She was jealous of Clayton those days. Some times she found the boy's eyes fixed on his father, with admiration and something more. She was jealous of the things they had in common, of the days at the mill, of the bits of discussion after dinner, when Clayton sat back with his cigar, and Graham voiced, as new discoveries, things about the work that Clayton had realized for years.
He always listened gravely, with no hint of patronage. But Natalie would break in now and then, impatient of a conversation that excluded her.
"Your father knows all these things, Graham," she said once. "You talk as though you'd just discovered the mill, like Columbus discovering America."
"Not at all," Clayton said, hastily. "He has a new viewpoint. I am greatly interested. Go on, Graham."
But the boy's enthusiasm had died. He grew self-conscious, apologetic. And Clayton felt a resentment that was close to despair.
The second of April fell on a Saturday. Congress, having ended the session the fourth of March, had been hastily reconvened, and on the evening of that day, Saturday, at half past eight, the President went before the two Houses in joint session.
Much to Clayton's disgust, he found on returning home that they were dining out.
"Only at the Mackenzies. It's not a party," Natalie said. As usual, she was before the dressing-table, and she spoke to his reflection in the mirror. "I should think you could do that, without looking like a thunder-cloud. Goodness knows we've been quiet enough this Lent."
"You know Congress has been re-convened?"
"I don't know why that should interfere."
"It's rather a serious time." He tried very hard to speak pleasantly. Her engrossment in her own reflection irritated him, so he did not look at her. "But of course I'll go."
"Every time is a serious time with you lately," she flung after him. Her tone was not disagreeable. She was merely restating an old grievance. A few moments later he heard her calling through the open door.
"I got some wonderful old rugs to-day, Clay."
"You'll scream when you pay for them."
"I've lost my voice screaming, my dear."
"You'll love these. They have the softest colors, dead rose, and faded blue, and old copper tones."
"I'm very glad you're pleased."
She was in high good humor when they started. Clayton, trying to meet her conversational demands found himself wondering if the significance of what was to happen in Washington that night had struck home to her. If it had, and she could still be cheerful, then it was because she had forced a promise from Graham.
He made his decision then; to force her to release the boy from any promise; to allow him his own choice. But he felt with increasing anxiety that some of Natalie's weakness of character had descended to Graham, that in him, as in Natalie, perhaps obstinacy was what he hoped was strength. He wondered listening to her, what it would be to have beside him that night some strong and quiet woman, to whom he could carry his problems, his perplexities. Some one to sit, hand in his, and set him right as such a woman could, on many things.
And for a moment, he pictured Audrey. Audrey, his wife, driving with him in their car, to whatever the evening might hold. And after it was all over, going back with her, away from all the chatter that meant so little, to the home that shut them in together.
He was very gentle to Natalie that night.
Natalie had been right. It was a small and informal group, gathered together hastily to discuss the emergency; only Denis Nolan, the Mackenzies, Clayton and Natalie, and Audrey.
"We brought her out of her shell," said Terry, genially, "because the country is going to make history to-night. The sort of history Audrey has been shouting for for months."
The little party was very grave. Yet, of them all, only the Spencers would be directly affected. The Mackenzies had no children.
"Button, my secretary," Terry announced, "is in Washington. He is to call me here when the message is finished."
"Isn't it possible," said Natalie, recalling a headline from the evening paper, "that the House may cause an indefinite delay?"
And, as usual, Clayton wondered at the adroitness with which, in the talk that followed, she escaped detection.
They sat long at the table, rather as though they clung together. And Nolan insisted on figuring the cost of war in money.
"Queer thing," he said. "In ancient times the cost of war fell almost entirely on the poor. But it's the rich who will pay for this war. All taxation is directed primarily against the rich."
"The poor pay in blood," said Audrey, rather sharply. "They give their lives, and that is all they have."
"Rich and poor are going to do that, now," old Terry broke in. "Fight against it all you like, you members of the privileged class, the draft is coming. This is every man's war."
But Clayton Spencer was watching Natalie. She had paled and was fingering her liqueur-glass absently. Behind her lowered eyelids he surmised that again she was planning. But what? Then it came to him, like a flash. Old Terry had said the draft would exempt married men. She meant to marry Graham to a girl she detested, to save him from danger.
Through it all, however, and in spite of his anger and apprehension, he was sorry for her. Sorry for her craven spirit. Sorry even with an understanding that came from his own fears. Sorry for her, that she had remained an essential child in a time that would tax the utmost maturity. She was a child. Even her selfishness was the selfishness of a spoiled child. She craved things, and the spirit, the essence of life, escaped her.
And beside him was Audrey, valiant-eyed, courageous, honest. Natalie and Audrey! Some time during the evening his thoughts took this form: that there were two sorts of people in the world: those who seized their own happiness, at any cost; and those who saw the promised land from a far hill, and having seen it, turned back.
Graham was waiting in Clayton's dressing-room when he went up-stairs. Through the closed door they could hear Natalie's sleepy and rather fretful orders to her maid. Graham rose when he entered, and threw away his cigaret.
"I guess it has come, father."
"It looks like it."
A great wave of tenderness for the boy flooded over him. That tall, straight body, cast in his own mold, but young, only ready to live, that was to be cast into the crucible of war, to come out—God alone knew how. And not his boy only, but millions of other boys. Yet—better to break the body than ruin the soul.
"How is mother taking it?"
Natalie's voice came through the door. She was insisting that the house be kept quiet the next morning. She wanted to sleep late. Clayton caught the boy's eyes on him, and a half smile on his face.
"Does she know?"
"She isn't taking it very hard, is she?" Then his voice changed. "I wish you'd talk to her, father. She's—well, she's got me! You see, I promised her not to go in without her consent."
"When did you do that?"
"The night we broke with Germany in February. I was a fool, but she was crying, and I didn't know what else to do. And"—there was a ring of desperation in his voice—"she's holding me to it. I've been to her over and over again."
"And you want to go?"
"Want to go! I've got to go."
He broke out then into a wild appeal. He wanted to get away. He was making a mess of all sorts of things. He wasn't any good. He would try to make good in the army. Maybe it was only the adventure he wanted—he didn't know. He hadn't gone into that. He hated the Germans. He wanted one chance at them, anyhow. They were beasts.
Clayton, listening, was amazed at the depth of feeling and anger in his voice.
"I'll talk to your mother," he agreed, when the boy's passion had spent itself. "I think she will release you." But he was less certain than he pretended to be. He remembered Natalie's drooping eyelids that night at dinner. She might absolve him from the promise, but there were other ways of holding him back than promises.
"Perhaps we would better go into the situation thoroughly," he suggested. "I have rather understood, lately, that you—what about Marion Hayden, Graham?"
"I'm engaged to her."
There was rather a long pause. Clayton's face was expressionless.
"Last fall, sir."
"Does your mother know?"
"I told her, yes." He looked up quickly. "I didn't tell you. I knew you disliked her, and mother said?" He checked himself. "Marion wanted to wait. She wanted to be welcome when she came into the family."
"I don't so much dislike her as I—disapprove of her."
"That's rather worse, isn't it?"
Clayton was tired. His very spirit was tired. He sat down in his big chair by the fire.
"She is older than you are, you know."
"I don't see what that has to do with it, father."
In Clayton's defense was his own situation. He did not want the boy to repeat his mistakes, to marry the wrong woman, and then find, too late, the right one. During the impassioned appeal that followed he was doggedly determined to prevent that. Perhaps he lost the urgency in the boy's voice. Perhaps in his new conviction that the passions of the forties were the only real ones, he took too little count of the urge of youth.
He roused himself.
"You think you are really in love with her?"
"I want her. I know that."
"That's different. That's—you are too young to know what you want."
"I ought to be married. It would settle me. I'm sick of batting round."
"You want to marry before you enter the army?"
"Do you think for a moment that your wife will be willing to let you go?"
Graham straightened himself.
"She would have to let me go."
And in sheer despair, Clayton played his last card. Played it, and regretted it bitterly a moment later.
"We must get this straight, Graham. It's not a question of your entering the army or not doing it. It's a question of your happiness. Marriage is a matter of a life-time. It's got to be based on something more than—" he hesitated. "And your mother?"
"Please go on."
"You have just said that your mother does not want you to go into the army. Has it occurred to you she would even see you married to a girl she detests, to keep you at home?"
Graham's face hardened.
"So;" he said, heavily, "Marion wants me for the money she thinks I'm going to have, and mother wants me to marry to keep me safe! By God, it's a dirty world, isn't it?"
Suddenly he was gone, and Clayton, following uneasily to the doorway, heard a slam below. When, some hours later, Graham had not come back, he fell into the heavy sleep that follows anxiety and brings no rest. In the morning he found that Graham had gone back to the garage and taken his car, and that he had not returned.
Afterward Clayton was to look back and to remember with surprise how completely the war crisis had found him absorbed in his own small group. But perhaps in the back of every man's mind war was always, first of all, a thing of his own human contacts. It was only when those were cleared up that he saw the bigger problem. The smaller questions loomed so close as to obscure the larger vision.
He went out into the country the next day, a cold Sunday, going afoot, his head down against the wind, and walked for miles. He looked haggard and tired when he came back, but his quiet face held a new resolve. War had come at last. He would put behind him the selfish craving for happiness, forget himself. He would not make money out of the nation's necessity. He would put Audrey out of his mind, if not out of his heart. He would try to rebuild his house of life along new and better lines. Perhaps he could bring Natalie to see things as he saw them, as they were, not as she wanted them to be.
Some times it took great crises to bring out women. Child-bearing did it, often. Urgent need did it, too. But after all the real test was war. The big woman met it squarely, took her part of the burden; the small woman weakened, went down under it, found it a grievance rather than a grief.
He did not notice Graham's car when it passed him, outside the city limits, or see Anna Klein's startled eyes as it flashed by.
Graham did not come in until evening. At ten o'clock Clayton found the second man carrying up-stairs a tray containing whisky and soda, and before he slept he heard a tap at Graham's door across the hall, and surmised that he had rung for another. Later still he heard Natalie cross the hall, and rather loud and angry voices. He considered, ironically, that a day which had found a part of the nation on its knees found in his own house only dissension and bitterness.
In the morning, at the office, Joey announced a soldier to see him, and added, with his customary nonchalance:
"We'll be having a lot of them around now, I expect."
Clayton, glancing up from the visitor's slip in his hand, surprised something wistful in the boy's eyes.
"Want to go, do you?"
"Give my neck to go—sir." He always added the "sir," when he remembered it, with the air of throwing a sop to a convention he despised.
"You may yet, you know. This thing is going to last a while. Send him in, Joey."
He had grown attached to this lad of the streets. He found in his loyalty a thing he could not buy.
Jackson was his caller. Clayton, who had been rather more familiar with his back in its gray livery than with any other aspect of him, found him strange and impressive in khaki.
"I'm sorry I couldn't get here sooner, Mr. Spencer," he explained. "I've been down on the border. Yuma. I just got a short leave, and came back to see my family."
He stood very erect, a bronzed and military figure. Suddenly it seemed strange to Clayton Spencer that this man before him had only a few months before opened his automobile door for him, and stood waiting with a rug to spread over his knees. He got up and shook hands.
"You look like a different man, Jackson."
"Well, at least I feel like a man."
"Sit down," he said. And again it occurred to him that never before had he asked Jackson to sit down in his presence. It was wrong, somehow. The whole class system was absurd. Maybe war would change that, too. It was doing many queer things, already.
He had sent for Jackson, but he did not at once approach the reason. He sat back, while Jackson talked of the border and Joey slipped in and pretended to sharpen lead pencils.
Clayton's eyes wandered to the window. Outside in the yard were other men, now employees of his, who would soon be in khaki. Out of every group there in a short time some would be gone, and of those who would go a certain number would never come back. That was what war was; one day a group of men, laboring with their hands or their brains, that some little home might live; that they might go back at evening to that home, and there rest for the next day's toil. And the next, gone. Every man out there in the yard was loved by some one. To a certain number of them this day meant death, or wounding. It meant separation, and suffering, and struggle.
And all over the country there were such groups.
The roar of the plant came in through the open window. A freight car was being loaded with finished shells. As fast as it was filled, another car was shunted along the spur to take its place. Over in Germany, in hundreds of similar plants, similar shells were being hurried to the battle line, to be hurled against the new army that was soon to cross the seas.
All those men, and back of every man, a woman.
Jackson had stopped. Joey was regarding him with stealthy admiration, and holding his breast bone very high. Already in his mind Joey was a soldier.
"You did not say in your note why you wanted to see me, Mr. Spencer."
He roused himself with a visible effort.
"I sent for you, yes," he said. "I sent—I'll tell you why I sent for you, Jackson. I've been meaning to do it for several weeks. Now that this has come I'm more than glad I did so. You can't keep your family on what you are getting. That's certain."
"My wife is going to help me, sir. The boy will soon be weaned. Then she intends to get a position. She was a milliner when we were married."
"But—Great Scott! She ought not to leave a child as young as that."
"She's going to fix that, all right. She wants to do it. And we're all right so far I had saved a little."
Then there were women like that! Women who would not only let their men go to war, but who would leave their homes and enter the struggle for bread, to help them do it.
"She says it's the right thing," volunteered Jackson, proudly. Women who felt that a man going into the service was a right thing. Women who saw war as a duty to be done, not a wild adventure for the adventurous.
"You ought to be very proud of her," he said slowly. "There are not many like that."
"Well," Jackson said, apologetically, "they'll come round, sir. Some of them kind of hate the idea, just at first. But I look to see a good many doing what my wife's doing."
Clayton wondered grimly what Jackson would think if he knew that at that moment he was passionately envious of him, of his uniform, of the youth that permitted him to wear that uniform, of his bronzed skin, of his wife, of his pride in that wife.
"You're a lucky chap, Jackson," he said. "I sent for you because I wanted to say that, as long as you are in the national service, I shall feel that you are on a vacation"—he smiled at the word—"on pay. Under those circumstances, I owe you quite a little money."
Jackson was too overwhelmed to reply at once.
"As a matter of fad," Clayton went on, "it's a national move, in a way. You don't owe any gratitude. We need our babies, you see. More than we do hats! If this war goes on, we shall need a good many boy babies."
And his own words suddenly crystallized the terror that was in him. It was the boys who would go; boys who whistled in the morning; boys who dreamed in the spring, long dreams of romance and of love.
Boys. Not men like himself, with their hopes and dreams behind them. Not men who had lived enough to know that only their early dreams were real. Not men, who, having lived, knew the vast disillusion of living and were ready to die.
It was only after Jackson had gone that he saw the fallacy of his own reasoning. If to live were disappointment, then to die, still dreaming the great dream, was not wholly evil. He found himself saying,
"To earn some honorable advancement for one's soul."
Deep down in him, overlaid with years of worldliness, there was a belief in a life after death. He looked out the window at the little, changing group. In each man out there there was something that would live on, after he had shed that sweating, often dirty, always weary, sometimes malformed shell that was the body. And then the thing that would count would be not how he had lived but what he had done.
This war was a big thing. It was the biggest thing in all the history of the world. There might be, perhaps, some special heaven for those who had given themselves to it, some particular honorable advancement for their souls. Already he saw Jackson as one apart, a man dedicated.
Then he knew that all his thinking was really centered about his boy. He wanted Graham to go. But in giving him he was giving him to the chance of death. Then he must hold to his belief in eternity. He must feel that, or the thing would be unbearable. For the first time in his life he gave conscious thought to Natalie's religious belief. She believed in those things. She must. She sat devoutly through the long service; she slipped, with a little rustle of soft silk, so easily to her knees. Perhaps, if he went to her with that?
For a week after Anna's escape Herman Klein had sat alone and brooded. Entirely alone now, for following a stormy scene on his discovery of Anna's disappearance, Katie had gone too.
"I don't know where she is," she had said, angrily, "and if I did know I wouldn't tell you. If I was her I'd have the law on you. Don't you look at that strap. You lay a hand on me and I'll kill you. If you think I'm afraid of you, you can think again."
"She is my daughter, and not yet of age," Herman said heavily. "You tell her for me that she comes back, or I go and bring her."
"Yah!" Katie jeered. "You try it! She's got marks on her that'll jail you." And on his failure to reply her courage mounted. "This ain't Germany, you know. They know how to treat women over here. And you ask me"—her voice rose—"and I'll just say that there's queer comings and goings here with that Rudolph. I've heard him say some things that'll lock him up good and tight."
For all his rage, Teutonic caution warned him not to lay hands on the girl. But his anger against her almost strangled him. Indeed, when she came down stairs, dragging her heavy suitcase, he took a step or two toward her, with his fists clenched. She stopped, terrified.
"You old bully!" she said, between white lips. "You touch me, and I'll scream till I bring in every neighbor in the block. There's a good lamp-post outside that's just waiting for your sort of German."
He had refused to pay her for the last week, also. But that she knew well enough was because he was out of money. As fast as Anna's salary had come in, he had taken out of it the small allowance that was to cover the week's expenses, and had banked the remainder. But Anna had carried her last pay envelope away with her, and added to his anger at her going was his fear that he would have to draw on his savings.
With Katie gone, he set heavily about preparing his Sunday dinner. Long years of service done for him, however, had made him clumsy. He cooked a wretched meal, and then, leaving the dishes as they were, he sat by the fire and brooded. When Rudolph came in, later, he found him there, in his stocking-feet, a morose and untidy figure.
Rudolph's reception of the news roused him, however. He looked up, after the telling, to find the younger man standing over him and staring down at him with blood-shot eyes.
"You beat her!" he was saying. "What with?"
"What does that matter—She had bought herself a watch—"
"What did you beat her with?" Rudolph was licking his lips. Receiving no reply, he called "Katie!"
"Katie has gone."
"Maybe you beat her, too."
"She wasn't my daughter."
"No by God! You wouldn't dare to touch her. She didn't belong to you. You—"
"Get out," said Herman, somberly. He stood up menacingly. "You go, now."
Rudolph hesitated. Then he laughed.
"All right, old top," he said, in a conciliatory tone. "No offense meant. I lost my temper."
He picked up the empty coal-scuffle, and went out into the shed where the coal was kept. He needed a minute to think. Besides, he always brought in coal when he was there. In the shed, however, he put down the scuttle and stood still.
"The old devil!" he muttered.
But his rage for Anna was followed by rage against her. Where was she to-night? Did Graham Spencer know where she was? And if he did, what then? Were they at that moment somewhere together? Hidden away, the two of them? The conviction that they were together grew on him, and with it a frenzy that was almost madness. He left the coal scuttle in the shed, and went out into the air. For a half hour he stood there, looking down toward the Spencer furnace, sending up, now red, now violet bursts of flame.
He was angry enough, jealous enough. But he was quick, too, to see that that particular lump of potters' clay which was Herman Klein was ready for the wheel. Even while he was cursing the girl his cunning mind was already plotting, revenge for the Spencers, self-aggrandizement among his fellows for himself. His inordinate conceit, wounded by Anna's defection, found comfort in the early prospect of putting over a big thing. He carried the coal in, to find Herman gloomily clearing his untidy table. For a moment they worked in silence, Rudolph at the stove, Herman at the sink.
Then Rudolph washed his hands under the faucet and faced the older man. "How do you know she bought herself that watch," he demanded.
Herman eyed him.
"Perhaps you gave it to her!" Something like suspicion of Rudolph crept into his eyes.
"Me? A hundred-dollar watch!"
"How do you know it cost a hundred dollars?"
"I saw it. She tried that story on me, too. But I was too smart for her. I went to the store and asked. A hundred bucks!"
Herman's lips drew back over his teeth.
"You knew it, eh? And you did not tell me?"
"It wasn't my funeral," said Rudolph coolly. "If you wanted to believe she bought it herself?"
"If she bought it herself!" Rudolph's shoulder was caught in an iron grip. "You will tell me what you mean."
"Well, I ask you, do you think she'd spend that much on a watch? Anyhow, the installment story doesn't go. That place doesn't sell on installments."
"Who is there would buy her such a watch?" Herman's voice was thick.
"How about Graham Spencer? She's been pretty thick with him."
"How you mean—thick?"
Rudolph shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't mean anything. But he's taken her out in his car. And the Spencers think there's nothing can't be bought with money."
Herman put down the dish-cloth and commenced to draw down his shirt sleeves.
"Where you going?" Rudolph demanded uneasily.
"I go to the Spencers!"
"Listen!" Rudolph said, excitedly. "Don't you do it; not yet. You got to get him first. We don't know anything; we don't even know he gave her that watch. We've got to find her, don't you see? And then, we've got to learn if he's going there—wherever she is."
"I shall bring her back," Herman said, stubbornly. "I shall bring her back, and I shall kill her."
"And get strung up yourself! Now listen?" he argued. "You leave this to me. I'll find her. I've got a friend, a city detective, and he'll help me, see? We'll get her back, all right. Only you've got to keep your hands off her. It's the Spencers that have got to pay."
Herman went back to the sink, slowly.
"That is right. It is the Spencers," he muttered.
Rudolph went out. Late in the evening he came back, with the news that the search was on. And, knowing Herman's pride, he assured him that the hill need never learn of Anna's flight, and if any inquiries came he advised him to say the girl was sick.
In Rudolph's twisted mind it was not so much Anna's delinquency that enraged him. The hill had its own ideas of morality. But he was fiercely jealous, with that class-jealousy which was the fundamental actuating motive of his life. He never for a moment doubted that she had gone to Graham.
And, sitting by the fire in the little house, old Herman's untidy head shrunk on his shoulders, Rudolph almost forgot Anna in plotting to use this new pawn across the hearth from him in his game of destruction.
By the end of the week, however, there was no news of Anna. She had not returned to the mill. Rudolph's friend on the detective force had found no clew, and old Herman had advanced from brooding by the fire to long and furious wanderings about the city streets.
He felt no remorse, only a growing and alarming fury. He returned at night, to his cold and unkempt house, to cook himself a frugal and wretched meal. His money had run very low, and with true German stubbornness he refused to draw any from the savings bank.
Rudolph was very busy. There were meetings always, and to the little inner circle that met behind Gus's barroom one night later in March, he divulged the plan for the destruction of the new Spencer munition plant.
"But—will they take him back?" one of the men asked. He was of better class than the rest, with a military bearing and a heavy German accent, for all his careful English.
"Will a dog snatch at a bone?" countered Rudolph. "Take him back! They'll be crazy about it."
"He has been there a long time. He may, at the last, weaken."
But Rudolph only laughed, and drank more whisky of the German agent's providing.
"He won't weaken," he said. "Give me a few days more to find the girl, and all hell won't hold him."
On the Sunday morning after the President had been before Congress, he found Herman dressed for church, but sitting by the fire. All around him lay the Sunday paper, and he barely raised his head when Rudolph entered.
"Well, it's here!" said Rudolph.
"It has come. Yes."
"Wall Street will be opening champagne to-day."
Herman said nothing. But later on he opened up the fountain of rage in his heart. It was wrong, all wrong. We had no quarrel with Germany. It was the capitalists and politicians who had done it. And above all, England.
He went far. He blamed America and Americans for his loss of work, for Anna's disappearance. He searched his mind for grievances and found them in the ore dust on the hill, which killed his garden; in the inefficiency of the police, who could not find Anna; in the very attitude of Clayton Spencer toward his resignation.
And on this smoldering fire Rudolph piled fuel Not that he said a great deal. He worked around the cottage, washed dishes, threw pails of water on the dirty porches, swept the floor, carried in coal and wood. And gradually he began to play on the older man's vanity. He had had great influence with the millworkers. No one man had ever had so much.
Old Herman sat up, and listened sourly. But after a time he got up and pouring some water out of the kettle, proceeded to shave himself. And Rudolph talked on. If now he were to go back, and it were to the advantage of the Fatherland and of the workers of the world to hamper the industry, who so able to do it as Herman.
"Hamper? How?" Herman asked, suspiciously, holding his razor aloft. He had a great fear of the law.
Rudolph re-assured him, cunning eyes averted.
"Well, a strike," he suggested. "The men'll listen to you. God knows they've got a right to strike."
"I shall not go back," said Herman stolidly, and finished his shaving.
But Rudolph was satisfied. He left Herman sitting again by the fire, but his eyes were no longer brooding. He was thinking, watching the smoke curl up from the china-bowled German pipe which he had brought from the Fatherland, and which he used only on special occasions.
The declaration of war found Graham desperately unhappy. Natalie held him rigidly to his promise, but it is doubtful if Natalie alone could have kept, him out of the army. Marion was using her influence, too! She held him by alternating between almost agreeing to runaway marriage and threats of breaking the engagement if he went to war. She had tacitly agreed to play Natalie's game, and she was doing it.
Graham did not analyze his own misery. What he said to himself was that he was making a mess of things. Life, which had seemed to be a simple thing, compounded of work and play, had become involved, difficult and wretched.
Some times he watched Clayton almost with envy. He seemed so sure of himself; he was so poised, so calm, so strong. And he wondered if there had been a tumultuous youth behind the quiet of his maturity. He compared the even course of Clayton's days, his work, his club, the immaculate orderliness of his life, with his own disordered existence.
He was hedged about with women. Wherever he turned, they obtruded themselves. He made plans and women brushed them aside. He tried to live his life, and women stepped in and lived it for him. His mother, Marion, Anna Klein. Even Delight, with her friendship always overclouded with disapproval. Wherever he turned, a woman stood in the way. Yet he could not do without them. He needed them even while he resented them.
Then, gradually, into his self-engrossment there penetrated a conviction that all was not well between his father and his mother. He had always taken them for granted much as he did the house and the servants. In his brief vacations during his college days they had agreed or disagreed, amicably enough. He had considered, in those days, that life was a very simple thing. People married and lived together. Marriage, he considered, was rather the end of things.
But he was older now, and he knew that marriage was a beginning and not an end. It did not change people fundamentally. It only changed their habits.
His discovery that his father and mother differed about the war was the first of other discoveries; that they differed about him; that they differed about many matters; that, indeed, they had no common ground at all on which to meet; between them, although Graham did not put it that way, was a No-Man's Land strewn with dead happiness, lost desires, and the wreckage of years of dissension.
It was incredible to Graham that he should ever reach the forties, but he wondered some times if all of life was either looking forward or looking back. And it seemed to him rather tragic that for Clayton, who still looked like a boy, there should be nothing but his day at the mill, his silent evening at home, or some stodgy dinner-party where the women were all middle-aged, and the other men a trifle corpulent.
For the first time he was beginning to think of Clayton as a man, rather than a father.
Not that all of this was coherently thought out. It was a series of impressions, outgrowth of his own beginning development and of his own uneasiness.
He wondered, too, about Rodney Page. He seemed to be always around, underfoot, suave, fastidious, bowing Natalie out of the room and in again. He had deplored the war until he found his attitude unfashionable, and then he began, with great enthusiasm, to arrange pageants for Red Cross funds, and even to make little speeches, graceful and artificial, patterned on his best after-dinner manner.
Graham was certain that he supported his mother in trying to keep him at home, and he began to hate him with a healthy young hate. However, late in April, he posed in one of the pageants, rather ungraciously, in a khaki uniform. It was not until the last minute that he knew that Delight Haverford was to be the nurse bending over his prostrate figure. He turned rather savage.
"Rotten nonsense," he said to her, "when they stood waiting to be posed.
"Oh, I don't know. They're rather pretty."
"Pretty! Do you suppose I want it be pretty?"
"Well, I do," said Delight, calmly.
"It's fake. That's what I hate. If you were really a nurse, and was really in uniform—! But this parading in somebody else's clothes, or stuff hired for the occasion—it's sickening."
Delight regarded him with clear, appraising eyes.
"Why don't you get a uniform of your own, then?" she inquired. She smiled a little.
He never knew what the effort cost her. He was pale and angry, and his face in the tableau was so set that it brought a round of applause. With the ringing down of the curtain he confronted her, almost menacingly.
"What did you mean by that?" he demanded. "We've hardly got into this thing yet."
"We are in it, Graham."
"Just because I don't leap into the first recruiting office and beg them to take me—what right have you got to call me a slacker?"
"But I heard—"
"It doesn't matter what I heard, if you are going."
"Of course I'm going," he said, truculently.
He meant it, too. He would get Anna settled somewhere—she had begun to mend—and then he would have it out with Marion and his mother. But there was no hurry. The war would last a long time. And so it was that Graham Spencer joined the long line of those others who had bought a piece of ground, or five yoke of oxen, or had married a wife.
It was the morning after the pageant that Clayton, going down-town with him in the car, voiced his expectation that the government would take over their foreign contracts, and his feeling that, in that case, it would be a mistake to profit by the nation's necessities.
"What do you mean, sir?"
"I mean we should take only a small profit. A banker's profit."
Graham had been fairly stunned, and had sat quiet while Clayton explained his attitude. There were times when big profits were allowable. There was always the risk to invested capital to consider. But he did not want to grow fat on the nation's misfortunes. Italy was one thing. This was different.
"But—we are just getting on our feet!"
"Think it over!" said Clayton. "This is going to be a long war, and an expensive one. We don't particularly want to profit by it, do we?"
Graham flushed. He felt rather small and cheap, but with that there was a growing admiration of his father. Suddenly he saw that this man beside him was a big man, one to be proud of. For already he knew the cost of the decision. He sat still, turning this new angle of war over in his mind.
"I'd like to see some of your directors when you put that up to them!"
Clayton nodded rather grimly. He did not anticipate a pleasant hour.
"How about mother?"
"I think we may take it for granted that she feels as we do."
Graham pondered that, too.
"What about the new place?"
"It's too soon to discuss that. We are obligated to do a certain amount. Of course it would be wise to cut where we can."
"She'll raise the deuce of a row," was his comment.
It had never occurred to him before to take sides between his father and his mother, but there was rising in him a new and ardent partisanship of his father, a feeling that they were, in a way, men together. He had, more than once, been tempted to go to him with the Anna Klein situation. He would have, probably, but a fellow felt an awful fool going to somebody and telling him that a girl was in love with him, and what the dickens was he to do about it?
He wondered, too, if anybody would believe that his relationship with Anna was straight, under the circumstances. For weeks now he had been sending her money, out of a sheer sense of responsibility for her beating and her illness. He took no credit for altruism. He knew quite well the possibilities of the situation. He made no promises to himself. But such attraction as Anna had had for him had been of her prettiness, and their propinquity. Again she was girl, and that was all. And the attraction was very faint now. He was only sorry for her.
When she could get about she took to calling him up daily from a drug-store at a near-by corner, and once he met her after dark and they walked a few blocks together. She was still weak, but she was spiritualized, too. He liked her a great deal that night.
"Do you know you've loaned me over a hundred dollars, Graham?" she asked.
"That's not a loan. I owed you that."
"I'll pay it back. I'm going to start to-morrow to look for work, and it won't cost me much to live."
"If you send it back, I'll buy you another watch!"
And, tragic as the subject was, they both laughed.
"I'd have died if I hadn't had you to think about when I was sick, Graham. I wanted to die—except for you."
He had kissed her then, rather because he knew she expected him to. When they got back to the house she said:
"You wouldn't care to come up?"
"I don't think I had better, Anna."
"The landlady doesn't object. There isn't any parlor. All the girls have their callers in their rooms."
"I have to go out to-night," he said evasively. "I'll come some other time."
As he started away he glanced back at her. She was standing in the doorway, eying him wistfully, a lonely and depressed little figure. He was tempted to throw discretion to the wind and go back. But he did not.
On the day when Clayton had broached the subject of offering their output to the government at only a banker's profit, Anna called him up at his new office in the munition plant.
He was rather annoyed. His new secretary was sitting across the desk, and it was difficult to make his responses noncommittal.
"Is anybody there? Can you talk?"
"Not very well."
"Then listen; I'll talk. I want to see you."
"I'm busy all day. Sorry."
"Listen, Graham, I must see you. I've something to tell you."
"All right, go ahead."
"It's about Rudolph. I was out looking for a position yesterday and I met him."
He looked up. Miss Peterson was absently scribbling on the cover of her book, and listening intently.
"He was terrible, Graham. He accused me of all sorts of things, about you."
He almost groaned aloud over the predicament he was in. It began to look serious.
"Suppose I pick you up and we have dinner somewhere?"
"At the same corner?"
He was very irritable all morning. He felt as though a net was closing in around him, and his actual innocence made him the more miserable. Miss Peterson found him very difficult that day, and shed tears in her little room before she went to lunch.
Anna herself was difficult that evening. Her landlady's son had given up a good job and enlisted. Everybody was going. She supposed Graham would go next, and she'd be left alone.
"I don't know. I'd like to."
"Oh, you'll go, all right. And you'll forget I ever existed." She made an effort. "You're right, of course. I'm only looking ahead. If anything happens to you, I'll kill myself."
The idea interested her. She began to dramatize herself, a forlorn figure, driven from home, and deserted by her lover. She saw herself lying in the cottage, stately and mysterious, while the hill girls went in and out, and whispered.
"I'll kill myself," she repeated.
"Nothing will happen to me, Anna, dear."
"I don't know why I care so. I'm nothing to you."
"That's not so."
"If you cared, you'd have come up the other night. You left me alone in that lonesome hole. It's hell, that place. All smells and whispering and dirt."
"Now listen to me, Anna. You're tired, or you wouldn't say that. You know I'm fond of you. But I've got you into trouble enough. I'm not—for God's sake don't tempt me, Anna."
She looked at him half scornfully.
"Tempt you!" Then she gave a little scream. Graham following her eyes looked through the window near them.
"Rudolph!" she whimpered. And began to weep out of pure terror.
But Graham saw nobody. To soothe her, however, he went outside and looked about. There were half a dozen cars, a group of chauffeurs, but no Rudolph. He went hack to her, to find her sitting, pale and tense, her hands clenched together.
"They'll pay you out some way," she said. "I know them. They'll never believe the truth. That was Rudolph, all right. He'll think we're living together. He'd never believe anything else."
"Do you think he followed you the other day?"
"I gave him the shake, in the crowd."
"Then I don't see why you're worrying. We're just where we were before, aren't we?"
"You don't know them. I do. They'll be up to something."
She was excited and anxious, and with the cocktail he ordered for her she grew reckless.
"I'm just hung around your neck like a stone," she lamented. "You don't care a rap for me; I know it. You're just sorry for me."
Her eyes filled again, and Graham rose, with an impatient movement.
"Let's get out of this," he said roughly. "The whole place is staring at you."
But on the road the fact that she had been weeping for him made him relent. He put an arm around her and drew her to him.
"Don't cry, honey," he said. "It makes me unhappy to see you miserable."
He kissed her. And they clung together, finding a little comfort in the contact of warm young bodies.
He went up to her room that night. He was more anxious as to Rudolph than he cared to admit, but he went up, treading softly on stairs that creaked with every step. He had no coherent thoughts. He wanted companionship rather than love. He was hungry for what she gave him, the touch of her hands about his neck, the sense of his manhood that shone from her faithful eyes, the admiration and unstinting love she offered him.
But alone in the little room he had a reaction, not the less keen because it was his fastidious rather than his moral sense that revolted. The room was untidy, close, sordid. Even Anna's youth did not redeem it. Again he had the sense, when he had closed the door, of being caught in a trap, and this time a dirty trap. When she had taken off her hat, and held up her face to be kissed, he knew he would not stay.
"It's awful, isn't it?" she asked, following his eyes.
"It doesn't look like you. That's sure."
"I hurried out. It's not so bad when it's tidy."
He threw up the window, and stood there a moment. The spring air was cool and clean, and there was a sound of tramping feet below. He looked down. The railway station was near-by, and marching toward it, with the long swing of regulars, a company of soldiers was moving rapidly. The night, the absence of drums or music, the businesslike rapidity of their progress, held him there, looking down. He turned around. Anna had slipped off her coat, and had opened the collar of her blouse. Her neck gleamed white and young. She smiled at him.
"I guess I'll be going," he stammered.
"I only wanted to see how you are fixed." His eyes evaded hers. "I'll see you again in a day or two. I—"
He could not tell her the thoughts that were surging in him. The country was at war. Those fellows below there were already in it, of it. And here in this sordid room, he had meant to take her, not because he loved her, but because she offered herself. It was cheap. It was terrible. It was—dirty.
"Good night," he said, and tried to kiss her. But she turned her face away. She stood listening to his steps on the stairs as he went down, steps that mingled and were lost in the steady tramp of the soldiers' feet in the street below.
With his many new problems following the declaration of war, Clayton Spencer found a certain peace. It was good to work hard. It was good to fill every working hour, and to drop into sleep at night too weary for consecutive thought.
Yet had he been frank with himself he would have acknowledged that Audrey was never really out of his mind. Back of his every decision lay his desire for her approval. He did not make them with her consciously in his mind, but he wanted her to know and understand, In his determination, for instance, to offer his shells to the government at a nominal profit, there was no desire to win her approbation.
It was rather that he felt her behind him in the decision. He shrank from telling Natalie. Indeed, until he had returned from Washington he did not broach the subject. And then he was tired and rather discouraged, and as a result almost brutally abrupt.
Coming on top of a hard fight with the new directorate, a fight which he had finally won, Washington was disheartening. Planning enormously for the future it seemed to have no vision for the things of the present. He was met vaguely, put off, questioned. He waited hours, as patiently as he could, to find that no man seemed to have power to act, or to know what powers he had.
He found something else, too—a suspicion of him, of his motives. Who offered something for nothing must be actuated by some deep and hidden motive. He found his plain proposition probed and searched for some ulterior purpose behind it.
"It's the old distrust, Mr. Spencer," said Hutchinson, who had gone with him to furnish figures and various data. "The Democrats are opposed to capital. They're afraid of it. And the army thinks all civilians are on the make—which is pretty nearly true."
He saw the Secretary of War, finally, and came away feeling better. He had found there an understanding that a man may—even should—make sacrifices for his country during war. But, although he carried away with him the conviction that his offer would ultimately be accepted, there was nothing actually accomplished. He sent Hutchinson back, and waited for a day or two, convinced that his very sincerity must bring a concrete result, and soon.
Then, lunching alone one day in the Shoreham, he saw Audrey Valentine at another table. He had not seen her for weeks, and he had an odd moment of breathlessness when his eyes fell on her. She was pale and thin, and her eyes looked very tired. His first impulse was to go to her. The second, on which he acted, was to watch her for a little, to fill his eyes for the long months of emptiness ahead.
She was with a man in uniform, a young man, gay and smiling. He was paying her evident court, in a debonair fashion, bending toward her across the table. Suddenly Clayton was jealous, fiercely jealous.
The jealousy of the young is sad enough, but it is an ephemeral thing. Life calls from many directions. There is always the future, and the things of the future. And behind it there is the buoyancy and easy forgetfulness of youth. But the jealousy of later years knows no such relief. It sees time flying and happiness evading it. It has not the easy self-confidence of the twenties. It has learned, too, that happiness is a rare elusive thing, to be held and nursed and clung to, and that even love must be won and held.
It has learned that love must be free, but its instinct is to hold it with chains.
He suffered acutely, and was ashamed of his suffering. After all, Audrey was still young. Life had not been kind to her, and she should be allowed to have such happiness as she could. He could offer her nothing.
He would give her up. He had already given her up. She knew it.
Then she saw him, and his determination died under the light that came in her eyes. Give her up! How could he give her up, when she was everything he had in the world? With a shock, he recognized in the thought Natalie's constant repetition as to Graham. So he had come to that!
He felt Audrey's eyes on him, but he did not go to her. He signed his check, and went out. He fully meant to go away without seeing her. But outside he hesitated. That would hurt her, and it was cowardly. When, a few moments later, she came out, followed by the officer, it was to find him there, obviously waiting.
"I wondered if you would dare to run away!" she said. "This is Captain Sloane, Clay, and he knows a lot about you."
Close inspection showed Sloane handsome, bronzed, and with a soft Southern voice, somewhat like Audrey's. And it developed that he came from her home, and was on his way to one of the early camps. He obviously intended to hold on to Audrey, and Clayton left them there with the feeling that Audrey's eyes were following him, wistful and full of trouble. He had not even asked her where she was stopping.
He took a long walk that afternoon, and re-made his noon-hour resolution. He would keep away from her. It might hurt her at first, but she was young. She would forget. And he must not stand in her way. Having done which, he returned to the Shoreham and spent an hour in a telephone booth, calling hotels systematically and inquiring for her.
When he finally located her his voice over the wire startled her.
"Good heavens, Clay," she said. "Are you angry about anything?"
"Of course not. I just wanted to—I am leaving to-night and I'm saying good-by. That's all."
"Oh!" She waited.
"Have you had a pleasant afternoon?"
"Aren't you going to see me before you go?"
"I don't think so."
"Don't you want to know what I am doing in Washington?"
"That's fairly clear, isn't it?"
"You are being rather cruel, Clay."
He hesitated. He was amazed at his own attitude. Then, "Will you dine with me to-night?"
"I kept this evening for you."
But when he saw her, his sense of discomfort only increased. Their dining together was natural enough. It was not even faintly clandestine. But the new restraint he put on himself made him reserved and unhappy. He could not act a part. And after a time Audrey left off acting, too, and he found her watching him. On the surface he talked, but underneath it he saw her unhappiness, and her understanding of his.
"I'm going back, too," she said. "I came down to see what I can do, but there is nothing for the untrained woman. She's a cumberer of the earth. I'll go home and knit. I daresay I ought to be able to learn to do that well, anyhow."
"Have you forgiven me for this afternoon?"
"I wasn't angry. I understood."
That was it, in a nutshell. Audrey understood. She was that sort. She never held small resentments. He rather thought she never felt them.
"Don't talk about me," she said. "Tell me about you and why you are here. It's the war, of course."
So, rather reluctantly, he told her. He shrank from seeming to want her approval, but at the same time he wanted it. His faith in himself had been shaken. He needed it restored. And some of the exaltation which had led him to make his proffer to the government came back when he saw how she flushed over it.
"It's very big," she said, softly. "It's like you, Clay. And that's the best thing I can say. I am very proud of you."
"I would rather have you proud of me than anything in the world," he said, unsteadily.
They drifted, somehow, to talking of happiness. And always, carefully veiled, it was their own happiness they discussed.
"I don't think," she said, glancing away from him, "that one finds it by looking for it. That is selfish, and the selfish are never happy. It comes—oh, in queer ways. When you're trying to give it to somebody else, mostly."
"There is happiness, of a sort, in work."
Their eyes met. That was what they had to face, she dedicated to service, he to labor.
"It's never found by making other people unhappy, Clay."
"No. And yet, if the other people are already unhappy?"
"Never!" she said. And the answer was to the unspoken question in both their hearts.
It was not until they were in the taxicab that Clayton forced the personal note, and then it came as a cry, out of the very depths of him. She had slipped her hand into his, and the comfort of even that small touch broke down the barriers he had so carefully erected.
"I need you so!" he said. And he held her hand to his face. She made no movement to withdraw it.
"I need you, too," she replied. "I never get over needing you. But we are going to play the game, Clay. We may have our weak hours—and this is one of them—but always, please God, we'll play the game."
The curious humility he felt with her was in his voice.
"I'll need your help, even in that."
And that touch of boyishness almost broke down her reserve of strength. She wanted to draw his head down on her shoulder, and comfort him. She wanted to smooth back his heavy hair, and put her arms around him and hold him. There was a great tenderness in her for him. There were times when she would have given the world to have gone into his arms and let him hold her there, protected and shielded. But that night she was the stronger, and she knew it.
"I love you, Audrey. I love you terribly."
And that was the word for it. It was terrible. She knew it.
"To have gone through all the world," he said, brokenly, "and then to find the Woman, when it is too late. Forever too late." He turned toward her. "You know it, don't you? That you are my woman?"
"I know it," she answered, steadily. "But I know, too—"
"Let me say it just once. Then never again. I'll bury it, but you will know it is there. You are my woman. I would go through all of life alone to find you at the end. And if I could look forward, dear, to going through the rest of it with you beside me, so I could touch you, like this—"
"If I could only protect you, and shield you—oh, how tenderly I could care for you, my dear, my dear!"
The strength passed to him, then. Audrey had a clear picture of what life with him might mean, of his protection, his tenderness. She had never known it. Suddenly every bit of her called out for his care, his quiet strength.
"Don't make me sorry for myself." There were tears in her eyes. "Will you kiss me, Clay? We might have that to remember."
But they were not to have even that, for the taxicab drew up before her hotel. It was one of the absurd anti-climaxes of life that they should part with a hand-clasp and her formal "Thank you for a lovely evening."
Audrey was the better actor of the two. She went in as casually as though she had not put the only happiness of her life away from her. But Clayton Spencer stood on the pavement, watching her in, and all the tragedy of the empty years ahead was in his eyes.
Left alone in her untidy room after Graham's abrupt departure, Anna Klein was dazed. She stood where he left her, staring ahead. What had happened meant only one thing to her, that Graham no longer cared about her, and, if that was true, she did not care to live.
It never occurred to her that he had done rather a fine thing, or that he had protected her against herself. She felt no particular shame, save the shame of rejection. In her small world of the hill, if a man gave a girl valuable gifts or money there was generally a quid pro quo. If the girl was unwilling, she did not accept such gifts. If the man wanted nothing, he did not make them. And men who made love to girls either wanted to marry them or desired some other relationship with them.
She listened to his retreating footsteps, and then began, automatically to unbutton her thin white blouse. But with the sound of the engine of his car below she ran to the window. She leaned out, elbows on the sill, and watched him go, without a look up at her window.
So that was the end of that!
Then, all at once, she was fiercely angry. He had got her into this scrape, and now he had left her. He had pretended to love her, and all the time he had meant to do just this, to let her offer herself so he might reject her. He had been playing with her. She had lost her home because of him, had been beaten almost insensible, had been ill for weeks, and now he had driven away, without even looking back.
She jerked her blouse off, still standing by the window, and when the sleeve caught on her watch, she jerked that off, too. She stood for a moment with it in her hand, her face twisted with shame and anger. Then recklessly and furiously she flung it through the open window.
In the stillness of the street far below she heard it strike and rebound.
"That for him!" she muttered.
Almost immediately she wanted it again. He had given it to her. It was all she had left now, and in a curious way it had, through long wearing, come to mean Graham to her. She leaned out of the window. She thought she saw it gleaming in the gutter, and already, attracted by the crash, a man was crossing the street to where it lay.
"You let that alone," she called down desperately. The figure was already stooping over it. Entirely reckless now, she ran, bare-armed and bare-bosomed, down the stairs and out into the street. She had thought to see its finder escaping, but he was still standing where he had picked it up.
"It's mine," she began. "I dropped it out of the window. I—"
"You threw it out of the window. I saw you."
It was Rudolph.
"You—" He snarled, and stood with menacing eyes fixed on her bare neck.
"Get into the house," he said roughly. "You're half-naked."
"Give me my watch."
"I'll give it to you, all right. What's left of it. When we get in."
He followed her into the hail, but when she turned there and held out her hand, he only snarled again.
"We'll talk up-stairs."
"I can't take you up. The landlady don't allow it."
"She don't, eh? You had that Spencer skunk up there."
His face frightened her, and she lied vehemently.
"That's not so, and you know it, Rudolph Klein. He came inside, just like this, and we stood and talked. Then he went away. He wasn't inside ten minutes." Her voice rose hysterically, but Rudolph caught her by the arm, and pushing her ahead of him, forced her up the stairs.
"We're going to have this out," he muttered, viciously.
Half way up she stopped.
"You're hurting my arm."
"You be glad I'm not breaking it for you."
He climbed in a mounting fury. He almost threw her into her room, and closing the door, he turned the key in it. His face reminded her of her father's the night he had beaten her, and her instinct of self-preservation made her put the little table between them.
"You lay a hand on me," she panted, "and I'll yell out the window. The police would be glad enough to have something on you, Rudolph Klein, and you know it."
"They arrest women like you, too."
"Don't you dare say that." And as he took a step or two toward her she retreated to the window. "You stay there, or I'll jump out of the window."
She looked desperate enough to do it, and Rudolph hesitated.
"He was up here. I saw him at the window. I've been trailing you all evening. Keep off that window-sill, you little fool! I'm not going to kill you. But I'm going to get him, all right, and don't you forget it."
His milder tone and the threat frightened her more than ever. He would get Graham; he was like that. Get him in some cruel, helpless way; that was the German blood in him. She began to play for time, with instinctive cunning.
"Listen, Rudolph," she said. "I'll tell you all about it. He did come up, but he left right away. We quarreled. He threw me over, Rudolph. That's what he did."
Her own words reminded her of her humiliation, and tears came into her eyes.
"He threw me over! Honest he did. That's why I threw his watch out of the window. That's straight, Rudolph. That's straight goods. I'm not lying now."
"God!" said Rudolph. "The dirty pup. Then—then you're through with him, eh?"
"I'm through, all right."
Her tone carried conviction. Rudolph's face relaxed, and seeing that, she remembered her half-dressed condition.
"Throw me that waist," she said.
"Come around and get it."
"Aw, Rudolph, throw it. Please!"
"Getting modest, all at once," he jeered. But he picked it up and advanced to the table with it. As she held out her hand for it he caught her and drew her forward toward him, across the table.
"You little devil!" he said, and kissed her.
She submitted, because she must, but she shivered. If she was to save Graham she must play the game. And so far she was winning. She was feminine enough to know that already the thing he thought she had done was to be forgiven her. More than that, she saw a half-reluctant admiration in Rudolph's eyes, as though she had gained value, if she had lost virtue, by the fact that young Spencer had fancied her. And Rudolph's morals were the morals of many of his kind. He admired chastity in a girl, but he did not expect it.
But she was watchful for the next move he might make. That it was not what she expected did not make it the less terrifying.
"You get your hat and coat on."
"I'll not do anything of the kind."
"D'you think I'm going to leave you here, where he can come back whenever he wants to? You think again!"
"Where are you going to take me?"
"I'm going to take you home."
When pleading made no impression on him, and when he refused to move without her, she threw her small wardrobe into the suitcase, and put her hat and coat on. She was past thinking, quite hopeless. She would go back, and her father would kill her, which would be the best thing anyhow; she didn't care to live.
Rudolph had relapsed into moody silence. Down the stairs, and on the street he preceded her, contemptuously letting her trail behind. He carried her suitcase, however, and once, being insecurely fastened, it opened and bits of untidy apparel littered the pavement. He dropped the suitcase and stood by while she filled it again. The softness of that moment, when, lured by her bare arms he had kissed her, was gone.
The night car jolted and swayed. After a time he dozed, and Anna, watching him, made an attempt at flight. He caught her on the rear platform, however, with a clutch that sickened her. The conductor eyed them with the scant curiosity of two o'clock in the morning, when all the waking world is awry.
At last they were climbing the hill to the cottage, while behind and below them the Spencer furnaces sent out their orange and violet flames, and the roar of the blast sounded like the coming of a mighty wind.
The cottage was dark. Rudolph put down the suitcase, and called Herman softly through his hands. Above they could hear him moving, and his angry voice came through the open window.
"What you want?"
"Come down. It's Rudolph."
But when he turned Anna was lying in a dead faint on the garden path, a crumpled little heap of blissful forgetfulness. When Herman came down, it was to find Rudolph standing over her, the suitcase still in his hand, and an ugly scowl on his face.
"Well, I got her," he said. "She's scared, that's all." He prodded her with his foot, but she did not move, and Herman bent down with his candle.
"Bring her in," he said, and led the way into the house. When Rudolph staggered in, with Anna in his arms, he found Herman waiting and fingering the leather strap.
Audrey had found something to do at last. It was Captain Sloane who had given her the idea.
"You would make a great hit, Audrey," he had said. "It's your voice, you know. There's something about it—well, you know the effect it always has on me. No? All right, I'll be good."
But she had carried the idea home with her, and had proceeded, with her customary decision, to act on it.
Then, one day in May, she was surprised by a visit from Delight Haverford. She had come home, tired and rather depressed, to find the Haverford car at the door, and Delight waiting for her in her sitting-room.
Audrey's acquaintance with Delight had been rather fragmentary, but it had covered a long stretch of time. So, if she was surprised, it was not greatly when Delight suddenly kissed her. She saw then that the girl had brought her some spring flowers, and the little tribute touched her.
"What a nice child you are!" she said, and standing before the mirror proceeded to take off her hat. Before her she could see the reflection of Delight's face, and her own tired, slightly haggard eyes.
"And how unutterably old you make me look!" she added, smiling.
"You are too lovely for words, Mrs. Valentine."
Audrey patted her hair into order, and continued her smiling inspection of the girl's face.
"And now we have exchanged compliments," she said, "we will have some tea, and then you shall tell me what you are so excited about."
"I am excited; I—"
"Let's have the tea first."
Audrey's housekeeping was still rather casual. Tidiness of Natalie's meticulous order would always be beyond her, but after certain frantic searches for what was needed, she made some delicious tea.
"Order was left out of me, somehow," she complained. "Or else things move about when I'm away. I'm sure it is that, because I certainly never put the sugar behind my best hat. Now—let's have it."
Delight was only playing with her tea. She flushed delicately, and put the cup down.
"I was in the crowd this morning," she said.
"In the crowd? Oh, my crowd!"
"I see," said Audrey, thoughtfully. "I make a dreadful speech, you know."
"I thought you were wonderful. And, when those men promised to enlist, I cried. I was horribly ashamed. But you were splendid."
"I wonder!" said Audrey, growing grave. Delight was astonished to see that there were tears in her eyes. "I do it because it is all I can do, and of course they must go. But some times at night—you see, my dear, some of them are going to be killed. I am urging them to go, but the better the day I have had, the less I sleep at night."
There was a little pause. Delight was thinking desperately of something to say.
"But you didn't come to talk about me, did you?"
"Partly. And partly about myself. I want to do something, Mrs. Valentine. I can drive a car, but not very well. I don't know a thing about the engine. And I can nurse a little. I like nursing."
Audrey studied her face. It seemed to her sad beyond words that this young girl, who should have had only happiness, was facing the horrors of what would probably be a long war. It was the young who paid the price of war, in death, in empty years. Already the careless gayety of their lives was gone. For the dream futures they had planned they had now to substitute long waiting; for happiness, service.
"The Red Cross is going to send canteen workers to France. You might do that."
"If I only could! But I can't leave mother. Not entirely. Father is going. He wants to go and fight, but I'm afraid they won't take him. He'll go as a chaplain, anyhow. But he's perfectly helpless, you know. Mother says she is going to tie his overshoes around his neck."
"I'll see if I can think of something for you, Delight. There's one thing in my mind. There are to be little houses built in all the new training-camps for officers, and they are to be managed by women. They are to serve food—sandwiches and coffee, I think. They may be even more pretentious. I don't know, but I'll find out."
"I'll do anything," said Delight, and got up. It was then that Audrey realized that there was something more to the visit than had appeared, for Delight, ready to go, hesitated.
"There is something else, Mrs. Valentine," she said, rather slowly. "What would you do if a young man wanted to go into the service, and somebody held him back?"
"His own people?"
"His mother. And—a girl."
"I would think the army is well off without him."
Delight flushed painfully.
"Perhaps," she admitted. "But is it right just to let it go at that? If you like people, it seems wrong just to stand by and let others ruin their lives for them."
"Only very weak men let women ruin their lives."
But already she began to understand the situation.
"There's a weakness that is only a sort of habit. It may come from not wanting to hurt somebody." Delight was pulling nervously at her gloves. "And there is this to be said, too. If there is what you call weakness, wouldn't the army be good for it? It makes men, some times, doesn't it?"
For a sickening moment, Audrey thought of Chris. War had made Chris, but it had killed him, too.
"Have you thought of one thing?" she asked. "That in trying to make this young man, whoever it is, he may be hurt, or even worse?"
"He would have to take his chance, like the rest."
She went a little pale, however. Audrey impulsively put an arm around her.
"And this—woman is the little long-legged girl who used to give signals to her father when the sermon was too long! Now—what can I do about this youth who can't make up his own mind?"
"You can talk to his mother."
"If I know his mother—? and I think I do—it won't do the slightest good."
"Then his father. You are great friends, aren't you?"
Even this indirect mention of Clayton made Audrey's hands tremble. She put them behind her.
"We are very good friends," she said. But Delight was too engrossed to notice the deeper note in her voice. "I'll see what I can do. But don't count on me too much. You spoke of a girl. I suppose I know who it is."
"Probably. It is Marion Hayden. He is engaged to her."
And again Audrey marveled at her poise, for Delight's little tragedy was clear by that time. Clear, and very sad.
"I can't imagine his really being in love with her."
"But he must be. They are engaged."
Audrey smiled at the simple philosophy of nineteen, smiled and was extremely touched. How brave the child was! Audrey's own courageous heart rather swelled in admiration.
But after Delight had gone, she felt depressed again, and very tired. How badly these things were handled! How strange it was that love so often brought suffering! Great loves were almost always great tragedies. Perhaps it was because love was never truly great until the element of sacrifice entered into it.
Her own high courage failed her somewhat. During these recent days when, struggling against very real stage fright, she made her husky, wholly earnest but rather nervous little appeals to the crowds before the enlisting stations, she got along bravely enough during the day. But the night found her sad, unutterably depressed.
At these times she was haunted by a fear that persisted against all her arguments. In Washington Clayton had not looked well. He had been very tired and white, and some of his natural buoyancy seemed to have deserted him. He needed caring for, she would reflect bitterly. There should be some one to look after him. He was tired and anxious, but it took the eyes of love to see it. Natalie would never notice, and would consider it a grievance if she did. The fiercely, maternal tenderness of the childless woman for the man she loves kept her awake at night staring into the darkness and visualizing terrible things. Clayton ill, and she unable to go to him. Ill, and wanting her, and unable to ask for her.
She was, she knew, not quite normal, but the fear gripped and held her. These big strong men, no one ever looked after them. They spent their lives caring for others, and were never cared for.
There were times when a sort of exaltation of sacrifice kept her head high, when the thing she was forced to give up seemed trifling compared with the men and boys who, some determinedly, some sheepishly, left the crowd around the borrowed car from which she spoke, and went into the recruiting station. There was sacrifice and sacrifice, and there was some comfort in the thought that both she and Clayton were putting the happiness of others above their own.
They had both, somehow, somewhere, missed the path. But they must never go back and try to find it.
Delight's visit left her thoughtful. There must be some way to save Graham. She wondered how much of Clayton's weariness was due to Graham. And she wondered, too, if he knew of the talk about Natalie and Rodney Page. There was a great deal of talk. Somehow such talk cheapened his sacrifice and hers.
Not that she believed it, or much of it. She knew how little such gossip actually meant. Practically every woman she knew, herself included, had at one time or another laid herself open to such invidious comment. They had all been idle, and they sought amusement in such spurious affairs as this, harmless in the main, but taking on the appearance of evil. That was part of the game, to appear worse than one really was. The older the woman, the more eager she was often in her clutch at the vanishing romance of youth.
Only—it was part of the game, too, to avoid scandal. A fierce pride for Clayton's name sent the color to her face.
On the evening after Delight's visit, she had promised to speak at a recruiting station far down-town in a crowded tenement district, and tired as she was, she took a bus and went down at seven o'clock. She was uneasy and nervous. She had not spoken in the evening before, and in all her sheltered life she had never seen the milling of a night crowd in a slum district.
There was a wagon drawn up at the curb, and an earnest-eyed young clergyman was speaking. The crowd was attentive, mildly curious. The clergyman was emphatic without being convincing. Audrey watched the faces about her, standing in the crowd herself, and a sense of the futility of it all gripped her. All these men, and only a feeble cheer as a boy still in his teens agreed to volunteer. All this effort for such scant result, and over on the other side such dire need! But one thing cheered her. Beside her, in the crowd, a portly elderly Jew was standing with his hat in his hand, and when a man near him made some jeering comment, the Jew brought his hand down on his shoulder.
"Be still and listen," he said. "Or else go away and allow others to listen. This is our country which calls."
"It's amusing, isn't it?" Audrey heard a woman's voice near her, carefully inflected, slightly affected.
"It's rather stunning, in a way. It's decorative; the white faces, and that chap in the wagon, and the gasoline torch."
"I'd enjoy it more if I'd had my dinner."
The man laughed.
"You are a most brazen combination of the mundane and the spiritual, Natalie. You are all soul—after you are fed. Come on. It's near here."
Audrey's hands were very cold. By the movement of the crowd behind her, she knew that Natalie and Rodney were making their escape, toward food and a quiet talk in some obscure restaurant in the neighborhood. Fierce anger shook her. For this she and Clayton were giving up the only hope they had of happiness—that Natalie might carry on a cheap and stealthy flirtation.
She made a magnificent appeal that night, and a very successful one. The lethargic crowd waked up and pressed forward. There were occasional cheers, and now and then the greater tribute of convinced silence. And on a box in the wagon the young clergyman eyed her almost wistfully. What a woman she was! With such a woman a man could live up to the best in him. Then he remembered his salary in a mission church of twelve hundred a year, and sighed.
He gained courage, later on, and asked Audrey if she would have some coffee with him, or something to eat. She looked tired.
"Tired!" said Audrey. "I am only tired these days when I am not working."
"You must not use yourself up. You are too valuable to the country."
She was very grateful. After all, what else really mattered? In a little glow she accepted his invitation.
"Only coffee," she said. "I have had dinner. Is there any place near?"
He piloted her through the crowd, now rapidly dispersing. Here and there some man, often in halting English, thanked her for what she had said. A woman, slightly the worse for drink, but with friendly, rather humorous eyes, put a hand on her arm.
"You're all right, m'dear," she said. "You're the stuff. Give it to them. I wish to God I could talk. I'd tell 'em something."
The clergyman drew her on hastily.
In a small Italian restaurant, almost deserted, they found a table, and the clergyman ordered eggs and coffee. He was a trifle uneasy. In the wagon Audrey's plain dark clothes had deceived him. But the single pearl on her finger was very valuable. He fell to apologizing for the place.
"I often come here," he explained. "The food is good, if you like Italian cooking. And it is near my work. I—"
But Audrey was not listening. At a corner, far back, Natalie and Rodney were sitting, engrossed in each other. Natalie's back was carefully turned to the room, but there was no mistaking her. Audrey wanted madly to get away, but the coffee had come and the young clergyman was talking gentle platitudes in a rather sweet but monotonous voice. Then Rodney saw her, and bowed.
Almost immediately afterward she heard the soft rustle that was Natalie, and found them both beside her.
"Can we run you up-town?" Natalie asked. "That is, unless—"
She glanced at the clergyman.
"Thank you, no, Natalie. I'm going to have some supper first."
Natalie was uneasy. Audrey made no move to present the clergyman, whose name she did not know. Rodney was looking slightly bored.
"Odd little place, isn't it?" Natalie offered after a second's silence.
"Rather quaint, I think."
Natalie made a desperate effort to smooth over an awkward situation. She turned to the clergyman.
"We heard you speaking. It was quite thrilling."
He smiled a little.
"Not so thrilling as this lady. She carried the crowd, absolutely."
Natalie turned and stared at Audrey, who was flushed with annoyance.
"You!" she said. "Do you mean to say you have been talking from that wagon?"
"I haven't said it. But I have."
"For heaven's sake!" Then she laughed and glanced at Rodney. "Well, if you won't tell on me, I'll not tell on you." And then seeing Audrey straighten, "I don't mean that, of course. Clay's at a meeting to-night, so I am having a holiday."
She moved on, always with the soft rustle, leaving behind her a delicate whiff of violets and a wide-eyed clergyman, who stared after her admiringly.
"What a beautiful woman!" he said. There was a faint regret in his voice that Audrey had not presented him, and he did not see that her coffee-cup trembled as she lifted it to her lips.
At ten o'clock the next morning Natalie called her on the 'phone. Natalie's morning voice was always languid, but there was a trace of pleading in it now.
"It's a lovely day," she said. "What are you doing?"
"I've been darning."
"I rather like it."
"Heavens, how you've changed! I suppose you wouldn't do anything so frivolous as to go out with me to the new house."
Audrey hesitated. Evidently Natalie wanted to talk, to try to justify herself. But the feeling that she was the last woman in the world to be Natalie's father-confessor was strong in her. On the other hand, there was the question of Graham. On that, before long, she and Natalie would have, in one of her own occasional lapses into slang, to go to the mat.
"I'll come, of course, if that's an invitation."
"I'll be around in an hour, then."
Natalie was unusually prompt. She was nervous and excited, and was even more carefully dressed than usual. Over her dark blue velvet dress she wore a loose motor-coat, with a great chinchilla collar, but above it Audrey, who would have given a great deal to be able to hate her, found her rather pathetic, a little droop to her mouth, dark circles which no veil could hide under her eyes.
The car was in its customary resplendent condition. There were orchids in the flower-holder, and the footman, light rug over his arm, stood rigidly waiting at the door.
"What a tone you and your outfit do give my little street," Audrey said, as they started. "We have more milk-wagons than limousines, you know."
"I don't see how you can bear it."
Audrey smiled. "It's really rather nice," she said. "For one thing, I haven't any bills. I never lived on a cash basis before. It's a sort of emancipation."
"Oh, bills!" said Natalie, and waved her hands despairingly. "If you could see my desk! And the way I watch the mail so Clay won't see them first. They really ought to send bills in blank envelopes."
"But you have to give them to him eventually, don't you?"
"I can choose my moment. And it is never in the morning. He's rather awful in the morning."
"Oh, not ugly. Just quiet. I hate a man who doesn't talk in the mornings. But then, for months, he hasn't really talked at all. That's why"—she was rather breathless—"that's why I went out with Rodney last night."
"I don't think Clayton would mind, if you told him first. It's your own affair, of course, but it doesn't seem quite fair to him."
"Oh, of course you'd side with him. Women always side with the husband."
"I don't 'side' with any one," Audrey protested. "But I am sure, if he realized that you are lonely—"
Suddenly she realized that Natalie was crying. Not much, but enough to force her, to dab her eyes carefully through her veil.
"I'm awfully unhappy, Audrey," she said. "Everything's wrong, and I don't know why. What have I done? I try and try and things just get worse."
Audrey was very uncomfortable. She had a guilty feeling that the whole situation, with Natalie pouring out her woes beside her, was indelicate, unbearable.
"But if Clay—" she began.
"Clay! He's absolutely ungrateful. He takes me for granted, and the house for granted. Everything. And if he knows I want a thing, he disapproves at once. I think sometimes he takes a vicious pleasure in thwarting me."
But as she did not go on, Audrey said nothing. Natalie had raised her veil, and from a gold vanity-case was repairing the damages around her eyes.
"Why don't you find something to do, something to interest you?" Audrey suggested finally.
But Natalie poured out a list of duties that lasted for the last three miles of the trip, ending with the new house.
"Even that has ceased to be a satisfaction," she finished. "Clayton wants to stop work on it, and cut down all the estimates. It's too awful. First he told me to get anything I liked, and now he says to cut down to nothing. I could just shriek about it."
"Perhaps that's because we are in the war, now."
"War or no war, we have to live, don't we? And he thinks I ought to do without the extra man for the car, and the second man in the house, and heaven alone knows what. I'm at the end of my patience."
Audrey made a resolution. After all, what mattered was that things should be more tolerable for Clayton. She turned to Natalie.
"Why don't you try to do what he wants, Natalie? He must have a reason for asking you. And it would please him a lot."
"If I start making concession, I can just keep it up. He's like that."
"He's so awfully fine, Natalie. He's—well, he's rather big. And sometimes I think, if you just tried, he wouldn't be so hard to please. He probably wants peace and happiness?"
"Happiness!" Natalie's voice was high. "That sounds like Clay. Happiness! Don't you suppose I want to be happy?"
"Not enough to work for it," said Audrey, evenly.
Natalie turned and stared at her.
"I believe you're half in love with Clay yourself!"
"Perhaps I am."
But she smiled frankly into Natalie's eyes.
"I know if I were married to him, I'd try to do what he wanted."
"You'd try it for a year. Then you'd give it up. It's one thing to admire a man. It's quite different being married to him, and having to put up with all sorts of things?"
Her voice trailed off before the dark vision of her domestic, unhappiness. And again, as with Graham and his father, it was what she did not say that counted. Audrey came close to hating her just then.
So far the conversation had not touched on Graham, and now they were turning in the new drive. Already the lawns Were showing green, and extensive plantings of shrubbery were putting out their pale new buds. Audrey, bending forward in the car, found it very lovely, and because it belonged to Clay, was to be his home, it thrilled her, just as the towering furnaces of his mill thrilled her, the lines of men leaving at nightfall. It was his, therefore it was significant.
The house amazed her. Even Natalie's enthusiasm had not promised anything so stately or so vast. Moving behind her through great empty rooms, to the sound of incessant hammering, over which Natalie's voice was raised shrilly, she was forced to confess that, between them, Natalie and Rodney had made a lovely thing. She felt no jealousy when she contrasted it with her own small apartment. She even felt that it was the sort of house Clayton should have.
For, although it had been designed as a setting for Natalie, although every color-scheme, almost every chair, had been bought with a view to forming a background for her, it was too big, too massive. It dwarfed her. Out-of-doors, Audrey lost that feeling. In the formal garden Natalie was charmingly framed. It was like her, beautifully exact, carefully planned, already with its spring borders faintly glowing.
Natalie cheered in her approval.
"You're so comforting," she said. "Clay thinks it isn't homelike. He says it's a show place—which it ought to be. It cost enough—and he hates show places. He really ought to have a cottage. Now let's see the swimming-pool."
But at the pool she lost her gayety. The cement basin, still empty, gleamed white in the sun, and Natalie, suddenly brooding, stood beside it staring absently into it.
"It was for Graham," she said at last. "We were going to have week-end parties, and all sorts of young people. But now!"
"What about now?"
Natalie raised tragic eyes to hers.
"He's probably going into the army. He'd have never thought of it, but Clayton shows in every possible way that he thinks he ought to go. What is the boy to do? His father driving him to what may be his death!"
"I don't think he'd do that, Natalie."
Natalie laughed, her little mirthless laugh.
"Much you know what his father would do! I'll tell you this, Audrey. If Graham goes, and anything—happens to him, I'll never forgive Clay. Never."
Audrey had not suspected such depths of feeling as Natalie's eyes showed under their penciled brows. They were desperate, vindictive eyes. Suddenly Natalie was pleading with her.
"You'll talk to Clay, won't you? He'll listen to you. He has a lot of respect for your opinion. I want you to go to him, Audrey. I brought you here to ask you. I'm almost out of my mind. Why do you suppose I play around with Rodney? I've got to forget, that's all. And I've tried everything I know, and failed. He'll go, and I'll lose him, and if I do it will kill me."
"It doesn't follow that because he goes he won't come back."
"He'll be in danger. I shall be worrying about him every moment." She threw out her hands in what was as unrestrained a gesture as she ever made. "Look at me!" she cried. "I'm getting old under it. I have lines about my eyes already. I hate to look at myself in the morning. And I'm not old. I ought to be at my best now."
Natalie's anxiety was for Graham, but her pity was for herself. Audrey's heart hardened.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I can't go to Clay. I feel as I think he does. If Graham wants to go, he should be free to do it. You're only hurting him, and your influence on him, by holding him back."
"You've never had a child."
"If I had, and he wanted to go, I should be terrified, but I should be proud."
"You and Clay! You even talk alike. It's all a pose, this exalted attitude. Even this war is a pose. It's a national attitude we've struck, a great nation going to rescue humanity, while the rest of the world looks on and applauds! It makes me ill."
She turned and went back to the house, leaving Audrey by the swimming-pool. She sat on the edge of one of the stone benches, feeling utterly dreary and sad. To make a sacrifice for a worthy object was one thing. To throw away a life's happiness for a spoiled, petulant woman was another. It was too high a price to pay. Mingled with her depression was pity for Clayton; for all the years that he had lived with this woman: and pride in him, that he had never betrayed his disillusion.
After a time she saw the car waiting, and she went slowly back to the house. Natalie was already inside, and she made no apologies whatever. The drive back was difficult. Natalie openly sulked, replied in monosyllables, made no effort herself until they were in the city again. Then she said, "I'm sorry I asked you to speak to Clay. Of course you needn't do it."
"Not if it is to do what you said. But I wish you wouldn't misunderstand me, Natalie. I'm awfully sorry. We just think differently."
"We certainly do," said Natalie briefly. And that was her good-by.
When Clayton had returned from Washington, one of the first problems put up to him had been Herman Klein's application to be taken on again. He found Hutchinson in favor of it.
"He doesn't say much," he said. "Never did. But I gather things are changed, now we are in the war ourselves."
"I suppose we need him."
"You bet we need him."
For the problem of skilled labor was already a grave one.
Clayton was doubtful. If he could have conferred with Dunbar he would have felt more comfortable, but Dunbar was away on some mysterious errand connected with the Military Intelligence Department. He sat considering, tapping on his desk with the handle of his pen. Of course things were different now. A good many Germans whose sympathies had, as between the Fatherland and the Allies, been with Germany, were now driven to a decision between the land they had left and the land they had adopted. And behind Herman there were thirty years of good record.
"Where is the daughter?"
"I don't know. She left some weeks ago. It's talk around the plant that he beat her up, and she got out. Those Germans don't know the first thing about how to treat women."
"Then she is not in Weaver's office?"
There was more talk in the offices than Hutchinson repeated. Graham's fondness for Anna, her slavish devotion to him, had been pretty well recognized. He wondered if Clayton knew anything about it, or the further gossip that Graham knew where Anna Klein had been hiding.
"What about Rudolph Klein? He was a nephew, wasn't he?"
"Fired," said Hutchinson laconically. "Got to spreading the brotherhood of the world idea—sweat brothers, he calls them. But he was mighty careful never to get in a perspiration himself."
"We might try Herman again. But I'd keep an eye on him."
So Herman was taken on at the new munition plant. He was a citizen, he owned property, he had a record of long service behind him. And, at first, he was minded to preserve that record intact. While he had by now added to his rage against the Fatherland's enemies a vast and sullen fury against invested capital, his German caution still remained.
He would sit through fiery denunciations of wealth, nodding his head slowly in agreement. He was perfectly aware that in Gus's little back room dark plots were hatched. Indeed, on a certain April night Rudolph had come up and called him onto the porch.
"In about fifteen minutes," he said, consulting his watch in the doorway, "I'm going to show you something pretty."
And in fifteen minutes to the dot the great railroad warehouses near the city wharf had burst into flames. Herman had watched without comment, while Rudolph talked incessantly, boasting of his share in the enterprise.
"About a million dollars' worth of fireworks there," he said, as the glare dyed their faces red. "All stuff for the Allies." And he boasted, "When the cat sits on the pickhandle, brass buttons must go."
By that time Herman knew that the "cat" meant sabotage. He had nodded slowly.
"But it is dangerous," was his later comment. "Sometimes they will learn, and then?"
His caution had exasperated Rudolph almost to frenzy. And as time went on, and one man after another of the organization was ferreted out at the new plant and dismissed, the sole remaining hope of the organization was Herman. With his reinstatement their hopes had risen again, but to every suggestion so far he had been deaf. He would listen approvingly, but at the end, when he found the talk veering his way, and a circle of intent faces watching him, he would say:
"It is too dangerous. And it is a young man's work. I am not young."
Then he would pay his score, but never by any chance Rudolph's or the others, and go home to his empty house. But recently the plant had gone on double turn, and Herman was soon to go on at night. Here was the gang's opportunity. Everything was ready but Herman himself. He continued interested, but impersonal. For the sake of the Fatherland he was willing to have the plant go, and to lose his work. He was not at all daunted by the thought of the deaths that would follow. That was war. Anything that killed and destroyed was fair in war. But he did not care to place himself in danger. Let those young hot-heads do the work.
Rudolph, watching him, bided his time. The ground was plowed and harrowed, ready for the seed, and Rudolph had only to find the seed.
The night he had carried Anna into the cottage on the hill, he had found it.
Herman had not beaten Anna. Rudolph had carried her up to her bed, and Herman, following slowly, strap in hand, had been confronted by the younger man in the doorway of the room where Anna lay, conscious but unmoving, on the bed.
"You can use that thing later," Rudolph said. "She's sick now. Better let her alone."
"I will teach her to run away," Herman muttered thickly. "She left me, her father, and threw away a good job—I—"
"You come down-stairs. I've something to say to you."
And, after a time, Herman had followed him down, but he still clung doggedly to the strap.
Rudolph led the way outside, and here in the darkness he told Anna's story, twisted and distorted through his own warped mind, but convincing and partially true. Herman's silence began to alarm him, however, and when at last he rose and made for the door, Rudolph was before him.
"What are you going to do?"
Herman said nothing, but he raised the strap and held it menacingly.
"Get out of my way."
"Don't be a fool," Rudolph entreated. "You can beat her to death, and what do you get out of it? She'll run away again if you touch her. Put that strap down. I'm not afraid of you."
Their voices, raised and angry, penetrated through Anna's haze of fright and faintness. She sat up in the bed, ready to spring to the window if she heard steps on the stairs. When none came, but the voices, lowered now, went on endlessly below, she slipped out of her bed and crept to the doorway.
Sounds traveled clearly up the narrow enclosed stairway. She stood there, swaying slightly, until at last her legs would no longer support her. She crouched on the floor, a hand clutching her throat, lest she scream. And listened.
She did not sleep at all. The night had been too full of horrors. And she was too ill to attempt a second flight. Besides, where could she go? Katie was not there. She could see her empty little room across, with its cot bed and tawdry dresser. Before, too, she had had Grahams protection to count on. Now she had nothing.
And the voices went on.
When she went back to bed it was almost dawn. She heard Herman come up, heard the heavy thump of his shoes on the floor, and the creak immediately following that showed he had lain down without undressing. By the absence of his resonant snoring she knew he was not sleeping, either. She pictured him lying there, his eyes on the door, in almost unwinking espionage.