Homespun Tales HTML version

10. Brother and Sister
If Susanna's path had grown more difficult, more filled with anxieties, so had John
Hathaway's. The protracted absence of his wife made the gossips conclude that the break
was a final one. Jack was only half contented with his aunt, and would be fairly mutinous
in the winter, while Louisa's general attitude was such as to show clearly that she only
kept the boy for Susanna's sake.
Now and then there was a terrifying hint of winter in the air, and the days of Susanna's
absence seemed eternal to John Hathaway. Yet he was a man about whom there would
have been but one opinion: that when deprived of a rather superior and high-minded wife
and the steadying influence of home and children, he would go completely "to the dogs,"
whither he seemed to be hurrying when Susanna's wifely courage failed. That he had
done precisely the opposite and the unexpected thing, shows us perhaps that men are not
on the whole as capable of estimating the forces of their fellow men as is God the maker
of men, who probably expects something of the worst of them up to the very last.
It was at the end of a hopeless Sunday when John took his boy back to his aunt's towards
night. He wondered drearily how a woman dealt with a ten-year- old boy who from
sunrise to sunset had done every mortal thing he ought not to have done, and had left
undone everything that he had been told to do; and, as if to carry out the very words of
the church service, neither was there any health in him; for he had an inflamed throat and
a whining, irritable, discontented temper that could be borne only by a mother, a father
being wholly inadequate and apparently never destined for the purpose.
It was a mild evening late in October, and Louisa sat on the porch with her pepper-and-
salt shawl on and a black wool "rigolette" tied over her head. Jack, very sulky and
unresigned, was dispatched to bed under the care of the one servant, who was provided
with a cupful of vinegar, salt, and water, for a gargle. John had more than an hour to wait
for a returning train to Farnham, and although ordinarily he would have preferred to
spend the time in the silent and unreproachful cemetery rather than in the society of his
sister Louisa, he was too tired and hopeless to do anything but sit on the steps and smoke
fitfully in the semidarkness. Louisa was much as usual. She well knew-- who better?--her
brother's changed course of life, but neither encouragement nor compliment were in her
line. Why should a man be praised for living a respectable life? That John had really
turned a sort of moral somersault and come up a different creature, she did not realize in
the least, nor the difficulties surmounted in such a feat; but she did give him credit
secretly for turning about face and behaving far more decently than she could ever have
believed possible. She had no conception of his mental torture at the time, but if he kept
on doing well, she privately intended to inform Susanna and at least give her a chance of
trying him again, if absence had diminished her sense of injury. One thing that she did
not know was that John was on the eve of losing his partnership. When Jack had said that
his father was not going back to the store the next week, she thought it meant simply a