In any event, the child's nativity was accredited as genuinely auspicious, and it was noted by family members that unusual events occurred on the anniversary of that particular date every year.
By the first of June that same year, Bill Post had built his new family a credible home higher up on the banks of the Soberanes, and he had begun to move on a few head of livestock to see how they fared before establishing a larger herd.
Bill Post had grown into a man of relatively broad experience. He was the son of a successfully retired sea captain from New London, Connecticut, and the family counted itself honored to have had ancestors aboard the Mayflower. A typical Yankee, both innovative and practical, Bill always felt equal to any task he set for himself.
In 1858 Bill Post had had the good sense to marry Anselma, and though he appraised his life as rich in experience, nothing had quite prepared him for fatherhood. He found himself looking for direct reflections of his own instincts and manner in the person of the child. This seemed only natural to Anselma, though Bill's observations took on an unsettling character the more he studied the matter. Baby Charles Francis Post seemed remarkably self-absorbed and uncommonly introspective for an infant.
Anselma quietly insisted there was absolutely no reason for concern. It was the child's Rumsen Indian blood at play. Indian babies were rarely clamorous unless soiled or left without proper attention. Indeed, Anselma exhibited great interest in her child's reflective temperament. She said it was a sign of great insight. This did little to assuage his father's concern, however, and Bill continued focusing closely on his firstborn for signs of some subtle indisposition.
Bill never ascertained anything beyond his own overanxious concerns, for Frank bloomed quite normally, though he remained quiet when he had nothing of importance to say. The child retained information easily and brought a fixed and patient concentration to every new experience. By the time the boy was three, Bill Post was forced to accept Anselma's elementary appraisal of the situation. Little Frank assuredly perceived and understood more than most tykes his age, but he kept his insights to himself, as did all his mother's people.
Little Frank loved to trail behind his mother as she drifted off into the barrens or high passes on one of her herb and medicine-gathering expeditions. Sometimes they would come across other parties of foraging Rumsen and happily move along together for a day or two exchanging news, gathering pine nuts and birds' eggs, and hunting small game when the opportunity presented itself.
This singular practice made Bill Post extremely uncomfortable from the outset, and he voiced innumerable objections to the custom. But if he thought for a moment he might discourage his wife's basic Indian compacts and traditions, he was pitifully mistaken. Anselma considered foraging as an important part of an ancient and magic family responsibility. The very process required vast knowledge and humble reverence, and Heaven help anyone who interfered.
After a while Bill came to see that thorny point for himself and, with his usual Yankee practicality, let Anselma do as she pleased. He just got used to it, as he was meant to. He also became acclimated to little Frank, who sometimes looked at his father as though they had met somewhere else, in another timea very disconcerting air when adopted by a child.
Bill also became accustomed to his son's long, ruminative pauses when asked a question. Little Frank seemed to ponder every inquiry seriously, regardless of magnitude. He always answered with disarming simplicity and truthfulness. These were not qualities Bill Post necessarily wanted his son to disavow in favor of thoughtless social spontaneity, so he adopted a circumspect manner when conversing with the child on any important subject.
This is a complete short story from Down to a Soundless Sea by Thomas Steinbeck. Copyright 2002 by Thomas Steinbeck. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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The Angel of Losses
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