Nick stopped and picked up a Wagner apple from beside the road, shiny in the brown grass from the rain. He put the apple in the pocket of his Mackinaw coat.
In back was the garage, the chicken coop and the second-growth timber like a hedge against the woods behind. The big trees swayed far over in the wind is he watched. It was the first of the autumn storms.
The wind was blowing straight down the lake. They could see the surf along Ten Mile point.
“She's blowing,” Nick said.
“She'll blow like that for three days,” Bill said.
“It's got a swell, smoky taste,” Nick said, and looked at the fire through the glass.
“That's the peat,” Bill said.
“You can't get peat into liquor,” Nick said.
“That doesn't make any difference.” Bill said.
“You ever seen any peat?” Nick asked.
“No,” said Bill.
“Neither have I,” Nick said.
Bill came down with a pair of heavy wool socks.
“It's getting too late to go around without socks,” he said.
“I hate to start them again,” Nick said. He pulled the socks on and slumped back in the chair, putting his feet up on the screen in front of the fire.
“You'll dent in the screen,” Bill said. Nick swung his feet over to the side of the fireplace.
“As long as McGraw can buy every good ball player in the league there's nothing to it.”
“He can't buy them all,” Nick said.
“He buys all the ones he wants,” Bill said. “Or he makes them discontented so they have to trade them to him.”
“Like Heinie Zim,” Nick agreed.
“It's good when the fall storms come, isn't it?” Nick said.
“It's the best time of year,” Nick said.
“Did you read the Forest Lovers?”
“Yup. That's the one where they go to bed every night with the naked sword between them […] What I couldn't ever understand was what good the sword would do […]”
“It's a symbol,” Bill said.
“Sure,” said Nick, “but it isn't practical.”
“Did you ever read Fortitude?”
“It's fine,” Nick said […] “Have you got any more by Walpole?”
“The Dark Forest,” Bill said.
“I guess he's a better guy than Walpole.”
“Oh, he's a better guy, all right.” Bill said.
“But Walpole's a better writer.”
“I don't know,” Nick said. “Chesterton’s a classic.”
“Walpole's a classic, too,” Bill insisted.
“I wish we had them both here,” Nick said. “We'd take them both fishing to the 'Voix tomorrow.”
“He claims he's never taken a drink in his life,” Nick said […].
“Well, he's a doctor. My old man's a painter. That's different.”
“He's missed a lot,” Nick said sadly.
“You can't tell,” Bill said. “Everything's got its compensations.”
“He says he's missed a lot himself,” Nick confessed.
“Well, dad’s had a tough time.” Bill said.
“It all evens up,” Nick said.
They sat looking into the fire and thinking of this profound truth.
Nick […] wished to show he could hold his liquor and be practical. Even if his father had never touched a drop Bill was not going to get him drunk before he himself was drunk.
“Bring one of the big beech chunks,” Bill said. He was also being consciously practical.
Nick came in with the log through the kitchen and in passing knocked a pan off the kitchen table. He laid the log down and picked up the pan. It had contained dried apricots, soaking in water. He carefully picked up all the apricots off the floor […] He felt quite proud of himself. He had been thoroughly practical.
On his way back to the living room he passed a mirror in the dining room and looked in it. His face looked strange. He smiled at the face in the minor and it grinned back at him. He winked at it and went on. It was not his face but it didn't make any difference.
“You were very wise, Wemedge,” Bill said.
“What do you mean?” asked Nick.
“To bust off that Marge business,” Bill said.
“Once a man’s married he’s absolutely bitched […] He hasn't got anything more. Nothing. Not a damn thing. He’s done for. You’ve seen the guys that get married. […] They get this sort of fat married look. They're done for.”
“If you’d have married her you would have had to marry the whole family. Remember her mother and that guy she married […] Imagine having them around the house all the time and going to Sunday dinners at their house, and having them over to dinner and her telling Marge all the time what to do and how to act.”
“You can't mix oil and water and you can't mix that sort of thing any more than if I'd marry Ida that works for Strattons. She'd probably like it, too.”
Nick said nothing. The liquor had all died out of him and left him alone. Bill wasn't there. He wasn't sitting in front of the fire or going fishing tomorrow with Bill and his dad or anything. He wasn't drunk. It was all gone. All he knew was that he had once had Marjorie and that he had lost her. She was gone and he had sent her away. That was all that mattered. He might never see her again. Probably he never would. It was all gone, finished.
“All of a sudden everything was over […] I don't know why it was. I couldn't help it. Just like when the three-day blows come now and rip all the leaves off the trees.”
“I'm sorry as hell about her but what could I do? […] You know what her mother was like!”
Nick had not thought about that. It had seemed so absolute. That was a thought. That made him feel better […] He felt happy now. There was not anything that was irrevocable.
“There's always a chance.”
Outside now the Marge business was no longer so tragic. It was not even very important. The wind blew everything like that away. […] None of it was important now. The wind blew it out of his head.