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1957_03_02--026_SP [Love Dies Slowly]

88 “Has he ever mixed one?” I^shook my head. “Never, but he feels that it’s one of his duties, now that he’s the man of the house.” “Do you think he'd mind if I gave him a hand?” “I don’t know. He’s rather touchy about his new responsibilities. I’m sure he’s anxious to impress you, but I’m afraid the result may be lethal.” “Whatever he concocts we’ll have to drink.” “That’s what worries me,” I said. “I’ll leave it up to you, Mr. O’Toole. You're his best friend.” “If you'll excuse me,” he replied, “I’ll see what I can do. And please call me John. I’m your friend, too, Mrs. Hill- yer.” On the following Saturday, a day distinguished by brilliant sunshine, I drove across the hills to Bolton School. The week had been an eventful one for me. I was beginning to live again. I had done a lot of thinking and I had found a friend in John O’Toole. It was good to have someone to talk to and I was rediscovering the joys of companionship. I had been too long alone and I had forgotten how exciting it was to be alive. When I turned in at the gates I was struck with the beauty of the place. The grounds were handsomely planted and there was an air of serenity in the tall trees, the sweeping lawns and the ivy- covered buildings. Seclusion, protection, security—they were all here. These were the things that Chip had never known and I wondered how much they might mean to him, now that he had been given a chance to sample them. He had grown up in many lands; he never had a real home, no close friends, no formal schooling. He learned as he grew by asking questions, and he got his answers from the experts. He went with his father to political meetings, to military headquarters, to palaces and parliaments, to interviews with people of all kinds. And he went with me to market places and museums, to concerts, luncheons and receptions. He talked to anyone and everyone who would talk to him and he learned to speak many languages. .It was not a life my father approved of fbr a growing boy, but it was the way Jeff wanted it and the only way he would take ii. For Jeff there was no tomorrow; there was only today. If I tried to talk about the future, about a home, about settling down and giving Chip a chance to grow up normally, to have roots and security, I found that I was talking to myself. My loyalties were divided, but I couldn’t find any way out. A boy needs a father even more than a home. So we followed him. We followed to the end. M y marriage, which had ended so abruptly in an airplane crash, was one that father had opposed bitterly, but when his grandson was bom he became reconciled to its existence. Now that he was in the driving seat, financially and paternally, he would be hard to handle. He expected a lot of Chip. And he expected even more of the school. Since he was a trustee, it would be like him even to demand a certain amount of special consideration for his grandson. I parked the car and walked across the pebbled path to the front entrance. I had dressed carefully, with what I hoped was proper solemnity for the occasion, but I felt depressed and inadequate, and wondered if I could rise to whatever the situation demanded. I would never forgive myself if I let my son down with tears or emotional protestations or anything that indicated a soft upper lip. The door was opened by the headmaster himself, who welcomed me with a friendly smile. “I’ve been on the lookout for you, Maggie,” he said. “Thank heaven you're here,” I replied. “ I'm beginning to panic.” “It won’t be that bad. Let me have your coat.” He led me into a book-lined room with a long table in the center of it. There was a large stone fireplace on one wall and on the other a great bank of windows looked out over the lawns to the river far below. The masters, who were assembled around the long center table, were young or youngish men, conservatively clothed in more subdued fashion than the ubiquitous gray-flannel suit or the journalist’s unpressed tweeds. There was one exception. Mike O’Hara looked as dashing and as handsome as he had several years ago in Tokyo and Singapore and Lisbon. He came over and took my arm and guided me toward the fireplace. “I’ve got to see you, Maggie,” he said. “ Please tell me when I can come.” “I’ll phone you.” “When?” “Soon,” I said. The headmaster was waiting to call the meeting, and when I turned he was standing directly behind me. I was presented to the sea of strange, floating faces, and then John led me to one end of the table and motioned to the faces to be seated. “We have looked forward to this meeting, Mrs. Hillyer,” he said, in his soothing voice, “in order to acquaint you with the special problems attendant upon the education of your son. We will hear first from Mr. Forbes, whose subject is world history.” The story was the same in every case— in social studies, political science, art, languages and economics. The masters were beihg challenged by a student who questioned the accuracy of their information on the basis that it was dated or prejudiced or factually incorrect. The masters were unanimous, and very kindly so, on one point: the boy was not trying to show off; he was not impertinent or discourteous; he was simply and honestly skeptical. When asked to substantiate a protest, he launched unhesitatingly into a detailed, firsthand, eyewit- nessed account of some event, place, painting, political treaty or commercial project. In his language classes he demurred on meanings or inflections or pronunciations. It was only in English and in mathematics that he was a quiet scholar, and in both of these subjects he was making excellent grades. Now came the question of what was to be done. It was obvious that the other boys in the class were entitled to an education according to the curriculum. Examinations would be based on textbooks and not on eyewitnessed accounts. This matter of examinations affected Chip also. If he disagreed with the textbooks, how could he make official grades now, or later when the time came for his college boards? In the opinion of the faculty of the Bolton School, it was an insoluble situation, and the recommendation was that another school be sought. We all rose at a signal from the headmaster and, after I had expressed my thanks, the masters filed out noiselessly and I was alone with John Francis O’Toole. “I don’t think we made much of a case for education today,” he remarked ruefully. I was worried about something else. “John,” I said, “this is going to cause trouble for you. Father will fight you— and he won’t fight fair.” “I can’t help it, Maggie. I don't care about myself, but I’m very much concerned about Chip. I’ve tried every way I can to lick this situation. I’m not very proud of any of us, but I do have to consider the school.” “You have to live with yourself too,” said a clear, sharp voice from the doorway. “Fourteen grown men against one small boy. You all ought to be ashamed.” We turned our heads quickly, like automatons, and faced a woman with an impressive figure who wore her years lightly but with great authority. Her hair was startlingly white, combed high on her head like a crown, and her eyes were ery blue. “My mother,” said John O’Toole. Autocrat of the dinner table, terror of he faculty, champion of the underdog, nd grandmother by adoption to your on.” “Patience is an outmoded virtue,” said drs. O’Toole. “I couldn’t wait any onger to become a grandmother.” She >ut her arms around me and gave me a varm hug. “Maggie, Maggie,” she said, ‘let me look at you. I’ve wanted so much o meet you. I love that boy of yours; I ind him better company than anyone “ I’m sure that includes me,” said John. “I’m afraid it does,” his mother replied. “Now, how about lunch? I haven’t fussed, so don’t protest. I wish Chip could join us.” “ Impossible, mother,” said John firmly, “and you know it. He’s due in the dining hall at one o’clock, the same as every other boy in this school. Let’s not have any more trouble. We have enough to worry about as it is.” "Oh, all right,” said Mrs. O’Toole. “Rules, rules, rules. And bells. I’m so tired of bells. . . . You come along with me, Maggie. I have someone I want you to meet. She’s a friend of Chip’s. Her name is Muffin.” T h a t evening, after my son had kissed me good night and gone off to bed, I sat down in the study and tried to figure a way out of our problem. From Mrs. O’Toole I had learned a great deal about Chip and his life in Bolton. She and Chip had the sort of unique relationship that sometimes exists between the young and the old. They respected each other. When Mrs. O’Toole walked into the shoemaker’s shop late one afternoon a month after we came back to Bolton and found Chip finishing off lifts on the big power machine at the back of the shop, she showed no surprise. Chip introduced her to Mr. Cantonelli, the shoemaker, and his small daughter, Muffin, who was wrapt- ping up the repaired shoes. She noticed that Chip and the Cantonellis spoke Italian to one another and the whole episode enchanted her. A few days later she asked Chip to bring Muffin to tea, and now she was taking Italian lessons from them. Muffin was only one of Chip's many new friends who were welcome at the home of the headmaster’s mother. There was Aristotle Perez, who captained the two-car ferryboat that chugged back and forth across the river. Captain Perez was from Portugal and he liked to have a boy aboard his boat who knew his native land and spoke his native tongue. Mrs. O'Toole was getting her afternoon rides free now, including one in the fog, which, for sheer horror, she said, had no equal in her experience. There were other friends too. There was the Polish farm family whose land adjoined the school grounds. And there was Mrs. Skourian, who owned the Greek beanery where Chip liked to help out behind the counter. These were my son’s best friends, according to Mrs. O’Toole, because they, were sharing his experiences in a strange new land. He knew their countries better than his own and he felt at home with them. I m running a sort of international salon,” Mrs. O’Toole said to me in parting, “and I’m having the time of my life.” I came to the conclusion, after my visit with Mrs. O'Toole, that my son must have been a very lonely and bewildered boy during those first months at Bolton. How deeply Jeff’s accident had affected Chip I didn’t know. The shock had paralyzed me to such an extent that nothing seemed to matter. But from now on, my son would be my first consideration. Never again would I forget that he had problems, too, and he needed at least one parent to help solve them. I hpard the clock strike ten, and then I must have dozed because I was startled by the ringing of the doorbell. I remembered that John had asked me if I would be at home. I hurried through the darkened living room and opened the front door. Mike O’Hara was standing hesitantly on the steps. He had a large bouquet of flowers in one hand and a big square box in the Other. (Continued on Page 90)


1957_03_02--026_SP [Love Dies Slowly]
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