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An Old-Fashioned Girl

17. Playing Grandmother
I THINK Tom had the hardest time of all, for besides the family troubles, he had many of
his own to perplex and harass him. College scrapes were soon forgotten in greater
afflictions; but there were plenty of tongues to blame "that extravagant dog," and plenty
of heads to wag ominously over prophecies of the good time Tom Shaw would now
make on the road to ruin. As reporters flourish in this country, of course Tom soon
heard all the friendly criticisms passed upon him and his career, and he suffered more
than anybody guessed; for the truth that was at the bottom of the gossip filled him with
the sharp regret and impotent wrath against himself as well as others, which drives
many a proud fellow, so placed, to destruction, or the effort that redeems boyish folly,
and makes a man of him.
Now that he had lost his heritage, Tom seemed to see for the first time how goodly it
had been, how rich in power, pleasure, and gracious opportunities. He felt its worth
even while he acknowledged, with the sense of justice that is strong in manly men, how
little he deserved a gift which he had so misused. He brooded over this a good deal, for,
like the bat in the fable, he did n't seem to find any place in the new life which had
begun for all. Knowing nothing of business, he was not of much use to his father,
though he tried to be, and generally ended by feeling that he was a hindrance, not a
help. Domestic affairs were equally out of his line, and the girls, more frank than their
father, did not hesitate to tell him he was in the way when he offered to lend a hand
anywhere. After the first excitement was over, and he had time to think, heart and
energy seemed to die out, remorse got hold of him, and, as generous, thoughtless
natures are apt to do when suddenly confronted with conscience, he exaggerated his
faults and follies into sins of the deepest dye, and fancied he was regarded by others as
a villain and an outcast. Pride and penitence made him shrink out of sight as much as
possible, for he could not bear pity, even when silently expressed by a friendly hand or
a kindly eye. He stayed at home a good deal, and loafed about with a melancholy and
neglected air, vanished when anyone came, talked very little, and was either
pathetically humble or tragically cross. He wanted to do something, but nothing seemed
to appear; and while he waited to get his poise after the downfall, he was so very
miserable that I 'm afraid, if it had not been for one thing, my poor Tom would have got
desperate, and been a failure. But when he seemed most useless, outcast, and forlorn,
he discovered that one person needed him, one person never found him in the way, one
person always welcomed and clung to him with the strongest affection of a very feeble
nature. This dependence of his mother's was Tom's salvation at that crisis of his life;
and the gossips, who said softly to one another over their muffins and tea. "It really
would be a relief to that whole family if poor, dear Mrs. Shaw could be ahem! mercifully
removed," did not know that the invalid's weak, idle hands were unconsciously keeping
the son safe in that quiet room, where she gave him all that she had to give, mother-
love, till he took heart again, and faced the world ready to fight his battles manfully.