THE HOUSE OF TOYS
HENRY RUSSELL MILLER
THE MAN HIGHER UP, HIS RISE TO POWER THE AMBITION OF MARK TRUITT
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY
[Transcriber's note: Frontispiece missing from book]
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
I THE PLANS II THE WITCH III ON THE SANDS IV TO THE RESCUE V GOOD FAIRIES VI SPELLS VII SANCTUARY VIII CERTAIN PLOTS IX A NEW HOUSE X AT THE DOOR XI THE WITCH LAUGHS XII WHICH HOUSE? XIII THE HAPPY ENDING
THE HOUSE OF TOYS
This is not a fairy tale, although you will find some old friends here. There is, for example, a witch, a horrid old creature who tricks the best and wisest of us: Circumstance is one of her many names, and a horde of grisly goblins follow in her train. For crabbed beldame an aunt, who meant well but was rich and used to having her own way, will do fairly well. Good fairies there are, quite a number; you must decide for yourself which one is the best. But the tale has chiefly to do with a youth to whom the witch had made one gift, well knowing that one would not be enough. Together with a girl—a sunflower who did not thrive in the shade, as Jim Blaisdell has said—he undertook to build, among other things, a house of love wherein she should dwell and reign. But when it was built he met another girl, who was—say, an iris. There are white irises, and very beautiful flowers they are. From her—
But that is the story.
He was, then, tall, as well favored as is good for a young man, with straight-gazing though at times rather dreamy gray-green eyes, kinky brown hair and a frank friendly manner that was very engaging. Since his tenth year he had been alone in the world, with a guardian trust company for sole relative. But he tried to make up for that by having many friends. He did not have to try very hard.
Men liked him, which was much to his credit. Those near his own age often made him a confidant in such matters as their ambitions and loves. His elders saw to it that he was asked not only to the things their wives and sisters gave but to week-ends in the family bosom as well.
And women liked him, which was not so much to his credit, since we judge our own sex far more wisely than the other. Old ladies praised his manners and visited his rooms, taking an active interest in his intimate wardrobe. Younger women flirted with him ad libitum and used him unconscionably, sure that he would take no advantage. Girls of sixteen or thereabouts secretly held him in awe and spun romances around him. In return he gave them all a sort of reverence, thinking them superfine creatures who could do no meanness or wrong. He envied his men friends who had mothers or sisters or wives to be served; in the life of a young man alone in the world there are gaps that even pleasant friendships can not fill. He had a dream over which he used to burn much tobacco: of a day when he should not be alone. He awaited impatiently the coming of that splendid day.
Therefore he dabbled recklessly in the tender passion. About twice a year on an average he fell experimentally in love. It made him very sad that after a brief captivity his heart was always set free.
Moreover, there was something about him that made his friends, men as well as women, say to one another, "Some of these days that Davy Quentin is going to do big things." You have known young men like that; as often as not they continue through life a promise unfulfilled.
In David's case the faith survived stubbornly on scanty nourishment. He had been left a little patrimony sufficient to carry him beyond college, where he smoked the usual number of cigarettes, drank a limited quantity of beer and managed to pass his examinations respectably though not even cum laude. After that he studied architecture, with more distinction because he had a real enthusiasm for the work, especially the ecclesiastical branch. And it happened that soon after he hung out his shingle he won a prize offered by a magazine for plans for a three-thousand-dollar bungalow. This, when they heard of it, fortified the faith of his friends, who carelessly supposed the prize to have been much bigger than it was and a brilliant career thus to have been safely launched. Oddly enough, however, it never occurred to them to lend a hand at the launching. They took its success for granted and saved their help and their business for young men, such as the energetic but otherwise untalented Dick Holden, of whom less was expected. It is so hard to make friends understand that even a brilliant career needs support at first.
It was not wholly their fault; a very creditable pride kept David from hinting that he was in need of help, which indeed became the fact. The little patrimony had dwindled to a cipher. Clients were few and commissions small. But David, less from design than from habit and taste, maintained the front of prosperity. He had the trick of wearing clothes well, lived in nice rooms, played golf at the country club and was always his jolly, cheerful self.
His good cheer was not a pretense, for he was never made to feel a pinch. This was a misfortune and the blame must be laid to his own engaging qualities. He found that he could borrow as easily as, when in funds, he had lent. Even Jim Blaisdell who, in his cashier's office, was held a skinflint and a keen judge of men, was cordiality itself when David went to him with a note for discount.
"Gladly," he said. "But you'll have to have an indorser, you know."
"I didn't know," laughed David. "You see, I never tried this before. Am I an innocent?"
"It'll be all right, though," Blaisdell answered. "I'll indorse for you."
Something made David hesitate. "It's fair to say I mightn't be able to meet it promptly."
"Then we'll carry you. Your face is collateral enough for me. Beat it now—I'm busy. And come out for dinner to-night, Davy."
Sometimes David would feel a qualm of discomfort as he found himself gradually getting behind and sometimes he would wonder, a little sensitively, at the slowness of recognition. But such moments were brief. Unconsciously he had imbibed his friends' vague confidence in his future. Some day he would win a big commission which, brilliantly executed, would make him forever secure. In the meantime, because he was an honest workman, he gave to his few clients the best he had, a really fine best, worthy of wider notice. And because he grew daily more in love with his art and proposed to be found ready when his great chance came, he put in his spare hours studying hard, making sketches—he had a pretty knack for that and might have become a third-rate painter—of the numberless ideas that floated to him out of tobacco clouds or down from a moonlit sky or across a music-filled room. Sometimes he would tear the sketches to bits. But sometimes, lingering lovingly over one, he would know a deep thrill.
"Why, this," he would exclaim, "this is good. Oh!" hugging himself, "they'll have to come to me yet."
On the strength of this conclusion he would allow himself some special extravagance.
When he was twenty-seven he was making about nine hundred a year, spending it all as it came, and owed more than five hundred dollars.
Then he met Shirley Lord.
It was at a dinner given by the Jim Blaisdells, whose guest she was. Mrs. Jim introduced them.
"Shirley dear, this is our Davy Quentin. As a special favor—to each of you—I'm putting you together to-night. You have just a minute now to get acquainted." And Mrs. Jim fluttered away.
David spent most of that minute looking with a thrill—much the sort he felt when he was pleased with his sketches—into a pair of blue eyes that smiled at him out of the prettiest, sweetest, kindest face he thought he had ever seen. And it was very pretty and sweet and kind just then, as she looked at him with the friendliness he always inspired. Framing the face was a lot of wavy brown hair with golden lights dancing in it, her neck and shoulders were slender but softly rounded, the figure hinted at by the soft clinging gown was trim and girlish. But those were details that he drank in later.
He heaved a sigh, so patently one of content with his lot that she laughed outright. To laugh well is a gift from the gods.
"You're not a bit as I thought you would be."
"How did you think I should be?" stammered David, trying to grasp the fact that this dainty creature had been thinking of him at all.
"Why, grim and haughty and altogether overwhelming. You know, you're supposed to be rather wonderful."
David felt anxiously for his head.
"Does it expand so easily?"
"I just wanted to be sure it was still there. I can see it would be easy to lose it."
She laughed again.
It is probable that they talked a polite amount with their respective neighbors. But if so, they regarded it as untimely interruption of the real business of the evening. It was amazing the number of things they found to discuss and they discussed them so earnestly and withal, as it seemed to them, so wittily and wisely that they were blissfully unaware of the significant smiles going around the table. When the coffee was served, David surveyed his cup stupidly.
"Does it strike you," he inquired, "that they've hurried this dinner out of all reason?"
"It has been the usual length, I believe."
"Funny—I've a hazy recollection of fish—and of an ice just now—but entree and salad and the rest are a total blank."
"Very funny!" she agreed.
"But the queerest of all—" He broke off, with a laugh that did not quite reach his eyes.
"Yes?" she queried provocatively, knowing that one of his daring bits was coming.
"The queerest of all," he repeated, "is that you should turn out to be—you."
"No queerer than—" Then she broke off, with a laugh that did reach her eyes.
The next afternoon they played golf. It was at the fifth tee that they abandoned the last pretense of formality. She topped her drive wretchedly; the ball rolled a scant ten feet.
"Oh, David!" she cried. "Did you ever see anything so awful?"
"Many times," answered David, who was looking at her, not at the ball. "I've often wondered," he mused raptly, "how 'David' would sound, set to music."
He was rewarded by her rippling, musical laugh. "You say the absurdest things—and the nicest."
They pursued her recalcitrant ball until it led them, by many zigzags, to an old elm that had upset more than one good game. But they did not swear at it. They sat down under its generous shade, David lighted a cigarette and they gave themselves to a more agreeable exercise. They pretended to define it.
"I suppose," Shirley broke a brief intimate silence, "people think we're having a violent flirtation. But we're not, are we?"
"Certainly not," said David with emphasis.
"They couldn't understand. We're just naturally meant to be good friends and it didn't take us an age to find that out."
"Yes," said David slowly.
"Tell me about yourself."
He tried to make it interesting but when he came to the point there was really little to tell.
"But that isn't all. You haven't told me why people are so confident of your future."
"I don't know that. Sometimes I wonder whether they've the right to be confident."
"You've been very successful, haven't you?"
He shook his head. "I'm still poor—so poor you'd probably call it indecent—with my way to make. It seems a very slow way, too."
There was a hint of disappointment in the quick glance she turned upon him.
"Have I lost caste?"
"No. I was just wondering— But you're going to be successful, aren't you? Everybody can't be mistaken in you. Tell me what you want to do."
So he told her of his love for his work, of his studies and sketches, of the beautiful churches that he hoped he should some day build.
It was early October; which is not unimportant. Before them opened a vista of wooded hills, tinted by the first frosts dull yellows and maroons, here and there a flash of rich crimson. A thin haze lay over the land, violet in the distance, about them an almost imperceptible golden. The voices of other players came softly to them, subdued and lazy as an echo. Fading hillsides, dying leaves, blue horizons—autumn, too, has its wistful charm, as potent as spring to bring young hearts together.
"Everybody can't be mistaken," she repeated. "All those things you will do. I feel it, too. It's something you can't explain. You know a man is big, just as you know a woman is good— And you couldn't lose caste with me. I'm poor, too."
He swept her with an incredulous glance that took in the beautiful, soft, hand-knit sweater jacket, the white flannel skirt with its air of having been fashioned by an expensive tailor, the white buckskins and bit of white silk stocking. He knew girls, daughters of rich fathers, who did not wear silk stockings for golfing.
She caught his glance. "Mostly presents," she answered it, "from an aunt who has more money than she knows what to do with. The rest is just splurge. It's quite true about my poverty. Ever since we were left alone Maizie and I have had to work. We could have gone to live with my aunt, but we wanted to be independent, to make our own living. And we've made it, though," laughingly, "we've been pretty hard up sometimes. So you see, I'm not a butterfly but just a working girl on her vacation. Have I lost caste?"
Needless question! As she asked it, her chin—her prettiest feature, cleanly molded, curving gently back to the soft throat—went up spiritedly. He caught a picture of a struggle far more cruel than her light words implied. A wave of protest swept over him, of tender protectiveness. He had to fight down an impulse to catch her close, to cry out that thenceforth he would assume her burden. He rejoiced intensely that he had found so rare a spirit, fragile yet brave and equal to all the hard emergencies life had put upon her.
Then he took thought of his income and the brevity of their acquaintance and was abashed.
The Jim Blaisdells met them at the club for a dinner at which David was host. It was a nicely appointed dinner, the best the chef could contrive. Also it was distinctly an extravagance. But David did not care. His spirits ran high, in a gaiety that was infectious. It was a very successful party.
After that came two short hours on the veranda, while a three-quarters moon rose to shower the world with silver, gaiety dwindled and a solemn tender happiness mounted. Then they drove homeward, by a roundabout way, in Jim's car. David and Shirley had the back seat, for the most part in a free intimate silence that was delicious indeed.
Later Mrs. Jim found her guest dreamily braiding her hair for the night.
"Shirley," she began directly, "this is going too fast. David's too nice a boy to be hurt. He's taking your flirtation seriously."
"I'm not flirting with him. At least I don't think I am," Shirley amended slowly.
"I thought you were interested only in rich men?"
"I did think so. But now— It might be fun to be poor—with him—for a while. It wouldn't be for long. You said yourself he'll have a brilliant future."
"I think so. But it might be long coming. A professional career is so uncertain at the start. And it's never fun to be poor—unless you're equipped. Married life is more than parties and golf and dinners at the club. Shirley, dear," she concluded pleadingly, "do be sensible."
"Of course, I will be. You forget I know all about poverty from experience." Shirley looked up suddenly, keenly. "Why do you warn me? Is there any reason why you're afraid to entrust me to David Quentin?"
"No-o," said Mrs. Jim.
How could she voice the question in her mind? It was, could she entrust David Quentin to Shirley?
Still later, "Jim," she said to her almost sleeping husband, "I'm worried. I'm afraid David and Shirley will get themselves engaged."
"Won't hurt 'em," grunted Jim.
"But they might get married."
"People do it sometimes. Be good for him. Life's been too easy for Davy."
"I feel responsible. Couldn't you speak to Davy and warn him to go slow?"
"I thought," mumbled Jim, "you were a wise woman," and dropped off to sleep.
At the same late hour David was sitting at the window of his darkened room, smoking pipe after pipe, gazing raptly up at the moon-lit sky. "By George!" he would breathe ecstatically, "By George!" as though he had been seeing something wonderful in ecclesiastical architecture. In fact he was planning that wondrous house of love, none the less entrancing for that many other young lovers had designed it before.
Every day during Shirley's two weeks' visit she and David were together, sometimes, through Mrs. Jim's contrivance, with others and often, by grace of their own ingenuity, alone, drifting carelessly down the most traveled stream of life. If Mrs. Jim's warning had awakened any doubts in Shirley's mind—and it had—the doubts were quickly laid by David's presence. She let herself drift; this in spite of certain very definite and very different plans which she had made for her future. (In her home city was one Sam Hardy, a money-maker, very attractive, very devoted.) People saw it and were charmed; a young woman simply, daringly, unquestioningly yielding to love is a picture from whose wonder neither time nor repetition can subtract. Only to Mrs. Jim did it occur to ponder whether the impulse to surrender sprang from deeps or shallows.
And only Dick Holden, who was then David's chief chum, ventured to hang out a danger signal.
"My son," he said one day when he managed to find David alone, "I'm afraid you're growing susceptible to women."
"Always was. Any great harm in that?"
"Huh! If you'd had sisters," grunted the ungallant Dick, "you wouldn't ask that. You don't know 'em. You think they're nice, fluffy little angels, don't you? Well, they're not. They—they say catty things. And they've claws in their white, soft little paws, and they'd rather scratch than eat. And they don't understand men."
"Whoopee!" said David. "Do it some more."
"Huh! You think they're kind and sympathetic, don't you? You think because they look soulfully up at you when you're gabbling about ecclesiastical architecture they're taking it all in. Well, they're not. They're thinking, 'He has nice eyes—too bad he hasn't money!' I know. I've heard 'em talking behind the scenes. They don't understand the game of things. They only want a husband for a provider and they soon let him know it. Then he might as well go lie down and die. Take it from me. Few men," Dick concluded sagely, "survive matrimony."
David laughed uproariously at this counsel.
"You blooming old cynic! You poor old he-Cassandra! Where did you get all your wisdom? Just wait until you find some one—"
"Huh! I have found her. Or rather she's found me. I could let her make a fool of me. But I won't. A long life and my own life for me. I'm wearing a sign, 'Nothing doing!' You'd better get one just like it."
David roared again.
"All right, laugh!" growled Dick. "Rope, tie and brand yourself. And then some of these days when you're one woman's property and you find the other woman is just around the corner waiting— That's another thing, Davy."
But David turned his back on the counselor and fled. What did Dick know about it?
The dream was being realized, the lonely gaps filled. He was to have some one of his own to love and to serve. This time his heart was a captive for life; any one who had been in love a baker's dozen of times could tell that. He expected great things of love. He saw it as something exquisitely fine and beautiful and yet proof against the vandal fingers of familiarity; a joy always, a light for the dark places, a guide and comrade in stressful times; and everlasting as the hills. Just as the poets have always sung of it. Would any man wear a sign, "Nothing doing!" in the face of that?
The last afternoon of Shirley's visit came, clear and crisp, a strong west wind lifting the haze from the tinted hills. They pretended to play golf, but their strokes were perfunctory, absent-minded. They talked little and that in strangely low tones, always soberly. After a while they gave up the pretense, sought a seat on a secluded sunny slope and fell into a long silence.
"Shirley!" he broke it at length.
"I'll hate to see you go back."
"I know. I'll hate to go, too."
"It—hurts me to think of your going back to work."
"Oh, I'm used to it." She smiled. A world of sweet courage was in that smile.
She raised her eyes to his.
"A poor man—I suppose he's a coward to ask a woman to share— But it wouldn't be for always. You believe that, don't you?"
"I believe that."
"I'd try to make up for the lack of money with other things—worth more than money maybe. Are you willing to be poor with me for a while?"
He sat very still. His face went white. A happiness, so intense that it hurt, flooded his being.
"You really—mean that?" he whispered.
Tears of tenderness stood in her eyes. She had the sense of having found a rare treasure, worth any sacrifice. She was a little awed by it and lifted to a plane she had never reached before.
"Of course, I do." She laughed tremulously. "We'll wait six months, to give you a chance to get ready. Then I'll come to you. We'll start very small at first and live on what we have, whatever it is. If it's only seventy-five dollars a month, we'll hold our heads as high as if we had millions. We'll make the fight together. I used to think I never could do that. But now I want to. And then when your success comes it will be partly mine."
Her head was lifted in the pretty brave gesture. The glow of a crimson sunset was about her. In her eyes was the glow of the flame he had lighted.
If only the spirit of sunset might abide with us always! . . . .
The witch often turns herself into an old cat and plays with us poor mice before she rends us.
Almost from the beginning of the engagement David's clients increased in number. During the six months which Shirley had set as the term of their waiting his income was almost as big as that of the whole year before; partly because he was taken in by Dick Holden—who had the knack of getting business—on a commission to which that energetic young cynic felt himself unequal. The fee thus shared was a substantial one.
"Our love," David wrote to Shirley, "was born under a lucky star. I believe we are going to have more than we expected. That makes me very happy—on your account."
Nevertheless, when the six months were at an end, he was not out of debt.
"David, dear," Shirley wrote, when she had been scarce a month gone, "couldn't you manage to come on for a few days? Maizie thinks I'm crazy, and I want her to see you and be convinced that I'm not. And I want to show off my wonderful lover to my friends."
David, nothing loath, went—a night's journey into the West, to a city where hotels mounted high in the air and rates mounted with them. This journey became a monthly event. And when they were together, thought of the exchequer took wings. There were theater parties, at which tired Maizie was a happy though protestant third. There were boxes of candy and flowers, seeing which Shirley would cry, "Oh, you extravagant boy!" in a tone that made David very glad of his extravagance. They loved; therefore they were rich. What had they to do with caution and economy?
"We can be engaged only once," they said. "Let us make it beautiful. Let us have something to remember."
Money, it seemed, was necessary to a memorable engagement.
Maizie at sight of him opened her heart. Shirley's friends hugged and kissed her and declared her lover to be all she had promised. The rich aunt regarded him with a disfavor she was at some pains to voice.
"Shirley tells me," she informed him, with the arrogant assurance of the very rich, "that you're poor. Then I think you're foolish to get married—to Shirley, at least. I wanted her to take Sam Hardy. I hope you understand my checks will stop when she's married."
"But you'll still give her your love, won't you?"
"Of course, but what's that got to do with it?"
"Having that," said David, with the arrogant assurance of young men in love, "Shirley will be content."
The rich aunt stared. "Humph!" she sniffed, "You're not even grown up. On your own head be it!"
Shirley took some risks in inviting these visits. The picture David had got had her and Maizie living in dingy rooms, marks of hardship and privation thick around them. In fact, he found her a charming hostess in a cozy little apartment, comfortably furnished, with pretty dishes on the table and even a few pictures on the walls. And clearly, to eyes that saw, it was homely faithful Maizie whose arduous but well-paid secretaryship financed this menage; Maizie who, returning home tired from her long day, got the dinner; Maizie who washed the dishes, that Shirley's hands might not be spoiled, and did the mending when the weekly wash came back. Shirley set the table, sewed on jabots and did yards of tatting. Her "work" consisted of presiding over the reference room of a public library, telling shabby uninteresting young men where to find works on evolution and Assyrian temples and Charlemagne. This position was hers because her rich aunt's husband had political influence and her salary, together with the checks from Aunt Clara—not so big as the latter would have had David suppose but still not to be sneezed at—generally went to buy "extras," little luxuries working girls do not often enjoy.
But David was in love; he saw only the mistress of his heart. And Shirley, who had the habit of contrasting what she had with what she wanted to have, did not see any risk incurred.
"It's been such a grind to-day," she sighed, one afternoon when David went to the library to escort her home. "Fussing half the day with a long-haired Dutchman who wanted to know all about the origin of fire worship. Why should any one want to know about the origin of fire worship?"
David didn't know, but thought it a shame she had to fuss with long-haired Dutchmen.
"It's so deadly dull," she went on in the same plaintive voice. "Oh, David, you don't know what a rescuer you are, taking me away from this. I'll be so happy when we're in our own little home and I'll be dependent again."
David's emotions were too deep for words but he gave her a look more eloquent than speech.
The experts are in accord as to the purblindness of love. No scales fell from his eyes, even when Maizie, on his next to last visit, made an occasion for a serious chat.
"David," she suggested a little timidly, "don't you think you and Shirley had better wait a little longer?"
He laughed at the notion. "Do you think we're not sure of ourselves?"
"Oh, no! I've no doubts there. Just until you're a little better fixed financially."
He shook his head decidedly. "Things are going pretty well with me now. And I've got to get Shirley out of this awful grind at the library."
Maizie smiled faintly. "It isn't hard. Not so very hard, that is," she amended hastily. "It wouldn't hurt her to stay there a little while longer. You see," picking her words very carefully, "Shirley isn't—she's such a dear we've all petted her a good deal—and maybe spoiled her a little. She hasn't had to give up much that she wanted. People like to do things for her and give her things and save her from things. I think she doesn't quite realize how much has been done for her."
"Do you think that is quite just?" David was very grave. "She is very appreciative of what you've done for her."
Maizie flushed under the reproof. "Oh, yes," she went bravely on, "she's a dear about that. That's one reason why every one likes to do things for her. What I meant was, I don't think she quite realizes how important it has been to her. You see, she has never had to face any real trials. If any came, they would be very real trials to her. And I'm not sure just what she—just how she—" Poor Maizie, torn between loyalty to and fear for her Shirley, floundered miserably and fell into an ashamed silence.
"You don't know how brave Shirley is. Sisters are apt to be that way, I suppose." Poor Maizie! She flushed again and hung her head in shame because she had dared to suggest, however gently, a latent flaw in Shirley. "What you forget is, we have something that makes other things of no account. And besides, trials are just what you make them. If you look at them just as an adventure, part of a big splendid fight you're making, they become very simple—you can even get fun out of them. And that's what we're going to do."
Maizie, with a sigh, yielded the point. But, "David," she said earnestly, "promise me one thing, won't you?"
"Of course, Maizie. Anything but the one."
"Then, if anything happens and if you should happen to mislay those spectacles and—by mistake, of course—put on another pair, you won't judge her too harshly, will you? Just say, 'It's all the fault of that homely old Maizie, who didn't teach Shirley to take life so seriously as she ought to have done.' You'll say that—and think it—won't you?"
David laughed at the absurd notion. "That's easy to promise."
They were married in May, on a night when the wind howled and the rain drove fiercely. The rich aunt gave Shirley the wedding, in the big house on the hill, and intimated that therewith the term of her largess had expired. All of Shirley's home friends were there, exuberantly gay and festive, making merry because two lives were to be mated, as though that were a light matter. The Jim Blaisdells and Dick Holden, who was to be best man, were there thinking of David.
In the room reserved for the groom Dick turned from the mirror where he had been complacently regarding his gardenia, and caught a glimpse of David's face.
"I say, old man, what's wrong? Funk? Cheer up. It'll soon be over."
"It isn't that."
Over David it had suddenly come that the mating of lives is not a light matter. Standing at a window, he had caught from the storm a vague presage of perils and pitfalls approaching, through and around which he must be guide for another. That other was very, very dear to him. The thought set him to quaking. It was the first responsibility he had had in all his life.
Then quick upon the thought surged a wave of deep poignant tenderness for her to whom he must be guide.
There was a tap at the door, answered by Dick.
"They're ready. All right, old man?"
"All right," David said. "I'm ready."
A minute later he stood waiting, while the old music rolled from the organ. A slender veiled figure appeared in a doorway. The mist in his eyes cleared away. Very steadily he took her. . . . .
They entered their machine amid a shower of rice and old slippers. He caught her close to him and held her, silent. After a while he felt a sob shake her.
"Why, dearest, crying!"
"Oh, David, be good to me! I'm afraid. A girl gives so much. Be good to me always!"
He drew her closer, if that were possible.
"Of course, Shirley—always. You mustn't be frightened. It's the storm. In the morning the sun will be shining and things will seem different."
And sure enough, in the morning the sun was shining and things seemed different.
The perils and pitfalls appeared. But they were not seen for what they were. As a guide David left something to be desired.
Very carefully the lovers had planned the disbursement of their income: so much for rent, so much for the household and "extras," so much for David's down-town expenses. A limited amount was set for the furnishing of their home-to-be. With many declarations that love made up for all lacks and with many tiltings of Shirley's pretty chin, they had vowed to adhere rigidly to this budget.
But the choice of the abode of so much love and happiness had been put off until after the brief honeymoon, that Shirley might share the fun of house-hunting. They thought it would be fun.
It was not.
That week, as they inspected an indefinite number of apartments of as many degrees of shabbiness and general undesirableness, Shirley's spirits and chin fell steadily. David's heart, seeing, fell with them.
"Discouraged?" he asked at the end of the last day's hunt.
She nodded wearily. "Landlords are pigs. They want so much for so little. Are you sure there's nothing else we can look at?"
"I'm afraid not. I've gone through the lists thoroughly."
"I wouldn't mind being shabby, if it weren't for the neighborhoods."
She was tired. Her lip quivered. His heart misgave him. He tried to be gay.
"Oh, let's forget it for a while. Let's go out to the club and play nine holes and then have a little twosome at dinner out there."
They went. Low spirits rose on the scented May breeze. The dinner was a success. Afterward they met friends, who were regaled with a humorous account of the week's adventures.
The friends, of course, made suggestions. One in particular knew "the very thing you want, and really absurdly cheap." She was enthusiastic in description. Then the rental was named—fifteen dollars a month more than the budget allowed. David made a great show of taking the address and promised to inspect the "find" on the morrow.
"Let's really see it," Shirley suggested, as they rode home on the front seat of a trolley-car.
"We'd better not," said David, clinging desperately to a dwindling remnant of caution.
"Not to take it, of course. Only to remind us that there are pretty places in the world—waiting for us later on." She snuggled closer to him.
In the morning, of course, they saw the apartment. And it was almost uncanny, Shirley declared, how exactly it matched what she had had in mind. She proceeded to place in fancy David's chairs and desk and lamps, the dining-room furniture that was to be Maizie's wedding gift and the mahogany bedroom suite the Jim Blaisdells had given them. She went into ecstasies over the china closet, the dainty bathroom, the clean convenient kitchen.
"David, can't you see it? With a few small rugs and plain inexpensive curtains and the pictures we have it would be a gem. We'd never feel shabby here. And with the hardwood floors and tiled bath and that kitchen the housework would be so easy." She sighed rapturously.
"We'd better get away. My mouth is beginning to water. I'm sorry, dear." He kissed her to prove it. "But we oughtn't even to consider it."
But at the door she stopped and looked back—a risky business, as Lot's wife once proved. She surveyed the place with a lingering wishful glance.
"I wonder if we couldn't make up the difference in rent by cutting down somewhere else. We could cut the extras in half. And I won't need any new clothes for a whole year—not a single stitch. By that time—" She paused, as it seemed for a reply.
"Do you want it so much, Shirley?"
"Oh, if we only could do it, David!"
David, too, did sums in subtraction and found that, with care, he could cut his expenses down-town.
They took the apartment.
In fact, there came a time when David remembered, with a sickening qualm, that in almost every item they had stepped little or far beyond the limits of their budget. They did it because the disappointment written on Shirley's pretty face when something on which she had set her heart seemed beyond their reach, was more than he could bear.
But the old cat was still playing. It was a "boom year": the beginning, said the wise statesmen and newspapers, of an era of unprecedented prosperity. The city was growing rapidly. Architects' services were in demand. David's business continued good. Among his clients was a gambling contractor who shaved his architects' fees but made up for that by the largeness of his operations. There seemed to be no need of cutting down "extras." They were not cut down.
It was on the whole a cloudless year. There were, to be sure, a few little quarrels, impatient words sharply answered, but there was also the exquisite joy of harmony restored. There were occasions when David found Shirley in tears, both cake or roast and fingers burned; occasions which he made festive by carrying her off to the club for dinner. There were evenings at the theater and concerts, gifts impulsively bought and rewarded with kisses, little household purchases that gave a pleasure out of all proportion to their cost, as it seemed at the time. But there were never any doubts, nor any fears. For all their demands there was money. The handicap of debt under which they had started was even a little diminished. As for rainy days—but why should happy young love take thought of them?
On their first anniversary they gave a dinner in the apartment, twelve covers with flowers and all the wedding silver on display and a caterer's man to serve. Shirley, in a new gown, was at her loveliest, beaming with the happiness of hospitality prettily dispensed. When the last guest was gone, they turned out all the lights but one shaded lamp, she found a seat on his knee, snuggled close to him, and they fell into a long silence.
After a while she stirred. "It's been a wonderful year, hasn't it?"
"You express the sense of the meeting, dear."
"Being poor isn't so bad, after all, is it?"
"Not bad at all, I find." He took up the catechism. "You haven't once regretted that Sam Hardy chap, have you? With all his money—let's see, was it millions or billions?"
"Hush!" She laid a hand over his lips. "Not even in fun. That's almost profane."
There was another silence, broken at length by a contented chuckle from David.
"Am I doing anything specially ridiculous?" she murmured sleepily from his shoulder.
"I was just remembering. A year ago tonight I was frightened almost into a faint. I thought living together might turn out to be hard."
"And we know that is perfectly absurd."
You must excuse them. If they had been lovers out of a book, they would have talked in dithyrambs or long perfervid paragraphs. Since they were real, they could bear witness to their happiness only by spooning and being a little bit silly. But—it was part of their happiness—they did not know they were silly.
The beginning of the second year was like unto the first. But the witch was biding her time. Toward the end of that year the sky darkened and the winds howled roughly around the house of love. Sometimes the designer of this pretty abode—if he was the designer—bethought him to look to its foundations. But they seemed strong and safe.
In the first place, there was a sudden falling-off of new business. It was so with others than David. Only a temporary slump, said the wise statesmen and newspapers, due to trivial causes and not long to interrupt the era of prosperity. Jim Blaisdell shook his head and advised his friends to prepare for heavy weather. The reception of his counsel made him growl, "Asses!"—a sweeping epithet that included David, who was not so deeply troubled as he should have been. Unfinished commissions kept him reasonably busy, and when they were concluded others would come to meet his needs. They always had; therefore, they always would. David was content with this logic.
In the second place, a baby was coming. And many and elaborate were the preparations for this momentous event. Countless stitches must be taken, a serious number of dollars spent, that the prettiest layette possible might await the coming mite. But Shirley, in one of her soft house dresses, head bent over her dainty stitching or laying out before him for the hundredth time the tiny articles she had collected or her friends donated, made too pretty a picture; he had not the heart to ruffle it with discussions of economy. And when, her time drawing near, she complained of the work in the flat, a maid was installed. He was glad summer was coming; his overcoat was getting shabby and he felt he could not afford a new one.
For despite his optimism David was beginning to take thought of the morrow. And this leads to our tertium.
Sometimes he had moments of restiveness, so vague and fleeting that he could not define them, under what he did not know. There were times when little criticisms of Shirley would pop maliciously into his mind, never worded, hastily banished and always followed by a reaction of shame that he should have become critical even in thought at such a time. To correct this disquieting tendency he took medicine for his liver.
And growing upon him was his joy in his work: not the old boyish enthusiasm at the thought of ultimate recognition, nor yet the later gratification that he was earning money against their needs, but a deep-seated content merely to be in it, an almost personal affection for the sketches which, after a lapse, had once more begun to multiply. Gently overruling Shirley's protests, he had taken to sitting up late of nights after she had retired. Then in the pregnant silence of midnight he would sit before his easel, smoking furiously and occasionally making a light swift stroke, until the clock struck one or two or even three. Many nights would pass thus, and there on the easel would stand a restful little chapel or a noble cathedral, with separate sketches for details such as doors or rood screen or altar, the very presentment of which, if only in black-and-white, filled him with a solemn worshipful glow. He did not hug himself or say that "they" would have to come to him yet, but would pat the sketch lingeringly, thinking, "I'd like to see you real."
The next evening he would show the completed sketch to Shirley, who would give it a cursory glance and say:
"It's very pretty. I wish some one would let you build it. It would be a big commission, wouldn't it?"
"Yes," he would answer, with a slight sinking of his heart. For some reason he would tuck the sketch away in the big portfolio and hastily change the subject.
One evening the house shook in the wind. It was after dinner and David was opening a new book he had brought home, a bulky volume bearing the formidable title, Ecclesiastical Architecture Since the Renaissance. Shirley found a seat as close as possible to him and began.
"David, I have a confession to make." A smile proclaimed her assurance of absolution.
"Yes," he smiled back.
"I broke a rule. I—had something charged."
"Oh, Shirley, when we—"
"But wait until you see what it is. Then scold me if you can."
She led him into another room where on a bed reposed a hooded wicker basket, lined and covered in silk—blue for a boy—with fine lace trimmings. She awaited his verdict.
"It's very pretty. But— How much was it?"
She named the price.
He whistled. "Wouldn't something cheaper have done as well?"
"David, you ought to be ashamed of yourself." Her indignation was three-fourths in earnest. "I'd be ashamed not to get Davy Junior the very best of everything. It's the duty of parents to get their children the very best of everything."
"The best they can afford, yes. But— However, it's here and the only thing to do is to pay for it. I'll send a check in the morning."
He returned to the living-room. Shirley followed. He stood for a long minute by the table, looking down at the new book. Then he restored it to its wrappings.
"What are you doing?"
"I think I'll not keep it, after all."
"What is it?"
"A book I wanted for some cathedral sketches I'm making."
She studied his face intently.
"David Quentin, do you mean to say you begrudge things for Davy Junior, when you can buy expensive books for plans nobody will ever want?"
A retort sprang to his lips—that professional knowledge is always an asset. But the words did not fall. Nor did it seem worth while to tell her that for three weeks he had had his lunches over a dairy counter to save money for the book. Instead he mustered a smile.
"As you see, we're keeping the bassinet and the book goes back."
She saw only the smile. "Why, we almost had a tiff, didn't we. Brrr!" She pretended to shiver. "And you know we mustn't have them, because they'd have a bad effect on Davy Junior."
So that squall passed, and they talked of Davy Junior. And Davy Junior—they were sure it was to be a boy—was already a personage in that household, a hope and a love in which both shared.
But long after Shirley had gone to bed David sat thinking of the episode. One of the little criticisms, quite definite now, lingered: a suspicion that Shirley's words were not always pearls of wisdom, that her attitude was a little too possessive, her demands upon his time and thought and scanty store of money a trifle less than reasonable sometimes. Sternly he crushed the suspicion back.
"It must be that I'm settling down. The novelty's wearing off. And I suppose, having no one but myself to think of for so long, I did get to be pretty selfish. I must be very careful." But somehow the argument did not quite convince. "I wish— Maybe when the baby comes Shirley will take things a little more"—he halted before the word so disloyal—"sensibly." . . .
Davy Junior and the panic came at the same time.
And with them came Worry.
The wise statesmen and newspapers offered many explanations of the panic. But explanations could not soften the grim fact. Ruin stalked through the land, and its ghostly twin, Fear. Men who had been accounted rich, men who had been rich, heard the approach of the fearsome twain and trembled. And what shall be said of their dependents, the small fry, earners of salaries, young men of the professions, who saw incomes curtailed or cut off; to whom frank poverty would have been almost a relief but who must, as habit and the custom, of their kind decreed, keep up their sham and shabby gentility?
Business was at a standstill. The city ceased to expand. There was no building. Dick Holden closed his desk and locked his office door.
"There'll be nothing doing in our line for some while. I'm going to Europe for two or three months to learn something about architecture. Better pack up your family and come along, Davy."
David laughed grimly. "My Dickybird, you're quite a joker."
Trips to Europe!—when the apartment was a miniature hospital. Davy Junior was sickly. Shirley's strength came back slowly. For six weeks the trained nurse stayed, ordering expensive things for her patients.
Anxiously David saw his scanty resources dwindling fast. One by one his old commissions were paid and disappeared down the hopper of household expenses. He took to thinking of what would happen when the commissions were all paid, and to haunting Fisher's office. Fisher was his contractor client and owed him five hundred dollars. But Fisher always put him off.
In the meantime the dairy lunch became a habit. He smoked only a pipe now. The books he loved and needed, little things he used to think were necessaries, were foregone. He thought wistfully of the indulgences he might have gone without in the past.
Fisher continued to put him off. Then Worry began to shadow David by day, to share his pillow at night. If Fisher, like so many others, should fail—! But with an effort he concealed the unbidden guest from Shirley. With her he was always cheery, ready with quip and laugh, teasing her over her devotion to that red-faced bit of humanity, hight Davy Junior. And in truth, the sight of her, still weak and fragile but happy in the possession of her baby, would give him a fresh courage. Things couldn't happen to hurt her, he assured himself. For her, for them; he would weather the storm—somehow. "Why," thus he would snub intrusive Worry, "we've got Fisher, anyhow. When he pays, we'll simply make it last until business picks up." . . . .
The doctor's bill and word that Fisher had gone into bankruptcy reached him by the same mail. Dazed and trembling, he got out his bank-book and tried to strike a balance; the figures danced crazily before him. But too well he knew that slender sum! He could see barely a month ahead.
He walked home that evening, to get a new grip on his courage. He found Shirley almost breathless with excitement.
She waved a letter before him. "You can have two guesses to what's in it."
But David was unequal even to one guess just then.
"It's from Aunt Clara. She wants me to take the baby out there for two or three weeks. You don't mind, do you, David?"
"Do you want to go so much?"
"I'm just crazy to have them see Davy Junior. And I haven't seen Maizie and auntie and the rest of them for so long. And I think the change will do me good. I get tired so easily, you know."
This last was a convincing argument and quite true. "I know. But I'm afraid, dear, we can't afford it."
"Is business so bad?"
"It's pretty slow—-and getting no better."
"Hasn't that Fisher man paid up yet?"
He hesitated. But he could not find the heart—perhaps it was courage he lacked—to break his evil tidings to her.
"I'd like to shake him. But he must pay soon. And anyhow," she reverted to the original topic, "it wouldn't cost so much. There'd be only railroad fare and in two weeks—or maybe three—we'd save that in house expenses. We could let the maid go, you know."
He caught at that straw. "And maybe, when you come back, you'll be strong enough to get along without her—for a while?"
"Maybe." Her tone lacked assurance. "We'll try it, anyhow."
Two mornings later David stood on a platform and watched a train pull slowly out of the shed. Then he gulped twice, sternly set his teeth together and walked swiftly to his office.
Shirley and the baby stayed, not two weeks nor three, but five. There were other expenses than railroad fare, just what her letters did not set out in detail. Twice she had to write to David for money; in the midst of riches she found it hard to economize. Still David, by taking his meals at a cheap boarding-house, managed to save a little.
In other ways the trip was a great success. Shirley's letters were glowing. She was getting stronger every day. She could lie deliciously in bed all morning, if she chose. Aunt Clara had a nurse for the baby. The weather was fine and there was motoring daily. All her old friends came to see her with warm words of welcome on their lips. Among them was Sam Hardy.
"He is very nice. (But you mustn't think anything of that. Every man I see makes me glad I married my David.) He has a gorgeous new machine and takes us all out. He gets his clothes made in New York now. Such good times as we're having!" And down in one corner of the last page was, "If only you were here!"
"P. S.," popped into his mind. But very sternly he drove it out, calling himself hard names. Ought he not be glad that Shirley was having a good time?
"I am glad. Poor dear! It's going to be very hard for her if things don't get better soon. You see," he explained to himself, "in some things Shirley hasn't quite grown up yet, just as Maizie said, and good times mean so much to her."
He sat down and wrote her the cheeriest letter he could compose.
He himself felt old enough to interest an antiquarian. Before Shirley came back he felt older, with nothing to do but sit idly in his office, figuring his bank balance for the thousandth time or working over some of his old sketches, jumping nervously every time the door opened. (But the visitor always turned out to be some one who wanted to sigh and groan in company over the hard times.) Of evenings in the apartment, which grew dustier and lonelier every day, he would write his letter to Shirley, mail it and then get out his easel. Frowning with determination, he would put and keep his mind firmly on a new idea for a Norman Gothic cathedral, until, about midnight, worry and loneliness would steal away and leave him with the swiftly growing sketch.
Shirley's visit ended at last. David was pacing up and down the platform a full hour before her train was due. In the street-car that evening people smiled kindly at the pretty little family group—the gravely smiling young man who held the baby so awkwardly, the pretty wife bubbling over with joy in the reunion and with accounts of the good times she had been having.
Afterward, when Davy Junior had had his bottle and closed his eyes, Shirley dusted off one chair and they sat down in it.
"Now tell me about yourself and business and everything."
So, finding it harder than he had thought it could be, he told her of the panic and what it meant to them. She listened with a pretty air of taking it all in and making ready to meet the situation.
When his account was ended, she pushed herself back to look into his eyes.
"David, when did you know about that Fisher man?"
"The day you got your aunt's letter." David flushed as though he had done something shameful.
Her eyes filled with tears. "And you kept it from me so my visit wouldn't be spoiled, and stayed here worrying by yourself while I was out there having a good time. Oh, David— Oh, David! Well," she got to her feet and stood upright before him, "I'll tell you this much. Let the old panic come on—I'm not afraid. We'll make out somehow. And we won't worry either. What if we do have to give up things? We have each other—and Davy Junior—and nothing else counts."
They repeated in chorus. "We have each other and Davy Junior and nothing else counts."
They were very happy just then and so it was easy to be brave.
ON THE SANDS
In a few months the first stress of the panic lifted. The worry creases between men's eyes were being ironed out. A few who had money, taking advantage of cheap labor and materials, began to build. Dick Holden came home, with a trunkful of presents for his friends and another of English clothes for himself, and at once became busy.
The Quentins were still hanging on—"by a frog's hair," David said. But they had paid. It always costs to survive.
They had paid, despite their brave words, in the coin of worry. More than once David had jingled a few coins in his pocket, wondering where he could add to them on the morrow and when he had borrowed how he could repay.
But they had paid with a bigger price than that. The pretty flower of romance was withering in the shade. The cozy little times, when one chair did for both and they became beautifully silly, were fewer and briefer now. When they tucked Davy Junior in at night and whispered that he was almost too bright to be healthy, shadowing their pride was the chill cloud of fear that he, too, might have to feel the pinch. Often they moved restlessly about the apartment or sat listlessly yawning, wishing there were something to do. And sometimes, without warning, quarrels would blaze, over nothing at all. It is so easy to mislay your temper when worry is gnawing at your heart, and perhaps you don't try very hard to find it. David always had to find his first, but the making up was never quite perfect.
And, though their well-to-do friends were beginning to talk of new model cars and going abroad once more, the Quentins continued to be hard up. David seemed to have struck a dead level. One month business would be pretty good; the next he would make almost nothing. But the average was always the same, and always a little less than they spent. The note at Jim Blaisdell's bank and the little loans from Dick Holden kept slowly piling up, and though neither Jim nor Dick ever dunned him, the thought of his debts weighed heavily on David's heart.
It was worse than if they had had a steady income. They were kept zigzagging between hope and disappointment, and when they had money, it was often spent foolishly. David did his best to save. His suits and overcoat had shiny spots. He smoked only cheap tobacco that burned his tongue. He gave up even the dairy lunch, saying that two meals a day were enough for any man. He walked, rain or shine, to and from his office, and bought no more books. But the sum of these savings seemed pitifully small. Shirley, too, did without things during the lean months. But when a fee came in she could never say no to her wants.
"We must have this. We must do that," she would say.
"Dear, don't you think we'd better go slow?" he would venture.
"Oh, what's the use of having money, if not to get what we want?"
"We could use it to pay a little to Jim and—"
"Oh, let Jim and Dick wait. They can afford it. I've had to do without so much I think I've a right to this little spree. And I hate to wait for things. If I wait, they lose all their fun."
It always ended in her having her own way. But sometimes David wondered whether she would have lost interest in him, too, if she had had to wait.
For he saw that another goblin had come unbidden into their home: Discontent. He had learned to seek and always found the wistful look with which she regarded their callers' pretty gowns or heard tales of jolly dinners at the club. (Months ago the club had been dropped.) And he knew that in her heart she was drawing comparisons.
Once she said, "It wasn't like this when Maizie and I were together." She did not guess the barb she left quivering in his heart.
Dick Holden was making no such heavy weather of it. He was even so busy that little odds and ends of his work were turned over to David, crusts for which the latter was as grateful as the Lazaruses always have been. But this suggested another comparison to Shirley.
"Dick Holden gets business and makes money, and everybody says he's not half so clever as you. How does he do it?"
"He works people for their business."
"Then why don't you do that?"
"I don't know how. And if I did know, I couldn't, anyhow. The people that come to me come because they have confidence in my ability. If they don't have confidence, I couldn't work them because—I just couldn't, that's all."
"You're too thin-skinned. If I were a man I'd make them come to me, and then I'd teach them to have confidence—the way Dick Holden does."
"Dick Holden's way, somebody else's, never mine," he thought bitterly, "is always the best."
But he did not let her see him wince. Instead, he said gently, "In the long run it's not the sound way. If I do good work, some day people will realize it and come to me. And I do good work," he cried, not to boast, but because their courage needed a tonic, "and some day when I get my chance I'll do far finer."
She smiled wearily. "Some day! It's always some day. Why don't you make your chance—as Dick does?"
That talk rankled in David's heart long after Shirley had forgotten it. She could say such things and forget them in an hour. But her comparisons never angered him, only hurt. He tried to be just, and blamed himself for their predicament. If he had been wise and firm at the beginning, when the temptations to indulgences came, they could have escaped these troublous waters. Firmness now seemed only cruel.
"You see," he would explain to himself, trying to believe, "she's really only a child still. It is very hard on her. If I said no to things now, she wouldn't understand. I must just make it as easy as possible for her—somehow." But he sighed, "If only we could give up this apartment and live cheaply and—and honestly until we're on our feet. If only she'd look at it that way!"
He had suggested that to Shirley once—but only once. "Oh, no!" she had cried. "That would be a confession to everybody. It would be humiliating, more than I could bear. We've got to keep this apartment and not let people know we're hard up."
They thought people did not know.
So it went for nearly two years. You must not think there were no happy times, hours or days or even weeks when they took joy in their love and Davy Junior; though more and more these times lost their wonderfulness and the power to charm away the grisly goblin Care. But the ugly or weary or despondent hours bulked largest in David's mind because he took them so keenly to heart. Yet, though his debts slowly grew, and he was always a month behind in his office and apartment rent, he did not lose faith in himself; he gave his very best to the little business he had and worked away at his sketches, which grew better all the time. (It hurt him more than a little that Shirley took no interest in them.) And though he saw clearly that she had faults, even as you and I, he did not lose faith in Shirley nor cease to love her. Often at nights, especially after there had been a quarrel, he stole away from his sketching to the room where she slept with the baby by her side and lightly kissed her hair or an outflung arm. Then the old tender protective impulse swept over him; he wished he were the sort of man that could give her all the things she wanted, thinking that the way to prove a love.
Then a "chance" came. Or, rather, he tried to make one. A rich parish decided that it could best honor God by building a new church, finer and costlier than anything else in the city, and invited several architects to submit plans. David entered the competition, not by the adroit methods Dick Holden practised, but in the simple open-handed fashion which alone was possible to him. He went to the chairman of the building committee.
"Will you let me submit plans?" he asked.
"I suppose so," Bixby said carelessly, eying his caller dubiously.
For David, though he had carefully pressed his trousers for the occasion, was getting to be a little shabby. If you looked close you saw that his cuffs were trimmed, his necktie was threadbare and his shoes were run down at the heels. And he had not the look that speaks of success. Seeing him, Bixby did not think as people had used to think, "This is a young man who will do big things some day."
"When must the plans be filed?"
The chairman told him, and added, "You understand, of course, they have to be bang-up—up-to-date in every particular, and impressive?"
"Some things," David said gravely, "are so beautiful that they are up-to-date in every age. And real beauty is always impressive because it is so rare."
"Humph!" said Bixby, and dismissed his caller.
David set to work that very night, going over all his old sketches in search of the best. And because none of them had ever quite satisfied him, he discarded them all. He began a new series of sketches, sitting up at nights long after he should have been asleep. He discarded these, too. For this idea must be so very good that the committee couldn't help accepting it.
"I think," he told himself often, "I have reached the point where I can do something really worth while."
One night when he had gone reluctantly to bed, sleep would not come. For a long while he lay staring at a white patch of moonlight on the floor.
Suddenly he sat up, sprang out of bed and, still in his pajamas, sat down before his easel.
In the morning Shirley found him there, looking raptly at the completed sketch.
"David Quentin, what in the name of common sense are you doing here?"
"Look!" he whispered, almost in awe. "This is it."
Shirley looked. And she, who had picked up a little knowledge of architecture from him, knew that it was good.
"Do you think," she asked, "do you think it really has a chance?"
"Shirley, it's so good I can hardly believe it came out of my head. Maybe it didn't, but just passed through coming from—somewhere."
He was thinking it was an inspiration. . . . Well, since then many men who ought to know have thought and said the same thing about that church.
For two months he toiled every spare moment of the day and in the still watches of the night, elaborating that first rough sketch, working out details, which came to him as of their own accord, making beautiful plans and elevations and long sheets of specifications. He gave to the work enthusiasm, patience and stern criticism. In return it gave him a new faith in himself. And hope. He knew he would not fail in this.
It was not really hard work. For, as the weeks sped by, there grew up in his heart a love for the thing to which he was giving birth, deep, warm and abiding, a love that counted no hour of labor too heavy, no task too exacting. He did not care to think of the day when the work must pass out of his hands.
A little of his ardor entered into Shirley. She, too, hoped. She thought of the fee such a commission would bring, of the release from care and the good times that fee would buy. Sometimes she had a glimpse of the new love growing up in David's heart, but, though she did not wholly like that, she gave it no serious thought.
"Would you mind coming back to me?" she asked one evening, thus bringing him out of a smiling brown study.
"I was just thinking what it would feel like to see the church real."
"Don't you ever think of the money it will bring?"
"That, too, sometimes. But I never knew before how much the work—just being in it, you know—means to me."
"That's very temperamental," she said with a shrug. "Sometimes I believe you think more of your work than you do of your family."
"I love you both," he answered gently. "And I don't love you and Davy Junior less because I think so much of the work."
It was a fleeting shadow. Those months of preparation and hope were the happiest they had had since the panic began.
Only once did his faith waver. It was on the day when Dick Holden, a roll of plans under his arm, came into the office.
"Davy, are you too busy to do a little job for me?"
That was the formula Dick, who was very thoughtful in little things, always used when he turned work over to David.
"I guess I can make room—with crowding." That was the reply David, with a smile only half humorous, always made. "What is it?"
"I want you to make one of your pretty-pretty pictures of some church plans I'm making."
David looked up quickly. "Let's see the plans."
Dick spread them out on the table. David glanced over them hastily.
"You're trying for it with that?"
"Even so." Dick laughed. Dick at that stage of his career laid no claims to genius. "But I know what I'm doing. I've been talking with old man Bixby."
David looked up again.
"Dick, it's fair to tell you that I'm trying for that St. Christopher's job myself."
"Meaning you'd rather not make pretty-pretty pictures for a competitor?"
"No. I mean you'd be wasting your money."
David drew out his original sketch and laid it before Dick.
Dick looked—and looked again. He leaned over and studied it intently, his eyes widening and shining. Suddenly with a queer gesture he rose and went to a window. He stood there, back turned to David, for several minutes.
When he turned a flush was on his face and he found it hard to meet David's questioning eyes.
"Davy, it's good. It's damn good. It's so much better than mine that I can't find a comparison. I know just enough architecture to be sure of that. I take off my hat to you. But it's fair to tell you—it won't win."
"I'm going to win."
"With that?" David nodded toward Dick's plans.
"I'm giving old Bixby what he wants, and I'm—" Dick made gestures of pulling wires.
David was silent.
"Maybe," Dick went on after a moment, "you think I oughtn't to work this game against you. And maybe I oughtn't. But if I didn't somebody would beat us both out. They're all working it. It's the only game that pays nowadays. And besides, I need the money. It isn't out yet, but I'm going to be married—and she's used to a lot of money. I've been doing pretty well, but if I land this job I'll be fixed and able to give her the things she deserves. Do you blame me, old man?"
A troubled smile was on David's lips. "Not wholly, Dick."
There was another silence, awkward now, and then Dick began to move toward the door. But with his hand on the knob he turned.
"Davy, why don't you play the game? You've got the stuff. If you only could put it across, if you had the punch, you could go any distance. I—I'm not quite big enough to step down for a better man, but I'd rather have you beat me than any other man alive. Why don't you try it?"
The troubled smile lingered. "I can't, old man."
David did not hear the door close. For a long time he sat staring vaguely at his sketch.
But that night, when he was alone with his work once more, the old faith rushed back into his heart. Dick was wrong—he must be wrong! The committee were honorable men; they held a position of trust. Surely they could see how much better his plans were than Dick's. And surely they could not be tricked into passing them by for a hodgepodge that would only bring ridicule down upon their church.
He was ashamed that he had lost faith, even for a day.
Toward the end of the two months Shirley began to grow a little impatient with his industry.
"Will it never be finished?" she would sigh plaintively. "You never have any time to spare for me any more."
"You see," he would explain, "there are so many details to be worked out in a thing like this, and I mustn't slur over any of them. We must make it the best we can. And it will soon be done."
But a little throb of regret would clutch his heart as he said that.
And one evening he did come to the end, the illustrative sketches complete, the beautiful plans all made, the last calculation for the specifications set down.
"There! It's done."
He propped a sketch on the easel and leaned back, sighing.
Shirley looked up from her novel. "Thank goodness—at last! Are you sure you've made it the very best you can?"
"Yes." He looked long at the sketch, a strange wistfulness in his eyes. "Sometimes I wonder if I shall ever do as well again."
"Suppose it shouldn't win, after all?"
"Oh, don't!" he cried. "Don't suggest that—just now."
She caught the sudden sharp pain in his voice and looked at him wonderingly.
"Why, what's the matter?"
"Nothing," he answered, his voice gone dull now. "I guess I've been working harder than I thought and am pretty tired."
"You'd better go to bed early and get a good sleep."
"Yes," he said, "I'm going to do that."
But he did not do that. Instead, for the last time, he stayed up until nearly morning in the company of his completed work. It was as if he watched the night out with a loved one who in the morning must go upon a long uncertain journey. . . . This also Shirley, had she known, would have called very temperamental.
For a month they waited, a feverish, anxious but always hopeful month, for the committee's decision.
And then one morning as he sat idly in his office an errand boy came, under his arm a long round parcel.
"Mr. Bixby sent me with this."
When the boy was gone David quickly ripped open the parcel. It contained his sketches and plans. With them was a note.
"As we have accepted the plans submitted by Mr. Richard Holden, we return yours herewith. Thanking you for. . . ."
The rest was a dancing blur. . . .
It was mid-afternoon when he rose from his table. The first dizzying shock had passed, but a dull unceasing ache was left and he was very tired. He tried to smile, to gather together the tatters of his courage and faith, but he could not think of the future. When he tried to think of Shirley a sickening qualm rushed over him, leaving him weak and nerveless.
"Poor Shirley!" he muttered. "How can I tell her? Poor Shirley!"
Mechanically he put on his hat and overcoat and went out. It was storming. He had no umbrella, and if he had had one it would have been but scanty shelter against the driving rain. But he did not care. He was even glad of the storm and the discomfort of wet feet and clothes.
For an hour he splashed aimlessly through the city's streets. Then he turned slowly but doggedly homeward.
"Poor Shirley!" he kept saying to himself. "I mustn't let her see how it hurts. I must put a brave face on it before her."
He was half-way home when he stopped with a sudden "Oh!" that was almost a groan. A memory had cut even through his misery. It was their fourth anniversary!
He took out what money was in his pocket, counted it and tramped back through the rain until he came to a florist's. There he got a small bunch of carnations. It was all he could buy with the money he had with him, and it was too late to go to the bank—and little enough was there! He started homeward once more.
By the time the apartment was reached he had pulled himself together a little. With an effort he achieved a smile and went in.
Shirley was waiting for him. "Any word?"
He shook his head. He could not tell her just then, but he could not trust his voice with a kindly lie.
"Oh, I thought surely we'd hear to-day— You've brought something for me?"
"It isn't much."
He gave her the little box—it was rain-soaked now—and saw her face fall as she peeped within. Always he had brought her some pretty extravagance on their anniversary. But she kissed him and sent him to his room to put on dry clothes.
They sat down to dinner, a special dinner with things they both liked and could not always have. And for a while he tried to be as merry as the occasion demanded. But not for long. His tongue fumbled over his poor little jokes and his laughter was lifeless. Shirley saw.
"David, look at me."
His eyes wavered, fell, then rose doggedly to hers.
"What's the matter? Something has happened. Do you mean it's—"
"Yes, Shirley. Dick Holden won."
For a moment she stared blankly at him, then burst into a storm of weeping. In an instant his own heartache was swallowed up in sorrow for her. He sprang to her side, catching her close and petting her, begging her "not to take it so," saying foolish brave things.
The storm subsided as suddenly as it rose. With a sharp movement she pushed herself away from him and sat looking at him with eyes in which he would have said, if he could have trusted his senses just then, anger and—almost—hate were blazing.
"Shirley," he pleaded, "don't take it so. Our plans were good. It was only pull that beat us. Dick told me—"
The eyes did not change. "It doesn't matter why, does it? They didn't take them—that's all. What difference does it make if things are good when nobody will buy them? And I had hoped—"
"Dear, don't take it so," he repeated. "We must be brave. This is only a test—the hardest of all. If we're brave and keep hanging on—you remember what we used to say—"
She laughed, not her old beautiful laugh, but a shrill outpouring of her bitter disappointment.
"Oh, we said a lot of silly things. We were fools. I didn't know what it would be like." Anger—yes, and even hate—were unmistakable in that moment. She sat up sharply. "And, David, you've got to do something to change it. I'm tired of it all—sick and tired of scrimping and worrying and wearing made-over dresses and being—just shabby genteel. You've got to do something."
Every word was a knife in his heart. But he could not be angry with her; he was thinking of her disappointment.
"But, dear, I'm doing all I can. How can I—"
"You can get a position somewhere and at least have a steady income that would—"
"Why, Shirley, you don't mean—give up my profession? You couldn't mean that!"
"I mean just that. It would give us a steady income at least."
"But I can't give it up. There's more than money to working. There's being in the work you want to do and are fitted for—"
"Ah!" She turned on him fiercely. "I thought you cared more for your work than for your family. Now I know it. You would keep us poor, just so you can do the things you like to do. And what right have you to think you're fitted for it? Why can't you be sensible and see what everybody else sees—that as an architect you are—"
But she said it.
For a little he stared blindly at her. All other aches were as nothing beside this. . . . Then something within, that had sustained him since he left the office, snapped, gave way. His head and shoulders sagged forward. With a weary gesture he turned and went into the living-room.
That storm, too, passed. It had been more than half the hysteria of shattered hope. She had hardly known what she was saying. Now she remembered his eyes as she had dealt her thrust. She was a little frightened at what she had done. She waited nervously for him to come back to her; always David had been first to mend their quarrels, and Shirley thought her kisses balm to heal all wounds.
But he did not come back. In the living-room was a heavy silence.
At last she went softly to the door. He was standing by the table, still in the broken attitude, with the same dazed eyes. He did not see her.
He did not seem to hear. She went to him and put an arm around his shoulder.
"David, I didn't mean to be nasty. It really isn't your fault. I didn't mean—"
The sound of her voice brought him out of his daze. He shrank from her touch and, turning, regarded her with a queer new look that held her from him. After a little the sense of her words seemed to come to him.
"I think you did mean it," he said wearily. "And I think—I think you are quite right."
TO THE RESCUE
In the morning the world, strangely enough, was outwardly the same. Even the sun had the bad taste to shine, as though a black shadow were not on their hearts.
They went through the routine of bath and toilet and breakfast. David glanced over his newspaper and romped a bit with Davy Junior. And because he kissed her as he left for the day, Shirley supposed that the scene of the night before had been filed away with their other tiffs, in a remote pigeonhole labeled "To Be Forgotten." She was glad of that.
"And maybe," she thought hopefully, "it was a good thing I said that to him. David is clever and good and dear and all that, but the trouble is he lacks ambition and push. He needs bracing up and to take things more seriously. Perhaps it will be just as well if I take the reins for a while."
Her first act as whip was to write a long letter to Aunt Clara.
David, not guessing that the reins had been transferred to Shirley's hands—not guessing, in fact, that they had ever been out of Shirley's hands—was trudging listlessly, not to his office, but to Jim Blaisdell's bank. His note fell due that day.
"Same old story," he told Jim. "I'd like to renew, if you don't mind."
Jim fingered the note thoughtfully.
"Davy," he said at last, "don't you think it's about time to clean this up? It's been running a good while."
David flushed and his head went up. "Of course, if you'd rather not indorse—"
"Don't be a fool, Davy. It isn't that. There's nothing Mrs. Jim and I wouldn't do for you and Shirley, and you know it. What I mean is, debt's a bad habit. It grows on you and you get to a point where it doesn't worry you as it ought. And it leads to other bad habits—living beyond one's means, and so on."
David's prideful pose collapsed suddenly. "I know," he said wearily. "I'd like to clean this note up. It worries me quite enough. But the fact is—the fact is, I'm strapped and can't. We've been living from hand to mouth for a good while. And it begins to look"—David's laugh went to Jim's heart—"as if both hand and mouth would be empty soon."
"It's really as bad as that?"
"Worse than that."
Jim slowly scrawled his name across the back of a new note. David got up and crossed the office, fixing his eyes—which saw not—on a flashlight photograph of the last bankers' association banquet. He cleared his throat vigorously.
"It's worse than that. Jim—" He paused.
"Jim, you don't happen to know any one with a job—living salary attached—concealed about his person, do you?"
Jim whirled around in his swivel chair and stared hard at David's back. David continued his regard of the bankers' association banquet. "This is you in the corner, isn't it?— Because, if you know of any such job I'd be glad to take it over."
"In your own line, of course?"
"In any line. Preferably not in my line."
"But—good lord, man! You're not losing your nerve, are you—just because business has slumped a little? What about your profession?"
"As to that," David cleared his throat again, "as to that, I think we may say—safely—I haven't made good."
"Oh, piffle! You're too young a man to say a fool thing like that. If it's this note that's bothering you—" He stopped, because David had turned and Jim saw his eyes.
"The note is only part of it. But, if you don't mind, we'll not discuss it. I'll be glad if you can help me out. And I'll try to cut this loan down a little next time—somehow. I'll not keep you any longer now." David moved toward the door. "Remember us to Mrs. Jim, won't you?" And he went hastily out.
"Why, damn it!" muttered Jim, left alone. "This is bad. This is entirely too bad."
David went to a long weary day at his office, where he had nothing to do but sit at his desk and gaze into space. Shirley was mistaken. Her words had not been filed away in the remote pigeonhole, "To Be Forgotten."
For a while Jim stared frowningly at the crumpled note in his hand. Then he began a long series of telephone calls.
The thing was still on his mind that evening when Mrs. Jim descended from the children's dormitory and silence reigned at last through the house.
"You might as well out with it now as later," she observed, as she took up her sewing. "What has been bothering you all evening?"
"I've been congratulating myself on my cleverness in the matter of choosing a wife."
Mrs. Jim surveyed him suspiciously. "What put that into your head?"
"Davy Quentin—by way of contrast, I suppose."
"What about Davy?"
"I'm afraid he's got into a pretty sour pickle."
"He's been there for four years. Though he didn't always know it. What is the particular development now?"
"Debt, insolvency—in fact, genteel poverty."
"And worry, discontent and disillusionment at home. I've been afraid of that."
"He didn't say so."
"Davy wouldn't, of course."
"It must be pretty bad, for he wants to give up his profession and take a job. You know, Davy's liking for his work amounted almost to a mania."
"Does he have to give it up?"
"It doesn't meet their needs—at least, their requirements. And worst of all, he's got it into his head that he hasn't made good."
"But he has made good. He has done good work. And he has talent. Hasn't he?"
"In a way. But there's only one divine spark nowadays—push. He hasn't that. He prefers to let his work speak and push for itself. Poor Davy!"
"Poor Davy! But you'll get him a position, of course."
"There are times," remarked Jim, "when you're as innocent and credulous as Davy himself. It isn't so simple. He's fitted only for his own line. And there are very few men willing to pay a living salary to a greenhorn just for learning a business. In fact, after to-day I'm ready to say there is none."