“Old Red” by Caroline Gordon
WHEN THE DOOR HAD closed behind his daughter, Mr. Maury went to the window and stood a few moments looking out. The roses that had grown in a riot all along that side of the fence had died or been cleared away, but the sun lay across the garden in the same level lances of light that the remembered. He turned back into the room. The shadows had gathered until it was nearly all in gloom. The top of his minnow bucket just emerging from his duffel bag glinted in the last rays of the sun. He stood looking down at his traps all gathered neatly in a heap at the foot of the bed. He would leave them like that. Even if they came in here sweeping and cleaning up — it was only in hotels that a man was master of his own room — even if they came in here cleaning up he would tell them to leave all his things exactly as they were. It was reassuring to see them all there together, ready to be taken up in the hand to be carried down and put into a car, to be driven off to some railroad station at a moment’s notice.
As he moved toward the door he spoke aloud, a habit that was growing on him:
“Anyhow I won’t stay but a week…. I ain’t going to stay but a week, no matter what they say….”
Downstairs in the dining room they were already gathered at the supper table: his white-haired, shrunken mother in-law; his tall sister-in-law who had the proud carriage of the head, the aquiline nose, but not the spirit of his dead wife; his lean, blond, new son-in-law; his black eyed daughter who, but that she was thin, looked so much like him, all of them gathered there waiting for him, Alexander Maury. It occurred to him that this was the first time he had sat down in the bosom of the family for some years. They were always writing saying that he must make a visit this summer or certainly next summer — “. . . all had a happy Christmas together, but missed you….” They had even made the pretext that he ought to come up to inspect his new son-in-law. As if he hadn’t always known exactly the kind of young man Sarah would marry! What was the boy’s name? Stephen, yes, Stephen. He must be sure and remember that.
He sat down and, shaking out his napkin, spread it over his capacious paunch and tucked it well up under his chin in the way his wife had never allowed him to do. He let his eyes rove over the table and released a long sigh.
“Hot batter bread,” he said, “and ham. Merry Point ham. I sure am glad to taste them one more time before I die.”
The old lady was sending the little Negro girl scurrying back to the kitchen for a hot plate of batter bread. He pushed aside the cold plate and waited. She had bundled when he spoke of the batter bread and a faint flush had dawned on her withered cheeks. Vain she had always been as a peacock, of her housekeeping, her children, anything that belonged to her. She went on now, even at her advanced age, making her batter bread, smoking her hams according to that old recipe she was so proud of, but who came here now to this old house to eat or to praise?
He helped himself to a generous slice of batter bread, buttered it, took the first mouthful and chewed it slowly. He shook his head.
“There ain’t anything like it,” he said. “There ain’t anything else like it in the world. “
His dark eye roving over the table fell on his son-in-law. “You like batter bread?” he inquired.