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Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington

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"A glue factory!"

Then he laughed, too, as much from friendliness as from
amusement; and she remembered to tell him that the project of a
glue factory was still "an Adams secret." It would be known
soon, however, she added; and the whole Lamb connection would
probably begin saying all sorts of things, heaven knew what!

Thus Alice built her walls of flimsy, working always gaily, or
with at least the air of gaiety; and even as she rattled on,
there was somewhere in her mind a constant little wonder.
Everything she said seemed to be necessary to support something
else she had said. How had it happened? She found herself
telling him that since her father had decided on making so great
a change in his ways, she and her mother hoped at last to
persuade him to give up that "foolish little house" he had been
so obstinate about; and she checked herself abruptly on this
declivity just as she was about to slide into a remark concerning
her own preference for a "country place." Discretion caught her
in time; and something else, in company with discretion, caught
her, for she stopped short in her talk and blushed.

They had taken possession of the bench beside the spring, by this
time; and Russell, his elbow on the back of the bench and his
chin on his hand, the better to look at her, had no guess at the
cause of the blush, but was content to find it lovely. At his
first sight of Alice she had seemed pretty in the particular way
of being pretty that he happened to like best; and, with every
moment he spent with her, this prettiness appeared to increase.
He felt that he could not look at her enough: his gaze followed
the fluttering of the graceful hands in almost continual gesture
as she talked; then lifted happily to the vivacious face again.
She charmed him.

After her abrupt pause, she sighed, then looked at him with her
eyebrows lifted in a comedy appeal. "You haven't said you
wouldn't give Henrietta the chance," she said, in the softest
voice that can still have a little laugh running in it.

He was puzzled. "Give Henrietta the chance?"

"YOU know! You'll let me keep on being unfair, won't you? Not
give the other girls a chance to get even?"

He promised, heartily.

CHAPTER XV

Alice had said that no one who knew either Russell or herself
would be likely to see them in the park or upon the dingy street;
but although they returned by that same ungenteel thoroughfare
they were seen by a person who knew them both. Also, with some
surprise on the part of Russell, and something more poignant than
surprise for Alice, they saw this person.

All of the dingy street was ugly, but the greater part of it
appeared to be honest. The two pedestrians came upon a block or
two, however, where it offered suggestions of a less upright
character, like a steady enough workingman with a naughty book
sticking out of his pocket. Three or four dim shops, a single
story in height, exhibited foul signboards, yet fair enough so
far as the wording went; one proclaiming a tobacconist, one a
junk-dealer, one a dispenser of "soft drinks and cigars." The
most credulous would have doubted these signboards; for the craft
of the modern tradesman is exerted to lure indoors the passing
glance, since if the glance is pleased the feet may follow; but
this alleged tobacconist and his neighbours had long been fond of
dust on their windows, evidently, and shades were pulled far down
on the glass of their doors. Thus the public eye, small of pupil
in the light of the open street, was intentionally not invited to
the dusky interiors. Something different from mere lack of
enterprise was apparent; and the signboards might have been
omitted; they were pains thrown away, since it was plain to the
world that the business parts of these shops were the brighter
back rooms implied by the dark front rooms; and that the commerce
there was in perilous new liquors and in dice and rough girls.

Nothing could have been more innocent than the serenity with
which these wicked little places revealed themselves for what
they were; and, bound by this final tie of guilelessness, they
stood together in a row which ended with a companionable
barbershop, much like them. Beyond was a series of soot-harried
frame two-story houses, once part of a cheerful neighbourhood
when the town was middle-aged and settled, and not old and
growing. These houses, all carrying the label. "Rooms," had the
worried look of vacancy that houses have when they are too full
of everybody without being anybody's home; and there was, too, a
surreptitious air about them, as if, like the false little shops,
they advertised something by concealing it.

One of them--the one next to the barber-shop--had across its
front an ample, jig-sawed veranda, where aforetime, no doubt, the
father of a family had fanned himself with a palm-leaf fan on
Sunday afternoons, watching the surreys go by, and where his
daughter listened to mandolins and badinage on starlit evenings;
but, although youth still held the veranda, both the youth and
the veranda were in decay. The four or five young men who
lounged there this afternoon were of a type known to shady
pool-parlours. Hats found no favour with them; all of them wore
caps; and their tight clothes, apparently from a common source,
showed a vivacious fancy for oblique pockets, false belts, and
Easter-egg colourings. Another thing common to the group was
the expression of eye and mouth; and Alice, in the midst of her
other thoughts, had a distasteful thought about this.

The veranda was within a dozen feet of the sidewalk, and as she
and her escort came nearer, she took note of the young men, her
face hardening a little, even before she suspected there might be
a resemblance between them and any one she knew. Then she
observed that each of these loungers wore not for the occasion,
but as of habit, a look of furtively amused contempt; the mouth
smiled to one side as if not to dislodge a cigarette, while the
eyes kept languidly superior. All at once Alice was reminded of
Walter; and the slight frown caused by this idea had just begun
to darken her forehead when Walter himself stepped out of the
open door of the house and appeared upon the veranda. Upon his
head was a new straw hat, and in his hand was a Malacca stick
with an ivory top, for Alice had finally decided against it for
herself and had given it to him. His mood was lively: he twirled
the stick through his fingers like a drum-major's baton, and
whistled loudly.

Moreover, he was indeed accompanied. With him was a thin girl
who had made a violent black-and-white poster of herself: black
dress, black flimsy boa, black stockings, white slippers, great
black hat down upon the black eyes; and beneath the hat a curve
of cheek and chin made white as whitewash, and in strong
bilateral motion with gum.

The loungers on the veranda were familiars of the pair; hailed
them with cacklings; and one began to sing, in a voice all tin:

"Then my skirt, Sal, and me did go
Right straight to the moving-pitcher show.
OH, you bashful vamp!"

The girl laughed airily. "God, but you guys are wise!" she said.

"Come on, Wallie."

Walter stared at his sister; then grinned faintly, and nodded at
Russell as the latter lifted his hat in salutation. Alice
uttered an incoherent syllable of exclamation, and, as she began
to walk faster, she bit her lip hard, not in order to look
wistful, this time, but to help her keep tears of anger from her
eyes.

Russell laughed cheerfully. "Your brother certainly seems to
have found the place for 'colour' today," he said. "That girl's
talk must be full of it."

But Alice had forgotten the colour she herself had used in
accounting for Walter's peculiarities, and she did not
understand. "What?" she said, huskily.

"Don't you remember telling me about him? How he was going to
write, probably, and would go anywhere to pick up types and get
them to talk?"

She kept her eyes ahead, and said sharply, "I think his literary
tastes scarcely cover this case!"

"Don't be too sure. He didn't look at all disconcerted. He
didn't seem to mind your seeing him."

"That's all the worse, isn't it?"

"Why, no," her friend said, genially. "It means he didn't
consider that he was engaged in anything out of the way. You
can't expect to understand everything boys do at his age; they do
all sorts of queer things, and outgrow them. Your brother
evidently has a taste for queer people, and very likely he's been
at least half sincere when he's made you believe he had a
literary motive behind it. We all go through----"

"Thanks, Mr. Russell," she interrupted. "Let's don't say any
more."

He looked at her flushed face and enlarged eyes; and he liked her
all the better for her indignation: this was how good sisters
ought to feel, he thought, failing to understand that most of
what she felt was not about Walter. He ventured only a word
more. "Try not to mind it so much; it really doesn't amount to
anything."

She shook her head, and they went on in silence; she did not look
at him again until they stopped before her own house. Then she
gave him only one glimpse of her eyes before she looked down.
"It's spoiled, isn't it?" she said, in a low voice.

"What's 'spoiled?'"

"Our walk--well, everything. Somehow it always--is."

"'Always is' what?" he asked.

"Spoiled," she said.

He laughed at that; but without looking at him she suddenly
offered him her hand, and, as he took it, he felt a hurried,
violent pressure upon his fingers, as if she meant to thank him
almost passionately for being kind. She was gone before he could
speak to her again.

In her room, with the door locked, she did not go to her mirror,
but to her bed, flinging herself face down, not caring how far
the pillows put her hat awry. Sheer grief had followed her
anger; grief for the calamitous end of her bright afternoon,
grief for the "end of everything," as she thought then.
Nevertheless, she gradually grew more composed, and, when her
mother tapped on the door presently, let her in. Mrs. Adams
looked at her with quick apprehension.

"Oh, poor child! Wasn't he----"

Alice told her. "You see how it--how it made me look, mama," she
quavered, having concluded her narrative. "I'd tried to cover up
Walter's awfulness at the dance with that story about his being
'literary,' but no story was big enough to cover this up--and oh!
it must make him think I tell stories about other things!"

"No, no, no!" Mrs. Adams protested. "Don't you see? At the
worst, all HE could think is that Walter told stories to you
about why he likes to be with such dreadful people, and you
believed them. That's all HE'D think; don't you see?"

Alice's wet eyes began to show a little hopefulness. "You
honestly think it might be that way, mama?"

"Why, from what you've told me he said, I KNOW it's that way.
Didn't he say he wanted to come again?"

"N-no," Alice said, uncertainly. "But I think he will. At least
I begin to think so now. He----" She stopped.

"From all you tell me, he seems to be a very desirable young
man," Mrs. Adams said, primly.

Her daughter was silent for several moments; then new tears
gathered upon her downcast lashes. "He's just--dear!" she
faltered.

Mrs. Adams nodded. "He's told you he isn't engaged, hasn't he?"

"No. But I know he isn't. Maybe when he first came here he was
near it, but I know he's not."

"I guess Mildred Palmer would LIKE him to be, all right!" Mrs.
Adams was frank enough to say, rather triumphantly; and Alice,
with a lowered head, murmured:

"Anybody--would."

The words were all but inaudible.

"Don't you worry," her mother said, and patted her on the
shoulder. "Everything will come out all right; don't you fear,
Alice. Can't you see that beside any other girl in town you're
just a perfect QUEEN? Do you think any young man that wasn't
prejudiced, or something, would need more than just one look
to----"

But Alice moved away from the caressing hand. "Never mind, mama.
I wonder he looks at me at all. And if he does again, after
seeing my brother with those horrible people----"

"Now, now!" Mrs. Adams interrupted, expostulating mournfully.
"I'm sure Walter's a GOOD boy----"

"You are?" Alice cried, with a sudden vigour. "You ARE?"

"I'm sure he's GOOD, yes--and if he isn't, it's not his fault.
It's mine."

"What nonsense!"

"No, it's true," Mrs. Adams lamented. "I tried to bring him up
to be good, God knows; and when he was little he was the best boy
I ever saw. When he came from Sunday-school he'd always run to
me and we'd go over the lesson together; and he let me come in
his room at night to hear his prayers almost until he was
sixteen. Most boys won't do that with their mothers--not nearly
that long. I tried so hard to bring him up right--but if
anything's gone wrong it's my fault."

"How could it be? You've just said----"

"It's because I didn't make your father this--this new step
earlier. Then Walter might have had all the advantages that
other----"

"Oh, mama, PLEASE!" Alice begged her. "Let's don't go over all
that again. Isn't it more important to think what's to be done
about him? Is he going to be allowed to go on disgracing us as
he does?"

Mrs. Adams sighed profoundly. "I don't know what to do," she
confessed, unhappily. "Your father's so upset about--about this
new step he's taking--I don't feel as if we ought to----"

"No, no!" Alice cried. "Papa mustn't be distressed with this, on
top of everything else. But SOMETHING'S got to be done about
Walter."

"What can be?" her mother asked, helplessly. "What can be?"

Alice admitted that she didn't know.

At dinner, an hour later, Walter's habitually veiled glance
lifted, now and then, to touch her furtively;--he was waiting, as
he would have said, for her to "spring it"; and he had prepared a
brief and sincere defense to the effect that he made his own
living, and would like to inquire whose business it was to offer
intrusive comment upon his private conduct. But she said
nothing, while his father and mother were as silent as she.
Walter concluded that there was to be no attack, but changed his
mind when his father, who ate only a little, and broodingly at
that, rose to leave the table and spoke to him.

"Walter," he said, "when you've finished I wish you'd come up to
my room. I got something I want to say to you."

Walter shot a hard look at his apathetic sister, then turned to
his father. "Make it to-morrow," he said. "This is Satad'y
night and I got a date."

"No," Adams said, frowning. "You come up before you go out.
It's important."

"All right; I've had all I want to eat," Walter returned. "I got
a few minutes. Make it quick."

He followed his father upstairs, and when they were in the room
together Adams shut the door, sat down, and began to rub his
knees.

"Rheumatism?" the boy inquired, slyly. "That what you want to
talk to me about?"

"No." But Adams did not go on; he seemed to be in difficulties
for words, and Walter decided to help him.

"Hop ahead and spring it," he said. "Get it off your mind: I'll
tell the world _I_ should worry! You aren't goin' to bother ME
any, so why bother yourself? Alice hopped home and told you she
saw me playin' around with some pretty gay-lookin' berries and
you----"

"Alice?" his father said, obviously surprised. "It's nothing
about Alice."

"Didn't she tell you----"

"I haven't talked with her all day."

"Oh, I see," Walter said. "She told mother and mother told you."

"No, neither of 'em have told me anything. What was there to
tell?"

Walter laughed. "Oh, it's nothin'," he said. "I was just
startin' out to buy a girl friend o' mine a rhinestone buckle I
lost to her on a bet, this afternoon, and Alice came along with
that big Russell fish; and I thought she looked sore. She
expects me to like the kind she likes, and I don't like 'em. I
thought she'd prob'ly got you all stirred up about it."

"No, no," his father said, peevishly. "I don't know anything
about it, and I don't care to know anything about it. I want to
talk to you about something important."

Then, as he was again silent, Walter said, "Well, TALK about it;
I'm listening."

"It's this," Adams began, heavily. "It's about me going into
this glue business. Your mother's told you, hasn't she?"

"She said you were goin' to leave the old place down-town and
start a glue factory. That's all I know about it; I got my own
affairs to 'tend to."

"Well, this is your affair," his father said, frowning. "You
can't stay with Lamb and Company."

Walter looked a little startled. "What you mean, I can't? Why
not?"

"You've got to help me," Adams explained slowly; and he frowned
more deeply, as if the interview were growing increasingly
laborious for him. "It's going to be a big pull to get this
business on its feet."

"Yes!" Walter exclaimed with a sharp skepticism. "I should say
it was!" He stared at his father incredulously. "Look here;
aren't you just a little bit sudden, the way you're goin' about
things? You've let mother shove you a little too fast, haven't
you? Do you know anything about what it means to set up a new
business these days?"

"Yes, I know all about it," Adams said. "About this business, I
do."

"How do you?"

"Because I made a long study of it. I'm not afraid of going
about it the wrong way; but it's a hard job and you'll have to
put in all whatever sense and strength you've got."

Walter began to breathe quickly, and his lips were agitated; then
he set them obstinately. "Oh; I will," he said.

"Yes, you will," Adams returned, not noticing that his son's
inflection was satiric. "It's going to take every bit of energy
in your body, and all the energy I got left in mine, and every
cent of the little I've saved, besides something I'll have to
raise on this house. I'm going right at it, now I've got to; and
you'll have to quit Lamb's by the end of next week."

"Oh, I will?" Walter's voice grew louder, and there was a
shrillness in it. "I got to quit Lamb's the end of next week,
have I?" He stepped forward, angrily. "Listen!" he said. "I'm
not walkin' out o' Lamb's, see? I'm not quittin' down there: I
stay with 'em, see?"

Adams looked up at him, astonished. "You'll leave there next
Saturday," he said. "I've got to have you."

"You don't anything o' the kind," Walter told him, sharply. "Do
you expect to pay me anything?"

"I'd pay you about what you been getting down there."

"Then pay somebody else; _I_ don't know anything about glue. You
get somebody else."

"No. You've got to---"

Walter cut him off with the utmost vehemence. "Don't tell me
what I got to do! I know what I got to do better'n you, I guess!
I stay at Lamb's, see?"

Adams rose angrily. "You'll do what I tell you. You can't stay
down there."

"Why can't I?"

"Because I won't let you."

"Listen! Keep on not lettin' me: I'll be there just the same."

At that his father broke into a sour laughter. "THEY won't let
you, Walter! They won't have you down there after they find out
I'm going."

"Why won't they? You don't think they're goin' to be all shot to
pieces over losin' YOU, do you?"

"I tell you they won't let you stay," his father insisted,
loudly.

"Why, what do they care whether you go or not?"

"They'll care enough to fire YOU, my boy!"

"Look here, then; show me why."

"They'll do it!"

"Yes," Walter jeered; "you keep sayin' they will, but when I ask
you to show me why, you keep sayin' they will! That makes little
headway with ME, I can tell you!"

Adams groaned, and, rubbing his head, began to pace the floor.
Walter's refusal was something he had not anticipated; and he
felt the weakness of his own attempt to meet it: he seemed
powerless to do anything but utter angry words, which, as Walter
said, made little headway. "Oh, my, my!" he muttered, "OH, my,
my!"

Walter, usually sallow, had grown pale: he watched his father
narrowly, and now took a sudden resolution. "Look here," he
said. "When you say Lamb's is likely to fire me because you're
goin' to quit, you talk like the people that have to be locked
up. I don't know where you get such things in your head; Lamb
and Company won't know you're gone. Listen: I can stay there
long as I want to. But I'll tell you what I'll do: make it worth
my while and I'll hook up with your old glue factory, after all."

Adams stopped his pacing abruptly, and stared at him. "'Make it
worth your while?' What you mean?"

"I got a good use for three hundred dollars right now," Walter
said. "Let me have it and I'll quit Lamb's to work for you.
Don't let me have it and I SWEAR I won't!"

"Are you crazy?"

"Is everybody crazy that needs three hundred dollars?"

"Yes," Adams said. "They are if they ask ME for it, when I got
to stretch every cent I can lay my hands on to make it look like
a dollar!"

"You won't do it?"

Adams burst out at him. "You little fool! If I had three
hundred dollars to throw away, besides the pay I expected to give
you, haven't you got sense enough to see I could hire a man worth
three hundred dollars more to me than you'd be? It's a FINE time
to ask me for three hundred dollars, isn't it! What FOR?
Rhinestone buckles to throw around on your 'girl friends?' Shame
on you! Ask me to BRIBE you to help yourself and your own
family!"

"I'll give you a last chance," Walter said. "Either you do what
I want, or I won't do what you want. Don't ask me again after
this, because----"

Adams interrupted him fiercely. "'Ask you again!' Don't worry
about that, my boy! All I ask you is to get out o' my room."

"Look here," Walter said, quietly; and his lopsided smile
distorted his livid cheek. "Look here: I expect YOU wouldn't
give me three hundred dollars to save my life, would you?"

"You make me sick," Adams said, in his bitterness. "Get out of
here."

Walter went out, whistling; and Adams drooped into his old chair
again as the door closed. "OH, my, my!" he groaned. "Oh, Lordy,
Lordy! The way of the transgressor----"

CHAPTER XVI

He meant his own transgression and his own way; for Walter's
stubborn refusal appeared to Adams just then as one of the
inexplicable but righteous besettings he must encounter in
following that way. "Oh, Lordy, Lord!" he groaned, and then, as
resentment moved him--"That dang boy! Dang idiot" Yet he knew
himself for a greater idiot because he had not been able to tell
Walter the truth. He could not bring himself to do it, nor even
to state his case in its best terms; and that was because he felt
that even in its best terms the case was a bad one.

Of all his regrets the greatest was that in a moment of vanity
and tenderness, twenty-five years ago, he had told his young wife
a business secret. He had wanted to show how important her
husband was becoming, and how much the head of the universe, J.
A. Lamb, trusted to his integrity and ability. The great man
had an idea: he thought of "branching out a little," he told
Adams confidentially, and there were possibilities of profit in
glue.

What he wanted was a liquid glue to be put into little bottles
and sold cheaply. "The kind of thing that sells itself," he
said; "the kind of thing that pays its own small way as it goes
along, until it has profits enough to begin advertising it right.
Everybody has to use glue, and if I make mine convenient and
cheap, everybody'll buy mine. But it's got to be glue that'll
STICK; it's got to be the best; and if we find how to make it
we've got to keep it a big secret, of course, or anybody can
steal it from us. There was a man here last month; he knew a
formula he wanted to sell me, 'sight unseen'; but he was in such
a hurry I got suspicious, and I found he'd managed to steal it,
working for the big packers in their glue-works. We've got to
find a better glue than that, anyhow. I'm going to set you and
Campbell at it. You're a practical, wide-awake young feller, and
Campbell's a mighty good chemist; I guess you two boys ought to
make something happen."

His guess was shrewd enough. Working in a shed a little way
outside the town, where their cheery employer visited them
sometimes to study their malodorous stews, the two young men
found what Lamb had set them to find. But Campbell was
thoughtful over the discovery. "Look here," he said. "Why ain't
this just about yours and mine? After all, it may be Lamb's
money that's paid for the stuff we've used, but it hasn't cost
much."

"But he pays US," Adams remonstrated, horrified by his
companion's idea. "He paid us to do it. It belongs absolutely
to him."

"Oh, I know he THINKS it does," Campbell admitted, plaintively.
"I suppose we've got to let him take it. It's not patentable,
and he'll have to do pretty well by us when he starts his
factory, because he's got to depend on us to run the making of
the stuff so that the workmen can't get onto the process. You
better ask him the same salary I do, and mine's going to be high."

But the high salary, thus pleasantly imagined, was never paid.
Campbell died of typhoid fever, that summer, leaving Adams and
his employer the only possessors of the formula, an unwritten
one; and Adams, pleased to think himself more important to the
great man than ever, told his wife that there could be little
doubt of his being put in sole charge of the prospective
glue-works. Unfortunately, the enterprise remained prospective.

Its projector had already become "inveigled into another
side-line," as he told Adams. One of his sons had persuaded him
to take up a "cough-lozenge," to be called the "Jalamb Balm
Trochee"; and the lozenge did well enough to amuse Mr. Lamb and
occupy his spare time, which was really about all he had asked of
the glue project. He had "all the MONEY anybody ought to want,"
he said, when Adams urged him; and he could "start up this little
glue side-line" at any time; the formula was safe in their two
heads.

At intervals Adams would seek opportunity to speak of "the little
glue side-line" to his patron, and to suggest that the years were
passing; but Lamb, petting other hobbies, had lost interest.
"Oh, I'll start it up some day, maybe. If I don't, I may turn it
over to my heirs: it's always an asset, worth something or other,
of course. We'll probably take it up some day, though, you and
I."

The sun persistently declined to rise on that day, and, as time
went on, Adams saw that his rather timid urgings bored his
employer, and he ceased to bring up the subject. Lamb apparently
forgot all about glue, but Adams discovered that unfortunately
there was someone else who remembered it.

"It's really YOURS," she argued, that painful day when for the
first time she suggested his using his knowledge for the benefit
of himself and his family. "Mr. Campbell might have had a right
to part of it, but he died and didn't leave any kin, so it
belongs to you."

"Suppose J. A. Lamb hired me to saw some wood," Adams said.
"Would the sticks belong to me?"

"He hasn't got any right to take your invention and bury it," she
protested. "What good is it doing him if he doesn't DO anything
with it? What good is it doing ANYBODY? None in the world! And
what harm would it do him if you went ahead and did this for
yourself and for your children? None in the world! And what
could he do to you if he WAS old pig enough to get angry with you
for doing it? He couldn't do a single thing, and you've admitted
he couldn't, yourself. So what's your reason for depriving your
children and your wife of the benefits you know you could give
'em?"

"Nothing but decency," he answered; and she had her reply ready
for that. It seemed to him that, strive as he would, he could
not reach her mind with even the plainest language; while
everything that she said to him, with such vehemence, sounded
like so much obstinate gibberish. Over and over he pressed her
with the same illustration, on the point of ownership, though he
thought he was varying it.

"Suppose he hired me to build him a house: would that be MY
house?"

"He didn't hire you to build him a house. You and Campbell
invented----"

"Look here: suppose you give a cook a soup-bone and some
vegetables, and pay her to make you a soup: has she got a right
to take and sell it? You know better!"

"I know ONE thing: if that old man tried to keep your own
invention from you he's no better than a robber!"

They never found any point of contact in all their passionate
discussions of this ethical question; and the question was no
more settled between them, now that Adams had succumbed, than it
had ever been. But at least the wrangling about it was over:
they were grave together, almost silent, and an uneasiness
prevailed with her as much as with him.

He had already been out of the house, to walk about the small
green yard; and on Monday afternoon he sent for a taxicab and
went down-town, but kept a long way from the "wholesale section,"
where stood the formidable old oblong pile of Lamb and Company.
He arranged for the sale of the bonds he had laid away, and for
placing a mortgage upon his house; and on his way home, after
five o'clock, he went to see an old friend, a man whose term of
service with Lamb and Company was even a little longer than his
own.

This veteran, returned from the day's work, was sitting in front
of the apartment house where he lived, but when the cab stopped
at the curb he rose and came forward, offering a jocular
greeting. "Well, well, Virgil Adams! I always thought you had a
sporty streak in you. Travel in your own hired private
automobile nowadays, do you? Pamperin' yourself because you're
still layin' off sick, I expect."

"Oh, I'm well enough again, Charley Lohr," Adams said, as he got
out and shook hands. Then, telling the driver to wait, he took
his friend's arm, walked to the bench with him, and sat down. "I
been practically well for some time," he said. "I'm fixin' to
get into harness again."

"Bein' sick has certainly produced a change of heart in you," his
friend laughed. "You're the last man I ever expected to see
blowin' yourself--or anybody else to a taxicab! For that matter,
I never heard of you bein' in ANY kind of a cab, 'less'n it might
be when you been pall-bearer for somebody. What's come over
you?"

"Well, I got to turn over a new leaf, and that's a fact," Adams
said. "I got a lot to do, and the only way to accomplish it,
it's got to be done soon, or I won't have anything to live on
while I'm doing it."

"What you talkin' about? What you got to do except to get strong
enough to come back to the old place?"

"Well----" Adams paused, then coughed, and said slowly, "Fact is,
Charley Lohr, I been thinking likely I wouldn't come back."

"What! What you talkin' about?"

"No," said Adams. "I been thinking I might likely kind of branch
out on my own account."

"Well, I'll be doggoned!" Old Charley Lohr was amazed; he ruffled
up his gray moustache with thumb and forefinger, leaving his
mouth open beneath, like a dark cave under a tangled wintry
thicket. "Why, that's the doggonedest thing I ever heard!" he
said. "I already am the oldest inhabitant down there, but if you
go, there won't be anybody else of the old generation at all.
What on earth you thinkin' of goin' into?"

"Well," said Adams, "I rather you didn't mention it till I get
started of course anybody'll know what it is by then--but I HAVE
been kind of planning to put a liquid glue on the market."

His friend, still ruffling the gray moustache upward, stared at
him in frowning perplexity. "Glue?" he said. "GLUE!"

"Yes. I been sort of milling over the idea of taking up
something like that."

"Handlin' it for some firm, you mean?"

"No. Making it. Sort of a glue-works likely."

Lohr continued to frown. "Let me think," he said. "Didn't the
ole man have some such idea once, himself?"

Adams leaned forward, rubbing his knees; and he coughed again
before he spoke. "Well, yes. Fact is, he did. That is to say,
a mighty long while ago he did."

"I remember," said Lohr. "He never said anything about it that I
know of; but seems to me I recollect we had sort of a rumour
around the place how you and that man--le's see, wasn't his name
Campbell, that died of typhoid fever? Yes, that was it,
Campbell. Didn't the ole man have you and Campbell workin' sort
of private on some glue proposition or other?"

"Yes, he did." Adams nodded. "I found out a good deal about
glue then, too."

"Been workin' on it since, I suppose?"

"Yes. Kept it in my mind and studied out new things about it."

Lohr looked serious. "Well, but see here," he said. "I hope it
ain't anything the ole man'll think might infringe on whatever he
had you doin' for HIM. You know how he is: broad-minded,
liberal, free-handed man as walks this earth, and if he thought
he owed you a cent he'd sell his right hand for a pork-chop to
pay it, if that was the only way; but if he got the idea anybody
was tryin' to get the better of him, he'd sell BOTH his hands, if
he had to, to keep 'em from doin' it. Yes, at eighty, he would!
Not that I mean I think you might be tryin' to get the better of
him, Virg. You're a mighty close ole codger, but such a thing
ain't in you. What I mean: I hope there ain't any chance for the
ole man to THINK you might be----"

"Oh, no," Adams interrupted. "As a matter of fact, I don't
believe he'll ever think about it at all, and if he did he
wouldn't have any real right to feel offended at me: the process
I'm going to use is one I expect to change and improve a lot
different from the one Campbell and I worked on for him."

"Well, that's good," said Lohr. "Of course you know what you're
up to: you're old enough, God knows!" He laughed ruefully. "My,
but it will seem funny to me--down there with you gone! I expect
you and I both been gettin' to be pretty much dead-wood in the
place, the way the young fellows look at it, and the only one
that'd miss either of us would be the other one! Have you told
the ole man yet?"

"Well----" Adams spoke laboriously. "No. No, I haven't. I
thought--well, that's what I wanted to see you about."

"What can I do?"

"I thought I'd write him a letter and get you to hand it to him
for me."

"My soul!" his friend exclaimed. "Why on earth don't you just go
down there and tell him?"

Adams became pitiably embarrassed. He stammered, coughed,
stammered again, wrinkling his face so deeply he seemed about to
weep; but finally he contrived to utter an apologetic laugh. "I
ought to do that, of course; but in some way or other I just
don't seem to be able to--to manage it."

"Why in the world not?" the mystified Lohr inquired.

"I could hardly tell you--'less'n it is to say that when you been
with one boss all your life it's so--so kind of embarrassing--to
quit him, I just can't make up my mind to go and speak to him
about it. No; I got it in my head a letter's the only
satisfactory way to do it, and I thought I'd ask you to hand it
to him,"

"Well, of course I don't mind doin' that for you," Lohr said,
mildly. "But why in the world don't you just mail it to him?"

"Well, I'll tell you," Adams returned. "You know, like that,
it'd have to go through a clerk and that secretary of his, and I
don't know who all. There's a couple of kind of delicate points
I want to put in it: for instance, I want to explain to him how
much improvement and so on I'm going to introduce on the old
process I helped to work out with Campbell when we were working
for him, so't he'll understand it's a different article and no
infringement at all. Then there's another thing: you see all
during while I was sick he had my salary paid to me it amounts to
considerable, I was on my back so long. Under the circumstances,
because I'm quitting, I don't feel as if I ought to accept it,
and so I'll have a check for him in the letter to cover it, and I
want to be sure he knows it, and gets it personally. If it had
to go through a lot of other people, the way it would if I put it
in the mail, why, you can't tell. So what I thought: if you'd
hand it to him for me, and maybe if he happened to read it right
then, or anything, it might be you'd notice whatever he'd happen
to say about it--and you could tell me afterward."

"All right," Lohr said. "Certainly if you'd rather do it that
way, I'll hand it to him and tell you what he says; that is, if
he says anything and I hear him. Got it written?"

"No; I'll send it around to you last of the week." Adams moved
toward his taxicab. "Don't say anything to anybody about it,
Charley, especially till after that."

"All right."

"And, Charley, I'll be mighty obliged to you," Adams said, and
came back to shake hands in farewell. "There's one thing more
you might do--if you'd ever happen to feel like it." He kept his
eyes rather vaguely fixed on a point above his friend's head as
he spoke, and his voice was not well controlled. "I been--I been
down there a good many years and I may not 'a' been so much use
lately as I was at first, but I always tried to do my best for
the old firm. If anything turned out so's they DID kind of take
offense with me, down there, why, just say a good word for me--if
you'd happen to feel like it, maybe."

Old Charley Lohr assured him that he would speak a good word if
opportunity became available; then, after the cab had driven
away, he went up to his small apartment on the third floor and
muttered ruminatively until his wife inquired what he was talking
to himself about.

"Ole Virg Adams," he told her. "He's out again after his long
spell of sickness, and the way it looks to me he'd better stayed
in bed."

"You mean he still looks too bad to be out?"

"Oh, I expect he's gettin' his HEALTH back," Lohr said, frowning.

"Then what's the matter with him? You mean he's lost his mind?"

"My goodness, but women do jump at conclusions!" he exclaimed.

"Well," said Mrs. Lohr, "what other conclusion did you leave me
to jump at?"

Her husband explained with a little heat: "People can have a
sickness that AFFECTS their mind, can't they? Their mind can get
some affected without bein' LOST, can't it?"

"Then you mean the poor man's mind does seem affected?"

"Why, no; I'd scarcely go as far as that," Lohr said,
inconsistently, and declined to be more definite.

Adams devoted the latter part of that evening to the composition
of his letter--a disquieting task not completed when, at eleven
o'clock, he heard his daughter coming up the stairs. She was
singing to herself in a low, sweet voice, and Adams paused to
listen incredulously, with his pen lifted and his mouth open, as
if he heard the strangest sound in the world. Then he set down
the pen upon a blotter, went to his door, and opened it, looking
out at her as she came.

"Well, dearie, you seem to be feeling pretty good," he said.
"What you been doing?"

"Just sitting out on the front steps, papa."

"All alone, I suppose."

"No. Mr. Russell called."

"Oh, he did?" Adams pretended to be surprised. "What all could
you and he find to talk about till this hour o' the night?"

She laughed gaily. "You don't know me, papa!"

"How's that?"

"You've never found out that I always do all the talking."

"Didn't you let him get a word in all evening?"

"Oh, yes; every now and then."

Adams took her hand and petted it. "Well, what did he say?"

Alice gave him a radiant look and kissed him. "Not what you
think!" she laughed; then slapped his cheek with saucy affection,
pirouetted across the narrow hall and into her own room, and
curtsied to him as she closed her door.

Adams went back to his writing with a lighter heart; for since
Alice was born she had been to him the apple of his eye, his own
phrase in thinking of her; and what he was doing now was for her.

He smiled as he picked up his pen to begin a new draft of the
painful letter; but presently he looked puzzled. After all, she
could be happy just as things were, it seemed. Then why had he
taken what his wife called "this new step," which he had so long
resisted?

He could only sigh and wonder. "Life works out pretty
peculiarly," he thought; for he couldn't go back now, though the
reason he couldn't was not clearly apparent. He had to go ahead.

CHAPTER XVII

He was out in his taxicab again the next morning, and by noon he
had secured what he wanted.

It was curiously significant that he worked so quickly. All the
years during which his wife had pressed him toward his present
shift he had sworn to himself, as well as to her, that he would
never yield; and yet when he did yield he had no plans to make,
because he found them already prepared and worked out in detail
in his mind; as if he had long contemplated the "step" he
believed himself incapable of taking.

Sometimes he had thought of improving his income by exchanging
his little collection of bonds for a "small rental property," if
he could find "a good buy"; and he had spent many of his spare
hours rambling over the enormously spreading city and its
purlieus, looking for the ideal "buy." It remained unattainable,
so far as he was concerned; but he found other things.

Not twice a crow's mile from his own house there was a dismal and
slummish quarter, a decayed "industrial district" of earlier
days. Most of the industries were small; some of them died,
perishing of bankruptcy or fire; and a few had moved, leaving
their shells. Of the relics, the best was a brick building which
had been the largest and most important factory in the quarter:
it had been injured by a long vacancy almost as serious as a
fire, in effect, and Adams had often guessed at the sum needed to
put it in repair.

When he passed it, he would look at it with an interest which he
supposed detached and idly speculative. "That'd be just the
thing," he thought. "If a fellow had money enough, and took a
notion to set up some new business on a big scale, this would be
a pretty good place--to make glue, for instance, if that wasn't
out of the question, of course. It would take a lot of money,
though; a great deal too much for me to expect to handle--even if
I'd ever dream of doing such a thing."

Opposite the dismantled factory was a muddy, open lot of two
acres or so, and near the middle of the lot, a long brick shed
stood in a desolate abandonment, not happily decorated by old
coatings of theatrical and medicinal advertisements. But the
brick shed had two wooden ells, and, though both shed and ells
were of a single story, here was empty space enough for a modest
enterprise--"space enough for almost anything, to start with,"
Adams thought, as he walked through the low buildings, one day,
when he was prospecting in that section. "Yes, I suppose I COULD
swing this," he thought. "If the process belonged to me, say,
instead of being out of the question because it isn't my
property--or if I was the kind of man to do such a thing anyhow,
here would be something I could probably get hold of pretty
cheap. They'd want a lot of money for a lease on that big
building over the way--but this, why, I should think it'd be
practically nothing at all."

Then, by chance, meeting an agent he knew, he made
inquiries--merely to satisfy a casual curiosity, he thought--and
he found matters much as he had supposed, except that the owners
of the big building did not wish to let, but to sell it, and this
at a price so exorbitant that Adams laughed. But the long brick
shed in the great muddy lot was for sale or to let, or "pretty
near to be given away," he learned, if anybody would take it.

Adams took it now, though without seeing that he had been
destined to take it, and that some dreary wizard in the back of
his head had foreseen all along that he would take it, and
planned to be ready. He drove in his taxicab to look the place
over again, then down-town to arrange for a lease; and came home
to lunch with his wife and daughter. Things were "moving," he
told them.

He boasted a little of having acted so decisively, and said that
since the dang thing had to be done, it was "going to be done
RIGHT!" He was almost cheerful, in a feverish way, and when the
cab came for him again, soon after lunch, he explained that he
intended not only to get things done right, but also to "get 'em
done quick!" Alice, following him to the front door, looked at
him anxiously and asked if she couldn't help. He laughed at her
grimly.

"Then let me go along with you in the cab," she begged. "You
don't look able to start in so hard, papa, just when you're
barely beginning to get your strength back. Do let me go with
you and see if I can't help--or at least take care of you if you
should get to feeling badly."

He declined, but upon pressure let her put a tiny bottle of
spirits of ammonia in his pocket, and promised to make use of it
if he "felt faint or anything." Then he was off again; and the
next morning had men at work in his sheds, though the wages he
had to pay frightened him.

He directed the workmen in every detail, hurrying them by example
and exhortations, and receiving, in consequence, several
declarations of independence, as well as one resignation, which
took effect immediately. "Yous capitalusts seem to think a man's
got nothin' to do but break his back p'doosin' wealth fer yous to
squander," the resigning person loudly complained. "You look
out: the toiler's day is a-comin', and it ain't so fur off,
neither!" But the capitalist was already out of hearing, gone to
find a man to take this orator's place.

By the end of the week, Adams felt that he had moved
satisfactorily forward in his preparations for the simple
equipment he needed; but he hated the pause of Sunday. He didn't
WANT any rest, he told Alice impatiently, when she suggested that
the idle day might be good for him.

Late that afternoon he walked over to the apartment house where
old Charley Lohr lived, and gave his friend the letter he wanted
the head of Lamb and Company to receive "personally." "I'll take
it as a mighty great favour in you to hand it to him personally,
Charley," he said, in parting. "And you won't forget, in case he
says anything about it--and remember if you ever do get a chance
to put in a good word for me later, you know----"

Old Charley promised to remember, and, when Mrs. Lohr came out
of the "kitchenette," after the door closed, he said
thoughtfully, "Just skin and bones."

"You mean Mr. Adams is?" Mrs. Lohr inquired.

"Who'd you think I meant?" he returned. "One o' these partridges
in the wall-paper?"

"Did he look so badly?"

"Looked kind of distracted to me," her husband replied. "These
little thin fellers can stand a heap sometimes, though. He'll be
over here again Monday."

"Did he say he would?"

"No," said Lohr. "But he will. You'll see. He'll be over to
find out what the big boss says when I give him this letter.
Expect I'd be kind of anxious, myself, if I was him."

"Why would you? What's Mr. Adams doing to be so anxious about?"

Lohr's expression became one of reserve, the look of a man who
has found that when he speaks his inner thoughts his wife jumps
too far to conclusions. "Oh, nothing," he said. "Of course any
man starting up a new business is bound to be pretty nervous a
while. He'll be over here to-morrow evening, all right; you'll
see."

The prediction was fulfilled: Adams arrived just after Mrs. Lohr
had removed the dinner dishes to her "kitchenette"; but Lohr had
little information to give his caller.

"He didn't say a word, Virgil; nary a word. I took it into his
office and handed it to him, and he just sat and read it; that's
all. I kind of stood around as long as I could, but he was
sittin' at his desk with his side to me, and he never turned
around full toward me, as it were, so I couldn't hardly even tell
anything. All I know: he just read it."

"Well, but see here," Adams began, nervously. "Well----"

"Well what, Virg?"

"Well, but what did he say when he DID speak?"

"He didn't speak. Not so long I was in there, anyhow. He just
sat there and read it. Read kind of slow. Then, when he came to
the end, he turned back and started to read it all over again.
By that time there was three or four other men standin' around in
the office waitin' to speak to him, and I had to go."

Adams sighed, and stared at the floor, irresolute. "Well, I'll
be getting along back home then, I guess, Charley. So you're
sure you couldn't tell anything what he might have thought about
it, then?"

"Not a thing in the world. I've told you all I know, Virg."

"I guess so, I guess so," Adams said, mournfully. "I feel mighty
obliged to you, Charley Lohr; mighty obliged. Good-night to
you." And he departed, sighing in perplexity.

On his way home, preoccupied with many thoughts, he walked so
slowly that once or twice he stopped and stood motionless for a
few moments, without being aware of it; and when he reached the
juncture of the sidewalk with the short brick path that led to
his own front door, he stopped again, and stood for more than a
minute. "Ah, I wish I knew," he whispered, plaintively. "I do
wish I knew what he thought about it."

He was roused by a laugh that came lightly from the little
veranda near by. "Papa!" Alice called gaily. "What are you
standing there muttering to yourself about?"

"Oh, are you there, dearie?" he said, and came up the path. A
tall figure rose from a chair on the veranda.

"Papa, this is Mr. Russell."

The two men shook hands, Adams saying, "Pleased to make your
acquaintance," as they looked at each other in the faint light
diffused through the opaque glass in the upper part of the door.
Adams's impression was of a strong and tall young man,
fashionable but gentle; and Russell's was of a dried, little old
business man with a grizzled moustache, worried bright eyes,
shapeless dark clothes, and a homely manner.

"Nice evening," Adams said further, as their hands parted. "Nice
time o' year it is, but we don't always have as good weather as
this; that's the trouble of it. Well----" He went to the door.
"Well--I bid you good evening," he said, and retired within the
house.

Alice laughed. "He's the old-fashionedest man in town, I suppose
and frightfully impressed with you, I could see!"

"What nonsense!" said Russell. "How could anybody be impressed
with me?"

"Why not? Because you're quiet? Good gracious! Don't you know
that you're the most impressive sort? We chatterers spend all
our time playing to you quiet people."

"Yes; we're only the audience."

"'Only!'" she echoed. "Why, we live for you, and we can't live
without you."

"I wish you couldn't," said Russell. "That would be a new
experience for both of us, wouldn't it?"

"It might be a rather bleak one for me," she answered, lightly.
"I'm afraid I'll miss these summer evenings with you when they're
over. I'll miss them enough, thanks!"

"Do they have to be over some time?" he asked.

"Oh, everything's over some time, isn't it?"

Russell laughed at her. "Don't let's look so far ahead as that,"
he said. "We don't need to be already thinking of the cemetery,
do we?"

"I didn't," she said, shaking her head. "Our summer evenings
will be over before then, Mr. Russell."

"Why?" he asked.

"Good heavens!" she said. "THERE'S laconic eloquence: almost a
proposal in a single word! Never mind, I shan't hold you to it.
But to answer you: well, I'm always looking ahead, and somehow I
usually see about how things are coming out."

"Yes," he said. "I suppose most of us do; at least it seems as
if we did, because we so seldom feel surprised by the way they do
come out. But maybe that's only because life isn't like a play
in a theatre, and most things come about so gradually we get used
to them."

"No, I'm sure I can see quite a long way ahead," she insisted,
gravely. "And it doesn't seem to me as if our summer evenings
could last very long. Something'll interfere--somebody will, I
mean--they'll SAY something----"

"What if they do?"

She moved her shoulders in a little apprehensive shiver. "It'll
change you," she said. "I'm just sure something spiteful's going
to happen to me. You'll feel differently about--things."

"Now, isn't that an idea!" he exclaimed.

"It will," she insisted. "I know something spiteful's going to
happen!"

"You seem possessed by a notion not a bit flattering to me," he
remarked.

"Oh, but isn't it? That's just what it is! Why isn't it?"

"Because it implies that I'm made of such soft material the
slightest breeze will mess me all up. I'm not so like that as I
evidently appear; and if it's true that we're afraid other people
will do the things we'd be most likely to do ourselves, it seems
to me that I ought to be the one to be afraid. I ought to be
afraid that somebody may say something about me to you that will
make you believe I'm a professional forger."

"No. We both know they won't," she said. "We both know you're
the sort of person everybody in the world says nice things
about." She lifted her hand to silence him as he laughed at
this. "Oh, of course you are! I think perhaps you're a little
flirtatious--most quiet men have that one sly way with 'em--oh,
yes, they do! But you happen to be the kind of man everybody
loves to praise. And if you weren't, _I_ shouldn't hear anything
terrible about you. I told you I was unpopular: I don't see
anybody at all any more. The only man except you who's been to
see me in a month is that fearful little fat Frank Dowling, and I
sent word to HIM I wasn't home. Nobody'd tell me of your
wickedness, you see."

"Then let me break some news to you," Russell said. "Nobody
would tell me of yours, either. Nobody's even mentioned you to
me."

She burlesqued a cry of anguish. "That IS obscurity! I suppose
I'm too apt to forget that they say the population's about half a
million nowadays. There ARE other people to talk about, you
feel, then?"

"None that I want to," he said. "But I should think the size of
the place might relieve your mind of what seems to insist on
burdening it. Besides, I'd rather you thought me a better man
than you do."

"What kind of a man do I think you are?"

"The kind affected by what's said about people instead of by what
they do themselves."

"Aren't you?"

"No, I'm not," he said. "If you want our summer evenings to be
over you'll have to drive me away yourself."

"Nobody else could?"

"No."

She was silent, leaning forward, with her elbows on her knees and
her clasped hands against her lips. Then, not moving, she said
softly:

"Well--I won't!"

She was silent again, and he said nothing, but looked at her,
seeming to be content with looking. Her attitude was one only a
graceful person should assume, but she was graceful; and, in the
wan light, which made a prettily shaped mist of her, she had
beauty. Perhaps it was beauty of the hour, and of the love scene
almost made into form by what they had both just said, but she
had it; and though beauty of the hour passes, he who sees it will
long remember it and the hour when it came.

"What are you thinking of?" he asked.

She leaned back in her chair and did not answer at once. Then
she said:

"I don't know; I doubt if I was thinking of anything. It seems
to me I wasn't. I think I was just being sort of sadly happy
just then."

"Were you? Was it 'sadly,' too?"

"Don't you know?" she said. "It seems to me that only little
children can be just happily happy. I think when we get older
our happiest moments are like the one I had just then: it's as if
we heard strains of minor music running through them--oh, so
sweet, but oh, so sad!"

"But what makes it sad for YOU?"

"I don't know," she said, in a lighter tone. "Perhaps it's a
kind of useless foreboding I seem to have pretty often. It may
be that--or it may be poor papa."

"You ARE a funny, delightful girl, though!" Russell laughed.
"When your father's so well again that he goes out walking in the
evenings!"

"He does too much walking," Alice said. "Too much altogether,
over at his new plant. But there isn't any stopping him." She
laughed and shook her head. "When a man gets an ambition to be a
multi-millionaire his family don't appear to have much weight
with him. He'll walk all he wants to, in spite of them."

"I suppose so," Russell said, absently; then he leaned forward.
"I wish I could understand better why you were 'sadly' happy."

Meanwhile, as Alice shed what further light she could on this
point, the man ambitious to be a "multi-millionaire" was indeed
walking too much for his own good. He had gone to bed, hoping to
sleep well and rise early for a long day's work, but he could not
rest, and now, in his nightgown and slippers, he was pacing the
floor of his room.

"I wish I DID know," he thought, over and over. "I DO wish I
knew how he feels about it."

CHAPTER XVIII

That was a thought almost continuously in his mind, even when he
was hardest at work; and, as the days went on and he could not
free himself, he became querulous about it. "I guess I'm the
biggest dang fool alive," he told his wife as they sat together
one evening. "I got plenty else to bother me, without worrying
my head off about what HE thinks. I can't help what he thinks;
it's too late for that. So why should I keep pestering myself
about it?"

"It'll wear off, Virgil," Mrs. Adams said, reassuringly. She
was gentle and sympathetic with him, and for the first time in
many years he would come to sit with her and talk, when he had
finished his day's work. He had told her, evading her eye, "Oh,
I don't blame you. You didn't get after me to do this on your
own account; you couldn't help it."

"Yes; but it don't wear off," he complained. "This afternoon I
was showing the men how I wanted my vats to go, and I caught my
fool self standing there saying to my fool self, 'It's funny I
don't hear how he feels about it from SOMEbody.' I was saying it
aloud, almost--and it IS funny I don't hear anything!"

"Well, you see what it means, don't you, Virgil? It only means
he hasn't said anything to anybody about it. Don't you think
you're getting kind of morbid over it?"

"Maybe, maybe," he muttered.

"Why, yes," she said, briskly. "You don't realize what a little
bit of a thing all this is to him. It's been a long, long while
since the last time you even mentioned glue to him, and he's
probably forgotten everything about it."

"You're off your base; it isn't like him to forget things," Adams
returned, peevishly. "He may seem to forget 'em, but he don't."

"But he's not thinking about this, or you'd have heard from him
before now."

Her husband shook his head. "Ah, that's just it!" he said. "Why
HAVEN'T I heard from him?"

"It's all your morbidness, Virgil. Look at Walter: if Mr. Lamb
held this up against you, would he still let Walter stay there?
Wouldn't he have discharged Walter if he felt angry with you?"

"That dang boy!" Adams said. "If he WANTED to come with me now,
I wouldn't hardly let him, What do you suppose makes him so
bull-headed?"

"But hasn't he a right to choose for himself?" she asked. "I
suppose he feels he ought to stick to what he thinks is sure pay.
As soon as he sees that you're going to succeed with the
glue-works he'll want to be with you quick enough."

"Well, he better get a little sense in his head," Adams returned,
crossly. "He wanted me to pay him a three-hundred-dollar bonus
in advance, when anybody with a grain of common sense knows I
need every penny I can lay my hands on!"

"Never mind," she said. "He'll come around later and be glad of
the chance."

"He'll have to beg for it then! _I_ won't ask him again."

"Oh, Walter will come out all right; you needn't worry. And
don't you see that Mr. Lamb's not discharging him means there's
no hard feeling against you, Virgil?"

"I can't make it out at all," he said, frowning. "The only thing
I can THINK it means is that J. A. Lamb is so fair-minded--and
of course he IS one of the fair-mindedest men alive I suppose
that's the reason he hasn't fired Walter. He may know," Adams
concluded, morosely--"he may know that's just another thing to
make me feel all the meaner: keeping my boy there on a salary
after I've done him an injury."

"Now, now!" she said, trying to comfort him. "You couldn't do
anybody an injury to save your life, and everybody knows it."

"Well, anybody ought to know I wouldn't WANT to do an injury, but
this world isn't built so't we can do just what we want." He
paused, reflecting. "Of course there may be one explanation of
why Walter's still there: J. A. maybe hasn't noticed that he IS
there. There's so many I expect he hardly knows him by sight."

"Well, just do quit thinking about it," she urged him. "It only
bothers you without doing any good. Don't you know that?"

"Don't I, though!" he laughed, feebly. "I know it better'n
anybody! How funny that is: when you know thinking about a thing
only pesters you without helping anything at all, and yet you
keep right on pestering yourself with it!"

"But WHY?" she said. "What's the use when you know you haven't
done anything wrong, Virgil? You said yourself you were going to
improve the process so much it would be different from the old
one, and you'd REALLY have a right to it."

Adams had persuaded himself of this when he yielded; he had found
it necessary to persuade himself of it--though there was a part
of him, of course, that remained unpersuaded; and this
discomfiting part of him was what made his present trouble.
"Yes, I know," he said. "That's true, but I can't quite seem to
get away from the fact that the principle of the process is a
good deal the same--well, it's more'n that; it's just about the
same as the one he hired Campbell and me to work out for him.
Truth is, nobody could tell the difference, and I don't know as
there IS any difference except in these improvements I'm making.
Of course, the improvements do give me pretty near a perfect
right to it, as a person might say; and that's one of the things
I thought of putting in my letter to him; but I was afraid he'd
just think I was trying to make up excuses, so I left it out. I
kind of worried all the time I was writing that letter, because
if he thought I WAS just making up excuses, why, it might set him
just so much more against me."

Ever since Mrs. Adams had found that she was to have her way,
the depths of her eyes had been troubled by a continuous
uneasiness; and, although she knew it was there, and sometimes
veiled it by keeping the revealing eyes averted from her husband
and children, she could not always cover it under that assumption
of absent-mindedness. The uneasy look became vivid, and her
voice was slightly tremulous now, as she said, "But what if he
SHOULD be against you--although I don't believe he is, of
course--you told me he couldn't DO anything to you, Virgil."

"No," he said, slowly. "I can't see how he could do anything.
It was just a secret, not a patent; the thing ain't patentable.
I've tried to think what he could do--supposing he was to want
to--but I can't figure out anything at all that would be any harm
to me. There isn't any way in the world it could be made a
question of law. Only thing he could do'd be to TELL people his
side of it, and set 'em against me. I been kind of waiting for
that to happen, all along."

She looked somewhat relieved. "So did I expect it," she said.
"I was dreading it most on Alice's account: it might have--well,
young men are so easily influenced and all. But so far as the
business is concerned, what if Mr. Lamb did talk? That wouldn't
amount to much. It wouldn't affect the business; not to hurt.
And, besides, he isn't even doing that."

"No; anyhow not yet, it seems." And Adams sighed again,
wistfully. "But I WOULD give a good deal to know what he
thinks!"

Before his surrender he had always supposed that if he did such
an unthinkable thing as to seize upon the glue process for
himself, what he would feel must be an overpowering shame. But
shame is the rarest thing in the world: what he felt was this
unremittent curiosity about his old employer's thoughts. It was
an obsession, yet he did not want to hear what Lamb "thought"
from Lamb himself, for Adams had a second obsession, and this was
his dread of meeting the old man face to face. Such an encounter
could happen only by chance and unexpectedly; since Adams would
have avoided any deliberate meeting, so long as his legs had
strength to carry him, even if Lamb came to the house to see him.

But people do meet unexpectedly; and when Adams had to be
down-town he kept away from the "wholesale district." One day he
did see Lamb, as the latter went by in his car, impassive, going
home to lunch; and Adams, in the crowd at a corner, knew that the
old man had not seen him. Nevertheless, in a street car, on the
way back to his sheds, an hour later, he was still subject to
little shivering seizures of horror.

He worked unceasingly, seeming to keep at it even in his sleep,
for he always woke in the midst of a planning and estimating that
must have been going on in his mind before consciousness of
himself returned. Moreover, the work, thus urged, went rapidly,
in spite of the high wages he had to pay his labourers for their
short hours. "It eats money," he complained, and, in fact, by
the time his vats and boilers were in place it had eaten almost
all he could supply; but in addition to his equipment he now
owned a stock of "raw material," raw indeed; and when operations
should be a little further along he was confident his banker
would be willing to "carry" him.

Six weeks from the day he had obtained his lease he began his
glue-making. The terrible smells came out of the sheds and went
writhing like snakes all through that quarter of the town. A
smiling man, strolling and breathing the air with satisfaction,
would turn a corner and smile no more, but hurry. However,
coloured people had almost all the dwellings of this old section
to themselves; and although even they were troubled, there was
recompense for them. Being philosophic about what appeared to
them as in the order of nature, they sought neither escape nor
redress, and soon learned to bear what the wind brought them.
They even made use of it to enrich those figures of speech with
which the native impulses of coloured people decorate their
communications: they flavoured metaphor, simile, and invective
with it; and thus may be said to have enjoyed it. But the man
who produced it took a hot bath as soon as he reached his home
the evening of that first day when his manufacturing began. Then
he put on fresh clothes; but after dinner he seemed to be
haunted, and asked his wife if she "noticed anything."

She laughed and inquired what he meant.

"Seems to me as if that glue-works smell hadn't quit hanging to
me," he explained. "Don't you notice it?"

"No! What an idea!"

He laughed, too, but uneasily; and told her he was sure "the dang
glue smell" was somehow sticking to him. Later, he went outdoors
and walked up and down the small yard in the dusk; but now and
then he stood still, with his head lifted, and sniffed the air
suspiciously. "Can YOU smell it?" he called to Alice, who sat
upon the veranda, prettily dressed and waiting in a reverie.

"Smell what, papa?"

"That dang glue-works."

She did the same thing her mother had done: laughed, and said,
"No! How foolish! Why, papa, it's over two miles from here!"

"You don't get it at all?" he insisted.

"The idea! The air is lovely to-night, papa."

The air did not seem lovely to him, for he was positive that he
detected the taint. He wondered how far it carried, and if J.
A. Lamb would smell it, too, out on his own lawn a mile to the
north; and if he did, would he guess what it was? Then Adams
laughed at himself for such nonsense; but could not rid his
nostrils of their disgust. To him the whole town seemed to smell
of his glue-works.

Nevertheless, the glue was making, and his sheds were busy.
"Guess we're stirrin' up this ole neighbourhood with more than
the smell," his foreman remarked one morning.

"How's that?" Adams inquired.

"That great big, enormous ole dead butterine factory across the
street from our lot," the man said. "Nothin' like settin' an
example to bring real estate to life. That place is full o'
carpenters startin' in to make a regular buildin' of it again.
Guess you ought to have the credit of it, because you was the
first man in ten years to see any possibilities in this
neighbourhood."

Adams was pleased, and, going out to see for himself, heard a
great hammering and sawing from within the building; while
carpenters were just emerging gingerly upon the dangerous roof.
He walked out over the dried mud of his deep lot, crossed the
street, and spoke genially to a workman who was removing the
broken glass of a window on the ground floor.

"Here! What's all this howdy-do over here?"

"Goin' to fix her all up, I guess," the workman said. "Big job
it is, too."

"Sh' think it would be."

"Yes, sir; a pretty big job--a pretty big job. Got men at it on
all four floors and on the roof. They're doin' it RIGHT."

"Who's doing it?"

"Lord! I d' know. Some o' these here big manufacturing
corporations, I guess."

"What's it going to be?"

"They tell ME," the workman answered--"they tell ME she's goin'
to be a butterine factory again. Anyways, I hope she won't be
anything to smell like that glue-works you got over there not
while I'm workin' around her, anyways!"

"That smell's all right," Adams said. "You soon get used to it."

"You do?" The man appeared incredulous. "Listen! I was over in
France: it's a good thing them Dutchmen never thought of it; we'd
of had to quit!"

Adams laughed, and went back to his sheds. "I guess my foreman
was right," he told his wife, that evening, with a little
satisfaction. "As soon as one man shows enterprise enough to
found an industry in a broken-down neighbourhood, somebody else
is sure to follow. I kind of like the look of it: it'll help
make our place seem sort of more busy and prosperous when it
comes to getting a loan from the bank--and I got to get one
mighty soon, too. I did think some that if things go as well as
there's every reason to think they OUGHT to, I might want to
spread out and maybe get hold of that old factory myself; but I
hardly expected to be able to handle a proposition of that size
before two or three years from now, and anyhow there's room
enough on the lot I got, if we need more buildings some day.
Things are going about as fine as I could ask: I hired some girls
to-day to do the bottling--coloured girls along about sixteen to
twenty years old. Afterwhile, I expect to get a machine to put
the stuff in the little bottles, when we begin to get good
returns; but half a dozen of these coloured girls can do it all
right now, by hand. We're getting to have really quite a little
plant over there: yes, sir, quite a regular little plant!"

He chuckled, and at this cheerful sound, of a kind his wife had
almost forgotten he was capable of producing, she ventured to put
her hand upon his arm. They had gone outdoors, after dinner,
taking two chairs with them, and were sitting through the late
twilight together, keeping well away from the "front porch,"
which was not yet occupied, however Alice was in her room
changing her dress.

"Well, honey," Mrs. Adams said, taking confidence not only to
put her hand upon his arm, but to revive this disused
endearment;--"it's grand to have you so optimistic. Maybe some
time you'll admit I was right, after all. Everything's going so
well, it seems a pity you didn't take this--this step--long ago.
Don't you think maybe so, Virgil?"

"Well--if I was ever going to, I don't know but I might as well
of. I got to admit the proposition begins to look pretty good: I
know the stuff'll sell, and I can't see a thing in the world to
stop it. It does look good, and if--if----" He paused.

"If what?" she said, suddenly anxious.

He laughed plaintively, as if confessing a superstition. "It's
funny--well, it's mighty funny about that smell. I've got so
used to it at the plant I never seem to notice it at all over
there. It's only when I get away. Honestly, can't you
notice----?"

"Virgil!" She lifted her hand to strike his arm chidingly. "Do
quit harping on that nonsense!"

"Oh, of course it don't amount to anything," he said. "A person
can stand a good deal of just smell. It don't WORRY me any."

"I should think not especially as there isn't any."

"Well," he said, "I feel pretty fair over the whole thing--a lot
better'n I ever expected to, anyhow. I don't know as there's any
reason I shouldn't tell you so."

She was deeply pleased with this acknowledgment, and her voice
had tenderness in it as she responded: "There, honey! Didn't I
always say you'd be glad if you did it?"

Embarrassed, he coughed loudly, then filled his pipe and lit it.
"Well," he said, slowly, "it's a puzzle. Yes, sir, it's a
puzzle."

"What is?"

"Pretty much everything, I guess."

As he spoke, a song came to them from a lighted window over their
heads. Then the window darkened abruptly, but the song continued
as Alice went down through the house to wait on the little
veranda. "Mi chiamo Mimi," she sang, and in her voice throbbed
something almost startling in its sweetness. Her father and
mother listened, not speaking until the song stopped with the
click of the wire screen at the front door as Alice came out.

"My!" said her father. "How sweet she does sing! I don't know
as I ever heard her voice sound nicer than it did just then."

"There's something that makes it sound that way," his wife told
him.

"I suppose so," he said, sighing. "I suppose so. You think----"

"She's just terribly in love with him!"

"I expect that's the way it ought to be," he said, then drew upon
his pipe for reflection, and became murmurous with the symptoms
of melancholy laughter. "It don't make things less of a puzzle,
though, does it?"

"In what way, Virgil?"

"Why, here," he said--"here we go through all this muck and moil
to help fix things nicer for her at home, and what's it all
amount to? Seems like she's just gone ahead the way she'd 'a'
gone anyhow; and now, I suppose, getting ready to up and leave
us! Ain't that a puzzle to you? It is to me."

"Oh, but things haven't gone that far yet."

"Why, you just said----"

She gave a little cry of protest. "Oh, they aren't ENGAGED yet.
Of course they WILL be; he's just as much interested in her as
she is in him, but----"

"Well, what's the trouble then?"

"You ARE a simple old fellow!" his wife exclaimed, and then rose
from her chair. "That reminds me," she said.

"What of?" he asked. "What's my being simple remind you of?"

"Nothing!" she laughed. "It wasn't you that reminded me. It was
just something that's been on my mind. I don't believe he's
actually ever been inside our house!"

"Hasn't he?"

"I actually don't believe he ever has," she said. "Of course we
must----" She paused, debating.

"We must what?"

"I guess I better talk to Alice about it right now," she said.
"He don't usually come for about half an hour yet; I guess I've
got time." And with that she walked away, leaving him to his
puzzles.

CHAPTER XIX

Alice was softly crooning to herself as her mother turned the
corner of the house and approached through the dusk.

"Isn't it the most BEAUTIFUL evening!" the daughter said. "WHY
can't summer last all year? Did you ever know a lovelier
twilight than this, mama?"

Mrs. Adams laughed, and answered, "Not since I was your age, I
expect."

Alice was wistful at once. "Don't they stay beautiful after my
age?"

"Well, it's not the same thing."

"Isn't it? Not ever?"

"You may have a different kind from mine," the mother said, a
little sadly. "I think you will, Alice. You deserve----"

"No, I don't. I don't deserve anything, and I know it. But I'm
getting a great deal these days--more than I ever dreamed COULD
come to me. I'm-- I'm pretty happy, mama!"

"Dearie!" Her mother would have kissed her, but Alice drew away.

"Oh, I don't mean----" She laughed nervously. "I wasn't meaning
to tell you I'm ENGAGED, mama. We're not. I mean--oh! things
seem pretty beautiful in spite of all I've done to spoil 'em."

"You?" Mrs. Adams cried, incredulously. "What have you done to
spoil anything?"

"Little things," Alice said. "A thousand little silly--oh,
what's the use? He's so honestly what he is--just simple and
good and intelligent--I feel a tricky mess beside him! I don't
see why he likes me; and sometimes I'm afraid he wouldn't if he
knew me."

"He'd just worship you," said the fond mother. "And the more he
knew you, the more he'd worship you."

Alice shook her head. "He's not the worshiping kind. Not like
that at all. He's more----"

But Mrs. Adams was not interested in this analysis, and she
interrupted briskly, "Of course it's time your father and I
showed some interest in him. I was just saying I actually don't
believe he's ever been inside the house."

"No," Alice said, musingly; "that's true: I don't believe he has.
Except when we've walked in the evening we've always sat out
here, even those two times when it was drizzly. It's so much
nicer."

"We'll have to do SOMETHING or other, of course," her mother
said.

"What like?"

"I was thinking----" Mrs. Adams paused. "Well, of course we
could hardly put off asking him to dinner, or something, much
longer."

Alice was not enthusiastic; so far from it, indeed, that there
was a melancholy alarm in her voice. "Oh, mama, must we? Do you
think so?"

"Yes, I do. I really do."

"Couldn't we--well, couldn't we wait?"

"It looks queer," Mrs. Adams said. "It isn't the thing at all
for a young man to come as much as he does, and never more than
just barely meet your father and mother. No. We ought to do
something."

"But a dinner!" Alice objected. "In the first place, there isn't
anybody I want to ask. There isn't anybody I WOULD ask."

"I didn't mean trying to give a big dinner," her mother
explained. "I just mean having him to dinner. That mulatto
woman, Malena Burns, goes out by the day, and she could bring a
waitress. We can get some flowers for the table and some to put
in the living-room. We might just as well go ahead and do it
to-morrow as any other time; because your father's in a fine
mood, and I saw Malena this afternoon and told her I might want
her soon. She said she didn't have any engagements this week,
and I can let her know to-night. Suppose when he comes you ask
him for to-morrow, Alice. Everything'll be very nice, I'm sure.
Don't worry about it."

"Well--but----" Alice was uncertain.

"But don't you see, it looks so queer, not to do SOMETHING?" her
mother urged. "It looks so kind of poverty-stricken. We really
oughtn't to wait any longer."

Alice assented, though not with a good heart. "Very well, I'll
ask him, if you think we've got to."

"That matter's settled then," Mrs. Adams said. "I'll go
telephone Malena, and then I'll tell your father about it."

But when she went back to her husband, she found him in an
excited state of mind, and Walter standing before him in the
darkness. Adams was almost shouting, so great was his vehemence.

"Hush, hush!" his wife implored, as she came near them. "They'll
hear you out on the front porch!"

"I don't care who hears me," Adams said, harshly, though he
tempered his loudness. "Do you want to know what this boy's
asking me for? I thought he'd maybe come to tell me he'd got a
little sense in his head at last, and a little decency about
what's due his family! I thought he was going to ask me to take
him into my plant. No, ma'am; THAT'S not what he wants!"

"No, it isn't," Walter said. In the darkness his face could not
be seen; he stood motionless, in what seemed an apathetic
attitude; and he spoke quietly, "No," he repeated. "That isn't
what I want."

"You stay down at that place," Adams went on, hotly, "instead of
trying to be a little use to your family; and the only reason
you're ALLOWED to stay there is because Mr. Lamb's never
happened to notice you ARE still there! You just wait----"

"You're off," Walter said, in the same quiet way. "He knows I'm
there. He spoke to me yesterday: he asked me how I was getting
along with my work."

"He did?" Adams said, seeming not to believe him.

"Yes. He did."

"What else did he say, Walter?" Mrs. Adams asked quickly.

"Nothin'. Just walked on."

"I don't believe he knew who you were," Adams declared.

"Think not? He called me 'Walter Adams.'"

At this Adams was silent; and Walter, after waiting a moment,
said:

"Well, are you going to do anything about me? About what I told
you I got to have?"

"What is it, Walter?" his mother asked, since Adams did not
speak.

Walter cleared his throat, and replied in a tone as quiet as that
he had used before, though with a slight huskiness, "I got to
have three hundred and fifty dollars. You better get him to give
it to me if you can."

Adams found his voice. "Yes," he said, bitterly. "That's all he
asks! He won't do anything I ask HIM to, and in return he asks
me for three hundred and fifty dollars! That's all!"

"What in the world!" Mrs. Adams exclaimed. "What FOR, Walter?"

"I got to have it," Walter said.

"But what FOR?"

His quiet huskiness did not alter. "I got to have it."

"But can't you tell us----"

"I got to have it."

"That's all you can get out of him," Adams said. "He seems to
think it'll bring him in three hundred and fifty dollars!"

A faint tremulousness became evident in the husky voice.
"Haven't you got it?"

"NO, I haven't got it!" his father answered. "And I've got to go
to a bank for more than my pay-roll next week. Do you think I'm
a mint?"

"I don't understand what you mean, Walter," Mrs. Adams
interposed, perplexed and distressed. "If your father had the
money, of course he'd need every cent of it, especially just now,
and, anyhow, you could scarcely expect him to give it to you,
unless you told us what you want with it. But he hasn't got it."

"All right," Walter said; and after standing a moment more, in
silence, he added, impersonally, "I don't see as you ever did
anything much for me, anyhow either of you."

Then, as if this were his valedictory, he turned his back upon
them, walked away quickly, and was at once lost to their sight in
the darkness.

"There's a fine boy to've had the trouble of raising!" Adams
grumbled. "Just crazy, that's all."

"What in the world do you suppose he wants all that money for?"
his wife said, wonderingly. "I can't imagine what he could DO
with it. I wonder----" She paused. "I wonder if he----"

"If he what?" Adams prompted her irritably.

"If he COULD have bad--associates."

"God knows!" said Adams. "_I_ don't! It just looks to me like
he had something in him I don't understand. You can't keep your
eye on a boy all the time in a city this size, not a boy Walter's
age. You got a girl pretty much in the house, but a boy'll
follow his nature. _I_ don't know what to do with him!"

Mrs. Adams brightened a little. "He'll come out all right," she
said. "I'm sure he will. I'm sure he'd never be anything really
bad: and he'll come around all right about the glue-works, too;
you'll see. Of course every young man wants money--it doesn't
prove he's doing anything wrong just because he asks you for it."

"No. All it proves to me is that he hasn't got good sense asking
me for three hundred and fifty dollars, when he knows as well as
you do the position I'm in! If I wanted to, I couldn't hardly
let him have three hundred and fifty cents, let alone dollars!"

"I'm afraid you'll have to let ME have that much--and maybe a
little more," she ventured, timidly; and she told him of her
plans for the morrow. He objected vehemently.

"Oh, but Alice has probably asked him by this time," Mrs. Adams
said. "It really must be done, Virgil: you don't want him to
think she's ashamed of us, do you?"

"Well, go ahead, but just let me stay away," he begged. "Of
course I expect to undergo a kind of talk with him, when he gets
ready to say something to us about Alice, but I do hate to have
to sit through a fashionable dinner."

"Why, it isn't going to bother you," she said; "just one young

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