Parts I and II
Gibbsville is part of the Pennsylvania anthracite coal region, a geological formation that can’t be found anywhere else in the world and a stronghold of union labor. Unlike Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and the western states bituminous regions, where cops are called “black Cossacks,” mining laws in the anthracite region make for a civilized community of workers. After the strike of 1925, oil burners were installed in homes, and the anthracite markets disappeared. As a result, the national economic boom that preceded the Great Depression didn’t occur in Gibbsville, and by 1930, “the very rich, who had always had money, still had a lot of money.” Dr. William Dilworth English, Julian’s father, lived on two salaries, one from his position as chief of staff of the Gibbsville Hospital and one from his private practice. His wife, Elizabeth McHenry English, had her own income, which Dr. English invested unwisely. His ancestors could be traced back to Revolutionary times. The Englishes were more related to the railroad industry than to coal, though the same company had once handled both activities. Dr. English doesn’t like talking about those times, because they remind him of his father’s suicide. George English, Julian’s grandfather, shot himself in the head after stealing funds from a bank. This happened the summer after William got his MD. Elizabeth’s father opposed the marriage because William’s medical degree was paid for with fraudulent funds. William dedicated his life to making up every penny and restoring the family’s honor. When it was Julian’s time to go to college, Julian chose Yale, but his father sent him to his alma mater, Lafayette College, despite the unhappy memories associated with his own college days there. William hoped that his son would join the same fraternity he had joined and would study medicine, but Julian did neither. Dr. English was one of the most respectable citizens of Gibbsville, and people pitied him for having suffered such a handicap and for having a son who didn’t take advantage of the opportunities given to him. Despite Dr. English’s high esteem in society, his reputation as a surgeon was questionable, as he was known for being too quick to amputate patients’ limbs.
Julian and Caroline arrive at Julian’s parents’ house for Christmas supper. Julian realizes that his father still doesn’t know about the events of the night before. When Elizabeth asks why they are late, Julian says that the car took some time to start because he left it out at night. Caroline makes an excuse about there being too much snow the night before to get the vehicle into the garage. Dr. English doesn’t trust the explanation. He goes on to offer cocktails and comment on the fact that Julian can drink anything he’s given. Elizabeth changes the topic by talking about the Christmas tree and bringing up Julian’s childhood and his relationship to Caroline when they were little. Then she...
(The entire section is 1328 words.)