Part 1 out of 9
This etext was prepared by one of our anonmous volunteers.
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Natalie Spencer was giving a dinner. She was not an easy hostess.
Like most women of futile lives she lacked a sense of proportion,
and the small and unimportant details of the service absorbed her.
Such conversation as she threw at random, to right and left, was
trivial and distracted.
Yet the dinner was an unimportant one. It had been given with an
eye more to the menu than to the guest list, which was characteristic
of Natalie's mental processes. It was also characteristic that when
the final course had been served without mishap, and she gave a sigh
of relief before the gesture of withdrawal which was a signal to the
other women, that she had realized no lack in it. The food had been
good, the service satisfactory. She stood up, slim and beautifully
dressed, and gathered up the women with a smile.
The movement found Doctor Haverford, at her left, unprepared and
with his coffee cup in his hand. He put it down hastily and rose,
and the small cup overturned in its saucer, sending a smudge of
brown into the cloth.
"Dreadfully awkward of me!" he said. The clergyman's smile of
apology was boyish, but he was suddenly aware that his hostess was
annoyed. He caught his wife's amiable eyes on him, too, and they
said quite plainly that one might spill coffee at home - one quite
frequently did, to confess a good man's weakness - but one did not
do it at Natalie Spencer's table. The rector's smile died into a
For the first time since dinner began Natalie Spencer had a clear
view of her husband's face. Not that that had mattered particularly,
but the flowers had been too high. For a small dinner, low flowers,
always. She would speak to the florist. But, having glanced at
Clayton, standing tall and handsome at the head of the table, she
looked again. His eyes were fixed on her with a curious intentness.
He seemed to be surveying her, from the top of her burnished hair to
the very gown she wore. His gaze made her vaguely uncomfortable.
It was unsmiling, appraising, almost - only that was incredible in
Clay - almost hostile.
Through the open door the half dozen women trailed out, Natalie in
white, softly rustling as she moved, Mrs. Haverford in black velvet,
a trifle tight over her ample figure, Marion Hayden, in a very brief
garment she would have called a frock, perennial debutante that she
was, rather negligible Mrs. Terry Mackenzie, and trailing behind the
others, frankly loath to leave the men, Audrey Valentine. Clayton
Spencer's eyes rested on Audrey with a smile of amused toleration,
on her outrageously low green gown, that was somehow casually
elegant, on her long green ear-rings and jade chain, on the cigaret
between her slim fingers.
Audrey's audacity always amused him. In the doorway she turned and
nonchalantly surveyed the room.
"For heaven's sake, hurry!" she apostrophized the table. "We are
going to knit - I feel it. And don't give Chris anything more to
drink, Clay. He's had enough."
She went on, a slim green figure, moving slowly and reluctantly
toward the drawing-room, her head held high, a little smile still
on her lips. But, alone for a moment, away from curious eyes, her
expression changed, her smile faded, her lovely, irregular face took
on a curious intensity. What a devilish evening! Chris drinking
too much, talking wildly, and always with furtive eyes on her.
Chris! Oh, well, that was life, she supposed.
She stopped before a long mirror and gave a bit of careless
attention to her hair. With more care she tinted her lips again
with a cosmetic stick from the tiny, diamond-studded bag she carried.
Then she turned and surveyed the hall and the library beyond. A new
portrait of Natalie was there, hanging on the wall under a shaded
light, and she wandered in, still with her cigaret, and surveyed it.
Natalie had everything. The portrait showed it. It was beautiful,
Mrs. Valentine's eyes narrowed slightly. She stood there, thinking
about Natalie. She had not everything, after all. There was
something she lacked. Charm, perhaps. She was a cold woman. But,
then, Clay was cold, too. He was even a bit hard. Men said that;
hard and ambitious, although he was popular. Men liked strong men.
It was only the weak they deplored and loved. Poor Chris!
She lounged into the drawing-room, smiling her slow, cool smile.
In the big, uncarpeted alcove, where stood Natalie's great painted
piano, Marion Hayden was playing softly, carefully posed for the
entrance of the men. Natalie was sitting with her hands folded, in
the exact center of a peacock-blue divan. The others were knitting.
"Very pretty effect, Toots!" Audrey called. And Miss Hayden gave
her the unashamed smile of one woman of the world to another.
Audrey had a malicious impulse. She sat down beside Natalie, and
against the blue divan her green gown shrieked a discord. She was
vastly amused when Natalie found an excuse and moved away, to
dispose herself carefully in a tall, old-gold chair, which framed
her like a picture.
"We were talking of men, my dear," said Mrs. Haverford, placidly
"Of course," said Audrey, flippantly.
"Of what it is that they want more than anything else in the world."
"Children-sons," put in Mrs. Mackenzie. She was a robust, big
woman with kindly eyes, and she was childless.
"Women!" called Toots Hayden. She was still posed, but she had
stopped playing. Mrs. Haverford's eyes rested on her a moment,
"What do you say, Natalie?" Audrey asked.
"I hadn't thought about it. Money, probably."
"You are all wrong," said Audrey, and lighted a fresh cigaret.
"They want different things at different ages. That's why marriage
is such a rotten failure. First they want women; any woman will do,
really. So they marry - any woman. Then they want money. After
that they want power and place. And when they've got that they
begin to want - love."
"Good gracious, Audrey, what a cynical speech!" said Mrs. Mackenzie.
"If they've been married all that time - "
"Oh, tut!" said Audrey, rudely.
She had the impulse of the unhappy woman to hurt, but she was rather
ashamed of herself, too. These women were her friends. Let them go
on believing that life was a thing of lasting loves, that men were
true to the end, and that the relationships of life were fixed and
"I'm sorry," she said. "I was just being clever! Let's talk about
the war. It's the only thing worth talking about, anyhow."
In the dining-room Clayton Spencer, standing tall and erect, had
watched the women go out. How typical the party was of Natalie, of
her meticulous care in small things and her indifference or real
ignorance as to what counted. Was it indifference, really, or was
it supreme craftiness, the stupidity of her dinners, the general
unattractiveness of the women she gathered around her, the
ill-assortment of people who had little in themselves and nothing
whatever in common?
Of all the party, only Audrey and the rector had interested him
even remotely. Audrey amused him. Audrey was a curious mixture
of intelligence and frivolity. She was a good fellow. Sometimes
he thought she was a nice woman posing as not quite nice. He
didn't know. He was not particularly analytical, but at least she
had been one bit of cheer during the endless succession of courses.
The rector was the other, and he was relieved to find Doctor
Haverford moving up to the vacant place at his right.
"I've been wanting to see you, Clay," he said in an undertone.
"It's rather stupid to ask you how you found things over there.
But I'm going to do it."
"You mean the war?"
"There's nothing else in the world, is there?"
"One wouldn't have thought so from the conversation here to-night."
Clayton Spencer glanced about the table. Rodney Page, the
architect, was telling a story clearly not for the ears of the
clergy, and his own son, Graham, forced in at the last moment to
fill a vacancy, was sitting alone, bored and rather sulky, and
sipping his third cognac.
"If you want my opinion, things are bad."
"For the Allies? Or for us?"
"Good heavens, man, it's the same thing. It is only the Allies who
are standing between us and trouble now. The French are just
holding their own. The British are fighting hard, but they're
fighting at home too. We can't sit by for long. We're bound to
The rector lighted an excellent cigar.
"Even if we are," he said, hopefully, "I understand our part of it
will be purely naval. And I believe our navy will give an excellent
account of itself."
"Probably," Clay retorted. "If it had anything to fight! But with
the German fleet bottled up, and the inadvisability of attempting
to bombard Berlin from the sea - "
The rector made no immediate reply, and Clayton seemed to expect
none. He sat back, tapping the table with long, nervous fingers,
and his eyes wandered from the table around the room. He surveyed
it all with much the look he had given Natalie, a few moments before,
searching, appraising, vaguely hostile. Yet it was a lovely room,
simple and stately. Rodney Page, who was by way of being decorator
for the few, as he was architect for the many, had done the room,
with its plainly paneled walls, the over-mantel with an old painting
inset, its lion chairs, its two console tables with each its pair of
porcelain jars. Clayton liked the dignity of the room, but there
were times when he and Natalie sat at the great table alone, with
only the candles for light and the rest of the room in a darkness
from which the butler emerged at stated intervals and retreated
again, when he felt the oppression of it. For a dinner party, with
the brilliant colors of the women's gowns, it was ideal. For
Natalie and himself alone, with the long silences between them that
seemed to grow longer as the years went on, it was inexpressibly
He was frequently aware that both Natalie and himself were talking
for the butler's benefit.
From the room his eyes traveled to Graham, sitting alone,
uninterested, dull and somewhat flushed. And on Graham, too, he
fixed that clear appraising gaze that had vaguely disconcerted
Natalie. The boy had had too much to drink, and unlike the group
across the table, it had made him sullen and quiet. He sat there,
staring moodily at the cloth and turning his glass around in
fingers that trembled somewhat.
Then he found himself involved in the conversation.
"London as dark as they say?" inquired Christopher Valentine. He
was a thin young man, with a small, affectedly curled mustache.
Clayton did not care for him, but Natalie found him amusing. "I
haven't been over - " he really said 'ovah'- "for ages. Eight
months or so."
"Very dark. Hard to get about."
"Most of the fellows I know over there are doing something. I'd
like to run over, but what's the use? Nobody around, street's
dark, no gayety, nothing."
"No. You'd better stay at home. They - don't particularly want
"Unless they go for war contracts, eh?" said Valentine pleasantly,
a way he had of taking the edge off the frequent impertinence of
his speech. "No, I'm not going over. We're not popular over
there, I understand. Keep on thinking we ought to take a hand in
the dirty mess."
Graham spoke, unexpectedly.
"Well, don't you think we ought?"
"If you want my candid opinion, no. We've been waving a red flag
called the Monroe Doctrine for some little time, as a signal that
we won't stand for Europe coming over here and grabbing anything.
If we're going to be consistent, we can't do any grabbing in
Europe, can we?"
Clayton eyed him rather contemptuously.
"We might want to 'grab' as you term it, a share in putting the
madmen of Europe into chains," he said. "I thought you were
"Only as to clothes, women and filet of sole," Chris returned
flippantly. Then, seeing Graham glowering at him across the table,
he dropped his affectation of frivolity. "What's the use of our
going in now?" he argued. "This Somme push is the biggest thing
yet. They're going through the Germans like a hay cutter through
a field. German losses half a million already."
"And what about the Allies? Have they lost nothing?" This was
Clayton's attorney, an Irishman named Denis Nolan. There had been
two n's in the Denis, originally, but although he had disposed of
a part of his birthright, he was still belligerently Irish. "What
about Rumania? What about the Russians at Lemberg? What about
"You Irish!" said the rector, genially. "Always fighting the world
and each other. Tell me, Nolan, why is it that you always have
individual humor and collective ill-humor?"
He felt that that was rather neat. But Nolan was regarding him
acrimoniously, and Clayton apparently had not heard at all.
The dispute went on, Chris Valentine alternately flippant and
earnest, the rector conciliatory, Graham glowering and silent.
Nolan had started on the Irish question, and Rodney baited him with
the prospect of conscription there. Nolan's voice, full and mellow
and strangely sweet, dominated the room.
But Clayton was not listening. He had heard Nolan air his views
before. He was a trifle acid, was Nolan. He needed mellowing, a
woman in his life. But Nolan had loved once, and the girl had died.
With the curious constancy of the Irish, he had remained determinedly
"Strange race," Clayton reflected idly, as Nolan's voice sang on.
"Don't know what they want, but want it like the devil. One-woman
men, too. Curious!"
It occurred to him then that his own reflection was as odd as the
fidelity of the Irish. He had been faithful to his wife. He had
never thought of being anything else.
He did not pursue that line of thought. He sat back and resumed
his nervous tapping of the cloth, not listening, hardly thinking,
but conscious of a discontent that was beyond analysis.
Clayton had been aware, since his return from the continent and
England days before, of a change in himself. He had not recognized
it until he reached home. And he was angry with himself for feeling
it. He had gone abroad for certain Italian contracts and had
obtained them. A year or two, if the war lasted so long, and he
would be on his feet at last, after years of struggle to keep his
organization together through the hard times that preceded the war.
He would be much more than on his feet. Given three more years of
war, and he would be a very rich man.
And now that the goal was within sight, he was finding that it was
not money he wanted. There were some things money could not buy.
He had always spent money. His anxieties had not influenced his
scale of living. Money, for instance, could not buy peace for the
world; or peace for a man, either. It had only one value for a man;
it gave him independence of other men, made him free.
"Three things," said the rector, apropos of something or other, and
rather oratorically, "are required by the normal man. Work, play,
and love. Assure the crippled soldier that he has lost none of
these, and - "
Work and play and love. Well, God knows he had worked. Play? He
would have to take up golf again more regularly. He ought to play
three times a week. Perhaps he could take a motor-tour now and then,
too. Natalie would like that.
Love? He had not thought about love very much. A married man of
forty-five certainly had no business thinking about love. No, he
certainly did not want love. He felt rather absurd, even thinking
about it. And yet, in the same flash, came a thought of the violent
passions of his early twenties. There had been a time when he had
suffered horribly because Natalie had not wanted to marry him. He
was glad all that was over. No, he certainly did not want love.
He drew a long breath and straightened up.
"How about those plans, Rodney?" he inquired genially. "Natalie
says you have them ready to look over."
"I'll bring them round, any time you say."
"To-morrow, then. Better not lose any time. Building is going to
be a slow matter, at the best."
"Slow and expensive," Page added. He smiled at his host, but
Clayton Spencer remained grave.
"I've been away," he said, "and I don't know what Natalie and you
have cooked up between you. But just remember this: I want a
comfortable country house. I don't want a public library."
Page looked uncomfortable. The move into the drawing-room covered
his uneasiness, but he found a moment later on to revert to the
"I have tried to carry out Natalie's ideas, Clay," he said. "She
wanted a sizeable place, you know. A wing for house-parties, and
- that sort of thing."
Clayton's eyes roamed about the room, where portly Mrs. Haverford
was still knitting placidly, where the Chris Valentines were
quarreling under pretense of raillery, where Toots Hayden was
smoking a cigaret in a corner and smiling up at Graham, and where
Natalie, exquisite and precise, was supervising the laying out of
a bridge table.
"She would, of course," he observed, rather curtly, and, moving
through a French window, went out onto a small balcony into the night.
He was irritated with himself. What had come over him? He shook
himself, and drew a long breath of the sweet night air. His tall,
boyishly straight figure dominated the little place. In the
half-light he looked, indeed, like an overgrown boy. He always
looked like Graham's brother, anyhow; it was one of Natalie's
complaints against him. But he put the thought of Natalie away,
along with his new discontent. By George, it was something to feel
that, if a man could not fight in this war, at least he could make
shells to help end it. Oblivious to the laughter in the room behind
him, the clink of glass as whiskey-and-soda was brought in, he
planned there in the darkness, new organization, new expansions
- and found in it a great content.
He was proud of his mills. They were his, of his making. The small
iron foundry of his father's building had developed into the colossal
furnaces that night after night lighted the down-town district like
a great conflagration. He was proud of his mills and of his men.
He liked to take men and see them work out his judgment of them. He
was not often wrong. Take that room behind him: Rodney Page,
dilettante, liked by women, who called him "Roddie," a trifle
unscrupulous but not entirely a knave, the sort of man one trusted
with everything but one's wife; Chris, too - only he let married
women alone, and forgot to pay back the money he borrowed. There
was only one man in the room about whom he was beginning to mistrust
his judgment, and that was his own son.
Perhaps it was because he had so recently come from lands where
millions of boys like Graham were pouring out their young lives
like wine, that Clayton Spencer was seeing Graham with a new vision.
He turned and glanced back into the drawing-room, where Graham, in
the center of that misfit group and not quite himself, was stooping
over Marion Hayden. They would have to face that, of course, the
woman urge in the boy. Until now his escapades had been boyish ones,
a few debts frankly revealed and as frankly regretted, some college
mischiefs, a rather serious gambling fever, quickly curbed. But
never women, thank God.
But now the boy was through with college, and already he noticed
something new in their relationship. Natalie had always spoiled
him, and now there were, with increasing frequency, small
consultations in her room when he was shut out, and he was beginning
to notice a restraint in his relations with the boy, as though
mother and son had united against him.
He was confident that Natalie was augmenting Graham's allowance
from her own. His salary, rather, for he had taken the boy into
the business, not as a partner - that would come later - but as the
manager of a department. He never spoke to Natalie of money. Her
house bills were paid at the office without question. But only
that day Miss Potter, his secretary, had reported that Mrs. Spencer's
bank had called up and he had made good a considerable overdraft.
He laid the cause of his discontent to Graham, finally. The boy
had good stuff in him. He was not going to allow Natalie to spoil
him, or to withdraw him into that little realm of detachment in
which she lived. Natalie did not need him, and had not, either as
a lover or a husband, for years. But the boy did.
There was a little stir in the room behind. The Haverfords were
leaving, and the Hayden girl, who was plainly finding the party
dull. Graham was looking down at her, a tall, handsome boy, with
Natalie's blonde hair but his father's height and almost insolent
"Come around to-morrow," she was saying. "About four. There's
always a crowd about five, you know."
Clayton knew, and felt a misgiving. The Hayden house was a late
afternoon loafing and meeting place for the idle sons and daughters
of the rich. Not the conservative old families, who had developed
a sense of the responsibility of wealth, but of the second
generation of easily acquired money. As she went out, with Graham
at her elbow, he heard Chris, at the bridge table.
"Terrible house, the Haydens. Just one step from the Saturday night
carouse in Clay's mill district."
When Graham came back, Mrs. Haverford put her hand on his arm.
"I wish you would come to see us, Graham. Delight so often speaks
Graham stiffened almost imperceptibly.
"Thanks, I will." But his tone was distant.
"You know she comes out this winter."
"And - you were great friends. I think she misses you a little."
"I wish I thought so!"
Gentle Mrs. Haverford glanced up at him quickly.
"You know she doesn't approve of me."
"Well, ask her," he said. And there was a real bitterness under
the lightness of his tone. "I'll come, of course, Mrs. Haverford.
Thank you for asking me. I haven't a lot of time. I'm a sort of
clerk down at the mill, you know."
Natalie overheard, and her eyes met Clayton's, with a glance of
malicious triumph. She had been deeply resentful that he had not
made Graham a partner at once. He remembered a conversation they
had had a few months before.
"Why should he have to start at the bottom?" she had protested.
"You have never been quite fair to him, Clay." His boyish diminutive
had stuck to him. "You expect him to know as much about the mill
now as you do, after all these years."
"Not at all. I want him to learn. That's precisely the reason why
I'm not taking him in at once."
"How much salary is he to have?"
"Three thousand a year."
"Three thousand! Why, it will take all of that to buy him a car."
"There are three cars here now; I should think he could manage."
"Every boy wants his own car."
"I pay my other managers three thousand," he had said, still patient.
"He will live here. His car can be kept here, without expense.
Personally, I think it too much money for the service he will be
able to give for the first year or two."
And, although she had let it go at that, he had felt in her a keen
resentment. Graham had got a car of his own, was using it hard,
if the bills the chauffeur presented were an indication, and
Natalie had overdrawn her account two thousand five hundred dollars.
The evening wore on. Two tables of bridge were going, with Denis
Nolan sitting in at one. Money in large amounts was being written
in on the bridge scores. The air of the room was heavy with smoke,
and all the men and some of the women were drinking rather too much.
There were splotches of color under the tan in Graham's cheeks, and
even Natalie's laughter had taken on a higher note.
Chris's words rankled in Clayton Spencer's mind. A step from the
Saturday night carouse. How much better was this sort of thing?
A dull party, driven to cards and drink to get through the evening.
And what sort of home life were he and Natalie giving the boy?
Either this, or the dreary evenings when they were alone, with
Natalie sifting with folded hands, or withdrawing to her boudoir
upstairs, where invariably she summoned Graham to talk to him
behind closed doors.
He went into the library and shut the door. The room rested him,
after the babble across. He lighted a cigar, and stood for a
moment before Natalie's portrait. It had been painted while he
was abroad at, he suspected, Rodney's instigation. It left him
quite cold, as did Natalie herself.
He could look at it dispassionately, as he had never quite cared
to regard Natalie. Between them, personally, there was always the
element she never allowed him to forget, that she had given him a
son. This was Natalie herself, Natalie at forty-one, girlish,
beautiful, fretful and - selfish. Natalie with whom he was to live
the rest of his life, who was to share his wealth and his future,
and with whom he shared not a single thought in common.
He had a curious sense of disloyalty as he sat down at his desk and
picked up a pad and pencil. But a moment later he had forgotten
her, as he had forgotten the party across the hall. He had work to
do. Thank God for work.
Natalie was in bed when he went up-stairs. Through the door of his
dressing-room he could see her lying, surrounded by papers.
Natalie's handsome bed was always covered with things, her
handkerchief, a novel, her silk dressing-gown flung over the
footboard, sometimes bits of dress materials and lace. Natalie did
most of her planning in bed.
He went in and, clearing a space, sat down on the foot of the bed,
facing her. Her hair was arranged in a loose knot on top of her
head, and there was a tiny space, perhaps a quarter of an inch,
slightly darker than the rest. He realized with a little start that
she had had her hair touched up during his absence. Still, she
looked very pretty, her skin slightly glistening with its night's
bath of cold cream, her slim arms lying out on the blue silk
"I told Doctor Haverford to-night that we would like to give him a
car, Natalie," he began directly. It was typical of him, the "we."
"A car? What for?"
"To ride about in, my dear. It's rather a large parish, you know.
And I don't feel exactly comfortable seeing him tramping along when
most people are awheel. He's not very young."
"He'll kill himself, that's all."
"Well, that's rather up to Providence, of course."
"You are throwing a sop to Providence, aren't you?" she asked
shrewdly. "Throwing bread on the waters! I daresay he angled for
it. You're easy, Clay. Give you a good dinner - it was a nice
dinner, wasn't it?"
"A very nice dinner," he assented. But at the tone she looked up.
"Well, what was wrong?" she demanded. "I saw when I went out that
you were angry about something. Your face was awful."
"Oh, come now, Natalie," he protested. "It wasn't anything of the
sort. The dinner was all right. The guests were - all right. I
may have unconsciously resented your attitude about Doctor Haverford.
Certainly he didn't angle for it, and I had no idea of throwing a
sop to Providence."
"That isn't what was wrong at dinner."
"Do you really want me to tell you?"
"Not if it's too disagreeable."
"Good heavens, Natalie. One would think I bullied you!"
"Oh, no, you don't bully. It's worse. It's the way you look. Your
face sets. Well?"
"I didn't feel unpleasant. It's rather my misfortune that my face - "
"Didn't you like my gown?"
"Very much. It seemed a trifle low, but you know I always like your
clothes." He was almost pathetically anxious to make up to her for
that moment's disloyalty in the library.
"There!" she said, brushing the papers aside. "Now we're getting
at it. Was I anything like as low as Audrey Valentine? Of course
not! Her back - You just drive me to despair, Clay. Nothing I do
pleases you. The very tone of that secretary of yours to-day, when
I told her about that over-draft - it was positively insulting!"
"I don't like overdrafts," he said, without any irritation. "When
you want extra amounts you have only to let me know."
"You are always finding fault with me," she complained. "It's
either money, or my clothes, or Graham, or something." Her eyes
filled. She looked young and absurdly childish. But a talk he had
had with the rector was still in his mind. It was while they were
still at the table, and Nolan had been attacking the British
"We get out of this world largely what we put into it," he had said.
"You give largely, Clay, and you receive largely. I rejoice in your
prosperity, because you have earned it."
"You think, then," he had asked, "that we only receive as we give?
I don't mean material things, of course."
The rector had fixed him with kindly, rather faded old eyes. "That
has been my experience," he said. "Happiness for instance only
comes when we forget our eternal search for it, and try to make
others happy. Even religion is changing. The old selfish idea
of saving our own souls has given way largely to the saving of
others, by giving them a chance to redeem themselves. Decent
living conditions - "
He had gone on, but Clayton had not listened very intently. He had
been wondering if happiness was not the thing he had somehow missed.
It was then that he had decided to give the car. If, after all,
that would make for the rector's happiness -
"I don't want to find fault with you, Natalie," he said gravely.
"I would like to see you happy. Sometimes I think you are not.
I have my business, but you have nothing to do, and - I suppose you
wouldn't be interested in war-work, would you? There are a lot of
committees, and since I've been in England I realize what a vast
amount is needed. Clothes, you know, and bandages, and - well,
"Nothing to do," she looked up, her eyes wide and indignant. "But
of course you would think that. This house runs itself, I suppose."
"Let's be honest, Natalie," he said, with a touch of impatience.
"Actually how much time each day do you give this house? You have
plenty of trained servants. An hour? Two hours?"
"I'll not discuss it with you." She took up a typewritten sheet and
pretended to read it carefully. Clayton had a half-humorous,
half-irritated conviction that if he was actually hunting happiness
he had begun his search for it rather badly. He took the paper
from her, gently.
"What's this?" he inquired. "Anything I should not see?"
"Decorator's estimates for the new house." Her voice was resentful.
"You'll have to see them some time."
"Library curtains, gray Chippendale velvet, gold gimp, faced with
colonial yellow," he read an item picked at random, "two thousand
dollars! That's going some for curtains, isn't it?"
"It's not too much for that sort of thing."
"But, look here, Natalie," he expostulated. "This is to be a country
house, isn't it? I thought you wanted chintzed and homey things.
This looks like a city house in the country."
He glanced down at the total. The hangings alone, with a tapestry
or two, were to be thirty-five thousand dollars. He whistled.
"Hangings alone! And - what sort of a house has Rodney planned,
"Italian, with a sunken garden. The landscape estimates are there,
He did not look at them.
"It seems to me you and Rodney have been pretty busy while I've been
away," he remarked. "Well, I want you to be happy, my dear. Only
- I don't want to tie up a fortune just now. We may get into this
war, and if we do - " He rose, and yawned, his arms above his head.
"I'm off to bed," he said. "Big day to-morrow. I'll want Graham at
the office at 8:30."
She had sat up in bed, and was staring at him. Her face was pale.
"Do you mean that we are going to get into this war?"
"I think it very likely, my dear."
"But if we do, Graham - "
"We might as well face it. Graham will probably want to go."
"He'll do nothing of the sort," she said sharply. "He's all I have.
All. Do you think I'm going to send him over there to be
cannon-fodder? I won't let him go."
She was trembling violently.
"I won't want him to go, of course. But if the thing comes - he's
of age, you know."
She eyed him with thinly veiled hostility.
"You're hard, Clay," she accused him. "You're hard all the way
through. You're proud, too. Proud and hard. You'd want to be
able to say your son was in the army. It's not because you care
anything about the war, except to make money out of it. What is
the war to you, anyhow? You don't like the English, and as for
French - you don't even let me have a French butler."
He was not the less angry because he realized the essential truth of
part of what she said. He felt no great impulse of sympathy with
any of the combatants. He knew the gravity of the situation rather
than its tragedy. He did not like war, any war. He saw no reason
why men should kill. But this war was a fact. He had had no hand
in its making, but it was made.
His first impulse was to leave her in dignified silence. But she
was crying, and I he disliked leaving her in tears. Dead as was his
love for her, and that night, somehow, he knew that it was dead, she
was still his wife. They had had some fairly happy years together,
long ago. And he felt the need, too, of justification.
"Perhaps you are right, Natalie," he said, after a moment. "I
haven't cared about this war as much as I should. Not the human
side of it, anyhow. But you ought to understand that by making
shells for the Allies, I am not only making money for myself; they
need the shells. And I'll give them the best. I don't intend only
to profit by their misfortunes."
She had hardly listened.
"Then, if we get into it, as you say, you'll encourage Graham to go?"
"I shall allow him to go, if he feels it his duty."
"Oh, duty, duty! I'm sick of the word." She bent forward and
suddenly caught one of his hands. "You won't make him go, Clay?"
she begged. You - you'll let him make his own decision?"
"If you will."
"What do you mean?"
"If you'll keep your hands off, too. We're not in it, yet. God
knows I hope we won't be. But if I promise not to influence him,
you must do the same thing."
"I haven't any more influence over Graham than that," she said, and
snapped her finger. But she did not look at him.
"Promise," he said, steadily.
"Oh, all right." Her voice and face were sulky. She looked much as
Graham had that evening at the table.
"Is that a promise?"
"Good heavens, do you want me to swear to it?"
"I want you to play fair. That's all."
She leaned back again among her pillows and gathered her papers.
"All right," she said, indifferently. "Have you any preference as
to color for your rooms in the new house?"
He was sorry for his anger, and after all, these things which seemed
so unimportant to him were the things that made up her life. He
"You might match my eyes. I'm not sure what color they are. Perhaps
But she had not forgiven him.
"I've never noticed," she replied. And, small bundle of samples in
her hand, resumed her reading and her inspection of textiles.
"Good night, Natalie."
"Good night." She did not look up.
Outside his wife's door he hesitated. Then he crossed and without
knocking entered Graham's bedroom. The boy was lounging in a long
chair by an open fire. He was in his dressing gown and slippers,
and an empty whiskey-and-soda glass stood beside him on a small
stand. Graham was sound asleep. Clayton touched him on the shoulder,
but he slept on, his head to one side, his breathing slow and heavy.
It required some little effort to waken him.
"Graham!" said Clayton sharply.
"Yes." He stirred, but did not open his eyes.
"Graham! Wake up, boy."
Graham sat up suddenly and looked at him. The whites of his eyes
were red, but he had slept off the dinner wine. He was quite
"Better get to bed," his father suggested. "I'll want you early
"What time, sir?"
He leaned forward and pressed a button beside the mantel-piece.
"What are you doing that for?"
"Ice water. Awfully thirsty."
"The servants have gone to bed. Go down and get it yourself."
Graham looked up at the tone. At his father's eyes, he looked away.
"Sorry, sir," he said. "Must have had too much champagne. Wasn't
much else to do, was there? Mother's parties - my God, what a
Clayton inspected the ice water carafe on the stand and found it
"I'll bring you some water from my room," he said. "And - I don't
want to see you this way again, Graham. When a man cannot take a
little wine at his own table without taking too much he fails to be
entirely a gentleman."
He went out. When he came back, Graham was standing by the fire in
his pajamas, looking young and rather ashamed. Clayton had a flash
of those earlier days when he had come in to bid the boy good night,
and there had always been that last request for water which was to
postpone the final switching off of the light.
"I'm sorry, father."
Clayton put his hand on the boy's shoulder and patted him.
"We'll have to do better next time. That's all."
For a moment the veil of constraint of Natalie's weaving lifted
"I'm a pretty bad egg, I guess. You'd better shove me off the dock
and let me swim - or drown."
"I'd hardly like to do that, you know. You are all I have."
"I'm no good at the mill."
"You haven't had very much time. I've been a good many years
learning the business."'
"I'll never be any good. Not there. If there was something to
build up it would be different, but it's all done. You've done it.
I'm only a sort of sublimated clerk. I don't mean," he added
hastily, "that I think I ought to have anything more. It's only
that - well, the struggle's over, if you know what I mean."
"I'll talk to you about that to-morrow. Get to bed now. It's one
He moved to the doorway. Graham, carafe in hand, stood staring
ahead of him. He had the courage of the last whiskey-and-soda, and
a sort of desperate contrition.
"I wish you'd let me go to France and fly."
Something like a cold hand seemed to close round Clayton's heart.
"Because I'm not doing any good here. And - because I'd like to
see if I have any good stuff in me. All the fellows are going," he
added, rather weakly.
"That's not a particularly worthy reason, is it?"
"It's about as worthy as making money out of shells, when we haven't
any reason for selling them to the Allies more than the Germans,
except that we can't ship to the Germans."
He looked rather frightened then. But Clayton was not angry. He
saw Natalie's fine hand there, and the boy's impressionable nature.
"Think that over, Graham," he said gravely. "I don't believe you
quite mean it. Good-night."
He went across to his own bedroom, where his silk pajamas, neatly
folded, lay on his painted Louis XVI bed. Under his reading lamp
there was a book. It was a part of Natalie's decorative scheme for
the room; it's binding was mauve, to match the hangings. For the
first time since the room had been done over during his absence he
picked up the book.
"Rodney's idea, for a cent!" he reflected, looking rather grimly at
He undressed slowly, his mind full of Graham and the problem he
presented. Then he thought of Natalie, and of the little things
that made up her life and filled her days. He glanced about the
room, beautiful, formal, exquisitely appointed. His father's
portrait was gone from over the mantel, and an old French
water-color hung there instead. That was too bad of Natalie. Or
had it been Rodney? He would bring it back. And he gave a fleeting
thought to Graham and his request to go abroad. He had not meant
it. It was sheer reaction. But he would talk to Graham.
He lighted a cigaret, and getting into bed turned on his reading
lamp. Queer how a man could build, and then find that after all he
did not care for the achievement. It was the building alone that
was worth while.
He picked up the book from the table, and opened it casually.
"When first I loved I gave my very soul
Utterly unreserved to Love's control,
But Love deceived me, wrenched my youth away,
And made the gold of life forever gray.
Long I lived lonely, yet I tried in vain
With any other joy to stifle pain;
There is no other joy, I learned to know,
And so returned to love, as long ago,
Yet I, this little while ere I go hence,
Love very lightly now, in self defense."
"Twaddle," said Clayton Spencer, and put the book away. That was
the sort of stuff men like Rodney lived on. In a mauve binding, too.
After he had put out the light he lay for a long time, staring into
the darkness. It was not love he wanted: he was through with all
that. Power was the thing, integrity and power. To yield to no
man, to achieve independence for one's soul - not that he put it
that way. He formulated it, drowsily: 'Not to give a damn for any
one, so long as you're right.' Of course, it was not always possible
to know if one was right. He yawned. His conscious mind was
drowsing, and from the depths below, released of the sentry of his
waking hours, came the call of his starved imagination.
There was no moral to be adduced from Graham's waking the next
morning. He roused, reluctantly enough, but blithe and hungry. He
sang as he splashed in his shower, chose his tie whistling, and went
down the staircase two steps at a time to a ravenous breakfast.
Clayton was already at the table in the breakfast room, sitting back
with the newspaper, his coffee at his elbow, the first cigarette of
the morning half smoked. He looked rather older in the morning light.
Small fine threads had begun to show themselves at the corners of his
eyes. The lines of repression from the nostrils to the corners of
the mouth seemed deeper. But his invincible look of boyishness
persisted, at that.
There was no awkwardness in Graham's "Morning, dad." He had not
forgotten the night before, but he had already forgiven himself. He
ignored the newspaper at his plate, and dug into his grapefruit.
"Anything new?" he inquired casually.
"You might look and see," Clayton suggested, good-naturedly.
"I'll read going down in the car. Can't stand war news on an empty
stomach. Mother all right this morning?"
"I think she is still sleeping."
"Well, I should say she needs it, after last night. How in the
world we manage, with all the interesting people in the world, to
get together such a dreary lot as that - Lord, it was awful."
Clayton rose and folded his paper.
"The car's waiting," he said. "I'll be ready in five minutes."
He went slowly up the stairs. In her pink bedroom Natalie had just
wakened. Madeleine, her elderly French maid, had brought her
breakfast, and she was lying back among the pillows, the litter of
the early mail about her and a morning paper on her knee. He bent
over and kissed her, perfunctorily, and he was quick to see that her
resentment of the evening before had survived the night.
"Sleep well?" he inquired, looking down at her. She evaded his eyes.
"Any plans for to-day?"
"I'll just play around. I'm lunching out, and I may run out with
Rodney to Linndale. The landscape men are there today."
She picked up the newspaper as though to end the discussion. He
saw then that she was reading the society news, and he rather more
than surmised that she had not even glanced at the black headings
which on the first page announced the hideous casualties of the
"Then you've given the planting contract?"
"Some things have to go in in the fall, Clay. For heaven's sake,
don't look like a thunder cloud."
"Have you given the landscape contract?"
"Yes. And please go out. You make my head ache."
"How much is it to be?"
"I don't know. Ask Rodney."
"I'll do nothing of the sort, my dear. This is not Rodney's
"Nor mine, I suppose!"
"All I want you to do, Natalie, is to consult me. I want you to
have a free hand, but some one with a sense of responsibility ought
to check up these expenditures. But it isn't only that. I'd like
to have a hand in the thing myself. I've rather looked forward to
the time when we could have the sort of country place we wanted."
"You don't like any of the strings to get out of your fingers,
"I didn't come up to quarrel, Natalie. I wish you wouldn't force
it on me."
"I force it on you," she cried, and laughed in a forced and
high-pitched note. "Just because I won't be over-ridden without a
protest! I'm through, that's all. I shan't go near the place again."
"You don't understand," he persisted patiently. "I happen to like
gardens. I had an idea - I told you about it - of trying to
duplicate the old garden at home. You remember it. When we went
there on our honeymoon - "
"You don't call that a garden?"
"Of course I didn't want to copy it exactly. It was old and out of
condition. But there were a lot of old-fashioned flowers - However,
if you intend to build an Italian villa, naturally - "
"I don't intend to build anything, or to plant anything." Her voice
was frozen. "You go ahead. Do it in your own way. And then you
can live there, if you like. I won't."
Which was what he carried away with him that morning to the mill.
He was not greatly disturbed by her threat to keep her hands off.
He knew quite well, indeed, that the afternoon would find her, with
Rodney Page, picking her way in her high-heeled shoes over the waste
that was some day to bloom, not like the rose of his desire but
according to the formal and rigid blueprint which Rodney would be
carrying. But in five minutes he had put the incident out of his
mind. After all, if it gave her happiness and occupation, certainly
she needed both. And his powers of inhibition were strong. For
many years he had walled up the small frictions of his married life
and its disappointments, and outside that wall had built up an
existence of his own, which was the mill.
When he went down-stairs he found that Graham had ordered his own
car and was already in it, drawing on his gloves.
"Have to come back up-town early, dad," he called in explanation,
and drove off, going at the reckless speed he affected.
Clayton rode down alone in the limousine. He had meant to outline
his plans of expansion to Graham, but he had had no intention of
consulting him. In his own department the boy did neither better
nor worse than any other of the dozens of young men in the
organization. If he had shown neither special aptitude for nor
interest in the business, he had at least not signally failed to
show either. Now, paper and pencil in hand, Clayton jotted down
the various details of the new system in their sequence; the building
of a forging plant to make the rough casts for the new Italian shells
out of the steel from the furnaces, the construction of a new spur
to the little railway which bound the old plant together with its
shining steel rails. There were questions of supplies and shipping
and bank credits to face, the vast and complex problems of the
complete new munition works, to be built out of town and involving
such matters as the housing of enormous numbers of employees. He
scrawled figures and added them. Even with the size of the foreign
contract their magnitude startled him. He leaned back, his mouth
compressed, the lines from the nostrils to the corners deeper than
He had completely forgotten Natalie and the country house.
Outside the gates to the mill enclosure he heard an early extra
being called, and bought it. The Austrian premier had been
assassinated. The successful French counter-attack against Verdun
was corroborated, also. On the center of the front page was the
first photograph to reach America of a tank. He inspected it with
interest. So the Allies had at last shown same inventive genius
of their own! Perhaps this was but the beginning. Even at that,
enough of these fighting mammoths, and the war might end quickly.
With the tanks, and the Allied offensive and the evidence of
discontent in Austria, the thing might after all be over before
America was involved.
He reflected, however, that an early peace would not be an unmixed
blessing for him. He wanted the war to end: he hated killing. He
felt inarticulately that something horrible was happening to the
world. But personally his plans were premised on a war to last at
least two years more, until the fall of 1918. That would let him
out, cover the cost of the new plant, bring renewals of his foreign
contracts, justify those stupendous figures on the paper in his hand.
He wondered, rather uncomfortably, what he would do, under the
circumstances, if it were in his power to declare peace to-morrow.
In his office in the mill administration building, he found the
general manager waiting. Through the door into the conference room
beyond he could see the superintendents of the various departments,
with Graham rather aloof and detached, and a sprinkling of the most
important foremen. On his desk, neatly machined, was the first
tentative shell-case made in the mill machine-shop, an experiment
rather than a realization.
Hutchinson, the general manager, was not alone. Opposite him, very
neatly dressed in his best clothes, his hat in his hand and a set
expression on his face, was one of the boss rollers of the steel
mill, Herman Klein. At Clayton's entrance he made a motion to
depart, but Hutchinson stopped him.
"Tell Mr. Spencer what you've been telling me, Klein," he said
Klein fingered his hat, but his face remained set.
"I've just been saying, Mr. Spencer," he said, in good English, but
with the guttural accent which thirty years in America had not
eliminated, "that I'll be leaving you now."
"Because of that l" He pointed, without intentional drama, at the
shell-case. "I can't make those shells for you, Mr. Spencer, and
me a German."
"You're an American, aren't you?"
"I am, sir. It is not that. It iss that I - " His face worked.
He had dropped back to the old idiom, after years of painful
struggle to abandon it. "It iss that I am a German, also. I have
people there, in the war. To make shells to kill them - no."
"He is determined, Mr. Spencer," said Hutchinson. "I have been
arguing with him, but - you can't argue with a German."
Clayton was uneasily aware of something like sympathy for the man.
"I understand how you feel, Klein," he observed. "But of course
you know, whether you go or stay, the shells will be made, anyhow."
"I know that."
"You are throwing up a good position."
"I'll try to get another."
The prospective loss of Klein was a rather serious one. Clayton,
seated behind his great desk, eyed him keenly, and then stooped to
bribery. He mentioned a change in the wage scale, with bonuses to
all foremen and rollers. He knew Klein's pride in the mill, and he
outlined briefly the growth that was about to be developed. But
the boss roller remained obdurate. He understood that such things
were to be, but it was not necessary that he assist Germany's enemies
against her. Against the determination in his heavy square figure
Clayton argued in vain. When, ten minutes later, he went into the
conference room, followed by a secretary with a sheaf of papers, the
mill was minus a boss roller, and there was rankling in his mind
Klein's last words.
"I haf no objection, Mr. Spencer, to your making money out of this
war, but I will not."
There had been no insolence in his tone. He had gone out, with his
heavy German stolidity of mien unchanged, and had closed the door
behind him with quiet finality.
Graham left the conference that morning in a rather exalted mood.
The old mill was coming into its own at last. He had a sense of
boyish triumph in the new developments, a feeling of being a part
of big activities that would bring rich rewards. And he felt a
new pride in his father. He had sat, a little way from the long
table, and had watched the faces of the men gathered about it as
clearly and forcibly the outlines of the new departure were given
out. Hitherto "Spencer's" had made steel only. Now, they were
not only to make the steel, but they were to forge the ingots into
rough casts; these casts were then to be carried to the new munition
works, there to be machined, drilled, polished, provided with fuses,
which "Spencer's" were also to make, and shipped abroad.
The question of speeding production had been faced and met. The
various problems had been discussed and the bonus system tentatively
taken up. Then the men had dispersed, each infected with the drive
of his father's contagious force. "Pretty fine old boy," Graham had
considered. And he wondered vaguely if, when his time came, he
would be able to take hold. For a few minutes Natalie's closetings
lost their effect. He saw his father, not as one from whom to hide
extravagance and unpaid bills, but as the head of a great concern
that was now to be a part of the war itself. He wandered into his
father's office, and picked up the shell. Clayton was already at
his letters, but looked up.
"Think we rather had them, eh, Graham?"
"Think you did, sir. Carried them off their feet. Pretty, isn't
it?" He held up the shell-case. "If a fellow could only forget
what the damned things are for!"
"They are to help to end the war," said Clayton, crisply. "Don't
forget that, boy." And went back to his steady dictation.
Graham went out of the building into the mill yard. The noise always
irritated him. He had none of Clayton's joy and understanding of it.
To Clayton each sound had its corresponding activity. To Graham it
was merely din, an annoyance to his ears, as the mill yard outraged
his fastidiousness. But that morning he found it rather more
bearable. He stooped where, in front of the store, the storekeeper
had planted a tiny garden. Some small late-blossoming chrysanthemums
were still there and he picked one and put it in his buttonhole.
His own office was across the yard. He dodged in front of a yard
locomotive, picked his way about masses of lumber and the general
litter of all mill yards, and opened the door of his own building.
Just inside his office a girl was sitting on a straight chair, her
hat a trifle crooked, and her eyes red from crying. He paused in
"Why, Miss Klein!" he said. "What's the matter?"
She was rather a pretty girl, even now. She stood up at his voice
and made an effort to straighten her hat.
"Haven't you heard?" she asked.
"I haven't heard anything that ought to make Miss Anna Klein weep
of a nice, frosty morning in October. Unless - " he sobered, for
her grief was evident. "Tell me about it."
"Father has given up his job."
"I'm telling you, Mr. Spencer. He won't help to make those shells.
He's been acting queer for three or four days and this morning he
told your father."
"As if it made any difference," she went on irritably. "Some one
else will get his job. That's all. What does he care about the
Germans? He left them and came to America as soon as he could walk."
Graham sat down.
"Now let's get this," he said. "He won't make shells for the Allies
and so he's given up his position. All right. That's bad, but he's
a good workman. He'll not have any trouble getting another job. Now,
why are you crying?"
"I didn't think you'd want me to stay on."
Putting her fear into words brought back her long hours of terror.
She collapsed into the chair again and fell to unquiet sobbing.
Graham was disturbed.
"You're a queer girl," he said. "Why should that lose me my most
When she made no reply he got up and going over to her put a hand
on her shoulder. "Tell me that," he said.
He looked down at her. The hair grew very soft and blonde at the
nape of her neck, and he ran a finger lightly across it. "Tell me
"I was afraid it would."
"And, even if it had, which you are a goose for thinking, you're
just as good in your line as your father is in his. I've been
expecting any time to hear of your leaving me for a handsomer man!"
He had been what he would have termed jollying her back to normality
again. But to his intense surprise she suddenly leaned back and
looked up into his face. There was no doubting what he saw there.
Just for a moment the situation threatened to get out of hand. Then
he patted her shoulders and put the safety of his desk between them.
"Run away and bathe your eyes," he said, "and then come back here
looking like the best secretary in the state, and not like a winter
thaw. We have the deuce of a lot of work to do."
But after she had gone he sat for some little time idly rapping a
pencil on the top of his desk. By Jove! Anna Klein! Of all girls
in the world! It was rather a pity, too. She was a nice little
thing, and in the last few months she had changed a lot. She had
been timid at first, and hideously dressed. Lately she had been
almost smart. Those ear-rings now - they changed her a lot. Queer
- how things went on in a girl's mind, and a fellow didn't know
until something happened. He settled his tie and smoothed back his
During the remainder of the day he began to wonder if he had not
been a fatuous idiot. Anna did her work with the thoroughness of
her German blood plus her American training. She came back minus
her hat, and with her eyes carefully powdered, and not once during
the morning was he able to meet her eyes fully. By the middle of
the afternoon sex vanity and curiosity began to get the better of
his judgment, and he made an excuse, when she stood beside him over
some papers, her hand on the desk, to lay his fingers over hers.
She drew her hand away quickly, and when he glanced up, boyishly
smiling, her face was flushed.
"Please," she said. And he felt hurt and rebuffed. He had no
sentiment for her whatever, but the devil of mischief of twenty-two
was behind him, urging him on to the eternal experiment. He was
very formal with her for the rest of the day, and had the
satisfaction of leaving her, at four o'clock, white-faced and
miserable over her machine in the little office next to his.
He forgot her immediately, in the attempt to leave the mill without
encountering his father. Clayton, he knew, would be staying late,
and would be exacting similar tribute to the emergency from the
entire force. Also, he had been going about the yard with
contractors most of the afternoon. But Graham made his escape
safely. It was two hours later when his father, getting into the
limousine, noticed the absence of the boy's red car, and asked the
gateman how long it had been gone.
"Since about four o'clock, Mr. Spencer."
Suddenly Clayton felt a reaction from the activities of the day.
He sank back in the deeply padded seat, and felt tired and - in some
odd fashion - lonely. He would have liked to talk to Graham on the
way up-town, if only to crystallize his own thoughts. He would have
liked to be going home to review with Natalie the day's events, the
fine spirit of his men, the small difficulties. But Natalie hated
the mention of the mill.
He thought it probable, too, that they were dining out. Yes, he
remembered. They were dining at the Chris Valentines. Well, that
was better than it might have been. They were not dull, anyhow.
His mind wandered to the Valentine house, small, not too
well-ordered, frequently noisy, but always gay and extremely smart.
He thought of Audrey, and her curious friendship with Natalie.
Audrey the careless, with her dark lazy charm, her deep and rather
husky contralto, her astonishing little French songs, which she
sang with nonchalant grace, and her crowds of boyish admirers whom
she alternately petted and bullied - surely she and Natalie had
little enough in common.
Yet, in the last year or so, he had been continually coming across
them together - at the club, at luncheon in the women's dining room,
at his own house, Natalie always perfectly and expensively dressed,
Audrey in the casual garments which somehow her wearing made
He smiled a little. Certain of Audrey's impertinences came to his
mind. She was an amusing young woman. He had an idea that she was
always in debt, and that the fact concerned her very little. He
fancied that few things concerned her very deeply, including Chris.
But she knew about food. Her dinners were as casual as her house,
as to service, but they were worth eating. She claimed to pay for
them out of her bridge winnings, and, indeed, her invitation for
to-night had been frankness itself.
"I'm going to have a party, Clay," she had said. "I've made two
killings at bridge, and somebody has shipped Chris some ducks. If
you'll send me some cigarets like the last, I'll make it Tuesday."
He had sent the cigarets, and this was Tuesday.
The pleasant rolling of the car soothed him. The street flashed by,
brilliant with lights that in far perspective seemed to meet. The
shop windows gleamed with color. From curb to curb were other cars
like the one in which he rode, carrying home other men like himself
to whatever the evening held in store. He remembered London at this
hour, already dark and quiet, its few motors making their cautious
way in the dusk, its throngs of clerks, nearly all women now,
hurrying home to whatever dread the night might hold. And it made
him slightly more complacent. These things that he had taken for
granted before had since his return assumed the quality of luxury.
"Pray God we won't get into it," he said to himself.
He reviewed his unrest of the night before, and smiled at it.
Happiness. Happiness came from a sense of achievement. Integrity
and power, that was the combination. The respect of one's fellow
men, the day's work well done. Romance was done, at his age, but
there remained the adventure of success. A few years more, and he
would leave the mill to Graham and play awhile. After that - he
had always liked politics. They needed business men in politics.
If men of training and leisure would only go in for it there would
be some chance of cleaning up the situation. Yes, he might do that.
He was an easy speaker, and -
The car drew up at the curb and the chauffeur got out. Natalie's
car had drawn up just ahead, and the footman was already opening
the door. Rodney Page got out, and assisted Natalie to alight.
Clayton smiled. So she had changed her mind. He saw Rodney bend
over her hand and kiss it after his usual ceremonious manner.
Natalie seemed a trifle breathless when she turned and saw him.
"You're early, aren't you?" she said.
"I fancy it is you who are late."
Then he realized that the chauffeur was waiting to speak to him.
"I'm sorry, sir. I guess I'll be leaving at the end of my month,
"Come into the library and I'll talk to you. What's wrong?"
"There's nothing wrong, sir. I have been very well suited. It's
only - I used to be in the regular army, sir, and I guess I'm going
to be needed again."
"You mean - we are going to be involved?"
"Yes, sir. I think we are."
"There's no answer to that, Jackson," he said. But a sense of
irritation stirred him as he went up the steps to the house door.
Jackson was a good man. Jackson and Klein, and who knew who would
"Oh, damn the war," he reflected rather wearily.
The winter which preceded the entrance of the United States into
the war was socially an extraordinary one. It was marked by an
almost feverish gayety, as though, having apparently determined to
pursue a policy dictated purely by self interest, the people wished
to forget their anomalous position. Like a woman who covers her
shame with a smile. The vast number of war orders from abroad had
brought prosperity into homes where it had long been absent. Mills
and factories took on new life. Labor was scarce and high.
It was a period of extravagance rather than pleasure. People played
that they might not think. Washington, convinced that the nation
would ultimately be involved, kept its secret well and continued to
preach a neutrality it could not enforce. War was to most of the
nation a great dramatic spectacle, presented to them at breakfast
and in the afternoon editions. It furnished unlimited conversation
at dinner-parties, led to endless wrangles, gave zest and point to
the peace that made those dinner parties possible, furnished an
excuse for retrenchment here and there, and brought into vogue great
bazaars and balls for the Red Cross and kindred activities.
But although the war was in the nation's mind, it was not yet in
Life went on much as before. An abiding faith in the Allies was
the foundation stone of its complacency. The great six-months
battle of the Somme, with its million casualties, was resulting
favorably. On the east the Russians had made some gains. There
were wagers that the Germans would be done in the Spring.
But again Washington knew that the British and French losses at the
Somme had been frightful; that the amount of lost territory
regained was negligible as against the territory still held; that
the food problem in the British Islands was acute; that the submarine
sinkings were colossal. Our peace was at a fearful cost.
And on the edge of this volcano America played.
When Graham Spencer left the mill that Tuesday afternoon, it was to
visit Marion Hayden. He was rather bored now at the prospect. He
would have preferred going to the Club to play billiards, which was
his custom of a late afternoon. He drove rather more slowly than
was his custom, and so missed Marion's invitation to get there
before the crowd.
Three cars before the house showed that she already had callers,
and indeed when the parlor-maid opened the door a burst of laughter
greeted him. The Hayden house was a general rendezvous. There
were usually, by seven o'clock, whiskey-and-soda glasses and
tea-cups on most of the furniture, and half-smoked cigarets on
everything that would hold them, including the piano.
Marion herself met him in the hall, and led him past the
"There are people in every room who want to be left alone," she
volunteered. "I kept the library as long as I could. We can sit
on the stairs, if you like."
Which they proceeded to do, quite amiably. From various open doors
came subdued voices. The air was pungent with tobacco smoke
permeated with a faint scent of late afternoon highballs.
"Tommy!" Marion called, when she had settled herself.
"Yes," from a distance.
"Did you leave your cigaret on the piano?"
"No, Toots dear. But I can, easily."
"Mother," Marion explained, "is getting awfully touchy about the
piano. Well, do you remember half the pretty things you told me
"Not exactly. But I meant them."
He looked up at her admiringly. He was only a year from college,
and he had been rather arbitrarily limited to the debutantes. He
found, therefore, something rather flattering in the attention he
was receiving from a girl who had been out five years, and who was
easily the most popular young woman in the gayer set. It gave him
a sense of maturity Since the night before he had been rankling
under a sense of youth.
"Was I pretty awful last night?" he asked.
"You were very interesting. And - I imagine - rather indiscreet."
"Fine! What did I say?"
"You boasted, my dear young friend."
"Great Scott! I must have been awful."
"About the new war contracts."
"But I found it very interesting. You know, I like business. And
I like big figures. Poor people always do. Has it really gone
through? I mean, those things do slip up sometimes, don't they.
"It's gone through, all right. Signed, sealed, and delivered."
Encouraged by her interest, he elaborated on the new work. He even
developed an enthusiasm for it, to his own surprise. And the girl
listened intently, leaning forward so that her arm brushed his
shoulder. Her eyes, slightly narrowed, watched him closely. She
knew every move of the game she was determining to play.
Marion Hayden, at twenty-five, knew already what her little world
had not yet realized, that such beauty as she had had was the
beauty of youth only, and that that was going. Late hours, golf,
perhaps a little more champagne than was necessary at dinners, and
the mornings found her almost plain. And, too, she had the far
vision of the calculating mind. She knew that if the country
entered the war, every eligible man she knew would immediately
At twenty-five she already noticed a change in the personnel of her
followers. The unmarried men who had danced with her during her
first two winters were now sending flowers to the debutantes, and
cutting in on the younger men at balls. Her house was still a
rendezvous, but it was for couples like the ones who had preempted
the drawing-room, the library and the music room that afternoon.
They met there, smoked her cigarets, made love in a corner,
occasionally became engaged. But she was of the game, no longer
Men still came to see her, a growing percentage of them married.
They brought or sent her tribute, flowers, candy, and cigarets. She
was enormously popular at dances. But more and more her dinner
invitations were from the older crowd. Like Natalie Spencer's
stupid party the night before.
So she watched Graham and listened. He was a nice boy and a
handsome one. Also he promised to be sole heir to a great business.
If the war only lasted long enough -
"Imagine your knowing all those things," she said admiringly.
"You're a partner, aren't you?"
He flushed slightly.
"Not yet. But of course I shall be."
"When you really get going, I wonder if you will take me round and
show me how shells are made. I'm the most ignorant person you ever
"I'll be awfully glad to."
"Very well. For that promise you shall have a highball. You're an
awful dear, you know."
She placed a slim hand on his shoulder and patted it. Then, leaning
rather heavily on him for support, she got to her feet.
"We'll go in and stir up some of the lovers," she suggested. "And
if Tommy Hale hasn't burned up the piano we can dance a bit. You
dance divinely, you know."
It was after seven when he reached home. He felt every inch a man.
He held himself very straight as he entered the house, and the
boyish grin with which he customarily greeted the butler had given
place to a dignified nod.
Natalie was in her dressing-room. At his knock she told the maid
to admit him, and threw a dressing-gown over her bare shoulders.
Then she sent the maid away and herself cautiously closed the door
into Clayton's room.
"I've got the money for you, darling," she said. From her jewel
case she took a roll of bills and held them out to him. "Five
"I hate to take it, mother."
"Never mind about taking it. Pay those bills before your father
learns about them. That's all."
He was divided between gratitude and indignation. His new-found
maturity seemed to be slipping from him. Somehow here at home they
always managed to make him feel like a small boy.
"Honestly, mother, I'd rather go to father and tell him about it.
He'd make a row, probably, but at least you'd be out of it."
She ignored his protest, as she always ignored protests against her
own methods of handling matters.
"I'm accustomed to it," was her sole reply. But her resigned voice
brought her, as it always had, the ready tribute of the boy's
sympathy. "Sit down, Graham, I want to talk to you."
He sat down, still uneasily fingering the roll of bills. Just how
far Natalie's methods threatened to undermine his character was
revealed when, at a sound in Clayton's room, he stuck the money
hastily into his pocket.
"Have you noticed a change in your father since he came back?"
Her tone was so ominous that he started.
"He's not sick, is he?"
"Not that. But - he's different. Graham, your father thinks we
may be forced into the war."
"Good for us. It's time, that's sure."
"Why, good heavens, mother," he began, "we should have been in it
last May. We should - "
She was holding out both hands to him, piteously.
"You wouldn't go, would you?"
"I might have to go," he evaded.
"You wouldn't, Graham. You're all I have. All I have left to live
for. You wouldn't need to go. It's ridiculous. You're needed here.
Your father needs you."
"He needs me the hell of a lot," the boy muttered. But he went over
and, stooping down, kissed her trembling face.
"Don't worry about me," he said lightly. "I don't think we've got
spine enough to get into the mix-up, anyhow. And if we have - "
"You won't go. Promise me you won't go."
When he hesitated she resorted to her old methods with both Clayton
and the boy. She was doing all she could to make them happy. She
made no demands, none. But when she asked for something that meant
more than life to her, it was refused, of course. She had gone
through all sorts of humiliation to get him that money, and this was
the gratitude she received.
Graham listened. She was a really pathetic figure, crouched in her
low chair, and shaken with terror. She must have rather a bad time;
there were so many things she dared not take to his father. She
brought them to him instead, her small grievances, her elaborate
extravagances, her disappointments. It did not occur to him that
she transferred to his young shoulders many of her own burdens. He
was only grateful for her confidence, and a trifle bewildered by it.
And she had helped him out of a hole just now.
"All right. I promise," he said at last. "But you're worrying
yourself for nothing, mother."
She was quite content then, cheered at once, consulted the jewelled
watch on her dressing table and rang for the maid.
"Heavens, how late it is!" she exclaimed. "Run out now, dear. And,
Graham, tell Buckham to do up a dozen dinner-napkins in paper.
Audrey Valentine has telephoned that she has just got in, and finds
she hasn't enough. If that isn't like her!"
Months afterward, Clayton Spencer, looking back, realized that the
night of the dinner at the Chris Valentines marked the beginning of
a new epoch for him. Yet he never quite understood what it was that
had caused the change. All that was clear was that in retrospect
he always commenced with that evening, when he was trying to trace
his own course through the months that followed, with their various
changes, to the momentous ones of the following Summer.
Everything pertaining to the dinner, save the food, stood out with
odd distinctness. Natalie's silence during the drive, broken only
by his few questions and her brief replies. Had the place looked
well? Very. And was the planting going on all right? She supposed
so. He had hesitated, rather discouraged. Then:
"I don't want to spoil your pleasure in the place, Natalie - " he
had said, rather awkwardly. "After all, you will be there more than
I shall. You'd better have it the way you like it."
She had appeared mollified at that and had relaxed somewhat. He
fancied that the silence that followed was no longer resentful, that
she was busily planning. But when they had almost reached the house
she turned to him.
"Please don't talk war all evening, Clay," she said. "I'm so
ghastly sick of it."
"All right," he agreed amiably. "Of course I can't prevent the
others doing it."
"It's generally you who lead up to it. Ever since you came back
you've bored everybody to death with it."
"Sorry," he said, rather stiffly. "I'll be careful."
He had a wretched feeling that she was probably right. He had come
back so full of new impressions that he had probably overflowed
with them. It was a very formal, extremely tall and reticent
Clayton Spencer who greeted Audrey that night.
Afterward he remembered that Audrey was not quite her usual
frivolous self that evening. But perhaps that was only in
retrospect, in view of what he learned later. She was very daringly
dressed, as usual, wearing a very low gown and a long chain and
ear-rings of black opals, and as usual all the men in the room were
grouped around her.
"Thank heaven for one dignified man," she exclaimed, looking up at
him. "Clayton, you do give tone to my parties."
It was not until they went in to dinner that he missed Chris. He
heard Audrey giving his excuses.
"He's been called out of town," she said. "Clay, you're to have
his place. And the flowers are low, so I can look across and
There were a dozen guests, and things moved rapidly. Audrey's
dinners were always hilarious. And Audrey herself, Clayton perceived
from his place of vantage, was flirting almost riotously with the man
on her left. She had two high spots of color in her cheeks, and
Clayton fancied - or was that in retrospect, too? - that her gayety
was rather forced. Once he caught her eyes and it seemed to him
that she was trying to convey something to him.
And then, of course, the talk turned to the war, and he caught a
flash of irritation on Natalie's face.
"Ask the oracle," said Audrey's clear voice, "Ask Clay. He knows
all there is to know."
"I didn't hear it, but I suppose it is when the war will end?"
"Amazing perspicacity," some one said.
"I can only give you my own opinion. Ten years if we don't go in.
Possibly four if we do."
There were clamors of dissent.
"None of them can hold out so long."
"If we go in it will end in six months."
"Nonsense! The Allies are victorious now:"
"I only gave an opinion," he protested. "One man's guess is just
as good as another's. All I contend is that it is going on to a
finish. The French and English are not going to stop until they
have made the Hun pay in blood for what he has cost them."
"I wish I were a man," Audrey said' suddenly. "I don't see how any
man with red blood in his veins can sit still, and not take a gun
and try to stop it. Sometimes I think I'll cut off my hair, and go
over anyhow. I've only got one accomplishment. I can shoot. I'd
like to sit in a tree somewhere and pick them off. The butchers!"
There was a roar of laughter, not so much at the words as at the
fierceness with which she delivered them. Clayton, however, felt
that she was in earnest and liked her the better for it. He
surmised, indeed, that under Audrey's affectations there might be
something rather fine if one could get at it. She looked around
the table, coolly appraising every man there.
"Look at us," she said. "Here we sit, over-fed, over-dressed.
Only not over-wined because I can't afford it. And probably - yes,
I think actually - every man at this table is more or less making
money out of it all. There's Clay making a fortune. There's
Roddie, making money out of Clay. Here am I, serving Clayton's
cigarets - I don't know why I pick on you, Clay. The rest are
just as bad. You're the most conspicuous, that's all."
Natalie evidently felt that the situation required saving.
"I'm sure we all send money over," she protested. "To the Belgians
and all that. And if they want things we have to sell - "
"Oh, yes, I know all that," Audrey broke in, rather wearily. "I
know. We're the saviors of the Belgians, and we've given a lot of
money and shiploads of clothes. But we're not stopping the war.
And it's got to be stopped!"
Clayton watched her. Somehow what she had just said seemed to
crystallize much that he had been feeling. The damnable butchery
ought to be stopped.
"Right, Audrey," he supported her. "I'd give up every prospect I
have if the thing could be ended now."
He meant it then. He might not have meant it, entirely, to-morrow
or the day after. But he meant it then. He glanced down the table,
to find Natalie looking at him with cynical amusement.
The talk veered then, but still focused on the war. It became
abstract as was so much of the war talk in America in 1916. Were
we, after this war was over, to continue to use the inventions of
science to destroy mankind, or for its welfare? Would we ever again,
in wars to come, go back to the comparative humanity of the Hague
convention? Were such wickednesses as the use of poison gas, the
spreading of disease germs and the killing of non-combatants, all
German precedents, to inaugurate a new era of cruelty in warfare.
Was this the last war? Would there ever be a last war? Would there
not always be outlaw nations, as there are outlaw individuals?
Would there ever be a league of nations to enforce peace?
From that to Christianity. It had failed. On the contrary, there
was a great revival of religious faith. Creeds, no. Belief, yes.
Too many men were dying to permit the growth of any skepticism as
to a future life. We must have it or go mad.
In the midst of that discussion Audrey rose. Her color had faded,
and her smile was gone.
"I won't listen any longer," she said. "I'm ready to talk about
fighting, but not about dying."
Clayton was conscious that he had had, in spite of Audrey's speech
about the wine, rather more to drink than he should have. He was
not at all drunk, but a certain excitement had taken the curb off
his tongue. After the departure of the women he found himself,
rather to his own surprise, delivering a harangue on the Germans.
"Liars and cheats," he said. And was conscious of the undivided
attention of the men. "They lied when they signed the Hague
Convention; they lie when they claim that they wanted peace, not
war; they lie when they claim the mis-use by the Allies of the Red
Cross; they lie to the world and they lie to themselves. And their
peace offers will be lies. Always lies."
Then, conscious that the table was eying him curiously, he subsided
"You're a dangerous person, Clay," somebody said. "You're the kind
who develops a sort of general hate, and will force the President's
hand if he can. You're too old to go yourself, but you're willing
to send a million or two boys over there to fight a war that is
still none of our business."
"I've got a son," Clayton said sharply. And suddenly remembered
Natalie. He would want to boast, she had said, that he had a son
in the army. Good God, was he doing it already? He subsided into
the watchful silence of a man not entirely sure of himself.
He took no liquor, and with his coffee he was entirely himself again.
But he was having a reaction. He felt a sort of contemptuous scorn
for the talk at the table. The guard down, they were either
mouthing flamboyant patriotism or attacking the Government. It had
done too much. It had done too little. Voices raised, faces
flushed, they wrangled, protested, accused.
And the nation, he reflected, was like that, divided apparently
hopelessly. Was there anything that would unite it, as for instance
France was united? Would even war do it? Our problem was much
greater, more complicated. We were of every race. And the country
was founded and had grown by men who had fled from the quarrels of
Europe. They had come to find peace. Was there any humanitarian
principle in the world strong enough to force them to relinquish
Clayton found Audrey in the hall as they moved at last toward the
drawing-room. He was the last of the line of men, and as he paused
before her she touched him lightly on the arm.
"I want to talk to you, Clay. Unless you're going to play."
"I'd rather not, unless you need me."
"I don't. I'm not playing either. And I must talk to some one."
There was something wrong with Audrey. Her usual insouciance was
gone, and her hands nervously fingered the opal beads of her long
"What I really want to do," she added, "is to scream. But don't
look like that. I shan't do it. Suppose we go up to Chris's study."
She was always a casual hostess. Having got her parties together,
and having fed them well, she consistently declined further
responsibility. She kept open house, her side board and her
servants at the call of her friends, but she was quite capable of
withdrawing herself, without explanation, once things were moving
well, to be found later by some one who was leaving, writing letters,
fussing with her endless bills, or sending a check she could not
possibly afford to some one in want whom she happened to have heard
about. Her popularity was founded on something more substantial
than her dinners.
Clayton was liking Audrey better that night than he had ever liked
her, though even now he did not entirely approve of her. And to
the call of any woman in trouble he always responded. It occurred
to him, following her up the stairs, that not only was something
wrong with Audrey, but that it was the first time he had ever known
her to show weakness.
Chris's study was dark. She groped her way in and turned on the
lamp, and then turned and faced him.
"I'm in an awful mess, Clay," she said. "And the worst of it is,