affair that confronted the children. In the old days to be honest, kind, and industrious, to enjoy simple pleasures and be thrifty, was sufficient. But now, manners, vocabulary, ideals, dress, pleasures, all were changed. The children faced a world that seemed at times wholly alien.
It was a hot summer and the heat grew daily more intense and trying. Even the best natured became irritable. Henry Warren coming home one sweltering noon, found Dode at the table languidly breakfasting on an iced melon. Her fatigue and dark-ringed eyes, added to the discomfort which her father felt and breaking his habit of silence he gave voice to his disapproval of late hours and incessant going.
At the utterance of his mild reprcof, Dode exploded into fury.
“But what do you want me to do? Do you want me to be another Jennie Garrett? Shall I help mother wash the dishes and then sit on the porch swing and make guest towels for my Hope Chest? Hope Chest!” Her
disgust almost unvoiced her. The angry flame in her cheeks rivalled the enduring carmine of her rouge; her eyes burned with a blue light. “And every afternoon at four o’clock I can go for the mail and once a week we will all go hand in hand to the movies and stay for the comedy. Oh—” She rose abruptly, gathering the folds of her neglige about her with a tragic gesture and, leaving her overturned chair where it had fallen, she went to the stairway as though escaping a dread fate. Half-way up she paused.
“If you knew anything about things at all, Dad, you would be thankful. You don’t know the things I might do—I am acting rather decent, if you ask me. But of course everything I do is all wrong.”
Her father took her words back with him through the reeking streets to the office. Well, perhaps he and mother did censure the children too much. But, by George, it was even. What did he and mother ever do any more that was right? They were criticized at every turn: the house, their income, their dress, their every move, the way they breathed, ate, spoke. He almost snorted with indignation as he unlocked the door and went into the stale, hot room. Well, he guessed he and mother had the same complaint to make. Everything the children did was all wrong too. He hung up his hat and went about with explosive energy putting up the windows. Then he sat down at his desk. A sudden wave of sorrow swept him. Wrong, everything was wrong. The whole world was wrong.
He saw Dode, little Dode, looking up at him with blue eyes full of admiration and love. How she did dote on her daddy. Everything he did was all right. How she would come to him in happy confidence no matter what happened. “You fix it, daddy.” But those dear days were gone, he thought ruefully, as he blinked some suspicious moisture out of his eyes. There was no use for daddy now save for the cash he could put up and the best he could do that way was never enough.
THE phrase that had haunted him came back again.
Port of call. That was all home was to Dode and Ross. Just a place where they coaled up and got fresh water and left as soon as they could. Port of call. He faced the fact soberly and accepted it with bitterness. Port of call. The home into which he and Mary had put their lives, the home of their love and hope— why they had lived only for the children. All that they hoped and planned was for Dode and Ross.
And it had all failed. Dode and Ross did not care.
He whitened a little, sitting there before his golden oak desk, his head down. It was terrible to think that those you loved so dearly could grow so hard and indifferent, so careless and self-centered.
Port of call. There you had it in a nut-shell. Port of call.
One Sunday in August,
Henry Warren was placidly perambulating about the yard. He was very happy. He enjoyed Sunday. He liked the lying in bed until eight o’clock, the slow dressing and shaving, the breakfast out on the side porch. He found a blessed satisfaction in rambling about the yard waiting for mother to finish dressing so they could go together to Sunday school. Here was Mary now. Coming out in her thin voile, shaking out her handkerchief and putting on her gloves. He smiled in admiration and affection as he met her and together they walked slowly down the street to the church. It was hot when they came out after the morning service and Henry thought longingly of the cool pleasantness of their flower-scented house with the curtains blowing in the breeze. Tired and warm they went home and when they reached the house met Ross and Dode just leaving in the car.
, “What now?” asked their father a little sternly.
Dode waved an ingratiating hand. “A lunch out at the club for Stella Yaverly. They got it up at the last minute. She goes away on the two-ten. Hurry, Ross, we are late now.”
They dashed on down the street and Henry and Mary entered ihe house. But its sweet order had been sadly disarrayed. The children had evidently found the porch too hot and had eaten in the dining-room. The remains of their breakfast still lay on the table amid a disheveled pile of pages from the Sunday paper. Its multitudinous sheets were strewn clear into the parlor. The upstairs gave further evidence of a hasty departure. Henry shed his coat with a sigh of relief and though he thought longingly of the swing on the side porch, he helped his wife restore the house to its wonted order and get dinner. There being only the two of them, it was soon over and with a feeling that he had earned his Sunday rest he went to his swing in peace.
It was after five when the children returned. Their father met them at the garage.
“Well,” he said, in what he hoped was an amiable tone, “Mother wants to go and see Aunt Let if you can spare the car.”
Dode on her quick way to the house turned and waved a slim white hand with airy indifference.
“Take the little old bus. It means nothing in my short life. Joe Winship is coming to take me out to Carlyle’s. He has a car what is a car. I don’t want your little old car.”
SHE went on in her jaunty self-sufficiency. Henry turned to Ross, bending his sleek dark head over a lamp.
Ross clicked the lamp carefully shut, threw the cloth he had been using in a corner and gave a shrug.
“Well, Bill West and I were going over to Claremont to a date with some girls over there, but of course if you want the car it is all off.”
Henry felt like laying his sullen lordship over his knee, but with what patience he could muster took out his watch.
“What time do you want to start?”
“Not later than quarter to seven.”
“All right, we will be back here by six-thirty, sharp.” He raised his voice. “Come on, mother, wre’ll ride out and say hello to Aunt Let any way.”
Mrs. Warren came hurrying across the yard, but with her foot on the step of the car stopped to call back.
“There’s salad in the icebox and some cold meat and tomatoes. And I baked a cake, chocolate.”
Dode, poised on the side porch, broke in with a rush. “Don’t mention food to me. We have been eating all afternoon and they’ll serve again at Carlyle’s.”
Slamming the door of the car shut after his wife, Henry thought angrily that that was the usual way. Buy food, toil in a hot kitchen cooking it and then nobody to eat it. Yet if they didn’t have it there would be no end of a row. If he and mother could just hold down the grocery bill to what was actually consumed they could save a lot. He craned his head out to look down the street as he started to back out. Clear both ways. With deliberate care he moved the car down the drive and half way stopped again to look. Ross with a contemptuous wave for such exaggerated caution told him to “go on.”
As he rolled the car out on the street and turned to face east he saw out of the corner of his eye a large and powerful sport car turn the corner and roar down upon them. He heard himself give a huge grunt as the wheel took him in the belt, then the tinkle of glass as his head struck the windshield. This is the last of mother, he thought, and knew no more.
When he came to he was in his own bed and being dexterously attended by the town’s most brilliant young surgeon, whose clever fingers seemed to be made of tungsten steel beneath their velvet tips and who wrought his implacable will with flesh and bone and muscle with a relentless and uncanny speed. When he was through and Henry Warren had been eased down into the bed Doctor Norris held a glass to his lips.
“Well,” he said admiringly, “I’ll tell the world the old man is a pretty good sport.”
Ross, white and exhausted by his share in the ordeal, smiled shakily. “He sure is good stuff.”
Their admiration was sweet to Henry’s ears and he took it with him into the oblivion into which an allengulfing sleep immediately snatched him.
WHEN he awakened he saw that it was late, the window opposite the bed showed blankly grey against the velvet darkness of the night. But Ross, disheveled, his pale face sharp with anxiety, his fine silk shirt bloodspattered, still sat by the bed. He smiled with relief as his father’s gaze met his own.
“Wake, dad? How do you feel?”
“All right, I guess,” Henry Warren said tentatively, adding furiously as his mind cleared, “How’s your mother?”
“Mother. Oh, she’s all right.”
The response was suspiciously ready. Henry summoned all his strength. “Don’t you try to fool me. I want the truth. Did it kill her?”
“Kill her? No. Honest, dad, she hasn’t a scratch. Regular miracle. Of course she was all she ken up but the doctor gave her something to quiet her and she is asleep now. Aunt Let is with her. ''t ou re the boy that got it. Y ow! “Yrhat all?”
“Three ribs broken and both bones in your right arm and a whale of a cut on your head, took ten stitches to close it, and a peach of a bruise on your tummy. Gee, dad, you 11 be yellow and green for a year.”
Ross crossed the floor with deliberate care and opening the door called cautiously down the hall. “He’s awake.” Continued on page 91
Port of Call
Continued from page 13
As he came back to the bed his father looked at him with concern.
“Too bad about your shirt.”
Ross looked down at the bloodspattered front and sleeves, then smiled affectionately.
“You certainly did bleed all over me, didn’t you? But that’s all right.”
The door was pushed hack and Dode entered. She had taken off her dress and put on a kimona. Over its silky sheen she had wrapped the generous folds of one of her mother’s big blue gingham aprons. Her full sleeves were pinned back exposing the white thinness of her arms. Her hair was dragged hack by a comb and across the enduring color of her rouge there lay a black smudge. While from under the perfect arch of her brows, the wide, frightened eyes of the little Dode of long ago looked out.
Henry who had not whimpered in the doctor’s hands felt his own lashes grow wet at the terror he saw in those eyes.
She carried her mother’s largest tray and on its wide expanse rested a solitary bowl. She came up to the bedside and looked down at her father.
“The doctor said that you could have some soup when you woke up if you wanted it. Do you. daddy?”
He felt Ross slip an arm under the pillow.
“There, that’s all right. I’ll hold you —and Dode will feed you.”
If one could be in Heaven with three broken ribs, an arm in splints, a throbbing head and a mid-section that made breathing an agony, Henry was sure he was there. To feel the love and care of his children was delight. The soup which Dode fed him with tearful and tender awkwardness was nectar itself. His eyes dwelt lovingly on the dear face so near his own. As he took the last drop of soup. Dode gulped and dropped the spoon.
“Dad!” she cried, “Dad, we thought you were dead.”
With his left hand Henry patted feebly the chestnut crown.
“There, there, honey.”
Dode wiped her eyes on the spread and sat up.
“But you are all right, aren’t you, dad?”
“Sure, Dode, dad’s all right. I’ll be back on the old job in no time.”
She jumped up with a smile. “No, you won’t,” she declared gayly. “Ross and I are running things now and we are going to take wonderful care of you. And just as soon as you are strong enough, you and mother must go away somewhere and get good and well.”
Ross smiled in assent, “Sure, we’ll see to everything, dad.”
HENRY smiled back into their affectionate eyes. He could feel their love, soft, warm and caressing, wrapping him with bliss unspeakable. It was almost overpowering. He closed his eyes wearily. In the confusion of pain and emotion one thought emerged. Port of call. He frowned in resentful rejection. He did not want that now. Not with this sweet consciousness of the children’s loving care. No, not port of call.
At the frown Dode sighed, “Does it hurt, daddy?”
Henry felt Dode’s fresh lips kiss away the frown, then her hand, velvet soft, slipped into his with gentle eagerness as though to assure him that even into the dark mists of pain she would go with him. The glass in Ross’ hand clicked against his teeth. He drank the slightly sweetish dose. As he sank into the awaiting stupor another phrase leaped into his mind. Home—a harbor—Home —a harbor of love. It filled him with delight and conviction. Home, the harbor of love. The joy of it was like fire in his veins. He murmured the words aloud and heard Dode’s anxious exclamation.
“He is delirious.”
Henry tried in vain to raise his eye-lids and tell them of the phrase and his delight. As in a dream he heard Ross say tenderly.
“No, he is asleep.”
How dear they were, how kind. As he drifted away, cradled by their love into exquisite dreamless sleep, he repeated the phrase:
“Home, the harbor of love.”