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

That evening I learned that my father was worse, and I spent the next day by his bedside. He had had a stroke in the morning and was not expected to live through the night.

I found him mumbling fast to himself and making slight, restless efforts to move. At last he grew quiet, and presently his half-open gnarled right hand came groping out over the covers. I took it in mine, and at once I felt it close on mine with a quick, convulsive strength. His hand was moist, his eyes saw nothing. I sat there thus for a long time. Then suddenly,

“Good boy,” he muttered thickly. “Good boy-good-always good to your mother!” He kept repeating this over and over, with pauses between, then again with an effort, fiercely, as though from a distance his mind were set on getting this message over to me, over from an age that was dying into an age that was coming to life, a last good-by to hold me back.

Soon he was only mumbling figures, names of ships and distant ports, freight consignments. Now and then his finger would go to his lips, as he turned phantom pages in feverish haste. Again, in gasping whispers, he would break out into arguments for the protection of Yankee sails.

“Protection!” he would whisper. “Damn fools not to see it! Discriminating tariffs! Subsidies! A Navy!... Don’t forget the Navy! Remember War of 1812!... Nothing without fighting!”

“Nothing without fighting.” He had been learning this all his life-and after he had said it now, he stopped speaking and grew still. Little by little his movements grew weaker. Finally he lay like a log, and the doctor said he would be so until dead.

I went up to my old bedroom and sat down by the open window. It was a beautiful night. From the garden below, where long ago I had felt such shivers over the ocean and heathen lands, a graceful poplar rose. Behind it from the river the huge, dim funnel of a steamer rose over the roof of the warehouse. Overhead to the right swept the Great Bridge of my childhood. But behind it were other bridges now, and off across the river the buildings of Manhattan loomed in loftier masses to their apex in the tower of lights. How changed it all was since I was a boy. And yet how like. On the harbor still the hurrying lights, yellow, blue and green and red. The same deep, restless hum of labor. And from the waterfront below the same puffs and coughs of engines, the same sharp toots and treble pantings, the same raucous whine of wheels.

There came a rough salt breeze from the sea, and it made me think of billowy sails and the days of my father’s boundless youth, and of the harbor of long ago that had so gripped and molded him-as I felt mine now molding me. And for what? I asked. To what were we both adventuring-out of these little harbors of ours?

Toward dawn a tramp came down the river. Dimly as she passed below I could see how old she was, how worn and battered by the waves. A desolate and lonely craft, the smoke draggled out of her funnel. I watched her steam into the Upper Bay and pass around Governor’s Island. I watched till in the first raw light of day I could see only her smoke through the Narrows. Then even this became but a blur, which crept away in that strange dawn light out into the wide ocean.

A few hours later my father died.

One by one, from different parts of the port, the queerest old men came into our house on the day of my father’s funeral-men who still believed in American ships, still thrilled to the dream of the Stars and Stripes wherever there is an ocean breeze; men who still believed in ships that had sails and moved along with the force of the winds; who still believed that cabin boys could rise by the sheer force of their wills to be powers in the ocean world; men who had for the common crowd only the iron discipline, the old brute tyranny of the sea. These strange old men stood with their white heads bowed, a little group, looking down into my father’s grave.

“He was a magnificent fighter,” I heard one of them say as we left. “He wrecked his own business for what he believed in. How many of us would go that far?”

From the grave Sue came to our apartment. Eleanore had packed her trunk.

“Sue must keep out of that dreary old house,” she told me. “Luckily she has a friend out of town whom she’s going to visit. When she comes back we must have the house closed, and I hope she’ll live with us for a while.”

We talked of this that evening, for Sue seemed to want to talk. We stayed up until late and planned and planned. Many different kinds of work for Sue were taken up and discussed by us all. She surprised me by the brave effort she made.

“I’ve got to want something-that’s sure,” she said. “I can’t just yet. I’ve wanted so many things so hard, one after the other for nearly eight years, that now I feel as though I’d used up all the wanting that I’ve got. But of course I haven’t. If I have I’m a back number-and I’d a great deal rather be dead. So don’t you people worry. Depend upon it, in less than a year I’ll be all wrapped up in something new. I’ll be tremendously enthused,” she ended, smiling wearily.

She agreed with me that the house be sold, and after she had left us I made every effort to sell it at once. I found it was heavily mortgaged now, but when at last I made a sale there was enough to clear off all debts and leave about two thousand dollars for Sue. She would have at least something to start on.

As we set about to dismantle the house, various things thickly covered with dust came out of closets, drawers and shelves. And these objects brought near again to me my mother’s life and that hunger of hers for the things that were “fine,” that hospitable door which had waited for friends from the handsome old homes all around us. These homes all along the street had now lost their quiet dignity. Some were empty and marked for sale, others that had already been sold were cheerless boarding houses. The most handsome home of all, with its ample yard where I used to play, was gone, and in its place rose an apartment building which made the old houses all seem dwarfs.

Her world and his were both slipping away. Her life and his, her creed and his, were little now but memories-memories which in Sue and in me must take their chance with the warm, new feelings, the cravings, hopes, loves, doubts and dreams of this absorbing world of our own. For the harbor was still molding lives.

How anxious Eleanore seemed to be through, I thought a little bitterly.