Robert Tronge 31

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robert tronge
Robert Tronge

Ever since he could remember, he and his mother had lived in the happiest comradeship. His father, a promising young doctor, had died within a few years of his marriage. Pete had been brought up by his mother, but he had very little remembrance of any process of molding. It seemed to him as if they had lived in a sort of partnership since he had been able to walk and talk. It had been as natural for him to spend his hours after school in stamping and sealing her large correspondence as it had been for her to pinch and arrange for years so as to send him to the university from which his father had been graduated. She would have been glad, he knew, if he had decided to follow his father in the study of medicine, but he recoiled from so long a period of dependence; he liked to think that he brought to his financial reports something of a scientific inheritance. She had, he thought, every virtue that a mother could have, and she combined them with a gaiety of spirit that made her take her virtues as if they were the most delightful amusements. It was of this gaiety that he had first thought until Mathilde had pointed out to him that there was tragedy in the situation. "What will your mother do without you?" the girl kept saying. There was indeed nothing in his mother's life that could fill the vacancy he would leave. She had few intimate relationships. For all her devotion to her drunkards, he was the only personal happiness in her life. He went into the kitchen in search of her. This was evidently one of their servant's uncounted hours. While he was making himself some tea he heard his mother's key in the door. He called to her, and she appeared. "Why my hat, Mother dear?" he asked gently as he kissed her. Mrs. Wayne smiled absently, and put up her hand to the soft felt hat she was wearing. "I just went out to post some letters," she said, as if this were a complete explanation; then she removed a mackintosh that she happened to have on, though the day was fine. She was then seen to be wearing a dark skirt and a neat plain shirt that was open at the throat. Though no longer young, she somehow suggested a boy--a boy rather overtrained; she was far more boyish than Wayne. She had a certain queer beauty, too; not beauty of Adelaide's type, of structure and coloring and elegance, but beauty of expression. Life itself had written some fine lines of humor and resolve upon her face, and her blue-gray eyes seemed actually to flare with hope and intention. Her hair was of that light-brown shade in which plentiful gray made little change of shade; it was wound in a knot at the back of her head and gave her trouble. She was always pushing it up and repinning it into place, as if it were too heavy for her small head. "I wonder if there's anything to eat in the house," her son said. "I wonder." They moved together toward the ice-box. "Mother," said Pete, "that piece of pie has been in the ice-box at least three days. Let's throw it away." She took the saucer thoughtfully. "I like it so much," she said. "Then why don't you eat it?" "It's not good for me." She let Wayne take the saucer. "What do you know?" she asked. She had adopted slang as she adopted most labor-saving devices. "Well, I do know something new," said Wayne. He sat down on the kitchen table and poured out his tea. "New as the garden of Eden. I'm in love." "O Pete!" his mother cried, and the purest, most conventional maternal agony was in the tone. For an instant, crushed and terrified, she looked at him; and then something gay and impish appeared in her eyes, and she asked with a grin: "Is it some one perfectly awful?" "I'm afraid you'll think so. She's a sheltered, young, luxurious child, with birth, breeding, and money, everything you hate most." "O Pete!" she said again, but this time with a sort of sad resignation. Then shaking her head as if to say that she wasn't, after all, as narrow as he thought, she hitched her chair nearer the table and said eagerly, "Well, tell me all about it." Wayne looked down at his mother as she sat opposite him, with her elbows on the table, as keen as a child and as lively as a cricket. He asked himself if he had not drifted into a needlessly sentimental state of mind about her. He even asked himself, as he had done once or twice before in his life, whether her love for him implied the slightest dependence upon his society. Wasn't it perfectly possible that his going would free her life, would make it easier instead of harder? Every man, he knew, felt the element of freedom beneath the despair of breaking even the tenderest of ties. Some women, he supposed, might feel the same way about their love-affairs. But could they feel the same about their maternal relations? Could it be that his mother, that pure, heroic, self-sacrificing soul, was now thinking more about her liberty than her loss? Had not their relation always been peculiarly free? he found himself thinking reproachfully. Once, he remembered, when he had been working unusually hard he had welcomed her absence at one of her conferences on inebriety. Never before had he imagined that she could feel anything but regret at his absences. "Everybody is just alike," he found himself rather bitterly thinking. "What do you want to know about it?" he said aloud. "Why, everything," she returned. "I met her," he said, "two evenings ago at a dance. I never expected to fall in love at a dance." "Isn't it funny? No one ever really expects to fall in love at all, and everybody does."