Author's Note: Based on the cut pages released in Don Rosa's commentary for his story Return To Xanadu, published in Uncle Scrooge #261 (1991).
" 'Yet no penny of his wealth had been obtained by force or fraud; he was guilty of nothing, except that he earned his own fortune and never forgot that it was his.' How dare she! I'll sue her for catch phrase infringement!" Scrooge McDuck declared as he slammed closed the book that seemed to paraphrase his own motto. He was three-quarters of the way up Killmotor Hill by now. It had been a suspiciously peaceful walk so far – that couldn't be a good sign. As he got closer to the entrance to his office building/money bin, he brandished his cane before him, ready for anything. He wasn't disappointed.
The salesman seemed to materialize out of thin air (a secret power with which they were all endowed, apparently). "Mr. McDuck! Have I got an amazing offer for you! You won't believe how..."
"You have three seconds to get back where you came from."
"But, Mr. McDuck, you haven't even seen..."
Making it this far this morning without being accosted left Scrooge decidedly not in the mood for dealing with this today. He sighed, looked at the book under his left arm, and tossed it over his shoulder. The 1,000-plus page volume conked the man right on the head and knocked him out cold. "... But I have to give her credit for creating such an effective weapon," Scrooge chuckled as he walked past the security guards into his building.
As usual, Scrooge walked across the entry hall to his private elevator without saying a word to any of his employees, for which they, as usual, were grateful. His secretary could enjoy no such luxury; her boss exited the elevator on the top floor every morning in full attack mode, and today was no exception: "Quackfaster! Get Rockerduck on the phone, and don't hang up until he's ready to talk to me personally! We're going to settle that deal today if it's the last thing I do!"
"Yes, Mr. McDuck!" she gasped, already dialing the phone.
Scrooge continued into his office, closed the door behind him, hung up his cane, sat down at his desk, and opened the file on top of the stack. He never wasted a second on a single superfluous action in this office – time had to be saved like money if it was to be spent making money. He was deep in his natural element of figures and profits and reports, unaware of the passage of time, cut off from the outside world, when the sound of a door opening and closing brought him abruptly back to it.
"Whoever you are, get back out there and tell my secretary she's fired!" Scrooge said, not raising his eyes from the file until he heard the intruder speak.
Her voice instantly struck him speechless. "She's on the phone, Scroogey. You wouldn't want her to hold the line just for me now, would you – do you know what phone bills cost these days?" The old woman walked across the room towards him. She wore a long green trenchcoat, and her gray hair was tied up in a loose bun. She carried a thick, heavy book under her right arm, which she dropped loudly onto the desk as she glared down at the man staring at her as if he couldn't believe she was real. This reaction evidently didn't surprise her, as she simply crossed her arms and patiently waited for him to come to his senses.
Eventually, Scrooge blinked and gave her a matching glare as he gestured over his shoulder with his thumb. "I think you've lost your way, madame – Scotland is one country and one ocean over."
"There are dozens of plays I could make on the words 'lost your way,' but I don't have the time to choose one right now..."
Scrooge slammed the file down on his desk. "What are you doing here?"
"Don't worry, Scroogey, I didn't come here to see you. I'm looking for Donald. Since this is a weekday, I figured this was the only place he could be."
"He's not here," Scrooge said laconically. "Want his address?"
Scrooge picked up a pen and poised it over a sticky note pad, when he heard her say, "I already stopped by his place – no one was home," and put it down (no sense wasting ink).
"Well, he has the day off, so don't expect to find him here." He pushed his chair back, walked over to the file cabinet, opened the drawer at chest level, and took out a folder. He had no idea what was in it and didn't care, as long as it meant he didn't have to look at his visitor.
"One of your employees has the day off?" he heard her gasp. "I must be lost – you can't be Scrooge McDuck."
"I know what day it is today, Matilda," he said flatly, his head bent over the random file and his back to her.
"Please, Scroogey, I don't know how much more shock I can handle."
Realizing his sister wasn't going to take the hint, Scrooge gave up pretending to read, put the file back in the wrong place, and shoved the drawer closed. He turned around, and the two siblings stood facing each other across forty-five years of contempt and anger that one adventure and apology had not been strong enough to completely erase.
Matilda broke the silence by turning aside and wondering aloud, "If they're not at home, they must have gone to..." She closed her eyes briefly and sighed before finishing. "Well, I don't want to interrupt them." She turned back to her brother. "If you see Donald or the boys, tell them I'll see them at Elvira's this evening. I'll just give this to them then."
With that, she picked her book back up from the desk. Scrooge now noticed how familiar it looked. "Still scrapbooking, I see?" he observed.
"You're not the only one in this family with a life worth remembering, you know."
Scrooge suddenly had an unsettling suspicion of whose life this one was remembering – a life he knew little more than nothing about. Despite his intention to conceal it, his sister must have detected some sign of curiosity in him because, even though she'd appeared on the verge of leaving, she walked back to the desk and opened the scrapbook. Realizing he'd already failed to hide his interest from her, Scrooge joined her.
"I made this for the boys," Matilda said simply.
As Scrooge expected, the book started with photos of a young boy and girl playing together – in a schoolyard, in a park, in their living room, on a beautiful farm – always smiling and laughing, always glowing with the joy of those who saw life as a great adventure full of wonderful secrets to be uncovered (their ancestors would have been proud to know they inherited it). He'd only seen the girl once in his life – actually, he'd only seen the boy once, too (the next time Scrooge saw him, he was a man) – but he could never forget that one image in his mind of the two of them. Even if he had, Scrooge was sure he would have recognized her anyway; she had the same fiery look in her eyes as her mother, as her own adventurous little boys...
Matilda didn't look up at him once as she slowly turned the pages. "Hortense and Quackmore had been trying to have kids for years. They were beginning to think they'd never be able to when the twins finally came along. We were all so thrilled to have them. They were the little miracles of the family; everyone loved them so much." The pictures of the young ducklings with their parents, aunts and uncles (and one particularly annoying cousin), and grandparents confirmed this.
"Della was always the sweetest little girl," her aunt mused. "Oh, she inherited her parents' temper, just like her brother... that was probably why they were so close. Except when he called her 'Dumbella,' of course – then war was declared. But they could never stay mad at each other for long. I moved back to Scotland when they were ten..." (The fact that she didn't elaborate on why, or explain what happened that year to make her sick of Duckburg, only seemed to emphasize that point for Scrooge.) "...but Hortense and I wrote each other every week. They seemed like the happiest kids and the happiest family... well, almost." Her voice trailed off.
It seemed to Scrooge like it took a long time for him to muster the resolve to ask, "What happened, Matilda?"
"We have no idea," Matilda answered, as the children in the photos became slightly older. "Ah... Donald may have inherited more of the McDuck fire, but Della inherited the McDuck wanderlust. She had the same craving for adventure and travel; she seemed to be bursting with energy that couldn't be satisfied by anything less than conquering the world. No matter how bigger and more bustling it grew, Duckburg was always too small to contain her. I'm sure the stories about her ancestors' home far across the sea didn't help. She wanted to be free to find her own adventures – Hortense and Quackmore never realized how much. Even if they had, what could they have done about it? Then one day, when she was sixteen, she took matters into her own hands. They woke up, and she was gone."
Scrooge saw that Matilda had included clippings from newspapers showing Della's picture and pleas if anybody had seen her, letters she sent home with no return address or any details other than that she was safe and didn't want anyone to worry, pictures of the parents and brother and grandparents during the months they spent in mourning... all sorts of things to do justice to the horrible sense of loss the family lived with during the period she was gone. "Hortense and Quackmore were devastated. Donald... oh, I can't even describe it. I thought I should come be with them as soon as I got word, but they asked me to stay home in case she came to Scotland. She never did. We thought we'd never see her again."
Then, as abruptly as the girl disappeared from the pages of photos, she was back. "And then, a few months later, she just walked back into the house one evening. I came over as soon I heard, I had to find out what happened right away, but I might as well have saved the plane ticket. She refused to say a word about where she went or what she'd done; no amount of pressing or begging or demanding could get a single detail out of her. She never spoke a word about it to anyone. All she said was: she had left of her own volition, she hadn't been in danger or hurt, she was sorry that she'd made everyone worry, and she had no intention of doing it again. Although they couldn't have been more thrilled to have her home, Quackmore was furious about her silence, and Hortense was terrified. I was just hopelessly confused like Elvira and Humperdink. Donald was the only one who didn't question her, I think – he was just glad to have her back and didn't care about the rest. But, no matter how we felt, it didn't make any difference – she wouldn't tell us anything, and she gave us no clues. She was in perfect health; she didn't seem to have suffered any lasting damage. The only change I could see in her was that she seemed subdued and melancholy for the first few weeks, but Hortense soon wrote that she was back to her familiar lively self. I was certain the truth would come out eventually, but it never did. Hortense and Quackmore would never be satisfied, but what could they do? They had no intention of throwing her out. So, they went on with their lives. Everyone fell back into their old routine, including Della. Despite the odd circumstances, things seemed to be getting back to normal, until..." She didn't need to specify that "until."
Matilda was silent for so long that Scrooge began to think that was the end of it, but she shook it off, sighed, and went on: "She never told us who the father was. As soon as I heard, my immediate assumption was that that was the reason she ran away, but it turned out the timing made that impossible. Besides, Della was more shocked than anyone at the news – she couldn't have tried to hide something when she had no idea she had anything to hide. We all begged and pleaded with her to tell us the truth but to no avail. Quackmore took it the worst – he was convinced that she refused to say who the father was because she didn't know. He even went so far as to say he was glad his father was no longer alive to see this happen. Hortense got as furious with him for that as she was at Della. It was horrible; the skirmishes I saw Poppa and Uncle Jake get into with the Whiskervilles were nothing compared to the Ducks at that time. Della felt like she'd destroyed the family. The one person who stood by her completely was Donald. He was as stunned as the rest of us, he was sad because she was suffering, and he wanted to know the truth as much as anybody, but he still stood by her. It was quite impressive for a seventeen-year-old, actually.
"None of us could stay angry with her forever, though, and, in spite of her persistent secrecy, the storm eventually blew itself out. She knew we still loved her, that we would always love her, no matter what. Even though she wouldn't explain how it happened, she admitted she made a mistake and said she intended to take full responsibility for it, and she found a job to prove it. She was devastated over how difficult she knew it would make things for us, but we were determined to manage. We were all each other had, and we stuck together like a family."
The family in the photographs was significantly bigger now. "Once the boys came, I think all circumstances were forgotten," Matilda continued, with the first smile she'd shown for a few pages. "They brightened all our lives. We couldn't imagine life without them. I was only able to come see them once when they were babies, but just knowing that they were alive, growing and thriving, receiving their pictures and Della's letters in the mail somehow made every day seem more special. I'm so glad Hortense and Quackmore got to see them before the accident." Her smile disappeared as she turned the next page. Scrooge turned aside before he could see the obituary or article about the car crash or photos of the funeral or whatever else Matilda had included to document the sudden death of their sister and her husband.
Scrooge didn't turn back to the book until he heard Matilda turn the page. "Things were hard after that, but we did all we could to help Della and the boys when they needed it over the next few years. Della even met a man whom she said would make a great father. The boys didn't like him very much; they played all sorts of horrible pranks on him. I never met him, but I never got the impression Della was madly in love with him. Still, I didn't expect him to up and leave her like he did when she fell ill."
Determined not to show the same weakness again, Scrooge looked closely at the letters Della had sent Donald and the boys from the hospital, the photos of them going to cheer her up in her hospital room, the newspaper's announcement of the young woman's untimely end, and the photos of the funeral and the place where she was laid to rest.
Matilda seemed to find this time the hardest to look back on. "It didn't seem fair that we'd gotten her back only to lose her again just a few years later..." Her voice broke, and she changed the subject: "I missed Della terribly, but at the time, I was more worried about the triplets. I knew I couldn't take them away from their lives in Duckburg, but I couldn't imagine who could take care of them. If Humperdink had still been alive, it might have been a different story, but Elvira was all on her own with only Gus to help her with the farm – she couldn't possibly take care of three boys. Della had asked Donald to look after them, and he promised her he would, but he knew as well as the rest of us that he couldn't afford to take them in full-time. In fact, he thought that would be the worst thing for them... until Elvira suggested they ask Daphne's son Gladstone. He always had plenty of money, he'd have plenty of time for them because he never needed to work, and he never made a fuss about anything because nothing ever troubled him; I understand why it seemed like a good idea to her. Well, that settled it – I don't know why, but the thought of it was more than Donald could bear. He refused to let that happen. He took Della's boys in, and he's raised them as his own ever since."
Judging by Matilda's account, the family had no other options, no other possibilities, nobody else to turn to. She mentioned no other names or made the slightest allusion to anyone she hadn't mentioned. There was nothing accusatory in her tone or eyes. Yet, something that he could neither see nor hear gave Scrooge the sudden need to defend himself. The next words he said were, "It wasn't his responsibility. She had no right to force that duty on him..."
Matilda instantly rounded on him. "Maybe he didn't do it from some selfless sense of duty! Maybe he did it because he wanted to! Because he loved them! Because they meant more to him than anything and he was willing to pay any price!"
Matilda may condemn greed as much as the next duck, but she could still speak the McDuck language; Scrooge didn't mention this observation out loud but instead said, staring down at the last page, "Well, he must be proud of how they turned out."
"We all are," said Matilda, in a tone that made it clear whom that "we" referred to... and whom it excluded.
"As am I," Scrooge said, with an edge in his voice that he couldn't suppress. "That's why I named them sole heirs to my fortune and assets."
Matilda simply shrugged at that. "Well, they certainly deserve it," she said nonchalantly. "I guess the four of you got really close while Donald was away on duty."
"I made them my heirs before that," Scrooge informed her.
Matilda didn't seem to hear him. "Hortense and Della would have been thrilled..." she said softly, with a new smile. "Just what the boys need."
"Yes, their future is secure," Scrooge agreed.
"I didn't mean a fortune, I meant another..." She stopped and laughed briefly at herself. "But you wouldn't want to hear that." Her mood changed as she picked up her scrapbook up and closed it with a sigh. "Not my best work, of course – there's so much left out, so many missing pages, so many unexplained gaps."
"Evidently, that's how Della wanted it," was all Scrooge could think to say.
Matilda shook her head. "But why? Why wouldn't she tell us?"
"No last-minute confessions?" Scrooge asked.
"Nothing. She took her secrets to her grave." Anger – the last defense of the grieving – now reared its head. "How could she do this to them? Didn't she ever think of what it would mean for her sons? Boys need a father!"
"They have one," Scrooge reminded her.
"They have two excellent father-figures..." (Scrooge was glad he had the desk to support him when Matilda finished the thought she'd begun earlier that she knew he wouldn't want to hear.) "...but it's not the same, and it's not fair!"
Eager to steer the conversation away from certain channels, Scrooge tried saying, "Maybe she thought they were better off not knowing, for some reason."
"Well, we'll never know, will we?" Matilda's tone softened as she opened the scrapbook back up to the last few pages. "I can't let it go, Scrooge. Every time I think of Della, I wonder (I can't help it), who was he? Where is he? Is he still alive? How did they meet? Why did she leave him... or he leave her? Why such secrecy? Oh, Huey, Dewey, Louie... who is their father?"
Scrooge removed his spectacles and gave them a good wiping with the cloth he pulled from his pocket. He had no answer. This was Della's business – who were they to pry? Let her have her secrets. He put his spectacles back on and said, "Stop torturing yourself, Matilda. 'Who is Huey's, Dewey's, and Louie's father?' 'Why is a raven like a writing desk?' Why ask questions nobody can answer?"
"You would say that, Scrooge," Matilda replied, knowingly, but Scrooge had no time to comment on that before she closed the book again and headed for the door. "Like I said, if Donald or the boys are looking for me, tell them I'll be at Elvira's – I'm staying with her for the two days I'm here."
"You come visit for every anniversary of her death?" Scrooge asked, confused.
"Of course not," answered Matilda. "I couldn't stand the sight of Duckburg until this year." Scrooge didn't ask her what had changed; they both knew, and the memory of their last meeting was at least strong enough to let them part peacefully.