A LETTER TO PHILIP EDEN
Philip Eden, aged fen, wrestles manfully with the problem presented by a father, a mother and "a real love"
PHILIP EDEN, JR., age ten, a spindly little boy who looked as if he needed glasses, crouched in the centre of the living room, his body poised at right angles to the divan. His eyes obviously followed some fast moving object behind it. Several times he
leaped off the floor, whirled, and struck out with his right hand. Then, his eyes always on the wall, he darted regardless of coffee tables and chairs to the opposite end of the room, whirled again, caught his toe in the rung and sat down very hard.
His next move was even more startling. He got quietly to his feet and, glancing surreptitiously at the door to make certain he was unobserved, carried something which seemed infinitely precious to him—it was actually non-existent—and dropped it behind the divan. Exultant that his secret was safe, he wiped his brow with his handkerchief and muttered under his breath:
“Thanks for the workout, Bill. It sure was one swell game of tennis.”
Then he went into the dining room, where his mother and father were already seated. He brooded in an imponderable silence, toyed with his food, stared with rapt attention at the silver gravy boat, and occasionally reached down to scratch his ankle. Meanwhile his parents progressed through household topics to father’s report on current happenings at the office, in which Laura Eden pretended a polite interest—she had been his secretary before she became his wife. It all reached Philip as a rattle of words until the name “Bill Barclay” came into the conversation.
His father was saying: “I had a rip-snorting game with Bill Barclay, the new tennis pro, this afternoon.”
“Did you, Phil?” Laura answered. “How nice. Did you win?” His father chuckled. “I held him to a close score, though— six-love.”
“How nice. That must have been exciting,” said Laura without apparent humor.
Philip snorted into his vegetables. “Haw, for heaven’s sake! You don’t know anything about tennis.”
“Philip! Is that any way to speak to your mother?” asked his mother.
He subsided with ill grace, but in a moment his father returned to the subject. “Speaking of Bill Barclay, I think you’d like him, Laura.”
“Would I, dear?”
“I’d like to have him out for dinner some night. We could ask Tess Carlton over, and maybe the four of us do something afterward.” “That would be nice.” Laura paused to butter a roll with great precision. “Who did you say he was, Phil?”
“The new tennis pro at the club. He’s—”
“He’s the nuts !” Philip interrupted. “Gosh, you ought to see him. He’s built like Tarzan.”
“Your mother isn’t interested in how he is built,” said Laura. “Do you think,” she went on, addressing her husband, “that Tess would care to make up a foursome with aatennis pro? Is that what you call him?”
PHILIP opened his mouth to jump to Bill Barclay’s defense, but sensed that there was an atmosphere and subsided. He glanced covertly at his father. The wind was going out of the latter’s sails. There was one more flutter, however.
“I hope Tess wouldn’t consider herself above such a man.” “Perhaps she wouldn’t,” Laura finished, but Philip knew that Tess would not have the chance to decide for herself. Bill Barclay would never set foot in the Eden house with or without Tess Carlton. Defeated along this line, his father struck out at a new angle. “I think we might let the boy take some tennis lessons, don’t you, Laura? Might make him stronger if he went at it under careful instruction.”
Laura’s fork paused midway between plate and mouth. For a moment she made no movement, and Philip watched her breathlessly. He could feel his heart pounding against his ribs; his mouth went
suddenly so dry that he could not swallow. “Oh, please, please.” he prayed. “I'd be careful, I wouldn't get heated up. I'm plenty old enough and strong enough now. Lots of boys ten years old can play swell tennis. I'd study like anything next year.”
"Philip.” said his mother with sweet patience—she was always being patient when she addressed her husband as Philip—“I hope you’re not suggesting that I lend my approval to any such plan. We’ve gone into all this before. I'V) you think it is fair to get the jxxtr child’s hopes up and then” -she groped for the right expression—“and then dash them to earth?”
Philip pushed his plate away and turned from the table. W hy wouldn’t his father buck up and tell mother what was what? What kind of a father was that who'd back down and let your mother tell him what he could do? Bill Barclay, he’d bet. wouldn’t let your mother boss him. Bill Barclay would talk right back at her. It would be like living for a boy to have Billfor a father.
Laura looked at her husband. Her raised eyebrows were eloquent.
Philip often thought that if his father were only a little younger he could talk to him and win him over to his point of view. It was usually hard to talk to father, though. His mind was always off somewhere, or he was reading a paper or a law treatise and you could tell that he didn’t want to be interrupted. And whenever you did manage to get his attention he would ask mother’s opinion and side with her, or else let himself be hung on a limb and nothing decided.
Young Philip lived in that troubled half-world of fact and fantasy which all serious children inhabit. The French have an expression: Tout comprendre,
c’est tout pardonner, “To understand all *is to pardon all but the actions of an adult are as incomprehensible to a boy of ten as arc those of a dumb beast to a grown man. A child’s forgiveness always stems from his emotions rather than his mind, or the piling of favor upon denial or neglect.
Therefore it did not seem strange, only wonderful and infinitely thrilling, when, next morning, Laura told him she had decided that he was to take tennis lessons from the glamorous Bill Barclay.
“Do you mean it, mom?” he cried.
Laura smiled. “Yes, son. Your father has persuaded me that it might be good for you. And if you're going to play at all you might as well learn the right way.”
Philip neither knew, nor would it have occurred to him as relevant had he known it, that his mother had met Bill Barclay the night before at the country club dance. Something had made lier change her mind—it was better not to ask her what. He knew from his own and his friends’ experience that parents do not like to be questioned as to their motives.
Never had Philip known such a summer. To spend two hours a week with Bill Barclay, to stand across the net from him, watching him Hy
atout on those winged feet, to sec the ball coming
at you and try desjierately to get it back, to get
it back once in a while and hear your praises “Atta toy, Philip. Nice going.” “Swell shot,
kid!” Oh. it made you try hard; made you do
your best to earn such rewards.
And the better you got to know Bill the better
you liked him. He wasn’t like a grown person at
all. When you got tired of playing and your
mouth felt dry and fuzzy, he never asked whether
you were worn out he knew better than that—
but took you to the locker room and ordered a
ginger ale or something. And he’d talk about things you were interested in, just like another
toy, only he was better than a toy; he’d been
lots of places and even once was a sailor and had
gone through the Suez Canal. It made Philip dream of like adventures, because he discovered one day that Bill had been born in Combersville himself—in another part of town where there had since been a flood -and had even known Philip’s mother when she was a girl and gone to high school with her. Philip knew there had been a flood. His mother had told him about it in explaining why he had never known Grandma and Grandpa Watts. They had been drowned, and mother as a young girl had had to go to work in father’s law office to, as she said, “fight the world.”
It was grand, too, to have Bill Barclay come to the house. The first time he came with mother's friend. Tess Carlton— mother apparently didn’t mind at all. They had cocktails before dinner and everyone hut his father kept laughing because everyone was having such a good time. He felt that father was silly to be looking sternly at mother, who, Philip suddenly realized, was beautiful, her soft copper hair framing her pale face, her eyes blue and shining and excited, and not nearly so old as most toys' mothers.
Philip sat at the table with them all and Bill Barclay said, right before everyone: “'Sour toy, here, is going to
make a crack player, Mr. Eden. He’s got what it takes; never gives up.” Bill Barclay couldn’t know, of course, that Philip did not play to win, but to earn his praises and the privilege of being with him.
And when the four of them left for the Thursday night dance at the country dub, Laura turned to Philip and kissed him. “Be a good toy and get to sleep early, and maybe Mr. Barclay will give you an extra long lesson tomorrow.”
But try as he would he could not get to sleep, and lay staring out the window of his room watching the bats butting their brains out against the street light at the comer. He was still awake when he heard the car in the driveway at one o’clock, his father’s key in the front door, and both his parents climbing the stairs to their rooms. He hoped his mother would look in at him he would pretend to Ik* asleen but they passed his door in silence and a moment later he heard them enter their room. Then he listened carefully; if he pressed his ear against the wall he could hear their voices. It sounded as if the wall itself were speaking. At first there was nothing but the groaning of the beams in the house, then the metallic swish which was water rushing from the bathroom tap. Then there was quiet again, finally broken by his mother’s voice made frightening by the amplification of the wall:
“Well, why don’t you say it? Don’t just sit there!”
He could not hear his father’s reply, if there was a reply, but in a moment his mother cried out:
“I suppose you’re trying to make me think I’m not good enough to be your wife, to be the mother of your son. Am 1 supposed to be in a cage and not look at another man? Am I a gutter rat disgracing your precious name by taking two drinks? Eden! Who were the Edens anyhow that they’re so much better than the Wattses?. . .”
Her voice trailed off into what sounded very much like sobs. Then Philip heard his father’s voice: “Please,
Laura.” And there was silence punctuated by Philip’s own heartbeats.
After that night his mother seemed even more considerate of him. On the hottest days, when the sun toiled down on the court, she accompanied him to the club for his lesson and sat under the protection of a flimsy white parasol watching him and Bill Barclay. And afterward they all went into the clubhouse, and Philip had an ice-cream soda
while mother and Bill drank a cocktail or two. Then they
laughed a great deal and mother was very affectionate
toward Philip. Friday afternoons the club gave a cocktail dance, and he could not understand how Bill could dance
so well with mother after such a workout on the court. The
two of them made a handsome couple because Bill was at
least five inches taller than mother, and she was so fair
and he so bronzed and strong. But it did seem a waste of
Bill’s time to be dancing with mother when he might be on
the tennis court, especially as mother did not care to dance,
She often told father that.
Father went to the capital late in July to plead a case
before the court there, and while he was gone Bill came out to the house for dinner. Philip was glad that father was
gone, because the last time Bill had come, father had been
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very quiet and hadn’t entered into the conversation at all. With just the three of them there, everything was much easier and mother did not laugh so loud.
Philip only wished that they would not leave the house so soon after dinner. It left him with the whole evening to himself —father wouldn’t let him go out and play after dark—and it was dark at eight o’clock.
He wandered about the living room. He turned on the radio but there was nothing coming in except a symphony orchestra, a speaker on the problems of the growing child, and a dialect comedian Philip could not understand, so he snapped it off again. He walked to the window and adjusted the blinds so that he could see the street. Mr. Edwards’s collie dog was chasing Mrs. Brewster’s tomcat across the road, and Philip grinned. Then the street was still.
He wished that they broadcast the music from the club; he would feel that Bill and mother were a little closer to him. They had said they would be thinking about him all the time, and Bill had said he wished Philip could come along with them. Bill was wonderful.
Phil walked out on to the porch and sat down in the swing. The crickets made the heavy night air raucous with their chirping. Upstairs Annie, the cook, put out her light and heaved her tired body into her narrow iron bed. Philip felt uncomfortable and nervous. Both the Edwards and the Brewster houses were dark, and something had gone wrong with the street light.
Far down through a black lace of elms was another light. Philip got to his feet and walked, without quite knowing why, toward it. When he reached it he quickened his pace and made for the next street light. He did not stop until, panting, he stood on the porch of the country club, hidden behind clumps of potted shrubbery, looking in at the dancers.
Various of them he recognized as neighbors and friends of the family. There was Harry Vance, one of father’s partners, dancing with Tess Carlton, and Mrs. Brewster sitting up near the orchestra watching her son, Blair, who was father’s youngest partner, and a girl Philip didn’t know. She must be the girl from Evanston that Blair was going to marry—father said he was loony about her and not worth a hoot around the office.
Philip backed into the shadows as a couple passed on the verandah, then parted the shrubbery to look again. His gaze ferreted in and out among the dancers, but nowhere did he see the two he sought. Perhaps they had already left. He jumped from the porch into the parking lot, darting in and out between the machines. His mother’s was a blue coupé, and he thought he could not miss it if it were still here. He did not find it on his first reconnaissance, and threaded his way back through the tangle of cars.
Perhaps if he stood up in one of the automobiles he could find it—a swollen moon had risen by now. He chose an open roadster, scrambled in and stood on top of the back-rest. He could see all the cars now—and there was no blue coupé.
They had come and gone, then. It was funny that they should leave so early. Perhaps mother had worried about leaving him alone and had hurried home. What would she think when she found he was gone?
He sank down into the seat to consider this. What would he say when he went home? Mother wouldn’t like it if she thought he was tagging around after her; she wouldn’t like it any better if she thought she couldn’t trust him to stay at home, and she might take away his tennis lessons as punishment. Oh, lord, why had he done this, just when everything was going so well, when mother was beginning to like Bill?
"DUT MAYBE she wouldn’t look into -‘-'his room for fear of waking him. She hadn’t done that much lately. Maybe she thought he was too old to be treated like a baby. If she only didn’t open his door he was all right. All he’d have to do would be to wait an hour or so until he could be sure that she would be in bed. and then he’d sneak home and let himself in quietly— she never locked the door when father was gone. She could never remember to do that.
Lulled to a satisfied contemplation of his cleverness, Philip sat behind the wheel of the roadster and shifted the gears. He imagined that he was driving up a steep grade through dense traffic, swearing at the road hogs as his father often did. “Darn you,” he snarled under his breath, “get over.” Startled at his own audacity, he looked furtively about to see whether anyone had heard him. No one had, so he settled back into the corner of the car.
The distant syrup of the orchestra drawling out “You and the Night and the Music,” poured over him, stirring nothing in his breast except an overpowering desire to close his eyes.
At two o’clock in the morning Harry Vance and Tess Carlton found him there, his head resting on his arms across the wheel.
“Why, it’s Phil Eden’s kid!” were the first words to reach Philip, and he looked up into the face of Harry Vance. Philip looked neither startled nor frightened, only puzzled. Tess Carlton got in beside him and put her arm around him.
“What are you doing here. Philip?” she asked.
“I’m looking for my mother and Bill Barclay.”
Harry Vance and Tess Carlton exchanged glances over his head. “His father’s out of town,” Vance said under his breath.
This seemed totally irrelevant to Philip, simply another of the meaningless things that grown people said, so he did not comment upon it. Then Harry Vance addressed him:
“But you didn’t expect to find them at the club, did you?”
“They came out here to the dance. I missed them, I guess.”
Again there was a short silence, and then Tess Carlton said: “Yes, Philip, I guess you must have missed them. . . We’d better drive you home, hadn’t we?”
“I’ll catch heck from mother.”
“Your mother probably won’t be—” said Harry Vance, but Tess Carlton interrupted him, rather shrilly: “She’ll be in bed, and you can sneak in without letting her hear you.”
Philip sat between Harry and Tess on the way home. When they were nearly there he found the courage to say:
“You won’t snitch on me, will you?”
Tess Carlton squeezed him. “No, we won’t tell a soul, will we, Harry?”
Philip thought that Harry’s face looked sort of grim in the moonlight. It was not the kind of expression you would expect to see on a man who reached over, put his arm around your shoulders, and muttered : “You’re all right, Philip.”
PHILIP did not see his mother until noon the next day when he came in from play. Lying in his chair, when he pulled it away from the luncheon table, was a new tennis racket. Tied to it was a card which read, “To Philip, the 1945 Davis Cup Champion, from Bill.”
He grabbed it and kissed the handle, kissed his mother, then swished it perilously through the air three times, and ran toward the kitchen, yelling: “Look, Annie! Look what Bill gave me!”
“Where are you going, Philip?” Laura asked quickly.
“To show it to Annie. Gee, I can’t wait, I’ve got to show it to everybody.”
“But Annie’s not there.”
“Where is she?”
“She’s—she’s not here any more.” Philip was stunned. Annie not in the kitchen? Why, she’d been there as long as he could remember. “What’s the matter, she sick?”
“No, Philip. You mustn’t ask questions. She was—she was rude to your mother.” “What about?”
“You wouldn’t understand, son.”
“Aw.” That was the only comment he could make. He sat down and looked at his racket again. The flavor of the moment was gone.
“Who’s going to do the cooking?” he asked.
“There’s another girl coming this afternoon. Don’t you like the lunch mother fixed for you?”
“Sure. But. . .”
The two sat in silence until the meal was over. Then Laura Eden spoke:
“You like your new racket, don’t you, dear?”
“It’s all right.”
• “Well, Philip, since you have such a fine present and all, mother wants to know if you’ll do her a little favor.”
He knew it. You never got anything without a string attached to it. She probably wanted him to run downtown and match a piece of goods, or maybe buy some thread. And he’d get the wrong color and then have to go back and exchange it—he always did. Philip sighed elaborately. “Sure. What is it?”
Laura ran her fingernail down the fold of the luncheon cloth. “I don’t know whether you realize, Philip,” she began, “that your father does not approve of Mr. Barclay.” “Who, Bill?”
“Why—why, yes. Your father thinks he is a fine tennis instructor, but he doesn’t believe we ought to entertain him here— here at the house, any more. But I know hbw you feel about Mr. Barclay and I didn’t think it would harm anyone last night to have him here to see you. Now don’t you think, honestly, it might be a good idea if we didn’t tell your father about last night?”
Philip considered this a moment. “You mean about the dance, too?”
Laura glanced quickly at him, but Philip’s earnest face was completely innocent. “Well,” she said, suddenly inspired, “we couldn’t very well tell him about the dance without telling him about dinner, too, could we?”
“I guess not.”
Laura smiled for the first time since she had begun this difficult conversation. “Then it’s our secret, isn’t it? Here, let’s shake on it.”
Philip gave her his hand, but he did not meet her eyes. Why didn’t his mother want his father to know that Bill Barclay had dinner with them last night, and then that the two of them went to the dance together? Or maybe they never went to the dance at all. If they didn’t, where did they go?
SHORTLY after luncheon Tess Carlton arrived. Philip shot her a desperate glance, and Laura suggested that he run outside and play for a while; she would go with him to his lesson at four.
He took his new tennis racket out on the porch with him, but he didn’t feel like doing anything. It was hot in the sun and none of the other kids seemed to be anywhere about. In the. west thunderheads were piling up. It would probably rain and he wouldn’t be able to take his lesson anyhow, but Philip did not care especially.
He supposed that Tess Carlton would be telling his mother all about last night— you never could trust grown-ups. They made promises and then didn’t keep them. His frown deepened, if that were possible, and his eyes glowered. Slowly the emotion that possessed him retreated, however; a smug little smile displaced the frown. He had just remembered something. His mother better not say anything to him
about anything. She’d better be careful, she had ! He had a few things he could say himself to some people.
Philip was unconscious of the conversation in the living room until suddenly the shrill voice of Tess Carlton came through the window: “I’m just trying to be your friend, Laura. . . your husband out of town. . . people talking. . . can’t understand how you’d run such a risk with your. . . especially now that everybody has forgotten who you were before you were married. . . ”
The rest of it was lost in the exhaust of a passing car. Dust from the road billowed across the lawn. The notes of a piano trickled through it like drops of dirty water. A moment late the screen door slammed behind Tess Carlton. Her lips were shut very tight—she looked almost the same as Harry Vance had looked last night in the moonlight—and her eyes were open very wide. Yet she did not even see Philip, but ran down the steps, stopped at the sidewalk as if debating which way to turn, then suddenly hurried off toward town, automatically falling into step with the music of the distant piano.
In a few minutes Philip heard the clackclack of his mother’s typewriter. She always wrote letters on the machine for, as she explained, “My handwriting is just terrible. I’d rather have my letters read than to be elegant and undecipherable.” It must have been a short note, because soon she appeared on the porch with an envelope in her hand and presented it to Philip.
“Son, will you take this out to Mr. Barclay. I’m afraid I can’t go with you this afternoon. I have a headache.”
Philip took the envelope from her. It was unaddressed.
“Whyn’t you let me tell him what it is?” he asked.
“Never mind, just run along. . . It’s the name and address of a man Mr. Barclay wants to get in touch with about giving lessons. Hurry, now.”
“Aw, there’s lots of time. Besides, it’s probably going to rain and I won’t get to take my lesson anyhow.”
“Do as I tell you, Philip. Hurry!” she insisted, and gave him a little shove which sent him stumbling down the steps.
He regained his balance, shook his shoulders as if to flick off all memory of the indignity, and walked away with elaborate unconcern, swinging his racket and decapitating the timothy which grew along the road. Halfway to the club he remembered the letter, which already bore his smudgy fingerprints. He turned it over intending to open it and read the name of Bill Barclay’s future tennis pupil, but the envelope was sealed.
When Bill read it Philip thought it had a very odd effect upon him, for he grasped Philip’s hand, hustled him into the roadster which he had bought recently and drove back toward the Eden home.
“But look, Bill,” Philip cried. “How about my lesson? Don’t you want me to try out this here new racket you give me? Gee, it’s a peach. Thanks!”
Bill threw a glance over his shoulder. “See those clouds?” he said. “It’s going to rain.”
BUT IT did not rain, and Philip sat on the porch sullenly while Bill and his mother went into the library and shut the door behind them. Philip sulked. Why did old Bill want to talk to his mother anyhow? Why, he was acting just like Blair Brewster over that fool girl everybody said he was going to marry, and mother got a funny look in her eyes when she saw him that made Philip look away. And what did Bill mean when he said to mother as she met them, “It’s now or never, then.” And what was it mother had said right before that? Oh, yes: “He’s just telephoned; he’s coming home tomorrow morning.” “He” must mean Philip’s father; he was the only person who was away and could come home.
It was all very puzzling.
Bill stayed to dinner, and afterward
Philip noticed that his mother kept glancing at her wrist watch and then at Bill, who got out of his chair, paced about the room and looked out the window. Philip tried to get Bill to tell him about the time he had cleaned up on two sailors in a dive in Australia, but Bill said he couldn’t remember it very well tonight; he had a headache. Occasionally Bill would stop beside mother’s chair, lay his arm on her shoulder or touch her hand, and she seemed to get rigid and sit up very straight. Once the telephone rang, and she leaped up as if someone had fired a gun. It proved to be only the agency woman calling to find out whether the new cook was satisfactory or not, and Laura looked relieved as she returned to the room.
The rain came, a torrential downpour, at seven-thirty, and Bill went out to put up the top on his new roadster. When he came back he said: “Looks as if it was going to be a bad night, Laura.”
She did not comment, and Philip spoke up: “It’s a good thing you’re not driving far tonight.”
Something strange happened to Bill’s face. “What do you mean?” Then he relaxed and grinned foolishly. “Oh, yes. Yes, it is a good thing,” he said.
Laura insisted that Philip go to bed at eight o’clock, but it took considerable coaxing. He was not at all sleepy, in spite of the rain that continued to fall. There was something keeping him wide awake, almost excited. But he finally consented to go upstairs; there wasn’t anything else to do. They didn’t seem to want him, not even Bill, and he couldn’t turn on the radio because of the lightning.
Before leaving them his mother insisted that he kiss her. He did not care much about doing that in front of Bill, for Bill might think him just a sis. Besides, it had been a long time since his mother had kissed him good night. But he walked over to her and stuck out his cheek. She put her arms around him roughly, and for a moment Philip thought she was crying, though he couldn’t imagine why she should be. Bill came to him quickly, took him by the arm and led him to the foot of the stairs. He thought he could hear his mother sobbing, but it must have been the rain.
When he reached the second landing he looked back and there was Bill standing in the door of the living room, saying, “You mustn’t carry on like this, Laura. You’ve made up your mind, you know.”
For some reason which Philip did not understand, he found himself crying after he got into bed, the tears soaking into the pillow. Why, he wondered, wouldn’t grown people, even his friend, Bill, let him in on what they were doing?
Sheet lightning blazed in the windows and sent the darkness scuttling to the corners. In the street Philip heard the whirr of a starter, and then the groan of a car in low gear. Darkness once again filled the room with a thousand terrors. He pulled the sheet over his head and in a few moments was asleep.
HPHERE WAS snow all over the hill, and Philip was waiting at the top of it. The slope was dotted with black specks that were people with mufflers over their mouths. He picked up his sled and ran with it as hard as he could, then did a belly-buster and careened down the hill. He whizzed past various of his friends; they shouted at him, but he was going so fast he could not hear what they said. Bill was there, and mother, and Tess Carlton and Harry Vance. He could tell by their eyes that they were yelling at him, but he shot past them, though he dug his toes into the snow. Suddenly ahead of him there was a yawning pit. He opened his mouth to cry out, but no sound came forth, and he swept over the brim. Now he was falling, and waiting the crash. He could not catch his breath to scream. He could not catch his breath at all.
Then he woke up. There was no sound in the house but his labored breathing and the pounding of his heart. Outside was
darkness and the dull drizzle of rain. He turned his pillow over and burrowed his head into it.
TDHILIP resented the appearance of the new cook, but could not help liking her when she brought in his breakfast. She was young, younger than Annie, and cheerful looking and a little plump as all good cooks should be. She said her name was Selma.
It did not seem strange to him that his mother was not down for breakfast, since she seldom got up early enough to eat with him. When father was at home he and Philip usually ate together, but mother liked to have her orange juice in bed and then putter over her make-up before she came downstairs.
The storm of the night before had cleared away, leaving the atmosphere lighter and cooler. Philip turned to the sport page of the paper and read it while he dawdled over his eggs. After he had finished the meal he picked up the mail which had been dropped at the door and carried it into the living room. Without looking, he reached up and deposited it on the mantel. In so doing he dislodged an envelope which was already there. It fell to the floor at his feet.
On it were typewritten the two words, “Philip Eden.” He turned the letter over and discovered it was from his mother. She had apparently written him a note— she had done so before, but ordinarily left it on his plate at the table. Perhaps she had gone out early this morning, or else she wanted him to do something for her before she got up.
It was peculiar that the envelope should be sealed, but he carried it to his father’s desk in the library and opened it with the paperknife. It was the first time he had ever used the implement, and he must have inserted the blade too far, for the note came out in two pieces. He found the beginning of it, and read:
“When you read this I shall be far away. Please do not try to follow me, for, even if you found me, I would not return to you. This is good-by, Philip, and I thank God it is !
“Do you wonder why I’m leaving you? Well, I’m going because I see nothing ahead of us but boredom. You have been stifling me, turning me into a middleaged, emotionless woman. Each day when I look in the mirror I see less of the girl I used to be, and I am going back after her.
“For years I tried to make myself into the person you expected me to be. If you thought for one moment that I was happy, then you were an unobserving, stupid fool. You gave me everything but happiness, everything but life.
“But I find, Philip, that I am not quite dead. I have found love, real love, at last, and it is worth every sacrifice I shall make for it. . . ”
The first portion of the letter ended there. Philip found that his hands were trembling, but he did not know why. The note made very little sense to him, except that somehow his mother was displeased with him. She had threatened him once or twice to run away and never come back unless he behaved himself and washed his ears and kept his clothes clean, but his father always said she didn’t really mean it. She’d never written it down before, though, and there was no one to reassure him now. He walked around the room twice with the section of paper in his hand, his mind fumbling at the words. What had he done to displease her? Last night everything seemed all right; she had even kissed him before he went to bed.
He paused beside the desk and saw the remainder of the sheet of paper. Picking it up he read on.
“Be moderate in all things—as always—take care of your precious health, drink a little port after dinner.”
Why, she’d never let him drink wine, not really at least. Sometimes he could take a sip of sherry out of her glass—
“. . . read your paper at breakfast —how I’ve hated that. . .”
She had never said so before, and he only did what he saw his father do. Besides, she seldom ate breakfast with them. Was that the reason?
"... listen to Amos ’n’ Andy, and go to sleep over the evening paper—I won’t be there and have to watch the disgusting spectacle. I shall be living, Philip. Do you understand that? Living!”
And then followed the words which sent an electric spark tingling up Philip’s spine:
“Your wife no longer, “Laura.
“P.S. I know I may count upon you to take care of your son. Though you seldom show it, I’ve always known he was your one real love.”
T)HILIP’S first reaction was one of relief. She was not angry with him, then; he had done nothing to offend her. But on its heels was the shock of realization that the note was meant for his father and, obviously, was not just one of mother’s petulant threats. She had gone away— she had left his father! And—why she must have gone away with Bill ! Bill was her “real love.”
What did Bill mean by taking his mother away? How could he take her away when she was married to his father? What was happening around here anyhow —yesterday Annie disappeared, and today mother herself?
He sat down in his father’s chair and tears streamed down his face. Bill had betrayed him; Bill, who, he had thought, was so good and fine. Why, all the time he was coming to the house to see Philip, he was probably just saying that, just so he could come here and get his mother away. Then it had been his mother Bill had liked all along! No wonder father hadn’t wanted Bill coming to the house.
Philip cried for perhaps five minutes, the sobs tearing at his throat. When they had died, his first sane thought was not for himself but for his father. What would he do without mother? How would he feel when he read that note? Would he cry? Philip knew he couldn’t bear it to see his father cry; it would be awful ! What could he do so his father wouldn’t cry? He’d have to do something.
Rubbing his red eyes he looked up at the clock. It was ten-thirty. If father came home on the morning’s train he would be here within an hour !
Grabbing up the two pieces of the note, he ran upstairs to his mother’s room. He opened the door slowly, hoping and halfexpecting to see her lying there in bed. But the bed was empty; it had not been slept in. The scent of her perfume was heavy in the room—the windows had not been opened—and her presence was all the more vivid in the boy’s mind.
Her portable typewriter was outside its case on the desk where she had left it. In the drawer Philip found a blank sheet of her stationery and inserted it in the machine. With Laura’s note before him, he began to peck at the keys.
Three quarters of an hour later he dropped the original note into the wastebasket, pulled the result of his labors out of the typewriter, signed it, folded it laboriously, inserted it into an envelope which he had addressed, and carried it downstairs where he shuffled it into the mail already on the mantel.
At 11.40 Philip saw his father drive up to the curb with Harry Vance. The boy rushed back inside the house and stood watching through the screen door while the two men talked earnestly for a few moments before his father got out of Harry’s car and Harry drove off.
His father nodded to Philip and patted him on the back when he came in.
“Where’s your mother?” he asked. Philip avoided looking at him, but finally mumbled: “She’s out, I guess.”
He didn’t want his father to read his mail—not yet, anyhow. Maybe if he heard about the new cook he’d wait awhile. He tried to tell him, but father seemed to know all about the cook already. Philip had a new tennis racket to display, too, but before he could say anything else his father had gone into the living room.
Would it be better if he followed him in, or should he run outside and hide? No, mother had run away. He wouldn’t. He guessed he’d go in.
TJHILIP walked around the room with -L deliberate casualness, watching his father out of the corner of his eyes. Father walked straight to the mantel, picked up all his mail and took it with him to his desk in the library. He paused to light his pipe before he perused it, then methodically slit each envelope and extricated its contents. Everything he did made Philip think of Bill because father’s ways were so different from Bill’s. Philip was glad now that they were. His father merely glanced at each sheet of paper until his eyes fell upon the one which Philip knew so well. There he stopped.
Philip said quickly: “Did you have a good time, dad?”
The older Philip Eden did not answer. He was reading the note, a frown distorting his face. Then he turned the sheet over and glanced at the back. There were small fingerprints on it. He looked at Philip who hastily turned to the window, then read it again. Philip stole a glance at him, and could not tell whether the expression that played over his face was laughter or tears.
Finally his father put the paper down and got to his feet. “Wait here a moment, son,” he said, and hurried from the room. Philip heard his footsteps mounting the stairs, heard him turn into his mother’s bedroom upstairs. Why should he want to go into the bedroom now? Lie could not know that his father was searching the wastebasket for the note which Philip had neglected to destroy.
Nor could he quite understand why his father, when he returned to the living room, should come straight to him and take him in his arms and hug him, or why it seemed so natural to return the gesture.
“I’ve got you, my boy. Nobody can ever take you away from me.”
Then he just held Philip for a few moments. He didn’t cry. Philip was thankful his father didn’t cry. He could imagine a man like Bill crying, but not his father. Lie should have known he wouldn’t.
And after a few moments:
“We’ve wasted a lot of time, son,” his father said in a voice that was somewhat husky. “We’ve got to do a lot of things together this summer, haven’t we?”
“You bet,” Philip managed to say, sitting up straight. “We can play tennis ourselves. I’ve got a new racket.”
His father winced, but Philip did not see it. “We’ll do anything,” he said, “anything you want to do. Now you run out for a few minutes. I’ll be right with you; I just want to finish looking over my mail.”
After Philip had gone, his father returned to his desk and picked up the paper which at first had been so puzzling. He read it again:
When you reed this I SHall be faraaway with Bill. Please donot trytofollow me for Bill is sik an neads me. take care of your precious health, darling and drink a little winebefore dinner and read your paper and listen to AMos ’NAndy. ILL be alwrite. P.S. and take care of PHILip. he loves you.
It was signed with a scrawl which covered a quarter of the page; signed, in the stress and emotion of the moment, with the one word, “Philip.”