His Father’s Son
By Ivy Williams Stone
The new cloth, a strong, tough cotton, was called khaki. An officer named Roosevelt had introduced it for his “Rough Riders.” His men did not suffer intolerable heat with woolen uniforms, and the drab color made the soldiers inconspicuous. Esther spread the bolt of cloth out on her bed, measuring and calculating the number of masks that could be fashioned from it. Quilt making was laid aside; the deft needle of Esther made fine, smooth seams, and button-holed two small breathing holes in each mask. In addition, she rose extra early each morning to serve Oliver a special breakfast which he ate alone before the rest of the family came to eat. The mask had to be removed and even Esther, after her loving service, left the room, leaving Oliver alone with his affliction. He never deviated from this custom – always his meals were served to him alone.
“You ought to go out more, Esther, and get to care for someone else,” he admonished. “You ought to marry soon.”
“I’m waiting for you, Oliver,” Esther would answer simply, her eyes welling with unshed tears. Then Oliver would squeeze her hand tenderly or kiss the little ringlets on the nape of her neck, where she might not catch even a glimpse of his disfigurement.
“Someday there will come a doctor who knows how to do that operation,” he prophesied, “and I’ll work and save against that day. It will cost a lot, but it will be worth it. Then we can be married. I’m going to plant tomatoes this year. We’ve got the right kind of soil to make them grow. Burbank says so, and they are a fancy thing and bring a big price in the city stores.”
The carefree, unrestrained Kareen had entered the room in which the boy child was born. But a month later, when the doctor had permitted the nurse to leave, a woman emerged. A woman of determination, of will power, of one set purpose. Her husband had had the baby christened Richard Haven the III, in spite of her protests, but a name could not alter her intentions. The curling blonde hair, the deep blue eyes, the long tapering fingers, made him her child. She would train him; he would learn music, live music, breathe music! First it would be the piano, as far as Kareen could guide him, then it would be better teachers. Then the violin; then concerts, then study in Europe, then concert tours! Maybe, oh, beautiful dream, he might become a composer!
To this one end she reared, cared for and guided the child. The daily bath, even after he was long past baby days, seemed an effeminate gesture to Richard Haven; he argued a little dirt was good for a farmer’s son. For her own music, Kareen seemed to have ceased to care. Only that the boy could practice – that he might have leisure! When Richard announced that a boy of six could bring up the cows at night, if he had a small, gentle pony, Kareen rushed out to perform this task, and ever after took the cows to pasture and brought them home at night. When Richard announced that a boy of nine could ride the derrick horse for the haying, Kareen put on overalls, and straddled the horse before the eyes of the astonished hay hands. She was water boy to the threshers; she learned to cook; her cakes became palatable and her pies not too tough. For an hour every morning and an hour every evening she stood beside the piano while the boy, with tiny hands that could hardly reach over four keys, learned the rhythm she felt. One-two-three-four – one-two-three-four,” she chanted, while little Richard the third made answer falteringly. “That was the music your father marched to, when he went to war,” she boasted, “and three-four time is more beautiful – like dance music.”
And every night when she tucked him into bed she told a bedtime story of some famous musician.
“Once upon a time a boy learned to make violins. Not the short, thick violins like those then in use, but a longer, thinner model, with a beautiful arch in the middle. And he had a secret method of preparing the varnish. He used a strange new varnish, colored an orange red. His violins vibrated more than any others made up to that time. He became very famous, and put his name inside five hundred forty violins. He gave each one a special name, and the one named “Messie” later sold for a hundred thousand dollars! His name was Antonio Stradivari! Someday you will own one of his wonderful violins!”
“Mr. Burbank made a potato that was so good people call it the mortgage lifter,” answered the boy. “I’d rather have some of that potato seed!”
And again, nothing daunted, Kareen would tell another story. “Once there was a man who learned to play the piano better than anyone else in all this world! His name is Paderewski. He is still alive, and someday we will take you to hear him. He practices six hours every day.”
“Father is going to raise some fancy horses,” replied Richard Haven III. “He is going to send all the way to Kentucky to get them. They are racers or trotters, anyway, they go awful fast. He’s going to put them in the south pasture, which has tall meadow hay and lots of running water. I’m going to have a colt.”
“I’m going to breed thoroughbreds, father,” announced Richard the second. “There’s money in those beautiful fellows. Don’t see why Kentucky has to have the corner on them.”
“I don’t know that such a course would be wisdom, son,” counseled Father Haven. “This new horseless carriage that people made so much fun of at first seems to be getting somewhere. If it is a success, it means the passing of the horse.”
“Maybe so,” admitted Richard Haven, “but there will always be people to buy beautiful horses for the love of them. Besides, it won’t cost much to keep them in the south meadow. And I’ll build a special barn to keep them warm in winter!”
When the car of registered thoroughbreds arrived, all the men of the village came to see the beautiful, thin-legged animals. They were so different from the heavy draft horses that drew the plows! The glossy coats, the fine manes, the nervous tension of the lithe bodies was a never-ending source of joy to the villagers. The Havens were prospering indeed, when they could import such fine stock!
Kareen was not satisfied with the boy’s musical progress. Some country boarders came across the street, and Kareen soon learned that the lady was a music teacher. Richard scoffed at the idea of spending money to teach a boy to play the piano, and refused to pay for such effeminate service. “But his fingers,” pleaded Kareen, “do you not see that his fingers are not Haven fingers? That he will never be a farmer? That his hands are too delicate?”
“Richard Haven the III will be a farmer like his father and grandfather before him,” replied Richard in maddening clam.
However, the lady across the way gave the child lessons, and she was a faithful teacher. She taught the boy the technique which Kareen’s unskilled fingers did not master, and Kareen gave the Haven family the inference that out of the kindness of her heart, the visitor was teaching the child for nothing. But Esther was aware of a sudden falling off in the daily supply of eggs, and the fresh cream jar had stains on it every morning as though cream had been dipped out!
“Franz Schubert was a wonderful musician,” chanted Kareen as the boy laid in bed, “and had a terribly hard time in his youth. He died very young, and over thirty-five years after his death, people discovered the most wonderful music he had written! It is called the Unfinished Symphony in B Minor.”
“Father has a book that says Mr. Burbank made over forty thousand slips of prunes before he got one that suited him,” answered the boy. “It has no stone. He gave it a name, just like the violin maker gave to all his violins. It’s called ‘Abundance.’”
The next spring Richard sold one of the new-born thoroughbred colts for a fancy price. “That’s almost clear profit,” he cried gleefully. “I’m certainly going to raise lots of those beauties. I’ll give one to sonny, and teach him to ride. He’s played that piano about long enough. He’s almost a man now.”
“O, Richard,” cried Kareen, all agitation and eagerness, “now that you have that money, won’t you please, please, buy us a piano? One to have in our own home? I know that so much practicing worries Mother Haven, although she never complains.”
“I’m going to buy a cemetery lot,” replied Richard. “I am going to buy a nice marble tombstone; a triangle shaped one. With spaces for three names – yours, the boy’s, and mine.”
“Oh,” cried Kareen, in despair, “what good is a cemetery lot? What does it matter what becomes of us after we are dead? It is now – while he is young, while he can be taught, that the boy must have a piano. His fingers, Richard! Have you noticed his fingers? They are tapering and thin and delicate. He can reach an octave now, but he could never handle those nervous, high-strung horses. I am afraid of them.”
“I will not buy a piano,” reiterated Richard. Poor Kareen always had to learn over again, each time, that the Havens were men of their word. “I have already picked out the cemetery lot. I have planted three little evergreen trees on it already.”
That evening while Richard sauntered in prideful possession down to the pasture and the boy practiced in his grandmother’s parlor, Kareen slipped out to the barns. She had timed her visit when she knew the three members of the older family were at supper. It never varied, always at the same hour. The lady from the city taught Richard to play, and in return Kareen furnished fresh eggs and thick, sweet cream. Kareen never permitted the thought of deception or theft to deter her. All was fair, so long as the boy learned to play! Richard Haven would soon be bringing the stallion up to the special stall for the night. She had to hurry. She hastened from nest to nest, taking an egg here, one there; then seeing the moving figures of a man and horse in the pasture lane, Kareen hurried out of the older barn through the new barn, leaving the bars unfastened. “No matter,” she thought, “Richard will see them down and put them up.”
Later Esther went out to turn the incubator, as was her custom every night. The eggs must be carefully turned, a task which she trusted to no one. Coming out of the coop into the corral, she was frightened by, and herself frightened, the thoroughbred stallion, that had broken his halter and was running wildly about the corral, the trailing end of the halter enraging him as he ran. Esther sensed the danger and, insensible to the risk she incurred for herself, crept after him, trying vainly to snatch the rope end. With a wild snort the horse turned suddenly, knocking Esther against the unplaned paling of the corral. For a brief moment Esther was blinded and faint from the pain in her right eye; a sharp jagged sliver protruded from her eyelid! A sliver had penetrated her eyeball!
Her screams soon brought Richard; Oliver had been eating his late supper alone in the kitchen. Richard Haven jumped into the corral, and angered by the sight of the injured Esther, sprang after the horse with no thought of safety or wisdom. The now thoroughly angered animal ran wildly about, rearing and snorting; and in a panic as uncontrolled as that of the man who tried to catch him, the beautiful stallion brought his thin sharp hoofs down upon the head of the man who had so loved him.
Skilled doctors were summoned; good neighbors rendered aid, but by morning all knew that Esther had permanently lost the sight of one eye, and that Richard Haven would have need of the cemetery lot which he had provided for his family. In the silence which precedes dawn one sharp, echoing shot rang out; Oliver Haven had used the trophy Mauser gun in a gesture of uncontrollable revenge. The beautiful stallion and the man who had so loved him were only memories on the Haven Farms.