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  • 1919
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“We are in it, Graham.”

“Just because I don’t leap into the first recruiting office and beg them to take me – what right have you got to call me a slacker?”

“But I heard – “

“Go on!”

“It doesn’t matter what I heard, if you are going.”

“Of course I’m going,” he said, truculently.

He meant it, too. He would get Anna settled somewhere – she had begun to mend – and then he would have it out with Marion and his mother. But there was no hurry. The war would last a long time. And so it was that Graham Spencer joined the long line of those others who had bought a piece of ground, or five yoke of oxen, or had married a wife.

It was the morning after the pageant that Clayton, going down-town with him in the car, voiced his expectation that the government would take over their foreign contracts, and his feeling that, in that case, it would be a mistake to profit by the nation’s necessities.

“What do you mean, sir?”

“I mean we should take only a small profit. A banker’s profit.”

Graham had been fairly stunned, and had sat quiet while Clayton explained his attitude. There were times when big profits were allowable. There was always the risk to invested capital to consider. But he did not want to grow fat on the nation’s misfortunes. Italy was one thing. This was different.

“But – we are just getting on our feet!”

“Think it over!” said Clayton. “This is going to be a long war, and an expensive one. We don’t particularly want to profit by it, do we?”

Graham flushed. He felt rather small and cheap, but with that there was a growing admiration of his father. Suddenly he saw that this man beside him was a big man, one to be proud of. For already he knew the cost of the decision. He sat still, turning this new angle of war over in his mind.

“I’d like to see some of your directors when you put that up to them!”

Clayton nodded rather grimly. He did not anticipate a pleasant hour.

“How about mother?”

“I think we may take it for granted that she feels as we do.”

Graham pondered that, too.

“What about the new place?”

“It’s too soon to discuss that. We are obligated to do a certain amount. Of course it would be wise to cut where we can.”

Graham smiled.

“She’ll raise the deuce of a row,” was his comment.

It had never occurred to him before to take sides between his father and his mother, but there was rising in him a new and ardent partisanship of his father, a feeling that they were, in a way, men together. He had, more than once, been tempted to go to him with the Anna Klein situation. He would have, probably, but a fellow felt an awful fool going to somebody and telling him that a girl was in love with him, and what the dickens was he to do about it?

He wondered, too, if anybody would believe that his relationship with Anna was straight, under the circumstances. For weeks now he had been sending her money, out of a sheer sense of responsibility for her beating and her illness. He took no credit for altruism. He knew quite well the possibilities of the situation. He made no promises to himself. But such attraction as Anna had had for him had been of her prettiness, and their propinquity. Again she was girl, and that was all. And the attraction was very faint now. He was only sorry for her.

When she could get about she took to calling him up daily from a drug-store at a near-by corner, and once he met her after dark and they walked a few blocks together. She was still weak, but she was spiritualized, too. He liked her a great deal that night.

“Do you know you’ve loaned me over a hundred dollars, Graham?” she asked.

“That’s not a loan. I owed you that.”

“I’ll pay it back. I’m going to start to-morrow to look for work, and it won’t cost me much to live.”

“If you send it back, I’ll buy you another watch!”

And, tragic as the subject was, they both laughed.

“I’d have died if I hadn’t had you to think about when I was sick, Graham. I wanted to die – except for you.”

He had kissed her then, rather because he knew she expected him to. When they got back to the house she said:

“You wouldn’t care to come up?”

“I don’t think I had better, Anna.”

“The landlady doesn’t object. There isn’t any parlor. All the girls have their callers in their rooms.”

“I have to go out to-night,” he said evasively. “I’ll come some other time.”

As he started away he glanced back at her. She was standing in the doorway, eying him wistfully, a lonely and depressed little figure. He was tempted to throw discretion to the wind and go back. But he did not.

On the day when Clayton had broached the subject of offering their output to the government at only a banker’s profit, Anna called him up at his new office in the munition plant.

He was rather annoyed. His new secretary was sitting across the desk, and it was difficult to make his responses noncommittal.

“Graham!”

“Yes.”

“Is anybody there? Can you talk?”

“Not very well.”

“Then listen; I’ll talk. I want to see you.”

“I’m busy all day. Sorry.”

“Listen, Graham, I must see you. I’ve something to tell you.”

“All right, go ahead.”

“It’s about Rudolph. I was out looking for a position yesterday and I met him.”

“Yes?”

He looked up. Miss Peterson was absently scribbling on the cover of her book, and listening intently.

“He was terrible, Graham. He accused me of all sorts of things, about you.”

He almost groaned aloud over the predicament he was in. It began to look serious.

“Suppose I pick you up and we have dinner somewhere?”

“At the same corner?”

“Yes.”

He was very irritable all morning. He felt as though a net was closing in around him, and his actual innocence made him the more miserable. Miss Peterson found him very difficult that day, and shed tears in her little room before she went to lunch.

Anna herself was difficult that evening. Her landlady’s son had given up a good job and enlisted. Everybody was going. She supposed Graham would go next, and she’d be left alone.

“I don’t know. I’d like to.”

“Oh, you’ll go, all right. And you’ll forget I ever existed.” She made an effort. “You’re right, of course. I’m only looking ahead. If anything happens to you, I’ll kill myself.”

The idea interested her. She began to dramatize herself, a forlorn figure, driven from home, and deserted by her lover. She saw herself lying in the cottage, stately and mysterious, while the hill girls went in and out, and whispered.

“I’ll kill myself,” she repeated.

“Nothing will happen to me, Anna, dear.”

“I don’t know why I care so. I’m nothing to you.”

“That’s not so;”

“If you cared, you’d have come up the other night. You left me alone in that lonesome hole. It’s hell, that place. All smells and whispering and dirt.”

“Now listen to me, Anna. You’re tired, or you wouldn’t say that. You know I’m fond of you. But I’ve got you into trouble enough. I’m not – for God’s sake don’t tempt me, Anna.”

She looked at him half scornfully.

“Tempt you!” Then she gave a little scream. Graham following her eyes looked through the window near them.

“Rudolph!” she whimpered. And began to weep out of pure terror.

But Graham saw nobody. To soothe her, however, he went outside and looked about. There were half a dozen cars, a group of chauffeurs, but no Rudolph. He went hack to her, to find her sitting, pale and tense, her hands clenched together.

“They’ll pay you out some way,” she said. “I know them. They’ll never believe the truth. That was Rudolph, all right. He’ll think we’re living together. He’d never believe anything else.”

“Do you think he followed you the other day?”

“I gave him the shake, in the crowd.”

“Then I don’t see why you’re worrying. We’re just where we were before, aren’t we?”

“You don’t know them. I do. They’ll be up to something.”

She was excited and anxious, and with the cocktail he ordered for her she grew reckless.

“I’m just hung around your neck like a stone,” she lamented. “You don’t care a rap for me; I know it. You’re just sorry for me.”

Her eyes filled again, and Graham rose, with an impatient movement.

“Let’s get out of this,” he said roughly. “The whole place is staring at you.”

But on the road the fact that she had been weeping for him made him relent. He put an arm around her and drew her to him.

“Don’t cry, honey,” he said. “It makes me unhappy to see you miserable.”

He kissed her. And they clung together, finding a little comfort in the contact of warm young bodies.

He went up to her room that night. He was more anxious as to Rudolph than he cared to admit, but he went up, treading softly on stairs that creaked with every step. He had no coherent thoughts. He wanted companionship rather than love. He was hungry for what she gave him, the touch of her hands about his neck, the sense of his manhood that shone from her faithful eyes, the admiration and unstinting love she offered him.

But alone in the little room he had a reaction, not the less keen because it was his fastidious rather than his moral sense that revolted. The room was untidy, close, sordid. Even Anna’s youth did not redeem it. Again he had the sense, when he had closed the door, of being caught in a trap, and this time a dirty trap. When she had taken off her hat, and held up her face to be kissed, he knew he would not stay.

“It’s awful, isn’t it?” she asked, following his eyes.

“It doesn’t look like you. That’s sure.”

“I hurried out. It’s not so bad when it’s tidy.”

He threw up the window, and stood there a moment. The spring air was cool and clean, and there was a sound of tramping feet below. He looked down. The railway station was near-by, and marching toward it, with the long swing of regulars, a company of soldiers was moving rapidly. The night, the absence of drums or music, the businesslike rapidity of their progress, held him there, looking down. He turned around. Anna had slipped off her coat, and had opened the collar of her blouse. Her neck gleamed white and young. She smiled at him.

“I guess I’ll be going,” he stammered.

“Going!”

“I only wanted to see how you are fixed.” His eyes evaded hers. “I’ll see you again in a day or two. I – “

He could not tell her the thoughts that were surging in him. The country was at war. Those fellows below there were already in it, of it. And here in this sordid room, he had meant to take her, not because he loved her, but because she offered herself. It was cheap. It was terrible. It was – dirty.

“Good night,” he said, and tried to kiss her. But she turned her face away. She stood listening to his steps on the stairs as he went down, steps that mingled and were lost in the steady tramp of the soldiers’ feet in the street below.

CHAPTER XXXIV

With his many new problems following the declaration of war, Clayton Spencer found a certain peace. It was good to work hard. It was good to fill every working hour, and to drop into sleep at night too weary for consecutive thought.

Yet had he been frank with himself he would have acknowledged that Audrey was never really out of his mind. Back of his every decision lay his desire for her approval. He did not make them with her consciously in his mind, but he wanted her to know and understand, In his determination, for instance, to offer his shells to the government at a nominal profit, there was no desire to win her approbation.

It was rather that he felt her behind him in the decision. He shrank from telling Natalie. Indeed, until he had returned from Washington he did not broach the subject. And then he was tired and rather discouraged, and as a result almost brutally abrupt.

Coming on top of a hard fight with the new directorate, a fight which he had finally won, Washington was disheartening. Planning enormously for the future it seemed to have no vision for the things of the present. He was met vaguely, put off, questioned. He waited hours, as patiently as he could, to find that no man seemed to have power to act, or to know what powers he had.

He found something else, too – a suspicion of him, of his motives. Who offered something for nothing must be actuated by some deep and hidden motive. He found his plain proposition probed and searched for some ulterior purpose behind it.

“It’s the old distrust, Mr. Spencer,” said Hutchinson, who had gone with him to furnish figures and various data. “The Democrats are opposed to capital. They’re afraid of it. And the army thinks all civilians are on the make – which is pretty nearly true.”

He saw the Secretary of War, finally, and came away feeling better. He had found there an understanding that a man may – even should – make sacrifices for his country during war. But, although he carried away with him the conviction that his offer would ultimately be accepted, there was nothing actually accomplished. He sent Hutchinson back, and waited for a day or two, convinced that his very sincerity must bring a concrete result, and soon.

Then, lunching alone one day in the Shoreham, he saw Audrey Valentine at another table. He had not seen her for weeks, and he had an odd moment of breathlessness when his eyes fell on her. She was pale and thin, and her eyes looked very tired. His first impulse was to go to her. The second, on which he acted, was to watch her for a little, to fill his eyes for the long months of emptiness ahead.

She was with a man in uniform, a young man, gay and smiling. He was paying her evident court, in a debonair fashion, bending toward her across the table. Suddenly Clayton was jealous, fiercely jealous.

The jealousy of the young is sad enough, but it is an ephemeral thing. Life calls from many directions. There is always the future, and the things of the future. And behind it there is the buoyancy and easy forgetfulness of youth. But the jealousy of later years knows no such relief. It sees time flying and happiness evading it. It has not the easy self-confidence of the twenties. It has learned, too, that happiness is a rare elusive thing, to be held and nursed and clung to, and that even love must be won and held.

It has learned that love must be free, but its instinct is to hold it with chains.

He suffered acutely, and was ashamed of his suffering. After all, Audrey was still young. Life had not been kind to her, and she should be allowed to have such happiness as she could. He could offer her nothing.

He would give her up. He had already given her up. She knew it.

Then she saw him, and his determination died under the light that came in her eyes. Give her up! How could he give her up, when she was everything he had in the world? With a shock, he recognized in the thought Natalie’s constant repetition as to Graham. So he had come to that!

He felt Audrey’s eyes on him, but he did not go to her. He signed his check, and went out. He fully meant to go away without seeing her. But outside he hesitated. That would hurt her, and it was cowardly. When, a few moments later, she came out, followed by the officer, it was to find him there, obviously waiting.

“I wondered if you would dare to run away!” she said. “This is Captain Sloane, Clay, and he knows a lot about you.”

Close inspection showed Sloane handsome, bronzed, and with a soft Southern voice, somewhat like Audrey’s. And it developed that he came from her home, and was on his way to one of the early camps. He obviously intended to hold on to Audrey, and Clayton left them there with the feeling that Audrey’s eyes were following him, wistful and full of trouble. He had not even asked her where she was stopping.

He took a long walk that afternoon, and re-made his noon-hour resolution. He would keep away from her. It might hurt her at first, but she was young. She would forget. And he must not stand in her way. Having done which, he returned to the Shoreham and spent an hour in a telephone booth, calling hotels systematically and inquiring for her.

When he finally located her his voice over the wire startled her.

“Good heavens, Clay,” she said. “Are you angry about anything?”

“Of course not. I just wanted to – I am leaving to-night and I’m saying good-by. That’s all.”

“Oh!” She waited.

“Have you had a pleasant afternoon?”

“Aren’t you going to see me before you go?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Don’t you want to know what I am doing in Washington?”

“That’s fairly clear, isn’t it?”

“You are being rather cruel, Clay.”

He hesitated. He was amazed at his own attitude. Then, “Will you dine with me to-night?”

“I kept this evening for you.”

But when he saw her, his sense of discomfort only increased. Their dining together was natural enough. It was not even faintly clandestine. But the new restraint he put on himself made him reserved and unhappy. He could not act a part. And after a time Audrey left off acting, too, and he found her watching him. On the surface he talked, but underneath it he saw her unhappiness, and her understanding of his.

“I’m going back, too,” she said. “I came down to see what I can do, but there is nothing for the untrained woman. She’s a cumberer of the earth. I’ll go home and knit. I daresay I ought to be able to learn to do that well, anyhow.”

“Have you forgiven me for this afternoon?”

“I wasn’t angry. I understood.”

That was it, in a nutshell. Audrey understood. She was that sort. She never held small resentments. He rather thought she never felt them.

“Don’t talk about me,” she said. “Tell me about you and why you are here. It’s the war, of course.”

So, rather reluctantly, he told her. He shrank from seeming to want her approval, but at the same time he wanted it. His faith in himself had been shaken. He needed it restored. And some of the exaltation which had led him to make his proffer to the government came back when he saw how she flushed over it.

“It’s very big,” she said, softly. “It’s like you, Clay. And that’s the best thing I can say. I am very proud of you.”

“I would rather have you proud of me than anything in the world,” he said, unsteadily.

They drifted, somehow, to talking of happiness. And always, carefully veiled, it was their own happiness they discussed.

“I don’t think,” she said, glancing away from him, “that one finds it by looking for it. That is selfish, and the selfish are never happy. It comes – oh, in queer ways. When you’re trying to give it to somebody else, mostly.”

“There is happiness, of a sort, in work.”

Their eyes met. That was what they had to face, she dedicated to service, he to labor.

“It’s never found by making other people unhappy, Clay.”

“No. And yet, if the other people are already unhappy?”

“Never!” she said. And the answer was to the unspoken question in both their hearts.

It was not until they were in the taxicab that Clayton forced the personal note, and then it came as a cry, out of the very depths of him. She had slipped her hand into his, and the comfort of even that small touch broke down the barriers he had so carefully erected.

“I need you so!” he said. And he held her hand to his face. She made no movement to withdraw it.

“I need you, too,” she replied. “I never get over needing you. But we are going to play the game, Clay. We may have our weak hours – and this is one of them – but always, please God, we’ll play the game.”

The curious humility he felt with her was in his voice.

“I’ll need your help, even in that.”

And that touch of boyishness almost broke down her reserve of strength. She wanted to draw his head down on her shoulder, and comfort him. She wanted to smooth back his heavy hair, and put her arms around him and hold him. There was a great tenderness in her for him. There were times when she would have given the world to have gone into his arms and let him hold her there, protected and shielded. But that night she was the stronger, and she knew it.

“I love you, Audrey. I love you terribly,”

And that was the word for it. It was terrible. She knew it.

“To have gone through all the world,” he said, brokenly, “and then to find the Woman, when it is too late. Forever too late.” He turned toward her. “You know it, don’t you? That you are my woman?”

“I know it,” she answered, steadily. “But I know, too – “

“Let me say it just once. Then never again. I’ll bury it, but you will know it is there. You are my woman. I would go through all of life alone to find you at the end. And if I could look forward, dear, to going through the rest of it with you beside me, so I could touch you, like this – “

“I know.”

“If I could only protect you, and shield you – oh, how tenderly I could care for you, my dear, my dear!”

The strength passed to him, then. Audrey had a clear picture of what life with him might mean, of his protection, his tenderness. She had never known it. Suddenly every bit of her called out for his care, his quiet strength.

“Don’t make me sorry for myself.” There were tears in her eyes. “Will you kiss me, Clay? We might have that to remember.”

But they were not to have even that, for the taxicab drew up before her hotel. It was one of the absurd anti-climaxes of life that they should part with a hand-clasp and her formal “Thank you for a lovely evening.”

Audrey was the better actor of the two. She went in as casually as though she had not put the only happiness of her life away from her. But Clayton Spencer stood on the pavement, watching her in, and all the tragedy of the empty years ahead was in his eyes.

CHAPTER XXXV

Left alone in her untidy room after Graham’s abrupt departure, Anna Klein was dazed. She stood where he left her, staring ahead. What had happened meant only one thing to her, that Graham no longer cared about her, and, if that was true, she did not care to live.

It never occurred to her that he had done rather a fine thing, or that he had protected her against herself. She felt no particular shame, save the shame of rejection. In her small world of the hill, if a man gave a girl valuable gifts or money there was generally a quid pro quo. If the girl was unwilling, she did not accept such gifts. If the man wanted nothing, he did not make them. And men who made love to girls either wanted to marry them or desired some other relationship with them.

She listened to his retreating footsteps, and then began, automatically to unbutton her thin white blouse. But with the sound of the engine of his car below she ran to the window. She leaned out, elbows on the sill, and watched him go, without a look up at her window.

So that was the end of that!

Then, all at once, she was fiercely angry. He had got her into this scrape, and now he had left her. He had pretended to love her, and all the time he had meant to do just this, to let her offer herself so he might reject her. He had been playing with her. She had lost her home because of him, had been beaten almost insensible, had been ill for weeks, and now he had driven away, without even looking back.

She jerked her blouse off, still standing by the window, and when the sleeve caught on her watch, she jerked that off, too. She stood for a moment with it in her hand, her face twisted with shame and anger. Then recklessly and furiously she flung it through the open window.

In the stillness of the street far below she heard it strike and rebound.

“That for him!” she muttered.

Almost immediately she wanted it again. He had given it to her. It was all she had left now, and in a curious way it had, through long wearing, come to mean Graham to her. She leaned out of the window. She thought she saw it gleaming in the gutter, and already, attracted by the crash, a man was crossing the street to where it lay.

“You let that alone,” she called down desperately. The figure was already stooping over it. Entirely reckless now, she ran, bare-armed and bare-bosomed, down the stairs and out into the street. She had thought to see its finder escaping, but he was still standing where he had picked it up.

“It’s mine,” she began. “I dropped it out of the window. I – “

“You threw it out of the window. I saw you.”

It was Rudolph.

“You – ” He snarled, and stood with menacing eyes fixed on her bare neck.

“Rudolph!”

“Get into the house,” he said roughly. “You’re half-naked.”

“Give me my watch.”

“I’ll give it to you, all right. What’s left of it. When we get in.”

He followed her into the hail, but when she turned there and held out her hand, he only snarled again.

“We’ll talk up-stairs.”

“I can’t take you up. The landlady don’t allow it.”

“She don’t, eh? You had that Spencer skunk up there.”

His face frightened her, and she lied vehemently.

“That’s not so, and you know it, Rudolph Klein. He came inside, just like this, and we stood and talked. Then he went away. He wasn’t inside ten minutes.” Her voice rose hysterically, but Rudolph caught her by the arm, and pushing her ahead of him, forced her up the stairs.

“We’re going to have this out,” he muttered, viciously.

Half way up she stopped.

“You’re hurting my arm.”

“You be glad I’m not breaking it for you.”

He climbed in a mounting fury. He almost threw her into her room, and closing the door, he turned the key in it. His face reminded her of her father’s the night he had beaten her, and her instinct of self-preservation made her put the little table between them.

“You lay a hand on me,” she panted, “and I’ll yell out the window. The police would be glad enough to have something on you, Rudolph Klein, and you know it.”

“They arrest women like you, too.”

“Don’t you dare say that.” And as he took a step or two toward her she retreated to the window. “You stay there, or I’ll jump out of the window.”

She looked desperate enough to do it, and Rudolph hesitated.

“He was up here. I saw him at the window. I’ve been trailing you all evening. Keep off that window-sill, you little fool! I’m not going to kill you. But I’m going to get him, all right, and don’t you forget it.”

His milder tone and the threat frightened her more than ever. He would get Graham; he was like that. Get him in some cruel, helpless way; that was the German blood in him. She began to play for time, with instinctive cunning.

“Listen, Rudolph,” she said. “I’ll tell you all about it. He did come up, but he left right away. We quarreled. He threw me over, Rudolph. That’s what he did.”

Her own words reminded her of her humiliation, and tears came into her eyes.

“He threw me over! Honest he did. That’s why I threw his watch out of the window. That’s straight, Rudolph. That’s straight goods. I’m not lying now.”

“God!” said Rudolph. “The dirty pup. Then – then you’re through with him, eh?”

“I’m through, all right.”

Her tone carried conviction. Rudolph’s face relaxed, and seeing that, she remembered her half-dressed condition.

“Throw me that waist,” she said.

“Come around and get it.”

“Aw, Rudolph, throw it. Please!”

“Getting modest, all at once,” he jeered. But he picked it up and advanced to the table with it. As she held out her hand for it he caught her and drew her forward toward him, across the table.

“You little devil!” he said, and kissed her.

She submitted, because she must, but she shivered. If she was to save Graham she must play the game. And so far she was winning. She was feminine enough to know that already the thing he thought she had done was to be forgiven her. More than that, she saw a half-reluctant admiration in Rudolph’s eyes, as though she had gained value, if she had lost virtue, by the fact that young Spencer had fancied her. And Rudolph’s morals were the morals of many of his kind. He admired chastity in a girl, but he did not expect it.

But she was watchful for the next move he might make. That it was not what she expected did not make it the less terrifying.

“You get your hat and coat on.”

“I’ll not do anything of the kind.”

“D’you think I’m going to leave you here, where he can come back whenever he wants to? You think again!”

“Where are you going to take me?”

“I’m going to take you home.”

When pleading made no impression on him, and when he refused to move without her, she threw her small wardrobe into the suitcase, and put her hat and coat on. She was past thinking, quite hopeless. She would go back, and her father would kill her, which would be the best thing anyhow; she didn’t care to live.

Rudolph had relapsed into moody silence. Down the stairs, and on the street he preceded her, contemptuously letting her trail behind. He carried her suitcase, however, and once, being insecurely fastened, it opened and bits of untidy apparel littered the pavement. He dropped the suitcase and stood by while she filled it again. The softness of that moment, when, lured by her bare arms he had kissed her, was gone.

The night car jolted and swayed. After a time he dozed, and Anna, watching him, made an attempt at flight. He caught her on the rear platform, however, with a clutch that sickened her. The conductor eyed them with the scant curiosity of two o’clock in the morning, when all the waking world is awry.

At last they were climbing the hill to the cottage, while behind and below them the Spencer furnaces sent out their orange and violet flames, and the roar of the blast sounded like the coming of a mighty wind.

The cottage was dark. Rudolph put down the suitcase, and called Herman softly through his hands. Above they could hear him moving, and his angry voice came through the open window.

“What you want?”

“Come down. It’s Rudolph.”

But when he turned Anna was lying in a dead faint on the garden path, a crumpled little heap of blissful forgetfulness. When Herman came down, it was to find Rudolph standing over her, the suitcase still in his hand, and an ugly scowl on his face.

“Well, I got her,” he said. “She’s scared, that’s all.” He prodded her with his foot, but she did not move, and Herman bent down with his candle.

He straightened.

“Bring her in,” he said, and led the way into the house. When Rudolph staggered in, with Anna in his arms, he found Herman waiting and fingering the leather strap.

CHAPTER XXXVI

Audrey had found something to do at last. It was Captain Sloane who had given her the idea.

“You would make a great hit, Audrey,” he had said. “It’s your voice, you know. There’s something about it – well, you know the effect it always has on me. No? All right, I’ll be good.”

But she had carried the idea home with her, and had proceeded, with her customary decision, to act on it.

Then, one day in May, she was surprised by a visit from Delight Haverford. She had come home, tired and rather depressed, to find the Haverford car at the door, and Delight waiting for her in her sitting-room.

Audrey’s acquaintance with Delight had been rather fragmentary, but it had covered a long stretch of time. So, if she was surprised, it was not greatly when Delight suddenly kissed her. She saw then that the girl had brought her some spring flowers, and the little tribute touched her.

“What a nice child you are!” she said, and standing before the mirror proceeded to take off her hat. Before her she could see the reflection of Delight’s face, and her own tired, slightly haggard eyes.

“And how unutterably old you make me look!” she added, smiling.

“You are too lovely for words, Mrs. Valentine.”

Audrey patted her hair into order, and continued her smiling inspection of the girl’s face.

“And now we have exchanged compliments,” she said, “we will have some tea, and then you shall tell me what you are so excited about.”

“I am excited; I – “

“Let’s have the tea first.”

Audrey’s housekeeping was still rather casual. Tidiness of Natalie’s meticulous order would always be beyond her, but after certain frantic searches for what was needed, she made some delicious tea.

“Order was left out of me, somehow,” she complained. “Or else things move about when I’m away. I’m sure it is that, because I certainly never put the sugar behind my best hat. Now – let’s have it.”

Delight was only playing with her tea. She flushed delicately, and put the cup down.

“I was in the crowd this morning,” she said.

“In the crowd? Oh, my crowd!”

“Yes.”

“I see,” said Audrey, thoughtfully. “I make a dreadful speech, you know.”

“I thought you were wonderful. And, when those men promised to enlist, I cried. I was horribly ashamed. But you were splendid.”

“I wonder!” said Audrey, growing grave. Delight was astonished to see that there were tears in her eyes. “I do it because it is all I can do, and of course they must go. But some times at night – you see, my dear, some of them are going to be killed. I am urging them to go, but the better the day I have had, the less I sleep at night.”

There was a little pause. Delight was thinking desperately of something to say.

“But you didn’t come to talk about me, did you?”

“Partly. And partly about myself. I want to do something, Mrs. Valentine. I can drive a car, but not very well. I don’t know a thing about the engine. And I can nurse a little. I like nursing.”

Audrey studied her face. It seemed to her sad beyond words that this young girl, who should have had only happiness, was facing the horrors of what would probably be a long war. It was the young who paid the price of war, in death, in empty years. Already the careless gayety of their lives was gone. For the dream futures they had planned they had now to substitute long waiting; for happiness, service.

“The Red Cross is going to send canteen workers to France. You might do that.”

“If I only could! But I can’t leave mother. Not entirely. Father is going. He wants to go and fight, but I’m afraid they won’t take him. He’ll go as a chaplain, anyhow. But he’s perfectly helpless, you know. Mother says she is going to tie his overshoes around his neck.”

“I’ll see if I can think of something for you, Delight. There’s one thing in my mind. There are to be little houses built in all the new training-camps for officers, and they are to be managed by women. They are to serve food – sandwiches and coffee, I think. They may be even more pretentious. I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

“I’ll do anything,” said Delight, and got up. It was then that Audrey realized that there was something more to the visit than had appeared, for Delight, ready to go, hesitated.

“There is something else, Mrs. Valentine,” she said, rather slowly. “What would you do if a young man wanted to go into the service, and somebody held him back?”

“His own people?”

“His mother. And – a girl.”

“I would think the army is well off without him.”

Delight flushed painfully.

“Perhaps,” she admitted. “But is it right just to let it go at that? If you like people, it seems wrong just to stand by and let others ruin their lives for them.”

“Only very weak men let women ruin their lives.”

But already she began to understand the situation.

“There’s a weakness that is only a sort of habit. It may come from not wanting to hurt somebody.” Delight was pulling nervously at her gloves. “And there is this to be said, too. If there is what you call weakness, wouldn’t the army be good for it? It makes men, some times, doesn’t it?”

For a sickening moment, Audrey thought of Chris. War had made Chris, but it had killed him, too.

“Have you thought of one thing?” she asked. “That in trying to make this young man, whoever it is, he may be hurt, or even worse?”

“He would have to take his chance, like the rest.”

She went a little pale, however. Audrey impulsively put an arm around her.

“And this – woman is the little long-legged girl who used to give signals to her father when the sermon was too long! Now – what can I do about this youth who can’t make up his own mind?”

“You can talk to his mother.”

“If I know his mother – ? and I think I do – it won’t do the slightest good.”

“Then his father. You are great friends, aren’t you?”

Even this indirect mention of Clayton made Audrey’s hands tremble. She put them behind her.

“We are very good friends,” she said. But Delight was too engrossed to notice the deeper note in her voice. “I’ll see what I can do. But don’t count on me too much. You spoke of a girl. I suppose I know who it is.”

“Probably. It is Marion Hayden. He is engaged to her.”

And again Audrey marveled at her poise, for Delight’s little tragedy was clear by that time. Clear, and very sad.

“I can’t imagine his really being in love with her.”

“But he must be. They are engaged.”

Audrey smiled at the simple philosophy of nineteen, smiled and was extremely touched. How brave the child was! Audrey’s own courageous heart rather swelled in admiration.

But after Delight had gone, she felt depressed again, and very tired. How badly these things were handled! How strange it was that love so often brought suffering! Great loves were almost always great tragedies. Perhaps it was because love was never truly great until the element of sacrifice entered into it.

Her own high courage failed her somewhat. During these recent days when, struggling against very real stage fright, she made her husky, wholly earnest but rather nervous little appeals to the crowds before the enlisting stations, she got along bravely enough during the day. But the night found her sad, unutterably depressed.

At these times she was haunted by a fear that persisted against all her arguments. In Washington Clayton had not looked well. He had been very tired and white, and some of his natural buoyancy seemed to have deserted him. He needed caring for, she would reflect bitterly. There should be some one to look after him. He was tired and anxious, but it took the eyes of love to see it. Natalie would never notice, and would consider it a grievance if she did. The fiercely, maternal tenderness of the childless woman for the man she loves kept her awake at night staring into the darkness and visualizing terrible things. Clayton ill, and she unable to go to him. Ill, and wanting her, and unable to ask for her.

She was, she knew, not quite normal, but the fear gripped and held her. These big strong men, no one ever looked after them. They spent their lives caring for others, and were never cared for.

There were times when a sort of exaltation of sacrifice kept her head high, when the thing she was forced to give up seemed trifling compared with the men and boys who, some determinedly, some sheepishly, left the crowd around the borrowed car from which she spoke, and went into the recruiting station. There was sacrifice and sacrifice, and there was some comfort in the thought that both she and Clayton were putting the happiness of others above their own.

They had both, somehow, somewhere, missed the path. But they must never go back and try to find it.

Delight’s visit left her thoughtful. There must be some way to save Graham. She wondered how much of Clayton’s weariness was due to Graham. And she wondered, too, if he knew of the talk about Natalie and Rodney Page. There was a great deal of talk. Somehow such talk cheapened his sacrifice and hers.

Not that she believed it, or much of it. She knew how little such gossip actually meant. Practically every woman she knew, herself included, had at one time or another laid herself open to such invidious comment. They had all been idle, and they sought amusement in such spurious affairs as this, harmless in the main, but taking on the appearance of evil. That was part of the game, to appear worse than one really was. The older the woman, the more eager she was often in her clutch at the vanishing romance of youth.

Only – it was part of the game, too, to avoid scandal. A fierce pride for Clayton’s name sent the color to her face.

On the evening after Delight’s visit, she had promised to speak at a recruiting station far down-town in a crowded tenement district, and tired as she was, she took a bus and went down at seven o’clock. She was uneasy and nervous. She had not spoken in the evening before, and in all her sheltered life she had never seen the milling of a night crowd in a slum district.

There was a wagon drawn up at the curb, and an earnest-eyed young clergyman was speaking. The crowd was attentive, mildly curious. The clergyman was emphatic without being convincing. Audrey watched the faces about her, standing in the crowd herself, and a sense of the futility of it all gripped her. All these men, and only a feeble cheer as a boy still in his teens agreed to volunteer. All this effort for such scant result, and over on the other side such dire need! But one thing cheered her. Beside her, in the crowd, a portly elderly Jew was standing with his hat in his hand, and when a man near him made some jeering comment, the Jew brought his hand down on his shoulder.

“Be still and listen,” he said. “Or else go away and allow others to listen. This is our country which calls.”

“It’s amusing, isn’t it?” Audrey heard a woman’s voice near her, carefully inflected, slightly affected.

“It’s rather stunning, in a way. It’s decorative; the white faces, and that chap in the wagon, and the gasoline torch.”

“I’d enjoy it more if I’d had my dinner.”

The man laughed.

“You are a most brazen combination of the mundane and the spiritual, Natalie. You are all soul – after you are fed. Come on. It’s near here.”

Audrey’s hands were very cold. By the movement of the crowd behind her, she knew that Natalie and Rodney were making their escape, toward food and a quiet talk in some obscure restaurant in the neighborhood. Fierce anger shook her. For this she and Clayton were giving up the only hope they had of happiness – that Natalie might carry on a cheap and stealthy flirtation.

She made a magnificent appeal that night, and a very successful one. The lethargic crowd waked up and pressed forward. There were occasional cheers, and now and then the greater tribute of convinced silence. And on a box in the wagon the young clergyman eyed her almost wistfully. What a woman she was! With such a woman a man could live up to the best in him. Then he remembered his salary in a mission church of twelve hundred a year, and sighed.

He gained courage, later on, and asked Audrey if she would have some coffee with him, or something to eat. She looked tired.

“Tired!” said Audrey. “I am only tired these days when I am not working.”

“You must not use yourself up. You are too valuable to the country.”

She was very grateful. After all, what else really mattered? In a little glow she accepted his invitation.

“Only coffee,” she said. “I have had dinner. Is there any place near?”

He piloted her through the crowd, now rapidly dispersing. Here and there some man, often in halting English, thanked her for what she had said. A woman, slightly the worse for drink, but with friendly, rather humorous eyes, put a hand on her arm.

“You’re all right, m’dear,” she said. “You’re the stuff. Give it to them. I wish to God I could talk. I’d tell ’em something.”

The clergyman drew her on hastily.

In a small Italian restaurant, almost deserted, they found a table, and the clergyman ordered eggs and coffee. He was a trifle uneasy. In the wagon Audrey’s plain dark clothes had deceived him. But the single pearl on her finger was very valuable. He fell to apologizing for the place.

“I often come here,” he explained. “The food is good, if you like Italian cooking. And it is near my work. I – “

But Audrey was not listening. At a corner, far back, Natalie and Rodney were sitting, engrossed in each other. Natalie’s back was carefully turned to the room, but there was no mistaking her. Audrey wanted madly to get away, but the coffee had come and the young clergyman was talking gentle platitudes in a rather sweet but monotonous voice. Then Rodney saw her, and bowed.

Almost immediately afterward she heard the soft rustle that was Natalie, and found them both beside her.

“Can we run you up-town?” Natalie asked. “That is, unless – “

She glanced at the clergyman.

“Thank you, no, Natalie. I’m going to have some supper first.”

Natalie was uneasy. Audrey made no move to present the clergyman, whose name she did not know. Rodney was looking slightly bored.

“Odd little place, isn’t it?” Natalie offered after a second’s silence.

“Rather quaint, I think.”

Natalie made a desperate effort to smooth over an awkward situation. She turned to the clergyman.

“We heard you speaking. It was quite thrilling.”

He smiled a little.

“Not so thrilling as this lady. She carried the crowd, absolutely.”

Natalie turned and stared at Audrey, who was flushed with annoyance.

“You!” she said. “Do you mean to say you have been talking from that wagon?”

“I haven’t said it. But I have.”

“For heaven’s sake!” Then she laughed and glanced at Rodney. “Well, if you won’t tell on me, I’ll not tell on you.” And then seeing Audrey straighten, “I don’t mean that, of course. Clay’s at a meeting to-night, so I am having a holiday.”

She moved on, always with the soft rustle, leaving behind her a delicate whiff of violets and a wide-eyed clergyman, who stared after her admiringly.

“What a beautiful woman!” he said. There was a faint regret in his voice that Audrey had not presented him, and he did not see that her coffee-cup trembled as she lifted it to her lips.

At ten o’clock the next morning Natalie called her on the ‘phone. Natalie’s morning voice was always languid, but there was a trace of pleading in it now.

“It’s a lovely day,” she said. “What are you doing?”

“I’ve been darning.”

“You! Darning!”

“I rather like it.”

“Heavens, how you’ve changed! I suppose you wouldn’t do anything so frivolous as to go out with me to the new house.”

Audrey hesitated. Evidently Natalie wanted to talk, to try to justify herself. But the feeling that she was the last woman in the world to be Natalie’s father-confessor was strong in her. On the other hand, there was the question of Graham. On that, before long, she and Natalie would have, in one of her own occasional lapses into slang, to go to the mat.

“I’ll come, of course, if that’s an invitation.”

“I’ll be around in an hour, then.”

Natalie was unusually prompt. She was nervous and excited, and was even more carefully dressed than usual. Over her dark blue velvet dress she wore a loose motor-coat, with a great chinchilla collar, but above it Audrey, who would have given a great deal to be able to hate her, found her rather pathetic, a little droop to her mouth, dark circles which no veil could hide under her eyes.

The car was in its customary resplendent condition. There were orchids in the flower-holder, and the footman, light rug over his arm, stood rigidly waiting at the door.

“What a tone you and your outfit do give my little street,” Audrey said, as they started. “We have more milk-wagons than limousines, you know.”

“I don’t see how you can bear it.”

Audrey smiled. “It’s really rather nice,” she said. “For one thing, I haven’t any bills. I never lived on a cash basis before. It’s a sort of emancipation.”

“Oh, bills!” said Natalie, and waved her hands despairingly. “If you could see my desk! And the way I watch the mail so Clay won’t see them first. They really ought to send bills in blank envelopes.”

“But you have to give them to him eventually, don’t you?”

“I can choose my moment. And it is never in the morning. He’s rather awful in the morning.”

“Awful?”

“Oh, not ugly. Just quiet. I hate a man who doesn’t talk in the mornings. But then, for months, he hasn’t really talked at all. That’s why” – she was rather breathless – “that’s why I went out with Rodney last night.”

“I don’t think Clayton would mind, if you told him first. It’s your own affair, of course, but it doesn’t seem quite fair to him.”

“Oh, of course you’d side with him. Women always side with the husband.”

“I don’t ‘side’ with any one,” Audrey protested. “But I am sure, if he realized that you are lonely – “

Suddenly she realized that Natalie was crying. Not much, but enough to force her, to dab her eyes carefully through her veil.

“I’m awfully unhappy, Audrey,” she said. “Everything’s wrong, and I don’t know why. What have I done? I try and try and things just get worse.”

Audrey was very uncomfortable. She had a guilty feeling that the whole situation, with Natalie pouring out her woes beside her, was indelicate, unbearable.

“But if Clay – ” she began.

“Clay! He’s absolutely ungrateful. He takes me for granted, and the house for granted. Everything. And if he knows I want a thing, he disapproves at once. I think sometimes he takes a vicious pleasure in thwarting me.”

But as she did not go on, Audrey said nothing. Natalie had raised her veil, and from a gold vanity-case was repairing the damages around her eyes.

“Why don’t you find something to do, something to interest you?” Audrey suggested finally.

But Natalie poured out a list of duties that lasted for the last three miles of the trip, ending with the new house.

“Even that has ceased to be a satisfaction,” she finished. “Clayton wants to stop work on it, and cut down all the estimates. It’s too awful. First he told me to get anything I liked, and now he says to cut down to nothing. I could just shriek about it.”

“Perhaps that’s because we are in the war, now.”

“War or no war, we have to live, don’t we? And he thinks I ought to do without the extra man for the car, and the second man in the house, and heaven alone knows what. I’m at the end of my patience.”

Audrey made a resolution. After all, what mattered was that things should be more tolerable for Clayton. She turned to Natalie.

“Why don’t you try to do what he wants, Natalie? He must have a reason for asking you. And it would please him a lot.”

“If I start making concession, I can just keep it up. He’s like that.”

“He’s so awfully fine, Natalie. He’s – well, he’s rather big. And sometimes I think, if you just tried, he wouldn’t be so hard to please. He probably wants peace and happiness?”

“Happiness!” Natalie’s voice was high. “That sounds like Clay. Happiness! Don’t you suppose I want to be happy?”

“Not enough to work for it,” said Audrey, evenly.

Natalie turned and stared at her.

“I believe you’re half in love with Clay yourself!”

“Perhaps I am.”

But she smiled frankly into Natalie’s eyes.

“I know if I were married to him, I’d try to do what he wanted.”

“You’d try it for a year. Then you’d give it up. It’s one thing to admire a man. It’s quite different being married to him, and having to put up with all sorts of things?”

Her voice trailed off before the dark vision of her domestic, unhappiness. And again, as with Graham and his father, it was what she did not say that counted. Audrey came close to hating her just then.

So far the conversation had not touched on Graham, and now they were turning in the new drive. Already the lawns Were showing green, and extensive plantings of shrubbery were putting out their pale new buds. Audrey, bending forward in the car, found it very lovely, and because it belonged to Clay, was to be his home, it thrilled her, just as the towering furnaces of his mill thrilled her, the lines of men leaving at nightfall. It was his, therefore it was significant.

The house amazed her. Even Natalie’s enthusiasm had not promised anything so stately or so vast. Moving behind her through great empty rooms, to the sound of incessant hammering, over which Natalie’s voice was raised shrilly, she was forced to confess that, between them, Natalie and Rodney had made a lovely thing. She felt no jealousy when she contrasted it with her own small apartment. She even felt that it was the sort of house Clayton should have.

For, although it had been designed as a setting for Natalie, although every color-scheme, almost every chair, had been bought with a view to forming a background for her, it was too big, too massive. It dwarfed her. Out-of-doors, Audrey lost that feeling. In the formal garden Natalie was charmingly framed. It was like her, beautifully exact, carefully planned, already with its spring borders faintly glowing.

Natalie cheered in her approval.

“You’re so comforting,” she said. “Clay thinks it isn’t homelike. He says it’s a show place – which it ought to be. It cost enough – and he hates show places. He really ought to have a cottage. Now let’s see the swimming-pool.”

But at the pool she lost her gayety. The cement basin, still empty, gleamed white in the sun, and Natalie, suddenly brooding, stood beside it staring absently into it.

“It was for Graham,” she said at last. “We were going to have week-end parties, and all sorts of young people. But now!”

“What about now?”

Natalie raised tragic eyes to hers.

“He’s probably going into the army. He’d have never thought of it, but Clayton shows in every possible way that he thinks he ought to go. What is the boy to do? His father driving him to what may be his death!”

“I don’t think he’d do that, Natalie.”

Natalie laughed, her little mirthless laugh.

“Much you know what his father would do! I’ll tell you this, Audrey. If Graham goes, and anything – happens to him, I’ll never forgive Clay. Never.”

Audrey had not suspected such depths of feeling as Natalie’s eyes showed under their penciled brows. They were desperate, vindictive eyes. Suddenly Natalie was pleading with her.

“You’ll talk to Clay, won’t you? He’ll listen to you. He has a lot of respect for your opinion. I want you to go to him, Audrey. I brought you here to ask you. I’m almost out of my mind. Why do you suppose I play around with Rodney? I’ve got to forget, that’s all. And I’ve tried everything I know, and failed. He’ll go, and I’ll lose him, and if I do it will kill me.”

“It doesn’t follow that because he goes he won’t come back.”

“He’ll be in danger. I shall be worrying about him every moment.” She threw out her hands in what was as unrestrained a gesture as she ever made. “Look at me!” she cried. “I’m getting old under it. I have lines about my eyes already. I hate to look at myself in the morning. And I’m not old. I ought to be at my best now.”

Natalie’s anxiety was for Graham, but her pity was for herself. Audrey’s heart hardened.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t go to Clay. I feel as I think he does. If Graham wants to go, he should be free to do it. You’re only hurting him, and your influence on him, by holding him back.”

“You’ve never had a child.”

“If I had, and he wanted to go, I should be terrified, but I should be proud.”

“You and Clay! You even talk alike. It’s all a pose, this exalted attitude. Even this war is a pose. It’s a national attitude we’ve struck, a great nation going to rescue humanity, while the rest of the world looks on and applauds! It makes me ill.”

She turned and went back to the house, leaving Audrey by the swimming-pool. She sat on the edge of one of the stone benches, feeling utterly dreary and sad. To make a sacrifice for a worthy object was one thing. To throw away a life’s happiness for a spoiled, petulant woman was another. It was too high a price to pay. Mingled with her depression was pity for Clayton; for all the years that he had lived with this woman: and pride in him, that he had never betrayed his disillusion.

After a time she saw the car waiting, and she went slowly back to the house. Natalie was already inside, and she made no apologies whatever. The drive back was difficult. Natalie openly sulked, replied in monosyllables, made no effort herself until they were in the city again. Then she said, “I’m sorry I asked you to speak to Clay. Of course you needn’t do it.”

“Not if it is to do what you said. But I wish you wouldn’t misunderstand me, Natalie. I’m awfully sorry. We just think differently.”

“We certainly do,” said Natalie briefly. And that was her good-by.

CHAPTER XXXVII

When Clayton had returned from Washington, one of the first problems put up to him had been Herman Klein’s application to be taken on again. He found Hutchinson in favor of it.

“He doesn’t say much,” he said. “Never did. But I gather things are changed, now we are in the war ourselves.”

“I suppose we need him.”

“You bet we need him.”

For the problem of skilled labor was already a grave one.

Clayton was doubtful. If he could have conferred with Dunbar he would have felt more comfortable, but Dunbar was away on some mysterious errand connected with the Military Intelligence Department. He sat considering, tapping on his desk with the handle of his pen. Of course things were different now. A good many Germans whose sympathies had, as between the Fatherland and the Allies, been with Germany, were now driven to a decision between the land they had left and the land they had adopted. And behind Herman there were thirty years of good record.

“Where is the daughter?”

“I don’t know. She left some weeks ago. It’s talk around the plant that he beat her up, and she got out. Those Germans don’t know the first thing about how to treat women.”

“Then she is not in Weaver’s office?”

There was more talk in the offices than Hutchinson repeated. Graham’s fondness for Anna, her slavish devotion to him, had been pretty well recognized. He wondered if Clayton knew anything about it, or the further gossip that Graham knew where Anna Klein had been hiding.

“What about Rudolph Klein? He was a nephew, wasn’t he?”

“Fired,” said Hutchinson laconically. “Got to spreading the brotherhood of the world idea – sweat brothers, he calls them. But he was mighty careful never to get in a perspiration himself.”

“We might try Herman again. But I’d keep an eye on him.”

So Herman was taken on at the new munition plant. He was a citizen, he owned property, he had a record of long service behind him. And, at first, he was minded to preserve that record intact. While he had by now added to his rage against the Fatherland’s enemies a vast and sullen fury against invested capital, his German caution still remained.

He would sit through fiery denunciations of wealth, nodding his head slowly in agreement. He was perfectly aware that in Gus’s little back room dark plots were hatched. Indeed, on a certain April night Rudolph had come up and called him onto the porch.

“In about fifteen minutes,” he said, consulting his watch in the doorway, “I’m going to show you something pretty.”

And in fifteen minutes to the dot the great railroad warehouses near the city wharf had burst into flames. Herman had watched without comment, while Rudolph talked incessantly, boasting of his share in the enterprise.

“About a million dollars’ worth of fireworks there,” he said, as the glare dyed their faces red. “All stuff for the Allies.” And he boasted, “When the cat sits on the pickhandle, brass buttons must go.”

By that time Herman knew that the “cat” meant sabotage. He had nodded slowly.

“But it is dangerous,” was his later comment. “Sometimes they will learn, and then?”

His caution had exasperated Rudolph almost to frenzy. And as time went on, and one man after another of the organization was ferreted out at the new plant and dismissed, the sole remaining hope of the organization was Herman. With his reinstatement their hopes had risen again, but to every suggestion so far he had been deaf. He would listen approvingly, but at the end, when he found the talk veering his way, and a circle of intent faces watching him, he would say:

“It is too dangerous. And it is a young man’s work. I am not young.”

Then he would pay his score, but never by any chance Rudolph’s or the others, and go home to his empty house. But recently the plant had gone on double turn, and Herman was soon to go on at night. Here was the gang’s opportunity. Everything was ready but Herman himself. He continued interested, but impersonal. For the sake of the Fatherland he was willing to have the plant go, and to lose his work. He was not at all daunted by the thought of the deaths that would follow. That was war. Anything that killed and destroyed was fair in war. But he did not care to place himself in danger. Let those young hot-heads do the work.

Rudolph, watching him, bided his time. The ground was plowed and harrowed, ready for the seed, and Rudolph had only to find the seed.

The night he had carried Anna into the cottage on the hill, he had found it.

Herman had not beaten Anna. Rudolph had carried her up to her bed, and Herman, following slowly, strap in hand, had been confronted by the younger man in the doorway of the room where Anna lay, conscious but unmoving, on the bed.

“You can use that thing later,” Rudolph said. “She’s sick now. Better let her alone.”

“I will teach her to run away,” Herman muttered thickly. “She left me, her father, and threw away a good job – I – “

“You come down-stairs. I’ve something to say to you.”

And, after a time, Herman had followed him down, but he still clung doggedly to the strap.

Rudolph led the way outside, and here in the darkness he told Anna’s story, twisted and distorted through his own warped mind, but convincing and partially true. Herman’s silence began to alarm him, however, and when at last he rose and made for the door, Rudolph was before him.

“What are you going to do?”

Herman said nothing, but he raised the strap and held it menacingly.

“Get out of my way.”

“Don’t be a fool,” Rudolph entreated. “You can beat her to death, and what do you get out of it? She’ll run away again if you touch her. Put that strap down. I’m not afraid of you.”

Their voices, raised and angry, penetrated through Anna’s haze of fright and faintness. She sat up in the bed, ready to spring to the window if she heard steps on the stairs. When none came, but the voices, lowered now, went on endlessly below, she slipped out of her bed and crept to the doorway.

Sounds traveled clearly up the narrow enclosed stairway. She stood there, swaying slightly, until at last her legs would no longer support her. She crouched on the floor, a hand clutching her throat, lest she scream. And listened.

She did not sleep at all. The night had been too full of horrors. And she was too ill to attempt a second flight. Besides, where could she go? Katie was not there. She could see her empty little room across, with its cot bed and tawdry dresser. Before, too, she had had Grahams protection to count on. Now she had nothing.

And the voices went on.

When she went back to bed it was almost dawn. She heard Herman come up, heard the heavy thump of his shoes on the floor, and the creak immediately following that showed he had lain down without undressing. By the absence of his resonant snoring she knew he was not sleeping, either. She pictured him lying there, his eyes on the door, in almost unwinking espionage.

At half past six she got up and went down-stairs. Almost immediately she heard his stockinged feet behind her. She turned and looked up at him.

“What are you going to do?”

“Going to make myself some coffee.”

He came down, and sat down in the sitting-room. From where he sat he could survey the kitchen, and she knew his eyes were on her. His very quiet terrified her, but although the strap lay on the table he made no move toward it. She built a fire and put on the kettle, and after a time she brought him some coffee and some bread. He took it without a word. Sick as she was, she fell to cleaning up the dirty kitchen. She went outside for a pail, to find him behind her in the doorway. Then she knew what he intended to do. He was afraid, for some reason, to beat her again, but he was going to watch her lest again she make her escape. The silence, under his heavy gaze, was intolerable.

All day she worked, and only once did Herman lose sight of her. That was when he took a ladder, and outside the house nailed all the upper windows shut. He did it with German thoroughness, hammering deliberately, placing his nails carefully. After that he went to the corner grocery, but before he went he spoke the first words of the day.

“You will go to your room.”

She went, and he locked her in. She knew then that she was a prisoner. When he was at the mill at night, while he slept during the day, she was to be locked up in her stuffy, airless room. When he was about she would do the housework, always under his silent, contemptuous gaze.

She made one appeal to him, and only one, and that was to his cupidity.

“I’ve been sick, but I’m able to work now, father.”

He paid no attention to her.

“If you lock me up and don’t let me work,” she persisted, “you’ll only be cutting off your nose to spite your face. I make good money, and you know it.”

She thought he was going to speak then, but he did not. She put his food on the table and he ate gluttonously, as he always did. She did not sit down. She drank a little coffee, standing at the stove, and watched the back of his head with hate in her eyes. He could eat like that, when he stood committed to a terrible thing!

It was not until late in the day that it began to dawn on her how she was responsible. She was getting stronger then and more able to think. She followed as best she could the events of the last months, and she saw that, as surely as though a malevolent power had arranged it, the thing was the result of her infatuation for Graham.

She was in despair, and she began to plan how to get word to Graham of what was impending. She scrawled a note to Graham, telling him where she was and to try to get in touch with her somehow. If he would come around four o’clock Herman was generally up and off to the grocer’s, or to Gus’s saloon for his afternoon beer.

“I’ll break a window and talk to you,” she wrote. “I’m locked in when he’s out. My window is on the north side. Don’t lose any time. There’s something terrible going to happen.”

But several days went by and the postman did not appear. Herman had put a padlock on the outside of her bedroom door, and her hope of finding a second key to fit the door-lock died then.

It had become a silent, bitter contest between the two of them, with two advantages in favor of the girl. She was more intelligent than Herman, and she knew the thing he was planning to do. She made a careful survey of her room, and she saw that with a screw-driver she could unfasten the hinge of her bedroom door. Herman, however, always kept his tools locked up. She managed, apparently by accident, to break the point off a knife, and when she went up to her room one afternoon to be locked in while Herman went to Gus’s saloon, she carried the knife in her stocking.

It was a sorry tool, however. Driven by her shaking hand, there was a time when she almost despaired. And time was flying. The postman, when he came, came at five, and she heard the kitchen clock strike five before the first screw fell out into her hand. She got them all out finally, and the door hung crazily, held only by the padlock. She ran to the window. The postman was coming along the street, and she hammered madly at the glass. When he saw her he turned in at the gate, and she got her letter and ran down the stairs.

She heard his step on the porch outside, and called to him.

“Is that you, Briggs?”

The postman was “Briggs” to the hill.

“Yes.”

“If I slide a letter out under the door, will you take it to the post-office for me? It’s important.”

“All right. Slide.”

She had put it partially under the door when a doubt crept into her mind. That was not Briggs’s voice. She made a frantic effort to draw the letter back, but stronger fingers than hers had it beyond the door. She clutched, held tight. Then she heard a chuckle, and found herself with a corner of the envelope in her hand.

There were voices outside, Briggs’s and Rudolph’s.

“Guess that’s for me.”

“Like hell it is.”

She ran madly up the stairs again, and tried with shaking fingers to screw the door-hinges into place again. She fully expected that they would kill her. She heard Briggs go out, and after a time she heard Rudolph trying to kick in the house door. Then, when the last screw was back in place, she heard Herman’s heavy step outside, and Rudolph’s voice, high, furious, and insistent.

Had Herman not been obsessed with the thing he was to do, he might have beaten her to death that night. But he did not. She remained in her room, without food or water. She had made up her mind to kill herself with the knife if they came up after her, but the only sounds she heard were of high voices, growing lower and more sinister.

After that, for days she was a prisoner. Herman moved his bed down-stairs and slept in the sitting-room, the five or six hours of day-light sleep which were all he required. And at night, while he was at the mill, Rudolph sat and dozed and kept watch below. Twice a day some meager provisions were left at the top of the stairs and her door was unlocked. She would creep out and get them, not because she was hungry, but because she meant to keep up her strength. Let their vigilance slip but once, and she meant to be ready.

She learned to interpret every sound below. There were times when the fumes from burning food came up the staircase and almost smothered her. And there were times, she fancied, when Herman weakened and Rudolph talked for hours, inciting and inflaming him again. She gathered, too, that Gus’s place was under surveillance, and more than once in the middle of the night stealthy figures came in by the garden gate and conferred with Rudolph down-stairs. Then, one evening, in the dusk of the May twilight, she saw three of them come, one rather tall and military of figure, and one of them carried, very carefully, a cheap suitcase.

She knew what was in that suitcase.

CHAPTER XXXVIII

One morning, in his mail, Clayton Spencer received a clipping. It had been cut from a so-called society journal, and it was clamped to the prospectus of a firm of private detectives who gave information for divorce cases as their specialty.

First curiously, then with mounting anger, Clayton read that the wife of a prominent munition manufacturer was being seen constantly in out of the way places with the young architect who was building a palace for her out of the profiteer’s new wealth. “It is quite probable,” ended the notice, “that the episode will end in an explosion louder than the best shell the husband in the case ever turned out.”

Clayton did not believe the thing for a moment. He was infuriated, but mostly with the journal, and with the insulting inference of the prospectus. He had a momentary clear vision, however, of Natalie, of her idle days, of perhaps a futile last clutch at youth. He had no more doubt of her essential integrity than of his own. But he had a very distinct feeling that she had exposed his name to cheap scandal, and that for nothing.

Had there been anything real behind it, he might have understood, in his new humility, in his new knowledge of impulses stronger than any restraints of society, he would quite certainly have made every allowance. But for a whim, an indulgence of her incorrigible vanity! To get along, to save Natalie herself, he was stifling the best that was in him, while Natalie –

That was one view of it. The other was that Natalie was as starved as he was. If he got nothing from her, he gave her nothing. How was he to blame her? She was straying along dangerous paths, but he himself had stood at the edge of the precipice, and looked down.

Suddenly it occurred to him that perhaps, for once, Natalie was in earnest. Perhaps Rodney was, too. Perhaps each of them had at last found something that loomed larger than themselves. In that case? But everything he knew of Natalie contradicted that. She was not a woman to count anything well lost for love. She was playing with his honor, with Rodney, with her own vanity.

Going up-town that night he pondered the question of how to take up the matter with her. It would be absurd, under the circumstances, to take any virtuous attitude. He was still undetermined when he reached the house.

He found Marion Hayden there for dinner, and Graham, and a spirited three-corner discussion going on which ceased when he stood in the doorway. Natalie looked irritated, Graham determined, and Marion was slightly insolent and unusually handsome.

“Hurry and change, Clay,” Natalie said. “Dinner is waiting.”

As he went away he had again the feeling of being shut out of something which concerned Graham.

Dinner was difficult. Natalie was obviously sulking, and Graham was rather taciturn. It was Marion who kept the conversation going, and he surmised in her a repressed excitement, a certain triumph.

At last Natalie roused herself. The meal was almost over, and the servants had withdrawn.

“I wish you would talk sense to Graham, Clay,” she said, fretfully. “I think he has gone mad.”

“I don’t call it going mad to want to enlist, father.”

“I do. With your father needing you, and with all the men there are who can go.”

“I don’t understand. If he wants to enter the army, that’s up to him, isn’t it?”

There was a brief silence. Clayton found Natalie’s eyes on him, uneasy, resentful.

“That’s just it. I’ve promised mother not to, unless she gives her consent. And she won’t give it.”

“I certainly will not.”

Clayton saw her appealing glance at Marion, but that young lady was lighting a cigaret, her eyelids lowered. He felt as though he were watching a play, in which he was the audience.

“It’s rather a family affair, isn’t it?” he asked. “Suppose we wait until we are alone. After all, there is no hurry.”

Marion looked at him, and he caught a resentment in her glance. The two glances struck fire.

“Say something, Marion,” Natalie implored her.

“I don’t think my opinion is of any particular importance. As Mr. Spencer says, it’s really a family matter.”

Her insolence was gone. Marion was easy. She knew Natalie’s game; it was like her own. But this big square-jawed man at the head of the table frightened her. And he hated her. He hardly troubled to hide it, for all his civility. Even that civility was contemptuous.

In the drawing-room things were little better. Natalie had counted on Marion’s cooperation, and she had failed her. She pleaded a headache and went up-stairs, leaving Clayton to play the host as best he could.

Marion wandered into the music-room, with its bare polished floor, its lovely painted piano, and played a little – gay, charming little things, clever and artful. Except when visitors came, the piano was never touched, but now and then Clayton had visualized Audrey there, singing in her husky sweet voice her little French songs.

Graham moved restlessly about the room, and Clayton felt that he had altered lately. He looked older, and not happy. He knew the boy wanted to talk about Natalie’s opposition, but was hoping that he would broach the subject. And Clayton rather grimly refused to do it. Those next weeks would show how much of the man there was in Graham, but the struggle must be between his mother and himself.

He paused, finally.
Marion was singing.

“Give me your love for a day;
A night; an hour.
If the wages of sin are Death
I’m willing to pay.”

She sang it in her clear passionless voice. Brave words, Clayton thought, but there were few who would pay such wages. This girl at the piano, what did she know of the thing she sang about? What did any of the young know?

They always construed love in terms of passion. But passion was ephemeral. Love lived on. Passion took, but love gave.

He roused himself.

“Have you told Marion about the new arrangement?”

“I didn’t know whether you cared to have it told.”

“Don’t you think she ought to know? If she intends to enter the family, she has a right to know that she is not marrying into great wealth. I don’t suggest,” he added, as Graham colored hotly, “that it will make any difference. I merely feel she ought to know your circumstances.”

He was called to the telephone, and when he came back he found them in earnest conversation. The girl turned toward him smiling.

“Graham has just told me. You are splendid, Mr. Spencer.”

And afterward Clayton was forced to admit an element of sincerity in her voice. She had had a disappointment, but she was very game. Her admiration surprised him. He was nearer to liking her than he had ever been.

Even her succeeding words did not quite kill his admiration for her.

“And I have told Graham that he must not let you make all the sacrifices. Of course he is going to enlist.”

She had turned her defeat into a triumph against Natalie. Clayton knew then that she would never marry Graham. As she went out he followed her with a faint smile of tribute.

The smile died as he turned to go up the stairs.

Natalie was in her dressing-room. She had not undressed, but was standing by a window. She made no sign that she heard him enter, and he hesitated. Why try to talk things out with her? Why hurt her? Why not let things drift along? There was no hope of bettering them. One of two things he must do, either tear open the situation between them, or ignore it.

“Can I get anything for your head, my dear?”

“I haven’t any headache.”

“Then I think I’ll go to bed. I didn’t sleep much last night.”

He was going out when she spoke again.

“I came up-stairs because I saw how things were going.”

“Do you really want to go into that, to-night?”

“Why not to-night? We’ll have to go into it soon enough.”

Yet when she turned to him he saw the real distress in her face, and his anger died.

“I didn’t want to hurt you, Natalie. I honestly tried. But you know how I feel about that girl.”

“Even the servants know it. It is quite evident.”

“We parted quite amiably.”

“I dare say! You were relieved that she was going. If you would only be ordinarily civil to her – oh, don’t you see? She could keep Graham from going into this idiotic war. You can’t. I can’t. I’ve tried everything I know. And she knows she can. She’s – hateful about it.”

“And you would marry him to that sort of a girl?”

“I’d keep him from being blinded, or mutilated, or being killed.”

“You can kill his soul.”

“His soul!” She burst into hysterical laughter. “You to talk about souls! That’s – that’s funny.”

“Natalie, dear.” He was very grave, very gentle. “Has it occurred to you that we are hitting it off rather badly lately?”

She looked at him quickly.

“How? Because I don’t think as you do? We got on well enough before this war came along.”

“Do you think it is only that?”

“If it’s the house, just remember you gave me carte blanche there.”

He made a little gesture of despair.

“I just thought perhaps you are not as happy as you might be.”

“Happiness again! Did you come up-stairs to-night, with this thing hanging over us, to talk about happiness? That’s funny, too.” But her eyes were suddenly suspicious. There was something strange in his voice.

“Let’s forget that for a moment. Graham will make his own decision. But, before we leave that, let me tell you that I love him as much as you do. His going means exactly as much. It’s only – “

“Another point we differ on,” she finished for him. “Go on. You are suddenly concerned about my happiness. I’m touched, Clay. You have left me all winter to go out alone, or with anybody who might be sorry enough for me to pick me up, and now?” Suddenly her eyes sharpened, and she drew her breath quickly. “You’ve seen that scandalous thing in the paper!”

“It was sent to me.”

“Who sent it?”

“A firm of private detectives.”

She was frightened, and the terror in her face brought him to her