This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Language:
Form:
Genre:
Published:
  • 1919
Collection:
Tags:
Buy it on Amazon Listen via Audible FREE Audible 30 days

“You mean, conscription among the laboring class?” Natalie had asked naively, and there had been a roar of laughter.

“Not at all,” Terry had said. And chuckled. “This war, if it comes, is every man’s burden, rich and poor. Only the rich will give most, because they have most to give.”

“I think that’s ridiculous,” Natalie had said.

It was after that that Clayton began to wonder what she was planning.

He came home late one afternoon to find that they were spending the evening in, and to find a very serious Natalie waiting, when he came down-stairs dressed for dinner. She made an effort to be conversational, but it was a failure. He was uneasily aware that she was watching him, inspecting, calculating, choosing her moment. But it was not until they were having coffee that she spoke.

“I’m uneasy about Graham, Clay.”

He looked up quickly.

“Yes?”

“I think he ought to go away somewhere.”

“He ought to stay here, and make a man of himself,” he came out, almost in spite of himself. He knew well enough that such a note always roused Natalie’s antagonism, and he waited for the storm. But none came.

“He’s not doing very well, is he?”

“He’s not failing entirely. But he gives the best of himself outside the mill. That’s all.”

She puzzled him. Had she heard of Marion?

“Don’t you think, if he was away from this silly crowd he plays with, as he calls it, that he would be better off?”

“Where, for instance?”

“You keep an agent in England. He could go there. Or to Russia, if the Russian contract goes through.”

He was still puzzled.

“But why England or Russia?”

“Anywhere out of this country.”

“He doesn’t have to leave this country to get away from a designing woman.”

From her astonished expression, he knew that he had been wrong. She was not trying to get him away from Marion. From what?

She bent forward, her face set hard.

“What woman?”

Well, it was out. She might as well know it. “Don’t you think it possible, Natalie, that he may intend to marry Marion Hayden?”

There was a very unpleasant half-hour after that. Marion was a parasite of the rich. She had abused Natalie’s hospitality. She was designing. She played bridge for her dress money. She had ensnared the boy.

And then:

“That settles it, I should think. He ought to leave America. If you have a single thought for his welfare you’ll send him to England.”

“Then you hadn’t known about Marion when you proposed that before?”

“No. I knew he was not doing well. And I’m anxious. After all, he’s my boy. He is – “

“I know,” he supplemented gravely. “He is all you have. But I still don’t understand why he must leave America.”

It was not until she had gone up-stairs to her room, leaving him uneasily pacing the library floor, that he found the solution. Old Terry Mackenzie and his statement about conscription. Natalie wanted Graham sent out of the country, so he would be safe. She would purchase for hint a shameful immunity, if war came. She would stultify the boy to keep him safe. In that hour of clear vision he saw how she had always stultified the boy, to keep him safe. He saw her life a series of small subterfuges, of petty indulgences, of little plots against himself, all directed toward securing Graham immunity – from trouble at school, from debt, from his own authority.

A wave of unreasoning anger surged over him, but with it there was pity, too; pity for the narrowness of her life and her mind, pity for her very selfishness. And for the first time in his life he felt a shamefaced pity for himself. He shook himself violently. When a man got sorry for himself –

CHAPTER XX

Rudolph Klein had not for a moment believed Anna’s story about the watch, and on the day after he discovered it on her wrist he verified his suspicions. During his noon hour he went up-town and, with the confident swagger of a certain type of man who feels himself out of place, entered the jeweler’s shop in question.

He had to wait for some little time, and he spent it in surveying contemptuously the contents of the show-cases. That even his wildest estimate fell far short of their value he did not suspect, but his lips curled. This was where the money earned by honest workmen was spent, that women might gleam with such gewgaws. Wall Street bought them, Wall Street which was forcing this country into the war to protect its loans to the Allies. America was to pull England’s chestnuts out of the fire that women, and yet more women, might wear those strings of pearls, those glittering diamond baubles.

Into his crooked mind there flashed a line from a speech at the Third Street hall the night before: “War is hell. Let those who want to, go to hell.”

So – Wall Street bought pearls for its women, and the dissolute sons of the rich bought gold wrist-watches for girls they wanted to seduce. The expression on his face was so terrible that the clerk behind the counter, waiting to find what he wanted, was startled.

“I want to look at gold wrist-watches,” he said. And eyed the clerk for a trace of patronage.

“Ladies?”

“Yes.”

He finally found one that was a duplicate of Anna’s, and examined it carefully. Yes, it was the same, the maker’s name on the dial, the space for the monogram on the back, everything.

“How much is this one?”

“One hundred dollars.”

He almost dropped it. A hundred dollars! Then he remembered Anna’s story.

“Have you any gold-filled ones that look like this?”

“We do not handle gold-filled cases.”

He put it down, and turned to go. Then he stopped.

“Don’t sell on the installment plan, either, I suppose?” The sneer in his voice was clearer than his anxiety. In his mind, he already knew the answer.

“Sorry. No.”

He went out. So he had been right. That young skunk had paid a hundred dollars for a watch for Anna. To Rudolph it meant but one thing.

That had been early in January. For some days he kept his own counsel, thinking, planning, watching. He was jealous of Graham, but with a calculating jealousy that set him wondering how to turn his knowledge to his own advantage. And Anna’s lack of liberty comforted him somewhat. He couldn’t meet her outside the mill, at least not without his knowing it.

He established a system of espionage over her that drove her almost to madness.

“What’re you hanging round for?” she would demand when he stepped forward at the mill gate. “D’you suppose I never want to be by myself?”

Or:

“You just go away, Rudolph Klein. I’m going up with some of the girls.”

But she never lost him. He was beside her or at her heels, his small crafty eyes on her. When he walked behind her there was a sensuous gleam in them.

After a few weeks she became terrified. There was a coldness of deviltry in him, she knew. And he had the whip-hand. She was certain he knew about the watch, and her impertinence masked an agony of fear. Suppose he went to her father? Why, if he knew, didn’t he go to her father?

She suspected him, but she did not know of what. She knew he was an enemy of all government, save that of the mob, that he was an incendiary, a firebrand who set on fire the brutish passions of a certain type of malcontents. She knew, for all he pretended to be the voice of labor, he no more represented the honest labor of the country than he represented law and order.

She watched him sometimes, at the table, when on Sundays he ate the mid-day meal with them; his thin hatchet face, his prominent epiglottis. He wore a fresh cotton shirt then, with a flaming necktie, but he did not clean his fingernails. And his talk was always of tearing down, never of building up.

“Just give us time, and we’ll show them,” he often said. And “them” was always the men higher up.

He hated policemen. He and Herman had had many arguments about policemen. Herman was not like Rudolph. He believed in law and order. He even believed in those higher up. But he believed very strongly in the fraternity of labor. Until the first weeks of that New-year, Herman Klein, outside the tyranny of his home life, represented very fairly a certain type of workman, believing in the dignity and integrity of his order. But, with his failure to relocate himself, something went wrong in Herman. He developed, in his obstinate, stubborn, German head a suspicion of the land of his adoption. He had never troubled to understand it. He had taken it for granted, as he took for granted that Anna should work and turn over her money to him.

Now it began to ask things of him. Not much. A delegation of women came around one night and asked him for money for Belgian Relief. The delegation came, because no one woman would venture alone.

“I have no money for Belgians,” he said. He would not let them come in. “Why should I help the Belgians? Liars and hypocrites!”

The story went about the neighborhood, and he knew it. He cared nothing for popularity, but he resented losing his standing in the community. And all along he was convinced that he was right; that the Belgians had lied. There had been, in the Germany he had left, no such will to wanton killing. These people were ignorant. Out of the depths of their ignorance they talked.

He read only German newspapers. In the little room back of Gustav Shroeder’s he met only Germans. And always, at his elbow, there was Rudolph.

Until the middle of January Rudolph had not been able to get him to one of his incendiary meetings. Then one cold night while Anna sewed by the lamp inside the little house, Rudolph and Herman walked in the frozen garden, Herman with his pipe, Rudolph with the cheap cigarets he used incessantly. Anna opened the door a crack and listened at first. She was watchful of Rudolph, always, those days. But the subject was not Anna.

“You think we get in, then?” Herman asked.

“Sure.”

“But for what?”

“So ‘Spencers’ can make more money out of it,” said Rudolph bitterly. “And others like them. But they and their kind don’t do the dying. It’s the workers that go and die. Look at Germany!”

“Yes. It is so in Germany.”

“All this talk about democracy – that’s bunk. Just plain bunk. Why should the workers in this country kill the workers in another? Why? To make money for capital – more money.”

“Ja,” Herman assented. “That is what war is. Always the same. I came here to get away from war.”

“Well, you didn’t get far enough. You left a king behind, but we’ve got a Czar here.”

Herman was slowly, methodically, following an earlier train of thought.

“I am a workman,” he said. “I would not fight against other workmen. Just as I, a German, will not fight against other Germans.”

“But you would sit here, on the hill, and do nothing.”

“What can I do? One man, and with no job.”

“Come to the meeting to-night.”

“You and your meetings!” the old German said impatiently. “You talk. That’s all.”

Rudolph lowered his voice.

“You think we only talk, eh? Well, you come and hear some things. Talk! You come,” he coaxed, changing his tone. “And we’ll have some beer and schnitzel at Gus’s after. My treat. How about it?”

Old Herman assented. He was tired of the house, tired of the frozen garden, tired of scolding the slovenly girl who pottered around all day in a boudoir cap and slovenly wrapper. Tired of Anna’s rebellious face and pert answers.

He went inside the house and put a sweater under his coat, and got his cap.

“I go out,” he said, to the impassive figure under the lamp. “You will stay in.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I may take a walk.”

“You will stay in,” he repeated, and followed Rudolph outside. There he reached in, secured the key, and locked the door on the outside. Anna, listening and white with anger, heard his ponderous steps going around to the back door, and the click as he locked that one also.

“Beast!” she muttered. “German schwein.”

It was after midnight when she heard him coming back. She prepared to leap out of her bed when he came up-stairs, to confront him angrily and tell him she was through. She was leaving home. But long after she had miserably cried herself to sleep, Herman sat below, his long-stemmed pipe in his teeth, his stockinged feet spread to the dying fire.

In that small guarded hail that night he had learned many surprising things, there and at Gus’s afterward. The Fatherland’s war was already being fought in America, and not only by Germans. The workers of the world had banded themselves together, according to the night’s speakers. And because they were workers they would not fight the German workers. It was all perfectly simple. With the cooperation of the workers of the world, which recognized no country but a vast brotherhood of labor, it was possible to end war, all war.

In the meantime, while all the workers all over the world were being organized, one prevented as much as possible any assistance going to capitalistic England. One did some simple thing – started a strike, or sawed lumber too short, or burned a wheat-field, or put nails in harvesting machinery, or missent perishable goods, or changed signal-lights on railroads, or drove copper nails into fruit-trees, so they died. This was a pity, the fruit-trees. But at least they did not furnish fruit for Germany’s enemies.

So each one did but one thing, and that small, so small that it was difficult to discover. But there were two hundred thousand men to do them, according to Rudolph, and that meant a great deal.

Only one thing about the meeting Herman had not liked. There were packages of wicked photographs going about. Filthy things. When they came to him he had dropped them on the floor. What had they to do with Germany’s enemies, or preventing America from going into the war?

Rudolph laughed when he dropped them.

“They won’t bite you!” he had said, and had stooped to pick them up. But Herman had kept his foot on them.

So – America would go into the war against the Fatherland, unless many hundreds of thousands did each their little bit. And if they did not, America would go in, and fight for England to control the seas, and the Spencer plant would make millions of shells that honest German workers, sweat-brothers of the world, might die.

He remembered word for word the peroration of the evening’s speech.

“We would extend the hand of brotherhood to the so-called enemy, and strangle the cry for war in the fat white throats of the blood-bloated money-lenders of Wall Street, before it became articulate.”

He was very tired. He stooped and picked up his shoes, and with them in his hand, drawn to his old-time military erectness, he stood for some time before the gilt-framed picture on the wall. Then he went slowly and ponderously up-stairs to bed.

CHAPTER XXI

From the moment, the day before Christmas, when Graham had taken the little watch from his pocket and fastened it on Anna’s wrist, he was rather uneasily aware that she had become his creature. He had had no intention of buying Anna. He was certainly not in love with her. But he found her amusing and at times comforting.

He had, of course, expected to lose her after the unlucky day when Clayton had found them together, but Dunbar had advised that she be kept on for a time at least. Mentally Graham figured that the first of January would see her gone, and the thought of a Christmas present for her was partly compounded of remorse.

He had been buying a cigaret case for Marion when the thought came to him. He had not bought a Christmas present for a girl, except flowers, since the first year he was at college. He had sent Delight one that year, a half-dozen little leather-bound books of poetry. What a precious young prig he must have been! He knew now that girls only pretended to care for books. They wanted jewelry, and they got past the family with it by pretending it was not real, or that they had bought it out of their allowances. One of Toots’ friends was taking a set of silver fox from a man, and she was as straight as a die. Oh, he knew girls, now.

The next day he asked Anna Klein: “What would you like for Christmas?”

Anna, however, had insisted that she did not want a Christmas present.

Later on, however, she had seen a watch one of the girls on the hill had bought for twelve dollars, and on his further insistence a day or so later she had said:

“Do you really want to know?”

“Of course I do.”

“You oughtn’t to spend money on me, you know.”

“You let me attend to that. Now, out with it!”

So she told him rather nervously, for she felt that twelve dollars was a considerable sum. He had laughed, and agreed instantly, but when he went to buy it he found himself paying a price that rather startled him.

“Don’t you lose it, young lady!” he admonished her when, the day before Christmas, he fastened it on her wrist. Then he had stooped down to kiss her, and the intensity of feeling in her face had startled him. “It’s a good watch,” he had said, rather uneasily; “no excuse for your being late now!”

All the rest of the day she was radiant.

He meant well enough even then. He had never pretended to love her. He accepted her adoration, petted and teased her in return, worked off his occasional ill humors on her, was indeed conscious sometimes that he was behaving extremely well in keeping things as they were.

But by the middle of January he began to grow uneasy. The atmosphere at Marion’s was bad; there was a knowledge of life plus an easy toleration of certain human frailties that was as insidious as a slow fever. The motto of live and let live prevailed. And Marion refused to run away with him and marry him, or to let him go to his father.

In his office all day long there was Anna, so yielding, so surely his to take if he wished. Already he knew that things there must either end or go forward. Human emotions do not stand still; they either advance or go back, and every impulse of his virile young body was urging him on.

He made at last an almost frenzied appeal to Marion to marry him at once, but she refused flatly.

“I’m not going to ruin you,” she said. “If you can’t bring your people round, we’ll just have to wait.”

“They’d be all right, once it is done.”

“Not if I know your father! Oh, he’d be all right – in ten years or so. But what about the next two or three? We’d have to live, wouldn’t we?”

He lay awake most of the night thinking things over. Did she really care for him, as Anna cared, for instance? She was always talking about their having to live. If they couldn’t manage on his salary for a while, then it was because Marion did not care enough to try.

For the first time he began to question Marion’s feeling for him. She had been rather patronizing him lately. He had overheard her, once, speaking of him as a nice kid, and it rankled. In sheer assertion of his manhood he met Anna Klein outside the mill at the noon hour, the next day, and took her for a little ride in his car. After that he repeatedly did the same thing, choosing infrequented streets and roads, dining with her sometimes at a quiet hotel out on the Freeland road.

“How do you get away with this to your father?” he asked her once.

“Tell him you’re getting ready to move out to the new plant, and we’re working. He’s not round much in the evenings now. He’s at meetings, or swilling beer at Gus’s saloon. They’re a bad lot, Graham, that crowd at Gus’s.”

“How do you mean, bad?”

“Well, they’re Germans, for one thing, the sort that shouts about the Fatherland. They make me sick.”

“Let’s forget them, honey,” said Graham, and reaching under the table-cloth, caught and held one of her hands.

He was beginning to look at things with the twisted vision of Marion’s friends. He intended only to flirt a little with Anna Klein, but he considered that he was extremely virtuous and, perhaps, a bit of a fool for letting things go at that. Once, indeed, Tommy Hale happened on them in a road-house, sitting very quietly with a glass of beer before Graham and a lemonade in front of Anna, and had winked at him as though he had received him into the brotherhood of those who were seeing life.

Then, near the end of January, events took another step forward. Rudolph Klein was discharged from the mill.

Clayton, coming down one morning, found the manager, Hutchinson, and Dunbar in his office. The two men had had a difference of opinion, and the matter was laid before him.

“He is a constant disturbing element,” Hutchinson finished; “I understand Mr. Dunbar’s position, but we can’t afford to have the men thrown into a ferment, constantly.”

“If you discharge him you rouse his suspicions and those of his gang,” said Dunbar, sturdily.

“There is a gang, then?”

“A gang! My God!”

In the end, however, Clayton decided to let Rudolph go. Hutchinson was insistent. Production was falling down. One or two accidents to the machinery lately looked like sabotage. He had found a black cat crudely drawn on the cement pavement outside his office-door that very morning, the black cat being the symbol of those I.W.W.’s who advocated destruction.

“What about the girl?” Dunbar asked, when the manager had gone.

“I have kept her, against my better judgment, Mr. Dunbar.”

For just a moment Dunbar hesitated. He knew certain things that Clayton Spencer did not, things that it was his business to know. The girl might be valuable one of these days. She was in love with young Spencer. The time might come when he, Dunbar, would need to capitalize that love and use it against Rudolph and the rest of the crowd that met in the little room behind Shroeder’s saloon. It was too bad, in a way. He was sorry for this man with the strong, repressed face and kindly mouth, who sat across from him. But these were strange times. A man could not be too scrupulous.

“Better keep her on for a month or two, anyhow,” he said. “They’re up to something, and I miss my guess if it isn’t directed against you.”

“How about Herman Klein?”

“Nothing doing,” stated Mr. Dunbar, flatly. “Our informer is tending bar at Gus’s. Herman listens and drinks their beer, but he’s got the German fear of authority in him. He’s a beer socialist. That’s all.”

But in that Mr. Dunbar left out of account the innate savagery that lurked under Herman’s phlegmatic surface.

“You don’t think it would do if she was moved to another office?”

“The point is this.” Dunbar moved his chair forward. “The time may come when we will need the girl as an informer. Rudolph Klein is infatuated with her. Now I understand that she has a certain feeling of – loyalty to Mr. Graham. In that case” – he glanced at Clayton – “the welfare of the many, Mr. Spencer, against the few.”

For a long time after he was gone Clayton sat at his desk, thinking. Every instinct in him revolted against the situation thus forced on him. There was something wrong with Dunbar’s reasoning. Then it flashed on him that Dunbar probably was right, and that their points of view were bitterly opposed. Dunbar would have no scruples, because he was not quite a gentleman. But war was a man’s game. It was not the time for fine distinctions of ethics. And Dunbar was certainly a man.

If only he could talk it over with Natalie! But he knew Natalie too well to expect any rational judgment from her. She would demand at once that the girl should go. Yet he needed a woman’s mind on it. In any question of relationship between the sexes men were creatures of impulse, but women had plotted and planned through the ages. They might lose their standards, but never their heads. Not that he put such a thought into words. He merely knew that women were better at such things than men.

That afternoon, as a result of much uncertainty, he took his problem to Audrey. And Audrey gave him an answer.

“You’ve got to think of the mill, Clay,” she said. “The Dunbar man is right. And all you or any other father of a boy can do is to pray in season, and to trust to Graham’s early training.”

And all the repressed bitterness in Clayton Spencer’s heart was in his answer.

“He never had any early training, Audrey. Oh, he had certain things. His manners, for instance. But other things? I ought not to say that. It was my fault, too. I’m not blaming only Natalie. Only now, when it is all we have to count on – “

He was full of remorse when he started for home. He felt guilty of every disloyalty. And in masculine fashion he tried to make up to Natalie for the truth that had been wrung from him. He carried home a great bunch of roses for her. But he carried home, too, a feeling of comfort and vague happiness, as though the little room behind him still reached out and held him in its warm embrace.

CHAPTER XXII

In the evening of the thirty-first of January Clayton and Graham were waiting for Natalie to come down to dinner when the bell rang, and Dunbar was announced. Graham welcomed the interruption. He had been vaguely uneasy with his father since that day in his office when Clayton had found him on Anna Klein’s desk. Clayton had tried to restore the old friendliness of their relation, but the boy had only half-heartedly met his advances. Now and then he himself made an overture, but it was the almost timid advance of a puppy that has been beaten. It left Clayton discouraged and alarmed, set him to going back over the past for any severity on his part to justify it. Now and then he wondered if, in Graham’s frequent closetings with Natalie, she did not covertly undermine his influence with the boy, to increase her own.

But if she did, why? What was going on behind the impassive, lovely mask that was her face.

Dunbar was abrupt, as usual.

“I’ve brought you some news, Mr. Spencer,” he said. He looked oddly vital and alive in the subdued and quiet room. “They’ve shown their hand at last. But maybe you’ve heard it.”

“I’ve heard nothing new.”

“Then listen,” said Dunbar, bending forward over a table, much as it was his habit to bend over Clayton’s desk. “We’re in it at last. Or as good as in it. Unrestricted submarine warfare! All merchant-ships bound to and from Allied ports to be sunk without warning! We’re to be allowed – mark this, it’s funny! – we’re to be allowed to send one ship a week to England, nicely marked and carrying passengers only.”

There was a little pause. Clayton drew a long breath.

“That means war,” he said finally.

“Hell turned over and stirred up with a pitch-fork, if we have any backbone at all,” agreed Dunbar. He turned to Graham. “You young fellows’ll be crazy about this.”

“You bet we will,” said Graham.

Clayton slipped an arm about the boy’s shoulders. He could not speak for a moment. All at once he saw what the news meant. He saw Graham going into the horror across the sea. He saw vast lines of marching men, boys like Graham, boys who had frolicked through their careless days, whistled and played and slept sound of nights, now laden like pack-animals and carrying the implements of death in their hands, going forward to something too terrible to contemplate.

And a certain sure percentage of them would never come back.

His arm tightened about the boy. When he withdrew it Graham straightened.

“If it’s war, it’s my war, father.”

And Clayton replied, quietly:

“It is your war, old man.”

Dunbar turned his back and inspected Natalie’s portrait. When he faced about again Graham was lighting a cigaret, and Natalie herself was entering the room. In her rose-colored satin she looked exotic, beautiful, and Dunbar gave her a fleeting glance of admiration as he bowed. She looked too young to have a boy going to war. Behind her he suddenly saw other women, thousands of other women, living luxurious lives, sheltered and pampered, and suddenly called on to face sacrifice without any training for it.

“Didn’t know you were going out,” he said. “Sorry. I’ll run along now.”

“We are dining at home,” said Natalie, coldly. She remained standing near the door, as a hint to the shabby gentleman with the alert eyes who stood by the table. But Dunbar had forgotten her already.

“I came here right away,” he explained, “because you may be having trouble now. In fact, I’m pretty sure you will. If we declare war to-morrow, as we may?”

“War!” said Natalie, and took a step forward.

Dunbar remembered her.

“We will probably declare war in a day or two. The Germans…”

But Natalie was looking at Clayton with a hostility in her eyes she took no trouble to conceal.

“I hope you’ll be happy, now. You’ve been talking war, wanting war – and now you’ve got it.”

She turned and went out of the room. The three men in the library below heard her go up the stairs and the slam of her door behind her. Later on she sent word that she did not care for any dinner, and Clayton asked Dunbar to remain. Practical questions as to the mill were discussed, Graham entering into them with a new interest. He was flushed and excited. But Clayton was rather white and very quiet.

Once Graham took advantage of Dunbar’s preoccupation with his asparagus to say:

“You don’t object to the aviation service, father?”

“Wherever you think you can be useful.”

After coffee Graham rose.

“I’ll go and speak to mother,” he said. And Clayton felt in him a new manliness. It was as though his glance said, “She is a woman, you know. War is men’s work, work for you and me. But it’s hard on them.”

Afterward Clayton was to remember with surprise how his friends gathered that night at the house. Nolan came in early, his twisted grin rather accentuated, his tall frame more than usually stooped. He stood in the doorway of the library, one hand in his pocket, a familiar attitude which made him look oddly boyish.

“Well!” he drawled, without greeting. “They’ve done it. The English have got us. We hadn’t a chance. The little Welshman – “

“Come in,” Clayton said, “and talk like an American and not an Irishman. I don’t want to know what you think about Lloyd George. What are you going to do?”

“I was thinking,” Nolan observed, advancing, “of blowing up Washington. We’d have a fresh start, you see. With Washington gone root and branch we would have some sort of chance, a clear sweep, with the capital here or in Boston. Or London.”

Clayton laughed. Behind Nolan’s cynicism he felt a real disturbance. But Dunbar eyed him uncertainly. He didn’t know about some of these Irish. They’d fight like hell, of course, if only they’d forget England.

“Don’t worry about Washington,” Clayton said. “Let it work out its own problems. We will have our own. What do you suppose men like you and myself are going to do? We can’t fight.”

Nolan settled himself in a long chair.

“Why can’t we fight?” he asked. “I heard something the other day. Roosevelt is going to take a division abroad – older men. I rather like the idea. Wherever he goes there’ll be fighting. I’m no Rough Rider, God knows; but I haven’t spent a half hour every noon in a gymnasium for the last ten years for nothing. And I can shoot.”

“And you are free,” Clayton observed, quietly.

Nolan looked up.

“It’s going to be hard on the women,” he said. “You’re all right. They won’t let you go. You’re too useful where you are. But of course there’s the boy.”

When Clayton made no reply Nolan glanced at him again.

“I suppose he’ll want to go,” he suggested.

Clayton’s face was set. For more than an hour now Graham had been closeted with his mother, and as the time went on, and no slam of a door up-stairs told of his customary method of leaving a room, he had been conscious of a growing uneasiness. The boy was soft; the fiber in him had not been hardened yet, not enough to be proof against tears. He wanted desperately to leave Nolan, to go up and learn what arguments, what coaxing and selfish whimperings Natalie was using with the boy. But he wanted, also desperately, to have the boy fight his own fight and win.

“He will want to go, I think. Of course, his mother will be shaken just now. It’ll all new to her. She wouldn’t believe it was coming.”

“He’ll go,” Nolan said reflectively. “They’ll all go, the best of them first. After all, we’ve been making a lot of noise about wanting to get into the thing. Now we’re in, and that’s the first price we pay – the boys.”

A door slammed up-stairs, and Clayton heard Graham coming down. He passed the library door, however, and Clayton suddenly realized that he was going out.

“Graham!” he called.

Graham stopped, and came back slowly.

“Yes, father,” he said, from the doorway.

“Aren’t you coming in?”

“I thought I’d go out for a hit of a spin, if you don’t mind. Evening, Mr. Nolan.”

The boy was shaken. Clayton knew it from his tone. All the fine vigor of the early evening was gone. And an overwhelming rage filled him, against Natalie, against himself, even against the boy. Trouble, which should have united his house, had divided it. The first threat of trouble, indeed.

“You can go out later,” he said rather sharply. “We ought to talk things over, Graham. This is a mighty serious time.”

“What’s the use of talking things over, father? We don’t know anything but that we may declare war.”

“That’s enough, isn’t it?”

But he was startled when he saw Graham’s face. He was very pale and his eyes already looked furtive. They were terribly like Natalie’s eyes sometimes. The frankness was gone out of them. He came into the room, and stood there, rigid.

“I promised mother to get her some sleeping-powders.”

“Sleeping-powders!”

“She’s nervous.”

“Bad things, sleeping-powders,” said Nolan. “Get her to take some setting-up exercises by an open window and she’ll sleep like a top.”

“Do you mind, if I go, father?”

Clayton saw that it was of no use to urge the boy. Graham wanted to avoid him, wanted to avoid an interview. The early glow of the evening faded. Once again the sense of having lost his son almost overwhelmed him.

“Very well,” he said stiffly. And Graham went out.

However, he did not leave the house. At the door he met Doctor Haverford. and Delight, and Clayton heard the clergyman’s big bass booming through the hall.

” – like a lamb to the slaughter!” he was saying. “And I a man of peace!”

When he came into the library he was still holding forth with an affectation of rage.

“I ask you, Clayton,” he said, “what refuge is there for a man of peace? My own child, leading me out into the night, and inquiring on the way over if I did not feel that the commandment not to kill was a serious error.”

“Of course he’s going,” she said. “He has been making the most outrageous excuses, just to hear mother and me reply to them. And all the time nothing would hold him back.”

“My dear,” said the rector solemnly. “T shall have to tell you something. I shall have to lay bare the secrets of my heart. How are you, Nolan? Delight, they will not take me. I have three back teeth on a plate. I have never told you this before. I did not wish to ruin your belief that I am perfect. But – “

In the laugh that greeted this Graham returned. He was, Clayton saw, vaguely puzzled by the rector and rather incredulous as to Delight’s attitude.

“Do you really want him to go?” he asked her.

“Of course. Aren’t you going? Isn’t everybody who is worth anything going? I’d go myself if I could. You don’t know how lucky you are.”

“But is your Mother willing?”

“Why, what sort of a mother do you think I have?”

Clayton overheard that, and he saw Graham wince. His own hands clenched. What a power in the world a brave woman was! And what evil could be wrought by a woman without moral courage, a selfish woman. He brought himself up short at that.

Others came in. Hutchinson, from the mill. Terry Mackenzie, Rodney Page, in evening clothes and on his way from the opera to something or other. In a corner Graham and Delight talked. The rector, in a high state of exaltation, was inclined to be oratorical and a trifle noisy. He dilated on the vast army that would rise overnight, at the call. He considered the raising of a company from his own church, and nominated Clayton as its captain. Nolan grinned sardonically.

“Precisely,” he said dryly. “Clayton, because he looks like a Greek god, is ideally fitted to lead a lot of men who never saw a bayonet outside of a museum. Against trained fighting men. There’s a difference you know, dominie, between a clay pigeon and a German with a bomb in one hand and a saw-toothed bayonet in the other.”

“We did that in the Civil War.”

“We did. And it took four years to fight a six-months war.”

“We must have an army. I daresay you’ll grant that.”

“Well, you can bet on one thing; we’re not going to have every ward boss who wants to make a record raising a regiment out of his henchmen and leading them to death.”

“What would you suggest?” inquired the rector, rather crestfallen.

“I’d suggest training men as officers. And then – a draft.”

“Never come to it in the world.” Hutchinson spoke up. “I’ve heard men in the mill talking. They’ll go, some of them, but they won’t be driven. It would be civil war.”

Clayton glanced at Graham as he replied. The boy was leaning forward, listening.

“There’s this to be said for the draft,” he said. “Under the volunteer system the best of our boys will go first. That’s what happened in England. And they were wiped out. It’s every man’s war now. There is no reason why the few should be sacrificed for the many.”

“And there’s this, too,” Graham broke in. He was flushed and nervous. “A fellow would have to go. He wouldn’t be having to think whether his going would hurt anybody or not. He wouldn’t have to decide. He’d – just go.”

There was a little hush in the room. Then Nolan spoke.

“Right-o!” he said. “The only trouble about it is that it’s likely to leave out some of us old chaps, who’d like to have a fist in it.”

Hutchinson remained after the others had gone. He wanted to discuss the change in status of the plant.

“We’ll be taken over by the government, probably,” Clayton told him. “They have all the figures, capacity and so on. The Ordnance Department has that in hand.”

Hutchinson nodded. He had himself made the report.

“We’ll have to look out more than ever, I suppose,” he said, as he rose to go. “The government is guarding all bridges and railways already. Met a lot of National Guard boys on the way.”

Graham left when he did, offering to take him to his home, and Clayton sat for some time alone, smoking and thinking. So the thing had come at last. A year from now, and where would they all be? The men who had been there to-night, himself, Graham? Would they all be even living? Would Graham – ?

He looked back over the years. Graham a baby, splashing water in his bath and shrieking aloud with joy; Graham in his first little-boy clothes, riding a velocipede in the park and bringing in bruises of an amazing size and blackness; Graham going away to school, and manfully fixing his mind on his first long trousers, so he would not cry; Graham at college, coming in with the winning crew, and stumbling, half collapsed, into the arms of a waiting, cheering crowd. And the Graham who had followed his mother up the stairs that night, to come down baffled, thwarted, miserable.

He rose and threw away his cigar. He must have the thing out with Natalie. The boy’s soul was more important than his body. He wanted him safe. God, how he wanted him safe! But he wanted him to be a man.

Natalie’s room was dark when he went in. He hesitated. Then he heard her in bed, sobbing quietly. He was angry at himself for his impatience at the sound. He stood beside the bed, and forced a gentleness he did not feel.

“Can I get you anything?” he asked.

“No, thank you.” And he moved toward the lamp. “Don’t turn the light on. I look dreadful.”

“Shall I ring for Madeleine?”

“No. Graham is bringing me a sleeping-powder.”

“If you are not sleepy, may I talk to you about some things?”

“I’m sick, Clay. My head is bursting.”

“Sometimes it helps to talk out our worries, dear.” He was still determinedly gentle.

He heard her turning her pillow, and settling herself more comfortably.

“Not to you. You’ve made up your mind. What’s the use?”

“Made up my mind to what?”

“To sending Graham to be killed.”

“That’s hardly worthy of you, Natalie,” he said gravely. “He is my son, too. I love him at least as much as you do. I don’t think this is really up to us, anyhow. It is up to him. If he wants to go?”

She sat up, suddenly, her voice thin and high.

“How does he know what he wants?” she demanded. “He’s too young. He doesn’t know what war is; you say so yourself. You say he is too young to have a position worth while at the plant, but of course he’s old enough to go to war and have a leg shot off, or to be blinded, or something.” Her voice broke.

He sat down on the bed and felt around until he found her hand. But she jerked it from him.

“You promised me once to let him make his own decision if the time came.”

“When did I promise that?”

“In the fall, when I came home from England.”

“I never made such a promise.”

“Will you make it now?”

“No!”

He rose, more nearly despairing than he had ever been. He could not argue with a hysterical woman. He hated cowardice, but far deeper than that was his conviction that she had already exacted some sort of promise. And the boy was not like her in that respect. He regarded a promise as almost in the nature of an oath. He himself had taught him that in the creed of a gentleman a promise was a thing of his honor, to be kept at any cost.

“You are compelling me to do a strange and hateful thing,” he said. “If you intend to use your influence to keep him out, I shall have to offset it by urging him to go. That is putting a very terrible responsibility on me.”

He heard her draw her breath sharply.

“If you do that I shall leave you,” she said, in a frozen voice.

Suddenly he felt sorry for her. She was so weak, so childish, so cowardly. And this was the nearest they had come to a complete break.

“You’re tired and nervous,” he said. “We have come a long way from what I started out to say. And a long way from – the way things used to be between us. If this thing, to-night, does not bring two people together – “

“Together!” she cried shrilly. “When have we been together? Not in years. You have been married to your business. I am only your housekeeper, and Graham’s mother. And even Graham you are trying to take away from me. Oh, go away and let me alone.”

Down-stairs, thoughts that were almost great had formulated themselves in his mind; that to die that others might live might be better than to live oneself; that he loved his country, although he had been shamefaced about it; that America was really the melting-pot of the world, and that, perhaps, only the white flame of war would fuse it into a great nation.

But Natalie made all these thoughts tawdry. She cheapened them. She found in him nothing fine; therefore there was probably nothing fine in him. He went away, to lie awake most of the night.

CHAPTER XXIII

But, with the breaking off of diplomatic relations, matters remained for a time at a standstill. Natalie dried her eyes and ordered some new clothes, and saw rather more of Rodney Page than was good for her.

With the beginning of February the country house was far enough under way for it to be promised for June, and Natalie, the fundamentals of its decoration arranged for, began to haunt old-furniture shops, accompanied always by Rodney.

“Not that your taste is not right, Natalie,” he explained. “It is exquisite. But these fellows are liars and cheats, some of them. Besides, I like trailing along, if you don’t mind.”

Trailing along was a fairly accurate phrase. There was scarcely a day now when Natalie’s shining car, with its two men in livery, did not draw up before Rodney’s office building, or stand, as unostentatiously as a fire engine, not too near the entrance of his club. Clayton, going in, had seen it there once or twice, and had smiled rather grimly. He considered its presence there in questionable taste, but he felt no uneasiness. Determined as he was to give Natalie such happiness as was still in him to give, he never mentioned these instances.

But a day came, early in February, which was to mark a change in the relationship between Natalie and Rodney.

It started simply enough. They had lunched together at a down-town hotel, and then went to look at rugs. Rodney had found her rather obdurate as to old rugs. They were still arguing the matter in the limousine.

“I just don’t like to think of all sorts of dirty Turks and Arabs having used them,” she protested. “Slept on them, walked on them, spilled things on the – ? ugh!”

“But the colors, Natalie dear! The old faded ‘copper-tones, the dull-blues, the dead-rose! There is a beauty about age, you know. Lovely as you are, you’ll be even lovelier as an old woman.”

“I’m getting there rather rapidly.”

He turned and looked at her critically. No slightest aid that she had given her beauty missed his eyes, the delicate artificial lights in her hair, her eyebrows drawn to a hair’s breadth and carefully arched, the touch of rouge under her eyes and on the lobes of her ears. But she was beautiful, no matter what art had augmented her real prettiness. She was a charming, finished product, from her veil and hat to her narrowly shod feet. He liked finished things, well done. He liked the glaze on a porcelain; he liked the perfect lacquering on the Chinese screen he had persuaded Natalie to buy; he preferred wood carved into the fine lines of Sheraton to the trees that grow in the Park, for instance, through which they were driving.

A Sheraton sideboard was art. Even certain forms of Colonial mahogany were art, although he was not fond of them. And Natalie was – art. Even if she represented the creative instincts of her dressmaker and her milliner, and not her own – he did not like a Louis XV sofa the less that it had not carved itself.

Possibly Natalie appealed then to his collective instinct, he had not analyzed it. He only knew that he liked being with her, and he was not annoyed, certainly, by the fact that he knew their constant proximity was arousing a certain amount of comment.

So:

“You are very beautiful,” he said with his appraising glance full on her. “You are quite the loveliest woman I know.”

“Still? With a grown son?”

“I am not a boy myself, you know.”

“What has that to do with it?”

He hesitated, then laughed a little.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t mean to say that, exactly. Of course, that fact is that I’m rather glad you are not a debutante. You would be giving me odds and ends of dances if you were, you know, and shifting me as fast as possible. As it is – “

The coquetry which is a shallow woman’s substitute for passion stirred in her.

“Well? I’m awfully interested.”

He turned and faced her.

“I wonder if you are!”

“Go on, Roddie. As it is??”

“As it is,” he said, rather rapidly, “you give me a great deal of happiness. I can’t say all I would like to, but just being with you – Natalie, I wonder if you know how much it means to me to see you every day.”

“I like it, or I wouldn’t do it.”

“But – I wonder if it means anything to you?”

Curiously enough, with the mere putting it into words, his feeling for her seemed to grow. He was even somewhat excited. He bent toward her, his eyes on her face, and caught one of her gloved hands. He was no longer flirting with a pretty woman. He was in real earnest. But Natalie was still flirting.

“Do you want to know why I like to be with you? Because of course I do, or I shouldn’t be.”

“Does a famishing man want water?”

“Because you are sane and sensible. You believe, as I do, in going on as normally as possible. All these people who go around glooming because there is a war across the Atlantic! They are so tiresome. Good heavens, the hysterical attitude of some women! And Clay!”

He released her hand.

“So you like me because I’m sensible! Thanks.”

“That’s a good reason, isn’t it?”

“Good God, Natalie, I’m only sensible because I have to be. Not about the war. I’m not talking about that. About you.”

“What have I got to do with your being sensible and sane?”

“Just think about things, and you’ll know.”

She was greatly thrilled and quite untouched. It was a pleasant little game, and she held all the winning cards. So she said, very softly:

“We mustn’t go on like this, you know. We mustn’t spoil things.”

And by her very “we” let him understand that the plight was not his but theirs. They were to suffer on, she implied, in a mutual, unacknowledged passion. He flushed deeply.

But although he was profoundly affected, his infatuation was as spurious as her pretense of one. He was a dilettante in love, as he was in art. His aesthetic sense, which would have died of an honest passion, fattened on the very hopelessness of his beginning an affair with Natalie. Confronted just then with the privilege of marrying her, he would have drawn back in dismay.

Since no such privilege was to be his, however, he found a deep satisfaction in considering himself hopelessly in love with her. He was profoundly sorry for himself. He saw himself a tragic figure, hopeless and wretched. He longed for the unattainable; he held up empty hands to the stars, and by so mimicking the gesture of youth, he regained youth.

“You won’t cut me out of your life, Natalie?” he asked wistfully.

And Natalie, who would not have sacrificed this new thrill for anything real in the world, replied:

“It would be better, wouldn’t it?”

There was real earnestness in his voice when he spoke. He had dramatized himself by that time.

“Don’t take away the only thing that makes life worth living, dear!”

Which Natalie, after a proper hesitation, duly promised not to do.

There were other conversations after that. About marriage, for instance, which Rodney broadly characterized as the failure of the world; he liked treading on dangerous ground.

“When a man has married, and had children, he has fulfilled his duty to the State. That’s all marriage is – duty to the State. After that he follows his normal instincts, of course.”

“If you are defending unfaithfulness?”

“Not at all. I admire faithfulness. It’s rare enough for admiration. No. I’m recognizing facts. Don’t you suppose even dear old Clay likes a pretty woman? Of course he does. It’s a total difference of view-point, Natalie. What is an incident to a man is a crime to a woman.”

Or:

“All this economic freedom of women is going to lead to other freedoms, you know.”

“What freedoms?”

“The right to live wherever they please. One liberty brings another, you know. Women used to marry for a home, for some one to keep them. Now they needn’t, but – they have to live just the same.”

“I wish you wouldn’t, Rodney. It’s so – cheap.”

It was cheap. It was the old game of talking around conversational corners, of whispering behind mental doors. It was insidious, dangerous, and tantalizing. It made between them a bond of lowered voices, of being on the edge of things. Their danger was as spurious as their passion, but Natalie, without humor and without imagination, found the sense of insecurity vaguely attractive.

Fundamentally cold, she liked the idea of playing with fire;

CHAPTER XXIV

When war was not immediately declared the rector, who on the Sunday following that eventful Saturday of the President’s speech to Congress had preached a rousing call to arms, began to feel a bit sheepish about it.

“War or no war, my dear,” he said to Delight, “it made them think for as much as an hour. And I can change it somewhat, and use it again, if the time really comes.”

“Second-hand stuff!” she scoffed. “You with your old sermons, and Mother with my old dresses! But it was a good sermon,” she added. “I have hardly been civil to that German laundress since.”

“Good gracious, Delight. Can’t you remember that we must love our enemies?”

“Do you love them? You know perfectly well that the moment you get on the other side, if you do, you’ll be jerking the cross off your collar and bullying some wretched soldier to give you his gun.”

He had a guilty feeling that she was right.

It was February then, and they were sitting in the parish house. Delight had been filling out Sunday-school reports to parents, an innovation she detested. For a little while there was only the scratching of her pen to be heard and an occasional squeal from the church proper, where the organ was being repaired. The rector sat back in his chair, his fingertips together, and whistled noiselessly, a habit of his when he was disturbed. Now and then he glanced at Delight’s bent head.

“My dear,” he commented finally.

“Just a minute. That wretched little Simonton girl has been absent three Sundays out of four. And on the fourth one she said she had a toothache and sat outside on the steps. Well, daddy?”

“Do you see anything of Graham Spencer now?”

“Very little.” She looked at him with frank eyes. “He has changed somehow, daddy. When we do meet he is queer. I sometimes think he avoids me.”

He fell back on his noiseless whistling. And Delight, who knew his every mood, got up and perched herself on the arm of his chair.

“Don’t you get to thinking things,” she said. And slipped an arm around his neck.

“I did think, in the winter – “

“I’ll tell you about that,” she broke in, bravely. “I suppose, if he’d cared for me at all, I’d have been crazy about him. It isn’t because he’s good looking. I – well, I don’t know why. I just know, as long as I can remember, I – however, that’s not important. He thinks I’m a nice little thing and lets it go at that. It’s a good bit worse, of course, than having him hate me.”

“Sometimes I think you are not very happy.”

“I’m happier than I would be trying to make him fall in love with me. Oh, you needn’t be shocked. It can be done. Lots of girls do it. It isn’t any moral sense that keeps me from it, either. It’s just pride.”

“My dear!”

“And there’s another angle to it. I wouldn’t marry a man who hasn’t got a mind of his own. Even if I had the chance, which I haven’t. That silly mother of his – she is silly, daddy, and selfish – Do you know what she is doing now?”

“We ought not to discuss her. She – “

“Fiddlesticks. You love gossip and you know it.”

Her tone was light, but the rector felt that arm around his neck tighten. He surmised a depth of feeling that made him anxious.

“She is trying to marry him to Marion Hayden.”

The rector sat up, almost guiltily.

“But – are you sure she is doing that?”

“Everybody says so. She thinks that if he is married, and there is a war, he won’t want to go if he has a wife.” She was silent for a moment. “Marion will drive him straight to the devil, daddy.”

The rector reached up and took her hand. She cared more than she would admit, he saw. She had thought the thing out, perhaps in the long night – when he slept placidly. Thought and suffered, he surmised. And again he remembered his worldly plans for her, and felt justly punished.

“I suppose it is hard for a father to understand how any one can know his little girl and not love her. Or be the better for it.”

She kissed him and slid off the arm of his chair.

“Don’t you worry,” she said cheerfully. “I had to make an ideal for myself about somebody. Every girl does. Sometimes it’s the plumber. It doesn’t really matter who it is, so you can pin your dreams to him. The only thing that hurts is that Graham wasn’t worth while.”

She went back to her little cards, but some ten minutes later the rector, lost in thought, heard the scratching of her pen cease.

“Did you ever think, daddy,” she said, “of the influence women have over men? Look at the Spencers. Mrs. Spencer spoiling Graham, and making her husband desperately unhappy. And – “

“Unhappy? What makes you think that?”

“He looks unhappy.”

The rector was startled. He had an instant vision of Clayton Spencer, tall, composed, handsome, impeccably clothed. He saw him in the setting that suited him best, the quiet elegance of his home. Clayton unhappy! Nonsense. But he was uneasy, too. That very gravity which he had noticed lately, that was certainly not the gravity of an entirely happy man. Clayton had changed, somehow. Was there trouble there? And if there were, why?

The rector, who reduced most wretchedness to terms of dollars and cents, of impending bills and small deprivations found himself at a loss.

“I am sure you are wrong,” he objected, rather feebly.

Delight eyed him with the scorn of nineteen for fifty.

“I wonder what you would do,” she observed, “if mother just lay around all day, and had her hair done, and got new clothes, and never thought a thought of her own, and just used you as a sort of walking bank-account?”

“My dear, I really can not – “

“I’ll tell you what you’d do,” she persisted. “You’d fall in love with somebody else, probably. Or else you’d just naturally dry up and be made a bishop.”

He was extremely shocked at that, and a little hurt. It took her some time to establish cheerful relations again, and a very humble apology. But her words stuck in the rector’s mind. He made a note for a sermon, with the text: “Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.”

He went quietly into the great stone building and sat down. The organist was practicing the Introit anthem, and half way up the church a woman was sitting quietly.

The rector leaned back, and listened to the music. He often did that when he had a sermon in his mind. It was peaceful and quiet. Hard to believe, in that peace of great arches and swelling music, that across the sea at that moment men were violating that fundamental law of the church, “Thou shalt not kill.”

The woman turned her head, and he saw that it was Audrey Valentine. He watched her with kindly, speculative eyes. Self-reliant, frivolous Audrey, sitting alone in the church she had so casually attended – surely that was one of the gains of war. People all came to it ultimately. They held on with both hands as long as they could, and then they found their grasp growing feeble and futile, and they turned to the Great Strength.

The organist had ceased. Audrey was kneeling now. The rector, eyes on the gleaming cross above the altar, repeated softly:

“Save and deliver us, we humbly beseech Thee, from the hands of our enemies; that we, being armed with Thy defense, may be preserved evermore from all perils.”

Audrey was coming down the aisle. She did not see him. She had, indeed, the fixed eyes of one who still looks inward. She was very pale, but there was a new look of strength in her face, as of one who has won a victory.

“To glorify Thee, who are the only giver of all victory, through the merits of thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,” finished the rector.

CHAPTER XXV

On the last day of February Audrey came home from her shorthand class and stood wearily by the window, too discouraged even to remove her hat. The shorthand was a failure; the whole course was a failure. She had not the instinct for plodding, for the meticulous attention to detail that those absurd, irrational lines and hooks and curves demanded.

She could not even spell! And an idiot of an instructor had found fault with the large square band she wrote, as being uncommercial. Uncommercial! Of course it was. So was she uncommercial. She had dreamed a dream of usefulness, but after all, why was she doing it? We would never fight. Here we were, saying to Germany that we had ceased to be friends and letting it go at that.

She might go to England. They needed women there. But not untrained women. Not, she thought contemptuously, women whose only ability lay in playing bridge, or singing French chansons with no particular voice.

After all, the only world that was open to her was her old world. It liked her. It even understood her. It stretched out a tolerant, pleasure-beckoning hand to her.

“I’m a fool,” she reflected bitterly. “I’m not happy, and I’m not useful. I might as well play. It’s all I can do.”

But her real hunger was for news of Clayton. Quite suddenly he had stopped dropping in on his way up-town. He had made himself the most vital element in her life, and then taken himself out of it. At first she had thought he might be ill. It seemed too cruel otherwise. But she saw his name with increasing frequency in the newspapers. It seemed to her that every relief organization in the country was using his name and his services. So he was not ill.

He had tired of her, probably. She had nothing to give, had no right to give anything. And, of course, he could not know how much he had meant to her, of courage to carry on. How the memory of his big, solid, dependable figure had helped her through the bad hours when the thought of Chris’s defection had left her crushed and abject.

She told herself that the reason she wanted to see Natalie was because she had neglected her shamefully. Perhaps that was what was wrong with Clay; perhaps he felt that, by avoiding Natalie, she was putting their friendship on a wrong basis. Actually, she had reached that point all loving women reach, when even to hear a beloved name, coming out of a long silence, was both torture and necessity.

She took unusual pains with her dress that afternoon, and it was a very smart, slightly rouged and rather swaggering Audrey who made her first call in weeks on Natalie that afternoon.

Natalie was a little stiff, still slightly affronted.

“I thought you must have left town,” she said. “But you look as though you’d been having a rest cure.”

“Rouge,” said Audrey, coolly. “No, I haven’t been entirely resting.”

“There are all sorts of stories going about. That you’re going into a hospital; that you’re learning to fly; that you’re in the secret service?”

“Just because I find it stupid going about without a man!” Natalie eyed her shrewdly, but there was no self-consciousness in Audrey’s face. If the stories were true, and there had been another woman, she was carrying it off well.

“At least Chris is in France. I have to go, when I go, without Clay. And there is no excuse whatever.”

“You mean – he is working?”

“Not at night. He is simply obstinate. He says he is tired. I don’t really mind any more. He is so hatefully heavy these days.”

“Heavy! Clay!”

“My dear!” Natalie drew her chair closer and lowered her voice. “What can one do with a man who simply lives war? He spends hours over the papers. He’s up if the Allies make a gain, and impossible if they don’t. I can tell by the very way he slams the door of his room when he comes home what the news is. It’s dreadful.”

Audrey flushed.

“I wish there were more like him.”

But Natalie smiled tolerantly.

“You are not married to him. I suppose the war is important, but I don’t want it twenty-four hours a day. I want to forget it if I can. It’s hideous.”

Audrey’s mouth twitched. After all, what was the good of talking to Natalie. She would only be resentful.

“How is the house coming on?” she asked.

She had Natalie on happy ground there. For a half-hour she looked at blueprints and water-color sketches, heard Rodney’s taste extolled, listened to plans for a house-party which she gathered was, rather belatedly, to include her. And through it all she was saying to herself,

“This is his wife. This is the woman he loves. He has had a child by her. He is building this house for her. He goes into her room as Chris came into mine. And she is not good enough. She is not good enough.”

Now that she had seen Natalie, she knew why she had not seen her before. She was jealous of her. Jealous and contemptuous. Suddenly she hated Natalie. She hated her because she was Clayton Spencer’s wife, with all that that implied. She hated her because she was unworthy of him. She hated her because she loved Clay, and hated her more because she loved herself more than she loved him.

Audrey sat back in her chair and saw that she had traveled a long way along a tragic road. For the first time in her brave and reckless life she was frightened. She was even trembling. She lighted a cigaret from the stand at Natalie’s elbow to steady herself.

Natalie chattered on, and Audrey gave her the occasional nod that was all she needed. She thought,

“Does he know about her? Is he still fooled? She is almost beautiful. Rodney is falling in love with her, probably. Does he know that? Will he care terribly if he finds it out? She looks cold, but one can’t tell, and some men – has she a drop of honest, unselfish passion in her?”

She got up suddenly.

“Heavens, how late it is!” she said. “I must run on.”

“Why not stay on to dinner? Graham is seldom home, and we can talk, if Clay doesn’t.”

The temptation to see Clay again was strong in Audrey. But suddenly she knew that she did not want to see them together, in the intimacy of their home. She did not want to sit between them at dinner, and then go away, leaving them there together. And something fundamentally honest in her told her that she had no right to sit at their table.

“I’ll come another time, if you’ll ask me. Not to-day,” she said. And left rather precipitately. It hurt her, rather, to have Natalie, with an impulsive gesture, gather the flowers out of a great jar and insist on her carrying them home with her. It gave her a miserable sense of playing unfairly.

She walked home. The fresh air, after Natalie’s flower-scented, overheated room, made her more rational. She knew where she stood, anyhow. She was in love with Clayton Spencer. She had, she reflected cynically, been in love before. A number of times before. She almost laughed aloud. She had called those things love, those sickly romances, those feeble emotions!

Then her eyes filled with unexpected tears. She had always wanted some one to make her happy. Now she wanted to make some one happy. She cared nothing for the cost. She would put herself out of it altogether. He was not happy. Any one could see that. He had everything, but he was not happy. If he belonged to her, she would live to make him happy. She would –

Suddenly she remembered Chris. Perhaps she did not know how to hold a man’s love. She had not held him. He had protested that she was the only woman he had ever loved, but all the time there had been that other girl. How account for her, then?

“He did not think of me,” she reflected defiantly, “I shall not think of him.”

She was ashamed of that instantly. After all, Chris was doing a man’s part now. She was no longer angry with him. She had written him that, over and over, in the long letters she had made a point of sending him. Only, she did not love him any more. She thought now that she never had loved him.

What about the time when he came back? What would she do then? She shivered.

But Chris, after all, was not to come back. He would never come back again. The cable was there when she reached her apartment – a cold statement, irrefutable, final.

She had put the flowers on the table and had raised her hands to unpin her hat when she saw it. She read it with a glance first, then slowly, painfully, her heart contracted as if a hand had squeezed it. She stood very still, not so much stricken as horrified, and her first conscious thought was of remorse, terrible, gasping remorse. All that afternoon, while she had been hating Natalie and nursing her love for Clay, Chris had been lying dead somewhere.

Chris was dead.

She felt very tired, but not faint. It seemed dreadful, indeed, that she could be standing there, full of life, while Chris was dead. Such grief as she felt was for him, not for herself. He had loved life so, even when he cheapened it. He had wanted to live and now he was dead. She, who did not care greatly to live, lived on, and he was gone.

All at once she felt terribly alone. She wanted some one with her. She wanted to talk it all out to some one who understood. She wanted Clay. She said to herself that she did not want him because she loved him. All love was dead in her now. She wanted him because he was strong and understanding. She made this very clear to herself, because she had a morbid fancy that Chris might be watching her. There were people who believed that sort of thing. To her excited fancy it seemed as though Chris’s cynical smile might flash out from any dusky corner.

She knew she was not being quite rational. Which was strange, because she felt so strong, and because the voice with which she called Clayton’s number was so steady. She knew, too, that she was no longer in love with Clay, because his steady voice over the telephone left her quite calm and unmoved.

“I want you to come up, Clay,” she said. “If you can, easily.”

“I can come at once. Is anything wrong?”

“Chris has been killed,” she replied, and hung up the receiver. Then she sat down to wait, and to watch for Chris’s cynical smile to flash in some dusky corner.

Clayton found her there, collapsed in her chair, a slim, gray-faced girl with the rouge giving a grotesque vitality to her bloodless cheeks. She got up very calmly and gave him the cablegram. Then she fainted in a crumpled heap at his feet.

CHAPTER XXVI

The new munition plant was nearing completion. Situated on the outskirts of the city, it spread over a vast area of what had once been waste land. Of the three long buildings, two were already in operation and the third was well under way.

To Clayton Spencer it was the realization of a dream. He never entered the great high-walled enclosure without a certain surprise at the ease with which it had all been accomplished, and a thrill of pride at the achievement. He found the work itself endlessly interesting. The casts, made of his own steel, lying in huge rusty heaps in the yard; the little cars which carried them into the plant; the various operations by which the great lathes turned them out, smooth and shining, only to lose their polish when, heated again, they were ready for the ponderous hammer to close their gaping jaws. The delicacy of the work appealed to him, the machining to a thousandth of an inch, the fastidious making of the fuses, tiny things almost microscopic, and requiring the delicate touch of girls, most of whom had been watchmakers and jewelry-workers.

And with each carload of the finished shells that left the plant he felt a fine glow of satisfaction. The output was creeping up. Soon they would be making ten thousand shells a day. And every shell was one more chance for victory against the Hun. It became an obsession with him to make more, ever more.

As the work advanced, he found an unexpected enthusiasm in Graham. Here was something to be done, a new thing. The steel mill had been long established. Its days went on monotonously. The boy found it noisy, dirty, without appeal to his imagination. But the shell plant was different. There were new problems to face, of labor, of supplies, of shipping and output.

He was, however, reluctantly coming to the conclusion that the break with Germany was the final step that the Government intended to take. That it would not declare war.

However, the break had done something. It had provided him with men from the local National Guard to police the plant, and he found the government taking a new interest, an official interest, in his safety. Agents from the Military Intelligence and the Department of Justice scanned his employment lists and sent agents into the plant. In the building where men and women were hired, each applicant passed a desk where they were quietly surveyed by two unobstrusive gentlemen in indifferent business suits who eyed them carefully. Around the fuse department, where all day girls and women handled guncotton and high-explosive powder, a special guard was posted, day and night.

Early in March Clayton put Graham in charge of the first of the long buildings to be running full, and was rewarded by a new look in the boy’s face. He was almost startled at the way he took it.

“I’ll do my very best, sir,” he said, rather huskily. “If I can’t fight, I can help put the swine out of business, anyhow.”

He was by that time quite sure that Natalie had extracted a promise of some sort from the boy. On the rare occasions when Graham was at home he was quiet and suppressed.

He was almost always at Marion Hayden’s in the evenings, and from things he let fall, Clayton gathered that the irresponsible group which centered about Marion was, in the boy’s own vernacular, rather “shot to pieces.” Tommy Hale had gone to England to join the Royal Flying Corps. One or two of them were in Canada, trying to enlist there, and one evening Graham brought home to dinner an inordinately tall and thin youngster in the kilts of a Scotch-Canadian regiment, with an astounding length of thin leg below his skirts, who had been one of Marion’s most reckless satellites.

“Look like a fool, I know, sir,” said the tall individual sheepishly. “Just had to get in it somehow. No camouflage about these skirts, is there?”

And Clayton had noticed, with a thrill of sympathy, how wistfully Graham eyed the debonnair young Scot by adoption, and how Buckham had hovered over him, filling his plate and his glass. Even Graham noticed Buckham.

“Old boy looks as though he’d like to kiss you, Sid,” he said. “It’s the petticoats. Probably thinks you’re a woman.”

“I look better with my legs under the table,” said the tall boy, modestly.

Clayton was still determined that Graham should fight the thing out for himself. He wished, sometimes, that he knew Marion Hayden’s attitude. Was she like Natalie? Would she, if the time came, use her undeniable influence for or against? And there again he resented the influence of women in the boy’s life. Why couldn’t he make his own decisions? Why couldn’t they let him make his own decisions?

He remembered his father, and how his grandmother, in ’61, had put a Bible into one pocket and a housewife into another, and had sent him off to war. Had the fiber of our women weakened since then? But he knew it had not. All day, in the new plant, women were working with high-explosives quite calmly. And there were Audrey and the Haverford women, strong enough, in all conscience.

Every mental path, those days, somehow led eventually to Audrey. She was the lighted window at the end of the long trail.

Graham was, as a matter of fact, trying to work out his own salvation. He blundered, as youth always blunders, and after a violent scene with Marion Hayden he made an attempt to break off his growing intimacy with Anna Klein – to find, as many a man had before him, that the sheer brutality of casting off a loving woman was beyond him.

The scene with Marion came one Sunday in the Spencer house, with Natalie asleep up-stairs after luncheon, and Clayton walking off a sense of irritation in the park. He did not like the Hayden girl. He could not fathom Natalie’s change of front with regard to Graham and the girl. He had gone out, leaving them together, and Marion had launched her attack fiercely.

“Now!” she cried.

“I couldn’t come last night. That’s all, Marion.”

“It is certainly not all. Why couldn’t you come?”

“I worked late.”

“Where?”

“At the plant.”

“That’s a lie, Graham. I called the plant. I’ll tell you where you were. You were out with a girl. You were seen, if you want to know it.”

“Oh, if you are going to believe everything you hear about me?”

“Don’t act like a child. Who was the girl?”

“It isn’t like you to be jealous, Marion. I let you run around all the time with other fellows, but the minute I take a girl out for a little spin, you’re jealous.”

“Jealous!” She laughed nastily. But she knew she was losing her temper; and brought herself up short. Let him think she was jealous. What really ailed her was deadly fear lest her careful plan go astray. She was terrified. That was all. And she meant to learn who the girl was.

“I know who it was,” she hazarded.

“I think you are bluffing.”

“It was Delight Haverford.”

“Delight!”

She knew then that she was wrong, but it was her chance to assail Delight and she took it.

“That – child!” she continued contemptuously. “Don’t you suppose I’ve seen how she looks at you? I’m not afraid of her. You are too much a man of the world to let her put anything over on you. At least, I thought you were. Of course, if you like milk and water?”

“It was not Delight,” he said doggedly. “And I don’t think we need to bring her into this at all. She’s not in love with me. She wouldn’t wipe her feet on me.”

Which was unfortunate. Marion smiled slowly.

“Oh! But you are good enough for me to be engaged to! I wonder!”

He went to the window and stood for a moment looking out. Then he went slowly back to her.

“I’m not good enough for you to be engaged to, Marion,” he said. “I – don’t you want to call it a day?”

She was really terrified then. She went white and again, miserably, he mistook her agitation for something deeper.

“You want to break the engagement?”

“Not if you still want me. I only mean – I’m a pretty poor sort. You ought to have the best, and God help this country if I’m the best.”

“Graham, you’re in some sort of trouble?”

He drew himself up in boyish bravado. He could not tell her the truth. It opened up too hideous a vista. Even his consciousness of the fact that the affair with Anna was still innocent did not dull his full knowledge of whither it was trending. He was cold and wretched.

“It’s nothing,” he muttered.

“You can tell me. You can tell me anything. I know a lot, you see. I’m no silly kitten. If you’re in a fix, I’ll help you. I don’t care what it is, I’ll help you. I? I’m crazy about you, Graham.”

Anna’s words, too!

“Look here, Marion,” he said, roughly, “you’ve got to do one of two things. Either marry me or let me go.”

“Let you go! I like that. If that is how you feel?”

“Oh – don’t.” He threw up his arm. “I want you. You know that. Marry me – to-morrow.”

“I will not. Do you think I’m going to come into this family and have you cut off? Don’t you suppose I know that Clayton Spencer hates the very chair I sit on? He’ll come and beg me to marry you, some day. Until then?”

“You won’t do it?”

“To-morrow? Certainly not.”

And again he felt desperately his powerlessness to loosen the coils that were closing round him, fetters forged of his own red blood, his own youth, the woman-urge.

She was watching him with her calculating glance.

“You must be in trouble,” she said.

“If I am, it’s you and mother who have driven me there.”

He was alarmed then, and lapsed into dogged silence. His anxiety had forced into speech thoughts that had never before been articulate. He was astounded to hear himself uttering them, although with the very speaking he realized now that they were true.

“Sorry, Marion,” he muttered. “I didn’t mean all that. I’m excited. That’s all.”

When he sat down beside her again and tried to take her hand, she drew it away.

“You’ve been very cruel, Graham,” she said. “I’ve been selfish. Every girl who is terribly in love is selfish. I am going to give you your ring, and leave you free to do whatever you want.”

Her generosity overcame him. He was instantly ashamed, humbled.

“Don’t!” he begged. “Don’t let me go. I’ll just go to the dogs. If you really care?”

“Care!” she said softly. And as he buried his head in her lap she stroked his hair softly. Her eyes, triumphant, surveyed the long room, with its satin-paneled walls, its French furniture, its long narrow gilt-framed mirrors softening the angles of the four corners.

Some day all this would be hers. For this she would exchange the untidy and imitation elegance of her present setting.

She stroked the boy’s head absently.

Graham made an attempt to free himself the next day. He was about to move his office to the new plant, and he made a determination not to take Anna with him.

He broke it to her as gently as he could.

“Mr. Weaver is taking my place here,” he said, avoiding her eyes.

“Yes, Graham.”

“He’ll – there ought to be some one here who knows the ropes.”

“Do you mean me?”

“Well, you know them, don’t you?” He had tried to smile at her.

“Do you mean that you are going to have another secretary at the plant?”

“Look here, Anna,” he said impulsively. “You know things can’t go on indefinitely, the way we are now. You know it, don’t you.”

She looked down and nodded.

“Well, don’t you think I’d better leave you here?”