Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

A Poor Wise Man by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Part 9 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Willy Cameron flushed.

"I feel rather like a meddler, sir."

"Better go up and wash," Howard said. "I'll go up with you."

It happened, therefore, that it was in Howard Cardew's opulent
dressing-room that Howard first spoke to Willy Cameron of Akers'
death, pacing the floor as he did so.

"I haven't told her, Cameron." He was anxious and puzzled. "She'll
have to be told soon, of course. I don't know anything about women.
I don't know how she'll take it."

"She has a great deal of courage. It will be a shock, but not a
grief. But I have been thinking - " Willy Cameron hesitated. "She
must not feel any remorse," he went on. "She must not feel that she
contributed to it in any way. If you can make that clear to her - "

"Are you sure she did not?"

"It isn't facts that matter now. We can't help those. And no one
can tell what actually led to his change of heart. It is what she
is to think the rest of her life."

Howard nodded.

"I wish you would tell her," he said. "I'm a blundering fool when
it comes to her. I suppose I care too much."

He caught rather an odd look in Willy Cameron's face at that, and
pondered over it later.

"I will tell her, if you wish."

And Howard drew a deep breath of relief. It was shortly after that
he broached another matter, rather diffidently.

"I don't know whether you realize it or not, Cameron," he said, "but
this thing to-day might have been a different story if it had not
been for you. And - don't think I'm putting this on a reward basis.
It's nothing of the sort - but I would like to feel that you were
working with me. I'd hate like thunder to have you working against
me," he added.

"I am only trained for one thing."

"We use chemists in the mills."

But the discussion ended there. Both men knew that it would be
taken up later, at some more opportune time, and in the meantime
both had one thought, Lily.

So it happened that Lily heard the news of Louis Akers' death from
Willy Cameron. She stood, straight and erect, and heard him through,
watching him with eyes sunken by her night's vigil and by the strain
of the day. But it seemed to her that he was speaking of some one
she had known long ago, in some infinitely remote past.

"I am sorry," she said, when he finished. "I didn't want him to die.
You know that, don't you? I never wished him - Willy, I say I am
sorry, but I don't really feel anything. It's dreadful."

Before he could catch her she had fallen to the floor, fainting for
the first time in her healthy young life.

* * * * *

An hour later Mademoiselle went down to the library door. She found
Willy Cameron pacing the floor, a pipe clenched in his teeth, and a
look of wild despair in his eyes.

Mademoiselle took a long breath. She had changed her view-point
somewhat since the spring. After all, what mattered was happiness.
Wealth and worldly ambition were well enough, but they brought one,
in the end, to the thing which waited for all in some quiet upstairs
room, with the shades drawn and the heavy odors of hot-house flowers
over everything.

"She is all right, quite, Mr. Cameron," she said. "It was but a
crisis of the nerves, and to be expected. And now she demands to
see you."

Grayson, standing in the hall, had a swift vision of a tall figure,
which issued with extreme rapidity from the library door, and went
up the stairs, much like a horse taking a series of hurdles. But
the figure lost momentum suddenly at the top, hesitated, and
apparently moved forward on tiptoe. Grayson went into the library
and sniffed at the unmistakable odor of a pipe. Then, having opened
a window, he went and stood before a great portrait of old Anthony
Cardew. Tears stood in the old man's eyes, but there was a faint
smile on his lips. He saw the endless procession of life. First,
love. Then, out of love, life. Then death. Grayson was old, but
he had lived to see young love in the Cardew house. Out of love,
life. He addressed a little speech to the picture.

"Wherever you are, sir," he said, "you needn't worry any more. The
line will carry on, sir. The line will carry on."

Upstairs in the little boudoir Willy Cameron knelt beside the couch,
and gathered Lily close in his arms.

CHAPTER LII

Thanksgiving of the year of our Lord 1919 saw many changes. It saw,
slowly emerging from the chaos of war, new nations, like children,
taking their first feeble steps. It saw a socialism which, born at
full term might have thrived, prematurely and forcibly delivered,
and making a valiant but losing fight for life. It saw that war is
never good, but always evil; that war takes everything and gives
nothing, save that sometimes a man may lose the whole world and gain
his own soul.

It saw old Anthony Cardew gone to his fathers, into the vast
democracy of heaven, and Louis Akers passed through the Traitors'
Gate of eternity to be judged and perhaps reprieved. For a man is
many men, good and bad, and the Judge of the Tower of Heaven is a
just Judge.

It saw Jim Doyle a fugitive, Woslosky dead, and the Russian, Ross,
bland, cunning and eternally plotting, in New England under another
name. And Mr. Hendricks ordering a new suit for the day of taking
office. And Doctor Smalley tying a bunch of chrysanthemums on
Annabelle, against a football game, and taking a pretty nurse to
see it.

It saw Ellen roasting a turkey, and a strange young man in the Eagle
Pharmacy, a young man who did not smoke a pipe, and allowed no
visitors in the back room. And it saw Willy Cameron in the
laboratory of the reopened Cardew Mills, dealing in tons instead of
grains and drams, and learning to touch any piece of metal in the
mill with a moistened fore-finger before he sat down upon it.

* * * * *

But it saw more than that.

On the evening of Thanksgiving Day there was an air of repressed
excitement about the Cardew house. Mademoiselle, in a new silk
dress, ran about the lower floor, followed by an agitated Grayson
with a cloth, for Mademoiselle was shifting ceaselessly and with
trembling hands vases of flowers, and spilling water at each shift.
At six o'clock had arrived a large square white box, which the
footman had carried to the rear and there exhibited, allowing a
palpitating cook, scullery maid and divers other excitable and
emotional women to peep within.

After which he tied it up again and carried it upstairs.

At seven o'clock Elinor Cardew, lovely in black satin, was carried
down the stairs and placed in a position which commanded both the
hall and the drawing-room. For some strange reason it was essential
that she should see both.

At seven-thirty came in a rush:

(a) - Mr. Alston Denslow, in evening clothes and gardenia, and
feeling in his right waist-coat pocket nervously every few minutes.

(b) - An excited woman of middle age, in a black silk dress still
faintly bearing the creases of five days in a trunk, and accompanied
by a mongrel dog, both being taken upstairs by Grayson, Mademoiselle,
Pink, and Howard Cardew. ("He said Jinx was to come," she explained
breathlessly to her bodyguard. "I never knew such a boy!")

(c) - Mr. Davis, in a frock coat and white lawn tie, and taken
upstairs by Grayson, who mistook him for the bishop.

(d) - Aunt Caroline, in her diamond dog collar and purple velvet,
and determined to make the best of things.

(e) - The real bishop this time, and his assistant, followed by a
valet with a suitcase, containing the proper habiliments for a
prince of the church while functioning. (A military term, since
the Bishop had been in the army.)

(f) - A few unimportant important people, very curious, and the
women uncertain about the proper garb for a festive occasion in a
house of mourning.

(g) - Set of silver table vases, belated.

(h) - Mr. and Mrs. Hendricks, Mayor and Mayoress-elect. Extremely
dignified.

(i) - An overfull taxicab, containing inside it Ellen, Edith, Dan
and Joe. The overflow, consisting of a tall young man, displaying
repressed excitement and new evening clothes, with gardenia, sat
on the seat outside beside the chauffeur and repeated to himself a
sort of chant accompanied by furious searchings of his pockets.
"Money. Checkbook. Tickets. Trunk checks," was the burden of
his song.

(j) - Doctor Smalley and Annabelle. He left Annabelle outside.

* * * * *

The city moved on about its business. In thousands of homes the
lights shone down on little family groups, infinitely tender little
groups. The workers of the city were there, the doors shut, the
fires burning. To each man the thing he had earned, not the thing
that he took. To all men the right to labor, to love, and to rest.
To children, the right to play. To women, the hearth, and the peace
of the hearth. To lovers, love, and marriage, and home.

The city moved on about its business, and its business was homes.

* * * * *

At the great organ behind the staircase the organist sat. In stiff
rows near him were the Cardew servants, marshaled by Grayson and
in their best.

Grayson stood, very rigid, and waited. And as he waited he kept
his eyes on the portrait of old Anthony, in the drawing-room beyond.
There was a fixed, rapt look in Grayson's eyes, and there was
reassurance. It was as though he would say to the portrait: "It
has all come out very well, you see, sir. It always works out
somehow. We worry and fret, we old ones, but the young come along,
and somehow or other they manage, sir."

What he actually said was to tell a house maid to stop sniveling.

Over the house was the strange hush of waiting. It had waited
before this, for birth and for death, but never before -

The Bishop was waiting also, and he too had his eyes fixed on old
Anthony's portrait, a straight, level-eyed gaze, as of man to man,
as of prince of the church to prince of industry. The Bishop's eyes
said: "All shall be done properly and in order, and as befits the
Cardews, Anthony."

The Bishop was as successful in his line as Anthony Cardew had been
in his. He cleared his throat.

The organist sat at the great organ behind the staircase, waiting.
He was playing very softly, with his eyes turned up. He had played
the same music many times before, and always he felt very solemn,
as one who makes history. He sighed. Sometimes it seemed to him
that he was only an accompaniment to life, to which others sang
and prayed, were christened, confirmed and married. But what was
the song without the music? He wished the scullery maid would stop
crying.

Grayson touched him on the arm.

"All ready, sir," he said.

*****

Willy Cameron stood at the foot of the staircase, looking up.

Book of the day: