When McGregor had secured the place in the apple-warehouse and went home
to the house in Wycliff Place with his first week's pay, twelve dollars, in his pocket
he thought of his mother, Nance McGregor, working in the mine offices in the
Pennsylvania town and folding a five dollar bill sent it to her in a letter. "I will
begin to take care of her now," he thought and with the rough sense of equity in
such matters, common to labouring people, had no intention of giving himself
airs. "She has fed me and now I will begin to feed her," he told himself.
The five dollars came back. "Keep it. I don't want your money," the mother wrote.
"If you have money left after your expenses are paid begin to fix yourself up.
Better get a new pair of shoes or a hat. Don't try to take care of me. I won't have
it. I want you to look out for yourself. Dress well and hold up your head, that's all I
ask. In the city clothes mean a good deal. In the long run it will mean more to me
to see you be a real man than to be a good son."
Sitting in her rooms over the vacant bake-shop in Coal Creek Nance began to
get new satisfaction out of the contemplation of herself as a woman with a son in
the city. In the evening she thought of him moving along the crowded
thoroughfares among men and women and her bent little old figure straightened
with pride. When a letter came telling of his work in the night school her heart
jumped and she wrote a long letter filled with talk of Garfield and Grant and of
Lincoln lying by the burning pine knot reading his books. It seemed to her
unbelievably romantic that her son should some day be a lawyer and stand up in
a crowded court room speaking thoughts out of his brain to other men. She
thought that if this great red-haired boy, who at home had been so
unmanageable and so quick with his fists, was to end by being a man of books
and of brains then she and her man, Cracked McGregor, had not lived in vain. A
sweet new sense of peace came to her. She forgot her own years of toil and
gradually her mind went back to the silent boy sitting on the steps with her before
her house in the year after her husband's death while she talked to him of the
world, and thus she thought of him, a quiet eager boy, going about bravely there
in the distant city.
Death caught Nance McGregor off her guard. After one of her long days of toil in
the mine office she awoke to find him sitting grim and expectant beside her bed.
For years she in common with most of the women of the coal town had been
afflicted with what is called "trouble with the heart." Now and then she had "bad
spells." On this spring evening she got into bed and sitting propped among the
pillows fought out her fight alone like a worn-out animal that has crept into a hole
in the woods.