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The Gallery   By: (1909-1965)

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Aunt Matilda needed him desperately, but when he arrived she did not want him and neither did anyone else in his home town.

I was in the midst of the fourth draft of my doctorate thesis when Aunt Matilda's telegram came. It could not have come at a worse time. The deadline for my thesis was four days away and there was a minimum of five days of hard work to do on it yet. I was working around the clock.

If it had been a telegram informing me of her death I could not have taken time out to attend the funeral. If it had been a telegram saying she was at death's door I'm very much afraid I would have had to call the hospital and order them to keep her alive a few days longer.


So there was nothing else for me to do. I laid the telegram aside and kept on working on my thesis. That is not as heartless as it might seem. I simply could not imagine Aunt Matilda in terrible trouble. The end of the world I could imagine, but not Aunt Matilda in trouble.

[Illustration: Wherever he went Arthur felt the power behind the lens.]

She was the classic flat chested ageless spinster living alone in the midst of her dustless bric a brac and Spode in a frame house of the same vintage as herself at the edge of the classic small town of Sumac, near the southwest corner of Wisconsin. I had visited her for two days over a year ago, and she had looked exactly the same as she had when I stayed with her when I was six all summer, and there was no question but what she would some day attend my funeral when I died of old age, and she would still look the same as always.

There was no conceivable trouble of terrestrial origin that could touch her or would want to. And, as it turned out, I was right in that respect.

I was right in another respect too. By finishing my thesis I became a Ph.D. on schedule, and if I had abandoned all that and rushed to Sumac the moment I received the telegram it could not have materially altered the outcome of things. And Aunt Matilda, hanging on the wall of my study, knitting things for the Red Cross, will attest to that.

You, of course, might argue about her being there. You might even insist that I am hanging on her wall instead. And I would have to agree with you, since it all depends on the point of view and as I sit here typing I can look up and see myself hanging on her wall.

But perhaps I had better begin at the beginning when, with my thesis behind me, I arrived on the 4:15 milk run, as they call the train that stops on its way past Sumac.

I was in a very disturbed state of mind, as anyone who has ever turned in a doctorate thesis can well imagine. For the life of me I couldn't be sure whether I had used symbol or token on line 7, sheet 23, of my thesis, and it was a bad habit of mine to unconsciously interchange them unpredictably, and I knew that Dr. Walters could very well vote against acceptance of my thesis on that ground alone. Also, I had thought of a much better opening sentence to my thesis, and was having to use will power to keep from rushing back to the university to ask permission to change it.

I had practically no sleep during the fourteen hour run, and what sleep I did have had been interrupted by violent starts of awaking with a conviction that this or that error in the initial draft of my thesis had not been corrected by the final draft. And then, of course, I would have to think the thing through and recall when I had made the correction, before I could go back to sleep.

So I was a wreck, mentally, if not physically, when I stepped off the train onto the wooden depot platform that had certainly been built in the Pleistocene Era, with my oxblood two suiter firmly clutched in my left hand.

With snorts of steam and the loud clanking of loose drives, the train got under way again, its whistle wailing mournfully as the last empty coach car sped past me and retreated into the distance... Continue reading book >>

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