Make your own free website on Tripod.com
BACK

Cold, silent, indifferent he lay, Just as he had lived. The damp atmosphere prevailed
throughout the big, shadowy house. Sheep season it was--that inbetween season that
Precedes real springtime. First, those lovely, deceptive days that inspire one's being--
Lifts up one's soul to lofty heights of sublime beauty,--- and then the sudden drop; the
cold, rainy weather that gets its name from the custom of sheep owners waiting until
after the cool wet rain to shear their sheep.

It's creapy, this cold dankness---it permeates underneath the skin, slimy between the
fingers, slipping into the hearts of the occupants of the house. The sun will never shine
agian, they think, and a fear settles upon them---any icy grip holds them fast---mixed
with a horror of what must come.

"Ma, is he any better?" queries a lank, young boy.

"I can't tell no diffur'nce, Hugh," the woman replied wearily. "He seems 'bout the
same. You watch him a minnit whilst I shake up the fire in the kitchen. I'll fetch him
a nice bite to eat," She shook back a whisp of thin grey hair and glanced out the window.
"It's a-gittin' late. I wish she's hurry up."

"She said she'd be here tonight, didn't she, Ma?" the boy asked.

"Yes," his mother answered, "and she'll come, but it's hard for her---with all her
little 'uns."

The woman left the room and the boy sat staring moodily at nothing. The old
man on the bed stirred restlessly and muttered incoherently at times. But the boy
paid him no heed. Murky thoughts passed through his mind. "He's never treated
me right," he mused. " I've never had a chance--always having to work, never doing
what I wanted to do. Why, last year I wanted that ten-acre field to plant for myself
so's I might have a little spending money, but, no, he said I shouldn't have it. Well,
We'll see who gets it this spring. If he just don't wait too long," glancing slyly towards
the bed, the boy suddenly jerked to an upright position.

The old man had raised himself up on the bed and was pointing an shaky finger
towards the boy. Slowly, he sank back from weakness, his doddling head coming to
rest on the pillow beneath.

The boy stepped to his side in time to hear his father's words. "No-count," he heard
him mutter, "Good for nothing, Galivantin' all over the country, won't stick to nothing
cursing your ma and pa." His breath came in short, quick gasps and the old man lasped
back into unconsciousness.

The boy glanced furtively towards the door. Seeing no one, he sighed with relief.
"Ah, bosh," he exclaimed to himselft, " my nerves must be on edge. He couldn't a-
knowed what I was thinkin'. But anyway, I'll quit thinking until---afterwards."
glancing significantly towards the bed.

The dorr opened and the boy's mother came in bearing a saucer and cup of
steaming broth. " Has he been quiet?" she asked. "Oh, yes," the boy answered
almost too quickly. "Here, Pa, Here's you something to eat," the old woman placed
a spoon half-filled with the broth against his lips. " I have to feed him just like he's a
baby."

As she finished her task, there came the sound of stamping feet and the rattlin'
of tin pails. "There's John," she said, "go help him cool the milk and put it away. I'll
declare, it's hard on him to do all the milking, but I can't help him since pa's been sick.

At that moment a car drove up the long, winding driveway to the back door of the
house. The rain, coming down in torrents, drenched the occupants of the car as they
took a running leap to get out of the down-pour. "Well, Ma, we finally got here," a girl
in her late twenties entered the sick-room. Two small children pulling onto her skirt
followed her, while her husband came close behind carrying a small baby.

" How's Pa?" the girl turned questioning eyes toward the bed. " He don't know
nothin' anymore," her mother answered. The girl stood by his bed looking with
pained expression.

"Oh, I can't bear it," she exclaimed. "To see him suffering like this."
She took hold of his hands and then drew back in horror. "Oh, they're like ice--
and his feet too. Ma, is he dying? Oh, he can't." A panic spread over her and she
felt engulfed by the whole of it---the dim, cold room; the tired, wobegone features
of her mother and brother, and Death stalking in every bare corner, getting ready
to pounce out at a moment's notice.

He's been like that for over a week, now, Mary," the mother answered. "The
doctor said there wasn't anything else we could do. Me and Hugh's bin takin' turns
sittin' up at night with him--and daytime, too. We're both fair tuckered out. But I
aims to watch him and take keer of him good so's you and 'Lisbeth nor none of the
neighbors can talk afterwards."

"Oh, Ma, don't say that," the girl said quickly, "you know we wouldn't say a word
about it. I know you've done the best you could."
"Well, Mary," the mother replied, "You and 'Lisbeth don't live here now and you don't
know what a hard time we've had. You know how hard he was on you before you left,
but Time has kinda smoothed all that out. We've been here all the time and we've
almost had too much."
"Oh, Ma," the girl turned toward the bed, "He'll hear you."
"No, don't hear nothin' any more."
"Well, Ma, you're just tired and that's why I'm here. I'll watch him tonight and let you
and Hugh rest."

After some argument with her mother who stubbornly refused to go to bed, Mary
finally promised that she would awaken her mother when the hands of the clock reached
eleven. "Now, when the hands git to 'leven, you wake me up, do you hear, Mary?"
"Yes, Ma, I'll surely do that."
Anything to get her off to bed, thought Mary. The hands of the clock won't reach
eleven. I'll turn them back every time.

Finally, the children tucked to bed in various parts of the big old house and
everything settled for the night, Mary and her husband took up the nightlong vigil.

It wasn't so bad for awhile. The old mas tossed and muttered uneasily. Mary
tried to catch what he was saying, but it didn't make sense, so she finally ignored it.

The hands of the grandfather clock were moving on relentlessly. "Poor Pa", she
thought, "time is taking him swiftly into eternity. Why couldn't it happen like she had
read somewhere: "Time, oh, turn backward, turn back in thy flight, Take me back to my
childhood for just one night."

But no, she went on, I don't want to go back to my childhood. Pa was better to me
than he's been to the rest. But then, I'm more like him. We always agreed with one
another. Anyway, I love him and I can't bear to see him suffering. Oh, I do wish he
could get well. But do I? He wasn't happy. It hasn't been long since we were talking
and he said to me, "Mary, you know all those popular love songs---they're not right.
There's no suck thing in this old world as happiness. Take that song, 'We'll build a
sweet little nest, somewhere in the West, and let the rest of the world go by,' and the
song, 'In My Blue Heaven"---They're all just imagination; if the fellows that wrote them
live long enough they'll find out."

Poor Pa, poor disillusioned Pa, he hadn't found that happiness and he thought it
wasn't there to find. Would she feel that way when she became old? Then I hope I die
young, she thought.

Tick-tock---Tick-tock-beat out the clock with regularity. Ten, ten-thirty, and nearly
eleven. She arose slowly, stretched, and went to the clock. Opening the door, she took
hold of the hands and moved them back to eight. "There, that will do for another two
hours."

Now, the old man was getting aroused, more restless. He sat up on the edge of the
bad. Mary and her husband hastened to his side. " Do lie down, Pa," they said.
But he mumbled, "I'm afraid. Hold me."



They sat there, one on each side, holding up his head. "Do you know me,Pa?" asked Mary. "Yes-----Mary," he answered. Then he became so weak he had to lie down and
he begged Mary's husband to lie down with him because he was so afraid. Afraid of what, thought Mary, of Death?

Up and down, Up and down. Through the weary night. Every two hours the hands of the clock were turned back to the figure eight. Mary kept count of the number of times
she pushed the clock hands back. Once--Eleven--twice--one--thrice---three. Onward-ever onward--eternity went relentlessly onward--never a stop--never a pause--such a surety
such a continuity. Tick-tock--tick-tock-- time stops for no man--and so the course is run.

Wilder and wilder grew the old man and then, feebler and feebler. Mary and her husband were worn beyond endurance. Just before four o'clock, her father was quiet--
too quiet it seemed.

"I've always heard," Mary remarked, " that anyone's resistance is lower at four that at any other time. If he can just get past four---" She was sitting with her back alongside
the bed and one elbow protruding out towards the old man. All at once she felt something icy picking at her arm. She jumped and turned. The old man was reaching
out one hand unsteadily, gropingly, his long, bony fingers curling, grasping.

"Oh, Pa, waht a turn you gave me," she was weak from fright, "What do you want?"
"You, he muttered in a voice that sounded as if it were coming out of a grave. "You--you--you--and then it trailed off into nothingness. Just as the clock should have struck five, the
old man drew a deep, long breath, let it depart slowly from his lungs and then--silence--unutterable silence.
Mary and her husband, looking down on him, grasped each other is terror. Mary broke the stillness with---"Oh, do something! He's gone! Let's get Ma!"
"No, wait," her husband said, maybe he's breathing. Let's work his arms, rub them." No sign of life--no breathing. Mary worked in a frenzy. And then, just as it left, the breath
came back----a deep intake of air flowed into his lungs so deep and invigorating as if to show to any onlooker how precious is the air we breathe. Just as he let go for the last
time, his wife entered the room. She immediately glanced at the clock and said, "Mary, I knew you wouldn't let me sleep past eleven."

Then she looked at the bed and said, " I see he's resting easy."
Mary put her arms around her mother and whispered, "Yes, Ma, he's in his eternal rest now. He's at peace at last." The mother understood what had happened for she looked
at the clock and said, "I must have know something would happen by eleven o' clock."
And Mary never told her the truth.