His Father’s Son
By Ivy Williams Stone
The news of the death of Richard Haven the II quickly spread over the entire county. The fame of the Haven Farms had been far reaching; and the tragic death of the elder son, coupled with the uncertain accident to the foster daughter, added to the sympathy which the entire community had already felt for the family since Oliver’s accident. Father Haven, white faced and with drooping shoulders, moved as if in a trance. Mother Haven, seemingly endowed with a superhuman calm, took charge of all the funeral details. Oliver sat beside Esther’s bed, in the darkened room, holding her hand and whispering words of endearment and comfort.
“Taint right I should be talking of marriage while my brother lies dead,” he muttered, “but as soon as you’re well enough we’re going to be married. I always felt you ought to have your chance to marry a man who didn’t have a blemish on his face. I figured you’d get sickened of looking at a man without a nose, but now —”
“I know what you mean, Oliver,” Esther’s faint voice came haltingly. “I know what I’ll look like when I get up. My eyeball will shrink and shrink and shrink, and pull my face out of shape. I guess I’ll be needing some khaki bandages, too,” she finished with a weak smile.
“Well, we’ll be married and keep on living right here to home, and nobody needs to look at us who don’t want to. We can grow fancy fruits and flowers, and we can carry on the family name for Dad. He’ll be needing comfort. Richard would want us to do so.”
The money which Mother Haven gave Kareen to buy suitable mourning was promptly spent in a music store, and she returned home laden with expensive music. “I shall sing at the funeral,” she announced calmly. “Richard would want me to. I sang when he went to war; I sang when he came home; I shall sing this one last time. The most beautiful poem in the world has been set to music; I shall sing Henley’s ‘Invictus.’ It means unconquered.”
With her blond curls refusing restraint, with a faraway expression in her eyes, the tearless widow stood beside the coffin of her husband and sang as she had never sung before. At the piano the youthful boy played as though he were inspired; while his blond curls and those of the singing woman seemed to beckon to each, “we are one.” Most of the simple, country-bred audience could not grasp the portent of the song, but deep emotion moved them to tears as Kareen sang. They felt the inexplicable difference between her and the other women of the valley; she stood with a queenly air, as though exercising an inalienable right. As the last lines poured forth, every spectator was openly weeping; and the men who had watched her ride the derrick horse felt a secret chagrin that they had permitted her to humble herself before them.
It matters not how straight the gate
How charged with punishment the scroll –
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
All who listened knew she would carry on. That her one set purpose of life would not be defeated, and farmers glanced stealthily from the long-fingered, delicately shaped hands of the Haven boy to their own browned, calloused hands. Truly, this boy had come also from another life!
A week later old lawyer Sleed came to see Father Haven. “I have Richard’s will in the safe,” he announced, “and I guess you ought to come along when it’s read to her and the boy. There’s the trunk, too, which the strange woman turned over to Richard when he married Kareen. Richard didn’t mention it in his will, but he told me, should anything ever happen to him, I was to give the key to you ‘till the boy is twenty-one.” Lawyer Sleed handed Father Haven the odd-shaped key which guarded the secret of Kareen’s parentage.
Father Haven, Kareen and the tall boy sat in the dingy, country law office while lawyer Sleed cleared his throat and slit the legal envelope with his penknife. While flies buzzed in the dingy window, the old lawyer read in a drawling monotone:
In the event of my death, I charge my father and my brother Oliver to carry on. All the property which I own shall stay undivided until my son Richard Haven III is twenty-one. My wife Kareen is at liberty to live where she chooses, to train the boy as she desires, until the day he reaches his twenty-first birthday. My father and my brother Oliver are to provide Kareen with one hundred dollars each month for her support and the education of the boy. All additional earnings from the farm shall be spent for improvements or banked to his credit. When he is of age, my son shall return to this office and in the presence of lawyer Sleed, my father and his mother, shall receive certain other instructions which I have prepared for him, and which are to remain sealed and unread until that time. I want my boy should study everything Burbank raises.
Richard Haven II.
When the drawling voice ceased, only the buzzing flies broke the silence of the room. Kareen’s eyes were afire with anticipation and joy. Free – free at last! Free, to take the boy where she willed; to train him as she wished; to guide his life, to mold his habits; to plan his future! A hundred dollars a month! Why, it seemed a fortune. Now, the long coveted desire, to purchase a Stradivari violin, seemed attainable. She could save, and scheme and plan. Surely, one of the five hundred forty-four indisputable originals would soon be theirs!
“Here’s a package your father left for you, son,” the old lawyer passed over a package tied with binding twine. “Said you might like to look ‘em over.”
The boy Richard pulled at the restraining string until his fingers whitened. Then lawyer Sleed cut it and expectant hands tore off the wrapping paper, revealing several booklets and government pamphlets on the life and achievements of Luther Burbank. Glancing at a cut of the great horticulturist, the boy cried, “Look, Mother, look! His fingers are long and thin, too! I know I could do that sort of work, too! Just because my fingers are long is no sign I could not work in soil. Look,” he cried, flipping through the booklets, “here’s a story of the spineless cactus, and the stoneless prune, and the Shasta daisy, and the white blackberry, and the thornless blackberry, and the Crimson Rhubarb and – and – and,” he stopped for breath while his grandfather laid a gentle hand on his arm, and Kareen turned deadly white. The boy had never shown animation over the achievements of Beethoven; the pathos of Schubert’s life had never moved him; Schumann-Heink’s victory in grand opera had never stirred him to praise. But now a few paltry sheets on the achievements of a gardener in California had turned him, almost before her eyes, from a docile boy to a determined young man!
“We want you to stay here, daughter Kareen,” Father Haven spoke haltingly, moved by emotions which he struggled to control. “Richard gave you permission to go where you choose, but we want you should stay with us. We will see the boy has good schooling before he takes over the farm.”
“He won’t take over the farm!” Kareen had become suddenly masterful, almost imperative. “I shall take him away to Salt Lake City. There are good teachers there; he will study piano and pipe organ, and technique. I will buy him a violin with the first hundred dollars you pay me. He will do nothing except study music! I will massage his hands; he will soak them in hot water every night, as Paderewski does, to keep them supple and flexible. He will study abroad; he will learn foreign languages; he will study the German composers in their own tongue. I am sorry Richard is dead. But what is, cannot be helped. The child is mine; MINE ALONE!”
Father Haven stood nonplused before this new, this strange Kareen. Never before had she seemed anything but a child to him. Now this changed woman stood before him, defiant; impelling; determined.
“I will give you the piano, daughter, if you will stay with us,” begged the grandfather. “Surely you will not take Sonny from us. He must come back when he is twenty-one.”
“Only to sell the farm!” cried Kareen with fresh passion, lest her plans be frustrated. “I will take him away from all growing things; from hay and horses, from chickens and eggs, from cows and butter. I will train him to play. Music shall rule his life.”
“Ah, daughter,” answered the older man, laying a gentle hand upon the shoulder of the quivering woman. “Do not make too great haste. The boy will be himself, in spite of all you may do for him. He is his father’s son!”
“Don’t you worry, Grandpa,” boasted young Richard Haven, breaking the silence that followed his mother’s outburst. “I’ll be back. Someday I shall invent a watermelon without seeds, and pine nuts that are large enough to make a mouthful, and peaches without fuzz, and climbing strawberries, and wheat without chaff, and corn without a cob!” The boy waved his arms in a wide comprehensive gesture, as though the world were his for the taking.
“I beg you to stay with us, daughter,” reiterated Father Haven. “Surely our cup of sorrow has been full enough already. Do not take our grandson from us.”
“I will only go to Salt Lake City, Father,” temporized Kareen, touched by the pathos of the older man. “But as you love the farm, so does this boy love music. He must live his own life.”
Two weeks later Esther and Oliver were married. The “White Rose” bedspread took the place of wedding gown, and the square white washed bedroom had to be the church, and the bandaged eye could wear no wedding veil. But a solemn simplicity marked the impressive nuptials as the bishop read the service, and a new desire to live and to carry on filled Esther’s soul as Oliver turned his masked face toward her and pressed her hand.
“We’ll live in Kareen’s house,” he announced. “She’s determined to go away, but the boy will come back. She can’t seem to understand that Richard the III is bound to be a farmer; all Havens are born to the soil. But she has to learn. So you and I will keep the house for him, against his return. We’ll save and work, and someday, as there is a God in heaven, we will find a plastic surgeon who can make new noses, and put in glass eyes that look like real ones. Our farm will make us the money and we will both be as good as new.”
Kareen packed in a frenzied hurry. Oliver and Esther were welcome to the house, and all that it contained, except her music and clothes. She was glad to leave; glad to get away from the sleek, glossy haired horses; the butter and chickens, haystacks and barns; glad to be free to train her son. With reckless abandon she threw their clothes into the new suitcase of real leather which Mother Haven gave her. The music encyclopaedias and her sheet music were the only belongings she packed with care. Oliver drove them to the station. Just as the train began to pull slowly out young Richard Haven uttered a piercing cry, “Mother,” he screamed, “Mother, you have come away without the books on Burbank which father left for me!”