The Side of the Angels
By BASIL KING
Author of "The Way Home," Etc.
With Frontispiece By ELIZABETH SHIPPEN GREEN
A. L. BURT COMPANY Publishers New York
Published by Arrangement with Harper & Brothers
The Side of the Angels
Copyright, 1915, 1916, by Harper & Brothers Printed in the United States of America Published February, 1916
THE SIDE OF THE ANGELS
"My lord, I am on the side of the angels."—DISRAELI.
The difficulty was, in the first place, one of date—not the date of a month or a year, but of a generation or a century. Had Thorley Masterman found himself in love with Rosie Fay in 1760, or even in 1860, there would have been little to adjust and nothing to gainsay. In 1860 the Fays were still as good as the Thorleys, and almost as good as the Mastermans. Going back as far as 1760, the Fays might have been considered better than the Thorleys had the village acknowledged standards of comparison, while there were no Mastermans at all. That is, in 1760 the Mastermans still kept their status as yeomen, clergymen, and country doctors among the hills of Derbyshire, untroubled as yet by that spirit of unrest for conscience' sake which had urged the Fays and the Thorleys out of the flat farmlands of East Anglia one hundred and thirty years before.
During the intervening period the flat farmlands remained only as an equalizing symbol. Thorleys, Fays, Willoughbys, and Brands worked for one another with the community of interests developed in a beehive, and intermarried. If from the process of intermarriage the Fays were, on the whole, excluded, the discrimination lay in some obscure instinct for affinity of which no one at the time was able to forecast the significance.
But by 1910 there was a difference, the difference apparent when out of the flat farmlands seismic explosion has thrown up a range of mountain peaks. For the expansion of the country which the middle nineteenth century had wrought, the Thorleys, Mastermans, Willoughbys, and Brands had been on the alert, with eyes watchful and calculations timed. The Fays, on the other hand, had gone on with the round of seed-time and harvest, contented and almost somnolent, awakening to find that the ages had been giving them the chances that would never come again. It was across the wreck of those chances, and across some other obstacles besides, that Thorley Masterman, for the first time since childhood, looked into the gray-green eyes of Rosie Fay and got the thrill of their wide-open, earnest beauty.
He was then not far from thirty years of age, having studied at a great American university, in Paris, Berlin, and Vienna, and obtained other sorts of knowledge of mankind. He knew Rosie Fay, in this secondary, grown-up phase of their acquaintance, as the daughter of his first patient, and he had obtained his first patient through the kindly intervention of Uncle Sim. From February to November, 1910, his "shingle" had hung in one of the two streets of the village without attracting a patient at all. He had already begun to feel his position a trial when his half-brother's daily jest turned it into a humiliation.
"Must be serious matter, Thor," Claude would say, "to be responsible for so many valuable lives."
Mr. Leonard Willoughby, his father's partner in the old "banking-and-broking" house of Toogood & Masterman, enjoyed the same sort of chaff. "Looking pale, Thor. Must be working too hard."
"Never mind, Thor," Mrs. Willoughby would encourage him. "When I'm ill you shall get me—but then I'm never ill."
At such minutes her daughter Lois could only smile sympathetically and talk hurriedly of something else. As he had meant since boyhood to marry Lois Willoughby when the moment for marriage came, Thor counted this tactfulness in her favor.
Nevertheless, he was puzzled. Having disregarded his future possession of money and prepared himself for a useful career with all the thoroughness he could command, nobody seemed to want him. It was not that the village was over-provided with doctors. Every one admitted that it wasn't—otherwise he would not have settled in his native place. The village being really a township with a scattered population—except on the Thorley estate, which was practically part of a great New England city, where there were rows of suburban streets—it was quite insufficiently served by Dr. Noonan at one end and Dr. Hill at the other, for Uncle Sim in the Old Village could scarcely be said to count. No; the opening was good enough. The trouble lay, apparently, in Thorley Masterman himself. Making all allowances for the fact that a young physician must wait patiently, and win his position by degrees, he had reason to feel chagrined. He grew ashamed to pass the little house in the Old Village which he had fitted up as an office. He grew ashamed to go out in his runabout.
The runabout had been worse than an extravagance, since, on the ground that it would take him to his patients the more quickly, he had felt justified in borrowing its price. The most useful purpose it served now was to bring Mr. Willoughby home from town when unfit to come by himself. Otherwise its owner hated taking it out of the garage, especially if Claude were in sight. Claude had envied him the runabout at first, but soon found a way to work his feeling off.
"Anybody dying, old chap?" he would ask, with a curl of his handsome lip. "Hope you'll get to him in time."
It was while in the runabout, however, in the early part of a November afternoon, that the young doctor met his uncle Sim.
"Hello, Thor!" the latter called. "Where you off to? Was looking for you."
Thor brought the machine to a standstill. Uncle Sim threw a long, thin leg over his mare's back and was on the ground. "Whoa, Delia, whoa! Good old girl!"
He liked to believe that the tall bay was spirited. Standing beside Thor's runabout, he held the reins loosely in his left hand, while the right arm was thrown caressingly over Delia's neck. The outward and visible sign of his eccentricity was in his difference from every one else. In a community—one might say a country—in which each man did his utmost to look like every other man, the fact that Simeon Masterman was willing to look like no one but himself was sufficient to prove him, in the language of his neighbors, "a little off." It was sometimes said that he suggested Don Quixote—he was so tall, so gaunt, and so eager-eyed—and, except that there was no melancholy in his face, perhaps he did.
"Got a job for you." The old man's voice was nasal and harsh without being disagreeable.
Grown sensitive, Thor was on his guard. "Not one of your jobs that are given away with a pound of tea?" he said, suspiciously.
"I don't know about the pound of tea—but it's given away. Giving it away because I can't deal with it myself. Calls for some one with more ingenuity—so I've told 'em about you."
Thor laughed. "Don't wonder you're willing to give it up, Uncle Sim."
"You'll wonder still less when you've seen the patient. By the way, it's Fay's wife. 'Member old Fay, don't you?"
The young man nodded. "Used to be Grandpa Thorley's gardener. Has the greenhouses on father's land north of the pond. Some sort of row going on between him and father now. What's she got?"
"It's not what she's got, poor woman; it's what she hasn't got. That's what's the matter with her."
"I'm afraid it's a variety of symptom I never heard of."
"No; but you'll hear of it soon. Whoa, Delia! Steady! Good girl! If you can treat it you'll be the most distinguished specialist in the country. Whoa, Delia! I'm giving you the chance to begin."
Thor wondered what was at the back of the old fellow's mind. There was generally something in what he said if you could think it out. "Since you've diagnosed the case, Uncle Sim—" he began, craftily.
"Can't I give you a tip for the treatment? No, I can't. And it wouldn't do any good if I did, because she won't take my medicine."
"Perhaps I could make her."
The old man laughed harshly. "You! That's good. Why, you'd be the first to make game of it yourself."
He had his left foot in the stirrup and his right leg over Delia's back before Thor could formulate another question. As with head thrown back he continued his amused chuckling, there was about him, in spite of his sixty years, a something irresponsible and debonair that would have pleased Franz Hals or Simon de Vos.
* * * * *
Within ten minutes Thor was knocking at the door of a small house with a mansard roof, situated in what had once been the apple-orchard of a farm. All but a sparse half-dozen of the trees had given place to lines of hothouses, through the glass of which he could see oblongs of vivid green. He was so preoccupied with the fact of paying his first visit to his first patient as scarcely to notice that the girl who opened the door was pretty. He almost ignored her.
"How do you do, Miss Fay? I'm Dr. Thorley Masterman. I believe your mother would like to see me. May I go to her at once?"
He was in the narrow hallway and at the foot of the stairs when she said: "You can go right up. But perhaps I ought to tell you that she's not—well, she's not very sick."
He looked at her inquiringly, getting the first faint impression of her beauty. "What's the matter, then?"
"That's what we don't know." After a second's hesitation she added, "Perhaps it's melancholy." Another second passed before she said, "We've had a good deal of trouble."
The tone touched him. Her way of holding her head, rather meekly, rather proudly, sufficiently averted to give him the curve of the cheek, touched him, too. "What kind of trouble?"
"Oh, every kind. But she'll tell you about it herself. It's all she'll talk about. That's why we can't do anything for her—and I don't believe you can."
"I'd better see."
Following her directions given from the foot of the stairs, he entered a barely furnished bedroom of which two sides leaned inward, to correspond to the mansard grading of the roof. One window looked out on the greenhouses, another toward Thorley's Pond. Beside the former, in a high, upholstered arm-chair, sat a tall woman, fully dressed in black, with a patchwork quilt of many colors across her knees. In spite of gray hair slightly disheveled, and wild gray eyes, she was a handsome woman who on a larger scale made him think of the girl down-stairs.
"How do you do, Mrs. Fay?" he began, feeling the burden of the situation to be on himself. "I'm Dr. Thor—"
"I know who you are," the woman said, ungraciously. "If you hadn't been a Masterman I shouldn't have sent for you."
He took a small chair, drawing it up beside her. "I know you've been treated by my uncle Sim—"
"He's a fool. Tries to heal a broken heart by feeding it on rainbows."
Thor smiled. "That's like him. And yet rainbows have been known to heal a broken heart before now."
"They won't heal mine. What I want is down on the solid earth." There was a kind of desperate pleading in her face as she added, "Why can't I have it?"
"That depends on what it is. If it's health—?"
"It's better than health."
He smiled. "I've always heard that health is pretty good, as things go—"
"It's good enough. But there's something better, and that's patience. If you've got patience you can do without health."
"I don't think you're much in need of a doctor, Mrs. Fay," he laughed.
"I am," she declared, savagely. "I am, because I 'ain't got either of 'em; and if I had I'd give them both for something else." She held him with her wild gray eyes, as she said: "I'd give 'em both for money. Money's better than patience and better than health. If I had money I shouldn't care how sick I was, or how unhappy. If I had money my son wouldn't be in jail."
Though startled, he knew that, like a confessor, he must show no sign of surprise. He remembered now that there had been a boy in the Fay family, two or three years younger than himself. "I didn't know—" he began, sympathetically.
"You didn't know, because we're not even talked about. If your brother was in jail for stealing money it's the first thing the town would tattle of. But you've been back from your travels for a year or more, and you 'ain't even heard that our Matt is doing three years at Colcord."
"But you'd rather people didn't hear it, wouldn't you?"
"I'd rather that they'd care whether I'm alive or dead," she said, fiercely. "I've lived all my life in this village, and my ancestors before me. Fay's family has done the same. But we're pushed aside and forgotten. It's as much as ever if some one will tell you that Jasper Fay raises lettuce in the winter, and cucumbers in spring, and a few flowers all the year round, and can't pay his rent. I don't believe you've heard that much. Have you?"
He dodged the subject by asking the usual professional questions and giving some elementary professional advice. "I'm afraid, Mrs. Fay, you're taking a discouraged view of life," he went on, by way of doing his duty.
She sat still more erect in her arm-chair, her eyes flashing. "If you'd seen yourself driven to the wall for more'n thirty year, and if when you got to the wall you were crushed against it, and crushed again, wouldn't you take a discouraged view of life? I've lived on bread and water, or pretty near it, ever since I was married, and what's come of it? We're worse off than we ever were. Fay's put everything he could scrape together into this bit of land, and now your father is shilly-shallying again about renewing the lease."
"Oh, so that's it!"
"That's it—but it's only some of it. Look out there. All Fay's sweat and blood and all of mine is in those greenhouses and that ground. It's everything we've got to live on, and God knows what kind of a living it is. Your father has never given us more'n a three years' lease, and every three years he's raised the rent on us. He's had us in his power from the first—Oh, he's crafty, getting us to rent the land from him instead of buying it, and Fay that soft that he believed him to be his friend!—he's had us in his power from the first, and he's never spared us. No wonder he's rich! And you're coming in for that Thorley money, too. I know what your grandfather Thorley's will was. Going to get it when you're thirty. Must be pretty nigh that now, ain't you?"
To humor her Thor named the date in the following February when he should reach the age fixed by his grandfather for entering on the inheritance.
"What'd I tell you? I remember your grandfather as plain as plain. Big, hard-faced man he was, something like you. My folks could remember him when he hawked garden-trucks to back doors in the city. Nothing but a farmer's son he was, just like the rest of us—and he died rich. Only difference between the Thorleys and the Fays was that the Thorleys held on to their land and the Fays didn't. Neither did my folks, the Grimeses. If we'd been crafty and hadn't sold till the city was creeping down our chimneys like the Thorleys and the Brands, we should be as rich as them. Cut your father out of his will good and hard, your grandfather did, and now it'll all come to you. Why, there was a time when the Thorleys hired out to my folks, and so did the Willoughbys! And now—!" She threw the quilt from off her knees and spread her hands outward. "Oh, I'm sick of it! I've spent my life watching every one else go up and me and mine go down—and I'm sick of it. I'm not sick any other way—"
"No, I don't think you are," he said, gently.
"But that's bad enough, isn't it? If I had a fever or a cold you could give me something to take it away. But what can you do for the state of mind I'm in?"
He answered, slowly, "I can't do much just yet—though I can do a little—but by and by, perhaps—when I know more exactly what the trouble is—"
"You can't know it better than I can tell you now. It's just this—that I've all I can do to keep from stealing down to Thorley's Pond, when no one's looking, and throwing myself in. What do you think of that?"
"I think you won't do it," he smiled, "but I wouldn't play with the idea if I were you."
"Look here," she cried, seizing him by the arm and pulling him out of his chair. "Look out of that window." He followed the pointing of her finger to a high bluff covered with oaks, to which the withered brown foliage still clung, though other trees were bare. "That's Duck Rock. Well, there's a spot there where the water's thirty foot deep. What do you think of that?"
He moved back from the window, but remained standing. "I think that it doesn't matter to you and me whether it's thirty foot deep or sixty or a hundred."
"It matters to me. In thirty foot of water I'd go down like a stone; and then it'd be all over. After that nothing but—sleep." Her eyes held him again. "You don't believe there'll be anything after it but sleep, do you?"
He dodged that question, too. "But you do."
"I was brought up an orthodox Congregational—but what's the good? All I've ever got out of it was rainbows; and what I've wanted is solid. I've wanted to do something, and be something, and have something—and not be pushed back and trampled out of sight by people who used to hire out to my folks and can treat me like dirt to-day, just because they've got the money. Why haven't I got it, too? I'm fit for it. I had good schooling. Louisa Thorley—your own mother, that is—and me went to school together. Your father ran away with her and she died when you were born. We went to school to old Miss Brand—aunt to Bessie Brand that's now Bessie Willoughby and holds her head so high. Poor as church mice they was in those days. But then every one was poor. We was all poor together—and happy. And now some are poor and some are rich—and there's upper classes and lower classes—and everything's got uneven—and I'm sick of it."
To calm her excitement he talked to her with the inspiration of young earnestness, getting his reward in an attention accorded perhaps for the very reason that the earnestness was young. "I think I must run off now," he finished, when he thought her slightly comforted, "but I'll send you something I want you to take at once. You'll take a tablespoonful in half a glass of water—"
The rebellious spirit revived, though less bitterly. "And it'll do me as much good as a dose of your uncle's rainbows. What I want is what I shall never get—or sleep."
"Well, you'll get sleep," he said, smiling and holding out his hand. "You'll sleep to-night—and I'll come again to-morrow."
He was at the door when she called out: "Do you know what our Matt got his three years for? It was for stealing money from Massy's grocery-store, where he was bookkeeper. And do you know what made him steal it? It was to help us pay the rent the last time your father raised it. I'll bet he's done worse than that twenty times a year; but he's driving round in automobiles, while my poor boy's in Colcord."
On going down-stairs, Thor looked about him for Rosie Fay. She was nowhere to be seen, and the house was cheerless. He could imagine that to an ambitious woman circumscribed by its dreary neatness Duck Rock with its thirty feet of water might be a welcome change.
Continuing his search when he went outside, he gazed round what was left of the old orchard. He remembered Fay—a slim fellow with a gentle, dreamy face and starry eyes. He had seen him occasionally during the past eighteen years, though rarely. As a matter of fact, Fay's greenhouses lay on that part of the shore of Thorley's Pond most out of the way of the pedestrian. Only of late had new roads wormed themselves up the steep northern bank of the pond, bringing from the city well-to-do, country-loving souls who desired space and sunshine. It was a satisfaction to Thor's father, Archie Masterman, that only the best type of suburban residence was going up among these sylvan glades, and that the property was justifying his foresight as an investor.
The young man could understand that it should be so, for the spot was picturesque. Sheltered from the north by a range of wooded hills, it was like a great green cup held out to the sunshine. The region was favorable, therefore, to the raising of early "garden-truck." Whenever the frost was out of the ground, oblongs of green things growing in straight lines gave a special freshness to the landscape, while from any of the knolls over which the township clambered clusters of greenhouses glinted like distant sheets of water. One had to get them in contrast to the sparkling blue eye of Thorley's Pond to perceive that they were not tiny lakes. With so pleasing a view, hemmed in by the haze of the city toward the south, and a hint of the Atlantic south of that, there was every reason why Fay's plot of land should appreciate in value.
On these grounds it became comprehensible to Thor that his father might raise the rent and still not be an instrument of oppression. It was consoling to him to perceive this. It helped to allay certain uncomfortable suspicions that had risen in his mind since coming home, and which were not easy to dispel.
He caught sight at last of Rosie's dull-green frock in the one hothouse in which there were flowers. Through the glass roof he could see the red disks of poinsettias and the crimson or white of azaleas coming into bloom. The other two houses sheltered long, level rectangles of tender green, representing lettuce in different stages of the crop. A bow-legged Italian was closing the skylights that had been opened for the milder part of the day; another Italian replaced the covers on hot-beds that might have contained violets. From the high furnace chimney a plume of yellow-brown smoke floated heavily on the windless air. The place looked undermanned and forlorn.
On opening the door he was met by the sweet, warm odor of damp earth and green things growing and blossoming. Pausing in her work, the girl looked down the half-length of the greenhouse as a hint for him to advance. He went toward her between feathery banks of gray-green carnations, on which the long, oval, compact buds were loosening their sheaths to display the dawn-pink within. Half covered up by a coarse apron or pinafore, she stood at a high table, like a counter, against a background of poinsettias.
"We don't go in for flowers, really," she explained to him, after he had given her certain directions concerning her mother. "It would be better if we didn't try to raise them at all."
Thor, whose ear was sensitive, noticed that her voice was pleasant to listen to, and her speech marked by a simple, unaffected refinement. He lingered because he was interested in her work. He found a kind of fascination in watching her as she took a moist red flower-pot from one end of the table, threw in a handful or two of earth from the heap at the other end, then a root that looked like a cluster of yellow, crescent-shaped onions, then a little more earth, after which she turned to place the flower-pot as one of the row on the floor behind her. There was something rhythmic in her movements. Each detail took the same amount of action and time. She might have been working to music. Her left hand made precisely the same gesture with each flower-pot she took from the line in which they lay telescoped together. Her right hand described the same graceful curve with every impatient, petulant handful of earth.
"Why do you raise them, then?" he asked, for the sake of saying something.
She answered, wearily: "Oh, it's father. He can't make up his mind what to do. Or, rather, he makes up his mind both ways at once. Because some people make a good thing out of raising flowers he thinks he'll do that. And because others do a big business in garden-stuff, he thinks he'll do that."
"And so he falls between two stools. I see."
"It's no use being a market-gardener," she went on, disdainfully tossing the earth into another pot, "unless you're a big market-gardener, and it's no use being a florist unless you're a big florist. Everything has to be big nowadays to make it pay. And the trouble with father is that he does so many things small. He sees big," she analyzed, continuing her work—"so big that he goes all to pieces when he tries to carry his ideas out."
"And you think that if he concentrated his forces on raising garden-stuff—"
She explained further: People had to have lettuce and radishes and carrots and cucumbers whatever happened, whereas flowers were a luxury. Whenever money was scarce they didn't buy them. If it were not for weddings and funerals and Christmas and Easter they wouldn't buy them at all. Then, too, they were expensive to raise, and difficult. You couldn't do it by casting a little seed into the ground. Every azalea was imported from Belgium; every lily-bulb from Japan. True, the carnations were grown from slips, but if he only knew the trouble they gave! Those at which he was looking, and which had the innocent air of springing and blooming of their own accord, had been through no less than four tedious processes since the slips were taken in the preceding February. First they had been planted in sand for the root to strike; then transferred to flats, or shallow wooden boxes; then bedded out in the garden; and lastly brought into the house. If he would only consider the labor involved in all that, to say nothing of the incessant watching and watering, and keeping the house at the proper temperature by night and by day—well, he could see for himself.
He did see for himself. He said so absently, because he was noting the fact that her serious, earnest eyes were of the peculiar shade which, when seen in eyes, is called green. It was still absently that he added, "And you have to work pretty hard."
She shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, I don't mind that. Anything to live."
"What are you doing there?"
There was an exasperated note in her voice as she replied: "Oh, these are the Easter lilies. We have to begin on them now."
"And do you do them all?"
"I do, when there's no one else. Father's men keep leaving." She flung him a look he would have thought defiant if he hadn't found it frank. "I don't blame them. Half the time they're not paid."
"I see. So that you fill in. Do you like it?"
"Would you like doing what isn't of any use?—what will never be of any use? Would you like to be always running as hard as you can, just to fall out of the race?"
He tried to smile. "I shouldn't like it for long."
"Well, there's that," she said, as though he had suggested a form of consolation. "It won't be for long. It can't be. Father won't be able to go on like this."
He decided to take the bull by the horns. "Is that because my father doesn't want to renew the lease?"
She shrugged her shoulders again. "Oh no, not particularly. It is that—and everything else."
He felt it the part of tact to make signs of going, uttering a few parting injunctions with regard to the mother as he did so.
"And I wouldn't leave her too much alone," he advised. "She could easily slip out without attracting any one's attention. Tell your father I said so. I suppose he's not in the house."
"He's off somewhere trying to engage a night fireman."
He ignored this information to emphasize his counsels. "It's most important that while she's in this state of mind some one should be with her. And if we knew of anything she'd specially like—"
She continued to work industriously. "The thing she'd like best in this world won't do her any good when it happens." She threw in a bulb with impetuous vehemence. "It's to have Matt out of jail. He will be out in the course of a few months. But he'll be—a jail-bird."
"We must try to help him live that down."
She turned her great greenish eyes on him again with that look which struck him as both frank and pitiful. "That's one of the things people in our position can't do. It's the first thing mother herself will think of when she sees Matt hanging about the house—for he'll never get a job."
"He can help your father. He can be the night fireman."
She shrugged her shoulders with the fatalistic movement he was beginning to recognize. "Father won't need a night fireman by that time."
He could only say: "All the same, your mother must be watched. She can't be allowed to throw herself from Duck Rock, now, can she?"
"I don't say allowed. But if she did—"
"Well, what then?"
"She'd be out of it. That would be something."
"Admitting that it would be something for her, what would it be for your father and you?"
She relaxed the energy of her hands. He had time to notice them. It hurt him to see anything so shapely coarsened with hard work. "Wouldn't it be that much?" she asked, as if reaching a conclusion. "If she were out of it, it would be a gain all round."
Never having heard a human being speak like this, he was shocked. "But everything can't be so black. There must be something somewhere."
She glanced up at him obliquely. Months afterward he recalled the look. Her tone, when she spoke, seemed to be throwing him a challenge as well as making an admission. "Well, there is—one thing."
He spoke triumphantly. "Ah, there is one thing, then?"
"Yes, but it may not happen."
"Oh, lots of things may not happen. We just have to hope they will. That's all we've got to live by."
There was a lovely solemnity about her. "And even if it did happen, so many people would be opposed to it that I'm not sure it would do any good, after all."
"Oh, but we won't think of the people who'd be opposed to it—"
"We should have to, because"—the sweet fixity of her gaze gave him an odd thrill—"because you'd be one."
He laughed as he held out his hand to say good-by. "Don't be too sure. And in any case it won't matter about me."
She declined to take his hand on the ground that her own was soiled with loam, but she mystified him slightly when she said: "It will matter about you; and if the thing ever happens I want you to remember that I told you so. I can't play fair; but I'll play as fair as I can."
Thor was deaf to these enigmatic words in the excitement of perceiving that the girl had beauty. The discovery gave him a new sort of pleasure as he turned his runabout toward the town. Beauty had not hitherto been a condition to which he attached great value. If anything, he had held it in some scorn. Now, for the first time in his emotional life, he was stirred by a girl's mere prettiness—a quite unusual prettiness, it had to be admitted; a slightly haggard prettiness, perhaps; a prettiness a little worn by work, a little coarsened by wind and weather; a prettiness too desperate for youth and too tragic for coquetry, but for those very reasons doubtless all the more haunting. He was obliged to remind himself that it was nothing to him, since he had never swerved from the intention to marry Lois Willoughby as soon as he had made a start in practice and come into the money he was to get at thirty; but he could see it was the sort of thing by which other men might be affected, and came to a mental standstill there.
Driving on into the city, he went straight to his father's office in Commonwealth Row. It was already after four o'clock, and except for two young men sorting checks and putting away ledgers, the cagelike divisions of the banking department were empty. One of the men was whistling; the other was calling in a loud, gay voice, "Say, Cheever, what about to-night?"—signs that the enforced decorum of the day was past.
Claude was in the outer office reserved for customers. He wore his overcoat, hat, and gloves. A stick hung over his left arm by its crooked handle. The ticker was silent, but a portion of the tape fluttered between his gloved fingers.
Though his back was toward the door, he recognized his half-brother's step with that mixture of envy and irritation which Thor's presence always stirred in him. He was not without fraternal affection, especially when Thor was away; when he was at home it was difficult for Claude not to resent the elder's superiority. Claude called it superiority for want of a better word, though he meant no more than a combination of advantages he himself would have enjoyed. He meant Thor's prospective money, his good spirits, good temper, and good health. Claude had not good health, which excused, in his judgment, his lack of good spirits and good temper. Neither had Claude any money beyond the fifteen hundred dollars a year he earned in his father's office. He was in the habit of saying to himself, and in confidence to his friends, that it was "damned hard luck" that he should be compelled to live on a pittance like that, when Thor, within a few months, would come into a good thirty thousand a year.
It was some consolation that Thor was what his brother called "an ugly beast"—sallow and lantern-jawed, with a long, narrow head that looked as if it had been sat on. The eyes were not bad; that had to be admitted; they were as friendly as a welcoming light; but the mouth was so big and aggressive that even the mustache Thor was trying to grow couldn't subdue its boldness. As for the nose and chin, they looked—according to Claude's account—as if they had been created soft, and subjected to a system of grotesque elongation before hardening. Claude could the more safely make game of his brother's looks seeing that he himself was notably handsome, with traits as regular as if they had been carved, and a profile so exact that it was frequently exposed in photographers' windows, to the envy of gentlemen gazers. While Thor had once tried to mitigate his features by a beard that had been unsuccessful and had now disappeared, Claude wouldn't disfigure himself by a hair. He was as clean-shaven as a marble Apollo, and not less neatly limbed.
"Gone." Claude raised his eyes just long enough to utter the word.
Thor came to an abrupt stop. "Club?"
"Suppose so." He added, without raising his head, "Wish to God the drunken sot would stay there." He continued, while still apparently reading the tape in his hand, "Father wishes it, too."
Thor was not altogether taken by surprise. Ever since his return from Europe, a year earlier, he had wondered how his father's patience could hold out. He took it that there was a reason for it, a reason he at once expressed to Claude:
"Father can't wish it. He can't afford to."
Claude lifted his handsome, rather insolent face. "Why not?"
"For the simple reason that he's got his money."
"Much you know about it. Len Willoughby hasn't enough money left in Toogood & Masterman's to take him on a trip to Europe."
Thor backed toward the receiving-teller's wicket, where he rested the tips of his elbows on the counter. He was visibly perturbed. "What's become of it, then?"
"Don't ask me. All I know is what I'm telling you."
"Did father say so himself?"
"Not in so many words. But I know it." He tossed the tape from him and began to smooth his gloves. "Father means to ship him."
"Ship him? He can't do that."
"Can't? I should like to know why not."
"Because he can't. That's why. Because he has—"
"Yes? Cough it up. Speak as if you had something up your sleeve."
Thor reflected as to the wisdom of saying more. "Well, I have," he admitted. "It's something I remember from the time we were kids. You were too young to notice. But I noticed—and I haven't forgotten. Father can't ship Len Willoughby without being sure he has enough to live on." He decided to speak out, if for no other reason than that of securing Claude's co-operation. "Father persuaded Mr. Willoughby to put Mrs. Willoughby's money into the business when he didn't want to."
"Ah, shucks!" Claude exclaimed, contemptuously.
"He did," Thor insisted. "It was back in 1892, in Paris, that first time they took us abroad. You were only nine and I was twelve. I heard them. I was hanging round one evening in that little hotel we stayed at in the rue de Rivoli—the Hotel de Marsan, wasn't it? The Willoughbys had been living in Paris for five or six years, and father got them to come home. I heard him ask mother to talk it up with Mrs. Willoughby. Mother said she didn't want to, but father got round her, and she agreed to try. She said, too, that Bessie might be willing because Len had already begun to take too much and it would brace him up if he got work to do."
"Work!" Claude sniffed. "Him!"
"Father knew he couldn't work—knew he'd tried all sorts of things—first to be an artist, then to write, then to get into the consular service, and the Lord knows what. It wasn't his work that father was after. It was just when the Toogood estate withdrew old Mr. Toogood's money, and father had to have more capital."
"Well, Len Willoughby didn't have any."
"No; but his wife had. It came to the same thing. Suppose she must have had between three and four hundred thousand from old man Brand. I remember hearing father say to mother that Len was making ducks and drakes of it as fast as he could, and that it might as well help the firm of Toogood & Masterman as go to the deuce. Can still hear father feeding the poor fool with bluff about the great banker he'd make and how it was the dead loss of a fortune that he hadn't had a seat on the Stock Exchange years before."
Claude sniffed again. "You'd better carry your load to father himself."
"I will—if I have to." Before Claude had found a rejoinder, Thor went on, changing the subject abruptly, so as not to be led into being indiscreet, "Say, Claude, do you remember Fay, the gardener?"
Claude was still smoothing his gloves, but he stopped, with the thumb and fingers of his right hand grasping the middle finger of the left. More than ever his features suggested a marble stoniness. "No."
"Oh, but you must. Used to be Grandpa Thorley's gardener. Has the greenhouses on father's land north of the pond."
Claude recovered himself slightly. "Well, what about him?"
"Been to see his wife. Patient of Uncle Sim's. Turned her on to me. They're having the deuce of a time."
Claude recovered himself still more. He looked at his brother curiously. "Well, what's it got to do with me?"
"Well, then—indirectly?" Claude asked, defiantly.
"Only this, that it has to do with both of us, since it concerns father."
Claude was by this time master of himself. "Look here, Thor. Are you getting a bee in your bonnet about father?"
"Good Lord! no. But father's immersed in business. He can't be expected to know how all the details of his policy work out. He's not young any longer, and he isn't in touch with modern social and economic ideas."
"Oh, stow the modern social and economic ideas, and let's get to business. What's up with this family—of—of—What-d'you-call-'ems?"
With his feet planted firmly apart, Claude swung his stick airily back and forth across the front of his person, though he listened with apparent attention.
"You know, Thor, as a matter of fact," he explained, when the latter had finished his account, "that the kindest thing father can do for Fay is to let him peter out. Fay thinks that father and the lease are the obstacle he's up against, when in reality it's the whole thing."
"Oh, so you do know about it?"
Claude saw his mistake, and righted himself quickly. "Y-yes. Now that you—you speak of it, I—I do. It comes—a—back to me. I've heard father mention it."
"And what did father say?"
"Just what I'm telling you. That the lease isn't the chief factor in Fay's troubles—isn't really a factor at all. Poor old fellow's a dunderhead. That's where it is in a nutshell. Never could make a living. Never will. Remember him?"
"Vaguely. Haven't seen him for years."
"Well, when you do see him you'll understand. Nice old chap as ever lived. Only impractical, dreamy. Gentle as a sheep—and no more capable of running that big, expensive plant than a motherly old ewe. That's where the trouble is. When father's closed down on him and edged him out—quietly, you understand—it'll be the best thing that ever happened to them all."
Thor reflected. "I see that you know more about it than you thought. You know all about it."
Again Claude caught himself up, shifting his position adroitly. "Oh no, I don't. Just what I've heard father say. When you spoke of it at first the name slipped my memory."
Thor reverted to the original theme. "The son's in jail. Did you know that?"
But Claude was again on his guard. "Oh, so there's a son?"
"Son about your age. Matt his name is. Surely you must recall him. Used to pick pease with us when Fay'd let us do it."
Claude shook his head silently.
"And there's a girl."
Claude's stick hung limply before him. His face and figure resumed their stony immobility. "Oh, is there? Plain?"
"No; pretty. Very pretty. Very unusually pretty. Come to think of it, I shouldn't mind saying—Yes, I will say it! She's the prettiest girl I've ever seen." The eyes of the two brothers met. "Bar none."
The smile on Claude's lips might have passed for an expression of brotherly chaff. "Go it, old chap. Seem smitten."
"Oh, it isn't that. Nothing of the sort at all. I speak of her only because I'm sorry for her. Brunt of whole thing comes on her."
"Well, what do you propose that we should do?"
"I haven't got as far as proposing. Haven't thought the thing out at all. But I think we ought to do something—you and I."
"We can't do anything without father—and father won't. He simply won't. Fay'll have to go. Good thing, too; that's what I say. Get 'em all on a basis on which they can manage. Fay'll find a job with one of the other growers—"
"Yes; but what's to become of the girl?"
Claude stared with a kind of bravado. "How the devil do I know? She'll do the best she can, I suppose. Go into a shop. Lots of girls go into shops."
Thor studied his brother with mild curiosity. "You're a queer fellow, Claude. A minute ago you couldn't remember Fay's name; and now you've got his whole business at your fingers' ends."
But Claude repeated his explanation. "Got father's business at my fingers' ends, if that's what you mean. In such big affairs chap like Fay only a detail. Couldn't recall him at first, but once I'd caught on to him—"
By moving away toward the inner office, where Cheever was still at work, Claude intimated that, as far as he was concerned, the conversation was ended. Thor returned to his runabout.
"Say, Claude," Cheever called, "comin' to see 'The Champion' to-night, ain't you? Countin' on you."
Claude laid a friendly hand on Cheever's arm. He liked to be on easy terms with his father's clerks. "Awfully sorry, Billy, but you must excuse me. Fact is, that damn-fool brother of mine has been putting his finger in my pie. Got to do something to get it out—and do it quick. Awfully sorry. Sha'n't be free."
Beside his favorite window at the club, commanding the movement of the street and the bare trees of the park, Len Willoughby had got together the essentials to a pleasant hour. They consisted of the French and English illustrated papers, two or three excellent Havanas, a bottle of Scotch whisky, and a siphon of aerated water. On the table beside him there was also an empty glass that had contained a cocktail.
It was the consoling moment of the day. After the strain of a nine-o'clock breakfast and the rush to the city before eleven, after the hours of purposeless hanging about the office of Toogood & Masterman, where he could see he wasn't wanted, he found it restful to retire into his own corner and sink drowsily into his cups. He did sink into them drowsily, and yet through well-marked phases of excitement. He knew those phases now; he could tell in advance how each stage would pass into another.
There was first the comfort of the big chair and the friendly covers of L'Illustration and the Graphic. He didn't care to talk. He liked to be let alone. When he came from the office he was generally dispirited. Masterman's queer, contemptuous manner was enough to discourage any one. He was sure, too, that Claude and Billy Cheever ridiculed his big, fat figure behind his back. But once he sank into the deep, red-leather arm-chair he was safe. It was ridiculous that a man of his age should come to recognize the advantages of such a refuge, but he laid it to the charge of a mean and spiteful world.
The world did not cease to be mean and spiteful till after he had had his cocktail. It was wonderful the change that took place then—not suddenly, but with a sweet, slow, cheering inner transformation. It was a surging, a glowing, a mellowing. It was like the readjustment of the eyes of the soul. It was seeing the world as generous, kindly. It was growing generous and kindly himself, with the happy conviction that more remained to be got out of life than he had ever wrung from it.
Still, it was something to be a rich banker. Every one couldn't be that. Archie Masterman had certainly possessed a quick eye when he singled out Len Willoughby as the man who could put the firm of Toogood & Masterman on its feet. Three hundred thousand dollars of Bessie's money had gone into that business in 1892, just in time to profit by the panic of 1893. Lord, how they had bought!—gilt-edged stocks for next to nothing!—and how they had sold, a few years later! Len never knew how much money they made. He supposed Archie didn't, either. There were years when the Stock Exchange had been like a wheat-field, yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold for every seed they had sown. He had never attempted to keep a tally on what came in; it was sufficient to know that there was always plenty to take out. Besides, it had been an understanding from the first that Archie was to do the drudgery. Len liked this, because it left him free—free for summers in Europe and winters in Egypt or at Palm Beach.
By degrees reminiscence tended toward somnolence. And yet it couldn't be said that Len slept. He kept sufficiently awake to put out his hand from time to time and seize the tumbler. He could even brew himself another glass. If a brother clubman strolled near enough to say, "Hello, Len!" or, "Hello, Willoughby!" he could respond with a dull, "Hello, Tom!" or, "Hello, Jones!" But he spoke as out of a depth; he spoke with some of that weariness at being called back to life which Rembrandt depicts on the face of Lazarus rising from the tomb. It was delicious to sink away from the prosaic and the boresome, to be so fully awake that he could follow the movement in the street and the hopping of the sparrows in the trees, and yet be, as it were, removed, enchanted, seeing and hearing and thinking and even drinking through the medium of a soothing, slumbrous spell.
It could hardly ever be said that he went beyond this point. Though there were occasions on which he miscalculated his effects, they could generally be explained as accidental. Above all, they didn't rise from an appetite for drink. The phrase was one he was fond of; he often used it in condemning a vice of which he disapproved. He used it on this particular afternoon, when Thor Masterman, who had come to drive him homeward in his runabout, was sitting in the opposite arm-chair, waiting to make the start.
"There's one thing about me, Thor—never had an appetite for drink. Not to say drink. Thing I despise. Your father's all wrong about me. Don't know what's got into him. Thinks I take too much. Rot! That's what it is—bally rot! You know that, Thor, don't you? Appetite for drink something I despise."
Thor considered the moment one to be made use of. "Has father been saying anything about it?"
"No; but he looks it. Suppose I don't know what he means? Sees double, your father does. Anybody'd think, from the way he treats me, that I was a disgrace to the firm. I'd like to know what that firm'd be without me."
Thor tried to frame his next question discreetly. "I hope there's been no suggestion of the firm's doing without you, Mr. Willoughby?"
To this Len gave but an indirect reply. "There'll be one soon, if your father doesn't mind himself. I'll retire—and take my money out. Where'll he be then?"
Thor felt his way. "You've taken out a good deal already, haven't you?"
"Not any more than belonged to me. You can bet your boots on that."
"No; not any more than belonged to you, of course. I was only thinking that with the splendid house you've built—and its up-keep—and your general expenses—which are pretty heavy, aren't they?—"
"Not any more than belonged to me, Thor. You can bet your boots on that."
The repetition was made drowsily. The big head of bushy white hair, with its correlative of bushy white beard, swayed with a slow movement that ended in a jerk. It was obvious that the warnings and admonitions to which Thor had been leading up were not for that day. They were useless even when, a half-hour later, the movement of the runabout and the keen air of the high lands as they approached the village roused the big creature to a maudlin cursing of his luck.
On nearing the house, the delicate part of the task which of late Thor had taken almost daily on himself became imminent. It was to get his charge into the house, up to his room, and stretched on a couch without being seen by Lois. Thor had once caught her carrying out this duty unaided. She had evidently called for her father in her mother's limousine, and as Thor passed down the village street she was helping the staggering, ungainly figure toward the door. The next day Thor took his runabout from the garage and went on the errand himself. He was also more ingenious than she in finding a way by which the sorry object could be smuggled indoors. The carriage entrance of the house was too near the street. That it should be so was a trial to Mrs. Willoughby, who would have preferred a house standing in grounds, but there never had been any help for it. When money came in it had been Len's desire to buy back a portion of the old Willoughby farm, and build a mansion on what might reasonably be called his ancestral estate. Of this property there was nothing in the market but a snip along County Street; and though he was satisfied with the site as enabling him to display his prosperity to every one who passed up and down, his wife regretted the absence of a dignified approach.
By avoiding County Street when he came out from town, and following a road that scrambled over the low hillside till it made a juncture with Willoughby's Lane, by descending that ancient cow-path and bringing Len to the privacy of his side-door, Thor endeavored to keep his father's partner from becoming an object of public scandal. He took this trouble not because he bothered about public scandal in itself, but in order to protect Lois Willoughby.
So far his methods had been successful. They failed to-day only because Lois herself was at the side-door. With a pair of garden shears in her gloved hands she was trimming the leafless vine that grew over the pillars of the portico. Thor could see, as she turned round, that she braced herself to meet the moment's humiliation, speaking on the instant he drew up at the steps.
"So good of you to bring papa out from town! I'm sure he's enjoyed the drive." Her hand was on the lever that opened the door of the machine. "Poor papa! You look done up. I dare say you're not well. Be careful, now," she continued, as he lumbered heavily to his feet. "That's a long step there. Take my hand. I know you must be as tired as can be."
"Dog tired," the father complained, as he lowered himself cautiously. "Dog's life. Tha's wha' I lead. No thanks for it, either. Damn!" The imprecation was necessary because he missed his footing and came down with a jerk. "Can't you see I'm gettin' out?" he groaned, peevishly. "Stan'in' right in my way."
"Better leave him to me," Thor whispered. "I know just what to do with him. One of the advantages of being a doctor."
Willoughby had mind enough to clutch at this suggestion. "Doctor's what I want, hang it all! Sick as a dog. I do' know what'll happen to me some day. Head aches fit to split. Never had appetite for drink. Tha's one good thing about me."
* * * * *
Lois was still standing near the portico when Thor had assisted his charge to his room, stretched him on a couch, covered him with a rug, left him in a heavy sleep, and crept down the stairs again. It did not escape his eye, quickened by the minutes he had spent with Rosie Fay, that Lois lacked color. For the first time in his life he acutely observed the difference between a plain woman and a pretty one.
"Oh, Thor," she began, as soon as he came out, "I don't know how to thank you for your kindness to papa! How is it to go on? Where is it to end? Oh, Thor, you're a doctor! Tell me what you think. Is there anything I can do?"
His kind, searching eyes, as he stood with one hand on the steering-wheel, rested on her silently. After all, she was twenty-seven, and must take her portion of life's responsibilities. Besides, whatever she might have to bear he meant to share with her. She should not be obliged, like Rosie Fay, for instance, to carry her load alone.
And yet she didn't look as if she would shirk her part. With that tall, erect figure, delicate in outline but strong with the freedom of an open-air life, that proud head which was nevertheless carried meekly, and that straightforward gaze, she gave the impression of being ready to meet anything. The face might be irregular, lacking in many of the tender prettinesses as natural to other girls, even at twenty-seven, as flowers to a field; but no one could deny its force of character.
"I'll tell you something you could do," he said, at last. "You could see—or try to see—that he doesn't spend too much." A slight pause marked his hesitation before adding, "That no one spends too much."
"You mean mamma and me?"
He smiled faintly. "I mean whoever does the spending—but your father most of all, because I'm afraid he's rather reckless. He's spent a good deal during the last twelve or fifteen years, hasn't he?"
She was very quick. "More than he had a right to spend?"
"Well, more than my father," he felt it safe to say.
"But he had more than your father to spend, hadn't he?"
"Do you know that for a certainty?"
"I only know it from papa himself. But, oh, Thor, what is it? Why are you asking?"
He ignored these questions to say: "Couldn't your mother tell us? After all, it was her money, wasn't it?"
She shook her head. "Oh, mamma wouldn't know. If you're in any doubt about it, why don't you ask Mr. Masterman? He could tell you better than any one. Besides, mamma isn't in."
He spoke with a touch of scorn. "I suppose she's in town."
The tone evoked on Lois's part a little smile. They had had battles on the subject before. "That's just where she is."
"That's just where she always is."
"Oh no; not always. Sometimes she stays at home. But she's there pretty often, I admit. She has to make calls, partly because I won't—when I can help it."
He spoke approvingly. "You, at any rate, don't fritter away your time like other women."
"It depends on what other women you mean. I fritter away my time like some women, even though it isn't like the women who make calls. I play golf, for instance, and tennis; I even ride."
"All the same, you don't like the silly thing called society any more than I do."
There was daylight enough to show him the blaze of bravado in her eyes. Her way of holding her head had a certain daring—the daring of one too frank, perhaps too proud, to shrink at truth. "Oh, I don't know. I dare say I should have liked society well enough if society had liked me. But it didn't. As mamma says, I wasn't a success." To compel him to view her in all her lack of charm, she added, with a persistent smile, "You know that, don't you?"
He did know it, though he could hardly say so. He had heard Claude descant on the subject many a time in the years when Lois was still putting in a timid appearance at dances. Claude was interested in everything that had to do with girls, from their clothes to their complexions.
"Can't make it out," he would say at breakfast, after a party; "dances well; dresses well; but doesn't take. Fellows afraid of her. Everybody shy of a girl who isn't popular. Hasn't enough devil. Girl ought to have some devil, hang it all! Dance with her myself? Well, I do—about three times a year. Have her left on my hands an hour at a time. Fellow can't afford that. Think we have no chivalry? Should come to dances yourself, old chap. You'd be a godsend to the girls in the dump."
Thor's dancing days were over before Lois's had begun, but he could imagine what they had been to her. He could look back over the four or five years that separated her from the ordeal, and still see her in "the dump"—tall, timid, furtively watching the young men with those swimming brown orbs of hers, wondering whether or not she should have a partner; heartsore under her finery, often driving homeward in the weary early hours with tears streaming down her cheeks. He knew as much about it as if he had been with her. He suffered for her retrospectively. He did it to a degree that made his long face sorrowful.
The sorrow caused Lois some impatience. "For mercy's sake, Thor, don't look at me like that! It isn't as bad as you seem to think. I don't mind it."
"But I do," he declared, with indignation, only to feel that he was slowly coloring.
He colored because the statement brought him within measurable distance of a declaration which he meant to make, but for which he was not ready.
She seemed to divine his embarrassment, speaking with forced lightness. "Please don't waste your sympathy on me. If any one's to be pitied, it's mamma. I'm such a disappointment to her. Let's talk of something else. Where have you been to-day, and what have you been doing?"
He was not blind to her tact, counting it to her credit for the future, and asked abruptly if she knew Fay, the gardener.
"Fay, the gardener?" she echoed. "I know who he is." She went more directly to the point in saying, "I know his daughter."
"Well, she's having a hard time."
"Is she? I should think she might."
His face grew keener. "Why do you say that?"
"Oh, I don't know—she's that sort. At least, I should judge she was that sort from the little I've seen of her."
"How much have you seen of her?"
"Almost nothing; but little as it was, it impressed itself on my mind. I went to see her once at Mr. Whitney's suggestion."
"Whitney? He's the rector at St. John's, isn't he? What had he to do with her? She doesn't belong to his church?"
Lois explained. "It was when we established the branch of the Girl's Friendly Society at St. John's. Mr. Whitney thought she might care to join it."
"And did she?"
"No; quite the other way. When I went to ask her, she resented it. She had an idea I was patronizing her. That's the difficulty in approaching girls like that."
He looked at her with a challenging expression. "Girls like what?"
"I suppose I mean girls who haven't much money—or who've got to work."
He still challenged her, his head thrown back. "They probably don't consider themselves inferior to you for that reason. It wouldn't be American if they did."
"And it wouldn't be American if I did; and I don't. They only make me feel so because they feel it so strongly themselves. That's what's not American; and it isn't on my part, but on theirs. They force their sentiment back on me. They make me patronizing whether I will or no."
"And were you patronizing when you went to see Miss Fay?"
To conceal the slightly irritated attentiveness with which he waited for her reply he began to light his motor lamps. Condescension toward Rosie Fay suddenly struck him as offensive, no matter from whom it came.
"I'm sure I don't know," she replied, indifferently. "There was something about her that disconcerted me."
"She's as good as we are," he declared, snapping the little door of one of the lanterns.
"I don't deny that."
"A generation or two ago we were all farming people together. The Willoughbys and the Brands and the Thorleys and the Fays were on an equal footing. They worked for one another and intermarried. The progress of the country has taken some of us and hurled us up, while it has seized others of us and smashed us down; but we should try to get over that when it comes to human intercourse."
"That's what I was doing when I asked her to join our Friendly Society."
"Pff! The deuce you were! I know your friendly societies. Keep those who are down down. Help the humble to be humbler by making them obsequious."
"You know nothing at all about it," she declared, with spirit. "In trying to make things better you're content to spin theories, while we put something into practice."
He snapped the door of the second lamp with a little bang. "Put something into practice, with the result that people resent it."
"With the result that Rosie Fay resented it; but she's not a fair example. She's proud and rebellious and intense. I never saw any one just like her."
"You probably never saw any one who had to be like her because they'd had her luck. Look here, Lois," he said, with sudden earnestness, "I want you to be a friend to that girl."
She opened her eyes in mild surprise at his intensity. "There's nothing I should like better, if I knew how."
"But you do know how. It's easy enough. Treat her as you would a girl in your own class—Elsie Darling, for instance."
"It's not so simple as that. When Elsie Darling came back after five or six years abroad mamma and I drove into town and called on her. She wasn't in, and we left our cards. Later, we invited her to lunch or to dinner. I should be perfectly willing to go through the same formalities with Miss Fay—only she'd think it queer. It would be queer. It would be queer because she hasn't got—what shall I say?—she hasn't got the social machinery for that kind of ceremoniousness. The machinery means the method of approach, and with people who have to live as she does it's the method of approach that presents the difficulty. It's not as easy as it looks."
"Very well, then; let us admit that it's hard. The harder it is the more it's the job for you."
There was an illuminating quality in her smile that atoned for lack of beauty. "Oh, if you put it in that way—"
"I do put it in that way," he declared, with an earnestness toned down by what was almost wistfulness. "There are so many things in which I want help, Lois—and you're the one to help me."
She held out her hand with characteristic frankness. "I'll do anything I can, Thor. Just tell me what you want me to do when you want me to do it—and I'll try."
"Oh, there'll be a lot of things in which we shall have to pull together," he said, as he held her hand. "I want you to remember, if ever any trouble comes, that"—he hesitated for a word that wouldn't say too much for the moment—"that I'll be there."
"Thank you, Thor. That's a great comfort."
She withdrew her hand quietly. Quietly, too, she assured him, as she moved toward the steps, that she would not fail to force herself again on Rosie Fay. "And about that other matter—the one you spoke of first—you'll tell me more by and by, won't you?"
After her capacity for ringing true, his conscientiousness prompted him to let her see that she could feel quite sure of him. "I'll tell you anything I can find out; and one of these days, Lois, I must—I must—say a lot more."
She mounted a step or two without turning away from him. "Oh, well," she said, lightly, as though dismissing a topic of no importance, "there'll be plenty of time."
But her smile was a happy one—so happy that he who smiled rarely smiled back at her from the runabout.
He could scarcely be expected to know as yet that his pleasure was not in any happiness of hers, but in the help she might bring to a little creature whose image had haunted him all the afternoon—a little creature whose desperate flower-like face looked up at him from a background of poinsettias.
On coming to the table that evening Claude begged his mother to excuse him for not having dressed for dinner, on the ground that he had an engagement with Billy Cheever. Mrs. Masterman pardoned him with a gracious inclination of the head that made her diamond ear-rings sparkle. No one in the room could be unaware that she disapproved of Claude's informality. Not only did it shock her personal delicacy to dine with men who concealed their shirt-bosoms under the waistcoats they had worn all day, but it contravened the aims by which during her entire married life she had endeavored to elevate the society around her. She herself was one to whom the refinements were as native as foliage to a tree. "It's all right, Claudie dear; but you do know I like you to dress for the evening, don't you?" Without waiting for the younger son to speak, she continued graciously to the elder: "And you, Thor. What have you been doing with yourself to-day?"
Her polite inclusion of her stepson was meant to start "her men," as she called them, in the kind of conversation in which men were most at ease, that which concerned themselves. Thor replied while consuming his soup in the manner acquired in Parisian and Viennese restaurants frequented by young men:
"Got a patient."
Hastily Claude introduced a subject of his own. "Ought to go and see 'The Champion,' father. Hear it's awfully good. Begins with a prize-fight—"
But the father's attention was given to Thor. "Who've you picked up?"
"Fay's wife—Fay, the gardener."
"Indeed? Have to whistle for your fee."
"Oh, I know that—"
"Thor, please!" Mrs. Masterman begged. "Don't eat so fast."
"If you know it already," the father continued, "I should think you'd have tried to squeak out of it." He said "know it alweady" and "twied to squeak," owing to a difficulty with the letter r which gave an appealing, childlike quality to his speech. "If you start in by taking patients who are not going to pay—"
Claude sought another diversion. "What does it matter to Thor? In three months' time he'll be able to pay sick people for coming to him—what?"
"That's not the point," Masterman explained. "A doctor has no right to pauperize people"—he said "pauper-wize people"—"any more than any one else."
"Oh, as to that," Thor said, forcing himself to eat slowly and sit straight in the style commended by his stepmother, "it won't need a doctor to pauperize poor Fay."
"Quite right there," his father agreed. "He's done it himself."
Thor considered the moment a favorable one for making his appeal. "Claude and I have been talking him over—"
"The devil we have!" Claude exclaimed, indignantly.
"What's that?" Masterman's handsome face, which after his day's work was likely to be gray and lifeless, grew sharply interrogative. Time had chiseled it to an incisiveness not incongruous with a lingering air of youth. His hair, mustache, and imperial were but touched with gray. His figure was still lithe and spare. It was the custom to say of him that he looked but the brother of his two strapping sons.
Claude emphasized his annoyance. "Talking him over! I like that! You blow into the office just as I'm ready to come home, and begin cross-questioning me about father's affairs. I tell you I don't know anything about them. If you call that talking him over—well, you're welcome to your own use of terms."
The head of the house busied himself in carving the joint which had been placed before him. "If you want information, Thor, ask me."
"I don't want information, father; and I don't think Claude is fair in saying I cross-questioned him. I only said that I thought he and I ought to do what we could to get you to renew Fay's lease."
"Oh, did you? Then I can save you the trouble, because I'm not going to."
The declaration was so definite that it left Thor with nothing to say. "Poor old Fay has worked pretty hard, hasn't he?" he ventured at last.
"Possibly. So have I."
"But with the difference that you've been prosperous, and he hasn't."
Masterman laughed good-naturedly. "Which is the difference between me and a good many other people. You don't blame me for that?"
"It's not a question of blaming any one, father. I only supposed that among Americans it was the correct thing for the lucky ones to come to the aid of the less fortunate."
"Take it that I'm doing that for Fay when I get him out of an impossible situation."
Thor smiled ruefully. "When you get him out of the frying-pan into the fire?"
"Well," Claude challenged, coming to his father's aid, "the fire's no worse than the frying-pan, and may be a little better."
"I've seen the girl," Mrs. Masterman contributed to the discussion. "She's been in the greenhouse when I've gone to buy flowers. I must say she didn't strike me very favorably." The two brothers exchanged glances without knowing why. "She seemed to me so much—so very much—above her station."
"What is her station?" Thor asked, bridling. "Her station's the same as ours, isn't it?"
The father was amused. "The same as what?"
"Surely we're all much of a muchness. Most of us were farmers and market-gardeners up to forty or fifty years ago. I've heard," he went on, utilizing the information he had received that afternoon, "that the Thorleys used to hire out to the Fays."
"Oh, the Thorleys!" Mrs. Masterman smiled.
"The Mastermans didn't," Archie said, gently. "You won't forget that, my boy. Whatever you may be on any other side, you come from a line of gentlemen on mine. Your grandfather Masterman was one of the best-known old-school physicians in this part of the country. His father before him was a Church of England clergyman in Derbyshire, who migrated to America because he'd become a Unitarian. Sort of idealist. Lot of 'em in those days. Time of Napoleon and Southey and Coleridge and all that. Thought that because America was a so-called republic, or a so-called democracy, he'd find people living for one another, and they were just looking out for number one like every one else. Your Uncle Sim takes after him. Died of a broken heart, I believe, because he didn't find the world made over new. But you see the sort of well-born, high-minded stock you sprang from."
Thor lifted his big frame to an erect position, throwing back his head. "I don't care a fig for what I sprang from, father. I don't even care much for what I am. It strikes me as far more important to see that our old friends and neighbors—who are just as good as we are—don't have to go under when we can keep them up."
"Yes, when we can," Thor's father said, with unperturbed gentleness; "but very often we can't. In a world where every one's swimming for his own dear life, those who can't swim have got to drown."
"But every one is not swimming for his own dear life. Most of us are safe on shore. You and I are, for example. And when we are, it seems to me the least we can do is to fling a life-preserver to the poor chaps who are throwing up their hands and sinking."
Mrs. Masterman rallied her stepson indulgently. "Oh, Thor, how ridiculous you are! How you talk!"
Claude patted his mother's hand. He was still trying to turn attention from bearing too directly on the Fays. "Don't listen to him, mumphy. Beastly socialist, that's what he is. Divide up all the money in the world so that everybody'll have thirty cents, and then tell 'em to go ahead and live regardless. That'd be his way of doing things."
But the father was more just. "Oh no, it wouldn't. Thor's no fool! Has some excellent ideas. A little exaggerated, perhaps, but that'll cure itself in time. Fault of youth. Good fault, too." He turned affectionately to his elder son, "Rather see you that way, my boy, than with an empty head."
Thor fell silent, from a sense of the futility of talking.
At the moment when Claude was excusing himself further, begging to be allowed to run away so as not to keep Billy Cheever waiting, Rosie Fay was noticing with relief that her mother was asleep at last. Thor's sedative had taken effect in what the girl considered the nick of time. Having smoothed the pillow, adjusted the patchwork quilt, and placed the small kerosene hand-lamp on a chair at the foot of the bed, so as to shade it from the sleeper's eyes, she slipped down-stairs.
She wore a long, rough coat. Over her hair she had flung a scarf of some gauzy green stuff that heightened her color. The lamplight, or some inner flame of her own, drew opalescent gleams from her gray-greenish eyes as she descended. She was no longer the desperate, petulant little Rosie of the afternoon. Her face was aglow with an eager life. The difference was that between a blossom wilting for lack of water and the same flower fed by rain.
In the tiny living-room at the foot of the stairs her father was eating the supper she had laid out for him. It was a humble supper, spread on the end of a table covered with a cheap cotton cloth of a red and sky-blue mixture. Jasper Fay, in his shirt-sleeves, munched his cold meat and sipped his tea while he entertained himself with a book propped against a loaf of bread. Another small kerosene hand-lamp threw its light on the printed page and illumined his mild, clear-cut, clean-shaven face.
"She's asleep," Rosie whispered from the doorway. "If she wakes while I'm gone you must give her the second dose. I've left it on the wash-stand."
The man lifted his starry blue eyes. "You going out?"
"I'm only going for a little while."
"Couldn't you have gone earlier?"
"How could I, when I had supper to get—and everything?"
He looked uneasy. "I don't like you to be running round these dark roads, my dear. You've been doing it a good deal lately. Where is it you go?"
"Why, father, what nonsense! Here I am cooped up all day—"
He sighed. "Very well, my dear. I know you haven't much pleasure. But things will be different soon, I hope. The new night fireman seems a good man, and I expect we'll do better now. He'll be here at ten. Were you going far?"
She answered promptly. "Only to Polly Wilson's. She wants me to"—Rosie turned over in her mind the various interests on which Polly Wilson might desire to consult her—"she wants me to see her new dress."
"Very well, my dear, but I hope after this evening you'll be able to do your errands in the daytime. You know how it was with Matt. If he hadn't gone roaming the streets at night—"
Rosie came close to the table. Her face was resolute. "Father, I'm not Matt. I know what I'm doing." She added, with increased determination, "I'm acting for the best."
He was mildly surprised. "Acting for the best in going to see Polly Wilson's new dress?"
She ignored this. "I'm twenty-three, father. I've got to follow my own judgment. If I've a chance I must use it."
"What sort of a chance, my dear?"
"There's nothing to hope for here," she went on, cruelly, "except from what I can do myself. Mother's no good; and Matt's worse than if he was dead. I wish to God he would die—before he comes out. And you know what you are, father."
"I do the best I can, my dear," he said, humbly.
"I know you do; but we can all see what that is. Everybody else is going ahead but us."
"Oh no, they're not, my dear. There are lots that fall behind as bad as we do—and worse."
She shook her head fiercely. "No, not worse. They couldn't. And whatever's to be done, I've got to do it. If I don't—or if I can't—well, we might as well give up. So you mustn't try to stop me, father. I know what I'm doing. It's for your sake and everybody's sake as much as for my own."
He dropped his eyes to his book, in seeming admission that he had no tenable ground on which to meet her in a conflict of wills. "Very well, my dear," he sighed. "If you're going to Polly Wilson's you'd better be off. You'll be home by ten, won't you? I must go then to show the new fireman his way about the place."
* * * * *
Outside it was a windy night, but not a cold one. Shreds of dark cloud scudded across the face of a three-quarters moon, giving it the appearance of traveling through the sky at an incredible rate of speed. In the south wind there was the tang of ocean salt, mingled with the sweeter scents of woodland and withered garden nearer home. There was a crackling of boughs in the old apple-trees, and from the ridge behind the house came the deep, soft, murmurous soughing of pines.
If Rosie lingered on the door-step it was not because she was afraid of the night sounds or of the dark. She was restrained for a minute by a sense of terror at what she was about to do. It was not a new terror. She felt it on every occasion when she went forth to keep this tryst. As she had already said to her father, she knew what she was doing. She was neither so young nor so inexperienced as to be unaware of the element of danger that waited on her steps. No one could have told her better than she could have told herself that the voice of wise counsel would have bidden her stay at home. But if she was not afraid of the night, neither was she irresolute before the undertaking. Being forewarned, she was forearmed. Being forearmed, she could run the risks. Running the risks, she could enjoy the excitement and find solace in the romance.
For it was romance, romance of the sort she had dreamed of and planned for and got herself ready to be equal to, if ever it should come. Somehow, she had always known it would come. She could hardly go back to the time when she did not have this premonition of a lover who would appear like a prince in a fairy-tale and lift her out of her low estate.
And he had come. He had come late on an afternoon in the preceding summer, when she was picking wild raspberries in the wood above Duck Rock. It was a lonely spot in which she could reasonably have expected to be undisturbed. She was picking the berries fast and deftly, because the fruitman who passed in the morning would give her a dollar for her harvest. Was it the dollar, or was it the sweet, wandering, summer air? Was it the mingled perfumes of vine and fruit and soft loam loosened as she crept among the brambles, or was it the shimmer of the waning sunlight or the whir of the wings of birds or the note of a hermit-thrush in some still depth of the woodland ever so far away? Or was it only because she was young and invincibly happy at times, in spite of a sore heart, that she sang to herself as her nimble fingers secured the juicy, delicate red things and dropped them into the pan?
He came like Pan, or a faun, or any other woodland thing, with no sound of his approach, not even that of oaten pipes. When she raised her eyes he was standing in a patch of bracken. She had been stooping to gather the fruit that clustered on a long, low, spiny stem. The words on her lips had been:
At least be pity to me shown If love it may na be—
but her voice trailed away faintly on the last syllable, for on looking up he was before her. He wore white flannels, and a Panama hat of which the brim was roguishly pulled down in front to shade his eyes.
He was smiling unabashed, and yet with a friendliness that made it impossible for her to take offense. "Isn't it Rosie?" he asked, without moving from where he stood in the patch of trampled bracken. "I'm Claude. Don't you remember me?"
A Delphic nymph who had been addressed by Apollo, in the seclusion of some sacred grove, could hardly have felt more joyous or more dumb. Rosie Fay did not know in what kind of words to answer the glistening being who had spoken to her with this fine familiarity. Later, in the silence of the night, she blushed with shame to think of the figure she must have cut, standing speechless before him, the pan of red raspberries in her hands, her raspberry-red lips apart in amazement, and her eyes gleaming and wide with awe.
She remained vague as to what she answered in the end. It was confusedly to the effect that though she remembered him well enough, she supposed that he had long ago forgotten one so insignificant as herself. Presently he was beside her, dropping raspberries into her pan, while they laughed together as in those early days when they had picked peas by her father's permission in Grandpa Thorley's garden.
Their second meeting was accidental—if it was accidental that each had come to the same spot, at the same hour, on the following day, in the hope of finding the other. The third meeting was also on the same spot, but by appointment, in secret, and at night! Claude had been careful to impress on her the disaster that would ensue if their romance were discovered.
But Rosie Fay knew what she was doing. She repeated that statement often to herself. Had she really been a Delphic nymph, or even a young lady of the best society, she might have given herself without reserve to the rapture of her idyl; but her circumstances were peculiar. Rosie was obliged to be practical, to look ahead. A fairy prince was not only a romantic dream in her dreary life, but an agency to be utilized. The least self-seeking of drowning maids might expect the hero on the bank to pull her out of the water. The very fact that she recognized in Claude a tendency to dally with her on the brink instead of landing her in a place of safety compelled her to be the more astute.
But she was not so astute as to be inaccessible to the sense of terror that assailed her every time she went to meet him. It was the fright of one accustomed to walk on earth when seized and borne into the air. Claude's voice over the telephone, as she had heard it that afternoon, was like the call to adventures at once enthralling and appalling, in which she found it hard to keep her head. She kept it only by saying to herself: "I know what I'm doing. I know what I'm doing. My father is ruined; my brother is in jail. But I love this man and he loves me. If he marries me—"
But Rosie's thoughts broke off abruptly there. They broke off because they reached a point beyond which imagination would not carry her. If he marries me! The supposition led her where all was blurred and roseate and golden, like the mists around the Happy Isles. Rosie could not forecast the conditions that would be hers as the wife of Claude Masterman. She only knew that she would be transported into an atmosphere of money, and money she had learned by sore experience to be the sovereign palliative of care. Love was much to poor Rosie, but relief from anxiety was more. It had to be so, since both love and light are secondary blessings to the tired creature whose first need is rest. It was for rest that Claude Masterman stood primarily in her mind. He was a fairy prince, of course; he was a lover who might have satisfied any girl's aspirations. But before everything else he was a hero and a savior, a being in whose vast potentialities, both social and financial, she could find refuge and lie down at last.
It needed but this bright thought to brace her. She clasped her hands to her breast; she lifted her eyes to the swimming moon; she drew deep breaths of the sweet, strong air; she appealed to all the supporting forces she knew anything about. A minute later she was speeding through the darkness.
Between the greenhouses, of which the glass gleamed dimly in the moonlight, Rosie followed a path that straggled down the slope of her father's land to the new boulevard round the pond. The boulevard here swept inland about the base of Duck Rock, in order to leave that wooded bluff an inviolate feature of the landscape. So inviolate had it been that during the months since Rosie had picked wild raspberries in its boskage the park commissioners had seized on it as a spot to be subdued by winding paths and restful benches. To make it the more civilized and inviting they had placed one of the arc-lamps that now garlanded the circuit of the pond just where it would guide the feet of lovers into the alluring shade. Rosie was glad of this friendly light before engaging on the rough path up the bluff under the skeleton-like trees. She was not afraid; she was only nervous, and the light gave her confidence.
But to-night, as she emerged on the broad boulevard from the weedy outskirts of her father's garden, the clatter of horse-hoofs startled her into drawing back. She would have got herself altogether out of sight had there been anything at hand in the nature of a shrub high enough to conceal her. As it was she could only shrink to the extreme edge of the roadside, hoping that the rider, whoever he was, would pass without seeing her. This he might have done had not the bay mare Delia, unaccustomed to the sight of young ladies roaming alone at night, thought it the part of propriety to shy.