A POOR WISE MAN
By Mary Roberts Rinehart
The city turned its dreariest aspect toward the railway on blackened walls, irregular and ill-paved streets, gloomy warehouses, and over all a gray, smoke-laden atmosphere which gave it mystery and often beauty. Sometimes the softened towers of the great steel bridges rose above the river mist like fairy towers suspended between Heaven and earth. And again the sun tipped the surrounding hills with gold, while the city lay buried in its smoke shroud, and white ghosts of river boats moved spectrally along.
Sometimes it was ugly, sometimes beautiful, but always the city was powerful, significant, important. It was a vast melting pot. Through its gates came alike the hopeful and the hopeless, the dreamers and those who would destroy those dreams. From all over the world there came men who sought a chance to labor. They came in groups, anxious and dumb, carrying with them their pathetic bundles, and shepherded by men with cunning eyes.
Raw material, for the crucible of the city, as potentially powerful as the iron ore which entered the city by the same gate.
The city took them in, gave them sanctuary, and forgot them. But the shepherds with the cunning eyes remembered.
Lily Cardew, standing in the train shed one morning early in March, watched such a line go by. She watched it with interest. She had developed a new interest in people during the year she had been away. She had seen, in the army camp, similar shuffling lines of men, transformed in a few hours into ranks of uniformed soldiers, beginning already to be actuated by the same motive. These aliens, going by, would become citizens. Very soon now they would appear on the streets in new American clothes of extraordinary cut and color, their hair cut with clippers almost to the crown, and surmounted by derby hats always a size too small.
Lily smiled, and looked out for her mother. She was suddenly unaccountably glad to be back again. She liked the smoke and the noise, the movement, the sense of things doing. And the sight of her mother, small, faultlessly tailored, wearing a great bunch of violets, and incongruous in that work-a-day atmosphere, set her smiling again.
How familiar it all was! And heavens, how young she looked! The limousine was at the curb, and a footman as immaculately turned out as her mother stood with a folded rug over his arm. On the seat inside lay a purple box. Lily had known it would be there. They would be ostensibly from her father, because he had not been able to meet her, but she knew quite well that Grace Cardew had stopped at the florist's on her way downtown and bought them.
A little surge of affection for her mother warmed the girl's eyes. The small attentions which in the Cardew household took the place of loving demonstrations had always touched her. As a family the Cardews were rather loosely knitted together, but there was something very lovable about her mother.
Grace Cardew kissed her, and then held her off and looked at her.
"Mercy, Lily!" she said, "you look as old as I do."
"Older, I hope," Lily retorted. "What a marvel you are, Grace dear." Now and then she called her mother "Grace." It was by way of being a small joke between them, but limited to their moments alone. Once old Anthony, her grandfather, had overheard her, and there had been rather a row about it.
"I feel horribly old, but I didn't think I looked it."
They got into the car and Grace held out the box to her. "From your father, dear. He wanted so to come, but things are dreadful at the mill. I suppose you've seen the papers." Lily opened the box, and smiled at her mother.
"Yes, I know. But why the subterfuge about the flowers, mother dear? Honestly, did he send them, or did you get them? But never mind about that; I know he's worried, and you're sweet to do it. Have you broken the news to grandfather that the last of the Cardews is coming home?"
"He sent you all sorts of messages, and he'll see you at dinner."
Lily laughed out at that.
"You darling!" she said. "You know perfectly well that I am nothing in grandfather's young life, but the Cardew women all have what he likes to call savoir faire. What would they do, father and grandfather, if you didn't go through life smoothing things for them?"
Grace looked rather stiffly ahead. This young daughter of hers, with her directness and her smiling ignoring of the small subterfuges of life, rather frightened her. The terrible honesty of youth! All these years of ironing the wrinkles out of life, of smoothing the difficulties between old Anthony and Howard, and now a third generation to contend with. A pitilessly frank and unconsciously cruel generation. She turned and eyed Lily uneasily.
"You look tired," she said, "and you need attention. I wish you had let me send Castle to you."
But she thought that lily was even lovelier than she had remembered her. Lovely rather than beautiful, perhaps. Her face was less childish than when she had gone away; there was, in certain of her expressions, an almost alarming maturity. But perhaps that was fatigue.
"I couldn't have had Castle, mother. I didn't need anything. I've been very happy, really, and very busy."
"You have been very vague lately about your work."
Lily faced her mother squarely.
"I didn't think you'd much like having me do it, and I thought it would drive grandfather crazy."
"I thought you were in a canteen."
"Not lately. I've been looking after girls who had followed soldiers to camps. Some of them were going to have babies, too. It was rather awful. We married quite a lot of them, however."
The curious reserve that so often exists between mother and daughter held Grace Cardew dumb. She nodded, but her eyes had slightly hardened. So this was what war had done to her. She had had no son, and had thanked God for it during the war, although old Anthony had hated her all her married life for it. But she had given her daughter, her clear-eyed daughter, and they had shown her the dregs of life.
Her thoughts went back over the years. To Lily as a child, with Mademoiselle always at her elbow, and life painted as a thing of beauty. Love, marriage and birth were divine accidents. Death was a quiet sleep, with heaven just beyond, a sleep which came only to age, which had wearied and would rest. Then she remembered the day when Elinor Cardew, poor unhappy Elinor, had fled back to Anthony's roof to have a baby, and after a few rapturous weeks for Lily the baby had died.
"But the baby isn't old," Lily had persisted, standing in front of her mother with angry, accusing eyes.
Grace was not an imaginative woman, but she turned it rather neatly, as she told Howard later.
"It was such a nice baby," she said, feeling for an idea. "I think probably God was lonely without it, and sent an angel for it again."
"But it is still upstairs," Lily had insisted. She had had a curious instinct for truth, even then. But there Grace's imagination had failed her, and she sent for Mademoiselle. Mademoiselle was a good Catholic, and very clear in her own mind, but what she left in Lily's brain was a confused conviction that every person was two persons, a body and a soul. Death was simply a split-up, then. One part of you, the part that bathed every morning and had its toe-nails cut, and went to dancing school in a white frock and thin black silk stockings and carriage boots over pumps, that part was buried and would only came up again at the Resurrection. But the other part was all the time very happy, and mostly singing.
Lily did not like to sing.
Then there was the matter of tears. People only cried when they hurt themselves. She had been told that again and again when she threatened tears over her music lesson. But when Aunt Elinor had gone away she had found Mademoiselle, the deadly antagonist of tears, weeping. And here again Grace remembered the child's wide, insistent eyes.
"She is sorry for Aunt Elinor."
"Because her baby's gone to God? She ought to be glad, oughtn't she?"
"Not that;" said Grace, and had brought a box of chocolates and given her one, although they were not permitted save one after each meal.
Then Lily had gone away to school. How carefully the school had been selected! When she came back, however, there had been no more questions, and Grace had sighed with relief. That bad time was over, anyhow. But Lily was rather difficult those days. She seemed, in some vague way, resentful. Her mother found her, now and then, in a frowning, half-defiant mood. And once, when Mademoiselle had ventured some jesting remark about young Alston Denslow, she was stupefied to see the girl march out of the room, her chin high, not to be seen again for hours.
Grace's mind was sub-consciously remembering those things even when she spoke.
"I didn't know you were having to learn about that side of life," she said, after a brief silence.
"That side of life is life, mother," Lily said gravely. But Grace did not reply to that. It was characteristic of her to follow her own line of thought.
"I wish you wouldn't tell your grandfather. You know he feels strongly about some things. And he hasn't forgiven me yet for letting you go."
Rather diffidently Lily put her hand on her mother's. She gave her rare caresses shyly, with averted eyes, and she was always more diffident with her mother than with her father. Such spontaneous bursts of affection as she sometimes showed had been lavished on Mademoiselle. It was Mademoiselle she had hugged rapturously on her small feast days, Mademoiselle who never demanded affection, and so received it.
"Poor mother!" she said, "I have made it hard for you, haven't I? Is he as bad as ever?"
She had not pinned on the violets, but sat holding them in her hands, now and then taking a luxurious sniff. She did not seem to expect a reply. Between Grace and herself it was quite understood that old Anthony Cardew was always as bad as could be.
"There is some sort of trouble at the mill. Your father is worried."
And this time it was Lily who did not reply. She said, inconsequentially:
"We're saved, and it's all over. But sometimes I wonder if we were worth saving. It all seems such a mess, doesn't it?" She glanced out. They were drawing up before the house, and she looked at her mother whimsically.
"The last of the Cardews returning from the wars!" she said. "Only she is unfortunately a she, and she hasn't been any nearer the war than the State of Ohio."
Her voice was gay enough, but she had a quick vision of the grim old house had she been the son they had wanted to carry on the name, returning from France.
The Cardews had fighting traditions. They had fought in every war from the Revolution on. There had been a Cardew in Mexico in '48, and in that upper suite of rooms to which her grandfather had retired in wrath on his son's marriage, she remembered her sense of awe as a child on seeing on the wall the sword he had worn in the Civil War. He was a small man, and the scabbard was badly worn at the end, mute testimony to the long forced marches of his youth. Her father had gone to Cuba in '98, and had almost died of typhoid fever there, contracted in the marshes of Florida.
Yes, they had been a fighting family. And now—
Her mother was determinedly gay. There were flowers in the dark old hall, and Grayson, the butler, evidently waiting inside the door, greeted her with the familiarity of the old servant who had slipped her sweets from the pantry after dinner parties in her little-girl years.
"Welcome home, Miss Lily," he said.
Mademoiselle was lurking on the stairway, in a new lace collar over her old black dress. Lily recognized in the collar a great occasion, for Mademoiselle was French and thrifty. Suddenly a wave of warmth and gladness flooded her. This was home. Dear, familiar home. She had come back. She was the only young thing in the house. She would bring them gladness and youth. She would try to make them happy. Always before she had taken, but now she meant to give.
Not that she formulated such a thought. It was an emotion, rather. She ran up the stairs and hugged Mademoiselle wildly.
"You darling old thing!" she cried. She lapsed into French. "I saw the collar at once. And think, it is over! It is finished. And all your nice French relatives are sitting on the boulevards in the sun, and sipping their little glasses of wine, and rising and bowing when a pretty girl passes. Is it not so?"
"It is so, God and the saints be praised!" said Mademoiselle, huskily.
Grace Cardew followed them up the staircase. Her French was negligible, and she felt again, as in days gone by, shut from the little world of two which held her daughter and governess. Old Anthony's doing, that. He had never forgiven his son his plebeian marriage, and an early conversation returned to her. It was on Lily's first birthday and he had made one of his rare visits to the nursery. He had brought with him a pearl in a velvet case.
"All our women have their own pearls," he had said. "She will have her grandmother's also when she marries. I shall give her one the first year, two the second, and so on." He had stood looking down at the child critically. "She's a Cardew," he said at last. "Which means that she will be obstinate and self-willed." He had paused there, but Grace had not refuted the statement. He had grinned. "As you know," he added. "Is she talking yet?"
"A word or two," Grace had said, with no more warmth in her tone than was in his.
"Very well. Get her a French governess. She ought to speak French before she does English. It is one of the accomplishments of a lady. Get a good woman, and for heaven's sake arrange to serve her breakfast in her room. I don't want to have to be pleasant to any chattering French woman at eight in the morning."
"No, you wouldn't," Grace had said.
Anthony had stamped out, but in the hall he smiled grimly. He did not like Howard's wife, but she was not afraid of him. He respected her for that. He took good care to see that the Frenchwoman was found, and at dinner, the only meal he took with the family, he would now and then send for the governess and Lily to come in for dessert. That, of course, was later on, when the child was nearly ten. Then would follow a three-cornered conversation in rapid French, Howard and Anthony and Lily, with Mademoiselle joining in timidly, and with Grace, at the side of the table, pretending to eat and feeling cut off, in a middle-class world of her own, at the side of the table. Anthony Cardew had retained the head of his table, and he had never asked her to take his dead wife's place.
After a time Grace realized the consummate cruelty of those hours, the fact that Lily was sent for, not only because the old man cared to see her, but to make Grace feel the outsider that she was. She made desperate efforts to conquer the hated language, but her accent was atrocious. Anthony would correct her suavely, and Lily would laugh in childish, unthinking mirth. She gave it up at last.
She never told Howard about it. He had his own difficulties with his father, and she would not add to them. She managed the house, checked over the bills and sent them to the office, put up a cheerful and courageous front, and after a time sheathed herself in an armor of smiling indifference. But she thanked heaven when the time came to send Lily away to school. The effort of concealing the armed neutrality between Anthony and herself was growing more wearing. The girl was observant. And Anthony had been right, she was a Cardew. She would have fought her grandfather out on it, defied him, accused him, hated him. And Grace wanted peace.
Once again as she followed Lily and Mademoiselle up the stairs she felt the barrier of language, and back of it the Cardew pride and traditions that somehow cut her off.
But in Lily's rooms she was her sane and cheerful self again. Inside the doorway the girl was standing, her eyes traveling over her little domain ecstatically.
"How lovely of you not to change a thing, mother!" she said. "I was so afraid—I know how you hate my stuff. But I might have known you wouldn't. All the time I've been away, sleeping in a dormitory, and taking turns at the bath, I have thought of my own little place." She wandered around, touching her familiar possessions with caressing hands. "I've a good notion," she declared, "to go to bed immediately, just for the pleasure of lying in linen sheets again." Suddenly she turned to her mother. "I'm afraid you'll find I've made some queer friends, mother."
"What do you mean by 'queer'?"
"People no proper Cardew would care to know." She smiled. "Where's Ellen? I want to tell her I met somebody she knows out there, the nicest sort of a boy." She went to the doorway and called lustily: "Ellen! Ellen!" The rustling of starched skirts answered her from down the corridor.
"I wish you wouldn't call, dear." Grace looked anxious. "You know how your grandfather—there's a bell for Ellen."
"What we need around here," said Lily, cheerfully, "is a little more calling. And if grandfather thinks it is unbefitting the family dignity he can put cotton in his ears. Come in, Ellen. Ellen, do you know that I met Willy Cameron in the camp?"
"Willy!" squealed Ellen. "You met Willy? Isn't he a fine boy, Miss Lily?"
"He's wonderful," said Lily. "I went to the movies with him every Friday night." She turned to her mother. "You would like him, mother. He couldn't get into the army. He is a little bit lame. And—" she surveyed Grace with amused eyes, "you needn't think what you are thinking. He is tall and thin and not at all good-looking. Is he, Ellen?"
"He is a very fine young man," Ellen said rather stiffly. "He's very highly thought of in the town I come from. His father was a doctor, and his buggy used to go around day, and night. When he found they wouldn't take him as a soldier he was like to break his heart."
"Lame?" Grace repeated, ignoring Ellen.
"Just a little. You forget all about it when you know him. Don't you, Ellen?"
But at Grace's tone Ellen had remembered. She stiffened, and became again a housemaid in the Anthony Cardew house, a self-effacing, rubber-heeled, pink-uniformed lower servant. She glanced at Mrs. Cardew, whose eyebrows were slightly raised.
"Thank you, miss," she said. And went out, leaving Lily rather chilled and openly perplexed.
"Well!" she said. Then she glanced at her mother. "I do believe you are a little shocked, mother, because Ellen and I have a mutual friend in Mr. William Wallace Cameron! Well, if you want the exact truth, he hadn't an atom of use for me until he heard about Ellen." She put an arm around Grace's shoulders. "Brace up, dear," she said, smilingly. "Don't you cry. I'll be a Cardew bye-and-bye."
"Did you really go to the moving pictures with him?" Grace asked, rather unhappily. She had never been inside a moving picture theater. To her they meant something a step above the corner saloon, and a degree below the burlesque houses. They were constituted of bad air and unchaperoned young women accompanied by youths who dangled cigarettes from a lower lip, all obviously of the lower class, including the cigarette; and of other women, sometimes drab, dragged of breast and carrying children who should have been in bed hours before; or still others, wandering in pairs, young, painted and predatory. She was not imaginative, or she could not have lived so long in Anthony Cardew's house. She never saw, in the long line waiting outside even the meanest of the little theaters that had invaded the once sacred vicinity of the Cardew house, the cry of every human heart for escape from the sordid, the lure of romance, the call of adventure and the open road.
"I can't believe it," she added.
Lily made a little gesture of half-amused despair.
"Dearest," she said, "I did. And I liked it. Mother, things have changed a lot in twenty years. Sometimes I think that here, in this house, you don't realize that—" she struggled for a phrase—"that things have changed," she ended, lamely. "The social order, and that sort of thing. You know. Caste." She hesitated. She was young and inarticulate, and when she saw Grace's face, somewhat frightened. But she was not old Anthony's granddaughter for nothing. "This idea of being a Cardew," she went on, "that's ridiculous, you know. I'm only half Cardew, anyhow. The rest is you, dear, and it's got being a Cardew beaten by quite a lot."
Mademoiselle was deftly opening the girl's dressing case, but she paused now and turned. It was to Grace that she spoke, however.
"They come home like that, all of them," she said. "In France also. But in time they see the wisdom of the old order, and return. It is one of the fruits of war."
Grace hardly heard her.
"Lily," she asked, "you are not in love with this Cameron person, are you?"
But Lily's easy laugh reassured her.
"No, indeed," she said. "I am not. I shall probably marry beneath me, as you would call it, but not William Wallace Cameron. For one thing, he wouldn't have grandfather in his family."
Some time later Mademoiselle tapped at Grace's door, and entered. Grace was reclining on a chaise longue, towels tucked about her neck and over her pillows, while Castle, her elderly English maid, was applying ice in a soft cloth to her face. Grace sat up. The towel, pinned around her hair like a coif, gave a placid, almost nun-like appearance to her still lovely face.
"Well?" she demanded. "Go out for a minute, Castle."
Mademoiselle waited until the maid had gone.
"I have spoken to Ellen," she said, her voice cautious. "A young man who does not care for women, a clerk in a country pharmacy. What is that, Mrs. Cardew?"
"It would be so dreadful, Mademoiselle. Her grandfather—"
"But not handsome," insisted Mademoiselle, "and lame! Also, I know the child. She is not in love. When that comes to her we shall know it."
Grace lay back, relieved, but not entirely comforted.
"She is changed, isn't she, Mademoiselle?"
Mademoiselle shrugged her shoulders.
"A phase," she said. She had got the word from old Anthony, who regarded any mental attitude that did not conform with his own as a condition that would pass. "A phase, only. Now that she is back among familiar things, she will become again a daughter of the house."
"Then you think this talk about marrying beneath her—"
"She 'as had liberty," said Mademoiselle, who sometimes lost an aspirate. "It is like wine to the young. It intoxicates. But it, too, passes. In my country—"
But Grace had, for a number of years, heard a great deal of Mademoiselle's country. She settled herself on her pillows.
"Call Castle, please," she said. "And—do warn her not to voice those ideas of hers to her grandfather. In a country pharmacy, you say?"
"And lame, and not fond of women," corroborated Mademoiselle. "Ca ne pourrait pas etre mieux, n'est-ce pas?"
Shortly after the Civil War Anthony Cardew had left Pittsburgh and spent a year in finding a location for the investment of his small capital. That was in the very beginning of the epoch of steel. The iron business had already laid the foundations of its future greatness, but steel was still in its infancy.
Anthony's father had been an iron-master in a small way, with a monthly pay-roll of a few hundred dollars, and an abiding faith in the future of iron. But he had never dreamed of steel. But "sixty-five" saw the first steel rail rolled in America, and Anthony Cardew began to dream. He went to Chicago first, and from there to Michigan, to see the first successful Bessemer converter. When he started east again he knew what he was to make his life work.
He was very young and his capital was small. But he had an abiding faith in the new industry. Not that he dreamed then of floating steel battleships. But he did foresee steel in new and various uses. Later on he was experimenting with steel cable at the very time Roebling made it a commercial possibility, and with it the modern suspension bridge and the elevator. He never quite forgave Roebling. That failure of his, the difference only of a month or so, was one of the few disappointments of his prosperous, self-centered, orderly life. That, and Howard's marriage. And, at the height of his prosperity, the realization that Howard's middle-class wife would never bear a son.
The city he chose was a small city then, yet it already showed signs of approaching greatness. On the east side, across the river, he built his first plant, a small one, with the blast heated by passing through cast iron pipes, with the furnaceman testing the temperature with strips of lead and zinc, and the skip hoist a patient mule.
He had ore within easy hauling distance, and he had fuel, and he had, as time went on, a rapidly increasing market. Labor was cheap and plentiful, too, and being American-born, was willing and intelligent. Perhaps Anthony Cardew's sins of later years were due to a vast impatience that the labor of the early seventies was no longer to be had.
The Cardew fortune began in the seventies. Up to that time there was a struggle, but in the seventies Anthony did two things. He went to England to see the furnaces there, and brought home a wife, a timid, tall Englishwoman of irreproachable birth, who remained always an alien in the crude, busy new city. And he built himself a house, a brick house in lower East Avenue, a house rather like his tall, quiet wife, and run on English lines. He soon became the leading citizen. He was one of the committee to welcome the Prince of Wales to the city, and from the very beginning he took his place in the social life.
He found it very raw at times, crude and new. He himself lived with dignity and elegant simplicity. He gave now and then lengthy, ponderous dinners, making out the lists himself, and handing them over to his timid English wife in much the manner in which he gave the wine list and the key to the wine cellar to the butler. And, at the head of his table, he let other men talk and listened. They talked, those industrial pioneers, especially after the women had gone. They saw the city the center of great business and great railroads. They talked of its coal, its river, and the great oil fields not far away which were then in their infancy. All of them dreamed a dream, saw a vision. But not all of them lived to see their dream come true.
Old Anthony lived to see it.
In the late eighties, his wife having been by that time decorously interred in one of the first great mausoleums west of the mountains, Anthony Cardew found himself already wealthy. He owned oil wells and coal mines. His mines supplied his coke ovens with coal, and his own river boats, as well as railroads in which he was a director, carried his steel.
He labored ably and well, and not for wealth alone. He was one of a group of big-visioned men who saw that a nation was only as great as its industries. It was only in his later years that he loved power for the sake of power, and when, having outlived his generation, he had developed a rigidity of mind that made him view the forced compromises of the new regime as pusillanimous.
He considered his son Howard's quiet strength weakness. "You have no stamina," he would say. "You have no moral fiber. For God's sake, make a stand, you fellows, and stick to it."
He had not mellowed with age. He viewed with endless bitterness the passing of his own day and generation, and the rise to power of younger men; with their "shilly-shallying," he would say. He was an aristocrat, an autocrat, and a survival. He tied Howard's hands in the management of the now vast mills, and then blamed him for the results.
But he had been a great man.
He had had two children, a boy and a girl. The girl had been the tragedy of his middle years, and Howard had been his hope.
On the heights outside the city and overlooking the river he owned a farm, and now and then, on Sunday afternoons in the eighties, he drove out there, with Howard sitting beside him, a rangy boy in his teens, in the victoria which Anthony considered the proper vehicle for Sunday afternoons. The farmhouse was in a hollow, but always on those excursions Anthony, fastidiously dressed, picking his way half-irritably through briars and cornfields, would go to the edge of the cliffs and stand there, looking down. Below was the muddy river, sluggish always, but a thing of terror in spring freshets. And across was the east side, already a sordid place, its steel mills belching black smoke that killed the green of the hillsides, its furnaces dwarfed by distance and height, its rows of unpainted wooden structures which housed the mill laborers.
Howard would go with him, but Howard dreamed no dreams. He was a sturdy, dependable, unimaginative boy, watching the squirrels or flinging stones over the palisades. Life for Howard was already a thing determined. He would go to college, and then he would come back and go into the mill offices. In time, he would take his father's place. He meant to do it well and honestly. He had but to follow. Anthony had broken the trail, only by that time it was no longer a trail, but a broad and easy way.
Only once or twice did Anthony Cardew give voice to his dreams. Once he said: "I'll build a house out here some of these days. Good location. Growth of the city is bound to be in this direction."
What he did not say was that to be there, on that hill, overlooking his activities, his very own, the things he had builded with such labor, gave him a sense of power. "This below," he felt, with more of pride than arrogance, "this is mine. I have done it. I, Anthony Cardew."
He felt, looking down, the pride of an artist in his picture, of a sculptor who, secure from curious eyes, draws the sheet from the still moist clay of his modeling, and now from this angle, now from that, studies, criticizes, and exults.
But Anthony Cardew never built his house on the cliff. Time was to come when great houses stood there, like vast forts, overlooking, almost menacing, the valley beneath. For, until the nineties, although the city distended in all directions, huge, ugly, powerful, infinitely rich, and while in the direction of Anthony's farm the growth was real and rapid, it was the plain people who lined its rapidly extending avenues with their two-story brick houses; little homes of infinite tenderness and quiet, along tree-lined streets, where the children played on the cobble-stones, and at night the horse cars, and later the cable system, brought home tired clerks and storekeepers to small havens, already growing dingy from the smoke of the distant mills.
Anthony Cardew did not like the plain people. Yet in the end, it was the plain people, those who neither labored with their hands nor lived by the labor of others—it was the plain people who vanquished him. Vanquished him and tried to protect him. But could not. A smallish man, hard and wiry, he neither saved himself nor saved others. He had one fetish, power. And one pride, his line. The Cardews were iron masters. Howard would be an iron master, and Howard's son.
But Howard never had a son.
All through her teens Lily had wondered about the mystery concerning her Aunt Elinor. There was an oil portrait of her in the library, and one of the first things she had been taught was not to speak of it.
Now and then, at intervals of years, Aunt Elinor came back. Her mother and father would look worried, and Aunt Elinor herself would stay in her rooms, and seldom appeared at meals. Never at dinner. As a child Lily used to think she had two Aunt Elinors, one the young girl in the gilt frame, and the other the quiet, soft-voiced person who slipped around the upper corridors like a ghost.
But she was not to speak of either of them to her grandfather.
Lily was not born in the house on lower East Avenue.
In the late eighties Anthony built himself a home, not on the farm, but in a new residence portion of the city. The old common, grazing ground of family cows, dump and general eye-sore, had become a park by that time, still only a potentially beautiful thing, with the trees that were to be its later glory only thin young shoots, and on the streets that faced it the wealthy of the city built their homes, brick houses of square solidity, flush with brick pavements, which were carefully reddened on Saturday mornings. Beyond the pavements were cobble-stoned streets. Anthony Cardew was the first man in the city to have a rubber-tired carriage. The story of Anthony Cardew's new home is the story of Elinor's tragedy. Nor did it stop there. It carried on to the third generation, to Lily Cardew, and in the end it involved the city itself. Because of the ruin of one small home all homes were threatened. One small house, and one undying hatred.
Yet the matter was small in itself. An Irishman named Doyle owned the site Anthony coveted. After years of struggle his small grocery had begun to put him on his feet, and now the new development of the neighborhood added to his prosperity. He was a dried-up, sentimental little man, with two loves, his wife's memory and his wife's garden, which he still tended religiously between customers; and one ambition, his son. With the change from common to park, and the improvement in the neighborhood, he began to flourish, and he, too, like Anthony, dreamed a dream. He would make his son a gentleman, and he would get a shop assistant and a horse and wagon. Poverty was still his lot, but there were good times coming. He saved carefully, and sent Jim Doyle away to college.
He would not sell to Anthony. When he said he could not sell his wife's garden, Anthony's agents reported him either mad or deeply scheming. They kept after him, offering much more than the land was worth. Doyle began by being pugnacious, but in the end he took to brooding.
"He'll get me yet," he would mutter, standing among the white phlox of his little back garden. "He'll get me. He never quits."
Anthony Cardew waited a year. Then he had the frame building condemned as unsafe, and Doyle gave in. Anthony built his house. He put a brick stable where the garden had been, and the night watchman for the property complained that a little man, with wild eyes, often spent half the night standing across the street, quite still, staring over. If Anthony gave Doyle a thought, it was that progress and growth had their inevitable victims. But on the first night of Anthony's occupancy of his new house Doyle shot himself beside the stable, where a few stalks of white phlox had survived the building operations.
It never reached the newspapers, nor did a stable-boy's story of hearing the dying man curse Anthony and all his works. But nevertheless the story of the Doyle curse on Anthony Cardew spread. Anthony heard it, and forgot it. But two days later he was dragged from his carriage by young Jim Doyle, returned for the older Doyle's funeral, and beaten insensible with the stick of his own carriage whip.
Young Doyle did not run away. He stood by, a defiant figure full of hatred, watching Anthony on the cobbles, as though he wanted to see him revive and suffer.
"I didn't do it to revenge my father," he said at the trial. "He was nothing to me—I did it to show old Cardew that he couldn't get away with it. I'd do it again, too."
Any sentiment in his favor died at that, and he was given five years in the penitentiary. He was a demoralizing influence there, already a socialist with anarchical tendencies, and with the gift of influencing men. A fluent, sneering youth, who lashed the guards to fury with his unctuous, diabolical tongue.
The penitentiary had not been moved then. It stood in the park, a grim gray thing of stone. Elinor Cardew, a lonely girl always, used to stand in a window of the new house and watch the walls. Inside there were men who were shut away from all that greenery around them. Men who could look up at the sky, or down at the ground, but never out and across, as she could.
She was always hoping some of them would get away. She hated the sentries, rifle on shoulder, who walked their monotonous beats, back and forward, along the top of the wall.
Anthony's house was square and substantial, with high ceilings. It was paneled with walnut and furnished in walnut, in those days. Its tables and bureaus were of walnut, with cold white marble tops. And in the parlor was a square walnut piano, which Elinor hated because she had to sit there three hours each day, slipping on the top of the horsehair-covered stool, to practice. In cold weather her German governess sat in the frigid room, with a shawl and mittens, waiting until the onyx clock on the mantel-piece showed that the three hours were over.
Elinor had never heard the story of old Michael Doyle, or of his son Jim. But one night—she was seventeen then, and Jim Doyle had served three years of his sentence—sitting at dinner with her father, she said:
"Some convicts escaped from the penitentiary today, father."
"Don't believe it," said Anthony Cardew. "Nothing about it in the newspapers."
"Fraulein saw the hole."
Elinor had had an Alsatian governess. That was one reason why Elinor's niece had a French one.
"Hole? What do you mean by hole?"
Elinor shrank back a little. She had not minded dining with her father when Howard was at home, but Howard was at college. Howard had a way of good-naturedly ignoring his father's asperities, but Elinor was a suppressed, shy little thing, romantic, aloof, and filled with undesired affections. "She said a hole," she affirmed, diffidently. "She says they dug a tunnel and got out. Last night."
"Very probably," said Anthony Cardew. And he repeated, thoughtfully, "Very probably."
He did not hear Elinor when she quietly pushed back her chair and said "good-night." He was sitting at the table, tapping on the cloth with finger-tips that were slightly cold. That evening Anthony Cardew had a visit from the police, and considerable fiery talk took place in his library. As a result there was a shake-up in city politics, and a change in the penitentiary management, for Anthony Cardew had a heavy hand and a bitter memory. And a little cloud on his horizon grew and finally settled down over his life, turning it gray. Jim Doyle was among those who had escaped. For three months Anthony was followed wherever he went by detectives, and his house was watched at night. But he was a brave man, and the espionage grew hateful. Besides, each day added to his sense of security. There came a time when he impatiently dismissed the police, and took up life again as before.
Then one day he received a note, in a plain white envelope. It said: "There are worse things than death." And it was signed: "J. Doyle."
Doyle was not recaptured. Anthony had iron gratings put on the lower windows of his house after that, and he hired a special watchman. But nothing happened, and at last he began to forget. He was building the new furnaces up the river by that time. The era of structural steel for tall buildings was beginning, and he bought the rights of a process for making cement out of his furnace slag. He was achieving great wealth, although he did not change his scale of living.
Now and then Fraulein braved the terrors of the library, small neatly-written lists in her hands. Miss Elinor needed this or that. He would check up the lists, sign his name to them, and Elinor and Fraulein would have a shopping excursion. He never gave Elinor money.
On one of the lists one day he found the word, added in Elinor's hand: "Horse."
"Horse?" he said, scowling up at Fraulein. "There are six horses in the stable now."
"Miss Elinor thought—a riding horse—"
"Nonsense!" Then he thought a moment. There came back to him a picture of those English gentlewomen from among whom he had selected his wife, quiet-voiced, hard-riding, high-colored girls, who could hunt all day and dance all night. Elinor was a pale little thing. Besides, every gentlewoman should ride.
"She can't ride around here."
"Miss Elinor thought—there are bridle paths near the riding academy."
It was odd, but at that moment Anthony Cardew had an odd sort of vision. He saw the little grocer lying stark and huddled among the phlox by the stable, and the group of men that stooped over him.
"I'll think about it," was his answer.
But within a few days Elinor was the owner of a quiet mare, stabled at the academy, and was riding each day in the tan bark ring between its white-washed fences, while a mechanical piano gave an air of festivity to what was otherwise rather a solemn business.
Within a week of that time the riding academy had a new instructor, a tall, thin young man, looking older than he was, with heavy dark hair and a manner of repressed insolence. A man, the grooms said among themselves, of furious temper and cold eyes.
And in less than four months Elinor Cardew ran away from home and was married to Jim Doyle. Anthony received two letters from a distant city, a long, ecstatic but terrified one from his daughter, and one line on a slip of paper from her husband. The one line read: "I always pay my debts."
Anthony made a new will, leaving Howard everything, and had Elinor's rooms closed. Fraulein went away, weeping bitterly, and time went on. Now and then Anthony heard indirectly from Doyle. He taught in a boys' school for a time, and was dismissed for his radical views. He did brilliant editorial work on a Chicago newspaper, but now and then he intruded his slant-eyed personal views, and in the end he lost his position. Then he joined the Socialist party, and was making speeches containing radical statements that made the police of various cities watchful. But he managed to keep within the letter of the law.
Howard Cardew married when Elinor had been gone less than a year. Married the daughter of a small hotel-keeper in his college town, a pretty, soft-voiced girl, intelligent and gentle, and because Howard was all old Anthony had left, he took her into his home. But for many years he did not forgive her. He had one hope, that she would give Howard a son to carry on the line. Perhaps the happiest months of Grace Cardew's married life were those before Lily was born, when her delicate health was safeguarded in every way by her grim father-in-law. But Grace bore a girl child, and very nearly died in the bearing. Anthony Cardew would never have a grandson.
He was deeply resentful. The proud fabric of his own weaving would descend in the fullness of time to a woman. And Howard himself—old Anthony was pitilessly hard in his judgments—Howard was not a strong man. A good man. A good son, better than he deserved. But amiable, kindly, without force.
Once the cloud had lifted, and only once. Elinor had come home to have a child. She came at night, a shabby, worn young woman, with great eyes in a chalk-white face, and Grayson had not recognized her at first. He got her some port from the dining-room before he let her go into the library, and stood outside the door, his usually impassive face working, during the interview which followed. Probably that was Grayson's big hour, for if Anthony turned her out he intended to go in himself, and fight for the woman he had petted as a child.
But Anthony had not turned her out. He took one comprehensive glance at her thin face and distorted figure. Then he said:
"So this is the way you come back."
"He drove me out," she said dully. "He sent me here. He knew I had no place else to go. He knew you wouldn't want me. It's revenge, I suppose. I'm so tired, father."
Yes, it was revenge, surely. To send back to him this soiled and broken woman, bearing the mark he had put upon her—that was deviltry, thought out and shrewdly executed. During the next hour Anthony Cardew suffered, and made Elinor suffer, too. But at the end of that time he found himself confronting a curious situation. Elinor, ashamed, humbled, was not contrite. It began to dawn on Anthony that Jim Doyle's revenge was not finished. For—Elinor loved the man.
She both hated him and loved him. And that leering Irish devil knew it.
He sent for Grace, finally, and Elinor was established in the house. Grace and little Lily's governess had themselves bathed her and put her to bed, and Mademoiselle had smuggled out of the house the garments Elinor had worn into it. Grace had gone in the motor—one of the first in the city—and had sent back all sorts of lovely garments for Elinor to wear, and quantities of fine materials to be made into tiny garments. Grace was a practical woman, and she disliked the brooding look in Elinor's eyes.
"Do you know," she said to Howard that night, "I believe she is quite mad about him still."
"He ought to be drawn and quartered," said Howard, savagely.
Anthony Cardew gave Elinor sanctuary, but he refused to see her again. Except once.
"Then, if it is a boy, you want me to leave him with you?" she asked, bending over her sewing.
"Leave him with me! Do you mean that you intend to go back to that blackguard?"
"He is my husband. He isn't always cruel."
"Good God!" shouted Anthony. "How did I ever happen to have such a craven creature for a daughter?"
"Anyhow," said Elinor, "it will be his child, father."
"When he turned you out, like any drab of the streets!" bellowed old Anthony. "He never cared for you. He married you to revenge himself on me. He sent you back here for the same reason. He'll take your child, and break its spirit and ruin its body, for the same reason. The man's a maniac."
But again, as on the night she came, he found himself helpless against Elinor's quiet impassivity. He knew that, let Jim Doyle so much as raise a beckoning finger, and she would go to him. He did not realize that Elinor had inherited from her quiet mother the dog-like quality of love in spite of cruelty. To Howard he stormed. He considered Elinor's infatuation indecent. She was not a Cardew. The Cardew women had some pride. And Howard, his handsome figure draped negligently against the library mantel, would puzzle over it, too.
"I'm blessed if I understand it," he would say.
Elinor's child had been a boy, and old Anthony found some balm in Gilead. Jim Doyle had not raised a finger to beckon, and if he knew of his son, he made no sign. Anthony still ignored Elinor, but he saw in her child the third generation of Cardews. Lily he had never counted. He took steps to give the child the Cardew name, and the fact was announced in the newspapers. Then one day Elinor went out, and did not come back. It was something Anthony Cardew had not counted on, that a woman could love a man more than her child.
"I simply had to do it, father," she wrote. "You won't understand, of course. I love him, father. Terribly. And he loves me in his way, even when he is unfaithful to me. I know he has been that. Perhaps if you had wanted me at home it would have been different. But it kills me to leave the baby. The only reason I can bring myself to do it is that, the way things are, I cannot give him the things he ought to have. And Jim does not seem to want him. He has never seen him, for one thing. Besides—I am being honest—I don't think the atmosphere of the way we live would be good for a boy."
There was a letter to Grace, too, a wild hysterical document, filled with instructions for the baby's care. A wet nurse, for one thing. Grace read it with tears in her eyes, but Anthony saw in it only the ravings of a weak and unbalanced woman.
He never forgave Elinor, and once more the little grocer's curse thwarted his ambitions. For, deprived of its mother's milk, the baby died. Old Anthony sometimes wondered if that, too, had been calculated, a part of the Doyle revenge.
While Grace rested that afternoon of Lily's return, Lily ranged over the house. In twenty odd years the neighborhood had changed, and only a handful of the old families remained. Many of the other large houses were prostituted to base uses. Dingy curtains hung at their windows, dingy because of the smoke from the great furnaces and railroads. The old Osgood residence, nearby, had been turned into apartments, with bottles of milk and paper bags on its fire-escapes, and a pharmacy on the street floor. The Methodist Church, following its congregation to the vicinity of old Anthony's farm, which was now cut up into city lots, had abandoned the building, and it had become a garage. The penitentiary had been moved outside the city limits, and near its old site was a small cement-lined lake, the cheerful rendezvous in summer of bathing children and thirsty dogs.
Lily was idle, for the first time in months. She wandered about, even penetrating to those upper rooms sacred to her grandfather, to which he had retired on Howard's marriage. How strangely commonplace they were now, in the full light of day, and yet, when he was in them, the doors closed and only Burton, his valet, in attendance, how mysterious they became!
Increasingly, in later years, Lily had felt and resented the domination of the old man. She resented her father's acquiescence in that domination, her mother's good-humored tolerance of it. She herself had accepted it, although unwillingly, but she knew, rather vaguely, that the Lily Cardew who had gone away to the camp and the Lily Cardew who stood that day before her grandfather's throne-like chair under its lamp, were two entirely different people.
She was uneasy rather than defiant. She meant to keep the peace. She had been brought up to the theory that no price was too great to pay for peace. But she wondered, as she stood there, if that were entirely true. She remembered something Willy Cameron had said about that very thing.
"What's wrong with your grandfather," he had said, truculently, and waving his pipe, "is that everybody gets down and lets him walk on them. If everybody lets a man use them as doormats, you can't blame him for wiping his feet on them. Tell him that sometime, and see what happens."
"Tell him yourself!" said Lily.
He had smiled cheerfully. He had an engaging sort of smile.
"Maybe I will," he said. "I am a rising young man, and my voice may some day be heard in the land. Sometimes I feel the elements of greatness in me, sweet child. You haven't happened to notice it yourself, have you?"
He had gazed at her with solemn anxiety through the smoke of his pipe, and had grinned when she remained silent.
Lily drew a long breath. All that delightful fooling was over; the hard work was over. The nights were gone when they would wander like children across the parade grounds, or past the bayonet school, with its rows of tripods upholding imitation enemies made of sacks stuffed with hay, and showing signs of mortal injury with their greasy entrails protruding. Gone, too, were the hours when Willy sank into the lowest abyss of depression over his failure to be a fighting man.
"But you are doing your best for your country," she would say.
"I'm not fighting for it, or getting smashed up for it. I don't want to be a hero, but I'd like to have had one good bang at them before I quit."
Once she had found him in the hut, with his head on a table. He said he had a toothache.
Well, that was all over. She was back in her grandfather's house, and—
"He'll get me too, probably," she reflected, as she went down the stairs, "just as he's got all the others."
Mademoiselle was in Lily's small sitting room, while Castle was unpacking under her supervision. The sight of her uniforms made Lily suddenly restless.
"How you could wear these things!" cried Mademoiselle. "You, who have always dressed like a princess!"
"I liked them," said Lily, briefly. "Mademoiselle, what am I going to do with myself, now?"
"Do?" Mademoiselle smiled. "Play, as you deserve, Cherie. Dance, and meet nice young men. You are to make your debut this fall. Then a very charming young man, and marriage."
"Oh!" said Lily, rather blankly. "I've got to come out, have I? I'd forgotten people did such things. Please run along and do something else, Castle. I'll unpack."
"That is very bad for discipline," Mademoiselle objected when the maid had gone. "And it is not necessary for Mr. Anthony Cardew's granddaughter."
"It's awfully necessary for her," Lily observed, cheerfully. "I've been buttoning my own shoes for some time, and I haven't developed a spinal curvature yet." She kissed Mademoiselle's perplexed face lightly. "Don't get to worrying about me," she added. "I'll shake down in time, and be just as useless as ever. But I wish you'd lend me your sewing basket."
"Why?" asked Mademoiselle, suspiciously.
"Because I am possessed with a mad desire to sew on some buttons."
A little later Lily looked up from her rather awkward but industrious labors with a needle, and fixed her keen young eyes on Mademoiselle.
"Is there any news about Aunt Elinor?" she asked.
"She is with him," said Mademoiselle, shortly. "They are here now, in the city. How he dared to come back!"
"Does mother see her?"
"No. Certainly not."
"Why 'certainly' not? He is Aunt Elinor's husband. She isn't doing anything wicked."
"A woman who would leave a home like this," said Mademoiselle, "and a distinguished family. Position. Wealth. For a brute who beats her. And desert her child also!"
"Does he really beat her? I don't quite believe that, Mademoiselle."
"It is not a subject for a young girl."
"Because really," Lily went on, "there is something awfully big about a woman who will stick to one man like that. I am quite sure I would bite a man who struck me, but—suppose I loved him terribly—" her voice trailed off. "You see, dear, I have seen a lot of brutality lately. An army camp isn't a Sunday school picnic. And I like strong men, even if they are brutal sometimes."
Mademoiselle carefully cut a thread.
"This—you were speaking to Ellen of a young man. Is he a—what you term brutal?"
Suddenly Lily laughed.
"You poor dear!" she said. "And mother, too, of course! You're afraid I'm in love with Willy Cameron. Don't you know that if I were, I'd probably never even mention his name?"
"But is he brutal?" persisted Mademoiselle.
"I'll tell you about him. He is a thin, blond young man, tall and a bit lame. He has curly hair, and he puts pomade on it to take the curl out. He is frightfully sensitive about not getting in the army, and he is perfectly sweet and kind, and as brutal as a June breeze. You'd better tell mother. And you can tell her he isn't in love with me, or I with him. You see, I represent what he would call the monied aristocracy of America, and he has the most fearful ideas about us."
"An anarchist, then?" asked. Mademoiselle, extremely comforted.
"Not at all. He says he belongs to the plain people. The people in between. He is rather oratorical about them. He calls them the backbone of the country."
Mademoiselle relaxed. She had been too long in old Anthony's house to consider very seriously the plain people. Her world, like Anthony Cardew's, consisted of the financial aristocracy, which invested money in industries and drew out rich returns, while providing employment for the many; and of the employees of the magnates, who had recently shown strong tendencies toward upsetting the peace of the land, and had given old Anthony one or two attacks of irritability when it was better to go up a rear staircase if he were coming down the main one.
"Wait a moment," said Lily, suddenly. "I have a picture of him somewhere."
She disappeared, and Mademoiselle heard her rummaging through the drawers of her dressing table. She came back with a small photograph in her hand.
It showed a young man, in a large apron over a Red Cross uniform, bending over a low field range with a long-handled fork in his hand.
"Frying doughnuts," Lily explained. "I was in this hut at first, and I mixed them and cut them, and he fried them. We made thousands of them. We used to talk about opening a shop somewhere, Cardew and Cameron. He said my name would be fine for business. He'd fry them in the window, and I'd sell them. And a coffee machine—coffee and doughnuts, you know."
At the expression on Mademoiselle's face Lily laughed joyously.
"Why not?" she demanded. "And you could be the cashier, like the ones in France, and sit behind a high desk and count money all day. I'd rather do that than come out," she added.
"You are going to be a good girl, Lily, aren't you?"
"If that means letting grandfather use me for a doormat, I don't know."
"He's old, and I intend to be careful. But he doesn't own me, body and soul. And it may be hard to make him understand that."
Many times in the next few months Mademoiselle was to remember that conversation, and turn it over in her shrewd, troubled mind. Was there anything she could have done, outside of warning old Anthony himself? Suppose she had gone to Mr. Howard Cardew?
"And how," said Mademoiselle, trying to smile, "do you propose to assert this new independence of spirit?"
"I am going to see Aunt Elinor," observed Lily. "There, that's eleven buttons on, and I feel I've earned my dinner. And I'm going to ask Willy Cameron to come here to see me. To dinner. And as he is sure not to have any evening clothes, for one night in their lives the Cardew men are going to dine in mufti. Which is military, you dear old thing, for the everyday clothing that the plain people eat in, without apparent suffering!"
Mademoiselle got up. She felt that Grace should be warned at once. And there was a look in Lily's face when she mentioned this Cameron creature that made Mademoiselle nervous.
"I thought he lived in the country."
"Then prepare yourself for a blow," said Lily Cardew, cheerfully. "He is here in the city, earning twenty-five dollars a week in the Eagle Pharmacy, and serving the plain people perfectly preposterous patent potions—which is his own alliteration, and pretty good, I say."
Mademoiselle went out into the hall. Over the house, always silent, there had come a death-like hush. In the lower hall the footman was hanging up his master's hat and overcoat. Anthony Cardew had come home for dinner.
Mr. William Wallace Cameron, that evening of Lily's return, took a walk. From his boarding house near the Eagle Pharmacy to the Cardew residence was a half-hour's walk. There were a number of things he had meant to do that evening, with a view to improving his mind, but instead he took a walk. He had made up a schedule for those evenings when he was off duty, thinking it out very carefully on the train to the city. And the schedule ran something like this:
Monday: 8-11. Read History. Wednesday: 8-11. Read Politics and Economics. Friday: 8-9:30. Travel. 9:30-11. French. Sunday: Hear various prominent divines.
He had cut down on the travel rather severely, because travel was with him an indulgence rather than a study. The longest journey he had ever taken in his life was to Washington. That was early in the war, when it did not seem possible that his country would not use him, a boy who could tramp incredible miles in spite of his lameness and who could shoot a frightened rabbit at almost any distance, by allowing for a slight deflection to the right in the barrel of his old rifle.
But they had refused him.
"They won't use me, mother," he had said when he got home, home being a small neat house on a tidy street of a little country town. "I tried every branch, but the only training I've had—well, some smart kid said they weren't planning to serve soda water to the army. They didn't want cripples, you see."
"I wish you wouldn't, Willy."
He had been frightfully sorry then and had comforted her at some length, but the fact remained.
"And you the very best they've ever had for mixing prescriptions!" she had said at last. "And a graduate in chemistry!"
"Well," he said, "that's that, and we won't worry about it. There's more than one way of killing a cat."
"What do you mean, Willy? More than one way?"
There was no light of prophecy in William Wallace Cameron's gray eyes, however, when he replied: "More than one way of serving my country. Don't you worry. I'll find something."
So he had, and he had come out of his Red Cross work in the camp with one or two things in his heart that had not been there before. One was a knowledge of men. He could not have put into words what he felt about men. It was something about the fundamental simplicity of them, for one thing. You got pretty close to them at night sometimes, especially when the homesick ones had gone to bed, and the phonograph was playing in a corner of the long, dim room. There were some shame-faced tears hidden under army blankets those nights, and Willy Cameron did some blinking on his own account.
Then, under all the blasphemy, the talk about women, the surface sordidness of their daily lives and thoughts, there was one instinct common to all, one love, one hidden purity. And the keyword to those depths was "home."
"Home," he said one day to Lily Cardew. "Mostly it's the home they've left, and maybe they didn't think so much of it then. But they do now. And if it isn't that, it's the home they want to have some day." He looked at Lily. Sometimes she smiled at things he said, and if she had not been grave he would not have gone on. "You know," he continued, "there's mostly a girl some place. All this talk about the nation, now—" He settled himself on the edge of the pine table where old Anthony Cardew's granddaughter had been figuring up her week's accounts, and lighted his pipe, "the nation's too big for us to understand. But what is the nation, but a bunch of homes?"
"Willy dear," said Lily Cardew, "did you take any money out of the cigar box for anything this week?"
"Dollar sixty-five for lard," replied Willy dear. "As I was saying, we've got to think of this country in terms of homes. Not palaces like yours—"
"Good gracious!" said Lily, "I don't live in a palace. Get my pocket-book, will you? I'm out three dollars somehow, and I'd rather make it up myself than add these figures over again. Go on and talk, Willy. I love hearing you."
"Not palaces like yours," repeated Mr. Cameron, "and not hovels. But mostly self-respecting houses, the homes of the plain people. The middle class, Miss Cardew. My class. The people who never say anything, but are squeezed between capital, represented by your grandfather, with its parasites, represented by you, and—"
"You represent the people who never say anything," observed the slightly flushed parasite of capital, "about as adequately as I represent the idle rich."
Yet not even old Anthony could have resented the actual relationship between them. Lily Cardew, working alone in her hut among hundreds of men, was as without sex consciousness as a child. Even then her flaming interest was in the private soldiers. The officers were able to amuse themselves; they had money and opportunity. It was the doughboys she loved and mothered. For them she organized her little entertainments. For them she played and sang in the evenings, when the field range in the kitchen was cold, and her blistered fingers stumbled sometimes over the keys of the jingling camp piano.
Gradually, out of the chaos of her early impressions, she began to divide the men in the army into three parts. There were the American born; they took the war and their part in it as a job to be done, with as few words as possible. And there were the foreigners to whom America was a religion, a dream come true, whose flaming love for their new mother inspired them to stuttering eloquence and awkward gestures. And then there was a third division, small and mostly foreign born, but with a certain percentage of native malcontents, who hated the war and sneered among themselves at the other dupes who believed that it was a war for freedom. It was a capitalists' war. They considered the state as an instrument of oppression, as a bungling interference with liberty and labor; they felt that wealth inevitably brought depravity. They committed both open and overt acts against discipline, and found in their arrest and imprisonment renewed grievances, additional oppression, tyranny. And one day a handful of them, having learned Lily's identity, came into her hut and attempted to bait her.
"Gentlemen," said one of them, "we have here an example of one of the idle rich, sacrificing herself to make us happy. Now, boys, be happy. Are we all happy?" He surveyed the group. "Here, you," he addressed a sullen-eyed squat Hungarian. "Smile when I tell you. You're a slave in one of old Cardew's mills, aren't you? Well, aren't you grateful to him? Here he goes and sends his granddaughter—"
Willy Cameron had entered the room with a platter of doughnuts in his hand, and stood watching, his face going pale. Quite suddenly there was a crash, and the gang leader went down in a welter of porcelain and fried pastry. Willy Cameron was badly beaten up, in the end, and the beaters were court-martialed. But something of Lily's fine faith in humanity was gone.
"But," she said to him, visiting him one day in the base hospital, where he was still an aching, mass of bruises, "there must be something behind it. They didn't hate me. They only hated my—well, my family."
"My dear child," said Willy Cameron, feeling very old and experienced, and, it must be confessed, extremely happy, "of course there's something behind it. But the most that's behind it is a lot of fellows who want without working what the other fellow's worked to get."
It was about that time that Lily was exchanged into the town near the camp, and Willy Cameron suddenly found life a stale thing, and ashes in the mouth. He finally decided that he had not been such a hopeless fool as to fall in love with her, but that it would be as well not to see her too much.
"The thing to do," he reasoned to himself, "is, first of all, not to see her. Or only on Friday nights, because she likes the movies, and it would look queer to stop." Thus Willy Cameron speciously to himself, and deliberately ignoring the fact that some twenty-odd officers stood ready to seize those Friday nights. "And then to work hard, so I'll sleep better, and not lie awake making a fool of myself. And when I get a bit of idiocy in the daytime, I'd better just walk it off. Because I've got to live with myself a long time, probably, and I'm no love-sick Romeo."
Which excellent practical advice had cost him considerable shoe-leather at first. In a month or two, however, he considered himself quite cured, and pretended to himself that he was surprised to find it Friday again. But when, after retreat, the band marched back again to its quarters playing, for instance, "There's a Long, Long Trail," there was something inside him that insisted on seeing the years ahead as a long, long trail, and that the trail did not lead to the lands of his dreams.
He got to know that very well indeed during the winter that followed the armistice. Because there was work to do he stayed and finished up, as did Lily Cardew. But the hut was closed and she was working in the town, and although they kept up their Friday evenings, the old intimacy was gone. And one night she said:
"Isn't it amazing, when you are busy, how soon Friday night comes along?"
And on each day of the preceding week he had wakened and said to himself: "This is Monday—"—or whatever it might be—"and in four more days it will be Friday."
In February he was sent home. Lily stayed on until the end of March. He went back to his little village of plain people, and took up life again as best he could. But sometimes it seemed to him that from behind every fire-lit window in the evenings—he was still wearing out shoe-leather, particularly at nights—somebody with a mandolin was wailing about the long, long trail.
His mother watched him anxiously. He was thinner than ever, and oddly older, and there was a hollow look about his eyes that hurt her.
"Why don't you bring home a bottle of tonic from the store, Willy," she said, one evening when he had been feverishly running through the city newspaper. He put the paper aside hastily.
"Tonic!" he said. "Why, I'm all right, mother. Anyhow, I wouldn't take any of that stuff." He caught her eye and looked away. "It takes a little time to get settled again, that's all, mother."
"The Young People's Society is having an entertainment at the church to-night, Willy."
"Well, maybe I'll go," he agreed to her unspoken suggestion. "If you insist on making me a society man—"
But some time later he came downstairs with a book.
"Thought I'd rather read," he explained. "Got a book here on the history of steel. Talk about romances! Let me read some of it to you. You sit there and close your eyes and just listen to this: 'The first Cardew furnace was built in 1868. At that time—'"
Some time later he glanced up. His mother was quietly sleeping, her hands folded in her lap. He closed the book and sat there, fighting again his patient battle with himself. The book on his knee seemed to symbolize the gulf between Lily Cardew and himself. But the real gulf, the unbridgeable chasm, between Lily and himself, was neither social nor financial.
"As if that counted, in America," he reflected scornfully.
No. It was not that. The war had temporarily broken down the old social barriers. Some of them would never be erected again, although it was the tendency of civilization for men to divide themselves, rather than to be divided, into the high, the middle and the low. But in his generation young Cameron knew that there would be no uncrossable bridge between old Anthony's granddaughter and himself, were it not for one thing.
She did not love him. It hurt his pride to realize that she had never thought of him in any terms but that of a pleasant comradeship. Hardly even as a man. Men fought, in war time. They did not fry doughnuts and write letters home for the illiterate. Any one of those boys in the ranks was a better man than he was. All this talk about a man's soul being greater than his body, that was rot. A man was as good as the weakest part of him, and no more.
His sensitive face in the lamplight was etched with lines of tragedy. He put the book on the table, and suddenly flinging his arms across it, dropped his head on them. The slight movement wakened his mother.
"Why, Willy!" she said.
After a moment he looked up. "I was almost asleep," he explained, more to protect her than himself. "I—I wish that fool Nelson kid would break his mandolin—or his neck," he said irritably. He kissed her and went upstairs. From across the quiet street there came thin, plaintive, occasionally inaccurate, the strains of the long, long trail.
There was the blood of Covenanters in Willy Cameron's mother, a high courage of sacrifice, and an exceedingly shrewd brain. She lay awake that night, carefully planning, and when everything was arranged in orderly fashion in her mind, she lighted her lamp and carried it to the door of Willy's room. He lay diagonally across his golden-oak bed, for he was very long, and sleep had rubbed away the tragic lines about his mouth. She closed his door and went back to her bed.
"I've seen too much of it," she reflected, without bitterness. She stared around the room. "Too much of it," she repeated. And crawled heavily back into bed, a determined little figure, rather chilled.
The next morning she expressed a desire to spend a few months with her brother in California.
"I coughed all last winter, after I had the flu," she explained, "and James has been wanting me this long time. I don't want to leave you, that's all, Willy. If you were in the city it would be different."
He was frankly bewildered and a little hurt, to tell the truth. He no more suspected her of design than of crime.
"Of course you are going," he said, heartily. "It's the very thing. But I like the way you desert your little son!"
"I've been thinking about that, too," she said, pouring his coffee. "I—if you were in the city, now, there would always be something to do."
He shot her a suspicious glance, but her face was without evidence of guile.
"What would I do in the city?"
"They use chemists in the mills, don't they?"
"A fat chance I'd have for that sort of job," he scoffed. "No city for me, mother."
But she knew. She read his hesitation accurately, the incredulous pause of the bird whose cage door is suddenly opened. He would go.
"I'd think about it, anyhow, Willy."
But for a long time after he had gone she sat quietly rocking in her rocking chair in the bay window of the sitting room. It was a familiar attitude of hers, homely, middle-class, and in a way symbolic. Had old Anthony Cardew ever visualized so imaginative a thing as a Nemesis, he would probably have summoned a vision of a huddled figure in his stable-yard, dying, and cursing him as he died. Had Jim Doyle, cunningly plotting the overthrow of law and order, been able in his arrogance to conceive of such a thing, it might have been Anthony Cardew he saw. Neither of them, for a moment, dreamed of it as an elderly Scotch Covenanter, a plain little womanly figure, rocking in a cane-seated rocking chair, and making the great sacrifice of her life.
All of which simply explains how, on a March Wednesday evening of the great year of peace after much tribulation, Mr. William Wallace Cameron, now a clerk at the Eagle Pharmacy, after an hour of Politics, and no Economics at all, happened to be taking a walk toward the Cardew house. Such pilgrimages has love taken for many years, small uncertain ramblings where the fancy leads the feet and far outstrips them, and where heart-hunger hides under various flimsy pretexts; a fine night, a paper to be bought, a dog to be exercised.
Not that Willy Cameron made any excuses to himself. He had a sort of idea that if he saw the magnificence that housed her, it would through her sheer remoteness kill the misery in him. But he regarded himself with a sort of humorous pity, and having picked up a stray dog, he addressed it now and then.
"Even a cat can look at a king," he said once. And again, following some vague train of thought, on a crowded street: "The People's voice is a queer thing. 'It is, and it is not, the voice of God.' The people's voice, old man. Only the ones that count haven't got a voice."
There were, he felt, two Lily Cardews. One lived in an army camp, and wore plain clothes, and got a bath by means of calculation and persistency, and went to the movies on Friday nights, and was quite apt to eat peanuts at those times, carefully putting the shells in her pocket.
And another one lived inside this great pile of brick,—he was standing across from it, by the park railing, by that time—where motor cars drew up, and a footman with an umbrella against a light rain ushered to their limousines draped women and men in evening clothes, their strong blacks and whites revealed in the light of the street door. And this Lily Cardew lived in state, bowed to by flunkeys in livery, dressed and undressed—his Scotch sense of decorum resented this—by serving women. This Lily Cardew would wear frivolous ball-gowns, such things as he saw in the shop windows, considered money only as a thing of exchange, and had traveled all over Europe a number of times.
He took his station against the park railings and reflected that it was a good thing he had come, after all. Because it was the first Lily whom he loved, and she was gone, with the camp and the rest, including war. What had he in common with those lighted windows, with their heavy laces and draperies?
"Nothing at all, old man," he said cheerfully to the dog, "nothing at all."
But although the ache was gone when he turned homeward, the dog still at his heels, he felt strangely lonely without it. He considered that very definitely he had put love out of his life. Hereafter he would travel the trail alone. Or accompanied only by History, Politics, Economics, and various divines on Sunday evenings.
"Well, grandfather," said Lily Cardew, "the last of the Cardews is home from the wars."
"So I presume," observed old Anthony. "Owing, however, to your mother's determination to shroud this room in impenetrable gloom, I can only presume. I cannot see you."
His tone was less unpleasant than his words, however. He was in one of the rare moods of what passed with him for geniality. For one thing, he had won at the club that afternoon, where every day from four to six he played bridge with his own little group, reactionaries like himself, men who viewed the difficulties of the younger employers of labor with amused contempt. For another, he and Howard had had a difference of opinion, and he had, for a wonder, made Howard angry.
"Well, Lily," he inquired, "how does it seem to be at home?"
Lily eyed him almost warily. He was sometimes most dangerous in these moods.
"I'm not sure, grandfather."
"Not sure about what?"
"Well, I am glad to see everybody, of course. But what am I to do with myself?"
"Tut." He had an air of benignantly forgiving her. "You'll find plenty. What did you do before you went away?"
"That was different, grandfather."
"I'm blessed," said old Anthony, truculently, "if I understand what has come over this country, anyhow. What is different? We've had a war. We've had other wars, and we didn't think it necessary to change the Constitution after them. But everything that was right before this war is wrong after it. Lot of young idiots coming back and refusing to settle down. Set of young Bolshevists!"
He had always managed to arouse a controversial spirit in the girl.
"Maybe, if it isn't right now, it wasn't right before." Having said it, Lily immediately believed it. She felt suddenly fired with an intense dislike of anything that her grandfather advocated.
"Meaning what?" He fixed her with cold but attentive eyes.
"Oh—conditions," she said vaguely. She was not at all sure what she meant. And old Anthony realized it, and gave a sardonic chuckle.
"I advise you to get a few arguments from your father, Lily. He is full of them. If he had his way I'd have a board of my workmen running my mills, while I played golf in Florida."
Dinner was a relatively pleasant meal. In her gradual rehabilitation of the house Grace had finally succeeded in doing over the dining room. Over the old walnut paneling she had hung loose folds of faded blue Italian velvet, with old silver candle sconces at irregular intervals along the walls. The great table and high-backed chairs were likewise Italian, and the old-fashioned white marble fireplace had been given an over-mantel, also white, enclosing an old tapestry. For warmth of color there were always flowers, and that night there were red roses.
Lily liked the luxury of it. She liked the immaculate dinner dress of the two men; she liked her mother's beautiful neck and arms; she liked the quiet service once more; she even liked herself, moderately, in a light frock and slippers. But she watched it all with a new interest and a certain detachment. She felt strange and aloof, not entirely one of them. She felt very keenly that no one of them was vitally interested in this wonder-year of hers. They asked her perfunctory questions, but Grace's watchful eyes were on the service, Anthony was engrossed with his food, and her father—
Her father was changed. He looked older and care-worn. For the first time she began to wonder about her father. What was he, really, under that calm, fastidiously dressed, handsome exterior? Did he mind the little man with the sardonic smile and the swift unpleasant humor, whose glance reduced the men who served into terrified menials? Her big, blond father, with his rather slow speech, his honest eyes, his slight hesitation before he grasped some of the finer nuances of his father's wit. No, he was not brilliant, but he was real, real and kindly. Perhaps he was strong, too. He looked strong.
With the same pitiless judgment she watched her mother. Either Grace was very big, or very indifferent to the sting of old Anthony's tongue. Sometimes women suffered much in silence, because they loved greatly. Like Aunt Elinor. Aunt Elinor had loved her husband more than she had loved her child. Quite calmly Lily decided that, as between her husband and herself, her mother loved her husband. Perhaps that was as it should be, but it added to her sense of aloofness. And she wondered, too, about these great loves that seemed to feed on sacrifice.
Anthony, who had a most unpleasant faculty of remembering things, suddenly bent forward and observed to her, across the table:
"I should be interested to know, since you regard present conditions as wrong, and, I inferred, wrong because of my mishandling of them, just what you would propose to do to right them."
"But I didn't say they were wrong, did I?"
"Don't answer a question with a question. It's a feminine form of evasion, because you have no answer and no remedy. Yet, heaven save the country, women are going to vote!" He pushed his plate away and glanced at Grace. "Is that the new chef's work?"
"Yes. Isn't it right?"
"Right? The food is impossible."
"He came from the club."
"Send him back," ordered Anthony. And when Grace observed that it was difficult to get servants, he broke into a cold fury. What had come over the world, anyhow? Time was when a gentleman's servants stayed with the family until they became pensioners, and their children took their places. Now—!
Grace said nothing. Her eyes sought Howard's, and seemed to find some comfort there. And Lily, sorry for her mother, said the first thing that came into her head.
"The old days of caste are gone, grandfather. And service, in your sense of the word, went with them."
"Really?" he eyed her. "Who said that? Because I daresay it is not original."
"A man I knew at camp."
"His name was Willy Cameron."
"Willy Cameron! Was this—er—person qualified to speak? Does he know anything about what he chooses to call caste?"
"He thinks a lot about things."
"A little less thinking and more working wouldn't hurt the country any," observed old Anthony. He bent forward. "As my granddaughter, and the last of the Cardews," he said, "I have a certain interest in the sources of your political opinions. They will probably, like your father's, differ from mine. You may not know that your father has not only opinions, but ambitions." She saw Grace stiffen, and Howard's warning glance at her. But she saw, too, the look in her mother's eyes, infinitely loving and compassionate. "Dear little mother," she thought, "he is her baby, really. Not I."
She felt a vague stirring of what married love at its best must be for a woman, its strange complex of passion and maternity. She wondered if it would ever come to her. She rather thought not. But she was also conscious of a new attitude among the three at the table, her mother's tense watchfulness, her father's slightly squared shoulders, and across from her her grandfather, fingering the stem of his wineglass and faintly smiling.
"It's time somebody went into city politics for some purpose other than graft," said Howard. "I am going to run for mayor, Lily. I probably won't get it."
"You can see," said old Anthony, "why I am interested in your views, or perhaps I should say, in Willy Cameron's. Does your father's passion for uplift, for instance, extend to you?"
"Why won't you be elected, father?"
"Partly because my name is Cardew."
Old Anthony chuckled.
"What!" he exclaimed, "after the bath-house and gymnasium you have built at the mill? And the laundries for the women—which I believe they do not use. Surely, Howard, you would not accuse the dear people of ingratitude?"
"They are beginning to use them, sir." Howard, in his forties, still addressed his father as "Sir!"
"Then you admit your defeat beforehand."
"You are rather a formidable antagonist."
"Antagonist!" Anthony repeated in mock protest. "I am a quiet onlooker at the game. I am amused, naturally. You must understand," he said to Lily, "that this is a matter of a principle with your father. He believes that he should serve. My whole contention is that the people don't want to be served. They want to be bossed. They like it; it's all they know. And they're suspicious of a man who puts his hand into his own pocket instead of into theirs."
He smiled and sipped his wine.
"Good wine, this," he observed. "I'm buying all I can lay my hands on, against the approaching drought."
Lily's old distrust of her grandfather revived. Why did people sharpen like that with age? Age should be mellow, like old wine. And—what was she going to do with herself? Already the atmosphere of the house began to depress and worry her; she felt a new, almost violent impatience with it. It was so unnecessary.
She went to the pipe organ which filled the space behind the staircase, and played a little, but she had never been very proficient, and her own awkwardness annoyed her. In the dining room she could hear the men talking, Howard quietly, his father in short staccato barks. She left the organ and wandered into her mother's morning room, behind the drawing room, where Grace sat with the coffee tray before her.
"I'm afraid I'm going to be terribly on your hands, mother," she said, "I don't know what to do with myself, so how can you know what to do with me?"
"It is going to be rather stupid for you at first, of course," Grace said. "Lent, and then so many of the men are not at home. Would you like to go South?"
"Why, I've just come home!"
"We can have some luncheons, of course. Just informal ones. And there will be small dinners. You'll have to get some clothes. I saw Suzette yesterday. She has some adorable things."
"I'd love them. Mother, why doesn't he want father to go into politics?"
"He doesn't like change, for one thing. But I don't know anything about politics. Suzette says—"
"Will he try to keep him from being elected?"
"He won't support him. Of course I hardly think he would oppose him. I really don't understand about those things."
"You mean you don't understand him. Well, I do, mother. He has run everything, including father, for so long—"
"I must, mother. Why, out at the camp—" She checked herself. "All the papers say the city is badly governed, and that he is responsible. And now he is going to fight his own son! The more I think about it, the more I understand about Aunt Elinor. Mother, where do they live?"
Grace looked apprehensively toward the door. "You are not allowed to visit her."
"That's different. And I only go once or twice a year."
"Just because she married a poor man, a man whose father—"
"Not at all. That is all dead and buried. He is a very dangerous man. He is running a Socialist newspaper, and now he is inciting the mill men to strike. He is preaching terrible things. I haven't been there for months."
"What do you mean by terrible things, mother?"
"Your father says it amounts to a revolution. I believe he calls it a general strike. I don't really know much about it."
Lily pondered that.
"Socialism isn't revolution, mother, is it? But even then—is all this because grandfather drove his father to—"
"I wish you wouldn't, Lily. Of course it is not that. I daresay he believes what he preaches. He ought to be put into jail. Why the country lets such men go around, preaching sedition, I don't understand."
Lily remembered something else Willy Cameron had said, and promptly repeated it.
"We had a muzzled press during the war," she said, "and now we've got free speech. And one's as bad as the other. She must love him terribly, mother," she added.
But Grace harked back to Suzette, and the last of the Cardews harked with her. Later on people dropped in, and Lily made a real attempt to get back into her old groove, but that night, when she went upstairs to her bedroom, with its bright fire, its bed neatly turned down, her dressing gown and slippers laid out, the shaded lamps shining on the gold and ivory of her dressing table, she was conscious of a sudden homesickness. Homesickness for her bare little room in the camp barracks, for other young lives, noisy, chattering, often rather silly, occasionally unpleasant, but young. Radiantly, vitally young. The great house, with its stillness and decorum, oppressed her. There was no youth in it, save hers.
She went to her window and looked out. Years ago, like Elinor, she had watched the penitentiary walls from that window, with their endlessly pacing sentries, and had grieved for those men who might look up at the sky, or down at the earth, but never out and across, to see the spring trees, for instance, or the children playing on the grass. She remembered the story about Jim Doyle's escape, too. He had dug a perilous way to freedom. Vaguely she wondered if he were not again digging a perilous way to freedom.
Men seemed always to be wanting freedom, only they had so many different ideas of what freedom was. At the camp it had meant breaking bounds, balking the Military Police, doing forbidden things generally. Was that, after all, what freedom meant, to do the forbidden thing? Those people in Russia, for instance, who stole and burned and appropriated women, in the name of freedom. Were law and order, then, irreconcilable with freedom?
After she had undressed she rang her bell, and Castle answered it.
"Please find out if Ellen has gone to bed," she said. "If she has not, I would like to talk to her."
The maid looked slightly surprised.
"If it's your hair, Miss Lily, Mrs. Cardew has asked me to look after you until she has engaged a maid for you."
"Not my hair," said Lily, cheerfully. "I rather like doing it myself. I just want to talk to Ellen."
It was a bewildered and rather scandalized Castle who conveyed the message to Ellen.
"I wish you'd stop whistling that thing," said Miss Boyd, irritably. "It makes me low in my mind."
"Sorry," said Willy Cameron. "I do it because I'm low in my mind."
"What are you low about?" Miss Boyd had turned toward the rear of the counter, where a mirror was pasted to a card above a box of chewing gum, and was carefully adjusting her hair net. "Lady friend turned you down?"
Willy Cameron glanced at her.
"I'm low because I haven't got a lady friend, Miss Boyd." He held up a sheet of prescription paper and squinted at it. "Also because the medical profession writes with its feet, apparently. I've done everything to this but dip it in acid. I've had it pinned to the wall, and tried glancing at it as I went past. Sometimes you can surprise them that way. But it does no good. I'm going to take it home and dream on it, like bride's cake."
"They're awful, aren't they?"
"When I get into the Legislature," said Willy Cameron, "I'm going to have a bill passed compelling doctors to use typewriters. Take this now. Read upside down, its horse liniment. Read right side up, it's poison. And it's for internal use."
"What d'you mean you haven't got a lady friend?"
"The exact and cruel truth." He smiled at her, and had Miss Boyd been more discerning she might have seen that the smile was slightly forced. Also that his eyes were somewhat sunken in his head. Which might, of course, have been due to too much political economy and history, and the eminent divines on Sunday evenings. Miss Boyd, however, was not discerning, and moreover, she was summoning her courage to a certain point.
"Why don't you ask me to go to the movies some night?" she said. "I like the movies, and I get sick of going alone."
"My dear child," observed Willy Cameron, "if that young man in the sack suit who comes in to see you every day were three inches shorter and twenty pounds lighter, I'd ask you this minute."
"Oh, him!" said Miss Boyd, with a self-conscious smile. "I'm through with him. He's a Bolshevik!"
"He has the Bolshevist possessive eye," agreed Willy Cameron, readily. "Does he know you are through with him? Because that's important, too. You may know it, and I may know it, but if he doesn't know it—"
"Why don't you say right out you don't want to take me?" Willy Cameron's chivalrous soul was suddenly shocked. To his horror he saw tears in Miss Boyd's eyes.
"I'm just a plain idiot, Miss Edith," he said. "I was only fooling. It will mean a lot to me to have a nice girl go with me to the movies, or anywhere else. We'll make it to-night, if that suits you, and I'll take a look through the neighborhood at noon and see what's worth while."
The Eagle Pharmacy was a small one in a quiet neighborhood. During the entire day, and for three evenings a week, Mr. William Wallace Cameron ran it almost single-handed, having only the preoccupied assistance of Miss Boyd in the candy and fancy goods. At the noon and dinner hours, and four evenings a week, he was relieved by the owner, Mr. Davis, a tired little man with large projecting ears and worried, child-like eyes, who was nursing an invalid wife at home. A pathetic little man, carrying home with unbounded faith day after day bottles of liquid foods and beef capsules, and making wistful comments on them when he returned.
"She couldn't seem to keep that last stuff down, Mr. Cameron," he would say. "I'll try something else."
And he would stand before his shelves, eyes upturned, searching, eliminating, choosing.
Miss Boyd attended to the general merchandise, sold stationery and perfumes, candy and fancy soaps, and in the intervals surveyed the world that lay beyond the plate glass windows with shrewd, sophisticated young eyes.
"That new doctor across the street is getting busier," she would say. Or, "The people in 42 have got a Ford. They haven't got room for a garage, either. Probably have to leave it out at nights."
Her sophistication was kindly in the main. She combined it with an easy tolerance of weakness, and an invincible and cheery romanticism, as Willy Cameron discovered the night they first went to a moving picture theater together. She frankly wept and joyously laughed, and now and then, delighted at catching some film subtlety and fearful that he would miss it, she would nudge him with her elbow.
"What d'you think of that?" she would say. "D'you get it? He thinks he's getting her—Alice Joyce, you know—on the telephone, and it's a private wire to the gang." She was rather quiet after that particular speech. Then she added: "I know a place that's got a secret telephone." But he was absorbed in the picture, and made no comment on that. She seemed rather relieved.
Once or twice she placed an excited hand on his knee. He was very uncomfortable until she removed it, because he had a helpless sort of impression that she was not quite so unconscious of it as she appeared. Time had been, and not so long ago, when he might have reciprocated her little advance in the spirit in which it was offered, might have taken the hand and held it, out of the sheer joy of youth and proximity. But there was nothing of the philanderer in the Willy Cameron who sat beside Edith Boyd that night in body, while in spirit he was in another state, walking with his slight limp over crisp snow and sodden mud, but through magic lands, to the little moving picture theater at the camp.
Would he ever see her again? Ever again? And if he did, what good would it be? He roused himself when they started toward her home. The girl was chattering happily. She adored Douglas Fairbanks. She knew a girl who had written for his picture but who didn't get one. She wouldn't do a thing like that. "Did they really say things when they moved their lips?"
"I think they do," said Willy Cameron. "When that chap was talking over the telephone I could tell what he was saying by—Look here, what did you mean when you said you knew of a place that has a secret telephone?"
"I was only talking."
"No house has any business with a secret telephone," he said virtuously.
"Oh, forget it. I say a lot of things I don't mean." He was a little puzzled and rather curious, but not at all disturbed.
"Well, how did you get to know about it?"
"I tell you I was only talking."
He let it drop at that. The street crowds held and interested him. He liked to speculate about them; what life meant to them, in work and love and play; to what they were going on such hurrying feet. A country boy, the haste of the city impressed him.
"Why do they hurry so?" he demanded, almost irritably.
"Hurrying home, most of them, because they've got to get up in the morning and go to work."
"Do you ever wonder about the homes they are hurrying to?"
"Me? I don't wonder. I know. Most of them have to move fast to keep up with the rent."
"I don't mean houses," he explained, patiently. "I mean—A house isn't a home."
"You bet it isn't."
"It's the families I'm talking about. In a small town you know all about people, who they live with, and all that." He was laboriously talking down to her. "But here—"
He saw that she was not interested. Something he had said started an unpleasant train of thought in her mind. She was walking faster, and frowning slightly. To cheer her he said:
"I am keeping an eye out for the large young man in the sack suit, you know. If he jumps me, just yell for the police, will you? Because I'll probably not be able to."