By unknown madiva
Natalie Spencer was giving a dinner. She was not an easy hostess. Like most women of futile lives she lacked a sense of proportion, and the small and unimportant details of the service absorbed her. Such conversation as she threw at random, to right and left, was trivial and distracted.
Yet the dinner was an unimportant one. It had been given with an eye more to the menu than to the guest list, which was characteristic of Natalie’s mental processes. It was also characteristic that when the final course had been served without mishap, and she gave a sigh of relief before the gesture of withdrawal which was a signal to the other women, that she had realized no lack in it. The food had been good, the service satisfactory. She stood up, slim and beautifully dressed, and gathered up the women with a smile.
The movement found Doctor Haverford, at her left, unprepared and with his coffee cup in his hand. He put it down hastily and rose, and the small cup overturned in its saucer, sending a smudge of brown into the cloth.
“Dreadfully awkward of me!” he said. The clergyman’s smile of apology was boyish, but he was suddenly aware that his hostess was annoyed. He caught his wife’s amiable eyes on him, too, and they said quite plainly that one might spill coffee at home—one quite frequently did, to confess a good man’s weakness—but one did not do it at Natalie Spencer’s table. The rector’s smile died into a sheepish grin.
For the first time since dinner began Natalie Spencer had a clear view of her husband’s face. Not that that had mattered particularly, but the flowers had been too high. For a small dinner, low flowers, always. She would speak to the florist. But, having glanced at Clayton, standing tall and handsome at the head of the table, she looked again. His eyes were fixed on her with a curious intentness. He seemed to be surveying her, from the top of her burnished hair to the very gown she wore. His gaze made her vaguely uncomfortable. It was unsmiling, appraising, almost—only that was incredible in Clay—almost hostile.
Through the open door the half dozen women trailed out, Natalie in white, softly rustling as she moved, Mrs. Haverford in black velvet, a trifle tight over her ample figure, Marion Hayden, in a very brief garment she would have called a frock, perennial debutante that she was, rather negligible Mrs. Terry Mackenzie, and trailing behind the others, frankly loath to leave the men, Audrey Valentine. Clayton Spencer’s eyes rested on Audrey with a smile of amused toleration, on her outrageously low green gown, that was somehow casually elegant, on her long green ear-rings and jade chain, on the cigaret between her slim fingers.
Audrey’s audacity always amused him. In the doorway she turned and nonchalantly surveyed the room.
“For heaven’s sake, hurry!” she apostrophized the table. “We are going to knit—I feel it. And don’t give Chris anything more to drink, Clay. He’s had enough.”
She went on, a slim green figure, moving slowly and reluctantly toward the drawing-room, her head held high, a little smile still on her lips. But, alone for a moment, away from curious eyes, her expression changed, her smile faded, her lovely, irregular face took on a curious intensity. What a devilish evening! Chris drinking too much, talking wildly, and always with furtive eyes on her. Chris! Oh, well, that was life, she supposed.
She stopped before a long mirror and gave a bit of careless attention to her hair. With more care she tinted her lips again with a cosmetic stick from the tiny, diamond-studded bag she carried. Then she turned and surveyed the hall and the library beyond. A new portrait of Natalie was there, hanging on the wall under a shaded light, and she wandered in, still with her cigaret, and surveyed it. Natalie had everything. The portrait showed it. It was beautiful, smug, complacent.
Mrs. Valentine’s eyes narrowed slightly. She stood there, thinking about Natalie. She had not everything, after all. There was something she lacked. Charm, perhaps. She was a cold woman. But, then, Clay was cold, too. He was even a bit hard.
Men said that; hard and ambitious, although he was popular. Men liked strong men. It was only the weak they deplored and loved. Poor Chris!
She lounged into the drawing-room, smiling her slow, cool smile. In the big, uncarpeted alcove, where stood Natalie’s great painted piano, Marion Hayden was playing softly, carefully posed for the entrance of the men. Natalie was sitting with her hands folded, in the exact center of a peacock-blue divan. The others were knitting.
“Very pretty effect, Toots!” Audrey called. And Miss Hayden gave her the unashamed smile of one woman of the world to another.
Audrey had a malicious impulse. She sat down beside Natalie, and against the blue divan her green gown shrieked a discord. She was vastly amused when Natalie found an excuse and moved away, to dispose herself carefully in a tall, old-gold chair, which framed her like a picture.
“We were talking of men, my dear,” said Mrs. Haverford, placidly knitting.
“Of course,” said Audrey, flippantly.
“Of what it is that they want more than anything else in the world.”
“Children-sons,” put in Mrs. Mackenzie. She was a robust, big woman with kindly eyes, and she was childless.
“Women!” called Toots Hayden. She was still posed, but she had stopped playing. Mrs. Haverford’s eyes rested on her a moment, disapprovingly.
“What do you say, Natalie?” Audrey asked.
“I hadn’t thought about it. Money, probably.”
“You are all wrong,” said Audrey, and lighted a fresh cigaret. “They want different things at different ages. That’s why marriage is such a rotten failure. First they want women; any woman will do, really. So they marry—any woman. Then they want money. After that they want power and place. And when
they’ve got that they begin to want—love.”
“Good gracious, Audrey, what a cynical speech!” said Mrs.
Mackenzie. “If they’ve been married all that time—” “Oh, tut!” said Audrey, rudely.
She had the impulse of the unhappy woman to hurt, but she was rather ashamed of herself, too. These women were her friends. Let them go on believing that life was a thing of lasting loves, that men were true to the end, and that the relationships of life were fixed and permanent things.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was just being clever! Let’s talk
about the war. It’s the only thing worth talking about, anyhow.”
In the dining-room Clayton Spencer, standing tall and erect, had watched the women go out. How typical the party was of Natalie, of her meticulous care in small things and her indifference or real ignorance as to what counted. Was it indifference, really, or was it supreme craftiness, the stupidity of her dinners, the general unattractiveness of the women she gathered around her, the ill-assortment of people who had little in themselves and nothing whatever in common?
Of all the party, only Audrey and the rector had interested him even remotely. Audrey amused him. Audrey was a curious mixture of intelligence and frivolity. She was a good fellow. Sometimes he thought she was a nice woman posing as not quite nice. He didn’t know. He was not particularly analytical, but at least she had been one bit of cheer during the endless succession of courses.
The rector was the other, and he was relieved to find Doctor
Haverford moving up to the vacant place at his right.
“I’ve been wanting to see you, Clay,” he said in an undertone. “It’s rather stupid to ask you how you found things over there.
But I’m going to do it.”
“You mean the war?”
“There’s nothing else in the world, is there?”
“One wouldn’t have thought so from the conversation here to-night.”
Clayton Spencer glanced about the table. Rodney Page, the architect, was telling a story clearly not for the ears of the clergy, and his own son, Graham, forced in at the last moment to fill a vacancy, was sitting alone, bored and rather sulky, and sipping his third cognac.
“If you want my opinion, things are bad.”
“For the Allies? Or for us?”
“Good heavens, man, it’s the same thing. It is only the Allies who are standing between us and trouble now. The French are just holding their own. The British are fighting hard, but they’re fighting at home too. We can’t sit by for long. We’re bound to be involved.”
The rector lighted an excellent cigar.
“Even if we are,” he said, hopefully, “I understand our part of it will be purely naval. And I believe our navy will give an excellent account of itself.”
“Probably,” Clay retorted. “If it had anything to fight! But with the German fleet bottled up, and the inadvisability of attempting to bombard Berlin from the sea—”
The rector made no immediate reply, and Clayton seemed to expect none. He sat back, tapping the table with long, nervous fingers, and his eyes wandered from the table around the room. He surveyed it all with much the look he had given Natalie, a few moments before, searching, appraising, vaguely hostile. Yet it was a lovely room, simple and stately. Rodney Page, who was by way of being decorator for the few, as he was architect for the many, had done the room, with its plainly paneled walls, the over-mantel with an old painting inset, its lion chairs, its two console tables with each its pair of porcelain jars. Clayton liked the dignity of the room, but there were times when he and Natalie sat at the great table alone, with only the candles for light and the rest of the room in a darkness from which the butler emerged at stated intervals and retreated again, when he felt the oppression of it. For a dinner party, with the brilliant colors of the women’s gowns, it was ideal. For Natalie and himself alone, with the long silences between them that seemed to grow longer as the years went on, it was inexpressibly dreary.
He was frequently aware that both Natalie and himself were talking for the butler’s benefit.
From the room his eyes traveled to Graham, sitting alone, uninterested, dull and somewhat flushed. And on Graham, too, he fixed that clear appraising gaze that had vaguely disconcerted Natalie. The boy had had too much to drink, and unlike the group across the table, it had made him sullen and quiet. He sat there, staring moodily at the cloth and turning his glass around in fingers that trembled somewhat.
Then he found himself involved in the conversation.
“London as dark as they say?” inquired Christopher Valentine. He was a thin young man, with a small, affectedly curled mustache. Clayton did not care for him, but Natalie found him amusing. “I haven’t been over—” he really said
‘ovah’—”for ages. Eight months or so.” “Very dark. Hard to get about.”
“Most of the fellows I know over there are doing something. I’d like to run over, but what’s the use? Nobody around,
street’s dark, no gayety, nothing.”
“No. You’d better stay at home. They—don’t particularly want visitors, anyhow.”
“Unless they go for war contracts, eh?” said Valentine pleasantly, a way he had of taking the edge off the frequent impertinence of his speech. “No, I’m not going over. We’re not popular over there, I understand. Keep on thinking we ought to take a hand in the dirty mess.”
Graham spoke, unexpectedly.
“Well, don’t you think we ought?”
“If you want my candid opinion, no. We’ve been waving a red flag called the Monroe Doctrine for some little time, as a signal that we won’t stand for Europe coming over here and grabbing anything. If we’re going to be consistent, we can’t do any grabbing in Europe, can we?”
Clayton eyed him rather contemptuously.
“We might want to ‘grab’ as you term it, a share in putting the madmen of Europe into chains,” he said. “I thought you were pro-British, Chris.”
“Only as to clothes, women and filet of sole,” Chris returned flippantly. Then, seeing Graham glowering at him across the table, he dropped his affectation of frivolity. “What’s the use of our going in now?” he argued. “This Somme push is the biggest thing yet. They’re going through the Germans like a hay cutter through a field. German losses half a million already.”
“And what about the Allies? Have they lost nothing?” This was Clayton’s attorney, an Irishman named Denis Nolan. There had been two n’s in the Denis, originally, but although he had disposed of a part of his birthright, he was still belligerently Irish. “What about Rumania? What about the Russians at Lemberg? What about Saloniki?”
“You Irish!” said the rector, genially. “Always fighting the world and each other. Tell me, Nolan, why is it that you always have individual humor and collective ill-humor?”
He felt that that was rather neat. But Nolan was regarding him acrimoniously, and Clayton apparently had not heard at all.
The dispute went on, Chris Valentine alternately flippant and earnest, the rector conciliatory, Graham glowering and silent. Nolan had started on the Irish question, and Rodney baited him with the prospect of conscription there. Nolan’s voice, full and mellow and strangely sweet, dominated the room.
But Clayton was not listening. He had heard Nolan air his views before. He was a trifle acid, was Nolan. He needed mellowing, a woman in his life. But Nolan had loved once, and the girl had died. With the curious constancy of the Irish, he had remained determinedly celibate.
“Strange race,” Clayton reflected idly, as Nolan’s voice sang on. “Don’t know what they want, but want it like the devil. Onewoman men, too. Curious!”
It occurred to him then that his own reflection was as odd as the fidelity of the Irish. He had been faithful to his wife. He had never thought of being anything else.
He did not pursue that line of thought. He sat back and resumed his nervous tapping of the cloth, not listening, hardly thinking, but conscious of a discontent that was beyond analysis.
Clayton had been aware, since his return from the continent and England days before, of a change in himself. He had not recognized it until he reached home. And he was angry with himself for feeling it. He had gone abroad for certain Italian contracts and had obtained them. A year or two, if the war lasted so long, and he would be on his feet at last, after years of struggle to keep his organization together through the hard times that preceded the war. He would be much more than on his feet. Given three more years of war, and he would be a very rich man.
And now that the goal was within sight, he was finding that it was not money he wanted. There were some things money could not buy. He had always spent money. His anxieties had not influenced his scale of living. Money, for instance, could not buy peace for the world; or peace for a man, either. It had only one value for a man; it gave him independence of other men, made him free.
“Three things,” said the rector, apropos of something or other, and rather oratorically, “are required by the normal man. Work, play, and love. Assure the crippled soldier that he has lost none of these, and—”
Work and play and love. Well, God knows he had worked. Play? He would have to take up golf again more regularly. He ought to play three times a week. Perhaps he could take a motor-tour now and then, too. Natalie would like that.
Love? He had not thought about love very much. A married man of forty-five certainly had no business thinking about love. No, he certainly did not want love. He felt rather absurd, even thinking about it. And yet, in the same flash, came a thought of the violent passions of his early twenties. There had been a time when he had suffered horribly because Natalie had not wanted to marry him. He was glad all that was over. No, he certainly did not want love.
He drew a long breath and straightened up.
“How about those plans, Rodney?” he inquired genially.
“Natalie says you have them ready to look over.”
“I’ll bring them round, any time you say.”
“To-morrow, then. Better not lose any time. Building is going to be a slow matter, at the best.”
“Slow and expensive,” Page added. He smiled at his host, but Clayton Spencer remained grave.
“I’ve been away,” he said, “and I don’t know what Natalie and you have cooked up between you. But just remember this: I want a comfortable country house. I don’t want a public library.”
Page looked uncomfortable. The move into the drawing-room covered his uneasiness, but he found a moment later on to revert to the subject.
“I have tried to carry out Natalie’s ideas, Clay,” he said. “She wanted a sizeable place, you know. A wing for house-parties, and—that sort of thing.”
Clayton’s eyes roamed about the room, where portly Mrs. Haverford was still knitting placidly, where the Chris Valentines were quarreling under pretense of raillery, where Toots Hayden was smoking a cigaret in a corner and smiling up at Graham, and where Natalie, exquisite and precise, was supervising the laying out of a bridge table.
“She would, of course,” he observed, rather curtly, and, moving through a French window, went out onto a small balcony into the night.
He was irritated with himself. What had come over him? He shook himself, and drew a long breath of the sweet night air. His tall, boyishly straight figure dominated the little place. In the half-light he looked, indeed, like an overgrown boy. He always looked like Graham’s brother, anyhow; it was one of Natalie’s complaints against him. But he put the thought of Natalie away, along with his new discontent. By George, it was something to feel that, if a man could not fight in this war, at least he could make shells to help end it. Oblivious to the laughter in the room behind him, the clink of glass as whiskeyand-soda was brought in, he planned there in the darkness, new organization, new expansions—and found in it a great content.
He was proud of his mills. They were his, of his making. The small iron foundry of his father’s building had developed into the colossal furnaces that night after night lighted the downtown district like a great conflagration. He was proud of his mills and of his men. He liked to take men and see them work out his judgment of them. He was not often wrong. Take that room behind him: Rodney Page, dilettante, liked by women, who called him “Roddie,” a trifle unscrupulous but not entirely a knave, the sort of man one trusted with everything but one’s wife; Chris, too—only he let married women alone, and forgot to pay back the money he borrowed. There was only one man in the room about whom he was beginning to mistrust his judgment, and that was his own son.
Perhaps it was because he had so recently come from lands where millions of boys like Graham were pouring out their young lives like wine, that Clayton Spencer was seeing Graham with a new vision. He turned and glanced back into the drawing-room, where Graham, in the center of that misfit group and not quite himself, was stooping over Marion Hayden. They would have to face that, of course, the woman urge in the boy. Until now his escapades had been boyish ones, a few debts frankly revealed and as frankly regretted, some college mischiefs, a rather serious gambling fever, quickly curbed. But never women, thank God.
But now the boy was through with college, and already he noticed something new in their relationship. Natalie had always spoiled him, and now there were, with increasing frequency, small consultations in her room when he was shut out, and he was beginning to notice a restraint in his relations with the boy, as though mother and son had united against him.
He was confident that Natalie was augmenting Graham’s allowance from her own. His salary, rather, for he had taken the boy into the business, not as a partner—that would come later—but as the manager of a department. He never spoke to Natalie of money. Her house bills were paid at the office without question. But only that day Miss Potter, his secretary, had reported that Mrs. Spencer’s bank had called up and he had made good a considerable overdraft.
He laid the cause of his discontent to Graham, finally. The boy had good stuff in him. He was not going to allow Natalie to spoil him, or to withdraw him into that little realm of detachment in which she lived. Natalie did not need him, and had not, either as a lover or a husband, for years. But the boy did.
There was a little stir in the room behind. The Haverfords were leaving, and the Hayden girl, who was plainly finding the party dull. Graham was looking down at her, a tall, handsome boy, with Natalie’s blonde hair but his father’s height and almost insolent good looks.
“Come around to-morrow,” she was saying. “About four.
There’s always a crowd about five, you know.”
Clayton knew, and felt a misgiving. The Hayden house was a late afternoon loafing and meeting place for the idle sons and daughters of the rich. Not the conservative old families, who had developed a sense of the responsibility of wealth, but of the second generation of easily acquired money. As she went out, with Graham at her elbow, he heard Chris, at the bridge table.
“Terrible house, the Haydens. Just one step from the
Saturday night carouse in Clay’s mill district.”
When Graham came back, Mrs. Haverford put her hand on his arm.
“I wish you would come to see us, Graham. Delight so often speaks of you.”
Graham stiffened almost imperceptibly.
“Thanks, I will.” But his tone was distant.
“You know she comes out this winter.”
“And—you were great friends. I think she misses you a little.”
“I wish I thought so!”
Gentle Mrs. Haverford glanced up at him quickly.
“You know she doesn’t approve of me.”
“Well, ask her,” he said. And there was a real bitterness under the lightness of his tone. “I’ll come, of course, Mrs. Haverford. Thank you for asking me. I haven’t a lot of time. I’m a sort of clerk down at the mill, you know.”
Natalie overheard, and her eyes met Clayton’s, with a glance of malicious triumph. She had been deeply resentful that he had not made Graham a partner at once. He remembered a conversation they had had a few months before.
“Why should he have to start at the bottom?” she had protested. “You have never been quite fair to him, Clay.” His boyish diminutive had stuck to him. “You expect him to know as
much about the mill now as you do, after all these years.”
“Not at all. I want him to learn. That’s precisely the reason why I’m not taking him in at once.”
“How much salary is he to have?”
“Three thousand a year.”
“Three thousand! Why, it will take all of that to buy him a car.”
“There are three cars here now; I should think he could manage.”
“Every boy wants his own car.”
“I pay my other managers three thousand,” he had said, still patient. “He will live here. His car can be kept here, without expense. Personally, I think it too much money for the service
he will be able to give for the first year or two.”
And, although she had let it go at that, he had felt in her a keen resentment. Graham had got a car of his own, was using it hard, if the bills the chauffeur presented were an indication, and Natalie had overdrawn her account two thousand five hundred dollars.
The evening wore on. Two tables of bridge were going, with Denis Nolan sitting in at one. Money in large amounts was being written in on the bridge scores. The air of the room was heavy with smoke, and all the men and some of the women were drinking rather too much. There were splotches of color under the tan in Graham’s cheeks, and even Natalie’s laughter had taken on a higher note.
Chris’s words rankled in Clayton Spencer’s mind. A step from the Saturday night carouse. How much better was this sort of thing? A dull party, driven to cards and drink to get through the evening. And what sort of home life were he and Natalie giving the boy? Either this, or the dreary evenings when they were alone, with Natalie sifting with folded hands, or withdrawing to her boudoir upstairs, where invariably she summoned Graham to talk to him behind closed doors.
He went into the library and shut the door. The room rested him, after the babble across. He lighted a cigar, and stood for a moment before Natalie’s portrait. It had been painted while he was abroad at, he suspected, Rodney’s instigation. It left him quite cold, as did Natalie herself.
He could look at it dispassionately, as he had never quite cared to regard Natalie. Between them, personally, there was always the element she never allowed him to forget, that she had given him a son. This was. Natalie herself, Natalie at fortyone, girlish, beautiful, fretful and—selfish. Natalie with whom he was to live the rest of his life, who was to share his wealth and his future, and with whom he shared not a single thought in common.
He had a curious sense of disloyalty as he sat down at his desk and picked up a pad and pencil. But a moment later he had forgotten her, as he had forgotten the party across the hall. He had work to do. Thank God for work.
Natalie was in bed when he went up-stairs. Through the door of his dressing-room he could see her lying, surrounded by papers. Natalie’s handsome bed was always covered with things, her handkerchief, a novel, her silk dressing-gown flung over the footboard, sometimes bits of dress materials and lace.
Natalie did most of her planning in bed.
He went in and, clearing a space, sat down on the foot of the bed, facing her. Her hair was arranged in a loose knot on top of her head, and there was a tiny space, perhaps a quarter of an inch, slightly darker than the rest. He realized with a little start that she had had her hair touched up during his absence. Still, she looked very pretty, her skin slightly glistening with its night’s bath of cold cream, her slim arms lying out on the blue silk eiderdown coverlet.
“I told Doctor Haverford to-night that we would like to give him a car, Natalie,” he began directly. It was typical of him, the
“A car? What for?”
“To ride about in, my dear. It’s rather a large parish, you know. And I don’t feel exactly comfortable seeing him tramping
along when most people are awheel. He’s not very young.”
“He’ll kill himself, that’s all.”
“Well, that’s rather up to Providence, of course.”
“You are throwing a sop to Providence, aren’t you?” she asked shrewdly. “Throwing bread on the waters! I daresay he angled for it. You’re easy, Clay. Give you a good dinner—it was a nice dinner, wasn’t it?”
“A very nice dinner,” he assented. But at the tone she looked up.
“Well, what was wrong?” she demanded. “I saw when I went out that you were angry about something. Your face was awful.”
“Oh, come now, Natalie,” he protested. “It wasn’t anything of the sort. The dinner was all right. The guests were—all right. I may have unconsciously resented your attitude about Doctor Haverford. Certainly he didn’t angle for it, and I had no idea of throwing a sop to Providence.”
“That isn’t what was wrong at dinner.”
“Do you really want me to tell you?”
“Not if it’s too disagreeable.”
“Good heavens, Natalie. One would think I bullied you!”
“Oh, no, you don’t bully. It’s worse. It’s the way you look.
Your face sets. Well?”
“I didn’t feel unpleasant. It’s rather my misfortune that my face—”
“Didn’t you like my gown?”
“Very much. It seemed a trifle low, but you know I always like your clothes.” He was almost pathetically anxious to make up to her for that moment’s disloyalty in the library.
“There!” she said, brushing the papers aside. “Now we’re getting at it. Was I anything like as low as Audrey Valentine? Of course not! Her back—You just drive me to despair, Clay. Nothing I do pleases you. The very tone of that secretary of yours to-day, when I told her about that over-draft—it was positively insulting!”
“I don’t like overdrafts,” he said, without any irritation. “When you want extra amounts you have only to let me know.”
“You are always finding fault with me,” she complained. “It’s either money, or my clothes, or Graham, or something.” Her eyes filled. She looked young and absurdly childish. But a talk he had had with the rector was still in his mind. It was while they were still at the table, and Nolan had been attacking the British government.
“We get out of this world largely what we put into it,” he had said. “You give largely, Clay, and you receive largely. I rejoice in your prosperity, because you have earned it.”
“You think, then,” he had asked, “that we only receive as we
give? I don’t mean material things, of course.”
The rector had fixed him with kindly, rather faded old eyes. “That has been my experience,” he said. “Happiness for instance only comes when we forget our eternal search for it, and try to make others happy. Even religion is changing. The old selfish idea of saving our own souls has given way largely to the saving of others, by giving them a chance to redeem
themselves. Decent living conditions—”
He had gone on, but Clayton had not listened very intently. He had been wondering if happiness was not the thing he had somehow missed. It was then that he had decided to give the
car. If, after all, that would make for the rector’s happiness— “I don’t want to find fault with you, Natalie,” he said gravely. “I would like to see you happy. Sometimes I think you are not. I have my business, but you have nothing to do, and—I suppose you wouldn’t be interested in war-work, would you? There are a lot of committees, and since I’ve been in England I realize what a vast amount is needed. Clothes, you know, and band-
ages, and—well, everything.”
“Nothing to do,” she looked up, her eyes wide and indignant. “But of course you would think that. This house runs itself, I suppose.”
“Let’s be honest, Natalie,” he said, with a touch of impatience. “Actually how much time each day do you give this house? You have plenty of trained servants. An hour? Two hours?”
“I’ll not discuss it with you.” She took up a typewritten sheet and pretended to read it carefully. Clayton had a halfhumorous, half-irritated conviction that if he was actually hunting happiness he had begun his search for it rather badly. He took the paper from her, gently.
“What’s this?” he inquired. “Anything I should not see?”
“Decorator’s estimates for the new house.” Her voice was resentful. “You’ll have to see them some time.”
“Library curtains, gray Chippendale velvet, gold gimp, faced with colonial yellow,” he read an item picked at random, “two
thousand dollars! That’s going some for curtains, isn’t it?”
“It’s not too much for that sort of thing.”
“But, look here, Natalie,” he expostulated. “This is to be a country house, isn’t it? I thought you wanted chintzed and
homey things. This looks like a city house in the country.”
He glanced down at the total. The hangings alone, with a tapestry or two, were to be thirty-five thousand dollars. He whistled.
“Hangings alone! And—what sort of a house has Rodney planned, anyhow?”
“Italian, with a sunken garden. The landscape estimates are there, too.”
He did not look at them.
“It seems to me you and Rodney have been pretty busy while I’ve been away,” he remarked. “Well, I want you to be happy, my dear. Only—I don’t want to tie up a fortune just now. We may get into this war, and if we do—” He rose, and yawned, his arms above his head. “I’m off to bed,” he said. “Big day to-mor-
row. I’ll want Graham at the office at 8:30.”
She had sat up in bed, and was staring at him. Her face was pale.
“Do you mean that we are going to get into this war?”
“I think it very likely, my dear.”
“But if we do, Graham—”
“We might as well face it. Graham will probably want to go.”
“He’ll do nothing of the sort,” she said sharply. “He’s all I have. All. Do you think I’m going to send him over there to be
cannon-fodder? I won’t let him go.” She was trembling violently.
“I won’t want him to go, of course. But if the thing
comes—he’s of age, you know.”
She eyed him with thinly veiled hostility.
“You’re hard, Clay,” she accused him. “You’re hard all the way through. You’re proud, too. Proud and hard. You’d want to be able to say your son was in the army. It’s not because you care anything about the war, except to make money out of it. What is the war to you, anyhow? You don’t like the English, and as for French—you don’t even let me have a French butler.”
He was not the less angry because he realized the essential truth of part of what she said. He felt no great impulse of sympathy with any of the combatants. He knew the gravity of the situation rather than its tragedy. He did not like war, any war. He saw no reason why men should kill. But this war was a fact.
He had had no hand in its making, but it was made.
His first impulse was to leave her in dignified silence. But she was crying, and I he disliked leaving her in tears. Dead as was his love for her, and that night, somehow, he knew that it was dead, she was still his wife. They had had some fairly happy years together, long ago. And he felt the need, too, of justification.
“Perhaps you are right, Natalie,” he said, after a moment. “I haven’t cared about this war as much as I should. Not the human side of it, anyhow. But you ought to understand that by making shells for the Allies, I am not only making money for myself; they need the shells. And I’ll give them the best. I don’t intend only to profit by their misfortunes.” She had hardly listened.
“Then, if we get into it, as you say, you’ll encourage Graham to go?”
“I shall allow him to go, if he feels it his duty.”
“Oh, duty, duty! I’m sick of the word.” She bent forward and suddenly caught one of his hands. “You won’t make him go, Clay?” she begged. “You—you’ll let him make his own decision?”
“If you will.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you’ll keep your hands off, too. We’re not in it, yet. God knows I hope we won’t be. But if I promise not to influence
him, you must do the same thing.”
“I haven’t any more influence over Graham than that,” she said, and snapped her finger. But she did not look at him.
“Promise,” he said, steadily.
“Oh, all right.” Her voice and face were sulky. She looked much as Graham had that evening at the table.
“Is that a promise?”
“Good heavens, do you want me to swear to it?”
“I want you to play fair. That’s all.”
She leaned back again among her pillows and gathered her papers.
“All right,” she said, indifferently. “Have you any preference as to color for your rooms in the new house?”
He was sorry for his anger, and after all, these things which seemed so unimportant to him were the things that made up her life. He smiled.
“You might match my eyes. I’m not sure what color they are.
Perhaps you know.”
But she had not forgiven him.
“I’ve never noticed,” she replied. And, small bundle of samples in her hand, resumed her reading and her inspection of textiles.
“Good night, Natalie.”
“Good night.” She did not look up.
Outside his wife’s door he hesitated. Then he crossed and without knocking entered Graham’s bedroom. The boy was lounging in a long chair by an open fire. He was in his dressing gown and slippers, and an empty whiskey-and-soda glass stood beside him on a small stand. Graham was sound asleep. Clayton touched him on the shoulder, but he slept on, his head to one side, his breathing slow and heavy. It required some little effort to waken him.
“Graham!” said Clayton sharply.
“Yes.” He stirred, but did not open his eyes.
“Graham! Wake up, boy.”
Graham sat up suddenly and looked at him. The whites of his eyes were red, but he had slept off the dinner wine. He was quite himself.
“Better get to bed,” his father suggested. “I’ll want you early to-morrow.”
“What time, sir?”
He leaned forward and pressed a button beside the mantelpiece.
“What are you doing that for?”
“Ice water. Awfully thirsty.”
“The servants have gone to bed. Go down and get it yourself.”
Graham looked up at the tone. At his father’s eyes, he looked away.
“Sorry, sir,” he said. “Must have had too much champagne. Wasn’t much else to do, was there? Mother’s parties—my God, what a dreary lot!”
Clayton inspected the ice water carafe on the stand and found it empty.
“I’ll bring you some water from my room,” he said. “And—I don’t want to see you this way again, Graham. When a man cannot take a little wine at his own table without taking too
much he fails to be entirely a gentleman.”
He went out. When he came back, Graham was standing by the fire in his pajamas, looking young and rather ashamed. Clayton had a flash of those earlier days when he had come in to bid the boy good night, and there had always been that last request for water which was to postpone the final switching off of the light.
“I’m sorry, father.”
Clayton put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and patted him.
“We’ll have to do better next time. That’s all.”
For a moment the veil of constraint of Natalie’s weaving lifted between them.
“I’m a pretty bad egg, I guess. You’d better shove me off the dock and let me swim—or drown.”
“I’d hardly like to do that, you know. You are all I have.”
“I’m no good at the mill.”
“You haven’t had very much time. I’ve been a good many years learning the business.”‘
“I’ll never be any good. Not there. If there was something to build up it would be different, but it’s all done. You’ve done it. I’m only a sort of sublimated clerk. I don’t mean,” he added hastily, “that I think I ought to have anything more. It’s only that—well, the struggle’s over, if you know what I mean.”
“I’ll talk to you about that to-morrow. Get to bed now. It’s one o’clock.”
He moved to the doorway. Graham, carafe in hand, stood staring ahead of him. He had the courage of the last whiskeyand-soda, and a sort of desperate contrition.
“I wish you’d let me go to France and fly.”
Something like a cold hand seemed to close round Clayton’s heart.
“Because I’m not doing any good here. And—because I’d like to see if I have any good stuff in me. All the fellows are going,” he added, rather weakly.
“That’s not a particularly worthy reason, is it?”
“It’s about as worthy as making money out of shells, when we haven’t any reason for selling them to the Allies more than the
Germans, except that we can’t ship to the Germans.”
He looked rather frightened then. But Clayton was not angry. He saw Natalie’s fine hand there, and the boy’s impressionable nature.
“Think that over, Graham,” he said gravely. “I don’t believe you quite mean it. Good-night.”
He went across to his own bedroom, where his silk pajamas, neatly folded, lay on his painted Louis XVI bed. Under his reading lamp there was a book. It was a part of Natalie’s decorative scheme for the room; it’s binding was mauve, to match the hangings. For the first time since the room had been done over during his absence he picked up the book.
“Rodney’s idea, for a cent!” he reflected, looking rather grimly at the cover.
He undressed slowly, his mind full of Graham and the problem he presented. Then he thought of Natalie, and of the little things that made up her life and filled her days. He glanced about the room, beautiful, formal, exquisitely appointed. His father’s portrait was gone from over the mantel, and an old French water-color hung there instead. That was too bad of Natalie. Or had it been Rodney? He would bring it back. And he gave a fleeting thought to Graham and his request to go abroad. He had not meant it. It was sheer reaction. But he would talk to Graham.
He lighted a cigaret, and getting into bed turned on his reading lamp. Queer how a man could build, and then find that after all he did not care for the achievement. It was the building alone that was worth while.
He picked up the book from the table, and opened it casually.
“When first I loved I gave my very soul
Utterly unreserved to Love’s control,
But Love deceived me, wrenched my youth away, And made the gold of life forever gray.
Long I lived lonely, yet I tried in vain
With any other joy to stifle pain;
There is no other joy, I learned to know,
And so returned to love, as long ago,
Yet I, this little while ere I go hence,
Love very lightly now, in self defense.”
“Twaddle,” said Clayton Spencer, and put the book away. That was the sort of stuff men like Rodney lived on. In a mauve binding, too.
After he had put out the light he lay for a long time, staring into the darkness. It was not love he wanted: he was through with all that. Power was the thing, integrity and power. To yield to no man, to achieve independence for one’s soul—not that he put it that way. He formulated it, drowsily: ‘Not to give a damn for any one, so long as you’re right.’ Of course, it was not always possible to know if one was right. He yawned. His conscious mind was drowsing, and from the depths below, released of the sentry of his waking hours, came the call of his starved imagination.