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If you listen long enough, and earnestly enough, and with ear sufficiently attuned to the music of this sphere there will come to you this reward: The violins and oboes and 'cellos and brasses of humanity which seemed all at variance with each other will unite as one instrument; seeming discords and dissonances will blend into harmony, and the wail and blare and thrum of humanity's orchestra will sound in your ear the sublime melody of that great symphony called Life.
In her sunny little private office on the twelfth floor of the great loft-building that housed the T. A. Buck Company, Emma McChesney Buck sat listening to the street-sounds that were wafted to her, mellowed by height and distance. The noises, taken separately, were the nerve-racking sounds common to a busy down-town New York cross-street. By the time they reached the little office on the twelfth floor, they were softened, mellowed, debrutalized, welded into a weird choirlike chant first high, then low, rising, swelling, dying away, rising again to a dull roar, with now and then vast undertones like the rumbling of a cathedral pipe-organ. Emma knew that the high, clear tenor note was the shrill cry of the lame "newsie" at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Twenty-sixth Street. Those deep, thunderous bass notes were the combined reverberation of nearby "L" trains, distant subway and clanging surface cars. That sharp staccato was a motorman clanging his bell of warning. These things she knew. But she liked, nevertheless, to shut her eyes for a moment in the midst of her busy day and listen to the chant of the city as it came up to her, subdued, softened, strangely beautified. The sound saddened even while it filled her with a certain exaltation. We have no one word for that sensation. The German (there's a language!) has it--Weltschmerz.
As distance softened the harsh sounds to her ears, so time and experience had given her a perspective on life itself. She saw it, not as a series of incidents, pleasant and unpleasant, but as a great universal scheme too mighty to comprehend--a scheme that always worked itself out in some miraculous way.
She had had a singularly full life, had Emma McChesney Buck. A life replete with work, leavened by sorrows, sweetened with happiness. These ingredients make for tolerance. She saw, for example, how the capable, modern staff in the main business office had forged ahead of old Pop Henderson. Pop Henderson had been head bookkeeper for years. But the pen in his trembling hand made queer spidery marks in the ledgers now, and his figure seven was very likely to look like a drunken letter "z." The great bulk of his work was done by the capable, comely Miss Kelly who could juggle figures like a Cinquevalli. His shaking, blue-veined yellow hand was no match for Miss Kelly's cool, firm fingers. But he stayed on at Buck's, and no one dreamed of insulting him with talk of a pension, least of all Emma. She saw the work-worn pathetic old man not only as a figure but as a symbol.
Jock McChesney, very young, very handsome, very successful, coming on to New York from Chicago to be married in June, found his mother wrapped in this contemplative calm. Now, Emma McChesney Buck, mother of an about-to-be-married son, was also surprisingly young and astonishingly handsome and highly successful. Jock, in a lucid moment the day before his wedding, took occasion to comment rather resentfully on his mother's attitude.
"It seems to me," he said gloomily, "that for a mother whose only son is about to be handed over to what the writers call the other woman, you're pretty resigned, not to say cheerful."
Emma glanced up at him as he stood there, so tall and straight and altogether good to look at, and the glow of love and pride in her eyes belied the lightness of her words.
"I know it," she said, with mock seriousness, "and it worries me. I can't imagine why I fail to feel those pangs that mothers are supposed to suffer at this time. I ought to rend my garments and beat my breast, but I can't help thinking of what a stunning girl Grace Galt is, and what a brain she has, and how lucky you are to get her. Any girl--with the future that girl had in the advertising field--who'll give up four thousand a year and her independence to marry a man does it for love, let me tell you. If anybody knows you better than your mother, son, I'd hate to know who it is. And if anybody loves you more than your mother--well, we needn't go into that, because it would have to be hypothetical, anyway. You see, Jock, I've loved you so long and so well that I know your faults as well as your virtues; and I love you, not in spite of them but because of them.
"Oh, I don't know," interrupted Jock, with some warmth, "I'm not perfect, but a fellow----"
"Perfect! Jock McChesney, when I think of Grace's feelings when she discovers that you never close a closet door! When I contemplate her emotions on hearing your howl at finding one seed in your orange juice at breakfast! When she learns of your secret and unholy passion for neckties that have a dash of red in 'em, and how you have to be restrained by force from----"
With a simulated roar of rage, Jock McChesney fell upon his mother with a series of bear-hugs that left her flushed, panting, limp, but bright-eyed.
It was to her husband that Emma revealed the real source of her Spartan calm. The wedding was over. There had been a quiet little celebration, after which Jock McChesney had gone West with his very lovely young wife. Emma had kissed her very tenderly, very soberly after the brief ceremony. "Mrs. McChesney," she had said, and her voice shook ever so little; "Mrs. Jock McChesney!" And the new Mrs. McChesney, a most astonishingly intuitive young woman indeed, had understood.
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Ferber's Short Stories Vol. 2 -by- Edna Ferber