His Father’s Son
By Ivy Williams Stone
May slipped into June and the anxiety in the Haven home was partially dispelled by the urgent necessity of long hours of toil. Esther found her self-imposed task of taking over the irrigating a real job, and with her feet slipping about in the boots that had belonged to Oliver, she plodded over the fields, working far into the night. Father Haven doubled his own tasks, while Mother Haven took over all the separating and the care of the hatching chickens. All this time Kareen, carefree and idle, came often to the Haven home.
“Esther,” she pleaded, “if you will leave the parlor unlocked so I can play one hour, I’ll watch your baby chickens the rest of the day.”
“And you would let them drown in the ditch,” retorted Esther none too graciously.
“Then I’ll wash and iron. Or maybe I could cook the bread. I wish I could have gone to Cuba. Palm trees and waves, banners and march music! Richard promised to bring me something that will make music. Something for myself – that Duenna cannot take away from me.”
“I do not care what the boys bring home,” sighed Esther. “I only want them to come. The Spaniards have better guns and smokeless powder. They have barbed wire twisted a thousand different ways to trip our boys. Barbed wire,” she repeated, “like Richard and Oliver used on our new fences. The Spaniards are trained soldiers and our men are farmers.”
With July came the news of The Oregon’s marvelous speed around South America and the wonderful part she took in the defeat of Cervera’s fleet. Came also disquieting reports of the battle of San Juan, the lack of food for the soldiers with resultant malnutrition and ravaging fevers.
“It isn’t the bullets of the Spaniards that are killing our boys,” Father Haven spoke rarely but this time with portent. “It is the fever. A young doctor named Walter Reed has proved it is carried by a deadly mosquito. The villain bites an infected person and then carries the germ to another. The Government is figuring on calling the volunteers home and replacing them with men from the south, who are used to malaria. I want my boys home for harvest. The wheat is in the dough now.”
On August 12th the entire nation was overjoyed at the news that peace negotiations had been signed. The fact that on this date the Hawaiian Islands were formally accepted as a territory of the United States was hardly commented upon. The boys were coming home.
Esther now sang at her work. The rows of preserves on the cellar shelves increased every day; the nights of irrigating were no longer a task; the shovel no longer chafed her shoulder. She had only one regret: she had been obliged to put away the precious quilts, even the beautiful “Wild Rose” pattern still lay unfinished, and Oliver’s gift of red cloth was still uncut. But he would soon be home, then the beloved work could be renewed with greater incentive. Every self respecting bride should have at least twenty hand-made quilts for her dowry!
Kareen came dancing into the Haven home early one morning, noisily crunching a long slender green vegetable. “I just picked it from the vines,” she cried gaily, “and I have a letter from Richard. He is bringing me a mantilla and a — You play it with your mouth, so,” and she danced about the room making almost musical notes with her fingers near her mouth.
“Kareen,” cried Esther in genuine consternation, “that cucumber will poison you, fresh picked that way. It has to lay all night in salt water to wash out the poison.”
“Pooh,” scoffed Kareen, taking another generous bite. “That is superstition. Duenna says all vegetables should be eaten raw. She makes a dish of raw cabbage that is called salad. I’ll bring you some.”
By the end of August, when the binders were beginning to drop sheaves of golden ripe wheat, Richard Haven came home.
“Now, Father, Mother,” he hastened to allay the unasked question of his parents, “Oliver will come later. We couldn’t all come at once. There weren’t ships enough. I saw him ten days ago – he still has two eyes – two ears – two arms – two legs – you’re not to worry,” he finished with a laugh that was much too cheerful. “I’m here for threshing!”
Richard was tanned to a deep bronze and perfectly well. Due to his great vitality and the years of hard farm labor, he had resisted the dread plague. The villagers gave him a welcome home party in the meeting house, and the girls all wore little celluloid flags in their hair. For the first time in her life Kareen’s hair was bound with a restraining blue ribbon, and unasked she sang the patriotic song that had just sprung into popularity, “Just as the Sun Went Down.” With her shoulders thrown back and her eyes looking far beyond the little room into immeasurable space she sang as a true artist. As her clear, sweet tones swept into the chorus every woman in the room was openly weeping and the men were feeling for hidden handkerchiefs.
One thought of mother at home alone
Feeble and old and gray.
One of the sweetheart he’d left in town,
Happy and young and gay;
One kissed a locket of thin gray hair,
One kissed a lock of brown,
Bidding each other a last farewell
Just as the sun went down.
Richard passed around a box of curios. The Mausser gun with its brass cartridges was a thing to shrink from; the stiletto, captured from a Cuban ambush, was cruel; the mantillas of bright red and blue silk were to be admired. But the mothers, who had sent their sons forth in the cause of liberty for a downtrodden race gasped in astonishment when Richard displayed packages of tiny cigarettes, specially fashioned for the fastidious Cuban women! “Too terrible to look at,” chorused the women, and Mrs. Haven openly declared that she would not display them on her what-not.
That night Richard Haven took the star-eyed Kareen home to the little house where she and Duenna lived in semi-seclusion. “The women of Cuba were dusky looking, sort of as though they needed baths. I did not see one beautiful fair blonde like you. O, Kareen,” he cried passionately, “you beautiful, beautiful child. Tell me you will marry me?”
“What did you bring me to play on?” queried Kareen, unmindful that a man of slow emotion had laid bare his deepest feelings. “You promised something that would play.” Forth from his pocket Richard drew a small dark object shaped like a sweet potato. “They play it somehow with their fingers and lips. Like our mouth organs, I guess. I saw an old castle being ransacked and all the furniture burning in a pile in the street. There was a guitar going up in smoke, but we soldiers dared not recover one object.”
Kareen seized upon the small object as though her life depended upon its function. She ran it experimentally over her lips once or twice, then there came forth upon the pastoral night air soft sweet, weird notes; plaintive music, that stirred one’s soul. With the blue mantilla over her blonde curls, Kareen was irresistible.
“You play it better than the natives,” cried Richard, reaching for the elusive girl whose body swayed with the rhythm she created. “Tell me, Kareen, that you will marry me?”
“If you will let me play the piano in your mother’s parlor every day,” parried Kareen. “The world was made for music!”
The next day Richard Haven announced briefly to his parents that he intended to marry Kareen, if duenna were willing. But Father Haven, his hands fumbling, his face pale with fear, was trying to open the yellow envelope of a telegram. “Give it to me, Father,” Mrs. Haven spoke with more composure which comes to women in moments of dire distress. “Remember, I am his parent, too.”
Your son Oliver Haven will not be discharged from government care until his facial wound is entirely healed at the convalescent barracks in Long Island.
U.S. War Dept.
“I knew, but I couldn’t tell,” confessed Richard. “He isn’t hurt very bad. You see, Father, those Spaniards had better guns than ours and their smokeless powder gave them a terrible advantage. You couldn’t see the snipers, and one of them, guerilla warfare, they call it, got Oliver from ambush. He was hit in the nose.”
Esther, who had been hanging her precious quilts on the line for an airing, had slipped quietly into the room. She now stood silently behind Mother Haven’s chair, her smooth black hair framing a face of Madonna-like placidity.
“If anything should happen, if it should be that Oliver isn’t to return to us, Richard,” Father Haven spoke as though the wishes of individuals must be subordinated to the necessity of carrying on the family name, “I should want you to marry our Esther. She’s been a daughter to us all ever since we took her, and a daughter she must stay.”
Richard flushed. “But Father, Oliver will return,” he began, manifestly ill at ease, but here the soft-voiced Esther interrupted.
“Father Haven, I am plighted to Oliver. I shall await his return.” She turned suddenly and hurried out to the clotheslines. There the thirteen gay, beautiful quilts, representative of years of her leisure, were carefully folded and carried back to the chest in the attic. The little bags of lavender which she had ready to lay between them were cast aside, and in their stead Esther put an over supply of moth balls.
Richard Haven sat on the edge of a stiff chair in the “parlor” of the little house at the end of the land. Duenna, as she was known to all the village, sat opposite him, a plain severe woman in black dress and white cap. Kareen had been sent out, for once unadmonished about her behavior.
“I wish to marry her,” Richard did not parry nor quibble. “I will build her a good home, near my people. We will always live here. We will always be farmers.”
“I must obey orders,” the answer was almost a whisper as the lady in black nervously pleated and unpleated little folds in her voluminous skirt. “Her grandfather ordered that I should see her properly married to the first honest farmer who asked her hand in marriage. You are the first,” she finished with a finality that indicated a mission discharged.
“Then it is settled?” asked Richard, rising.
“Not yet. Come with me.” She took him into another room, which she unlocked with a key from her pocket. “In this room are certain things pertaining to the early life of Kareen and that of her parents. If, after viewing them, you still desire to marry her, I shall discharge my obligation to her grandfather.”
In a large trunk, which she unlocked with a still another key, there lay a violin case, shiny and old with age. Duenna unlocked a black “strong box,” displaying portraits of a young woman who might have been Kareen in different garb. There were papers with notarial seals and portentous but undecipherable signatures. There was a gold framed portrait of an austere old man, with bristling whiskers, his chest covered with medals and military insignia. “These,” said the duenna, with awed, respectful tones, making an unconscious obeisance to the portrait in gold, “these are the portraits of Kareen’s mother and grandfather. She has never seen them. She is not to see them until long after she is a mother. Her real name is Kareen Olga Marie Christiana.” Here the duenna cupped her hands and whispered a strange foreign name into the ear of the American farmer. Then she drew back, watching his face intently. She had expected him to be nonplused at the knowledge which she had conveyed. Instead, she herself registered surprise at his imperturbability.
“I love Kareen,” answered Richard Haven simply, to whom castles in Spain or Egypt were as nothing compared to his beautiful fields and purebred cattle. “Kareen cannot help her birth. She did not have the choosing of her parents or grandparents. In spite of all you have told me, I still intend to marry her.”