Read CHAPTER XVII of The Harbor , free online book, by Ernest Poole, on ReadCentral.com.

As I drudged on down there in the warehouse, my bitterness became an obsession. I even talked about it to Sue.

“Oh, Billy, you make me tired,” she said. “Here I’ve taken the trouble to bring to the house every magazine writer I know. And they’re all ready to help you break in-but you won’t write, you won’t even try!”

“How do you know I haven’t tried?” I retorted hotly. “But I’m working all day as it is-and four nights a week besides. And the other three nights, when I try to think of the kind of thing that I could sell to the magazines-well, I simply can’t do it, that’s all-it’s not my way of writing!”

“Then your way is just plain morbid,” she said, “and it’s about time you dropped it.” She seemed to get a sudden idea. “I know the person you ought to meet-

“Do you? What’s his name?” I inquired.

“Eleanore Dillon,” she answered. I looked up at her with a start.

“Eleanore Dillon? Is she still around?”

I hadn’t thought of that girl in years.

“She is-and she’s just what you need,” said Sue, with that know-it-all smile of hers. Her head was now cocked a bit to one side. “Your little friend of long ago,” she added sympathetically. I eyed Sue for a moment. I did not care at all for her tone.

“What do I need her for?” I asked.

“To talk to you of the harbor, of course-that’s her especial line these days.”

“The harbor?” I demanded. “That girl?”

“Yes-the harbor, that girl.” Sue seemed to be having quite a good time. My jaw set tight.

“What does she do down there?” I asked.

“She worships her father. Don’t you remember? An engineer. He’s doing a big piece of work on the harbor and Eleanore is wrapped up in his work, she’s a beautiful case of how a fond parent can literally swallow up his child. There used to be nothing whatever that Eleanore Dillon wasn’t going to do in life. Don’t you remember, when she was small, that little determined air she had in the way she went at every game? Well, she grew even more like that. From school she went to college and worked herself to a frazzle. Then she broke down and had to drop out, and now that she’s strong again she’s changed. She used to go in for everything. Now she goes in for nothing at all except her father and his work. She thinks we’re all a lot of young fools.”

“Oh, now, Sue,” I put in derisively. “You people fools? How could she?”

“You’ll see,” my sister sweetly replied, “for she’ll probably think you’re another. She detests morbid people, they’re not her kind. But if she’ll give you a talking to it may do you a lot of good.”

She did give me a talking to and it did do me a lot of good, although when I came to think of it I found she had barely talked at all.

She wasn’t the sort who liked to talk, she was just as quiet as before. When she arrived rather late one evening and Sue brought her out on the verandah into a group of those radical friends who were a committee for something or other, after the general greetings were over she settled back in a corner with the air of one who likes just to listen to people, no matter whether they’re fools or not. But as I watched her I decided she did not consider these people fools. That quiet smile that came on her face showed a comfortable curiosity and now and then a gleam of amusement, but no contempt whatever. She seemed a girl so well pleased with her life that she could be pleased with the world besides and keep her eyes open for all there was in it. Although she was still rather small and still demurely feminine, with the same grave sweetness in her eyes, that same enchanting freshness about everything she wore, she struck me at once as having changed, as having grown tremendously, as having somehow filled herself deep with a quiet abundant vitality. “Where have you been,” I wondered.

There came a loud blast from the harbor. At once I saw her turn in her chair and look down to the point below where a river boat was just leaving her slip, sweeping silently out of the darkness into the moonlit water. My curiosity deepened. Where had she been, and what was she doing, what queer kind of a girl was this? I took a seat beside her.

“Don’t you remember me?” I asked. She turned her head with a quiet smile.

“Of course I do,” she answered. Her low voice had a frankly intimate tone. “I did the moment I saw you. Besides, Sue told me about you.”

“She’s been telling me quite a lot about you.”

“Has she? What?”

“That you know all about the harbor these days.”

“Sue’s wonderful,” Eleanore murmured. “She’s so sure her friends know everything.”

“Let’s stick to the harbor.”

“All right, let’s. I know enough about it to like it. Sue says you know enough to hate it. I wonder which of us knows more.”

“I do.”

“How do you know you do?”

“Because I’ve been here longer,” I said. “I’ve hated it for twenty odd years.”

She looked at me with interest. Her eyes were not at all like Sue’s. Sue’s eyes were always wrapped up in herself; Eleanore’s in somebody else. They were as intimate as her voice.

“Don’t you remember the evening when you took me down to the docks?” she asked.

“I do-very well,” I said.

“And do you mean to tell me you didn’t like the harbor then?”

“I do-I hated the harbor then. I was scared to death that Sam and his gang would appear around the end of a car.”

“Who was Sam?” she asked me. “He sounds like a very dreadful small boy.”

Soon she had me telling her of Sam and his gang and the harbor of thrills, from the time of old Belle and the Condor.

“I was a toy piano,” I said. “And the harbor was a giant who played on me till I rattled inside. We had a big spree together.”

“Not a very healthy spree, was it?” she said quietly, turning her gray-blue eyes on mine. For some reason we suddenly smiled at each other. “You’re a good deal like your father-aren’t you?” she said. “The same nice twinkle in your eyes. Please go on. What did the harbor do to you next?”

I thought all at once of the August day when she had lain, a girl of twelve, in the fragrant meadow beside me. And as then, so now, the drunken woman’s image rose for an instant in my mind.

“It wiped the thrills all out,” I said abruptly. I told how the place grew harsh and bare, how I could always feel it there stripping everything naked like itself, and how finally when later in Paris I felt I had shaken it off for life, it had now suddenly jerked me back, let me see what my father had really been, and had then repeated its same old trick, closing in on his great idea and making it look like an old man’s hobby, crowding him out and handing us grimly two dull little jobs-one to live on and one to die on.

“It’s getting monotonous,” I ended.

While I talked she had been watching it, now a bustling ferry crossing, now a tug with a string of barges working up against the tide.

“How do you know it’s so bad for you to be brought back from Paris?” she asked me, without looking around.

“Have you ever been in Paris?”

“Yes-and I want to go again. But I don’t believe it will ever feel as real to me as this place does. And I shouldn’t think it would to you. Because you were born here, weren’t you-and you’ve been so close to it most of the time that you’re all mixed into it, aren’t you? I mean you’ve got your roots here. Why don’t you write about them for a while?”

“What?”

“Your roots.”

She turned and again her eyes met mine, and again for some reason or other we smiled.

“All right,” I assented gravely, “I’ll buy a hoe and start right in.”

“That’s it, hoe yourself all up. Get as far down as you can remember. Dig up Belle and Sam, and Sue and your mother and father. Then take a hoe to Paris and find out why you loved it so, and why you hate the harbor. Be sure you get all the hate there is, it makes such interesting reading. Besides, it may be just what you need-it may take the hate all out of your system.”

“Who’ll print it?” I demanded.

“Oh, some magazine,” she said.

“Do you think this kind of thing would interest their readers?”

“It would interest me-

“Thank you. I’ll tell the editors that.”

“You’ll do no such thing,” she said severely. “You’ll tell the magazine editors, please, that I’m only one of thousands of girls who are getting sick and tired of the happy, cheery little tales they print for our special benefit. It’s just about time they got over the habit of thinking of us as sweet, young things and gave us some roots we can grow on.”

Another modern girl, I thought.

“Do you, too, want to vote?” I asked her, with a fine, indulgent irony.

“Some day I do,” she answered. And then she added with placid scorn, “When I’ve learned all the political wisdom that you have to teach me.” And as if that were a good place to stop, she rose from her seat.

“The others seem to have left us,” she said. “I think I’d better be going home.”

“Wait a minute, please,” I cried. “When am I going to hear about you-and your side of this dismal body of water?”

She looked back at me serenely.

“Wait till you’ve got yours all written down,” she replied. “You see mine might only mix you up. Mine is so much pleasanter. Good night,” she added softly.