Part 8 out of 9
"You aren't going to get up and go away?"
"Why should I?" she asked. "I only feel - oh, Graham, how wretched
you must have been."
Something in her voice made him sit up straighter. He knew now
that it had always been Delight, always. Only she had been too
good for him. She had set a standard he had not hoped to reach.
But now things were different. He hadn't amounted to much in other
things, but he was a soldier now. He meant to be a mighty good
soldier. And when he got his commission -
"You won't mind, then, if I come in to see you now and then?"
"Mind? Why, Graham!"
"And you don't think I'm quite hopeless, do you?"
There were tears in her eyes, but she answered bravely:
"I believe in you every minute. But then I think I always have."
"Like fun you have!" But although he laughed, it was a shaky laugh.
Suddenly he stood up and shook himself. He felt young and strong
and extremely happy. There had been a bad time, but it was behind
him now. Ahead there lay high adventure, and here, beside him in
the dusk, was the girl of his heart. She believed in him. Work to
do and a woman who believed in a fellow - that was life.
"Aren't you cold?" he asked, and drew the gaudy sweater tenderly
around her shoulders.
The fact that Audrey Valentine, conspicuous member of a conspicuous
social group that she was, had been working in the machine-shop of
the Spencer munitions works at the time of the explosion was in
itself sufficient to rouse the greatest interest. When a young
reporter, gathering human-interest stories about the event from the
pitiful wreckage in the hospitals, happened on Clare Gould, he got
a feature-story for the Sunday edition that made Audrey's own world,
reading it in bed or over its exquisite breakfast-tables, gasp with
For, following up Clare's story, he found that Audrey had done much
more than run toward the telephone. She had reached it, had found
the operator gone, and had succeeded, before the roof fell in on her,
in calling the fire department and in sending in a general alarm to
all the hospitals.
The reporter found the night operator who had received the message.
He got a photograph of her, too, and, from the society file, an old
one of Audrey, very delicate and audacious, and not greatly
resembling the young woman who lay in her bed and read the article
aloud, between dismay and laughter, to old Terry Mackenzie.
"Good heavens, Terry," she said. "Listen! 'I had heard the
explosion, but did not of course know what it was. And then I
got a signal, and it was the Spencer plant. A sweet Southern
voice said, very calmly, "Operator, this is important. Listen
carefully. There has been an explosion at the Spencer plant and
the ruins are on fire. There will probably be more explosions in
a minute. Send in a general fire-alarm, and then get all the
ambulances and doctors - " Then there was another explosion, and
their lines went out of commission. I am glad she is not dead. She
certainly had her nerve.'"
"Fame at last, Audrey!" said old Terry, very gently.
"It's shameless!" But she was a little pleased, nevertheless.
Not at the publicity. That was familiar enough. But that, when
her big moment came, she had met it squarely.
Terry was striding about the room. His visits were always rather
cyclonic. He moved from chair to chair, leaving about each one an
encircling ring of cigaret ashes, and carefully inspecting each new
vase of flowers. He stopped in front of a basket of exquisite
"Who sent this?" he demanded.
"Rodney Page. Doesn't it look like him?"
He turned and stared at her.
"What's come over Clayton Spencer? Is he blind?"
"About Rodney. He's head over heels in love with Natalie Spencer,
God alone knows why."
"I daresay it isn't serious. He is always in love with somebody."
"There's a good bit of talk. I don't give a hang for either of
them, but I'm fond of Clayton. So are you. Natalie's out in the
country now, and Rodney is there every week-end. It's a scandal,
that's all. As for Natalie herself, she ought to be interned as a
dangerous pacifist. She's a martyr, in her own eyes. Thank heaven
there aren't many like her."
Audrey leaned back against her pillows.
"I wonder, Terry," she said, "if you haven't shown me what to do
next. I might be able to reach some of the women like Natalie.
There are some of them, and they've got to learn that if they don't
stand behind the men, we're lost."
"Fine!" he agreed. "Get 'em to knit less and write more letters,
cheerful letters. Tell 'em to remember that by the time their man
gets the letter the baby's tooth will be through. There are a good
many men in the army-camps to-day vicariously cutting teeth. Get
after 'em, Audrey! A worried man is a poor soldier."
After he had gone, she had the nurse bring her paper and pencil,
and she wrote, rather incoherently, it is true, her first appeal to
the women of the country. It was effective, too. Audrey was an
effective person. When Clayton came for his daily visit she had
just finished it, and was reading it over with considerable
"I've become an author, Clay," she said, "I think myself I'm
terribly good at it. May I read it to you?"
He listened gravely, but with a little flicker of amusement in his
eyes. How like her it was, to refuse to allow herself even time to
get entirely well! But when she finished he was thoughtful. She
had called it "Slacker Women." That was what Natalie was; he had
never put it into words before. Natalie was a slacker.
He had never discussed Natalie's attitude toward the war with
Audrey. He rather thought she was entirely ignorant of it. But her
little article, glowing with patriotism, frank, simple, and
convincing, might have been written to Natalie herself.
"It is very fine," he said. "I rather think you have found
yourself at last. There aren't a lot of such women and I daresay
they will be fewer all the time. But they exist, of course."
She glowed under his approval.
There was, in all their meetings, a sub-current of sadness, that
they must be so brief, that before long they must end altogether,
that they could not put into words the things that were in their
eyes and their hearts. After that first hour of her return to
consciousness there had been no expressed tenderness between them.
The nurse sat in the room, eternally knitting, and Clayton sat near
Audrey, or read to her, or, like Terry, wandered about the room.
But now and then Audrey, enthroned, like a princess on her pillows,
would find his eyes on her, and such a hungry look in them that
she would clench her hands. And after such times she always said:
"Now, tell me about the mill." Or about Washington, where he was
being summoned with increasing frequency. Or about Graham.
Anything to take that look out of his eyes. He told her all his
plans; he even brought the blue-prints of the new plant and spread
them out on the bed. He was dreaming a great dream those days, and
Audrey knew it. He was building again, this time not for himself,
but for the nation.
After he had gone, looking boyish and reluctant, she would lie for
a little while watching the door. Perhaps he had forgotten
something, and would come back! One day he did, and was surprised
to find her suddenly in tears.
"You came back!" she said half hysterically. "You came back."
That was the only time in all those weeks that he kissed her. The
nurse had gone out, and suddenly he caught her in his arms and held
her to him. He put her back very gently, and she saw that he was
"I think I'd better go now, and not come back," he said.
And for two long and endless days he did not come. Then on the
third he came, very stiff and formal, and with himself well in hand.
Audrey, leaning back and watching him, felt what a boy he was after
all, so determined to do the right thing, so obvious with his
blue-prints, and so self-conscious.
In June she left the hospital and went to the country. She had
already made a little market for her work, and she wanted to carry
it on. By that time, too, she knew that the break must come between
Clayton and herself if it came at all.
"No letters, no anything, Clay," she said, and he acquiesced
quietly. But the night she left, the butler, coming downstairs to
investigate a suspicious sound, found him restlessly pacing the
In August he went abroad, and some time about the middle of the
month while he was in London, he received a cable from Graham. He
had been commissioned a first lieutenant in the infantry. Clayton
had been seeing war at first hand then, and for a few moments he
was fairly terrified. On that first of August the Germans had
used liquid fire for the first time, thus adding a new horror. Men
in the trenches swept by it had been practically annihilated.
Attacks against it were practically suicide. Already the year had
seen the last of Kitchener's army practically destroyed, and the
British combing the country for new divisions.
In the deadly give and take of that summer, where gains and losses
were measured by yards, the advantage was steadily on the German
side, and it would be a year before the small force of American
regulars could be augmented to any degree by the great new army.
It was the darkest hour.
Following on the heels of Graham's cable came a hysterical one from
"Graham probably ordered abroad. Implore you use influence with
He resorted to his old remedy when he was in trouble. He walked
the streets. He tried to allow for Natalie's lack of exaltation by
the nature of her life. If she could have seen what he had seen,
surely she would have felt, as he did, that no sacrifice could be
too great to end this cancer of the world. But deep in his heart
he knew that Natalie was - Natalie. Nothing would change her.
As it happened, he passed Graham on the Atlantic. There was a
letter for him at the office, a boyish, exultant letter:
"Dad dear, I'm married!" it began. "Married and off for France.
It is Delight, of course. It always was Delight, altho I know that
sounds queer. And now I'm off to kill a Hun or two. More than
that, I hope. I want two Germans for every poor devil they got at
the works. That's the minimum. The maximum - !
"You'll look after Delight, I know. She has been perfectly bully,
but it's hard on her. We were married two days ago, and already I
feel as though I've always been married. She's going on with the
canteen work, and I shall try not to be jealous. She's popular!
And if you'd seen the General when we were married you'd have thought
he was losing a daughter.
"I wired Mother, but she was too cut up about my leaving to come.
I wish she had, for it was a strange sort of wedding. The division
was about to move, and at the last minute five girls turned up to
be married to fellows who were leaving. They came from all over,
and believe me there was some excitement. All day the General and
Chaplain Haverford were fussing about licenses, and those girls sat
around and waited, and looked droopy but sort of happy - you know
what I mean.
"It was nine o'clock in the evening before everything was ready.
Delight had trimmed up the little church which is in the camp and
had a flag over the altar. Then we had a multiple wedding.
Honestly! The organ played a squeaky wedding march, and we went
in, six couples. The church was full of soldiers, and - I don't
mind saying I was ready to shed tears.
"We lined up, and Doctor Haverford married us. Delight says she
is sure we are only one-sixth married. Quiet! You never heard
such quiet - except for the General blowing his nose. I think
myself he was weeping, and there was a rumor about the camp to that
effect. You know - the flag over the altar, and all that. I tell
you it made a fellow think.
"Well, I'm going over now. Quick work, isn't it? And to think
that a few months ago I was hanging around the club and generally
making a mess of life. That's all over now, thank God. I'm going
to make good. Try to buck mother up. It's pretty hard for her.
It's hard for all women, just waiting. And while I know I'm coming
back, safe and sound, I'd like to feel that you are going to keep
an eye on Delight. She's the most important thing in the world to
Then scrawled in a corner he had added,
"You've been mighty fine with me always, dad. I was a good bit of
a pup last winter. If I make anything of myself at all, it will be
because I want to be like you."
Clayton sat for a long time with the letter in his hand. The
happiness and hope that fairly radiated from it cheered and warmed
him. He was nearly happy. And it came to him then that, while
every man had the right to happiness, only those achieved it who
craved it for others, and having craved it for them, at last saw
the realization of their longing.
Natalie had had a dull Spring. With Graham's departure for camp
she moved to the country house, carrying with her vast amounts of
luggage, the innumerable thing, large and small, which were
necessary for her comfort. The installing of herself in her new
and luxurious rooms gave her occupation for several days. She
liked her new environment. She liked herself in it. The
rose-colored taffetas of her bedroom brought out the delicacy of
her skin. The hangings of her bed, small and draped, reflected a
faint color into her face, and the morning inspection with a
hand-mirror, which always followed her coffee, showed her at her
best instead of her worst.
Of her dressing-room she was not so sure. It's ivory-paneled walls,
behind whose sliding panels were hung her gowns, her silk and satin
chiffon negligees, her wraps and summer furs - all the vast
paraphernalia with which she armed herself, as a knight with armor
- the walls seemed cold. She hated old-blue, but old-blue Rodney
had insisted upon.
He had held a bit of the taffeta to her cheek.
"It is delicious, Natalie," he said. "It makes your eyes as blue
as the sea."
"Always a decorator!" she had replied, smiling.
And, standing in her blue room, the first day of her arrival, and
frowning at her reflection, she remembered his reply.
"Because I have no right, with you, to be anything else." He had
stopped for a moment, and had absently folded and refolded the bit
of blue silk. Suddenly he said, "What do you think I am going to
do, now that our work together is done? Have you ever thought about
"You are coming often to enjoy your handiwork?"
He had made an impulsive gesture.
"I'm not coming. I've been seeing too much of you as it is. If
you want the truth, I'm just wretchedly unhappy, Natalie. You know
I'm in love with you, don't you?"
"I believe you think you are."
"Don't laugh." He almost snarled. "I may laugh at my idiocy, but
you haven't any right to. I know I'm ridiculous. I've known it
for months. But it's pretty serious for me."
He had meant it. There could be no doubt of that. It is the
curious quality of very selfish women that they inspire a certain
sort of love. They are likely to be loved often, even tho the
devotion they inspire is neither deep nor lasting. Big and
single-hearted women are loved by one man, and that forever.
Natalie had not laughed, but she had done what was almost as bad.
She had patted him on the arm.
"Don't talk like that," she said, gently. "You are all I have now,
Rodney, and I don't want to lose you. I'm suffering horribly these
days. You're my greatest comfort."
"I've heard you say that of a chair."
"As for loving me, you must not talk like that. Under the
circumstances, it's indelicate."
"Oh!" he had said, and looked at her quickly. "I can love you, but
it's indelicate to tell you about it!"
"I am married, Rodney."
"Good God, do you think I ever forget it?"
There was a real change in their relationship, but neither of them
understood it. The change was that Rodney was no longer playing.
Little by little he had dropped his artistic posing for her benefit,
his cynical cleverness, his adroit simulation of passion. He no
longer dramatized himself, because rather often he forgot himself
entirely. His passion had ceased to be spurious, and it was none
the less real because he loved not a real woman, but one of his
own artistic creation.
He saw in Natalie a misunderstood and suffering woman, bearing the
burdens he knew of with dignity and a certain beauty. And behind
her slightly theatrical silences he guessed at other griefs, nobly
borne and only gently intimated. He developed, after a time, a
certain suspicion of Clayton, not of his conduct but of his
character. These big men were often hard. It was that quality
which made them successful. They married tender, gentle girls, and
then repressed and trampled on them.
Natalie became, in his mind, a crushed and broken thing, infinitely
lonely and pathetic. And, without in the least understanding,
Natalie instinctively knew it was when she was wistful and dependent
that he found her most attractive, and became wistful and dependent
to a point that imposed even on herself.
"I've been very selfish with you, Rodney, dear," she said, lifting
sad eyes to his. "I am going to be better. You must come often
this summer, and I'll have some nice girls for you to play with."
"Thank you," he said, stiffly.
"We'll have to be as gay as we can," she sighed. "I'm just a little
dreary these days, you know."
It was rather absurd that they were in a shop, and that the clerk
should return just then with curtain cords, and that the discussion
of certain shades of yellow made an anti-climax to it all. But in
the car, later, he turned to her, roughly.
"You needn't ask any girls for me," he said. "I only want one woman,
and if I can't have her I don't want any one."
At first the very fact that he could not have her had been,
unconsciously, the secret of her attraction. She was a perfect
thing, and unattainable. He could sigh for her with longing and
perfect safety. But as time went on, with that incapacity of any
human emotion to stand still, but either to go on or to go back,
his passion took on a more human and less poetic aspect. She
satisfied him less, and he wanted more.
For one thing, he dreamed that strange dream of mankind, of making
ice burn, of turning snow to fire. The old chimera of turning the
cold woman to warmth through his own passion began to obsess him.
Sometimes he watched Natalie, and had strange fancies. He saw her
lit from within by a fire, which was not the reflection of his, but
was recklessly her own. How wonderful she would be, he thought.
And at those times he had wild visions of going away with her into
some beautiful wilderness and there teaching her what she had
missed in life.
But altho now he always wanted her, he was not always thinking of
a wilderness. It was in his own world that he wanted her, to fit
beautifully into his house, to move, exquisitely dressed, through
ball-rooms beside him. He wanted her, at those times, as the most
perfect of all his treasures. He was still a collector!
The summer only served to increase his passion. During the long
hot days, when Clayton was abroad or in Washington, or working late
at night, as he frequently did how, they were much together.
Natalie's plans for gayety had failed dismally. The city and the
country houses near were entirely lacking in men. She found it a
"I don't know what we are coming to," she complained. "The country
club is like a girl's boarding-school. I wish to heaven the war
was over, and things were sensible again."
So, during his week-end visits, they spent most of the time together.
There were always girls there, and now and then a few men, who always
explained immediately that they had been turned down for the service,
or were going in the fall.
"I'm sure somebody has to stay home and attend to things here," she
said to him one August night. "But even when they are in America,
they are rushing about, pretending to do things. One would think
to see Clayton that he is the entire government. It's absurd."
"I wish I could go," he said unexpectedly.
"Don't be idiotic. You're much too old."
"Not as old as Clay."
"Oh, Clay! He's in a class by himself." She laughed lightly.
"Where is he now?"
"In France, I think. Probably telling them how to run the war."
"When is he coming back?"
"I don't know. What do you mean by wishing you could go?"
"Do you want me to tell you the truth?"
"Not if it's disagreeable."
"Well, I will, and it's not very agreeable. I can't keep this up,
Natalie. I can't keep on coming here, being in Clayton's house,
and eating his bread, while I'm in love with his wife. It isn't
He flung away his cigaret, and bent forward.
"Don't you see that?" he asked gently. "Not while he is working for
the country, and Graham is abroad."
"I don't see why war needs to deprive me of my friends. I've lost
His morals were matters of his private life, and they had been
neither better nor worse than the average. But he had breeding and
a sure sense of the fitness of things, and this present week-end
visit, with the ostentatious care the younger crowd took to allow
him time to see Natalie alone, was galling to him. It put him in
a false position; what hurt more, perhaps, in an unfavorable light.
The war had changed standards, too. Men were being measured,
especially by women, and those who failed to measure up were being
eliminated with cruel swiftness, especially the men who stayed at
With all this, too, there was a growing admiration for Clayton
Spencer in their small circle. His name had been mentioned in
connection with an important position in Washington. In the clubs
there was considerable praise and some envy. And Rodney knew that
his affair with Natalie was the subject of much invidious comment.
"Do you love him?" he asked, suddenly.
"I - why, of course I do."
"Do you mean that?"
"I don't see what that has to do with our friendship."
"Oh - friendship! You know how I feel, and yet you go on, bringing
up that silly word. If you love him, you don't- love me, and yet
you've let me hang around all these months, knowing I am mad about
you. You don't play the game, Natalie."
"What do you want to say?"
"If you don't love Clayton, why don't you tell him so? He's honest
enough. And I miss my guess if he wants a wife who - cares for
She sat in the dusk, thinking, and he watched her. She looked very
lovely in the setting which he himself had designed for her. She
hated change; she loathed trouble, of any sort. And she was, those
days, just a little afraid of that strange, quiet Clayton who seemed
eternally engrossed in war and the things of war. She glanced about,
at the white trellises that gleamed in the garden, at the silvery
fleur de lis which was the fountain, at all the lovely things with
which Clayton's wealth had allowed her to surround herself. And
suddenly she knew she could not give them up.
"I don't see why you have to spoil everything," she said fretfully.
"It had been so perfect. Of course I'm not going to say anything to
Clay. He has enough to worry him now," she added, virtuously.
Suddenly Rodney stooped and kissed her, almost savagely.
"Then I'm going," he said. And to her great surprise he went.
Alone in his room up-stairs Rodney had, in his anger, a glimpse of
insight. He saw her, her life filled with small emotions, lacking
the courage for big ones. He saw her, like a child, clutching one
piece of cake and holding out a hand for another. He saw her,
taking always, giving never.
"She's not worth it," he muttered.
On the way to the station he reflected bitterly over the past year.
He did not blame her so much as he blamed himself. He had been
playing a game, an attractive game. During the first months of it
his interest in Natalie had been subordinate to his interest in her
house. He had been creating a beautiful thing, and he had had a
very real joy in it. But lately he knew that his work on the house
had been that he might build a background for Natalie. He had put
into it the best of his ability, and she was not worth it.
For some days he neither wrote nor called her up. He was not happy,
but he had a sense of relief. He held his head a trifle higher,
was his own man again, and he began to make tentative inquiries as
to whether he could be useful in the national emergency or not. He
was half-hearted at first, but he found out something. The mere
fact that he wanted to work in some capacity brought back some of
his old friends. They had seemed to drop away, before, but they
came back heartily and with hands out.
"Work?" said Terry Mackenzie, at the club one day, looking up from
the billiard table, where he was knocking balls about, rather at
haphazard. "Why, of course you can work. What about these new
cantonments we're building all over the country? You ought to be
useful there. They don't want 'em pretty, tho." And Terry had
laughed. But he put down his cue and took Rodney by the arm.
"Let's ask Nolan about it," he said. "He's in the reading-room,
tearing the British strategy to pieces. He knows everything these
days, from the draft law to the month's shipping losses. Come along."
It was from Nolan, however, that Rodney first realized how seriously
Clayton's friends were taking his affair with Natalie, and that not
at first from anything he said. It was an indefinable aloofness of
manner, a hostility of tone. Nolan never troubled himself to be
agreeable unless it suited his inclination, and apparently Terry
found nothing unusual in his attitude. But Rodney did.
"Something he could build?" said Nolan, repeating Terry's question.
"How do I know? There's a lot of building going on, Page, but it's
not exactly your sort." And there was a faint note of contempt in
"Who would be the man to see in Washington?" Rodney inquired.
"I'll look it up and let you know. You might call me up to-morrow."
Old Terry, having got them together, went back to his billiards and
left them. Nolan sat down and picked up his paper, with an air of
ending the interview. But he put it down again as Rodney turned to
leave the room.
"D'you mind having a few minutes talk?"
Rodney braced himself.
"Not at all."
But Nolan was slow to begin. He sat, newspaper on his knee, his
deep-set eyes thoughtful. When he began it was slowly.
"I am one of Clay Spencer's oldest friends," he said. "He's a
white man, the whitest man I know. Naturally, anything that touches
him touches me, in a way."
"The name stands for a good bit, too. His father and his grandfather
were the same sort. It's not often in this town that we have three
generations without a breath of scandal against them."
Rodney flushed angrily.
"What has that got to do with me?" he demanded.
"I don't know. I don't want to know. I simply wanted to tell you
that there are a good many of us who take a peculiar pride in
Clayton Spencer, and who resent anything that reflects on a name we
respect rather highly."
"That sounds like a threat."
"Not at all. I was merely calling your attention to something I
thought perhaps you had forgotten." Then he got up' and his tone
changed, became brisk, almost friendly. "Now, about this building
thing. If you're in earnest I think it can be managed. You won't
get any money to speak of, you know."
"I don't want any money," sullenly.
"Fine. You'll probably have to go west somewhere, and you'll be
set down in the center of a hundred corn-fields and told to make
them overnight into a temporary town. I suppose you've thought of
"I'll go wherever I'm sent."
"Come along to the telephone, then."
Rodney hesitated. He felt cheap and despicable, and his anger was
still hot. They wanted to get him out of town. He saw that. They
took little enough trouble to hide it. Well, he would go. He
wanted to go anyhow, and he would show them something, too, if he
got a chance. He would show them that he was as much a man as
Clayton Spencer. He eyed Nolan's insolently slouching figure with
furious eyes. But he followed him.
Had he secured an immediate appointment things might have been
different for him. Like Chris Valentine, he had had one decent
impulse, and like Chris too, there was a woman behind it. But
Chris had been able to act on his impulse at once, and Rodney was
compelled to wait while the mills of the government ground slowly.
Then, on the fourteenth of August, Natalie telegraphed him:
"Have had bad news about Graham. Can you come?"
He thought of Graham ill, possibly dead, and he took the next train,
late in the evening. It was mid-week and Natalie was alone. He
had thought of that possibility in the train and he was miserably
uncomfortable, with all his joy at the prospect of seeing her again.
He felt that the emergency must be his justification. Clayton was
still abroad, and even his most captious critics would admit that
Natalie should have a friend by if she were in trouble. Visions of
Graham wounded filled his mind. He was anxious, restless and in a
state of the highest nervous tension.
And there was no real emergency.
He found Natalie in the drawing-room, pacing the floor. She was
still in her morning dress, and her eyes were red and swollen. She
gave him both her hands, and he was surprised to find them cold as
"I knew you would come," she said. "I am so alone, so terrified."
He could hardly articulate.
"What is it?"
"Graham has been ordered abroad."
He stood still, staring at her, and then he dropped her hands.
"Is that all?" he asked, dully.
"Good heavens, Natalie! Tell me. I've been frantic with anxiety
"He was married to-night to Delight Haverford."
And still he stared at her.
"Then he's not hurt, or ill?"
"I didn't say he was. Good gracious, Rodney, isn't that bad enough?"
"But - what did you expect? He would have to go abroad some time.
You knew that. I'm sorry, but - why in God's name didn't you say
in your wire what the trouble was?"
"You sound exactly like Clay."
She was entirely incapable of understanding. She stood before him,
straight and resentful, and yet strangely wistful and appealing.
"I send you word that my only son is going to France, that he has
married without so much as consulting me, that he is going to war
and may never come back. I needed you, and you said once that when
I needed you, wherever you were, you would come. So I sent for
you, and now you act like - like Clay."
"Have you any one here?"
"The servants. Good gracious, Rodney, are you worrying about that?"
"Only for you, Natalie."
"We resent anything that reflects on a name we respect rather
highly." That was what Nolan had said.
"I'm sorry about Graham, dearest. I am sorry about any trouble that
comes to you. You know that, Natalie. I'm only regretful that you
have let me place you in an uncomfortable position. If my being
here is known - Look here, Natalie, dear, I hate to bother you, but
I'll have to take one of the cars and go back to the city to-night."
"Aren't you being rather absurd?"
He hesitated. He could not tell her of that awkward talk with Nolan.
There were many things he would not tell her; his own desire to
rehabilitate himself among the men he knew, his own new-born feeling
that to take advantage of Clayton's absence on business connected
with the war was peculiarly indefensible.
"I shall order the car at once," she said, and touched a bell. When
she turned he was just behind her, but altho he held out his arms
she evaded them, her eyes hard and angry.
"I wish you would try to understand," he said.
"I do, very thoroughly. Too thoroughly. You are afraid for
yourself, not for me. I am in trouble, but that is a secondary
consideration. Don't bother about me, Rodney. I have borne a great
deal alone in my life, and I can bear this."
She turned, and went with considerable dignity out of the door.
"Natalie!" he called. But he heard her with a gentle rustle of
silks going up the staircase. It did not add to his comfort that
she had left him to order the car.
All through the night Rodney rode and thought. He was angry at
Natalie, but he was angrier at himself. He felt that he had been
brutal, unnecessarily callous. After all, her only son was on his
way to war. It was on the cards that he might not come back. And
he had let his uneasiness dominate his sympathy. He had lost her,
but then he had never had her. He never could have her.
Half way to town, on a back road, the car broke down, and after
vainly endeavoring to start it the chauffeur set off on foot to
secure help. Rodney slept, uncomfortably, and wakened with the
movement of the machine to find it broad day. That was awkward, for
Natalie's car was conspicuous, marked too with her initials. He
asked to be set down at a suburban railway station, and was dismayed
to find it crowded with early commuters, who stared at the big car
with interest. On the platform, eyeing him with unfriendly eyes,
was Nolan. Rodney made a movement toward him. The situation was
intolerable, absurd. But Nolan turned his back and proceeded to
read his newspaper.
Perhaps not in years had Rodney Page faced the truth about himself
so clearly as he did that morning, riding into the city on the train
which carried, somewhere ahead, that quietly contemptuous figure
that was Denis Nolan. Faced the truth, saw himself for what he was,
and loathed the thing he saw. For a little time, too, it was given
him to see Natalie for what she was, for what she would always be,
her sole contribution to life the web of her selfishness, carefully
woven, floating apparently aimlessly, and yet snaring and holding
relentlessly whatever it touched. Killing freedom. He saw Clayton
and Graham and himself, feeders for her monstrous complacency and
vanity, and he made a definite determination to free himself.
"I'm through," he reflected savagely. "I'll show them something,
too. I'll - "
He hesitated. How lovely she was! And she cared for him. She was
small and selfish and unspeakably vain, but she cared for him.
The war had done something for Rodney Page. He no longer dreamed
the old dream, of turning her ice to fire. But he dreamed, for a
moment, something finer. He saw Natalie his, and growing big and
fine through love. He saw himself and Natalie, like cards in the
game of life, re-dealt. A new combination; a winning hand -
Very quietly Audrey had taken herself out of Clayton's life. She
sent him a little note of farewell:
"We have had ten very wonderful months, Clay," she wrote. "We ought
to be very happy. So few have as much. And we both know that this
can't go on. I am going abroad. I have an opportunity to go over
and see what Englishwomen are doing in the way of standing behind
their men at war. Then I am to tell our women at home. Not that
they need it now, bless them!
"I believe you will be glad to know that I am to be on the same side
of the ocean with Graham. I could get to him, I think, if anything
should go wrong. Will you send him the enclosed address?
"But, my dear, the address is for him, not for you. You must not
write to me. I have used up every particle of moral courage I
possess, as it is. And I am holding this in my mind, as you must.
Time is a great healer of all wounds. We could have been happy
together; oh, my dear, so very happy together! Now that I am going,
let me be frank for once. I have given you the finest thing I am
capable of. I am better for caring for you as I have, as I do.
"But those days in the hospital told me we couldn't go on. Things
like that don't stand still. Maybe - we are only human, Clay - maybe
if the old days were still here we might have compromised with life.
I don't know. But I do know that we never will, now.
"After all, we have had a great deal, and we still have. It is a
wonderful thing to know that somewhere in the world is some one
person who loves you. To waken up in the morning to it. To go to
sleep remembering it. And to have kept that love fine and clean is
a wonderful thing, too.
"I am not always on a pinnacle. There have been plenty of times
when the mere human want of you has sent me to the dust. Is it
wrong to tell you that? But of course not. You know it. But you
and I know this; Clay, dear. Love that is hopeless, that can not
end in marriage, does one of two things. Either it degrades or it
exalts. It leaves its mark, always, but that mark does not need
to be a stain."
Clayton lived, for a time after that, in a world very empty and very
full. The new plant was well under way. Not only was he about to
make shells for the government at a nominal profit, but Washington
was asking him to assume new and wide responsibilities. He accepted.
He wanted so to fill the hours that there would be no time to
remember. But, more than that, he was actuated by a fine and glowing
desire to serve. Perhaps, underlying it all was the determination to
be, in every way, the man Audrey thought him to be. And there was,
too, a square-jawed resolution to put behind Graham, and other boys
like Graham, all the shells and ammunition they needed.
He worked hard; more than hard. Old Terry, meeting him one day in
the winter that followed, was shocked at his haggard face.
"Better take a little time off, Clay," he suggested. "We're going
to Miami next week. How about ten days or so? Fishing is good
"Can't very well take a holiday just now. Too much to do, Terry."
Old Terry went home and told his wife.
"Looks like the devil," he said. "He'll go down sick one of these
days. I suppose it's no use telling Natalie."
"None whatever," said Mrs. Terry. "And, anyhow, it's a thing I
shouldn't care to tell Natalie."
"What do you mean, not care to tell Natalie?"
"Hard work doesn't make a man forget how to smile."
"Oh, come now. He's cheerful enough. If you mean because Graham's
"That's only part of it," said Mrs. Terry, sagely, and relapsed
into one of the poignant silences that drove old Terry to a perfect
frenzy of curiosity.
Then, in January of 1918, a crisis came to Clayton and Natalie
Spencer. Graham was wounded.
Clayton was at home when the news came. Natalie had been having
one of her ill-assorted, meticulously elaborate dinner-parties,
and when the guests had gone they were for a moment alone in the
drawing-room of their town house. Clayton was fighting in himself
the sense of irritation Natalie's dinners always left, especially
the recent ones. She was serving, he knew, too much food. In the
midst of the agitation on conservation, her dinners ran their
customary seven courses. There was too much wine, too. But it
occurred to him that only the wine had made the dinner endurable.
Then he tried to force himself into better humor. Natalie was as
she was, and if, in an unhappy, struggling, dying world she found
happiness in display, God knew there was little enough happiness.
He was not at home very often. He could not spoil her almost
childish content in the small things that made up her life.
"I think it was very successful," she said, surveying herself in
one of the corner mirrors. "Do you like my gown, Clay?"
"It's very lovely."
"It's new. I've been getting some clothes, Clay. You'll probably
shriek at the bills. But all this talk about not buying clothes is
nonsense, you know. The girls who work in the shops have to live."
"Naturally. Of course there is other work open to them now,"
"In munition plants, I daresay. To be blown up!"
He winced. The thought of that night the year before, when the
plant went, still turned him sick.
"Don't buy too many things, my dear," he said, gently. "You know
how things are."
"I know it's your fault that they are as they are," she persisted.
"Oh, I know it was noble of you, and all that. The country's crazy
about you. But still I think it was silly. Every one else is
making money out of things, and you - a lot of thanks you'll get,
when the war's over."
"I don't particularly want thanks."
Then the door-bell rang in the back of the house, and Buckham
answered it. He was conscious at once that Natalie stiffened, and
that she was watchful and a trifle pale. Buckham brought in a
telegram on a tray.
"Give it to me, Buckham," Natalie said, in a strained voice. And
held out her hand for it. When she saw it was for Clayton, however,
she relaxed. As he tore it open, Clayton was thinking. Evidently
Natalie had been afraid of his seeing some message for her. Was
it possible that Natalie - He opened it. After what seemed a long
time he looked up. Her eyes were on him.
"Don't be alarmed, my dear," he said. "It is not very bad. But
Graham has been slightly wounded. Sit down," he said sharply, as
he saw her sway.
"You are lying to me," she said in a dreadful voice. "He's dead!"
"He is not dead, Natalie." He tried to put her into a chair, but
she resisted him fiercely.
"Let me alone. I want to see that telegram."
And, very reluctantly, at last he gave it to her. Graham was
severely wounded. It was from a man in his own department at
Washington who had just seen the official list. The nature of
his wounding had not been stated.
Natalie looked up from the telegram with a face like a painted
"This is your doing," she said. "You wanted him to go. You sent
him into this. He will die, and you will have murdered him."
The thought came to him, in that hour of stress, that she was right.
Pitifully, damnably right. He had not wanted Graham to go, but he
had wanted him to want to go. A thousand thoughts flashed through
his mind, of Delight, sleeping somewhere quietly after her day's
work at the camp; of Graham himself, of that morning after the
explosion, and his frank, pitiful confession. And again of Graham,
suffering, perhaps dying, and with none of his own about him. And
through it all was the feeling that he must try to bring Natalie to
reason, that it was incredible that she should call him his own son's
"We must not think of his dying," he said. "We must only think
that he is going to live, and to come back to us, Natalie dear."
She flung off the arm he put around her.
"And that," he went on, feeling for words out of the dreadful
confusion in his mind, "if - the worst comes, that he has done a
magnificent thing. There is no greater thing, Natalie."
"That won't bring him back to us," she said, still in that frozen
voice. And suddenly she burst into hard, terrible crying.
All that night he sat outside her door, for she would not allow him
to come in. He had had Washington on the telephone, but when at
last he got the connection it was to learn that no further details
were known. Toward dawn there came the official telegram from the
War Department, but it told nothing more.
Natalie was hysterical. He had sent for a doctor, and with
Madeleine in attendance the medical man had worked over her for
hours. Going out, toward morning, he had found Clayton in the
hall and had looked at him sharply.
"Better go to bed, Mr. Spencer," he advised. "It may not be as bad
as you think. And they're doing fine surgery over there."
And, as Clayton shook his head:
"Mrs. Spencer will come round all right. She's hysterical,
naturally. She'll be sending for you before long."
With the dawn, Clayton's thoughts cleared. If he and Natalie were
ever to get together at all, it should be now, with this common
grief between them. Perhaps, after all, it was not too late to
re-build his house of life. He had failed. Perhaps they had both
failed, but the real responsibility was his. Inside the room he
could hear her moaning, a low, monotonous, heart-breaking moan.
He was terribly sorry for her. She had no exaltation to help her,
no strength of soul, no strength of any sort. And, as men will
under stress, he tried to make a bargain with his God.
"Let him live," he prayed. "Bring him back to us, and I will try
again. I'll do better. I've been a rotten failure, as far as she
is concerned. But I'll try."
He felt somewhat better after that, altho he felt a certain
ignominy, too, that always, until such a time, he had gone on his
own, .as it were, and that now, when he no longer sufficed for
himself, he should beseech the Almighty.
Natalie had had a sleeping-powder, and at last he heard her moaning
cease and the stealthy movements of her maid as she lowered the
window shades. It was dawn.
During the next two days Clayton worked as he never had worked
before, still perhaps with that unspoken pact in mind. Worked too,
to forget. He had sent several cables, but no reply came until
the third day. He did not sleep at night. He did not even go to
bed. He sat in the low chair in his dressing-room, dozing
occasionally, to waken with a start at some sound in the hall.
Now and again, as the trained nurse who was watching Natalie at
night moved about the hallways, he would sit up, expecting a
summons that did not come.
She still refused to see him. It depressed and frightened him, for
how could he fulfill his part of the compact when she so sullenly
shut him out of her life?
He was singularly simple in his fundamental beliefs. There was a
Great Power somewhere, call it what one might, and it dealt out
justice or mercy as one deserved it. On that, of course, had been
built an elaborate edifice of creed and dogma, but curiously enough
it all fell away now. He was, in those night hours, again the boy
who had prayed for fair weather for circus day and had promised in
return to read his Bible through during the next year. And had
In the daytime, however, he was a man, suffering terribly, and
facing the complexities of his life alone. One thing he knew. This
was decisive. Either, under the stress of a common trouble, he and
Natalie would come together, to make the best they could of the
years to come, or they would be hopelessly alienated.
But that was secondary to Graham. Everything was secondary to
Graham, indeed. He had cabled Audrey, and he drew a long breath
when, on the third day, a cable came from her. She had located
Graham at last. He had been shot in the chest, and there were
"Shall stay with him,"' she ended, "and shall send daily reports."
Next to his God, he put his faith in Audrey. Almost he prayed to
Dunbar, now a captain in the Military Intelligence Bureau, visiting
him in his office one day, found Clayton's face an interesting study.
Old lines of repression, new ones of anxiety, marked him deeply.
"The boy, of course," he thought. And then reflected that it takes
time to carve such lines as were written in the face of the man
across the desk from him. Time and a woman, he considered shrewdly.
His mind harked back to that dinner in the Spencer house when
diplomatic relations had been broken off with. Germany, and war
seemed imminent. It was the wife, probably. He remembered that
she had been opposed to war, and to the boy's going. There were
such women in the country. There were fewer of them all the time,
but they existed, women who saw in war only sacrifice. Women who
counted no cost too high for peace. If they only hurt themselves
it did not matter, but they could and did do incredible damage.
Clayton was going through some papers he had brought, and Dunbar
had time to consider what to him was an interesting problem. Mrs.
Spencer had kept the boy from immediate enlistment. He had wanted
to go; Dunbar knew that. If she had allowed him to go the affair
with Anna Klein would have been ended. He knew all that story now.
Then, if there had been no affair, Herman would not have blown up
the munition works and a good many lives, valuable to themselves at
least, might have been saved.
"Curious!" he reflected. "One woman! And she probably sleeps well
at nights and goes to church on Sundays!"
Clayton passed back his papers, and ran a hand over his heavy hair.
"They seem to be all right," he said.
"Hope the next news will be better, Mr. Spencer."
"I hope so."
"I haven't told you, I think, that we have traced Rudolph Klein."
Clayton's face set.
"He's got away, unfortunately. Over the border into Mexico. They
have a regular system there, the Germans - an underground railway
to Mexico City. They have a paymaster on our side of the line.
They even bank in one of our banks! Oh, we'll get them yet, of
course, but they're damnably clever."
"I suppose there is no hope of getting Rudolph Klein?"
"Not while the Germans are running Mexico," Captain Dunbar replied,
dryly. "He's living in a Mexican town just over the border. We're
watching him. If he puts a foot on this side we'll grab him."
Clayton sat back after he had gone. He was in his old office at
the mill, where Joey had once formed his unofficial partnership with
the firm. Outside in the mill yard there was greater activity than
ever, but many of the faces were new. The engineer who had once
run the yard engine was building bridges in France. Hutchinson had
heard the call, and was learning to fly in Florida, The service
flag over his office door showed hundreds of stars, and more were
being added constantly. Joey dead. Graham wounded, his family
life on the verge of disruption, and Audrey -
Then, out of the chaos there came an exaltation. He had given
himself, his son, the wealth he had hoped to have, but, thank God,
he had had something to give. There were men who could give nothing,
like old Terry Mackenzie, knocking billiard-balls around at the
club, and profanely wistful that he had had no son to go. His mind
ranged over those pathetic, prosperous, sonless men who filed into
the club late in the afternoons, and over the last editions and
whisky-and-sodas fought their futile warfare, their battle-ground a
newspaper map, their upraised voices their only weapons.
On parade days, when the long lines of boys in khaki went by, they
were silent, heavy, inutile. They were too old to fight. The
biggest thing in their lives was passing them by, as passed the
lines of marching boys, and they had no part in it. They were
feeding their hungry spirits on the dregs of war, on committee
meetings and public gatherings, and they were being useful. But
the great exaltation of offering their best was not for them.
He was living a tragedy, but a greater tragedy was that of the
childless. And back of that again was the woman who had not wanted
children. There were many men to-day who were feeling the
selfishness of a woman at home, men who had lost, somehow, their
pride, their feeling of being a part of great things. Men who went
home at night to comfortable dwellings, with no vacant chair at
the table, and dined in a peace they had not earned.
Natalie had at least given him a son.
He took that thought home with him in the evening. He stopped at
a florist's and bought a great box of flowers for her, and sent them
into her room with a little note,
"Won't you let me come in and try to comfort you?"
But Madeleine brought the box out again, and there was pity in her
"Mrs. Spencer can not have them in the room, sir. She says the
odor of flowers makes her ill."
He knew Madeleine had invented the excuse, that Natalie had simply
rejected his offering. He went down-stairs, and made a pretense
of dining alone in the great room.
It was there that Audrey's daily cable found him. Buckham brought
it in in shaking fingers, and stood by, white and still, while he
Clayton stood up. He was very white, but his voice was full and
"He is better, Buckham! Better!"
Suddenly Buckham was crying. His austere face was distorted, his
lean body trembling. Clayton put his arm around the bowed old
And in that moment, as they stood there, master and man, Clayton
Spencer had a flash of revelation. There was love and love. The
love of a man for a woman, and of a woman for a man, of a mother
for the child at her knee, of that child for its mother. But that
the great actuating motive of a man's maturity, of the middle span,
was vested along with his dreams, his pride and his love, in his son,
Buckham, carrying his coffee into the library somewhat later, found
him with his head down on his desk, and the cablegram clutched in
his outstretched hands. He tip-toed out, very quietly.
Clayton's first impulse was to take the cable to Natalie, to brush
aside the absurd defenses she had erected, and behind which she
cowered, terrified but obstinate. To say to her,
"He is living. He is going to live. But this war is not over yet.
If we want him to come through, we must stand together. We must
deserve to have him come back to us."
But by the time he reached the top of the stairs he knew he could
not do it. She would not understand. She would think he was using
Graham to further a reconciliation; and, after her first joy was
over, he knew that he would see again that cynical smile that always
implied that he was dramatizing himself.
Nothing could dim his strong inner joy, but something of its outer
glow faded. He would go to her, later. Not now. Nothing must
spoil this great thankfulness of his.
He gave Madeleine the cable, and went down again to the library.
After a time he began to go over the events of the past eighteen
months. His return from the continent, and that curious sense of
unrest that had followed it, the opening of his eyes to the
futility of his life. His failure to Natalie and her failure to
him. Graham, made a man by war and by the love of a good woman.
Chris, ending his sordid life in a blaze of glory, and forever
forgiven his tawdry sins because of his one big hour.
War took, but it gave also. It had taken Joey, for instance, but
Joey had had his great moment. It was better to have one great
moment and die than to drag on through useless years. And it was
the same way with a nation. A nation needed its hour. It was
only in a crisis that it could know its own strength. How many
of them, who had been at that dinner of Natalie's months before,
had met their crisis bravely! Nolan was in France now. Doctor
Haverford was at the front. Audrey was nursing Graham. Marion
Hayden was in a hospital training-School. Rodney Page was still
building wooden barracks in a cantonment in Indiana, and was
making good. He himself -
They could never go back, none of them, to the old smug, complacent,
luxurious days. They could no more go back than Joey could return
to life again. War was the irrevocable step, as final as death
itself. And he remembered something Nolan had said, just before he
"We have had one advantage, Clay. Or maybe it is not an advantage,
after all. Do you realize that you and I have lived through the
Golden Age? We have seen it come and seen it go. The greatest
height of civilization, since the world began, the greatest
achievements, the most opulent living. And we saw it all crash.
It will be a thousand years before the world will be ready for
"I suppose every life has its Golden Age. Generally we think it
is youth. I'm not so sure. Youth is looking ahead. It has its
hopes and its disappointments. The Golden Age in a man's life
ought to be the age of fulfillment. It's nearer the forties than
"Have you reached it?"
"I'm going to, on the other side."
And Clayton had smiled.
"You are going to reach it," he said. "We are always going to find
it, Nolan. It is always just ahead."
And Nolan had given him one of his quick understanding glances.
There could be no Golden Age for him. For the Golden Age for a man
meant fulfillment. The time came to every man when he must sit at
the west window of his house of life and look toward the sunset. If
he faced that sunset alone -
He heard Madeleine carrying down Natalie's dinner-tray, and when
she left the pantry she came to the door of the library.
"Mrs. Spencer would like to see you, sir."
"Thank you, Madeleine. I'll go up very soon."
Suddenly he knew that he did not want to go up to Natalie's scented
room. She had shut him out when she was in trouble. She had not
cared that he, too, was in distress. She had done her best to
invalidate that compact he had made. She had always invalidated him.
To go back to the old way, to the tribute she enforced to feed her
inordinate vanity, to the old hypocricy of their relationship, to
live again the old lie, was impossible.
He got up. He would not try to buy himself happiness at the cost
of turning her adrift. But he must, some way, buy his self-respect.
He heard her then, on the staircase, that soft rustle which, it
seemed to him, had rasped the silk of his nerves all their years
together with its insistence on her dainty helplessness, her
femininity, her right to protection. The tap of her high heels came
closer. He drew a long breath and turned, determinedly smiling, to
face the door.
Almost at once he saw that she was frightened. She had taken pains
to look her best - but then she always did that. She was rouged to
the eyes, and the floating white chiffon of her negligee gave to her
slim body the illusion of youth, that last illusion to which she so
desperately clung. But - she was frightened.
She stood in the doorway, one hand holding aside the heavy velvet
curtain, and looked at him with wide, penciled eyes.
"Yes. Come in. Shall I have Buckham light a fire?"
She came in, slowly.
"Do you suppose that cable is reliable?"
"I should think so."
"He may have a relapse."
"We mustn't worry about what may come. He is better now. The
chances are that he'll stay better."
"Probably. I suppose, because I have been so ill - "
He felt the demand for sympathy, but he had none to give. And he
felt something else. Natalie was floundering, an odd word for her,
always so sure of herself. She was frightened, unsure of herself,
and - floundering. Why?
"Are you going to be in to-night?"
She gave a curious little gesture. Then she evidently made up her
mind and she faced him defiantly.
"Of course, if I had known he was going to be better, I'd - Clay,
I wired yesterday for Rodney Page. He arrives to-night."
"I don't think I quite understand, Natalie. Why did you wire for
"You wouldn't understand, of course. I was in trouble. He has been
my best friend. I tried to bear it alone, but I couldn't. I - "
"Alone! You wouldn't see me."
"I couldn't, Clay."
"Because - if Graham had died - "
Her mouth trembled. She put her hand to her throat.
"You would have blamed me for his death?"
"Then. even now, if - "
The sheer cruelty of it sent him pale. Yet it was not so much
deliberate as unconscious. She was forcing herself to an unwonted
honesty. It was her honest conviction that he was responsible for
Graham's wounding and danger.
"Let me get to the bottom of this," he said quietly. "You hold me
responsible. Very well. How far does that take us? How far does
that take you? To Rodney!"
"You needn't be brutal. Rodney understands me. He - he cares for
"I see. And, since you sent for him I take it you care for Rodney."
"I don't know. I - "
"Isn't it time you do know? For God's sake, Natalie, make up your
mind to some course and stick to it."
But accustomed as he was to the curious turns of her mind, he was
still astounded to have her turn on him and accuse him of trying to
get rid of her. It was not until later that he realized in that
attitude of hers her old instinct of shifting the responsibility
from her own shoulders.
And then Rodney was announced.
The unreality of the situation persisted. Rodney's strained face
and uneasy manner, his uniform, the blank pause when he had learned
that Graham was better, and when the ordinary banalities of greeting
were over. Beside Clayton he looked small, dapper, and wretchedly
uncomfortable, and yet even Clayton had to acknowledge a sort of
dignity in the man.
He felt sorry for him, for the disillusion that was to come. And
at the same time he felt an angry contempt for him, that he should
have forced so theatrical a situation. That the night which saw
Graham's beginning recovery should be tarnished by the wild clutch
after happiness of two people who had done so little to earn it.
He saw another, totally different scene, for a moment. He saw
Graham in his narrow bed that night in some dimly-lighted hospital
ward, and he saw Audrey beside him, watching and waiting and praying.
A wild desire to be over there, one of that little group, almost
overcame him. And instead -
"Natalie has not been well, Rodney," he said. "I rather think, if
you have anything to say to me, we would better talk alone."
Natalie went out, her draperies trailing behind her. Clayton
listened, as she moved slowly up the stairs. For the last time he
heard that soft rustling which had been the accompaniment to so
many of the most poignant hours of his life. He listened until it
had died away.
For months Rudolph Klein had been living in a little Mexican town
on the border. There were really two towns, but they were built
together with only a strip of a hundred feet between. Along this
strip ran the border itself, with a tent pitched on the American
side, and patrols of soldiers guarding it. The American side was
bright and clean, orderly and self-respecting, but only a hundred
feet away, unkempt, dusty, with adobe buildings and a notorious
gambling-hell in plain view, was Mexico itself - leisurely,
improvident, not overscrupulous Mexico.
At first Rudolph was fairly contented. It amused him. He liked
the idleness of it. He liked kicking the innumerable Mexican dogs
out of his way. He liked baiting the croupiers in the "Owl." He
liked wandering into that notorious resort and shoving Hindus,
Chinamen, and Mexicans out of the way, while he flung down a silver
dollar and watched the dealers with cunning, avaricious eyes.
He liked his own situation, too. It amused him to think that here
he was safe, while only a hundred feet away he was a criminal,
fugitive from the law. He liked to go to the very border itself,
and jeer at the men on guard there.
"If I was on that side," he would say, "you'd have me in one of
those rotten uniforms, wouldn't you? Come on over, fellows. The
Then, one day, a Chinaman he had insulted gave him an unexpected
shove, and he had managed to save himself by a foot from the clutch
of a quiet-faced man in plain clothes who spent a certain amount of
time lounging on the other side of the border.
That had sobered him. He kept away from the border itself after
that, although the temptation of it drew him. After a few weeks,
when the novelty had worn off, he began to hunger for the clean
little American town across the line. He wanted to talk to some
one. He wanted to boast, to be candid. These Mexicans only
laughed when he bragged to them. But he dared not cross.
There was a high-fenced enclosure behind the "Owl," the segregated
district of the town. There, in tiny one-roomed houses built in
rows like barracks were the girls and women who had drifted to this
jumping-off place of the world. In the daytime they slept or sat
on the narrow, ramshackle porches, untidy, noisy, unspeakably
wretched. At night, however, they blossomed forth in tawdry finery,
in the dancing-space behind the gambling-tables. Some of them were
fixtures. They had drifted there from New Orleans, perhaps, or
southern California, and they lacked the initiative or the money
to get away. But most of them came in, stayed a month or two, found
the place a nightmare, with its shootings and stabbings, and then
At first Rudolph was popular in this hell of the underworld. He
spent money easily, he danced well, he had audacity and a sort of
sardonic humor. They asked no questions, those poor wretches who
had themselves slid over the edge of life. They took what came,
grateful for little pleasures, glad even to talk their own tongue.
And then, one broiling August day, late in the afternoon, when the
compound was usually seething with the first fetid life of the day,
Rudolph found it suddenly silent when he entered it, and hostile,
contemptuous eyes on him.
A girl with Anna Klein's eyes, a girl he had begun to fancy,
There was a ripple of laughter around the compound. They commenced
to bait him, those women he would not have wiped his feet on at home.
They literally laughed him out of the compound.
He went home to his stifling, windowless adobe room, with its
sagging narrow bed, its candle, its broken crockery, and he stood
in the center of the room and chewed his nails with fury. After
a time he sat down and considered what to do next. He would have
to move on some time. As well now as ever. He was sick of the
He began preparations to move on, gathering up the accumulation of
months of careless living for destruction. He picked up some
newspapers preparatory to throwing them away, and a name caught his
attention. Standing there, inside his doorway in the Mexican dusk,
he read of Graham's recent wounding, his mending, and the fact that
he had won the Croix de Guerre. Supreme bitterness was Rudolph's
"Stage stuff!" he muttered. But in the depths of his warped soul
there was bitter envy. He knew well with what frightened yet
adoring eyes Anna Klein had devoured that news of Graham Spencer.
While for him there was the girl in the compound back of the "Owl,"
with Anna Klein's eyes, filled when she looked at him with that
bitterest scorn of all, the contempt of the wholly contemptible.
That night he went to the Owl. He had shaved and had his hair cut
and he wore his only remaining decent suit of clothes. He passed
through the swinging gate in the railing which separated the
dancing-floor from the tables and went up to the line of girls,
sitting in that saddest waiting of all the world, along the wall.
There was an ominous silence at his approach. He planted himself
in front of the girl with eyes like Anna Klein.
"Are you going to dance?"
"Not with you," she replied, evenly. And again the ripple of
"Because you're a coward," she said. "I'd rather dance with a
"If you think I'm here because I'm afraid to fight you can think
again. Not that I care what you think."
He had meant to boast a little, to intimate that he had pulled off
a big thing, but he saw that he was ridiculous. The situation
infuriated him. Suddenly he burst into foul-mouthed invective,
until one of the girls said, wearily,
"Oh, cut that out, you slacker."
And he knew that no single word he had used against them, out of a
vocabulary both extensive and horrible, was to them so degraded as
that single one applied to him.
Late that night he received a tip from a dealer at one of
vingt-et-un tables. There were inquiries being made for him across
the border. That very evening he, the dealer, had gone across for
a sack of flour, and he had heard about it.
"You'd better get out," said the dealer.
"I'm as safe here as I'd be in Mexico City."
"Don't be too sure, son. You're not any too popular here. There's
such a thing as being held up and carried over the border. It's
been done before now."
"I'm sick of this hole, anyhow," Rudolph muttered, and moved away
in the crowd. The mechanical piano was banging in the dance-hall
as he slipped out into the darkness, under the clear starlight of
the Mexican night, and the gate of the compound stood open. He
passed it with an oath.
Long before, he had provided for such a contingency. By the same
agency which had got him to the border, he could now be sent
further on. At something after midnight, clad in old clothes and
carrying on his back a rough outfit of a blanket and his remaining
wardrobe, he knocked at the door of a small adobe house on the
border of the town. An elderly German with a candle admitted him.
"Well, I'm off," Rudolph said roughly.
"And time enough, too," said the German, gruffly.
Rudolph was sullenly silent. He was in this man's power, and he
knew it. But the German was ready enough to do his part. For
months he had been doing this very thing, starting through the
desert toward the south slackers and fugitives of all descriptions.
He gathered together the equipment, a map with water-holes marked,
a canteen covered with a dirty plaid-cloth casing, a small supply
of condensed foods, in tins mostly, and a letter to certain
Germans in Mexico City who would receive hospitably any American
fugitives and ask no questions.
"How about money?" Rudolph inquired.
The German shrugged his shoulders.
"You will not need money in the desert," he said. "And you haf
spent much money here, on the women. You should have safed it."
"I was told you would give me money."
But the German shook his head.
"You viii find money in Mexico City, if you get there," he said,
cryptically. And Rudolph found neither threats nor entreaties of
He started out of the town, turning toward the south and west.
Before him there stretched days of lonely traveling through the
sand and cactus of the desert, of blistering sun and cold nights,
of anxious searches for water-holes. It was because of the
water-holes that he headed southwest, for such as they were they
lay in tiny hidden oases in the canyons. Almost as soon as he
left the town he was in the desert; a detached ranch, a suggestion
of a road, a fenced-in cotton-field or two, an irrigation ditch, and
then - sand.
He was soft from months of inaction, from the cactus whisky of
Mexico, too, that ate into a man like a corrosive acid. But he
went on steadily, putting behind him as rapidly as possible the
border, and the girls who had laughed at him. He traveled by a
pointed mountain which cut off the stars at the horizon, and as
the miles behind him increased, in spite of his growing fatigue
his spirits rose. Before him lay the fulness of life again.
Mexico City was a stake worth gambling for. He was gambling, he
knew. He had put up his life, and his opponent was thirst. He
knew that, well enough, too, and the figure rather amused him.
"Playing against that, all right," he muttered. He paused and
turned around. The sun had lifted over the rim of the desert, a
red disc which turned the gleaming white alkali patches to rose.
"By God," he said, "that's the ante, is it - A red chip!"
A caravan of mules was coming up from the head of the Gulf of
California. It moved in a cloud of alkali dust and sand, its
ore-sacks coated white. The animals straggled along, wandering out
of the line incessantly and thrust back into place by muleteers who
cracked long whips and addressed them vilely.
At a place where a small rock placed on another marked a side trail
to water, the caravan turned and moved toward the mountains. Close
as they appeared, the outfit was three hours getting to the foot
hills. There was a low meadow now, covered with pale green grass.
Quail scurried away under the mesquite bushes, stealthily whistling,
and here and there the two stones still marked the way.
With the instinct of desert creatures the mules hurried their pace.
Pack-saddles creaked, spurs jingled. Life, insistent, thirsty life,
quickened the dead plain.
A man rode ahead. He dug his spurs into his horse and cantered,
elbows flapping, broad-brimmed hat drawn over his eyes. For hours
he had been fighting the demon of thirst. His tongue was dry, his
lips cracking. The trail continued to be marked with its double
stones, but it did not enter the cool canyon ahead. It turned and
skirted the base of the bare mountain slope. The man's eyes
sharpened. He knew very definitely what he was looking for, and
at last he saw it, a circle of flat stones, some twenty feet across,
the desert sign for a buried spring.
But there was something inside the circle, something which lay still.
The man put his horse to the gallop again. There was a canteen
lying in the trail, a canteen covered with a dirty plaid casing. The
horse's hoof struck it, and it gave out a dry, metallic sound.
"Poor devil!" muttered the rider.
He dismounted and turned the figure over.
"God!" he said. "And water under him all the time!"
Then he dragged the quiet figure outside the ring of stones, and
getting a spade from his saddle, fell to digging in the center.
A foot below the surface water began to appear, clear, cold water.
He lay down, flat and drank out of the pool.
Clayton Spencer was alone in his house. In the months since Natalie
had gone, he had not been there a great deal. He had been working
very hard. He had not been able to shoulder arms, but he had,
nevertheless, fought a good fight.
He was very tired. During the day, a sort of fierce energy upheld
him. Because in certain things he had failed he was the more
determined to succeed in others. Not for himself; ambition of that
sort had died of the higher desire to serve his country. But
because the sense of failure in his private life haunted him.
The house was very quiet. Buckham came in to mend the fire, issuing
from the shadows like a lean old ghost and eyeing him with tender,
faded old eyes.
"Is there anything else, sir?"
"Thanks, no. Buckham."
"Yes, Mr. Spencer."
"I have not spoken about it, but I think you have understood. Mrs.
Spencer is - not coming back."
"Yes, Mr. Spencer."
"I had meant to close the house, but certain things - Captain
Spencer's wife expects a child. I would rather like to have her
come here, for the birth. After that, if the war is over, I shall
turn the house over to them. You would stay on, I hope, Buckham."
"I'll stay, sir. I - " His face worked nervously. "I feel toward
the Captain as I would to my own son, sir. I have already thought
that perhaps - the old nursery has been cleaned and aired for weeks,
Clayton felt a thrill of understanding for the old man through all
the years he had watched and served them. He had reflected their
joys and their sorrows. He had suffered the family destiny without
having shaped it. He had lived, vicariously, their good hours and
their bad. And now, in his old age, he was waiting again for the
vicarious joy of Graham's child.
"But you'll not be leaving the house, sir?"
"I don't know. I shall keep my rooms. But I shall probably live
at the club. The young people ought to be alone, for a while.
There are readjustments - You never married, Buckham?"
"No, Mr. Spencer. I intended to, at one time. I came to this
country to make a home, and as I was rather a long time about it,
she married some one else."
Clayton caught the echo of an old pain in Buckham's repressed voice.
Buckham, too! Was there in the life of every man some woman tragedy?
Buckham, sitting alone in his west window and looking toward the
sunset, Buckham had his memories.
"She lost her only son at Neuve Chapelle," Buckham was saying quietly.
"In a way, it was as tho I had lost a boy. She never cared for the
man she married. He was a fine boy, sir. I - you may remember the
night I was taken ill in the pantry."
"Is her husband still living?"
"No, Mr. Spencer."
"Do you ever think of going back and finding her?"
"I have, sir. But I don't know. I like to remember her as she
used to be. I have some beautiful memories. And I think sometimes
it is better to live on memories. They are more real than - well,
than reality, sir."
Long after Buckham had withdrawn, Clayton paced the floor of the
library. Was Buckham right? Was the real life of a man his mental
life? Was any love so great as a man's dream of love? Peace was
on the way. Soon this nightmare of war would be over, and in the
great awakening love would again take the place of hate. Love of
man for man, of nation for nation. Peace and the things of peace.
Time to live. Time to hope, with the death-cloud gone. Time to
work and time to play. Time to love a woman and cherish her for
the rest of life, if only -
His failure with Natalie had lost him something. She had cost him
his belief in himself. Her last words had crystallized his own
sense of failure.
"I admit all your good qualities, Clay. Heaven knows they are
evident enough. But you are the sort people admire. They don't
love you. They never will."
Yet that night he had had a curious sense that old Buckham loved him.
Maybe he was the sort men loved and women admired.
He sat down and leaned back in his chair, watching the fire-logs.
He felt very tired. What was that Buckham had said about memories?
But Buckham was old. He was young, young and strong. There would
be many years, and even his most poignant memories would grow dim.
From the wall over the mantel Natalie's portrait still surveyed the
room with its delicate complacence. He looked up at it. Yes,
Natalie had been right, he was not the sort to make a woman happy.
There were plenty of men, young men, men still plastic, men who had
not known shipwreck, and some such man Audrey would marry. Perhaps
already, in France -
He got up. His desk was covered with papers, neatly endorsed by
his secretary. He turned out all the lights but his desk lamp.
Natalie's gleaming flesh-tones died into the shadows, and he stood
for a moment, looking up at it, a dead thing, remote, flat, without
significance. Then he sat down at his desk and took up a bundle
of government papers.
There was still work. Thank God for work.
Audrey was in Paris on the eleventh of November. Now and then she
got back there, and reveled for a day or two in the mere joy of
paved streets and great orderly buildings. She liked the streets
and the crowds. She liked watching the American boys swaggering
along, smoking innumerable cigarets and surveying the city with
interested, patronizing eyes. And, always, walking briskly along
the Rue Royale or the Avenue de l'Opera, or in the garden of the
Tuileries where the school-boys played their odd French games, her
eyes were searching the faces of the men she met.
Any tall man in civilian clothes set her heart beating faster. She
was quite honest with herself; she knew that she was watching for
Clay, and she had a magnificent shamelessness in her quest. And now
at last The Daily Mail had announced his arrival in France, and at
first every ring of her telephone had sent her to it, somewhat
breathless but quite confident. He would, she considered, call up
the Red Cross at the Hotel Regina, and they would, by her
instructions, give her hotel.
Then, on that Monday morning, which was the eleventh, she realized
that he would not call her up. She knew it suddenly and absolutely.
She sat down, when the knowledge came to her, with a sickening
feeling that if he did not come to her now he never would come. Yet
even then she did not doubt that he cared. Cared as desperately as
she did. The bond still held.
She tried very hard, sitting there by her wood fire in the orderly
uniform which made her so quaintly young and boyish, to understand
the twisted mental processes that kept him away from her, now that
he was free. And, in the end, she came rather close to the truth:
his sense of failure; his loss of confidence in himself where his
love life was concerned; the strange twisting and warping that were
Natalie's sole legacy from their years together.
For months she had been tending broken bodies and broken spirits.
But the broken pride of a man was a strange and terrible thing.
She did not know where he was stopping, and in the congestion of
the Paris hotels it would be practically impossible to trace him.
And there, too, her own pride stepped in. He must come to her.
He knew she cared. She had been honest with him always, with a
sort of terrible honesty.
Surveying the past months she wondered, not for the first time,
what had held them apart so long, against the urge that had become
the strongest thing in life to them both. The strength in her had
come from him. She knew that. But where had Clay got his strength?
Men were not like that, often. Failing final happiness, they so
often took what they could get. Like Chris.
Perhaps, for the first and last time, she saw Clayton Spencer that
morning with her mind, as well as with her heart. She saw him big
and generous and fine, but she saw him also not quite so big as his
love, conventional, bound by tradition and early training, somewhat
rigid, Calvinistic, and dominated still by a fierce sex pride.
At once the weaknesses of the middle span, and its safety. And,
woman-fashion, she loved him for both his weakness and his strength.
A bigger man might have taken her. A smaller man would have let her
go. Clay was - just Clay; single-hearted, intelligent but not
shrewd, blundering, honest Clay.
She was one great ache for the shelter of his arms.
She had a small sense of shame that, on that day of all others, she
should be obsessed with her own affairs.
This was a great day. That morning, if all went well, the war was
to cease. The curtain was to fall on the great melodrama, and those
who had watched it and those who had played in it would with the
drop of the curtain turn away from the illusion that is war, to the
small and quiet things of home.
"Home!" she repeated. She had no home. But it was a great day,
nevertheless. Only that morning the white-capped femme de chambre
had said, with exaltation in her great eyes:
"So! It is finished, Madame, or soon it will be - in an hour or
"It will be finished, Suzanne."
"And Madame will go back to the life she lived before." Her eyes
had turned to where, on the dressing-table, lay the gold fittings
of Audrey's dressing-case. She visualized Audrey, back in rich,
opulent America, surrounded by the luxury the gold trinkets would
"Madame must be lovely in the costume for a ball," she said, and
sighed. For her, a farm in Brittany, the endless round of small
duties; for the American -
Sitting there alone Audrey felt already the reactions of peace.
The war had torn up such roots as had held her. She was terribly
aware, too, that she had outgrown her old environment. The old
days were gone. The old Audrey was gone; and in her place was a
quiet woman, whose hands had known service and would never again
be content to be idle. Yet she knew that, with the war, the world
call would be gone. Not again, for her, detached, impersonal
service. She was not of the great of the earth. What she wanted,
quite simply, was the service of love. To have her own and to
care for them. She hoped, very earnestly, that she would be able
to look beyond her own four walls, to see distress and to help it,
but she knew, as she knew herself, that the real call to her would
always be love.
She felt a certain impatience at herself. This was to be the
greatest day in the history of the world, and while all the earth
waited for the signal guns, she waited for a man who had apparently
determined not to take her back into his life.
She went out onto her small stone balcony, on the Rue Danou, and
looked out to where, on the Rue de la Paix, the city traffic moved
with a sort of sporadic expectancy. Men stopped and consulted their
watches. A few stood along the curb, and talked in low voices.
Groups of men in khaki walked by, or stopped to glance into the shop
windows. They, too, were waiting. She could see, far below, her
valet de chambre in his green felt apron, and the concierge in his
blue frock coat and brass buttons, unbending in the new democracy of
hope to talk to a cabman.
Suddenly Audrey felt the same exaltation that had been in Suzanne's
eyes. Those boys below in uniform - they were not tragic now. They
were the hope of the world, not its sacrifice. They were going to
live. They were going to live.
She went into her bedroom and put on her service hat. And as she
opened the door Suzanne was standing outside, one hand upraised.
Into the quiet hallway there came the distant sound of the signal
"C'est l'armistice!" cried Suzanne, and suddenly broke into wild
All the way down-stairs Audrey was praying, not articulately, but
in her heart, that this was indeed the end; that the grapes of
wrath had all been trampled; that the nations of the world might
again look forward instead of back. And - because she was not of
the great of the earth, but only a loving woman - that somewhere
Clay was hearing the guns, as she was, and would find hope in them,
and a future.
When a great burden is lifted, the relief is not always felt at
once. The galled places still ache. The sense of weight persists.
And so with Paris. Not at once did the city rejoice openly. It
prayed first, and then it counted the sore spots, and they were
many. And it was dazed, too. There had been no time to discount
peace in advance.
The streets filled at once, but at first it was with a chastened
people. Audrey herself felt numb and unreal. She moved mechanically
with the shifting crowd, looking overhead as a captured German plane
flew by, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. But by mid-day
the sober note of the crowds had risen to a higher pitch. A file
of American doughboys, led by a corporal with a tin trumpet and
officered by a sergeant with an enormous American cigar,
goose-stepped down the Avenue de l'Opera, gaining recruits at every
step. It snake-danced madly through the crowd, singing that one
lyric stand-by of Young America: "Hail! hail! the gang's all here!"
But the gang was not all there, and they knew it. Some of them lay
in the Argonne, or at Chateau-Thierry, and for them peace had come
too late. But the Americans, like the rest of the world, had put
the past behind them. Here was the present, the glorious present,
and Paris on a sunny Monday. And after that would be home.
"Hail, hail, the gang's all here,
What the hell do we care?
What the hell do we care?
Hail, hail, the gang's all here,
What the hell do we care now?"
Gradually the noise became uproarious. There were no bands in Paris,
and any school-boy with a tin horn or a toy drum could start a
procession. Bearded little poilus, arm in arm from curb to curb,
marched grinning down the center of the streets, capturing and
kissing pretty midinettes, or surrounding officers and dancing madly;
Audrey saw an Algerian, ragged and dirty from the battle-fields,
kiss on both cheeks a portly British Admiral of the fleet, and was
herself kissed by a French sailor, with extreme robustness and a
slight tinge of vin ordinaire. She went on smiling.
If only Clay were seeing all this! He had worked so hard. He had